Saturday, January 27, 2024



An abiding love for mythology can never be a bad thing and yet, somehow, we seem to have found a way to take something wonderful, toss it into the blender with faux Hindutva dogma, distort it past all recognition and use it to serve vested interests keen on divisive politics.

How did it come to this?

 For starters, everybody, it seems, is an expert after glancing through a book or two and listening with half-an-ear to granny’s tales, speed – reading a lengthy Whatsapp forward or having returned from a session with the friendly neighbourhood storyteller who likes to expound at length on Puranic lore while high on bhang. Considering themselves scholars who know everything there is to know about the veritable sea of obscure, oftentimes, contradictory facts that constitutes Indian mythology, uber-patriotic pests feel free to clump together and lynch or abuse those who are not infected with whatever it is that has turned their brains to mush and hearts to lead.

Nobody is exempt from the excesses of these modern-day rakshasas, but the so-called ‘evil eaters' of meat in general and beef in particular have been targeted with tragic results. While there is no denying that the cow is revered in Indian mythology, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that meat—any meat—was consumed with relish by the ancients, including the Brahmins. In fact, there is a tale from the Periya Puranam, which reveals how Shiva paid a visit to his devotee, Siruthondar, in disguise as a poor but haughty Brahmin and insisted that he must be served non-vegetarian (maamsam) cuisine. Being a poor man, who could not afford to buy any food let alone meat, the great man, slew his son, made his wife cook the choicest cuts and serve it. For this act of faith, which in this day and age would be considered to be the foulest kind of murder (rightly so), he received an express pass to partake of the vaunted delights of heaven and remains revered as one among the 63 Nyanmars. 

Sage Agastya, similarly, according to a tale from the Mahabharata, was a gourmand with a partiality for meat, and consumed the demon Vatapi, with great gusto. This rakshasa had a weird fetish for taking on the form of a goat, which his brother Ilvala would chop up and serve with misleading generosity to the Brahmins, some of whom would regularly bully their way into homes demanding 'maamsam' meals uncaring whether their unwilling hosts had the means to serve up such lavish feasts featuring meat as the main course. As for the rakshasa brothers hellbent on teaching the Brahmins a lesson, once the mutton had been greedily consumed, Vatapi would tear his way out from the entrails of the gluttonous Brahmins killing them instantly. They carried on this murderous sport for many years, till Agastya, famed for his iron constitution and superior powers of digestion put paid to their serial killer ways and prompted his fellow Brahmins to re-examine their dietary preferences.

 In fact, there is reasonable evidence to suggest that it was not till after the Bhakti movement believed to have taken place in Medieval times which saw a large-scale reformation and revival of Hinduism, that Brahmins adopted vegetarianism as a way of life. Prior to that it was the Jains and Buddhists who endorsed vegetarianism in the interests of upholding the rights of all living creatures, although by that logic plants should also be spared in this writer's opinion and we should all learn to subsist on love and not - so - fresh air.

 Chew on that for a bit before forming erroneous notions about how best to enforce the glories of a distant past that may or may not have even existed!

 If cannibalism in the case of Siruthondar and Agastya was not exactly frowned upon back in the day, then couldn’t there be a remote possibility that more than a few of the ancients especially revered beings born into the Kshatriya race had a partiality for meat? And surely, it is probable our famously compassionate gods would have partaken of the non - vegetarian fare offered to them in worship mainly because they cannot possibly be the jerks their extremist devotees clearly are?

 Recently, a furore was raised over the question of whether Rama ate meat. As a Kshatriyan Prince, it would appear to be in the affirmative. The warlike caste’s preferred pastime was hunting and since waste was the only thing that was considered a criminal offense in those days, it goes without saying that slain game was cleaned, cooked, consumed with the hide, claws, horns and every bit of the carcass stripped for parts to make sure that nothing went to waste. When Rama, Lakshmana and in a later age, the Pandavas, were sent into exile, they were allowed to take only their weapons and a basket into the forest so that they could live off the land using their skill as hunter gatherers. And it goes without saying that meat was part of their diet. However, insisting that the Princes subsisted solely on fruits, roots, nuts and berries which may have been included in their meals but not limited to it is pushing the limits of credibility. For all we know, even the fabled Akshaya Patra gifted to Yudhishtra by Surya, the Sun God might have produced a dish to delight the tastebuds of the true carnivore!

Some scholars point to a verse in Valmiki Ramayana where it is suggested that Rama took an oath with his mother, Kausalya, bearing witness that he would not touch meat for the duration of his exile. This is hardly definitive proof of anything because Valmiki’s Ramayana was never ever set in stone. Originally, narrated orally, the epic was verbally handed down for generations before written texts as we know it today emerged. The narrative must surely have undergone many changes over the eons in keeping with ever changing norms and codes of conduct, that are inevitable with the passing of the ages. Therefore, insisting that there is only one authentic version of Valmiki’s Ramayana, preserved exactly the same as when it emerged from his lips, disregarding the many regional texts and folk tales based on the Ramayana is an inaccurate as well as fanatical, extremist way of looking at things, bereft of the spirit of tolerance, compassion and acceptance that is one of the most beautiful aspects of Hinduism.

Surely, the gods in all their infinite wisdom would not see it fit to abuse, mistreat, or condemn to the thousand hells of Yama those among their mortal offspring who consume meat or live life as they see fit? Would they condone the senseless violence, hatred, intolerance and killing that is carried out in their name? I should certainly hope not.

Ultimately, anybody who knows anything at all about mythology will tell you that it is a constantly shifting narrative that is metamorphosing even as this is being written, and 100 years hence will be unrecognisable from what we know of it today. Therefore, it would be lovely if people stopped using mythology, religion, morality, or any of the flimsy excuses being bandied about for their insupportable and unconscionable behaviour that is a disgrace to this nation.


P.S: I have written many versions of this over the years. This piece contains bits and pieces from older ones (links below) and I have added inputs based on current issues, which is mostly more of the same old crap.

 When Mythology is Misused and Misunderstood

Vegetarianism does not Equal Virtue

Mom Myths and Murder


Few things can shake us out of our collective apathy, but the death of a 4-year-old, murdered by his mother has done the job. Public fury continues to mount as gruesome details are dutifully doled out by the media around the clock. People find it impossible to process the fact that a mother could do this to her child. After all, in India, we firmly believe that all mothers are miracle workers capable of juggling a billion demands, candidates for goddesshood, and master chefs who can whip up mouthwatering feasts in seconds. We turn a blind eye to the fact that it is a thankless, gruelling job which requires superpowers that no woman is blessed with or that few if any can do it without breaking down on a daily basis or plotting desperately to open a portal into an alternate dimension where newborns become fully – functioning, toilet - trained adults within seconds of birth so that their moms can get back to having a real life.

Yet, murderous mothers are not as rare a phenomenon as we conveniently like to think. A quick Google search reveals that there are too many cases where children have been murdered by their not so loving mums. In 2023 alone, an unmarried teen mother from Navi Mumbai allegedly killed her newborn by throwing the baby from her bathroom window; an 8-year-old was poisoned and killed by his mother, for having seen her in a compromising position with their neighbour; in Uttar Pradesh’s Shamli, a mother poisoned three of her children, following a domestic dispute; at Halvi village near Kurnool, a 3-year-old and 6-month-old were  killed by their mother following a domestic dispute. If one has the stomach to go back further in time, there are many such harrowing cases featuring killer moms. Some like Indrani Mukerjea (who allegedly had her daughter, Sheena Bora, murdered by throttling) are famous and far from languishing in prison may be spotted at literary festivals while others don’t quite manage to capture public fancy but may have also eluded the less than exacting arm of the law.

Murder by mom, is not the only issue plaguing our poor kids. Different forms of child abuse are prevalent with child pornography and sexual exploitation of minors for commercial purposes on the rise. Millions of children across India are denied access to education, healthcare, clean water, or a home that is not a biohazard. The issue of childcare and child rights hereabouts is lamentable at best and the situation gets grimmer by the day.

In the meantime, we are content to pretend that it is mainly a mother’s job to ensure the safety of her child and that ‘natural’ maternal instincts will suffice to work miracles and keep the forces of evil at bay. If that were not bad enough, we will also pressure people to bring forth babies by the dozen irrespective of whether they have the emotional or economic resources to do the hardest job in the world, uncaring that the stakes are too high, and we cannot carry on allowing children to pay the price for adult folly.

This column was originally published in The New Indian Express.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Before Breaking News Breaks


Thanks to false modesty, I did not show off. But that is no longer an excuse because it is finally acceptable to brag about mediocrity across every available platform. In fact, if you are willing to embrace the holiday spirit, and discard the wise teachings of Scrooge pertaining to parsimony, you can Tom-tom the fact that you won an award (that you paid for) declaring you the International Human of the Year, and make sure it reaches the furthest reaches of the galaxy. My talent on the other hand is tremendous news. And it is related to the news. I can predict the news with pinpoint accuracy, long before it happens or supposedly happened. Feel free to share this news with everyone, so that I can get the recognition I richly deserve.

For sticklers who demand proof, I am happy to provide the same, provided you are willing to set aside disbelief, scepticism, and the tendency to think the worst of human beings just because most are fraudulent tricksters who will shove their kids or pets off the roof to make a viral video.

The breaking news tomorrow and in the days to come will be outrageous and defy all belief, which is precisely why people will believe it implicitly. Especially since they are not going to read anything beyond the headline. Readers are a critically endangered species, and nobody reads anything longer than 280 characters without the liberal use of emojis to hasten comprehension. Believable or not, this news will be forwarded on WhatsApp where more will hit forward, without reading it first.

You might already be gobsmacked, but I have more to ensure that your head is dangerously close to exploding unable to withstand my brilliance… In future, news will be bad. Much worse than today’s and yesterday’s news which was also bad, but since we have become immune to bad news, we will only respond to worse news which is on the way to becoming horrifying. If that is not exactly good news for people praying for peace in Gaza and an end to the war between Russia and Ukraine, it can’t be helped.

This is all true, because as a columnist for a major news publication, I cannot lie. Unless I am paid to. Which I am not, because the truth is, writers were paid peanuts long before they agreed to work for less since AI types don’t demand salaries or benefits. It is a good thing I am gifted. Now, I know. And thanks to me, you do too. It will rain again in Chennai and there will be flooding because politicians are too busy playing the blame game and siphoning away funds allotted for damage control and preventive measures. Tennis fans will argue over who is the GOAT and things will get ugly when Thalapathy Vijay and SRK fans jump into the fray. Bollywood will continue to make movies featuring nepo babies with less and less to recommend them by way of talent. I could go on… but what is the point? It is bound to get worse from here. Just like I predicted.

This column was published in The New Indian Express.