On International Women’s Day 2017

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Women's Day

Couldn’t help but share this lovely message that says all I need to on this day, which has sparked protests and tokenism and genuine appreciation alike…

It is a bit long, however, 

If we must celebrate a day for women,

let us celebrate freedom from stereotypes,

from expectations,

from idolisation,

from sacrifice…

 

STOP congratulating women

for being the secret behind a successful man… 

START saluting them for being successful. 

 

STOP saying

the mother is sacred for all the sacrifices she makes…

TRY to reduce those sacrifices!

 

STOP telling women they are

beautiful!

TRY telling them it’s not important to be beautiful!

 

STOP praising

her roles as mother, wife, daughter, sister…

CELEBRATE her as an individual,

a person,

independent of relationships. 

 

STOP justifying

her necessity to multitask…

GIVE her a chance not to!

 

STOP these constructs which are

aimed at making her strive for an impossible balance…

LET her be inadequate…

and HAPPY!

 

STOP making her look at herself

through a conveniently male viewpoint.

LET her be imperfect, whimsical, irresponsible,

boorish, lazy, fierce,

opinionated, loud, flabby,

ungroomed, adventurous, unpredictable, unprepared, impractical… 

 

Happy International Women’s Day y’all! 

Not. 

 

Finally, thank you, M! thanks for sharing this.

Your friendship is etched into my heart. 

 

 

Har Har Mahadev!

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I write this on the night of Mahashivaratri. The night of Shiva.

In India, a Western-educated understanding of Shiva as a ‘deity’, a ‘God’, a ‘Divinity’ is common. He is Lord Shiva, I remember my class teacher at school telling us. Like Lord Ram, Lord Krishna, Lord Vishnu, and so on. Address them as Lord. Treat them with respect – this is where the love for labels and titles began.

This behaviour was different from that of my elders. Generally speaking and during storytelling, it was Ram, Krishna, Shiva, Vishnu… but when talking about their accomplishments, their special attributes, they used the word “bhagwan”. When praying to them, they called them ‘bhagwan’, and it does not mean ‘divine’, it means one who is fortunate or blessed, one who has risen above the ordinary. It is an indicative word.

And I would feel a special awe for my teachers, who taught us to respect Shiva and the rest as ‘Lords’. Like that was the right thing to do.

Like saying Lord this and Lady that. It felt so cultured, so civilised, and so CORRECT, then. So, I believe all of us who have been through a somewhat elite education system in India, particularly the English Medium, have drunk some amount of this kool-aid. It lets us think we are somehow superior to those ‘others’ calling Ram, well just Shri Ram. Or Krishna, just Krishna. Or Shiva, Shiva.

‘Bhagwan’ was good but it was still Bhagwan, some word in the regional language while Lord was to revere our Gods as ‘Gods’. No lesser than their Gods – the almighty, the merciful, the ever-loving ever-forgiving punisher of sins, giver of life. That God who had a rival in Satan or Shaitaan for our attention. That God who had magical powers to wipe out sins, just not enough to wipe out Satan. The God who was eager to forgive all your sins just as much as he wanted to always watch over you while you went about committing them. The act was yours, motive His, guilt all yours, money His, Glory His.

In front of them, Shiva, this crazy ash-covered dude with braided long hair, smoking a chillum (cannabis, yes), bluish body throat downwards, dressed in a leather skin as loincloth, holding a damru, snakes draped around his torso just hanging about, the river Ganges flowing out of his hair bun and the moon perched atop that felt comical, wild, crazy to say the least. It was so ‘unGodly’ to make him come across as the problem child among all these more civilised Gods – some of which you can visualise, others you are not allowed to. It’s like your hippie mom gatecrashing a kitty party at your best friend’s place where her mum is handing out finger food and cocktails in summer dresses.

Look how much respect they gave their Gods. And look at us! We made them look crazy: Ganesh had an elephant head, Vishnu had so many arms, always relaxing in a river/sea of milk under the head of a cobra, Goddess Lakshmi floated around in a lotus, Brahma had three heads if multiple arms wasn’t enough; Ram was the most human-like but his rival, that evil Raavan had ten heads, was granted a boon by the crazy Shiva, and was basically revered for his knowledge; Krishna was beautiful and full of grace and human-like but he too had a viraat (large) swaroop (appearance) that a true devotee could see.

Somehow all this imagination was seen as tacky and way too much but this imagination wasn’t – that God is like this guy who lives in the clouds and sends us people from time to time to talk to us, live amongst us – his deputies. He’s busy following each and everyone of us down to the last thought & deed but has no time to personally descend and talk to us, man to man. That this God turns water into wine and allowed one of his own to defy laws of physics, allowed him to walk on water, defy laws of biology and allowed a virgin birth. That Garden of Eden and that Noah’s ark. Somehow, that was all okay. This happened and that didn’t.

It didn’t occur to me then. This took some time coming. But when it finally did, it came down to making a choice.

hinduism

I was going to go for batshit crazy. Because Hindu culture’s batshit crazy is pointedly ascribed with meanings, historical context, and humanitarian associations. It’s a culture, and not an -ism. Come Ganesh Chaturthi (Ganesh’s birthday) and one can see innumerable moortis of Ganesh playing the harmonium, dancing, even cooking – for those who want to be politically correct, reading a book, writing at his desk, and so on. Ganesh is seen as the ‘God’ of joy, the ‘Lord’ of auspicious beginnings. What’s wrong with celebrating ‘joy’? If Ganesha can be happy doing all these things – cooking, playing harmoniun, reading, and writing, so should we, right?

It’s a culture that lets you be.

Also, a word on the ‘moortis‘ (images – 2D as well as 3D). It’s different from an idol or statue – the same Virgin Mother all over the world. In the Indian languages, moorat/moorti is used to mean an image or form or embodiment of a person, concept, or idea. A mother (any mother, any woman who has attained motherhood) is seen as a moorat of unconditional love. The result may be the same – a statue, but the underlying context is different.

Since the concept of moorti was so flexible, there was full chance that the image in your mind could be different from that in mine. Perhaps this is the reason why our Bhagwans have many hands and many heads. Perhaps that’s why our ‘Goddess’ Durga is invoked at all sorts of tableux during the Pujo in the state of Bengal, used to make cultural and political statements – She could be celebrating the Pujo in her ‘divine’ avatar or slaying rapists in the form of the demon Mahishasur. Imagination at its best. You see? Batshit crazy. You’ll see the good old Buddha lean and meditating, or fat, laughing, and celebrating. Beat that.

Ever seen occidental Gods play football? Here’s our Ganesh with both his teams of more Ganeshas. And look who’s the referee – Shiva, Ganesh’s father. It’s a helluva existential match.

ganeshafootball

Thanks to this batshit crazy imagination, some guys down here imagined the concept of ‘zero’. And no Intellectual property rights, too. Imagination in the right direction. They also figured out that the Earth was spherical, and the distance between the Earth and Sun, Earth and the Moon, without any tools or major labs or even a strip of paper – just mental maths. Also very many philosophical, political, cultural, and religious concepts.

It’s thanks to this zero that I am writing here, self-publishing a post that can be seen across the world through the internet. Zero. Yoga. Ayurveda. Imagine the money the Indian Sub-continent would have made had all this been patented. Especially in the world of internet and space programmes. In the world of couples yoga and dog yoga. In the world of Golden turmeric latte and texamati rice.

So, what better than to say Har Har Mahadev to this imaginative realm called the Hindu culture?

Look at these beautiful posters… and tell me this isn’t imagination flying. And why not?

We are celebrating Nataraja (lord of dance), the Adiyogi (the first Yogi, smoking a chillum), and the Shiva (In whom all things lie, pervasiveness, also liberation, moving from darkness of ignorance to light) today.  Such was the power he had attained over his body that poison failed to kill him, and the mind was untouched by the harmful effects of cannabis. He was generous, gracious, and had attained extreme perfection in the two things he is known for – Yoga, and Dance. His third eye indicates his heightened sense of intuition, which is known as the highest kind of intelligence.

If a man achieved this today, we’d call him God of yoga and dance, just like Sachin Tendulkar’s fans call him God of cricket. But because this happened aeons ago, it appears batshit crazy now. Except that this batshit crazy truly works – Indian classical dance is an amazing tool for story telling and expression of beauty. The yoga is helping more number of people in the West than ever to attain health, well-being, and money, even when practised and taught in an imperfect manner.

Is he divine? Yes. Through his contribution to the human race. Is he batshit crazy? Of course he is. You’d have to be, right?, doing what he did?

Why do men have such a difficult relationship with honour?

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There are few things men cannot do. Ask men, they’ll tell you they make the best chefs, Nobel laureates, mechanics, plumbers, sportspersons, doctors, engineers, politicians, leaders, everything.

They leave just one thing at the mercy of woman: honour. That, is a woman’s responsibility. In a woman’s honour lies that of the village, community, and society. So, she had better not lose it. Rather, she had better not loose herself. She need not be a chef, nor a Nobel laureate, nor mechanic, plumber, sportsperson, doctor, engineer, politician, or a leader or anything if she does not have this ‘Honour’.

Sharad Yadav’s latest speech made me go look up the word ‘honour’ in the dictionary. I knew it had to do something with respectability but I wanted more clarity. I find honour as a noun is about ‘high respect’, and ‘the quality of knowing and doing what is morally right’. Honour, as a verb, also means ‘to fulfill promises’, like when we say: he’s the kind of man that honours his word.

I think Sharad Yadav should do the same exercise. He seems to have mixed up ‘honour’ as a noun with ‘honour’ as a verb. He said in a recent speech of his, “The honour of being able to cast a vote is a much bigger honour than your daughter’s honour” (excerpted from a Times of India report link here).

Yes, there is honour in a citizen casting one’s vote, fulfilling one’s duty as a citizen – it’s an honorable thing to do. But, what does he mean by daughter’s honour?, I pray he explains. I’m assuming he won’t, based on a simple conjecture that he is incapable of doing so; for had he been able, this nastiness wouldn’t have erupted in the first place.

To the likes of Sharad Yadav, men have ‘honour’ as a verb while women have to contend with the ‘noun’. The dictionary is split down the middle. Men do, Women are.

Women have to wear the noun around their hips or they can’t be respectable. Men can simply talk about ‘honour’ and bingo, they’re respectable! It is indeed remarkable that in the world of men like Sharad Yadav, who value ‘honour’ of vote more than ‘honour’ of daughters that daughters are thrust with the responsibility of maintaining their honour while at the same time having their ‘honour’ attacked all the time, again by men like Sharad Yadav who enforce ‘honour’ upon these same women.

It’s basically an insidious patriarchal game where men decide what ‘honour’ is, whose burden it should be, and who is responsible for keeping it.

I hope I am not being too unjust in making this assumption about Sharad Yadav being another hopeless politician whose brain is addled with toxic patriarchy. I have these words of his to produce here: “If daughter’s honour is compromised, it only affects the village or community but if the vote’s honour is compromised, it impacts the entire nation.”

I want him to explain how exactly is a daughter’s honour compromised – who compromises her honour and through what actions. Also, if and when a daughter’s honour is compromised, how does it affect a whole village or a community? What has he done, if he has done anything at all, to ensure a daughter’s honour is not compromised?

And, why does he think a voter’s honour more important than that of a daughter? A daughter means 50% of our population and is also a voter. Moreover, daughters go through their lives every single day. A voter comes into the reckoning once every five years.

Finally, what about the honour of a man? Or does he think men don’t have to worry about honour? Is it found in the same place as it is not in a woman? Is that the reason why women have to have their honour ‘protected’ by men who are born honourable?

Have the likes of Sharad Yadav ever thought deeply about their issues with honour?

 

All Veg doesn’t mean fretting over protein

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Last week when I was watching ‘Dangal’ (great movie, by the way), I saw how the filmy Mahavir Singh Phogat played by Aamir Khan left no stone unturned to ensure his daughters, Geeta and Babita Kumari Phogat, got proper nutrition i.e. protein, after all they were training to become wrestlers. There’s a decent bit of spotlight on their mother’s staunch reluctance to allow the “chikken” into their home and hearth, leaving Mahavir to ask his nephew to build from a scratch a separate fireplace. As if that wasn’t enough, the nephew was also in charge of executing the recipe for chicken curry.

The mother, ably played by Indian soap opera sensation Sakshi Tanwar, was left to look on in dismay as the daughters learnt to eat up chicken. I belong to that significantly large community of vegetarians in India and I connected with that part of the story, maybe because in the first week of 2017 on the very second day of my free weights workout of which I’ve had just three so far, my trainer told me to bulk up on proteins. “You’re veg. So you don’t get enough proteins.” That was the verdict after my tryst with free weights (the lightest ones on the row).

So, back to the “chikken” scene in ‘Dangal’, I don’t know whether it truly happened in the lives of Mahavir Singh Phogat and his daughters, Geeta and Babita Kumari Phogat. And, while many who will choose to draw inspiration from this story of utter grit, belief, and valour, some part of it will go in the direction of adopting non-vegetarian food in order to achieve physical fitness.

Well, as per latest research, that is hardly necessary, according to this article in http://www.Scroll.in that says You Don’t Have to Feast on Meat to Get your Protein. This story is amazing as well. It speaks of Melbourne’s Andrew Taylor, the Spud Fit guy who ate nothing but potatoes, yeah spuds for all of 2016. He is @spudfit on Facebook and his website is http://www.spudfit.com, which also has a blog in which he talks about food minimalism, on how junk is punishment, not a reward.

In so many ways, spudfit seems like something that would give results totally opposite to being fit, since potatoes (and rice) are usually the first thing that people who are trying to lose weight and or getting fit rid their diets off. However, Andrew Taylor actually lost 53kgs over the year while eating only potatoes, usually mixing with nut or soya milk and at times a can of baked beans. It’s interesting how Taylor explains Spudfit challenge – it’s a challenge to get over your food addiction.

Taylor, who describes self as a thinker, learner, wannabe athlete, and a plant-eater, probably did not have to worry about where he was going to get his proteins from. I’m a plant-eater too and have been all my life and this question often pops up. And many Indian youngsters today might be thinking, particularly after what they see in ‘Dangal’ that to be strong and fighting fit, the one thing they need to do is switch to non-vegetarian diets.

That is the one thing that Taylor’s Spudfit debunks, supported by new research that says foods contain ‘Hidden Proteins’ that helps us make the recommended daily allowance (RDA). It’s something our mothers and grandmothers have known for long but we’ve chosen to ignore it. Note how Konkani and Maharashtrian diets prominently feature peanuts and sprouts, Punjabis eat paneer (cottage cheese) and dry fruits, South Indian food contains a lot of urad dal, fermented which also provide Vitamin B complex, and so on.

In any case, nutrition studies are mostly done on Western populations and Indians require a lower calorie count, relatively speaking. Unless, of course, you’re training to be a wrestler, probably. Then you surely need a lot more protein.

But, as far as the original post on the The Conversation by Jennie Jackson, a lecturer in human nutrition and dietitics says in How Much Protein Do You Really Need? that normally people would need 1.5-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. And this, apparently, is not hard to achieve even without the meat and poultry.

Taherians rejoice, 2017 is here

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It’s 365 minus 1 and it’s already too much to take.

Taher Shah in 2017

Little did I know that while we were performing our annual ritual of playing his videos on the 31st night, Taher Shah, the master of love, humanity, and angels and of course music (of the Angel and Eye to Eye fame) had let spill some more of his creativity into this world. Sharing his message in the link above.

Our Taher Shah ritual is a prelude to playing 80s and 90s Bollywood music late into the night as the old year gives way to the new. The exercise is reassuring in the sense that when you start a new year thus, it can’t really get worse. Something like when you break a glass vessel only to expect some chiding, scolding, and maybe shouting by mom and all she says is: “Oh, it’s glass that broke. Don’t worry, good things will happen now”. Ask her if you can go ahead and break more so best things can happen… Or don’t. So for me, Taher Shah’s albums fit into that category.

Taher Shah’s latest is a cat video, with golden trees and leaves, the master sitting on a golden throne-like chair, cradling a white cat. His message, a reiteration of love, humanity, and angels i.e. Farishta… ‘She will certainly return your love, just make it angelic and see’.

I only have one critique of his message, being inured to all things Taher Shah by now: the man-bun is actually nice. And am not missing the purple bathrobe either.

Anyway, adding this to my playlist for 31st December 2017, Are We There Yet?

Shoaib Daniyal’s intellectual high horse

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In the manner of all open letters, here I am, responding to Shoaib Daniyal’s article Indian Conception of Nationalism Borrows Heavily from Religion published by Scroll.in.

I’d start with asking Mr. Daniyal if he has read this superbly insightful book called ‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari. I wish he had; for he would have had no need to write his article, nor I, my response. I certainly do recommend reading The Sapiens and Harari’s latest, Homo Deus, which takes the subject a notch higher.

Anyway, Harari says in Sapiens that “Legends, myths, gods, and religions appeared for the first time with the Cognitive Revolution. Many animals and human species could previously say, ‘Careful! A Lion!’ Thanks to the Cognitive Revolution, Homo Sapiens acquired the ability to say, ‘The Lion is the guardian spirit of our tribe.’ This ability to speak about fictions is the most unique feature of Sapiens language.” In other words, religion exists only in human societies. Just like politics, arts, science, and even marketing :-). What makes all of these things possible is the human being’s ability to think and communicate in abstractions, go beyond what is here and now. It is a special ability and is unique to humans.

Harari offers a detailed explanation of why such fictions had to exist: “Such myths give Sapiens the unprecedented ability to co-operate flexibly in large numbers.”

Many creatures in the animal world are somewhat like us, they co-operate and work collectively: “Ants and bees work together in huge numbers but they do so in a very rigid manner and only with close relatives.” But, a Leftist-Marxist worker bee revolution against the Queen Bee i.e. monarchy isn’t going to come.

Wolves and Chimpanzees co-operate far more flexibly than ants, but they can do so only with small numbers of other individuals they know intimately. A lone wolf is a dead wolf when it comes across another wolf pack and chimps won’t ever manage to dominate the world with just one command: Go forth and multiply.

In this regard, particularly, Mr. Daniyal might like this line about ‘religion’ from Sapiens: “You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven.” The difference between humans and other creatures is that humans can convince another human to take his own life by promising him future glory or an interesting afterlife. And as a result, the human race has been able to accomplish for itself much more than all the other species for themselves combined.

Maybe Mr. Shoaib Daniyal doesn’t realize this but not just religions, all ideologies, all philosophies, all manners of schools of thought, even all cricket teams and football teams, all business organisations are pieces of fiction. Some are held together through cultural norms, some through legalities, most through both. Without creating these fictions, we cannot function well TOGETHER as a team, as co-workers, as citizens, as a society, as a culture; in fact, we can’t even do a Mexican wave across the stadium at a football match without a clear sense of a collective approach.

Why should nationalism be any different? Think of the world as a playground. Think of nations as territories and think of people within them as teammates. All nations are teams and they do everything within their power to further the interests of their teams. While the piece of land is real, no doubt, the team is a fiction. What was once a fiction named the Indian sub-continent is now a collection of fictions called India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Some amount of national feeling will be needed if national integrity is to be guarded. Why do liberals find this so hard to understand? If they think themselves to be global citizens, why don’t they enact this fiction first by renouncing their passports?

Mr. Daniyal, when he states that Indian nationalism borrows from religion, he thinks he is making an original observation. Clearly he isn’t.

Mr. Daniyal seems concerned that ‘Indian nationalism often fuses the Hindu conception of a female Shakti deity to literally imagine a national goddess, Bharat Mata’. 

Is it possible that he is ignorant of the existence of the idea of the ‘motherland’ in various other cultures? Or fatherland in case of Germany? He does start out correctly in mentioning the female Shakti deity and then disappoints with the suggestion that we Indians imagine our country as a national Goddess of sorts.

Mr. Daniyal seems to have misunderstood his fellow Indians: We imagine Bharat Mata in the image of our own mothers, is that so hard to see? If so, why? Mata means mother. In fact, we Indians even imagine our female deities as mothers – Maa Durga, Maa Kaali, Maa Sita, and so on. For us, motherhood is divine and mother is divinity. Sadly though, for liberals, nothing is or can be sacred. For them, this is paganism. The very paganism that has allowed them to thrive in this beautiful culture without a hate campaign, persecution, or a genocide.

Coming to the deity angle: If there is a deity angle here it is because in the Hindu culture, we are expected to revere our mothers as deities, for sure. Matrudevo Bhava, pitrudevo bhava… (Let your mother be respected as a devi, your father as a deva).

Now, what is a deity? It’s a loose translation of the word Devas and Devis, which literally means ‘givers’: those who give. These are not mythical beings, not magical beings, and not mystical beings. These are ordinary beings who have risen to extraordinariness of stature due to their special talents, abilities, and efforts. It’d be safe to assume that most of us would agree that our parents do perform an extraordinary role in our lives.

To explain further, in the Indian epics, Ram, Sita, Indra, etc. were all devas (devis). These deities all had mortal bodies and they had their imperfections, just like in Greek mythology. They were not Gods, that interpretation came about later. The concept of God, as in the all-pervading, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God of the Abrahamic tradition is totally and completely non-existent in the Hindu culture. Instead what is, is Brahma (cosmic consciousness or intelligence, known as creation in Abrahamic religions), which is related to the word Brahmand (The Universe, the physical manifestation of this cosmic intelligence), and the word Brahman (the knower, the intelligent one).

Bharat Mata, therefore, if she is revered as a devi, becomes a cultural norm that is only to be expected in a land that has stuck to its 5,000 year old culture despite everything. How else would you expect a common Indian to respond to the demands of a modern world cut up in chunks of nations within its stated borders?

In this context, what really is the problem? Is it possible that Mr. Daniyal doesn’t find this imagination secular enough? Or, is it that Mr. Daniyal doesn’t approve of the imagination at all, in the manner of warning us all against something akin to idol worship? Or is it that Mr. Daniyal simply doesn’t approve of this ’emotional’ and therefore unintellectual way of relating to one’s country and culture? Is he opposed to any national feeling? In that case, should he not take recourse to his ‘nationality’?

Another problem area Mr. Shoaib Daniyal has highlighted is the use of the term ‘martyr’ for Indian soldiers killed in combat, while stating that the Union government had clarified in the Lok Sabha that it does not use the term ‘Martyr’ to describe a soldier who had died in action. The reason for not using the term, as Mr. Daniyal puts it is: the word Martyr comes from a Greek word that literally means ‘witness’, refers to a Christian killed for his belief in Jesus. The term gained prominence in the first few centuries of the Christian Church in Rome, where the religion often faced persecution at the hands of Roman authorities.

Mr. Daniyal also says, “it is widely used in Indian English to refer to Indian armed personnel killed battling militants, say in Assam or Kashmir”. Please note the non-committal way this line comes about: Indian armed personnel battling militants. Militants, not terrorists.

In Mr. Daniyal’s world, utopian superhighways of logic and rational thinking cover the entire expanse of the collective minds where none thinks differently and they ride on and on, on their intellectual high horses not eating or drinking or cultivating or producing a single thing. Because, all of these activities would require people to work together and that’s not possible without some form of organization. Such organisations would require fictions of community, society, religion, etc AND THAT WOULD BE UNACCEPTABLE. Besides, everyone would want to ride their high horses, who would want to work to produce, cultivate, or construct or even care about it all?

That’s why he uses the word militants and not terrorists. The word Terrorists would imply a judgement against people willing to die for their ’cause’ which may be a religion or an ideology, a judgement that intellectuals such as Mr. Daniyal are wont to make; but the same intellectuals leave no effort to deride that collective of people who is willing to die to protect the existing order of their society: their country.

They will not judge the terrorist for his religiously motivated zeal to destroy but will readily judge people trying to protect themselves from that terrorist through collective nationalistic feeling. They will call nationalism religion-like, because in this case it is the Hindu “religion” being referenced, but will not question religion itself and its contours because here he would have to talk about other main religions, i.e. Christianity and Islam, thanks to which the Indian sub-continent has had to split up in various chunks that sing different national anthems, i.e. accepting Christian hymnody.

Anyway, coming back to the term ‘Martyr’, the use of which Mr. Daniyal terms as theological cross-pollination, he deftly links it to the Supreme Court order that makes it mandatory for the National Anthem to be played in movie theatres. He cites the order: “All present in the hall are obliged to stand up to show respect to the National Anthem.”

Mr. Daniyal rightly points out that the concept of national anthem comes to India from Europe, tracing its origins to the Christian hymnody, and yes, he’s right that in this regard, standing up was a mark of respect. He also offers a counter – a kirtan or a qawwali is performed sitting down and, one would assume, the singer or the audience means no disrespect. He sounds concerned that ‘as in the case of martyr, without realizing it, Indian nationalists are importing elements of organized religion to give shape to their conception of community’.

And I see that Mr. Shoaib Daniyal is absolutely right in diagnosing the problem. You see, the Hindu culture of Sanaatan Dharma has absolutely no concept of martyrdom. We also have absolutely no history of having a National Anthem. Later, the kings did have emblems and flags, but no National Anthem. That came from India’s ties with Christianity and the Christian invasion, or in other words, the East India Company – the British raj, the Christian Missionary.

But, maybe Mr. Daniyal should be equally concerned about how this hymnody has now gone universal – I don’t know of any country that doesn’t have a National Anthem, doesn’t have a set of rules observant upon how to respect National symbols, doesn’t take pride in its National symbols.

Does Mr. Daniyal have any problem with any other country having all these symbols of nationalism? Perhaps not, because and only because no other country’s people call their motherland Bharat Mata. He probably finds it confusing that a people who imagine their nation in Hindu finery accept Christian hymnody. And, this is why he should understand India better. The Hindu culture has openly welcomed all religions and kept them safe – ask the Zoroastrians, ask the Jews. If at all he wants to ask this question about being influenced by Christian hymnody, he should put it to Islamic states.

Finally, Mr. Daniyal doesn’t like the fact that our nationalism is too rooted in our territories. This is what he has to say: “Today, nations will be ready to pay immensely in terms of lives and money to maintain the integrity of their map. This is true even for seemingly pointless strips of land – think the Falklands war between Argentina and the UK, or the Siachen conflict closer home.”

To this, I have nothing to say but quote Donald Trump, “We are a nation and nations have borders”. Liberal intellectuals steeped in the idea of globalized world fail to understand this at their own peril. Siachen, to Mr. Shoaib Daniyal, is a pointless strip of land. Tomorrow, he’ll call Kashmir so, to be followed by West Bengal, possibly Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, and then maybe Hyderabad, and maybe Uttar Pradesh, and then who knows… “Bharatmaa tere tukde hongey” (that chant of JNU intellectuals whence Kanhiya Kumar’s fame came and went) … you know where this is going, right?

The parallel between nationalism and religion notwithstanding, I would advise Mr. Shoaib Daniyal to take heart: at least, unlike the very imagined ‘kingdom of heaven’ and the afterlife, nations truly exist. India exists. Indians exist. We, as one country, do exist.

 

 

 

 

Planning on 2017

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2017 is coming. Start planning for a great year ahead. No point wishing. Just get down to it and make it happen.

Three focus areas:

  1. Learning
  2. Finance
  3. Efficiency

Learning: Plan what you want to invest your talents in this year. I’ve started with making a list of books I want to read and a list of courses I want to do.

Finance: Plan what all you can do and how best to do so. Number crunching.

Efficiency: Plan how you can optimise all your plans and maximise its impact. This third one will impact the first two. Choose wisely.

 

Demonetisation in India exposes a sad sorority of married women

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November 8 will go down in history as an earthquake that shook the entire India. And not because that’s the day when Donald Trump was elected POTUS. It was because our Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the demonetisation scheme that made notes of Rs.500 and Rs.1000 illegal tender. Overnight, nearly 70% of all cash circulating within the country was not worth the price of the paper it was printed on.

The move was termed as a masterstroke in the government’s fight against black money, which is a major source of funding for terror acts within the country, be it in Kashmir or in Naxal-affected areas, or elsewhere. Limits were imposed on exchange of money – a paltry sum of Rs.4000 in cash could be exchanged at one go at the bank, and in that too, it was made mandatory to bring your ID proof. The government was counting and the taxman was watching. For the first time, black money hoarders and tax evaders had no clue what to do.

But these aren’t the only people that were scared. There was another class that found the move completely daunting and intimidating. Married Indian women. Women who were dependent on their family’s largesse of TLC and money. Women who had been squirreling away the money from their household expenses basket in order to keep cash at hand for a rainy day. This sounds dishonest but it most certainly isn’t.

Most of this money ends up in their secret stash through diverting it from where it was meant to be spent: her children want to eat ice-cream, she cajoles them to share one ice-cream cone rather than have one each. She needs a new pair of sandals but she takes her well-worn pair to the cobbler and buys a new one for half the price of the money she has. Her daughter needs a new dress so she fashions one out from one of her saris that she got in her trousseau that is now gathering dust. Instead of buying veggies from the vendor that comes to her doorstep, she takes a bus ride into the outskirts to find cheaper supplies. She doesn’t buy a new sari to attend her cousin’s wedding. She borrows it from a neighbour. This secret stash is achieved by the dint of years and years of sacrifice and severe monitoring of cash flows.

And these are not just lower middle class or uneducated women doing so. This sorority also includes upper middle class women whose family dynamics are far from being dysfunctional, at least by definition. These are women who could trust their spouse enough to have children with them but not with candour about why they needed some cash kept aside.

Their secret stash comes in handy when her daughter needs pocket money for her school picnic that her father is skeptical about; when her son wants a new pair of bright sneakers for sports day; when her own mother wants the new alternative medicine that the son she stays with would refuse her because it is extra expenditure; when she wants her father to take money from her instead of taking a loan; when she wants it for something she can’t tell her husband about lest he shouts at her, and becomes suspicious of her spending away all ‘his hard-earned money’; when her own mother-in-law suddenly collapses and cash has to be arranged for emergency care at the hospital; when she would need it to secure her own freedom after her husband drinks himself to death and penury.

These are limited scenarios but not untrue. 80% of India’s women remain outside of the banking system. Finances are controlled by the men in the family. Close to 49% of Indian population is comprised of women. There are inheritance rights and Hindu women have been granted equal rights to all inheritance but equal inheritance is not an equality yet. Daughters are blackmailed emotionally and sometimes literally into forfeiting their right. If they still fight it, they are shamed by the society.

The Indian mainstream media and the social media have aptly captured the plight of all these women. Countercurrents.org has written a long one about how demonetisation is an unfolding tragedy for women (link here), TheLadiesFinger too recounts stories of such women (Link here), while scroll.in details how women are scrambling to link here salvage their savings. There are many more.

Revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia has clarified that small businesses, women, housewives, will face less scrutiny while depositing their savings in 500-1000 notes up to Rs. 2-2.5 lakh, so long as it is all accounted for in the household’s income. But this has failed to bring relief to our sorority girls.

In what is the saddest part of this story, our sorority sisters are probably not that afraid of the country’s government. What they are afraid of is the powers-that-be at home.

40-year-old Eshwarramma from Chikaballapur in Karnataka killed herself on November 14 after losing her savings of Rs.15,000 while on her way to the bank to deposit her money. Her husband Nagappa was an alcoholic and had almost abandoned their family. She was a day labourer and is survived by a son.

My previous domestic help had lost Rs. 20,000 in a local village-level ponzi scheme she had invested in, keeping it from her driver husband who was having an affair with a fellow driver’s wife. He used to beat her up for every little thing, right in front of her two young sons. She wanted to secure their future while ignoring her husband’s selfish indulgences.

Another domestic help was working 8 hours at my place after working all the rest at hers to support the education of her two young sons. Her husband is an autorickshaw driver whose vehicle EMI was being paid from her salary. When I took her to the bank to make a fixed deposit in her name, we couldn’t because the signature on her PAN card did not match. It was her husband who had put her name down, not she. There was no way she could access her own Jan Dhan account.

Another woman who worked at my place is a sole breadwinner in a family of eight. She has been duped by her own brother, who offered to help her buy a house. Her husband is a security guard and spends most days drinking after he was kicked out of his job.

A friend who lives in a super affluent joint family can’t buy a laptop because her husband would laugh at her, she being “just a housewife”. She’s looking to buy a used one from her savings, a purchase she’ll disguise as a gift from her cousin.

A distant aunt recently declared a secret stash of Rs.50,000 to her husband, to face much mocking and derision for her secretive nature, and not credit for her frugality.

Media calling the demonetisation step monstrous for robbing the peace of mind of these women need to look at the larger picture. These women do not have the luxury of peace of mind. Much like the government that has for decades rewarded a system where crooks and power-hungry are emboldened and get richer, our society supports a family system where hierarchy-driven patriarchy is emboldened and controls the money.

Media has brought forth all these stories of financial heartbreak of women but a rejoicing for their relatives. But they have failed to notice where all this comes from – control women’s birth. Suppress their education. Let them remain dependent on family. And last but not the least, blame them for their lower status in the society. Repeat.

In this sense, the good, clean, honest man in the Indian polity can be compared to a housewife. So far, he couldn’t question the government. He was too busy trying to make clean money so that at least 1 chapati out of all three his wife cooked could go towards feeding the babus and the politicians. He had to furnish a clean bill of expenses every time he went out shopping. Probably that’s why he is largely supportive of the government’s move.

The honest man is happy today because the government has taken a step that he believes will, in the long run, benefit the country by penalising the tax evaders and black money marketers. When will a housewife experience such relief, I wonder.

The housewife is in a state of quandary. But this just compounds an already dysfunctional situation. She fights day in and day out. She survives. She will continue to survive. This is but a sad comment on the social state of affairs and what passes of as a “family” in India. She can’t trust anyone for understanding her. Not even her spouse.

 

 

The Right is Rising on a Heap of Labels of Hate

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They say it’s the new right that’s rising across the world.

Huh. Right, left, center, left of center, right of center… labels.

Sexist, racist, homophobe, Islamophobe… just a few… but labels again.

Liberal, Neo-liberal, elite, noble, progressive, modern… again labels.

The rise of the right has brought two major changes in 2016: Brexit, and now, Trump. Actually, some who think the world exists beyond The West, would club India’s current BJP government into the same list. That happened two years back. But then, the European Union has been seeing the rise of its Right for quite some time too. Of course, there’s Turkey still happening, unfolding.

And I’m amazed that people around the world are shocked that Donald Trump won the American Presidency. Identifying these people shouldn’t be too difficult. We can safely say that they are ‘liberals’ of a certain sort and definitely to a certain degree. Those raising a big hue and cry are, largely, educated people, products of the Western education system, whether they reside in the US, the EU, or India. Educated people who, when they were discussing the elections in their daily walk of life, had no clue that a lot of people around them were maybe just nodding to what they were saying, and that when it came to the D-Day had completely different plans about what they were going to do.

To imagine the number of people who hid behind a facade of liberalism waiting to vote Trump as soon as they stepped into the privacy of the voting booth. If the liberals see this as a sabotage of their liberal la-la land to turn out in protests, there’s no surprise in it. They looked so down upon these people that their real agenda  had to be hid from them, their exit polls, their media, everyone. It’s almost like a guerrilla strategy. With generous help from the media.

Back in India, the US elections were a much followed event and the diaspora leading us to believe, just like in the US, that Hillary had it in the bag. The media bought it and sold it too. Talk about POTUS Hillary Clinton was almost like fait accompli – The Newsweek coming out with ‘Madam President’ issue, which it has now withdrawn. And perhaps that’s why, when the fall came, it hurt so bad.

Why was it like a fait accompli? Because someone as sexist, as racist, a rapist, stupid, as unsuccessful in biz as Donald Trump could hardly be elected President. This was the argument on good days. On bad days, it was orange coloured mango with crazy straw hair and a dumb trophy beauty-queen wife who plagiarised Michelle Obama’s speech. And yet, it happened.

When they go low, we go high, said the liberals. And I really wish they could. But by shaming those who saw something in voting for Trump as the ‘Deplorables’, the liberals showed they were none the better. It’s a very strong word. It means: Deserving strong condemnation, completely unacceptable; also, shockingly bad in quality; very bad in a way that causes shock, fear, or disgust.

What or who is a liberal? By definition, one who is willing to respect or accept opinions different from one’s own. Not mock, insult, or humiliate. But that’s theory. In practice, being a liberal means looking down upon everyone who looks at things differently, is less educated, is less politically correct and so on.

It followed later that HRC won the popular vote, but there’s not a bat’s chance in hell the electoral college will declare her Madam President. That’s what makes this a very bitter defeat. The US is tottering on the edge of violent protests and rioting as large groups denounce Trump and his supporters. Already, a few instances of hate-filled dialogue in public have sounded an alarm. Public morale is low and Hillary has blamed James Comey for dealing the final blow to her campaign. It did, am sure, in a way, but I don’t think she did much to reduce the impact.

Finally, what I’ll say is this. While the liberal-minded HRC did go the politically incorrect way of denouncing Trump supporters as the deplorables – for the White House really should not be the residence of a racist, a sexist, and a sexual abuser, or for that matter any public office –  if you’re looking to blame someone for this fiasco for the world and not just for the US, it’s in the fact that Trump was even considered for running for the President. That’s what is truly deplorable. The next deplorable thing is to call a quarter of Americans who are eligible to vote, The Deplorables (Vox Article). That’s not the RIGHT way to go about it.

Ditch the labels. Stop using them for political gain. Look at each individual voter who has some expectations from you. Stop mocking them for having them. Stop dividing people for personal gain.

 

Delhi being smoggered, which city is next?

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What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I wish.

I’m talking about Delhi smog, which has led Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to call the city that is also the national capital, a ‘Gas Chamber’.

For the first time, I think, we are in some serious competition with China, as apparently, 1/10th of the China’s land area is covered in heavy smog. Well, Delhi’s smog is 4 times the levels at which Beijing declares it an ’emergency’. At places, the pollution levels are 17 times the ‘safe’ limit. Schools are shut for 3 days.

The Delhi government did call for a meeting this morning to discuss the issue. As for causes, the use of firewood, coal, diesel, petrol and burning of agricultural waste were found to be the culprits. They say it is crop stubble burning in the neighbouring states of Delhi that is  largely responsible for such pollution. Not firecrackers.

Now, exactly a week ago, it was the Diwali weekend. Diwali is one of the most important festivals in the Hindu tradition. Celebrations involve bursting of crackers, which, no doubt contribute to the pollution in general. Specifically though, they add sulphur and phosphorous and other such chemicals that are noxious when inhaled.

Last weekend, #PollutionFreeDiwali trended heavily on Twitter with people asking that use of crackers be dumped to reduce pollution at which people lashed back calling the others anti-Hindus, asking why this selective festival shaming was being done and so on.

Well, as far as pollution levels go, it’s the highest today, 7 days after Diwali. Much higher than the morning after the big celebration. Obviously, there’s a lot more going on.

The Delhi government has cited crop-burning in the neighbouring states as a major reason. But, there’s a very interesting thread on Twitter that questioned why places where crop burning was actually happening i.e. Rohtak, Punjab, etc. had much lower pollution levels than did Delhi.

It seems this is a combination of factors and behind it all, lies civic apathy and government’s lack of interest. The latter might change with the pollution problem coming to its head. Kejriwal is mulling over bringing back the odd-even formula when it comes to using private vehicles. Sheer tokenism, of course.

Our politicians advise reducing the use of private vehicles without ensuring effective, adequate, punctual, and safe public transport while they themselves travel in convoys of 6-8 cars for even intra-city jaunts.

Our public transport is in doldrums.

Our buses are gas-guzzling mammoths that are ill-maintained, less frequent, and fewer in number than what is required. There has been no tech or design upgrade over the years or even route optimisation. As a result, they occupy large spaces on roads, and often go empty.

Our trains, while they constitute the largest railway network in the world, too are often poorly maintained, especially the toilets, often not on time, and often considered unsafe for travel especially for women. Upon The Railways’ own admission, blankets on trains are washed maybe once in 2 months (You smelt it right…), and services are pretty bad – you won’t find good food even on long-haul routes.

No sooner are bus-stops are erected than bits of the metal railing and seating are stolen. Never to be replaced. No helpline phones, no vending machines nearby. Because of course, if you create assets you’ll have to spend on guarding them too. And that will never work in here, where people will steal even a manhole (drain) cover and leave a drain exposed.

Where transport services are involved, for instance in the case of autorickshaws, the drivers are a vote bank and will use political muscle to ask for a raise, to protest petrol price hike, etc. The government has no objection when they refuse to ply their customer, which is supposed to be their duty. Their welfare at the cost of the consumer is the government’s mantra. The easy way out.

When cab aggregators such as Uber/Ola arrive, the government should help them strengthen their network and services instead, it allows autos to strike in opposition to these cab services taking away their market share. It also allows cab aggregators to use non-transparent structures for surge pricing, instead of monitoring their functioning so that the common man is not inconvenienced. The aim should be to keep private vehicle ownership to a minimum and such services can go a long way in ensuring this.

The government provides metro services in cities but without supplying it with a feeder bus system so that a metro traveller can be duly incentivised to use the Metro. Mumbai has a local train network and the city pays the most tax in the country and yet, there is no AC on any of the trains. Every year, people die on these trains of suffocation; yes, you read it right.

So, all I have to say is, this too shall pass. With a little help from N95 pollution masks and ENT doctors and anti-allergic medications. Those with the means will invest in air purifiers. And politicians will go on doing what they do. At the expense of people who elect them to positions of power.

Don’t say I shouldn’t blame the government. I do. The government should know better than 90% of its people. It has the means and resources to study issues, take empowered decisions and implement them, but it doesn’t. What it does is blame the people.

When will people understand..

That what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.