Celebrating The Complete Man

Shree Ram, Jay Ram, Jay Jay Ram.  Copy paste. Copy paste. Since 1992 for me.  1946 for the more devout. Even earlier for the criminally insane. The rise of Hindu nationalism and the concurrent rise in movements highlighting oppression of minorities and backward sections of the Indian society are in sync with the assertion of identity being witnessed all over the globe at this time. Whether it is Trump and China or Rakhine and Rohingya or the Islamic State and the rest of the world, the dynamics are the same.

When we were in Punjagutta, the lane we lived in was dominated by Muslims who had come into wealth in the last couple of generations, not old money with an accent, many of the older generations being clerics, while the middle generation had embraced business and professions like law, engineering, etc. The younger folk were more in tune with the times, tech savvy, sophisticated, outgoing. The Hindu population was a minority, a large part of it in the slums, and the rest old time residents of the locality, mostly moderately educated, middle class. For both the Hindu and Muslim demographic, there was a significant percentage of uneducated, underprivileged, oppressed members. During festivals like Eid, Dussehra and Diwali, both communities celebrated together. One day of the Dussehra celebration was hosted entirely by the Muslim families, and no one really had a problem.

Image by RajTilak Naik

Around 2010-2011, we began noticing a certain call and response nature to the festivities. Eid, Ramzaan and Moharrum were celebrated with a certain aggression that was garbed in the assertion of communal identity. The processions would almost always verge on challenging both law and order and the sensitivities of those not participating in it. Young men would circle around the procession on bikes with flags and sometimes weapons in an ominous manner. When I asked about it, I was told that the police and the government were out to deny them their right to self expression and religious freedom. They used these occasions to send out a message to them to stay away. In 2010, I first saw a bike rally on Ram Navami. While the Ganesh festival and the immersion procession did see a lot of flag waving and religious rhetoric, Ram Navami, especially in the south of India has always been more of a temple and home celebration. This began to change and over the next couple of years, there was a deliberate and obvious display of muscle power in the Ram Navami processions.

This week, as I was driving to work on Ram Navami, I was slowed down by a procession, a shobha yatra to celebrate the birthday of the Complete Man. It was made up entirely of young people, between 10 and 16-17 years of age on the outside. They were carrying saffron flags and using the flagstaffs to  display their stick-fighting skills. Interestingly, the lathial moves they were making were not those of amateurs handing a staff for the first time. When they saw me drive up, they blocked my way, joyfully thumping on the car with their fists and staves, It wasn't unnerving but after a few seconds of it, I was ready to step out and give them a piece of my mind. However, I didn't since I had places to go and things to do, and sure enough, in a minute or two, they ran out of inspiration, and the older boys made way for me to go. All through this, they were screaming Jai Sree Ram as if that explained everything.

I got to the office and sat thinking. In West Bengal, last year, children were made to do the shobha yatra openly carrying weapons, trishul shaped daggers, swords and the innocent saffron flags. Given the inappropriateness and potential for spiralling out of control, armed processions were banned this year. Two deaths have already been reported, and when I ask my friends about them (my friends being in Hyderabad and far, if not totally removed from West Bengal politics), they tell me it was the result of Shobha Yatras being attacked by the Muslim community. When I went through all the news sources, it was a different story. It was a case of people insisting on violating the ban by carrying arms. And to date, all of these protectors of the Hindu second amendment are from one particular political party.

Rama is a character in an epic song, a Sexy Sadie of sorts, one with many different versions. There are Ramayanas that dwell on the values of Rama as a man, a complete man and a king. There are others that let out facts like how he looted neighboring states and took their womenfolk for himself. Since there is little historical basis for the exact details of the perfect man, judging the merits/demerits of these different versions is truly futile. I might be a monkey at heart, but my heart listens to my head some of the time.

Two things were on my mind at this point in time. The first was that the kids on the streets with the tiranga on staffs were obviously having a good time with no concept of the consequences of their messaging, or perhaps even comfortable with the intricacies of their messaging. This message is crafted and refined and passed on from mouths higher up in the food chain. For them, it is neither Rama nor Hindutva that is important. It was a stepping stone into the world of politics. The only thing that matters for them is to get into power so that they could benefit from all that power promises. And this same logic or absence of it applies to the Muslim community's political posture. And the Dalits. It is just that they are tolerated with the tolerance only a Hindu can exercise. 

The present government is not the first or only example of how religious sentiment and polarity have been used to create distinct committed votebanks. Every party or alliance that came to power since independence has done the same. I was reminded of the grassroot struggles of SP and BSP workers when their higher ups committed to alignments the parties had fought against all of their time. At the end of the day, it is the common man who fights for and pays the price for identity. Those who encourage and strategize these polarities usually end up sharing a single malt and a good Havana at the end of a bloody day.

The second thing was the complete man that Rama is claimed to be. There is enough to be said against the motion, and little for it. Yet, we are told to aim for that completeness, to celebrate  and take pride in the ownership of that completeness. All human beings have their dark spots, and Rama is no exception, whether he be an Avatar of Vishnu or Buddha. Even then, we do have a clear idea of what a complete man would roughly be like. I am certain, he would rise above differences, and not be wielding trishuls and swords to mount a display of strength and generate an atmosphere of enmity and distrust. The only two godlike guys I can think of who would contest this are Narada and Alfred E. Neuman, both just as good as I can get on my worst days. Neither would he be like most of the politicians and statesmen that claim to be protectors and evangelists for the right. Sure there are exceptions, but do we have ways to find them in a crowd of people like, let's say me?

Then there is the problem with the gender definition and the baggage it carries above and beyond the religious identification. There is abundant anecdotal evidence as to which part of his body the complete man thinks from. The fact that men, complete or missing a part of the natural anatomy, can stare the facts in the face and do what is contrary to all logic is perhaps the primary reason that men and women hit if off. The theory of relativity is another area where the complete man excels. Truth is relative, morality and ethics are relative, and it always boils down to his will and representation, his ego.  It gets worse as the power matrix grows its roots and branches. From Nero to Lord Bentinck, Nehru to Narendra Modi, powerful men as equal parts tragedy and comedy. The complete man is fundamentally clueless, and historically they have been protected or saved by the feminine energy in their lives. Women have long figured out that this is a truth that must never be mentioned or brought up.

What does all of this have to do with my concerns as a citizen or as a father to a very young Lord Rama in the making? Well, it again boils down to identity, but identity of a different kind, the void that stares back at us when we ask the fundamental question, who am I? As a father, I worry about being worthy of being looked up to, about leaving a legacy not in material terms but in lessons that will stand the test of time, about being able to provide the emotional foundations to weather the storms of life. In other words, I worry about being the complete man. I am sure it is the same with everyone, and I do find some comfort in outsourcing the idea to a picture of a calendar or a prime time starstudded TV show. That little itch still remains, why should I not be able to be the ideal man that I can safely let Junior emulate and find peace, happiness and success in life. And how do I do it without being the Rama that Rama was to his Sita. As you can guess by now, I have a big issue with Mr. Rama.

The pace at which information and knowledge are becoming tools of control is scary, but perhaps scarier is the pace at which oligarchic forces are able to rewrite the scripts of our lives. Why we do what we do is no longer determined by right or wrong. It is dictated to us by a small group of businesses and their allies. History seems to be shrinking every day, and we are bombarded with opinions and information that prevents us from having any perspective. Some of it is done for political reasons, some for business profit. The menage-e-trios of governance, industry and information technology is a surreal orgy that defies imagination, but one whose climax is a disowning of all that human civilization stands for. In the face of media that is thrust at us every moment, we have no time to think of consequence.  We are under a compulsion to meet the need that is held up to us, and reminded how little time we have to do it in.

It is precisely this moment in time that we need to find the complete man within us, the man who can stand up to these forces and live by enduring values of humanity, the man who can rise above differences to create value, the man who can shoulder the consequences of his actions with equal measures of humility and pride. This man is worthy of being looked up to. This is the Lord Rama that our time needs to restore balance to things. It is this Lord Rama that I seek in the dark maze of hatred and conditioning within me. 

1 comment:

  1. Sadly humanity is being overshadowed by religious chest thumping. And the overlapping of religion with identity politics has muddied the waters.


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