Monday, September 27, 2021

Koorumala Viewpoint

 Koorumala is at once reticent and coquettish. It is an emerging tourist spot in the Ernakulam district of Kerala. At an altitude of 169 metres from MSL, the viewpoint is about 40 km from Kochi. The final stretch of the road, about 2 km, is very narrow. It passes through lush green forest-looking topography. The drive itself is exhilarating. And finally you arrive at a 'Pay & Park' signboard on a rocky terrain. The land belongs to the CSI St Peter's Church. You park your vehicle there and walk up a concrete path which leads to a tiled walkway which in turn will take you the viewpoint. Below are some pictures of the place. 

From the parking lot to the viewpoint


The tiled walkway

A selfie from near the view tower 

A view from the tower

Another view

The tower and the rest mandap at the back

Koorumala viewpoint is a recent addition to Kerala's tourist map. It's a 'cool' place for people of nearby areas to spend some leisure in splendid isolation from the hustle and bustle of the usual world. 

PS. This blog is participating in The Blogchatter's #MyFriendAlexa2021 campaign. 

Friday, September 24, 2021

When push comes to shove


We live in a world that is becoming increasingly competitive and hence even more increasingly self-centred. Competition is always about the victory of some individuals over other individuals or groups or even systems. In a capitalist system everyone is everyone else’s potential rival one way or another. This rivalry soon extends to the groups or communities to which the individuals belong. Whole systems like democracy or ideals like secularism can come crumbling down in such a world. Worse, such demolitions may even be seen as virtuous victories of the good over evil.

Such battles are rampant in our world today. Some people emerge as glorious victors while some others end up as pathetic losers.

These battles need to end. The ideal way is to open our eyes and see the most fundamental reality about ourselves: that we are not only unique and separate individuals but also integral parts of a larger whole. Call the larger whole God if you choose. Call it truth or the sublime or whatever. If we learn to touch that sublime, if we open our ears to the mellow music of that sublime, our suffering is going to take a different turn.

Suffering will not vanish. We will learn how to cope with it better.

The sublime opens our eyes and hearts. In plain words, it makes us understand the reality better and deal with it lovingly. This understanding and love are the ultimate remedies for unavoidable suffering.

This relationship with the sublime is a spiritual condition. You need not be religious for experiencing it. Atheists experience it in their own diverse ways. Artists experience it through their arts. When Albert Einstein said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious; it is the source of all true art and science,” he was referring to the experience of the sublime. When Mozart said that love – and not intelligence or imagination – is the real soul of genius, he meant nothing else.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince put it most elegantly: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

The brain does help us to understand the reality. As Hinduism teaches, intellectual pursuit or jnana yoga can offer us enlightenment.

But when it comes to grappling with the riddles of life, the heart shows the way. Blake saw a world in a grain of sand with his heart, not his eyes. Mirabai, great devotee of Lord Krishna, could unfurl herself across the universe by stretching her heart, not her intellect. It is your heart that will give you the wings to fly.

Will suffering vanish when you learn to see a world in a grain of sand or to fly in the heavens on wings of the heart?

No. Suffering can never vanish from our life. We learn to cope with it. We learn to see it from a different perspective.

It is the perspective of the heart. It is with the heart we see certain essential truths clearly.

When the homo sapiens evolved from their simian ancestors, the brain continued to evolve while the heart retained its loyalty to the beast. Our species went on to conquer the whole world with the help of our evolved brains. We subjugated everything on earth mercilessly to our tools and technology. We established our mastery over everything on the planet as well as beyond it in the eternal spaces. We moved light years in a few hundred calendar years. Great intellectual achievement.

But our hearts remained simian. Very primitive. Except in the cases of those few enlightened ones, those who chose to touch eternity in a moment.

Our religions, our arts and our philosophical teachers all sought to train our hearts. But we chose to convert these entities into competitive architecture or showbiz or propaganda. They did not touch our hearts.

They were like the roses in our gardens tended by hired labourers. Passers-by admired them. But they did not touch our hearts. Because it is only when you waste time with your roses do they touch your hearts.

The answers to quite a lot of our problems lie in our own hearts. And we keep seeking them in a lot of other places.

We have wings to fly with, but we choose to walk.

If only you start flying. Once you have conquered certain heights, you won’t come down, as Richard Bach says in one of his books. You will spread your wings and fly. You hover over the suffering that belongs to the earth.


PS. This is an extract from my eBook, Coping with Suffering. I bring it here now for Indispire Edition 390: When push comes to shove, would you choose to be on a cliff? #BeingTough 

PPS. This blog is participating in The Blogchatter's #MyFriendAlexa2021 campaign. 

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Yogi Akhilesh’s Poems

 


Yogi Akhilesh writes poems

with the black smoke stinking of burning human flesh

on the bank of the holy Ganga

in Manikarnika Ghat

in Varanasi.

 

Ants and worms compete

to eat Yogi Akhilesh’s poems.

They chew the letters and the punctuation marks.

The exclamation marks disappear first.

 

Dead ashes float on holy Ganga.

Sins dissolve into the holy waters.

Shanti mantras rumble and roll into the river’s ripples.

Abandoned gaumatas wander in

and masticate what remains of

Yogi Akhilesh’s poems.

 

Yogi Akhilesh is a holy seer.

He has no eyes.

His vision is clear.

His poems are tangy.

One day the Ganga will carry them too,

Without punctuation marks.

Distorted words.

 

PS. This blog is participating in The Blogchatter’s #MyFriendAlexa2021 campaign.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Beyond right and wrong

 


“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” The great 13th-century Persian poet Rumi sang that. Rumi was an enlightened person and like all enlightened people he knew that the line between right and wrong is rather too blurred. Right and wrong, truth and falsehood, are not absolutes except in science and mathematics.

Sonya, the heroine of Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment, is a prostitute. Prostitution is absolutely wrong, a cardinal sin, in most religions and moral systems. Sonya stands on the side of the condemned in ordinary morality. But not for Dostoevsky. Sonya emerges as one of the noblest characters in the novel. She was driven to prostitution by utter poverty. She had to look after her ailing sister and her children. Sonya had no choice but sell her body.

Ordinary morality and religion would condemn Sonya. But Rumi would have met her on that field beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing.

Life’s truths and rights cannot be absolute. There is no God who would dare to dish out absolute truths and rights in the world of human beings. Human truths are limited. Human rights are circumscribed. By circumstances, by motives, by ironies.

One person’s fetish may be another’s food. One person’s god may be another’s demon.

Your truth may be your neighbour’s biggest irony.

Why do you insist on imposing your truths, your likes, your views on your neighbour?

This discussion is absurd, I know. We live in a post-truth world where truths and facts don’t matter at all, forget about absolutes and relatives. The heartbeats of slogans override the sobriety of truths and rights here. It is not about wrongdoing and rightdoing anymore; it’s about fabrication of truths and rights. The prophets of post-truth are alchemists. And alchemy was always fake.

Alchemy may go about sporting a long, white beard which pretends to be something what it is definitely not. Alchemy relies on false propaganda. Massive advertisements. Communicative abundance. Diarrhoea of words. Photoshops. Photo ops. Costumes. Fancy dress which is taken as real by a bunch of bhakts.

A field beyond wrongdoing and rightdoing alone won’t do anymore. We are not in 13th century. We are in post-truth 21st century.

What is needed now is a field beyond absolute truths and post-truth. What is needed is real democracy. Real democracy teaches us that no man or woman is good enough to claim they possess the truth and to rule over fellow beings.

PS. This post has been provoked by the latest Indispire theme: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I'll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.” ― Rumi #internationalpeaceday

 

 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Nights of Scorpions

 

The Pieta

In one of his best-known poems, ‘Night of the Scorpion,’ poet Nissim Ezekiel describes the agony of a mother who was stung by a scorpion. Those were days when the rustic people would rely on traditional cures rather than take the victim to a hospital. So the “peasants [who] came like swarm of flies” “buzzed the name of God a hundred times” and uttered prayers and chants. They believed that the sins of her previous birth would burn away in her present pain and that the misfortunes of her next birth would be decreased. Her pain would make its momentous contribution to the balancing of the sum of all evil in this illusory world.

Some twenty hours pass before the pain loses its sting. When it does, the mother’s consolation is: “Thank God the scorpion picked on me / And spared my children.”

That is mother’s love.

Mother is an emotion, an emotional bond. Perhaps no other person on earth – perceived as a concept – has received so much attention from poets, artists and sculptors. Michelangelo’s Pieta housed in St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican is one of the most enduring and endearing tributes to maternity. The dead body of Jesus lies in Mary’s lap. That was the final sword that pierced Mary’s heart.

When Jesus was taken to the Jerusalem Temple for the presentation ritual, the holy man Simeon prophesied that the child was going to rewrite history as well as drive a sword through Mary’s heart. The sword must have pierced Mary’s heart many times like when Jesus asked, ‘Who is my mother?’.

Jesus had a messianic duty to fulfil and hence the sword – the distancing between him and his mother – was unavoidable. Family ties have little role to play in the life of a messiah. The messianic vision is cosmic. Messianic redemption cannot be limited to a family. Hence the mother will have to lose her son. That sword is inevitable.

The rather unpleasant truth is that every mother’s heart is always susceptible to swords. Every child begins life as a part of its mother. The part-whole relationship continues for a few years of infancy and early childhood. For the mother, the child always remains a part of her though the child will grow up and become a separate individual who has to find his or her place on the earth. Time will undoubtedly pass steadily and draw the mother and the child apart.

We live in a world today that draws the mother and the child apart too soon. One reason is that most mothers are working women today. They have to attend to their jobs during the daytime. For some mothers, it could be night-time. Children are deprived of the most affectionate touch they can get in the world. They are deprived of the emotional warmth that can come from nowhere else but a mother’s heart. A child that grows up without getting that touch and warmth is likely to be an unwholesome personality. No wonder, we have too many abandoned parents today living in old-age homes or living separated from their adult children.

Psychologist Erik Erikson argues that the mother lays the foundation of the personality. He calls it ‘basic trust’. Basic trust is the cornerstone of the psychologically healthy personality, according to him. He defines it as “an attitude toward oneself and the world derived from the experiences of the first year of life.” Trust, for him, implies both trusting others and oneself: trustfulness and trustworthiness.

This attitude is established first in the mother-child relationship. It is at first an unconscious process. Every hug from the mother, every kiss of hers, every touch of hers, adds to that trust and reinforces it. With each of those, the child begins to feel an increasing sense of security. It is that sense of security which eventually helps him/her deal with adult crisis situations.

Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) illustrates eloquently the importance of a healthy mother-child relationship. Schopenhauer’s mother was a popular novelist who considered herself a genius. She had a temperament and temper too, as Will Durant puts it. She was unhappy with her prosaic husband and when he died she took to free love. Schopenhauer could not bring himself to love his mother at any time. Consequently, he grew up to hate all women. Not only women, alas, he hated the entire mankind. He became one of the most pessimistic philosophers of all time. Speaking about his pessimism, Will Durant says, “a man who has not known a mother’s love – and worse, has known a mother’s hatred – has no cause to be infatuated with the world.”

The mother matters much. The mother shapes the personality. The mother determines whether the child will grow up to be a saint or a sinner, a philosopher or an entrepreneur, a success or a failure. William Makepeace Thackeray was not exaggerating when he said that “Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children.”

Life doesn’t come with a manual, it comes with a mother, as a wit put it. We learn the primary lessons of life, the basic life skills, from mother. Mother is the shaper of destinies. Mother is indeed a god in that regard. Pain is part of her being as much as love is. There is no love without concomitant pain. Nights of scorpions are every mother’s prerogatives.

 

PS. This was originally written for an eBook that might have been published for all I know. The editor-compiler didn’t care to send me a copy of the book though I was invited to its online release. Now months have passed. So I take the liberty to post it here.

PPS. This blog is participating in The Blogchatter’s #MyFriendAlexa2021 campaign.

 

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Areekal Waterfalls

 


William Wordsworth’s heart would have leapt up at the sight that lay before us. Maggie and I had decided to brave the pandemic and move out a bit. Staying at home day after day for months on end can be quite maddening even if you have half a dozen pets. But we didn’t want to risk too much. So went to a place that is about half an hour’s drive from home.

Areekal is a rural landscape less than 40 km from Kochi. [And about half of that from our home.] Maggie and I drove through rubber plantations mostly. Narrow roads snaked through the somnolent and rugged terrain. The drive itself was heady.

The waterfall at our destination was headier. “These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs / With a soft inland murmur…” Wordsworth came to mind. He would have loved the secluded place. But for a couple of small shops, one of which is a toddy shop, there were no buildings nearby. Rubber trees swayed all around gently in the cool breeze. Kerala is usually not so cool. But yesterday was rainy and the rains kept us cool.

You descend stone steps to reach the waterfall. You can listen to the soothing murmur of the waterfall as you walk down the steps leaving the dreariness of the endless pandemic behind.


There isn’t too much space around. It’s not a tourist place in the traditional sense of the term. It is a withdrawn “dwelling place of sweet sounds and harmonies” [Wordsworth again]. Of healing thoughts and tender joys.

There was a family at the foot of the waterfall: father, mother and a 3-year-old child. The little boy wanted to enter the waters. The father led him by hand. The boy walked through the plunge pool, assisted by his father, and stood at its edge, at a little distance from the waterfall. The spray from the fall delighted him. His father let him play in the shallow plunge pool. He lay down in the water, splashing it, laughing merrily, experiencing an ecstasy. His mother stood at the brink of the pool watching every motion of the child with intense concern.

I wished I could be like that boy. Absolute abandonment of the ego and sheer delight in nature. What it means to be childlike, I understood instantly. Its delight without any barrier between you and beauty. You and ecstasy, rather. I could only experience the longing for that. The child in me had died long, long ago.

PS. This blog is participating in The Blogchatter’s #MyFriendAlexa2021 campaign.

 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Cat House

 

The family [Brownie is missing]

There are 5 cats at home now - Cleopatra and her kittens. There were seven until last week. Two kittens have been adopted. So I'm left with Denny (Dennis the Menace), Dessy (Desdemona), Brownie (Elizabeth Barret Browning), and the latest arrival Nora (named after the heroine of Ibsen's A Doll's House.

When I posted a pic of these cats in Facebook yesterday, a friend commented on the personality traits that differentiate cats from the very loyal canines. That comment led me to this post. 

There's no comparison between cats and dogs. Cats are royal while dogs are servile. Opposite poles. Christopher Hitchens put it best when he said that if you give food and shelter to a dog, the dog will think you are god and if you do the same to a cat, the cat will think it is god. If you want to hear it a little more comically, here is Bill Dana (American comedian): "I had been told that the training procedure with cats was difficult. It’s not. Mine had me trained in two days."

The regality of cats is unique unlike the servile loyalty of the canines. Cleopatra is quite a contrast to her namesake in history though she is quite as royal. She littered two times by the time she was a year-and-a-quarter old and both the times she got me to make a special arrangement inside the house for the royal litter. She refused whatever arrangements I had made outside including in a very secluded and sheltered area of my terrace. Every time I made an arrangement I would take Cleo to see it and tell her, "Come on, now, this is good enough. Go ahead and do the job." She would examine the arrangement in sufficient detail and then give me a look of contemptuous disapproval. 

Cleopatra with Antony in their younger days

Cleopatra's looks are enticing even when they mean disapproval. There is a peculiar mix of persuasion and coquetry in them. I have always found it impossible to say No to the demands made by Cleo's looks whose meanings I decode quite easily. She has exerted her seductive magic on Maggie too who thinks that Cleo has enormous patience with my personality disorders. 

Denny: scholar with a difference

Some cats are wiser than some philosophers.

Denny is not at all what I thought he was when I named him after Dennis the Menace. As a little kitten he looked a bit of a bully. He has some of that bulliness even now. Sometimes when I serve the food in one plate - instead of two as usual - Denny will draw the plate towards himself with a paw. He is the only one to do that. He is the only male in the group. And he leaves his paw-print in the food-plate.

Denny is a delight, nonetheless. He acts on the simple principle that it never does any harm to ask for what you want. If you get it, good; otherwise, leave it. His way of asking is to rub his smooth fur against your calf muscle and then jump up and pull your arm. Denny usually gets what he wants. I pamper him too much, Maggie accuses me. The truth is that none but Denny is capable of so much emotional honesty. 

Dessy chooses her own comforts

Dessy is the opposite of Denny. She detests rubbing and snuggling. She knows when food is available because Maggie and I have rather fixed schedules for our food. She will appear punctually for her food from wherever she is. Usually she is in one of the most comfortable places in the house or outside all by herself. She can't stand patting and petting. Whoever said "All you need is love and a cat" must have had a cat like Dessy. 

Brownie reads the newspaper

Brownie is a charming calico. She loves human touch and snuggles down in my lap with a happy purr every morning when I sit down with newspapers. On rainy nights she will sneak into our bedroom and find the warmest place for herself right on our bed. She is a connoisseur of comfort. Unlike Dessy, Brownie thinks that the best comfort lies in human custody. But she won't let you pet her unless she chooses the occasion herself. You can't catch her, she catches you. 

Nora pondering Deadly Dilemmas

Nora is too young to display individuality. I'll tell you more about her later. Let her grow up into the charm that she promises to be. I don't want her to be like her namesake in Ibsen's classical play. Ibsen's Nora loved with all her heart and soul but ended with a terrible disillusionment. "Our home has been nothing but a playroom," she tells her husband towards the end of the play. "I have been your doll wife, just as at home I was Papa's doll child; and here the children have been my dolls. I thought it great fun when you played with me, just as they thought it great fun when I played with them...."

Related post: Cat Lover