Wednesday, August 17, 2011


If human life was wiped off the face of the earth it would make no difference to the universe.  It would go on exactly as before, the various heavenly bodies charting their precise metronomic paths across eternal and infinite space.  If all life was wiped off the earth it would still make no difference to the universe.  If the earth was destroyed, shattered into tiny bits and ejected into meteoric trajectories traversing the far corners of the galaxy, it would still make no difference.  No difference at all.  Nothing would change.  The vastness of space would remain unruffled.  If the solar system were destroyed, the sun collapsed into itself, the size of a football field, the planets crushed into it, it would barely disturb the immediate neighbourhood: perhaps somewhat like thunder rolling in the near distance of your house.  Any place even fifty miles away only sees the flashes of occasional lightning.  Places at a cosmic equivalent of this distance would only notice the phenomenon if they were looking up, and may even need specialised instruments to discover the event.  Like we need special instruments to “view” supernovae and black holes. 

Billions of years of existence, millions of years of life, hundreds of thousands of years of human “development” wiped out in a flash and no one to see, to lament, to mourn and to remember.  No archaeological remains to prove that the earth had existed, teeming with life, with differences, with love, with strife.  No trace of the poetic masterpieces or the paintings or sculptures, the haunting ragas, the gripping prose, or the masterful tracts of reasoned conviction left for subsequent discovery. 

Do you mean to say that we can be erased so totally?  Is death then put in place in order to prepare us for that ultimate disappearance?  Is this the mystery of life?  Is this Maya?  The illusion of overwhelming importance, of centrality, of existence - even - in the face of absolute indifference.  If no one and nothing will acknowledge that we existed then how can we be certain that we do? 

Friday, July 15, 2011

On Precision or The Importance of Riyaz

'sa' is not just a point in the sargam but a range of points.  Similarly, a roti or a chapaati is not 'cooked' at just one precise point but is deemed cooked within a range of cooked-ness.  Most of us go through life hitting 'sa' within the range of saaas, and eating roti that is 'cooked' because it is within the range of cooked-ness.  But that does not mean that there is not a 'sa' within the range of saaas that is more 'sa' than all the other saaas.  In other words, the precise 'sa', or the exact 'sa', or the pure 'sa'. 

How does one come to know of this 'sa'?  Naturally, from listening to the great masters.  It does not matter if you have sur gyan or not.  When I listen to Malikarjun Mansur sing, I can tell I am listening to the pure 'sa', the precise 'sa', exact 'sa'.  And, of course, the pure re ga ma pa dha ni too.  I can feel the difference even though I am not versed in sur gyan, or in the shashtriya sangeet pranali.  Just like I can tell the tuneful from the tuneless I can tell the pure 'sa' of a master from the 'sa' of those who just sing tunefully.  The notes have a bell like clarity that penetrates to the core of one's being, making it quiver.  And I can tell when the roti I am eating is cooked just right.  It melts in the mouth and tastes like heaven.

Getting it just right is a matter of practice, or, as a musical master would say, riaz.  One practices endlessly for years, same thing day in and day out, whether it is the sargam or it is baking chapaatis, till one day the note flows effortlessly from the throat, and the chapaati comes off the tava - seemingly of its own - the moment it is cooked just right.  Unfortunately, the importance of precision, or riaz, is not taught in the schools and universities of the modern world, except as part of some notion of mathematical or engineering exactitude, necessary to make things fit well, thereby minimising friction.  But precision is not just a skill.  It is an art, a philosophy, a way of life.  It is an essential ingredient of both harmony and happiness.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


It is a journey: thousands of years; millions; no, billions; infinite.  What does it mean- infinite?  A word as meaningless as any other.  A notion, a concept, a construct.  But words are needed, even to describe what cannot be described.  What about things that cannot be either described or experienced?  Like billions of years-kilometers.  What is more accurate- years or kilometers?  No one knows, no one can tell.  Billions?  Another word, without meaning.  Endless, without beginning or end, that which can neither be experienced nor described.  Does it matter how you describe the indescribable?  How you interpret it?  How you understand it?  Does quantum mechanics make the universe more intelligible? Ha!

Isn’t it Amazing We Survived? Or It’s Not Over Yet

The Europeans had the dream, and they had the determination to achieve it.  We had the courage to survive it.  Till now that is.  The European dream is not over yet.  Nor is our resilience nearing exhaustion.  Both have a way to go.  The dream (or nightmare) plays on.

One could write endless pages on this dream-nightmare/ thrust-parry/ genocide-population overload.  Where does one begin?  Did the whole thing start with the rise of Judaism?  Was Moses the original sin?  Or should one blame Jesus and the Christians?  We could also blame the Romans, for their hedonistic excesses, which resulted in their downfall at the hands of the barbarians from the north.  Maybe the Christians would not have got so firm a hold on Europe had it not been for the backlash against Roman excesses. 

Perhaps both the Romans and the Germanic tribes who overthrew the Western Roman Empire are to blame.  After all, a direct cause of the cancer of modernity was the feudal-medieval past of Europe.  A past born of a curious (to say the least) mix of Roman and Northern barbarities.  A past steeped in rigidities, absurdities, heresies, slaveries, persecutions, inquisitions, and witch hunts.  A dark and dank past, which was the best, most powerful incentive imaginable for the bloody, though brilliant, slash that followed.

Allowing one’s imagination to fly a little more, maybe we can just about include Islam, the last of the three Abrahamic faiths to emerge from the dry wastes of Palestine-Arabia, in the blame game.  It seems reasonable to assume that rising Islam had a most powerful impact on Catholic-Christian Europe.  Any takers?  Would the European-Christian civilisation like to shove the responsibility of its worst excesses on the pernicious influence of fundamentalist Islam?  Aren’t they doing it already with respect to much that they perpetrate today?

But what was the most immediate cause of the madness?  I pose this question specifically for the sake of our Cartesian minds, trained to linear fine-ness in casuistry.  What if we can’t identify one?  Does that mean no one is to blame?  Or, that everyone is to blame?  Like the Europeans would like to think with respect to global warming?  Should the rise of Europe be viewed as part of the larger scheme of things?  Not in a religious, theistic sense but in the way Buddha described it: a phenomenon in the realm of dependent co-arising.  This is because that is.  That is because this is.  Europe was because Africa, America, Australia and Asia were?  If Buddha was around today he would have probably said, yes to this question.  But I am not Buddha.  Not yet.  So I will continue with my thought stream.   

Moving on, I am wonderstruck at several phenomena.  I am amazed at the power of the European thrust.  It has spread its tentacles into the remotest nook and cranny of the world.  No conqueror, no conquest was so comprehensive, so complete, so continuing.  What it could not conquer by brute force and unprecedented barbarity it conquered by deceit, duplicity and diplomacy.  By fine words and finer sentiments.  And it continues to conquer in these manners: simultaneously using murder and conciliation to subdue and subjugate.  To serve the purposes of its compulsions, which purposes it itself does not know.  Truly, a magnificent achievement by any standards.  A benchmark for all future conquests.  God (if there is one) forbid that there is another conqueror, or another conquest.

I am also struck by the ongoing nature of this conquest.  Starting with physical occupation, displacing and exterminating tens of millions and, subjugating hundreds of millions more, the conquest evolved to what is called indirect rule: perfected by the British in India and applied by Europe worldwide.  Thereafter, in a brilliant application of the philosophical implications of indirect rule, the conquest set its colonies free.  Of course, before granting freedom, the structure of subjugation – external and internal – was firmly in place.  The European world view was the only alternative.  Not only were the Europeanised elites of the former colonies thoroughly convinced (with few exceptions) of this fact, the system for perpetuating this world view was also irrevocably entrenched. 

That non-Europeanism has survived despite such a systematic onslaught is also a marvel.  As is it marvelous that people subjected to intensive genocide, the original inhabitants of the Americas and Australia, have survived.  This tells us something about the resilience of life; of human nature.  It also tells us that there is a miscalculation in the European game.  Busy discovering manifest destiny, and the individual self, the European conquerors forgot that all processes, including the process of conquest, proceed dialectically.  As an aside it is important to mention here that dialectics was neither discovered nor invented by the Europeans.  Non-European thought has recognised dialectics as an operating principle of the universe for millennia.  Buddha’s thesis of dependant co-arising is one expression of it: this is because that is; that is because this is.  And the dialectics of conquest dictates that the tables be turned: the conquerors be conquered, the fires be quenched, and the leaves grow again in all their plethoric diversity.    

Be that as it may, battered, bruised, truncated, dystopic-ised, the world has survived this conquest till now.  The Europeans, however, have one more ace up their sleeve.  This is the ace of irreversible destruction of the global habitat, with (European) technology being the only genie capable of saving us, and the world.  Given that the realm of world views is firmly under European control, it is likely that this ace will carry the conquest through: till the tables turn, or the world is destroyed, whatever you may wish to call it.         

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


It takes courage to be a loser. For most of my life till now I did not need to develop this courage. I had fortune powerful enough to lead me into the delusion that I was immune from loss. Even though my marriage was a shambles, turning my personal life into a nightmare, I never felt the touch of loss. I was protected by stainless steel armour.

But loss comes to all. It came to me too. My armour lost its sheen, and loss found me. Half prepared and totally unprepared, I have now lived with loss for several years. It has changed me forever. I have become a loser.

The loss of naiveté is both comforting and disturbing. Being a loser makes one conscious of other losers. Makes one aware that losers are also human beings. I had worked with (and among) losers since my teens but till my armour was intact their lives did not really touch me. I remained an outsider. It is only when fate had decided that it was time to acquaint me with loss that I started getting affected by the people with whom my professional life intersected. At that time I thought this was the effect of a more intensive interaction. The truth was, of course, it was time for me to become a loser.

Materially speaking, and in almost all other senses, I remain a winner. My armour is still intact but it does not serve as a bubble any more. I, therefore, continue to have the luxury of contemplating loss, albeit with a greater familiarity. I wonder about those among us who seem to be permanent losers. How come? What did they do wrong? What makes the Aadivaasis losers? The Dalits, the poor, the Africans, the original inhabitants of the Americas, Australia and New Zealand; why have they been permanently scratched from the game of life?

What does it mean to be a loser? Are members of minorities anywhere/ everywhere losers? What about women? Are women, as a class, losers? More than the enormous extent of violence against them (that exists) it is the ever present possibility of violence that makes me empathise with their plight. What about black people? Browns? Yellows? And Reds? What about the whites?

Of course most white people are losers too: in their own land. But as soon as they step out of their homes into the big wide world (a.k.a. a third world country) they become winners. So, tourism serves not only to edify and titillate and entertain, it also serves to assuage and comfort egos, and sustain the illusion of winning for a whole lot of losers.