Saturday, 24 October 2015

Golf course or animal conservation? You choose.

Nimesh Ved writes in an article in Deccan Herald dated 20 October 2015, that a golf course is scheduled to come up in the Kaziranga National Park area.  

Seriously, a golf course?  Of all the things, a golf course?  Why?  Who sanctioned this ignominy?  Or perhaps we should be asking, how much did they get to sanction it?

Golf is a western concept wherein people who have nothing better to do go to these parks to while away time.  

Don't people realise that in a developing country such as ours, time is of the essence?  Land space is depleting at an alarming rate due to the never ending rise in population.  Lakes are being encroached upon, children's play areas are being occupied, and animals are being poached or confined to zoos.

And all they could think of is a blooming GOLF COURSE?????!!!!!

Of all the recreational activities that pass as sports, the poorest examples are probably boxing and golf.

As Ved himself lists in his article, golf courses are like blood sucking vermins that drain resources and manpower: an 18 hole course requires an annual water supply that can fill about 130 swimming pools, high concentration pesticides are used in maintaining them, large number of trees have to be cut down to create a golf course, they offer no source of income to the local population, and animals are totally fenced off.

Ved also quotes G K Chesterton, who said that golf is 'an expensive way of playing marbles'.  I couldn't agree more.

Infact, let's go further and say that golf is not a sport at all.  What kind of physical exertion is involved in playing it?  The players have servants to carry their sticks for them.  And when they hit the ball, they travel to the next hole in a vehicle! 

It is a ridiculous game that the elitist, classist nouveau riche who have time to kill and money to burn indulge in.  

At least in our country, instead of pandering to the whims of these rotten rich, can't the same land be utilised to protect endangered animals, to build children's playground, or to erect hospitals for the poor?

The golfers can have a virtual simulation of their precious game, and they can while away their time on it as much as they want.  

Or else, they can quite literally, stick it!  

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Sunday, 18 October 2015

Is this the India we want?

I am writing this on the morning of 2nd October.  Gandhiji’s favourite hymns and bhajans are playing in the background.  Later in the day, the film Gandhi will be shown on television, just as it is shown every year this day. 

The day’s newspaper carries the screaming headline: the family of the man who was lynched for eating beef demands CBI probe, and eight families flee the village where he was living.  The irony is inescapable.

Is this the India Gandhiji would have wanted to see?  Is this the India you and I want? 

Over the last few months, there have been several instances of intolerance and superstitious practices that have made headline news.  No doubt, there are regional issues at play in the occurrence of each of these incidents, but taken collectively, they are indicative of the hypocrisy and misplaced sense of importance ascribed to certain matters that we hold dear.

Yes, go-raksha is important, but don’t we also come across several abandoned cows roaming our streets, blocking traffic, sitting in filth, and eating garbage?  If we were genuinely concerned about the animal’s well-being, there would not be a single stray cow in our urban areas. 

Why should the culinary habits of certain communities affect our sentiments so much anyway?  How different is the imposition of beef ban from ‘non-believers’ being forced to refrain from eating in public during the fasting month in middle-eastern countries? 

Besides, why confine your daya to the cow only?  Doesn’t Sanatana Dharma consider every living being to be an aspect of the divine?  Therefore, shouldn’t we be saving all animals; dogs, cows, donkeys, buffaloes, and birds in cages from a life of bondage and abuse?

A prominent weekly magazine recently reported that in a southern state – where animal sacrifice during religious festivals is rampant – there has been a spate of human sacrifices.  At least two individuals – a man and a child – were found murdered with their throats slit, and the paraphernalia of ritual worship were lying all around them. 

In another harrowing incident, this time in another southern state, a mother who went looking for her missing son, was shocked to find his body parts in her neighbour’s house.  The man had enticed the child into entering his house and carried out the deed.  Vigilantes later caught hold of the man and attempted to burn him. 

I can almost visualize the missionary exhorting his gullible audience: “Is this the kind of religion that you want to belong to?  Give up your barbaric faith, you heathen, and repent while you can!  Join the only true path and save your souls!!”

Hold on Mr Missionary.  Let’s look at what your brethren from a northeastern state have been up to.  Members of a certain NGO have apparently taken it upon themselves to “cleanse the society of homosexuals”.  As part of the anti-LGBT drive, volunteers have pledged to go door-to-door to “bring them back” to “proper culture”.  Further, they said, “we believe in God; as per our teachings, homosexuality is a wrongful deed, we want males to be like males and females to be like females.”

Over the last few months, as many as three rationalists have been shot dead, allegedly for publicly airing their opinions.  The fact that dissent and debate have been time-honoured components of free speech in India doesn’t seem to matter anymore.  Or perhaps, this must be a sign of emasculation; if you are unable to counter the rationalist’s view with a sane counter-argument, get rid of the source of the problem itself. 

Why does somebody else’s culture, dietary habits, sexuality and opinions rankle us so much?  Are we so insecure that differences such as these should erode our sense of acceptance, tolerance and peaceful coexistence? 

If our culture, religion and society do not evolve, and instead rigidly hold on to pietistic and deadwood practices, we would be in serious danger of turning into Taliban-land.  Or an ISIS-controlled state.  And that is the last thing we would ever want.  Before it is too late, we need to shun the narrowness, the hypocrisy, the superstition, and the intolerance.

Speaking of hypocrisy, the media should also accord equal importance to misdemeanours committed by adherents of all faiths.  Focusing entirely on the antics of a few fringe elements of the majority religion takes the attention away from the fruitful work that the present government is carrying out, which is so much better than that of the previous ridiculous government.  And the same request goes out to the 'civil' society of India, authors included.

So, to answer the question, this is not the India I want.  I want my religion and country to be free in every sense of the word.  How about you?   

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Friday, 2 October 2015

Book review: Classic Khushwant Singh

Classic Khushwant Singh
(Collection of 4 novels: Train to Pakistan, I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale, Delhi & Burial at Sea)
Penguin 2010

When it is a Khushwant Singh book, I just read.  Not because of the gossipy nature of the grand old man's writing, but because he is the grand old man of Indian literature.  Now of course, he is the late grand old man, which only adds to be appeal.

This compendium of four of Singh's best stories was initially put together 1996.  This edition is big - at 851 pages - and, like the man himself towards his end days, appears delicate and old.  Some of the thinly cut pages are coming undone, especially towards the latter half of the book.

Nevertheless, it is the content that we are more interested in.  If there is one theme that unites all these disparate stories, it is the British Raj.  And Partition.  Did I mention sex?  Yes, that too.  In fact, oodles of it!  As Singh himself says in his introduction to Delhi, the story is 'injected [with] a lot of seminal fluid'.  It appears that the grand old man could not help reverting to his favourite preoccupation, .  No wonder he turned out to be the grand old man, because sex (in addition to Scotch) seems to have increased his longevity significantly.  

Train to Pakistan is based right in the middle of Partition, and talks about the gradual deterioration of relations between neighbours of the same village, those belonging to different communities; Sikh and Muslim.  I Shall... tells the story of a Sikh family during the British Raj, in which the father is loyal to the British, and the son is a bit of a revolutionary seeking freedom from oppression.  Here, it is the character of the mother that is interesting to me, because it is reminiscent of Singh's own grandmother, who was known to be a pious lady with a lot of spiritual experiences.  

Delhi on the other hand is about his favourite city and its bloody history.  Singh apparently worked on Delhi for nearly 20 years, and has put together the accounts of the poet, Mir Taqi Meer, Timur, Nadir Shah, Aurangzeb, Bahadur Shah Zafar, the 1857 uprising (both of which remind one of William Dalrymple's searing account of The Last Mughal), construction of Lutyens' Delhi, Indira Gandhi's assassination and the subsequent massacre of Sikhs in Delhi.

However it is his interspersing of his affair with an eunuch, Bhagmati with the history of Delhi that brings his irreverence to the fore, and perhaps serves as an allegorical reference to Delhi's emasculation at the hands of various invaders and tyrants over the years.   

In the last story, Burial..., Singh appears to have based his characters loosely on the 'first' family of Indian politics; especially Nehru & Indira.  Singh's irreverence and atheistic tendencies - even though he kept the external appearance of a Sikh throughout his life - is evident here.  Hence, we have a tantric sadhvi who bathes naked in the river with her pet tiger and has a sexually charged affair with a rich industrialist, and a yoga teacher who is seduced by his student, the daughter of the industrialist.

As always, through all these stories, Singh's preoccupation with four issues is apparent: sex in its various inglorious manifestations, death and the rituals that follow thereafter, religious irreverence, and a scatological obsession with the workings of the bowels and their products.

He dedicates an entire chapter to the last issue in Delhi.  Going back to the first issue, it seems that Singh liked his women with ample tops and voluminous posteriors.  And believe me, the description of both the issues is a lot more colourful in Singh's writing!

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