“Mystical Poet” Tagore wrote his non-mystical Bengali verse a hundred years ago:
“আনন্দময়ীর আগমনে আনন্দে গিয়েছে দেশ ছেয়ে
হেরো ওই ধনীর দুয়ারে দাঁড়াইয়া কাঙালিনী মেয়ে
বাজিতেছে উৎসবের বাঁশি, কানে তাই পশিতেছে আসি
ম্লান চোখে তাই ভাসিতেছে দুরাশার সুখের স্বপন…”
Bliss filled the mortal earth up and down below
Almighty Mother arrived: time for joyous psalm
But watch the poor, naked girl with nowhere else to go
Arrived at the rich’s door with an ever-extended palm.
Has anything changed since Tagore wrote it? Just look around.
Of course, Bengal and India were undivided back in those days. A British colonial rule was in place. People like me or my parents or grandparents didn’t have political freedom. There was famine. There was rule of the jungle. There was huge rich and poor disparity – with the Indian rich with their British masters exploiting and whipping their Indian servants, womanizing their Indian women, and shooting and hanging “terrorist” revolutionaries (they did it for a hundred years before Gandhi and his Congress Party were brought from South Africa, and put in power).
There was extreme poverty; a once-rich and prosperous civilization was force-transformed very quickly into a pauper nation. Beggars would mob affluent Desi landlords and their ladies (i.e., Rajas and Ranis spending millions on their cat’s wedding) visiting the Kali temple in Kalighat. Prostitutes and their pimps would line up the same streets after dark. There would be huge charity at the Durga Puja festivities organized by powerful community leaders known for their unquestionable allegiance to the most powerful people in their version of White House or 10 Downing Street…
But wait a minute! I just read the above lines the second time over…what am I talking about? Have I gone insane? It seems I’m talking about 2011, and not 1911 — two years before Tagore got his first-ever-Asian’s Nobel Prize and exactly the same year when the British moved the Indian capital from Calcutta to Delhi!
I just realized I was describing today, when I was thinking about a century before. What nonsense!
So, now…I promised my readers that I would not write in a long-winded, complicated way; I promised I would keep it simple. So, my point is this.
Nothing seriously has changed in India. Even after sixty-some years of the British-donated independence and transfer of power to a bunch of feudal, racist, patriarchal, corrupt and violent people that ruled the subcontinent and its three, partition-created countries, out of the estimated 1.2 billion people (i.e., a fifth of the world’s population), nearly eighty percent still live in either abject poverty or some variety of poverty. Women are systematically subjugated, bride burning and dowry deaths are rampant, children don’t get enough to eat and can’t go to school, corruption, police brutality and violence are sky high, and a large number of people are extremely superstitious, illiterate without the ability to think or analyze, and those who can afford to spend money would not spend money for any social justice or even a liberal-philanthropic cause. But they would not blink for a moment before spending millions on their cat’s wedding (or else, cat walks). The poor and the minority are considered untouchable.
If you need an even longer list of failures of a failed Indian (or Pakistani) state, read my little article Sixty Years of Fake Freedom. [Well, now it’s seventy years.]
Hey, nothing personal, really. This is what it is. You don’t believe me? Let’s have a debate.
So, what does it all have to do with religion? Well, the ongoing Durga Puja across India and the Indian-Bengali diaspora is an example of that fakeness.
The high-excitement community Durga Puja has taken an extremely degenerate form where corporate money flows like Hudson River’s polluted water (I was tempted to say Ganges’ filthy water — then decided not to because of religious sentiments, even though Holy Mother Ganges is perhaps the most polluted river in the world now). Billions of dollars are spent to erect makeshift community puja temples with their blaring-deafening microphones that would all come down in just four days; another few billions are spent on making the clay idols that would also dissolve in the same Ganges or her sister rivers in four days. The other few billions are spent by the upper class and middle class Indians and Bengalis on expensive saris, kurtas, ornaments and sundry expenses. And oh yes, how can I forget…Bengalis would spend like crazy to eat out…no fun and festivity would be complete for Bengali-Indians without fancy feasts and fabulous fish curry.
But they would not spare even a paltry ten or fifteen percent of the unthinkably-outrageous amount to feed, clothe, heal or educate the poor and the destitute, even in the name of the goddess. Swami Vivekananda called this ignorance-apathy “a crime.” But he died a hundred years ago, and his teachings died soon after.
Tagore observed the un-Godly inequality a century ago. He wrote about it all his life (media feel real uncomfortable talking about it; the “mystic” thing works nice). Nothing changed ever since. Poor people are still poor, the hungry and the sick are still hungry and sick, anemic women are still fetching water from two miles away from home, beggars are still begging at the temple courtyard waiting for the rich to dole out alms (for the “pious,” that would be a holy, religious act for a sure no-return birth to heaven — no reincarnation required at all), and slaves and virtual slaves are still serving their masters — in urban and rural India and Bengal.
In the midst of fun-holiday-decorated, highly charged, electrifying, gold- and silver-ornamented Durga Puja, Eid, Diwali and Christmas festivities, the have Indians don’t have much time to think about the have-nots — the poor and dispossessed that Tagore, Vivekananda and Sister Nivedita talked about. In fact, using terminology such as haves and have-nots would automatically qualify me to be a communist…radical…at least, too political. India don’t do political no more! That “sin” too died a hundred years ago.
The conscience of the haves, perhaps, still pricks once in a while. Then, to absolve themselves from the committed sins and possibly-committed sins, they offer more pujas, salats and salts to their gods and goddesses, and offer more alms to the beggars mobbing them at the temple courtyard. (Hey, you know, that’s safe too — just get rid of ’em ASAP — or you could get either bedbugs or badmouths.)
A great, ancient civilization — along with her great, ancient religions — moves on. That poor, naked, hungry, sick girl Tagore wrote about waits for her dream reincarnation to be a film star, or at least to be the wife of a politician, business magnet or cricket player.
Jai Ma Durga!
Brooklyn, New York