Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Women Happy to Bleed

Once I asked a class of sixteen-year olds, both boys and girls, mostly Christians, why the Biblical Satan chose to tempt Eve rather than Adam.  The answers varied from women’s “gullibility” to their “susceptibility to flattery.”  I was mildly disappointed for not getting the response which I looked forward to: “The Bible was written by a man.”

Image courtesy: Countercurrents
A few days back, the Travancore Devaswom Board obtained a new president, Prayar Gopalakrishnan, who seems to be the 21st century avatar of the writer of Genesis.  He thinks, like the author of the Adam-Eve myth, that women are an impure species.  When asked whether women would be allowed entry into the most celebrated temple in Kerala, the Sabarimala Temple, he said that he would wait for the invention of a machine that could scan the female body to determine “if it is the 'right time' (not menstruating) for a woman to enter the temple. When that machine is invented, we will talk about letting women inside."

The religious person can accept the machine which is a product of scientific temper.  But he won’t internalise the scientific temper.  His attitude towards women belongs to the period of Manusmriti or the Inquisition.  This is the most serious problem with religion: it never grows up. 

There is a movement  against the Travancore Devaswom Board Pope’s remark led by the hashtag #HappyToBleed.   I support the movement because it is not merely about gender equality.  It is also about the falsification of the reality that religion indulges in to suit its purposes. 

When the author of Genesis made Eve eat the Satanic apple he was imposing a momentous falsehood on humanity: that the woman is responsible for the sinfulness of the human race.  The falsehood gained such acceptability among the believers that the Jewish men thanked their God every morning for not making them women.  "Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has not made me a woman."  That is part of the morning blessings uttered by every Jewish male, while his female counterpart will say, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has made me according to Your will.”  Could a greater ignominy be cast upon the female race?

The Quran equates woman to a field which a man can plough according to his requirement.  “Women are your fields: go, then, into your fields when you please” [2:223].  The Quran unequivocally gives man superiority and authority over woman.  The falsehood has continued to be accepted as truth until this day.

“Women, true to their character, are capable of leading men – a fool and a learned man alike – astray in this world. Both become slaves of desire,” is one of the many such holy truths in Manusmriti.

This is not merely a matter of gender equality.  The aggressive domination of patriarchy is as undesirable as the equally aggressive rebelliousness of feminism.  Both are based on falsehoods.  Both are falsification of the reality.  What is required is a proper understanding and acknowledgement of each individual’s rights irrespective of the gender.  What is required is the cultivation of a sensibility that respects a person for what she or he is. 

This is not about women’s menstruation.  It is about who creates what kind of truths.  If India has become a country where an Aamir Khan cannot even express his family’s apprehensions about their security, it is because falsification of reality has become the norm today.  The current political dispensation at the Centre is spawning Prayar Gopalakrishnans who seek the help of science and technology in order to inflict falsehoods on the country’s people.  

Monday, November 23, 2015

Why do I Write?

Every writer is happy when his writing sells.  When I decided to collect some of my short stories into a book, I was not very hopeful about the commercial success of the book; I was only venturing on an experiment.  The real motive was not commercial success but the dedication of the book to some people who nagged me into writing the stories.  The publication of the book with its dedication that appears on the very title page was a ritual of exorcism for me.  I was casting out the demons that were put in me by certain people. 

One of my acquaintances who read the book or a part of it asked me today, “What made you write these stories?”  Most of the stories in the volume are subversive to some extent, he said that in different words.  My first reviewer, Sreesha Divakaran, said the same thing in her own words: ‘...all the stories in the book, in subtle ways, question morality as we know it, what we have been taught as “right” or “moral.”   Being a subversive is not my conscious choice.  Subversion is my subconscious rebellion against what I cannot protest more effectively and consciously.  Fiction-writing is not entirely a conscious activity.    

Towards the end of his relatively brief life, George Orwell listed four reasons why any writer writes though “in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living.”  The reasons are, in Orwell’s own words:

1.     Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen - in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all - and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.

2.     Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.

3.     Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.

4.     Political purpose - using the word "political" in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples' idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

I don’t think I can add anything more to what Orwell said as far as my motives as a writer are concerned, leaving aside the exorcist one mentioned already.  Only a clarification is required: the ranking of my writing may not rise much “above the level of a railway guide.”  Nevertheless, the impulses that drive me as a writer are no different from those which drove Orwell and others, in short.  There is a lion’s share of egoism, an aesthetic motive which I would like to believe is not too feeble, a very strong historical impulse and a matching political purpose. 

My attempt here is not to compare me with any great writer like Orwell.  Rather, it is to state that my motives and impulses are as good or bad as those of other writers. 

My book, The Nomad Learns Morality, is doing good business, my publisher tells me.  They have made it available at the following sites.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Terrorist Learns to Read


Professor woke up hearing the sound of something falling in the backyard of his two-storey house.  He switched on the lights.  It was three o’clock, still a couple of hours to his wake-up alarm.   A groan rose from the yard.  He went downstairs and opened the backdoor.

“Who are you?  What are you doing here?” He asked the man who was struggling to get up.

Professor helped the man to get up and led him into his drawing room.  He gave him water to drink and offered to prepare tea.

“You have a fracture in the foot, I think,” said Professor having examined the man’s leg.  He picked up his phone and called for an ambulance.   “Let me change my dress.  Relax here until the ambulance arrives.”

“Why are you doing this to me?” The man asked Professor while they were in the ambulance.  He was lying down on the stretcher.  Professor was not a fool; he must have understood what had happened.  The intruder had fallen down while trying to get into his house through the upper storey by climbing up a tree.

“Did I have an option?” wondered Professor.  “You come to my house and break your leg.  What else could I do?”

It was only after the man was admitted in the hospital that he revealed his identity and the purpose of his nocturnal visit to Professor.  He was a terrorist assigned with the duty of cutting off Professor’s palms. 

“You shouldn’t write anymore, that’s what we wanted,” he explained.   Professor’s writings hurt their religious sentiments, he said.  So they decided to stop his writings.  And thus give a warning to other such potential writers.  No one should dare to question religion.  Holy cows should be above the questioning of silly rationalists like Professor.

“But did you read my writings?” Professor asked.  “Any one of you whose sentiments are so brittle, did any one of you read my writings?”

Professor knew the answer even before Terrorist answered him. 

“Has any one of you ever read the scriptures of your religion?”

Professor knew the answer even before Terrorist answered the question.

“What is religion?”  Terrorist stared at Professor.  He did not know the answer.

Wasn’t it the magic wand with which we subjugated people?  The magic wand which elevated some to the higher classes and relegated others to the lower?  It created myths and enshrined them as eternal truths.  It created holy cows.  It burned alive the seekers of real truths after labelling them as heretics and witches, infidels and blasphemers.  Gods have always been blood-thirsty.  Religion is a history of divine thirst that stretches from Prometheus to Kalburgi, from Achtaeon to Akhlaq. 

“Your leg will take at least six weeks to heal,” Professor told the man.  “You will get ample time to read the Gita, the advice of the god of your holy cow.  Read the whole Mahabharata and see if that god is worth amputating people’s arms for.  You will get time to read more and I can give you the materials if you wish.”

Was this Professor’s revenge?  Terrorist asked himself.  Is he mocking me?   When my father was shot dead in a railway station by a man who came from across the country’s border carrying a machine gun, where was this Professor with his counsel? 

No, Professor, the enemies of our gods deserve death.  Nothing less.  What are we without our gods?  I don’t need your books.  I need my gods.

When Terrorist was discharged from hospital, Professor took him home.

“Why don’t you leave me alone?  I’ll go back to my home.”  Terrorist almost pleaded.

“But your mission is not accomplished.”  Professor went in and came back with the knife that had fallen in his backyard along with Terrorist.  He kept the knife above a book shelf and said, “The day you are able to use it again, you can accomplish your mission and leave happily. In the meanwhile, these are the books that you may read.”

When Professor went to college, Terrorist pulled out one of the books after looking at many titles.  Jokes.  That was the book he pulled out.  He opened a page randomly.

“Dam fish, dam fish,” a boy was shouting trying to sell the fish in his basket.

“Why do you call them damn fish?” asked a pastor who passed by.

“I caught them from the dam,” said the boy innocently.

Pastor bought some fish.  He told his wife that they were special fish as they were dam fish.

“Damn fish are special?” wondered the woman. 

“This is the problem with you people whose minds are dirty,” sermonised Pastor.  “I say dam and you hear damn.”  He explained that they were dam fish.

Later, at dinner, he said to his wife, “Pass me the dam fish.”

“Ha!  That’s the spirit, Dad,” said his young son jubilantly.  Then turning to his mom he said, “Mom, pass me the fucking potatoes.”

Terrorist laughed.  Then he realised that it was the first time he laughed in many years.  He read more jokes and laughed more. 

When he laughed flowers bloomed in the garden outside.  “Why didn’t I ever notice this beauty earlier?”  He wondered. 

Slowly he learnt that there was so much beauty in the world to be relished. 

Do you see the bird sitting there?  And the tree? And me?”  Drona asked Arjuna.

Terrorist was re-writing the Gita.

“I see the bird,” replied Arjuna.  “I see it clearly.”

“Aim at the eye,” said the Guru.

Arjuna lowered his bow and arrow.  “I can’t,” he said.  “I can’t shoot.”

“Why?”  The Guru became petulant.

“I see, Guru.  I see clearly.”

“Don’t you want your knife?”  Professor asked when Terrorist’s foot was liberated from its plaster cage and he was ready to walk away.

“Haven’t you made me incapable of wielding it?”  Terrorist asked.  “Haven’t you taught me that the word is more powerful than the knife?”

“Compassion is the most powerful weapon, my friend,” said Professor.  “What the religions have always preached but never learnt.  Compassion.  Try wielding that weapon.  No enemy can fight that for long.”

Compassion.  Was it compassion that his Arjuna felt for the bird when he refused to shoot it?  He had still to learn that.  He would learn.  Soon, he hoped.  He could feel his lips longing to kiss someone and whisper, “I love you. I love you.”

Sreesha Divakaran's review of my book, The Nomad Learns Morality: HERE

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Terrorist meets his God


Salim slapped himself and said, “Allah, forgive me.”

The very sight of Sonal Sharma sent a rush of blood to what his friends called “centre point.”  Sonal was beautiful.  At the age of 17, she had conquered the peak of feminine charm in every possible way.  Her physical figure was statuesque.  She was flighty and coquettish while dealing with the boys in the class but sincerely committed to her studies and topped the class usually.  A future doc.  Salim imagined her in the doctor’s white coat with the stethoscope dangling on the perfect parabola of her bosom.  They were classmates, Salim and Sonal.

In many ways she was like his mother, reflected Salim.  Maria, his mother, was a Catholic of Keralite origin though born and brought up in Delhi.  She and Sulaiman met each other on a flight from Delhi to Washington DC.  She was a journalist with a prominent national newspaper and was deputed to report the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.  He was a professor at a Delhi University college and was going to attend a training programme In Washington sponsored by the Indian Council of Social Science Research.  Allah, the Merciful, brought them together on their return flight too. 

Soon Allah brought them together in marriage.  And by the first anniversary of their flight from Washington DC, Maria gave birth to Salim.

When a genocide was unleashed on the Muslims in Gujarat Salim was in his KG class.  He returned home in the evening as usual but without knowing that he would not see his father anymore. 

Sulaiman had disappeared.  Maria’s enquiries with whatever help that the Delhi police were willing to proffer in tracing a Muslim yielded nothing. 

Sulaiman had grown more and more religious after his marriage while Maria grew proportionately irreligious.   

“You are a journalist at heart,” her husband accused her one day.  “Superficial.  Never delving beneath the surface.  How many killed?  What did the politicians say?  You never go beyond that.”

“What’s beyond that is also beyond journalism,” she defended herself and her profession.  “We can’t write the exhortations uttered by the Prophet and his hadiths.  That’s not our job...”

Sulaiman grew more and more restless until the restlessness was transmuted into a phantom by the Gujarat riots.  The phantom swallowed Sulaiman.  No one saw him ever again.

The vacuum that Sulaiman became entered Salim’s soul.  The Sanskrit shlokas recited in his school’s morning assemblies, the Hindu prayers and other such religious gestures, sought to fill that vacuum.  God was a joke for his mother.  The ultimate joker sitting up there and laughing at us, she would say.  But God was a big vacuum in Salim’s heart.  A vacuum as big as his father. 

When he reached high school, Salim started attending certain religious classes in the neighbourhood madrassa in the evenings.  Allah began to take some shape in the vacuum in his soul. 

Allah had his father’s shape.  Salim loved his God. 

Even Sonal Sharma could not shake his love for his God.  The love for his God demanded his own martyrdom.  Jihad.  They taught him that at the madrassa.  It was his duty to die for Allah.  He would get three-score-and-a-dozen Sonals in Jannah.  And the killers of his father and father’s people would be destroyed in the process. 

Salim sat in the car in the driver’s seat.  Suicide attack, his mother would report in a few hours from now.  The crowded Sarojini Nagar market was attacked by a suicide bomber who drove into the market in a car carrying a large number of massive explosives...

Sonal, move away!  Salim was not sure whether it was Sonal whom he saw fleetingly in the crowd.  Sonal was there among the thousands in the market, he said to himself.  So many Sonals.  Aren’t they all Sonals?

No, I can’t kill Sonal.  Forgive me, Allah!

He drove his car back. 

A couple of hours later, Maria received the bullet-ridden body of her son dumped on the side of a deserted road in Ber Sarai. 

For copies click here
or here
More options soon