The Charlatan

An old man in my village once said,
All which looks yellow is not gold
Though it looks so in feel and touch
Don’t learn the hard way it’s fool’s gold

And he went on to tell a sad story,
Story of a charlatan, a famous one –
People believed in him fully with trust
But, they still talk of how he cheated

Who he is, where he is from, what he did,
None knew a word, nor did they guess
They believed in his charming sweet talk
There was not a reason to doubt in him

That he came from the east all alone
He is a student of the great schools
He learnt all the knowledge there is,
There is no subject which escaped him

He settled with them, did they like him?
I can’t say for sure, but he was exotic
People flocked round him for his talk
All good to listen but can’t be acted upon

A band of twelve followed him blindly
His talk spread all around the area,
But none still believed him in him
They humoured and fed him, that’s all

The local clergy was not at all happy
Less because of this man who spoke
But by his band of twelve minus one
Who goaded people to rebel and riot

Enough is enough, the clergy acted
They complained to the king to act
Orders were sent to take on this man
And sent soldiers searching all over

They band thought to separate for now
Hide and regroup when the heat dies
One last meal, let’s have one last meal
Before we separate and bide for time

They had the greatest meal one can have,
Sumptuous, rich and not to be forgetten
A meal of a lifetime, worth of a royal
But who will pay for the bill? It’s a fortune!

Well, the wise man should pay, right?
What did he do? He asked another to pay
Promising I will refund you by evening
The poor boy paid, what’s there to lose?

But he erred by paying, did he ever knew?
Who knows for sure? May be he learnt?
Well, he asked his master for the money
His master asked him to wait for a day

Something very bad happened that day,
News came that the wise man is caught
Caught, paraded and hanged by the king
But, is it that plain and straightforward?

Some doubted whether it’s the wise man
He looked more like one who paid the bill
They prayed it’s not the innocent child
The one who they liked from his boyhood

But, they were wrong, they hanged the kid
They saw his eyes fixed on one in a cloak
Moments before he died his sad death
But, none were able to catch that one

When they downed the body to verify,
It’s confirmed it’s not the wise man
The king was sad and angry and hurt
And mad that an innocent is killed

All tried to find out what went wrong,
Other followers are caught and asked,
The story of the money came out first,
And then of the anonymous tip to arrest

This is what we pieced together slowly,
The boy asked for money to be refunded
His master promised him to repay in time
But, gave a wrong message to arrest

The boy is captured, the wise man safe,
He was the one in the cloak the boy saw,
Then he realised who wanted him dead
All for something as trivial as money?

We heard of the wise man escaping east
Into the unknown and dangerous lands
What he looted and whom he cheated,
We can only guess and debate about

The king died broken man due to this,
A wise king, for the one mistake he did
People remember him for this mistake
And also the wise man for his deeds

The old man concluded his gripping story,
Those who deserved to live, died unhappy
Those who deserved to die, lived happy
A lesson for us, never to be forgetten ever


High Petrol Rates – Who is More Responsible? State or Centre?

Well, petrol rates are rising again and people are not going to be happy. There are demands for Central Government to roll back the prices. But, is the reality that simple?
So, how is petrol price calculated, first of all?
Cost of a barrel of petrol + Operational cost for OMCs + Distributor commission + Central taxes + State taxes
What is state share in taxes? State taxes + Central Devolution of it’s share.
According to the recent Finance Commission recommendation, this stands at 42% of total central share of taxes.
Below are the souces which I am considering for this.

Considering the numbers and calculations, this is what we land at(some minor tax heads are ignored).

Salient Points:
Cost per barrel: $80
Dollar Exchange Rate: Rs 68.37
OMC Cost: Rs 5.93

Bihar has an extra 30% and West Bengal, additional 20% surcharge on state collections.
Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Delhi, Haryana, Gujarat, Meghalaya and all Union Territories collect VAT on Dealer’s Commission.

Screen Shot 2018-05-24 at 21.22.37.png
Central share of income is appx 12.34 at $80/barrel crude oil while state shares range from 24.97 to 34.75 for the big states. The colour code is to denote whether the state is ruled by NDA or not(Bihar was out of BJP till very recently). So, the question for us is, targetting which head makes more sense? State or Central?

Note: It looks as if there is a subsidy of 5-6 rupees already considering these numbers.

Simhachalam Temple – Need for Course Correction

Two days ago, I was in Simhachalam. That was my second visit to the temple. Because it was a Saturday and Panchami, the rush was massive in the temple. We decided to have a Darshan through the 100 rupee Special Darshan. It was a very big mistake. It took almost half an hour for us to understand where the line starts. Walking all around, irritated, when I asked in the reception, they pointed me in a direction, while there is a door just beside the reception through which you can join the line. And when I entered the door which was suggested to me, there was a board there, on the wrong wall, but with no directions on it. I just followed a group of people and it turned out that the people took a wrong turn. Had I gone right, I would have joined the line in 100 metres, but because I turned left, I had to walk almost two kilometres to join the line.
‌That’s not the end of the game. It turned out that everyone was breaking the line and rushing forward. When the barricades actually started, the situation was that there was a mob trying to push it’s way into a single file. The indiscipline of the people there and their hurry to rush forth is really fascinating. It was really sad to see the free darshan line more organized. After a mad rush of half an hour, we entered the single file. Now, the turn of the temple management came to defraud the people. The barricades for the 100 rupee line were longer than the 20 rupee line. Did they think that because of the rush, they thought, more people will hit the costlier queue and played along by making them queue for a longer duration/stuffed more people into a longer queue? Some told me a similar thing happened during this year’s Chandanotsavam – 1000 rupee queue took longer time than a 200 rupee queue. The situation inside the temple was slightly better. The Darshan was superb, with the lord covered with Chandanam and decked in diamonds.
‌One thing you will notice in Simhachalam is the clinical precession with which the statues were defaced. Almost every statue in the outer level is destroyed and some in the inner levels. Whatever survived the carnage are masterpieces of art, every one of them.
‌This raises a question who did it and how did the main idol survive the carnage. It is attested there was no Puja in the temple for around 40 years during the general period of the Bobbili War due to Muslim depredations but that doesn’t explain how the main idol survived. This destruction raises a very pertinent question – why are we that shameless to conduct Pujas in destroyed temples? It’s been 70 years India achieved independence. Why are we not in a position to correct this historic injustice? What is stopping us from restoring our temples to their past glory? Are we really looking at them as temples or just as some money spinning business ventures run by the government? This is something which needs to be addressed immediately.
‌Darshan done, even the exit queue was as haphazard as like the mob at the start of barricades. Skipping the line for the Prasadam, we exited the temple. It’s not the Rajagopuram, but a side exit. What do we see there? Public toilets and water flowing on to the roads. This left an even sourer taste in my mouth. Why are we that callous? Is working in temple Seva or business? That’s not the end of the story.
‌I tried to find out where the temple bookstall is. I was desperately searching for a particular book and for three months people were searching all Vizag for that book, but to no avail. It turned out that the book stall is a table in the reception. Luckily, I got the book I wanted. Now, the next round of ineptitude. The person sitting in the counter doesn’t know the cost of the books. He had to call someone else to get the costs.
Why? Why are we in such a situation? Why are we not taking care of our religion and heritage? A temple thousand years old would have been the apple of their eye in any country in the world. But not in India? What will take to correct this callousness and unreasonable ineptitude? Should we wait for time to heal the wounds or should we try to take the bull by the horns?

Tirumala Temple Row – Need for Overhauling?

I am listening to a debate over Tirumala Temple row as I type this. The tone of the debate is sickening. On one side is a TTD official and on the other side, is Ramana Deekshitulu(the force-retired chief priest of Tirumala Temple). The sort of aggression is unwarranted unless something is seriously amiss. Everyone ganged up against the Chief Priest and this reminds me of what KPS Gill said on the suicide of SSP AS Sandhu.
All men are heroes in a time of peace. But those who are heading the self-righteous witch hunt against the officers and men of Punjab police today should ask themselves where they were hiding for 10 years when terrorists roamed free, unchallenged by any but the Punjab police and their comrades in uniform from other services – and a handful of courageous farmers who would not succumb to terror? For 10 years the judiciary remained in a state of unmitigated paralysis in Punjab. Where was their commitment to justice then? For 10 years, the press published on the terrorists’ diktat- with only a single exception that all of you know of. That is a long vacation for the ‘truth’.
It’s very apt. Here, on one side, we have a family, which is doing the Seva to the lord for 37 long generations, surrendering their whole lives to the temple and on the other side, we have a government which is bent on bending the traditions. Shall we consider the Japanese royal dynasty to understand what 37 generations mean? Emperor Kōgon ascended the throne in 1331. So, we can assume that the family came to serve the Lord either during the Muslim depredations from the time of Malik Kafur to Madurai Sultanate or after that. The path to the temple was treacherous. The priests and others who served the temple had to carry the essentials for Puja and everything on their backs, trekking through the thickly forested, animal invested forests. Next time the temple was targetted was after Vijayanagara city is destroyed in 1565. Are we seriously saying, the temple had a peaceful time during that period? Are we saying that the Muslims didn’t notice the temple? Are we saying that the temple priests were not at all touched?
Now, those days of hardship are over. There is general peace in the country, roads are laid and the temple is made accessible. With Vijayanagar Empire turning extinct and the temple running in autopilot mode, the control was handed over to Hathiramji Matha to run it. After all, the British and the Muslims before them felt Tirumala is a cash cow if left as it is. In 1932, the government decided to take control of the temple directly. Though the formal reason was mismanagement by the Matha, the real reason seems to be the income the temple is generating – it was a massive 11 lakhs in 1930. The downslide has just started.
In 1969, changes were made to the governing council – increase the number of trustees and mandatory caster-representation for some castes. In 1987, further changes were made. The heriditary rights of the priests were discarded and along with it, their share of the Hundi. Is it because of the money involved? There were protests and there were concessions, but the fact lies that in the face of the massive money the temple is generating, the old order have to go for the new one. Is the new system competent enough, do we care?
The slide doesn’t seem to stop there. The Sannidhi Golla system is opened for all, along with mandatory retirement. The custody of jewels was taken by the government. Agama Sastras were ignored and preference was given to satiate the needs of the VIPs. Things came to blows many times. One of the main ones I remember was TTD board objecting Ramana Deekshitulu taking his grandson to the Darshana. Another was about the offerings made by Krishna Raya which were untraceable.
Now, what is the reason for this round of showdown? The chief priest of Tirumala, Ramana Deekshitulu put a sudden press conference. These words define the current state of affairs perfectly.
Without any bhakti, without any fear of the God, without fear of the repercussions, such officials have been appointed by the government, a big blunder has been committed.
These officials think they know everything. Arrogance born out of ignorance. Out of this arrogance they have interfered in the pujas and rituals beyond a limit.
When you don’t know what you are supposed to uphold, it just becomes a just another job. And without that sort of trust which made institutions run for generations, the system collapses. Suprabhatam time is changed(were the Archakas involved in deciding that?). Duration of puja is reduced. Jewels are alleged to be missing post 1996 when government took direct control of the jewellery. There was unnecessary modifications to the temple structure without any concern for the archaeology. There were recent issues with non-Hindus being appointed and an MLA, alleged to be a Christian, made the board member.
In his own words,
Ornaments, the shortfall in naivedyams, old heritage destroyed, depriving devotees and future generation of such treasures.
Well, the government reacted. The next day, TTD passed an order for retiring all the Archakas who are aged above 65 years, effectively sacking Ramana Deekshitulu. He was replaced by someone from a cadet branch of the family.
Now, it’s a slugfest from both the sides. That the Potu was closed for 15 days with no reason, a diamond which adorned the throat of the lord till 2001 turned up in an auction in Europe and such. TTD questioned the integrity of Ramana Deekshitulu and his political leanings. The questions I pose are simple.
1. Is management of Tirumala Temple, or for that matter, any temple, a seva or a business venture of the government?
2. How much money is removed from the temple annually for secular purposes by the government?
3. When the temple runs on Vaikhanasa and Pancharatra Agamas, how many in the TTD board know the Agama Sastras? Is it not a pre-requisite for them to pass a test in the Sastras to be eligible for the post?
4. What mechanism have we got to maintain/manage/audit the temple wealth?
The root of the problem seems to be that governments are looking at temples as money spinning ventures and not through the view of Seva. With no fear of god, how long can the system run seamlessly? Rather, wouldn’t it be easy if the temples are taken out of government control along with outsourcing a part of nation-building?
May be, it’s time we release the temples from government control and ask them to spend the money based on a formula. Split the temples into adopters and adoptees. Let smaller temples be adopted by the larger ones.
1. 20% goes to agriculture
2. 10% goes to maintenance of adoptee temples
3. Municipal management of the town
4. 10% goes to religious education
5. 10% goes to secular education and higher research
Do whatever you want with the balance.
It may have some initial hiccups, but, may be, it’s time we need to stop looking at temples as money spinning ventures. That will really address half of the issues.