Saturday, October 21, 2006

While I sit to write this, I have been numbed, have just had goose flesh, have shed a few tears, have had mixed emotions gripping me. Well, this isn’t intended to be a music review of an album (no I am not adding this parallel career to my already burgeoning list of side kicks!) nor is it a gimmick to revive the vast readership (!) that my now-struggling-to-exist blog once enjoyed! I don’t know if I would be able to do justice to the lines that would follow, because as they say the best of emotions are also the toughest to cloak and articulate through the mere crutches of words! Anyway, no harm trying.

Madhirakshi’ is the album I am talking about here. The cover of the album tries to describe it both in words as well as pictorially through the imagery of red earth and pouring rain; the yearning for the ultimate union, the feeling of unrequited and unconsummated love, the dejection at being cheated, the bliss experienced when the dual merges to one wholesome entity.

I must admit here that I began listening to this with a certain degree of skepticism. Not being too impressed with the attempts that many of our classical musicians make at ‘fusion’ (most often resulting in a lot of ‘confusion’), I thought this was just another run of the mill album of the artists who were seeking a more mass appeal. But Sikkil Gurucharan, the vocalist in the album and a Carnatic vocalist on the threshold of glory in the world of the art form and Anil Srinivasan, an accomplished pianist proved me completely wrong. It also opened my eyes to the perils one faces due to the tendency to pre-judge a work of art! If you thought that Carnatic music was just about rhythm and complex tala patterns, a zillion percussion instruments beating their heads off in the tani phase to a crescendo of cacophony at times and the leading artist vigorously tapping his or her lap to demonstrate the talam--- think again! That the characteristically dynamic art form can also be beautifully transformed into a lilting melody, one that soothes your nerves and slows the gush of blood therein, one that stops you to ponder and introspect, one that does not just eulogize gods and goddesses of some distant unseen planet but one that people can relate to and empathize---Madhirakshi certainly brings these aspects out in an aesthetic manner.

Indian art forms- music, dance or literature have always been inspired by the core philosophies of Dualism and Non Dualism. The Advaita or the non-dualistic approach harps on the fact that the Supreme Consciousness that we might call as God or Brahman is both the material and instrumental cause of the Universe. This is of course extremely hard for the mind to visualize or grasp, since the mind engages constantly in making distinctions and rejecting or transcending them is onerous. All our visible and perceivable art forms begin with the concept of Dualism that the common man can associate with- God and the devotee variously personified as a master-slave or as two lovers pining for union. But the ultimate state of bliss still happens to be that of union, where differences cease to exist. When viewed through the mundane eyes that most of us usually have, it seems vulgar and a eulogy to sexual union. But on the metaphysical level, it transcends to something subtle and spiritual. Madhirakshi too starts off with this very idea of dual energies either pining for or ultimately becoming one vibrant single entity.

Coming back to the album itself---skeptic me put it on and decided to multi task with the plethora of jobs that I usually juggle with while listening to music. But presto! With the very first strain, I left all else and sat rapt. The sorrows of the past and not-so-happy-times that have gone by me are things that I usually keep under wraps and camouflage with a pretence of cheerfulness and almost always succeed in convincing the person with me about my wonderful state of mind. But then these are like a heap of clothes stacked into an old cupboard, locked up and the key tossed through the window! But then Ragas like Jhonpuri and Subhapantuvarali, among many others, and lyrics like the ones used in this album, do me great disservice by acting as that very key that I threw away; open the cupboard and cascades the heap out. That is exactly what happened with me while listening to the opening piece ‘Asai Mugam’ in Jhonpuri; a composition of the celebrated Bharatiar. Quite involuntarily I felt the hair on my hands standing at their ends and the eyes turning moist. It was cathartic.

Being in chaste and literary Tamil—a language which happens to be my mother tongue but strangely discomforting--- it was a bit difficult to catch the word-to-word meaning of every lyric. The gist and summary of course did come across. But what the heck! True and good music is one that moves you beyond reason and certainly beyond the boundaries of words and lyrics. Like the barriers of caste and religions are totally man-made and artificial, so too, in the realm of music the boundaries and prejudices that have been created by stratification and classification into styles like Hindustani, Carnatic or Western is our problem, not music’s. For an artist a work of art is an expression of one’s experience, a universal language of deep human emotions. Art is a great unifier and a real artist is above all false divisions among humans, because a good work of art is appreciated everywhere , as human experiences are fundamentally the same- people weep everywhere, smile everywhere, love everywhere! These unsophisticated expressions of one’s inner being have a universality about them. Hence the coming together of rigid and orthodox Carnatic music and its western cousin seemed to signify this very worship of Nada Brahma or the Ultimate Sound- one that has broken these false and ridiculous barriers. That in itself is another example of Non-Dualism that we were talking about earlier!

From the poignancy of losing the memory of something that you love so dearly and cherish, in Jhonpuri, the journey slowly meanders to explore other emotions. In a direct contrast to the first piece, the one in Latangi craves for a carry over of experiences and memories of one birth to the next- a kind of seamless transition that ultimately frees one from the bondage of life and death (again a pet theme of the Advaita philosophers!) If Brindavana Saranga lilts you to the state of triumph achieved through the attainment of this union, the piece in Nadanamakriya expresses complete hopelessness and helplessness at being cheated into belief and then left in the lurch to berate at one’s destiny and loneliness. What can be more poignant than having the object of your utmost desire right in front of you, but not being able to attain it? But yes, a lullaby in between soothes the sorrowful nerves—as if trying to console you saying its ok, there is always another chance! All through, the piano acts as a soul mate, a patient listener who is never too jarring, never too judgmental or nosey. It almost feels that the “Thozi” or friend that the voice seems to seek for and pour her sorrow to, seems to be these quiet strains that gently cajole, console and caress the damsel in distress.

While I write all this, for a minute I stop to think am I biased? Does the fact that the vocalist of this album- Gurucharan- happens to be a very dear and loveable friend of mine have anything to do with all that I felt and wrote? That Charan is someone who quickly and unwittingly galloped from being a complete stranger to a nice acquaintance to somebody with whom I have shared more than what my laconic and reticent self generally lets me to with people i have known for only that long a time as him and whom I aptly name as a diurnal addiction these days----all remain where they are. But it’s the power of the melody that has been created that overpowers more than the personal affection or camaraderie I share with this amazing young man that makes me melt each time I hear the album!

I started off saying I didn’t know what to write and ended up writing so much that I scroll back in utter disbelief! May be that’s the power of music- one that stirs you from within and forces you to articulate the deepest of emotions in a manner you thought you couldn’t.

A “must-listen” for all true lovers of music with a heart that beats and a mind that feels!

Friday, May 19, 2006

The recent inactivity on my blog seems to have worried one entity in this world greatly. And that’s none other than the Government of India! How else could I justify the excesses they have been committing through the past few weeks and thereby stroking my hitherto dead creative juices that get powered by anger and resentment! Hardly had people in this part of the world got out of the shock of the quota and its aftermath, there came yet another proof of the shortsightedness of the goofs who claim to rule us. But for them, I would be in one of the multiplexes today to watch the first day release of the ‘Da Vinci Code’! But presto! Our erudite I&B Minister and his loonies planned a Machiavellian move to scuttle the release of a movie that has seen the light of day in proclaimed Christian countries of the world! But then we live in a secular nation, don’t we? Somehow I seem to forget that essential nature of our polity!

Secularism for a vast majority in this country means majority bashing and minority appeasement. Well, before I get branded as a member of a certain reviled Parivar of Indian politics, I must emphasize that I hold the scantest of regard for their ilk as they do more harm than good to the cause of those they claim to represent. But that notwithstanding, the fact remains and is borne out by repeated acts of omission on the part of the ‘secular’ brigade of India. From when did the I&B Ministry decide that it was an expert in either theology or in filmmaking? Since when did they consider a ‘re-look’ on films that are cleared by the Censor Board of India? And why have a Board if you don’t trust its judgments? Preposterous claims were made by the man who initiated this whole juggernaut when he said it was because 200 Catholic Organizations had appealed to him to ban the movie. Well, does he or his Government, which takes people’s opinions so seriously then sit up and roll back the quota proposal as lakhs of students are appealing for the same? If this is not vote-bank politics, if this is not appeasement what is?

With due respect to the followers of these faiths, I must state here that India today has a harmonious and secular existence only because the majority of its people are Hindus- people who understand that there is no ONE path to the Truth, people who have eternally believed in the principle of co-existence with views opposed to one’s own, that they might differ with another’s opinion but defend till their death the other person’s right to dissent and most importantly people who can introspect on the evils within their societies and even poke fun on themselves and their gods. Time and time again in the past reformers have challenged the traditional and orthodox ways of life and to that effect Hinduism has been a growing and evolving religion. It speaks volumes of the inherent strength of the faith that has stood 1000 and more years of onslaught, first of the Islamic invaders and then the wily British and their insidious Missionaries. But here you have a group that feels a simple, stupid movie can shake their faith? Just sometime back in the past we had another virulent group whose faith was offended by cartoons! And these are the very groups that claim that the country is going down the communal warpath? Strange, isn’t it? Films in the past have been as derogatory to Hinduism, its gods and goddesses or social customs. If a Deepa Mehta makes snide remarks on lesbianism in Hindu families or the plight of widows in Varanasi she is being creative; if an M. F. Hussain paints Saraswati or Bharat Mata clad in air, then he is being a visionary of a painter; but if a Ron Howard directs a work of fiction that claims Jesus was a normal heterosexual male or a Danish cartoonist exercises his creative rights, then all hell breaks loose! And who supports these endeavours- the secular brigade led by this irrational government and of course the Page 3 kind of intellectual celebrities. Where have the Javed Akhtars, Shabana Azmis, Mahesh Bhatts (who has an opinion on and a solution for everything from Kashmir to stopping riots to defining pornography to how to correct an erectile dysfunction!!!) and the rest of the ‘secular’ thinktank disappeared; they are usually well-rehearsed when they have to fight Hindu fundamentalism, aren’t they?

Secularism and harmonious co-existence is essentially of the give and take nature. One would be naïve to assume that there would be no backlash in the face of such blatant partiality. Catholic priests thundered on television screens that the film would sway people who could not read and write and hence not be able to read the disclaimer! Well, that exposes two truths. One, it’s a tacit admission on the part of the Indian Church that these are the very target groups that they have been working on for generations- people who cant read and write and hence can be lured by goodies or by irrational acts of miracles by Benny Hinns and his counterparts in India. The second truth is of course the pig-headedness of these folks- it rather amused me to think that people who cant read and write would actually consider going to an English movie in the first place! Aren’t we stretching the arguments and our hyper sensitive sensitivities a bit too much? Do we care a damn for the fundamental rights of others? If the same movie can be screened all over the Christian world, if Dargahs and mosques in avowed Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia can be demolished for such mundane acts as road-widening, why is it then that in a so-called secular country like ours films like these get banned or riots get sparked in Vadodara? Why are people in India denied the right to read books like ‘Satanic Verses’ or ‘Lajja’ just because the Government of the day feels it might offend the sensitivities of people who cant read and write? But spoofs on the Mahabharata, anything that can buttress the claim that Lord Ram actually walked this land and ruled Ayodhya, any portrayal of Ancient India as a land of sex maniacs who wrote the Kama Sutra and engraved nude figurines on temples, any video footage to show that Hindu places of pilgrimage are havens of illicit activities, naked Sadhus, ganja& marijuana, any denial of the veracity of the Epics even while places mentioned there are all around us---all such activities will be welcomed with a warm, broadminded and the most secular bear hug! How long would this go on?

As much as I want my blog to be alive and kicking, I would pray that atleast the Government of India gives me no more chance to add posts to vent my anger. I’d rather have a dead blog than one inspired by their wondrous acts of foolishness and blatant injustice!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

It was when I actually forgot the password of my blog while attempting to log in that I realized how badly I’ve been ignoring my little corner on the web. Blame it on work, blame it on a few other urgent commitments that had to see the light of day, blame it on a complete lack of ideas and the creative juices, or plain and simple laziness! It was all the time quite heartening to get messages from supposed ‘ardent’ readers of the clap trap I churn out (wonder if the species ever existed or if they did at some point in time and space, whether they still inhabit the planet!) to give up this colossal inertia and write…but write what? Something, anything…but atleast I for one, cant write till the fire within rages strong enough to spill over onto pages. My earlier stint with poetry died a sudden and unnatural death, simply because there was no more inspiration. I feared a repeat of history here. But not until newspapers and television channels beam images and stories of the return of the phantom in this country’s political and social history.

It is with a sense of deja-vu that I see these images of thousands of young boys and girls, braving the heat and leading protests across the country crying down something that they see as downright injustice. It was with horror that I watched as a kid then, newsflashes of youth setting themselves on fire when the first Mandal Commission Report was tabled and adopted, way back in the late 1980’s. As a kid then, insecurities did surface in my mind as well, about where the future would lead me, as worried parents, grandparents, friends and families discussed the paucity of good education opportunities for our ilk in the days to come as we didn’t belong to the favored section of the political class. Almost two decades have since passed and with credit given to all who need to be given their due, I am done with the business of educating myself. And in retrospect the fears were misplaced as the sojourn has always been in some of the premiere institutions of this land despite my “upper caste”. I must agree when I say that it’s a tinge of indifference now…the feeling that I am-done-with-it-and-it’ll-be-a-while-before-my-offsprings-bear-this brunt. And each time this feeling crosses my mind, I feel terribly ashamed of myself and the unbridled selfishness that drives this thought!

The India that I saw as a kid and the one that I now live in seem poles apart. The country surges ahead in many sectors and areas and is on the verge of becoming a global super power. For the youth of today’s India, modern thoughts and information are just a click away. And in the midst of all this, we have a huge spanner thrown in from an irrelevant relic of the past, who has perhaps had nothing to do with the whole concept of education; or worse still, feels as snug and selfish as I do at times, since most probably all his children (and even grandchildren may be) have already acquired plush degrees from universities abroad! The tragedy of India is that for every right step ahead that its citizens take, its so-called leaders and politicians take four backward. Whether it’s the feud between the “humble farmer” and the “IT-czar” or the current face-off between the Government and the medicos, India is a glorious land ruled by the worst bunch of buffoons that mankind could ever produce. The State that sits pretty when terrorists blow up places after places, in fact even has the audacity to let a foreign minister accompany a most vicious criminal to secure the release of hijacked passengers---the same State (irrespective of the political affiliations) comes down brutally on harmless, peace-loving citizens who are only but exercising their fundamental right to dissent. The brutal lathicharge on students in Mumbai, the barbarism perpetrated on the workers in Gurgaon last year---all bear testimony to this lopsided priority of the State.

But leaving specifics aside, the fact remains that a large section of this country are still terribly deprived and oppressed. Within kilometers of the Stock Exchange where the rich and famous of the country gamble their fortunes, we have horrific reports of starvation deaths of tiny infants. Elsewhere we have the very people who grow us our crops- farmers- committing suicide. The Government would argue that it is their bounden duty to ensure that these folks get a level playing field and no better way to do that than providing education. Agreed; I am sure no one with a sane mind would have another opinion on this. But the point is are quotas the way ahead. If 59 years of reservation have yielded no results, if the quota seats continue to remain unfilled, if the lot of the people whom it is intended to serve remains as bad or worse than it was before the introduction, if it is so easy in a country like ours where corruption is ubiquitous and it costs a little something to get a false caste certificate, if the fruits are reaped by the creamy layers of the backward castes---isn’t it then time to sit back, reflect, introspect and think of better means to achieve the same end? Only a fool would invest in a loss-making firm.

But no, it isn’t a loss-making firm atleast as far as our horrid political class is concerned. Their vote banks run on this fuel and having learnt the art of dividing and ruling from our erstwhile colonial masters, these old hags wouldn’t give up! It is rather ironical to note that the very grand-father-in-law of our illustrious super Prime Minister Sonia Gandhi, Pt Nehru, had this to say on Reservation in a letter that he wrote on the 27th of June 1961 to the Chief Ministers of that time:, "I dislike any kind of reservation. If we go in for reservations on communal and caste basis, we will swamp the bright and able people and remain second rate or third rate." This way, he added, "Lies not only folly, but also disaster." The very cartoons who swear by the “Dynasty” of Indian politics conveniently gloss over the observations of the very founder of the Dynasty! Sadly therefore we have not one soul from across the political spectrum- left, right and center –standing up and calling the insane and senile Minister’s bluff! How many of these very politicians opposed virulently the move to reserve seats for women in Parliament, as they feared a loss of their own jobs and money-making endeavors! But when it comes to the future of the youth being jeopardized not one hag cares! Not one understands that if the State is really serious about uplifting the conditions of the genuinely depressed classes, what is needed is level-playing field at the school level. Villages and even cities in India have horribly run Government schools with the least or totally deficient infrastructure. Providing good and quality education, preferably in English, at this level is the only answer to make these classes competitive at a postgraduate level. Providing crutches at that stage of one’s academic life is suicidal; after all we are talking here of life-saving doctors and which of us would want to go under an unskilled surgeon’s knife? And if the surgeon is already skilled, why at all would he need a quota?

But turning my whole argument on its head, like he does most often is Uncle Krishnamurthy, my Marxist family friend, with whom I’ve had more ideological debates than friendly banter. He asked me with a rather straight face in the middle of a heated debate we were having on this issue- “ When was there merit in the professional courses? What right do these medicos have to protest now? How many of them protested when medical and engineering seats were out on sale in the ‘payment’ category? Isn’t that another form of quota? There you are okay with it as it’s the quota of the rich (in Marxist parlance-capitalistic!) sections of society?” And for once, it did seem that the characteristically irrational Marxist had made a very valid point. If merit and merit alone is the deciding factor why at all did the concept of capitation fee come about? For once, I was stumped and this being the season of Left victory in the country, I conceded defeat!

But scoring brownie points apart, the time has come for what people call as ‘Affirmative action’- a proactive, timely and well calibrated and measurable mechanism to be put in to address the issue from the root- Primary education. Destroying centers of excellence is certainly not the answer. Speaker after speaker chides the IIT’s, IIM’s and the likes as centers for the “elite”. My counter point is what is wrong in being elite? And Elite here is not socially elite, but academically elite. Higher education has, after all, been the reserve of a few, and that is how it is across the globe. After all how many engineers and doctors do we need? Everyone in this country cannot possibly become one? Why should we get into the socialistic and Nehruvian mould of feeling ashamed of success, of people making their fair bucks through their hard work and toil? A sizeable chunk of my fellow students in BITS-Pilani came from Andhra Pradesh and mostly from the most backward areas of the State. For many of them it was their first brush with English, or for that matter even Hindi and North India. Most often they were the butt of the jokes of many of us “elitist” convent-educated snobs from Urban India. But today they are having the last laugh as they are placed on par or perhaps even better than many of us in life! And mind you, not one came in through the quota way! So why cant we just learn to trust and respect the intellect and capabilities of our not-so-fortunate brethren and not make them feel eternally inferior for having taken the short route to success!?

Sadly, as the protests continue, as students get caned, as the indifferent and pig-headed administration sits smug in colonial fashion, countless patients suffer for want of care and attention in the hospitals. The plastic smiles and incompetence of Manmohan Singh or the eternal 'V' symbol that Sonia Gandhi flashes can bring no succor and relief to them! With zero-political support to the strike coming in, in all likelihood these young boys and girls would have their hopes shattered and may be, many of them would hate their country for discriminating against them on the basis of their birth and simply choose to fly off elsewhere. May be “Brain-drain” would continue to remain a hot essay topic for High school examinations as it did it my times! But with all this, like most of my fellow Indians, who are known to have a never-say-die attitude in the face of all the adversities, all the corruption, all the lack of effective governance, all I can sign off with is “ Hum honge Kaamyab Ek din”!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Life has changed- in some ways for the better and in some ways not- for me and I would blame my long inactivity in this corner of the world on precisely this. Bid an adieu to Northern India, to my erstwhile company, to the numerous people who had come to occupy an important place in my life in such a short span and got back to where my heart was- Bangalore! The idea is yet to sink in that I have ACTUALLY landed here for good and don’t have to take yet another flight to somewhere else. It also gives me a great opportunity to pursue things and interests that are close to my heart. Well that was the ‘good’ part about which I spoke in the opening line. The flipside of the coin is that when you finally get back to your family and people after being away for so long it takes a while for both to adjust to the other’s permanent presence! It might be a mean thing to say about one’s own people. But then the feeling gets accentuated when, after being able to see you day in and day out, your people suddenly start worrying about the summers and winters that you have been spending all by yourself and resort to the usual pressures to find yourself a worthy companion to do the same! And when this contradicts your philosophy of life or the course you want to chart for it, then starts the bickering and heartburn! But then would just give it a passé as the typical ‘teething problems’ associated with all new ventures!

Being in a new company amidst new colleagues necessitates you to discover the wheel of socialization all over again! And what better way to do it than go on a team outing to a movie! And so a whole load of us landed at the Inox Multiplex to watch the new flick of the season- Rang De Basanti. To say that it disturbed me terribly would be an understatement. It in fact touched the raw nerve despite my complete disagreement with the weak storyline and the course the protagonists charted for themselves in this movie. I feel a lot more can be achieved by being ‘alive’ than surrendering yourselves to the jaws of death; but that’s nother philosophy altogether.

For quite some time now there has been this huge burning desire within me to do “something” for the country I live in. But then doesn’t that sound so very hackneyed and clichéd? Its tough to quantify this ‘something’ and opens a whole lot of questions within you. Am I and the many others like me who work for multi national companies to feel bad and guilty about the fact that we have white skinned bosses and we talk of business incomes of companies headquartered in New York and London? Or are we still better off than many of our counterparts who have flown away to the greener pastures of the west? Is just staying in India, being a moderately good and law abiding citizen who pays his taxes on time enough? Or is there something else that we should do? Or do we at all need to do something; are things that bad that they require some kind of mass revolution? If we have to do ‘something’ then what is it, where do we begin and how do we go about it? Is a foray into the murky world of politics or civil services the only way to make a difference or could that function co-exist with my diurnal evaluations of profitability scenarios for my US-based bank?

It would be naïve to assume that a vast majority of youth of my country do not feel similarly. If the results of a recent poll on the state of the nation conducted by a TV channel is anything to go by, it is almost startling to realize that today’s Indian youth are returning to values and ideals that their previous generation had given to the winds. Still, like the protagonists of the movie, a lot of them are lost in the maze. The pressures of academic life, the stress involved at work place, of family--- makes them numb to the harsh realities outside their air-conditioned cubicles. When targets and deadlines stare you in the eye day after day, the country or its state becomes secondary. In a meeting at Janaagraha that I have decided to join and give some of my time, the inspiring founder Ramesh Ramanathan put a valid point. He said that if all Bangaloreans gave in just 1% of their waking time, which was about 2-3 hours a week for their city, we could build the city of our dreams. With such a large youth force that this country has, would this be asking for too much? Amidst all the parties and bars and discotheques that we attend, is asking for this 1% too much? If it is, then none of us even have this right to crib about the lack of facilities and amenities. We need to be the change that we want to see! Practical Patriotism is what he calls it!

To a large extent our education system also contributes to our apathy. In fact the British laid the foundations of our education system on this very premise. Even a casual reading of the writings of the educationists of the time would bear this point out. Max Muller the famous philosopher says this in one of his writings-

“It is true there are millions of children, women and men in India who fall down before the stone image of Vishnu, with his four arms, riding on a creature half bird, half man, or sleeping on the serpent, worship Siva, a monster with three eyes, riding naked on a bull, with a necklace of skulls for his ornament. There are human beings who still believe in a god of war, Karthikeya, with six faces, riding on a peacock, and holding bow and arrow in his hands: and who invoke a god of success Ganesha, with four hands and an elephant’s head sitting on a rat! Nay, it is true that, in the broad daylight of the nineteenth century the figure of goddess Kali is carried through the streets of her own city, Calcutta, her wild disheveled hair reaching to her feet, with a necklace of human heads, her tongue protruded from her mouth, her girdle stained with blood. All this is true : but ask any Hindu who can read and write and think, whether these are the gods he believes in and he will smile at your credulity.

Charles Trevelyan , a civil servant writes in ‘ On the Education of the People of India-
“The Grammar and spelling books suffice to destroy the Hindu religion…It is so destitute of anything like evidence, and is identified with so many gross immoralities and absurdities that it gives way at once before the light of the European science…. it is sufficient to prove that the world does not rest on the back of a tortoise, or it is not composed of concentric circles of wine and cake and milk, and so forth, and their religion is gone!!…A generation is growing up which repudiates idols. A young Hindu, who has received liberal English education, was forced by his family to attend the shrine of Kali upon which he took off his cap to ‘Madam Kali’ made her a light bow, and hoped ‘her ladyship was well’!!! ….” As Macaulay, the father of our education system puts it- “ Every young Brahmin…..who learns Geography in our colleges learns to smile at the Hindu mythology!…”

The point I make here is that by continuing on very much the same lines of these Indologist educationists, we have successfully built generations of Indians who have been displaced from an understanding of their own land, their own culture and values. Quiz shows on TV show bright young boys and girls who know everything about everyone in some distant land but fail to identify national icons like a Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma in the Audio-Visual rounds. When a group of people are blissfully unaware of what they inherit, how would their heart beat in remorse to see the same cherished ideals being trampled and where then would the fire arise to set things right? If, right from school days, we are being groomed into being the slaves of the same imperialist nations that we grow up to work for, how different would the outcome be?

Amidst all this I read about a group of IIT students who have embarked on a mission to cleanse politics and start an outfit of their own. In typical Indian pessimism, Ma reacted to my enthusiastic narration of this tale as “ What fools they are, don’t they know nothing will change in this country? Either you have to quit in a huff or the system changes you. Everyone enters with good intentions, but down the line something mutates. What use was the IIT degree if this is what its being put to use”! I don’t know if the degrees we earned (or bought) from our Universities are just to fatten our purses. Of course you need money for a living, but how much is enough? And why cant an engineer or an MBA put these skills to public service? Is coding and selling toothpastes all that intelligent people do? At the end of the journey of life, wouldn’t we want to look back with a sense of achievement of having touched and transformed a few lives?

The questions continue on an incessant trail…wish I had someone giving me the answers or at least showing me a path where I could find them myself!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Stuck in the middle of waist deep water on Bannerghatta road, with the imposing offices of the likes of Oracle, Accenture onlooking the deluge outside, it certainly wasn’t the best of holidays I had hoped for myself after being away from Bangalore for a long time. The city had witnessed its most fierce bout of rains in 60 years. Water logged roads and overflowing drains were a concept alien to us Bangaloreans; we in fact prided in poking fun at neighbouring Chennai which faces such hardships almost every year with even a tinkle of a downpour. The city has been in the news for all the wrong reasons- infrastructure woes, the ongoing battle of words between the ‘humble farmer’ and the IT honcho ( to be fair to the latter, its more of a hysteric monologue initiated by the ‘son of the soil’!), the industry’s clarion call to boycott the annual IT conclave of the state government organized with a view to increase investment and then as an icing on the cake, the rains and the unprecedented floods all over the city. The driver of the auto I was traveling in (rather inching in) said rather ruely- “ They have ruined our city sir, these IT companies. They are flying birds, come here today, go out the next. But their actions and inactions have ruined our city for good. Its all over, destroyed.”

While I might not fully share this poor man’s pessimism, I must concede that this is the popular sentiment of a majority of Bangaloreans- the traditional ones who’ve settled here for generations and have seen the city grow and now decay. Bangalore with the nippiness in its air and salubrious climate was hailed as a pensioners’ paradise till the early 1980’s. while the weather did impart a slightly laidback attitude to its people it was also a melting pot of culture, of intellectuals, of scientists, artists and thinkers who made it its home. Famous as the City of Gardens, this city of boiled grains ( that was what its founder the Yelahanka dynasty ruler Kempegowda named it after) was a city of vibrant minds, of people known for their softspokenness and hospitality.

And then IT happened! To all those who think the climate was the only reason for industry’s choice of Bangalore, I would say why did they not set shop in Ooty, Shimla or some other hill station? Bangalore had many other pluses to its advantage. Under the erstwhile ruler of Mysore and its illustrious Dewans like Sir M Vishweshwaraih and Sir Mirza Ismail, the city had attained a high degree of industrial growth by the time of independence. Mysore state became one of India’s first states to have a democratic system of local governance. It was also the intellectual capital of India with research centers like IISc and later on IIM and the largest number of engineering colleges in India. Bangalore was also high on the strategic map of India’s defence with HAL, BHEL and similar companies housing their operations here. With such a large pool of talent and advantages, the nascent Indian IT industry- which is more of a knowledge based one, naturally chose Bangalore as its starting point. The initial pioneers of the IT growth in India- Narayan Murthy and Azim Premji being Bangaloreans themselves only helped the city that much more. And with all fairness to our most loved whipping boy- the Government-the Karnataka Governments of the past have given sops to the IT industry that no other state in India have- the 10 year tax holiday being just one of them.

With spiraling growth, rapid influx of talented young men and women, new start up companies of ambitious entrepreneurs rearing to fly in the vast skies that the IT success story offered, the industry gave India a new identity, a new respect in the international community of the kinds that China hitherto had in manufacturing. And Bangalore was the fulcrum of this entire growth story, though the IT bug has slowly bitten other states, AP being the most notable. The IT and ITES sector generated $5.7 bn in exports in 2002 and this figure jumped to $17 billion in 2004-05 with an annual growth rate of about 34%. And the leader of the software exports of India was Bangalore, which accounted for more than 40% of the pie.

Bangalore obviously became the favored destination of people- especially the youth who flooded the city in search of good employment opportunities. The city welcomed them all with open arms and assimilated them in the cultural melting pot that it was. More success stories meant more people getting in and slowly there was the specter of unbridled influx. The city wasn’t expecting growth of this magnitude. It managed to subsume the neighboring rural areas and grow into the “Greater Bangalore” that it is today. Still, for a city that called itself pensioners’ paradise to Asia’s fastest growing city- the journey had been long and too fast to grapple with. Till it landed in the cesspool that it is in today!

Its all too easy to lay the blame on the government for its lack of political farsightedness. I mean, the bulk of the blame does lie on its doorstep, as being policy makers its their damn business to plan for the city. But then all of us are to blame for this sad state of affairs in what was India’s indigenous success story and a showcase to the world as a city of the future. The IT firms are equally to blame. With a mere 10 lakh odd vehicles in the early 1990’s to over 2 million today and with an estimated 12 lakh vehicles added every year, which city of the world can cope with such monstrous growth? Add to it the appalling public transport and the increased standard of living of people and the ease with which retail banks offer car and two wheeler loans today, no wonder the city’s roads are clogged with vehicles and smoke. Gone are the times when we barely needed a fan even in the peak of summer. Gone are the canopied boulevards and gardens that dotted the streets- road widening and fly overs have eaten into the very lung of the city.

But what alarms and irritated me more than anything else, is this orchestrated cry from all over the country of ‘Bangalore crumbling’. The media has scripted an obituary much before the patient has slipped into the proverbial coma! Pray which city in India has world-class infrastructure? Having lived in most of the large cities myself, I know that the situation is as good or as bad there as it is in Bangalore. The July rains ruined the image of Mumbai as India’s Shanghai. Did the finance industry decide to leave Bombay for good following that? Mumbai has worse roads (rather potholes) and it takes a helluva effort to ride through the suburbs. The city is choked with its burgeoning slums and uncollected garbage heaps. Gurgaon, where I live these days, and which is touted as a challenge to Bangalore has woefully bad roads too, a drizzle is enough to choke the roads and cause traffic jams. The place has NO public transport whatsoever! Chennai has its own set of problems. No drains, no water, inhuman weather, issues of language and so on. I’am not undermining other cities of India to make a case for Bangalore. What I am trying to say is lack of foresight when it comes to urban planning and governance is a pan-Indian syndrome and Bangalore suffers from the same. Don’t we realize that by deriding and writing off a city that has made the country proud, that has made the world sit up and catch attention of India, which hitherto was never on any body’s priority when it came to industry- we are digging our own grave?

What then is the road ahead? Will we sit blaming each other and let things go worse each passing day or think constructively for a change? There are organizations in Bangalore like ‘Janaagraha’ where I had the privilege of interning for a short while which strikes at the root of these problems. The key is in ‘Participatory democracy’ where citizens ‘elect and engage’ rather than ‘elect and forget and then blame’. Janaagraha’s vision for Bangalore is simplistic, yet effective and logical where the city is broken down into 100 wards and each ward plans for itself. All this in active consultation of and coordination with the local self government bodies who would be the ultimate drivers of these ideas, in a non-confrontationist atmosphere. Cant educated citizens, software professionals, young minds put on their thinking caps and come up with viable solutions to the problems that face their city? The bottlenecks of infrastructure that need our immediate attention are roads, traffic, drainages, garbage disposal (when it comes to power and water supply Bangalore ranks well among India’s cities). Cant IT companies discourage people from using their personal vehicles to office and instead insist that all of them should use a company bus which could ferry them in and out every day? After all these companies which draw so much from the city have some responsibility towards it and need to give back! On its part cant the slumbering government wake up and create a clearly demarcated IT locality- like the ones in Electronic City and Whitefield, which also house huge residential complexes so that the employees working here need not criss cross across the length and breadth of the city for work? Creating self sufficient communities of this kind all along the periphery of the city would decongest the main city to a large extent. Mindless flyovers built over a few meters serve no purpose. Instead comprehensive plans need to be made for building arterial roads, widening and repairing the existing ones- more of the kinds of the numerous ring roads that are a pleasure to drive on.

Equally important in this mad rush is also a holistic development of the city, its cultural hubs and centers. In the recent past the animosity between local Kannada groups and the ‘outsiders’ had reached quite a crescendo, leading to the ban of non Kannada films. Such things don’t augur well for a forward looking city. A sense of mutual respect, a sense of oneness and respect for the local language, customs and traditions on the part of people who inundate the place day in and out is quintessential. More platforms need to be made for the sprouting of the arts- dance, music, theater, literature; even as we proudly host the Elton Johns and Bryan Adams of the world. Its all nice to be called the Pub capital of India, but at the same time one mustn’t lose sight of the quintessential ethos of Bangalore which, unlike Goa is not in booze and wine! Bangalore represents a wonderful picture of how opposites can co-exist and in harmony and this needs to be nurtured for posterity.

So for once, why cant we junk our characteristic cynicism of ‘nothing can happen in this country’; why not junk the senseless ‘sons of the soil’ who have absolutely no vision and whose diatribes border more on the comic and come up with practical solutions to this problem of plenty. The government is also, after all run by human beings, not demigods or magicians. Its all too easy to say ‘ the government must do something about it’ but then when we actually sit down to think about quantifying that ‘something’ and how to go about it, we realize that it aint an easy task. At this point of time, it really doesn’t matter if a few companies get frustrated and leave Bangalore… ‘cos wherever else they go, be it a Hyderabad or Pune or Noida and Gurgaon- the issues that Bangalore face today will come to haunt them as well some day in the future; because town planning has never been an Indian virtue! We bask in temporal successes and forget larger issues! So it would actually be foolish for companies to leave a place which has given them such a head start and reinvent the wheel in a new location. Instead why not fix the bruised wheel before it gives way?

While I think of all this, my auto has managed to inch a bit ahead splashing the puddles of water all over, with people on their road-rage best, honking, abusing, trying to cut lanes and speed ahead. I can barely conceal my smile when, after being out of this mega jam of over 70 minutes, my pessimistic auto driver shakes his head in dismay again and says – No hope for this city sir, no hope!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Continuing with my present state of disillusionment (refer previous post for details), this one comes along as a sequel. The issue of ‘faith’ has always puzzled me beyond question. It could be something as obscure as the faith that many of my female colleagues in office have of fasting today to ensure a long life for their husbands (ok lets not get feministic by arguing why can’t men keep a similar fast on the lines of karva chauth or is it that they don’t want their wives to live long enough!) or the trend these days of falling a prey to the million faith-peddlers who hold sway on the unsuspecting millions. Without getting into names or individuals, it is no secret that ‘spirituality’ of the 21st century is a big booming business. They are run like corporate houses, they have precise market segments and market research to target their most vulnerable ‘customers’, they have super size marketing and publicity blitz, they flood TV channels ( for those who haven’t been caught napping surfing these faith-peddler channels like astha, sanskar, God and ones on quran and Arabic faiths- its almost as big a business as ekta kapoor’s daily soap opera tortures!!!), have modern-age gurus and matas cris-crossing the world with a frequency that would put business honchos to shame. And this phenomenon is not religion or country specific. It has assumed menacingly huge proportions on a global scale. For all those baiters of Indian jet-age gurus, we had a huge conclave of an evangelist in Bangalore last year ( of course amidst protest from our loony Parivar brethren) , who claimed to touch people and cure them of their sickness- all in an atmosphere of intense , artificial and generated mass hysteria!

We all agree that the man ( and woman of course!) of our times is much more literate, much more scientifically inclined, rational and all that is good with the neurons. Isn’t it intriguing then that such people still resort to the likes of touch-and-cure healers? I mean, biology and medical sciences could go on a vacation for all they care?

But then to be fair to the ‘best practices’ that our corporate gurus employ, its no longer mumbo jumbo that would’ve charmed your grandmother or her mother that these chaps use…we have gurus talking science…about how de-stressing their techniques can get and which enzymes and neuro-transmitters change and to what percentage and so on! And with all this high-end medico-statistical analysis in place, a huge trap is laid on a multi-national scale to lure (read ‘serve’) more and more human beings! Miracles are performed, holy ash falls from nowhere, lepers start running, cancers get cured, the night skies turn red and wonder what else happens and we have this huge mammoth gatherings of ‘devotees’ swaying their hands in orgasmic ecstasy of having realized their very Selves! May be they have, but then if the entire process involves a huge dent on my wallet, I am pretty satisfied with my current ‘unrealized,’ ignorant self!

It also makes me wonder how these holy men and women acquire huge tracts of lands to build their palatial ashrams. Wasn’t sanyas all about renunciation or was I just being way too stupid? Wonder what it is with these men-in-holy-robes that attracts those in power? Invariably the hobnob between them and the ruling class exists; while I understand the need that our divine men and women have for those in power to get all their goodies and freebies, what do the power czars get in return? What makes them vacillate in front of people pulling out ash or doing any other inconsequential and totally meaningless miracles?

For the aam-aadmi of our times, I guess spirituality of the hip-hop variety gives a convenient outlet. With the breakdown of our traditional joint family set up, nuclear families are increasingly becoming a thressome- man-woman-kid affair. Insecurities, loneliness, depression, absence of an elderly shoulder to cry upon, lack of sagely and experienced advice plagues us all in the modern society. And these czars and czarinas of the soul conveniently cash in on these very insecurities and make big moolah. I agree, that many of them also indulge in a lot of social work. But then that is more of an eyewash, a lid to cover the muck that their financial irregularities have generated. One casual look at the standard of living of the near-and-dear ones of the said God man or woman before and after he/she declared himself/herself as such is enough to drive home this point! Hitherto average middle class family members would now have chauffer driven limousines, have a battery of servants, would’ve toured the globe a million times, sent their kids to the most expensive of schools abroad. And since the power masters of the day are also in tow, the entire drama carries on unabashed, uninterrupted!

While my agnostic self prevents me from giving an ‘all-pervasive all-knowing entity that oozes with compassion’ image to the concept of god ( ‘cos if he were that compassionate and wonderful, humanity wouldn’t be in the throes of misery that it currently is in), it simply seems out of question to me to raise a mere mortal to a pedestal of divinity. This man in sacred robes is as human as me; he has the same body structure as I have of two eyes, one nose, two ears and the rest, has more or less the same kinds of urges ( of food, water, of nature calls!!), the same kind of passions and desires (ok, may be in a lesser or who knows larger proportion that the very-ordinary me!), falls prey to the same kinds of viral infections and diseases- then what on mother earth makes him an incarnation of God?

But all said and done, the malaise is deep. Religion they say is an opiate for the masses and as long as people remain people- insecure, timid, craving for external strength- so long will our wonder-gurus continue to rule the roost! The show, as they say, would go on and that is what it all is at the end of the day- a huge huge trickery show!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

I am back and this time around its been a really long incognito…well the usual excuses I guess- that i was too held up, had loads of work, was just a tad too lazy, didn’t want to be seen blogging in office, there were just too many upheavals at my end that documenting the same didn’t seem a very interesting activity! But then, finally felt this tearing need to break the pause that was getting threateningly long- realized that when I forgot the password to my blogspot ! also had quite a few regulars asking me where I had disappeared ( ooh! As always so flattering!)…so ultimately landed back, not with any vengeance though!

With Ma, Roopa and Vishnu landing here in Gurgaon over varied time lines, life certainly changed for the better. At the least you have someone to return home to; not empty walls looming at you dispassionately. Last week we embarked on this trip to Agra, Mathura and Vrindavan. I was looking forward eagerly to the visit to Vrindavan; remembered a Hindi verse that I had read many summers ago which summed up to something like this:
When will I renounce the circle of material family life, and, drowning in transcendental bliss, go to Vraja bhumi? O Lord Hari, when will this be?
When will I see Govardhana Hill, my eyes filling with tears? When will I reside at Radha-kund? When, as a result of constantly wandering in Vrndavan, will this body fall down?
When will I become pure at heart by bathing in the waters of the Yamuna?
When will I circumambulate the land of Vraja, wandering from forest to forest? When, becoming fatigued, will I stop to rest on the shore of the Yamuna?
When will I be able to see the gardens of Vrndavan where the great devotees worshipped the Lord?
When will I find relief from the heat of midday by resting in the cooling shade of Vamsivata? When will I associate with the Vaishnavas in the groves of Vrndavana?”

The image of Vrindavan in my mind’s eyes was one that reverberated with Its glorious past with the all pervading looming presence of Krishna in everything and everyone. Well, my fault perhaps as there is certainly no utopia in this world. These images were to take a massive beating through the course of the long day that I spent there.

Around 150 km south west of Delhi, Vrindavan is off the Delhi-Agra Highway and it took us about 4 hours to get there from Gurgaon. Even as your car takes a turn to get into this hallowed township, you get blocked by a huge group of men sporting tilaks and wearing saffron scarves, looking much like their brethren in the much-talked about ‘Parivar’ of Indian politics! They insist that you need to take a guide along with you, as there are almost 5000 temples there and as a newcomer you would simply be lost trying to find your way through and also deciphering which temple is ‘important’ from whatever point of view! Of course it just costs you 31 bucks for this and so we let a lanky lad hop into our cab. He began with a long harangue about how we were the very benefactors of lady luck that made us step on the Holy land of Vrindavan, about how others would’ve just dreamt about this but never accomplished the feat ever, about quotes and sayings that he had memorized to perfection ranging from Sur to Meera to proverbs in the local lingo. Basically a lot of harmless mumbo-jumbo which i seriously didnt mind listening to!

He took us to a temple of ‘Ranganath ji’ built in the typical South Indian style. True to his profession he gave us every possible detail about every possible pillar and brick of that temple, much to the chagrin of Ma who wanted to spend some time in peace there. His focus however ended with materialism about how many kilos of gold were used to embellish the tower, how much silver was used to make the deity, what eatable is offered and when---none of which was of any significance to any of us. Then the strange practice of putting your hands up, clapping and laughing aloud in front of every deity; which he said was absolutely necessary ‘cos those who laughed in Vrindavan would lead joyous lives and those who remained mum or morose would end up ruining their lives! While Ma refused to indulge in these antics, Roopa and me decided to humor the poor guy…thought it must be part of some folklore or belief---which is what all religious places are supposed to be abound with---and laughed like crazy nuts at the sight of every idol !

So far so good. Till we made our way through the narrowest of lanes- the kunj galis of Vrinadavan where Krishna was supposed to have had a rollicking time with his childhood friends and the gopis. We entered one of Vrindavan’s oldest temples- the Banke Bihari temple. Legend has it that the deity of Banke-bihari was discovered by Swami Haridas, the guru of the famous musician Tansen.

The initial aura of the place was truly wonderful—something that even an avowed agnostic like me must concede. It truly did resonate of Krishna’s presence- He seemed to live there to this day, in those narrow lanes, in that huge peepal tree outside the temple, the pond nearby, in the devotion of the numerous old widows who had their abode outside the temple, who were condemned to a life of penury by the existing social customs of the times. It really felt ethereal and I did have my hairs standing at ends for a while.

‘For a while’ I said, ‘cos then we were ushered in to the sanctum by our dear friend. The main priest of that hallowed temple seated us in front of the deity, made us mutter some things in Hindi, rambled a few sentences in a matter-of-fact manner about the supposed miracles of the place and then presto! Took his receipt book out! Then he began reeling out the different ‘rates’ to salvage mine and my ancestors’ souls- starting for a measly 1000 bucks and extending till where our imaginations could lead us to! All along our ‘benevolent’ friend goaded us to make the maximum of this unique opportunity and pay up as much as we can. The priest wouldn’t open the curtain and show us the deity till we gave him a quote. When I protested and said it wouldn’t be possible, ‘pandit ji’ started the bargain in typical vegetable vendor style- “ok, tell me how much would you be willing to pay’? since we settled for a very small amount, he pulled the curtain for a minute or so, frowned at us and closed it off in a hurry and dumped some Prasad in our hands and signaled us to leave! It was such a relief to be out…we felt liberated! It was intense fear and blackmail that happened inside and the feeling outside was so refreshing!

The same sordid affair repeated itself in the palace of Nand where Krishna supposedly grew up as a child. But this time we were once bitten and hence more cautious and simply walked away before we could be put on the hot seat with a million people imploring us to wash our sins off through higher offerings! If any one of them truly believed in the God that they eulogized, they would have read His story where it was a mere tulsi leaf offered with utmost devotion and dedication and not riches that satisfied Him.

I left Vrindavan with a sense of shock, disgust and disbelief. If this was the scenario in the birthplace of one of India's most worshipped heroes, i shudder to think how bad things could be in other places! No wonder then that ‘Hindu culture’ as I know of it is conspicuous by its absence in the bad lands of Northern India. Many south Indian temples including the famed shrine at Tirupati is also undoubtedly steeped in corruption. But then once you enter the sanctum, the entire focus is on quiet introspection and the focus remains the deity there. It never is a tomato-carrot kind of bargain that Ma indulges with her vegetable seller each day! No wonder then that the North shall remain the North and the South shall remain the South and never shall the twain meet! Thank God for small mercies, after all !