The Great Slide

The Great Slide

“So, how did things get so bad?” I am sure you must have heard, asked or thought about this yourself. So have I. Many times, over the years whenever I saw a badly-behaved child being fed with the help of an iPad, a spaced-out teenager who seems lost in his electronic world where Facebook friends are more real to her than real human ones or when I read reports of rapes and murders being filmed on smart phones by stupid people. And my instant reaction is, “It was not like this 40 years ago. What went wrong?” And there would rest the case; until the next episode. This is 2019 and so when I say, ‘40 years’ we are talking about two generations; that is the 1980’s. It is not to say that everything was hunky-dory until 1980 and suddenly in 1981 it all collapsed. But it is a live demo of the truth of the ‘Boiled Frog Syndrome’.

For the uninitiated, this has nothing to do with cuisine, but with gradual social change which suddenly becomes starkly visible, having been unperceived for a long time before that. The parable is that if you put a frog into a pot of hot water, it will jump out. But if you put the frog into a pot of water at room temperature and allow it to get comfortable in it; then you light a fire under the pot and gradually heat the water, the frog doesn’t register that the water is getting hotter. It continues to feel comfortable in the water which is getting hotter and hotter until it reaches a point when it does register that things are not the same but by then it is too late, and the frog gets boiled. That is what happens to people and to societies. That is what I believe has happened to us in India.

Let me do a flashback to the time that I was growing up, which was in the 60’s and 70’s. We (me Muslim) lived in a multi-religious society, as we do now, but with a big difference. Nobody had TV’s or smart phones (we didn’t even have stupid phones), so our social life was with our friends. We played football and cricket; yes, really! I mean in the maidan (open field) near our house. We went to their homes and they came to ours. We participated in their festivals; not the religious ceremonies, but the fun and games, eats and sweets. And they did the same with ours. We knew them and their culture and religion, respected it, understood their boundaries and adhered to them, took an interest in their culture and they did the same with ours. We spoke about all this because there was no football or cricket  to speak of and as far as I can recall, (cricket was a 5-day Test Match – a test of patience for everyone), politics was a given (Panditji was alive after all) and so there was hardly any discussion about that. We needed people and they needed us. So, we appreciated each other.

We lived in joint families, referred to our elders by our relationship with them or an honorific in keeping with their age. So, it was Dadaji, Amma, Baba, Mataji, Dadiji, Chachi, Chacha and so on. Hardly anyone was ‘Uncle’ or ‘Aunty’. There were some but not too many. It was the job of all elders to discipline us, teach us, tell us stories, guide us in our religious or cultural norms, customs and practices and when they were doing that, if any of our friends was around, they would get the benefit of this teaching, no matter which religion they came from. They listened with respect and so did we. Our culture was distinct from that of others, but I don’t remember anyone in my family ever referring to the culture of others in any even remotely derogatory term. I don’t believe that my family or elders were unique. They were ordinary people of the time. We learnt our cultural norms, manners, taboos, customs and practices from our environment and those around us and since we lived in joint families, there were plenty of those. It didn’t matter that Dad was away at work, Mom was always home and even if she went anywhere, one or both grandparents, an uncle or aunt or two were always around to ensure that we ate, slept, were safe, studied, went out and played and when it was time, prayed. Mom and Dad didn’t need to do these things exclusively.

We never ate out because it was considered uncultured to eat in a restaurant. People asked you, ‘Don’t you have a home?’ If you took a friend out to a restaurant it meant that he was not close to you or that you didn’t really respect him. Otherwise you would have brought him home. It was normal to eat at each other’s homes, no matter that in some cases the food laws are very different and rigid. But Brahmins, Marwaris, Kayasth and Reddy friends all ate regularly at our place. When those we knew to be particular about their food laws were coming, strictly vegetarian food would be cooked. Those that ate meat at our house did that because they wished to. Nobody forced of even suggested it to them. Once again, this was not unique. This was the norm. I recall dropping in at the home of my good friend from school, Gurcharan Singh. I said, “Sat Sri Akal” to his mother (Mummy), Dad (Dadji), Grandmother (Mataji) and “Hi” to his sister and brothers and him. They all said, “Come and eat”, as they were having lunch. His mother said, with a big smile on her face, “Aaloo paratha bana hai. Tujhe pasand hai na!” because she knew how much I loved it. As I sat down, Guru’s father pointed to a covered dish and said, “Usay utthay rakh do.” (Put that there; signing to the sideboard); meaning, take that dish away from the table. Guru jokingly said, “Dadji koi problem nahin hai. Yawar yahan kha lega.” His father was distinctly not amused. He said, “Khana hai tho kahin aur ja kar khaye. Ithey nahin.” (If he wants to eat, let him go and eat somewhere else. Not here.) What they were talking about was pork vindaloo. I would not have eaten it anyway, but for them it was not a joking matter. We respected each other’s traditions and unless someone volunteered to break his own tradition, it was not broken for him. Some Muslims went to their Hindu and Christian friends to drink alcohol, but nobody forced them to do it. If they chose to do it, that was their choice, just as it was the choice of vegetarian Hindus to eat meat in their Muslim friend’s homes, if they wished. Needless to say, many Hindus are not vegetarian and eat meat and fish.

Manners were a very big thing. You never addressed an elder by name. Or even as Mr. So-and-so. You either called him Uncle So-and-so or just Uncle. Same thing for the Aunties. If a boy whistled at a girl, anyone older around would simply thrash him right then and there. You asked permission, said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. The role models you looked up to or who were mentioned to you were people who were known for their honesty, integrity, hard work, compassion; always for their values. What people owned was not the subject of discussion firstly because most people owned similar things, drove similar cars (if they drove a car at all) and lived in similar houses. The differences were not major and it was considered crass and highly uncivilized to mention money or the price of anything. If someone asked you how you were, you replied, “Very well Uncle/Aunty. Thank you.” You didn’t say, “I’m good”, because that is first of all, not the right answer because the person was not asking about your moral condition but your physical well-being and secondly because we thought it was their job to tell us if we were good or bad. Not ours to announce.

Money was in short supply though we never wanted for anything. We wore each other’s handed down clothes. We wore shoes until they became holey. Our clothes were hand-made to measure because that was the cheapest option. Readymade clothes were expensive and jeans you only saw in pictures. Pocket money was unheard of. You got money for the bus fare to school and that was it. Whatever else you needed had to have a reason behind it, and “I want it” was not a reason. We lived in bungalows on large plots of land because our parents had inherited them from their parents. We didn’t go on holidays and looked very enviously at those very few who went to Ooty for two weeks every summer so that they could return to Hyderabad’s heat and appreciate it better. But then, at that time you wore a sweater from November to February and the swimming pool (Public Swimming Pool in Fateh Maidan – does it even exist anymore – where Jeelani Pairak was the coach) only opened its doors in the middle of March because it was too cold to swim before that.

There were all of four career choices, medicine, engineering (mechanical or civil), Civil Service or Army. You picked one or if you didn’t, it was thrust upon you for all kinds of reasons out of your control and then you studied for the exams. When you got 80% you got presents and gave a party. If you got 90% people thought that you had cheated. Life was simple, uncomplicated and moved on at its own pace.

Then came the 80’s. TV came on the scene with its soaps, serials and news. The world suddenly opened. Education changed. Multiple disciplines became available to study leading to hitherto unheard-of career options. The Middle East opened up for jobs, so did America and Canada. Young people left to make their fortunes. In some cases, the wives and children remained behind. In most other cases, it was only the elderly parents who saw off their children at the airport to return to empty houses and loneliness. All in the name of money. Thanks to repatriation of funds and the effect of the TV, suddenly money was easy and material things, appliances, clothes, cars, motorcycles, all became affordable. Rapidly these became not only nice to have but grounds for competition with neighbors, friends and strangers. Suddenly we discovered that our neighbor’s name was Jones and we had to compete with them (Keeping up with the Joneses).

The 80’s sound like ancient history today in 2019 going on the magic number 2020. What do we have today? Hatred. We hate each other and that sells, that gets you elected, that gets you followers, it is chic, it is fashionable, and it works. It is most preferable to hate Muslims, but anyone else will also do, if there are no Muslims around. As long as you hate. That is the only thing that counts. So, our world has shrunk. We meet people like ourselves, who talk like we do, eat what we eat, like what we like and dislike what we dislike. We hate the same people and in each other’s rhetoric,  we find solace. We live in our echo chamber and that has become our world. There are those among us who were born in this echo chamber. They don’t know anything else. But there are those who were born and lived in a world that was very different from this one. A world where there were no echo chambers, like there were no mobile phones, laptops, social media and even television. A world that was real. Today in our echo chamber, we sometimes ask ourselves this question, “What happened to that world?” Then we correct ourselves and ask, “What did we do to it?”

The Statesman within

The Statesman within

My friend asked me a question; Where are the statesmen? Where have they all gone? For the sake of some clarity, I defined statesmen as people who were highly respected for their integrity, were highly ethical and moral and showed long-term vision for their people and countries and spent their lives in helping their people achieve that vision and not in amassing personal wealth.  When I did my back-of-the-envelope analysis to see when this lifeform existed, I came to the period 1800’s-2000’s; a period of roughly 200 years. To give this a more appreciable face, take Abraham Lincoln at the beginning of this period and Nelson Mandela as the last statesman standing. With his death in 2013, they became extinct. So, what happened? What went wrong? How is it that there was a time when like the Woolly Mammoth, statesmen walked the earth but today they don’t. How is it that they failed to reproduce their kind? Is it because like the climate change that killed off the Mammoths; cultural, psychological climate change, made statesmen of the like of Lincoln and Mandela, perhaps icons to worship but not to emulate?

I did a back-of-the-envelope recall of history. What I have is as follows: Starting from the beginning of recorded history, we have states which were the property of rulers and their families. These rulers amassed wealth through conquest. It was a simple grab-what-you-can strategy, aided by ever more powerful weapons and military organization and tactics. That gave rise to the so-called ‘Great Conquerors’ starting with Alexander of Macedonia, and on to Julius and Augustus Caesars of Rome, Cyrus of Persia, Pharaohs of Egypt, Umayyads (Abbasids didn’t do any conquests), Genghis and his sons and grandsons, Ottomans, Saffavids, Moghuls, Spanish, British, French, Germans, Dutch, Portuguese, the Vatican (directly and indirectly) and the list goes on. All of them did one thing very well; i.e. wage war. They looted, plundered and colonized. Revenue sources for them were two; immediate plunder of warfare followed by taxation of the subject people. It is not for nothing that it is called ‘spoils of war’. War spoils. Never builds. All this continued to World War I and in a slightly different way, since nation states had by then taken the stage, it continued until World War II.

The point to be noted here is that the purpose of all war was conquest of territory, loot and subsequent tax revenue. In some cases, this was open and blatant. In others it was called ‘civilizing barbarians’, ‘Holy War’, ‘Crusade’, ‘White man’s burden’ and so on. Soldiers benefited both from the spoils of war which they looted on their own and what the ruler dished out when the counting was done. In the case of most rulers, their people were given land in the conquered territory and settled there as a prize of war for them and as a safety measure for the rulers. In the case of the Roman Empire as well as many others, this significantly changed the demography of the region and enabled better policing of those territories as well as tax collection. In short therefore, rulers ruled and amassed wealth because their people were willing to support them at the cost of their life if necessary, in exchange for the crumbs from the table.

Post the World Wars, came the period of decolonization. Freedom struggles started in all colonies. Some won their freedom after long, protracted and bloody conflict. Other colonies were freed because they were no longer financially viable to maintain as they had been bled dry and now the colonizing countries had to spend their own money to maintain the colony. So, they granted them ‘freedom’. These freedom struggles shifted the focus of people from materialism (amassing wealth through conquest) to higher goals of freedom, nation building, social change and realigning values. People had to and were ready to submit their personal aspirations to the higher goals of nationalism and patriotism. Freedom is heady stuff. It was during this period that we see the likes of Lincoln and Mandela; my two symbols of the kind of leader that one can call ‘statesman’ and not merely ‘politician’. There were others but these will suffice for this discussion especially as they bracket the period between 1800 and 2000.

Simultaneous with the wars and in many ways fueled by them, the Industrial Revolution metamorphosed into the military industrial complex that we are familiar with today, producing myriad products and services for mass consumption. Apart of course from weapons of war. People needed funds  to buy stuff and that fueled the banking system. It is not that there were no banks before World War II. Banking was well established with almost the same financial instruments from the time someone had money and someone else needed it. Jesus spoke about the bankers and money lenders. Shakespeare wrote about them. The Roman Empire ran its entire commerce through bankers. Medieval European monarchs, to a man (or woman) were in debt up to their gills. But after the World Wars and successful freedom struggles, banks became accessible to the common man and woman through what we know as ‘Commercial banking’. Money was made available, not for any altruistic reasons, but because owners of products needed a market for their produce and banks enabled those whose desires (or needs) exceeded their means, to achieve those desires by enslaving themselves to a payment schedule for the rest of their lives. That kept them out of trouble as they were too busy paying to worry about anything else, which suited those who ruled the roost. Rome invented the circus. We invented Hollywood, Bollywood, Tollywood. Both serve the same purpose. Keep people distracted and steer thought into the channels that the establishment wants them to think along. Add to this all the TV shows, football, cricket, shopping, advertising, social media, FB algorithms; all things that I don’t think I need to explain to anyone today. But do reflect on them to understand how you and I are fish on the end of the hook, enjoying the taste of the bait, not realizing that we are there for one reason only; to be reeled in for the fisherman’s sport and profit. Shopping, sports and sex are the formula from the beginning of recorded history to keep the population subjected, distracted and obedient.

The interesting thing is if you look at the demographic of the rulers, you will see that it has not changed at all, except perhaps for the kind of clothes they wear. That changed from chainmail covered by ermine and mink, to business suits. The ‘mailed fist’ became more symbolic but no less lethal. Pre-World Wars and down through the colonial period, the ‘ruling class’ was a small group of men (with the very rare woman) who ruled with only one motive; personal profit. The cost didn’t matter at all. If it meant annihilating an entire population (Aztecs, Incas, Native Americans, Australian Aboriginals, Hottentots, Bushmen, 2 million Indians…not end of list), then it was done by whatever means it took ranging from arranging a famine to smallpox infected blankets to simply separating the head from the body. Millions of Africans were enslaved and transported across the ocean to give their life and blood to build someone else’s nation. The list of what was done in the name of profit is well documented for the one who is interested in reading. It is not my purpose to go into it here.

The same profit motive continues, though the means have changed. Now the chains are greed and debt. The result is the same i.e. profit for the ruling class. That is why things that are clearly harmful to society are legal and are sold at a premium. I mean all kinds of addictive substances like alcohol, cigarettes, tobacco products, human bodies, gambling in many forms, the latest being football and cricket, porn (including child porn) … once again an endless list. Consumer perception is manipulated and influenced to make them buy this or that product and buy more. The infamous pharma racket is a case in point among many others. All to make profit, which is the final decider. I can’t forget to mention the biggest of them all, manufacture and sale of weapons of mass destruction. That is by far the most profitable which gives the best ROI. That is the reason there is more money invested in death than in life; in weapons research and manufacture than in cancer research and cure. When production and sale of weapons of mass destruction is a mainstay of the economy then all values, morals and peace vanish behind the smoke of bursting bombs and burning homes. Manufacturing weapons of mass destruction is the most immoral, despicable and abhorrent thing to do and has no moral justification. It must be stopped. It is the only reason for wars and as long as it exists wars will happen, and peace will remain an illusion.  When people who go to work in these factories turn a blind eye and deaf ear to what their effort, energy, intelligence and industry are creating and do it in the name of supporting their families, we must know that there is something very seriously wrong with our society.

Actually, hold on, nothing is wrong. It is business as usual. Wars happens because wars make profit. Peace doesn’t happen because peace doesn’t make profit. Hate sells because hate makes profit. Love doesn’t sell, because love doesn’t make profit. It is not about good or evil. It is about profit. Whatever makes profit is good. Whatever doesn’t, isn’t. It may not be called ‘evil’, but it certainly won’t get any traction, funding, facetime, airtime or any kind of time. That is why global warming, water conservation, clean drinking water, alternate energy, poverty alleviation are all dragging and will continue to drag because they don’t make profit.

What does all this have to do with statesmen, which is the subject of this essay?

It is my conclusion that the world hasn’t changed very much, if at all from the beginning of recorded history to the present moment. The ‘Statesmen Period’, was a brief interlude thanks to some special circumstances while the ruling class changed their ‘clothes’. When they were done, they took charge once again. They moved from direct control by military conquest to indirect (but equally strong) control through debt. The latter has proved to be even more profitable because it obviates the necessity of spending money to administer another land, collect taxes, fight insurgency from time to time, maintain your own administrators and myriad other elements of colonization. Much easier and cost effective to allow local rulers to do your work and we don’t pay for their sins. Taxes are replaced by sale markup with the benefit that the population gladly and willingly pays out, while they resent being taxed. Losing colonies worked out very well, thank you very much. All you need to do is build attractive tax-collection centers, aka Shopping Malls and revenue flows in. However, where the inflow of revenue is threatened for any reason by anyone, the mailed fist does the job. When goods do not cross borders, soldiers will.” Fredrick Bastiat. Armies cross borders to open the doors of commerce. While they are there, they help themselves to whatever they can; a well-known soldier’s prerogative. Compliant local rulers are supported and protected, no matter how brutal or corrupt they may be. Non-compliant rulers are removed, very publicly and brutally, both to clear the blockage as well as to demonstrate to potential aspirants what their fate would be if they dared to buck the system. As Fredrick Bastiat once again said, ‘When plunder becomes a way of life, men create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.’

Statesmen became extinct because there is no need for them any longer.

Let me hasten to mention what we can all see clearly, ‘the people’ are very happy with the current system. The beauty of materialism is that like cigarette smoking, the gratification is instantaneous while the harm is invisible. You draw the smoke into your lungs and feel so refreshed and relaxed while some more alveoli are filled with carbon and your lungs are primed for cancer. Only, you can’t see it happening, so it is easy to ignore, especially since you are addicted to smoking. We are all addicted to materialism, violence, promiscuity, sensationalism, instant gratification of desire. We are blind to the harm this does to us personally as well as to our society. We don’t care that our way of life is disastrous for those who share this planet with us, animals, birds, insects, or even the earth, air and water. We simply don’t care.

All our heroes are those who make the most profit. I challenge you to ask anyone to name the top five leaders that he/she admires, and I will guarantee you that it will be businessmen. Buffet, Gates, Jobs, Bezos, Dell – or some such combination, but businessmen. Ask what about them that they admire, and they will mention net worth. Which means the money they have. Not their character, learning, wisdom, compassion or anything else. Just the amount of money they have. I have asked this question umpteen times. Not once did anyone mention a great scientist, social activist, philosopher, theologian, scholar, poet, dramatist, artist, surgeon, astronaut, researcher or teacher. It is as if such people and their contribution have no value. By our choices, we have trashed centuries of contribution that ennobles us and raises us from merely grubbing for money. None of the qualities which make us uniquely human seem to count. Only money. Only profit. We don’t see any need for statesmen.

But do we need statesmen and women, whether or not we see the need for them?

A simple question to ask in this context is, ‘Was the world a better place when Abraham Lincoln and Mandela were in positions of power or when George Bush (and now Donald Trump) and Jacob Zuma were in power?’

I say we need statesmen like an alcoholic needs a deaddiction clinic. The alcoholic won’t accept it, but without it he will die and take his family down with him. We need people who are not focused on profit alone but who can show us how we can gain quality of life by focusing on ethics, values and morals. The challenge is to demonstrate this in ways that will still make profit for them. Statesmen happened because circumstances enabled, even enforced, the natural selection of the best to deal with the great goal of freedom. As I said, freedom is heady, and it is a goal that people are willing to work for. Political freedom we may have achieved. But freedom from poverty, corruption, discrimination, injustice, oppression are all goals which remain on the horizon, unachieved. What we need is statesmen (and women) who will address these goals and enable us, as a global society, to achieve them. If circumstances create statesmen, I submit that those circumstances exist even today. If only we can recognize and address them. The tragedy is that as in my analogy about smoking, instead of recognizing that materialistic pursuit of profit at any cost as the cancer it is, we seem have created a mindset where it has become an aspirational goal. That is why I suggested the test of asking about who our icons are. That will tell us what we aspire to become.

Today the challenge is to bring about a change in perception where people learn to see the benefit (profit in perhaps non-monetary terms) in compassion, justice, empowering the weak, alleviating poverty, education, public health, alternate energy, husbanding resources, conservation and such world building (not merely nation building) goals. It is to inspire and lead this new effort that we need statesmen and women. When we begin to see that we are all interconnected in a very real sense and that we can only swim together or we will sink, that we will hopefully be prepared to change the destructive lifestyles that we have become used to. Aspiring statesmen and women must invent ways to convince people to make this change. For that they must first believe and then they must lead by example. Each statesman is guided by his/her religious/nonreligious philosophy. Therefore, it all depends on which philosophy is guiding him/her. Statesmanship can be constructive/destructive. It all depends whether destructiveness will be called statesmanship! The world listens with its eyes. It doesn’t care what you say until it sees what you do. Statesmanship is about creating a need for value-based leadership and then fulfilling it. Statesmanship therefore must begin within ourselves. Within our families and neighborhoods. We need to inculcate values of care and concern, kindness and compassion, the willingness to extend ourselves for the sake of others, and to find personal fulfillment in it. We must understand that it is uniquely human to work to help others who can’t help us and to work for a time that we will not live to see. After all, that is the definition of vision. Given access to technology and open source material, I believe that all that a child needs today are literacy and numeracy. That takes less than one year of learning. After that the child has access to anything in the world that he or she wants to explore. To decide what that should be, the child needs a value system, a criterion for judgment and decision making. That is why value education is so critical. That is why skills of critical thinking, decision making, communication, conflict resolution and a sense of trusteeship are so essential. Sadly, almost nobody teaches them in any school curriculum and even more sadly both parents and people running schools, don’t see the need. Children are the voiceless victims of their elders’ apathy.

This is what must change. The statesman within must be nurtured and allowed to flower so that appreciable change can happen in the world. The reality is that true happiness doesn’t lie in a shopping mall or buying stuff or in consumerism. It lies in seeing the smile on a face where you had seen tears a little while earlier and to know that you were the reason for that change. That is truly inspiring, motivating and satisfying.

Anyone ready?

Change the Language

The one who controls the language, controls the debate. Today Indian Muslims are in a peculiar situation where they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. and interestingly it is all a product of language. ‘Secularism’, which was the refuge, not only of Muslims but all those who believe in our Constitution and in the freedom and dignity of all Indians, is a term that has now lost all credibility. It has come to mean “Muslim lover = Paki lover = Anti-national.” Muslims have been so effectively ‘othered’ that anyone who even attempts to stand by them, automatically commits political suicide. Being Muslim is a crime, it is treason, it is the reason to be suspected, demonized and hated. Consequently, secular parties and candidates are saying explicitly or implicitly, “Even if you vote for us, please do it quietly and clandestinely and don’t talk about it. This is for your own good. Your company is the ‘kiss of death’.”

Leaders from Muslim intelligentsia also believe this and have been advising whoever listens to them to do the same. They have been advising politicians who propose schemes for the economic or educational upliftment of Muslims to implement these schemes without talking about them too loudly. That this is anathema to all politicians who get their breath of life from talking about whatever they do, is countered by the warning that if they talk in this case, they will be sealing their own fate. That Muslims are an integral part of the population of India and citizens of our country and not beholden to anyone for this, is simply ignored in the face of present day reality where Muslims are not only being murdered but their murderers are being protected, applauded and rewarded publicly and shamelessly. This behavior not only doesn’t result in unpopularity for the politicians engaging in it, but results in political gains. Polarization seems to be the order of the day for every politician.

The traditional flag bearer of secularism used to be the Congress party at one time; at least according to their own trumpeting. But what was always the case and which has become blatantly clear today is that it is really only a shade less saffron than BJP/RSS. Rahul Gandhi’s latest drama in Parliament where after tabling the no confidence motion, he hugged PM Modi and then said that he was demonstrating that he is a ‘good Hindu’, goes to show that as far as the public discourse is concerned, it is centered around religion and that anyone who wants to be taken seriously must first prove that he is a ‘good Hindu’. That this is far removed from the idea of India, is irrelevant today.

To illustrate with an example, apartheid and racial segregation ended in South Africa in 1995 when they gained independence and Nelson Mandela became the first President. However, read any South African newspaper, website or blog, listen to any TV discussion or debate, speak to anyone in the street and all you will ever hear is the language of race. People talk about Blacks and Whites and Indians and Coloureds. This is reflected in South African politics and is becoming more and more clear, aggressive and potentially destructive. When an White South African looks at a Black South African, he sees a Black, not a South African and vice versa. And this happens while the Constitution of South Africa says clearly that no race has superiority over any other race and that all South Africans are equal citizens entitled to the same privileges, protections and dignity. That is on paper. But it appears that the change has not happened in the hearts of people.

This is what has happened in India over the past 70 years since our independence. The formation of Pakistan based on religion landed us with a legacy of divisiveness which Indian Muslims have borne the brunt of, for no fault of theirs. Vote bank politics became the norm and is openly practiced. ‘Appeasement of minorities’ is the slogan used for what is essentially vote bank politics which every party has always used. Today it has reached the stage where you are told to vote for this or that party because they are of your religion, not because of their performance in government or outside it. All this is not the creation of the NDA or BJP but the legacy which they inherited and continue to use. Their fault is not in its creation but in its continued use. Compromise is the name of the game and frankly I think this is a characteristic of being Indian; that we compromise on everything. That is why we live with atrocious things which in any other country would have resulted in a revolution but in India life continues because we compromise.

I think the time has come to take a stand. This is my stand.

Secularism is the other side of the coin from Hindutva or any other religious extremist ideology for that matter. This is how the language is being controlled by calling it ‘Sikularism’ for example and all its other permutations. In this way the discussion is kept in the ambit of religion instead of taking it into the ambit of governance. A government is elected to govern. That is the only basis on which it should be judged. Its religious ideology is immaterial. Its performance as a government is not. We have a nation with a robust constitution and legal system. But we have huge problems of poverty, unemployment, safety & security, total breakdown of law enforcement, legalized corruption and blatant oppression. We have reached a breaking point where if these issues are not addressed we will implode and disintegrate as a nation. None of these things have to do with Muslims. Just ask three simple questions.

  1. What is the religion of the farmers who have been committing suicide; till date, over 400,000?
  2. What is the religion of the perhaps more than 300 million youth who are not only unemployed but are unemployable thanks to our failed education system?
  3. How will killing or disenfranchising or whatever else is planned for Muslims, help those who are committing suicide or who are unemployable?

My proposal is that our language must change. We must abandon the terms ‘secular & secularism’. Focus instead on issues that really matter and hold the government accountable for their performance on those issues. Promises not met as well as gross failures in four main areas: Safety & Security of life and property, Breakdown of law and order, Economic collapse of the small scale and unorganized sector and the failure of the Education system creating unemployability. I don’t care which government is in power. If it addresses these issues; if it can guarantee safety and security of all citizens, enforce the law, create entrepreneurship to uplift the poor and create jobs, and focus on health care, I will vote for that party. So should you. As I have said earlier, a government is elected to govern. And it must be held accountable for governance. Nothing else matters.

I propose that we change the language of the debate. Let so-called “Secularists’ call themselves “Principalists” and speak only and only about Principles of Governance. That is all that matters. Religion is immaterial. It is personal and must remain that way. What matters is governance. Let all those who are interested in the welfare of our nation ask what has happened to governance today. Let us stand together and demand accountability. If anyone brings religion into the debate, discard them outright. Talk about governance, rule of law and upliftment of our people. It is only then that everyone will be able to stand together on the same platform without fear or shame. It is only then that we will have One India.

That is what I want. What do you want?

Change the language

 The one who controls the language, controls the debate. Today Indian Muslims are in a peculiar situation where they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. and interestingly it is all a product of language. ‘Secularism’, which was the refuge, not only of Muslims but all those who believe in our Constitution and in the freedom and dignity of all Indians, is a term that has now lost all credibility. It has come to mean “Muslim lover = Paki lover = Anti-national.” Muslims have been so effectively ‘othered’ that anyone who even attempts to stand by them, automatically commits political suicide. Being Muslim is a crime, it is treason, it is the reason to be suspected, demonized and hated. Consequently, secular parties and candidates are saying explicitly or implicitly, “Even if you vote for us, please do it quietly and clandestinely and don’t talk about it. This is for your own good. Your company is the ‘kiss of death’.”

Leaders from Muslim intelligentsia also believe this and have been advising whoever listens to them to do the same. They have been advising politicians who propose schemes for the economic or educational upliftment of Muslims to implement these schemes without talking about them too loudly. That this is anathema to all politicians who get their breath of life from talking about whatever they do, is countered by the warning that if they talk in this case, they will be sealing their own fate. That Muslims are an integral part of the population of India and citizens of our country and not beholden to anyone for this, is simply ignored in the face of present day reality where Muslims are not only being murdered but their murderers are being protected, applauded and rewarded publicly and shamelessly. This behavior not only doesn’t result in unpopularity for the politicians engaging in it, but results in political gains. Polarization seems to be the order of the day for every politician.

The traditional flag bearer of secularism used to be the Congress party at one time; at least according to their own trumpeting. But what was always the case and which has become blatantly clear today is that it is really only a shade less saffron than BJP/RSS. Rahul Gandhi’s latest drama in Parliament where after tabling the no confidence motion, he hugged PM Modi and then said that he was demonstrating that he is a ‘good Hindu’, goes to show that as far as the public discourse is concerned, it is centered around religion and that anyone who wants to be taken seriously must first prove that he is a ‘good Hindu’. That this is far removed from the idea of India, is irrelevant today.

To illustrate with an example, apartheid and racial segregation ended in South Africa in 1995 when they gained independence and Nelson Mandela became the first President. However, read any South African newspaper, website or blog, listen to any TV discussion or debate, speak to anyone in the street and all you will ever hear is the language of race. People talk about Blacks and Whites and Indians and Coloureds. This is reflected in South African politics and is becoming more and more clear, aggressive and potentially destructive. When a White South African looks at a Black South African, he sees a Black, not a South African and vice versa. And this happens while the Constitution of South Africa says clearly that no race has superiority over any other race and that all South Africans are equal citizens entitled to the same privileges, protections and dignity. That is on paper. But it appears that the change has not happened in the hearts of people.

This is what has happened in India over the past 70 years since our independence. The formation of Pakistan based on religion landed us with a legacy of divisiveness which Indian Muslims have borne the brunt of, for no fault of theirs. Vote bank politics became the norm and is openly practiced. ‘Appeasement of minorities’ is the slogan used for what is essentially vote bank politics which every party has always used. Today it has reached the stage where you are told to vote for this or that party because they are of your religion, not because of their performance in government or outside it. All this is not the creation of the NDA or BJP but the legacy which they inherited and continue to use. Their fault is not in its creation but in its continued use. Compromise is the name of the game and frankly I think this is a characteristic of being Indian; that we compromise on everything. That is why we live with atrocious things which in any other country would have resulted in a revolution but in India life continues because we compromise.

I think the time has come to take a stand. This is my stand.

Secularism is the other side of the coin from Hindutva or any other religious extremist ideology for that matter. This is how the language is being controlled by calling it ‘Sikularism’ for example and all its other permutations. In this way the discussion is kept in the ambit of religion instead of taking it into the ambit of governance. A government is elected to govern. That is the only basis on which it should be judged. Its religious ideology is immaterial. Its performance as a government is not. We have a nation with a robust constitution and legal system. But we have huge problems of poverty, unemployment, safety & security, total breakdown of law enforcement, legalized corruption and blatant oppression. We have reached a breaking point where if these issues are not addressed we will implode and disintegrate as a nation. None of these things have to do with Muslims. Just ask three simple questions.

  1. What is the religion of the farmers who have been committing suicide; till date, over 400,000?
  2. What is the religion of the perhaps more than 300 million youth who are not only unemployed but are unemployable thanks to our failed education system?
  3. How will killing or disenfranchising or whatever else is planned for Muslims, help those who are committing suicide or who are unemployable?

My proposal is that our language must change. We must abandon the terms ‘secular & secularism’. Focus instead on issues that really matter and hold the government accountable for their performance on those issues. Promises not met as well as gross failures in four main areas: Safety & Security of life and property, Breakdown of law and order, Economic collapse of the small scale and unorganized sector and the failure of the Education system creating unemployability. I don’t care which government is in power. If it addresses these issues; if it can guarantee safety and security of all citizens, enforce the law, create entrepreneurship to uplift the poor and create jobs, and focus on health care, I will vote for that party. So should you. As I have said earlier, a government is elected to govern. And it must be held accountable for governance. Nothing else matters.

I propose that we change the language of the debate. Let so-called “Secularists’ call themselves “Principalists” and speak only and only about Principles of Governance. That is all that matters. Religion is immaterial. It is personal and must remain that way. What matters is governance. Let all those who are interested in the welfare of our nation ask what has happened to governance today. Let us stand together and demand accountability. If anyone brings religion into the debate, discard them outright. Talk about governance, rule of law and upliftment of our people. It is only then that everyone will be able to stand together on the same platform without fear or shame. It is only then that we will have One India. That is what I want. What do you want?

Urdu? What did I do?

A language, any language, is not simply sounds and script characters which represent thoughts. A language is the soul of the people. It is the vehicle which connects their past to their present, their present to their dreams. It is the means by which one generation leaves its legacy for the next. In my view the single most significant event in human development is the evolution of languages. It was this process that enabled human beings to preserve their thoughts, teach others, learn from history and talk to generations yet unborn. Language is the elixir of eternal life. Or as close to it as we are likely to come.

Among the many strange developments in our country is a resurgence of hostility against poor Urdu, which is wrongfully alleged to be the language of Muslims. And since Muslims are people non-grata their language is language non-grata. No matter that it has nothing to do with Muslims in the first place. It is seen as that and so it must become unseen. There is a long history to all this and for those who are interested in it, please read this excellent article:

https://thewire.in/226180/a-country-where-sanskrit-deserves-preservation-but-urdu-doesnt/

While I lament the completely undeserved hostility to Urdu, which is in the nature of cutting your nose to spite your face; I must say that nobody and no government can kill a language that people want to use. The very birth and rise of Urdu is testimony to that. Farsi was the official language of the time. Yet Urdu eventually supplanted it without any official support, simply because the people wanted to speak it, wrote in it, transacted business in it and so on. When you read the history of the development of Urdu literature and poetry you can’t help being struck by the enormous vitality of the language, its ease of expression, it beauty of turn of phrase, which thanks mainly to the fact that it was understood by the masses, gradually and then rapidly supplanted Farsi. English was repressed in South Africa during the rule of Afrikaners and Afrikaans was strongly propagated to the extent that even today most South African people speak Afrikaans. Yet we know that Afrikaans is dying and will die, and English is alive and well and growing.

The same is true of English in this country which has seen its share of hostility yet all the Hindutva and other chauvinists, send their children to English medium schools for one reason only; because without it they will not have access to the global culture. Languages must cater to the aspirations of people. What happened with Urdu as well as with almost every other Indian language, is that they didn’t keep up with scientific development. Indeed, Urdu has some of the most beautiful poetry, especially love poetry in existence. As an Urdu speaker, I can’t tell you how it has the power to move me to tears. English poetry on the other hand leaves me cold. There is no other word to describe that. However, when I need to work, think, write my thoughts to an audience that spans borders, it is English that enables me to do so. When I am explaining any concept in science, psychology, sociology or politics, it is English that has the words to describe precisely what I need to say. With Urdu (or Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu) I find myself translating the English to create cumbersome and ungainly expressions that make little sense.

Call it my lack of expertise in the Indian languages compared to my mastery of English, the fact remains that this is my experience. Talk to a million others like me and you will find that there are rather a lot of us around. Take that forward and ask how many like me are likely to teach Urdu to our children and you have the perfect diagnosis of the fatal ailment that besets Urdu. I was teaching a leadership course to a group of senior Muslim scholars in Urdu, simultaneously translating my material from English to Urdu when I realized, very painfully, this fact, that Urdu simply doesn’t have the words to translate the concepts I was talking about. I did my best and by explaining where I would have used a single word, I managed to do my job, but the fact was clear; Urdu no longer speaks to the modern person. It is like Arabic in a way that has more than twenty words for horse and camel, but not a single one for DNA, corpuscle, neuron or clavicle. Ask yourself, which is more important?

There are many Indian languages which have died over the years, not because someone actively prohibited them, punished those who spoke them and burnt all their literature and poetry, but simply because the people who spoke them, chose not to do so any more. Not a single one of them was spoken by Muslims. Not a single one of them was the target of any Governmental hostility. Yet they all died. Languages die because they no longer have words to express what people want to say. This doesn’t happen overnight but is a gradual process, where they fall into disuse. This is what is happening to Urdu. It simply doesn’t have the words to cater to our modern world or way of life. The world today has little value for the arts, for sublime thoughts or lofty ideals. It speaks in the language of the present, material, prosaic but real.

Gul o Bulbul kay fasanay hain bahut khoob magar

(Stories of the flower and Bulbul are beautiful but)

Roti tho kamana hi paday ga is mehfil kay baad

(I still have to earn my bread after this gathering)

This is the harsh reality of our life today. No matter how brutal or crass that sounds, language must be utilitarian first. Urdu seems to have lost that race. Incidentally I wrote that couplet just now to illustrate the dilemma of Urdu.

Today Urdu is dying in India, mainly because traditionally Urdu speaking people, Muslims and Hindus, have stopped speaking it. This is the inconvenient truth that those who complain about the impending death of Urdu choose not to face. Ask how many of those who talk of the need to protect Urdu, subscribe to Urdu newspapers? Ask how many children in their homes can read or write Urdu? Ask how many can quote, or even read or memorize Urdu poetry? I am not talking about Islam at all. The language of Islam is Arabic. Not Urdu. I am talking about Urdu literature and poetry; how many can read it, understand it or quote it? The answer is clear and visible before our eyes. But we like to blame the Government when we must look at ourselves first. The fact that Urdu is not the medium of instruction in schools or that it is not an ‘official’ language, is neither here nor there. Urdu’s history is witness that it was not the medium of instruction in schools nor was it the official language yet it supplanted Farsi which was both. It did that without governmental support and despite governmental neglect. It did that for one reason only; because people decided they wanted to use Urdu and not Farsi.

Languages die, not because of the aggression of enemies but the neglect of friends. Aggression may actually help a language which will go underground and remain alive and gain strength thanks to the dangers it faces above ground. This is how Arabic remained alive and well and was taught in secret to Muslim children to enable them to read the Qur’an during the more than eighty years of brutal repression of Islam and all its symbols in erstwhile Soviet Russia. Soviet Russia then became erstwhile. Not Islam or Arabic or the Qur’an.

The situation is not hopeless. Far from it. But the solution doesn’t lie in the hands of the Government. It lies in the hands of people. Our hands. The hands of those who claim to love Urdu. Start speaking it yourself. Subscribe to Urdu newspapers. Teach Urdu to your children at home, if schools don’t teach it. Listen to Urdu poetry and support Urdu poets. Read Urdu books and write in Urdu. No power on earth can stop you from doing any of this. You don’t need any money or time or resources to do any of these. Just the will to get up and do something instead of complaining and blaming the Government. This Government has much it must be held accountable for. But neglect of Urdu is the responsibility of Urdu speaking people. Not the Government.

Yes, the Government of India must support Urdu because it is a truly Indian language. It was born in India, is spoken my millions in India and is a part of the history of India. But before that, Urdu speaking people must support it. If people do it, what the Government does or doesn’t do, will not matter. If people don’t support it, no Government can keep any language alive. Sanskrit is the example to illustrate that. Politicians taking oaths of office in Sanskrit proves nothing. Ask how many speak Sanskrit at home or read Sanskrit papers. Much like Usha Utup singing Hindi songs.