August 16, 2014


The life story of Palam Kalyanasundaram is an incredible saga. Not to worry; it’s the credible-sounding ones from VIPs and celebrities  that turn out to be lies.

Kalyanasundaram started paying the school fees of a few children from his village, not for charity he says – but because he needed company for the ten-kilometre walk to school and back. Then the habit stuck. When he got the job of a librarian, he put away his salary for giving to the poor. I suppose he was not all that well to do, one report says that on returement he served at tables in a restaurant to make own ends meet.

His job won him many accolades. He was adjudged the best librarian in India (one recognition from the Government of India); United Nations named him One of the Most Outstanding People of the 20th century. An American organization awarded him money amounting to RS. 30  crores, which he promptly donated to charity.Whether he qualifies to the title of The Man of the Millennium as awarded by Rotary Club of India I cannot say, but his Lifetime Achievement Award sits well on him. 

I guess that Kalyanasundaram’s extraordinary magnanimity must have been known to the Government  – Central as well as Tamil Nadu – for at least 45 years. His fame reached the shores of North America, but apparently not Rashtrapati Bhavan nor the South Block. The poor guy cannot and has no time for lobbying in Parliament canteen and probably no inclination to touch Amma’s feet. I suppose The Best Librarian Award is considered good enough by those in authority.

Perhaps not carrying a burden of Padma-Something or Bharat Something award actually goes to the honour of Librarian Kalyanasundaram. Why bracket him with film actors who simply mouth other people’s scripts, iip-sync songs in mismatched voices  and let some poor guys do their dangerous stunts? Why, indeed, with politicians whose foul deeds are whispered in the corridors of North and South Blocks and cricketers who hold nearly as many records for ducks as for centuries?


August 6, 2014


Some three years ago, Hegde-Kageri, a BJP Minister of education in Karnataka State, justifying his intention to introduce Bhagavad Gita as a school curriculum announced:

“This Country believes in the Gita. Those who oppose it and believe in philosophies that are not of this country can go there and propagate them”.

Immediately thereafter, a Minister of Madhya Pradesh announced his decision to introduce Surya Namaskar in all schools.

Shortly before General election, Giriraj Singh, a BJP leader from Bihar told an election rally in Jharkhand:

Those who want to stop Narendra Modi from becoming prime minister will have no place in India in the coming days. They will only have place in Pakistan”

If you vote for an opposition, you will be exiled to Pakistan, period.

Barely a couple of weeks ago, On 24th July, Goa Minister Deepak Dhavalikar of the BJP announced in the State Assembly:

“If we all support it and we stand by Narendra Modi systematically, then I feel a Hindu Rashtra will be established,”

Explaining this statement, but not regretting it, Defence and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told NDTV:

Don’t judge us by stray incidents like the Goa minister’s comment, judge us by what the mainstream players are doing

That was an elusive statement from a minister who holds two of the most important portforlios, and an eminent lawyer, who should know the effect such a statement could lead to . Isn’t a minister of a state from the party a mainstream player?

Now the final call of it all, Justice Anil R Dave of the Supreme Court said:

Had I been the dictator of India, I would have introduced Gita and Mahabharata in Class I. That is the way you learn how to live life. I am sorry if somebody says I am secular or I am not secular. But we have to get good things from everywhere……….“Our old tradition such as guru-shishya parampara (teacher-student tradition) is lost; if it had been there, we would not have had all these problems in our country,”

If you didn’t know, the Hon’ble Judge was making his speech at an elite forum: “International conference on ‘contemporary issues and challenges of human rights in the era of globalization”, not at a shakha meeting.

Justice Dave is not a layman, but a judge of the Supreme Court of India, and he holds great credentials. He served the Gujarat High Court as a prominent lawyer, Lectured in a Gujarat Law college during all those nineteen years, served first as a judge of Gujarat High Court, then as Chief Justice of Andhra Pradesh High Court, Chancellor of NALSAR University of Law, CJ of Bombay High Court (2 months) and subsequently elevated to the Supreme Court of India IN 2010. As per the new rules, he retires in 2019, and stands a chance to become the CJI. The Hon’ble judge was on a bench that released a Pakistani prisoner who was languishing in India even after serving his term, rebuking those perpetuated such illegal action, and served notice on Mr. Narendra Modi (then the Chief Minister of Gujarat) to attend court in the well known case, and then recalled the notice.

It must be expected and considered that whatever this august person pronounces in a public forum is his well considered view, legal and logical.

Analysing the logic and legality,

“Had I been a dictator” (I would introduce Gita and Mahabharata from Class 1)

Logically,and by direct implication, the Hon’ble Judge has no objection to being a dictator, apparently he desires to be one since it could produce results, and then by one stroke of his pen he could introduce Gita and Mahabharata, thereby ensuring that “we would not have had all these problems facing the Country.”

Furthermore, he would also introduce the guru-shishya parambara (where a student learns all that he has to learn by living with, serving and learning from a teacher through his entire student life).

Think about it, a Supreme Court judge is a virtual dictator when he deals with a case that is brought before him. There is (normally) no scope for appeal. Hypothetically, if Mr. Subramanian Swamy files a case (as is his wont) that Gita and Mahabharata should be taught in all government-owned , government-aided, and all public schools in India, and the case appears before this judge, with a brother judge of the same views on the bench, he could order the government to admit Swami’s plea and order that the Government  implement the order straight away

Nothing stops a Prime Minister of the Country on a future date  (witness Indira Gandhi), inspired by this judicial wisdom, from advising the President to order internal emergency and issue an ordinance that Gita and Mahabharata be taught, “because that is the way you learn to live life”’

Nothing stops a President of India some time in future (witness Zail Singh contemplating dismissal of Rajiv Gandhi government and taking over the reins of power with a rubber stamp cabinet), inspired by these pearls of wisdom, becoming a dictator just for the pleasure of solving all problems of India by the single stroke of introducing Gita and Mahabharata, dismissing the multitude of teachers lecturers and professors and replacing them all with a single guru for, say,  groups of  ten resident students (who will not know girls since historically girls do not belong to the Guru-Shishya parambara) till they grow up, marry obedient (and unlettered because there is no place for them in the said parampara) wives and become lawyers, engineers, judges and doctors, not to forget priests Ministers and Governors.

Not that education starting with holy religious books have not been introduced by a dictator before. When General Zia-ul-Haq took over the dictatorship of Pakistan he introduced compulsory learning of Quran from class I (as if the children were already not learning it in Madrassas), adding that religious education should receive priority. Notice how all problems of Pakistan have been solved ever since.

“Because that is the way you learn how to live life”

What is the way? Mahabharata, probably the best and the most complex classic of all times is  magnificently representative of the times: A story of illicit relationships, child pregnancy and abandonment of the newborn, polyandry, polygamy, casteism, treachery, gambling away wife and brothers by ‘good’ man, gory murders, illicit relations with wild tribes by the heroes, unjust battles, violation of laws of war, fratricide, treacherous killing of Patriarch, uncles, teachers and faithful friends, cannibalism by drinking the blood of the vanquished, and victory of the undeserving. (It is another matter that in history the victors become the deserving). The epic is certainly exciting reading, much like Tolstoy’s story of unfaithful Anna Karenina is good reading, but certainly no way to lead a good life.

In Gita, the Divine Person renders a discourse at length how non-violence is cowardice, why it is good Karma to kill your cousins and relatives, that being your duty. Also because by dying one doesn’t die, only changes clothes, so it is OK to kill.

Some way to live good life.

“We would not have had all these problems facing the Country.

I rented my house to a young Bengali Hindu family, including their pious old mother, leaving behind complete DVD volumes of the famous Mahabharat serial because they were too many to carry, and , after all, I was only renting the house. The same evening, the young man found me out while I was leaving for the airport, with all the volumes in a huge bundle. Along with it was a marble carving of “Gitopadesh”, depicting Krishna, as the charioteer, and Arjuna, listening to the famous discourse, which I had forgotten behind.

Mataji says it is dangerous to keep these in the house. It will lead to domestic quarrels,” he apologized.

Apparently the pious old lady thought that keeping the book was no way for peaceful living.  My saying that the DVDs were with me for more than three years and that we had no quarrel in the house (apart from occasional bickerings) did not cut ice with the young man.

When I recounted this incident, a wise Guru of  my doctor friend told me : “You should listen to the interpretations of Mahabharat by knowledgeable Gyanis. Never read it  by yourself“. You would not understand the inner meanings“.

That made sense. I know of  at least one Christian sect in Kerala that bans their faithful from reading the Bible on their own. The ignorant sheep would fail to understand the inner meanings of why God asked his favourite tribes to kill all other people, “men women and children, babies in the womb and cattle, by the edge of your sword“.

“I am sorry If somebody says I am secular or unsecular”.

Get the meaning of those words : If somebody says I am secular, I am sorry. If he says I am not secular, I am sorry too.

That conditionality, I beg to submit, does not apply to a learned and esteemed judge bound by the Constitution of India.

The catch lies in the fact that the said “I” is a judge of the highest court of India. The said “I” had solemnly sworn on oath that “ I do swear in the name of God /solemnly affirm that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established,”.

Now the Constitution of India as by law established is very clear in the opening sentence of its Preamble:


There is no if’s and buts in the Constitution. Let us not forget that while the Constitution Drafting Committe was chaired by a consciencious Buddhist who converted with obvious disregard for the two lofty epics, it also had four Hindu Brahmins and only one Muslim in the Committee and that the advisor was another Hindu Brahmin. None of them, nor the 308 members who signed the Constitution had expressed sorrow in being ‘secular or unsecular”; nor was any objection raised to the explicit clause that there should be no religious education in government schools.

I humbly submit, Your Honour, that your speech goes against your solemn oath to preserve the constitution with its secular ideal enshrined in the Preamble and in at least half a dozen sections of our Constitution, none of which has been amended till date.

That speech by a sitting judge, I humbly submit, is an ominous sign.


June 1, 2014


You caught a couple, stoned the woman to death

With a baby in her belly, but gave the man some breadth.

We don’t wear bangles either,  you  men of Pakistan,

We can do just as bad or worse   in our secular  Hindustan.


Two girls, fourteen and sixteen, walked out in the dark

‘Cause gov’ment gives teevees,  but no lavatory

We caught them on their way to the nearest patch

Raped the sweet young’uns and strung them up a tree.


Your men in Khaki looked on or leaned on their lathi

When the stoning went on, their hearts filled with glee.

When told that the girls didn’t come home , our men in khaki

Rushed out and found them and quickly joined the party


You whipped a woman for wearing no veil and her hair down

We did one better , when told there in a bar is a party

Ask Muthalik, he would be in gov’ment but for some clowns.

We dragged out  the women and  whipped’em  all to  putty


Mullah  gets a woman stoned when he wants another Biwi

Here we smother girls when they’re new born babies

Don’t put your head in shame, you guys  from  Pakistan,

We don’t wear bangles either,  we  men of Hindustan


May 28, 2014

Yesterday, a 25-year old pregnant woman who had gone to the Lahore High Court in Pakistan to testify that She had married her husband by choice and had not been kidnapped, was dragged out by her relatives and stoned to death while the police looked on. Her husband escaped.

Her crime? She disobeyed her parents and married on her own.

BBC showed the blood-stained court premises where the ghastly scene was played out. The father of the woman presented himself to the police, proclaiming his brave deed. He might not be punished. Hundreds of grown up women are stoned and hacked every year in Pakistan, says the BBC, and none has been punished.

A lady panelist from Pakistan said : “There are two kinds of laws in Pakistan: One for the public, and another for  what happens among family members. What happens among family members is settled within the family by some compensation to a relative of the victim.” The father who cast the first stone will pay himself blood money and the matter could be settled. Mashallah, that is Shariah Law!

Another panelist, answering Nagaratnam Chetty, the BBC news reader and anchor, expressed his horror and asked:  “Where in Islam is such a punishment mentioned?”

Good question, sir, well put.

Clearly, by marrying on her own and not in obedience to her parents is the most serious crime and sin in Islam. Abu Bakr, the Prophet’s favourite and the first man to convert to Islam, is thus quoted:

It is narrated that the Prophet (PBUH) said, “Allah postpones the punishment for one’s sins till the Day of Judgment if He so desires. But He (will) award the punishment for disobeying the parents during this life, before his death.” 


Abu Bakr clarified that the son who disobeyed his parents will face punishment twice  for the heinous crime –  first before his death at the hands of man, and second after death by the judgment of God.

However, the Prophet has not specifically mentioned death by stoning for this grievous combination of crime and sin.

What, then, prescribes stoning by death for disobedience to parents?

The Holy Bible does. Deutoronomy 21:18-21 says:

 “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him,19his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. 20They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.” 21Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. . 

 Note that the son need not be a drunkard, only stubborn and rebellious as this pregnant Pakistani woman was. The Holly book permits the false accusation (of being drunkard) against him  to justify the stoning. What is right for the son  is even more right for the daughter, for she is the one who was awarded a bigger punishment for the original sin by God.  See Genesis 3:16

Jesus redefined  and moderated the law of “eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. However, he had said nothing against stoning to death.

“He who hasn’t sinned, let him cast the first stone” (John, 8:7) is not to condemn stoning as a means of punishment, only to condemn the nature and pevalence of the crime. Actually, the Saviour hesitated before finding this escape route. He also said:

For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death”.  (Matthew, 15:4)

We do not know if the woman cursed her parents, but she surely disobeyed and brought dishonour. Remember,  Jesus had also said:

Do not think that I have come to do away with the laws of Moses and the teachings of prophets. I have not come to do away with them, but to make their teachings come true.”(Matthew 5:17)

The Holy Quran praises the Holy ‘Book’ and accepts its authority (with some historical corrections).  Practically every punishment mentioned in Quran is a moderated version of the punishment demanded by the prophets of the Book. In Quran, at least, prescription of  punishment is followed by the words to the effect: “If you forgive, God is merciful”. No such caveat exists in the Holy Bible.

So Mr. Panelist of the BBC, the brutal punishment meted out to this unfortunate woman and her baby in her womb is prescribed very much in the Bible, has been certified by Jesus Christ, and carried out by this Muslim man and his family in broad day light outside a court of justice in accordance with the Holy Scripture sacred to both religions.




May 10, 2014


May 10, 2014

At 11:28 sharp on 4th December 1971, the civilian truck  bearing me in the garb of a truck cleaner stopped at the gate  barrier of an Air Force Station deep in the Eastern front. Twelve civilian trucks, carrying armaments  enough to devastate half a country hidden behind hay stacks,  that had kept safe distances between each other through the  long and tedious travel were now lining up, one by one, behind us  as if on a parade. It was biting cold, and my shoes felt wet as though they had been through a puddle, my left leg had nearly gone to sleep. I was wearing greasy civilian clothes and a lose jute jacket against the cold. The driver beside me was better equipped against the damp Eastern winter. My apparel could not have fooled anyone if we had been molested in the deep jungles on the way. I had a loaded Sten gun slung on my shoulder with spare magazines on my side, and a revolver under the jacket.

The lone Defence Security Corps guard, alerted by the sound of the trucks, stood ready to challenge. An aircraftsman on unwilling guard duty stood by his side – his rifle, an ancient 303, pointing at me. He let the challenging to the professional DSC guard.

“Halt,” the guard shouted. “Chaar kadam peeche chalo”. Go back by four steps.

I did. He was following the procedure.

Pay book neeche dalo,” he said. Air Force people did not carry pay books for identity. But I knew what he meant. I dropped my identity card in front of him.

He bent down and picked it up. The situation was funny. He was carrying another  antique  303. If he cocked the rifle, I did not hear the double-click. I had this loaded automatic machine, magazine in place, ready to fire, my finger on the trigger. The young airman had probably never handled a rifle after his training days.

The guard bent down, rifle loosely held by his side, and picked up the card as I stood patiently till he laboriously read the English words in the identity card in a faint torch light. All electric lights had been turned off, wartime procedure, and one had to depend on sky lights. Probably out of pride he didn’t seek the help of the young airman.


I whispered in his ears the password that was given to me on the way at Gohati. (Now Guwahati).

The guard strained his eyes at his watch and gave up. “Term kya hai?”, he asked. “What is the time?”.

Gyarah-Bathees,” I said. Eleven Thirty-two.

Accha hua. Barah baje password badal jata. Agar aap yahi bolte tho aap ko hamein goli maarna padta,”  he said, in good cheer. Good.  At twelve the password would change. Then we would have had to shoot you.

“Haan ji,  Mein ne choodi pehani hai.  ,” I said, just as cheerfully, quoting the Punjabi phrase of taunt:  Yes and I am wearing bangles.

In those days, only women wore bangles. Women with  bangles signified cowardice. May be the Queen of Jhansi who bravely fought the British didn’t wear bangles.

I walked in to the guardroom, where a young Corporal with the tell-tale white cross-belt of a policeman had evidently woken up from sleep and stood up. He picked up his white peak-cap and put it on.

“Sergeant Biswanath? We were expecting you, Sarge”, he said peevishly.

“How do you know I am Sergeant Viswanathan? You didn’t check my identity.”

“The guard checked it.”

“ How do you know that?  Corporal, you were sleeping on duty, in war time. However, we will deal with that later. Call the orderly officer. These trucks cannot wait outside.”

As the police Corporal, his hand shaking,  picked up the telephone and was trying to get the orderly officer through a sleeping telephone exchange, I noticed the man in the corner , in a black jersey over  summer uniform. His shoulders were hunched forward,  chin tucked over his chest against the cold. The sleeves of his jersey concealed his rank.

It took me some time to recognize the face in the near-dark room. Hussein.  Just as thin and wiry as twelve years before. The best football  forward in the training school, later the best in the Air Force. Nearly every goal scored by the trainee team against staff team in the station, against civilian teams in Bangalore, bore the foot marks of Aircraftsman Class 2 Under Training Hussein of the WOMII squad. Later, Hussein’s name appeared off-and-on  in Station Routine Orders for his achievements in Inter-command, Inter-services and national tournaments.

“What are you doing here, Hussein?” I asked.

He looked up. “”Viswanathan. Sorry, Sarge. I lost my identity card, yaar. I reported the matter from Gohati  by telephone. I was told to report to the guard room here. I‘ve been standing here in the cold for the last three hours. This chap says he has no information and won’t let me in.”

“Don’t say chap, bloody, ,” said the officious police Corporal, who had just put down the phone. “Say Koppal,  and don’t say yaar to Sergeant”.

In the Indian Air Force, they called a Corporal  Koppal in poor imitation of the RAF way of pronouncing the word with  the r’s ever so faintly.

“How dare you, “ I challenged, “To talk like that to  a Senior NCO, Segeant Hussein?”

Hussein should have got his SNCO status six months before me.

“Vishu, I am not Sergeant. I flunked the bloody sergeant’s education test three times. Too busy with football.”

“You, don’t say bloody Sergeant Education Test” said the Corporal in fake service pride, probably to please me so I won’t report him. “Sarge, this Muslim has come without identity card. He is a bloody spy.”

“Don’t say bloody,” I repeated after him. “I know this NCO. He was a trainee in a senior batch. If you look through your old Station Routine orders you will find his name for winning matches for the Air Force in Inter-services. He is not a sergeant because he was spending time bringing credit to the service through sports.”

Losing identity card , whatever one’s rank, that too in war time, was a serious crime. If the card landed up in the hands of an enemy agent, results could be disastrous.  Hussein, despite his achievements in sports, wouldn’t escape punishment. That was no reason why an acting-unpaid Corporal should be insulting him and making him stand and shiver in a corner of the open guard room.

The Orderly Officer , a young Flight Lieutenant, drove up in his jeep. He rushed in , and I greeted him with a good evening.

“Good evening, Sergeant. My, what disguise. Ridiculous. You can put down the Sten gun down now, please. I am glad you came through the jungles in one piece. Too risky. The armament officer was waiting for you till half an hour ago. He and his fitter-armourers are on the way. After they have come you can go to the Senior’s mess and change into some decent clothes. They are keeping your dinner waiting”.

I will have my dinner, I mused with some feeling of guilt, but Hussein, the ace sportsman and senior to me in service, will go hungry.

The officer  turned to the standing policeman. “Cor’pral, check the truck numbers and let them in one by one. They can line up inside close to the runway and not out in the open till the Armament officer decides what to do. Please also bring the Sergeant’ luggage.“

In the Indian Air Force those days, officers and men spoke English differently. Officers said Cor’pral, Airmen said Koppal. Officers said Ray-der for Radar, men said Red-aahr for the same thing. Officers played tennis, or if they could, golf. Men played football and volley ball. Even at work, officers spoke through  the  neither-here-nor-there ranks called Warrant officers, or, at worst cases, through Senior NCOs, who got the work done. Messes were placed far apart. Officers’ toilets were taboo for men even in emergency, and the former wouldn’t even think of looking into the latter’s loos. Most of the time. Seniors used the word ‘bloody’ to balance their sentences or to display anger while the juniors did the balancing by interjecting a Hindi word, except between peers. Unlike in the railways, The F word was seldom used. The military code drawn up by the British and practised by Indians was a pirated version of Manusmriti.  Yet when some communication between the two castes did take place, they managed to understand each other.

The officer turned to Hussein. “What happened to your bloody identity card?”

“I am on temporary duty here to repair one of your DF ground equipment, Sir. I was told that your equipment is down and  this is an emergency.   I caught the first train, travelled third class because there was no place in second class, squeezing myself between civilians. I lost my trunk between Barrackpore and Gohati. It was stolen at some station in between. The identity card was in the trunk.“

“How do we know that you are the Hussein who has come to repair the DF equipment? You could be anyone who stole Hussein’s identity. May be you have come to blast the equipment.”

“If I stole Hussein’s identity, I would be holding his identity card, Sir,” Hussein pleaded.

“Don’t argue with an officer,” said the officious police Corporal, acting unpaid, who had just returned after passing the instructions to the head driver. The airman on guard duty reluctantly brought my luggage.

“I know this Corporal Hussein, Sir,” I intervened. “He was one batch senior to me in the wireless training centre. Any footballer worth his name in this Station would be able to identify him.”

“Sarge, I believe you. There is a war on. The enemy is pounding us on the Western Front. What they are doing to their own people in East Pakistan I don’t need to tell you. If  this airman lost his identity card so carelessly, sleeping in the train when a war is on and losing his identity card, he will be severely punished. The card should have been on his person, not in a bloody trunk. The Civilians in the train could have been East Pakistan refugees, among them spies. How do you know that he has not changed since you met him last in the training centre ?  They are brainwashing our people all the time. You have come in with valuable top secret property, that’s all I know. I don’t even know what it is, because I don’t need to know. You might know it because somebody up there trusts you enough  to escort it all the way here. That’s how we work in the service. Know only what you need to know.”

He had probably learnt those words in the officers’ training college.  The need-to-know principle,  always valid, but not too relevant to the occasion. If he really meant what he said, he should not have mentioned in the presence of a person whom he suspected to be a spy that I had brought in top secret property.

“How can I trust this man, without even an identity card with a photo, enter this field station? How can you tell he has not turned a spy?”

“Spies carry identity cards and don’t lose them on the way. Pakistan won’t engage a Hussein for spying. They would know that a Muslim would be the first suspect,” I said.

The Corporal didn’t tell me not to argue with an officer. He was busy worrying whether I would report that he was asleep on duty at a time like this.

“I have a simple test, Sir”, Said a Police Flight Sergeant who had just walked in, in uniform, but his head in a non-regulation monkey-cap against the cold. Evidently the corporal had called him for help.

After saluting the officer, the Flight Sergeant  braced up as if to fire a telling shot.

“Let me ask him this one question, Sir: Corporal Hussein, do you or do you not hate Pakistan?”

Hussein looked up at him and appeared to hesitate.

“One word. Do you or don’t you hate Pakistan – a Muslim Country?”

Hussein had obviously chosen his answer. He said:

“Flight, If you are asking me if I hate Pakistan because it is a Muslim country, no, I don’t.  If you are asking me if I will fight  it because it is an enemy of India, my Country, yes,  I will fight  it, and, Inshallah,  I will fight Pakistan to my death.”

The words have no relevance today, yet I remember Corporal Hussein not for his football skills, not for being my senior and yet bearing a junior rank because he flunked Sergeant’s education tests several times, but for those words.



How Supreme Court foiled my relationship with the Living God.

May 6, 2014

The man sitting by my side at Hong Kong airport had been eyeing me for some time. Probably in his forties, he wore a grey suit without tie on a lanky frame. His face was rather oriental though with large bulging eyes; skin not light enough to be Chinese and not pink enough to be ‘white’.

Perhaps I stared back for a moment; he seemed to be pleased with it and nudged closer.  Then he noticed the passport I was holding up above my handbag as a sign for recognition by the Chinese driver who was to pick me up.

“Can I take a look?” he asked, pointing at the passport.

Bloody hell, I thought, somebody from the Customs or immigration. But I had nothing to fear. My visa was in perfect order. I was carrying nothing but some old clothes and a toothbrush. Yet I panicked a little.

I handed him the passport.

He flicked the pages like a professional card player flicks cards. He paused for just a moment at the first page, flicked back the cover and returned it.

“Indian,” he said.


“Menon, Hindu.”

“Good detective work”.

He ignored the sarcasm. I was beginning to guess what the guy was up to.

“How many gods do you pray to, Mr. Menon?”

This was getting even more interesting. I no longer wished that the driver would land up any minute soon.

“Depends,“ I said, pretending to be in thought. “May be a hundred, may be ten thousand”.

“Wrong, Mr. Menon. Sixteen thousand and eight. Krishna, Buddha, Lingam ..Some male, some female.”

I patted his thigh. “Amazing. You hit the nail on the head.”

“Got to. I was a Hindu like you before.”

Of course. Nearly-light-like Chinese skin and the freckled-but-not-pink-enough-white skin showed it. And his knowledge of Hindu Gods. Krishna, Buddha, Lingam!

“You look a Hindu too, ” I answered, suppressing a chuckle that threatened to well up beyond my throat.

He nodded uncertainly.

“Then I saw a wonderful light.”

I looked up at the airport illumination.

“I know. I am seeing the lights myself . Incredible..”

“Not this light. This is nothing. The true light. Light of Living God.”

“Lucky you. Seeing the lights of sixteen thousand and eight living gods. Krishna, Buddha, Lingam..”.

“There is only one Living God. The true God. The God who created you and me, Mr. Menon. I notice your sarcasm. But I should tell you this: This is no time to laugh and make fun of somebody who hopes to save you. “

He paused as if to shatter a breaking news.

“He is coming, Mr. Menon, He is coming as sure as you and I are sitting here.”

“By which flight is She coming?”

“Not she, He. Your goddesses are fake goddesses. Believe me, incarnations of devil, wearing skulls around their heavy hips and blood dripping from their tongues. The Real God is kind and merciful except to the rebellious and the unbelieving. He wants to save you. He will forgive you for worshipping sixteen thousand fake gods and goddesses and take you into his loving fold,”

He appeared to be getting agitated.

“Believe me, Mr. Menon, this is the time for you to accept Him. He mounted the cross to save you.  Don’t you see the signs? War in every Muslim world, war between Hindus and Muslims, war between men and women, poverty, famine, new –  new unheard of diseases, earthquakes, calamities..”

“And world wars between Christians, war between Protestants and Catholics, Reformists saying that the Pope is anti-Christ”, I interjected.

“World wars are over, a long time ago, Mr. Menon. Talk about the present. Every occurrence that is happening now is prophesied here”.

He tapped a bag by his side that I hadn’t noticed before.

“All the fourteen signs announced in this book have come to pass”.

“That’s interesting. Show me the sign about the civil war in Syria, and how it is going to end. Does it say Assad would resign or would he end up getting lynched?”

“Mr. Menon, you should believe. This is no time to joke and ridicule, as the gentiles did two thousand years ago. I have solid proof.  Two Peter, Chapter one, nineteen to twentyone. The time is here. He mounted the cross two thousand years ago to save you today. He is coming back.”

“In Hong Kong?”

“Don’t be silly. In Bethlehem. He will rule the world from there. The whole world would be his kingdom. Those who placed their trust in him would be saved. Those who didn’t..” he looked up, joining his hands as if praying for mercy. His shoulders shook as if in a shiver.

“Thank you for your concern. I am truly touched. You haven’t told me your name.”

“John. John Chang. It was He who brought me here to meet you.”

“Then He or She would know that I haven’t much time, Mr. Chang. The driver would be here any moment. He charges me by the minute from the moment he spots me.”

“ When the time comes you will forget about money and regret your folly. I will cut this short. I am not here to give you a long sermon. You look intelligent, you won’t need a sermon. I will just tell you this  one thing….”

Then he dropped the bombshell:

“God wants a relationship with you.”

“Don’t you think I am a bit old for any woman – even a god – to want a relationship with me?”

“God is not a Hindu devil-goddess, but He is God. He. The living God.”

“So he is a man?”

“God is God, not a mere man. He made man in his image.”

“So he is  manly,  I  mean, he looks like a man? Has things that I, a man, have?”

“Man was created in the image of God, not the other way round.”

“OK. To my mind, since man – you and I are made in the image of God, God resembles the mean average of you and me, and is equipped like you and me.”

“That’s a silly way to put it”.

“And this living God, who is equipped like a man, not a she-devil woman,  because he created man in his own image, wants a relationship with me”.

“Yes. From this very moment. He sent me here to help you.”

A lanky young Chinese was walking towards us. He noticed the passport in my hand and stopped.”Mr. Menon?”

I nodded,  got up and extended my hand towards John Chang, the Hindu who saw the light and found that God is coming to Bethlehem to rule the world and wanted to have a relationship with me.

“I am sorry, Mr. Chang. I am bisexual, but would have thought twice before refusing your offer of relationship to God, even though you say he is male, who would be the King of the world. Sadly, the Supreme Court of my Country has banned such relationships.”

My extended hand was not taken. When  it remained  limp for nearly a minute, I withdrew it and walked with Nelson Lang, the driver.



April 20, 2014

Sardar Khushwant Singh died last month, on 20th March, just missing his 100th birthday. He would be remembered for his wit and acerbic writing; for his attempts to promote  Urdu once again in the Country  and  sincere efforts to bring Pakistan and India together, in both of which he failed. He was a proud Sikh without practising Sikhism but for the turban, unshorn beard and love of Kirtans. He was a prolific writer, but  his small  poignant novel, Train to Pakistan, is, to my mind, his sole work of some literary merit.  But that is subject to debate.

Khushwant Singh confessed to hating Menons. Post-independence, VK Krishna Menon as the High Commissioner for India was his top boss  in England. Sudhir Ghosh, the Public Relations officer who was his immediate  superior  under Menon used Khushwant Singh, (then the Information Officer under Ghosh), to get at Menon. Though Menon  tried to be friendly after dressing him down at the first meeting , Khushwant Singh never forgave him for ticking him off now and then. He believed that Krishna Menon deliberately made him a prey to Pandit Nehru’s ire.  He spewed venom on Krishna Menon  in his later writings.

Next there was NC Menon, first his Junior in Hindustan Times, who insisted on correcting his proofs, cutting his t’s and dotting his i’s, and eventually finding better favour with Birlas and having him (or so Khushwant  Singh thought) ousted from the job. If he had confrontations with the several civil servants with that surname, I do not know.

His  column, “Malice Towards One and All” continued to be published weekly in the Hindustan Times and later in some other publications. ‘Malice’ was a fake mask; the column mostly praised his friends, Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay, The ill fated lone Maruti car that Sanjay Gandhi designed, Urdu writers of the past , friends, great poetry, beautiful women he met, and tribute to those whom he knew when they departed, but also occasional acidic comments on politicians and persons he disliked. At least two of his columns, I recall, were targetted at Menons.

Malice was a well chosen phrase, for sure, it enhanced the column’s popularity among gossip mongers.  Startling titles were Khushwant Singh’s forte : one of his works was titled “I Will Rape The Nightingale”. The epitaph he wrote for himself many decades before his death was : “Thank the Lord he is dead, the son of a gun”. He enjoyed being hated by those whom he hated.

He minced no words in describing his dislike for Menons in general and , Krishna Menon and his own erstwhile subordinate NC Menon in particular. NC Menon reciprocated the feelings in his later writings. Khushwant Singh had the the last word : He outlived  NC Menon, 19 years younger, by three months and two days, and Krishna Menon, 19 years older,  by over 36 years.

I met Khushwant Singh – actually saw, not met – in Lodhi Gardens once when  Door Darshan, the only television channel in India then, was shooting a serial on nature with Khushwant  Singh as the anchor. When I found the crew resing, I walked up  to greet him, to score a point by appreciating his works,  but he gave me a cursory look and turned away. Perhaps he sensed the Menon in me. Every time I passed by the gate of  his Sujan Singh Park House on my way to Khan Market, I wondered if I couldn’t go in and say Sat Shri Akal. I never dared.

He told many acidic jokes about Menons, and quite a few on gullible Sikhs. This one is the best; probably I read it in one of his malice columns. I don’t remember the way he told it; so I am saying it in my own words:

A Sardar went to Malbar for one of its famous Ayurvedic massages. He liked the massage, but hated being enveloped in sticky oil.

“Take a bucket and go to the sea shore”, advised the masseur. “Bathe in the sea water and you will be fine.”

The Sardar, who had never seen the sea before, bought a bucket from the bazaar on the way to the beach. He found a Menon  sitting on the sands as if he owned the sea  while high-tide  waves reached up and caressed his  stretched-out legs.

“How much for a bucket of this water?”   asked the Sardar.

Menon, being Menon, thought here was an opportunity to part a fool  from his money.

“Fifty  Rupees a bucket,” he said, trying not to giggle.

“Too much,” said the Sardar. He had been warned  by well-meaning friends in Patiala that Mallus cheat; one must always bargain with them.

“All, right. Special discount for you, twenty-five rupees”. Offered  Menon,

The Sardar blessed his luck and paid the cash, filled his bucket to the brim when he thought that Menon wasn’t watching, and went to his room. After the salt water bath, he felt refreshed.

An hour later, he went to the beach again for another refreshing bucket of water. The jobless Menon still sat at the same place on the beach, mulling his good fortune.

It was now low tide; the waves had receded far.

Wahe Guru, “ said the Sikh in amazement, “you sold so much water in just an hour?”.

“If a dozen more Sardars like you come to this beach, I will sell the whole sea,” replied Menon.

Perhpas it was Khushwant Singh who inititated the Menon (later generalised as ‘Mallu’ )   jokes in retaliation to sardar jokes. Yet  I wouldn’t thank the Lord for his death even at this ripe old age. He would have continued to entertain, even through the feeble months and years,  if he was granted a century and more.


April 19, 2014

Who would remember Corporal Konnayil Geeverghese Mathai today? He could not have been married by 1965; so no wife, children or grand children to remember the name. Perhaps there is a black-and-white photo hanging on a wall in some Catholic house in Pala or Kottayam in Kerala. If you ask the children in the house whose photo it was, they might say “Some uncle. He was in the Air Force”.

Mathai was a friend, a course-mate in the Group One Wireless Technical Course in Jalahalli, Bangalore. He was from a senior initial batch, but we were together in the advanced course. Though billeted separately, we met often.

An outstanding student himself, Mathai would advise me to take my studies seriously. “If only you’d try, you would pass out with the best trainee medal”, he would tell me. Whether that was true or not, I was too keen on finding dates in Brigade Road to waste my time on Berkhausen condition and equations for amplification factors. As it happened, Mathai was the one who passed out as the best trainee from the course.

On our passing out parade, his boots shone like mirrors; his uniform was starched stiff. Just as we were going to assemble for the passing out parade, Mathai noticed that my tunic was stained. He insisted on lending me his second best one, far better ironed and cleaner than my best. May be I thanked him, I can’t recollect. The Flight Sergeant who did the preliminary inspection commented on the patches of whitener on my belt and scabbard and the dullness of my boots, but passed the tunic. I looked at Mathai, and he smiled his enigmatic smile, which I never understood.

A couple of days after the passing out, our postings were announced. I was to move immediately to Kashmir, Mathai to some other place. When we were shaking hands and saying goodbye, I thought that Mathai was trying to tell me something. An hour after the train started, realization dawned : I hadn’t returned his fine tunic of a uniform. A humble aircraftsman, even the one who passed out as the best trainee,  had at best three sets of uniforms – now  Mathai was poorer by a tunic from a set. I decided to keep the tunic safe and return it the next time we met. Indian Air Force was a small world then, and one could always meet the other some time or another.

When I heard that Mathai was selected for training in England on British-made electronic equipment, I felt a pang of jealousy. I missed the aircraftsman first class – Group one status at passing out.  If I  hadn’t messed it up, I  probably would be in the same flight  to England as Mathai’s. I should have listened to him.

Five years later, when war with Pakistan was raging, I heard the news that Mathai had died in a bombing raid. I had kept his tunic safe for returning it someday, now I packed it in a plastic bag and put it away for his memory. I found Mathai’s eulogy and photo in Malayalam newspapers. I kept a cutting of it with the uniform.

A couple of years later, a medical assistant NCO who said during the war he pulled out bodies from a  trench that got covered with loads of mud  by the impact of a thousand-pounder bomb. “One airman had his hand stretched out, stiff, as if he was trying to scratch himself out,” he said: “They said he was a very good technician. The CO cried when he said he would be  badly missed. His name was Mathai.”

I do not recall Mathai receiving a gallantry award. Perhaps they gave him one, and I missed reading about it. Perhaps he had not lived long enough to show what meritorious service he was capable of.

As I moved from place to place, the packed tunic and photo got lost along the way. But I often recollect his face very vividly – his tall and ever-so-slightly bent frame, faint mustache, square chin and enigmatic smile.

I do not know the date when Corporal Mathai tried vainly to scratch himself out of a covered trench dug near a runway in an Air Force station in Western India. It happened in April, that much I know. Forty nine years ago.



April 16, 2014

I will begin  this piece by recounting  the story of  Rama building a bridge with the help of a Vanara Sena (monkey army) as described by Valmiki, the first, and to my mind the best story teller of ancient times. My story refers to two Sargas (Chapters) of “Yuddha Kandam” by Valmiki, occasionally touching on Sundara Kandam, the previous section.  I am hoping that no one would deny that Valmiki’s version is the most authentic of the Ramayana story. Here I have taken the Sanskrit rendition as is universally accepted as Valmiki’s.  I have not stuck to the verses as a word-to-word translation, except where necessary, but have made sure that none of the verses is misinterpreted. Wherever in doubt, I have taken the help of Shri K.M.K. Murthy’ translation available on the net . Mr. Murthy is  a banker by profession, but a thorough-bred Brahmin well-versed in Sanskrit, a respected interpreter of epics, and by no reckoning a rebel against Hindu beliefs and their religious literature.

Yuddha KandamSarga 21:

The negotiation between Ravana’s emissary and Rama’s side failed. Thereafter Rama, the annihilator of enemies, spreading sacred grass on the sea shore, and after saluting (by joining his palms) the great ocean with his face turned eastward, lay down with his muscular and sinewy arm, where Sita’s head once used to rest, for a pillow. He waited for three days.

The impertinent lord of the sea failed to appear before him. What arrogance, that this king of the sea has not appeared before me even after I had paid him due honours and waited for three days, Rama said to Lakshmana and demanded that the latter fetch his bow and serpentine arrows. I will make this ocean suffocate with all its crocodiles, snakes, shells (etc.), he said, and picked up the arrow that was stronger than Brahma’s rod.  He threatened to shoot the ocean and render it barren.  Huge terrible waves  began to rise in fear; sea serpents and monsters shuddered with fright.  Lakshmana, who knew the calamity that was imminent, persuaded Rama against the use of the terrible missile.

Yuddha KandamSarga 22:

Unrelented, Rama threatened the Ocean that if he shot the arrow it would swallow the water and clear a stretch of sand , destroying all the sea animals. You don’t know my valour, he said, and fixed the arrow to the bow.

The earth and the heaven appeared to split; darkness set in; moon and stars lost their ways, even gods shuddered. A huge wind swept away the clouds and tore up the trees. Large chunks of stones broke away from mountain tops and smashed into each other; sparks flew like terrible flashes of light. The sea over-ran the shores, sea animals helplessly moved around with alacrity. None of these moved the resolute Rama.

That is when  the king of the ocean appeared before him in full regalia, like the sun rising from behind Mount Meru, accompanied by Rivers Sindhu and Ganges and smaller minions. (If the lord of the sea was also frightened by the threatening posture of Rama, Valmiki doesn’t mention it).

The sea-lord said : “My dear Rama, Earth, wind, ether, water and light remain fixed in their own nature, resorting to their eternal path (exactly what Stephen Hawking said many centuries later: Laws of nature do not change to suit the whims of gods). I am sorry, neither from desire nor ambition nor fear nor from affection, am I able to coagulate my waters inhabited by alligators. However, I shall make it possible to see that you are able to cross over. I will arrange a place for the monkeys to cross me. As long as the army crosses me, the crocodiles will not attack it”.

Rama said: “”All right, but this great arrow cannot go in vain. Where should I now land it?”

“Towards my northern side, there is a holy place. It is famous, just as you are famous,  and known as Drumatulya,. Lot of terrible robbers, under their evil chief Abhiras, drink my water there. I cannot even bear those wicked people touch my water.   Rama! Please dispatch your arrows right over there.”

Rama obliged; The place where the arrow, whose splendor was akin to that of a thunder bolt, dispatched by Rama turned into a desert, is now known as Maru. Where the arrow landed  with a terrible sound, a large fissure formed, sea water gushing out of it. Rama blessed it and  the water dried up, and the place became a desert. By his blessings, then the desert of Maru became a place suitable for breeding cattle, a place “with  little of disease, producing tasty fruits and roots, with a lot of clarified butter, a lot of milk and various kinds of sweet- smelling herbs”. Thus it became an auspicious and suitable move, bestowing these merits.” Since Rama watched the arrow landing and blessed the place when it turned into a desert and then fertile, the place could not have been beyond the line of sight. (Mr. Murthy, undoubtedly under religious authority, says that the place where the arrow fell is Maru Malwar in Rajasthan. I couldn’t locate such a place in Rajasthan, and if indeed it does  exist or existed, Rama, in his human avatar, had to have a vision that stretches 2000 to 3000 kilometres. However, I am digressing).

Then the king of ocean pointed at Nala, a distinguished monkey, and recommended him as one capable of building a fine  bridge, since he was the son of Vishwakarma, the architect and engineer of the world.

The Lord of ocean then returned, and the distinguished monkey came forward and told Rama that he was indeed the biological son (born of his loins) of the great architect of the world, Vishwakarma. “I am capable of constructing a bridge across the ocean with the help of these noble monkeys”, he said.

The part of the sea where Rama’s army of monkeys was invited to build a bridge by the lord of the sea was unfathomably deep.

The bridge was designed and constructed under the direction of this qualified (by birth) architect, Nala. Hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic monkeys were employed in the venture.

The construction materials included trees of various kinds and solid rocks, (not  calcareous shells nor soft limestones). Huge logs came from trees plucked by their roots from the forest; elephant-sized rocks were wrenched out of  great rocky mountains. Thus the bridge was built by a progressive construction plan that took five days for completion.

As the distance to the point of construction increased, the monkeys used machines (यन्त्रैः) for transporting the construction materials. Poles were used for measuring the height of the bridge (presumably for the purpose of leveling) and a  hundred-yojana string was spun and strung  up in a straight line to ensure that the bridge was made in perfect straight line. Reeds and logs were used to fasten the bridge together. (A primitive  technique of fastening rural bridges across narrow canals with logs and reeds exist even today).

We notice that there was specialized allocation for each work: some skilled monkeys for measuring, others yet for tying and bonding  (the logs and rocks) and some for ensuring level height (using poles) and straight-line length (with string) and the rest (worker monkeys or mere privates?) for the manual labour of carrying rocks and trees and laying them. Note the poet’s eyes for details.

As the work progressed, the monkey-workers became progressively more productive, as happens in any well-managed construction process.  Rama merely supervised the bonding of the side logs with reeds.  The total construction work of five days amounted to that of 100 yojanas (14,+20+21+22 +23). When completed, the bridge was 100 yojanas long and 10 yojanas wide, as stated in verse 22:74. This feat was achieved in a sea that was abode of alligators or crocodiles (मकरआलये).

As we notice, the Ram Setu was not constructed by some stray untrained monkeys who threw floating stone bricks into the sea as depicted in our movies, It was an engineering feat,  albeit by people of extraordinary size, incredible swiftness and colossal strength, using the locally available construction materials – solid rocks, logs of wood and reeds.

Now we come to some interesting points. The Contention of the Hindutwa people, which include the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, RSS (both of whom see themselves as the appropriate answer to Al-Qaida and Taliban) and BJP (self-styled political Hindu alternative to Pakistan’s Muslim League) is that the marvelous bridge thus described in great detail by Valmiki is the 30 kilometre long, limestone shoal formation dotted by sixteen sand islands (8 on Indian side and 8 on Srilankan side), conveniently named Ram Setu.  If you try and burrow a canal in the middle of it and make a shorter shipping line between the East coast and the West of India, there will be trouble, said the Hindu Taliban. Not from Rama, the builder of the bridge, but from the combined Hindu equivalent of Al-Qaida-Taliban-Pakistan Muslim League. To start with, and to demonstrate what would follow, they  blocked the roads and trains across the Country and burnt effigies.

There were environmental objections against the proposed canal, which have never bothered any oil guzzling government, let alone Indian government,  anywhere in the world. On the other hand, Al-Qaeda and Taliban – known by whatever other name – frightens the hell out of any government. That is how the ‘Setu Samudram Canal Project’ got dropped. I am no  expert on the financial viability or environmental impact of such a project; if it got shelved or dropped (which is the same thing) on those grounds, there would be no blog such as this. What inspires my fury is religious superstition getting in the way of a Country’s attempt at economic progress.

Now let us examine the facts.

The sandy ridge between Pamban (Indian side) and Mannar (Srilankan side) islands that we call Ram Setu  is made up of limestone shoals,  not huge wooden logs and massive rocks. Logs might rot in the 9000 year period since Ramayana; but rocks won’t. There are no limestone hills or mountains near Rameswaram, one would have to go to Karnataka’s  West coast to find  limestone hills

How long is a yojana when measured in contemporary unit of length? The great ancient scientist, astronomer and mathematician, Aryabhata (not Aryabhatta, as some would like to spell his name. Bhata means soldier, Aryabhata = Aryan Soldier born in Kodungallur on the South-West Coast), predicted the circumference of the earth in yojanas. If you take a yojana to be equal to about 8 miles, (13 Kms) you’d find that his prediction of earth’s diameter to be 1050 Yojanas is precise to a fraction of a percent. This has to be so; it was Aryabhata’s calculation that enabled the future writers of Panchang (Hindu almanac) to predict sunset and sunrise, eclipses and other astronomical data correctly. A hundred-yojana bridge is eight hundred miles or 1300 kilometres long. This also agrees with Bhaktivedanata’s interpretation of Mahabhagavatam. (Mr. Murthy’s translation also states at one point that a yojana is 8 miles). Note that: these 800 miles length of the Setu is in a straight line, not an arched  shape as in the sand ridge referred to as Ram Setu. Sea waves form arch-shaped beaches on their shores. So does this natural formation, but the bridge that the monkeys constructed under the supervision of  skilled Nala (son of Vishwakarma, who engineered the world) was a perfect straight line – the straightness ensured by a 100-yojana string ,

As regards Ganges and Sindhu escorting the Lord of the Sea at the point of  his meeting with Rama, it could be a figure of speech by a poet who took  extreme liberties in giving laudatory ornamentations to everything and every character in the story. Ganges and Sindhu are extremely unlikely to come together anywhere; certainly not near Rameswaram in deep South.

The sea around the so-called bridge is shallow – 1 metre to 10 metres deep. There are no crocodiles anywhere around; in fact, even the salt-water crocodiles you find in Southern India do not venture into sea. Any biologist will tell you that crocodiles confine themselves to swamps and rivers. How can a sea that is fathomless (as stated by the lord of the sea) at the time of Rama 9000 years ago  become so shallow? The 9000-year age of Ramayana is not my idea; it was computed by astrologers taking into account the position of the planets and constellations at the time of Rama’s birth.

As stated before, the  ridge named  ‘Ram Setu’ consists of limestone shoals- formations of sands that usually happen due to the process called shoaling in shallow waters. Lime comes from dead  sea animals and fossils.  Rameswaram, where Lord Rama is supposed to have launched his bridge, is a low-lying area of 32 feet mean elevation. Vindhya Range stops far short of the mainland leading to this island. Where did the monkeys find huge mountains near Rameswaram to wrench out  huge rocks to build the bridge? I shall not question the presence of so many varieties of trees, maybe there was a huge forest  around the place  those 9000 years ago (see ‘Shri Rama’s Date of Birth’ in the link).

How does the 18-mile (30 Km)  Setu  (If you include  Pamban Island and Mannar Peninsula at the point touching Srilanka, it could be as much as 39 miles (62 kms) compare with an eight-hundred mile (1280 Km) monkey-made bridge of Valmiki’s Ramayana?

Aryabhata does mention a Lanka. Like Valmiki, he calls it Lanka , never  Srilanka. Nor do the Divu chronicles and Buddhist literature mention Srilanka. Many of his calculations and derivations are based on the assumption that this Lanka is situated on the equator on the same latitude as Ujjain (Ujjaini) This points towards a large island in the string of islands called Maldives.  This is reasonably consistent with the 100-yojana (800 miles or 1300 hundred kilometres) calculation from any South Indian West coast which was possibly what Valmiki had in mind. Valmiki was a poet and not a mathematician or surveyor, and perhaps his approximation was somewhat off the mark, but he certainly could not have mistaken 30 (or even 62) kilometers for a 100 yojanas or about 1300 kilometres.

Aryabhata was a mathematician-astronomer who made precise calculations his forte, so Lanka is most probably a far-off island in Maldives, nearly 800 miles (100 yojanas as per the 14+20+21+22+23 calculation in Sarga 22) and just a couple of degrees off the infinitely thin equatorial line, (as against 9.3 degrees at the point in Srilanka where the supposed Ram Setu ends) and only a couple of  degrees towards the East of the meridian of Ujjain (whereas it is about 6.5 degrees East from Mannar island). The sea is mostly several kilometers deep as stated by the Lord of the ocean, and infested with large sea animals – dolphins, large sharks and whales, if not exactly crocodiles or alligators. It is quite possible that the word Makarah  meant a lot many large and fierce sea animals in Sanskrit during  Valmiki’s time.

One might ask how anybody  could build a bridge 1300 kms long  in five days from crude raw materials like trees pulled out of the ground and rocks shorn from mountains. That is a valid question. My answer would be that if they could be presumed able to build a bridge 30 (or 62, take your pick) kilometres  long including the task of pulling out trees off  the ground and breaking away rocks  shorn the mountains in 5 days, they could just as well do a 1300-km length. I doubt if our highly trained military engineers would be able to build an 30 (or 62) km bridge in five days with their pre-fabricated materials.  Once you bring in the concept of superhuman strength and abilities to your story, there  is no bench mark to it; if 30 or 62 kilometres is possible in 5 days, so is 1300 kilometres. (When I mention 62 Kms, I am including Pamban and Mannar as part of the Setu). The number of hundreds of thousand monkeys employed in the task are not precisely stated, so you can’t even compute the man-hours.

How many days did Vishwamitra take to build the whole world? Less than the six days that Jehova (YHWH) the Abrahamic god took, or was it more? You can’t devise a benchmark for superstitious timing of labour.

Supposing the government was to dig a canal to make way for a shipping line (Setu Samudram Project) in the middle of this ridge. How would Rama himself react to the idea? In December 1964, a huge heretofore unheard of cyclone destroyed the railway line and much of the Dhanushkodi, drowning more than a hundred pilgrims on the spot, taking  more than 1800 human toll in all.  Lord Rama didn’t appear to have cared, the authorities were not even alerted about the extent of the calamity for 48 hours. The damage met with no divine compensation; lives lost were cruelly lost . Then is it likely that he would be much perturbed by someone scooping out  a canal in the middle of the  bridge he is supposed to have got built by monkeys so many millennia ago?

Mr. LK  Advani said that Hindu feelings were hurt with the findings of Archaeological Survey of India that there is no proof that the so-called Rama Setu is a man-made (precisely, monkey-made) bridge. Now, the geography of Southern India (Deccan Region) is indeed consistent with Valmiki’s description of the regions of forests beyond the Vindhyas where Rama and Lakshmana roamed in search of Sita. The pious say, and many Kannadigas believe, that Kishkinda is the State of Karnataka. Hanuman is the most popular deity in that region. However, it is conceivable that the ASI found no proof – fossils, pieces of bone, human-simian teeth, whatever they and anthropologists look for as proof – to believe that the population of Karnataka have descended from giant ape-men capable of communicating with human speech, showing off (रराज) bright red buttocks (स्फिग्देशेनाभिताम्रेण)- Sundara Kandam, 1:63) and  long tails.  Evidently, Valmiki was not describing a different race of humans, but real man-monkeys. How hurt would Advaniji be if they were state that no such race of ape-men ever existed? In all probability that was  one of the reasons why ASI researchers stated conclusively that Ramayana has no historical basis.

Sundara Kandam describes a huge mountain, Mainaka, normally submerged but capable of rising many yojanas above sea level, its base at the mouth of Patala, the underworld, its pinnacle covered in shining gold, on Hanuman’s flight path from India to Lanka (Sundara Kandam, 1:91). Where is that mountain between India and Srilanka, even assuming that Hanuman took  a different flight path than where the bridge was built over the sea later?

Isn’t it evident that Valmiki was writing  of a Lanka, as also known to Aryabhata, several hundred miles away from our west coast, somewhere near the equator and in line with Ujjain, that was widely known or believed to be in existence in the puranic period? Southern Indians of the time, particularly where Aryabhata came from, were adept at ocean navigation and there were fishing folk among them who either found the Maldives (or even Mauritius) or traded with its native inhabitants (or had been met  by those inhabitants in a recurrent state of hostility) and were hence considered to be demons? Isn’t it perfectly possible that they resembled the forest-dwelling, hunting (and possibily cannibalistic) races 14,000 of whom Rama annihilated to please the forest-intruding rishis during his sojourn in the Dandaka forests, as mentioned in Aaranya Kandam, and that is why their chiefs were considered Ravana’s brothers and Shurpanaka his sister? On the other hand, the population of Srilanka is barely different in appearance from the largely Dravidian population of South India

Isn’t it perfectly clear that present Srilanka was either a part of the subcontinent or connected with a land ridge that got eroded over the years to become the Ram Setu of today? Isn’t the incredibly low depth of the ocean (1 metre to 10 metres!) a proof of this erosion?

Expectedly, there were riots and court cases when ASI submitted its honest affidavit.  A cowardly government, on the recommendation of the Director General of ASI (some scientist!) immediately suspended two scientists – both Hindus –  for stating the fact that the so-called Ram Setu is a natural formation, and that there is no evidence that Ramayana is a historical event in an affidavit submitted to  court. The suspension of the ASI staff was akin to what Pope Urban did to Galileo Galilee after a relatively merciful inquisition (house arrest for life instead of a blazing stake). In the 20th century, Cardinal Ratzinger (later the disgraced Pope Benedict) pronounced that Pope Urban was right in punishing Galilee; that the current acceptance of his theory by the church is only politically correct! That is Christian Taliban for you. Despite the advancement of science, superstitions appear to have only worsened over the centuries.

If the ASI finding had hurt Hindu feelings, the first person to be suspended for that crime should have been Aryabhata posthumously; at least his Aryabhatiya (his only known work) should have been banned and all the translations of his original work pulped. Why? As against what our Vedas and Puranas (Maha Bhagavatam, for instance) say with certainty that the Sun is a god who rides seven divine horses from the East to West in the sky and occasionally comes down to seduce young girls (Mahabharatam) and beget children – like Karna – wherein our ancient faith rests,  Aryabhata said that the Sun is a sphere of fire  that stands stationery and earth revolves around it. He said: “In the same way that someone in a boat going forward sees an unmoving object going backward, the apparent movement of the sun is because of the rotation of the earth”. Isn’t that a blasphemy about our religion, any religion for that matter? Books on modern science should be burnt. We should revert to Gurukula, teaching only three Vedas (The fourth one, Atharva Veda reserved for higher studies), a couple of epics, Bhagvat Gita and Surya Namaskar. If you think that is a weird suggestion, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh ministers (both of the BJP party at the time) had mooted a similar idea. That would be a perfect answer to Pakistani Madrasas and their Taliban training centres.

The natural limestone shoal formation  between Dhanushkodi and Mannar gives the Hindutwa extremists another sacred cause apart from the mosque in Ayodhya; for Srilankans the newly invented “Rama Trail” (with built-and-painted-to-look-ancient signs and images of Ravana’s supposed period) means a huge income from religious tourism by gullible Indians. It is another matter that Srilankans do not look like invincible demons (except on the cricket field). A Srilankan blog says : “Thank God the Indians have dropped the idea of digging the canal”. He has a sound reason to be thankful. Even Tamil Nadu in India should be grateful, it earns money from religious tourism despite occasional tragedies.

There are so many Christians in the West who still cling to the Creation theory.  I actually met one – a British teacher in a missionary school in Dhaka – who tore up my six-year old grandson’s attempt at a ‘project’ on dinosaurs on the ground that there were no dinosaurs in the 5000 years that have passed since Creation. Fortunately, Indians but the  few  rabble rousers have learnt to adapt to the findings of science. Scientists like Chandrasekhar and Narilkar have put forth path-breaking theories that have guided the scientific world.  I do not notice anyone  I know – certainly not a Hindu – feeling hurt by the theory of evolution (as against the Manu theory that an egg broke into two shells –one sky and the other earth) and blocking roads and trains to subvert text books.

Conclusion? Ram Setu got its name in the fifteenth century CE when the ridge was still above water (as per some temple records in Rameswaram, which got the name for the same reason) and reached up to the island named Sinhala – Lion Country – which came to be vulgarized as Ceylon by Europeans, and later nationalized as Srilanka the same way as Bombay became Mumbai.  The name has nothing to do with Rama of Ramayana fame, just as Mahatma Gandhi Roads in many cities and town across India are not roads that Mahatma Gandhi ever built or  traversed; Indira Gandhi Markets are not places where Mrs. Indira Gandhi sold or shopped; Rajiv Gandhi  had nothing to do with Rajiv Gandhi  Arogya Yojna.




March 9, 2014

I knew two friends who were somewhat different in their physical and mental makeup than what I thought to be masculine. The first guy was a school mate, a neighbour, and the brother of my classmate.  I will call him Soman. As we grew up, Soman  became somewhat emotionally – certainly not physically – dependent on me because I did not make fun of his gait, his girlish mannerisms or the lack of hair on his face.  Almost everyone else I knew made fun of him; his mother cursed him for being born into her womb.

When he heard that I was joining the Air Force, he told me: “I would have liked to join too, but they wouldn’t take me.”

“Why not?”, I asked, although I knew that what he said was probably the truth: “Why don’t you try?”.

He didn’t answer. He turned his face away  while his shoulders shook in a silent sob.

A year later when I went home on leave, my mother told me that  Soman  had died a month before.

“Poor boy,” she said: “He would often come here and ask me when you’d be coming on leave. I heard that one day a few boys booed him  when he was trying to get into the bus. He went back home, bolted his door and never came out.  He died the next day. His mother said it wasn’t suicide. He was just  heartbroken.”

I suspect Soman was born sexless. His dependence on me was certainly not  in the physical sense.  I got my sexual education at 13 from a visiting  older relative who had no claim to being  L, G, B or T.

The second friend was my batch-mate in the military school. His voice was plainly feminine, he had the smooth, hairless body that any woman would envy.  He never stood and piddled in the  common urinals.  The rumour was that a lover of his had managed to get him recruited, which, even on hindsight, I can believe. He once  tried to get into the bed of another guy in our dormitory and got kicked out with a loud curse. Nobody complained to the NCO in charge of the billet, so he got away with some loss of face but no other harm. Apparently, he never tried again.  He boldly bore the taunts as if they were mere jokes, retaliating only on a rare occasion.

More than a decade later, I found his name in the list of those who were commended by the Air Chief.  Though somewhat surprised, I called to congratulate him. His voice had not changed much, but had the authority of a Flight Sergeant –Chiefie in Air Force parlance. He had acquitted himself commendably in the war on the Eastern front, which earned him the proud commendation.

A couple of years after the training, I landed up in a far-away island on special duties. There I was introduced to  a stout, well-built NCO,   who looked about thirty despite his balding head.

“Be careful,” said the Corporal who introduced him to me: “If he Madhu gets  a chance, he would shag you”.

Madhu  smiled, unembarrassed, and shook hands. “Don’t be afraid”, he said : “This guy is just  jealous”.

I was the youngest, a low-ranking aircraftsman,  in the small camp of thirty or so men and a single officer, and felt somewhat wary of  Corporal  Madhu. As I got to know him over the days, I found him a jovial guy who loved to display his  inclination.  When someone would bite a banana at the breakfast table, Madhu would hold his crotch and pretend to scream:

“Don’t, please don’t. Go easy. Your teeth hurt.” The joke was harmless enough and never failed to elicit a guffaw  that echoed through  the dining room.

Only one fellow got furious when the prank  was played on him – Tiwari, who preferred to be called Pandit .

“You dirty fellow, I know what you two do, you spoil the culture of this camp” he shouted, pointing at Madhu and  the younger man sitting next to him:  “This time I am going to tell the CO and see that he sends  you up to a court- martial”

D’Souza, a senior awaiting his promotion and transfer  was known for his sense of humour. “Sit down, Pandit. Don’t be such a holy shit. Everybody has seen you wanking it  in the bathroom”.

Pandit’s  eyeballs bulged, whether in anger or surprise, I couldn’t tell. He walked out of the mess.

“Did you really see him doing it?” someone asked D’Souza  through a chuckle.

“Who doesn’t  wank in this bloody lonely island? Anyone who says  he doesn’t  is a bloody liar.”

It transpired that nobody in our mess was a bloody liar. Tiwari lost the honorific of Pandit. Instead, he got  a more popular nickname  – holy shit.

In a fancy restaurant in a rather westernized part of  Madras (not Chennai then),  I sipped beer and watched with great interest the crowd that was gyrating on the floor to the beats of a live band. A  tall white man with pink nose and ruddy cheek bones  sitting at the next table reached out  and  touched my shoulders: “See that girl over there? She sits like a wall flower. Why don’t you ask her to a dance?”.

“I don’t dance, ” I said, feeling like a village bum.

He passed me a card. “Nathaniel, from Canada. I teach ball room dancing to celebrities as well as  ordinary people.  Come see me at this address coming  Sunday. I will teach you.”

Big and fat Nathaniel was all grace when he danced. He  taught me all the styles that had been the white man’s  entertainment and  means of  finding a wife for centuries – Fox-trot, Waltz, Rumba, Samba, Tango  – all for  five rupees a month. Once I got over the confusion in keeping  up with the western beats, I could pass off for a good enough  dancer.

Margaret, Nathaniel’s lady assistant told me that he was gay.  I, a small town boy from Kerala did not  get what the word meant . I told her how  Nathaniel once asked  me if I knew what Connie Francis meant when she sang:

“Pretty little baby, you say that may be,

You’ve been thinking of me

Don’t you know it is fun to love,

While our hearts are young and gay?”

“He was giving you a hint,” Margaret told me.”Gay means homosexual.”

Margaret could be right. When the hint didn’t go home, I was left alone. In my memory, Nathaniel the man from Canada was a thorough gentleman.

In another rather westernized town (westernized, till the Anglo Indians migrated West or East and Goans moved to Bombay), I noticed these two elderly ladies dancing like a couple among the pairs of men and women. Those were the days men only danced with women and women with men; so they looked like an odd pair.

Perhaps I stared a little too long at them; Yvonne, my partner for the dance, whispered into my ear: “The one with long brown hair is my mother. The other is her boyfriend.”

“Boy friend?  That’s a woman,” I said.  The woman’s rising bust line left me in doubt about her gender.

“Yes, boy friend. People say that mom and she are lesbians.”

I was struck by her frankness.

“No, “ I said: “I don’t believe that. Do you?”

“I dunno. But they sleep in the same room.”

She drew me a little closer. “Trust me, I am not that.”

She was pretty enough, but I already had in mind someone prettier.

In Delhi, the wire girls in my small electronic factory complained that they never felt safe in the little slum  houses they could afford, each sharing with two or three other girls, and with common bathrooms for a whole neighbourhood.  The supervisor suggested that there was a row of nice one-room houses with a common verandah just across the road , which was occupied by nursing trainees  who had vacated the rooms after their training. The houses would by now be vacant.

I met the young, handsome  though  rather plump  and short  jeans-clad  Punjabi who owned the houses. We settled for a reasonable rent for four of the houses in a row with attached toilets.  The  girls (one of them with her husband and a child) moved in.

A month later, a  hijra –eunuch – in loud makeup and colourful sari walked in to my office.  Unfortunately, my factory was too small to employ a regular guard outside who could block intruders.

“Who let her in?”, I asked the supervisor..

“Not, her, him,  tumhara landlord” said the hijra, in part English.” I was just passing by, so thought I could collect my rent.  Still on duty, so no time to change my clothes.”

The supervisor smiled. “He – she  – owns the row houses  you hired for the girls”.

Yes, the face was familiar enough. “Sorry, I couldn’t place you,” I said. “But how…”

“No problem. I am the secretary of our association here. On duty, I wear these clothes. Off duty, I wear jeans and T-shirt.”

“What duty?”

Log bolte hai ki hum bheek mangte hain. Nahin. Tax lehte hai. Hameh Sharminda Karne ke liye. Kuchh log hai, gareeb. Hame tho-, inn kapodon mein achha lagta hai.

He meant:  People say we beg, but we don’t. We collect taxes from those who try to make us feel ashamed.  Some of us may be poor. As for me, I feel nice in these clothes.

Rajesh Sharma, the landlord-eunuch  insisted that I go with him to his house for a cup of chai. More curious than keen on a cup of tea, I mounted the pillion of his Vespa scooter.

Going by the standard of the middle-income house I had hired to live with my family, his was a luxurious villa. His wife was a pretty Punjaban, and child a cute little girl with bee-hive curls.

If there ever was a successful bisexual, Rajesh Sharma was one. Successful in business, apparently even so in marriage. To boot, Tax collector for the Eunuch Association.

“You are speaking to a criminal,” Vikram Seth is said to have told an interviewer after the recent Supreme Court verdict. Unlike Oscar Wilde of yore, this man of superb fiction and reasonable poetry  is unlikely to land up in  jail. True, the Supreme Court had said that Section 377 is to be  amended by the Parliament, not by the Court. True, too, that Indian Parliament  who fear the influence the  holy shits of all faiths  in the Country wield over the voting public would never amend the primitive Section that is meant to make criminals out of good people for being born with  slightly different tastes or physical attributes.

Not to forget that the  court also had said that penile penetration will need to be proved, I would love to see how anybody will prove penile penetration among lesbians.

I would also like to see what they would do with pedophile priests or with their superiors who conceal the crime.

As for the nomadic writer Vikram Seth, I hope he keeps a couple of fierce hounds outside his house while he is in India. The bedroom-peeping holy shits  deserve a  fierce dog bite.


Note: All names of people and places, except that of Vikram Seth  have been changed for obvious reasons.  I am sure that the great writer wouldn’t mind the liberty.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 52 other followers

%d bloggers like this: