Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Importance of Story Telling

Every individual has lot of things to speak about and every individual is actually a story teller. My first book is based on lot of things I’ve heard from one of my aunts who had a lot of interesting stories about the partition. Our family had moved from Bangladesh to India after the Indian partition. You would have seen lot of movies and heard lot of stories [of partition]. [Later] I realized that the stories I had heard from my aunt, when I was ten or fifteen years old, if those are accumulated, if those are curated, and presented to others, they will actually make for interesting read, which talks about humanity. It talks about human feelings, about pains and everything. And that’s where I realized, though my aunt was almost an illiterate person, who during those days somehow didn’t get a chance to go to school, she had such trove of stories, which inspired me as a kid when I was ten years old. That told me, to tell a story, you don’t have to be highly educated, you don’t have to have any degree. Anyone within this room would have a lot of things to share.

And many of these stories would be actually interesting.

That’s where I realized that story telling is not anything unique about any writer. It’s just your mindset, that, if you want to tell a story, you can always do. And, every story will have somebody, who would be interested to hear [it], and who would be inspired about [it].

I’ll give you few examples of how story telling actually helps.

I’ll [first] tell you a story about somebody, about some individual. I’ll not tell who the individual is, but after hearing the story you can realize the uniqueness [of it].

One American kid – his biological parents were not in a position to raise the kid, and that small kid was given for adoption. And then a not so rich couple in California decided to adopt this kid. The only condition for the adoption was that the kid had to be sent to college, because the biological mother… she wanted the kid to be sent to college. But then the couple, a lower middle-class couple, who wanted to adopt the child…, they themselves hadn’t been to college. But [they] somehow convinced the biological mother, ‘Come what may, we will send the kid to college.”

This kid – he was actually sent to a school, and then, when he grew up, when he was around your age, the age for going to college, he realized that his foster parents had been struggling so much to pursue his education, to pay the bills.

So, one fine he decided, he wouldn’t continue with the college - he would attend only the free classes. And he figured out there was only one course in the entre college which was free - it was on calligraphy.

You know what calligraphy is. It’s the art of handwriting.

Many years later, when he had become one of the most famous entrepreneurs, one of the most revolutionary persons in the last hundred years, Steve Jobs, [and] when he was, before his death, invited for [a] convocation in Stanford university, speaking to the audience, he told, “My entire journey as an entrepreneur, owes to that class, that course in calligraphy, because there I realized that it’s not important what I do.”

The same thing I can write, you can also write, but then what makes calligraphy unique is how you present the thing. The same thing that I can write, you can write [too], but when it’s written by an artist, in a proper calligraphic way, that makes the difference.

He attributed his entire success, in his entire life, to that course, and the lesson he learned from that course is that it’s not what you do, but it’s always how you do [that makes the difference].
Let’s move to the business part of it. There has to be a story, and how you narrate your story, is actually the crux of the success of anything, whether it’s a product, or whether it’s an entrepreneurship. Every time there has to be a story. When you buy Apple, you are not buying just the phone – it’s the story of Steve Jobs, the story what he had in mind.

[The brand “Apple” is all about the narrative – that it’s the most beautifully created and artistically calligraphed thing in the world, not just the technology or the electronics that go within it. It’s not that Apple sells the most superior and technologically advanced products in the world, but we have been made to believe, through Jobs’ story, that Apple products are indeed the most beautiful ones.]
That’s why story telling is very very important because, everything you do in life, it’s [always] about how you tell your story. When you sell a product, you are not [really] selling the product – you’re selling a story.

You would have seen the movie MS Dhoni, which came a few years back. A very small scene was there - lot of people might have forgotten that. Dhoni was a struggling cricketer. At that time, he was playing for the Ranji team for Bihar, and he had gone to Jalpaiguri to play a Ranji match, against Punjab. And the Punjab team – the captain was Yuvaraj Singh, who had already become quite famous by then. Dhoni was still a struggling player. Bihar lost to Punjab very badly. And then Dhoni had come back to Ranchi, and he was having this small adda with his gang. In his gang was that guy who [had] taught him the [famous] helicopter shot, if you remember that scene. There, his friends asked Dhoni, “Ya, Dhoni, why did we lose?”

Dhoni told, “We lost the match even before the Match [had] started.”

“What is that?”

He told, “One day before the match, Punjab was practicing, [in fact] they were coming back from the field, and it was Bihar teams turn to go to the field and practice, and everybody saw Yuvaraj Sing – he was coming from the field, very confident. The narrative, the story that we got for from his facial expression, from his body language - that made us lose immediately, because, we didn’t have that story. But the Punjab team, at that particular time, [and] Yuvaraj Singh had the story, which made them win, and we lost even before the game [had] started.”

Body language is the story [through which] you want to say, “I’m confident. It’s my story.”
It’s again, it’s another example, where a cricketer is also saying the same thing. It’s all what you speak about, what you express. Story telling doesn’t have to be always through words. Stephen Hawkins – you place him here in front of you, and his body language, his facial expressions, that also tell stories. Million words may not say a story which a silence of five minutes can say. Story telling is not only about what you write, what you say. The body language of Yuvaraj Singh – that also told a story.

In 2014, when [Narendra] Modi came to power, what was that which [had] brought him to power? Any idea? Suddenly, what had happened that the person, who, just twelve years back, was being hounded by the press as the butcher of India, who had killed so many people in Gujarat, came to power in a big way? What was that which brought Modi to power?

Social media? What about social media?

What brought him into power is again the story. His narrative was much stronger than everybody else’s. Social media, PR - obviously they helped him to express his story. But then the same social media, the same PR agencies were there for [the] other parties also. It’s again, when he told the story, about conviction, about hopes, the entire country was almost won by one person, just by the way he speaks, the way he narrates the story.

So, be it politics, be it cricket, be it business, like Steve Jobs’, it’s always [that] you have to sell [your story]. When you go for an interview, you’ve to sell yourself. But then what do you sell about yourself? It’s again [that] you’ve to tell your [own] story. 

The Real Narrative Behind The Aryabhata Clan

In India there two types of narratives. One is hardcore leftist, communist type of narrative. And then, another kind of narrative is hardcore RSS, Bajrang Dal – right type [of narrative]. One is the extreme right, and one is extreme left.

Examples of both the things.

In a very recent interview [of] Arundhati Roy, she made a comment that Kashmir was never part of India. In [just] three-four words she told something which can be debated, which can be refuted, which can be argued. But factually – if you go by bare facts –, when you say Kashmir was never part of India, [then] what is Kashmir? What is India? What is the idea of India? Who created India? Where from did the word “India” come? When you say something like this, you have to assess everything. So now, without going [in]to all those things, with some agenda, she told, Kashmir was never part of India. She’s an amazing writer. “The God of Small Things” is one of the best books ever written by an Indian author. Having said that, her journalism, her narrative is a pretty strong communist type of narrative.

On the other side, you’ve people, who will tell you that in the age of Ramayana and Mahabharata people knew about genetic engineering, people knew about what not! That is the extreme right form [of narrative] where you glorify India in a way which becomes funny. Ganesh – his head was replaced by [an] elephant’s head. That was construed as being plastic surgery. You know that this type of narrative is a very fanatic, a very rightist type of narrative.

But then, what happens to the history? One side is telling you that Kashmir was never part of India, and another side is telling you, during the age of Ramayana and Mahabharata, you had airplanes, and what not – you had genetic engineering, you had plastic surgery… So, now what do we do? What is the truth? That’s where I felt that, my narrative or my story should talk about the real facts, rather than the left or the right.

The last book that I chose to write – I talked about ISIS, the entire thing about the Islamic State in Syria [and Iraq]. That is one part, and then again, [it’s about] how Indian journalism has been either right or left, and how this ambiguous form of journalism or this ambiguous form of narrative has created an atmosphere where nobody knows what is right and what is wrong.

The reason I’ve brought in Aryabhata

We’ve heard of lot of wild claims about India, but this is also a fact that Aryabhata is one of the least publicized Indian individuals. Zero was not invented by Aryabhata, but he was first person who scientifically defined the concept of Zero.

In mathematics we’ve read, ten hundred, thousand, everything increases by power of ten – this is called [the] Place Value System. Say, two hundred thirty-four, you write 2, 3 and 4. The value of 3 is actually 3 x 10, because 3 is placed at ten’s place. Then the value of 2 is actually [two] hundred – the place of 2 is actually the hundred’s place. We cannot even think [of anything without the place value system]. The entire modern science, everything is held in place by this place value system. This was again scientifically defined by Aryabhata. And then, this concept from India – it first went to Arab, through translations, and then from Arab it went to Europe, again through Latin translations. And that’s how the place value system went to Europe from India, from Aryabhata’s book, through Arab.

Suddenly if you see, from the 15th or the 16th century onward, Europe had a sudden renaissance in science. The reason why suddenly Newton came into picture only [after] 15th century, and every… and most of the scientific advancements, whether it’s mathematics or geometry, most of the things happened in Europe only after 15th century – this place value system from India, from Aryabhata, came [to Europe].

We talk about plastic surgery in [ancient] India, so many things, but how many times have you read this fact that there wouldn’t be Newton if there wouldn’t have been an Aryabhata?

The story I would like to say is neither the left nor the right – some thriller based on some historical facts and it’s up to the readers to assess what’s true, [and] what’s false, and that’s it. That’s my story, that it should be unbiased, it should be unprejudiced. It should be left to the others to interpret.

Role of Music in The Aryabhata Clan

Now that we had some music, we can get into how music was used in the book [The Aryabhata Clan]. If you think about it, music has seven notes: Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni. So, you can think about a scenario… If any word, if you can express [it] in only seven letters, then instead of speaking the word, you can actually sing it. Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni – [if] with these seven notes or these seven letters, if the entire language could be expressed, then the music could also be a code. Instead of talking, you sing.

We can do a small demonstration.

In Hindi or Devanagari, we have [around] 34 letters [for consonants]. How can you reduce the 34 letters to [only] seven? That’s how you can encrypt something. Though the Devanagari script has 34 letters, but there are other languages which have lot lesser letters. Say, in Tamil: ka kha ga gha – out of these four, Tamil has only one, that is “ka”. Then again, cha chha ja jha – Tamil has only one, [“cha”]. Pa pha ba bha – we have four, but Tamil has only one, [“pa”]. So directly, where we have 16 letters, Tamil has only four letters. But still they are able to use the language [with the fewer letters]. When you say Bangalore – what my Tamil friends have told me – they write “pa”, they write Pangalore, but they know it’s Bangalore. So, you can encrypt something, but then, some knowledge is required based on the context. The same word will have two different meanings.

Say, ka kha ga gha – if all the four – if you represent [them] with only one letter, we [can] have “Ga” – Sa Re Ga. So, “Ga” represents ka kha ga gha. It’s done.

“Ra” and “la” are very related sounds. You have this – Kajra re kajra re tere kare kare naina. It’s actually kajal. Kajal becomes kajra – it sounds little more poetic. So “ra” and “la” – you represent everything with “Re”. Done.

Ta tha da dha – everything, all the four can be represented by “Dha”, because, Tamil actually does the same thing. Everything that we say with “ta”, you do it with “dha”. And [again] the same thing, pa fa ba bha – “pa” becomes everything of that.

Now say, bharata bhagya vidhata. If you do this, bha-ra-ta – “bha” [is] “Pa”; ra is “Re”; bha-ra-ta – “ta” is again “Dha”. You have Pa Re Dha.

Then bha-gya vi-dha-ta – “bha” becomes “Pa”; “ga” is “Ga”; vidhata – [“va” or] “ba” is again “Pa”; [“dha” is] “Dha” and then “ta” is again “Dha”.

Bharata Bhagya Vidhata – it will sound like this: Pa Re Dha Pa Ga Pa Dha Dha.

If we transform a language, where you don’t have to speak the language, [but] you just sing it, then, [for] anyone who doesn’t know this, for them, it’s an encryption.

When you read The Aryabhata Clan, this is a very simple form of example where music can be actually used an encrypted code, [and] where nobody will get any head and tail out of it. You can have a scenario where spies are just singing, and the whole world is confused, what’s happening!
That’s about how music is used in this book. 

Women Protagonists & Linguistic Paleontology in The Aryabhata Clan

Interestingly here [in The Aryabhata Clan and The Ekkos Clan], the main detective, the main protagonists – they are all women characters. Every action thriller – the main protagonist is always male, whether it’s Robert Langdon, or Indiana Jones, Sherlock Holmes. I haven’t come across any female detective. In my book, all the main action heroes are women. Even in my previous book, The Ekkos Clan [that was the case].

My protagonist is Afsar Fareedi. She’s half Pakistani, half Iranian, born and brought up in the USA, married to a Bengali, who stays in Calcutta. That itself gives a very complicated lineage – a Pakistani married to a Bengali, staying in Calcutta. She’s the main protagonist, who cracks all the codes.

She’s a Linguistic Paleontologist. So, what’s Linguistic Paleontology? It’s a new discipline – it’s part of linguistics, studies of languages. What [do] they do? They try to recreate the origin of languages. They try to recreate the ancient history of the languages, based on some primitive words, which have existed, [managed to survive], in the modern form of the languages. I can give you some examples.

Most of the origin of languages are, I would say, very cryptic, because there’s [generally] no historical proof [about that]. If you talk about the two main languages of Indian subcontinent, Tamil and Sanskrit, nobody exactly knows, who were the original Tamil speakers, who were the original Sanskrit speakers, how did Sanskrit evolve from its mother language…

What [do] the Linguistic Paleontologists do? They try to recreate the history [of a language], like the paleontologists, who look for fossils and then, they try to create the habit, […] try to recreate the life, [evolution and environments] of [organisms that existed in the remote past, like] dinosaurs, or some [other] extinct creatures.

The Linguistic Paleontologists – they look for linguistic fossils. Linguistic fossils are […] remnants of some very ancient words, in the ancient form of the language, which have somehow survived, and which are still being used. The biggest example of [a] linguistic fossil is this word Sindhu, the river Sindhu or Indus, which is the origin of the words Hindu, India, Hindi, not only [in] India, [but also as far as] Indonesia – the Indo of Indonesia also comes from that Sindhu; nesia [coming from the Greek nesos] means island, so Indonesia means “Indian Island”. That’s how the name came.
This Sindhu word is not a Sanskrit word. Though it’s a part of the Indian ethos, and it’s a part of Indian history, the origin of Sindhu […] is a mystery. The origin is not Sanskrit. After [a] lot of research, it was figured out that the word Sindhu comes from an almost extinct language called Burushashki – you can go to google and search in Wikipedia. The surviving generation of Burushashki [speakers] – they are now in only two [valleys] in POK, Pakistan occupied Kashmir. (Burushos, the speakers of the Burushaski language, are spread across the two valleys – Hunza-Nagar and Yasin – in the Gilgit-Balistan region of POK. There are around 100000 Burushaski speakers in POK and few hundred in Srinagar in India, speaking a variant.)

Two [valleys] are there who still speak the Burushaski language, and this language is now dying. They, [the new generation of the native Burushos], have all moved to Urdu and other forms of languages spoken mostly in Pakistan. Some also speak variants of Kashmiri. But this [endangered language] – at some point of time, three thousand years back – Burushaski, used to be a major language in Central Asia, in that part [of the world]. And it was so strong, that lot of those [Burushaski] words have percolated into Sanskrit. (Sinda, meaning river in Burushaski, is one such word, which is the source of the Sanskrit Sindhu). That is called [a] linguistic fossil, […] this word, which originates from some ancient language, which has almost died, or which is on the verge of being dead.

So, the Linguistic Paleontologists – they study these words like Sindhu. How did it come [about]? The moment you discover that this word is not Sanskrit, but this word belongs to Burushaski, where only two [… valleys in the Gilgit-Balistan region of POK] speak the language, from there, you can go back, and do backward engineering, [and] figure out: How did it happen? [How, where and when did the Burushos interact with the Sanskrit speakers? Where did the Sanskrit speakers come from?]
This entire Linguistic Paleontology – this is like a detective novel: You get some clue, and you have to go back and figure out what happened.

Afsar Fareedi, my James Bond, my Indiana Jones – she has studied this thing. And then she’s a historian, she’s a linguist. She also has good knowledge about archaeology. And again, her lineage, that she’s an American citizen of Pakistani-Persian origin, and who has married an Indian, [and] her knowledge about Indian history, about Indian subcontinent, her knowledge about Islam, her knowledge about Hinduism – all those things also play a big role in the understanding of the common narrative [of the undivided Indian subcontinent – a theme, which is central to The Aryabhata Clan].

The Significance of the Undivided Indian Subcontinent in The Aryabhata Clan

The Indian subcontinent itself has been trifurcated into three major things – Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, where [the relationship between…] India [and] Pakistan has become a taboo for India. But […] even 100 years ago […] it was just one Indian subcontinent. The India that [the] West has known as, or the Hindustan which the Persians have referred to [as] for [more than] two millennia – that included Pakistan and Bangladesh. It’s only since [the past] seventy-five years that Bangladesh and Pakistan have not been part of India. But for thousands and thousands of years, they had a common ancestry, they had a common narrative – everything has been same.

I’m a Bengali. A Bengali and a Bangladeshi – absolutely there’s no difference. We speak the same language, we eat the same food. Same thing, like the Punjabis – 70% of Pakistan speak Punjabi [and related languages] (Punjabi 45%, Saraiki 10% and Sindhi 15%). More people speak Urdu in India than in Pakistan. (7.5% or 1.3 million in Pakistan and 5% or 5.1 million in India). And in Pakistan, Urdu is spoken by a small fraction of people. Majority of Pakistan speak Punjabi. A huge part (close to 20%) of Pakistan speak [the] Baluchi language, and then Pashto, and then of course this Burushhaski [about] which I told. (The word Sindhu, which is the progenitor of the terms like India, Hindu, Hindi, Hindustan, Indic, Indo etc., is believed to have come from the Burushaski language, now spoken only by few in two villages in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, and which once might have been a major language in the Central Asia).

There is so much common between these countries! The narrative is so intermingled, I felt somebody should write about this common ancestry, this common [culture].

Here [in The Aryabhata Clan], if you see, the entire story goes back and forth in time, and also in geography. The climax happens in Peshawar. A big part of the narrative happens in Pakistan. A major part also happens in Sri Lanka. Again, Sri Lanka also has a very strong cultural association, and also a very strong, I would say, historical relationship with India. Lot of people may not know that Bangla and Sinhalese, the language, are actually sister languages. They both originated from Pali. Pali is the language of Buddha. The language which was spoken in Bihar and West Bengal and the entire Bangladesh in Buddha’s time was Pali. (To be more specific, the language spoken in this region is called Magadhi Prakrit. Very close to Pali, it’s the intermediate form between Sanskrit and Bengali, Maithili, Oriya and Assamese, all of which have descended from it). It’s another very interesting thing how the Sinhalese moved from [the] present West Bengal or the present Bangladesh and how they share [the] same ancestry.

If you go to Sri Lanka – like in India, Sanskrit is considered as a religious language, where [a] lot of our religious ceremonies happen in Sanskrit, in Sri Lanka, all the religious ceremonies happen in Pali language. If you visit Sri Lanka, that itself will be a big revelation […] how Sri Lanka is so closely associated with, not India, but Bengali language and Bengali culture. Myself being a Bengali, I discovered a very astonishing thing. In Bengal, we eat one form of chutney. It is made with tomato, the sweet one, with date and jaggery. Exactly the same chutney I found in Sri Lanka also. And in the [context of] food – anybody who knows Bengali food, he will just freak out [there].

I was very excited when I was reading […] several books and I was discovering so much about by my own country, about my two neighboring countries with whom we have such hostile relationship. One thing that struck me very hard was [the] futility of this present relationship between the various countries in the same region, who are all same. If you look back, and [if] you put some logic, you would realize […] how unreasonable and illogical it is to see the present state of affairs between India and Pakistan and Bangladesh. To answer your question, what motivated [me to write this book]? I think, it’s just the love for history and my excitement while I was reading the history, and while I was discovering lot of things, which made me wonder, which motivated me to write, because I felt if I enjoyed so much […], why not other people… 

Aryabhata & the Historical Background of The Aryabhata Clan

We don’t hear much about Aryabhata, apart from… you have a satellite (first unmanned Earth satellite built by India and launched in 1975). So, I thought that… it makes [for] a very interesting personality to use in a fiction. His life is also shrouded in mystery. Nobody even knows where he was born. Roughly, people say that he was born in a place which is close to Patna. And then there is another theory which says that he was born in Kerala. But again, there is [some evidence] … With certain certainty we can say that he used to work in Ujjain (Ujjaini), because Ujjain comes in his works a number of times. Ujjain is again the place where Kalidasa used to stay (It’s believed to be one of his probable birth-places). Kalidasa and Aryabhata were [perhaps] contemporaries (though there are contradicting views about this among researchers). In one of Kalidasa’s writings, he very obliquely refers to a mathematician, who [some] people believe to be Aryabhata. (This is again not unanimously accepted by all). His life is entirely shrouded in mystery. What I did [is that], I used one of his verses as a cryptic code [in The Aryabhata Clan]. So that’s the connection to Aryabhata. 

You have a scenario [in The Aryabhata Clan], where this Islamic State, ISIS or IS, whatever – they have spread across a large number of places in the world other than Iraq and Syria. A part of that has come to India… and they are trying to do some mischief in India in a very big way. They are there, and there are other fundamentalist groups [too]. Not only the Islamic fundamentalist, but there’s also a parallel narrative of [a] Hindu fundamentalist group. Overall, it talks about the danger of any fundamentalist group or fundamentalist mentality. The historical background is like that: few fundamentalist groups – they are trying to create a havoc and they are trying to infringe into the academics, into the history; they are trying to rewrite history. We’ve heard [of] lot of instances where any political power, who’s at the center, is trying to change the narrative of Indian history. 

Indian history as such has been very poorly written, and also very poorly read. Here the premise is something like that, where somebody is trying to manipulate [the] history and how that can be used in a very volatile [manner]… and [how that] can be used in a very explosive manner. 

If you see, lot of the mischief which happened in India over the [past] twenty-thirty years, were actually due to some historical facts which were narrated in some explosive manner. The Babri Masjid, even this entire Dravidian movement, the North India – South India divide, everything was done with [the help of] some historical background – somebody has narrated the history in a way which becomes explosive. So, [with] history, based on the narrative, you can do lot of things – you can create riots; you can create religious divide; you can create ethnical divide. One is [the] divide on the basis of religion, [and] in India, if you see, there are [also] lot of clashes based on ethnicity. This entire Sri Lankan movement – [the] Tamilians and Sri Lankans both were Hindus [and Buddhists], but still the entire clash between them was ethnic, [based on] ethnicity. And it was based on some history that they are ethnically different and that they have different cultures. 

Though this Tamil and Sri Lankan conflict is not [a] part of my narrative [in The Aryabhata Clan], but then just to [tell you], as a reference, when I was doing the research for this book, [I learned] there is some good amount of [credible] history which says that in Sri Lanka, whether the Tamilians, either [from] India or Sri Lanka, or the Sri Lankans, the Sinhalese – though they speak two different languages, but ethnically, they all belong to the same flock. There’s a very complicated history – how it [really] happened and who are the original Tamilians and who are the original Sinhalese. But, at some point of time – it’s not very old, it’s around 2000 years old – they were [same], they actually came from the same group of peoples. But this entire divide [presently] is based on some historical concoction. [The Aryabhata Clan has some interesting insight into the Sinhalese-Tamil shared ancestry]

Here also [in The Aryabhata Clan] I [have] recreated a scenario, where some medieval history – and some history where Aryabhata plays a big role – has been concocted and has been manipulated by a fundamentalist group just to create a havoc… and create some political mischief, just before the election, because [we’re approaching] 2019 – it’s the next general election, and most of the mischief in India happen around elections.

A lot of inspiration for this book and also the first one [The Ekkos Clan] came from, especially, more Indiana Jones than Da Vinci Code, because when I was in [engineering] college, that’s where I first saw one of the movies of Indiana Jones. [In] all the Indian Jones stories, they have lot of adventure, but they [also] have a very strong historical component, archaeology symbols. So, here also I try to recreate a similar thing, but on an Indian background, and mainly ancient Indian history. The previous book was on very old, ancient Indian history, where the age, [period], was during the Rig Veda, the times around Rig Veda. Who created the Rig Veda, where they came from – that was the historical background [in my last book]. And in Aryabhata Clan, it’s much more later – it’s the medieval time where you have Kalidasa, Aryabhata…

The Message of The Aryabhata Clan

I love history a lot. I felt something in Indian context, Indian perspective might be tried. It [The Aryabhata Clan] deals with lot of contemporary Indian politics, and also contemporary world politics. I don’t have any moral message for this book because this is a fiction. I’m not a philosopher or a Guru, to talk about spirituality, but [the] message which comes out in the book is that terrorism in any form is very dangerous, and [that] terrorism can come out even from very small things. It’s [all about] how some misguided people want to create havoc in the society, by manipulating people’s mind, by manipulating people’s thoughts [and] emotions. At the end of the day, like any [other] story, where you have the good and the bad, and [the] good wins against the bad, at the end of the day, here also the same thing happens. It’s also the thought process that all this terrorism, all this fundamentalism – [all] this cannot win against the normal human sentiments. Here also, at some point of time, it’s a fiction, and at the end of the fiction, the bad guy has to be beaten very badly. So here also, the same thing happens – I make sure that the god buy beats the bad guy.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The myth of Hindu Terror and Hindu Terrorism

Read my recently released novel The Aryabhata Clan, set against the contemporary times of religious and political fundamentalism and communal politics.

Worldwide, an aura of Hinduphobia has been created, very cautiously, of course with an agenda. It’s as though, to counter the Islamic jihad, it was necessary to cook up something called Hindu fanaticism, or Hindu terror, just for the sake of secularism. The academia and media have been extra critical about the Hindus. They have the guts to say anything about India and Hinduism. There is a very powerful, sustained and unrelenting cultural and intellectual attack on Hinduism. Writers such as Wendy Doniger liken the ancient Hindus to the cowboys who had destroyed the Native Americans, and even to the Nazis who had persecuted the Jews in the Second World War. Hindus are being called prudes, nasty, militants and fundamentals, but the Muslims are always shown as the victims. The secularists have always maintained that the ISIS is the outcome of the US aggression in Iraq. The Western media has even relegated the 26/11 Bombay massacre by Pakistani militants to a mere reaction to things like India’s policy on Kashmir, the rise in Hindu extremism and the appalling state of poverty among the Muslims in India.

I would really like to hear from the liberals and the secular what they think about today's acquittal of the five innocent Hindus accused in the Mecca Masjid bomb blast case, no doubt falsely. Isn’t this the worst form of communalism? Just to satisfy its own whims and fulfill the worst form of communal zeal, a political party stooped down to a level where they wanted to paint the majority religious community of India as terrorist. The term Hindu terrorism was invented as a sort of consolation and counter narrative to the spate of terrorism perpetrated by the likes of Taliban, ISIS, Al Qaida, and Pakistan. A particular community was not comfortable with these things and so to appease them a very novel idea was invented, and no one bothered if that meant demeaning the oldest way of life in the world.

Really sorry state of affairs.

The politics of Rape & Murder

Two recent incidents have shaken the conscience of the nation, and of course rightly. Nothing can be ghastlier than the kidnapping, sedating, raping, murdering and then throwing the corpse of an eight-year-old girl in the forest.

What makes the whole thing even more chilling and worthy of a unanimous national outrage and protest is the fact that the little girl, belonging to a nomadic Muslim clan in a legacy of confrontation with the local majority Hindu peoples, was allegedly raped in a Kali temple in the middle of a forest, where the little girl would graze cattle and play around with animals and birds. Driven by the urge to take revenge on the girl’s clan for having thrashed him earlier, Sanji Ram, a custodian of the Kali Temple, got the girl kidnapped on 10th January 2018. The body was discovered on 17th and the case transferred to the J&K Crime Branch on 22nd January, as the victim’s family raised doubts about the veracity of the investigations led by the local police. Their doubts were not wrong as it turned out that the accused Sanji Ram had bribed the local police.

The place where the crime happened – Kathua – is in J&K and it’s administered by a coalition of BJP and a local Kashmiri party PDP, led by Mehbooba Mufti, who’s also the CM of the state. Despite the political clout of the prime accused Sanji Ram, the state machinery did move on promptly, transferring the case immediately to the Crime Branch. Led ably by Ramesh Kumar Jalla, Senior Superintendent of Police, J&K Crime Branch, Jammu division, the crime branch did everything in their capacity to do a fair investigation. Accordingly, the chargesheet was prepared. Several lawyers in Kathua tried to prevent Mr. Jalla from filing the chargesheet at the chief metropolitan magistrate’s court on April 9, gheraoing the team for more than five hours. Earlier on March 4, two BJP ministers, Lal Singh and Prakash Chander, had participated in a rally demanding the probe be transferred to CBI, as the prime accused Sanji and his folks alleged the J&K police would frame them up wrongly. Needless to say, the prime accused and his folks enjoy a good rapport with the BJP ministers, to the point that they could get the ministers to rally for him. But despite that, Mr. Jalla has been quoted in a news article as saying that he faced no pressure while preparing the chargesheet. And despite the gherao, the chargesheet was indeed submitted on time.

So, till this point, the local BJP-PDP government can’t be accused of inaction, unlike another case where a minor girl has accused the sitting BJP MLA from Unnao in UP, Kuldeep Singh, of raping her last year. Not only didn’t the UP BJP government take any action against the MLA till recently, but the MLA and his accomplices have been also threatening the girl’s family constantly. Eventually they got the girl’s father framed in a false charge and arrested. Later he died suspiciously in police custody. Needless to say, he was tortured to death, with the MLA colluding with the local police.
This particular case is a brazen instance of states’ inaction and attempt to shield a rapist.

It’s a coincidence that the death of the girl’s father in Unnao happened around the same time as the two BJP ministers in the J&K government coming out publicly to defend the prime accused of the Kathua rape and murder case and several lawyers preventing Mr Jalla, the investigating officer of the of the Kathua case, to submit the chargesheet in Jammu. The timing was perfect and catalyzed the entire nation into a spontaneous outpouring of outrage and angst, and of course rightly. Rape is always one of the most loathsome and condemnable crimes which could be committed against humanity. It’s the worst form of violence against women. The Kathua case crossed all standards of crime in all aspects, from the goriness and grotesqueness to the total erosion of conscience and morality in the society. Its unthinkable that the human beings could stoop down to such level that could shame even a beast. The case is subjudice, but still, there’s enough reason to feel frustrated why the accused were not being arrested. The public outrage is understandable and it’s really good that the nation did come out of slumber, finally.

Now, around the same time few other equally horrific incidents happened at the other part of the country – in Assam and Bihar.

One of the reputed national dailies reported that a minor died in Assam’s Nagaon district after she was gang-raped by three – two of them juveniles – and set on fire. This was the second case of gang rape in Nagaon district in eight days, the daily said. It added, the police said the accused – Jakir Hussain, 21, and the two juveniles belonging to the same village of the victim – raped the girl when she was alone at home, doused her with kerosene and set her on fire.

Another reputed daily reported, a six-year-old girl was struggling for her life after being raped by a middle-aged man at a village in Rohtas, around 165km southwest of Patna. It added, police said the accused identified as Mohammad Meraz, 40, was the neighbour of the girl. He had taken the victim to an agriculture field when she was playing outside her residence on Tuesday evening and raped her.
In my opinion, all the four rape cases in Kathua, Unnao, Nagaon and Rohtas are equally horrific and can’t be categorized or compartmentalized into different grades of severity. Strangely the national media never picked up the later two cases and neither the national conscience aroused for them. Unnao and Kathua were in people’s minds, words, social media, candle light vigils and everywhere. But the other two were totally ignored.

I often wonder what we protest against, and why we do so. A girl gets raped in a horrific incident, and many are being killed almost every day. Statistics say that many of them don’t even get justice. So, why’s that, that the media and public cry only for a few? They say they are fighting for justice but then what about many thousand such cases where too the victims may not get justice, not just because of political collusion, but for many other reasons. Why are we not bothered about the stupendous amount of such incidence of rampant injustice? Why do we take to candle light vigils and protests only in selective cases? Isn’t it utter hypocrisy? What are we trying to achieve here? Getting justice to victims of rape or fighting against only those which are outcome of BJP’s collusion with fundamentalist or Hindu nationalist forces? Do we even know the breakup of such selective crimes against the thousands of other equally horrific crimes which are happening otherwise? Would taming BJP or kicking them out of power solve all such problems in India? Do we even know what all problems we are facing? Unless we are non-hypocritical about the problems, is there anything going to change?

I sought to ask my friends and acquaintances about this. And what I heard was equally interesting.
It’s not about actions taken in the other two cases, I was told. It’s more about the environment of polarization and hatred which got created. A mob, or those capable of bringing together a mob, have started thinking anything could be justified under the garb of fake nationalism if they were part of the so called nationalist party, was the main grudge. This nationalist party is of course BJP. In the same line, Washington Post wrote, “Hindu ‘nationalists’ defend accused rapists and shame India,” referring to lawyers preventing the investigating officer Mr. Jalla from submitting the chargesheet of the Kathua rape and murder case in Jammu and two BJP ministers rallying with the demand for transferring the investigation to the CBI, of course at the behest of the prime accused.

I wonder if the term “Hindu Nationalist” was at all needed. Doubtless, the Kathua rape case had a strong communal overtone, which, how much ever we might abhor, is also a reality. So is the tension between the Hindus and the Muslims, mainly Bangladeshi illegal immigrants, infiltrating into India through Assam and Bengal. The incident in Assam, the localites would know, does have a communal undercurrent, which is again a grim and sad reality. But then, would it ever be reported as “Hindu girl gang raped and set on fire by Islamists”?

Media in general, I understand, is often choosy and biased while selecting their priorities. They indulge in political partisanism instead of neutrality. They intend to control power at the behest of their political patrons. But then, how could the countrymen, whose conscience arouses from time to time, be selective and partisan?

Someone agrees to the media partisanism, but then it’s stressed that we should appreciate the nonviolence protest and pressurize the government to make more strict laws.  Somewhere we must speak up and let this – the recent cases at Kathua and Unnao – be that moment.
But still I don’t understand why someone would be selectively vocal and selectively silent about similarly heinous crimes. Doesn’t it mean bias?

I’m then asked if I’m implying that one should not protest for incident A if he is not for incident B. There could be lot of reason for that, I’m told. One is awareness – media and even the politics. Terming it bias would be shameful.

In reality though, I meant exactly the opposite. If one is protesting for A then I would expect him or her to protest for B also. If morality and principles are selective of based on politics, then isn’t it a very dangerous situation?

But then, I’m warned, I shouldn’t assume that people are aware of each incident. But I’ve a feeling even if people knew about the other cases, still the reaction might not have been as much. Rape is inhuman. Neither that should be politicized nor the protest. That’s totally understandable. But when I raise the questions about the stoic silence on the other cases, the response is that someone’s morality couldn’t be questioned in this context. The argument is turned towards the poison and polarization we are living with, with so much pain, where even a protest for rape is being questioned for morality.

It’s agreed that people should be angry on any rape case, I hear. But in the other two cases [in Assam and Bihar], the attempt to cover up by the ruling party is a problem. BJP is promoting communal rape, I’m reminded again and again. Rape cases are increasing. What is the government doing? Nothing. The bureaucrats are raping. What's the solution? We need a government that will stop this.
So, now the layers of onion have started to peel off. So, the protests are more against BJP for promoting “communal rape”.

One question came to my mind. Have we checked the data about rapes and crimes against women and children in India over the past 10 years? And, what is a communal rape? Rape is a rape, isn’t it? Are we saying a communal rape is more commendable than other types of rapes? If the protests are against the sudden increase in the rapes and crimes against women and children, then of course there’s a real problem at hand. So, I checked the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) site for the data and here is what I found.

The Crime Statistics 2016 is the most recent publication from the NCRB. Comparing the latest 2016 data with that of the previous years since 2008, it can be seen that there’s a drastic reduction in the rate of increase in the crimes against women and children, since 2014, since the recent NDA has come to power. Having said that, that’s nothing to be happy about. The spike in the crimes reported around 2013 might be due to more awareness, post Nirbhaya rape case, and media and public scrutiny. Since 2014, the reporting would have stabilized, and there has been a steady increase in the crimes since then. But doubtless, it can’t be said that the crimes have increased at significantly higher rates since 2014, compared to those in the past 10 years. It could be surely said of the current government that it has failed to reduce the crimes. But that’s an altogether different point.

The above two charts show the actual incidence of crimes in a few categories, like: Rape of girls below six years of age, Murder of girls below six years of age, Political and Communal murders, and finally Rape and Murder – the data for the last one is available only since 2014, again most likely an impact of the Nirbhaya Rape and Murder Case, which was perhaps the last such case to have shaken the country.

If we take the NCRB data as sacrosanct, there’s no way we could say that the current BJP government have done something which has suddenly increased the crimes against women, and child or for that matter of fact, the communal and political murders.

Talking about Politico-Communal Murders, there’s something more interesting when we see the states which has the maximum incidence of this.

Of the 6 top contributors for political and communal murders in 2016 only two – Rajasthan and Jharkhand – are administered by BJP. So, it can’t be asserted either that BJP has unleashed an epoch of political and communal murders, despite the many serious “communal” incidents by cow vigilantes across many states in the North India. Doesn’t it imply that just by going after BJP and accusing them of all the evils actually won’t solve most of the problems?

You don't need to compile any data, I was told. NCRB annual report, which is published by the government, it was pointed out sternly to me, clearly shows a sharp rise of 95% in violence against women and children over the years. Yes, that’s true. In fact, the reality is much grimmer than this. The reported incidence of crime against women has increased by 83% in ten years. That of crime against children has increased by more than four times during the same period. But, the data presented above doesn’t imply that the BJP’s communalism and the rise in fundamental and Hindu nationalist forces can be directly linked with that. As they say, the nonexistence of proof of anything is not the proof of its nonexistence. Going by that logic, yes, it can be always argued that there’s a lacuna of the right data and should that be available it could be proved that BJP is indeed responsible for the rise in crimes against women and children. But then, does that logic make sense?

Since I keep questioning the hue and cry raised by the civil society, I’m asked, what do I think should be done? How could I be a part of the solution?

It’s not that I’m not making any hue and cry. I make the maximum hue and cry in such cases and I've been doing it without any bias and prejudice. The problem is when the cries are selective. That's why the problem never gets solved. Government after governments comes and goes. But these problems remain because we never make a uniform hue and cry – we choose and select as per our convenience.
The problem is that people raise hue and cry in online and offline public fora individually. There is no mass movement, it’s argued, which could go after the dysfunctional system legally and politically, challenging the rise in violence. Rallies and campaigns, it’s asserted, are born when there is a total absence of legal and large scale political action. So indirectly, it’s being hinted that all the problem is due to political inaction of the power at the center. It’s as though, the two other cases of rapes in Assam and Bihar wouldn’t have happened, or for that matter, all the other heinous incidence of crimes against women and children would stop if and only if the BJP is tamed, or even better, replaced at the center by any one from the rest which, very surreptitiously, would be absolved of all their crimes in the past and would appear cleansed in milk.

Coming to the topic of past crimes of political parties, let’s see where everyone stands, in this context. It has been said that BJP has the maximum number of tinted MPs and MLAs accused of crimes against women and children. Is that’s true – they have 14 out of their total 1700+ MPs and MLAs in the center and states, which is 0.8%. Congress is marginally better – they have 0.6% tainted MPs and MLAs. Let’s see the top few tainted parties.

Seeing this, it’s good that TDP with the highest percentage of tainted elected leaders have deserted BJP. Interestingly, the second most tainted party seems to be BJD. So here too, it can’t be claimed that if not BJP then the “crime” scene would improve.

Finally, it’s pointed out that, in the context of the Kathua and Unnao incidents, there is suddenly a lot of postings, from the “right wing” in particular, about the other rapes, and the tenor is the same, that these things also happen, but Unnao and Kathua are being highlighted, as though it’s is a conspiracy. Next, as if to justify why the other rape cases don’t call for the similar outrage and angst, the following questions are raised about them:

1.       Did the confinement and rape happen in a place of worship?
2.       Was the victim kept in custody for 10 days in horrendous conditions?
3.       Do the accused include an MLA or a police officer or a retired revenue official?
4.       Was the family of the victim arrested? Was the father of the victim beaten to death in police custody – allegedly by the brother of the victim?
5.       Did the family of the victim leave their home because of threats from the perpetrators?
6.       Did the MLA, ministers, leaders come out on the streets supporting the alleged rapists?
7.       Did people called bandhs, and physically prevent the chargesheets to be filed in the court?
8.       Did the High Court haul up the state government for the complete butchery of the criminal justice system?
9.       Did the members of the ruling party trash its own police force and ask the intervention of central government as it feels it will be sympathetic to the criminals?
    Did the state have to wait for the CBI to come and arrest the accused?
   And lastly, did rats come out in the social media overtly and covertly supporting the actions – by sharing incorrect, manipulated or fake data?

I have a very simple view that any rape of a child and murder is as pathetic and heinous and horrendous as any other and it's sadistic to even compare or highlight the differences between them. That itself smacks of being partisan. Each is horrific. Period. And each needs attention and outrage and hue and cry to ensure that justice is meted out. Does it matter whether it's politically motivated or communally? I loathe both and have serious concern in categorizing and trying to say one is better or worse than the other. Any crime like this is a decay of the societal norms and principle and the basic cultural fabric of the people or country. Nirbhaya's case was neither political nor communal, but still as bad as what happened in Jammu and UP, and as bad as what happened in Assam and Bihar. Why should I even go into analyzing what happened after the rape? Just because the minor girl in Assam was not confined in a temple and raped, does it make that lesser heinous? What are we protesting? The crime, isn't it? Then, all are same, isn't it? Or are we saying we would decide on the severity of the crime based on the criminals? That's beyond my comprehension. And it's more concerning how people are trying to justify their silence in condemning the other rapes.

Now coming to the eleven questions raised, each could be answered. But then, what’s the point? What would we achieve out of that? Still, I would like to say in 2010, a minor girl named Sheelu was raped by Purushottam Dwivedi, the sitting MLA of Naraini constituency, belonging to then UP’s ruling Bahujan Samaj Party. Given that there are so many tainted elected members from so many parties, you would get many more cases.

Next, it’s also alleged that the “Hindu nationalists” and the “right wing fundamentalists” and “bhakts” are bombarding the social media with fake and manipulated data about rapes and murders, as though to dilute the gravity of the Kathua and Unnao incidents. I must say that both the incidents in Assam and Bihar appeared in reputed dailies and before the outburst and hue and cry about Kathua and Unnao. So, it’s not possible technically to have faked them with ulterior motives of exploiting them in the future.

The remaining points could be argued too. But then, what’s the point? Why should we even stoop down to that levels so as to alienate one crime against the other?