Hygiene as the New Burden

The white man's burden, 1898 Detroit Journal cartoon
Remember the “White Man’s Burden” – the phrase that grew out of Rudyard Kipling’s nineteenth-century poem of the same name, and which exhorted the white man to take on the “burden” of colonizing and serving their “captives’ need”? This was but a natural duty befalling the white man because in the words of the Scottish philosopher David Hume, “negroes” and “all other species of men … to be naturally inferior to the whites.”

Well, times have changed. It is now no longer politically palatable to be using such phrases. What has however stayed invariant is the assumption of the west’s superiority over the unwashed, unlettered heathens. Hygiene is the latest burden the western man has to bear.

History - 1 - The Accumulated Wealth of 348 Years

Nadir Shah at the sack of Delhi
(credit: Wikpedia, the free encyclopedia)
Of all the depredations that Delhi has suffered over the centuries at the hands of invaders, the one that stands out the most is the plunder by Nadir Shah in 1739. The Mughal empire would finally dissolve more than a century after this event, though it had started to become dissolute and decrepit after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707.

Nadir Shah had consolidated his position in Persia, and had conquered Kandahar to buttress the security of his eastern provinces. This conquest of Kandahar however left him cash-strapped for further conquests against the Turks. He wanted territory, money, and fame. The decaying Mughal empire looked like an ideal candidate to satisfy all three urges.

Nadir Shah's pretext, we are told, for invading India was the Mughal ruler's refusal to stop giving asylum to the Afghan rebels that had been troubling the eastern provinces of Nadir Shah's kingdom. This is only partially true. Such firmness in refusing Nadir Shah would have been quite out of character for Muhammad Shah.

Nadir Shah had first sent two envoys - Ali Mardan Khan Shamlu and Muhammad Ali Khan - to deliver this request to Muhammad Shah - the Mughal emperor - but "had received evasive replies." Nadir Shah then sent Muhammad Khan Turkman as his Persian envoy to deliver another protest to Muhammad Shah, with instructions to the envoy that he not "prolong his stay beyond forty days." Muhammad Shah again did not give any firm reply. Instead, "his advisers wasted their time in the controversy as to how to address the Persian upstart." The last straw for Nadir Shah was "the murder of two Persian courtiers who had been sent to Delhi under escort to bring news of Muhammad Khan Turkman."

Gita for Children, by Roopa Pai

The Gita for Children, by Roopa Pai

Yes, there is a need for one more book on the Gita. This one fits a particular niche quite well.

On the one hand you have over-simplified adaptations of the Bhagavad Gita that throw in a sentence or two from the text but fail to either capture the essence or its substance, leaving the young reader none the wiser at the end. On the other hand you have scholarly translations with detailed commentaries that bring a life's worth of study to bear on the subject, are a joy to read, but are ipso-facto mostly out of reach of most children, unless assisted by an adult. Then there are books that seek to bridge this gap, like Swami Chinmayananda's "Gita For Children" - but even that is more a parent's reading companion than a book meant to be read by children.

Roopa Pai's book, "The Gita For Children", therefore fills a much-needed gap. It's a book written for children, makes even the difficult sections of the Gita accessible to children, and which patiently explores some of the knottier questions that arise when reading the profound work. Actual shlokas from Gita are also present - the most obvious ones are all there - but used sparingly.

Tales from the Mahabharata - 16 - Black, White, and Coloured Too

Kurukshetra (credit: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
The Mahabharata has lived for thousands of years for the reason that it serves as that vast ocean human emotions in which everyone can pour their own understanding and find acceptance without judgment.

There is an innate human desire to see and interpret things in a monochromatic palette of black-and-white. One could argue that stereotyping is an "energy-saving" device that allows us to make "efficient decisions on the basis of past experiences." ("Stereotypes as energy-saving devices: A peek inside the cognitive toolbox") . Therefore, is it any surprise that many of us look at the characters in the Mahabharata also through similar, stereotypical lenses? It simplifies things if we view Duryodhana as the jealous usurper, Shakuni as the manipulative uncle, Bhishma as the noble but helpless elder, Arjuna as the hero, Karna as the tragic and righteous hero fighting on the wrong side, and so on. No, it is not quite proper or kosher to include in this group of admirers (and critics) of the Mahabharata those that bring their own neuroses and neo-colonial prejudices!

Ganga presents Devavrata
to Shantanu
(credit: B.P. Banerjee, via
the free encyclopedia)
Bhishma, who took a vow of celibacy to ensure that his stepmother Satyavati's sons would reign, and yet who ended up acting as father to three generations of Kurus - Satyavati's sons Vichitravirya and Chitrangada; then Dhritarashtra, Pandu, and Vidura; and finally the Pandavas and Kauravas. Bhishma, who renounced the throne and yet ruled Hastinapura as the regent for most of his life, on behalf of his step-brothers and step-sons. Bhishma, who took a vow of lifelong bachelorhood and yet was cursed by a woman - not for harassing or molesting her, but for not marrying her! Not quite the life a celibate bachelor would have imagined. His own father's boon to him - that of choosing the time of his own death - would see him lie on the battlefield of Kurukshetra for fifty-eight nights, pierced with arrows shot at him by his beloved grandson Arjuna.