What a piece of work is man

“I created thee as a being neither celestial nor earthly. . .so that thou shouldst be thy own free moutder and overcomer.”

(Pico de la Mirandola)



“What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension, how like a god: the beauty of the world; the paragon of animals.”





Ah  the “Humanist”  Renaissance, and what it has come to.


I see the Creation of Adam on the Sistine Chapel, and note the rebuke that Michael Angelo administered to many previous representations which depicted Adam as a dithering little creature over whom God  towered like a colossus.  Not so.  Michael Angelo’s  depiction not only has God and Man at the same height of head, but Adam a brawny and sexy male of the kind implicit in Hamlet’s tribute.


And I recall how in his “Oration On the Dignity of Man,”  (‘Manifesto of the Renaisance’  it was called—1486),  Pico, defending his 900 theses, went boldly forth to rubbish the medieval notion of a will-less creature, fixed forever in the negation of sin, and destined to remain embroiled in expiation.  Man, he argued, was created not as the other animals, but uniquely as a vessel of possibility, his own “moulder and overcomer.”  Astutely then, depending on what he did with his will and prowess, he could either rank among the angels or sink among the creatures of the netherworld.


Till along came Marx some hundred years later, looked at history of the interim over his canny shoulder, and saw that when  Renaissance Humanists spoke of Man, they had but a particular species of Man in mind—namely, the new-age entrepreneur who had overthrown  the feudal economies of Europe, and set his sights on  Exchange and rates of profit maximization.  Indeed they understood their destiny as one that sanctioned their towering over “lesser” men  (of  women who spoke then?) as God had been shown in the Middle Ages to tower over Adam.


Thus came Colonisation, extermination, and the world of  “modern development.”   As the  “elect” set about fulfilling that destiny, billions of little people paid the price.  Blood, bounty, and the palaces of gold  became a configuration that God had ordained in His wisdom.




So, when enterprising Indians  defeated British Colonialism, they took care to absorb all the  “developmental” lessons.  The one new thing was the need to remember periodically that the blood, sweat, and hunger of the labouring (in whom “sovereignty” resided, don’t you know) was rewarded every five years or so with a call to elect  a new set of rulers of the same old vintage.  They called it Democracy.


Never more to the fore in the year of the Lord, 2010, when the democratic state fires away at the little people from one end of the double barrel and prepares to showcase the realm to the world via the Commonwealth Games through the other.


Thus, in a throwback to Pico and Shakespeare, the Indian state displays its faculties of innovation and spending in the works it gets made at less than minimum wage, and, on the other side, plays the beast to man, woman, and child  who have, alas, not inherited the pedigree of Renaissance Humanism.  Recall the butcheries the Conquistadors were perpetrating as they sought to make of the white race  the  gold-plated inheritors of God’s selective intent; and recall that even as Jefferson was inking the Declaration  (all men are equal etc., with them unalienable rights) he, like  most of his distinguished peers—Madison, Washington, what-have-you—owned a hundred or more slaves  (of whom, Howard Zinn tells us in his People’s History of the United States of America, some 50 million died during the slave trade.  Some other estimates put the figure at 60 million.)


You may have heard that millions of Indians (what else can we call them?) are at levels of fatal malnutrition countrywide.  You may also have heard that the Indian state suffers an embarrassment of  riches in terms of  stocks of grain, thousands of tons of which grain either are rotting for want of  storage (or because the godowns  are seen to be storing liquor at lucrative discounts while the grains lie in the open) or  are feasted on by rats  (objects of worship in some famous temples of India which draw the white tourist to  gawk at the  “wonder that (is) India.” (Basham only spoke ot “that was India.”)


Wonderous indeed.  Especially as you note that, notwithstanding an order now of the Supreme Court to the Executive of the day that the excess grains be distributed among the starving, the  “socialist” state (so defined in the Preamble to the Constitution)  takes umbrage at the direction  thus given, and in true loyalty to the philosophy of Exchange, points out that grain is meant to be sold, like all other commodities, not given.  A circumstance that recalls what Hamlet was to go on to say of Man in the epigraph cited above: “yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust” as he concludes that “man pleases him not.”


So grain may not be given free to the starving  even as it rots, but, wait, something there is that may be given free, namely, mobile phones!  At a flashily showcased event in Rajasthan, a mobile company in which the government is the major stake-holder, company officials distributed thousands of phone-sets to uncomprehending country folk who were strangely caught on camera to be saying what use phones when food is what they need!  So much for gratitude. They will not eat cake when there is no bread.


Then there is the case ot the charming chief minister of the Capital city of New Delhi, chock a block with  pride and glee  at  how the Commonwealth Games have provided occasion to deck the city like a new-minted bride, with clovers and fly-overs, with under-passes and looped diversions, with shining road lanes reserved for the visitors while quotidian citizen sweats and crawls inch by inch of the traffic jungle, ready to shoot both abuse and  gun at the least provocation.


And even as the TV channels show her cavorting to the theme song of the Games—a piece of wretched noise merely—the cameras also show an unknown and unnamed Indian woman, prone by the pavement, in labour for four days, as she delivers unnoticed and unassisted on the fourth day, and dies on the spot. Pray, where be the human being thus born? Really can’t say, except that here is another wretchedly unnecessary mouth to fill, provided he/she pays the  going rate.  No free lunches for infants either, decrees the god of progress, Capital.


Such are the ways and byproducts of Humanism, and of the legendary compassion of the Hindu way of life.  What does the dead anonymity of a woman know how  Pujas are being performed  at royal expense  to keep the rains and the floods away from the Games (not from the people, needless to say), which just goes to prove how we Hindus are devoted to the gods if not to human beings.




Meanwhile, as  ‘Operation Greenhunt’  takes out the rebellious Adivasis in the hinter-heart lands, as teenagers die from police bullets in Kashmir, as the rains and the floods devastate millions of superfluous lives, and as the grains rot for want of buyers,  as the Brahmo missiles are tested, as nuclear power plants are about to come up while  schools, hospitals, sanitation (in India the owners of mobile phones outnumber those that have toilet facilities), shelters, drinking water, electricity, a decent wage, and other accoutrement of the right to a dignified life guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution of India to all citizens, without regard to caste, creed, gender, linguistic affinity (all but class)  wait their turn.  Whatever is going wrong has nothing to do with the  crass cruelties of the  well-meaning state; they have to do with the general lack of patriotic fervour and pride on behalf of carping Indians who refuse to see the glories of Humanism.  Treachery everywhere, chiefly among  those who  now have a pittance but ask for more.  And those who point to the proliferating numbers of dollar billionaires, and will not understand how necessary they are to the practice of Humanism.



And then there are those who teach how Humanism mortally depends on where a mosque or a temple ought to stand or not to stand.  Many already make a computation of how many more thousand  urchins must need to be put to the sword if the  Court judgement on the title suit of the contested Babri  mosque site due to come on September 24 should disfavour the torch-bearers of Saffron.  Between the  chickens that go cooped for slaughter and those that may soon  die in city and town is the difference that the chickens may be  counted  whereas the mystery of uncertainty hovers over the likely human victims.  Who knows in what  beleaguered spaces  may fall the corpses—fodder to the project of building an India of high-morality and noble religious ideals to which Hindutva terrorism dedicates its energies. 




Incidentally and en passant, Reverend Terry Jones sets the example in that other democracy.  He seems as good a Christian as the  Hindutva vanguards are Hindus, or the  Jihadis are  Muslims. We have a good idea of who pays the latter two; but who pays you, Mr.Jones, a lot, it would seem, to tear the world apart? 



All in all, Pico and Shakespeare knew what they were talking about: “Man” may be both devil or god, but only Marx knew that Humanism  spawned by Capitalism foreclosed the  latter probability some  five hundred years ago.


So let the Games go on, while the grains rot and  the  children go hungry or fall to disease after disease born of  the elementary deprivations that Humanism makes necessary.  And national pride.


Always what comes first is India’s  image, not its reality.  Which is why all of Delhi’s  beggars  are to be hidden away from gaze till the Games are over. On the principle that what you don’t see does not exist.  Such is the contempt  we have for the  intelligence of the world community. Do you hear a knowledgeable chuckle?  I do.


Yes we can make the wood disappear and  deck  the trees we choose.


Not for long, not for long.  I see many millions of skeletal  knuckles  reach out of the wood, and many hungry wails raise a curse no earpiece may obstruct.  And  a resistless flood in the making that may take away everything that stands in the way.

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