Creator's-Image-ShwethaHS

Creator’s Image by Shwetha H S Looks for the Interesting in the Mundanities of Life

The difference between a full-blown novel and a short story is perhaps similar to that of a long term relationship and a one-night stand. A reader reads a short story without the expectation of a long term commitment but this very aspect of a short story compounds the pressure on the writer. The margin for error is nil. The author cannot make mistakes in the first page to compensate for them in the subsequent pages. What comes about in those few thousand words lasts as the first and the final impression of the encounter on the reader’s mind.

Shwetha H S begins her short stories collection with the title-story Creator’s Image which is a deeply reflective metaphorical tale about the human civilization. With multi-layers of deliberation presented with intelligent twists and turns, this story holds the book together. There are ten other stories which tell us the tales of extraordinary moments of our ordinary lives. In fact, the selection of subjects and plot betray Shwetha’s love for the fleeting moments of life, her attempts to hold them for a little longer in her gaze and pluck a story out from those moments.

Most of the stories are relatable and you will find parts of yourself in one or the other tale. The stage is most often a snapshot of the routine life. Through the course of the story, her pen closes in on one character who can be considered the protagonist. She deals with the character in greater details and the suspense hangs around this character’s action or inaction. While this method works for a few of the stories, it also makes a few of them predictable. As a result, they end up short of making a lasting impact. The stories that hit the mark linger with you for sometime and keep you invested in the plot even after they have ended.

The book also deals with moments of dilemma humans face while making decisions in life, no matter how significant or insignificant. This pits the reader’s choices against those of the characters time and again and makes for a very fluid vantage point which does not distance itself too much away from the characters and the stories. You will find yourself in situations where your vantage point gets flooded away with helplessness and there remains hardly any difference between you as a reader and the characters sketched in the stories.

The language is lucid and mature. The author has constructed her stories with not a word extra or unnecessary. There is no needless rhetoric or the microscopic background details. She balances the ‘told’ and the ‘untold’ deftly in all her stories and the reader is neither dumbed down nor is left to stray too far in the dark at any point.

My favourite stories in the book are Tears of the Goddess, To Each His Own, and Creator’s Image. The book is available on Amazon Kindle and if you are looking for a quick-read without having to commit to the rigours of reading a big fat novel in the already ominous season of lockdowns and unlocks, Creator’s Image is the one night stand you are looking for.

You can buy the book here.

Ishqiyapa-To-Hell-with-Love-TheSeer-Book-Review

Pankaj Dubey’s ‘Ishqiyapa – To Hell with Love’ Succeeds from Cover to Cover as a Commercial Fiction

The story pulls you in with a make-out-gone-wrong scene between two lovers. Then, it cuts to flashback to set the context of the opening scene. This context with all its characters of different shades, political rivalry, an underdog boy, a privileged but unhappy girl, and a faithful henchman creates a story of love and deceit interchanging places throughout the book Ishqiyapa -To Hell with Love. The book has been published by Penguin Metro Reads.

The premise is familiar and to a certain extent cliched. The kingpin of Bihar converts to a politician and has a few secrets under his belly. His daughter, Sweety is a free soul who wants to go out and explore the world. The protective father is not ready to let go of his daughter. Enters Lallan, an ambitious young man in love with Philip Kotler who aspires to become a successful entrepreneur in the mould of Ambani after completing his MBA course. Lallan is the variable who changes the trajectory of every character in the story and soon we find ourselves in the world of uncertainties. The thrill of this uncertainty reaches a crescendo towards the end of the book.

The author through his characters also displays his passion for the Hindi film industry. This becomes a double-edged sword for the book as you will be able to recall many moments from various movies while reading this book. Whether it works for the book or not, is for the readers to decide. If you are a reader who enjoys such references, you are going to enjoy this breezy read filled with typical Bollywood twists and turns.

Whether it is the caste rigidity in marriages or the notoriety of criminal politicians, Pankaj gets clear and clever references in the book. There are interesting episodes which tell you more about the time when kidnapping had become an industry in the state with the involvement of top politicians and mafia. Irrespective of these plot-crutches, the author has been successful in not turning it into a depressing tale of criminals and their crimes. Love stands as the backbone of the story and everything else happens to be accentuating the spirit of love. The author surprises you occasionally with his attention to details. What he chooses to tell and what he leaves to imagination give you hints aplenty that this book was written with the motion-picture adaptation in mind.

In retrospect, I believe this book lost an opportunity to dig deeper into Bihar and bring out the sides that are otherwise left unexplored in the hunt for a pop-fiction. Readers and movie-goers are already jaded with all the stereotyping and negativity around Bihar. So, when an author belonging to the state comes out to tell us a story from there, it is only fair to expect a little more than what the lazy Bollywood has done enough of, thanks to its prejudices and ignorance about the region and its people.

The genre this books falls in is known as Commercial Fiction. Books in this genre are high on mass appeal and are targeted at the average reader who is looking for a light read to spend a few hours in books that are easy on language and high on entertainment. On that front, Ishqiyapa – To Hell with Love succeeds, from cover to cover. Pankaj Dubey weaves a fast paced tale with no room for the ‘boring’ literary stuff the average reader runs away from.

Buy the book here.

Christopher Hitchens, Photograph by John Dempsie, c. 1978

Hitch 22, Christopher Hitchens, and the Art of Exhausting the Limits of the Possible

The ability to change opinions in the face of new facts is a dying skill. I do not know many people who would readily examine a fact or development and let it affect their stance on the matter at hand or political predilections they have been holding sacrosanct so far. In most cases, the opposite is true! The hardened ideological preferences are used to explain changing circumstances and the boat of life remains anchored on the banks of safe hypocrisy. In fact, this is how ideological fanaticism survives and breeds. When it is fed with the potion of power, it metamorphoses into the monster of totalitarianism. When the other boats that sailed to challenge themselves in thoughts and through actions return, there is no place left for them in the depraved lands.

If you want to visualize this more lucidly, imagine the ideologue or the intellectual you adore and follow as the head of your community, captain of your sports team, or the executive head of your country. Now, from their existing body of work, try to deduce what these people would allow and disallow once they are in such positions. This will define the limits of your liberty under them.

If you want an example, please refer to the recently released 7 point guideline from the “leading economists, intellectuals, and activists.” 7.1 gives ample sense of what such groups are capable of doing if they are given executive powers. Although, after a severe backlash from the netizens, the group had to completely replace the point but not before getting their lack of seriousness about the issue entirely exposed.

 

 

In the foreword to his book, Hitch 22, Christopher Hitchens quotes Pindar Pythion III – “Do not aspire to immortal life but exhaust the limits of the possible.” By the time he wrote down the foreword, Hitchens had already been diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. So in retrospect, when you look at his work after the diagnosis, you realize how earnestly he took to that utterance. Till the last days of his life, even though he seemed to have lost much of his muscles, he did not part with his astuteness and sense of humour that run through the chapters of his memoir – Hitch 22. Hitchens stood true to Pindar’s tenet and in many ways exhausted more than the limits of the possible.

Hitch 22 begins with a heartfelt chapter on Yvonne – Hitchens’ mother. This and the chapter on his father – Commander, are two of my favourite chapters in the book. In describing his childhood years, the role of his mother in his life, and the personality sketch of his father, he triumphs as a writer who has taken upon himself the daunting task of writing about his parents. He does not judge either of his parents and gives us a glimpse rife with emotions and delectable prose into his formative years. The fact that he never published any fiction, will remain a lamentable loss for the genre.

Hitchens was a brilliant storyteller and the book contains stories from around the world – the jocular ones as well as the grave tales of human suffering. He takes the reader on a ride through some of the major political developments of his time across the globe. The Vietnam war, Salazar’s regime in Portugal, expedition to Cuba as a young leftist a few months after Guevara’s demise, the Gulf wars, the 9/11 attack, Saddam Hussein’s fall, American war in Afghanistan, and the question of Anti-Semitism – Hitchens speaks about all of them, never hiding his opinions or the side he took.

In many of these narrations, even though he identifies himself as a Trotskyist, he keeps noticing the doublespeak of the Left or the waning of the ideology itself.

As 1968 began to ebb into 1969, however, and as “anticlimax” began to become a real word in my lexicon, another term began to obtrude itself. People began to intone the words “The Personal Is Political.” At the instant I first heard this deadly expression, I knew as one does from the utterance of any sinister bullshit that it was – cliche is arguably forgivable here – very bad news. From now on, it would be enough to be a member of a sex or gender, or epidermal subdivision, or even erotic “preference,” to qualify as a revolutionary. In order to begin a speech or to ask a question from the floor, all that would be necessary by way of preface would be the words: “Speaking as a . . .” Then could follow any self-loving description. I will have to say this much for the old “hard” Left: we earned our claim to speak and intervene by right of experience and sacrifice and work. It would never have done for any of us to stand up and say that our sex or sexuality or pigmentation or disability were qualifications in themselves. There are many ways of dating the moment when the Left lost or – I would prefer to say – discarded its moral advantage, but this was the first time that I was to see the sellout conducted so cheaply.”

Hitch-22: A Memoir, Christopher Hitchens

 

In the chapter ‘Mesopotamia from Both Sides’, Hitchens gives a detailed account of events that turned him into an Iraq war supporter from his previous anti-war stands. This was also the time when most of the Left was positing against the war and naturally attacked Hitchens for his views. The chapter ends with an affecting account of a young man named Mark Jennings Daily who was inspired by the writings of Christopher Hitchens on the moral cause for the Iraq war and had signed up as a soldier for the war. All these are towards the end of the book, including his fallout with Noam Chomsky whom he found to be on the opposite side about the American response to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

So much of our life is lived beyond the commonly used crutches of left-wing and the right-wing that an honestly-lived life will have to fly without any wings many times. Individual honesty offends the group-think and Hitchens’ life is a true testimony before us. His was the boat that was not meant to anchor on fanaticism in the garb of unflinching loyalty to the ideology. Christopher Hitchens greatly admired George Orwell and you will read Orwell finding a place in the book at several instances. It is not surprising then to see Hitchens questioning his own opinions and re-examining them many times over in his one lifetime. Quite naturally, Hitch-22 stands as an intellectually honest work that must feature in the ‘Read’ list of any serious reader of world politics.

You can purchase the book here.

 

A makeshift shop destroyed by the sea waves at Bakkhali due to the landing of Cyclone Amphan, near Sunderbans area in South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal (Photo Credit: PTI)

#PrayForBengal Is Not Enough to Recover From Amphan, We Need a #DoForBengal

West Bengal, Odisha, and Bangladesh have been mercilessly ravaged. The casualty mark in West Bengal is just short of 100 so far. This figure is excluding animals and all the mighty trees the cyclone has managed to fell. When COVID-19 has been already battering the state, the present crisis has deepened the wounds. Life has encountered an exclamation mark while the comma of Coronavirus continues to linger. This further attests to the fact that Mother Nature is not quite motherly after all. Much of the human history before man made enemies of themselves has been a story of struggling against the forces of nature. As much as we like to love nature and worship her, part of the awe rises from our fear that has travelled through our past generations of men and women who lost everything at the hands of not so benign avatar of nature. We have coexisted but not without our constant struggles through millennia.

A picture tells a thousand tales. However, the images of one of the first modern cities of India, Calcutta or Kolkata in the aftermath of Amphan cyclone, no matter how heart rending, are quite tragically hiding a thousand tales. Even as the images of the devastation are trickling through, there are many areas which haven’t yet received their power supply, have not regained access to telecom network, and are fighting shortage of drinking water, food supplies etc.. There are many images yet to come. The exact measure of the destruction will be felt away from the shallow attention spans of the social media platforms, part of it immediately and part slowly.

Even before the cyclone struck, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) had a fair idea of the damage that was about to come. As a result, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) had carried out massive evacuation. Bangladesh too had carried out such evacuations to minimize the loss of lives. If the death toll doesn’t rise any higher, we should still be thankful to the people on the field carrying out these exercises with all the handicaps of our Indian bureaucratic machinery. Electricity will be restored, the mobile network will come back, and the urban life will be back on its toes soon, or so we hope.

However, if we keep talking just about Kolkata, then we are making the same mistake that the self-proclaimed ‘National’ media makes – assuming New Delhi to be the sun with other states being in constant motion around this sun, the same mistake a lot of pure urban generations of Kolkata or Mumbai make – assuming Kolkata or Mumbai to be the centre of the universe with rest of the state thrown to the fringes. Let us shift the focus to the region which took the direct hitting of the cyclone. Nature can be swift but it also knows how to kill slowly. Mud embankments of the Sundarbans have been breached and sea water has entered the agrarian lands. This means doom for the farmers of the region as they are completely dependent on rice cultivation throughout the year. According to some reports, about 17,800 hectares of agricultural lands may have been damaged thus. In West Bengal alone, initial estimates tell that more than 1 lakh farmers have been affected. In Odisha, the losses are being calculated in the excess of $129 million. These farmers will need as much help as possible from the state machinery, central government, media, and citizens from other parts of the country.

West Bengal’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has a huge task at her hand and she did the right thing by calling on the Prime Minister to survey the affected areas. She will need all the help our country has at its disposal – money, minds, and hands. The PM has announced an advance package of 1000 crore for the state. I believe the state is going to need much more than that even if the funds are utilized judiciously. These are the hottest months in the state of West Bengal, more so in Kolkata and adjoining areas, another reason to fast-track the road to recovery. Additional NDRF teams have been sent, Odisha has extended help, Army is on the ground to ensure road and tree clearance in different parts of the city (Tollygunge, Ballygunge, Rajarhat, Diamond Harbour, and Behala). In the coming days and months, the country will need much more resilience and the willingness to recover than ever before – thanks to COVID-19 and now the cyclones.

All this is praiseworthy but what if another cyclone comes next year or 3 years later? People from deluged parts of Sundarbans will migrate to other places now but slowly come back in the next few years. Cyclone is nature’s dialect and there is no stopping it, so it will come again causing similar destruction all over again. This happens because the retreat is not strategic and permanent in nature. An article on the issue of minimising damage in the Sundarbans has been published here. The article in its conclusion says, “Strategic and Managed Retreat instead of repeated disruption and ad hoc temporary resettlement, though expensive, is known to outweigh the upfront costs in most cases. Globally, this is an accepted mode of adaptation! An increase in the frequency of extreme events is symptomatic of the fact that tropical depression forming in the Bay of Bengal has a high probability to reach to severe cyclone stage. Hence, the administration and the people of the Indian Sundarbans have little choice but to consider voluntary relocation to safer locations, but in a participatory manner so as to minimise possibilities of conflicts.”

The article also quotes the former Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste”. Considering the number of crises our country faces year after year in different parts of its geography, it appears we let each one of them go to waste.

Consider Bihar. 76 percent of Bihar lives under constant threat of floods. This means when a flood comes in Bihar, about 76 pc of the region is immediately impacted. Now for the uninitiated, Bihar gets its due share of floods almost every year. Loss of human lives, cattle, crops, homes occur annually. Patna and surrounding areas were flooded as recently as last year where even the deputy Chief Minister of the state was seen vacating his house.

study on the flood risk of Kosi basin says, “…It (flood) is the very mechanics of river formation which demands that highest discharges would not be confined within the channel and overbank flooding will occur. The risk from flooding becomes greater because of the increase in population pressure as more and more floodplain is occupied thereby necessitating the efforts to reduce the flood risk to be stepped up. However, it is very rarely possible to provide complete protection against floods, and therefore, all flood management programmes have to be designed in such a way that it does not give a false sense of security to the people living in the region, as is normally the case in India…”

It follows that the areas which should be under constant strategic upgrades and adaptation in the face of natural disasters are left to themselves for the rest of the year. High risk areas which should not be colonized by humans because floods and cyclones are the ways of nature and no amount of preparations can ensure zero destruction to lives and properties are being stressed with overpopulation. The affected survivors are now habituated to see helicopters flying up above them where a politician surveys the affected areas and announces a relief package, only to repeat the exercise every year. Our forefathers died crying over the deaths in floods and cyclones, we will do the same. Particularly in Bihar, flood has become a way of life and inevitably, also a way of death.

I am bringing Bihar into this discussion for one more purpose. Right from the time Amphan made its landfall, the ‘Antifact Slacktivist Internet Bengali’ also made his presence felt like a netquake. This Antifact Slacktivist group exists for other states too. These rebels without a cause, (or if you want me to be more respectful, rebels with a meaningless cause), obsessed with a self-serving obligation to express their racial superiority to the rest of India is the closest to a Nazi Indian you will meet, of course with all the Che Guevara sugarcoating. They keep themselves busy alienating the rest of India from Bengal by raking up fake movements over ‘we eat meat during Durga Puja, so we are better than you’, ‘we don’t worship Ram, so we’re better than you’, ‘we have given you National Anthem, so we’re better than you’, ‘we threaten the airport staff for speaking in Hindi, so we’re better than you’ all their life. Not surprisingly, their first response to the cyclone was to curse the rest of India for not trending #PrayForBengal on facebook. This lot is fast appropriating the whole of Bengal on the internet and is whitewashing the diversities that have existed in West Bengal for centuries. Most of these people have a very tinted understanding of Bengal’s own history and culture, leave alone that of the country.

Each of such crises and the following outrage is an opportunity to propagate their politics and ideology. If every single reaction or its absence is to be put as a test of nationalism, then the first people to fail this test will be this kind of Internet Bengalis. At least, I don’t remember to have seen any trending #PrayForBihar (not that I care) response from them when Bihar – a close neighbour having its capital city at a distance of about 500 KM from Kolkata – floods every year. When the farmers and the poor of the state who happen to be the worst affected of all and need all the support coming their way from all across the country, this self-posturing is a fraud being committed on the people who have no stake in the ideological battles and who would really welcome help from any part of the country with both arms wide open right now.

Having said that, it is important for us to differentiate between the ideological warriors and the victims of an ecological disaster. These victims cannot fill their bellies with our national anthem, cannot get their crops back by winning the Hindi-Bengali debate, and cannot have their cattle back with the victory of Kali over Ram. Keep the self-serving warriors aside and please come out to help Bengal. It will serve us well to keep in our mind the words of a great teacher from Bengal who embodied an enormity of heart and incisiveness of intellect that made him the true heir to the legacy of both Gautam Buddha, who attained enlightenment in Bodh Gaya of Bihar and Adi Shankara who travelled from Kerala to the length and width of the country for the spiritual unification of India.

“You merge yourselves in the void and disappear, and let new India arise in your place. Let her arise – out of the peasants’ cottage, grasping the plough; out of the huts of the fisherman. Let her spring from the grocer’s shop, from beside the oven of the fritterseller. Let her emanate from the factory, from marts, and from markets. Let her emerge from groves and forests, from hills and mountains.” – Swami Vivekananda

Please donate generously and help the ones who really need your help by visiting this link and send whatever amount you can – https://donations.belurmath.org/appeal-amphan-cyclone-relief-services-98376.

Cover Image: A makeshift shop destroyed by the sea waves at Bakkhali due to the landing of Cyclone Amphan, near Sunderbans area in South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal (Photo Credit: PTI)

 

Policemen force two men to do sit ups for flouting the lockdown rules, at Dharampura Bazar in Patiala on 24 March 2020 | PTI

COVID-19, Lockdowns, and Our ‘Typical Indian Problems’

We have now crossed the 100,000 mark. Every new day is beating the previous record of one day spike in the number of COVID-19 cases. The numbers refuse to budge. Lockdowns have gotten feebler every passing phase. The state leaderships which were collecting adulatory coins till now on social media from film stars, seem to be giving up in a very trumpesque manner. One look at different state governments tells you what they are keeping busy with. Fighting litigations to open Tasmac shops, fudging the numbers on coronavirus, choosing to deliberately get oblivious of the violations of social distancing and lockdown norms by the high and mighty, and cancelling emergency trains because the builders can decide the rights of a poor Indian in a closed door meeting with the Chief Minister, we have seen everything.

Considering the difficulty of our time, the socio-economic diversity of our country, and of course our population, the chinks we are developing are inevitable. In spite of these misdemeanours, the government and bureaucracy have been toiling to contain the pandemic. The pressure to do better than other affected countries is palpable on the face of our leaders. The inconsistencies that we have seen in our political class and bureaucracy is a reminder for us to notice similar patterns in citizens too. While many have cooperated with the law enforcement agencies and the local administration, a huge number for some reason, is determined to dilute all the efforts and our national discipline, assuming it exists.

Back in my hometown, I remember something distinctly from my childhood. I would watch these individuals boarding a bus and on being asked for the ticket charge, they would just utter the word ‘staff’. That was the magic word. Some conductors did not dig deeper than this. A few would ask for an identity card. This would invariably turn into some sort of argument. The word – staff, was just one word from the freeloader (tu jaanta nahi main kaun hoon) vocabulary. This is still common in many parts of our country. I am sure you have seen words like ‘Army’, ‘Police’ on motorbikes and cars. Those are declarations of authority. Even when these vehicles are not being driven by the original owners, these signs have the same power. The point is, once we are made aware of this sort of vocabulary, we use these words whenever we are bending the system for our benefit. In effect, most of the people on the streets are either powerful in some way or are pretending to be. Ask any dhaabawala how many policemen pay their bills.

Last week, I ventured out after about 10 days to get some vegetables and while I was picking my veggies, a woman appeared out from a car without a mask towards the shop. When I asked her about her mask, she went back reluctantly towards the car but came back empowered with the male company who was on the wheels. On being asked again, they went into an argument overkill to defend their choice – “you don’t tell me, who are you?”. All that did not surprise me. In fact, when I answered with – “I am a citizen of this country, and I have a right to point it out if you are doing something so wrong for public health”, she dug into her freeloader vocabulary and retorted – “I’m a doctor. So I know. You don’t tell me!” If only irony were an academic discipline, this lady would win a Nobel.

Delhi customs has confiscated illegal export consignment of PPE kits. Karnataka government has already received requests for opening up mosques for prayers from MLC C.M. Ibrahim. People are coming out in large numbers for religious congregations, Maharashtra is doing everything that could be seen as opposite of a lockdown. It is almost as if people are volunteering for herd immunity by infection. All my visits to the bazaar have brought me face to face with people who don’t care about following social distancing norms or wearing a mask. Closer home, a house had some religious ceremony and entertained guests over a period of 3 days. A neighbour has carried out a complete makeover of his house using around 5-7 workers every day of the lockdown. These workers took the masks from their pockets only when I happened to request them. At all other times, they stayed inside the pockets. Interestingly, the homeowners used masks for themselves. After initial prohibitions from the governments on spitting in public places, I had hoped for some change. I didn’t realise spitting is something that completes our Indianness.

I’m sure you must have come across such situations in your own outings during these lockdowns. Of course, I am assuming you are not the one violating these norms in the first place. Now that the governments have given up on the lockdown restrictions and we are on our own, it is perhaps time to look into our behaviour as individuals during the last couple of months. Our attitude, both at the beginning and now, can finally explain the ‘typical Indian’ problems. I list a few of them here –

  1. Why do we indulge in rash driving and honk like we are composing some Bollywood ‘item number’?
  2. Why does our saliva keep asking for ‘aazadi’ from us every time we come out in public spaces?
  3. Why do our public hospitals spread more diseases than they cure? 
  4. Why does corruption fit so well under ‘essential services’ for us? 
  5. Why have our ponds, lakes, and rivers shapeshifted into exaggerated drains?
  6. Why do we smoke, pee everywhere apart from the places designated for them?  
  7. Why queues are synonymous with waterboarding for Indians?
  8. Why do Indian women get the definition of women-empowerment wrong so often? 
  9. Why do Indian men deny the existence of condoms?

When I met these defaulters during my lockdown outings, most of the responses betrayed a sense of invincibility, like ‘it’s nothing, it won’t happen to me’. Another response tried to tell me that since I was safe by following the rules, I should keep shut and not bother others. It is not innocence. It is not any sort of self-sacrifice. It is just a refusal to fall in line, a refusal of responsibility. We do not care. We are great at throwing the blame on someone else. It’s not that we don’t care at all, we do. In fact, as Manu Joseph puts it, we have ‘immense stamina for useless issues’. For example, we care enough to slap a film-maker because his film hurts our group-pride. However, no amount of gutkha spitting hurts our group pride because we haven’t yet identified with any group that takes offence for gutkha spitting. Of course, Maharana Pratap didn’t sacrifice his life fighting the gutkha spewers, how can we take offence for that then?

 

The group that is still largely unrealized and unknown in our land is called ‘enlightened citizenry’, a concept discussed in detail by Swami Ranganathananda in his lecture and now book on Enlightened Citizenship and our Democracy. An individual’s awareness of his social responsibility is at the centre of such a citizenship. Since we have not yet understood this difference between an ordinary ‘adult citizenship’ and an ‘enlightened’ one, our other group associations dominate enlightened citizenry for much of our lifetime. It is up to us then to step back every time our pride is wounded and identify the group we are associating with to inflict this wound upon ourselves. If we find that this group is anything other than ‘enlightened citizenry’, we have our answer to most of the problems that begin with ‘a typical Indian..’.

 

Cover Image: Policemen force two men to do sit ups for flouting the lockdown rules, at Dharampura Bazar in Patiala on 24 March 2020 | PTI

 

Palghar Lynching and the Individuals Who Make the Mob

Observe yourself. Look at your thoughts. Understand your speech. Fathom your actions. Now, with all those weapons at your disposal – do you stand with the lynched, the mob that lynched, or the policemen who served the Sadhus on a silver platter to a bloodthirsty mob? If this doesn’t help, ask yourself if you have done anything in your life to prevent such a blood-curdling incident, or on the opposite, have your weapons actually further strengthened such forces? We incessantly post hateful comments, we alienate people we don’t like, we write a deceitful article, we keep hiding the flaws of things and people we love, and then we go to bed with a self-bravo on our back while remaining completely unaware of what we have contributed to. There are people of course who do it on purpose and paycheck but I’m not writing to them.

 

We choose a side according to our predilections. Our group identities are running on a rampage. First, we are Hindus or Muslims or Brahmins or Dalits. These group identities give anonymity to the individual. The individual no longer has to bear the burden of his face and individual identity. He becomes part of a group – no matter how small or big. The group has a mask. This mask hides everyone. The question is who is it hiding the individual from? 

 

The first person an individual needs to hide from is himself – his own conscience. We keep judging our actions everyday. Imagine how much you judged and punished yourself the last time you reprimanded your kid. How is it possible then, that an individual goes and kills 3 people with such nonchalance? The mobocracy hides the individual from his own conscience and this makes it easier for him to do what the mob does. “We were not wrong when we voted our Member of Parliament in on the basis of our group identity, how can we get wrong now? This person must be punished.” The second person this individual is hiding from is the person standing next to him. It’s not that it’s just you who judges yourself. Usually, if you are a youngster, more specifically a juvenile, and you get into a silly fight with your friend out in public, someone will come and chide both of you to end the scuffle. That’s a responsibility an individual of a civilized society takes upon himself without anyone telling him to do so. Why then, the person standing next to a kid who is about to murder someone does not do the same thing when he is part of a mob? Of course, the other person is hiding from his own conscience first. Secondly, he also needs protection from the kid’s conscience. The symbiotes assist each other, become stronger than they were alone, and feel the rush of all-consuming power from inside out before they go for the kill. A life or several lives end. People outrage. People blame the group they hate. Job is done. Only problem – the symbiotes keep coming back.

 

So, what are the group identities involved here? A group of offended muslims because a group member’s daughter loved a Hindu boy, a group of offended gaurakshaks because a few muslims were smuggling cows, a group of offended villagers because somebody stole their child, and a group of angry policemen determined to prove their worth to the country as well as their power over a failed judiciary – these are a few groups that have in recent times been accused or found guilty of lynching. For the entire length of their lives on media – social or otherwise, these killers are referred to with their group name – a few more often than others sometimes. The 2 sadhus and 1 driver – namely – Sushil Giri Maharaj, Nilesh Telgane, and Chikane Maharaj Kalpavrikshgiri were being referred to as thieves or alleged thieves by the media outlets till the time those agonizing visuals came out. On one side, there was hardly any outrage before this and on the other side, once the visuals came out and it was conclusively proved that these were sadhus, a very consorted movement was launched to pin the blame on muslims. On the opposite camp, the people who usually lose their heads and leave no stone unturned to shame every Hindu of the country when an individual of Islamic faith loses his life in a similar situation began to shed ‘I told you so’ and ‘Now, you know how it feels’ tears of joy over the corpses of these men. 

It is not very difficult to see that if we cared about the individual, the outrage would have come two days ago. If we had cared enough to understand that no matter the group identity, an individual’s life should not be lost this way, we wouldn’t hurt each other in riots after riots. If we had cared about the life of the last person standing in the queue of our country’s civilizational progress, we wouldn’t have beaten up the doctors and nurses who have become our first line of defence in these disheartening times. 

 

Research Psychologist Irving Janis (1918-1990) who coined the term ‘GroupThink’ (inspired by Orwell’s DoubleThink) gives eight symptoms to identify GroupThink – 

 

Type I: Overestimations of the group — its power and morality

  • Illusions of invulnerability creating excessive optimism and encouraging risk taking.
  • Unquestioned belief in the morality of the group, causing members to ignore the consequences of their actions.

 

Type II: Closed-mindedness

  • Rationalizing warnings that might challenge the group’s assumptions.
  • Stereotyping those who are opposed to the group as weak, evil, biased, spiteful, impotent, or stupid.

 

Type III: Pressures toward uniformity

  • Self-censorship of ideas that deviate from the apparent group consensus.
  • Illusions of unanimity among group members, silence is viewed as agreement.
  • Direct pressure to conform placed on any member who questions the group, couched in terms of “disloyalty”
  • Mindguards— self-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting information.

 

To see an example, between 347 and 504 unarmed people were killed by the U.S. Army soldiers in the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War on 16 March 1968. Victims included men, women, children, and infants. Some of the women were gang-raped and their bodies mutilated as were children as young as 12. In Dave Grossman’s book, On Killing, a veteran described talks about the “ordinary, basically decent American soldier”

“You put those same kids in the jungle for a while, get them real scared, deprive them of sleep, and let a few incidents change some of their fear to hate. Give them a sergeant who has seen too many of his men killed by booby traps and by lack of distrust, and who feels that Vietnamese are dumb, dirty and weak, because they are not like him. Add a little mob pressure, and those nice kids who accompany us today would rape like champions.”

 

Add social media to the mix and groupthink becomes a godzilla that we can essentially refer to as MobThink. I can be meaner on social media than I would normally be with you in person without much of a regret. We create echo-chambers where we keep listening to thoughts and people we like. We hate with much greater gusto augmented by a sense of apathy for the opposite side. We mock people with gau-mutra slurs, we keep calling them puncture-wala, we insult each others’ Gods, we keep insulting the migrants in our states, we keep junking languages our mothers didn’t speak, we keep blaming Brahmins for all the wrongs done to us, we keep discriminating against the Dalits, this is a never ending list. There is always someone else responsible for our failures and problems. 

 

The other group or mob loses all its rights to exist. While social media has come to the party late, its rise and ways retrospectively explain what has been happening in our society for a long time. We are raised to conform. We inherit groups and segregations of caste, language, culture, wealth status, religion, dietary choices and what not. Naturally, we inherit groupthink too. The inheritance might not have been a problem if the individual is given his due place but we spend a lifetime being taught that a group is bigger than the individual. Conformity is expected, resistance is condemned, and quickly a whole society forgets that it is made up of individuals who must have the freedom to think, to question, to discriminate between ideas to become a productive unit of the society. That is a utopian dream though. The group-leader who keeps flipping between leading the groupthink and falling victim to it, is the only individual who is important. Rest are born to follow, propagate the virus of group-thinking, and die facing dystopian realities. 

 

To use an analogy from the story of Ramayana, Vibhishan, who was the only one to see the right in the middle of so many wrongs and could stand against the groupthink of Ravan and his associates is remembered more as a traitor than an individual who had a mirror of truth in his hand to show to the society. On the other hand, Ram had a group of people around him who thought differently and had different solutions to the same problems. From Lakshman who wanted Ram to punish the Ocean God against Ram’s preferred way of prayers to Hanuman who finds out Sita’s whereabouts and Angad who happened to be the son of Baali who was earlier killed by Ram, each individual had a specific role to play in the victory of Lanka. While the epic was written for us to perhaps aspire and work for individual excellence leading to a group’s progress, we have degenerated into clusters of Lanka where the only task at hand is to protect Ravans of the society and their criminal behaviour. Vibhishans are still unpopular and are getting kicked out from their groups with the same disdain and alacrity. This way, mobs preserve their homogeneity and commit to thoughts and acts where everyone is always a participant and no one is ever guilty.

 

What part of the incident should we choose to get shocked at? Should we be shocked that a group of people can kill three people without a moment of hesitation? Or should we be horrified at the fact that the police, which employs a large number of individuals who otherwise derive great joy and frolic by carelessly raining lathis over the vulnerable, literally handed over these men to the hunters as if they were the mob’s marked prey? Or should we be surprised that such an incident could happen in a country under strict lockdown? The lockdown doesn’t surprise us anymore though. Since it began, we have read news about doctors and nurses becoming victims of mob violence in different parts of the country. As recently as yesterday, there are reports coming from Tamil Nadu that the ambulance carrying Simon Hercules’ body, a doctor and medical entrepreneur who ran the New Hope Private Hospital and died of a coronavirus infection, was attacked and his cremation resisted by a mob. 

 

As long as we keep hiding behind the mask of a mob or a group, this is not going to change. The mask has to fall and it is time to bring the individual in focus, the same individual that was taught to us as the basic unit of society and then conveniently forgotten. Individualism holds that a person taking part in society attempts to learn and discover what his or her own interests are on a personal basis, without a presumed following of the interests of a societal structure (an individualist need not be an egoist). The individualist does not follow one particular philosophy, rather creates an amalgamation of elements of many, based on personal interests in particular aspects that he/she finds of use. On a societal level, the individualist participates on a personally structured political and moral ground. Independent thinking and opinion is a common trait of an individualist.” For Carl Jung, individuation is a process of transformation, whereby the personal and collective unconscious is brought into consciousness (by means of dreams, active imagination or free association to take examples) to be assimilated into the whole personality. It is a completely natural process necessary for the integration of the psyche to take place. Jung considered individuation to be the central process of human development. 

 

Evidently, our current central process of human development is rotten and individuals go unaccountable. Since mobs either have no answers and generally possess the demonic power of mob-justice with them, can we absolve ourselves from the sins of these groups? Do we stand the rigours of morality an individual must abide by? We don’t! There was a time when to get such results, psychologists needed elaborate experimental setups. Several psychological experiments of the past have shown that if put in a situation where we – yes, I and you, had a choice to follow a mob to commit an act of crime or not, we are more likely to join the mob.

 

Right now, social media is a live laboratory of several experiments and one doesn’t need to make much effort to see how we join warring mobs online – sometimes against another mob and many a time against an individual. We keep killing our own individualism and vacate more spaces for the mobs to assemble and kill more individuals. When we keep planting the seeds of hatred every day in our lives, how can we expect to out-outrage the lynch mobs? Our polity is filled with individuals hiding behind these hate-mobs, our universities and institutions are saturated with hate-mobs, our media has prime-timed hate in our living rooms. Our government system has accepted people who come out during the elections, use the power of this mob to spew venom against other groups, and then crawl back to their hole with zero accountability or repercussions. Our public discourse is largely ‘against somebody’ than ‘for anything’. Our inner dialogue has disappeared under the pressures of conformity to the lynch-mob psyche. Why does it surprise us then that three people have been killed in the most gruesome manner possible? Are you sure that you are not the rumour-monger of the town who will effect more such killings in the days to come?

Dr. Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life are Not Meant to be Broken!

If you have followed Dr. Jordan Peterson’s trajectory closely, you would agree that if nothing, he has at the least gotten under the skin of the shallow, lazy intellectuals who have been enjoying an extended honeymoon in the marketplace of intellectuals. Right from their stranglehold on the academia to their presumption of privilege to be heard first on all matters significant or otherwise, the foundations have been shaken. Now, some of them have gone to their study to revise the fundamentals of their worldview and the ones who were there only by the virtue of intellectual nepotism have unwittingly come out in open with their lack of depth and understanding about matters Dr. Peterson speaks of. Faced with such a situation, I have seen them doing, one of these two things – either they keep talking to the straw-man their professors had created for them back in their schools or they keep throwing off meaningless personal allegations against the man. This is such a common streak in Dr. Peterson’s interviews (mostly, the ones that have been taken by the flag-bearers of lazy intellectualism) that most of the time, he is not being heard. What we see instead is some sort of passive listening while their active brain is busy stitching its next net to trap him. On the other hand, Dr. Peterson doesn’t shy away from taking his own sweet time to listen so as to draft better responses and throw in an honest question at the end of it which even though seemingly honest, pops up only by design . In a few minutes, aware or unaware, the interviewer is choked for space and starts following Dr. Peterson’s streak. So, while the interviewer is already zoned out, Dr. Peterson is still in the ring, ready to land his knockout punch.

I heard of the book 12 Rules for Life in one of his talks on YouTube. Since the subjects and delivery of his YouTube lectures had me hooked on to them already, I didn’t have much questions about going ahead and buying his book. Typically, you would place this book on the self-help shelf in a bookstore but even if the book is kept in the autobiographies section, it would make equal sense, if not more. This is because Jordan Peterson is not into empty lecturing and tall tales. He draws heavily from his own life, his struggles, and his attempts to understand the ever-elusive meaning of life to explain his rules. This works in favour of the book because a book that is meant to help you should have at least helped the author before taking birth as a book.

One must increase one’s strength by sadhana; otherwise one cannot preach. As the proverb goes: ‘You have no room to sleep yourself and you invite a friend to sleep with you.’ There is no place for you to lie down and you say: ‘Come, friend! Come and lie down with me.’  – Sri Ramakrishna (Gospel/Vol2/34.html)

Jordan presents the book as an antidote to chaos. What chaos is he actually talking about? Before he starts explaining the rules, while telling us about the title, he says, “Perhaps if we lived properly, we would be able to tolerate the weight of our own self-consciousness. Perhaps, if we lived properly, we could withstand the knowledge of our own fragility and mortality, without the sense of aggrieved victimhood that produces, first, resentment, then envy, and then the desire for vengeance and destruction. Perhaps, if we lived properly, we wouldn’t have to turn to totalitarian certainty to shield ourselves from the knowledge of our insufficiency and ignorance. Perhaps we could come to avoid those pathways to Hell-and we have seen in the terrible twentieth century just how real Hell can be.”

Now, if I had to count the attributes of today’s individual that contribute to the chaos Mr. Peterson is talking about, they would be the following –

  • Loss of Self-Esteem

    Too many in this world are being brought up with a sense of criminality about the human race. While a bunch of people keep working to make this world a better place, there are so many individuals who really believe that humans are not good enough for this planet. Add to this, the deliberate divorce from one’s own history, culture, and heritage being effected by the academia and popular media, our youngsters grow up without any self-esteem. They only know to loathe themselves and others with increasing intensity every day.

  • Playing the Victim Card

    We have become too touchy, we like flashing the victim card all the time to outshout others and make ourselves heard. We play the victim card when we are on the wrong, we play it when we have wronged someone else. This has far reaching consequences. One, nobody is ready to take responsibility for their actions. Two, the real victims are almost never heard or ignored and they keep suffering. Three, we end up living a life based on lies and deceit. We reduce ourselves to mere actors and manipulate our own worldview to see the world as a stage and everyone else as fellow actors.

  • Loss of Purpose

    This point in part is connected to the first point. Our world is more connected than it has ever been. With 24/7 internet life, online profiles, avatars, the need to flaunt or fake your happiness and success has migrated from our neighbourhoods to the World Wide Web. That world is naturally more fierce, less forgiving, and changing at a breakneck speed. So, individuals end up making stories and exaggerating their experiences instead of living a truly meaningful life with any sense of purpose.

  • Envy

    This is one aspect of our chaos that is not always addressed openly. This feeling is not unnatural but what we let it do to us is very much our own choice. While some people let it drive them to lead a meaningful life, most of the people let it destroy them one sad day at a time.

  • No Respect for the Other Person

    This other person can be your friend, family, parents, sibling, teacher, colleague, or somebody you don’t agree with on political issues. The lack of respect has made all our exchanges a zero sum game where either you are with me or against me. If you are with me, good. If you are against me, you are a fascist. The middle ground of mutual respect has perished. What am I talking about? Check this piece by Dr. Shashi Tharoor – am-i-a-closet-sanghi-for-mourning-demise-of-an-rss-man-somethings-terribly-wrong-tharoor

  • Handling Grief

    For all the interconnectedness chatter in the world, we are not really doing ourselves proud when it comes to making real connections. More families are going nuclear, people have fewer friends, we seldom know who our neighbour is, and trusting colleagues has become an impossible thing at work. While solitude can be empowering when exercised by choice of time and place, compelled loneliness leaves us terribly vulnerable in times of grief. When something happens to somebody close to us, we are caught helpless while trying to deal with our grief.

Now, this is of course not an exhaustive list, so you may add to it whatever you feel brings chaos to our life. Just one word of caution, when you start adding to the list, do not begin by thinking of the society at large. Instead, begin by thinking about yourself and your own life. Start by including the chaotic aspects of your own life. Human beings are not too different from each other. What you find in 1, you fill find in n. It is for this reason Dr. Peterson highlights the importance of changing the world by changing the self. In his Rule No. 6, Mr. Peterson says, “Don’t blame capitalism, the radical left, or the iniquity of your own enemies. Don’t reorganize the state until you have ordered your own experience. Have some humility. If you cannot bring peace to your own household, how dare you try to rule a city? Let your own soul guide you…”

 Be the change you want to see in the world. – Mahatma Gandhi

Mr. Peterson has addressed all the points mentioned here and more through his 12 rules. Every rule picks on one thing that he wants you to start doing. For each of his rule, starting from ‘Stand up straight with your shoulders back’ to the last one – ‘Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street’, Mr. Peterson explains the fundamentals, his reason for framing such a rule, the positioning of the rule in his own life, and the biological, psychological, and historical context to the rule. All these rules are an attempt to help an individual live a meaningful life. It’s not that all of these rules will sound new to you. On the contrary, you must have heard most of them at different points in your life. Many of the points Mr. Peterson identifies are in fact ancient wisdom of our sages. However, Mr. Peterson with this book lends a new seriousness to these rules that they deserve in modern times. A new teacher is good only if he helps you understand things that the previous teacher could not. So, if you have heard about these rules before and could not understand their import or function in your life, Mr. Jordan Peterson makes an excellent new teacher.

The world is the great gymnasium where we come to make ourselves strong. – Swami Vivekananda

The book doesn’t end where the 12 rules end. The author adds a beautiful chapter titled ‘CODA’ to conclude the book. The chapter features a ‘Pen of Light’. Mr. Peterson received it as a gift from his friend. I would leave out the details of this pen for you to read in the book. However, I must tell you that this book seems to have been written with the help of this pen of light, metaphorically if not literally. This book is an attempt of the most sincere kind to help individuals become stronger. Our popular culture values victimhood more than strength but it is your strength that helps you escape victimhood. By strength, one doesn’t refer only to the kind you use to thrash your enemies. Strength means something far deeper than that. Strength of character, of conviction, of intellect, of emotions, and of spirit is what today’s individuals need and the book, through stories of our author’s own struggles in his life, is an attempt at leaving you stronger that way.

My Maa passed away on 31st January, 2019 after hoping for about 14 months that she would be able to defeat pancreatic cancer. I have not been able to come to terms with her absence in my life. Perhaps, that will never happen. However, I wanted to look at other people and their grief in order to understand mine better. I began to read a lot of personal blogs of people to understand how other people have handled grief and how do they see the helplessness that comes along with it. Thereafter, I stumbled upon C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed. Jordan’s 12 Rules for Life reached me after that.

In the last chapter, Jordan narrates the story of his daughter Mikhaila who was diagnosed with polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) when she was about 6 years of age. He writes, “…it begins with a question, structured like a Zen koan. Imagine a Being who is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. What does such a Being lack? The answer? Limitation… If you are already everything, everywhere, always there is nowhere to go and nothing to be. Everything that could be already is, and everything that could happen has already has. And it is for this reason, so the story goes, that God created man. No limitation, no story. No story, no Being. That idea has helped me deal with the terrible fragility of Being. It helped my client, too. I don’t want to overstate the significance of this. I don’t want to claim that somehow this makes it all OK. She (talking about his client) still faced the cancer afflicting her husband, just as I still faced my daughter’s terrible illness. But there’s something to be said for recognizing that existence and limitation are inextricably linked….”

Something supersedes thinking, despite its truly awesome power. When existence reveals itself as existentially intolerable, thinking collapses in on itself. In such situations-in the depths-it’s noticing, not thinking, that does the trick. Perhaps you might start by noticing this: when you love someone, it’s not despite their limitations. It’s because of their limitations.  – Jordan Peterson

The healing perhaps never happens, or maybe it does. I’m not so sure about it at this point of my life. However, to ‘notice’ that there are many others trying to understand life and its ways just like I am, gives a meaning to my own struggle. Mr. Jordan Peterson, like many other teachers of the past, reassures my belief that my struggle is not irrelevant, it is not insignificant. That belief according to me is ‘strength’ and that’s what 12 Rules for Life – An Antidote to Chaos is about.

http://www.personal.psu.edu/bfr3/blogs/asp/media-spoonfeeding-cartoon.jpg

Read Your Friends Close And Your Enemies Closer

While he was still a student, Swami Vivekananda had already read Herbert Spencer, John Richard Green, Immanuel Kant, Schopenhauer, John Stuart Mill, August Comte, Aristotle, Wordsworth, David Hume, Percy Shelley, and Charles Dickens among other writers. Dr. Ambedkar, during his lifetime, had collected more than 50,000 books at Rajgruha (his house in Mumbai). On being asked to furnish a list of books that influenced him, Leo Tolstoy sent an age-wise list of 50 books that influenced him through his lifetime. We can make a list of the most original thinkers and leaders in the world and barring a few exceptions, we will invariably find that they were and are the most avid readers you can find. They never shied away from reading ideas that challenged their own perceptions of the world. Now, in a world where our habits are defined by the ways of the internet, thanks to the algorithms that track our preferences and reading history, we keep reading what we keep reading. As a result, forget the ideas we do not like, we don’t even understand the ideas we actually like.

 

Reading is a different space in the mind, a battleground where ideas meet. Some ideas mingle and sign treaties while some meet only to fight and decimate each other. Now, if this open field keeps hosting only one particular kind of idea and never lets other ideas anywhere near the battleground, the mind becomes a complacent place. It forgets how treaties are signed, it forgets how battles are fought and won, and most importantly, it forgets how a battle of ideas is lost. It is therefore, the duty of a reader to keep the battlefield alive and bloody, so that the ideas may sweat more during peace and bleed less during the war. If that duty is not taken care of, a stronger idea keeps coming at you until you are annihilated and you surrender without putting up a fight! It is at this point that you make a choice between – getting co-opted by the stronger force or remain exiled till you prepare for the battle anew. Sadly, most of us get co-opted.

 

Apart from their personal struggle, a lot many change-makers of this planet took their own sweet time to understand their own self better. They read ideas from different corners of human development. They examined them first hand and reached their own conclusions. They sieved out things and kept what they needed. They strengthened their ideas by putting them to rigorous tests and only then, came out to talk about them to people. These people had minds of their own. It was impossible to co-opt them. It was impossible to overshadow them. It was impossible to disagree with them in totality. This happened because they were sincere in their efforts and they all found one or more element of truth for themselves. An easy identifier to mark such people is that you will find otherwise completely divergent groups trying to appropriate their ideas after they are gone. That happens because of several reasons. One, these men and women were not afraid of revising their ideas from time to time, so one group cites from one phase of their lives and another from another without understanding the context. Two, these people have already done the hard work of reading and filtering of ideas, so the appropriating groups have it easier if they just accept them as their Heroes and follow whatever they like in their repertoire.

 

Now, things would have been still better if people just did not want to read about ideas they disagreed with. However, we have people who do not even want to read ideas they like, ideas that appeal to them, and people they adore otherwise. This is partly their own laziness and partly peer pressure.

 

“Ambedkar was a great man”
“…yes, Ambedkar was a great man”
“why?”
“because he drafted the constitution?”
“ok, so have you read the constitution?”
“What? No! How can one read the constitution?”

 

This population bifurcates at the point ‘action’ comes into the picture. Case in point, a protest march in the name of Ambedkar. One set will stay at home and the other will join the march with all their zeal. The ones staying at home are more or less a harmless set. The one on the street is capable of burning buses and hurling stones at trains in peer pressure or on the command of the leader who has studied Ambedkar but knows what to conceal and what to reveal to effect a nihilistic vandalism. That’s why I wonder why people are so surprised to find protestors in Anti-CAA and Pro-CAA marches not knowing what CAA even stands for. The lot that doesn’t want to read but is eager to burn is the injurious one and the growth of such set should be a cause for worry for all of us. People who have read 2 more books or a few more wiki links than these gullible people are able to preach to them and drive them according to their own fancy. The gullible warrior is too lazy to do his own background work and hence, walks behind people who do it or at least pretend to do it.

 

This is one reason for the widespread reach of fake news. Any influencer puts out a piece of news that might be fake (intended or otherwise) and his followers start sharing the piece without a care for its authenticity or consequences. The followers do not like the idea of reading, they do not like the idea of fact-finding, they do not like the idea of getting corrected – what they like is – does that shared statement help them ascertain their own beliefs? If it does, click retweet. If not, hurl insults. The reading and the contemplative population remain a minority. It is  common to see someone who has not read Ambedkar swearing in his name, someone who has not read Gandhi speak about Satyagraha all the time, someone who doesn’t know Sanskrit talk of protecting it with all their might, someone who has never read Karl Marx dismiss him nonchalantly or fight for him tooth and nail.

 

If you have read this piece till here and if you know you belong to this set, there is nothing to be ashamed about. The systems of our world make it easier for you to fall prey to a bigger fish and get co-opted. We like people who agree with us. Online bookstores suggest you books on the basis of your reading history, streaming channels show you show suggestions based on your viewing history, news aggregators show you news according to what you have clicked before on their site, and friends gift you books according to your taste. It is a difficult arrangement. The battleground of mind is a difficult place by itself and that space should not be up for co-option by anyone anywhere. Start making the change today. Dust your armoury, sharpen your swords, and if you want to bring about a revolution of ideas outside, bring it inside your head first. To begin with, read. Then, come out of your ideological silos and read some more.

 

CAB Protests and Our Grammar of Anarchy

The first thing in my judgement we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.

 

When we do not use the constitutional devices made available to us and begin to disrupt our own society to get what we want, in my opinion, there can be arguably two chief driving forces – first, we have lost all faith in our judiciary. After all, just a few days back, a lot amongst us wanted the men accused in Hyderabad rape case to be lynched in a public spectacle and a large part of the country celebrated when they were killed in a police encounter. The defenders of the law are still having a hard time explaining what was wrong in such an act by the police. When you hear Nirbhaya’s mother speaking about her wait for justice for the last 7 years with one ‘juvenile’ already walking free, there is not much left to defend about the systems that were designed for justice but have almost become impediments to the same. Like any other pillar of democracy, our judiciary has become a prisoner of its own laws.

 

However, a large majority still fights with its self-doubts and conflicts with the system to rush to the court when needed. There is a reason that we have more than 3 crores cases pending in our courts. In absence of faith, most of these citizens involved in litigation would have become vigilantes themselves. This brings us to the second force – a lot amongst us do not believe in the institutions of the country, including the judiciary. So, when we are not busy fortifying our beliefs or absence thereof, we take to the streets to bring theory into practice. This set holds the constitution holy in public and burns it with the other hand in private and when provided with an opportunity to be their private self in public, they burn the constitution in public too. They are the ones who have carried out the so called ‘hijacking’ of the Citizenship Amendment Bill/Citizenship Amendment Act protests.

 

Hijacking of protests is not a new phenomenon. When you venture out to protest on the streets through your voice or your pen, you must begin with the assumption that there will be attempts to hijack your movement. If you don’t start with this understanding, your movement will be corrupted in no time. Now, if you do have that understanding, it is also incumbent upon you to prevent it from happening. However, if you consciously want your protests to be hijacked so that it becomes viral and you can extract a career out of it, you are not solving any problem. You are the problem.

 

 

The Question of Group Identification

A lot of people, including most of the media agencies, have betrayed their ignorance in the last week. There are individuals who have claimed that India does not share a border with Afghanistan, many have claimed that they live in India and not Bharat (ignorant about the adoption of the name Bharat in our constitution). There are individuals who have confidently tried to fact-check people who have been using the term ‘CAA’ instead of CAB after the bill was passed in the parliament. Then, there were people who took a week to understand that they cannot support the anti-immigration protests of Assam and the inclusion of Muslims in the Citizenship Amendment Act at the same time. Such people ranged from a few lazy but opinionated people, a few celebrities and their followers, a few small-time opinion makers on social media to some high and mighty so called intellectuals of the country and abroad. That such ignorance could be displayed with such confidence without even a reluctant look at our country’s history, geography, official documents, and most importantly our constitution, has amply proved that Indians don’t like details, we hate to read, we hate to understand our surroundings, and we absolutely abhor being questioned. Ignorance is not the greatest sin, believing that ignorance-is-bliss is.

Between being ignorant and believing that ignorance-is-bliss, lies a greater folly – the desire to play ignorant for the optics. This happens when you know what you are saying is wrong but it sounds politically correct and you can get claps for it, so, you go on to say it anyway. 

When presented with a question – If you had the option to take liberties with some facts and crack a really funny joke or being accurate with the facts and risk dishing out a bland one or no joke at all, which one would you choose? A populist choice makes you dishonest. An honest choice makes you less popular or even unpopular. Many intellectuals in our country however, choose the first option and divide the society into groups that carry one chief value that they decide to label them with. So, if a woman slanders you and you slander her back, they will come at you saying things like ‘how could you talk to a woman like that’ because even when they know that the woman in question is an individual first and the response to her was in her individual capacity irrespective of her gender; for these people, using the gender crutch helps them project themselves as feminists and also perhaps agreeable to a lot of people. 

 

One such oversimplified group in question in the ongoing protests is ‘students’. You will be hearing a plethora of generalizations flying across from both the warring sides – “these students are anti-national”, “a student doesn’t burn buses”, “JNU students are enemies of the nation”, “students like to study”. The absurdity of the arguments have reached such incredible heights that it appears that students are aliens whom most of us do not know and a few of us know too well. A student can be anything – nationalist, anti-national, sub-nationalist, ethno-linguistic fanatic, fascist, communist, sexist, homophobe, islamophobe, xenophobe, or even a terrorist. When the BHU protests happened over the appointment of a Muslim scholar and professor to teach Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Vigyan, students were called out as bigots. A student can burn buses, another can douse the fire. A student may not want to study, a student may only want to study and do no politics. Being a student is not a qualification for righteousness. Depending on their life choices, it might prove to be the path to it. So, it would be a pragmatic thing to stop enjoying and promoting such oversimplifications.

While group identification is necessary for administrative purposes, our society (including the government and law enforcement agencies) will do itself a great good to stop assigning moralistic and ethical values to these groups. They can only be assigned to individuals irrespective of the group he or the government thinks he belongs to. 

 

 

The Question of CAA

The major protest to the bill came from Assam where certain groups want all illegal immigrants identified and sent back. Other groups in other parts of the country took the cue but changed the message and objective. They successfully carried out the pejoration of the Assam protests and went public with all their prejudices and politics. The issue was quickly turned into a Hindu-Muslim question and concerns were raised about the exclusion of Muslims. In that sense, this was the complete opposite of what the indigenous Assamese wanted. If you change a few variables like the party in power or the state in question (say, Maharashtra), the same set of people would have attacked the agitators for ‘complete exclusion’ for being xenophobic and fascists. So, instead of doing any good, the political protests across the country (more specifically Bengal) have in effect diluted the protests in Assam and when there should have been a rigorous debate over the process of identification, implementation, and impact on the Assam demographics, we got brute-braked on the usual Hindu-Muslim speed-breaker.

The group in favour of the Citizenship Amendment Act is happy with its current form and a few among them also want Sri Lankan Tamils, Atheists, and Apostates to be included. If India were to be morally one, then, only one of these sets is right and everyone else is wrong. But that is not true. Every region has its own problem and a state like Assam has a lot more than those which do not share a porous border internationally. So, the moral question changes with our vantage point. Kashmir has a different moral question than New Delhi and hence the same moral compass can’t be applied to the entire country. Then come the existential questions. Can we allow the migration to take place to an extent that the very purpose of migration is lost? That’s the question Assam is battling right now. On the technical aspect, everyone seems to be having a strong case, hence, I will be keenly following the court proceedings to be held in January 2020. The questions I will be looking for answers to are – 

 

  1. The Act does not mention the term ‘Religious Persecution’ but only minority religions in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. These two terms do not mean the same thing. So, what exactly is the basis of the amendment – ‘minority-status’ or ‘religious persecution’?
  2. If the basis is ‘minority-status’, then why have Jews, Atheists, and Apostates not been included?
  3. If the basis is ‘religious-persecution’, how will the government ensure that all Pakistani Hindus in India claiming citizenship have been persecuted on religious grounds?
  4. Mr. Amit Shah has mentioned in his Rajya Sabha speech that the bill will bring relief to lakhs (sometimes crores) of people. According to our Intelligence Bureau, “a total of 31,313 persons belonging to minority communities, including “25,447 Hindu, 5,807 Sikhs, 55 Christians, 2 Buddhists and 2 Parsis” will be immediate beneficiaries of the amended Citizenship Act”. Which number is correct?
  5. Will CAA be used to grant citizenship to people who have not found their names on the NRC list? If no, then how will the act bring relief to lakhs of people? If yes, then how will religious persecution be determined?
  6. Since, the persecution clause itself is not mentioned in the act, will it not become just an optional check for the government?
  7. One of the points supporting the amended act says that Muslims can still apply for citizenship using the preexisting channels. However, that is true for other minorities too. So, why the new amendment?
  8. How will the government prevent the evergreen bureaucratic lethargy and corruption of our country playing a role in this exercise and implementation?
  9. What is government’s defence for the Kargil veteran not finding his name on the NRC? How will such cases be avoided in the future?  

 

 

The Question of Our Neighbours

What is the reason that a secular state like India is surrounded by theocratic states that prioritise one religion over others? If we are hopeful of solving all our domestic problems while they remain theocratic, we are set on a fool’s errand. Of all the geopolitical realities of South Asia, this is perhaps our biggest failing. When a Hindu nation (Nepal) can become a secular state and the world can welcome it, what is inspiring our neighbours to remain Islamic in nature? Why are the secular forces in these countries not able to effect a constitutional change or escalate their agenda into a mass movement? Perhaps, mass movement is not the answer. When the government swears by a particular religion, raising a voice in protest becomes blasphemy. So, either the leaders of South Asia can sit down and have a conversation on the subject or we would have to wait for a popular government that sees secularism as an aspirational value to adopt. Even though Indian constitution valued secularism without declaring India a secular state, the process of officially becoming a secular state was a top-down action when the Indira Gandhi government brought the forty-second amendment. Do our neighbours have the necessary political will to effect such a thing?

 

 

The Moral Question

On the moral dilemma, what is more humanitarian, to shelter a few (minority who have been persecuted consistently according to reports from reputed organisations) or shelter none? Who is to be given a safe home, the persecuted or the persecutor? Should the act then be seen as a great humanitarian step that not many nations are ready to take? It is interesting to note that the act includes Christians too. The BJP has been accused of being against the Christians in the past and will be accused again even if a bird poops on any church in this country. But then, while religious persecution is a reality in our neighbouring countries, can groups alone define who is persecuted and who is not? Could there be only one Muslim who would have escaped and entered India because of his sectarian differences or apostatic persecution? Will it be moral to send that one person back? What details must this person furnish to prove religious persecution? What are the safeguards our government has put for such people? These are relevant questions, so I would suggest you to keep away from people who are straitjacketing this issue into Hindu versus Muslims battle. While people are throwing up on social media because they are habituated to, very few have seriously considered all aspects and tried to find answers. Fewer have even gone on to read the bill in detail to understand what it is and what it isn’t. Lazy citizens do not bring revolution. They just bring misinformation and a resultant bloody violence, upon others and in the end, upon themselves.

 

 

Three Warnings of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

In Indian newsrooms and public discourse, there are people who use Mahatma Gandhi’s name whenever they can’t make their own point. “Gandhi said this, how can you go against our Bapu”, is the favourite catchphrase of such lazy intellectuals. Since, they swear by Gandhiji’s name, I am sure they know why the Non-Cooperation movement was withdrawn. Using their favourite rhetoric, I can confidently say that Gandhi would have withdrawn from the so called anti-CAB movement at the first sign of violence. Invoking Gandhi is a hogwash most of the times – just a thorn to take out the existing thorn. Once, the existing thorn is removed, the Gandhi thorn will be thrown away without a care.

On the other side, if one is to believe that the BJP and our Prime Minister have nothing to gain from the Hindu-Muslim polarisation, it would be repeating the mistake. Mr. Modi lost the moral battle the day he referred to the clothes of the protestors during one of his speeches in Jharkhand. So, now we have one side referring to saffron colour to identify the criminal and other side referring to skullcaps and kurtas to know the criminal. In doing so and not able to see the problem, we have already ignored the 2nd warning of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (another utility thorn of our lazy intellectuals, always discarded once the point has been made)-

The second thing we must do is to observe the caution which John Stuart Mill has given to all who are interested in the maintenance of democracy, namely, not “to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with power which enable him to subvert their institutions”. There is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered life-long services to the country. But there are limits to gratefulness. As has been well said by the Irish Patriot Daniel O’Connel, no man can be grateful at the cost of his honour, no woman can be grateful at the cost of her chastity and no nation can be grateful at the cost of its liberty. This caution is far more necessary in the case of India than in the case of any other country. For in India, Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.

 

The focal points of power must be checked. Government, political parties, media, academia must be asked questions when they want to remain unquestioned and unaccountable. Anarchy is not the answer. Anarchy is nothing but dictatorship at the level of an individual. Soon enough, power centres more devious than what we set out to demolish will rise again. Democracy is still the best solution we have in our hands and a strong democracy needs an opposition with a spine. That is partly our misfortune and partly our own doing. The present opposition doesn’t inspire confidence. The arsonists can never make a good opposition. 

 

I should put out a disclosure here. The first paragraph in this article is the first warning of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Please read it again if you did not pay enough attention for the first time. As the Nirbhaya rape convicts have their review petition rejected, Kuldip Sengar stands convicted of rape, CBI gets yet another thrashing by the court, and the court decides to hear petitions regarding the CAA in January 2020, I would still like to believe that our judiciary keeps showing signs of life every now and then. In the absence of an intelligent opposition, the judiciary of our country has been holding better and much more informed debates on matters important to us and just by doing that, it gains the right to become our first resort to justice, of course, only if we believe in our democracy and our ability to plug the existing holes. Otherwise, individual and group dictatorships are already exhibiting their designs on the streets. Decide.

 

Nithyananda is Inevitable and His Kailasha Solves a Real Problem

The Dalai Lama and HDH Nithyananda Paramashivam are incontrovertibly two of the most powerful spiritual figures of the present times. Both are outspoken, against the tyranny of the establishment and are working towards a new world order – one where divisions disappear and people live in peace, powerfulness and prosperity. Both are exiled from their homes and have hence become citizens of the world. Both are ancient beings who have re-incarnated to bring back order into the chaos that the world has become today. (Source – kailaasa.org)

 

Apparently, cancelling someone’s passport in India ensures that the person will be found tweeting from a different country the next day. If you appear stupid enough to be deemed harmless to the government, the government will let you continue with your stupidity for as long as you want. However, if the party in power has over-promised to its people and you suddenly start doing less stupid things like ‘inspiring terrorist groups’ as in the case of Zakir Naik (who otherwise kept parroting scriptures with exact coordinates of verses) or ‘kidnapping’ and ‘employing child labour’, in Nithyananda’s case, you start to become an eyesore. The government then, cancels your passport.

 

So, who is a citizen of the world? Trash all your pretentious concepts of cosmopolitanism and culture-assimilation myths. The first thing you would need to do is escape (not exactly escape, just book with an airline and fly, nobody is chasing you) from India to start your journey of attainment. Expand your operations to other countries. You keep spreading your deeply spiritual operations of radicalization, kidnapping, extortion, and sex carnivals. Only when you become the most-desired in most of these countries, you have a shot at becoming the most-wanted. Of course, when you are wanted everywhere, you have attained world-citizenship. Since, he can’t be everywhere till such time that he seriously, and not ‘casually‘, tests his teleporting and cloning machines, Nithyananda has created a new nation. The exact location of this new country is not ascertained yet but let’s trust Mr. Vijay Mallya to mark the place on google maps once he arrives. Mr. Mallya must have realized that buying an island and creating a nation out of it are two different things, much like how Mr. Fadnavis realized that having the largest number of MLAs and forming a government in Indian politics are not the same.

 

Nithyananda means business. He is a thought-leader, a spiritual giant of his time who discusses ideas and world problems with his fellow thought-leaders like the former CFO of Infosys – TV Mohandas Pai. In the past, he has also discussed the future of science with Mr. Rajiv Malhotra. The stakes get higher if you look at the website of Kailaasa (his new Hindu nation). It gives you a point by point comparison between Dalai Lama and Nithyananda. Having some experience as his audience on youtube, I was able to separate the chaff from the wheat, chaff being the parts written by some freelance content writer (the boring stupid parts) and wheat being the parts blessed by His Divine Holiness. By the end of these impeccable comparisons, it was obvious that Dalai Lama and Nithyananda are the same person. Dalai Lama is the Bruce Wayne. Nithyananda, the Batman! The only difference is – Nithyananda, the arch-nemesis of Einstein, knows more physics than Batman can ever know. (Refer E=MC2 ≠ E=MC2).

 

Nithyananda’s country – Kailaasa or ShriKailasha serves an important purpose. While the BJP is concerned about persecuted minorities from only our neighbouring countries, it has given no thought to the Hindus persecuted within the country. Thanks to Nithyananda, persecuted Hindus of India too have a home now. Now, when the courts ban crackers right before the next Diwali, the persecuted Hindus of India can #ChaloKailaasa.

The price of onions in our country is sufficient evidence to prove that in any case, all Indians, are a persecuted lot and a lot of non-Hindus will also try to sneak into Kailaasa for the free-food Nithyananda is offering. If he wants to prevent this illegal immigration, he must direct his department of health to reach out to Nirmala Sitharaman for her onion-free recipes and to make her their brand-ambassador! We will console ourselves with radish instead and suffer in our own country.

Savarkar: Misunderstood Messiah?

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar commonly known as Veer Savarkar has attracted renewed academic interest in the country thanks to the highly successful biography by Author and Historian Vikram Sampath. While Savarkar has always been a device for shrill disputes in our country’s polity, this rare academic revival brought him and his biographer to the festival. Vikram Sampath, who is one of the founders of the festival was deftly interviewed by veteran Journalist and SwarajyaMag’s Editorial Director Mr. R Jagannathan. 

 

Mr. Sampath while replying to Mr. Jagannathan said, “The proponents as well as opponents of Savarkar know very little about him. He is discussed during every election for political gains and to some extent both the so called Left and the so called Right have misunderstood him. There are many positions that Savarkar takes which will make the current Indian Right uncomfortable. For example, his position on caste system, divinity of cows are things that today’s Right might not like. Also, a bulk of misunderstanding comes from the history books written by the Left historians.” Mr. Jagannathan went on to ask about the ensuing debate after the demands of Bharat Ratna upon Savarkar. “Ofcourse, this was done with an eye on the elections. In fact, Uddhav Thackerey set the cat among the pigeons in his book launch. Thereafter, the BJP picked it up. Now, both parties have together won the elections, so it remains to be seen what happens of the demands. Also, it is true that these awards of national importance have been the preserve of one particular ideology and family. Our freedom struggle has been narrated in a monochromatic way which is not true. So, maybe it will be some kind of recognition for him. Although, even if it is not bestowed, it won’t make any difference to him or his family.”, Mr. Sampath answered. 

 

Mr. Jagannathan asked several other questions pertaining to Savarkar’s shift in his outlook from when he wrote about Hindus and Muslims fighting together in the first war of Indian independence in 1857 to his idea of Hindutva and also his time in the Cellular Jail at Andaman. Mr. Sampath went into detail and explained how Savarkar was actually the one to start the first secret society in India called Mitra Mela which was later called Abhinav Bharat to create disaffection in the armed forces. For his book on the 1857 revolt, Savarkar spent five years in London, researching in libraries. He understood the Indian perspective of the mutiny and reinterpreted it as the First War of Indian Independence. The book was so popular and effective amongst the revolutionaries that Bhagat Singh got the second edition published. Similarly, Rash Behari Bose and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose too got the book republished.

 

Savarkar was somebody who spoke of different communities being rainbow on Indian sky and in Mr. Sampath’s opinion, two particular events – first, his experience at the cellular jail where the British played the game of divide and rule and got the Muslim jamadars to convert the Hindus and second, Gandhi’s role in the Khilafat movement to mobilize an entire community to fight for a movement thousands of miles away that resulted in riots across the country, affected his positions and ideas. During the Moplah riots, Gandhi praised the rioters as great warriors fighting for their community and addressed Abdul Rashid, the killer of Swami Shraddhanand as his brother. Savarkar thought that Gandhi needed an intellectual counter and a small book called ‘Essentials of Hindutva’ that he wrote from Ratnagiri jail should be read. Mr. Sampath also stressed that the allegations of him being a coward because he wrote mercy petitions were unfair to him. Petition was a legitimate legal recourse available to the prisoners then and even Gandhi himself on requested for help by Savarkar’s brother, asked him to write a petition and wrote one himself. Also, the petitions were for the prisoners and Savarkar was ready to stay in the jail if others were released at his expense.

 

The discussion was brought to a close with Mr. Sampath explaining many points where Savarkar’s views would differ from the current Right of our country. There on a subject like caste system, his ideas were more like those of Ambedkar and not Gandhi. Savarkar believed that the cow must be treated as a utility animal and not a divine being and his idea of Hindutva was more cultural and nationalistic where allegiance to the country was the only identity marker. With a couple of questions from the audience members, Mr. Sampath explained the inclusive nature of Savarkar’s Hindutva and his idea of ‘equality for all, appeasement of none’.

Parading Your Empathy Brings No Good to the World

Empathy plays out in our world in different forms. If you are someone who plays by group identities and the sufferer belongs to one of the groups you like, empathy certainly takes deeper colours. It is not impossible to empathize if you do not know the group identity of the individual victim but it just gets more difficult from there. From anonymity of group to a sufferer who belongs to a group you detest, empathy keeps fading till it becomes the exact opposite of itself. Magnitude matters too, although inversely. The expression of empathy is most intense when the victim is one and can be identified with markers like name, age, employment status, proximity from the observer, or photographs. When the sufferers cannot be identified as such and number in hundreds or thousands, a cursory sense of empathy appears but yields to indifference in quick time. Empathy manifests with deepest emotions when the object, event, or individual to be empathized with has an element of immediateness to our lives, for example, our family members or friends. However, as gaps of time and distance widen, empathy starts to come in short supply.

 

But is empathy in itself enough? Can empathy alone provide solutions? While many who have come to be known as ‘armchair activists’ would argue that it can, the history of humanity shows that technological progress right from the invention of the wheel has done more to take people out of their sufferings than empty empathy. Here, it is important to distinguish between people who use empathy as their driving force to act for the good of others and the ones who take credit for all the good happening in the world because they empathize for the weak and the sufferer.

 

A scientist working for the cure of a deadly disease may or may not be guided by empathy. If he is not guided by empathy, he might be driven by any or all of the following things – an obsession to solve problems that are difficult to solve, fame that would lead to greater wealth and personal well being, or peer competition. If at all such an individual is driven by empathy, he does not stop with expression of that empathy in words. He gets up everyday, walks up to his work, and channelizes his empathy with the help of his intelligence and skills towards solutions. If this individual lacks skills or intelligence, he will either stop at empathy with a whimper or make a living out of empathy exhibition. 

 

Though feeling true empathy is a great first step, we err when we stop ourselves at empathy. Empathy can play the role of a catalyst but a catalyst without reacting compounds can do little. True sympathy needs the reactants to come together in order to produce something more effective. Unfortunately, what we have today amongst  us is ‘manufactured empathy’ that is a product of media plots and schemes. What passes as empathy is often just a jolt out of our routine and a reckless expression of fear. Then, the engines of this artificial empathy – the news media and the social media among others take you on a guided tour of your favorite show that you missed last night or throw cute cat memes on your timeline and you are unconsciously driven to a ‘manufactured routine’.

 

Empathy in isolation is an exercise in self-gratification where you make yourself feel better by thinking that you think about XYZ cause and somehow that makes you a better person than everybody else. Some people who have taken to empathy as their full time job have it even worse. I see them on the front pages of the Internet, TV, and Print, showcasing their empathy as some sort of object to be revered and celebrated. They come, they display their empathy, and then they blame the entire world for the situation. That is their solution. Such empathy can lead you to dark places, mostly towards blaming the system and the society. True empathy will lead you to act to do something for the empathized apart from putting up a self congratulatory facebook status. If your empathy ends at empathy, it is veritably a manufactured empathy that has been cultivated from the outside, cultured for the external world, and waiting for a beholder. That empathy is not enough and it does no good to the world or even you.

 

Empathy doesn’t work in isolation. Empathy alone doesn’t make you a good person. It may hint at your goodness but it doesn’t mean you are good to the cause or individual you empathize with. All the empathy of the world couldn’t save the two-year old boy Sujith Wilson who died stuck in a bore-well. If empathy could solve problems, he and many others like him in India who die in bore-wells could be saved every time. Empathy must wed intelligence, skills, and action towards solving the immediate problems around you. An intelligent act is to either keep your bore-wells covered or keep your toddlers under supervision all the time. Another intelligent act is to not let your own child drown in a tub while you are busy letting news channels aggrandize your empathy for Sujith Wilson.