Tall and Taller…

It is an established historical fact known to all Indian politicians that the height of a statue determines the stature of a person. Sorry, that came out wrong. Let me clarify. Not the stature of the person whose likeness the statue is, but the politicians associating themselves with building that statue. And the benefits it delivers to people. The taller the statue, the greater the benefit delivered to people.

Like the “Statue of Unity” dedicated to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, known as the Ironman of India, credited with uniting hundreds of principalities and fiefdoms under the umbrella of a single nation at the end of the British Raj, whose statue, on the banks of the Narmada river, has recently been inaugurated by the Prime Minister. At a height of 182 meters, it is said to be the tallest statue in the world. In a touching gesture, the statue has been dedicated to the nation. Built by the money of the nation, built by the labour of the nation, built by the technical expertise of the nation, there must have been many choices for the dedication, assuming one was required, but still the leaders chose to selflessly dedicate it to the nation. The nation should be grateful.

The government of Maharashtra led by Devendra Fadnavis, the Chief Minister, is under pressure from their coalition partner to announce that the proposed statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji, the seventeenth century Maratha warrior, who single-handedly waged successful battles against the might of the Mughal empire, and carved out a kingdom for his people, will be the tallest in the world. They also want a name for the statue. What is a staue without a name, even if it is of a famous person? If the Ironman’s statue can have a name, why not that of Chhatrapati? “Statue of Courage” is the favoured option.

Not to be outdone, Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, has lost no time in announcing the construction of a statue dedicated to Lord Ram, on the banks of the Saryu river. Lord Ram, the mythological character, protagonist of the Hindu epic Ramayan, the seventh reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, and an epitome of Hindu virtuosity. And a rallying point for Hindu votes.

“Do I need to clarify? You guys should read the news,” he chided reporters asking him for a cost-benefit analysis of building the proposed statue. “The Gujarat government has clearly stated that the Statue of Unity has been built to boost tourism in the state and generate direct jobs for more than fifteen thousand tribal people every year. It is an established model.” He added, “Not only that, despite being built with people’s money, their technical expertise, and labour, it will be dedicated to the nation.”

When it was pointed out that there were no tribal populations in the state, at least not in any significant numbers, he responded, demonstrating deep understanding of both tribals and non-tribals, “Have you seen the way people live in our state? Do you think that the living condition of tribals would be worse than that of people in our state, leaving politicians aside of course?”

Mayawati, a former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, and credited with the vision of converting public spaces and open lands into constructed-over memorials with hundreds of statues of Dalit leaders, is laughing all the way to the bank. The political vote bank. “I will appropriate today what other political leaders might think of appropriating five years later,” is her new slogan for the upcoming elections. She has promised to construct a tallest in the world statue of Babasaheb B R Ambedkar, the chief architect of the Indian Constitution and the Indian Republic, and a symbol of Dalit pride.

State governments with no known plans of building a tallest in the world statue are worried.

The Chief Minister of Bengal is understood to have floated a proposal within the party to construct a statue of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore at the renowned Viswa Bharti University, founded by Gurudev, apparently with the money he received for his Nobel prize, in Shantiniketan, that will be the tallest in the world. This proposal has met with stiff opposition from a section of the party who want the tallest statue in the world to be that of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, leader of the Indian National Army, who had defined an alternate path to independence from the British and vanished, never to resurface, in mysterious circumstances in a plane crash in Taiwan in 1945, and who feel that Netaji has not received his due recognition in the struggle for attainment of independence.

The government in Tamil Nadu is waiting and watching. They have drawn up a list of leaders whose tallest in the world statues they will construct along Marina Beach in Chennai. But only after the others have constructed theirs so that they know how tall to build it.

Descendants of Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay, the RSS ideologue and former leader of the Jan Sangh, a forerunner of today’s Bharatiya Janata Party, the ruling party at the Centre, are miffed. Why has he been relegated to having only colleges and the Mughalsarai train station named after him? “Could a tallest in the world statue that boosted tourism and gave direct employment to over fifteen thousand tribals not have been constructed at Mughalsarai station?” They have queried.

A cartoon carried by today’s The Hindu newspaper:

26thcartoon-2

I am beginning to understand the meaning of a tall leader. And taller. But not our leaders. They only understand the tallest.

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Con-science

Do you want more evidence?

The words were spoken calmly. Each syllable clearly standing out, much like the character of Professor Snape in the Harry Potter movies enunciating his lines, speaking to a young, disbelieving Harry. The voice was soft, barely audible. But they had the effect of a thunderclap on the listener.

A hush descended over the audience.

“Nnnno”, came the feeble reply, as soon as he came to. But for the audience the matter had already been settled.

The speaker of “Nnnno” was a renowned scientist. In a panel discussion on the existence and usage of an Access Control System superior to the ones used today, he had dared to question the veracity of claims made by a prominent leader of a political party, who had produced arguments in favour of the fact. The fact, as the leader had knowledgeably articulated, was that there were, indeed, Access Control Systems superior to the ones used today, that were commonly used. 

After some light debate, while patronising the lack of knowledge of the scientist and hoping he would back off and avoid a public embarrassment, the political leader had finally got irked and, rising to his full height, said, “have you not heard of the ‘Laxman Rekha’?” which had produced a stunned silence in the hall, to break which he had calmly queried, “do you want more evidence?”

Now who has not heard of the ‘Laxman Rekha’, the magical access control system practiced by Laxman who, while going away to look for his brother Ram in the jungle, had drawn a line around Ram’s wife Seeta’s dwelling to ensure nobody could cross that line and harm her? What was it if not access control? Created, not be maniacal data-punching into a computer and issuing plastic cards, but simply by drawing a line with the tip of one of the arrows in his quiver. Activated neither by proximity nor by insertion of the issued card, but by the mere presence of an individual in the vicinity, hence based on advanced bio-technology.

The scientist, clearly, had not researched his facts.

The Prime Minister had set the ball rolling immediately after winning the election and forming a new government, by informing an incredulous crowd at a rally that plastic surgery was commonly practiced in the country in ancient times.

His claim was met with a stony silence. The PM had paused, expecting a thunderous ovation. But he had reckoned without the rationality of the gathered crowd. Sensing the mood, which he was so good at, having only recently become PM, he weighed his options. Based on a long and old tradition, evidence was looked down upon, particularly when one had to provide it. But this was not your usual situation. The credibility of the PM, and of the new government, was at stake. He reluctantly asked, “How do you think Lord Ganesh got the head of an elephant?”

It was a rhetorical question, and the crowd erupted in response. The smoking gun, with fresh fingerprints, had been produced. No other evidence was required.

Soon after, in another rally, the Home Minister informed the gathered crowd that genetic sciences were commonly practiced during the time of the Mahabharat.

The crowd was taken aback. They had heard about the plastic surgery capability that had been revealed to a crowd at another place by the PM, but were not, it appears, ready for another blow to their dearly held beliefs. Displaying traits of an informed, logical crowd, they met the claim with a stony silence.

It was the Home Minister’s turn to be taken aback. After the tough time the PM had faced in convincing a crowd of the nation’s ancient plastic surgery capability, he had expected this disclosure to be met with less resistance. But he had reckoned without the rationality of crowds attending political rallies.

Faced with a similar dilemma as the PM a few days back, he asked, “how do you think Karn was born outside his mother’s womb?”

Once again, it was a rhetorical question, and once again, as only a logical crowd would, it erupted in response. Could this be real? Was it possible to produce two solid pieces of evidence in such quick succession? Who had not watched the serialisation of the Mahabharat on TV only a few years back? How had they missed this crucial part? But they were a generous crowd. They recognised greatness when they saw it. They acknowledged that the Home Minister had been able to rise to his exalted position only because of such powers of observation which he was now sharing with them. They had missed the part as they are ordinary mortals. With these happy thoughts, the rally ended.

The ruling party has been on a roll ever since. Skeletons have been tumbling out of cupboards all over the country.

We now know that we discovered Pythagoras’ theorem, even though we did not even have anyone named Pythagoras in any of our myths. Having had to make a choice between installing Pythagoras amid our pantheon of Gods and Goddesses and lending the discovery to someone else where the name would be more likely to appear in myths, we apparently lent it to the Greeks.

Flying was common. In aircraft alongwith other people, as well as solo. Who has not heard of Raavan flying off with Seeta in the ‘Pushpak Vimaan’? Who dare question that Hanuman flew off to ‘Doonagiri Parbat’ in the Himalayas to get the ‘Sanjeevni Booti’, a medicine, for Laxman, when he was struck by an arrow? Would Laxman not be dead if Hanuman had not flown solo? Even though not required, sketches have emerged of huge rectangular boxes which do not adhere to any of the laws of flying discovered by the modern world. If ancients could make those boxes fly, they could make anything fly.

And can anyone question the availability of nuclear missiles? Who can forget Ram and Laxman, in the televised version of Ramayan, touching an arrow to their forehead, saying a silent prayer, and unleashing terrible death and destruction with the missile? They even propagated the concept of the nuclear switch that has been adopted by modern rulers. Only the top two, Ram and Laxman respectively, had access to launching those missiles.

The Earth is round – this has apparently been stated by modern man a few centuries back. We have always known it. Don’t we know that Lord Vishnu’s Varaha avatar (incarnation as a boar) lifted it out of water to save it from deluge and destruction. Recently illustrated versions of the myth depict Varaha with the Earth on its nose. And since the Earth is round in these illustrations, it proves that we knew the Earth was round even in those times. Even though the story had not been illustrated with a round Earth in the times it had been told.

We are on the lookout for creating more such scientific and undisputable data. These discoveries are even more significant because nobody else believes them. There is a lot that remains to be done. We have to find reasons for claiming that we built submarines in ancient times. We need to find reasons for having discovered remedies to threatening ailments like Cancer that either did not exist in those times or had not been discovered. With the vast array of mythological treasure trove at our disposal, no peak appears too high.

Several noteworthy initiatives are already underway. A path-breaking research has been undertaken at a prestigious institution to prove that the chemical composition of water in the Nile, H2O, is the same as that of water in the Ganga. Does it not prove that Ganga is the font of all rivers in the world?

I am humbled by all these revelations and the ones still to be made. Nay, not humbled, ashamed. I have taken pride in our history and traditions without even knowing the facts. How am I any better than the unthinking masses who I often mock? I need to make amends.

As a first step, I consider it a humble duty to take forward this rich legacy; this rich legacy of writing great stories that have no fundamental logic underlying magical events. So that a millennia later, should some likeness of the magical events be translated into reality thanks to technological advances in the interim, our centuries-old technological prowess can continue to be proven without anyone else believing it.

And, I believe my generation is infinitely better placed than the sages of the past who penned most of our mythological literature, to do so. We have a purpose in mind; of continuing our great tradition of laying claims to technological advances that nobody else believes.

The old sages, in comparison, had no such vision. They did not have such political leaders to blaze the way for them. They were merely writing great stories of which, the two that I am most familiar with, ‘Ramayan’ and ‘Mahabharat’, remain the most relevant, riveting and compelling stories ever told. Cannot but feel pity for the poor sages.