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19 September 2007

The squirrel and the setu

There is this boman irani ad on tv for some soap or detergent, in which a voice over keeps asking "proof kya hain?" and I can't make up my mind which is more annoying. The ad or the one in the setu issue.

I tossed a coin on it if I should add my two bit to the Babel or let it be on the setu topic as I guessed that most issues would be covered by various people, such as for instance, is the issue about:

-a bridge that is a geological formation?
-about historical basis for Rama (and all thence)-the proof bit
-ecological damage to the area?
-infrastructure development?
-poor use of language used in official documents such as the affidavit?
-All of the above? Some of the above? None of the above?
-Did people involved not do due diligence or were not aware of issues involved when the project began and was approved? -Or was it ignored / discounted? (issue of accountability)

Anyone who has travelled a bit of India as I have will understand when I say about how almost everything ancient in India has some significance or story attached. Some Devi temples are said to have emerged out of or established when Sati's body disintegrated and the parts fell as Shiva was carrying her, refusing to give it up and roaming the earth in his grief of her death. Over the country there is laxman jhoola and some other kund and one is shown, this is the pond where bhima fell into, this is the tree satyabhama planted, this is the bird who rescued someone, Gokarn is where Ravana set the shivaling down after being warned he should not and hence could not move it and so on.

For every one story we have, there are ten lost, what with only oral tradition to rely on and our national track record in (non) preservation of even certified monuments of importance. "bunty loves pinky" is etched on almost all walls of historic beauty and significance -religious monuments are spared due to fear of God, but most small temples and such have been lost due to familes moving away, poverty and other factors. It is a fact (proof hain) that many temples were submerged in the Narmada project. Temples, bridges, houses and people are lost also due to natural disasters and that is what makes archeology and discovery of lost artefacts so exciting.

To come back to the proof, India is a cilivization that is more than 5000 years old and printing came to India only about 450 or 550 years ago. Connect the dots. For couples married before the time when the marriage registration made certification mandatory (1950 for hindus) it is likely there is no "proof" as in documented legal artefact. That is one of the sociological basis for My big fat Indian wedding. The entire village or community stood proof to the commitments made. Of course, there are many indological scholars and studies with more serious study into the topic such as Max Mueller,bhandarkar institute Pune, etc.

As mythological stories go, the squirrel got its stripes when Sri Rama ran his fingers on his back to appreciate the small creatures contribution to building the bridge and enshrining his gratitude for posterity.

Lawyer: Me lord, ek gawah ko pesh ki jaay jo is case mein yeh saabit kar dega ki prosecution ke vakil ko kuch nahin pata.(enter squirrel)

Telling hindus there is no proof for Rama is like telling a child in the west there is no proof for Santa. At the very least, it is cruel.

With its emphasis on tolerance and choosing the eternal over the ephemeral, what makes Hinduism what it is, with apologies to the bard, is - structures may come and structures may go, but I go on for ever. In this country we don't need large structures or even officiated ones. A stone painted orange under a tree is venerated as God. Sometimes even a tree itself. The tomb of chisti and the church at Mahim stand witness to the faith of the devout in India.

Vir Sanghvi in the HT covers most of the other aspects except that I am puzzled with the statement of holding development hostage to mythology. Huh? Development at any cost is as bad as mixing politics with piety. And what about holding development hostage to political and bureaucratic inertia and such. Let us for a moment pause to seek answers to the other question of- what about accountability for the various projects ? In one of the cities I visited out of India (to a really small country not much bigger than our himachal pradesh) I was taken aback to see a small notice insert in the daily newspaper every time there was an event.

It was from the municipal corporation equivalent informing the public and seeking objections if any. An example, The intersection between Western Main Rd and Circular Mall will be shut tomorrow for traffic and public from ... to... on account of the ...celebrations or on account of laying of the ... pipeline. Any person from the community who has any ojections may contact the Public Relations Officer etc. I did not stay long enough to find out if any one did make use of the facility ut it seemed so "citizen friendly".

For the common man in India it does not matter. Submerge temples, blast bridges or shoot him. He survives and faith thrives. At least in Mumbai, catching the 8.11 local is his religion and compulsion. A ganesh idol installed in the local train, to which a shoe shine boy stands sentry, during the current festival season says it all about adaptability, establishment and evolution.

In another way it is good the issue of setu has come up. Hopefully the intelligentsia of the country will not dismiss it as yet another irritant coming in the way of something always more important but take some time to think through the issues of what things like religion, superstition, mythology, development, heritage, country, politics, environment, governance and accountability mean to them as individuals personally and for society collectively, not merely as propounded by economists, journalists and ministers.

If we don't stand for anything, we will fall for everything.

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