Musings

Entranced at India Music Summit

This is sentimental. Because music makes me sentimental.

I write this with the feeble authority of one who has taught himself to play percussion by ear. I must hastily add: I also play percussion by fingers, palms, and feet.

I write to say I was utterly swept away by the ocean of music created by the many ustaads who performed during the MTV India Music Summit, organized by Musiconcepts at the Fairmont, Jaipur from 12th to 14th October.

I dare not try and describe what they played or how they played or why their performances were so wonderful, so moving, so magical. That is best left to the countless others who are more qualified and knowledgeable than me in matters musical.

But this much I bravely declare: the music I heard during the Summit unshackled my mind (it is of no relevance whether the mind was already unhinged); it carried me off to float effortlessly into realms of utter harmony, where, on the waves of timeless rhythms and riffs and cadences and chords, I transcended – if only for a few days – the mechanical world of space-time that I think of, and usually dwell in, as Reality.

Borrowed and adapted shamelessly from Musiconcepts
Some of the maestros who played at the Summit [I’ve shamelessly ‘borrowed’ and adapted this collage from Musiconcepts ]
Among the maestros who performed at the Summit were Shujaat Khan on sitar, Ajay Prasanna on flute, Amit Choubey on tabla, Ambi and L. Subramanian on violin, Aruna Sairam and Suresh Wadkar on vocals, Prasanna on guitar…. to name just a few. We heard Indian and Western classical, jazz and rock and world music, pop and devotional…

And more than once, at the end of some performance when I opened my eyes to the sound of applause and cheering as the last ethereal notes faded, I remembered something that the great jazz drummer Max Roach once said: that a great musician makes music the way a lover makes love.

Many of the musicians at the Summit demonstrated (and how!) the truth of this maxim in their performances: blending boundless curiosity with childlike delight, self-control with confidence; tempering blazing passion with tenderness, raging desire with empathy; taking us soaring to celestial heights of ecstasy, utter abandon, and then gently, respectfully, bringing us back to earth…

They performed with love, pure and unselfish. The love resonated as much in the joyous, crystal-clear choruses of the Mizo Cardinal Choir as in Usha Uthup’s husky, throaty, sending-shivers-down-the-spine crooning; in the devotional songs of Mazhar and Javed Ali Khan and of Pandit Chhannulal Mishra; in the innocent, lilting violin-cello-piano melodies of the Ramakrishnan Trio comprising Aaliya, Naima and Nisha; in the divine flute duets with which Suchismita and Debopriya Chatterjee dispelled dawn’s chill and welcomed the rising sun.

And if the Summit was shaped and held together by these many delicious and diverse strands of music, their impact was hugely enhanced by the interludes during which the maestros shared their musical knowledge and insights with us, through relaxed baithaks and conversations filled with anecdotes and banter. It was amazing how, with seemingly no effort or intent, these little one-off sessions developed a dynamic and logic of their own, with the ideas and musings and music in one session reflecting and being built on in another, till they became threaded together into a single string of multi-faceted, many-hued gems of gyaan.

There was so much of value, so much to listen to and revel in, so much to learn. Here are just a few random strands drawn from rapidly fading memory, in no particular order (the interpretations and translations, and any inaccuracies in them, are entirely my own):

  • Shujaat Khan, fondly recalling his father Vilayat Khan, and also Bhimsen Joshi who would often visit their home:

“Once, while listening to me as I was doing my riyaz, Joshiji began to chant the refrain of what sounded like a bhajan. Of course the bhajan blended perfectly with the raga I was playing, but I was unfamiliar with the lyrics. They went something like this (sings):

       Pachhhee-suhha

       Lakshmi Maaaa Ryg Gyu – Poo

       Ney-Mahaa

       Raaaaasha-Trahah

“After we finished, I asked Joshiji what the bhajan was. He replied, with a chuckle, that having momentarily forgotten the actual lyrics, he had instead sung out the address of his residence in Pune: ‘25, Lakshmi Marg, Pune, Maharashtra’… 

  • Shankar Mahadevan, talking about his work with Bollywood songs and explaining—through songs—why we must, and how we can, respect, preserve, build on, and popularize our incomparable musical heritage—Hindustani, Carnatic, and all their many regional streams—without compromising on the rigour and purity of their classical systems and structures.
  • Shujaat Khan on sitar, sliding almost mischievously from a lovely contemplative Hindustani classical piece to a Bollywood pop tune. And leading us, with his wizardry on the strings, on a voyage along a river of liquid notes during which we experience the closeness of music to nature, to life, to Creation.
  • Ambi Subramaniam with his violin bearing us smoothly, blissfully, across the realms of jazz, world music, Carnatic raga.
  • Chhannulal Mishra effortlessly switching from Hindustani raga to Carnatic raga, providing glimpses into the one deep ocean whence both great rivers of traditional Indian music originate…
  • Sufi Kathak dancer Manjari Chaturvedi,  speaking  passionately on her ‘Courtesan Project’ to erase the social stigmas attached to the tawaifs (courtesans) and give them the respect and credit they deserve as  supreme exponents of dance, music, drama and literature:
    • Today, it has become so convenient for us to depict the tawaifs as ‘victims of sexual exploitation’ because they were women who performed in the nawabs’ courts. This is wrong! By the same token, we ought to be depicting as ‘victims of sexual abuse’ the men who performed in the nawab’s courts! The truth is, the tawaifs were great artistes, they were ustaads. And ustaad is a gender-neutral word! We only denigrate the tawaifs, we diminish and devalue their achievements by looking at them through the narrow prism of gender. Their music, all music, should be judged by its intrinsic value and quality, not by the gender or social position of the performer…”
    • “NASA’s two Voyager spacecraft, launched in 1977, carry ‘golden records’ containing sounds and images intended to depict the diversity of life on Earth for any extraterrestrial intelligence that may come across them. The records contain music from many countries: the song selected from India is the raga ‘Jaat Kahan Ho’ sung by khayal singer ‘Surshri’ Kesarbai Kerkar. Today Kerkar is still remembered in NASA’s golden disc on distant Voyager…but she is forgotten by us…”

The memories of the conversations blur and coalesce; presently they will fade and disappear altogether.

The music and passion endure, enthrall.

    High on music, captivated by this mighty war drum, I tried echoing the driving beat of  the Fairmont Gatekeeper…and succeeded in driving away a number of guests

General ravings, Musings

A road forgotten…a road remembered

Wandering through some long-forgotten folders, I came across a few ancient F-class photos from late September 2008, when I travelled for a few days in eastern Uttar Pradesh, visiting villages in Allahabad and Pratapgarh districts. These villages were home to migrant brick kiln workers: primarily, kiln firemen and their families.

I’d taken these photos with my first and most favorite camera phone. How I miss its simple practicability: no frills, no fancy apps, just the large-sized alpha-numeric keyboard, left–right button navigation, and a 1-megapixel camera. The phone, alas, is long expired; as indeed are most of the memories of that trip. The sights, sounds, scents, emotions, the people I met, our conversations, the food we ate, the places I stayed in, the sequence of events, their vividness, the once-sharp outlines, are now smoothed and rounded off and merged into one amorphous, uniform, featureless, mass…like the distant hill you see from a speeding car or train, a blurry pile shimmering in mid-afternoon haze like a dream, seemingly moving along with you, keeping pace as you speed along across a vast plain, but ever-so-slowly lagging, slipping back, till it is left behind forever.

Yet the photos now bring back shards of memory; and even memory of memory. Broken memories they are, discontinuous, yet sharp and clear as glass splinters. A few village names come to mind:  Ghuisarnath, Akhirajpur, Lakhram, Tharia. The drives to the villages, from Allahabad or Lalganj or Pratapgarh, were very hard on the bones and muscles, especially the stretches along rutted, pot-holed country roads. Yet I’d loved the experience. With the monsoon over and winter yet to set in, the streams and canals ran deep and wide, the exhilarating aromas of moist earth and damp vegetation hung over the rich green countryside, raucous birds rejoiced in the dense copses of mango, babool, neem, amla.

Amidst this richness, the firemen’s villages presented a sharply contrasting picture of poverty, endless toil, of quiet, timeless despair. Typically, each village was located on elevated ground; a few score huts scattered across the slopes, linked by mud-and-rubble-and-brick paths, with the inevitable tank at the base of the village, filled to the brim post the rains, some with flotillas of duck. Every village had a shrine, usually a temple of sorts, beneath some giant pipal or banyan, fronted by a large swept clearing that was the community meeting ground.

Sewing class taking a break – the newspapers are not for reading, but used instead of waste cloth (a costly and hard- to-get raw material) to train the young seamstresses
Tharia

Such was the little village of Mendara. Memories of trudging across broken land and halfway up a small hillock to where a great banyan stood, ringed at a respectful distance from its hanging roots by other smaller trees. Sitting in a circle with the villagers beneath the banyan, conversing about the lives they led—at the kilns, which were sometimes thousands of kilometers away, where the firemen worked ceaselessly for seven months or more each year in the most horrific conditions; and in the villages where, with the menfolk gone for most of the year, the women and children and the elderly faced extreme hardships.  How deeply moving was their warmth, their innocence, their incredible generosity. Hogging large quantities of fresh gur, bananas, drinking sweet yet deliciously strong chai liberally laced with goat’s milk. Walking around the village; making comic faces at the little children who scampered around and giggled and guffawed and made faces right back at me. The small village shrine, exquisitely clean, utterly peaceful, with fresh flowers and a bunch of bananas placed in front of the tiny sanctum lit by a single lamp, redolent of goat’s butter.

Mendara

The village elder led the way up toward the crest of the hillock. The trees thinned, the ground levelled off, and suddenly, we were standing on the edge of a cliff that followed the contours of the hillock on either side: a broken, fifty-foot- high wall of angular rock faces and red, iron-rich earth, strewn with stone and rubble and the corpses of countless trees and bushes that had once dwelt on the slopes. Far across the shallow valley I saw a line of low hills; and running across their midriffs like a jagged knife wound, a road under construction—its course marked by the hideous, characteristic signs of road building in Indian hills: scarred slopes, littered with mounds of earth, blasted boulders, tree trunks scattered like matchsticks on the denuded expanses.

“That is the new road from Allahabad,” the elder murmured.

“The Allahabad Bypass Expressway,” a young fireman corrected him politely. “It will turn round that slope and pass close to Mendara, right below us. See? They are working quite close already.” He pointed toward the left and I saw in the distance a stretch of muddy track carved out from the hillside. A bright yellow earth-mover was gouging out great chunks of earth from the slope; the clattering roars of its engines faint but distinct.

“They say the Expressway will bring us jobs; that it will bring prosperity to us,” the young fireman went on. His voice was hesitant. “With jobs, maybe we can earn more, be closer to home through the year; we can take care of our women, our children. Maybe we won’t have to travel to work in faraway brick kilns any more…”

The elder sighed. “Yes…but with the coming of the road, our old ways are vanishing,” he went on softly, his eighty-five years carved into deep lines that divided his face into a thousand weathered segments.  “So many trees have been felled; entire forests are gone. We have always grazed our goats, our buffalo, in the plains down there, but now the grasses are withered, the ground is hard, the streams are bitter, or have dried up. Where  will we take our animals for grazing when the road is finished? When thousands of vehicles are moving up and down, day and night?”

His voice trailed away and we stood there in silence.

And that’s when, without warning, a memory flooded my mind like a river; a much older memory, from a time when I was much younger, maybe ten years old. It was during a drive in the mid-1960s, somewhere between Jorhat and Kaziranga in Assam; father was driving the car, mother seated next to him, brother and I were dozing in the back…till we were woken up with a start by the screeching of tyres as the car braked to a shuddering stop. Through bleary eyes I saw, in the dull red light of dusk, a dozen goats milling about on the road in front of the car, a young goatherd – a boy about my age – frantically darting about, crying out and wielding a bamboo stick expertly till he assembled the animals in a loose group and led them across the road and up a path leading to a cluster of huts on the slopes to the left.

“My God, I nearly hit them,” father murmured, his voice trembling, hands gripped tight on the wheel.

“It’s all right,” mother murmured. “I’ll drive for a bit…you take a break, you’ve driven the whole afternoon…”

As we set off again, mother at the wheel, I spoke up. “Stupid goats. Stupid villagers! Why do they have to live so close to the road?”

Father glanced around sharply but before he could speak mother replied. “Understand, always remember, they were here before us.” Her voice was soft but stern. “The villages, the villagers, were here long before this road came…before we came…”

On that hillock above Mendara, I heard and felt the impact of those words undiminished by the decades…as I do now, fifty years older but not much wiser.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

General ravings, Musings

Epics, Epic Idiocies, and Truths

Do bear with me, O suffering and patient reader, while I, at the risk of offending you, rant on many strange things—as always, without knowing why. On history, science, the nature of discovery, epics, epic stupidity…and most incoherently, on why I am always uncertain, always a little angry because I have no idea what’s truth or half-truth or untruth any more.

First, do take a look at this screenshot of a WhatsApp message I received from a friend whom I’ve always considered to be far more erudite and rational than me.

Inglorious Heritage

I read the message very carefully from start to finish and from top to bottom; I studied every row and column, I even turned the phone backward to discern any hidden meanings I might have missed (succeeding only in taking a selfie of my elbow and part of one ear, which I will post separately – the selfie, I mean, not the ear).

But I discerned no hidden meanings. There was only this brave, neatly tabulated edict shining forth on my phone screen; a declaration that physicists in ancient India had discovered the principles and laws and patterns that explain how the Universe works long before pretenders of the ‘West’.

Briefly, I felt the Worm of Incredulity stir and wriggle in my mind. Quickly, I reached for my mental Bata chappal and squished the foul creature. For, I am a proud Indian; I love my Veda and Upanishad; I wanted to believe!

Staring at the awesome proclamation, I felt my mind’s heart swell with pride at the thought that my glorious scientific Indian super-ancestors had discovered all there was to discover in the Universe, as long as 9000 years before any of those ‘Western physicists’. In my mind’s eye I could see them now—a multitude of goggle-eyed Western physicists tumbling at relativistic velocities, arse-over-elbow, into the great Latrine of History, to be swallowed by the eddying and foaming waters and flushed away into the Celestial Cesspits of Dissolution. In my mind’s ear (located just below my mind’s eye), the cerebral air resonated with the throbbing, universal sound of the sacred syllable “HOME”…

Hooommmmmeeeeee

I cackled in unholy glee as I beheld Anaxagoras, Galileo, Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, Planck, Rutherford, Bohr, Einstein, Dirac, Fermi, Feynman, Born, Schrodinger, Chadwick — heroes of my misbegotten and ignorant youth, now exposed as charlatans and pretenders, the bloody saala kuttas!— plunge headlong into that awesome and awful Thunderbox of Time…

Alas, my celestial reverie was rudely interrupted when, in that cerebral procession of academicians, I saw the familiar and beloved faces of Satyendra Nath Bose, C V Raman and Subhramanyan Chandrasekhar. Arre bhai, I thought to myself, these are deshvaasis! Enna daa, these are my very own Indian scientists! Pioneers they were, too, in their time; pathfinders in esoteric and diverse fields of knowledge, from nuclear physics to cosmology. Were they, too, cheats and frauds, usurpers of discoveries made in Vedic times?

The Worm of Incredulity wriggled frenziedly in my cortex; abruptly, the spell was broken. I regained my normal semi-sanity, and having fortified myself with strong kaapi, replied to my friend, expressing my doubts about the veracity of the tabulated data. I wrote:

I sometimes suspect idiotic messages like these are being created by CPM and affiliated scoundrels just to make the public ridicule ancient Hindu texts – a purpose served when gullible people forward these messages without a thought!”

Rather unfair, of course, as pointed out by another dear friend. Why point a finger at CPM alone, she asked, when the real reason why such messages work is because there are any number of idiots (including, damn nearly, you) who will believe anything they are told; who cannot, or will not, tell truth from untruth?

But then, I reflected later, what in Allah’s and Krishna’s and Marx’s names is ‘truth’?

I wandered the campus alone through the night, pondering the question. I asked the night-watchman, and the night-watchman’s dog: to no avail.

Now, as I type these meaningless words, I wonder: maybe ‘truth’ is what I choose to believe to be the truth?

Because today I can choose what I want to believe is the truth, damn the rest of the world, empowered as I am by the mainstream media and Net which allows me to sift through like 367 startlingly different versions of the same news or event to find the version of ‘truth’ that makes me the most comfortable.

TimesNow said so!”

I saw it on The Wire…so there!”

Indian Express carried it!”

Ha! NDTV will never mention it because they’re in cahoots with You-Know-Who!”

Maybe truth is simply, conveniently, what my dear friends believe to be the truth as of today; and I believe that truth because I don’t want to be seen as silly or churlish or – most scarily – apart from the group by doubting, questioning, arguing, differing.

Maybe it’s all these reasons, and more. Maybe there’s no such thing as ‘absolute truth’ anymore; if ever such a thing held …er…true.

Maybe we are all equally at sea. Lost in a stormy, ever-swelling Universe-wide ocean of information: an electromagnetic, 5G ocean that swamps our senses, numbs our brains, distorts our thoughts, impairs our cognitive processes, alters even our dreams with its mega-blather of social media twitter and chatter, its tides of toxic subliminal multimedia messages and memes. We are tossed about on its terrifying Waves of Opinion, maddened by the shrieking Winds of Hates and Lusts that lash the waters into froth, hurled again and again toward the jagged, slippery Reefs of Judgment;  our Sails of Resolve shredded, Compass of Confidence cracked, Lamp of Reason shattered, Moorings of Morality long forsaken…

And all the while, the ravenous Beasts of MAM wait impatiently for us to impale ourselves on the Reefs, or to release our despairing grips and slide into the seething waters …they, who have reduced our minds to a uniform, amoeba-like state of imbecility, the perfectly uniform baseline in which the only variants are the Truth-Feeds they manufacture and feed us with, 24/7…

The Beasts of Marketing, Advertising, Media.

Today’s Holy Trinity: Creator–Sustainer–Destroyer.

I seek, and find brief solace, in the music of that wonderful rock opera of the last century, ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’: I shudder in the terrible words of Pontius Pilate in converse with Jesus:

Jesus: I look for Truth and find that I get damned.

Pilate: But what is Truth? Is Truth unchanging law?

We both have Truths—is yours the same as mine?

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVB8QBurhV0]

Musings, Verse perverse

Pralayam dream

Pralayam dream

[Inspired by the Beatles’ ‘A day in the life’ – with apologies to their estate, and to my gentle readers. Please click here to listen to the original song]

I read the news today, oh boy
About a glitzy man who made front page
And though the news was rather sad
Well I just had to laugh
I saw the photograph…

He slew six mild folk with his car
Too high to notice that the lights had changed
A crowd of people stood and stared
They’d seen his face before
Nobody was really sure if he’d done wrong
Their Star he was…

I saw a film today, oh boy
The Indian Army had just won the war
A crowd of people turned away
But I just had to look
‘N liked it on Facebook
I’d love to burn ‘n nuke it all…

Woke up, fell out of bed
Swigged black tea to clear my head
Checked WhatsApp, chewed some stale old crap,
Looking up I noticed I was late
Checked my Tweets, tripped on the mat
Made the bus in seconds flat
Found my way upstairs and had a smoke
Somebody spoke and I went into a dream

I read the news today, oh boy
Ten thousand died in riots; ten million cheered

And though the dead were large and small

They had to count them all…
Now they know how many dead it takes to fill our Malls ‘n Prayer Halls
I’d love to burn ‘n nuke it all…

 

Musings

Verbo City—a survivor’s tale

Why, oh why is it, that the words we hear and read and say grow longer and longer and more and more hard to understand as we grow from childhood to adulthood? Why must the language we use become more and more addled and tangled as we career along our chosen career paths and clamber up the ladders of success and promotion, rung by slippery rung?

It’s become a habit, a fashion, the norm, to use big words to confuse, confound, obfuscate, obscure. The longer and less understandable your words, the more people are impressed.  Civil Serpents and Editors of Indian English newspapers are among the worst offenders.  So are Consultants of different kinds, especially in the Development sector.

I am a Consultant in the Development sector. I know.

But I try and use simple words when I speak and write, words that are quite easy to understand. This trait of course makes me a disgrace to my profession.

Yayyy!

The fact is, verbosity has become the convention in formal communication in every profession across the world—which is really weird, because informal communication has long slipped below the 140-character count to the realm of Emogis and images.

In the workplaces of the world, the most successful careers are made by those who can say, in more than six hundred words, what could be better said in three.  Often, when these worthies run out of words, they invent their own words. Others eagerly pick up these totally new words and add their own extensions and variants.

No-one dares ask: “What in heck does that mean?” No-one dares say: “That doesn’t make sense;  that’s crap!”

And so, today, we lesser mortals find ourselves immersed and struggling to stay afloat in a huge, ever-deepening and ever-expanding Sea of Drivel . A Sea whose waters are as crystal-clear as Rahul Gandhi’s  statements, as sparkling and palatable as Asaddudin Owaisi’s or Praveen Togadia’s  philosophies.

Extensive and entirely imaginary research reveals that Ancient India had a name for this great Ocean of Gobbledygook: Gobara Shabdam Sagara[1] [from Muttal Shastras, Vol. 9:  Ch. XXV, 1123-1138. Bakasura Press: Circa 9600 BCE ]

Here’s an example of Gobara Shabdam at its most exquisitely mind-numbing level:  a ‘disclaimer’ taken from the audit report of a leading Indian IT company, conducted by a well-known chartered accountancy firm [to read full report, JFGI[2]…or just click here.]

“…An audit involves performing procedures to obtain audit evidence about the amounts and disclosures in the financial statements. The procedures selected depend on the auditor’s judgment, including the assessment of the risks of material misstatement of the financial statements, whether due to fraud or error. In making those risk assessments, the auditor considers internal control relevant to the entity’s preparation and fair presentation of the financial statements in order to design audit procedures that are appropriate in the circumstances, but not for the purpose of expressing an opinion on the effectiveness of the entity’s internal control. Accordingly, we express no such opinion.”

Here’s another fine example we came across recently: this one from a ‘Request for Proposal’ document issued by a wing of that Mahavishnu of Gobara Shabdam, the United Nations:

Working in partnership with national governments, civil society organizations and other development agencies, we use a mix of approaches which include longer-term efforts aimed at both influencing long-standing harmful social norms and fostering new protective behaviors, through sustained community dialogue and analysis, framing of positive public narratives, and stimulating social non-acceptance of negative social practices.”

How exquisite that phrase: “stimulating social non-acceptance of negative social practices”.

It’s not just gobbledygook; it’s pure mathematics at its best!  Let’s analyse the phrase:

Stimulating’ is positive; so it’s +. ‘Non-acceptance’ is negative, it’s . ‘Negative’ is of course negative, . And ‘social practices’ refers to what’s going on right now, so it’s positive: that’s +. But what’s going on right now is not good at all (it’s bad, bad, bad!); so ‘social practices’ is also negative: that’s !

Putting it all together, the entire phrase can be rewritten as “ + – – +/- ” .

That’s one plus, two minuses, and one plus/minus. So, the overall meaning is either zero or negative!

Isn’t it wonderful?

It’s easy to see why it’s so hard to get funding from UN organizations.

We first need to learn to write like that!

We must confess with shame, dear reader, that we once tried to write like that, if only briefly. Driven by the fierce compulsions of shrinking bank balances, deepening obligations and expanding borrowings, we too once enrolled for a short-term course in ‘Writing Balderdash and Cant’ at the internationally unknown, UN-derecognized Institute of Convoluted Phraseology and Affiliated Gibberish (ICPAG), Laxminagar, New Delhi.

We failed with distinction.  We lost our way somewhere near the appendix; we couldn’t discern semi-colon from colon; we not only passed out but rendered ourselves comma-tose.

We dropped out from ICPAG – fortunately! Because with this violent cerebral self-eviction, we have joyously reverted, light of heart and wallet, to being a mere struggling writer. And our immortal writer’s soul has been saved from a Fate Worse than Debt.

Indeed it is hard— yet we vow never to be trapped again by the silvery, sticky webs of the Spin Meisters that abound in media, politics, corporates, government and NGOs; never to be carried away by the great Tides of Drivel that encircle our planet.

We take heart from Great Warriors against the Tripe of Political Correctness, the Euphemisms of State Speak and other manifestations of Gobara Shabdam such as the late George Carlin [ click here to watch him].

And in times of need (such as now, when we realize we should have reduced this 1000-word rant to 8 words or less), we are inspired by the immortal and inspiring advice that a great newspaper editor of yore gave to aspiring writers:

“When you’ve got a thing to say,

Say it! Don’t take half a day.

When your tale’s got little in it,

Crowd the whole thing in a minute!

Life is short – a fleeting vapour –

Don’t you fill the whole blamed paper

With a tale which, at a pinch,

Could be cornered in an inch!

Boil her down until she simmers,

Polish her until she glimmers.”

[Joel Chandler Harris (1848–1908): advice to writers for the Daily Press]


 

[1] Sanskrit: Gobara = cattle dung (Sl. bullshit); Shabdam = words; Sagara = sea/ocean

[2] JFGI—‘just effing Google it’. This acronym is a fine example of simple, informal communication. [Source: anonymous millennium-generation Gurvi].

Musings, Potshots

Presidential Broad-Caste and our Caste-Ironed Media

The ugly, cruel media brouhaha over who will be the next ‘Dalit’ President of India, Ram Nath Kovind or  Meira Kumar, brings to mind two anecdotes:

  • When Dr. Zakir Husain became the President of India, a journalist asked him – Was it not the victory of secularism in the country that a Muslim had become the President? Dr. Zakir Husain replied – “I would have been very happy if you had not mentioned my religion. It is because of the beauty of our Constitution where every citizen is equal that I have become the president.”
  • A famous pianist accidentally bruised his finger severely minutes before a major performance. Despite his heavily bandaged finger and pain, he insisted on playing as scheduled. The Master of Ceremonies was aghast. Having failed to dissuade the pianist from performing, he sought permission to inform the audience about the accident, and that the maestro would perform nevertheless. “You shall do nothing of the sort!” cried the maestro. “Why, tonight I might perform better than I ever have or ever shall in my life…yet, remembering your words, the people in the hall will shake their heads and look at one another and say: ‘The maestro played quite well tonightalas, if only he hadn’t injured his finger, how much better his performance might have been!’ No, no, I shall play to minds unclouded by irrelevant sympathies for my finger!” And so he did. The performance was brilliant.

Consider, gentle reader, the case of Ram Nath Kovind, nominated for the post of President of India by the ruling NDA government. The entire Indian media sees Kovind as nothing more than a ‘Dalit’; indeed, barring a precious few noble exceptions, our journalists see Kovind’s nomination as being based on this single loathsome argument: by nominating Kovind the Dalit, the BJP-led NDA is assuring itself of Dalit votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Worse, the media couches its twisted presentations in the enervating, patronizing gobbledygook of political correctness. One example is an editorial which brightly suggests that there is ‘rich symbolism’ in the prospect of a Dalit president [click here to read]. Such an outlook views every Indian through the narrow, warped lenses of caste, religion, ethnicity, language—lenses that are selected and discarded as per convenience and context to make this or that argument. It is this very vision that fractures Indians into thousands of mutually hostile social groupings; that continues to prevent the Dalit from ever shedding his/her ‘Dalit identity’ (our intellectuals have even coined a term for this: ‘dalitness’); that indeed drove Rohith Vemula, the student from University of Hyderabad,  to take his own life in despair.

When K R Narayanan, and later  APJ Abdul Kalam, assumed the office of President, great swathes of us ‘educated, urbane’ Indians did not, or could not, recognize or celebrate the fact that these were self-made men of humble origins, who were supremely qualified for the highest office because of their humaneness, moral fibre, formidable intellects and scholarly achievements. All we saw was that a ‘Dalit’ and ‘a Muslim’  had become President! And thus we diminished them. …as we now diminish Kovind.

As we now diminish Meira Kumar, nominated by the Opposition against Kovind.

Thus do we diminish, degrade ourselves.

Can you spot the Muslim Hindu Brahmin ST SC OBC
Can you spot the Muslim? the Hindu? the Brahmin? the Dalit?

This narrow-minded vision of humanity has cursed India and its populace for thousands of years; like a long-lived radioactive poison, it has spread across the country, seeped into our educational policies, our political and governance structures, our minds, our deeds. The only cure is incredibly simple: to awaken to, and accept, the simple, scientific truth that beneath our many-hued skins and assumed symbols of religious, caste, and other forms of social exclusivity, we are all simply and equally human. It is a truth that frightens the hell out of the bigots among us, the casteists, communalists, racists. But it brings incredible joy…for we truly then see the One in All, and All in One.

Nothing religious about that, no?

 

 

Beastly encounters, Musings, Potshots

A coffee bean’s trauma (or, Nightmare on Dung Street)

Feverish insights into the goodness of dung and the oneness of all living things

Warning

A week or so ago,  a great Indian thinker—the Hon. Mahesh Chandra Sharma, recently retired judge of Rajasthan High Court—provided new and wondrous insights into the Divine Attributes of the Indian Cow [click here to read full report].  We were enthralled, delighted, by his revelations; we were eager to believe.

Alas, many highly ill-reputed intellectuals in India and abroad greeted Hon. Sharma’s revelations with amusement, skepticism, and even scorn. Our belief was shattered.

Was Sharma-jee wrong?

Is the bovine no divine but a mere mortal?

These and other weighty  questions kept us tossing restlessly in bed night after night, till we resolved to seek wise counsel from one of the world’s leaders in bovine research: Dr Pashupalan Moosa, Senior Director at  the Indian Cow Research Institute (ICRI), Gurgaon and  Head of the Product Innovations, Design & Development Labs (PIDDL), located in the sprawling 1400-acre campus of ICRI.

We met Dr Moosa in his spotlessly clean lab-cum-office. He was a curly-haired, bespectacled gentleman of about sixty-five, wearing a white lab coat and the placid expression of the Indian water buffalo. On the wall behind his desk was a fetching portrait of Kamadhenu, the Celestial Cow. Dr Moosa bade us sit and poured out two cups of black coffee from a large percolator. We accepted a cup gratefully and took a sip. The coffee was excellent: just the right warmth, strong yet not bitter, heady in fragrance, with a kind of wild, mossy, moist flavour that evoked the freshness of rain forests.

“We have ten minutes,” Dr Moosa murmured.

“Sir,” we began hesitantly, “the Hon. Mahesh Chandra Sharma has provoked considerable mirth and wrath with his claims that the cow is a divine creature. As a leading expert in bovine sciences, what do you make of his statements?”

“Of course Sharma is right: the cow is divine,” Dr Moosa murmured. “Just as you are divine! As indeed is a tapeworm, an ant, a chicken, a tick, a bacterium, a cuttlefish!” He leaned forward, warming to his theme.  “Listen: all living creatures on Earth are made of the same genetic stuff. Whether we are bacteria or Bactrian camels, conger eels or Congressmen, capuchin monkeys or capitalists, Komodo dragons or communists, giraffes or jihadists, all of us share the same DNA and RNA at the cellular level. We are all, at the core, truly One—whether we like the idea or not. All living things have spawned and evolved in the same great river of the Genetic Code, which some people call God by various names and others simply call names. So why should we exclude the poor bovine from this all-embracing divine realm?”

He was being a tad evasive, of course; but we were so awestruck by the potency of his words and his coffee that we let it pass. “All right, sir…but what about Sharma-jee’s other claims? For instance, he declares that a cow inhales as well as exhales oxygen! What kind of respiration is that, sir? It flies in the face of science!”

“Not at all,” said our colleague gently. “Haven’t you heard of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation?  It works because you can actually exhale part of the oxygen you inhale. So…it’s not only the cow that can inhale and exhale oxygen: we all can!”

“But…Hon. Sharma also quotes some obscure research by some untraceable Russian scientist named Shirovich to claim that a cow’s bellows can kill germs in the vicinity! Surely that’s absurd enough to make a buffalo laugh?”

Our learned colleague chuckled. “Well, first the point about a cow’s bellows killing germs. Here too Sharma is factually correct. It’s the media that’s got the story wrong! The media has misinterpreted the word ‘bellows’ to mean the sound a cow makes with its mouth, and ended up looking at the wrong end of the cow…um…pipe. You see, a cow does not bellow; it moos. By ‘bellows’, Sharma is referring to the simple, age-old mechanical device used for squeezing out gas from a bag at high pressure. Now, it is an established fact that a cow…er… squeezes out more than 60 litres of methane and other gases daily from its stomach bag – a direct result of its grassy, high-protein diet.  Think of it: 60 litres! Forget germs, no living creature can possibly survive such saturation bombardment by the highly aromatic emissions from a cow—not even an elephant that’s lost its sense of smell!” Dr Moosa paused and looked at us keenly. “If you like, I can take you across to PIDDL’s integrated cattle shed complex; you’ll vividly appreciate the point when we’re half-a-kilometre away.”

“There’s no need for that, sir!” we assured him hastily. “But then, what about this Shirovich, the Russian bovine scientist that Hon. Sharma referred to? He’s untraceable! We’ve hunted for Shirovich and his purported work on the Net, in libraries…but to no avail.”

Dr Moosa shook his head sadly. “I have no doubts at all that this Shirovich exists or existed, and that his work is authentic. My guess is that Shirovich must have quietly succumbed to an excess intake of bovine emissions while undertaking some long-term experiment, doubtless in some remote bovine lab in Siberia or the Ural Mountains where his demise went unnoticed. That’s why he is untraceable, poor fellow: a great loss to the scientific world.”  He sighed and refilled our cups with steaming coffee.

We fought off the feeling of unreality that was slowly enveloping us. “There’s also been a lot of unkind comment in social media over other things Hon. Sharma said. Like, he says the cow is a clinic! And he goes on and on about the healing powers of cow urine and cow dung…”

“Of course he’s right!” broke in Dr Moosa.  “You must try and ignore the cackling of the hoi-polloi!”  He paused, reached into a desk drawer, took out a small dark-brown package wrapped in plastic and handed it to us.

“Behold!” he cried. “This is the latest product from the PIDDL stables…er…cattle pens. It’s pure, fresh cow dung, painstakingly collected by my team from cows that have grazed only in the ISO 9001:2008-certified organic pastures of PIDDL. We’ve enriched the dung with vitamins and minerals, added subtle flavours, and given it a catchy brand-name: ‘PIDDL Dung’!” His face was flushed with pride and enthusiasm. “PIDDL-Dung is now being marketed as a breakfast-food supplement in 114 countries, including USA, EU, UAE, Japan and Australia. It’s one of the greatest success stories of the Make in India initiative!”Grazing dream

“That’s amazing,” we whispered, holding the PIDDL-Dung package gingerly. “But why is it only being exported? Why aren’t you marketing it in India?”

Dr Moosa smiled tolerantly. “Our marketing team knows what it is doing. Indians will never embrace any traditional Indian product—until the West first embraces it. Now that other countries, particularly the West, have started consuming PIDDL-Dung by the ton, Indians will soon follow in droves!”

We tried to speak but only succeeded in making soft mooing noises.  On the wall, Kamadhenu twitched her tail and gave us an inquiring look.

“PIDDL-Dung comes in six flavours at present,” Dr Moosa went on. “This one’s chocolate-almond; please accept it as a gift!”

“Thanks, but sorry, sir,” we mumbled, placing the package down on the desk. “It’s just a little hard to stomach the idea of eating cow dung…”

Arre bhai!” he cried. “If you can eat sheep’s brains and goat’s gonads, if you can gobble up fish eggs and frog’s legs, if you can wolf down globs of pounded flesh stuffed into bags stitched from pig’s intestines in the name of sausages, why’s it so hard to savour some clean, tasty cow dung? Hahn-jee?”

His logic was irrefutable, yet hard to swallow. “But …but these are animal feces!” we protested feebly.

Dr Moosa relapsed into moody silence.  But after a moment he looked up and smiled. “Did you like the coffee? Would you like some more?”

“So kind of you, sir… the coffee’s really superb. But we’ve taken up enough of your time, thank you.” We rose, nodded at Kamadhenu who nodded back, and shook our host’s hand.  He walked with us to the door.

“This is Kopi Luwak coffee, you know,” he murmured as we reached the door.  “It’s from Indonesia. It’s the most expensive coffee in the world. A kilo costs anything from 1200 dollars to 3000 dollars, that’s two lakh rupees…”

We were stunned. “What’s in that coffee, gold?” we asked.

He chuckled. “No, it’s not gold.  Although curiously, gold is the word used by local Indonesians to describe the animal feces from which they get the coffee beans…”

We clutched the door for support. “What!”

“Yes…you see, the coffee beans are picked out from the feces of the Indonesian palm civet cat. This lovely animal likes eating coffee cherries. The cherries are digested, but the beans stay intact as they pass through the animal’s stomach and intestine. In the process they absorb certain unique flavours, and so when they emerge…”

Dr Moosa broke off and started to laugh at our horrified expression. It was an extraordinary laugh: not quite human, rather a series of shrill, persistent monotonic beeps that grew louder and louder. It was almost like the sound of a morning alarm…

Mercifully, it was.