Musings

Coronas – Stellar and Earthly

This was meant to be about the significance of corona viruses in our scheme of things and the insignificance of us in the Universe’s scheme of things.

Well, maybe the next time…

Right now I’m still a little high from viewing the skies at sunset three evenings in a row from my terrace. Here are a few photos: all I can think of now are the words of Georges Lemaitre (1894–1966): Catholic priest, mathematician, physicist, the cosmologist who first proposed the theory of an expanding Universe which has come to be called ‘Big Bang’ …

The evolution of the world can be compared to a display of fireworks that has just ended: some few red wisps, ashes and smoke. Standing on a wellchilled cinder, we see the slow fading of the suns, and we try to recall the vanished brilliance of the origin of worlds…

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General ravings, Musings, Potshots

Corona Virus, Evolution and Revolution

However much we dread the Corona Virus, we cannot mask ourselves against the truth that the virus reflects the spirit of true Indian Secularism in the way it infects all people irrespective of their race, religious belief, caste or class.

Covid-19 might not be good for one’s constitution, but in its own humble way it respects the Indian Constitution. It shows us that we are all truly One.

Which, for no apparent reason, brings us to the question: how can one teach Evolution to Indian schoolchildren?

Now, you might think the answer’s simple. You might answer as follows:

“Just write up – or better still and in true Indian tradition, plagiarize—a simple summary of Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’; enrich Darwin’s ideas with Gregor Mendel’s insights into inheritance of characteristics; lead on to Erwin Schrodinger’s insights into the molecules that must make up life, and explain how his ideas and the work of Oswald Avery, Linus Pauling and others inspired the discovery of DNA’s structure by Rosalind Franklin, Francis Crick and James Watson…sparking off a vast amount of research and expansion in our knowledge of how all life on Earth is linked, so that we know today that all humans are descended from the same ancestral mother who lived somewhere in the African continent.”

Of course your answer is correct, O learned reader. Alas, translating your answer into action is not simple, because nothing’s simple in India. It’s especially hard to introduce the flavours of Truth and Rationality, seasoned with Scientific Temper and Honesty and laced with a few dashes of Fun and Adventure, into the horrifying tasteless khichdi that masquerades as our Education Policy.

Consider, gentle reader, two of the simple statements just made up there somewhere:

  1. All life on Earth is linked.
  2. All humans are descended from the same ancestral mother who lived somewhere in the African continent.

Now, imagine that we propose to set out these statements as the Learning Outcomes of the chapter on ‘Evolution’ in the NCERT textbook for, say, Class 10. Assuming further that we are not lynched on the spot by an all-party delegation of MPs and MLAs, these are the kinds of responses we might expect from two of our political parties, the BJP and the CPI(M):

BJP: It is quite correct to state that all life on Earth is linked. But our textbooks must also emphasize that these so-called discoveries of Evolution by these Darwins and Sharwins, Watsons and Whatnots, were actually made 11000 years ago by our Vedic ancestors who summarized their insights into the concept of ‘vasudaiva kutumbakam’ – One Great Family. We must also mention that Indians ruled the entire Earth in ancient times, for which evidence is everywhere to see, in our ancient epics as well as in today’s world. For example, Argentina derives its name from Arjun-Sthaan, clearly evidencing that Arjuna, the great warrior of Mahabharata, had visited this South American region in his search for divine weapons…

CPI(M): In very simple words, we see this attempt to introduce Evolution into our school curriculum as nothing but another manifestation of Brahmanical Hegemony masquerading as pseudo-rationalism to preserve and strengthen the existing class-hierarchical model of social exploitation ; a diabolic and communal attempt by bigoted Hindutva-worshipping self-styled scholars to saffronize our school curriculum and brainwash young and innocent minds into believing the despicable lie that all Indians are equal—thereby denying the hundreds of millions of underprivileged Backward Castes, Minorities, Dalits, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, women and other oppressed communities their just rights for reservation of jobs, educational quotas, subsidies and other forms of affirmative action under the various reservation policies. We will oppose this Hindutva proposal tooth and nail; we shall leave no stone unturned or Molotov cocktail unflung in our peaceful street marches calling for Revolution against Evolution…

General ravings, Musings, Remembering

Drumming away the Blues

Right from childhood days in Shillong I’ve loved music. Around 1967/68, when I was around 11 and also a round 11 (I was fat and short), I taught myself how to play the drums.  A battered old leather suitcase made a nice snare drum; a brass table top with a couple of nails on it made for an excellent cymbal;  and for sticks I ‘borrowed’  a couple of Mom’s knitting needles (sizes 7 to 9 worked best, as they allowed a good rebound for rolls).   My musical heroes in those early days were Brian Bennett (The Shadows), Mel Taylor (The Ventures),  Ringo Starr (The Beatles), and Ginger Baker (Cream).   In 1969 I bought a pair of teak drumsticks for the princely sum of Rs 1.50.  I still have them; every scar on them brings fond and noisy memories. They worked well on my suitcase too, though I kept borrowing Mom’s knitting needles…

But the story of my musical eccentricities must wait for another time.  Why I mention music now is, music has always been my refuge, it’s brought me solace and comfort and delight. And playing the drums elevates my spirits even in the darkest of moments.

Which is why, last week, after a gap of over five years, I picked up my drumsticks and went to a jam room in South Extension where there’s a nice drum set, and I practiced playing the drums for an hour.

There were no listeners to tell me how hideous it sounded, because I was all alone and the jam room was (mercifully) sound-proofed.  I was rusty, stiff in bone and muscle and brain, I panted and gasped at the exertion, I missed a beat every nine beats on average.

But I loved it!

I emerged from the jam-room, exhausted but healed of angst, the words of Omar Khayyam  blending weirdly yet sublimely with the words of Adi Sankaracharya in my haze-filled mind:

Alike for those who for TODAY prepare,

And those that after a TOMORROW stare,

A Muezzin from the Tower of Darkness cries

Fools! Your Reward is neither Here nor There!

Bhaja Govindam, Bhaja Govindam

Govindam Bhaja, Moodamathe!

I managed to record part of my solo cacophony, and place three short sections below – missed beats and all – for your torment, ferment and comment, O patient and long-suffering reader!

 

Don’t worry, I promise you I won’t post any more of my solo practice sessions.

Oh…and tomorrow I’m going again to the jam room.  Do join in…it’ll be great!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

General ravings, Musings

Time to get stoned!

NO STONE UNTURNEDAnd so, Delhi burns.

High time it did too, no?

After all, over two months have passed since the CAA was enacted and the anti-CAA sit-down protest began in Shaheen Bagh, December 15th 2019.

Two months…with not even one decent-sized communal riot to reward the sincere and strenuous efforts that have been made by political parties Left and Right, along with their captive journalists and intellectuals, to spark off riots.

Oh sure, a few score Delhi Police personnel—men and women—have been beaten up or pelted into coma with stones or stabbed or shot from time to time.  But then they don’t count…who cares about cops, right?

[Aside: is attacking police personnel considered ‘Secular’ or ‘Communal’ violence?]

But now at last, on 25th February 2020, hope blazes in our hearts, like the fires blazing in North-East Delhi.

Hope, that for the first time since Gujarat 2002, we can all get to watch real-time large-scale Communal Riots on Prime Time.

Yayyyy.

For the looming Riots, we must thank our beloved political leaders who always have the strengthening of Human Riots  uppermost in their minds –  like Kapil Mishra of BJP and  Waris Pathan of AIMIM.

And unlike in the primitive days of Gujarat 2002, when people didn’t even have mobile phones (imagine that! How Jurassic!)   we can not only follow the Riots as they unfold but safely participate in the Mobs, too! Thanks to Social Media.

We can create and spread poisonous rumours, we can ignite murderous rage, at the speed of electrons, without messing up our hands with blood and gore …yucccckkk. And without any danger of getting caught by the police, either…assuming there are any police left to catch us, of course…Ha Ha Ha.

Hail the glory of WhatsApp!  Oh, the joyous anonymity of end-to-end encryption!

And hail the wondrous power of Instagram too!  Don’t you just love those multi-media Instagram ‘Stories’ that self-destruct within 20 seconds so there’s no evidence left?  Stories that you and I can create and forward to spread the most unspeakably violent videos and messages, the most cruel propaganda, secure in the knowledge that in less than half a minute the Stories will vanish with nothing to show the stories ever passed through or even existed in our phones? Or in anyone else’s phones?

Forgive the flippancy, gentle reader…but the situation today merits graveyard humour.

Because the danger is real…especially to the ‘young’ who more or less live in the virtual worlds of their mobile phones and Social Media.

Because Social Media does give each one of us the wild, untrammeled irresponsibility of the Mob member.

And Mobs are frightful.

The very nature of a Mob can transform us, however rational we might think we are, whatever be our social and economic status, into creatures capable of terrible violence.

A Mob offers anonymity and provides a feeling of security by its sheer numbers. It removes our sense of individual responsibility, and thereby dismantles the elaborate codes of ethics and morality that govern ‘normal’ conduct.

Nobel Laureate Elias Canetti viewed the Mob as a ‘biological entity’, something qualitatively different from the simple sum of its parts. His description of how a quiet street-corner gathering develops into a violent Mob is chillingly familiar. [quote from a 2002 edit-page article I wrote on Gujarat riots ]

Nothing has been announced, nothing is expected, but suddenly the street is transformed. Windows are thrown open, people come out of doors and alleys — streaming in from all sides as though streets had only one direction. At first the only noticeable property of this composite creature is its urge to grow. It wants to seize everyone within reach. Anything shaped like a human can join it. It knows no limits and admits of no restrictions. It does not recognize houses, doors or locks, and those who try to shut themselves in or deny its hunger are immediately suspect

‘‘As long as the crowd is growing, it feels secure. But as soon as growth becomes restricted, as soon as it runs out of its natural food, it gets irritable and develops a sense of persecution. It becomes hostile and then it starts to break things. Windows of shops and houses, windscreens of cars are the first to go because they provide such a satisfying sound. Doors, gates and fences, anything that represents a boundary, become the next target and are torn down and trampled underfoot.

And finally comes fire. Of all methods of destruction, this is the most impressive. It can be seen from far off and attracts even more people. It destroys irrevocably; nothing is the same after a fire. A crowd setting fire to something feels irresistible. It is. The quiet evening street is now a district in riot, an environment inhabited by an organism that is out of control…”

The rioting Mobs of Delhi 1984, of Bombay 1992-93, of Gujarat 2002, left thousands dead, tens of thousands maimed, and a nation in despair. But who were the Mob members? Who were those tens of thousands who pelted stones and firebombs, who fell upon their fellow Indians and beat them, molested them, raped them, killed them?

Within hours, within a day or two, they were all back to their ‘normal’ selves — lawyers and laundry-owners, teachers and traders, students and shopkeepers, professors and paan vendors, bankers and businessmen, writers and rickshaw pullers. Nice ‘respectable’ people, young and old.

People just like us. Their faces are our faces.

And what of the evil men and women who sowed the seeds of the Mobs, who broke the reservoirs of violence with whispered rumours and words of poison?

They vanished without trace, as they always do.

As have vanished the evil men and women who planted the seeds of communal violence in Shaheen Bagh.

And so Delhi burns…

 

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…