On New Year’s Eve, the globalised custom dictates that we make some good resolutions. Believe me, though, in most cases such resolutions turn out to be like toilet paper—the slightest touch of water dilutes them irreversibly. Instead, I think it would be an interesting idea to write a collective manifesto. But this manifesto should envision a democratic and inclusive world and delineate how we should go about realising this ideal. It should also tell us what are the real cultural and political maladies of our present times and why we should work on them now or else risk getting run roughshod over by the forces of chauvinism, hate, and bigotry.
Although I would like to see such a manifesto, I am equally aware about the famously busy schedule of the 21st-century individual, who is consistently grappling with overwhelming traffic on the digital superhighway and finding it hard to decide which article link to click on, which one to skip, and which one to save for later and, oops!, in which app. The 21st-century individual is obsessed with so many things that she feels trapped in a labyrinth which is creepy and excited at the same time. So I don’t expect a comprehensive manifesto anytime soon. It would require quite thinking time, which is lacking in the 21st-century life. The modern individual is super busy, so much so that she spends many hours in melancholic ruminations about the time she does not have to do things she would like to do when she has time. There are very few individuals who can actually embark on such an enterprise as to write a collective manifesto for a democratic and inclusive future.
But that is not to say people are not writing books. Some people indeed do the writing job every day of the year; they have been trained to write tours de force in fantastically extortionate writing programs in foreign universities and workshops. So, one can definitely find a book or two here and there, most likely written by an author who is most likely going to read from it in a gathering most likely composed of friends and acquaintances, who speak impeccable English and most likely purchase it either to fill that embarrassingly big space on their library shelves or move around clasping it like a branded clutch or gift it to their convent-going child or to their Ivy League baba. This is a class that fetishises everything that adds value to their cultural capital. Therefore, I would least expect any real action on their behalf and would rather leave them to have a whale of a time in their consumption club. They are like the golden spire of a cathedral which is made of a material not fit for laying the foundation of the strong egalitarian shrine.
Being a member of the consumption club, however, does not necessarily mean that people of such fashionable class would spend most of their time like a koala in the tree. They are quite active and energetic people. They have a regimen which they follow strictly: waking up for yoga, tweeting, going for jogging, going to gym, tweeting, eating proper healthy diet, tweeting, taking a good rest, tweeting, reading a good novel, tweeting, watching a new movie, tweeting. They work on their new Mac, on which they struggle with stories. They turn to creative non-fiction and then decide to write articles which they forward to their friends who in turn forward them to their editor friends in high profile publications. Yes, the consumption club does work hard, though most of it is for personal grooming and CV. But again I would least expect any real action on their part, because it is one thing to visit India Habitat Centre and quite another to visit the habitat of the “Others”.
Then the question is: who will bell the cat? Who will do the real action? The answer is those who have a commitment to democratic ideals, to praxis, to humanism, to inclusiveness, to equal life, but certainly not those who have commitment to their influential networks, to their mutually beneficial partnerships, to their self-admiration, to their vainglory, to their ilk.
And the question that follows is: are there such people? Yes, there must be, because there have always been and there will be.
Sometimes, we have to ask and express certain things straight without coating them in politically correct idioms. I would like to first ask questions to the Hindutva ideologues, because I have met a few of them recently and I had an honour to have a long conversation with them. They told me that Indians (by which they essentially meant caste Hindus) are spiritually more advanced than the rest of the world, that people look towards India for the spiritual redemption (à la George Harrison!) and because of such advanced spirituality, the Hindu worldview is bound to establish its supremacy over all other worldviews, that people from all over the world will ultimately assemble in India—the land of spirituality.
I asked one of them: You believe in karma, so tell me why many countries have different religion and different culture? Would you consider their being religiously and culturally different than you as a negative or a positive consequence of their past actions?
It depends on what your world view is, he said. There is a difference between dharma and religion. If a person fulfils his dharma well, he will get good results. A priest’s dharma is teaching religion; a soldier’s dharma is soldiering; a woman’s dharma is taking care of the household. One has to do one’s assigned job with dedication. That is dharma.
So if a Christian priest is teaching his religion, I asked, isn’t he fulfilling his dharma? Would Hindutva accept his preaching of his religion?
He answered: It depends on what your worldview is.
I asked: If Hindutva spirituality of is so advanced, then why does it feel threatened by other worldviews? Why were spiritually advanced Hindus subjugated by foreign powers for such a long time? Why has the West invented and discovered more things? Why are their economies far better than others?
He answered: They [Christians and Muslims] are actually political cultures and they approach everything politically, and because we Hindus are spiritual, they took an advantage.
So what good is advanced spirituality, then, when you cannot defend yourself? Why should I subscribe to an idea which has proved weak?
He answered: Well, hmmm…
I have not yet had a good conversation with those Islamists who think that Islaami nizaam (Islamic system) will be the perfect one for Kashmir.
If I get a chance I will ask: which Islamic system would you adopt—the Iranian one or the Saudi Arabian one? And if you make such a system, whose theology would be accepted as authentic, the Deobandi one or the Barelvi one? And where would it leave the Shias and Ahmadis? More crucially, what about the minorities? Why impose a system on them which they do not relate to? And what about this Islamic injunction—“Do unto all men as you would wish to have done unto you; and reject for others what you would reject for yourselves”? If you do not wish Hindu Rashtra for minorities of India, then why would you wish a theocratic system for the religious minorities of Kashmir?
I have heard Islamists saying that the Islamic system is the antidote to the massive corruption in Kashmir.
I ask: Whose prerogative is the ultimate rule implementation? The policeman in the street, or the bureaucrat in the office, or the munsif in the court? Do you think in an Islamic system people will suddenly stop taking bribe or committing crimes?
Take any survey from the last 10 years from Transparency International and you will find most of the Muslim countries marked in orange and red colours, which indicate that Muslim brothers have been greasing each other’s palms more often than the secular infidels of Australia and the Nordic countries.
If an individual has weak or no faith she or he will take bribe anyways, even from his own relatives, under any system.
In 2016 Kashmiris are waiting for news with a bated breath whether Mufti Sayeed will survive or die in AIIMS. If he dies, will his daughter become the next chief minister and prove those people right who have been saying that PDP is a Papa Daughter’s Party? Or will the Mufti cheat malak ul-maut once again? So far the news leaked to media by PDP bhakts has become a source of humour on social media. All media outlets had reported that Mufti was “critical but stable” on the ventilator in ICU, yet PDP bhakts issued professed statements of Mufti Syed, sending out condolences on this tragedy and that tragedy, making people wonder who the hell on earth is having telepathic chats with the dying Mufti!
First published in Kindle Magazine on January 6, 2016: http://kindlemag.in/hard-questions-for-the-new-year/