Ancient writings, Musings, Remembering

Silica Politics

With the Delhi assembly elections having gone off peacefully and exit polls predicting the return of Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party, I see a glimmer of hope for India – that we might yet see the rise and growth of a national-level political party that actually works for ALL people, and does not survive by pitting religion against religion as the BJP and Congress do; caste against caste as the Samajwadis, RJD et al. do;  or generally everyone against everyone else as the CPI(M), CPI et al. do. 

A hope that leads me to wield the cerebral shovel and excavate the following article from the ancient sand-beds of memory: it was published in Indian Express over 20 years ago. 

Building sand castles

[Indian Express, 30 November 1998]

The counting of votes is on, and the first results are already trickling in. Across the nation psephologists pontificate, analysts arrive at bewilderingly diverse conclusions from identical data, and assorted academics, political observers and journalists join in severely criticizing the electorate for not behaving according to their predictions.

And, an ancient, battered lorry rolls up a dusty track leading to the dry river-bed, lurching with a snort of relief to a halt amidst huge banks of sand. Three men  stand in the empty hold of the lorry, shovels in hand. The driver backs the vehicle till it ploughs into one of the sand dunes; and then two of the men leap onto the hillock and proceed to scoop mounds of the grey-white material into the hold. The third man – he cannot be a day older than 16 – stands in the hold and spreads the fine sand as evenly as possible about the pitted wooden floor. The driver, meanwhile, twiddles with a knob on the dash-board, muttering imprecations, till a dreadful cacophony erupts from the dusty loudspeaker above his grizzled head. He has found the local radio station.

The three men toil away, sweat gleaming on their arms and bare torsos. Now the young man in the hold is practically level with his senior colleagues on the sand dune. Presently, he leaps off to join them in flinging the mica-flecked sand into the hold. A scrawny brown dog wanders up to the lorry, flops down in its  shade and falls asleep. On the radio, now the hourly news-bulletin cuts into the music. Electoral excitement is at fever-pitch; all eyes are upon an epic battle between two possible chief ministerial candidates: one a political novice with a clean reputation, the other a seasoned old bandicoot. The music resumes, the driver climbs out, collapses on the sand and dozes. The afternoon sun beats down upon the labourers’ gleaming bodies.

At length the job is done. The labourers pause at an unspoken signal, fling their shovels down, wipe their streaming brows and flop down on the sand next to the driver. Soon they must depart for the great construction lots on the western outskirts of the City; but there is still time to stretch one’s aching limbs awhile, perhaps even smoke a companionable beedi.

The flies drone, the sun sinks lower. The young labourer sits up and listens intently to the news broadcast. And then he turns to the driver. “So, Kaka, will we now have a new ruler?” he inquires. The driver removes the beedi from his mouth, hacks and spits at the sleeping dog but misses it by several inches. “It won’t make a difference to you, will it?” he remarks. The others chuckle, but the youngster is persistent.

“In our jhuggi,” he begins hesitantly, “they say things will soon change for the better. They say that we will all soon have pucca houses…”

Arre gadhe!” the driver exclaims exasperatedly. “Don’t you see that this is all a natak? Look”, he continues in a kindlier tone, “the fate of poor people is akin to that of the river: doomed to follow the same path forever, crushing the rocks into sand and sinking ever lower. And just as politicians come to us poor people for their votes, so too men come to the river to haul away the sand; they mix the sand with lime and cement and make buildings and bungalows so that the rich among them may live in comfort.”

He pauses, his rheumy eyes far away. “Yet in time the desert winds will blow, hot as a sigri, and the great walls and roofs of the rich will crack and fissure. And then the rains will beat upon their edifices, and this happens again and again, year after year, till slowly but surely the sands are washed away into the gutters and drains, to find their way eventually back to the river. And then again the minds of the rich will turn to the river, and upon a monsoon the river will breach its banks, and when it recedes there the sand will be again…”

Presently, the men board the lorry and it roars off in a cloud of dust. The dog gazes mournfully at the receding lorry, and then wanders off. A stray breeze brings the faint voice of the news-broadcaster, announcing that the seasoned old bandicoot has won.

 

 

General ravings, Musings

Shaheen Bagh: a Pilot Project for Mass Murder

This is about the ongoing anti-CAA protests at Shaheen Bagh, New Delhi.

I visited Shaheen Bagh on Friday the 31st January 2020 between 10:00 and 14:30. I wanted to find out, for myself, whether the anti-CAA protest going on here is indeed ‘spontaneous’ as claimed by Left-leaning media and their cohorts; or whether it is ‘manufactured’ as claimed by the Right-leaning media and their cohorts.

What I learned and experienced confirms my worst fears about what’s going on in Shaheen Bagh and where it will lead us—fears that I summarized in this photo (apologies: I might have already  posted this to some of you on 31st January via WhatsApp and Instagram).

Shaheen Bagh - The Morning After

 I firmly believe the Shaheen Bagh protest is as spontaneous as a forest fire started by ‘tourists’ who first doused the helpless trees with petrol, then set the trees  ablaze starting with the young ones … and now visit the fire every evening during Prime Time TV hours with fresh supplies of petrol and other inflammatory materials to make sure the fires don’t die out.   

I expected to find a sea of protesters, singing and chanting slogans of Peace, Harmony, Patriotism, Insaaniyat. I found barely 70 to 80 people in all. About a dozen women were in their tent, near the makeshift stage; the men stood around outside in little clusters, tense, conversing in low murmurs. Barring a couple of Mentors and one Minder who stood out by their suspicious glances towards me, their confident, persuasive tones and carefully careless attire, all were locals. My few conversations with the local men were short, their nods were brief, smiles strained. They were courteous, I wandered around and took a few photos unhindered. But there was fear in their eyes, in the air. The fear  fear that took me back to Bombay, 1992, when men turned into monsters and the stench of blood and burning human hair and death hung over Dharavi and Mahim and Jogeshwari…

I joined one group; they were anxiously discussing the young Muslim man who had been shot at by another, a Hindu,  outside the Jamia Millia the previous day. “It might happen here!” was their refrain.  A Mentor reassured them that it wouldn’t; urged them  to remain courageous and continue their ‘andolan‘.

Aside of the Mentors and Minder, there was only one other non-local like me: a middle-aged bearded man wandering around with a camera. Where are the crowds, the speeches and shows? he asked a little plaintively. The Minder, who was built like a mini-truck, was gruff: “Sham ko ao…tabhi log aate hain.”

Come in the evening: that’s when the crowds are here.

Shaheen Bagh is designed for Prime Time.

I reiterate what I voiced in an earlier post: that each and every political group in India—Left or Right, AAP or non-existent Centre—is yearning for large-scale communal violence to divide the masses along Hindu vs. Muslim lines. Because the Ayodhya issue that has sustained all of them for over 30 years has finally been resolved honourably by the Supreme Court, much to their chagrin; henceforth, Babri Masjid and Ram Janmabhoomi can no longer be flogged by them for votes.

And so, all political parties are doing their best—and their worst—to create a new long-term issue for Hindu vs. Muslim polarization. They all hope to gain by sparking off communal violence in Shaheen Bagh. And they are being aided and abetted in their efforts by their respective captive media and ‘intellectuals’.

I firmly believe the locals of Shaheen Bagh and of nearby Abu Fazal Enclave – the majority of them hapless working class Muslims —have been terrorized by Evil Teachers into believing that because of CAA it is only a matter of time before they, and all other Muslims in India, will be identified as ‘illegals’, carted off to detention camps by the police, and then ‘deported’ – if not murdered by RSS-led Hindu mobs.

I now know for sure who these Evil Visiting Teachers of Shaheen Bagh are, too.  I think you too won’t find it hard to identify them even without visiting Shaheen Bagh – some of the posters are a dead giveaway (see below).

No words can convey my rage and sadness at what is being done at  Shaheen Bagh…at the venality of those who have made its impoverished people scapegoats in a Pilot Project for scaling up to nation-wide violence.

The Shaheen Bagh Project is already showing signs of success. Anti-CAA has already morphed into anti-NRC, anti-NPR, anti-Census. Young women and men undertaking routine social indicator surveys in rural areas – Bengal and U.P come to mind – have been severely assaulted because of the Project’s most effective and toxic CAA Awareness Programs.

The Right to Citizenship has already morphed into the Right as a Citizen to Remain Anonymous and Invisible – without of course surrendering any Rights to receive state largess due to caste, religion, and so forth.

The first guns have emerged. The protests against the Shaheen Bagh protests are getting more edgy…even as Delhi’s Assembly elections are days away.

The secondary fires from Shaheen Bagh now spread across India – even as Assam, the only state where the presence of about 2 million Bangladeshis is not disputed by any but the chronically insane, remains tense but calm.

Thereby hangs a tale.

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The outer barriers – easily crossed, just one police gypsy with a few bored constables who didn’t bother me

Inside barriers looking out
Inside the inner barrier, looking out
Waiting for Prime Time
Waiting for Prime Time?
Venue 1
Nearing the venue – women’s tent on right

Venue 2

Revolution or revulsion

Case against EVMs - by Bhagat Singh in Detention Camp
Bhagat Singh, in Detention Camp, makes case against EVMs and for manual ballot!

Posters - 2

 

Posters - 1

Power point on CAA
Power Point on CAA: please do follow the flowchart paths carefully! Which brilliant minds stitched  together so many half-truths and plain lies with such skill?

Posters - 3

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One of two noisome canals you cross to reach Shaheen Bagh from the Metro Station

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Musings, Potshots, Remembering

Kick them in their Secular Organs

With Congress and NCP bowing and scraping before Shiv Sena for spoils of power; with even the Leftists refusing to condemn this display of political debauchery, the murderers of 1992/93— whether Hindu or Muslim— can now breathe easy…forever

I laughed, swore, ground my teeth, and swore some more, reading today’s Indian Express front-page piece with its hagiography of Uddhav Thackeray, Shiv Sena leader and Chief Minister-designate of Maharashtra.

“Behind mild exterior, a tough negotiator, tech-savvy manager,” gushes the article.

IE
The Secularization of Shiv Sena [full story here]
Not a word about the Shiv Sena’s vicious, parochial vision;  not a journalistic peep about the Shiv Sena’s violent past and present.

O tempora O mores !

Briefly, I try and recollect the ten years I lived in Mumbai, from 1984 onwards; those were busy years, wonderful years, joyous years in this greatest of cities. But now, all I can recall are the unspeakable horrors that I experienced and witnessed in 1992 and 1993, when the people of Mumbai turned upon one another in the name of ‘religion’. Horrors that were largely instigated and inflicted by the glorified goondas of Shiv Sena, BJP et al.

Hazily, I recall that the murderers of Shiv Sena, BJP and affiliated Sangh Parivar groups were clearly exposed in 1998 by the Report of Justice B N Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry. I know no action was ever taken on the Report; now I wonder, does anyone even remember it?

I abandon my cerebral search and embark instead on a quick Google search.  It appears that Great God Google remembers the Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry. Google remembers and recalls the Commission’s Report… though those of us Indians old enough to remember have forgotten, or chosen to forget, it ever existed.

Remembering SS
We may forget, but Google remembers…[click here for story]
Do forgive me, O most tolerant Reader: but after having troubled your mind with these musings, now I  turn away from the screen and put a lid on my terrible memories. I can’t delete the memories: they will endure as long as I live; but I am too weary to dredge them out and revisit the horrors; too weary to rage anymore against the dying of the light.

There’s just no point.

Because now, with Sonia Gandhi’s Congress and Sharad Pawar’s NCP bowing and scraping before Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena for spoils of power; with even the Leftists refusing to condemn this most unholy display of political debauchery, the murderers of 1992/93—whether Hindu or Muslim—can now smirk and breathe easily…forever.

As can all those who have rioted and maimed and slain their fellow Indians since then,  in the name of religion, caste, race, language.

Behold,  the Shiv Sena has been Secularized!

The media is overjoyed. It is a Victory for Secularism against the BJP!

Only the lambs are silent, fearful…for the wolves have now entered the pasture in great numbers, and the wolves are wearing sheep’s garb.

I fling the newspaper aside, open my scrapbook and reflect on the enduring relevance of Martin Niemoller’s words from 1946:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me

And there was no one left to speak for me…

 

 

Musings, Remembering, Verse perverse

Barog: rediscovering the joy of simply being

After three days of choking-level air pollution, it’s a glorious morning here in Delhi!

Today’s the 6th of November. I began the day with 90 minutes of pre-dawn yoga, followed by a brisk two-kilometre walk. Now, energized by a hearty breakfast and healing kaapi,  I check the Air Quality Index on the Weather Bureau site. It announces that the PM 2.5 particulate emissions are a mere 210 micrograms/cubic metre at 9 a.m.

That’s wonderful… 210 mcg/m3   is not even four times the maximum safety level of 60 mcg/m3 … why, it’s almost as good as being in Bhutan!

I wipe my smarting eyes and breathe deeply of the pleasantly chill light-brown air, revelling in the tingling sensation that courses through the entire body and mind as the lungs fill with a perfectly-blended mix of SO2, NO2 and CO, flavoured with delicate hints of ozone and hydrogen cyanide and just a touch of that rare element, oxygen…

Forgive me the laboured sarcasm, O most valued Reader; but I’ve finally understood that it’s futile taking the issue of air pollution, or indeed any issue at all, very seriously  in our beloved India that is Bharat. Three years ago, in 2016, I actually took the issue of air pollution seriously enough to write about it [please click here to read it]. But now I realize that nothing’s changed since then, except for the worse.

So:

Instead of wasting my breath in gasping rants

At Kejriwal and Goel, and their many sycophants

I abandon the idiocy of all netas and affiliated fools

For the serenity of hills and rills, still quiet pools…

Let Delhi and its denizens make Haze while the Sun shines!

I’ll find refuge in flowery meadows, sighing pines…

In this illuminated and detoxified spirit, I recollect and relive four wonderful days I spent in the quiet little town of Barog, near Shimla, in late September 2017. I stayed with my dear friends Micky and Abha: their warmth, their generosity and hospitality helped me shed decades of accumulated stresses and blues, and rediscover the joy and wisdom of simply BEING.

I’ve written earlier about walking up to the old army cantonment of Dagshai during this visit. [You can read it here]. Here are some more photos from that time.  A mere four days’ R&R; yet for me they evoke memories to draw on for a lifetime…

On the way up: Himalayan Queen

a1

 

In and around home

a2
Timeless mornings and evenings, lazing out on the terrace with Abha and Micky.   Tiger was usually present to test and certify quality of biscuits, pakoras, cake etc.

a5

Dagshai Cantonment – seen from terrace

mickys-sunset-point-2-1.jpg
Every evening we’d walk to Micky’s ‘Sunset Point’ and watch the clouds roll in
just walking
Just walking around…

just walking 2

Tiger doing his Think Tank act
Tiger contemplates the State of the Universe

A dreamy day in Kasauli

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At the beautiful old Christ Church (estt. 1853)
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Army Holiday Home
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Kasauli Club
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The wildflowers run riot here!

Barog railway station

Walking down

There’s no road to/from Barog railway station. There’s only a steep, 400-metre path leading down through the forest from the Old Shimla Road.  So Micky dropped me off at a signpost showing where the path begins, and I followed the path down…and down….

1  234678

9

 

At Barog station

I never imagined I’d enjoy waiting for a train so much.  I spent just over an hour at the station, during which I met only four souls: the cheerful Asst Station Master, an ancient and sleepy gangman; the young man who presided over the station’s canteen and fixed me two cups of black tea;  and a phlegmatic dog who decided I needed constant supervision.  Nothing seems to have changed here since the 1.15 km-long Barog Tunnel was completed in the early 1900s…

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Barog tunnel – named after Colonel Barog, British Army engineer, who was entrusted with boring this 1.15 km tunnel through the mountain.  To save time, Barog deployed two teams which proceeded to bore the tunnel from both sides simultaneously. Alas, Barog’s calculations were wrong; the two segments of the tunnel were misaligned, and when it became clear that never the twain would meet, poor Barog was fined the princely sum of Re 1 for wasting the British government’s time and resources. Unable to bear the humiliation, he shot himself, and the tunnel was realigned and completed by another engineer:  H S Harrington. Legend has it that the tunnel is still haunted by the unhappy spirit of the Colonel…
11
Station guest  house – I was told the rooms are nice, the food excellent, and the best way to visit Shimla is to stay here and take trains up and down (2 hours and a bit each way)
15b
My mentor: the slightly accusing look is because he believed (despite my strong denials) that I’d eaten the larger share of biscuits

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14a
And so…time to go
Musings, Verse perverse

A Short Prayer on Deepavali Eve

a-short-prayer-on-deepavali-eve.jpg

Even now

As residents of the neighbouring apartments, in pre-Deepavali revels

Rend the peace; render the night hideous with 240 decibels…

I contemplate the serene wisdom of the ancient sage

Who counselled against rage, advised restraint with the adage

Of Yudhisthira, that troubled  but patient ass of bygone age…

 

Even now

As the last ghastly Bollywood song fades, like a bad dream

Anon a Voice begins reciting Tambola numbers in soprano scream

Interspersed with inane jokes, in baritone bray

As hardened bandicoots flee in terror, their fur in disarray

 

Even now

In this dark noisy hour, when Despair threatens to cloak all humankind

Lo! The clouds disperse; Inspiration illumines my fevered mind!

Now we too can play Tambola; there’s no need for tiles

All we need are tickets; that Voice carries for miles!

 

Even now

I beseech thee,  O Mighty Devi—thou who felled Mahishasura, that Incarnation of Ignorance!

Do shine Reason’s Light on these cacophonous fools; gift them Silence, common sense!

That our ears, and Earth, be spared their racket; that we may awaken from this deafening dreadful night

To the glorious Dawn of Deepavali – the Celebration of thy Light

A short prayer pre-Deepavali - 2

 

Musings, Remembering

Chords of memory

It’s amazing, how quickly one’s equanimity vanishes beneath the stresses and strains of living in our beloved Rajdhani.

In the present instance, by ‘equanimity’ I mean the peace of mind that I found at the India Music Summit in Jaipur (4 – 6 October). Time flew while I was there.  Now , barely a fortnight later, all that peace of mind too has flown out the window; my Delhi window that is,  beyond which the afternoon sun is hidden by a haze made up of equal proportions of PM10 particles, toxic fumes from factories and vehicles, and toxic abuse from a million marauding muttering motorists.

Where has all the music gone?

You know how it is sometimes with a wonderful childhood experience?  You remember you had a good time; but that’s all you can recall. It’s as though all the little details— the when and where and how, the who did what with whom and to whom and why, the people and places and happenings and all the other elements— have vanished from memory; they’ve been chopped up fine and atomized in Time’s great grinder and swirled in the waters of forgetfulness, and then slow-cooked with the spices of experiences and the tadka of love and joy and sorrow (stirring frequently all the while), till everything has become like one cerebral kootu.

And so, when you try and remember your childhood experience, you can only discern the kootu; a tasty but uniform, featureless stew.

Yet it takes just a random spark— perhaps a certain aroma, perhaps the way the morning sunlight gleams on a leaf, a certain voice or giggle or chord, or a stranger’s face that reminds you of someone you knew …and at once the years and decades fall away like dream’s architecture dissolves with awakening, and for a brief thrilling moment the wonderful childhood experience of ten years or fifty years ago returns in all its intensity and washes over you and renews you;  and just as you become aware of returning memory it vanishes …leaving you smiling, longing for more.

Sometimes, of course, you can seek out the spark yourself. And with music it’s really easy, music as a spark always works for me.

That’s what I did just now;  I turned to YouTube and sought Aruna Sairam. I found a wonderful performance by her with sarod player Soumik Datta, including  songs she’d sung at Jaipur! Here are two—the 500 MWe Durga stotram Aigiri Nandini, and the Kalinga Nartana joyously and passionately recreating young Krishna’s sport with the great serpent Kalinga.

And in less time than it takes the law-abiding but stressed-out Delhi motorist to yell “Abbe saale, wrong side pe kyon chalaa rahe ho!”, all my stresses and strains have evaporated. 🙂

I can’t wait to attend the 2020 Summit.   To temper my impatience, I just listened to, and share here, the ethereal voices of the Shillong Chamber Choir singing Vande Mataram:  as they did in Jaipur; singing here on another occasion, when Chandrayaan II silently circled the Moon and the Lander Vikram was lost; evoking what their songs always evoke in my mind, the embracing and celebration of Life with all its ups and downs, the joy and awe and grandeur of Eternity.

General ravings, Musings

Saccha Swar—Gateway to Perfection

If you love listening to music – and I believe everyone loves music, it matters not what kind of music it is — you’d  know that there’s this very special and powerful thing that exists in some music, a thing that lights up in your mind and heart when you are listening to the music; a thing that is like pure ecstasy. It awakens you, inspires you, excites and moves you to the point where you feel a sense of supreme joy, pure intense awareness, the wild, mad, uninhibited passion of junoon, utter liberation from all the stuff and nonsense of daily life…when you transcend time and lose the sense of Self,  yet, strangely and paradoxically, you feel more close than you have ever been to the entire universe. 

It’s this mysterious, timeless, supremely powerful thing that makes great music; it’s the ability to find this thing and convey it that makes great musicians great.  To experience this thing is like awakening into a Realm of infinite possibilities, of power and bliss, of union with the One in All and the All in One.  For great musicians, every performance is an exploration, a quest for the gateway to this Realm. Hindustani classical musicians sometimes speak about looking for ‘Saccha Swar’; the ‘Note of Perfection’… maybe that’s a nice description of the gateway.

And how does one find and follow the path that leads to the gateway of Saccha Swar

Perhaps only the great musicians know; perhaps even they can describe the path and their quest only through their music, not by mere words. This much is clear, though:  the path itself has to be laid down  individually, with the paving stones of endless learning and practice, riyaaz  and  saadhana;  the path  must be walked alone, it must be smoothed through deep discipline and dedication, illuminated by humility and openness and selflessness…

At this point, O long-suffering reader, I abandon my pitiful efforts at describing what I cannot describe.  Instead, I quote wonderful musician Aruna Sairam from an interview I came across recently:

“…Ultimately, when you speak of a raga, it is an emotion. And therefore the musician that engages with this raga is making himself or herself very open, emotionally—and very vulnerable to everybody else who is in that space. This means that you have to trust, and you have to love, yourself and everyone else.  And in that trust you put out your music, and the moment you express it, without inhibitions, the audience gets it, everybody around you gets it, and they in turn return that love manifold back to you…”

[click here for full interview]

Aruna Sairam is going to perform at the Music Summit, Jaipur. We’re going to join her, and many great Path-finders like her, in their explorations towards Saccha Swar; through them and with them, we too shall glimpse and experience the Realm of Perfection.