Jayary Newsletter # 104
|Rajesh Kasturirangan||Dec 31, 2016|
This is the last newsletter for awhile!
The League of Nations
When I was younger, I was a big fan of world government. I remember reading about Einstein's support for such a state of affairs and understood the appeal after the disasters of the two world wars. I was even willing to excuse the idiocy of the existing attempts at global governance - the League of Nations and the United Nations.
What kind of government can we expect from an institution in which two out of five permanent seats belong to seventh rate hasbeens such as England and France. Shouldn't the entire western world - and I include the US and Russia in that list - have one seat in total? Otherwise the UN should be razed to the ground.
As you might guess, I have soured on the prospect of world government. Not only because the system is rigged in favour of the imperialists but because government is fundamentally about power, not freedom. Especially when it's being formed - it's always easier to talk about democracy and freedom after getting rid of all opponents. Governance's obsession with power makes the system unstable.
Sure, but why this talk about world government in the context of the Jaya, especially when I want to end the year with a discussion of divinity?
Because the state killed God.
While organized religion also exerts power, it's founded on submission to a higher power. The state bows to no one - it's a sovereign and the power hunger of that sovereignty made it easier for the state to usurp power from the church. The church might have persecuted its heretics but its violence is nothing in comparison to what the Spanish state did in Latin America.
The Jaya is a warning to those who believe in overweening state power. The Pandavas and the Kauravas are fighting over the right to establish imperial authority. They don't even listen to the gods in their quest for dominance. We know how that ends.
Feature or Bug?
The normal understanding of the Jaya has the Pandavas as the good guys and the Kauravas as the bad guys. Of course there are parts of India where Duryodhana is worshipped - there's no rule to which we don't find an exception. Digging a bit deeper, we find that the Pandavas aren't all that good and the Kauravas aren't all that bad.
In fact, they are both fighting over the same prize. It's Yudhisthira who orders the burning of the Khandava forest. It's Yudhisthira's crowning himself chakravartin in Indraprastha that precipitates the fratricidal struggle: Duryodhana might have been happy if Yudhisthira was merely a fellow king, but he couldn't stand him as an emperor.
All of which prompts a question: what if both sides are the bad guys?
If so, we have an entirely new picture of divinity. When Krishna says the famous words "yada yada..." we take it to mean that he will take birth on earth to vanquish adharma, by which we understand the greed of the Kauravas. What if he took birth to vanquish adharma in the form of both the Pandavas and the Kauravas, or more generally, the imperial drive?
We know that the war ends with seven survivors out of millions of combatants. Was that bug or a feature?
The Real War
A few years ago, an anti-corruption movement arose in India as if out of nothing. It coincided with other popular movements in the middle east and in Ukraine and had some of the same characteristics. The movement was led by an unlikely figure - Anna Hazare - who transported himself to the national capital from rural Maharashtra for the occasion.
That movement catapulted two men into power, neither of whom is Anna Hazare. One is now the chief minister of Delhi. The other is the prime minister of India. It's clear to me that Old Man Hazare was played.
I am reminded of those heady times when I think about the history of God. It strikes me that humans put God on the throne only to overthrow him when the time was ripe. If I had to think of the perfect way to orchestrate a materialist regime, it would consist of two steps:
Deny every other deity besides the one true deity. Drive all other gods from the earth.
Organize a coup against the sole remaining God - he's out of sight anyway.
Isn't that what we have done? Materialism-secularism isn't a reaction to religion; it's the natural conclusion. In contrast, the Jaya says: watch it, for when things get out of hand, I will come and wipe the slate clean.
I am going to end 2016's Jayary with that thought: that the real battle in the Mahabharata was not between one cousin and another or the good guys against the bad guys. Instead it was a struggle between divinity and humanity.
It's the last day of the year. I send out my newsletter every Friday but for obvious reasons I thought I should wait one extra day.
The Jayary has been the most interesting project I have undertaken and the most difficult one. It's a form of insanity, not to say narcissism, to unleash one's ambitions against a mountain.
Like every good bhakt, I too want to say "I have learned a lot from this experience," and that would be true. I can also add a couple of cliches about miles to go before sleeping and knowing that I don't know and those cliches would be accurate as well.
But the cliches can wait. I am exhausted. I like reading everyday. I like writing everyday. I even like reading and writing every day. But reading and writing everyday about the same topic and to retain a continuous thread while doing so - that has proven to be more tiring than I ever imagined.
I am going to take a break. No Jaya for a month. Or more.
But when I come back - and I will - I want to go back to the drawing board and craft new tools that will help us imagine and reimagine the Jaya. Not as a novel. Not as a philosophical text. Or rather, both and neither. But most importantly, tools that will help me transplant the Jaya into a medium that's made for it: the web.
Sample thought: if Donald Knuth created TEX to write the books that he wanted to write, what do we need to do to write the Jaya the way we want to write it? There are no firm answers to such questions, only some promising directions that I will explore in 2017 and come back to you in 2018.
Farewell for now.
PS: In the meantime, I will fold this list into the Dharmapolis list where my friend Smitha Rao and I are reading, writing and podcasting about some of the seminal books from the Indian subcontinent. Here's our take on Gandhi's Hind Swaraj if you're interested. We are now reading Ambedkar's Annihilation of Caste. If you have recommendations, do pass them along.