Pillaiyaar and Periyaar!

If you have read my earlier blog on ‘God as a partner in crime and quid pro quo’, you may have known how Pillaiyaar, the elder son of Shivan, commonly known as the elephant God, played a crucial role at a defining moment in my life. However, from my earlier days, I say the name of ‘Murugan’ anytime I think of God. He is the second son of Shivan, popularly known as the God of Tamils, people speaking my mother tongue. I generally don’t ask or pray with any specific request. Any time I go to a temple/mosque/church or any other divine worship place, I just say ‘Kadavulae, Murugaa, Sivaa, Sithaiyaa’ and end there. Sithar is Shivan too and He is our family God. Kadavul is God in Tamil.

I come from a very religious family and religion was there in everything we did in our way of life. I studied in TVS High School, Madurai, perhaps the best school in Madurai and was blessed to have great teachers. Every morning, we did have prayer in school which included a hymn on God and also one on T. V. Sundaram Iyengar who founded the TVS establishment. TVS in Madurai can be compared to Tata in India. Madurai had TVS Bus service, running local city transport when I was young. It was known for its punctuality. You could watch the bus coming to a bus stop and set your watch! They run many successful businesses and academic institutions.

After my MSc in IIT Madras, I did not want to go abroad as going to Madras itself was somewhat scary for me. I was born and raised in Madurai until I was 20 years old and lived in a secure environment well protected by a large family and friends. GATE was just introduced for postgraduate admission and many of us wrote GATE. I skipped GRE and TOEFL. I ended up in IIT Delhi to do an MTech on chemical analysis. After  my MSc at IIT Madras, the course was a big let down and one of my friend left the course. For me it was more useful for personal development. I could get my MTech degree with 9.88/10.00 grade points and got  my first publication as well.

During my MTech, I finally wrote GRE, TOEFL and AGRE. Also, I figured out that if I could live in Delhi, I could live in USA as well. For someone from Tamil Nadu, in some sense, both are foreign. Though I did learn some elementary Hindi, I was more comfortable in English, after Tamil. It would take two days to reach my home in Madurai, from either Delhi or America. I only applied to Universities that had no application fees. I accepted the first offer that came my way and went to the Kansas State University. As I was getting ready to leave, I received a letter from the International Student Center at KSU. It warned: ‘You are coming to a far away place to a country very different from yours. Be aware that you may have a cultural shock’. I couldn’t have learned much about life in the USA but I really did not have a cultural shock when I landed in the USA. I did have my first cultural shock when I returned after my studies to work in Kanpur!

Twenty years ago, on the day of Buddha Purnima, I went to Bithur, 18 km from the IIT Campus in Kanpur by bicycle with a friend of mine. Bithur is a very important town for Hindus and there used to be a board there claiming it to be the centre of Universe. Besides, it is believed to be the birthplace of Lava and Kusha, the twin sons of Rama and Sita. Also, Sita was supposed to have entered the earth in this place, on the banks of the holy river Ganges. I was very curious to visit and when I did, it was very disappointing. It would be difficult to grow in India without listening about Ramayana and Mahabaratha. Now the Government wants these to be taught in schools and I don’t like this idea. In any case, when most in India revere Ramayana, it was saddening to see the Lava-Kusha Janmastan (birth place) in such a terrible condition. It has not been maintained at all. I am surprised why all those who talk emotionally about Ramayana don’t do anything to maintain places like this.

Coming from Madurai, which boasts of a unique city festival, Chitra festival (April-May every year), I am very much used to huge crowds and enjoy being in the crowd. It happens during the full moon day in the Tamil month of Chithirai. Every year, the newspapers would mention that 5 lakh people attended the festival (0.5 million). The crowd I saw in Bithur during the Buddhapurnima (another full moon day) was too much even for me. I suspect it could be several millions. Taking a dip in Ganges during such an auspicious day is considered holy and it seemed like everyone was there.

Ganges in that place looks far from clean. I had gone to Rishikesh where I had a nice bath. I told my friend that taking a dip in that place would be tough and I might have neither the immunity nor faith. We decided to cross the river and walk upstream until there were no more people and take a dip. There were no permanent bridge but a temporary one was made out of big barrels. The barrels with big holes were kept and a wooden bridge was made on top of these barrels. A boat could go through a barrel.

There was too much crowd and the bridge had no place empty. I wondered if the area of the bridge would be almost the same as the foot print of all the people standing on the bridge. Even in that crowd, there was some order and you could join the crowd moving in one direction or other. One barely moved and the human wave was crossing the bridge. Suddenly, some security and police came with some lathi (a stick to beat the crowd) and was shouting. No one was beaten and everybody was being pushed away from one barrel. I was worried about a stampede. Then I saw a boat from my left side approaching the barrel. The boat had some ‘purohits’ or ‘brahmins’ being taken somewhere. The occupants of the boat did not want to have any human being standing on the bridge while the boat crossed. There could have really been a stampede at that time. Thankfully Pillaiyaar was still watching and no untoward incident happened. However, I was shocked looking at the faces of the occupants. They had so much hatred and contempt on their face, shouting away the people standing on top of the bridge and the police were helping them. Weren’t the people on bridge fellow humans too?

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I never had any such experience during my stay in Tamil Nadu. I have read about some groups not being allowed inside temples. I have read about the priests throwing ‘viboothi’ on the ground for some group of people as they were inferior. I have myself not seen such acts. I was thinking to myself. If such an incident were to happen in Tamil Nadu, some one could have jumped on the boat and beaten the hell out of the occupants. People had learned self-respect. Someone called Periyaar had fought against oppression and instilled confidence and respect among the population that has been suppressed for long. People in Bithur chose suffering and put themselves in a lot of discomfort and let the boat pass through. I was squeezed from all sides and luckily no one had any major injury or lost their  life. It could have happened. I hope such things don’t happen there any more.

I witnessed many such events during my stay in Kanpur.  People were treated without any respect or dignity. Most of them accepted such treatments without questioning them. I read the following news in the Hindu today. The Prime Minister of India is being warned by the priests:

Shrikant Mishra, one of the main priests at the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, who officiated the rituals when Mr. Modi visited the temple after winning the general election, says the belief about the Kaal Bhairav temple is a “shastriya parampara” or classical one. “Kaal Bhairavji is considered Dandapani or one who can mete out punishment, therefore anyone who visits Kashi has to pay obeisance to him first. If the BJP leadership here has sent a word to the Prime Minister, it is not wrong,” he said.” (1)

This, I see is a major problem among the Hindu way of life. That God will meet out punishment if you don’t pay obeisance to Him first! Of course all my friends will quote from any number of books that this is misinterpretation. God is all love and is not looking for your petty obeisance. You only have to live a life following some ethics. I was pleased to read the response of A R Rahman when he was issued a fatwa. If the Prime Minister can be warned this way, you can imagine what our priests can do to the ordinary people. I wish every state had a Periyaar in India. If not, these priests would have ensured that we continue to live in an imagined glory without trusting our own skills.

We can still look forward to a God who would come in the future and relieve us of all our worries without trying what we could. Or course, we can also realise that God wants you to look after yourself. If not, the ocean would have drinking water and all the energy in the key board or pen or your shirt would have been usable. If you want drinkable water and usable energy, go figure out. That is what God has told you clearly and loudly. Those, who want to cheat you in the name of God, would like you to believe otherwise. Be wary of them. That is what Periyaar told us. Tamil Nadu and Kerala are far more progressive than Gujarat when it comes to all indices based on human development. It may not be the case when it comes to investment today. We have learned very well that growth is not just some rich people making more money! If not we would not have witnessed the American economy collapse in 2006-07 and Obama getting elected in 2008. It is in your hand to learn what you need to take care of you and your family. God is with you and (s)he is not going to help you, if you don’t do your work.

(1) http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/modi-asked-to-seek-divine-help-to-break-varanasi-visit-jinx/article7660114.ece



Fatwa, request and free speech

Last week two of the legends of Tamil cinema, A. R. Rahman, Oscar award winning music composer and Rajni Kant, the undisputed super star, have been in the news for wrong reasons. A Muslim group has issued a ‘fatwa’ against Rahman for working in a movie named after Prophet Mohammad, produced in Iran. A Hindu group has requested Rajni Kant not to act in a movie planned on Tipu Sultan. Both these acts are unacceptable in a civil democratic society.

The Muslim group’s objection seems to be that some one might criticize the movie using its name and it might sound like an insult to Prophet Mohammad. They want to protect the Prophet. This is common among all those religious persons who think they have to protect the God. Though, it might sound strange, they believe that God has chosen them to protect Him and His honour. As with all things related to faith, you cannot ask them to prove it. In any case no one should be allowed to issue a Fatwa on any body else in this fashion in a civil democratic nation which has a constitution. I am pleased to note that another muslim organization based in Tamil Nadu has refused to revolt against Rahman.

The movie is made mostly by Muslims in Iran and Rahman is composing the music. The Muslim group has quoted this in their defence saying that the makers of the movie should obey their order. They are not biased and ordering a non-muslim group. Also, their main concern is a potential insult to the Prophet’s name. They have not lied or distorted the facts. However, today’s nation/state should remain secular and such a Fatwa by a religious leader should not be possible.

The Hindu group’s concern, as expressed in the newspapers is baffling. It claims ‘Tipu Sultan may be portrayed as a freedom fighter’. Of course he was. Do they want to hide this fact? Tipu Sultan fought against the British and died. Mysore King, a Hindu aligned with the British and survived. They have not issued a fatwa and they have only requested Rajni Kant not to act! How civilized! Apparently, Tipu Sultan was anti-Tamil! The same group other wise looks at things ‘nationally’ and disapproves ‘regional’ feelings.

One has to be careful in characterizing people from the past with such terms. Tipu Sultan had Srirangapatnam as the Capitol in his kingdom. The mysore kingdom was all of 18 km away! Tamil Nadu had at least four kingdoms earlier to these two. They may even say Rajendra Cholan was against Tamil as he defeated Pandiyan kingdom in Madurai, where the three oldest Tamil sangams were held. One never knows! Rajendra Cholan can be enemy of India as well, as he defeated many of the kings all the way to Ganges and Himalaya! Of course, this group is not interested in facts. They are keen on writing the history as they would like it to be. I can’t believe they would explicitly express a fear that Tipu Sultan may be shown as a freedom fighter! Is it arrogance, stupidity or fear?

Somewhat coincidentally, last week Saudi Arabia embassy officials in New Delhi have been accused of slaving two Nepalese women! I remember reading a news story that mentions the following: Saudi Arabia does have strict controls and women are not exposed! Single men are not allowed to come into some areas. Embassy officials are accused of acting in barbaric ways! Though, one cannot generalize from individual cases, it should be obvious to discerning readers that excessive control will not work. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely! I only hope incidents like this force all the nations to rethink the immunity given to Embassy officials.

If you were in India in recent times, it would have been impossible not to hear about the gruesome murder of a daughter by a mother.  Good, bad and ugly humans have been in existence since humanity came into existence.

Indian Constitution left enough room for everyone to follow their faith without state interference. It seems to me that every group is misusing this privilege. Rajiv Gandhi lost a golden opportunity by interfering with the Supreme Court in Shao Banu case. I read a news about a bold Muslim woman approaching the court against bigamy among Muslims. For Hindus, bigamy is not allowed, but only if one of the two wives complain! In Tamil Nadu every one knows about influential bigamous leaders. Strangely, in the USA, leaders are expected to follow lofty ideals and an ordinary person is not constrained. In India, an ordinary person has to live a life with lofty ideals and they don’t apply to leaders!

Religion should remain a private affair between an individual and a God of that person’s choice. It is important that a modern nation does not let religion dominate political decision. India was founded with this ideal. I hope it will continue to be so.


Rationalists from India are pro-human, not anti-Hindu!

Are the Indian rationalists anti-Hindu? That would be a silly question from the proclaimed believers, who cannot see reason. Rationalists from India would most likely have been born ‘Hindu’ and would have first hand experienced the practices that are condemnable in a civil society.  This question should perhaps be ignored. However, I see that this is becoming a major propaganda. Of course, rationalist from India are critical about the rituals of Hinduism such as Made snana (1). Religious zealots would justify this and all such inhuman acts in the name of God and salvation. For them keeping the masses brain washed and controlling them is more important and they cannot stand being questioned. Surrender and attain salvation!

Of course, the rationalists from India were against caste based hierarchy, discrimination, untouchability and promote secularism, As Sampath says in an article in The Hindu dated 9th September 2015 ‘the battle for secularism cannot be won without first addressing the reality of caste, for it is the virus behind the pathology of Hindutva’ (2). If you are a rationalist from India, it is but natural that you question the Hindu rituals. If you are an atheist or agnostic, you question all religions. For an independent person like me, I would question anything forced on other people based on some one’s faith. I have written earlier about religion and conversions in my blog.

By some coincidence, there is an article in The Hindu today about one of the eminent neurologist, author Oliver Sacks by the former CBI Director R. K. Raghavan. He quotes a conversation between Oliver Sacks and V. S. Ramachandran, Director of the Centre for Brain Research and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego. Sacks passed away recently and Ramachandran had visited him in person 5 weeks earlier (3).

Sacks: I’ll probably never see you again Rama, have a good life.

VSR: Well, you never know!

Sacks: Well, I am an old Jewish atheist, Rama, but you are right, who knows!

The main point to learn from this conversation is that rationalists and atheists are there all over the world and they have questioned irrational acts of the believers, especially when it is also inhuman.

Over the last two years, M. M. Kalburgi in Dharwad, Govind Pansare in Kohlapur and Narendra Dabolkar in Pune, all rationalists have been murdered by religious terrorists. So far, these terrorists have not been identified. Indian police is certainly capable of getting to the truth. Indian media covered the murder of a 21 year old girl due to family feud and the police acted swiftly, though the murder took place more than 2 years ago. Kalburgi’s murder has not received due attention from the media.

Rationalists from Bangladesh Ananta Bijoy Das, Washiqur Rahman and Avijit Roy were killed by religious terrorists there. I am sure they were not anti-Hindu. In Bangladesh, if you are a rationalist, you would be anti-Muslim. Richard Dawkins, a proclaimed atheists has questioned Christian faith. Wherever you are born, if you are a rationalist and you watch atrocities committed in the name of a religion, you have no choice but to oppose.

Making rationalists from India, anti-Hindu is convenient for the religious bigots. It is easy to make the blind followers hate the rationalists. It is easier to convince the blind followers to murder the rationalists. As some one pointed out, religion can make you hate some one you don’t even know.

I am a Hindu and a rationalist. I have opposed, I oppose and I will oppose any and all inhuman activities promoted in the name of Hindu religion. Any and all caste based discrimination, untouchability and hierarchy will be condemned. Earlier this week, three dalit women were fined for entering a temple in Karnatka. Mumbai has banned the sale of meat as Jains are observing some fast. I condemn them both. Secularism allows you to follow your faith. No one has a right to dictate what others should do. Do not force your morals on others. We have a constitution and we will follow that. Indian rationalists would naturally be anti-Hindu.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Made_Made_Snana
  2. http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/is-hindu-nationalism-a-viable-project/article7629924.ece?homepage=true
  3. http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/neurologist-writer-healer/article7629878.ece?homepage=true