Monday, October 24, 2016

The Thackeray Legacy

“The Shiv Sena does not have a theory, and it is impossible for an organization to survive sans a theory,” said the veteran communist leader S A Dange while addressing a Sena meeting in 1984 at the invitation of none other than the founder of the organisation Bal Thackeray.  Shiv Sena “survived, flourished, because of a lack of theory,” wrote Suketu Mehta two decades later in his brilliant book on Thackeray’s city.  The Sena “always hitched a ride aboard the theory of the day: anti-communism, fascism, socialism, anti-immigrant and, now, anti-Muslim, pro-Hindu,” wrote Mehta.

Raj Thackeray inherited his uncle’s bizarrely opportunistic genes.  His latest antic is to get Karan Johar to donate Rs 5 crore to the Army welfare fund for having produced a movie with a Pakistani actor in it.  Indian army was quick to distance itself from such political drama.  Mercifully, the army is still led by sensible people especially after General V K Singh left it and took upon the BJP mantle.

In 1996, Michael Jackson performed in Mumbai which was Bombay until a few months back.  Bal Thackeray rechristened the city after the Bharatiya goddess Mumbaidevi.  But he had no qualms about letting Michael Jackson entertain the city with his American culture and art.  Thackeray got Jackson to donate a million dollars to his party.  Thackeray got Jackson to visit him at his residence.  Forget that the first thing Jackson did after entering Thackeray’s residence was to pee.  Forget that the toilet in which Jackson peed was preserved as a sacred place by Thackeray and was shown off to his VIP visitors later with unabashed pride.

That shamelessness is the real Thackeray legacy which Raj has inherited.  He knows how to use everything including an innocuous movie for puerile political purposes. 

The simple truth is that there are far better ways of solving the problem between India and Pakistan than what our mean-minded politicians make us believe.  For example, in the last 12 years the trade between the two countries has grown from $345 million to $2.6 billion.  And India exports five times of what it imports from Pakistan.  Can’t our politicians think of improving such relationships which will mean much for the people of both countries?  Perhaps, Raj Thackeray should go to his uncle’s house and sit on the Jackson commode and contemplate a while.  

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Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Essence of Heroism

Anyone who displays certain qualities which set him apart from the run of the mill may be broadly described as a hero.  For example, a man who has the courage or compassion to jump into a dangerous river in order to save a drowning person is a hero.  A person with certain talents may be considered as a hero by some.  Thus an actor or a sportsperson or a writer may be a hero for some.  Nowadays heroism has become so prosaic, thanks to the likes of Forbes magazine, that wealth can create heroes.  Maybe, the heroism of the wealthiest people lies in their ability to create wealth rather than in being wealthy per se.

Philosophically, can we define certain essential qualities of a hero?  I think there’s no harm in making such a list. So here it goes.

Heroes are usually on a quest.  The target of the quest may be anything ranging from conservation of the environment to fighting for human rights.  Aruna Roy who quit her prestigious job in the civil services in order to work for the poor and marginalised people in Rajasthan is a hero.  There are many such heroes who are on unique quests.

Risk or sacrifice seems to be an integral aspect of heroism.  Greatness seldom comes without demanding certain sacrifice.  A heroic quest actually sets a person apart from the mediocre.  Anyone who is above the mediocre runs the risk of being belittled, questioned, alienated or even done away with.  Most heretics of the medieval Europe paid with their lives for their pursuit of truth.  For me, they were heroes.  Today also we have writers and artists who run great risks and some are murdered brutally by the purveyors of absolute truths.

 Painting by Nikolai Burdykin
Courage obviously follows next in the list.  But I think the courage of a hero is a natural concomitant of his quest.  Every heroic quest is a passion which overrides challenges.  Sisyphus who rolled the stone uphill if only to spite the gods was driven more by his blasphemous quest than mere courage.  His quest listed in the necessary courage.  Salman Rushdie who wrote Satanic Verses is a hero for me and possibly many others.  He must have known the hazards he was embracing while writing such a novel.  He must also have been scared stiff by the fatwa issued by a purveyor of absolute truths,  Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.  [I love the very pompousness of that name.] Yet he could not have but written the novel simply because it was the natural outcome of his quest.  When a hero is on a pursuit he is not deterred by potential threats.  If he is, he is not a hero.  However, once the goal is achieved the threats can shake his nerves.  A hero is also a normal person.

Yes, that’s the punch line: A hero is also a normal person.  What sets him/her apart is the quest and its risks.

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Evil and Man

Platitudes and positive thoughts are like palliative drugs: they make us feel comfortable in a world full of evil and negativity.  Beyond the comforts of a drug, they provide little else.  Otherwise our world would have been a paradise by now because there is never a dearth of platitudes and positive thoughts thanks to the increasing number of religious activities, cults, gurus, and what not.

The naked truth is that life is drenched in evil in spite of all the gurus and cults, motivational therapies and mass spiritual exercises.  Why?

Social psychologist Philip Zimbardo proved experimentally that social situations affect individual personalities and stimulate behavioural patterns.  In simple words, we behave in certain ways because the society demands us to behave thus.  With little provocation, formerly good people will discard their values entirely, he showed.  It is easier to make people do bad things than good.  We are all susceptible to the lure of “the dark side,” he argues in his 2007 book, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil.

It is easier to get people to perpetrate atrocities on fellow human beings than make them do benevolent social work.  No dictator would have succeeded without the support of thousands of people who were ready to torture, rape and kill for them.  No mass murders will take place without the support of some social or political system. 

More often than not, religious rituals and spiritual exercises are platforms for people to wash away the sins they have committed hitherto so that they can go on committing more.  The rituals and exercises fail because they do not change the society and it is the society with its manipulative systems that actually determine human behaviour.  It is also true to say that religions uphold the manipulative social systems; both support each other as they need each other.

If we want a world of goodness we should create social and political systems which sprout and nurture goodness.  We now have systems which feed on greed, jealousy, hate, and other evils.  They reproduce themselves. 

On the other hand, if we have a system which encourages people to cooperate with one another there will be more cooperation than competition because most people go by the public behaviour.  But can we really have such social systems?  Even the incarnations of various gods didn’t succeed in creating such systems!

So what’s the conclusion?  If you really want to be good, stay away from society as far as possible.  Dealing with our own inner devils is far easier than grappling with those out there.


PS. This post was inspired by Indispire Edition 139: “The ten head of Ravan (ten social evils) you would like to kill this Dassera. Atrocities on women? Judging beauty by skin colour? or some others? And in which order?”  I shied away from the topic all these days.  It continued to haunt me, nevertheless.  I could never bring myself to make a list of the evils let alone prioritise them.  Life is beyond any list, beyond neat compartmentalisation.  Ravana cannot be done away with except in comforting myths.  So I chose to take a very realistic look at the theme. 

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