Chapter 13 Geometric Progression
Aditya Gandhi motioned to Harold to sit across from him on the blue sofa. Harold, surprised, didn’t move. He tried to speak, but words did not form on his lips.
“Please have a seat. Forgive this unpleasantness.”
“Aditya!” Harold said, summoning his voice. He dropped his suitcase, walked over to the sofa, and sat down. He had regained his composure and now stared back at him.
“I hope we haven’t made you too uncomfortable,” Aditya said.
“Where are we?”
“Lonavala. I suppose you know where that is. It’s a lovely town, isn’t it? A bit spoiled with all the construction activity, of course.”
“You killed Meghnad.”
“I felt bad about it, but he left me no choice.” Aditya sighed. “He was beginning to make trouble for us, especially with his research into the Sahityashastra.”
“And what about Jim and Ajit? Did you kill them too?” Harold said.
“I merely planned them all. I am in no way connected with the actual killings.”
“What about the priest of Ranipur?”
“That was outside my purview. My domain is the U.S., you see. I have nothing to do with what happens in India. We have a complex organization.”
“How do you mean?”
“For example, I don’t even know who the head of the organization is. We have a very novel structure.”
“I’m sure you do.”
“Each person has only two subordinates. And those subordinates have two subordinates each, and so on. Moreover, each person knows only his immediate superior and his two immediate subordinates. He doesn’t know anyone else in the organization. That is how we maintain the secrecy of the organization. If someone defects, or is killed, it results in two new organizations headed by his subordinates. Sometimes these floating organizations link up again. It makes it very hard to destroy the whole organization. I don’t even know if my organization is the original organization or a branch organization. In any case, I don’t know who the head is, and it’s better that way.”
“Do you have anything to do with Kamal Kothari, a member of The Ideas Foundation?”
“He is one of my subordinates,” Aditya said. “He is one of the people we have planted in The Ideas Foundation. And his assistants are in similar groups.”
“I’m beginning to understand your organization. It is ingenious. The only way to dismantle it is to go step by step, member by member, finding what the next level of the organization is. Do you know how many steps there are between you and the head?”
“No,” Aditya said. “The flow of information in the organization is highly restricted. One branch doesn’t know what another branch might be doing. This way we are protected against defectors.”
“Does anyone know how large the organization is?”
“One gets a sense of it every now and then from its activities. But it’s a very rough estimate. I would say our strength is about a hundred thousand globally. Many people from ordinary walks of life like myself are members, but we try to restrict membership to intellectuals. That doesn’t mean they have to be academics, just intellectually inclined.”
“Who is the email figure Observer?”
“Who do you think was sending those warnings? Who do you think had the information? Me, of course,” Aditya said coolly.
“Anouk also mentioned her e-friend Napa. Who is he?”
“Aditya, what have you gotten yourself into?”
“Hinduism is weak today because it is pluralistic. Each region has its own practices, its own rituals, even its own gods. If India is to be strong, Hinduism must be strong. Besides, Hinduism is also too tolerant.”
“Everyone wants a strong India,” Harold said. “We also want a strong Hinduism. I say this even though I am not religious, as you know. But we cannot link the two. Hinduism accommodates a number of viewpoints. Its pluralism is its richness. The fact that it lacks a dogma is its richness. It makes Hinduism quite complex and elusive, not easily accessible to a doctrinal way of thinking. A certain fuzziness and indefinability lie at its core. Don’t you see that Hinduism’s soft boundaries, its lack of sharp differentiation from similar practices, is its strength? It is unlike any other religion in this regard. That is part of what makes the religion philosophical.”
“What you don’t understand is that Western liberalism is permeated with Christian values. Liberalism grew out of Christianity, after all. Why can’t Indian liberalism grow out of Hinduism?”
“What makes you think it hasn’t?” Harold asked. “Gandhi lies at its roots, even though it originated in the West. Indian liberalism is an amalgam of many influences and Hinduism is one of its major sources. Its culture is quite different from the culture of Western liberalism.”
“Enough talk. How about dinner?”
As the men ate in silence, Harold was furiously devising a plan.
Aditya broke the silence. “Where is the original Sahityashastra?
“It’s not with me. I’ve given it to someone else,” Harold said.
“Who? I must know.” After a pause, he said, “Oh, of course, it must be Asha. She was on her way to Bombay when I met her last. She had heard from Chaturvedi that you had disappeared. What she didn’t know was that I was on my way to Bombay, too.”
“Maybe so,” Harold said.
“What do you expect someone as inexperienced as Asha to do? Why don’t you just drop this whole thing? It really has nothing to do with you. You are an academic, not a crusader like Meghnad.”
“Meghnad was an exceptional man. I admired him. It’s too late now, Aditya. There isn’t much you can do,” Harold said.
“We’ll see about that.”
“Who’s your immediate boss?” Harold asked, as they continued to eat.
“You know him. You had gone to a party at his place in Delhi. Pal.” Aditya said.
Harold nodded, reminded of that uncomfortable evening at the Pals’ home in Delhi. They had people everywhere. Pal was a businessman of some repute; his involvement offered Harold a glimmer of the scope of the organization. Harold would be better prepared now.
Abruptly, the lights went out, as they frequently did on the hill, sweeping the whole region into darkness. With the darkness came a sudden silence.
Harold reacted first. He slammed the dining table into Aditya, momentarily stunning him. He groped around in the darkness before slipping out of the house. He saw the silhouette of a car, got in, fumbled for the keys inside, and in a moment, the car surged forward. He didn’t quite know his direction, but he headed for the road downhill towards Bombay, gingerly negotiating the winding roads.
Suddenly, there was another car behind him. The two cars snaked down the Ghats slowly. Upon reaching a sharp curve, Harold went around the bend, turned his lights off, and hid in the clearing on the other side. The other car rushed by in a few minutes and kept going after making the turn. Harold waited for about ten minutes, then doubled back to Lonavala, and beyond Lonavala to Pune. He proceeded straight to the airport after getting directions, and before long, had embarked on a late flight to Bombay.
Upon arriving and checking in at the nearby Centaur Hotel, he phoned the police. He narrated the entire sequence of events, starting with Meghnad’s murder in New York, and then described the structure of Fundamentals carefully. He also asked them to contact the officers in New York in charge of the case. He then suggested that they trace and dismantle the organization downward from Aditya, and provide him police escorts to chase after the top. The first task was to arrest Aditya himself before he slipped away.
Harold rested for a while, and boarded an early morning connection to Delhi.
It was ten a.m. when he disembarked in Delhi. He cabbed it to the Maurya and, upon entering his hotel room, flopped down on the bed, exhausted.
Samir and Asha were winging their way to New York to catch a connection to Chicago. Asha had already started work on the translation on her laptop.
“It’s going to be a long three months. This is not easy. A major problem is that Sanskrit has many compound words and these need to be broken down into their components before they can be translated into English,” Asha said.
“I’m sure you can do it. Let me tell you my plan,” Samir said.
“We need to distribute it after all. We need to convince people to support the separation of religion and state. The question is, how do we do that speedily?”
“Go on,” Asha said.
“We’ll just use email and faxes. We should send the book to a few, maybe a hundred, addresses in Bombay, page by translated page, as you proceed with the translation. We will suggest that each recipient pass it on to at least ten other people, possibly in the same office. That new person will pass it on ten other people and so on, by geometric progression. It will be like a chain letter. If Bombay supports this, we could perhaps reach five per cent of Bombay, approximately half a million people. I think that will suffice to topple the opinion of Bombay in our favor, once it has seen the argument of the Sahityashastra. Most of all, sending the book page by page will get everyone involved in the process, as they wait for the next page to arrive, and this process of communication and deconstruction is at least as important as the content in this dismantling of fundamentalism. People may even form small reading clubs where they meet to consider more deeply what is going on, and how this is working to eradicate communalism in Bombay. It’s a bold idea, with a certain chutzpa to it, but I think it will work.”
“Samir, it’s brilliant! Simple, and yet powerful. It should get us to the half million mark quite quickly. If you start with only a hundred addresses, that will multiply to a thousand in the next round, ten thousand in the third round, a hundred thousand in the fourth round, and a million in the last. In about four to five rounds you’ll be done. And since it’s only a page at a time, people won’t mind reading it. What about the newspapers?” asked Asha.
“There are too many communalists in the newspapers and they would sabotage it. This strategy has the nice quality of depending on the readers themselves for the dissemination. They can make it or break it,” Samir said. “It’s up to them to realize the importance of participation. That is why the process is vital. It has a decentralized quality that gives everyone a role in this unraveling of communalist forces.”
“The democratic process makes it even more likely to succeed, I think. The next three months are going to be busy. I’d better be careful about what I do if so many people are going to be reading it. You know, Bharata’s Sahityashastra will become the most widely read ancient Indian text,” Asha said.
“Bombay loves a good argument, a good challenge,” Samir said. “And of course, it can spread beyond Bombay to other cities.”
A few hours later, the plane touched down at JFK, and Samir and Asha dashed through the terminal to connect to their flight to Chicago. Within a couple of hours, they reached Chicago, and sped by cab to Naperville in the suburbs to Kulkarni’s house.
The house was a modest two-story structure, Romanesque in its basic style, and perhaps a little out of place. With its arches, cream walls, and red tile roof, it resembled a villa. Kulkarni and his wife greeted them at the door. As they entered, Asha noticed a photograph in the living room of Aditya Gandhi, Haresh Chatterjee, and Amit Kulkarni. They were sitting at a restaurant table and raising their glasses. Asha wondered who had snapped the photograph. She shivered without knowing quite why.
After freshening up, Samir and Asha stepped into the living room and joined Kulkarni and his wife.
“That’s a long trip to do in one step. You must be tired. Amit’s been doing it almost every three months this year,” Mrs. Kulkarni said.
“Really? That’s a lot. I’ve been finding that an increasing number of people are doing it these days,” Asha said.
“What do you do, Samir?” Kulkarni asked.
“I’m the Arts Editor of the Indian Times,” Samir said.
“How do you find the paper?” Kulkarni asked.
“It’s doing very well, especially since few other newspapers cover the arts,” he said.
“What do you do, Mrs. Kulkarni?” Asha asked.
“I’m a housewife. We have two children, two girls,” she said.
“How old are they?” Asha asked.
“Eight and fourteen,” she said.
“Shall we eat? It’s eight-thirty and you must be hungry.” Mrs. Kulkarni looked inquiringly at all three of them.
“That would be great.” Kulkarni said.
“How is South Asian Studies at the university?” Samir asked.
“Not so bad. We manage to get a little writing done now and then ourselves,” Kulkarni said self-effacingly. “Did you read any of the discussion surrounding my recent book on Buddhism and Jainism?”
“I read the review of your book in India,” Samir said. “It seems you reach some strong conclusions.”
“I defended the view that Hinduism is fundamentally distinct from Buddhism and Jainism, even though, at a certain level, there is no originality in the latter, they are derivative religions,” Kulkarni said.
“Aren’t the two views contradictory,” Samir said, “that they are distinct and yet unoriginal?”
“Read the book. That is the contradiction the book tries to resolve, by pointing out that their forms are distinct but their contents are unoriginal,” Kulkarni said.
“I’ve always seen the three religions as of a piece, both in form and content, without a sharp distinctness, but highly original in their formulations nonetheless,” Samir said. “Think of the ‘neti neti’ of Buddhism for example. This is no different from the absence of meaning or order in “Waiting for Godot.” Negative theology, if you will, or perhaps the first positivism. In this sense, Buddhism borrows an expression from Hinduism, but turns it to a poignantly contemporary meaning. Or Jainism, for that matter. Its nonviolence extends beyond physical harm to protecting the sanctity of individuals’ conceptual frameworks, their imaginative freedom. This again is found only in Western democracy, as late as the eighteenth century, and in the relativism of the twentieth century.”
“This is exactly what I show to be false. This is the received view among liberal intellectuals. But closer examination shows that this is a falsehood perpetrated by an increasingly marginalized and bankrupt class of people whose only goal is to downgrade Hinduism.” Kulkarni lost his rational exterior momentarily as he glowered at Samir. “You young people are all the same. No respect for your religion.”
“On the contrary, it is because I have great respect for it that I don’t try to upgrade it, as you say, by downgrading other religions,” Samir said.
“Dinner is ready,” Asha said, who had been helping Mrs. Kulkarni in the kitchen.
“Let’s eat,” Kulkarni said, shaking his head in exasperation.
The four ate in relative silence, exchanging a few enthusiastic remarks about the delicious pakoras. Asha glanced again at the photograph of Aditya, Chatterjee, and Kulkarni. “What were you cheering when that photograph was taken?” she asked, despite herself.
Kulkarni paused, cleared his throat, and spoke in a reflective tone of voice.
“We were celebrating being together after an absence of ten years. I have to say, though, that I do not get along with either of them any more. That is a pity. But that is how it is.”
“Even with Aditya? He’s such a gentleman,” Asha said.
“Time for dessert,” Kulkarni said.