Sunday, August 26, 2007


If you are a pre-history buff like me, you'd have wondered what explains the sudden appearance of agriculture, brick buildings, stone masonry and indeed, language and culture in the 4000-5000B.C era. How is it, that agriculture started simultaenously around 4000BC in places as far away as Sumer, the Indus-Saraswati valley and Japan? And if you are interested in mythology, you'd wonder about the persistence of an all-consuming mega-flood that is supposed to have ended known civilizations in Hindu, Sumerian, Judeo-Christian myth, as well as in the story of Atlantis. The flood in which India's Manu, Sumer's Zisudra and more popularly, Israel's Noah constructed arks or boats that protected important knowledge and lifeforms during the flood, and released them again to recreate and repopulate the Earth. You'd have heard of theories that extended from the bizarre (alien contact that gave humans technology) to the plausible (sudden inventions that changed lives drastically).

And finally, if you are interested in Indian history, you'd wonder about the Aryan invasion, about Sanskrit's European origins, and the reasons behind the downfall of the Indus-Saraswathi civilization.

Well, after a long while, I finally started reading the book "Underworld" by Graham Hancock, and it makes a very serious attempt to provide some answers. Using inundation maps of the last Ice Age (wiki, video, earth info), Graham examines the truth behind the various myths. For instance, underwater stone blocks have been found off the coast of Gujarat at the location where the mythological Dwaraka was supposed to exist. According to the sea depth, and inundation maps, Graham estimates its date to be around 7000BC, far earlier than the 4000BC when Indian civilization was supposed to have started. Making use of various geological techniques that predict three super-floods at various ages, Graham makes the case for a single or many post-Neolithic civilizations, that built these (now underwater) cities, that were ravaged by floods caused by the Last Global Meltdown. For instance, it is a theory that the Hudson bay in Canada was a freshwater lake during the Ice Age, whose walls broke down to release millions of kilometers of freshwater into the Atlantic, around the same time when Plato said that Atlantis sunk. With critical looks at underwater, overland, mythological, cartographical and scientific evidence, Graham propounds his theory - that the Pyramids of Egypt, the Stone henge of England, the drainage system of the Indus valley, Siva worship in India, the Vedas, all evolved either at a much earlier time than accepted today and/or were preceded by a period of learning that is lost to us today.

A good read. Although at 700+ pages, it is quite long.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

More on India@60

Earlier on this blog, I wrote that the reason India has stayed together as one nation is democracy. Today, I'll try and refine my reasons some more, and hopefully knit a better weave of the country's unity.

One reason why people of different religions, languages and castes live together in India is because your primary identity can be anything while you can still be an Indian. Consider the case of Pakistan, that split over language or Sri Lanka that is fighting an ethnic conflict whose roots are in language. Now, Tamils and Bengalis are in India. Why is it that they don't want (at least a majority of them don't want) a homeland carved out of India?

It is because the aforesaid countries supressed those languages, discriminated against those who speak those languages - all in the name of national unity. If speaking Urdu became the "Tabbott test" of being a Pakistani, where would all the Bangla-speaking citizens go? If being a Muslim is the definition of being a Pakistani, where can all the non-Muslims go?

When the founding fathers of India rejected the idea of India being a Hindi-speaking, Hindu Pakistan, they knew what they were doing. When Nehru conceded the demand for linguistic states, much against his ideas, he knew that Newton's third law of every action having an equal and opposite reaction applies as much to politics as it does to physics. Which is why, India is a country that does not react to the veils worn by Muslim women (like in France) or the Kirpans worn by the Sikhs. We have learnt that a truly secular state that values freedom of expression, also allows religious expression. We have learnt that the best way to make Hindi a link language is by not forcing it down people's throats (the UPSC for instance, conducts its exams in 18 languages, a record anywhere in the world), but by enriching Hindi with so much content (works of Gulzar, for instance), that it becomes irresistable. And we've learnt, sometimes painfully, that patriotism has nothing to do with being a Hindu, or speaking Hindi or even being religious. Consider for example, the case of our Lok Sabha speaker, who is a firm atheist. You don't find anyone contesting his patriotism!

What is the root of such tolerance? Or maybe tolerance isn't the right word - it should be acceptance. Why is India a country that accepts everyone? Is it a product of the freedom movement, or is it even more deeply rooted? I'll examine this in my coming posts.

Stay tuned.

If only women ruled the world...

The one line every feminist loves. Talk about anything that is wrong in the world, and whenever you have a feminist in the audience, this is a line you'll hear. If only women ruled the world, there would be no conflict. If only women ruled the world, disputes would be solved over shopping trips and not through wars. If only women ruled the world, there would be no global warming. And no endangered species. And no poverty. And no inequality. And no world hunger. And this world would be a happy, bubbly, green, lovely, peaceful place to be in.

Pointing out that the record of women rulers doesn't really justify this claim never helps. It only marks you out as a male chavunist, a wife (or girlfriend)-basher, a neanderthal, and in general, a jerk who doesn't deserve to be in the modern age. Pointing out that the only prime minister to impose the emergency in India was a woman, doesn't help. Pointing out that the most dictatorial leaders in the country are women - Jayalalitha, Mayawati - to name a few, doesn't help. All you get is the standard response - these women have to behave "like men" because there aren't enough women around. Oh, and the 33% reservation for women is going to fix this problem.

A recent report by CNN-IBN on ragging in colleges has shattered this myth. While the instances of ragging in boys were terrible, they were only as bad as those committed by women. See, for instance, the story of Indu Antos, who committed suicide after being ragged by her (female) seniors. Now, in a group where women are in a majority, why is a fellow woman being harrassed to the point of committing suicide?

Now, I'm not making the claim that men are all non-violent, and peace-loving. My only claim is that positions of power - whether it is obtained through politics, or by means of being a senior, or through other means - corrupts, and it corrupts people who are susceptible to it. Men and women are equally likely to be infected and this is entirely an individual's characteristic, not that of a gender. Having women in positions of power is no guarantee that either the lot of women will improve, or that the lot of the world will. What is guaranteed to happen is that the lot of the women in power will improve.

Maybe that is a cause worth fighting for.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Missing the golden oldies

One huge tragedy of LPG (Liberalization, Privatization, Globalization) has been the loss of a wonderful singing tradition, particularly of patriotic songs. The crap that circulates today in the name of patriotic songs simply makes one hang his head in shame. I don't want to grant them respect by mentioning them here, but suffice to say that they are nowhere in the class of the golden oldies that Rafi and Manna dey, with Lata and Asha breathed their voices into.

For instance, take the song "Kar chale hum fida jaan aur tan saathiyon" - rendered in Rafi's immortal voice. One line of the song goes thus: "Kat gaye hamare sar to kuch gham nahi, sar himalay ka hamne na jukhne diya" Or the ever melodious Manna dey singing the soulful "Aye mere pyaare watan" in which Gulzar mourns "Chood kar teri zameen ko door aa pahuche hai hum. Phir bhi hai yehi tamanna teri zarron ki kasam - hum jahaan paida hue us jagah hi nikale dum" - can you resist getting goosebumps? Or why, a little Asha singing Kavi Pradeep's "Jis din teri chita jali thi roya tha mahakaal - sabarmati ke sant tune kar diya kamaal." (When your pyre was lit, even fate cried, O saint of Sabarmati, you did a miracle.) Or the 1940s song "Aaj himalay ki choti se phir hamne lalkaara hai - door hato door hato door hato aye duniya walo hindustan hamara hai". (Today we've given a clarion call from the Himalayas - quit, you foreigners, Hindustan is ours.)

The lyrics, the music and the singing of the time all combined to give a surreal feel to these songs. Sixty years after independence, someone born thirty years after the day can still feel the sentiment of the freedom movement. That was the greatness of the era - the songs tugged at your heart - not at your purse-strings.

Will those days come again? Or will the next generations grow up on utter crap like "It happens only in India" or "Sandese aate hai" and think they are great patriotic songs!?


So, yet another decade of Indian independence. What is so great about it, you ask? Few countries are under a foreign yoke anymore, many are doing so well economically and socially, with countries like China kicking our backsides when it comes to economic growth, poverty alleviation, and indeed any aspect of social or economic development. Our venal politicians and bureaucrats leave no stone unturned in shaming the country, while we grapple with problems of both the 18th and the 21st centuries simultaneously. Still, this is a day of celebration. Still, this is a day when we must be proud to be Indians. It is a day when we must stand up and say with a lot of justification "मेरा भारत महान"। Why? you ask. Why, suddenly, has Mr. cynicism become a patriot?

Well, one eye-opener for me was the movie "Sometimes in April" - a movie about the Rwandan civil war. There was nothing civil about it, believe me, and the Hutu attempts to wipe out the Tutsi was so blatant, that it shocked the living guts out of me. A million people were killed, nay butchered in three months - all because of racial difference. This got me thinking - what if we in India were to fight out our differences? What if we were to resort to genocide to flatten our linguistic, racial, financial ethnic, religious, casteist, pigmentist (thanks to a friend for this one), regional, tribal, sectarian, fault lines? How many civil wars would we have witnessed? How many millions would've died? What effect would it have had on the rest of the world, if a billion of its people fought like animals?

It is not that India has been strife-free! We have had riots, killings, revenge-killings, protests, and what not! Our history of 60 years has been blood-stained on many an occasion. Still, we remain as one country. Why?

Really, the only plausible answer seems Indian democracy. Even with all its warts, and all its deficiencies, democracy has given every Indian (well, truly speaking, every Indian mob) the freedom to shout, the freedom to block roads, to vent their anger, the freedom to stop trains, to mob people, and in general, do anything except secede from the Union. So, while the Indian individual is still deprived of the right of expression, the Indian mob, which really is the unit of most turmoil, is given a free reign, which allows grievances to be settled with that very typical Indian "jugaad". People therefore obtain a stake in the system, which allows it (and the people in it) to flourish, as our billion-plus population attests.

I remember, visiting Austria when I was working for a German software company. There, our counterparts (Germans and Austrians) quizzed us on what united India. I mean, the seven members in my team spoke a total of nine languages (Kannada, Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Konkani, and English), we had representatives from two major religions, and were from five different states. So, why were we in one country? What made us Indian? I had no answer. I mumbled something about Cricket, and Bollywood, but I'm sure the Indian spirit goes deeper than that. So, while I investigate it, why don't you express your thoughts through the comments field?

Have a very happy Independence Day (in advance). Oh, and for the RNIs, just a reminder, the Indian Independence Day is on August 15th, despite Bill Pullman's exhortations to the contrary.