31 December 2007

RSS, Part 5

This post was prompted by questions about the Sangh from several friends. I had tried to describe the RSS and its work earlier. But it looks like further elaboration is needed.

The basic question that people have is "What is the RSS?" or "What does the RSS do?". The answer is that the RSS runs shakhas. The RSS is nothing but the sum total of its shakhas. The RSS begins with the shakha, and ends with the shakha. Other than the shakha, there is nothing more to the RSS. This centrality of the shakha is the key to understanding the Sangh. It is also the biggest stumbling block. Outsiders have great difficulty in understanding how such a vast and influential organisation can be just about a bunch of boys/men exercising and playing in a field. Indeed it is just that.

Another stumbling block in understanding the RSS is labels. The two labels most commonly (mis)used for the RSS are 'political' and 'religious'. The first label is completely wrong. The RSS is NOT a political organisation. It does not do any political work. The confusion is mainly due to the existence of the BJP. The BJP may have swayamsevaks as members, but is a separate organisation. The second label is also problematic. The response to it depends on the speaker’s understanding of Hinduism (since the 'religion' meant here is Hinduism). If by Hinduism he means our inclusive way of life, our culture and our civilisation, he is correct. But the word 'religion' typically means a narrow, rigid and exclusive dogma – and hence is best avoided.

However labels cannot be done away with completely. Especially in this age of soundbites. So what labels would be right for the RSS? Sometimes the RSS is described as a 'social' and/or 'cultural' organisation. These are better than the previous two labels. But they are too general. Another word is 'nationalist' which is absolutely correct, but gives no hint of exactly what the organisation does. The RSS's own leaders have described its mission as 'character building' or 'man making'. So these terms can be used as labels for the RSS. This 'man making' is not an end in itself, but the means to an end – the end being a strong nation. Hence the RSS can best be described as a 'nation-building' organisation.

26 December 2007

Hindutva 2.0

Varghese George on the Gujarat elections:

"Sunday's win announced loudly that Narendra Modi has arrived on the national scene. So has Hindutva 2.0. Advani's original Rath Yatra started from Gujarat and spread the message of Hindu pride and cultural nationalism. Advani tried to link suraj - good governance - to Hindutva in 2004, but failed. In Modi's regional version, Hindu and Gujarati pride blend with economic prosperity. The core of the pan-Indian Hindutva philosophy of the Sangh Parivar is retained: that a united, Hindu upsurge is the necessary and sufficient condition for material progress."

"Hindutva 2.0 is not driven by trishul-wielding sadhus, but by professionals and the middle class."

21 December 2007

THE Question

What is the meaning of life? Does life have a meaning? If yes, what is it? What does it all mean?

Searching for the Truth 'within' is futile. It is like peeling an onion. You peel away layer after layer, and finally you find there is nothing inside. It is empty. Hollow. If there is Truth, it is to be found 'without' - in the real world, among real people. They say the world is false, an illusion. I don't know. As far as I am concerned, this world is my only reality. I do not know any reality other than it, or beyond it.

It is possible that the journey without will also lead to nothing. But, as they say, the journey is more important than the destination. Or, as someone else said, play the game as if it matters.

"The only way to find yourself is to lose destroy yourself in the service of others." - Mahatma Gandhi

17 December 2007

Three Questions

An artist is painting a picture. He is so busy painting that it takes up all his time. He is so engrossed in the details of his painting that they fill his mind completely. He has neither the time nor the mind-space to think about anything else. But every now and then he should step back, look at his painting, and ask himself,"Am I painting correctly?" or "Is my painting turning out the way I want it to?". Even more fundamentally, he should ask himself,"Am I painting the right picture?" or "Should I be painting some other picture?". And sometimes, he should ask himself,"Should I be painting at all?".

A man is travelling to a certain place. Every now and then, he should stop and ask himself,"Will this road take me to my destination?". Sometimes, he should sit down and ask himself,"Have I chosen the right place as my destination?". Even more fundamentally, he should ask himself,"Should I be travelling at all?".

12 December 2007

What Is Hinduism?

This question has long been bugging me. Let us look at the possible answers:

1. "Hinduism refers to the beliefs and practices of the Hindus" – This is the standard textbook/dictionary answer. It is correct, but not of much help.

2. We can list these "beliefs and practices of the Hindus". In brief: our key beliefs or concepts are Atma, Brahman, Samsara, Karma, Moksha, Purushartha, Ashrama, Varna, etc (Any religion’s chief purpose is to help man understand the inter-relationship between himself, the world and God). And our practices are the multitude of rituals and ceremonies that we follow.

This is an improvement over the first answer. But it still leaves us unsatisfied. The question "What is the core/essence of Hinduism?" remains. My previous post was an attempt to find an answer to this question.

Thus the essence of Hinduism is two-fold: universality and tolerance. Hinduism believes that:
a) There are many paths to the Truth.
b) You are free to take whichever path you like.
The paths may be different. But they all lead to the same Truth.

Whereas any other religion believes that:
a) There is only one path to the Truth: its own.
b) Those who do not follow the path (infidels) are doomed to eternal hell.

Every religion says,"I am right, and you are wrong". Hinduism is the only religion that says,"I am right, and you are also right".

07 December 2007

The Essence of Hinduism

The Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia has a brilliant article on Hinduism, by Arvind Sharma. Some excerpts:

"The Hindu tradition encourages Hindus to seek spiritual and moral truth wherever it might be found, while acknowledging that no creed can contain such truth in its fullness and that each individual must realise this truth through his or her own systematic effort. Our experience, our reason, and our dialogue with others - especially with enlightened individuals - provide various means of testing our understanding of spiritual and moral truth. And Hindu scripture, based on the insights of Hindu sages and seers, serves primarily as a guidebook. But ultimately truth comes to us through direct consciousness of the divine or the ultimate reality (Brahman).

"In many religions truth is delivered or revealed from a divine source and enters the world through a single agent: for example, Abraham in Judaism, Jesus in Christianity, and Muhammad in Islam. These truths are then recorded in scriptures that serve as a source of knowledge of divine wisdom: the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Quran. In the Hindu tradition, by contrast, there is no single revelation or orthodoxy (established doctrine) by which people may achieve knowledge of the divine or lead a life backed by religious law. The Hindu tradition acknowledges that there are many paths by which people may seek and experience religious understanding and direction. It also claims that every individual has the potential to achieve enlightenment.

"The difficulty of defining Hinduism arises from its universal world-view and its willingness to accept and celebrate diverse philosophies, deities, symbols, and practices. A religion that emphasises similarities and shared characteristics rather than differences has a difficult time setting itself apart - unless this very quality is considered its defining feature. This is not to say that there are no beliefs and practices that may be identified as Hindu, but rather that the Hindu tradition has concerned itself largely with the human situation rather than the Hindu situation. Instead of basing its identity on separating Hindu from non-Hindu or believer from nonbeliever, Hinduism has sought to recognise principles and practices that would lead any individual to become a better human being and understand and live in harmony with dharma.

"The distinction of dharma from the Western sense of religion is crucial to understanding Hindu religious identity. To the extent that Hinduism carries with it the Western meaning of being a religion the words distort Indian reality. In the West a religion is understood to be conclusive - that is, it is the one and only true religion. Second, a religion is generally exclusionary - that is, those who do not follow it are excluded from salvation. Finally, a religion is separative - that is, to belong to it, one must not belong to another. Dharma, however, does not necessarily imply any of these."

04 December 2007

Is Islam Anti-National?

The question is inflammatory. Let me explain what I am saying.

The relationship between a nation and its people involves two things: loyalty and identity.
a) Loyalty – The nation demands absolute loyalty from its people. A person's first and last loyalty must be to his country and his fellow countrymen, not to any other country/organisation/entity.
b) Identity – The nation demands that its people identify first with the nation. A citizen of XYZ nation, when asked "Who are you?" is expected to first say,"I am an XYZian". Other answers must follow - not precede - this answer.

Now anything that comes in the way of a person's absolute loyalty to his country or absolute identification with his country can be considered anti-national. It is in this sense that I am using the word "anti-national" here.

This absolute loyalty and identification is found in most people of the world. With one prominent exception: Muslims. Not because they are bad people or traitors, but because it is what their religion demands of them.

To understand this, we must first understand the concept of Ummah - a central concept in Islam. 'Ummah' is the Arabic word for 'community'. When Muhammad founded Islam, he founded it primarily as a social reform movement, not as a personal quest for Truth. Hence the Muslim community or Ummah is of paramount importance in Islam. And this Ummah must be united. Why? Because Islam is a fiercely monotheistic religion. It believes that God is One and Indivisible (it regards the Christian doctrine of Trinity as unacceptable). This unity of God must be reflected in the unity of the Ummah. Hence the obsession with the Ummah's unity.

Thus all the Muslims of the world - regardless of which country they live in - form the Ummah. And their first allegiance is to this Ummah, not to their respective countries. This is true not just in India and America, but also in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. So a Saudi Muslim is a Muslim first, and then a Saudi. He is not being a bad Saudi; he is just being a good Muslim. If a Muslim of XYZ country thinks he is an XYZian first, and then a Muslim, it only means that his Islam has been 'diluted'.

So we see there is a conflict between the demands of nations and the demands of Islam. This conflict is at the root of much suspicion and mistrust in the world today. Will this conflict ever be resolved? If yes, how? These are interesting, and important, questions.

PS: The United States, surprisingly, seems to be another exception to this rule. With the recent increase in Christian fundamentalism, many Americans think of themselves as Christians first, and Americans second.

29 November 2007

Nietzsche's Superman

[Disclaimer: I have not read any of Nietzsche's works (Will to Power, Beyond Good and Evil, Thus Spake Zarathustra, etc). My knowledge of Nietzsche comes from secondary works (like Will Durant) and his depiction in the popular media]

Let me try to set down Nietzsche's Superman (Ubermensch) theory in brief.

The human population can be divided into two groups:
1. A small minority (Supermen) who have exceptional ability, energy, ambition and intelligence.
2. The rest who are mediocre; the average and the below average; the ordinary people. Here after referred to as the 'masses'.

The 'masses' here does not mean the poor and illiterate people, although there is a great degree of overlap. A poor and illiterate man can be a Superman, if he has the qualities mentioned in 1. Conversely, many rich and middle class people (most of them, actually) belong to the masses.

To put it simply, Nietzsche did not believe that all men are created equal.

The world is not changed by the masses. It is changed by the Supermen. The masses are content with happiness. That is not such a bad thing in itself. The problem is this 'happiness' is defined in mainly material terms.

On the other hand, the Superman has nothing but contempt for material comforts and pleasures. His sight is set on higher things. He yearns for greatness, power, fame and glory. This is the stuff heroes are made of. Instead of happiness, he will find pain, discomfort, defeat, failure, fear and loneliness. But he would rather have these than the false contentment of the masses.

It is easy to see why Nietzsche is such a controversial philosopher.

Swami Vivekananda also believed in the concept of Superman. He said, "What is so great about being happy? If you give a cow enough grass to eat, it will also be happy. Then what is the difference between man and cow?"

But the crucial difference is Swami Vivekananda did not believe that Supermen have a right to exploit and oppress the masses. On the contrary, he believed they should serve the poor masses. Supermen are servants, not masters, of the people.

Accordingly, the Supermen will have to take a lot of crap from the rich and middle class masses. That is unfortunate, but unavoidable. They must endure this humiliation by keeping in mind their true purpose - which is to serve the poorest, the weakest and the most ignorant. Daridra devo bhava, deena devo bhava, mooda devo bhava.

20 November 2007

Farce In Karnataka

Indian politics has touched a new low. And the scene is not Bihar or Uttar Pradesh, but my beloved Karnataka :-(

Elections will be held now. What are the chances that one of the three parties (BJP, Congress, JDS) will get a clear majority? Very slim. So it’ll be back to the same old games, or President's rule. I don't know what sins the 5 crore people of Karnataka have committed to get a politician like H D Deve Gowda.

This kind of instability is a recent phenomenon. Earlier there was no BJP, so we had a stable two-party system (Congress and JD). With the rise of the BJP, we now have three contenders in the ring. It's all quite farcical. The JD has become irrelevant. Now the JDS is not even a caste-based party; it’s just a family-based one.

This instability will continue for some years. Eventually Deve Gowda (now 74) will die. The JDS will disintegrate. Most of its members will join the Congress; some will join the BJP. Then we will have a stable two-party system again in the state. Till then, God save us all.

19 November 2007

Foxes And Hedgehogs - 2

The words "sometimes self-contradictory and incomplete, at times fanatical, unitary inner vision" betray where Berlin's sympathies lie. He is on the side of the foxes (The rest of the book argues that Leo Tolstoy was a fox, but was trying to become a hedgehog). Another writer (Scherder?) made exactly the same point when he said that every man is either a Platonian or an Aristotlean.

Leaving philosophy and art aside, let's talk about what this means for us ordinary mortals. The parallel at the mundane, everyday level is obvious. Some people can do only one thing at a time. Others are good at multitasking, and can do many things together. Some can hold only one thought in their heads at any given time. Others' minds are like multitrack recorders. Some seek comfort in uniformity. Others revel in variety. These are our hedgehogs and foxes, respectively. And by this definition, I am a hedgehog. (I also happen to prefer Plato to Aristotle)

So which type is superior? The usual argument of "each has its pros and cons" does not apply here. I think it is better to be a fox. Science fiction writer Robert Heinlein said it best: "A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyse a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialisation is for insects." In today’s fast-changing, diverse and complex world, we hedgehogs are at a serious disadvantage.

The fox vs hedgehog theme has become popular again, thanks to the management bestseller Good to great by Jim Collins. Collins argues that one must be a hedgehog to become a great business leader. But he, like Berlin, is talking about the realm of ideas, not of day-to-day work. He is telling you to relentlessly focus on one idea and build your company around it. He is surely not saying that one can become a successful CEO by being a zero at multitasking.

So are you a fox? Or are you a hedgehog? :-)

14 November 2007

Foxes And Hedgehogs - 1

Are you a fox or a hedgehog?

An ancient Greek poet said,"The fox knows many things. The hedgehog knows only one thing." British thinker Isaiah Berlin made the idea famous in his book 'The hedgehog and the fox: An essay on Tolstoy's view of history'. The first paragraph makes the idea clear:

"But, taken figuratively, the words can be made to yield a sense in which they mark one of the deepest differences which divide writers and thinkers, and, it may be, human beings in general. For there exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel - a single, universal, organising principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance - and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related by no moral or aesthetic principle.

"These last lead lives, perform acts, and entertain ideas that are centrifugal rather than centripetal, their thought is scattered or diffused, moving on many levels, seizing upon the essence of a vast variety of experiences and objects for what they are in themselves, without consciously or unconsciously, seeking to fit them into, or exclude them from, any one unchanging, all-embracing, sometimes self-contradictory and incomplete, at times fanatical, unitary inner vision.

"The first kind of intellectual and artistic personality belongs to the hedgehogs, the second to the foxes; and without insisting on a rigid classification, we may, without too much fear of contradiction, say that, in this sense, Dante belongs to the first category, Shakespeare to the second; Plato, Lucretius, Pascal, Hegel, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Ibsen, Proust are, in varying degrees, hedgehogs; Herodotus, Aristotle, Montaigne, Erasmus, Moliere, Goethe, Pushkin, Balzac, Joyce are foxes."

06 November 2007

"No God But Allah"

Reza Aslan's book "No god but God" has the subtitle: The origins, evolution and future of Islam. Thus the scope of the book is made clear to us. It is not a conventional history of Islam. It covers the following topics:
Origins - Pre-Islamic Arabia; Muhammad in Mecca; the first Muslims; from Medina to Mecca; the first Caliphs
Evolution - Theology and law; Shiism; Sufism; response to colonialism
Future - Islamic reformation

Thus half the book deals with only the first 50 years of Islam (the remaining 1350 years of history are dismissed in one page). The second half of the book deals with the development of the religion. And in the final chapter, the author gives us his view on what is happening in Islam today, and where it is headed.

So what does Reza Aslan say? In his introduction he says that critics will call his work an "apology". But he proudly embraces this label, saying that 'apology' means 'defence', and that there can be no higher calling than defending one's faith. He then proceeds to defend his faith. He describes the historical, social and religious context in which Islam arose (which he believes is crucial to understanding the religion). He sets down what he thinks is the correct Islamic view on issues such as the status of women, Muslim-Jew/Christian relations, meaning of Jihad, etc.

Aslan's knowledge of Islam is very deep. He is also a very sophisticated spokesman. It is more difficult to find holes in his arguments (compared to Karen Armstrong). But one pattern is clear: where he has a strong case, he dwells in detail; and where he's on a weak wicket, he moves ahead quickly. We must also remember that he is a Shiite. So where he talks about issues over which Sunnis and Shiites disagree, we have to take his words with a pinch of salt.

One problem with "No god but God" (a problem that most books on Islam suffer from) is that it focusses mostly on West Asia. It doesn't cover Islam in India in enough depth. A separate study of Islam in South Asia is necessary for two reasons. One, Islam in India has its own special characteristics. For example, the dominant school of Islamic law here is the Hanafi, as against the Hanbali in West Asia. Also, Sufism has had a far greater influence in the subcontinent than in the rest of the Islamic world. Two, Muslims are a minority here. When Muslims are a minority in a country, it throws up a whole lot of interesting questions - which do not arise in West Asia (where they are the overwhelming majority).

As a devout Muslim, Aslan does his duty of defending and explaining Islam. There is no doubt that he is a liberal, moderate and progressive Muslim. He sticks his neck out on many occasions, saying things that Islamic fundamentalists will find unacceptable, and will oppose violently. At the same time, there are many other things he says that we will find difficult to agree with. For example, he says that Islam respects other religions, but this respect is reserved only for monotheistic religions. Polytheists and idol worshippers are given two options: convert to Islam, or die.

All in all, it is a scholarly and well-written work that adds to our understanding of this intriguing faith.

29 October 2007

A Prayer

God, give me
the Strength to change what I can,
the Grace to accept what I cannot, and
the Wisdom to tell the difference.
(But above all, give me Strength)

25 October 2007


Continuing from where I left off...

Nobody ever changed the world just by reading books.
The amount of knowledge needed to change the world is very little.
Knowledge is not an end in itself; it is the means to an end. And the end is action. Knowledge finds its fulfillment in action.

Which of these images, in your opinion, better captures the relationship between man and his life/world?
a) A rock in a lake
b) A raft on a river (a whitewater rapid)
What is your own expectation from life? What is your view of 'the perfect life'?
Life is not static; it is dynamic. Life is flux.

At any point of time, you either have problems or you don't. If you don't have any problems then be happy. If you have problems, then be happy that life is happening to you. Because this is what life is about - problems. Either way, you are always happy.
Right here, right now, life is perfect - and I am happy.

16 October 2007

Karen Armstrong's Islam - 2

Another issue is the matter of reform. Karen Armstrong says that Islam has periodically produced reformers who have tried to renew the faith and infuse fresh energy into it. As examples she cites Ibn Taymiyyah and Abd al-Wahhab (in West Asia) and Ahmed Sirhindi and Shah Waliullah (in India). The problem is these men are notorious, even among Muslims, as fathers of Islamic fundamentalism. Which brings us to the heart of the problem of reform in Islam.

The way of life developed by the Prophet was suitable for 7th century Arabia - which was a primitive tribal society. It may not be suitable for, say, 21st century India, or even 14th century Syria. And to be fair to Islam, like any other great religion it has always adapted itself to changing times and circumstances. That is why it has survived for 1400 years. That is also one of the reasons why it is the second largest religion in the world, in spite of being the youngest.

When things are going well for the Ummah there is no problem. But whenever there is a crisis, it is very easy for someone to come up and say that the Ummah is in trouble because it has strayed from the True Path and the Word of God. Ergo, the solution is to return to the fundamentals - as expressed in the life and times of the Prophet and the Quran. This is what 'reform' - unfortunately - has come to mean in Islam: fundamentalism. And we can only imagine what will be the consequences of implementing 7th century Arabian norms in the 21st century. 'Reformer' is usually a positive label. But in the context of Islam it has a specific, and potentially dangerous, meaning. Again Karen Armstrong doesn’t seem too bothered by this point.

Finally, it is clear that the Karen Armstrong doesn’t know anything about Hinduism and India. When she writes about Islam in India, she cuts a sorry figure. She talks about 'Hindu fundamentalism'; she says that the BJP is a 'Hindu fundamentalist group' and that Muslims in India 'get a bad press'. One should not write about something if he/she knows nothing about it.

But such arguments apart, it is still an excellent book to start one's study of this fascinating subject.

PS: It is possible that I have said some incorrect/unfair things above. My study of Islam has only just begun, so I welcome any criticism and correction. Book recommendations are also welcome.

15 October 2007

Karen Armstrong's Islam - 1

I read the book last week. Karen Armstrong is a former Catholic nun who has written many books on the three Semitic religions. In this one she takes on the history of Islam. It is not easy to cover 1400 years in just 200 pages. But she does a good job, taking us through all the major developments - the Prophet, the first four Caliphs, the Umayyad Caliphate, the Abbasid Caliphate, the Mongol invasions, the three empires (Ottoman, Safavid, Moghul) and European colonisation.

So what does Karen Armstrong say? Critics have called her an apologist for Islam. In this book she does paint a totally positive picture of the religion (the unkind would call it a whitewash). Take the key (and controversial) issue of violence. She does not deny the violence in Islam's history, but offers justifications and explanations for it. So the massacre of the Jewish Qurayzah tribe (in Medina, 627 AD) was due to extenuating circumstances. And when the Arabs poured out of their peninsula to invade and conquer their neighbours, it was not out of an urge to spread Islam, but because they needed wealth.

Further, Karen Armstrong takes care to point out the positive aspects of Islam. Two such 'positive' features that she talks about, at some length, are the concepts of Ummah (community) and Tawhid (unification).

1. Ummah
Islam is not a personal/private faith. It is a communal/societal one. It is not enough for a Muslim to live by the rules of Islam. It is also important that he live in a society/community that also lives by these rules. Islam is not something you observe just within the four walls of your house. It is something you live everywhere - at school, at work, on the street, everywhere. Living in such an Islamic community is necessary for Muslims to achieve the ultimate goal of perfect 'Islam' (submission to God's will).

2. Tawhid
Islam is a 'total religion'. It is not just a way of worship. It is a way of life. Since it covers the whole ambit of life, all spheres of human activity - religion, culture, society, politics, economics - must be unified to achieve complete 'Islam'. The Quran is the Word of God that teaches people not only how to pray, but also how to eat, drink, sleep, work, marry, raise children, resolve disputes, make laws, collect taxes, distribute wealth, wage war, sign peace treaties, etc. One consequence of this is that secularism (separation of religion and politics) is ruled out.

Note that these two are not peripheral ideas in Islam. They are among its core concepts. What to make of them? No doubt they are beneficial in some ways: they foster a spirit of brotherhood and God-consciousness. In a predominantly Muslim country, pursuing these two ideals may not be much of a problem. But what when Muslims are a minority in a country? What if they insist on Ummah and Tawhid (as their religion requires them to)? These are problematic questions. But Karen Armstrong doesn’t seem to be too bothered by them.

05 October 2007

Two Heroes

Major K P Vinay and Major Dinesh Raghuraman. May we never forget your sacrifice. And the sacrifice of many others like you.

Pradeep's immortal song is apt for the occasion...

Ae mere watan ke logon
Tum khoob lagaa lo nara
Ye shubh din hai hum sab ka
Lahra lo tiranga pyaara
Par mat bhoolo seema par
Veeron ne hai praan ganvaye
Kuchh yaad unhen bhi kar lo
Kuchh yaad unhen bhi kar lo

Ae mere watan ke logon
Zaraa aankh mein bhar lo paani
Jo shaheed hue hain unki
Zaraa yaad karo qurbani

Jab ghaayal hua Himaalay
Khatre mein padi azadi
Jab tak thi saans lade wo
Phir apni laash bichhaa di
Sangeen pe dhar ka matha
So gaye amar balidani
Jo shaheed...

Jab desh mein thi Diwali
Wo khel rahe the Holi
Jab hum baite the gharon mein
Wo jhel rahe the goli
The dhanya jawaan wo apne
Thi dhanya wo unki jawaani
Jo shaheed...

Koi Sikh koi Jat Maratha
Koi Gurkha koi Madrasi
Sarhad pe marnewala
Har veer tha Bharatvasi
Jo khoon gira parvat par
Wo khoon tha Hindustani
Jo shaheed...

Thi khoon se lathpath kaya
Phir bhi bandook uthake
Das-das ko ek ne mara
Phir gir gaye hosh ganvaa ke
Jab ant-samay aya to
Kah gaye ke ab marte hain
Khush rahnaa desh ke pyaaron
Ab hum to safar karte hain
Kya log the wo deewane
Kya log the wo abhimani
Jo shaheed...

Tum bhool na jao unko
Is liye kahi ye kahaani
Jo shaheed...

Jai Hind! Jai Hind ki sena!
Jai Hind! Jai Hind ki sena!
Jai Hind! Jai Hind! Jai Hind!

21 September 2007

Hindu Rashtra - 5

Why India Is A Hindu Rashtra


"Why make such a fuss over this issue? Why not just maintain a polite silence? All this talk of Hindu rashtra may offend some people. Why is it so important that we openly proclaim this truth?" Because identity matters. It is important to know who we are and where we come from. Every individual is special. Who you are is your unique gift to society. What is true for individuals is also true for civilisations. Every civilisation has something to give to the world - which it can give only if it knows its true nature. A civilisation that loses its sense of identity is of no use to the world.

Yes, we should be welcoming and hospitable to others. But you can be welcoming and hospitable only if you have a house of your own. Identity is that house. Gandhiji said, "Keep your doors and windows open. Let the winds come in from all over the world. But do not be blown off your feet." Note that he said, "Keep your doors and windows open". He did not say, "Break your walls down". Just as we need four walls and a roof to protect us from heat, cold and rain, we need an identity to survive in the real world, in the world of culture and politics.

"Who am I?" is the most fundamental question a human being faces. Our civilisation gives us the answer to this question at two levels: the ultimate and the immediate. The answer at the ultimate level is "I am Brahman". And the answer at the immediate level is "I am a Hindu".


20 September 2007

Hindu Rashtra - 4

Why India Is A Hindu Rashtra


The case is overwhelming. Yet secularists refuse to accept the obvious truth. What could be behind this cussedness? A desire to be broad minded, open, universal and tolerant? But those are exactly the values Hinduism stands for! There is no contradiction between asserting India’s Hinduness and wanting India to continue as a tolerant, pluralist society.

Secularists say declaring India a Hindu country would undermine the secular nature of our Constitution. They don't see that a secular state is perfectly consistent with Hinduism. In Hindu India the state was always secular; there was never such a thing as a Hindu state. Whichever sect a king belonged to, all his subjects had complete freedom of belief and worship. He did not discriminate among his subjects based on their sects; all subjects were equal; all sects were respected. Thus when the founding fathers of our Republic made India a secular state, they were not importing anything from the West (never mind what Nehru thought). They were merely staying true to Hindu tradition. Incidentally the Constitution did not originally contain the word 'secular'. The founding fathers saw no need for it. A secular state was a given. It needed a cynical politician like Indira Gandhi to insert the word into the Preamble. How unnecessary!

Secularists say declaring India a Hindu country would pave the way for a Hindu theocracy. A Hindu theocracy is not possible because Hinduism is not an organised religion. Secularists are unwilling to admit that Hinduism - with its tolerance and catholicity - is responsible for India being a multi-religious country today. If India is a vibrant, pluralistic democracy, it is mainly because of its Hindu majority. Thus accepting India’s Hinduness will only strengthen, not weaken, our secular polity.

19 September 2007

Hindu Rashtra - 3

Why India Is A Hindu Rashtra


India is the oldest surviving civilisation in the world. The older civilisations (Sumer and Egypt) vanished long ago. Many younger civilisations (Greece, Rome, Persia, etc) also arose and fell. But India is still standing after 5000 years - despite being subject to countless invasions, conquests and long periods of foreign rule. How is this possible? How can a nation survive such severe trials? What gave it the strength to go on through its dark periods? What held it together through all the ups and downs of history? The answer is Sanatana Dharma.

Secularists say there was no India before 1947. They say the British made us a nation. I repeat: our nation is first and foremost a cultural entity. India may not have seen much political unity in its long history, but there was no lack of cultural unity. This land bound by the seas, the Himalayas and the Indus was one cultural unit. Its people may have followed different sects and worshipped different gods, but they all shared certain common core beliefs (such as karma and moksha). Irrespective of where they lived, they made pilgrimages to holy places scattered all over the country. The great epics were treasured in every home across the length and breadth of the land. It is not a coincidence that Shankara set up his four mutts in the four corners of India.

Thus it is Hinduism that binds this country. Secularists talk only about India's (and Hinduism's) diversity. They do not see the unity underlying this diversity. What unites us is much more than what (apparently) divides us. They say Hinduism is just one of the many religions in India. They are wrong; it is the first among equals. They say India is a salad bowl and Hinduism just one of the ingredients in the bowl. They are wrong; Hinduism is the bowl.

18 September 2007

Hindu Rashtra - 2

Why India Is A Hindu Rashtra


A nation is defined by its culture. Secularists want us to believe that a piece of land + some people + some laws are enough to make a nation. This is a dry and lifeless idea of nationhood. It is incapable of inspiring love, loyalty, pride and a sense of belonging - all of which make life meaningful and give us a reason to sacrifice for the common good.

A nation is above all a cultural entity. This is especially true of India. And Indian culture is basically Hindu culture. This is reflected in our greatest achievements in art, architecture and literature. The Vedas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the great temples of South India, the plays of Kalidasa (the list is endless) - which are the wonder of the world - are all essentially Hindu. It is also reflected in the lives of the greatest men produced by this land. From Buddha and Shankara down to Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi, they are all known primarily for their contribution to Hindu thought and their upholding of Hindu values.

True, other religions have also made their contributions. Islam, for instance, has given us the Taj Mahal and Hindustani classical music, among other things. But these achievements were the result of foreign cultures mixing with the foundational culture, like rivers merging with the mighty ocean. And there can be no doubt what that foundational culture is. Secularists talk about composite culture. They refuse to recognise that we have a composite culture today precisely because of Hinduism's tolerant and assimilative nature. Honesty lies in giving credit where it is due.

17 September 2007

Hindu Rashtra - 1

(This is the first post in a five-part series)

Why India Is A Hindu Rashtra

Secularists just don't get it. They are simply not willing to admit that India is a Hindu country. The point is so obvious that one doesn't know where to begin 'proving' it.


Firstly, it's a matter of simple numbers. India is 80.5% Hindu. Muslims and Christians are 13.4% and 2.3% respectively. That alone should be enough to clinch the case. But there is more.


Throughout India’s history, Hinduism has been the land’s dominant tradition. In fact, for a long time it was the only tradition.

India's history began with the Indus Valley Civilisation (3000 BC – 1700 BC). Elements from this civilisation were absorbed into the way of life that developed during the Vedic Period (1500 BC – 500 BC), forming what we today know as Hinduism.

The first alien faith (Christianity) arrived in India only in 50 AD, when we had been a purely Hindu civilisation for 3000 years! (And how much headway was made by this faith can be judged by the fact that after 2000 years of missionary activity and 200 years of European rule, it is still a mere 2% of the population) The second alien faith (Islam) arrived in India in 712 AD. So Islam has been in the subcontinent for only 1300 out of 5000 years of our history.

Secularists disagree with the above argument, saying that India was a "multi-religious" civilisation long before Christianity and Islam arrived. They point to Jainism and Buddhism. What they don't realise is that Jainism and Buddhism are not separate religions. These are just two of the many schools of thought (or 'sects') within Hinduism. Mahavira and Buddha did not teach anything fundamentally different from the Vedas. Their revolt was against the empty ritualism and ill practices that Vedic religion had degenerated into, not against the Vedas themselves. With their emphasis on concepts like satya and ahimsa - which are what the Vedas also teach - they succeeded in restoring Sanatana Dharma to its true spirit (A similar revival can be seen in the Upanishads during the same period, albeit at the intellectual level). The teachings of Guru Nanak 2000 years later should also be seen in the same light. Thus Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism are just different streams (and such beautiful streams!) flowing into the great river of Sanatana Dharma. Yet secularists like Amartya Sen insist on saying that Ashoka, arguably India's greatest ruler, was "a Buddhist, not a Hindu".

13 September 2007

Scientific Temper?

The UPA government has stated in an affidavit to the Supreme Court that Rama did not exist and the events in the Ramayana never occurred. Its argument is that there is no historical evidence for the same. Fine. The next time a case concerning Islam comes up, I would like to hear the UPA say, "There is no evidence to prove that Allah revealed the Quran to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel. Going strictly by historical evidence, the Quran was written by Muhammad himself." And when a case concerning Christianity comes up, I would like to hear the UPA say, "There is no evidence to prove that Jesus was the son of God, born to the virgin Mary. Going strictly by historical evidence, Jesus was the son of Joseph, and Mary was not a virgin."

Seriously, what are the chances of this happening? The truth is that 'secular' parties take Hindus for granted and consider Hinduism a soft target. In this country 'secularism' in practice means 'anti-Hinduism'.

07 September 2007

The Politics Of God

There was this brilliant article* on secularism, religion and politics. In it the author tries to understand Islamic extremism - its absolute refusal to separate religion and politics - by looking at Christianity's own history. He notes that separation of church and state in the West is itself a relatively recent phenomenon, and is still an experiment.

For more than a thousand years religion and politics went together in the Christian world too. Then the Reformation happened, dividing Europe into Protestant north and Catholic south. The next century and a half saw the two sects busy killing each other (the French Wars of Religion, the Thirty Years' War in Germany, the English Civil War, etc). Finally they realised this madness had to stop, otherwise there wouldn't be any Christian left alive. Thus was born "The Great Separation". And the man who led them on this path was Thomas Hobbes, with his 1651 work Leviathan.

[I had always thought that the father of Western secularism was Machiavelli - the first European thinker to offer an amoral (not immoral) view of politics. Hobbes I knew mainly in a negative light, for his advocacy of despotism and criticism of democracy. So this article was news to me.]

The article is written in a completely Western context, talking only about the three Semitic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. That is understandable - the author is a Westerner (and a Christian) and the hot issue facing the world today is radical Islam. However it would be interesting for us to ponder over what all this means in the context of Hinduism.

(*Unfortunately the article is no longer available for free at the original site. You can try accessing it here.)

20 August 2007

Why Advaita?

[A friend asked me for my view of Vedanta. So here we go]

This theory (of the unity of all creation) can be known as a fact only by those who have realised Brahman. What about the rest of us? We can either accept it as true (based on faith) or reject it (based on reason/doubt/whatever). Religious/spiritual people can do the former; while rationalists, skeptics and materialists will do the latter.

What about me? I am a fence sitter. I am also a pragmatist ("What is true? That which works"). I am more interested in the ethical implications of an idea than its metaphysical truth. In the case of Advaita, as I have already pointed out, the ethical implications are too good to ignore. A philosophy that preaches the essential oneness of all men is the only cure for the ills of today's world.

Some will criticise me for taking such a gross instrumentalist view of such a sublime philosophy - arguably the greatest achievement of the human mind. It is like drinking amrita to slake one's thirst (something that can be achieved by drinking tap water). Well, what to do? I am like this only.

08 August 2007

Rape Of Temples

Apropos the point made by Naipaul, here is a list of the major temples plundered and/or demolished by Turks and Mughals.
PlaceYearAttacked By
Mathura1018Mahmud of Ghazni
Kanauj1018Mahmud of Ghazni
Somnath1025Mahmud of Ghazni
Varanasi1192Muhammad of Ghor
Varanasi1194Qutb-ud-din Aibak
Devagiri1296Alauddin Khalji
Somnath1299Alauddin Khalji
Devagiri1307Alauddin Khalji
Warangal1309Malik Kafur
Madurai1311Malik Kafur
Srirangam1311Malik Kafur
Chidambaram1311Malik Kafur
Puri1361Feroze Shah Tughlaq
Ayodhya1528Mir Baki
Hampi1565Bahmanid Sultans

The data is from John Keay's 'India: A History'. Keay, a British writer, isn't exactly an RSS supporter. But facts are facts. The remarkable thing is none of this was mentioned in our school history textbooks. Why? In the interest of 'communal harmony'? It is nobody's case that today's Indian Muslims be held responsible for these atrocities. But a nation that buries inconvenient parts of its history is asking for trouble. It is only by confronting and coming to terms with our painful past that we can move forward and build a new tomorrow - one that is based on honesty, not on denial. As Santayana said,"Those who forget their history are condemned to relive it".

Why make such a fuss over a few broken temples? It is important to remember that in traditional India, temples were not just places of worship. They were social, cultural and educational centres as well. Thus the attacks on them were an attempt to destroy our very civilisational fabric.

07 August 2007

Naipaul On India

V S Naipaul gave an interview to Outlook in 1999. Here are some excerpts.

On India's history
"The millennium began with the Muslim invasions and the grinding down of the Hindu-Buddhist culture of the north. This is such a big and bad event that people still have to find polite, destiny-defying ways of speaking about it. In art books and history books, people write of the Muslims 'arriving' in India, as though the Muslims came on a tourist bus and went away again. The Muslim view of their conquest of India is a truer one. They speak of the triumph of the faith, the destruction of idols and temples, the loot, the carting away of the local people as slaves, so cheap and numerous that they were being sold for a few rupees. The architectural evidence - the absence of Hindu monuments in the north - is convincing enough."

On Hindutva
"You say that Hindu militancy is dangerous. Dangerous or not, it is a necessary corrective to the history I have been talking about. It is a creative force and it will prove to be so."

06 August 2007

Spirituality, Revisited

I had rejected Indian spirituality as a negative philosophy, on the grounds that it is only about escaping from the cycle of births and deaths. However, other interpretations are available.

1. The aim of life is to realise the oneness of the universe, the essential unity of all creation. Advaita Vedanta teaches us that everything that exists is nothing but a manifestation of Brahman (Ultimate Truth, or Absolute Reality). [Vedanta, the last of the six orthodox schools, is generally considered to be the culmination of Hindu thought. In particular Advaita, which is Shankara's version of Vedanta] Once a man attains this realisation he will continue working for the welfare of mankind, knowing that other men are not separate from him, but merely sparks from the same Fire that he is also a spark from. He is them, and they are him. This is a more positive, more life- and world-affirming view.

2. The aim of life is to be happy. But if we seek happiness in material objects and sense enjoyment, we are bound to be disappointed. Because such happiness does not last forever. Once it is over, we are left wanting more. We are thus caught in an endless cycle of acquisition and consumption, without finding lasting happiness. Real and enduring happiness lies within, not without. It lies in contentment and a balanced mind. As Krishna says in the Geeta, "Samatvam Yoga uchyate" (Evenness of mind is called Yoga). However this does not mean a lazy life devoid of ambition. The happiest man is he who combines an active, dynamic life with a calm, serene mind. Sanjaya expresses this beautifully: "Yatra Yogeshwara Krishno yatra Partho dhanurdhara..." (Where there is Krishna, the Lord of Yoga, and the archer Arjuna...). Only here the ambition is for a larger cause, and not one's own petty material desires and comforts. This is also a more practical and worldly view.

3. The aim of life is to live in accordance with Dharma. This will result in the welfare of both the individual and society. What is Dharma? I won't go into that here. I hope to take it up some other day.

So we see that viewed in the right light, Indian spirituality is a positive and optimistic philosophy. Incidentally, I got these ideas from the first few chapters of "Bunch of Thoughts", a compilation of M S Golwalkar's speeches. Golwalkar ('Guruji') was the second, and longest serving, chief of the RSS - from 1940 to 1973.

[It also helps to keep in mind the definition of spirituality.
Spirituality = the state of being spiritual
Spiritual = relating to the human spirit, as opposed to material things]

03 August 2007

Media And The Sangh

Of late I have been thinking a bit about the media's coverage of the RSS. This is an important issue because most people form their opinion about the RSS based on what they read, see and hear in the media. The RSS's membership is estimated to be 45 lakhs. If we include the families and friends of these swayamsevaks, the number may go up to 5 crores (roughly). That is only 5% of the country. The remaining 95% depend on the media to give them a correct picture of the RSS.

So the question is how well is the media living up to its responsibility of portraying the RSS accurately? (The responsibility here is to the readers/viewers/listeners, not to the RSS) Not very well, according to me. The portrayal is mostly negative and unfair. [My comments here are mainly about the English language media - with which I am most familiar. I believe the situation is slightly better in the case of the Indian languages media]

Most newspapers and magazines depict the RSS as a communal, fundamentalist, casteist and fascist organisation (I have responded to some of these allegations here and here). Prominent examples are Frontline, Hindu, Outlook and Times of India.
  • Frontline - Perhaps the worst offender; mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China; helmed by the notorious Mr N Ram.
  • Hindu - Should be renamed as Anti-Hindu; from the same publishing house as Frontline; another platform for leftist views; amazing how it is considered as one of India's most respected newspapers despite its espousal of a failed ideology.
  • Outlook - Edited by Mr Vinod Mehta, one of India's chief pseudo-secularists; a good example of how otherwise intelligent people can be knuckle-headed in certain matters.
  • Times of India - The less said, the better.
There are no 'pro-RSS' publications. But there are a few which are less biased than the rest. Two I can think of are India Today and Indian Express. These are not entirely free of RSS-baiting, but at least they are not fundamentally opposed to Hindu nationalism.

18 July 2007

An Example

Here is a good example of the social service being done by swayamsevaks. Bhatke Vimukta Vikas Pratishthan is an NGO that works for the welfare of nomadic tribes in Maharashtra. It was founded by Girish Prabhune, a veteran RSS member.

Interestingly, the article describes Prabhune as just an "activist". It does not even mention his Sangh connection. So this is also an example of the media's bias against the RSS.

17 July 2007

Hindu = Indian

I said in one of my previous posts that 'Hindu' and 'Indian' are synonyms. Let me explain. First we must understand the significance of the river Sindhu (Indus).

Look at the physical map of India. We see that the territory of India is naturally defined. It is a diamond-shaped land, bounded on four sides by the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, the Himalayas - and the Indus in the northwest. Now most of the other ancient civilisations of the world (Greek, Roman, Persian, etc) were to our west [The only exception was China, which is to our north]. Thus the Indus was what separated us from the rest of the ancient world, and the river became the geographical reference for India.

Now the Persian form of 'Sindhu' was 'Hindu'. And the Greek form of 'Hindu' was 'Indus'. Thus the people who lived in the land beyond the Sindhu were the 'Hindu' (in Persian) or the 'Indoi' (in Greek). And the land was 'Hindustan' (in Persian) or 'India' (in Greek).

Thus we see that the two words are synonyms. What about the word 'Hinduism'? This is a recent term, coined by British scholars in the 18th century to describe the practices and beliefs of the Hindus. It is normal to believe that we are 'Hindus' because we follow a religion called Hinduism. The truth is actually the other way around - the religion is called 'Hinduism' because it is practised by Hindus! (Our own name for our way of life is 'Sanatana Dharma')

16 July 2007

Jedi Knights

Jedi knights are Yogis. Or to be more precise, they are the American pop-culture version of Yogis.

George Lucas's Star Wars movies are set in "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away". In this universe the Jedi knights are the keepers of peace and justice. They wear robes and wield light sabers. Their power comes from their mastery of "the Force" - an energy field that permeates all living beings and all creation.

Star Wars was inspired by Akira Kurosawa's Samurai films (especially The Hidden Fortress). So it's easy to see where the inspiration for the Jedi knights came from - the Samurai, who were the hereditary military class in medieval Japan. The similarities are unmistakable: the robes, the swords, the code (courage, honour, duty), the ascetic lifestyle and the spirituality.

The Samurai's life and outlook were heavily influenced by their religion, Zen Buddhism. Zen is the mystical school of Buddhism which emphasises meditation as a means for finding the Truth. It came to Japan from China, where it was known as 'Chan'. Now 'Chan' is the corruption of the word Dhyana, which means meditation. And the concept of Dhyana was borrowed by Mahayana Buddhism from Yoga.

Thus we have Yoga --> Dhyana --> Chan --> Zen --> Samurai --> Jedi knight. Get it?

13 July 2007

To Sleep Or Not To Sleep

This has been commented on by several people already. But I'll go ahead and say my bit anyway. The subject is, of course, the Prime Minister's self-confessed loss of sleep after watching Mohammed Haneef's mother and sister crying on TV. I am sure he slept very well on these nights:

29 Oct, 2005Delhi59
7 Mar, 2006Varanasi28
11 Jul, 2006Bombay187
8 Sep, 2006Malegaon37
18 May, 2007Hyderabad13
These are the major terrorist attacks that have occurred since the UPA came to power. Over 300 victims in all. Each time we saw heart-breaking scenes of their mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, wives and husbands lamenting their loss. Their worlds destroyed in an instant, their dreams shattered beyond hope, the people they loved the most snatched away in senseless acts of violence. Where was your compassion then, Pradhan Mantriji? Apparently it is reserved only for families of terrorists, not for those of their victims. The victims were merely peaceful and law-abiding citizens of India. Whereas the terrorists are, well, terrorists.

And what perverse logic could have been behind this shocking statement? 'Secularism'? Sensitivity to 'Muslim' sentiments? If that is the reason, then it would be the ultimate insult to the 15 crore Muslims of India - for such a reasoning assumes that they are on the side of the terrorists, rather than on the side of the nation. Can anything be more offensive? After all, terror is blind to religion; both Hindus and Muslims have been victims of these attacks. Indeed, the Malegaon and Hyderabad attacks were specifically targeted at Muslims. If I were an Indian Muslim, I would be outraged by the PM's remark and what it implies.

12 July 2007

RSS, Part 4

Minorities (contd)

Hindutva is not anti-Islam or anti-Christianity. How can it be, when Hinduism believes in the principles of 'Sarva dharma sama bhava' (Equal respect for all religions) and 'Ekam sat vipra bahuda vadanti' (Truth is One; the wise say many things)?

The RSS is not anti-Muslim or anti-Christian. It regards all Indians as brothers and sisters, irrespective of the religion they practice. The RSS's campaign is against Islamic extremists (who are trying to destroy India) and Christian missionaries (who exploit poverty to convert Indians). The RSS has nothing against the majority of peaceful, law-abiding and patriotic Muslims and Christians. In fact, it invites them to join its struggle.


The RSS is anti-caste. It believes caste divides Hindus, and disunity has been the bane of Hindu society. The RSS seeks to unite all Hindus. The practice of untouchability is particularly heinous; it is a crime against man and God.

(This concludes my little series)

11 July 2007

RSS, Part 3

Hindutva and Minorities

First of all, the RSS does not believe in the concept of 'majority' and 'minority'. It believes that all Indians are one people. We are all the children of this motherland. The term is used here merely for convenience. The term 'non-Hindu' is also used merely for convenience. 'Indian' and 'Hindu' are actually synonyms.

India is a Hindu rashtra does not mean that Hindus should have special rights or that non-Hindus should be second class citizens. All Indians should be equal in the eyes of the law and have the same rights. In fact, the current situation is that non-Hindus have some rights that Hindus do not have.

Accepting that India is a Hindu country is in no way a threat to the identity of non-Hindus. Hinduism is an inclusive way of life, not a rigid religion. Non-Hindus are free to practice their religion and live their way of life. The only expectation from them is that they love their country and obey the laws of the land. This is the expectation from all Indians, Hindus as well as non-Hindus.

10 July 2007

RSS, Part 2


The RSS's ideology is Hindutva ('Hinduness'). Hindutva is the recognition of India's Hindu nature. It is the assertion that India is a Hindu nation. The foundation of Indian civilisation is Hinduism (or Sanatana Dharma).

Some people think the RSS wants India to 'become' a Hindu rashtra, or that the RSS is trying to 'make' India a Hindu rashtra. This is hogwash. India is already a Hindu rashtra. India has always been a Hindu rashtra, and India will always be a Hindu rashtra.

09 July 2007

RSS, Part 1

(In this and the next few posts I'll be putting up some basic information about the RSS - and responses to the common charges against it)

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is a nationalist organisation, founded by Dr K B Hedgewar in 1925.


The RSS's mission is to restore India to her former glory. India can become a strong and prosperous nation again only when a critical mass of Indians work selflessly for the country. The RSS's job is to create such workers - men of character and ability, who have the right values, and are aware of their culture, heritage and history.

The RSS's primary way of achieving its mission is through the shakha. The shakha is the backbone of the RSS. It is a daily gathering of swayamsevaks, which is held in an open ground for about an hour, either in the morning or in the evening. In a shakha, swayamsevaks perform exercises, play games, sing patriotic songs, have discussions, etc.

The shakha makes swayamsevaks healthy and fit, teaches them about their culture and instills in them moral values. It also builds in them organisational skills and the ability to work as a team. Discipline, organisation, selflessness, sacrifice - these are the core values of the RSS.

28 June 2007

What If...

Yesterday I wrote about the Valkyrie controversy. The film itself is about Operation Valkyrie, the attempt by some German army officers to kill Hitler in 1944. The question is "What if they had succeeded?". The obvious answer is it would have been a good thing. The war in Europe would have ended sooner and many lives would have been saved.

The not-so-obvious answer is that it's a good thing the assassins failed. Why? Consider what had happened before. When Germany suffered major reverses in World War 1, a revolution broke out (in November 1918) that deposed the Kaiser, established the Weimar Republic and ended the war. Then in the 1920s and 30s the Nazis were able to come to power with the propaganda that the country had lost the war because it had been "betrayed" by "November criminals". We know what happened next.

Something similar might have happened if Hitler had been assassinated. A new generation of ultra-nationalists might have used it as an excuse to start World War 3. Instead Germany was beaten fair and square. With the result that after 1945 it has been a peaceful and responsible nation. Now if only they would stop getting so worked up over Tom Cruise...

27 June 2007

Who's Afraid Of Scientology?

This is ridiculous. Germany has banned the filming of Valkyrie because Tom Cruise is a Scientologist. Apparently Germany does not recognise Scientology as a religion. Who gave governments the right to certify what is a religion and what is not? It says Scientology is just a cult out to make money. That charge can be made against every religion. And banning the film shoot because of the actor's religion? Imagine the uproar that would have erupted if Steven Spielberg had been denied permission to shoot Munich because of his religion.

Whatever happened to religious freedom? I can't believe this is happening in a "liberal Western democracy". But then we are told Germany-Scientology affair is a special case. After its Nazi experience, Germans are supposed to be extra-sensitive about "extremist" cults, which they consider Scientology to be. Some 70% of Germans are hostile to Scientology.

18 June 2007

End Of History

I haven't read the book; I have only been reading about it. Since it came out in 1992 it has been hailed as a "post-Cold War classic", even by those who disagree with it and by those who like to think they have penned similar 'classics' (such as Samuel Huntington and Thomas Friedman).

My knowledge of the book till now rested only on the reviews I had read. All of them had merely talked about the central thesis of the book - that human history has come to an 'end', with democracy and free market as the supreme political and economic systems. Recently I read the essay that gave birth to the book and the introduction to the book. I was astounded to find out that the reviews had forgotten to mention a very basic point - that Fukuyama's entire argument rests on Hegel's theory of history. The good professor is a Hegelian!

I am still coming to terms with this. A book based on GWF's philosophy becomes a bestseller in America? Since when did German idealism become cool in the English speaking world?

Anyway, has history really come to an 'end'? I don't have the qualifications or the knowledge needed to tear this theory apart. Wiser men have done it. I would only say that it is arrogant and presumptuous to think we have ended history. Every generation must have felt the same way - that they had ended history by evolving the perfect political, economic and social systems, with no 'contradictions' left to 'resolve'. A man like Fukuyama would have written a book like this even if he had lived in 4th century Pataliputra, 7th century Xian or 19th century London. And yet, history keeps marching.

15 June 2007

The Meaning Of Life

That's the name of literary critic Terry Eagleton's new book. He writes, "The meaning of life is not a solution to a problem, but a matter of living in a certain way." It is not an idea but a behaviour, "not metaphysical, but ethical." Funny, I had come to the same conclusion. Great minds think alike :-)

24 May 2007

Meaning Vs Happiness

In yesterday's episode of Heroes, the mobster Mr Linderman makes his first appearance. He turns out to be something of a philosopher. He says, "I think there comes a time when a man has to ask himself whether he wants a life of happiness or a life of meaning... two very different paths. You see, to be truly happy a man must live absolutely in the present, with no thought of what's gone before and no thought of what lies ahead. But for a life of meaning, a man is condemned to wallow in the past and obsess about the future."

09 May 2007

TV Serials

Battlestar Galactica has finally started showing in India (on Zee Cafe). The show is in its third season in the US, so we're way behind. It has earned rave reviews from critics, especially for its bold parallels with hot current issues like terrorism and the war in Iraq.

Till now the only serial I was watching was Heroes (on Star World).

03 May 2007

Cry, The Beloved Country

Pratap Bhanu Mehta examines in a thought-provoking article how political parties are straying from the path of Dharma. We must not be silent. Right is right, and wrong is wrong. We must speak up for what is right and against what is wrong. If these thuggish tendencies are not nipped in the bud, not even God can save this country. Rule of law is inviolable. The sanctity of institutions must be protected at all costs. Dharmo rakshati rakshitah.

27 April 2007

Oldest Democracy?

Any article about the Indo-US relationship invariably talks about "the world's largest and oldest democracies". We are the world's largest democracy, no doubt. But is the US really the world's oldest democracy? The date considered by people making this case is 1776 (or 1783). But when did American women get the right to vote? In 1920. And when did American blacks get the right to vote? In 1965. So America became a full democracy only in 1965. Whereas we went in for universal adult franchise in 1947 (or 1950) itself. Britain's case is similar to America's. The "mother of democracies" granted her the women the right to vote only in 1928. [The only reason Britain became a full democracy before the US (1928 as against 1965) is that it didn't have a significant racial minority like the latter]

So calling America the "world's oldest democracy" is a stupid joke. The sooner we dump it, the better.

18 April 2007

The Enlightenment

I mentioned that liberalism was a product of the Enlightenment. A few words about this movement are in order.

For a thousand years after the fall of the Roman Empire (in AD 476) Europe lived in the Dark Ages. Science, art and philosophy were lost. Ignorance and superstition were rampant. The Catholic Church ruled the continent with an iron fist. Then the Scientific Revolution happened. Beginning in 1543 with the discoveries of Copernicus and Vesalius, it climaxed in the 17th century with the work of Galileo and Newton.

Intellectuals were in awe of these achievements. It set them thinking: the foundation of mathematics and science is reason, and if reason could reveal universal truths for science, couldn't it do the same for human life? Couldn't it be applied in politics and economics? Couldn't it be used to fight against ignorance, injustice and inequality? Couldn't it be used to build the perfect man and the perfect society?

The movement began in France (Voltaire, Rousseau) before spreading to other European countries like England (John Locke, Adam Smith) and eventually to America (Jefferson, Franklin). This period (1600's and 1700's) in European history is also called the Age of Reason. Today if we take democracy, liberty, equality and fraternity for granted, it is due in no small measure to the Enlightenment.

17 April 2007

Starvation In Jalpaiguri

1100 people have died of starvation in Jalpaiguri (in West Bengal) in the last two years. The tea gardens that employed these people had been closed down as they were unprofitable due to (what else?) rigid labour laws. When will the so-called protectors of workers see the light? 1100 starvation deaths is a crime of monstrous proportions. In any other country, the bloody government would have been toppled. How many more people must die? Reform labour laws NOW!

16 April 2007

Conservatism (contd)

Modern conservatives look up to Michael Oakeshott (1901-90), not Burke, as their guru. Oakeshott defined conservatism as, "To be conservative is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, the tried to the untried, and the actual to the possible". This sounds more like a definition of timidity and cowardice. However, one could argue that while boldness and risk-taking are good for an individual, at a societal level it is better to go in for incremental change.

As an aside, this article points out that Margaret Thatcher - the darling of conservatives - was anything but conservative. She was a radical.

13 April 2007

Conservatism Vs Liberalism

I've been reading a bit on this topic. Here's an attempt to set down the nuts and bolts of the subject.

The word 'liberal' comes from the Latin word 'liber' which means 'free'. The word 'conservative' comes from the Latin word 'servare' which means 'to preserve'. Liberals thus consider individual liberty as important, whereas conservatives consider tradition as important.

Liberalism arose out of the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on reason. John Locke laid the foundation with his Second Treatise of Government (1689) in which he introduced concepts like rule of law, property rights and freedom of speech. The missing brick was individual liberty, which John Stuart Mill provided in his On Liberty (1859). The case for individual liberty is made based on rational and logical arguments.

Conservatism arose as a reaction to liberalism. The ideas of the Enlightenment inspired the French Revolution (1789). A year later, Edmund Burke argued in Reflections on the Revolution in France that tradition is a better source of wisdom than reason. Society is so complex that it is impossible to conjure a perfect society merely by our reason. It is better to rely on tradition, which is accumulated social experience.

Side note: The intellectual divide of tradition vs reason translates into a practical divide of culture vs politics. Daniel Patrick Moynihan summed it up best when he said, "The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success or failure of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change culture, and help save a society from itself."

14 March 2007


Mel Gibson's Apocalypto is an entertaining film, but I have some issues with it. It doesn't paint a very flattering picture of the Mayans. The human sacrifice part is authentic, but Gibson doesn't stop there. He shows them as ugly, cruel and uncivilised. It can almost be read as a justification of the Spanish conquest. There is no mention of the Mayans' achievements in mathematics, astronomy, art and architecture.

Btw, the film begins with a quote from Will Durant: "A great civilisation is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within." Something to think about...

09 March 2007

Two Passings

Noted journalist and literary critic Sham Lal passed away a couple of weeks ago. He was editor of Times of India from 1967 to 1978 (before our time). But he was best known for his book review column 'Life and Letters'. A collection of his reviews was published as A Hundred Encounters, a book that can be considered an introduction to 20th century Western thought and literature.

Coincidentally, one of the thinkers reviewed in A Hundred Encounters was Jean Baudrillard - who also passed away, this week. Baudrillard is commonly described as a post-modernist, but that term does not convey much useful information. Trained as a sociologist, he is famous for his theory of hyper-reality. Most people were first introduced to Baudrillard in the film Matrix, where his book 'Simulacra and Simulacrum' makes a brief appearance.

Peace Keepers

(My recent posts have been about death and destruction. For a change, here's a feel good story)

The UN peacekeeping mission in south Lebanon has, as usual, a contingent of Indian troops. And these men are teaching Yoga to the local kids, who are taking to it eagerly.

Keep it up guys! You make us proud, both on the battlefield and off it. Uncle Sam can learn a thing or two about winning hearts and minds from you.

23 February 2007

Shia Vs Sunni

There's a lot of literature out there on the Shia-Sunni divide, attempting to explain why people who are supposed to be united - under one God, one prophet and one book - are busy killing each other. This is as good an article as any other.

19 February 2007

The Horror Of Nithari

An IPS officer has written a moving article about the rot in our law and order system, of which the Nithari killings were only a symptom. May we never sleep the peace of ignorance.

14 February 2007


An Iraqi football player has lost his leg in a recent bomb blast.

An incident like this is more effective in reminding us of the horror of the situation, rather than a number like 6,55,000. Especially if you are a sports fan.

06 February 2007


Living life is more important than reading books.
R L Stevenson: Books are good enough in their own way, but they are a mighty bloodless substitute for life.

When real life hits you, philosophy goes out of the window. The question is no longer "What is the Truth?" The question is now "How should I live?" (Or "What should I do with my life?" or "What kind of life should I live?") Ethics becomes more important than metaphysics.
And we answer this question by living. Our life is our answer to this question. Gandhiji: My life is my message.

Truth (also Meaning/Purpose of Life)
The Truth is Here and Now. Whatever shit is happening to you right here, right now - that is your life. There is no Truth other than this, or beyond this.
The time to be happy is right now. If you are happy now, then you are happy. Otherwise you are not happy. That's it.

Life is a journey, not a destination.
The journey is more important than the destination.
Kierkegaard: Life is not a problem to be solved; it is a mystery to be lived.
Kierkegaard: Life must be lived forwards; but it can only be understood backwards.

Life (contd)
'Shantaram': Live life fully.
The purpose of life is to live. To experience life fully. Good and bad, happiness and sorrow, victory and defeat, pleasure and pain, love and loneliness. If you know only happiness, then your knowledge is only 50%. Be a complete man.

Be good. Do what you think is right, always.
Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
The ends do not justify the means. Evil can sometimes come out of good, but good can never come out of evil.
Gandhiji: Be the change you want to see.
Be humble.

Reader's Digest
1. Choose a job you love. (You must be passionate about your work. You must believe in what you do.)
2. Take risks. (When you look back on your life, you will not regret the things you did; you will regret the things you did not do. To risk nothing is to lose everything.)
2b. Make mistakes, and learn from them. Don't make the same mistake twice. Show me a man who has never made a mistake, and I will show you a man who has never tried anything.

22 January 2007

Brothers In Arms

Let's take a break today from my blabbering. Just enjoy the lyrics of this beautiful song.

These mist covered mountains
Are a home now for me
But my home is the lowlands
And always will be
Some day you'll return to
Your valleys and your farms
And you'll no longer burn
To be brothers in arm

Through these fields of destruction
Baptism of fire
I've witnessed your suffering
As the battles raged higher
And though they did hurt me so bad
In the fear and alarm
You did not desert me
My brothers in arms

There's so many different worlds
So many different suns
And we have just one world
But we live in different ones

Now the sun's gone to hell
And the moon's riding high
Let me bid you farewell
Every man has to die
But it's written in the starlight
And every line on your palm
We're fools to make war
On our brothers in arms.

17 January 2007

Borat Cohen

Saw the Golden Globes ceremony (repeat telecast) yesterday night. For me, the highlight was Sacha Baron Cohen's outrageous acceptance speech. It was unlike any speech you'll hear at an awards ceremony. Most members of the audience were laughing uncontrollably; only one or two seemed put off by Cohen's toilet humour.

Now we have to see if Borat will be released in India, and if it is, just how much of it will get past the Great Indian Censors.

Team McLaren

Check out McLaren's drivers for 2007. Alonso looks cool in his new haircut, and Lewis Hamilton is the first black driver in F1.

I think McLaren's car troubles will continue this year. That leaves the field open for Kimi Raikkonen to claim his first Championship.

Alonso dumped a winning team for a struggling one because he was offered $40 million. So that's what he thinks the Driver's Championship is worth.

12 January 2007

RIP, Beckham

We always knew David Beckham was more of a model than a footballer. Now the transformation is complete. You know a footballer doesn't care about the game any longer when he moves to the US. The asinine British media, instead of lamenting the fall of a once-fine player, are going ga-ga over how much money he will make now.

05 January 2007


Recently I had an email discussion with a friend on spirituality. Today's post is a mail I sent to him.

The search for Truth is highly personal and subjective. Every man must follow his own path. For whatever it is worth, I'll put down my own beliefs/opinions here. So that you know where I stand.

First and foremost, I am not a spiritual person. What is spirituality? Indian philosophy teaches us that only the body dies at death. The soul does not die; it takes up another body. Thus we take birth and die repeatedly. Do I agree with this? I don't know. We cannot prove it, and we cannot disprove it either. But I am willing to grant this theory the benefit of doubt. Science has not yet been able to crack the mystery of consciousness.

Indian philosophy further says that this phenomenon of being born and dying repeatedly is a bad thing, because life is full of suffering and/or the world is unreal (maya). Hence the goal of life is to attain freedom (mukti/moksha) from the cycle of births and deaths (samsara). This is the cornerstone of Indian spirituality. (Even the so-called heterodox schools like Buddhism and Jainism hold this belief. The only exception was the Charvaka, which took an extremely materialist view - perhaps to compensate for the extreme spirituality of mainstream Indian philosophy) Anyway, this is where I disagree.

I don't agree that life is full of suffering. Suffering is a part of life, but that should not make us run away from it. Especially when we cannot be certain of a better alternative (more on this later). And I don't believe that the world is unreal. Here I have to state my assumptions, so that you know where I'm coming from.

I have decided to believe only what I can see with my two eyes, what agrees with my reasoning, and (this is most important) what makes sense in the light of my experience. I have decided to limit myself to what I can know for certain, instead of making theories about things I cannot know for sure. This kind of attitude means you'll have a very small set of beliefs, but so be it. Better a hut built on rock, than a palace built on sand.

So what are the consequences of having such an attitude? Let us consider some common questions.
1) Is there a God? I don't know. The existence of God cannot be proved; it cannot be disproved either. I choose to believe in God. Why? Because it makes life easier.
2) Is there a soul? As I said earlier, I am neutral on this.

Back to our discussion. Is this world real? I don't know, but I will live my life assuming it is, unless something happens that convinces me otherwise. Here is what I DO know for sure: we are born, we die, and in between, we are alive for some time. So the question before us is not 'What is the Ultimate Truth?' (which is irrelevant for our everyday life), but 'How should we live?'.

So I don't agree that the goal of life is to attain freedom from the cycle of births and deaths. At least, I am not going to live my life trying to ensure that I am not born again. Even if we are born again and again, what does it matter? For all practical purposes every life is our first life, since we have no memory of our previous lives.

Then what do I think is the purpose of life? Simple: the purpose of life is to live. Life consists of both good and bad, happiness and sorrow, victories and defeats. One should experience life in all its fullness, in all its variety. One should know what it means to be born as a human being and what it means to live as one, before he dies.

Am I losing anything by having such a worldly view of life? Maybe. But I choose to put my eggs in a basket I can see (however imperfect it is), instead of in a basket that I am not sure exists (however perfect it is). Once upon a time I was also spiritual and other-worldly. But when real life hit me, philosophy went out of the window.