Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Raghead: Clear and Pressing Danger

The real reason the American embassies are closing...

Copyright B Purkayastha 2013


The book was old and tattered, the cover worn and edges curling. My sister had found it in a second-hand bookshop, one of the dark and dingy places in the lanes behind the market, where the piles of volumes rise almost to the ceiling and old men with thick bifocals read newspapers in shafts of dusty sunlight. She bought it on a whim, because she had rummaged about for an hour and wanted to have something to show for the effort.

So she just picked it up while walking out, and got it for almost nothing at all. And only when halfway home did she open it to see what it was about.

My sister was like that.

“Garbage,” I said, when she showed it to me later. “Just rubbish, is what it is.”

“Still, it’s interesting,” she said, flipping through the yellowed old pages. “I can’t even understand half the stuff that’s in here, but some of it’s pretty far-out.”

My sister liked using that kind of slang as well.

“Spells for summoning demons and ghosts?” I asked. “Don’t be ridiculous. Demons and ghosts don’t exist.”

“Maybe,” she said. “But it’s fun, isn’t it? Should we try one and see?”

“You’re daft,” I said, and pointed at the page she was looking at. “Look at that one, for instance. You’d need, let’s see, a fresh human skull and a virgin’s blood. I’m not about to donate my skull, and as for virgins...”

“Not all of them are that complicated,” she interrupted. “There’s one I saw which is much simpler. Just needs red and black cloth, sulphur, camphor, candles, and a few other odds and ends.” She turned back a few pages and showed it to me. “There, we can easily get all that.”

“Says it’s highly dangerous, and one shouldn’t do it unless one’s an adept,” I pointed out. “It summons the demon Rouhbe...Rouhbegha...anyway, he’s from the Seventh Circle of Hell, it says.” I pointed at an illustration, all horns and claws, spines and teeth. “Handsome, isn’t he? Wonder why anyone would ever want to summon him.”

“Shouldn’t matter, should it?” she replied, grinning. “Since ghosts and demons don’t exist? Isn’t that what you were saying?”

I looked at the illustration again. My eyes literally could not make sense of the thing depicted there, to sort out the long sharp spines from the huge, hooked claws, the shaggy pelt from the curling tail. But the eyes were clear enough, two pools of absolute black below the heavy, curved horns. And the mouth, with its clubbed, thorny tongue, pressing between its sets of needle-teeth.

It was horrible, and it was terrifying, and I wondered what diseased imagination had conjured it up from the depths of the subconscious mind.

“It’s all nonsense,” I declared. “I’m not doing this.”

So in the evening we did it anyway. My sister was like that.

It did feel ridiculous, sitting across the little table, holding hands and trying not to choke on the fumes of burning camphor, while taking turns to read aloud words from the book lying open between us, illuminated faintly by the flickering candlelight. After a while we finished reading, and waited, holding hands.

“I’m getting tired of this,” I confessed. “When is this demon supposed to turn up anyway?”

“We might not have read all the words accurately,” she said. “Some of them are pretty hard to pronounce.”

“Well, I can’t sit here much longer,” I said. “This camphor is making my head ache.”

“We can’t give up so easily,” she said. “Take a walk on the balcony, then come back, and I’ll go out. We’ll take turns.”

So I went for a turn on the balcony, which was down a short passage from the little room in which we were holding the séance. After the flickering candlelight in the room, all the better to summon demons by, the electric lights of neighbouring buildings looked impossibly bright, dazzling. From here, ten floors up, the noise of traffic on the street below was a hardly audible rumble, and the headlights looked like earthbound, swiftly moving stars.

I took a deep breath, leaning over the balustrade, and felt the tension ooze out of my muscles. Only now did I suddenly realise that I’d been tense. It was ridiculous, stupid, and embarrassing. Why on earth should I be tense of something that didn’t even exist? I felt a little angry at myself, and at the same time filled with relief and laughter.

Feeling much better, I wanted to stand there for a while longer and breathe, but I heard my sister calling my name. She could get really impatient, but it had been a while since I’d been standing on the balcony, so I reluctantly turned to go back inside.

I was half-way down the passage when I felt a cold wind blow past me. It blew for only an instant, a wind so cold that I flinched, and it was past so quickly I couldn’t even be quite sure I’d felt it at all. Shrugging, I turned the corner and entered the living room, already beginning an apology to my sister for taking so long.

She wasn’t there.

Now the living room isn’t large, and though it’s fairly cluttered, there’s nowhere someone can hide. Nor is there any other door but the one into the passage, and the window’s got a safety grille on it, and in any case was closed for the séance. And I returned far too quickly after hearing my sister call to miss seeing her if she’d gone down the passage – and certainly she hadn’t come up it towards me.

I fumbled for the light switch. It did not come on.

I was still staring stupidly around the room when I heard a sound behind me...

How can I explain the sensation in my spine when I heard it? The unmistakable clicking of huge claws on the floor of the passage, coming from the direction of the balcony where I’d been standing only moments before?

And how shall I describe the laugh that sounded from the passage, a low, chuckling laugh that did not sound as though it could ever have emerged from a human throat? With the best will in the world, I can’t. I will not try.

It’s there now, just past the door, and coming closer. I can hear its claws clicking, the laugh getting louder, rising in pitch, from a chuckle to a giggle. In a moment or two, it will come round the corner and enter the room, and I will see it. I do not want to see it.

I’m afraid.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2013          

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

You have two cows...

Do you know the old “You have two cows” economics joke? The one that is on the net in various forms, such as:

A CHRISTIAN DEMOCRAT:  You have two cows.  You keep one and give one to your neighbour.
A SOCIALIST:  You have two cows.  The government takes one and gives it to your neighbour.
A COMMUNIST:  You have two cows.  The government seizes both and provides you with milk.
A FASCIST:  You have two cows.  The government seizes both and sells you the milk. You join the underground and start a campaign of sabotage.
DEMOCRACY, AMERICAN STYLE:  You have two cows.  The government taxes you to the point you have to sell both to support a man in a foreign country who has only one cow, which was a gift from your government.
CAPITALISM, AMERICAN STYLE:  You have two cows.  You sell one, buy a bull, and build a herd of cows.
BUREAUCRACY, AMERICAN STYLE:  You have two cows.  The government takes them both, shoots one, milks the other, pays you for the milk, then pours the milk down the drain.
AN AMERICAN CORPORATION:  You have two cows.  You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows.  You are surprised when the cow drops dead.
A FRENCH CORPORATION:  You have two cows.  You go on strike because you want three cows.
A JAPANESE CORPORATION:  You have two cows.  You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk. You then create clever cow cartoon images called Cowkimon and market them World-Wide.
A GERMAN CORPORATION:  You have two cows.  You reengineer them so they live for 100 years, eat once a month, and milk themselves.
A BRITISH CORPORATION:  You have two cows.  They are mad.  They die. Pass the shepherd's pie, please.
AN ITALIAN CORPORATION:  You have two cows, but you don't know where they are. You break for lunch.
A RUSSIAN CORPORATION:  You have two cows.  You count them and learn you have five cows. You count them again and learn you have 42 cows. You count them again and learn you have 12 cows.  You stop counting cows and open another bottle of vodka.
A SWISS CORPORATION:  You have 5000 cows, none of which belong to you. You charge others for storing them.
A BRAZILIAN CORPORATION:  You have two cows.  You enter into a partnership with an American corporation.  Soon you have 1000 cows and the American corporation declares bankruptcy.
AN INDIAN CORPORATION:  You have two cows.  You worship both of them.
A CHINESE CORPORATION:  You have two cows.  You have 300 people milking them. You claim full employment, high bovine productivity, and arrest the newsman who reported on them.
AN ISRAELI CORPORATION:  There are these two Jewish cows, right?  They open a milk factory, an ice cream store, and then sell the movie rights. They send their calves to Harvard to become doctors. So, who needs people?
AN ARKANSAS CORPORATION:  You have two cows.  That one on the left is kinda cute.

Anyway, I thought it was time it was updated and expanded a little. So here are Purkayastha’s Rules of Two-Cownomics:

Zionism: You have two cows. You send them to graze in your neighbour’s field. You then claim that God gave you the field and that the proof is that your cows are grazing there. When your neighbour protests, you shoot him dead and drive away his wife and children, building a wall to ensure they can never return. Washington then pays you a billion dollars and guarantees your security.

British Imperialism: You have two cows. The British come and kill both. They then force you to grow fodder on your fields instead of food for yourself, and to turn over all this fodder to them. They take the fodder home, feed it to their cows, and sell you the milk at gunpoint. If you refuse to buy it, they hang you.

Hindunazism: You have two cows. You check to see if your neighbour is Muslim. If he is, you start a riot against Muslims, saying that by eating beef they are destroying the nation’s cattle wealth. When he’s safely dead, you send your cows into the streets to forage in garbage dumps.

Jihadism: You have captured two cows. You decide they are pro-Assad cows, and behead both.

The Taliban: You have two cows. You make both wear full-coverage burqas and stay indoors all the time. If they butt you, you take them to the football stadium and shoot them.

Indian Economics: You have two cows. The government allows a foreign company to open a 10000-cow factory farm on your land, which it expropriates from you at little to no compensation. You have to sell your cows in order to find money to eat. The Prime Minister makes a statement saying that foreign investment is essential for economic growth. The Muddle Class goes and buys another carton of branded, TV-advertised factory-farm milk. Later, the factory farm’s cows – high producing, delicate foreign breeds – begin to sicken and die, so the farm pulls up stakes and leaves.  Because the firm removes its investment in dollars, the rupee crashes. The Prime Minister declares that in order to revive the economy, another foreign company must be allowed to set up a 20000-cow factory farm. You starve to death.

Indian Bureaucracy: You have two cows. The local bureaucrats demand that you procure a licence allowing you to keep them. They then give you a list of 1001 documents and certificates you must provide in order to obtain the licence. After standing in lines for months waiting for the first of these documents, you decide bribery is the only way you’ll ever get the licence. You then find that you’ve paid twice as much in bribes as the value of the cows.

Casteism: You have two cows. Your neighbour, who belongs to the more powerful caste, claims that their horns make them an intolerable threat to his family. He gets together a mob, invades your house, beats you up and takes away the cows, which he then keeps for himself, whereupon their horns suddenly cease to be an issue.

Philosophy: You have two cows. You spend weeks debating whether one can decide if they are black or white on the basis of reasoning alone, and whether the terms "black" and "white" have any meaning. Meanwhile, the cows starve to death. 

The Empire (Republican Administration): You have two cows. The Empire calls you an existential threat who is making chemical bombs from cow intestinal methane gas. It sends soldiers to invade and occupy your farm, kill you, and take the cows.

The Empire (Democratic Administration): You have two cows. The Empire says you're mistreating them, and it needs to intervene on humanitarian grounds. It sends terrorists to invade and occupy your farm, kill you, and take the cows.

The Empire (Obama): You have two cows. Obama sends a drone to incinerate them both with a Hellfire missile. When you go running to see what happened, it blows you away too. Obama’s spokesman then informs the world that three suspected insurgents have been killed by a surgical strike. CNN runs a programme citing this as proof of how effective drone strikes are.

The Vatican: Adult cows? Female cows? Not interested.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Tremors from Telangana

For the past several days, we’ve been living in a state of siege.

Since this statement will, of course, be a surprise to some of you, let me explain.

I live in a part of the country called the “North-East” because it the north east. It’s, in fact, a chunk which is geographically completely isolated from the rest of the country, except for a 20-kilometre-wide corridor known as the “Chicken’s Neck” lying between Nepal on the north-west and Bangladesh on the south-east. All communication – except by air – between the rest of the country and the North-East passes through that corridor.

So what?

Well, this:

Some days ago, I wrote an article on the Hindunazi party, the BJP, and its agenda for seizing power in the next national election. Let me now talk about how its competitor, the Congress, is trying to hang on to power.

It’s trying to do so in the old, typical Congress tradition, which it learned from the British: divide and rule.

Now, India is a nation comprised of 28 states of various sizes, and seven centrally-administered regions called Union Territories. Some of these states are very large, some medium sized, and some very small. Their developmental standards and quality of government also vary widely, from moderately tolerable to incredibly appalling.

Before I go further, there is something to be clearly understood: states in India are not the equivalent of states in the United States. India is not a union of states which have come together to form a country. At the time of independence in 1947 India comprised British-administered territories and over five hundred quasi-independent kingdoms, which were all British protectorates. These kingdoms – many of which themselves comprised bits and pieces stretched over large areas, with enclaves inside other kingdoms’ territories – were absorbed into either India or Pakistan; but this made the new nations administrative nightmares. So, merely as a matter of convenience, the kingdoms were absorbed into newly-created provinces which were called states.

There were many parameters on which these states could have been created – ethnic groups, cultural customs, primary economic activity, and so on – but, in its so-called wisdom, the government of the time (the same Congress Party) decided that the basis would be...language. Not unnaturally, this meant that territories which had nothing in common with each other, except (often different dialects of) a language, were yoked together. It also meant that while some states were very small, others were gigantic.

As the years passed, some of these states were broken up into smaller ones, when some proved simply too large to administer, or when people of different language groups who had been forced into the same state determined to go their separate ways. But each time these smaller states were created, yet more demands for states came up, some of them on extremely flimsy grounds.

Let me make a point here – Indian states exist, basically, for one purpose alone, and that purpose is the enrichment of their politicians, bureaucrats, and the capitalist corporations who control them. Basically, whatever the people get from the state is what’s left after these parasites take their share. Obviously, smaller and more numerous states mean more politicians, more bureaucrats, and more opportunity from graft from capitalists. Often the politicians and bureaucrats are themselves the capitalists; a very cosy situation, which makes politics the career option for the unscrupulous.

Therefore, each time a new state is demanded, you can be sure of two things: politicians from the regions which would comprise the new state will cheer for its creation, since they have everything to gain; while politicians from the remaining part of the state will oppose it tooth and nail, since it will diminish their own importance and sources of revenue.

And – as I also mentioned earlier – politics in India is inseparable from gangs of goon squads and pet criminals, often masquerading as “student’s unions” and the like. These politicians will use those goon squads as stormtroopers to enforce violent “agitations” to press home their demands. Ordinary people have no option but to go along with the diktats of these criminals, because the alternative is to be assaulted or worse. Clear so far?

Now, the last time states were created was circa 2000, when three – Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand – were created out of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh respectively. In each case, the creation of these states did precisely nothing to help the people of the states, but absolutely everything to enrich the politicians, especially by looting the mineral wealth of the first two. Many more states are being demanded, with tribal or ethnic homogeneity now being the basis for demanding statehood rather than language. And, since India has literally hundreds of distinct languages and tribal groups, this means, practically, that no state can ever be small enough – there will always be a subgroup demanding still smaller statehood status. Eve micro states mean politicians can get rich from funds given by the centre for projects – the state I live in, one of the smallest in the country, is a prime example.

Now, one of the largest states in India is Andhra Pradesh in South India, created for the Telugu speaking people. It was created out of three separate and distinct territories, one of which – Telangana – has long (for several decades now) demanded its own separation from the rest of the province. All these years, while it was in power, the Congress did nothing to facilitate creation of the state. Now, faced with looming defeat, suddenly it’s announced – without actually consulting the people of the state of Andhra Pradesh as a whole – that Telangana will be created. What’s changed so suddenly that the state must be created right now, instead of, say, ten years ago, or why it can't wait till after the next elections?

In a word: nothing.

Telangana is the red bit

The reason – so obvious that it doesn’t really need to be spelt out in so many words – is that the Congress is banking on getting virtually all the votes from the new Telangana state in the next elections, which it thinks will strengthen its seat number and act as a magnet for allies. That the main Telangana political party, the TRS, has already announced that it’s thinking of merging with the Congress means that its cynical ploy may even be working.

But what happens in Telangana doesn’t necessarily stay in Telangana. As I mentioned, this is hardly the only demand that’s been pending for another state. In fact, Eastern (and especially North-East) India, which is a bewildering ethnic mix, is a ferment of statehood demands. Going from West to East, I can name several: Gorkhaland and Kamtapur from Bengal, Bodoland and Karbi Anglong from Assam, and Garoland from this state (Meghalaya); I’ve probably missed out a couple more, like Dimaraji from Assam and Nagaland, but those are for states so small you’d need a magnifying glass to spot them.

This is India as it is now (if you check with the Telangana map above you'll note that the international border of Jammu and Kashmir state, in the north, is fictional - only about a third of the state is under Indian control):

And this is a speculative view of what India would be like if the statehood demands currently pending would be accepted (actually, it omits many micro-state demands, like Kamatapur, Garoland and Karbi-Anglong):

The point is this: the grant of statehood to Telangana has, quite predictably, inflamed the politicians of these localities, and their goon squads as well, They aren’t blind; they know that this is their chance to drive a hard bargain for their own ethnic enclaves, where they can be virtual rulers over a homogeneous population. And almost all of these places have, or had, armed insurgencies ongoing, so there isn’t any shortage of violence-prone recruits to the cause.

So, the railways and roads passing through the corridor connecting the North-East to the rest of the country lie severed, as Bodo goon squads forcibly occupy railway stations as a pressure tactic; since the North-East imports virtually everything it needs from the rest of the country (a direct consequence of the government’s refusal to let the region access its natural market in South East Asia) it means that we’re essentially cut off, and besieged. Meanwhile, Karbi gangs are on the warpath, and Garo hoods have ordered a shutdown over the Western half of this state, while the Gorkhas gather forces for a renewed attempt to forcibly wrest their own state, as they have done more than once before.

We here in the North-East have already one of the highest prices of all commodities in the country, a consequence of the long communications and logistics routes. If this goes on much longer, I have no idea just how much worse things are liable to get.

The cynical Congress calculation is that while it will gather votes in Telangana, it will be able to ride out the violence elsewhere. Eventually, people will tire and go back to work, until the next cycle of violence, To be sure, people will die (and are dying even as we speak), and there will be a great deal of bitterness, and the seeds of later dissolution will have been sown.

But to the party which, in 1947, agreed to cut the country in two just so it could rule unchallenged over rump India, without competition from the Muslim League, that is no price to pay at all. 

God Is An Atheist

Let’s – for the sake of argument – assume there’s a supranormal entity, which (rather like the force of gravity) is omnipresent and has a direct effect on everyone’s life. Let’s, for want of a better word, call this entity “god”.

Let us then assume that this “god” insists that humans should believe in its existence, and punishes those who don’t believe in it. At the same time, it insists that said belief should rest on faith and faith alone, and that actual, verifiable, scientific evidence for its existence is anathema and blasphemy. Fine?

Furthermore, let us label those humans who believe (by faith, since this deity requires faith as the foundation of belief, not evidence) in the existence of this god “theists”, and those who deny it “atheists”. All right so far? (For the purpose of this line of thought, agnostics can be lumped with atheists, since they don’t directly admit of the existence of this being.)

Since, therefore, belief in a supranormal deity which influences one’s life is theism, can this supranormal deity itself be a theist? Because then it would have to -

         1.     Take it on faith that it, itself, exists. It can not, by its own yardstick, verify its existence in the ways everyone else can verify theirs. (If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?)

         2.     Accept, on faith and faith alone, that there is a supra-supranormal being, let’s call it Supergod, on an even higher plane of existence. Because if you compel belief on one plane on faith alone, you can’t deny it on another based on faith. Simple, elementary logic.

Therefore, god can’t believe in its own existence. It’s impossible.

Since god can’t believe in its own existence, god can’t be a theist.

Therefore god is an atheist.

Quod Erat Demonstrandum.