What being liberal truly means

Many often claim, with profuse clarity, “I’m a liberal!”

What does being a liberal mean? It means being open to new, different and sometimes even opposing ideas. It doesn’t matter if those ideas belong to a time 3000 years ago or 3000 years into the future. If those ideas are good, if they are good for the humanity, if they are good for the planet, if they are good for our culture and society, if they’re going to bring a brighter future for our children and future generations, they are to be supported, they are to be propagated and they are to be defended against bigotry, close-mindedness, greed, extreme religious beliefs and cultural backwardness.

Whether you are a liberal or not, if you are a right-thinking person, you can never disagree with a truly liberal person.

So why are liberals suspected and derided these days, all over the civilized world (I’m talking about the regions where you can be limited without being flogged or decapitated)?

The problem is that there are very few individuals who actually understand what being liberal is. Just because you espouse a cause, you begin to think that you are a liberal (I’m not saying you as you the reader, but people who do that). Going against convention is not being liberal. Doing the right thing is. But then again, you may think that you are being right by going against convention. This is totally fine. We all have our own notions of being write and being wrong. This is not the point. Being liberal means being open to the idea that yes, you might be wrong and you need to do some more reading, some more introspection. You need to expose yourself to alternative thoughts. You don’t. In fact, the so-called liberals are the most close-minded and intellectually and ideologically stuck-up people one can come across.

This is one problem with liberalism.

The other problem is that in the name of being liberal, a cultural, intellectual and political racket is being run by a closely connected network of journalists, writers and politicians. In different regions of the world they have different objectives, but their goal is to constantly misinform people and keep them in a state of insecurity, fear and suspicion. For example, the so-called liberals in India are constantly trying to pitch one religious community against the other, one caste against the other and one region against the other. All this is done in the name of supporting causes and particular communities. Do the communities and causes being supported benefit from such support? Who cares? The issue is not about bringing benefits to the “supported” causes and communities. The issue is taking one’s agenda forward.

The largest number of NGOs working for the “downtrodden” in the world are in India and going by the definition of being liberal, we can safely assume that a big majority of people associated with these NGOs are one way or another “liberal”. For more than 50 years a government specifically working for the poor and for religious communities has been in power. This government, despite gargantuan corruption cases, overwhelming incompetence and administrative apathy that can break all world records, has been so far the cynosure of the liberal fraternity. Still, poverty pervades every region of the country. The religious communities, according to the apprehensions raised by the very same liberal fraternity, are in great peril due to the rise of majority-community fundamentalism. All these 50 years of being ruled by a liberal and minority-community-friendly government have yielded no liberal-utopian results. Why so?

Because in the true sense, liberalism has never been there. Opportunism, yes. Intellectual sycophancy, yes. Nepotism, yes. Scavenging on the poverty and backwardness of the country, yes. Communal and casteist politics, yes. Actual pluralism, no. Actual secularism, no. Actual liberalism, no.

I’m not saying there are no true liberals. Of course they are. They have existed since the time immemorial and this is how we have reached from living in the caves to building a structure as tall as Burj Khaleefa. But they have always been in a tiny minority just like they are now. Just because you Tweet in favour of LGBT persons, intellectually try to legitimise extremist tendencies among particular religious groups and ridicule particular religious traditions you don’t become a liberal; you become a nuisance.

A true liberal is interested in change, not in the state of affairs. A true liberal doesn’t just rant, he or she aspires to make a positive change. A true liberal is not interested in “my thinking is better than your thinking”, he or she is interested in what is right.

My thoughts on Bhagat Singh’s atheism and the perception of God in general


Quite a well-written essay by Bhagat Singh on why he was an atheist. Although now his arguments may seem clichéd (because we have come across such arguments against theism multiple times, especially from people who have no idea what they’re talking about) they are grounded on his experiences, his way of thinking and the writers and ideologues he had read during his brief lifetime. With such great command over words he puts forth his argument despite the fact that after a week a judgement may decide whether he should be hanged or released.

I think whether you believe in God or not is your personal choice and if it is not imposed on you, I don’t care if you derive energy by offering water to the sun or like Bhagat Singh, believing in your own reasoning and logic. By the end of the day, what matters is how you have spent your day. If you observe the contemporary world, there is actually no way of knowing who is religious and who is an atheist. In my eyes, a person who misbehaves and ill-treats people and then goes to the temple or mosque or church doesn’t really believe in the Almighty. Fanatics think that they are at the top of the chain when it comes to being religious whereas they are not following a religion but a cult that has sprouted out of a misinterpreted religious thought.

Bhagat Singh’s argument assumes that God has got to be a binary concept. The existence of God should mean there should be no misery and oppression in the world. This is a sort of disenchantment not a belief. If you flip his argument upside down, it means he would have believed in the existence of God if everything would have been hunky-dory in the world. Since there is misery, since there is inexplicable pain, since unfairness, since inequality, hence no God. A “God” by definition wouldn’t have allowed so much pain and misery to exist.

Another folly that I find in his logic for being an atheist is that he attaches too many human attributes to pain and suffering. Destruction in the sense that we know it, is occurring every second in the universe. Stars are dying, galaxies are collapsing, new stars are being born out of massive explosions, supernovae are occurring and according to recent lines of thinking, maybe complete universes are being annihilated and born. Compared to that, what is earth? It must be the tiniest of the tiniest dots in the scheme of the universe. The humans are just one of the species. There are millions of species on this tiniest of the tiniest dots. Yes, the earth is going through a phase where the humans are the dominant species but the earth goes through various faces. There was a time when the dinosaurs were the dominant species. They were at the top of the food chain.

So if we need to define God we shouldn’t define it by the degree of pain and pleasure that exists in this world. I think both pain and pleasure are natural phenomena and God has got nothing to do with it. You go outside, you can easily find a beautiful flower blossoming somewhere even by the roadside and you will say, “hey, this is godly beauty!” And then somewhere you can also find a volcanic crater brewing lava – a simulacrum of hell for many. Going by Bhagat Singh’s argument, whether God exists or not, depends on your worldview. Just to make sure that we don’t end up thinking that he is an atheist because of his worldview, he briefly mentions in a paragraph some scientific facts that try to explain the existence of life on Earth (he talks about the evolutionary theory by Darwin, for example), but eventually, what gets established is that it was his worldview that convinced him he should be an atheist. I’m not saying this is wrong, I’m just saying that whether you believe in God or not shouldn’t depend on the degree of pain and pleasure that exists in the world, but on plain logic.

What’s God? I don’t think anybody has so far been able to pinpoint exactly who God is. We are humans so we attribute human qualities to God. Since we have no clue who God is, it’s easier to use symbols. In programming parlance, we need to define a constant or a variable to attribute some value to it. The same is the case with manifestation of God in various religions, cults and sects. An idol becomes a God. A mythological figure becomes a God. A prophet becomes a God. A lineage of gurus becomes gods. A tre is e becomes a God. A river. Animals. And actually these are not gods, these are representations of God. The variables and constants we would like to assign values so that it becomes easier to identify them. You don’t want to pray in vagueness. You don’t want to pray in front of “whomsoever it may concern”. It’s a relationship. For the relationship you need a well-defined persona in front of you. So a Hindu may have Hanuman, a Christian may have Jesus, a Muslim may have Muhammed and a Buddhist may have Buddha. These are not focus points. Instead of “Dear whomsoever it may concern” we prefer to say “Dear Bajrangbali” because it’s easier to talk to an entity that has a well-defined form. Of course there are religions that also have a formless God but still, they have symbols to concentrate on.

Bhagat Singh says that you can be more selfless if you are an atheist. He says that when a religious person sacrifices he or she expects to go to heaven or be born as a king or a privileged person. An atheist on the other hand dies just for the cause. As an atheist, he says, he is embracing the gallows simply for the sake of the cause. He expects nothing in return. He doesn’t expect glory. He doesn’t expect heaven. He doesn’t expect to be reborn as a king because of his valiant sacrifice.

He assumes that if a religious person sacrifices he or she is expecting rewards in return, or at least metaphysical or esoteric rewards like a place in heaven or being reborn as a privileged person. He doesn’t seem to believe that a religious person would sacrifice just for the cause, the way he was doing. He must had believed that in order to die for a cause, just for the sake of the cause, a person has to be an atheist. He cannot imagine a person steeped in religious traditions dying selflessly. This, seems to be a hole in the logic, and I will explain this a little later.

Having written my thoughts here, I don’t mean to say that his ideas of atheism and theism were misplaced. We are nothing but a lump-sum manifestation of our experiences, our station in society, our standing in the world, our day-to-day ruminations and our intellectual exposures. Those days he was reading about socialism, Marxism and he seemed to be impressed by the mass murderers like Lenin (Gandhi was a fan of Hitler). He had to bear the injustices of the British rule. He had seen the Indian masses living in indescribable misery and pain (unfortunately a majority of them still do, God or no God). He thought that had God existed, he would have put an end to that persistent misery and pain.

I personally believe that atheists are less against the God and more against the traditional perception of God. God in himself or itself is too vague a topic. For example, if I say “I don’t believe in God” in the conventional sense of it is, what I mean to say is, I don’t believe in God the way people around me believe in God. This is because they constantly say that if God existed then this wouldn’t happen, if God existed then that wouldn’t happen and these are all traditional perceptions of God. Atheism as it exists around us is based on the premise that the world has to function in a particular manner in order for God to exist, otherwise it is humbug. So there is senseless suffering, hence there is no God. What it means is, had there been no senseless suffering, there would have been God. At least that is the simplistic explanation of atheism.

What about rationalism? Is a rationalist necessarily an atheist? Going by the current definition, especially if you go by a secularist outlook (I’m talking about real secularism, not the contemporary Indian variety) rationalism means not believing in superstitious practices. Since they consider all religious practices as superstitious practices, in a way, yes you can say that rationalists are atheists but personally I don’t believe. You can be a rationalist and still not be an atheist. I will give you a small example.

APJ Abdul Kalam was a scientist par excellence. You can safely believe that a scientist is a rational person. While launching missiles he wouldn’t have depended on the position of the stars or the auspicious sighting of various heavenly bodies. You can’t imagine him reciting religious hymns before taking administrative decisions. But he read Gita. He believed in the philosophy of Gita. Although if you closely read Gita it is more philosophical and less religious, but after all it is a religious text. Yes, you can read Gita as a scholarly exercise just to understand its contents, but Kalam believed in its underlying philosophy. Millions of people who read Gita believe in its underlying philosophy, right? So by definition, when you are reading Gita and when you are assimilating its underlying philosophy, you’re committing a religious act. Does this make you irrational? If not, you can be rationalist despite practising something religious.

So no, being a rationalist doesn’t mean that you are also an atheist. Vice-versa, being an atheist doesn’t automatically make you a rationalist. This is because, as I have mentioned above, most of the atheist think that they shouldn’t believe in God because there is lots of pain in the world. This sort of atheism is plain disgruntlement.

Now coming back to the “hole in the logic” where Bhagat Singh believes that a religious person cannot die without expecting a reward. I think there is a fault in this thinking. Do you think when Guru Tegh Bahadur sacrificed his life he was expecting a reward? Despite being a religious person, he allowed himself to be killed for a cause he believed in just as Bhagat Singh allowed himself to be hanged by the British for the cause he believed in. Going by Bhagat Singh’s logic, Guru Tegh Bahadur’s sacrifice then becomes more respectable because despite being a religious person, he doesn’t expect any rewards. He believes that he can be rewarded but still he doesn’t want those rewards. Bhagat Singh, on the other hand, since doesn’t believe in the existence of such rewards, doesn’t expect them. Because if he believes in such rewards, then he also believes in afterlife and if he believes in afterlife, he gets trapped in the loop of religious beliefs he doesn’t want to believe in. It’s like, if you are scared of heights but still you go to the rooftop of a skyscraper to help someone (or just to prove a point) you are braver than a person who performs the same act but has no fear of heights. Your sacrifice is greater if you know that you can get something but still decide not to get it for your cause rather than a person who knows that he cannot get that thing and then decides not to get it for his or her cause. I’m not trying to compare sacrifices here, since Bhagat Singh gives a hint that his sacrifice is of nobler quality because he doesn’t expect any reward, I’m mentioning this.

What’s my take on God? Am I a religious person? I have no problem with rituals. I can go to a temple and pray. As advised by my respected father-in-law, I read Hanuman Chalisa everyday because for 2 ½ years things are supposed to be tough for me. There is a Sikh prayer (the Mool Mantar) that I often recite, mentally, before going to sleep.

But I don’t believe in “my God is better than your God” because as I have mentioned above, the God that you pray in front of is nothing but an attribution of something or someone you don’t understand. I don’t believe in the evolutionary theory verbatim although the scientific fact must be valid. I believe that there are many aspects of existence we are not aware of.

I don’t disagree with the claim that there might be multiple universes within multiple universes and there might be infinite parallel existences. I don’t think that life on Earth is a fluke. Bhagat Singh wrote that essay just before being hanged and now I’m sharing my own thoughts based on the same and these can’t be flukes of nature. There is something more complex that we don’t understand, something so complex that sometimes we refuse to understand. Whether God exists or not depends on your own perception and your own worldview, but this world isn’t as simple as the Big Bang and the various combinations of pain and luxury, happiness and sadness, and crying and smiling that you see around yourself. I believe that we have limited knowledge of what we know. Does that make me a religious? Again, depends on your worldview.

Less people are reading e-books than expected

E-Books Or Paper Books

My wife and I constantly discourage our daughter from using gadgets such as her iPad or our mobile phones, especially for reading books. We prefer that she reads paper books.

On my blog I have written multiple times in favour of e-books and I myself am a great fan of e-books. Almost all the books that I read these days are either on my Kindle reader or my Android tablet.

I don’t know if it is real or rumour, Steve Jobs, when he was alive, didn’t allow his kids to use either the iPad or the iPhone. Again, I don’t know if it is real or rumour, most of the CEOs (and people in similar positions) send their kids to schools with minimal use of computers. Somewhere, somehow they understand, the conventional way of acquiring knowledge and facilitating intellectual growth is much more effective than technology-supported. Besides, there are no comprehensive studies regarding how these gadgets affect our minds when we use them on an ongoing basis. But that’s another issue.

Just like any other technology, whenever new gadgets hit the market, and if that gadget is good like your average e-book reader, there is a rush to buy it. People want to be seen whether it. People want to experience it. It is a novelty.

Besides, people like me want to know how this particular gadget improves the overall experience as well as make achieving a particular task more effective. My primary support for e-books and e-book readers is that it is extremely convenient for me to read books. Books come in different textures. Some books are very thick. Some are very thin. Some you can open easily. Some are hard to open. Then, I can just carry a single book with me if I’m going somewhere on my wheelchair.

On my Kindle reader or on my tablet, there is no such limit. There must be hundreds of books on my Kindle reader. When a carry the device, I carry the entire gamut of my collection with me. What happens in case I lose my Kindle reader or my tablet? No worries; all my books are saved in the cloud and they will be there just like they are once I log into my account from another device.

Recently someone commented on Twitter (I have forgotten the name of the person) that with e-readers, it is just convenience and the act of reading and nothing else. There is no experience. There is no environment. There is no feel. I agree. The sort of feeling that you get while reading a paper book you don’t get while reading an e-book. It’s still like using a gadget or a toy. But personally for me, the advantages outweigh the small sentimental snags that come with e-books.

This article states that the sale of e-readers is drastically reducing. Less and less people are purchasing e-readers these days and the dwindling sales of paper books seem to be picking up. There was a time when people had started thinking the time of paper books has gone. Now they think it is coming back. Conventional publishers have something to cheer for. The article quotes an expert:

Now, there are signs that some e-book adopters are returning to print, or becoming hybrid readers, who juggle devices and paper. E-book sales fell by 10 percent in the first five months of this year, according to the Association of American Publishers, which collects data from nearly 1,200 publishers. Digital books accounted last year for around 20 percent of the market, roughly the same as they did a few years ago.

E-books’ declining popularity may signal that publishing, while not immune to technological upheaval, will weather the tidal wave of digital technology better than other forms of media, like music and television.

I think it is not right to compare music and television industry with book reading. Book reading has been here for centuries whereas television and music industry in its current form has just been here for a few decades. Books are more personal. Reading a book is normally a personal activity unless it is being read in a group or in front of kids. So other trends may come and go, I think books are going to remain in demand in one form or another.

Why is it happening? If e-book readers are so convenient, why don’t people enjoy reading books on the e-readers rather than paper books? One reason can be that there wasn’t a shift anyway. People wanted to try out a new technology. It happens whenever a new technology or trend is introduced into the market. Everybody wants to buy it (those who can). People want to be seen with new gadgets. Being seen with the latest gadget becomes a status symbol. But when everybody seems to be using it, the interest begins to ebb and people begin to think that well, it’s no big deal flaunting a Kindle reader.

Another reason is that people are getting wary of constantly using gadgets. While I’m constantly discouraging my daughter from using her iPad, how can I sit in front of her using my Kindle reader even if it is being used merely to read a book and not to browse the Internet or watch videos? Although she knows that nothing much can be done with a Kindle reader aside from reading books and hence, it is different from other gadgets, I sometimes sit in front of her with my paper book just to let her know that reading paper books is a normal activity.

There is a global shift of attitude regarding adaptation of technology; whenever possible, people try to distance themselves from the gadgets they have so gotten used to having all the time. So a move away from e-readers and towards paper books might not much have to do with people’s perception towards e-readers, but their general disenchantment with technology overdose.

Image source   

Are digital books changing the way authors write?

Digital Books

A very balanced take on the way digital books are shaping the way books are read and written, in this article. For more than three years now I have been reading digital books and I read paper books only when digital books are unavailable (which rarely is the case these days). Initially I used to read e-books (even when I purchased them from Amazon in Kindle format) on my Samsung tab that was quite outdated. Seeing how much I read my wife motivated me to purchase the Kindle reader.

I read digital books more for the convenience and less for the supposedly positive impact that they have on the environment. The article above talks about how youngsters these days use the same device to read books as well is interact on social media and social networking websites and also use the same device for playing video games, music and movies. This sort of, takes away the exclusivity book reading demands. Book reading is supposed to create a totally different world, segregated from your surroundings. Is this possible with digital books with so much distraction going around? And how does it impact the way writers write, in order to capture as much attention as possible?

Any word in an ebook can invoke its own dictionary definition, simply by selecting it. If a passage in an ebook strikes you as cogent, beautiful or profound you can bet – once you’ve switched the highlight-sharing function on – hundreds of other people have already highlighted it. It’s a short hop from realising that to paying special attention to the highlighted bits – not out of laziness but as a wise learning strategy.

Where I see the problem is that books can be read in almost all the devices. Once you have purchased the Kindle book, for example, you can read it on a tablet, on an iPad, on a phone, on a computer and on a laptop and basically every device that has an operating system and the ability to connect to the Internet. In terms of sales, it must have been profitable for the publishers (as I mentioned above, I had started purchasing Kindle books much before I actually purchased the Kindle reader). But, books should be read on a device that only makes you read books. There should be no distraction. In fact I’m sure, this is how gadgets like Kindle reader were born – to create a digital space where only books are the consumption. There is no social networking. There are no phone calls. There is no instant messaging. There is no notification area. There are no message bubbles. Just pages and pages of the book you’re reading.

Every medium changes the way literature is written and read. This has been going on since the time immemorial. Even before digital books, the way people wrote and read was constantly changing. Just see the way writers like Dickens and Dostoevsky wrote and the way contemporary writers write. Writing styles change. Reading patterns change. This is an ongoing process. Instead of resisting it, we should embrace it, both as writers and as readers.

Having said that, I would insist that there must be separate devices for reading books, just for reading books.

The problem is not with the Hindu-Muslim culture but the secularism racket

Hindu Muslim unity

Every multi-cultural amalgamation gives rise to at least some sort of beauty. I have often written on my blog that the most beautiful and perhaps the most famous Bollywood bhajan Man tarpat hari darshan ko aaj was written by Shakeel Badayuni, composed by Naushad Ali and sung by Mohammed Rafi. Nobody doubts that the coming together of Hindu-Muslim cultures has given rise to breathtakingly beautiful architecture, poetry to cherish for ever and instances of love and friendship legends are made of. Very few people doubt that.

So when noted Muslim writer Murad Ali Baig says

The fusion of Hindu and Muslim culture during Mughal times is a tradition all Indians could cherish.


nobody should have a problem with that. So what’s the problem?

The problem is the phony secularism that has been thrust down the throats of unsuspecting people of the country in the name of vote bank politics. Minorities in India – mostly Muslims and Christians – are always portrayed as victims and the majority – Hindus – are perpetually portrayed as aggressive perpetrators and majoritarian bigots. They are constantly put on the back foot. This is where the problem arises and this is why the majority population feels cheated and enraged. When different religious communities are treated according to the sort of political benefits that they bring, secularism simply becomes a sham.