Monday, 30th October 2017

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  • Published 1.03.99
Faith is the greatest obstacle Many readers accuse me of harbouring anti-religious sentiments. This is not correct. I respect all religions as well as the people who subscribe to them. My grouse is that all religions, as practised today in India, have become a waste of time which do not benefit society or make individuals better human beings. I need not labour too much to prove that no people on earth spend so much time in prayers, meditation, rituals, pilgrimages and listening to so called spiritual discourses as Indians. Nor do any other people enjoy as many religious holidays. For a country left far behind others in the race for prosperity such behaviour must change, the sooner the better. Religious institutions and preachers can be very effective in solving our nation?s problems if they shed their traditional roles of only performing rituals and singing bhajans. It will be hard for them as they have acquired vested interests in what they do. Their activities do not benefit society at all. I venture to make some suggestions. First, no place of worship should be granted land or permission to build unless it has provision for a primary school and teaching staff to go with it. Second, priests should not perform the sacred thread, amrit or marriage ceremonies of boys and girls unless they have studied upto class 10. Third, at every marriage ceremony, the priest should make the couple take an oath that on the birth of their second child both will voluntarily undergo sterilisation. Fourth, Hindu and Sikh priests should inform people that nothing in their religion forbids disposal of the dead by burial under the earth or in the sea. On the contrary they should emphasise that uprooting a tree to use its wood to get rid of corpses is irreligious. Local authorities should provide space close to towns and villages where Hindu and Sikh dead can be buried. No monuments may be built on their graves, only a tree planted to mark the site and the land returned to agriculture after five years. Many Hindu communities in the south bury the dead; eminent Hindu leaders like Swami Chhinmayananda were buried in recent years. Fifth, religious preachers must emphasise the value of earning one?s livelihood. Guru Nanak made work an article of Sikh faith: kirt karo (work), vand chhako (share what you earn), naam japo (take the name of the Lord). Note the order of priorities: work comes first, charity and prayer come later. It is from his teachings that I have coined the slogan for modern India: Work is worship but worship is not work. Reigns of terror I hold Shekhar Kapoor in high regard both as a film director and a gentleman. I had met him only once when he came to invite me to a private showing of Bandit Queen. The film was having trouble with the censors because of its scenes of violence, gangrape and the use of abusive language. I saw it, thought it was a masterpiece and everything it showed fully justified, as it dealt with Phoolan Devi, who had been vilely abused by men and wreaked vengeance by the only means left to her ? taking the law in one hand and a gun in the other. Seema Biswas played the role of the bandit queen with superb skill. I wrote that it was the best film I had seen in many years. Then came the invitation to a screening of Elizabeth. I had read a lot about its reception in England and the United States. Most critics were perplexed that an Indian should be directing a film on so English a subject. They were impressed with the way Kapoor handled it and how he had successfully introduced Bollywood concepts into an Anglo-American film. Since I don?t trust my own judgement, I took along with me a young mother and daughter who are avid film goers. I told them I would rely heavily on what they thought. ?But we like all films,? said both of them. That was that. Did Elizabeth I, known as the ?Virgin Queen?, have anything in common with the boatman?s daughter, Phoolan Devi, who became the terror of the ravines of the Chambal ? For Kapoor the two films were celebrations of violence. Phoolan, the gangsters? moll who, with her band of dacoits, robbed and killed villagers. The English queen did not have to kill herself: she ordered the beheading of noblemen she found inconvenient. Phoolan had a lot of justification for what she did; Elizabeth had very little ? she was simply a sadist. Phoolan was deflowered in her teens, gangraped many times and had to service the young men of the gang with whom she lived in the ravines. Elizabeth had many suitors and admirers. Not much is known of her sex life. According to Kapoor she was a lusty woman: he depicts a love scene in her bed chamber. You can?t see much behind the curtains but only hear a lot moaning and screaming to know that the virgin queen was in the throes of a climax. Kapoor has gone to town portraying an orgy of gruesome killings. He starts with the burning of Protestants by a Catholic mob. There are many scenes of torture in a dungeon and heads being cut off by an axe. They can churn even the toughest stomach. I found it excessive. I can?t fault him on anything else. He studied portraits of Elizabeth and got her likeness in Cate Blanchett ? ginger haired and freckled. She is also very animated. He has used costumes of the period, dances and music that seem as authentic as any I have seen or heard. Nevertheless, I found Elizabeth somewhat lacking in focus and a trifle boring. However, I was in the minority of one. As the hall emptied out I ran into a dozen secretaries from various departments of the Central government who were waiting for their cars. I asked them what they thought of the film. Their unanimous verdict was ?excellent?. Now that it has won several Oscar nominations, the best I can do is admit that I am a very poor judge of films. When gentle woman stoops to fall A gentle woman, graceful and fair/ Has had a fall from nowhere,/ A housewife stark, unsuspecting, illiterate/ Was ordered one day to run a state,/ She ran as fast as a wall/ And, naturally, she had to fall./ Call the man of scam and crores/ Who in the streets of Patna roars,/ Why him alone ? Call them all/ The fat, the big and the tall:/ With rite and ritual, holy unction/ Formally declare this nation/ To be their private fiefdom,/ To be passed on to a wife or a son/ So that in future there is no fall/ Of a gentle woman, after all. Spare the use to keep the looks My wife looks much younger than her years. I have always attributed her appearance to her genes and my loving care. Recently, Trevor Osman, former vice-chief of air staff, made his profound observation known to me: ?The generals? private cars and wives have two things in common; they are both well maintained and sparingly used.? (Contributed by General Surjit Singh, Calcutta) BY ARRANGEMENT WITH THE HINDUSTAN TIMES