Saturday 21 November 2009

Buggered word Gita?

Dhrtrashtra said-
I, born blind, yet now in darkness more profound
Your speech, beseech, that my Light may be Sound
Say- Were our battle eager Barons not abashed when they found
Their bellicose display profaned Kuru’s holy ground?
Sanjay replied-
Nay, blind to all but their, mirrored, martial array
Only defeat, not desecration, their thoughts could dismay
Though who die on the field of Kuru’s sacred fane
By your ancestor’s boon, sure, Heaven attain
Who go there to slay- like gamblers gloating at a game they have fixed
In the wine of their winnings but Honour’s ashes are mixed-
Yet, I admit, your son, for one, to his Guru sped his way
But, it was to shore up his own support, not for guidance to pray
Saying, “There stand the students you taught to draw the bow
“Now jesting & contesting whose arrow shall lay you low...

"There stand the traitors- captained by the son of your false friend
"Lives you might have ended, were Loyalty your true end...

“But now hear, best of 'Brahmins', of the berzerkers in my ranks
“Innumerable Heroes, intent, with their lives, to buy my thanks!”

But I spare you his roll call of clients obligated and allies opportune
Bombast not for Bards, but the Eunuch’s euphonious tune...

To proceed-

Seeing the great Guru stand silent, or, simply, your son’s spirits to raise
Blew the conflict commencing conch, Bhishma, beyond praise.
Your grand-sire’s clarion being echoed by others on his side
Lord Krishna, and your nephews, in like terms replied.
& all Heaven and Earth trembled at that soul ravening roar
Rending the hearts of its hearers who had roared just before
Then spoke Arjun to Lord Krishna, who, as his charioteer to boast,
Had bartered away the strength of a battle hardened host
“Twixt the assembled armies, Thou Changeless, direct now my car
"To see how mercenary are those mustered for this unjust war”

Not choosing to whet Arjun’s valour upon visages malicious or mean
To Guru Drona & Grandsire Bhishma, straight, Kishan drove his team
 For both in Virtue abound- bound by no higher Law than their vow
& Timocratic thymos however courteous their bow
Serving Kings, forfeiting Kingdoms, in but fealty to their word
Not Justice, nor yet that Kingdom never of this world
And who, of your son’s bounty, having no cause for complaint
Cleave to his cause, though knowing him no saint.
It was to these two great warriors- impossible for Arjun to best
That Kishan drove your nephew- his mettle to test.
Yet, not his courage then quavered, nor confidence wavered but- strange to say
Compassion there seized him, such Sorrow besieged him- his valour ebbed away

He said-
“I tremble and stare, my hair stands on end,
Seeing elder, preceptor, kinfolk and friend
Eager for battle
thundering cattle
lowing their bliss
 at butchery’s abyss
Whom, if nothing else can warn,
Let my bloody body impede
 their idiot stampede
For life is nothing once loved ones are gone
These are my kinfolk- Keshava!
Though Greed misled them
This doom I dread them
Their families will fail
Their widows wail
& daughters harlots turn
Hell fire their ancestors burn!
My ancestors- Keshava!"
Saying which, the puissant Prince cast aside his bow and unable to stand
Was crushed down in his chariot seat by sorrow’s feeble hand.

Lord Krishna had sought but Arjuna’s martial ardour to feed
Upon the sight of warriors worthy of his arrow’s worshipful speed
Whom ’twere a puzzle to best
 An exacting test
Not a conclusion foregone
That they he’d mourn
For by boon Celestial
and their own butchering skills bestial
Drona and Bhishma could not be killed
 Save they themselves so willed
Which fact, if mentioned, might his cause retard
Thus Kishan, hoist with his own petard
Said only - ‘whine not like a little pussy, you big girl’s blouse! ’
“Well at least my pussy is little- yours’s bigger than a house!”
A retort Arjuna didn’t make- restoring amity
But rather continued to whine- a true calamity
For such indeed, is the tradition of your House
The heir rightful to yield- coz he’s a big girl’s blouse
Devapi & Bhishma, but worse, Vyasa, Shuka, to God
Chitrangada alone battling- defeated poor sod
By that jealous demi-Divinity disputing his name
Dying, as Men must, the Heavens to defame
But, not Arjun, no, for that chaksushi vidya he’d been given
A sort of world withering second sight - or arrow that is driven
Backwards into eyes by what might otherwise blind them
Unloosing Light’s lasso from heads severed to thus bind them
As Iravan’s head that sees all I see
Shedding, perhaps, Tears where I go pee-pee...
But, to get back to what Arjuna said
‘I’d rather be dead
Than on such offal fed
As on which fatten, but, vulture & culture
 Whoredom and kingdom
Title that is but theft’s requital
 or Desire- that liar
 or Pride- that pre & Pan fucked bride
 or, once Shame’s a goner,
Actually, he didn’t say that. I mean, it’s what he should have said
’stead of whining like a pussy about how his heart bled
For his cousins and Uncles and other such shite
For agenbite of inwit did that nitwit much bite

How battle Compassion? Against Pity what avails?
Its bitter taunt, the bravest daunt, yet, here, Love fails
What advice can one give to one better advised?
What redaction to a text, remorse has revised?

Lord Krishna was silent- what, after all, could he say?
Himself the soul of Arjun’s compassionate dismay
Till Arjun, waxing eloquent in unaccustomed speech
Outran Ruth, to Truth, in Rhetoric, over-reach
Saying “My Compassion is weak- not my Nature knows this weakness
& Duty’s path ever doubtful- such my Warrior Mind’s obliqueness
Yet, tho’ of your Treasury, the merest trifle
What in me is your disciple
Owns wholly and longs to own
You Lord and you alone
As the Unifier of my Empire entire
& Unequivocal voice my I might suspire
My Freedom wretched save as thy dole
Sole Refuge, mine, Persecute my soul!
Redeem my victory, bleak, over Men and God
For not I shall fight for such bitter reward!”

Well, he didn’t actually say that- but you get the gist
Compassion such a cunt it oft appears to have jizz’t
A truth analytic, not Synthetic, as Kant Emanuelle assumed
Like ‘Bugger not a Brummie after a Balti he’s consumed’
For Kurukshetra is the Polish Space for Jorgensen’s dilemma
Such that Brouwer Choice Sequences evolve Zorn’s lemma
& Everybody is everybody by Banach Tarski
& Huggy Bear the Brahma of Hutch & Starsky
To be or not to be that is the riddle
& Occluded we - the excluded middle
But here I will stop coz, blind buddy, you’re busted!
You say you want to see but turn away disgusted
War aint a cutesy rom com video you can rent
To watch with your girl or bum chums wot are bent
War isn’t a joke- mark me well
Coz of all the philosophy that gets spoke- War is Hell!

Dhritirashtra- Sanjay, Suta, your speech is strange
                        & like Light, doubtful, & by Lust deranged
Sanjaya-   Suta? You mistake me, I very much fear
                            For that guy sleeping there- your charioteer
                                                                   I’m not a Suta but Sanjay Sharma!
Dhritirashtra- Not the Bard’s, you follow the Brahmin’s dharma?
Sanjaya- Neither, Sir, or both, for I’m a born I.T professional
Dhritarashtra-  Your Gita then the Knowledge Empire’s Recessional?
Sanaya- Nope, I’m just that Sharma that next to Iyer had my seat
               In Mr. Yadav’s Hindi class, who Anglophones did much beat
                                   Till, with him, they took private tuition
                            Or for imported Whiskey by Vedic intuition
                                divined his desire, or appeased his ire
                        Like Rajiv- Serene- now a game theorist in Austin
                       Who, actually learn’t Hindi, a Tea Party at Boston
                        For, Verb sap, says Vivek, a word to the Wise
                      All Independence commences in Indian disguise

 Dhritirashtra-  I don’t believe you, my piss you surely take
                            Blind tho’ I be, buddy, BIG fucking mistake!

Sanjaya- All right! I’m that aforementioned Iyer Vivek
           Whom to Gita’s glory, a Yadav slap, did awake
          In St. Columba’s School, New Delhi, circa ‘75
         Dead now to Sophia, but, in Cyber-Space alive
         Met up with you here by some glitch tachyonic
        My ISP so crap and my router something chronic
        Which is actually quite good news for you
        Seeing as I can do
        More than your Suta- for my vision is diachronic
        Just the thing, blind King, & for your ears a tonic

Dhritarashtra-  Cunt! curtail your queef!
Vivek-  Can’t. But I’ll be brief.

Friday 20 November 2009

the invisible hand job

Who would you rather have an invisible hand job from?
Joan Robinson (aged 18)

or Jagdish Bhagwati?

I know, right? It's got to be the big bad Bhagwati- especially in light of this...

"Joan Robinson, was once observed many years ago agreeing with the mainstream Yale developmental economist Gus Ranis on the subject of Korea’s phenomenal growth. The paradox was resolved when it turned out that she was talking about North Korea and he about South Korea. "

The problem with the invisible hand is that it debilitates the visible hand which is bad coz people need to be slapped silly from time to time to save morality, or the purity of the race, or stop the homos bumping uglies, etc.
India in the 50's and 60's was about having a stronger visible hand- screw the invisible hand job- so that's why we went that way. Have things really changed? Yes- coz billionaires can now run stuff from London. So that's all right then.

Monday 16 November 2009

Roberto Bolano- implications for Indglish fiction

Roberto Bolana was a poet/activist with enormous appeal for the older generation of Indglish writers. His homeland was coextensive with the Spanish speaking world and his faith rooted in revolutionary action by and on behalf of the poor. His criticism of great Mandarins like Octovio Paz, a very popular Ambassador to Delhi, whose erudition and culture did not prevent him from writing some of the most shocking poetry of the 20th century, appeals to us in that we too saw the great Leftists of the previous generation co-opted by the Establishment.

Indeed, neither magic realism nor 'visceral realism' nor the thousand and one other revolutionary or reformist literary movements- some founded in Krausismo, which like Indian reform movements of the Nineteenth Century had a basis in Upanishadic thought- saved Latin America from the hell of structural adjustment and the terrible banality of corrupt consumerist politics making the Latin American experience ever more rather than less relevant to India.

There are some differences. Indian labor law, starting during the Raj, has provided stronger defense against capitalist exploitation for women and children in the industrial sector. Thus the central tragedy Bolano chronicles in 2666- viz. the killing of a large number of women workers at a Mexican border town used by American manufacturers- is not something we are familiar with. However, we had the horrendous story of a number of children belonging to the poorest class being abused and killed in NOIDA.

However, beyond a certain point we have to recognize that Bolano's literary culture has a depth and complexity that few Indglish writers share or would consider worthwhile pursuing. After all, in India, journalism- especially of the Tehelka sort- seems a much more powerful tool to change attitudes and 'speak truth to power'.
Still, in the context of a proposed all out war against the Naxalites- an issue on which the PM, quite rightly, seems to be back-pedaling- the Latin American experience (rather than the family sagas of tech savvy N.R.I types returning home to roost) seems more relevant to the future of Indglish literature.

But Bolano, alas, won't be around to help us. He noticed, in his book 2666 the enormous attention received by 'English (or Anglo-Indian)' publishing but could not really point to anything very worthwhile as coming out of it either for literary culture, properly so called, nor for the cause of the suffering poor. 'It's a fair cop, Guv!' would be my response. Tragically, a neglected medical problem led to his early death at the age of 50 just 5 years ago.

My fear is we have Bolanos all over India, but are not listening to them. Injustice and oppression, too, are a sort of homeland- regionalism and loyalty to a dialect have been undercut- talk of caste and creed is just an outdated chauvinism- the Indian Bolano isn't going to sound naive or parochial- we may be ignoring a vital literature precisely because it is bookish and smacks of a cosmopolitan literary culture.

Michael Foucault, in his last years, drew attention to the concept of parrhesia as speaking truth to power.
'The "parrhesiastic contract" – which became relatively important in the political life of rulers in the Greco-Roman world – consists in the following. The sovereign, the ones who has power but lacks the truth, addresses himself to the one who has the truth but lacks power, and tells him : if you tell me the truth, no matter what this truth turns out to be, you won't be punished; and those who are responsible for any injustices will be punished, but not those who speak the truth about such injustices. This idea of the "Parrhesiastic contract" became associated with parrhesia as a special privilege granted to the best and most honest citizens of the city. Of course, the parrhesiastic contract between Pentheus and his messenger is only a moral obligation since it lacks all institutional foundation. As the kings servant, the messenger is still quite vulnerable, and still takes a risk in speaking. But, although he is courageous, he is also not reckless, and is cautious about the consequences of what he might say. The "contract" is intended to limit the risk he takes in speaking.'

In the New Testament, the concept of parrhesia is taken further. Its precondition is the indwelling of Christ. This in turns grants the subaltern the right, or obligation, to testify. Not to testify is to be shamed and the subject of self-recrimination by the Parousia (return of Christ)

Literary culture (adaab/sanskriti) is an indwelling of an ideal model which is caritas-as-communication. One may call this concept Ramrajya or 'Deendar' or 'withering away of the state' or what have you. From that indwelling comes the right and obligation to testify- to fulfill the parrhesiastic contract. 

Because, English or even Indglish have essentially been acquired either as 'family property'- or indeed a type of 'sthreedhan'- rather than as a part of Civic obligation, the question arises, can Indglish function like Bolano's Spanish as a common homeland for rebels and exiles?

In one sense, yes, of course. If even Savarkar wrote English poetry in prison- what more proof do we need?

But where then is our Bolano?

Sunday 15 November 2009

Gora vs. Kim- Tagore vs. Kipling

Two Noble laureates born in the same decade, in the same part of the world, write novels, in the same decade, set in the same part of the world, focusing on a young lad who is actually ethnically British but who grows up thinking he is Indian. Kipling's Kim and Tagore's Gora are both about a quest for identity and have features of the classic bildungsroman.

Kipling's novel has been successfully adapted by Hollywood and, for all I know, perhaps Gora, too, has made it to the screen.
What are the differences between the two books?
Kim is exciting, full of strong memorable characters- no 'native', 'woman', or 'lower class' person is shown to be pallid, impotent or wholly heteronomous- and it has apoorvata in connection with Vedic spirituality. This follows from Kim ('who am I?') being identified with Visvamitra (friend-of-all-the world), who taught Lord Buddha the Vedas and who, in the Rg Veda, is depicted as having special powers over Rivers. Hence, Kim gets to guide the Lama to the river he seeks. No doubt, a thorough researcher will be able to point out that some Theosophist or other had written an article about Visvamitra and Vamadeva or something and that Kipling took the idea from there. Still, theosophists published all sorts of nonsense. It took Kipling's genius to fasten on something which
a) shows Veda is relevant to present day
b) adds apoorvata to our scripture reading
such that the Indian reader can say 'Bravo! A story for both children and adults- meaningful in every age!"
Now look at Gora.
1) It was already thirty years out of date at the time it was published- a major drawback given that Young Bengal was changing extremely fast and, in any case, unlike Turgenyev 's generation, Tagore's had no special importance.  By contrast, the Jugantar revolutionaries led extremely exciting lives. They had broad horizons. They were not mired in the madhouse of caste. What Thomas Mann said about Tagore's son- viz.  'he is brown and muscular- i.e masculine'- was even more true of the revolutionaries and the poetry of Kazi Nazrul, whereas Mann's criticism of Tagore- 'pallid... a nice old English lady..."- can be applied equally to the fastidious Brahmo's neo-Brahminical aesthetic.
Tagore, after a notable false start, simply fails to reflect the muscularity and broad horizons of the new generation. I'm not speaking of Aurobindo and Vivekananda but Bagha Jatin, M.N. Roy etc- in ardour and aspiration they were not exceptions, but, in fact, set the trend. I have read that Tagore himself was involved in their plot but also that the Ghaddaar's tried to assassinate him- surely a grand theme for a play- but, no, Tagore gave us Red Oleanders instead. Since Tagore himself wasn't a particularly wishy washy fellow why do we get stuck with this idea that Bengali men are all "Mamma's boys"- so good, so polite, never gets into fights, talks nonsense at such a rate that even the police spy will certify that he is 'good character- i.e. no testicles'."
2) Kim shows the Hindu Bengali and the Muslim Afghan working together to resist Russian encroachment in Afghanistan. In 1979, India should have been the first country to come forward to work with Pak to get Soviets out of that country. India shares responsibility for the terrible legacy of that aggression. What does Gora show? Sympathy for the poor and a sort of backhanded admiration for Islam. But the novel is essentially a silly and meaningless debate within high caste, comprador,  Hinduism that was of no interest to anybody under 50 years of age even at the time of publication.

Kim illustrates Kipling's belief that 'children, in India, have no caste' (Todd's amendment) and consequently they alone know India and should have a say in how to rule it. Gora illustrates Tagore's belief that Bengalis have no testicles and talk incessant shite.
Gora is venerated in India as a great work of art. Kim, however, has been vomited on by Edward Said. The vomit will, in time, be wiped off. Veneration for Gora, however, serves no useful end.

Friday 13 November 2009

the wooing of Sarabjeet- short story.

The wooing of Sarabjit.
Dear Mum,
You were so right! Kamaljit is a really special girl. Very career oriented- as you warned me. She talked of nothing but her clients all through dinner. But, that aside, I think we got on very well. Not that she was flirty or anything like that. Actually, she wears such gargantuan and thick rimmed glasses that you can hardly see her face. Still, there was chemistry between us. I felt it immediately. Indeed, it was almost as though there was some little history as well... But, I kept my cool and actually- you won’t believe it!- it was she who first broached the subject of marriage. Halfway through the main course, she suddenly put down her fork and looked at me straight. Was I thinking of marriage, she asked. I explained about what happened last time- how I got my fingers burnt- but that, thanks to the emotional support so unstintingly given me by all of you back home, I am now back on an even keel and, sure, by all means, I am contemplating marriage, because, I mean, it isn’t as though I have decided to become a monk or something.
Anyway, she didn’t mention the matter again through the rest of the meal, but, on the other hand, by telling me confidential details about her latest case, she was showing that she already regarded me as being... I don’t know... well, at least someone more significant than just another dim matrimonial prospect, suggested by some distant relative back home, whom for politeness sake she had to do lunch with.
She said she’d ring me over the weekend to take things further. So keep your fingers crossed!
Lots of Love
Dear Mum
Kamaljit rang me this afternoon. I’m afraid, I might have got your hopes up rather so I’d better just tell you plain. She isn’t interested in me but thinks I might suit one of her clients.
The lady in question was born here and isn’t particularly educated and so on. The other point is she’s a widow. No children, true, but a widow nonetheless. I know Widow Remarriage oughtn’t to be an issue. Still.
What do you think?
Dear Mum
I’m not being too choosy.
I appreciate, I’m getting older. I know teachers don’t make a lot of money- though, as I explained, I’ve a shot at Head of Social Studies if Mrs. Buxthelezi’s Witchcraft conviction is upheld on appeal- though, to be frank, the ritual slaughter, even for the purposes of Muti magic, of Sociology homework holdouts doesn’t seem to have done us any harm in the Academic League Tables- a fact the School Board has done well to keep in mind.
If you remember, I wasn’t that keen on marrying the daughter of your dhoodh-walla either. Frankly, her running off with the milk-man was something we both should have anticipated.
Anyway, I’ll keep you posted.
Dear Mum,
I think this whole Kamaljit thing is a washout. Which Aunty suggested her?
I’ve just learnt- the widow lady has just come out of prison. Her crime?- killing her husband.
Still want her for your daughter-in-law?
Dear Mum,
No, the woman’s husband didn’t drink. She did. That was the problem. He suggested to her, at the Wedding Reception, that she might want to stop swigging from the Magnum and maybe use a glass. That was his mistake. She broke the bottle on his head.
Dear Mum
No it does not ‘serve him right for being a tepid, non- turban wearing, sahajdhar Sikh.’ Don’t shift the blame on to the victim. Furthermore, I don’t need to be reminded that I myself sport a full Patiala Turban and that it can absorb a lot of force. Indeed, that’s why Kamaljit asked her Aunty, back home, to suggest a suitable, observant, keshadhari Sikh boy for Marriage purposes. But, what she omitted to mention was that the groom was not for herself but for her murderous client. You see, as things stand, the poor girl is having to restrict her love life to knee-tremblers, in doorways, with fully helmeted motor-bicycle couriers- clearly a poor substitute for a properly turbaned husband whose head she can bounce bottles off as and when the spirit moves her.
Dear Mum,
Thank you for your long E-mail. I appreciate your difficulties. It can’t be nice to know your neighbours are whispering doubts as to the sexuality of your son. Furthermore, I fully understand that my erstwhile father-in-law, the milk-man, has been spreading rumours and that you, quite naturally, want to put that doodh-walla’s nose out of joint. Still, I don’t think my marrying this particular widow really fits the bill in that respect.
I fully take your point about grand-children. It is important that they inherit martial spirit. I never suggested otherwise. Nor do I hold it somehow disgraceful for a woman to have served a jail sentence. And yes, I did know, my paternal grandmother courted arrest at the time of the ‘Quit India’ movement. That she was expelled from the Congress party for passing gas was, however, news to me. Indeed, for all I know, it may well be that, as you suggest, the demise of the Unionist Administration in the Punjab- bringing in its train the enormous blood-shed of Partition- could have been averted if the good lady in question had moderated her appetite for raw radishes and hardboiled eggs- or, at least, lit a match occasionally. However, I can assure you- whatever your private misgivings about the heritable nature of this particularly poisonous form of flatulence- my wife left me for quite different reasons. The fact is, she was something of a gold-digger- but one who, given the restrictions of her upbringing, equated wealth with lactation. Thus, she, quite naturally, fastened on the milk-man- believing him to possess cows of conspicuous excellence- commencing a stratospheric Social ascent which has catapulted her to the dizzy heights of ex-officio mistress to the nightshift at the United Dairy plant.
P.S. I’m not Gay.
Dear Mum
All right. I’m Gay. Happy now? But if you knew I was Gay all along why did you marry me to your doodh-wallah’s daughter?
Her moustache? That’s the reason? Really? But don’t you know a great big gay-boy like me can’t get turned on save by a huge big beard?
I’m astounded. Truly flabbergasted. To start off with, no, I didn’t know she was double-jointed. And, I suppose, the particular pose you suggest might well have permitted vaginal intercourse under the aspect of fellatio with a lightly bearded stroke victim.
In a sense, I suppose, I should be grateful you showed so much forethought and went to such lengths to ensure I’d be able to continue the family line without too much violence done to my sexual predisposition.
Mum, what can I tell you? I’m not Gay. Never have been, never will be. All your calculations went in vain. Maybe you should have just let me marry Seeta- that nice Tamil girl I met in College. You know, I’ve never stopped thinking about her. In fact, the reason I warmed to Kamaljit was because, underneath her glasses, she looked so much like her.
Love Sarabjit
Dear Mum,
I hope you get this. I could just strangle Vivek Iyer. He had me completely fooled. I should have known better. What I do appreciate is your co-operating with him to put things right. It was natural for you to want me to marry within our community. Things really are much more difficult where a couple don’t have language, religion- even basic food preferences- in common.
I absolve you entirely of blame. It was I who showed weakness. Still, Mum, you shouldn’t have let Vivek send me those E-mails in your name. Frankly there were some details in the last which simply turned my stomach.
True, Vivek had to be sure I really liked his favourite niece. The match he suggested for her- when her people were worried she might lose her virtue to some scoundrelly Sikh- was an unmitigated disaster. So, he felt guilty. Still, there is something called decency. By the way, I think you will find Seeta isn’t so different from us Punjabis. And she has genuine feelings for me. That’s why she pretended to be Kamaljit.
All my Love

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Draupati's diatribe- extract from 'Samlee's daughter'.

As I write this now, it occurs to me, I haven’t mentioned how Arif and Ribena came to be reconciled. The tension between them had still been palpable when we assembled in the drawing room for post-concert cocktails. Karl, with his insatiable American thirst for information, pounced on a book Ribena had been reading. It was Daksha D’Souza’s “Draupati’s Diatribe- Feminist Theodicy In Ancient India.” Alarmed by this symptom of literacy amongst the natives, Karl needed reassurance. It was urgent that he immediately receive precise information about the book- its exact weight and dimensions in Imperial units, estimated reserves of petroleum and natural gas, do you eat it with chopsticks or while holding nose and hopping on one leg?, where precisely do you insert it to intensify orgasm? etc. etc.
Ribena was in an awkward position. Karl was Arif’s guest. She started to speak in a desultory manner but soon trailed off. I came to the rescue.
The thing to do, with Americans, is to marshal all relevant facts very clearly in your own mind before beginning to speak. You must have a ‘point of view’ and display all the information you provide according to its single light. This is because, Americans- being adolescents at heart- are allergic to cognitive dissonance. Equally important, you must, give an acceptable, European, genealogy for any idea expressed.  This is because, the Americans- through the instrumentality of pulp fiction- have been contaminated by the fear Gibbon bequeathed the British- viz. that their Empire would be toppled, not by ideas or social forces already visible in their inner cities, but, as was Byzantium by the Bedouin, by some queer heterodox sect or practice from the very margins of the known. Thus, in the late ’30’s, Gunga Din gains glory seconding Cary Grant in his duel with the Mahdi, while Mr.Moto (a Japanese detective!) saves the British Empire- and by extension the West- from, of all things, a revival of Thugee.
Failure to establish an acceptable Western provenance for an idea or practice that emerges in the Third World can have very tragic consequences. The Americans might convert to it and, in their innocent ardour, destroy civilisation.
Draupati’s denunciation.
“The Lord God, the self subsistent, hurts one creature by means of another- establishing for himself an alibi… He plays with his creatures not as a father or a mother but as a child with its toys- and, since He acts so, others follow his example.
“I accuse the Creator who, for no benefit to himself, yet fosters disaster and injustice. If it is true that deeds (karma) pursue the doer and no other then by these evil deeds is the Lord himself defiled!”
Daksha D’Souza believes that what Draupati is condemning is God as Mayin, the cynical manipulator and magician, who plots the moral economy of the Universe, but,- in  a fashion typical of the upper class, Machiavellian, male- who uses, but uses merely for the frisson of an ignoble and unholy glee, the ruses of ‘false consciousness’ and ‘divide and rule’ to maintain His position at the top of the hierarchy.
What she does not say, what she can not know, is that the Mahabharata is constructed according to very rigorous rules so as to have a self-similar fractal structure- every episode, every character, yielding, on analysis, precisely the same soteriological message.
From the Feminist point of view, Draupati is important. But, not for the reason Daksha suggests.
To understand Draupati’s denunciation, we first have to understand her place in the Mahabharata’s system of correspondences. At first glance, we notice she is one of the three characters with ‘Krishna’ (black skinned) as her proper name. The other two are the author (Krishna Dvaipayana, called Ved Vyasa-‘editor of the Vedas’) of the book, and Krishna Devakiputra, the author of the Universe. Parity conservation requires all three to be born as part of a syzygy. From our present viewpoint, these are- Krishna with Bhadrakali, Ved Vyasa with (Vak’s[1] child by man) the reader. What about Draupati?
Let us go back to Amba. Her anger at Bhishma (son of Ganga) leads to her taking a terrible (bhishma) vow. She enters the fire and emerges, in female form, from the womb of Draupada’s wife. But, it is Draupati who emerges from the sacrificial fire in answer to Draupada’s request, from the sons of Kashyap, for children to avenge him on Drona. Drupada’s wife is so charmed with the beautiful black skinned child she asks that it should never know that she was not its birth-mother. From the point of view of Feminism, there is only one daughter. The mother sees two children- one, the womb-born, who has to be treated as would a son, the other, the fire-born, who is the ideal daughter. What is the distinction? Consider mother’s relationship with son. Separation from her is called death. But, the son must be separated, socialised, etc. This death, mother must herself inflict. That is why Ganga is depicted as son killer. As the one son of Ganga to survive, Bhishma must at some point, by the Mahabharata’s system of symmetries, confront Parasurama the mother-killer. (All sin being sin against the mother and equal to matricide). This happens at the instigation of Amba. But, it is a stalemate. The female has to work out her destiny on her own.
Drupada’s wife has two daughters. One is called Shikhandini. Why? The Shikhandini were the two Apsara daughters of Kashyap who contributed a particular verse to the Rg Veda.[2] The priests who perform the fire sacrifice from which Draupati was born were Kashyap Gotra. Thus the link is maintained. Shikhandini (Amba’s reincarnation) is brought up as a boy. Fire-born Draupati- the ideal daughter- the daughter free from the reciprocal death inflicted by and inflicted on the mother- the daughter who mothers the mother- is simply the most beautiful woman in the Mahabharata. She is the partial incarnation of Shree (Goddess of all auspiciousness) whereas her sister is called the partial incarnation of a Raakshas (male demon). Shikhandin changes sex and her/his role in the eventual destruction of Bhishma is scarcely edifying. Draupati on the other hand is supremely female. Not one but five husbands are served perfectly. If Ganga is the child killer, Draupati is an innocent Niobe, all of whose children are slain. But, she, like all the characters in the Mahabharata, is not a mere symbol. She has self-consciousness. She knows intimately both the author of the book as well as that of the Universe. Indeed, she is perennially clothed anew, by the latter, when vulgar programmatics, like yours truly, try to strip her of her sari. She understands the process by which the Universe is sustained. This is the same Universe as Einstein’s. Its one apriori feature is that all sentient beings have an equal chance of piercing its secrets. There are no privileged subjects or frames of reference.
Written for women & workers & worthless fellows like me.
The Mahabharata, alas!, is a grossly Indian book.
Since Daksha D’Souza’s monograph was based entirely on a couple of passages from Prof. Zaehner’s slim little volume on Hinduism, I began my explanation to Karl by invoking the memory of that great Oxford Don. Unfortunately, I had scarcely got into my stride when Prof. Pushan chose to interrupt. He hadn’t yet forgiven me for my dig at Shantideva and this, no doubt, was his way of paying me back.
“Oho!” he said loudly, “Is it Prof. Zaehner whose praises you are singing? Please forgive me, I’m just an ignorant rustic, but is not this great and famous Zaehner, whom you consider a greater authority on Hinduism than Manu himself, is he not, unworthy though I am to mention so great a scholar, is he or is he not the same scoundrel who toppled Mossadegh, destroyed the hope of Social Democracy in Iran, by the supremely economical, the supremely witty, device of having Mossadegh’s Security Chief invited to dinner, and then quietly bumped off, by none other than Teheran University’s Professor of Ethics?”
“What?!” said Arif, suddenly electrified. Previously, he had been hanging back, looking very aloof and blasé, but now he pushed himself forward like a terrier scenting a rat.
Prof. Pushan explained how the Oxford Don toppled Mossadegh- a mildly left-wing Social Democrat- in a manner not merely witty, but erudite. The fact is, the most famous book on Ethics in Iran is the Akhlaq-e-Nasiri. Its author, Nasiruddin Tusi, is still infamous, throughout the Islamic World, for having persuaded, first, his Pir to surrender to the Mongols, and then, Hulagu, the son of Genghis, that there would be no heavenly retribution for slaughtering the last Caliph. Thus, the Iranian upper class understood, the Americans (represented by Kermit Roosevelt) were as unreasoning and irresistible as the Mongols, and thus there was no alternative but to bend with the wind.
The effect of this news on Arif- though the events mentioned happened twenty years before he was born- was quite pitiful. For a moment he tried to be urbane- even attempted a verse on the sitam zarifi- the ingenuity in tyranny- of the so irreproachably perfect Western democracies we so fervently for- Ayaz qad’r-e-khud bi-shinaas[3]!- futilely love- but, it was hopeless. The slim Sayyad boy was not able to manage. He turned to Ribena. He had to grip her arm. He turned up big tear-brimmed eyes to her. “Is it true? Did it really happen?” She had to comfort him as only Mother can comfort a little child.  Their tiff was over. In fact, it was as if it had never been.
During Muharram, when the rozekhaan is telling the story of Kerbala, big, grizzled, men- veterans of Wars and Secret Police torture chambers- break down in just such manner. They look about them, eyes blinded with tears. They ask- ‘Is it true? Can it be? How?” At such times, they are comforted- regardless of age, class, or even gender- by whomsoever is closest by. This grief of bereavement is a triumph of family. Through it, relationships are reborn in a pure form- free of worldly considerations- like status and hierarchy.
To understand Arif’s reaction you must understand that he was the descendant of Hazrat Zain ul Abidin. His family history was the story of the grossest and most cynical betrayals and murders, by Caliphs and Sultans, of the most innocent and holy fathers and grandfathers of his line. But, what was their motive in this sorry tale? The answer is simple. The poor put their faith in the Family of Ali. The rich betrayed them. The eighth Imam was poisoned by the Caliph. Why? Had he done something wrong? No. It was just that the Caliph got carried away in his religious enthusiasm and appointed the Imam his successor. Hence, the poisoned gift.
Politics, says Hanif Qureshi, speaking of South Asia, has been sodomised by Religion. I don’t know much about sodomy- or Politics even. This much I know. The hopes of the poor, the hopes of the oppressed, they express themselves as Religion. Politics takes up Religion. It appoints it its successor. Then it poisons it.
Prof. Zaehner was not a bad man. On the contrary. His justification is the same as the one Kipling put in the mouth of District Commissioner Petitt. “It is expedient that one man should die for the people.”
But these, as Kipling well knew, were the words of Christ-killing Caiaphas.

[1]     Vak- speech. In Puranic mythology, the Gods once sold Vak to the Gandharvas (celestial musicians) whose company she liked so much that the God’s could only lure her back with the invention of the lute. Certain classical meters are considered the sons of Vak by the Gods. A type of love-lyric in the vernacular is called her love-child by the Gandharvas.
[2]     the singularly beautiful (also Sama Vedic) psalm beginning ‘SaKhaaya aa ni…’ (R.V. 9.104)
[3]     Ayaz qad’r-e-khud bi-shinaas!- Ayaz should remember his humble origins! The Turkish Conqueror,  Mahmud, raised his devoted slave Ayaz to the position of Governor of Lahore- but a mere native he remained. On one occasion, the Huma (bird of fortune, the touch of whose shadow bestows Empery) was sighted while Mahmud was reviewing his troops. All the Sultan’s soldiers ran hither & thither in the hope that the shadow of the bird would fall upon them. Ayaz, however, went & stood in Mahmud’s own shadow. He is the emblem of devoted love in Sufi poetry. Incidentally, the given name of the Pir of the Maah Taallab shrine was Ayaz. Dr. Siddiqui relates the story of the Saint’s meeting with a dervish who was crossing the Sahara desert without even a head-cloth to protect him from the Sun- ‘Come tell me, dervish, how ’tis done/ ‘Why mild but to you is yon Saharan Sun?”/ ‘I’faith, ’tis nothing- little faith’s displayed/ In one’s own shadow to trust for shade!’

Monday 9 November 2009

Game Theory and the Gita

Noether's theorem tells us that (for a non dissipative system) evidence of a symmetry is proof of a conservation law or conserved property.
The Mahabharata displays two systems of symmetries in a remarkably systematic and well thought out manner. People like Buitenen and Lal had noticed the 'two trees' motif- the duality- the fact that everything happens twice, each character has a dual, every episode ties up with or reflects some other episode- it is as though the bards were continually employed in a type of double entry book-keeping.
Nothing is accidental, or a matter of chance, in the Mbh.
The two conserved principles, so to speak, in Mbh are karma and dharma. Karma, operating across life-spans, gives coherence and meaning to everything that is experienced. Dharma- operating across the social space- makes social life meaningful and socially defined entitlements and obligations a proper subject of study.

How does this relate to game theory? Well, we notice that Yudhishtra, to become a just King, must learn probability and tactics. He comes to see that virtue and morality is actually a vector, not a scalar. We are getting to a notion similar to the notion of Evolutionary Stable Strategies- i.e. a range of ethical choices all equally valid. Balaram is not condemned as a drunkard for refusing to fight. Krishna is not condemned as being partial to Arjuna for assisting him.
Yet the outcome of Mbh is not perfectly symmetrical. Though the Pandavas win, it is a tragic outcome.
The symbiotic nature of the Kaurava Pandava dichotomy had been pointed out early on by Sanathkumara who employed an ecological analogy- 'without the forest, the tiger dies. Without the tigers, the forest disappears. Your sons (Kauravas) and the Pandavas are like the forest and the tigers.'
Yuddhishtra can understand this. Dhritarshtra can't. When Yuddhishtra offers to fight Dhritrashtra himself he recognizes that the Kaurava principle of Power politics had as much validity- indeed, it is the starting point for-  his own. The optimal solution lay in a meta-game.

The relationship of the Gita to game-theory arises from the fact that 'meaning is being gamed'. This fulfills the condition of apoorvata such that on each reading, or each hearing, there is something new and therefore the condition for Gita to be considered Shruti is fulfilled. This is nothing to do with rituals. Gita can be heard in any language where the author was properly inspired rather than just a translator.
In what manner is 'meaning being gamed'? Well, Krishna is arguing for a purpose not just showing off. Initially it looks like the Lord- out of love for his friend- has made a mistake. To spur on Arjun's martial spirit- while at the same time showing him the need to be cautious and plan things out- Krishna straight away takes him to see the two chiranjivis (immortal, unvanquishables) on the other side. This should stir up Arjun as well get him to think carefully. But, Arjun (unlike Dhrtrashtra) is so confident he starts thinking his foes are already dead! (Alternatively, we may note that a Gandharva had gifted Arjuna with cakshushi vidya- a sort of second sight. This parallels Krishna's own  gift- mentioned in Chandogya. However, notice that whereas the Gandharva's caksuci yields only Vishada (depression) Krishna's gift is of another order.)
Arjuna blames himself- how could he have killed his own Guru and his beloved Grandsire- not to mention so many cousins and friends! Of course, there is a simple answer. Fight so well, that the other side loses morale and sues for peace! But, we know that those assembled, having forgotten they were desecrating a holy spot, were ripe for a vishodhana- a ritual type of cleansing. In any case, Sociologically speaking,  the feudal code was untenable and the aristocracy had to die.
From the theistic point of view, if the Lord is depicted as twisting and turning to help his friend (that is devotee) there is a noble purpose here- viz. to illumine the psychological truth that at every moment, taking on every form- (rupam rupam pratirupo babhoova etc)- the Lord is struggling to come to us and to win us away from anxiety and depression.
However, we notice that Krishna's every philosophical excursion ends in aporia- more notably, from the point of view of ordinary people (for whom the work was intended) these philosophies are immediately shown to be false because they lead to social injustice. I don't need to know Philosophy to know that any Philosophy is wrong which arrives at the conclusion that I should be the slave of its practitioners.
From Theism's point of view, it is important that even Krishna should not be able to show any philosophical system or approach to be other than silly. It's like Douglas Adams's story about the philosopher who provides a valid proof of God's existence. Even God is impressed. But, the philosopher points out, there is no longer any need for Faith. But there is no God without Faith. God is convinced and immediately ceases to exist.
Still, the Gita is quoted as supporting misogyny, casteism, the morality of slaughtering millions of people coz you're miffed that your cousins get to rule rather than you- and so on and so forth.
The point is that though ad captum vulgi arguments can be adduced for all of the above- they, nevertheless are complete shit. The Gita does have a message- it's the same as Buddhism, Jainism... urm common sense actually which is that we are all radically interdependent. Mutually supportive co-existence must be the rule. Pluralism is necessary for Life is about Symbiosis not Extermination. As Jefferson said, in matters of Religion, divided we stand, united we fall. There are delicious ironies in the casteist and misogynistic portions of the Gita. The whole thing is like one of those sit coms where, if at the beginning of a scene, an actor states some principle, then he or she will be shown to behave in the opposite way by the end.  Thus, there is nothing casteist about a work which shows the destruction of the fucking aristocrats- no matter how splendid their attributes and achievements.
The reason that the Mbh exhibits a lot of mathematical structure is that, if not its conception, then certainly its transmission depended on heuristics. But heuristics- including rules of thumb- are just special cases of a more general law. Since Mbh is trying to show karma and dharma as being logically consistent, there is obviously going to be a lot of symmetry.
Thus if the question is raised 'what did this guy do this at this time?' we can reconstruct it by figuring out who his dual is and what episode elsewhere is the dual of this episode and so on. Of course, this method of comparison also gives a lot of scope for clarifying matters. It is like you have two parallel cases to which the same rule applies in which the decision was different.
If Krishna has one way of discharging his duty as a charioteer, Shalya has another.  Actually, Shalya's is pretty effective. Insults get a guys dander up. He fights harder.
On the other hand, we say the parallelism here is imperfect. Krishna is a pal and relative of Arjuna. Shalya is a relative of the Ashvins (he is their maternal uncle). BUT, if Karna revealed his true birth to Shalya the latter would have been obliged to inform his nephews (so as to prevent them from falling into the sin of filial impiety) in which case the Kauravas get a walkover! Thus the symmetry here is- Krishna reveals his true form to Arjuna, Karna conceals his true birth from his charioteer. This is subtle, not mechanistic.
No wonder people write crap about Mbh.

apoorvata and identity- a parable

There was once, in a certain village, a learned young Brahmin who had mastered the Vedas and Brahmanas and Upanishads and won golden opinions from visiting scholars. However, in that same village lived a solitary old man who seemed skeptical. An ironic smile played upon his features whenever he encountered the young Pundit on the street.

One day the question of the young man's marriage was being discussed by the village council. Actually, the villagers were simply basking in the reflected glory of the flattering marriage proposals that had come for their prodigy.
One of the village elders feigned regret saying- 'Vivaham vidyanasham! Marriage destroys knowledge. Such a pity our young man has to get married to fulfill his duty to the Manes."
The skeptical old man laughed out loud. "Don't worry, " he said, "the boy has no true knowledge. He loses nothing taking a wife. On the contrary, the gain is all on his side!"
Fearful of the old man's sharp tongue, the village elders remained silent. However, the young pundit soon came to hear of the old man's comment.
He went to confront the old man, cheered on by a group of his young acolytes.
"Sir, you say I have no true knowledge. Please examine me, asking any questions you like. Do this as a favor to me, so that I may learn my shortcomings and take measures to amend them."
"I have only one question- who are you?"
"Sir, you know very well, I am so and so, son of so and so, belonging to such and such gotra and such and such sect."
"You have told me about the relation you stand in to others- not who you are."
"Ah, I understand! You are asking me about my true Self. Sir, I know from Scripture that my true Self is the Atman which is eternal, unchanging....
"Stop! You are just parroting what you have learnt. There is no apoorvata- nothing new, unprecedented, or uniquely individual- in what you say. Hence, according to the rules of your own hermeneutics- your answer is meaningless."
"Okay, I understand your purpose. Indeed, in our Chandogya Upanishad, we see that the Brahmin who just repeats what he has learnt without understanding the inner meaning deserves to lose his head. Don't worry, I will now explain to you, using my own words and giving unique examples drawn from my own experience, that same essence I was trying to convey to you before. Thus, my answer- satisfying the condition of apoorvata- will have to be accepted by you."
"Very good," said the old man smiling ironically.
The young man began speaking. As he spoke he waxed eloquent. He was amazed by his own brilliance, he got carried away and uttered a true gem of rhetoric.
Suddenly he noticed that the old man was grinning like a devil. His own supporters were murmuring. What had happened? Curse it- I went and quoted the heretical doctrine! I had only memorized their formulation because it was the argument to be refuted (poorvapaksha) in the Brahma Sutra commentary. Carried away by my own wind of words- I have sailed into the enemy camp!
The young man laughed out loud. "See," he said, "I almost committed myself to the false doctrine, however I know the proper counter argument. Here it is- I give it to you verbatim."
"Back to parroting?!" said the old man, " where is the apoorvata here?"
"Okay, you have caught me out," said the young Pundit, 'but give me a second chance. I will go away now and meditate. When I have formulated my arguments properly such that they exhibit the apoorvata you consider so important, then I will come in front of you again. On that basis, kindly permit me to depart."

The young man went aside and began to meditate. As often as he tried to frame his thoughts in his own words, relying on his own arguments and analogies- rather than the authority of Scripture- so often he fell into error and confusion.
Finally he determined to go quietly to the nearby town and gain practice in dialectics in a place where he was unknown.
As he walked, he saw a wood cutter. He thought to himself, 'let me talk to the wood cutter and learn the secrets of his craft. In this way I can find a new analogy- one not given in the commentaries- that will have the requisite apoorvata. Thus, I will prove I am not just a parrot."
The wood cutter said, if you want to learn about my craft- try it yourself. No! That is not how you hold the axe; that is not how you stand; that is incorrect!"
"How so?" the Pundit replied, "I am cutting the wood. Indeed, as I gain strength, it may be, I will be a better wood cutter than you!"
"No," said the wood cutter, "from long experience, our caste has learned that there is a particular way to hold the axe, a particular way to cut, a particular way to carry the faggots, such that injury is avoided and wear and tear on the limbs is minimized. Furthermore, if you look at the songs we sing- their rythmn and melody are optimized for the work we do and the particular psychological strains associated with our vocation. Our dialect and manner of speech, too, is adapted to our needs."
The young Pundit learnt from the wood cutter and, after him, from the carter, the merchant, the sentry at the octroi post, the bandit, the revolutionary, the spy, the pimp, the ambassador, the scavenger, the mendicant, the aristocrat, and so on.
Finally, he had seen enough. He turned his steps homeward. No one, now, could call him a parrot in a cage- he had spread his wings and seen the world. His speech was full of apoorvata. No one could place him. No one could predict what he would say next. The old man would have to admit that whatever answer he returned to the question 'Who are you?" evidenced knowledge rather than the training given to a performing pet.

As he walked down a forest path, he heard a rustling in the bushes. Immediately all his senses became alert. He was no longer the Pundit immersed in his own thoughts, blind to the dangers of the road. He had heard stories of how tigers shadow their prey. He saw his chance. Leaping across a rain gully, he seized a hanging creeper and quickly pulled himself up a tree. In the process, some of his clothes fell away. Even his sacred thread snagged on a branch and broke.
From his vantage point he peered around. In the silence, the only thing he could hear was the tinkling of his own ornaments. Quickly, he tore them off and cast them away. There was a rustle above him. A hissing sound. Perhaps, a poisonous snake? He dropped to the ground and ran crouched through some low bushes. The tiger may be tracking him by smell. He saw a patch of mud. Quickly, he rolled in the mud. That might throw the tiger off the scent. He darted to the safety of some undergrowth. Resting there, he cast his eyes about. There was water ahead of him. Sooner or later, he would need to drink. He came cautiously forward and surveyed the scene. All seemed peaceful. Still he waited. Even when he finally gave in temptation and came down to drink, he drank quickly- alert and in a suitable posture for instant flight.
Wandering like this, he lost track of time. Suddenly he found himself on the border of a village- but was it a village of bandits or respectable men? Before he could decide, he was spotted. Farmers armed with scythes came running to the spot.
'The tiger' he said and fainted.
The good people of the village took him in. They understood that he had escaped from a tiger. They gave him water to bathe and clean clothes to wear. After he had taken his meal and was in a relaxed frame of mind, they asked him the inevitable question- "Who are you?"
He had forgotten.
The village Vaidya said- he has received a terrible fright. A portion of his soul left him when ran from the tiger. It has not found its way back to him. No doubt, when he sleeps, it will find it easier to come to him across the landscape of dreams. Let him rest."
He rested, he dreamed, his health was restored, his body became plump, his scratches and bruises faded away leaving no mark of his trauma.
Still, when they asked him the question 'Who are you?" he had to confess 'I don't know.And... I don't know why but I feel the answer to this question is the most important thing in my life. So, though you mean well, I can't agree to your proposal that I forget the past and just settle down here."
The village council assembled to consider ways of helping their guest. The carpenter spoke up. He said- 'the man is from the carpenter caste. I can tell because the way he handled my tools." The potter said- 'no he is a potter." The toddy tapper said- 'no, he is a toddy tapper."
The Pundit said- all of you are wrong. He is a Brahmin expert in Vedas and Upanishads.
The Headman replied- "No he is an aristocrat, who acquired Brahmin lore as part of his studies. However, his practical knowledge shows he must be the son of a King trained to take over the reins of administration. The merchant replied- "no, he understands bargaining and accountancy. He must be the son of a great Seth, the head of a transnational Guild,who arranged for him to receive instruction along with the Princes of the realm. This can be seen from his knowledge of the Shraman heterodox sects. This is the true explanation."

The watchman said 'What if he is a spy? Our whole village will be put to the sword if we harbor an enemy agent!"
Suddenly it became urgent to establish the young stranger's identity.

The Vidushak (detective) was called. He asked for the young man's childhood memories- the lullabies his mother had sung to him. The Vidushak saw that one of the lullabies was unfamiliar to him. It contained a clue as to the direction in which the stranger's natal village might lie. The Vidushak took the young man and set off in that direction. After various travails, the Vidushak was finally able to return the young man to his native village. Slowly he began to recognize his old friends and neighbors.
One day, he remembered the old man. He laughed ruefully- "'Who are you?'- such a simple question yet it caused me to lose my identity! Where is the old man? Take me to him. I will touch his feet and admit defeat."
But the old man was dead.
The story of the young man had become famous. A great scholar came to the village. He asked the young Pundit how he had come by knowledge of so many different castes and conditions of people. The Pundit could not reply. That part of his life was still clouded from him.
The scholar assembled the villagers and said to them- 'this young man left the village to find a fitting answer to the question 'Who are you?' Immersed in meditation, he broke the chain of Maya- Illusion- which creates a false and delusive egotism which expresses itself as greed, envy and craving. However, evil forces sought to break his meditation. Thus, he emerged from the forest not as an accomplished Yogi but in an unfinished state. His knowledge of all other castes and professions arises out of past-life experiences which continue to exist in the apurva state rather than fully fructifying. That is why though he remembers the skills and knowledge of every craft or profession he excelled in in previous lives, still everything seems jumbled together. Now, clearly, we can see that this young man's experience is a proof of Religion. How so? Well, he has memories of being a scavenger. But, he must have been a very good and pious scavenger, for he was next reborn as a wood cutter. Again his piety and good deeds as a wood cutter enabled him to rise one step higher. Even wealthy merchants, and great aristocrats can testify that he had the qualities of their own station. The fact that his final birth was as a Brahmin- shows it is the top most caste.
However, still we see he excels all others of his class even in this life, for-without taking monastic vows or practicing severe austerities- he has gained knowledge of past life experiences and thus can give a proper answer to the old man's question 'Who are you?" for the element of apoorvata that the old man requested is now supplied by his now being in an apurva state whereby the action has already been completed but the fruit is not yet in the hand. No doubt, this was the hidden meaning of the old man's insistence on apoorvata.
'In consequence, I find, this young man is fully qualified to act as the Rashtra Rishi (National Sage) for the Kingdom. Such, indeed, is my recommendation."

The young Pundit could find no fault in the great scholar's opinion. With a diffidence and humility that smacked of true spirituality, he took up the post of Rashtra Rishi.

One day a crime was reported to him. A learned Brahmin, gathering herbs in the forest, had come across a young boy of the scavenger class conducting a Vedic ceremony all by himself. The Brahmin could testify that the boy- being free of all blemishes and having the uttermost purity and spirituality- conducted the ceremony in a manner superior to all other priests of our present fallen Age.
But, was this not- in a sense- a violation of the 'closed shop' of the Brahmin caste? How could they gain food and livelihood if such practices became prevalent? What should be done?
The Rashtra Rishi said- 'whereas Scripture emphasizes attainment not birth- nevertheless, the lad should be beheaded. This is because my own experience shows that the proper course is to wait for slow promotion up the caste ladder. This prodigy has jumped the gun. Though this action is neither displeasing to the Heavens nor against the observances of Religion- still, it is still against Nature.Let him now take the ultimate promotion of pure union with the Deity and enter that realm where Nature has no claim."

The reason I tell you this story is not, however, what you might have guessed from the title. Nor will my slovenly literary style have prepared you for the surprise I mean to spring on you when I tell you my purpose here.

Strange as this may seem- I wish to reflect on the impossibility of modernist literary fiction in our present age. Whereas traditional cultures work by 'participation mystique'- abnegation of identity and full participation in the events depicted- and whereas, my generation, could still see the computer, and the internet, as being like a spectacle which draws us in- like the Matrix movies- we are dinosaurs. The new twittering/texting generation doesn't see Knowledge as being like a book that draws us in, a spectacle to which we surrender- rather, for them, technology is a servant that enables more human interaction, more sharply defined identity, apoorvata as the inescapable condition of being alive.
Why is this problematic?
Well, modern literature is related to the notion of leisure and rational recreation. It is based on the notion that while engaging with the book you do not surrender or dissolve your identity- that is 'escapism' and simply a low class dissipation- but, employ judgement and a particular judicial type of empathy, which strengthens and makes more secure your own sense of security and entitlement.
This was all very well when new information, from whatever channel, was believed to always incrementally shore up identity. This meant leisure- a period devoted to recreation because no threat is visible- could expand. Indeed, expanding leisure and rational recreation combated social phenomena founded in participation mystique- e.g the craziness of crowds.
Path dependence ceases to be a problem in an economy where rational agents act consulting only their own interests. Judgement, as a faculty, becomes a sort of social reflex. Irrationality and 'deterministic chaos' type processes tend to disappear. History itself becomes predictable. It becomes meaningful to speak of a non-eschatological meta-history. The Arts address themselves to the question of representing historical evolution in a manner constantly monitored and chastened by the critical judgement of the audience.
Then disaster struck. Knowledge, it turned out, was not incremental- rather it proceeded by somersaults. Furthermore, new types of knowledge meant that suddenly core elements of our identity could at any time be shown to be false.
Consider King Oedipus. At any moment a messenger can come before him to reveal that everything he thought he knew about himself was actually a lie. Our position is much worse than Oedipus. Messengers have already arrived from the four corners of the globe and from across the entire spectrum of the sciences, any or each of whom might have information that can show we ourselves are the culprits that we seek. Nothing is safe.
Just as some obscure Maths Journal, or Law Journal, or Science Journal might, today, have published something which makes nonsense of the Business Model of your employer- dooming you to penurious retirement- so to with our Personal Identity Model, so to speak.
There is no such thing as Leisure because we need to be monitoring so many different information channels to ensure that we are still who we think we are. True- as a distraction, not a recreation- we surrender more on more to all sorts of virtual realities. But we are like the young Pundit who thinks he is being chased by a tiger. The faulty of judgement is not being strengthened. Empathy is not being increased. There is no more 'Oliver Twist' , there is only 'Slumdog Millionaire'.

The twittering/texting generation, on the other hand, may evolve their own answer to this existential threat from information. Too late, alas, for my generation. It may that their literature will be so different from ours that we won't recognize it when we see it.

Let us suppose a world of hand held devices dependent on cloud computing delivered through a BPO type channel; except not just Business Processes but all sorts of Psychological and Personal services are also covered; then, perhaps, we will have a Knowledge enabled population whose valorization of apoorvata- novelty, not security, as the condition of life- enables them to escape the fate of the Pundit terrorized by the Tiger of Information.

For us post-modern subjects- for whom modernity is an impossible project because of the threat from information to core identity- Literature is over.For a while we can still tune into programs like 'House' or 'Fringe' or 'Numbers' or 'Lie to me' where a maverick or just plain mad savant can still put all the pieces together in time for the credits to roll. But, notice that ordinary people have no stable identity in this world. Anyone can become anything. All that is solid has, at last, really melted into thin air. There are no secure sources of identity anymore- not no master narratives, but no way of telling how we will figure in those narratives.
Why should this matter? Because Knowledge is re-inventing itself on a basis bereft of the possibility of a participation mystique. The Matrix has no place for us- no story to anchor us in it. Technology, to which life has become symbiotic, evolves such that Life belongs to those who want to live it on the basis of apoorvata, of novelty, of uniqueness.
But such a life, like that of King Solomon, is 'a treasure that can never befall another'. There still will be life- it just won't be a life transposable into literature.

Saturday 7 November 2009

The transcendental turn in Pico Iyer and Roy Bhaskar- the globalized Theosophic soul

The Hindustan Times recently published an article about a growing trend for impoverished young men from the provinces to marry Japanese and Korean women and gain wealth by catering to the Buddhist pilgrim and tourist trade. However, the article failed to mention the case of Pico Iyer. I had contacted him to complain about poor quality idli sambar at a hotel in Bodh Gaya. He denied owning any such establishment. Probably, he was thinking I was just some illiterate fallow. Little did he suspect that, being a fan of Japanese Manga and RPG Anime, I was thoroughly familiar with the gruesome horrors of the Game-verse based on his 'Lady and'the Monk'. Hence, I was immediately aware of his deception. In any case, it is well known that 'Krishnan Iyer M.A- nariyal panee wallah was based on the young Pico who sold coconut water on Marine Drive. Nothing wrong in that. It is an honorable profession. But, due to for why  this gentleman is now giving himself such airs and graces I ask you? Frankly, all this globalization business- not to speak of incessant book publishing and other such godlessness- has gone too far. Mr. Pico, kindly see to improving idli sambar provision in your establishments. Thus alone is God served.
I notice that you, like Roy Bhaskar are descended from Theosophists. This excuses the 'transcendental turn' in your writing- however, kindly keep things in perspective. Idli-sambar must take priority!

Pico singing 'if I lift my lungi, you will see disco.'
Says it all really.

Thursday 5 November 2009

Dehati lathi & party vs. Angrezi goli & boli

Many brilliant and brave young men and women came under the spell of Gandhi. Even when they saw his futility and adopted Marxism, they remained in thrall to his example.
Men like Lohia and J.P Narayan- the latter a great friend of Arthur Koestler- lacked nothing to develop as effective leaders except their infatuation with Gandhian style rural backwardness and hypocrisy masquerading as some higher morality or evidence of superior harmony.
Distrust of machines, a belief that science and technology atomizes society, hatred of commerce, suspicion of Weberian bureaucracy or indeed any non charismatic organisation, conflation of caste with economic class- these are the reasons Gandhi's socialist successors contributed to stagnation and set the scene for the malaise of the Hindi belt in more recent decades.
If Lohia castigated the British bullet (goli) and language (boli) as the tools of Ind's enslavement, he and his ilk contributed to the multiplication of 'peasant and workers' parties which delivered nothing- except ensure that if a peasant wanted to get ahead by work rather than crime/politics- he had to immigrate to some other State. In Hindi there is an expression "jis ka lathi uska bhains ka bhi koi no koi party to hoga hi. Yadi, bahdha abh lathi ko bhains ke gand mein dal raha hai to kya hua? Jab bahins ka party jeet jayega tho bhains bhi yuun hi karega. Aakhir, bhains lathi aur gaand hamesha rahenge. This is meaning of multi- party democracy." ( Who owns the truncheon owns the bullock which, no doubt, is championed by some political party. If today, the guy is prodding the bullock in the anus with his truncheon, so what? Sooner or later the bullock's political party will win, in which case the bullock will do the same. In the end, the bullock, the anus, and the truncheon will always exist. This is the meaning of multi-party democracy.)
People like Lohia and JP knew the villages. They felt at home there. Why did they achieve so little in terms of raising productivity, improving transport & other linkages, and so on? Was it not because they were foreign returned wind-bags easily deluded by the cunning hypocrisy of rural wind-bags who were simply better at the art of talking sanctimonious shite while stealing everything they could lay their hands on?
No. That is too harsh a judgement.
There were certain intractable features of agricultural India- at least, in the Hindi belt- arising from the cost and incapacity for honesty of both the administrative as well as the political class, which constrained all action other than the purely gestural.
Still, the fact remains, the great contribution of these great men and women was purely negative.

The vulgarity of Nehru

Why did Nehru fall under Gandhi's spell? Ultimately, it was because he judged Gandhi to be neither 'vulgar' nor 'common' in the usual manner of the Indian middle class. This at any rate was Frank Moraes opinion.

Another way of putting the same point is that both Nehru and Gandhi left India before they learnt how to get on with, let alone compete with, other educated Indians of their own age and (eventual) social position. Neither attended a rigorously academic High School, let alone College or University.
Unlike people like Aurobindo, Iqbal, Ambedkar and so on, both failed to gain any real academic luster in England. Except, neither really acknowledged that if they hadn't gone farther it was because they couldn't. Okay, Gandhi says matriculating was the best he could do and pipes small about passing the bar exams. But, by then he thought education was a bad thing. In his heart of hearts, Gandhi thought he had a brilliant mind. Had he attended College in India, he'd have been thoroughly disabused of this notion before embarking on a career.
Rather than pursuing a proper course of study to fit them for a role in India, both Gandhi and Nehru were content to get by on their 'England returned gentleman' credentials. Though lawyers by profession, neither mastered Indian law. I don't recall reading that either had learnt even shikast script let alone the minutiae of Indian legal practice.
Though both wrote and talked a lot, neither could be classed as an intellectual. Nehru had a Science degree but remained ignorant of scientific method or the application of mathematics to the study of systems. Gandhi wallowed in Spirituality while remaining oblivious of the manner in which genuine Saints create an atmosphere of trust and co-operation around them such that things like Putnam style 'social capital' or Romer's 'Rule set' are advanced and a settlement is created where new technology can be applied, new techniques tried, socio-economic as well intellectual and educational advancement are catalysed, etc. etc.
If Gandhi really had been a Saint, his Ashrams wouldn't have required huge subsidies from the Birlas and others. They would have developed as commercial and educational centers raising funds rather than wasting them.

Wherein, then, lies the greatness of Gandhi and Nehru? Why- while others abide our question, do these two alone remain free?
The answer, I'm afraid, was that they were equal opportunity snobs despising all Indians irrespective of social or regional origin, entrepreneurial or educational attainment, any sort of distinction that they could not co-opt and level down within the confines of their ashrams or drawing rooms..
Gandhi  patronised genuine Saints with the same assiduity as he patronised faddists and nut-jobs. Nehru made no distinction between experts who understand what they are talking about and glory hound windbags engaged in academic or administrative boondoggle.
Clearly they were great leaders, because they could be guaranteed firstly not lead and secondly to prevent their wishes being quietly defied under their very noses.
That was the great value of the 'England returned' Babu. He had the self-confidence to overawe the first time visitor, while his Munshi defrauds him in plain sight.
Gandhi and Nehru looked after their own health and never took any set-back to heart. This by itself is evidence of the great superficiality of their natures and incredible shallowness of the currents in which their thoughts and feelings ran.
Ultimately their achievements- I mean only the towering positions they came to occupy- were not proof of greatness but lightness of character. Like a feather, they were borne upwards by the dust and the din of great social and political movements which they had neither called into existence nor channeled to any truly productive purpose.
No one who can laugh at himself is wholly vulgar. No one who resigns office once his incompetence is exposed can be called utterly commonplace.
Gandhi and Nehru were both common and vulgar precisely because they never laughed at themselves and, by that laughter, freed the great forces that they appeared to lead from the mystification and nuisance of their  vulgar chatter.
Still, at least they weren't Bengali.

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Romer demolished in a day.

Paul Romer, champion of charter cities, explains his philosophy of history on 'the long now' website. Indians on the internet, however much they might long for a nice Corporate run City to call home, have registered their cynicism at the notion.
Indeed, Romer's focus on China rather than India vitiates his theory of history. Unlike India- where small local Kingdoms, linked by mariage or feudal ties,were valorised, China placed the highest value on preserving the Empire. Disaster was associated with a divided country. China's policies were not designed to maximize per capita income but to minimize centrifugal tendencies- including the social power of merchants and traders- especially on the coast.
The success of Taiwan and Hong Kong (post 48- it was a sleepy backwater before that day) was linked to  refugees including people fleeing from Shanghai- which was the very reverse of a Charter City, it was a Divided, Triad dominated shambles, but still an incredibly productive and entrepreneurial region.
Taiwan carried out one-off land reform in the opposite manner to India- i.e. it did it fast and such that title became clearer rather than fuzzier. Already in India, the British had limited the market for agricultural land introducing rules re. illegality of sale to non-agriculturists. In other words, though India may at one time had Rules similar to Taiwan and Hong Kong- those rules were changed starting with the British themselves. Anarchy in some states like Bihar is linked with uncertainty arising out of stalled or failed land reform.
In India, laws tending to freeze up the market or to create ambiguity about ownership and control- e.g. rent control, labor law, 'inspection raj, nationalisation, property rights in jobs, break up of Managing Agencies, etc.' etc- either already existed or had been envisaged in the British period. Shanghai type capitalism- reduplicated in Hong Kong by refugees- was not condoned by the British. Rather, they turned a blind eye to many things including the manner in which the colony served the Communists. There is more to Hong Kong than Romer sees.
 Indeed, the British police in Hong Kong were the only British force known to be corrupt- however, this helped grease the wheels and served their overall strategy.
China's decision to raise per-capita income and create a shiny new consumerist paradise does not represent a decision to cede control from the Imperial center to Commercial hubs on the Pacific Rim. On the contrary, China is acting as a great Imperial power, determined to increase its force projection across historic- as well as mythical- borders.
China simply does not serve Romer's thesis at all.
British India does or should do. They create three Charter Cities- the Presidencies of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta- and the British Empire grows from those seeds. The history of British jurisprudence in India- or let us just say 'the rules set'- is not of rational rules displacing traditions or conventions that cause productivity to stagnate and made Social Capital building more difficult- but, emphatically, the reverse.
Prior to the British, you at least knew who you were- that's my dad, that's my mum, I own this house where I live. But, as time passes- as the Court Pundits are dispensed with in the 1860s- you have a new situation. 'Your dad wasn't married to your Mum. You are illegitimate. You own nothing at all."
Oh your parents were sva-gotra or if not them than some grand-parents or other ancestor!
So now,  you have a court case on your hand.
You say- I own this land. Every one in the village knows it. But no, your caste has been classed as non-agricultural. It is a delusion that you own this land. Kindly get your head examined.

If Romer's Charter Cities can get resources like water and power and so on out of the ocean or the wind then, perhaps, such Cities might never be parasitical on the hinterland. But if such is not the case, or if the real estate in the City is an object of contention by elites in the hinterland, then conditions are ripe for the 'Rule set' to be continually deformed to create uncertainty such that local power-brokers benefit. In other words- you have rent seeking behaviour.
In the case of India- British justice, whatever its merits, operated as a vast rent-seeking machine. So did the administration. So did representative Government- when it emerged. What of Corporations? Do they have clean hands? If Jamshedpur- a Corporate City if ever there was one- is mentioned by MJAkbar as a hotspot for communal riots back in the 80's- then what hope can we have in such ventures now?
What incentive structure exists within Corporations that might encourage ambitious rising stars to spend their time fighting machine politicians or gangster controlled unions? A billionaire like Murdoch had an incentive to break the power of the Fleet Street Unions- but Mrs. Thatcher was cheering him on. Does Murdoch have an incentive to confront China about journalistic freedom? Of course not. And if not Murdoch- then how about  some corporate drone in his 30's or 40's? Why should he or she take that sort of risk?
Romer has achievements to his credit in terms of modelling increasing returns and other production and organisational externality effects.
However, what is missing is the recognition that backwardness arises from higher weightage to negative consumption externalities- i.e. treating all goods as positional and wishing to deny them to others to increase one's status or else maximise rent seeking- and, moreover, universalisation of poverty is the precondition for private affluence of any sort at all! In this context, taipan Charter Cities need mass hunger in the hinterland so as to say- what difference does my corporate jet make? Take away all my perks and distribute it to the poor- and, okay, they eat well for just one day. After that what happens?
In any case, the 5 star hotels and bars of the Charter City is absolutely necessary for the U.N and N.G.O do-goodniks who will turn up to feed the starving countryside. Of course, we may get lucky and Al Qaeeda sets up base back in the bad lands. Again, we're gonna need a sparkling Emerald City for N.A.T.O to rest up in while managing regime change.
Thus a billion below the poverty line is a sufficient excuse for the billionaire club to be bullish on recruiting. However, mass poverty will never be truly safe unless you have terrorism and genocide in the hinterland.
Thankfully, the Internet can help us here.