Click on number to see summary and go to full text.
001-Ashutósh Várdhana: A call to doubt (Ashutosh Vardhana)
Length: 4,163 words = 23,863 characters
The author, a British Hindu, discusses the current campaign against terrorism in religious terms. Christian and Muslim ethics alike (unlike Hindu ethics) put man's duties towards God and authority (commandments 1 to 5: only one God, no images, no blasphemy, sabbath; honour your parents) above his duties towards men (commandment 6: no killing). Fanaticism can be undermined by sowing doubt in the infallibility of scriptures and gurus, and there are traditional ways for doing so. This approach is more subtle and effective in the long run and less dangerous than brute force.
(This essay will be published in Pphoo Literary Magazine, Calcutta, August 2002. First serial rights are available for UK, USA, France and other countries.)
Length: 893 words = 4172 characters
In this true story, set in the North East of England, three youngsters from the Indian subcontinent work together on a computing project. They are: Uzman (Muslim from Pakistan), Aisha (Muslim girl from India) and Ashok (Hindu from India). How do they respond to the rising hostility between India and Pakistan?
(This story has been published in Asian Voice, London, UK, in Kazakhstan and Mauritius. First serial rights are available for UK, USA, France and other countries.)
(Story, adapted from J P Hebel)
Length: 779 words = 3515 characters
One of two Muslim twin brothers from Bradford, Yorkshire, England, becomes a Christian. Some years later the two meet in order to decide once and for all which is the true faith. (Based on a German story by Johann Peter Hebel (1760-1826).)
004-Ashutósh Várdhana: These evil cowards (Ashutosh Vardhana)
Length: 1471 words = 7143 characters
Society has to defend itself against terrorists and to punish them. However, by calling them 'evil' we concede that we do not understand them and are not willing to consider the causes of their actions. Calling them cowards is often plain silly. Western belief in the superiority of its civilisation matched with Muslim belief in the superiority of its secular and religious values, must lead to contempt. Contempt breeds hatred, hatred breeds violence, in both directions. We must stop calling our enemies evil and try to understand them if we want to stop the cycle of violence.
(This essay has been published by Q-News, London, UK.)
Length: 1,973 words = 11,635 characters
Theme: The new millennium truly arrived with the Manhattan terrorists on 11 Sep 2001.
Mubarak: The Satanic Verse
Length: 16,800 words = 81,000 characters
This essay deals with the Salman Rushdie ("The Satanic Verses") affair from the point of view of a young British Muslim, who has a progressive and affectionate attitude to his own religion, is averse to fanaticism and sees good and bad in the attitudes and actions of all parties involved in the affair. He sees that there are lessons to be learnt not only by his own community, but by followers of all religions and by Western secularists. Rushdie's book has something important to say to all of them. The author describes the incident which gave rise to the title "The Satanic Verses" and its social background. If this incident is true, it is apt to destroy blind faith in any scripture. The author explains to western readers the mechanisms of Muslim sensitivities and taboos. He asks Muslim readers whether they are not oversensitive, and have not cultivated over the years a form of excessive respect to aspects of their own religion, which may be bordering on covert idolatry, which is in itself anti-Islamic. He gives examples of misreadings of the novel "The Satanic Verses", and discusses the need for sensitive, i.e. metaphorical interpretation, of secular as well as of sacred literature. He discusses the benefits of doubt, e.g. that it reduces fanaticism and violence. This however is no cause for western readers to gloat and feel superior. The essay concludes with examples of Solomonic judgements (fatwas) delivered by Muslim sages in past centuries about offending poets. These show how wise and tolerant the Islamic tradition can be and asks that this tradition be revived and cultivated.
(This essay will be published in Pphoo Literary Magazine, Calcutta, August 2002. First serial rights are available for UK, USA, France and other countries.)
Length: 1,600 words = 7,100 characters
A fox falls in love with a postmodernist hedgehog and soon is deeply hurt by the hedgehog's bristles. The vet confirms that only a hedgehog could have caused such wounds. The hedgehog claims not to be a hedgehog and proves it by reference to Aristotle, Gorgias and other postmodernist books. The fox believes that his wounds are not real and he must be hallucinating when he believes them to be real.
(This story has been published in THE WORLD OF ENGLISH, Peking, and PPHOO LITERARY MAGAZINE, Calcutta. First serial rights are available for UK, North America, France and other countries.)
Length: 6,180 words = 36,300 characters
An essay on Klaus Bung's story 'The Hedgehog and the Fox'
(A short story)
Length: 9808 words
"Le Non, ou: La maîtresse veut être maître" is a stream-of-consciousness story in the vein of the après-midi d'un faun. A French intellectual, with roots in several European countries, muses, about his international sexual experiences (ma in Spagna son gia mille tre) while he denies his body to his mistress. He is a Dionysian, who protests against all attempts (puritan, conservative, feminist, libertine, politically correct, etc, alike) to regulate the uncheckable forces of sex instead of letting it take its natural course. He neither wants to have sex forced upon him nor to be forced to forgo it. The story is unusual in being a non-story, describing a non-event, the refusal of sex, where a libertine does the refusing. and it is the prude who is left high and dry.
Length: 1,629 words
Length: 155 lines
A Muslim tries to convert a misguided Hindu to monotheism.
Length: 160 lines
On religious intolerance (Christian), the burning of heretics, and specifically the fate of Serveto de Tudela (1511-1553)
Length: 3,780 words = 21,500 characters
An irreverent literary look at the popular excesses after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997.
Length: 12,000 words = 72,000 characters
Music is often popularly described in terms of nationalities, e.g. as typically French, as if 'French-ness' were an inherent feature of such music. Similarly some people make an issue of the question whether a piece of literature is English, as opposed to American, to Irish, to Indian etc. Klaus Bung investigates the general question to what extent national labels applied to works of art are significant. His is a case-study approach. He takes 'French music' as an example, extends the investigation to 'English literature', and asks how literature differs from music in respect of such labels. He concludes that in music national labels are generally not significant, but that similar labels are meaningful in literature - not in terms of nationality but in terms of language. His approach is often humorous. Since many readers will not be familiar with French music, he tabulates important names and dates (with cross-references from French to German music) and thus provides a potted history of French music.
Length: 12,000 words = 72,000 characters (approx.)
Dans le roman 'Tous les matins du monde' de Pascal Quignard, le compositeur Sainte Colombe dit: 'La musique aussi est une langue humaine' (p 71).
On dit que la musique est une langue internationale, c'est-à-dire que tout le monde, de n'importe quel pays, peut la comprendre comme sa langue maternelle. On ne doit pas faire un effort spécial pour l'apprendre.
Comme tant de dictons populaires, évidemment cela n'est pas vrai. La musique indienne, arabe, japonaise et européenne sont décidémment différentes l'une de l'autre, et, si vous avez été élevé dans une tradition, vous ne pouvez pas, sans un effort énorme, comprendre et apprécier l'autre tradition. Alors, tandis que la musique peut-être est une langue humaine, elle n'est point une langue internationale.
C'est donc une bonne idée de se demander
- si la musique européenne est une famille de langues apparentées (related xxx) (comme les langues indo-européennes ou les langues latines), c'est-à-dire des systèmes qui sont apparentés mais pas mutuellement intelligibles sans un effort spécial de les apprendre,
- ou si la musique européenne est une langue, peut-être divisée en des dialectes (français, allemand, espagnol ou anglais, le dialecte du pays dit 'le pays sans musique') qui sont différents l'un de l'autre mais qui sont mutuellement intelligibles.
017-Ashutósh Várdhana: Pure prejudice (Ashutosh Vardhana)
Length: 7,622 words = 43,767 characters
Editorial introduction: A campaign against racism in England promoted the notion that we should take no notice of other people's skin colour, make no assumptions, and treat everybody as if they were culturally and in every other respect the same. Ashutosh Vardhana argues that the ideal of colour blindness misses the point. Prejudice (prior judgements, acting on probabilities, on the basis of experience with groups) is beneficial and necessary for the functioning of society. What has to be combatted is not recognition of other groups but hostility towards them. The antidote to racism is not colour blindness but that we should learn to love, rather than hate, what is different, we should know as much as possible about other worlds, and take pleasure in exploring the worlds we do not know.
Length: 15,600 words = 74,500 characters
Editorial introduction: This essay was written during the final stages of the 1990/1991 Gulf War, which lead to the expulsion of occupying Iraq from Kuwait. While seeing the necessity of the military action as such, Klaus Bung criticises the enthusiasm and the self-righteousness with which it was experienced by western politicians, media and people and the empty moralising political slogans (e.g. the millennial 'New World Order', where 'henceforth' justice wins over brute force). Even internally 'democratic' nations, such as the USA and Great Britain, can be brutal imperialists in their international relations (and therefore cause resentment), as was Athens, the oft idolised cradle of democracy.
After giving a potted history of Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, Klaus Bung shows the parellels of the Kuwait-Iraq affair and its morality or lack of it with events and arguments in classical antiquity. For instance, Athens behaved like Iraq when, in 416 B.C., it attacked, occupied, depopulated and colonised the independent island of Melos (famous negotiations with arguments of might over right), and like Iraq in Kuwait (or Hitler in Stalingrad in 1943) it got its come-uppance when it overreached itself and attacked the independent city of Syracuse (414 B.C.). The delusions of Saddam Hussain are seen as analogous to those of Don Quijote. The horrendous destruction of the Iraqis withdrawing from Kuwait with their ill-gotten booty were an exact mirror of what happened to the Persian army when their attempt to conquer Athens failed during the sea Battle of Salamis (480 B.C.) and they had to withdraw over land, and is movingly described in Aeschylos's play 'The Persians' (472 B.C.).
These themes are of permanent relevance and throw, from some angle or other, useful light on more contemporary conflicts (esp. all stories of conquest, foreign domination and ethnic cleansing), e.g., at present (2002), the Israeli conquest and occupation of Palestinian land, the recent Balkan conflicts, etc.
A potted history of Kuwait in question and answer form,
Or: A simpleton's guide, or catechism, to the conflict between Iraq and Kuwait
020-Ashutósh Várdhana: Aufruf zum Zweifel (Ashutosh Vardhana)
German translation of No 001: A call to doubt.
Der Verfasser, ein britischer Hindu, diskutiert die aktuelle Kampagne gegen den Terrorismus von einem religiösen Standpunkt aus. Die christliche und islamische Ethik (im Gegensatz zur Hindu-Ethik) stellen die Pflichten des Menschen gegenüber Gott und der Obrigkeit (Gebot 1 bis 5: nur ein Gott, keine Bilder, keine Blasphemie, Sabbath; ehre die Eltern) über seine Pflichten gegenüber den Menschen (Gebot 6: nicht töten). Fanatismus kann untergraben werden, indem man Zweifel in die Unfehlbarkeit von heiligen Schriften und Gurus sät; und es gibt traditionelle Argumente, die diese Wirkung haben. Dieser Ansatz ist weniger gefährlich und auf die Dauer subtiler und wirksamer als Brachialgewalt.
021-Blanca Hernández: My encounter with R K Narayan (Blanca Hernandez)
Length: 3,525 words = 19,271 characters (excluding list of references)
Editorial introduction: The first anniversary of R K Narayan's death (13 May 2001) has passed. R K Narayan was born in Madras in 1906. He is one of the best-known Indian novelists writing in English. Among his many novels, set in a southern Indian town, are: Swami and Friends (1935), The Bachelor, The English Teacher, The Vendor of Sweets, A Tiger for Malgudi. He spent most of his life in Mysore. He died on 13 May 2001. Graham Green was a life-long friend of Narayan and put him on a par with Tolstoy, Henry James, Turgenyev, Chekhov and Conrad.
Blanca Hernández, Professor of English in San Sebastián, Spain, lived in India for ten years and wrote a thesis about the women in R K Narayan's novels. She visited him at his home and corresponded with him for eight years. In this article she describes her experiences when trying to meet, and eventually meeting, the great man.
A haunting sequence of five photographs with text from Palestine. This anonymous piece circulates on the Internet. Nur added a passage from the Bible: 'The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.'
023-Ashutósh Várdhana: Devil worship in Ayódhya (Ashutosh Vardhana)
Length: 2000 words = 9500 characters
Editorial introduction: In 1992 religious riots in India and Bangladesh were sparked which left several thousand dead, when a group of politically motivated Hindus tried to right a wrong committed by Muslims 500 years earlier and demolished an ancient but unused mosque that had been erected by Muslim conquerors of the time in place of a temple which marked the birthplace of Lord Ráma. The government imposed a stand-off and put the matter into the hands of a court which in ten years was unable to produce an equitable decision. The Hindu faction then announced that, on 15 March this year, they would go ahead with the building regardless of consequences. On 28 February a train with Hindu devotees coming from the disputed site was set alight by a gang of Muslim youths. 58 Hindus were burnt alive. This sparked off Hindu reprisals against Muslims in which more than six hundred people died both sides. In this article, Ashutosh Vardhana, a Hindu writer from England, argues that the temple project offended against the spirit of Hinduism and is in fact blasphemy.
024-Ashutósh Várdhana: Yamúna's Year: Stories for the Hindu Calendar (Ashutosh Vardhana)
Description: Ten stories are planned for this book, each telling the story of one of the major Hindu festivals. Four of these are ready, the others are to follow. The stories are primarily aimed at Hindu families. They are told in a family living in a northern English town by a Pandit, who modernises them, spikes them with topical references, and explains their significance to sceptial children. They can also be used in schools to teach non-Hindu children about Hinduism in an entertaining way, and they can be read by adults (and children) as pieces of narrative literature.
The above link leads to the index page of Klaus Bung's journalistic pieces.
026-Ashutósh Várdhana: Journalism links (Ashutosh Vardhana)
The above link leads to the index page of Ashutósh Várdhana's journalistic pieces.
Length: 836 words = 4170 characters
Prose poem describing the rude awakening of a masterful woman in a Latin country. 'But that, surely, is blasphemy!'
Summary: To follow
Length: 11,000 words = 2,000 lines
In French. Poems and essays, partly translated from the Bengali by Paul Georgelin
27 poems by Pradip Choudhuri.
Length: 25,400 words = 136,000 characters
Summary: The devil incarnates as Robert, our narrator, to test his skills of seduction and corruption. He picks an unpromising victim and a difficult environment. His victim is a Betschwester (German), a 'beata' (Portuguese and Spanish), no English term found yet (a woman who spends a hell of a lot of time in church) who is sure to reject his advances. He turns up at the coast of Normandy with his sister Salina, with whom he has, of course, an incestuous relationship. Nobody knows their true identity. They make a bet that they will continue swimming daily in the cold sea from November to April. The beata feels safe in the company of Salina and joins in the enterprise. After a few days Salina has to leave on a longer journey. Robert has managed to make the beata feel safe or to attract her erotic attention. Thenceforth Robert and the beata continue their daily swim, and it is no longer clear whether the beata persists because of the sport or because of the erotic potential offered by Robert.
Robert has 21 minutes a day to get at the beata, 7 minutes undressing in wind and rain, 7 minutes swimming in the icy sea, and 7 minutes dressing. Then she has to race back to her husband and he goes to have breakfast in hell to get warm again.
From now on Robert manages to muddy the waters and smutty the conversation and gradually to confuse all the moral categories: good and bad, divine, diabolical, the limits of what is compatible with, or permissible in, marriage. He destroys her idols, like the man on the cross, and elevates instead the true God, her own body. Day by day, a little of her past is revealed (Strip) or teased out of her (Tease). The beata is 60 and is married to a man 20 years her senior. The readers are left in doubt as to whether the beata is being seduced and corrupted, or whether she tries to seduce Robert whose identity she does not know, whether he uncovers her true beauty (physical and spiritual as she gradually loses her inhibitions and reveals more and more about her former life [the moral judgement depends on the preconceptions of the reader]), whether she appears better during those 21 minutes on the icy beach, or with the image she has in church, whether Robert is doing her a favour by allowing her to become herself [natural and randy] and offering her his body with which she can, for the last time in her life, act out some of her real fantasies without running any danger, since Robert, the cynic (the Don Alfonso of Cosí fan tutte; the Viscount de Valmont of Les Liaisons Dangereuses; the Mephistopheles of Faust) sees no point in leading her to actual sexual intercourse (cunt teaser) but is quite happy with some groping and stripping and with either confusing her moral attitudes or with loosening them up [depending on the reader's point of view]; making her do things which would shock her husband and her parish priest. It is not clear whether the beata, having yielded to Robert, is 'better' or 'worse' than she was before he started working on her. This is intellectual seduction, and as a result, the beata's virtue (in a life devoted to the pleasures of the flesh) is exalted or her virtue in being a beata is exposed as being merely virtual. Their sexual relations are not real but virtual (the devil need not fuck; one can sin without fucking), etc. Salina returns to celebrate Christmas with Robert - no devil would fail to do that. The beata goes off on a Christmas holiday with her husband. She never returns. 18 months later, Robert receives a religious postcard in which she tells him that her husband has died, she has entered a convent, thanks him for the encounter, and prays for his salvation. The saint on the postcard is not Mary Magdalene but St Sebastian.
032-Thalia de Jesús: Texts (Thalia de Jesus)
Length: 4,800 words
Summary: Ruki met a young girl, Pakiprincess, in an Internet chat room. She agreed to meet him in the flesh. He became her first boyfriend. Five months later she discovered that he was married with three children. She had him followed and collected photographic and documentary evidence. She then created a website in which she exposed his treachery and advertised it among his friends in the chatrooms. Such occurrences are not uncommon, but this is pure fiction and any similarities with real people, dead or alive, are accidental.
Length: 1712 words = 7740 characters
Summary: Two neighbours, Kevin and Shahabuddin, have a long-standing feud. After a public slanging match, Nasruddin writes a masterly letter of complaint to the police. They resolve the dispute on Christmas Eve.
Length: 22,406 words = 127,800 characters
Summary: The narrator, no longer a Christian, has been challenged by a native atheist: 'Christmas isn't Christmas for you'. He explores the meaning of that statement by relating his childhood memories of a Roman Catholic Christmas in the post-war Germany of 1945 to 1948. These merge with Lutheran Christmas memories, largely resting on Lutheran chorales and church music. He describes the lasting subliminal effects and benefits of these early memories and argues that they were beneficial, even though he no longer takes the Christian doctrines literally. Notwithstanding the scepticism of his later years, the early teaching, firmly asserting the truth of the Christian stories, was beneficial and desirable. There is an important subliminal message which can only be learnt if it is learnt in early childhood and on the basis of stories and practices which are, at least then, taken as absolute truth. It is not enough to give a child information about religion: only one religion should be taught, and it should be practised rather than talked about. As an adult, the narrator has Christmas experiences in many countries, none of which have the evocative power of those of his childhood.
The naïve Christmas of childhood is balanced by the philosophical Christmas in the rarefied atmosphere of a desolate Swiss mountain village, in which the adult narrator finds himself on Christmas Day. He hears a rather unorthodox sermon from a priest who has been posted there, out of harm's way, because of his progressive (or heretical) beliefs. The atheist narrator and the old priest warm to each other, both lonely in their own way. They discover that they share many of their views on God, on religions. The narrator knows many of the foreign places the priest has visited, and they find that they have been influenced by the same books and theologians. They agree that the old religious traditions must be kept alive, that lifestyle is more important than truth in practising and evaluating a religion, and that atheists and believers do not "come from different planets". Even from a religious point of view both are of equal value and both must exist.
"We, the atheists," says the narrator, "need the believers and the priests to keep the churches warm, the organs sounding and God alive. They need us to stop them from becoming too confident and overbearing. It is a symbiotic relationship. I thank God every day that not everybody is as smart as me. Otherwise who would pray for me, just in case? A God who is not worshipped dies, as happened to the gods of Egypt, Greece and Rome, who were once as real as God Father Son And Holy Ghost. A God-forsaken church building, however artistic, without prayers becomes a sight, and a pretty sad one too."
Length: 21,200 words
Summary: An old Hindu priest, astrologer, Sanskrit scholar and guru living in Leicester, England, suffers from a congenital heart defect and is slowly dying. He is offered an operation which will greatly improve his health and extend his life span. He has a devoted disciple, Ashok, who cares for him, and five resentful adult children who have grown up in England, do not understand the Hindu tradition, and for mysterious reasons bear a grudge against their father and neglect him. After many weeks of pondering the pros and cons, the Guru decides to undergo the operation. His children do not show much interest in his medical condition and do not aid him in his difficult decision. Two days before the operation, Ashok takes him to the hospital and stays at his bedside day and night. Final tests are made to determine if he is still fit for the operation, and they show that he is stronger than expected. When the Guru speaks to the surgeon, he confirms that he is ready to undergo the operation. Three hours later, on the evening before the operation is due, his family descends on him. They suddenly see a chance of gaining status by putting on the act of concerned relatives and challenging the professionals. Having taken no interest in their father's health for many years, they start questioning the details of the operation and making their father insecure while refusing to give any clear-cut advice. They merely reiterate: "You must decide", which can only mean: "Do not have the operation for which you have come here." This is 12 hours before the operation is due to start. A dispute arises between Ashok, who favours the operation, and the family. Ashok is accused of bullying the Guru into having the operation. The Guru, as yet undecided, hears of the dispute and the attack on the one person who truly cares for him, unlike his biological children. During the night preceding the operation he decides against it and in favour of a slow decline. He fears that, in the event of the operation failing, his beloved disciple will, for the rest of his life, be accused by his family and his own conscience of having caused the Guru's death. He also wants to give his uncaring children, who he thinks have suddenly become aware of their duties as children, a chance to make up for their past neglect by looking after him properly while "death is eating him in small bites", rather than killing him in one fell swoop as the operation might have done. When he arrives home again, the facade of love displayed at the hospital is forgotten. The children declare that their father does not love them, therefore he cannot expect more than minimal care from them. The Guru's gamble on his children has failed. Ashok accuses himself for not having spoken up more forcefully in favour of the operation, for not having accepted the risk of being blamed for his Guru's death. While the Guru is asleep, Ashok sneaks out to discuss his plight with one of the Guru's friends. The Guru phones him and reminds him of the virtue of doing one's duty regardless of outcome, to accept destiny, to accept that life is chaos, that chaos is divine, and that there are many routes through life, none of which is the only or perfect one. Ashok accepts the teaching. A week later the Guru is invited by the Surgeon to explain his seemingly irrational decision against the operation. Ashok has learnt from his previous timidity, decides to take a risk and speak up strongly. He quotes the same scriptures used previously by the Guru. But they show that we must not accept destiny without battle. The Gita contains two doctrines: (1) To fight the battle, (2) To accept destiny. The doctrine of destiny must not lead us into passivity. Even making no decision is to make a decision and results in responsibility. We cannot escape from responsibility. We have to make positive decisions. We have to fight the battle with the best weapons and with all our might. But we cannot be sure of the outcome of the battle. We might win, or we might be defeated. Only now the doctrine of destiny is applicable. It helps us accept the outcome of the battle (but not to avoid battle), especially if it is defeat. Even that defeat is only apparent. In fact both defeat and victory is only one step forward on our road from birth to death. All roads lead to Benares, all steps take us to death. Every step is a step forward, every step means progress.
Ashok who is bound to serve his Guru does him the greatest service yet by reminding him in his hour of weakness of his own teaching. Ashok dares to speak with a prophetic voice. Guru and disciple agree to accept the risk together, to accept a renewed chance for the operation, and to live or die with the consequences in the knowledge that they have done their duty.
In passing, Ashok tells how he learnt love and service from his sister disciple, how they cleaned the Guru's kitchen which had deteriorated into a pig-sty, how they admired the apparent chaos in a temple, why chaos is divine and the Western preoccupation with order may be deadly.
Length: 984 words = 5431 characters
This is the text of a speech Madhu Pandya, Chairman (2004-5) of the Interfaith Council in Blackburn, Lancashire, gave on 30 January 2005, the National Holocaust Memorial Day.
Length: 1402 words = 7392 characters
Summary: Quaggy Moor is a fictitious primary school in Skelmersdale near Liverpool. Janie, a pupil, describes what she recollects of the school plays they put on recently, a nativity play with some mishaps, and most memorably a play about The Pied Piper of Hamelin (den Rattenfänger von Hameln), Germany. Inevitably, her recollections soon go haywire (so is her English and her speling) but she bravely manages to tell the whole sad tale, including a prank the children played on their unsuspecting audience.
Length: 742 words = 4220 characters
Summary: The author has a friend in Calcutta whose son is about to get married. In the spirit of Polonius, the author sends his good wishes to the son.
A poem about the ages of (wo)man