The twentieth anniversary of Operation Bluestar (storming of the Golden Temple in Amritsar on June 5/6, 1984) brought to mind other man-made tragedies that occurred since India became an Independent nation: the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi (1948), Indo-Chinese War (1962), Operation Bluestar, followed by the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, followed by the killings of thousands of Sikhs (1984), the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi (1991), demolition of the Babri Masjid, followed by large-scale Hindu-Muslim violence in Maharashtra, attack on the Sabarmati Express at Godhra railway station, followed by pogrom of Muslims in Gujarat. In none of these was the hand of Providence seen as it was in floods, earthquakes and accidents caused by human misjudgement.
The tragedies I refer to were motivated by ill-will to settle old scores, or exploit chauvinistic pride of their own community in order to build up their leadership. Several names come immediately to mind: Veer Savarkar for rousing animosity against Mahatma Gandhi, Krishna Menon for ordering an unprepared Army in a war against China in the hope that one quick victory would elevate him to the position of the Prime Minister in-waiting: Bhindranwale for disowning his religious heritage and denouncing Hindus for trying to disintegrate the Khalsa panth; Prabhakaran for rousing Tamil pride against those opposing the Eelam; Bal Thackery for rousing Maharashtriansí feelings against non-Maharashtrians and Muslims living in Maharashtra; L.K. Advani for his call for Hindutva and his rath yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya to rebuild a Ram temple, and for being a party to the destruction of the Babri Masjid. It paid him and his party handsome dividends but fouled inter-community relations for many years. There are lesser leaders who continue to use the same language of distrust of minority communities, particularly Muslims and Christians: Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharati, Sadhvi Rithambra, Narendra Modi, Togadia, Giri Raj Kishore, Singhal and dozens of others.
It is of no use being too harsh in oneís judgement of them for that will only put their backs up. It is wiser to appeal to their nobler sentiments and plead with them to consider the long-term consequences of their intemperate utterances. These leaders have sizeable number of followers ever ready and willing to do what they leaders tell them. And the poor people of our country pay a heavy price.
As for people like me who never cease from criticising them, this is a special occasion to repeat my criticism. Everything they say I regard with suspicion and smell a rat somewhere around. I am reminded of Maulana Roomiís observation:
Dar sukhan guftan biyaagad choon
(Smell of pride and greed and lust (for power) Betray you when you speak as much as the onion you have eaten).
Stages of life
Hindus divide a personís life into four equal parts of 25 years each. Brahmacharya, grihasta, vaanprasthya and sanyas. Guru Nanak described what happens to person who lives into the 90s. In a hymn in Raga Mauha, he wrote (I use G.S. Makinís translation from The Essence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib): "A human being spends the first ten years of his life in childhood, up to 20 years in growing up, at 30 he blossoms into a handsome youth, at 40 he attains full growth: at 50 he startsfeeling weak: at 60 he feels old, at 70 he feels the weakening of his senses, at 80 he is not capable of doing any work and at 90 he keeps lying down and does not understand the basic reasons of all the weaknesses."
Nature has its own calendar of ageing. Human societies in different parts of the world have evolved norms to suit their social structure. By natureís calendar both males and females may be regarded to be in their infancy till they are old enough to procreate, that is in the case of the female when she begins to mensturate and in that of the male when he is able to fertilise the female. However, human societies prescribe different ages for them when they are allowed to do so. So we have legal bars against marriages below certain ages and we provide deterrents against having too many children. The common use of contraceptives makes this possible. The reproductive phase of females comes to an end with menopause, while that of males lasts much longer but with rapidly decreasing capability to indulge in it. Both males and females are at the peaks of their physical prowess between 18-35. Thereafter their bodies begin to decline but their mental faculties remain unimpaired for many more years to come. Nevertheless, man-made rules require them to retire by the time they are 60. So is human nature in conflict with human rites and laws throughout their existence? In addition, medical sciences have made spectacular advances which ensure us much longer lives in good health than our ancestors could have envisaged. Their neatly made-up calendars of spans and stages of life no longer hold good.
Guru Nanak lived for 70 years (1469-1539). With the kind of medicines and medical expertise available at that time, one can well understand that by 50, a man started feeling weak; at 60 old, at 70 his senses (sight, hearing, taste etc.) began to deteriorate, by 80 he was unfit to do any work and at 90 he was largely confined to his charpoy. As one of the Guruís followers, I can cite my own case. I am close to being 90. Although my vision is poor, I am hard of hearing and can only hobble around my house, I do not spend most of my time lying in bed. I work much harder than I ever did before. Among my present-day pre-occupations is to read his bani and translate it into English.
As for the Hindu division of life into four periods, I have been in the fourth i.e. sanyas for quite some time. But it has my own definition. It means having contact with the outside world to the minimum but enjoying all the creative comforts at home (ghar hi me udaasa). I have no intention of entering the actual sannyas. Where in the jungle will I find a doctor or a dentist when I need one?
A man saw a fisherman standing in a lake with a mirror. "Excuse me," he said, "but could you tell me what youíre doing?" "I am fishing"
"With a mirror?" the first man asked.
"Sure, itís a new invention. Iím going to make a fortune."
"Could you tell me how it works?"
"Okay, but it will cost you a hundred rupees."
The first man was so curious that he gave the fisherman the money.
"Now show me how it works," he said.
"Well, " the fisherman began," you aim the mirror into the water, and when a fish goes by, you startle him with rays of light reflected from the mirror. The fish gets confused and then you grab him."
The first fellow was shocked.
"You canít mean to tell me thatís how you fish. Itís ridiculous: How many have you caught ?"
"Youíre the fifth today," replied the fisherman.
(Contributed by Reetan Ganguly, Tezpur)