India, my motherland is a land of dreams and stories. In every nook and corner one can find stories. The stories that begin with people like you and I, move on with emotions, faith, sex, lust, politics, crime and tragedy and, continue endlessly, thriving and sustaining on the hopes and dreams of happy ending. These inherently beginningless and endless stories are also as mystical as my country, but they always provide a good fodder for different scribes of sorts. In this series of articles I am going to tell you three different stories. My first story is of the political, commercial and corporate styled babas and their quick-fix solutions.
In May, 2012 I was in my home city Udaipur. Like every year, it was terribly hot. Often, it was extremely difficult to go out until seven in the evening. We had lazy and sleepy afternoons. I would often have my late lunch around 2:30 in the noon with a tumbler of buttermilk, which made the afternoons even more seductive and rendered me incapable of doing any productive work except enjoying long sleeping siestas for hours. While having lunch, I would watch our news hungry primetime channels. Often, at that time, there was no substantial political news or any crime news so they would telecast a program on the babas of India, who promised short term solutions to all your miseries. One such show was of Peermal baba which used to start exactly at my lunch time and ended at three. It was called Peermal durbar. It was a court of a guy, who claimed to have spiritual and supernatural powers. He would come in his signature yellow colored, silk-kurta pyjama and sprawl on a big chair which resembled the peacock throne of Shah Jahan( Quite possibly, he stole peacock throne from British queen, through his supernatural gifts !!!). Most of the people including my over-religious uncle found a very radiant and holy smile on his face. I always thought that he was having lots of red wine and cherries. For a moment, even I tried to search some holiness, but I ended up getting a glimpse of local construction tycoon with all the powerful connections and the signature smile of ‘ruthless power’ after one is down with four drinks of Johnny walker.
In one of his courts, there was a young student, Nayan, who had come for seeking Babaji’s blessings. His dad’s worry was that the child never prayed, studied, and was passionately into football and girls. It was a very crucial year for Nayan as he had to write his grade 10th exam viz. board examinations. Having looked at the child, I felt that the poor lad had hardly steeped out of the house and was too scared of his ‘wise’ elders. His father got up and narrated his sorrows and a burning desire to get the son admitted in the best engineering college. He cried in supplication, as if that would multiply the force of his prayers, and conclusively said that if his son did not get into the Jhamaklaal Badamilaal Engineering College, his motivation for a happy life would end, as no one would ever marry his son. Babaji also loved it when their devotees cried in front of the camera. After a while the boy also cried saying that he could not concentrate and whenever he tried his would get perturbed by the evil thoughts of soccer balls and women. Then Babaji made a serious face as if a diplomat would do before breaking the ice in WTO talks or saving the world from a nuclear crisis. After a while he asked, “Do you wear chappals(slippers) ?” .The father and boy replied, “Jee babaji( yes my lord)” . Then he asked the brand of the chappals to which the father-son duo replied, “Hawai”. Babaji made an angry face as if the duo had violated some cosmic law and he roared, “Why don’t you wear lakhani(a brand of slippers) chappals?” The confidence with which he said simply showed that he had the key to all the problems of the world including the crisis in middle-east and Kashmir. He said that they should wear ‘lakhani’ and the boy will be fine in no time. The duo again cried while giving thanks to babaji. In that auditorium, there were about 20,000 people and most of them looked decently educated. In one of his courts, Babaji suggested a middle-aged scientist, whose daughter had eloped with a muslim rickshaw driver, to offer a hen at a local Durga temple.
One day, my over religious uncle (he wants all the eight siddhis (powers) and nine types of nidhis or wealth mentioned in Hindu mythology). He offered me to introduce me to his guru and get his prasaad(holy food at the ashram) and blessings. His guru had come to his house. He claimed to have thrown Sonia Gandhi out of his ashram and initiated the dialogue with Mujahiddin groups in Kashmir. The babaji had been ordained with the tile of peace ambassador by United Nations. My uncle was to participate in a ritual called ‘padya pooja’(worshipping the feet of the guru) . He washed his feet with milk, butter, honey and chandan and then offered 25,000 rupees in dakshina (offering made by a devotee) then babaji made an unpleasant face and gave him an earful, asking for another 25,000. The rationale he gave was even more interesting. He said that his right foot had the blessings of lord Ganesh(elephant god) and the left one had the blessings of lord Shiva(god of destruction) so he should not displease any of them. My uncle, who is a headmaster in the local school, was overwhelmed and felt the presence of lord Shiva and Ganesh. Finally he offered 25,000 rupees and got the blessings of the lords. In the evening we went to meet babaji and have a cup of tea with him. Babaji was busy arranging all the mangoes, oranges, laddus which he got. He made separate boxes of the dry fruits, sandalwood sweets and dhotis. He kept the cash offerings in a separate box and then with due care and safety dispatched all those boxes to his ashram. He then took a deep sigh and had a cup of tea and declared that lord shiva was very happy with the devotees. Lord shiva had accepted all the offerings. Next day his devotees sent him back in a business class air ticket. Babaji promised to come back soon. That one trip’s cost roughly amounted to 5 lakhs. Next day, my uncle got the real blessing. He rammed his motor cycle in cow shed and broke his leg. Even then he said that he was saved from a bigger injury by babaji’s kripa.
After few days, I heard that Peermal baba was caught in a sting operation and, all his wealth and assets were made public. The news channels launched a diatribe against him. People cursed him like hell. Then I came to U.S. I thought that people must have realized their foolishness and forgotten babaji and his hen and chappal solutions but to my utter surprise, I found that he was back on the news channels and people were again crying in supplications, ,with the same vigor and same desires like admission in Jhamaklaal engineering college or getting an MLA(local assembly member) ticket with BJP(one of the political party). His devotees said that he came out scot-free because of his super-natural powers and he was back with the same silk kurta, pyjama and peacock throne.
Hope you liked the story. My other two stories are in the next posts. I will post them tomorrow. Please read them and in the final one real story will come out. That is the story of me, you, the society we live in and the nation we have made.
My second story is of a Marwari (a region in the desert state of Rajasthan, India) girl from a Jain community. She stayed in a very remote, small and a old town in the deserts of western Rajasthan. It was an extremely hot place with temperatures soaring as high as 47 degrees in summer. In addition to that the loo winds(hot storms) made life dull, dead and hell until seven in the evening. The town was almost deserted except for a few Marwari merchants who had come home from far-off places like Burma, Chennai, Shilong for a summer visit and a religious function as one of their saints Jin sagar vijay Chandra Suri (his original name was Ghee Chand Badami laal Seth, which literally means a man blessed with butter, moon, wealth and almonds) was doing his chaturmasa( four months of rainy season when Jaina monks are supposed to stay at one place and do penance) in the town. He actually looked like butter as his fingers were so thick and juicy, as if about to drop butter if squeezed. Besides them, there were a few tea shops which sold excellent, smoking-hot ginger tea and burning samosas(Indian dumplings), dripping with groundnut oil and full of killer, petty green chilies, and jalebi(Indian sweet) made in desi ghee(clarified butter) dripping with chashni(melted sugar). I must say that one needed very high level of motivation and balls to have all that stuff in 47 degree.The girl’s name was Payal and her father, Seth Walchand Bhool chand Jain owned a dry-fruit shop in Bombay( it was Bombay in those days) . He was known as Kaju seth as he sold cashews but, his real business was hawala money transfer (money laundering). He looked an uneducated, humble and an harmless innocent villager who would regale you with his short l stories about the local merchants, dacoits, sub-divisional magistrates and petty politicians. He was an extremely miser person, although he had made millions in hawala. His only hobby was to sit in the village chaupal, smoke bidis with tea and talk about politics. He also liked pelting stones at emaciated mongrels, if they visited his house for food. Payal had a rich and privileged upbringing with all the facilities and modern gadgets. They owned a Sony television in those days when Indian economy was closed and they also had a VCR and an ambassador car. But the culture in the family was very orthodox. The programs she could watch were a few religious serials and chants with her grandparents. Her grandfather was another dictator who ruled the house with his strict dictates. He also made a lot of money in smuggling opium into Pakistan, but now had turned very religious and fasted ten days in a month. He did not even eat onions and garlic and was always found in the company of Jin Sagar suri ji. But, still he preferred lending money on interest and extracting the last penny from the debtor, even if that involved some metaphysical manipulation of accounts. The girls in that family were married at the age of 18-19 to other boring, dry merchants who had no interest in arts and romance. The family members had dinner before 5 in the evening and the females never went to any parties except a few religious gatherings or costly weddings.In those days , the movie ‘Quayamat se quayamat tak’ had released. It was a big hit and its actors Amir Khan and Juhi chawla became symbols of love overnight. The girls wanted an Amir khan as their life partner. Payal, like other girls of her age got enamored with that movie. That movie offered a completely different reality to her. It offered a vent, a balcony where she could play with her dreams, naughty desires, her wild self, suppressed lust and desire for physical satiation. She was mentally in a different world. She was living in the world of parallel universes and alternate realities.
Normally, such fictitious mental worlds never came out in real life but she could not limit herself and fell in love with a local middle-aged muslim auto rickshaw driver known as Farukh, who looked a bit like Amir Khan and did some cheap romantic poetry. She thought of herself as Juhi chawla and Farukh as Amir khan. After that, began endless hours of wild actions, loaded with lust and passion. Finally, she eloped with Farukh. The episode almost generated a communal frenzy. Finally, the girl’s father Walchand Bhoolchand ji got her back by bribing the local police officer and immediately married her to Seth Ghevar Chand in Bangalore.
Now, she is the mother of four sons and one daughter. Her daughter got married last year to seth Magan laal, with lots of difficulties, as she had fallen in love with a guitarist who worked in film industry. Farukh miyan is still driving rickshaw in that town and goes to railway station to pick Walchand Bhoolchand ji whenever he comes to his village. He still indulges in his cheap shayri but he is past his prime and no more looks like Amir khan. He is planning to go to Haj but he is having a hard time as his sons do not speak to him .His sons have fallen in love, not with some Payal but with a new and foreign breed of Islam called wahabism. Farukh is very upset with this new bitch called wahabism.
Salim and Devika
My third story is about one of my classmates from my under-graduation days. His name was Salim Nuhani, but we all called him Sandy. He came from a very humble, lower middle-class background and wanted to make big in life. He was a fairly good cricket player but trusted his abilities and destiny, way too much. He thought that he would become, if not Sachin, then at least Irfan Pathan. But he was a great player in my college in, many different fields. In the cricket ground, the balls would follow his fingers like a snake dancing on the been (a flute like musical instrument used by snake charmers) and in the bed rosy lips and sensual curves would follow the magic of his eyes, like a hypnotized princess from Arabian nights.
His magic on the cricket field was his gateway to fame, glory, whisky and glamour in college. His dream was to play for IPL and join the league of glamorous cricketers going out with bollywood models. His motivation came from the riches associated with cricket, not from the thrill which one gets by playing for a country. A dusky Bengali girl, Devika, from South Delhi fell in love with Salim. Her father was a high profile civil servant with strong connections so Salim also found this relation a great opportunity to chase his dreams. With that began his journey of parties, pleasure, weed and lust. Devika slithered into his life in such a discreet manner that his conscious self could never feel it. She became a tremendous life force controlling each and every thing in his life. Now his life was confined or rather stuck with just two things. First one was Devika and her seductive eyes and second one was the money and fame of cricket. In fact the 2nd one became the most important dream to be chased as Devika’s father would never marry her daughter to him unless he got selected in the national cricket team. But he trusted and relied heavily on the mysterious and seductive magic of Devika’s eyes. Devika’s obsession with Oscar Wilde, her renderings of Romeo and Juliet and a burning sticks of Marlboro lights in her fingers had trapped Salim’s mind, body and soul.I had heard a lot about Bengali beauties and their witchcraft but never saw them in action. I was seeing Devika’s eyes and her witchcraft, which was absolutely amazing and even I had a strange fancy inside my heart to fall in such a trap and intoxication, but fortunately my fear of the unknown and the hidden Brahmin conservatism saved me (although I always claimed to be a Marxist).
With the passage of whisky and lust down his existent being, his performance on the field and bed both, began to decline but he tried his level best to get a birth in the national cricket team. Even then he could not succeed. After that his frustrations increased and with them, the dosage of weed and alcohol. But, with this increase, something decreased as nature is always about compensating and offsetting the imbalances. Devika’s visits and the number of poetic nights decreased. Her passion for Salim began to dwindle. Suddenly she found him a lustful maniac, a loser and an opportunist and also a very non-classy middle class, religious wastrel. One day Devika left for London to study Masters in Post-Modern Gender Development at London School of Economics. Salim had to be sent to a rehabilitation center.He is now, back to his home in old Delhi after two years. He is often seen with his Tableegi friends. Last time he was held by the police for distributing some hate pamphlets. He does not party anymore and mostly sitting in the local masjid with his rosary. Devika has married Rodger Batliwala and is working with Oxfam.
The Real Story
These three stories sound very common place and peculiarly depicting the life of an ordinary middle-class Indian. Although, the characters come from a varied time and space contexts, they have some obvious similarities. The most interesting thread that runs through all three of them is the quest, a passionate desire to escape from the humdrum life and get into the alternate reality of riches, luxuries, happiness and stability. These are the stories of seeking a vent to another reality. These are the stories of dreams, hopes , constant torturing of one’s mind to the extent of imposing a different mental construct of reality and complete suppression of the real existence.
My question is that why, in India babas, bollywood and the balls never stop? Why do they regulate our social and political existence so much? Why do these things play the role which wahabism plays in the life of a new Al-Quaida recruit ?
Babas, bollywood and cricket are like opium in India. They are the safety valve. In a country, where there are millions residing, with always, and historically a ruthless, careless, callous, corrupt, degenerate ruling class, the ‘vents’ and ‘safety-valves’ have an extremely important role to play. The common man has to stand in line for hours to get a simple plot of land registered. He has to face every day inflation, land mafias, increasing socio-economic disparities. When one has to travel in an overcrowded city bus, laden with the venomous mixture of sweat, bidi smoke, smelly Indian hair oil and, dirty, spicy, toxic and radioactive Indian farts, in a typical june afternoon with unbearable humidity and heat then, he wants to get out of that messy and chaotic hell. The common man has very common existence marked with a nagging wife who has completely lost interest in all kinds of romance and simple desires like sending his son Nayan to Jhamaklaal engineering college. For a simple transfer he has to bribe the whole army of pan-chewing clerks in the ministry. In such a scenario he wants release, a vent to the virtual reality of pure bliss and pleasure. Similarly, in villages, dried parched lands, mosquitoes, open drains and sewers make life dull, dreary and dead. On top of it one has the huge army of relatives to feed. This social milieu makes one long for the pathways and vents to alternate realities.
Besides, when the millions are residing with diverse faiths, cultures and religious traditions the fault lines are bound to exist and conflicts are in the DNA of that society. The turbulence and frictions are inherent in the historical-cultural making of that society and nation. In such a scenario the vents and safety-valves are immensely important social and political assets. They become extremely important to manage the conflicts and frustration. Once the right fault lines are identified, it becomes even easier to place and institutionalize such vents. These vents release the anger and frustration with state of affairs and in turn give you a sedating opium of hopes and dreams, the dreams of happiness in some distant or near future. These vents are provided by bollywood ,babas and the balls. These pathways are like shock absorbers and safety valves.
Religion has always acted as a shock–releasing safety valve in different societies. In Hindu society, it has always promised a future utopia through rebirth. Even the traditional scriptures like smritis(hindu law books) specifically mention that the most important duty of the king is to maintain Varnshrama Dharma( cosmic order of keeping all the classes in their place in social hierarchy i.e. keep status quo). Today babas like Asharam ji and Nirmal ji are doing the same thing. The common people who find getting success thorugh hard work an unpromising ideal, seek a refuge in the magical powers of Nirmal babas. With the globalization and advent of money as supreme ideal, people’s anxiety and restlessness for quick success has increased multifold. And with that, the number of babas, their Mercedes benzes and socio-political clout. In fact I have personally observed that religiosity in my grandfather’s time was very different. They did not believe in short-term success and miracles performed by babas. They believed in penance. Their ideals were renunciation, abstinence and spiritual upliftment . While the present day babas assure you material success and prosperity and spiritual consultancy to make it big in life. Hence, the young technocrats, politicians and merchants are approaching babas in large numbers.
Similarly, bollywood is also a vent. In a middle-class life marked by a 3-room apartment, a boring wife whose only interest is in cursing her daughter and bitching about neighbour’s daughter for her alleged affairs, Katrina Kaif(pretty Indian actress) in her swimsuit is a blissful trance. Some people go a step further and run away from homes to become Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh khan. I never saw anyone succeeding but saw a good number ending up in brothels, escort services, slums, crime world and rehabilitation centers. Same is the case with cricket. With that, there is one other national duty done well. In a country where real nationalism gets always branded as naxalism or Marxism and ends up in a police encounter, cricket provides a good platform to display nationalism and feel nationalist without the risk of annoying the state power.
I feel that these safety-valves are necessary and much needed. When you do not have them, you have naxal violence, rapes, communal frenzy, civil wars, rebellions and a general, broad societal lunacy and bipolar disorder. When you do not install such safety-valves then they automatically arise, following the nature’s dialectics. But they are often of a very poor quality and sometimes devastating like Al quaida, Taliban, jamaat-e-islami, lashkar-e-taiybas.
Such shock-absorbers are needed for the smooth functioning of any society. British rulers realized the importance of these vents in the Indian subcontinent. So they propped up A.O. Hume, Congress and Mahatma Gandhi.Hinduism with all its dances, garbas (religious dance of Hindus in which girls and boys get a chance to dance and interact)), festivals acts as a great shock-absorber. In fact it is not just a shock absorber but also a great agent of change. In Indian society all big and successful socio-political movements like namdharis, sanyasi and bhakti movements began as religious reform movements. British rulers could not perceive this elusive and mystic power of Hinduism to bring revolutions. This failure gave rise to Gandhi baba and brought the downfall of British. The shrewd Brahmins of congress knew this secret and they used this wisdom to successfully prevent Anna Hazare from becoming Anna baba.
Before I conclude my story, it deserves mention that these religions can be very dangerous as shock-absorbers. It is like riding on a tiger. They could boomerang on you anytime. This has happened with Sikhism and Islam. Initially they promise respite and relief from the exiting sorrows and then they charge you the tremendous power of faith which is blind and if that power is not channelized that steam gets dissipated in different direction causing a lot of mayhem. We can see that in the form of muslim league(it created Pakistan), lashkars and jamaats, killing of shias etc. So, religion itself needs to be regulated in terms of its structure and ritualistic set-up. It is beyond the scope of this article to delve into those waters of religion.
To conclude I will say that the Indian subcontinent is primarily a spirit existing on the spiritual strength which, unlike material existence, keeps getting rejuvenated and repressed. Hence, there is no reason for gloom. Some radical, revolutionary messenger following the footsteps of Nizammidin auliya, Birsa Munda, kabir, raidas, Vivekanand and Gandhi ji will come in a spiritual and saintly disguise claiming or at least rumored to be ordained with supernatural powers and mobilize the teeming millions of India and will create a new reality, from its beginning as the so-called ‘vent’ or virtual reality.
Is not all this sounding like a new mystic theory of political philosophy or some kind of elusive magical realism happening around you and I, in our commonplace, humdrum life ?