26 Dec, 2012-01 Jan, 2013
small world
A Find Gone Awry

HYDERABAD ~ If you find a treasure, then it’s not always a good thing. Especially if it is in someone else’s home. Five men have been arrested in Hyderabad for trying to sell a trove worth crores that didn’t belong to them.

In October, Kandukuri Satish Gupta, who had inherited an over 50-year-old building in the Old City, issued a contract to demolish and rebuild it. The two contractors—Mohammad Rafeeq and Mohammed Abdul Bari—in turn hired three labourers for the work. While breaking the walls with sledgehammers, they discovered, hidden inside a wall, coins of gold and silver besides bracelets, rings and ornamental stones. Instead of informing the owners and government, they extracted the treasure at night, and returned to work as usual the next day.

On 8 December, when they tried to sell a part of it, the police got a tip-off and arrested them. On questioning, they confessed to how they found it. The police have recovered almost the entire treasure, except some gold that had been sold in Mumbai. The coins belong to the Mughal, Tipu Sultan and Nizam of Hyderabad eras. The five have also been charged with Section 20 of the Indian Treasure Trove Act, 1878, for concealing the find from the government.

Anurag Sharma, police commissioner of Hyderabad, said there was 1.7 kg of gold coins and jewellery and 4.2 kg of silver ornaments. He estimates its present value at a figure between Rs 5 and 7 crore. It’s still a mystery how the treasure got there. During the inquiry, the police found that the house was inherited by Gupta from his late grandfather, Kandukuri Vishwanath, who in turn had purchased it 56 years ago from two brothers Prem and Anand Raj. But there is also another claim. Gupta says his grandfather was a well-known moneylender to whom people mortgaged gold and jewels. Since both grandparents had died early, nobody had any clue that such a chest was hidden within a wall.

Take Two
The Strange Kingdom of Faith
How does a modern rational mind reconcile itself to religious beliefs like Christ’s Resurrection?

A couple of months ago, it was reported that Jesus Christ might have been married. A papyrus fragment of an unauthorised  gospel had come into the possession of Karen L King, a professor with Harvard Divinity School. She had confirmed its antiquity. It was a 4th century Coptic translation from an original text of the second half of the second century. According to Smithsonian magazine, which featured the find, from the papyrus she ‘gleaned eight fragmentary lines:

1. “not [to] me. My mother gave to me li[fe]…”

2. The disciples said to Jesus, “

3. deny. Mary is worthy of it

4.  ” Jesus said to them, “My wife

5. she will be able to be my disciple

6. Let wicked people swell up

7. As for me, I dwell with her in order to 

8. an image’

The Smithsonian article added: ‘The line—“Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’”—is truncated but unequivocal.’  

This was thus the first ancient record of a direct quote by Jesus about a wife. Except that as a piece of history of his life, it was meaningless. King herself acknowledged it. A line 400 years after his time means nothing. What it did show was that even then there were people who believed he was married. So, as a pointer to the history of Christian faith, it did have meaning.

Among historians, there is broad agreement that someone named Jesus existed. Also, that he might not have been an important man in his time, because if so then Roman historians would have a lot more to say about him. Instead there are just passing references and that too not when he was alive. The allusions come after the cult had taken off.

To understand how a religion that is the largest in the world today can have its beginnings with the teachings of a local mystic, look at contemporary parallels. Take the case of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. He more or less lived his entire life in a small temple abutting Kolkata. He was prone to episodes of mystic ecstasy (or delirium, if you are a rationalist). He was not literate and his behaviour was erratic. What he taught—a mix of Bhakti and Advaita—was nothing new.  And yet, he found a following among a few urban youths, and they, in turn, went on to create a missionary movement spread across the globe. At some point in a successful cult or religion’s life, you have institution builders. If Dhirubhai Ambani had been a full-time follower of a neighbourhood saint, then you can bet that it would be an international phenomenon today. In Ramakrishna’s case there
was Vivekananda. In Jesus’ case, there was Paul. Later, the myths accumulate until man becomes an incarnation or Son of God.

All this is understandable. What is inexplicable is how, despite the steady decimation of every domain that religion commands, the human brain refuses to let it go. If the Big Bang is true then the world couldn’t have been created in six days. But the contradiction makes no difference to believers. Consider evolution. It is not even in question anymore and is happening before our eyes. But a huge swathe of the United States, the most advanced country in the world, believes even evolution is Creation. It goes under the label ‘intelligent design’ by God.

Religion and gods exist because the human mind does not have a replacement for them. If you don’t have money to pay your electricity bill, then it’s no use understanding the mechanics of light. There needs to be a god to do something. But to have that faith, it is necessary to be wilfully blind to common sense, which says that it is neither possible nor necessary that He exist. Or that anyone can die and resurrect himself after three days. Then you will have questions about what happened to his brain while he was dead. Like in stroke patients, shouldn’t it, starved of oxygen, start decaying and wouldn’t he arise paralytic?

Aldous Huxley had a solution to this existential problem of what to do when it becomes impossible for God to find space in human consciousness. In his book Brave New World, he constructs a society where people are perpetually drugged by a narcotic called Soma. Which itself was an irony. Because in the Rig Veda, Soma is not just a narcotic, it is also a god.

Honey Bunnies of a Different Kind

The Playboy Club is coming to India, and it’s all going to be about ‘aspiration’. Playboy Enterprises, in collaboration with PB Lifestyle, wants to target high-profile Indian customers. The first club will come up in Candolim, Goa, and will have Playboy bunnies dressed in a specially designed bunny outfit for Indian sensibilities, along with flamboyant decor and some special cocktails. “The club will open in the first quarter of 2013,” says Amar Panghal, director of finance, PB Lifestyle. “We want people to just walk into the club. Hence it won’t be exorbitant but priced at a premium. This is the just the first club. We have eight more that will follow.”