संपादक की पसंद

24-May-2020

THE LOCK DOWN DIARIES (VIII)--FEEL A LITTLE SHAME FOR THE LOST SOUL OF A NATION.

This is not about the sorry exodus of millions of our more unfortunate brothers and sisters playing out on prime TV these days. It is not a piece about the government, or about politics or economics. It is neither critical nor sacerdotal. It is not about Mr. Modi or the Biblical scale suffering he has inflicted, yet again, on those who had put their trust in him. That is a matter between him and his Maker, and I hope the potter who moulded him can forgive him, for history will not. This is not about a callous Finance Minister with the rictus of arrogance stretched across her face. It is not about a judiciary which has thrown away its moral compass in the arid deserts of ambition and preference. It is not about a media which has struck a Faustian bargain with the devil and is content to feed on the offal flung its way. It is not about Rahul Gandhi or Mayawati or Nitish Kumar for they have already become irrelevant to the pathetic course of events unfolding.
  This piece is about me and the burden I carry, a burden of shame, that has been sitting on my back for the last few weeks and cannot be dislodged, no matter how hard I try. It' s a burden which just got heavier this morning when I read a post by an army officer describing his moving encounter in Gurgaon with families of "migrants" walking their way to Bihar, no footwear on the weary soles treading on melting roads, hungry and uncomprehending four year olds, of how they wept and tried to touch his feet when he gave them a few five hundred rupee notes.
  I hang my head in shame in the India of 2020. At belonging to a country and a society which exiles tens of millions from their cities, fearful of catching an infection from them, from a virus brought here, not by them, but by my brethren flying in from abroad. Of treating the hapless victim as the perpetrator. Ashamed of being a gullible cretin who swallows all the lies and half-truths churned out by a dissembling official apparatus. Of beating pots and pans as a servile hosanna to an uncaring presiding deity to drown out the sounds of tired feet marching to their distant villages.
  I can no longer recognise the religion I was born into, it no longer has the wisdom of its ancient sages and rishis, or the compassion of an Ashoka, or the humility of a Gandhi. It is too full of anger, of hatred, of violence. It has replaced its once lofty ideals with even loftier statues, caring deeds with dead rituals. It once fed the mendicant and the poor but now drives them away as carriers of some dreadful disease, without any proof. It even finds an opportunity in this pandemic to stigmatize other religions.
  I am ashamed of my middle class status, of many of my friends, colleagues and the larger family even. Cocooned safely in our gated societies and sectors, we have locked out our maids, drivers, newspaper man, delivery boy and a dozen others who have built for us the comfortable lives we now desperately try to cordon off from the less fortunate. We have deprived them of their livelihoods. We encourage another extension of the lockdown because our salaries and pensions are not affected. Our primary concerns revolve around resumption of deliveries from Amazon and Swiggy: the lot of the migrating millions is dismissed as just their fate- the final subterfuge of a society that no longer cares.

   I am ashamed of the thought processes of my class, of Whatsapp forwards that oppose any more "doles" to the hungry millions, that denounce MNREGA- the only lifeline the returning labour have left- as a waste of public money and food camps as a misuse of their taxes. I am ashamed that people like me can encourage the police to beat up the returning hordes for violating the lockdown, which, in the ultimate analysis was meant to protect "us" from "them". For the life of me I am unable to comprehend how we, sitting in our four BHK flats, have the heartlessness to blame sixteen tired labourers for their own deaths: why were they sleeping on railway tracks? How can one not be ashamed when I hear my peers decrying the expense of trains/ buses for the returning migrants, the costs of putting them up in quarantine, when they approve of their likes being flown back by Air India ? This is not double standards, this is bankrupt standards.
  I am ashamed of my social milieu which lauds the leader for dismissing the cataclysmic sufferings of almost five percent of our population as "tapasya", as if they had a choice. I am mortified to see the layers of education and affluence, the facade of civilisation being peeled back by a virus to disclose a heart of darkness in our collective inner core, the sub cutaneous mucous of hatred and intolerance for a minority community, contempt for the destitute. All age old prejudices, bigotry, racism and narrow mindedness have reemerged, fanned by a party which has fertilised their dormant spores.
  I am ashamed of the dozens of four star Generals and beribboned Admirals and Air Chiefs who  were quick to shower flowers and light up ships at a dog whistle from a politician but did not move a finger to provide any help to the marching millions. Did it even occur to them that they owe a duty to this country beyond strutting around at India Gate? That they could have used their vast resources and vaunted training to set up field kitchens for the hungry marchers, putting up tents where the old and infirm could catch a few breaths, arrange transport for ferrying at least the women and children?Their valour has been tested at the borders, but their conscience has certainly been found wanting.
  I am ashamed of our judges who have now become prisoners in their carefully crafted ivory towers, who had repeated opportunities to order the executive to provide meaningful relief and succour to the exiled wretches, to enforce what little rights they still have left, but spurned them at the altar of convenience.
  I am ashamed of our governments who have forsaken the very people who elected them, and are using their vast powers, not to provide the much needed humanitarian aid these disorganised workers desperately need, but to take away even the few rights they had won over the last fifty years. I am ashamed of a bureaucracy that uses a catastrophe to further enslave those who have already lost everything, which insists that illiterate labourers fill in online forms to register for evacuation, pay hundreds of rupees ( which they do not have) for rail tickets, produce ration cards and Aadhar before they can get five kgs of rice, all the while beating them to pulp. Of a Joint Secretary to government who can apportion blame for the infections by religion. This is not Orwellian or Kafkaesqe, this is a government gone berserk. How can one not be ashamed of such a soul-less administration, and of the people who commend its mistakes?

   They will reach their homes ultimately, those marching millions, minus a few thousand who will die on the way. They will not even be mentioned in the statistics: there will be no Schindler's list for them. And we will pat ourselves on our collective, genuflecting backs that one problem has been taken care of, the danger to our neo-liberal civilisation has been beaten back, the carriers have been sent away, the curve will now flatten. But the mirror has cracked and can never be made whole again. As the Bard said, the fault is not in our stars but within us. Or, as  delectably put by another great bard, one of our own who now belongs to the "others":

             " Umar bhar Ghalib yahi bhool karta raha,
               Dhool chehre par thi, aur aina saaf karta raha."

  Actually, this piece is not just about me- it's also about you, dear reader. Look into that cracked mirror. Do you feel any shame, just a little , for what we have become, for the lost soul of a once great nation?  


21-May-2020

पिछले कई हफ्तों से हम तकरीबन हर दिन देख रहे हैं कि हमारे देश में गरीब इंसान के जीवन का मोल क्या है। कोरोना महामारी की वजह से उपजे श्रमिकों के पलायन के दर्दनाक प्रकरण से पूरा देश वाकिफ़ है। हम कमोबेश सभी पहलुओं पर बातें पढ़, सुन और लिख रहे हैं। बच्चे, बूढ़े, महिलाएं, बीमार, असहाय, विकलांग जिन परिस्थितियों का सामना करते हुए बढ़े जा रहे हैं उसमें जो लोग अपने देश को बढ़ता देख पा रहे हों उनकी आत्मा मर चुकी है। मज़दूरों के नंगे पैरों की  हालत में बस देश और समाज की नग्नता ही देखी जा सकती है।

सड़क पर एक महिला का बच्चे को जन्म देना और घंटे भर में उठ कर 160 किलोमीटर का सफ़र तय करना हम में से अधिकतर को झकझोर गया। अलग-अलग हादसों में कभी रेल की पटरी तो कभी सड़क दुर्घटना में मरने वाले मज़दूरों की संख्या बढ़ती ही जा रही है। मरने वालों पर शोक जता कर आगे बढ़ जाने की मानव प्रवृति से हम सब कमोबेश ग्रसित हैं। ठीक यही रवैया हमारा दर्द और बदहाली में जीने वालों के लिए भी है। पर कुछ दर्द ऐसे होते हैं जिनके न चेहरे होते हैं और न ही उनकी कोई तस्वीर सामने आ पाती है। मैं आपका ध्यान हमारे जीवन से जुड़े ऐसे ही एक मुद्दे की ओर खींचना चाहती हूं- माहवारी।
इस वक़्त सड़क पर चल रही हज़ारों महिलाओं में से कितनी महिलाएं माहवारी के चक्र में होंगी? और कितना दुष्कर होगा लगातार कई घंटों तक चलते चले जाना? न खाने का ठिकाना, न पानी की व्यवस्था, सम्भवत: परिवार की जिम्मेदारी और महावारी। पर चली ही जा रही हैं महिलाएं। जहां वे पीने के पानी को तरस रहीं हैं वहां कैसे वे अपनी स्वच्छता और स्वास्थ्य का ध्यान रख पा रही होंगी? अंग्रेज़ी का एक शब्द है- chafing जिसका अर्थ है ‘रगड़ से छिल जाना’। माहवारी के दौरान बहुत ज़्यादा चलने से, ख़ासकर गर्मी और बरसात के दिनों में अत्यधिक नमी के कारण, जांघों के अंदरूनी हिस्सों में चकत्ते/रैशेज़ हो जाते हैं। फिर भले ही आप बाज़ार में उपलब्ध सबसे बढ़िया सैनिटरी पैड ही क्यों न इस्तेमाल करते हों। ये समस्या तब भी उभर सकती है।

राष्ट्रीय परिवार स्वास्थ्य सर्वेक्षण 2015-16 के अनुसार भारत में 36.6 करोड़ महिलाएं माहवारी चक्र की आयु में हैं परंतु इनमें से केवल 36 प्रतिशत महिलाओं को ही सैनिटरी पैड की उप्लब्धता है। ग्रामीण इलाकों की बात करें तो यह आँकड़ा और भयावह है। वहां महिलाएं फटे-पुराने और गंदे कपड़ों की मदद से माहवारी के दिन काटती हैं। बीबीसी की 2017 की एक रिपोर्ट बताती है कि बेघर औरतों को फटे कपड़ों तक का सहारा नहीं होता। उन्हें अपने माहवारी के दिन काटने के लिए पुराने अखबारों से लेकर राख और रेत जैसी चीज़ों तक का सहारा लेना पडता है। ऐसे में सड़क पर चल रही इन मज़दूर महिलाओं के जीवन में सैनिटरी पैड की सुविधा उपलब्ध होगी या नहीं, यह अनुमान लगाना बहुत मुश्किल नहीं है।

अब आते हैं माहवारी के दौरान होने वाली शारीरिक और मानसिक समस्याओं की तरफ। माहवारी की अवधि 2-7 दिनों तक की होती है और इसके दौरान होने वाली असहनीय पीड़ा को डिसमेनोरीया या कष्टार्तव के नाम से जाना जाता है। माहवारी के दौर की समस्याएं अलग-अलग उम्र की महिलाओं के लिए भिन्न प्रकार की हो सकती हैं। आम तौर पर शरीर के कई हिस्सों में मामूली से लेकर असहनीय दर्द, उल्टी, तनाव, और चिड़चिड़ापन माहवारी के समय की मुख्य तकलीफें हैं। यूनिवर्सिटी कॉलेज ऑफ लन्दन में जनन स्वास्थ्य के प्रोफेसर जॉन गुलेबौड के अनुसार माहवारी का दर्द दिल के दौरे जितना पीड़ादायक हो सकता है। दुनिया भर में कई स्त्रीरोग विशेषज्ञों ने इस तकलीफ को प्रसव पीड़ा के समान भी माना है। यही कारण है कि जापान, इंडोनेशिया, दक्षिण कोरिया आदि कुछ देशों में माहवारी के दौरान एक से तीन दिनों तक की छुट्टी का प्रावधान है और कई अन्य देश इस दिशा में काम कर रहे हैं।

भारत के भी कुछ शहरों में निजी कंपनियों ने यह सराहनीय कदम उठाया जिससे प्रेरित होकर अरुणाचल प्रदेश से कांग्रेसी सांसद निनॉन्ग एरिंग ने 2017 में लोकसभा में मेन्स्ट्रुएशन बेनिफ़िट बिल रखा। इससे यह साफ है कि भारतीय समाज इस सोच से विमुख नहीं है। पर यह समझदारी और हक़ की लड़ाई समाज के एक खास वर्ग तक सीमित है। इस सामाजिक चेतना का मज़दूर महिलाओं के जीवन पर कोई फायदा होता नहीं दिख रहा है। माहवारी के इर्द-गिर्द के मुद्दों और उससे जुडी सुविधाओं की मांग वर्गनिष्ठ चरित्र है। इसलिये इस वर्ग को देश के ग़रीब और बेघर महिलाओं की माहवारी संबंधी समस्याओं से कोई लेना-देना नहीं होता।

यही कारण है कि महामारी के इस समय में सड़कों पर चल रही हजारों महिलाओं की स्थिति इस देश की कल्पना में भी जगह नहीं पा रही। सोचिए, कैसे ये महिलाएं सैकड़ों किलोमीटर की दूरी तय कर रहीं हैं? लॉकडाउन की वजह से जब देश में सब कुछ बंद पड़ा है तो जाहिर है हाइवे से सटी सारी दुकानें और पब्लिक टॉयलेट भी बंद होंगे। इन परिस्थितियों में वे कैसे अपनी साफ-सफाई का ध्यान रख पा रही होंगी?

त्रासदी का समय, उस पर भीषण तपती गर्मी में शहरों से गाँवों की तरफ अपनी बदहाल जिंदगी की जमा पूंजी सिर पर और बच्चों को कभी कंधे तो कभी सीने पर उठाये ये महिलाएं निश्चय ही अपने बारे में ज़्यादा न सोच पाती होंगी। पर क्या हम उनके बारे में सोच पा रहे हैं? किसी ने सोचा है कि यह इनकी सेहत के लिए कितना ख़तरनाक साबित होगा? माहवारी के दौरान ख़राब रख-रखाव सर्वाइकल कैंसर, हेपेटाइटिस बी, प्रजनन पथ संक्रमण (आरटीईआइ), मूत्र मार्ग संक्रमण (यूटीआइ), यीस्ट संक्रमण, जैसी कई बीमारियों को न्योता दे सकता है। इनमें से कई महिलाएं तो माँएं भी हैं। नई माँओं की समस्याओं की अपनी ही कहानी होगी। और कुछ ऐसी भी हैं जिन्हें अभी पता ही न होगा कि माँ बनने वाली हैं। कुल मिलाकर यह तय है कि जब वे अपनी मंज़िल तक पहुंचेंगी तब इस सफ़र से मिली समस्याओं का नया सफ़र शुरू हो चुका होगा। हम आज भी उन्हें नज़रंदाज कर के बैठे हैं। और सुनने में यह चाहे कितना ही शर्मनाक और दुर्भाग्यपूर्ण लगे, पर कल भी उनके बारे में सोचने की हम में विवशता नहीं होगी।

जैसे समाज के हरेक मुद्दे से औरतें कमोबेश गौण हो जाया करती हैं, ठीक उसी तरह कोरोना महामारी से उपजे मज़दूर पलायन और इसमें सरकार की प्रचंड विफलता में औरतें फिर कहीं खो गयी हैं। किसी ने उनके बारे में अलग से नहीं सोचा। महिला अधिकारों के पैरोकार पेट की भूख और पैरों के छालों से निपटने में उलझे हैं, पर सरकारों में शामिल ‘सशक्त’ महिलाएं इस मुद्दे पर अपनी संवेदनहीनता के साथ अपने-अपने घरों में लॉकडाउन का पालन करने के लिए याद रखी जाएंगी। इनके सामयिक हस्तक्षेप से सैनिटरी पैड का वितरण तो हो ही सकता था। हाइवे पर स्थित टॉयलेट तो खोले ही जा सकते थे। दुर्भाग्य यह है कि इस देश में महिला अधिकारों का संघर्ष एक खास वर्ग के हितों मात्र पर केंद्रित है। तभी तो छाती पीटने में माहिर हमारी कई महिला राजनेता इस मुद्दे पर सोच भी न पायीं। अंत्याक्षरी से बचे अपने समय में जब ये ट्विटर या टीवी पर बदहाल श्रमिक महिलाओं की तस्वीरें देखती होंगी, तो शायद इन्हें अपना भारत न दिखता होगा। वरना महिला होने के नाते तो इनके हालात समझ ही पातीं।

आप कभी समाज के उच्च वर्ग/जाति से इस मुद्दे पर बात करके देखिये, वे बड़े निश्चित भाव से कह देंगे- “अरे, इन लोगों का शरीर ही अलग होता है, सब सह लेंगी/लेंगे”। आप इस बेशर्मी से बचिए, अपने आसपास ऐसा कहने वालों से बात कीजिए, सम्भव हो तो विनम्रतापूर्वक उन्हें रोकिए-टोकिए। उन्हें बताइए कि इंसान गरीब हो या अमीर, उसके शरीर में समान दर्द और भाव उभरते हैं। साथ ही यह भी ध्यान में रखिए कि हर दिन मज़दूरों की त्रासदी से जुड़ी हज़ारों तस्वीरें देख लेने के बाद भी आप उनका हाल समझ नहीं पाएंगे क्योंकि सूखे चेहरों, बिवाइयों और भीगी आंखों से बयान होती बदहाली कैमरे में न क़ैद वाले हालात के मुकाबले बहुत कम हैं। इन्हीं में से एक सड़कों पर चल रही लड़कियों और औरतों की है।

जरूरत है कि समाज में उनकी स्थिति पर बात हो, समझदारी बने और उनके लिए समर्पित विभागों से उनकी जिम्मेदारी सुनिश्चित करायी जाय। यह तभी सम्भव है जब सचेत समाज वर्ग जो इन अधिकारों के प्रति जागरूक है और नागरिक समाज को निर्धारित करने का दावा करता है, आगे आये। जरूरत है कि हम ‘पैडमैन’ जैसी फिल्मों को राष्ट्रीय पुरस्कार मिलने पर ताली बजाने को ही अपनी आखिरी जिम्मेदारी न समझ बैठें।


17-May-2020

क्या इसका आशय यह नहीं है कि शहरी विकास का जो नकलची मॉडल हमने अपनाया है वह न सिर्फ़ असफल बल्कि बेहद क्रूर भी है

कोरोना संकट की जटिलताएं

एक कवि-बन्धु से फ़ोन पर बात हो रही थी. उनका ख़याल है कि कोरोना महामारी और इतने विशाल भयावह लॉकआउट ने जीवित रहने को ही एक परम मूल्य में बदल दिया हैं. अब वह समय बीत गया, कम-से-कम अभी, जिसमें किसी बड़े मूल्य, लक्ष्य या आदर्श के लिए लोग अपने जीवन का बलिदान तक देने को, ऐसा उत्सर्ग करने को सबसे बड़ा मूल्य मानते थे. यह सही है कि कई लोगों में, संस्थाओं और समूहों में मानवीयता बची हुई है. वे सहयोग और सहकार में विश्वास करते और इन दुर्दिनों में भी उन पर अमल कर रहे हैं. लेकिन ये सभी प्रयास अंत में एक ही उद्देश्य की पूर्ति के लिए होते दिख रहे हैं. बाकी सभी काम स्थगित हैं.

एक और रिटायर्ड आईएएस अधिकारी ने टिप्पणी की है कि ग़रीब मज़दूरों और अन्य, जो लाखों की संख्या में अपने घर-गांवों की तरफ़, इस बेदर्द मौसम में, जैसे भी हो भाग रहे हैं और जिनकी तकलीफ़ों की अनेक हृदयविदारक छवियां रोज़ ही नज़र आ रही हैं, वे एक तरफ के हेमलेटनुमा द्वन्द्व में फंसे हैं. अगर वे अपने काम-रोज़गार की जगह रूकते हैं तो कोरोना प्रकोप उन्हें मार सकता है और अगर वे किसी तरह, सारी तकलीफ़ उठाकर, अपने घर-गांव पहुंच भी जाते हैं तो बेरोज़गारी उन्हें ख़त्म कर देगी. दोनों हालत में उनका सामना यन्त्रणा, भुखमरी और मृत्यु से है.

तीसरी ओर ऐसी आशंका व्यक्त की जा रही है कि प्रकोप अभी और बढ़ेगा और हमें कोरोना के साथ, याने सारे निषेधों, सावधानियों का सतर्कता से पालन करते हुए जीवन बिताने की आदत डालनी होगी. इसका एक दुराशय यह है कि हमें काफ़ी दिनों तक भौतिक दूरी और अलगाव बनाकर रखने होंगे.

चौथा पक्ष यह है, जैसा कि फिर एक कवि-बन्धु ने कहा, कि इस महामारी के पीछे कई तरह के षड्यन्त्र भी सक्रिय हैं या हो सकते हैं. दवाई बनाने वाली अन्तरराष्ट्रीय कंपनियां सत्ताओं और बाज़ारों पर एक नये तरह की तानाशाही स्थापित करने का प्रयत्न कर रही हो सकती हैं. वूहान की जिस चीनी प्रयोगशाला में यह वायरस जन्मे होने की बात की जा रही है उसे अमेरिकी सहायता भी प्राप्त रही है. वह चीन और अमेरिका का संयुक्त उपक्रम रही है और इसलिए सारा दोष चीन के मत्थे मढ़ कर अमेरिका अपने को ज़िम्मेदारी से बरी नहीं कर सकता. भले सबसे अधिक नुकसान, जान-माल का, अमेरिका को ही उठाना पड़ा है.

पांचवा पक्ष यह है कि लॉकआउट और अन्य निषेधों से सामान्य जीवन के अलावा सारी अर्थव्यवस्था अन्तरराष्ट्रीय स्तर तक बहुत बुरे रूप से प्रभावित हुई है. करोड़ों लोग, भारत में ही, बेरोज़गार, बेघरबार, बेराहत हो गये हैं और उनकी सहायता और पुनर्वास में समय और साधनों की कई सीमाएं धीरे-धीरे स्पष्ट हो रही हैं. यह आशंका व्यक्त की जा रही है कि महामारी की तुलना में भुखमरी-बेरोज़गारी से कहीं कई गुना ज़्यादा लोग मर सकते हैं!

छठवां पक्ष यह है कि इस दौरान राजनीति कुल मिलाकर, लोकतांत्रिकता, अधिकार-चेतना-न्याय आदि से पिछड़ रही है और उसकी सत्ता-लोलुपता नागरिकता की बुनियादी मानवीयता से मुंह मोड़ रही है.

इतनी जटिलताओं के बीच से हमारा बेदाग़ और साबित निकल पाना असम्भव लगता है. इन जटिलताओं ने जो उलझाव पैदा किया है, उससे निपटना बहुत दुष्कर है. हम एक मोड़ पर हैं जो, कम से कम, हममें से ज़्यादातर के जीवन में अभूतपूर्व है. समाज, व्यक्ति, राजनीति, अर्थव्यवस्था, संस्थाएं आदि क्या मोड़ लेंगी इसकी अटकल तक लगाना कठिन है. इतना तो तय है कि हम पहले की तरह की सामान्यता या साधारणता, हस्बे-मामूल में लौट नहीं पायेंगे. उस हालत में हमारा व्यवहार कितना अटपटा, अनाश्वस्त, विचित्र आदि हो जायेगा यह इस मुक़ाम पर कहना मुश्किल है. बदलना तो होगा, पर कैसे, किस हद तक यह अभी न तो स्पष्ट है, न ही निकट भविष्य में हो पायेगा.

कुछ और मुद्दे

कुछ और मुद्दे भी कुछ कवि-बन्धुओं ने उठाये हैं. कोरोना का प्रकोप भारत में सत्तर प्रतिशत उन शहरों में केन्द्रित है जो तथाकथित स्मार्ट सिटीज़ हैं. दिल्ली, अहमदाबाद, मुंबई, पुणे, सूरत, चेन्नई, इन्दौर, भोपाल, जयपुर आदि. इसका आशय यह है कि शहरी विकास का जो मॉडल हमने अपनाया है वह न सिर्फ़ असफल दिख रहा है बल्कि हत्यारा और संक्रमण फैलाने वाला भी साबित हो रहा है. क्या अब सत्ताएं इस अन्धाधुन्ध शहरीकरण को मापने की ओर प्रवृत्त होंगी. याने इस मानसिकता को त्याग कर कि ‘हर गांव को अन्ततः किसी शहर का उपनिवेश बन जाना है’ क्या हम गांवों की ओर जाने की विकेन्द्रीकृत नीति अपनायेंगे? शहरीकरण और औद्योगिकीकरण में जो अपार वित्तीय साधन लगे हैं उन्हें वहां से हटाने की राजनैतिक और संस्थागत हिम्मत हमारी सरकारें करेंगी जो कि केन्द्रीकरण को बढ़ाने में अपना हितसाधन देखती आयी हैं? राजनैतिक दलों को जिनसे चन्दे और वित्तीय सहयोग मिलते हैं, वे लोग और संस्थाएं भी शहरों में ही केन्द्रित हैं.

जो प्रवासी मज़दूर मूलतः झारखण्ड, छत्तीसगढ़, उत्तर प्रदेश, मध्य प्रदेश, बिहार आदि से लाखों की संख्या में आकर अधिक विकसित राज्यों की अर्थव्यवस्था का सशक्त आधार बनते हैं और जिन्हें उनकी इच्छा होते हुए भी आसानी से विकसित राज्य छोड़ना नहीं चाहते, उन मज़दूरों का उनके मूल राज्यों की सरकारें, अपनी अर्थव्यवस्था को बेहतर बनाने और रोजगार देने के लिए उपयोग करने की कोई पहल कर पाएंगी? क्या हिन्दी राज्य अपनी बुनियादी नीतियों पर गंभीरता और निर्भीकता से पुनर्विचार कर उनका कायाकल्प कर पायेंगे?

स्वास्थ्य के नाम पर सही, हम एक तरह के निगरानी राज्य की ओर बढ़ रहे हैं. यह प्रवृत्ति, दुर्भाग्य से, विश्वव्यापी है. अपनी ज़िम्मेदारी खुले पारदर्शी लोकतांत्रिक ढंग से निभाने में सुस्त राज्य निगरानी के मामले में बड़ी फुरती दिखा रहे हैं.

मुश्किल यह है कि भारत एक विकल्प बनकर नहीं नकलची बनकर आत्मतुष्ट है. साफ़ है कि हमने पश्चिमी विकल्प का ऐसा अन्धानुकरण किया है कि आज पढ़ने-सोचने वाला तबका, हमारा मध्यवर्ग, ज़्यादातर पश्चिम की गुलामी को अपना अभीष्ट मानकर आत्मसन्तुष्ट है. कोरोना का प्रकोप, हम न भूलें, सबसे अधिक उन्‍नत देशों में, बुरी तरह से शहरीकरण में रमे हुए अंचलों में, सबसे ज्यादा है.

इस मुक़ाम पर यह याद करना दुखद है कि भारत एक देशमात्र नहीं, एक सभ्यता भी है और हम मानवता के सामने विकल्प की तरह रहे हैं. आज हम अपनी सभ्यता के सबसे क्रूर हो गये पक्षों जातिपरक-साम्प्रदायिक-धर्मान्ध हिंसा के लिए जाने जाते हैं. भारतीय सभ्यता का लय-भंग हो चुका है. यह मुक़ाम है जब हम थोड़ा ठिठककर इस लय को पुनराविष्कृत करने की सोच सकते हैं. इस लय को समझना, उसके स्पन्दन को महसूस करना और उसे फिर से पाने की कोशिश किसी भी क़दर आसान नहीं है, न होगी. एक महामारी, जो हम पर इस क़दर हावी हो गयी है उसे हमने किसी भूल-चूक से नहीं उपजाया है. वह मूलतः पश्चिमी आधुनिकता की विकृतियों से उपजा एक महारोग है. सारे संसार में उसे फैलाने या फैल जाने देने के बाद, उसका कोई उपचार भी, अन्ततः वहीं से आयेगा. हम महामारी के भी गुलाम, हम उनके द्वारा निर्धारित प्रोटोकोल के गुलाम और उनके आविष्कृत उपचार के भी विवश खरीदार गुलाम! क्या यह दुश्चक्र हमें नज़र आता है? क्या हम समृद्धि, सम्पन्नता, उन्नति, विकास, प्रगति आदि अवधारणाओं को सख़्ती से प्रश्नांकित कर उनमें भारतीय विकल्प खोजने को तत्पर हो सकते हैं?

यह स्पष्ट नहीं है कि मनुष्यों पर कहर बरपा करने वाली कोराना महामारी का अन्य प्राणियों और वनस्पति जगत पर क्या-कितना प्रतिकूल प्रभाव पड़ रहा है या पड़ेगा. हमारी हाउसिंग सोसायटी में जो पेड़-पौधे-घास आदि हैं और पक्षियों का समूह वह तो अभी पहले जैसा ही है!


16-May-2020

Telangana Congress MLA Danasari Anasuya juggles her political duties and welfare work with her pursuit of a PhD from Osmania University.

YDERABAD, Telangana — On April 19, Danasari Anasuya, the Congress MLA from Mulug in Telangana, tweeted a photograph of herself with the day’s top trending hashtag, #MeAt20. It stood out among the multitude of photos posted by Twitter users because in her 20s, Anasuya had commanded a militia.

The photograph shows the 49-year-old as her younger self, dressed in fatigues and holding a rifle in her right hand. In the post, which has been retweeted more than 300 times, she writes, “Whether I am with Gun or with Gunmen, it’s for the sake of weaker sections. Food, cloth and shelter is what I always wanted for them.”

The MLA has been active on the social media platform these days because of another trending hashtag, #GoHungerGo—her campaign to get food and other essentials to the poor in Mulug during the nationwide coronavirus lockdown. She tweets that her team has distributed thousands of kilos of rice, vegetables, dal, salt and oil and covered 451 villages.

Meanwhile, the gun she mentions alludes to her history as a Naxal dalam commander, a past she is unapologetically candid about. Her Twitter bio reads “Ex-Maoist 11 years” and she reminisces about her “days of armed struggle” in earlier tweets. On April 14, she tweeted a photograph of herself crossing a rivulet in Mulug with these words: 

Could such words of praise from a party senior mean the Congress is keen on promoting popular leaders like Anasuya who recently joined its ranks, even over those with a long history with the party?

Perhaps, since the state Congress also seems to have a bigger role in mind for her. Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee working president and Malkajgiri MP Anumula Revanth Reddy told HuffPost India, “Seethakka is committed to serving the poorest of the poor. She has integrity and is honest. We want to establish her as a leader of the Congress party. This is the time she should emerge both as a state leader and a national leader.” 

Opportunity for Congress   
Given its current standing both in national and Telangana politics, the Congress could do with some remodelling that steers it away from its much maligned legacy of nepotism. Promoting mass leaders could be one way to go about it.   

The grand old party was decimated twice in Lok Sabha elections, first in 2014 and then in 2019. It currently has 52 members in Parliament’s Lower House compared to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) 303 MPs. In the 119-strong state Assembly, the Congress is in third place with six MLAs, trailing the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) with 104MLAs and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen with seven. Its depleted strength is the result of a lacklustre performance in the 2018 state elections and the additional loss of 12 MLAs, who joined the TRS, in 2019 following its rout in the general elections.

Numerous instances of leaders jumping ship and joining other parties, particularly the BJP, have put the Congress in a precarious position. Its biggest setback was the exit in March of Jyotiraditya Scindia and 22 MLAs loyal to him. That triggered the fall of the Kamal Nath-led government in Madhya Pradesh, paving the way for BJP rule.

In this atmosphere, encouraging a new rung of regional leaders from varied backgrounds might work for the Congress, especially as it strives to rekindle its connection with the people during the current pandemic. In Telangana, it is banking on Anasuya – an Adivasi from the Koya tribe – to win the support of the rural and urban poor as well as socio-economically disadvantaged groups such as Dalits and Adivasis. “I want to see Seethakka emerge as leader of [the] Congress Legislature Party in [the] Telangana Assembly,” said Revanth Reddy. “In the Assembly, Seethakka can take on TRS because she has integrity.”

The Congress has good reason to place its hopes on Anasuya. While politicians across India are publicising their Covid-19 welfare work on social media, Anasuya stands out. It’s the ease with which she carries large bags of rations and covers long distances through rough forests, rivers and streams to reach distant villages where the most vulnerable Adivasi communities live. When the terrain rules out any form of transportation, she walks several kilometres – her familiarity with the surroundings a result of the many years she spent living in forests both as a Koya woman and Naxal leader. What also stands out is her seamless transition from militancy to politics, while standing uncompromisingly firm on her professed commitment to the people.

Insurgent, lawyer, politician

Anasuya was in her teens, a student of Class 10, when she joined Naxal ranks in 1988. The Naxal group she joined would in 1992 merge with five others to form the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Janashakti, which also had a political wing that contested elections. She was motivated to join a “movement that had widespread support in the Telangana region [of undivided Andhra Pradesh]”, thanks to enthusiastic campaigns run by student leaders and balladeers of repute. She was also inspired by Janashakti ideologue Chandra Pulla Reddy. 

“I learnt a lot during that time,” she told HuffPost India. “I would spend sleepless nights and walk for days without food to serve the people. I learnt commitment to the people and the importance of shouldering responsibilities when I was in the forest.”

Anasuya left Janashakti in 1997, a year after it split into eight factions, two of which adopted guerrilla warfare. “I was not happy with the split and decided to surrender,” she said. When she gave up arms under a state amnesty programme, she was a mother to a four-year-old son. 

Once a free woman, she went back to school, completed her intermediate education and then earned a Bachelor’s degree in law. She started her practice in Warangal to “serve justice for people who were denied their rights” and to provide “legal aid to Naxal leaders” who had surrendered to the government.

In 2004, Anasuya joined the TDP, even though the decision posed an “ideological conflict”. The party’s leader, Nara Chandrababu Naidu, had in 2003 survived an attempt on his life by the People’s War Group. “I differed with him only on one issue – encounter killings,” she said. Between 1995 and 2004, the TDP’s rule in Andhra Pradesh was marked by the encounter killing of several People’s War Group operatives. Anasuya’s brother, also a Naxal, was killed in an encounter with the police in 1998. “But the TDP provided education, primary healthcare and employment to Adivasi people,” she said, justifying her decision to join the party. She explained that the people she had met while practising law had made her realise the importance of state welfare in their lives.

An aide to Naidu, who did not want to be identified, said the TDP leader’s bid to bring women leaders to the fore had led to the discovery of committed leaders like Anasuya. “At the time, several women, including bureaucrats and ground-level political workers, joined the TDP,” he recalled. Speaking of Anasuya’s political rise, he said, “Anasuya contested[Assembly elections] in 2004 on a TDP ticket but lost. The next five years, she worked to strengthen her support base.”

Her efforts bore fruit as she won her second election in 2009 from Mulug, a Scheduled Tribe reserved constituency. She lost the seat in 2014 in the first Assembly elections held after the formation of Telangana, which saw the rise of the TRS. In 2018, she quit the TDP and joined the Congress in a calculated move to regain her support base, which had eroded with the TDP being branded an Andhra party. The move paid off as she won back Mulug in elections held later that year.  

TDP’s loss, Congress’s gain? 
Anasuya’s arrival was immediately beneficial to the Congress as she bridged the gap between the two rival Scheduled Tribe groups, the Lambadas and Koya Adivasis, at least electorally. In the 2018 elections, she managed to get both sides to vote for her, ensuring her victory in Mulug over incumbent TRS MLA Azmeera Chandulal, a Lambada, whom she had lost to in 2014. It was no small feat, considering the Lambadas and Adivasis have been at loggerheads for a while now. The Lambadas were designated a Scheduled Tribe in 1976 and account for 64% of Telangana’s Scheduled Tribe population of 32 lakh. The Koyas make up 15% of Mulug’s population and number 3.5 lakh, according to the state’s Tribal Welfare Department. Adivasi tribes have long sought the expulsion of Lambadas from the Scheduled Tribe category, alleging they have cornered their share of state benefits, including reservations in education and employment.

Anasuya’s welfare efforts in Mulug have not only benefited her Koya community but another marginalised Adivasi group, the Gutti Koyas, as well. They are originally residents of Chhattisgarh who were driven across the border into the Telangana region in the early 2000s by the now banned anti-Maoist militia movement Salwa Judum. Since the imposition of the lockdown on March 25, the 15,000 Gutti Koyas of Mulug are solely dependent on the MLA’s rations as they are not eligible for state benefits either in Telangana or in Chhattisgarh. 

“Everyone knows Seethakka in the tribal areas of Warangal and even across the border in Chhattisgarh,” said Revanth Reddy.

Mulug was part of Warangal district before a re-organisation of districts. 

Anasuya’s strong support base among various sections has raised her profile in the Congress, which has appointed her general secretary of the All India Mahila Congress and Chhattisgarh Mahila Congress in-charge. The party perhaps believes someone like her with a strong grassroots connection can evolve into a national leader, much like Jignesh Mevani did. Mevani, a Dalit activist and lawyer from Gujarat, came into national prominence in 2016 when he led thousands of Dalits on a protest march against the flogging of community members in the state’s Una town over cow slaughter rumours. In 2017, when Mevani contested the Gujarat elections from Vadgam as an independent candidate and with the objective of ousting the BJP from power, the Congress supported him in principle by not fielding a candidate in that constituency. Mevani – who is opposed to Hindu nationalism, the BJP’s core ideology – went on to win the election.

Goodwill all around
The Congress’ recognition of Anasuya’s potential may also have something to do with her goodwill with other parties.

Anasuya still refers to TDP chief Naidu as anna (brother) and wished him on his birthday via Twitter on April 20. Naidu responded to her tweet with a message of appreciation of his own:

Thank you Amma! Appreciate the good work you’ve been doing in your constituency to help people overcome the #Coronavirus pandemic @seethakkaMLA https://twitter.com/seethakkaMLA/status/1252102830380314627 …

Meanwhile, the ruling TRS – of which she has been highly critical, including over its Covid-19 strategy – has been making overtures to her to join their ranks, her aides claim.  

Anasuya’s efforts have also impressed rights activists. Hariprasad, who heads Human Rights Forum in Mulug, pointed out that while Anasuya fight for the rights of Adivasis “in her capacity as a public representative” and “her philanthropy could be aimed at consolidating her vote base… when compared to other MLAs who do not do even philanthropy in such areas, she is a better public representative”.  

‘Congress is the party people need’
Although happy with the adulation across party lines, Anasuya points out that she has worked hard for every bit of goodwill she has earned. “I am being interviewed by you because I went and worked in the forests of Mulug,” she told HuffPost India. “I went there because of my commitment to the people. I learnt this commitment from my Naxal days. How many other MLAs, even tribal MLAs, would have had the commitment to go there and work?”

Anasuya – who juggles her political duties and welfare work with her pursuit of a PhD from Osmania University – says she believes in being true to herself, and also that one’s past strengthens one’s present. “I take my past seriously and will never disown it, be it my role in the TDP or the Naxal movement,” she said. “My ideology and lifestyle have, however, changed with the times.”

She says she is “committed to working hard for the [Congress] party”, adding, “I joined the Congress because I think it is the party people need in current times.”

However, be it her past, her present or even her future as a potential leader of the Congress, Anasuya views it all with a nonchalance typical of her. Even her #MeAt20 tweet, which has created quite a buzz, was spur of the moment, she says. “My son asked me to put up a photograph of myself in my 20s,” she explained. “In my 20s I was always in fatigues and never in civil dress.”


12-May-2020

The vice-president, who is the chairman of the Rajya Sabha, threatened action against the MPs if they refused.

A week before India went into complete lockdown in an attempt to control the coronavirus pandemic, a few members of Rajya Sabha were asked to remove face masks that they wore as a precaution against the disease. A video of the Rajya Sabha Chairman, Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu, telling the members to “go out and remove the masks” on March 18 is being circulated on social media.

Naidu said, “No masks are allowed inside the House...You all are senior members, you know the rules and regulations about the conduct of the House...Otherwise, you know what I will do.”

MR CHAIRMAN: No masks are allowed inside the House. Please remove; all the Members, please. You are all senior Members and you know the rules, regulations about the conduct of the House. Please. Otherwise, you know what I will do. 
MR CHAIRMAN: Members, I have already made an appeal that the Members who are wearing masks, may please go and remove it. Otherwise, it is difficult to conduct the House. And, then people will start doing other things also. ...(Interruptions)... 

 


11-May-2020

टोबा टेक सिंह

बंटवारे के दो-तीन साल बाद पाकिस्तान और हिंदुस्तान की हुकूमतों को ख़याल आया कि सामान्य क़ैदियों की तरह पागलों का भी तबादला होना चाहिए, यानी जो मुसलमान पागल हिंदुस्तान के पागलख़ानों में हैं, उन्हें पाकिस्तान पहुँचा दिया जाए और जो हिंदू और सिख पाकिस्तान के पागलख़ानो में हैं, उन्हें हिंदुस्तान के हवाले कर दिया जाए।
मालूम नहीं, यह बात माक़ूल थी या गै़र माकूल़, बहरहाल दानिशमंदों के फ़ैसले के मुताबिक़ इधर-उधर ऊँची सतह की कान्फ़ेंस हुई और बिल-आख़िर पागलों के तबादले के लिए एक दिन मुक़र्रर हो गया।
अच्छी तरह छानबीन की गई - वे मुसलमान पागल जिनके संबंधी हिंदुस्तान ही में थे, वहीं रहने दिए गए, बाक़ी जो बचे, उनको सरहद पर रवाना कर दिया गया। पाकिस्तान से चूँकि क़रीब-क़रीब तमाम हिंदू-सिख जा चुके थे, इसलिए किसी को रखने-रखाने का सवाल ही पैदा नहीं हुआ, जितने हिंदू-सिख पागल थे, सबके-सब पुलिस की हिफ़ाज़त में बॉर्डर पर पहुँचा दिए गए।
उधर का मालूम नहीं लेकिन इधर लाहौर के पागलख़ाने में जब इस तबादले की ख़बर पहुँची तो बड़ी दिलचस्प गपशप होने लगी।
एक मुसलमान पागल जो बारह बरस से, हर रोज़, बाक़ायदगी के साथ 'ज़मींदार' पढ़ता था, उससे जब उसके एक दोस्त ने पूछा, "मौलवी साब, यह पाकिस्तान क्या होता है?" तो उसने बड़े गौरो-फ़िक्र के बाद जवाब दिया, "हिंदुस्तान में एक ऐसी जगह है जहाँ उस्तरे बनते हैं!" यह जवाब सुनकर उसका दोस्त संतुष्ट हो गया।
इसी तरह एक सिख पागल ने एक दूसरे सिख पागल से पूछा, "सरदार जी, हमें हिंदुस्तान क्यों भेजा जा रहा है, हमें तो वहाँ की बोली नहीं आती।" दूसरा मुस्कराया, "मुझे तो हिंदुस्तोड़ों की बोली आती है, हिंदुस्तानी बड़े शैतानी आकड़ आकड़ फिरते हैं।"
एक दिन, नहाते-नहाते, एक मुसलमान पागल ने 'पाकिस्तान ज़िंदाबाद' का नारा इस ज़ोर से बुलंद किया कि फ़र्श पर फिसलकर गिरा और बेहोश हो गया।
बाज़ पागल ऐसे भी थे जो पागल नहीं थे, उनमें बहुतायत ऐसे क़ातिलों की थी जिनके रिश्तेदारों ने अफ़सरों को कुछ दे दिलाकर पागलख़ाने भिजवा दिया था कि वह फाँसी के फंदे से बच जाएँ, यह पागल कुछ-कुछ समझते थे कि हिंदुस्तान क्यों तक़्सीम हुआ है और यह पाकिस्तान क्या है, लेकिन सही वाक़िआत से वह भी बेख़बर थे, अख़बारों से उन्हें कुछ पता नहीं चलता था और पहरेदार सिपाही अनपढ़ और जाहिल थे, जिनकी गुफ़्तगू से भी वह कोई नतीजा बरामद नहीं कर सकते थे। उनको सिर्फ़ इतना मालूम था कि एक आदमी मुहम्मद अली जिन्नाह है जिसको क़ायदे-आज़म कहते हैं, उसने मुसलमानी के लिए एक अलहदा मुल्क बनाया है जिसका नाम पाकिस्तान है, यह कहाँ हैं, इसकी भौगोलिक स्थिति क्या है, इसके मुताल्लिक़ वह कुछ नहीं जानते थे - यही वजह है कि वह सब पागल जिनका दिमाग पूरी तरह बिगड़ा हुआ नहीं हुआ था, इस मखमसे में गिरफ़्तार थे कि वह पाकिस्तान में हैं या हिंदुस्तान में, अगर हिंदुस्तान में हैं तो पाकिस्तान कहाँ हैं, अगर वह पाकिस्तान में हैं तो यह कैसे हो सकता है कि वह कुछ अर्से पहले यहीं रहते हुए हिंदुस्तान में थे।
एक पागल तो हिंदुस्तान और पाकिस्तान, पाकिस्तान, पाकिस्तान और हिंदुस्तान के चक्कर में कुछ ऐसा गिरफ़्तार हुआ कि और ज़्यादा पागल हो गया। झाडू देते-देते वह एक दिन दरख्त़ पर चढ़ गया और टहने पर बैठकर दो घंटे मुसलसल तक़रीर करता रहा, जो पाकिस्तान और हिंदुस्तान के नाज़ुक मसले पर थी, सिपाहियों ने जब उसे नीचे उतरने को कहा तो वह और ऊपर चढ़ गया। जब उसे डराया-धमकाया गया तो उसने कहा, "मैं हिंदुस्तान में रहना चाहता हूँ न पाकिस्तान में, मैं इस दरख़्त पर रहूँगा।" बड़ी देर के बाद जब उसका दौरा सर्द पड़ा तो वह नीचे उतरा और अपने हिंदू-सिख दोस्तों से गले मिल-मिलकर रोने लगा - इस ख़याल से उसका दिल भर आया था कि वह उसे छोड़कर हिंदुस्तान चले जाएँगे।
एक एम.एस-सी. पास रेडियो इंजीनियर में जो मुसलमान था और दूसरे पागलों से बिलकुल अलग-थलग बाग की एक खास पगडंडी पर सारा दिन ख़ामोश टहलता रहता था, यह तब्दीली ज़ाहिर हुई कि उसने अपने तमाम कपड़े उतारकर दफादार के हवाले कर दिए और नंग-धड़ंग सारे बाग में चलना-फिरना शुरू कर दिया।
चियौट के एक मोटे मुसलमान ने, जो मुस्लिम लीग का सरगर्म कारकुन रह चुका था और दिन में पंद्रह-सोलह मर्तबा नहाया करता था, एकदम यह आदत तर्क कर दी - उसका नाम मुहम्मद अली था, चुनांचे उसने एक दिन अपने जंगले में एलान कर दिया कि वह क़ायदे-आज़म मुहम्मद अली जिन्नाह है, उसकी देखा-देखी एक सिख पागल मास्टर तारा सिंह बन गया - इससे पहले कि खून-ख़राबा हो जाए, दोनों को ख़तरनाक पागल क़रार देकर अलहदा-अलहदा बंद कर दिया गया।
लाहौर का एक नौजवान हिंदू वकील मुहब्बत में नाकाम होकर पागल हो गया था, जब उसने सुना कि अमृतसर हिंदुस्तान में चला गया है तो उसे बहुत दुख हुआ। अमृतसर की एक हिंदू लड़की से उसे मुहब्बत थी जिसने उसे ठुकरा दिया था मगर दीवानगी की हालत में भी वह उस लड़की को नहीं भूला था - वह उन तमाम हिंदू और मुसलमान लीडरों को गालियाँ देने लगा जिन्होंने मिल-मिलाकर हिंदुस्तान के दो टुकडे कर दिए हैं, और उसकी महबूबा हिंदुस्तानी बन गई है और वह पाकिस्तानी। जब तबादले की बात शुरू हुई तो उस वकील को कई पागलों ने समझाया कि वह दिल बुरा न करे, उसे हिंदुस्तान भेज दिया जाएगा, उसी हिंदुस्तान में जहाँ उसकी महबूबा रहती है - मगर वह लाहौर छोड़ना नहीं चाहता था, उसका ख़याल था कि अमृतसर में उसकी प्रैक्टिस नहीं चलेगी।
युरोपियन वार्ड में दो एंग्लो इंडियन पागल थे। उनको जब मालूम हुआ कि हिंदुस्तान को आज़ाद करके अंग्रेज़ चले गए हैं तो उनको बहुत सदमा हुआ, वह छुप-छुपकर घंटों आपस में इस अहम मसले पर गुफ़्तगू करते रहते कि पागलख़ाने में अब उनकी हैसियत किस किस्म की होगी, योरोपियन वार्ड रहेगा या उड़ा दिया जाएगा, ब्रेक-फास्ट मिला करेगा या नहीं, क्या उन्हें डबल रोटी के बजाय ब्लडी इंडियन चपाटी तो ज़बरदस्ती नहीं खानी पड़ेगी?
एक सिख था, जिसे पागलख़ाने में दाखिल हुए पंद्रह बरस हो चुके थे। हर वक्त उसकी जुबान से यह अजीबो-गरीब अल्फ़ाज़ सुनने में आते थे, "औपड़ दि गड़ दि अनैक्स दि बेध्यानां दि मूँग दि दाल ऑफ दी लालटेन!" वह दिन को सोता था न रात को। पहरेदारों का यह कहना था कि पंद्रह बरस के तबील अर्से में वह एक लहज़े के लिए भी नहीं सोया था, वह लेटता भी नहीं था, अलबत्ता कभी-कभी किसी दीवार के साथ टेक लगा लेता था - हर वक्त खड़ा रहने से उसके पाँव सूज गए थे और पिंडलियाँ भी फूल गई थीं, मगर जिस्मानी तकलीफ़ के बावजूद वह लेटकर आराम नहीं करता था।
हिंदुस्तान, पाकिस्तान और पागलों के तबादले के मुताल्लिक़ जब कभी पागलख़ानों में गुफ़्तगू होती थी तो वह गौर से सुनता था, कोई उससे पूछता कि उसका क्या ख़याल है तो वह बड़ी संजीदगी से जवाब देता, "औपड़ दि गड़ गड़ दि अनैक्स दि बेध्यानां दि मुँग दि दाल आफ दी पाकिस्तान गवर्नमेंट!" लेकिन बाद में 'आफ दि पाकिस्तान गवर्नमेंट' की जगह 'आफ दि टोबा टेक सिंह गवर्नमेंट' ने ले ली, और उसने दूसरे पागलों से पूछना शुरू कर दिया कि टोबा टेक सिंह कहाँ हैं, जहाँ का वह रहनेवाला है। किसी को भी मालूम नहीं था कि टोबा टेक सिंह पाकिस्तान में हैं या हिंदुस्तान में, जो बताने की कोशिश करते थे वह खुद इस उलझाव में गिरफ़्तार हो जाते थे कि सियालकोट पहले हिंदुस्तान में होता था, पर अब सुना है कि पाकिस्तान में हैं, क्या पता है कि लाहौर जो आज पकिस्तान में हैं, कल हिंदुस्तान में चला जाए या सारा हिंदुस्तान ही पाकिस्तान बन जाए और यह भी कौन सीने पर हाथ रखकर कह सकता है कि हिंदुस्तान और पाकिस्तान, दोनों किसी दिन सिरे से गायब ही हो जाएँ!
इस सिख पागल के केश छिदरे होकर बहुत मुख्त़सर रह गए थे, चूँकि बहुत कम नहाता था, इसलिए दाढ़ी और सिर के बाल आपस में जम गए थे जिसके बायस उसकी शक्ल बड़ी भयानक हो गई थी, मगर आदमी हिंसक नहीं था - पंद्रह बरसों में उसने कभी किसी से झगड़ा-फ़साद नहीं किया था। पागलख़ाने के जो पुराने मुलाज़िम थे, वह उसके मुताल्लिक़ इतना जानते थे कि टोबा टेक सिंह में उसकी कई ज़मीनें थी, अच्छा खाता-पीता ज़मींदार था कि अचानक दिमाग उलट गया, उसके रिश्तेदार उसे लोहे की मोटी-मोटी ज़ंजीरों में बाँधकर लाए और पागलख़ाने में दाखिल करा गए।
महीने में एक बार मुलाक़ात के लिए यह लोग आते थे और उसकी खैर-ख़ैरियत दरयाफ़्त करके चले जाते थे, एक मुश्त तक यह सिलसिला जारी रहा, पर जब पाकिस्तान, हिंदुस्तान की गड़बड़ शुरू हुई तो उनका आना-जाना बंद हो गया।
उसका नाम बिशन सिंह था मगर सब उसे टोबा टेक सिंह कहते थे। उसको यह बिलकुल मालूम नहीं था कि दिन कौन-सा है या कितने साल बीत चुके हैं, लेकिन हर महीने जब उसके निकट संबंधी उससे मिलने के लिए आने के क़रीब होते तो उसे अपने आप पता चल जाता, चुनांचे वह दफादार से कहता कि उसकी मुलाकात आ रही है, उस दिन वह अच्छी तरह नहाता, बदन पर ख़ूब साबुन घिसता और बालों में तेल डालकर कंघा करता, अपने वह कपड़े जो वह कभी इस्तेमाल नहीं करता था, निकलवाकर पहनता और यों सज-बनकर मिलनेवालों के पास जाता। वह उससे कुछ पूछते तो वह ख़ामोश रहता या कभी-कभार 'औपड़ दि गड़ गड़ अनैक्स दि बेध्यानां दि मुँग दि दाल आफ दी लालटेन' कह देता।
उसकी एक लड़की थी जो हर महीने एक उँगली बढ़ती-बढ़ती पंद्रह बरसों में जवान हो गई थी। बिशन सिंह उसको पहचानता ही नहीं था - वह बच्ची थी जब भी अपने आप को देखकर रोती थी, जवान हुई तब भी उसकी आँखों से आँसू बहते थे।
पाकिस्तान और हिंदुस्तान का किस्सा शुरू हुआ तो उसने दूसरे पागलों से पूछना शुरू किया कि टोबा टेक सिंह कहाँ हैं, जब उसे इत्मीनानबख्श़ जवाब न मिला तो उसकी कुरेद दिन-ब-दिन बढ़ती गई। अब मुलाक़ात भी नहीं होती थी, पहले तो उसे अपने आप पता चल जाता था कि मिलनेवाले आ रहे हैं, पर अब जैसे उसके दिल की आवाज़ भी बंद हो गई थी जो उसे उनकी आमद की ख़बर दे दिया करती थी - उसकी बड़ी ख़्वाहिश थी कि वह लोग आएं जो उससे हमदर्दी का इज़हार करते थे और उसके लिए फल, मिठाइयाँ और कपड़े लाते थे। वह आएँ तो वह उनसे पूछे कि टोबा टेक सिंह कहाँ हैं, वह उसे यकीनन बता देंगे कि टोबा टेक सिंह पाकिस्तान में हैं या हिंदुस्तान में - उसका ख़याल था कि वह टोबा टेक सिंह ही से आते हैं जहाँ उसकी ज़मीनें हैं।
पागलख़ाने में एक पागल ऐसा भी था जो खुद़ को ख़ुदा कहता था। उससे जब एक रोज़ बिशन सिंह ने पूछा कि टोबा टेक सिंह पाकिस्तान में हैं या हिंदुस्तान में तो उसने हस्बे-आदत कहकहा लगाया और कहा, "वह पाकिस्तान में हैं न हिंदुस्तान में, इसलिए कि हमने अभी तक हुक्म ही नहीं दिया!"
बिशन सिंह ने उस ख़ुदा से कई मर्तबा बड़ी मिन्नत-समाजत से कहा कि वह हुक़्म दे दें ताकि झंझट ख़त्म हो, मगर ख़ुदा बहुत मसरूफ़ था, इसलिए कि उसे और बे-शुमार हुक़्म देने थे।
एक दिन तंग आकर बिशन सिंह खुद़ा पर बरस पड़ा, "औपड़ दि गड़ गड़ दि अनैक्स दि बेध्यानां दि मुँग दि दाल आफ वाहे गुरु जी दा खालस एंड वाहे गुरु जी दि फ़तह!" इसका शायद मतलब था कि तुम मुसलमानों के ख़ुदा हो, सिखों के खुद़ा होते तो ज़रूर मेरी सुनते।
तबादले से कुछ दिन पहले टोबा टेक सिंह का एक मुसलमान जो बिशन सिंह का दोस्त था, मुलाक़ात के लिए आया, मुसलमान दोस्त पहले कभी नहीं आया था। जब बिशन सिंह ने उसे देखा तो एक तरफ़ हट गया, फिर वापस जाने लगा मगर सिपाहियों ने उसे रोका, "यह तुमसे मिलने आया है, तुम्हारा दोस्त फज़लदीन है!"
बिशन सिंह ने फज़लदीन को एक नज़र देखा और कुछ बड़बड़ाने लगा।
फज़लदीन ने आगे बढ़कर उसके कंधे पर हाथ रखा, "मैं बहुत दिनों से सोच रहा था कि तुमसे मिलूँ लेकिन फ़ुरसत ही न मिली, तुम्हारे सब आदमी ख़ैरियत से हिंदुस्तान चले गए थे, मुझसे जितनी मदद हो सकी, मैंने की तुम्हारी बेटी रूपकौर..." वह कहते-कहते रुक गया।
बिशन सिंह कुछ याद करने लगा, "बेटी रूपकौर..."
फज़लदीन ने रुक-रुककर कहा, "हाँ, वह, वह भी ठीक-ठाक है, उनके साथ ही चली गई थी!"
बिशन सिंह खामोश रहा।
फज़लदीन ने फिर कहना शुरू किया, "उन्होंने मुझे कहा था कि तुम्हारी ख़ैर-ख़ैरियत पूछता रहूँ, अब मैंने सुना है कि तुम हिंदुस्तान जा रहे हो, भाई बलबीर सिंह और भाई वधावा सिंह से मेरा सलाम कहना और बहन अमृतकौर से भी, भाई बलबीर से कहना कि फज़लदीन राजीखुशी है, दो भूरी भैंसे जो वह छोड़ गए थे, उनमें से एक ने कट्टा दिया है, दूसरी के कट्टी हुई थी, पर वह छ: दिन की होके मर गई और मेरे लायक जो खिदमत हो, कहना, मैं हर वक्त तैयार हूँ, और यह तुम्हारे लिए थोड़े-से मरोंडे लाया हूँ!"
बिशन सिंह ने मरोंडों की पोटली लेकर पास खड़े सिपाही के हवाले कर दी और फज़लदीन से पूछा, "टोबा टेक सिंह कहाँ है?"
फज़लदीन ने कदरे हैरत से कहा, "कहाँ है? वहीं है, जहाँ था!"
बिशन सिंह ने फिर पूछा, "पाकिस्तान में है या हिंदुस्तान में?"
"हिंदुस्तान में, नहीं, नहीं पाकिस्तान में!" फज़लदीन बौखला-सा गया।
बिशन सिंह बड़बड़ाता हुआ चला गया, "औपड़ दि गड़ गड़ दि अनैक्स दि बेध्यानां दि मुँग दि दाल आफ दी पाकिस्तान एंड हिंदुस्तान आफ दी दुर फिटे मुँह!"
तबादले की तैयारियाँ मुकम्मल हो चुकी थीं, इधर से उधर और उधर से इधर आनेवाले पागलों की फ़ेहरिस्तें पहुँच चुकी थीं और तबादले का दिन भी मुक़र्रर हो चुका था।
सख्त़ सर्दियाँ थीं जब लाहौर के पागलख़ाने से हिंदू-सिख पागलों से भरी हुई लारियाँ पुलिस के रक्षक दस्ते के साथ रवाना हुई, संबंधित अफ़सर भी हमराह थे - वागह(एक गाँव) के बॉर्डर पर तरफीन (दोनों तरफ़) के सुपरिटेंडेंट एक-दूसरे से मिले और प्रारंभिक कार्रवाई ख़त्म होने के बाद तबादला शुरू हो गया, जो रात-भर जारी रहा।
पागलों को लारियों से निकालना और उनको दूसरे अफ़सरों के हवाले करना बड़ा कठिन काम था, बाज़ तो बाहर निकलते ही नहीं थे, जो निकलने पर रज़ामंद होते थे, उनको सँभालना मुश्किल हो जाता था, क्योंकि वह इधर-उधर भाग उठते थे, जो नंगे थे, उनको कपड़े पहनाए जाते तो वह उन्हें फाड़कर अपने तन से जुदा कर देते - कोई गालियाँ बक रहा है, कोई गा रहा है क़ुछ आपस में झगड़ रहे हैं क़ुछ रो रहे हैं, बिलख रहे हैं - कान पड़ी आवाज़ सुनाई नहीं देती थी - पागल औरतों का शोर-शराबा अलग था, और सर्दी इतनी कड़ाके की थी कि दाँत से दाँत बज रहे थे।
पागलों की अक्सरीयत इस तबादले के हक़ में नहीं थी, इसलिए कि उनकी समझ में नहीं आ रहा था कि उन्हें अपनी जगह से उखाड़कर कहाँ फेंका जा रहा है, वह चंद जो कुछ सोच-समझ सकते थे, 'पाकिस्तान : जिंदाबाद' और 'पाकिस्तान : मुर्दाबाद' के नारे लगा रहे थे, दो-तीन मर्तबा फ़साद होते-होते बचा, क्योंकि बाज मुसलमानों और सिखों को यह नारे सुनकर तैश आ गया था।
जब बिशन सिंह की बारी आई और वागह के उस पार का मुताल्लिक़ अफ़सर उसका नाम रजिस्टर में दर्ज करने लगा तो उसने पूछा : "टोबा टेक सिंह कहाँ है, पाकिस्तान में या हिंदुस्तान में?"
यह सुनकर बिशन सिंह उछलकर एक तरफ़ हटा और दौड़कर अपने बचे हुए साथियों के पास पहुँच गया।
पाकिस्तानी सिपाहियों ने उसे पकड़ लिया और दूसरी तरफ़ ले जाने लगे, मगर उसने चलने से इनकार कर दिया, "टोबा टेक सिंह यहाँ है!" और ज़ोर-ज़ोर से चिल्लाने लगा, "औपड़ दि गड़ गड़ दि अनैक्स दि बेध्यानां दि मुँग दि दाल आफ दी टोबा टेक सिंह एंड पाकिस्तान!"
उसे बहुत समझाया गया कि देखो, अब टोबा टेक सिंह हिंदुस्तान में चला गया है, अगर नहीं गया है तो उसे फौरन वहाँ भेज दिया जाएगा, मगर वह न माना! जब उसको ज़बर्दस्ती दूसरी तरफ़ ले जाने की कोशिश की गई तो वह दरमियान में एक जगह इस अंदाज़ में अपनी सूजी हुई टांगों पर खड़ा हो गया जैसे अब उसे कोई ताकत नहीं हिला सकेगी, आदमी चूँकि सीधा था, इसलिए उससे ज़्यादा ज़बर्दस्ती न की गई, उसको वहीं खड़ा रहने दिया गया, और तबादले का बाक़ी काम होता रहा।
सूरज निकलने से पहले शांत पड़े बिशन सिंह के हलक के एक गगन भेदी चीख़ निकली।
इधर-उधर से कई दौड़े आए और उन्होने देखा कि वह आदमी जो पंद्रह बरस तक दिन-रात अपनी टाँगों पर खड़ा रहा था, औंधे मुँह लेटा है - उधर खरदार तारों के पीछे हिंदुस्तान था, इधर वैसे ही तारों के पीछे पाकिस्तान, दरमियान में ज़मीन के उस टुकड़े पर जिसका कोई नाम नहीं था, टोबा टेक सिंह पड़ा था।  


10-May-2020

In such a state of mind (or being) I went to visit Jawaharlal Nehru. He was in the Black Forest in Germany, at some pension (imagine the Bodhisattva at a pension!)—his wife was dangerously ill, and the British government had freed him.

Staying with some friends in Alsace, at the medieval town of Mulhouse, I wrote to Jawaharlal. He said to come by the small train that crossed the border, and at Badenweiler station to walk up the hill (I still remember his saying, ‘Why take such a marathon walk?’) or preferably take a taxi. He also said to bring some Evian bottles for his wife.

So, clad in light autumnal clothes, perforated summer shoes, a vague overcoat, I set out on my pilgrimage—the three Evian bottles my offerings. And a book my companion.

Badenweiler is a staid, dumpy town. Almost a township, with its white villas, its arched-in avenues, and its sole sanctuary, the sanitorium up the hill. The thought of The Magic Mountain came to me, but I brushed it aside and switched on to Hsuan Tsang:

Then the Master of the Law thought with love of the Bodhisattva Maitreya, and turned his whole mind to the Heaven of the Blessed, earnestly praying to be born again there, in order to offer this Bodhisattva his respects and homage, to hear the excellent Law expounded, and to attain perfect understanding . . . All at once, in the depths of his ecstatic soul, he seemed to be rising up as high as Mount Sumeru, and after passing through one, two, three heavens, he seemed to see in the Palace of the Blessed, the venerable Maitreya, seated on a resplendent throne, and surrounded by a multitude of gods. At this moment he was floating with body and soul on an ocean of joy . . . 

Lord, when I see your face, may it shine as that which brought compassion to man, quadruped and three, twenty-five centuries ago. If Mahatma Gandhi was a Visvamitra, Pandit Jawaharlal was the Bodhisattva. Lord, mayst thou have a halo round thy auspicious face!

I sat in the feebly lit corridor of the pension and opened the book I’d brought with me. It was Sur les Traces du Boudha by René Grousset. I had meant to speak of this extraordinarily moving book to Panditji.

What a great thing it would be for India and the world (I said to myself) if Panditji were to declare: ‘Yes, of course, friend, this be my path. This, the sure, trodden, ancient way. The eightfold path to the knowledge of the root of bondage and freedom from sorrowings.’

Suddenly he appeared, Panditji did. He wore a light overcoat and felt hat, was rounder than I had imagined, and less tall. His lower left lip twitched and twitched again and made enchantment for anyone sensitive (as Panditji’s twitches spoke), and when he removed his hat the bald head was a shock. (I had imagined him with long locks of hair, curling and covering his elongated lobes like the Gandharan image of Gautama, the Buddha, from Hadda, at the Musee Guimet in Paris.) His quick gestures, his sudden solipsisms, silences, his radiant recognitions, were not of any Jataka text. I was taken aback, having almost reeled into the contemporaneity of the world. I felt lost. Why had I come? Where had I come?

Panditji went up to his room quickly (he went to leave the manuscript of his autobiography, which he was then correcting) and came down, his passport in hand.

‘Let’s go to the bank first, and we’ll have our lunch afterward,’ he said. ‘Is that all right with you?’

‘Oh yes,’ I said. Then I blurted, ‘You know, I am a vegetarian.’

‘Of course, of course,’ he remarked, and with one smile, so pure, so full, so shy, so all-feeling, he took me twenty-five centuries earlier—at last I’d reached Kapilavastu:

But the Future Buddha in his splendid chariot entered the city with a pomp and magnificence of glory that enraptured all minds. At the same moment Kisa Gotami ascended to the roof of her palace, and beheld the beauty and majesty of the Future Buddha, as he circumambulated the city; and in her pleasure and satisfaction at the sight, she burst forth into this song of joy: 

Full happy now that mother is, Full happy now that father is, Full happy now that woman is, Who owns his Lord so glorious.

Now I remembered my bottles.
‘Here are the Evians you asked for,’ I said.
‘How much did you pay for them?’ he asked, taking them and leaving them with the cashier.
‘Oh, Panditji, for God’s sake!’ I begged.
‘For God’s sake what?’ he queried nervously.
‘I’m an Indian,’ I said.

‘What’s that got to do with it?’ he remarked with indifferent irritation. He didn’t know about my Kapilavastu.

‘Well, we’re not a nation of shopkeepers,’ I said. ‘That’s not the way I was brought up.’

‘We live in the world of today,’ he said, as if speaking to himself, and angry with me, with himself, and with the whole wide world around him. And suddenly we slipped back into our awakened silences, and so on to the indefinite definition of India.

At the bank it was curious to see his passport . . . he had a British passport. It never occurred to one that one was ever British. (Later in Paris once, Panditji, meeting some friends-of-India-looking woman, said, with a nervous, ironic twitch, ‘Do I look a slave? Who said I’m not free?’ There was no place for friendly tears. It was rather a demand for recognition. India, who could ever bind her?)

‘Why don’t you give me some of your hair?’ He laughed at the disorderly strands hanging around my head. They badly needed a barber’s care.

‘Take all you want,’ I said in true offering.
‘But how will it stick?’ He laughed again.
‘Oh, I suppose the miracle can always happen. In India . . .’ ‘So, you’re married?’ he interjected, following his own thought.
‘Yes, Panditji; you see only half of me,’ I whispered hesitantly. ‘I wish you could meet my wife. She is French. I’ve taken her to India, you know.’

‘Oh, yes.’
‘She’s so Indian.’ I seemed to be apologetic.
‘Well, my cousin is married to a Hungarian. And why not?’ I was reassured.
‘Romain Rolland spoke to me about you,’ he said after a long silence as we were walking back to the pension. I still remember the sun was completely unaware of himself and the trees stood inordinately still. They seemed aching for a breath, a touch, an efflorescence of the noncontingential. Everything seeks its own death and discovery, for suchness alone is meaning.

‘You certainly believe in something, Panditji? In some form of Deity, in philosophy?’
‘Deity, what Deity?’ He twitched angrily. ‘Why Siva and Parvati, Sri Krishna!’
‘Three thousand years of that and where’s that got us— slavery, poverty.’
‘And incomparable splendour, even today.’

‘What, with twenty-two-and-a-half years of life expectancy and five pice per person per day of national income? We’ve had enough of Rama and Krishna. Not that I do not admire these great figures of our traditions, but there’s work to be done. And not to clasp hands before idols while misery and slavery beleaguer us.’

‘Yes, and after that?’ I asked, as if to myself, somewhat timidly.

He seemed angry, ‘Now, now, don’t make me say this matter is matter,’ he said, touching the table. He was trying very hard to cut meat. Obviously the knife was in need of care or Panditji was not overdextrous with his hands.

‘No, Panditji, I know you won’t.’ I was winning the battle.

‘I am not such a fool. I won’t. I also have my private philosophy.’

He was silent for a while. And I did not say anything. ‘Of course,’ he continued, leaving the meat to its fate, ‘of course there’s something else. All this sun and moon and earth and galaxies, they don’t hang about in some chaotic universe. You probably do not know, I studied the natural sciences at Cambridge.’

‘No, I did not,’ I said. But he did not hear me.

‘There’s an intelligence about the world. There’s harmony. I am convinced we’re linked to that harmony. Individually linked,’ he added with deliberation, and merged into such sorrowfulness that the earth seemed lighter with his pain.

‘So God is mathematical.’
‘Well, perhaps. Why worry? And man is not just a . . .’

‘Just what? . . .’
‘A biological phenomenon.’
‘A creature of the “eighteen aggregates”.’
‘Yes, Buddhism comes quite near it; that is, there is something which must be, and which connects and sustains.’ ‘But that’s Vedanta,’ I interrupted. ‘The Buddha was a phenomenologist. Beyond manifestation, the void.’
The meat by now had become cold. So had my spinach. ‘Go where you will,’ he said slowly, and with a deep wealth  of rising sensibility, ‘man is not a creature of accident. Nor are his apprehensions gratuitous. Man is a whole and he belongs to . . . to, well let’s say a universal harmony.’

He lit a cigarette. The coffee had come.

This excerpt from The Meaning of India, philosophical essays written by Raja Rao, has been published with permission from Penguin Random House India.

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10-May-2020

In such a state of mind (or being) I went to visit Jawaharlal Nehru. He was in the Black Forest in Germany, at some pension (imagine the Bodhisattva at a pension!)—his wife was dangerously ill, and the British government had freed him.

Staying with some friends in Alsace, at the medieval town of Mulhouse, I wrote to Jawaharlal. He said to come by the small train that crossed the border, and at Badenweiler station to walk up the hill (I still remember his saying, ‘Why take such a marathon walk?’) or preferably take a taxi. He also said to bring some Evian bottles for his wife.

So, clad in light autumnal clothes, perforated summer shoes, a vague overcoat, I set out on my pilgrimage—the three Evian bottles my offerings. And a book my companion.

Badenweiler is a staid, dumpy town. Almost a township, with its white villas, its arched-in avenues, and its sole sanctuary, the sanitorium up the hill. The thought of The Magic Mountain came to me, but I brushed it aside and switched on to Hsuan Tsang:

Then the Master of the Law thought with love of the Bodhisattva Maitreya, and turned his whole mind to the Heaven of the Blessed, earnestly praying to be born again there, in order to offer this Bodhisattva his respects and homage, to hear the excellent Law expounded, and to attain perfect understanding . . . All at once, in the depths of his ecstatic soul, he seemed to be rising up as high as Mount Sumeru, and after passing through one, two, three heavens, he seemed to see in the Palace of the Blessed, the venerable Maitreya, seated on a resplendent throne, and surrounded by a multitude of gods. At this moment he was floating with body and soul on an ocean of joy . . . 

Lord, when I see your face, may it shine as that which brought compassion to man, quadruped and three, twenty-five centuries ago. If Mahatma Gandhi was a Visvamitra, Pandit Jawaharlal was the Bodhisattva. Lord, mayst thou have a halo round thy auspicious face!

I sat in the feebly lit corridor of the pension and opened the book I’d brought with me. It was Sur les Traces du Boudha by René Grousset. I had meant to speak of this extraordinarily moving book to Panditji.

What a great thing it would be for India and the world (I said to myself) if Panditji were to declare: ‘Yes, of course, friend, this be my path. This, the sure, trodden, ancient way. The eightfold path to the knowledge of the root of bondage and freedom from sorrowings.’

Suddenly he appeared, Panditji did. He wore a light overcoat and felt hat, was rounder than I had imagined, and less tall. His lower left lip twitched and twitched again and made enchantment for anyone sensitive (as Panditji’s twitches spoke), and when he removed his hat the bald head was a shock. (I had imagined him with long locks of hair, curling and covering his elongated lobes like the Gandharan image of Gautama, the Buddha, from Hadda, at the Musee Guimet in Paris.) His quick gestures, his sudden solipsisms, silences, his radiant recognitions, were not of any Jataka text. I was taken aback, having almost reeled into the contemporaneity of the world. I felt lost. Why had I come? Where had I come?

Panditji went up to his room quickly (he went to leave the manuscript of his autobiography, which he was then correcting) and came down, his passport in hand.

‘Let’s go to the bank first, and we’ll have our lunch afterward,’ he said. ‘Is that all right with you?’

‘Oh yes,’ I said. Then I blurted, ‘You know, I am a vegetarian.’

‘Of course, of course,’ he remarked, and with one smile, so pure, so full, so shy, so all-feeling, he took me twenty-five centuries earlier—at last I’d reached Kapilavastu:

But the Future Buddha in his splendid chariot entered the city with a pomp and magnificence of glory that enraptured all minds. At the same moment Kisa Gotami ascended to the roof of her palace, and beheld the beauty and majesty of the Future Buddha, as he circumambulated the city; and in her pleasure and satisfaction at the sight, she burst forth into this song of joy: 

Full happy now that mother is, Full happy now that father is, Full happy now that woman is, Who owns his Lord so glorious.

Now I remembered my bottles.
‘Here are the Evians you asked for,’ I said.
‘How much did you pay for them?’ he asked, taking them and leaving them with the cashier.
‘Oh, Panditji, for God’s sake!’ I begged.
‘For God’s sake what?’ he queried nervously.
‘I’m an Indian,’ I said.

‘What’s that got to do with it?’ he remarked with indifferent irritation. He didn’t know about my Kapilavastu.

‘Well, we’re not a nation of shopkeepers,’ I said. ‘That’s not the way I was brought up.’

‘We live in the world of today,’ he said, as if speaking to himself, and angry with me, with himself, and with the whole wide world around him. And suddenly we slipped back into our awakened silences, and so on to the indefinite definition of India.

At the bank it was curious to see his passport . . . he had a British passport. It never occurred to one that one was ever British. (Later in Paris once, Panditji, meeting some friends-of-India-looking woman, said, with a nervous, ironic twitch, ‘Do I look a slave? Who said I’m not free?’ There was no place for friendly tears. It was rather a demand for recognition. India, who could ever bind her?)

‘Why don’t you give me some of your hair?’ He laughed at the disorderly strands hanging around my head. They badly needed a barber’s care.

‘Take all you want,’ I said in true offering.
‘But how will it stick?’ He laughed again.
‘Oh, I suppose the miracle can always happen. In India . . .’ ‘So, you’re married?’ he interjected, following his own thought.
‘Yes, Panditji; you see only half of me,’ I whispered hesitantly. ‘I wish you could meet my wife. She is French. I’ve taken her to India, you know.’

‘Oh, yes.’
‘She’s so Indian.’ I seemed to be apologetic.
‘Well, my cousin is married to a Hungarian. And why not?’ I was reassured.
‘Romain Rolland spoke to me about you,’ he said after a long silence as we were walking back to the pension. I still remember the sun was completely unaware of himself and the trees stood inordinately still. They seemed aching for a breath, a touch, an efflorescence of the noncontingential. Everything seeks its own death and discovery, for suchness alone is meaning.

‘You certainly believe in something, Panditji? In some form of Deity, in philosophy?’
‘Deity, what Deity?’ He twitched angrily. ‘Why Siva and Parvati, Sri Krishna!’
‘Three thousand years of that and where’s that got us— slavery, poverty.’
‘And incomparable splendour, even today.’

‘What, with twenty-two-and-a-half years of life expectancy and five pice per person per day of national income? We’ve had enough of Rama and Krishna. Not that I do not admire these great figures of our traditions, but there’s work to be done. And not to clasp hands before idols while misery and slavery beleaguer us.’

‘Yes, and after that?’ I asked, as if to myself, somewhat timidly.

He seemed angry, ‘Now, now, don’t make me say this matter is matter,’ he said, touching the table. He was trying very hard to cut meat. Obviously the knife was in need of care or Panditji was not overdextrous with his hands.

‘No, Panditji, I know you won’t.’ I was winning the battle.

‘I am not such a fool. I won’t. I also have my private philosophy.’

He was silent for a while. And I did not say anything. ‘Of course,’ he continued, leaving the meat to its fate, ‘of course there’s something else. All this sun and moon and earth and galaxies, they don’t hang about in some chaotic universe. You probably do not know, I studied the natural sciences at Cambridge.’

‘No, I did not,’ I said. But he did not hear me.

‘There’s an intelligence about the world. There’s harmony. I am convinced we’re linked to that harmony. Individually linked,’ he added with deliberation, and merged into such sorrowfulness that the earth seemed lighter with his pain.

‘So God is mathematical.’
‘Well, perhaps. Why worry? And man is not just a . . .’

‘Just what? . . .’
‘A biological phenomenon.’
‘A creature of the “eighteen aggregates”.’
‘Yes, Buddhism comes quite near it; that is, there is something which must be, and which connects and sustains.’ ‘But that’s Vedanta,’ I interrupted. ‘The Buddha was a phenomenologist. Beyond manifestation, the void.’
The meat by now had become cold. So had my spinach. ‘Go where you will,’ he said slowly, and with a deep wealth  of rising sensibility, ‘man is not a creature of accident. Nor are his apprehensions gratuitous. Man is a whole and he belongs to . . . to, well let’s say a universal harmony.’

He lit a cigarette. The coffee had come.

This excerpt from The Meaning of India, philosophical essays written by Raja Rao, has been published with permission from Penguin Random House India.

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09-May-2020

To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die – Thomas Campbell.

Two people who couldn’t have been more different. Two stars who epitomised two starkly different eras and styles. Yet, two of a kind. The two star-actors I have always admired.
Rishi Kapoor was in many ways “to the manor born”, hailing from a family that has been around 88 of the 107 years of Indian cinema. In many ways he typified the Hindi film hero, what we now fondly term “70s retro”: changing colourful jerseys in a beat, serenading the loveliest of ladies to the strains of some of the most enduring songs ever filmed.

As he so endearingly admitted in his autobiography, in the first half of his career he was seldom called upon to challenge himself as an actor. That was not entirely true of course – as everyone who has been part of cinema knows how difficult it is to “sing and dance around the trees”. It would take his oeuvre of films in the new millennium for people to start talking about him as someone more than the brilliant romance icon that he was. Yet, his early film Zehreela Insaan, remade from the Kannada arthouse classic Naagarahaavu, had provided glimpses of him as an actor that filmmakers of the era failed to explore.

Interestingly enough, Rishi Kapoor’s second coming as an actor coincided with the arrival of Irrfan Khan on the scene as one of the country’s finest performers. I first watched an Irrfan film way back in 2001 at the opening of the London Film Festival. I didn’t even know his name at the time and yet at the premiere screening of Asif Kapadia’s The Warrior, what I took back from the visually stunning film were the actor’s eyes.

I would meet him again in Venice – I was there with with Abar Aranye, Goutam Ghosh’s sequel to Aranyer Din Ratri, and Irrfan was there with Vishal’s Maqbool, again a paean to those hauntingly eloquent eyes that would enchant generations of cine goers. Given his natural reticence, it would be years before I realised how fluently he spoke Bengali – when I called to congratulate him on his performance in The Namesake. Though he was a man of few words, there was something magical about his presence, both in real life and on screen, that instantly captured your imagination.
Different and yet alike
No two actors could be more different in their approaches to the craft. Rishi embraced his characters with such vivacity and enthusiasm that it was impossible to resist his charm.

When he bursts onto the screen in Hum Tum singing “Main shayar toh nahin”, you instantly surrender yourself to his joie de vivre and smile along with him. He literally owns the scene. In that moment, despite myself I felt my attention wavering from Saif to Rishi.

Rishi turned the corner in 2012 with his menacing and ruthless Rauf Lala in Agneepath. His follow-up act in D-Day with his rose-tinted glasses as Goldman was pure gold. Incidentally, Irrfan was the field agent in the same film, a perfect foil to Rishi’s evil villain.

Rishi believed in the king-size moment, without going over the top. You just have to watch him feed off Amitabh Bachchan in 102 Not Out to realise that on his day he could beat any actor hollow. For me, Mulk is his most memorable film. A nuanced and balanced portrayal of a retired Muslim lawyer countering Islamophobia. His words “Aaj jo hum faisla kar rahein hain, woh hamaare kal ka faisla karega” will always remain relevant. In the hands of someone less aware, this ran the risk of playing to the gallery. But with Rishi, even as you are aware that he is cherishing every moment of this challenging role, you also know that this actor will not give in to the temptation of “overacting”. Such was his control on his craft.


Insider, outsider
Rishi was not an insecure actor. He had the generosity in letting his co-actors inhabit a scene. Luck by Chance, Love Aaj Kal, Do Dooni Chaar, Kapoor and Sons and many others are proof enough. As an actor, Rishi understood the integrity of the scene as a whole, allowing his co-stars the space without overwhelming them with his star persona.

On the other hand, Irrfan was a master of the understated. His deadpan amused demeanour and his casual throwaway delivery were in direct contrast to Rishi’s. And yet, he was as effective. He was king of the small gesture – a raised eyebrow, a smirk, a look in his intriguing eyes that you could never wholly interpret. All of this lent him a mystique that haunted the viewer long after the screens dimmed, leaving the audience wanting more. You went back just to see what you might have missed the first time.

What gave his acting an edge, to my mind, is the feeling that he hid more than he revealed. A kind of absent-mindedness, as if he’s both present and not present. I looked forward to his multi-dimensional performances.

One was a rank outsider to the world of cinema who made it on his own steam with no family connections in the industry and the other belonging to the royalty of Hindi filmdom. One gregarious, the other reticent. Rishi was always in the news with his social media engagements, the fearlessness with which he expressed his opinions – on his food and drink preferences, on communal and nationalist issues even when they went against the popular discourse. Irrfan engaged more on a personal plane with his characteristic wry humour, even in difficult times.
Two of my beloved actors and stars, both on the cusp of greater glories, both gone ahead of time, both leaving behind not only their personal families but also their extended families of film lovers and fans. Two entirely unexpected deaths on two consecutive days in the middle of such unprecedented and worrying times.

There wasn’t even an opportunity to say goodbye. The passing of Rishi and Irrfan – how does one even commit that phrase into writing – leaves me devastated. At this moment, I cannot begin to contemplate the enormous void that these magnificent actors have left behind. Who can possibly fill the gap? Do we even want to fill the gap?


01-May-2020

Thousands of ‘migrants’ are cramped in relief camps as the government won't not let them go home, fearing they will take the novel coronavirus to rural India

Of the images that haunt me, these are particularly heart-rending—one, that of the little girl who died off the coast of a European city as her parents were trying desperately to reach there on boats from a faraway land, for a better future. The other, more recent, is of an elderly woman, with all her belongings on head, walking kilometres to get home from a COVID-19 locked-down city in India, leaving behind her dreams of work and going back to the village she came from. The third is of the young man — also escaping from a locked-down city — who died after walking for days, just some hundred kilometres from his village. 

For the past one year, I have been writing about migration — from the perspective of the increased insecurity in villages, wrecked by poverty, agrarian distress and now by the weird weather that makes agriculture more and more unviable and life unbearable. It was due to the traditional push (people leaving because they had no choice) and pull (people leaving because they wanted more choice) factors, but at a much heightened pace and scale.

This exodus was hardly documented. The World Migration Report 2020 says global migration is on the rise — roughly 3.5 per cent of the world population moved from one country to another in 2019. But there is little in-country migration data.

In India, the last official count of migrants was in the Census of 2011, which was outdated and did not explain the huge numbers of what I called “illegal” settlements growing in urban areas, congested, without urban services and, most often, the hub of industrial activity, which in turn is the cause of pollution in the city. 

Today, these “invisible” people have become visible. We see thousands and thousands of “migrants” are cramped in relief camps because the government will not let them go home fearing that the novel coronavirus will spread through them to villages and remote districts.

We see them because they are desperate to leave the city and because there is no public transport operating; they walk back with their belongings, their children and with no food and no place to sleep. When asked, they have told us they do not want food; they just want to go home. Their cry is unmistakable; heart-wrenching. 

Now, the numbers are emerging. The Union government in its affidavit of April 12, 2020 filed in the Supreme Court said there are some 40,000 relief camps in operation across states, where some 1.4 million migrant workers are housed and fed. But this is an underestimation.

There are many who are not in the camps; they are on the road, struggling to reach their destination. On April 29, some 40 days after the nationwide lockdown began, the Union government said that the stranded people could go home — buses would ferry them across states. This decision, however difficult because of the dangers of the spread of the virus, is right and necessary. 

We need to discuss the return and what this will mean. The first is about the works they will leave behind. Migrants may have been illegal in some countries and unrecognised in others, but the fact is that their labour was vital for all economies. Today vast parts of Europe, Australia and the US do not have enough labour to harvest their crops. What then will be the fate of food in the coming months?

In India, the impact will be felt as the lockdown ends and labour is in short supply to restart the economy. Will this make us value them more; provide them better opportunities and benefits so that they return? Will this give migrants a makeover in the post-covid-19 world? 

There is also the other reality that COVID-19 has thrown at us. The places where the disease is most likely to breed is where there are no urban services; where settlements are overcrowded; where safe water supply and sanitation is inadequate and people have no way to stay safe. This is where we have allowed our workforce to live.

Consider Singapore, where the virus has made a virulent comeback. The island nation, always confident of its cleanliness record, is finding that it did not take care of the dense settlements where its migrant labour lives. It is the same elsewhere. So, will we rework the need to provide better housing, water and sanitation services to our urban poor, including the migrant labour? Will this mean we will invest in improving the environment in which they live and work? 

Lastly, what happens when the migrants go back home? Will they want to return? Is this the opportunity to invest in rural economies so that they have the choice not to leave? I want to discuss this the next fortnight.


01-May-2020

लगभग 70 वर्षीय कोबाड गांधी, सीपीआई माओवादी के पोलित ब्यूरो सदस्य रहे हैं। कुछ ही समय पहले वे 8 साल जेल में रहने के बाद जमानत पर बाहर आए हैं।इस समय वे कैंसर समेत कई रोगों से लड़ रहे हैं।

यह लेख उन्होंने मूलतः अंग्रेज़ी में लिखा है, जिसका  हिंदी अनुवाद असीम सत्यदेव ने किया है।
इस तकनीकी विकास के युग में व्यापक जनसमुदाय के अंदर सामूहिक डर (मास हिस्टीरिया) जंगल की आग की तरह फैल जाता है, खास तौर से जब शासकों और, या धर्म के जरिए उसे प्रोत्साहित किया जाता है। गणेश दूध पीना इसका एक उदाहरण था। एक और उदाहरण स्काई लैब गिरने की ख़बर थी। 2000ई. (y2k) संकट जैसे भयग्रस्तता के कई और उदाहरण हैं। झारखंड जेल में एक आदिवासी ने मुझे बताया था कि उनके सुदूर गांव में लोगों ने 31 दिसम्बर, 2000 तक दुनिया ख़त्म हो जाने की बात पर विश्वास कर अपनी बकरियों को रोज काटना शुरू कर दिया था।

जन समुदाय के भीतर समाए डर और अपराधबोध से खेलना शासकों और धर्माचार्यों का पुराना आजमाया तरीक़ा रहा है। जब यह चरम सीमा तक पहुंच जाता है तो जनता पर सबसे ज्यादा चोट की जा सकती है। यहां तक कि कम्युनिस्ट और हमारे दैनिक जीवन के शातिर लोग इसे अंजाम देते हैं। हम आपस में भावनात्मक तरीके से एक-दूसरे पर प्रहार करतें हैं और हमारे अपराधबोध की भावना और डर का फायदा उठाया जाता है।

जब हम अपने तरह- तरह के डर पर नजर डालते हैं तो देखते हैं कि बहुत सारे डर  हमें घेरे रहते हैं-- अस्वीकार किए जाने, असफल होने, बीमारी इत्यादि का डर और सबसे ज्यादा मौत का डर जो मौजूदा कोराना बीमारी के कारण हमारे अंदर समा गया है। यह सच है कि यह वायरस उच्च स्तर का संक्रामक है जो किसी वस्तु पर और मानव शरीर से बाहर 3-4 घंटे तक जीवित रहने की क्षमता रखता है। इसलिए यह जंगल की आग की तरह फैल सकता है। किन्तु इसकी मृत्यु दर सामान्य इनफ्लुएंजा से ज्यादा की नहीं है। इसके ज्यादातर शिकार वृद्ध और पहले से बीमार लोग हो रहे हैं। मृत्युदर अनुमानतः 3% से 0.5% तक है। लेकिन सरकारी प्रचार तंत्र और मीडिया ने इसे भयानक जानलेवा वायरस घोषित कर दिया है। इसलिए चारों तरफ भय व्याप्त हो गया है। मौत का डर, अपनों के खोने का डर, अनजाना डर।।। और इस भय ने रोजगार का खात्मा, कारोबार की हानि, बचत का नुक़सान और असुविधाओं को पैदा किया है। जिसने आने वाले दिनों में भुखमरी से मौत की आशंका को बढ़ाया और हमारी जीने की क्षमता को घटाया है।

दरअसल समूची विश्व अर्थवयवस्था पहले से ही गम्भीर संकट में चल रही है। जैसा कि हाल ही में मानस चक्रवर्ती ने कहा है कि - पिछले हफ़्ते इक्विटी ही नहीं बल्कि बॉन्ड व माल, यहां तक की सोने के भाव में भारी गिरावट आ गई है। यह गिरावट इतनी ज्यादा थी कि सिर्फ नकदी ही सुरक्षित है। वह भी सिर्फ अमरीकी डालर ही मुख्य रूप से सुरक्षित स्वर्ग हो गया है। जिसकी मांग बढ़ती गई है। अमरीका, यूरोप और अन्य विकसित अर्थवयवस्थाओं में ब्याजदर जीरो की तरफ लुढ़कता जा रहा। इस स्थिति में खरीददार के लिए सुरक्षित आखिरी रास्ता सिर्फ खरीदना ही होता है। सरकारों ने कारोबार उपभोक्ताओं को इस बढ़ते संकट से उबारने लिए दसियों खरब डॉलर खर्च करना मंजूर कर लिया है।  (भारत में अभी ऐसी स्थिति नहीं आयी है।)                           

लेकिन यहां वायरस के फैलाव को रोकने के एक मात्र उपाय के रूप में सामाजिक मेल-मिलाप को रोकने के लिए बड़े पैमाने पर अर्थव्यवस्था को ठप कर दिया गया है। स्पेन, इटली और फिर दुनिया कि पांचवीं बड़ी अर्थवयवस्था कैल्फोर्निया को ठप्प कर दिया गया है। इससे विश्व अर्थव्यवस्था को बड़ा धक्का लगना ही है।

फार्चून के अनुसार दूसरी तिमाही में ज्यादातर देशों की जीडीपी दर भयानक रूप से (-8%) से (-15%) तक गिर गई है। गोल्डमेन सैच ने इसे और कम होने की बात (पानी सर से ऊपर जाने) कही है।

बैंक ने आज शोध नोट जारी किया है। जिसके अनुसार "अमरीकी अर्थव्यवस्था के अचानक ठप्प" हो जाने के कारण 2020 की दूसरी चौथाई में जीडीपी में 24% गिरावट की आशंका है।

पूरी दुनिया की सरकारों द्वारा जिस पैमाने पर लाकडाउन किया गया है, उससे अर्थवयवस्थाओं में सुधार की  कोई उम्मीद नहीं बची है। पिछले छह महीने से चले आ रहे आर्थिक संकट के लिए, जिसका कोराना से कुछ लेना देना नहीं है, यह एक बहाना हो गया है। 1929 की महामंदी के लिए पूंजीवादी व्यवस्था को जिम्मेदार ठहराया गया था। परंतु मौजूदा संकट के लिए जिम्मेदारी को बकायदा वव्यवस्थागत समस्या को वायरस समस्या की ओर इसे मोड़ दिया गया है। 

बहरहाल विश्व आज दो मुख्य समस्याओं का सामना कर रहा है। कोई नहीं कह सकता कि इनमें कौन ज्यादा जानलेवा है। पहली समस्या कोराना वायरस की है और दूसरी समस्या अर्थव्यवस्था की है। पहली समस्या दुनिया भर में फैल कर मौत का तांडव मचा सकती है। तो दूसरी से पूरी दुनिया को भुखमरी और बीमारी कि सबसे बुरी हालत में ला सकती है। पहली से हम अपनी प्रतिरोधक क्षमता बढ़ा कर लड़ने की सोच सकतें हैं। लेकिन दूसरी पर हमारा नियंत्रण नहीं है।

प्रतिरोधक क्षमता का मनोविज्ञान

विज्ञान ने प्रतिरोधक क्षमता पर मनोवैज्ञानिक प्रभाव (प्लसबो थ्योरी) को  मान लिया है। इसके अनुसार मानव के दिमाग मे वह क्षमता होती है कि वह अपने शरीर को बीमारी से उबार ले। यदि उसे किसी दवा या उपचार पर भरोसा हो जाए, भले ही उसमे औषधीय गुण नहीं हो और वह चीनी की गोली मात्र हो। मेडिकल के विद्यार्थी अध्ययन में यह पाते हैं कि बहुत सी बीमारियों में से एक तिहाई का उपचार मनोवैज्ञानिक असर के चमत्कार से हो जाता है। बीमारियों के इलाज में मनोवैज्ञानिक प्रभाव अब सर्वमान्य हो चुका है। कोराना वायरस जैसी बीमारी जिसकी कोई दवा नहीं है से लड़ने में हमारी मजबूत प्रतिरोधक क्षमता केंद्रीय भूमिका निभा सकती है।

विज्ञान का नया क्षेत्र न्यूरोइम्युनोलॉजी है। जिसे आम भाषा में ऐसे कह सकतें हैं कि मस्तिष्क द्वारा स्नायु तंत्र पर नियंत्रण के जरिए प्रतिरोधक क्षमता मजबूत की का सकती है। यह सुस्वीकृत तथ्य है कि तनाव बढ़ाने वाला हार्मोन (कोर्टिसोल) हमारी प्रतिरोधक क्षमता को कम कर देता है। इससे हम वायरस या बैक्टीरिया से लड़ाई में कमजोर पड़ जाते हैं। दूसरी तरफ़ सकारात्मक नजरिया और प्रसन्नता वाले हार्मोन(एंडोर्फिन, डोपामाइन, सेरोटोनिन) हमारी प्रतिरोधक क्षमता को मजबूत करते हैं। अतः वायरस का डर और भयानक वातावरण का फैलना उससे लड़ने में हमारी प्रतिरोधक शक्ति को कमजोर कर सकता है।

अब यह भलीभांति मान लिया गया है कि आत्मविश्वास के बजाय डर के माहौल में गम्भीर बीमारी से लड़ने की क्षमता घट जाती है। कोराना जैसी बीमारी की कोई दवा नहीं है। प्रतिरोधक क्षमता मजबूत करके ही इसका सामना किया जा सकता है। इसलिए प्रतिरोधक क्षमता की कमजोरी को रोकने की प्राथमिकता महत्वपूर्ण है। जो भी पद्धति अपनायी जाय वह तार्किक व प्रभावी होनी चाहिए। और हर तरीके से बीमारी का तार्किक मूल्यांकन कर डर व भयग्रस्तता के प्रचार का प्रभावी तरके से काट करनी चाहिए। भारतवासियों की गरीबी के कारण पहले से कमजोर प्रतिरोधक क्षमता को उनके आत्मविश्वास को बढ़ाकर मजबूत करने की जरूरत है। कम से कम भय का आतंक फैलाना बन्द करके उनमें वायरस के संक्रमण को मजबूत होने से बचाएं।

 

 


22-Apr-2020

As we mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22, 2020, we have the toughest and the grimmest reminder of nature’s revenge. Today, Delhi’s smog has cleared; the air is simply sublime ― we can see the blue skies and the birds are just loving it. Chirping birds have replaced the honking cars.

In all our cities across the world ― as we lockdown to deal with this mutant virus that is killing people and making our world tragic and horrendous ― it seems almost that nature is reclaiming her space. 

There is news of how rivers in Indian cities ― earlier declared dead because of zero oxygen levels and called sewage canals ― are bouncing back; beaming with life and freshwater.

There are images of lions ― from neighbouring forests ― venturing out and basking in the sun in the port lands of Junagadh in Gujarat; civets strolling in the streets of a small town in Kerala; vibrant flamingos making their way to the salt pans of coastal India; and, dolphins dancing in the waters. I could go on. 

But what is clear to us on this Earth Day is that this joy of nature has come at an enormous and unacceptable human cost to millions in the world, who have lost their loved ones to the virus or are seeing their livelihoods collapse. 

I can say with absolute conviction that this is not the way we want to clean our air or our water ― however desperately we need this to happen. But what we should remember are two things for post-COVID-19 times. 

One, that we did, momentarily, gets this sense and smell of what clean air, clean rivers and exuberant nature means. And we must value it. We must remember this time as the way we want it to be, when our lungs can inhale and exhale without the stress of toxins.

But two, and most importantly, we must remember that at the current levels of pollution, it took as much as shutting down everything to get blue skies. Yes, this is what it will take.

So, when in winter in Delhi, we have smog days again, we must remember that cleaning up will mean taking all vehicles off the roads, and not play odd and even with a few cars absent. It will mean shutting down all day-to-day business so that no trucks need to come into our cities. In this last month, truck movement is down from 4,000 per day to less than 400 per day. 

It will mean shutting down all industries ― not just a few here and there ― so that there is just no combustion at all. It means stop to all construction. Everything that makes up our life and livelihoods. This is how we got from black, smoggy skies to blue skies and clear lungs.

I say this not because this is what we must do in winter. This lockdown, I hope, we will never have to repeat as it is the darkest days in human history. But I say this, because, if we want to have clear skies, then we will have to move heaven and earth to get much more done so that we can have livelihoods as well as our right to breathe.No more doing bits and little pieces of stuff, which always keeps us behind the curve. We need to be aggressive about what we do and how fast we can get there. This is something again that this terrible COVID-19 times should teach us―we do not want to be in this situation again.

So, what will it take to clean our air ― to keep it as pristine as the lockdown days when the lockdown is over and behind us? 

First, it will mean realising that we need to get vehicles off the road, but not people. It means fast-tracking everything we can do so that we move people ― not cars ― at speed, convenience and safety. Public transport will have to take into account concerns about personal hygiene and public health. 

We should set ourselves goals so that in the next few years (yes, so quickly) we can upgrade our systems so that 70-80 per cent of the daily commute is through high-speed and low-emission transportation ― from trains to bicycles.

Second, it means not shutting down, but shifting all industries ― lock, stock and barrel ― to clean fuel, by starting with natural gas and then ramping up with all combustion moving to electricity from much cleaner power generation.

Today, it is the price of natural gas, and not its availability, that is the obstacle to this transition, as gas is competing with the dirtiest and the cheapest of fuels, coal. 

But if the government was to include natural gas into goods and service tax (GST) ― and I am not talking about all petroleum fuels, only natural gas ― it would turn the tables on coal. At present, coal or other such dirty fuels are included in GST and have a much lower taxation than cleaner fuels. So, we can do this.

But it again needs to be thought about as the big solution ― something that can be done fast and at scale.

I could go on. But the bottom line is scale and speed. In this COVID-19 times, we have seen disorder and disruption at scales we never thought would happen in our lifetime. So, now we need to fix what is broken in our relationship with nature. This then is the biggest challenge in the coming days. 

Will we do things differently, recognising what COVID-19 has brought to light? Or will we want to rebuild our economies with more smoke and more pollution because we need speed and scale to get back on our feet.

The future, like never before, is in our hands. Nature has spoken. Now we should speak gently back to her. Tread lightly on Earth.



19-Apr-2020

John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich August Hayek were two prominent economists of the Great Depression era with sharply contrasting views. The arguments they had in the 1930s have been revived in the wake of the latest global financial crisis.

The contemporary relevance of their ideas has even been debated in a rap video. More than 1,000 people attended a BBC Radio 4 debate at the London School of Economics to hear supporters of the two economists argue their case.
John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich August Hayek were two prominent economists of the Great Depression era with sharply contrasting views. The arguments they had in the 1930s have been revived in the wake of the latest global financial crisis.

The contemporary relevance of their ideas has even been debated in a rap video. More than 1,000 people attended a BBC Radio 4 debate at the London School of Economics to hear supporters of the two economists argue their case.
When discussing Hayek it is important to correct a misconception: Hayek's is not a "do nothing" theory.

It does not deny that we should maintain spending when boom turns to bust. But it goes further.

The economy is like a drunk throwing up the morning after the night before
Prof George Selgin, University of Georgia
Unlike Keynes, Hayek believed that genuine recovery from a post-boom crash called not just for adequate spending, but for a return to sustainable production - production purged of boom-era distortions caused by easy money.

Hayek was dismissed as someone who wanted to "liquidate labour, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers," and so on.

But an unsustainable boom is one after which some things really do need liquidating. The straightforward recipe for the revival of healthy investment following the 2008 crisis was to liquidate.

Liquidate Bear Stearns! Liquidate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac!

Liquidate, in short, the whole sub-prime bubble-blowing apparatus that was nurtured by easy monetary policy.

That would have meant letting insolvent banks that lent or invested unwisely go bust.

But instead our governments chose to keep bad banks going and that is why quantitative easing has proven a failure.

Quantitative easing failed because almost all the new money the government created has gone to shore up the balance sheets of irresponsible bankers.

Friedrich August Hayek
Friedrich August Hayek was born on 8 May 1899 in Austria-Hungary. The economist and philosopher, who taught at the LSE, is best known for his defence of free-market capitalism.

Hayek served in World War I, and said the experience led him into his career in the hope that he could help society avoid the same mistakes that led to the war.

The global Great Depression was the backdrop against which Hayek formulated many of his theories - especially those which were opposed to Keynes.

After the British depression of the 1920s, Hayek promoted the idea that private investment, rather than government spending, would promote sustainable growth.

In 1974 Hayek won the Nobel Prize for Economics for his pioneering work in the theory of money and economic fluctuations.

Hayek lived in Austria, Great Britain, the United States and Germany, and became a British subject in 1938.

Now those banks sit on piles of idle cash while other businesses starve or cannot get started for want of credit.

The economy is like a drunk throwing up the morning after the night before.

It is disgorging itself - or trying to disgorge itself - of bad investments it was tempted to undertake largely because of easy money.

Giving it still more money will not prevent the inevitable suffering.

It might mask or delay it somewhat, but only at the cost of more suffering later.

This is not the sort of advice that governments welcome.

They want a painless, easy cure like the one Keynesians offer.

But, as Hayekians warned again and again, there is no painless recovery from an unsustainable boom.

The only way to have no pain is to avoid the boom itself.


19-Apr-2020

By Kiran Mazumdar Shaw – Executive Chairperson Biocon

The seismic events unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic will have a powerful impact on the world we live in, changing it in ways we had never imagined were possible. The economic damage is likely to be unprecedented. The world economy, worth USD 90 trillion at the start of the current fiscal year FY21, would have lost USD 5 trillion and moved into recession by the time the next fiscal starts.

We are now realising that economic revival will not happen by pressing the Pause button and then hitting Resume once the threat from this novel coronavirus has receded.

COVID-19 is the Reboot button that will trigger a system-wide overhaul. A year from now, the world we will live in will be very different. It will impact how we live, how we work, and how we use technology.

To quote a recent McKinsey report: “In this unprecedented new reality, we will witness a dramatic restructuring of the economic and social order in which business and society have traditionally operated.”

Current Risk Analysis Models Will Need a Revamp

Risk consulting firms that charge astronomical fees to craft strategic risk mitigation plans should have prepared the world for a ‘Black Swan’ event like this viral pandemic. Not a single one of them actually did, even though the 2003 SARS outbreak and 2014-15 Ebola outbreak in Africa had carried portents of what might come. While these consulting firms were preparing businesses against cyber threats from malware, the SARS-CoV-2 virus sneaked in and decimated the global economy.

Rise of Biological Sciences

This COVID-19 outbreak is a lesson that technology has many faces and being besotted with only one application of computational science is dangerous. Over the past decade or so, our definitions of technological progress have been confined to Information and Communication Technology (ICT), which has evolved at breakneck speed by attracting billions of dollars of funding.

This progress has, however, happened to the detriment of life technologies. For humanity to survive, we will need a multi-disciplinary approach to advancing science and technology, combining biotechnology, biomedical technologies, biological sciences, environmental sciences etc.

The New National Heroes

Having spent most of their lives in virtual anonymity, epidemiologists and virologists are emerging as our national heroes. Virologist Priya Abraham, Director of the National Institute of Virology, has been working 24X7 evaluating a plethora of indigenously developed PCR and antibody-based testing kits to address the growing national need for COVID-19 testing.

Not only that, doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 war are getting due respect. For putting their lives on the line in caring for COVID-19 patients, they deserve not only our respect but also necessary protective gear like masks, gloves and PPEs for ensuring their health and safety.

Back to Basics

In the mad scramble for a panacea, scientists the world over are going back to basic biology to hunt for clues about how the human immune system can be prepped to combat the novel coronavirus.

Drug makers are attempting to repurpose old medicines, ranging from river blindness drug ivermectin to a malarial drug like hydroxychloroquine, to treat COVID-19. They are also studying a potential connection between COVID-19 and the Bacillus Calmette–Guérin, or BCG vaccine, a vaccine that has been widely administered in developing countries for the last 80 years to immunise infants against tuberculosis.

Research into infectious diseases, which was put on the backburner in developed countries, will see a surge in the coming year. India has a very important role to play in this, given our years of accumulated experience and scientific knowledge in preventing and treating infectious diseases. Epidemiological research will now be resurrected and find its rightful place in biological sciences aided by the advances made in genomics and data science.

Revamping of Public Healthcare Systems Globally

The novel coronavirus has exposed the huge shortcomings in public healthcare systems, especially in developed countries where they have largely remained static since World War II. Governments will have to bring in policies to address essential healthcare infrastructure, strategic reserves of key supplies, and contingency planning for medical equipment, diagnostics, drugs and vaccines.

Developed vs Developing World Dynamics

The pandemic seems to have hit the developed, industrialized nations the hardest thus far. U.S.A., Spain, Italy, France, Germany are now home to the most COVID-19 patients. It is indeed puzzling to see wealthy countries with strong healthcare systems struggling to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, whereas developing ones seem to have kept the situation from spiralling out of control. Do frequent exposure to small-scale viral outbreaks make populations in the developing world more resilient to pandemics like COVID-19? Have ongoing immunisation programs for tuberculosis and other diseases in developing or middle-income countries boosted immunity against coronaviruses among these populations? We will need to gather a huge amount of epidemiological and genetic data from these developing nations to answer some of these critical questions.

Cultural Fallout

COVID-19 will also cast a long shadow on our social and cultural lives. If one were to imagine our world in the near future, perhaps social gatherings are likely to resemble a masked ball, where guests accessorise their masks with their outfits. Handshakes will be a thing of the past, and namastes, aadabs and elbow bumps will become the favoured form of greeting.

The concept of mass congregational prayers may undergo a major transformation. The faithful will pray at home while churches will livestream Sunday mass and temples will do online screening of their evening aartis and Mosques will conduct namaz through loud speakers and hold online Friday prayers.  ‘Eating in’ will score over ‘eating out’. Sports events are likely be held in empty stadiums with fans preferring to watch online.

Technology has been thrust upon us and we are all finding out that the critics of online learning, virtual meetings, and online retail are now converts! Zoom which IPOed last year priced its shares at $36 valuing it at a little over $9 billion.  A year later, the share price has zoomed to $130 and its market cap at over $36 billion!  Zoom is now the preferred video conferencing platform of schools, colleges, start-ups and all large businesses.  The work from home COVID19 business model has seen Zoom overtake entrenched old timers like Skype and others. Post the crisis, work from home models are likely to continue and business travel is likely to be curtailed as virtual meetings have proved to be just as effective.  Mobile and internet banking have also seen a surge since the viral outbreak.  The new world order will now be a virtual reality!

Travel in the post-COVID-19 world is likely to look very different. Airport wait times will get longer with passengers having to undergo a rapid coronavirus blood test, like the one Emirates Airlines has started, before boarding. Not only will it be socially unacceptable to travel with a cold or any symptoms, one may have to produce a certificate of immunity along with other identification documents at airports.

What repercussions these changes will have on the shape of human society only time can tell.

Conclusion

Emirates Airlines’ recently released ad “Do you remember?” reminds us of the simple things we should value such as a walk in the park, getting together with friends or even going to the gym. It also holds out hope for a near future when these COVID-induced hardships will be a bad memory. Whenever that happens, what we find on the other side is unlikely to look like the ‘normal’ we have grown accustomed to in the recent years.

Ultimately, the greatest lesson that COVID-19 can teach humanity is that we are all in this together, that what affects a single person anywhere affects everyone everywhere, that as homo sapiens we need to think and act unitedly rather than worrying about race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, economic status, and such artificial groupings.