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Welcome to KHOJ: The search to know our roots and understand the meaning of our existence.

Prejudice is the biggest problem in the society. It can be it in terms of religion, cast, sex, skin-colour, status etc. Prejudice can also be in form of the feeling that human beings are the greatest creation, or even patriotism about artificially created borders. The motto of KHOJ is to gain knowledge and break that prejudice. But there is a word of caution for the readers. To break the prejudice KHOJ might throw upon you the concepts it believes in. If the reader believes on KHOJ’s perception without question, then KHOJ itself might incept a prejudice in the readers mind thus failing in it own motto. KHOJ is trying to break its own world of prejudice, but at times that prejudice might get reflected in its writing. Please do challenge them.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Decoding Gandhi - The Half-naked Fakir Part 3: The Cult of Chakra

Part 1: The Assassination

Part 2: The Beginning

Part 3: The Cult of Chakra

Gandhi returned to India in 2015. It was during the First World War when Gandhi became actively involved in Indian politics. The war had no relevance to India, but even then, she sent more than 1.1  million armies, whom the world forgot. Over 60,000 Indians died fighting someone else’s war.  Not just men, India also sent horses and other animals and over 100 million pounds to support the British. Quite contrary to British feeling that Indians would take the opportunity to revolt, majority of Indians remained loyal to the Crown with a hope that the British Raj would be kinder to them and grant them their demand for home rule once the war was over. The reluctance of the British government to give India self-rule after the war, along with the worsening of her economic condition, led to frustration among the youths. Young Indians took to the path of violence to get rid of the Raj. Few members of Indian Army were disgruntled with the British for treating them like slaves and secretly supplied arms to the extremist groups in India. The occasional incidents of violence by nationalists in Bengal, Punjab, and Maharashtra led to the enactment of Rowlatt’s Act in March 1919. It gave British government the authority to arrest and imprison any person suspected of terrorism without warrant or trial. Gandhi criticized the act and on 6 April he began his first satyagrahya on Indian soil against what he called a ‘black act’. He was arrested immediately while proceeding to Delhi.

Gandhi ji in 1918. Source Wiki

Immediately after Rowlatt’s Act was passed, Dr Satyapal and Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew were arrested in suspicion of spreading terrorism. Huge crowds gathered in front of police station, demanding their release. Panicked, police fired at the mob, killing several protesters. The angry mob went rampant, attacking British officers and killing three in the process. A European teacher was also attacked, saved only by few Indians who hid her under a table. Gandhi had to call off satyagrahya due to these incidents of violence. He called the Satyagraha as ‘premature’ and as a ‘Himalayan miscalculation’. Tagore wrote an open letter to Gandhi addressing him as ‘Mahatmaji’ for the first time. He wrote, 
‘You have come to your motherland in the time of her need … to lead her in the true path of conquest… Freedom can never come to a people through charity…We must win it before we can own in…I pray most fervently that nothing that tends to weaken our spiritual freedom may intrude into your marching line…’.

For the first time Indian freedom movement got a face that attracted Indians from all spectrum of life. Both Hindus and Muslims, from scholars like Tagore to tribals, higher and lower casts, everyone respected Gandhi. The tribal group Tana Bhagats became followers of Gandhi and took active part in his satyagrahya. The modern Tana Bhagats still believe in Gandhi’s philosophy of ahimsa and wear khadi clothes, dhoti, and Gandhi cap with a tricolour flag on it. Similarly, when Gandhi stayed at the Firangi Mahal, all Muslim families abstained from cooking meat during his stay out of respect. Hindus and Muslims joined hands and chanted ‘Hindu-Muslim Bhai Bhai’. The frail man who was once scarred to speak infont of public, turned out to be the nemesis for the Great British Empire.

Gandhi often said that he is not a politician, but a man of religion and a social reformer. Politics divorced from religion had no use for him. Gandhi was a staunch Hindu. While he challenged superstition and did have a modern outlook, he was not able to break away completely from the orthodoxy in which he grew up. Gandhi saw in industrialization a hidden evil that tied men into a vicious web of the materialistic world. The promise of science, technology, and prosperity were illusions that threatened not just our nation but also the souls of our men. Running blindly after Westernization made our youth lose their identity.

Wearing English clothes, learning in English-medium school, working in industries controlled by British masked as modern and liberal and which Indians were proud of were only created for the profit of our oppressor. British advertised the so-called ‘modern’ attitude because it bred industries, like the Manchester clothes. These industries made a huge profit by selling costly products in India while the ‘out of fashion’ indigenous industries suffered. In this culture, both consumer and worker became a slave to the machines controlled by the big industries in Britain. It was a culture that promoted suspicion, hatred, racism, and exploitation. Such industries only ended up making us poorer. Gandhi called for the renunciation of everything Western. He wanted complete non-cooperation with the government. Gandhi advocated following a simple lifestyle and using indigenous products. Chakara, or the spinning wheel, was the symbol of such simplicity. Gandhi started the chakara agitation, inviting all Indians to spin the wheel and make India self-sufficient. Rabindranath Tagore, one of Gandhi’s greatest admirers, criticized this extreme view.

Gandhi ji spinning Chakra in late 1920s. Source Wiki

Tagore started the reorganization of Indian villages long before Gandhi returned from Africa. He was educating the villagers and promoting agriculture, cotton, and village industries. Tagore himself wanted to get rid of the British Raj and was an adherent follower of nonviolence. When he found that the young patriotic minds were leaning towards violence, and especially after Khudiram and his friends killed innocent European women, he distanced himself from the movement. Some called him a betrayer. But that did not change his mind as he was against ‘blind nationalism’. According to Tagore, those who uphold the ideals of nationalism are the most conservative in their social practice. It becomes more problematic in a country like India where there is a physical repulsion between different castes. To Tagore, renunciation of everything Western, including science and technology, was stupid. Saying everything Western is bad is as ridiculous as saying everything Western is good. While to Gandhi poverty was a virtue, for Tagore, it was a problem that we needed to get rid of. Chakara, to Tagore, was not a symbol of progress but of poverty and everything that was wrong with India. According to the poet, 
“Western science should merge with eastern spirituality to create a complete society that is without the self-created borders”.

Nationality, to Tagore, was the root cause of our problems, not industries. Nationalism threatens humanity as it ultimately promotes exploitation of one country by another. Colonization is rooted in the idea of nationalism. The two world wars were enough proof to support Tagore’s thought. Hitler was a product of extreme nationalism. Non-cooperation movement was doing exactly that by creating hatred for everything Western. The poor were forced to buy khadi clothes that were more expensive. Students were told to boycott English-medium schools, thus hampering their education. Tagore was against the idea of youths blindly following a cult and losing their ability of reasoning. In the eyes of Tagore, ‘what India most needed was constructive work coming from within herself’. In poet’s words, he wanted an India ‘where the mind is without fear, head is held high, knowledge is free and world was not broken into fragments’.

Indian customs, like caste system, bind a person to a specific duty chosen by one’s ancestor. It helps in gaining labor but kills the free mind by binding one to repeat the same job over and over for ages without question. Such mind always required a ruler or a saint to tell them what to do, and hence, such minds can never be free. Tagore saw the same ignorance in the blind followers of Gandhi who ‘follow him like rats’ without questioning. Gandhi himself became a cult. Sarojini Naidu once said that it cost a lot to keep Gandhi in poverty. The protection he required to continue with his simple way of life was a costly affair. It was symbolic and necessary, as the freedom struggle required the mass of India. The chakara was part of that cult that Tagore did not like. Tagore firmly said, 
‘Lest I should be a party to the raising of the charkha to a higher place than is its due, thereby distracting attention from other more important factors in our task of all-round reconstruction.’

Gandhi ji and Tagore

Gandhi replied to Tagore, assuring him that there was nothing to fear. Gandhi had a lot of respect for Tagore and often asked him for advice. He used to call Tagore Gurudev. Gandhi explained that he was not trying to build a China Wall between East and West. He was protesting against forceful cooperation rather than voluntary cooperation based on mutual trust and respect. Gandhi disagreed with Rabindranath about the students’ education. According to him, 
“training by itself adds not an inch to one’s moral height and that character-building is independent of literary training. I [Gandhi] am firmly of opinion that the Government schools have unmanned us, rendered us helpless and Godless”. 

Non-cooperation with the bad is as important as cooperation with the good. Gandhi went on to say, “I am certain that it does not require ages for Hindus to discard the error of untouchability, for Hindus and Mussulmans to shed enmity and accept friendship as an eternal factor of national life, for all to adopt the charkha as the only universal means of attaining India’s economic salvation and finally for all to believe that India’s freedom lies only through non-violence, and no other method.” Tagore was still not convinced, so when Gandhi said, “Everyone must spin. Let Tagore spin like the others. Let him burn his foreign clothes; that is his duty today. God will take care of the morrow” Tagore was quick to reply, 
“The charka does not require anyone to think; one simply turns the wheel of the antiquated invention endlessly, using the minimum of judgment and stamina.” 

Tagore wondered why a person with skill to do better things would waste his talent in spinning a chakara. Tagore did not want India to become isolated from the rest of the world. Instead, he believed in fluid borders of countries where every country learned from the other and grew together. Both Mahatma and Gurudev were right in their own way. Despite the differences, both continued to have immense respect towards each other.

Also Check Out:  5 Questions of the Inquisitive Apes 

Written by Subhrashis Adhikari
"Engaging and entertaining, this page-turner is remarkable in its narration and will give you a new perspective on various aspects of life. Wellresearched and heartfelt, the encouraging tone throughout the book tries to motivate towards a happier life." - Times of India


Sunday, November 3, 2019

Decoding Gandhi - The Half-naked Fakir Part 2: The Beginning

Gandhi was also very, very shy. He trembled when he had to speak in public, and often, someone else had to read his speech on his behalf.
Part 1: The Assassination

Part 2: The Beginning

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on 2nd October 1869 in the coastal town of Porbandar in Gujarat. His father Karamchand Uttamchand Gandhi served as Diwan of Porbandar. His mother, Putlibai, was from Krishna bhakti-based Pranami family also from Porbandar. She was the third wife of Karamchand. Putlibai and Karamchand had four children, of whom Mohandas Gandhi was the last. Putlibai had strong influence on Gandhi, who was a restless kid who loved twisting dog’s ears. Gandhi came from a conservative family. He was a little boy of 18 when he dared to go against his people who threatened to outcaste him, by crossing kalapani and sailing to England with a dream of a bright future in law in 1888. His mother permitted him to go abroad only after he promised her three things: no meat, no alcohol, and, most importantly, no sex. Gandhi agreed. He was also inspired by the new vegetarian revolution in England. Not having alcohol also had its own advantage, especially when Gandhi was called to the bar at the end of his course. There were two bottles of wine for a group of four. Since there was scarcity of non-drinkers, he was always in demand. Everyone wanted him so that the rest can have better share. While he kept his first two promises easily, it was the third that seemed most difficult. There were times when he came very close to breaking the most important vow. First time it happened in Portsmouth and second much later while sailing to South Africa. But each time, he managed to stop himself before crossing the limit, even though it meant dirty thoughts and sleepless nights.

Gandhi in England
REF https://www.livemint.com/Leisure/ZBRp4G4izTCiSDzRvdUsCJ/Mahatma-Gandhi--Experiments-with-eating.html

Gandhi was ashamed of the fact that he was married at such a young age and even had a kid. His first child was born when he was just 15 years old, but survived only for few days. Like a coward, he hid the fact that he was married when he was in England. He finally confessed to an old lady who loved him like a son and was looking to engage him with a young British lady. Gandhi was also very, very shy. He trembled when he had to speak in public, and often, someone else had to read his speech on his behalf. It was in his second year when Gandhi read Gita for the first time. He started reading other religious books as well like The Light of Asia and was impressed by Hindu philosophy. He realized that superstition was not part of Hinduism. In later, life he fought hard to abolish all forms of superstition from Hindu religion. He also began to like English customs and dresses. Gandhi survived England and came back to India after three years, only to hear the news of his mother’s demise. It was kept a secret from him so that it did not affect his studies. 

The Indian episode wasn’t a happy one. His shyness prevented him from becoming a successful lawyer. His relation with his wife, Kasturba, was also not amicable. There were times when he made her life miserable. Later, he did realize his mistake and even had the guts to acknowledge it in his writings. It was from his wife that Gandhi learnt nonviolence. In 1893CE he got an offer from Dada Abdulla & Company and went to South Africa, where the third phase of his life began.

Gandhi was surprised to see the poor condition of Indians in Africa. Indians were often insulted by the Englishmen, who addressed them as Coolie or Sami. They were quite oblivious to the fact that Sami, which came from Swami, meant master. Gandhi was thus called the ‘Coolie barrister’. Not all Englishmen were rude to him. There was one gentleman who fought with the guards and allowed Gandhi to travel with him in first-class train compartment, generally reserved for the ‘whites’. He even ate dinner with many Europeans in Johnson’s family hotel. But it was the racism he faced in South Africa that prepared him for the battle in India. He had to fight to keep his turban on while inside the court. He was once thrown off the first-class compartment despite having legal tickets just because he was a ‘brown’. In the same journey, Gandhi was beaten up after he refused to sit on the floor of a coach for which he had tickets. He was also denied to stay in many hotels because of his skin colour. He was once pushed and kicked by a guard for walking on a footpath, barred for nonwhites, at night.

 Gandhi was a well-educated barrister. If he was treated like this, he wondered what would be the condition of the poorer Indians. Once his work in South Africa was finished, he was preparing to leave for India. In his farewell party, he chanced upon an article in the newspaper. It was about a bill before the House of Legislature, which, if passed, would disallow the Indians their right to elect the members of Natal Legislative Assembly. That changed his plans, and he decided to stay back and fight for justice. He started to study the condition of Indians in South Africa in detail. Gandhi put in effort to make Indians aware about cleanliness and educate them. He promoted unity of Indians despite the differences in language, religion, and caste. While Gandhi was worried about his countrymen, he did not care much about the native Africans whose conditions were even worse. Gandhi firmly believed that the Indians, having a richer civilization, were superior to the natives and deserved better treatment. He founded Natal Indian Congress in 1894, which fought for the rights of Indians in South Africa. Gandhi came to India two years later to get support from Indian political leaders. His popularity attracted many enemies, mostly British. He was attacked by mobs when he returned to South Africa but somehow managed to escape.

Gandhi in South Africa
REF https://qz.com/india/1471361/the-indian-diaspora-in-south-africa-is-about-so-much-more-than-gandhi/

‘how completely you have taken possession of my body. This is slavery with a vengeance’ - Gandhi

Gandhi, who was to become the symbol of non-violence, encouraged recruitment of Indians when the British were fighting Boer war in 1899 and again in 1906 against the Zulu kingdom. It is during this time that Gandhi met Pingali Venkayya, a geologist who would later design India’s flag. 
During the wars, Gandhi came to realize the power of British Army. He knew it would be futile for the weak countries to fight the British with arms. It was there that he got the idea of nonviolent resistance, or satyagrahya. He applied his new weapon of non-violence for the first time in South Africa. He was immediately put behind the bars. It was in the jail where he had interactions with the native Africans, helping him erase his prejudice against them. Experience was helping Gandhi evolve into a better man, preparing him for the Indian adventure. Gandhi met the rich German-born Jewish architect Hermann Kallenbach in 1904 and became very good friends. Kallenbach donated his farm to Gandhi, which became a shelter for the satyagrahis (the nonviolent protesters). It was named Tolstoy Farm. Gandhi admired Tolstoy’s policy of non-resistance, and was influenced by Tolstoy’s ‘A Letter to a Hindu’. He wrote a long letter to Tolstoy inviting his attention to the ongoings in Transvaal , South Africa. 

Gandhi is said to have written to his German friend the following lines, ‘how completely you have taken possession of my body. This is slavery with a vengeance’.  The lines have widely been misinterpreted and taken as a proof that Gandhi was gay. Being gay is not a crime, it is a personal choice. Even though none of Gandhi’s letters to his German friend had sexual connotations, his critics use it as a tool to defame him. Gandhi had more supporters than critics. Gandhi’s new method of satyagrahya found support back home and funds started to pour in. Amongst the list of doners were Sir Ratan Tata, Nizam of Hyderabad, INC, and the All India Muslim League (AIML), along with many others. Gandhi succeeded in uniting Indians of different class and religion and successfully tested his concept of non-violent protests. He finally returned to India in January 1915CE, beginning the fourth and final episode of his life.

Part 3: The Cult of Chakra

Also Check Out:  5 Questions of the Inquisitive Apes 

Written by Subhrashis Adhikari
"Engaging and entertaining, this page-turner is remarkable in its narration and will give you a new perspective on various aspects of life. Wellresearched and heartfelt, the encouraging tone throughout the book tries to motivate towards a happier life." - Times of India


Decoding Gandhi - The Half-naked Fakir Part 1: The Assassination

Part 1: The Assassination

‘I did not hate Gandhi, I revered him because we both venerated much in Hindu religion, Hindu history and Hindu culture, we both were against superstitious aspects and the wrongs in Hinduism. Therefore I bowed before Gandhi when I met him, then performed my moral duty and killed Gandhi.’ - Godse

The riots and violence had took its toll on Gandhi. It was not the freedom he wanted. After a long discussion with Sardar Patel about the situation he walked towards the raised lawn behind Birla House for the regular multi-faith prayer. The discussion carried on longer than usual and Gandhi was ten minutes late. The frail man walked supporting himself on the shoulders of his grandniece Manuben and Abhaben. Hundreds of people were waiting to catch a glimpse of Gandhi. As the two ladies helped Gandhi manoeuvre through the crown, someone yelled ‘Gandhiji, you are late’. Gandhi slowed down his pace, gave an annoyed look, and then walked ahead. At that moment another stout man in khaki dress pushed his way through the crowd and came right infront of Gandhi and bowed down. Manuben tried to shove him aside and shouted, ‘Bapu is already ten minutes late, why do you embarrass him?’. The man pushed her hard and then fired three (or four?) shots at Gandhi. The sound of the pistol deafened Manuben. She saw smoke all around. It took her some time to realise what just happened. Through the smoke she saw Gandhi fallen down in Abhaben’s lap. There was blood all around. Gandhi’s hands were folded as he uttered, ‘Hey Ra…ma! Hey Ra…!’

Mahatma Gandhi, standing, with his arms around two female relatives, in New Delhi, India, ca. 1947. REF: https://www.upi.com/Archives/1948/01/30/The-assassination-of-Mohandas-Gandhi/2538113714024/

'See me please in the nakedness of my working, and in my limitation, you will then know me.' - Gandhi

Godse was a young man born in a Brahmin family. He became an activist in RSS and Hindu Mahasabha. He considered Gandhi as anti-Hindu. Gandhi’s fast to release the final payment to Pakistan that was frozen after the Kashmir war was a proof that Gandhi was still very influential in Indian politics. Godse killed Gandhi to stop the laters influence that he considered was detrimental to India and Hindus. Godse said, ‘I did not hate Gandhi, I revered him because we both venerated much in Hindu religion, Hindu history and Hindu culture, we both were against superstitious aspects and the wrongs in Hinduism. Therefore I bowed before Gandhi when I met him, then performed my moral duty and killed Gandhi.’ Hundreds of people stood frozen unable to believe what they saw. An American diplomat, Herbert Reiner Jr., rushed forward and grasped Godse while the gardener Raghu Nayak pinned him down. Soon other started to pounce upon Godse and started to beat him up. The Royal Indian Armed Force men managed to arrest him and take him away before the crowd lynched him.

The trial of persons accused of participation and complicity in the assassination at the Special Court in Red Fort Delhi on 27 May 1948. Front row, left to right: Nathuram Godse, Narayan Apte, and Vishnu Ramkrishna Karkare. Seated behind, left to right: Digambar Badge, Shankar Kistaiya, Vinayak Savarkar, Gopal Godse, and Dattatraya Sadashiv Parachure. REF: Wiki

Gandhi was carried into the house by men. Due to the chaos after the attack, it took ten minutes to take Gandhi inside. By that time he had already lost a lot of blood. No doctor was available to treat him immediately. Manuben and others recited Gita beside Gandhi. Half an hour after the attack, on 30th January 1948, Gandhi breathed his last. The Statesman editorial wrote on 1 February 1948, 

“Numb with sudden tragedy, the people of India mourns their dead leader whom they lately hailed as Father of the Nation. They seem conscious as yet mainly of their loss and the love they bore him. Hearts overflow. But on many lips are questions. What does this calamity portend? He who in many past crises has been there to interpret, to counsel, to lead, is gone.” 

Godse went to court with his head held high without any sign of remorse. He proudly gave his last speech, “If devotion to one’s country amounts to a sin, I admit I have committed that sin. If it is meritorious, I humbly claim the merit thereof. I fully and confidently believe that if there be any other court of justice beyond the one founded by the mortals, my act will not be taken as unjust. If after the death there be no such place to reach or to go, there is nothing to be said. I have resorted to the action I did purely for the benefit of the humanity. I do say that my shots were fired at the person whose policy and action had brought rack and ruin and destruction to lakhs of Hindus.” He was the first person to be hanged in Independent India.

Tagore wrote a poem named 'the Child' in 1903, as if he knew. 
THE PILGRIMS are afraid.

The woman begins to cry, the men in an agony of wretchedness shout at them to stop.

Dogs break out barking and are cruelly whipped into silence broken by moans.

The night seems endless and men and women begin to wrangle as to who among them was to blame.

They shriek and shout and as they are ready to unsheathe their knives the darkness pales, the morning light overflows the mountain tops.

Suddenly they become still and gasp for breath as they gaze at the figure lying dead.

The women sob out loud and men hide their faces in their hands.

A few try to slink away unnoticed,

but their crime keeps them chained to their victim.

They ask each other in bewilderment,

'Who will show us the path?'

The old man from the East bends his head and says:

'The Victim.'

They sit still and silent.

Again speaks the old man,

'We refused him in doubt, we killed him in anger, now we shall accept him in love,

for in his death he lives in the life of us all, the great Victim.'

And they all stand up and mingle their voices and sing,

'Victory to the Victim.'

Both Gandhi and Godse died to achieve what they thought was right. For both them their mission was above their life. Gandhi cared more about individuals than a group like nation or religion. For Godse, the community was above individuals. Was Gandhi right, or was Godse right? The name Gandhi attracts a wide spectrum of emotions. Some regard Gandhi as a saint, a mahatma, who showed the whole world that battles can be won without violence. Einstein said, “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this walked the earth in flesh and blood.” Yet Gandhi had his fair share of critics. He has been labeled as a 'bastard bania', ‘sexual weirdo’ who slept with his young grandniece, and there have been protests against building his statue in London. He has been called a racist and has been accused of being in a homosexual relationship with a German bodybuilder. Gandhi has been accused by many as too religious Hindu, and others as anti-Hindu. While Gandhi fought for the outcastes (dalits), Ambedkar, a dalit, was his most fierce critic. The Father of Nation was not a great father to his own son. Subash and Gandhi parted ways, and yet Subash had immense respect for him and called him ‘Father of Nation’. Tagore and Gandhi had their own differences, but it was Tagore who named him Mahatma. Gandhi’s image is varied and contradictory, and intricately linked to the image of India. He once said, 'See me please in the nakedness of my working, and in my limitation, you will then know me.' To understand India one needs to decode the enigma of Gandhi. That is what the next few posts are going to attempt.

Ref: https://scroll.in/article/696615/farewell-mahatma-an-alternative-history-of-gandhis-assassination

Part 2: The Beginning

Part 3: The Cult of Chakra

Also Check Out:  5 Questions of the Inquisitive Apes 

Written by Subhrashis Adhikari
"Engaging and entertaining, this page-turner is remarkable in its narration and will give you a new perspective on various aspects of life. Wellresearched and heartfelt, the encouraging tone throughout the book tries to motivate towards a happier life." - Times of India


Thursday, October 31, 2019

Legend of Alexander

Alexander the Great Mozaic (Wiki)

After a day of acclimatization for the oxygen starved high altitudes of Ladakh we started our long drive towards Dah to meet Alexander’s kin. It was a hot sunny day and we had to stop 5 kilometres short of Dah. The heat from the scorching sun has melted too much snow, raising the height of water in the river to dangerous levels. Indus, the mighty river that Alexander once crossed to enter India, has overflowed and blocked our path to Dah. But it happened to be our lucky day. 

We came to know from the locals that there is another region where the so-called ‘Pure Aryans’ live. We took a difficult curvy road, up the mountain, to reach the Sanith village that consisted of only 24 houses. The people here look and speak a language different from the Ladakis. These Western Ladakhi people belong to Brokpas or Minaro tribe and speak archaic Shina language. They can be easily identified by their flowery headdress. They prefer to call themselves ‘pure Aryan’ whose ancestors were part of Alexander’s lost army. 

My driver insisted that they speak Aryan language that is a mixture of Hindi and English. Interestingly, though he understands both English and Hindi, he cannot decipher their language. Genetic studies done on the people of Brokpas or Minaro tribe show only a faint Greek connection. As we saw earlier, ‘Aryan’ is not a race, rather a linguistic division. Whatever their origin is, our romanticism with fair skin helps this little isolated tribe with tourism. Being ‘pure Aryans’ did not bring tourism; rather it was tourism that made them ‘pure Aryans’.


Alexander III of Macedon was one of the greatest kings of the ancient world. His father, King Philip, was a great soldier who carved out a powerful army. His mother, Olympias, was a fierce tribal princess who kept snakes as pets. According to rumours, Olympias was struck by a bolt of lightening and was visited by the king of gods, Zeus, when she was pregnant. Hours later Alexander was born. Born under the sign of Leo, the king of beasts, Alexander was destined to achieve greatness. In a single decade he forged an empire as large as the ones Roman Empire accumulated over centuries.

Alexander in Persia

While many tribes have entered India over the ages, Alexander is considered as the first king to have crossed the Indus. There are lots of myths surrounding the legend of Macedon. Thousands of years ago, when the gods walked with the mortals, Indian saints unravelled the mystery of immortality. The magic was found in the juice of Soma plants, growing in the banks of the great Indus River. Alexander the Great, known locally as Sikander, came to know about it and wanted to find it so that he could rule the world eternally. In his voyage, he befriended a local person who was guiding him towards the secret and sacred place. After a point of time they parted ways to make the search quicker. One day, accidentally, a dried fish fell into a spring from the hand of Sikander’s friend. To his surprise, the dead fish came back to life and swam away. Sikander’s friend realized that he had found the fountain of life, also known as Aab-i-Hayat. He drank from the magical spring and told the soldiers to inform Sikander. By the time Sikander reached, the magical spring vanished along with his friend. Sikander’s dream remained unfulfilled, but his friend became a legend. His story can be traced back to the Gilgamesh epic, the Alexander romances, the Jewish legend of Elijah and Rabbi Joshua ben Levi, and even the Koran. He is known by many names. He is al-Khadir or Khwaja Khizr of Muslims, and Uderolal or Jind Pir of Hindus. He is the immortal prophet whose abode is a green island in the Indus River.  With a long white beard he rides along the banks of the river on a pala fish, helping people in trouble.
Khwaja Khizr

In 326BC Sikander became the first western king to cross the Indus River. He allied with the king of Taxila (also called Takshashila), Ambhi Kumar. That alliance was one of the reasons why Taxila University survived Sikander’s onslaught. Sikander’s men saw the university, the ‘like of which was not seen in Greece’. With help from Ambhi, Sikander built a bridge across Indus River. However, his confidence was shattered the moment he crossed into India. Sikander did manage to win against the resilient smaller Indian border tribes called Asvakas but only after a tough fight. The Asvaka women took up arms and fought alongside their men. They preferred a glorious death to a life of dishonor. Sikander was wounded in the fighting. The Macedonian army slaughtered the entire population of Massaga and Ora. However, Sikander’s soldiers were tired after the long and eventful journey away from home. They were now facing the most powerful empire they had encountered so far. With a small army, he easily defeated the mighty Persian Empire. However, he faced his toughest opponent in the form of Puru (Greek Porus), a ruler of a small Indian kingdom. The huge Indian war elephants and their superior weapons, like the two-metre bow, made the army of Puru formidable despite their small numbers. Sikander’s strength was his tactics and battle plan. He had no shortage of supply in the fertile Indus plain and maintained a continuous shipment of equipments all the way from Macedonia.

Alexander’s bold and unexpected move to cross the river at peak monsoon tilted the balance of the war in his favor. The Macedoian king marched across the river at night with 5,000 cavalry and 10,000 infantry, leaving behind major chunk of his soldiers and one person dressed as the king to deceive Puru. By the time Puru came to know about this unexpected move it was late. He assumed it to be a ruse, and send his son with just 2000 cavalry and 120 chariots to counter the attack. That was the blunder that cost Puru the war. Puru’s son died in the battle but not before wounding Sikander and killing his enemy’s favourite horse. It was still a moral victory for Sikander’s men. On hearing the news of his son’s death, fuming Puru attacked Sikander with his main force. After a long and fierce fighting Sikander managed to win the Battle of Hydaspes, but not before it left his army devastated. It was the costliest battle fought by Sikander’s men. Sikander was impressed by the bravery of Puru and asked him how he should be treated. Puru replied, ‘Like a king’. Alexander asked again if he had anything else to request. Puru explained, ‘Everything is comprised in the words, like a king’.

Puru accepts defeat

On the east of Ganges, India’s most powerful kingdoms were ready to take on Sikander. Sikander retreated, fearing a valiant attack from the joint forces of Nanda dynasty of Bihar and Gangaridai Empire of Vanga (which could well be the same empire). According to the writings of Greek authors like Megasthenes and Ptolemy, Gangaridai was the most powerful empire in India at that time. They maintained an army of ‘20,000 horses, 200,000 infantry, 2,000 chariots and 4,000 elephants trained and equipped for war’. Ruins of the empire have been excavated from a small village called Berachampa, just ~35 kilometres from Kolkata. It was probably the biggest army in the world of that time. Sikander’s army was homesick and was in no mood to take on their biggest foe. Fearing mutiny in his own camp, Sikander had to turn back disappointed without fulfilling his dream of conquering the world. The return journey happened through water instead of land. The ships sailed in the late 326BCE from Jhelum and Indus to the Arabian Sea. The downriver journey took six months due to the constant attack from the riverine people who have heard horrible tales about the conqueror of the world. One of the arrows stuck Sikander in the chest. He succumbed to the wounds around three years later.

Alexander the Great Receiving News of the Death by Immolation of the Indian Gymnosophist Calanus - Jean-Baptiste de Champaigne - 1672, Ref - Wiki

Once, while in India, Sikander asked a group of Jain philosophers why they were ignoring the great conqueror. The philosophers replied, ‘King Alexander, every man can possess only so much of earth’s surface as this we are standing on. You are but a human like rest of us. . . . You will soon be dead, and then you will own just as much of the earth as will suffice to bury you.’ Jainism was a dominant religion in Western India at that time and the wise monks impressed Sikander. He was especially fond of Calanus of Taxila, who criticized Greek philosophy with his sharp logic. The king took him to Persia as a teacher. At an age of 73 years Calanus decided that we was too weak to live anymore. The harsh weather of Persia took a toll on his body. The naked philosopher self-immolated himself, despite dissuasion from his legendary disciple. His last word to the king was, ‘We shall meet in Babylon’. But Sikander has no plans of going to Babylon. As fate would have it, that is where one of the greatest king of the world breathed his last. For the Indians, Sikander’s adventures were just a minor skirmish at the borders. Sikander did not leave behind much impact on Indian culture and thus hardly finds any mention in the contemporaneous texts. However, he did leave behind a porous connection between east and west through which art, science and culture diffused slowly over time. It is through the same border that a series of invasions took place.


Also Check Out:  5 Questions of the Inquisitive Apes 

Written by Subhrashis Adhikari
"Engaging and entertaining, this page-turner is remarkable in its narration and will give you a new perspective on various aspects of life. Wellresearched and heartfelt, the encouraging tone throughout the book tries to motivate towards a happier life." - Times of India


Monday, October 21, 2019

Is there Free Will?

In this age of information, we are constantly being bombarded with data that affect our perception. Often times, the media persistently project a single story that gets imprinted in our brains, leading to prejudice. A country like India can be thought of as very unsafe for women. US could be thought of as a precarious place where you might get shot down the moment you land. People from Nigeria might be considered as tribal, even though Nigeria has perfectly modern cities. Once we are anchored to a particular way of thinking, it becomes very difficult to get rid of the prejudices. We often fail to comprehend that our opinion might be just one of the thousand possible stories that we have never heard. The single stories themselves may not be wrong. But, it is just a one-sided story. Truth is multi-faceted. Is our future multi-faceted too? Or is it that we do not have any free will?

"The problem of free will is not about the lack of choice or determinism, but about the way we choose."

Scott Adam’s 2004 Dilbert cartoon aptly says, ‘Free will is an illusion. People always choose the perceived path of greatest pleasure.’ Do we have free will? One would have thought that science has already solved this problem. Quite surprisingly, it hasn’t. It has only changed the way we look at the question. No more do we think that we are at the mercy of some higher powers. The problem of free will is not about the lack of choice or determinism, but about the way we choose. We may like to think that we are in control of our life, at least till we get married! Unfortunately, most of the things that happen to us are outside our control. I did not choose when, where and to whom I was born. I did not select my genes. And in all likelihood, I will have no free will about my death. My looks, my gender, my religion and nationality were predetermined. However, all these factors had a strong influence in determining who I am today. My genetics determines my nature, and my family determines my nurture. This means that we can never have complete freedom of choice. Random events along with our nature and nurture limit the choices we have. Having said that, there are a lot of things that are within our sphere of influence, like the way I want to colour my hair, the profession I want to be in, choosing my partner or when to have a baby. Even the choices that are in our control are influenced by external factors, especially our family. Rich people will have a different set of options than poor people for the same problem. Often our parents and teachers influence our career and thus the profession we choose. Choosing your partner is not just a one-sided decision; the other person needs to agree as well. When to have a baby, and sometimes even what colour you want your hair to be, is often a decision that you make along with your partner. How much of free will does that leave us with?

"We are a very negligible part of the entire universe. If the laws of physics guide everything in the universe, including the birth of the galaxy and origin of life, then why would our thoughts, or we for that matter, be any different?"

Let us ignore all the external factors for the time being and say that only you decide what to choose. When I started having thyroid problems, I noticed that I lost my temper very easily. I became a different person. It made me realize that a lot of what we are depends on the biochemical that flow in our body. These, in turn, depend on our brain. This is well documented in the case of Phineas P. Gage. In 1848, Gage suffered a major accident and lost a part of his brain. The loss of that particular part of the brain, prefrontal lobe to be exact, turned a cheerful well- mannered gentleman into a self-destructive habitual liar. Similar cases have been observed with other individuals with damaged prefrontal lobe. The prefrontal lobe, we now know, controls our emotions. Recent studies in neuroscience indicate that our thoughts could well be a product of biochemical algorithms written in our brain.

"We often fail to comprehend that our opinion might be just one of the thousand possible stories that we have never heard."

How we behave and react to situations depend more on the structure of our brain rather than the situation itself. Take for example the feelings of fear, anger, lust and love. They are the same all around the globe because they stem from the genetic make-up of our species and those feelings results from secretion of same biochemicals. When we are threatened, our brain releases adrenalin and cortisol that create the feeling of fear. Lust is governed by dopamine while the feeling of love by oxytocin. These chemicals are not any different for an African or a Chinese or a European. These chemicals can even be released artificially by intake of drugs or stimulating the right part of the brain through electrodes. We will have the feeling, corresponding to the part that is triggered, without any reason for feeling the same. What if the choice you are about to make is guided by your brain’s chemistry, determined by your genes and memories that you have no control over, following all the rules of physics that are fixed? We are a very negligible part of the entire universe. If the laws of physics guide everything in the universe, including the birth of the galaxy and origin of life, then why would our thoughts, or we for that matter, be any different?

This begs the question, where is free will? An interesting experiment was done almost 35 years ago by Dr. Benjamin Libet. Libet’s Experiment demonstrated that the unconscious response precedes, and potentially cause conscious or volitional decisions 300 milliseconds before you actually take that decision! If our unconscious mind is deciding for us, then it puts some serious doubts on our free will. Are we mistaking randomness for free will? The experiment received widespread fame and critics. May be our conscious mind has a veto power. May be, the way the experiment was conducted had flaws. Even then, we cannot disagree about the fact that absolute free will is a myth.

A 40-year-old man became addicted to child pornography after he developed tumour in the or bitofrontal cortex. Once the tumour was removed, his addiction vanished. Similarly, Charles Whitman, a 25-year-old loving husband suddenly turned into a mass murderer. The cause was a large tumour that pressed down his amygdala, a part of the brain that controls emotion. This brings us to the dilemma of justice. Who do we blame in such situation, the person or the tumour? Every decision we take is in some way affected by our genes, the way we were brought up, and any changes or damages that may happen to our brain. Some might argue that it is the non-conscious process in the brain that drives all our actions. While we can never be completely free, I would like to believe that we are not completely helpless about deciding our future. Or, at least my brain would want me to believe that. While the biochemical inside our body affect our behaviour, our behaviour in turn can affect the chemicals. With help of the right lifestyle, we can change the way we behave. With the help of medical treatments we can cure thyroid problems or tumours. I sincerely hope that it is not the apparent chaos which gives us the illusion of free will.

"We can go to the extent of saying that our perception is more of a hallucination than reality."

The way we make sense of the world depends on the way our brain receives information coming through the sense organs and make stories. In truth, we cannot sense anything directly. All our perceptions are indirect, with the help of proxies. We can go to the extent of saying that our perception is more of a hallucination than reality. One might say that our sense organs do a pretty good job of replicating the reality in our minds. That is why my interpretation of the world broadly matches yours. The Taj Mahal is the same for all the people who have seen it. Its beauty might be just in our brain, but the physical reality of the Taj Mahal has to exist. There must be a fundamental reality that is beyond the boundaries of our mind. What if we all are biased in the same way? We have evolved together and almost have the same genes. Since our brain is similar, our understanding has to be similar. 

Then there are a lot of things that we assume should match, actually does not. Different people interpret the same thing in different ways. Some may observe details, while others see the big picture. Some people have brains focused on facts, while others may be more imaginative. There is no right or wrong way to make sense of the universe. 

Even fundamental things like time and space are more mysterious than we think. Experiments in quantum physics are destroying the very fabric of our known comfortable world. And, it is not just at the micro scale. New experiments are replicating the weirdness of quantum world in macro scale. All possible realities might exist, and we just happen to remember one at a time. May be in one of the universes it is Schrödinger who is in the box and is both dead and alive till Dr. Cat opens it. The single universe of Classical Physics might be the simplified story that our brain writes. Does the Heisenberg uncertainty give us free will? It is more of a hope. The arrow of time works both ways in physics. If all possibilities exists and at all times....then each and every possibility is already fixed.

"All possible realities might exist, and we just happen to remember one at a time."

From the Book  5 Questions of the Inquisitive Apes

Written by Subhrashis Adhikari
"Engaging and entertaining, this page-turner is remarkable in its narration and will give you a new perspective on various aspects of life. Wellresearched and heartfelt, the encouraging tone throughout the book tries to motivate towards a happier life." - Times of India