Sunday, June 18, 2006

Kavi: Poetics of Sacred Sex

Da Vinci bandwagon chugs along its final lap. Having begun on a high-speed journey with publication of the novel and refueling at the "illustrated edition" stop it is finally breaking the celluloid speed barrier. Now after this people can't get much out of it; materially speaking that is. However, there are some who still want their joy ride: The thrill of a new ideational capital. And they want it quite seriously.

Ashok Row Kavi is the latest groupie on board.

This morning's HT edit page had his scholarly sounding article (Da Vinci is Da Truth?) which completely endorses Dan Brown's thesis. With such elan he discusses issues surrounding biblical scholarship that for once you think that he's a goldmedalist from a foremost German seminary specialising in higher criticism of New Testament documents and an uncontested authority on Church history.

But just one look at the history of how some Indian intellectuals tackle the biblical scholarship and one can see a deep prejudice and an agenda to tear down biblical faith. That's not what one objects to. In a highly contested arena of textual criticism and historical research one expects heated debates and bruised convictions. Scriptures can be and must be subject to scrutiny. It is the manner in which some Indian scholars exclusively deploy second hand scholarship of clealrly anti-Christian writers of the west, which puts one off. The debate that should be academic in nature turns mere ideological propaganda.

In July 1913, the monthly journal of the Arya Samaj Vedic Magazine made an attack on the Bible based on John Stuart Mill's criticisms. C F Andrews who was a close friend to Samaj's Mahatama Munshi Ram wrote to him that his publication which is a mouth piece of a religious reform movement must refrain from using the "accusations of atheists and agnostics." (Builders of Modern India: Charles Freer Andrew. Benarsidas Chaturvedi and Marjorie Sykes. Govt. of India: New Delhi. 1971. 99.)

In more recent times these kinds of accusations have been made by Indian godmen to woo western converts. Rajnish (or OSHO as he is now called) did that magnificently. Even now one may hear the discourses where covert statements are made deriding biblical narratives.

Arun Shourie uses Thomas Paine to buttress his arguments against the Christian Scriptures, and believes (needless to say mistakenly) that he has found supporters in Hans Kung and Schillebeeckx. (Missionaries in India, Harper Collins: New Delhi. 1997. 211)

Ashok Row Kavi is another in the list of these critics who rely on the outdated (at least 50 years old) and second hand scholarship.

Arya Samaji's continued faithfully the work started by Swami Dayanand Saraswati namely protecting the Arya Dharma, Arun Shourie did his bit to give intellectual credence to BJP's anti-minority stance and Rajnish wished to swell his ranks with white skinned converts, Kavi too has a particular goal to achieve.

As a man on the forefront of sexual revolution in India he needed a partner to knock out "Christian morality." He's gone on record saying that anti-sodomy law in IPC is a legacy of Victorian bias against sexual freedom. West only recognises two genders: man and woman, whereas Indian sacred texts have sanctioned at least ten kinds of sexualities. He admires The Da Vinci Code for its emphasis on female worship, but one must recognize this female worship is not what one finds in a nationalistic text like Bankimchandra's Ananthmath but a validation of religious prostitution, glorifying sexual orgies.

(to be contd.)

Friday, June 16, 2006

Road, Numbers and Silly Games.

I have this habit of observing number plates of the vehicles as I drive. This gives me an illusion of doing an intelligent thing. I'll tell you how. As I look at the four digit numbers I do a calculation which can be presented in a statement. E.g. I see this scooter going in front of me. The number is, say, CH01 A 3321. My mind changes gear. "The sum of extreme two terms and the sum of middle two terms are consecutive numbers." :-)

Extreme two terms 3 & 1. 3+1=4
Middle two terms 3&2. 3+2=5

4 & 5 are consecutive numbers.

Another example. The number is PB10 C 6537.

The statements (in fact more then one statements!):
  1. The difference between alternate digits are consecutive numbers (6-3 = 3, 7-5=2)
  2. The difference between extreme two terms and middle two terms are consecutive numbers (7-6=1, 5-3=2)
Can I indulge and give one more? (I choose these numbers randomly)
UP80 AB 5845

The statements:
  1. The difference between first two terms and the second two terms are consecutive odd numbers
  2. The sum of extreme two terms and middle two terms are consecutive even numbers.
  3. The sum of alternate terms are alternate odd numbers.
Well, isn't this is a classic example of bending facts to fit in your frame of interpretation? Some poststructuralist and the nihilists would find vindication here. Nietzsche is said to have made that amazing statement "There are no facts only interpretations."

But obviously there are problems. You can't play it to your advantage all the time. What do I do with a number like CH03 A 0025?

Easy way out: "The product of extreme two terms and middle two terms is same"
0x5 = 0x2 = 0
But that's not exciting. Even in a silly game like this this is unacceptable. Sheer escapism.

More circumventing statement.
  • The sums of alternate terms are alternate prime numbers!

Well this was manageable too!

Ok let me think of another number.

HP02 A 8830

I am sure I can make some intelligent statement out of this too. But then I reach my destination. And in any case, if I overdo this, it will become boring and perhaps I would not want to be on the roads ever again!

I would like to post a number I could not make a statement out of.

Oh! by the way, this game has a rule. Arbitrary of course. You have to take numbers in pairs.

I wonder if this is sign of a pathological, prodigious or just a puffed up mind!

Anyway for the last number the statement is - "The quotient of first two digits and sum of second two digits make consecutive odd numbers."

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Horrors of this day!

This morning I was awakened to the insidiousness of June 6, 2006 by a mail. A friend of mine had sent the story she has done for the IANS, recounting the rumours and popular perception about what this date signify.

Removing the zeroes and separaters (/,-,.) 06/06/06/ reads 666. Now the biblical reference to the number has demonic underpinnings. This is a mark of the devil.

I went to the cabin of the principal of my Bible College and asked him what was his take on this. Reclining back on his chair (he covers the entire length of his cabin when he does that with his hands folded behind his head) he said, "I have no take on it" and added "In these matters I'm a scientist."

I came back to my corner to muse on it. But before long I was back in his cabin, and this time we got into talking the serious issues of interpreting apocalyptic literature in the Bible. In fact after I returned to my cabin Nick, my principal came to my cabin and we continued talking about the related issues. The technical nature of the info that I got cannot be repeated here (as quite a bit went over my head too), but let me write what I think of 06 June 2006 AD .

The superstitious would exaggerate mysterious appearance of any phenomenon; making it extremely evil or extremely ecstatic. The rest of us can carry on our daily vocations encountering simple joys and manageable tragedies, knowing that AD means Year of the Lord.

He's got this day in His hands!

(The story is on titled On Tuesday, Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobics beware! However it is open only to the subscribers)

By the way, my mentor had 666 as the first three digits of his phone number. What effect has that had on our conversations? I wonder!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

On The Da Vinci Code. Finally

Despite Christians constituting barely 1.5 percent of the country's population and frequently being targets of radicals, Pakistan has banned the controversial movie "The Da Vinci Code". This is strap of the story on MSN India today, a follow-up of another story that appeared on the same website a few days back.

After what the so-called Christian countries did with the cartoons of the Prophet this is quite amusing, especially when Bahawalpurs also happen in same Pakistan.

Our South-Asia is such a fascinating place to be in. Idiotic and illuminating. Like a love story.

Well this post began with a mention of The Da Vinci Code, and that's what I want to talk about. I have resisted writing anything about it since I came across the novel a year or so back. I read it from cover to cover, notwithstanding its limited literary merit. Initially I wished to enter the debate and try to defend the position which has come to be called Orthodox Christian Faith, but then, first, I was advised by some mature believers not to waste my time on this. It is just another pop phenomenon which will run out of steam as soon as it gathers some, and second, I realised that since the age of rational discourse is well past the attempt to begin one will not avail much. Thirdly, I knew if I would try to defend the canonical Gospels I would be dismissed as one from interested party.

Hence like rest of the people I waited for the secular writer/scholars to give their opinion. Of course Abraham Lincon's adage is true. You can't fool all the people all the time.

So when Meera Nanda, the scientist came to Panjab University and lambasted organised religion, she pointed out that west can be as irrational as east in matters of religion. One excited journo, who was evidently gripped by the DVC syndrome, jumped up, "Yeah! look how Da Vinci Code has to say." Nanda was crestfallen like a music teacher whose best student was singing off key. She said in no uncertain terms that the book is a hoax, a work of fiction. She was agitated with people messing up facts; scientific or religious.

The flip side of the coin. A previous vice-chairperson of the Knowledge Commission, Pushpa Bhargava, wrote early this year in The Tribune, something to the effect that Dan Brown is a real historian! (Sins of the Clergy Jan 2,2006. Sunday edition).

Another twist. Vir Sanghvi in Brunch, the HT Sunday magazine (sorry the story is not online) in his column summarizes the story of DVC and gives his view (hope I don't get into copyright problems to having quoted him so profusely!) :

If you have been on planet Mars for the last three years or so, here's what Brown claims: he argues that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, who fled to France after the crucufixion and that they had a daughter, Sarah. The Church decided,around the fifth century or so, that Jesus was not to be regarded as a mere mortal with earthly desires, a wife and a child but was to be treated as the Son of God. So it suppressed all evidence of the marriage and of the child.

However, a sect called the Knights Templer knew the truth and preserved Jesus' bloodline (Sarah went on to have children of her own). The Knight Templers were replaced by a shadowy society called the Priory of Sion ... The Church killed as many members of the Priory as it could find and that trend continues to this day ... The Grail was never a cup but was a reference to Mary Magdalene's womb.

All this is quite fascinating - but it is also rubbish. The Grail stories have no place in the Christian literature of that period and emerged only in medieval times as mythological tales. The story about the Priory has been traced to a 20th century hoax by a Frenchman who confessed all before he died.

I think I should stop here. There are couple of things that I still have to say but perhaps next time. But before I publish post, a disclaimer :-)

This is not about using the authority of secular writers/scholars to validate matters of faith. Though I respect these writers the testimony of the biblical scholars is certainly preferable.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Ironies of the protest!

So the agitating doctors have started returning to their wards. Patients and their families must be so relieved. Hopefully these medicos would concentrate on job at hand now.

Some of the images linger in my mind:

One protestor got this written on the back of his T-shirt: "I am sacrificing my today for a better tomorrow." Sadly he had a narrow vision for a tomorrow which can only worsen the conditions. Better tomorrow cannot be built on the obscurantist vision about the past. India has been a deeply oppressive society, if the experience of the backward castes is anything to go by.

Another one had a picture of Bhagat Singh drawn on his. Now Bhagat Singh, the Marxist revolutionary, if alive today, would definitely not be sitting with the anti-reservation band, especially when these protestors have a backing of capitalist business houses. Here is a story in which a Brahmin doctor is heading pro-reservation lobby and alleges that the opposing stir is sponsered by the corporate houses.

Is Shiv Khera part of the package? Unwittingly or otherwise, he is. Khera who in typical fashion of self-help gurus helps people to discover and actualise potential within, utterly fails to see that caste is all about broken spirits, demolished self-esteems which need not just his pep-talks but a robust framework of social upliftment programme.

And then there is Navjot Sidhu, who has gone to show his support for the anti-quota agitators, thus betraying his party's caste-character. This may well be the worst PJ that he ever cracked.