Saturday 31 May 2014

Raghead: Dispatches from Neonazistan

Copyright B Purkayastha 2014


This is not a happy article.

This is an article filled with anger. This is one of the times I am totally and completely furious – but not the way you’d think. No.

Probably I should explain.

If you remember, back in December 2012, India had been “shaken” by mass protests against a particularly gruesome rape-murder in Delhi. I’d written about it at the time. The protestors marched on the streets, beat a policeman to death, organised text message campaigns demanding the death penalty for the rapists, and polluted the air with the smoke from their candlelight vigils.

The story was repeated in August last year, when a young journalist was gang-raped on the premises of an abandoned textile mill in Bombay. Once again, the Muddle Class was exercised, and the media went to town on the rape for all it was worth.

After all, this is the nation where forensic medicine textbooks still say women shouldn’t be trusted in their accounts of being raped and fairly recently a judge acquitted some rapists on the grounds that they were middle-aged and “rape is committed by teenagers”. So it’s a good trend, you’d have thought, if the country was finally rising up in anger against rape and sexual assault.

You would be wrong.

On the 27th May, three days ago as I write this, two cousins, girls aged 14 and either 15 or 16, went missing in a village in the badlands of Uttar Pradesh state in North India. Their corpses were discovered the next day, hanging from a mango tree in an orchard near the village. They’d both been gang-raped before being killed – and the local police was hand-in-glove with the rapists.

Actual photograph of the scene

 You’d think the country would erupt with anger, wouldn’t you? You’d think the people would be in the streets again, demanding justice?

Apart from the local people, the parents and other villagers, who knew perfectly well who was responsible and who refused to let the bodies be removed till the perpetrators were arrested, just about no one was interested – except for some politicians looking for publicity. The media reported it, but only as filler news. On the net, by my own experience, foreigners were more disturbed and appalled than Indians were.


Not a mystery.

Let me quote what I’d said back in December 2012:

(T)he Great Indian Muddle Class ... sees itself as superior to the masses from which it has emerged, and it aspires to separate itself from them as far as possible. Unlike the middle class in other parts of the world, it doesn’t see itself as preyed on by the upper class; the upper class is its ideal, the realm to which it aspires....

On the other hand, the Muddle Class hates and fears the underclasses. It feels threatened by them – by their increasingly uppity demand for a place in the sun and by their competitiveness. To the Muddle Class, the underclass isn’t PLUs (People Like Us) – they are PLTs (People Like Them). It’s the underclass who threaten the Muddle Class’ upwards march. It’s the underclass which reminds the Muddle Class of the morass from whence it sprung, and where it’s terrified of returning.

So when six members of the underclass rape a woman of the Muddle Class, it’s not a crime against an individual woman. It’s a strike against the Muddle Class. Think of it as a serf raising his hand against a nobleman, and you won’t be far from the idea.

...It’s an absolute certainty that if the victim of the rape had been of the labourer set, there would have been as little reaction from the Muddle Class as there is when (as happens routinely) rich kids driving SUVs get drunk and crush homeless people to death. The Muddle Class doesn’t care about anyone but itself.

Accordingly, whatever the “protests” appear to be, they are not actually against the rapes – they are protests against the Muddle Class being made to feel vulnerable. No more, no less.

The victims in this latest episode were of the lowest castes, “Dalits”, who were once known as “Untouchables”. The perpetrators are Yadavs, further up the caste system but still pretty far down the totem pole. Both the victims and the victimisers are a world away from the air-conditioned malls and McDonalds of the Great Indian Muddle Class. If the Muddle Class thinks of them at all, it is with an unfathomable contempt.

And that is why these two girls don’t exist as far as the Muddle Class is concerned. It’s still basking in the electoral victory of its Hindunazi heroes, it’s looking forward to its promised “achche din” (good times), and the death of two of the members of the Lower Depths is about as irrelevant as it can get so far as the Muddle Class people are concerned. It doesn’t, after all, reflect on them, and that’s all they’re concerned about.

And this is why I am furious. Not at the rapists, as you might think – they’ll get what’s coming to them, never fear. I am furious at the Muddle Class, at the swine who were screaming for justice a year and a half ago but who are so deafeningly silent now. Where is your sense of justice, your outrage? Where are all your Facebook campaigns and candlelight vigils? Does it only affect you when you feel threatened? What kind of “outrage” is that?


I spit on the lot of you.

Raghead: Despatches From Neonazistan (Part IV)

Copyright B Purkayastha 2014

Tuesday 27 May 2014

The Bird and the Emperor: A Folk Tale From History

Know, O Reader:

It is written that the Great Mughal Jāhāngīr, Emperor of Hindustān, was once on campaign against one of the peoples of the frontier of his far-flung kingdom. In the course of his advance, of course, his cannon bombarded towns and villages, his war elephants trampled down people and crops alike, and his troops fed themselves on the grain of the conquered, and divided their women among themselves, just as it is in war, and has always been.

Then, one day, the Emperor saw, perched on the branch of a tree, a bird of such surpassing loveliness that he could not draw his eyes away from it.

“Catch for me that bird,” he told his men, “for I wish to send it back to my palace, where it will grace my harīm and with its beauty complement that of my Queen Nūr Jāhān and of all my concubines.”

So the soldiers went to get hold of the bird, but it easily evaded them, flying away from their clumsy attempts to capture it. For days they followed it, but they could not touch so much as a tail feather.

Then Jāhāngīr called from among the camp followers who accompanied his army the cleverest and most talented bird-catchers, those who knew the secrets of all the snares which could hold the creatures of the air. But though they set traps of surpassing cleverness, so that the eye marvelled at their skill, the bird would not be caught.

Then Jāhāngīr caused a cage of gold to be placed near the tree in which the bird sat; and in the cage he placed fruit and other comestibles of wondrous variety, of which the mind reels to think, and of which the tongue would grow hairy in description. But the bird would not enter, and with a mocking cry, flapped away to a distant tree.

Then was the Emperor’s heart filled with wonder at the bird, and he rode out alone, but for his trusted wazīr, to seek out the bird for himself. And at length he grew close to the tree on which the bird sat, and the bird watched him come.

“I command you,” then spoke Jāhāngīr to the bird, “as your rightful monarch and appointed lord, to submit yourself to my whim.”

But the bird hopped from branch to branch, its head on one side, and chattered in reply.

Then the wazīr, who knew how to interpret the tongues of bird and beast, said to the king: “O great and august monarch, the bird said that you have dominion over the human subjects of your realm; but it is not your vassal, and cannot rightfully obey your orders.”

Then the Emperor thought a moment, and resumed. “O prince of the air,” he said, “I wish merely to provide you a life of luxury and ease. No longer will you have to bear the dangers of life in the wild, with the fear of the eagle’s beak or the jackal’s fang, the cruel drought or the chill of winter. And your glorious colours, instead of being wasted in this wilderness, will grace the quarters of queens whose beauty is second only to your own.”

The bird chattered, and flapped to another branch.

And so spoke the wazīr, in translation: “Sire, the bird says that it prefers the wind and the storm, the dangers of tooth and talon, to the golden cage of your royal harīm; for there it will only be a possession among others, no more at liberty to do as it desires.”

Then rage entered Great Jāhāngīr’s heart, and, snatching his musket from where it hung by his saddle, he fired at the bird, with a flash flame and a cloud of smoke. But anger made his aim wild, and the ball flew wide of the mark.

With a final burst of chatter, the great bird flew into the air and away, and was seen no more

“Great Emperor,” the wazīr said then, “the bird said that if you had only been content to watch it from a distance, you could have exulted in its beauty for as long as your heart desired. But because you were intent on taming it, to make it yours, you will not find it again, no matter how hard you seek.”

 Jāhāngīr was silent a long time, and then he asked one more question. “Is that all it said?”

“No, Sire, it said one thing more. As it flew away, it asked why you felt the need to destroy what you could not possess. Why, it asked you to ponder, could you simply not let it be?”

The Emperor was silent, and did not speak.

“I wonder, Sire,” the wazīr asked, “if it is worthwhile to fight these wars against people  who have done us no harm, and to destroy them if they will not submit?”

The Emperor said nothing; but on returning to the army, he ordered it turned around, and headed back to his distant capital.

And no more did he go to war, ever again, after that day.

 Copyright B Purkayastha 2014

(Actually, of course, I made this up)

Important Notice

Readers will note that suddenly a lot of pictures have disappeared from this website.

There is a reason for this, I think. In fact, I am convinced that this blog is under attack from Blogspot itself. 

First was a fake copyright violation complaint against me two weeks ago. I received a notification that one of my articles - a totally innocuous parody of a 19th century poem - had been cited for an unspecified copyright violation by an unnamed complainant. I immediately filed a counter complaint and after several days got a response from Blogspot saying that they'd reinstate my post in two weeks unless the complainant (who I am convinced does not exist) files suit against me. The two weeks are almost up and of course so far no suit has been filed. 

Last night I came on to Blogspot and noticed a lot of my photos were missing. Now I always upload images after saving from my hard drive, not by hotlinks, so they aren't affected by their status on the original website. But even images from Raghead - original artwork by me - are missing. At first I thought it was my slow net connection which was to blame, but it's the same even on my phone. And I haven't heard a single other person having this problem. 

I can't afford a website of my own with unlimited upload limits otherwise I'd have set up one long ago. That's out.

From what people tell me, Blogspot's follow-up on complaints is poor, and I don't in any case know where to start. I need some advice.

In the meantime, I am thinking of moving to another website. For the time being, except for Raghead, I am not going to upload any pictures on this site.

Monday 26 May 2014

Oh My Dawg

Suppose you have a shop where you do good business ripping off gullible customers by selling them religious trinkets. Then, out of nowhere, an earthquake strikes and reduces your shop to rubble – but the insurance company refuses to pay off, claiming that it was an “act of God” and isn’t covered by your policy. Facing financial ruin, what do you do?

How about suing God?

That’s the premise of a film I watched recently, Oh My God.  It’s from the neo-Bollywood stable of films; Bollywood these days is willing to experiment a bit, unlike what it used to be like back in the 1970s or 80s, when each and every film followed a set and predictable pattern, too stereotyped even to be mocked.

Well, these days, in Bollywood, lovers do kiss each other on the mouth, and they do have sex before and outside marriage, and women even prefer having a job to breeding babies. But the more things seem to change, the more they remain, at the core, the same.

You’ll know what I mean in a minute.

This is what happens: Kanjilal is a sharp businessman who – while an atheist – is the proprietor of a shop which sells Hindu religious knickknacks, such as idols, to the gullible. One day, he has a spat with a crooked Hindu monk, Siddheshwar Maharaj, and that very night a mild earthquake strikes the city – and his shop is the only piece of property destroyed.

When he goes to the insurance company, they tell him that “acts of god” aren’t covered by his policy so that they don’t have to pay him a thing. Faced with financial ruin – including the loss of his rented home – he has a sudden brainwave. If an earthquake is an “act of god”, then god is responsible for wrecking the shop, hence god should pay. Logical, isn’t it?

The problem with this is, of course, that one actually has to get hold of this god in order to lodge a legal complaint against him, and no lawyer was – obviously – willing to take on this “crazy man’s” case. Left without an option, he finally finds an elderly, crippled Muslim lawyer (played by veteran thespian Om Puri, who’s put on an amazing amount of weight since I saw him last) who offers to prepare a brief for him so he can act as his own lawyer in court. But to file a suit, there has to be a respondent, so Kanjilal sends off copies of his legal notices to various monks and temple heads around the country.

One of these notices reaches one Leeladhar Maharaj, a sleazy “religious leader” of the kind Indians will immediately be able to identify. The country crawls with them, each with a bunch of adoring fans who treat him or her as a living god. This Leeladhar is the leader of the group which includes Siddheshwar Maharaj, the monk with whom Kanjilal had the initial spat before the earthquake. Leeladhar and Siddheswar decide that it will be excellent publicity to show the upstart atheist his place, and decide to turn up in court on “god’s” behalf.

With the case coming to court, the resultant publicity actually gets rather unhealthy for Kanjilal, as frenzied Hindunazi mobs begin chasing him through town. He’s rescued by a mysterious biker, one Krishna Yadav, who claims to be a “consultant”. Kanjilal’s wife, meanwhile, leaves him, taking the children with her, because she’s no longer able to take the public hostility. It’s at this low point that Krishna reappears in Kanjilal’s home, and reveals that he’s bought it from the original owner and is now the legal proprietor. But he’ll let Kanjilal live there, and in fact will help him with his court case.

[I might as well say now what each and every Indian viewer of this movie will have realised at this point – that this “Krishna Yadav” is the Hindu god Krishna, come to earth to “help” Kanjilal. In an old Bollywood movie this would take the form of Kanjilal going to a temple and yelling at the idol, whereupon there would be some kind of miracle. In this film, there,,,isn’t exactly that kind of miracle.]

On Krishna’s advice, Kanjilal goes to the media and is interviewed on TV, where he kills the studio audience with his logic and completely wins them over to his side. Instead of being at the receiving end of Hindunazi ire, it is now he who’s on the offensive, and the crooked monks who are feeling the heat. Meanwhile, hundreds of other people screwed by the insurance company turn up demanding that Kanjlal fight their cases as well. Since they are of all religions, a mullah and a Catholic priest soon join the Hindu sleazeballs on the board of defenders of their gods.

They don’t defend their gods very well. Kanjilal rips them to shreds, pointing out a stark truth about organised religion today – that it’s basically a business, whose only purpose is to gouge as much money from the faithful as possible, to enrich already obscenely rich temples and churches, and those who run them. If this was a courtroom drama only, and Kanjilal a lawyer, he’d have been a grand success.

To cut a long story short, the case finally hinges on whether Kanjilal can prove that “god” was responsible for destroying his shop (and, by extension, the lives of the other complainants). On Krishna’s advice, Kanjilal reads the holy books of all the three religions implicated – the Hindu Gita, the Bible and the Koran – and points out in court that all three state that their respective gods say nothing can be created or destroyed without their knowledge and action. This is the clincher, the point at which the case is won, and if the movie ended there, I’d have given it about four out of five stars.

Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t end there. This is where that thing I said earlier about the more things changing the more they remain the same comes in. As Kanjilal finishes his argument, he says that he now knows for sure that there’s no god, and promptly loses consciousness. The doctors say that his survival now is “in god’s hands”. Krishna then magically appears in his hospital room, revives him with his magical key chain, and reveals that he is, after all, Krishna.  And then he tells Kanjilal that during the month he’s been hovering near death, Leeladhar and his gang have declared him  - Kanjilal – a god, and built a temple where his shop used to be; within a short time this temple will recoup for them all the money they lost in the lawsuit, and more.

I won’t go on to describe what happens next, because it can be readily guessed, but I’ll make a few points.

First is the truly regrettable fact that the director decided to ruin the film by injecting a completely unnecessary godly flavour into it. I do understand that he probably felt compelled to do it in order to placate the real life Hindunazis, who otherwise probably wouldn’t have let the film run. But it still ruined the entire idea.

Secondly, and more importantly, is the commercialisation of organised religion. Back in school, I read a story called Sri Sri Siddheshwari Limited, a satirical tale set in late 19th Century Bengal and revolving around the plans of a group of businessmen to build a temple as an out and out business venture. Though meant as a satire, it was if anything tame compared to the reality of what goes on in the world of professional religions. In India, for example, religion is a full-scale commercial business, to an extent which would probably astonish even the most rapacious Western churches. As Kanjilal points out in one of his speeches, the devotee has to pay at every single point of his temple experience. From a parking fee for his car, to flowers and milk to pour on the idol (while beggars starve at the gate), each and every stage involves money. God, apparently, loves money.

The third point is something which finds only tangential mention in the film, but which I, personally, think the most important bit of all, because it explains so much about Hinduism. Unlike Islam or Christianity, Hindu deities do not demand belief from their devotees. They don’t demand “good acts” or anything of the sort. No.

Hinduism is a transactional religion. In Hinduism, you don’t just “pray” to a god if you want something. You go to a temple, get hold of a priest, and have him bribe the deity with offerings – be they a sacrificial goat or a pile of fruit or milk, and also, invariably, a lot of money. Each prayer is a transaction in and of itself – and each demands the intermediary of a priest, since the Hindu gods demand they act as middlemen. In fact, Hinduism is probably the religion constructed most transparently for the purpose of enriching an idle priestly class.

Even when a Hindu dies, whether he goes to “heaven” or ”hell” or – if you believe that sort of thing – his level in the next reincarnation cycle isn’t dependent on whether he led a good life. It depends on whether his children, or other relatives, pay a priest to perform rituals to bribe the god concerned to be kind to his “soul”. It’s entirely a religion based on bribery and appeasement of a deity by means of material things, which of course end up enriching the priests. I wonder if this bribery so integrated in our culture is the reason we Indians accept corruption as part of the course of nature? If the gods can be bribed, why should we be exempt?

(And this is also why the Islamic conquerors first came to India about a thousand years ago – to loot the obscenely rich temples, which were obscenely rich even then. It was also the reason why Buddhism and Jainism arose long before that; as a reaction to the corruption and ritualism of the Hindu priestly class. Hinduism retaliated by converting Buddhism and Jainism into little more than Hindu sects, and the founders of both these religions ultimately became, like Kanjilal, Hindu gods.)

I realise that I’ve drifted a distance from the purpose of reviewing the movie, but I wouldn’t have reviewed it if I hadn’t something to say.

One minor point – if you enjoy that sort of thing, you can keep yourself entertained by watching Kanjilal’s beard stubble grow, shrink, disappear and reappear at different points in the same scenes. It’s probably the nearest to a miracle the film has to offer.

Overall, the rating would be three out of five stars.

Raghead: Despatches From Neonazistan (Part II)

Copyright B Purkayastha 2014

Raghead: Despatches from Neonazistan (Part III)

Copyright B Purkayastha 2014