Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Killing Paradoxes



Philosopher Nietzsche saw a man whipping a horse on a street in Turin, Italy. He couldn’t endure the cruel sight. Rushing towards the animal, the philosopher hugged it before collapsing to the ground. He never regained his sanity after that.

Nietzsche despised weakness and sentimentality. He was a social Darwinist who believed in the right of the fittest to survive. Strength is the ultimate virtue, he said, and weakness is a vice. Goodness is that which wins while the bad yields to pressure and perishes.

This philosopher of strength who counselled people to live dangerously and to erect their cities beside fuming volcanos and to send out their ships to unexplored seas could not bear the sight of a horse being whipped by its owner. That was Nietzsche: a bundle of paradoxes.

He did not even possess basic health. He was a sickly person right from childhood and he possessed all the goody-goodiness of such boys. As a little boy, he detested the “bad boys” of his neighbourhood who robbed birds’ nests, raided neighbours’ orchards, and told lies. His schoolteachers called him “the little minister,” meaning little priest. His parents were pastors. Some people nicknamed the little Nietzsche “a Jesus in the Temple.” He was a good boy – too good, in fact.

He grew up to despise Christianity, however. He thought it was a religion of weakness. An effeminate religion with a god who capitulated. Someone who dies on a cross with a helpless whimper can’t be a god. Christianity’s heaven must be an utterly boring place with all effeminate souls that never dared to cross the lines drawn by mediocre morality. Nietzsche walked out of that heaven and proclaimed the death of god.

And he grew his moustache long. He was “more moustache than man,” in the words of Eric Weiner whose book The Socrates Express is my present reading. I remember another illustrious writer, Will Durant, describing Nietzsche as “the soul of a girl under the armour of a warrior” [in The Story of Philosophy].  

Nietzsche was not what he thought he was and what he pretended to be. He was too good at heart to be the Bismarckian Superman that he idolised in his writings. His heart was more Christian than Saint Francis Assisi’s so much so that the people of Genoa called him ‘the Saint’. 

Nietzsche held Wagner’s music in contempt for being an effeminate romantic rhapsody that softened human conscience. But towards the end of his life, in a lucid moment of his flagging sanity, seeing a picture of the musician who was then dead and gone, Nietzsche muttered, “Him I loved much.”

What Nietzsche’s heart loved, his brain did not. That was the paradox that killed the philosopher “too early – and too late,” as Weiner puts it.  Almost a century back from today, Will Durant had concluded his chapter on Nietzsche with the epitaph, “Seldom has a man paid so great a price for genius.”

I completed reading Weiner’s chapter on Nietzsche just a few minutes back. Nietzsche had always held a charm for me right from my youth. Weiner has added a lot more colours to that charm and it has now become a rainbow. This is my humble tribute to the troubled genius tormented by the paradox that he was even to himself.

Monday, July 19, 2021

How to fight like Gandhi


The book I’m now reading is Eric Weiner’s The Socrates Express. [Waiting in line next is Rutger Bregman’s Hopeful History of Humankind, suggested by blogger-friend Yamini MacLean.] Weiner has taken pretty much of my time already. An attack of Covid-19 kept me in bed for nearly a week and I couldn’t read anything serious, much as I longed to. Moreover, you can’t just skim through Weiner in spite of his apparently light style. The lightness is only apparent. He demands serious reading.

The book is a collection of essays on philosophers from Marcus Aurelius to Simone de Beauvoir. I loved each one of them. Each one begins with a title How to… ‘How to wonder like Socrates,’ for example. ‘How to fight like Gandhi’ lies exactly in the centre of the book, 8th out of 14 chapters. Appropriate place, I thought. Gandhi deserves the centre-stage especially these days when his country is driven by the opposite of all that he stood for, lived for, and died for.

Gandhi was a fighter. Injustice of any kind aroused his indignation. He wouldn’t let it pass. He would look at it with his penetrating eyes. Even the mighty British empire couldn’t withstand the power of that look. That was the Gandhian way of fighting.

It was the power of truth that drove Gandhian fights. The power of personal convictions. Gandhi didn’t need any other power. Not political power. Not the power of weapons. Or violence.

Violence isn’t any power anyway. Violence is cowardice, Gandhi said again and again. “All violence represents a failure of imagination,” as Weiner interprets Gandhi. Violence is the easiest, most unimaginative, and even the laziest solution to problems. It’s so easy to strike down your enemy if you possess the strength for that. Any brute can do that. The animals do that, in fact. But to look into the eyes of your enemy, to understand what he is trying to say, understand his differences – that requires a lot of things like patience and imagination. Gandhi demanded that patience and imagination from his followers. His was a superior way.

By an ironic and cruel twist of fate, Gandhi’s nation today stands at the wrong end of the continuum that stretches from violence to nonviolence, from truth to falsehood.

Gandhi wouldn’t ever have questioned conflicts. Conflicts are natural. Without them, there wouldn’t be any life. Surrender to the rival is not Gandhi’s way. Nor is compromise. Surrender and compromise belong to cowards. We should fight where a good fight is required. The evil has to be resisted. But how?

The means are as important as the ends, Gandhi said. You can’t use falsehood merely to win the war at hand. The bulk of falsehood that dominates current Indian polity would have been Gandhi’s primary rival had he been living today. Rival, I said. Not enemy. Gandhi had no enemies, as Weiner points out. Only rivals who need to be shown the right lights. That was Gandhi’s way of fighting: show the right light.

That light has been replaced today by a resplendence whose brightness blinds and deafens us at once. We need to relearn how to fight like Gandhi.

Saturday, July 17, 2021


Appu Garh, Jan 2001

 Memories can sustain us. They can also kill us slowly. 

Shillong and Delhi are memories for me now. I lived in both places for a decade and a half each. The first was hell for me and the second was my paradise on earth. 

I visited Delhi for the first time in the winter of 2000-2001 along with Maggie. We were on a holiday from Shillong which had become an agony for us both. The very next summer found us both seeking jobs in Delhi. We had given up our jobs in Shillong. We had given up Shillong. 

Looking back at any reality two decades later has certain dangers. The past is never a fixed entity in our memories. The past is as much in a state of flux as is the present. The past keeps changing to suit our present. We need that transmogrification for our own survival. How else would certain events of the past become bearable?

More than 20 years after I left Shillong, the place still remains as a festering wound somewhere in my psyche. That is how certain memories are. They haunt you like a vindictive ghost. They have the potential to tear you apart. That is why we need to reshape them. For our own psychological survival. 

As the narrator of Julian Barnes's novel, The Sense of an Ending, says, "Remembering isn't always the same as what you have witnessed." We live in time and time keeps moulding us relentlessly. You are not today what you were yesterday. And you look at yesterday's reality from your today's point of view. You reshape yesterday so that it fits in with your today. You need that consolation. You deserve it. Memory is not an absolute entity with any sanctity. Your memory exists for your own consolation primarily. 

One of the places that Maggie and I enjoyed like two little children back in the Delhi of 2000 was an amusement park called Appu Garh. The above picture is from those days. Appu Garh is only a memory now. Thousands of Delhiites and others will certainly remember Appu Garh which added colours to their memories in those days. 

Of course it wasn't Appu Garh that lured Maggie and me to Delhi in 2001. But Appu Garh remains as a sweet memory in my mind. As a teacher in Delhi, I took my students to Appu Garh many times until the place became sheer memory in 2008. 

No, I don't miss Appu Garh. I miss Delhi in some ways because the place holds some of my most beautiful memories, memories that still regurgitate in my happy dreams. Unlike Shillong which brings only nightmares decades after I said goodbye to it. Memories don't die either way. And the height of irony is that we don't want to let go even the most painful memories, especially them. 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

The curse of medicines

 I have never been a fan of medicines except when I broke my bones. The pain of broken bones is not quite pleasant and you need a technician to set the broken pieces together in harmony once again. And you need painkillers.

Covid-19 confined me to a hospital bed in the last four days. I shouldn't have gone to hospital in the first place. I should have just contented myself with the medicines given by my neighbourhood hospital. But I had a slight breathing problem in the night which refused to subside with my usual dose of Asthalin. So I thought of seeking technical assistance. You don't feel like taking too many risks when you've crossed the age of 60. 

The amount of medicines that the nurse put out on the table for me to consume each morning, noon, and evening threw me into a bout of depression. There was just one tab alone, Flavipiravir, that would fill my belly with all its 1800 milligrams in weight, apart from half a dozen others which were mercifully lightweight champions. 

My breathing problem vanished within hours. But I started getting other problems. I lost appetite. How wouldn't I? I was eating a bellyful of tabs instead of normal food. Soon I developed loose motion. I told the nurse to reduce the medication to the most essential because of the condition of my bowels. She said she would consult the doc.

The doc refused to reduce my medicines and instead added two more tabs to them for treating my motion problems. "I don't have fever, why do you feed me Paracetamol?" I questioned. "I don't have cough now, why should I take the cough syrup?" The nurse said I had to complete "the course" of the medication. I couldn't understand that logic. I became much more sick than when I was admitted. 

Thankfully the doctor accepted my request to be discharged on the fourth day. I'm improving rapidly at home now with an intake of a quarter of the prescribed medicines. 

I'm not questioning the validity of the medical science. Far from it, I rely on medical science whenever I am not well. But I always check on internet what the medicines are meant for and discard quite many of the prescribed ones. I think I remain healthy because I take less medicines than I am usually sold. 

By the way, I tested positive for Covid five days after I took the vaccine. I think if I hadn't gone for the vaccine, I would have remained healthy now. I'm not sure but that's my strong hunch. 

Friday, July 9, 2021

Is Hell overflowing?


Image from here

When French philosopher and Nobel Laureate, Jean-Paul Sartre, wrote that hell is other people, he didn’t mean that Hell had become full and the devils had started spilling out on to the earth. He meant we are the devils. We are the devils to one another.

“When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth,” says a character in a Hollywood movie (if I remember correctly). This is the theme for this week’s Indispire. Is Hell really overflowing? This is a question that struck me recently when I read about how my compatriots behave these days towards fellow human beings in the name of weird ideology (which is in practice a ploy for grabbing whatever wealth is left with the minority communities and Dalits). But I know that it’s not the ghosts of the dead that walk around here now raping and killing little children, assaulting people in the name of non-existent spirits, spending enormous amounts on concrete structures some of which will do no good to anyone eventually, pushing millions of people into starvation, throwing many of them out from their homes…

There’s this man, for example, who lives in a 27-storey-palace but is discontented. For his sake, the impoverished millions of Indians will keep paying higher prices for petroleum products day after day. He sits in the 27th storey and dreams of the 28th. Not really. I’m speaking metaphorically. He doesn’t have to dream. He can materialise any dream instantly because the powers are with him. He is the power. It is for a few individuals like him that the country formulates policies nowadays. Look at who has been given charge of the cooperative banks in the country now. It’s nothing short of handing over the keys of the banks to the expert in heist.

They stole everything from the citizens. They stole jobs, lands, businesses, cattle, poets, rebels, dreamers and our dreams, sweat and blood. What is left anymore to suck? Metaphorically we have become a nation of vampires and their victims.  


Thursday, July 8, 2021

Modi's cabinet reshuffle cartoons

 Modi's cabinet reshuffle was followed almost instantly by some very interesting cartoons and other reactions on social media. Here are a few selected ones. 

And the next comes from The Hindu.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

When the State turns murderer


“Do you want all non-Hindus to be banished from India?” I asked. His instant answer was, “Yes.” And then like an afterthought he added, “Not all non-Hindus but …” He named a particular religious community. I made changes in my Facebook settings so that I wouldn’t see his posts anymore. I didn’t unfriend him just because he was my student once upon a time. The above conversation took place in Messenger. It left me feeling ashamed of myself as a teacher. What did I teach him? I wondered. To hate?

He is not a singular case. There are quite a few students whom I taught in a residential school in Delhi who are now ardent Modi-fans and staunch haters of a particular religious community. None of them could ever give me a satisfactory answer why their nationalism was so vindictive and malicious.

Some of them are celebrating the death of Stan Swamy now. Their celebration saddens me more than the gentle soul’s departure. Their celebration is a symptom of a deadly disease whose virus was injected into the veins of the nation by Modi and his kind of politics. Who can forget Modi’s Gujarat of 2002 which catapulted him to the nation’s limelight?

Stan Swamy is a victim of that politics, a venal politics that has already killed many directly or indirectly, literally or metaphorically. What was his crime? That he stood for the poor and the downtrodden? That he stood by justice and equity?

Those who stand for truth and those who survive fraudulence through humour are consigned to prisons in Modi’s India. My novel, Black Hole, ends with a stand-up comic named Salman Lahiri and a Catholic priest named Stan Rosario meeting each other in a cell of the Tihar Jail. When I wrote that conclusion I couldn’t imagine a dead Stan Swamy. But the very fact that Modi’s judiciary can keep an 84-year-old man suffering from Parkinson’s disease behind bars for imagined crimes sends every neuron in my being into a screaming revolt. My State is a Murderer with hate as its only guiding vision. That is a sad realisation.

Killing Paradoxes

  Nietzsche Philosopher Nietzsche saw a man whipping a horse on a street in Turin, Italy. He couldn’t endure the cruel sight. Rushing towa...