26 December 2008

Heroes of Modern India

Who are the greatest men/leaders of modern India? Here are my heroes of 20th century India:

1. Swami Vivekananda
For awakening India after 1000 years of foreign rule and slavery.

2. Mahatma Gandhi
For leading India's freedom struggle.

3. Dr K B Hedgewar
For founding the RSS to organise Indians on the basis of nationalism.

4. Guruji M S Golwalkar
For building the RSS into a mighty nationalist organisation.

5. Sardar Patel
For unifying India into a nation-state.

6. Jawaharlal Nehru
For nurturing India's democracy.

7. Dr B R Ambedkar
For being the architect of India's Constitution.

8. Lal Bahadur Shastri
For being the father of India's Green Revolution.

9. M Vishweshwarayya
For pioneering industrialisation in India.

10. A B Vajpayee
For bringing nationalism to the centre-stage of Indian politics.

11. L K Advani
Same as above.

12. P V Narasimha Rao
For converting India from socialism to capitalism.

13. Dr Manmohan Singh
Same as above.

14. A P J Abdul Kalam
For being the father of India's missile program.

Inspiration for this post: This list of Nandan Nilekani's heroes.

19 December 2008

Vande Mataram - English

Here is my shot at an English translation of Vande Mataram:

I salute the Mother
She of clear water, delicious fruits and fragrant breeze
She of green vegetation, the Mother.

She of white moonlight and lively nights
Adorned by trees with blooming flowers
She of sweet smile and beautiful speech
Giver of joy, giver of boons, the Mother.

Her billion throats roaring with a fearsome voice
Her billion arms wielding a billion swords
Mother, who says you are weak?
Possessor of many powers, I salute the protector
Fighter of enemies, the Mother.

You are knowledge, you are religion
You are my heart, you are my soul
You are the breath in my body
Mother, you are the strength in my arms
Mother, you are the love in my heart
Your image is worshipped
In each and every temple.

You are Durga, holding weapons in her ten hands
You are Lakshmi, sitting on lotus petals
You are Saraswati, the giver of knowledge
I salute you, I salute the pure and incomparable one
She of clear water and delicious fruits, the Mother.

Dusky, innocent, smiling sweetly and wearing jewels
The earth, the nurturer, the Mother.

17 December 2008

Vande Mataram

vandE mAtaram
sujalAm suphalAm malayaja SeetalAm
sasyaSyAmalAm mAtaram

SubhrajyotsnA pulakitayAmineem
phullakusumita drumadala Sobhineem
suhAsineem sumadhura bhAShiNeem
sukhadAm varadAm mAtaram

kOTi kOTi kanTha kalakalaninAda karAlE
kOTi kOTi bhujairdhrta kharakaravAlE
abalA keno mA eto balE
bahubaladhAriNeem namAmi tAriNeem
ripudalavAriNeem mAtaram

tumi vidyA tumi dharma
tumi hrdi tumi marma
tvam hi prANAh SareerE
bAhutE tumi mA Sakti
hrdayE tumi mA bhakti
tOmAra i pratimA gaDi
mandirE mandirE

tvam hi durgA daSapraharaNa dhAriNee
kamalA kamaladala vihAriNee
vANee vidyAdAyinee namAmi tvAm
namAmi kamalAm amalAm atulAm
sujalAm suphalAm mAtaram

SyAmalAm saralAm susmitAm bhooShitAm
dharaNeem bharaNeem mAtaram

08 December 2008

The Hindu Phenomenon

I recently came across this remarkable book called "The Hindu Phenomenon" by Girilal Jain. Girilal Jain was the editor of the Times of India during 1978-88. Surprisingly he was a supporter of Hindu nationalism. He was one of the few intellectuals who welcomed the Ayodhya movement of the late 1980s. "The Hindu Phenomenon", a collection of six of his essays, was published in 1993.

The work, though slightly disjointed in some places, is impressive. Ambitious in its scope, it tries to understand Hindu nationalism (a modern ideology) by placing it in the context of the last 1000 years of India's history. Throughout the book the author makes many loaded statements, without giving detailed facts and arguments to support them (possibly due to the posthumous nature of the work). Still, his conclusions are very insightful and offer a lot of food for thought. The breadth of the author's reading is also quite impressive.

07 December 2008

History of Hindutva

Though Hindutva is a much-discussed subject, there is hardly any decent material on its history – either on the web or in print. The one exception seems to be Jyotirmaya Sharma's "Hindutva: Exploring the idea of Hindu nationalism" (an anti-Hindutva book; I have not yet read it).

Based on my limited reading, I feel Hindutva – and its evolution – can be best understood by studying the thinkers who shaped the ideology. These are:

1. Raja Rammohan Roy (1774-1833)
2. Dayanand Saraswati (1824-1883)
3. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee (1838-1894)
4. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-1886)
5. Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902)
6. Aurobindo Ghosh (1872-1950)
7. Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920)
8. Veer Savarkar (1883-1966)
9. Dr Hedgewar (1889-1940)
10. Guruji Golwalkar (1906-1973)

02 December 2008

Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati - 2

Kandhmal's Father

- Was a friend, philosopher and guide for the tribals. Often accompanied them to government offices and police stations so they would not be exploited.
- Pioneered forest conservation in the district. Declared forest as the village property.
- Believed in the conservation of tribal culture. Restored the tribal deity-place (Dharani Penu, or Mother Earth) in tribal hamlets. Conducted several rath yatras among the tribals to create awareness about their culture, traditions and rights.
- Staunchly opposed cow slaughter. Toured Orissa many times taking the message of cow protection to the people. Staged several dharnas, protests and hunger strikes over the issue.
- Was a formidable force against conversions by Christian missionaries in the district. Believed that conversion uprooted the tribals from their culture and their land.
- Convinced repentant converts, who had been converted by fraud or inducements, to go back to their original religion.

Is it any wonder that the tribals of Kandhmal worshipped him as a living God? Is it any wonder that they responded with such fury when their beloved Swamiji was so brutally murdered?

*Source: Truth Behind Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati's Murder (Publishers: Viswa Sambad Kendra, Bhuvaneshwar)

01 December 2008

Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati - 1

Here is some information* on Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati, whose murder in August triggered the violence in Orissa's Kandhmal district.

Early Life

- 1926: Born in Orissa's Angul district.
- 1951: Became a sanyasi at the age of 25.
- Meditated in the Himalayas for a few years.
- 1968: Returned to Orissa to take part in anti-cow slaughter and anti-conversion movements.
- Decided to stay back in Orissa, at the request of social activists like Bhupendra Kumar Basu, and continued social works among the tribals and Dalits of Phulbani district (now Kandhmal).

Social Works

- 1969: Set up his first ashram at Chakapada, which soon became the centre of his social service activities.
- Renovated the Birupaksya, Anandeswar and Jogeswar temples with the help of locals.
- Established a Sanskrit school on gurukul pattern (later upgraded to a college).
- Established Sankaracharya Kanyashram, a residential school in Jalespatta for underprivileged girls.
- Was awarded the title of 'Vedanta Keshari'.
- Was awarded the Vivekananda Seva Puraskar.
- Introduced Satsang in all the villages of Kandhmal district.
- Founded Seva schools at Tulsipur and Banki in Cuttack district.
- Founded ashrams in Angul, Koraput and other districts.
- Started night schools for adults and working children.
- Spearheaded anti-liquor movements through his Satsangs. As a result, many villages (like Katingia in Udaygiri tehsil) gave up liquor completely.
- Persuaded tribals and other non-farming communities to take up modern agriculture and grow hybrid crops. Example: G Udaygiri Block in Kandhmal district produces high quality French beans today.
- Formed the Vegetable Cooperative Society for farmers at Katingia village.

30 November 2008

Terror Hits The Rich - Finally

That this attack was different from previous ones has been commented on by most observers. Previous attacks were bomb blasts that got over quickly. This time terrorists took over several buildings in a city, and held them for a prolonged period (60 hours). There's another vital difference that few are talking about: This time the victims were rich people.

Among the targets were, for the first time, two luxury hotels. These were places frequented by the creme de la creme of the city: politicians, businessmen, movie stars and media personalities. True, many not-so-rich people (hotel staff, railway commuters, cops and soldiers) died in the attacks. But for the first time a significant number of rich people were also killed.

One can't help feeling that this government has been indifferent to terrorism partly because the victims were always ordinary people. Bombs went off in markets, temples and mosques killing the aam aadmi. The upper crust were safe inside their Z-grade cocoons, offices, mansions - and five star hotels. For the first time, the terrorists have struck where it hurts.

This reminds me of the movie Siege, in which New York City is subjected to a wave of terrorist attacks. The atmosphere becomes especially grim after a fancy theatre is blown up, killing many of the city's high society.

I know it is a little mean-minded to look at this in terms of rich and poor. But the sad truth can't be denied. Hopefully now the political, business, entertainment and media elite will lean on Soniaji and Manmohanji to do something about this existential threat. (By something, I don't mean providing Z-grade security to five star hotels)

27 November 2008

S L Bhyrappa on Conversions

Eminent Kannada novelist S L Bhyrappa recently wrote an article on conversions (in the newspaper Vijay Karnataka). The hard-hitting essay, filled with facts and figures, provoked much controversy and debate. You can read the Kannada original or its English translation.

26 November 2008

Ends and Means

Do the ends justify the means?

The means are the ends.
- Mahatma Gandhi

The ends is bullshit. The means is what you have to live with.
- The Corruptor (movie)

In the long run, it is only the 'minor' virtues that matter. Politeness is more reliable than compassion, just as fairplay is more important than the abstraction of justice. The 'major' virtues tend to disintegrate under the pressures of convenient rationalisation. But good form is good form. It is immutable in the storm of circumstance.
- Shibumi (novel)

25 November 2008

Thoughts for the Day

Till now philosophers have only tried to understand the world. The point, however, is to change it.
– Karl Marx

It is the privilege and the curse of midnight's children to be both masters and victims of their times, to forsake privacy and be sucked into the annihilating whirlpool of the multitudes, and to be unable to live or die in peace.
– Salman Rushdie

22 November 2008

Right-Wing Commentators

The English language media (ELM) in India is dominated by leftists, liberals and secularists. The right-wing commentator is a rare species in this country. There are very few writers* who can put forward the Hindu / nationalist / conservative / right-wing view on a subject in an intelligent manner. As a result, educated urban middle class Indians – who get their news and views only from the ELM – are exposed to only one side of the story (the wrong side). So the country's elite is being fed a steady diet of anti-national arguments and assumptions. The long-term effects of this phenomenon are worrisome, to say the least. Articulate spokesmen for nationalism are badly needed.

*The few I can think of are Arun Shourie, Swapan Dasgupta, Tavleen Singh, S Gurumurthy, Sudheendra Kulkarni and Tarun Vijay. Have I missed out anybody?

21 November 2008

Madhavana Chittadali

Here is one of my favourite RSS songs (Kannada).

mAdhavana chittadali
araLidda chitragaLe
nannalloo nelesa banni.
jagadagala bittiyali
bhAratiya nettaripa
kAyakava kalisa banni
nannalloo nelesa banni.

rShi avanu naDedidda
sthira pathava hiDididda
guriyeDege neTTa drShThi.
kESavanu kalisidda
sangha sootradi heNeda
yuva manava muTTi taTTi.
avana kAryada tuDita
sarva sparSada miDita
nannalloo nelesa banni.
jagadagala bittiyali...

dESa oDeda A gaLige
naDeda nondede baLige
santa santaisi ninta.
sangha muriva tantragaLige
hiDida gurANi halage
kaTu unDa neelakanTha.
avana maNNina mamate
nOvu nunguva kShamate
nannalloo nelesa banni.
jagadagala bittiyali...

hindu bhAvava basidu
oDeda manavanu besedu
Ekateya kOTe kaTTi.
mElu keeLanu toDedu
naija dharmavu hoLedu
SrEShThateya Sikhara muTTi.
avana samarasa bhAva
jagava gelluva snEha
nannalloo nelesa banni.
jagadagala bittiyali...


It's about Golwalkar Guruji, and is written by Mukundji - pranth pracharak of South Karnataka.

20 November 2008

Of Birthdays and the Hindu Calendar

All these years I was celebrating my birthday, like most people, as per the Gregorian/Christian calendar. This doesn't make any sense. We should be celebrating our birthdays, and other anniversaries, as per the Indian/Hindu calendar.

From henceforth I have decided to celebrate (that is, whatever little celebration I can cook up) my birthday as per the Hindu calendar. For the record, my birthday falls on Kartika Shuddha Dashami. You can use this calculator to find out your birthday as per the Hindu calendar.

So what day were you born on? :-)

05 November 2008

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama.
Say it out loud.
Then look at the man's face.
This is not some Hollywood movie.
This is the real world.
Take a deep breath.
Let it sink in.

Yes, it has really happened.

05 September 2008

Hindutva Vs India's Three Enemies – 2

Note that the three forces are antagonistic to one another. Communism is a staunchly atheistic ideology, opposed to all religion. Islam and Christianity are absolutist faiths, each believing that it alone is the one true religion. But in India they have all come together for one purpose – to fight their common enemy: Hindu nationalism. Sounds fanciful? The next time there is a transgression by one of the three forces, notice how there is a loud silence from the other two. The next time there is even the smallest victory for Hindu nationalists, notice how the three forces condemn it in one voice. Has there ever been a more cynical and opportunistic alliance?

The great tragedy in this country is that secularists and liberals – wittingly or unwittingly – have become part of this unholy nexus. Secularists and liberals happen to dominate the English language media (ELM) in India. Consequently, the ELM has also become a tool in the hands of this unholy nexus. An institution that should be a beacon of modernity has become the handmaiden of the most regressive forces imaginable.

Thus we see Hindu nationalism on one side and Communism, radical Islam and evangelical Christianity on the other side locked in a struggle over the future of this country. Secularists and liberals must be on the right side in this struggle. We Hindu nationalists, for our part, must reach out to them and try to win them over. Hopefully, once they understand the true nature of India and Hinduism, they will join hands with us. But with the three enemies there can be no negotiation or compromise. Only a fight to the finish.

I know this is not a very pleasant subject to talk about. Most of us would rather ignore the problem. But, as I have said above, the facts are there for all to see. Even if we do recognise the problem, we are reluctant to
a) talk about it openly
b) do something about it.
The reason for a) is our Hindu sensibilities. We Hindus are polite to a fault. For us, not offending others has become more important than speaking the truth. But political correctness is a luxury we can ill afford when the very survival of our nation is at stake.

The reason for b) is we think these are abstract and distant threats that will not touch us directly. Let nobody be under any illusion. The danger is here and now. It can strike us any moment. We must act – if only to protect the lives and well-being of our loved ones. As Edmund Burke said, "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle. The only thing required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."

PS: I don't know when – or if – I'll be posting again.

04 September 2008

Hindutva Vs India's Three Enemies – 1

Who are the opponents of Hindutva? The people most virulently opposed to Hindutva are:
1. Communists
2. Islamic fundamentalists
3. Christian missionaries
4. Nehruvian secularists
5. Western-style liberals

Let's take the last two: secularists and liberals. The same person is usually both, so this is effectively one group. These are, for the most part, patriotic and well-intentioned people. Their opposition to Hindutva stems from their misunderstanding of India and Hinduism. They see Hindutva as a communal ideology and hence oppose it. This is bad enough. What is worse is they are so consumed by their fear and mistrust of Hindutva that they have turned a blind eye to the real enemies of the nation, and even made common cause with them.

Which brings us to the first three groups. Among these there is no misunderstanding of Hindutva. On the contrary, they have understood Hindutva correctly. That is why they are so vehemently opposed to it. They know that Hindu nationalism is the one force that can resist and defeat their evil designs in India (and also, God willing, the world).

Our communists routinely sabotage any measure that will make India stronger and more prosperous. Meanwhile their masters (the Chinese) continue to encircle our country and arm our enemies. Islamic terrorists have long moved beyond J&K. Now they target the whole country – setting off bomb blasts in our cities regularly, killing hundreds of our people. Christian missionaries have been abetting separatist insurgencies in the North East for a long time. They also aggressively convert our tribals, producing communal disharmony and violence.

So these are the three threats to India (and also the world at large):
1. Communism
2. Radical Islam
3. Evangelical Christianity

Many people dismiss such talk as paranoia and fear/hate-mongering. But the facts are undeniable. One has to be blind not to see them. This is not about fear/hate-mongering. This is about opening our eyes and acknowledging the grim reality. Golwalkar Guruji had alerted us to these three threats long ago. And now we see a new, and alarming, development: these three forces are coming together.

10 July 2008

Goodbye!

This is my last post. A change of job (and lifestyle) means I won't be blogging anymore.

A big "Thank you!" to all those who were reading Indian Take, especially those who left comments :-) I really enjoyed writing. In future I hope to write in my own language – Kannada.

Please recommend this blog to all your friends. Do continue to post your comments, questions and criticisms on the blog. I don't know if I can respond to them, but I'll try.

You can check out my home page (Dheeraj) to see what I am up to.

06 June 2008

McCain Vs Obama

Who will win the US Presidential elections in November? Most people look at the national polls for the answer. But America does not elect its President by a nation-wide general election. It instead follows a state-wise "electoral college" system. So for the answer to our question we must look at the state-level polls. If the elections were held today, the results would look like this:

StateVotesMcCainObama
Alabama95833
Alaska35041
Arizona105138
Arkansas65733
California553852
Colorado94248
Connecticut74447
District of Columbia3nana
Delaware34150
Florida274740
Georgia155440
Hawaii43161
Idaho45239
Illinois213160
Indiana115143
Iowa74246
Kansas65237
Kentucky85732
Louisiana95041
Maine43851
Maryland103751
Massachusetts123950
Michigan174339
Minnesota103951
Mississippi65044
Missouri114744
Montana34843
Nebraska54940
Nevada54640
New Hampshire44543
New Jersey154148
New Mexico54346
New York313850
North Carolina154541
North Dakota34438
Ohio20 4344
Oklahoma76221
Oregon73951
Pennsylvania214146
Rhode Island43853
South Carolina84845
South Dakota35134
Tennessee115831
Texas345237
Utah55039
Vermont32963
Virginia134643
Washington113951
West Virginia55335
Wisconsin104346
Wyoming35340

'Votes' = how many electoral votes the state is worth
'McCain' = % of people in the state voting for John McCain
'Obama' = % of people in the state voting for Barack Obama


Here is how it works. All the electoral votes of a state are awarded to the candidate who wins that state. There is no proportional distribution – it's a 'winner takes all' system*. There are totally 538 electoral votes at stake. To win, a candidate must bag at least 270 electoral votes. As per this table the winner is Barack Obama, but only by a whisker – 272 to 266.

That's not the only thing close about it. Look at Ohio, which is worth 20 electoral votes. Obama is barely winning it (44% to 43%). If those 20 electoral votes go the other way, the winner will be John McCain – 286 to 252. And it's not just about Ohio. In 25 states the 'winning' candidate is ahead by less than 10%. That lead could disappear in the next 5 months. So all these 25 states are "in play". Together they are worth 240 electoral votes. That means anything can happen on November 4th!

PS: Markos Moulitsas (aka Kos) has done a similar analysis. He has chosen the poll numbers in a slightly different way, and hence has arrived at a slightly different result.

*There are two minor exceptions to this rule (Maine and Nebraska).

04 June 2008

Books on India

Today I will talk about the books I have read on my favourite subject: India.

1. The Idea of India – Sunil Khilnani
This was the first book on India that I read. A short but impressive work, it is written from a Nehruvian viewpoint. Khilnani uses a lot of difficult words, so keep a dictionary by your side.

2. India Unbound – Gurcharan Das
A paean to the brave new India that was born in 1991. Written in simple language. The only sore point is that the reader is subject to the story of Das and his family too, along with the story of India.

3. No Full Stops in India – Mark Tully
Though a foreigner, Tully has understood India better than many Indians. This collection of essays is a sympathetic look at our country. It had been criticised by some people for its apparent defence of the caste system.

4. Million Mutinies Now – V S Naipaul
The final book in the India trilogy. In this book Naipaul changes his formerly negative view of India. He travels across the country listening to people's stories, and narrates them to us in his masterful prose.

5. Continent of Circe – Nirad C Chaudhuri
This is a classic from the old curmudgeon. Provocative, politically incorrect and sometimes outrageous – this is Chaudhuri at his best. His analysis of India, though fanciful, is scholarly and full of insights.

6. From Midnight to Millennium – Shashi Tharoor
Tharoor is a Nehruvian secularist and an admirer of Sonia Gandhi. Still this book is worth reading – especially for its analysis of how India's institutions decayed and crumbled during the Indira Gandhi years.

Other books on India I haven't read:

a) Heart of India – Mark Tully
b) Great Indian Middle Class – Pavan Varma
c) Elephant Paradigm – Gurcharan Das
d) Elephant, Tiger and Cell Phone – Shashi Tharoor
e) In Spite of the Gods – Ed Luce

Please let me know of any good book you have read on India :-)

02 June 2008

Hindu and Indian

I have explained how the words 'Hindu' and 'Indian' mean the same thing. Then the question arises: If the two words are the same, why does the RSS insist on using one (Hindu), instead of the other (Indian)? Why does it talk about Hindu nationalism (or Hindutva), rather than Indian nationalism?

The answer is that the word 'Indian' has come to be associated more with the nation state that was born in 1947, and the republic that was born in 1950. It is not associated so much with our 5000-year-old civilisation, our culture and our way of life. But the word 'Hindu' does have this latter association. Hence it is preferred. (See my essay on Hindu rashtra for why nationalism is primarily cultural in nature.)

This raises another question: Won't this use of the word 'Hindu' exclude and alienate India's Muslims and Christians? No, it should not. The word 'Hindu' was originally a geographic term, referring to a land and its people. In this sense all Indians are Hindus – regardless of the religion they practise. Just because some Hindus practise a different religion (Islam or Christianity) does not mean they are not Hindus. They did not cease to be Hindus when they converted to a different religion. The same blood flows in their veins that flows in ours.

So if India's Muslims and Christians are Hindu only in the geographical and racial sense (but not in the cultural sense) and we equate Indianness with Hinduness, doesn't that imply that they are less Indian than the rest of the nation? Here we must remember that Hinduism is an inclusive and universal way of life. It is not a rigid and exclusive religion. Hindu society gives people the freedom to practise any religion they want to. The presence of people who practise other religions is a testimony to the tolerance of Hinduism.

Once we realise the equivalence of the words 'Hindu' and 'Indian', a lot of our misconceptions disappear. In particular, "liberal" Hindus will stop making asinine statements like, "I am first an Indian, and then a Hindu." What is the difference between the two? And if you take away the 'Hindu', what is left of the 'Indian'?

So, Indian nationalism = Hindu nationalism = Hindutva :-)

30 May 2008

Andrew Sullivan

For a blogger, strangely I don't read a lot of blogs. I mostly stick to magazines and newspapers (online editions). The one blog that I read regularly is the Daily Dish, by Andrew Sullivan.

Andrew Sullivan is a 45-year-old British writer living in Washington DC. He has a PhD in political science from Harvard. He is Catholic and conservative. He is also homosexual and HIV positive. An unusual profile, to say the least :-)

Why do I read the Daily Dish regularly? I think it's primarily to do with the wide range of subjects the blog covers. Though Sullivan writes mainly on politics and current affairs, he also writes on other areas like religion and culture. Another reason is the unique insight he brings to each topic. Even when you don't agree with what he says (which is quite often), you will find his arguments interesting. A final reason is that his blog has a lot of links to other excellent articles. Some of the best stuff I've read on the web I found through the Daily Dish.

Of course, the blog is very America-centric. You won't find anything on India there. Even the viewpoint is a highly American one (which can be a little annoying at times). If you are OK with that, you will find the Daily Dish an enjoyable read.

Sullivan is not your usual American conservative. In 2006 he wrote a book called "The Conservative Soul", in which he accused the Republican party and the Bush administration of betraying conservatism. Today he is so pissed off with the Republicans that he is supporting Barack Obama in the US Presidential elections! In fact, he was perhaps the first pundit to predict that Obama could win the Democratic nomination – a prediction that looked insane at that time.

Sullivan's conservatism is, of course, Western conservatism – the political philosophy founded by Edmund Burke. One day I hope to write a post on Hindu conservatism, and how the two philosophies compare with each other.

28 May 2008

The Last Samurai: Review

A personal review of The Last Samurai:

When TLS was released in January 2004, I was in Hyderabad. That's where I first saw it. I saw it again after coming back to Poona. Later I bought the VCD.

Directed by Edward Zwick (Glory, Legends of the Fall, The Siege, Blood Diamond), this 150-minute epic takes us to late 19th century Japan. It is set against the backdrop of the Meiji Restoration – the modernisation of Japan. While Emperor Meiji was a historical person, the other characters and incidents are fictional. Written by John Logan (Gladiator), TLS is an unabashedly romantic look at traditional Japan. (Nobody believes that the medieval period was perfect, or that every feudal lord was just and noble like Katsumoto. But that is not the point.)

An excellent screenplay, brilliantly choreographed sword fights and fine acting all add up to a great watch. Tom Cruise is good enough as Nathan Algren, but it is Ken Watanabe who steals the show. As Katsumoto he exudes dignity, strength, wisdom and compassion – a true Samurai.

The cinematic aspects aside, what appeals the most is the concept of the Samurai. Their life of austere simplicity. Their pursuit of truth and beauty. Their courage and idealism. Their code of duty, honour, loyalty and sacrifice. Their stoic outlook on life. As I have noted earlier, the Samurai were Zen Buddhists, and Zen Buddhism is the Japanese version of Yoga. So the Samurai were Yogis. What Krishna says about Yoga in the Bhagavad Gita find an echo in TLS, and it is not a coincidence.

TLS's loving depiction of traditional Japan makes us nostalgic for what once was. It makes us realise how precious our own culture is. We realise how important it is to preserve our identity and our way of life. That, perhaps, is the most important message we can take from 'The Last Samurai'.

27 May 2008

The Last Samurai: Quotes

Quotes from The Last Samurai:

Narrator: I say Japan was created by a handful of brave men – warriors willing to give their lives for what is now a forgotten word: honour.

Nathan Algren: They are an unusual people. From the moment they wake up they devote themselves to the perfection of whatever they do. I've never seen such discipline.

Algren: I was surprised to learn that the word 'Samurai' means 'to serve', and that Katsumoto believes his rebellion to be in the service of the Emperor.

Algren: What does it mean to be Samurai? To devote yourself utterly to a set of moral principles, to seek a stillness of the mind, and the mastery of the sword.

Katsumoto: A perfect cherry blossom is a rare thing. You can spend your whole life looking for one, and it will not be a wasted life.

Katsumoto: To know life in every breath, in every cup of tea, in every life we take. That is Bushido – the way of the warrior.

Algren: So you will take your own life, in shame. In shame for a life of service, discipline, compassion.
Katsumoto: The way of the Samurai is not necessary anymore.
Algren: Necessary? What could be more necessary?

Katsumoto: Do you believe a man can change his destiny?
Algren: I believe a man does what he can until his destiny is revealed.

Algren: This is Katsumoto's sword. He would have wanted you to have it. He hoped with his dying breath that you would remember his ancestors who held it, and what they died for. May the strength of the Samurai always be with you.

Emperor: You were with him when he died?
Algren: Yes.
Emperor: Tell me how he died.
Algren: I will tell you how he lived.

Emperor: I dream of a unified Japan – of a country strong, and independent, and modern. Now we have railroads and cannon and Western clothing. But we cannot forget who we are, or where we come from.

26 May 2008

The Last Samurai: Story

Story of The Last Samurai:

Japan in 1876 – For centuries Japan has been an isolated country, cutting itself off from the world. So it is still a medieval, agricultural nation. The new emperor Meiji decides to modernise his country. He opens up Japan to the world, bringing in railways, telegraph, firearms and Western suits. Not everybody is happy with these changes. A Samurai named Katsumoto revolts against the Emperor. The Emperor hires some American military officers to train his army to fight Katsumoto. One of these officers is Nathan Algren.

Nathan Algren and his colleagues go to Japan. They lead the Emperor's army in a battle against Katsumoto. The Imperial army is routed, and Algren is wounded and captured. He is taken to Katsumoto's village as a prisoner. During his time in the village, Algren gets to see the Samurai and their way of life. Gradually he is converted to their cause. He joins Katsumoto in his rebellion. In the final battle Katsumoto is defeated and killed, but Algren survives to tell the story.

20 May 2008

RSS and Muslims

Sudheendra Kulkarni brings to our attention* a little known fact: the RSS's attempt to reach out to Muslims.

"The Rashtriya Muslim Manch is an organisation inspired and guided by the RSS to bring together nationalist Muslims. It was launched four years ago with the blessings of RSS chief K S Sudarshan. Mohammad Afzal, a Delhi-based businessman, is the national convener of the Manch. On May 11, he and his colleagues organised the finale of the Manch's yearlong nationwide campaign to pay homage to the martyrs of the 1857 War of Independence. The concluding two-day meeting at Meerut had nearly 3000 delegates from 16 states.

"Afzal says, "There are many Muslim organisations in the country. Many of them wish to keep Muslims in a ghetto, away from the national mainstream. Our organisation aims to make Muslims aware of their Indian roots. This awareness of the common bonds of nationalism that unite people belonging to different faiths is the surest way to overcome the problems facing Indian Muslims." He and his wife Shahnaz Afzal are full-time activists of the Manch, which now has eight other wholetimers. The moving spirit behind the Manch is Indresh Kumar, a senior pracharak of the RSS, deputed to work among the Muslim community."

The importance of such an initiative cannot be exaggerated.

*"Look who commemorated 1857 in Meerut" – Indian Express, 16th May 2008. Strangely the article is not available online.

19 May 2008

Blog Squatting

I started my blog in September 2006. After blogging for more than a year I decided to make some changes to the blog. Chief among these changes were the blog URL and blog name. Since this is an India-centric blog I wanted to have "India" in the blog URL and blog name. I tried out several variations of "India" and found that all of them were taken. But what pissed me off was that all these blogs were inactive. Here's the list:
1. India.blogspot.com – 2 posts
2. Indica.blogspot.com – 4 posts
3. Indian.blogspot.com – 4 posts
4. Indiana.blogspot.com – 4 posts

I was furious. All these cool URLs had been wasted on some dead blogs. Talk about blog squatting! After 1947 we had land reforms that outlawed absentee landlords and gave the land to people who would actually use it. Today we need similar laws that will take away cool blog URLs from undeserving owners.

Anyway, there was nothing I could do about it. I had to settle for "Indian Take". The changes were made on 31st December 2007.

For the record, this was the old avatar of the blog:
Blog title = 21st Century Chronicles
Blog subtitle = A turbulent world seen through the eyes of an unknown Indian
Blog URL = http://psomax.blogspot.com
My display name = Psomax

16 May 2008

Zero Tolerance to Terrorism

In the wake of the Jaipur bomb blasts, we are seeing the same sickening drama all over again. Sample this gem from our honourable Home Minister Shivraj Patil: "Their aim (to create communal disturbances) has been thwarted. The people of Jaipur have not allowed their nefarious design to succeed." Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh have also made similar statements. This is not new. They sing this same tune after every terrorist attack.

This government seems to believe – and want us to believe – that the sole aim of the terrorists is to incite communal riots. So as long as there are no communal riots after a terrorist attack, everything is fine and we have won. It doesn't matter how many bombs go off or how many Indians are killed. All that matters is that there should be no communal riots. How convenient. How sickening.

Pranab Mukherjee's call for "zero tolerance to terrorism" looks like a stupid joke in this context. All this is testing the patience of Indians. By God's grace (and the good sense of Indians) there have been no communal riots after a terrorist attack till now. With one exception: Godhra. God forbid there should be another Gujarat 2002. But that is exactly what is going to happen if things continue like this.

Here's a suggestion to Sonia-Manmohan-Shivraj. Why not assume that the aim of the terrorists is not to cause communal riots, but just to kill Indians? Period. Because that's what they are doing (and they are doing it very well). With this change in attitude, the picture should look a little differently to Sonia-Manmohan-Shivraj. Every time a bomb goes off, we lose. Every time a bullet is fired, we lose. Every time an Indian is killed, or even hurt, we lose. This is what is meant by zero tolerance to terrorism, Pranabji. This is the mindset needed to win the war on terror.

But the UPA is not interested in trivial things like winning the war on terror and protecting the life of the "aam aadmi". They are worried about more important things like the elections. I repeat: there is a limit to the patience (and good sense) of Indians. If the current state of affairs continues, we will see an eruption that will make the Gujarat riots look like a picnic. No Indian wants that. Let us pray that our rulers come to their senses – before it is too late.

15 May 2008

Science Meets Spirituality

David Brooks looks at how the latest research in neuroscience is validating ancient spiritual beliefs. Science is converging towards spirituality. He calls it "neural Buddhism". He rightly notes that this poses a serious threat to revealed religions (like Christianity and Islam).

Brooks says, "The self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships". This line really struck me. Why? Because I have been coming around to the same conclusion of late. Just replace "relationships" with "experiences". Relationships are a subset of experiences.

Brooks helpfully gives a list of names for those interested in reading on the subject. Here's a closer look at who these guys are, and what they have written:

Andrew Newberg (associate professor of psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania)
1. The mystical mind: Probing the biology of religious experience
2. Why God won't go away: Brain science and the biology of belief
3. Why we believe what we believe: Uncovering our biological need for meaning, spirituality, and truth

Daniel Siegel (associate clinical professor of psychiatry, UCLA School of Medicine)
4. The developing mind: How relationships and the brain interact to shape who we are
5. The mindful brain: Reflection and attunement in the cultivation of well-being

Michael Gazzaniga (professor of psychology, University of California Santa Barbara)
6. The mind's past
7. The ethical brain
8. Human: The science behind what makes us unique

Jonathan Haidt (associate professor of psychology, University of Virginia)
9. The happiness hypothesis: Finding modern truth in ancient wisdom

Antonio Damasio (professor of neuroscience, University of Southern California)
10. Descartes' error: Emotion, reason, and the human brain
11. The feeling of what happens: Body and emotion in the making of consciousness
12. Looking for Spinoza: Joy, sorrow, and the feeling brain

Marc Hauser (professor of psychology, Harvard University)
13. Moral minds: How nature designed our universal sense of right and wrong

Just reading the names of the books is quite an education :-)

13 May 2008

The Vice President

Now that it's more or less settled that it will be a McCain vs Obama showdown in November, attention has shifted to who will be the vice presidential candidates. Salon magazine has an interesting quiz for readers to 'pick' the running mates for McCain and Obama. Accordingly the top 3 picks are...

For John McCain
My picks:
1. Tim Pawlenty (Governor of Minnesota)
2. Fred Thompson (Senator from Tennessee)
3. Wayne Allard (Senator from Colorado)
Salon readers' picks:
1. Colin Powell (we know this guy)
2. Tim Pawlenty (see above)
3. Mike Huckabee (former Governor of Arkansas)

For Barack Obama
My picks:
1. Kathleen Sebelius (Governor of Kansas)
2. Ted Strickland (Governor of Ohio)
3. Chris Dodd (Senator from Connecticut)
Salon readers' picks:
1. Jim Webb (Senator from Virginia)
2. Wesley Clark (former General)
3. Kathleen Sebelius (see above)

For both candidates my second and third picks are way off mark. But my first picks seem to be close to the bull's eye :-)

PS: I have been following the US presidential primaries closely, and have been tempted a lot to blog about it. But I remembered this rap on my knuckles and decided to restrain myself ;-)

12 May 2008

The Unbearable Emptiness of Being

What is life? It is a series of moments – each one unconnected with the other. Each moment in itself is meaningless. All the moments taken together also do not add up to any meaningful whole. Any meaning is at best relative, not absolute.

So what are we to do? How are we to live? Most people don't ask themselves stupid questions like, "What is the meaning of life?" and hence do not face this problem. But for those of us who do, what is the solution?

Milan Kundera spoke of the unbearable lightness of being. The fact that life is meaningless should be seen as a blessing, not as a curse. Absence of meaning is nothing to cry about; it is a source of freedom.

How many of us can bring ourselves to look at life in this way? Most of us cannot. We persist in asking the question, even though we may never find the answers. All that we have is the unbearable emptiness of being.

09 May 2008

The Year Is 5110

Q: Which year is it now?
A: 2008
Q: How is it year 2008?
A: Because it's been 2008 years since Jesus Christ was born

The calendar we are using is the Christian calendar. It is a relative system, not an absolute one. When the European countries colonised most of the world during 1400-1900, they spread their customs in the lands they ruled. Thus the Christian calendar (along with many other things) became the default for the whole world.

For practical purposes we may continue to use this calendar, or at least be aware of it. But we must also be aware of our own calendar(s). The two Hindu calendars most commonly cited are Vikrama and Shalivahana. The Vikrama calendar is followed mainly in north India. Its zero year corresponds to 58 BC; so according to it the current year is 2066. The Shalivahana calendar is followed mainly in south India. Its zero year corresponds to 78 AD; so according to it the current year is 1930.

All this is very confusing. So instead of these two regional calendars, we can remember one national calendar. According to Hindu tradition, the Kali Yuga began in 3102 BC (when Krishna died). So the current year is Kaliyugabda 5110. As per this, we are in the 52nd century (not the 21st). It also fits in neatly with the notion of India being a 5000-year-old civilisation :-)

08 May 2008

Hindu Militancy

The case for Hindu militancy is simple. We have a glorious culture and way of life, yes. But that is not enough. We must also have the strength to defend it. Anything good and beautiful attracts unwanted attention. What is the use of having a refined civilisation if you don't have the strength to protect it? In its 5000 years of history, Indian/Hindu civilisation never attacked other countries. The mistake we did was to think that everybody is like us. And we paid the price for it. We are still continuing to make this mistake.

We are tolerant and peace loving, yes. But everybody is not like us. The sooner we realise this, the better. We Hindus are polite to a fault – we refuse to admit that somebody can be intolerant and aggressive.

Two notes of caution here. First, some people think the answer is to become intolerant and aggressive like the Semitic religions. Absolutely not. We are Hindus. We should remain Hindus. We must think, talk and act like Hindus. We must continue to be tolerant and universal in our outlook. Second, rule of law is supreme. The law must be respected at all costs. Nobody should break the law, or take the law into his own hands. Any effort has to be within the four corners of the law.

Will Durant said it best: "... the Islamic conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilisation is a precious good, whose delicate complex order and freedom can at any moment be overthrown by barbarians invading from without and multiplying from within. The Hindus ... had failed to organise their forces for the protection of their frontiers and their capitals, their wealth and their freedom, from the hordes of Scythians, Huns, Afghans and Turks hovering about India's boundaries and waiting for national weakness to let them in. For four hundred years (600 – 1000 AD) India invited conquest; and at last it came. This is the secret of the political history of modern India ... The bitter lesson that may be drawn from this tragedy is that eternal vigilance is the price of civilisation. A nation must love peace, but keep its powder dry."

07 May 2008

The Strength of Hindus

"The Islamic conquest of India shows that Hindus were weak and cowardly."

This is how most people (even patriotic Indians) see our history. But look at the facts:
644 AD – Arabs first attacked Sindh
712 AD – bin Qasim conquered Sindh
1023 AD – Ghaznavi conquered Punjab
1192 AD – Ghauri conquered North India
That is, from 644 AD to 1192 AD, it took Islam more than 500 years to conquer our country.

Compare this with Islam's other conquests. The Arabs started pouring out of their peninsula after the Prophet died in 632 AD. By the end of the Umayyad Caliphate in 750 AD, they had conquered all of West Asia, North Africa and Spain. That is, the Islamic juggernaut flattened every land from the Pyrenees to the Indus in just about 100 years. But we were able to hold off this juggernaut for more than 500 years. Not a small achievement.

There is an untold story here. It is the story of the heroic resistance of India's northwest provinces (Sindh, Punjab, Rajputana). It is the story of the true character of Hindus – one of strength, valour and sacrifice. This story has been left out of our textbooks. It must be written in letters of gold. Every Indian must know it.

PS: I owe this insight to Dr Ravindra, the RSS's Saha Bauddhik Pramukh in North Karnataka.

06 May 2008

RSS Training Camps

An important aspect of the RSS that few outsiders know of is the RSS training camps. These were earlier called Officers Training Camp (OTC). Today they are called Sangha Shiksha Varga.

The training camps are held all over the country every year during April-June. There are totally 4 levels of training:
1. Prathamika Shiksha Varga (Basic training camp) – Duration is 7 days. Usually held at the district (zilla) level.
2. Prathama Varsha Shiksha Varga (First year training camp) – Duration is 21 days. Usually held at the provincial (prantha) level.
3. Dvitiya Varsha Shiksha Varga (Second year training camp) – Duration is 21 days. Usually held at the zonal (kshetra) level.
4. Trutiya Varsha Shiksha Varga (Third year training camp) – Duration is 30 days. Held at the national level in Nagpur.

At the training camps, both physical (sharirik) and theoretical/intellectual (bauddhik) training are imparted. Sharirik training includes danda yuddha (combat with a cane), niyuddha (unarmed combat), samata (drill), yogasana and playing games. Bauddhik training includes lectures and group discussions.

The primary purpose of the training camps is to impart the various skills needed for running shakhas. Needless to say, to qualify for any training camp you must have completed the previous level of training! :-)

05 May 2008

Philosophy

Philosophy is not meant to be merely studied. It is meant to be lived.
Philosophy is not about reading books. It is about living life.

01 April 2008

How To Write

Let us look at a simple English sentence:

Ramu ate an apple.

Let us look at the structure of this sentence:

Ramu --> Subject
ate an apple --> Predicate

This is the most basic way of breaking up a sentence. The predicate can be further broken up into a verb and an object. Thus we have:

Ramu --> Subject
ate --> Verb
an apple --> Object

Let us look at the parts of speech of the key words in the sentence:

Ramu --> Noun
ate --> Verb
apple --> Noun

This Subject-Verb-Object (S-V-O) or Noun-Verb-Noun (N-V-N) structure is the most basic form of an English sentence. Write all your sentences in this form!

So the first rule is: Use short, simple sentences (S-V-O or N-V-N form). The corollaries to this rule are:
1. Do not use adjectives.
2. Do not use adverbs.
3. Do not use additional clauses.

And the second rule is: Use small, easy words. Do not use big, difficult words.

There are many more rules (you can find them in Rudolf Flesch's book), but these are the two most important. Simplicity, clarity, and brevity: these are the three things every writer should aim for. If you want to see the power of simple writing, just pick up any book by V S Naipaul – the greatest living writer of English prose.

28 March 2008

September 11th

The chickens have come home to roost.
What goes around comes around.
As you sow, so you reap.

These were the lines that went around in my head on the evening of 11th September 2001, as I listened to the news on my radio in Delhi. A black preacher in Chicago called Jeremiah Wright apparently agreed with me. Five days later he delivered a sermon in which he said, "America's chickens are coming home to roost." Why is this of any consequence? Because one of the members of Rev Wright's church is a man called Barack Obama. Yeah, you get the picture...

Americans are – incredibly – still not ready to accept that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were a direct consequence of their country's actions. It all began in 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. A Muslim country attacked by a non-Muslim country – this was jihad (holy war). Muslims all over the world responded to the call. Moroccans, Egyptians, Saudis, Pakistanis – all came to Afghanistan to fight the infidel invader. The US was quick to seize the opportunity. The CIA funded, armed and trained these mujahideen (holy warriors). Your enemy's enemy is your friend. Besides, religion was a natural ally in the fight against Communism. They were using Christianity in Eastern Europe (Pope John Paul II was Polish). Why not use Islam in Central Asia?

In 1989 the Soviet Union finally accepted defeat and left Afghanistan. The mujahideen were jubilant. They had humbled a superpower. What were they to do now? With all their money, arms and training? Well, they could humble the other superpower too. One of them, a rich Saudi named Osama bin Laden, decided to do exactly this. With another mujahid, Dr Ayman al Zawahiri from Egypt, he formed a group called Al Qaeda ("The Base") and declared war on America. If you feed a serpent, it's only a matter of time before the serpent bites you. On 11th September 2001, the serpent bit the hand that had fed it. The tragedy was that 3000 innocent Americans paid with their lives for their government's short-sighted foreign policy.

25 March 2008

Friends, Indians, Countrymen!

Don't you want India to be free from poverty? Don't you want India to be a developed country? Don't you want India to become a superpower? Don't you want India to overtake China and America? Don't you want the 21st century to be the Indian century?

Every Indian will answer "Yes!" to these questions. Then the next question is: What are YOU doing to make this dream come true? Typical answers to this question are:
A. Nothing
B. I don't have the time
C. I obey the law and pay my taxes
D. I am too busy with my job and my family
E. It's the job of politicians and bureaucrats

Obeying the law and paying one's taxes are the minimum duties of a citizen. In an ideal world, this would be enough. But we don't live in an ideal world. Our country has so many basic problems that we have to do more. And it's not enough to say that this is the job of politicians and bureaucrats. JFK said, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." Today we should say, "Don't talk about what others should be doing for the country. Tell me what you are doing for your country." The hard truth is we have to do something so that our country becomes a better place. It won't happen on its own.

My fellow Indians, I am not sure if you know how lucky we all are. To be born in India in the 20th century. To be Indians in the 21st century. This is the best time and the best place to be in. The greatest adventure in the history of mankind is taking place in front of our eyes. A great and ancient civilisation is emerging as a modern nation – strong and prosperous. One sixth of the human race is taking its rightful place under the sun. India is the light of the world. After centuries of darkness, she is ready to blaze forth again.

In this great adventure, every one of us faces a choice. We can either stand on the sidewalk and watch, as spectators, reading about it in newspapers and watching it on TV. Or we can be participants, we can get involved. We can be the ones who make it happen. Every one of us believes that he/she loves the country. Well, 'love' is not just a noun; it is a verb. Love is not just what you feel; it is what you do. Every one of us has to ask the question, "What am I doing for my country?" Even if you don't care about society at large, do it for yourself and your family – what kind of a country do you want your children to live in? Our destiny is in our hands. Our future is what we make it. We all have to do our bit.

20 March 2008

Pune Restaurants

One of my friends quit his job and started a website called Tasty Khana on Pune restaurants. It's a one-stop shop for eating out. With it you can:
· Search for restaurants
· Order food online
· Book tables online
· Review restaurants
· Check out offers and
· Get discounts

Currently the site covers only Pune. Eventually it will cover other cities too.

So if you live in Pune, please
1. Visit the site
2. Register as a user
3. USE the bloody website! ;-)
4. Recommend it to all your friends
5. Ask them to recommend it to all their friends
6. Send your feedback to info AT tastykhana DOT com

And if you don't live in Pune, please recommend the site to all your friends who do live in this God-forsaken city ;-)

14 March 2008

Why Militant Hinduism? - 3

Arun Shourie on militant Hinduism:

Nor is what others do from outside the only determinant. From within India, three factors in particular will make the acquiring of that Islamic body all the more certain:
• The more biased 'secularist' discourse is;
• The more political parties use non-Hindus – Muslims, for instance – as vote banks and the more that non-Hindu group comes to act as one – 'strategic voting' and all;
• The more the state of India bends to these exclusivist, aggressive traditions.

And yet perverted discourse, even the stratagems of political parties, are but preparation: they prepare the ground for capitulation by the state to groups that are aggressive. And in this the real lunacy is about to be launched, and, with that, the real reaction.

Hence, all who are apprehensive of a Hindu reaction should:
Get to know the non-Indic traditions;
Shed denial – from denial of what the basic texts of the non-Indic traditions say to denial of the demographic aggression in the Northeast;
• Most important of all, work to ensure a completely fair and an absolutely firm state; and an even-handed discourse.

For their part, the Hindus cannot recline back, confident that the reaction will take care of the current pressures. They too have much to do. In particular, they must:
Awaken to the fact that the danger does not come just from violence and money; it comes as much from the purposive use of the electoral system;
• And so, they must organise themselves for this challenge as much as for others;
• For this, they must vault over internal divisions, in particular the curse of caste;
• Be alert not just to assault by others, but also to perversions from within: the commercialisation of the tradition; its becoming a commerce with deities – 'Please get me this contract, and I will...'; its becoming ostentatious religiosity; persons setting themselves up as the guardians of the tradition, and then using the perch for self-aggrandisement...
Get to know the tradition; and live it.

(Concluded)

12 March 2008

Why Militant Hinduism? - 2

Arun Shourie on militant Hinduism:

Each of these stemmed much. But over the last 200 years the feeling has also swelled that, invaluable as these responses have been, they have not been enough. They did not prevent the country from being taken over. They did not shield the people from the cruelty of alien rulers. They did not prevent the conversion of millions. They did not prevent the tradition from being calumnised and being thrown on the defensive. They did not in the end save the country from being partitioned – from being partitioned in the name of religion...

There is a real vice here. The three great religions that originated in Palestine and Saudi Arabia – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – have been exclusivist – each has insisted that it alone is true – and aggressive. The Indic religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism – have been inclusive, they have been indulgent of the claims of others. But how may the latter sort survive when it is confronted by one that aims at power, acquires it, and then uses it to enlarge its dominion? How is the Indic sort to survive when the other uses the sword as well as other resources – organised missionaries, money, the state – to proselytise and to convert? Nor is this question facing just the Hindus in India today. It is facing the adherents of Indic traditions wherever they are: look at the Hindus in Indonesia and Malaysia; look at the Buddhists in Tibet, now in Thailand too. It is because of this vice, and the realisation born from what had already come to pass that Swami Vivekananda, for instance, while asking the Hindus to retain their Hindu soul, exhorted them to acquire an 'Islamic body'.

We can be certain that his counsel will prevail, our secularists notwithstanding.

Instigating factors:
• The more aggressively the other religions proselytise – look at the fervour with which today the Tablighi Jamaat goes about conversion; look at the organised way in which the missionaries 'harvest' our souls;
• The more they use money to increase the harvest – whether it is Saudi money or that of Rome and the American churches;
• The more any of them uses violence to enlarge its sway;
• The more any of them allies itself with and uses the state – whether that of Saudi Arabia or Pakistan – for aggrandisement.

10 March 2008

Why Militant Hinduism? - 1

Arun Shourie on militant Hinduism:

"Your Hindutva is no different from Islamic fundamentalism" – a fashionable statement these days, one that immediately establishes the person's secular credentials. It is, of course, false, as we shall see in a moment. But there is a grain of potential truth in it – something that does not put Hinduism at par with Islam, but one that should, instead, serve as a warning to all who keep pushing Hindus around. That grain is the fact that every tradition has in it, every set of scriptures has in it enough to justify extreme, even violent reaction. From the very same Gita from which Gandhiji derived non-violence and satyagraha, Lokmanya Tilak constructed the case for ferocious response, not excluding violence. From the very same Gita from which Gandhiji derived his 'true law', shatham pratyapi satyam, 'Truth even to the wicked', the Lokmanya derived his famous maxim, shatham prati shaathyam, 'Wickedness to the wicked'.

The mistake is to assume that the sterner stance is something that has been fomented by this individual or that – in the case of Hindutva, by, say, Veer Savarkar – or by one organisation, say the RSS or the VHP. That is just a comforting mistake – the inference is that once that individual is calumnised, once that organisation is neutralised, 'the problem' will be over. Large numbers do not gravitate to this interpretation rather than that merely because an individual or an organisation has advanced it – after all, the interpretations that are available on the shelf far outnumber even the scriptures. They gravitate to the harsher rendering because events convince them that it alone will save them.

It is this tectonic shift in the Hindu mind, a shift that has been going on for 200 years, which is being underestimated. The thousand years of domination and savage oppression by rulers of other religions; domination and oppression which were exercised in the name of and for the glory of and for establishing the sway of those religions, evinced a variety of responses from the Hindus. Armed resistance for centuries... When at last such resistance became totally impossible, the revival of bhakti by the great poets... When public performance even of bhakti became perilous, sullen withdrawal, preserving the tradition by oneself, almost in secrecy: I remember being told in South Goa how families sustained their devotion by painting images of our gods and goddesses inside the tin trunks in which sheets and clothing were kept. The example of individuals: recall how the utter simplicity and manifest aura of Ramakrishna Paramhamsa negated the efforts of the missionaries, how his devotion to the image of the Goddess at Dakshineshwar restored respectability to the idolatry that the missionaries and others were traducing... The magnetism of Sri Aurobindo and Ramana Maharshi... Gandhiji's incontestable greatness and the fact that it was so evidently rooted in his devotion to our religion...

03 March 2008

"South India"

If there's one thing that gets my goat, it is the terms "South India" and "South Indians". Many people think there is one place/region called "South India" and one set of people called "South Indians". WRONG! There are four states: Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu – each with its own language and culture. There is no such thing as "South India". Similarly there are Kannadigas, Telugus, Malayalis and Tamilians. There is no such thing as a "South Indian".

It is true that there are some commonalities among the people who live south of the Vindhyas, which distinguish them from the rest of the country. For example, the four languages, though distinct from one another, belong to the Dravidian family – as against the rest of the country, which speaks the Aryan languages. Some food habits are also common – the famous idlis and dosas come to mind here. But these broad commonalities do not justify putting the four states and their people into one box and calling it/them "South India"/"South Indians". People in the rest of the country are blissfully unaware of the vast diversity and differences among these four states.

When I was in Delhi, a guy from MP asked me, "You South Indians worship Ayyappa Swamy, right?" Somehow he had heard about the temple of Ayyappa in "South India", and assumed that all "South Indians" worship this deity! Statements beginning with "You South Indians...", "Tum South ke log...", "In South India...", "South mein...", etc are very common – and very irritating. This malady will not end till we actively try to put a stop to it. Therefore I appeal to all my fellow Kandus and also Gults, Mallus and Tams to correct people whenever they make this mistake. Don't worry about offending others. Don't worry about creating a scene. Don't worry about what other will think of you. Just do it. It is important to speak the truth and dispel people's ignorance.

27 February 2008

Website on Savarkar

A website on Savarkar was released yesterday. It has been built by swayamsevaks from Pune. I had attended one of the initial meetings for this project, but didn't really contribute anything. The effort was led by members of the IT milan at Aundh (which I used to attend last year). This is the same team that made the website on Golwalkar Guruji, to mark his birth centenary in 2006.

V D Savarkar is one of the fathers of Hindu nationalism. It was he who coined the word 'Hindutva'.

22 February 2008

Energy

"Energy is more important than talent. My equation is like this. Both talent and energy means you are an emperor. No talent and only energy means you are still a prince. Only talent and no energy means you are a pauper." – Michael Crichton

What is energy? In physics, energy is the capacity to do work. But in real life, energy is more than just the capacity for work. It is the capacity for learning. It is the capacity for life. Put simply, energy is capacity.

Crichton is right. Energy is everything. Whether you succeed or fail in life, and to what extent, will be decided by how much energy you have. Ability, intelligence, ambition, luck, money – all these help. But energy is the critical variable.

So is this good news or bad news? For those with high energy levels, it is good news. For others (like me), it is bad news. Then again, is a person's energy level fixed? Or is it possible to increase it?

Doctors say exercising regularly is the best way to increase one's energy. I never understood this. Isn't exercise an energy consuming activity? Then how the hell does it increase your energy? Maybe the same doctors can give an explanation.

But even exercise can increase your energy only to some extent. Then what? If your energy level is low, you just have to accept that you may not be able to do everything you want to do in life. It's a difficult pill to swallow.

Or you can console yourself by saying that quality is more important than quantity. It's not how much you eat, but how well you chew, taste and digest it that matters. We may do less, but whatever little we do, we can do well.

Another way of coping with less energy is to focus. Focus on what you really want, and let other things go to hell. You'll then miss out on a lot that life has to offer. But you have only one life; you might as well make something of it.

Sometimes this focus can be extreme. Like if you want just one thing, and you go after it with everything you have, to the exclusion of everything else. This will horrify people for whom 'balance' and 'all-round development' are important.

But what the hell. As I said, you have only one life. Do something with it.

15 February 2008

On Hindu Nationalism

Question: What is your idea of India? What does India mean to you?
Answer: India is...
A. our 5000-year-old civilisation
B. my motherland
C. my holy land
D. a nation state born in 1947
E. a republic born in 1950
F. the territory defined by the borders of the Union of India

A secularist will tick D, E and F. But a Hindu nationalist will tick A, B and C. D-E-F is a very narrow and shallow view of India. A-B-C is a much broader and deeper conception of our nation. This is the crux of the difference between Nehruvian secularism and Hindu nationalism. There are many and varied disagreements between the two camps, but almost all of them flow from this basic difference in how one sees India. A couple of examples will make this point clearer.

Secularists accuse the RSS of being disloyal to the country since, in our shakhas, we salute the bhagwa dwaja (saffron flag) – instead of the tricolour – and sing the prayer "Namaste sada vatsale matrubhoome" – instead of "Jana gana mana". This is nonsense. The national flag and national anthem do command our devotion and loyalty. There is no swayamsevak who does not respect these national symbols. Then why do we not use these symbols in our shakhas? Because they represent D-E, whereas the bhagwa dwaja and the RSS prarthana represent A-B-C. It is our way of reminding ourselves everyday that India is not just a nation state; she is a 5000-year-old civilisation, our motherland and our holy land. The former is a small subset of the latter.

Answer F is a big problem. Golwalkar Guruji called it 'territorial nationalism'. When the BJP raised the issue of Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin, the Congress Party replied that L K Advani and Jyoti Basu are also foreigners – as they were born in Karachi and Dhaka, respectively! This is what happens if one thinks of India merely as a nation state that was formed in 1947. Historically, the land of India was naturally defined – the land bound by the seas, the Himalayas and the Indus. In any case, India is more than just a piece of land. India is our civilisation – a nation defined by its culture and its way of life. Defined, in other words, by its Hindutva.

PS: Sometimes the term 'cultural nationalism' is used. The term has a certain interpretative value, but I think 'Hindu nationalism' is more to the point :-)

13 February 2008

The Varna System (contd)

We can conclude our discussion of the Varna system by making a couple of observations. Then it will be clear why the Varna system was:
A. Perfect for its time
B. Not suitable for our time.

The two key features of the Varna system were:
1. The classification of society into four classes
2. The hereditary nature of this structure.

Traditional Indian society was an agricultural society. In an agricultural society, all occupations could be grouped under the four broad heads of priest/scholar, warrior/ruler, merchant and worker. This was the perfect form of social organisation for that period; Plato had recommended a similar system in his Republic. But today we live in an industrial (or post-industrial) society – which is far more complex. Today we can no longer classify all occupations under four headings. Hence the grouping of Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra is irrelevant today.

Secondly, society needs to preserve and transmit knowledge in order to survive. In particular, knowledge related to work. How was this to be done in an agricultural society? In a society without the Internet, computers, TV, radio, newspapers, magazines and above all – printed books? The only institution for preserving and transmitting knowledge was the family. That is why sons mostly followed their fathers' occupations. Today this is no longer the case. We live in the age of the mass media. We no longer rely only on the family to preserve and transmit knowledge. Hence hereditary occupational classes are no longer needed.

Why am I talking so much about a system that is not relevant for today's society? Because it is important to give the past its due. These days it is very fashionable to bash the Varna system, in the name of being 'modern' and 'progressive'. There are too many people out there criticising the Varna system who don’t bother to understand exactly what it was and why it came about. I repeat: today's caste system is not the same as the original Varna system. The former is a disease; the latter a testimony to the genius of our ancestors.

07 February 2008

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh - 2

Hedgewar studied India's long history and concluded that outsiders could attack and defeat us because of our following drawbacks:
1. Disunity
2. Weakness
3. Lack of organisation
4. Indiscipline
5. Lack of patriotism
6. Lack of character
So the only real and lasting solution to all the nation's problems was to remove these ills. Once these ills were removed, the rest would take care of itself. A nation can only be as good and as strong as its people. If the people are good and strong, the nation will be likewise.

But how to do it? How to build moral character and national consciousness? How to instill discipline and strength in people? How to organise and unite society? Hedgewar thought long and hard and hit upon the idea of the shakha ('branch'). Every day, people would get together for one hour and participate in various activities like exercising, playing games, singing patriotic songs, having discussions, etc. Over time, this would instill the required qualities in the people. In 1925, on the auspicious day of Vijaya Dashami, he invited some like-minded people to his house and shared his thoughts with them. His guests agreed to join him in his mission. Thus was born the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

"That's it? That's what this is all about? You guys get together for an hour every day and do some stuff? Is that all there is to it?" The reaction is perfectly understandable. Anybody will be incredulous. At first sight the shakha does seem to be a trivial activity. But how is character formed? Character is nothing but repeated habits, and habit is nothing but repeated actions. Also, character is formed mainly by influence – of parents, teachers and friends. So if a person is exposed to good thoughts, good words, good actions and good people for even one hour a day, it has a significant impact. The technique is most effective with children, as their character can be moulded easily.

But all this is just theory. The real test is in the real world. And in the real world, the shakha technique has passed with flying colours. In the 82 years since its birth, the RSS has grown from strength to strength. Its shakhas have produced a multitude of workers who have served society in various fields. Most of them you have never heard of, because a true swayamsevak believes in working, not in talking. Even if you do hear of them, you will not know they are swayamsevaks, because of the media's bias against us (example). Two products of the shakha system you have heard of are L K Advani and A B Vajpayee.

A journalist once asked an RSS leader, "Tell me about the social service done by the RSS." The pracharak replied, "The RSS does not do any social service." The journalist was taken aback. The pracharak continued, "The RSS does not do any social service. Swayamsevaks do social service. And the RSS's job is to produce those swayamsevaks."

04 February 2008

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh - 1

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is a unique organisation. It has a unique goal and a unique way of working to achieve that goal. Both in its ends and its means, it is unique. This is not a boast, but a plain fact. I am not saying this just because I am a swayamsevak. Once you understand the RSS fully and correctly, you will agree with what I have said.

The RSS is not a political party. Nor is it an NGO engaged in 'social service' (in the usual sense of the term). These are the two kinds of social organisations we are familiar with. The fact that the RSS does not belong to either of these two categories makes it very difficult for people to understand the organisation. Indeed, some swayamsevaks themselves are not clear about exactly what the RSS is.

Perhaps the best way to truly understand the RSS is to begin at the beginning. We must trace the footsteps of the man who founded the organisation: Keshav Baliram Hedgewar ('Doctorji').

Hedgewar was born in Nagpur in 1889. Even as a child he showed a fierce spirit of patriotism. His hatred of the British rule often got him into trouble at school. After finishing his elementary education he went to Calcutta to study medicine.

The partitioning of Bengal in 1905 had made Calcutta a hotbed of nationalist activity. Patriotic young men wanted to overthrow British rule by an armed struggle, and formed many revolutionary groups. One such group was Anusheelan Samiti. Hedgewar joined it and got involved in its activities, like making guns and bombs. But eventually the Samiti suffered the fate of all such groups: informers betrayed their comrades to the police. And one day, an accident occurred at the Samiti's secret bomb factory killing one of its members. Hedgewar was disillusioned by these developments. He finished his MBBS and returned to Nagpur.

In Nagpur, Hedgewar came under the influence of his idol Bal Gangadhar Tilak. With Tilak's encouragement, he joined the Indian National Congress and became an active member. He even organised the special session of the Congress held in Nagpur in 1920. But Hedgewar was not happy. The Congress-led freedom struggle, he felt, was negative in character. It was defined only by its opposition to British rule. It had no positive content. More importantly, the freedom struggle was not addressing the root problem: How could a small country like Britain conquer and rule a nation as vast, as ancient and as proud as India? And the British were hardly the first foreigners to rule us. They were just the latest in a long series of invaders and conquerors: from Greeks and Huns to Turks and Mughals. When the British were kicked out, what was the guarantee that we would not fall prey to some other foreign power?

01 February 2008

Peace of Mind

Everyone wants to find peace. Is it possible to find peace? The problem with peace is it comes and goes. Peace is fleeting. It never lasts.

The search for lasting peace is futile. Because life is war. It is a series of battles. The end of one battle is merely the beginning of another. In fact, you are lucky if you can fight your battles one after the other. Most of the times you are fighting several battles at the same time.

Some people try to find peace by staying away from the battlefield. This is silly. If you don't go to the war, the war will come to you. There is no escape from struggle. There is no refuge from fear.

If there is a path to peace, it runs through the battlefield. The only possible way to find peace is to plunge yourself in the war. If you are lucky, at the end of it all, you will find what you are looking for. Otherwise, too bad.

In any case, you will certainly find peace when you die. The most peaceful man is the dead man.

Moments of peace are so rare. Cherish them. But don't spend too much time thinking about them. The next battle is waiting...

28 January 2008

Freedom, Happiness and Order

Amidst all this talk of Dharma and society and order, one may ask: What about individual happiness? What about personal freedom? Is my job only to follow the rules of society (Dharma)? Don't I have any right to pursue my own happiness?

For the answer, look at any river. It is a body of flowing water, bound on both sides by its banks. As long as the banks are strong, the river flows properly. But when the banks become weak, the river spills over and floods. Its own flow is disturbed. It also causes grief to the people living near it. Such is the relationship between freedom, restraint and happiness.

Freedom does not mean absolute freedom, or the right to do whatever we like. Freedom is meaningful only when it comes with certain limits. As we long as we respect these limits, we can be both free and happy. Once we cross these limits, there is neither freedom nor happiness.

It was keeping this in mind that the rishis of ancient India developed the code of Dharma. Individual happiness can be pursued only in a stable society. If society starts falling apart, how can the individual be happy? The rules of Dharma were so designed as to strike the right balance between personal freedom and social stability.

But, as noted before, Vedic society gradually decayed. With the various invasions and conquests, Hindu society became reactive and defensive. It went into a shell. Dharma – once a living and dynamic tradition that nourished the greatest civilisation in the world – became ossified and rigid. In the name of stability and order, freedom and happiness were buried.

But that was yesterday. Today is different. After a thousand years of slavery and foreign rule we are free again. Free again to reclaim our lost Dharma. Free again to pursue happiness, virtue, beauty and Truth. This pursuit, to be successful, has to be based on our age-old tradition – one that balanced the needs of the individual with the needs of society.

Our Western-style liberals don't understand this. For them, individual liberty is everything. Dharma, society and order mean nothing to them. They fail to see the harm that excessive focus on individual liberty has done in Western societies. If we follow that path, we shall surely come to grief.

But I am an optimist. I am confident that Dharma will prevail. I am confident that Indians will achieve not only personal freedom and happiness, but also a stable and harmonious society.

24 January 2008

The Varna System

My previous post might be interpreted as a defence of the caste system. Nothing could be further from the truth. My comments were about Vedic society – which was very different from today's society. The caste system that exists today bears no resemblance to the Varna system of the Vedic age.

1. During the Vedic age, there was no sense of high or low among the different Varnas. All Varnas had the same status in society. Every person was treated with dignity and respect, irrespective of which Varna he/she belonged to. This is only logical. A chair needs all four of its legs to stand properly. So all four legs are equally important. There is no sense in saying that one leg is 'superior' to another.

2. In general, a person followed his father's Varna/occupation (This is what happens even today). But if he so wished, he could always shift to another Varna. There was complete freedom to move from one Varna into another. There are plenty of examples in ancient Indian history of individuals, or even entire groups, changing their Varna. Social mobility was not just an empty slogan; it was a fact of life.

3. Ancient India was a prosperous society. Even the humblest occupation could provide a decent living – by the standards of those days. So it is not true that the Shudras were 'condemned' to a life of poverty.

A society has two conflicting needs: stability and dynamism. Too much stability will result in stagnation and collapse. Too much dynamism will result in chaos and disintegration. The ideal society is one that balances these two needs. The Varna system was a brilliant form of social organisation that succeeded in doing exactly this. Sons usually followed their fathers' occupations. This preserved knowledge, and ensured continuity and stability. But freedom of occupation was also allowed, ensuring dynamism and creativity.

Unfortunately this happy state of affairs did not last forever. Gradually Vedic society began to decay. The notion of 'high' and 'low' came into the Varna system – people were discriminated against based on their Varna. The system also became rigid and inflexible – people could no longer change their occupations. By the 7th century AD, the decay was clearly visible. The invasion and conquest by the Turks, and later the Mughals, only accelerated this decay. And the British rule was the final nail in the coffin. With the result that the caste system of today is a perversion of the original Varna system. There is no justification for it. The sooner it goes, the better.