Thursday, June 12, 2008

Perils of Cultural Nationalism

(My first political post)

The bloodiest wars in the history of human civilization has been fought on the pretext of passionate nationalism. From the evidence, prima facie , nationalism as a concept seems to be the precursor to imminent destruction. And more often than not, nationalism comes with the package of cultural imperialism.

It is on this context that I am not convinced whether our right wing political parties who harp on the cultural superiority of our ancestors and ask us to be fiercely nationalistic is doing the country a favour or a disfavour. In isolation, being proud of our heritage is good and should be inculcated and appreciated. But that road is fraught with danger. The issue is so sensitive that it could be twisted very easily for pandering to the local sentiment for petty political gains.

Given a free hand, the right wingers would want to go back two centuries into a system which, to them, worked and was responsible for India's truly pluralistic and strong society. They are oblivious to the fact, that preservation of a cultural heritage does not necessitate active usage. Knowledge of the achievements of our predecessors are sufficient. Ask a Scotsman about how they lived, ask an Irish about their way of life, ask an African about their history - in all likelihood they will tell you. Yet they never harped on their ancestral lineage. They still do not. But they are proud humans. Make no mistake about it.

It is important to know that Aryabhatta was a great mathematician, Sushrut was a great surgeon, we had constructed planned cities before anyone ever thought it was possible, sanskrit is still the most scientific language ever designed - but it is pointless to follow what they did, today, blindly without questioning them. If under scrutiny they still hold good, lets use them. If not, remember them with respect and do not be constrained by them.

The freedom of the individual should be of paramount importance. Only that will ensure a free society. Banning events which are not in accordance with our eastern values on the ground of westernization and loss of cultural identity is akin to subversion of fundamental right of expression. And to colour it with the idea of preservation of culture and of nationalism is a calculated insult.

To a nation, to a culture.

The evolution of a society will extract its pound of flesh for good and bad. We have to accept both. Resistance will only be detrimental.

The idea of nationalism as mooted by Narendranath Dutta could possibly be termed as the most comprehensive, most progressive and unbelievably pluralistic. But the problem with an institutionalized dictum backed up by strong religious undertone is that - it is totally dependent on the people running the institution. They might be good today, bad tomorrow and worse the day after.

The only solution is to emphasize the importance of a free thought, even when it questions the fundamentals of our firmest beliefs, which are just a function of time and our acquired knowledge.

Freedom to think, freedom to act, freedom of choice, freedom to express - that is what a nation with rich cultural heritage should stand for. A dissenting voice should be welcomed in spirit and fought by an equally powerful contrary view if the voice happens to compromise our social fabric.

Friday, June 06, 2008

When Shah Jahan Met Mumtaz

Sparks flew, glasses broke, there was electricity in the air, the mood was tense and sombre, there was skepticism and apprehension and then from somewhere crept in meekily almost cheekily - love.

While Mumtaz was pretty sure it was over even before it began, Shah Jahan was not. Considering his overtly unsuccessful endeavours in the past, he was too reserved, too reticent to believe that it was happening to him. For all that he has been through, it almost seemed improbable. And he still would not admit even to himself that he was swept away by the sheer enthusiastic liveliness of that woman the instant she shattered the glasses.

Now, I have broken tons of glasses in my 29 year old career at home. And the only thing I received was my mother's chidings and sometimes a stinging forehand crosscourt across my back and here my dear friend Shah Jahan gets a woman to spend a life with ! Unfair - wouldn't you say?

Mumtaz is cocky, vivacious, brimming with life, being blissfully and thankfully unexposed to the throbbing pain of unrequited love. Just the perfect foil for Shah Jahan - eternally skeptical and for good reason, never quite believing that someone could be so sure, could be so forthright in expression, in her ability to be pleasantly unpredictable, to hold his hand with assurance of being there - something which he had never known before.

So, there goes the last one of the best of friends I have. Claimed by the flight of fantasy, gripped by the excitement of the novelty of love, of marriage, of living the feeling of being together, of knowing that he also has not lost all of what he had and that he too would discover that its all there somewhere just waiting to be stroked, waiting for the match to strike to light up his life.

The wait ends on 30th Jan, 2009. Congrats!

Thursday, June 05, 2008


Dear Soumya,

Most people command respect because of their position and I am not sure whether it is more out of fear or out of respect. Some people just by being who they are. Some by their brilliance in their profession. Very few by affection and camaraderie. And even fewer by a combination of all. It would be a bit melodramatic to say that you are a shining example of the latter. But almost all things in life in its intrinsic form are melodramatic and true. So is this one.

I know it is customary to speak good about people on their farewell but I am not the one to abide by conventions. I know of no other way but to speak the truth. So what I write is not what I have to but what I want to.

Professional success and sound knowledge always brings with it that smug condascension reserved specifically for rookies and those who are not at par. The most endearing part about you is that you have given those rookies the leeway to grow with time, expecting them to come up the ranks by their own accord, by their own merit. You expect high standards only because you have set it yourself by your own work. Being assured in your own knowledge and yet being humble enough to discuss them, to listen to another opinion, knowing fully well that what the other guy might take away from you will be much more than what you take away is appreciable. In fact, unfortunately this is seldom seen in professional circuits. Kudos to that!

It was fun working with you. Maybe not working in the truest sense of the word. But being in the same place it was exhilarating. I will remember many of the professional stuff that I got to know from you. But more importantly I will remember your cooperative attitude even when you were under time crunch, your unbelievable sense of humour, your constant digs at Raj and Sham and Pradeep, your accusations of a combined conspiracy by them to vilify you, your excitement at cooking something new, churning out as Milind puts it "the word of the day", your unapologetic passion for Sourav Ganguly and your total devotion to Harbhajan Singh (sorry, but could not resist this one!)

It was a privilege sharing the same workplace. Great knowing that such people do exist. It lets me believe that the word 'boss' could be actually seen in a positive light.

As long as you have your intellect and drive you won't need it, but still - All the very best.