I Read the News Today, Oh Boy! [Free Verse]

I
A young man set his ex-fiancé on fire.
(Or, so the story goes.
[He claims she self-immolated.])

She succumbed to third-degree burns...
but not right away.
She lived long enough to know
the agony of third-degree burns. 

They'd met in college,
both studying to be engineers --
I mention that because
at the heart of the issue was caste.
It seems absurd enough
to murder a fiancé over
some imaginary mark of superiority,
but even more so when one considers
that they would have had the same qualification --
possibly similar jobs --
but for the boy's bigoted parents,
who insisted he call off the engagement,
and the boy, himself, 
who took things that extra murderous mile.

So, it wasn't even about who the couple were,
it was about what their grandfathers 
did for a living.

What a world.
 

II
The war is still burning. 
Among the latest questions are:

 Will Belarus be forced to join in the fighting?
&
If so, will having another set
of soldiers who are completely uninterested in the war -- 
other than as a trial to be survived, that is --
help or hurt Putin's position?

A related question is whether Putin
would rather watch the world burn 
than to lose face?

What a world.


III
The Pandemic said, "Psyche!"

This means America will roll the odometer
on COVID deaths.

We had things almost back to normal,
and then the virus caught its breath,
got it's footing,...
whatever viruses do.

What a world.

***

I think I'll check the news, again,
maybe sometime next year.

BOOK REVIEW: Why I’m Not a Hindu by Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd

Why I Am Not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture and Political EconomyWhy I Am Not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy by Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

As a foreigner living in India for almost a decade, I’m always looking for books that offer insight into cultural and political realities that remain obscure even after many years in country. I stumbled upon this book and the diametrically titled book, “Why I Am a Hindu” by Shashi Tharoor. I figured the two books might cover the pro / con accounting of Hinduism through two personal accounts of how a couple of thoughtful individual’s perceptions of the religion differ.


Having read this book, chronologically the first, I discovered that the two books might not mirror each other as well as I’d thought. For one thing, this book is really more about: a.) why dalitbahujans shouldn’t be considered Hindu, and b.) why following the dalit cultural framework would be better for India than following Hinduism. That’s not to say that the book doesn’t count off many theological points that rub the author the wrong way, socio-politically speaking. It also displays no shortage of anger (which one could certainly be argued is righteous, but nonetheless detracts from the feeling of scholarly objectivity that one might hope for in such a book.) But, at the end of the day, this is a book about caste, and how the system is used by the few to oppress the many. [It also turns out that both books cast themselves in opposition to the Hindu nationalist movement.]


In short, the author argues that the “high castes” of Hinduism (i.e. Brahmins and Kshatriyas) are parasitic, misogynistic, violent, oppressive, corpulent, and demanding of “spiritual fascism.” On the other hand, the Dalitbahujans are painted as productive, egalitarian, democratic, creative, less materialistic, and capable of creating a sustainable path toward a healthy India of the future. I don’t know whether I came away with a much better insight into the truth of the situation, but as a social scientist I learned that what is true is often not so important as what is believed to be true – the latter can have huge impacts regardless of its objective truth. I say this because the author does make a lot of gratuitous assertions – unsupported statements — and these are particularly difficult to process when they address the motives of high caste people. He also sometimes whitewashes the “sins” of other religions to make the argument that Hindus are the worst / most unreasonable of all religions.


While it’s certainly true that the caste system has been oppressive and that the oppressed are within reason to be angry and to insist upon change, it’s hard for me to get a good read on what is true regarding the details because the author takes a preaching-to-the-choir route and doesn’t really provide the evidence an outsider would need to judge. That said, the book still offers a great deal of value because it tells one what the author (and presumably many others) feel to be the truth of the situation.


I found this book insightful and thought-provoking. There may be better books out there in terms of supporting arguments, but it’s a solid counter to the throngs of books by the Hindu intellectual elite. [FYI – The book will drive typo-haters insane, it’s loaded with missing letter typos, etc.]

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The Deferential Calculus of Being an American in India

Every time I come home, the security man at the desk at our apartment building jumps to his feet and proceeds to stand at attention until I pass. This makes me uncomfortable, as do the many other ingrained acts of deference that occasionally border on obsequiousness. I’ve considered stopping to tell him he can be permanently “at ease” with me, but given the language barrier I’m afraid I’d just confuse the issue–plus have him standing at attention that much more longer. So, when in Rome…

If you’re an American, but not, say… General Pershing, you’d probably find this makes you uneasy as well. I think one of the reasons that Americans have historically excelled at technological development  is that we were in a hurry to have machines do our laundry, wash our dishes, or trim our nose hairs so that we wouldn’t have to have some other human apparently kowtowing to us. (This may be why the 19th century North was considerably more technologically advanced than its Southern counterpart, which had successfully rationalized a subclass of human being.)

There’s a guy who stands at the end of the lane and lifts a swing arm up and down every time a car (or, oddly, a pedestrian such as myself) comes down the lane. The first couple times I walked around the end in hopes of indicating to him that, “Hey, see you don’t really need to swing that thing up, I can just walk right around it, easy as pie.” I think I hurt his feelings, or–perhaps worse–undermined his reason for getting up in the morning. My point is that operating a swing-arm barrier is a perfect example of the type of job that has been completely mechanized in America.

I’m sure that cultural differences are the root of my discomfort. India is coming from the caste system, whereby who you were born to determined your status in a rigidly hierarchical structure. While Indians may have dropped the caste system, the underlying thought process dies hard. I, on the other hand, come from a culture which believes that on a fundamental level we are all equal. Americans are often stymied as to why we are viewed as being arrogant by other cultures. This may be a failure to see things in the same light. It’s not so much that we project that we are better than the average Joe, it’s that we don’t accept that the kings and holy men those cultures hold dear are above us. This is true. I don’t think I’m better than the door man, but I also don’t think the King of [Fill in the blank] is better than me. [OK, the perception of arrogance is also partly that we’re loud and expect a ubiquity of comfort that is simply not available in much of the world. There is that. And the fact that our leaders often think they can fix every problem everywhere, and–given this is not actually true–we have left a lot of chaos in the our wake since our rise to hegemony.]

So the whole culture thing is part of it. However, I also worry that the man who brings my food with a warm smile and a bow is spitting in it. I wonder if the lady who launders my clothes, and then goes the extra mile by ironing them (though they mostly consist of T-shirts and jeans), might be preparing an itching powder attack. I wonder if the security guy standing at attention is just waiting for me to lock myself out of my apartment so that he can exercise some passive aggressive payback. [I suspect this is why Indian bureaucracy is notoriously slow and prickly. It’s a desire to exercise the leg up on has while one is in other ways part of an underclass.] I heard a comedienne of Indian origin say that her mother always flew British Airways just for the delight of bossing a Brit around. All of this consternation is because I worry that they think that I think I’m superior to them, which I don’t.

Yesterday I was eating at an Indian fast food joint called Kaati Zone. It’s one of those places that you order at the counter, get your food at the counter, and take it to one’s table. (FYI- this set up is much less common here except for little holes in the wall where one stands to eat.) When I was done, I pitched my trash in the trash can and put my tray on top, just like one would at a Wendy’s. When I turned around there was a young woman with her jaw agape and eyes wide looking right at me. My first thought was that I had pitched my wallet or my journal in the trash. I did a pat down and found I was alright. As I left, it dawned on me that her surprise may have had something to do with my handling of my own garbage.