it is what it is

My friend has taken a fortnight’s leave from hospital work and might extend it if she needs to. She is a specialist in Internal Medicine. She is in her fifties and her mum is over eighty, hypertensive and diabetic. She says she can’t expose her mum to the corona virus.

She talked anxiously about this with me for nearly two weeks before taking the step. It’s an ethical dilemma that many doctors have faced since the onset of the pandemic. It’s an individual decision, but there isn’t always a choice because there are legal contracts, apart from your own pricking conscience.

Doctors and others in the medical field are now referred to in the media as soldiers. The analogy fits only up to a point. Soldiers and their families know from the outset that they may have to die for the country; doctors and nurses don’t. It’s not common or expected that we die in the line of duty.

So there is fear of being infected, of passing it on to family members and fear of dying from it. Added to that, there is anger about not having enough protective equipment, anger towards patients – some of whom are acting entitled out of their own fears, and anger against the world for not acting fast enough to control spread of the disease.

Doctors working with infected patients are now reaching out for help in dealing with all these emotions. Used to keeping emotions under control, doctors have no experience with an overload of anxiety, anger, sadness, and a sense of danger, though nobody minds the physical exhaustion much because that’s not unusual. But this time even that has been excessive.

Psychiatrists and psychologists are offering online CBT ­– Cognitive Behaviour Therap­y – or at least basic counselling ­– to these overwrought people.

What is CBT?

It’s a way of changing a person’s negative view of his problem and the way he consequently responds to it. The therapist focuses on the patient’s thoughts, beliefs, associated emotions and attitude towards the situation he is facing. The goal is to identify the problem, think of possible solutions and choose the best one. Something like this:

  • How do you know this thought is the truth?
  • Why do you think it can’t be wrong?
  • What is the worst-case scenario if your belief is correct?
  • What’s the best?
  • If someone else asked you for advice with the same worries what might you tell her to do?

All this takes time. Held to this line of reasoning, the patient starts seeing the situation a little more realistically. He gets that there are serious limitations to his power to effect all the changes he wants. He gradually reaches a level of acceptance: it is what it is. There might be an associated sense of loss, sadness or helplessness in this, but it’s better than a constant anxious muddle in his head I suppose. It’ll keep him going so he can do his job, nothing more, for that’s the need of the hour.

Many doctors have died from contracting the virus from patients. What could have been done differently? I don’t know what to think anymore. In any case, reviewing the past won’t change the present, though it might help in planning for the future.

We often don’t realise that the world is a decent place only because of all the little cogs in the wheel of this composite entity called People functioning as a whole. Every worker fills a need. There is a division of labour that exists in all societies – bees, ants or us – and we contribute our mite to the whole. Right now it’s the turn of doctors and nurses, and of people who supply food and other essentials, to do their bit.

If we think the corona pandemic is a wake-up call we ought to listen, learn and change. If we choose to treat it like the pandemics that have come before and say “this too shall pass” and go back to exactly what we were doing before the pandemic, well, I’ll have to find the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. I hope we don’t go back to being our blasé selves.

For the time being it is what it is, and governments are trying their best to deal with its effects. Meanwhile, we have all been forced to live the epicurean way, and some of us may develop a liking for it and continue with lathe biōsas even after the pandemic is over!


yoga in alabama

Quoting from Newsweek:

The Alabama board of education in 1993 voted to prohibit yoga, hypnosis and meditation in public school classrooms. The ban was pushed by conservative groups, and some schools have reported complaints from parents who say the practice endorses a “non-Christian belief system”.

From The Guardian:

The ancient practice of yoga has its roots in Hinduism though it is now a common form of exercise practiced across the world, including in private gyms in Alabama. 

A bill brought by Representative Jeremy Gray, a Democratic legislator from Opelika, is on the proposed debate agenda Tuesday in the Alabama House of Representatives. If the bill passes with a two-thirds majority, it will then go to the Senate for further debate. 

Gray’s bill seeks to dissociate yoga from its religious roots, and says that local school systems can decide if they want to teach yoga poses and stretches. However, the moves and exercises taught to students must have exclusively English names, according to the legislation. It would also prohibit the use of chanting, mantras and teaching the greeting “namaste”.

From CNN:

“Critics of the bill often see yoga as a part of the Hindu religion that can’t be separated”, Gray said. “The exclusions are part of the political compromise”, he said, “and are better than not allowing students access to any of the emotional or physical benefits of the practice.” 

That sounds like cultural appropriation, but I’m not going to concern myself with deciding whether it is.

Yoga is very much a part of Hindu religion. It originated as part of Vedic religion thousands of years ago. In Sanskrit, yoga is derived from yuj meaning ‘union’ – union with the divine after quieting the five senses. It is not just an exercise routine but is used as one outside India.

Like haldi doodh, an Ayurvedic treatment for balancing the three doshas, is now called turmeric latte and sold at Starbucks!

Yoga is good. Haldi doodh is good. Ordinary people don’t have to acknowledge the origin of anything they use. That’s only for academics. So why these disclaimers, distortions and little deceptions?

In a hyper-connected world people from distant countries are exposed to other cultures. That’s unavoidable. Throughout history people have tried to alter or influence other cultures to be more like theirs, never realising the other culture is subtly rubbing off on them too! That’s how yoga has entered the lives of non-Indians.

Christian evangelism by Americans has been going on in India for many decades now. Here are a couple of excerpts reflecting dissatisfaction with it.

  • In India, evangelism has always been a cause for concern as it poses a severe threat to the demographic stability of the country. In this report, we elaborate on the zeal of the missionaries and the extent of their efforts to convert people to the worship of their ‘One True God’. The Joshua Project is a ‘research initiative’ that seeks to ‘highlight the ethnic people groups of the world with the fewest followers of Christ’.
  • Joshua Project focuses on catalyzing pioneer evangelism and church planting. 

If you haven’t heard of the project, this is from wikipedia:

  • The Joshua Project is a Christian organization based in Colorado Springs, United States, which seeks to coordinate the work of missionary organizations to highlight the ethnic groups of the world with the fewest followers of evangelical Christianity. To do so, it maintains ethnologic data to support Christian missions.
  • The goal of the project is to identify people who “do not have enough worshipers of Jesus Christ” and provide the needs and support to evangelize about Christianity and Jesus.

Not so strange, is it? Everybody has misgivings about ‘the other’ infringing on their territory and trying to alter their way of life.

All human beings want to keep their tribes safe and cohesive. They like who they are and don’t want to change. Not unlike the parents of school children in Alabama, Hindu Indians don’t like the propagation of American religion in India. They have the same worries about Christian missionaries as Mr. Gray and the parents of the kids in Alabama have about yoga being taught in American schools.

Are India and the US both religious democracies rather than secular democracies then? In which case, why are we pretending to be secular?

There is a small point I need to add. Even if American children are taught yoga using English translations they are still exposed to yoga per se. Won’t they explore it further if they benefit from it, as the school and Mr. Gray intend them to? Isn’t it pointless to shield kids from something they will question anyway, given the inbuilt BS meters that all kids are blessed with?

I would think it’s simpler to tell them that this is not a Christian thing but it’s good for them. Hindu children in Indian cities enjoy decorated Christmas trees and gifts and cake at home on X’mas Day, minus the religious underpinnings, knowing that Christmas honours the god of many of our friends.

a pillar in an ancient temple at Hampi with carved figures in yoga asanas



losing jobs

During the big Recession in 2008 I saw a lot of young patients who had lost jobs or were ‘on the bench’. They had families to support and EMIs to pay on their homes and cars. They would come in to talk, share and perhaps find a little clarity. There wasn’t much I could actually do to reduce their distress apart from listen and try to help them find some hope, or prescribe medicines if anxiety/depression were unbearable, and sleep elusive. I was glad when the stream of pink-slipped people finally dried up over the next couple of years.

A few years later there was a surge in patients who had been told to ‘re-skill’ if they didn’t want to be laid off. Most of them were in the forties. Specialists, including me, are in a sort of a competency trap because we have lost all our other skills, save the ones we use every day. For instance, I’m not sure how well I could suture up a laceration or do a lumbar puncture, both of which I did very well earlier. If I were given this ultimatum to re-skill I would be totally lost.

I hear there are bootcamps to ‘upskill’ engineers, i.e. transform them from mechanical engineers to coders, so I suppose it works for some. Maybe it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks sometimes, especially if there’s a looming risk of job loss or being passed over for promotion.

I was shocked that people could be thrown out of jobs the way old animals are put out to pasture! Until I met these patients, I took it for granted that people learnt on the job all the time, gaining experience and new skills, keeping abreast of new developments through discussions with colleagues, reading journals and attending conferences, and occasionally attending a workshop on a specific topic. That’s mainly how we still brush up our skills. Of course, we now learn of new developments in our field as soon as they are published online, unlike in years past when we had to wait to read journals in a library, or subscribe.

Disruption, which used to mean an annoying interruption until recently, is now something wonderful to be applauded. On the positive side, disruption creates new markets and brings in more revenue. Does it mean that if you aren’t disruptive, you are stagnant and not very useful to your company, so you get laid off?

As AI replaces people at jobs, developers tell us it will create more jobs. But they will be different jobs, and they won’t be for the people who lost their jobs, isn’t it? The new jobs will go to people who can program and operate robots, right? Jobs gained > jobs lost is true only if it doesn’t matter that the people who lost their jobs either slid below the poverty line or committed suicide after poisoning their little kids when life became impossible. You can’t substitute one set of people for another claiming that the net number of jobs has increased, can you?

I do understand that AI has its uses. For example, ophthalmologists can diagnose diabetic retinopathy earlier than they have been doing until now, thanks to AI. If it is detected at an earlier stage, there’s a better chance of preventing visual impairment in people with longstanding diabetes. Here the AI is assisting the doctor, not replacing him. I’m not against AI. It is good tech, I agree.


But young people without the educational qualifications for sophisticated jobs like these also need to work and earn a living. The picture above is of an itinerant scissors-grinder. He visits my street once every two-three months. I’m surprised this occupation still exists! And below is a picture of a man selling cotton candy in traffic jams. Every time there is a recession in the world the lives of these people – informal sector – are affected but they don’t get stimulus packages from the government. How do they manage?


I watched the South Korean movie ‘Parasite’ recently. The dynamics between the Park family and the Kim family can happen on a much larger scale if joblessness – and the widening income inequality between the rich and poor – continues to worsen. It’s not that these feelings don’t exist in people now, perhaps they haven’t reached the surface and erupted yet. At the end of the movie one does wonder who are the parasites, the Parks or the Kims, or is it a bizarre symbiosis.

Jeff Bezos was in India a few days ago. Hundreds of traders and owners of small businesses gathered to confront him and protest Amazon’s pricing and selling practices. They shouted slogans and held placards saying ‘Bezos go back’. Will Bezos ever understand how precarious the lives of thousands of small traders and retailers are, struggling as they are to support their families and, in many cases, old parents and others as well? I guess not. Nor is it his problem to solve.

Last week I bought a paper cutter. I had a choice: order on Amazon and have it delivered at my doorstep for Rs.670, or walk to the store ten minutes away and buy it for Rs.750. I walked to the store. There were two young men running the business together. When I casually mentioned that it was available on Amazon for Rs.670 their faces fell and one of them said, “We can’t afford to do that. Amazon is undercutting us”. I felt sorry for them. I wish they could run their business the old-fashioned way. But things change. Like the classic case of the Kodak film company going bankrupt once digital photography came into existence, I suppose the old has to give way to the new.

So, now, what happens to all these unfortunate people deprived of a source of income? I don’t suppose there is a generic answer to this question. Maybe each individual has to use his ingenuity and talent to create an agreeable world for himself. He has to pick himself up by the bootstraps and start afresh after each blow dealt by new developments. That’s what actually happens as far as I can see. People are unbelievably resilient and hopeful, especially when they have children, a careworn wife and old parents to care for. Unfortunately, there is no economist, government or godfather, only planning and hard work – and luck – that take people where they want to be.



power games

Even though I’m not religious I can’t stop thinking about Religion and what it is doing to this country and, indeed, to the world. It’s in your face, making headlines everyday. If the purpose of Religion is to make us better people that’s certainly not happening. In fact, I don’t think that is what Religion is about anymore. And as news media confuse us more than they clarify, we need to think things through as best we can.

I wonder if it’ll help if I go back to the beginning of religion in India, and work my way to the present. Not being a theologian, I’m definitely hamstrung, but I’ll try.

Let’s see – what do I know of the nascent stage of religion in India? Our ancestors’ gods were elements of nature, personified. Consequently trees, rivers and animals had identities and were respected. They were not treated like disposables – to fell, pollute, cage and kill as we pleased. Forces of nature like fire, wind, thunder and rain, and celestial bodies like the sun, moon and stars, had names. They were part of the interconnected system of which human beings were a small part. A change in one link could impact the whole system. The Sanskrit word for this perspective is Sanatana, meaning ‘without a beginning’. Religion had no beginning as it was already there? I guess.

Okay, this aspect of religion does make sense to me. That would make me an Animist. To me every object in the universe is an arrangement of recycled quarks and leptons, including myself. Everything has its place and duty, which is literally what dharma means. Dharma comes from ‘dhr’, which means ‘to hold and maintain’ or ’that which is established’ in Sanskrit. To put it simply, dharma is my duty, what I am supposed to do in an honest and ethical manner during my earthly sojourn. That’s it, Sanatana Dharma! Religion at its simplest!

What is the problem with stopping here? Some say Animists are primitive because they can’t tell the difference between living things and non-living things! Well, Animists are by nature not Cartesian thinkers and cannot understand why some people see god as a separate anthropomorphic entity when the whole world is a manifestation of god, or maya. Some say god created the world, I think he manifested as the world, and I put down the difference to semantics, because this is a futile debate.

God is described as neti neti, meaning ‘not this, not this’ in Sanskrit because he’s all of it, the whole universe, including all of us in Kingdom Animalia and Kingdom Plantae, and things inanimate. By the way, there is now something called New Animism. The adherents revere nature after acknowledging that the objects they revere are inanimate, to show the world they are not primitive. The Cartesian mindset cannot process the original, organic Old Animism, but even if it could, this disclaimer is necessary so their Rationalist friends don’t dismiss them as cuckoo!

Admittedly, a lot of things went wrong with Sanatana Dharma as it got more and more complicated over the centuries. Pettiness, meanness, high-handedness, clannishness and exclusion created rifts and resentment among people. Reformers like Siddhartha and Mahavira in the BCEs, theologians like Shankaracharya, Madhvacharya and others about thousand years ago, and some kings and sages along the way, provided checks and balances from time to time. Things continued in pretty much the same way as the world is proceeding now, selfishly, with no regard for the greater good. We all know that entropy is inevitable, and we see it happening everywhere on earth now too, but faster than then. Stability is transitional in the affairs of human beings because we have an insatiable appetite for drama and BREAKING NEWS!

Let me skip to about 1000 CE because there don’t seem to have been any upheavals until then that are germane to the problems in India today.

People from other cultures encountered Indian culture for the first time in large numbers from the time Afghans invaded India in the 11th century CE. Over the next thousand years Islam and Christianity clashed with Indian thought continuously.

Islam and Christianity are centred around two different personages from Middle Eastern regions. They evolved from systems of thought that tend to study, classify, quantify, record, separate and order everything in the Universe, rather than flow with the inherent universal order and merge and be one with all of life, unlike the original Sanatana Dharma.

This is just my impression. I see one human lifetime as a few decades in a span of four billion years. We are as transitional as dinosaurs, mastodons, Java lapwings and orange upperwing moths. We don’t matter. I expect others will have their own take on this because religions are complex and people are individualistic, and I’m not an authority on the subject. And I’m certainly not saying one way is right and the other wrong, because opposites are often illusory, and both paths ought to lead to the same point if there are no biases.

What is Indian culture?

A loosely defined pan-Indian culture does exist. There are too many cognate words common to Sanskrit (north Indian) and Tamil (south Indian) for anyone to swallow the myth of the Aryan invasion. The gods of North Indians and South Indians are the same, so are the scriptures. Festivals like lohri and sankranti are harvest festivals of the north and south respectively, raksha bandhan and nagpanchami reaffirm the bond between brother and sister in the north and south respectively, and karva chauth in north India and varalakshmi pooja in south India celebrate the bond between husband and wife. They occur at the same time of the year in both the north and the south.

The only thing I can say for sure is that Indian culture is syncretic, having absorbed elements from immigrants over more than two millennia, or maybe even five. Make that sixty five if you start from the advent of the first Africans.

If Indian culture is syncretic and accepting as I say, you might well ask why Hindus of today seem intolerant. Some sections of the English press in India and abroad have asked this question and tried to answer it. Every time I read one of these articles I get the feeling that the writer doesn’t have all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle he’s trying to complete.

Let me go back to the very beginning or, rather, the many beginnings, of religion in many parts of the world. One thing is obvious: the religion of a population is subject to change depending on which section is dominant at a given time, and how much pressure that section exerts on the rest to convert.

  • The Celts worshipped nature gods between 500BCE and 500 CE. When Romans invaded Celt territories their religion got romanised, later christianised, and finally lost its essence.
  • The Greeks had a pantheon somewhat like the one in India. Their religion gradually disappeared by the 9th century CE, replaced by Christianity. The ancient Greek religion is being revived now under the name ‘Hellenism’ and has been gaining popularity since the 1990s.
  • The Romans created a pantheon of nature gods of their own based on the Greek one. The entire edifice of Roman culture and religious beliefs collapsed in the 4th century CE when the king, Constantine, converted to Christianity and gave it legal status.
  • The Nordic religion of Germanic peoples was lost in the 12th century CE when Christianity replaced it. It has been revived as Forn Sidr, meaning ‘the old way’, and worship of Norse gods has been practiced as Asatro for the last two centuries.
  • Lithuanians worshipped nature until Christianity became the religion of the majority by the 14th century CE. They have now revived their ancient faith, which is called Romuva. I came across a most surprising post today:
  • Native Indian tribes in America had their own religion and gods. From the 1600s to the 1970s these religions were suppressed, until the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed in 1978. Though much of their culture is lost they are apparently trying to save what they can. Meanwhile, 66% of them identify as Christian according to US government data published in 2014.
  • Zoroastrianism, one of the oldest religions in the world dating back to 2000 BCE, originated in Iran and was the state religion for a thousand years, until 650 CE. Then its followers had to convert to Islam or flee. Many of them fled to India in the 8th century CE. They are called Parsis and have assimilated well over here. They are devout Zoroastrians but do not attempt to spread their faith. My Parsi friend tells me that the community continues to be grateful to India for sheltering them when they fled Iran twelve centuries ago and they show it by respecting the culture that welcomed and helped them. That sounds very fair to me, because that gratitude and respect for local culture is exactly what I see in my relatives who are now citizens of the USA.

All of these peoples, except Parsis, were Animists or Polytheists. They were probably open to accepting others’ gods as an addition to their altar, the way a lot of Hindus are, even today. They didn’t suspect that their gods would completely disappear if they did that. We learn from history. We see patterns. We become wary.

In South-East Asia, indigenous religions were replaced by Hinduism and, later, Buddhism many centuries ago. Some South-East Asian nations became Muslim, like Indonesia and Malaysia. Many African countries like Ghana, Zambia, Kenya and Congo have a Christian majority, though this wasn’t so in earlier years. This shows that religions of entire populations can change depending on which group has seized the chance to crawl into the breach, because forced conversions following conquests are not common now.

Putting together what happened to other ancient religions of the world with what is currently happening around the world it seems that Christianity and Islam have always been vying to dominate the world. All 193 countries, except India and Nepal, seem to have one of these two religions as their majority religion! India and Nepal are the only Hindu majority countries in the world, and there are very few Hindus outside of these two countries.

The pantheon of gods is what has kept India stable for centuries. All gods are welcome here, but since the search for the meaning of life is an individual quest, each person ought to do it his own way, however primitive his idea of god and religion may appear to someone else. Anyone who disrupts his growth by telling him his god is not worthwhile, and offers to replace his god, is impeding his soul’s progress. That is the essence of Hinduism. This is why Hindus don’t proselytise. Which means Hindu numbers will greatly diminish if conversions to Christianity and Islam are strategically planned and rapidly executed.

What happens to Hindus if two warring faiths (starting with the first of the Crusades in the 11th century CE) become the dominant religions here?

As Christianity and Islam exhort their followers to proselytise, Hindus try to hold on to the gods worshipped by different communities, so that each Hindu community has a traditional god and a network of supportive relatives and friends affiliated to that god. This way, they are less likely to get conscripted into one of the two armies. India could eventually turn into a battlefield for turf wars, and be reduced to the state Yemen and Iraq have been reduced to. The zeal of new converts will make it easy for them to offer themselves up as cannon fodder. Hindus suspect that systematic proselytisation is destroying this network by targeting the most vulnerable among them.

I fervently hope the unfolding years prove me wrong.

This is my personal view. I don’t claim to speak for all Animists, or Hindu Indians, or anyone else, nor do I have issues with Indians affiliated to any religion. I think religion is a set of ethics a person lives by, nothing more. To me, religion is neither a social nor a political concept; my religion has nothing to do with anybody else.

As I understand it, the religious turmoil in India right now is less about God, more about the fear of control, manipulation, negation of identity, and the unspeakable horrors inflicted on us by some of the Delhi Sultanate kings and Europeans in the past. Right now nobody’s in a good place, neither Hindus, nor the rest. The echo chambers of each religion are circulating plausible-sounding hypotheses and frightening the entire country, except those who don’t believe that Religion is powerful enough to rip this country to bits.

Unlike Europeans, we Indians are fortunate that our link with our past is unbroken. Many of us are aware of our remote past through stories passed down orally by parents and grandparents. Thanks to social media they are being collected and shared all over India. People have started noticing and appreciating similarities rather than differences now. Someday somebody will have to verify and catalogue these stories.

If Greta Thunberg’s ancestors had held on to Forn Sidr she might not have driven herself into depression over the state of the world at the tender age of twelve. If people still worshipped nature gods they wouldn’t have brought Earth to the brink of total destruction. Right now, India is one of the few countries on earth where nature worship is still prevalent in some form. When I walk around the lake every morning I see quite a few people stand for many minutes facing the sun with hands joined in a Namaste, eyes shut. People still worship the Peepal tree, anthills, cows and other things in nature during different festivals. It’s just giving thanks to the universe, a forerunner of the modern gratitude journal!

Meanwhile, I’m somewhat relieved to see there are quite a few moderate known voices of people from all religions, and many concerned, articulate, generous and empathic unknown Indians, who are not any party’s bots, who lucidly explain new developments to the public so they don’t go completely berserk with fear. As Steven Pinker says: With violence, as with so many other concerns, human nature is the problem, but human nature is also the solution.


When my son was two he would play peek-a-boo with the moon, excitedly shouting “Boooooo” when it came out from behind a cloud. When a cuckoo trilled “Ku-oooo” he’d say “Mama, birdie calling Kayu” (what he called himself then), and call back “ku-oooo”. He would switch easily from English to Russian when necessary. There were no barriers between himself and celestial bodies, birds, or Russians!

Once, when we were packing up to leave a cabin we had been living in for four months, I unthinkingly deflated his inflatable panda and he screamed in terror, obviously thinking it would be his turn next! Perhaps we are, likewise, getting frightened of what we think will happen, and there’s no reliable source of information left to enlighten us in this era of fake news.





the good shepherd

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Pashmina sheep in Ladakh

A good shepherd makes sure that every little lamb is home safe at the end of the day. The Bible says, “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?” No doubt, this is a reassuring and comforting metaphor for God, the Good Shepherd, who cares about those who are lost and need his help. But, more importantly, this verse suggests how anyone responsible for the welfare of other people should be.

Human shepherds watch over their sheep carefully and don’t want to lose a single lamb. But it’s for wool, meat or for sale, all self-serving reasons. Unlike God, the shepherd can’t save his sheep because of the half-baked human notion that cruelty to animals is wrong, but rearing and killing them for food is okay. So the sheep enjoy the grass and the company of other sheep, while the shepherd remains oblivious to what livestock farming is doing to the earth. We all do what has always been done. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

There are too many exploitative shepherds and too many clueless herds of sheep-people all over the world. They eat and sleep day after day believing that anyone who puts them in a pasture to crop grass is their good shepherd. The shepherds pay sheep-people enough to keep their family fed, clothed and sheltered, and give them perks and bonuses to keep them feeling successful and important. That’s how it’s always been. As I said before, we all do what has always been done.

The shepherds have an understanding with the government. If one idealistic, discerning sheep should get wind of what’s happening and try to warn others, the shepherd’s loyal sheep dogs swiftly silence him. The sheep-people instinctively know that bleating will change nothing. That’s how the system works. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Then there are

  • flocks that have wandered where the wolves are
  • flocks led into risky situations by shepherds
  • flocks infiltrated by wolves masquerading as sheep
  • flocks whose shepherds are imposters

And so on.

We are all sheep. That’s why governments and corporations get away with anything, including systematically destroying the planet! Where are the good shepherds who can lead us to healthier pastures?

Pashmina sheep in Ladakh



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Or us.

Planted, grow, mature, produce, decline, die leaving seeds.


Remains returned to earth neatly packed.


It’s an endless pattern from the beginning of time…

IMG_1131.jpgAll grow at their own rhythm, all are at different stages of growth.

Today’s young people, tomorrow’s Boomers. Or whatever the children of today will call the twenty- and thirty-somethings of today in a couple of decades.

YOLO. Enjoy each stage. Keep traveling. Look at things. Minimise carbon footprint. Eat local. Wear local. Appreciate random acts of kindness because they keep hope alive for the human race. Tip well and warmly, where appropriate, when people help. It’s all good, don’t worry so much about things you can’t change . . .  Those were some of my thoughts while driving along these rice paddies around Hampi at the end of last year.

P.S. It just occurred to me that some of the pics may be of millet fields as they are also widely grown in this region. If you are an expert and can tell the difference, please consider the pictures purely representational 🙂







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).

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

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

Imran: “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. 

Imran: “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!

Imran: “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.


Of course, this is a commonly used template all over the world.


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!


Each of  these is like a stack of seasoned firewood. Never know when somebody will lay on some kindling, sprinkle some tinder, strike a match and start a raging fire in one of them!

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.” 


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.

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.






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.


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.


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.


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 hindutva equals Hindu values.

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 religious 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 sexual abuse in churches (that was 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 dance 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.


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, at least about schemes like jandhan and fasal bima. I don’t see any country thriving like a utopia, all peace and justice and booming economy. We have our share of problems too.

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.