Modi is elbowing Sonia, Rahul, Congress from India's cultural
Rajeev Shrinivasan, for FirstPost
is a famous Zen koan: "Why did Bodhidharma go East?"
In the manner of Zen koans - a koan is a kind of paradoxical
statement or question that enables a new insight - there is
no (correct) answer, but you are expected to meditate on it
to see the insights behind the obvious, superficial facts.
The facts are that, indeed, a monk named Bodhidharma (some
say a Pallava prince from Kanchipuram, who he trained in Kalari
Payat, and who had embarked from Kodungalloor/Muziris, circa
400 CE) did go East, and taught Han monks at Shaolin in China
unarmed combat (whence kung-fu).
that's not the point. What was behind Bodhidharma's trip?
He not only took Kalari Payat and its science of pressure
points, but he also later invented Zen Buddhism itself in
Japan, where he is respected as Daruma - the preceptor. So
you could say, on some level, that he was a grand ambassador
for Indic heritage, including Buddhism and Kalari (and some
say the tea plant as well).
was struck by the irony in that on #InternationalYogaDay,
Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi were all out
of India. I heard they were abroad for a family function.
So, following on the Zen koan, I ask: "Why did Sonia
Gandhi go West?" Unlike Bodhidharma, I don't think she
went to take the message of Indic heritage to the West, although
I may be mistaken. Her family has a business dealing in Indian
antiques in Turino, I am told.
what was the point of the trip? The obvious answer is that
they would feel uncomfortable in India when the Yoga Day hoopla
would be running 24x7 on TV, because the Congress party was
officially semi-boycotting it. It was a great marketing event,
and propaganda, and soft power, for India, and also, let's
face it, for the BJP and PM Narendra Modi himself. And the
Nehru dynasty people, after having made the decision to boycott
Yoga Day, would have felt awkward to hang around in India.
They have shown themselves to be graceless and churlish on
occasion, but we'll let that pass.
dichotomy extends to other @IncIndia people too. Poor
Shashi Tharoor appears to be on the horns of a dilemma: on
the one hand, he does believe yoga is a good thing, but I
suspect he has been ordered by his party to ignore it. I started
a thread saying that he was hurting his personal standing
by ignoring #YogaDay, and he responded to Mohandas
Pai, who chided him, with this tweet: "With respect,
I've been citing yoga in my "soft-power" speeches
for more than a decade."
Shashi is saying something that's as plain as day to most
of us: yoga gives India soft power. But with his party's "High
Command" taking the stand that #YogaDay was inappropriate,
Shashi is essentially admitting that he's torn between two
pressures - in other words under two flags.
Two Flags. That was the name of a rather forgettable Victorian
romance novel from the 1860s, but a lot of us suffer from
those conflicting loyalties. Jews have famously used passports
as flags of convenience, always swearing, through their troubled
times, that they would meet "next year in Jerusalem",
their imagined homeland. I think a lot of Indians in the diaspora
carry other passports, but in their hearts, they feel very
wonder if Sonia Gandhi, similarly, feels subject to two different
pulls: one from the Italian past of her formative years, and
the other acquired via marriage. Most of us are prisoners
of childhood experiences, because what we experienced then
takes on a roseate glow in our memories. I have read a couple
of absolutely stunning books by adults looking back at their
childhood. The first by Marcel Pagnol, a French writer and
filmmaker: "The days were too short", from
which he made two beautiful films too: "My mother's
castle" and "My father's glory",
about his childhood summers spent in rural France.
other is SK Pottekkat's autobiographical novel "Oru
desathinte katha" (The story of a land). Pottekkat
won the Jnanpith and this book was cited, though he was known
for his travelogues. This portrait of his youth in Kozhikode,
including his gang of friends, "the supper circuit sangham",
and the beautiful but doomed Narayani, remains fresh in my
memory although I read it as a teenager myself years ago.
tales affect you in an emotive way because we are sentimental
about our childhoods, and so I would not blame Sonia Gandhi
for being attached to her Italian-ness; and perhaps she has
conveyed a bit of that to her children as well. But that is
no reason why pucca desi Congresswallahs should pine
for "cooler climes", as Hari Kumar does in "The
Raj Quartet", unless it's an acquired second-hand taste.
a sense, Narendra Modi is presenting Sonia Gandhi and the
Congress with an "unbearable lightness of being"
(apologies to Milan Kundera). He is, one by one, plucking
away the stalwarts of the Congress and making them his own
- Sardar Patel, BR Ambedkar - and he's also appropriating
the cultural memes - ayurveda, now yoga. In the end, the Congress
will be left with nothing to call its own. The essential hollowness
of the Congress is being exposed ruthlessly: their empty sloganeering
about socialism (which nobody cares about any more) and secularism
(which is another word for apartheid against Hindus) are now
putting in doubt the very existence of the party. Like the
Communists, who are facing oblivion, the Congress is facing
irrelevance in 21st century India.