Book Review : Saraswati’s Intelligence by Vamsee Juluri

I had originally written the review for First Post where it was first published. Republishing here with their permission.

The fantasy genre is known to take a story-teller’s imagination to a pinnacle. In the cosmos of richly descriptive Ancient World fiction, Saraswati’s Intelligence, book one of The Kishkindha Chronicles, stays true to the promise of “intelligence” in its title and sets itself apart. The edge that this novel has over its Western literary counterparts is most of all the presence of the original superhero, Hanuman himself.  Hanuman is a multi-faceted personality, and in Saraswati’s Intelligence, the action and adventure associated with him also meet intellect and a commitment to a universal ethical ethos.

What Vamsee Juluri does in Saraswati’s Intelligence fundamentally is to offer a story-teller’s tribute to civilization, to the roots and to the forces that have sustained and evolved mankind through the ages.

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Set in a world (Kishkindha, inspired by the ancient Indian subcontinent) that espoused an unbreachable code called Parama Dharma (read “Ahimsa” here), Saraswati’s Intelligence starts on a contemplative note where an adolescent Hanuman faces banishment by his scheming aunt, the Empress Riksharaja ,who takes advantage of a superficial breach of Parama Dharma. In the journey that ensues, filled with a variety of memorable encounters, Hanuman finds himself facing the dark forces that know no morals and threaten to upset the creation of Saraswati, the Supreme Goddess.

While Hanuman makes for an endearing protagonist, the narration brims with reverence towards the feminine universe. The world creation (or call it exploration) of the author is a soulful cognizance of how various species depend on each other and connect themselves to the ultimate source, the Mother of Knowledge. The pages carrying the description of River Saraswati worshipped as the source of life are a delight to every nature lover. To quote a belief of the Kishkindhans about creation:
“In the old days, when much of the world was covered with fire, they say the Goddess herself appeared in the form of a river, and she cooled the fire down slowly, into steam, into water, into earth, and then, into our ancestors, Shiva and Vishnu.”

While the love for nature remains an important aspect in the story, it is refreshing to see that this love is very unlike some of the patronizing and superfluous current day animal protection activism which exhibits overzealous intrusiveness in unnecessary places and callous negligence where action is most needed. The nature worship of the Kishkindhans is rooted in a deeper connect that the various beings such as the Ganeshas and the Jatayus, feel towards each other despite their diversity. ‘Some of us move, some of us lie in wait. Some of us have speed, some have strength. But we all have dharma at heart. So we must think. What is the best way for all our races to work together now? What is the best way for us to work with the forces of land and climate, and not walk into more opposition than we really need to now?’ can be seen as a commentary on the vibrant civilization that was Ancient India and will stay with me for long. Does this universe of Kishkindha espouse everything that we had in the past and everything that we stand to lose in the turmoil of today’s rush to “progress”? I lost track of the number of times I asked myself this question while reading the book and for that reason alone, the book deserves to be read by the young and old alike. Saraswati’s Intelligence is that call from the past to realise what we were and to rediscover what we ought to be.

The story is not a racy, read-and-forget tale that some action and adventure readers might expect it to be. I would advise the readers to be prepared to have their deeper beliefs challenged and coaxed into contemplation to appreciate the nuanced narrative of what Parama Dharma is. Ahimsa, to my delight, is not interpreted as pacifist nonviolence that defeats itself, but it is instead the assertion of vibrant coexistence that pins down the dangerous characteristics of lust, oppression and greed.

One would expect that this ideal universe which recognizes the need to coexist would not run into trouble. But power games, invasions by blood-feeding beings, weaknesses of those whose strength is taken for granted, all form a layered plot skilfully built upon the various shades of the characters. Anjana and Kesari evoke an unearthly reverence as indulgent and yet unattached parents.

Among the well etched characters, Vishwamitra and Vaishnavi (the author’s name given to the Puranic character of Suvarchala) are my favourites, given their stimulating conversations with Hanuman as well as their ability to take quick decisions on their feet. The companionship woven between Vaishnavi and Hanuman (Yes, Hanuman HAS a romantic side and hold on, you will love that!) throws up some interesting debates on Dharma. It made me root for them as a couple and yet…. No spoilers given. One should read the book and travel through the universe of Kishkindha to know what happens.

Saraswati’s Intelligence invokes the rich ancient Indic art of story-telling and cannot be cast into a single genre. Action, Adventure, Spiritualism, War, Romance, Politics, all aspects that take the world of the narrative forward are dealt with through aesthetic storytelling. The book deserves special praise for defying the commercial genre tropes of fantasy like blood, gore and objectification that have unfortunately become a rage in the Western fantasy sphere.  To those under-informed commentaries on why Indian fantasy writing sticks to its ancient scriptures, Saraswati’s Intelligence is the intellectual answer. While the commercial fantasy tropes draw from two-dimensional character motivations dominated by Artha and Kama, the Indic fantasy provides the complete cycle of motivation adding Dharma and Moksha to the carnal side making a story worth its letters.

Interested readers can order Saraswati’s Intelligence from Amazon

Prof Vamsee Juluri is also the author of the Best Selling Rearming Hinduism

Of Asuras and alternate readings

First published on Myindmakers in February 2016

A big addict to old Telugu puranic films, I remember this film Bhookailas vividly. It had the story of Ravana Brahma’s attempts to acquire the Atmalingam of Lord Shiva. In the popular lore, Ravana is the antagonist. But this movie had him as the protagonist. I can’t help sharing one of my favorite songs from the film – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7voWulyF2mc

The scholar that he is, Ravana does deserve his share of tales and movies as a protagonist (especially when it is Sr NTR donning the role with Sri Ghantasala singing for him, the combination is deadly! :-)). Coming back to the point of the reverential attitude towards the titans in our Puranic lore.

Asuras fundamentally are not ‘hated’ in the Hindu Puranic lore like the ‘evil’ is despised in the Abrahamic lore. Rather, they stand as examples for the pinnacle of human achievement when it comes to Tapasya. They also exemplify scholarship.  They are ambitious just like many of the Kings revered in the lore (Like Bharata, Sagara and others too have undertaken conquests). They upheld the knowledge of Vedas. The conversation between Hiranyakashipu and Prahlada in Andhra MahaBhagavatam is a proof.

దువనివాఁ డజ్ఞుం డగు
దివిన సదసద్వివేక తురత గలుగుం
దువఁగ వలయును జనులకుఁ
దివించెద నార్యులొద్ధఁ దువుము తండ్రీ!

The one who does not pursue knowledge remains ignorant. The one who studies can acquire the ability and discretion to identify the ‘sat’ and ‘asat’.  To the one born as a human being, the pursuit of knowledge is a must. This is why I shall send you to study under the tutelage of Aryas (the noble scholars). Study well, my son.

Forget the demonic side of Hiranyakashipu, How many among today’s fathers tell their children that the aim of education is to acquire the discretion to deparate truth and untruth?

After the schooling, here is what Hiranyakashipu asks Prahlada

త్సాహ ప్రభుమంత్రశక్తి యుతమే యుద్యోగ? మారూఢ సం
విత్సంపన్నుఁడ వైతివే? చదివితే వేదంబులున్ శాస్త్రముల్?
త్సా రమ్మని చేరఁ జీరి కొడుకున్ వాత్సల్య సంపూర్ణుఁ డై
యుత్సంగాగ్రముఁ జేర్చి దానవవిభుం డుత్కంఠ దీపింపగన్

Filled with eagerness and joy about his son’s education, Hiranyakashipu welcomed Prahlada. Seated the boy on his lap, he asked, “Did your pursuit of Vidya encompass the Kshatra (warriorly) skills and endow you with the requisite  capability? Did you also pursue the path of knowledge? Did you complete the study of Vedas and Shastras?”

In response, Prahlada cites his devotion to Vishnu and we all know the story after that. But one of Prahlada’s noteworthy responses is about what his studies encompassed.

దివించిరి నను గురువులు
దివితి ధర్మార్థ ముఖ్య శాస్త్రంబులు నేఁ
దివినవి గలవు పెక్కులు
దువులలో మర్మ మెల్లఁ దివితిఁ దండ్రీ!

As the teachers taught me, Father, I studied the Shastras like Dharma and Artha and much much more. I studied the various books and also realized the essence of all that I studied.

Those of us looking down upon Asuras will have a lot to learn from the conversation about their passionate pursuit of Vedic knowledge and patronage of scholars who were well versed in these studies. This also counters the half-baked claims about Asuras being a race different from Aryas and that they denounced the Vedic system. Ravana’s compositions perhaps are another example.

But barring the exceptions like Prahlada, the Asuras drifted. Many of them who acquired powers of invincibility, lacked the discretion of using those powers. Some of them gave into temptations that made them lose discretion. Most of them asked for their destruction by violently stopping the offering of the havis by the Rishis to Suras (or Adityas headed by Indra). In a way, they interfered with the religious freedom of the Rishis, sometimes resorting to violence and even rape. (Wasn’t the whole scholarship and the power of Tapasya coming to a zilch here?).

This formidable combination of merit of Tapasya and antagonizing attitude often united the world against the Asuras and required the Supreme forces to manifest in order to eliminate them. To their credit, each of the Asuras has been instrumental in adding a deity to our Hindu pantheon. Tarakasura forced the reunion of Shiva with Shakti resulting in the birth of Kumara. Ravana forced Vishnu to manifest as an ordinary human being and the devas as Vanaras. Hiranyakashipu’s merit went ahead making Vishnu alter the manifestation to become Nara-Hari. Each of them disrupted the universal balance causing the universal forces to synthesize a counterbalancing force. The scholar Bhagavandas in his work, Krishna, A study in the theory of Avatars calls the disrupting forces as Prati-Narayanas who cause the manifestation of Narayana.

Those sympathizing with Asuras would be doing a great disservice, not to others but to themselves by ignoring this repeated lesson from the history. Revere their knowledge and celebrate their contribution like the Shiva tandava stotra of Ravana is sung today in almost all the Shiva temples and in popular media. Also, revere the valuable lessons that they left us (they did so at a high cost and we better respect that).

The patrons of ‘alternate readings’ better keep that in mind before propagating baseless theories about Rama being an invader and Devi Durga being a prostitute. Apart from being useless, such ill-intentioned theories only serve to cause animosity and don’t really add value to any knowledge system. There is no such thing as blasphemy in the Hindu eco system. Only point to note is that this universe can very well do this job of repeating the lesson with ease when the spirit of harmonious coexistence is threatened. As someone quoted, “Nothing in this world can do the job of repeating itself as history does.”

उत्तिष्ठत जाग्रत प्राप्य वरान्निबोधत। क्षुरस्य धारा निशिता दुरत्यया दुर्गं पथस्तत्कवयो वदन्ति ॥ – कठोपनिषत् १।३।१४

Why I self-published my book

The post was first published on DailyO in February 2016.

If you are one of those reaching the end of your precious manuscript, you are most probably passing through this big dilemma. I am someone who decided to Self-publish the story closest to my heart. My leap of faith was guided by a number of factors, both emotional and logical.

The decision of mine has given me valuable lessons for life and I cherish it. This does not mean I hold a grudge against the traditional publishing houses or the best-selling books or authors propped up by these. In truth, these literary pop stars are one of the motivating reasons behind people like me choosing to pursue the passion.

I want to attempt a dispassionate comparison between traditional publishing and self-publishing. I am consciously excluding vanity publishing from the scope of this post. I am a big time dissenter of vanity publishing and would passionately discourage you from paying to get published. Instead it is worth waiting to get published or spending to develop and market your own manuscript than paying someone for the “favour” of publishing you. To know more about the unethical truth of vanity publishing, do refer Rasana Atreya’s post.

Traditional publishing

Chances are more (hell, lot more) that your initial attempts to reach out to them are met with an impersonal rejection mailer. Truth: an average professional working with a traditional publishing house has to evaluate way too many manuscripts in a week. He or she can’t be blamed for not sharing the same passion you have for your manuscript.

I have worked as an analyst in an early stage venture capital firm and had to screen over so many business plans in a week and I can sense the similar level of pressure and constraints that a traditional publishing house faces. There would be limitations with respect to genres, style of writing and number of books to be taken to market, not to speak of working with already selected manuscripts and authors in various stages of marketing. So, a rejection mailer only means that the manuscript does not fit the present requirement of the publishing house. Nothing less, nothing more. It could also mean that the guy or girl could not afford more time to read your manuscript with an empathising eye.

It is still not a cakewalk if your manuscript has had a bit of beginner’s luck. I have interacted with well-known authors who have had endless complaints about the level of control that the editorial teams exert on their manuscripts. It is often, quite a battle to retain those parts of the manuscript which is really close to the author and is considered redundant by the editor.

A publisher in the UK revealed to me that they expect one out of ten to fifteen books that they publish to make it to the best seller list. They deliberate over this a lot before they invest into the marketing of each book. Yes, all the books don’t get equal money and resources for marketing. It is often the two or three books that are probable to become blockbusters. Realise that there is a 70 per cent probability that your books are not pushed as much as those of the “star” author’s books are. (I would be delighted to be proven wrong here). Remember, the publishing houses have to sustain on the revenues made on these books so that they can also publish others. Tough call.

That, my friend, is the arduous journey with a traditional publishing house. It could be immensely fruitful if you have the gods on your side. Also, it could be equally frustrating for no mistake of yours. It is advisable to develop that proverbial “buffalo skin”. (You would need to develop it anyway).

Self-publishing

It is the road that I have taken. Do expect me to bat for it. You are the owner. I repeat you are the owner of this manuscript. This means you have the rights and responsibilities to ensure the quality of the content that hits the market. You have to scout for a good editor who can nurture this baby into a fine book. You have to sit through the tough hours of multiple levels of tough editing and most importantly, you have to pay your editor his or her worth. In the other case, the economics is taken care of by the publishing house. But the good news, you get to decide what stays and what goes. Bad news, you are responsible for your decisions and you and you alone would be to blame if it does not work out.

It does take a lot of insight and research from your side to learn or speculate what could work and what couldn’t as far as future sales are concerned. Here is where being outgoing and assertive (read shameless self-promotion) works.

Seek out honest opinions from enthusiastic beta readers, previewers and reviewers. It is natural to feel defensive when they disagree with what you’ve written. But do sleep over the feedback and you would definitely find it worthy to ponder over.

You might also succeed in realising what could make your manuscript better while not necessarily incorporating the exact feedback. The combination of having the stake, ownership and facing the uncertainty requires you to cultivate an open mind and also get out into the market to learn. In other words, Self-Publishing is definitely not the route to take if you are one of those who prefer to write and not socialize.

It requires hard work with a keen eye to upload your draft on various portals. You must be ready to go through your manuscript n number of times and if you hate the process, this is not the road you should take. Kindle Direct Publishing (and may be other portals) do make life easy in allowing you to update your manuscript. If you or your proofreader missed a typo and a reader catches it, you could always accept it with dignity and correct it. But yes, you lost the chance to make the perfect impression. (We can still live with it, though. Perfection is always a journey).

Marketing your own book. Yes, there is no shame in being the “digital doo- to-door salesman” or in turning your book into “another Bangalore start-up”. There cannot be a more misleading advice than something as condescending as this post batting for traditional publishing. If you cannot proudly market the story close to your heart, then you probably should not have penned it down in the first place. I repeat there is no shame in exhorting your network and the rest of the world to buy the product of your hard work. Go ahead and do it.

There is another whole process of building a follower/reader base which makes it a tad easier for you to sell and showcase your work. It takes time and is worth it. Market is a hard taskmaster but never an unfair one. Slow and steady way of building and pushing content, networking with platforms that prop you up, talking to reviewers, taking time to build your profile and getting to know newer ways is an altogether a process of a life time.

This road of self-publishing is not by any measure, a “short-cut”. It needs your time, sweat, money and most importantly, an open mind. Learning never disappoints. I assume all of us think of our writing as a long haul decision and are willing to stand by it, irrespective of the early returns over our first books. If you have it in you to take this road, do go ahead and take it.

The Oneness of Hari-Hara in Telugu Bhagavatam

First published on Myind Makers in October 2015

Harihara-abheda or Harihara-advaita, the non-duality of Shiva and Vishnu was an intellectual movement in the Telugu literary sphere led by Tikkanna Somayaji (13th Century CE), one of the poet-trinity who composed Andhra Mahabharatamu. Though the concept of the oneness of Hari and Hara did exist in the older scriptures, the contemporary conditions warranted its revival as a movement. I have blogged about what led Tikkanna Somayaji to found the movement here. This article will dwell upon how the movement influenced Bammera Pothanamatya, the composer of Andhra Mahabhagavatamu. 

Pothana, is a 14th Century poet who hailed from the village Bammera (in the current day Warangal district of Telangana). He had the distinction of being a Sahaja Kavi, the one who got to imbibe the skill of poetry by his own nature. He is credited to have composed the Bhagavata in Telugu.  This Andhra Mahabhagavatamu is a work of epic proportions containing over 9000 poems and prose, largely following the content of the Sanskrit version. Can a text that is assumed to be proclaiming the supremacy of Lord Vishnu, provide the concept of oneness of these two prime deities Shiva and Vishnu? The composer of Sanskrit Bhagavatam would not have faced this intrigue as the Puranic age provided a platform to each of the faiths to proclaim supremacy of different deities and yet co-exist harmoniously. The early medieval India and the later medieval India, sadly had lost the harmony of the Puranic age. After a deep introspection, one can realize that it is the power mongering feudal elements carrying the religion badge that caused this unrest (and not the other way round, as some historians would want us to believe).

 

Bammera Pothana provided an interesting example of this concept of unity. His was a family that adhered to Veera Shaiva religion. But his chosen deity or Ishta Daiva was Sri Rama to whom he dedicated the Andhra Mahabhagavatamu. Sri V Sambasiva Rao, in the preface of his venture digitizing the text, says that Andhra Mahabhagavatamu is the first regional version of the Bhagavata.

The very second poem of this text is a soul filled adulation to Lord Shiva.

వాలిన భక్తి మ్రొక్కెద నవారిత తాండవ కేళికిన్, దయా
శాలికి, శూలికిన్, శిఖరిజా ముఖ పద్మ మయూఖ మాలికిన్,
బాల శశాంక మౌళికిఁ, గపాలికి, మన్మథ గర్వ పర్వతో
న్మూలికి, నారదాది మునిముఖ్య మనస్సరసీరుహాలికిన్

 I bow down with utmost devotion, to the one who delights in uninterrupted Tandava, the one with compassion, the one wielding the trident, the one who is the ‘Sun’ that makes the ‘lotus’, that is the face of Parvati bloom, the one who wears the crescent on his head, the one with a garland of skulls, the one who uprooted the pride of Manmatha and the one who resides in the minds of Munis headed by Narada.

Wasn’t Narada counted among the foremost devotees of Vishnu? But Pothana chooses to mention him in a poem on Shiva. May be that is the true devotion which would enable one to see the oneness. Narada was capable of that and so was Pothana! But the usage is worth noticing and contemplating on. Going to the poetical extremes of this unity, he also says

చేతులారంగ శివునిఁ బూజింపఁడేని,
నోరు నొవ్వంగ హరికీర్తి నుడువఁడేని,
దయయు సత్యంబు లోనుగాఁ దలఁపఁడేనిఁ, 
గలుగ నేటికిఁ దల్లుల కడుపుఁ జేటు.

The one who does not worship Shiva and praise Hari or does not imbibe the qualities of compassion and truthfulness, should such people be born at all, just to remain as a curse of their mothers’ wombs?

If the whole purpose of devotion is to imbibe compassion, then what is the use of a religion that shuns compassion? One can remember the verse of Bhagavad Geeta where Lord Krishna says that those devotees are dear to him who sees every creature in this universe with Maitri and Karuna. We encounter another heart-warming example in the 10th Skanda of the epic, where Lord Krishna is described as a toddler. The Sanskrit Bhagavatam in the same juncture, describes Shiva’s visit to have the Darshan of the delightful toddler god. Pothana, however departs from the episode and presents a poem visualizing the oneness between the two deities.

నువున నంటిన రణీపరాగంబుపూసిన నెఱిభూతి పూఁ గాఁగ;
ముందల వెలుగొందు ముక్తాలలామంబుతొగలసంగడికాని తునుక గాఁగ;
ఫాలభాగంబుపైఁ రగు కావిరిబొట్టుకాముని గెల్చిన న్ను గాఁగఁ;
గంఠమాలికలోని ననీల రత్నంబుమనీయ మగు మెడప్పు గాఁగ;

హారవల్లు లురగహారవల్లులు గాఁగ;
బాలలీలఁ బ్రౌఢబాలకుండు
శివుని పగిది నొప్పె శివునికిఁ దనకును
వేఱులేమిఁ దెలుప వెలయునట్లు.

The mud smeared on the child (Krishna) was, but the cover of ash of Shiva. The string of pearls which kept his lustrous curls in place was, but the crescent that adorned Shiva’s head. The mark of musk on Krishna’s forehead was, but the very third eye that won over Kama. The sapphire studded neck jewel of Krishna was, but the serpents that adorned Shiva. Thus the all-knowing child in his games manifested as the very Shiva himself, to proclaim that the Hari and Hara are one and the same!

I shall have to end the article with an admission that I haven’t yet read the full text of unabridged Bhagavatam in Telugu. My knowledge of the few verses is the legacy given to me by my parents and grandparents whose post dinner routine included a light minded recitation of poems that made a mark in my mind.  

References: Those interested to read the full text in Telugu can refer to this site –http://telugubhagavatam.org/

Easy To Mock Hindoos And Their Holy Cows, Difficult To Truly Revere Nature

First published on Swarajya Magazine on 15 October 2015.

Jaitirth Rao in his article, this matter of beef starts with making a right statement that the present laws protect neither the cows nor the dairy farmers. This post of mine is not just a reply to his article but a call to all those who think of themselves as truly liberal (on both sides of political ideologies) to examine their arguments about beef and environmentalism and yes, ‘economic viability’.

Before I proceed, please read my ceremonial disclaimer (written for those friends who have some special intellectual capabilities to assume otherwise).

—What happened in Dadri was a crime and is punishable by law. No less, no more and I don’t support lynching, beating up or murdering on taking law into own hands in any form, given any reason.

—I respect Mr Jaitirth Rao very much. The article is a counter to his arguments and is not to be taken otherwise.  

The inability of dairy farmers in sustaining the old cows which are not economically ‘useful’ is real. My deeply hurt emotions aside, let us accept that it is a problem that a farmer faces. The death of animals in stray accidents and by consuming harmful plastic waste (our precious gift to nature and our callous denial to think about recycling processes, lest we forget) is regrettable.

Ranjit Sinhji’s culinary choices don’t define my sensibilities, nor does Bhavabhuti’s supposed liking for veal. Not even the supposed verses of Rig Veda or whatever part of scriptures that mention cow meat define my sensibilities. As a Hindu, it is a matter of pride for me that the Hindoos (Continuing Mr. Rao’s advised spelling) have gone ahead and defied their Vedic references to beef and have stood against slaughter(assuming such references exist). I call this evolution of thought. We all evolved from cannibalism too. Just that there were no religious texts in that period. In course of evolution, we moved away from it and equated cannibalism with Rakshasatva or demonic nature. Agriculture is considered a breakthrough in human civilization. Why? Logically because we stop being predators and become creators, limiting the harm done by us to the environment.

Any asset (and a domesticated animal, since Mesopotamian times has been viewed as an asset) automatically becomes a less attractive investment if it loses its residual value.

This is the kind of statement that could hurt the sensibilities of a Hindu who claims to have even an iota of care for the nature and to any lover of environment. Cattle are the one main reason behind our evolution from predators to creators. A Hindu mind considers them as a partner in the civilization and not mere assets that exist to provide economical value. One can argue that cattle was considered as ‘wealth’ in any civilization and hence the argument. A Hindu heart considers even ‘wealth’ as worship worthy. In fact it owes its reverence to every animate and inanimate object that contributed to universal sustenance and the ‘holy cow’ is a symbol of this universal reverence.

Humane slaughter does sound like a desirable alternative to the otherwise painful death. But it does so assuming that the animal’s right to life is a function of its economic viability to the human being. Mr. Rao also feels that keeping the animals whose meat is protein rich at the cost of humans remaining protein deficient being a tad stupid is regrettable. No, the civilization and evolution we pride about, if it has just turned us into sophisticated predators, there is too less to be proud of being a human and lecture about humanity.

“Keeping alive surplus cattle which contribute to the dreaded methane in the environment (Dear Reader: I shall spare you the scatological details) is clearly a very very bad thing as far as Eco friends are concerned”

I shall reserve my reaction on this statement and it might just be a worthy task for each of us to contemplate on the multitude ways in which we release dreaded stuff into environment. May be we can make a case for humane slaughter of humans too! (I am not serious, but the logic suggests it this way).

Science is a great way to look at development. But looking at it from just a curious statistical evidence might not make case for slaughter. Slaughter to win a couple of cricket matches then makes it look like it is fine to kill a being for our sportive delight. I would rather prefer to lose a few matches or to come up with any breakthrough that could enable a sportsperson to depend less on height. Alternatively, can we think supplements?

The questions about the effectiveness of the law remain. But we need to choose how we would proceed to make them effective. Of course it is easy and tempting to mock at the Hindoo’s tailored protection of the holy ‘cow’. It is also sane to challenge the Hindoos to arrange for alternative protection centres as opposed to abandoning them on the road to die. (We can alternatively watch the way we dispose plastic unless we are fine with the thought that we are the blessed species with sole rights to pollute environment with plastic while the animals can be humanely slaughtered for their dreaded methane).

I know that it hurts the high egos of intellectuals to recognize the simple minded environmental symbolism of Hindoos. As a Hindu, I would look up at anyone taking this love for the holy cow forward to a stage of saner implementation where being a human does not mean coming up with ridiculous arguments to justify slaughter. If supporting slaughter makes me a liberal, the word seems to lose its sheen. Would prefer to be called otherwise for siding with life.

Tech-at-heart, take a dip into the confluence of ancient Indian arts and science

This was written for Yourstory. Yourstory.com is  India’s no.1 media platform for entrepreneurs, dedicated to passionately championing and promoting the entrepreneurial ecosystem in India. The article was published in March 2015

What connects the Amish Tripathi, Pranav Mistry and Manjul Bhargava? I bet the answer is something that connects the crores of Indians across the globe. The Indian scriptural knowledge, be it the ‘as it was’ epics, myriad of Puranas or the contemplative Upanishads, has captured our fascination. It always had and will continue to do so. The versatility of Indian scriptures in terms of rich interpretations has penetrated to grassroots since millennia, which has resulted in what we pride as our civilization. My interactions with people across multiple spheres of life brought me interesting anecdotes.

My mother Usha Krishnaswamy is a soft skills coach by profession and a language teacher at heart. I grew up watching her teach vocabulary to students using anecdotes from the ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’ and the benefits were multifold. She prizes the holistic nature of education that school students would benefit through those stories instead of monotonous rote learning.

My father Krishnaswamy Kumar, a senior advocate at Anantapur, AP, mentions how the immortal stories help putting things in perspective. He says that the villagers who form a large portion of his clientele vouch by them and the anecdotes are endless. One such intriguing tale was about a faction leader reforming himself and his feudal group influenced by ‘Ramayana’. He also admitted to my father about his routine, including reciting some Telugu poems about the epic every night.

A rural entrepreneur, Haritha, says that an anecdote from the ‘Mahabharata’ about Krishna cleaning up the empty leaves and leftovers by the guests at Rajasuya changed the attitude of men in her family. She is happy that from that day, the men started to help women in all domestic chores in her family.

My father added in the end that rural population is more connected to roots than their urban counterparts. But my interactions with the urban peers left me pleasantly surprised. I have been a great admirer of Adi Sankaracharya for his ever inspiring ‘Atma Shatkam’ that emphasizes the limitless nature of the self. My initial years as a startup consultant revealed to me that many entrepreneurs and corporate professionals treat this as a life mantra for inspiration. Geeta Vaidyanathan, a Bangalore-based marketing professional says the ‘Bhagawat Gita’ helps her keep her faith. Remembering the stanzas from there are helpful, she claims, to stay balanced through challenging presentations and negotiations.

A Hyderabad-based founder of a startup applauds the experimental nature of ancient scientists. The mathematical works of Bhaskara II, especially the discovery of ‘infinity’ influences him the most. He also highlights the work done in the field of differential mathematics and series expansion by a 14thcentury mathematician Madhava which evolved later into a comprehensive mathematical branch called Calculus. A coder and algorithm lover at heart, he cites with a lot of zeal, the unique experimental aspects in which classical music, mathematics and literature intertwine. The tech-at-hearts sure have a lot to explore there!

Srishti Rai, an aspiring animation artist from Pune, dreams of building what she calls India’s Pixar Studios one day.  The form of Durga as the epitome of ‘shakti’ or spirit is her favourite. The thought of Durga mounted on a lion she says helped her combat a physical condition during childhood and pursue her passion of drawing. A trained Hindustani singer herself, Srishti likes it that music and dance are accepted as a worshipful offering to the divine.

Mahesh, a Physics Researcher based in Australia, a history enthusiast and a dear friend (with whom I have never ending debates), bemoans how the once excellent ecosystem for philosophical debates has just become a largely ritualistic belief system. Citing the rituals followed around eclipses, he asks why people still follow it when it is proven that it is just a periodic celestial conjunction and not some snake devouring the Sun. He blames the fearful theistic attitudes for the loss of the basic ecosystem for debate.

Pavan Kumar Kunchapu, a solution architect at Purnatva Solutions, a Bangalore-based startup, however is more optimistic about the takeaways in Indian ancient literature. He quotes a story of Vikramaditya by Kalidasa which was a part of high school curriculum as his source of strength during tough times. For someone with a humble rural background, Pavan says Bhartrihari’s anthology, also taught in school made him see the positives of life and use every barrier as a stepping stone.  Sheelena Shobhate Vidya (character is what glorifies education) remains his favourite quote while facing corporate intrigues.

The round of interaction with everyone left me enlightened about the innocent and intellectual ways people connect to their roots and find solace, inspiration and even ethical caution. My pondering always brought me new questions. As a civilization with multi-millennial history, haven’t we seen shameful and horrendous incidents? We have. Is everything of past as glorious as some of us boast with no dark spots? No it isn’t. Then what keeps it going?

I think it is the ability to question the past without delinking from it. It is the legacy which once believed in conducting ritual yajna to please Indra for rains. It is the same legacy which let Krishna oppose the same ritual and replace it with nature worship of Govardhana. It is the legacy that once advocated division of labour through Varna(caste) classification. But the very same legacy included the Bhakti movement, which challenged such stratifications citing the omnipresent spirit.

Owning the past but adapting to the present, nurturing dissent but coexisting with diversity is what that makes the ancient, ageless. Just the same way the field of science has a place for all the theories from old and disproved to new and empirical. Can science ever age? Generations of thinkers, implementers and reformers contribute to the dynamic culture of the land lying to the east of River Sindhu. The continuous evolution defines its eternal nature –Sanatana – built to last?

Battling the demons – Abuse on Social Media

This was written for Myind Makers and was published in August 2015.

Ramayana, rich with its tales tells us the story of the Vanara Lords, Vali and Sugriva. Vali is believed to have a boon that lets him suck half the opponent’s energy whenever he duels. This makes him unconquerable and even conceited. When he banishes his twin brother Sugriva and even imprisons his wife, there was not much the latter could do. All the attempts to face Vali left Sugriva powerless given Vali’s boon. Sugriva then met Hanuman who was wiser not to waste his energies in facing Vali. Instead his power came of immense use in a much bigger battle in the Ramayana, making him an indispensable friend in need.

Symbolically, the story made me wonder about an individual’s loss of temper when provoked, thus reducing his or her own sense of balance, becoming vulnerable. Provocateur baiting is an age old war strategy used on people known to lose temper easily and it seemed to work. We see it working on Social media too. On Twitter where many express their political and ideological inclinations, provocateur baiting happens on a daily basis, trapping the unsuspecting individuals into knee jerk reactions. The same reactions fuel these baiters into driving their point home as the confused ‘Sugrivas’ see their own strength being used against them.

Social media has achieved a great level of equalizing and normalizing online opinions. Opinion making thus is no longer the turf of a select privileged lot. They can no longer pretend to echo the common sentiments which they anyways never do. The elitism that had been trumped in the first half of this decade has now resorted to this age old and time tested strategy of provocateur content. This brings to us, the flip side of the social platforms where the strength of individuals unknowingly works for the ones they oppose. I’m not saying that I am against these social platforms (albeit unknowingly) becoming tools for obscure public personalities to ‘redeem’ themselves and claim some fame (There is no point in debating the moral aspects of baiting and crying foul).

I see a deeper issue in provoking extreme reactions. I have seen more than a few cases where heated discussions have dented the professional productivity of an individual. Call me paranoid, but one cannot ignore the cascading effects of a negative online footprint which can work against the provoked individual in ways more than one. Resisting provocation thus becomes an important step towards achieving a saner discussion online. I am reminded of this Indic poetical feat called Avadhaana (popular in Sanskrit, Telugu and Kannada) where an Avadhaani is quizzed by 8 scholars testing various aspects of his or her poetical authority. One of them is Aprastuta Prasanga where he or she is interrupted with totally irrelevant questions. The rule is that the Avadhaani should not lose his wit and even answer the questions with an element of humour thus proving his wit.

As netizens, we do not face this constraint and it is totally within our power to decide whether a provocative content warrants a response or not. Before that, one can as well contemplate whether it is worth taking the content to heart and get affected enough to give an angry response. It is easier said than done and I admit I have lost my temper too. But conscious improvement is what we call as Sadhana and it is important not to give up on one’s own self when we are pursuing a Sadhana. Fact and wit driven dissent and debate add a lot of value to a discourse but not hate filled content, provocative or reactionary. For those who find themselves easily affected by such content I would like to quote a well-known Telugu poem composed by a 13th Century poet Bhadranna Bhupala

Tana kopame tana shatruvu
Tana shantame tanaku raksha daya chuttamb
ou
Tana santoshame s
wargamu
Tana du
hkhame narakamandru tathyamu sumati !

One’s anger is one’s enemy,
Balancing temper is one’s protection. Compassion is one’s relative.
Heaven is nothing but one’s own happiness
and hell is one’s own misery, so true it is

Again, admit that it is easier said than done. To put it in simple words, it could make a good start to avoid contact with those who provoke you or disturb your peace of mind. If you want to take on the proverbial provocateur Valis of today, it is necessary to ensure that they do not leverage on your strength, and in this context, your networks. Un-following some of the everlasting outrage handles on either side of political and cultural lines has helped me a lot in firstly guarding my own peace and secondly, limiting their reach to whatever possible minute level. It is also a noteworthy aspect that the number of followers/likes/retweets of an abusive/provocative profile or content (whether you accept it or not) serves as an endorsement of the content and the person. This makes me think that un-following a provocative person is also a moral obligation as you do your bit to stop the negativity from spreading.

Coming back to our analogy, it needed a Rama to successfully deal with the Vali of Ramayana. Rama could do it not only because he first secured himself from the consequences of a self-defeating step like facing Vali in a duel, but also because his arrow contained the power to pierce Vali’s impenetrable skin. Truth fuelled by a balanced tone of the narrator always has a long life. Not everyone is a Rama, though I don’t deny the possibility of acquiring the potential to become one. But till then, one can instead choose to be a Hanuman who preserved his strength for a bigger battle than consume himself by taking on Vali. This burns down to another topic of what is the greater battle or greater purpose. That is for each of us to ponder over.