Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Thoughts … … …

Resentment is the poison you swallow hoping others would die – Carrie Asher

A single rose can be my garden …..
a single friend, my world – Leo Bascaglia

The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity
-          William Butler Yeats

I have never allowed schooling to interfere with my education.
-          Mark Twain

Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education
-          Bertrand Russell

You can only predict things after they’ve happened.
-          Eugene Ionesco

Happy is the man who finds a true friend, and far happier is he who finds that true friend in his wife
-          Franz Schubert

This city is built of bones,
Plastered with blood and flesh,
And filled with
Ageing, death, conceit, and hypocrisy
-          Dhammapada, 150

Knowing others is intelligence but knowing oneself is true wisdom.
-          Lao-Tzu

From ‘My Reminiscences’ by N Balarama Reddy

Bhagavan often commented on the value of listening to Vedic chants.

I saw many Western visitors come to the ashram after reading or hearing about the Maharshi. Of all these foreigners, none impressed me as much as Grant Duff. He was 70-years-old, tall, lean, graceful in his movements, and when he spoke his words were clear and soft, originating from a deep sincerity …..Bhagavan also openly spoke of his virtues. Rarely did I hear Bhagavan speak about anyone like that …..No one has written in English about Bhagavan as he has, as can be seen from his preface to Ramana Gita.

W.Y.Evans-Wentz gave Bhagavan copies of his books, and Bhagavan liked Tibet’s Great Yogi, Milarepa best.

Bhagavan once remarked, referring to himself, ‘In this state it is as difficult to think a thought as it is for those in bondage to be without thoughts.’ ….. ‘You ask me questions and I reply and talk to you. If I do not speak or do anything, I am automatically drawn within and where I am, I do not know.

One day at about 7 P.M., when it was already dark, an indiscreet incident between a man and a woman occurred. When Bhagavan came to know of it, he said that the women devotees should be fed their evening meal by 6:30 P.M. and then sent home. In the case of moral propriety, Bhagavan intervened, but he would never judge or condemn people for their moral lapses. He understood human frailty and was available to teach us how to transcend it, not dwell upon it.

From ‘At the feet of Bhagavan’ by T K Sundaresa Iyer

….Bhagavan remarked that this is just what the look of Grace from a Jnani does. One look into a soul, and the whole tree of past tendencies and prejudices (vasana), gathered up through long cycles of past births is burned up and decays away. Then the reality of the Self is experienced. Thus He explained …..the supreme Jnana obtained with the touch of the Saint can never be won through the study of any number of Scriptures, or by any store of good deeds, or by any other spiritual practices and efforts.

From ‘My Life at Sri Ramanasramam’ by Suri Nagamma

Elders say Sreyamsi Bahu Vighnani. That means good work encounters several obstacles.

Bhagavan often said that those unable to meditate would succeed in their endeavor by circumambulating Arunachala.

…..scriptures emphasise the fact that with just a little control of mind, one can progress on the road to Self-enquiry. Bhagavan has written a song whose import is that Self-Knowledge is very easy. If the mind is not allowed to stray after the senses and directed to enquire its true nature, certainly the Heart is reached and the Self perceived. Our prime duty therefore is to still the mind and search within for the Self. This is the essence of Karma, Bhakti, Yoga and Jnana, says Bhagavan in his Upadesa Saram.

From ‘Purushottama Ramana. A pictorial presentation with anecdotes from Bhagavan Ramana's life’ by V Ganesan

Bhagavan’s upadesa was ‘Summa Iru’, “Be Still”, the purport of all the scriptures

When asked to define the goal of life, He said: “Getting rid of the non-existent misery and attainment of the Bliss which is always there.”

A questioner once wanted a clear exposition of nishkamya karma. Bhagavan did not reply but started smoothening a rough stick, took great pains to polish and beautify it. It demanded many hours of concentrated work. When it was finished and the stick looked shining and attractive, a woodcutter who happened to come there, was presented with it by Bhagavan, spontaneously….

From ‘Travels on My Elephant’ by Mark Shand

India shows what she wants to show, as if her secrets are guarded by a wall of infinite height. You try to climb the wall – you fall; you fetch a ladder – it is too short; but if you are patient a brick will loosen and then another. Once through, India embraces you …….

‘India is like an elephant,’ I was told. ‘She moves slowly.’

….he….told me that when one is buying an elephant, there are five points to look for that one doesn’t look for when buying a wife, and vice versa. Unfortunately, he could not remember what they were.

Gur is unrefined molasses, and to elephants it is like foie-gras to a gastronome. They love it.

With wonderful imagination, a trait seemingly inbred amongst artisans of Orissa.

As we entered Konarak the first rays of a glorious sunrise were illuminating the Black Pagoda, a temple of such solitary grandeur yet of such sensuality that my first impression was one of shock. I had been fortunate once, many years ago, to have visited an empty Taj Mahal on a bright moonlight night and had thought that nothing I would ever see could surpass it for its beauty. But the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum, a tomb, silent in its splendor while Konarak is alive, a constant motion of stone – celestial nymphs with swelling breasts and rounded hips, the rhythms of the lovers and the ecstasy on the faces of the erotic statues. Its energy is manifest in scenes of royal hunts and military expeditions, with infantry, cavalry and elephants marching in full regalia, speaking of the dream of an ambitious and mighty monarch….Konarak is the peak of Orissan architecture about which it is said that the artisans ‘built like Titans and finished like jewelers.’

Watching an elephant take a bath is a delight in itself, but bathing with, or washing an elephant is something close to experiencing paradise. When I reached the river she was lying at full length with a contented expression on her face. Bhim and Gokul were busily scraping her with stones and the normally grey skin on her protruding backside was already turning black and shiny. Occasionally the tip of her trunk emerged like the periscope of a submarine, spraying them playfully with water before disappearing again and blowing a series of reverberating bubbles.

Bhim began to reminisce in a mumbling voice. ‘Haathi, nicer than people. Only hurt if you trick. Never eat until haathi eat. If feed well always faithful. But not not steal haathi food. Haathi always know. Haathi wait. Then haathi attack. Many mahouts bad, steal haathi food. Bad mahout, dead mahout.’

There was something reassuring about an elephant close by. It was like being guarded by a huge jovial nanny, and I fell asleep dreaming of tigers and temples.

The invasions of Orissa had begun in AD 1205 with the purpose of securing the superior breed of elephants for which Orissa is famous. …..Invaded and occupied by the Mohammedans for five hundred years, the state of Orissa was plunged into further despair by the arrival of the Marathas…. ‘During the famine of 1770…..when people were dying in their hundreds of thousands ….went completely berserk and “raged like wild beasts across the country”.’

Considering their size, it is remarkable how elephants can move so soundlessly. Tara’s footsteps, at their loudest, resembled the shuffle of an old man wearing carpet slippers.

‘Elephants are like human beings, Sahib’ he whispered. ‘They like companionship. Don’t leave her for too long. Every evening before you sleep, talk to her. Tell her stories.’

In a matter of a mile, the difference between Orissa and Bihar became visible. It was like suddenly parting the leaves on the edge of a rain forest and stepping into a scorched desert. Gone was the colour, the lushness, the laughter, the languid sensuality that manifested itself in Orissa, to be replaced by a harsh, suspicious and angry terrain. It showed in the quality of the tea, the sudden absence of fresh paan, the drabness of the lunghis, the condition of the villages and, above all, in the people. Our attitude changed accordingly. Bhim and Gokul became nervous and unsure of themselves. …At a small bank we stopped to change travelers cheques. The manager could not understand why I wanted to travel through his state. ‘When God created Bihar, Mr Shand,’ he told me, ‘He was in a very bad mood.’

As elephants can sense fear in a human being, they can also sense anger.

We climbed steadily, up the southern fringe of the Chota Nagpur plateau. Cultivation surrounded us. There were no trees. This area had never recovered from the ruthless exploitation of the timber demands during the Second World War.

When drunk, elephants are like human beings – their reactions varying according to their characters. The naturally good-natured appear even more so, the aggressive become downright dangerous. Everybody, except myself, was dispersed. Bhim explained that although Tara would not cause any trouble, it was better she was with the two people she knew best and trusted.

We stopped to talk to the cowherd, an Oraon tribal, who showed us a selection of these bells. Each was exquisite and of a different design, and each unique in its sound, enabling him to distinguish in which direction individual cows had wandered. Aditya offered to buy one. The cowherd refused saying that he would offend the soul of the tree from which he had fashioned the bell, having asked the tree’s blessing before cutting it down. The tree is always chosen and felled on a Saturday and the bell then made on Sunday. During its creation, no clothes can be worn.

Elephants are like horses; they get most of their sleep standing up and will lie down only when they are sure that all the world is at rest. Being immensely cautious animals they are at their most vulnerable when in a prone position

It is difficult to explain why elephants should display such uneasiness towards dogs and horses, considering that neither is capable of inflicting on them the slightest injury.

…I set off through Haathi bazaar ….My nostrils were instantly filled with the evocative smells of India – spices, incense, the heavy scent of the tribal woman, mixed with the more pungent odour of urine and excrement, and found myself thinking I never wanted to leave.

….I asked the driver to stop. I walked slowly towards Tara, my mind detached, floating. Holding her tail, I clipped off three long springy hairs, the only memento I would take with me. It was then that Tara gave me my last lesson: elephants do weep. When I kissed her on her eye, one hot salty tear fell, staining my cheek. I walked quickly back to the car. We moved slowly away. I forced myself to look stonily ahead. But, as we rounded the corner, I turned and caught one last glimpse of her standing quietly, looking at me. Then she was gone, swallowed up in India’s dust.

From ‘Afghan Rumour Bazaar. Secret sub-cultures, hidden worlds and the everyday life of the absurd’ by Nushin Srbabzadah

In theory, in Afghan culture kindness is encouraged because it’s a way of Islam but in reality, brutes reign supreme. The whole nation is hostage to psychopaths, leaving healthy minds with three options: to fight back, to submit but keep one’s option open or to numb one’s senses with drugs or insanity.

We arrived in Delhi at night. The distinct smell of India, a mixture of gasoline, excrement and spice, was in the air.

For some reason, Indian waiters liked to stare at customers in a manner that can only be described as disconcerting.

….underneath the surface of Afghans’ polite conformism there lurks a strong spirit of ruthless rivalry. The country is poor and economically unproductive, with trade the only financially worthwhile activity. Everybody is basically a business man or woman and resources being limited, life becomes all about the survival of the ruthless and the beautiful. An Afghan saying sums up the competitiveness: ‘No-one wants to be a fifty-cent in Afghanistan; everyone wants to be nothing less than a dollar!’

‘…..Everybody in Afghanistan wants to be nothing less than a leader.

…we Afghans were fearful of being original, different, ourselves… We were an imitation-nation ….

Ours was a judgemental society. The only people who were given true respect were those who had died for Afghanistan, even if their martyrdom was accidental, or in a suicide attack targeting the foreign troops, for example.

If a woman breaches the traditional code of conduct, she pays the price for it…The price ….was that everybody out there felt entitled to cross one’s personal boundaries by staring, cat-calling and groping.

Upon arriving in Afghanistan from Iran, the British explorer, Robert Byron…..famously said, ‘Here at last is Asia without an inferiority complex.’

Kabul’s air is famously filled with tiny shit particles floating about, courtesy of the inadequate sewage system. Everyone who can leave the city for a while leaves it …..

I recalled an Afghan saying ….’There are three types of people in Afghanistan, al-Qaida (the insurgents); al-Faida (the enriched) and al-Gayeda (the fucked).’

Poetry and war are hard to escape in Afghanistan – we are the land of poet warriors………..With education interrupted, literacy and linguistic skills had suffered. Our Iranian neighbours made little secret of their mockery of our linguistic failures as the lesser-known custodians of the Persian language. Their famous saying that Persian took birth in Tajikistan, flourished in Iran and died in Afghanistan summed up their criticism…

The memories of the defeated gods of the past, of Buddhism, Hinduism and Zoroastrianism, are kept alive in the names of urban landmarks and landscape spots. Tomb shrines dedicated to local saints are scattered throughout Afghanistan, offering peaceful rest on long trips. It is inside such shrines that one finds quiet spirituality – even as a woman.

It is fair to say that since Kabul fell to Muslim rulers, religion never ceased to demand blood for its survival, protection and sustenance. In Friday sermons of the kind that would make a less desensitized people shudder in horror, Afghan imams tend to wallow in talk of carnage..

The further north one travels, the more Central Asian the shrines become. Decorated with animal horns, the metal bars around the tombs have colourful cloths tied to them. The sacred sites are leftover traces of the fallen gods of Shamanism.

Afghans like to exaggerate numbers for dramatic effect…

‘Thirsty when the water jug is full’ is a popular proverb that Afghans use to describe the state of their country.

Religious intolerance, especially towards Sikhism and Hinduism, is a deeply ingrained part of Afghan national identity……

Unlike most Afghans, who tend to be unreserved and gregarious, Afghan Sikhs speak in a quiet voice. Their manner of conversation to non-Sikhs is structured to avoid confrontation and often begins with formulations of reassurance….In my school in Kabul, Sikh children were regularly mocked at for their manner of dress and names; the boys were ridiculed for their distinctive headgear and there was pressure on them to convert to Islam.

Despite daily harassment in Afghanistan and the additional complications that stem from being Afghan Sikhs abroad, the community still feels a powerful sense of belonging to Afghanistan. Its members are known to have helped Muslim Afghans make a living by setting up businesses in the UK.

Afghanistan is a curious place. Those who kill are called martyrs. Those who they kill are also called martyrs and the violence is apparently done for the sake of god….Those who kill do so for the sake of god. Those who die hope that god will punish those who kill.

It may seem hard to believe today, but historically it was Afghanistan to which Jews turned to when escaping religious persecution in Iran and central Asia. It was in the dusty, ancient cities of Herat and Kabul, to the west and the east of Afghanistan, that they found freedom to practice their faith without getting murdered in the process. A community of leather and karakul merchants, poor people and money lenders alike, the large Jewish families mostly lived in the border city of Herat, while the families patriarchs travelled back and forth on trading trips, moving between Iran, Afghanistan, India and central Asia on the ancient silk road.

….everybody is a poet in this land of love, lies and blood. Everyone writes poems, even the warlords

…Farsi, the Iranian form of Persian…………Dari, the Afghan form….

Whether young or old, male or female, rich or poor, Afghans can be exceedingly polite people….

Afghans are world masters in covering up the true causes of death, tending to fabricate stories to make dealing with bereavement easier for the victims families. In reality, what the stories do is to create confusion and avoidance of the grieving process.
The consequence of this is unresolved grief, which can lead to depression, anger and rage and in turn trigger new acts of violence against others or self-harm. The suffering often lasts for generations, with children growing up confused as they hear conflicting stories about a family member’s death without ever learning the true cause, or perhaps more importantly, finding justsice.

The bravery of Afghans is limitless, but when it comes to honour or naamoos, the lions of the Hindukush turn into the trembling rabbits of South Asia. Few have the heart to stand up for the victims and their rights. In the words of one editorial: ‘In our society, it is not the perpetrator of the act of violation who carries the shame of dishonor. It is the victim, who’s condemned to an eternally cursed life.’ ….A young boy was raped by a commander but couldn’t face going home with his honour ‘stained’. Instead he stayed with the commander, becoming his ‘mistress’. A girls family killed her as soon as they discovered that she had lost her naamoos. Fearing a similar fate, another rape victim fled to the local police station for protection from her own family.

The chaos of war was best described with the words of an Afghan jihadi figure, Sediq Chakari, when asked about his responsibility as a commander in war crimes of the 1990s. He said, ‘Look, this is Afghanistan. Someone fires a rocket; it falls on something, kills some people, Who fired it or why? No one knows.’ To add to the already existing disorder, the Taliban rarely denied involvement in attacks attributed to them because the attribution serves as free publicity, making them appear more powerful than they are.

…historical account from the 1920s, back then the women and girls of the conquered populations also belonged to the pillage package offered to militia jihadis…..The Taliban’s conquest of Afghanistan in 1996t, by contrast, strayed from the path of tradition. …the Taliban militia did not make use of their unspoken right to pillage and loot. They searched the conquered populations’ homes, but only to confiscate weapons and so ensure a monopoly of violence for their state.

The Taliban….moving their capital to the much poorer city of Kandahar. Accounts of Afghans who met Taliban officials all reveal a lack of interest in material goods or symbols of social hierarchy. Meetings would be held seated on the floor in a circle, erasing all signs of hierarchy that traditionally has been part of Afghan court etiquette…..With the Taliban, rural Afghans came to power, ruling over the more sophisticated urban population. This too, was a breach of precedence….

The uncomfortable truth is that Afghanistan has never been a truly independent country and has always relied on outside resources and expertise for survival. Historically, much of the country’s limited wealth came through control of trade routes by local tribesmen who also acted as highwaymen, making travelling in Afghanistan a famously dangerous endeavor. Other sources of income included military raids into richer neighbouring territories and foreign subsidies in return for implementing superpower policies. The government in Kabul has always received foreign aid subsidies to implement modernization projects. The border tribes have always been hard to control and repeatedly undermined the central state, refusing to pay tax or supply soldiers to the army, again drawing on the unspoken right to independence.
The myth of independence also legitimized internal rebellions.

Independence, the national narrative that binds Afghans together, is simultaneously the force that helps mobilize rebellions …….

If you visit Afghanistan, make sure you have no good words for Pakistan because apart from misogyny, anti-Pakistan sentiment is just about the only attitude that almost all Afghans share. They regard the Taliban as a purely Pakistani creation and if Benazir Bhutto is famous as one of the few female Muslim leaders in the West, in Afghanistan she is chiefly known as the woman who gave birth to theTaliban.

Afghan leaders are famous for their reluctance to share power. They would rather preside over a smaller faction than abdicate power or the cause of the greater good and in doing so, become a mere deputy. As an Afghan saying has it, no one wants to be a dime; everyone wants to be a dollar.

From ‘Three-quarters of a footprint. Travels in South India’ by Joe Roberts

I don’t remember having jetlag in Bangalore, let alone culture shock. I felt at home there straight away, even if I was puzzled by what I saw and even when I saw wretched things….

I realized that Indian English wasn’t something quaint but a language in its own right, like American English….. Indian English is full of felicities and poignant poetry.

As I became familiar with this sort of conversation, I realized that many Indian men enjoyed dreaming up business schemes – and liked to think of themselves as entrepreneurs – but the brilliant notions generally went no further than the initial fantasy due to lack of capital.

Suchie told me her impressions of England. ‘It was small and very pretty. I didn’t like the food. Oh, Cadbury’s I liked but that was all.’

That was the first time in India that I felt homesick. But it wasn’t true homesickness, more of a general self-doubt. I wondered if I really liked the country and, if so, enough to stay until October? Could I cope with the people? They were pleasant enough and king to me and much polite and more considerate of each other than people at home …but who could I talk to and, more to the point, laugh with? The Indian sense of humour seemed completely incompatible. I wondered if I’d ever get used to the squalor, the beggars, the flyblown pi-dogs and the ghastly faecal smell of the streets. And then I considered the myriad inconveniences and inefficiencies of everyday life, the difficulty of making a telephone call or buying a railway ticket, for instance, or the days without running water, and this line of thought made me feel disappointed in myself. Such gloomy considerations led to a general malaise and I found myself unable to go back to sleep.

‘Which is better,’ asked Atul, ‘in your opinion, Wendy’s or Burger King?’ Dr Lal thought for a moment then gave a cryptic answer: ‘I believe America is whatever you are looking for. It is there to be found.’ Atul nodded, like the follower of a guru, absorbing some great wisdom.

The travel agents were three identical brothers who looked like pigeons. They always hedged their bets by saying it would be nearly impossible to find a place on such a train or bus (usually because it was a religious holiday) but they would see what they could do. That way, if they got you a ticket you were grateful and if they didn’t, they had a good reason. Generally they managed to get me the tickets I wanted.

Indian public lavatories are nearly always vile, even those in decent restaurants (whereas domestic bathrooms are immaculate) and it took me a while to work out why they let them get so bad. It is to do with the caste system and ‘pollution’ laws; public lavatories are cleaned by bhangis, the lowest of untouchables and very little concern is shown for them and their repellent livelihood. Something nearer contempt prevails. The attitude seems to be: what difference does it make to a bhangi whether you shit down the hole or on the floor?

….Hampi……The region is rich with legend and history and the weird combination of the two that is an Indian commonplace….. Partly its due to a very diverse set of chronologies; calendars varied from kingdom to kingdom and events were difficult to date precisely; this vagueness allowed a good deal of fanciful historic interpretation and the interpreters of history were invariably priests with an outlook attuned to the divine and miraculous…

….I’d often heard similarities between traditional Celtic music (as performed by the Chieftains or Alain Stivell) and Indian music

Dogs, horses, cows, even cats, have eyes that we can recognize emotion in, emotions that we imagine correspond with our own; not so with goats, they are inscrutable creatures. Is that the reason for the old demonic connection, that alien gaze?

At Mandya we stopped for breakfast at a canteen run by the tourist board: two big, bright, light-blue halls and stern notices in English and Kannada: Let Not Your Conversation Be A Nuisance To Others and No Political Activities Will be Tolerated.

A notice was stuck on a pillar….concerned a missing seven-year-old boy. The most poignant detail was that his complexion was described as ‘Bournvita’. That struck me as particularly heartbreaking, so obviously a loving mothers notion. I was reflecting on the poor mothers agony when a tall beggarwoman approached me with a printed card. It was a catalogue of misfortunes, all misspelt. The first couple of lines said that she was an epileptic, that she had fallen down a well and had been struck dumb with shock, that her parents were too poor to support her ….I got the drift and, still saddened by the ‘Bournvita’ child, gave her ten rupees – a generous amount when fifty paise is the normal donation, though ten rupees is less than fifty pence. She must have spread the word among other beggars because soon I was being approached from all sides by ragged figures. The pleasant anonymity that I’d been enjoying evaporated.

….I recognized the smell of Madras, burning rubber and low-octane fuel, that I’d mistaken for the chimerical ‘Smell of India’. Since then I’d come to the conclusion that there were distinctive smells that one associated with particular cities or areas of cities and that a generalized Indian smell would be as hard to isolate as a generalized English one; though it seems to have become a literary convention that the whole subcontinent has a uniform pungency.

….unsophisticated Americans whom I discovered, by eavesdropping, to be missionaries, evangelists with bovine expressions …When I heard of their conversation, with its inherent assumptions of racial, cultural and moral superiority, I found intensely irritating. They sounded far less educated and open-minded than the average Brahmin priest whose teachings they had come to refute.

I was always impressed by this spontaneous Indian capacity for friendship. It made me ashamed that so often, out of shyness, I was standoffish….

…..it seemed to me that Hinduism was flexible and multifaceted enough to adapt infinitely without compromising any of its essential truths, and far less oppressive than either Islam or Christianity could be in many other nations.

There were lots of people washing, cleaning their teeth, scraping their tongues with U-shaped wires attached to their toothbrushes. The colour and texture of one’s tongue is a matter of daily concern to the health-conscious Indian.

I found Indian ‘classical’ music perfect for long train journeys; time passed so slowly that one entered a sort of trance and then the music unfurled like a sequence of short vivid dreams. There was a similarity to the serious jazz of John Coltrane, the same transcendent quality and the feeling of going over and over a melody as if trying to break free some divine message encoded in the notes. Also, as in jazz generally, the instruments seemed to speak or sing as extensions of the human voice. It was as if the landscapes that I could see through the bars of the windows (the glistening paddies, green plains, nullahs stirring back to life with the rains) were being described by the music. That’s exactly right, I kept thinking.
Late in the evening we came to Itarsi. It was drizzling. Cows ambled along the platform….

….two snake-charmers….The melody that they played sounded vaguely Scottish to me…..

Outside, on a wooden pole, were three loudspeakers, the old-fashioned kind that one associates with holiday camps. Intermittently, highly distorted film music would blast out. It was unbelievably loud, an awful screeching, all treble and no bass. I asked the green-eyed proprietor how he could stand it and he told me that it was an idea devised by the Chamber of Commerce (of which he was a member) to encourage shoppers. ‘You see, all these songs are very high in the hit parade.’

…..Benaras. I’d read about it but reading hadn’t prepared me for the crowds, the clamouring, the lunatic intensity of it all. Whatever I thought that I understood of Hinduism flew from me. All the colour and noise that I loved about India were concentrated here into an experience that was weird and alarming. No frame of reference to cling to, nothing familiar, I was out of my depth in a great flood of people. ….Benaras is, more than anywhere else in India, a city of conmen. All Westerners, probably all visiting Indians, are fair game. Cheats and swindlers abounded in the great places of Christian pilgrimage after all. ….Benaras from the river was stunning. A three-mile long cliff of massive and dilapidated masonry. Platforms, temples, staircases and passageways, vast decaying palaces rising in layers from the filthy water. It was like a monstrous Venice, a vision to thrill Piranesi, the fever-dream of a Gothic novelist, the opium hallucination of a doomed French Symbolist. The sun, through the damp mist, was a great yellow beam, Ravi leered at me. ‘Master, single man? You’d like to meet Benaras girl, true virgin?’ I ignored him. ‘Master prefer strong Indian boy, maybe?’

….I listened to mournful sarangi music all the way to Mysore, like rainclouds being sawn in half. At Maddur I bought some idlis from a vendor. Just as I was biting into the first one, I looked out of the train window and on the platform there was a pi-dog with a length of tapeworm hanging from its anus; I was so put off that I threw the idlis to the poor creature, who devoured them with one gulp. An old blind man came down the aisle playing a penny whistle. He was led by a girl who held out a cloth sack for coins. It seemed a Dickensian arrangement.
In front of Mysore Station I stood in line for a rickshaw. A man …..came out of the station and waved to me. He walked over, it seemed that he knew me. But I couldn’t place him. ‘My good friend, hello! How fine it is to see you!’…. ‘At the precise moment I leave the station my eyes land on you! I think, truly, this is auspicious.’ Where had we met before? ‘Ah, a philosophical question. But who can describe the previous life cycle? Perhaps we were brothers? But is not the world one family? Are we also not brothers in this life?’ So he didn’t know me at all? I waited for it. ‘Like you I have just arrived in Mysore. My home is Channapatna. A terrible fire has destroyed my dwelling place…’

….watching Hindi movies generally, made me feel an absolute outsider. The films went against all my Western notions of taste ….these…films seemed vulgar and idiotic…most of the heroes were too stout to dance convincingly. The heroines spent a lot of time fleeing from these portly figures who seemed anxious to kiss them….a heroine would confront her pursuer and then their two faces would fill the screen, their lips drawing closer and closer – at the last possible moment, she would turn away and resume her avian trilling. Then the frustrated hero, presumably for relief, would jerk his pelvis, dog-like, against a tree trunk, or lie stomach-down on the grass with his great bottom bobbing up and down suggestively.

I passed a noisy temple; there were shouted prayers and somebody was banging a drum and it struck me that all that wacky exuberance was closer to the heart of Hinduism than the lofty platitudes of spiritual philosophers.

‘Rain will be coming in one week or two weeks or three weeks,’ said the waiter, hedging his bets meteorologically.

Madurai had more holy cows than any city I’d been to….An elephant came swaying out of an alley, led by its keeper, heading for the temple. None of the merchants or shoppers paid it any more attention than they would have paid a delivery van.

I decided to swim but, remembering the floating turds around the bathing ghat, thought it wise to walk in the other direction and find a clean stretch of water.

Kathakali is the famous dance-drama of Kerala. Stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are acted out by extraordinary dancers in the most spectacular costumes…..I suppose it was all a bit like the spectacles at Versailles and the courtly masques of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. A proper Kathakali performance lasts all night …..The movements of the face have become central to the drama. The nine rasa ,dramatic emotions (tranquility, fear, loathing, desire, wonder, courage, pathos, anger and ridicule) are expressed with the weirdest distortions of the facial muscles and, if the lecturer hadn’t announced each one, I’d never have guessed them. They all seemed to express the same thing to me – that the dancer was about to sneeze

By and large, a drunken Indian is nothing to worry about; alcohol brings out a floppy silliness, that’s all – one rarely comes across the confused and pent-up fury that can make a northern-European drunk so threatening.

Somebody, right outside my door, was clearing his throat in the loudest possible manner. It took him a good five minutes to do. Its more like clearing the lungs than just the throat. I’d watched men performing this elimination, the whole neck and chest racked with convulsive spasms…..This obsession with mucus is hard to understand. In certain areas the dust might have something to do with it. There are also breathing exercises that figures in yoga and breathing itself has religious significance (Prana). Perhaps the elimination of mucus is to ease breathing. But women have to breathe as well as men and I’d never encountered a female ‘hawker’…..mucus does hold a real horror for most Indians. To carry a used handkerchief in one’s pocket is about as unthinkable as carry used lavatory paper about.

Spoken Malayalam, which is sometimes compared to the noise of peas rattling in a tin cup, does sound extraordinary, unlike any other Indian language. It has a lot of ‘clanging’ sounds ….

The Black Jews, including the Bene Israel community up the coast in Bombay, probably number a couple of thousand still. I was told that quite a few had gone to Israel but had been treated badly and had since returned.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

From ‘The Crown Prince. The Gladiator. The Hope. Battle for Change’ by Ashutosh

Anti-Muslim sentiment has been the core of RSS ideology. M.S. Golwalkar, the second Sarsanghchalak of the RSS, wrote of Indian Muslims in his book Bunch of Thoughts, which, incidentally, has mysteriously disappeared from the public domain. ‘It would be suicidal to delude ourselves that they have turned patriots overnight after the creation of Pakistan. On the contrary, the Muslim menace has increased hundredfold by the creation of Pakistan which has become a springboard for all their future aggressive designs on our country.’

Patel was strongly opposed to a ‘Hindu Rashtra’, which the RSS has been propagating since its inception in 1925. In February 1949, Patel had said, ‘Hindu Raj is a mad idea, it will kill the soul of India.’

…Patel as home minister was instrumental in banning the RSS…he obliquely blamed the RSS for the assassination of Gandhiji. In his letter dated 11 September 1948 to Golwalkar, Patel wrote, ‘All the speeches were full of communal venom …and it was because of this poison that the country had to suffer the death of Gandhiji …RSS members celebrated Gandhiji’s death and distributed sweets.’ Sardar Patel had written a similar letter on 18 July 1948 to Shyama Prasad Mukerjee who later founded the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. Patel wrote, ‘Due to the activities of the RSS an atmosphere was created in which such a barbaric act could be executed.’ Patel pressurized the RSS to profess loyalty to the Indian Constitution, salute the Indian tricolor, write their own constitution, abjure violence, limit their activities to the cultural sphere and never indulge in politics. Only when the RSS accepted these conditions was the ban lifted.

George Orwell had this to say about politics and politicians: ‘All issues are political issues and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.’

From ‘Until my Freedom has Come. The New Intifada in Kashmir’ Edited by Sanjay Kak

Suvir Kaul
Kashmiris have seen too much suffering over the past two decades (and before) not to see themselves as at the receiving end of the policies of an imperial state. The security apparatus is too visible and intrusive on a daily basis to be understood as anything other than a reminder of an occupation force and a subject people. And there has been no justice offered for even the most egregious acts of violence committed by the military, the paramilitary, or the police. There have been spectacular instances of murder, torture and rape, and no immediate moves to bring criminals to justice ……

….the highly intrusive security footprint to think about, I had travelled in Punjab in the worst years of the Khalistan movement, and I remember just how humiliating and fear-inducing it was to be stopped and questioned over and over again, to have your car searched, and occasionally to be patted down. This is how Kashmiris have lived for twenty years now. No one goes anywhere, even in times of relative peace, without being aware of surveillance and check-points. An entire generation – the young on the streets now – have grown up with no other sense of the Indian state. India is the jawan who slaps you because it has been a long day and you are less patient in the checking-line than he would like. India is the officer who smiles sardonically as you are pushed to the ground and kicked for good measure; India is the force that tears you and your family from your home to stand around for hours as entire neighbourhoods are cordoned off and searched. And this is low-level business. There have been far harsher crimes committed by state agents, but no one has been punished, and that fact alone rankles and will not die.

Sanjay Kak
For a people bruised and battered by fifteen years of an armed struggle, every single mechanism by which they could find representation, or hope to be heard, or access minimal justice, had been dismantled and put away, Elections, the judicial process, the rule of law: all had been hollowed out. In their place we had the draconian provisions of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), and the Public Safety Act (PSA). Despite the fact that an elected legislature was in place, real power was widely regarded as lodged in three specific sites: Badami Bagh, Srinagar’s cantonment, where the corps headquarters of the Indian Army are located; Gupkar Road, where a slew of Indian intelligence agencies are based; and Raj Bhawan, formerly the maharaja’s palace, now the governor’s home. (Kashmiris don’t fail to make the obvious connection that all three sites are implicated in a century of highly oppressive rule by the Dogra maharajas.)

Aaliya Anjum and Saiba Varma
Since 1989, civilian life in Indian-administered Kashmir has been governed through the presence of more than half a million troops, making the region the most heavily militarized zone in the world. This despite the fact that last year, official government figures put the number of militants operating in the Valley at less than 500.

Ravi Nessman
More than two decades of brutal warfare between largely Muslim separatist insurgents and largely Hindu Indian troops in this Himalayan region have left Kashmiris exhausted, traumatized and broken. The rate of suicide, once unthinkable in this Islamic society, has gone up twenty-six-fold, from 0.5 per 100,000 before the insurgency to 13 per 100,000 now ….Drug abuse is epidemic. Depression, stress and mental illness are rampant …..

Gautam Navlakha
When post-colonial states deploy troops to bring a rebellious people, formally their ‘own people’, to submission, and hand over that area to the military, then in actual fact they act as an alien force. The relationship that ensues between the military force and the people is akin to that between a subject people and their imperial masters. The military force seeks to restore the authority of the state on a reluctant people, however long it takes to do so. ….The reason we do not perceive it as war is that it takes place within the borders of the nation-state, where the deployment of the armed forces of the union is somehow considered legitimate, even when it is engaged in suppressing our ‘own’ people.

…..1 August 2006 …there were more than 6,67,000 security forces in the state. This is an incredibly high concentration of troops for an area whose total population is not more than ten million …one soldier for every fourteen-fifteen people.

There cannot be any dialogue inside an army camp
-          Yirvun Kreel

Nitasha Kaul

IOK has never been an indisputable part of India …It is no coincidence that Kashmir and the North-East were two of the least involved regions during the nationalist freedom struggle which led to India’s independence, and it is these regions which have remained least understood in the mainstream nationalist imagination.

From ‘India. A guide to the experience’ by David Stuart Ryan

….at Kolva this shoreline is the second longest in India, 40 miles of uninterrupted clean white sand …..there are only four longer beaches in all the world.

In Bombay everything has a price, and everyone is trying to sell something. Is it the way all India has to go?

….15,000 feet plateau of Tibet, that begins in Afghanistan and stretches 1500 miles to Burma, that is still uncharted territory in many areas.

Nepal, everyone will rightly tell you, is a place to unwind and relax after the sheer intensity of India and its constant stunning of the senses. Women in particular find it a relief to get away from the Hindu prurient interest in white bodies and be among a people who have always accepted an active role for the female. ….Mountain people, the world over, have a vigour and matter of factness about them that instantly reveals the affectations of ‘civilisation’.

Behind this pantheon of gods and goddesses, lies a worship of Shiva and Shakti, the male and female regenerative forces. India has preserved from its long past a respect for our own creative powers, a belief in their consecrating effect. Where we seek to subdue, the Hindu seeks to be at one with the natural forces. It is the recipe for the ease of tension that the West has induced in itself by a denial of our deepest drives, believing them to be base. Hinduism would disagree.

The streets of India are alive with human bustle – no other country can match both the sheer intensity and variety of street life …..

The women of India … Even though during the day they will have worked in the fields, fetched and carried, looked after children, tidied their house, all done with a tread of light grace and a perfectly straight back.

The magic of an Indian dawn. The intensity of the light in India is wholly different from that of Europe, and brings a drama to the opening of any day that has to be experienced to be understood.

From ‘Kabul Blogs. My Days in the Life of Afghanistan’ by Anita Anand

"Children, everybody, here's what to do during war: In a time of destruction, create something. A poem. A parade. A community. A school. A vow. A moral principle. One peaceful moment."
- Maxine Hong Kingston

Almost all the Afghans I met had a story about loss of loved ones and homes, of migration and return, of sadness and hope. But this experience did not seem to have made them angry or bitter. Just sad.

The fighting that erupted among the vavious mujahideen factions eventually helped to spawn the Taliban….. More than a quarter of the population of 28 million was displaced during this period and between one and two million people were killed – around five per cent of the population. Physical and social infrastructure was devastated…..Girls schools were closed down all over the country. In 2002, only five per cent of women were literate, 54 per cent of girls under the age of 18 were married, and the maternal mortality rate was the second highest in the world, with an estimated 15,000 women dying each year from pregnancy-related causes.

As an Indian, I was greeted by many Afghans on the streets as Indian movies and film music have endeared us to the Afghans. Many sought refuge across the border in Pakistan and India and knew Urdu, and there are DVDs of Hindi movies in many stores.

History is the third parent.

- Nadeem Aslam

Day or night, Kabul is a quiet city. One hardly hears horns, music or loud voices. Breaking this silence is the roar of generators, usually diesel driven, that make up for the lack of power in the city.

This has resulted only 25 per cent of Afghanistan’s estimated 28 million people having access to clean water.

William Dalrymple, while describing the glorious history of Istalif in Return of a King - The battle for Afghanistan, says,

Istalif was always renowned as one of the most beautiful places in Afghanistan. The Emperor Babur fell in love with it in the 16th century and used to hold parties in his rose garden and summer house there. Alexander Burnes, a British political agent to Dost Mohammed in the 19th century, had come here to relax amid the walnut trees. He described the mountain streams as full of fish and the rich orchards and vineyards.

I loved my students; They were attentive, curious, and well behaved . Besides being regular journalists, they were poets and philosophers. I looked at them and wondered how a country with so many years of war and devastation could produce young people with such little malice, anger or hurt. They appeared calm and untroubled, mature beyond their age. When I shared this with expat friends, one said that it is possible they are this way because they had no childhood. Given the situation of war and conflict in Afghanistan since the late 1980s, this is probably true.

Afghan children suffered during the civil wars fought among different factions between 1989 and 2001, when many were recruited into militias. They were kidnapped and sold as terrorists by members of the Northern Alliance to the US special forces, for $5,000 each

Despite these horrors, the students in my classes were polite, respectful and wanted to learn. 

Afghanistan has the worlds second highest maternal mortality rate, and the highest infant and child mortality rate.

In 2005, Afghanistan produced 87 per cent of the world’s poppy, and of the country’s total population of 25 million, 920,000 were estimated to be drug users in 2006. These figures stand out more as ninety-nine per cent of Afghans are Muslims; according to Islam, all drugs used as intoxicants (khan) are forbidden (haram)……….

When the Taliban were in power from 1996 to 2001, they banned poppy cultivation, but they could not stop the smuggling of harvests from previous years, And once the Taliban was defeated, farmers went back to cultivating poppy…….The reason poppy cultivation is extremely popular in Afghanistan is its harsh topography, where growing poppy is not only easier than some other crops, but also one that guarantees a high yield and a big market.

….Cardozo [the psychiatrist] and her team found that almost 80 per cent of the local people in Afghanistan harbor feelings of hatred and revenge.

….he remarked… that this was the only country in the world where even diplomats had dirt under their nails.

About 35 per cent of Afghans are Pashto speaking, and 50 per cent speak Afghan Persian or Dari. Most Afghans are bilingual. In Kabul, Dari is more widely spoken, with the change of regime from the Pashto-speaking Taliban to the Dari-speaking Northern Alliance. Other languages are Turkic, Uzbek and Turkmen (about 11 per cent).

A popular Afghan saying….. “Women are made for homes or graves.”

……….with the rugged Hindu Kush mountains in the backdrop, we reached the most spectacular expanse of blue water I had ever seen. The Band-e-Amir is a National Park with lakes separated by natural dams made of travertine – a form of limestone deposited by mineral springs, especially hot springs. Band-e-Amir literally means ‘commander’s dam’, a reference to Imam Ali, the first Imam of the Shia Muslims and the fourth caliph of the Sunni Muslims. The area is dominated by ethnic Hazaras, who make up around nine percent of Afghanistan's population, and are followers of Shia Islam.

The amazing thing about Kabul is that no matter how bad the traffic is, Afghans do not honk, unlike us Indians.

…..commonly held view among many Afghans I meet. They lay the blame for the state of their country squarely on Pakistan, Russia and the US, often in that order.

…..many Afghans who have studied in India. The low cost of living, scholarships, familiarity with the country’s culture and language, good relations between governments, easy-to-obtain visas, and the use of English in the classroom are some of the reasons Afghans like to study in India, especially for those who cannot afford to go to Europe and the United States to study. The largest concentrations of Afghan students is in Pune… Some Afghans choose Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkey.
Pakistan and Iran were once top destinations, but that is no longer the case. Visa rules for Iran have become stringent in recent years, while Pakistan has become unpopular among students and the state. Many say people with Pakistani degrees do not find jobs as easily as those with degrees from India. India is a cheap and quality option.

Many young women I meet in Kabul have also studied in India. They tell me that it was the best time of their lives, they felt free and loved being there. Many say it is their second home.