Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Friendship versus "networking"

If men fathom what it means to have virtuous and wise friends, they will find the means to procure such friendships.

There are men who allay today's trials and avert tomorrow's troubles. Befriend and look after them.

To cherish and befriend men of greatness is the rarest of all rare things.

A man's greatest strength is meriting friendship with those greater than himself.

Knowing that they function as a monarch's eyes, a king looks at ministers meticulously before engaging them.

A man's foes are rendered ineffective if he can live in fellowship with the worthy.

Who can destroy the man who enjoys the friendship of aides who will not hesitate to admonish him?

With no one to reprove and thus protect him, a king will be destroyed, though no one seeks his destruction.

Profit is not for those who have no capital; nor is stability for those who lack the support of faithful friends.

While it is perilous to make a multitude of foes, it is ten times worse to give up the friendship of the worthy.

Tirukkural 441-450

Among Hindus, is detachment to be preferred to love, or the other way around?

When the Rig Veda says that the beginning of the world was Love (not Maya), how can Advaita be justified as "the ultimate meaning of the Vedas" (Vedanta)?

Where did the idea of "non-attachment" come into Indian thought except through Buddhism and Jainism, many of whose ideas were taken up by Shankaracharya to invent many of the beliefs that now go by the name of "Hindu"?

The following verses of the Rigveda are quite clear that the "connection of Being in Nonbeing" is Love, and that this Love is not some sort of energy but is the "One who existed by his own impulse...and was hidden by the Void but came to be through the power of Ardor":

"At first was neither Being nor Nonbeing. There was not air nor yet sky beyond. What was its wrapping? Where? In whose protection? Was Water there, unfathomable and deep?

"There was no death then, nor yet deathlessness; of night or day there was not any sign. The One breathed without breath, by its own impulse. Other than that was nothing else at all.

"Darkness was there, all wrapped around by darkness, and all was Water indiscriminate. Then that which was hidden by the Void, that One, emerging, stirring, through power of Ardor, came to be.

"In the beginning Love arose, which was the primal germ cell of the mind. The Seers, searching in their hearts with wisdom, discovered the connection of Being in Nonbeing".

- Rig Veda X, 129, 1-4

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Sad situation of Indians who borrowed money in order to study abroad

Here is a typical letter that I have received.

"Hello Sir, ... I have a request. I studied Masters in Urban and Regional Planning(specialized infrastructure management and sustainable development) from .... I tried very much for the job here but it’s very hard here as companies are not ready to hire foreign nationals plus language is also a major issue as I don’t speak ... very well, I just know some basics as I was studying in English here. Sir, I supported my masters with loan and thought of having a good job since I was studying in a prestigious institution. Now, since I don’t have a job, I have become financially weak. Sir, I tried for a job in (another country) also, but till now there is no reply from there also. Sir, I would like to request is it possible to get a job there in Switzerland or any other place. Sir, I am very hardworking and have got very good management skills. Sir, any normal job will be very ok for me as I want to make myself stable. Sir, I will be very grateful if any possible help can be done. Sir, I will wait for your response as I have very limited time in ... . Sincerely, ..."

This poor person's visa runs out soon. How many Indians who studied abroad are in this predicament? Who cares? Who knows? I wish I could do something about it. But what? Is this not something for the government or for NGOs to take up?

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The process by which we invent new Hindu festivals

One striking thing about Hindu practices today, in contrast to my younger years, is how many new practices we have invented. For example, there was no Ganga worship in Varanasi (only in Hardwar). So how are such practices invented? One such festival's genesis, in 1985, is beautifully documented by Kauai's Hindu Monastery (which publishes Hinduism Today): "Since most Hindus do not celebrate Christmas, they often find it difficult to relate in a meaningful way to those who do. Their children are not infrequently embarrassed when asked why they don't receive gifts like their friends. Adults feel the need to give gifts and mail greeting cards as well as accept them from relatives, neighbors, friends and business associates. In 1985, Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami conceived of and introduced Pancha Ganapati. With five days of gift giving at the time of year when Christmas is widely celebrated, it offers Hindu families, especially in the West, a meaningful way to participate in the holiday season without compromising their Hindu values. Their children receive and give gifts just as do their non-Hindu friends. Adults can fulfill the season's social custom of exchanging gifts and greeting cards with relatives, neighbors, friends and business associates. "While the festival occurs at Christmas time, Hindus celebrate Pancha Ganapati in a distinctly Hindu way, without Christmas trees, Santa Claus or symbols of other religions. Greeting cards are Indian in design and content, conveying Hindu wisdom from scripture. Hindu music and bhajans take the place of Christmas carols. "Pancha Ganapati includes outings, picnics, feasts and exchange of cards and gifts with relatives, friends and business associates. A shrine is created in the main living room of the home and decorated in the spirit of this festive occasion. At the center is placed a large wooden or bronze statue of Lord Panchamukha ("five-faced") Ganapati, a form of Ganesha. Any large picture or statue of Ganesha will also do. Each morning the children decorate and dress Him in the color of that day, representing one of His five rays of energy, or shaktis. Detailed instructions are available here:, and a nice video presentation is at "Worldwide Reception "We always expected the Pancha Ganapati festival to catch on. And it has, not only in the West, but in countries such as Malaysia. Kaladevi Ambalawan of Penang sent this report: "We have been celebrating Pancha Ganapati Festival for the past five years. Always at the end of the last puja on December 25, we observe a few minutes of silence and my father asks us to reflect on the past year, apologize for any wrongdoings and pray for His guidance and blessings. We always look forward to the festival, as it has brought our family very close together." ... "Pancha Ganapati is showing up in popular culture, earning mentions on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and "The Office." It was celebrated in 2011 at the National Children's Museum in Maryland: "The festival focuses on love, harmony and the importance of a new beginning. Kids can make traditional greeting cards decorated with Hindu art and verses, as well as participate in activities focusing on the holiday's values.". " I wonder if, in days when internet did not exist, we invented other such festivals simply because there was some need that was felt such a festival or practice could address? Then, within two or three generations, the origins of the festival would be lost, and some people would start imagining that the festival had "always existed" and is "part of our tradition". The advantage, as well as the disadvantage, of lacking historical records is that anything and everything we like can be accorded the respect of tradition and antiquity, whether or not such accolades are deserved. That makes it difficult to distinguish between what is genuinely traditional, genuinely historical, and what is relatively recent and "make-believe" traditional. So should we somehow stop, or at least discourage, the creation of new myths, new practices, new traditions? Or should we continue, and even encourage people in producing them, convinced that public popularity and the market are reliable guides to truth, to history, and to the values by which we should live?

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

What do Hindus feel about the execution of Kasab?

I guess there are as many views as there are Hindus. Some will no doubt be delighted - simply because they have blood lust (there is a certain proportion of such people in every group of humans). Some will feel that though they do not, in general, like this sort of thing, execution is justified in this particular case because of the heinous nature of the crime committed. Others feel that the death penalty is justified in all cases where it is a question of deliberate murder, specially in cases where there is repetition of the offence. As one reads these various articles and opinions, it is amusing how people make up their own version of "Hinduism" to justify their position. For example, asserts that Hinduism forbids executions such as of Kasab. Though, in the above case, the author, quotes Gandhiji in order to justify his position, the quote is misapplied. In any case, Gandhiji may have been a mahatma but he can hardly be considered an authority on "Hinduism". And none of the other articles that I have read quotes any authority at all in order to justify their assertions. So I guess, as we Hindus have no central authority, every one of us is free to sanctify and dignify our own subjective opinions as those of "Hinduism"!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Nasty responses to Diwali greetings

I used to phrase my Diwali greetings blithely, either something simple like "Happy Diwali", or something more elaborate.

Then, a couple of years ago, I got my first shock:  someone on my list of friends wrote me a rude reply.  Of course, I immediately rang him to find out what the matter was.  He explained that he had stopped pretending that he wasn't ex-untouchable, and that he was now taking on the fight against upper-caste people like me who had oppressed his people through the centuries.

Well, he knows the history of my family, knows that I am anti-caste.  So why the vitriol for me?  "Because Diwali is a festival that celebrates the oppression of my people.  If you are anti-caste, you should not be celebrating Diwali or sending greetings and best wishes on this day".

When I mentioned this to friends, there was a kind of unbelief that this should be so. However much we may protest that we don't believe in caste, I guess that unbelief indicates how few of us have friends from the OBC and Dalit communities.

Anyway, since then, I have become very careful how I phrase my greetings on Diwali.  This year, my greetings said:

"Happy Diwali! 

I hope that you are not one of those Indians who are against this festival!                                                                                                  

I was brought up on the philosophy that every excuse is good enough for a celebration and for not only wishing but also encouraging us all to fight against casteism, and work for peace, prosperity and happiness.

May I wish you and yours a wonderful year ahead


However, no matter how carefully you phrase your greetings, some people still want to send you tart responses.

Here is one and, even though it is not particularly literate, it is all the more powerful for that:

"bad diwali !!!!
how pollution produced ?
how sound pollution?
how many death ?
how many time waste ?
why celebrate ?
who was ram which year come to his house?
what ram has work for all people.
why the kill sambuk beacuse of sudra taking education.
fullish dewali."

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Which is the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the world?

According to a news resport, there is a new entry in the Guinness Book of World Records, for the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the world, and that honour has gone to Hiltl, in Zurich.

I am delighted that my friends who own Hiltl have won this place in such an eminent league.

Now Hiltl may or may not actually be the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the world (it opened in 1898).

Probably many Indian restaurants may be older!

But can they prove it?

Only if they can prove it, can they displace Hiltl in the Guinness Book of Records!

So there is a challenge...

Monday, 24 September 2012

Tackling a woman thief in London

For some reason, I am reminded today about an incident that took place in London many years ago.

Near the intersection of Holborn Viaduct and Farringdon Road, there used to be an Indian corner shop (perhaps it's still there).

As I was passing by, someone rushed out, followed by a very Indian voice shouting "Thief! Catch her!".

As she ran not too far from me, I chased her, tackled her, and brought her down.  Though she wanted to get up and run again - she was very strong - I had a grip of her legs and it became difficult for her to escape: a crowd had gathered round almost instantly, no doubt amused or scandalised at the sight of an Asian man dressed in a suit laid out on a Central London street with his arms gripping the legs of a much younger white woman also on the ground and dressed not too respectably.

It seemed like only seconds later that the police arrived.

Apparently, she was a thief who had earlier too purloined things from the Indian corner shop and the owner had rung the police as soon as she had come into the shop.

I slipped away quietly as there was nothing more for me to do, and I couldn't spare the time to be involved in unnecessary things - it was difficult enough for me financially in those days, as I had just started as an independent consultant then.

That was my closest encounter with a drug-crazed person.  And I hope not to have any other such encounter.  But I was reminded of the mixture of emotions in me at the time: anger at the white woman for having fallen so low, upset at the thievery (from a fellow Indian at that!), pity at a person on drugs....

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Comments on the paper by Mr Kaushik Basu, Chief Economic Adviser to the Indian Ministry of Finance, arguing that a certain sort of bribe-giving shold be made legal

I had heard about Basu's position, but not read his paper (though I guess I should have hunted it down and done so!). 
A relative sends it to me for my comments.  The paper is at:

Here are the observations I sent him.

1.  The spirit of his comments is closer to my proposals for abolishing black money in India than anything else I have seen by Indians or others

2.  The mechanism he proposes has some merit

3.  It does not address what I might call "long-term collusive bribery in the context of a network of relationships" but it could address what I call "individual transactional bribery"

4.  However,  it is extremely difficult to *prove* individual cases of bribery

5.  In reality, the distinction between what he calls "harassment bribes" and other kinds of bribes is not easy to make; and other kinds of bribes are probably much more economically and socially significant

6.  It is possible for a group of individuals to misuse the mechanism proposed in order to threaten even honest officials in a legal system such as ours where testimony can be included under proof
7.  Most Indians are not literate; even literate Indians are not necessarily intellectually sophisticated; and even those, who are intellectually sophisticated, are often culturally disinclined to read and to get into abstruse detail.  So there will be a widespread diffuse or general impression that "even bribery is legal now", which will further erode the will of Indians to resist *all* sorts of bribery.  And when the first convictions start appearing under such a new law, there will be even further confusion in the country about what is legal....

My conclusion is that a moral renewal of our country is the only thing that will reduce corruption, and not this kind of economic calculation of where self-interest might or might not lead - which is why I focus so hard on the question of moral renewal.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Using lies and ruses to attract people to our many Senas?

A friend called the phone number mentioned in a facebook post (posted below) on the so called threat to North East people in Bengaluru. The person who answered the mobile number identified himself as Tajinder (Is he the head of Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena) and when asked about which Muslim group has issued fatwa - he had no answer.

The Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena's FB post said "Fatwa issued by Local Muslims to North East Brother's & Sister's to leave Bangalore till 20 or ready for Riots. Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena will declare our Helpline no. for Bangalore till tomorrow. Any North East Student getting any threat can also contact me Directly 24*7 on my no. 9212640865. We also appeal local Bangalore youth to come forward in support of our North East Brothers & sisters. Bangalore Youth,Those who want to join this cause can mail us their details at"

Thursday, 12 July 2012

New CEO for King's Kurry in Zurich

Torsten Danielsson, the Danish restaurant entrepreneur, has been unanimously appointed as CEO of King’s Kurry Group, by the Board of Directors.  He has worked with the King’s Kurry Group since 2009, successfully launching the Group Purchasing and Expansion initiatives, including the Rickshaw and Little India projects.

He will be responsible for the wide range of activities of King’s Kurry Group, concentrating on further expansion with partners such as MIGROS (e.g. Anna’s Best INDIA ready meals range) and fine dining establishments, such as the recent co-operation with Badrutt’s Palace ***** Hotel in St. Moritz.

Ranjeet Guptara, Founder and Director of King’s Kurry says, “As I leave operations to get married and take the opportunity to study in Cambridge, I am grateful that King’s Kurry can benefit from Torsten’s international experience, in the heritage of his Viking trading ancestors.  Denmark and India have been trading partners for more than 500 years, so I am glad to have found a leader who understands both European and Indian cuisine, culture and commerce. Mr Danielsson has already brought a level of expertise and positive change to King’s Kurry in the last three years that is transformative.”

Torsten Danielsson, the designated CEO, says “I am excited about taking this next step forward in the King’s Kurry Group. The challenges in general in Gastronomy will not become smaller in the coming years and King’s Kurry wants to not only sustain existing restaurants and product sales but  also to become the leading Indian brand in Europe. I look forward to  taking on this challenge together with the competent and vibrant team in the King’s Kurry Group.”

About Torsten Danielsson:

Torsten Danielsson, born in 1964 in Denmark, studied Economics at Aarhus University before leading multi-site restaurants across Denmark.  He has also worked as an entrepreneur in the construction and diamond tool industries.    He has a daughter, has lived in Zurich since 2002, and represents Switzerland internationally in Carambole Billiards.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

On what basis is the government trying to change Hindu practices?

I have become increasingly uneasy about our Government's role in the religious life of our country.

For example, everyone seems to expect that government should have a role in "persuading" temple authorities to open temples to dalits.

I don't see on what basis this is being done or indeed can be done.

It is like asking Muslims to allow Hindus to join the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Or football fans to be supported by government in a campaign to replace the cricket ball with a football.

Muslims have their own rules and, provided those don't conflict with the law, they should be free to practice their own religion.

Similarly, we Hindus have our own customs and should be allowed to practice them unless those practices conflict with the law.  We have the right to allow those we wish into our spaces and to forbid those we do not wish to enter those spaces - in the same way as I should be free to permit someone to enter my house or not.

Of course, I am personally totally committed to eradicate caste discrimination in social, economic and political life.

But a temple is not part of social, economic or political life.  A temple is part of religious life.  It should and must be free to admit only members of that particular religious order. Otherwise "religious freedom" is a meaningless concept.

Naturally, we may think more "enlightened" those temples which admit people other than members (for examples, devotees of other Hindu traditions, foreigners, et al).

But we should not pretend that this is anything other than free choice on the part of the temple concerned.

Except in cases where civil or criminal law is infringed, religious freedom must and can only mean the freedom to practice religion as the members of that religion see fit - not as non-members see fit.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Indian products still have quality problems - even if they are not as severe as those of Chinese products

A friend kindly brought me a Racer shirt from India as a present

Nice cloth.

Beautiful and unusual design.

Only problems:

Within minutes of wearing it for the first time, the neck button fell off.

And the shirt is supposed to be "Dry Clean Only".
Which makes it a rather expensive shirt to use regularly....

So the Noah/ John Louis shirts remain the best produced in India - no quality problems at all so far, though I have been buying and using them for some years. 

For transparency: I should declare that the owner is the husband of a 4th cousin.  However, I don't have any financial interest in the company and, till a couple of years ago, was not aware of the relationship.  And I do try to be objective in my judgements!

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Hai mera Bharat Mahaan?

Shreyash Gautam sends me the following:

Hai mera Bharat mahaan..???

 Ek Desh jahaa Pizza Ambulance ke pehle ghar pahuchta hai..

 Jahaa Car Loan 7% hai aur Education Loan 12%..

 Jahaa Chaawal Rs. 40/kg me milta hai aur sim card free..

 Jahaa Log Durga ki pooja karte hai aur ladki paidaa hone pe uska khoon..

 Jahaa Olympic Shooter ko gold medal jitne pe sarkar 3 crore deti hai, aur Dusra Shooter jo aatankwaadi se ladte shahid ho jata hai use 1 lakh..

 Sach me hamara bharat mahaan hai...

 Jaago india jaago.!!!
 Jaago Bahujano Jaaagoo.......!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Progress with research into nutrition

it is over 10 years since the above-announced research project was commissioned.  The Defence Research and Development Organisation, the University of Pune, and the National Institute of Virology were supposed to investigate ideas in the Arthashastra for, e.g. a single meal that is enough for a month.

If anyone is aware of any progress on this, I will be grateful if this could be brought to my attention.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Maanav Adhikaar Paaritaushik for 2011

The Maanav Adhikaar Paaritaushik (Human Dignity Award) of Rupees One Lakh, in memory of Professor M. M. Guptara is awarded for 2011 to Mr & Mrs Chandra Kant Shourie, of Satya Niketan School, Nagod, Madhya Pradesh.

The citation reads:

"In spite of having hardly any resources or support, the Shouries founded in 1985 a school in one of the most backward areas of our country (Nagod, Madhya Pradesh).

"Starting by transforming their own living room each morning into the first classroom for the initial kindergarden class of 20 children sitting on the floor on mats and around an old dining table, the now-fully-fledged High School has 650 pupils producing outstanding results all the way to 12th grade, with teachers trained in India as well as abroad.

"Satya Niketan is the only high school in the area providing quality education through English so that the children get a chance to go forward in the world, equipped to address the challenges of higher education in the different fields which are opening up in our country.

"Particularly noteworthy is their work with children from very poor homes, who would probably never have been educated otherwise. Satya Niketan alumni are working as engineers, IT professionals, doctors and  other fields, earning enough to lift their families out of the vicious cycle of poverty.

"Equally important, Satya Niketan has become a channel of dialogue with society, challenging long held superstitions and beliefs which have been detrimental to the development of our society and nation: a point of challenge and change, as every educational institution ought to be".

The Guptara family appreciates Mr and Mrs Shourie's lifetime of dedicated service, of which this award is only a very poor and inadequate token of recognition.  "The Shourie family's contribution to the area has been outstanding, and their contribution to our country has been exemplary, as they have helped people of all backgrounds, particularly female students, and those of a poor economic and caste status" said Professor Prabhu Guptara, son of Professor M. M. Guptara.


Tuesday, 29 May 2012

How ready are India and Indians for Intensifying Global Competition?

My lecture on the above topic, at George Washington University in the USA, organised by, was video-taped and has just been uploaded:

Monday, 28 May 2012

Should Hindus be for or against nuclear power for India?

A friend forwards this mail that is apparently doing the rounds: 
"As on today, USA has 65 nuclear power plants which supplies 20% of total energy needs of that country.
"But in India, there are only 18 reactor's which supplies 4% of total energy requirements. Many NGO's are opposing Nuclear power for India.
"All these NGO's are mouth pieces of Christian west. Because If India's  poor Hindu's and Muslims gets electricity, their life will change, and in such circumstances it will be difficult to convert them to Christianity and convert India into a colony of Christian West by AD 2020.
"When Atomic Power is OK in Christian West, then why not OK in developing and under developed countries like India."

My response:
the message above is typical of many such mails doing the rounds among Indians.  Ignoring the assertions about numbers (which I have not had time to check), the mail is full of logical and factual errors.

1.  Actually, many Indian NGOs are anti-Western and anti-Christian (including Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, secular and other NGOs).  Further, many NGOs in the West itself are anti-Christian.

2.  Atomic power must be evaluated on three counts: what is the relative COST of nuclear versus other sources of electricity; what is its present (and likely-future) relative SAFETY RECORD; and what is India's record and future likelihood of being able to manage the SECURITY issues associated with nuclear power and nuclear waste. 

3. Nuclear power is supported as well as opposed both in India and in the West.

To sum up: nuclear power is not a matter of being pro- an anti-Western, pro-or anti-Christian, pro- or anti-Muslim, pro- or anti-Indian, or anything else. It is a matter of judgement regarding many imponderables.

Thoughtful people disagree,and will continue to disagree, about the relative merits of nuclear versus other sources of power IRRESPECTIVE of whether they are atheists, agnostics, religious, capitalists, socialists, environmentalists, or anything else.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

response to the video of my talk on "Understanding Indian Spiritualities"

Please note that the video itself is at
and that the talk was organised at a Hindu temple in the USA by IndUS Forum:

A friend passes on the following feedback from her daughter:

" Watched both videos though skipped over some parts. Nice talk.
 Interesting Q and A. Christians don't follow Christ, it seems. And the explanation for  this statement is simplistic at best:  The crusades.  This when he started the talk saying all religions falter and we must attempt to first understand what caused them to falter and then try to learn from it.
And Hinduism is about what, five thousand years old?  In comparison the crusades happened in the first lap of Christianity.  I put it to Prof Guptara that just as Hinduism evolved from the Vedic traditions all the way down to its current Dalit crisis,so also the Christianity of today has evolved from its origins two thousand years ago.
 His second point is that the Pope is a head of state.  How exactly does that prove Christ is not being followed?
And of course he has to retain the right to arms. Look at the size of his "state". Landlocked 0.2 square miles. Every religious leader on the planet has a security detail. Why? Because it is practical. Same difference. The Vatican must be able to defend itself. 
Look at nature. Every creature, every flower has been given a means to do so. It is only used when needed but yet, it is inherent. That is the point-  Self-defense is the most basic of ideas."

I responded to my friend along the following lines: 
"Many thanks for passing this on to me!
My response (IF you wish to pass it on too!):
Indeed "self-defense is the most basic of ideas" - yet, you have obviously forgotten (or perhaps have never known?) that Jesus the Lord not only refused to defend Himself but also rebuked those who tried to use the sword to defend Him (please read the 26th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew) So anyone who tries to defend herself or himself is not following Jesus the Lord ...

BTW the Crusades did not happen in the first phase of Christianity (the first phase is generally considered to be the phase up to the 3rd century AD).  The first Crusade happened right at the end of the ELEVENTH century.  The last of the Crusades (the ninth) took place actually towards the end of the 13th century...

As to the matter of the Vatican being a "state": perhaps you have forgotten (or never known?) that Jesus the Lord did say that His Kingdom is not of this world...please read the Gospel of John, chapter 18, verse 36. So anyone who claims that her or his kingdom (or modern state) represents Jesus the Lord does not even begin to understand Him (only after understanding can one perhaps acquire the willingness to follow Him)

"evolution" can justify everything - the question is whether, in "evolving", Christianity has been or is true to its supposed Master or not - I submit that, on these and other major points, Christianity has been for some 1700 years (i.e. after the first phase) fundamentally untrue or unfaithful to Jesus the Lord

Please note that my position is that "many or most Christians may not follow Jesus the Lord, some clearly do; similarly, many or most Hindus may not follow Jesus the Lord, some clearly do - what is most important is not whether one is a Christian or a Hindu but whether one is a follower of Jesus the Lord; at root, the question is whether one is complacent and complicit in the status quo or whether one is really searching for God.

warm regards, with prayers and blessings


Saturday, 12 May 2012

Whose fault is the communalisation of India? That of the British?

A relative of mine sends me the following excerpt, actually from a mail from a friend of mine (though I don't think my relative realises that - the excerpt has obviously done the rounds!):
Before 1857, Hindus used to celebrate Eid, and Muslims used to celebrate Holi and Diwali. Muslim rulers, like the nawab of Avadh, Tipu Sultan etc used to organise Ramlila, give grants to Hindu temples, etc. It was after suppressing the Mutiny that the British decided that the only way to control India was by divide and rule. Hence a deliberate policy was laid down by the British to generate hatred between Hindus and Muslims. All communal riots started after 1857. The English collector would secretly call the local panditji, give him money, and ask him to start speaking against Muslims, and he would also call the local Maulvi secretly and give him money to speak against Hindus.

This poison was systematically spread year after year, decade after decade, until it culminated in the Partition of 1947 (see 'History in the Service of Imperialism', and Kajtu's article 'What is India' on and the articles and the video on the website Even now, there are powerful vested interests promoting communal hatred. The truth is that 99 per cent people of all communities are good, but it will take a lot of time to remove the communal virus from our body politic. Today the situation is that whenever any bomb blasts take place, immediately Muslim individuals or groups are blamed for it.
I responded as follows:
This is further "mythification" of Indian history!
True, there were periods of Indian history when such poison was systematically spread by the use of state power (by Muslim Buddhist, Hindu, British and no doubt other rulers) 
However, it was quite common for Hindus to celebrate Eid and Muslims to celebrate Holi even when I was a teenager - at least in Delhi, where I grew up
Whatever the British did before that we can and should blame them for, certainly
but the "communalisation" of India, in the two or three generations that have passed after Independence, is the fault only and exclusively of us Indians ourselves
love from us all, as always

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Idols, icons, moorthies and God

At one of my recent lectures (video at - see the Q&A, part 2), one of the participants raised the question of whether our moorthies should be called “idols” or whether they should not rather be called “icons”. 

The relevant argument was first publicised by Rajiv Malhotra and runs something like this:
  • Our moorthies are not “idols” in the Biblical sense, since we do not worship the moorthies themselves, but worship God through the moorthies (with the moorthies representing an “aspect” of God).   
  • People in the West, who either do not understand our traditions, or want to deliberately malign us, call us “idol worshippers” and do us down by putting us at the same level as those “idol worshippers” against whom God, as understood by the Abrahamic religions, rails (and actually asks for destruction divine or human to be visited upon them).
  • Ergo: we Indians should not be called “idol-worshippers” but “icon-venerators”.
In the Q&A session, I had impulsively agreed with the participant– even though I was aware of the argument from Rajiv Malhotra’s work, I had not had the occasion to think through the pros and the cons of the position, nor been able to put any time into researching and thinking about it.

Later, some time after my response to the gentleman who asked the questions, I found that I had a little niggle in my mind about my answer, and I have now done some work on the matter, at least to a certain extent.   

So here are the considerations as I now see them: 

 A.  Is it true that we do not worship moorthies but only “venerate” them?  Well, as far as I can see, it probably is the case that many of us only “venerate” them, but millions of us do actually worship them – in offering them pooja, we are actually offering pooja to them, and not through them to the Almighty (chat with any Indian in a genuinely neutral way regarding what he or she is doing in pooja to any moorthy, and you will get the two answers I indicate above) 

 B.  So we should accurately say that “many” of us worship idols but many of us “merely” venerate icons. 

C.  Any moorthy is a “likeness” (that is the meaning, if you compare the use of the word across multiple linguistic and conversational contexts), so the question is: are ALL moorthies a “likeness” of God?  Or, to put it differently, are all moorthies a fair or trustworthy representation of at least one aspect of God?  Here we can have an interesting debate regarding what exactly the nature of God is, and whether each of these moorthies does in fact represent at least one aspect of God in some more or less reliable or trustworthy manner.  It could be argued that the greatest problem with Rajiv Malhotra's kind of position is not for the Abrahamic religions (where arguments could at least potentially be found to justify all kinds of Indian moorthies except those now-rare ones to which human sacrifice is offered – human sacrifice is the specific grounds on which the fiercest condemnation was expressed, at least in the Jewish Bible, though Islamic prohibition is much more sweeping and rather “blanket”, and Christians have been ambivalent about idolatry and iconolatry – or at least “icon veneration” - since the 3rd century AD (cf the practice of the Roman and Eastern Orthodox Churches).

D. When does ANY moorthy become an idol that is “worthy” of veneration or worship?  That is an interesting question in our traditions – of course, anyone CAN set up any moorthy or object and start venerating or worshipping it (photos or paintings of elders or ancestors are in fact so treated) but for a moorthy to be PROPERLY worshipped in our traditions, it is usually necessary for certain rituals to be done before it is considered “worthy” or “fit” for worship or veneration. See for example:

 E.  If the icons or idols only “represent” an aspect of God, then it should not be necessary to go through elaborate hour-long rituals (actually, the particular ceremony hyperlinked above, like most such things nowadays, is a highly-reduced or shortened version of the rituals – the full versions can last days and weeks). 

F.  The fact that we do go through these rituals, and “welcome the gods” signifies that some force or personality is being invoked and summoned through the rituals, which is what is then worshipped, in such cases, and not merely “some aspect” of God (whether any, let alone all, such personalities or forces can be considered “part” of God is an interesting debate within our traditions, as well as in other traditions). 

G.  This is not to say, that many Hindus do not, in spite of such shortened (or even the full and proper) rituals, persist in regarding the moorthies as mere symbols of an aspect of Godhood - though this may apply more to (Western) educated Hindus than to illiterate Hindus or those Hindus who are educated partially or wholly in ways that are traditional in India.

H.  The words "icon" and "idol" have now been secularised (just as the word "wicked" has been secularised), so that any pop star is an "icon" or "idol": worship too has been reduced from such prapatti to a mere "high".  But halt!  Just because there are secular versions of a "high" (whether induced by alcohol or drugs or a phenomenon of mass hysteria) does not mean that these secular versions entirely contrast worship: these "highs" are merely a diluted form of "worship"

I.  The word "worship" means an external act which acts out the "worth" or "value" that I acknowledge the worshipped person or object represents.

In conclusion:  to the participant who raised the question in the temple, my response should have been much fuller and more nuanced.   

But that is of course the challenge on such occasions: there are many people wanting to ask questions, and if a full answer is to be given to each of them, then the Q&A session will not last a mere 300% as long as originally scheduled (as happened on that occasion – and then the Chairman had to cut it short!) but would last perhaps 3000% times as long!

Probably that is why it is best for questions to be posed and answered individually - which is also the reason why in our traditions, originally, there was little "preaching" (except after this was started by the Jains and Buddhists); till very recently, individual questions were the preferred mode of interaction, and it was indeed considered "not done" to ask or answer questions "in public".

The wonderful luxury that is offered to us by Skype and email nowadays is that we can, at least to a large extent, return to or continue that old tradition of individual interaction..  

So let’s make use of these modern media to ocntinue individual interaction with each other.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Hindu Temple lectures: videos

Videos of my lecture at one Hindu Temple during my IndUS Forum tour are available at. 

The Q&A session is available at: