Saturday, February 28, 2015

Snakes and Ladders

When Ram and Lakshman sat down to play snakes and ladders, Manthara told them, “For every ladder you climb, remember there’s a snake waiting to swallow you.”

Some snakes will swallow you even before you climb any ladder, Ram realised years later.  If you are a potential climber, snakes are more eager to swallow you because they know swallowing is difficult once you have actually climbed. 

My ladders were removed even before I reached them, thought Rama.  First Kaikeyi, then Ravana, and then the very people of Ayodhya, they all took away the ladder just as I approached it.  I took revenge on Ravana, but did I regain my Sita?  So what use was it all?  I ascended the throne of Ayodhya.  For what?  To see Sita walk into the flames?

You lacked the courage to stand up to people, said Lakshman.  You were more concerned with your image, the facade of the Maryada Purushottam.  Lakshman was chagrined when his role model and hero consigned his wife, the most chaste woman, to the flames in the name of agni pariksha just to gain the applause from the gallery.  You never protested though you knew deep in your heart that your ladders were being pulled away unjustly.  Unnecessarily, in fact.  

What would I have achieved by protesting?  Ram countered.  Kingship?  Do you think I was more interested in kingship than in the happiness of Kaikeyi ma? 

But your passive acceptance of Kaikeyi’s demand killed our father.  When you proffered joy to Kaikeyi you brought deep sorrow to many others in the family.

Both snakes and ladders are essential, brother, to complete the game.

Granted that.  Lakshman was thinking.  But why do the deserving people encounter more snakes than ladders?  He was watching helplessly and remorsefully Sita Devi being swallowed by the earth. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Bharatanatyam and roti-making

“Give us our daily bread...” is a prayer I used to recite a number of times every day until I gave up religion in the mid-1980s.  It was when I gave up reciting the prayer that it became meaningful for me in any way.  Until then I just had to go the dining room at the stroke of the bell and my daily bread would be waiting having taken various avatars like idli or cooked rice or the pan-Indian chapatti with their necessary and delicious accompaniments.  When I took up my first teaching job in Shillong where I stayed all alone in a rented house made of tin and wood, the only cooking I knew was to boil things like rice, vegetables and eggs.  I survived pretty well on the fat-free diet and slimmed down rapidly without spending a single paisa in any calorie-burning centre or on any treadmill.  The daily bread for breakfast came from the nearest baker who eventually advised me to cut down on bread and extend the boiled diet to breakfast too.  “A little bit of rice in the morning is ten times more nourishing than a whole loaf of bread,” he said benignly looking at my sagging shirt.

Eventually I shifted to a slightly better apartment and a colleague of mine started sharing it.  It was he who taught me the art and craft of cooking.  One of the many things I learnt to cook was the roti.  The dough was initially recalcitrant and took the shape of all the continents on the world map when I tried to flatten it into perfect circles.  

One of those days I happened to visit another friend who was in the process of cooking rotis as I entered his small living-cum-bed room adjacent to a significantly larger kitchen.  Most houses in Shillong owned by the Khasis were similar in those days: large living rooms and kitchens and small bedrooms.  They spend all their life in either the kitchen or the living room.  I watched with awe and wonder my friend flattening the dough into perfect circles.  I also noticed how his bum kept rolling as the roti made a double motion beneath the rolling pin: rotating and flattening.  I assumed that the bum had some mysterious connection with the art of roti making.

Back home, I tried to involve my little bum actively as I flattened the dough that evening.  My apartment-mate stared at me for a while and asked, “What are you trying to do?  Practising Tatta Adavu of Bharatanatyam?”

It was then he demonstrated to me the art of making perfectly round rotis.  He showed me how the fingers should be nimble on the rolling pin.  “What should do the Bharatanatyam are your fingers, not your butt,” he said.

I turned out to be a good learner and mastered the Roti Adavu of Bharatanatyam.  The perfectly round rotis were a lot more delicious than those that replicated the shapes of Bharat or Taiwan.

PS. Written off the cuff for the “In(di)spire” column of Indiblogger, but it’s all true, really.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Shakuntala’s many Ghar Vapsis

What am I?  A thistledown that rises on the wings of the breeze only to be beaten down to the earth by the mildest drizzle?  You push me around too much.  I want to stick to something somewhere for good.

My mother thought it fit to dump me in the forest after her dalliance with Vishwamitra was over.  My first longing for Ghar Vapsi rose amidst buzzing of bees and the tickling gurgles of the Malini.  I longed to be in the lap of my mother sucking love at her breasts, being looked on with fond admiration by my father.  But they both had their gods as convenient excuses.  Mother was performing a duty assigned to her by her gods.  I was a by-product that could be discarded.  Noboy understood my yearning for a Ghar Vapsi.  Vishwamitra, my dad, dumped me on grounds of asceticism.  What does asceticism mean shorn of love?  If a man can dump his own flesh and blood in the shape of an innocent little baby, what is the value of his asceticism?  The question made me long for another kind of Ghar Vapsi. 

Kanva gave me that Ghar.  On the banks of the Malini.  The deer that came to look at their elegant eyes in the mirror of the river’s crystalline waters became my siblings.  Together we created our Ghar in the forest’s glen and glade.  Together we drank the waters of life from the fountainheads and honeycombs.  Together we distilled the joy of life through the mists that filtered down the netted brambles and briars. 

Then came Dushyanta to pluck me away from my Ghar.  That’s the inevitable fate of every nubile girl, I learnt later.  Dushyanta touched the dandelions that quivered in my navel and distilled the joy of life through the tremors that rocked my sinews beneath his caresses. 

And then he forgot me.  Leaving me with yet another Ghar Vapsi longing.

What do you think I am?  A thistledown that should float in dance according to the tunes played by your gods and godfathers?  Am I your toy?  Or a sacrificial lamb whose blood should be shed to satiate the lust of your lecherous gods? 

Leave me alone with my deer on the banks of the Malini.  I don’t need your Ghars which stink of lust and greed, and fraudulent creeds.  There can be no Ghar Vapsi for me. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Mother Teresa and Mohan Bhagwat

 If Mother Teresa had indeed converted a lot of Indians, as alleged by Mohan Bhagwat, would India have been a better place?  Would there be less hatred and violence, more tolerance and compassion?

One thing is clear at least.  Mohan Bhagwat and his organisation along with the affiliates of that organisation have not learnt anything more than the hatred that spills out of every page of their holy scriptures, We, Our nationhood Defined written in 1939.  Read any writing by people associated with Bhagwat’s organisation and you will feel hatred boiling inside your veins and seeping into the marrow of your bones with the fury of concentrated sulphuric acid.

For example, let me take a page out of Pracharak Jiwan, autobiography of Krishna Gopal Rastogi, senior RSS pracharak.  See how Rastogi describes an incident that happened when he was leading an armed group of his supporters to attack the Muslims in Kaliar (a town situated between Roorkee and Haridwar).
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It was an old locality inhabited by the Muslims.  They, armed with daggers, spears, guns were fully prepared to meet any situation.  When I learnt of their intentions to attack some Hindu areas, I organised 250 people including some known gangsters and raided Kaliar.  Then a strange thing happened.  While we had been killing men in one of the houses, we spotted a very beautiful girl.  The assailants led by me were instantly enamoured. They even started fighting among themselves to take possession of the girl.  I faced an extremely awkward situation and did not know what to do.  I tried my best to get the assailants to focus on real issues.  I abused and threatened them but they would not listen to me.  And suddenly the solution came.  The girl was after all causing this trouble and had to be eliminated.  I took my gun and shot her.  She died.  My associates were shocked and returned to the work.  Though it was against our principle to assault a woman, but it was done in an emergency and I still regret it.

Notice the tone of the writing.  Notice the lack of remorse, the cruelty, the underlying hatred.

And contrast it with anything of what Mother Teresa or her nuns have ever said or written.  Contrast almost anything related to the RSS and its affiliates with almost anything related to Mother Teresa and you will see why conversions by Mother Teresa would have been desirable. 

Did Mother Teresa actually convert people?  Here’s an article I wrote almost five years ago: Mother Teresa and Religious Conversion