A Tale of two Friends

 

[ This is the English translation of one of the Bangla plays that I had scripted and directed for the local Bangla school kids. The original source is Panchatantra, read more about it here. My attempt has been to keep the essence of the play instead of a word-by-word translation of the same. ]

[ Once upon a time, there were two friends who lived in the same city – Dharmabuddhi  (literal meaning ‘righteous-mind’) and Paapbuddhi (literal meaning ‘evil-mind’). Now, Paapbuddhi was not satisfied with his state of affairs and decides to use Dharmabuddhi’s skills to earn some money for himself. He goes to Dharmabudhhi’s house to discuss his plans. ]

Paapbuddhi: Brother, why don’t we go visit other cities for trade?! Together, we’ll make a great team. We can earn some wealth for ourselves as well as see new places. It’ll be wonderful!

Dharmabuddhi: Right, right! What a great proposal you have brought! In the scriptures, they say that the person who has not travelled to distant lands, who has not experienced various cultures, who has not been introduced to different cuisines or languages – he has not lived at all! Let’s make arrangements for our trip.

——

[ Soon they set out on their journey. They earn a lot of wealth in the course of their travel and when pleased with their earnings, they return home. As they near their city, Paapbuddhi speaks thus – ]

Paapbuddhi: My dear friend! I don’t think it is prudent to carry so much of our riches all at once inside the city. What if all our relatives start pestering us to fulfill their material needs or what if we get waylaid?!  Instead, let’s bury our treasure beneath that tree. We can always return whenever we need more and dig it out.

Dharmabuddhi: Absolutely! Oh what would I have done without a clever friend like you!

[ So they bury most of their hard-earned money and return home with only a nominal sum. ]

——

[ In the mean time, Paapbuddhi comes up with a treacherous plan. Let’s hear what it is. ]

Paapbuddhi: In the dark of the night, let me dig out all the treasure for myself! Ha ha ha!

[ Then, he goes to Dharmabuddhi’s house … ]

Paapbuddhi: Brother, I have a large family and the money I took has been spent already. Shall we go and retrieve the rest of our treasure?

Dharmabuddhi: Is that so? I’m sorry to hear that. Okay, let’s go then.

[ But, when they dig near the tree, there’s just nothing! Zilch. Paapbuddhi puts up a show and starts lamenting about the lost sum and soon a heated quarrel ensues. ]

Paapbuddhi: What’s this! No one else knew about our hidden treasure except you and me. It is you and only you who must have stolen our hard-earned money. Give me my money back, you scoundrel!

Dharmabuddhi: What are you blabbering about! I myself am taken aback and don’t understand what happened to our money.

Paapbuddhi: I’ll go to the king and I want justice!

——

Dharmabuddhi, Paapbuddhi: Salutations to you, Oh king!

King: Tell me, what’s your problem?

Paapbuddhi: Maharaj! We had hidden our hard-earned money beneath a tree in the jungle; but when we went later to recover it, it had vanished!  (Pointing to Dharmabuddhi) – There…there’s the thief!

Dharmabuddhi: I swear in the name of Ma Kali, Maharaj, I am not the thief; but he may very well be!

King: Quiet, quiet please! So, when not a soul except you two knew about the hidden treasure, let’s make the tree a witness and see for ourselves what it has to say.

——

[ So they all go to the tree in the forest to seek evidence. ]

King: O wise tree! I order you to tell us the truth – who, amongst the two, is the thief?

Tree: All of you, listen carefully – Dharmabudhhi is the thief!

Dharmabuddhi: What rubbish! Can a tree ever talk and that too all lies!? Okay, let me teach you a lesson. I’ll finish you off today once and for all.

[ He goes near the tree and sets it afire. A man comes out from behind the tree coughing and yelling and crying. ]

Man: Oh god! Pardon me. I had agreed to give false evidence at the behest of my son, Paapbuddhi. I now know there’s no peace in falsehood. Please forgive me.

King: Soldiers, put Paapbuddhi and his father behind the bars. Dharmabuddhi, you will be the sole possessor  of all the money you both had earned.

——

What we learn from this tale:

There reside, Dharmabuddhi – the righteous mind, and Paapbuddhi – the evil mind, within each of us. As human beings, it is in our power to listen to their voices. In the course of life, there may arise many circumstances in which the path shown by Paapbuddhi appears more enticing or becomes more convenient. That does not mean that the easiest thing to do is the right thing as well. In such situations, we should listen to the Dharmabuddhi within us because that’s what benefits all of us in the long run.

 

So, what’s the limit?

 

Every right implies a responsibility; Every opportunity an obligation; Every possession a duty.

– Rockefeller

              It was in the last leg of our month-long India trip that I watched with dismay, anger and utter shame some of the reports coming in about the JNU incident.

              Hum kya chaahein – Azaadi         (What do we want? Freedom)
              Chheen ke lenge – Azaadi             (We’ll snatch Freedom)
              Bandook ke dam par – Azaadi      (Freedom at gunpoint)
              Hurriyat ke jawaano – Azaadi       (Soldiers of Hurriyat – Freedom)
              Jab Kashmir ne maangi Azaadi, Manipur bhi bole Azaadi    (When Kashmir demands freedom, Manipur demands freedom too)
              Kitne Afzal maaroge, har ghar se Afzal niklega     (How many Afzals will you kill? Every home will beget more Afzals)
              Afzal hum sharminda hain, tere kaatil zinda hain    (Afzal, we are ashamed, your killers are still alive)
              Bhaarat ki barbaadi tak, jung rahegi, jung rahegi     (Till the destruction of India, the fight will continue, the fight will continue)
              Bhaarat tere tukde honge, Insha-allah Insha-allah   (By the will of Allah, India, you will be broken into pieces)
              Pakistan Zindabad, Pakistan Zindabad   (Long live Pakistan)

              One can be forgiven for mistaking the slogans above to be from a Bollywood movie, where the terrorists and their sympathizers are threatening the Indian state – except they aren’t! These are, in fact, slogans raised in JNU and Jadabpur University, in the heart of Delhi and Kolkata – institutes of higher learning where Indian taxpayers’ hard earned money is being thrown down the drain to inculcate such treacherous behaviour. They depict the kind of hatred towards the motherland some of our own citizens carry on in their hearts and on their lips.

              The picture below aptly captures what every right-minded Indian feels about the incident.

Toothpaste
              This post is not just about the JNU incident though: It will be foolishness to dismiss the malaise plaguing JNU as an isolated incident. Secessionism and support for terrorism do not exist in a vacuum. There are various forces at work that spawn, abate and embolden such thinking.

              We have been getting conned by some special classes of people, as far as the security and sovereignty of the nation is concerned. Masquerading as the champions of liberty, secularism, justice, these institutions actually debase these very ideals to serve their selfish interests. They enjoy with impunity the freedom granted by the Indian Constitution and work day and night to destroy the very nation that bestows them rights. While conceding that not all of them are like this, it is imperative to identify these players and challenge their narratives: 

Media: “Honest journalism” is an oxymoron in today’s days and times. There were days when the Fourth Estate used to be regarded as one of the pillars of democracy, a conscience keeper of the nation. But in today’s world of 24/7 news, barring a few, only half-baked lies, half-researched events and mostly ill-formed opinions are peddled as facts and news.

              Worse, there is no unbiased analysis of any issue. The conclusions in any debate or discussions are pre-formed; the news story is run merely to support them at the end! The MSM, by and large, slept through the numerous corruption cases during UPA-II and they have suddenly become vehement in their protests for small things during NDA 2014. Even a child can see who their paymasters are; for which parties they act as powerbrokers. They create issues out of non-issues; decide which report to inflate or twist or communalise and which to turn blind eye toignore, cover up and suppress.

              Mediacrooks, opindia are some of the initiatives by regular citizens like you and me that regularly analyze the lies spread by our mainstream media. However, these don’t have the power that TRP-raising, decibel-blaring electronic media has over the minds and hearts of an average Indian citizen.

Politicians: Like leeches, some of our opportunist politicians latch on to any issue and have the magical ability to turn it into a communal or casteist one. They stoke the fire and fan the flames in a media-manufactured controversy as described above just for the sake of a few more votes. The cards they play are many – Religion/Minority (e.g. Muslim/ Christian), Region (e.g. Bihar/ Delhi/ Telangana/ Bengal), Caste (e.g. Dalit/ Mahadalit/ OBC/ Jat/ Gujjar), Poverty (e.g. Farmer suicides, Kanhaiya’s poor background) Feminism (women’s rights), Secularism (minority rights), Liberalism (human rights) – whatever works the best for a particular situation! Below are just a handful of gems coming from this class in recent times:

laloo_kejriwal

Ishrat

Academicians: Check out this video in which Prof Lahiri of Jadabpur University comes up with all sorts of ludicrous excuses for not supporting the hoisting of the Tricolour in the campus: We have our own university flag; the hoisting of the Indian flag will be “infiltrating the autonomy of the university”; it is “perverted nationalism”; ABVP students carrying the Indian flag have destroyed our campus etc. If this is the mindset of the Prof of International Relations of the topmost university of a state, one can very well imagine the resultant thought process of impressionable students attending his lectures!

              Gone are the days when teachers were responsible for building good character, for instilling patriotism and discipline among students! The academia has always been a hotbed for leftist liberal thoughts – but what can become catastrophic for a nation is when that’s the only thinking allowed to flourish. Yet, this is what happened recently when an invitation to Baba Ramdev by JNU officials was opposed by the students, while they regularly invite Naxalite, Maoist and even Pakistani leaders for talks and “cultural events”. The JNU students who have been agitating against the recent government action citing freedom of expression, right to dissent etc. can not listen to any ideas opposed to their own! If this is not the height of hypocrisy, I don’t know what is!

Intelligentsia: These consist of a few obscure poets, novelists/ journalists, the award-wapasi brigade, some one-novel-wonder authors, some senile retired judges, some actors well past their prime, some NGO activists. Read here a theory on how and why they raised the Intolerance boogie, their hypocrisy and inertia when the country passed through some really turbulent times, how they concocted some of the vilest details on the 2002 riots, and about the political stooges that they really are! They abuse the freedom and rights granted by our Constitution and do not lose a single opportunity to denigrate India on the world forums.

              Watch here how Arundhati Roy, one of the idols of the Pakistan-Zindabad-shouting JNU students, has been touring the world for many years now accusing the Indian state of “waging war on its own people” in a way that even Pakistan does not. She demonizes the police and Indian army while waxing eloquence on Maoists, Naxalites and Jihadists. Read how Teesta Setalvad siphoned off funds meant for 2002 riot victims and spent them in buying wine/jewellery among other things, cooked up incidents of killings and tutored witnesses to tell lies about the riots. Check out this good rebuttal to the frenzied claims of Aamir Khan based on facts and figures. These are just the tip of the iceberg.

Leftists:  In an ideal world, leftist and rightist policies should work in harmony, complementing each other and getting the best of both the worlds to take the country on the path of justice and prosperity. But of course, that can not happen in India. The Congress and communist parties have been the powerholders for majority of the 68 years of India’s independence. They have worked hands in glove with keeping the masses poor and subjugated through their economic and social policies, while doling out populist sops for an intact vote-share.
              It is amusing how the Leftists speak of right to dissent when the world over the Communist regimes have been imprisoning/torturing/executing millions of people even on the suspicion of the slightest opposition! When worldwide the Communist ideology had to bite the dust and even a large communist country like China had to adopt capitalist policies to bolster its economy, rabid liberalism is plaguing our institutions. See how they can turn a blatant secessionist act into a fight for freedom of expression, a war against fascism – as evident in the JNU incident. They can turn a terrorist Ishrat Jahan into a martyr for the sake of preserving their respective votebanks.

              While the above forces have always been there, they have suddenly become hyperactive following the election of a nationalist government at the centre. Makes you wonder – why? Modi’s strategy of communicating directly with the Indian citizens through social media, radio or websites (like mygov.in, PMOIndia ReportCard, Mann ki baat) bypassing traditional media has not gone down well with the latter. India’s rank on global corruption index has jumped from 94 in 2013 to 76 in 2015. India’s standing in the international arena has improved. With a “Perform or Perish” directive to bureacracy, things should look up. And guess what kind of elements will have problem with all these positive developments?

              The legendary Mark Twain used to say:

Loyalty to the government – when it deserves it.
Loyalty to the country – Always!

              The Modi-baiters and Modi-haters in the media, academia, intelligentsia, political class have turned the above saying on its head: In their overzealous loathing for a democratically elected leader of the largest democracy in the world, they have started maligning and working against their own nation!

              Coming back to Rockefeller’s quote at the beginning of this post –

              The Indian Constitution accords unprecedented rights to its citizens. To alter one of the most popular catchphrases from Spiderman – With great freedom, comes great responsibility!  Apparently, all the JNU student protesters are alert to their rights and none to their duties.

             Despite the fake intolerance boogie raised, the fact of the matter is this – We Indians are a tolerant lot. We have tolerated too many things for too many years! We have tolerated corruption for eons; we have tolerated politicians playing caste and religion-based politics for ever. We have tolerated state-sanctioned inequality in the name of caste-based reservations. We have tolerated terrorists being accorded all legal rights and cases pending in the courts for many many years. We have tolerated stone-pelting, bus-burning protests everywhere from Kashmir to Tamil Nadu. We have tolerated special status being demanded and accorded to various factions of the society. We have tolerated third-degree treatment meted out to Indian army personnel in captivity by enemy states. But there should be a limit to even virtues of patience and tolerance.

              So, the question now arises: What should be the limit to our tolerance?

              (In 2010, when some JNU students distributed sweets and organized events celebrating the murder of 76 CRPF jawans during Maoist insurgency in Dantewada, the Congress government at the centre remained a mute spectator! Had there been steps taken then, things probably wouldn’t have come to this in 2016.)

              When students celebrate massacre of the police and army personnel – that’s when you know what the limit should be! When CBI, NIA and almost every central institution is compromised by UPA government to feed their political interests while jeopardizing national security- that’s when you know what the limit should be! When the protesters start talking in the language of the enemy states and defend secession in the name of freedom of speech – that’s when you should put your foot down! When a part of the state population hold an entire nation to ransom – that’s when you should crush it! When a school-principal like Kazi Masoom Akhtar is beaten with iron rods for daring to encourage girls education, for daring to promote respect for the National Anthem and the Tricolour – that’s when you know what the limit is! When known and legally proven terrorists like Afzal Guru and Yakub Memon are deified in a society instead of heroes like A.P.J Abdul Kalam and Azim Premji – that’s when you know what the limit to your tolerance should be!

              Hope we learn our lessons in time, or it might be too late.

             

 

Deepawali song

              

By – Advik (Grade 1, Fall 2015)

DiwaliSong

Good Habits

              

 

By – Advik (Kindergarten, Summer 2014)

GoodHabits

Space poem

              

 

By – Advik (Preschool, Spring 2013)

SpaceshipPoem

 

How I scared a Monster!

              By – Advik (Grade 1, Spring 2015)

 

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PBS Kids National Contest Winner, 2015

 

Nirbhaya revisited – by India’s daughter

 

Be the change you wish to see in the world.

– Gandhi

              No, I haven’t seen the documentary. I did not find any compelling reason to. As one of India’s daughters, I know exactly what the conditions are that drive seemingly ordinary looking men to commit horrendous crimes against women. This is what I had pinpointed at the time of the incident more than 2 years ago: mindset.

              Let’s look at what happened since then.

              – There were massive protests cutting across class, gender, regional barriers.
              – Nirbhaya became a symbol of resistance and bravery (e.g. 2013 International Women of Courage award by the US State Department), but also a symbol of the massive failure of our system and public rage around it.
              – Public outrage forced the then UPA government to appoint Justice Verma Committee appointment. Sexual attack laws were redefined and strengthened.
              – Several apps and services were introduced to strengthen women-safety.
              – The Delhi High Court found all the adult accused guilty and reconfirmed the death-sentences by the fast-track court. The case is pending in Supreme Court.
              – Modi cabinet approved a bill to try juveniles as adults for heinous crimes in August 2014
              – Parliamentary Committee rejected the above proposal in Feb 2015.
              – The minor involved, who was the one to call out to Nirbhaya and her friend to the bus, will walk free in Dec 2015 after spending 3 years in a reform home.

              Let me narrate a true incident here. It is comic and tragic at the same time: The year was 2001. It was my maiden trip to any foreign land and I landed at the JFK airport in NY with a female colleague of mine early in the evening. Due to some misinformation about flight timings, those who were supposed to receive us at the airport were not there. We spent more than 2 hours with our luggage, not venturing out of the airport even once. We tried to call up the rest of the team at various numbers; spent time being skittish at the unfamiliar sights, accents, currencies. But never once did it appeal to two women in our early 20s  to take a cab to the address given. In hindsight, it was a simple thing to do really. But for the 2 of us Indian women that grew up hearing things like ‘Be safe; don’t go out at odd hours; avoid strange places; always remain with the crowd; avoid deserted areas’ – the possibility that any new place could be safe at night simply did not exist!

              Subjugation of women is not endemic to India; it has been done all over the world since time immemorial. But what ails India in particular are these: low conviction rates, justice delayed (and hence, denied), no fear of the law, patriarchal mindset, big social and economical divides.

              What are some of the solutions? Fast-track courts, swift delivery of justice, efficient and gender-sensitized police force, gender equality, bridging the gap between haves and have-nots.  While a lot of these are beyond our purview, we can do a lot as ordinary citizens to transform the mindsets, and even more importantly as parents. The encouraging fact is that many Indians are and have been already doing this:

Respect everyone: What every child in my son’s preschool in the US was taught is this: Respect and treat everyone equally. The first year there was full emphasis on behavior and very little on ABCs or numbers or months-of-the-year. This is what they teach 2-3-4 year olds here like a Mantra: Respect others; Be nice; Follow the rules or be ready to face the consequences; Learn to share with others; Be responsible; Understand and Express your feelings. Initially, I was a bit concerned about the lack of rigorous academic curriculum in the schools here. But now, the way I look at it –  you can live with some crooked handwriting, but not with crooked mentality. You can live with imperfect grammar, but not with improper treatment of others. Your degrees are useless if you don’t have a minimum level of empathy for others.
              Women do not need worship or protection or special status in the society. What they need is respect and equal treatment just like anybody else. Respect for everyone – irrespective of their gender, paycheck, physical appearance, class, language, culture, religion. Respect…not because she’s a woman, but respect – because she’s a human being first and foremost.

Raise equally: Indian PM Narendra Modi nailed it in his maiden Independence speech in 2014, and I quote verbatim: “Parents ask their daughters hundreds of questions, but have any parents ever dared to ask their son as to where he is going, why he is going out, who his friends are. After all, a rapist is also somebody’s son. He also has parents. As parents, have we ever asked our son as to what he is doing and where he is going?” We have to totally do away with the sense of entitlement males are given in a large section of the Indian society. Both boys and girls should be raised to be able to cook a meal, to make their own beds, do the laundry; in short, to be able to take care of their own basic needs. I have had both my son and my daughter help me in the kitchen and at home, right from age 3. They enjoy peeling eggs, sorting out utensils from the dishwasher, cutting vegetables (under my supervision, of course), watering the plants, cleaning up after a meal. The list of chores will increase or decrease with time, but my kids can rest assured that it will not at least be based on their gender.

Name and Shame: There’s a lot of social stigma associated with rape-survivors. Change the equation. Let rape or pre-marital sex not be made into an issue about a tissue. Name and shame the perpetrators of the crimes, not just for rapes but for molestation (euphemized as eve-teasing), female infanticide, dowry, acid attacks, honor killing, domestic violence – all these are symptoms of the same malaise. Take a stand; refuse to give or take dowry. A lot of these social ills is due to the ‘Chalta hai’ attitude we have.  The laws can do only so much, but the real change has to come from within the society.

Redefine customs: If there’s a tradition that you feel is discriminatory, either discard it or redefine it so that it goes with your values. e.g. Karva Chauth (observed in some parts of India) has traditionally required only the wives to fast for the well-being of their husbands. However, I know of several friends that do observe this as a couple and for the well-being of the entire family. I personally celebrate Rakshabandhan in US every year, where each kid ties a Rakhi to the other. This is a way of saying to each other – I’ll be there for you in good times and bad. And who says that brothers do not need the support of their sisters? See further examples here of women as priests and performing last rites, again done traditionally by men.             

Basis of Marriage: Let marriage be a beautiful union of two souls where each connects with the other based on shared values, understanding, love, trust and respect. A lot of times, the decisions about marriage are based wrongly on factors like biological age (as opposed to maturity age or readiness for marriage), physical appearance, social status, parental pressure, astrology, ability to give and command dowry – in short, everything except the will and personalities of the two people that should matter the most. Unless the husband and the wife are on an equal footing in a marriage, the next progeny will grow up seeing the same misogynist attitudes being propagated and will continue the cycle.

Be a Role Model: We do not realize this that often, but each of us influences the other. Especially educated, liberal, upper middle-class, urban elites in India can do a lot for the economically disadvantaged by just being socially aware and responsible. The cooks, drivers, gardeners, delivery guys, repairmen, security guards, maids – they all may be looking upon you and learning from your behavior while you are not looking.

Redefine culture: A lot of discriminatory practices are perpetuated in the name of culture. What we fail to realize is this: Culture can never be stagnant. Culture shapes us, and we shape it – in turns. Culture is what we choose it to be. India, especially, is a land of mind-boggling number of cultures, traditions, customs. What is true in one part at one time, may not hold true for another region at any time. So the argument of not changing for the better just for the sake of saving your culture holds no water at all.

WomenMistreatment

              While change of outlook/mindset takes time or may happen instantly, the one thing that can be seen for sure is the judgement in all these cases. So coming back to the Nirbhaya case, I would have preferred if the juvenile had been tried as an adult, as done in some countries on a case-to-case basis. I definitely hope it ends with the strongest punishment for all the accused adults. I have seen the following arguments against it by various people:

Human-rights activists: They shed tears for the human rights of the accused. What about the human rights of the relatives of the dead? Don’t they have a right to closure, a right to see a just punishment in proportion to this kind of rarest-of-rare crime meted out to their own blood? Let the message go out strong and loud – The moment you violate others’ rights, be ready to lose yours.

Statisticians: They argue that there are not sufficient statistics to show that death-penalty acts as a deterrent. One can argue on the contrary too that there is not sufficient evidence to prove otherwise. We have had the lackadaisical attitude towards convicting and delivering justice for gender-violence crimes for decades. Let’s try the other approach at least for brutal crimes, even if for symbolic value, before dismissing it altogether.

Spiritualists: They are concerned about healing for the accused, who are ‘spiritual beings having human experience‘. This is a dangerous notion camouflaged as compassion. I too believe that we are all spiritual beings and Hinduism considers every being at a conscious soul level, not just human beings. Yet, two of our Itihaasas, the Ramayan and the Mahabharat, deal with atrocities on women – abduction of Sita and disrobing of Draupadi – in very unambiguous terms. And, what is our duty, what is the central message? As Krishna says very clearly in SrimadBhagwadGeeta – Fight Adharma.
             
              A lot of times, we see misogyny and gender-violence being justified in the name of traditions, scriptures, religions. But, in my opinion, our scriptures or our traditions have been absolutely clear on how to deal with the Ravanas and Duhshaasanas of all times. The question we should be asking ourselves is: Are we?

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