Friday, April 20, 2007

2 - Beyond CHAIPANI

It has been six years and ten months since our dialogue at Hill View.

And a lot of things have happened in between.

Mostly terrible things though … nothing to make me smile.

Why ? The Great Indian Story is panning out in its wonderful detail … Software companies are going great guns, the GDP growth has doubled from the pitiful 4% ‘Hindu’ rate of growth ! You should be all smiles.

Oh really, you make me yawn.

Why are you so cynical ?

Because I can see that behind all this glitter there is a mountain of misery that still torments this country …. the disease – polio and dengue are back, the despair that lurks in the eye of those who have been marginalized into poverty ..

You are talking like a politician who is currently sitting in the opposition .. they are the ones who cannot see anything good that is happening in the country.

Perhaps I am, but it is these very politicians – cutting across all party barriers – who are the reason why India continues to wallow in a cesspool of poverty and distress.

That is a cliché repeated so often, say something new …

I will but let me reinforce this point with three examples of how politicians are ruining the country.

Go ahead ..

First look the reservation policy. Our education system is the only one thing that we had to look the world in the eye. The IITs – something to be proud of – and here we are ruining them by forcing them out of their ability to nurture the elite – the educational elite, not the financial or political elite.


And then we have communists who would go to any length to wreck any meaningful economic activity and stall any reform process .. and they are hand in glove with the bureaucrats in the public sector who too would go any length to preserve their right to loot the public exchequer ..

And what is the third ?

Why … our new found enthusiasm for the terrorists who kill and maim in the name of Islam. We know who they are … and yet we hesitate to move against them because it will hurt the national vote banks ..

Vote banks … have you not hit the nail on the head.

What do you mean ?

Look … all three examples that you quoted can be traced back to our fatal obsession with vote bank politics.

I agree … and that is what makes me even more despondent.

Why ?

Because of the maxim that as are the people, so is the prince.

So ?

Do you not see that what this means is that the fault dear Brutus is not in our politicians but in us that we are undeserving underlings … condemned to a second-class or perhaps even a third-class existence.

But I thought for a moment that you were trying to blame our politicians for this misery ..

Sometimes you may have to go for the unreal to know the real … look for the image to see the reality.

You are talking in riddles …

Perhaps I am … but the fact remains that while politicians are the easy scapegoats that we intellectuals tend to blame in coffee table discussions ( like this ) the real culprit is that we as a nation are ‘like this only’. We are a nation that is awful enough to vote for, elect and in a sense entrust our destiny to, a bunch of hypocrites and thugs ..

Is that not true for other nations ? Have the Americans not elected Bush ?

Could be true, I am not here to lecture you on comparative politics, but perhaps we are an order of magnitude worse.

Worse than tribal Africa ? Worse than the medieval Middle East ?

As I said, I am not into comparative politics … and my only interest is in the land that lies in the shadow of the Himalayas.

OK, so tell me about India … and about Indians.

Have you heard of CHAIPANI ?

You mean tea and snacks ? Of course ..

That is the literal translation … but in India, or at least in the Hindi belt of Northern India, chaipani means more … the little extra that gets things done.

Bribes ? So what about it ? Are you talking about corruption ?

Chaipani, for me is an icon for India – as it was, as it is and as it will be …

I do not get you at all …

Fine, let me start … C is for corruption .. pervasive, inevitable and absolute. An extraordinary large percentage of us are either personally corrupt, and so find it quite OK to bribe others, or given the slightest opportunity would happily become corrupt. And interestingly enough we have given to ourselves laws that encourage the practice of corruption at every conceivable opportunity. Any Indian in any position of authority or in any position that allows him or her to exercise discretion for the benefit of anyone else … will, with a high degree of probability, take advantage of this position – monetarily or otherwise, without batting an eyelid.

That is quite an indictment …

H is for hypocrisy. No nation is as hypocritical as we are. We swear by equality and egalitarianism and many of us, the educated types, may have put the caste system behind us .. but look at the matrimonial columns and you will see categories based on caste.

But it is dying out ..

Perhaps but it will take a long time. Caste may not be irrelevant for many of us – and that includes me as well – but that is not the point. I am not questioning the belief per se, but let us admit that what we say is far removed from what we believe in ! And that is true not just in the case of caste … we have the Orwellian tendency of meaning the opposite of what we intend to say. Hence trade unions claim to champion the cause of labour but covertly act as agents of unscrupulous management. We know very well that our cities are getting choked but still condone and even encourage illegal slums and settlements to create vote banks. We have no qualms of reaping the benefits of work outsourced from the US but out own bank employees go on strike when Indian banks plan to outsource their own work. We know very well that foreign funded madrasas are the breeding grounds of Muslim terrorists and yet we pretend that being secular and inclusive is the right path to nirvana.

I see what you mean .. but is this hypocrisy ?

It is a very peculiar behavior and for the lack of a better word, I shall stick to hypocrisy to describe it .. and the more you look, the more it strikes you in the face.

You are right … we condemn apartheid and yet we have no qualms of referring to coloured Americans as “kallus”. This is the land of Kama Sutra and while we have no qualms about inviting tourists to Khajuraho we go to great extents to stop sex education among our own kids. We celebrate the Ras Leela of Radha and Krishna and then in the same breath, breathe fire and brimstone about Valentine’s Day. If you have a better word to describe this situation then I would be happy to use it .

But that will upset your H in Chaipani !! Anyway you have A next .. what is that for ?

A is for Anarchic … we are truly anarchic. We will not obey traffic rules and are rude to our fellow drivers and yet we sullenly resent when others, especially traffic police are equally rude and offensive to us. We cannot resolve any dispute in a civil manner .. we will have bandhs, morchas, rail and rasta roko-s, with murder and mayhem as necessary collaterals.

But that is because our government would not listen otherwise.

That is because the government – or for that matter anyone in authority – is equally anarchic. Those who frame the rules are the first to break them – our lawmakers are our biggest lawbreakers – and if we cannot break them, we will find a million loopholes so that the law itself becomes a joke.

Why is that ?

Well, that will loop us back to the C – for corruption and it also points forward to the next letter of chaipani … I for Incompetence.

Incompetence ?

We are terrible in doing anything worthwhile. Our constitution is the longest in the world and has had to be amended the most ! Our laws are so incomprehensively convoluted that they are open to the most virulent abuse. We cannot manage our own affairs … no project in India, government projects in particular, have ever finished in time … and when they do get finished, the deliverables are terrible. Look at the mess that we have created with our streets, the traffic, the airports … our telephones never used to work until they were privatized ..

Would that not mean that it is our government that is incompetent and not the people ?

Our government consists of our own people .. we have no foreign rulers here ..

Perhaps our government is structured in such a manner that only incompetent people reach positions of authority, where they can take incorrect decisions ..

That is bigger incompetence ! or should I say meta-incompetence !! We as a nation are so incompetent in managing our own affairs that the worst, most incompetent, most corrupt people end up in positions where they can cause the maximum damage to society. What could be more damming than this ..

The CHAI – or tea – that you have brewed for us is very dark and strong. C for Corruption, H for Hypocrisy, A for Anarchy and now I for Incompetence .. all this can leave a very bitter taste in the mouth.

Do not panic ! I have some clear PANI – water – for you to freshen your mouth with !

Surely you must be joking Mr. Seeker !

Not at all, not at all. Consider the next letter – P for Patience. We as a nation have infinite patience to tolerate this litany of woes. Any other society would perhaps have given up their ghost by now.

Iraq exists, so does Somalia and Nigeria …

True …but let us look up at societies that are better placed .. looking downwards does not help.

So you ask us to be Patient ..

Patience gives us the wherewithal to tolerate all this crap … this Corruption, Hypocrisy, Anarchy and Incompetence .. but to evolve, to move forward .. we need something to look up to .. and fortunately, we do have some positives ..

Good .. and what is that ?

A for Advaita Vedanta ! The crown jewel of our intellectual achievement.

What on earth is that ?

The school of philosophy on which the entire edifice of our intellect is built. First enunciated by Sankara in the 8th Century, it has been refined over the ages by a succession of intellectual giants .. of whom the last two are Aurobindo and Vivekananda.

Can you explain …

I will, I will .. but it will take some time.

Can you be brief ..

It is a long story but in essence it says that there is just one truth and that is Brahman – not Brahma, the four faced god who is a part of the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva – but the Brahman of the pure consciousness.

What is the nature of this Brahman ?

You have led me to the next letter N for Negation.

What does that mean ?

This Brahman cannot be described in the normal language. It has no attributes … you can attempt to describe it through a set of negatives … not solid, not liquid, not any known shape, not of any known colour … in fact we could go on and on with a set of negatives and we would still not reach the goal. In fact we must negate the existence the physical world itself to reach the core of Advaita.

Negation ? as a fundamental principle ? This is awkward … we cannot have a world of negatives, there has to be something positive, something real … somewhere ..

Negation, nothingness is a very crucial part of the Hindu world view. You can see this in the fact that the modern numeric system, based on the zero, which has emerged out of India uses the same word Shunya for both zero as well as empty. Brahman is the only truth, the only positive – if you really want to use the word – but words are not the right vehicles to carry the message here.

How can you do without words ?

You have to rely on the I for Intuition. That is the only tool that we can use and trust. This huge edifice of Advaita and the concept of nothingness on which it rests can only be understood, can only be realized at an intuitive level. That is how saints, saints here in India and elsewhere … like Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammad, Sankara .. right down to Ramakrishna get a glimpse of the ultimate truth … that is how they attain Nirvana.

So you say that CHAIPANI is the key ?

This acronym was just my way to describe the situation. The dark hopelessness of CHAI is where we find ourselves and to wipe out all that darkness, we seek the cool, clarity of PANI. We are stuck. We find ourselves in a situation where we find ourselves in a cul-de-sac of hopeless despair … of corruption, hypocrisy, anarchy and incompetence …and yet, a situation where, if we have the patience to delve into the depths of advaita, it is possible to negate all these and intuitively find a path to the ultimate goal.

What is that goal ?

That is known only to those who have reached it.

I understand goals like health, wealth, fame, peace … how can I reach for a goal that I cannot even articulate ?

Then you have to wallow in the triviality that you understand … for me all this stuff is trivial .. I yearn for the ultimate Truth, the pure consciousness .. which again for the lack of a better word we shall refer to as Shiva : The Good.

And you claim that Vedanta is the only way out and forward ? Is that not too arrogant ? Is it not that there could be as many paths to the goal as there are travelers ? Are you not following into the same pattern as that of the people of the Book ? Just like the followers of middle eastern religions that say that salvation lies if and only if you follow their exclusive path .. the path defined in the Book – whatever Book that may be ..

Not at all … please feel free to traverse any path that you want .. but in the end you will end up here .. and I will be here to walk along again with you.

Well if I have to come back and start here .. I might as well do it right now ! But can you explain all this to me ?

It is a matter of realization, not understanding … but we can always try to, and then if we are lucky enough, we may get a glimpse of the basics of Advaita Vedanta.

1 comment:

leprechaun said...

Why doesn't anyone comment on such interesting reflections? I am enjoying them very much and hope also to contribute to your effort with my own vision or insight, if I can.

So I'll keep on reading... let's see what comes next... I'm your happy guest! :)