Calvin:"Someday I'll write my own philosophy book". Hobbes:"Virtue needs some cheaper thrills"

Saturday, February 1, 2014


In this cavernous world
of me, you and a million others
Let me tell you a story
a story of three brothers

Born together and incredibly alike
Gifted they were and in equal measure
Like most of their juvenile kind
Spent their early days in petty pleasures

But as the capricious Time
slowly but inescapably unfurled
They came to have their own
views and opinions of the world

The first one thought that the end
of him and that of all human kind
Lied finally and firmly in happiness
the vague and elusive bliss of the mind

A stand so pedantic and yet so common
But that doesn't render it any less noble
But little did he know of a cruel fact
What is honorable is seldom possible

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Not Mine, But Amazing Nonetheless

हमने बना लिए

पक्के मकान
सर्दी-गर्मी से महफ़ूज़

पक्के चेहरे
गम-ओ-ख़ुशी से महफ़ूज़

पक्के इरादे
टूटने-बिखरने से महफ़ूज़

पक्के देश
पड़ोसियों से महफ़ूज़

पक्के इंसान
इंसानों से महफ़ूज़

पक्के सीने
धडकनों से महफ़ूज़

पक्के दिमाग
दिलों से महफ़ूज़

पक्के हाँथ
चूड़ियों से महफ़ूज़

पक्के बुढ़ापे
बचपने से महफ़ूज़

पक्के छज्जे
बारिशों से महफ़ूज़

हमने बना लिए


सब कुछ इतना
पक्का कर लिया
अपने आस-पास
और अपने अन्दर

कि कल मायूस लौट गया
एक कारवाँ
काठ के इस,
कठोर जंगल से

जिसमें कुछ तितलियाँ थी
कुछ परिंदों के नन्हें बच्चे थे
और कुछ पतंगे, जो सिर्फ़
कच्ची अम्बियों पे मंडराते हैं

Monday, April 15, 2013

Aaam Aadmi Party: A Case of Exploding Mangoes

One of my favorite books, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, details the regime and death of Pakistan's military dictator Zia-ul-Haq. The plot, where many foes are independently at play to kill the dictator, and all converge at the same time, is a bit too dramatic and yet exquisite. But more than anything else, I think that the name is the best description of Indian populace, after the mango man has been made fashionable by Twitter.

India is the country of angry young men and disillusioned old ones. The youth is angry at everything and the old are too absorbed in recounting the 'good old days' to see any positive omens. How one changes into the other is an interesting, albeit depressing story. The major catalyst in this change is the unwavering hatred of politicians, bordering on fanaticism - something I encounter every time I board a train. People start a conversation by cursing politicians, not by talking about the weather.

 But now we have a crusader on the political firmament who has his own brand of off-beat politics - Mr. Arvind Kejriwal. He is talking about things unheard of since Independence - fasting for demands, civil disobedience and other Gandhian instruments. Even the vision of his party, AAP, is Swaraj - a term ironically associated with pre-Independence Congress in history books.

Before giving any opinions, let me address the people I dread the most - the unthinking followers, unwilling to   debate with logic and hijacking arguments with misplaced emotion. Many of my friends idolize Kejriwal. Whatever the question concerning Mr. Kejriwal may be, they will croon about his credentials, his integrity and compare him with other present day leaders. The point is - I agree to all of these. All these things were already public knowledge when he was a RTI pioneer and began appearing in Power lists. But now, he has a political party. So, Mr. Kejriwal as a person is not the big question here. The question is the feasibility and sustainability of his political ideology.  I am talking about the mission, which is infinitely bigger than any man, including Mr. Kejriwal. To make the difference more stark, let me tell you of Buddha. Buddha was a staunch detractor of idol worship. Yet, the world has more idols of Buddha than of any other person today. The man has lived but his mission against idolatry has failed. The chances of something similar happening in Indian politics today borders on certainty  So, if you are still thinking that Arvind Kejriwal is an honest and upright man, we are on different planes. Please go back to Facebook.

The crucial prerequisite for success of such a morally ambitious political uprising is the enlightenment of the masses. Will the Indian public, conditioned to think on communal and populist lines, wake up from its slumber and channel its vague resentment into something politically meaningful? For a long time, I believed that it was much too soon to ask our public such lofty questions. But if I agree to this, then as a corollary, these supposedly ignorant people shouldn't have the right to vote. That is something I cannot agree to. Whether the public crowns Kejriwal or crucifies him, it will get what it deserves. This is the beauty of democracy!

Now, I come to the main course. I have fiddled with the idea of joining AAP - messing with the messed up politicians. After all, Kejriwal is the only one who doesn't blandly say that the whole system is corrupt. He names the big fish - the Vadras and the Ambanis and presents evidence to support the accusations. He fits the bill for the much awaited political messiah/maverick. But a single argument stops me - I don't know what does the AAP wants? If they say that they want a clean system, they are no better off than the people saying everyone is corrupt. The forte of Mr. Kejriwal is to get to the details, rather than deliver vague rhetoric to resonate with the common man's equally vague resentment. If he strays off this path, he is no different from my fellow train passengers. I went to the site of AAP looking for some sort of road map or action plan. The only thing listed under their agenda tab is a brief description of Lokpal. The Lokpal was a perfect launch pad. But it doesn't have enough political oxygen to last more than a few years. What else? What next?

In my view, if the Indian political system is purged of its filthy elements, it will be something rivaling the Indian independence or even bigger - for it will be a moral revolution rather than a political one. To bring about a change affecting a billion plus lives, the movement needs a firm ideological foundation. This is where I find the AAP most lacking. To root corruption, you first need to comprehend the social dynamics of corruption - is it top-down or bottom-up? Why would somebody keep on piling up money when he has enough for his fabled seven generations? Why is India more corrupt than the Scandinavian countries? Without these answers, I don't believe any anti-corruption drive stands any chance. I haven't come across anything from Mr. Kejriwal or anybody else from the AAP shedding some light on these fundamental questions.

All major revolutions in the world have something in common - they produce an enormous burst of radical literature. This is what clearly defines its ideology, entices non-believers and wannabes like me to debate. If the idea stands the scrutiny, it gets a cadre of dedicated supporters. And most importantly, it keeps the movement from wandering and meandering. I remember Naipaul describing an Iranian taxi driver in his book Among the Believers as the kind of guy who without any political inclination, made the Islamic Revolution possible by his sheer resentment.The people thought Khomeni will bring in a virtuous government, without explicitly knowing which virtues. We all know where it has led Iran today. Iran during the Islamic Revolution was a small scale model of India today, without the middle class. So, it is a clear warning and a strong precedent that zeal without a thoroughly scrutinized ideology can be devastating. Similarly, Hitler had his Aryan rhetoric and the Russian leaders from Stalin to Brezhnev had their socialist ones. I am not at all comparing the AAP initiative to these extreme cases, but these examples drive home the point that uprooting the existing scheme of things without having a clearly defined alternative creates a vacuum which is equally likely to be filled by something worse than the initial system.

Another implication of not having emphasis on ideology is the absence of devolution of power. AAP today is synonymous with Arvind Kejriwal. There is no branching off that I am aware of - second- tier leaders who function autonomously. Kiran Bedi, the other big name,  hasn't made her political ambitions clear and the rest like Kumar Vishwas look more publicity hungry than genuinely concerned leaders. This makes AAP looks like a personal project rather than a mass phenomenon, and stunts its foray into territories outside the NCR. The political work of  AAP is equated to  the `khulasa of the month' by Mr. Kejriwal. This model of functioning can't be sustained for long, and AAP runs the risk of being the next Tehelka. - something which everyone has heard of, but no one takes seriously now. 

There are some other issues - like the demand for  the `right to reject' in public elections and the `right to recall'. Again, no ideological rationale. There are some very serious possible consequences - if liquor and a 500 note are the most effective and easy  way to make a voter sway his vote on an election day, a weekly supply of these are equally capable of making him abstain from exercising his right to reject or recall. This provision will make the politicians resort to extreme forms of populism. While I know that AAP supports the right to reject, I do not know its stand on the more dangerous right - to recall. It will make a government, already likely to be tailored coalition, hostage to caste lobbies. If a particular community is unhappy, it can recall half a dozen MLAs or MPs from its dominant region and topple the government. Imagine if the recent Gujjar or Jat agitations for reservation had done such a thing! To function properly, and carry out measures that are necessary but not popular (eg- stricter dowry laws, more taxes in times of fiscal need), a government needs some measure of security. Right to recall will be a ticking time bomb under the Legislature. I am not saying that these arguments are final or damning, but they are valid objections and must be debated. I would really love to hear AAP debate with prominent citizens, not necessarily Congress or BJP guys, over the pros and cons of these issues.

I can go on and on, but the gist is clear - AAP needs more devolution/decentralization, debate and dialogue. It cannot proclaim itself to be the representative of responsible citizens without throwing itself open to the citizens at a policy level.

I concede that there may be many factual inaccuracies in my writing - AAP may have great grass-root leaders or a terrific and inclusive policy making wing. But despite reading enough newspapers and surfing the web, I fail to know of them. And this is the biggest threat to the survival and growth of the AAP initiative - people like me ,who support you in their hearts, but are not convinced enough to join the cause. Of late, AAP has been receiving less and less media coverage, especially after its allegations on Mr. Mukesh Ambani. In this case, it becomes all the more imperative to resort to net to keep the fire burning. Some food for thought and clear-cut action plan will be of much more use to a guy like me than photos of Kejriwal fasting or calls to Jantar Mantar. If it happens, then the next time I board a train, I will rip off the guy who blatantly curses politicians and nothing would make my journey better. As of now, Mr. Kejriwal, you have my respect, even my vote, but not my confidence.

Monday, October 31, 2011

जो बीत गई सो बात गई

जो बीत गई सो बात गई
जीवन में एक सितारा था
माना वह बेहद प्यारा था
वह डूब गया तो डूब गया
अम्बर के आनन को देखो
कितने इसके तारे टूटे
कितने इसके प्यारे छूटे
जो छूट गए फिर कहाँ मिले
पर बोलो टूटे तारों पर
कब अम्बर शोक मनाता है

जो बीत गई सो बात गई

जीवन में वह था एक कुसुम
थे उसपर नित्य निछावर तुम
वह सूख गया तो सूख गया
मधुवन की छाती को देखो
सूखी कितनी इसकी कलियाँ
मुर्झाई कितनी वल्लरियाँ
जो मुर्झाई फिर कहाँ खिली
पर बोलो सूखे फूलों पर
कब मधुवन शोर मचाता है
जो बीत गई सो बात गई

जीवन में मधु का प्याला था
तुमने तन मन दे डाला था
वह टूट गया तो टूट गया
मदिरालय का आँगन देखो
कितने प्याले हिल जाते हैं
गिर मिट्टी में मिल जाते हैं
जो गिरते हैं कब उठतें हैं
पर बोलो टूटे प्यालों पर
कब मदिरालय पछताता है
जो बीत गई सो बात गई

मृदु मिटटी के हैं बने हुए
मधु घट फूटा ही करते हैं
लघु जीवन लेकर आए हैं
प्याले टूटा ही करते हैं
फिर भी मदिरालय के अन्दर
मधु के घट हैं मधु प्याले हैं
जो मादकता के मारे हैं
वे मधु लूटा ही करते हैं
वह कच्चा पीने वाला है
जिसकी ममता घट प्यालों पर
जो सच्चे मधु से जला हुआ
कब रोता है चिल्लाता है
जो बीत गई सो बात गई।।

Monday, September 12, 2011

If there's a God, then why has He let me go?

Disclaimer: If you hold anything in your life above debate, kindly don't read this post.

In my limited understanding and experience, I have come to believe that there is one art that has no equal in this world- the art of having no opinions. To clarify, this means to treat two conflicting ideas with equal respect and form no opinion. Let them hang in the balance without troubling oneself. To appreciate a good point, nudge the scales a little and go back to the state of wait and watch. To carry out an open-ended self debate. The much fabled Neutral Jing - neither advance nor retreat.

It is pretty obvious that having no opinions on some matters is quite difficult. We are too deep in one of the twin quick-sands of the debating ground. Our personal convictions are too personal to leave behind. So, let me consider the question which has no first order, tangible connection to most of us and yet, the deepest intangible effect by the most circuitous pathways - GOD. It is the benchmark question to gauge the spirit of the debater, the radical inside a new acquaintance. But I write of it out of completely different motivations. To explore those second order, intangible links to the most inexplicable facet of human life.

Before dissecting anything, let me tell you about my faith. I have had my own roller coaster ride. Once upon a time, I was as devout as circumstances would allow. Gradually I switched from the idea of predefined Hindu Gods to the general idea of a Supreme Power. Still, I found my assumption lacking and my faith wavering. I resorted to believing in chance, randomness and mathematical truth as supreme. Then, a quick succession of events led me to question and disbelieve anything that was not verifiable. This translates to deifying evolution and Darwinism. But some philosophical questions still remained. In the hindsight, this was more of a spiritual wanderlust than radical changes in faith. But this doesn't undermine the fact that it was a tumultuous and gratifying journey. Finally, I have found a temporary solution - truce. I am like a child angry with his parents - refusing to listen to them, refusing to even acknowledge their existence. I hope one day this  will end and I will make true peace.

At the very outset, I would like to draw the boundaries. I will assume that survival is the most basic, primal, unalterable human instinct. Consider it the guiding axiom of this dialogue. I will also limit the domain of discussion to God and not wander into Religion. Involving religion involves debating about the best and the worst in human beings, a topic too messy to tackle unless you have sufficient hard evidence. It always ends up being a debate about unverifiable claims - human beings have property X. Some overlap is unavoidable and even required for the sake of debate. Moreover, religion has a very bad track record and defending it against a zealous person is an irrational task. I am not berating religion. I am just saying that it has become convoluted with the baser traits of those who have been shaping it, just like any old institution- caste system, marriage and plenty of others.

However, there is one unifying theme. The typical God of every religion has more or less the same attributes.

  • All powerful, All knowing
  • Demands unwavering and unflinching loyalty and devotion
  • Promises insane rewards probably in this life and definitely in afterlife
  • Will ruin and destroy those who do not believe in him (these are the most eloquent ones)

Let us name such an instance a 'textbook' God. Debating about textbook Gods is futile. They can't be even an approximation or minor distortion of the reality. They are stories that have been embellished for centuries and have more myth than divinity. For the sake of arguing, consider an argument adapted from The Brothers Karamazov. Suppose a person of faith X has done nothing but sinned his entire life. Nearing his death, he switches to faith Y and does some nice things, earning him a good name in the books of God(s) of faith Y. What becomes of him in his afterlife? I have never heard of Gods of two different religions having a chat about such a fellow. In fact, I have never heard them talking or even seeing each other at all. If he belongs to the Gods of Y, then this is the easiest way to go to heaven. If he belongs to the Gods of X, the Gods of Y are powerless in comparison. So, then why do they let religion Y exist? Why don't they bring down the vengeance they so often threaten in their sacred books?  This is an old dilemma - comparing infinities. This elegant argument from the deepest gazer into human soul suffices to bring the debate to a dead-end. (Alas!! I started off by saying no opinions. But here I am, under my biases. Maybe I will swing back after hearing an equally good argument from the other side.)

So, let me restrict myself to the concept of a God or the theoretical possibility of a God and its effect on humanity as well as an individual. Rephrase it as 'What would be God like?'.I would also talk of afterlife - heaven, hell, purgatory and the likewise. To complete the sketch, I would talk of the place of God in social design, morality and assorted topics.

Let me start by tracking the evolution of religion. In my understanding, the earliest attempt by humans to comprehend the mysterious phenomena of nature was magic. Think of it as No understanding, Minimal Assumptions. This was man trying to find correlations between his actions and the events around him. Spirits of the dead were all they could think of. Gradually came the nature gods. As the stories grew, a more elaborate constellation of gods emerged. This was the stage of Little Understanding, Great Assumption, No Verification. Slowly came Science, much hindered and persecuted. But it gave results - verifiable results and a framework to understand them. Slowly but surely, science became the dominant paradigm of our age. But religion refuses to die out. Despite whatever goodies science throws at humanity, we refuse to let go of our religious roots. Magic died out as society progressed, now surviving mostly in African tribes. But not religion. The reason behind this merits serious thought. I will come back to it but before that, I want to raise an often raised doubt about debating on God.

Whether one believes in God or not, no one can deny that the topic is inflammatory. It can fire and stir human hearts as few other topics can. Men have done great things in the name of religion, and others have equally diabolical in the same name. But that does not lessen the motivation behind the truly marvelous deeds. Think of what I call the faith of Lincoln. Lincoln took the decision to not to cede to the demands of Southern States and went ahead with abolishing slavery. It plunged America into the Civil War, crippling life and engulfing men. It wasn't a very popular or economically sound decision. But Lincoln believed it was a moral one. He lived in a small house at the outskirts of Washington with just a Bible. Lincoln suffered with severe depression, and yet was able to save America from partition and became their greatest president. I strongly doubt he would have accomplished half as much without his faith. What about Mother Teresa? Robert Schuller? If I prove that there is no God, they will lose their motivation and humanity will suffer. What's bad if a lie makes everybody smile?

God serves as a reference frame in this fast changing world, otherwise governed by the principle of rat race - survival of the fittest. It is this contrast that makes God indispensable. Maybe God is just a personification of our inner moral compass. Personally, I endorse this view. I think everybody has his own personal God. Much like a guardian angel. To accommodate so many Gods, their powers would have to be toned down. However, this slope is slippery and it is better to walk with caution, lest I confuse myself with something eloquent yet meaningless. (An example which fooled me - True Gods must be silent. It's catchy, but stupid. You say it with beaming pride, and end up looking stupid.) Coming back to the topic, I think this is why humanity hasn't been able to let go of its Gods even after advancing to the next level of understanding nature. But in order to decide if the human race can live without the concept of God, it is imperative to answer the following question - what is the relation between God and morality? Will we as a society be less or more moral with no Gods peeking at us from the Heavens? I align with the less moral view. Without a God who sees and judges everybody, the only remaining parameter to base decisions will be survival, an inherently selfish concept. It will be like the Wild West, where the Man With No Name can come to your town and kill you just out of fancy. 

Living in communities and the ensuing Division of Labor are the basic tenets of human progress. So, survival needs men to group together. Take example of a small primitive group. But as soon as a group is formed, comrades become competitors. Now, survival dictates them to outfox others to grow - to get the better partner, to get more resources. So, people resort to hitting below the belt - to gain that extra edge. However, if somebody tamper too much, there are two possibilities. If they are too numerous, the community will shatter else the miscreants will be thrown out . Either way, they will be forced to go alone against this big, bad world. And they definitely don't want that. So, they need to strike a balance between their greed and the general good. Here is where religion comes into picture.

I guess this post has dragged on for too long. But in order to be fair to the mammoth topic I have chose, much remains to be said-particularly on the social design theme. So, I have split this post into two. Wait for the next one. :))

PS: Most of the ideas presented here are a result of discussions with my friend, Jitin Gupta.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

From the Book Shelf

 Robert Jordan pushed the cup toward him. It was a milky yellow now with the water and he hoped the gypsy would not take more than a swallow. There was very little of it left and one cup of it took the place of the evening papers, of all the old evening cafes, of all chestnut trees that would be in bloom now in this month, of the great slow horses of the outer boulevards, of bookshops, of kiosks, and of galleries, of the Parc Montsouris, of the Stade Buffalo, and of the Butte Chaumont, of The Guarantee Trust Company and the Ile de la Cite, of Foyot's old hotel, and of being able to read and relax in the evening; of all things he had enjoyed and forgotten and that came back to him when he tasted that opaque, bitter, tongue-numbing, brain-warming, stomach-warming, idea-changing liquid alchemy. 
                                                                                  - Ernst Hemingway, For Whom The Bell Tolls

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Four Familiar Walls

/*The is a draft version..Will put up a 'refined' version with better rhyming and all that soon*/
Studies, books, wanderings and even home, sweet home
Dazzle for a while; slow but sure, their charm does fade
They may have a thousand hues and tinges, but still finite
Once they are exhausted, never will you see a new shade

Who needs such fickle indulgences, which sane man at all?
I have found my pastime, within these four familiar walls
It is a place that can bear well the brunt of my restless mind
I know there is something inside,so vague that time can't erode

Accomplish all that the world has to offer, dreams and delights
And all you get - a stream of hollow, indifferent congratulations
Befall the grim, cold days of despair, crushing you underneath
And all you get - a couple of overacted, patronizing consolations

Who needs such two-faced impostors, which sane man at all ?
I have finally found a true friend, within these four familiar walls
They don't speak, perhaps because they don't want to fake it
But their truthful silence, deepens the depth of every occasion

Run after something, and run again after something brighter
Jobs, promotions, girls, - the something doesn't really matter

Who needs such circular pursuits, which sane man at all?
I have jumped to the end, within these four familiar walls