Sunday, December 17, 2023

Stop the Step – Motherly treatment of the Seven Sisters!


I was at the Arunachal Literature Festival, held recently, and enjoyed the ‘author life’. But this piece is not about the things authors do to convince themselves that despite the advent of AI, writing as they know it is not entirely redundant. Rather, it is about the things that struck me as I made the arduous, 7 – hour trip by car to Itanagar (after schlepping from Madurai to Chennai to Guwahati) because the flight thither from Guwahati had been cancelled at the nth hour. Some big-name authors used the excuse to absent themselves from the event, but not this author, who will do just about anything to convince people in far flung parts of the country, that they should read books in general and mine in particular.

It was appalling how little I knew about the Northeast. I was ashamed to realise that I didn’t even know which language was spoken in Arunachal Pradesh. I was told there are between 30 – 50 tribal groups in the state, who have their own distinct language, dialects, and sub – dialects. Most spoke Assamese, Nagamese, English and a smattering of Hindi which served as link languages.

During my session on ‘Reimagining Mythology’, I realized that my knowledge of folklore pertaining to the region was non – existent. My only exposure to it was from Easterine Kire, the award-winning author from Nagaland, whose work I have read and admired. Members of the audience wanted to know about the representation of tribal folk in the itihasas, and I was happy to answer though it must be conceded that the limited narrative is almost entirely problematic and needs to be part of a corrective discourse. Rama justifies his abhorrent slaying of Vaali, a Vanara by saying that a kshatriya is well within his rights to hunt and kill animals using any means necessary! We agreed that indigenous legends and myths must be reclaimed. You must be the ones to tell your own stories, I pointed out. Yes, they conceded, but nobody listens to us!

The main issue is that this part of the country has been treated shoddily. There is limited connectivity with the rest of India, poor infrastructure, and a criminal negligence of the needs of the people. Most Indians have vague notions about insurgency and security issues cropping up in these parts, the imposition of the controversial Armed Forces Special Protection Act (AFSPA) leading to many human rights violations and vociferous protests led by the likes of Irom Sharmila. The AFSPA was withdrawn from parts of the region between 2022 – 23, but the Centre keeps a wary eye concerned about security threats from Myanmar and China.

It is not enough to pay attention only when gifted athletes from the area like a Sunil Chettri Mirabai Chanu, Hima Das and mighty Mary Kom emerge, though it is not like India deserves credit for nurturing these talents. We must do more for our brethren hailing from the seven sisters so that they can take pride in being Indian without being made to feel like unwanted children. It is to our eternal shame that we haven’t done so already.

This column was originally published in The New Indian Express.

Diwali Celebrations: Sugar, Sins and Salvation


The festival of lights is upon us! That time of the year when we overdress, overspend, overindulge on ghee laden sugary treats, and argue about whether we ought to burst crackers or not before doing it anyway. Feeling guilty over the excess, we wonder if there is a point to all this…

This is the moment when we dredge up legends of yore for their entertainment and edification value. My favourite Diwali story is the one where Narakasura, a legit villainous type whose every pore supposedly oozed evil was slain in a twist worthy of Hitchcock. Naraka was born at the end of Krita Yuga when Vishnu in his Varaha (Boar) avatar took out Hiranyaksha, another legendary baddie whose shocking shenanigans ensured that Bhumi Devi sank to the bottom of the ocean. While Varaha bore her to the surface on his tasks, a single drop of sweat which was the only sign of his mighty exertions, landed on her, impregnating the Goddess.

Besotted with her boy, Bhumi Devi, asked Lord Varaha to grant him immortality. She was gently refused but told that Naraka could only be slain by her hand. Breaking off his tusk, Varaha offered it to Naraka, urging him to stay true to Dharma. This advice was disregarded and Naraka, armed with the promise of invincibility began his reign of terror. His stronghold – Pragjyotishapura, was impregnably fortified and guarded by the deadly Mura.

Naraka eventually went too far, when he raided Indra’s capital – Amaravathi and carried away 16,000 damsels but not before snatching the ear - rings mother Aditi was wearing. Krishna was asked to set him straight. He was with Satyabhama, who had just been complaining that he was always too busy for her. Playfully, grabbing her by the waist he placed her on Garuda, and they took off on a date/perilous mission.

Krishna made short work of Pragjyotishapura’s vaunted defences and slew Mura, earning himself the title of ‘Murari’. Naraka acquitted himself more respectably and using the tusk gifted by Varaha, managed to strike Krishna in the chest. Seeing her husband drop in a dead swoon, Satyabhama realized her date was officially ruined. Enraged, she picked up a bow and released an arrow, which to their combined surprise, mortally wounded Naraka. It was then, that Krishna rose and allowed the truth to shine through. Naraka understood that Varaha’s weapon could not be used against an avatar of Vishnu and that Satyabhama was an incarnation of Bhumi Devi, his mum. Prostrating himself before his parents, he died peacefully having been cleansed of his sins, embracing dharma in his dying moments, fulfilling his purpose in the grand design of the universe, and achieving moksha.

A tearful Bhumi Devi asked Krishna to ensure that Naraka’s memory be preserved for all of time, his life and death celebrated with lights and sweets so that his legend may remind humanity to dispel the evil in their hearts and stay true to Dharma in order that someday, they too may be deemed worthy of redemption. Krishna acceded to her request. True to his word, Diwali has been celebrated ever since and we continue to fight the demons within and without, knowing that damnation is always closer than salvation, but that is no reason to stop trying to be better than we are.

An edited version of this piece was published in The New Indian Express.

A Simpleton’s Guide to Smart Solutions


Perhaps being an ignoramus is indeed bliss. Especially in a Fools’ Paradise which some compelling but not entirely credible types claim is what our planet has become. In this blasé and not so brave new world it is not necessarily the height of folly to be foolish. It might even be for the best to be a top of the drawer numbskull who has sworn off all forms of intelligence to better endure the travesty that is life.

Take the global warming crisis for instance. George R.R. Martin fans are not the only ones waiting in vain for The Winds of Winter, his long – awaited book, for their Game of Thrones fix, which it is hoped will make amends for the large-scale trauma inflicted on the unwary by that disastrous final season of the infamous show. This year has remained face - meltingly warm in October, which is definitive proof that global warming is not a conspiracy theory eco warrior nuts pulled out their grass – fed backsides but an unfolding reality. The intellectuals would no doubt have ingenious and commensurately mind – numbing solutions for averting an end – of – the – world crisis but it is better to ignore it in favour of doing something more enjoyable like wiling away rapidly dwindling time by logging in endless hours on handheld devices. Whoever said fools have more fun was not kidding!

The heat must be getting to everyone. It could explain why Russia and Ukraine have been slugging it out without a definitive outcome barring the burgeoning body count. Hard as that was to stomach for those invested in world peace, things worsened when a deadly terror strike launched by Hamas escalated into a full blown catastrophe with Israel, the aggressor and occupier of Palestine, receiving carte blanche from powerful allies like the US and UK to engage in genocide and ethnic cleansing which is what they have been doing to lesser and greater degrees for decades with impunity. Brainiacs with a firm grasp of the geopolitical situation and awareness that Hezbollah is not a euphemism for Hamas, would have some inkling on how best to restore peace. But for the rest of us dingbats, it makes more sense to tune into the cricket world cup because it hurts too much to see children slaughtered and civilians die en masse with the ringing endorsement of the so – called civilized world.

Speaking of cricket, while the performance of the boys in blue has been most heartening, the jingoistic misbehaviour of some of the home crowd evidenced during the matches against Pakistan and Bangladesh has been less so. Smart folks have been equating this with the hyper muscular Hindutva nationalism prevalent today but the fool’s move has been to dwell on preferred reality shows between matches and mine the harrowing footage of tragedy livestreamed worldwide for vacuous entertainment. Exploitation, intrusion, and voyeurism has become the opiate of the moronic masses because it allows you to snicker at suffering rather than become a part of it. Long live the dunces!

This article was originally published in The New Indian Express.