Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ram Sethu and Gujja

Let’s catch up on the buzz of the week.

On Saturday, Bharatiya Jan Shakti Party president Uma Bharati filed a police compliant against Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, and three ministers.

What led her to this?

The government hurt her religious beliefs with its affidavit on the Ram Sethu issue. The former BJP leader was upset over the government’s affidavit, filed before the Supreme Court, and since withdrawn, in which it had stated that epics like Ramayana provided no historical proof of Lord Ram’s existence, angering many Hindu groups.

What led the government to its affidavit?

The government was responding to a petition against the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project (SSCP), which has been billed by maritime experts as the “Suez of the East.” The much delayed project proposes to build a canal that will reduce the distance between the east and west coasts by up to 424 nautical miles and sailing time by up to 30 hours.

In a separate, though related, news story, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) international general secretary Pravin Togadia asked the organization’s activists to file as many as 1000 FIRs against Tamil Nadu CM Karunanidhi for his disparaging—and rationalist?—remarks questioning the existence of Lord Ram.

In related developments, traffic was held up across several North Indian cities on Wednesday as the VHP protested against the planned project.
Also, Ram Vilas Vedanti, a former BJP Member of Parliament who is also described as a senior VHP leader, remarked on Friday, in Ayodhya, that VHP saints would weigh in gold anyone who beheaded Karunanidhi and cut out his tongue.

Skepticism abounds on the project as certain quarters have raised the issue of a cost-benefit analysis and damage to the coral reef. However, maritime experts say that once completed, the project would bring immense economic benefit to India, and an environmental assessment has put to rest all fears of coral damage, indicating that the dredging will steer clear of coral reefs.

• The SSCP was originally conceived in 1860 by the British Commander A D Taylor of the Indian Marines.
• The SSCP was first cleared by the Jawaharlal Nehru cabinet in 1955.
• After independence, almost once in every decade, a committee or a prominent expert made a recommendation in favor of the construction of the canal.
• The Suez and Panama canals were opened in 1869 and 1914 respectively.

What I glean from all this is that inertia isn’t an Indian trait. Want to build a canal? Set up a committee. Want to stop a canal from being built? Stage dharnas and protests and burn everything. Want to justify such actions? Ram naam satya hai. In school, I learnt about the Suez canal and about how ingenious a feat of engineering it is. Also, while having to memorize the Preamble to the Indian Constitution, I recognized that India is a “secular” country. Both these nuggets of information underwent an essential, if not factual, correction.

In the next few weeks, I see historians and people from the Archaelogical Survey of India (ASI) leaving no page unturned nor graves undigged to prove/disprove the existence of Lord Ram.

Scenario 1: Mr. Singhal, top ASI man, is sent onsite to Ram Sethu to assess the age of the purported bridge. Before leaving, he is asked for a small favor by his mum.

Beta, will you please get me paao kilo (250 g) of soil from Ram Sethu?
Umm... ma, but... ok ok
Also beta, Mrs. Gupta, our neighbor, also wanted some. Her son is really ill.
Ma, this is an official trip!
I don’t know. You get me... and don’t cheat this time, get a clean handful. The last time from Dwarka, the soil smelt as if someone had just crapped on it.

Scenario 2: Ateet Mishra, reputed historian, meets an expert on the Ramayana to trace the chronology of events that led to the construction of Ram Sethu.

So, how can you be so sure that Ram existed?
What’s there to be sure? Ram was, is, will be... always. Now, some people also question whether there was a Holocaust or not.
But tell me how can a man from Lanka get involved with someone from Ayodhya in those days?
Arrey, distance was nothing for Ram... He was omnipresent.
Then, why did he build the bridge? He could’ve just gone there and fought Ravana.
Tch tch... you don’t understand... That is how it was, or else how would have Ramayana happened?
You mean to say all these elements just further the story?
Arrey, now, don’t ask me irrelevant questions. Ask Valmiki who wrote it.

Scenario 3: After the Ramayana, it is the sleazier Mahabhrata that is the center of attention. In this regard, a respected gynaecologist testifies in court.

Dr. Agarwal, tell me, is it realistic to say that it is possible for a woman to have given birth to 101 sons, as Gandhaari did.
Medically, this is unlikely. However, it is not impossible. For example, say, she gave birth to quintuplets each time. So, 20 pregnancies and you have a hundred Kauravas.
Brilliant analysis! However, tell me what are the odds of 101 boys and not a single girl?
It is difficult to say, but one possibility could’ve been female foeticide.



Personal update

Three evenings ago, I get a call.

Dude, Delhi marathon is happening.
28th October. You coming?
No yaar. Broke now. Blew up everything in Goa.
Dude, don’t worry about all that. Just come.
I’ll call you up tomorrow.

Next day, Gujja, my co-runner at the Bangalore and Mumbai half marathons, books tickets for the both of us for the Delhi Half Marathon on October 28th.

One day hence, I borrow money and buy running shoes, vests, socks, and shorts—the ensemble (this damage will be smoothed by my quarterly medical reimbursement due next month).

Gujja is smart, adventurous, responsible, straight, besides being tall, dark, and handsome. He swims, works out, knows how to salsa, is a complete athlete and cricketer, was really slick with Flash (when in college), and smells good too. The only possible loophole is a dicey sense of humor. But I’m told he’s working on his narration and content.

Why is he single? What’s with the girls? They land up with total jerks, have their hearts broken, binge on chocolate, and go on shopping sprees to get over it. But how can they miss someone like Gujja?

Anyway, I’ve upped the ante, having already started practice. I’ve beaten Gujja at the last two half marathons, and if things go well, I’ll do that again. Imagine, paying for someone’s fare and being beaten to the finish by him! Gujja, if this doesn’t set your sculpted ass on fire, nothing else ever will.

And this time it’s 21 kms within 1:30:00.


Charmaz said...

yo about a small trip somewhere around after the race...couple of days. reply by mail

Umair said...

Hey you! I wanted to thank you for the comments you left me, and also thank you for reading my blog :-)

I havent gotten a chance to read yours just yet. But most certainly will.

p.s Sorry about the late reply. My schedule is so conflicting (with me being a Flight Attendant and all) that I rarely come on here.

Still searching said...

U know, I think about this, and I wonder why we tend to question the existence of our religious scriptures more than any other religion in the world?! What makes us want to disown what is old, culture etc? I don't mean this personally, but you dont see Muslims questions their faith or much less their holy scriptures! Just like Hindus, many of the Muslims don't wear their religion on their sleeves, but IF questioned or put to test, they will always stand up for what is holy to their faith, and without exceptions. So how come it is that Hindus would prefer seeing the coral reef destructed and laugh at people who want to stand up for preserving that which is supposed to be a part of our culture.. Agreed, it may not have a day today relevance in our lives, but I dont see anyone ever thinking of destroying the coral reef in Austrailia for the sake of economic benefits, so why in India? Why must be justify destroying everything - from forests to coral reefs (which also happen to be mentioned in a religious book) to the trees in south delhi (in the name of building a metro)?? Why must we take it all sitting down, when anywhere else in the world people would protest against such a thing?? I dont say burn thngs and protest like the VHP or whoever, but is it cool nowadays to say "Oh, I dont believe the Ramayana ever actually happened".. Damned if it didnt, it doenst matter.. the fact is that it IS a part of the tradition of the country, and the youth of the country need to start thnking beyond just their next paycheck to give importance to other things in life..

On a lighter note, its cool u're running again! And what was Gujju's number...? :))

P.S I am not a religious fanatic, and God knows I haven't even read the entire Ramayana (I did watch Ramanand Sagar's version of it years back), but I respect it.

satyajit said...

umair: hey! good to hear from you.. i'm rather pleasantly surprised you made the effort :-)

ruchika: thanks for your comment. This post did really give you some food for thought. Let me answer the questions you raised

For me, the important question isn't whether Hindus question their scriptures more than followers of other religions question theirs. I'm looking for reason behind any faith I hold. So, personally, when I don't see any, I refuse to be a part of it.

Why do you compare Hindus with Muslims or people from any other faith, for that matter? By your yardstick, Hindus don't blow up as many people either. They don't orchestrate blasts on innocent civilians and then release videos in the name of their gods as often as Muslims do.

Now, the main issue: cost-benefit analysis of Ram Sethu. VHP, BJP and other groups vouching for Hindutva aren't objecting to SSCP on the grounds of its cost benefits. For them, any results with regards to the same is secondary. Dredging is only one of the causes of reef degradation. Have we addressed these causes? Do we know of them? I'm not even saying build the Canal straightaway. But, at least, let a proper analysis be conducted and the pros and cons be weighed before you blow a storm over it.

I find your analogy of the Australian coral reef to be rather naive. First of all, no one wants to destroy the coral reef. The initial report by a government-commissioned group says that the benefits far outweigh the damage, which is rather small in the first place. Now, you may say that such reports are merely government propaganda but you don't say that.

With any big project, there are hazards involved. But what we should strive to achieve is a trade-off. However, if you start isolating things as sacrosanct under the name of culture and heritage, you're being stubborn and impractical. E. Sreedharan agreed to build the Delhi metro only after being promised complete autonomy. So what if he had to cut a few trees; he gave us a world-class metro that commuters thank him for everyday. Now, if a metro comes up in a place like Bombay, there'll be ecological damage some way or the other. But that we can recompense for by taking concrete steps instead of just refusing to accept a feasible solution or letting extremists run amok.

You state the need to "stand up to your faith without objections." I ask you: Why should I? Just because I've been told that this is sacred and this is blasphemous? You may as well stop questioning any premise on grounds of faith.

And Gujja isn't even aware of this post. He'll definitely cancel my ticket if he does :-)

P.S: I'vent read the Ramayana or Mahabharata either but I can claim to know them pretty well, courtsey the numerous story sessions of my grandmum. he would be aghast with me on this issue :-)

Ergo said...

Okay, so I know Ram. But who's Sethu? And do Hindus really believe that monkeys built that bridge or are these people just uber-sensitive about some heritage site??

satyajit said...

Ergo: Sethu means bridge. So, "Ram sethu" translates to "Ram's bridge." It is believed that Ram Sethu was constructed by Ram and his army enroute Lanka to get Sita from Ravana.

Anyway, your guess is as good as mine as to whether Ram's Vaanar sena built that bridge or not :-)

Still searching said...

These are just two different schools of thought, and I don't think there is one right way, its just a matter of perspective and what you believe in... I just get the feeling that younger Hindus these days are questioning their faith, and everything else as well, much more than other religions are... and it doesn't mean faith should be blindly followed, but when someone questions it, how come only Hindus say, yeah go ahead, am not sure if monkeys created this bridge, but so our silly ancestors thought - shrug your shoulders and disassociate yourself from the perceived stupidity... Look, I dont' believe who created the bridge or not, I'm just questioning how come Hindus are the only ones questioning and being rational while other religions are going backwards and become more dogged? At the end of the day, it doesnt really MATTER that it was in the scriptures or not, but then if we just let everything go, then it will..

Perhaps I'm naive, perhaps I'm too idealistic, and I know I can be impractical (after all, I did once lead a campaign on trying to boot out "western corporations" like Pepsi, Coke and KFC from India!).. But I'm not rigid. And I don't see any point in questioning just for the sake of questioning and looking like a rational person. I'm a regular person, only I am beginning to realize that there are some good reasons why yours or my g'mom would be upset with us! Hehehe... Peace, ok? :)

Still searching said...

And btw, I do absolutely agree with you that both sides should try to find a feasible solution to any problem, be it the coral reef, the trees in Delhi or the dam in Gujarat.. thats the only way to really solve a problem, as against just making a show of it by doing dharnas etc...

The only thing that bothers me is that a Government should say things like "Ram doesn't exist", because its none of the Government's business anyways!

satyajit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
satyajit said...

still searching:
Although I've become an atheist, I generally don't entrench myself in arguments with believers. However, I'm perpetually at loggerheads with the role faith plays in people's lives. What is the goal, you tell me? My neighbour at work prays 5 times day; he doesn't go to malls; he does not shake hands with females. I neither agree nor argue with him; and we're decent friends. I work at a place where no one will even do a double take if girls turn up in halter tops (may be some will :-)).

Culture and heritage is ok. But the deeds and decrees of our forefathers belong to them; I see no sense in blindly accepting their beliefs. I do not know if Hindus are more questioning than others, but if they're so in a rational way, then I'm happy.

Further, I can see a reason if your premise about the younger Hindus is correct. See, in general, they're not conditioned as much as the Muslims are for starters. Hindus lead much freer lives. Groups like VHP and Shiv Sena have, thankfully, a limited say on our lives. Imagine being brought up under their aegis, receiving information filtered according to their ideals--an average Hindu then would be more vocal and edgy about his/her religion. On the other hand, imams these days issue fatwas like free pamphlets.

You may be idealistic, but the value of it depends solely on the ideals you cherish.

Thanks for replying :-) I'm quite peeved at people who comment, ask questions, and don't follow up. But I've always admired your sincerety in replying to comments.

Gujja said...

I want to read what you write after the marathon. Man, this will be a battle- 1 hour 30 min. You will regret what you just wrote.

Gujja said...

Thanks for the compliments though

satyajit said...

gujja: I was right about your sense of humor, after all. While you could've just taken the status quo into your stride and chose to live with it, you chose, instead, to speak of it in a public forum. Best of luck to you!

nutty said...

i just love the way all your posts provide such interesting debates in the comments page :D while the post is always an interesting read the comments are almost always spicier! :D

I wont add my two bits to the debate because I'm not really sure if I believe in the Ramayana or not (kinda sitting this one out). But I definitely wouldn't trust any political parties take on any issue like this because they're almost always garnering vote bank support rather than being true to the issue.

Yes it does seem reasonable to ask for an unbiased cost benefit analysis though I'm not sure how such an analysis will take into account the public sentiment over something sensitive like religion.

I have a question though - before this issue came up did any Hindu who is now protesting its destruction ever really think of this Sethu at all? I mean is it like a really popular pilgrimage spot or something? If not and no one has bothered about it all these years then why create such a fuss now? If yes .. different story ..

I guess I did have my 2 cents to add :D good luck on the marathon!

satyajit said...

nutty: I agree with you. I'll give you an example of how the vote bank thingy is at work in Bombay. During Ganpathy and Ramzan, people here just spill onto the streets; there are innumerable traffic snarls; songs are blasted over loudspeakers. Yet, the administration chooses to ignore all this for fear of displeasing the sentiments of vote banks. And seeing this, every "tom, dick, and harry" festival or occasion has started being celebrated with unprcedented gusto. Now Jains, Gujjus, Babas--everyone who is anyone--have decided to "showcase their culture." The TOI reports that 3-5 people die every day in ambulances while stuck in traffic snarls.

Increasingly, under the lamest excuse of culture and heritage, all kinds of shit is being allowed. Prior to the Ram Sethu controversy, no one even spared a thought for it. Now, every party worth a dime has a say on the matter and is willing to participate in disruptive activities to be in the public eye.

Further, all this is exacerbated by our media--an immature, third-world, desperate entity.

Anyway, thanks for your contribution to the thread. It surely helped :-).

Thank you for your good wishes. If I run out of luck, I shall remember to ask you for more.

Still searching said...

Yeah, for the most part of it, I agree with you this time :) And I almost always follow up! :))

And now that Gujja is aware of this post...

Lol.. just kidding :)

Still searching said...

And again, btw, I appreciate that you used "still searching" instead of my name this time :)

satyajit said...

still searching: I didn't use your real name partly cos of people like Gujja :-) he's going to kill me soon

PritS said...

I just read "21 kms within 1:30:00"
And I know you will do it this time.

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