More Lessons from John Allen Chau’s Death

Last year, the members of the Sentinelese tribe killed John Allen Chau, an American missionary. Apparently, John wanted to take his religion to the tribe to bring them peace and harmony. A few months later, as I take one more look at the unfortunate incident, I am compelled to wonder – in the death of this adventure blogger and the messenger of Christianity, do human beings have a few more lessons than originally understood?

 

Instead of going to the Sentinelese, what if John had come to me? I have never killed anyone, so this is a difficult thought to entertain. Of course, the constitution gives me the right to practice my religion and if John had come to me to proselytize, my first reaction would have been to ignore him. If John had persevered, I would have indulged him in a debate. Had I turned out to be a tough nut to crack, John would have perhaps quit accosting me. That would be the end of the meeting with John. I would have continued the chaotic life I had been living. However, John would not have stopped. John had a mission. He would have knocked on the doors of my neighbor. The neighbor, if gullible or genuinely impressed, would have converted to Christianity, or would have tried what I did. If this hypothetical neighbor were my friend, he would have called me to help with John. You would think John would have given up here and gone back to his home. However, John knocks on the third house. At this point, the entire community gets to understand John’s motives and they come together to drive John away. John goes back. Where? A different city. John is a committed missionary. He does not stop!

 

So, where does John stop? Sadly, John stops only where the Sentinelese stopped him. In a world where evangelism is not a crime, it might become difficult for some people to draw red lines for themselves. It is terrifying to see the scale of power the church wields over these promising young men who could have done anything else in their lives but chose to civilize the world and bring Jesus to ‘Satan’s last stronghold’. The Sentinelese people perhaps do not engage in debates with people they do not know and are smart enough to understand the dangers posed by such attempts to ‘civilize’ them. They fear obliteration of their race. They perhaps know that the meeting with Christ does not end with meeting with the Christ. They know that Jesus Christ will bring in a lot of not-so-Christ-like Christians to their land. Sentinelese might not have a Penguin or a HarperCollins but they remember their history well.

 

If I had killed John, I would have been, according to Indian law, sentenced to death or life imprisonment. This would be so because I am part of the civilized world and I had other means at my disposal to stop John. John, like me, was also part of the civilized world. In the civilized world, John has the freedom of speech and expression and I have the ability to forgive and forget. In our civilized world, John also has the responsibility to understand that people like their own kind of ‘peace’ and ‘civilization’, Satan is at best a philosophical idea, and if at all a Satan exists, he lives in and off the church.

 
John was just an innocent face of a much deeper crusade to create a world order controlled by the church. This order has the money and muscle power to allure people who are not ‘tribal’ enough to resist violently and not ‘civilized’ enough to resist peacefully? Fortunately for us, the ‘Satan’s last stronghold’ is still intact. But the church has an army of Johns operating to civilize the lesser Sentinelese of the world who do not kill at first contact. John Allen Chau has left us but the church lives to fight another day.

Why Kejriwal Wants a Free Ride to the CM Office?

A lot of how our life shapes up depends on how we are born. One of the more defining birth factors for quality of our future life is the financial health of the parents. There are more factors of course but I have picked finance and put it aside to start with because it is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult to get rid of. To the financial mess, add a mix of caste and gender, and things become a lot more complicated. I do not mention the hierarchy of caste or gender here because we are living in an age where any permutation and combination of this set has its own disadvantages. A poor and discriminated-caste born individual has to tide over his social suffering in addition to the wealth crisis. A meritorious upper caste but poor individual has no advantage over the reserved category candidate (financial status notwithstanding) who is inferior to him in intelligence and effort. Add gender here and we get into a whirlpool of problems.

 

Now take out all other factors and see the female case exclusively, women face discrimination for being born a woman in many social spaces. Now, here lies their problem. While you can still outgrow your caste or migrate to a more egalitarian society, you cannot get away from your gender. As gender is a biological truth, the discrimination takes a more hideous turn and can affect a woman of upper caste as severely as it can affect someone from the lower caste. From the first challenge of not getting sacrificed for a male child and ‘getting a safe birth’ to do everything that comes a tad easier for men, in our present society, women have to battle hundred things to earn a livelihood and lead an independent life. This becomes even more challenging if she is born to poor or discriminated-caste parents. Some do not try, some try but fail, some do not want to try, and then some try and succeed. During this struggle, these women ask many difficult questions to the society. They make themselves aware of their rights and then demand that their rights be protected.

The answers are more difficult than they seem to be at first sight. Therefore, our leaders promise many CCTVs to see the problem more clearly. Then, they realize that the metro fare hike has hit women the worst.  They throw a free bus and metro ride pass at them – “please take this free bus pass, you are safer now in Delhi buses. I am hereby buying your vote!”

Arvind Kejriwal is not the problem. He is just another politician who has mastered the art of milking the rotten ecosystem of bribing the electorate before every election. If our politicians had the integrity of thought, there would have been more and better buses on roads, panic buttons and GPS tracking on all buses. There would be more street lighting and better last mile connectivity for commuters, male or female. There could have been free public transport systems for all Indians without burdening the exchequer. Mr. Arvind Kejriwal likes to tell his voters to take the money other parties offer them and still vote for the broom, his party’s election symbol. Times can change quickly. Sadly, he is the one offering that money now. The voters will keep it, just the way he prefers. It remains to be seen whom they vote for next year. A party’s rhetorics and manifesto for the upcoming elections can easily posit themselves as the report card of its manifesto from the previous elections. A dropped promise means that the promise couldn’t be delivered as the Government was busy begging alliances and fighting other elections in the country.  A promise added with freebies means that the promise fetched votes last time around but couldn’t be implemented because they were never supposed to be implemented but have the potential to work again if made with some free gifts.  A promise finding a place again without any progress or addition means that the party is waiting for a majority in the Rajya Sabha.

 

The 2015 manifesto of AAP speaks about CCTVs in all buses. Delhi is going to vote again in 2020. AAP has promised to install CCTVs again. Of course, just CCTVs will not be safe enough for the AAP to secure their seats this time. They need some free passes to ride their luck in 2020.

What to Expect from Namo2.0?

Elections are over. The new government is set to arrive. As the Congress party keeps itself frozen on the cusp of change from where it can choose to advance into an acceptance of the changed realities to progress or just fall back into the pit of regression, the postmortem of election results will perhaps be an unending process. While the media and political pundits can spend all their time and efforts in this operation, the Government cannot afford to venture there. After the 2014 victory, the Prime Minister had shared his vision of ‘Minimum Government, Maximum Governance’; the 2019 victory should be a reason for renewed focus on deliverance of this aspirational vision. Keeping this in mind, I have a list of preliminary expectations from my government of 2019. This is not exhaustive and I might add to it as we move ahead in the year.

 

A separate budget for the agriculture sector

This can help in better allocation of resources for the necessary reforms in agriculture and help improve the implementation of government projects. Agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for about 58 per cent of India’s population. Gross Value Added by agriculture, forestry and fishing is estimated at INR 18.53 trillion (US$ 271.00 billion) in FY18. Considering that and the kind of loan waivers each party has to announce every election season, the demand for a separate budget holds ground.

 

Reward good citizens

Rewarding good citizens can encourage a change in how citizens contribute to nation building. Citizens, who segregate waste, pay their loans in time, do not use plastic, follow traffic rules should get incentives with better interest rates on loans, better benefits on retirement, subsidized payments on insurance schemes etc. This can bring about a big shift in how we engage the electorate post the election season.

 

Invest in government schools and higher education institutions

A major failure of independent India has been its unwillingness and inability to bring up the standard of education in government schools. It is time that these schools accept the competition from their private counterparts and deliver the best in class education to their students. This competition will also substantially bring down the cost of quality education for Indian students. The monopoly of private players on cost of education will break.

 

Invest in government hospitals

Most of the patients wanting admission in a hospital of AIIMS have to wait for a good number of months, in some cases, a year to get their turn. Not having any way, patients take to private hospitals and clinics. In additional to the disease itself, the high costs break the patients and their families, both financially and psychologically. The government needs to invest big in structural reforms for its hospitals. Once again, the government must accept the challenge posed by the private counterparts. If that is not possible, a public-private partnership should be explored.

 

Establish better centers of education and healthcare in industrial belts and other neglected areas

While such areas earn huge revenues for the country, the state of most of these places remains miserable when it comes to education and healthcare. The industrial belts of India need their favor returned so that while citizens brave the not-so-comfortable lives, they can at least avail better healthcare services and send their kids to schools that are on par with any school from the urban centers of the country. All aspirants should have access to a benchmarked quality of education.

 

Encourage cancer research in the country through better facilities, improved funding, and enactment of research friendly laws

While celebrities and politicians can afford to skip levels and travel to other countries for their treatment, the common mass of the country has to make do with whatever is available in our country. While we have some good centers for cancer in the country, the waiting queues at such centers paint a gloomy picture of our patient to doctor ratio. Official data only corroborates this picture. By 2014, we had only about 1000 trained oncologists in the country and the ratio of oncologist to patient stood at 1:2000. This ratio in US is 1:100. Modi 2.0 should understand what creates this stark and disappointing difference and work towards better cancer research and training in our country. (Source)

 

Curb corruption in government institutions

Why should a Member of Parliament get priority over a common citizen for admission to the AIIMS? Why should the street hawkers must pay daily hafta to the Police to keep running their business? Why must the village mukhiya be paid INR 500 for the LPG cylinder which is coming free of cost from the government? There are a lot of low hanging fruits to pluck when it comes to corruption in government institutions. My government must be up to the task without losing any time.

 

Judicial reforms to deliver justice, in time

Indian courts have about three crore cases pending between them. Case AST/1/1800 of the Calcutta High Court was filed in the year 1800. The last hearing date was 20 November 2018. Appointment of Judges, insufficient number of courts, archaic laws are the areas I would like my government to look into.

 

Resettle Kashmiri Hindus in Kashmir valley

The ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus carried out in the valley remains a blot on the democratic ethos of independent India. The government must carry out this task with the seriousness it deserves.

 

Societal harmony as pet project

No blame games here. The law must take its own course but I believe that much like Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, societal harmony should become a pet project of our Prime Minister. He should avail all the platforms available to drive the message of unity, harmony, and peace throughout the country. It may not deter the criminals as such but might just prevent the conversion of an otherwise reasonable individual into a hate machine.

the-tashkent-files poster

The Tashkent Files

History is the most compromised field of study in our country and our political history has been the worst victim of a consolidated and considered cover up effort. Within our political history, the history of political India after independence is just a haze for the minds of today’s Indians. This obfuscation is not a coincidence. If nothing else, the movie ‘The Tashkent Files’ has been able to establish that much through its extensive research and simplified narration.

 

India doesn’t have a culture of routinely producing political thrillers, thanks to twin towers of our uninterested filmmakers who would rather portray the love story of one of the fiercest warriors of India – Baji Rao than his military and political programme; and a long, arduous rule of a political party that has been busy hiding its skeletons in the closet for far too long to be able to nourish a free and fair ecosystem for creativity, no matter how unpalatable this creativity becomes for the ones in power. For the uninitiated, watch this thread – freedom of speech by Mr Anand Ranganathan. The present film had its own struggles to see the light of the day. The Congress party with 44 MPs in the Lok Sabha tried different devices to stall the release of the film. One can make an intelligent guess about how vicious can such a party become with an absolute majority in the parliament. That the party considered to be the chief architect of our freedom struggle wreaked emergency upon us, no longer seems to be shocking.

 

Vivek Agnihotri has come back with his creation ‘The Tashkent Files’, which is running almost housefull even after a week of its release without suffering much of a dip even as Dharma Productions released its much anticipated and much hyped ‘Kalank’. This is Vivek’s second such film after ‘Buddha in a Traffic Jam’ where he has tried to cinematize the ‘war of narratives’ in our country. Although this time, Vivek’s script is not as tightly woven as his last time but given the difficulty of the subject at hand, the handicap of inaction by successive governments and law enforcement agencies of our country, he has achieved a major feat by just being able to connect the far flung dots of historicity.

 

This film seems to be well-researched with specific citations from books and newspapers, interviews of people connected with the case plugged in naturally in the script, the pointers to the cold war, CIA versus KGB, and narrations of the possible motives for ‘killing’ India’s second Prime Minister. While the motives are described in detail and the audience is left intrigued by the twists in the case, the treachery of the Communists, the Congress, and the Lutyens delhi  is established with solid presentations by the lead character of Ragini Phule played by Shweta Basu Prasad. While the film succeeds on this front, it has its own share of shortcomings. Most of the actors in the cast are underused in the movie. Add a few underdeveloped characters and you get confused about who represents what, much of the dialogues are shallow except the ones delivered by characters played by Mithun Chakraborty, Pankaj Tripathi, and Shweta Basu Prasad who get some of the best lines written for the movie. Mandira Bedi, Pallavi Joshi, and Rajesh Sharma execute their roles well. Prakash Belawadi and Achint Kaur don’t do much and are rather left on the bench for the complete innings. A bigger problem with the movie is its background score which is largely insipid and changes too abruptly to allow any emotion or mood to grow on you.

 

After having watched this movie and Buddha in a Traffic Jam before this, it seems Mr. Vivek Agnihotri, perhaps in his zeal to appear neutral or unbiased, keeps adding all the elements he comes across on social media. As a result, in one scene you will see a character accusing the other of sleeping with people for success, on the other hand, another character is portrayed as a racist who hates muslims. Although this is a noble attempt, it also creates a kind of overcompensatory khichdi about the characters and the purpose of a particular story. Mr. Agnihotri is seen trying too many subjects in one story where perhaps a subject like corruption of activists itself is too alarming an issue to be ignored for a separate project.

 

In spite of a few shortcomings, this film succeeds in providing some information to its audience about the life and times of Shastriji. That for me, is its biggest victory. Beyond all the conspiracy theories floating around about anyone’s death, it is more important to know and understand a person’s life, because that way, like the filmmaker would prefer, we can at least save our heroes from dying twice. Congratulations Anuj Dhar! More power to your research!

Did Swami Vivekananda support Caste Discrimination? No!

Was Swami Vivekananda a casteist? Did he vouch for caste based discrimination in the society? While there are a lot of instances where he denounced such systems, I reproduce here a few of Swami Vivekananda’s utterances on the issue so that we at least empower ourselves with his thoughts before making inferences. All these excerpts are taken from the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda which is a collection of his lectures, conversations, letters, and writings.

 

He could never make peace with this aspect of Adi Shankara’s teachings.

Swamiji: Shankara’s intellect was sharp like the razor. He was a good arguer and a scholar, no doubt of that, but he had no great liberality; his heart too seems to have been like that. Besides, he used to take great pride in his Brahmanism — much like a southern Brahmin of the priest class, you may say. How he has defended in his commentary on the Vedanta – sutras that the non – brahmin castes will not attain to a supreme knowledge of Brahman! And what specious arguments! Referring to Vidura he has said that he became a knower of Brahman by reason of his Brahmin body in the previous incarnation. Well, if nowadays any Shudra attains to a knowledge of Brahman, shall we have to side with your Shankara and maintain that because he had been a Brahmin in his previous birth, therefore he has attained to this knowledge? Goodness! What is the use of dragging in Brahminism with so much ado? The Vedas have entitled any one belonging to the three upper castes to study the Vedas and the realisation of Brahman, haven’t they? So Shankara had no need whatsoever of displaying this curious bit of pedantry on this subject, contrary to the Vedas. And such was his heart that he burnt to death lots of Buddhist monks-by defeating them in argument! And the Buddhists, too, were foolish enough to burn themselves to death, simply because they were worsted in argument! What can you call such an action on Shankara’s part except fanaticism? But look at Buddha’s heart! Ever ready to give his own life to save the life of even a kid — what to speak of “[(Sanskrit)]– for the welfare of the many, for the happiness of the many”! See, what a large – heartedness what a compassion!

Disciple: Can’t we call that attitude of the Buddha, too, another kind of fanaticism, sir? He went to the length of sacrificing his own body for the sake of a beast!

Swamiji: But consider how much good to the world and its beings came out of that ‘fanaticism’ of his — how many monasteries and schools and colleges, how many public hospitals and veterinary refuges were established, how developed architecture became — think of that. life of the people. In a sense, he was the living embodiment of true Vedanta.

 

He denounced all forms of unfair discrimination, including caste!

The disciple is an orthodox Hindu. Not to speak of prohibited food, he does not even take food touched by another. Therefore Swamiji sometimes used to refer to him as “priest”. Swamiji, while he was eating biscuits with his breakfast,said to Swami Sadananda, “Bring the priest in here.” When the disciple came to Swamiji, he gave some portion of his food to him to eat. Finding the disciple accepting it without any demur, Swamiji said, “Do you know what you have eaten now? These are made from eggs.”

In reply, the disciple said, “Whatever may be in it, I have no need to know; taking this sacramental food from you, I have become immortal.” Thereupon Swamiji said, “I bless you that from this day all your egoism of caste, colour, high birth, religious merit and demerit, and all, may vanish for ever!”

 

He appreciated the progress that could be achieved in absence of caste botheration.

In the West I have found that those who are in the employment of others have their seats fixed in the back rows in the Parliament, while the front seats are reserved for those who have made themselves famous by self – exertion, or education,or intelligence.

In Western countries there is no botheration of caste. Those on whom Fortune smiles for their industry and exertion are alone regarded as leaders of the country and the controllers of its destiny. Whereas in your country, you are simply vaunting your superiority in caste, till at last you cannot even get a morsel of food! You have not the capacity to manufacture a needle, and you dare to criticise the English! Fools! Sit at their feet and learn from them the arts, industries, and the practicality necessary for the struggle for existence. You will be esteemed once more when you will become fit. Then they too will pay heed to your words. Without the necessary preparation, what will mere shouting in the Congress avail?

 

He understood the power that remained unharnessed because of caste discrimination.

The peasant, the shoemaker, the sweeper, and such other lower classes of India have much greater capacity for work and self – reliance than you. They have been silently working through long ages and producing the entire wealth of the land, without a word of complaint. Very soon they will get above you in position. Gradually capital is drifting into their hands, and they are not so much troubled with wants as you are. Modern education has changed your fashion, but new avenues of wealth lie yet undiscovered for want of the inventive genius. Never mind if they have not read a few books like you — if they have not acquired your tailor-made civilisation. What do these matter? But they are the backbone of the nation in all countries. If these lower classes stop work, from where will you get your food and clothing? If the sweepers of Calcutta stop work for a day, it creates a panic; and if they strike for three days, the whole town will be depopulated by the outbreak of epidemics. If the labourers stop work, your supply of food and clothes also stops. And you regard them as low – class people and vaunt your own culture!

 

He underlined the import of caste system and the necessity of taking everyone together.

Engrossed in the struggle for existence, they had not the opportunity for the awakening of knowledge.They have worked so long uniformly like machines guided by human intelligence, and the clever educated section have taken the substantial part of the fruits of their labour. In every country this has been the case. But times have changed. The lower classes are gradually awakening to this fact and making a united front against this, determined to exact their legitimate dues. The masses of Europe and America have been the first to awaken and have already begun the fight. Signs of this awakening have shown themselves in India, too, as is evident from the number of strikes among the lower classes nowadays. The upper classes will no longer be able to repress the lower, try they ever so much. The well – being of the higher classes now lies in helping the lower to get their legitimate rights.

Disciple: Sir, what you say is true, but there yet seems to be a wide gulf between the higher and lower classes. To bring the higher classes to sympathise with the lower seems to be a difficult affair in India.

Swamiji: But without that there is no well – being for your upper classes. You will be destroyed by internecine quarrels and fights — which you have been having so long. When the masses will wake up, they will come to understand your oppression of them, and by a puff of their mouth you will be entirely blown away! It is they who have introduced civilisation amongst you; and it is they who will then pull it down. Think how at the hands of the Gauls the mighty ancient Roman civilisation crumbled into dust! Therefore I say, try to rouse these lower classes from slumber by imparting learning and culture to them. When they will awaken — and awaken one day they must — they also will not forget your good services to them and will remain grateful to you.

 

He established a caste-free system for the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission!

After a course of five years’ training these Brahmacharins may, if they like, go back to their homes and lead householders’ lives; or they may embrace the monastic life with the sanction of the venerable Superiors of the Math. The authorities of the Math will have the power to turn out at once any of these Brahmacharins who will be found refractory or of a bad character. Teaching will be imparted here irrespective of caste or creed, and those who will have objection to this will not be admitted. But those who would like to observe their particular caste – rites, should make separate arrangements for their food, etc. They will only attend the classes along with the rest. The Math authorities shall keep a vigilant watch over the character of these also. None but those that are trained here shall be eligible for Sannyasa. Won’t it be nice when by degrees this Math will begin to work like this?

 

He spoke of the ills of priest-craft that prevented other castes and women from studying the Vedas.

Swamiji: In what scriptures do you find statements that women are not competent for knowledge and devotion? In the period of degradation, when the priests made other castes incompetent for the study of the Vedas, they deprived the women also of all their rights. Otherwise you will find that in the Vedic or Upanishad age Maitreyi, Gargi, and other ladies of revered memory have taken the places of Rishis through their skill in discussing about Brahman. In an assembly of a thousand Brahmanas who were all erudite in the Vedas, Gargi boldly challenged Yajnavalkya in a discussion about Brahman. Since such ideal women were entitled to spiritual knowledge, why shall not the women have the same privilege now? What has happened once can certainly happen again. History repeats itself.

 

And he stood for freedom, absolute and of every kind!

This was the orthodoxy of India. What else was there? Everything was divided, the whole society,as it is today,though in a much more rigorous form then — divided into castes. There is another thing to learn.There is a tendency to make castes just [now] going on here in the West. And I myself — I am a renegade.I have broken everything.I do not believe in caste, individually. It has very good things in it. For myself, Lord help me! I would not have any caste, if He helps me. You understand what I mean by caste, and you are all trying to make it very fast. It is a hereditary trade [for] the Hindu. The Hindu said in olden times that life must be made easier and smoother. And what makes everything alive? Competition. Hereditary trade kills. You are a carpenter? Very good, your son can be only a carpenter. What are you? A blacksmith? Blacksmithing becomes a caste; your children will become blacksmiths. We do not allow anybody else to come into that trade, so you will be quiet and remain there. You are a military man, a fighter? Make a caste. You are a priest? Make a caste. The priesthood is hereditary. And so on. Rigid, high power! That has a great side, and that side is [that] it really rejects ompetition. It is that which has made the nation live while other nations have died — that caste. But there is a great evil: it checks individuality. I will have to be a carpenter because I am born a carpenter; but I do not like it. That is in the books, and that was before Buddha was born. I am talking to you of India as it was before Buddha. And you are trying today what you call socialism! Good things will come; but in the long run you will be a [blight] upon the race. Freedom is the watchword. Be free! A free body, a free mind, and a free soul! That is what I have felt all my life; I would rather be doing evil freely than be doing good under bondage.

 

For me, personally, this underlines the message of his life, Be Free. This freedom is unconditional, non-negotiable and certainly devoid of a caste/gender identity rider! It is here that he brings Adi Shankara and Buddha to a common point for the progress of the mankind. It is this what we all must aim to become. Iti.

 

The Reading Life

In a video that I watched yesterday, a bear cub made several attempts to climb up to his mother waiting on the top of a mountain that was hiding under the snow. The cub climbed a few scratches higher every time he tried but skidded down the slope on each of those spirited attempts. His failure didn’t bother him. He grew up again, gathered a lungful, and scaled a greater altitude than the previous time. He tried straight up, he slithered, and he traced his mother’s paw-marks, all to end up at mark zero. It was a devastating sight. A fall further from his start and death would have engulfed him with love much before his due time. He was beginning to look like a play-ball trying to get back to the shore riding on current knowing well that it had no utility in the ocean and in any case, the child at the shore expected the ball to rebound when he threw it away into the waters! So, the ball keeps riding the waves one after the other till it reaches close enough to be pulled up but the child falters, the ball gets withdrawn again before finally getting thrown outside on the sand with a splash on the child’s face. The cub likewise, kept on rising and falling till he finally conquered the peak and joined his mother. As I write this, my mind also wanders to Christopher Nolan’s treatment of the Batman in his third installment in the series. Bane puts Bruce Wayne in ‘the pit’ and we are treated to, artistically speaking, one of the most breathtaking sequences we will die having seen when Bruce attempts to escape the pit and after many failed leaps, conquers his fear of failure.

I watched this cub video more than once and kept thinking about what I saw. I gave my mind some time, an optimal pace to play and replay the cub’s conquest in slow motion in my head, and kept thinking about the myriad other ways it could have unfolded in. What if the mother bear had come down to rescue the cub? What if the cub had given up and stayed at one point without making any further attempts? What if the cub had continued falling never to reach the summit? What if the cub had renounced his yearning to reach the top?

The last bit lingered over me for some more time. I wondered about the possibility of the cub developing a taste, a fondness for the struggle itself. If the cub kept floating high and below over the snow, if Bruce found a liking for the hymns and cheers of other members of the pit, would we stop longing for the end of the conquest? What if the end of our struggles also means the end of our purpose? I read Annie Dillard’s ‘The Writing Life’ yesterday. She constructed a snow laden mountain for me to climb. She threw me into the pit of death so that I could come out alive. I kept at my futile attempts to reach the top. I studied the contusions on my knees, the concussions to my head in that one moment when you reach the zero velocity just before falling back from no matter how high. I held the doorknobs of time in that instant and stretched the doors to as far I could between my arms and looked carefully into myself – the reader; and just before I could let myself fly down to the boundless abyss, Annie held me by my neck and pulled me up. The reader they say, must behave himself.

Source for the image.

Whose Lie is it Anyway: #Fakenews

The fact that even the Panchatantra and the Aesop’s Fables have a story about the shepherd boy who cried wolf when there was no wolf, underlines the fact that the phenomenon of fake news is not something ultra modern or a product of the internet age. However, to discuss the cry-wolves of our times, Nitin Pai, founder of Takshashila brought together personalities of contrasting backgrounds and competing tones for the last panel discussion at the Bangalore Literature Festival 2018. In attendance were award winning journalist best known for her Bofors investigation and editor-in-chief of thenewsminute.com – Chitra Subramaniam, Paris born journalist and author who has been South Asia correspondent for Le Figaro, one of France’s leading newspapers – François Gautier, Editor of The Hindu – Mukund Padmanabhan, Editor of scroll.in – Naresh Fernandes, Founder and Editor of AltNews – Pratik Sinha, and Sreenivasan Jain, Managing Editor of New Delhi Television (NDTV).

In order to set the context, Nitin asked each panelist about what defined fake news. Naresh opined with an example that while misinformation could be an error of judgement, disinformation with malice would count as fake news. Pratik of the AltNews gave the example of the Amritsar train tragedy wherein a fake narrative had been peddled about the driver’s religion to create social unrest and stressed upon the fact that fake news was affecting people of all ages, including children. Chitra joined the discussion and asserted that the phrase ‘fake news’ was an oxymoron and according to her there was only good journalism and then there was bad journalism. She also added that fake news happens when people with motives manufacture events and news.

Sreenivasan Jain kept the central government and the party in power at the centre at the centre of his attack and went on to say, “I believe that the only way to solve a problem is to first identify the problem. Fake news is not just lying in the dark corners of the internet but the central power itself plays a game of fake news by churning out propagandist theories and cherry picked data. These institutions, be it the government or the party in power have mainstreamed what was on the fringe.” He claimed that love jihad, scare mongering in the name of cows were part of this fake news propaganda. François, on the other hand, maintained that the word ‘fake news’ was too strong a word. Journalists have strong opinions and they pick stories and derive from them according to their opinions. He cited the example of the Nun rape case at Jhabua where mainstream media rushed to point fingers at the Hindu right wing groups but soon it was found that there were tribals and christians involved. François also cautioned people against the impulse of demonising the politicians because they were the the elected representatives in the country.

Nitin Pai further wanted the panel to explore the doors where fake news could be checked and threw the question to Naresh. Naresh mentioned that the government was trying to bring in some technological solutions to this menace but that wasn’t going to help. The session grew hotter by second and Sreenivasan provided a counter to François by saying that to criticize politician is not demonising him and to criticize the BJP doesn’t mean one is anti-Hindu. For him, the fake news machinery run by the government itself is the most dangerous one when compared to the fake news being peddled on whatsapp. Chitra had a contrarian point of view and asserted that she had lived through congress regimes and remembered how she and her family were harrassed with spread of falsehoods for ten years. She also claimed that while the word ‘fringe’ gets quoted a lot, the lot on the stage was the actual fringe which didn’t really understand India and how India thought. According to her, journalists must earn the right to be read like the politicians earn the right to lead.

François added his own perception of the Indian media and said that the Indian people did not have much respect for the the Indian media. Also, according to him, most of the media establishments have been left leaning in India. He underlined the importance of his views because he was born a catholic and unlike other people who parrot what they had heard from their older generations, he had learnt India first hand. Nitin went deeper into the subject and asked the panel if there were prejudices of people playing out as well. Pratik explained the importance of giving due attention to the fake news happening on whatsapp. “For rural areas, the influential people do affect opinions of the common people because they own smartphones and have access to internet and news”, added Pratik.

The session concluded with an attempt to fix the accountability question. Mukund agreed that Whatsapp was one of the major vectors for fake news and as such should not be ignored or downplayed. Also, not only does fake news affect the ignorant or gullible but also the intelligent and the informed lot. He maintained that the damage done by fake news was much worse than the redressal options like retraction etc.. Journalists and media houses must learn to apologize more often because there is no shame attached with it if one makes a mistake”, opined Mukund.

The session came to a close with a wide array of questions from the audience members and seemed to reinforce the idea of diversity in discourse which the Bangalore Literature Festival stands for.

How I Became a Hindu: My Discovery of Vedic Dharma

David Frawley spoke on ‘How I Became a Hindu: My Discovery of Vedic Dharma’ at the creatively named venue ‘Adjust Maadi’. Dr. David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri) is a Vedic teacher and Hindu Acharya. He is the author of fifty books published in twenty languages worldwide. His fields of expertise include Yoga, Ayurveda, Vedanta, Jyotish and ancient Vedic texts. He has also written extensively on historical, social and cultural issues facing Hinduism and India today. Not to shy away from discussing contentious issues, Dr. Frawley began with describing his work of promoting vedic education, all paths of yoga, vedanta, jyotish, ayurveda, and other realms of the Indian system of knowledge under one umbrella of the Sanatana Dharma.

While stressing on the popularity of the Indian systems, he said – “India is not just a modern nation. India is millennia old vedic civilization that went inside the consciousness behind the universe. However, presently, modern India has lost its connection with its traditional systems.” He mentioned that there was no one Holy Book or one God or one Guru for the Hindus. There are more festivals, more Gods, more Gurus, more sampradayas, more books in the Indian system than in any other country or culture of the world. He added that the Indian festivals in particular should be regarded as World Heritage. He also pointed out that the courts in the United States did not interfere in the matter of religions and even the Indian courts did not do that in the matters of other religions. However, for Hindus, the courts and the state are controlling the religion from outside. Commenting later on the Sabarimala verdict of the Supreme Court, he asserted that when the courts and the state had no stake in the matters of religions and when they did not consult any of the Hindu Acharyas on such matters, they did not have the right to pronounce such a judgement.

David Frawley comes from a Catholic background and got interested in the Indian systems during the 60s movement, thanks to the Beatles, Maharishi Yogi, Prabhupada, Paramhansa Yogananda who he considers to be the Father of Yoga for the West. What he found lacking in the western philosophies, he found in Buddhism, Hinduism, and other eastern traditions. Gradually, he also studied Advaita Vedanta, Ramana Maharshi and Sri Sri Aurobindo’s works. He started correspondence with Anandamayi Ma and M.P. Pandit of the Sri Sri Aurobindo Ashram who later published his works in India. About 30 years ago, he was advised to become a Hindu and realizing he was already living the life of a Hindu, he adopted Hinduism. He continued his work on the ancient wisdom of India and was soon faced with ridicule for debunking the Aryan Invasion theory and showing Hinduism in positive light. Without naming the journalist of The Week magazine, Dr. Frawley informed the audience that the hatred amounted to him being labeled as a well known fascist. However, defending his position, he added that for the issues he had stood for in the United States, he had often been labeled as a leftist.

Dr. Frawley also expressed his bewilderment over the love Indians gave to Freud and Marx. According to him, all of Freud and Marx could be contained in a small corner of Aurobindo’s or Adi Shankara’s works. Dr. David Frawley appealed to the audience and the Hindus in general to become Sadhakas or practitioners instead of becoming academics in their traditional systems. “The Hindu wisdom is universal in nature and as such is relevant to everyone. The great knowledge of ‘I’m neither this body nor this mind’ comes from the Vedanta and the exposition of this thought must come from the inner practitioners and not the academics. Hindus must assert themselves because others are doing it already. They should understand and practise their wisdom and spread it to the whole world.”, he added.

Dr. David Frawley believes that India can only rise as India or Bharat and not by some imposed idea from outside. Q&A followed his concluding remarks where he answered questions on inner spiritual growth for the urban youth. He took up other subjects as well and impressed upon his audience that the idea that one can only be a born Hindu and not a convert was a propaganda, and the courts shouldn’t have intervened in the Sabarimala issue.

 

The Trial Room

A huge, bulky, and drooping belly characterized the organism’s appearance. His back was bent to overcome the shoulders and the head at any moment. The thighs appeared as though transplanted from an elephant. The organism had the face of a basketball’s size. However, his legs were as thin as a grasshopper’s and it was incredulous to see that the giant whole rested on those fragile legs. His movements were slow, with heavy thuds on earth reminiscent of the times when Tyrannosaurus walked the planet. Flab hanging from every part of the body except the legs gave him the appearance of a cryptic creature worthy only of hatred and despise. When he opened his mouth to speak, it was the most abominable sight. One would wonder why such a creature needed to speak at all. Words were barely audible. Comprehension was impossible. The gigantic jaws distanced themselves from each other with sticky, greenish grime stuck in the passes between the teeth and floating from left to right and then right to left as the organism moved his head to retain them in his mouth. Why would he retain all the filth in his mouth – was beyond anyone’s understanding. The organism had perhaps made a promise to himself to become as loathsome as possible. One was not able to keep eyes on him for more than mere glances to just satiate the curiosity of the mind. Children were less afraid and they stared more consistently. It was the giant dinosaur straight out on the street from every movie they had watched. For them, it was a sight to behold and in their minds, they schemed for the destruction of this organism in case it turned rogue.

 

The organism was visibly naked but his genitals weren’t visible. A colony of bees swarmed on them and a grisly mix of honey and rotten blood dripped from the swarm. There were dogs pursuing the organism to get a drop on their tongue and were occasionally successful in laying a tongue or two on his genitals only to be attacked and stung by the bees that puffed their faces to double their size. The dogs never gave up and kept following the organism on the streets. Realizing he needed to get away from them, the incredible organism wanted to hire a cab and rush away.

Who would offer a cab to this monster though? Tired of signaling at the cabs, he resumed his slow, earth-pounding walk and climbed a few steps to a nearby clothing store. Before anyone could say anything, he picked up three t-shirts and entered the trial room.

It was a sham. He knew none of the t-shirts would fit him. However, he had to keep away from the dogs on the street and a few minutes in the trial room would perhaps bore the dogs and they would go away. The trial room had a mirror. He looked at himself and sat down with his head in his feeble hands. He wasn’t this monster always. The t-shirts he had picked were random but there is an order in randomness too. He had picked an XS, an S, and an M sized t-shirt.  All these three sizes fit him once when he was a kid, a teenager, and then when he entered his twenties. He entered his 30s becoming this monster and since then, he had to be naked all the time. There was nothing on the stores he could fit inside.

He looked at his loathsome appearance with disgust. However, with some kind of careless momentary zeal, he picked up the XS t-shirt to try. His hands occupied all the space inside it. A similar fate awaited the S and M sized t-shirts. He looked up in the mirror again and saw a man looking at him. The man wore a black coat and wielded a gavel in his right hand. There was a desk in front of him on which he rested his left hand. He looked into the organism’s eyes and hit the gavel on the desk. It sounded exactly like the organism’s loud thuds on the streets when he walked. There were two other people who stood in the mirror. Both of them wore black coats and were debating vigorously. One stood close to the organism and the other close to the one with the gavel. The organism stood in the witness-box and was being interrogated by the one who stood closer to him.

“Do you know what the charge against you is?”

“I do not know!”

“I do not understand. Can you speak with some clarity?”

 

The organism swallowed some of the grime in his mouth and answered.

 

“I do not know!”

“That’s better. You have broken into an outlet where they sell only XS, S, and M sized clothes. You know that’s illegal, don’t you?”

“I did not know.”

“That is illegal Mr. Monster. That’s a crime. You have barged into an out-of-bounds shop without permission and that’s why you were straightaway dispatched to the Trial Room.”

“But, I wasn’t dispatched away. I just ran in here to save myself.”

“Save yourself, from whom?”

“The dogs, the dogs were eating my genitals. I had to save myself.”

“Dogs, very well…”

At that moment, all the people in the trial room – the Judge, the two lawyers, and the audience transformed into rabid dogs and all pounced upon the genitals of the monster. Writhing in pain and wanting to yell for help, the monster couldn’t raise a sound till there remained nothing but balls of brown blood in place of genitals on his body. As the dogs licked the last drop of blood on the floor, they caught a sight of the organism standing in the trial room, charged towards him, and leaped out of the mirror. Stupefied in horror, the organism sunk his eyes into his tiny arms.  

 

A dull silence ensued. The dogs had turned back into Judge, lawyers, and audience. The organism found a witness box around him. The Judge scribbled on his desk and pronounced – “The trial room finds the accused guilty of gluttony and forbids him to enter any regular and healthy society. The trial room also awards the convict with a house arrest till such time as the convict makes himself fit for the XS, S, or M society or dies while trying, whichever is earlier.” The sentence was brought into force. At home, he was put on a running treadmill by his family members and his fragile hands were tied behind him. He began to lose his breath within a minute. His pet dog stood by his side, salivating and waiting for his end.

 

 

From Ideas to Iconic Brands – Giles Lury

Giles says at the end of his book -“… This book was never meant to complete with them or play that role; rather I wanted to tell stories. I wanted to complement those other books….”

Giles claims to have written a storybook and not a textbook, he succeeds in that attempt and makes you go through the stories of 101 brands in the most lucid manner. With the brands that have been successful, he has also added stories of brands who got it wrong and sunk into oblivion, and this has, to the benefit of the author, imparted contrasting hues to his work.

I liked reading these stories and I would certainly recommend it to people around me instead of letting them dig the entire web without direction. However, I see a particular pattern emerging out that worries me as a writer as well as a reader. As with the startup scene, are we seeing an aggregation age in book publishing too where a collection of x items is turned into a book without caring for an often cited term ‘creativity’, of the author’s mind? I hope that the publishers recognize the sincere from the lazy and do not overdo the business part in this complex Creativity-Business equation. Most of all, I hope this book doesn’t fall on the shelf that is meant to mint money at the expense of originality.

Giles Lury has written a book From Ideas to Iconic Brands. He is the Executive Chairman of The Value Engineers, a leading marketing and advertising agency. The book is published by Jaico. Giles Lury has an affable way of writing and keeps you with him from first page to the last. Push in one addendum that most of the brand stories in the book can be found on the web, his work gains a more difficult skin – what difference has he made to the stories already out there while bringing them down in his book?

I would add two more things to Giles’ note at the end of the book about his purpose – Context and Objective. The writer tacitly adds a context to each of the story he tells and has an objective, a motivation in his head to tell a story when he tells it. This makes it easier for the readers to take what they would usually take from the book and also receive an extra message on writer’s own conclusions to the stories. By the time I reached the other end of his book, I felt I had more wherewithal with me to use at work and life as compared to when I started reading it.

We are a Generation of Media Zombies, We Need a Ghar Wapasi!

If you are outraged by the rise and rise of Dhinchak Pooja, I ask you where were you when a man called Arnab Goswami was essentially puking noise into your ears and still fetching highest TRPs of all other mortal pukers on television. Or, where were you when another man known as Ravish Kumar converted your TV into a Radio with darkness in your eyes and NDTV’s ‘holier-than-thou’ garbage in your ears?

 
Of course, you have no answers to these questions. You were not there to outrage then, you have no right to make any noise now. You’re a hypocrite who is suffering from selective amnesia. You’re a patron of the fiberals, you sleep with the presstitutes, you have pawned your brains to sickulars.
News channels invite 100 panelists for a debate and you are supposed to think they are serious about the subject. The moderator showers the choicest insults at the panelists and those panelists come back on the channel to take more insults on the very next day, and you are supposed to think all those camera-deprived spineless people will make a difference to your life. Award winning journalists tell you that your new currency notes will have satellites embedded in them and you are supposed to give them hours of viewership.

 
Journalists tell you the religion of every muslim killed in the country and you still think they are the doyens of journalism just because they tell it in English. A stringer pays to a child to say things on camera and you continue to watch that channel. You are steadily metamorphosing into something terrible!

 
When all that all these media agencies spit out is hate and you, otherwise a lovable person who loves his neighbour, fan the dark side of your spirit every day and each night, you become someone I call a Media Kill.

 

Who is a Media Kill?
Anyone who converts from an otherwise ‘minding-his-own-business’ person to someone who judges others 24×7 under direct or indirect influence of the media is a Media Kill.

 
One of the defining features of the present day’s media is not being able to look inside themselves. As a result, you won’t find an Arnab Goswami debating any wrong done by the Times group (remember the tale of Times of India and one Miss Deepika Padukone?) as long as he works there. You won’t find Ravish Kumar debating NDTV’s misdemeanours while covering 26/11 attacks while teaching the standards of journalism to every other network. You won’t find a Sudhir Chaudhary discussing his own lies about the new currency notes during what became an orgastic festival for the news networks that loved Mr. Modi, better known as Demonetization.

 

Media throws open its entire hand while pointing fingers at others. Human beings on the other hand, (I refer here to the ones who are not yet converted), are born to think, introspect, question, think again, and find answers. Media hates thinking individuals.
Hence, the primary objective of today’s media is to increase the numbers of their kind. An inward looking person is a bad panelist for their debates, an introspecting soul is a failed commerce for their TRPs, a person who judges himself instead of others has no use for the media. So, they are out there to convert you, so that they exist for eternity. Every person they convert thus, is a kill, and should be counted as Media Kill.

 

Question – When did you last see a Scientist or a Teacher on any Indian newsroom’s panel discussion?

 

How do these conversions happen?
There are different means. One is by not letting you think. Such hunters show you all that they speak in text form on the screen. Your ears, your eyes, and your mind are all engaged. After a while, you start ignoring the sound and begin waiting for the texts on the screen. The channel has effectively blocked your ears. Some channels do the opposite and block your eyes. The point is to induce thoughtlessness in your mind.
Another way is to keep shouting so loud that the noise dashes into your brain and drowns all your thoughts. You get tired and you sleep while the newsperson keeps shouting judgmental lullabies in your ears. Next day, you decide to not watch it but cometh the 9pm moment, reacheth the remote control! You sleep only after you have got your daily supply of scream-pills.

 
These methods are still superficial. One of the more dangerous means to gain a Media Kill is to distract you from real issues, say, you have no water in your house but media will make you believe that there are no minorities in the country because all of them have been killed by the majoritarian system, or while a community is fighting to be allowed to sing if they want to, these media vultures run a debate on whether Vande Mataram is anti-that community, or while you lament the fact that India is not doing enough on cancer research, they take you on temple runs with Rahul Gandhi and hold discussions on what’s printed on Modi’s suit. So, you keep thinking of cancer research in India for 3 days and then comes the fourth day, the day of your conversion, you start thinking about Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi!

 
From ‘Maut ka Bathtub’ to ‘Amitabh Bachchan ko thand lagi’, from ‘kya alien gaay ka doodh peete hain’ to other ‘sansanikhez khulasas’, media knows how to keep the kill count increasing and create a generation of Media Zombies who are going to spend their lives criticizing everything instead of creating anything!

 

First they bore you, then they shout at you, then you like them, then they deliver their lies to you, then they run a Save Tiger Campaign, then you convert!

 

Unless someone starts a Ghar Wapasi channel, I am waiting for the media to perish. I can no longer watch television until the day I get to switch to a news or entertainment channel where we are allowed to use our minds and convert back to the ‘Thinking Man’ we used to be when there was life on Mars and before the Martian media wiped it off. India TV, are you listening?

Spoilers for Karnataka: Indignity War

Why is it that after every dreamy manifesto every five years from all parties in any electoral contest, nothing changes for our country? Why is it that many people I have interviewed in Karnataka don’t really care who gets to sit on the throne after the elections? Why is it that the pre-poll promises are never taken seriously in our country? Will Karnataka become a better state if the BJP comes to power? Will it worsen if the Congress gets the power back? What can Mr. Yeddyurappa do this time after getting elected that he couldn’t do in his previous term? What can Mr. Siddaramaiah do in the next five years that he couldn’t do in his current term? What are they going to change? Like many others, my answer is – nothing, because we are trapped in the time loop, not very different from the one created with the Eye of Agamotto by Dr. Strange. Only that, this time, the eye is blinded and in place of Dormammu, we sit there, too bored to look into the details of a disaster fomenting before us. Or maybe not, maybe all this is for some greater good. Hold on, before you pelt generalisation stones at me, I have a few things of my own to throw.

Are you a pornography consumer? Would you like to watch porn videos in the Karnataka assembly? That’s not an entirely unrealistic fantasy to live by. BJP provides tickets to live such fantasies, thanks to their Achhe Din promise. Laxman Savdi and CC Patil were the two MLAs caught watching porn in the Karnataka assembly in 2012. Guess what, they are here to be reelected. BJP has given tickets to Savdi from Athani and to Patil from Nargund.

The situation is brighter than you would guess. BJP has fielded 83 candidates with criminal charges, Congress has fielded 59, and JD(S), touted as the kingmaker has 41 candidates with criminal charges. When all the criminals get concentrated inside the assembly, we can obviously hope for less crime and more peace in other parts of the state. In all, out of 2560 candidates analysed by The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), 391 have criminal cases against them. 25 of them have Attempt to Murder cases against them and 23 have cases related to crimes against women in their names. 4 of the candidates have Murder cases against them at present. In case you are interested in knowing the names of these candidates who are going to keep us safe, hide here – adrindia.org

Congress coming back to power will also mean the continuation of the good present days wherein voters would be allowed to set the state on fire for their rights on issues like Kaveri water sharing etc.

In other good news, Dr. G Parameshwara of the Congress gets his ticket from Koratagere. This is perhaps his reward for speaking truth to power after the Bengaluru Mass Molestation Case – “such things happen”. He is going to obliterate all the western influence on us or at least half of it once he gets all the Infinity Stones from his chosen constituency and will call it mercy. Why would the mining barons be left behind? Reddy brothers are coming to a constituency near you very soon, of course, as Yeddyurappa says, “Winning each seat is important.”

Also, try hiding your excitement at this – Siddaramaiah is the same MLA who got DIG D. Roopa transferred overnight after she tabled her report on the VIP treatment for Shashikala inside the Parappana Agrahara Central Prison, Bengaluru. For his proactive step, Siddaramaiah gets tickets from 2 constituencies – Badami and Chamundeshwari. He gets an additional reward for his superhuman efforts to clean the Bellandur lake, a ticket for his son Yathindra too from Varuna.

Manifestos are out! Parties are enunciating their glorious vision for the state. Thanos has used the Time Stone to take Mr. Modi and Mr. Amit Shah back to 2014, so they are doing a rally on every-feet-road of Bengaluru. Mr. Rahul Gandhi has taken help from Thanos to find out that one situation where he gets to be the Prime Minister out of 14 million outcomes and hence, is going temple-hopping with his face turned towards 10 Janpath saying, “there was no other way, Mom

There are more rumours out there. Please your ears and eyes by clicking on the links mentioned below –