A Letter To The Easily Offended

 

Dear Assorted Paranoids and Eggshell Skulls,

As I sit down to type this letter I am choked with emotion. Because I cannot clap loud enough for you to hear my applause, I choose the written word to express my admiration for your persistent efforts to protect our minds from the corrupting influences of offensive art and literature.  It is a testament to your power of persuasion and the presence of truth on your side that you have managed to convince the State to be a warrior in your fight against the liberal nonsense that threatens to plunge our society into a swirling vortex of cosmic disorder. I only wish I had your strength and courage of conviction to ceaselessly persecute those who hold views that are different from mine. But I am a no-gooder who leads a silent life of shame and dissatisfaction in your well ordered and just system.  You see, I am agnostic. Since words are capable of many interpretations when I use the word agnostic I mean that I do not give a damn about the existence or non-existence of man/men/woman/women/animals/spirits in the sky who may or may not control whether I did or did not eat dosas for breakfast. But even though I do not possess your evolved intellect or belief system I feel compelled to tell you how highly I hold you in esteem.

My beliefs have been severely compromised and my sentiments deeply hurt by the constant insistence of the State and society in imposing a religious identity upon me. My fellow agnostics and I cannot fill up an application form without in some way choosing a religious affiliation nor can we claim any benefits that we may be entitled to under the reservation system or other State sponsored schemes if we do not manage to fit ourselves into the narrow confines of religion and caste so as to prove our eligibility. We recognise that for the majority of the population, disadvantages are tied to the social constructs of caste and religion and we respect that and it is out of that respect that we hold our peace. Or it would seem so! Maybe we are just too scared of the mighty likes of you to air our dissent. As much as I would like a uniform civil code as tantalisingly held out in the directive principles of state policy, in life I must be governed by religious law and in death, were I to die intestate all the wealth that I accumulate in my soulless disregard for an afterlife will be distributed in a manner sanctified by religion with no respect for my personal convictions. The secular State always seems to anoint me. I am consistently ignored by politicians in their campaigns and never targeted as part of a vote bank. Not to mention the social disapprobation that I am greeted with when I announce my lack of faith. But do I complain? No sir! I do not. I silently bear the barbs of disapproval and the prayers for my soul that are thrown my way. Such a lack of spine surely stems from not having the smug, self-righteous sanctimony of your belief system.

Apparently due to the tireless efforts of you my faithful brethren, some painter named M.F. Husain had to die a hounded man in a strange land that gave him sanctuary and a writer named Salman Rushdie is not allowed to enter the country of his birth. Am sure they offended you my honourable friends very gravely. Why else would broad minded citizens such as yourselves trample over the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution? Why else would the wise machinery of the State aid you in your noble endeavour? Surely Justice stands with a flaming sword on your side of the battlefield. Some argue that you can simply close a book that you do not like or not watch a movie that offends you, but i pity them for they are slaves to their ignorance. If the government bans a book or film or some other medium of creative expression, surely that work is puke-inducing in its vitriolic offensiveness! Unquestioning obedience is our duty as sheep herded by the good shepherds whom we elect. But in the midst of this I must point out that your religious texts and interpretations of them promise me the darkest crevices of hell for not being a believer. They go on to illustrate in gory detail the gruesome and bloody punishment that awaits me for my godless ways on earth. It offends me beyond words. Such an attack on my beliefs and the intimidation I am subject to is not suitable for my delicate nerves and yet I am powerless in the shadow of the brooding omnipresence that is religion. I cry into my pillow every night scared by the stories of hell fire burning my flesh into a gourmet meal for netherworld beasts. I feel like my sentiments ought to be protected by the government. Tell me! How do I become like you so that I may bully the State into acceding to my demands?

I laud the strength that your easily offended convictions give you. I hear whispered tales of how some of you make huge donations to your places of worship out of ill begotten gains. But I scoff at them! Can you hear my derisive snort? For I know they are all fanciful stretches of imagination spun by blasphemous and seditious people who are jealous of the strength of character that you possess. It is illogical to even think that you who so faithfully follow your religion – religion that commands you to lead honest lives of virtue, shunning greed and following the path of duty – are capable of such acts. I know it, because I read your texts. Even though the hell bit was off-putting, I found much good in all your texts. There is no way you can reconcile your faith to shameful practices like corruption, theft and murder! Surely the karmic burden is deterrence enough. Your value system is not so easily compromised, is it?

Also, I deeply admire your single minded devotion to your cause. The way you expend your energy and resources and determinedly flood the Courts with serious petitions to muzzle democracy and take up valuable print space to express your feelings is awe-inspiring. Our Courts have been spending too much time dispensing justice and trying to make the country a slightly more equal place to live in. Such frivolity must be discouraged as you have rightly decided to do so by forcing the Court to partition disputed sites of worship and decide whether jobless trolls on the internet are a serious threat to the integrity of the nation and preservation of communal harmony. Some misguided querulous people are saying that you are the real threat to communal harmony. Please disregard them for the road of heroes is paved with thorns. There are some who have drawn inspiration from religion and have decided to dedicate their lives to the uplift of the poor and downtrodden and generally try to lessen the misery of the victims of your social order. But I have nothing but contempt for them. They don’t hold a candle to your virtue. You must not spend your considerable resources on education or healthcare. It must all go into guarding the souls of those who will eventually die of hunger or malnourishment or lack of access to healthcare. Oh! How attractive your brand of spirituality is! How ruthlessly you have defended your caste and community against pollution. Apparently there is a law commission report on honour killings and a Supreme Court ruling bringing it into the rarest of rare category. I am just going to twiddle my thumbs and ignore it as will you.

And finally I must also mention the commendable efforts of the State in censoring the social media, banning books, films, art and allowing the use of State machinery to vilify and harass the riff-raff whose minds created such despicable works. Twitter is for bird-brains! The wise know that censorship is the true sign of a healthy democracy. Dissent is dangerous and is a threat to the peace and security of the nation and it must be crushed at all costs. Any criticism of the wonderful people of unimpeachable integrity who grace the hallowed halls of our legislatures is unwarranted and must be nipped in the bud. Without you, how else would we have realised that! We certainly cannot have obscenity and sacrilege polluting the sanitised blank space of our collective consciousness. Hail Censorship! Ban everything I say!

I hope to soon learn your finely honed manipulation strategies and utilise them to launch a crusade on behalf of those who are disinterested in religion and/or feel that religion ought to play no role in the public sphere in a secular nation while demanding that the personal be made political.

Sincerely,

A coward who writes vaguely so as not to attract libel charges

P.S. I left out those of you who base their activism on language/race/gender/other miscellaneous prejudices and addressed only the religious. It is not due to a lack of admiration or respect but because of laziness. I really swoon over all of you..

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Sonnet Of The Grasshopper

 

Aesop lied; he sold his soul, once upon a summer’s day,

Before you pity, before you judge, allow me my side of the tale,

I danced and pranced, they piously hated to see me play,

Those scurrying ants, those jealous ants, marching around the vale.

I was drunk, I truly was, and the summer sun was my aged wine,

I heard the wind whisper; I sang to the roses and watched them bloom,

Those infernal ants, those dull little things, they never did see, they never had time,

They shook their heads, sages in spasms, gleefully predicting my doom.

My honour I must defend, truth be told,

Winter’s frost gnawed away at summer’s green, the bright sun now no more than a gleam,

But I swear, I never did plead; over life I loosened my haggardly hold,

And yet I smiled, for I know of the beauty of starry nights, that others can only dream.

My life though short was coloured and sweet, seize the day,

Else time is a bearded fool, an endless stretch of dreary gray.

The Curse of Contentment

Most of us have much to be thankful for. We have been taught to count our blessings, to delight in the ‘little things’ in life. And probably that state of contentment is the best way to go on with our daily routine without being maddened by a constant pursuit of something which is elusive. But is the emphasis on learning to be content with our lot holding humanity back? To accept the bondage of circumstances is alien to human nature. If we had been content with merely escaping being eaten by lions, we never would have left our caves to create marvels of science, art, music and poetry which are the children of hungry minds and not hungry stomachs. But we are being conditioned to lose our restlessness. Maybe it is a product of history, culture and spirituality and undoubtedly it has its uses. Society as a unit cannot be in a state of constant flux. But what about the individual? Is it desirable for the individual to be quietly resigned to the world as it is without giving any thought to the world as it ought to be?  Or at a simpler level, must not the individual question his own life at the very least?

The question of what is ‘the good life’ has been asked almost in all cultures and through the ages it has been answered in different ways by different societies. While there cannot be an answer that is universally acceptable, the foundation upon which the human enterprise of seeking out the good life must stand upon would be common. To be able to debate upon the purpose of existence one must be in a position to have the leisure and means to exercise reason to determine one’s own raison d’etre. This opportunity to exercise reason is the common foundation upon which humankind must build its citadels of thought. It is a simple assertion that as long as a person is preoccupied with ensuring her and her dependants’ survival, there is no scope for humankind to reach its fullest potential. Higher needs can be pursued only when basic needs have been met. So does it follow that our social contract has failed us? It is true that modern governments have more or less shielded us from the Hobbesian description of human life as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. But for all our collective achievements we are not really that far away from a state of nature because we have failed to ensure the opportunity for every individual to achieve the highest potential that she is capable of.  As the Supreme Court of India observed – ‘Life’ in Article 21 of the Constitution is not merely the right to exist. It does not connote mere animal existence. It has a much wider meaning… and includes all those aspects of life which go to make a man’s life meaningful, complete and worth living. But when we look around we see our fellow men and women struggling to swim against a daily tide that threatens to drown them in drudgery. We see struggles just to exist. Some of us have had the chance to give expression to creative urges, the chance to savour the privileges of being human, but collectively as a society how can we claim to have elevated ourselves above the beasts that we proudly tamed? Yet we are told that contentment is a virtue.

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Perhaps not to be is to be without you….

I could name a thousand things I love about Kolkata. But if I had to pick one place as my favourite it would be the South Park Street Cemetery. The reason is the tombstone in the picture. Derozio, William Jones and Rose Aylmer are buried there too. But the glory of the poets and the poet’s muse pale before the touching tribute of the grieving husband. If tears froze into words etched in stone probably something like this would be created. Every time I read it, I cannot but help sigh over the haunting sadness that surrounds this story of this young woman who lived, loved and died in a strange land at twenty three. Maybe Edgar Allan Poe was right. The death of a beautiful woman, is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world. But a thousand florid Annabel Lee and its seraphs could not match this simple poem in its poignant beauty. Find below the text of the epitaph.

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