The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, April 30, 2000

He nailed Hastings and founded the Tory Party
Off the shelf by V. N. Dutta
A great don’s pop offering
Review by Manju Jaidka
The demolition man of Babri claims
Write view by Randeep Wadehra
A tiresome travel account
Review by Kavita Soni-Sharma
Osho, the dissenting prophet
Review by P. D. Shastri
Stripping life of its imponderables
Punjabi Literature by Jaspal Singh
Our Bond’s live & live well theme
Review by Kuldip Kalia
Soviets and the Afghanistan

He nailed Hastings and founded the Tory Party
Off the shelf
by V. N. Dutta

IN India Edmund Burke is known not so much as a political thinker of great calibre but as a crusader against corruption and reckless abuse of power and as the one responsible for the impeachment of Warren Hastings, the founder of British Empire. The book under review, "Edmund Burke. Vol. I. 1730-84" by F.P. Lock (Oxford, pages 564, 75) belongs to a different category. It focuses on Burke’s political life when the fortunes of political parties rose and fell in Britain.

Burke may have been a failure as a practicing politician, but as a founder of a political system he greatly shaped the posterity. His political ideas left a profound impact on the course of history. Goldsmith dryly commented that to the Conservative Party Burke gave what he meant to give to mankind. This view is not entirely valid. Burke finds a prominent place in the scholarly writings of Lord Acton who often met Burke for understanding the basic political and constitutional issues of British public life.

Acton wrote to Mary Gladstone, "You can hardly imagine what Burke is for all of us who think about politics and are not wrapped in the blaze and whirlwind of Rousseau. Systems of scientific thought have been built up by famous scholars on the fragment that fell from his table. Literary fortunes have been made by men who traded on the hundredth part of him."

As for his politics Acton thought that Burke’s speeches from 1790 to 1795 are the law of the prophets. German historiography was a reaction against the French Revolution and was primarily inspired by Burke.

In his "History of England in the 18th century" E.H. Leeky paid Burke a great compliment. "No other politician or writer has thrown the light of so penetrating a genius on the nature and working of the British Constitution... it had a peculiar gift of introducing into transient party conflicts observations drawn from the most profound knowledge of human nature. There is perhaps no English prose writer since Bacan whose works are so thickly starred with thought. The time may come when they will no longer be read. The time will never come in which men would not grow the wiser by reading them."

Author F.P. Lock gives a synoptic view of Burke’s early life. Burke applied himself first to literature and then to law. In 1750 he published his essay "Sublime and the Beautiful", which helped him be friend some men of letters and politicians. His "The Abridgement of English History" showed his firm grasp of the fundamental historical problems, to which he addressed himself with a view to understanding the contemporary political situation.

He did not have the speculative mind but he invented the value of history. Acton describes Burke’s "Abridgement..." as "a most remarkable literary production", and quotes Lappenberg to say that if Burke had devoted himself continuously to historical pursuits, England might have produced a history worthy to rank with the masterpieces of the Attic and Tuscan historians.

It seems that Burke altered his view when he found that David Hume had taken up the subject. For his "Abridgement..." he was paid 300 in installments. Lock emphasises that it was Burke’s grasp of Roman and Greek classics which broadened his horizon and gave a wider dimension to his historical perception.

Burke’s political career began with his appointment as secretary to W.G. Hamilton, Secretary for Ireland, in 1761. Thereafter, he was appointed private secretary to the Marquis of Rockingham, the First Secretary to the Treasury. He gave up the idea of practicing as a lawyer which his father regarded as defiance. He entered Parliament in 1765.

By then the question of taxing the American colonies was occupying Parliament. The Rockingham Ministry acting mostly on Burke’s advice was dissolved in 1766. From 1770 to 1780 Lord North was in prison, and Burke held no office. From 1770 to 1780 he represented Bristol in Parliament. In many of his speeches, as Lock emphasises, Burke strongly criticised the ministerial measures with regard to the colonies, and advocated a policy of justice and conciliation. In 1782 when the Rockingham Ministry returned to power, he was appointed the Paymaster-General of the Forces.

Lock focuses on Burke’s role in Parliament. Burke’s pamphlets expounded clearly the ideas and principles of the Rockingham party. This he did by relating them to the events which dominated the party during last seven years of its existence. His admiration of King George III and Bute was severely criticised. This was due to the prevailing perception that the King’s mother, the Dowager Princess of Wales, was desperately in love with Bute, and that his resignation had been a sham. They still managed to wield power behind the throne.

Burke adopted a different approach. What mattered to him were principles, not expediency and he was fanatical about them. Burke attacked not Bute and the Princess but the "new system of double Cabinet whereby the influence of Lords who had the ability to adjudge political issues independently had been considerably weakened". The remedy, Lock points out, that Burke sought was for some other opportunistic group to come to the aid of one party that had a chance of ensuring stability.

Lock deals at length with Sir Lewis Namier’s criticism of Burke’s "double-faced" attitude in public life, which he had made in his classic "The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III". Namier had attached more importance to the influence of "interests" than "ideas" in explaining political behaviour. Namier maintained that because of Burke’s lack of understanding of the British Constitution, "it seems extremely doubtful whether Burke and his friends, if in power, would have succeeded in saving the British power at the time of the American crisis. Their ideas were no less hierarchical and authoritarian than those of George III and Lord North... Had Burke been in office, might merely have had to antedate his counter revolutionary Toryism by some twenty years."

Burke’s pamphlet "Thoughts on the Consent of the Present Discontent" was not well received. Horace Walpole assailed the pamphlet on the ground that it had focused on men rather than the "measures". What the pamphlet had said was that the cant of "not men" but "measurement" was a sort of charm "by which many people got loose from every honourable engagement".

Walpole accused Burke of weakening the party system by his "inviolable attachment to the Marquis of Rockingham, a weak, childish, ignorant man".

Sir William Bagot took the same view and wrote that Burke wished "to be thought of as an unbiased, independent man but his conduct in Parliament shows the contrary".

Despite this criticism of Burke’s political conduct, Bagot admired his "Philosophical Enquiry" in which he founded his theory on a theological belief with insight and analysis. His main concern in his "Enquiry..." was to study the "commerce, the times and Constitution of his country". Lock’s analysis of "Enquiry...." is illuminating.

Burke was opposed to financing the war against Americans saying that it was "contrived in ways not fit to be avowed by Ministry and introduced Bills to reform Crown finances and limit the extent to which MPs could be corrupted". Burke delivered a number of powerful speeches emphasising that the "King was merely a trustee for the public, the servant, and the creature of the people". These reform measures won public support because they represented "a safe and surer way of reforming Parliament than changes in the electoral system".

With the fall of North’s Ministry, Burke as Paymaster-General introduced some economic reform measures. He resigned after Rockingam’s death in 1777 but became Paymaster-General again in 1783. When Pitt did not have a majority in Parliament and took well over 100 seats from the opposition to consolidate his position. Burke said, "I consider the House of Commons as something worse than extravagant". He added, "We have been labouring for nearly 20 years to make it independent, and as soon as we had accomplished what we had in view, we found that its independence led to its destruction. The people did not like our work and joined the Court to pull it down."

Lock emphasises that British political philosophy up to 1784 was pragmatic "evolved in the Press and in the House of Commons". After discussing Burke’s philosophical essays, Lock says that although Burke, the politician, triumphed over Burke the philosopher, "no radical discontinuity separates the old politician from the young philosopher".

But in the summer of 1789 when he launched a crusade against the French Revolution (which falls outside the scope of this work). Burke had good reason to keep the two apart. Burke was endowed with a powerful imagination which endowed him to present every measures he took up in the most vivid colours.

This authoritative study of Burke’s political ideas and life is insightful and incisive.Top


A great don’s pop offering
 Review by Manju Jaidka

Infatuation: The Crescent and the Vermilion by Shiv K. Kumar UBS Publishers, New Delhi. Pages 161. Rs 175.

SO, you are tired of all that "heavy" reading! All those tedious books that pontificate more than entertain. Books that insist on using unfamiliar jargon, obfuscating language, highflown rhetoric. Books that make irrational demands on your mental and intellectual energies. Yes, you are tired and need a change. Or perhaps you have some traveling to do and need some light reading material other than the newspaper.

You are in no mood for yet another of those "in" writers who try and show off their linguistic calisthenics on every page. Not even somebody like Salman Rushdie or Vikram Seth who intimidate you by the sheer bulk of their works. You want something light. Something breezy, something that would not leave you in a state of mental exhaustion.

Hey, why not try this one — this latest one by the well-known Shiv K. Kumar? Kumar’s "Infatuation: The Crescent and the Vermilion" where the writer is at his "popular" best. Given your present circumstances, here is a novel that fits the bill. Fits it to a T.

Shiv Kumar’s name and reputation hover somewhere between reality and legend. Reality because he is one of the foremost and most prolific Indian writers in English, whose works find their way into college and university syllabi. And legendary for the same reason — because here is a man who has been so productive with his pen that his achievements have become almost incredible, almost a legend.

Perhaps the author is best known for his poetry collections — "Articulate Silences". "Cobwebs in the Sun", "Subterfuges", "Woodpeckers", "Trapfalls in the Sky", and "Woolgathering". He also has a collection of short stories, "Beyond Love and Other Stories", a play, "The Last Wedding Anniversary", a translation of Faiz’s poems, two books on literary criticism, and three novels: "The Bone’s Prayer", "Nude Before God" and "A River With Three Banks". Name the genre and Kumar has tried his hand at it.

Professor Kumar has been Chairman of the English Department at Osmania University, a visiting Professor in the USA and the UK, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (London). In 1988 he was the recipient of the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award for his poetry collection "Trapfalls in the Sky". And after all these laurels what does he do now? Kumar lives in retirement in a quiet corner of Hyderabad where his numerous friends and admirers frequently visit their "Uncle Shiv". Like a giant tarantula he sits back in his parlour, enjoying their company, regaling them with his recitation of Urdu poetry, his great sense of humour and wit. Here is a septuagenarian who is as full of the joie de vivre as any young man of 20. Septuagenarian, is he? Or octogenarian? Or is he in his naughty forties? It hardly matters. As they say, age is a question of mind over matter; if you don’t mind, it don’t matter!

It is Kumar’s zest for life which is reflected in his latest novel, "Infatuation". Throwing off the erudite mantle of a stuffy Professor of English literature, he takes on the role of a popular story-teller and narrates a tale set in contemporary times — a tale of inter-personal human relationships, of love, betrayal, sorrow, and the entire range of human emotions.

The sub-title of the novel is evocative: the vermilion is the red of the sindoor worn by a Hindu woman as a mark of her marital status. And the crescent is a Muslim symbol. Thus, as the title indicates, the novel focuses on relationships between communities that have the dubious distinction of professing undying hatred for each other. Shiv Kumar brings the two warring groups together on the cover itself, dreaming of a utopic condition where religion would cease to matter.

Does this seem the impossible dream of a romantic? True, Kumar is an incorrigible romantic in his thinking, his poems, his stories and novels. "Infatuation" is yet another articulation of his dream. But, if the book reinforces the moral of peaceful co-existence, the lesson is by no means presented in the form of a sermon. Ay contraire, it is a sugarcoated pill that the writer offers — presenting his ideas through a story that has all the ingredients of a thriller from the popular silver screen. There is adventure, there is romance, there is beauty, love, jealousy, envy and retribution. There is also a kidnapping and a gory murder, too. You name it and Shiv K. Kumar has it — all the masala for the popular palate, put together in the form of a love story with steamy scenes in plenty.Top


The demolition man of Babri claims
Write view
by Randeep Wadehra

The Ayodhya Syndrome by A.R. Khan. Kitab Bhavan, New Delhi. Pages 86. Rs. 100.

"ONE needs very little planning to eliminate a dozen A.R. Khans overnight in different parts of Shimla... I did feel weak — not out of a sense of insecurity but for a feeling of loneliness. They (my Hindu colleagues) were following the news (of the Babri Masjid demolition) on their TV sets. Then why did they not talk about the grave issue? Was it out of courtesy, not to make me feel small over the demolition of the mosque for which, they as Hindus, though not a party to the deed, felt guilty? Or was it out of embarrassment or bewilderment of being unable to comprehend or explain the events? Or, out of a sense of triumph which good neighbourly etiquettes would not allow them to demonstrate?"

These words of Prof A.R. Khan are excerpted from his article, "December 6, the day I felt lonely" published in The Sunday Tribune on October 31, 1993. The pain is evident as is the bewilderment, even though 11 months had elapsed since the demolition. It was as if his lifelong endeavours as a secular nationalist had come to naught.

Khan, a noted historian, has brought out this volume to give a more cohesive response to the 25 "secular-progressive" historians’ pamphlet titled "The Political Abuse of History: Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi Dispute,". He felt that the pamphlet’s authors were meting out dubious treatment to history through distortion and concealment of evidence. Khan, a pupil of the re-doubtable Prof Nurul Hassan, had graduated from the F.C. College, Lahore. The sojourn in Pakistan between 1956-1960 reinforced his nationalism. The association with a secularist like Prof Hassan moulded Khan’s perceptions.

The Babri Masjid demolition on December 6, 1992, proved to be a turning point in Khan’s life. It prompted him to "think more seriously about discovering my place and identity in my social and cultural milieu." He wrote a series of articles. One of them titled, "December 6, the day I felt lonely" was published in The Tribune on October, 31, 1993, and created quite a stir in intellectual circles.

It is different if not impossible to look objectively at an event that not only has a historical background, but also repercussions for the present and coming generations. The demolition of the Babri Masjid is one such event. While the Hindu Right hails it as a just denouement of wrongs done by Muslim rulers in the past, the obverse viewpoint condemns it as a provocative act with designs to browbeat the largest minority in the country. The truth, as usual, remains shrouded in the haze of competitive bigotry.

Objectivity becomes a victim of political skullduggery and expediency. It becomes well nigh impossible to sift fact from fiction when historians begin to wear glasses tinted with politico-ideological colours. Compiling history has never been an easy job. It becomes all the more hazardous when polemic and passions blur the vision.

Hermann Hesse, the late German novelist and poet, rightly remarks: "History seems to us an arena of instincts and fashions, of appetite, avarice, and craving for power, of blood lust, violence, destruction, and wars of ambitious ministers, venal generals, bombarded cities, and we too easily forget that this is only one of its many aspects. Above all, we forget that we ourselves are a part of history, that we are the product of growth and are condemned to perish if we lose the capacity for further growth and change. We are ourselves history and share the responsibility for world history and our position in it. But we gravely lack awareness of this responsibility."

When the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi controversy was raging 25 historians of JNU, including S. Gopal, Romila Thapar, Bipan Chandra and Harbans Mukhia, came out with the pamphlet, "The political abuse of history". Inter alia it questioned the very basis of the belief that a particular spot in Ayodhya was the actual birthplace of Lord Rama. The argument ran thus:

  1. There is no archaeological evidence to suggest that Rama, who according to the Valmiki Ramayana was born in the Treta Yuga (thousands of years before the present Kali Yuga), actually ruled the present-day Ayodhya. The place was probably not even inhabited then. The earliest possible date for a most primitive kind of settlement at the site is indicated in the eighth century BC.

  2. The Ramayana describes an urban settlement at the site during the Treta Yuga, which is not tenable as per archaeological findings pertaining to the period.

  3. The location itself is controversial. The Buddhist and Jain texts make very few references to "an Ayodhya", but, "this is said to be located on the Ganges and not the Saryu..."

  4. The Gupta king, Skanda Gupta, made Saketa his residence and renamed it Ayodhya "to gain prestige for himself drawing on the tradition of the Suryavanshi kings, a line to which Rama is said to have belonged."

  5. Categorical textual references to Ayodhya begin only after the seventh century AD.

  6. The local tradition too is ambiguous on the history of Ayodhya’s origin. "The story is that Ayodhya was lost after the Treta Yuga and was rediscovered by Vikramaditya... even in the myths the process of identification of sites appears uncertain and arbitrary. If the present-day Ayodhya was known as Saketa before the fifth century, then the Ayodhya of Valmiki’s Ramayana was fictional. If so, the identification of Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya today becomes a matter of faith, not of historical evidence."

  7. This confusion contrasts with the historical certainty of the birthplace of the Buddha. Two centuries after his death King Ashoka put an inscription at Lumbini village to commemorate it as the Buddha’s birthplace.

  8. Hsuan Tsang mentions Ayodhya as a major centre of Buddhism.

  9. Ayodhya has been an important Jain pilgrim centre too... an archaeological find of the fourth and third century BC is a Jaina grey terracotta figure, the earliest such figure found so far.

  10. The 11th century AD texts refer to the Gopataru Tirtha at Ayodhya but do not mention anything about the Ram Janmabhoomi.

  11. The cult of Rama was popularised by the Ramanandi sect in the 13th century.

  12. Barring the Persian verses inscribed on the two sides of the mosque, there is no primary evidence to indicate that Mir Baqi built the mosque there at Babar’s behest.

  13. Even Tulsidas, who was Akbar’s contemporary and a great Rambhakta, does not mention anything about the demolition of Rama’s temple at the site.

  14. The story (of the temple demolition) entered official records in the 19th century during British rule.

In response, Prof Khan wrote an article titled, "Evidence, Reasoning and Belief in History: Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid Dispute" carried by The Indian Express on February 25, 1990. While admitting that the JNU historians are known for their secular approach to history, Khan points out that their "conscious intervention" and "over-enthusiasm" have made an issue out of academic non-issue.

He also questions the historical methodology adopted by the JNU dons. Khan points out that it is not proper to lightly dismiss the mythological references to the location of Ayodhya merely because there is no archaeological evidence to back up the claims. Here, one is reminded of the Xia or Hsia, the first Chinese dynasty (traditionally dated circa 2205-1766 B.C.) No historical documents or archaeological evidence has been found to corroborate the legends about this dynasty too.

Khan avers that the confusion between the Saryu and the Ganga rivers being contiguous to Ayodhya can be resolved by attributing it to erroneous identification in Buddhist and Jain texts. He further states, "...despite their reservations about accepting Valmiki’s characters, places, personalities, events and locations as authentic, they have not paused a while in uncritically accepting Valmiki’s poetic exaggeration identifying Rama with the Treta Yuga in the area where Ayodhya is located..."

Prof Khan points out that the JNU historians have conceded, albeit inadvertently, that the tradition of Rama and his association with Ayodhya had gained widespread acceptance as early as 1500 years ago. Otherwise why would Skanda Gupta go to great lengths of renaming Saketa as Ayodhya in the fifth century AD and claim a Suryavanshi lineage by adopting for himself the name "Vikramaditya" to gain prestige?

How is it that the learned historians willingly accept Ashoka’s identification of Lumbini as the Buddha’s birthplace two centuries after the latter’s death, but not Skanda Gupta’s identification of Saketa as Ayodhya?

The absence of textual reference is no proof of Ayodhya’s non-existence during the relevant period. Similarly, it is not acceptable to equate the genesis of Rama’s worship and popularity to the rise of the Ramanandi sect. Khan takes the historians to task for dismissing the Persian verses on the Babri Masjid as "not primary evidence" proving that Babar himself had ordered the building of the mosque. He states, "Here all the reasoning of the advocates of ‘historical evidence’ fails and only ‘belief’ prevails upon them in rejecting, without giving any reason, the contention of the inscription that the mosque was built by the ‘command of Emperor Babar’..."

He describes as "fallacious" the arguments that because Abul Fazal does not mention in the "Ain-Akbari" anything about the mosque’ erection by Babar on the site of Rama’s temple, it proves that he had not ordered the building of the mosque. Similarly, the absence of any reference in Tulsi’s works to the temple’s demolition does not prove anything.

Khan also does not give much importance to the argument that Muslim rulers did not always support each other when one of them came in conflict with a Hindu enemy. Nor does he feel that just because some nawabs helped build or maintain Hindu shrines, it was proof enough of their secular credentials.

He takes this argument further in his article, "Composite Culture: (Ir)relevant?", published in The Tribune on March 20, 1994. He says, "Over the years historians of a particular genre, call them secular or progressive, have been talking of the growth of a composite culture in India consequent upon the coming of Islam... a qawwali or a performance by Ravi Shankar may, at times, throw me and Atal Behari Vajpayee alike into momentary ecstasy with an equal intensity. But as soon as the trance is over, the consciousness regained, and the intellect takes over, we may find ourselves at the opposite ends of... what we call ‘composite culture’..."

His attack on a mind-set that equates secularism with Hindu-bashing is a robust indication that the non-partisan intellectual might be an endangered species, but is by no means extinct.

Coming back to the main controversy, Khan asserts that more than the historicity of Rama’s story it is the popular belief, sentiments and faith of the millions down the ages that should be given due recognition. He points out, "The belief of the Hindus in Rama as an avatar, or a god, is as strong as the belief of the Muslims in the Quran as a revealed work, as the word of God. Can the said exponents of reason dare talk of evidence on the latter?" Truly, the ivory tower’s denizens are ill-equipped to combat the grassroots-level creed dating back to the hoary past.

How relevant is the Ayodhya controversy to the needs of the people aspiring to leapfrog into a post-modern 21st century? Are our academics insensitive to the majority community’s religious sentiments? Is this what really pushes even the saner elements among Hindus into the waiting arms of fundamentalists? Would things improve through an inter-community dialogue? How can the communal conundrum be resolved?

Let us see what John Keay, much acclaimed as a "gownless" academic with no axe to grind, has to say,"... Babar’s only noteworthy additions to India’s monuments had been three mosques of little stylistic distinction. One, at Panipat, celebrated his victory over the Lodi, although another, that in Ayodhya, has since upstaged it. Historians have of late been sorely taxed over this Ayodhya Babur-i- (or Baburi) masjid. Did it replace a Hindu temple which marked the spot where Lord Rama (of the Ramayana) was born? And what, if any, was Babur’s role in its construction? Ever since Hindu fanatics laid into the mosque with pickaxes in 1992, thus provoking a more serious cave-in of modern India’s secular credentials, more words have been written about this unimpressive site than about any other in India. Adding to them would only invite contradiction."

The message is loud and clear: "Let the sleeping dog lie."Top


A tiresome travel account
Review by Kavita Soni-Sharma

Beyond The Devil’s Teeth: Journeys in Gondwanaland by Tahir Shah. Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages 330. Rs 295.

THERE are some who would say that this part-fiction part-travelogue is about traveling in the Third World countries. Tahir Shah however prefers to say that he travelled around in Gondwanaland. That itself needs some explanation.

Some say, I do not know how far it is true, that at one time the earth got divided into two great land masses. The one which moved south was called Gondwanaland, after the ancient adivasis of Central India, the Gonds. This large mass itself split into three and formed the current continents of South America, Africa and South Asia. It is this land that Tahir Shah, a Britisher of Pakistani descent, decided to travel.

To travel across ancient Gondwanaland is a unique idea in itself. Shah’s verve and spirit of adventure only added to it. As he travelled from India to Pakistan and thence to Uganda and Rawanda, Kenya and Liberia, and then across the Atlantic to Brazil and the Patagonian glaciers, Shah came across a variety of people and interesting experiences.

Going without much paraphernalia, he found rough and ready ways to adjust to the new places and climates. One of the sure shot ways that he shares with us is on how to acclimatise. "Leaning with one’s head dangling over the end of a bed was the best way to achieve this," he informs us. Though much of the acclimatisation was done through his contact with this Texan woman who wanted him to admire various tattoos all over her body. Travel- weary readers could try out both the techniques to find which of them would work after a long-haul flight.

But once the interest in such arcane experiences has worn out, the reader would quickly tire out at the rather trite descriptions that Shah has to offer of his adventures in far-flung towns of the Third World. Soon one realises that Shah is primarily reporting to us his wonderment at the quaint ways of living that he discovered in the poorer quarters of these countries.

There is this adventure with a motor vehicle which broke down and could not be repaired easily. Or the adventure with eating very hot and spicy food. Or of having been stranded on a deserted road. Or of having had to share the most intimate of secrets of various people who did not seem to realise that Shah was an outsider with whom such sharing should not have been done. Or of,... well, of getting bored with Shah’s continuous misadventures and statements about the foibles of his interlocutors.

Does the book provide us with any meaningful understanding of these new cultures and people? Or even work as a simple guide on how to travel in these lands? That remains a matter of personal perception. Perhaps for a fifth grader in an English school it does. For an Indian it might just be a repetition of what we have read about ourselves from various orientalist travellers. The various travel survival kits published by Lonely Planet are more informative.

As for laughing at the foibles and quaintness of Third world culture, I personally prefer Peter Sellers for India and Bob Hope for Africa. In other words, do flip through the book. As for reading it? Do it if there is nothing better to do. Top


Osho, the dissenting prophet
Review by P. D. Shastri

Sufis: The People of the Path: A Lotus of Emptiness by Osho. Diamond Pocket Books, New Delhi. Pages 206. Rs 100.

ACHARYA Rajaneesh (Bhagwan Rajaneesh to his followers) has the reputation of being the most original mind of the 20th century, the boldest and most innovator-thinker. Other masters repeat old stale thoughts, maybe in a fresh idiom, which you have already heard a hundred times. His disciples claim that he gives to the world virgin turns of thought, unprecented mataphor and something very novel. His ideas have the freshness of the morning dew on flowers. Reading him is a pleasure, one seems to have strayed into some strange world, with unfamiliar ways, where standing on the head is the norm.

His disciples call him Osho, from the ocean. He is expansive as the ocean, deep as the sea, and full of all manners of wealth (spiritual) as the sea. The word Osho has been historically used in the Far-East to mean" the blessed one on whom the sky showers flowers". His followers have deified him, made their living God. They describe him thus: "Never born, never died: visited the planet earth between December 11, 1931, and January 19, 1990".

Other prophets and religious leaders preach celibacy and restraint. Osho’s formula is super consciousness through sex". God can be achieved through sublimated sex. No wonder well-known personalities from the East and West, famous leaders, business magnates, superstars from Bollywood and other top class women come together in Pune to celebrate and join his meditation groups. Perhaps they have their hidden deserves too. These are the novelties of today’s spiritual age. A modern guru’s greatness is judged by the number and ranks of his followers; more foreign disciples the better; his five star living style, with his own radio and TV network, planes and a fleet of cars.

Osho has no faith in organised religions. Their books are the holy writ that teach philosophy true for all time. There is finality about them. The prophet has said the last world. Osho objects to all this. They stand for change in the world which is actually changing at great velocity. He says The Buddha went on changing and improving till the last day. That is why the church came into a violent conflict with Darwinian theory of evolution. Moses gave a certain pattern of life. People follow it. We are worshipping the dead past, the corpses. Rules can’t be more important than man.

In a village, the people worshipped hundreds of gods. Osho’s is: "Throw them all in the Ganga". Their scriptures are the gospel, ageless and timeless. Osho’s advice is: "Burn them all, including my books."

His chief worry was that after his death his institution may become also another church, with its fixed ideas, philosphies, code of conduct and all that.

Bacon is among the founders of science because he advocated constant experiment. Experiment should also become the method of all true religions, not the present-day finality which makes for many absurdities that embarrass the faithful.

Another idea of his is that the religion of a person should be decided not by birth as now but by free will and experimentation. In that orientation, the father may be a Buddhist; mother a Christian, the son a Hindu, the daughter a Muslim and so on. Is not this saying something that has never been said before, at least not in this fashion? He seems (pretends) to preach Sufism. At the bottom of every page with an odd number the words appear: "Sufis the people of the path". At the bottom of all pages with an even number appear chapter headlings.

Not only that. Osho’s small picture is there on every page or all the 206 pages). Again after every few pages, there is Osho’s full-page or half-page photo. This is also unique".

It is Osho, Osho, everywhere. (Did not Kabir rank the guru even higher than God?)

What is Sufism? It is not a scriptural religion nor is it logical. It condemns philosphising. You follow this new religion with a new rhythm and in a new wavelength. Sufism is the effort to free you of a belief system to debunk them all. The guru here is not a teacher but just a master, like a master carpenter, artisan, painter, etc. The student is just an apprentice, not a worshipper, like the one learning to swim.

The writer gives the example of (an imaginary) meetings between Kabir and Farid. They sat silent for 48 hours. That is true spiritual communion through the language of silence.

The same will happen if the Buddha were to meet Jesus Christ, another high mark of his originality.

Osho’s system has three cardinal points, love, celebration and happiness (ecstasy). Man is trinity — body, mind and soul.

Love is the food of the soul. Without love, the soul is dead. Personality blooms with love.

Life should be one long celebration. What is there to celebrate? Everything rainbow, ocean, mountains, sunset.... all.

Why do we remember God only when we are suffering? Why do we associate God only with suffering? Link him with happiness. God goes on signing a thousand songs. Where can I always find happiness? In the dictionary, under the letter H.

The question is not how long you live, but how happily you live.

His disciples asked him, "What shall we do when you are gone" His reply was: "There is no I. It has no foundation. There is not death. Never worry about the future. That is none of your concern. After my death, my message. We are waves. God is the ocean. We are part of the bigger whole. We are the wave and God is the ocean. The ocean never dies though waves come and go."

His disciple hold sessions, playing the cassettes of his speeches. To them, his every idea is gospel truth and they receive every word of his with worshipful regard.

But what about the vast non-committed masses, the general reader? They would rather be bewildered, feeling that they had lost their way in this labyrinth of an unfamiliar world where everyone seems to be standing on his head.

He starts with ego. One feels that he is the centre of the universe, the manifestation of the universe. By dropping the ego, one becomes big. Right. But then he adds that society needs your ego. "Swami Rama in America never used the word (‘I’). He would say" Swami Rama feels hungry. "I am as far away from Swami Rama as you are from me."

He debunks miracles. Satya Sai Baba can produce rings and Swiss watches out of thin air. Osho calls them tricks. Two of a trade never agree. To a guru the other guru sounds bogus and is a pretender. The real miracle is to change the life of a whole people.

Christ’s touch cured a hopeless case of leprosy. He took no credit. It was your faith that cured you, Christ said and accepted water from a low class woman. He quenched his thirst, the woman’s lifetime’s thirst was gone.

Mansoor was laughing when being crucified. "They are killing the waves, someone who is not there." To common people, death is a daily reality.

Dog claimed that God made us in his own image, dog which is god in reverse. One dog leader told them not to bark. He found them all silent. He then started barking; gurus do not practise what they preach.

An astrologer reading Christ’s hand predicted that he would conquer the world, but there is only one world. Alexander wept that there are no more world to conquer. Alexander lay dying. He wanted his life term to be extended just by 24 hours (he was only 32).

Not all his wealth or power, nor the best medical skill of all specialists, could save him.

A man claimed he could walk on water (he had spent 18 years acquiring the skill). Another could fly. Osho dismissed these miracles as useless. A fish can float on water, a bird, even a fly, can fly. Why waste a lifetime to acquire such a skill.

A disciple said, medication is for mystics. Why do you foist it on us, ordinary people? Osho’s reply was: "There are no ordinary persons. Each one is extraordinary, unique, a miracle. God puts his signature on each human being. God is a creator, not a manufacturer like that of Ford cars, which are all identical".

Don’t run after perfection. Perfectionism is a psychological disease. Imperfection is beautiful. No one is ever perfect, except my wife’s last husband. Love totally, not to perfection.

Conventional religions talk of absurdities. Tall statues are made of the prophets. Some of the Jain Tirthankaras were 1,000-2,000 ft high and lived for thousands of years.

Different religions are not problems; the leader’s ego is and that leads to wars and bloodshed. The politician today is more powerful than God ever was supposed to be. By unleashing an atomic or hydrogen war, he can send up the whole world in flames.

Why must you keep perfect silence in the church? Because people are asleep. It is a metaphysical sleep. Your heart does not leap in joy to see the rainbow, because you are asleep. With meditation, you can become a flame of awareness. When you are awakened, you have become a Buddha.

Christ’s apostles were intelligent persons, not intellectuals. A woodcutter, farmer and a fisherman could be more intelligent than the intellectual.

Nietzsche said, "God is dead and so man is free." The world is a super market where different godmen display their wares in competition.

Judge ye not. There are no right or wrong judgments. All judgments are evil.

He was a prophet. When comes another? Top


Stripping life of its imponderables
Punjabi Literature
by Jaspal Singh

NARINDER Singh KAPUR has emerged as one of the most prolific essayists in Punjabi. He started his career as a lecturer in English, became Professor in Punjabi, then moved on to become Professor of journalism in Punjabi University, Patiala. He is easily the most qualified university teacher in Punjab.

With seven collections of essays, he has perhaps overtaken all old and contemporary writers in his field. Not only in quantity but in quality also, he has added something of his own to the form and content of this genre. His prose is smooth without stylistic stilts and props. Every sentence is well-chiselled, carrying a bit of folk wisdom which in modern times is becoming a rare commodity.

Kapur’s latest collection of 27 essays "Antar Jhaat" (Lokgeet Parkashan, Chandigarh) appeared towards the end of 1999. All the pieces in this collection are in a meditative style, displaying a mellowed mind of a person who is well-settled after the initial convulsions every greenhorn faces. The author believes that devastating storms can be faced with grit and guts, not with prayers. Difficulties in life teach you to confront greater difficulties. Self-assured endeavour moulds your surroundings. A person grows old only when he renounces his beliefs and ideals. Life cannot lose its meaning in the face of worries and anxieties. Courage and confidence can convert defeat into victory.

There are many impossibilities in life but the number of possibilities is not small either. Even God has limits to his powers. Darkness cannot remain under a bright sun even if God wills it. But the question is how do we recognise the possibilities within limits.

If you become honest, the world has at least one dishonest person less which would be your great achievement. Everybody complains that he has grown old before time. Incidentally, what is the right time to grow old? We cannot change the wind direction but we can certainly adjust our sails to the wind. Knowledge without action is a burden. If the objective is not good, acquiring knowledge is a sin.

As one advances in life, his surroundings, his family, his ward, his town and his country all advance.

Most of the things in the world are meant for mediocres. The world does not have anything to offer to a great man. That is why they take very little and give everything to the world. Sometimes great men have so much to give to the world, which it cannot easily absorb and utilise. Great men live for their ideals but mediocres live to fulfil their desires. A great man retains his equipoise even in the most trying times. Once the Buddha went to the village of his old enemy who began to hurl abuses as he saw him. The Buddha’s followers were wild. Advising them to remain calm, he said, "I have come here to be abused."

A healthy body is obedient whereas an ailing one is a rebel. A spiritually developed mind is an image of bliss. It creates suffering neither for itself nor for others. It is liberated inside and it longs for the liberation of everybody around. It always gives the fellow human beings due respect. There are people who spend their lives finding faults with their surroundings. They crave for autumn even in spring. The plants that grow in pots do have shadows but not shade. One can’t hang swings on their boughs and no rainy season festival (tian) is celebrated under them.

The author adds that a friend of his wasted most of his life saying "I have no capital to realise my dreams." When capital was arranged for him, he stopped meeting his friends and could meet them only after working on the "bottle" for hours together at night. Now the dreams of his ruin have been realised. He has sold his house and after blaming his wife for his failure, has filed for divorce.

Luck plays only a small part in everyone’s success. A decisive role is played by hard work, perseverance and a sense of responsibility. The author has his own view about the nature of crowd. He says it has the power to destroy but truth has the power to survive and shine.

People who break a new path bring about moral and spiritual revolutions in the world. There is no set formula for a revolution. Every revolution is unique. Crowds do not bring about any revolution. Only those unusual and lonely individuals make revolutions, who have the vision to see across the darkness around them. A society cannot produce cheerful citizens if its average members are distracted and disappointed.

The author holds: "A baby is a product of nature through the mother. The child is brought up by nature through the parents." In this way we all follow the laws of nature and life is a product of this observance. After an accident those who come to your rescue do not have the means and awareness to help the injured and those who have them, never stop to help anybody. Such are the ways of the world.

The greatest strength of a woman, he observes, lies in her physical assets; in her ability to be inaccessible; in her power to keep you waiting; in her ability to be absent and to create a vacuum so that she is being missed by you. At such times she looks like a fairy queen. If she is present all the time, she becomes an earthly woman and when she gets married, the man takes her casually since she cannot go anywhere else. In this situation, the man says, "I have been cheated" and the woman says, "My love is not being adequately reciprocated". The things we are afraid of losing are always over-protected. In the days of courtship there is a constant fear of losing each other. That is why lovers are so eager to get married.

The author feels that housewives are usually more unhappy than working women since they get more time to think about the excesses committed against them.

There is no concept of a gentle police officer in our society. Evil-doers attract more attention than good people. We usually avoid a good turn. Evil is too charming to be eschewed. We can brush aside somebody’s praise but not his censure.

Tolerance is the result of vast knowledge and experience in addition to the capacity for deep thinking. This is a state of the beyond, a kind of liberation from day-to-day living. We long for the sea though our thirst can be quenched with a mere glass of water. We do read good books but never follow them in real life. We deliberately go astray though we know everything about the right path.

No doubt lots and lots of things have been done in the world by earlier generations but a lot more remains to be done. They are waiting for your attention. The fastest race is yet to be run. The sweetest song is yet to be sung and the greatest book is yet to be written. The most beautiful building of the world is yet to be designed. The greatest of tasks — namely, removal of ugliness and evil from the world — is yet to start.

There are infinite opportunities for the common man to be great. Once a man prayed to God to send somebody to redeem this sinking world. The answer was: "You have already been sent."

All these 27 pieces are full of such ruminations. The title of the collection "Antar Jhaat" (introspection) is fully justified.Top


Our Bond’s live & live well theme
Review by Kuldip Kalia

The Little Book of "Comfort" by Ruskin Bond. Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages 142. Rs 75.

GOOD idea is an exciting exercise. It can make your day. Equally important is the thought process. These thoughts come in a daring mental venture. Sometimes, an idea strikes as an entertaining investment. Such a driving force of talent is nurtured with magic words and sustained interests.

Ruskin Bond provides an "optimistic outlook" on life and helps in achieving and targeting true "potentials". Also he encourages identifying the beauty "within" and "in the world around us".

Undoubtedly, failure does affect life but one should not feel dejected because as Bond rightly points out, "As one door shuts, another opens." So never allow things to disturb you to the extent of overpowering you, and, in case such a situation arises, "Ask yourself, does it really matter?" This is how he treats an adverse situation. Moreover, to him, "Failure is not defeat, it is just learning how."

And here he gives a tip on how to become successful. "Try loving your enemies. If nothing else, you will confuse them." Then there is the second clue: "The greatest victory is one you win over yourself."

Suddenly the tone changes and Bond asks: "What if you failed yesterday? Today is not yesterday. Is it?" Similarly, others do have a right to succeed. So listen to his advice again: "Do not allow their successes to cast a shadow on your efforts." These days depression has become an intrinsic part of our lives but Bond warns against it, saying, "That pebble at your feet has as much beauty as any great work of art." Always keep in mind that "Adversity is always intermittent, therefore, if effort is constant, you are bound to win." Moreover, it needs hardly any effort to explain that "bad times are good times to prepare for better times".

It is an old saying that there is a "right time" and a "right place" to do the "right thing". But Bond explains the same thing in his own style. "There is money to be made in the market, but under a shady tree there is rest."

The golden principle of life is to avoid quarrels if you want to live peacefully. However, he explains the reason for avoiding quarrels when he says, "You will find that most quarrels are weak on both sides."

"Live and help live" is perhaps better than the principle of "live and let live". Undoubtedly he is wise. His inspiring instinct is reflected in this: "Sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny." So when things come to destiny, always identify your potentials and judge your intellect because, "What you think of yourself is more important than what others think of you". That is why, he points out, "Destiny is simply the strength of your desires." So "we die only when the will dies". Truly speaking, you can be considered stronger than the man who rules the city if you can "rule your own spirit".

According to Bond, "Smiles are born, not made. If they are forced, they are not smiles, but grimaces." Do listen to his advice; "If you can smile when you feel hurt, the hurt is half cured.’ Comparatively speaking, it is only "a merry heart" which can do more good than any medicine.

If you wonder whether man is mortal or immortal, Bond explains it philosophically. "A good man can never die. The person of a man may be taken away, but the best part of a good man lives on." Talking too much is against the basic character of mankind. That is why he warns those who speak too much. His thinking is in line with the basic spirit of the universe because "many words initiate many defeats".

Finally, time is the crucial aspect of life. It can be the deciding or healing factor and so always keep in mind that, "Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice." But for those who live "time is eternity". Thus time is ultimate and it is how you perceive it.

And finally, "Some people are always complaining because roses have thorns. Let us be grateful that thorns have roses." How true! Always, "Be useful, be wanted and be necessary." This is real life or the true spirit of living. Top


Soviets and the Afghanistan

This is an abridged chapter from "Afghan Communism and Soviet Intervention" by Henry A. Bradsher, an American journalist, with a fairly long stint in Delhi and Moscow.

THE Soviet Union did not become involved in its longest war because of any intrinsic importance of Afghanistan to Moscow. Ensuring Afghan adherence to Marxism-Leninism was not a goal that in itself could justify such an involvement. Instead, the involvement showed Soviet determination, at the height of Leonid I. Brezhnev’s power, to assert Moscow’s authority wherever the USSR perceived danger or opportunity. After the determination of the Afghan people to maintain their independence had bloodied the Soviets while devastating their own country, the imperialistic thrust ended. But, again, Afghanistan was not the cause. Moscow’s abandonment of the Kabul regime was a result of long-festering Soviet internal weaknesses, some of which had been exacerbated by the Afghan war. Belated recognition of those weaknesses, rather than any battlefield defeat or the war’s immediate costs, produced the changed Kremlin thinking that led to the Soviet Army’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. Those weaknesses later brought the collapse of Soviet Communist power and of the USSR itself. Aid to Kabul ended.

Without Soviet aid, Afghan Communists lost power. Afghanistan turned inward to resume its struggle over modernisation. The Soviet model had been discredited. Another model, of greater reliance on Islam for answers, had been strengthened. Traditional factors of national unity had been weakened, leaving uncertainty about Afghanistan’s political structure and coherence. And a land that stumbled into war while seeking economic development had been blasted backward into an even more desperately primitive economic condition.

The basic reason for withdrawal was the USSR’s domestic situation, which was worsening because of factors more profound than the peripheral Afghan problem. When Gorbachev became CPSU general secretary in March, 1985, he faced systemic weaknesses that Brezhnev had allowed to fester behind a clock of censorship into crisis proportions; that Brezhnev’s successor, Andropov, had begun to recognise but had not had time enough or health to address; that the next leader, Chernenko, had tried to ignore. A disgruntled public perceived living standards no longer to be rising, even to have begun declining. This was primarily a result of trying to maintain a superpower status from an inefficient economic base. The armed forces were eating up far more resources for competition with the United States than the country could rationally afford. Their demand for higher budgets grew while overall national output was stagnant or shrinking. This structural problem was compounded by the disaffection of the impoverished Soviet people with the old Stalinist social contract. The satisfaction and security they derived from cheap but poor housing and medical care, from guaranteed jobs and other returns on acceptance of dictatorial rule, were so minimal that they felt little obligation to work productively in return. Corruption undermined ideology. Social ills arising from the Afghan war only exacerbated existent disaffection.

Gorbachev and a clique of iconoclastic thinkers around him, men who saw the need and had the willingness to question Brezhnevian orthodoxies, recognised that continuing on the path he had inherited would only lead to greater problems and unrest at home as well as undermining the base on which rested the appearance of strength abroad. The long-term health of the USSR and of its Communist system required an improved economy. The leadership had to regain the confidence of a sullenly uncooperative people and give them incentives to work more productively. That required a reallocation of resources and qualitative improvements through cutting a growing military burden. It also meant raising the technological level of an antiquated civilian economy with the import of western technology.

Afghanistan figured in the necessary reforms in three ways, none of them a primary driving reason for change. Its direct cost was only a minor factor, since military and foreign aid expenditures were overwhelmingly devoted to competition and confrontation with the West and China. The war’s contribution to Soviet public malaise was real but only another element in decades of accumulated grievances. In the third way, the war was significant but not divisive.

Gorbachev needed to reorder foreign policy in a quest for relaxing international relations, thus justifying to the Soviet military-industrial complex and other Communist traditionalists a reduction of the arms burden and seeking access to western loans and technology. Arms control agreements, not armed confrontations, were needed. "...[O]ur international policy is more than ever determined by domestic policy, but our interest in concentrating on constructive endeavours is to improve our country," Gorbachev said in 1987. He added in 1990, "...without a new foreign policy, we would have been in no position to transform our own country".

The situation had come full circle since 1979. Then, the Brezhnev leadership felt it had little to lose in already poor East-West relations and stalled SALT II negotiations and invaded Afghanistan. Now, the need for better relations and new arms control agreements argued for removing western and Chinese complaints about the Soviet role in Afghanistan. The "limited contingent" came to be seen by the reformers around Gorbachev as blocking their country’s greater good.

Post-Communist Afghanistan was burdened by four basic kinds of difficulties. One was the broad problem arising from its internal ethnic balance, its borders, and its relations with neighbours. The 1978-92 war ended centuries of Pushtun dominance while shifting leadership among Pushtuns from the Durranis to the rival Ghilsais. The Taliban sought to reimpose Pushtun control with power moving back to the Durranis, creating unrest among Ghilzai Pushtun recruits to the Taliban cause. Across the northern border, the independence of Tajik, Uzbek and Turkmen peoples, after the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, created possible alternatives to Kabul as attractions for Afghan minorities that had been separated from their ethnic brethren and placed in a Pushtun-dominated state by the border drawing of the 19th century British and Russian colonialism. Across the Iranian border, where the division of waters flowing from Afghanistan in the Helmand River remained a latent issue, Tehran exerted influence on Afghan Shi’ites, particularly Hazaras, a group disaffected within the Afghan polity as a result of being consigned to a second-class status for generations.

But the most obvious continuing issue was the border with Pakistan. Decades of efforts by the ISI to create an Afghan leadership that would not question the Durand Line had failed to resolve the problem of Pushtuns’ being divided by another colonially drawn border. Both Karmal and Najibullah had kept the issue of Pushtunistan alive during the 1980s. The contending factions that succeeded in Kabul had no immediate time for such subjects. But the Taliban’s recruitment of Pushtun youths from Islamic schools in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier and Baluchistan to fight Tajiks, Uzbeks, and other minorities blurred the border distinction even more than Pakistan’s official involvement in Afghan warfare.