A buck saved is a black buck earned

Amidst the Aamir Khan/Kiran row, some on social media took vows like the earthshaking vows that many men and women in our epics and Puranas took. Some last week swore never ever to spend a single rupee watching any of the actor’s movies.

I was reminded of someone I know that took a similar vow when Salman Khan’s case was hogging the social media space some months back. But when he told me he’d watched Bajrangi Bhaijaan, I asked him about his vow. His reply proved to me that there is a little Birbal or Tenali Rama in each one of us. And as in the case of many of our Puranic vows, his workaround was fiendishly clever.

He said he’d kept his vow – not spending a single paisa watching the film. “I streamed it from a pirate website. The quality was bad, there were lots of interruptions but I had the pleasure of not paying anything to watch that [expletives deleted] actor’s movie. Enjoyed the movie without a paisa wasted.”
Any qualms watching illegal stuff, I asked naively. “Nah, that’s the best way to treat him.”

Tale of the God Fish

What’s in a name? Plenty enough to bring a dose of hilarity to something as boring as a conference on marine resources in the middle of nowhere. And thereby hangs this tale:

I was at this international conference about oceanic stuff on one of the Pacific Ocean’s beautiful emerald paradises. One of the speakers was a Japanese fishery expert whose name was Masayoshi. Everyone addressed him as Masa. How appropriate his name would have been in Mumbai, I thought. For in the local Marathi lingo, ‘Masa’ means fish!

At tea between sessions, a photographer was going around getting people to stand together for group shots. Some of the delegates too were clicking away. One of them appeared to be of South Asian stock.

Waiting for a break in my conversation with the Japanese gent he approached me and glancing at my nametag asked if I was Indian. I nodded. “Well Dev has to be Indian. Where from?” From Mumbai, I said. “Me too. You understand Marathi?” I sure do, I said.

Then pointing to Masa’s tag, which he’d obviously noticed before, he let out a loud guffaw. “Dev-Masa” he said. “You know that means whale in Marathi, eh?” Of course, I said. Devmasa is indeed Marathi for whale. (‘Devmasa’ can loosely be translated as “God Fish”).

The session after the tea break was about whaling in the Pacific!

Guru wars, holy cows – and beef sans slaughter!

My friend Sharad Bailur posted a link to Sanskriti Megaguru Devdutt Pattnaik’s long and rather involved piece on Gau Mata and the raging beef ban controversy. It looked at cow slaughter from the perspective of ‘Dharma’.

Cows apparently have four bellies to digest what they ingest. I wished I had four brains in tandem to chew the cud on that piece, which I thought was all over the paddock like an untethered cow, ever vary of a lurking bull in heat nearby.

And a lurking bull there indeed was – in fact a raging one – in the form of an item in the ‘related links’ box in the newsfeed: “Rajiv Malhotra exposes Devdutt Pattnaik for plagiarising and distorting his work.”

Aha! Not wanting to ruminate on Pattnaik’s paddock until the cows come home, I clicked on what looked like a far juicier link to the Sanskriti Gigaguru’s rant. And I wasn’t disappointed. The grass was much greener on the other side of this link.

Gigaguru all but slaughters Megaguru in this four-and-a-half minute YouTube diatribe. Accusations of plagiarism, distortion and what have you fly thicker and faster than arrows in a Ramanand Sagar Pauranic serial.

In a tone and style that’s far from guru-esque, Gigaguru goes on to say that when confronted, Megaguru tamely admitted to grazing on his turf and then regurgitating it elsewhere without so much as even ruminating on it to give it a scholarly spin.

Also, Gigaguru’s big beef is that Megaguru uses the word ‘myth’ as in ‘mythology’ in much of his commentaries on Bharatiyata. Myth, as we know, comes from the Sanskrit ‘Mithya’, meaning much the same. But Gigaguru and much of Bharat’s new political dispensation decree that it would be mythical to describe anything Bharatiya as myth, because much in it is Itihasa or history, according to them.

Why split hairs with such labeling? Our Bharatiyata is unique. It’s fuzzy, like life itself. Nothing is black and white. Its grey – many, many shades of grey. So, while no one can agree on even an approximate date when it might have happened, or if it happened at all, the event when Rama’s foot touched a rock and liberated a petrified Ahalya is still celebrated annually in a village in central India.

That’s just one example. India’s landscape is strewn with places with mythohistorical flavour (for want of a better word). It’s like no other culture anywhere else. So why hair-split over labeling elements of it as either history or mythology? Bharatiyata defies such classification. Why not simply celebrate that uniqueness!

This week, Sharad Bailur also posted a link about an affordable lab-grown beef patty in the early stages of readiness for the commercial market. Wonder what the Gaurakshaks, Halalists and Kosherists will think about it. But as any neo-Shastri will tell you, cloning and stem cell technology were well known in Prachin Bharat – the Kaurava siblings were raised in a hundred petri dishes.

Thanks, Sharad Bailur. What would I do without you posting all those interesting links? Someday, I’d like to treat you to a lab grown beef burger. I know you’d gau for it!

©2015 Dev Nadkarni

The hypocrisy of ‘cultural appropriateness’

Migrants need to be more inclusive than insular in their adopted countries – the case against a ‘culturally appropriate’ rest home

By Dev Nadkarni

About a month ago, someone called to ask whether I would like to express my opinion for a story in a mainstream newspaper on the idea of a ‘culturally appropriate’ rest home for elderly members of the South Asian community in New Zealand. Not only did the caller seem to be aware that my 90-year-old father is in a care facility, but also seemed convinced in their assumption that I was displeased with the facility.

I said I was perfectly happy with the care facility and its service and so was my father – who is physically severely disabled but mentally and psychologically fine – as well as my family. I also said I did not believe in the idea of a segregated rest home and care facility along ethnic lines. I do not believe that there is a need for a so-called ‘culturally appropriate’ rest home and care facility.

Here’s why:

People leave their countries of origin in search of a better life and make their homes in other countries of their own volition – well, in most cases anyway. Nobody denies them their need to stay in touch with their roots, religions and social mores in their new adopted homes. They build their own places of worship, their own shopping facilities, eating places and the like.

While some people would see this as migrants’ insular mindset, luckily most do not. These activities are rather seen as adding to the cultural diversity of their adopted countries – more and more people welcome it. But asking for a separate system along ethnic lines within the government’s long established system of services which is targeted at all New Zealanders equally is not only going too far but is downright insulting to the founding principles of an egalitarian society.

It’s akin to a group of guests telling their host that they don’t like the food they’re being served so they would like to cook their own food in the host’s kitchen while they are there and expect the host to pick up the expenses of their special menu. The host might oblige in the interests of politeness and civility but the relationship undoubtedly will be strained. So is there a way around it that would make both and guest happy? There is – and we’ll come to that in a moment.

Food is the biggest reason why the need for this ‘culturally appropriate’ facility is most felt. The other is cultural and religious needs and compulsions. The person who called me wanted to know if we were happy with the food that was served at my father’s facility. I said we had found a way around it.

For one, the number of ethnically diverse residents – particularly of South Asian cultural stock – has progressively increased. This has ended up in an increased frequency of food options catering to these tastes. Secondly, thanks to hordes of Kiwis leaving for jobs in Australia and elsewhere, there are vast numbers of caregivers who are from India, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, the Philippines and several countries in Asia and even Africa.

In fact, if at all anyone must clamour for a ‘culturally appropriate’ caregiver, it is the falling number of white New Zealanders at my father’s facility: at the dusk of their lives they’re having to make adjustments with a diversity of tastes and accents. But I have never heard such a clamour – which, indeed, is a measure of their feeling of inclusiveness as against the demand for a ‘culturally appropriate’ facility for South Asians, which reinforces the impression of the insular mindset associated with migrants.

Ethnic organisations that are promoting a separate care facility along ethnic lines must first exhaust other options before embarking on this insular path.

Most of these organisations are well established and have a track record for working with elderly migrants. They also seem to be well funded by national and local government programmes. So rather than spend their energies trying to raise funds for a facility that will host 35, 45 or at the most 50 elders of South Asian origin while leaving hundreds, perhaps thousands, of others to their own devices in other care facilities, they should come up with a strategy to cater to bigger numbers of such residents across all care facilities regionally and nationally.

Unlike governments in their countries of origin, the government and the political class in New Zealand is alive and responsive to such finer human concerns. It would therefore not be inconceivable to come up with a programme that could help take South Asian food and cultural services across a great number of facilities rather than just one dedicated facility to the exclusion of others. Such a programme would help serve large numbers across geographical areas, irrespective of whether they were of South Asian origin.

Now, going back to our example of the guests wanting to cook their own meals in the host’s home at the host’s expense. They would be far better off suggesting to the hosts that they would love to cook meals in their style for the whole household, adding diversity to their collective mealtimes. This is inclusiveness winning over insularity.

So there is no need to reinvent the wheel. When the Muslim community found that there were increasing numbers of Muslim students studying at the University of Auckland and they needed onsite prayer facilities, they canvassed for it and got it – they did not ask for a whole new ‘culturally appropriate’ place for tertiary education.

All too often the idea of ‘cultural appropriateness’ in misplaced. For instance, it is quite amusing to see community leaders of South Asian ethnicities in New Zealand proudly display the Queen’s decorations that they have been awarded here on occasions like their home countries’ Republic Day. How culturally appropriate is that!

The intellectual dishonesty of India’s pseudo secularists

By Dev Nadkarni

India’s pseudo secular brigade is at it again. Artist M. F. Husain’s decision to accept citizenship from the Middle Eastern state of Qatar and live there has them raving and ranting against the Hindu majority, blaming it squarely for forcing him out of the country.

It beggars belief that these left leaning so called liberals can’t see the fact that it is the tradition of tolerance that is deeply embedded in Indian culture that gives them the very voice they use to criticise everything innately Indian, such as Hindu culture and social mores, with such impunity that borders on intellectual dishonesty and complete disrespect for the very milieu that has shaped them.

Husain is undoubtedly a well-recognised artist whose works command hundreds of thousands of dollars on the international art circuit. As much as his mastery over his craft and technique, he has built his success by regularly resorting to antics to stay in the news to raise his profile.

He has over the years put to great use the simple but clever philosophy ever so often relied on by the public relations outfits which advice Hollywood celebrities: all news – good or bad – is great so long as it polarizes people and keeps the issue in the media and the subject in the limelight. Eventually, it does great things for personal brand value. Hollywood examples of this are legion.

Husain has routinely courted controversy throughout his career by doing things out of the ordinary with the nous and elan of a marketing genius. Many years ago he decided never to use footwear and famously squatted outside a well-heeled club in Mumbai, after being refused entry because he did not have footwear on – a requirement according to the club’s rules.

That simple but brilliant act catapulted him to the front pages and he has time and again used stunts like these, without doubt to preserve and increase his brand value.

His decision many years ago to turn to painting Hindu goddesses in the nude that helped him raise his profile in the international media no end is therefore open to interpretation as more a gimmick than an expression of his art, as his pseudo secular defendants would rather have us believe.

He craftily used the inherently high sense of tolerance in the Indian psyche to embark on this path and exploited the understandably outraged reaction of a small fringe of vocal opposition to paint the majority of the country as intolerant and with no appreciation of his art. Which was gleefully seconded and amplified across the world by the intellectually dishonest pseudo secular brigade.

These people have come out in his defence saying Hindu goddesses have been traditionally depicted in the nude and so Husain has not done anything different or offensive. Although it is true that goddesses have been depicted in the nude, there always has been a mythological and ritual context for it.

Besides, these works of art and architecture mostly seen in ancient temple sculptures have been made for the purpose of worship. And most importantly, all of them have been created by legions of humble, nameless artists and craftsmen for whom their work alone was worship – not means to put their individual signatures below to hawk off at fancy dollar prices trudging the world’s art markets on their bare feet.

As for the question of context and relevance, not all goddesses are depicted in the nude traditionally – something that Husain has done and which his cronies justify citing tradition.

Husain’s contention and that of his enthusiastic followers that he has only followed the ancient tradition in depicting goddesses the way he has done rings hollow for yet another reason.

He is once said to have painted Adolf Hitler in the nude and by way of explanation said that he did it because he wanted to humiliate him for his deeds. He has also used nudity in chosen subjects to make such symbolic statements in his other work. Undoubtedly he is a master marketer and his supporters, in all their leftist pseudo liberal ideals, fail to see that their naivete has been brilliantly exploited by his foxy strategy.

In the same week that the Husain-Qatar brouhaha broke out, some cities in the state of Karnataka were ravaged by violence because exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen – who lives in India under government protection because her life is threatened by fundamentalists in her own country – made comments on the traditional attire of South Asian Muslim women.

She was verbally attacked by extremist elements in the media almost leading her to deny the statement she made and offering the usual explanation of being misquoted and misread.

What happened then to the great champions of creative freedom who sprang to the aid of Husain? Why did none of them have the gumption to speak on behalf of Nasreen and her creative right to speak her mind? Where were they hiding?

Also, where were these votaries of the much-cherished freedom of creative expression hiding when the Indian government banned Salman Rushdie’s book that sent him into similar self-exile for over a decade? Of course, you couldn’t in a million years expect to hear even a whisper from them on the Danish cartoons.

And around the same time earlier this month books depicting Jesus Christ with alcohol and cigarettes created a stir in the media in the North Eastern states, forcing the government to swoop down and seize the offending material. That was rightly seen as mischievous and hurtful.

Amazingly, Husain’s nude depictions of Indian goddesses is pure art, his acolytes expect everyone to believe.

Their blatant ambivalence and deafening silence on such matters that are outside the ambit of the easy to bash Hindu majority clearly expose them through their diaphanous veil of pseudo liberalism.

These people are unable to acknowledge that it is this age-old sense of tolerance that is hardwired into larger Hindu thought that gives them their voice, which unfortunately they use exclusively against itself but it is their skewed sense of political correctness fostered by their western education and mores that terrifies them from using the same yardstick to creative people’s stand on matters outside the comfort zone of Hindu tradition.

There is a saying in Hindi that describes such attitudes succinctly, “Jis thali mein khate hain, usi mein thookktein hain,” which translates as “spitting back in the same plate that you are eating from.”

First appeared in Indian Weekender, March 2010