Sanatana Dharma in modern times

மோதல்கள் நிறைந்த ஒரு கேள்விக்குறி 

இன்று காலை சில நண்பர்களோடு சேர்ந்து இந்து தெய்வங்களின் தோத்திரங்களை, துதிகளை, நன்கு உச்சரிக்க பழகிக்கொள்ள சிறிது நேரம் முதலீடு செய்து, வீட்டிற்க்கு நடந்து வந்து கொண்டிருந்த போது தோன்றிய எண்ணங்களை பகிர்ந்து கொள்கிறேன்:

நாம் இன்று சந்திக்கும் மத்திய வருமான அல்லது உயர் தர வருமானம் உடைய இந்துக்களின் கோரிக்கைகள் என்ன என்று பார்த்தால், பரவலாக கீழ் கண்டவற்றை கூறலாம்:

(1) ஹிந்து மதம்/ சனாதன தர்மம் தழைக்கணும்

(2) இந்துக்கள் மதம் மாற்றப்படக்கூடாது.

(3) இந்து கோயில்கள் அரசாங்க கட்டுப்பாட்டில் இருந்து வெளி வர வேண்டும்.

(4) இந்தியா ஒரு Hindu civilisational entity என்று பிரகடனம் செய்யப்பட வேண்டும்.​

(5) இந்திய கல்வி முறையில், பாட திட்டங்கள் , இந்து மதத்தின் புராதன பெருமைகளைப் பற்றி – நாகரிகம், கலாசாரம், பக்தி, கட்டிட திறன், கோயில்களின் பெருமை, சிற்பக்கலை – மாணவ, மாணவியருக்கு கற்றுக்கொடுக்க வேண்டும்.

(6) இந்துக்களை,  அவர்களின் கலாசார, இலக்கிய சின்னங்களை, வெளி தேசங்களில் இருந்து படை எடுத்து வந்தவர்கள், எவ்வாறு அழித்து, இந்துக்களை, அவர்களது சிந்தனைகளை அடிமைப்படுத்தி, மாற்றினார்கள் என்பதை இன்றைய தலைமுறை தெரிந்து கொள்ள  வேண்டும்.

இதற்க்கு மேலும் பல கோரிக்கைகள், ஆசைகள் இருக்கலாம். இப்போதைக்கு, இந்த ஆறு கோரிக்கைகள்/இலட்சியங்கள் என் கட்டுரைக்கு, அது சொல்லப்போகிற கருத்துக்கு, போதுமானதாக இருக்கிறது.

எல்லா இந்துக்களும் இந்த ஆறு இலட்சியங்கள் இருக்கின்றனவா என்று பார்த்தால், இல்லை என்று தான் கூற வேண்டும்.

சாதி வித்தியாசம், வேறுபாடு, ஏற்றத்தாழ்வு இன்னும் இருக்கிறது. ஒரு சிலர், அரசியல் காரணங்களுக்காக அவற்றை மிகப்படுத்தலாம். ஆனால், அவற்றை முற்றிலும் ஆதாரம் அற்ற மிகைப்படுத்தல் என்று கூற முடியாது.

இது தவிர,வேறு பல வேறுபாடுகளும் இருக்கின்றன – சர்ச்சைக்கு உட்படாத, சர்ச்சைகள் அற்ற வேறுபாடுகள். கடவுள் நம்பிக்கை உள்ளவர்கள், இல்லாதவர்கள், உருவ வழிபாட்டை பின்பற்றுவர்கள், பண்ணாதவர்கள், மறு பிறப்பில் நம்பிக்கை உள்ளவர்கள், இல்லாதவர்கள், – என்று பல வேறுபாடுகள். இவை ஒரு சிறிய அளவிலான உதாரணங்களே.

ஆனால், மேலை அல்லது மேற்கத்திய கலாச்சாரம், நாகரிகம் இவற்றின் தாக்கம், ஆதிக்கம் வருவதற்கு முன்னால், இந்த வேறுபாடுகள், இந்து மதத்தினரிடையே பெரும் பிளவை ஏற்படுத்தவில்லை என்று சொல்லலாம்.

சொல்லப்போனால், இன்று இந்திய நாடு என்று ஒரு எல்லைக்குள் வரைபடுத்தப்பட்ட மக்கள், தங்களை இந்துக்கள் என்று ஒட்டு மொத்தமாக அறிமுகப்படுத்திக் கொள்ளவில்லை, அறிவித்துக்கொள்ளவும் இல்லை.

வேறுபாடுகள், ஏற்றத் தாழ்வுகள் இருந்தாலும், பொதுவாக அவர்களுக்குள் ஒரு ஆதார பிணைப்பு, ஒரு பொதுவான civilisational, கலாசார இணைப்பு இருந்தது.

எனக்கு தெரிந்த மட்டில், இன்றைய நிகழ் காலத்தில், இரண்டு புத்தகங்கள் இந்துக்களின் கலாசார ஒற்றுமையை நன்கு விளக்கியிருக்கின்றன:

(1) ‘India: A Sacred Geography’ (Diana Eck)

(2) ‘The land of Seven Rivers’ (Sanjeev Sanyal)

வேறு புத்தகங்கள் (தமிழ் மற்றும் ஆங்கிலம்) இருந்தால் தெரியப்படுத்தவும். நன்றி உடையவனாக இருப்பேன்.

இந்த ஒரு எளிதான, ஆனால் அடித்தளத்தில் வலிமையான பிணைப்பு, நவீன தேசம்- அரசு (Modern Nation-State) அமைப்பிற்கு ஏற்றது அல்ல.

சனாதன தர்ம வழிமுறை, போக்கு, பழக்க வழக்கங்கள், நம்பிக்கைகள், நம்பிக்கை இல்லாமை, எல்லாமே பெரும்பாலும், தன்னிச்சையாக, காலப்போக்கில், நடைமுறையில் பின்பற்றப்பட்டு ஊறிப்போனவை. ஒரு அதிகாரத்தினாலோ, ஒரு அமைப்பின் ஆணையின் பேரிலோ, நடைமுறைக்கு வந்தவை அல்ல. அதனால் எல்லோரும் இந்துக்களே.

ஆனால், சற்று உட்கார்ந்து யோசித்தோமேயானால், இன்றைய நவீன தேசம்-அரசு எவ்வாறு செயல்படுகிறது? சனாதன தர்மத்தின் வழிமுறைகளும், இந்த நவீன தேசம்-அரசின் செயல்பாடுகளும், ஒன்றிப்போகின்றனவா? இல்லை என்று தான் சொல்ல வேண்டும்.

ஜனத்தொகை பெருகிப்போன காலத்தில், எல்லோரையும் ஒன்றாக செயல்பட வைக்க ஒரு அரசாங்கம், ஒரு சட்ட-திட்ட அமைப்பு, போலீஸ், ஒரு command-and-control,  accountability, இவை எல்லாம்  தேவைப்படுகிறது.

நவீன தேசம்-அரசுகளுக்கான இந்த தேவைப்பாடுகள் Abrahmic மதங்களான கிறித்தவ, இஸ்லாம்  இரண்டின் கோட்பாடுகள், வழிமுறைகள், தெளிவான கட்டுப்பாடுகள் இவைகளோடு ஒத்துப்போகின்றன. அந்த மதங்களுக்கு ஒரு கடவுள், ஒரு புத்தகம், ஒரு ஸ்தாபனம் என்று இருக்கிறது.

தவிர, மனிதனின் பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியானது, காலப்போக்கில் அவனில் ‘நான், தான், எனது, என்னுடைய’ என்ற எண்ணங்களை உருவாக்கியது. Egoவின் ஆதிக்கம் அதிகரித்தது. இன்று நம்மிடையே பரவியிருக்கும் தொழில் நுட்ப (technological developments) வளர்ச்சியானது இந்த Egoவை, ஊதி பெரிதாக்க பெரிதும் உதவுகின்றன – Facebook, Twitter and Selfie.

குறுகிய எல்லைகளை உருவாக்கிக்கொண்ட மனித ‘மன வளர்ச்சிக்கும்’, தேசம்-அரசுகள் உருவாக்கிக்கொண்ட எல்லைகளுக்கும் பெரிதான வித்தியாசம் இல்லை. சொல்லப்போனால், மனிதனின் மனதில் உதித்த அந்த ‘நான், தான், எனது, என்னுடைய’  என்ற எண்ணங்களின் பெரிய அளவிலான வெளிப்பாடே எல்லைகளை கொண்ட தேசம்.

இதை நான் தவறு அல்லது சரி என்றோ கூற விரும்பவில்லை. இந்த என் சிறு கட்டுரையின் நோக்கமும் அது இல்லை. இது நாம் சந்திக்கும் நிதர்சன உண்மை. அவ்வளவே.

ஆனால், இதன் விளைவு என்னவென்றால், இந்த நவீன காலத்தின் எண்ணப்போக்கிற்கு, சனாதன தர்மத்தின் சுதந்திரமான, தன்னிச்சையான (spontaneous and naturally evolving) போக்கு பொருத்தமற்றதாகி விட்டது.

மற்றும், சனாதன தர்ம பல தரிசனங்களின் இறுதி நோக்கம் என்னவென்றால் பரம்பொருளோடு ஐக்கியமாவதே அல்லது  தானும், மற்ற ஜீவ ராசிகளும், பரம்பொருளும் வேறு அல்ல என்று உணர்வதே.

இந்த அற்புதமான நோக்கத்திற்கும், ‘நான், தான், எனது, என்னுடைய’ என்ற போக்கை முன் வைக்கும் சமுதாயத்திற்கும், இந்த எண்ணங்களை அஸ்திவாரமாக கொண்ட நவீன தேசம்-அரசிற்கும் தொடர்பே இல்லை.

அதனால், சனாதன தர்மம் பல இன்னல்களை, தடைகளை, மோதல்களை சந்திக்க நேர்வதில் அல்லது சந்தித்ததில் ஒரு ஆச்சர்யமும் இல்லை. சனாதன தர்மத்தை இந்த யுகத்தின் இத்தகைய குறுகிய தர்மத்தின் மத்தியில் நிலை நாட்ட முயல்வது ஒரு பிரும்ம பிரயத்தனமே.

மேலும் இந்து மதத்தின் தொடர்ந்து நிலவி வரும் ஏற்றத்தாழ்வுகளை நீக்க பல தரப்பட்ட இந்து சமய மக்களின் பெரு மதிப்பு, பேராதரவை பெற்ற, நாடு தழுவிய சமய மற்றும் சமுதாய தலைவர்கள் இன்று இல்லை என்று தான் கூற வேண்டும். அதனால், இந்துக்களின் ஒற்றுமையின்மை தவிர்க்க முடியாத, நிலைக்கும், நீடிக்கும் நிதர்சனமான உண்மை.

இந்நிலையில், சனாதன தர்ம மதத்தை அரசியல், சமுதாய ரீதியாக நிலை நாட்ட முயல்பவர்களின் குறிக்கோள், மற்ற மதத்தினரோடு மோதல்களை மட்டுமே உருவாக்கும். வெற்றி நிச்சயம் இல்லை.

அதனால், உலகளாவிய, அல்லது இந்திய தேசம் மட்டுமே ஆன அரசியல் ரீதியான வெற்றி அடைவது கடினம். வெற்றி பெற்றால், அதை தக்க வைத்துக்கொள்வதும் எளிது அல்ல. இந்தியாவில் தற்போது உள்ள அரசாங்கம் சந்திக்கும் இன்னல்களுக்கு அதுவும் ஒரு முக்கிய காரணம். (இந்த அரசாங்கத்திற்கும், அதன் பின்னால் இருக்கும் அரசியல் கட்சிக்கும் பெரும் பங்கு உண்டு என்பதும் உண்மை.)

கலாச்சார, நிர்வாக ரீதியாகவும், சனாதன தர்மத்தின் வழிமுறை நவீன காலத்திற்கு ஏதுவாக அமையவில்லை என்பதையும் ஏற்கனவே பார்த்தோம்.

ஆகையால், இந்த கலி யுகத்தில், சனாதன தர்மத்தின் போக்கு, போராட்டங்கள், மோதல்கள் நிறைந்த கேள்விக்குறியாகவே இருக்கும்.

[‘நான், எனது, என்னுடைய’ என்ற வட்டங்களை உடைத்துக்கொண்டு வருபவர்களுக்கு, தனிப்பட்ட முறையில், சனாதன தர்மம் தொடர்ந்து கலங்கரை விளக்காக இருக்கும் என்பதில் எந்த ஐயப்பாடும் இல்லை].

A response to FT Edit on Caste-based reservations

The following is a comment that I had posted below the FT View.

The problem with the Edit is that it reflects poor homework and it is self-contradictory. Unsurprisingly, the charge of ‘Hindu fundamentalism’ has been casually but deliberately tossed into the Edit:

“His Bharatiya Janata party, with its strong links to Hindu fundamentalism, has done nothing to dismantle or ameliorate the system, nor is it likely to.”

Many questions arise:

(1) What is Hindu fundamentalism?

(2) How pervasive it is, in reality?

(3) Has BJP really embraced it and, if so, how?

(4) What is its connection to solving the caste-based reservation problem?

(5) What exactly is the insinuation here? Is it that the Prime Minister comes from a backward caste and hence, won’t remove caste-based reservation? Or, is there an insinuation that the BJP is a party dominated by upper-caste Hindus and hence would not remove caste-based discrimination and hence, reservations too would remain a problem? I do not see the connection at all.

(6) Earlier, in the Edit, there is a sentence, which is strangely devoid of any reference to those who did it.

“Unwisely, in 1990 caste privileges were extended to another category, “Other Backward Classes” (OBCs), which took the proportion of reserved government jobs to 50 per cent. Further extensions have been made since.”

Did it happen spontaneously? It was done by a government, which was a coalition of the so-called secular parties that claimed to be far removed from the FT definition of ‘Hindu fundamentalism’ (whatever it means).

In other words, that exposes the banality and the vacuity of the reference to Hindu fundamentalism and its supposed link to caste-based reservations.

Flying the flag

This Reuter’s report carried by ‘The Guardian’ is all too predictable even as it is all too distasteful, repugnant and wholly malicious.

Looks like it is a do-or-die battle between those who battle for the right idea of India and those who wish to reduce India to that of an idea.

Heard from a friend, separately, the following. Quoting her email, verbatim:

Major General Gagandeep Bakshi, a tough old soldier, who spent his life upholding the very freedom that these deracinated, self-loathing fiberals abuse with such impunity, broke down on national TV.

And do you know the reason?

Maj. Gen. Bakshi could not comprehend HOW any INDIANS could oppose the flying of the INDIAN flag in INDIAN universities funded by taxes collected from INDIAN citizens!

Yesterday, it was not an old soldier who cried. It was INDIA crying.

This blog post provides useful information on his breaking down. Watch the mind-boggling videos here.

A letter to the Indian Prime Minister

This was first published in MINT on Jan. 4, 2016

Respected Prime Minister,

In October 2012, at the height of gloom and despondency about India amidst growth challenges, corruption charges and collapse of governance, Shankkar Aiyar, the author of Accidental India, wrote the following about leadership: “Leadership is not about pickled intellect. It is driven by imagination, a willingness to reflect, ability to inspire, to listen and to have the courage of conviction to embrace risk.”

Indeed, leadership has many dimensions as he has pointed out. But above all, it is about credibility. Credibility starts with truth and realism. For example, economic optimism ought to be founded on economic realism. The previous government took economic growth for granted. It paid a political price for it, but the country might have paid and might still be paying a bigger economic price for it.

Recently, the former finance minister cited the mid-year economic review of the finance ministry to proclaim the delayed arrival (or the non-arrival) of Achhe Din. He failed the credibility test because the bulk of the blame for India’s economic travails falls on the government he was part of. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s biggest mistake has been the underestimation of the challenge of reviving growth in an economy left in a complete mess by the previous government. It is not the only mistake, however.

The commerce ministry is brave to counter the export pessimism of the mid-year economic review of the finance ministry. But it is certainly not being realistic. For India, growth will be hard to come by in a world riven by conflicts, geopolitical ambitions and fading economic growth prospects. Hence, the role of leadership becomes that much more critical. Indeed, it can be argued that strong, effective, competent and enlightened leadership may or may not have been necessary for today’s developed economies because other factors were vastly more favourable to them. East Asia became rich when America was willing to do anything to stop the spread of communism. China prospered when globalization was fashionable. India, on the other hand, faces climate change hurdles, de-globalization and trade protectionism. A growth rate of 7-8%, properly measured, is far from assured.

Leadership is a popularity contest but with a twist. It is about appeasing the current generation versus courting the goodwill of future generations. Successful leaders bet their future on the uncertain goodwill of the unborn. To its credit, the NDA government has not concentrated its energies on appeasement as the previous government did. Moreover, it is fighting the cronyism that flourished under the previous regime. That might explain the private sector investment funk. However, states where the Bharatiya Janata Party has not fared well in local elections have resorted to irresponsible measures to woo back the electorate.

Further, the Union government is guilty of many errors of omission. It has not been able to persuade the nation of the merits of amending the land acquisition bill, of labour reforms, of privatization of airports and of raising the standards of Indian education. Higher pay for government workers is fine, but the nation needs a quid pro quo in terms of productivity and accountability—not just from bureaucrats but from ministers too. Even now, the University Grants Commission makes news for restricting educational institutions rather than liberating them. Several well-known institutions have received notices for operating off-site campuses. In short, the government has been ducking hard choices more often than it has embraced them.

Reversing this would require the government actively seeking expert advice that is not afraid to deliver the truth to the leadership. The initiative has to come from you. Tamil sage Thiruvalluvar had dedicated one chapter (10 couplets, from 441 to 450) to the idea of surrounding oneself with wise men who would keep kings grounded and ensure that they rule the kingdom well, in the interests of all the subjects. I share the translation of four of them here:

A king wise enough to have men of greater wisdom than he to advise him shall be a powerful ruler. (Kural No. 444)

Where the king’s counsellors possess the courage to reprove him when necessary, nothing on earth can bring about such a king’s ruin. (Kural No. 447)

Without courageous counsellors to point out his faults and so protect him, a king will ruin himself, even without foes. (Kural No. 448)

It is foolish surely to incur enmity of many foes, but 10 times worse to lose righteous friends. (Kural No. 450).

Finally, successful leaders eschew coercion and embrace persuasion. Communication is the difference between persuasion and coercion. After all, in the age-old fable, it is the sun that gently bears down that removes the cloth from the itinerant traveller and not the fierce wind that threatens to snatch the cloth from him. The sun succeeded because it made the traveller feel that it was in his interest to let go of the shawl, whereas the wind threatened to snatch it away from him. Success comes to those leaders who share it and who make others feel that they were in command of their decisions.

Wishing you and the nation more glory and prosperity in the new year.

Sincerely,

Anantha Nageswaran

Manjul Bhargava in Sanskrit College

thewire.in had published excerpts from the speech given by Manjul Bhargava, winner of the Fields Medal in Mathematics. Here are some extracts from those excerpts!
India has to be its own cultural ambassador. It has to bring alive all those beautiful works of the country that are not yet known to the public at large. But it has to be done in a scientific manner and it has to be done in a correct manner. That’s why it’s important for institutions like this to do correct translations. It’s very important to have these works available in an accessible form in various languages. Whatever your skills are, please help bring alive these texts in an accurate and correct manner.

My basic point is that there are a lot of treasures in the ancient languages of India. These treasures need to be preserved. Slowly people are forgetting these ancient languages, and it is the responsibility of those who do know those ancient languages to bring to light those treasures to the public.

These treasures are in every area – philosophical treasures, poetic treasures, story-telling treasures and then scientific treasures. And all of these things – they should not be forgotten.  We need to do our best to keep it all alive. That’s why I salute the students of this college.

I always find it a shame that the interest is greater outside India than in India, when this is India’s contribution. India shouldn’t be afraid to own, study, and recognise this contribution. You’ll notice that some textbooks in India go out of their way to call it the Arabic system and not even mention that it was invented in India. It would be nice if this kind of culture was changed.

So here’s the truth: that story about Pythagoras that is shown in Indian textbooks, the fact that he discovered and proved the Pythagorean theorem – well, there’s no shred of evidence that he ever proved the Pythagorean theorem. Nobody has any source on that. It’s just a legend.

On the other hand, there is a concrete source in India – namely, Baudhayana’s Sulba Sutra – that is before Pythagoras, and that has the Pythagorean theorem stated absolutely clearly. And, that goes back to around 800 BCE. The Pythagorean theorem is clearly stated there, with an interpretation in terms of areas that leads to a proof, and in other Indian works as well.

How will the world make a judgement if India doesn’t begin to be its own ambassador about the things that happened here?

Please make it your duty to contribute accurately to our knowledge base while helping to preserve the treasures of India.  I wish you great success in your future endeavours!

Who is a ‘Liberal’?

http://swarajyamag.com/magazine/who-is-a-liberal/

Who Is A ‘Liberal’?

(V. Anantha Nageswaran)

V. Anantha Nageswaran is an independent financial markets consultant based in Singapore

An ideal Liberal is open to new ideas, and yet has a few immutable core principles and values. He has convictions but is aware of the imperfections of his knowledge and the limitations imposed by his ignorance. But is it possible that human beings with all these qualities exist?

Indira Parthasarathi is a veteran Tamil writer. He is in his late Seventies or perhaps in his early Eighties. He lives in Chennai. In the 1970s, he wrote a serialised Tamil novel titled ‘Maaya Maan Vettai’ (hunting the imaginary deer). The story was about how the system swallowed the idealism of a well-meaning non-resident Indian returning to India to serve his country. A line from the story is still fresh in my memory: “Too many ideals have been mindlessly frequently spouted and have lost their meanings.”

I recalled that line as I surveyed the Indian public political and intellectual discourse over the last several weeks in the run-up to the Bihar elections. Charges of intolerance made by several individuals – some well-meaning and some not – against the Indian government met with responses from many individuals sympathetic to the government in social media. The government, for the most part, presented the image of a hapless spectator. The timing and the intensity of these ‘liberal’ outrages before elections rob them of much of their credibility and legitimacy. Now that the next election is sometime away, we have an opportunity to assess what ‘being Liberal’ and ‘Liberalism’ are truly about.

We examine the ideal liberal stance and the reality at three levels next.

Universal principles and values

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At one level, liberals stand for values and principles that transcend narrow national, group or sectarian considerations. If it were true, then liberals would uphold principles without taking sides. Typically, within countries, liberals would switch sides between different groups depending on the issue at hand but not switch principles depending on calculations of political and personal interests. If their values and principles were not confined to national boundaries or borders, then their support for liberal causes and concerns over and criticisms of illiberalism would transcend borders too. Illiberal thoughts and practices would meet with their opprobrium and condemnation regardless of their source. Even a casual and cursory overview of the situation tells us that this seldom prevails in practice, either in India or outside. Liberals search for social roots of heinous crimes perpetrated by some groups while, in the case of some other groups, they are plaintiffs, prosecutors, jury, judge and executioners. The selection of causes that liberals take up for espousal and the causes that they ignore betray considerations other than liberal principles at work. Selective liberalism is, then, bigotry in an intellectual sheath.

In theory, a liberal is at the opposite end of bigots. A bigot is one who is intolerant towards those who hold different opinions from oneself. However, selective intolerance is yet another form of intolerance. In the Indian context, as many were hyperventilating after the dastardly murder of a Muslim in a village in Uttar Pradesh, I wrote the following in an article in this magazine:

Selective outrage at bigotry is bigotry. It incenses the bigot who is being selectively targeted because he is being selectively targeted and because it emboldens the bigot who is spared. So, one bigot is incensed and another bigot is encouraged. This is the seminal contribution of India’s self-styled liberals to the cause of good governance. In other words, they are guilty of growing the national stock of intolerance, hatred and bigotry.

Subsequent non-reactions from liberals to murders of Hindus in other parts of the country only reinforce the perception that what passes off for liberalism in India is not to be confused with the literal meaning of being a liberal or what constitutes liberalism. Latent and manifest contradictions of the Indian liberal have not been more thoroughly exposed than in this brilliant piece by historian and Indologist, Michel Danino.

Support For The Underdogs

At the second level, liberals are champions of the less privileged, in contrast to conservatives who prefer the status quo or the established order. In this framework, liberals hold themselves above notions of fairness, democracy and freedom of expression simply because they identify with causes that are widely perceived to be in the service of the underdog – the materially poor, religious and racial minorities, in the main. That places them above rules – consistency, evidence, facts, fairness and symmetry – that are meant to regulate the conduct of ordinary mortals in their pursuit of causes that are less noble than these. The presumption that they know what is best for the world underpins most of their arguments and methods. There is no place for other views or other persons holding different views. The illiberalism or the intolerance that characterise the methods of who consider themselves liberal has been both an eternal and universal paradox.

 

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The most recent manifestation of this is playing itself out in American university campuses. In recent weeks, there has been plenty of debate over incidents of political correctness in American campuses from Yale to Claremont McKenna College to University of Missouri. The issues are varied and yet, those championing the causes of the excluded, underprivileged and racial minorities have forced administrators to resign for daring to suggest that there could be other ways of looking at the issues. This prompted a following tweet by Patrick Chovanec, a well-known China analyst and a former academic in China:

“An increasing number of people in the US seem to believe they are so self-evidently right that they shouldn’t need to persuade anyone.”

Another academic, reacting to these incidents, wrote that “inroads to authoritarian behaviour, even in the service of a noble cause, always lead to the use of authoritarian behaviour against the people who first look to it as a line of defence.”

Role Of The State In The Society

At the third level, liberals have a particular view of the role of the State in societies and in economies. They prefer the State to stay away from legislating on matters that are for individuals to decide on. Group and societal norms and conventions cede ground to individual preferences. On the other hand, on economic matters, they want the heavy hand of the State to intervene and make decisions. Conservatives on the other hand assume that there are universal and eternal values and principles that are binding on all members of the society.  On economic matters, they prefer the State to stay away, leaving it to individuals in the market place to sort things out between themselves and figure out the most appropriate way of engaging in economic transactions between themselves at the appropriate price.

Both sides are inconsistent in their own ways. Clearly, it is about some groups considering themselves to be eternal economic underdogs such that the State must come to their rescue, redistribute and alter the material and power balance while leaving them free to do what they want, with their personal lives. Other groups prefer the State to enforce social norms but not economic rules such that the existing power and material balance are preferred.

At all the three levels, the theoretical and the desirable qualities of a Liberal and what obtains in practice are worlds apart. It is unsurprising, therefore, that TCA Srinivasa Raghavan defined a Liberal as such:

“So who is a liberal, then? A liberal, by my reckoning, is a person designated as a liberal by other liberals, usually on a single communal sub-criterion. As a result, the most liberal person can be labelled illiberal by liberals and the most illiberal as liberal…. Most Indian liberals are wannabes. They are anxious to ‘belong’ and see selective liberal-certified illiberalism as the entry ticket to a certain type of social acceptability.”

Who Then Is A True Liberal?

In his description of the ideal economist, Keynes perhaps defines a liberal individual too:

“The master-economist must possess a rare combination of gifts…. He must be mathematician, historian, statesman, philosopher — in some degree. He must understand symbols and speak in words. He must contemplate the particular, in terms of the general, and touch abstract and concrete in the same flight of thought. He must study the present in the light of the past for the purposes of the future. No part of man’s nature or his institutions must be entirely outside his regard.

He must be purposeful and disinterested in a simultaneous mood, as aloof and incorruptible as an artist, yet sometimes as near to earth as a politician.”

A Hindu philosopher explained the concept of Sthitha Prajna as described by Lord Krishna to Arjuna in Bhagavad Gita. Among other things, he/she is one who does what is necessary for the betterment of humanity with a completely tranquil mind, unperturbed. A person whose mind is tranquil will not react to situation in a way that causes harm to others because he sees everybody as his own self.

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The discussion above gives us clarity on the ideal Liberal. He/she is open to new ideas and persuasion and yet has few core principles and values that are immutable. He considers facts and his assessment is fair, consistent and symmetric, unbiased by situations and personalities.

He is grounded and yet capable of reflection and contemplation of the particular, the general, the abstract and concrete. He understands that prescriptions for a stable and well-functioning society and economy are more a function of the context than they are of eternal theories. He serves humanity with humility and with a tranquil mind. He has convictions but is aware of the imperfections of his knowledge and the limitations imposed by his ignorance. Hence, he avoids hubris.

Is it possible that humans with all these qualities exist? It is not possible because humans are not cognitively wired to be Liberal. There are at least three reasons.

Can Humans Be Liberals At All?

One is loss aversion. Humans feel intense pain when they lose something. That is why, scores of psychological experiments have shown that humans experience pain disproportionately more when they lose something that they possess than when they forego a gain. That applies not just to possessions but also to opinions. Once formed, opinions are owned. That is why humans are loathe changing them or letting them go. Changing one’s views or opinions is akin to the experience of losing something. So, liberal or not, humans are prone to holding on to views much longer than desirable. Ideally, however, liberal attitudes imply a degree of detachment and lack of certitude that are necessary for mature debate.

Second, liberty and liberal attitudes are all about empowering humans with choices and the freedom to make those choices without any coercion by others – groups, communities and the State. ‘Choice’ and the absence of coercion figure prominently in the discussion of liberty and liberalism. But, that flies in the face of pervasive consumer marketing and advertising. They are all about persuading us to want things that we do not need, converting them into needs and then making us purchase them. Human cognitive limitations are not only well documented but well exploited by marketing companies. The most obvious human frailty is succumbing to framing. Framing the same issue in different ways elicits different responses from humans. Second, when presented with decisions that are less than straightforward, humans lean towards the choices that are chosen for us. In a provocative and insightful TED presentation, Professor Dan Ariely asks us to think about the question of the extent of control we have over our decisions. Professor Daniel Kahneman’s ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ is all about how little we know of our how minds work and hence how little influence we have over it.

Third, there is the impossibility of constructing counterfactual scenarios. In real life and in real time, it is impossible to conduct counterfactual experiments. Controlled experiments are all about counterfactuals. The impossibility of being able to do so is an inherent feature of social sciences and economics. Ceteris paribus is impossible as other things never remain the same or stay constant. Closely related to this impossibility is the context-specific nature of most of the rules and norms of society. They evolve over time and with the contexts as they evolve. Very few are immutable. Indeed, that is what Raghuram Rajan alluded to when he told the graduating class at IIT Delhi recently that they should identify their core personalities with very few ideas, holding a vast majority of them open to challenge and revalidation at all times.

Recognising And Acting On Our Flaws

Awareness of our cognitive limitations is the first step towards taking ego out of the equation and taking a truly liberal stance in a given situation. But, it is only one of the necessary conditions and not sufficient at all to becoming a Liberal which is either a lifelong quest or a quest that is spread over many births, if you are a believer in reincarnation as I am.

Absence of certitude and the willingness to hold very few immutable and non-negotiable ideas and principles suggests an attitude of humility that avoids the dangers of hubris. Hubris is an affliction shared by intellectuals with leaders in positions of power. Lord David Owen, former Foreign Secretary in the British Government, had started a trust called Daedalus Trust, to examine symptoms and afflictions of hubris among corporate and national leaders. He practised psychiatry medicine before he joined the British government. Among the various symptoms of hubris, listed in the site are:

  • Display of messianic tendencies;
  • Excessive confidence in one’s own judgements and contempt for others’ opinions
  • Unshakable belief that they would be vindicated
  • Accountable only to history

Most leaders – the autocratic and authoritarian ones included – would be tickled to know that they share these four symptoms (among others) with today’s Liberals.

How should Liberals avoid becoming bigots, assuming it is not already too late for some of them? The following can help:

  • Having a sense of humour;
  • Willingness to indulge in self-deprecation;
  • Ability to laugh at oneself;
  • Awareness of one’s insignificance in the context of the history of Evolution and of the Universe itself; Willingness not to take oneself too seriously beyond a point and
  • Surrounding oneself with critics who would keep one’s feet to the ground.

Gillian Tett wrote in FT that Roman Generals, returning victorious from war, used to have slaves running along with their chariots repeatedly reminding them that they were not Gods.

In India, the Tamil sage Thiruvalluvar had dedicated one chapter (ten couplets from 441 to 450) to the idea of surrounding oneself with wise men who would keep Kings grounded and ensure that they rule the kingdom well, in the interests of all the subjects. It is not hard to extend the logic to all human beings and particularly to those who are in positions of intellectual leadership too.  Here are two samples:

தம்மிற் பெரியார் தமரா ஒழுகுதல்

வன்மையு ளெல்லாந் தலை (Thirukkural No. 444)

Its meaning is as follows: A King wise enough to have men of greater wisdom than he to advise him shall be a powerful ruler.

For Liberals and Intellectuals, we can state that a Liberal wise enough to befriend those with greater wisdom than he would go on to become a true Liberal.

பிழைத்துணர்ந்தும் பேதைமை சொல்லா ரிழைத்துணர்ந்

தீண்டிய கேள்வி யவர். (Thirukkural No. 417)

Its meaning: Persons who have acquired their knowledge by deep study, marked by deep enquiries and by listening to other learned men, will definitely have an intuitive diffidence about their knowledge (and awareness of their ignorance), will be aware of where they could possibly be wrong or uncertain and hence will avoid making a fool of themselves.

Indirectly, the great sage counsels lack of certitude. Humility will follow naturally from that. How does one achieve this? Like everything else: by practice.

Men At Work On Becoming Liberal

Two men, who are still with us today, adopt a unique practice that shows their heightened state of evolution. One is Professor Daniel Kahneman. He simply seeks out those who disagrees with his views and collaborates with them. His collaboration with Gary Klein whose ideas on intuition differed profoundly with that of Daniel Kahneman resulted in several papers being published together. In the process, he and Klein had ironed out most of their differences managing to advance the field in the process.

Daniel Kahneman is not the only example.  There is another. He is Professor Robert P. George of Princeton University. He is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton. Republican Presidential candidates consult him regularly. Yet, his best friend is Professor Cornel West, who is to the extreme Left. Robert George arrives at his answers by befriending Cornel West and others who disagree with him. This is what he says:

“The best thing that’s happened in my academic life the past decade is that I regularly teach with Cornel West, who is as far to the left as I am to the right, but we love each other, and he’s got exactly the same attitude I have” about the inherent value of discussion, “and the same fears I have, that he’ll fall in love with his own opinions. It’s the best thing in the world, because you have these two cats who want to get at the truth.”

The advice he has for students is this: “Cultivate friends you disagree with,” as well as those with whom you agree, because together you’ll locate the soft spots in your own thinking and find common ground to build on.

Can Indian journalists and academics on the so-called Right and the so-called Left collaborate? Well, they can as long as they are not in ‘it’ for ego but for national interest. A big ‘ask’, perhaps.

Among journalists who questioned his own Liberal instincts, in recent times, was Rafael Behr who writes for ‘The Guardian’. In his piece published on September 8 2015, he conceded that death penalty by drone strike was a challenge for all liberal minds. It was about the killing of an ISIS terrorist – Reyaad Khan, a young British citizen – by a drone strike. He concluded that all his liberal scruples made him crave a better way if only he could find a better way. That was an intellectually open and honest piece. It would have been easy for him to denounce his government and its methods as inhuman, taking an unrealistically loftier, moral high ground. He resisted that temptation in that piece. Intellectual laziness is harder to resist than the laziness that instigates us to avoid physical labour.

So, where do we start? The best way to start is to remember what Aristotle said:

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

This article was carried in the December issue of the (‘Swarajya’) magazine.

Chennai music season – Part II

Mylapore Mafia

On the morning of 25th December (Friday), my wife and I with her cousin set off fresh and early at 7:30 for Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha.

A nice breakfast of fresh idlis, Pongal, Vadai and Filter Coffee was served by ‘Mountbatten’ Mani Iyer’s canteen at the Sabha.

The lec.-dem by Dr. Pantula Rama and her violinist M.S.N. Murthy was on emotions in Raagams. Mr. Murthy fancied his voice more than he should have. His knowledge of the structure of the keertanas and the places where emphasis should be made and not, etc., made eminent sense. He said that the Chittaswara in ‘Raghuvamsa Sudha’ was the benchmark for all Chittaswarams!

After 15 minutes, he handed over the mike to Dr. Pantula Rama. She did a fabulous job of the subject, taking up many different kritis and the emotions that the composers had tried to convey.

One could get a deep understanding of and respect for the composers and their imagination, intelligence and the enormous attention they had paid to detail. Merely learning the kritis by rote and even being able to sing them with ghamakas (a technical skill that can be acquired by practice) is not enough. The emotion behind their phrases and their tonal variations need to be understood and respected. The singer has to relive the times and the context of the kriti to bring out even a fraction of what the great composers had tried to convey. She spent some time on the kriti, ‘Ksheerasagara Shayana’ in Deva Gandhari. Atana, Lalitha, and many other kritis and ragams and the emotions they conveyed were explained well. Lovely to hear that.

The lec-dem started at 8:30. At around 9:20, the crowed started swelling. By 9:30 PM, the crowd had gotten quite big, noisy and the movements were distracting. The artist got flustered and ended her lec.-dem at 9;35 – some ten minutes short.

Later I learnt that the public were streaming in for the 10:00 AM lecture by their local favourite, Visakha Hari. I was quite annoyed at this. The artist present has to be respected. The Sabha organisers should have held them back until 9:45. They were not coming to listen to Dr. Pantula Rama but to disturb her! Their parochialism was breathtaking.

I trooped off to Sivagami Pethatchi auditorium to listen to a thematic presentation by Anil Srinivasan, Lalgudi GJR Krishnan and Dhushyant Sridhar. It was nice without being spectacular. Dhushyant Sridhar spoke only briefly but he was good. I had hoped to hear more from him.  He spoke about how good souls who lived a dharmic life would know when their lives would end. They would see a black circle in the sun and they would also see another image in the mirror! Of course, there was the reference to The musical presentation itself was neat and
efficient without being particularly moving.

I came to Music Academy to have lunch at the canteen with a friend! Listened to the excellent alapana of Kharaharapriya by Shreya Devnath. She outdid the vocalist, Subiksha Rangarajan.

Lunch was at the Krishna Restaurant in the Woodlands. Canteen in the Music Academy overflowed with patrons.

Came back from lunch and listened to a confident Kutcheri by Vidhya Kalyanaraman. I do not remember her kritis and the raagams but what stood out was her confident presentation.

From there, it was to Bharat Kalachar to listen to good friend V. Shankar Narayanan. His heart must have sank to see only 8 people when the curtain rose. It was abominable. Clearly, the ‘Mylapore Mafia’ had gone to listen to their favourites at the Academy and Narada Gaana Sabha. Their patronage of talent leaves a lot to be desired. Empty chairs were lucky to listen to Nirmala Rajasekhar on the veena and the same was the case today with Shankar. Chennai audience is mostly a trend-following audience rather than a trend-discovering audience.

Shankar was unfazed. He gave a delightful concert. Begada Varnam, Aparadhamula in Lathangi, Sri Varalakshmi in Sri, Main piece in Thodi. It is not just raining aqua in Chennai but raining Thodi too this season. Shankar’s accompaniments – V. Sanjeev on the violin and B. Sivaraman on the Mrdangam – gave him very good support.

It was curtains for us that day.

On the 26th, we rushed to Vaani Mahal for the 10:00 AM lec-dem by Dr. B.M.Sundaram and his panelists including Suguna Varadhachari and Dr. Abirama Sundari + 1 on the origins of Raagas and their names. The title sounded interesting. But, that was the only interesting or useful thing about it. Barring repeating some catch phrases, none of them said anything of
substance. It was not clear who their target audience was – the theoretical researcher, or the musicians or the ordinary members of the public. Even if they were clear about whom they were addressing – which they were not – it is not clear that they would have benefited in any case. There was no content. I heard the words, ‘Moorchanas, Swara Graamam, Melam’ repeated by all without any attempt to move the discussion forward.

Our day at the Sabhas ended with that as familial duties beckoned.

On the 27th, it was back to the lecture circuit. A panel discussion on  Aaroham-Aavrohanam featured S. Sowmya, Ravi Kiran and two others. It was interesting. Ravi Kiran stressed aural tradition before oral tradition – listening before singing and intellect before intuition. At the same time, intuition must follow tuition.

He spoke about CMCM – Common Mistakes in Carnatic Music. Apparently, some videos are available on Youtube. Ravi Kiran has a good voice and tremendous knowledge. The only problem with Ravi Kiran is that he does not let others talk. Their conclusion was that the knowledge of Aaroham-Avarohanam was not a must to understand and appreciate the Ragams.

I stayed on for the presentation titled, ‘Nava Vidha Ramayanam’ Sri Srinidhi Swamigal and Ms. Vasundhara Rajagopal – the singer. It was brilliant. The last Sunday of the year is earmarked for them at Sri Parthasarathi Swami Sabha. We should make a note of it. He described many situations from Ramayana and she sang a sloka from Valmiki
Ramayana, Arunchala Kaviraayar, Ezhuthachchan, Periyavaachchan Pillai, Giridhar Ramayana from Gujarat, the Bengali version of Ramayana, Tulsidas Ramayana, Gatyam, etc.

It was a day of Punarvasu Nakshathiram. She was very simply dressed and exuded calmness. She sang very well despite being troubled by cough. She herself described the situations in those songs rather well.

The choice of ‘Charukesi’ by Saint Thiagaraja for ‘Aadamodi Galade’ came in for particular mention. It has both Shankarabharanam and Hanumath Thodi Prayogams. The kriti does mention Hanuman. The luck that befell the ‘Paadukas’ for they sat on the throne was mentioned to suggest that we have no control over the outcomes.

It was a very satisfying event and they should be invited to Singapore, for example. I was very glad I attended it.

Lunch with a friend followed by the 90-minute concert of J.A. Jayant with the flute. I remember Saraswati Namostuthe, Sri Varalakshmi Namasthubyam, Raghuvamsa Sudha. I do not remember the main piece. While I bought ticket for the Kunnakudi Balamuralikrishna concert, I had to listen to the concert of Ganesh – Kumaresh. Whatever the concert was, it was not Carnatic Classical. The only thing that I took away from the concert was that the brothers sport pony tails now. Sound and fury signifying nothing – literally – was the memory of the
concert.

Kunnakudi M. Balamuralikrishna (KMBMK) has oodles of talent. This is a comeback year for him. He had admirable support from Akkarai Subbalakshmi on the violin and Tanjore Murugabhoopathy on the Mrdangam. I remember Deva Deva Kalayamidhe in Maayamalava Gowlam. I do not remember the main raagam in RTP.

The concert was good but I derived more satisfaction from Shankarnarayanan’s concert. Shankar’s range, voice and his unhurried singing were better on the ears and the senses than the hurried singing of KMBMK. As a knowledgeable friend put it, he lacks ‘Visranthi’. But, as his throat recovers from surgery and as he finetunes his range, he can present a wonderful alternative to other Mylapore favourites now. He is definitely exciting.

That ended a long day on 27th. 28th December was again a family get-together affair. 29-30 are busy too. I have Dec. 31 and Jan.1 to conclude my first long season of listening in five years.