Friday, May 31, 2013



Decades ago I saw ‘Guide’ the film adaptation of R.K.Narayan’s book of the same name. Though there was some controversy regarding the adaptation in general, the film was well made with some of the most memorable songs and a highpoint in Dev Anand’s acting. Since this is not a critique of the movie itself, I am restricting myself to the character of the protagonist Raju. A fascinating transformation of a travel guide, a glib talker, a hopeless romantic, being sent to jail in a case of forgery and ultimately ending up as a spiritual person who is venerated as a saint by the villagers, where he had taken refuge. All this much against his own natural inclination, the mantel was thrust upon him and he flowed in with the tide that ultimately engulfs him. Though he had the option to get away from all this, something makes him stay back, the belief of the villagers and his own realisation of a spiritual self. He says that these people have faith in him and he has faith in their faith, though he knows that there is no connection between rain and the fast he had undertaken initially due to the intense pressure on him by the villager’s faith but later of his own volition. He had at last found for himself a way to transcend and wash away his previous failings as a human being and find an authenticity in the conduct of his life. He had found the meaning of life. He did not work miracles as the people around him believed, he was just an ordinary human being but in death he was a man fulfilled. And as the rains come Raju passes away leaving his mortal remains. That is how the movie ends. He had indeed become a saint. A reluctant saint for if he had been left to himself, his life could have taken a different course. In Raju’s own words in the book, he says “I am doing what I have to do; that is all. My likes and dislikes, do not count” indicating, a complete erasing of the ego. On the eleventh day he collapses after saying that it has started raining in the hills. He dies a spiritually liberated man, the epitome of a Karma yogi.

You may say that this is a work of fiction. Yes it is, but haven’t we at some stage been pushed in to something that is not as per our natural inclination and which subsequently has been life changing? In Raju’s case it was the awakening of his conscience by the persistent faith of the villagers, his realisation that there is something which afforded him a deeper meaning to his life and an authentic existence. As Joseph Knecht says in Hermann Hesse’s ‘The Glass Bead Game’ “My awakening has a similar kind of intensified reality for me. That is why I have given it this name; at such times I really feel as if I had lain asleep or half asleep for a long time, but am now awake and clear headed and receptive in a way I never am ordinarily”.

Last night in my dreams I saw the naked man once again, tall, dark, a well formed body, white curly hair on his head and a flowing curly white beard. He looked like Michaelangelo’s sculpture of Moses in St. Peters in the Vatican, a black Moses and he seemed to be saying something to me. As a child, I have seen him walking on the streets, on the main roads, totally oblivious of the curious onlookers including me. I was told that he was a mad man. Now I can correlate what Nietzsche says in ‘Thus Spake Zarathrushtra’ – “For what is a naked man among clothed men but a mad man”. I was frightened and so were the other children though we used to make fun of him.  He used to mutter to himself as he walked but sometimes there would be persons following him with a packet of sweets or fruits entreating him to eat them but he would wave them away. I asked my mother and she explained to me that it was their belief that if he partook of what they gave him it would result in some benefit or the other accruing to them. I asked whether he was a saint with some strange powers and she said that some believed so. Sometimes I have seen him sitting quietly in a corner and talking to himself. He was a curious object for me at that stage of my life. He was a saint to the believers but a mad man to others.

Now as that image flashes across my mind I am able to understand. He was in a different plane of existence, totally stripped, literally, of all the normal human desires and emotions though continuing to live amongst us only as a body though he himself was elsewhere. What is it that pushes a person to that state of total detachment of body and mind? But why is it that I now remember him though he was only an incident somewhere far away in my childhood? What is he trying to tell me in my dreams now?

When I talk of saints here I am not talking of miracle men, I am talking about persons who have made a difference in the lives of people around them, given them hope. Who can deny the relevance of Ramana Maharishi or a Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, a Shirdi Sai Baba who have lived beyond their mortal life to continue to give solace and hope to multitudes. They showed us the path of compassion and humanity. Swami Vivekanand, who through the conduct of his life spread the message of humanity and the need to lead a moral life. There were many such people in this country even till the middle of the last century. But at the core of their being was a religion they followed and a supreme power they believed in, call it whatever name you will. These were not men who donned a mantel for the enhancement of their selfish means for they had transcended all that was egoistic and found a merger with the absolute. All of them have lived beyond their death and left no dynasty.

With the continued growth of a materialistic society our demands and needs have increased and we look out for quick fix solutions to attain them. Our greed has over taken and eroded our basic humanity. It is this that has contributed to the proliferation of Godmen who promise to deliver the goods and lead you to salvation with their own selfish agenda in mind. All this is done in the name of religion. Religion has nothing do with any of this. It is we ourselves who are to blame for the erosion of values in our present existence. It is religion that has given us a code for the conduct of our lives, which sadly seems to have been pushed to the background or misinterpreted.

Some attain sainthood during the course of their lives when pushed on to search for truth and the true meaning of existence like the Buddha, some have sainthood thrust upon them and in the process achieve a state of realisation like Raju and many make themselves saints like the present day godmen who thrive on peoples gullibility. Some others like the naked man, who seem totally oblivious of their physical selves will be dubbed as mad men. It is for you to choose.

Monday, May 20, 2013



‘Religion is the opium of the people’ a quotation by Karl Marx has often been used by the more intelligent and morally authoritative amongst us when we want to denigrate that section of the population in whose lives God and religion play a prominent part of their sustenance. We attribute blind faith, superstition and casteism as being major factors contributing to all the ills in society. But let us look closely at the full quote of Karl Marx- ‘Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people’.

While casteism is deplorable the way it has been practised over the centuries where a clear demarcation has been made between a superior class and an inferior class of humans which in turn has resulted in exploitation and hatred amongst us, it was never intended to be so. We are all born as humans and in that sense born equals. But we cannot escape the fact that we do not choose the surroundings in which we were born, we have no role in choosing our parents and we are born with constraints with respect to our physical attributes and mental abilities. So does everyone have equal opportunities? The answer is no. The strong have always dominated the weak whether by their physical or mental superiority.

The division into classes is not peculiar to any one religion, whether it be in the Upanishads or Plato’s The Republic’. They all have looked at fitting people into society as per their abilities. In that sense we may understand it better when we relate it to our own present existence, not everyone can be a boss. Imagine the chaos that it would create if that were the case. Promotions, entrance exams etc don’t they create a class distinction? You will agree that it cannot be otherwise. Having created an upper income, middle income and lower income groups do we find it easy to mingle among ourselves? How often have we invited a person who is starving, inside our house and fed him? Maybe we shall give him some money and ask him to have some food elsewhere. His presence is not desirable inside our homes. They are the under privileged and how has this happened, we may only say ‘God knows!’.

Why this vast disparity which ranges from the billionaires who have created empires and reside in their affluence to the manual scavenger whose life depends on cleaning up the excretions of the more privileged amongst us? Though we have moved forward in eliminating this type of demeaning existence, the class differences are bound to exist. They can be never eliminated. We can only become more humane in our approach to our fellow beings. Why blame religion? Aren’t we ourselves to blame?  While we can intellectualise and blame God and religion for the injustices being perpetrated on our fellow beings, how many of us will be really able to sacrifice the comforts that we enjoy now? It is man’s innate nature to dominate and to achieve that he will not hesitate to distort what otherwise could have been a good intention. That is what history is all about.

Let us once again look at what Marx said – “the heart of a heartless world and the soul of a soulless world”. Anguish of the human condition has been the cause for a leap of faith to God as Kierkegaard would say. It was anguish that forced Siddhartha to move away from all the worldly pleasures that he was used to and seek the meaning of life and the way to deliverance. When finally realisation dawned on him he became the ‘Buddha or the enlightened one’. It was the fear of death that drove Venkataraman away from his home at the tender age of sixteen to seek the truth and he became Ramana Maharishi. History is replete with such examples of seekers of truth and deliverance and who came to be regarded as saints. It was when Buddha chose to spread the message of the path to self realisation through his disciples that Buddhism was born. Such people have appeared at various stages in the history of mankind to reiterate that deliverance is possible from the miseries of the human condition. Not everyone is a Buddha.

The man on the street does not understand nor is he bothered as to what seeking the truth or deliverance means. He is only looking at something that will ease the miseries that he faces in his day to day living, something that gives him hope for a better tomorrow or will sooth his immediate pains. Try explaining to him that you can find God within one self or God is an abstract concept, he is not interested. For him God is the idol in the temple, worship of which will give him the benefits he seeks or the solace that has been eluding him. So why deny him his faith as being blind. Religion affords him that solace, that sense of hope and belonging. That is where, what Marx said has so much relevance.

While talking about the origin of religious beliefs Hume says that it is the fear of death accompanied by man’s desire for immortality and fear of the many forms of human misfortune that has given rise to belief in God. He says that the roots of religion are in human feelings. There is no dispute regarding this, but for Hume, being the empiricist that he was, believed that our ideas reach no further than our experiences and we have no experience of divine attributes. His views that there is nothing beyond sense perception was in direct contrast to the rationalistic view of Descartes for whom it was through reason alone that one experiences and understands the world. Both views found a synthesis in Kant’s ‘priori and a priori – knowledge gained through sense experience combined with the innate ideas in ourselves that give rise to a complete understanding of the world of things- ‘the world as I see it and the world as it is.’

One may accept or reject the idea of a God as being responsible for the creation of a world which we are still trying to understand, but I guess both are plagued by the idea of termination and a quest for the meaning of life.

I recollect my observations on my walks along the roads and streets of this city. I have invariably found that there is always a crowd of people in front of the government run liquor shops. There you find the wretched and the miserable waiting for their turn at the counter to get their supply of liquor, most of them belonging to what we refer to as the lower strata of society, spending their hard earned money in a bid to remain on a perpetual high, to escape the realities of their present state of existence. They end up destroying their families apart from themselves. The state runs these shops because this is the highest income generating activity for them. In an indirect way they have contributed to the destruction of families. I have asked people why the government has not taken initiatives to curb the sale of liquor especially through such shops. The feedback I get is that apart from the revenue part of the entire issue, is the fact that the minute you shut down these shops there will be mass suicides as the addiction has become so acute. In trying to understand the problem I have also tried to analyse the behaviour patterns of these people. These are people who are out in the blistering sun the whole day long doing heavy manual labour, scavengers etc, who at the end of the day overcome by the hardships of their existence resort to a balm to soothe their aching joints and to comfort their ailing minds. What starts off as an escape from the harsh realities ends up as a severe addiction which destroys them.

Why I digressed from my main theme is to reiterate the fact that religion is opium that soothes and does not destroy. I have seen multitudes at the temples, there is one next to my house which is more than a thousand years old, who come there with a prayer on their lips and hope on their faces. They perform the rituals in a diligent manner and seek to transfer the burden of their everyday living on a God who they believe will take care of them. They go back to their homes with a renewed strength to face their problems. Here families coalesce and are not shattered. It is here that religion plays its part.

Marx’s statement does not mean that he endorses the concept of religion but what he said reflects the reality of the human condition. He refers to the human as an oppressed creature in a heartless world and in a soulless condition. You could say that this condition is what he wanted to demolish. For him the division of labour into specialized jobs has dehumanizing and evil results. He says “For as soon as labour is distributed, each man has a particular exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a shepherd, or a critical critic and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood. The division of labour chains everyone for life to their respective confining activities.”  Marxism is a fundamentally materialist philosophy which assigns the task of knowing all truth to science. Matter is accepted as the beginning and ending of all reality. Marx calls communism as ‘positive humanism’. In his view the state, the family, law, religion, morality – all these institutions are forms of human slavery to the money- God of capitalism. So communism calls for a total revolt against the human condition to restore equality and removal of class distinctions. Philosophy had to stop interpreting the world in endless metaphysical debates, in order to start "changing" the world. So we can see where one stands with respect to God and religion where Marx is concerned. Marxism caused major upheavals and communism spread. But as we review the course of history and look at it from where we stand today it is human greed and the desire to dominate that seems to have ultimately triumphed.

Why I thought it relevant to talk about this is because religion has worked and so has God in holding together the moral fabric of the society in which we live. They have been symbols of hope and a source of strength to the multitudes who inhabit this earth. It is not God or Religion which have contributed to the ills of the society in which we live, it is we alone with our own perversity and greed who have contributed to the misery that is existent. As I said earlier all humans are born equal but one has to accept the fact we are not made equal. This is the truth whether it is acceptable or not. It is not that all theists are bad or all atheists are good.

So when we stop to ponder as to why this disparity exists and why we are each made in a different manner, we start searching for a solution. There are two things that can happen here – one, we believe that we are a process in the cycle of creation which is endless and so there is no such thing as final termination or non existence. Two, we believe that there is nothing beyond death and this is the only life which we have and are conscious of, for one does not really ‘experience’ death. It is only ‘being and nothingness’ as per the existentialists. Whatever life we have we should live it in an authentic manner.

Both viewpoints have their positives. In the first there is belief in the existence of a God and a hope of a reward for a good life lived. This definitely is an incentive and a solace that there is a life beyond death. This would explain man’s quest for immortality ever since he appeared in this world. The second viewpoint believes that one has to live an authentic life in order to justify one’s existence and how does one live an authentic life, only by creating, leaving behind something that will continue to live after his non existence. There is no God here nor is there a need for one. But there is one factor that is common to both viewpoints and that is the state of ‘anguish’.

Life is governed by dualities, we have the privileged and the under privileged, the strong and the weak, the handsome and the ugly and the list is endless for every thesis there is an antithesis and ultimately we have being and nothingness. Very much like electricity, there will be no current if there is no potential difference, the river does not flow if there is no gradient, so also life flows on only because of these dualities.

Accepting the existence of differences from individual to individual and that all of us are not alike as a reality how do we make this world a better place to live?  This I guess is a very difficult task, not that it has not been tried over the ages by great reformers. If we can at the individual level try to uphold the basic tenets of humanity, that of compassion and leading a moral life, it would be a great contribution to the betterment of human existence. This is what every religion teaches us. Let us leave aside God for the present, may be we shall discuss it later.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013



A few days ago, much after I had made my posting ‘Why do I Write?’, I came across George Orwell’s book ‘Why I write’ and naturally I was thrilled and curious as to what he had to say. I shall  summarise here some of the points that he has made, for it has made me introspect further on what I wrote.

Orwell says that one cannot assess a writer’s motives without knowing something of his early development. If he escapes from his early influences altogether, he will have killed his impulse to write. Orwell thinks that there are four great motives for writing and they exist in each writer in varying degrees. They are:

1. Sheer egoism. A desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc, etc.

2. Aesthetic enthusiasm. A perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed.

3. Historical impulse. A desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.

4. Political purpose. A desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that should strive after.

He adds that all writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Orwell’s words are not gospel but he indeed writes good prose. Being himself a writer he says that writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness and that one would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

Though I may to a certain extent agree with the motives listed out by him, I cannot accept the statement that writing a book is like a long bout of some painful illness. In fact I feel that it is a cure for the demons that have been haunting you, to be let out. Writers may be vain but they are not lazy and who is not selfish. Regarding motives, I still ask my self why I write. Despite all that I have written it still is a mystery.

I remember I first started writing years ago and I did it because I wanted to express the feelings that were swelling up inside me. Certain events in life are life changers and one is not equipped when the change takes place. My only motive at that time was to place on record what I felt. There was no question of egoism or any of the other motives listed above. Maybe now if you ask me I would answer yes that my writing now is a combination of all those factors. I have two diaries filled with what I wrote years ago, that was when we all actually wrote on paper with a pen, of course when I am writing all this now I am on the computer. I wrote in different colours of inks, green, red, black and purple. My handwriting was very good and I took care to write down whatever I wanted to properly, so there you can say that the aesthetic enthusiasm was reflected, but for ego I had not developed enough of it. These diaries were very private and were never shared with anyone, but now I go back to them to understand my journey and to put those feelings in a more intelligible manner, which means that I am getting ready to share them and may be that is where my ego comes into play. It seeks a tacit approval of its existence

My first thought was that I should write an autobiography for I was under a mistaken notion that it is easiest to write one’s own story. But that’s where my problem lay for I found it very difficult put down the truth as it is. It requires a lot of courage to accept one’s own weaknesses and transgressions for you were going to share this and it is not easy to tear away the mask that one has got used to. Also what you write could have an impact on other people’s lives. So that’s where deception starts. I write every night after the others have gone to sleep and I retreat into my world. I pick up the pieces of my journey one by one and write them down. It is not a chronicle or a history of my life but it helps me to understand myself better. Since one has to have a goal, I decided that I shall name it as ‘An Autobiography of an Ordinary Man’. Whether it shall ever see the light of day or stay hidden only time can tell. May be Orwell was right when he said that one of the motives for writing, was to be talked about and to be remembered after death.

When someone tells you that they have started writing because they have felt the need to communicate with their innermost feelings, I believe them. But when they tell me they have torn away what they have written, for they do not want others to see, I do not understand. It is like taking back all that you have poured out, so where is the question of unburdening yourself. I would say keep it to yourself for it is a chronicle of the journey you have undertaken and that is the reality. How does it matter whether someone sees it? What do you have to hide? Of course it is very easily said than done for who would want to disturb their present state of existence and tear away the mask. My diaries are still with me and they are on my shelf, the pages are now yellow in colour but I open them, feel them and read what I had written. It is there and I do not know whether anyone has bothered to read them. It is most difficult to accept yourself as you are. But I have found that the more I accept myself the lesser burden I carry. It is as we grow older that we start shedding of the outer coverings. It is easy now since you have already lived a large part of your life and come to a realisation that most of the things that you have lived your life with are no more of any consequence.

Now when I write I do try to take care of the way I put down my words and also that I get my facts right. So I can say that I have catered to my aesthetic enthusiasm and my historical impulse. Where is the question of egoism here? Do we say that all the great works of literature have been products of the writer’s egotistic impulses? What about all the fantasy that is woven around books like ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and science fiction novels, leave aside all those books which cater to our own fantasies? May be they have their own commercial value. But does it not show the fertile imagination that inhabits the minds of these people?

Orwell says that ‘Animal Farm’ was the first book in which he tried with full consciousness of what he was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.

Putting aside all the motives that Orwell has outlined, I would say that writing is a journey in to our inner world and every writer in the end tries to put together the pieces of the puzzle that is his own life.