Startups, Ecosystem and Empathy

This really happened. A young and inexperienced professional messaged a popular Startup founder that he needs help in finding a job. The founder did NOT respond in a way that showed any traces of empathy. Naming and shaming him is not my job because I think the message of empathy is more important than defaming the founder.

The reason that Startups are loved and the founders are glorified is because they create jobs (of course, apart from all the innovation and disruption jazz that we hear in those big talks). It is no big a surprise if multiple requests for employment hits a startup founder’s inbox every day. But Startups need an ecosystem. Ecosystem needs empathy. As a startup founder, what is your empathy quotient? Judge yourself by the picture below.

 

Empathy pyramid1

Note: Graphic created with inspiration from Graham’s hierarchy of disagreement.

Book Review of Madurai Sultanate, a concise history by Sandeep Balakrishna

For a country that has been programmed to understand their history from a Delhi-centric perspective, books focussing on other empires give a refreshing point of view. It is not only about expanding the scope of the historical study, but also about understanding the chain of historical events from a grounded position.

The book about Madurai Sultanate piqued my interest, given my ongoing research on South Indian history. (Also, read my review of Gods, Kings and Slaves, the siege of Madurai where  Venkatesh Ramakrishnan gives a gripping prelude to the fall of Madurai to Islamic invasions).

Madurai Sultanate is a quick and short read that covers the history of Madurai from the rise of Kulashekhara Pandya whose rise is marked by his victory over the Cholas and elaborates on the fraternal conflict between his sons Sundara Pandya and Veera Pandya. The book also elaborates on the incessant efforts by the generals of Alauddin Khilji. We also get to know about the various bouts of resistance offered by different Hindu Kings. To my pleasant surprise, I found a good amount of detail about Veera Bhallala of Hoyasalas and Pratapa Rudra of Warangal.

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Picture source : Amazon

I rate the book 5/5 and here is why.

1. The topic deals with a region often ignored in the mainstream history. The importance of studying Madurai Sultanate is not about how long the empire survived. As the author rightly opines, the negligible run the Sultanate got was ridden with palace conspiracies, fratricides and continuous rebellions from all sides of the borders. But the topic’s significance has more to do with continuous resurgence offered by the Hindu Kingdoms, a point that many historians have consistently failed to highlight.
2. Detail covered. As a history enthusiast, I do start any history text with some amount of background reading. I was agile about any detail being left out by the author in packing so much information. Trust me, he impresses. The only detail he left out was probably the names of Telugu resurgents like Kapayya Nayaka and Vema Reddi when the narrative briefly touches the come back by Warangal after Prataparudra’s death.
3. Research. The author takes care to quote from a lot of accounts right from the records of ancient travellers like Ibn Batuta and Ferishta to the modern historians like RC Majumdar and Nilakantha Sastri. The quotations are diligently placed making the historian in the reader more and more thirsty for further research and reading
4. Flow and language. Pages keep turning effortlessly and a quick reader can finish the book in about an hour or two but is very much enriched. I got to know the names of so many kings about whom I have never heard. I could see the myriad problems faced by the Delhi Sultanate even as it tried to expand its course. It is really hard to believe that so much is stored in a 43 page short read. Any mainstream historian could have written the same information in two volumes in flowery language that takes a reader days weeks to complete.
5. Tone of the narrative. Let us face it. Some accounts by older historians about Islamic invaders are gory and disgusting. But the author’s dealing with these gory details of various invasions were dealt with an admirable amount of dispassion. The reader does not get to hear the voice of author till the final section he gives his takeaways from the account. Even there, not much is there to disagree with him.

About the author :  Sandeep Balakrishna is the Editor of IndiaFacts Research Centre. He is the author of Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore and the English translator of S.L. Bhyrappa’s Aavarna. He is also an active columnist on issues related to history and culture of India.

Buy this book at amazon. The author confirms that only a Kindle edition is available currently.

 

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

Can the Lutyens’ elite resolve the mistrust they evoke from an aspirational Indian? My response to @MalikAshok ‘s column.

The noted columnist, Ashok Malik in his very thoughtful piece opines that the Modi Government needs to over come its ‘Lutyens Paranoia’. He says that the under performance of the present Government in the last 18 months is a result of its dysfunctional relationship with Delhi and the institutions that constitute the political sinews of this city.

From an ideal point of view, a dysfunctional relationship with crucial institution is a no-no. One would not want to disengage from those domain experts and intellectuals who are expected to contribute their experience and insights for the good of the country and economy.

Before going further, let me admit that I have been a vociferous supporter of the Bharatiya Janata Party and of Narendra Modi. But that does not fix my identity. I am an average aspirational Indian who wants to have a better life than my father did and in future, give my children a better life than I have. I am sure that many share this aspiration and this was the crucial factor behind Narendra Modi’s thumping victory in 2014.

18 months down the line, it does feel concerning see lack of coherence and clarity from the government. (Yes, I am more than willing to give it time and I dearly want this government and the country to succeed.) I would even encourage the government to listen to opinions from all sides of political and ideological corners. However, a call to the government to start engaging with Lutyens’ gives me a sense of insecurity. While not against the engagement, I want to list down reasons for my insecurities.

The residents of Lutyens’ (Shall consciously use this term and not resort to rhetoric) are believed to be elites. Political opinions also paint them as loyalists of the Gandhi dynasty. Many times, I got a feeling that they shun the aspirations of an average Indian. While the country suffers from multiple problems, they are seen engaging in discussions and sensational issues that do not speak highly about their priorities. They feel that profit is a dirty word. They are seen supporting activists who protest infrastructural projects, but are not ready to provide workable alternatives.

What is sauce for the goose, is not for the gander. What goes for the elite and posh Lutyens’ Delhi doesn’t go for the villages in Haryana. For instance, trying to hold every village to their exalted standards of clothing and “freedom” where women get raped when they go out to the fields, smacks of elitist arrogance. Horror of horrors, we even hear some voices of the Lutyens’ openly campaigning to pardon the very heinous rapists. How can they love the criminal but then take a high ground and put the blame of the crime on the society?

Most of them are even inflicted with a compulsive obsession to speak against every nationalist initiative. Some of them from the media front even resort to cheap baiting on Social media just to suit their narrative. Some of them are thought to be sympathisers of hostile countries across the border than our own. In other words, their ability to solve the country’s problems in the last ten years came under extreme suspicion. Their elitist high headedness doesn’t help.

Yes I sound paranoid, because I am paranoid. Call me harsh and uncharitable. But the truth is that the mistrust is way too entrenched in me and I can say with reasonable confidence that many middle class Indians feel the same way. Considering the state the country is in, and the action it needs, I am not against Modi government taking a step in engaging them back in action but before that, can I as an average Indian have the Lutyens’ assurance that they care for me?

If they expect the government to warm up to them, they also need to come out of their cosy cocoons and engage with us, the common lot. No, the beef and intolerance dramas make me feel that they would rather see the country fail than let Modi succeed. Yes, this is the crux of the mistrust that I would expect the residents of Lutyens’ to address. They need to come clean with their priorities. They need to prove that they would like to see the country succeed though it is in the hands of their ‘bitter enemy’ Modi. I again repeat, they let their hatred and disdain for Modi show in every action of theirs than their intention to see India succeed.

They need to take a step forward and voice actionable solutions than while away time and money on theoretical flaws of the proposed solutions. They need to be seen openly engaging with constructive initiatives of the government (say Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao for instance) than sit and pass cynical comments about the regressive ironies of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or take pot shots at Hindu civilization. They need to stop nit picking if they cannot give saner alternatives and admit what is a wiser solution for any current issue.

Guilty of repeating. But my question to the residents of Lutyens’ remains. Are you willing to swallow your hatred for Modi and let your love for Indians show up instead? If yes, unfurl the white flag and prove it.

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.

How united are we?

Had blogged this almost two years before. Might be right to call it my first formal blog post, thanks to the encouragement of Ratnakar Sadasyula (@Scorpiusmaximus on Twitter), the founder of https://mirrortoindia.wordpress.com/ and the author of “Inglorious Kweezerds” and “History under your feet”. Adding this to my collection today on my views on Caste system.

Politically Incorrect

I hear a lot of bigwigs in the mainstream media projecting a certain leader as ‘divisive’ and hence not suitable to lead this country. No prizes for guessing who the ‘divisive’ leader is. But what sets me thinking is about how united we are in the first place as the citizens of this country. Even a superfluous study of the political scenario in different states would tell us how castes and religious communities are treated as vote banks. Yes, there is no dearth of divisive leaders for we as voters have time and again proved that our unity is can easily be broken with the feudal caste card.

Caste has remained one of the the left wing’s favourite punch bags to bash Hinduism. Given their credibility, I would certainly not buy their rhetoric but this element of social classification is certainly worth a thought.

The first basis of caste had…

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Of Caste and Outcaste – Attempt to diagnose the roots of oppression

I am thankful to Rohini Bakshi didi for encouraging me to express my thoughts on caste boldly. This was published on her Learn Sanskrit blog. Rohini Bakshi (@RohiniBakshi on twitter)  is a Sanskrit teacher based in London and the founder of #SanskritAppreciationHour, a regular twitter chat led by her and other Sanskrit scholars that explores grammatical aspects of Sanskrit literature and delightful stories.

“We got rid of the caste system, but not caste-ism.” This was an anguished admission of a dear friend of mine whose views generally clash with mine. Yes, in today’s world of hurried and forced labels, one can call him a ‘liberal’ and me, a ‘conservative’. The context of the conversation was based on the electoral dynamics where certain castes end up being the vote banks. I often wondered if I was among the finite minority that cringed every time electoral results are analyzed on TV screens with caste dynamics over riding the real issues. (May be, one could get philosophical and argue about what is real and what is not!)

My liberal friend and I share a view in common, that we would like to see these lines of caste disappear in our respective ideal worlds. Yes, discrimination is a disease, a disease which requires the medicine of social reformation.  But here I come to the point where I would differ from my friends on the other side of the imaginary line of liberalism. The point is about the diagnosis of the disease. Much of the literature on the social dynamics lays blame on the Hindu fourfold Varna system.  I find the famous line of purusha sukta being quoted with a lot of zeal to prove that discrimination existed right in Vedic texts.

The ones that lay the blame do conveniently forget the openness of the interpretation that the Vedic texts have. My spiritual guru, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba had advocated many times that service to the lowest strata of the society is the real ‘pada puja’ made to the universal Lord.

Interpretations and politics apart, I think that the much blamed chaturvarna system died a long while ago. I call it a dead system as the social dynamics of the Varna system had long turned porous and post the dark ages and before the invasions from the middle east, we do have many instances of new dynasties being founded independent of the ‘four-fold’ sanction. The Mauryas, the Guptas, the Shatavahanas, the Kakatiyas and many such empires made a mark in the history defying the much blamed sanction. May be there was no strict sanction and power dynamics redefined the sanction? I would leave it to the historians and period scholars to determine it. The founding of a new empire was often based on pulling down another empire where mostly the King had turned oppressive and unpopular. Empires used to reach the peaks of glory when they balanced the expansion of land with administrative reforms that left the citizens happy. They often reached their peril due to oppressive rule that galvanized a revolution or due to strategic mistakes which gave their rivals an upper hand.

Oppression in such cases in my opinion shifted to power dynamics. Those who wielded power (excluding the heroic kings and reformers who we all remember with reverence) oppressed those who were ideologically opposed to them or presented a threat. That is the reason why I feel blaming the purusha sukta for oppression serves no real purpose and is rather a lazy diagnosis of a serious social problem. The ones doing so probably are not accountable to give a solution so can command the luxury of such lazy diagnosis. But it is important for the ones looking for real solutions to get to the real roots of the problem. When I hear of inhuman practices that prevail among India’s lesser accessible areas, my belief is further strengthened. Though not proud of my knowledge of scriptures, I am yet to come across any such inhuman doctrines which forbid the ‘lower’ class from using the common wells in the village and advocate violent things.

Oppression is always the language of power maniacs and not of the system writers. As repetitive as I might sound with this sentence, I would want the readers to realize this and more. If one throws the blame of oppression on Hinduism, one has to realize that the defying discrimination also belongs to Hinduism more than the imported idealist theories. I refer to the Bhakti movement and the scores of reforms that were achieved by the likes of Mahatma Basaveshwar, Madhvacharya, the Nayanmars of Tamilnadu and the scores of composers who have denounced all forms of birth based discrimination. My personal favourite is the one in Telugu, “Brahmamokkate” by Sri Tallapaka Annamacharya. Those interested can find the complete lyric and meaning here (http://www.karnatik.com/c1107.shtml). There are more compositions of his decrying discrimination and oppression.

One needs to observe that Bhakti movement scored above the recent movements against caste in one thing – restoring the dignity and in preaching universalism that brought the people of various strata together. Sadly the modern movements though rooted in progressive ideals have done little more than casting the oppressed classes into political toys through reverse discrimination. This is the reason why we see clans and communities aspiring for ‘backward’ tag for reservations and other short term benefits. Sadly, this is the greatest harm that the social engineers of the last century have done to our system. I can only hope that the next wave of reformers would take inspiration from those movements which have advocated the oneness and inherent human merit across the divisions rather than those which have capitalized on mutual hatred and reverse oppression.

Sadaalambaa Saraswathi – Reclaiming The Field Of Arts And Humanities

This was written for Swarajya Magazine and published in June 2015.

For those whose history enthusiasts whose awareness is beyond what the erstwhile NCERT wanted us to learn, the name of the Paramara King Bhoja of Dhar strikes a chord. Best known as the King who organized a confederation of Hindu rulers against the armies of Muhammad Ghaznavi, he was also an acclaimed scholar. The patronage of arts and literature reached an all time high during his rule despite turbulent political conditions. In fact, Sri Krishna Devaraya in whose time the Vijayanagara empire reached its zenith was given the epithet ‘Andhra Bhoja’, the Bhoja of Andhras after the original Bhoja Raja. The following was said in support of his patronage of arts:

Adya dhaara Sadaadhaara Sadaalambaa Saraswathi
Panditah manditah sarve Bhoja Raaje bhuvangateH

The Dhara is supported for good. Saraswathi is well secured.
The scholars are prosperous as the Bhoja Raja descended on this earth

The lament around his death was

Adya dhaara niraadhaara niraalambaa Saraswati
Panditah Khanditah sarve Bhoja Raje Divangateh

The Dhara is unsupported. Saraswathi is without security.
The scholars are broken and scattered as the Bhoja Raja departed from this earth.

The disturbing fact however may be that Saraswathi continued to be a niraalamba save the periodic bright sparks in the Gajapati, Vijayanagara, Tanjavur empires and to an extent the Maratha and smaller regional empires. Southern India however had a brighter period with epics written in fresh perspectives and selected Puranic episodes being expanded into Prabandhas with sufficient intellectual inputs and literary expertise to drive a contemporary message . But when seen in in the last 1000 years or so, the Saraswati continued to be a niraalambaa for a large period. We can understand that the tumultuous foreign invasions, new empires hostile to the native roots followed by the impoverishing British rule took its toll over patronage of arts.

It is however lamentable that the situation only worsened post independence. The areas of arts, literature, history and economics continued to stay without the much needed prop. One might argue that the governments did do what was in their hands with Sahitya Akademi grants, Padma awards and so on. It can also be accepted that the performing arts got their share of recognition albeit the scepticism around who really deserved the awards. But when I searched for some answers to the following questions, it did not leave me with a sweet taste.

How many avadhaanis won a Padma award compared to say their luckier (or cronier) counterparts in English?

Forget awards, how many avadhaanis are even alive and how many would pursue the skill in future? (When I asked this to a friend, he replied with a laugh saying how many of us even know what an Avadhana is)

Are there contemporary poets who can match the literary versatility of the historical poets?

Forget contemporary poets, how much of the historical literature is even taught in the high school level to create enough awareness and hence, interest in the field?

Are the art forms of Harikatha, Yakshagana, Katha Shravana, etc staring into extinction (if not for some passionate artists who choose to sacrifice their careers to live those arts)

When was the last time the town halls in our small towns (not metros) witnessed a concert/recital/Kavi sammelan?

Plainly speaking, how many students choose the field of arts and literature with a passion and how many do so because they just could not manage to get into professional career streams?

For the mainstream population which in the last five decades has depended on a salaried career for their survival, the field of arts had little to attract. The situation spiralled into a vicious circle with lesser students opting for a career in arts and humanities. The departments in the universities turned into vehicles for narrow propaganda with negativity dominating an average arts student. If one was not a lucky child or relative of a well-placed bureaucrat or a politician, unemployment loomed large and generations of Humanties graduates fell prey to ideological battles rather than growing and contributing to the field.

The fields of technology, management and medicine are self sustaining and a generation of techies who had to migrate out of the country in search of opportunities have actually contributed to the rise of ‘IT generation’ saving the country from a large scale unemployment (despite the jibes like ‘IT coolies’ and ‘those who voted with their feet’ from known corners). But arts and humanities needs patronage by the governments, by the affluent class and the common class alike. The result of lack of patronage has come out clear in the recent times. A humanities graduate embarrassed us by asking stupid questions to the Managing Director of International Monetary Fund. A so called study circle in the Humanities department put a premier technology institute on headlines for wrong reasons. At personal and anecdotal levels the examples could be endless. I remember encountering a humanities student from Karnataka who did not know who Sri Krishna Devaraya was! (He also had the audacity to ask if I was mispronouncing the name of Sri Krishna Raja Wodeyar of Mysore!)

With the return of a nationalistic government to power, I expect more action in reclaiming the lost field of arts and literature. Entrepreneurs and professionals have survived hostile governments and will definitely flourish in the present term. But artists and believers of native Indian arts need proactive measures from government and initiatives by voluntary organizations. It is not for the living support of these artists, but for the continuity of the legacy which makes us proud. Our ancestors made us proud with their exploits in the field. Are we adding to the pile so that our descendants have an increased pile to be proud of? Importantly, can we enable an average student of arts to dream and aspire like his/her peers in professional education without descending into political crony-ism? Or do we leave them to fret with envy at their peers and get manipulated by vested propagandists? Can we reclaim the field of arts and humanities to reflect and refine our identity as the oldest existing civilization? Or do we leave it to become a convenient tool in the hands of Indophobic entities? Will the Saraswathi get back the home she deserves? Or does she have to await another Bhoja Raja’s descent in the age of democracy? Let our actions determine what we want to answer.

Ab ki Baar QWERTY Sarkaar – A concerned citizen takes stock of Indian General elections 2029

I had written this inspired by a spur of witty conversation on Twitter. This was published by Swarajya in March 2015 http://swarajyamag.com/politics/ab-ki-baar-qwerty-sarkar/)

As the world’s largest democracy gears up for its general elections in 2029, the results of the race to power are fairly evident.  Much to the anguish of liberal India which is just a sad minority, QWERTY of Bharatiya Janata Party seems to be the favored leader according to the internet polls and the social media. I only weep in silence at the rash choice of young India for an industry fanatic like QWERTY over the pro-people contenders like Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party and Rahul Gandhi of the Congress party. The younger generation sadly seems to be in the delusion that QWERTY represents a younger version of Narendra Modi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee of the yesteryears’ BJP.

Keeping political inclinations aside for a moment, one would be greatly insulting the development man of India, Narendra Modi, by comparing fascist and dictatorial QWERTY to him. I was an active detractor of Narendra Modi in the historic 2014 elections when he swept the nation leading the BJP to an unprecedented majority. But I, and all my compatriots admit without hesitation that Narendra Modi carried an air of commitment towards the country which QWERTY can only badly mimic in his rhetorical campaign speeches.

Narendra Modi, despite having his political origins in the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh, a fascist Hindu organization, set himself apart from their ideology. The country cannot forget the pro-people commitment in his memorable statement “Pehle Shouchalay phir Devalay”. The regrettable statement of “Vyapar karo Naukri nahi” to the rural youth by QWERTY is sadly being pepped up as the slogan of the decade. One shudders to think about the consequences when a whole generation thinks of a salaried job as a burden and favours Vyapar!

Acknowledged as amongst the most powerful leaders in the world, Narendra Modi received a pittance for his pay, only higher than that of his Chinese counterpart. His assets would hover around a meager figure of Rs. 1 Crore, which is less than a decade’s earning for today’s corporate executives. QWERTY, on the other hand, flaunts his fashionable wardrobe as a ‘testimony’ to his entrepreneurial past. How can one equate him with Narendra Modi, who devotedly stuck to his simple kurta?

QWERTY’s anti-minority stance bared its horns when he roared in his Patna rally that gods should be restricted to homes and hearts. His unabashed hatred for religious minorities stares into our eyes as he said, “you are India’s sons first and devotees of your gods next”. Can’t the star-struck youth see the brazen patriarchal tyranny in the statement?

Our generation remembers mutely the Narendra Modi who graced Christian congregations and spoke about Swami Vivekananda, showing the diversity of thought in the India we remember. Crimes against minorities were pursued with increased agility in Modi’s regime. QWERTY’s assertion of equality in crime can only pale in front of Modi’s true secular credentials.

Gone are the days where the political leaders of BJP gave space to opposing views. The “candle holder”, as those on twitter call me, can only sigh in sympathy for the simple-minded, bespectacled, kurta clad man whose pro-women, pro-people, pro-country legacy is going to be usurped by a brazen businessman-turned-tyrant who will force a country of 1.4 billion into a dark, risky uncertain regime which he packages as ‘entrepreneurial’.

‘India’s Daughter’: The Problems I See With It

This was published in Swarajya in March 2015 (http://swarajyamag.com/culture/indias-daughter-the-problems-i-see-with-it/) and before that the first part was first published in Mirror to India (https://mirrortoindia.wordpress.com/2015/03/04/indias-daughter-the-problems-around-it-as-i-see/)

After a day of outrage (against the video), I started to ponder on the points that led me to oppose the much discussed video. My ponderings brought me a welcome relief by realizing that the end outcome wished by both the stances is the same – a safer world for women. The ones supporting the video (the saner ones) argue that we as a society need to stop living in denial about the atrocities happening amidst us and need to face the devil within. The other side including me has multiple points from different angles. Most of the saner arguments boil down to aspects below.

– Providing an undeserved platform to a perpetrator of a heinous crime that has shocked the country, a shock that nearly destroyed the faith in the society and system.

– Loose usage of terms like “Rape Culture”, “Majority of Indian men think like this”, “Showing the mirror” are thoughts of as more damaging to the cause than strengthening it.

– A criminal commits a crime only after convincing his own perverted conscience with some perverted sense of entitlement and legitimacy. There is no rocket science to it. A thief reiterates the one having more money does not deserve it, a murderer decides that the one he is going to kill has no right to live and rapist is sure to justify that the victim/survivor asked for it. All the criminals blatantly disrespect and belittle the law, constitution and the system. Many opine that this is exactly how a criminal thinks which is well known and is not an issue which needs a documentary to understand and analyze.

I agree with all the above reasons. My greatest pain has been in realizing the stereotypes the self proclaimed feminists have taken to the town in supporting the video. I hail from a middle class family settled in a town (now a city) in Andhra Pradesh. In my childhood, I have seen my parents struggle to provide me a take-off point in life which would give me more than what they got from their parents. As I finished my schooling, I could gauge an increasing social pressure to provide equal education to girls from same middle class peers. Apart from the academic pressures and career stereo types, I sense the developments as welcome changes.

Today when I visit back my native place, I see girls coming from the remote villages to work or study, braving the twilight travel twice a day through unlit roads. Though their struggle moves me, it gives me the satisfaction of the society going on a right track albeit barriers and obstacles. Fathers, brothers, colleagues, husbands do send their women to claim their rightful public places and that is the Indian male contributing to gender equity which makes me proud and secure.

So the brigade wanting to ‘show the mirror’ needs to contemplate who they want to show the mirror to.

To the Indian father who sends his daughter to far off places so that she studies/works to claim her rightful social share?

To the Indian male colleague who do their bit in making the work place even a tiny bit more friendly and secure to women employees?

To the Indian friend who supports his female friends in variety of free choices and growth?

To the Indian husband who participates in household chores and strives to see his wife succeeding in her career?

To those cab drivers who ferry women to the safety of their homes during late nights? (The bad ones make news and the hundreds of good ones don’t. Of course doing your duty is not something to make news)

To tea-stall vendors, Security boys and countless people on the roads who do their bit in making the world a safer place?

No, I am not glorifying the above men. Neither am I doing an emotional pitch for them. Each of the men mentioned above is contributing to gender equality doing his duty. I dare ask the feminist achievers if they came up in their lives with no male contributing to their success at all? I don’t mean to belittle the stereotypes that they fight, but are they creating new ones in order to fight the old ones thus defeating the very cause of equality?

What we strive for, the world safer for women is an evolutionary goal. Evolution needs each of us to build strong steps to climb upon and build the next steps. And this flight to evolution can be built upon strengths and not by blowing up weaknesses. If the documentary makers are indeed interested to contribute to the cause truly, they would be making inspiring videos of those day labourers whose daughters have made good headlines instead of promoting negative stereotyping about cultures that they hardly tapped into. They would be showing the resilient women and supportive men instead of claiming to show mirrors that are not. They would be appealing to reason and evolution of minds instead of publicizing terrorizing statements by sick minds.

If we are to broadly categorize the Indian men, there are many advancing towards the much awaited gender equal world. They hold dreams for their women and might have fears for them as well. Keep in mind, that rural father or elder brother who sends his daughter/sister to work and study but has a problem with her going to a cinema. Appeal to his vision to broaden even more and call him over to the side of your ideal world . Don’t threaten his roots and push him to the other side, for that would make the world tougher to women and defeat the very cause!

On a side note about those racist perverts who are trying to demonize “majority of Indian men” as rapists, I would dare to say they are unprofessional dishonest and unethical individuals who are capitalizing on the tragedy of a dead girl to sell their narrow minded self serving agendas which would harm the larger interests of not only this country but the world too. And I, a daughter of India along with my sisters, the increasing number of aspiring women workforce stand as a testimony disproving the crap they want to paint my country with!

“India’s Daughter” – How it failed the daughters of India

The British Broadcasting Corporation had to indeed choose the day of Holi to broadcast the documentary “India’s daughter”, despite the concerns expressed by the Govt of India.  Upon viewing the video, I could not help wondering if this was not at all a coincidence. Following the advice of some friends I struggled to keep my mind open to view the video. I am definitely going to fall short of words in describing what I actually felt after watching it. It was a feeling akin of being stabbed in the soul again. It was like getting all my wounds opened up again and being given no medication. I swallowed the details of painful ordeal, Jyoti Singh’s parents had to undergo. I took in the monstrous way in which she was assaulted and murdered from a totally remorseless criminal. Worst of all I had to listen to the self  sanctimonious sermon of those lawyers about some ‘best culture’ knowing that they knew and respected zilch about Indian culture.

The ending of the grueling video felt like a slap, like a mockery with an invisible voice taunting that they can come in and shoot and present the details to their selective satisfaction, open up our wounds and still take a moral high ground. The next day, I hear from news speculating about payments given to the criminal by the film makers for telling us about how his ‘courage’ deserved sexual submission by a free spirited girl! I still do not know how much dirtier the issue can get if an appropriate legal investigation is conducted.

Regardless of the procedures, as a woman, I severely felt let down by another woman. I realized it was not about India’s image outside. That is more determined by the behavior of Indian Diaspora out of India as my western friends assured me. It is not even about alleging all Indian men as someone needing this horrendous ‘mirror’ as I had feared before watching the video. I am prepared to even overlook the needless focus of the camera on the statue of Shiva-Parvati. (Someone is obviously desperate to challenge faith rather than raise relevant questions and someone needs to be charitable about it, fine!)  But it is the sheer casual attitude with which the discourse on rape was derailed which came as a shock. The video severely failed India’s daughters while flaunting the title by thrusting the accountability of a heinous crime on to something loosely (and wrongly) labeled as ‘culture and society’.

I strongly believe we live in the times where people make a system that protects them and abide by the code of the system. We call it constitution. Events like crimes of any nature reflect a failure of the system and as a breach of the code by some people. The video does NOT critique the speed of corrective action by judiciary. It does not even touch the periphery of law making regarding the issue. It raises no awareness about the civil initiatives against the crimes such as rape. There are scores of NGOs that fight against atrocities against women despite all odds and they don’t get a mention! Worst of all, it gives the perpetrators, a full platform to seek legitimacy of their action from their perverted understanding of culture and society.

The narrative in the video elaborates on poverty and troubled childhood of the perpetrators as if circumstances can take the blame. Do the film makers want us to believe that the crime does not exist among the rich, educated and socially suave?  If the fault lies in the ‘Indian Society’ as the film maker wants us to believe, then there have to be societies around the world that have overcome the crime. But a preliminary online research shows that rape is a global shame and no society has been really successful in eradicating it. So who is to take the responsibility for the atrocity according to Leslee Udwin?

A litmus test about the intent of the video would be to examine individual feelings just after viewing it. Is it a resolve to continue in the path to an atrocity-free world or a broken faith on the law and the people? I felt the latter. Yes, the makers of “India’s daughter” grossly failed the daughters of India.

PS : To the daughters/sisters of those monstrous lawyers who said women had no place in our culture. I, a daughter of India care for you, a daughter of India too. Please immediately do what another daughter of India did in our scriptures when she was stuck among atrocious kin. Her name is Devi Rukmini. She has a revered place in Bhagavatam (I am sure that lawyer knows nothing about it)