Thursday, June 27, 2013
History, Politics and Best Sellers….
You know what I regret most? I regret that Valmiki and Ved Vyas did not copyright their works. I wish that the intellectual property laws had been invented back in 2000 BC or thereabouts so we don’t have to suffer the torture inflicted on us- the reading public- by half-baked re-imaginings of timeless classics in the name of re-interpretation. Gods and devils, devas and asuras- none have been spared from being filched and “re-imagined” horrendously. Every other writer nowadays "borrows" of the Puranas and Itihasas and makes a mash of them in the guise of modernity.
If you are wondering what has riled me so much let me give you the story behind my irritation. I recently got my hands on a book which was purported to be a retelling of God Shiva's story - a book tom-tomed as the fastest selling bestseller on on-line retailers.. If you have not had the misfortune to read that novel please don’t spend your hard earned money and buy it believing the marketing hype. But if you like me had bought it already, then i am sure that we kindred souls can commiserate with each other for wasting time and money on such a pathetic rendition of what a novel should be.
There are lots of people out there who trash Chetan Bhagat (after secretly reading his novels) as a boring and ungrammatical writer. I for one consider Chetan Bhagat as the best Indian contemporary author. Want to know why? Because he is original and imaginative. He doesn’t simply filch the Ramayana and Mahabharata and just modernize the characters. He has written progressively about college life, call center life, small town life and such other facets of contemporary.
Now compare Chetan Bhagats competition on the bestseller list. The other bestsellers on the contemporary Indian fiction list are Bankers Ramayana series- not a patch on the previous versions of Valmiki, Tulsidas, Kamban or my favorite, Rajagoplachari's. And then the execrable Shiva series I mentioned earlier written by Amish Tripathi and the Krishna series written by Ashwin Sanghi- an eminently forgettable addition to the list of Indian writers- as forgettable as their books. And somehow marketing hype, catering to the lowest common denominator has brought these books onto the bestseller list too.
The reason, in my opinion, these books are making the bestseller lists is the rising tide of fanaticism in the country. Our people are getting better educated but are simultaneously growing more parochial. Such people don’t read or trust history, they get all their historical knowledge from reading trashy novels which retell history to reflect their authors mindset. Mores’ the pity for a real historical knowledge is as essential for a good citizen as any professional training. A professional degree gives you the skills for a job; history teaches you your place in society. And that’s the reason why rulers have fought over it traditionally - the right to teach their own version of history.
Throughout human life we can see that history has always been a weapon in the hands of the ruling elite. In India real historical knowledge was first propounded by the ruling British, people like Alexander Cunningham who excavated Monhenjadaro and formulated the Indus Valley civilization theory and the Aryan Dravidian divide. After independence history passed on into the hands of those Marxist parasites who ruled the roost under Nehruvism- people like Romila Thapar- who decided that Marxism was best served by reducing Indian history to a nonentity until the Arab invasion of Sindh. For the Marxist historians Indian history attained its high point and ended with the Mughals. For how else could they justify their accepting handouts from the modern day nawabs who ruled from New Delhi. And this state sponsored glossing over the historical atrocities committed by the Islamic invasion has produced a natural backlash in the rise of hindutva fanatics who have swung the pendulum of history to the other end.
The right wing rise in India has coincided with bestselling novelists who have cleverly played on the sentiments of people who want to believe that theirs was a glorious past which was destroyed by foreign invaders starting from the Arabs, the Turks, the Mongols and then the British. For people like Amish Tripathi, the highpoint of Indian history is the Aryan reign in the Indo-Gangetic plain. That is why in the Shiva series he has Aryanised the Indus valley culture by referring it often by the historically inaccurate name of Indo-Saraswatic culture. Every theory of the yet to be deciphered Harappan script refers to the astonishing similarities it shares with Dravidian, more specifically the early Granthan Tamil script known as Vatteluthu.
But to these new age authors, people like Ashwin Sanhghi or Amish Tripathi, everything starts with Manu their patron saint and so they appropriate the Dravidian heritage of the Indus valley culture and make it Proto-Aryan - as a degenerated form of the great Aryan civilization as exemplified by Manudharma. Archaeological evidence of a 150 years - right from the original digger Cunningham- is discarded in favor of a fanciful interpretation to suit new age India which demands a hoary past of immense scientific progress and cultural status.
For these people everyone in ancient India ate gold and shit diamonds and all the knowledge of the world was inside India and the rest were mere barbarians. This exalted view of Indian supremacy must have existed historically too or how else can you explain the fact that at one point of history ancient Indian society specifically excommunicated people who traveled by sea? Even the father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi suffered this fate as late as the 19th century when he went to England to study law and this when there was clear historical evidence from coins/potsherds/books (Indica by Megasthenes?) that other ancient civilizations were bold seafarers who regularly visited India to trade?
This parochial view of the false greatness of Indians alone when compared to the rest of the world is the same view being perpetuated by these bestselling authors to prey on gullible youngsters who skipped their history lessons at school. For example in the Shiva series there is an hilarious explanation of the alcoholic drink somapana as an antioxidant drink comparable to modern day juice boosters but with miraculous effects like the elixir of life. I accept that authors have a license to use their imagination and write fantasy but in this case they are merely playing into the hands of politically motivated fundamentalists who will take these books as literal facts and boast about our "rich" heritage now gone to dogs.
And so we come back to my original premise, about my regret on not allowing the Ramayana and Mahabharata to remain as they are without these frequent re-telling. I wouldn’t bother if any of these translations were halfway interesting purely from a writing (or plot) point of view. But the truth is they are not. They are neither enjoyable nor truthful. And they are not even like chetan bhagats books which at least address today’s issues instead of raking up old and historical feuds and prejudices.
And what’s more scary, these books are being used as part of a larger agenda to increase contempt for our contemporary scientific society (which is far more egalitarian than any in historical India) based on a fanciful image of ancient India and its omniscient greatness. Is this accidental on the part of those authors? Or are they being used or co-opted against their knowledge? Or is it all a part of the growing radicalization of society to the Right of the polity as a backlash to being force fed fifty years of Marxist (leftist/Communist) history by the JNU Jolawalla types?
I leave you to decide for yourselves and ask you to share your opinions with me in the comments section. I have a final plea to you, please read history for history sake. Read it neither as a leftist nor as rightist but as a seeker of knowledge and you can see the truth minus all fanciful lies and politics. And finally a novel is just a novel, it is not history and ancient India did not have streets paved with gold- that was El Dorado. Enough said?
Saturday, June 22, 2013
Giving Grudgingly.....Are you a Karnan or a Kuselan?
Anyone who is familiar with Indian mythology would know the story of King Sibi who cut out a pound of his own flesh for a starving bird. And the story of King Karna who famously said that what the right hand gives the left hand should not know- rule only applying to alms and donations. But that was then. Now, most of us make sure that not only do we give publicly, we also make sure that everyone around knows that we give, whatever we give.
My very first job as an assistant at a hospital (in Perambur) was under a doctor who followed the above principle very carefully. Anything he gave away, be it as small as a pencil, he made sure carried his name on it, lovingly engraved as "donated by so-and-so". In fact, that was the point of his donation as he wanted to gain publicity among his fellow rotary club members and round table club members. If it hadn’t been that some kind of charity was required for his advancement in social standing in these clubs, he wouldn't have donated a single paisa. The gentleman finally had his hearts pleasure of becoming the chairman of the local rotary branch, when he promptly ceased making any personal donations and started doing all his philanthropic works using the club funds (legitimately) collected for that purpose- a win, win situation all around.
Now, if you think that i quoted the above example out of grudge at my former boss- you are wrong- we parted amicably when my apprentice time was up and we have still stayed in touch sporadically over the years. And that despite his initial test for my honesty, when during my first day at the job, he randomly sprinkled money in a few places in the clinic and watched me secretly (along with the nurses) to see if I picked them up and handed them all to him or if i was tempted to steal. With such an initiation ceremony was i welcomed into my new (and first job) and I did prove my honesty to him but was also pissed off at the test but waited till I had learned everything useful I could from him before showing him the finger and exiting on my own terms. That’s a story for a different day and let’s return to the premise of this blog post.
So what the puranas teach us is to give without holding back and if you cant give like that, don’t give rather than give grudgingly. But how many of us follow this rule? Many people are guilty of giving for their own sakes to assuage some secret guilt rather than give selflessly. And that’s the reason why the hundi at Tirupati (and many other temples) is always over flowing - because evil men who defraud their fellow human beings try to buy their salvation (Punyam) by trying to bribe God himself. Those who pour such vast amounts as donations to temples are the same ones who grudge what little they give to the others around them- their employees, their customers and the general public.
Sometimes we cannot afford to give to others when our own needs are wanting. But the Bible says that’s the best time to give- to give out of our need rather than to give out of our excess. Have you ever done so? And not regretted it? If so, I raise my hat to you. For I haven’t. I still feel a little reluctance at my giving off my need. To put things in perspective let’s see a brief introduction to the economics of the health care profession.
The month of May is usually a lean month to doctors everywhere. Most prospective patients are away on vacations and even the ones who are not, are saving up their money for their upcoming vacations and would rather not waste it on paying doctors fees, unless it’s an unavoidable emergency. Also, if you factor in the kids, you can see that the average man has to pay school fees for the upcoming academic year and buy books, shoes, uniforms and all that. Hence any disease for which treatment can be postponed is usually avoided for the next couple of months. Hence doctors everywhere feel the pinch (of low to very low earnings) during the months of May and June.
So in such a state of distrait circumstance financially, i was sitting and calculating the amount of money I had declined from patients for doing pro bono (charity) work over the past month. For one reason or other, i had taken pity on these patients and had declined my consultant fees entirely giving them the benefit of my time, skill and care entirely freely - they still had to pay the other fees, for the original doctor and hospital charges. The final amount came to quite a big amount (by my low standards) and i am sorry to say, I regretted sacrificing it when I clearly needed it to tide over a very lean month for me financially (i am not yet reduced to asking for personal loans, so please don’t avoid my phone calls). As i said it is easier to give when you have in excess, but tougher when you need it yourself. And then I consoled myself with the self satisfied thought that I had given away the money even when I needed it so I am like Karna or Sibi or in that league.
I was actually filled with false pride for a moment before reality brought me down. It wasn’t as if I had handed it over from my own pocket. I clearly had never been in ownership of that money- it had stayed with the patients and was their money from first to last. So I wasn’t entitled to feel proud for something which had never belonged to me in the first place. And whatever false pride i had felt at my own generosity melted away and i was ashamed of myself- for patting myself on the back for an undeserved deed.
And thats when i recalled the original stories of Karna and Sibi - those guys didn’t give to others to feel happy about giving. They gave without a second thought. And they certainly didn’t give grudgingly and grumble later about the loss of it- like I did. It’s better not to give at all rather than give like that. People like me are a far cry from the high standards of our forefathers.
So I finally came to the conclusion that I had been a fool- I should either have declined to do free cases on a needy month or once done I should not have counted the money i didn’t get (in the first place) as part of my charity efforts for the month. All I did was creative accounting and not real charity. I gave grudgingly (regretting it) and so it didn’t count at all. If I am going to regret it later, then i better not give at all, just to experience the false satisfaction of saying that i too do charity work.
I think i have learned my lesson from this. So, have you?
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Okka, Mokka, Kadupethrada Unga Akka
[Disclaimer: The other day I was out visiting my grandparent’s house in mint area and happened to spot three weird characters - two guys and a girl, standing around a street corner and talking their version of English. I discreetly tried to eavesdrop on their conversation as it interested me very much and though I have tried as far as possible to reproduce it verbatim here, I may have forgotten many of the more colorful phrases they used in a flow. If so, I beg pardon for the blame is on my faulty memory. I leave you with these three- a boy, his girl and her little brother.]
Hai stop da, why you talking, ask her to talk no? She standing in side of me only no? What? She wont talk'a? Why she wont talku? What your sister one big shot ah? She is saying no, no to me all the time? What your family is big englishman family or what? She is saying I am local and all. What you buy your vegetables in fruit shop or what? You that big family'a? You eat only english vegetables like apple, orange and not local vegetables like katrika, vendaka also?
Aiyyi, you talk di. Talk straight me, why you no? what you big diana maharani or what? why you talk to me with your brother, talk face direct and tell. Ok, you don’t like me now but give me answer why? why you no like me now. Before you like me plenty no? Why you stop now? Tell that firstu.
What? Buy choclate? Ok, you want chocolate means tell straight me. Why you tell your friends and all? I eat only pulip mittais- the ones you put in your cheek and suck for their sourness? So when you ask me bring chocolate, I already have one in my pocket and thats why I gave it you and told to suck my balls, suck the sour balls. How was I to know you dont like sour balls and and want only diary milk chocolate and all that posh things. And you tells all our friends that because I dont eat sweet chocolate, I am not sweet man and because of sour chocolate I am only sour man. All this after just one suck at my balls.
Also, that singing songs thing you know. Coming to your house bedroom and singing English songs and all? ok..i dont know any music except some drunken monk gana songs. But I know one friend who sings to guitar music and all. He is the famous man Paadai Peter of Royapuram, who sings Christmas songs in church. He is very famous for dead man singing and most wanted for singing outside dead people house. When someone die in my area they first call Peter only to come before making paadai also to carry dead man. He came with one guitar and was standing outside your house and I sang one song he taught me, very famous song "in my heart big rain falling, inside lake lotus flower hiding". All sooper figures like sameera ready and samantha liking that songu but your sister not liking means what, she is bigger figure than samantha? how my fault if she dont like rahman songu?
Then you want to go to coffee shop and all. Ask anyone in my area, I am only tea drinker, I dont drink degree kaapi. That is for mamas and mamis. My sitthapu told me if you drink kaapi you cant do matteru and all. So I am not drinking kaapi from little boy, very, very carepul I am. I regularly drink tea daily in diamond tea shop, my area biggest tea shop Very famous place, opposite Mint Bell Cage. They have big, big, legends photos and all, in the walls hanging. All big, big shots like koli babu, boxer vadivelu, weldingu kumaru, saidai sadha photos and all. People who have committed at least ten murders only hanging on that wall. But there and all I cannot take you. They allow inside only if you are wearing lungi, do you have lungi to wear? No, no? Thats why I dont take you there. But you want to go to kapi shop where they dont allow even to smoke one cigarettu. How can man drink kapitea without smoking cigarettu? Loosu fellows. Tell them i told ok? And that kaapi also full mixed with icecream. Tell me you want kaapi or you want icecream? Why mix? You mix and rasam and thayir also same time and eat or what?
I know that you Anglo’s speak very good english and all- all aapakara englepeese you speak. Thats why I learn english also from rapidex english lessons. But you are not happy with that also? you want me to speak like aapakaran also? My boys in street will laugh if i speak like a Dhat, Bhoot, Tanjavooru fellow only. All street will laugh, I will have to change house and go another area. So I will talk only tameel after you me marriage, ok?. If not ok, then you go to cemetery di. Too much kadupu you are a-thing, my heart burning like stove only. Go, don’t show face in my street again or i spit paan masala with full saliva.
[With that threat, the trio seemed to realize that someone was closely eavesdropping on their conversation and so they moved on, out of my hearing range….End of Story]
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
All's Well for an Optimist.
So the news is, Actress Jiah khan committed suicide (recently) due to a failed relationship. If everyone with failed relationships ended up committing suicide the earth would pretty soon be de-populated. I am not; pardon me, making fun of Jiah Khan, dead that she is now. I am merely pointing out the incongruity of her actions when she had a bright and independent future ahead of her, a future which might not have included a happy relationship but had almost everything else her heart desired.
Her first movie (and the only movie i saw of her) Nishabd proved that she was a fine actress, considering that the only part of her acting we saw on-screen was her toned legs. But that’s par for the course with Ram Gopal Varma, for his movies feature specific body parts in place of heroines - like Urmila Matondkar's butt, Antara Mali's abs and Priyanka Kothari's breasts. The actresses themselves are not germane to RGV's movies, just their assets are all that is required and shown on the big screen.
Anyway to return to Jiah khan, she could have benefited from adequate help or psychological counseling in time, but actresses are both narcissistic and afraid of public opinion. These celebrities are adept at hiding their wounds from everyone and hence suffer more, compared to the ordinary mortals like us who rant and rave everywhere when our hearts are broken. And which in its own way is an effective pill for our ills, a stress busting cry for help, bringing succor from near and dear friends.
Which brings me to the story of my friend who has recently undergone heartbreak. She is the celebrity type who believes that a break-up is the end of the world as she knows. While i, wise old man that i am, have been telling her that love is fleeting and to be enjoyed and remembered only and even if grasped tightly cannot be retained without spilling out of our hands like water. At a certain point of time when it happens, love will seem all there is to life, but if you move on you will be left with just the good memories and a sense of closure.
And that’s my personal philosophy based on my personality. But it might not be applicable to everyone for some people are inherently pessimistic. While some, like me, are the polar opposite- the extreme optimists like Micawber in David Copperfield. If you remember that glass is full/half/empty analogy- people are divided into pessimists, optimists and realists. But no one is fully one thing or the other all the time. We alternate depending on our moods and circumstances. Sometimes we are one and sometimes we are another.
In the middle of a company of boisterous friends even the most pessimistic of people feel that there must be something more to life other than this sadness they are feeling. Lying alone on a bed, in the dark hours of the night, even the most ardent optimist feels the pangs of pessimism when reality strikes and we take a good hard look at our current life and say to ourselves "hold on, my life sucks. Is this how it is going to be five years or ten years down the line too? How can I face such a future?"
Such doubts which are crushed deep inside ourselves during busy daytime activities strike unexpectedly in the deep reaches of the night when our psychological defenses are down and we feel all alone. The optimist faces these doubts and fears just like the pessimist does. While the pessimists give in to their fears and despair of ever being happy again, the optimists’ soldier on, hoping for a turning point and postponing any important decisions till the morning comes.
And when you wake up in the morning and see a fresh new day with a bright sun shining outside, then you realize that you are at the start of a glorious day, a day with endless possibilities, where anything might happen before night falls. You tell yourself that THIS is the day that your luck turns, the dice fall your way and all your wishes will be gratified and you believe it wholeheartedly and go out with a smile on your lips. And sometimes it comes true too. Even if not, well there is always tomorrow and a fresh start again.
So the difference between an optimist and pessimist is that while a pessimist believes that tomorrow will be the same as today, while the optimist believes that tomorrow will turn out different and everything wished for will happen. And the super-optimists like me? Well, we believe that tomorrow comes in the next hour and everything will change by evening. If there is one thing which life has taught me it is that life is very consistent in its inconsistencies. Nothing is the same again. Things change in a jiffy- for good or bad. No one can predict what comes next- the unsinkable Titanic sunk, didn’t it? So if bad things can happen so suddenly why not expect the obverse? That good things might happen too, unexpectedly?
Imagine such good things happening to you and go out with a smile every day. As a last resort console yourself with the idea that a man who eats one meal a day need not be afraid to starve while he who eats thrice a day should be afraid of famine and hunger. So if your life already sucks then hey, you got nothing to be frightened of anymore, right? And so look forward with hope and believe it’s just around that corner or will happen tomorrow definitely.
In the immortal words of Charles dickens character Mr.Micawber from David Copperfield "What if something turns up?" and his motto “Remember my motto -Nil Desperandum! -Never despair!"
And so I am waiting for something to turn up soon. And will never despair. Do so likewise, dear friends.