Saturday, June 27, 2015

Yoga As Part Of The Matrix which Links India

Yoga As Part Of The Matrix which Links India
                                                            Saeed Naqvi

Ayurveda entered our lives as tiny, plastic vials of Amritdhara, three drops in a teaspoon of sugar, the panacea for all stomach ailments. Yoga followed in its earliest manifestation as photographs of Pandit Nehru doing a head stand, or sees aasan.

“Don’t try it without being guided by a guru” elders would warn. “It can be dangerous.” We were tempted because we imagined headstands would make us brainy like Pandit Nehru.

India’s first Prime Minister would have been the perfect poster boy for yoga because not only was he supple and therefore adept at it but he also had the charisma, an essential requirement for successful marketing. Narendra Modi must be given marks for all the hullaballoo which has, lets face it, given yoga renewed global notice.

Would this not have been a wonderful occasion to focus on the late Guru Aiyangar’s institution. The yoga ashram in Monghyr, Bihar set up by Swami Satyanand sends thousands of Yoga teachers, one of whom guides me and my family. From him I learn of the precarious existence of many, serious yoga teachers.

It was never brought to our notice that yoga or indeed, Ayurveda were Hindu. Likewise, the Unani system of medicines, the one which Hakeems practiced, was certainly not Muslim. It could not have been. Unani means Greek which would suggest it was part of the traffic of neo platonic ideas in medieval time across Arab lands.

The trajectory ideas take is often unpredictable. The late Hakeem Abdul Hameed, founder of Hamdard, which became part of our lives, actually came from a family from Kashgar in the Xinjiang region of China, which clearly links up with Central Asia and clarifies the narrative so much more.

In north India, the Hakeem became more than just a medicine dispenser. He became something of a cultural institution. In addition to the human body, he knew languages, philosophy, art, music.

Ghalib’s contemporary Momin was actually Hakeem Momin Khan Momin, whose ghazals surpass Ghalib’s in some instances. It is generally not known that poet, lyricist, Majrooh Sultanpuri was a Hakeem by training. While Hakeems and Vaids represented two cultures with a common purpose, there was actually nothing quite like yoga. It was exceptional.

Some Muslims thought that anyone who said his Namaz five times a day would never be an invalid. This made immense sense. If you stand upright, bend, rest on your knees, then go down placing your forehead on the prayer mat, and repeat the reverse process as well in five sets of exercises five times a day everyday of your life, you will keep nimble and fit. At the end of the Namaz drill, you must also rotate your neck in both directions ostensibly to keep the devil away but actually to protect yourself against spondylitis.

Namaz, therefore, would both prayer and light exercise. But Namaz is a religious ritual. It is denominational. Yoga in its conception is not.

And this brings me to my theory of the Triple ‘S’ Matrix to which yoga may be added as the forth ‘S’, possibly as “Sadhna”.

Long years ago, after a conversation with the late Abu Abraham, I had acquiesced in the theory that Sanskrit, and not Hindi, should have been the national language, because every Indian language, except Tamil, has anything between 50 to 75 percent Sanskrit words. Tamil too could be cajoled because both Karuna and Nidhi are Sanskrit words after all. This would have placed equal pressure on all regions to study and master the new national language. This would have served and important, additional purpose: it would have obviated the adversarial Hindi-Urdu equation, one of the ingredients in the simmering communal cauldron.

So, in this theory, Sanskrit became the first ‘S’.

Two important ‘S’ in the national chain are ‘Saree’ and ‘Sangeet’.

A country with seventeen regional languages on every currency note is held together by the most exquisite Kancheepuram, Kota, Patola, Janmdaani, Baluchari, Dhaka and a thousand even more exquisite designs of Sarees. This is the great national heritage which deserves to be preserved and protected from market predators peddling other apparel.

Ofcourse nothing links the country quite as stoutly as Hindustani (music) sangeet does. Let me conclude this section with a story.

Vinod Kapoor, connoisseur and patron of Hindustani sangeet, was introducing a singer from Dharwar. “Jaipur-Autrauli, Kirana, Agra – all well known schools of music are next of door to
Delhi. And yet the practitioners of this music come from northern Karnataka and Konkan. What is the explanation?” Kapoor was asking a simple question, with a sense of irony because he knew the answer.

But an audience in today’s vitiated atmosphere may be forgiven to arrive at biased conclusions. Marauders from outside pushed the thriving enclaves of sangeet to the south of Maharashtra.

The real story is quite different.

Ustaad Alladiya Khan, Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, founders of Jaipur-Autrauli and Kirana gharanas were invited by promoters of Natya Sangeet in the Hubli, Dharwar and Pune region to train their young musicians. This was before musicals became popular on Broadway and the West End. Land owning patrons of music retained the Ustads to train singers in their courts. Kishori Amonker’s mother, Mogubai, visited Alladiya Khan’s grave in Mumbai every year on his death anniversary.

That extraordinary evening at Vinod Kapoor’s ‘baithak’ the singers from Dharwar retained the audiences were regaled to two compositions by Adarang and Sadarang, an uncle and nephew team whose real names were Niyamat Khan and Firoz Khan. This duet transformed the Khayal style of singing in the court of the great patron of music, Mohammad Shah Rangila.

All of this is part of India’s soft power which deserves as much attention from Narendra Modi as Yoga does.

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Friday, June 19, 2015

Context Of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency Which Changed Indian Politics

Context Of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency Which Changed Indian Politics
                                                                                                     Saeed Naqvi

Ofcourse there was an Indian, regional and global context in which Indira Gandhi declared a state of Emergency on June 25, 1975?

The 70s were a decade of fierce contest between the West and the Soviet Union. The Cold War was going badly for the West – Vietnam, Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Nicaragua had all returned Communist governments.

The June 14, 1976 cover of Time magazine had a menacing photograph of Italian Communist leader, Enrico Berlinguer with a headline in thick, red fonts: The Red Threat. Franco and Salazar had died, leaving Spain and Portugal exposed to the blandishments of the Left. Secretary General of the French communist party, George Marchais was a formidable force.

Baath socialists in Baghdad and Damascus, pro Soviet regimes in Algeria and Libya – all tended to give the balance of advantage to Moscow, even though the US had scored a major victory by having Anwar Saadat sign the peace accord with Israel in 1979.

Stand-alone comedians in Washington continued to titillate the audience on detente which, at that stage was going badly. A standard joke was: “détente is like going to a wife swapping party and returning home alone.”

The United States had learnt its lessons in Africa, West Asia and Latin America. In many countries listed above there were either nascent or full blown communist movements or anti American regimes like the ones in Baghdad, Damascus, Tripoli and Algiers.

The Shah of Iran’s Secret Police, Savak, dreamed up a plan to eliminate the Left – Khalq, Parcham and a latent Shola e Javed – from around the establishment in Kabul. Accidental death of a trade union leader, Mir Akbar Khaibar, resulted in the plan being exposed. Communists, Aslam Watanjar and Abdul Qadir of the Afghan armed forces, acted pre emptively. They trained their tanks on President Daud and his close supporters who were killed in the Palace. Nur Muhammad Taraki of Khalq became Prime Minister. This happened in April 1978. In Islamabad, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s judicial assassination inaugurated the era of Zia ul Haq’s Islamism. The Ayatullahs came to power in Tehran in 1979.

Where was India in all of this? It turns out that the intense east-west contest of the 70s may well have begun in India. In 1969, Indira Gandhi split the congress along ideological lines. The right wing, business friendly party bosses, the Congress (O), searched for and found likeminded groups they could coalesce with – Jana Sangh (which later became the BJP), RSS, (BJP’s ideological mentors), Socialists (in their anti communism, close to all the groups listed above), and the professional Gandhians, Hindu and austere.

This coalition acquired urgency because Indira Gandhi had begun to lean directly on the Communist Party boss, S.A. Dange. Colleagues like Mohan Kumaramangalam, P.N. Haksar were strong leftist influences on her.

Global moves, counter moves were on. Henry Kissinger was plotting a Washington, Beijing, Moscow triangle. Just then the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation was signed. With Soviet help, India liberated Bangladesh.

On the one hand, India was now in a vice-like grip of the Soviet Union, on the other, Secretary General of the Communist party in Bihar, Jagannath Sarkar, had taken up the land question with sufficient success to worry the Congress.

Between the Deendayal Upadhyay Institute in Jhandewalan, Gandhi Peace Foundation and Ram Nath Goenka’s apartment in the Indian Express building, a scheme was hatched to resurrect Jaya Prakash Narayan as a counterpoint to Indira Gandhi who seemed invincible after the Bangladesh operations.

Anti Vietnam war youth movements at Grosvenor Square, London, the barricades in Paris building upto the Kent State university shooting in 1970 which killed four anti Vietnam (Kampuchea) war protestors, were far away to infect youth movement in India. And yet, by 1973 a powerful youth movement was taking shape in Gujarat ignited by students. They were protesting against inadequate hostel facilities. Mysteriously, the dissolution of the State Assembly became a prime demand. The Congress (O) leader Morarji Desai went on indefinite hunger strike. The Assembly was dissolved. Agitationists had tasted blood.

JP, ofcourse, had visited Gujarat to pick up tricks he might employ in the Bihar agitation which initially targeted the country’s most innocuous Chief Minister, Abdul Ghafoor. JP invited Morarji Desai to be chairman of the Sangharsh Samiti (Action committee). The senior most RSS leader Nanaji Deshmukh, was its convener.

It was Naanji Deshmukh and his RSS cadres on whose shoulders the Bihar movement was carried. JP had very kindly invited me to stay with him in his family house in Kadam Kuan. I therefore had a ringside seat on the JP movement

Peter Hazlehurst of The Times, London, described Indira Gandhi’s politics in a pithy phrase: she is a little left of self interest.

It was her dependence on the left and the Soviet Union, that the JP movement sought to bring under strain.

Relentless pressure was kept up, first by a successful Railway strike in May 1974 led by the firebrand George Fernandez. The Allahabad High Court judgement of June 12, 1975 unseated her from Parliament for misuse of office during her election to Parliament.

On June 25, an unnerved Indira Gandhi, imposed the emergency.

When elections were held in 1977, the electorate trounced Indira Gandhi. The coalition woven by JP during the Bihar movement came to power in Delhi as the Janata Party under Morarji Desai. Atal Behari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi became Ministers. Indian politics had taken a turn it was not going to recover from in a hurry.

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Friday, June 12, 2015

There May Be A Distant Moral For Modi In Erdogan’s Reversal

There May Be A Distant Moral For Modi In Erdogan’s Reversal
                                                                                          Saeed Naqvi

A reduced Tayyip Erdogan will hurt Turkish pride although the pain, as in some forms of sprain, will be a delayed effect. The Turkish election results will also alter the West Asian political dynamics because the Muslim Brotherhood, whose banner Erdogan had begun to flutter to reinforce his regional moves, will now be forced to retreat.

Erdogan’s contribution in rebuilding Turkish pride was enormous when his cohorts blocked US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s troops from crossing Turkish territory to invade Iraq. He dressed up his decision as a triumph of democracy by placing the issue before Parliament. It was model behaviour one that was imitated by Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif when he came under pressure from Saudi Arabia to send troops to Yemen.

By standing upto the US, Erdogan had neutralized national humiliation of years when Europe thwarted Turkey’s very earnest desire to enter the EU. Ankara was then short changed when Greek Cypriots joined the EU and the Turkish north was left high and dry.

Coordination with Israel, which had peaked under Prime Minister Itruk Ozal, was also challenged by Erdogan. After Israeli soldiers entered Turkish ship Mavi Marvara carrying humanitarian aid for Gaza relations with Israel all but collapsed.

Correspondingly, this rub with the Israelis boosted Erdogan’s popularity in the Arab street. Developments in diplomatic history are not linear. This popularity of Erodgan’s among the Arab public was to become the snare into which Erdogan was led by the noose which was held by global, regional and Turkish interests.

Having stood upto America and Israelis, the Turks looked tall in the West Asian theatre. After 2008, the US decline was somewhat exaggeratedly predicated by pundits who do not pause. Greece the mother of western civilization was on its knees. The Arab Spring had knocked out two of the West’s favourite dictators – Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunis, and Hosni Mubarak in Cairo.

To rub salt in European wounds, Turkey was now declaring itself disinterested in entering Europe which was in economic decline. Ironically, it had improved itself enormously in preparing for European entry. This became its own advantage.

Turkey’s air was now cleaner, administration better, human rights on the mend and an economy which thumbed its nose at Europe.

By the time of his third term as Prime Minister, Erdogan’s reach and control was over a wide cross section of Turks, way beyond the deeply religion Anatolians, his core support. With his rising power he had also tamed the Kemalit army, the guarantor of the secular state. The deftness with which he managed this enabled him to zoom part Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the popularity stakes.

The success of his long Prime Ministerial innings sometimes obscures his very effective and audacious term as Mayor of Istanbul when he defied the powerful secular establishment by standing on the ticket of Refah or the Islamist Welfare party founded by his political guru, Nekmetin Arbakan.

Erdogan was jailed for excessive Islamism and had to give up his Mayorship. He reinvented his party the AKP or Justice and Development party, technically in line with the Kemalist constitution, but something of an Islamist Trojan Horse.

In Shakespeare’s great tragedy, Macbeth was promoted as “Thane or Prince of Fife” exactly as the weird sisters had prophesied. Then he became Prince of Cawdor and finally ended up as King. After his third term as Prime Minister, Erdogan, like Macbeth, was faced with the existential question: what next? That is when the great tragedy began.

When all was going Erdogan’s way, his international detractors thought of the perfect psychological moment to dangle before him a huge carrot: democratic leadership of West Asia in the throes of change.

Tragically for him, Erdogan swallowed the bait, hook line and sinker. First he urged Syria’s Bashar al Assad to accommodate the Muslim Brotherhood, thus exposing his Islamist colours. Then he turned up in Tripoli to lead the prayers as a regional Brother. Turkey became the main conduit for men and money for the extremist Muslim opposition inside Syria. Turkey facilitated everybody’s including Thomas Friedman’s entry into Aleppo. Erdogan’s eclipse as a result of the election results began just when he was openly siding with the Islamic state.

A muscular Muslim Brotherhood in Turkey would have given heart to its counterparts in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Gaza. Reversal in Turkey will reverberate differently in the region.

Even though inside Turkey all other parties would consider gameplans to way lay Erdogan and then gore him in pubic for the corruption which plagued his final years, the Turkish secularists may yet live to rub their eyes with wonder that the man they sought to destroy “hath so much blood in him”. Erdogan is down all right, but he cannot be counted out quite yet.

Is there a distant moral for India in the Turkish experience? Just as there is a large moffusil, religious constituency, comfortable with calendar art of Gods and Goddesses, there is an urbane, Brahminical (Kemalist) elite which contemplates with unease the aesthetic of the contemporary national discourse. This will impact on national politics.

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Saturday, June 6, 2015

New York Times Exposé of Delhi Pollution Spoils Modi’s Anniversary

New York Times Exposé of Delhi Pollution Spoils Modi’s Anniversary
                                                                                               Saeed Naqvi

Just when the Narendra Modi government was celebrating its first year in office on a note of simulated well being, Gardiner Harris, Bureau Chief of New York Times in New Delhi, spoilt the party by making a gloomy announcement: New Delhi, the capital of Modi’s dream nation was unlivable and that Harris was leaving, with his wife and children to the cleaner air of Washington. We poor natives have been screaming the same alarm from rooftops without any apparent effect. But now that the New York Times has squealed, the Times of India reproduced the piece on page one. This was admission by India’s most powerful newspaper that its excellent campaign on pollution was not as effective and that it gained geometrically by leaning on the New York Times story.

During the three years that Harris was posted to South Asia, he was occasionally afflicted by pangs of conscience that “it was unethical for those who have a choice to willingly raise children here”.

Harris clearly was not blessed with another choice because he gives every indication of staying on against his will. His wife appears to have been torn between her wifely desire to be with her husband in troubled harness and to run away to Washington with her son. Harris quotes “nascent areas of research suggesting that pollution can lower children’s IQ, hurt their test scores and increase the risks of autism, epilepsy, diabetes and even adult-on-set diseases like multiple sclerosis”.

There is frightening description of his son, Bram, being injected steroids to fight acute breathlessness because of Delhi’s pollution.

In a state of panic his wife left for Washington two years ago. Doctors reassured her that some medicines might help. So, she returned to New Delhi “but she sobbed for hours on the return flight”.

Even though the Harris story is a simple one which should elicit all our sympathy, Indian responses are not so straight forward. There are attitudes and attitudes towards critical observation by a white foreigner.

In recent weeks, I have been accompanying my younger brother to various hill stations in search for reasonable property to enable him to escape Delhi’s unspeakable pollution. He is a big man and, on the face of it, healthy. But over the years, his tolerance level for Delhi’s increasing pollution has declined. In recent months, alarmingly so.

I have also seen relatives and friends carrying inhalers on their persons, sometimes furtively. It is not uncommon to have discussions veer around to Delhi’s record levels of air pollution. If a government official happens to be present, the point is made even more pungently: Delhi’s pollution levels are twice as high as Beijing’s. Adverse comparison with Pakistan would work like magic.

Apparently, levels of five particles in the air called PM 2.5, which cause maximum lung damage, are twice as high in Delhi as they are in Beijing. In Beijing PM 2.5 levels which exceed 500 make global news. But levels twice as high, say 1,000 or more in Delhi, are not noticed by the media.

Interesting, that Harris should make an observation which exposes two things: the global media’s double standards. It keeps an unsparing critical eye on China. This, because China is in winnable competition with the West. Therefore, the western media is part of the armoury to keep China under pressure.

India, by comparison, is indulged, strung along, not perceived as a threat as far as the eye can see. The high comfort level of the Indian elite in being intellectually colonized can be traced to the nature of the national movement. Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy was invited to stay on as the first Governor General of Independent India. So careful was Jawaharlal Nehru in keeping “Dickie” (Mountbatten) in good humour that he toned down the centenary in 1957 of India’s first war of independence. The observance would have had an “unnecessary” anti British edge.

London retained an advantage even in the field of journalism. Kingsley Martin, Dorothy Woodman and James Cameron had considerable access. Indian editors and political correspondents of mainstream English newspapers came into their own in the 70s and the 80s. But the world changed after the fall of the Berlin wall.

The 90s saw the West interpreting Soviet collapse as a victory of the market. Began the Murdochization of the global media, its Indian segment largely controlled by Indian Corporates. Newspapers shelved their staff columnists. Some Op-ed page space was kept for pro market, handpicked pundits. In the infectious spirit of globalization, the regular column space was handed over to Thomas Friedman, Paul Krugman, Lord Meghnad Desai and a host of others. The main editorial of The Economist adorned half the Op-ed page of the Indian Express. Never had Indian newspapers become such a supine vehicle for opinion dispensed from Washington and London, serving the western world view.

This subservient stance by our contemporaries is matched by the noise and din of the electronic media, as powerful as it is hollow.

That is why a section of the Indian elite which places some premium on self esteem is riled when well researched Indian journalism on the filth, squalor, the pollution augmented by five hundred thousand automobiles willfully disgorged on Delhi’s roads each year, falls on deaf years.

Only when an expat reporter focuses on Delhi’s impending catastrophe does the establishment wake up. That is when even The Times of India doffs its hat and places Gardiner Harris piece above the fold on its page one.

AAP government is struggling to find its feet in Delhi. Instead of helping it attend to Delhi’s problems, every vested interest, each political party is out to waylay it. Modi needs to give the Delhi government a helping hand to save India’s capital city.

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