Don’t tell me what to eat!

This rather angst-ridden post comes at a time when the country I reside in (India) is going through something along the lines of what can only be described as a shit-storm. There is a reason to why I choose to call it the country I reside in and not my country, and that reason has a lot to do with my disregard for the glorified nationalism that is patriotism; but that is something I will (hopefully, if I remember and have the energy) address in a later post. Today, however, I wish to talk about the most recent malady gripping this nation: a food ban.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this particular atrocity, here is a brief, heavily biased summary: The ruling political party in the country, the BJP, has launched a thinly veiled communal movement against religious minorities in the country in an attempt to make the country a “Hindu” nation. The controversial prime minister recently made the appointment of an even more controversial individual, and a Hindu religious leader no less, as the chief minister of the most populous state in the country (UP); a state with a larger Muslim population than Saudi Arabia. Understandably, a host of events has taken place since then, furthering the already mammoth divide between the left and right-wing individuals. I will not go into the host of issues I have with the government, but just highlight the one that is currently on my mind: the new UP government has started a crackdown against “illegal” slaughterhouses, under the guise of which hundreds of thousands of

Understandably, a host of events has taken place since then, furthering the already mammoth divide between the left and right-wing individuals. I will not go into the host of issues I have with the government, but just highlight the one that is currently on my mind: the new UP government has started a crackdown against “illegal” slaughterhouses, under the guise of which hundreds of thousands of meat vendors, the majority of them being Muslims, have been put out of business. Repercussions of this have been seen in states across the country, where vigilantes have taken to violence against even the legally operating meat vendors.

It does not take a great leap of understanding to see that this crusade against meat and meat vendors fits snugly into the communal image of the BJP. Hinduism has been mistakenly associated with vegetarianism for hundreds of years now (I say mistakenly because the archaeological and historical experts have agreed, time and again, that the oldest practitioners of Hinduism weren’t bothered about who ate what, and, what’s more, even sacrificed animals as part of prayers), and the BJP covertly seeks to make India a Hindu land, and thus a vegetarian one. The recent introduction of Hindi, a language which people, again, mistakenly, associate with India and Hinduism, into non-Hindi speaking states is a further example of how the Centre wishes to rebrand “India as is Bharath” as Hindustan.

For the purposes of this post, I’ll drop my “leftist” agenda which condemns the central government. I’ll even let slide the obvious linguistic chauvinism which is currently threatening the diversity of one of the most beautifully diverse nations of the world. What I cannot let up, however, is people telling me what to and what not to eat. We are a secular nation, which entails the freedom to be who we are, do what we want (as long as it is within the legal limits) and eat what we bloody want. Not going into the whole shenanigans about how necessary animal protein is for people, it’s a simple thing to understand: people have a right to food.

People who choose to follow religious limitations (yet again, a topic which I feel strongly towards and hope to speak about soon) to the extent of depriving themselves of certain things are more than free to do so, but who gives anyone the authority to restrict people not only from eating whatever it is that they wish, but also take away a major source of livelihood? What right does a democratically elected leader have to say that the practice of a religion should be done stringently, and to subsequently encroach upon the basic human rights of his people?

Tomorrow, if a leader is elected who bans the “illegal” sale of leafy greens, are we supposed to silently sit back and withstand the deprivation of an essential component of our diet? Fuck that, if the government decides to ban the “illegal” sale of chocolates, would we stand for it?

If yes, then, honestly, very little can be said here. People who are willing to submit so utterly to authority (authority which is barely educated, has a skewed world view, and takes religious communalism to a whole new level), then what are free-thinkers to do? How can anyone win in a fight where the other side has already decided that there is no competition.

If no, then why stop me from eating my tenderloin steak if I don’t stop you from eating whatever dismal cabbage creation you’ve concocted? Is it because my food offends you more than yours offends me? How can food be offensive to a person, unless you’re taking that offense as part of something larger, say a religion. If my food offends your religion, don’t eat my food. Why should I stop eating my food because it offends your religion? You religion is the primary religion of the country, you say?

Check again.

We live in a “secular” country where trying to get things like beef, which is now a traditional part of many Muslim households, is like trying to score drugs. I have a simple question, aimed at the prime minister and the chief minister of UP (whom I affectionately call Dhonginath; we have an understanding): if I don’t force you to eat meat as part of my religion (that of the Flying Spaghetti Monster), why do you stop me from eating it?

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Love to the linguistically challenged

First of all, I would like to apologise to my readers and, indeed, to my little corner of the Internet, for being away so long. The tides of life were rough, and I had found myself once again clamouring to hold on to the edges of the boat we call sanity as I ventured into the choppy waters of the unknown. Realising, however, that there was nothing to be gained at the end of a long, sane life, however, I decided to leap from my safeguard turned slave ship, and dove further into the waters of questioning depth than I had thought possible, with no reason to resurface for the air which now seemed poisoned.

But rest assured, I am back for good. There can, of course, be no guarantee as to that statement, but I implore you to put a little faith in the same person you have invested your time in, for armed with the support of strangers I know nothing about, what can’t I do? I do not claim to have gotten rid of the malady which rendered me incapacitated for the rather large period of time in which I was away, but I can promise to you, as my faithful supporters, to try my best to overcome it for the brief period of time that it requires me to post something.

Today, I am here to speak to you about a conversation which I had not a day ago, and which, indeed, I was forced to leave midway, for the other party to the conversation decided that there was work to be done; and, as people who have engaged in the noble art of conversing with tell you, it takes two. It was a most interesting conversation, with a most interesting individual, not least because I am deeply interested in the individual of whom I speak. It was a conversation about a topic which is very personal to me, and a topic on which I welcome debate wholeheartedly. I talk, of course, about language.

It was the opinion of my dear friend that language was not the worthwhile creation that I made it out to be. My friend maintained that language was imperfect, and that it was rendered worthless by the blatant attempts of men and women throughout the centuries trying to attest to its perfection. The conversation naturally drew into the confines of art, which my companion seemed to think the better form of expression, because, as was so eloquently put to me, “at least people don’t pretend it to be perfect communication. It’s known to be imperfect, and for once that is right.”

But forever the champion of language, and an aspiring word-smith at heart, this bashing of language was not something I was able to tolerate. Indeed, tempers often run high in opinionated debates such as these, but I was determined to deem language victorious in this battle, or die trying. And so I argued my case, and what should be my first argument, other than the perfect imperfections of language?

Language is imperfect, that is true. Every form of communication is imperfect. The attempt to join ideas of the mind, so infinite in their proportions, by the limitations of man-made communication is a foolish errand, yet one we must undertake. The power of words does not lie in their flawless existence, but in their effectiveness despite their flaws. And most of all, the success of language lies in poetry, which communicates not thoughts and ideas, but feelings; a singularly astonishing feat.

How, then, in the face of millennia of evidence, can one deny the effectiveness of language? How can one claim it to be any less than art, or music, or any other form of communication. The flaws, the imperfections of language, they are what make it flawless and perfect. It is true that those who pretend that language is perfect are deluded and in the dark, but all those who know where the fallacies of language lie, they are masters of this elusive creation of mankind.

Language is not just a means of communication to one another. Its only purpose is not the relaying of ideas of one mind for the complete comprehension of another. Were that the case, language would not need to evolve; merely the creation of a few means of delivery of messages would suffice. No, language is meant to express, to show what is felt as well as thought. Were language a perfect creation, how would there be any room of difference of opinion, for personal interpretation, and, indeed, for growth as we know it?

It is best that language exists for us in its broken and imperfect form. It allows us to grow as a species, as a civilisation, and allows for the preservation of centuries of ideas, which we may never have the original gist of, but which we can appreciate all the same.

And to those who pretend that language is perfect, know this: you only seek to damage the beauty of language by doing so. Perfection is an illusion and, far worse than this, it is a sinful delusion, the likes of which have razed many great entities to the ground. It is my request, as a firm devotee of the flaws of language, to let this singular entity be free of the shackles of perfection.

Dealing in joy

It has often come to my attention that the Universe has, over the course of the few billion years of its existence, lost its grip on the balance of things which usually governs everything we do. I tend to flatter myself every now and then and thus took it upon me to restore the balance which I so very sorely missed.

A word of advice here, one which I have myself created and which has nothing to do with the habit of which I spoke previously: maintaining the balance of the Universe is easier said than done. Valiantly though I had set out upon my conquest, I gave up unfortunately quickly.

Often, you will find that the need to be useful, and the desire to be productive can work miracles in the case of despair. The very same happened with me earlier this year. Feeling downhearted at the prospect off having let go of my noble desire, rather mission, I found solace and, for all intents and purposes, inspiration, in chocolate, of which too I have promised to speak.

It was perhaps the sinful, bitter taste of chocolate which awakened my senses as no imbalance of the Universe had. I looked around me and was startled to see that people spoke with one another in monotonous, expressionless tones and with dull, lifeless faces. Scattered amidst these scenes of indifference were façades of intense, unyielding misery.

I myself am a great admirer of joy: sheer, unadulterated humour is my idea of time best spent. To see this lack of joy in abundance in a surrounding which I was associated with did not sit well with me. I then decided to spread as much joy as I could, which at once reminded me of the restoration vow I had taken earlier. This got me thinking about how one large, integrated vow was much easier to keep than two rather difficult ones.

This logic, at the time of its conception, had made wonderful sense and so I was prompted to follow it through to the end. I did, and I can proudly say that I found a way to bring my integrated vow to life and to hold on to it. Fortunately, the plan unfolded flawlessly and seemed to have a lot of promise in store.

It is rather a simple pan you see. For every sad, miserable, teary-eyed person I find, I shall provide some form of joy, humour or comic relief to another. In such a way, I play my own trivial part in the restoration of the Universal balance along with spreading joy, thus fulfilling both of my vows. At the end of the day, I sit and match up my joyful people with the Universe’s miserable ones.

Soon, I spotted a glaring flaw in my thus far beautifully logical act of charity: the people that I do distribute joy to eventually become miserable too. And so, I decided to instigate a small change in my M.O. Instead of providing joy to a person for every miserable person I see, I decided to give out joy to as many people as I could.

One fine day, while championing the great cause of Universal balance, I was struck with brand new realisation. Since I was helping the Universe with restoring its balance, it would be senseless if the Universe didn’t pay me back somehow. And so, based upon that completely vague, absolutely abstract and downright senseless deduction, I set out looking for a gift, more payment than gift really, from the Universe. Adamant to prove to myself that I wasn’t in fact going crazy, I actually found something which could very well be Universe’s sign.

You see, every once in a while, when the Universe feels grateful for my help, it pays me back with ready-made humour. It may be a scenario which greatly amuses me, or seeing people laugh out, or anything which makes me feel like my conquest is, in fact, paying off. This may make absolutely no sense, but once you start to give out some joy, then you shall see the feeling of greatness which accompanies seeing joy in action. For spreading joy has a joy of its own.

Happy with the progress  I was making, I decided to tell my friend about my noble act, whose only query was regarding the identity of my dealing partner. I am an atheist, and so it made no sense to my friend that I should talk about the Universe as an entity. My response was rather obscure and is really quite difficult to explain but I shall try my best nonetheless.

When I talk about the Universe needing help or the Universe paying me back I don’t mean a particular entity who is somehow in charge of the various ongoings of things around us. I refer instead to the Universal sense of balance which is so very sorely missing nowadays. This is the same sense of balance which is responsible for the existence of day and night, for desert and ocean, for sky and ground, for good and evil, for light and dark.

“Who creates that balance? Looks to keep it stable?” asked my friend and, momentarily, I was stumped. Then I answered as best as I could: the beauty of the Universe is that it doesn’t need anyone to balance. Every single particle, every single molecule works to maintain that balance by its own. Every particle in the Universe will go about doing what it is meant to do irrespective of whether we spot it or not.

My friend’s next question was even more trying: “How do these particles know that it’s their job to give you funny stuff to laugh at?” And yet again I thought that my brilliant theory had met its close, but it hadn’t. The Universe doesn’t create anything for me, or for you, or for anyone. The Universe simply exists, it prolongs its own life, and should one spot something which they feel is out of place and they meddle, well so be it.

The only reason that the Universe seems out of balance to me is because I spot something and that it is out of balance. Maybe it is not so at all, maybe the Universe is perfectly in balance, maybe my meddling will have not make any difference at all and we will end up exactly where we were  supposed to in the first place.

My friend doesn’t like the concept of anything predestined. To all such people: maybe nothing is meant to be a particular way, maybe the Universal balance has been disturbed, maybe its been disturbed because ages ago someone meddled, maybe my meddling will also cause some effect, maybe the Universe does need someone to spot its discrepancies.

Whatever may be the case, as long as what I am doing doesn’t have any detrimental effects, I feel confident in carrying on with my mission. I shall keep doing what I do, until I can sense that the Universal balance has been somewhat restored. Wish me luck.

Curious?

Sometime ago, in a past I am more than willing to forget, I had a discussion with a close friend about whether curiosity or desire was more necessary for development in the world. Needless to say the discussion quickly shifted focus to what, in fact, was development. Unsatisfied by the turn of events, we decided to modify the criterion of our discussion to whether it was curiosity or desire which was the reason behind most of the scientific pursuits and developments.

Being more of a “why” person as opposed to a “what if” person, I took it upon myself to become curiosity’s knight, little aware of the fact that I was up against desire’s bishop. I returned from the contest alive, but barely so. It was a Pyrrhic victory if there ever was one, for the comfort which I had with regard to curiosity had been gone. I didn’t believe in the sanctity of curiosity anymore and, if that discussion were to be held again today, I would  just as willingly fight for desire as I once did for curiosity.

Sitting at my desk today it struck me that the argument hadn’t ever really been drawn to a close. My friend hadn’t lost after all, and, the downside of the realisation, I hadn’t really won. So I decided to take the argument further, but not with anyone who might give me ideas which I cannot quite work with, for as much as I like to learn there is a time and a place fore everything and this wasn’t it. I carried the argument forward with myself instead, and though I haven’t quite reached a conclusion, I thought it quite worthy to be shared here.

However, narrating two sides of an argument, especially one which took place in two incidences separated by more than four months, is not only a tedious task but also a recipe for losing readership. Instead, I’ll get right to the point which I think could benefit the world, and, should that desire seem too melodramatic and hollow, it would give my mind the peace necessary for it to function.

Have you ever wondered why or how things happen? Why did humans learn to walk upright? Why did oxygen only develop on planet Earth? Why does gravity pull you towards itself instead of pushing you away? How does the system of tectonic plates work? How did evolution land us here, in present day? How do scientists get the ideas for groundbreaking theories?

It’s all there in our heads, and I am sure we have all wondered about such things at some point in our lives, but refused to follow the train of thoughts for any of the million reasons that surround us. Maybe we realised that such pondering yields no good, is perhaps too vague  or simply too silly. Or maybe someone we assume is wiser to us heard our misgiving and showed us that they were simply a waste of the precious time we have. Either way, even if  these doubts do find their way into our heads, they are quickly squashed out.

On the other hand, desires are ever-persistent. Desires cannot be squashed out because they form a home in our hearts and minds and leave a hollowness whenever they are taken away unsatisfied. Desires, therefore, seem to be the stronger, or at any rate the more permanent, governing forces of our actions.

Perhaps the greatest strength of desire is its range. Curiosity, when it exists, cannot be small, else it shan’t be called curiosity but doubt, or lack of knowledge. Do we call a person who wonders about the taste of chocolate curious? Of course not, we simply call them unlearned or inexperienced. But a person with desire, no matter how small, is still called desirous. A person who desires the greater good of mankind is as desirous as a person who desires, for lack of a better example and  to provide some form of analogy, chocolate.

So is that it? Does desire take the crown simply because it is a broader concept than curiosity? No, absolutely not. For curiosity is nothing but the desire to know, the desire to learn something new, or to feel something new. Curiosity is nothing if not a form of desire itself, a specific part which is so strong and so different to desire itself that it merits its own side in this argument.

Curiosity is rich. As I said, a person who would like to know the taste of chocolate isn’t curious. Curiosity isn’t something just anyone can have, it’s a rare occurrence which makes it both precious and, in some crooked sense, utterly worthless. The example which my friend and I had debated upon was that of the Wright brothers. Were they curious to know what the sensation of light would feel like or did they simply have the desire to fly?

Now the question seems awfully simple. It doesn’t matter. Of course they were curious about the sensation of flight, who isn’t? The wanted to know what flying would feel like, and they also wanted to fly. What matters is which of these desires was the stronger factor influencing their decisions? Was it the desire to experience something new, which we have already classified as curiosity, or simply the desire to do something, without the intent of learning something from the  experience.

You will find that the answer to this question, and any other questions which draw any form of line between curiosity and desire, are nearly impossible to answer.  They are almost always vague and offer no form of consolation even when the questions are answered. Some things are, perhaps, best left to great thinkers of the time, for we are, and I proudly include myself in this category, fools at best.

All said and done, I shall always be curious. I shall always have the overwhelming desire to  know, know just about everything there is to know. It seems like a ridiculous desire, which is why I don’t which to think of it as a desire at all. I am curious, and happy to be, for there is joy in learning the unknown, and that joy is worth more than the satisfaction of any desires which I may or may not have.