Category Archives: Culture

The construction of Sardar Patel’s tallest statue is a good thing

I always complain that after independence Indians didn’t invest much in building monuments. I’m not talking about public sector industries and big dams, I’m talking about statues and buildings, and even bridges. You go to any moderately developed country and you will notice that they pay a lot of attention to aesthetics. So on bridges they have finely carved statues of mythological creatures, historical figures and intricate patterns. Even the streetlights are something to behold. They have buildings that glorify their traditions. The basic point is, when they construct something, the passion shows through. What do we have?

We couldn’t even build a new Rashtrapati Bhawan. Most of our ministers, proudly live in the Lutyen’s Delhi. The India Gate, Gateway of India, they were all built by the British. Just imagine, the British could build something that would later on turn into a national monument, just for a singular visit by their Imperial ruler, and we couldn’t even build a lousy monument to dedicate to our independence. Every 15th of August, the tricolor is unfurled from the ramparts of a fort built by the Muslim invaders. And don’t give the bullshit of not having enough money. India always has more than enough money when it comes to running scams and welfare schemes for garnering votes.

Most of our buildings and bridges represent the dull, communist era. They are uninspiring gray, or yellow cubicle structures built just for the purpose of use. Need a bridge? There you have it. Need a building? There, you have it. No attention is given to how to make the constructions beautiful.

Why does it matter? Awe-inspiring constructions give a sense of pride to the people of the city or the country. That is why when Mayawati built that monstrosity of the 685-crore Rashtriya Dalit Prerna Sthal I was totally in favor of it. One reason was, most of our monuments are named after the Gandhi family (I’m not talking about Mahatma Gandhi) and the second was, we definitely require monuments and large-scale constructions that represent our pride. Of course what eventually Mayawati built was an eyesore and maybe it was primarily built to swindle a couple of 100 crores but the philosophy behind it totally makes sense.

Monuments play an important role for civilizations provided they are made for people and not to glorify particular families. That is why among the first things that Sardar Patel did after India got independence was get the Somnath temple in Gujarat restored (although the restoration didn’t complete during his lifetime).

Popular construction drives rekindle passion among the masses. Some may call it a communal agenda, but just the promise of a Ram Temple in Ayodhya could motivate the masses to turn the BJP into a national party.

The people of the country need something like that and this is why the proposed construction of Sardar Patel’s statue by Narendra Modi is a step in the right direction. Since Modi always exhorts the countrymen and women to think big, being true to his philosophy, he wants the statute to be the tallest in the world, and for that, he is going to collect iron from more than 6000 villages across India. It is a very wise move to bring people from all over India under a single goal. India needs many such statues, buildings, bridges, temples and why not, even forts.

The Congress and its sympathizers of course are squirming with unease. These morons cannot think beyond shortsighted politics. They complain why Narendra Modi is building the statue of a congressman. By saying this, these stupid fellows are publicly accepting that none of their leaders can have a pan India appeal.

Should education be free?

chomsky-quote

 

I came across this image on Facebook in which Noam Chomsky explains how the current, fee-based education system perpetuates a self-defeating consumerist society. He’s talking about the American system where students have to get in debt in order to get higher education. By the time they are out of college, they are in big debt and paying it off becomes an immediate priority. This doesn’t give them much space for independent thinking. They get sucked into the rat-race and then become a part of it.

A higher fee makes education mercenary, it turns it into a commodity, from a pursuit of enlightenment. But then resources need money. Educators and administrators need to be paid. Buildings, infrastructure and upkeep require money. From where does this money come? Mostly from students, and partially from donors, sponsors and government subsidies. What if students don’t have to pay anything?

There can be many outcomes. In India the amount of fee you pay depends on the type of higher education institution you are attending. Some often lament that most students don’t take education seriously because they have to pay pittance, and it might be true. How people claim, proudly, that they mostly bunked classes in college. Would they have bunked them had they been paying a hefty fee? I doubt that.

Does a higher fee instill as sense of seriousness both among the educators and the students? To a great extent it might be true.

So the problem is not with a higher fee or the debt students incur in the process. The problem is the approach we take towards education. It no longer remains an intellectual pursuit. Neither teachers nor students these days understand the true meaning of education. Instead of becoming a stairway to a particular career (there is nothing wrong in that inherently) education must become a stairway to enlightenment and a higher form of thinking. Since current education system completely focuses on the certificate that you eventually get, the important part gets lost, the learning part. What matters is the degree, not the education we have attained. What matters is the numbers and grades we have acquired, rather than the values we have developed.

This pretty much sums up what I intend to say:

Contemporary education system

The value-based education system will stand us in good stead in every field, whether it is science, humanities our technology. With a better frame of mind we are in a better condition to contribute, even if we have lots of debt to pay. The message from Chomsky comes out of his leftist leanings and not from a true desire to find a lasting solution. The lasting solution would be to make the education a state of being, rather than a certificate. Expensive or inexpensive education doesn’t really matter.

 

This problem is not just particular to Muslims

I was just reading a heart-felt piece in the Tehelka magazine, regarding how Muslims are made to feel like outsiders, and worse, like traitors, in their own country. She recounts two incidents:

Once she was returning from Ghaziabad to Delhi with her mother, they choose to board in a private bus which was full of Rajasthanis. Her mother was a Rajput and excited to see her ‘own’ people. They both were giggling and talking about beautiful Rajasthani jewellery passed to her by her grandmother. Conductor came and gave a weird look to her mother as she was wearing burqa, he handed over them tickets and said “sala do musalmano ne sari bus ko Pakistan banadiya”.

I met a lady-principal and a young director of two well-known private schools respectively. After discussing urban slums and Bangladesh, Lady Principal asked me what I want to become. I laughed and replied, in 5th grade our teachers used to ask this. Now, I am what I am in front of you. But she insisted me to answer. As a joke, I said ‘youngest Prime Minister of India’. She unexpectedly asked, ‘why India?’ Smile disappears from my face but I managed to ask, ‘Well, I am an Indian and in which country do you think I am eligible to be a PM?’. She said ‘any country, there are so many countries for you guys’. I politely asked her ‘so many countries such as…?’ She shamelessly answered, ‘there are neighboring countries you know…’

First, people who behaved in such manner needed tight slaps. Second, this is not a Muslim specific problem, especially in our country.

Being a Sikh I’ve had my share of stupid remarks made on my identity. In fact my brother-in-law used to get so upset that he often used to regret being a Sikh. His colleagues and classmates (all Hindus) would specifically exchange crude, insulting “Sardar jokes” in his presence, especially in his presence. Making fun of Sikhs is legendary in India.

And, when Sikhs get a chance, they ridicule Biharis and UPiites. Similarly, people from different regions are addressed to disparagingly by people from other regions. Everybody knows the plight of Dalits

We are basically a nation of bullies. There is some fundamental flaw in our values and psyche. So the next time you’re being “targeted” as a Muslim, keep in mind you’re simply being targeted for being, or appearing, different.

Why an Indian Muslim criticizing India is sometimes blown out of proportion

In a recent article published in the Pakistani edition of The Tribune Akaar Patel laments:

In India, the Muslim lives on sufferance. It is the Hindu who has freedom to attack India and its culture, its vulgarity. The Muslim who objects to something, no matter that it is obvious and visible, must qualify his argument.

He is referring to the recent controversy that was followed by the publication of an article written by Shahrukh Khan in which he wrote that sometimes he has to bear the brunt of belonging to the Muslim community and how he feels alienated in his own country.

Although at a later stage the matter did get blown out of proportion people like Akaar who think Muslims are particularly targeted, and an average Muslim is not as free to criticize India as an average Hindu are either purposely stoking communal pathos, or don’t get the complete picture (hard to believe actually).

Shahrukh Khan’s ruminations took a controversial turn when Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s interior minister, after reading Shahrukh Khan’s thoughts, suggested that India should provide sufficient security to the superstar and he shouldn’t be treated as a second class citizen just because he belongs to the Muslim community. Malik said:

He (Khan) is born an Indian and would like to remain an Indian. But I will request the Indian government to provide him security

Even here it shouldn’t be a problem. After all, Shahrukh Khan has no control over what Rehman Malik says in his own country.

Recently the superstar got into an argument with a security man in a Mumbai stadium, and although he was the one who continuously threatened and abused the security man, he later on claimed the guard misbehaved with him and his kids because he belongs to the minority community. This incident he has also talked about in the recent article. Now and then he makes a big deal of how he was frisked at a US airport because his name matched with that of a terrorist. Add to this Rehman Malik and you have enough fodder for social and electronic media debates. But this in no way defines the position of an average Indian Muslim.

Just like any other community in India, the Muslims get enough space to create nuisance. Salman Rushdie cannot attend cultural events despite enjoying a considerable fan following. Muslim crowd runs berserk at Azaad Maidan, vandalizing a revered structure and killing a pregnant policewoman. Kamal Haasan is having to run from pillar to post to show his movie in which he has shown Islamic terrorists. The majority community is constantly made to feel guilty and forced to pander to the whims and fancies of the Muslim community. Despite being a secular country the majority community is incessantly preached upon and judged. And while Muslims do all these things, nobody tells them they should go to Pakistan. Is there any other Muslim majority country where a minority community gets to create so much nuisance?

Here I’m not saying only Muslims cause mischief – Hindus, Dalits, Christians, Sikhs – every community, given a chance, does its bit. It’s wrong to say that Muslims always have to explain their actions.

Coming back to why such statements get blown out of proportion when Muslims are involved. First, unlike any other community, you don’t elicit cross border responses. Would Rehman Malik make the same suggestions if a non-Muslim had expressed his or her disenchantment with India? What if Amitabh Bachchan had said he feels targeted in Mumbai as a north Indian? What if Sunny Deol had said that as a Sikh he doesn’t get much respect in India. And these are real problems faced by real people.

There are lots of conflicting interests in India, and every community has one or another grievance. Why does it become a bigger problem with Muslims? One, they play the victim card more often than any other community. Two, yes, they remain politically exploited, from within, and from outside. Three, it’s people like Akaar Patel who constantly stem into the community that look, you are being constantly victimized and given an underhanded treatment by the majority community.

All these factors create lots of resentment among the majority community, and then even innocuous statements such as the recent one made by Shahrukh Khan, are blown out of proportion.

We need to read, and, understand our epics

Indian epics

Ever since the December 16 gang rape the and brutal murder of a young physiotherapist, scores of articles have been written analyzing what prompted those men, and thousands of other men every year, to commit such unspeakable atrocities upon women. Is something contemporary driving people insane and barbaric, or is there something rooted in our culture and upbringing that makes us consider our women as objects and assets?

There are many people who find faults at the very crux of our culture, mythology and religious practices. According to ancient texts, they say, a woman is a possession: like a slave or livestock, she can be sold and purchased, she can be abducted and held against her will, she can be punished publicly if she goes against the wishes of her master known as her husband and it is her foremost duty to consider the male members of her family in general and her husband in particular, divine (and hence, above reproach).

Do our epics and religious texts actually mean that, or they have been contorted to suit vested interests? Although this thought has been playing inside my mind for a very long time, what has prompted me to write this is my recent reading of two entirely different chains of thought when it comes to correlating mythological/religious texts and the way we treat our women.

Nilanjana Roy begins her recent Business Standard article with:

In times of trouble, turning to the great epics is always useful: their ancient bloodstained lines are reminders that we do not have a premium on violence, rape and corpses.

Then, citing various instances from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata she explains how abduction, confinement, abandonment, revanchist disfiguration and rape of women are sanctioned in these epics. Whether it is the abduction of Sita by Rawana, her abandonment by her own husband Rama, the cutting of the nose of Surpanakha (Rawana’s sister), the abduction of Amba and later on her abandonment by Bhishma or the stripping of Draupadi in front of everybody, these epics are filled with atrocities on women. According to this logic, the same attitude percolates our society today and makes our men look at women with contempt or consider them an object of sleaze and sexual fulfillment, not to mention a sense of ownership.

Nilanjana further writes:

Five stories of rape and sexual assault from the epics are particularly useful. The Ramayana has the abduction of Sita by Ravana, and, running parallel to it, the disfiguration of Surpanakha by Rama and Lakshmana — two atrocities, not one, that trigger a war. The Mahabharata has the public assault on Draupadi at its heart, the abduction and revenge of Amba, and the sanctioned rapes of Amba and Ambalika by Ved Vyasa.

The tale most often cited in the aftermath of assaults on women, such as the tragedy of the young woman who died this December after being gang-raped and injured by six men, is Sita’s abduction. This is raised explicitly by pseudo-Hindus, usually as a warning to women to stay behind a Lakshman rekha, an arbitrarily drawn line of protection. It echoes the widespread views of many who blame women for being sexually assaulted, saying that they should not have gone out in public.

I came across this particular article via Sandeep’s lengthy response to her article in a series of blog posts titled “The Rape of Our Epics”. He begins his first blog post with

Nilanjana Roy’s Business Standard piece on Jan 08, 2013 entitled A woman alone in the forest is just the latest in what has become a much-lauded fad. A fad whose staple diet consists of a distorted reading of Indian epics, misinterpretations aplenty, sleights of hand, concealment, and open falsehood. We’ve seen the disastrous results of what happens when such untruths come to be accepted as truth—simply put, they multiply and over time gain such wide currency that even when the truth is pointed out, people simply dismiss it as propaganda or ranting or both. This problem is made worse in a country like India where the English media refuses to give voice to opposing and/or honest viewpoints.

He further says

it’s interesting that Nilanjana chooses to see only bloodstained lines, violence, and rape in them instead of a wealth of learning, high philosophy, a harmonious worldview, a divine view of women, and a solid value system they contain and espouse.

So which chain of thought do you follow? In this regard I am not a learned person. My best exposure to Ramayana is Abhyudaya by Narendra Kohli in which he has tried to retell the epic from a human angle (so nobody has supernatural powers and God-like abilities). I haven’t read the original Valmiki Ramayana. The same goes with Mahabharata. I intend to change this very soon.

But really, how much do we know about our epics? You can easily make out in Nilanjana’s article that she hasn’t done proper reading of the epics and she writes with a preconceived notion that she has acquired via certain type of reading. Sandeep’s style of expression may seem acerbic, but he is right when he says that the English media not only distorts facts when it comes to the cultural interpretations, it also refuses the alternative opinions to be expressed. That’s why you see so much anger and cynicism in the way he writes. I totally agree that there is this particular section of writers and intellectuals who don’t write for scholarly analysis, but to perpetuate an agenda. There is this ongoing effort to paint a dark aura around our ancient scriptures, especially when it comes to Hinduism, and I say this as a non-Hindu. I’m not sure whether they do it intentionally or unintentionally, but this happens, and it happens with amazing frequency.

This brings me to the topic of this blog post. When it comes to knowing our epics, there is very little that we know. We normally read opinions and interpretations, or at the most the digest forms of these monumental works of literature. We know individual stories – maybe 5-6% of them – and a big chunk of the epics remain unread. A person like me knows more about Greek mythology than our own (thanks to some issues of the National Geographic magazine).

There needs to be a concerted effort so that these epics become more accessible in terms of language and availability. Not everybody knows Sanskrit and not everybody knows which are the best available interpretations. Just like there are book reading sessions, there can also be epic-reading sessions, not only sponsored and promoted by religious institutions. I’m not sure if universities encourage their students to have discourses on Indian epics, from all corners of the country. What about schools?