आ नो भद्रा: क्रतवो यन्तु विश्वत:।
The line comes from R̥gvēda, and is commonly translated as: May noble thoughts come to us from all directions. Last week has been especially busy with thoughts from all directions that could hardly be considered “noble”.
Meena Ashley Harris tweeted a meme showing her aunt, Kamala Devi Harris, as Ma Durgā slaying Donald Trump as Mahiṣāsura, and riding on Joe Biden as the lion. Whether the lion had cold or it was just sniffing around was not clarified by her. As memes go, it was a shoddy one too, done by someone whose Photoshop skills were as as bad as, if not worse than, the fact-checking skills of NDTV. While the outrage was mostly unsurprising, the little part that did surprise me was when some commented whether she would do the same with other religions. Which other major religions have a powerful mother goddess destroying an evil monster? Meena Harris later deleted the tweet because she figured that her aunt could do with one less controversy.
#MyNameIsPramila, tweeted another candidate, and enlightened us that her name comes from the Sanskrit word “prem” which means love. The Sanskrit word “prema” does mean love, or affection, but it has as much to do with Pramila as biriyani has to do with the Moghuls. What the word “pramila” does mean is one who is tired or fatigued, as we all are listening to the unhinged lunacy of the US election campaign. Even the Pasha of Placards, Jack Dorsey, must have realized that Trump supporters are no “pramila”, that is, not tired, when it comes to spreading their side of the story, and made retweeting a little more difficult. Pramila herself gave a glimpse of the campaign madness. Since her name is constantly mispronounced, she confessed, she urged everyone to vote for Biden. I mean, this is coming from a party whose own vice-presidential candidate gives the pronunciation of her name as comma followed by la. Well, it’s her name so who are we to question what she does with it?
I would not be surprised if Shobhaa De or Shabana Azmi use the same argument to urge voters to vote for Rahul Gandhi. My name is Shabana. It comes from the Arabic word “bana” which means a tall, thin tree of gums. The name is constantly mispronounced as is my last name. Let’s build an inclusive India. Vote for Rahul Gandhi.
If only people pronounced names properly, democracies would work better. I wonder why no one thought of this “noble thought” earlier. Interestingly, we should extend this nominal research to find out whether the stereotypical mispronunciation by Malayalis and Bengalis led to communist and quasi-communist regimes in their states. We can then research whether the inability to pronounce, say, Bharatiyata or Vishveshwarayya, was a reason for some undemocratic events in the past.
Surat Police posted their Navratri “wishes” online with #NoToViolence and the line: Every woman has a Durga inside. On other days Surat Police, and many others who vie to be upholders of morality during and around Hindu festivals, forget that every woman has a Durga inside. They must thank our goddesses that the festival is celebrated for nine days instead of one or two, so that at least for nine days these Pecksniffian pretenders can remember that every woman has a Durga inside. For the benefit of these “noble people” with “noble thoughts”, Navratri is celebrated four times a year. If you could learn more about the Hindu calendar, instead of mooning over political sons and Bollywood stars, you could beat your moral trumpet by tweeting anything from “No to Violence” to “Respect Women” 36 times a year. In fact, here is a suggestion. If you learn more about the Hindu traditions, you can sing a different moral tune every day because there is something auspicious every day. Why wait for some beheading in Paris to talk about Sanghi, Hindutva mobs, and Sanghi terrorism – the very words used by some two-bit troll who masquerades as a social activist?
Imagine, just as a detour, that you are in a ristorante (such places are called ristorante, not restaurant) that serves Italian food. You order a pepperoni pizza and wait for an hour, only to find that the pizza they have served has one slice missing, and one slice bitten off. You call the chef (such ristoranti have a chef, not a cook), stand up, and then announce in front of the other patrons (such ristoranti have patrons, not customers) that the sambar in Udupi hotel is atrocious, that those who frequent Udupi hotels are goons, and that sambar terrorism is an international scourge that needs to be destroyed.
Does that make sense to you? Yet, this is the argument that involves Hindutva and the Sangh. Beheading in Paris. Blame Hindutva. Bomb blast in Boston. Blame the Sangh. Burglary in Burundi. Blame the bhakts. Bullshit in cow-dung. Blame the BJP. The only one for who this argument makes sense, in a sense of speaking, is the patron who rants about Udupi and sambar because it comes from a place of malice. The only one who finds this argument enchanting is the chef because his beheaded pepperoni is now forgotten. The question, however, is not whether the outrageous patron makes sense, or whether the contented chef would remain pigheaded on biting off pepperoni slices, but this: Did even one of the other patrons stand up in support of Udupi and sambar?
Since we are on restaurants, a few restaurants in Delhi provided food to Rohingya refugees with the message that food has no religion. A noble thought and I must say that food has no religion is a very kosher, very halal, thought too. If you help people on Eid, it is because benevolence and generosity are an integral part of Islam. If you help people on Christmas, it is because Jesus told us so wonderfully to share what we have. If you help people on Bill Gates’s birthday, which is next week, it is because charity is what makes the world go round. If you help people on Navratri, it is because food has no religion.
If you want to perform charity, any day is good. Distress does not come just on festivals – although this may get some people’s goats – but do not try to act as if you are the next best thing to happen since Udupi sambar. Every mandir, every math, helps millions all over the world every day – just that they do not have cameras focused on their cooking wares, except, of course, when they cook without onions, in which case food does have a religion.
Speaking of “noble thoughts”, could Bollywood be far behind? If Bollywood movies have not done enough damage by churning out rubbish in the name of Holi and Navratri, the Bollywood production and distribution company, Eros, just went one step ahead. For whatever reasons, whether their Dubai connection or their corporate deracination or just their name, Eros, they considered Navratri as a playtime for some casual sex. “Do you want to put the “ratri” in my Navratri?” said Katrina. “You need a dandi to play dandiya? I have one,” said Salman. “Let’s have some majama in my pajama,” said Ranveer, although he later clarified that since he wears his pajama on his head, he just meant that we should have some fun puzzles to solve.
How can any corporate house stoop to the level of spouting third-rate double-entendres for a festival that worships goddesses? Well, Eros has been a part of Bollywood since decades, and such decadence is not surprising. It’s the same story as with food. Christmas is a time of festivities, of singing carols and jingling bells, or red-nosed reindeer and merry mistletoe, never mind that there are no reindeer in India, red-nosed or diagnosed, and all you can find in India is misal paav instead of mistletoe. Eid is a time of togetherness, of bonding with family and friends, of sharing, caring, and declaring that you are thankful for all that the Almighty has given to you. Navratri is a time of letting loose your libidos with Salman and Katrina.
So much for “noble thoughts coming to us from all directions”. Granted that these verses were written long before the Mughal conquest or the Spanish inquisition, long before SI units and sewage lines, and long before computer programming and artificial intelligence. Yet, they hold good even today, despite the fact that we are beset with so much degeneracy that it would shame electrons dancing in a white dwarf star.
In the same hymn from R̥gvēda that I mentioned earlier, comes this line:
भद्रं कर्णेभिः शृणुयाम देवाः भद्रं पश्येमाक्षभिर्यजत्राः।
“May we hear with our ears that which is blessed, O Devas! May we see with our eyes that which is blessed!”
Even if the verses were written, as I said, long before English and Urdu existed, the world of our ancestors was not some idealistic utopia, where all they did was wake up early and worship the Gods who surrounded them, till the land for a bountiful crop, tend the cattle for milk and curd, sell the wares at the central market with a board that said “Fixed Price No Bargaining”, and drink the Soma juice as an offering to the Gods (this is the only part that many sadly remember from more than 10000 verses). After a day’s hard work, some would sit by the river banks with a few friends and gossip about some stage actor or a minister, or, spend the evening with a beloved who has worn a Shiuli flower behind her ear and is playfully splashing the cool flowing water. They would all then go to sleep early knowing well that the Gods would take care of them the next day.
We would like to believe that this is what happened, because, deep down, we believe in the sedative of nonviolence. Even in those seemingly halcyon days, there were attacks from enemy hoards, there were terrible battles fought, and while our ancestors prayed to the Gods for strength, they were also prepared with fierce weapons.
अव स्थिरा तनुहि भूरि शर्धतां वनेमा ते अभिष्टिभिः।
“Bring down the hopes of our enemies, and let us vanquish them with your aid.”
For noble thoughts to come from all directions, we should also be in a position of strength. Just wishing for them is not enough. I am sure that you could feel the change in the wind – while the winter is about to set in, the fire inside has been burning steadily.
(The article is based on the eponymous episode from my podcast, Concise Kansaratva. You could listen to the podcast below, from here, or on any of the other platforms.)
DISCLAIMER: The author is solely responsible for the views expressed in this article. The author carries the responsibility for citing and/or licensing of images utilized within the text.