Saturday, August 30, 2014

Blaspheming Mortal Gods

Indians are a nation who seems to be lusting, esurient, desperate and yearning for Gods and demi gods. We make Gods out of stone, marble, drift wood and even mortals- lucky are the ones amongst us upon whom we thrust that status often to their glee. These idiosyncrasies are a lesser matter when compared to the outrage we express over iconoclasm and even honest analysis and discussion about the human Gods we made. Their infractions are seldom examined or condemned.

Recent times have seen a liberal dose of critical analysis of Gandhi -bashing as some call it -   Mahatma ‘bashing’ (sic) criticism. We thrust upon him a status akin to God’s, the most  revered, the infallible mortal, the holy man, Mahatma, the spartan saint, who lived in our midst. The eulogy in the words of Albert Einstein, and which strikes reverberantly, “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this in flesh and blood walked upon this earth”. Correspondingly there has been fierce defence of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi- vociferous indignation of any criticism of Gandhi, his utterances, philosophy,or his life.

Why Gandhi alone, we have other mortal Gods to whom we prostrate, let us be hugged and kissed, watch them agape and resent bitterly and sometimes hysterically when they are criticised. We automatically are tuned to become agitated, flustered and resent when our beliefs, faith and fantasies are questioned, are seemed to be threatened by scholarly dissection and argument. We fret and accuse of betrayal, irreverence and rudeness when the comparative cocoon that we built is exposed or threatened.

We made a living God of Sachin Tendulkar the cricketer. When an international Tennis player innocently admitted that she is not aware who this Tendulkar is, cudgels where raised in India and virtual stones were pelted at the tennis player for her audacious admission. Remember cricket is played by a miniscule number of countries when compared to the vast appeal of Tennis. We let Tendulkar hijack a whole nation and cricket insisting and wrenching what he wanted- a farewell series a swan song. And like Nehru’s famous “tryst with destiny” speech, we broadcast live Tendulkar’s 45 minutes grandiloquence from the stadium. We even recast the stands at the stadium to accommodate his mother so she could watch him play from a comfortable vantage point. We awarded him the responsibility as the Member of Parliament and he rubbished it with callousness.  We seem to believe that other countries and people are not blessed with legends.

We cast away old and disenabled parents in the streets of farway strange towns and in the insensitive cruelty of  temple towns and run after fat over fed cow like women and men whom we elevated to pedestals and anointed them as living Gods. We run to them hallucinated and gets intoxicated when they hug us supposedly washing away our sins and agonies. We resist any probity in their lives and in the conduct of the vast empire they deftly built and sustain out of our imbecility and blindness.

Arundhati Roy’s recent comments on Gandhi in a lecture led to hoarsely resentment and accusations of blasphemy. Poet and respected social & environmental activist Sugatha Kumari, a Gandhi fan herself shot off a center page article in a daily rebutting Arundhati’s irreverence of the Mahatma and demanding, even pleading kindness, respect and an iota of reverence are shown to Gandhi; his life be seen as a beacon of unflinching struggle in the path of truth and nobility.

Why do we make Gandhi a saint and God? Why is it blasphemous if we dissect his life, analyzing it, page by page, word by word, deed by deed? Why do not we accept and understand that he was a mortal like any and was infallible? Why do not we understand that he may have erred, had weird beliefs and even seedy behavior, which he claimed was his way of understanding his limitations and cleansing his sinful thoughts  etc.
Arundathi based the lecture on the lengthy forward she wrote for the book of unpublished historical speech of Baba Saheb Ambaedkar. The quotes, anecdotes and incidences where borrowed from archives and facts. 

Gandhi’s reluctance and stubborn fire-walling of the abolition of caste in Hinduism, his opposition to the agitation of the untouchables of Mumbai- the Mahad satyagraha when untouchables resisted the ban that was slapped on them from sharing waters of the public well; Gandhi’s parsimonious attitude to the Vaikon sataygraha when untouchables objected to the cleansed area around the Vaikom temple where they were banned; Gandhi’s opposition to the labour strike against the Mill owners in Mumbai when he ranked their satygraha as “duragraha’ – greed- devilish force,(possibly because the Mill owners were Gandhi’s staunch financiers). Gandhi’s attitude towards the blacks in Africa is bailed out by Sugatha Kumari as an aberration She uses his comparative young age as an excuse for his mindset towards ethnic blacks and the socially marginalized.She often in the article states that Gandhi's life as the title of his autobiography was "An Experiment with Truth".

Like what  most of us have been fed about Gandhi, he was not evicted off the train at Pietermaritzburg when he asserted the non-whites right to travel  I class. Gandhi was not endorsing the right of the blacks, but for equal status of  passenger Indians – the elite and middle class Indians like he. Gandhi’s attitude towards caste is perplexing. While he maintained that caste and discrimination was unjust and untouchability was evil he steadfastly endorsed the division of labor based on caste. He refused to admit that caste was the evil cloak of Hinduism.Imagine division of labour in today's world based on caste in which one is born- something not of individual volition!

Gandhi was a wile politician. He was perhaps the first Indian politician to ostentatiously play the communal card with his egregious “Khilafat Movement”. Goodness, Mother of God what had Indian Muslims got to do with the abolition of the Caliphate and the end of the Ottoman Empire in faraway Turkey?
His blatant blackmail with the weapon of satayagraha proclaiming fast unto death until the award of separate electorates for untouchables was withdrawn was perhaps the most cruel and unkind slap on the very same people he ceremoniously elevated as “Harijans”, ironically meaning “children of God”! He used satygraha s a potent black mail to even foster his autocratic views.

Why was SugathaKumari mute in her article about Gandhi’s infamous experiments with celibacy when he slept naked with his two young nieces? Because he was Gandhi and had the halo Indians gave around his being, he escaped criminal censure and was not accused of being willy. Yes that may have been a great experiment on self-control for him and his faithful. But do we care to ask what the poor, helpless young girls had to go through- their state of mind?

Is it not time we chastened and saw icons and great men as mortals and as people who would err, stumble and yet walk through like many? Are we not trivialising their lives when we give them a doughnut – halo and elevate them as Gods? What is blasphemous if we critically dissect their life- be it Gandhi, Christ or Mohamed? 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Myth of The Holy Cow

A couple of weeks ago in the Facebook post of a gentleman where he expressed satisfaction that the new BJP dispensation in New Delhi will enact law banning cow slaughter and cow meat. I opined in my comment asking him why it is so, is it because the life of a cow is more sacred and important than that of a fowl, a goat or a swine? However though the gentleman choose to reserve his reply a young fellow and a FB friend of his from Haryana- Mohit Dutta took umbrage at me and were vile in personal comment. He seemed to be seriously rabid in state of mind. He referred to my Sur name which incidentally happens to be the eponym for the mythical hero Krishna, who is also revered by Hindus as the avatar of Vishnu of the trinity. He asserted that I have no right to retain that name and should feel abased. He accused me of being morally lost and stated that I must be like most Keralites a converted Christian who has no reverence to Hindu Gods or things Hindus consider sacred and the cow is holy and sacred to Hindus. His diatribes was fascinating and of an imbecile mind. I guess standing up to a rabid beast when it is after you is a stupid exercise and futile. I restrained from commenting further.

Mr. Mohit Dutta and his ilk must know – being a Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jew, or a Buddhist is not firstly of one’s volition. Mohit Dutta is a proclaimed Hindu because he was born to Hindu parents. I suppose. If my parents biological or by fatalism adopted were to be Zoroastrians, for instance I might have been a Zoroastrian. I am Hindu by birth because I was born to father and mother who were Hindus. And I chose to be so because I was never forced to believe in a doctrine nor was I indoctrinated to rubbish what others believed. Hence I metamorphosed into a person who is not touched by fanatic philosophy and bigotry like Mohit Dutta and his kin who claim to be Hindus but who certainly have not read the Vedas, the Gita or even the Ramayana the Hindu texts of philosophical wealth, to name a few. His infantile or screwball knowledge of what he claims to be Hindu beliefs is nothing but scraps licked up or stuck upon him from history lessons in middle school. If you’re a Hindu and you don’t eat meat, particularly beef because of a religious sentiment, I respect that completely. But to those like Mohit Dutta who say they are doing it because Hindu scriptures censure it, I urge you to read the ancient Hindu texts and decide for yourself. 
His comments about Keralites being a bunch of infested christian converts is puerile and nonsensical. His knowledge and erudition , even basic commonsense is alarming.
To arrogate that Hindu texts and scriptures forbid you to eat beef is rubbish and malarkey. For such an argument is on quick sand. I suggest you again, read the scriptures, if not the scholars who wrote thesis after learning them. Foremost do not try to force feed your morsel as I did not demand that of you.

Dwijendra Narayana Jha, was a distinguished professor who read history at the University of Delhi. He authored the book, “The Myth of the Holy Cow”. He received death threats when he tried to publish the book in India. One of the Indian publishers backed off after menacing warnings from the Hindu contemporaries of the ISIS and the Al Qaeda. His second publisher had to back out like the publisher of Wendy Doniger after the fanatic group got a restrain order from the courts. The rabid Hindu group declared the book blasphemous, a strange word that is seldom seen in any context in Hindu religious literature and mythical treatise What Jha has done was to bare and document in great detail the fact that in medieval times Hindus and Buddhists ate beef. The most ancient text of the Hindu faith -- the Vedas dating from 2500 BC to 600 BC, clearly mentions that the eating of flesh, including beef, was common in India. Rightwing Hindus have argued that cows were first slaughtered in India only after the Muslim foray into the subcontinent. However there is ample documentary proof that the extreme opposition to beef eating came about among a section of Hindus only in the 18 th century and the cow became a sacred animal.  The thesis is backed by plentiful footnotes and a bibliography in many languages. But unfortunately extremists and bigots in all religion are moved to rabidity in the face of such scholarships and evidence.

The nomads and pastoral dwellers who migrated from Eurasia and settled in the North of India in the 2nd millennium BC, who created the Brahminic religion Hinduism, were herdsmen and agriculturists living upon land, bovines and fowls. For them cow was not a sacred creature. The Vedas that was compiled then did not ban cow meat or proscribe meat eating. There are ample instances in them that categorically state the fascination of Gods for cow meat. “The Vedic gods had no pronounced dietary preferences. Milk, butter, barley, oxen, goats and sheep were their usual food, though some of them seem to have had their special preferences. Indra had a special liking for bulls. Agni was not a tippler like Indra, but was fond of the flesh of horses, bulls and cows.”
“Although the ancient law giver Manu extols the virtue of ahimsa, he provides a list of creatures whose flesh was edible. He exempts the camel from being killed for food, but does not grant this privilege to the cow. On the contrary, he opines that animal slaughter in accordance with Vedic practice does not amount to killing, thus giving sanction to the ritual slaughter of cattle. He further recommends meat eating on certain religious occasions.”

Pandavas during their exile sustained on liberal diet of meat and cow meat was not an anathema in the times of Mahabratha. In fact cow meat was served to guest in ancient India as a token of respect and display of wealth. In ancient India the culmination of the“Ashvamdhayagna” was with the ritual killing (albeit sacrifice) of more than 600 animals of which the final ritual is the killing of 21 cows.Ashoka the emperor who embraced Buddhism did not ban cow slaughter. Nor was it banned during the reign of Guptas’- the golden age of Hinduism.

Hinduism and Indian philosophy after the Vedas have rejected the ritual slaughter of animals. This may have inadvertently saved the cow, though beef eating was not a sin. The influence of Jainism might also have contributed to the disagreement for the meat. The multifaceted historian Damodhar Dharmananda Kosambi states in his work, ‘Ancient India’, "a modern orthodox Hindu would place beef-eating on the same level as cannibalism, whereas Vedic Brahmins had fattened upon a steady diet of sacrificed beef".
It was Ambedkar who rightly said that “for the Vedic Brahmins everyday was a beef steak day”. For the ancient Vedic people cow was a prized possession not sacred as it is made out by Hindu zealots now. It was a sign of wealth and their sustenance. Hence the prized possession was offered to their Gods as sacrifice and the priests and the laity consumed the left over.

It has been revealed and also not refuted by Swami Vivekanda that he used to eat beef and he did not have any need to express remorse.

Titus Lucretius Carus, the Roman Philosopher, poet who lived in the2 nd century BC stated, “What is one man’s food is another’s bitter poison”. I do not disagree with this because I see no reason why I should. It is common for people to disavow certain types of meat, food on the grounds of religious sentiments. I respect that. But for them to dictate and demand that I follow their chosen food is unacceptable. Their religious beliefs cannot in any way hinder my personal life- what I eat. And I have no intend to thrust upon them what I believe and stand for. If they can accept my reason it is fine if not it is not my problem.
Intolerance, bigotry and obscurantism are great threats that are rabid in all faith. It has manifested menacingly in Islam and unfortunately the change of government in New Delhi seemed to have emboldened the rabid who claim to be Hindus.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Economic Jugglery sans Compassion

This is a tiny article that I wrote for the Assisi Magazine of August 2014 & published (translated into Malayalam). 

Even if you can never for real quantify happiness and satisfaction as exactly as you could quantify GNP, is it not better to be vaguely right than incisively wrong?
My apologies to you who may be reading this if you felt that this question was directed at you. No, certainly not, this is what I would ask the economist Dr.Chakravathy Rangarajan who brought out the startling and enlightening report on the poverty level of the population of this country. Startling more than enlightening, because this wisdom comes from a person who possesses scholarly pedagogy in economics and social awareness as the economic adviser to the Prime minister!

He was large hearted in the sense that he rubbished the findings of the Suresh Tendulkar committee report on poverty level. Besides that he added eleven and fourteen Rupees to the findings of Suresh Tendulkar and, Ureka the new threshold for graduating from below poverty levels to richness was determined. If you live in a mountain hamlet in the country, like Attapadi you are not poor if you spend Rs 33 a day, because those of you who spend more than that tier must be living like a prince; if you spend Rs 47 a day on living  in Lutyens Delhi , behold you are a prince too.
I’m not an economist and those of you who may read this are not either. Hence we are not in a position of command to criticise Dr.Rangarajan’s findings and in the bargain make ourselves look like nincompoops. But yet, erudition in economics and financial matters are not necessary to become alarmed at the assertion of Dr. Rangarajan and his defence of his discovery.
It is cruelly amazing that the Rangarajan report audaciously seems to claim that man lives by bread alone. This is if you or I can conjure to buy food in Attapadi or Delhi and live through a day with Rs 33 and Rs 47 respectively. Well, presuming that we succeed in the sorcery, mind you we may have to live like early cave men - without a string of loin cloth around our waist and in sewage canals with overhead shelter or inside discarded giant water pipes that are commonly seen by the wayside. You are in for impossible jugglery and Houdini act if you have a spouse and two kids. Assuming that your spouse too has earnings of the threshold sum, ie Rs 47 and Rs 33 respectively, depending upon where you live, you still have two more mouths to feed – your two children. Dr. Rangarajan is somewhat ambiguous here. He expects all of you to be a juggernaut like he.
Dr. Rangrajan reacted to the criticism of his determination and said. “I don’t think that it is conservative (poverty) estimates. In my view it is reasonable estimates. We have derived poverty estimates independently.” Elaborating further he said, “The World Bank also talks about purchasing power parity terms, (the minimum expenditure per day). They are talking about USD 2 per day….. Therefore it (our poverty estimates) is in keeping with the international standards”.  This seems to be an entendre. In the same breath he quotes the WB figure of USD 2 , which translates to INR 120 or thereabout and pegs his poverty threshold at Rs 32 and Rs 47.

Let me come to the direct question to the renowned former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, a question that any commoner will ask. “Can you Sir, if put in a hypothetical situation sustain a family of four including yourself with Rs 47 earnings a day in Mumbai where you lived and worked as the Governor of the RBI?”  One doesn’t have to own a doctoral thesis in Economics and finance to know that there are other things to sustain one self and one’s family besides the barest minimum of a daily square meal. Clothing and shelter; basic medical care; education for one’s children and last if not the least a provision for the rainy day. Am I being saturnine in my comments, pardon me for I cannot help sounding otherwise.
We must extrapolate the findings of Dr.Rangarajan with utterings on similar lines by some political bigwigs, of which one gentleman possessed a plethora of suffix in degree and doctoral thesis after his name, a person nonpareil.
George Bush Jr observed that the food crisis is largely due to countries like India where people have begun eating meat and exotic foods. He was alluding that the miserable Indians have long last found blithe in economic development and gained the resources to eat luxuriously. What would you say if someone who missed the Prime Ministerial chair by a wide distance, Rahul Gandhi blathering that, “Poverty is a state of the mind”? Meaning poverty is illusion or a hallucination. Who seemed hallucinated is worth laughing about if not scorning about. But then how could we forget about the former Prime minister and Doctor of Economics Manamohan Singh who was nonchalant and callous about tons of food grains rotting in FCI warehouse? What was the psyche of these men when they observed as they did, did they believe themselves to be paragons of frankness or did they consider the fact even remotely that their observations where the most of the irresponsible and cruel kind?
Dr.Rangarajan  need not measure the density of happiness or the scale of satisfaction in the commoners face , he need not bench mark gross national happiness instead of GNP. All that he and men who juggle with the economic livelihood of multitude of Indians need to do is only to show an iota, a fair amount of respect and appreciate that there is something called dignity even in a beaten man. And to extrapolate fantastic economic theories and determinations with poverty line bench marks as he has done is simply cruel and breathe of disdain. We do not deserve that. Do we?

Dr. Rangarajan’s poverty line threshold reminds me of William Shakespeare  quote in Julius Caesar, “The most unkindest cut of all”.