Thursday, June 25, 2015

The International Yoga Day and the Same Clichéd Reaction from the Secular Front

“I won’t do Yoga tomorrow”, says an article in a major Indian English daily, with reference to the International Yoga Day being promoted and observed by the Indian government on 21st June, 2015. “I won’t have the government dictate my fitness choices,” it continues, “especially if they are linked to religion, nationalism and patriotism.”
Another one says, “You won't find many of my fellow yogis involved in the tamasha that is the International Day of Yoga.” It relegates the government’s efforts to something as silly as “record chasing”. It says that the “International Day of Yoga never had much to do with yoga. It was always more about the churning PR wheel of the government.”
These are just two instances. There are many such in the media and internet. Such reaction from a particular section of media and intelligentsia was well expected. By this time it has become like a pattern which doesn’t take rocket science to recognize. You could very well predict what you would expect from whom. At times it sounds like a broken record.
Debates and arguments are the pillars of a vibrant democracy. It’s always useful to hear all the voices and put forward your own too. That’s how raw concepts or ideas could crystallize into a diamond of a thought. But the problem arises when someone’s intention is not to indulge into any form of constructive or argumentative discussion, but only to vilify anything with a preconceived and prejudiced idea.
Some of the clichéd critiques of the International Yoga Day are as follows:
·         It’s another Hindutva propaganda of the BJP government
·         It’s just a media gimmick, “churning of the PR wheel of the government” and another effort to be in the news
·         It’s another divisive tactic of the government to exclude the minorities
·         Who’s the government to enforce Yoga on us? We’ve been practicing Yoga since long enough to be reminded of it like this
All of these critiques are quite amusing, rather ridiculous. Let us discuss each of these one by one.
Connecting The Yoga Day to Hindutva is a very expected reaction from the fiery band of neo-secularism (pseudo secularism??), which Mr. L K Advani, in his autobiography, rightly refers to something that “has come to mean allergy to Hinduism”. For no good reason anything that’s associated with the ancient Indian past (pre Christian and pre Islamic) is seen with suspicion by these neo-secularists. What they forget is that the civilizations and cultures in India and China predate both Christianity and Islam by many many centuries, and perhaps a few millennia too.
The various and diverse ways of lives, traditions and thoughts that evolved over many millennia in the Indian subcontinent eventually got a Hindu designation. Today whatever goes by the name of Hinduism is something that’s truly indigenous in nature. Over the years many other traditions and cultures did appear in the subcontinent from various sources, often naturally, peacefully, and often through force and coercion, all of which along with the indigenous ones finally gave the current shape and form to the Indian culture. So, trying to ignore the indigenous elements of the Indian culture just because it has the Hindu designation is like ignoring the foundations of a large edifice.
Now coming to this particular event of celebrating an ancient Indian tradition through an International Day of Yoga, let us see whether it can be really seen as something communal, belonging to a particular community, or universal, especially when Pakistan has abstained from observing it.
“By proclaiming 21 June as the International Day of Yoga,” says the United Nations “the General Assembly has recognized the holistic benefits of this timeless practice and its inherent compatibility with the principles and values of the United Nations.”
Yoga is, as stated by the United Nations, “an ancient physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in India. The word ‘yoga’ derives from Sanskrit and means to join or to unite, symbolizing the union of body and consciousness.” International Yoga Day, it continues to say, “aims to raise awareness worldwide of the many benefits of practicing yoga.” The draft resolution establishing the International Day of Yoga was proposed by India and endorsed by a record 175 member states.
It’s indeed true that the proposal was first introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address during the opening of the 69th session of the General Assembly, in which he said: “Yoga is an invaluable gift from our ancient tradition. Yoga embodies unity of mind and body, thought and action ... a holistic approach [that] is valuable to our health and our well-being. Yoga is not just about exercise; it is a way to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature.”
But just because it’s an ancient Indian tradition which predates Christianity and Islam, and which is well connected to the Hindu or Indian philosophy, does it make it communal? Or is it so because the idea was mooted by Narendra Modi, who represents BJP, which has connection to RSS, and so on?
The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon himself pointed out that “Yoga is a sport that can contribute to development and peace.” The late B. K. S. Iyengar, perhaps the most famous Yoga Guru of the world said, “Yoga cultivates the ways of maintaining a balanced attitude in day-to-day life and endows skill in the performance of one’s actions.”
Even without going into what’s said about Yoga in the ancient Sanskrit texts and what it exactly means in the context of Indian philosophy, there’s no doubt that it’s nothing that should be viewed with suspicion by any community.
The same may hold true for Surya Namashkar or the Gayartri Mantra, none of which has anything that could be communally charged or divisive. The later says, “We meditate on the power and glory of Him, the Creator, the Savitri, who sharpens our thoughts.” All religions and cultures, Christianity and Islam included, look upon the Creator of the Universe with utmost reverence and pay obeisance to Him. The Creator is often seen as the Supreme God Himself. May not be in the exact same language, but a similar reverence for the Creator is found in the Prophet Muhammed’s own words too. The 30th hymn of the 21st chapter of the Quran says, “Awalam yara alladhin kafaru, don't see those who disbelieved, anna al-samawati wal-arda kanata ratqan, that the heavens and the earth, were a joined entity. Fafataqnahuma, then We parted them…”
So what’s the issue if a government wants to invoke the Gayatri Matra at the beginning of a function? It could be argued that similar hymns from the Quran or the Bible could also be invoked. But then those were not written in India and the Gayatri Mantra was. Doesn’t that make it more relevant to be used in India? It doesn’t harm if any country adopted a poem, written by someone not belonging to that country, as its national anthem. But it does make more sense to use a poem written in its own land, by its own countryman. Would you call it a communal act? No. In the same way, invoking a Sanskrit poem with a universal message or celebrating an ancient Indian secular tradition like the Yoga can’t be a communal act. It’s in no way a divisive tactic to frighten the minorities.
Interestingly, the present day Iran with its predominantly Muslim population still celebrates the Nowruz, the Persian New Year, which is an ancient pre Islamic tradition connected to its Zoroastrian past. Though they have persecuted all the Parsis, the Zoroastrians, but they have retained the ancient traditions of the land. The same holds true for Indonesia and Malaysia, both of which are now Islamic states that have retained many indigenous practices and traditions which date back to their pre-Islamic past. Ironically, India is not a Muslim country, but still its pre-Islamic traditions are looked upon with suspicion.
Let’s move on to the next point. It’s said that this entire thing about the International Yoga Day is just a media gimmick, the churning of the “PR wheel of the government, and its desire to assert itself on the global stage, assuaging anxieties about being left behind.
Is there any problem to assert India on the global stage? Yes, India has been left behind in many aspects and it’s the duty of its government and the Prime Minister to keep no stone unturned to assert itself in the global stage in all possible ways. It’s all about PR – even an ass knows this in today’s context. That the US is a super power, much of it is because of the perception that it has created in the minds of the rest of the world over the past hundred years through a very effective PR. Apart from doing everything correct, it’s PR which plays a big role in asserting India the right position it deserves in the world. What’s the problem here? Yoga sells and it’s Indian. So why not claim the ownership to something “Made in India”?
Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj has rightly said that “Yoga is the soft power of India and through that soft power the whole world can be a global village.” This comment of hers has also been taunted by many. But in reality what she said is a historical truth.
In the context of India’s influence over the rest of the world William Dalrymple, in an article, quoted the historian Michael Wood as saying, “history is full of Empires of the Sword, but India alone created an Empire of the Spirit.” What he refers to here is indeed India’s soft power with which it had established its influence over a large part of the world over many centuries. Talking about the process by which this happened, Dalrymple says, “it appears… that large numbers of highly educated monks and Brahmins traveled with the fleets of Indian merchant ships trading with Indo-China, carrying portable religious objects and artworks. They sought employment and offered in return their literacy… as well as their political, technical, and cultural knowledge.”
Dalrymple mentions that according to Sanskritist Sheldon Pollock, “in the first millennium it makes hardly more sense to distinguish between South and Southeast Asia than between north India and south India…. Everywhere similar processes of cosmopolitan transculturation were under way.” Pollock describes this cultural commonwealth as the “Sanskrit cosmopolis.”
It was indeed through India’s soft power that it had asserted its influence over Central Asia, China, Burma, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. “These were conscious acts by which the living landscape [of these countries] was empowered with mythological Indic names and Indic metaphors of divinity, in effect extending the sacred landscape of the Indian holy land so that it became their own.” The best testimonial of India’s soft power is what Hiuen Tsang said. “People of distant places with diverse customs,” wrote the Chinese Buddhist monk in the mid-seventh century, “generally designate the land that they admire as India.”
So, it’s nothing wrong in exploiting India’s soft power to assert its position in the world. It has yielded rich dividends in the past and there’s no reason to believe that it won’t now.

Finally, it’s being questioned who the government is to dictate what I should do on a particular day. This is perhaps the most ridiculous of the arguments. West Bengal government celebrates the birthday of Rabindranath Tagore through cultural functions and other events all throughout the 25th of Baisakh, the birthday day of the poet as per the Indian calendar. So does it mean that I won’t listen to Rabindra Sangeet on that day just because the government is making me to listen to it? Remembering something or someone on a particular day neither means that we shouldn’t do it the rest of the year nor that we’re being coerced to do so only on that day. Celebrating Christmas doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about Jesus the rest of the year or that we are being coerced to think about Him on a particular day. If you have been doing Yoga for a long time that doesn’t mean that you can’t celebrate one particular day as the Yoga Day. I don’t see any problem there too.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Alternate Hinduism or Hinduphobia? An Analysis of “Rearming Hinduism” by Vamsee Juluri

Recently an angry mob broke into a jail in Nagaland and lynched an alleged rapist to death. The mob was predominantly Christian and the alleged rapist a Muslim. The American media, points out Vamsee Juluri, the author of the recent book “Rearming Hinduism”, reported this as a law and order problem, not as a case of Christians attacking a Muslim.
Around the same time a septuagenarian nun was gang raped within the premise of a convent school in a place near Calcutta and few months before this, few churches were burgled in Delhi. Both the incidents were widely reported in India and the west as rising cases of intolerance towards minorities in a Hindu majority India. In the ghastly case of the gang rape of the Christian nun, the police would soon find the involvement of few Muslims from Bangladesh and burglaries in the churches in Delhi were found to be acts by miscreants. None was an act of violence against Christians, perpetuated, as was claimed, by intolerant Hindus.
A thought can’t but arise in the mind that perhaps, very consciously, an aura of Hinduphobia is being created. The aforementioned incidents and the way they were perceived by the world only reinforce this thought.
It is in this context that the book “Rearming Hinduism” is very relevant. The author first defines the premise of Hinduphobia as something being created and perpetuated in the Western academia and media which even went to the extent of relegating the 26/11 massacre by Pakistani terrorists as the outcome of India’s policy on Kashmir, the rise of “Hindu extremism”, and the appalling state of poverty among the Muslims in India. The misconception about the Indians (or should we say Hindus?) is not restricted only to contemporary affairs. The western academia is replete with works, Juluri points out, of the likes of Wendy Doniger who likens the ancient Hindus to the cowboys who destroyed the Native Americans and even to the Nazis who persecuted the Jews during the World War II. The New York Times, Juluri mentions, have published several articles on and by Doniger, who characterizes herself as a lover of Hinduism and her critics as “nasty, militant, prudish fundamentalists”.
The very name of Doniger’s book – The Hindus, An Alternative History – is perhaps meant to say on the face that hers or theirs “alternative history” is the real one, and that the “dominant” one of the Hindus is nothing but nasty, militant, prudish fundamental.
“There is at the moment,” asserts Juluri, “a very much powerful, sustained, and unrelenting cultural and intellectual attack on Hinduism in the media and academy”. His book “Rearming Hinduism” symbolically uses in its cover the image of the Narasimha, an iconic statue at the world heritage site of Hampi in Karnataka depicting a figure of a half man and half lion trying to write something even though one of his hands is cut, to stress on the need of the academic Hindus, “not prudes, not militants”, to write their true history to counter the flawed and misinterpreted “alternative” history.
While talking about the ideologies of Hinduphobia in the first part of the book, Juluri shows how the mainstream academia has “lost sight of Hinduism”, relying on “particular set of ideas, assumptions, and stereotypes”. He uses Doniger extensively, perhaps as a glorified representative of all the similar works – the alternative history – by western academics which, in the book stores, Juluri claims, occupy almost the whole shelves designated for Hinduism of Eastern Religions, any work of Indian author conspicuous by its almost total absence. He taunts at the hypocrisy of Doniger et al in creating an aura of phobia against the “dominant” history, allegedly purported by the Hindu writers who are always “fundamentalist” and “militant” in her views, however academic they may be.
Juluri brings out a very interesting point that what is actually being mooted as the “dominant” all-pervading view, which needs to be controlled or checked, around which all the Hinduphobia is being created and propagated relentlessly, has effectively become a very marginal view, totally overshadowed by the “alternative” views of the likes of Doniger, who rants about the Nazi like violence of the Aryans and the excessive animal sacrifices of the Hindus till the Buddha appeared in the scene to save the humanity, who extols the influence of the Greeks in the development of the fierce and independent character of Draupadi in the Mahabharata and who sees the Mughal age as an age of dialogue and tolerance.
In the second part Juluri talks about the Vedas and Upanishads, Krishna and Rama, Gita, from a Hindu viewpoint, in contrast to the main stream, heavily published and often flawed “alternative” views.
“Rearming Hinduism” is indeed a very apt book, to counter the many misinterpretations of the Indian culture and the stereotypes and clichés about it prevalent in the academia and media, not necessarily restricted only to the west. The Hindus themselves, perhaps like the image of Narasimha with a severed arm, find it difficult to understand their own culture and legacy, and write their real history, falling prey to “alternative” views.
There are a few things though which, if were handled in a better way in the book, could have had a greater impact on the very people for whom it’s written – the non-fundamentalist, non-militant and academic Hindus, “the entire generation of young modern Hindus in India and the diaspora” who is perhaps showing more and more interest in India’s heritage and the Indian identity.
The excessive criticism, not only of Doniger, but also of the likes of Amartya Sen and anyone else who espouses any view different from that of the author with regards to Indian history or culture, may not be palatable to everyone. At some point, it may appear to the reader that the book is more of a critique of Doniger than anything else.
The author touches base on many issues and myths but doesn’t put forward a proper scientific or historic analysis to debunk or accept a theory. He conveniently accepts the Out-of-India origin of the Aryans, attacking anyone who disagrees, but doesn’t provide any historical basis of his claim. The reality is that, the Out-of-India theory, or for that matter anything else about the origin of the Aryans, can neither be proved nor disproved scientifically, given the paucity of historical or archaeological evidences, but disciplines like Comparative Linguistics and Linguistic Palaeontology do point to an Outside-of-India homeland or Urheimat of the Indo-European languages and their native speakers. Ignoring the volumes of research by some of the most eminent linguists over the past one century and more, just because the findings don’t align with what the “dominant” narrative about Hinduism would fit into, weakens the very stand taken by the author all throughout the book – that any narrative, alternative or dominant, should be based on true academic quest, and not any hegemonic zeal.
Juluri criticizes Doniger for her chapter on “Sacrifice in the Vedas”, but doesn’t go at all into the counter interpretations of the very verses Doniger quotes to make her point. A cursory glance at the Rig Veda, as pointed out by Sri Aurobindo, may lead to the apparent belief that the hymns are desperate pleadings of a bunch of helpless people seeking divine intervention in almost everything. The invokers of the hymns seem to be lazy guys who want to win every battle with the help of the Gods. It also appears that the people of the Rig Veda have nothing else to do than to fight among themselves and also with the natives, who in most cases are demoted to the ranks of demons.
But a close look into the hymns reveal something more profound which’s hidden under the garb of simplistic physical, natural or historical things like fights, rivers, days and nights, mountains, clouds, floods, cows and, not to forget, horses and chariots. Going by Aurobindo's interpretation, each of these physical and natural things very logically point to deeper meanings which very consistently flow all along the Rig Veda. If we go by the literal meaning of all the words, then this continuity of thoughts is broken at various places. In other words the Rig Veda is full of double meanings. The simplistic meanings are meant for the normal people and the profound meanings for the learned. It’s obvious that Doniger took the simplistic meanings. But an in-depth analysis of the same verses by Juluri would have been much more effective in countering Doniger.
In this context it would be relevant to refer to something Doniger has mentioned in her book which Juluri criticizes all along. With reference to killing animals and plants for food, she quotes from Jaiminiya Brahmana that the “people who lack true knowledge and offer no oblations cut down trees for firewood, or cook for themselves animals that cry out, or cook for themselves rice and barley, which scream soundlessly”. Here she makes a very interesting observation that the reference to rice and barley as something “which scream soundlessly”, when killed and eaten, is almost like paraphrasing the words of the eminent Indian scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose, who “moved George Bernard Shaw deeply with his demonstration of an unfortunate carrot strapped to the table of an unlicensed vivisector.” Bose believed, very much like what the Jaiminiya Brahmana too might have hinted, that plants too can feel pains and emotions, like animals.
If such views are to be countered, it needs an equally in-depth counter analysis of the ancient Sanskrit texts, something which could have made Juluri’s views stronger.
The author finds Amartya Sen’s highlighting of the reigns of Ashoka and Akbar as golden epochs in the annals of Indian civilization objectionable just because neither of them were followers of Hinduism – Ashoka converted to Buddhism and Akbar was a Mulsim. Such a ground for attacking Sen appears clichéd and reactionary, something which Juluri himself accuses the secularists and the orientalists like Doniger and Sen of being.

Another thing which can perhaps create some confusion in the minds of a wider range of readers is Juluri’s reference to May 2014 as some sort of a reckoning of a new epoch in the Hindu history. Though he never takes the name of Narendra Modi, but the indirect references to his becoming the PM and the BJP coming to power in May 2014 leave no suspicion in the minds of the readers about the significance of May 2014. This is somewhat irrelevant and out of context to the main intent of the book, which is actually establishing the real and “dominant” narrative of Hinduism against the so called mainstream, and often flawed, Hinduphobic orientalist one.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What did AAP do so right that everyone else was left nowhere?

Such an election outcome is sure to evoke a wide range of reactions. The media should thank AAP the most for giving them the fodder to rant and chant for the next may weeks. Arnab Goswami's vocal chords would vibrate precariously. Bloggers and tweeters and whatsappers will spend most of their bandwidth in posting/forwarding pictures of Kejriwal in various avatars.

So what did the AAP do which no one else didn't?

A close look at the events over the past two months will tell us the secret. Actually AAP did everything the BJP did during the 2014 Lok Sabha election and this time BJP did everything that they didn't do last year. What's that? Branding, Branding and Branding.

Modi's rise is actually a product of effective branding. Even the kids were discussing Modi in schools, something which perhaps never happened in the history of Indian politics. BJP's handling of the media and internet was phenomenal. Whatever anyone would read in text-books in the MBA schools was applied perfectly. Whatever it takes to exploit the psychology of the voters across all ages and backgrounds was done. When people start circulating jokes on tag lines used by BJP in their advertisements, you know they have entered into your skin. A good example is the brand Rajni, who despite more flops than hits in the recent past still exists as a myth, thanks to the Rajni jokes which transcend linguistic and regional boundaries. Similar thing happened with the "Aap ki baar" series. Ironically it metamorphosed now into "AAP ki bari".

This time BJPs branding was just horrible, and it became worse with time. Opinion polls in December last year showed a clean sweep in favor of BJP. Between then and now neither did BJP do anything horribly disastrous nor exceptional, either at the center or in Delhi, which could have impacted the people of Delhi in any significant way. But still they lost the election. Why? Just because AAP managed to create a better brand, and that too in the past two months. So it's not true that AAP won because of their freshness, or clean backgrounds, or whatever is being attributed to them. The same AAP, with all their good intentions and cleanliness would have been routed had they not created a better brand. So the election was won or lost not on the basis of any real work.

Negative things don't always work in consumer products, never in politics. BJP lost the 2009 Lok Sabha election to a great extent because of the vicious negative propaganda against Sonia Gandhi. And they won the 2014 election riding on the strong, decisive and positive branding of Modi. They lost the 2015 Delhi election again because of their vicious attack on Kejrwal which made him a slum-dog who had to be millionaire.

Branding heavily depends on rhetoric and oratory skill. No one knew that Kiran Bedi is such a horrible speaker. Modi is popular mainly because of his oratory skills. Rahul Gandhi is flop to a great extent because he can't speak, very much like Kiran Bedi.

Indians always like humble people. Chai wala caught the imagination of a nation and enhanced the Modi brand. A tough cop, who can't speak is a disaster, both as a brand and as an acceptable leader. Add to it the arrogance of the BJP visible everywhere. On the contrary, the muffler man attracted everyone. It suited a humble image, a brand acceptable to a wide range of people.

So if BJP has to bounce back, it has to take care of the branding in the upcoming elections in Punjab, Bihar and Bengal. It has to repeat what it did for 2014 Lok Sabha election, what AAP has done now.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

What's objectionable and what not?

There has been a recent case where a girl and boy both studying in a reputed school in tenth standard in Bangalore were rusticated for a day for public display of affection. What exactly happened is not known. But then the girl committed suicide. Fingers are being pointed to the school and also to the parents for incorrect handling of the situation. It may not be ever known correctly what prompted the young life to come to such a drastic end, but it does raise some very basic questions about what's objectionable and what not, particularly with reference to kids in schools.

Are holding hands, hugging or kissing objectionable? What about teen sex in schools? What's the limit? What is good and what's bad? Holding hands and hugging may pass the censor board, but kissing? Well, may get a nod with some cuts. And teen sex in school? Are you crazy? Don't you have any sense? What will become of our country if we allow such things to pollute the young minds of our kids? The schools have every right to protect kids from obscenities and hence, take actions against such acts which may have perverse effects on other kids. 

Now there are barrage of fuzzy things. Has there been any scientific survey done by any credible agency to prove that teen sex is actually a social menace? On the contrary I know my grandmother (and may be most of others too) had teen sex. I can't say that my grandmother's all the six children had any perverse influence in their lives because their mother had teen sex. Rabindranath's wife had teen sex. So did Mahatha Gandhi's wife. So did most women in India till some time back. 

I didn't have teen sex. Does that mean that I've imbibed something more positive than my grandmother. I don't think so. So in the absence of any modern day survey and based on the historical data I have, I can't say teen sex is a menace. 

Well, now you can say my grandmother was married. So the question is not about teen sex being bad, but whether pre-marital sex is. Again, in the absence of any survey on what basis would I believe that? Who came up with this verdict? 

Most of our mythological heroes or Gods had premarital sex. How was Karna born? Is Kunti a fallen woman - she actually had teen pre marital sex. What about Vidyapati's depiction of Krishna's love for Radha something which we worship? 

So neither teen sex nor pre marital sex can be condemned, without any data. And so this very argument that teen sex in schools is bad falls flat. So what are we talking about? We are actually talking about something which I find has no basis, at least in Indian context, again, in the absence of any data corroborating such claims. 

Obscenity is a very fragile concept, at least for a country like India where there are lots of dichotomy. When we say, O Goddess of learning, Thy breasts adorned with pearls, (kucha yuga shobhita muktaa haare)  I bow to Thee in obeisance, there's no problem. But then depicting Saraswati, the Goddess of learning, in such a way, showing her bare breasts adorned only in pearls, would be objectionable. 

We don't mind rubbing our hands symbolically, dipped in milk, on a quite authentic symbol of a phallus, inserted into the vagina of a woman, (and seen from the top from within the woman's vagina). A little thought will tell us the symbolism of the milk. Very logically young women doing this act publicly is meant to get them good (productive) husbands. Nothing of this is objectionable to anyone.

So what is objectionable? Who decides? What is right and what is wrong?

My friend Atanu puts is very well. "The deep and unsettling sexual hypocrisy", he sayd, "is embedded in Indian mindset, and in our institutions, in our families and in the society at large. The rapid progress in the external liberalization of life and its pleasures has not at all been matched by a deeper introspection of our own psychology, or opening up of what is essentially a regressive, prejudiced culture (rich in content, lacking in dynamism or evolution). This is not a question of right or wrong, but acceptance of behavioral diversity. We still think the best way of raising children is to straighten them into these rigid frames of "culturally safe" archetypes."

There's a serious dichotomy in our society. In a school program boys and girls dancing to "Chikni Chameli" is fine, but then hugging and kissing become such a great issue. All so called popular kids' cartoons always have some level of PDA and those are rampantly viewed by all kids. We're absolutely fine with that. Yes, they are actually fine as there's some innocence in it and the same needs to be retained among the kids. But then, you can't allow certain degree of something somewhere and then demonize something else somewhere in the name of good moralities and culture.

We're absolutely fine taking our kids to movies where sexually explicit scenes are rampant and then we complain when a boy and girl getting "objectionably" close in the the bus, thinking it will impact our kids adversely. 

Hypocrisy and dichotomy is what I would call Talibanism. And it's not that just because one unfortunate young life is lost that I'm calling the system Taliban, it's because of the inherent hypocrisies we already have. Ours is a society with dismal regards for women and girls. We don't allow women to enter into some temples and we are bothered about the perverse impact of kids hugging and kissing in schools. 

What's needed is not the change in the mindset of just the schools, but also in us, who all constitute the society.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

If your sentiments, religious or otherwise, are hurt, that's your problem

I can't comment about others, but if you go by the Indian way of life, you can't actually hurt your sentiments, religious or otherwise. Let me cut the diamond with a diamond itself.

For a country like India, religion is at her core. We are held together by religion. We're torn apart by religion. Our culture, heritage, history, everything, is religion. The first book written in our country - the Rig Veda - is among the holiest scriptures. The first song we sang was a hymn, perhaps from the Rig Veda or its predecessor. Our rituals, our festivals, our society, everything, is governed by religion.

Our definition of religion itself is different from that of everyone else. The Monier Williams Sanskrit dictionary gives the following meanings for the word dharma:

that which is established or firm, steadfast decree, statute, ordinance, law, usage, practice, customary observance or prescribed conduct, duty, right, justice, virtue, morality

So our religion is actually the justice, virtue, morality, law, duty, which is imbibed in our society, which we practice in our day to day lives, which is firm and steadfast. In other words, dharma is actually the soul.

Now let's see what has been told about the soul.


We've heard it many times. But it's important to reiterate it again.

Weapons can never cut to pieces, chindanti, nor can fire burn, dahati, nor can water moisten, kledayanti, nor can wind dry, shoshayati.
The soul is unbreakable, acchyedya, and can be neither moistened, akledya, burned, adahya, nor dried, ashoshya. He is everlasting, present everywhere, unchangeable, sthanu, immovable, achala, and eternally the same, sanatana.
The soul is inexpressible, avyakta, inconceivable, achintya, and immutable, avikarya.
Knowing this, you should never grieve.

The last line is very important. Knowing this, you should never grieve. Such is the idea of our dharma, the soul. So why do we fear that someone can ever do any harm to our soul? The very idea of blasphemy doesn't exist in our culture. Whatever you may say, whatever you may do, I know for sure that the soul is ever lasting, eternal, unchangeable, immutable. The very thought that someone can do any harm to my soul is so stupid. So the very elements in the society who at slightest flutter think that our religion or culture is at stake or being hurt, dishonored, actually don't even understand the true essence of our religion.

I strongly feel the laws around blasphemy, or hurting religious sentiments, etc. should be just scrapped. It's meaningless. Anything that doesn't hurt the sovereignty of the nation, and/or her people physically and/or economically should be just ignored.

We say veer bhogya vasundhara, the brave, veer, enjoy the world, vasundhara. A veer is she who is wise and who knows that no one can hurt her soul. Anyone else is a coward and has fear in her mind. Just a law can't save her, protect her. Something or the other will engulf her and kill her one day. So philosophically too any blasphemy law is a meaningless thing, at least in our country.

Why did I write a book?

Let me first talk about why I took to writing a book. Well, it's not exactly a book I had always wanted to write. When I was a child, and my brother even younger, we both had a dream to become a composer duo, something like Shankar-Jaikishan. 

In those days we would listen to Vividha Bharati a lot. Both our parents were working and we had to spend a part of the day alone at home, under the supervision of an old aunt, who barely had a sight by the time we could widely see things around. We had come up with a game to keep us entertained. One of us would listen to the names of the singer, composer and lyricist when it would be announced before a song and the other one had to identify them. Very soon we both could identify the singers - there was not much choice anyway. But little later we could also identify the composers from their style. The duo that we always identified was Shankar-Jaikishan. We felt his music stood apart. That made them someone very sought after, special, unique. 

We grew up and those days became distant memories of our childhood. But somewhere, whenever I would dream of doing something big, the thoughts of Shankar-Jaikishan would always pop up in my mind. By that time I'd shifted loyalty to RD Burman. I had also realized that becoming a composer was no longer a viable option for me and my brother. But I also realized that the thought of Shankar Jaikishan was just an epithet, a symbol. What actually I wanted to do in life was stand apart, like the music of Shankar-Jaikishan, which we could always identify among all others. So simplistically I just wanted to do something which would make me identifiable in the crowd. Isn't that we all aspire in our lives? To stand apart? To leave our marks in the world so that we may live beyond we live?

Something happened in 2008, when I was actually thinking of doing something in life, different, unique, which would make me stand apart, in the crowd. I was travelling on the Outer Ring Road in Bangalore, the locus of lot of IT companies and also a very deadly road for dogs and humans who cross it anywhere. Many a day a dog lying dead in the middle of the road would be a common sight. But that particular day I saw a dog being hit by a car and die in front of me. It put me off totally. My friend, sitting beside me, stared away from the dog and said, "So now you've seen a dog's death, what we call kutta ka maut, isn't it?". I kept quiet, not understanding what he was hinting at. "Don't worry," he continued, "we all will die a dog's death." I was stunned. "No one will remember us and our existence would be totally erased from this earth, very much like that of a dog. Your absence won't make any difference to anyone. But," he paused. "If you leave something behind, say a song, a book, or anything, however insignificant it could be, may be, somewhere someone would still listen to that song, somewhere your book may lie at the corner of a library..."

Soon I started working on my book.

Whether it's your profession or home or passion, I think you should always strive to do something unique, something that only you can do, something that will have your marks, that will be your signature, your identity. 

Being involved with a startup for the past seven years, I've realized what makes or breaks a business. It's always that same thing, whether you're doing something unique for the customers. In the corporate lingo there's a jargon called Barrier to Entry. Simplistically it's again the same thing. Do you stand apart? Do you do something that only you can do? If not, then your business is at risk.

Coming to the Barrier to Entry, let me talk about the topic of my book. It's a historical thriller, dealing with some interesting aspects of Ancient Indian history, something that connects India with the rest of the world, something that's controversial, explosive. The story deals with things like racial supremacy, the Aryan history, Nazism and other forms of racial and religions fanaticism. The main mystery in the novel is solved with something called Linguistic Paleontology. Robert Langdon had Symbology, Indiana Jones had Archaeology and I have Linguistic Paleontology. Why did I choose such a topic? Again the same principles - Barrier to Entry. I figured out this particular topic, especially Linguistic Paleontology was never used in any fiction.

Reviews of The Ekkos Clan
"A promising debut in the growing realm of modern Indian fiction", said Jug Suraiya, a senior columnist with Times of India, about the book.
"Sudipto Das’ debut novel combines ancient history, linguistic palaeontology, mathematics, music and a mystery story," said The Hindu.[24]
"Application of linguistic palaeontology amidst a mystery novel marked with glimpses of mythology and historical narrative is unique in an Indian setting, and places both the author and the novel at a space currently occupied by a very few," commented a critic.[1]
Sunday Guardian reviewed The Ekkos Clan on 17 August 2013:[25]
"For a novel whose setting stretches from the Partition-affected villages of NoakhaliBangladesh to Arkaim in the Southern Urals, The Ekkos Clan is a daring novel. The scope of the narrative is magnanimous and deftly handled…. The Ekkos Clan should be read for its sheer aspiration and the intelligent handling of historical material."
The Telegraph reviewed it on 27 November 2013:[26][27]
"An Indian thriller inspired by Dan Brown & Harrison Ford! For a debut novel The Ekkos Clan is quite promising, with echoes of Dan Brown in the storytelling... [It] is like any fast-paced thriller, replete with murder and miraculous escapes."
Bangalore Mirror said it's "an interesting read for an afternoon.[28] One feisty woman’s partition story..., The Ekkos Clan combines the struggle for survival with Kubha's determination to safeguard her lineage in turbulent times..."[29]
The New Indian Express extolled its "unflinching look at communal carnage." [30] A review was published on 26 November 2013:[31][32]
"A tale of the Indian civilization and culture, The Ekkos Clan written by debutant author Sudipto Das takes you on a roller coaster ride, telling the mystery behind the Aryan race as well as delving into the origin of stories behind mankind’s greatest book, The Rig Veda..."
Deccan Chronicle called Sudipto "Bin'das' writer..., a multi-talented personality."[33]
More about Sudipto Das & The Ekkos Clan at