My countries, my religions, tis of thee

I imagine that everybody understands intuitively how complicated it is to make generalizations on any country, any race, any gender, any religion. It is the same for one’s opinion on whether the modern world is better or things were better before, is science a good or a bad thing, is abortion a good or a bad thing, is Islam an intrinsically evil religion, are religions intrinsically evil, will atheism be nihilism and the end of the world. In the heart of hearts we are not sure, but we must, as ineluctably as time flows, be moved by the events of the world and want for things to change, for it is upto us to construct the future. As Pessoa said if we were perfectly lucid, we would stop completely. The man of action is not to be stopped with too much thinking, but moved along by just enough of it, and indeed men of action are men of opinions, and opinions are for the most part not distillations of long thought and study, but there must be some part of that, and some part of collective conviction.
I sat down for long hours with my mother and grandmother, on their visit to Nice this december. A year and a half away from home, and a little older, I wished to deepen my understanding of them, and therefore of myself. I learned that my grandmother’s father spoke persian, and he would read and write in this language. This grandmother of mine is no longer connected to her village in Punjab, the way she was as a 7 year old, today living in the westernised neighbourhoods in the south of Delhi, she no longer feels an attachement to the Punjab she grew up in. Her grandson was never connected in the first place, indeed I converse with my grandmother in English. I remember a cousin of mine mocking me as en eight year old, that I must refer to my grandmother as “Grandmother”, (I don’t, I call her “nani”)  although I struggle to see how living in Australia now, this friend is any more Indian than me. She belongs to the privileged schizophrenic social class in urban india. Schizophrenic because it believes in an indianness, but only as a surface covering essentially a liberal western agenda.
I spoke to them on a range of issues, on politics, on religion, on the indian identity, subjects I will undoubtedly explore further as I grow older, and for this blog. I have never cared for the politics of my country, and there is a reason for it, I didn’t need to, I grew up in a privileged household, going to a school that would invite western universities by the dozens, that would invite us to go study there (as indeed my cousin must have done, or some such thing). She doesn’t care, nor do I, for the most part, for the government, so long as it doesn’t interfere in our life projects. I am ofcourse not entirely unaware of what is going on (India is so large, there is so much going on), we spoke of the possible election of Sonia Gandhi in 2004, it seemed that they were wrong in thinking (a little googling might clarify the situation) that she couldn’t have become prime minister, I was left a little puzzled at how such a simple fact could be unclear.
We also discussed religion. They know little, as do I, as infact does any normal person does of religion. When I say “knowing” a religion, I am not speaking ofcourse of the spiritual connection that can be attained, the sense of purpose of life, the belief, simply put, they have. They both have that in great, and powerful quantities, it has been the force of their life, I am sure, it is what allows them to accept suffering, death of near dear ones, to have fortitude and to accept their own death one day, as we all must. Technology, individualism, and science separates the human being from nature, from his body, by making him live as a mind, his body becomes a mere tool, sex becomes solely about orgasm, and not procreation, we are no longer a family, or a people, we are individuals trying to “realise” ourself, separated from our death, unable to accept it, and eventually with transhumanism it separates the human from himself completely. If life can be simulated, then nobody shall die, and indeed nobody shall live. But religion, and those who are religious, take things one step further than the scientist who contents himself with doubting things, religion doubts doubt itself. This is the power that my grandmother and mother have, it is a belief, that Google and modern medicine shall never have.
Coming back, the great religions of the world were lightly wafted into the discussion, one by one, there seemed to be, for my aunt, mother, and indeed, most certainly for my father, a conviction that Islam is the least evolved of religions. What were the arguments? let us hear them. To be sure, there cannot be too many, this is a vague mixture of ideas, that can only come from finitely many places. Nobody would say (only a fool would), that there aren’t good muslims, or that Islam hasn’t contributed to Indian culture, that the Taj Mahal isn’t a fanstastic piece of work of art, but (and here are the pieces of evidence) look at the state of women in muslim countries in the world, look at the human rights violations there, and after all take Muhammad, what can you expect from a religion which began with a warlord, look at what is said in the Coran (about this and that, none of them ofcourse have read the Coran, why would they? Nor have they read the Bible). Christianity must be better off, it has engendered the west which despite everything, defines what development is today, human rights, equality, democracy,…. And take Jesus, what a fine fellow he was, that is the stuff of what evolved religions are made of. My mother then showed me a video of how the muslim population is taking over the western population, that immigrant children are “breeding” in large numbers, and that the civilised world, of which we are orbiting bits, could be shaken to the core.
I am atleast as ignorant as my mother on religions, and determined to slowly educate myself, I invested in a book called Decadence by Michel Onfray in the local FNAC store at Nice, where he explained to me that it seemed clear that in all probability Jesus is a purely allegorical, mythical creature, the fact that he is a white man is a clear indication that he was more a refleciton of those painting him than himself (I remember with delicious annoyance the arrogant, self-assurance of this reporter on american television unflinchingly asserting that Jesus was incontestably white, I think she was Megyn Kelly on Fox news), about how saint Paul pushed his christianity through, how fortuitously Constantine’s victory allowed Christinaity to take off, and how pope Urbain 2 pushed the crusades down the the throat of the muslims in a way that would have certainly impressed Muhammad. Among the platitudes we hear on religion “There are bad people in all religion”, one hardly expects the pope to be “bad” (ofcourse what is bad in spreading a religion, or a liberal democratic agenda?) Does this mean I think ill of christianity, no ofcourse not, who am I to judge what would have happened to the west without the sermon on the mount, I simply don’t allow myself generalizations so easily, and in view of this piece of information, I simply cannot give extra points to Christianity, and I have barely scratched the surface!
Lets not forget hinduism. Again there is much reading to be done, what is this hinduism that my mother, and family feel an attachment to, is it just a western liberal ideology in a garb of chants and rituals? How old is this hinduism? How unifying is it? Who believes what and why? Ars longa Vita Brevis. She believed in a kind of indianness, an intrinsic, essential “india” that was able to assimilate so many cultures in it so well. The Parsees fleeing the muslims in arabia, the mughals who decided to stay in this wonderful country of ours. I retorted saying that it was Akbar that spoke of Din-e-ilahi, of a religion unifying hinduism and islam, she responded by saying that he must have imbibed an indianness. Ofcourse the line between indian and hindu blurred in the discussion. The muslims are essentially foriegn for her, it is our indianhinduness that has allowed for our democracy to function relatively well, in her opinion. But was their an India before 1947? These are powerful, far reaching and interesting claims, but also vague claims. She then attributes the failure of Pakistan to its association with Islam. Isn’t it because we are a secular democracy that things worked?, had we been a hindu state, wouldn’t have things been equally bad for us? People’ opinions are fascinating, but that is all people have.
For she doesn’t really know the history of hinduism (and nor do I for that matter), this is what allows for Sri Sri Ravishankar to work so well, he is filling a real need, to bring his brand of “liberal” hinduism to the 21st century, and there is probably a need for reconiciliation to be done. The long list of thinkers of the muslim world, the flow of thought, the genesis of different kinds of thought, the political and economic forces that ensured certain kinds of thought to succeed above others. All this requires a lot of work to do. Who has the time?
Coming back to my dear american friends, I can only imagine that most americans (including Megan Kelly), like most people, are ignorant of their religions and history the way me and most people are, learning about history demands time and energy, and a long education that hardly anybody is interested in or has the time for (except those who are being paid for it). But history is made of people, it is made of what these “ignorant” people decide to do, decide to care about, decide to feel an attachement to, decide to be excited about. It would require long debate to see whether the 93 percent the americans have spent in their history fighting wars were “really” necessary. Whether Osama bin laden was a martyr, a résistant, or a terrorist is a matter of how history books are written. American children are taught the french revolution (which ofcourse involves killing and brutality). How necessary were the acts of america in the years leading upto 9/11, were the actions of Osama bin laden those of a résistant, is ISIL a résistace movement? (what’s in a name?) You see it doesn’t matter to the american, nor does it matter to my mother, because there is no discussing with these “Islamic people”, these barbarians (never mind if my grandmother’s father probably knew of Omar khayyam, the iranian poet, “indifferent to belief and doubt”, I wonder what his thoughts on Islam were..in the 11th century. ) Never mind if the americans killed millions of people to avenge the death of 3000 (9/11 twin towers) (having already caused the death of hundreds of thousands of people before that, which is probably what led to this résistance and/or terrorism, one would think reason enough..). It also doesn’t matter that this modern world of the “lumières” also engendered the horrors of the second world war, costing more lives than any crusade. No, we in india are sold by the western liberal agenda, and terribly impressed by the efficiency of german-made cars, to pollute our roads and inflate our egos, till we are sick and buy the fanciest american made medicine, that trillion dollar industry has to offer.
My point here is the need for nuance in the collective consciousness, that america enjoys, for we all have a nuanced view of it, the good and the bad, but some other parts of the world don’t enjoy this nuanced view, but more importantly to construct cultural bridges, and that is a difficult task, for it takes time to get nuance, and there is no money in building cultural bridges, and time is money in our capitalist world. If the americans felt a brotherhood with the middle east, had an understanding of Islamic culture, of its thinkers, of its history, if it educated itself about its culture and vice versa, if there was real cultural interaction, to understand why people think what they think, and what ideas seem better and why, then there is hope for the world, and then maybe it would seem absurd for the average american to go about the wars the way they have. The “arrogant atheist” is probably as ignorant as the “middle eastern bigot”, but they both need to talk to each other. The task is terribly long and boring, but in the long run fascinating and enriching, and it certainly won’t be done in the time of a Youtube video. We must think and construct the “useless” cultural bridges, work towards more virile cultural interaction, and not the “multicultural” nonsense smacked on the side of a Macdonalds burger (English I’m lovin’ it Spanish: Me encanta; French: C’est tout ce que j’aime; German: Ich liebe es; Swahili: Ninaipenda; Russian: вот что я люблю; Turkish: işte bunu seviyorum.)
The iranian and the american engineer must discuss more than just the right code for the project they are working for google together, they must discuss their humanities, and construct a common one, or learn to appreciate a real difference, and who knows, at the end of it, they might both feel that constructing that code for Google, isn’t such a good idea

Shakespeare and saas-bahu

The careers of many soap stars, television series actors, and even movie stars depends crucially on our inability to find anything better to do with ourselves. A capitalist society brings out the mediocrity in us, we simply will not put in the effort to see the difference between a shakespearan tragedy and a saas-bahu (family drama) serial. There is a difference between the two, and a very important one, the former uplifts the human soul, is still read and studied hundreds of years later, making its viewer think with more subtlety, use language better, and like good Art, refines the human spirit, as we read the genius of Shakespeare and his grasp of the human condition, the latter simply distracts. It is difficult to read Shakespeare, it is difficult to put in the effort and the patience, it is easy to press a button and be fed a soap serial.

A society that does not find interesting things to do with its time, that does not have the patience to do difficult things, ends up paying more to people playing the role of a physicist on television (The big bang theory), than to an actual physicist, simply because, we live on the life support of entertainment. In ancient times, acting was hardly an honorable profession. If people knew what to do with their time, FRIENDS would at best be a popular folk group earning a simple living, and not world famous filthy rich stars, it is up to us to make them what they are, they themselves do not understand why they merit this much wealth and importance, often falling into all sorts of problems, it is up to us to improve the standards of what we watch and pay for, to prevent the skews of the modern “entertainment industry”.

The capitalist monster wants us to be perpetually distracted, to rid us of patience of any kind, boredom is very important to creativity and the desire for upliftment, for as Oscar Wilde said “discontent is man’s original virtue”, but the capitalist monster will never let you be bored, because it wants you to become a machine, because machines are predictable.

A society that loses its patience with literature and art, is much more amenable to mass hysteria, as Nuccio Ordine explains in his book “The usefulness of the useless”, we don’t learn the tools to understand other cultures, or the other in general, we are quick to judge, we do not think, we feel, because we lose all subtelty and patience, this is evidenced in all the madness of the last few decades, it is urgent that we give more importance to difficult, patient “useless” education.

Again, as explained in his book, only “useless” education goes directly against the logic of profit of the cynical economist, because if we share education, we are often richer not poorer for it, and it does not divide by half, but often multiplies, manyfold. It is then also not surprising that simplistic military answers are given to all the problems, I wonder how it would be if the americans on average had more appreciation for persian and middle eastern culture, if their understanding of pakistanis and indians was beyond that of taxi drivers and restaurant owners. Oh the inhumanity! And if indians and pakistanis had a little more appreciation for their own culture and history, if they had their own vision of the future, outside of the urban industrial vision, perhaps the absurdities and excesses of the silicon valley wouldn’t be imported to India.

The Acropolis, after serving as a pagan temple, a mosque, a church, has reached its final state: a tourist destination, with tourists infesting it like crickets, clicking away selfies to be posted on social media…

A world worth dreaming of

I don’t understand how the americans get to decide who the sexiest man alive is, they didn’t even consider me! I don’t know how they get to decide what the greatest novels are, the finest films are, the best dresses are, the best music is, and we just let them, worse, we worship their generalizations of the planet as they ruthlessly exploit the world.

We see the world through their eyes, their conception of the world, of Africa, the middle eat, Asia, south america, becomes ours. Their mind-numbing entertainment industry becomes my only point of discussion with a brazilian or a lebanese. Why should I care if Raj is on the big bang theory? Why should I care if they are making hyperspecialised cultureless morons like Sheldon Cooper whose only conception of the world is an equation, who doesn’t know what art or poetry or culture is, and who on top of that is foolishly arrogant? Let them get on with their nihilistic agenda without bothering everybody. Someone was once shocked how I didn’t know which coast California was, but sadly my own education hardly taught me how my city developed the way it did. Education today isn’t narrow enough.

We crave their attention, we crave to dress like them, talk like them, eat like them, get heart disease like them, and destroy the planet like them. Ofcourse they “celebrate multiculturalism” so we sing Indian songs in their universities, but this is just throwing powder in the eyes. We travel to New York to buy the clothes made a hundred kilometers away from us, but designed in New York, because they even tell us what to wear, in a climate that is totally different from theirs, ofcourse their own “culture” is a kind of capitalist derivative of European culture, where a church is only of value if you can get a two dollar entry fee to enter it. “America is the the only country in the world that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization”, this country that “knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing.” Never in the history of the world has such mediocrity in the arts been given so much importance, “earlier the books would be written by men of letters and read by the public, now books are written by the public and nobody reads them”.

We like to assert a kind of Indian-ness, we feebly assert how “Indian” we are when we play classical music in the evenings, or read some indian literature, but it isn’t culture if it isn’t cultivated, if it doesn’t play a role in the kind of life you lead, the career choices you make, the kind of nation you build. The world needs different perspectives, that is what being open-minded means. The privileged in the world think they are open-minded, but they are terribly close -minded, they have no nation, no patriotism, no boundaries, but infact they do, they are all americans, america will be the last nation on earth, the nation that will destroy the world.

In language and literature lie the key to saving the world, the languages of the world need to be saved, because those before us have already thought in that tongue about the weather, the climate, the food, the men and women and children. I have never read a poem praising the beauty of an Indian women, but I have read countless pieces of literature speaking of the blonde blue eyes girl that doesn’t live anywhere near me. The languages shall also permit different conceptions of the world, these conceptions exist already, I want to learn of what melancholy is in different part of the world, what sarcasm is, ofcourse there is a limit to how much one can take in, but I certainly wish to take in something other than the clowns on american television. The burden of the world should stand on many different, proud cultures, that is a world worth dreaming of.

 

Your papers please

“Good morning Sir, May I see your papers please?”
“Oh Sir, what a relief! You speak English. I was worried how I would get around here”
–Gives papers–

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I didn’t know if America spoke English”

“Really? You’re pulling my leg aren’t you?”

“Oh no Sir, I didn’t know Sir, so do a lot of people speak English here? What other languages do you speak here?”

“We all speak English here, some of us speak Spanish”

“Really! The whole country! But it is such a big country! Oh how very excellent, this is really quite a relief for me, thank you Sir, and good day”

“Here are your papers, Good day to you”

“Good day to you Sir”

ली

I was trying to teach some written hindi, we came upon the ली, when I was told it looked like a penis with two testicles on the side. I realized that when I read hindi, it always gives me the feeling of reading something sacred, distant and something I should not offend by trying to understand. Its nice to get a fresh perspective.

Isn’t education great?

I don’t think there is a language more moralising than hindi, especially when it comes out of Narendra Modis mouth, or my fifth standard hindi teacher, the poor lady could never sell her language to us. I have always wondered, did hindi borrow the comma, the question mark etcetera from english? Ah, and commas, if only I knew where they went, too bad I never needed to learn to pass my exams in english. If people think english is just a language, just a tool, they are terribly wrong, it divides people and societies, prevents country men from understanding each other, in my school we had the manchester- united worshiping- chilli- pepper- singing- not- knowing- where -the- comma goes -can’t -write- a- piece -of- writing-to-save-their-lives- but- don’t- need -to- to- pass -the- exams group, and the other group, unable to speak to English, or specifically the slangy spoken english, speaking in their minds a much more sophisticated language, that unfortunately didn’t travel as much historically, crushed by the dominance of this job-giving language. “words are the planks on which we traverse the abyss of our minds” said the french author. How do I know why Indian men and women behave this way or that if I don’t know what they are reading as children? What do they find funny? How can I connect if all I feel is guilty about not having read enough Shakespeare to understand 17th century britain? It took me to come to a country that resolutely does not speak english to understand what it is to live in one language, from end of the spectrum to the other, where a language represents centuries of thought about how people live, behave with each other. When these moralizing idiots come at me, I don’t know where they are coming from, and what they grew up on, unfortunately I grew up on the slimy froth that America spat at me through my childhood, spread thin over endless hours of senseless television, and it continues, making me wish I could one day go there to master the twang of their lazy accents, to colleges where “real” education happens, oh what power it is to make someone do something without forcing them, all this which has nothing to do with being Indian, and which reinforces the cultural hegemony sold in the perfumed garb of “open-ness”, “liberal-ness” an “modern-ness”, Oh! if only I could go to United states and be in New York City! Oh! then I can come back and criticise a country I do not understand in a language they do not understand. Isn’t education great?

Life imitates bollywood

Does “life imitate art” or “art imitate life”? Is bollywood, and the need to have 5 dance sequences in a movie a consequence of indian society, or are these 5 dance sequences going to marr indian society forever? Is it like in europe where “the nineteenth century is largely an invention of Balzac”, will indian society in the 21st century be largely an invention of Shah Rukh khan? or will it be Chetan Bhagat? The horror… or can someone explain why bollywood movies in the nineties talked so much about what seems to be a rather middle-ages western invention of “romantic love”. Is hero worshiping our actors inherent to us?… Have the indian words for “love” and “romance” changed meaning with the introduction of the english words? Did teenagers suffer less heartbreak before the english? Before christianity? Would we have made such nonsensical films back then? Is it the words? Did this word, “romance” which had its own life in western history fall into the wrong hands in the 90s in bollywood? And what are going to be the repercussions of this? How can a country that suffers so much poverty spend that much money watching something as frivolous as romantic love? “We see coming out then, in fresh souls, this sickness that we call romanticism, this Christianity without illusions and without myths which reflects, even more, its sickly dryness. All the evil of the romanticism comes form the confusion between that which is necessary to us and that which we desire. We have all needs indispensable to life, to its maintenance and its continuity, and we desire all of us a life more perfect, complete happiness, the realization of our dreams. It is human to want that which is necessary to us, and it is human to desire, that which is unnecessary. That which is sickly, is to desire with the same intensity the necessary and the desirable, and to suffer our lack of perfection like we would suffer lack of bread. The sickness of romanticism lies there, it is to want the moon as though there was a way to obtain it.” -F. Pessoa (poorly translated)