Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Discourse in an Unsteady Framework - Some Thoughts

One of the major ways to scuttle discussion in any reasonable format is to confuse the discourse. Of course, it does it help when the party to the discussion is itself incoherent in its positioning and stance on things and instead chooses to be reactionary. Reactionary isn't necessarily bad; it is however an exhibit of perceived weakness and a positive example of lack of preemption on the part of the exhibitor to see potential challenges emerging to its presence. What complicates it further is the presence of a certain level of fluidity - an overall structural body is not merely enough often times to get the desired level of coherence in discussion. This makes arguments stand oftentimes on slippery slopes -  you may feel your own position weak and against intuition.

However, this shifting sand also allows us to fabricate positions and answers that can help to justify things seemingly off mark. It is essential to remember that the outer bounds is just a starting point of your position. The movement has to be rather inwards instead of finding ways in which one can stretch the boundaries.
Think of the position framework akin to the self digesting cells that constitute all creatures; only that these cells are amoebic in nature. This analogy also shows the natural instinct of a shape shifting system of sorts - the ability to excrete what is unnecessary, toxic, or inhibiting in nature holding back evolution of thought. That does not alter the framework of thought; rather it also serves to identify the purpose and realize its continued relevance even in changing circumstances.

Such recognition helps one realize important axioms. The limitation of universality of any framework is not necessarily true. This has importance in realizing the relation of an antagonist vis-à-vis you. Another important axiom to realize at that time is the similarities within the framework despite claims to it otherwise - solidarity in diversity becomes a realization in comparative analysis of the various points within the nebulous framework. A third axiom of realization is the need to consolidate the various points and strengthen the relationships within the framework first instead of seeking fraternity outside. This will allow for thoughts to be populated across the board, so that answers with strength of logic and reason can be obtained and shared within. Finally, it helps to be unashamed of the identity that the framework provides to your person, which enables the demand of equity in treatment, as you can be a force to reckon with.  

Monday, October 22, 2018

यादों की तकलीफ़

एक सूनापन है इस बेज़ार ज़िन्दगी में
एक अधूरापन का सीने में एहसास है
तेरी यादों का साया रहता है मुझपे हरदम
बस कैसे भी तेरे आने की एक अधूरी आस है

तुझसे जुदाई का दर्द तड़पाता है हर पल
तेरी आवाज़ फिर सुनने की एक चाह है
एक रोज़, हर रोज़ तू फिर मिल जाए मुझे
इस दिली ख़्वाहिश ने आज ली परवाज़ है

इस उजड़े चमन को कौन बाग़बान संभालेगा
जहाँ ग़म के काँटो से सजी अब हर एक रात है
कौन आएगा मेरे चश्मे नम को पोंछने आज
किस मरहम से रुकता ज़ख्म से रिसता लहू है

एक सूनापन है इस बेज़ार ज़िन्दगी में
एक अधूरापन का सीने में एहसास है
तेरी यादों का साया रहता है मुझपे हरदम
बस कैसे भी तेरे आने की एक अधूरी आस है

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Thoughts on The Idol Thief

Sripuranthan Nataraja (courtesy: The Hindu)
Colonialism and imperialism, as the leftists would often argue, continues to manifest itself in many ways, even as the colonies are long gone. A fundamental manifestation in today's times are these galleries, museums and private collections dotting the global art landscape. Sujit Sivasundaram in his book Islanded’ had noted how the Britishers tried very hard to occupy the place of the Tri-Simhala Kandyan Kings of Sri Lanka by undertaking grand projects of legitimacy. One aspect of that was the blatant cultural appropriation by the British to show themselves as patrons of art through two primary ways - commissioning art works for their own glorification akin to the kings, and also to 'restore and protect' heritage of the past of the occupied lands. Further, much damage was undertaken in many colonies - the Taj Mahal was also up for sale but for the pittance being received for its 'inferior' marble. One standard way of the British and many others was also to take away artifacts and items of great value to reduce them to displays in their own countries – many of the colonial officers themselves, during these postings, indulge in sales of exotic oriental arts to supplement their incomes from the various East India Companies or the parent governments. Even as part of the history and archaeology bodies, the bosses, often the European, had nothing but contempt for the heritage, or would take it away to their parent country as some kind of trophy, a kind of jewel in the crown that the colony represented. This was aptly represented by the character of District Commissioner Richard in Bhisham Sahni’s magnificent novel Tamas, where a curator excavating a site nearby ‘gifts’ a Buddha head, adding to his already large collection. ‘They cannot take care of it,’ ‘it is better in our museums and collections’ - the attitude continues to fester even today amongst the patrons and museum curators.

The impacts of this new form of modern imperialism is felt across the antiquities market, evidences of which can be seen time and again. The antiquities black market is, as the investigative journalist Jason Felch had stated few years back, the dirtiest corner of the art world, and seems to find ways in washing its hands off responsibilities altogether. While it is my personal opinion that old objects being either to museums or their source locations, one must admit that a sizeable market for such esoteric art does exist globally. Therefore, the least that these institutions could do is to ensure that there is responsible procurement, not just driven by greed and arrogance. The biggest weakness of the market practices, the process of provenance, is riddled with several weaknesses – the manner in which the antiquity of the piece and the investigation into its origins is shameful to say the least. Circular referencing, fake letterheads and stamps, references to outdated or unreliable databases, fictitious art validation by historians or quoting imaginary conversations – the procedure is riddled with falsehoods and deceit at every step. One of the biggest heists therefore happened with the action in the United States of America and India independently on the notorious antique smuggler Subhash Kapoor, who had left no stone unturned in earning big bucks by looting temple antiquities and artifacts from various sites in India like Chandaketugarh (which has not yet been verified). It was only in 2011-12 that a grip on him was obtained in the case of the theft of the Sripuranthan Nataraja and Uma Maheshwari bronzes. A highly detailed account has been provided by S Vijay Kumar in his memoir like book, The Idol Thief, which traces the fall of Subhash Kapoor through a convergence of independent actions and initiatives taking place across the world. It is interesting to note how Vijay also points out the rot present in the investigation agencies in India as well. The Madras High Court had last year observed ruefully the horrendous practices undertaken by the moles inside the Idol Wing of Tamil Nadu Police and the thoroughly corrupt officials of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department of Tamil Nadu to abet if not entirely aid the theft of idols. The professional network of such smugglers within India like Sanjeevi Asokan and the Prakashs, or the manner in which Singapore and Hong Kong have become excellent conduits for smugglers with impunity has been highlighted thoroughly, giving the reader a good introduction into the nefarious antiquities world. Vijay Kumar’s own tryst with the Chola Uma Maheshwari at display in a prominent Singapore museum has also been discussed, and serves as a symbol of the tentacles that this hydra called Subhash Kapoor had spread across the world, looting not just our antiquities, but pushing a knife of greed and contempt through our culture, heritage and traditions in a single blow.

Courtesy: The Hindu
The book, though an important one, leaves the reader highly unsatisfied. Editing could have been tighter, and the flow seems interrupted at several ends. On reading the book, you wish that the author had written much more lucidly about the entire Subhash Kapoor saga – the information presented therein about the various cases is no more than that already floating in the public domain. However, it can be forgiven, since the author is not a full time investigator or journalist, and has taken considerable pains to get this account out. Also, the India Pride Project, which morphed out of the efforts of the writer and many others, would understandably prefer to keep several things under wraps, and so can be forgiven, especially the identities of the various anonymous tippers, investigators and contributors who sit in the crosshairs of the antiquities market. Several pieces have highlighted the role that antiquities smuggling has been paying in financing terrorism, narcotics and many other crimes to generate finances for operations, and this book is an important contribution to the discussion on ways to curbing this ever increasing problem.

A philosophical question arising from the whole exercise is the manner of repatriation of antiquities. Morality demands that the countries go ahead and use diplomatic channels for obtaining clearances. However, people do not necessarily want to wait anymore. It is an open secret today that rich elite of emerging economies are tapping into the same burglar smuggler network now to ‘repatriate their honour’ in many ways, with China leading the way. Is it correct though? Some in the India Pride Project disagree with the idea of theft on moral grounds; however, the frustrating grind of bureaucratic machinery adds fuel to the fires of impatience and anger seething amongst many. The role of the countries of origin in these cases also leaves much to be desired, as shown with the Indian government’s lethargy in taking back antiquities officially returned, forget requesting new discoveries.

I would recommend this book to all those who would like to know more, in an interesting, easy to read manner, about this shady world’s business. It behoves a more detailed examination though, but it is not an attractive enough topic for several ‘intellectuals’ to explore, and may not be there any time soon. Till then, read through this and wonder where the Suthavalli Nataraja still hides.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Import of Sabarimala Case and its bearings on temple control in India

The Sabarimala Shrine of Lord Ayyappa

The Sabarimala case concerning the entry of women into the inner sanctum of the temple took a dramatic turn today, with the Indic Collective's J Sai Deepak, Ayyappa Seva Sangham's Kailashanatha Pillai and a bevy of others arguing effectively on the question of the custom's validity, constitutional rights of the living deity and the peculiar nature of Kerala society and the reasons why this entire case stands no ground. Suffice to say, the question of equality, morality and what constitutes right to freedom of religion has been fundamentally shaken in terms of the judges' core belief, and this will cast a long shadow on future judgments in matters related to administration and the jurisprudence of Hindu temple and matha traditions.

While the final judgment is yet to be announced, the entire case has brought back into light the role of several vested stakeholders, especially the state controlled organizations running temples across India, and their constant efforts to undermine Hindu customs under one pretext or another. The Travancore Devaswom Board was more than eager to undermine the traditions of the temple that brings the largest revenue to the state, eyeing greater earnings due to more devotees without an iota of respect for the beliefs of the region's Hindus. The state government and the opposition too discovered their atheism and contempt for religion in this matter, while they stand silent on the rape and murder cases in the various church denominations reported on a daily basis in Kerala. Even the supposedly Hindu parties' silence or the lack of participation of their top honchos in the fightback is a badge of shame that they must quietly accept now. Temple administration continues to languish in Kerala amidst all of this - the kind of tragic accidents seen couple of years back or the attempts to serve beef in temple premises are amongst the smattering of shocking incidents coming to light. Lack of accountability to the community, either on the temple budget management or on upholding temple traditions, continues to remain amiss.

Another important peg in the whole debate is the attempt of all these so called progressive voices on the matter. Their contempt of the Hindu traditions has come to the fore time and again, and the patterns are more than evident and repetitive. The reason why they succeed usually is the fragmented nature of the Hindu society and its apathy towards issues that matter to them. This case had highlighted the power of multiple voices converging towards a common rallying point; however, this cannot and must not become a one off event. It should be the norm now on all issues, thus underscoring the need to build consensus on the issues of temple administration faster than ever. Any change in tradition must come from the society and those who are responsible for the temple's upkeep in a joint manner - an example was seen in the case of Baba Balaknath Dham in Himachal, where the community agreed to allow women to enter after building consensus internally. This top down thrust and its acceptance is a major problem, and should be resisted by all the legal means at our disposal. This brings us back to the issue of who should really be responsible for our temples. Unless the community has a bigger role to play, and till there is no accountability of the boards, endowments and trusts controlled by the government, we cannot expect the true public sentiments to be ever heard, let alone expressed and defended, by those who can.

A deep schism has been opened. It is time to dig further so as to lay the foundation for the next wave of Hindu revival in the truest sense.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Missionaries of Charity Case and the Duplicity of Media Narrative

Source: Zee News


The shocking case of the sale of babies recorded in the Missionaries of Charity centre in Jharkhand is the latest in a series of cases of frauds perpetuated by organizations representing 'Christian interests' coming into limelight. There was an even more shocking case of St James 'hospice' in Tamil Nadu that was selling organs by literally killing off old people, recording more than one thousand patient deaths in less than 2 years time. Much water has flown under the bridge, and yet, the media does not have time to discuss the ghastly nature of such a case and many others; instead, efforts are found to say how these are mere aberrations in the otherwise holy, saintly efforts of a community and its clergy to uplift the poor downtrodden unwashed masses of India.

There have been so many instances where several evangelical organizations in India have been allowed to become bigger than the law in more than one way. Various Church denominations of Catholics, Protestants, Orthodoxy and many many other sects have more than once brazenly asked the police and judiciary to 'stay out of their matters'. Asking the Church denominations and their Archdioceses in India to explain land grabbing, asset misappropriation and fund embezzlement is a matter of 'interference in religious affairs'. Similarly, repeated cases of sexual abuse and the rapes and murder of women is shielded by publications affiliated to the Church denominations as an 'attack on Christian people'. Income tax exemptions for priests and nuns for teaching jobs is a must - government be damned.

The fraud is not new. One must remember how 'Mother' Teresa was allowed to get away for decades in the garb of service with what can only be described as wilful murder of the dying. 'The Keys to St Peter' is a statement that should have shaken the conscience of many in this country; alas, it remains confined to the dustbin of public memory, thanks much to the cabal of Lutyens Delhi that finds greater commonality for several obvious and perverse reasons with the Papacy and not the Indic traditions replete with the spirit of sevA and svAdhyAya, and find the idea of needless intentional and malafide suffering a lilting, moving experience. The brazenness of legality does not stem entirely from the nature of the institution; it also has much to do with legal mollycoddling that these institutions have received for long.What has also remained constant is the duplicity of the narrative in the mainstream media. Recent field reports by Madhu Kishwar on subversion have also been conveniently ignore.

The only way to defeat this narrative now is to ensure that the truth spreads out fast. Educating people about the criminality of these fraud institutions needs to be undertaken so that there is no doubt left. Strict state action is also merited, which can come only if people will react angrily. We all know what needs to be done; the time to do it was yesterday.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Problem of Pretentious Right Wingers

Of late, we have been seeing too many pretentious right wingers, who are essentially liberal wolves in the proverbial sheepskin, running around in awe of Dr B R Ambedkar. The group has no qualms in also placing him on a pedestal, claiming him to be the real father of modern India. This kind of fawning is utterly pretentious, completely devoid of facts, and misses out or ignores several inconvenient facts about the times, his political leadership and calculative decision making, and instead credits him with much more than is necessary. There are quite a few examples that could be highlighted about the role Dr Ambedkar truly played pre-1947, between 1947-50 and in the later periods. Suffice to say though that he was the last person who could be trusted, given his ever shifting stand on several topics. We may quote Ambedkar on his thoughts and views about Muslims, but he had openly advocated the partition of India, saying Indians would be better off without Muslims, utterly disregarding the legitimacy of Hindu claims - liturgical, ancestral and cultural - on the areas that had to be foregone as a result. It is also a fact that his role in the temple entry agitations of the nineteen twenties and thirties was marginal at best; instead, it was the likes of Savarkar who bore the stones and sticks and broke their bodies to fight for Dalit rights. Also, deification of Dr Ambedkar has been at the cost of those who did not speak the divisive language of the time, especially the likes of M C Rajah of Madras Presidency.

One can grant him the status of an original thinker, yes. However, to say that perhaps he was some saint of his time is laughable - by this very stretch of discussion, the deification of MK K Gandhi should not be a problem for any of these folks as well. The Dalits working within the Congress fold should rather be feted, for they understood that the issue of casteism is different from the social reality of caste, and that western liberal notions of the time were utterly unsuitable for the country’s times, and continue to remain so. Even today, the powerful symbolism and message of equality that a Muni Vahana Seva with its divine impact has across the society does much more than burning copies of obscure books that nobody knows of and hardly anyone even in the orthodox community follows for the cause of ending caste discrimination. All those advocating liberal nonsense today must reflect upon themselves and ask - if there was indeed a problem of casteism to that extent, why are all these folks still Hindus? The answer lies in the multiple attempts to fight casteism that have arisen time and again across this country, giving legitimacy and respect to people belonging to all jatis and varnas irrespective of their status. This also shows the limitations that Ambedkarism of today, which is fast becoming the new socialism (“nobody does it correctly!”), in truly making an impact. Consensus, not confrontation, has always been the path of this nation, whether we like it or not. The sooner it is realized, the better.

This brings me to the core problem - the liberal right. Liberal and right cannot go together in the first place - such terminology is oxymoronic, and is like a stillborn baby that has zero chance of revival. These folks are essentially liberals who have nothing more to do than to change their skin colors with the change of political fashion. Their core belief was never surrounding the right wing’s true core values of respect for tradition and society - in fact, they are right only with respect to the hand that they eat their food with. The only time they respect anything core is when there is a need for gaining more Twitter followers. Sharing almost all of their ideals with the left wing, these so called liberals are worse than the fascists right wingers are made out to be, for they call out any attempts to call the bluff of political correctness as whataboutery, which they accuse the leftists of. Truth is bitter for them, and they will toe arguments that mostly come from the leftist school of pedantry and bigotry. If Dalit hatred to the extent of xenophobia for upper castes is fine, how can there be a problem with Hindu hatred of similar extent for Christians and Muslims? They will change their colours at the drop of a hat to stay in the good books of the very people they can potentially secure money with, throwing the ones who have shouted for them all this while under the bus, while claiming victimhood when their deception and linguistic subterfuge is called out.

It is therefore in our own opinion that we desist from giving these very people the oxygen of fandom and followership that allows them to thrive. Turncoats that most of them have always been, there should be no attempts to ally on common causes either - they are essentially fighting a different battle on an alien terrain that the right wing has no footing in. Semantics and false equivalency is all that will come your way, should you choose to engage with these frauds, who can only be sycophants waiting from crumbs to fall from the table. Hindus need to stop displaying self flagellating tendencies and totally reject such toxic degeneracy, for their own good.

If they have any self respect left, that is.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Saaranga

"My lord, why do you bleed thus?" Trembled Loksaaranga, mouth agape
He sat there silent, while dawn led to daybreak
Frightened, Saaranga looked hither-tither, worries creased on his face
Searching for an answer to a happening impossible in this holy space

Knowing not what to do, Saaranga cried
Till the tears were no more, and his mouth dried
Falling into a stupor, he still held himself upright
And started to chant Hari's name, his eyes shut firm and tight

T'was then that those lamps standing therewent dim
Paled by the brilliance of that unseen brilliance of the divine light
Lo and behold! Hari stood firm and tall in front of him
The scar on his forehead was still bleeding, the blood shining bright

"Who was that poor soul that you hit with that stone?" He remonstrated
"Know not what he means to me? How could you cast this sin on him?"
"My Dear Hari, i know not who he is, what he means to you!" Cried Saaranga, scared in the presence of the sacred
The emotions and senses all simultaneously stood along, completely overwhelmed

"Thiruppan is he, a devotee very close to my heart," spoke Hari fondly of him
"That very heart of mine stand broken today, due to this uncalled action of yours, Saaranga,"
And tears began to flow down the cheeks of Hari, it was a sight most forsaken
The sun, moon and stars stood still, and best his own head with his very hands did Saaranga

"Sinner am I, Hari, forgive me if it were to be possible"
"These tears that flow down your eyes are heartwrenching and scary."
"The birds have stopped chirping, the flowers wilted, it is no less than an eclipse!"
"I hurt your favorite, and for this unpardonable sin with my life I shall pay."

Hari's tears disappeared, a faint smile replaced the sombre looks
"It is not that which you need to do for me o Muni!"
"Realize the true worth of the Atma jiva, and thrown lies your lesson in humility."
"Remove this veil of ignorance, ajnana, and arrogance this very moment Saaranga!"
"That is truly what you seek right now, this moment of truth is your victory."

Saaranga struck by a thought, fled the spot towards that place of morning
Where he had encountered, chanting Govinda's sweet as nectar name
He knew not what or how to repent for his unpardonable sin
All he knee was that he certainly had to mend his way

Fortune was his, for Thiruppan was still there, bleeding
The stone had caused much bloodloss, much reduced was his strength
"Forgive me O Great Thiruppan, i recognized not who you are," prostrated Saaranga at his feet
"Let me atone for my grave sin, please grant me permission at length."

Even before Thiruppan could say anything, the Muni bent down
And mounted him on his shoulders, usig all his strength
"Govinda! Gopala" he shouted himself hoarse, as he ran across Srirangam
To bring Thiruppan to the abode of Hari, there was no room for delay

They all stood, shocked, some aghast, mouths agape
How could a Brahmin touch a Paanar, let alone carry him all the way?
And it was then that many saw tears of remonstration in Saaranga's eyes
"Govinda! Gopala" he shouted, minding not obstacles that strew the pathway

Reached the temple, as they did in his unusual manner
The doors opened, the bells rang, the conch shells blared
T'was Hari Himself who came to receive this great man, this humble Paanar
And all along there was only this for the deities to say
"Saaranga is blessed to have carried you in his shoulders this way"
"A sage, a Munin is how people should call him now.
Your sweet words shall give his soul mukti this very instant."
"Sing, Thiruppan! I beseech you, pick the veena and play!"





Monday, February 19, 2018

The Exclusionary Aesthetics of Our Cities

When Aesthetics Are Meant to Exclude (courtesy, Economic Times)
India is obsessed with cities in extreme forms - one part is in awe of it, while the other is completely aghast by what is happening. Smart city, heritage city, sustainable city, green city - so many terms are flying around these days without an inkling of the significance of these terms, their implications and any modicum of an execution plan being put into place. Even the rationale of why we want city a certain way seems to be missing from the discourse - we want something, but are unable to explain what it is, and even more hopeless at understanding what we want. What constitutes a city is clearly a matter of conjecture to quite an extent; in any case, any city cannot have an exact bullet by bullet powerpoint presentation of what its smartness, its resilience and its adaptation will mean. However, with all of this raging discussion, we seemed to have forgotten to discuss important points about the make up of such a city that will probably come in and replace pre-existing ideas of what cities comprise.

James Howard Kunstler often talks about how a city should feel and look like to its residents. This aspect of aesthetics and its ability to include people of all walks of life in a democratic manner, where elements can be shared between people of different backgrounds and categories, has been often discussed. Aesthetics of course can also be exclusive in nature. While in the Cold War era, much was made of the brutalism in architecture that we had witnessed en masse across the world, including in new cities of the time such as Chandigarh, there was a lot of discussion how the architecture made people felt disconnected, left out by the architectural world, trying to make sense of their presence in an unknown world. Somehow, despite having very little in common with the Soviet Union, not once could the global travellers make much difference out between democracies and Communist nations - after all, everyone seemed to be aping the boxes and container like confinements that buildings, institutions and law and order officials cooped up in modern penhouses. However, with the new urbanism wave, where we are witnessing a rash of glass facade dotting our landscapes, dotting tall skyscrapers are turning out to be another variant of the brutalism wave. Calling it neo-brutalism, we can see how this new wave, inspired by architecture of land space optimization, we seem to be creating urban towers that no one feels they belong to either.

Neo brutalism is creating havoc on our idea of what constitutes our society, and is toying with our conception of who we are. In a country that has such wonderful perfection in resilience, adaptation and inclusion that appeals to our culturally rooted mindsets, we are creating a new wave of cities and urban landscapes in the name of modernization that seems to have nothing in relation to our identity or sub-identities. Looking at Lavasa, an attempt to create a modern day Turin that no one sees any better than a weekend Europe like getaway, the imprint of Maharashtra, especially the glory of Pune region is totally missed out. Amaravati is a new city named after the old city that glorified the rich Telugu cultures of the Satavahana era; however, a summary glance of the assembly designs that came up for a public voting contest left one puzzled - what is it that makes the city a new city? Will it be jazzy glass facade buildings; tilted cuboidal designs; or will it be the ethos of the people and the city aesthetic ability to exclude people, making them feel left out?

The power of aesthetics is not democratic in its exclusion - vulnerable sections easily find themselves left out, wondering where they belong. Urban centres where old people and small children remained confined and cooped up like cattle in their barns, moaning the loss of their connections with the middle generations, who are nowhere to be seen or heard, caught up and bound in mental fetters in fancy towers jutting out of the ground in unusual shapes. These towers are not necessarily public transport friendly but for a few bus stations that are thrown far away from sight, seen as an inconvenience much like acne that comes up stubbornly on the face of a teenager. The poor just walk past these buildings, wondering whether they belong in that area - in India, we do not have any New Yorks, where they poor can loiter around these buildings or its backyards, and rummaging through the waste and refuse runs the risk of repercussions unlike those cities, which at least tolerates their poor.

An aesthetic sense of being tends to not be reflected in our buildings today. This in turn is shaping who we are as humans and as a collective, a society, and it is turning more and more dysfunctional. Isolation, depression, mental diseases, physical ailments, disease are common in these settings. Their proliferation is even worse - just look at how avian flus of the world seem to congregate in such towers so easily. Sunlight becomes a pain or a luxury, but never seen as a necessary friend, which can keep you healthy. Ventilation systems are artificial - the feel of the afternoon breeze from the open window of the house will probably be not felt ever again by scores of generations, struggling without air conditioning or heating of any kind. Instead of building in resilience in to our society, this neo-brutal urbanization of today is making us ever more vulnerable - to earthquakes, to floods. Stuck in a building for days because water ensured you could not go anywhere, and pavements and drains cannot support these levels of rainfalls. A sense of security always remains under threat, knowing not when the new 9/11 will strike you, or when vertigo may lead you to collapse and fall.

Modern urbanism has to break from this mould of brutal craziness that seems to impress, and get a sense of relatable aesthetics back into their fold. Unless that happens, the decay of societal set ups cannot be arrested in India. We admire cities across the world that seem to have excellent infrastructure, but only because those cities have also managed to cultivate a sense of aesthetics. A Jardin des Tuileries in Paris still helps people to relate to their sense of belonging, reminding them of their past, their heritage. Even in new cities like Tel Aviv, the ability to create structures and modernity that people can own and feel they belong to is strong. We want to be a Singapore or a Taiwan, but our civic sense cannot come in like them, for they are driven by fear, and not a sense of responsibility. In contrast, despite modernization, Japanese cities tend to retain a strong sense of their place in the world, where citizens share the burden of ownership and responsibility, as they realize sub-consciously how they are responsible and have a role to play in ensuring the pleasantry of aesthetics of their landscape and its interlinked civilization. It is these that we need to be connecting ourselves to, not some random broken European or American ideas that have been cast aside by their own proponents with time. Unless the city’s organic nature is not captured in its aesthetics and the feel of it, a city remains nothing more than a forced agglomeration of fancy structures that hold little more than utility. Gurgaon is not seen as a city; rather it seems like a strange wonderland with a dark side to it that none should be ever exposed to. With this model coming up in other experiments, we can only hope for the worst.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Of Discourse and Language in 'Right Wing' India

The right wing narrative in India is full of contradictions, and struggles to have a united thought. It is mostly an umbrella of 'anything but the left', yet remains imbibed with scores of liberal leftist, Abrahmica rooted themes, ideas and memes, creating an environment where a huge population relies on borrowed terminology to express itself. The stark contrast with the contemporaries here, where the vocabulary is entirely self created and exclusive of any alternative ideas, cannot be missed by anyone. And yet, there is no attempt to address this question. Wherever attempts have been made, we tend to see a rash of silly terms being used, or transliterations being adopted in some format or the other to attempt being different. Truth is that the intellectual arguments needed to fight intellectual battles starts with the creation of the intellectual space. Further, the lack of any new ideas being penned down or written, while borrowing specific frameworks that come from outside, is a troublesome phenomenon - it renders any claim to exclusivity, of primacy and uniqueness redundant in a single stroke.

Barring the old minds, of which few have actually been read by most supporters, there is hardly any new discursive analysis being penned and/or published that charts independent territory. One must remember that any breakthrough work in any discipline need not come from academia or government support - it never did, and probably never will. Instead, quotes, strands of speeches and stray thoughts and sentences from books are all that seem to get shared and liked by a generation that seems to have a fast food approach to right wing ideas. Hindutva seems to get mixed up with socialistic economic principles - truth cannot be any further. States are expected to do everything for you, and yet you do not want it in your 'personal space'. You want 'true secularism' without realizing that it is garbage of a premise created just so that Christian sects could tolerate each other in daily lives. Tilak's ideas of swarajya seem buried under a mountain of archives, only to be worshiped on a pedestal every few months. And yet, the attempts at creating new thought, be it in Hindi, English, Kannada, Marathi, Tamizh or any other language (and being translated) are scattered, isolated to the point of remoteness, without any probable attempts to get transmitted. Whole bunches want to talk the same socialistic nonsense that tied Hindus in fetters, whereas it is economic strength that guaranteed whatever freedom people have today. Instead of noting how economic strength allowed for bargaining power, mercantilism is treated with disdain by those who believe that Hindu thought should be some kind of neo- Khmer ideology. Petty egos also seem to get into the game easily, without learning to co-exist, something that each one claims to be the 'key message' of Hindu philosophy

A lot of effort is being spent in correcting history. Which is good, but what is being done to correct narratives in other disciplines, or control how our own people view ourselves? The discomfort with the varna-jati question is one typical example that gets us all tied up in knots. Inability to understand, accept and reconcile with this aspect of culture and civilization with due dignity and respect by a majority of people has been a major failing. Centuries, if not millennium, of hard work has been done within the Hindu fold to fight this problem - yet, there was no effort, or is there any effort now, to document, to record these traditions, and to bring them to academic standards. Instead, leftist ideas dominate caste discourse in India, which only serves fissiparous tendencies in societal set ups. This alternative work however has to develop its own language all over again, and not rely on language of the past or language of the contemporary. We want a Hindu state but want the government to employ us.

The discourse also needs to change significantly. Often times, Hindutva vadis just look like a bunch of eternal whiners. Our essays and pieces instead of discussing next steps tend to dwell on certain themes of eternal complaints. 'We are being discriminated', 'We are being reduced to a minority', Our temples are subject to state', 'Our glorious past was ruined by invaders' - the list is endless. However much justified, this wallowing in the pool of litany only breeds pessimism and despair, and makes us lose focus on understanding what needs to be done next. Look, this is not to demean anyone's efforts, but what is it that we are doing right now to justify our claim to our glorious heritage? Look at our language - we speak our own languages worse than we speak our pidgin English across the country in most urban centers. How can one then not be cynical of efforts to restore pride in ourselves, when the abyss in which our present tendencies, discourse and behavior tends to remain in? Not everything has to be fought with humour, mocking and derision, however much effective those tools are. We need to learn to exchange ideas truly - how can we thrive without government support; how we can educate our children to counter the effects of 'secular' education; what can we do within the present Constitutional framework to free our temples. Celebrating odd victories and putting them on pedestals instead of taking them into our arsenal to fight battles continuously is the worst tendency that Hindus have developed over time. Mediocrity is celebrated as jugaad, and in that moment we tend to forget the great temples like Kandhariya or Chennakeshava that our ancestors built - is this how we can claim our own heritage?

It is time to redefine the discourse and language altogether for Right Wing India. Some people have given thought to it, but frankly, those thoughts are incomplete without addressing these inconsistencies that we see on a daily basis amongst this evolving community. Unless checked in time, this will become another cesspool that will stink no better than the decay that the leftist Abrahamica pool has rendered civilizations into.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Of Women in Rajput Society and the Questions of Sati and Mirabai - Thoughts and Experiences

Letter from Mirabai and Tulsidas' Reply (courtesy 40kmph.com)
The recent outrages and controversy over the history of Maharani Padmavati of Mewar and the aptness of her valiant action has created quite a storm. One particular accusation that has been thrown around callously is the position and role of women in Rajput society, one of the most influential castes in Rajasthan, and having significant clout in almost all parts of north and east India in one way or the other barring perhaps Punjab, Bengal, and the Kashmir and Indo-Tibetan regions. The ancestry of Rajputs, mostly from the Gurjara Pratihara times, also has been discussed significantly even recently in the Swarajya article on the Karni Sena too. The article also highlighted caste tensions, more on which will be dwelt in another aspect in this article. Of course, I must qualify that my caste too is Rajput, though not from Rajasthan, but it is my observation that we have broadly the same cultural sensibilities despite these regional variations, and the position of women in our societies are almost identical but for a few regional discrepancies that come over centuries. With this piece on my own observations, as well as readings over time, I would like to sketch a broader understanding of the status of women in our caste, and tackle two particular questions which serve as absolute contrasts - the problem of Mirabaibai, and the question of imposing orthodox practices via Sati.

Orthodoxy of the Rajput Society - the Case of Sati in Point

The problem is that most people tend to think of only royal families, the rajwadas when it comes to Rajputs; however, Rajputs have also been found practising agriculture. So, for such a community, the role of a woman cannot be as restricted as one imagines. Women have to be in public, for there were several roles that they took upon themselves. Most liberal thinkers tend to paint Rajputs as an orthodox, oppressive, partiarchal society where women are nothing better than dirt. It cannot be further away from the truth. Rajput women tend to be stronger than men in the societal dynamics, often having a larger say despite their usual segregation in rural areas, while they are independent and assertive in the urban areas. Decisions taken by women, especially by the martriach of the household, tend to be pretty much the final word in the household affairs, and also in intra community dynamics at times. Even if the woman has donned her ghoonghat, it does not inhibit her from participating in social rituals, gatherings and are in fact viewed as moments of pride by the family in general. She drinks; she eats meat if she wants to, though she chooses to be a vegetarian; she dances with abandon amongst her peers and in front of men too, albeit with grace if she wants to. The levels of freedom that Rajput women have is perhaps unparalleled. However, the woman is also conscious of her Dharma, with which she has grown up. The Dharma of the kshatrani is not just to serve the kshatriya; it is also to become his guide and philosopher in times of doubt, and encourage him to perform his duty, his Dharma and even be an example of the same. Historical accounts of rajwada families and folklore of all Rajput communities across the north are full of stories where women smash the inflated egos of arrogant men, give great ideas of defence, community affairs, resource management, and even lead the fight against the enemy in times of need. She is not just the progenitor of the race, but is also the first teacher, who instils the values of valour, ferocity and courage in the child’s hearts, teaching him/her about their family’s greatness, its martial past, and how we should take pride in ourselves.

This may seem as a contrast to many people, given the false notion that Rajput women are a highly oppressed lot. Practices like Sati among other evils, seen as tools of oppression, were much talked about by the British and subsequent modern Indian historical fabricators, as Dr. Meenakshi Jain has also pointed out. The earliest record of the practice of Sati is found in the Rig Veda; however, a proper kshatriya account probably comes from the Mahabharata, where Madri jumps in to the pyre with Pandu’s dead body voluntarily. Nowhere is she asked to do so, and it is a decision not taken under any duress. One also knows that Sati was probably concentrated only amongst the Rajputs and kshatriyas, and no one else . Most liberal scholars casually call it bride burning, while others call it suicide by abetment; one must note however that this cannot be called either of the two. Sati amongst Rajputs is seen as a sacred, brave act, where the woman chooses to give up everything she views as sacrosanct, as important in her life, and sets an example of being a true kshatrani in that moment. For the Rajput community, women committing Sati are in fact worshipped as Mata, as Devi, as someone who has set an example of valour for many - not to allow the fear of death to come in the way of your duty at any cost. That transcendence is powerful, in sync with the idea of karma, where she has probably concluded her time on earth too. It is also not out of the purview of her Dharma, for she has not grieved over her husband’s demise; rather, she has decided to join him. Given the semi-prophetic belief in the continuity of the bonds in the next life. It is not even an agni-pareeksha, as some would have it put sardonically - it is not a test of her loyalty or sanctity, and no one is being forced to do it. It is also not suicide in any sense, as an escapist oriented Abrahamic structure would want us to believe. In the famous Roop Kanwar case too, one must understand that no one was being asked to commit ritualistic suicide in any way. Sati has always been a rare practice amongst women, for they too live in a society, and have to think of various factors in case an untimely death happens, especially if there are elders and children to be taken care of. If Sati were so common regency would never have happened even in the rajwadas, forget management of the fields and the daily chores in the common households. The only thing that perhaps comes close to the idea of Sati anywhere else in the world is the Japanese practice of seppuku, where the perpetrator is not viewed as a coward but as a braveheart, a legend worthy of mention. However, the contrast with which both these practices are seen are worthy of note - while one is glorified, the other is seen as a dastardly act.



The Problem of Mirabai

Having laid out a broad framework of the powerful role that Rajput women have played, one wonders why Mirabai, the great Mewari poet saint, tends to be such a problem point for the Rajput community even today. Mirabai’s place in the Rajput society is one of contradictions, and yet not - the concept of Rajarshi has always been there, as could be seen with characters like Vishwamitra in the Mahabharata. It is however her non-conformity to the grhastha ashrama that has always been the bone of contention. P Mukta had noted in Manushi years ago how the memory of Mirabaibai was a problem for the Sisodiya Rajputs in general, as they believe that Mirabai had forsaken her duty as a daughter in law and queen. She had not chosen to live the life of a widow, but had instead decided to live the life of a bhakta, a gopika of Shri Krishna in fact, calling herself his wife even after the Rathore had passed away. Her memory however, has been preserved, as Mukta pointed out, amongst the other castes, who have been in the contest of social space with the Rajputs for centuries. That is not true, as other Rajput communities have whole heartedly embraced her memory too. I personally am of the view that she did not respect society in any way or defy structures except in her own case, as some are wont to believe in search of early feminists or caste fighters. Her bhajans, which also probably contain her life’s story, do give such indications. One of her famous bhajans, karam ki gati nyari, has a wonderful line in it, where she praises the learned, the pandita, and laments as to why the foolish tend to become kings in their absence. In another, she hints at performing her own final rites at Pushkar by talking about racing to the holy town like a cloud. Her jeevan charitra shows her as an example of a bhakti yogi, one whose supreme devotion takes her beyond everything. Her interactions with Goswami Tulsidas, himself a grhastha, also captured in beautiful bhajans of their own right, show that bhakti was considered supreme, even bigger than anything else that possibly mattered in life. It is Tulsidas in fact who asked her to leave her home, as she was being kept away from her understanding of her Dharma. However, this was done after she had become a widow. Therefore, it is truly the matter of grhastha that should be seen as a problem. This was a problem even for the Sikhs, who had incorporated her bhajans in the Gurbani too, only to be dropped at the last minute, as she did not completely fit with the pantheon of grhastha saints like Kabir and Namdev.

Another important thing is the interaction of Mirabai with Mughals. It is relevant to note the times around which her story plays out - there is the struggle of Mewar to stay relevant and free from the Mughal rule. Her insistence to live in Vrindavan, Mughal territory at the time, would send a wrong political signal, as is the case with most political asylums today. Note though that Mirabai did not ask for refuge from the Mughals in any way. Any interaction with the enemy in times of war or confrontation however, unless mandated by the state, is viewed as a grave sin against the authority of the state, and it cannot be seen any different at the time. Rashtra dharma is paramount, and hence, Mirabai is also seen as a problem point, even if she defied Mughal authority as per her legend.

In recent times, the Sisodiyas seem to have made some peace with the memory of Mirabai, as one can see in identifying her with places inside Chittor; however, it is something that will take time, just like any other community which also has its own ideas of what honor and pride would mean. However, do understand that the problem of Mira will continue for a while.It is a matter of evolution with time, and the recognition of the love and respect for Mira that will make all the difference. That does not however mean that she will ever be disrepected as a woman, or that the society is patriachy obsessed in any way. In her lifetime itself, the Rana of Mewar had asked her to live in Mewar and built a temple for here. The idol she worshipped was sacred to the Mewaris before it was transferred to Nurpur under various circumstances. If there was really an attempt to disrespect her, the temple would not have been allowed to come up in the first place, let alone stand, in Mewar by the Rathores.

These are my thoughts and observations on the way we see women in Rajput society. I don't know how this will be received, but I do hope there will be civilized discussion and deliberation. I do not intend to disrespect anyone. Honor is important, and I probably understand it better than others. But it is high time we also brought in our own experiences and fought back this weird narrative about us.

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