Coloured thoughts

Visited a Kerala Ayurvedic therapeutic massage clinic on Sunday, at my wife’s insistence.

Having been informed that I’d have to wait half an hour, I turned my attention to the magazine rack.

I froze as I found several copies of a rabidly communal magazine. It was one long rant against ‘pseudo secularists’, the government’s ‘minority appeasement’ and, of course, ‘the jihadis in disguise spread across the country’.

It was obvious that the proprietors subscribed to the magazine and, probably, believed in what it had to say.

I had a choice: walk out or go ahead with the massage.

After much deliberation, I chose the latter.

There are just too many places to walk out of nowadays…

Inspiration, perspiration

This blog is my first guest article. It’s written by Reeta Gupta, a dear friend of mine who’s also somewhat of a business pioneer. In 2000, Reeta and her husband Dheeraj launched Jumbo King, a vada pav (a quintessential Maharashtrian food – a thick mashed potato savoury stuffed between two halves of a bread) chain, Mumbai’s first such franchisee-based business. Currently, she runs Wowfactor, a successful public relations firm.


Mumbai needs flyovers. Mumbai needs affordable housing. Mumbai needs better drains. Mumbai needs better politicians. Most of all, Mumbai needs inspiration.


Actually, every city in the world could do with some.


By inspiration, I mean training on how to use the mind to make life better.

“Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere,” Albert Einstein once said.


The Dalai Lama, Isaac Newton, celebrated author Robert Kiyosaki, and our own iconic industrialists have been incredibly positive people who have believed in the power of the human mind and its power to create.


A book called The Secret by Rhonda Byrnes claims that one per cent of the population earns 96 per cent of the money. If this is true, then there is surely something these people know that the other 99 per cent doesn’t.


Apparently, these ‘secrets’ have been passed down the generations of the wealthy since 3500 BC and have been embodied in a 1910 book called The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace Wattles.


According to this book, ownership of money and property is the result of doing things in a certain way. Those who do things this way, whether on purpose or accidentally, get rich. Those who don’t, no matter how hard they work or how able they are, remain poor.


Every cause will produce a commensurate effect. Therefore, any man or woman who learns to do things this way will infallibly get rich. In fact, it is widely believed that royalty kept these secrets to themselves, never allowing their subjects to learn of their power.


The problem of global warming was rechristened as ‘Global Cool’ recently, which bought a smile to my face. This was calling the natural laws of the universe into action. If you say warming, you get more of warming. If you say cool, you get more of cool. The optimist in me says that somebody will discover a substance that will absorb all greenhouse gases and make the world a safer place.


Coming back to Mumbai, our city does have indomitable spirit. There are a rich few here too who know the secret but decoding it for the masses and ensuring that the power is passed on is the job of a true leader.


All such inspirational books are not telling people how to get rich because that’s not what everyone wants either. Some want respect, some want fame. Just as Lage raho… decoded Gandhi for today’s children, maybe an inspired filmmaker could decode these powerful thoughts.


I remember a distinct mention of this in the Shah Rukh Khan blockbuster Om Shanti Om where the protagonist says repeatedly, “Agar dil se kuch chaaho toh poori kaaynath tumhe woh dilaane mein jut jaati hai.” (If you desire something with all your heart, then the entire universe devotes itself to uiting you with it.)


As Wattles rightly said: “The poor don’t need pity, they need inspiration.”

My faith, my conundrum

Coincidences have the knack of perfect timing.

I happened to see Subhash Ghai’s Black & White the day after the May 13, 2008, Jaipur bomb blasts. It was a terrific story of how a Gadhian professor of Urdu — a Hindu — makes a suicide bomber change his mind about killing hundreds of innocents seconds before he is supposed to set off the bomb.

I thought it was a poignant tale that dealt delicately with what makes a young man with everything to live for turn to terror.

I was similarly impressed with Pooja Bhatt’s (imagine!) Dhokha. Because it came came from the Bhatt stable, the film went by unacclaimed, but it was actually a well-told tale that ended with the police-officer protagonist telling his superiors: “I was told this by an enemy, but it’s true nonetheless. First we create terrorists, then we kill them.”

Coincidentally, again, I happened to exchange a couple of e-mails with Shahid Latif, editor of the Urdu daily Inquilab, on the plight of the Indian Muslim just a few days earlier. He felt that the crisis that has befallen the community should make it introspect whether many of its problems are self-created, by way of a skewed perspective, and also that there is a need for a new Muslim leadership.

While I don’t have permission to reproduce what he wrote, I am reproducing my reply below.

Dear Shahid Saab,
Just went through your piece carefully. I agree on many of the points mentioned, especially on the need for a new leadership.
A large part of the problem has been the self-imposed exclusion of the community from mainstream debates. This is because everything is being sought to be seen through the prism of religion. That view of life is sometimes taken to silly extremes. I can never forget the experience I had while waiting for my wife in a spa lobby. A few of the staffers were standing around gossiping and one of them mentioned that Shah Rukh Khan reads the newspaper while sitting on the toilet seat. While everybody else burst out into giggles, a Muslim gentleman flew into a rage and said: “If he does that, then Shah Rukh is not a true Muslim. Islam does not permit such things.”
I was appalled at this kind of thinking — I’m pretty sure Islam has no views on reading newspapers on the pot.
On the face of it, it was an incident to be laughed at and forgotten. On the other hand, it highlights my point about how seeing life through the prism of faith is taken to extremes. It is this attitude that worries me because the community is then seen to be irrational, which is only one step away from extremist.
Maybe it has a lot to do with years of being forced to live on the fringes and being discriminated against that has forced many to withdraw ever more inwards rather than step out and engage, be part of the mainstream.
I would never advocate that we forget our faith or where we come from. But the solution to the community’s problems is education foremost and economic prosperity next.
You’re absolutely right that the time for introspection has come, though I would not use words like ‘intolerant’, ‘violent’, ‘anti-social’, ‘unlawful’ and ‘unhygienic’. Instead, I would say, “Look around you. Are you happy? Is this what we aimed to become in our long journey in this country and world? If not, think about what you can be. Even small sects — the Swaminarayan sect, for instance — have grown to become powerful, prosperous and respected while still never losing sight of their faith. A great religion like ours can do so too. But it requires a change of mindset. It requires maturity from the people who follow this great faith. The challenge before us is to show these qualities.”
Shahid saab, one of the reasons I accepted the speaking engagement at Islam Gymkhana (see ‘Walking the Talk’ and ‘My Speech’ below) that day was because it seemed like a chance to discuss things other than religion. This is vital for the community because there are many other things that affect us. The threats to our faith are great but the greater threat is us confining our stay on Earth to dealing only with such threats.
I hope my reply is not too long-winded and also that I have been able to articulate what is on my mind.