Mahishamati as Radical Soil: The Maoism of Baahubali

My old friend Neha Natalya Pandey, currently engaged in postdoctoral work in the United States, was kind enough to forward me her mother Dr. (Mrs.) Valentina Dimitrieva Pandey (M.A., M. Litt., Ph. D.) ‘s monograph on the Baahubali movies, with a request to share it. The recent turmoil in American – Russian relationships, with both the associated financial sanctions, and, tragically, the vilification of anything Russian among American academe, has made it impossible for Neha Natalya to maintain the Pandey family’s blog; and so she has been forced to forward their works for the popular masses to her friends to ensure that we common people continue to benefit from the erudite family’s research and advocacy. I reproduce Dr. (Mrs.) Pandey’s monograph below, unaltered and unedited. – AK

I have been dismayed at the vilification of Baahubali 2 in the counter-revolutionary press of India. Late capitalist media, sustained like fungi by the rotting advertising dollars of corporate houses, seeks to suppress or mischievously misrepresent truly revolutionary works of art. To serve their corporate masters, media houses have attacked the Baahubali films as racist, casteist, feudal, and antifeminist. As we shall see, nothing could be further from the truth. Baahubali 2, especially, is a pioneering work of cinema that speaks for the proletariat, the downtrodden, and the coming revolution.

That Baahubali 2 is revolutionary could have been anticipated from the creators alone. Like artistic stalwarts David Dhawan and Manmohan Desai, SS Rajamouli has spent his career on cinema that conveys the rage of the forgotten man in an unforgiving system of brutalisation. Yet even I was unprepared for just how far the Baahubali saga was willing to go in its championing of the subaltern. Rajamouli’s earlier body of work – for nobody is perfect – still privileged the individual vengeance over the dismantling of structural inequity. Baahubali goes a step further, and issues a call to arms for revolution.

We see in Baahubali that the land of Mahishamati is ruled by the wise regent Sivagami, and exists as a peasant utopia, untainted by industrialisation. The scholar Dominique Legrand-Metternich, in her work Mutter, Boden, Mensch, has pointed out that in (ab)original societies, the mother (who is not-male by virtue of her role, even though she may be male when observed through the lens of crass empiricism (see: Idle, 1979)) is identified with the land; whereas the father (who is always male, and thus anti-feminine) is identified with the fire. Thus, the preindustrial societies are inherently feminist, while post-industrialist societies are anti-feminist. Sivagami is able to maintain the idyllic conditions of Mahishamati, until Bhallaladeva takes the throne. It is then that industrialisation raises its ugly head.

The senior Baahubali is exiled, and works his revenge by introducing the technology of the gear-drive to Mahishamati. But this is only the spark that lights the fire. Once Sivagami is murdered by Bhallaladeva, the true end of the pastoral Mahishamati is brought about. For the next twenty five years, Bhallaladeva brings about so-called ‘development’ and industrialisation – but all this ‘progress’ is restricted to military technology, like automated chariots; or giant waterworks. Rajamouli’s film is therefore a searing indictment of Greco-capitalism; as the military-industrial complex, created by the American imperialists; and large dam projects, funded by the same imperialists; are both placed in the person of the villainous Bhallaladeva.

Fortunately, the end of ‘development’ is at hand, as Mahendra Baahubali and Avantika lead a peasant guerrilla army. As a Telugu speaker, Rajamouli is well aware of his culture’s glorious history of peasant revolutions. The pairing of the peasant Avantika, and the bourgeois Baahubali; coming together in a glorious synthesis of a proletarian revolution, is an obvious hat-tip to both the Chinese people’s revolution, and the ongoing Naxalite revolution in India. In an atmosphere of increasing suppression of people’s movements, and of their supporters, Rajamouli is as courageous as Baahubali himself in creating a film that so unabashedly propagandises the Naxalite movement.

In conclusion, the Baahubali films represent a pro-people, anti-feudal, anti-Greco-capitalist, and pro-revolutionary message. It remains to be seen, whether the bourgeoisie of India shall recognise the writing on the wall – but the people have awoken. Lal salaam!

– Dr. (Mrs.) Valentina Dimitrieva Pandey
MA (lit.) MPhil (illit.) PhD (corres.) M.A.S. University, Darjeeling

(The writer is the Randal Zakuroff Chair of Gender Studies at the Department of Social Sciences, at the University of St Petersburg, Russia. She lives with her husband Acharya Somuchidononanda Pandey in the Malyeshi suburb of St. Petersburg, where their twenty-two children frequently visit them.)

Demographics and Anti-Incumbency

After seeing the results of the May 2016 assembly elections, I have developed a hunch. It is that anti-incumbency will be much less powerful in elections in places where the birth rate is low.

My reasoning is this: suppose in years 0 to 5, party X is in power. In years 6 to 10, party Y is in power. In year 11, elections come around.

In a state or country where the birth rate is high, you have a large cohort of 18-23 year old first time voters, who were 13-18 when party X was last in power. So they know just how rotten party Y is, but have forgotten, or never noticed, how bad party X used to be. This cohort then votes with a great deal of hope and aspiration for party X. And because of the high birth rate, it swamps the votes of such people who remember how bad X had been.

But in a state where the birth rate is low – and possibly close to, or below replacement rate – the people with long memories of how X was in power, and how Y was in power, will outnumber the first-time voters. And so, as long as Y is even slightly better than X; they will vote Y back in.

Of the states that had election results declared in May; Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Kerala all have Total Fertility Rates below the replacement rate. And Tamil Nadu and WB both had incumbent governments returning. According to my hunch, that is because there were enough voters who remembered how bad the CPI(M) and DMK used to be, and even if they didn’t particularly like the TMC or AIADMK very much, still felt that they weren’t the worse alternative.

I realise that this hasn’t panned out in Kerala, which has stuck to regular anti-incumbency – perhaps because there actually isn’t anything to choose between the UDF and LDF; and perhaps also because anybody who votes in hope for change does so for the BJP.

But if my hunch is correct, it means that for any state which has a TFR less than 2.1; as long as a party in power can be just better enough than the principal opposition party, anti-incumbency for at least the first term will be less of a threat. Those states right now are:

  1. West Bengal
  2. Punjab
  3. Himachal Pradesh
  4. Tamil Nadu
  5. Delhi
  6. Kerala
  7. Andhra Pradesh and Telangana
  8. Maharashtra (does that explain why the NCP and INC came back to power in 2008?)
  9. Karnataka (but that is crazily anti-incumbent)
  10. J&K
  11. Probably many of the North Eastern states and Goa

Looking over these, I realise that my hunch will probably work best where the state has two principal parties. In Andhra Pradesh the situation has been complicated by the fecundity of political parties; in J&K by there being four major parties over three regions; and in Punjab and Delhi by the sudden appearance of the AAP.

I have a further hunch that any party that gets a second term will get a little too complacent or greedy, and eventually end up being worse than whoever was voted out; and that a new equilibrium of anti-incumbency after two terms will evolve in places like West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, and Andhra Pradesh.

So I will stick my head out and make predictions:

  1. AAP will get a second term in Delhi (though I wonder if this mechanism works as well in Delhi, which might be getting a bunch of first time voters through migration rather than birth)
  2. AIADMK will not return to power in 2021, or even get Lok Sabha seats in 2018
  3. Whoever wins Karnataka next year will figure out that they have to be just a little better than the Congress (and how hard can that be, even for the JD(U) and the BJP?), will manage it one way or the other, and come back to power in 2024.
  4. The CPI(M) will also figure this out in Kerala, and break the one-term jinx in 2021.
  5. UP will have one-term governments or unstable coalitions for the next two decades

Two corollaries that emerge from this:

  1. In low-fertility states, because vote swings will be less violent, small caste or religion – based parties will never suddenly lose their core vote, and so we will be stuck with guys like the PMK and the MIM for a long time to come.
  2. The huge cohort of first-time voters that sweeps incumbents out in high-fertility states explains the rise of Narendra Modi. It also explains the Arijitisation of Hindi film music. As long as you have a growing number of teenagers and young people who have never actually been in a romantic relationship, but are looking forward to one, soulful songs about idealised romances that bear no resemblance to real life romances will have a market. Sob.


A Return Journey for Vada Pao

Although it’s widespread in India, the samosa is not originally from India. There may be a metaphor in there about the Aryan Invasion Theory, but let’s ignore the metaphor and focus on the food. Here’s a Quartz story about the origins of the samosa:

From Egypt to Libya and from Central Asia to India, the stuffed triangle with different names has garnered immense popularity. Originally named samsa, after the pyramids in Central Asia, historical accounts also refer to it as sanbusak,sanbusaq or even sanbusaj, all deriving from the Persian word, sanbosag. In South Asia, it was introduced by the Middle Eastern chefs during the Delhi Sultanate rule, although some accounts credit traders for bringing the fare to this part of the world.

The post seems to have been written by a Pakistani person, so it focuses more on the Pakistani keema samosas, while briefly acknowledging that in India, it has been vegetarianised, so that the samosa filling has become potato instead of meat.

I never knew until I was out of school that samosas could come with meat instead of potato and peas. By that time, I had already gone off samosas forever. This was because of how bad potato samosas in Delhi can get, especially when you’re trying to make them as cheap as possible. Of course, for government canteens, which operate on lowest financial bid contracts, making things as cheap as possible is imperative, so there is nothing quite as awful as a government samosa. It is the nadir of cost cutting, and features the coming together of:

  1. The worst quality of potatoes (and Indian potatoes are already pretty bad compared to potatoes from the rest of the world)
  2. Deep frying the samosas in dalda instead of oil
  3. Watered down tamarind chutney

Now consider the vada pao. This, unlike the samosa, was almost certainly created in India. And it started out vegetarian. It has always been a deep fried mashed potato ball stuffed inside a bun.

What if we sent the vada pao on the reverse journey of the samosa? That is, from a vegetarian potato beginning; we turn it into a meat item? We mince various kinds of meat, fry each in besan (or maybe even another sort of batter), and then put the result into a pao. And after various experiments, we figure out the best possible meat and batter combination and end up with something that’s more expensive, but far tastier and healthier than a potato burger. If it works, we could give the recipe to Central Asia, as a way of saying thank you for all the samosas.

Definitely Not This Article

My beloved readers, I appeal to you as both a former editor, and a longtime reader of things: if you are married, please stop calling your wife ‘the wife’.1 Or your son ‘the son’. ‘My wife’ works fine.

At its best, this behaviour merely suggests a sort of delusion in which you imagine that nobody else has a wife and yours is the only one in the world. This is bad enough. But things get truly awful when two people start doing this on an email thread or message board. For example:

X: The wife likes bananas, so we shop at Sarojini Nagar.

Y: Everyone in my family likes peanuts, so we shop in Rajouri Garden.

Z: The wife likes catfish, so we shop at Alaknanda Complex.

Aadisht: I like Evergreen kesar rasmalai!

At the same time, thanks to their use of the definite article, I am imagining that it’s the same wife for X and Z. Like a timeshare. And when I know the wives in question and they are delightful ladies, this makes it all the more awkward.

So please, use ‘my’ instead of ‘the’.

1: Technically this applies to ‘the husband’ also, but empirically I’ve never seen anybody saying ‘the husband’. Perhaps this is because they say ‘the hubby’ instead, at which point my brain wipes away the memory of what they’ve just said to preserve me from the horror.

A Requiem for Exes

I have been thinking about exes. Not mine, but other people’s.

Specifically, I have been thinking about the exes whom I never got to meet.

In some cases, this was because the person whom I did know had a relationship when they were living somewhere else, and then broke up before I ever got to meet the partner. Sometimes it wasn’t even geographical separation, but never getting to meet the partner for one reason or the other.

In other cases, it was reading somebody’s blog, and over the months or years, seeing the partner once referred to, change from name to allusion, and then vanish altogether. And made all the more poignant because the ex had no online presence, no blue link underlining their name, to give them an identity other than once partner, then ex, now cipher. The same applies to Twitter and Facebook, I suppose.

What happened to all these exes I never knew as persons, but only as partners, I wonder. Did they take the breakup badly? Did they move on? Did they see it as an opportunity to become aggressively single and Lothario their way through life? Go to the Rocky Mountains and shoot grizzly bears? I shall never know, particularly when the breakup was either messy or embarrassing.

Perhaps they’ve all gone to the same place, and Scott Pilgrim style, formed a League of Evil Exes.

The Taxman and my Grandfather

Two weeks ago, the Hindustan Times had an interview of Arun Jaitley, in which he made this depressing statement:

Shouldn’t the taxmen have some idea about the correlation between your income and expenditure or the correlation between your income and lifestyle?

As far as I’m concerned, no they bloody shouldn’t. Accepting reluctantly that I do have to fork over about a quarter of my income in order to provide for my government’s questionable expenditure choices (an airline? really?), I draw the line at said government also demanding to know the complete details of my lifestyle on threat of financial penalty. Is nothing private? Can I no longer buy web hosting, Cities: Skylines, or The Princess Diaries XI: Royal Wedding without Jaitley poking his greasy nose into the affair? Moreover, if there is already sales tax and service tax, why do the taxmen give a damn about the correlation between income and expenditure? And as long as I pay everything on time and accurately, why is my lifestyle under suspicion from the get go?

This excessive preoccupation with other people’s lifestyles reminds me of the story of how my grandfather disliked Jammu.

My grandfather was a great man who climbed out of poverty thrice. The reason once wasn’t enough is that the first time he did it, Partition pushed him back into destitution, and the second time he did it, his sleazy younger brother pushed him back into poverty. But he kept going, like Chumbawumba.

On his third climb out of poverty, he was living in Jammu and running a small business, which had its office not too far away from his home. So rather than pack a lunch box, he would walk home every day for lunch, and then walk back to work.

One day, on his walk home, he was accosted by a stranger who told him enthusiastically, “Dharam Swarup ji, the matar pulao at your home smells excellent!”

He himself hadn’t know what was being made for lunch, but a stranger did (even if the reason for this was the prominent aroma of Jammu rice). He didn’t have any clue who the stranger was, but the stranger knew who he was. And this complete stranger had no compunctions about accosting him on the road.

Eventually my grandfather moved to Delhi, and as he was a great man, made sure that he brought all his relatives along with him. And for many years to come, he told these relatives (who then told me) this story to explain how rotten Jammu was, and how it was full of busybodies who kept sticking their noses into other people’s business (and kitchen windows).

Presumably this is not merely a Jammu problem, but an Indian small town problem. Which would explain why Arun Jaitley, despite having left his small town forty years ago to study, practice law, and practice politics in Delhi, is still obsessively peering into other people’s lifestyles. Woe.

Sugar! Tolstoi! KRK Sir!

A couple of weeks ago, I read this Hindustan Times oped by Manu Joseph. I call it an oped merely because it appeared on the Opinion page. It would be far more appropriate to call it a masterful piece of trolling of anybody who enjoys sweets:

Sugar operates in the same way as evil because it is. It is an allure that hides deep inside culture, and in the notions of love, celebration, freedom, sharing and being endearingly flawed. And in our fundamental right to mediocrity. The only time human beings question the virtues of perfection and excellence is when you take sugar away from them.

There are multitudes within that paragraph. The correlation of sugar and evil; which is hyperbolic by itself but so understated in the context it appears in. The contemptuous scorn for “being endearingly flawed”, which I too find annoying when I find that particular self-projection infecting my Twitter timeline. The rage at love, celebration, and freedom all being hijacked by bad dietary habits. And that is just one paragraph. The rest of the oped pours the same scorn on Aditya Chopra movies’ suspension of logic, fruit juices, the moral panic over Maggi, and… pretty much everything else, actually.

What explains all this scorn and rage? And why is Manu Joseph angry at everything? Why are so many of his opeds what the good old days of blogging used to call puke fests? After giving the matter much thought on my commute (which runs from South Delhi to Sonepat so I had lots of time to give it thought), I was rewarded with an insight. The insight was this:

Manu Joseph and Aakar Patel are the Safe-For-Work versions of Kamaal R Khan (hereinafter referred to as KRK sir).

The rest of this post is full of bad language. Kindly proceed accordingly.

Continue reading “Sugar! Tolstoi! KRK Sir!”

Ideas, Events, People

Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and lesser minds discuss people.

This was one of those homilies from childhood that I encountered again a while ago somewhere on the internet, and I realised that as with most homilies, it doesn’t really stand up to application in the real world.

Because if the ideas you are discussing are on the lines of:

  • Vaccination causes autism
  • Genetically Modified foodstuffs cause cancer
  • Taj Mahal is actually a Siva temple called Tejo Mahalaya
  • Muslim men are seducing Hindu women into marriage for nefarious purposes1
  • Jan Lok Pal will solve all corruption everywhere in India

then honestly, you and society at large are probably better off talking about the people on last night’s episode of Bigg Boss. In fact we should celebrate and praise Bigg Boss as a sort of storm water drain that takes conspiracists away from the high streets of policy discourse.

1: The worst thing about this particular conspiracy theory is that it never gives an explanation of what Muslim men get out of this.

The Perfect Blend of Tradition and Modernity


My father, whom I respect, love, and admire, is admittedly not infallible. And one of the major mistakes he made where my own life is concerned was in 2013, when in a mood that was mixed parts of ‘Nothing else is working’, ‘Customised service is better than faceless matrimonial websites’, and ‘The upside could be great and how bad could the downside be?’, he enrolled me in the lists of Sycorian Matrimonials (back then, it had not yet become Sycoriaan).

As it turns out, there was one upside and four downsides. The upside was that the whole association with Sycorian left me with stories upon which I will be able to dine out for years and years. The downsides were:

  1. The hefty enrolment fee they charged. As Amba said, for that amount of money they ought to be manufacturing brides and grooms, Pygmalion style, to customer specifications.
  2. The customised service being far, far worse than faceless matrimonial websites because the Sycorian relationship managers refused to reply coherently to email, kept begging for phone calls or face to face meetings (in which nothing ever happened), and in general did nothing beyond sending profiles of prospective brides, which matrimonial website algorithms do anyway, at far less cost.
  3. The psychological pain which my father suffered when he was repeatedly spurned by prospective brides’ parents, either because they were yuppies and shuddered at the thought of their daughter marrying into a crass Punjabi business family, or because they were lalas and shuddered at the thought of their daughter marrying into a business family so manifestly unsuccessful that the father in law drove a Toyota Corolla and the groom himself rode a bicycle to work.
  4. The time I wasted and psychological despair I suffered while reading the profiles of said prospective brides.

This despair was largely because most (though to be fair, not all) bridal profiles were very much like each other, especially in the following respects:

  • Education at a British university
  • Worked in a family business or didn’t have a job
  • Claimed to be from a cultured family (though neither any profile nor a Sycorian relationship manager could ever give a satisfactory explanation of what a cultured family is, and if it involves petri dishes)
  • Claimed to be the perfect blend of tradition and modernity

What impressed me over give months of reading Sycorian profiles is that whenever it came up, everyone claimed to be only a perfect blend of tradition and modernity. There were no imperfect blends, near-perfect blends, ninety-fifth percentile blends, off-spec blends, or cheap-but-serviceable blends. The only parallel is to olive oil, where if you go to a supermarket you can find extra virgin olive oil, olive oil, and even that gross pomace olive oil, but never virgin olive oil without the extra virginity.

Just as with cultured families, no explanation was ever forthcoming on what exactly a perfect blend of tradition and modernity is, and what it implies for one’s daily life. Nor was it ever explained why being a perfect blend was a desirable trait in a bride, when in whiskey blends are looked down upon and single malts are preferred.

RoKo and I once speculated that the modernity consisted of meeting in a five star hotel coffee shop, and the tradition consisted of getting the prospective groom to pick up the bill, but that was just us being bitchy, and anyway, as the months went by, I ended up meeting ladies from Sycorian even in mall coffee shops. So I eventually decided that “perfect blend of tradition and modernity” was just something that people used to fill in matrimonial profiles when they could think of nothing else to write, the way we, as Class XI students who had to come up with farewell dedications for graduating Class XII seniors whom  we had no clue about, used to write “Amit Kumar’s smiling face and cheerful personality will never be forgotten!”

So after completely giving up on Sycorian around the beginning 2014, I paid the expression no more attention until the very end of 2014.

In the end of 2014, I was vacationing in Bavaria, and went to Neuschwanstein castle.

It is important to note that Neuschwanstein, which inspired the shape of Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle has no military value. It looks like a fairy tale castle because the mad king Ludwig II wanted to build a castle that looked like it was out of a fairy tale and which would be the perfect backdrop in which to perform Wagner operas. In fact, in pursuit of this goal, he actually wanted to build three more fairytale castles, all without military value, just so he would have the perfect simulacrum of an imagined age of chivalry and knights.

However, as the guide at Neuschwanstein pointed out, it wasn’t just opera backdrops and medieval high fantasy and impractical castles. Neuschwanstein also had a toilet that automatically flushed whenever you stepped off it, and one of the first telephone lines in Bavaria. All the modcons that the late nineteenth century had to offer, really.

A couple of days after going to Neuschwanstein, I was in Nuremberg, where I visited the transportation museum, which exhibits the personal train coaches of Chancellor Bismarck and King Ludwig II next to each other. Bismarck’s coach is straightforward, free of frippery, and has a stenographer’s desk and telegraph machine. Ludwig’s coach is a bright blue with gilt all over the place. Talk about contrasts.


Anyway, by 1886, the rest of the government of Bavaria was fed up with Ludwig spending the entire treasury on his impractical romantic castles, so they had him declared mentally unsound and unfit to be king, and replaced him with a prince-Regent. He mysteriously died by drowning shortly thereafter. Even more mysteriously, the psychologist who signed off on the medical report declaring him insane died the very next day.

It was after learning all of this that I had a flash of insight: with his obsession for creating the perfect medieval castles, but also making sure that said castles had flushing toilets, telephone connections and electricity, and were linked by a train that had a gorgeously medieval livery; it is actually Ludwig II of Bavaria who was the perfect blend of tradition and modernity. If you aspire to be the perfect blend, nothing but bankrupting a nation, being declared insane, being deposed from the execution of all your responsibilities, and then dying under mysterious circumstances will do. Anybody claiming to be a perfect blend without going through all this is either ignorant or a liar.

Different Boons

Last November, I started reading the K M Ganguli translation of the Mahabharata (the only English translation of the complete, unabridged Mahabharata before Bibek Debroy completed his translation).  Seven months on, I’ve only managed to finish the Bhishma Parva. On the one hand this means that I’ve finished everything leading up to the war and ten days of the war itself. On the other hand there are twelve out of eighteen parvas to go. In all this while, I’ve read nothing else; and this month I finally decided to take a break from the Mahabharata just so that I could read SevenevesThe House That BJ Built, and Royal Wedding.

And since I’m taking this pause, I might as well use it to write about something I noticed in the first six parvas – that is, that the boons various characters receive from various gods and goddesses play out very differently.

  • Boons granted by Shiva or Brahma: Usually, these boons are won by demons through severe austerity or devotion, after which Brahma or Shiva rewards the petitioner with an excellent boon. After that, the recipient of the boon uses it to terrorise the natural order, and finally Vishnu (on in one case, Durga) has to step in and exploit a loophole in the boon to restore status quo. Examples: Ravana, Mahishasura, Bakasura, and so forth. The only exception I’ve seen to this pattern so far is Shiva’s boon to Amba that she will be transformed into Shikhandin in her next birth in order to slay Bhishma – with this boon, there is no interference by Vishnu.
  • Boons granted by Indra or Agni: Indra or Agni ask Arjuna to go to war with somebody. In Indra’s case, this is the Nivatakavacha asuras. In Agni’s case, Agni asks Arjuna to battle Indra himself, so that he can burn the Khandava forest without worrying about Indra’s rain putting out his fires. Once Arjuna has successfully won his battles, these gods grant him weapons.
  • Boons granted by Surya or Savitri: Somebody will ask for a boon. Savitri will say “No, I will not grant you what you are asking for. But instead I will give you this. Accept it graciously.” What Savitri promises eventually takes place. And then, through a series of coincidences, that will lead to what was originally asked for.
  • Boons granted by Shakti (Mahadevi or Durga): These are straightforward. You ask for something. You get it. But perhaps you bring about the dawn of Kalyug in the process.

I wonder which of these story structures arose out of poetry, which out of allegory and metaphor, and which out of plain old sectarian “My god is better than yours”.