Saturday, 26 September 2015

This and that: religion

  • As many as three rationalists; Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Phansare and M M Kalburgi, have been shot dead by alleged right-wing activists in the previous few months.  This is a disturbing trend, and does not augur well for the secular status of India, or indeed, for the egalitarian outlook of Hinduism.  As Amartya Sen states in his The Argumentative Indian, there has always been a place for dissent and debate in Hindu dharma and in the larger context of an inclusive society.  Whatever the motivations behind these acts, Sanatana Dharma does not sanction killing to silence dissent, and thus deny the victim the chance to work out his or her karma in his or her lifetime.  Therefore these killings have to be denounced by all.  The perpetrators should realize that wantonly silencing anybody who speaks against their thoughts and actions is a surefire sign of emasculation.  'If you are unable to come up with a suitable riposte, get rid of the source of the problem itself', is one of the symptoms of this condition.  Instead, why not try your hand at coming up with your own counter-opinion, or engaging in an open debate with the opinionist?  Do not malign the sanctity of Sanatana Dharma, and relegate it to a fundamentalist minimalist status.    
  • Our heart goes out to the victims of the stampede at the Hajj pilgrimage.  To see the lifeless bodies of hundreds of pilgrims dressed in white, and heaped upon each other, fills one with a sense of foreboding.  Apparently this has happened several times in the past, and a few days before the stampede, a crane crashed in to the sanctum killing several people.  While our condolences should go out to the families of the victims, one also has to wonder as to why such a thing has to happen at all.  This is exactly the kind of thing that rationalists would spring upon; why did the followers of a religion that steadfastly holds that it is the only true path, die such an ignominious death; and that at the holiest of its sanctums?  These sort of incidents also occur at mass gatherings of followers of other faiths as well.  Therefore it can be assumed with some conviction that there is no such thing as a perfect religion, which provides immunity to its adherents against such untimely disasters.  Therefore, one can also conclude, that conversion from one religion to another is a redundant exercise.  
  • The Pope is visiting the US.  Yesterday, it was heartening to see a multi-faith prayer meet at the site of the 9/11 attacks.  The priests of Islam, Jewism, Sikhism, and Hinduism, were all seen together with the head of the Roman Catholic Church on the same stage.  There must be some hope for humanity after all.  It seems that this Pope has brought about a different approach to his role, and is not averse to speaking the truth.  Certainly, praying with the followers of other faiths, some that are often considered to be heretical by evangelists, is a step in the right direction.  Now, if we can somehow get him to acknowledge that proselytization and conversion do not belong in today's world...I'll dream on.  

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Book review: ISIS The State of Terror

ISIS: The State of Terror
Jessica Stern & J M Berger
Ecco 2015

You might have encountered the harrowing images on any of the social media sites.  If you are brave enough, you may even have watched the videos of multiple beheadings that the ISIS has unleashed on an unsuspecting world.  Stern and Berger, terrorism experts from USA, have not only seen these videos, but have also extensively studied the actions and machinations of terrorists across the world.  Therefore this book carries a great deal importance as it talks about one of the most dreaded contemporary terrorist organisation from a scholarly point of view.  

If you ever wondered, like I did, why professionals such as doctors, engineers and teachers would be interested in travelling to the region occupied by ISIS, then this book provides the answers.  They are not going to fight, as I naively assumed; on the other hand, they are going there to populate and help run the Islamic State that ISIS claims it has already set up.  Not only that, its leader, al Baghdadi has also declared himself the Caliph, and has issued a clarion call to all other terrorist organizations and lay people living in other countries to submit to his authority.  

How did the ISIS take birth, evolve, and assume the status that it has today?  Why did the al Qaeda leadership admonish ISIS, and ask it to tone down its shocking tactics?  How did it come to own a vast area of land across three countries; apparently larger than the area covered by the UK?  Why does it revel in displaying its grisly murders in the form of beheadings?  How has it made use of technology and social media to spread its message and news?  How has it managed to build up a 'fan base' across the world?  How do we go about bringing ISIS to task, and reducing its influence on people across the world?  You will find the answers to all these questions in this book.

There is also a short but very informative account of Islam in general, and Salafism in particular - its origins and development, and its role in ISIS' plans - that is included as an appendix at the end of the book.  While the appendix has been admirably put together by the main authors' doctoral student, Megan McBride, it was somewhat surprising to note that Reza Aslan's engaging account of Islam, No god but God is not listed among the references (it is listed in an earlier chapter by the main authors).  Nevertheless, one would have liked to see this revelatory information about Salafism at the beginning of the book, to help understand the historical-political-religious context to ISIS' philosophy and actions.  

Finally, Stern and Berger quote King Abdullah of Jordan about the problem that ISIS poses: "This is a Muslim problem.  We need to take ownership of this.  We need to stand up and say what is right and what is wrong."  Never were truer words spoken.  Now it is up to the entire Muslim community to disown, discourage, discredit and disband ISIS so that the world could be a safer place again.  

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Sunday, 20 September 2015

Daylight robbery at multiplexes and restaurants

A few days ago, we go to watch a film at a local multiplex - one of the big name multi-city franchisees - and after buying the tickets, make our way to the snacks section.  We order the usual stuff; popcorn and cola.  When the till keeper announces the charge, we are shell shocked to discover that the grub costs much more than the price of the tickets.  And what are we getting for the exorbitant charge?  Measly popcorn and highly diluted cola.  

You have no choice; you have to go for it.  Because they confiscate all the food items that you have in your bag at the entrance.  The security personnel tell you that you can always collect the food items that they have retained after watching the film.  But then how many remember to go back to collect them?  Also, at the end of the movie, you are let out of a different door than the one you entered the hall - usually a floor below the multiplex.  You would have to climb all the way up again to the main entrance of the multiplex to ask for your stuff.

Besides, during the weekends, the usual ticket prices are jacked up to twice or even more than thrice the amount.  If this is not daylight robbery, what is?

The blood suckers are at it in the restaurants and hotels too.  Just scrutinize the bill that you get at the end of your meal.  You are likely to find an assortment of extra charges in the name of 'hotel policy'.  First of all, they quote ridiculously expensive rates for the dishes listed in the menu; then they add 'service tax' to the final bill; and also VAT and/or luxury tax.  There is also an tacit expectation that you would tip the waiters after shelling out the bill amount.  Some suggest that according to etiquette - whatever that is - as much as 10% of bill amount is supposed to be given as a tip.  So, if the bill amount - after all the extra 'garnish' that is added to it - happens to be Rs 1000, are we expected to cough up Rs 100 as a tip?  If service tax is already included in the bill, why the hell should we pay anything more?

Who regulates these establishments?  It is particularly disappointing to note that in December 2014, a prominent minister in the Karnataka government said that multiplexes cannot be regulated!  He suggested that since they provide high quality conditions for customers, they should be allowed to charge as much as it tickles their fancy.  

It is high time that these pirates of the entertainment and hospitality industries are taken to task.  Boycott their services if you can.  If you are using their services and feel that they are over-charging, please make it a point to leave your feedback.  Say that they are over-charging, and that you are unlikely to come back.  Also say that you will be discouraging others from visiting these establishments; spread the message. 

If possible, write to the local minister or the consumer affairs department about this issue.

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Sunday, 13 September 2015

Film review: Phantom

His previous film made millions, but this one will clearly not.  Director Kabir Khan's film on 26/11 will get nowhere near the collections of his previous 'feelgood' film.  Because they don't like it you see.  By they I mean not just our friendly neighbours, but also their expatriates who live in other countries, and their co-brothers.  These days you need to entice them with friendly themes to ensure that you have a hit on your hands; as most Hindi film makers seem to be doing recently.  

It would be tough to entice them into watching this one.  Because you see, it tells the truth.  And truth, has always been a bitter pill to swallow for our neighbours.  Their basic policy with regards to 26/11, and all the hundreds of other attacks launched against our land from their soil can be summarized in just two words: deny and defend.  

Deny they had any hand in whatever happened, and deny that the terrorists were their own kith and kin.  If confronted with the truth, defend yourself to the core; never give an inch; because attack is the best form of defence.  

And this does not just pertain to the government officials or spy agencies; it applies to almost all citizens of that country.  Which is why a ban on the film was readily accepted by all concerned.  

Some Indian, who dares to enter their soil to kill their own men!  How can this be allowed?  Only America is allowed to do that.

Now about the film.  It is well made throughout.  Even though there is a disclaimer at the beginning of the film to state that the story is not based on any actual character, it is obvious from the amazing likeness of the actors to the real life culprits, as to who this is based on.  Especially the actor playing David Headley; the resemblance is uncanny.  Besides, what are we scared of?  It is based on 26/11, and the terrorists who plotted the attack, period.   

Acting by all is good, but Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub steals the show from right under the noses of Saif Ali Khan and Katrina Kaif.  He is just sensational in a small but significant role.  One can see his stock rising in the days to come, and he richly deserves it.  

If anything, the film is probably a bit too slick, and I wonder if a more measured approach would have worked better.  Especially the manner in which Daniyal (Khan's character) is cajoled into taking up the assignment is a bit too abrupt.  Also - I know others might disagree - but nobody on our side should have died in the end.  It should have been a clean, clinical mission that achieves its goal of eliminating the terrorists behind 26/11, without any loss on our side.  Haven't we lost enough already?

I am not going to give away anymore of the plot-line.  Like Baby, we want people to watch this film and find out for themselves what could be achieved with a little bit of derring-do.  

Yes, it is a story we wish were true.  And director Kabir Khan and the others behind the film deserve rich accolades for telling it.

It is still possible to put this idea into action.  We do have the personnel who are capable of undertaking such a mission.  But, is the government listening?

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Saturday, 5 September 2015

Article on magnanimity in religion - debut on Sanskriti

Refugee crisis

No, I am not going to insert the image.  

It is too painful to even look at: a little boy, lying face down on a beach.  As though he has turned his back on this cruel world, which abandoned when he was most vulnerable. 

 How can one even begin to comprehend the pain that the parents of the child had to endure?  It is indescribable.  

And before we get on with our mundane lives, hoping that somebody else will take care of the humanitarian crisis, let us remind ourselves that we are all in it together.  

It is human beings who are suffering in the Syrian refugee crisis.  And we are all living on the same planet.  If we don't come to the aid of each other, who else will?  Aliens?  

Therefore I suggest that we have all lost a child.  His parents' pain is our pain.  We are all in crisis.  

We are all equally culpable.  We all share an equal responsibility to help them and the other refugees.  
I just appealed to the leaders of our country to help out:

Wherever you are, you can do the same.  Help out in whichever way you can.  Perhaps this might suggest some ways: