# 29 The Faith of Love, Data is Not a Dog
The Faith of Love
Rajinder was born in 1975, long after I first saw this mazhar, near the exit gate of the Delhi Gymkhana Club. His family lived in an outhouse of one of the ministerial bungalows close by, and “ever since I was a child, I was drawn by the immense power of the Baba.”
He touches his ear lobes in piety.
Over the decades, the mazhar of Hazrat Sufi Sant Saiyyad Mastan Mansoor Ali Shah Baba has acquired a canopy, a tiled floor, lanterns, and a festive air, thanks to Rajinder’s devotion. If you pass the mazhar any morning, you’ll see him washing the floor, smoothening the chadar, or filling the oil lamps, before he goes off to work. Last week, he stopped me to offer roasted chana and mishri wrapped in newspaper.
When we moved to Delhi in 1967, the club was one of the outer markers of our little lives. In the east, our Delhi ended at the zoo; to the south, at INA market, and in the north, at Gol Dak Khana, and our schools. Separated by the enormous edifice of the Sacred Heart Cathedral, to which the Catholic boys went for their catechism classes, I attended St. Columba’s HIgh School, and my younger sister the Convent of Jesus and Mary. Across the road from her school was the blazing marble of Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, to which my mother bundled us off before every final exam, to ‘mattha teko’, touch our foreheads to sacred ground, and ask for blessings.
Ma inherited this piety from her mother-in-law, Kartar Devi, born to a Hindu family in undivided Punjab, but reared in the Sikh faith. My grandmother was functionally illiterate, but she could ‘read’ one book, the Sukhmani Sahib, I guess because she recognised the characters from decades of recitation and pattern association.
After the exams, when we drove up to Himachal or Punjab for the summer, we would stop at Anandpur Sahib, to ‘mattha teko’ for a safe journey, and for the delicious kada prasad. One summer, I went down with a raging fever in Manali, and the mission hospital advised I return to Delhi for diagnostic tests and the comforts of home. I flew down with my mother, who said we were being punished for having violated our own faith, by not driving up the little hillock to the Gurdwara at Anandpur Sahib.
In 1984, when Operation Bluestar stormed the Golden Temple, the world learned how the center of the Sikh faith had been turned into an armoury. My mother turned her back on gurdwaras, and returned to the core of the Arya Samaj practice, to havans on birthdays and wedding anniversaries. “There should be no place for violence in religion”, she declared.
I wonder what she would have made of the increased weaponisation of Hindutva in recent years. I know she would have wrestled with her need for piety and ritual, knitted into her umbilical connection with the Hindu faith. Her search for spiritual clarity would have been clouded by the ‘othering’ of Indian Muslims, imbibed in the aftermath of Partition. But in the social work that was the core of her shraddha, she observed no boundaries of creed and caste. After Ma passed, we carried out her only wish, to bring live music to the home for two weeks. When the granthis from the neighbouring gurudwara uncovered their harmonium and tablas in front of her smiling photograph, it was as if the spectre of Bluestar was being unwrapped and liberated from our lives.
The long struggle of humanity towards peace and prosperity lurches through war and violence. I asked Rajinder how he was affected by the swell of hatred.
“Sab bakwaas hai, Sir. Pyaar se badi koi cheez nahin hai.”
I struggle for his clarity, pray for the spectres of violence to vaporise, and liberate all our souls to love.
Data Is Not a Dog
Yesterday, I attended an event for start-ups to showcase their fledgling businesses to potential investors. The morning began with a panel discussion among seasoned investors and Venture Capital firms. One of them went, “We have seen how Manufacturing Activity has rebounded, and Consumer Confidence is through the roof..”
I presume he saw this reassuring chart in one of the pink papers:
Based on the bi-monthly surveys published by the Reserve Bank of India, similar charts got a great deal of mileage over the last two days. But, if you pull out just a little bit, you get a somewhat different picture:
The picture is now a little clearer - consumer confidence in India began falling in early 2019, plummeted sharply after the onset of COVID, in early 2020, and though recovering, “remained in pessimistic zone.”
At 7.1%, factory output jumps to 8-month high
Last week headlines across newspapers also announced, “Factory output jumps to 8-month high”, or some minor variant of the same. If you read the text, you learn that the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) actually shrank 9% from March 2022 to April 2022.
So, was this headline a lie?
Let me say, it was definitely misleading.
The ‘high’ number of 7.1% refers to the level of factory output in April 22 compared with April 21, which was when COVID was at its most severe across India. But the headline refers to no such statistic or comparison. It loudly suggests that industrial activity in India is booming; whereas, if you want to gauge the shape of India’s economic recovery from COVID, you should be deeply concerned that industrial activity dropped so sharply between March and April of this year.
This is headline management at its worst, and fits in neatly with the government’s approach to reality. This is a growing trend in Indian media - cheery headlines completely at odds with the reality of the data or the news reported in the copy. Luckily, a few newspapers - including the one from which I extracted that headline - still print some inconvenient data. Our official data-collection systems are still fairly robust, but when highly damning, the government has no qualms about suppressing the outcome of major exercises. Our Consumer Expenditure Survey is one such study, conducted every five years. But the report for 2017-18 was never released; several journals reported that the data showed shrinking rural demand for the first time in four decades. I’m not holding my breath about whether we will see a survey in 2022-23.
The thing about muzzling data is that it behaves more like a gun than like a dog - it doesn’t alter the reality. When you muzzle a dog, you prevent it from biting strangers; when you muzzle a gun, it still kills.