Tuesday, June 7

मुट्ठी भर आसक्ति

रोशनी का दाना आज मुकाम पे गिरा है
कई साल बाद मन की मैहफ़िल में शरीक़ हुआ है,
मेरे उस रेगिस्तान में आँसू की झड़ी सा आया है
जहाँ पीपल के वृक्ष लहलहाते नहीं, हवा चलती नहीं|

यहाँ मन खोलने के द्वार हैं बंद,
शब्द में फँसे हुए अभिमन्यु हैं सब,
जवाब-सवाल बेशुमार हैं, पहचान का ठप्पा हैं,
पर पहचानने वाला सूरज का घुड़सवार नहीं|

अब जानिए मेरी मेहरबानी, कि इस वीराने में
वह आया है, ज़िंदगी और मौत को एक में समेटे हुए,
वह क्रांति की चिल्लाती मशाल नहीं, जो भस्म करे,
न हवा से लड़ने वाला दीप, जो कवियों का शिकार बने|

सिर्फ़ कहीं चमकता इंसान का आवास है,
जहाँ बारिश का नाच है, मैले मौसम की खुश्बू है,
ज़िंदगी के अथक प्रवासों में मेरी बरक़रार स्मृति है
जो भटकते मुझ को भी देती है उस की चौखट के दर्शन|


Thursday, January 7

the researchers, the scavengers

A couple of years back or less, I witnessed a very disturbing scene: some field researchers, who had talked over the past three days a lot of poverty of people, decried castes and had vociferously let everyone known that they had very well subscribed to Western vacuity of intellect, sat down, at the end of their workshop, for a very expensive dinner, drinking Indian wine that costed at least 700 Indian rupees per glass or beer, and eating pastas at 300 rupees plus.** Some months back, I assisted a French director in finalizing her documentary's subtitles: she was making it on Indian pollution and healthcare system. When she realized that the guy interviewed was not critical of the government in some of the portions she had shot in India, she just decided to remove them: that wouldn't suit her documentary, after all. I know that no photo, no film is objective: but I thought that it was because of our subconscious dictating, guiding, not our conscious self. In the past couple of months, I have, not very willingly, come into contact with the esoteric, self-congratulating circles of researchers: they go on some itinerary of six months in remote Indian villages, interpret everything through their lens and triumphantly pronounce those results, "building on" past work: for to be considered as an academic, they have to reference, and qualify each of their statements - no, not with feeling, not with emotion, not with intuition - but with previous similarly jaundiced eyes and their visions. They sit so smugly around a table: when they discuss Kabir, they always remind me of the doctor's receptionist. The doctor's receptionist always gives herself so much airs: as if she were wielding the stethoscope, not the guy within. (Some may sniff sexism here: the receptionist is a woman, the doctor is a guy. They can join the other smug ones round that table.) And the doctor himself, Kabir, so humble himself, all absorbed in his craft.

But receptionists do not have much of a value except for a patient to skip a queue. However, academics, unfortunately, do. These receptionists guide people's stereotypes about places and peoples: always pretending to be objective. But I would much love to listen to a song, from heart and so subjective, than to a typewriter, so objective, isn't it? They are bored, they feed on tea and cakes, they flatter you and expect to be flattered, and rarely they get a bone to pick with some other smug companion, and then both tear into each other, while the rest of the world celebrates their "rivalry". I sometimes wonder, during one of their theses or lectures or whatever: can a child speak, interrupt, sing, shout, play? If she cannot, then is it worthwhile, meaningful?

Note: Not all researchers are like that. But many are.

** I was to learn later, through living in the West, that there should have been nothing shocking: that they were thoroughly Westernized (through Indian educational system). The traditional Western culture, a product of Christian Church mentality, has led to people wearing garbs: to put it in more understandable terms, if you have seen Ben Hur, Pontius Pilate admonishes Ben Hur (Heston) that I speak to you as a friend, but once I cross those stairs, I command you as a governor. The same man: two different garbs. This is practically implemented in France: for example, people cannot wear religious symbols to government work, so a professor can wear a turban at home but not to university. Slip off your religion dress; wear the state dress now. More importantly, people's beliefs are taken to be something as "slip-off-able". And hence the story of almost every Western philosopher: they spin esoteric, incomprehensible philosophies at the debating desk, and then they return to their life of philandering and bitching. Hence the Rushdies of this world: write bad, popular prose, then return to lust after women as horrible as that prose.


Saturday, October 10

Ctrl+C - undo - redo: the cycle

Amid chattering brothels,
like a ghaghra mirrorwork, no one
is at home, but everyone lounges
in blouses of lust and ambition;

smoke and rose floats in the air
making the world a forgetful affair,
lined with avenues to traverse, with
paints to peel, stairs to climb;

no one has company, but like
ping-pong, or ions in excitation,
they rise and decay, swaying hips together,
crossing bloodlines, in utter nakedness;

their I is weak, waiting to be picked up
in amsterdam windows; they nudge
all beauty into bitterness, for
when they fuck, no star moves.


Friday, September 4

The European migrant crisis: a way forward

I am not writing here to debate the pros and cons of Germany-led encouragement of taking in more migrants: this argument is too murky to have one correct answer. Truth may not be, is often not, unique or universal. There are opinions of all shades: fear or panic among peoples of Europe, further fuelled by extremist right-wing hooligans and their groups and parties that harbour them; and those immature ones who jump onto a picture of a dead child and then demand unconditional opening up of borders and try to bring about a European Spring. In the world of digital media, mass hysteria is easy to generate: not just for a lynching which was traditional, but also for welcoming a new family. Some of the same people who are so enthusiastic for "adopting" a migrant family will not be very kind to another idea of a societal system, though, which they would call as patriarchally patronising. It is all very good and easy to be the humane human when faced with stories of hardship and poverty, but all that often vanishes in more comfortable circumstances, when the migrant you welcomed thinks that girls should not go to school. In modern, educated world, "integration" is usually one-way: to the values of what is thought of as progressive, to whatever is considered as an inviolable human right. So even if a few millions of migrants live in Germany, the result will be a shored-up German-ness: school won't teach you migration histories and lessons, until at least half a century later, when the world's problems will have moved on; in school, you will learn the Prussian empire and the rest, even if you come from Kosovo or the Swat valley. All arguments will be centred on taxpayers: after all, integration is willed by the taxpayers and is done accordingly. It is not the shepherds of the Swat who are paying to keep you free in a school.

And so, I am writing here just to try to understand what could happen with these mass migrations in terms of changes in history, and what Europe could do to alleviate some of the potential consequences that seem concerning. At the same time, this is a time when no one could really predict anything: European and world history is changing at a great pace, but the ramifications are hard to anticipate in their plenitude. Maybe, a hundred years on, hindsight will give better answers.

Parts of Continental Europe, such as the Nordic countries, have traditionally been very homogeneous (and even homogenous) regions. Even southern or eastern Europe, though a bit more diverse, have a dominant Christian, mostly Catholic or Orthodox Christian, past. In the past few decades, this uniformity has already been disturbed quite a lot, especially in the metropolises such as Paris or Milan. The oil politics and rising labour costs (a consequence of Europe's probably failed socialist system of social security) led to the need for cheap labour: France used Algerians and other North Africans, Germany used the Turkish and Eastern Europeans, and so on. In the past decade and a half, Sweden has welcomed many refugees, including many Tamils from Sri Lanka (a wiser investment than the North Africans in terms of returns they would get, because of the differing skill levels). At the same time, none of the mainland European countries has been very open to entry of highly skilled workers, with particular reticence from countries such as France, where nationalism survives very strongly in the form of pride felt over the French Revolution of 1789. This is now changing of course: in the past five years, Europe has woken up to the fact that it has to concede that US continues to reign and Asia is fast catching up with the US and leaving Europe much behind. Ageing populations have led to ever increasing labour costs, and heavy spending on welfare as well as information services such as museums lead to an augmenting expenditure front. (Yes, cities like Paris or Florence earn a lot precisely because of those galleries and museums, but such is not the case for many other regions. The debate as far as incoming tourism is concerned is ages old: high numbers at low margins [i.e., Europe with a cheap cost of living, and hence more tourists and visitors, but hence less profit per customer to the service provider], or low numbers at high margins?)

Increasing migration is breaking up this. While I personally believe that it is any human's right to go wherever he or she pleases without constraints or barriers, such a belief is caught up in the current Westphalian model, an idea whose terror is exacerbated by the ill-advised social security systems, funded through taxpayers, of many European countries. For those who do not understand social security, it is simple enough to understand: keep a man poor and hungry, so that when he falls sick, the doctor can treat him for free. (There are variants of this socialist system, of course: for example, in France, keep a man poor and hungry, so that when someone else falls sick, the doctor can treat him for free; after all, the other man is also being kept poor and hungry for you. A socialist system is much worse than the capitalist system, wherein you eat and drink as you earn, but you do have to pay to the doctor as well. It is however, at least, much better than a consumerist system, where the neighbour is having deer venison, and so you get credit to eat it as well even if you don't earn to afford to eat it: and then you also pay for the doctor after being unable to digest that fine piece of meat.) Europe has unfortunately followed this socialist model of things, something that is now coming to haunt it. For, why do migrants prefer Europe? A key answer is social security: unemployment benefits or allowances, medical cover, provision of minimum wages, etc. The profile of migrants and a country will determine now what will the net effect be: if a country requires cheap labour, then it is good to have some unskilled and semi-skilled immigrants, even if one needs to take into account the social security costs. If a country requires skilled labour, which also leads to large long-term benefits in general (the US is a classic example), then it is good to have skilled migrants (however, the current crisis seems to feature these in much lower numbers). But it is not that simple: such a matching is not possible, and anyway migrants do not come in predefined proportions. Also, they bring wives, give birth to children and later on call relatives to stay: the network spreads. Add to that another religion, another culture: and the fear of losing one's traditions starts preying on people's minds. A foregone conclusion is rise in hooliganism and appeal of right-wing extremist parties, and in its own cycle, later on, the reemergence of socialist parties. Oscillating between the two, with even faster spins spurred on by Facebook and Twitter, the whole screwing-up process sets itself into motion at a dizzying pace.

But now that the migrants are there and are going to be there, what can Europe do? For me, in education lies all the answer. That does not mean asking the migrants to speak German at home, as a Christian party in Germany wanted to. That means something completely opposite: meet migrants halfway, rather than expecting them to "integrate." Change your education curricula to reflect the challenges thrown by globalisation: migration into Europe or any other seemingly attractive region is now inevitable, given how much the world has globalised, and such movements will only intensify in the future. From hunter-gatherers, we became sedentary; now, we again become foragers of a different sort. (We have even many selves now, and maybe in twenty years, our virtual self can deal with some fun in another place than our real self, who may enjoy of course the virtual self's pleasures in real or deferred time, as per choice. But let's not distract ourselves here.) To oppose entry of mass numbers may be a viable point in some countries, but only for now and not for ever: only because they may be unprepared, but not because they have the right to write down some place's culture and religion and beliefs in stone. People have always moved, and will. And hence it is important to teach but also to learn: to give leadership roles to those who come, to change school and university curricula so as to reflect new histories (so that the new arrivals can connect with it) and languages, and to talk a common language of humanity rather than language of country, continent, religion or gender. An other must not be othered, by patronising or teaching him or her the 'European' or the 'socialist' values: maybe, it's also time to have a look again at some of those values. Nothing should be inscribed in stone, including the universal declarations of human rights. Nothing should be left unquestioned.

Some core European pet projects, such as the Schengen zone, will come under pressure now. However, abandoning them will also make Europe very uncompetitive: at this juncture of world affairs and a not very confidence-inspiring euro, Europe can hardly afford to do so. However, not everyone can live in Sweden or West Germany: I assume that after a certain threshold, migrants themselves will look to other areas. Border controls could of course be reestablished, but that would be a dangerous step also in political terms: a borderless Europe has been envisaged to avoid another world war emanating from this continent. If left to fester in isolation behind passports, fences and wooden officers, smaller countries of Europe may give dangerous power in the hands of disgruntled, profiteering elements. And yet, if such an argument holds for Europe, then why not for the world? The best way to demolish your adversary is to understand him or her: because then he or she is not the adversary anymore. The best way to demolish Islamist terrorism, often cited as one of the fears by those who oppose migration, is to understand—and not patronise—who think your values as suspect. No one owns the truth, mostly—neither they, nor you.


Wednesday, July 8

Ashes 2015 in England: Preview

This Ashes looks quite close to call, even though the media is viewing Australia as clear favourites and even though the final result might be pretty one-sided: this series will basically depend on how Australia will bowl to Cook, and even if they bowl well with the Dukes ball to Cook, can Cook bring his best onto the field? Cook's batting, in short, will define the results: and that is why it is hard to predict. I think, judging from what I saw of him in the New Zealand series, Cook is in close to his best form, so England stand a very good chance: and to convert that chance into some clear winnings in the bank, Cook needs to be a bit smart. No, not about field placements that much: but more about batting order plus bowling changes. The latter is where Cook often misses out.

Cook needs to use the spinners intelligently: Moeen, Root and, if need be, Rashid. I rate Root highly for getting tailenders out, as he bowls wicket to wicket and fast, whereas tailenders tend to be swashbuckling. Wood and Root would be an ideal pair to bowl if conditions are benign and tailenders are there on the crease: for me, that point is important, because it was Haddin and the tailenders of Australia who contrived that 5-0 whitewash Down Under. Unfortunately, Cook seems to use Root as the last resort, and that too for not too long: somehow, he keeps using Stokes in such situations, which only plays in the hands of the opposition, as we saw in both WI and NZ series. Stokes might get a wicket here or there with fast toe-crushers, but he is what the tailenders also like: ball coming fast onto bat to hit it with freedom. No Stokes, no Broad in such situations. I don't think Cook is going to read this, so I don't think much will change on the field. Similarly the other things: even in that famous series in India which Cook won, he used to place a third man from the very start for Virender Sehwag, fearing an out-of-form man even. That he escaped then does not mean that that will keep on happening: Cook places third mans too often and short legs too rarely. Fortunately, he has started getting the knack of keeping some leg slips and some very short covers, so he is progressing. Cook also needs to sort out his batting order; for me, Root should be at 4 or 3, he is their best bat actually. Dropping Ballance to 5 might help as well, because Ballance seems to be a person who feeds on the tone already set: he does not seem to be someone who can set the tone. Root is someone who does that; Cook also does it, even though people deride him for being slow, and as does Lyth. Ideally, Bell and Ballance should not have a place really in this team, for in modern cricket, you cannot be unable to set the tone of the match you want to. You don't want to, that's OK, but not that you cannot. Keep Stokes in the team for all matches but don't give him the ball when Haddin, Johnson and co. are out there: unless he's really in some matchwinning spell. And give him short spells: use him in the Johnson way. I do rate Stokes highly with bat: I would even like to drop Ballance altogether, and move Stokes and Moeen all up by one place (Moeen should come before Buttler), and also have Finn or Rashid as a bowler. Attacking cricket is the best way for England to beat the Aussies.

As for the Aussies, it is not that they are very good: many of them are bits and pieces players, like Mitchell Marsh or Watson, or just flashy blades with hardly anything else, like Warner and Haddin. However, they feed on confidence and bullying: and that is what they will do. Their confidence-damaging tricks compensate easily for the lack of talent in their ranks. They have only two really good players for me in their ranks: Michael Clarke and Nathan Lyon. I have always rated Lyon highly as a spinner, and the English must be careful to not to lose soft wickets to him: especially aggros like Stokes and people suspect against spin like Ballance. They also have an in-form bowler like Starc: he is not top quality for me, as he sprays it too much around as well, a bit of on and off day player, but he is right now in form, so if England can dent his confidence early on, half the contest will be won. For denting Starc means denting Johnson and all others: for me, Ryan Harris was really good, but he's retired. Siddle is large-hearted but not that talented. So Cook is key, as I said at the very beginning: for Cook and Lyth and the no. 3 will have to do that job of denting Starc - and hence I would like to see Root or, if not Root, Bell at no. 3, and not Ballance. For I don't have the confidence that Ballance can dent Starc. Lyth also does not inspire me with great confidence for now, but I'd like him to get the long rope: all 5 matches. Steven Smith is another man in the form of his life: his game has improved highly, but I doubt if he can continue that way in English conditions, especially if Cook makes the right bowling changes. Wood should be key against Smithy. But I like Smith otherwise; he's a nice lad and has talent and youth. When he comes next time to England, he will probably be the most dangerous Australian in their party. Voges is solid and might prove hard to dislodge, and Aussie tailenders all bat quite well and aggressively, so England cannot relent. That is why I would like England to drop Ballance and play a 5-man attack. Broad bowled quite well against NZ, but I still would play Finn rather than Broad if it's going to be a 4-man attack. I think England will just stick with Broad for the first 2 matches, the safely conservative choice, and then see what happened. Both sides' tails in fact play quite well, but Australia's attack is better, especially as they have a good spinner: however, if Cook has blunted the Aussie attack, the English tailenders can also make merry. For that to happen, Broad needs to bat at 11, below Anderson: at least, it will rub Broad's ego the wrong way, and he might want to prove a point, get back to no. 9 or 8 even. These are little, percentage things: but modern cricket is fast-paced, and it is these things that turn a game on its head. It is these things that most English supporters feel Cook is slow to grasp: I hope he proves us wrong. And proves us right by his form with the bat.

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Sunday, May 24

the de beauvoir excuse

Mine and yours
were sold, well weighted
in balances and pans.
The bids were high, and we succumbed
believing in our labeled worth
preening and downcast, or
making deals, saving face, being rentable.

Land, language, mother-
Everything was whored.
A sneer or a smile were powerful,
for paths changed, forgetting all joys.
Remained only the diplomas, the money,
the look of admiration in faces I love not.
For pride and gold trade for God.


Sunday, February 22

the closed world of intertextuality

paper was flying, words as well,
when I last stood by the sea.
I was alone, the breeze did not last
and a smile played on incipient moon's
face. Wicked drop
of abandon, of freedom.

You sit on the rock, the waves lash,
waiting for a being to cross the sea,
walking on water in age of cynicism,
and you stay, , but you stay,
as revelation is lost
amidst throes of reason.

While descends a pall of wisdom
deep into soul, blotted into
as guilt and as sin,
while stone transforms to Creator,
and new eggs are laid to turn to wood,
Kristeva fills minds of men, of women.

You wait in a checked shirt, blue jeans,
Looking at that dibbly-dobbly vessel,
as if you should sleep while He comes;
But you prefer so, for waiting is better
than conversing with flies feasting on the dead,
for You remain the last one to see the Rhino.

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Thursday, February 12


The next year,
summer comes again.

But I left in deep winter,
to carry a piece forever
in my heart.


Sunday, January 11

In a sea of hate, France crumbles

Many French are reeling under a shock after the events of the past three days at Paris. For some, the shock is of death or of the uncertainty of life. But for most, this shock is from their affront: French people like to believe that the French revolution of 1789 was a great thing, and they like to also believe that France incarnates values of liberty, equality and fraternity. Of course, those three words are grand words: not many people in this world, whether French or not, will be really able to define those three words. And now, they are shocked beyond measure: that how this can happen on French soil, a soil that nurtures these three values. The two big wars of the past century and Indochina never happened for them: Germany is cast as the villain for the former evil, and the latter is just shrugged off. No one mourns generations of hate that were sown in this society by those actions, and even more so by the hypocrisy of continuing to evoke great sounding values: but most of these mourn that the liberty to abuse someone's belief system has been cut down abruptly. I wonder if someone were to publish a jihadist text tomorrow in France: will it be allowed? What about a Nazi supporter's tract? And how are these texts different from the crude, publicity-seeking cartoons that only succeeded in making this society a worse one? If freedom for freedom's sake is the thing we are after, why do not we just say that it is ok to kill, steal and fuck whomsoever everyone wants, as doing otherwise would be curtailing liberty? Or are ideas and beliefs seen as lesser entities, and only men's lives and property respected?

They stopped the trams and metros at noon for a minute's silence. Everyone became noble and felt so good about themselves for that minute. But one woman kept on talking on her phone, oblivious of the decencies of life where you can publish crude, derogatory cartoons but not keep talking when a minute's silence is the fraternal thing to do. And then a girl told, how she just wanted to give a nice hiding to woman who wouldn't shut up and how she was just so disgusted. The silence, it seems, was not just for self-satisfaction, but also for judging others. And yet it was supposed to remember, to think, to reflect, within the precise matter of sixty seconds. In other places, school classes became silent: some rebelled (spoke), but many others were peer-pressured into remaining silent for that minute which never seemed to stop. It is like the national anthem or song which asks viewers to stand up before a film is played in Bangalore: if you do not, you feel that you might be lynched right there. Free will does not seem to play a huge part in fraternal societies.

And now, what do we have? The President has not yet addressed the people about the Muslim community, nor the Muslims directly: he just doesn't care, isn't it? Instead, the government is bringing out the same magazine next week with state money: as if seeking cheap publicity by derogating others was a martyr's cause. Pity that ideologies cannot sue in courts: only well-oiled humans seem to have that right. Because of the extraordinary sensation that the media has created out of it, thanks to another hashtag spring, the society is now even more divided: many and many Muslims, especially young kids, have now seen the cartoons which they never had earlier, and they cannot understand how such things can be just cloaked up in the freedom to speech attire; the entire non-French-looking people, even if they are white, have become the Other, who don't understand the pain that the French have felt over their pride being destroyed; parties like Front National will create more discourses and incidents to divide people further; and aims of all those who seek to further violence and thus pillage this land and its people will be furthered. And all this in the midst of an economic downslide: whereas France needed to open up its shores, this will only lead to the politics of suspicion, anger and exclusion.

The violence rooted in society, perpetrated in other lands, is now coming back to haunt France. This incident will be a catalyst for Europe's accelerated downslide. And no one will hear those who cry from tenderness, from love, from sadness: only anger will be heard, and responded to. And the response will also be anger, be hate. When the French couldn't be proud of the expanse of their colonies anymore, they turned to their language. When English became the undisputable lingua franca, they turned to their flag, their values. As these values turn out to be hollow and the economy flounders, the last of their fiefdoms disintegrates, and pain is trampled upon by politics and hypocrisy.

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Saturday, November 29

कन्या कुमारी

स्मारक के किनारे, चंदा बहता
जैसे जल से उभरे योगी,
शनि की छटा निराली
किसी बारूद के ढेर की तरह,
जो फूटे अचेत में, कहीं गहरे समंदर में
पर जन्म ले चेत में, प्रत्यक्ष रूप में,
न बोल, न समस्या, केवल आनंद
और उसके संवाद, उसके गीत,
तपस्या के पालक, जननी के जनक|


Sunday, November 16


महकते अँधियारों में
मर-मिटने की बात सोची,
झिझक थी तो अपने-आप से
जैसे देव-द्वार की रेखा;

प्रकृति देख रही थी, भावुक,
ज़हन में कविता लिए,
पूछ रही थी, विश्वस्त,
मेरे उत्तर स्वयं ही बोलती;

अभिलाषा का पानी बह गया था,
ले गया था नीति-धर्म के सेतु,
सामने था मैं, प्रतिबिंब बिन काया,
हाथ बढ़ाऊं तो ईश्वर का निवाला|


Monday, September 15

a European life

Elephants stomp around me. The earth shakes, cigarettes burn and smells of blood and meat pervade the air. Life's circle is complete in this very life itself: after sex, there is nothing but the next day. After the next day, there is nothing but death. After death, there is nothing. In this life are stalls. Stalls of marvellous things, but so many that I don't know which stall to look into. I am a slave of choices. When I will get tired of one choice, then I will betake myself to another stall, another set of wares. Everyone is a merchant. Everyone is on display or is the displayer. Nothing is outside of the shopwindows. Everything is reduced to a rational minimum. Everything, you and me, mine and yours, and the unknown, everything is encompassed by it. Nothing is unknown, though it may not be known. For every unknown, there will be a known reason. For every reason, there will be a wealth of information. That most essential ware, that priceless commodity. Everyone sells it, everyone buys it. Your heart has become a papier mâché of all this talk. Silence is nowhere, except in resistance. Sometimes, a cigarette butt will scorch some portion of this collage covering your spirit, and then suddenly you will feel a corner of sky peeping in at your soul. For a moment. Before the next raucous, drunk laughs of liberty and equality will drown out that, maybe for ever. You never know. I spend meaningless days on end, thirsty for Your one drop of love.

तू प्यार का सागर है
तेरी एक बूँद के प्यासे हम

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Thursday, August 14


बूँद गिरे, रुई ढके
और जग नाचे,
बिल्ली की गोद में
ऊन डोले|

कौन देखा, कौन सुना,
प्रेत से पूछो, बरसाती रात को,
न दिया जले, न दिल हो भस्म,
डगर-डगर पे हरी की आस|


Friday, May 30


आज कोई नहीं है, बस
बारिश है|
कल कई थेशायद तुम भी?

जमा करे कंकड़-मोती, सब,
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Saturday, May 24

Narendra Modi: new twist to Asian story, world history

It is amusing to read some of the invective both pre and post Modi win, and people sharing it on social media: the variety includes leftist intellectuals who still yearn for some socialist, subsidy-ridden state; human rights advocates, who conveniently forget years and years of Hindu-Muslim riots that happened all throughout Congress-ruled regimes in Gujarat, something that is no more there since the post-Godhra riots in the last ten years; those who are concerned about the growing strength of a religion, Hindutva, at the expense of sanatana dharma, a philosophy that defines India; environmentalists, who fear from a China-style development, which is supposed to look only towards short-term benefits; and, finally but the biggest quantity, those who haven’t lived in Gujarat, who simply read a CNN news article about Modi’s revoked visa or rights records and who don’t know what secularism is and assume it to be some unquestionable good, those who pitchfork themselves into the category of humanists and intellectuals. As always, some concerns are valuable, some others seem to be derived from flimsy grounds, and in many there are a few grains of white and few of black and a lot of grey. And yet, Modi has often been painted as black, univocally black.
But not by the populace of India. BJP couldn’t ride to this seat share even after the mandir chestbeating and VHP terrorism and interminable rath yatras in a Hindu-dominated country in earlier elections; rather, in an electoral campaign sans emotional issues and emotions, Modi has yet won a rare majority by himself. What does that say? One, at whatever cost, the people of India are mature enough voters now: the days of dynastic politics, nepotism and buying votes through subsidies and populist schemes are over in most of India. Two, the lack of anti-Congress vote divide, by and large, says that Modi does speak to them somewhere directly: thanks to the Anna/Kejriwal stunts, the people of India have started to interrogate themselves now and express their preferences. While there seems to be a dangerous political volatility (which though is not of that much concern, given the durability of India’s strong democratic institutions), as the citizens remain immature and easily swayable by the media, at the same time, the strength of media, while being a double-edged sword, also keeps all in the public eye now on their toes: all the more necessary when a party has a clear majority and opposition is decimated, an otherwise dangerous situation to be in for any country, for any system. Even a king needs to be aware of some covetous bastard child.
It is difficult to say where Modi will turn to, which wind will take him whither (or he will take which wind where): however, it remains now incontrovertible that India has turned a chapter, not just a page. It has taken its Westphalian nation-statehood seriously for the first time. Most Asian and African countries got independent at a time when statehood was already reaping fruits for Western nations, and on top of that when the Cold War did not let them choose to become states at all: rather, they had to choose camps (or try to please both, the path chosen by Nehru), try to survive, and just remember the hard-earned nationhood. Different countries took different paths. China’s early post-independence isolation ironically helped it to become a state much earlier than others could: whatever Mao’s policies were, and how much ever disastrous in the short term, it is undeniable that he always remained a flag-bearer of Chineseness. This ironically given that he had rejected the quintessential Chinese values of Confucianism: flung onto the little island of Taiwan (and now forgotten by them as well). However, we Indians forgot what Bhārat means: in our mad rush to speak English and become civil servants, the sarkari babus with all the perks and batti-vaali gaaRi. Yet, India has such varied pockets that homogeneity was impossible: so even if the English speaker was respected and white skin was (and is) venerated, it wasn’t everyone’s lot, wish or ability to imitate them. Countries like Turkey and Iran tried to steer away from Islam, an ideology to which political statehood is in itself an incompatible concept (a contested view by some, but according to me, the concept of ummah precludes loyalty to political state, unless if the spiritual caliph can be divested with political caliphate as well: an ongoing experiment of the ayatollahs in Iran, limited to the Shi’i); the miraculous1 leadership of Atatürk was able to do that, though Turkey would later return to Islamic leanings, while the US bungled and intervened in Iran, thus helping to prop an Islamic regime, ironically now one of those blacklisted by it. The worst lot was that of countries like Syria, and regions like Palestine and Kashmir: not helped by Saudi Arabia’s double-dealt hands, and too wise to lose its real independence by taking US aid, Syria has been fighting for survival as nation itself, whereas Kashmir and Palestine struggle for recognition as nations, forgetting that it would be easier (acceptable/face-saving to other entities) to make the fight that of statehood (only). In a world of colliding and collapsing entities, not just political but also human (e.g., social networks) and economic (e.g., the experiment of Bitcoin), nations may soon be an outmoded concept, to be studied along with the dinosaurs.
Such a background, though too much simplified, is essential to understand India at this corner of its story. It is also necessary to understand how Gandhi sided with the moderates; Savarkar’s viewpoint; why Godse killed Gandhi; and most importantly, what we have gained or lost, at least as much and as far we can judge, from independence, partition, the unnecessary wars we fought with China and Pakistan, and a secular constitution. Nothing should be unquestionable: nothing should be on a pedestal except the cleanliness in our heart and the ability of our mind to think through.
I will simply list a few paragraphs of the challenges ahead for Modi.

a. Geopolitical: It has been an old school of thought in RSS circles and in fact in all revolutionary Indian circles to valorize the East. However, India had a shared Buddhist and trade story with Southeast Asia and China; that story no more exists, and religion isn’t the most trending thing among Chinese youth, or rather most youth anywhere in the world, today.2 Much has been talked of Modi’s eastward stance, but Modi would do well to be careful of China. While there is no need of incensing China unnecessarily,3 India must strengthen ties with Japan and Southeast Asia: the time is ripe for that in the background of: (a) China’s push to become a great naval power, and hence its increasing tensions with Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia (strangely, Taiwan is not on that list; the present Ma government4 with its China leanings is a danger for the whole region); (b) the US pivot-to-Asia policy, which may not be shelved even if Obama goes. While the US will keep playing double games for its maximum benefit—engaging with China, protecting Taiwan but not playing it off with China, and yet creating forums as part of the pivot to form some kind of a counter-hegemon against China, should the latter become belligerent—countries like India (or Indonesia), which are growing fast but do not have the resources to devote to defense (already India spends too much), should take care to create bilateral alliances with key potential allies like Japan and S. Korea (regardless of it being politically close to the US and culturally these days to China), rather than happily and dizzily jumping on board US-sponsored multilateral Asia-Pacific alliances, unless as observer. Though India is not an Asia-Pacific country, the US pivot is to Asia, not necessarily Asia Pacific: and hence an inevitable offer from the US at some point in the near future, and the danger of acceptance. China may resent India’s entry to such alliances, plus India gets bound by a multilateral forum’s restrictions: and it gains nothing. China is not looking for landward expansions, and will not turn belligerent towards India as of now, unless India acts really stupidly in some way (Dalai Lama, Arunachal/Sikkim, boasting). It would be good though if India could silently strengthen Nepal (i.e., economic or infrastructure aid).
Coming to Modi, he should be careful of inviting too much Chinese investment into India: rather, he should look further east (to Japan), north (Russia/Ukraine/Uzbekistan), immediate north (Afghanistan: critical for passage of pipelines), west (continue engaging with Iran, esp. now that the US is also softer), and especially inward. India is too service sector dependent: and it services Europe and US, the former of which seems to be an irrevocable downward trajectory. It is high time that India starts also on its manufacturing path on a larger scale, to match China’s to some extent: it is important to enter markets like Africa, as China is already doing (and as one Indian company, telecom major Bharti Airtel, has done), not just for services, but also for products manufactured at home.
A concern is the Tamils: Modi might be more friendly towards the Sri Lankan government, and while that is good for India in terms of politics, what about the voice of Tamils, who have been almost effaced out of the political picture in Sri Lanka? The redundancy of Tamil parties’ wins in the elections has presented an unsavoury conundrum for India.

b. Domestic: Key concerns after these elections are Assam and Kashmir; both have thrown up polarised results, and I am not confident about Modi’s ability to handle them, unless by ruthless measures, which is no measure at all, since suppressed wounds fester and become venomous grouses over time. It is a good beginning that Modi has invited Sharif and other neighbouring leaders for his swearing-in, and he must continue in the same dialogue mode with local leaders, and remove Army from Kashmir and the Northeast, and rather focus on creating economic prosperity. Material well-being, when equitably distributed, is the most effective means, usually, of promoting harmony.
Modi’s Cabinet also is a concern: while it is not yet formed as of the time of writing, there is hardly anyone in the ranks of BJP that inspires much confidence. The Vajpayee cabinet was hopeless, carrying on the legacy of Congress. And it may be by and large the same Cabinet in place. The one good ally that Modi has got is Chandrababu Naidu, and Modi must ensure that Naidu remains strong and influential in his government.
Modi may also be a target of more terrorist activity in India, especially at the beginning, in a bid to hustle him or test his mettle. That he is not the dearest for Islamists would not be a discovery. If the US forces do withdraw from Afghanistan, it will be a challenge for both India and Pakistan to fight Taliban and allies both inside and outside their countries, and keep the region safe.

c. Development: If high-speed rail links and expressways mean development,5 then Modi is on a wrong track, and he may have to face the same public ire that Congress did this time. Fast connections are good, but when people can drink clean water, have a roof on their heads, do a job and earn respect, not just money, and send a child to a real school, not just some arrangement to get the child fed. A country where there is no education is not developed: and education does not mean churning out engineers and doctors in lakhs. It means the ability to think, the capability to stand on your own feet: to give that confidence, that experience and those skills. You must not tell what to think: you must inculcate a habit of thinking, of questioning. For even thinking is a habit: it is gained and lost through habit and ill habit (as Hermann Hesse said in one of his works).
Development needs to be also targeted to a country’s needs. In a country where the GDP per capita isn’t a great figure, who will take the high-speed rail, particularly when the ticket difference won’t be much when compared to airfares? Rather, encourage small and big players in aviation industry, but don’t give so many licences that the existing ones are not able to run on profits; build more airports; give tax breaks and incentives to airlines; make cities that fall on global trade routes like Delhi or Chennai transit (and shopping) hubs like what Doha or Dubai are. That will encourage small businessmen to fly, make India more connected, and increase by leaps and bounds India’s economic well-being. And let the Indian rail be as it is; just make it more accountable and efficient, and lay electric rail lines through the Deccan plateau. It is the freight sector that needs attention rather: modernize wagons (introduce proper cold storage), re-lay those lines where freight is more, so high-speed lines can be there for freight, and focus on safety of passengers. Re-introduce some now-disused narrow-gauge tracks (e.g., the track that used to go from Madurai to Tenkasi and onward in western Tamil Nadu)—conversion of narrow gauge to broad gauge is not modernity. Instead, if properly marketed, these narrow-gauge lines can bring you lot of foreign exchange through rail fans.

d. Culture: This in fact is where Modi can contribute most critically, but will he? He must be ruthless this time—in dismissing leftist intellectuals’ voices. But careful that he does not slide into Hindutva.
In a country where more than 80 percent of people are Hindus, we do not know our own works of philosophy: religion is taboo in schools, though not so in missionary schools or madrasas, where Catholic masses are sung quite proudly and the Qur’an is taught as the first thing to learn. Modi must not veer to Hindutva, but where is even Hindu in this country? We live in some kind of perpetual apology: of what? Of being numerically dominant. We do not know the rich web of Jain, Hindu and Buddhist thoughts, and neither Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) or Aquinas at our schools. We are fed rote materials, not debate and discussion and frankness. We never talk about dvaita and advaita; and we squirm in strange notions of our own sanatana dharma: feeding milk to Ganesha, thinking not eating meat as “religious,” and boasting of how “scientific” our ancestors were. We do not know the erotic poetry with Krishna at its center; thankfully, for its anti-institutional tones, we can read Kabir at least. And our students learn French and Spanish as foreign languages on top of the three-language formula, but the UP person does not learn Tamil, a classical language with rich literature, and no one is bothered about the Tibeto-Burman languages of Arunachal, or knowing what does a little boy in Kashmir eat for breakfast. No one learns Dogri, and no one learns Tulu. India must learn to appreciate and take joy in its own richness: India is a Hindu land by its traditions and thought processes. That is far from Hindutva.6 Everyone is welcome here and everyone is absorbed in this land and new thoughts come, new practices come, new syntheses occur. Sometimes there is smooth sailing, sometimes there is friction. Yet the Indian mentality remains as it is: that of fatalism, detachment, leaving everything to what “the one above” or “the fate” wishes or does or desires, alms-giving, monkhood, openness to every thought and un-thought, personal honesty. Irrespective of which so-called religion you follow, it is these that define India, just as Hindu, Islam, Jainism, Buddhism or Christianity, in the mouths of the wise and in the acts of the generous, all boil down to simply a perennial philosophy—sanatana dharma—of striving for truth, of not fearing suffering but of striving to reduce suffering, of thoughtful action. India now must begin to learn satyam shivam sundaram. In the name of secularism, we do not have to shy away from it: it is our right, our duty and our fate to learn and seek, avidly and widely.
There will be a lot that Modi will leave undoubtedly undone out of this, and maybe he will do some good things not thought of by me. And maybe some bad things. He remains a politician, an opportunist, and his allies remain corrupt leaders and misguided RSS cadre. However, India is only now independent: free from an apologetic tone of existing. We are quiet, and that’s good; we are humble, that’s better; but we need to be wise, always looking to grow. The path may be long, but at least it has begun, maybe in fog, but yet dark has dispelled.

1 Every statement always carries two, or even multiple, faces: and so do all of mine. Turkey has also lost a lot of its culture with modernisation, with the agressive secularisation of Atatürk. Also, Turkey has also been guilty of not being so warm to other ethnic groups, as was the old Iran towards Azeris. There is nothing right; nothing wrong—just as Modi is neither white, nor black. Politics, and human life, is a game: it is only each instant’s greater right and greater wrong that we can recognise. And even then, our judgement may falter, be occluded, or even be on a stroll in the park.

2 So, now alliances can be nothing beyond economic: China in particular is not much interested in spiritual sharedness, though Chinese tourists can of course increase on the Gaya circuit, again bringing some forex.

3 It is Dalai Lama who uses us; what do we earn in return? China’s enmity is not worth having. China’s stance is unfortunate towards Tibet, but the Lamas have also been feudal landlords of the spiritual sort. In a political game between the two, one a big fry and the other a tiny one, India has unnecessarily caught itself up in between. Modi should distance himself from Lama.

4 This can change rapidly; China’s recent (as of the time of writing) tensions with Vietnam can inflame the region as a whole, and Ma Ying-jeou may have to change tack (subtly). Ying-jeou is letting ROC (Taiwan) be a pawn in the game for the island chain in the Pacific: Taiwan is never going to control them, so why supporting China? In the end, ROC itself will end up soon being part of PRC if it continues likewise.

5 We must not go the way of China: we may develop very fast when we pollute our lands and waters with unlimited investments and then fighting others to eye more markets so our industries can keep running; even more fast, when we can have one language, one religion and one culture (Mandarin, atheism in China, and nationalism at the expense of many other cultures, one of the main sufferers being Confucian values), but of what use is development where we can read all day about fascinating stuff on our smartphones but actually don’t have it? No, we must not become intellectuals!

6 Hindutva means treating Hindu as some religion: excluding other thought systems and ideologies, blindly and unquestioningly adopting certain aspects of the Hindu traditions and thought (basically adopting the conservative text of Manusmriti, and excluding everything else from Hindu thought), and becoming intolerant, agressive and non/not-truth-seeking. Valuing the widespread branches of Hindu thought and learning about them is however not Hindutva: we are a Hindu land.

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