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Will to learn

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By Amir Suhail Wani

There were times when people travelled for months together just to learn a single fact, a single sentence, a single poem or a single verse. Those journeys were much arduous than our imaginations can reveal. They were pilgrims to the temple of understanding. Each step they moved in the path of learning amounted to ascent to the divine. These men of learning and seekers of wisdom weren’t specific to a particular religion, but were found in all the cultures in all parts of the world. Thus we have Plato, Socrates and others from Greek tradition, Confucius, Chuang Tzu and others from Chinese civilization and Rumi, Ghazali and others from Islamic traditions just to name few representatives from each tradition.


With unforeseen advancements in science and the invasion of technology in all dimensions of life, the topography of human civilization has changed in a manner that our minds can’t comprehend. It is said that the developments of last three centuries have outpaced and outnumbered the sum total of all human achievements made during past thousands of years. While as last two, out of these three centuries revolved around inventions of electrical and mechanical nature, but the last century, due to the birth of Quantum mechanics, has been the century of electronics, communication, computers and related gadgets. With the arrival of these innovations in our lives, the human effort has been considerably reduced. World has been reduced to a palm and all the information one needs is almost a click away.

 

A single click unfolds a universe of knowledge and one is often confused not by the scarcity of information, rather by its excess. The reign of scholarship is dwindling, for Internet has often given us an impression that each of us is scholar in the making. To revile this easy access to knowledge will sound trivial and primitive, but one can’t deny the fact that we have been bombarded with the information, data, statistics and facts we are unable to manage. It’s not just piling knowledge that is of interest, but the management of acquired knowledge shall be of equal importance to all of us. What all this simply amounts to is that we have picked up the habit of quoting facts that we don’t properly understand in the first place. This random and superficial quoting owes its origin to the information explosion that has occurred in the shape of digital knowledge banks like Google, Wikipedia and others. Earlier, scholar used to be initiated into a specific discipline and before they could read that subject they were taught a yearlong course on the principles or Asool of that subject. These principles guided them to quote things in proper context and avoid misquotations.

Thus while quoting verses from the Quran due care was paid to their cause of revelation (shaani nazool). While quoting other religious texts a due procedure was in place to check any misappropriations. But these find can’t be expected from the students who have mistakenly adopted Google and other e sources as the supreme fountains of knowledge.


This readymade and baked information has not only done a considerable damage to our religious understanding but we have inadvertently started picking up even the scientific facts in an inappropriate manner. While quoting scientific facts we again tend to override the broad spectrum of issues associated to a specific theory or law and simply quote its defining statement. Thus emerges a spectrum of scholars who, in the bid of defeating their rivals quote facts out of broader context of which they possess little or no understanding. The reason why such an approach is dangerous is that for the sake of our ignorance we turn enemies of each other. While defending our ignorance we often mend the facts or quote them in a manner that’s not approved by the specialists of that field. Uninitiated people are often seen debating scholarly issues on social networking sites and in doing so they often quote fiction in the guise of facts. The people around are often deeply moved by these quotations and without any further investigation on their part they tend to take these statements as authentic and pass it on to others. What all this leads to is an unending spiral of ignorance and with ignorance comes hatred, rivalry and sometimes violence. Men aren’t rivals or enemies unto one another, but a misunderstanding of each other in terms of the ideologies that define us often leads us into personal clashes. This approach, besides other things leads to the loss of sanctity of knowledge. When the knowledge that we acquire as our saviour is used as a sword against others, it kills the very essence of learning. At this point it is important to mention that he who is one the path of learning shall be flexible enough so that one may bring necessary changes to his /her ideology as and when demanded by new revelations of understanding. Most of the times problems arise that we are so irrationally attached to an irrational ideology that despite the opening of new horizons of mind we refuse to change our stand, lest we crumble under the burden of our stubbornness. Alvin Tofler, a futurist said that the illiterates of twenty first century will be those who can’t learn, unlearn and relearn. This forewarns us that in our pilgrimage to learning we shall be ready not only to learn but to unlearn and relearn as well.


All standard texts of Islam start with the chapters concerning knowledge, its importance, its purpose and its categories. Al Ghazali has dedicated a full length chapter to knowledge, its categories and its relevance and importance in his magnum opus Ihya ul Uloom.The masterwork on Islamic mysticism Kashaful Mehjoob by Ali Hujweri too starts on the same note.

Numerous verses of Quran and numerous authentic traditions of Prophet (PBUH) place high emphasis on acquisition of knowledge. But in all these sources, a difference has been made between the useful knowledge (ilm un naf’e) and the useless knowledge (ilm un zaar) and Prophet (PBUH) is reported to have said “O Lord, I seek refuge from useless knowledge”. These incentives and guidelines form a basis of inspiration as well as models of learning for us. The acquisition of knowledge shall be deemed as a sacred journey and shall be perused in the same spirit. Any knowledge or arbitrary set of facts that are acquired to beat people and win over debates is not a wisdom but a set of redundant terms.


Perversion of learned is the perversion of worst order. Prophet of Islam forewarned us of this perversion not once or twice but on a dozen of occasions. A portion of the hadith from “Mishkat Ul Masabih” reports that the Prophet said “Surely the worst of evils is the evil of the learned and surely the best of good is the good of the learned”. Scholarship, when it sets on wrong path doesn’t only endanger the future of an individual or a community, but puts the future of entire globe into jeopardy. The role of scholars in setting narratives correct is paramount. The option before us is not of scholarship or ignorance, but it is one of positive scholarship and a negative scholarship. The word positive shall be understood as an approach that leaves open the possibilities of future and further discoveries. As against this negative scholarship sees itself as termination of research thereby leaving no scope for further revelations that are still lying asleep in the womb of possible future.


It is always a healthy element to engage in a debate, but while doing so one has to constantly question his own understanding of one’s own ideology and the ideology of other person/s. An improper or half-baked understanding in this age which is already fraught with intolerance not only generates an atmosphere of discord but legalises the state of intellectual savagery and that’s what we are reeling from.


(The author is a freelance columnist with bachelors in Electrical Engineering and a student of comparative studies with special interests in Iqbaliyat & mystic thought. He contributes a weekly column for this newspaper that appears every Monday. He can be reached at: [email protected]


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Opinion

What do a Marxist and a maharaja have in common?

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By Gopalkrishna Gandhi

Had they not died at 81 and 55 respectively, two Indians would have turned 100 this year. And their centenaries would have been celebrated with enthusiasm — but by very different sets of people. As indeed, they are being organized, now, in their memories. No two persons could have been more different from each other than the bare-headed, bush-shirted Marxist, Indrajit Gupta, and the be-turbaned, bejewelled maharaja, JayachamarajendraWodeyar of Mysore. They were as contrastive as a sickle and a sapphire or a hammer and a diamond-encrusted walking stick.

And we can be certain that they hardly knew each other. They are, in fact, unlikely to have ever met. They could have done so, ironically enough, in England.

 

Indrajitbabu completed his Tripos at King’s College, Cambridge under the spell of the Marxist powerhouse, Rajani Palme Dutt, just as the young maharaja-to-be arrived in Britain to meet and get to know artists and writers. But they missed each other by a few months. Their paths were not meant to intersect in India. Indrajitbabu was no habitué of concerts of classical music over which the maharaja presided with natural flair. Correspondingly, the maharaja was never a member of the Lok Sabha to which the communist leader was elected 11 times and, as the seniormost member of parliament, was its pro tem Speaker, time and again. If they did ever actually meet, by chance, anywhere at all, we can take it that they exchanged nothing more than formal pleasantries, lapsing thereafter into silence.

And yet, history, culture and politics link the two exact centenarians, uncannily, through three distinct pathways.

First, through Moscow. For Indrajitbabu, the capital of the Soviet Union was the secular equivalent of a Mecca. The influence of Marxism which started in London, through Palme Dutt, streamed into the inspiration that the Communist Party of India, founded in 1920, had received since the time of the Second World Congress of the Communist Third International held that very year. For Jayachamarajendra too, Moscow was a pole star. And that came about through an altogether different cosmology: Western classical music. The core of that inspiration was Moscow-born and then London-based composer, Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951). Medtner became, for the young royal, a soul-drenching inspiration, leading him to finance the recording of a large number of Medtner’s compositions and then, not stopping there, to go on to found a Medtner Society in London, in 1949. Medtner’s Third Piano Concerto, Google tells us, is dedicated to Jayachamarajendra.

Second, Quit India. For very different reasons and from very distinct backdrops, both ‘CPI’s — the Communist Party of India and the Chamber of Princes of India opposed the Gandhi-led Congress movement of 1942. Indrajitbabu, as a loyal and policy-bound member of the Communist Party, stood with his party which opposed Quit India as it was directed against Britain which, in alliance with the Soviet Union, was fighting Hitler. Jayachamarajendra, crowned Maharaja in 1940, as a loyal and protocol-bound ‘21-gun salute Prince’, opposed the same movement in his state, emphatically, with other princes, in total solidarity with the British raj in the war effort. The two CPIs found themselves, in 1942, in the same trench, albeit in different parts of it.

Third, in the wake of India’s Independence, both Indrajitbabu and Jayachamarajendra, for very different reasons, got ‘stamped out’ together. This was not about them as individuals but about the institutions to which they belonged. The government of independent India, but more specifically, the deputy prime minister and home minister, SardarVallabhbhai Patel, banned the Communist Party of India in the rage of indignation after the party’s call, in its Second Congress led by B.T. Ranadive, for an armed struggle. And the princes were, of course, famously and deftly, made functus officio by him, in the calm of self-confidence, through the integration of their territories into the Indian Union. To adapt ‘Jack and Jill’, sickle, hammer, sceptre and crown, all four, came tumbling down and were compliant made with the new democratic State.

Communists are ideologically rooted, shaped and committed. But they are not robots. Marx and Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, were ideological kin, not identical twins. Josef Stalin can be left to describe himself. As were, in India, M.N. Roy and S.A. Dange, B.T. Ranadive and P. Sundarayya, E.M.S.

Namboodiripad and JyotiBasu, A.K. Gopalan and Harkishen Singh Surjeet, Lakshmi Sahgal and ArunaAsaf Ali. But who could fail to be struck by their individual personalities? All of them wrote on the same page but using type-fonts that were their very own.

Born on March 18, Indrajit Gupta (1919-2001) was ‘Sunny’ to his parents, ‘Comrade’ to his party, ‘Sir’ to deferential younger MPs across party divides and to admiring officials who worked for him when he was briefly but memorably India’s home minister. Choosing his responses to match the context, he was always himself. Brusque, even gruff with the facile, fatuous or facetious even from among his own circle, he was gentle and considerate towards all, including political adversaries. He could question his party line without flouting it. As India’s first and so far only communist home minister he opposed a move by the then governor of Uttar Pradesh to terminate the state’s BharatiyaJanata Party-led government, for the step was constitutionally open to question. And he told Opposition MPs criticizing him: “If I were in your place, I would have done the same.” In our times when unnamed donors can contribute to uncountable election expenses, Indrajit Gupta will be remembered for the key recommendation of a committee on election reforms that he chaired: “The names of donors should be invariably declared.” His sense of justice came from communism, his sense of fairness came from himself.

Except in 45 out of the world’s 195 countries, royals are an extinct or rapidly extinguishing order. They are a living archive, a breathing monument, half sepia, half colour, uncomfortable with the past, uneasy about the future. And their present? It is difficult. If a fool, a prince, be he an incumbent or ‘ex’, occasions no surprise. If a debauch, no shock. But should she or he have, as indeed so many royals have, like all humans, their own uniqueness, a spark of talent or the gift of a skill, a personality of their own, they cause some disbelief and get to be dismissed as the exception that only… and so on.

Born almost exactly a hundred years ago, on July 18, JayachamarajendraWodeyar (1919-1974), the 25th and last Maharaja of Mysore, was exceptional. His large and strong frame looked like granite sculpture. ‘Majestic’ as an adjective never had a more natural subject than this monumental king with a broader than usual forehead, a brocade turban completing the larger-than-life effect. He had exceptional attributes going for his mind, of which sound political sense ranked high. Having been loyal to the British raj, his signing of Mysore’s Instrument of Accession to independent India, was swift. Moving from being Maharaja to becoming Rajpramukh and then governor of the merged and reorganized Mysore state, Jayachamarajendra was also governor of the neighbouring non-royal state of Madras. But if this prince is remembered today it is for something that was his own personal achievement, his own individual attainment: his vaggeyakara’s passion for composing tunes and lyrics. Jayachamarajendra composed a significant number of songs in both the Carnatic and Hindustani traditions. But it is the fate of gifted princes to have their gifts seen as borrowings. The extraordinary novelist, R.K. Narayan, has this to say of Jayachamarajendra: “The so-called compositions of the Mysore Maharaja were actually composed by Vasudevachar. The Maharaja would call Vasudevachar and say I want these phrases from the Devi Ashtottram and the composer would do his bidding”.

Unconditional admirer as I am of Narayan as a writer and human being, I have to say that his assessment of the composer-King is certainly entertaining but unfair.

What do the synchronizing centenaries of an outstanding Indian Marxist and an exceptional Indian maharaja tell us today? This, that the individuality of its people, their contrasting affiliations, their passions are the soul of our republic, not monochromatic sameness trying to pass muster as unity. And that two seemingly unconnected Indians connect us today to that truth.

(The telegraph, kolkata)

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Opinion

Need to rework tactics on Pak, J&K

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By K C Singh

Before heading to Washington to meet US President Donald Trump on July 22, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan opened up his country’s airspace to international flights, after months of closure, and rearrested Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind behind terror group Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. President Trump promptly tweeted his happiness over the latter as that group has American blood on its hands, having undertaken the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai over a decade ago. Pakistan had earlier linked its airspace reopening to India removing its Air Force fighters from forward deployment. New Delhi had rejected that demand. Pakistan’s volte face may have been prompted by a desire to show the US its reasonableness in dealing with India. The same may be behind Pakistan’s accommodative approach to the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor as it dropped from its delegation controversial pro-Khalistan leader Gopal Singh Chawla. Indian sensitivity on this issue was manifest when an expatriate organisation, Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), pushing the Referendum 2020 over Khalistan, was banned.

If all this heralded a thawing of India-Pakistan relations, an old issue resurfaced to negate it. On July 18, Pakistan had its knuckles rapped by the International Court of Justice at The Hague in the Indian case filed over denial of consular access to KulbhushanJadhav, a former Indian naval officer, who was detained, tried and sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court for alleged espionage and terrorist activities. Rejecting the Pakistani arguments about lack of jurisdiction, the court held Pakistan in breach of its commitments under the Vienna Consular Convention of 1963. While Pakistan claimed victory as the court did not ask for the release and repatriation of Jadhav, the court sought a review of the judgment, immediate consular access for India and Jadhav being informed of his rights accordingly.

 

Pakistan agreed to grant the access, but many other issues linger. First, will Indian high commission officials be in physical proximity of the detainee and relatively free to converse without close monitoring? It is unlikely that the Pakistan Army will allow this, and may in fact repeat the theatre enacted when Jadhav’s mother and wife sat across a glass partition and conversed over the intercom and under intrusive oversight of security officials. Second, Pakistan has agreed to review the judgment as per their own prescribed procedures, which may entail its submission to the Chie of Army Staff or the President. Pakistan is unlikely to concede that due to the serious procedural flaw of denying the accused access to his country’s diplomatic mission and thus provision of proper legal assistance, the entire trial was vitiated. The military court had apparently relied on a “confession” obtained by coercive means and dubious circumstantial evidence.

Pakistan’s next steps in the Jadhav affair would thus condition the course of India-Pakistan relations. On the other hand, Pakistan will also expect that India should respond to positive steps taken by it, instead of sticking to the standard Indian line that Pakistani action against jihadi groups is tactical and reversible. Imran Khan’s US visit assumes importance in this regard as Pakistan would attempt to rebalance relations with Washington, which have during the Trump presidency slipped into open distrust. India has counted on this dissonance to pillory and pressure Pakistan. The White House statement on the eve of visit reads that the bilateral meeting is to “discuss a range of issues, including counter-terrorism, defence, energy, trade, with the goal of creating the conditions for a peaceful South Asia and an enduring partnership”. Clearly, the Afghan endgame, in which Pakistan has now been co-opted by China, Russia and the US to help, has altered US perceptions on Pakistan considerably. India on the other hand has been left on the sidelines of the Afghan game as President Trump wants to withdraw US troops after a face-saving peace pact with the American presidential election approaching in 2020. Meanwhile, India and the US are wrestling with trade issues that have episodically riled President Trump enough to fire angry tweets.

Thus, a bull-headed Pakistani policy may be losing its value as the world has other distractions and likely diminishing empathy for Indian complaints over Pakistani duplicity and sponsorship of terror. The seizure by Iran of a British oil tanker, in retaliation for an Iranian oil tanker carrying oil to Syria being seized by the British near Gibraltar, ups the ante in the Gulf. Britain has already warned its tankers from transiting the Straits of Hormuz. Operation Sentinel to create a multi-national escort force is still not off and running. Iran has dropped hints it may renegotiate the nuclear deal, but it would not discuss any rollback of its influence or even presence in West Asia. On July 24, British prime minister Theresa May will resign, and the process begin to install her successor – most likely to be Boris Johnson. On the same day Robert Mueller, the former FBI head who investigated the Russian collusion charges against the Trump electoral machine, will depose before the US Congress. Mr Mueller has said he would stick to explaining his report and not launch a witch-hunt against the incumbent US President, but it would distract an already election-oriented Mr Trump. Thus, a visible bonhomie between Mr Trump and Mr Khan can result in a more confident Pakistan willing to test the post-Balakot retaliatory doctrine of India.

Therefore, India would have to tailor its Pakistan policy accordingly. During Track II interactions with Pakistanis, some uncertainty is visible over the new Indian doctrine of pre-emptive or retaliatory military action if India is attacked by Pakistan-based terror groups known to be sponsored by the Pakistani military. But Pakistan is emerging from its isolation and economic mess. If the US opens the military assistance tap and restarts financial aid under the garb of compensation for counter-terrorism operations, then Pakistan may draw the wrong conclusion. It will continue to seek strategic depth in Afghanistan by helping instal a Taliban dispensation in Kabul and await Pakistan getting off the “grey list” of the Financial Action Task Force, which its ally China now chairs. After that, it will stoke as 2020 approaches both the “Khalistan” issue and the ire in the Kashmir Valley. A purely security-oriented approach to the Jammu and Kashmir problem will backfire eventually, much as normality may appear possible today as Pakistan has shut off the infiltration. The lesson for India is that the geo-strategic environment is not static. Nor can be one’s tactics to deal with it.

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Opinion

Waking up

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By Nirvaan Nadeem

We all have dreams. Some of us let them slip away, others hold fast to them. My dream is to one day – after I’ve done all that I came to do in this world – live peacefully far away in the mountains, with a small family and lots of animals. To grow my own food, go on long walks and get water from the nearby stream. Communicate with the birds, talk with the sheep and laugh with the dogs. To explore myself, and the few people close to me, and love fully.

Life has a strange way of preventing you from achieving your inner most, deepest sought dreams and desires. You can fight it all you want, but all eventually fall into the cycle, the broken system that we all worship. We start off by working so we can pay for basic amenities. The scope of “basic amenities” then widens, and we need to work some more. In order to work some more we develop various personas. We cannot trust everyone, we cannot like everyone. We start viewing others as a means to an end, as “products” determined according to status, wealth and looks, not human beings. Gradually we forget ourselves and who we truly were once – perhaps as children.

 

It may have started as an interesting game, as a life experience or experiment, but as the years pass by our personas take over, and we actually start believing them. After all, somewhere, in the back of their minds, children know they are just playing a game, that it’s all make-believe. For us adults however, there’s no one to tell us otherwise. We believe in the absurdity of money, something which does not have any tangible existence. If not money we believe in “status”, i.e. reaching higher and higher positions of power, authority and influence. We believe in devoting our lives to buying Guccis and Versaces – mere utility products with the name of someone much more intelligent than us. We work all year so we can buy a new car which will get us to the same place in the same time, the latest mattress on which we sleep the same way, the sofa on which we’ll sit the same way, the TV on which we’ll watch the same programs, or the home which will house (hopefully) the same family.

Rather than cure the problem, we target the resultant symptoms. Every third person I come across is on anti-depressants. Every second person has sleeping problems. The rest go a week-long yoga class or “spiritual talk”, recharged for churning out the same monotonous existence for the rest of the year. Decade after decade, we go about the same meaningless existence, always trying to earn more money, get better jobs, relationships or luxuries. If we were immortal it would have all made sense. Sadly, we are not, and try as hard as we might, in the end we all see this make-believe to be just what it is: that is, make-believe.

We have the unfortunate tendency to sum up the mysterious and ineffable thing that is life into neat little boxes. Any one deviating from the norm is labeled as being mentally unstable. A friend of mine once believed in spirituality and disregarded money, and was labeled as “bipolar” by doctors. As soon as he started making money, he was re-diagnosed as “quite normal”! Another friend used to be motivated and would have done anything to make it big. She moved to the states, grew bored with the routine and decided to find some other meaning in life. She is now diagnosed as “clinically depressed”. Apparently, here, the amount of money you make is inversely proportional to the level of your “sanity”. Think outside the box but make money? You’re a genius! Think outside the box but broke? Straight to the mental asylum!
We look at the “madmen” on the streets, the “primitives” in the forests as flawed, cut off from real life. Could it be in fact the other way round? What could be crazier than spending your entire existence running after cars and TV’s, and then dying, without a shred of knowledge of the purpose of it all in the first place? Could it be the madmen and primitives are the ones on the real “true” path?

Many of the patients in mental asylums have very different views on life. For one, they are not competitive, malicious or manipulative. The reasons for their actions often are at times much more profound than the mundane ones for ours. They believe in destiny, fate, the miraculous, higher powers, magic. I often find myself thinking that if what we make of life is only dependent on our perceptions, it would indeed be much more fulfilling to live a “mad” person’s life. Many are harmless, and are only labeled as such and locked up because they threaten the very fabric of modern-day society. We feel threatened by them, fundamentally because the very things we hold on to for our dear lives, these they shun and laugh at. “Madmen” can see through our disguises, our premises, our personas and our elaborate make-believe. And yet modern society is committed to “diagnosing” and “fixing” anyone who thinks in a radically different way.

As for myself, I can only hope one day to live a free life. To one day be able to experience the true magic, beauty and wonder of life that I know is there, just drowned out in the everyday noise of my thoughts. To one day roam freely the open forests, swim with countless fish and ducks and turtles, fly amongst the soaring eagles and climb the tallest mountains. To love not only each fiber of your being but each blade of grass, each petal of a flower and bark of a tree.To smell the fresh breeze and feel the delicate dewdrops dropping on your skin. That indeed, must be the true dream of every man and woman. If only we would wake up.

“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”

(Oscar Wilde)

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