tinder and kindling

When he landed in Pakistan after UNGA last week Imran Khan gave a speech in Hindi about what he wants for the Indian Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir. These are a few things he said (in bold type), with my imagined Indian responses (in italics).

“It is jihad. We are doing it because we want Allah to be happy with us.”

Gen. Bipin Rawat: Ah! He finally admitted it.

“Kashmiris will win if the Pakistani people stand by their side.”

Tamilian: Win what?

Kashmiri: Freedom!

Assamese: From what?

Kashmiri: India!

Gujju: To do what?

Kashmiri: I can’t answer that!

Kashmiri Pandit: Oh, let me answer that! These people chased us, Kashmiri Pandits, out of the valley in 1990. They killed nearly 50,000 of us. They occupied our homes and grabbed everything we owned. We now live in a refugee camp in Delhi. We were a minority, a small percentage of the population, even before the genocide. The freedom to change the demography of Kashmir and destroy its syncretic culture, then secede from India – this is what they want to ‘win’.

Punjabi: Abey, don’t you see that’s losing, not winning? Job nahi, paisa nahi, kya faltu azadi hai … 

Kashmiri: Indian government uses your taxes to take care of us, we don’t need jobs! And we get Rs. 500 each for stone-pelting every time!

Malayalee: Don’t worry Imran bhai, we’ll stand by the side of the Balochis too, and make them win. 

“India must lift inhuman curfew and release all political prisoners.” 

Bengali: What will you do if we lift the curfew?

Kashmiri: Pelt stones at the Indian Army, na-nana-naa-nah!

Mumbaikar: Release prisoners – like the guy responsible for the attack on the Taj Hotel here? The one who was released in a hostage exchange after an Indian plane was hijacked…?

Kashmiri: Exactly!

“If there is a face-off between India and Pakistan there will be consequences.”

With that, PM Imran Khan thanked his nation, and his third wife, for channeling divine strength to support him in the forty-five minutes it took to say all that he wanted to say to the world.

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And now anyone can use this template.

It is a holy war.

We are doing it because we want Yahveh to be happy with us, his chosen people.

Palestinians will ‘win’ if they give up West Bank and East Jerusalem to Israel.

Palestinians must stop killing our soldiers and our people in Israeli settlements.

If there is a face-off, there will be consequences.

***

It is a war against immigrants.

We are doing it because we want the American people to be happy.

Mexicans and DACA kids will ‘win’ if they go back, because ICE won’t hound them any more.

We don’t want more of them coming across the border.

If there is a face-off, there will be consequences.

***

It is a war against sanctions.

We are doing it – enriching our Uranium – because we want to use our stash our way.

The Saudis will ‘win’ if they ask the US to lift the inhuman sanctions imposed on us. Otherwise, schadenfreude over their anonymously bombed oilfields is all they get from us.

If there’s a face-off, there will be consequences. We will catch a random oil tanker passing through the Strait of Hormuz and hold the Indian or Filipino crew hostage!

***

It is a war for space.

We did it because we need Sevastopol to dock our Black Sea fleet.

Ukraine will ‘win’ if it doesn’t try to join the NATO, or station its army close to us like it did in 2014 (only 500 km from Moscow!).

If there’s a face-off . . . it’s just as well they elected a comedian as their President!

***

It is a war for profit.

We do it – supply drugs to American kids – because we need the money.

America will ‘win’, now that they have legalized weed and might’ve thus paved the way to legalize our other stuff as well.

If there is a face-off, there will be consequences. El Chapo isn’t the only one, tenemos muchos más hombres como él.

***

It is an economic war.

We are doing it because Catalonia gives us one fifth of our GDP. It’s our golden goose. We can’t lose it.

Catalonians will ‘win’ if they stop fussing – see what happened to Puigdemont?

No more face-offs, okay?

***

It is a cultural war.

We are doing it because we want to protect our culture.

The British will ‘win’ if they honour our laws and stop entering our neighbourhoods to impose their laws.

The British must not expect us to assimilate into their culture.

If there’s a face-off, there will be consequences, but we’d rather talk about them after Brexit, when it’s just them and us, with no EU to side with them!

***

This is not a war. There are no opponents.

We are doing this because communism is the only way for a country to prosper.

The Uighurs will ‘win’ if they cooperate with us in the camps we have set up for them.

There will never be a face-off – we pre-empted it!

Like in everything else we do, there’ll be no consequences for us! Check out our latest islands in the South China Sea!

 

 

 

 

 

this is all wrong

I am dismayed that Greta Thunberg’s detractors have weaponised her psychiatric diagnoses against her. Some have lashed out against her parents too. How did her medical information come to be in the public domain?

As a psychiatrist I have seen parents’ faces crumple when I’ve had to tell them their child has autism, schizophrenia, or some other distressing diagnosis. However gentle and careful I am, disbelief, shock and tears replace the hope on their faces in an instant. After a long painful moment, the shock slowly gives way to resignation.

So I can imagine what Greta’s parents must have felt when their child’s doctor gave the diagnoses: Asperger’s syndrome, OCD and Selective mutism. They had to support her. Without their support, she would have continued to be anxious, depressed and anorexic on the outside, and disillusioned, helpless, and dying a little each day on the inside. I don’t think anyone who has children can fault this child’s parents.

I personally believe Greta’s fears for the earth have a strong basis in science. Her fears for her future resonate with me because I have thought of the same things on behalf of my children, nieces, nephews, friends’ children and all the fresh, exuberant, youngsters that I see on the streets and on television, livening up the more jaded lives of adults all around the world.

As she has pointed out, we adults don’t have our entire lives ahead of us. While we’ve had it good, we have degraded the planet. They are the ones left facing a water crisis, polluted air, an overheated planet, melting glaciers, rising sea levels that destroy entire coastal communities, and floods, storms and earthquakes. Scientific knowledge to deal with these already exists. As Greta says, “I want you to unite behind science. And then I want you to take real action. Thank you.”

I am relieved she has taken a stand on behalf of her generation. But I would like to share what I have been telling myself whenever I started to worry on my kids’ behalf. I needed to tell myself this because I don’t have Greta’s courage.

  • Earth’s climate has always been changing. Climate alternates between being warm and wet, then cold, glacial and dry for several thousand years at a stretch. They are called Marine Isotope Stages. We have been in the current warm, wet period for the last 14,000 years, the Holocene epoch. We have data covering the last 2.5 million years. What’s happening could be partly a natural process.
  • Organisms on earth co-evolve with the environment – the Gaia hypothesis. Human beings weren’t always here during the 4.6 billion years of the earth’s existence. We are only 70,000 years old, though a human bone found in Morocco is estimated to be 300,000 years old. We somehow evolved and came to be, just as other species of Homo somehow became extinct.

The point is, nobody has been around long enough to know exactly what will happen to the earth towards the end of the Holocene epoch, whenever that comes. We didn’t come with an Instruction Manual on how to use Earth. But we can’t continue to plunder and brutalise our planet – that much is certain – morally and pragmatically, even if not on a scientific basis.

To get back to her psychiatric diagnoses, I am not sure if the diagnosis of OCD is still valid. It might have been a provisional one based on her unceasing rumination about the climate crisis at the age of eleven.

Perhaps she couldn’t process the discrepancies in adult doublespeak. There is often a conflicting subtext in adult conversation and behaviour, for example talking angrily about a neighbour at home and then greeting her with pleasure on the street. Children get confused when adults say something and do the opposite, more so if the child’s autism predisposes her to concrete, instead of, abstract thinking. As Greta said in one of her speeches to her parents’ generation, “You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to.” This, coupled with an autistic child’s intense preoccupation with a narrow range of interests, explains why she was obsessed with climate change.

An additional diagnosis of Selective mutism might be unnecessary because Autistic Spectrum Disorder itself would make it hard for Greta to indulge in social chitchat, unless she was a normal talker before. She has described how she went into a deep depression after she learnt about climate change and realised that adults were not doing anything about it: “I stopped talking. I stopped eating.” 

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I watched Greta’s speech – “This is all wrong” – at the UN Climate summit two days ago. She made her point. But there are other problems in the world that she is completely unaware of, not only because of her age, but also because she lives in a country that doesn’t have these problems.

Sweden has a population of only 10 million while India, for example, has a population of 1.37 billion. These people need to earn and to live. They need jobs and money.

On 23rd September, when Greta was probably preparing her speech for the UN Climate summit, I read this in the same day’s issue of The Times of India.

https://auto.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/industry/opinion-tackling-indias-auto-slowdown/71251927

One would think Greta Thunberg and the economist Ritesh Kumar Singh who wrote this don’t live on the same planet. He is thinking of how to help people with jobs so they can live, while she is thinking of how to keep the planet viable so they can live! These are the two viewpoints that need balancing.

Greta should know that her views have been taken into consideration by people of both her parents’ generation and her own. Things will not change overnight, but they gradually will, with a combination of individual and community effort, plus suitable legislation and international co-operation. The first step is acknowledgement, which she has got us to do.

In that sense, she has been successful. Maybe it’s time to go back to school. She can still keep an eye on things, continue to contribute her views and nurture the movement she started. The generation that takes the baton from us will devise better systems, I’m sure.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/apr/23/greta-thunberg-full-speech-to-mps-you-did-not-act-in-time

 

 

 

 

 

of unicorns and other myths

How do archeologists pick up one piece of pottery, sculpture, bone or metal and build such a complicated backstory? I concede there is added input from genetics and linguistics now. Nevertheless, I’m skeptical of some of their conclusions. I’m reading Early Indians by Tony Joseph right now. Though it is an interesting and informative book, there are instances where I simply can’t accept his explanations.

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Why is this a unicorn and not a bull’s left profile in which his horns are perfectly aligned? The thing in front of him has to be a sort of feedbag or trough with food in it. Why on earth would anyone place a scorching hot brazier near his delicate dewlap! And if this is supposed to be a unicorn as he says, it makes even less sense. Unicorns in mythology were shy and bolted from humans; they were never domesticated or kept in mangers; they had a single long, ramrod-straight, horn that was twisted like liquorice candy. Maybe a species of Oryx – whose horns were aligned and appeared like a single horn – was mistaken for a rare animal and given a new name.

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(Photo by Sandeep Vatsa)

Below is a seal from Mohenjo-daro. They say it depicts a horned deity under a peepul tree, a worshipper kneeling before her, a ram behind the worshipper, a fish behind the ram, and seven figures standing in a line below all of them. Maybe this frieze is not about a deity at all, maybe this is just art made by the Michelangelo of that place and time.

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What if the images represent constellations? There’s Taurus (the Bull, figure with horns), Aries (the Ram) and Pisces (the Fish) lined up exactly in the order in which they appear in the night sky. The seven figures below are the seven big stars of Orion. I thought they might be Pleiades, the Seven Sisters, but the position is wrong. Besides, the seven demure damsels wouldn’t be chiseled out to look like tough men standing stiffly in a straight line.

The ‘worshipper’ could be Aldebaran, which literally means ‘the follower’ and is in the constellation of Taurus, but that would be carrying my yarn too far.

If I had to name the tapir-like squiggle below the Fish, I might say it’s Cetus, the sea-monster slain by Perseus in Greek mythology, judging by its position.

Seals with this design could be replicas of a record made by an amateur astronomer from his observation of the night sky. In which case, it is Science, not Art or Religion.

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Anyway, why are we so certain that the Indus Valley people were steeped in Religion? Weren’t they busy farming, cooking, cleaning, weaving and stitching together garments out of grass or cotton or whatever, raising kids and commuting to work and back from their fields, just as we are? What we think is their religion might’ve been their literature (their script not having been deciphered yet) or their social life, the temple serving primarily as a community centre, with pooja a small part of it, the way saying grace – which is an extant but unobserved ritual in most religions now – is only one small part of a family’s meal.

The Indus Valley people sent up prayers, for example, to the rain god to bless their crops. How is that different from the various petitions people of all faiths today send up to god on a daily basis? When we say, “God bless you” when someone sneezes it isn’t a religious thing. It’s just an utterance, to be understood in terms of social pragmatics.

Why do we patronise our ancestors like they were intellectual cretins?

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Here’s a picture of columns found at the Harappan site at Dholavira in Gujarat, India. The archeologist’s conclusion is given below the picture.

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This is a picture I took on Residency road, just outside the gates of Bangalore Club, yesterday.

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From this picture we could conclude that the BBMP, which maintains Bangalore’s infrastructure, is a Shiva-worshipping organisation that has put up these phallic symbols across the sidewalk, and while we are at it, wonder why Bangalore Club is the repository of so many animal skulls and a stuffed leopard, and what’s the connection between the phallic structures on the pavement and the skulls in the club’s foyer. Come on! These short columns – that look to me like dock pilings for tying boats to – have apparently been put there to prevent people from driving on sidewalks. So there’s a civic explanation for the columns and the ‘symbols’ have nothing to do with religion!

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white gown / red sari

The Archbishop of Canterbury visited Jallianwala Bagh earlier this week and expressed shame and sorrow for what happened there in 1919, exactly a hundred years ago. He came to India with a wish to make things better in the contentious world of Religion and, for that reason, met with leaders of other religions in India in his capacity as a spiritual leader.

Yesterday’s issue of The Times of India carried an editorial by Michael Binyon, the editorial writer for the The Times, London, about the Archbishop’s visit. One of the things he said is that the Archbishop ‘did not achieve any dramatic breakthrough in his meetings with Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and leaders of other Christian denominations in India’, which is rather sad. I hope that was only initial awkwardness, and that this initiative will be taken forward by all involved, though I can’t help wondering what exactly are the sticking points that these leaders cannot agree on.

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In the last paragraph of the above article the Archbishop says, “One of the most profound, deep, philosophical civilisations, India has received into its life the many faiths that thrive in this country. India’s culture and history – except when manipulated – has been one of learning to value that diversity and this is so important.”

Value that diversity:

Now, this is true of all countries, not India alone. Every country is diverse because countries with tightly guarded borders are a fairly new phenomenon. India has been a country for only seventy-two years. Before that it was just a vast campsite for a whole lot of unrelated people who came from everywhere and stayed on in ethnic clusters that grew into towns, cities, principalities and kingdoms.

People teach themselves to value diversity when they have no choice, and a tribal mentality proves counterproductive. It’s not really natural. The other option is to Brexit themselves out of the diversity I guess. In equivalent terms, governments in many modern-day countries accept legal immigrants and refugees, and their populations become diverse, sometimes to the dismay of citizens.

Except when manipulated:

Manipulation is exactly what has been going on for thousands of years all over the world! No country has escaped it. It’s a human trait that gets more pronounced when a mob or an exploitative bully are in control. Ever since the woman carrying the L3 mitochondrial-DNA walked out of Africa with the man with the Y-chromosome CT and started populating the rest of the world 70,000 years ago, that’s all that’s been happening!

Manipulating others, like overpowering the Neanderthals to make space for Homo sapiens, manipulating the environment, like destroying forests to make space for agriculture, driving entire animal species to extinction, torturing and killing conquered peoples, banning their cultural mores, imposing language, i.e. communication, restrictions on them, plundering resources by evicting, enslaving or killing the rightful inhabitants – this is the bad side of the history of us human beings, isn’t it (the good one being co-operation and progress as a species)?

And Jair Bolsonaro now says the fires raging in the Amazon rainforest are ultimately good for Brazil’s economy so don’t try too hard to put them out! Manipulation – everywhere, all the time, by anyone with a little bit of power – is the norm!  Manipulation is finessed nowadays because there are college courses on how to manage everything and everyone, and networking is a thing, so people think it isn’t obvious.

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Like the Archbishop of Canterbury, there are others trying to reduce religious strife in their own way. Here’s a picture of a Catholic Bishop trying to make it easier for Hindus to relate to Christianity. The Catholic Bishop is dressed up like a Hindu Swamiji: saffron robe, kumkum tikka on forehead, rudraksha mala around his neck. Behind him is one more person dressed the same way. As explained by the Archbishop of Goa, this is what the Catholic Church calls inculturation.

IMG_9898.jpgHindus criticise this as cultural appropriation. As there are thousands of Christians in India, and people are quite familiar with Christianity, it was not necessary for the Bishop to adopt the inductive teaching method of going from the known to the unknown, if that was his intention. That’s why it came off as a parody of both Hinduism and Christianity, especially when it was reported that the tabernacle was shaped like a shivalinga! This much fusion simply cannot work when it’s a question of faith and tradition and what people hold sacred. A Christian bride will not get married in a black gown or a red sari, and a Hindu bride will not wear a white sari for her saath pheras around the sacred fire. Some things have a value and meaning beyond the practical and utilitarian, and I don’t think anybody has the right to violate them.

While I agree with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s observation that India values her diversity I honestly think we paid a huge price for it. What looks like diversity in the present era of relative peace is the result of the terror, physical pain and loss of loved ones that our forefathers went through when they were raped, tortured and massacred by marauders over hundreds of years, when there were no borders, and no standing army. We all shook down together and made ourselves a country just a few decades ago.

Going back to what the Archbishop said, yes, we have been manipulated a lot over the centuries by all and sundry, but the resilient land that is India has survived the onslaught of an endless stream of invaders only because syncretism and adaptation are more natural to us than rigid beliefs that won’t budge to adapt. While we are aware that others have taken advantage of this quality in us for their ends, we can’t change that without losing a valuable part of ourselves. So we stand like coconut trees, we bend but don’t break in a storm, and hope the damage is rectifiable when the storm is over.

 

 

 

animal cookies

When I read the daily newspaper I often wonder at how religion complicates things in India. Only yesterday I was thinking what a quagmire we have turned our country into, with people of almost every religion doing things that defeat the purpose of religion per se. Why didn’t we put more effort into dealing with quotidian issues instead?

Then came news that a Sikh teenager had been abducted and forcibly converted to Islam in Pakistan, and handed over to a random man as a ‘wife’. In India, parents start looking for a bride outside the community only when they can’t find a good-looking, educated girl from among their own. Is it the same in Pakistan? We would approach the girl’s family in a more civilised way, though!

Let me relate a childhood incident to illustrate why this scenario is practically incomprehensible to me.

My great-aunt was a high school teacher in Mangalore. She must have been in her mid-fifties when I went to stay with her in the Dasara holidays in the fifth grade. Her part-time maid’s daughter, Jessie, also ten years old like me, would spend a little time fetching and carrying things for her mother when she did the housework. Then, before we could go out to play near the well under the carambola tree, she would sit down with us to pray when my great-aunt did her morning pooja.

One day she told my great-aunt that she wanted to be a Hindu. My great-aunt said, “No, child, you have to be faithful to your God. He has taken good care of you and your anna, amma and akka. And don’t you think your church father will feel bad if you stop going to church?” When I think about it now I’m surprised how spontaneous, simple and unequivocal her response was. Some people do believe they are doing something of moral value by replacing others’ religious beliefs with their own, so it’s wonderful that she wasn’t that sort.

Propagating one’s religion is a constitutional right in India. Except that it is dishonourable ­­to take advantage of innocent people like this little girl. One needs a home, a full stomach, good health and some money in the bank before thinking of the needs of the soul. So people who have met their basic needs on their own, and who are therefore confident and ready to explore their higher needs, are the ones to be engaged in a public discourse if one wants to honourably propagate one’s religion.

As I see it, our religion on Earth doesn’t matter. People address the one god by different names is what I think. So all religions are fine so long as they don’t intrude into the lives of people following other religions. This is what Sri Krishna says to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita:

  • As they approach me, so I receive them. All paths, Arjuna, lead to me.
  • Those who worship other gods with faith and devotion also worship me, Arjuna, even if they do not observe the usual forms. I am the object of all worship, its enjoyer and Lord.

That there is only one god is not an exclusively Hindu belief. All religions preach that there is only one God, at least as far as I know. The disputes are only over what name He should go by, and which of the books He has co-authored should take precedence over the rest.

I’m not surprised that many people have turned away from religion today. Practiced and preached in the right spirit religion had a chance – many chances, in fact – to make the world a better place. But religion has been petty and divisive, when it was actually meant to bind us together in peoplehood. Right now, gathering more people into any religious fold – even if it means poaching from other religious groups – is part of a bigger game plan in which gullible participants are mere pawns. Or, it’s a political activity to build vote-banks. Even poor old Bernie Sanders unwittingly fell into the vote-bank religion trap yesterday while addressing the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America!

Perhaps accepting people as they are, without bigotry and put-downs, is enough for us by way of religion in the social sense; personal religion can stay private. Especially if the alternative is to hang on to a bunch of dogmas that make us discriminate against those who believe in a different set of dogmas. Dogmas have meaning only at a superficial level. As the Gita says, just as a reservoir is of little use when the whole countryside is flooded, scriptures are of little use to the illumined man or woman, who sees the Lord everywhere.

Jalaluddin Rumi makes it simpler:

ANIMAL COOKIES

God gives the things of this earth

a certain color and variety and value,

causing childish folk to argue over it.

When a piece of dough is baked

in the shape of a camel or lion,

these children bite their fingers excitedly in their greed.

Both lion and camel turn to bread in their mouth,

but it’s futile to tell this to children.

Decades later, I still feel glad that my great-aunt was so forthright in her response. Any other reaction would have been exploitative and made her a lesser person. And my takeaway from the same incident would have been vastly different!

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hindutva

For the past few years the word hindutva has been interpreted as a form of fascism. Articles in the English language press often call it Hindu fascism.

-tva just means –ness in Sanskrit. So hindutva is merely hindu-ness. If the term ‘Christian values’ were translated into Sanskrit the word would be christ-tva, or something like that. So Hindu values are hindutva.

The word Hindu is a cultural and geographical descriptor for who we are. In the past, being Hindu literally only meant belonging to this motherland. The way people lived in harmony with all of nature was called Sanatana Dharma. Sanatana Dharma has now been reduced to an anglicised ‘Hinduism’, though it isn’t the same thing. Dharma encompasses much more than –ism covers. It means ‘that which sustains everything, all that exists’. As the cliché goes, Sanatana Dharma is not a religion but a way of life.

There are no Hindu missionaries trying to convert people to Hinduism, and there is no government interference with citizens’ religious observances and what they want to call themselves. Vigilantism or violence in the name of Hinduism doesn’t become hindutva.

For people like me whose roots lie in the region of the Rivers Indus and Saraswati, hindutva is what our ancestors and more recent forefathers lived by, and were immersed in, all the time. It is not a set of religious customs and rituals; it is the milieu in which we live. It is also what makes us accept other religions and their avatars of god as equally valid, not to be desecrated or ridiculed.

The mainstream press generally handles words with deep meaning for religious people – of any religion – with care and respect, some words even with mortal fear! But the pejorative way in which hindutva is employed means the writers either don’t know what the word means to ordinary Hindus like me, or they haven’t really thought about the etymology of the word. Or, perhaps, their style guide doesn’t bother with cultural sensitivity and the need to avoid biases. Whatever their reasons, it amounts to taking a very simplistic view of it. I mean, what I understand by ‘atom’ is nothing compared to what it really is, and even when I say ‘really’ I only mean how physicists see it; there might very well be other ways of understanding the atom.

Calling vigilante violence hindutva is like saying that the behaviour highlighted in the movie Spotlight is part of Christian values just because some Christians indulged in it! That’s grossly unfair. Christians deplore such depredations by their clergy, and Hindus do not condone vigilante violence. These are aberrations, the way the massacre of Rohingyas in Burma is not Buddhism, and blowing up people and buildings is not Islam. Lynching people because they eat beef is not hindutva. Hindutva is not fascism.

Fascism is what Mussolini practiced in Italy from the end of the WW1 onwards, until the end of WW2. The fact that Mussolini and his people were Christian never came into it; it was never called Christian fascism. Hitler and his Gestapo were raised Christian (Hitler was baptized and confirmed), but their activities were termed Nazism. I have never heard anybody say Christian Nazis killed Jews; it is The Holocaust, that’s all. People even avoid calling it genocide! Likewise, I often wonder why people never say they eat pig – why is it pork, bacon, ham, sausage – anything but pig? And mutton, venison, beef, veal, poultry, never naming the unfortunate animals slaughtered for these meats?

Why does the world use euphemisms and delicately tango around some words and maul others mercilessly so they are rendered meaningless? When we sang ‘Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the works Thy hand hath made…’ at Chapel in school, ‘awesome’ meant something sublime, it evoked awe and thankfulness. Does ‘awesome’ mean anything anymore? Hindutva has similarly lost its real meaning.

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Indians had lost all hope that this country would ever improve, and that cross-border terrorism and the ‘Kashmir problem’ would ever end. Five years ago I had written a sad little blog post on how India is a spent force and will never improve! Now there’s a bit of hope, a bit of pride in being Indian, and it’s palpable all over the country and even among Indians living abroad. If there is triumphalism, it is in the media; ordinary people are quietly upbeat about what the government is trying to do. I don’t see any country thriving like a utopia, all peace and justice and booming economy. We too have our share of problems.

This is an elected government. It has only five years to effect change and it seems in a hurry. On the face of it, you could say it looks like the definition of fascism in the Cambridge dictionary: ‘a political system based on a very powerful leader, state control, and being extremely proud of country and race, and in which political opposition is not allowed’. But is the state of affairs in India honestly fascism? There is a powerful leader because he got the votes, there is state control only in some parts of Jammu & Kashmir to prevent violence at present, the people in government are proud to be Indian and don’t get pushed around by other countries the way they did earlier (and I don’t find their pride extreme), political opposition is allowed but is temporarily inadequate because the opposition parties are currently in disarray.

Placing the blame on hindutva for every act of violence in the country (like the rape of an elderly nun in 2017– the assailants were later found to be Bangladeshi Muslims), and using the word hindutva to mean fascism, does not help. I have chosen to write this post only because the gap between hindutva as we live it, and the way it is portrayed in the media, is too wide to ignore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

bilgy deal

 

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My husband is a captain on Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) and I’ve spent years on tankers that transport crude oil, like the one in this picture. I have a rudimentary idea of the oil trade, very basic, because it’s as complicated as any other business when you’re not on the inside.

The first time I realised that there was more to it than simply loading and discharging cargo was when I heard the big conspiracy theory about what America did with the crude oil we transported from the Arabian Gulf countries.

In the nineties our ships frequently visited US ports in the Gulf of Mexico to discharge crude oil from Arab countries. At every port – LOOP, New Orleans, Beaumont, Galveston, Corpus Christi, Brownsville – we heard this one story from someone or other. Agents, pilots, ship chandlers, all were convinced that the US was secretly storing massive amounts of crude oil bought from Arab countries in enormous underground salt caverns under all of New Orleans and Baton Rouge! One day, the story went, the oil fields in the Arabian Gulf would be depleted and then America would sell the oil back to the world at a solid profit! Of course, we all bought the story – who can resist a good conspiracy theory on such a large scale?

Well, now it looks like nothing so sinister was ever afoot! The US was prudently putting aside a modest stock of crude oil to tide over emergencies of the sort it had faced during the Yom Kippur war in 1973. Even now there’s only about 700 million barrels of Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), enough to last only a month or two, is what I gather from the net.

I believe many countries now have their own SPRs. India has enough to last only twelve days – how pitifully inadequate that sounds! Apparently the government is planning to increase it to last twenty-two days by setting up reserves in Odisha and here in Karnataka.

Meanwhile, India has agreed to buy American shale oil to help reduce our trade deficit with the US. I think it has also agreed to not buy from Iran. And soon it may not be able to buy from Venezuela either. Which means:

  • We will not get the sort of discount that Iran gives us because, as Wilbur Ross, the commerce minister, explained, the vendors of US shale oil are private suppliers, not the US government . . .
  • Shale oil is more expensive to extract by horizontal drilling (fracking, or hydraulic fracturing) between and through rocks, unlike the simpler, cheaper, vertical drilling employed in crude oil fields. It also takes millions of gallons of water. These costs will undoubtedly be passed on to the buyer, that’s us . . .
  • At present, LOOP (Louisiana Offshore Oil Port) is the only port where VLCCs can be loaded because it’s a SBM (Single Buoy Mooring) and, therefore, there’s no draft restriction. That means shale oil from other parts of the US will have to be brought to LOOP and loaded by reverse lightering from smaller tankers until existing ports are expanded to accommodate VLCCs. At least, that’s how I imagine loading operations will pan out. I’m guessing the lighterage charges will be invisibly included in our bill . . .
  • The composition of Arabian Gulf crude is different from US shale oil. So Indian refineries have had to be modified to process shale oil. More costs for the Indian oil industry . . .

Losses at every stage! And if what I’ve read is true, that the supply of shale oil tapers sharply about one year from starting fracking, I don’t know how we can expect an uninterrupted supply.

I am aware these are the government’s problems and not mine to solve. But as an Earth citizen I can’t help feeling sorry that we’re importing oil from distant places like Brazil, Venezuela and the US, when it would have made more environmental sense to buy it from the neighbourhood. What a colossal waste of bunkers! I’m sure we indirectly pay for that as well! Unfortunately, India produces only 20% of its crude requirement because there are geographical hurdles to extracting more – or maybe this is only an excuse for government inefficiency.

As an Earth citizen, I also think fracking for shale oil, releasing all that methane into the air, using up gallons of water, then pouring back chemical-laden water into the soil, cannot be good for the earth, especially for the people who live in regions where fracking is done.

“It’s the economy, stupid!” I know. I’m not young and idealistic, nor am I naïve. But I’ve been a doctor, a psychiatrist, for too long to view human progress and mental health through the lens of Economics alone. I can’t convince myself that a high GDP is all that matters, and certainly not if it depletes Earth’s resources at this rate. Earth Overshoot Day came three days earlier – on July 29th last week – than it did last year, and five months earlier than in the seventies!

We all need money, yes, but I don’t see the point of accumulating riches in ways that harm an already helpless section of humanity. The simplest illustration I can think of is powerful mining conglomerates taking over land that has belonged to tribal people for millennia, and summarily evicting its inhabitants. In the case of oil politics too, poorer Indians will feel the pinch when they shell out a few more rupees for bus tickets or petrol for their two-wheelers, because they will have to scrimp on some other necessity, like food, for that.

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