Thursday, February 4, 2016

To become a Carl Sagan…

If a person wants to become so-and-so of who-is-who of the world then that person must have (a) undiminished vision; (b) uncluttered thought process and (c) un-fluttered commitment.

But the life doesn’t go easy with such individuals who succumb to the double-crossings of the worldly affairs. ‘Chaos to Cosmos’ is how the scientists usually describe the origin of our universe. ‘Internal chaos’ is needed for any individual to fire his/her desire to excel but this chaos should not get transformed into vengeance against something.  The deadly combination of vengeance and hatred can finally result in to total destruction…either physical or psychological and in worst scenario…both!

In the recent times, Rohith Vemula has become a classic example of above described self-obliteration.

Following sentences were found in Rohith’s suicide note:

[…] I always wanted to be a writer. A writer of science, like Carl Sagan. At last, this is the only letter I am getting to write.

I loved Science, Stars, Nature […]

Rohith, according to his suicide note, thought to be another Carl Sagan who has been hailed as “irreplaceable” and “people’s astronomer.” But, Rohith decided to leave this world and go to the stars making himself a ‘replaceable.’

With a pinch of sarcasm, I wish to quote Swami Vivekananda whom Rohith called as “half-witted” and “pseudo-intellectual.” Vivekananda said “Whatever you think, that you will be. If you think yourself as weak, weak you will be; if you think yourself strong, strong you will be!” and Rohith chose to be ‘weak.’

This tragedy of a promising young man made me to think about Rohit and Carl Sagan, only through their writings. I don’t have much interest in their personal details and neither do I wish to comment on the legalities, ‘isms’ and all other sundry fakeries.

Instead, I am trying to find answers for a quintessential question – “what it takes to become a Carl Sagan?” that Rohith wished to mould himself to be!

This small write-up is more like my deep thought process than sounding like a preacher or pose like a great thinker in akimbo stance!

Carl Sagan – As he is:

Carl Sagan, as he presents himself though his writings and TV programs, is an accomplished scientist with flair for writing but more importantly a good human with an all encompassing thought process.
I have not read all his writings but only three of them i.e. Cosmos, Billions & Billions and Demon Haunted World. In these three books he hasn’t criticized for once the ancient religions, customs and practices in a demeaning manner. He doesn’t seem to be in a ‘hurry’ to prove them wrong or ridicule them for being what they are. Instead, he exerts to connect the ancient world with the modern times and attempts to bring out a synthesis that can guide the youngsters to look back at their roots with respect and love.

It seems that he doesn’t have rivalries with old and orthodox schools of thoughts.

Probably because of this that I was at ease and comfort to read his books and also to watch the TV program i.e. Cosmos. Personally, I don’t like the insulting tones in serious writings or thought provoking speeches and I wish to hold back a mindless attack on the ancient cultures, people and their practices. After all, they are part of our legacy and they have done their bit in the social, economical and cultural evolution. Let them have our respect for all the good, bad and ugly efforts made by them.

Having said this, I think that Carl Sagan’s calm and cool approach towards various religions of the world is a direct result of his accommodative approach. He didn’t dismiss the scientific, unscientific and pseudoscientific aspects of the religions with contempt or hatred. This made me to admire him as a perfect ‘even-steven’ of humanism.

Carl Sagan achieved this sensitive semblance even after being a ‘nontheist’ and ‘skeptic.’ According to me this is a wonderful accomplishment and I wholeheartedly salute him on this account.

His personal ‘atheistic’ belief and the personal choice to be ‘cynical’ to God and religions haven’t made him blindfolded. His heart and mind were always open and were completely receptive to the factual truth. His nontheistic ideology didn’t stop him from enjoying and contemplating the symbolism of Nataraja. In his book “Cosmos” he writes about the Dancing Shiva:

In India there are many gods, and each god has many manifestations. The Chola bronzes, cast in the eleventh century, include several different incarnations of the god Shiva. The most elegant and sublime of these is a representation of the creation of the universe at the beginning of each cosmic cycle, a motif known as the cosmic dance of Shiva. The god, called in this manifestation Nataraja, the Dance King, has four hands. In the upper right hand is a drum whose sound is the sound of creation. In the upper left hand is a tongue of flame, a reminder that the universe, now newly created, will billions of years from now be utterly destroyed. These profound and lovely images are, I like to imagine, a kind of premonition of modern astronomical ideas.

Carl’s articulation of ancient practices with the modern science or outlook is praiseworthy:

Every home in ancient Greece and Rome and among the Brahmans of ancient India had a hearth and a set of prescribed rules for caring for the flame. At night the coals were covered with ashes for insulation; in the morning twigs were added to revive the flame. The death of the flame in the hearth was considered synonymous with the death of the
family. In all three cultures, the hearth ritual was connected with the worship of ancestors. This is the origin of the eternal flame, a symbol still widely employed in religious, memorial, political and athletic ceremonials throughout the world.

At the same time, Carl was critical about ancient India

China and India and Mesoamerica would, I think, have tumbled to science too, if only they had been given a little more time.
(from Chapter VII: “The Backbone of Night” in Cosmos)

He commented on the pseudoscientific Babas and Yogis.

Perhaps the most successful recent global pseudoscience – by many criteria, already a religion - is the Hindu doctrine of transcendental meditation (TM). The soporific homilies of its founder and spiritual leader, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, can be seen on television in America. Seated in the yogi position, his white hair here and there flecked with black, surrounded by garlands and floral offerings, he has a look. One day while channel surfing we came upon this visage. 'You know who that is?' asked our four-year-old son. 'God.' The worldwide TM organization has an estimated valuation of $3 billion. For a fee they promise through meditation to be able to walk you through walls, to make you invisible, to enable you to fly. By thinking in unison they have, they say, diminished the crime rate in Washington DC and caused the collapse of the Soviet Union, among other secular miracles. Not one smattering of real evidence has been offered for any such claims. TM sells folk medicine, runs trading companies, medical clinics and 'research' universities, and has unsuccessfully entered politics. In its oddly charismatic leader, its promise of community, and the offer of magical powers in exchange for money and fervent belief, it is typical of many pseudosciences marketed for sacerdotal export.

(from Chapter 1: “The Most Precious Thing” in The Demon Haunted World)

Ancient Bharat & Sanatana Dharma – Diversified approaches of Carl & Rohith:

It’s my firm belief that any student of Sociology or Anthropology or History must have an unbiased mindset to undertake the studies of cultures, both living and extinct. If a student gets fixated and develops detest against a culture or religion or country, I don’t think that such student can do justice to the studies!

Carl Sagan is the best role model for such all encompassing approach towards various religions and cultures and societies.

Sagan’s interview to Placido P. D’Souza, Editor of New India Digest offers a better clue to understand his humanist approach towards Gods and religions of India. Read the interview here:

The following episode from his world famous television series “Cosmos” must be watched for Carl’s rational approach towards Hinduism in particular:

On contrary, Rohith couldn’t show or develop such balanced approach towards religions. He was bogged down by pseudo secularism. If his Facebook posts can be considered as the crucial pointers of his social behaviour then all that they confirm is that Rohith hated his [Hindu] roots and was skeptical about the ancient [Dharmik] heritage that he belonged to.

As a student of a prestigious university, he had all the opportunities to read, understand, discern, contradict and comprehend the legacy of India. If at all Rohit condemned Hinduism in harsh tone like Kanche Ilaiah is doing now, no one would have ‘hacked’ him like Avijit Roy or Ananta Bijoy Das the two the unlucky atheist bloggers from Bangladesh.

 If we take a look at the interview published in (link given above) and translate that into religious idiosyncratic description then it read as “a Goan Christian interviewed an American Jew and the latter had spoken earnestly about ancient India and her Vedic literature and sciences.

So, when two non-Hindus can sit together and have a healthy discussion about India, Hinduism, old temples, festivals etc. why Rohith was found exhibiting hatred against his own country and its historical legacy openly?

What ‘Casteism’ got to do with his studies of both ancient and modern wisdom? Can he afford to dismiss Charaka, Aryabhata, Chanakya, Kalidasa or Anandavardhana for they being Brahmins?

Is it not wise to read them [without lables] as ‘advanced thinkers/writers of their times’ and be done with it? Which approach would have brought Rohith closer to Carl Sagan? Hatred or rational approach? Readers can decide.

 The following video that surfaced barely 24 hours after his sad demise is not in conformity with Carl Sagan’s accommodative approach towards different religions:

As I said at the beginning, vengeance and hatred make a person dull-witted and oblivious to the vastness of the wisdom. These dangerous features will make the vision blurred and cause the soul to become murkier than ever. This is what exactly had happened with Rohith and made him to lose focus from his desired goal of becoming another Carl Sagan.

Carl Sagan’s views on death:

Rohith’s birth could be an ‘accident’ but his death was certainly not an accident. He knew that he is going to kill his body. That’s a destructive thought to call off his dream to become Carl Sagan. I don’t think he is the only master of his valuable life! But he took the extreme step…a premeditated act.

On the other hand, Carl Sagan died in 1997 due to bone morrow disease. Few months before he died he wrote an article to a magazine called Parade in which he said:

“I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.”
He also said that:

“The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there’s little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.”

In contrast to the views of Carl Segan on death, Rohith wrote:

May be I was wrong, all the while, in understanding world. In understanding love, pain, life, death. There was no urgency. But I always was rushing. Desperate to start a life. All the while, some people, for them, life itself is curse. My birth is my fatal accident. I can never recover from my childhood loneliness. The unappreciated child from my past.

I am not hurt at this moment. I am not sad. I am just empty. Unconcerned about myself. That’s pathetic. And that’s why I am doing this.

People may dub me as a coward. And selfish, or stupid once I am gone. I am not bothered about what I am called. I don’t believe in after-death stories, ghosts, or spirits. If there is anything at all I believe, I believe that I can travel to the stars. And know about the other worlds.

Carl was right in saying “there is no reason to deceive ourselves with petty stories for which there’s little good evidence.

The theories such as Aryan Invasion or Aryan Migration that created deep divisions in Hindu society are turning out to be unscientific. The archeological ruins lying below Babri Masjid are telling the truth hidden for five centuries. The declassified files of Bose are shedding light on what went wrong with the recent history of our country. Likewise many things that were propagated as facts in the last six decades are becoming factually incorrect. In such scenario, a student like Rohith shouldn’t have fallen for the myths and lies spread by entities with vested interests.

I know that Rohith was just 26 years old whereas Sagan was 62 years at the time of their demise. And the subtle demarcation that pushed Rohith away from becoming another Carl Sagan was his ‘rushing.’ To put this in his words – “There was no urgency. But I always was rushing.

This is bad…really bad.

These words definitely hint that Rohith was in dire need of some helping hands and kind words that could pep up his waning confidence. As probing into his personal life or private issues is not my intention, I leave this issue here itself.

But the fact remains that Rohith was at the double-crossings of his own predicaments and dilemmas. He was torn between the lifetime ambition of becoming Carl Sagan and other worldly activities that aren’t useful to him at any stage of becoming Carl Sagan.

Few moot points:

1.      If at all Rohit wanted to be another Carl Sagan, he could have focused on understanding India than hating everything that is Indian or Hindu in origin. His open claim to tear the saffron saree of his mother is in poor taste. He can’t become Carl Sagan by exhibiting hatred to a particular colour or culture.
2.      If Vivekananda has been ‘institutionalized’ by right wingers so is Ambedkar by Dalit ‘leaders.’ There was no logic in said argument by Rohith and thus he couldn’t have become a Carl Sagan 2.0 with such flawed reasoning.
3.      When a Christian (Placido D’Souza) listened to another Christian (Carl Sagan) while the latter spoke affectionately about ancient India and the right-time scale specified in its Dharmik scriptures, Rohith should not have developed utter contempt towards the culture of his own country. In today’s atmosphere, had he focused on his studies than politics, no one could have ever stopped him from becoming Carl Sagan.
4.      Rohith could have waited patiently to get his own voice on the topics of his interest. His young age of 26 years was not sufficient to become a Judge and Executioner. May be after 40 years of age, he could have become a warrior and could have fought against the discriminations. But he preferred to ‘rush’ against all tides and met with a totally undesirable end.
5.      Rohith said that his childhood wasn’t that sweet. So was the childhood of Carl Sagan. His father an irreligious person while the mother was a pious lady of strict adherence to Jewish traditions. Carl had to endure a constant ‘inner turmoil’ caused by the contrasting behaviours of his parents. To top it all, Carl had to pass through the ‘Great Depression’ that rocked America between 1929-39. But like a true winner, Carl not only withstood the childhood tumults but also had tolerated the fangs of the deadly disease during his last years. But sadly, Rohith chose to quit the world early and thereby deceived himself from becoming another Carl Sagan.  [Source:]

So, who killed Rohith?

There are certain misanthropes who are stoking unnecessary but dangerous emotions on gullible people. I give a sample to this fearsome trend:

I have seen this person instigating the people by calling irrelevant “Brahminism” and “Manuvada” as the killers of Rohith. But in reality it was the ‘rush’ for instant resolve of a conflict that killed Rohith and no one else had caused the death. Rohith himself admitted that there was no ‘urgency’ for him to take an extreme step of ending his life yet he is ‘rushing’ to finish it off!

I learned that few poets(!) have already written bunch of poems on Rohith and they are in the process of bringing out an anthology. I don’t wish to comment on this attempt but would say that this is a tricky business of emotions. I hope no youngster takes this eulogy of suicide as a matter of pride and way out for his/her problems. I trust that no youngster takes to the extremity of ending the life by getting indulged in reading a stuff that glorifies a tragic death as a heroic one.

I conclude that Rohith’s name serves as a serious caution to the developing minds to exercise control over their indulgence in worldly affairs.

Rohith is an unforgettable reminder for the students to focus on their intellectual pursuits more than the political tussles in the campuses.

Rohith is an example to the young minds to give time for their wits to grow, mature and become strong.

With utmost sincerity I say it to the public that Rohith isn’t a role model to follow. But he is a tight slap on the face of politicians of all denominations and politics of all types and a pointer towards the road-to-death being laid by the caste instigators, literary stooges and political cheaters of the meanest order.

I wish Rohith could have used his common sense to reign over his urge to kill himself. I wish he could have lived by tiding over the conflicts that seem to be self-inflicted. I wish Rohith had endured the pains to realize the dream of becoming a good writer.

To become a Carl Sagan, petty politics, faulty logic and cheap ideas are not the steps to be taken!