Indians on the move: Migration in search of livelihood


Why I care
When I moved to India my first glimpse was of blue tarps and Mumbai’s airport slum.
It shocked me. Even though I knew of its existence, as I looked out my flight window the reality of twenty million people, nearly as many as Australia’s entire population, live in Mumbai. Half are homeless.
Four years on, I have since visited villages of Madhya Pradesh, and seen the good work of the Satpura Integrated Rural Development Institution, (SIRDI), Madhya Pradesh and witnessed the life of Tribals in MP.
Now I find myself disgusted that my native country of Australia has made the arrival of 153 boat people from Sri Lanka a national emergency when Pakistan has 1.5 million refugees, shores of France, and unaccompanied children flee to the USA.
That racist politics of a minority in key marginal seats has exploited the fear of terrorism with half truths to use the military to intercept unarmed refugees with military secrecy seems against the principles of informed democracy and moral decency.
I believe the ultimate in cowardice is to blame others so we don’t have to look at ourselves.
India also cares for political refugees, however rural migration is primarily economic.
India has helped me to treasure respect the decency of those struggling for a better life.

“So long as your state does not develop we will continue to have problems in Mumbai. ..We keep getting three trainloads of people into Mumbai daily from states like MP, Bihar, UP and Rajasthan and one trainload goes back with those unable to get jobs. How can we cope with such a situation? It’s not a Marathi versus Hindiwallah confrontation, but about the lack of development in these populous states I am talking about.” Congress politician  Shrwad Pawar  to journalist Abhilash Khandekar (Shivraj Singh and the Rise of Madhya Pradesh, Abhilash Khandekar:118).

India’s migration is largely a survival or subsistence strategy in response to economic and social conditions. A second reason is short term attempt to supplement the income during low periods of seasonal employment.

Migration is a mix of being compelled by “push factors” or drawn, by opportunity, or “Pull factors”.

“Migration in search of livelihood is a stark reality in India today. The bleak livelihood scenario in backward, hilly, tribal, desert, drought-prone, rain fed, flood-effected, high density or conflict ridden areas has led to the emergence of migration as a survival strategy” writes Dr Gopal Kalkoti who estimates India’s internal migrants to exceed 100 million.

“Preferred for their cheap labour, most of these migrants work in the informal sector devoid of social security and legal protection. Lack of portability of entitlements across State borders makes them lead a subhuman existence, devoid of access to basic services and labour rights.”

India’s urban population was 17% in 1951, but will reach 42% in 2025, meanwhile the rural population has decreased from 82 to 68.9 percent in the last 50 years.

Agricultures share of GDP has declined from 40% in the 1990’s to 15% presently.  At 23% of GNP agriculture sustains 70% of the population. Agricultures decline is a catalyst for migration as farming community of looking for other alternatives opportunities.

But here is more to migration than tales of sorrow. The results of urban migration are a mix of good and bad: increased income but poor living conditions. The market driven economy with its increased telecommunications has reduced migration costs.  It has the potential ti contribute to the economy.  Indeed, migration is a boon for industry and has helped many under employed rural people.

In 2007 -2008 the National Sample survey Office random sampled 572,254 people from 79,091 rural and 46,487 urban households from 7921 villages and 4688 urban blocks. The survey was nationwide except for Leh, the Kargil district of Jammu Kashmir interior Nagaland, and villages in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

The report entitled “Migration in India, 2007-2008” found:

  • Most migration remains within the state (72% in urban; 78% rural). The proportion of migrants is 35% of urban population and 26% rural.
  • Nearly 57% had migrated from rural areas and 29% from urban households. The majority migrated for employment (55% of those moved to rural and 67 in urban homes).
  • The majority of women migrating were for marriage: 91% rural, 61% urban.
  • Rural male migration has declined. 28.6% of rural males and 0.7% of rural males migrated for work. Only 4% of non literate males migrated, 14% of graduates or above. Urban illiterate males were 17% compared to 38% of graduates.
  • The lowest rate of migration was among scheduled castes.
  Industry Percentage
1 Construction 41.6, often seasonal workers
2 Agriculture 23.6
3 Manufacture 17
4 Mining/quarrying 1.1
5 Trade 7.3
6 Transport 16.8

There are 40 million migrants in the construction sector, 20 million domestics, 11 million in textiles, 10 million in brick kilns. The number of migrants in Construction increased by 26.5 million from 2000 – 2010 (Kalkuti: 14, 15).


Why? The Reasons:

“Migration does not necessarily signify a rejection of the rural livelihood” explains Dr Shrikanta K. Panigrahi (2014:11-13), Director General of The Indian Institute of sustainable Development, New Delhi. Survival strategies  extend beyond the immediate vicinity, but are also linked into other economies rural and urban locations. “It is precisely the inter-linkage which supports rural communities and helps them to survive in such climactically unstable environments.”

Push Factors: Compulsion, distress

Population pressure: depleting resources
Decreasing per capita land availability: 80 of famers now have uneconomical medium or small land plots. Increased farmer suicides or leaving the land.
Declining yieldsLack of livelihood opportunities & under employment: Coupled with absence of day schools, health care, financial institutions and suitable markets.
Secondly, locals are expected to be content with paying the social and cultural costs entailed in development caused by modern markets that undermine local crafts and skills. Ecological disturbances caused by large-scale mining and power generation cause soil erosion and pollution. The benefits from coal mining, power generation and timber felling felt by urban middle class, are often at the cost of land based poor.
Improvement in communications and transport: Cyclic or migration is an ancient Indian tradition, But improved roads make it easier for farmers to earn supplementary income elsewhere and return home for the owing season.
Marriage: 61% of urban & 91% rural females moved because of marriage.
Climate Refugees: increased floods and droughts are anticipated to reduce cereal crop yield by 2.5-10% in South, South-East and East Asia. A 1 degree Celsius rise in annual mean temperature above pre-industrialised levels may reduce developing nations GDP by 1.75%.
Dr Hefin Jones of Cardiff University anticipates 30 million environmental refugees in the next 50 years. Rising Sea levels would alter the Ganga-Brahma Putra Delta including the Sunderbans making 70,000 homeless by 2020.Legally India assists 200,000 refugees from surrounding countries. Migration from China and Bangladesh would increase.

Pull Factors

Opportunity, better education, healthcare, modern transport, opportunity, growing craze of urban life.

The effects:

Migrants often report increased incomes but may suffer poorer living conditions. However, many from poor or remote villages have increased their living standard and invest money in the agriculture of their home village.

The supply of workers could result in increased education of the workforce.

Urbanisation:  The UN estimates 60% of urban growth in the developing world is natural increase, the rest migration.
Rural Depopulation:
Equalising social status: 
Bihari’s used to a frugal and rustic lifestyle  held back by caste pollution were often seriously deficient but lived an isolated life not aware of outside opportunities. Migration has released many from stratified caste taboos and economic gain (Amarendra:29-31).
Remittances  10% of rural households who receive money from migrating family paid debts; 13% for saving, investment. India received $24.6 billion in 2005-2006; the highest in the world. A UN study in 2000 found Bangladeshi women sent 72% of their earnings home.
Poor management  Uncontrolled migration has forced migrants to take up rickshaw pulling, roadside cart vendors, congestion and sometimes crime.

Pavement Dweller Bhopal
Pavement Dweller Bhopal

Health Effects

“In India, in is the migration which has been shredding the moral fabric of the migrant population, shattering the family structure and disturbed the whole economic and social structure of the society” In a survey Kanpur Nagar district 3/5th of migrants Issues of acclimatization, lack of basic facilities including water, sanitation, lack of toilets, poor or no housing, joblessness, idleness, deprivation and disease.

The Kanpur Nagar study found that while those settled permanently ia way from their native home were more deprived than migrants returning to their homes, but returning migrants suffered more ill effects.

The incidents of disease in rural migrants was 72.10%  Incidents for in returning migrants were higher than in migrants, for example, gastrointestinal (19.57 returning;  9.14 in-migrant), diabetes (10.33; 2.79), Back pain (10.97; 3.22). The exception being handicap (13,54% in migrants, 5.98% returning) and  visual impairment  (10.21 in-migrant; returning 4.35).

Returning migrants were less likely to have bad habits than in migrants:  40.6 of returning immigrants did not indulge in bad habits, for in migrants only 18 percent had not succumbed. These habits included gambling, chewing Gutka, tobacco, beedhi’s, drinking, or drugs in the form of charos and ganjha filled cigarettes. About 4% have resorted to stealing.

Possible Solutions

Providing urban facilities in Rural Areas (PURA)

PURA uses public and private partnerships to provide rural infrastructure. Conceived by  former President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam it provides drinking water, sanitation, sewerage, village streets, drainage, solid waste management and skill development.

However, Hassan and Khan (2000:33) reported return immigrants alleged  corruption in the system.

Wage Opportunities

Increasing nonfarm rural activities will stimulate wage opportunities.

The  Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment  Guarantee Act ensures 100 days paid employment.  However, the real benefits do not always reach the target group and there are loopholes in implementation and accounting.

A study of 18 Panchayats in Dindigul district Tamil Nadu found after implementation migration stopped in 5  Panchayat where MGNREGA was applied. Migration continued where it was not implemented.

Vocational training and rural colleges

Making Agriculture Pay

Farmers see failure cultivation costs rise and declining yields. Sustainable agriculture with high yield seeds and irrigation may help. However, claims by some seed producers, including GM, have caused losses to farmers in the past.


A secondary income source for many, emphasizing the the National Dairy Plan may help increase milk yields in local areas.

The Prospects

The World Population Council anticipates India’s productive population (of 15 to 60 year olds) will stop increasing by 2025 then decrease to 62% of the population by 2050.

If migration continues to be seen as an escape route, then by extension, a brain drain of skilled professionals emigrating from India will hamper the nations future.

Unless migration is seen as “a social process that promotes  that promotes that contrivbutes to the well being of the society, that promotes cultural diversity, specialisation and division of labour and spirit of unity among diversity” explains Parveen Kumar, Rehbar-e Zirat (agricultural guide) with Jamma Kashmir .


Articles for this post were taken from Kurukshetra, Ministry of rural Development, Vol. 62 No. 11 Pages 52, Sept. 2014.

These include:

Tarique Hassan & Prof. Jabir Hasan Khan, Repercussions of Migrant or Rural Migrants A case study.
Kumar Amarendra Narain, Impact on rural Migration on Agricultural labourers from Biar and Assam.
Parveen Kumar, Consequences of rural Migration.
Srikanta Panigrahi, Environmental Refugees- the result of another form of forced rural migration.
Gopal Kalkoti, The status of rural migration-need for development initiatives.


Sustainable Architecture: Bhopal before the gas

When people hear the name Bhopal they think of “the night of gas”. They do not realise a rich history of environmentally sensitive and sustainable architecture precedes the disaster for nearly a millennium.

Since the disaster, a former employee assures me, India has had to import fertilizer. But Bhopal’s agricultural heritage predates the malfunction and sabotage of a fertilizer factory.

Sprawled across 20 to 25 kilometres of the Vindhya and Singarcholi mountains, the City of Lakes, has a beautiful green cityscape built around the Bara Talab (Big Lake) commonly called the Upper Lake. A millennium on 11th century Raja Bhoja’s Dam still holds back 35 sq km of water but many other ruins dot the city uncared for.

Rock art caves Shamla Hills Bhopal
Rock art caves Shamla Hills Bhopal

Prehistoric man wandered Lalghatti and Dhrampuri and rock paintings are preserved in the Shamla Hills. However, it was during the reign of Raja Bhoj (1010-1053) the fortified grid iron city of Bhojapala guarded the east of Bara Talab. A sister city of Bhojpur, with its magnificent unfinished Bhojeshwar temple, was built east of an enormous lake 650 sq. Km of Bhima Kund and Sagar Taul. By utilizing natural terrain only three dams were required. At Sagar Taul two small gaps were required to be filled.   A 90 metre long, 14 metre high wal, 90 metres wide earthen dam with huge sandstone blocks with a flat top stood until 1334 CE.

The undammed river besides Bhojpur
The undammed Betwa besides Bhojpur

The local Gond tribes claim it took three months for the men of Hoshang Shah to cut through the dam and three years for it to empty. For thirty years the swampy lake bed was uninhabitable and villages downstream of the Betwa destroyed.

Now the once prosperous Bhojpur is remembered only by the incomplete temple and the huge scattered dam masonry.

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Nearby, Bhopal’s 11th century settlement is also layered with history. Ravaged in the 13th century, a decayed village by the 17th century. In 1722 Dost Mohammad Khan, a mercenary, was invited to assist the local Gond queen Kalmapati, annexed the Bhopal Taul.   Rani K amlapati suicided rather than be forced into Khan’s harem.

Fatahgarh frot ramparts
Fatahgarh frot ramparts

Khan built city ramparts near the older settlement, establishing the citadel of Fatehgarh on the highest plateau of the lake. It remained the administrative centre to the early to mid 19th century. Part is now used by Kasturba Gandhi Medical College that includes the world’s smallest mosque.

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The fortified city of Bhopal was called Sher-e-Khas and enclosed 1.5 sq. Km in a 10 metre wall, 2-3 metres thick and 1.2 kilometres in length. Taxes probably paid for elaborate infrastructure that included

  • hammams, or public bathing with windowless chambers
  • serais, or housing for travelling merchants
  • hathi khannas, housing for elephants and their mahaots,
  • and mosques.

The narrow streets, the widest being four metres, were sided with buildings to three or four floors. The outside platforms, or pattias, had matching designs where people met and gossiped. An akhara, or gymnasium included mud pits and fitness training equipment.

The city was extended by Pul Pukhtra in 1794 when a 274 metre long and 21 metre wide masonry dam spanned the Ban Ganga and Patra valleys that formed the Chhota Talab, or small lake. A vassal state to the Nizam and then the Mahattas, little building followed until Mamola Bai, one of Bhopal’s history of ruling women, insightfully gave General Goddard of Britain shelter in Raisen fort as he battled his way across India and ensured a protective treaty with the British East India Company.

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Another female ruler, Qudsia Begum, built the Jami Masjid with its golden minarets between 1833 to 1856. Then in 1847 the Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace) was begun by Sikandar Jehan Begum as an administrative centre and residence, creating a new urban centre on large plateau north of the Gohar Mahal. Although the Khirniwala Maidan complex took 50 years it’s has a unified design elements including parapets, uniform wall height and plinths with French influence. In 1848 Sikandar Begum then commissioned engineer David Cook to develop the lake front that included a waterworks.

motimahal 1948A red sandstone boali or step wall of Bara Bagh is 3 stories deep, two above the water level, lead into a step-well was built by Nawab Wazir Mohammed Khan and later conserved by Nawab Qudsia Begum.

Inside are ornamental structures that surrounded the well, colonnade with cusp arches and slender pillars. Niches decorate the wall along the entrances of the boali built around 1819. Bhopal’s inter-connected lakes began with the building of a new suburb by Nawab Shah Jahan Begum called Shahjehanabad in 1874. An Idgah was constructed on the highest point, and three new terraced lakes constructed, now separated by a road. Water from one cascaded into the next forming the suburbs central area. Complete with bazaars, galla mandies, or grain markets, store houses, serais, and a residential quarter Shahjehanabad was enclosed by a city wall.

Bhopal-unplugged3 (1)The highest, Motia Talab spread 230 by 230 metres, to the 230 by 170 metre Noor Mahal Talab and finally the lowest Munshi Hussaini Talab was 115 by 230 metres.

An aqueduct still visible at Chhota Talab, pulled water up 15 metres by leather bags, or chawars, into channels that flowed down an arched slope. The chawars raised the well water with animal strength and the water flowed 1.75 kilometres to a pond at Noor Bagh where Afghan troops were stationed.

However, the three lakes were dependent on seasonal rains.

To balance water levels a reservoir was built north of Shahjehanabad with elaborate brick-lined vaulted drains that collected and bought water to the lakes. Transformed into splashing fountains and gurgling cascades, and silent chadars (sheets of water), these channels passed through important buildings along the way. Legend claims rose water or kewda was added to cool and freshen the air.

To this day ground water is recharged year round in the Bhopal’s old city. The boali reduce water loss in a locality known for high evaporation.

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Bhopal’s royal residences, the Taj Mahal and Noor Mahal, were linked to the rail . The Taj Mahal blends Muslim and Hindu design that includes cusped arches, massive gateways, mudlings and plaster work and squat domes with overhanging balconies called jharokahs. The inner courtyards detailing suggests British colonial design.

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Over a century, Asia’s largest mosque, the Taj-ul-Masjid, was built and nearby, across from the Motia Talab, the H-shaped Benazir Palace in 1875. Made of steel columns with louvered wooden partitions, extensively carved hammam, the Benazir Palace cleverly control the temperature. A summer palace, it is enclosed with terraced gardens and fountains its steps and plinths descend into the lake like a ghat. Its ornamental gate, the most ornate in the city, was added later. This has multi-foliate arched openings and stair cases leading to chhatris, or domed kiosks, with pitched eaves.

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The Colonial influence of high ceilings and raised plinths was more marked after 1901. The newer public buildings include Revenue courts, Minto Hall, Court of Justice, Civil Club, and the Hamidia Katubh Khana, or library.

Sadly more recent design has increasingly distanced itself from the environment and culture. Modern designs often show scant respect sustainable design once practiced by Bhopal’s Tribal, Hindu and Muslim forebears. The inappropriate materials and techniques are rushing construction.

Many of the gates are deteriorating. Locals speak of their city still beautiful in the 1970’s. The wall that enclosed the old city was partly removed to allow for a oad and access to the Hamadia hospital. The land Minto Hall has been leased out by the MP government  and will be demolished. The Munshi Hussaini Talab sadly looks like a rubbish dump.

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There are exceptions. Bhopal’s Tribal Museum has a green roof, the Correea designed Bharat Bhavan shows a Hindu sensitivity for nature, and Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly, or Vidhan Sabha is influenced by nearby Buddhist stupa’s of Sanchi. However, the step-wells of Bhopal and majority of the lakes constructed by the cities noble rulers have since decayed. The Baoli has been forgotten and lakes have been encroached.

But now, after walking the Union Carbide site, and enjoynig the connected series of lakes by the Taj us Masjid, I am sitting the smallest, Munshi Hussaini Talab. A local family kindly offers me chai. By the mosque an old man clasped my hand warmly. Hindu”s had paraded floats and hoses for Navratri. I still find old city charm and hospitality.

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For a  useful resource is checkout

Dass, Meera. “City with a past – an account of the built heritage of Bhopal.” In Bhopal 2011: Landscapes of Memory, edited by Amritha Ballal and Jan af Geijerstam, 80-84. New Delhi, India: SpaceMatters with Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), 2011.

Enjoying Balance, poise and Deepa Vedpathak

Wonderfull painting by Deepa Vedpathak


Sometimes I find beautiful things I simply want to share. Today, I hope you will enjoy the beautiful acrylics of Deepa Vedpathak.

Right from her childhood Deepa Vedpathak liked to draw and paint. Born in Karamala, Maharashtra, her sole aim was to be a painter. After obtaining a teachers diploma in 1996, in 2001 she completed a G.D. Art (Drawing and Painting), at the Abhinav Kala Mahavidyalaya in Pune. Step by step her success grew and her hope increased. Deepa loves music so she paints on music. When the colors take shapes on her canvas, it has not any limit, she struggles with it, in fact she prefers color schemes and color application. It makes her work effective, as she thinks that weight and balance should come together in the painting.

Her abstract faces seem serenely balanced.

Beloved by Deepa Vedpathak


Endless Love
Endless Love

Who am I with the tribe?

Jivya Soma Mashe detail
Jivya Soma Mashe, acrylic and cowdung on canvas, detail []
I have always wanted to know who I truly am.With individuality so prised in the West, it may seem this is a self evident but hard to define reality.

But moving to India forced me to see myself a new n a different situation. Then moving to Bhopal I soon began to experience the tribal life of Madhya Pradesh. I also began to reflect on the Aboriginal people of Australia.  My assumptions of identity – and how that played out in todays world – simply did not match.

Consider the Warli artist. In every tribal village, the artist is known as savashini, the woman whose husband is alive.

Her painting is a fertility act. Trained by observing others from childhood she knows the riti or conventions of the art and the cosmic laws they symbolise.

warli painting

They have hatachi kesab, innate skill with the hands, and perform wedding ceremonies accompanying the groom on the circumambulation of the rice -hole in the ground where rice is pounded.

The actual ceremony is performed by a wedding priestesses or dhavleries who animate the paintings through song. The dhavleries are chosen because dreams have given them songs.

So few are chosen.

“The dream came – I had fever – Ganga Gauri, Mahadeva’s wife (Mahadeva is the universal father) – she told me – like that it came suddenly. Therefore I can sing the whole song.” ((Jivya Soma Mashe: A sense of self in other masters: Five contemporary folk and tribal artists of India’ edi by Jyotindra Jain.p35).

In the past urbanised India  art was of completed by a guild an the stages – a rough sketch, filled in in one colour, later another, each in stages. This may have included collective apprentices and a master in the process.Then around the city of Mathura individual artists (Gomitaka, Dasa, Shivarakshita, Dharma, Rama, Sanghadeva) were named  beginning in the Christian era.

It took until the 1970’s that the Tribal tradition was transformed by a need for individual artistiic expression.

The catalyst was brown paper and white paint. Soon artists like Jivya Soma Mashe began to paint lively field work, digging ploughing sowing .

Mashe was also the first male Wari painter which in Itself was an isolating experience. It asks of a culture what does it mean to be a Wari man.

“For a man to begin practicing what for centuries has been a woman’s art form is surprisingly unorthodox. No ordinary man could have attempted this, without fearing the loss of status among his fellow men. But then Jivya Soma Mashe is not an ordinary man. The history of his life is as unusual as his bold decision.  “

Three years old when his mother died, his father remarried but because new wife did not want hs children.  So they were given to a farmer far from home to look after his cows. Too young to work he was poorly fed his older siblings ran away but he was to young to follow them.

Shocked he could not speak until after his 4th year. He retreated and drew signs in the and. Although he later married accepted in the community he remained an outsider.

So he began seeking something new and began to examine the field to see each stalk in the paddy field as distinct with an undulating rhythm interspersed with animals like ants drawn with great precision. A fishing net that swells and fills a fishing net while a minute human holds the other end.

His community awareness of the wholeness of unity is amtched with an awareness that difference makes the whole.Mashe’s art suggests he sees himself as different and yet part of larger unified reality.

“A Walking and Running Circle”, Richard Long, work in progress []
In the west a master is unique but primitive art somehow seems assumed to be anonymous.

We imagine a singular elitist versus a collective art form.  Perhaps we imagine a clown figure, playing bison horn or cobra hood headgear.

Jyotindra Jain reports how MP artist Jangarh Singh Shyam a Pradhan Gond  asked if he she should strip to his loin cloth for a photo – it was so expected by media that to be tribal you must be a stereotype.

Similar story is said of Aboriginal playwright who realised she was always photographed with stereotype images of poverty or struggle.

“In such a set-up the tribal artist is not an identifiable individual but a part of an amorphous passive collective. He is expected to permanently dwell in timeless tradition. When he does not even have an individual status as artist, independent of his community identity, how can he ever be a ‘master’.”

We imagine Tribals as a  timeless people  possessing an innate urge for magi. Do we imagine their women as bare breasted beauties  in mud homes and faces exuding  religiosity?

A Tribal artist may be expected to retain his ‘primitive’ tradition but is usually forced to move to an industrial environment to pursue his art.

Yet, if he develops his art in response to the world it is accused of artistic degeneration.

Tribals are not isolated and their contemporary art merges new technologies into their world view. Traditional art has never been static, but as always adapted with new technologies and materials.

But that is not what we expect.

Mashe’s art reminds me that history is complex always making the present, myths, stories give us a perspective altering the linearity and insularity.

The new idiom of the money lender blends with the charcoal maker neighbouring tribe.  To us they appear modern because they have a do not have a naturalistic feel. A bird is suggested by fleeting lines of motion, the sun as a series of revolving lines he called chakma chak  flashing light.

He symbolises somethings essence rather than its form.

Cowdung and mud on paper. Train station - Jivya Soma Mashe
Cowdung and mud on paper. Train station – Jivya Soma Mashe

A wall of smeared geru or  red clay over which paint reeds in white paste. A mountain gives way to forests from which a river flows under a bridge with a train that reveals a polyphony of  activities of the people within it and gun toting police on the platform.

Jugen Habermass suggests his art is forward moving like life becoming new, much as modernism glorifies in the present or ‘nostalgia of true presence’ ( ‘Modernity: An Unfinished Project’ The Post Modern Reader, edited by Charles Jencks (London, 1992) .

His art inspires me since I have never quiet felt I neither fit in either India”s collective family  (yet) or Australia’s individualism.

Mashe’s art heroically merges the individual and the collective.  Multiple events occur simultaneously both part of community but also alienated from it.

When brown paper released Warli art from its religious foundations “human beings were no longer miniscule against the large celestial deity” instead they “engaged in forms of activity they were predominate on the canvas.” (35, 36).

“There are human beings, birds, animals, insects, and so on. Everything moves, day and night. Life is movement” he said (Tribals Art magazine, September 2001).

Mashes art seems to me a dialogue between community and self. The very struggle I have continued in my life on two continents.

To quote Hervé Perdriolle “The Warli, adivasi, or the first people, speak to us of ancient times and evoke an ancestral culture. An in-depth study of this culture may give further insight into the cultural and religious foundations of modern India.”

I see sights as far more personal. As a natural isolationist – a lover of Australian spacious outback – India forces me to be confronted by its community of contradictions , traditions and meaning.

india forces me to discover the essence within the flux of the moment.

logo 2
Shantaram Tumbada, acryliques sur papier, 1997, 28x25cm []

The Myth of Dumadev

Mural, by artists Shri Sahadev Rana and Shri Tulsi Rana showing the sad Adivasi girl sitting on the steps surrounded by plants and animals.

In the village of Pendravand it is said there was a love so pure between a young man and a girl that it permeated all men, women, plants and animals of the region of Bastar, Chhattisgarh.
But one day something happened between them that the girl sat weeping on the steps. He people tried to cheer her without success. Even the animals of the forest tried and failed.
Finally, she jumped into a pond and died.
Then, so distraught, the boy, the girls parents and even the animlas of the jungle gave their lives to the pond.
The spot is called the Shrine of Dumadev, or ‘Deity of the drowned’.
To this day the Adivasi girl is worshipped as Dokridev or Pendravandin Mai and the boy as Dorkradev.
A votov terracotta of Bendri, the pensive she monkey, holding her face in her hands, is offered at the shrine at the time of the Pola festival.

This mural, by artists Shri Sahadev Rana and Shri Tulsi Rana showing the sad Adivasi girl sitting on the steps surrounded by plants and animals. It is part of the Mythological Trail of Manav Sangrahalaya in Bhopals IGRMS, Museum.

dumadev2 IGRMS

The Tamarind Tree


A man set out on a long journey, but his wife did not want him to go. So she asked the local guru how she might hasten his return. “Make him promise” said the guru, “to sleep every night under a tamarind tree on the outward journey, and to lodge beneath a neem tree every night on the way home.” The man kept his promise. But tamarind trees exude toxic vapours (or so it is claimed) and make you feel ill; while neem trees are restorative. So the farther the man travelled, the worse he felt; and as he got nearer to home again he felt better and better.

-ColinTudge The Tree – a natural history of what they are, how they live and why they matter, 2005, Tree Rivers Press, New York.

“[sleeping under or near trees] is not that much danger, but you will feel body pain. If you sleep under a Tamarind tree, you will feel such a heavy pain. Since the villagers of south India know about this truth, they always avoid to sleep under big trees unless there is a good wind flow through-out.”


I remember the first time I ever saw a tamarind tree. I was in Pune, visiting the Empress Gardens. With an agility of half his age, an old gardener surried onto a shed roof to throw fresh tamarind fruit into our waiting hands. It is one of my favourite Pune memories, eating fresh the fruit I had only used as a paste in cooking. Yet, I now know there are deeper about the Tamarind. 


The ancient In Sanskrit texts call tamarind the tintrini tree. According to legend, it is connected with Parvati’s daughter Usha. In her honour, tamarind replaces salt in the month of Chet.

In north India, tamarind is commonly called asimli, and Imli-tala (shade of the imli) and is sacred to Krishna. Considered an incarnation of Vishnu, Krishna with Radha personifies ideal love. When apart from Radha, it is said Krishna sat under a tamarind tree where he experienced her spirit permeating him. Later the 15th century saint and reformer Chaitanya, who some believe is an incarnation of Krishna, also meditated upon Krishna seated under a tamarind tree.

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The Ghosts of Night

However, the tamarind has a more haunting reputation from evening. At night, the evergreen leaflets fold, and are believed to be haunted. Perhaps this is because it’s acid content eaves the ground barren of other foliage. People avoid it at night, and believe sleeping under it causes pain.

The strong, subtle and wind resistant tree is grown in the precincts of temples to the Mother Goddess who it is believed fights evil spirits at night. People avoid walking near tamarind trees in the dark.


Lakshmana’s arrows

Tamarind leaves are many of tiny and delicate leaflets, and they make a beautiful tracery against the sky. There are many myths to explain its feathery foliage. For example, the leaves were split by arrows shot by Lakshmana, according to the Hindu epic Ramayana.

Shri Rama, Lakshmana and Sita had vowed to live as sannyasin in exile from Ayodhya for fourteen years. Clothed in garments of bark, they lived on stream water, and the roots and berries of the forest.

They had vowed to sleep upon no bed but green grass and fallen leaves and under no roof save that of the sky.

One night, as they slept under a tamarind tree. a great storm arose, howling like raging demon. But under the tamarind tree, they slept peacefully, since the rain could not reach them through the thick leafy roof overhead.

A crash of thunder woke Shri Rama who realized that, although the storm raged, under the tamarind tree they were as sheltered as in a house. So Rama woke his brother concerned that they were breaking their vow not to take shelter.

However, Rama had no heart to wake beautiful Sita sleeping peacefully.

‘She is asleep; I have no heart to wake her up. what can we do, my brother? If we remain here, we shall break our vow. And if we move, we must take her with us.’

‘My brother,’ he said. ‘I know a way.’ And rising, he took his bow and with carful aim he shot his powerful arrows upwards at the thick leafy roof overhead.

The arrows of Lakshmana went one by one through each tamarind leaves shattering them into a thousand tiny leaflets and the rain poured through them so that the ascetics were no longer sheltered sheltered and fulfilled their vow.

Dura and Ganga fight Adivasi style

Durg and Ganga fight
Durga and Ganga fight 

According to Adivasi legend the conflict between  Durga and Ganga was a verbal but fond abuse between two village women.

Why is Ganga perched in Shiva’s head, Durga wants to know.

“It is Shiva himself who has folded me into his long tresses” says Ganga but Durga demands to know why Ganga qualifies for the honour.

“My water is supposed to be purifying”, Gaga replies. This only makes Durga furious to hear “That Old windbag”, muttering “So Mahadevi, the god of gods, needs her purifying touch. is it?”

“Who am I to talk of pure and impure? Why don’t you go and ask your husband?’

“Hold it” shouts Durga “you think I should bother Shiva over such trifles?”‘

“Well, bless yourself that I have not begun to sing your praises!” says Durga

Durga retorts “Killing eight new born’s, a blot on motherhood, that is what you are, don’t you question my reputation”

“The infants tat were born to me from king Shantanu were Ashta vastu and I had to kill them to lift the curse of them, otherwise which mother would do such a thing? So easily you abuse me, yet the world knows me as Triok-tarini. What about you?”

“None can equal my virtue” says Durga. “The world trembles at my power.”

“Well done, virtuous lady, married your own son? In the beginning you alone as Primordial energy permeated the world. Shiva himself was born of you. With this knowledge, how could you take him as your husband?”

“Your dumb, how would have creation happened otherwise?”  replies Durga. “Besides, I had already taken 108 births and rebirths before I married Shiva.”

…..  And so back and forth the debate continues unravelling the many myths of Durga and Ganga until each must admit the power and virtue of each other that strikes the chord of friendship.

Here the myth is painted and sung by the Patua painters of Bengal. The artists Manimala Chitrakar and Shri Gurupad Chitrakar are from the Midrapur region of Bengal. The art work is painted on a sora, or terracotta plate.

The Crisis of Modernity post socialism



Since Indira Gandhi India is officially a socialist Secular state. Not that it ever was, even though Nehru held informal socialist sympathies. Third World was a term that meant non aligned with NATO (First world) or Communism (Second World), and as a leader of the non-aligned movement, leaders such as Nixon were sceptical of India falling to Russia.

I suggest that India’s diversity illustrates what was one of the biggest problems in Socialism. Governments have been forced to sink or swim in the maelstrom of the world market modernist critical culture keeps free imagination alive.As long as they are they are, as Octavio Paz put it “condemned to modernity” we will see the Third World marching to its chaotic drum.

Although during the Emergency Indira Gandhi altered Indias Constitution to describe the nation as Socialist as well as secular, I don’t ever think India truly has been socialist.

It seems social theorists, including Marx, have often called on myth, usually Grecian, as metaphor of their world view. In a land that defies any definitions, perhaps this is why neither Socialism nor Capitalism seem to quiet fit here.

Herbert Marcuse and Hanna Arendt criticised Marx for celebrating the value of labour bur neglecting other aspects of the human spirit – for a lack of moral imagination.

In his Eros and Civilization  Mercuse attacks Marx culture hero Prometheus  as “a culture hero of toil, productivity, and progress through repression … A trickster and (suffering) rebel … Archetypal hero of the performance principle.”

Marcuse prefers the image of Orpheus, Narcissus or Dionysius who “stand for a different reality … Theirs is the image of joy and fulfilment, a voice that does not command but sings, the deed which is peace and ends the labour of conquest”  he said.

Marshall Behrman in his wonderful All that is sold melts into the air – the experience of modernity, admits Marx imagination lacked the joys of peace but qualifies this adding Marx fetish is “the free development of physical and spiritual energies” ; “development of a totality of capabilities in the individual themselves” and “the free development of each will be the free development of all.”

Marx wants to embrace Prometheus and Orpheus says Berman, he says differing with Mercuse.

Mercuse and the Frankfurt school promoted the goal of harmony between man and nature. The problem was it would require an immense amount of Promethean energy to create it. The endless task would turn mankind into Sisyphus cursed to push a boulder to the top of a hill only to see it role down and be forced to return it for eternity!

Hanna Arendt in The Human Condition suggests another idea relevant to my view of India – the problem of Marx is not draconian authoritarianism but that that Marxism lacks a real basis for authority.

“Marx predicted correctly, though with unjustifiable glee, the ‘withering away’ of the public realm under the conditions of the unhampered development of ‘the productive forces of society’.”

Communists find themselves “caught in the fulfilment of needs that nobody can share and which nobody can fully communicate.” The depth of Marx individualism can lead to nihilism.

In a society where the free development of each is the free development of all, what will hold them together?

If they share a common quest for infinite experiential wealth  this would be “no true public realm, but only private activities displayed in the open”. It risks a sense of collective futility: “the futility of a life which does not fix or realise itself in in any permanent subject that endures after its labour is past.”

Arnedt doesn’t get closer to solutions but is  unclear what right action is supposed to be. She does distinguish the political and day to day production “the cares of the household” which is in her mind devoid of the capacity to create human value. She does rightly note that Marx did not develop a theory of political community this is the problem of modernism nihilistic thrust is unclear of what or who modern man can be, explains Behrman.

Ironically Behrman points out that those who criticise modernity the most need it the most. He suggests Marx is not  away out of life’s contradictions but a way back in.

 “He knew that we must start where we are: physically naked, stripped of all religious, aesthetic, moral haloes and sentimental veil, thrown back on our own individual will and energy, forced to exploit each other and ourselves in order to survive; and yet, in spite of it all, thrown together by the same forces that pull us apart, dimly aware of all we might be together, ready t outstretch ourselves to grasp new human possibilities, to develop identities and mutual bonds that can help us hold together as the fierce modern air blows hot and cold through us all.”

But I wonder is that completely true? Yes Modern India risks losing some of its charm in the rush to globalise.  However, India’s  deep religiosity could take it in (atleast) two directions.

Indian life is in many ways sacramental, daily life is elevated by rituals that offer meaning to the mundane. Could this be India’s saving grace? Or will religious nationalism pollute the search for inner meaning and tear the country apart?

I have never been a Marxist, yet suggest Marx idealised society was a gestalt not individuals but the sum of the interconnections between them. The whole was meant to be greater than the sum of its parts.

The focus seemed to be both the surface effects and the internal relations that produce them.

In India there is the conflict of class, especially caste, but we do have an agency greater than our natural needs.  We labour for some structure in a changing, contradictory and some fear self destructive modernity. But Marx could have never for seen how Capitalism and labour would mediate new forms of social independence.

In the 19th century, Newtons laws of Thermodynamics were the metaphor of change.  Now a protean transformative energy now fuels the world with chaotic quantum speed.

The philosopher von Weber’s metaphor was the power of rational ideas. Yet seems most discourse is illogical. The ‘argumentative Indian’ that Amartya Sen writes of, seems to want to argue for arguments sake. As long as he has a voice he will speak, but forget to listen.

But as Ilya Romanovich Prigogine reminds us that systems become more chaotic and either form new levels of order or collapse. So, It is up to India to decide if her new unleashed energy will create an new world or collapse into chaos.

What Weber succeeds in explaining – and matters for India today – is that the even in a religious society a prophet succeeds when he can articulate rationally his message and systematise the  living conditions and forces of his time. Then his charm is seen as genuine.

In the diversity of India who has a clear vision big enough? Markets have delivered prosperity but at a cost of the deep yearning of soul that fires the nation.

Perhaps India needs another Gandhi like figure. What if life becomes an art form or sacrament? Could this be India’s saving grace.

An Ayurvedic prescription for Individuality in tradition

navratri 082res

The Way to do is to be.

- Lao Tse

People should not consider so much what they are to do, as what they are.

- Meister Eckhart

I think the purpose of religion is to live life like a poem, To look carefully and see life, not to possess it, but to be it. To make life a sacrament. It is expressed in different way in different traditions. Traditions can seem to weigh people down, and yet the great sages of may traditions are uniquely individual.

In their uniqueness shines a perennial philosophy or sanatana dharma, which has always and everywhere been the metaphysical system of the prophets, saints and sages.

For example, in Hindu thought, the ultimate reality is the word principle (shadba-tattva) from which the whole cosmos manifests. Even for Westerners this should not be hard to understand. In Judaism words do things (“In the beginning God said, then it was so.”Genesis 1) and Christians claim Jesus is the Word “all things were made through him” (Jn 1:2).

In Hinduism the word is imperishable, the first born of truth. Mother of the Veda, hub of immortality.

The first creation is mahat, the intellectual principle, the seventh the creation of humans. The word is measured in four degrees (pada),  three kept closely hidden (guhu nihita) and  men speak only of the fourth degree of wisdom. This perception guides human life and culture.

But knowledge does not remain static. It multiplies  like the deposition of knowledge like the layers of matter caused by a flood, and becomes a tradition, or Paramapala.

Tradition is extremely important in India, there are 18 classes of texts, expressed in samhita, or revealed hymns, Brahaman , a human composition of  ritual acts, and Aranyaka, or rituals as symbols of hidden truth. The Upanishads mostly  debate the aranyaka.

But Parampala is derived from pauranika the appearance and disappearance of knowledge. Perhaps some things have been buried under the weight of millennia of history.

At times it seems the individual has no part in Indian culture. Individuality seems alien and disruptive in a culture with scant regard for privacy where tradition forces a “correctedness” with others and an ever widening circles of family. However, in all social forces we find an equal and opposite reaction.

The great sages were very unique.  So does tradition frustrate or inspire individuality?

Every tradition (paramaara) cycles through periods of ascent and decline. Sometimes because of contact with other cultures. The sages reveal that self awareness can recharge paramapara through the awakened individual. Greatness of a unique individual in the Gita is not his individuality in himself but the supra-individual that radiates through him as a channel of a greater energy.

While not a perfect fit, in the West one may think of the artists muse, or the divine spark within, speaking  out.

But as the poet Jaishankar Prasad reminded us in the poem Kamayani, an ego centric and unrestrained individualism is the worst enemy of the person himself.

Or as the Gita says “Whatever a great man does, people will imitate, they follow his example.”

Which is why traditions grow and decline. A civilization can also stagnate in the weight of tradition.

navratri 018res

An Ayurvedic Prescription: Individuality Vs Community

Ramesh Chandra Shah  in Parampara and the individual,  explains the word Vyashti does not quiet mean by individual person, (but is now used that way today) but contrasts with samashti, the monocentric human collective. He prefers the word abhivyakti to describe the modern worlds individuality.

Shah writes “Whereas Western civilizational values were threatened by the consequences of its own over-adventurism – by its own calculative enterprise of conceptual control of the universe, Indian culture, on the other hand, seemed to be threatened by its inertia and loss of creative self confidence.”

After the psychic onslaught of colonialism Indian paramapara has become congealed and dependent on defence mechanisms against the other, he suggests. Modern Indian Parampara is a response to secular western thought on tradition and modernity.

Shah tconsiders the Hindi poet, Agyeye, with his adaptive rather than a literal renderings, and T.S. Eliot who used the word Tradition closer to parampara,  inclusive of the gifted individual. What is needed, he argued,  is more the spiritually artist individuality to inspire Indian tradition. So Agyeye upgraded individuality to the principle of creativity and adventure or  maulikata. To build a nation of critics. As Yeats described: “In dreams begin responsibilities.”

The secret is balance. A very Ayurvedic prescription. The disease of the West is an over active rajoguna.In the East, their is a  weakening of the rajas and a preponderance of tamas. There is Uthi – a mere tradition hardened into a defence mechanism.  Post mediaeval there is stagnation, what Sri Arobindu called “great poverty of life”  in his “The Life Divine”.

Thousands of years earlier, in chapter 4 of the Gita, Krisna states he  taught the tradition  to Vivasvat who taught Manu but that over time it was lost.

But, a brighter side is possible if western ideas catalyse India’s own native capabilities.

In 1929 K C Bhattacharya spoke of a shadow-mind resistance to  the “svaraj in ideas’ or what Mahatma Gandhi later called ‘our hard-hearted  intelligentsia’. Looking at the virus of politicisation of every aspect of Indian life, with its unprecedented corruption, they seem right.

The individual can be thwarted by the shadow of  tradition congeals into rurhi. On the other hand an overactive value- blind (mulya-marh) indviduality will cost the community and nation.

While initially helpful, the loosening of rurhi has turned against us and become counter productive.

However, as much as India has been maligned  for her passivity , she is showing she does absorb new ideas.

navratri 089resishu

How will we bring back the poetry to tradition and life?

Erich From in “To Have or to be” describes how Tennyson picks a flower and describes it, Basho sees it but does not touch it, and Goethe,” the great lover of life, one of the outstanding fighters against human dismemberment and mechanization” picks up the plant root and all and transplants it in his garden.

Each poetically describe a flower, Tennyson must have it, but kills the object he describes, all Basho does is “look carefully” to “see” it .Self knowledge gave the West Rilke and Holderline who sung of departed gods and mans homelessness. We want more than the rootless changing technology of the marketplace.

This deep experience being is central to Indian paramapara. Could it offer the West a sacred centre?

“It is the nature of wisdom to be illusion-proof and clear sited. It does not claim immortality for itself, but for that from which it emanates” writes Shah. It is what Yeats called “the great memory”.

 Who has this inspiring Parampara?

The sages reveal that self awareness can recharge paramapara through the awakened individual. An individual self or jivatman who is illuminated through either intuition or discipline may realise the unity of being .

This is the unity sought by religion and civilization.

But there have been many modern sages. Yet we don’t say they gave us parampara, they revealled  a parampara called a yoga and revolves around meditation. This contrasts with Heideggers descriptve metaphor s that nuclear fission is logical consequence of the West’s objective, calculative  thought. It is atomistic. Individualism rather than individuality.

“What is the experience of the self where the duality between subject and object is lost and the individual artist becomes empowered to transmit the quintessence of a parampara in ever renewing forms of contemporary relevance?” writes Shah  “The answer, it seems, is contained in the question itself, because it appeals to that highest common factor of all religions, that perennial philosophy or sanatana dhama, which has always ad everywhere been the metaphysical system of the prophets, saints and sages. “

Then he quotes Aldous Huxley from his Introduction to the his translation of the Gita:

“It is only in the act of contemplation when words and even personality are transcended, that the pure state of the Perennial Philosophy can actually be known. The records left by those who have known it in this way make it abundantly clear that all of them, whether Hindu, Buddhist, Hebrew, Taoist, Christian, or Mohammedan, were attempting to describe the same essentially indescribable Fact.”

Navratri Bhopal 2012
Navratri Bhopal 2012

That is the source of Paramapara?

 “But the struggle of the individual towards this paramparika wisdom – the live process as well as attainment – is nowhere better exemplified than in the work of the artists and the poets. It’s this kind of internal evidence that speaks directly to us in our confusion and distress, because it’s the poet, the artist, who shares not only our aspirations to Unity of Being, but also our fragmented existential condition.”


As William Butler Yeats wrote:

Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul.
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

(Among School Children, from The Tower, 1928)

Wendy Doniger: When Westerners say what Indians tell me in private


Recently I found a forum debate about the relationship between Karna and Drapaudi suspended. It was considered too controversial. I thought this odd because the Mahabharata is full of ambiguity, “dharma is subtle” it proclaims, as each character has his shadow and shining light, her aspirations and secrets.

But why? There are hundreds of recessions of the Ramayana and Mahabharata that often contradict. To some Ravan is a demon, in Sri Lanka a just king. It seems to me that the contradictions tell us something of India’s colletive psyche?

Then I remembered the reactions over Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus: An Alternative History, pulped by Penguin Books rather than go through a long drawn out legal battle.

I believe the Hindu faith is strong enough to withstand criticism without having to resort to legal challengers. Legal action reveals more about the emotions of the complainants than the diverse broad spectrum of ideas expressed under the Hindu umbrella.

Indeed, as a reader of history, I realise one of the best ways to spread an idea is to ban it. (Look at Islam, now the fastest growing religion on earth, in part, I suggest, in response to  negative media publicity since 911). I know I had ignored The Hindus until I heard it was pulped.

I believe banning The Hindus reveals India’s sensitivity to Colonial attacks, more than the book itself. I also feel it reveals that the slowness of India’s judiciary is blocked by a culture of complaint.

Indian nationalism developed  British milieu that castigated sex. Hindus were effeminite and oversexed, proclaimed Britian, made weak minded by early marriage and the  British fear that Tantra and the image of Kali inspired the Independence movement. As a result Hindu reformers from Ram Mohan Roy to Dayananda Saraswati questioned what they saw as corruptions of Vedic truth which included the stories of Krishna’s amorous adventures.

For decades, Doniger has argued that sex was part of Hindu literature. The lignum as an erect penis, and that Krishna’s 160000 consorts reveal an India that Brahmin history ignored or suppressed. That Brahmins forbade a practive reveal there were people doing it.

You are welcome to believe Doniger misrepresents Hinduism. Some have even labelled her work “pornographic… Skewed and superficial”.

But many Hindu’s have argued Hinduism was corrupted. Ram Mohan Roy persuaded Britain to ban sati and Dayananda claimed the Puranas of being mostly unbelievable and false, but retaining a seed truth.

 “Now the life-sketch of Krishna given in the Mahabharat is very good. His nature, attributes, character, and life-history are all like that of an apta (altruistic teacher). Nothing is written therein that would go to show that he committed any sinful act during his whole life” wrote Dayandanda in Satyartha Prakasha (Light of Truth), “but the author of the Bhagvat has attributed to him as many vices and sinful practices as he could. He has charged him falsely with the theft of milk, curd, and butter, etc., adultery with the female servant called Kubja, flirtation with other people’s wives in the Ras mandal,* and many other vices like these. After reading this account of Krishna’s life, the followers of other religions speak ill of him. Had there been no Bhagvat, great men like Krishna would not have been wrongly lowered in the estimation of the world.”

Of course, Colonial Britain and the then USA had also sanitised many of the potentially erotic moments in the Bible. However, I don’t see much in Donigers book that is not suggested elsewhere, even by some Indian and Hindu authors.

It seems the objection to Doniger is who said it.  Is it because she dares to put it all in once place?

When as  a Westerner I speak what many Indians tell me in Private, it is politically charged with an over sensitivity to past Colonial pain. …. And at times there is good reason. Many non Indians are obsessed with a sexualised misunderstanding of Tantra or Khajuraho.

For example, In Tàràpíåh, Western Tantric writer Hugh Urban “tried to question one skeptical and worldly older Aghorí about the infamous “fifth M” of Tantric practice—maithuna, or sexual union with a female partner. After my repeated prodding, he finally lost his patience and exclaimed, “All you Americans want to know about is sex. Don’t you get enough of that in your own country? Go back home to your ‘pornography’ and your ‘free love.’” On the other hand, I also met a wide range of gurus who were quite proud of their powerful esoteric knowledge and seemed more than happy to “advertise their secrets” to a well-funded Western researcher.”  The other extreme I read a Muslim blog posts that described Khajuraho as “the Playboy Mansion”.

She may have found her book banned, but Wendy Doniger rightly reminded us that Brahmin writers winged about women because there have always been those who refused to buckle under. Gargi rather immodestly challenged the wisest sage of her time. Draupadi challenged the legitimacy of her husbands selling her to slavery miraculously reclothed by those seeking to disrobe her.

Khajurahos exude mystical allure is often misrepresented in western fantasy as an ideal feminist sexual Elysium. And for those who long for the days when society seemingly applauded such ostentatious displays of erotica, Devangana Desai‘s stern rebuff: “There were double standards – men could have sex with as many women as they could afford while women were confined to their polygamous husbands. In fact, I think today’s generation growing up in cities with nightlife is much freer now.”

India has been a land of moral contradictions: of Manu’s moral stricture and Chandelas ppolygamous culture that loved the delights of women.

However, one inherent value of Hindu philosophy is the search for truth.

Of course, even Gandhi seems to have seen fit to realise at times politics requires you publicly with hold facts. (Gandhi’s hiding the name of Sheik Mehtab, a disreputable friend who nearly tempted him to partake of a prostitute was, I presume, because it would have inflamed division between Muslims and Hindus).

But for Truth to be found, all ideas must be fairly debated. Hence, I believe Penguins decision to pup the book a mistake.  Had the publishers taken the issue to the supreme court I suggest the book would have won the case on grounds of freedom of speech. Asking questions of history is not the same as deliberately provoking public outcry or causing a religious riot.

beautiful and the damned

Perhaps Penguin gave up because they had been stung before.

For example, in India,  Siddhartha Deb’s The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India is published without the first chapter.  ” A man who does not appear in the disputed chapter for the simple reason that I was unaware o f his existence” sought an injunction after this a chapter was published in on the first chapter the February 2011 issue of Caravan magazine.

Since cases can take a decade, it is cheaper to pulp than fight.

“There is a sad irony to the fact that a book about contemporary India, while available in full in most o f the world, appears only in partial form for Indian readers. But that in itself says something about the state o f affairs in India these days, where critiques o f the powerful and wealthy, no matter how scrupulously researched, are subject so often to intimidation. It is easy enough to find, in the media, outrageous claims by corporations and celebrities as well as their demagogic doubles, whispering in the social media about conspiracies and backroom deals. What is missing, too often, is the kind of essay or article or book that tries to make sense o f such phenomena without succumbing to their allure, and that tries, in its own way, to offer a semblance of truth.” said Deb in an introductory explanation to his book.

Of course the convenient abuse of religious sensitivity s used by all religious persuasions to get personal, social or political advantage.    Of course, I hear Musims and Hindu argue Christians would not allow criticism of Jesus. But a look at the Australian TV tells me different. Comedians regularly lampoon Jesus and the Church, at times there is outcry, that is soon forgotten.

Whether you agree with her or not,  i think it is important that female historians speak in the important debate of history.

I think the secret of success is turning everything in life into a blessing


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