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18 March 2016

Peregrinations in Lutyen's Delhi: Meeting Derek Rodgers...

Often times I have to travel to Delhi on business. I find the city soothing and peaceful.

What are you talking about (Being Delhiite, you will ask WTF are you talking about)? do I hear you ask? Soothing and Peaceful? My foot (actually BC or MC, but lets stick to decent language here) You must be out of your mind. The New Delhi, or for that matter Old Delhi, that I know, is hot, dry, rude, sweaty, smelly and cacophonic, you inform me with mounting irritation.

Did I hear you say New Delhi or Old Delhi? Sorry, that is not where I go when I visit Delhi. I go to Lutyen's Delhi.

Where is this place?, you ask. Sounds like a paradise within the city, you wonder. May be I should go there, you think.

Sorry, you are not allowed to go there. Much like Hogwarts, only few chosen people can go to this invisible city within city.

I happen to be one of the chosen ones.

There is a very long. broad lane in Lutyen's Delhi by the name of Lutyen's Lane (LL) and in this lane there is a coffee shop called 'Lutyens Coffee Shop (LCS)'. This invisible shop is accessible only to citizens of Lutyen's Delhi. This is one of my regular destinations every time I visit Delhi. Many an interesting conversation I've had in LCS.

For you to be a chosen one, you have to be a politician, a business man with political affiliation a currently serving bureaucrat, party spokesperson or a journalist. I am the only exception. I don't fit any of this group.

Intrigue and backstabbing and bitching characterize the citizens of the Lutyen's Delhi. Within all this caustic environment, I have managed to maintain my neutrality. I don't gossip. Any news / information that I hear stays in me.

It is an advantage since I am the go to person for sharing gossip or for complaining or for these people to share their innermost thoughts. 

Before I got sidetracked, I was about to tell you about my recent visit to LD. The place is  currently encompassed in a miasma of Kanhaiya Kumar. Wherever you look, you see the KK effect. You see the effect on the sheepish faces of some BJP leaders, in the angry fulmination of the Iranis and Khers of the world, the sympathetic glee on the faces of congress leaders, the the relief on the faces of communist leaders.

Like the lord of the same name, Kanhaiya is everywhere. He is omnipresent.

Walking down the Lutyen's Lane, I reached the LCS. I am in the mood for a coffee and I saunter in.

And who do I see?

I see none other than my good old friend Derek Rodgers, affectionately called DR, sitting alone by the side table and sipping coffee. From a distance, he looks very calm and peaceful.

DR sees me and waves. "Hello Ram, come and join me for a coffee"

I join him at his table. He seem to be unusually happy, almost ebullient.

"Why you happy?" I ask him. "I have met you many times, but have never seen you so happy What gives?"

"How old do you think I am?" DR asks a counter-question. Non-sequitur, nonetheless, a CQ.

"You look very young" I wade around in a non-invasive way. Age is a sensitive subject in LD

Before he presses me for an answer, I change the sub.

"Why do you ask this question?", I ask DR

"Do you know which party I belong to?"

Evidently, this was more of a day for questions than answers. This question made me pause. Every time someone had asked me that question, trouble followed.

"Communist Party?", I ventured hesitantly into what was turning out to be troubled waters

"Of what?", demanded DR, "of India", "of India (Marxist)" or "of India (Marxist - Leninist)"

"of India", I mumbled the first thing that came to mind.

DR was pleased. "Correct, Ram, you know your politics. I belong to Communist Party of India, also called CPI. We are the oldest communist party in India"

"The question is, can you name any one of my party leaders, either in Centre or in States?"

I had heard that CPI was prominent in Kerala and West Bengal. I blurted out the first Bengali Name that came to mind and added 'Chatterjee' for good measure.

"Pranab Chatterjee", I replied confidently.

"Sorry, wrong party. He belongs to Trinamool Congress", commented DR ruefully. "Unfortunately, this is the situation for our party in other parts of India. No one knows anything about our party and what we stand for. Why other parts? Even in Kerala and WB, people are forgetting us."

That left me with this mystery. Despite the situation being as bleak as DR was mentioning, why was he happy? Why was his face illuminated like a convention center? Why was DR smiling like a gang of fireflies on a rainy night?

"But you look very happy. Positive, Ebullient and Gregarious", I threw the Roget at him, "Why?"

"Ram, you just effectively demonstrated your ignorance about my party. You don't know anything about my party (you took a wild guess there with my party name, as if I did not notice), you don't know the names of any of our party leaders, you don't know what we stand for. Even politically savvy persons like you do not know about us, what can we expect a common man to know? 

We had lost West Bengal, we had lost Kerala, our ideology was being rejected by people across the country, our leadership is becoming older (I myself am 56 fyi)  we do not have a young generation of leadership capable of taking us forward. We are an aging party with a redundant ideology. We are staring at political abyss." DR sounded distant.

"Never despair, Ram, even when things look down and out, someone will always come to save you. It may even be your political or ideological opponent. You should always maintain positive outlook." Suddenly DR changed tack and sounded like the AOL Guy.

I waited. These things correct by themselves.

"We were facing two issues. One, there was no young generation of leadership. Two, how do we spread our message across the country. That is where BJP came to our rescue", said DR

This was surprise. "How did BJP came to your rescue? I thought they were your political and ideological opponents."

"Of course they are. But you see, political incompetence is not a monopoly of one party. " DR pointed out.

"Till the JNU incident, we had not heard of Kanhaiya. He was one of those student leaders, dime a dozen, strolling around the campuses from Kerala to Kashmir and from Goa to Nagaland, making 'Bhashans' in the campuses. These  students are motivated,   good at public speaking and generally resent everything around. As they grow up they tend to lose their enthusiasm and end up as government servants or take up some regular jobs and get forgotten in the sands of time."

"So Kahnaiya was making a kind of vitriolic speech that you here in college cafeterias. Then providence intervened. Someone took out a few videos, merged them together and posted it online as if Kanhaiya was making an Anti-national speech"

"Some holier than thou TV Channels, took up on themselves to define nationalism. They branded Kanhaiya as a traitor and went after him with a pitchfork. That was when, watching TV one day, I found that we had a student wing of the party in JNU and a guy named Kanhaiya was its leader."

"Someone else posted a fake twitter post. And that was when this government woke up", said DR.

"Say what you will about this government, Ram, they have their faults, of course, but you have to respect their machismo, their 'act first, think later' attitude and the equanimity with which they 'act in haste and then repent in leisure' ".

"They came after Kanhaiya with a sledge hammer of a law. They charged him with Sedition. They arrested him"

"By this single act, government hit two birds with one stone for us. Suddenly, Kanhaiya's speech, that contained most of our message, received wide publicity. Everyone and their grand mother was searching for Kanhaiya  in Youtube and listening to his speech. That took care of one of our challenges, how to get across our message to wider public."

"One of the criteria for becoming a political leader is that he/ she should have courted arrest. The flimsier the charges, the better. We can go to town with complaints of state oppression. Kanhaiya was arrested and brought to court and that is where the second act of the drama unfolded."

In front of sympathetic media and teachers of JNU, Kanhaiya was beaten up by supporters of BJP. Adding sweet to sugar, these people even beat up journalists. They violated the cardinal rule of political activism. Leave journalists alone. They will help you spin your story. But the moment your actions affect them, you have created an enemy with wide reach"

"By arresting him on sedition charges and then by their inability to prevent the attack at court house, Kanhaiya was transformed from a student leader to a political leader, thereby resolving our second dilemma, that of new line of leadership"

"Thank you BJP" said DR as he downed his last sip of coffee.

17 March 2016

The Affection Conundrum....

My mom is mighty upset with me...

I didn’t notice it first. Those eyerolls, those curt responses, those avoiding of the eye contacts....

I stay very close to the house where mom lives with my bro. Very frequently I visit her and take care of her needs. Take her to hospital when required, get the bank passbook updated when needed, hold her hands when she has to come down or go up steps...

You know, the loving, dutiful son...

So I ask why she was irritated.

“You do not love me”, pat comes the curt reply.

“What? I don’t understand. How you have decided that I do not love you? I take care of you. I am always there for you at the other end of a phone call and at 10 minutes distance from you. I regularly take you for hospital check up. I spend my entire day just talking to you. I dedicate time, effort and dole out affection for you. So how? Why? What?...”, I am all flustered

“You don’t tell me that you love me. That means you do not love me”, she points out

“What kind of argument is that? Where is that logic coming from?. As you know, we are shy communicators in our family. Even you never mentioned to dad that you loved him, but you did, didn’t you? I know you did. Just because I do not explicitly state that ‘I love you’, it doesn’t mean that I don’t love you. If I do not verbalize my love, it doesn’t mean that I don’t care for you. What if it is the other way? What if I keep telling you that I love you, but I ignore and insult you. Shouldn’t you be basing your opinions on my actions and not words? Anyway, where is this coming from?” I am really curious

“From TV”, responds my mom, “Today I was watching TV and those fellows were mentioning that you have to say ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ to prove your love and affection for the country. If you don’t say that, it means that you do not love your country.”, she says

“What about ‘Jai Hind’? Our troops say that in the borders. They do not say ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ out there”, I point out.

“No, doesn’t matter. As per them, you have to say ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai”, mom informs me.

“Also Remember( I tell her plaintively), I and millions like me, spend better part of our lives working for Public Sector companies in various part of the country, sacrificing our family, our personal growth and our happiness for the betterment of the country. We may not be hyper communicators, but no one can deny the intensity of affection that we have for our country. What about the jawans out there in enemy lines? Do they also have to prove their patriotism by chanting 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' once they become civilians? Many people like me work in different countries providing IT Services and the dollars that we bring through my effort go to improving the financials of the country. We donate to charity so that we too can share the responsibilities of being a citizen of the county. I pay taxes regularly both direct and indirect. I obey laws, I reproach those who disobey, I admire and respect the institutions of the country. All of that should prove my love for the country, shouldn’t it?”, I ask her

“No”, my mom responds curtly, “your actions do not mean anything. Only words matter”.

“So, from today, if you do not tell me ‘Meri Mata ki Jai’ every morning, I will consider that you do not love me. That you are not patriotic to the family. That you do not respect all our ancestors who laid down their lives for the family. I don’t care for what you do, I don't care that you regularly pay obeisance to your ancestors, I don't care what your actions are, I care only about words, only words matter.”, mom is pretty tough today.

“If I have to tell you  ‘Meri Mata Ki Jai’, you will have to promise to tell me, “Son I love you”. I am in a mood for haggling.

We agree.  I have been telling ‘Meri Mata Ki Jai’ and she has been telling 'Son I love you' first thing in the morning for the last two days. It has become a part of our daily routine, much like morning cuppa.

Having to prove your love to your mom every day is turning out to be tedious.

12 March 2016

Thougts from my heart: Direct Dil Se

This article by Barkha Dutt (Most of you have already decided about the article !!!) explains my views about the current events to a T. My core belief is that the government of the day should do the right and the fair thing. In the age of mundane decisions, rarely you will get an opportunity to do the right and fair thing when the whole country is watching. At that time you can decide not to do what is right and fair, and it may fetch you some small victories, but in the end the country will definitely end up the loser!! How do a citizen know that the government has done the fair and right thing? They know 'Dil Se'. They feel proud in their mind about the decision. Every government should try to give as many proud moments to the citizens. 

Let me explain. When PM Modi lauded the contributions of Islam to the cultural development of our country, I felt proud. When PM Manmohan Singh, got the nuclear deal from US against opposition from left, I felt proud. When India eradicated polio I felt proud and I felt proud when we became a net exporter of Milk. I felt proud when Vajpayeeji initiated the Golden Quadrilateral. I felt proud of my country when the Pakistan Taxi Driver who drove me around in Dubai told me that he wished his children were studying in India. I felt mighty proud when Air India ran their first non-stop long distance flight entirely manned by women crew members.

When did I not feel proud? When Manmohan Singh did not stand up to DMK in the 2G case, I did not feel proud, I felt ashamed. When CWG happened, I did not feel proud, I felt ashamed. I felt ashamed of all the corruption that happened during the previous regime. I felt let down when a poor muslim man was lynched in UP under suspicion of eating beef (Modiji had an opportunity to stand tall and condemn this incident and show that he was above it all, but he missed it). I felt unhappy when VP Singh passed the Mandal bill, not for the bill itself, but the ulterior political motive behind the bill. 

I am a secularist. I believe that secularism is the only option for India (especially India with our huge diversity) with its level of diversity of cultures and beliefs. While we can preach about secularism, leaders get a once in a lifetime chance to walk their talk. Rajiv Gandhi, in the late 80s got one such opportunity in Shah Bano case. The case was widely discussed, went to multiple courts and the Supreme Court finally gave it ruling. The country felt that the ruling was just and fair.

This was one of those once in a life time opportunities for RG to do the right thing. All he had to do was to allow the ruling of the court to be implemented. Country was waiting for the leader to do what is fair and just.

And he failed. Looking for a few votes, RG played politics with the court ruling and the idea of secularism had suffered a major wound and the country was the loser.

I am also concerned about the recent attempts to divide people along 'Nationalist' lines. Any one who disagree with some views are considered 'Anti National'. While this started some time back, recent incidents of Kanhaiya and WCF has brought this into prominence. I watch with dismay as television channels decide who is 'National' and who is not. I get distressed when spokespersons brand opponents as Anti National? I get frustrated when GVLN Rao says that if you do not raise your voice against Maramon Convention (Christian Convention in Kerala) but say that a government agency has found fault with WCF, you are somehow 'Anti National'.

I am very sad and frustrated about the tenor of discourse in our country now. This is one such 'Once in a life time' opportunity for the leadership to do the right thing. I cannot define what is the right thing. But I will know the right thing when it is done.

That is the one that will make me proud and happy.

07 March 2016

Binge Drinking in Kerala Campus: A memory...

Today morning I woke up to an IE Article. "Left activists threw my stuff out of JNU hostel dormitory, says ABVP member".

Since the above incident is under investigation, I will not comment on it unlike some TV Channels.....

This incident took me back about 25 years ago, when I was studying Engineering in Kerala.

Just like JNU, our campus was highly politically polarized. We had SFI, KSU and Independents. Many of the KSU students leaned towards Independents. So the campus was polarized between SFI and Non-SFI.

And just like what is happening in JNU today, there was a lot of outside interference in our campus. Any opposition to leftist ideology was met with swift and violent retribution. At least one student chose to leave our campus since he could not handle this oppressive environment. That few of my friends were beaten up in the campus due to their anti-SFI ideology, was par for the course.

We used to stay in hostel. Back then our college had three hostels. In the absence of any innovative ideas, the hostels were named as A Hostel, B Hostel and C Hostel. Each hostel had its own mess. So we had A Mess, B Mess and C Mess.

Each mess was managed by a student. The Mess Manager used to change every month.

Mess manager was a very powerful person. He handled the entire budget of the mess for the month. He decided on the menu for each day. And the menu for the Feast.

The Feast !!!

Once every week, each mess had a feast. The feast was when exotic food was available liberally. There was no limit to what you can eat. Fried Rice, Fish Fry, Fish Curry, Parathas, Veggie dishes were all followed by a dessert of the mess manager's choice.

In this particular month, the mess was managed by a friend of mine. He was one of those optimistic, positive, nervous high strung kind of guy who wanted to do different stuff and wanted to do them differently.

For the last feast of that month, the manager decided to add a small cup of wine to the menu. Just a small cup, probably two tea spoonfuls. Hardly anything that you could call as excess. For those who did not drink wine, there was alternative, in the form of Fruit Juice.

Remember, this was Kerala, with equal proportion of Christians who are used to partake red wine in many joyous occasions.

What could be more joyous than the last feast of the month? Or so he thought.

But this was also the other Kerala, This was the late 80s. Left ideology was trying to break into the confined spaces of educational institutions of higher learning.

For the left, this was an opportunity too good to miss.

The next day we woke up screaming headlines in the left leaning news paper in Kerala. 'Binge Drinking in Engineering College Mess', it said in the title. Article went on to explain how booze was available aplenty in our college mess. Article made it look as if there was a drunken orgy going on in our campus almost on a daily basis.

Police was on the campus inquiring about binge drinking and mess manager (who was an anti-left sympathizer, of course) forcing people to drink alcohol. It was as if the innocent and helpless students in the campus were in some kind of Siberian Prison, at the mercy of an oppressive and dictatorial mess manager.

Unlike the reaction to JNU incident, the Government of the day did not intervene. Fortunately common sense prevailed. The case was closed.

But the left won a big PR victory. It was able to instill more fear into those opposing its ideology. It had shown it ability to get police into the campus. It could hurt the career of us students if it chose to.

This is what I am reminded of when I read the above article. Many people have already made their judgement. Whatever may be the ultimate outcome, the PR advantage has already gone to ABVP in this case.

06 March 2016

The idea of India? A discussion in Bogota....

The year must have been 2011. I was doing an ERP Implementation project for a company in Bogota, Colombia (A little bit of self-promotion doesn't hurt).

Colombians are very warm, friendly and nice people. Since our civilizations share the same timeline, they are very inquisitive about India.

For them India is a mystery. They see cows walk on the road and their mouths water, wistfully looking at all that food going waste. They see religions co-existing peacefully and they want to know how we do it. They want to know how a religion like Hinduism can have 33 Crores of deities and can still claim to be a religion. How do you decide which god to pray?

Curious, these guys...

We were having lunch, Danny, Rafa, Diana and Me.

"Tell us something about India", Rafa asked

Every time people abroad ask me that question, my heart swells with pride. I suddenly become, in a small way, an ambassador of the country. I have to carry the burden of 120 Crore people. It is not a mean task.

"We have about 28 states in our country", I begin. "Each state has a plural population that believes in different religions and have different ideologies. Also each state has its own cuisine, language, culture, dance, music and even martial arts."

They are impressed.

"The definition of a nation is one which has its own language, culture, cuisine, dance and music. By that definition, India is a country where 28 different nations co-exist peacefully", Danny points out.
This is a new line of thought.

While having Mysore Dosa for breakfast accompanied by 'Madras Filter Coffee' and reading a Malayalam news paper in a restaurant in Mumbai I never thought that I was doing something different. While sitting in a restaurant in Hyderabad having Paradise Veg Biriyani for lunch along with with Rasgolla for dessert I never felt that I was straddling multiple cultures. While haggling for a rickshaw in Bhubhaneswar using Hindi and sign language, I never felt anything abnormal, because interacting with people of different culture and view point  was par for the course in India. While having Rajastani Thali while sipping Punjabi da lassi or while watching Film Fare Awards or while laughing at comedy programs in Tamil, Malayalams or Hindi TV Channels, it never crossed my mind that what I was doing was something amazing.

I am a Vegetarian, but still eat food in the same table where people are eating meat in adjacent seats. I pray at a the serene surroundings of Vadakkumnathan temple in Kerala but I also think of the majesty of god and the universe while drawing a cross on my chest when I am in front of a church or while praying at Hazratbal mosque in Srinagar.

I am equally a fan of Toms, both Hanks and Cruise. I dig old Amitab Movies. I love Rajani and Kamal, Mohanlal and Mammotty, Shobhana and Tabu, Sridevi and Kajol, Hema Malini and Sharmila Tagore, and Rekha and Waheeda Rahman...

I enjoy listening to MS Subbalaxmi Classical Songs, Kishore Kumar singing 'O Saathi Re', Yesudas singing 'Bhaja Govindam', Lata Mangeshkar singing 'Mein Tulasi Tere Aangan Ki', Shalmali Kholgade singing 'Daaru Desi', Pankaj Udhas singing 'Chithi Aayi Hai', 'Ekla Chalo Re' by Amitab Bacchan or listening to the majestic voices of Balamurali Krishna or Pandit Bhimsen Joshi as they sing 'Mile Sur Mera Tumhara'

By being able to easily navigate multiple cultures, appreciate multiple art forms and enjoying multiple cuisines I was proving that Indians are highly flexible, that we are open minded to accept differences of opinion and that we are 'normally' leading a kind of awesome life in an amazing country, that many people in other parts of the world can't imagine living.

I felt proud of being an Indian. Very, very proud

"It is amazing to me how these different cultures stayed together for over 5000 years", says Danny, 

"What is it that keeps India united? No other country has been able to achieve this unity in years, Look at Korea, look at Soviet Union, look at Europe that has split multiple times in the last 100 years. Czech, Slovakia, Latvia, Lituania, Yougoslavia, Boznia....Examples abound of people who couldn't handle cultural differences, despite speaking same language in some cases and who violently split leading to death and destruction. Still India races along on its own track as it were. Peaceful and progressive. How has India managed this awesome achievement of staying together over so many centuries and have grown together? Despite 5000 years old, now you are being touted as the '5000 Year Young Civilization'. You have the second largest number of Muslims in the world and we read only positive stories about Muslims in India. How does the majority and minority co-exist peacefully in the country? By any stretch of imagination, you must be imploding by now. But you continue to grow, progress, evolve and modernize.What is your secret?", Danny asks.

How do I respond to this question? How will you respond?

"The country of India is bound by the ideal of 'Vasudeva Kudumbakam', which, loosely translated, means that we are an integral part of a universal family. There is an over-arching set of ideas and ideals that hold India together. These include plurality, respect and tolerance to other people's views, discussion and debate, space for opinions that you may not like and opportunity for people to grow and prosper.

Since we are a part of a universal family, we accept and integrate people with different and opposing views just like any family does. We give space for dissent and difference. We allow people to air their strong negative opinions so that those opinions are not bottled up and explode later. In our view differences of opinion are like drops of water that falls into an ocean. Each drop may be different, but when it falls into the Ocean, it integrates into a universal whole.

We also instinctively believe in the concept of Maya, which loosely translated means that there is nothing real in this world. By that I do not mean physically real. For example,Rafa here is physically real. But his mother sees Rafa differently from the way his girl friend does. You Danny as a customer see him differently from me who perceives him as his project manager or Diana who looks at Rafa as her colleague. The Rafa at home is different from Rafa in the office or Rafa in the club in the evening. Who is the real Rafa? 

There is no real Rafa. Rafa is in the eye of the beholder. The idea of Rafa is closely integrated with each individual's perspective of Rafa. 

This is the idea of Maya. 

There is a story of Gautama Buddha.

Two fighting neighbours came to Buddha for justice. The first person came and passionately explained why he was right and his neighbour was wrong.

 'You are right', said Buddha to the man.

Next came his neighbour. He also passionately explained why he was right and the first man was wrong. 

'You are right', said Buddha

A disciple who was watching the exchanges couldn't hide his curiosity. How could both of them be right, the disciple asked Buddha, only one of them could be right.

'You are right', replied Buddha

This is the idea of Maya. The idea of Maya tells us that there are no absolute positions especially when it comes to differences between individuals. Absolute positions lead to inflexibility and that in turn lead to disagreement which finally end up in disaster.On the other hand, since there are no absolute positions, it is very easy to design a Win-Win solution to most of the issues that we encounter in life.

The idea of Indianness is also based on the concept of Karma, which loosely translates into Work. It tells us to commit good acts, thoughts and deeds since only good will come out of good. It tells us to avoid sins because sin will definitely lead to retribution. Since we believe in the idea of Seven generations (Saath Janam), punishment for our sins have a lot of time to catch up.

In the end, India is defined by the principles of individual engagement enshrined in Bhagavad Gita which tells us to do our work without looking for rewards (Nishkama Karma)

Since India is based on a set of great eternal ideals, the country of India will survive as long as these ideals survive. These have survived for over 5000 years, so I guess it will last forever."

I concluded.

There was silence all around. People, including me, were trying to digest the import of what I mentioned just now.

Diana had a question.

"If India, as you say, is based on the idea of universal family, how do you define the idea of India as a Nation?"

My answer to that question was:

"I have already discussed the ideals of India. In addition the idea of India include Plurality, Integrity and Unity in Diversity (Physical and of thoughts and ideas) and respect for different views. The ideals and ideas together make the concept of India as a nation. My idea of nation is one where each individual (irrespective of gender or religious beliefs or her caste or his personal lifestyle choices)  is respected, is free to debate and discuss and has the potential to grow and prosper. Her religious beliefs are her personal choices. As a country, we should enable every individual to become strong, both morally and ethically. A country becomes strong only when an individual becomes strong and when an individual has the ability to fulfill his god given potential without fear or favor.

We are blessed that we have this freedom in our country. We cherish it with all our heart. ", I concluded.

What is your answer to the question raised by Diana. How do you define the idea of India as a Nation?