More Lessons from Dosa King Rajagopal’s Death

How dear is your reputation to you? If you are an individual who is reputed and well respected in the world, and if it comes to a situation where you get to keep either your life or your reputation, what would you choose? It is not a trivial question, you’ve heard stories of men and women who died for their honour! I would like you to take some time and ponder. You may reach a point in your reflections where you will want to remember your actions that took you there. Take one-step further and now think of this – you are not going to die, that is not your option now but you lose your reputation and you would need to live without the dignity you had earned with mountains of efforts. Would you feel relieved to have your life spared? A fine line separates the two situations. In one, your life choice is in your hands where as in another, someone makes that choice for you. You must have heard a lot many people say that an honorable death is better than an ignoble life, but are you sure you would not choose that life over a death that promises to cover your sins?

Shift some gears. How would you see the situation if the imminent death is as ignoble as your life would be? You are not sure about things that happen after death. However, in life, you know you can control a few things even if people do not like you. Does it become easier to live then? You believe in God, so, you make him a promise – “let me live, I won’t kill anyone again.” You also know that God does not operate in your currency. You do not get a reply. Nevertheless, he is ‘your’ God, you know him well enough to believe that he will forgive you because you have atoned. God has done his work. Now, you need to come out and manage a few things in a world that is up for sale. You have powerful friends; you have wealth that injects fuel into these powerful friends. You may not know the other world but you know your way out of the incarcerations of the world-of-the-living. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. You and your powerful friends make your ignoble life a comfortable one. Slowly, you make yourself forget the reasons for your fall and buying time becomes a contest for you. You have won all the games of the world before this one. You are confident you will win this one too. So, you keep buying time until one day, you have spent all your money. You realize you were buying time from your own store. Your storekeeper throws you onto a hospital bed and whispers in your ears – “of course, you will not kill anyone again”. Your heart stops beating.

Dosa King Rajagopal evaded jail-term for 15 years before being sentenced to life-term. He surrendered with an oxygen mask on his face, developed heart problems, and went to a hospital before he died. In the face of his life and actions, how should we define ‘justice’? Is it nature doing what the oft-fallible and corruptible humans could not do? Does that mean a life sentence was not enough for his actions and he needed to die? Or should we come from the opposite side to say that it became all too easy for him in the end? A life term might have perhaps put him in a situation closer to that of the Prince Santhakumar’s family.

It may take some time for our society to understand this phenomenon. We are so bored of seeing criminals dying their natural death before the courts are able make up their minds that it comes as no surprise any longer. To me, death is not justice. Death may wear the mask of poetic justice but poetic justice does not care for time and proportion. In effect, poetic justice is not justice at all. It is the consolation prize of the losing side.

Rajagopal did not serve his sentence. He was never going to be living behind the bars but he has died with all his dignity crushed and ground to dust. The winds of the coastline that carried his fame to far-off lands have now drowned themselves in the sea. The chaos of renown has turned into a lull of condemnation. Saravana Bhavan’s story will always carry the blandness of vanity and the vapidity of overcooked lust. Its success tale will always carry the rancid odour of the ghost and that might remain our only consolation.

Junior doctors at NRS Medical College and Hospital demonstrate against West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata.(ANI)

O Doctor! My Doctor! Our Fearful Trip is Done?

When I was a child, my mother always used to say that doctors are the living embodiment of God. I never understood what she meant by that but nevertheless, I believed her. I have grown up watching people obey and respect doctors, place them on the highest pedestals of our society and worship them – and then, I have seen people curse them, beat them and if need be, kill them! Gradually, I started asking myself, is this how we worship Gods? Is this what we do—repay humanity with vengeance? Are doctors truly gods in the first place?

I write this article a few weeks after a heinous incident shook the core of our nation. On 10th June, 2019, two on-duty intern doctors, Dr. Paribaha Mukhopadhyay and Dr. Yash Tekwani of Nil Ratan Sircar Medical College & Hospital (NRSMCH), Kolkata, West Bengal were attacked by a mob of 200 goons, all claiming to be relatives and well-wishers of a 75-year old patient who had passed away in the evening after a major heart attack. While Paribaha suffered a deep dent on the frontal bone of the skull and was admitted in an ICU at The Institute of Neurosciences, Kolkata, Yash also had a serious head injury. What ensued thereafter, were a political melodrama, harassments caused to thousands of patients, more attacks on doctors all over the state, mass resignation of doctors and medical professors all over the country and most importantly, a nationwide protest of a magnitude not witnessed in India for a long time.

The NRS incident was neither the first nor the last attack on doctors. On one hand, when the nationwide protest was going on demanding the safety of the medical fraternity and proper infrastructure in government hospitals, on 14th June, 2019, a doctor in Gaya district in Bihar was tied to a tree, while goons gang-raped his wife and robbed him. On that same day, the owners of a dog in Kerala assaulted a veterinary doctor. The list goes on!

As I kept pondering over the grave situation, the question that kept on haunting me was why would people feel the need to take up arms against doctors in the first place! Of course, the answer to this question brought me to the dark side of the medical fraternity. Often, people complain about doctors refusing to treat poor patients in government hospitals and instead, forcing them to make appointments in their private chambers. People who cannot afford to make such appointments are forced to undergo treatments in government hospitals under extremely poor conditions, which often leads to medical negligence and imminent death of the patient. In addition to this, India remains an easy market for illegal organ trade where avaricious doctors trick and coerce financially unstable and illiterate people in donating their kidneys, liver etc. and sell them for lakhs of money.

I also dug out certain facts on the other side from some of my friends who are ex-students of NRSMCH and had participated in this movement. In our country, the situation is such that around four doctors are operating the emergency of a government hospital with the help of nurses and other staff. Adding to this, the OPD ticket cost is as low as 2 rupees per patient, which is even less than the one-way bus fare of the patient. Even with minimum infrastructure and unchecked patient load, doctors manage to perform their duties in these adverse conditions, sacrificing their own family lives. Under such circumstances, when a patient is brought to the emergency in a delicate condition, even after all necessary measures required to resuscitate him are taken, he might succumb to the natural consequences. However, when truckloads of goons attack a doctor or assault him, the only defense he has is his knowledge – not a gun, not a stick, not an iron rod, not a brick – only knowledge! It seems though, that lately, knowledge is falling short and the saviors of the world are quickly becoming the victims while the government and the police authorities stand aside without uttering a word, witnessing these events as silent spectators.

As I pause to conclude this outpour, I realize with a heavy heart that I am writing this on 1st July, 2019—the day celebrated as National Doctor’s Day all over India in memory of Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy on his birthday. He was a man who believed in People – irrespective of religion, caste, creed, or political views. He believed in humanity! I wonder if this is the India he dreamt of freeing from the British stronghold – a world where innocent doctors pay for the sins of money-mongering doctors who use their knowledge for some sinister business. Or a world where a mob is ready to assault doctors whenever it is discontented! It is true that if a patient feels that his doctor is at fault, he has the right to question him but as patients and caretakers, it also becomes our responsibility to opt for the right recourse.

The act of hooliganism witnessed by Bengal on the night of 10th June, 2019 must be condemned with the severest of measures taken against the perpetrators. The whole nation stood by Bengal in this time of distress because it was the right thing to do. However, it is high time that we start addressing the real issues haunting the lives of millions of people in our country and uproot them root and stem, that we start asking questions more often without waiting for a Paribaha or a Yash to get attacked while serving the people of this country!

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.

Oral Democracy: Deliberation in Indian Villages

The timing of this book launch & panel discussion could not have been better. While the people of our country don’t even need a cue to begin a political discussion, imagine the situation when it is right in the middle of the most awaited elections. Vijayendra Rao’s sneak peek into the rural socio-political setting to us urbanites was nothing less than an eye opener and if I might point out also lead to some amount of shame.

His research and study only validate how literacy, education and belonging to a more “privileged” section of the society have no role in ensuring higher participation and engagement in one’s civic and political life. Vijayendra through his book discussion attempts to build a case to portray the strength, awareness and willpower, the people in villages bring to collectively solve a given problem. He dramatically read out the many conversations verbatim from various meetings presided by the Gram Sabha of various parts of South India ranging from Bidar to Dharmapuri and Kasargod.

It was fascinating to understand how the effects of colonisation, state policy, local political influences and linguistics contributed to unique functioning and characterisation of the gram sabhas of different states. For example he spoke about how Kerala grama sabhas have a bureaucratic approach where they plan things to the T, while sabhas of Karnataka and Tamil nadu are lot more dynamic and often chaotic but still end up redressing issues and finding solutions. Nevertheless, what Rao truly wants to bring out through his book is how decentralising administrative capabilities  will only help in furthering the interests of the country’s majority and contrary to popular belief how democratic ethos is strongly pursued and passed on as an oral tradition even amidst the least literate of our society.

This definitely poses a question to us city dwellers who have so much more infrastructure at our disposal but what are we doing? Krishna Byre Gowda – Minister for Rural Development and Panchayat Raj, Law & Parliamentary Affairs in Karnataka, highlighted the losing relevance of the panchayat and gram sabhas and the overall shift in focus from the Gandhian philosophy of decentralisation of political administration. He believes this model needs to be replicated in the urban circles as well and poses a question to citizens, municipalities and the amount of interest urban folks are taking in these matters.

The disparity in voter turnout itself can be considered as a superficial indicator to understand the engagement level of rural and urban Indians when it comes to civic participation. The very fact that the 74th Amendment mandates ward committee meetings to be conducted in a more regular and timely fashion in Bangalore is an indication that state policy intervention can help support and give voice to citizens and hopefully improve participation with a quid pro quo arrangement where citizens and state can hold each other accountable.


Image Courtesy – bangaloreinternationalcentre

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.


A Case against the Supreme Court on Sabarimala

Sanatana Dharma, or what we refer today as Hindu Dharma has no single source, exact time, or place of origin and no rigid commandments. The pedestal a book is placed on in this religion is directly a variable of the value it adds, the universality of its contents, and for how long it has withstood the test of time. Now, it has been agreed upon in spiritual parlance that Sruti, Smriti, and the Upanishads are the oldest and most authentic known spiritual texts that exist today in Hinduism. There are two basic philosophies entwined in our literatures, Karma-Kanda (Ritualistic approach) and Jnana-Kanda (Scholastic approach) for individual liberty. The vedas espouse Karma-Kanda in general and Upanishads, Jnana-Kanda. Either of these approaches are at our disposal to follow according to our inclination.


When we talk about wisdom, logic, or even Bhakti (the first mention of which is in Shwetashwatar Upanishad), we refer to the Jnana-Kanda or the scholastic approach. This approach leads us to believe that we are one with the Brahman and our sole purpose is to realise that oneness by virtue of Jnana, Bhakti, Chintan etc. What is outside is just a manifestation of what is inside. Thoughts like ब्रह्म सत्य जगतमिथ्या (Brahman is the only truth, the world is unreal), ब्रह्मास्मि (I am the Brahman), सोऽहं (I am that) etc. become our harbinger. Bhakti, which can also be considered a part of Jnana-Kanda espouses principles like Maatri Bhav (perceiving God as mother), Sakha Bhav (perceiving God as friend), Vatsalya Bhav (perceiving God as one’s own child) etc. wherein one internalizes the Brahman and loves his chosen deity with a thousandfold more love that one would feel for any mortal being or thing.

In all these paths, a guru generally acts as the mediator for the journey and there is no need for organized religion there. It is a very personal matter to practising hindus, hence not generally discussed publicly.


The second way to supplement the journey is the Karma-Kanda. It is more ritual intensive which consists generally, but not exclusively of Yajnas, Hawan, Pooja, Aarti, Sanskaras etc. In order to practice Karma-Kanda at a community level in an organized way, temples were envisioned and built. Here deities are established, प्राणप्रतिष्ठा (consecration of the idol) is done and hence the idol is treated as if the deity is himself (or herself) manifested in the idol. The natural laws applicable to human beings are applied to him. They are woken up, given bath, served food etc. In Karma-Kanda, along with purity of mind and soul, purity of body is equally important and revered. People who choose to follow this path consciously and by free will, undergo various tapas (spiritual practices) to achieve this purity. These spiritual practices are not random. There is a pattern, a clear way, and a proper guidance to practise these tapas.


The rules envisioned in Karma-Kanda have to be followed in order to achieve purity which one wants to achieve in order to follow the path of Karma-Kanda which one has chosen by his (or her) free will. One who doesn’t want to follow the Karma-Kanda or the associated rituals, is nevertheless free to do so.


At Sabarimala, Shri Ayyappa is the deity and is worshipped by following the principles of Karma-Kanda. He is worshipped as a living God as previously explained and not just an idol. Now, Shri Ayyappa, in that particular temple has taken a vow of Naishtika Brahmacharya or eternal celibacy. Yajnavalkya Smriti lays down the two conditions for such a practice, namely to undergo intense physical hardships and sustain extreme sense control.


“अनेन विधिना देहं सादयन्विजितेन्द्रियः |

ब्रह्मलोकमवाप्नोति न चेहाजायते पुनः || Y.S — 1–50 ||”


Intense physical hardships have been explained by sage Vashishth in Vashishtha Smriti


“आहूताध्यायी सर्वभैक्षं निवेद्य तदनुज्ञया भुञ्जीत |

खट्टाशयन दन्तप्रक्शालनाभ्यन्जनवर्जः तिष्ठेत् अहनि रात्रावासीत ||”


He should undertake studies at any time (that the guru orders); He should hand over all his bhiksha to his guru and eat only what the guru gives;

He should never sleep on a cot; He should never brush his teeth with any special paste; He should never apply any oils or perfumes; He should always be seated (as we can see at Sabarimala, the deity is in sitting position), day and night, ready for studies.


Sensory control part has been described by Shri Vijnaneshwar  in his commentary


“विजितेन्द्रियः इन्द्रियविजये विशेषप्रयत्नवान्ब्रह्मचारी”


In order to become a vijitendriya, a (naishthik) brahmachari should undertake extreme efforts to maintain sense control.

(Source – https://medium.com/@pranasutra)


As we can see from the above shlokas that a Naishtika Brahmachari has been instructed to practise austerity and immense self control, he has been directed to stay away from women so that there should be no deviation and distraction in his path. Shri Ayyappa, being a Naishtika Brahmachari has to undergo the same restrictions and austerity as applicable to human beings as practised in Karma-Kanda and explained in the preceding paragraph. The rules that a temple follows are mentioned in ‘temple agamas’ so that they are not tinkered with unnecessarily unless they present a threat to the society in anyway.


Hindus are free to choose between any of the above said paths, Jnana-Kanda and Karma-Kanda. Also, they can choose to pick what they like from these paths and practise only the parts that suit them, as most hindus do. They are even free to not practise anything. What they cannot however do is to change the basic tenets of the religion itself according to their wishes. And this is what the Supreme Court of India has authorized itself to do which according to me is unjust and unfair.



About the Author : Ambikesh Kumar Jha is a social writer and a sailor, presently ashore.

Image Courtesy – www.moneycontrol.com/news/india/sabarimala

Resonance of Literature – Seasons of the Palm

One often finds it intriguing how a flattened piece of wood with few inks splattered in patterns can make a person cry. For words have the power to move mountains and shake hearts so why does one delve deep into the vast expanse of this subject called Literature. It is because it speaks those truths which the mouth shies away from uttering. It explains details which the ordinary life can entail and yet be unknown about it.

I write this from a small and remote tribal village in Chhattisgarh with no proper connectivity to the mainstream. I feel this tributary is snaking its way around from the lived realities around me to this amazing phenomenon called book which I illustrated in my introduction. I just finished reading Perumal Murugan’s Seasons of the Palm. There is a concept of performativity in Social Science, where a victim or an oppressed has to ‘perform’ her oppression every time for her to assert her rights. A very simple example would be how a tribal has to prove her backwardness to the authorities to claim their entitled rights. In terms of literature, a women writer has to perform her feminism every time she writes, for there are questions too often which asks her about the ‘women’s perspective’ in her writing. The reason I bring this concept is to introduce you to Perumal Murugan.

Perumal Murugan is a Dalit writer from Tamil Nadu and his works have been translated from Tamil into many other languages including English. Seasons of the Palm is also a translated text from Koolla Madari. This book has tried to break the notion of performing the Dalit identity in very many ways. This is not to say that he has not at all touched the subject, rather he has put it into a context where the picture is not black and white where the oppressor is not the evilest creature on earth and our protagonist Shorty, the oppressed, not the naïve innocent child who obeys his parents faithfully.

This novel is built with a complex set of emotions just like any other literary work based on real life. I often find this sentence ‘based upon real life’ amusing. Can there be any word of writing in this world which has not been born out of real life? Everything has some or the other resonance with the life around. It is not possible to ride on the pillions of poesy to fly high if there was no ground to fly from, in the first place. Every piece of literature has been born out of its times and the author must have seen and observed her mettle to write it down in a piece of paper. However, my occasional detour was to back Murugan and second his thought that his fictional work doesn’t and cannot come out of blue. It is lived realities and experiences of many people which find words in his novel. Seasons of the Palm is about a young Dalit boy Shorty whose work is to herd sheep and do other jobs in his Master’s house to pay off the debt his father owes the Master. This debt seems to never end as his father keeps taking more money and the interest piles on. But in the introduction itself, Shorty clarifies that he doesn’t engage himself in this complex math, unlike Belly, another sheepherder and makes sure she gets a fair share of her work. This story has many other characters like Tallfellow, Stonedeaf, Stumpleg, and Selvan who is the son of Shorty ’s master.

The book is a very detailed account of the activities these young lads are engaged in when they are herding sheep or protecting them in the night or escaping out of this constant slavery. Murugan very beautifully details those moments of joy which these children steal out of their slaved lives like catching fishes, stealing palm fruits, stealthily going for a cinema and many more like it. These moments are precious also because Murugan describes nature with it. He somehow hints at the fact that although people are discriminatory and often involve themselves in drudgery, nature has always been kind and compassionate. This is done so lucidly in the book that I resonate with it in my village right now. Although there are no sheep here, I see similar actions by the goats or Poochi, the dog in my compound. The way the valley, the well has been described, it is as if one is also diving deep with each breath Shorty takes in it.

The social conditions of this village are not unusual. During the temple festival, these untouchable boys have to stand outside. Murugan also gives an account of how they come to this temple during the rest of the year when no one is around and play with the idols freely. There is a progress which Shorty makes as the story moves forward, he is described as this young boy who is fearful and sensitive in the initial chapters but in the end, he has become unwary of his surroundings. Murugan describes this as :

His (Shorty’s)ears appeared to have shut themselves off from the world.
Just as how his body had drawn itself into a tight knot, waiting to be kicked at anytime.

These lines come in the final chapters when Shorty starts asking questions about this atrocity to his father and starts calculating the money he earns and owes the Master. His beatings made him reason out a phenomenon which earlier he took for granted. As mentioned earlier, Murugan doesn’t put them in the strict categories of Oppressor and Oppressed. Shorty does run away for a few days and his Master accepts it as fate. In the same way, his Master leaves his sheep and cow free on the Harvest day and exclaim them as poor beings who work throughout the year. This care and compassion for the animals show a more skewed picture of caste discrimination. Casteism is so rampant and obvious that even a caring heart practices it without actually being so ruthless. If a reader needs one reason to pick this book it should be for its detailed accounts of the village life along with its half-hidden flaws, for everything needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.

About the Author: Kalpita is a Bachelor in English Literature. Her ultimate goal is to fulfill the romantic notion of changing the world for better and she is pursuing MA in Development from Azim Premji University, Bangalore.

Andrew Sean Greer’s Less

Where do I begin? If I only I could give form to the feeling that has been gushing within me, you would know how overwhelming an experience it was. But as usual, I didn’t know where to begin and I kept waiting for the words to find their way out of the whirlpool of emotions.  A month has gone by since then. So, maybe I should just begin by telling you how I never have had a great run with award-winning books. Continue reading “Andrew Sean Greer’s Less”

Satyajit Ray Sci-Fi

It is only fair that someone having as iconic a stature as Satyajit Ray also must have had a life full of equally iconic incidents. In 1962 Ray was all set to be the first ever Asian to venture out with the most ambitious science fiction project. Satyajit’s screenplay genius bowled the entire Hollywood industry and who’s who of America wanted to be associated with this film.

Shantanu Ray Chaudhari, an ardent Satyajit Ray fan, author and editor took the audience to a lesser known tragedy that India’s stellar filmmaker faced. Satyajit had come up with one of the best screenplays for a science fiction story set in rural Bengal. The story was about a poor, village boy and his tryst with an extra-terrestrial being that descends from a spaceship and the tender relationship that ensues. Sounds familiar? That is exactly what Satyajit felt when years later in 1977, during the Berlin film festival he happened to watch a Spielberg movie that was very similar to his much anticipated ambitious sci-fi project which for mysterious reasons had gotten shelved.

Shantanu during this session took the avatar of a storyteller enchanting the audience with the world of filmmaking and science fiction, describing the poignant tragedy of losing out on a chance in creating history in the filming world.



About the author: Monica Kamath is a curious being who strongly believes that a right time, right place and a right person can create wonders. True blue Bangalorean, a multi-linguist who can speak more than five Indian languages, love to understand people, dialects and cultures. Blog link – https://medium.com/@monicskamath. She currently writes for Bookstalkist

Life, the Universe and Everything: The Influence of SF on Society

Science fiction has been one that catapults the reader into a world of possibilities. Be it time travel, or the world of superheroes, there is always something for everyone. What we miss is, however, the impact it has on society. Is it a reflection of what is going on in the society, or is it the other way round? Gautam Shenoy, along with established Science Fiction (Sci-Fi or SF) writers Bruce Sterling, Krishna Udayasankar, and Samit Basu, examines the multiple facets of how Sci-Fi brings a part of it into the working of the society.

How each of the writers looks at writing Sci-Fi is different. Sterling uses the example of the classic Jules Verne and how his free-spirited writing became rigid and boring when he became a politician. Consciously writing to reflect the society may not necessarily bring about the changes that are desired, as much as the free-flowing ones do, he says. Krishna Udayasankar who writes with an inspiration from Indian Mythology, says that mythology is used as a lens through which socio-political impact is seen, along with looking at how it can change. Samit, on the other hand, uses time travel as one that helps him keep a safe distance from the controversies of today.

That brings us to the question of social engineering. Could science fiction also help in social engineering? Could it actually bring about changes in society? In regard to this, Shenoy recounts an incident from the past when a college Vice Chancellor accused an SF writer of slacking off, and not coming up with more otherworldly writings, and that lead to Project Hieroglyphic. Sterling accedes to the fact that SF writers are often expected to bring exaggerated ideas in a world where dystopian SF literature is assuming popularity. He also speaks about how he doesn’t want SF to lie, but be one which can use its brainpower to bring solutions.

As much as we speak of the society and it being influenced by SF, do works imbibe and reflect the fears and anxiety of the society, Shenoy ponders and provides examples of movements such the one on the Handmaid’s Tale. Samit denies; in a country such as India, it is very hard to internalize something on those lines given the existence of many realities, and the uniqueness of each of them. He mocks when half of what we read like the news itself is fictional, how would a fictional piece assume such impact? However, Krishna says that the power of the familiar is one that is largely important. It is enough to entertain the thought of an alternate possibility.

When speaking of sci-fi, can it also help teach science? When Shenoy quotes examples of many scientists writing sci-fi pieces, Sterling opines that the trend is not really a healthy one. It is an oxymoron to have scientists who propagate truths to go ahead and write fiction. Good science fiction comes from anthropologists who can indeed understand the culture of a society and therefore can write pieces that take back messages into the society its stems from.

Shenoy moves on to examine the superhero culture as well. A rather interesting set up of Superman fighting the Nazis or a Black Panther fighting the Ku Klux Klan, Shenoy indulges in a conversation with the writers to understand how they work in the backdrop of the society. Superheroes today are modern myths and the ideal immigrants. Their presence is rather live, and keep the story alive, they say. However, Basu jokes, a superhero in India is considered one only when he fights in the west!

This genre, however far and distant it may seem, is integral to the society, as society is to it. Science fiction writers have risen to a level where they have become advisors and their words have become ones that have considerable weightage.



About the Author: A believer in the subtlety of magic in everyday living, and Shobhana seeks the same from the books she reads, and the poetry she writes. Immerses herself in music, literature, art, and looking out the window with some coffee. She curates her poetry, and occasional verses in her blog Thinking; inking. She currently writes for Bookstalkist.

Chit-Chat on Bofors and Rafale

Ten years. That is how long Chitra Subramaniam worked on the Bofors scandal, from Geneva in Switzerland. She was 29 and pregnant when she began her investigation. She continued to follow the paper trail and money trail to their end, even after the Hindu fired her. Her husband sponsored her entire investigation and she did some ground-breaking work in bringing out all the dirt and setting some heightened standards for investigative journalism. The Bofors scandal led to the change of certain Swiss laws.

It wasn’t that there were no scandals before that, but Bofors came at a time when the country was looking up to Rajiv Gandhi with great hope after having lived through a cynical age during his mother’s government. Rajiv was portrayed as a clean person. So, when she held the papers that connected him to the scandal, Chitra said she was shaking. After her extended period of work, a box load of documents arrived in India for investigation. Although no one knows what happened of those documents, the Rafale deal has stirred up the public attention again. Everyone had almost forgotten about Bofors until somebody compared the Rafale deal to that of the Bofors.

According to Chitra, there is corruption in every deal including the Rafale. Yet she considers the Bofors and Rafale deal as chalk and cheese. In Bofors, for the first time, the prime minister of India was personally involved and stood accused of corruption. The Rafale, on the other hand, is not clear if politicians were involved. There sure are a lot of unanswered questions including the involvement of the Reliance group, but this story must be built piece by piece and not jumped to conclusions without following the conventional rules of journalism. She also insisted that the audience should read the works of Abhijit Iyer Mitra who probably knows the most about the Rafale scandal.

Chitra said the VP Singh government rode on the Bofors scandal but did nothing about it. And nothing is stopping the current government in doing anything about. However, the politicians are like ‘all scorpions stuck in a bottle’. They have together turned a lot of our institutions corrupt. They can’t moralize each other.

Chitra laughed when asked if the European countries are as clean as they are portrayed by the corruption index. She took the examples of Sweden, France and Italy to establish how the European countries are rather more corrupt.

Chidanand Rajghatta, the current Foreign Editor and U.S Bureau Chief of The Times of India, who was moderating the discussion with Chitra brought up an important point about how Indians are not ready to pay for news and expect it to be available for free. He thought that this hunt for free or cheaper news is causing financial constraints on the media houses which probably is the reason why they don’t dive deep to bring out the truth. But, Chitra said that the media houses have enough money when they want to have them and that cannot be the reason. She said people here indulge in a lot of gossips. Everyone thinks they know everything and everyone has an opinion about everything. People no longer follow the two-source theory of journalism. They write something because it all online now and can be edited later if needed. She also said that these media houses are constantly under pressure especially if the establishment is family-run. But they should be careful because social media has become the new watchdog. An eternal optimist that she is, Chitra reiterated that the media must continue to question and do their job.

Hampi: Of Gods And Kings

The history that we come from is rich, and often has a sense of mystique around it. This is especially so when places like Hampi fall into the list. The city in ruins, and UNESCO World Heritage site, Hampi is home to hundreds of monuments in ruins. From beautiful pillars to the pristine river and the majestic hills around, Hampi has a sense of magic that surrounds it.

In his coffee table book, Bharath Ramamrutham brings together tens of pictures of Hampi. The audience had a glimpse of the pictures that went into the making of the book, and each of it is one that certainly tickles the wanderlust in each of them. The raw, almost unbelievable views from atop the hills, the architecture, the abandoned and perfect irrigation systems, the sky’s generous touch to the spectacular city below, all of it has been skillfully captured by Bharath Ramamrutham. While the pictures rolled by, and the audience marvelled at the colours and yearned to be transported, Bharath’s reading from the book equally captivated them all. It was the perfect background to the awe of viewing the pictures.

Bharath, in conversation with Shama Pawar, one who has been dedicated to the conservation and development of Hampi while residing in the little historical site for 20 plus years now, toured through the initiatives in Hampi that keep the hub alive. Shama’s Kishkinda Trust helps the local community in Hampi in its socio-economic sphere. The community and its involvement in guarding the space have become a reality through various programs run by the trust.

This thriving historical site was captured by Bharath, and the book aptly named Hampi: Of Gods and Kings to bring in the vibe of magic and royalty into it. No visitor comes back without a longing to go back again, and Bharath views the site as a sacred one. The book has no pictures of people, an unconscious decision, he says. The place was to be captured for its natural beauty, its landscapes, and warranted no distractions!

While many books are today available on Hampi, with academicians and photographers in tow, these books become far more educational than artistic in nature, he says. The book celebrates the place itself, and as is. For those of us longing, and wanting to travel to Hampi, this book might just be that extra reason we seek.


About the Author: A believer in the subtlety of magic in everyday living, and Shobhana seeks the same from the books she reads, and the poetry she writes. Immerses herself in music, literature, art, and looking out the window with some coffee. She curates her poetry, and occasional verses in her blog Thinking; inking. She currently writes for Bookstalkist.