Friday, January 27, 2012

End of the Kali Yuga

Two years ago I was disbelieving when Dadi Janki, the head of the Brahma Kumaris, told an invited group at a retreat at Mount Abu that the Kali Yuga is coming to an end.

Little has happened since then to advertise a trend towards such a moral transformation – in fact, if we go by the daily headlines the world is sinking deeper into the darkness – but I have come to think that she is right. This is not a matter of good spiritual vibes or astrological predictions. There are rational indicators that a process of significant change has been occurring, and that it could lead to a radical global transformation is real.

Two revolutionary processes are primarily responsible for the positive changes that have already taken place and others that wait in the wings. One is the centuries-long process of the Indian Renaissance; the other is the Information and Communications Revolutions of the late 20th Century.

The Indian Renaissance, essentially a spiritual and devotional upsurge that sustained the country through half a millennium of confusion and deepening crisis, found its modern political expression in the movements against European dominance led by Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa and India. They set in motion the human rights and nationalist revolutions that ended four centuries of European dominance of world affairs, closing the bloodiest, most violent and depraved chapter of human history. In retrospect, that era qualifies unreservedly as the nadir of the Kali Yuga.

The world continues to experience the bitter legacy of that time, but we have seen the once potent materialist philosophies of Europe -- the root cause of moral blindness and global misery -- lose their rapacious and seductive energy. Only deluded bands of terrorists in the pay of mining companies in the poorest parts of India now tread the Marxist path, and in the Western citadels of Capitalism – or more correctly, “Corporatism” – the “99 percent” have lost faith in a system run by and for the rich.

Although the votaries of corporate globalization continue to put on a brave front at their conclaves at Davos, the World Bank and the IMF, there is no denying that the world economy is in a profound systemic crisis. If by some miracle they avoid a major depression and get back to business as usual, it will surely precipitate a much worse crisis by collapsing the planetary ecosystem that supports all life.

As I see it, we have two choices. One is to continue down the current path into deepening economic, political and environmental crisis. It will bring climate change, radical shifts in patterns of agricultural productivity, and in all probability, genocidal turf wars. If weapons of mass destruction come into use, that could make much of the planet unfit for life. (The hands of the Doomsday Clock at the office of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in Chicago have just been moved forward: we are now five minutes from midnight.)

The other choice is to move towards a sane world order through a broad-based process of global cooperation that is now possible by using the Internet and the Worldwide Web. We have seen in the movements that have rocked the tyrannies of the Middle East and called into question the legitimacy of corporate elites in Western countries the potential of the new information and communications technologies. We have in Mozilla and Kickstarter the beginnings of a new age driven by a force stronger than the profit motive: the “soul force” that Gandhi hailed as the primary element of human survival and welfare. In effect, such a cooperative effort will bring to global affairs the spiritual impetus of the Indian Renaissance. It will most certainly end the Kali Yuga and usher in a new age.

Coming in Part 2: practical measures to end the Kali Yuga.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Creep With Many “Passhons”

The devilishly handsome character leaves his office early: “Monday” he twinkles to a secretary who says his boss wants to see him.

He heads out for a stint of surfing, partying on the beach and a lap dance with a girl in a cowboy hat.

As the sound track drones on about a man with “many passhons” the commercial ends with our hero arriving back home, where an elderly person is waiting up; “Sorry” he says, “too much work at the office.”

He winks at the camera with an impish smile.

The admen who made the commercial for After Dark – whatever that is, for the product remains unmentioned – seem to think a creep who scants attention to work and lies to his family is admirable.

The images they use to convey the idea of “many passions” further reveal the poverty of their mental/moral landscape.

Time to send them back to school for a refresher course in Advertising 101.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Salman Rushdie and the Jaipur Literary Festival

Salman Rushdie’s no-show at the opening of the annual Jaipur Literary Festival has received much media attention, almost all of it focused on objections to his presence raised by a number of Muslim groups. There has been almost nothing about the value and significance of his work, which should surely be the focus in a literary context. To remedy that insufficiency, I give below a short rundown on Rushdie and the works that have made him notorious.

He was born in Mumbai and sent off at an early age to be educated in one of Britain’s famously oppressive Public Schools (they are actually Private and very elitist). He emerged as a pucca Brown Sahib,  contemptuous of his own country and traditions, a type the colonial British created to help keep India enslaved.

His first novel was the weak little-noticed 1975 novel Grimus, described by one British critic as “a ramshackle surreal saga based on a 12th-century Sufi poem and copiously encrusted with mythic and literary allusion,” which “nosedived into oblivion amid almost universal critical derision."

That was followed in 1981 by Midnight’s Children, so brilliantly different from his first effort as to suggest that it was by a different author. It presented the British view of India as a gigantic freak-show of dissipation, hysteria and comic mangling of English.

The novel’s central conceit is that all babies born at the moment when India became independent were magically gifted in some way. Its main character has two such gifts, a powerful sense of smell and the capacity to serve as the telepathic medium for all the other 1001 magical children who are, says the hero, either “the last throw of everything antiquated and retrogressive in our myth ridden nation” or “the true hope of freedom.”

By the sour end of the story that freedom is seen to be “forever extinguished.” All communication among the children has ended, and the hero is using his nose to track and kill intellectuals in East Pakistan during its struggle to become Bangladesh.

The shelf-life of Rushdie’s 1981 work has been extended by being judged “Best of the Bookers” at the 25th and 40th anniversaries of the award; it is now being made into a Hollywood movie.

In two subsequent novels, Shame! and The Satanic Verses, Rushdie lavished his raw contempt on Pakistan and Islam.

These grim tragicomic pictures of his putative homelands and ancestral faith have in common one pronounced characteristic: they ignore the long British role as the puppet-master of South Asian and Islamic politics. In ridiculing Pakistan Rushdie avoided mentioning that Britain created the country to be its violent proxy in South Asia – at the cost of over a million lives in undivided India.

In casting scorn on Islam Rushdie took no note of the prolonged British effort that manipulated key segments of the Ummah from peaceful quiescence into suicidal extremism. That manipulation involved four main elements: supporting Ibn Saud to become the ruler of Arabia, fomenting the Arab-Israeli conflict in Palestine, sponsoring the Muslim Brotherhood, and creating Pakistan.

Each of those factors had a potent effect. Saudi control of Islam’s holy places gave global influence to the family’s extremist Wahhabi creed. The dispossession of Palestinian Arabs outraged and radicalized Muslims all over the world. The Muslim Brotherhood, a violent secret society that German Nazis had used in anti-Jewish campaigns during World War II, became the fountainhead of “Islamic terrorism” under British and then American tutelage during the Cold War. Pakistan served not only as a proxy against India but as a pliable tool to manipulate the rest of the Islamic world.

By ignoring this explosive background Rushdie invites the charge of being a British propagandist, continuing in the Brown Sahib tradition of helping to manipulate the "lesser breed."

The rest of Rushdie’s literary oeuvre consists of fey stories reminiscent of Grimus and is not worth serious comment.

These are the facts that any discussion of Rushdie's contribution to an Indian literary festival must take into account. Unfortunately, that is unlikely to happen at glitzy celebrity meets such as the one in Jaipur.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

How Not to Interview Joseph Stiglitz

The interview of Joseph Stiglitz aired by CNBC TV-18 on 14 January belongs in every Journalism School's How Not To Do It List.

Stiglitz, perhaps the most intellectually stimulating economist since John Kenneth Galbraith, has been travelling through India. He began by saying what he found interesting in his forays through the coutryside: it was peaceful, "bucolic," but man and beast were in "confrontation". There was a considerable increase in prosperity.

The interviewer flashed a grin and ignored those observations.

Obviously going down a pre-written list of questions, she asked about the slowing growth of Indian GDP, the level of government deficit spending, the wisdom of official "big ticket entitlement programmes" like the one offering a minimum guarantee of employment to the rural poor, the Eurozone problems, and the state of the American economy.

To each question, Stiglitz offered a comment that merited further discussion, but the interviewer seemed not to understand what he was saying. He was firmly in support of the rural employment guarantee scheme; she did not ask why.

It was like watching a journalistic version of Johnny Depp's Ed Wood, the director who produced what is widely recognized as Hollywood's very worst films. She went cheerfully down her list of questions until time ran out and the interview ended abruptly. With a farewell flash of teeth she wished him well on his trip through India.

Perhaps I exaggerate how bad the interview was, but having just returned from a two-week trip through India that allowed a glimpse of the reality that Stiglitz was exploring, it seemed to highlight the generally mindless quality of much of Indian journalism.

My trip to Bangalore, Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Varanasi and Goa was purely as a tourist, but on view everywhere was the stark inescapable reality of massive poverty, almost chaotic disorder, and conditions of filth that indict those of us who are educated and well-off of basic political incompetence.

It was infuriating at one level, ennobling at another. There is nothing worse than seeing little children beg, or working at menial jobs. How could so many of our so-called leaders and minders steal the money meant to help them, as indeed, they have been doing for over six decades? It is a crime worse than any other in our statutes, yet those responsible are allowed a pretended honour.

What was humbling was that poverty lay so lightly on people, that they had a grace I have not found anywhere else in the world. In affluent countries the poor are wretched, degraded. In other poor countries, whether in Africa, the rest of Asia or the Americas, the endurance of the poor is bitter; in India, they seem to have a glow of faith, a connection with divinity that uplifts the observer.

It would have been interesting to hear what Stiglitz had to say.