It was day two of my new job today. After a day of classroom discussion and planning meetings, I was finally walking back home from a busy day. A busy day. I have not experienced such a thing in the last two years because I have only spent time doing the things I want to do. It felt good to have a busy day. I was walking down the road I have walked on for as long as I can remember. Past the modern school that has transformed from a small pathshala in to a grand establishment in the span of my lifetime. The Delhi winter is just peeking around the corner. The evening sun was large and the very hint of a nip in the air gave me that feeling of renewal that only a change of season can bring.
I heard from behind me someone calling out.
I looked back to see a richshaw pull up from behind and stop by my side. It was a familiar face. I knew it right away. Especially the toothless grin. For as long as I can remember, he had never had any front teeth and always smiled with only his canines making him look silly. He had less hair and it was grayer.
“Remember?” he beamed.
“Yes of course! Are you kidding?” I replied with excitement.
“Where were you all this time?” I asked.
He said he had gone to his village. I did not bother asking for how long he had been gone for because I honestly did not remember. He carried on reminiscing.
“The gentleman from number 7 flat. He also remembers me. I used to drop his kids to the bus stop when they were young. He asked me on baqr-eid whether I wanted some meat. I said Sir I am a loner. I won’t be able to cook it.”
He said this last with a shrug. I asked if things were all right in the village. I got the feeling maybe he needs some help but he seemed energetic and well so I did not want to offend him. He was smiling a lot. The same toothless grin but his eyes seemed to shine more from age.
“Well, now I’ll see you around I hope. I have to be going now.” I said.
“Where are you going? Study? Duty?” he said.
I said I was going to my work.
“Oh! You’ve become a professor!” he said.
“I’ve become a professor!” I echoed. I did not bother to add that it had only been two days. He went into a bit of a reverie. He said it was a thing of happiness that the kids he took to school in his rickshaw for years were now all doing well.
“Someone is a professor, someone is a doctor, someone a big man in the police. I’m very happy.” he said.
I realized I still don’t know his name. He offered to drop me if I was in a hurry but I declined.
“I’ll see you when I get back,” I said with genuine hope.
Two things occurred. A major in the Indian army (Gaurav Arya) wrote an open letter to the deceased Hizbul commander Burhan Wani. In it, he displayed machismo that made me remember Veeru, my childhood bully companion who would mock me with things like “Dekh yaar Saif, tu yahaan aayega to pitega to zaroor. Faltu mein tension kyun le ra hai, ghar mein baith, TV dekh. Mere ko bhi bura lagta hai tujhe dekh ke.” In response, Wasim Khan (a film director I think) wrote a fitting reply that served to stabilize my rage at Arya’s letter and after reading Wasim’s letter I could breathe a little easier. I have thought about it now for two days. The thing is, this silsila of open letters and responses is good for us to see a piece of the action and also to a degree to wake us up out of our stupor but it doesn’t move anything forward. The patriots take on side and the rationalists take another. But the truth is, while I feel no sympathy for Major Arya, I do think that an army major who is willing to engage in dialogue even if that dialogue is basically a threat, is actually trying to think through his actions. He is not yet a zombie. He is a human being still. We cannot demonize a member of our own army, or else all of us a hypocrites. Note that Wasim, while enraged did not abuse Arya. He was controlled in his response. He gave him the dignity of a human being. And if behoves all of us to do the same. I felt in his letter and maybe this is pathological optimism, that somehow Arya wanted the carnage to end. He wanted it to end a certain way, on his terms. He wanted to emerge as the unquestionable and heroic winner but he did want the whole thing to end. That was the point of the letter. To end the thing. What might be very nice if Wasim and Arya were to sit down face to face and have it out in words and maybe a few fists too. A good fist-fight never hurt anyone too badly unless they were on the other side of Mike Tyson. And for the rest of us to see what comes out of that. What understanding can they arrive at, if any. And if they cannot arrive at an understanding, then why expect the government of any country to be able to do what we ourselves cannot do. The government is after all, us. The open letter can be read here: http://www.mensxp.com/…/31469-this-indian-army-major-s-open… and Wasim’s response here: http://www.thequint.com/…/this-kashmiris-response-to-an-arm…
And what I believe (based on the name, it could be someone else!) is Major Arya’s blog can be read here where we see with our own eyes that he tries to think things through and has some reasonably good theories to offer about the conflict: http://majorgauravarya.blogspot.co.uk/
Seen but not seen
down the twisting ravine
the sun on the ocean floor
does the clear lake see
the substance of soul
the mirrors of life go by
beyond pain and grief
the pool of water clear
nothing to veil, naught to hide
a white swan on emerald blue does glide
here is me, all of me
unspeakable me, unspeakable light
no form, no shape, no possession, no wealth
full disclosure, is the perfect stealth
Often, people will exalt the glory of modern times by citing the marvelous technological progress we have made. Not only has it made life very convenient, technology can be used to save the Earth. For example, we now have paperless banking and bills and what not. This can be used to save trees.
Technology that is used to increase convenience for us without a consideration for justice is fundamentally a tool of violence. If we save time by using a blender to make our frappe instead of doing it manually, some person in China slaves away for hours at a terrible pay and in awful conditions to make that happen. Energy is conserved. We cannot save it without someone else picking up the slack.
This is my application for a visa to a first-world nation.
The whole application procedure is online we save so much paper that way, except that there is so little trust left in the world that they ask for your entire life history in order to allow you to travel in their country for 3 weeks. I remember visa applications in my earlier and technologically backward days where paper was being wasted left right and center. You had to submit your passport and maybe 3-4 pages of documentation. It used to take a lot longer because the embassy would do the work of verifying your papers. Now, all they want is money and your entire life on paper. So it is faster. But it is faster because the time that is saved is offset by the amount we lean on nature. It takes a lot more paper and a lot more money which is essentially effort we have expended in our (almost certainly exploitative) employment. So the technological “progress” has done nothing. It has caused us to expend more natural resources and lull ourselves into a belief that things have got easier. This is nothing but confusion.
Progress will come when we learn to trust each other. The road to progress for our generation is inward. That is where the solutions lie. As long as we seek progress outside of ourselves, we will cause more devastation than ever.
I realize that this is basically a rant. I am excited for my travels but honestly, the price that the Earth is paying for our adventures is starting to become prohibitively expensive.
It is the nature of man to seek unity. To seek that which underlies the apparently known. I like to connect all my experiences. Weave them into a thread of meaning that could not have existed without me. That is how I know myself. We are all here to learn from each other.
A few things happened recently. I went to watch a production of Charandas Chor performed by the actors of the Naya Theatre of Bhopal, the company that was founded by the late Habib Tanvir. Then, I read about an organization that is promoting the arts as an agent of social change. Finally, I have started a project that aims to map a path through the collective shared memory of our generation. It is regarding this last that I started to watch an old Mahabharat episode on YouTube. I heard the familiar opening recitation of a Sanskrit shloka. I have heard it at least a thousand times in my life, because not only did I watch the Mahabharat every week when I was growing up, my flatmates and I in graduate school watched the whole thing again on laptops. Having heard the opening shloka a thousand times, today I realized that I did not know what it meant. This is a sign of our times folks. It is not too late to make amends so I Googled the meaning. It is the 47th verse of the second chapter of the Bhagvad Gita. I will reproduce it here in transliteration.
Karmanye vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana,
Ma Karmaphalaheturbhurma Te Sangostvakarmani
The meaning of the verse is—
Let not the fruits of action be your motive, nor let your attachment be to inaction.
My heart was stilled by the beauty and profundity of the verse. I had to read it again and again. Why is this the opening verse of the 12 year epic series that captivated the imagination of an entire generation of Indians? More importantly, why do we not see it in their actions. Why has it not altered the history of the nation? Instead, the history of the nation is being made by what came later in the telecast. The display of macho strength, patriarchy, war-mongering, revenge, chest-thumping commentaries about the “naari’s sammaan” and the “kul ki maryada.”
“It feels fake. “– The disgruntled actor.
I want to make a difference.– Well meaning NGO worker.
lā hawla wa lā quwwata illā bi Allāh
“The phrase may be translated word-by-word as:
lā = no, not, none, neither
hawla = change, alteration, transformation, movement, motion
wa = and
lā = no, not, none, neither
quwwata = strength, power, potency, force, might, vigor
illā = but, except, if not
bi = with, to, for, in, through, by means of
Allāh = Arabic name for the Supreme Being
Progress is only achieved through change and transformation… and spiritual progress requires the highest degree of change and transformation. We may wish to change, but we alone do not have the power to make such changes. Such change and transformation can only occur through the tahwīl (transformation) of Allāh. That is to say, true change and transformation can arise only through the awesome and glorious powers of Allāh.” 
- Mahabharat, Episode 49-54, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjELJsDOVtU
- Wahiduddin’s Web, https://wahiduddin.net/words/tahwil.htm
I just finished performing in the play “Shiva Calling.” It is a piece that merges all the worlds, the galaxies, the star systems. It merges past lives and folds time into itself. The Universe lives and breathes continuously, destroying itself and reforming in every moment. You believe what you perceive to be real.
Amar is going to be executed tomorrow morning. He sits alone in his prison cell at night. Or is he alone? He faces the task of believing that the path to freedom begins by looking inside. Will he believe? Or will he simply die? You know, they say you die twice. Once when you die and once when the last person that loved you dies. So I’m already dead.
The show occurred in the backyard of a majestic historical site. The Qutub Minar. As we prepared feverishly, doing warm-ups, breathing through our nervousness, peering into the auditorium to see how many seats were still vacant, bantered backstage, the Minar and its surrounding ruins stood in silence. Witness to a time gone by. A million births and deaths. People must have gathered in the courtyard at night, just like us, to sing to the moon. To celebrate. To rejoice. To prepare for war. Belief clashing against belief, ideology against ideology.
Time and again, they have come to me. Shiva! Shiva! To tell you the truth, I am just a simple ascetic who would like nothing more than to be left alone on his lonely mountain. Losing himself to meditation.
Nothing is forever. Only impermanence. But we must keep playing the drama. On and on it goes. We have no choice. But, in that trap, we are free.
Qaid-e-hayat-o-band-e-gham asl mein dono ek hain
Maut se pehle aadmi gham se nijaat paaye kyun?
— Mirza Ghalib
The prison of life and the grief of man are the same
Why should man be free of grief before death takes him?