Friday, October 24, 2014

India, Religion, Nehru, Modi, Charts

Nehru was a fierce patriot and an ideologue. Luckily for India, he was also a powerful enough leader who could shape an entire Country's viewpoints around his ideology. This is precisely why secularism is such a heavily-used word in Indian lexicon. Nehru was unwavering in his view that India must be accommodating of her minorities (not just the on the basis of religion) and steadfastly inculcated this belief in her citizens. By the sheer force of his personality, Nehru built this 'accommodation' into the Country's DNA.

This was also the time that the majority religion was reformed and large parts of the Country brought into a single legal code. Superstitions were contested and Hinduism probably gained its character as a truly modern religion during this period. The basic tenets were uncontested, but the religion had kind of upgraded itself for 21st century. More importantly, the fanatical, rabid segments were consigned to the fringe.

India's middle class lapped this up as this suited the prevailing mood in the Country as well. As it turned out, the only real opposition came from the religious right and they were rightly considered a bit off. And as the law of unintended consequences goes, Indian polity came to be aligned on one axis. On one extreme was secular, on the other was the religious right.

I have the duty to be secular, and a right to be religious - Can these two not co-exist?

So, perversely, Indians had to position themselves on this axis. Indian elite was mildly derisory of anything overtly religious. This axis, although it gave primacy to Secularism, was an oversimplification. Indians who were religious were sooner or later going to feel bad about being prima-facie non-secular. The elites' derision of religiosity also grated middle-class Indians. Because, truth be told, the axes on religion and secular ought to be really defined differently. They are not on either ends of the same spectrum, they are independent axes.

And on these axes, Indians camped in the top right were screaming for someone to articulate their case. The fact that one could be deeply religious and fiercely secular was not well-articulated. Perhaps because he was not that religious, even the visionary Nehru did not realize that this quadrant constituted a majority of Indians and the oversimplification of religious vs. secular was an affront to this brigade. Unwittingly, and by the sheer force of his personality, Nehru was dragging this group to the bottom-right quadrant.

Unfortunately, because India never really had a leader to champion the case for the top-right quadrant, the Country has seen a consistent struggle between religion and secularism. For long, religion did not have a role to play in public life. More recently, religion (Hinduism, particularly) has become more assertive of its place. This is not to be seen as a per se negative. Indians are a deeply religious people and it would be a mistake to again classify this as something to be apologetic about.(a mistake Indian liberal media often tends to make).

Where India lies along the vertical axis is irrelevant, as long as it is on the right side of the horizontal axis. This is a point that Indian elite never got. The liberal media (especially magazines such as The Hindu) thought everyone else was bigoted. And this patronizing attitude drove the middle-class towards the right-wing. This shift towards the right-wing was also helped by the ruling party.

When does one A-word become the other?

Nehru built an India designed to be accommodating of segments that needed to feel secure. However, his progeny had not that kind of vision, nor did they have the charisma to drag the entire Country towards one direction (Nehru-Gandhi family's charisma curve is asymptotic with the X-axis). The party that he built also lost its backbone and came to be in thrall of the family. So, the thin line separating accommodation and appeasement blurred and soon disappeared.

So, it has come to a point where the right-wing is having its moment under the sun. How the Indian right plays its cards now will probably be crucial. The Country's PM has steadfastly stayed away from any talk on or of or about religion in his first four months in power. He has nobly stayed away from anything that takes him away from governance. But apprehensions still persist about what he is really about.

Is he a fiercely secular person who just happens to be religious? Or, is he merely a pragmatist who is going to push 'Hindutva' sooner or later?  I think ordinary Indians, Congress top brass (what is left of it) and RSS are all mulling over this question.

Now, on to the caveats. Kindly bear in mind that this is more or less a thought experiment and nothing more than that. Nor are these charts in any way reflections of my own prejudices. I am the same bigoted guy I was before these charts.

Personally, I have seen a lot of right-wing assertiveness of Indian heritage, Hindu religion and what-not on Social media recently. 30 years ago, we were built to be proud of the fact that Zail Singh was our president, merely because he was a Sikh. Now, this right-wing brigade wants us to be proud of the fact that Obama lights diyas or Cameron says vedic maths. Neither feeling of pride is going to do us any good.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Go to their world

Great parenting is about two things - i) Hanging in there and ii) Deluding yourself into believing you are outstanding at this. Being from a modern Indian family (ahem!), the wife and I have split things right down the middle. As it turns out, I am so good at my part that I can now share the gyaan as well.

I am working on some marketing ideas for the company right now, so am in the mood for pithy sayings. So, parenting can be captured in one phrase - "Go to their World"

Kids live in a part make-believe, not fully-formed world of their own. They are trying to make sense of all the inputs they receive. Let me provide a sample of what my son has said to me over the past few months.

After watching Ice Age, continental drift, he said: In earlier times, they could drive by car from America to here as the entire world was connected.

When he was told that he didnt exist when Amma and I got married,
he went "So, you guys got married 100 years ago?".
Me:  "Illa da, only 8 years ago".
G: "Then I must have been there, no?
Me: Dei, you are only 5 now. How would you have been there 10 years ago?
G: Why not? I became 5 year old and have been 5 for a long time no. Like that I could have been 1 year old for a long time, 2 years old for a long time no.
Me: Stumped.

It took me a while to explain to him that the seemingly static variable that is his age, is actually a dynamic variable. I really struggled. His idea is actually kinda intuitive as well. (His way of counting is also adopted by a few individuals. All of us know of people who have been at n years of age for more than one year)

We also had a discussion on girls that cannot be put in the public sphere.

Point is, they live in a world that makes sense with the info they have. They continuously adjust their world view with new information, But often, their original world view has its own internal consistency when viewed from the information they have. Its a shame that we rarely see the world from that limited but internally consistent point of view. I am sure it would be brilliant.

Often,we are just anxious to correct these inconsistencies and bring them to our world. But de-camping in theirs is probably a way more brilliant alternative. Once, my son was playing a planes war-game with his Grand-Dad. In about 30 minutes, the pillow dividing the two sides was called Line of Control and they were discussing names of fighter-craft that I did not know about. That evening, my son told me - "We should be careful not just with Pakistan but also China, pa". Hahahaaha Even Nehru did not get that insight before it was too late.

Kids laugh for silly things, they love repeating the same theme over and over again - traits that can be incredibly irritating from an adult point of view. Having said that, they definitely live in a more vivid world that they are more than eager to share with us. Often we do not have the bandwidth to take the effort to go to their zone. Because we know we can survive there for 10 minutes, but would be bored stiff in 20. This is where the "hanging in there" part comes in; better-equipped people should write on that.

I find that I can engage my son and play different games with him, but I lack the patience to stay in his world and engage him on his terms. In a way, writing this down is my bid to increase my patience levels and engagement levels. The most important trick while dealing with kids is to figure out how to engage them - it is way easier if we try to improvise in their world, than if we rush them into ours.