Monday, February 25, 2008

Paulo Coelho's Witch of Portobello

Paulo Coelho

This Brazilian writer is now well-known throughout the world. His spirituality-based fictions are translated into several languages and widely read. His first book The Pilgrimage and his second book The Alchemist received lukewarm response at first. When he got the same books published by a bigger Publishing House , they became best sellers. Some ten more books followed and most of them have received acclaim. The latest book written by Coelho is The Witch of Portobello.

The Story

Athena , the ' Witch', was born in the Gypsy community in Romania. Her mother was Gypsy based in Romania and father was probably a Romanian White( the author's hint is very indirect). Her mother leaves her in an Orphanage and goes back to her community. A rich Arab couple from Beirut ( not Muslim but Christian) adopts Athena, overruling the advice of a nurse of the orphanage based on the child's Gypsy lineage. The Khalils name the child as Sherine. A member of the extended family of the Khalils suggests that in view of the increasing prejudice against the Arab world internationally, it is better to change the name to Athena. Sherine likes the sound of the name and becomes Athena.

From the early age, Athena exhibits certain supernatural abilities. She is also very religious in the Christian sense. The family migrates to London. Athena joins an Engineering course, falls in love with fellow-student Petersen , marries him, leaves the University and becomes a mother. The couple develops difference of opinion and get divorced. The story starts galloping only from now on. Athena shifts to a rented accommodation with her child . There she comes in contact with a Polish refugee and gets introduced to a mystical dance form. The dance changes her life completely. In Athena's words, " When you dance, the spiritual world and the real world manage to coexist happily". Athena, now working in a Bank, introduces her colleagues to this particular dance which takes one to trance. There is a qualitative improvement in the functioning of the staff and Athena gets promoted to move to Dubai. At Dubai, she learns calligraphy from Nabil Alaihi as a means to discover new spiritual dimensions. Still restless, she decides to undertake a trip to Romania in search of her biological mother, finds her and gets reconciled. While in Romania, she has a chance meeting with Edda, a Scottish woman deeply interested in the Tradition of considering God as feminine and Mother. This meeting influences Athena tremendously and her spiritual search continues when she is back in England. Edda advises Athena to learn what she does not yet know, through teaching. While this advice is initially puzzling to Athena, she starts teaching Andrea McCain, an actress. Andrea is very suspicious of Athena since Andrea's journalistic boy-friend is attracted to Athena. It is love unrequited. Athena succeeds in getting the Divinity to manifest on herself; the manifestation calls herself Hagia Sofia. Athena becomes clairvoyant whenever this manifestation arrives. As Athena's following grows in number, the orthodox Christian establishment gets provoked . How could they tolerate a parallel religious movement that poses a challenge to their centuries-old hegemony? What happens thereafter is interesting and the end is as surprising as a Sheldon thriller. What happens to Athena in the end? Is she murdered by the fundamentalists? or some jealous lover? or left free to spend her life in anonymity? Is her claim that her lover is working for Scotland Yard just a protective shield from male attention? If you want to know the answers, please read the book. Of course, I do not sell books and so there is no vested interest involved in asking you to buy the book.

Why the title 'Witch'?

Witch is a label the Organised Religion gives to any one performing any spiritual rituals which it does not understand and which are not part of the approved rituals of the Establishment. Athena's spiritual path in which Mother is the supreme Divinity and her non-Christian beliefs and methods of worship earned her the title Witch from the Christian Establishment. Since Athena and her followers used to meet at a building in Portobello Road , she becomes the Witch of Portobello in the eyes of the Orthodox Church.

Spiritual Message

The world has been seeing God as masculine and demanding obedience. May be, it is time to break free from this fear of God and move to love of God; a feminine God, the Great Mother who does not control , but loves. In the worship of Mother, fear gives way to love. Authority is replaced by compassion. This is not new. Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism already say that every thing is one. Divinity is in every thing and every thing is part of the Divinity. They do not see God as domineering figure.

In order that one gets to come in contact with the Divinity, one needs to unlearn. One needs to cease to follow the beaten path of rules. Athena does it by getting herself freed from the stranglehold of rhythm in her dance, thus creating chaos momentarily making space for the NEW ( Divinity) to manifest itself. Her teacher Edda does it by knitting in a completely irrational way.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Migrants to Mumbai

Where do they come from?

A new study which I have just gone through says that most of the new migrants are from Uttar Pradesh. A surprising figure is that of Bihar which is just 20 % of those from U.P. This is surprising since Biharis have been subjected to as much bashing as those from U.P. for migrating to Mumbai. Of course, the study confirms that most of the migrants to Mumbai are from North India. This is understandable since the North ( with the exception of Delhi, Punjab and Haryana) is the poorest in terms of all the economic indicators. Even the East is doing better while the West and the South are much better off , with their flourishing economies and more job creation.

Southerners' change of interest

In spite of the economy in the South doing very well, there are still people from South India who are leaving their states in search of better prospects. But Mumbai has ceased to attract them. Nor Delhi. They head towards Malaysia, Singapore, the U.K. and the U.S.A. They have the necessary education and skills to find good jobs in those countries. The northerners are currently doing what their southern fellow-Indians did three to four decades ago. Namely migrating to Mumbai to find employment. And of course become pawns in the political game of the sons of the soil.

Mumbai is not just Maharashtrian

If Mumbai generates so many jobs to cater to the local population and still accommodate outsiders, the credit does not go to the Maharashtra Government or Maharashtrians. Millions of migrants over the decades have created wealth for Mumbai. Besides, the Central Government has been very liberal towards developing Mumbai as the financial capital of the country. The Reserve Bank of India has its Head Office in Mumbai. So are so many other banks and insurance companies. Several entrepreneurs from all over the country have set up their Head Offices in Mumbai. Several Mutinational Companies have their Indian operations monitored through Central Offices in Mumbai. Naturally, these companies are listed as Mumbai-based companies and their gigantic turnover figures are considered to be arising from Mumbai. But this is absolutely a wrong conclusion. These companies have factories and sales offices throughout the country and every such establishment has contributed to the turnover fogures and profitability. Therefore, Mumbai's wealth is on account of the entire country.

Decentralisation the Solution?

In advanced economies such as U.S.A. or Germany, they do not focus on only one city and starve the rest of the cities. For example, in Germany it is not only Frankfurt which is well-developed. Munich, Berlin, Hamburg, Koeln, Stuttgart etc. are also well-developed. So, it is necessary that our own Central Government should adopt policies to divert part of the investment to other cities and towns. Mumbai need not be the only beneficiary . Of course, private entrepreneurs will go wherever infrastructure is good. That is why a lot of recent investment has been in Chennai. Bangalore and Hyderabad etc., besides Mumbai. U.P. and Bihar are paying the price for having inefficient administrators and their lack of interest in developing infrastructure. But the Govt. of India could have a few of its important institutions in other cities as well. Today,R.B.I, National Stock Exchange, Western Railway, Central Railway and so many other important organisations have their Head Quarters in Mumbai. This must change without causing disruption to productivity and sound economics. Till then, Dadar-bound Varanasi Express will keep bringing thousands of Hindi-speaking people to crowd Mumbai more and more. They will watch Bhojpuri films and become an eye-sore to the Raj Thackerays of the political world.The fault does not lie with the migrants.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Municipal Patriotism

Raj Thackeray wants North Indians out of Mumbai. His uncle Bal Thackeray had wanted the South Indians out of the then-Bombay in 1967. What will happen if this trend spreads? Sholapur would want the Kannadigas out. Nagpur would want the Hindi-speaking people out.
But there are Maharashtrians living in the other states of India. So, Indore and Gwalior would want the Maharashtrians to leave. Gulbarga and Hubli would show the door to the Maharashtrians. May be, even Belgaum. There are several thousand Maharashtrians who are well-settled in Uttarakhand. 'Quit Uttarankhand' notice might be served on those Maharashtrians.
If the other states start having a look at who the outsiders in their respective states are, then Tamilians will have to leave Bangalore. May be, also Palghat in Kerala. The Andhraites will have to leave Chennai. The Malayalees will have to leave Coimbatore and probably also Kanyakumari. Kannadigas will be driven out of Kasargode in Kerala. Tamilians will be pushed out of Chittoor in Andhra Pradesh. Bengalis will have to say good-bye to Jamshedpur and Guwahati. May be, even Pondicherry. Gujaratis will have to quit Mumbai ; Marwaris Kolkata and so many other places. Punjabis will be unsettled from several places. Is this the shape of things to come? Does any one in his or her right frame of mind wish for such a massive cross-migration and the resultant refugee problems?
If the world at large copies this very Indian poison, what would happen? Indians and Pakistanis will be thrown out of U.K. and the Middle East. The Chinese will have to leave Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and several other countries. The Turks and Italians will be unwelcome to stay in Germany. The Algerians and Moroccans will be asked to go from France. The Indians of Goan origin will not be able to stay on in Portugal. The English will not be able to continue to live in Zimbabwe. The Germans in Namibia will have to pack their bags and return to their 'Vaterland'. Almost all the ethnic groups except those of European origin will leave the United States.
Of course, such a nightmarish situation has no chance of arising. Thackerays are still in a hopeless minotiry in the world including India. They are , in fact, a vanishing tribe in the global village that the world is fast becoming. Hopefully, their own followers will soon come to their senses and force the Thackerays to leave politics, if not Mumbai.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Advertisement Hype and Sad Reality

There is an advertisement frequently aired by a big nationalised Bank on TV. A customer of the said Bank gets into a tram ( obviously in Kolkata since that is the only Indian city which still has Trams) and sits by the side of an officer of the Bank without recognizing him. The officer, noticing that the customer has not recognised him , starts a conversation with him, half humourously and half sarcastically, to tell the customer that the latter has forgotten him since he has taught the customer the nuances of internet banking and thus obviated the need for the customer to visit the bank at all; and now the customer does not even recognize the officer. The idea behind this advertisement is to tell the viewers that the bank is customer-friendly in the old-fashioned way , maintaining social contacts with them while simultaneously being modern enough to use tools such as internet for the benefit of the customers.
My personal experience with this particular Bank makes me wonder on which planet the officer portrayed in the advertisement lives and which utopian branch of the Bank he works in. In my experience with the branch of the said Bank in my locality, neither any officer nor any clerk of the bank is friendly even to regular customers;none of the staff exhibits any understanding of any modern tools of customer service. Whether it be updating the simple Savings Bank account Pass book or issuing a new cheque book or making available with a tolerable delay the ' Tax Deduction at Source' statements, the service is annoyingly poor. So, advertisements such as the one described above can not fool any one familiar with the said bank.
While the claim made by so-called beauty soaps such Lux can be forgiven since the claim is decades-old and by-now totally unbelieved hype, what is more objectionable are the advertisement hypes by special soaps such as Aloe Vera soaps and Turmeric (Haldi or Manjal) soaps. Soaps are soaps and Chemists say that to maintain stabilty and durability, these soaps contain several chemical additives in the same way as any normal soap. The special 'health-adding' ingredients such as Aloe Vera or Turmeric are so little in quantity that they are not adequate to offer extra health benefits. So, why fool the gullible viewers and charge a premium?
Stain Remover
The advertisements on the various products that serve as remover of stains on clothes are the worst liars. The sales girl in one such advertisement demonstrates the effectiveness of a fast-selling brand and very effortlessly removes the stain on the clothes after deliberately staining a shirt of some one watching the demo and ironing the shirt to dry the stain, thus making it harder to remove. If you believe the advertisement and buy the product, you would soon know how invalid the claim is. I have tried the product and found it not half as effective as claimed.
Where is the accountability?
The above are just a few samples picked up from among the several advertisements which promise paradise and ever-lasting happiness in return for customers' money and blind faith. It is the same story whether the advertised product is soap or mutual fund or mobile phone.
Is there any non-profit organisation which is interested in exposing the hollow claims of so many such advertisers? I look around and find none. In the meantime, gullible people keep buying the false claims with their hard-earned money and wait patiently for the promised benefit to arrive.