Tuesday, 27 August 2013



            Dear Prime minister,
                                          in Hindu tradition and culture the concept of renunciation has always been valued more than the idea of acquisition, and even though you may not accept this for fear of offending your party's minority vote bank, let me allay your fears by reminding you that this is something preached by the Abrahamic religions also. I would, therefore, urge you to seriously consider this option in your own interest as well as in the larger interest of this unfortunate country.
            The government headed by you has already taken the country back to 1990 in sheer economic terms, and in terms of other social and public values we have reached the nadir of the Dark Ages. The country had great hopes from you when it voted you to power in 2004, and even higher expectations when it renewed your mandate in 2009 after your sterling display of vision and courage in the nuclear deal. But you only flattered to deceive, and for reasons which are now becoming obvious, relinquished any pretence of leadership or governance. A big ship needs a strong hand at the rudder-your hand- but you have handed it over to a motley crew of rank opportunists and faceless lascars who can only run it aground. You were never a politician- a positive for most of the voters- and the two qualities that made us repose our trust in you were your honesty and your acknowledged status as an eminent economist. Today, both lie in tatters- you have betrayed our trust, not substantially but wholly, and therefore you must go.
            Honesty is not divisible, and for those who exercise power there can be no nuances between personal honesty and public honesty. A person who allows others to loot cannot be honest. A Manager who does not raise his voice when illegalities are being committed by his subordinates cannot be honest . A law maker who protects criminals cannot be honest. And a Prime Minister who does all this simply to remain in power cannot be honest. Your honesty has already cost the country dearly, Mr. Prime Minister, and we cannot sustain this cost any longer.
           Your reputation as an economist may still follow you to Harvard or to the LSE after your retirement, but in this country its devaluation is proportionate to the devaluation of the Indian rupee. Where did you lose the plot? You had everything going for you when you took over in 2004-- an economy growing at 8-9%, a Current Account SURPLUS of  US$ 10.56 billion, Foreign Exchange reserves in excess of US$ 400 billion, a comfortable net INFLOW of Foreign Direct Investment. After nine years of your being at the helm, the growth rate is down to between 5% and 6% and falling, the Current Account has gone into a DEFICIT of US$ 20 billion and increasing, Foreign Exchange reserves are down to seven months' import and depleting, the Fiscal Deficit is going to hit 6%, Foreign Exchange reserves are down to US $ 200 billions( with repayments of US$ 150 due before March 2014), there is a net OUTFLOW of  FDI funds to the tune of almost US$ 7-10 billions every month. The Rupee has reached an exchange rate of 65 to the dollar. Nobody believes Mr. Chidambaram anymore, the RBI Governor can only hyper-ventilate, and you, of course, continue to maintain your sphinx-like silence. In the meantime inflation continues unabated, jobs are being lost by the millions ( unemployment actually rose by 2% between July 2011 and June 2012), Indian industry prefers to take its money abroad, infrastructure projects languish somewhere between Messers Jaiswal, Jyoyiraditya Scindhia and Montek Singh Ahluwalia, and a litre of cooking oil now costs more than two litres of beer! ( Can you imagine, Mr. Prime Minister, what a field day Marie Antoinette would have had with this?!). And this is at the precise time when the rest of the world is coming out of its downturn! No, sir, you and your band of forty thieves have been so busy with your petty politicking, with ensuring the survival of a particular dynasty, securing the financial well being of future generations of your party colleagues and allies, dividing communities and classes, that you have had no time for planning and taking decisions. The only decisions you HAVE taken boggle the mind. We are already spending 75000 crores every year on our Public Distribution System:  every single survey indicates that at least 40% of this, or 30000 crores is siphoned off by politicians, bureaucrats and middle-men. And now your govt. is determined to pour another 50000 crores into this bottomless pit through the Food Security Act! What for? The BPL( Below Poverty Line) families and the Antyodaya( poorest of the poor) families are already covered under the existing PDS-the FSA will make no difference to them. Govt.'s own figures state that  only 27% of our population is now below the poverty line; why then do you want to bring 67% of the population under the FSA, and spend a whopping 50000 crore on people who do not deserve this largesse? And that too at a time when you have no money for infrastructure development or health and education( in both of which we now lag behind even Sri Lanka and Bangladesh!). Is it worth destroying a country just so your motley crew can win another election? Is this honesty, Mr. Prime Minister?
            Had it been only the economic downturn we could perhaps have been more generous. For economics, as we all know, is not only a dismal science, it is also an uncertain one: as they say, even if one were to lay down all economists end to end, we still wouldn't reach a conclusion! After all, if Mr. Amartya Sen and Mr. Bhagwati cannot agree on what is good for India we can hardly expect you to have the answer. No sir, the economics is only a part of the mess: let me recount what the others are.
           You have systematically sought to destroy every fibre of the democratic fabric of this nation. Constitutional authorities have been attacked publicly by your minions and sought to be humiliated  at every turn: remember the diatribes against Vinod Rai and the Central Information Commissioner? Statutory authorities like the CBI and the office of the Attorney General have been subverted and made to fall in line, your party's line. Your oath of office demanded that you protect them, but you remained mute, as is your wont. You have even done the unthinkable: set the Intelligence Bureau against the CBI, ensuring for ever that our premier intelligence agency will never cooperate with our premier criminal investigating agency- every terrorist, insurgent and crooks of all assorted types must be lining up outside Teksons to buy " thank you" cards for you!
            Such is your hubris that you have shown contempt for the orders of the Supreme Court even. The Court's judgements, instead of being respected and seen as a matter for serious contemplation, are publicly criticised and sought to be by-passed by the collation of a consensus of those effected by the judgements(!) and a brute legislative majority. So criminals can continue in Parliament. Merit will find no place in the selection of Doctors( at the senior most, Professor, level) even in Super speciality disciplines; minorities will get reservations in government jobs even though the Constitution forbids it. This lack of respect for the final arbiter of the Constitution and the law is not only breeding a competitive defiance of the Court among other political parties but is also setting the stage for a show down with the judiciary a-la Pakistan and other banana republics.                                                                                                                                                    You behave as if the Opposition is not part of the democratic process, that it is a nuisance that is best ignored; consequently, all communication between the two has now snapped, and the nation is a helpless witness to a Parliament that resembles a rugby locker room in both language and action and is in a permanent state of adjournment. All parties are to blame for this, of course, but it is your party which laid down the rules of engagement. By refusing to walk the extra mile to accommodate even the legitimate demands of the Opposition, and by sabotaging time and again the Committees of Parliament, you have eviscerated this vital organ of democracy which under you has become as vestigious and irrelevant as your appendix. Practically no legislative work has been done in the last two years: there are 116 bills pending in both Houses, of which 19 and 21 relate to financial and educational reforms, respectively, two of the areas that need immediate attention. But your lack of concern is matched only by your shocking sense of priorities: instead of trying to push these bills, you have instead chosen to concentrate your fading energies on two other amendments that can only make politics murkier and more criminalised: removing the disqualification of convicted legislators, and exempting political parties from the RTI Act!                                                                                                  Perhaps the biggest price for your incompetence and your colleagues' venality is being paid by our defense forces: all three are many years behind in terms of armaments and weaponery ( because another " honest" Minister, Mr. Antony, will neither effect purchases from abroad nor allow FDI in defense production) and their very capacity to defend the country has been seriously eroded. Who will defend our borders in such a scenario, Mr. Prime Minister- the lethal barbs of Mr. Manish Tewari, or the boomerangs of Mr. Digvijay Singh. or the IEDs of Mr. Mani Shankar Iyer? Even worse, you have demoralised our armed forces by the constant interference of your Ministry and completely taken away their operational  and tactical independence. A succession of retired Army commanders have said so in recent times and the pusillanimous approach of our troops in response to violations of the LOC testify to this.( Of course, these same Army Commanders who have suddenly found their conscience and their voice also need to explain why they didn't defend their operational independence more vigorously when they were enjoying the perks of their office!). Under you we have become a whining nation- we whine when Pakistani troops shoot our soldiers, we whine when Chinese troops camp on our territory for weeks on end, we whine when Italian marines shoot our sailors, we whine when the Sri Lanka navy arrests our fishermen, we whine when our ex-President is frisked at an American airport. Under you a once-proud nation is being kicked around by even a Maldives or a Bhutan. What in God's name have you done to our image?
            In communal terms we have always been a fractured society. But true leaders have in the past  tried to bridge these fissures . To you, however, will go the dubious credit of widening and deepening these cracks between communities and castes. In order to survive, your party has countenanced the retrograde decisions of allies that can only raise the confrontational pitch: earmarking of state budgets for a religious minority, reservations in jobs for the same community( which goes against the express provisions of our Constitution), reservations in promotions( which has been struck down by the courts), setting up of a central Commission to review the ( criminal)cases of suspects of one community only. It is your party which has put communalism at the center of the  campaign for next year's election, not the BJP or Mr. Modi. The former has consciously downplayed the Ram Mandir issue, and Modi had made it clear that development was going to be his plank. But this did not suit you since your party couldn't possibly debate him on this plank, what with your miserable record of the last five years. So you deliberately inserted the communal element, as did your allies, by harping only on the 2002 Gujarat riots. To his credit, Mr. Modi has so far not agreed to stoop so low, and I do not think your strategy will work. But you have in the process vitiated the atmosphere for a long time to come, reopened old wounds that were beginning to heal, and provided a legitimate space for hot heads on both sides of the divide.
           How much damage to the country is one Parliamentary seat worth, Mr. Prime Minister? How many more Partitions will you recreate to satisfy your party's lust for power? Your opportunistic creation of Telangana has sown the seeds of disputes and blood-letting in all parts of the country that will sorely test the federal integrity of our country for many years to come. There are twenty one more statehood spectres waiting in the wings and by the time they are exorcised we may have ceased to exist as one nation.
         Do I need to refer to the endemic corruption that your government has been indulging in these last ten years? And to your pathetic attempts to distance yourself from them, even though it is gradually becoming clearer with each passing day that you were aware of what was happening and did nothing to stop it? Why? The quality of honesty, like that of mercy, cannot be strained: one cannot be honest and yet knowingly allow dishonesty on one's watch. Even worse, your increasing brazenness in the face of evidence against you boggles the mind: the Minister who doctored the Coalgate report has been made Special Envoy to Japan, a Minister whose nephew sold posts in The Railways for crores has not even been named in the chargesheet, the Minister on whose watch files relating to YOUR period of the coal scam have gone missing continues to bestride Shastri Bhavan like a collossus. Who is this Faustian devil you have sold your soul to, Mr. Prime Minister?
          Your deafening silence on all these matters-you have spoken in both houses of Parliament only fifty times in ten years-defies logic and conventional wisdom. And that leads me to speculate whether we are underestimating you. Is there, after all, a method in your madness? Could it be that you are reconciled to losing the next elections and are therefore  deliberately implementing a scorched earth policy? That you will leave behind as a legacy for the next government an India that is bankrupt, ungovernable, riven by caste and communal conflicts, all its institutions destroyed? An India that will soon be on its knees, begging for your party- the lone horseman riding in from the sunset, in Mr. Rahul Gandhi's words, don't forget-to take over the reins again, and save the country from perdition? But I forget, you never speak- so we'll never know till the horseman is upon us.
         Mr. Prime Minister, your party has stripped this country like a cloud of locusts. You have sown every type of poisonous seed known to your ilk and we shall be reaping the bitter harvest for many years hence. You have engendered an atmosphere of  uncertainty,venality, indecision, communalism, opportunism, criminalisation and defiance of constitutional and statutory institutions which cannot be allowed to continue, for that way lies certain disaster. Elections are nine months' hence but we cannot allow this conception to come to full term: the seed sown by you can only destroy this country and must be aborted. The time has come for you to go, Mr. Prime Minister, and to go immediately. Call for elections now, end the uncertainty, let us get on with our lives, give this country a chance to redeem itself. Do one last service to this nation, sir- stand not upon the order of your going, but go!

                                                                                                             With best wishes, 
                                                                                                              your's sincerely,
                                                                                                              A VOTING STATISTIC.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013


          Finally, the cat is out of the bag and the cards are on the table, face up: the ruling party of the largest state in the country, representing almost one fifth of its population, has announced its willingness to cede from the Indian Union. Because make no mistake- the statement that the Centre should take back all IAS officers from the state is a secessionist statement. The IAS is an instrumentality of nationhood, one of the strands that binds together the fabric of this nation: it was conceived by the statesmen of post-independent India to provide a common and uniform administrative ethos, an allegiance to the Constitution of the country, a cross-germination of varied state cultures that would, over time, provide a uniform administration and bring the people of this vast country together. The IAS is just one strand, however; there are others: the other Central services, the Banking system, the Postal and Railway Departments, the Public sector undertakings, Central Universities, the Defense services, the para-military forces, to name just a few. The IAS is, however, the primus inter pares because it is seen to control the actual levers of civilian power, and hence it becomes the most prominent symbol of national government. The attack on it by the UP govt., therefore assumes a sinister significance, for it raises the logical question ( posed by Shri TSR Subramanium, former Cabinet Secretary  on a TV programme recently): WHAT NEXT? Will the UP Chief Minister now ask for all instrumentalities of the Centre to be withdrawn from "his" state, will he now print his own coins like Muhammad bin Tughlaq, will he raise his own army, will he levy his own taxes? Will he, in short, now cede from the Indian Union? And will he be followed by the other regional satraps who are becoming more strident and assertive by the day?
          The Samajwadi party's statement should surprise no one-the cancerous regionalism and social separatism that is being fostered by these parties for the last twenty-five years was bound to damage the concept and practice of nation-hood. What they have been doing is no "celebration of diversity" but a call to fragmentation. Nation-hood means bringing diverse peoples together; what we have been doing since the seventies is just the opposite AND EVERY POLITICAL PARTY, EVEN THE SO-CALLED NATIONAL PARTIES, HAVE CONTRIBUTED TO THIS, EITHER BY THEIR INCOMPETENCE OR BY DESIGN.
        The master at this, of course, has been the Congress. It has survived by pitting one community against another and by an obscene pandering to undisguised minorityism, overturning progressive Supreme Court judgements to please a community( Shah Bano), resurrecting a forgotten dispute that even the courts had gone to sleep over to please another( allowing pooja at the Babri Masjid in 1989), creating quota after sub-quota not envisaged in our Constitution, making a Satan out of a Hindu Chief Minister so it could feed at the trough of communalism, occasionally setting the balance right by allowing different communities to slaughter each other, allowing the ethnic cleansing( of Kashmiri pundits) to preserve its own interests-and not that of the country-in that state, refusing to bring one-fifth of the country's population under a common Civil Code thus ensuring that the radicals among both major religions will continue to hold sway over  their communities, carving out new states without caring for its implications for the rest of the country: the fires stoked by Telangana will burn for a long time, consuming even more of the little that remains of our nation-hood. The Congress created this country and it is its destiny to do its best to destroy it.
       The other political parties are no less culpable, and if the damage they have caused is lesser( by comparison) it is only because they have not ruled for so long or over so many states. The BJP, by its persistent hostility to one community has fallen into the Congress trap and ensured their alienation for posterity; VP Singh did his Mandal poll dance and faded away into oblivion, Mayawati's paranoia of other castes and obsession with Scheduled caste politics has taken this country back by decades, Mulayam Singh and his son are so keen to beat the Congress with its own trump( Muslim) card and to secure their legacy over their devastated state that they are even willing to part company with their country! These are the parties responsible for the horizontal divisions in our country. There are others-the regional parties- who have now superimposed on this a series of vertical-or regional- divisions or separatism. For them their individual, state specific identity is the only thing that counts, and if this can be promoted only at the cost of other state identities or the national identity, so be it and the devil take the hindmost. National identity is of little concern to these satraps focussed only on their miserable survival. And so we have a ShivSena or an MNS whose existence is postulated on driving all Beharis and UPites out of Maharashtra; a TRS which has announced that all Andhraites must leave Telangana immediately; an NC and PDP which steadfastly refuses to encourage the return of 100000 Kashmiri pandits evicted from their homeland; a DMK and AIADMK whose loyalty to a certain community in Sri Lanka matters more than India's strategic interests in the Indian Ocean; a TMC in Bengal which cares more about its share in the waters of one river than about a historic river basin Agreement with Bangladesh; an Akali Dal in Punjab which venerates Sikh terrorists hell bent upon declaring independence from India more than those brave soldiers who died to prevent that from happening. The same game is now being played with renewed vigour by at least a dozen wanna-be splinter groups who want statehood for their regions in order to preserve their " distinct identities". For the leaders of all these parties the national interest or identity does not matter-they are concerned only with their narrow, regional agenda, and the price of this tunnel vision is now beginning to show with a comatose government at the Centre.
      It takes statesmen, not self-serving politicians, to hold countries together. It took a Nehru and a Patel to survive the vivisection of our country, it took a Lincoln to create the United States of America, it took a Margaret Thatcher to prevent the double amputation of Ireland and the Falklands from the United Kingdom, it took an Attaturk to give shape to a modern Turkey, it took a Nelson Mandela to ensure that his country did not disintegrate in a welter of hatred and violence in the post-Apartheid period , it took an Indira Gandhi ( for all her faults) to preserve Punjab as an integral part of India. It will take only a Manmohan Singh or a Mulayam Singh to dismember India back into the pieces that Clive found when he stood at Plassey!
    The poison is spreading fast in the body politic of our nation and it cannot long survive its effects. The clarion call has been sounded by Mr. Akhilesh Yadav and the pack is beginning to gather. India needs a strong leader, never more than now, to stamp out these treacherous stirrings, by force if necessary. For the Indian politician has spoken- he has spoken for his caste, he has spoken for his religion, he has spoken for his sons, he has spoken for his fiefdom, he has spoken for his state- for UP, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Bengal, Maharashtra, Kashmir, Assam.
     Who will speak up for India? 

Monday, 5 August 2013



          I have reached the age when my first action on a morning is to grab the newspaper, feverishly scan the obituary pages and, finding that my name is not there, release a pent up sigh of relief and proceed to read about the latest scam of this government. Perhaps I'm slowly progressing towards senility, though one can never be sure for, as Bill Cosby famously remarked, the good news about senility is that when you become senile you never know it!  But there is something about the monoxide of Delhi ( which passes for air), however, that of late has been driving my thoughts to the contemplation of matters relating to the visitations of the Grim Reaper or " Passing Away" ( as they call it here, as if the departure of the soul from the body was akin to a bout of terminal flatulence). My contemplation of these grave matters is a detached one, of course, as that of an observer, but I still wonder what occasions it. I suspect it is because Death is never far away in this city- every time you step out of your house you stand a good chance of being run over by an S-class Mercedes, or of being shot by some Dirty Harry cop who takes you for a terrorist, or of drowning in a sewer man-hole the Corporation forgot to cover, or of being poisoned because the lunch you ate in that eatery was cooked in a drum of pesticide , or of being blown up by a bomb planted by someone who pines for a return to the glory days of either the Mughals or the Mauryas : the possibilities are endless. But you get my point- one starts noticing matters relating to Death. I've been doing this for two years now and find some aspects fascinating.
      Take, for instance, the obituary notices in the Delhi papers. Every single departee is stated to have " left for his/her Heavenly Abode." I find this puzzling, for I know for a fact that for the average Delhi-wallah this Heavenly Abode is right here!  For the typical Delhi-ite Heavenly Abode is anywhere in South Delhi( Hell, of course, lies on the other side of the Yamuna river). To fine tune this concept by communities, HA for the Bengali is Chittaranjan Park, for the Punjabi it is Golf Links, for the Marwari it is Greater Kailash, for the retired defence officer it is Defence Colony, for the Yuppie it is Gurgaon, for the Tibetans it is Majnu ka Tilla, for the Politician it is Race Course Road, for the Glitterati it is MG Road or Vasant Vihar, for the Bureaucrat it is Chanakyapuri, for the Industrialist it is Amrita Sher Gill Marg. There CANNOT BE any other heaven for these Delhi wallahs, so I presume that the fond wish of the " nears and dears" of the poor departed sod would be that he takes re-birth in the neighbourbood of his choice as given above. This would partly explain why the population of Delhi has been increasing at such an alarming rate, for nobody ever goes away, not even after handing in their pail.
                                                                                *  *
     The other thing I've noticed with these obituaries is that the ones left behind invariably pledge " to follow the cherished values and high moral conduct ( of the deceased) which would forever be( their)  guiding light and beacon." Now, given the typical behaviour and conduct of the Delhi-wallah, this doesn't say much about the deceased, no disrespect intended. The "high moral conduct" usually consists of abusing your neighbour for parking in front of your house, slapping the driver who dares to overtake you, jumping any queue with total aplomb, groping any lady below seventy stupid enough to get onto a bus and similar stimulating behaviour. The " cherished values" they follow are even more ante-diluvian, consisting of lofty principles such as: Do unto others before they do unto you, Blessed are the meek for they shall never know what hit them, There is a sucker born every minute, Hand in Cash is better than cash in hand , Screw thy neighbour AND his wife, and similar uplifting principles. So you see why we can never rid the city of this lumpen sub-culture-its something its citizens owe to their ancestors who have to be revered in the typical Hindu tradition!
                                                                               *  *
      Delhi is the net-working capital of India and therefore people here love nothing more than attending weddings and funerals, especially those of important people: an invite is not necessary, just as it is not necessary to know the dramatis personnae involved. Over the years I have become used to strange faces at weddings, but it was only recently that I encountered one at a cremation! I was at the cremation of a relative at Lodhi Crematorium, where seven other pyres were also flaming. A hushed crowd stood respectfully around each. A man in immaculate white kurta-pyjama sidled upto me, nodded at my relative's pyre, and whispered: " Is - sorry, was- that Shri-----?" I shook my head regretfully. He nodded his head imperceptively and moved on to the next pyre. I kept my eyes on him and saw that he went to all the pyres, one by one, looking appropriately mournful all the time, whispering to some random people, and finally sidled out of the gate. He obviously didn't know a soul there, so what was he doing there? Why would he spend a whole day looking for the funeral of someone he clearly didn't know well at all? Did he simply want to mark his presence, or was he doing it out of respect for the deceased person? Did he attend cremations as a past-time or was he just fascinated by death? Since that incident I have observed such people at other cremations also- they hang out at the fringe of the crowd initially, speaking to no one, but come to life when some known/ important/recognizable figure appears, genuflect to the worthy, and then remain by his side all the time, whispering God only knows what to him. I have even seen some slipping visiting cards to the person!
                                                                            * *
     Delhi's bureaucrats are generally faceless, which is probably a blessing to the citizens of a city surrounded by so much ugliness! But it is in the DNA of a bureaucrat to be want to be noticed so they occasionally give in to the temptation of laying a foundation stone or two provided, of course, that Shiela Dixit has not beaten them to it. So one can see the odd Stone in front of a building or flyover or bus-stop, and one doesn't grudge them these little sops. But inaugurating a cremation platform or shed? Who would ever consent to such a ghoulish idea? Someone has, in the Lodhi Road Crematorium( you can go and see the name yourself). Just outside a shed with four platforms( donated by ONGC) is a stone on which is engraved the name of the worthy( a Director in the Ministry of Urban Development) who " inaugurated" this unit a couple of years back! Is this macabre, or am I being too severe on him? Sometimes I wonder- did they also arrange four dead bodies to cremate for his benefit, and was he given the honour of lighting the flames, in a devilish twist to the time honoured Hindu tradition of lighting the sacred lamp? Did he have to glorify himself at the very spot which should remind us of " dust unto dust", or of the words of the poet( John Donne?) :
" Sceptre and crown
 Must tumble down
 And in the dust be equal made
 With the lowly scythe and spade..."
                                                                          *  *

       The flavour of the season for people who, like me, are ready for their final boarding call, appears to be accounts of Near Death Experiences( NDE). I've read Anita Murjani's " Dying to be Me" and Dr. Alexander Eban's " Proof of Heaven" and Dr. Brian Weiss's " Many Lives,Many Masters." What they all have in common is relief at being freed from the body, a blinding white light, choral music, angelic beings accompanying them, someone( usually a deceased close relative) telling them that their time has not yet come and a disinclination to return to the ravaged body left behind. To be perfectly candid, this commonality of experience can be either reassuring, or suspicious, depending on individual assessment, and I guess I'm not in a position to pass judgement on it  till I've been through such an experience myself-the last Near Death Experience I had was some years ago when my wife caught me texting ( sexting?) an attractive PA in Shastri Bhavan but I guess that won't qualify as an NDE according to Messers Murjani, Dr. Weiss etc.! But what IS interesting in all these accounts is that the versions of life after death all correspond to the postulates of the Abrahamic religions( Christianity, Islam, Semitism) only-of their concept of Heaven, God, the type of beings who reside there etc.! The Hindu concept, to my mind, would be quite different for we don't have a distinct God figure towards which the soul gravitates( the blinding light) as Hinduism teaches that God is present in every object and creature; in our case the soul doesn't reside in Heaven or Hell everlastingly but is reincarnated into some other appropriate life-form( which is all the reward or punishment we can expect); there are no celestial or devilish figures patrolling these realms. Considering that two of three writers mentioned by me belong to the Christian religion ( Mrs. Murjani is a puzzle because she is a Hindu but her experience corresponds quite closely to that of the others. However, I note that she has spent her whole life outside India exposed to Western values, cultures and thoughts- could these have coloured/influenced her perceptions at a sub-conscious level?)-it is quite clear to me that these two gentlemen are trying- maybe unintentionally- to validate their religion through their NDE "experiences". And this in itself is enough to create a strong doubt in my mind about the authenticity of their experiences and to raise all manner of questions: Does the religious divide which exists between peoples on earth continue even after Death? Are there separate post-mortem realms for people of different religions? Are the Abrahamic religions the only true religions and other religions mere hallucinations?  Would an NDE by a true-blooded Hindu corroborate the experiences of the others mentioned above or would it be different, reflecting Hindu beliefs? Disturbing questions, but unless these can be answered the jury would be well advised to continue its deliberations and not return a verdict in a hurry.

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           It is inevitable that Death takes everything from the dying but what is NOT inevitable is that it takes away one's dignity in that last moment too. The dignity I am talking about is not that of crowns, of robes of office, the bank account in the Cayman Islands or the Mercedes parked in the garage: what I refer to is the dignity of the human existence that comes from being with one's family, in the house built with one's own hard labour, not being dependent on another, of being aware and fully conscious of the state of one's existence, of being able to make firm choices, of letting go when the time has come. This , in essence, is the ultimate dignity a human being is entitled to, regardless of his economic, religious or social status. We are today being robbed of this dignity at an alarming rate by an unholy alliance of technology, medical rapaciousness, rising incomes and misplaced sense of duty. The act/ moment of death today robs one of all dignity, or of any sense of choice or control over one's life. Just think! Go over the last ten deaths of persons known to you- how many of them died at home and how many in ICUs or hospital rooms? Chances are nine out of the ten belong to the latter category. Death in a hospital environment demeans the human spirit and memory like nothing else-your last memory of your loved one-if at all you are even allowed to see him or her- being one of tubes stuck all over the body, the face covered with an oxygen mask, the mouth grotesquely distorted by a fat ventilator tube, the smell of chemicals all pervasive, the sound of screams of other patients adding to the all enveloping despondency. The person on the bed is either knocked out by the drugs, or, even if conscious, is unable to talk by the medical extrusions in his body. The eyes are generally the give away-if you're lucky they are closed, otherwise they move frantically from side to side, reminding one of nothing more than a trapped animal desperate to find an escape. Every NDE account I've read emphasises the person's feelings at this moment-the desire to leave the body, the resentment at being forcibly restrained, the longing to be free of its physical baggage. Should this be the manner of a human being's departure from this world?
         There was a time, not so long ago, when death was not such a traumatic and dehumanising experience- people died in their own comfortable bed, in a house they knew, surrounded by those they loved and who loved them, conscious and grateful in this knowledge; they could sometimes say a last few words or, if incapable of this, their silence was one of contentment. The soul was not held captive by force but could leave at a time of its own choosing. But all this is in the past now.People are no longer allowed to die gracefully: they are packed off to hospital ICUs, punctured with a dozen needles, injected with litres of drugs, operated upon in redundant procedures, monitored by a dozen consoles-and then finally pronounced dead. The family goes back home, their conscience and sense of duty assuaged by the hefty hospital bill  presented-and settled- before the body is handed over to them.
        I constantly wonder if this has been a change for the better. True, many more people are indeed saved to live a few more years. True, it is the duty of any family to do all they can to save a life. True, we must make full use of the advancements in medical technology. But, if we are brutally honest with ourselves, we will admit that there comes a moment when we know that the end is inevitable, and yet we persist( either out of a sense of duty, or out of desperate hope) to subject the one we love to further tortures. In this we are generally encouraged by rapacious hospitals and mercenary doctors whose PRIMARY objective is to make money not save lives. They dangle before us new tests, medicines and procedures, and we succumb. Forgive me for saying so, but this is a manifestation ultimately of our selfishness The problem is that today we refuse to accept death, so arrogant have we become with our technology and our science. Sometimes our persistence works- the patient survives, but dependent on others for ever, living the existence of a vegetable. We must ask ourselves-is it worth extending a life by a few more months or years if the existence has to be at such a sub-liminal level? Is quality more important or quantity? More and more people are beginning to ask these questions now-even doctors and health administrators, I'm glad to note-and the concept of the "living will" is taking shape. By executing such a will a person prohibits the use of any life-support systems to keep him alive. California has even enacted legislation to make this a legal right, subject of course to safeguards. I would be delighted to know if any other country or state has similar legislations. Can India show the maturity and compassion to follow this path?- frankly, I have grave doubts, given that even the Supreme Court of this country refuses to allow a nurse, raped , sodomised and battered into a vegetable 27 years ago, existing in an insentient coma all these years, to die. It needs a wise and compassionate society to strike the balance between life and death. We ceased to be one long ago.