LITERATURE AS THE MIRROR OF SOCIAL NORMS-1

 

I am going to make a comparison, a sort of, between three books that have hogged considerable lime light when they were published. The books are : V. S. Naipaul’s “Half a life”; Salman Rushdie’s “Fury” and Khushwant Singh’s “Women and Men in My Life”. Naipaul’s book had won a Nobel Prize although I had read it before that announcement was made. “Fury” has been widely talked about (and acclaimed) for providing a new insight into human psychology. This book was also in the race for the Nobel but missed it. “Women and Men…” has been in the limelight for the notoriety of the author in exposing the people around him with a rare “honesty” and “candidness”. I am not going to comment on these virtues of the author. What has compelled me to pen these lines is the unique common thread that runs through the works of these celebrated authors who, as the cliché goes, poles apart so far as their background, education, experiences and philosophy towards life goes; and that common thread makes me a little apprehensive, even scared, about the future of the human race!
The common thread is the importance given to sex – free sex, so to say – promiscuity in common language. More than the importance, it is the legitimacy these books are likely to provide to this lustful way of living. “Half a Life” and “Fury” are the works of fiction, obviously base on some realities experienced or observed by the authors around them; or, at least both of them are able to visualize or imagine the similar types of sex-escapades. I reproduce below my observations recorded immediately after completing the reading of both these books:
HALF A LIFE:
“This is the first book of the author that I have read. Earlier I had read his exhaustive interview with Dilip Pandgaonkar. I had been much impressed by his views. Therefore, off and on, some small pieces /write-ups on/by him were read here and there. .. The beginning of this book, though slow, looked interesting. It also seemed a little boring at places, to begin with. I wonder if he had not included so much sex would it have been possible to finish the book so quickly. In the end I feel a little cheated. The book has conveyed a very disappointing and demeaning message about the morality of the black people, and the obsession of the hero with sex only is also a little way ward. If we take literature to be the “guiding” instrument, this book is negative. If the escapades are true, which is most likely, one wonders whether so many religions and their morality related sermons – especially on chaste life have any value. It would be interesting to look at the Punjabi culture with focus on Sikhism from this angle.
“No doubt, at many points I related myself with the hero. Perhaps every Indian male will fall in that category because it is here that sexual feelings are curbed so strongly. But the revelation that the blacks are so sex-centered that married and unmarried girls are also looking new outlets is something new. Suddenly I recalled Sukhjeet’s (my school friends) boastings about 20 years ago when he had said “we take the girls from the school itself and after doing the ‘job’ leave them here only”. I was shocked at that time with his words. I am shocked now at Willie’s disclosures. But I cannot deny similar feelings having crossed my mind often- though they remained only in mind and nothing ever came off.
“If it is autobiography of VSN, then another question about personal life and morality versus author’s right to vitiate public mind needs an answer. Or. At least a question mark remains as to whether ‘such morality is required at all? If everyone is always thinking about (and looking for) prohibited sex and mostly succeeding in getting it, then why pretend?” But, perhaps, it is the final words of the hero that count. On page 21 Willie says “… there came the beginning of respect for the religious outlawing of sexual extremes.” Isn’t it a live example of ‘having the cake and eating it too’? Enjoy your lustful life, then exhibit penance and advise people to resist such life! People like me remain at the receiving end- ALWAYS. First, feeling inferior when these people describe their escapades and, then in the end, for being immoral for having such thoughts!”

Intellectuals Fail India

 

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Poverty has been cursed to be mother of all problems. While that may or may not be so, affluence itself cannot be termed as a panacea for all ills afflicting the society. In fact, sometimes affluence leads to more serious problems. Newspapers abound with stories of affluent kids going astray, breaking and subverting laws and going scot-free. While poor people may be forced to commit crimes out of sheer necessity to survive, the rich indulge in them for pleasure. When affluence partners with power, we can face worst type of anarchy. The problem is more acute in developing countries like India where legal system is not adequate. And where, simultaneously, the intelligentsia, the intellectuals have failed to create public opinion, strong enough to rein the ill effects of abundance. As a result powerful people — Politically powerful, financially powerful, or with sheer muscle power— seem to get away with anything.

There are many instances when powerful people have taken the law in their “mouth”, by which I mean they spoke what they should not have. But I’ll share only two such instances which occurred sometime back. Both are
instances of affluence leading to irresponsible behavior and both have escaped the attention of most people, even the omnipotent and we-know-all obsessed electronic media. Sadly, they always raise a crescendo over non issues and often ignore the issues that pose real threat to the Indian society/polity and social fabric. The omission is more glaring when the cause of trouble comes from the powerful lobby of politicians and cash rich industrialists. And, as always, in the present cases also our intellectuals failed to notice and react to the latent threat in seemingly innocuous incidents/statements.

One such incident is the statement of one of the most highly rated industrialists – Anil Ambani, advocating Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister of India. The occasion was the inauguration of the Nano plant somewhere in Gujarat. Even Mr. Rattan Tata, otherwise very suave and well meaning individual, appeared to be giving a tacit approval to the proposal. Why was this desire raised publicly? Surely Ambani would have his own reasons! But what has been rankling the mind of all well meaning people is that a handful of industrialists are only concerned with their bottom lines and the facilities provided to them for increasing their wealth, sometimes in the name of national interests. But they seem to be least bothered about the way this target is achieved. They are worried only about the ends and not the means and that is dangerous. Unfortunately, the tendency to equate national interests with creation of wealth and economic progress is gaining ground in India. Indian intellectuals have failed to put the things in proper perspective.

Certainly these gentlemen are not new to Gujarat and Modi. In all probability they are aware of the post Godhra anti Muslim carnage in Gujarat. Such highly placed individuals must also be aware of the role played by the Gujarat Govt., the Gujarat police and the complicity of Mr. Modi during that black chapter of modern Indian history; and still these gentlemen want the same individual at the whelm of affairs of the nation! A nation that boasts of being the oldest civilization and the biggest democracy of the world! A nation that proclaims Gandhi to be the father of the nation. We all know that for Gandhi, means were always as important, if not more, as the ends.

Some will claim that in a democracy, everyone has a right to have his own views. But let me caution that such a right cannot be absolute. As a story after the French revolution tells us “Your freedom ends where my nose begins”. When a common social cause is in danger, when ancient values of a nation are threatened, when humanity itself becomes an endangered species, personal welfare of a few individuals cannot be guaranteed.

The second incident also pertains to a similar, self-styled protagonist of commercial wisdom, who used to think that he is beyond law and whatever he says, should be obeyed by all. He also had vast financial resources at his disposal. In addition he had the support of the cricket crazy masses. For him a petty, commercial sports tournament was more important than the most auspicious festival of democracy viz., the general election, yes I am referring to the previous general elections. First, this gentleman had the audacity of conveying to the Govt. of India that the dates for the IPL tournament were seemingly unalterable. And with mass support, and media created frenzy, at one time he threatened the holding of general elections also. He got support from none other than the highly “effective” Modi who rated the government’s failure to provide security as having dented the national pride beyond redemption. One may ask the cricketing buffoon, sorry tycoon, as to what was so sacrosanct about the dates of that purely commercial and private sports event? Why for him the game of lampoons was more important than most
important event of a democratic polity? Thanks to the steadfast stand of the soft spoken home minister his bluff was called. People of the country demonstrated rare wisdom in not making an issue of the needless controversy. Some people might justify his stand by quoting astronomical Rs. 1800 crore bypassing Indian economy. But fortunately, that was not good enough to befool the Indian masses which proved that they are discerning enough to weed grain from the chafe.

The danger that I see in Mr. Ambani’s statement and Lalit Modi’s stand lies in the possibility (even though very remote) of these people, with vast financial resources at their command, actually using their financial clout to manipulate the democratic process to accomplish their ambitions. That possibility is too scaring to even think of. That is why I feel that the incidents should have received more attention, and evoked stronger protests among the intelligentsia. However, as far as I can think, not even a whimper was heard! Unfortunately, in the cacophony for industrial development and vested interests of the politicians to be on the right side of the financial power centers, any political party also did not take notice of the dangerous suggestion. Surely, fertile ground for fascist ideologies to grow in India has been prepared. Let me share two of the fourteen characteristics of fascism as identified by Dr. Lawrence Britt: Powerful and continuing nationalism; and protection of corporate power. With RSS ideology in the background, Modi like managers at whelm of affairs and Ambani like self centered financial tycoons around, the danger of India turning fascist is nearer than it seems. Let’s beware!

But the question that still remains unanswered is: why the intelligentsia failed to react to these proposals? In his lecture “Intellectuals and Society: Time to Redefine their Role and Responsibility” delivered by the vice President, Hamid Ansari, at the IIAS Shimla on April 2009 he has emphasized the need for the intellectuals to be more vocal. He quotes Vaclav Havel who feels “the intellectual should constantly disturb, should bear witness to the miseries of the world, should be provocative by being independent, should rebel against all hidden and open pressures of manipulation, should be the chief doubter of system of power and its’ incantations.” But Indian intellectuals have left much to be desired in this regard. They appear to be in perpetual hibernation. They seem too self centered, sometimes too scared to raise their voice against powers that be, and the majority opinion. Could it be for some future rewards? Edward Said’s observation in this regard seems very pertinent. He said, “Nothing in my view is more reprehensible than those habits of mind in the intellectual that induce avoidance, that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position which you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take. You do not want to appear too political, you are afraid of seeming controversial; you need the approval of a boss or an authority figure; you want to keep a reputation for being balanced, objective, moderate; your hope is to be asked back, to consult, to be on a board or prestigious committee, and to remain within a responsible mainstream; some day you hope to get an honorary degree, a big prize, perhaps even an ambassadorship. For an intellectual these habits of mind are corrupting par excellence. If anything can denature, neutralize, and finally kill a passionate intellectual life, it is the internalization of such habits.”

To me, it seems that Indian intellectuals have crossed the limit.

 

Are we fit for democracy?

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As I entered the office of a close friend, he enthusiastically asked,

“whom are you voting”?

On my saying “Phoolka” he looked flabbergasted and asked “why”?

“why not?”, I countered.

“He is not going to win” came the pat reply.

“so what?”

“Why you waste your vote?”

“So, you will prefer to vote for a “winning” candidate even if the party he belongs to has done immense damage to the cause of Sikhism, and, even Punjab?”

 

There was no reply for a moment and then he began to rattle out various statistics to convince me to avoid “wasting” my vote.  I wondered whether we are fit for a democracy where a vote to the losing candidate is considered a waste of vote? Are not such people (who outnumber those who think otherwise greatly) actually responsible for the mess all around? It is a sorry state of affairs and disgusting to say the least!