Saturday, February 7, 2009

All in the name of culture


The word fundoo has yet to find a place in the Oxford English Dictionary. It was coined in Pakistan. It is derived from fundamentalism to describe religious bigots. In Pakistan it denotes people with Taliban mentality who try to impose their archaic beliefs in the Shariat code of ethics on a fast modernising urban society. We borrowed it from the Pakistanis to denote similar groups of bigoted Hindus (including Sikhs), who likewise try to impose their medieval concepts of behaviour on free-thinking, westernised Indians.

In both Pakistan and India their principal targets are young women. In Pakistan they want them to be encaged in burkas, remain uneducated and unexposed to western influences. In India they want women to refrain from drinking, dancing or putting on clothes which expose too much of their bodies. Their methods are the same. They do not care two paise for the law of the land, rough up their victims and vandalise cafes, shops, cinema houses.

Ram Sene activists were arrested but they justified their actions. Suitable punishment should be given to these lawless elements Photo: AFP

They dare governments to arrest them. Governments rarely call their bluff because they also command a lot of votes. It is in fact a clash of civilisations on a national scale—the dying past and the emerging future. We have seen the Shiv Sainiks and Bajrang Dals in action. Now we have the Sri Ram Sene in Mangalore. Its hooligans stormed into a caf`E9, aptly named Amnesia (forgetfulness), chanted prayer and went for the women guests. After roughing them up, they tore clothes of some of them, and molested them. They enjoyed their exploit and laughed heartily.

Their leader shamelessly justified their actions. Some of them have been arrested and will be tried under the Goonda Act. A few may be sent to jail. But we know that in India anyone who has been jailed comes out as a hero. What should be the most suitable punishment for these lawless elements? I believe they should be exposed to public ridicule. Strip them naked and whack them on their bare buttocks. A few slaps would be enough to make them a laughing stock in their localities. Anyone who has had to expose his bottom to public gaze will, thereafter, never be taken seriously.

God’s own tree

Sometime in the last week of January I asked my daughter to see if any trees in Lodhi Gardens were in flower. She goes for a walk to the park every afternoon. She came back and told me that she did not see any but found one flower lying on the ground. It was a pale, creamy white with many petals, trumpet shaped, and without any fragrance. I promptly announced it must be a mahua. There is an avenue of mahuas (madhuca longifolia), also known as Madhuce Indica or butter tree. I checked up with Pradip Krishen’s tree of Delhi. I was wrong. Mahuas do not flower till March or April. I read more of what he had to say about them. It is probably the most valued tree in the country, providing food and drink to man and beast alike.

It grows extensively in the tribal belt across Central India. Many tribes, notably the Gonds, eat its flowers raw as food. So do bears, monkeys, deer, nilgai and jackals. It provides butter for cooking. It can be curried, pickled and made into jam (murabba). When fermented it makes a fiery brew, which, taken in excess, can knock out the hardest of drinkers. It was probably mahua which our ancients called somras (drink of the gods). I tried it out once. It was foul-smelling and distasteful. I spat it out.

Just about every part of the mahua is useful for humans and animals. Its bark has medicinal properties, its flowers and fruit yield food and drink, its leaves are woven into plates. And it is a handsome, tall tree which commands adoration. It thrives in different climes. So, why is it not grown more extensively? Meanwhile, I still do not know what the flower my daughter picked up was.

Yes, we can

On the glowing American horizon;

Dawns a new era of hope and communion;

Obama, the leader America was waiting for;

Emerges from the masses as a rising star;

Breaking the barriers of religion and race;

Obama smiles, beaming with confidence and grace;

Change has come to America, he declares;

Elegant orator, par excellence;

Promises equality, justice and strong defence;

And measures to crush violence;

Defeat terrorists and their evil designs;

Shares India’s desire to isolate centres of crime;

Facing challenging tasks at this crucial time;

Violent conflicts, failing banks and economic trends;

He seeks the goodwill and support of all nations;

Treating them as partners and trusted friends;

Obama now personifies ‘Yes, we can;’

Our youthful world’s best slogan;

Now is the time for all statesmen;

To join hands and say;

‘Yes, we will’, and hail the brave new icon.

— (Courtesy: M.G. Narasimha Murthy, Hyderabad)