Saturday, July 17, 2010

Ancient beliefs, link to modernity

Sulabh Jain makes an interesting attempt to deal with the religions of Ancient India and Egypt and point to similarities between the two, writes RAJESH SINGH
The Evolution of Religion:The History and Religions of Egypt and Harappan India
Author:Sulabh Jain
Publisher: Leadstart Publishing
Price: Rs 495

There has been of late a surge in the number of “non-specialist” authors tackling specialised subjects and exposing themselves to criticism, if not derision, by established experts. While there may be some merit in the criticism, the bright side is that such writings emerge as fresh and free from ideological baggage. The approach is novel and the writer willing to handle the material in a creative and imaginative, though not reckless, manner. The reader is the beneficiary in the process since he gets a new perspective with the broadened canvas.
Sulabh Jain, a computer professional with a passion for ancient history and mythology, must thus be congratulated for his brave attempt. He ventures into a territory that is not just specialised but super-specialised: He deals not only with religions of ancient India and Egypt but also seeks to establish a link between the two. Academics will no doubt dismiss the mere idea as preposterous; to be fair to the author, he too does not seek to place a seal of authority on his supposition. Yet, the material that he presents is tantalising enough for us to at least consider his theory that the religious beliefs and practices of the two ancient worlds had much in common and that there may have been some sort of religio-cultural “sharing” between their two peoples.
There are two other more internalised strands of thought that run through the book: The dating of the Rig Veda and the so-called Aryan invasion theory. One would have thought that, considering the fresh research, at least the latter should have become a dead subject. But there are still dominant voices that continue to endorse the invasion story, and they are influential enough to find their way in the world of academics — right from school textbooks to international seminars and research papers published worldwide.
While for Jain the two issues are apparently coincidental to the central theme of the book, they are of enormous interest to the expert and the lay reader alike, since they continue to be hotly debated with no settlement in sight. We shall concentrate on that for the moment here. Early in the book Jain tackles the contentious issue of dating the Vedas. Referring to the “traditional date” of 1500 BC, he says that “modern research has changed the widely held dates for the composition of the Veda’s... many scholars today believe that they have of a far more ancient origin.” The author goes on to use the river Saraswati example — incidentally the dating of the river’s drying up is turning out to be an important landmark in unravelling the mystery of not just the Vedic composition but also in revisiting long-held notions of the Harappan culture — to logically revise the first of the Veda, the Rig Veda composition. He says, apparently of the Rig Veda, “The river Saraswati is referred to (in the Rig Veda) as being the most powerful river in the region, but recent study shows that this river had dried out by approximately 1900 BC, before the end of the Harappan age. The Vedas could not possibly bear historical witness to a river that had dried out several centuries before the suggested date of their composition.”
The author cannot be faulted for concluding, “This and other evidence has pushed the date of the Vedas to a conservative 2000 BC, while some academics are brave enough to propose a far more ancient date in the range of 3000 BC-4000 BC. In either case early Hinduism must have had a considerable Harappan influence.” Jain is dismissive of the Aryan invasion theory even though he admits that the disappearance of the Harappan civilisation remains a “mystery.” He notes that the “growing consensus amongst historians today is that the Indo-Europeans of the Veda did not destroy the Harappan civilisation.”
He further observes, “There is almost nothing in the Vedas that supports the claim that the Aryans were foreign invaders of north India.” This is a valid point considering that the Rig Veda at least was a contemporary of the Harappan age. The ancient text, which is otherwise extremely detailed in its notings of virtually all (then) contemporary matters, does not talk of subjugating people, invasion or coercion.
Jain has his own theory for the “disappearance” of nearly “five million people” though by no means is it a novel one; quite a few historians have considered it. It is believed that they could have dispersed in various directions in the country in search of more hospitable conditions. However, as he further explores in the book, although the Harappan people may have disappeared from their original abode, their religious beliefs that were left behind in the ruins of what we should rightfully refer to as the Indus-Saraswati Civilisation, spread across the rest of the country with them.
For instance, he mentions, based on excavated material, “ seems clear that the Harappan people worshipped Shiva in a form that is very similar to today.” He is obviously referring to the “proto Shiva” figures discovered in the ruins. The proto Shiva has a yogic sitting posture with the phallus exposed. Also, there are two “drum like objects” supporting his seat. Today’s Shiva too has a similar posture, with the drum now in his hand. The phallus remains, like then, a symbol of energy and creation.
Jain makes an interesting observation about cow worship. He remarks, “The obsession with cow worship which is such a fundamental feature of modern Hinduism is not obvious in Harappan also seems to be absent in the Veda themselves.” The writer is obviously referring to the Rig Veda, since cow slaughter gets officially banned in another later Veda, the Atharva Veda. Anyway, Jain through this instance provides another proof that the Harappan people and the Vedic people co-existed, if they were not one and the same.
Of course, the principal aim of the book is to demonstrate a similarity between Harappan and ancient Egypt’s religious cultures. In Part Two of the book, Jain deals with what he considers “religious similarities”. Here, for a moment, we need to consider that for a large part Harappan and Hindu religions are synonymous. Both being polytheistic in nature, they have a pantheon of deities, male and female. If the Egyptians have Atum — the ultimate power of the universe — the Hindus consider Brahma as the creator. “The creator gods Brahma and Atum were both created by a combination of flowers, birds and eggs as symbols of their adaptability towards the universal elements,” notes the author.
He then talks of the phonetic similarity between the Indian Surya and the Egyptian Ra and the fact that both engaged in an epic battle with serpent agitators. “The battles of Ra with Apophis, and Surya with Rahu/Ketu are so similar that it could only result from a common source,” he contends. Jain goes on to observe, “There are many details from Hindu and Egyptian sources that suggest that Ra and Surya are one and the same god.” Of course, Apophis too compares with Rahu and Ketu.
Jain then zeroes in on the two foremost goddesses: Durga for the Hindus and Sekhmet for Egyptians. If the latter is lion-headed, Durga sits atop a lion. Both are symbols of power and authority, and they are called upon to deliver justice with a heavy hand when milder forms have failed. The author says, “…it appears that Sekhmet is a descendent of the Harappan Durga as there is a space of a few centuries between the first recordings of a Harappan Durga and the first mention of the Egyptian Sekhmet. There can be little doubt that these two goddesses…are actually the same deity represented by two different cultures.”
Interesting as these and other similarities are, from the lay Indian reader’s point of view, perhaps the author’s take on the Harappan civilisation vis-a-vis the Vedas and the river Saraswati is more engaging.

Making a Queer Pitch

Suffocated by the silence surrounding homosexuality, a lesbian activist has started India’s first bookstore devoted to the subject. By Madhavankutty Pillai

Among the many things that Shobhna S Kumar does as a lesbian activist includes counselling those who want to come to terms with their sexuality and hosting events where community folk can meet each other. Her latest venture, though, melds another aspect of her life with her activism: reading.
“I was born in Fiji, then went to Australia and then to the United States before finally falling in love and moving to India. When I came to Mumbai seven years ago, I found that I just couldn’t find the kind of books I wanted. Also, I realised that in ordinary bookstores, people were uncomfortable being seen reading or buying books dealing with homosexuality. The apprehension was what the person next to you would think,” she says. Then there was also the fact that very few books related to homosexuality were available in India. She had a personal collection of 1,000 books, but they had all been mostly bought abroad. You could buy from Amazon but the shipping charges could bankrupt you. She decided to change things.
Her bookstore,, has been online since early April after a soft launch, and recently, on 2 July 2010, the anniversary of Delhi High Court’s decriminalising homosexuality, her online bookstore for the gay community, probably the only one in India, went formally open. “It’s basically trying to give people a comfort zone,” she says. At the website, the genres are divided into fiction, non-fiction, children, family and magazines. The children’s category is the only one that has nothing to do with the theme of homosexuality. The family category has a number of books for relatives and parents to cope with a kin’s orientation. The magazine section has titles like Bombay Dost and Swikriti Patrika.
Almost all the English books in the fiction category were written abroad, for there are very few by Indians. An exception is You Are Not Alone by Arun Mirchandani, which Shobhna recommends for being “beautifully written, it’s a gay person’s life in flashback”.
The venture, she says, is extremely risky, because her customers are not high-end, and being a new and small scale operator, she gets no credit and has to pay upfront for all the books she stocks. She still manages to sell Rs 30,000 worth of books in a month, and the trick is to stock not more than ten copies of a title at a time. She expects to do better now that the launch is through. If it works out, at some point, she wants to get into publishing.
But is not just about reading. It also aspires to be a networking zone. There is a writer’s corner where members of the community can pen their poems and prose. There is a queer calendar which is currently blank, but anyone can post an event there. If you are straight and want some insight into the queer world, a section called Queer Lingo explains terms related to the community.
-- Open (Frog Books published You Are Not Alone by Arun Mirchandani.)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Stories from Bangladesh: Publisher's Note

14 July 2010

To my sisters and brothers of Bangladesh who are interested in writing and the written word…
It was more than a year back that Tanvir Malik, a talented writer from Dhaka who teaches English in a university there, approached me, as a publisher, to bring out a volume of his short stories, Short Takes, which talk about Bangladeshi life and culture.
Now, we Indians have this mindset: we do not look at neighbouring countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh as places from where much creativity, especially in writing and fine arts, emerges. At least that was the mindset till recently; and things are changing, and for good, if you look at the spate of books written by Pakistani authors brought out by Indian publishers is any indication.
Coming back to Tanvir what I liked most about his works are his simplicity in narration and his eagerness to portray images that you see in your day-to-day lives. There may not be any path-breaking writing here, nor are any indications that Tanvir is an iconoclastic. But good writing is what matters and it has no boundaries, and Tanvir possesses this quality.
We, at Leadstart Publishing, are really happy and proud that we published Tanvir’s maiden debut, and now we are rejoiced by the fact that he is holding a book release function in this vibrant and effervescent city of Dhaka. We are really sorry that we could not grace this occasion, which we of course sorely miss.
I wish Tanvir all success and I hope each one of you in the audience will enjoy this talented writer’s storytelling skills.
Best of luck and have a nice evening.
Love from India.
Sunil K Poolani

A Journey Forever coverage 1

Lokmat, 12 July 2010

A Journey Forever coverage 2

Prabhat, 11 July 2010

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

सामाजिक स्वीकृति का सवाल

विनीत खरे
बीबीसी संवाददाता, मुंबई

एक साल पहले दिल्ली हाईकोर्ट ने एक महत्वपूर्ण फ़ैसले में कहा कि दो मर्द या औरत अगर अपनी सहमति से बंद कमरे के भीतर यौन संबंध बनाते हैं तो ये अपराध नहीं है.

क्या इस फ़ैसले के एक साल बाद समलैंगिकों को लेकर समाज की सोच में परिवर्तन आया है?

इस फ़ैसले को भारत के समलैंगिकों के लिए भारी सफलता माना गया, लेकिन विभिन्न धार्मिक संगठनों ने इसका विरोध किया. मामला अभी सुप्रीम कोर्ट में है.

मिलिए हरीश अय्यर से. जब वो छोटे थे तब उनके एक रिश्तेदार ने कई वर्षों तक उनका शारीरिक शोषण किया. उन्होंने ये बात अपने स्कूल में एक साथी को बताई, तो पूरे स्कूल में बात फैल गई.

वो कहते हैं, "सभी बच्चों को लगा कि मैं अपने रिश्तेदार के साथ सो कर आया था. स्कूल की दीवारों पर लिख दिया गया कि समलैंगिक यौन संबंध के लिए हरीश से संपर्क करें. सहानुभूति की जगह मुझे दुर्व्यवहार मिला. चलता था तो लोग पीछे हंसते थे. उस वक्त मुझे नहीं पता था कि मैं समलैंगिक हूँ कि नहीं. लोगों का व्यवहार इतना खराब था कि मैने आत्महत्या तक करने की सोची."

ये कहानी सिर्फ़ हरीश की ही नहीं, बल्कि उनके जैसे कई दूसरे समलैंगिकों की भी है जिन्हें हर कदम पर सामाजिक तिरस्कार का सामना करना पड़ता है.

लोगों को कैसे समझाया जाए कि उम्र बढ़ने के दौरान ये नहीं समझ पाना कि आप पुरुष हैं या औरत कितनी कश्मकश की स्थिति है. व्यक्ति अपने आप से ही लड़ता रहता है और उसे समाज के बनाए बंधनों में नहीं चाहकर भी रहने को मजबूर होना पड़ता है.

हरीश ने जब अपने समलैंगिक होने की बात अपनी माँ को बताई तो उम्मीद के मुताबिक उन्हें विश्वास नहीं हुआ, लेकिन बात में उन्हें ये बात माननी पड़ी. उनकी माँ पद्मा विश्वनाथन कहती हैं कि उनके परिवारवालों ने शुरुआत में सोचा कि हरीश भी जल्द शादी कर लेगा, लेकिन ऐसा नहीं हुआ.

वो मुस्कुराते हुए कहती हैं, "हरीश मुझे वो सब कुछ बताता है जितना वो बताना चाहता है. अगर उसे कोई लड़का अच्छा लगता है तो वो कभी-कभी मुझे बताता है."

समलैंगिकों के लिए आज भी सबसे बड़ी चुनौती है समाज में स्वीकार्यता. कानून की धारा 377 जैसे उनके सिर पर लटकती हुई तलवार जैसी थी.

मामला सुप्रीम कोर्ट में

हालांकि मामला अभी सुप्रीम कोर्ट में है, ये कहना गलत होगा कि तलवार सिर से हट गई है.

दिल्ली उच्च न्यायालय के फ़ैसले के एक साल पूरे होने पर मुंबई के आज़ाद मैदान पर एक रैली का आयोजन किया गया. वहाँ लोग तरह-तरह के रंगीन कपड़े पहन कर आए थे.

थोड़ी दूर पर खड़े इस रैली को देखने वाले कुछ लोगों का कहना था कि समलैंगिक धर्म के विरुद्ध काम कर रहे हैं और वो समाज के लिए सिरदर्द बन गए हैं. हालांकि वो मानते थे कि समलैंगिकों और हिंजड़ो के साथ किया जाने वाला बर्ताव ठीक नहीं है. उनकी माने तो ये पश्चिमी सभ्यता का असर भी है जो लोग समलैंगिक हो रहे हैं.

यानि समाज की सोच में कितना परिवर्तन हो रहा है, या हुआ भी है कि नहीं, इस पर विचार बंटे हैं. इसी रैली में मौजूद राजपीपला के राजकुमार और कार्यकर्ता मानवेंद्र सिंह गोहिल का कहना था कि क्षेत्रीय भाषा लोगों को समझाने में महत्वपूर्ण भूमिका निभा रहे हैं. उनका कहना था कि ये एक क्षेत्रीय अखबार ही था जिसने पहली बार उनकी कहानी छापी थी कि वो समलैंगिक हैं.

किताबों की कमी

यानि मानवेंद्र की माने तो लोगों में मुद्दे पर बहस ज़रूर हो रही है. समाचार माध्यम इस मुद्दे को घर-घर तक पहुँचा रहे हैं. लेकिन अभी भी देश में समलैंगिकों से जुड़ी किताबों की कमी है.

अरुण मीरचंदानी ने समलैंगिकों पर किताब लिखी है जिसका नाम है यू आर नॉट अलोन, यानि आप अकेले नहीं हैं. ये एक समलैंगिक व्यक्ति के संघर्ष की कहानी है और लेखक के मुताबिक लोगों में ज़िंदगी के प्रति उम्मीद जगाती है. अरुण कहते हैं दिल्ली हाइकोर्ट के फैसले के बाद इस मुद्दे पर लोगों में जागरुकता बढ़ी है और समलैंगिक अपने अधिकारों के प्रति सजग हुए हैं.

लेकिन अरुण कहते हैं कि अभी भी लोग खुलेआम दुकानों में उनकी किताब खरीदने में डरते हैं, कि कहीं उन्हें समलैंगिक विषय से जुड़ी किताब पढ़ते कोई देख न ले.

ऐसे ही लोगों के लिए वेबसाइट क्वीयरलिंक डॉट कॉम वेबसाइट की शुरूआत की गई है. इस वेबसाइट की शुरुआत की है शोभना कुमार ने. ये भारत की पहली वेबसाइट है जिस पर समलैंगिकों से जुड़े मुद्दों पर किताब मिल सकती है.

शोभना कहती हैं कि पहले हर हफ़्ते करीब 10 किताबें ही बिका करती थीं, अब हर दिन करीब पाँच किताबें बिकती हैं. इन किताबों में समलैंगिकों से जुड़ी समस्याएँ, उनका दर्द, कविताएं जैसी बातें होती हैं. साथ ही ये कि अगर वो दुनिया को वो बताना चाहते हैं कि वो भी समलैंगिक हैं, तो वो ये बात लोगों से कैसे कहें.

वकील आनंद ग्रोवर कहते हैं, "सबसे पहले सुप्रीम कोर्ट में हमारी जीत होनी चाहिए. उसके बाद कई छोटी-छोटी लड़ाइयाँ हैं. बच्चे गोद लेना, शादी कर पाना, जैसे मुद्दों पर अभी लड़ाई बाकी है. आम लोग हमारे विरोध में नहीं हैं. आपको उन्हें समझाना होगा."

मुंबई में समलैंगिकों के लिए भारत का पहला स्टोर भी खुला है जहाँ लोग बिना किसी हिचकिचाहट के टी शर्ट्स, किताबें और दूसरे सामान खरीद सकते हैं.

इसके अलावा दिल्ली में समलैंगिकों के लिए ट्रैवेल बुटिक भी खुला है जिसकी मदद से समलैंगिक भारत के विभिन्न इलाकों की सैर पर भी जा सकते हैं. यानि वक्त के साथ-साथ परिस्थितियाँ बदल रही हैं, लेकिन अभी भी एक लंबी लड़ाई बाकी है.

-- BBC Hindi