Reviewer; Dr Dalvinder Singh Grewal, Professor Emeritus, Desh Bhagat University

SKEPTIK: The Philosopher’s Stone written by Jernail S. Anand and published by Earth Vision Publications, Gurugram, 2023, pages 70 offer a volley of ideas which infringe settled thought. Dr. Anand has authored more than 155 books in English including 9 world class epics. He is an internationally acclaimed poet, author and scholar and honored globally. He won award of Cross of Peace and Cross of Literature from World Union of Poets, Italy; Franz Kafka Literary Prize in 2022 and The Charter of Morava (highest Serbian Award), at 60th Belgrade International Writers Meeting recently. Dr Jernail Singh Anand is a pioneer in humanism and the Chairperson of International Academy of Ethics. Dr. Maja Herman Sekuli, World Icon of Literature regards him as: “one of the greatest philosophers among poets, and one of the greatest poets among philosophers”. Above all, he is a great organizer of conferences and seminars at global level where he brings writers of poetry and prose from all parts of the world at one platform.

The present book ‘The SkepTik’ containing 15 chapters which deal with different topics of humanism, peace and ethics woven essentially like a necklace of pearls. He mourns the dying culture and ethical values of honesty, fair play, justice and integrity and shows new light in the dark world of falsehood, dying morality, double standards, insensitivity, criminality, violence, breaking families due to internal feuds and much more.

I have been watching the two wars one between Russia and Ukraine and other between Hamas and Israel and shocked to find the amount of barbarity of these wars with more than 70% causalities of women and children of Gazans who have no role to play in these wars. This game of violence on the name of religions propped by super-powers believes in counting the dead rather than saving the feeble.  As of 3 December, over 18,000 Palestinians and Israelis have been killed in the Israel–Hamas war, including 61 journalists (54 Palestinian, 4 Israeli and 3 Lebanese) and over 100 UNRWA aid workers.  Nearly 2 million Gazans have been made homeless and 60% houses have destroyed by bombing. Worst is that children die in hospitals without medical aid and ventilators, women die of hunger, thirst and bombing since water, fuel, food and medicine to Gaza have been blocked by Israel. UN President had to request for a meeting of Security Council for a ceasefire but despite of 90 countries in UNO assembly and 13 members of Security Council favoring the humanitarian ceasefire just one superpower vetoes it and other abstains from voting allowing this destruction, demolitions and killing of destitute continue. Similarly, the total number of Ukrainian and Russian troops killed or wounded since the war in Ukraine which began 18 months ago, is nearing 500,000; number of wounded and missing in addition. As I read the morning paper I find 80% news on first page projecting rape, murder, theft, snatching, deceit, dacoit, cheating, and corruption and so on. These papers are the mirrors of what our society has become. This violence, cheat deceit, corruption, destruction, dominance, double standards of capitalism, inhuman treatment, personal egos and militarist approach to human problems have all been dealt with by Dr. Anand in his 15 articles of this book for which I feel indebted to him for raising these issues serially.

In the first chapter “The Challenge of Art and Literature”, Dr. Anand laments about the callousness of authority dominated by capitalist mindset towards humanism and draws attention to the love, affection, humanity and the message of shared commonality being spread by poets and laureates. He does not want the writers to be entertainers but enlighteners and change agents. He points out that ‘it is time to realize the role of the artist in a society and how the poet and the scholar need to conduct. The upcoming times in our country with the new education policy in the wing, will necessitate that you do not open your mouth, nor your mind. Such typical breed of scholars and philosophers who espouse the official view are on the cards. In these conditions, the artist and the scholar/poet with conscience are the only hope of this society and we must keep this hope alive”.  

In Chapter 2, “A World without a Moral Centre”, he points to the decreasing importance of happiness and bliss and increasing choice for pleasure. Today’s world appears moving away from the fulcrum of desired destination of mankind. All that we have done is the reverse of happiness, what to talk of bliss. We talk of ‘How to kill, how many to kill, how much we can destroy’ but have forgotten the ‘relationships, love, morality and human behavior. The paraphernalia of war, death and destruction has made Dr. Anand to question: “Are we really the wise race of men, who started with knowledge?” He laments, “We had better started with innocence. We would have been better off. This world which looks so beautiful, so various, and so romantic, and sometimes so dangerous also, is without a moral center. Joys are shadowed by sorrows. We hanker after success which has an inbuilt weakness, because brings failure to so many. In the milieu we lose naturalness and responsibilities as a citizen. If you use your education and learning to strip your neighbors of their assets, physical and mental, you are not a human being, but a member of a murderous gang of dacoits who operate in the broad day light of rules and regulations, having no sense of good and evil. Such men are greatest insult to the Prophets whom they profess to follow (p 7). He points out that “Ethics, goodness, justice, fair play, honesty are the attributes of the people who are living a good life” and asks everyone to follow. 

In Chapter 3, ‘To Be or not to Be': That is Not the Question’, he reverses a popular proverb from ‘Hamlet’. He points out that “It is a situation in which a man is divided within himself; and this line signifies there are only two options: To be or not to be. The dangling mind represents the modern proclivity of indecision, but it also points to man’s failure to react with conviction to situations that the life forces upon him. But he wants us to realize that “Grace is missing from our lives. And the most shocking state of affairs is that we do not realize it. We are in a state of stupor. We do not know what is happening to us, and finally, what we are doing to ourselves.” He desires that all of us must get out of this degraded situation and live with grace, dignity, truth and love for humanity. (p.14)

 In Chapter 4, ‘In the Moral Disaster & The Rise of a Criminalized Society’, he questions about the world we are living in and the world we want, saying, “If we want men who believe in justice, fair play, honesty and uprightness, we will strengthen our educational institutions, and if we do not want such men, we will ignore our education, and let it go to dogs”. (p.15) “Can we really accept a system in which everybody is a compulsive liar, a latent fraudster, a prospective double dealer, and if they loot the public or the banks, there is no moral authority to raise eyebrows? Our universities show scant interest in the creators. The poets and writers have no relevance to universities except as guinea pigs of research. That is why they have to sell themselves in the open market. There is no MSP for their works. Such practices have created a whole movement of people who believe in cut-throat competition, profit, business, money-making, and aggressive self-promotion (p.17). The advertisements wanting scholars to write promotion slogans and columns for various companies can be seen in papers and Facebook.  Fraud is the accepted currency of this hi-fi technological society. Do it, so long as you are not discovered. Even if discovered, save yourself from being lynched by the mob, just reach the court. Then, justice system will take care of you. There is one crime you have committed, and there are one thousand ways of disabling the dispensation of justice (p.18). The absence of deterrent punishment to the delinquents of law has at its root, the misplaced priorities in the education sector. We are reaping the bitter harvest of a system which believes in jobs and pay-packages. As a result, the whole society stands criminalized, including the law-enforcers (p.19). 

In Chapter 5, ‘The Clash of Languages: Human and Divine’, he mentions, “All our prayers are not worth listening, and therefore, most of them are declined. In fact, we are praying only for ourselves. We are crazy, to think only of our wellbeing, or at the most of our family, and now we have added our castes, creeds too. Gods wonder why we are not worried about their creation, which supports us. (p.20) Thus we do not speak to the God in the language he understands. The God converses with souls, through a ‘Soul to Soul Network’. Look within. Listen to your internal voice which remains submerged in worldly attractions. Gods speak loudly in that silent voice. They will never approve of any deed which is not proper. If we start listening to the internal voice and act; accordingly, it would be a better world and not the bitter one that we are encountering today. Such a fractured prayer provokes derision. Hence, he guides us to pray in the language of God that is of: “global welfare and not only of personal welfare” (p.21).

In Chapter 6, ‘The Challenges of the Post-truth Era’, the writer brings out plethora of truths: the truth of spirituality, the truth of religion and truth of power and truth which he calls post-truth of vicious atmosphere because it is different from the eternal truth. The damage done to the society by Post truth has to be changed through enlightenment through education which only the knowledgeable literates can provide.  Literature has to peel off the layers which cover and disfigure the intrinsic beauty of life. Literature is pitted against false narratives. Literature must know it has a higher pedestal in the scheme of things and it must not come down to the level of a commodity. Human lusts and passions are temporary engagements. Literature stands beyond all this, to address the essential and basic issues of mankind. It is to save his truth from being framed, divided and discredited. Man is now a part of the turbulent flow. Only literature can save him from imminent death by water”. (p.26) 

 In Chapter 7, ‘In the Loss of the Third Cannon: The Ethical Quotient’, the writer presumes ‘Ethics and morality appear to be other-worldly concepts. He quotes Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s words, “Truth is above everything, but there is something even beyond Truth; and it is truthful living.” He was definitely talking of ethics and morality for which the Sikh Gurus laid down their lives and sacrificed their families. They stood for truth, and acted truthfully, and had to suffer. Dr Anand questions, “Are we following these ethical values?” (p.27) In fact we have left behind, these ideals and we got a scary world of competition, survival, success and fame. Ethics and morality which elevate human conduct have been pushed to the periphery and the center of ‘operation living’ has been usurped by the passion for existence, survival, and beyond survival, the desire to live life luxuriantly. They have been lying unused in libraries, gathering dust. (p.28) In spite of the great number of religious places and the presence of police stations, and thousands of schools - no one is listening to the voice of sanity. Where are scriptures? Has religion been reduced to a symbol, police stations to state fear and schools to numerical figures (p.29). It is a pity our scriptures, our shrines, and our religious men –including our all-political infrastructure have brought us to the brink of an intellectual disaster. We wonder how human we are! Are we really human? How can we be human when we have no faith in humanity, in goodness, in gods, and finally in Truth? We often say: ‘Our tradition is great; our past is golden. This past had love for truth. People believed in truthful living. Schools, family and shrines taught the people lessons in honesty, morality, goodness and love for mankind’. ‘Yes! Our tradition was great; our past is great. But we have so messed up with our present that our sons and daughters will never be able to say: We are proud of our great tradition’. What will they say when they grow up? After 30 years, will our sons and daughters be able to say: Our past is great. Our tradition is great. Will they call this mess a great tradition? Our present will be their past, and on this past, what a civilization they will erect? Do they have any future as human beings? If goodness, truth, kindness, honesty, morality, ethics are considered abstractions, and obstructions in the fast movement of the civilization, it signals the fall of man from grace, unblessed, unwanted and unloved by gods. We human beings at this stage are in a dire need of a Tertium Organum to guide and govern human thought henceforth with extended focus on the predicate, the truth of the situations which builds meaning into words, which has long been ignored and often violated (pp.31-32).

In Chapter 8, ‘The Said and the Unsaid: The Tip of the Iceberg’, there are two realms which can be found at work in case of language. One is the virtual and the other is the real. The real is that aspect of language which has been said, recorded, or put into print. And the virtual is that portion of language which has not been said, recorded or put into print. In very simple words, they said and the unsaid remain in a state of juxtaposition. The civilization has been very kind to the people who held the pen or the sword with which they etched empires on the breast of earth. But nobody was keen to say a word about the blood, which was shed, and the skeletons which were rolled under the earth, “in a single burial blunt”. By this he points the dichotomy in two truths one shown to the world and the other hidden to prove that the said truth is right. 

In Chapter 9 he mentions of exclusive existentialist ethos at work which do not bother for morality. The ideas of morality, goodness, fairness enter the screen of thought when we enter the human domain. It is the idea of the soul, the god, the human and his relationship (p.37) with the cosmic spread which brings into consideration the ideas like the moral and the immoral. (p.38) Adopting moral values and discarding immoral practices is the only saving grace for the society and away from it, is doom. Hence, we have to stick to ethics and morality. In Chapter 10, ‘A Society which Revels in Violence’, the writer mentions of the bloodshed in the streets, arson, real life murders which have been gradually entered into human minds through the entertainment industry particularly, in OTT platforms, where naked violence is exhibited and brutal murders, sex scenes are clinically shot. Monsterization of the mind, in which: Fair is foul, and foul is fair, – as the witches in Macbeth say, is underway on a huge scale. Thrills have killed the man in man. They will kill the child in the child. Do you want us to commit ‘harakiri’ (p.43). The writer recommends social and political ban on such violence without delay. 

In Chapter 11, Dr. Anand defines insensitivity as a mental state in which men are not concerned with the wellbeing of others. The Age of Sensitivity existed in the sixties, seventies, eighties – when family was a strong unifying force, young men listened to their elders, men and women never wanted to live apart, and maintained the family, man’s salary was enough to educate three kids and still save for the daughter’s dowry. There was peace. But now insensitivity has led to disrespect of elders, violence, shocking state of total mental and emotional inertia, spiritual coma, a stage which can be called clinical death. We are the dead who are moving to our self-dug graves. Lost in the mobile world we have lost to ourselves and have lost to our society; unaware of what is happening to us. It is high time we realize this slow death and come back to the morality and sensitivity which we had in our older generations.  

In Chapter 12, ‘The Post-modern Woman and the Broken Family’; the author dwells the extra eagerness for independence away from earlier family system. The self-seekers, mainly new brides split the families at the drop of a hat and the miseries to the old and the other family members pile upon. It may be more due to macho power exerted by the men on women and the elders' dominating styles which have led the young men and women to revolt but it has deadly results. Time has come when we must do away with certain words which celebrate manpower. Words like macho point out towards feminine weakness and are masculine. Precedence and preference given to men, for their physical powers has lost its value to the new generation. Women have keener brains. Gender bias must go off the dictionary. The women of old cannot be our role-models now. It is a harsh truth and has to be accepted. If you keep looking back, your freedom will keep troubling you. These questions demand urgent attention before more and more families are jeopardized. More and more youngsters lose their balance of mind and jump to drastic conclusions. (p.52) Change is the law of nature and old and new generations have to change according to the realities but must maintain the family system which provides the real solace. 

In Chapter 13: Parenting in Inverted Times, the author feels that Power, Wealth and Crime have challenged the sensibility of our times and pushed the world into a situation in which the ‘real’ men are not the ‘men of character’ but the men of power and resources; in other words, ‘characterless’. It is a strange reversal and a shocking revelation that we are living in inverted times.  He mentions about the right role of an individual at all stages of life and recommends that “As human beings and as a part of this society, we are responsible for creating a better world which has to be away from the ‘hi fidelity’ world of modern times (p.56-57). In Chapter-14 the author turns to literature and talks of the concept of the ‘death of the author’ which he calls 'murder' of the Author. He questions the rigidity of teaching and questioning systems which must change to promote creativity.  Chapter-15 which deals with Death of Time dilates upon the losing value of time and stresses that for peaceful living, one has to shed that attachment to time (p.53).

Dr. Anand has thus explicitly dealt with the contemporary issues of humanity as he sees living in the present world as an ordinary person suffering the pangs of capitalism, whose family is suffering, whose kids are in the grip of violent films, and drugs, and who is almost on the brink of losing hope. He has no approach to authority, and he realizes that nobody is interested in his fate. Nobody wants him alive and does not talk of his living decently like a human being.  The political masters and corporates are not only after his money, but they are also after his soul, and more serious still, his flesh, his blood, his bones and can eat him up in such a way that nothing will be left behind for the earth to swallow, or the fire to gobble up and even the Ganges to flow to eternity.  He finds from his teaching in educational institutions that these have become mortuaries of wisdom.  Religion tries not at obviating man’s worries but capitalizes on them to build power and cause hurt; making men feel that they are sinners of the first order. There appears to be no reprieve from these worldly sins which have eaten into the souls of the powerful and dominating authority. He, thus, tries to stir the dying souls by divine music of truth and justice which once Guru Nanak spread globally. 

Can SkepTik create a new Republic of faith, goodness truth and beauty remains to be seen but the effort is commendable and recommended not only for reading but for actually applying its message in life so that the world becomes wiser and better for the entire humanity.  The book is a part of an awakened and committed writer’s agenda for welfare of the masses, irrespective of the divisions of time and space. The book is truly awakening of the horrors of the business-oriented career conscious, capitalistic attitude world engulfed in treachery, corruption, grabbing through violence with inhuman means and enlightens about the peace, happiness and bliss through morality, goodness, fairness and sharing. This compilation can be said to be a sequel to his earlier epics specially his third book of ‘Mahakaal Trilogy: The Ultronic Age’ which applies intellectual balm on the burning sores of humanity, so that its moral, mental and psychological health could be restored. 

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