09 Dec 2018 16:06 IST

Forwarding good intentions

People gather at the site of an air strike that destroyed a house on the outskirts of the northwestern city of Saada, Yemen.   -  REUTERS

We all know that the ideal itinerary is paved with positivity but reality always gets in the way

Like practically everybody else today, I also belong to several WhatsApp groups, despite myself. Unlike most others, I pop up only rarely to say something, and — full disclosure — a lot of the time I don’t even read what’s written, let alone check out the zillions of forwards doing the rounds. The odd occasion on which I did download a picture, I found an ‘uplifting’ instruction: This January start the year with an empty jar. Each week, add a note with a good thing that happened. On New Year’s Eve empty the jar and read about the amazing year you had.

Great idea, I thought, and decided to follow this positive piece of advice. I know it’s not January yet, but this is the time of resolutions and all, so why not something plan for something ‘good’, that was the logic. However, all you have to do is step out into the streets to have all ‘good’ thoughts knocked right out of your head. The filth, for one. Piles of it. If there’s no dustbin, then simply chuck anywhere. Everywhere. Even if some poor soul is clearing it somewhere, elsewhere people dump, dump, dump for another poor soul to clear. If you’re driving, you’re always in the flight path of some maniac. Out of the way, out of the way, road hogs screech, breathing down your bumper, honking in your window, glaring into your rear view mirror. Don’t you know I am so important? Get out of the way! And I think, so what do I do? Disappear? Mow down the fellow in front of me?

No one’s listening

So I make a big decision. I shall not step out of the house unless I absolutely have to. Will save some carbon footprints. Now that should constitute a good thing, right?

Nope. The latest Frontline makes my stomach churn. I hadn’t realised the bulldozers were literally razing Varanasi to the ground. The government’s agenda is to modernise and beautify this temple town. Now, normally, this should bring a smile to our lips but since we know what modernise and beautify mean in the lexicon of the government, it sets off warning bells. Sure enough, according to reports filed by Venkitesh Ramakrishnan and Purnima S Tripathi, it appears that “brazen moves (are) being made to gain full geographical control of the Kashi Vishwanath temple-Gyanvapi mosque complex by demolishing over a hundred structures, including heritage buildings and temples around it”.

An interview published in the same issue quotes the Shankaracharya-designate of Dwarkapeeth, Swami Avimukteshawarand Saraswati as saying, “They are creating a second Ayodhya in Kashi.” He says senior BJP leaders told him to “keep quiet as this (demolition of temples) was being done to liberate the Vishwanath temple from the clutches of the Gyanvapi mosque”. Banaras, we know, on the banks of the Ganga, is a place rich with culture, redolent with history, overflowing with garbage and a magnet for pilgrims and tourists. It exists in all its contradictions and complexities and despite everything, is loved and revered as such. It doesn’t need pruning, it needs cleaning, in the literal sense not the metaphorical. Among those affected is Kedarnath Vyas, an octogenarian. He “is the patron of Ved Vyas Peeth, the centuries-old centre for research on Vedas and Puranas. Vyas Peeth, a four-storey mansion, that housed thousands of books, antiques, expensive idols and rare manuscripts, was the first major religious institution to be razed, in August 2017”.

This is just one example. Some of the structures are over 500 years old, donkeyloads of idols are being carried off, Lal Bahadur Shastri once lived in a building adjacent to the Neelkant Mahadev temple which also has been reduced to rubble… and VN Mishra, professor of electronics at BHU and mahant of the Sankat Mochan temple warns, “This is the original culture of Kashi and nobody has the right to destroy it.” But the government’s not listening. Scary.

The list goes on

It’s scary how France has erupted and how poor the infrastructure is at the annual Hornbill Festival of Nagaland and how the names of so many people have been left out of the NRC in Assam and how Tamil Nadu and many other parts of the country face acute water shortage and how we seem unconcerned about the toxic air we breathe in our cities and towns and how abysmally low the standard of education has fallen in the country and how the gun lobby gets away every time in spite of innumerable instances of shooting in schools in the US and how papers simply will not move without bribes being paid and how we constantly run down and disrespect those of other faiths and denominations and how freely our forces fire on gatherings and how fake encounters are on the rise in Manipur and how even announcements regarding trains can be misleading and how militants rule the roost and how we attempt to corrupt even the judiciary and how we continue to discriminate against the poor, the weak, women, the different and how we think making Brindavan Gardens a Disneyland will render it more beautiful and we sink not our differences but our plastics and toxic paints in our rivers and oceans and how missile bases have been discovered in North Korea and how Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence over the rape, murder and genocide of Rohingyas has made her calls for democracy echo hollow and how the Saudis continue to bomb Yemen openly and how the latest outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo is perhaps the worst yet and how sexual abuse in religious orders across faiths is rampant and how the ‘camp fire’ in California was actually a raging inferno that reduced thousands of structures to cinders and left thousands homeless and how shamelessly communities ask for special treatment and reservation while those who need a leg up continue to waste away and die and how we killed over 300 tigers in recent times and blatantly smuggle star tortoises and we cheat and plagiarise and embezzle and exploit…

I could go on and on. You could go on as well. So let’s not pretend. It’s true we cannot drown in the trough of despondency but we do need to be aware of realities. We must know and we must be ready to tackle them, oppose them, fight them even as we build inner resources through positive thought and action. Nothing is absolute. Everything lives in multitudes, in shades, in variables. Our choices determine the path we will follow, and these paths are determined by where our feet go. So, choose wisely. Fill that jar with good memories but work on the things that we must change. It’s all up to us.

Does this mean we can never lie back on an easy chair and take in the sun and sand on Marina beach?