Thursday, January 26, 2006

K.P.S. Gill on religion

A wonderful article on the use of religion in India. Can also be used as a microcosm for all religious conflicts.
To read this article, go to
this link

Is our hatred turning us into a mirror image of what we most hate? There is a rising wave of intolerance, of narrow-mindedness, of puritanical censorship and oppression, across the country - indeed, even across much of the democratic world - today, and an increasingly aggressive assertion of exclusionary religious identities among large segments of all communities, including those that take great pride in their 'culture of tolerance'. In our revulsion and our desire to defeat it, are we all going the way of extremist Islam?

The militancy and the violence of perspectives - if not of the scale and pattern of actions - that characterise Islamist extremism today, appear to be becoming a model for the radical fringe among all faiths, including the inclusive, panentheistic traditions of the East, in a process that has sometimes been described - inaccurately - as the 'Semitisation' of these faiths.

The desire to impose a narrow set of values, rituals, dogmas and pattern of relationships is everywhere visible, and is increasingly translated into violence. The language, idiom and political iconography of the Islamist extremists is quickly picked up and absorbed into communal and sectarian political movements elsewhere, even where these militate at the most fundamental level, against the prevalent culture.

Notice, for example, the dark puritanism of the Khalistanis in Punjab, who sought to banish all revelry, music, the bhangra, sand the frenetic celebrations that have traditionally marked weddings, festivals and celebrations in the State. For 13 dark years, a dour, cheerless 'code' was inflicted through the power of the gun and the bomb, on an unwilling people. And the first and most dramatic sign that the Khalistani terror had been comprehensively defeated was when dance and music programmes came back to the state, and the Punjabi's traditional love of life was once again, manifest everywhere.

Indeed, the sheer intensity of resentment against the long suppression of these native impulses was visible in the scale and spread of the resurgence of Punjabi music and dance in the post-terrorism era, and their domination, in the years following, of so much of popular culture - including Bollywood - across India.

Regrettably, while the Khalistanis have been defeated, and Sikh Puritanism has been marginalized (though it still exists and seeks constantly to reassert itself), segments within other communities, particularly the Hindus, are seeing a revival of fundamentalist thinking, and its imposition through political intimidation and violence.

At the same time, the organisations leading such movements continue to make sweeping assertions regarding the greatness and antiquity of their culture, muddying the lines between contemporary culture and a cultural history. It is, no doubt, the case that 'Hindu culture' has a rich, indeed, opulent, and variegated history that goes back to the earliest records of human civilisation, and perhaps beyond. But this is cultural history, not living culture.

Living culture is what we practice today - and in this, our achievements are, in most ventures, at best, modest, and at worst, appalling. Culture, it has been remarked, is what remains in a man when all else is forgotten. In this, we are deeply impoverished, and there is an active effort at further constriction by aggressive religious-political groups and organisations.

There are, today, still some people who are familiar with the cultural history of ancient India, but few who would have the courage to live by the values that marked that history. Hindu fundamentalists need to remind themselves that this is the land of the Kamasutra; of the amourous Lord Krishna; of Khajuraho. A land that produced some of the world's first treatises on taste, music, dance, sex, art, and even thievery!

It is a land that recognised a multiplicity of 'ways of knowing' and rejected the idea that any single conception or explanation could ever comprehend all of reality. It is a land where atheism and agnosticism have coexisted in easy philosophical intercourse with monotheism, pantheism and panentheism. A land in which the freedom - including the freedom of sexual preference - offered to women at the time that we now imagine as the 'Golden Age of Hinduism' would amaze even the most permissive of modern cultures.

It is, moreover, a land where, even today, fragments of these practices and beliefs, albeit in forms that have been substantially perverted, continue to survive among small cults and movements - such as the aghoris and the tantriks. And where these have 'religious' pretensions even the most bizarre conduct does not attract the censure of the larger community.

On the other hand, what extremists regard as 'secular aberrations' attract enormous and organised ire. When a history textbook correctly mentions cow sacrifice and consumption of cow's meat in ancient India, there are protests. An alien and oppressive ethic is sought to be imposed on people across the country in the name of 'Hindu values' that would be completely irreconcilable with ancient 'Hindu' culture. Even as caste polarisation remains an integral element of all our electoral politics, large segments of Hindus are being mobilised by whipping up hatred against Islam, or around campaigns against 'conversions' by Christians.

There are, of course, significant elements - the extremists and terrorists, as well as the radical Islamist states such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia - within Islam that are problematic. And the issue of religious conversion through inducement or force is one that needs to be openly debated without partisan posturing. But constructing 'our ghetto' against 'their ghetto' is no part of a solution. And seeking to impose rigid codes of conduct and narrow dogmas on society will go no way in restoring the glory of 'Hindu culture'.

Indeed, the trajectory of radical Islam and, in some measure, of the 'Islamic world' at large, is a cautionary tale in this context. At the highest point of its history, Islam was a great fountainhead and disseminator of ideas, and it was through the Islamic world that the mathematics, the sciences and the arts of India (and of the Eastern world) found their way into what was then a relatively primitive, even barbaric, Europe. Islam was the first religion in the world to become a true melting pot of races.

It was the source of an egalitarian and universal philosophy - no doubt with gender aberrations from our contemporary perspective, but radical even on this count in terms of the values of the age of its origin. Out of it, great poetry and literature, calligraphy, art and architecture sprung forth in what at one time seemed to be an endless stream.

Today, this great Faith is associated with human bombs and terrorism; with gender oppression and the hijab; with a tyrannical, colourless, morality that destroys the variegated canvas of life; and with an intellectual desert in which no rain of innovation or imagination ever refreshes the barren dunes of the mind.

The reduction of any great religious or intellectual tradition into a handful of dogmas and catechisms, of rites and rituals, and into an enveloping atmosphere of intolerance, control and coercion spells its death-knell. Many, today, argue that we will have to adopt the methods and values of extremist Islam if we are to effectively resist these - but extremist Islam itself is in its, no doubt extraordinarily violent, death throes, and it is inflicting enormous harm on the larger body of Islam itself.This is not an ideal or exemplar for other Faiths to emulate, but an abnormal deviation, a monstrous anomaly, that all cultures must shun and work to destroy.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Nayak nahi Khalnayak hoon main

OK. So this Daya Nayak business has gotten me all charged up. I got a comment (I rarely get one, so felt good) on the article I put up which led me to some other blogs which were in praise of Mr. Nayak. There were opinions galore, and I think the majority sentiment was that if he had done nothing wrong, he should not have hidden it. Personally I commend Amrita who has started a blog in his defence. I find it commendable that she has decided to start something in defiance of the public sentiment. Though personally it feels something on the lines of the Bengalis defending Saurav Ganguly. Why is that past glories go a long way to defending your present deeds?

Anyway, it also got me thinking. Why does someone do what they do? Good or bad. But mostly bad. Why do they do it?

I remember someone famous saying "The villain is the hero of his story". I couldn't find anything more profound than that. Similar on the lines of the OBL article a few weeks ago. What determines bad / evil? Is it society that determines it? My basic rule in life is that bad equals hurting other people. One might say that by that rule, how is bribery bad if it doesn't hurt anyone. To my Libran mind, bribery unevens the playing field. It basically creates an auction for the services to be provided and therefore eliminates the criterion of merit from the equation.

We are however digressing from the point. Why does someone do something bad?

Gut feeling: Because they think they can get away with it. There's this show in the US called Countdown with Keith Olbermann. It has a segment where they show all the idiotic car chases. The score for 2005 was Cops: 70 something, Dopes: 0. Basically it's the same thing. Everyone thinks they can get away with it. As kids we are all taught not to do "bad things" as they call it. Why do we go against all that we were taught? Why do we go against that basic instinct in us?

Is it the child inside that wants to rebel against all that it was taught?

Monday, January 23, 2006

This will be fun

I am not much into religion. God yes, but somehow all religion to me sounds like a stretch. Especially since whatever happens, it seems to be a human who wrote the religious books that are followed by the believers of the world. I mean, anyone who has given testimony to a court can attest, it is extremely difficult to recount the exact words that were said (in this case by God). Also, translation is a huge problem. Since none of the pure languages in which these books were written in have the same form or are even very prevalent, it seems to me that somewhere something is lost in translation.

I don't think I am an atheist or agnostic or whatever it is that you may call me. I am just me. But this guy has taken doubt to a new interesting level. Chances are that he is going to lose this case. Not because of any lack of evidence, but the headaches that will be caused if he wins will be too much. Christianity by itself will be challenged. What would Pat Robertson do for a living, if the guy he swears by, was no more factual than Gabbar Singh? What would George Bush do if the book that he says guides him, is little more than "Million Little Pieces" a million times over. Heck, what will all the desi parents do, when they want their kids to have a "convent" education?

Ab tu 57th?

One of my favorite movies of last year was Ab Tak Chhappan (56 and counting). I don't know when it was released but I saw it last year and I really liked it. It is based on Inspector Daya Nayak of the Mumbai Police. Over the years, the Mumbai police has got a reputation for being trigger happy especially with the underworld. While they have come under a lot of flak from the usual Human Rights folks, the 20 million non-underworld related Mumbaikars seemed to be quite happy with this approach. Daya Nayak was the poster child for this policy of "encounters". (Only in India can you come up with such a euphemistic word. Encounter. Yeah, right. Sounds like a date) The number 56 in the title of the movie was supposedly the number of encounters the protagonist Sadhu had committed.

Daya Nayak is back in the news . This time though, he is on the wrong side of the law. He stands accused of "wealth disproportionate to his known income" (another wonderful desi phrase). Someone who has a known salary of close to Rs. 12,000 a month, his known assets are said to be close to about Rs. 100 crore (1 billion per the world system). Funnily, in the movie based on his life as well, the main dude has to face the system and goes absconding.

Is it life imitating art, art imitating life or just history repeating itself?

By desi standards, this probably will be swept under the carpet in about a month or so. But the question stands. How did he make so much money? Since he is innocent until proven guilty, let's assume the face value explanation that all his business concerns netted him all the profit. If that is the case, why is he still in the police force. Imagine you earn a buck through your day job and a thousand in your "part time" job. Also in your day job you stand the risk of life threatening injury or even death. Would you still do your day job? I wouldn't and I guess most people wouldn't either. Which to me seems like he is in the police force because that is what is driving his other income. That's his bargaining chip. If he is not in force, he cannot cause any trouble to anyone who is upto some naughty business. Doesn't that make sense? People pay him money because and only because he could cause them trouble.

Now, if that is true, that also leads to an important question in my mind. We should also know who paid him this money. Because while his corruption is bad enough, it could be that he played favorites in the encounter business. Or did he just bump off those who did not like his terms and conditions? If he was so much on the side of the law, why didn't he just "thhok" the guys who offered him the bribes? Or even just threaten them? Somehow, to my suspicious mind, this doesn't sound like he is being framed. Had it been a murder or someone killed, I could have given him the benefit of the doubt. But in this case, there is a house somewhere in his name. There is a luxury bus liner. There is acres of land. How do you explain such physical evidence?

If I ever meet him, I shall ask him only one question. Why? Why did you do it? What made you think you wouldn't get caught? How can you face your kid(s), look them in the eye and tell them to be good, morally upright human beings? How can you face the family of those you tapkaoed and tell them their near ones were bad people, and how will they believe you that the only reason they are not alive today is that they were evil, and not that they couldn't pay you enough protection money? (writer's license. I know this is more than one question)

And I think I know what his answer will be: "Because I thought I could get away with it". It worked for Bill Clinton, and I bet it will work for Mr. Nayak.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

"Educated" guesses

A couple of days ago, I found this article. On initial reading I was outraged and very near ashamed at this line of thought. I was even more worried when there was a discussion group opened on the same website, and a lot of the guys seemed to support the Sankaracharya. Personally I think these are foolish statements, and cannot imagine why educated people (on the discussion group) would think like this. But it also got me thinking.

Who is the Sankaracharya to decide policy for the country? How then is this any different from Pat Robertson asking God to kill some foreign leader?

On careful thinking though it got me thinking. Reading the article again, this is what let me to a conclusion:

He alleged that family planning measures were proving to be the bane of Hindus who would 'become a minority in India quite soon if these practices continue
So, it turns out that Mr. Sankaracharya, is not worried about the moral or ethical issues of family planning or abortion (that's different from Mr. Robertson's abortion stand). He is only worried that there would be more non-Hindus (I presume he is worried that these will be Muslims). Why would he be worried? I guess if there's more non-Hindus, that's those lesser people who would listen to him. So, basically he is covering his base and making sure that 30, 40, 50 years from now as well, there are people giving "bhaav" to whoever is the Sankaracharya at the time.

Personally, I'd like to tell the Sankaracharya not to worry about it. Leave it to the "market" forces. If, for whatever reason, there are more non-Hindus than Hindus in India, so be it. Why don't we try to be better people and therefore better Hindus? Make Hinduism a fair and just religion and trust me, there will be a lot more people turning to Hinduism. Why don't you let women have equal rights? Why don't you ask Hindus not to indulge in female infanticide? Why don't you ask Hindus to educate their children? Could it be that when people get more educated and informed, the less they would listen to him?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Dog ate my homework???

Rummaging the web, came across this news story.

Now, it may be true that he slipped and fell and dislocated his shoulder again. But for the life of me, I can't imagine how this happened. I am trying to imagine all the showers I have ever been in, and all the possible ways I could reach out for a shampoo bottle. But I could not for the life of me get any way I could dislocate a shoulder when I slip. Maybe I am showering in not so luxurious showers but it is impossible to fall on your shoulder in most showers of the world, without hitting your head in a bad way. If you twist your shoulder trying to save your butt (pun intended)then I would imagine you would also cause some neck damage. If you don't dampen the blow at all, you would hit your hip or something. But seriously I don't think you can dislocate your shoulder while reaching out for the shampoo.

But the main reason I can't believe this is a valid excuse is this. Take a look at this picture.

You think he needs shampoo?

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Black Beauty???

A couple of days ago, this came out on rediff. Needless to say, I was thrilled and read the interview with Mr. Bhansali. Like all good internet surfers I then went to Google News and proceeded to read all the articles that were on this news item. Of course I am a proud desi and the least I can do is to read all the articles about this.

By nature I am a film buff and also like Richard Corliss' picks. So naturally, I went to the Time magazine website to read his top 10 picks. And guess what I
found? . Yup, that's right there's no mention of Black. All the others are there. The White Diamond is indeed the best film according to him. So, I thought maybe rediff messed up and wrote Richard Corliss instead of Richard Schickel who is also another critic at Time. So I went and checked Schickel's list. No mention of Black there either. After a whole lot of net surfing and google zindabad, I found this list list. Lo and behold, Same Time, same Richard Corliss, and now there's Black. Does he have two separate lists for the best movies of the year? Apparently he does, though the top 4 movies are I think the same. Initially I thought the second list was just European and Asian directors. But the best Asian movie in the original list does not find a mention in the second list. (Note, I call it the original list, simply because I found it first)

Can someone please explain the difference in the two posts? I should also apologize to rediff, since I actually started out this post to blast them (in my own way) about fabricating an entire story. But on rechecking I found the source of their material.