Thursday, June 24, 2021

Pessimism of the gods



There is a romantic at sleep in my heart who likes to believe that people were better in the good old days. The people I saw as a child were much simpler than the ones I see nowadays, for example. Fifty years can make the world quite a different place. By this logic, people who lived a few centuries ago would have been very nice creatures.

Well, not quite. It doesn’t work that way. People had more or less the same degree of wickedness at any time. What Jean-Paul Sartre said in 20th century is what Marcus Aurelius said in the second century. Sartre said, “Hell is other people.” Aurelius said, “When you wake in the morning, tell yourself: the people you deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, jealous, and surly.”

Even Mother Teresa, who being a saint would have been expected to foster a more generous view of human beings, seemed to think quite in the lines of Sartre and Aurelius. “People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centred; forgive them anyway,” Mother is reported to have said. But I am told that those were not her words. She had adapted Kent M Keith’s words. True as that may be, the fact that the saint thought of the Keith exhortation (which is much longer than the quote above) worthy of a place at the entrance to one of her convents suggests that she didn’t hold the human soul in as much veneration as her theology would have wanted her to.

A few minutes back a student of mine raised a question in the online class. “When we are children, people appear very nice,” she said. “When we grow up, why do people become so complicated?” It is that question which led to this post. I couldn’t have made this answer in the class. All I said there was, “People are always complicated. It’s just that children see all reality as simple. As we grow up, we are condemned to see what lies beyond the simplicity.”

Mother Teresa was in deep touch with reality. She had no trace of the romantic anywhere in her heart. She was blatantly practical. She had no time to debate with people who accused her of upholding an unjust system by opening institutions for the victims. It is the system that should be changed, her critics said. She knew better. You can’t change the human nature. From the time of Marcus Aurelius to that of Jean-Paul Sartre, human nature remained the same: devilish. We can only mitigate the agony of the hells created by people. Mother Teresa did just that.

Was the Mother an optimist? This is a question that has poked my brain for years. She was not a pessimist, I know. She was not a cynic, I know. But an optimist? No, I don’t think so. Somebody who admits so openly that human nature is essentially absurd and egoistic is not an optimist. The only answer I’ve got for this so far is that Mother Teresa accepted life as evil (radical pessimism like the Buddha’s) but did whatever she could to reduce the evils of the human world. Her god, Jesus, didn’t possess a fraction of that pragmatism. He chose death over life. No, not much of optimism when we get close to religion and philosophy.

This post is a part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.

 

 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Wisdom



The best differentiation between knowledge and wisdom is given by Miles Kington, British musician. “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit,” he said. “Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”

Wisdom is not an accumulation of knowledge, as I used to think for a long time. I kept on reading book after book on every possible topic under the sun from religion to science deluded by the hope that I would be wise one day until I realised that the semiliterate neighbour of mine whom I offered a lift once was far wiser than me though he had never read any book. What makes us happy or miserable is just a choice we make, he said when I made a snide remark on a hoarding that promised all Indians achhe din, happy days.

“Knowledge is something you possess. Wisdom is something you do.” Nobody could have put it better than Eric Weiner [The Socrates Express]. I know that I am a silly old man on a tiny planet in a cosmos that has billions of galaxies. But I act as if I am the Lord of the cosmos.

I am not wise, in other words. Will I ever achieve wisdom? I don’t know. Is wisdom limited to a few? To a rare Buddha, Christ, and Mahatma?

I am tempted to think that wisdom is a rare prerogative. But this neighbour who accepted my offer of a ride leaves me thinking otherwise. Some are wise and others are otherwise, as one of my teachers used to say long ago. Sometimes you will run into one of those ‘some’ on the roadside waiting, beneath a hoarding that promises an illusion, for a public carrier while you drive your precious private vehicle. Wisdom is not necessarily rare.

This post is a part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.

 

Monday, June 21, 2021

The Road to Xanadu

 





Book Review

Title: Xanadu

Author: Harshita Nanda

Format: PDF E-book

 

Harshita Nanda’s novella, Xanadu, is more about a road to Xanadu than Xanadu itself. The idyl is not natural or easily available. It has to be created. It demands much agony and endurance from us. This novella is about those agonies and endurances. That is precisely what makes it enjoyable too. Utopias can’t entertain us; they can only satiate us and then leave us exhausted with ennui. The reason why there aren’t any utopias in the human world may be precisely that. We have all the potential to create utopias. But we won’t create them. In fact, if someone does create one, the others will sow the seeds of all possible vices there and kill it. That is how human nature is. All our good literature is about those vices and follies of ours. Any good novel has to end where the idyllic Xanadu begins. And that is just what happens in Harshita Nanda’s novella too.

The plot revolves primarily round Anita, Bhoomi and Harish. Anita is a young woman when the storyline starts. A British young man, Derek Rogers, captures her heart. But Derek has to leave India when his parents decide to withdraw to their own country after India wins independence. Anita is reluctant to join them leaving the hill town she loves much. We meet the aging, solitary Anita in the first chapter who eventually gets a little girl named Bhoomi for a friend.

Bhoomi has to leave Anita soon as a catastrophe leaves her fatherless. Her mother, Shalini, belonged to an aristocratic family in the city and had been disowned for marrying a poor hillman for love. Following the tragic death of her husband in an accident that also destroys their house, Shalini returns to her parents in the hope that they would understand and accept her. If family honour is what got her disinherited, the same family honour gets her back in and the business sense that usually accompanies such ‘honour’ gets Shalini married to Arjun who is settled in the US. Arjun had remained a bachelor all these years just because his love for Shalini had been unrequited. Unrequited love is a dominant theme in the novella.

The marriage takes Bhoomi to America where life turns miserable for her as well as her mother who is unable to forget her dead husband.

Harish is a young boy whom Bhoomi had become friends with as a little girl while she lived in Shalini’s parents’ house. Fortune favours Harish who gets good education in an elite school.

The plot now takes some very interesting twists and turns and leads the reader to an unputdownable climax.

It is a short book that can be read in about an hour. The story is narrated skilfully though it is the author’s debut work in this category. The plot has a Dickensian neatness and finesse, not to mention the suspense that the end of each chapter carries. The book is a sure indication that this author will go a long way and give us excellent works in the future.



PS. This book is part of the Blogchatter E-book Carnival and is free to download now here.

My contribution to the same Carnival is LIFE: 24 Essays which is also free here.

This post is a part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Godse’s ghosts

 


Asharam Bhakt woke up in his dream. A figure that looked supernatural and possibly divine in spite of its resemblance to Nathuram Godse said, “Who controls the past controls the future.” The apparition vanished instantly but Asharam found himself standing in the Ambala jail where Godse was being readied for his execution. Gandhi’s killer looked scared to death. Asharam could see Godse’s knees wobbling.

Is this the man who fired bullet after bullet into the frail body of a man who was uttering God’s name? Asharam wondered. Not that he had any sympathy for Mohandas Gandhi. On the contrary, he was an admirer of Godse and his advocacy of the Brahmin superiority. And all the more his hatred of Muslims. If Godse were alive today wouldn’t he be pleased to see how India has become the kind of nation that he wanted it to be: an exterminator of Muslims and slow killer of the low castes?

No, Godse says to Asharam. The executioner is getting the gallows ready yonder.

What! Asharam cannot believe his hears.

It was all mistake, Godse says. His voice cracks. Is it fear or regret that moves Godse now? Asharam is not sure. I was wrong, Asharam hears Godse clearly. I was driven by hatred. Gandhi was driven by love. I was wrong. Wrong.

The executioner drops a black cover on Godse’s head.

Asharam trembled in his bed. Was it really Godse that he saw? Or was it the ghost of the man whom Asharam and his friends had lynched the other day for taking his cow home in the evening? A roar of bulldozers followed. The heart of Delhi was being bulldozed by some ghosts of history.

PS. Inspired by Indispire Edition 379: Mr Bhakt wakes up in a dream. Who controls the past controls the future, he is told. He starts rewriting history... #TwistInHistory

This post is a part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.

Note: Not all of this is mere fantasy. Godse’s fear of death and the regrets in his last moments are recorded by none other than Justice Khosla who was part of the three-judge bench that heard the killer’s appeals. In Justice Khosla’s own words, Godse “repented of his deed and declared that were he to be given another chance he would spend the rest of his life in the promotion of peace and service of the country.”

Friday, June 18, 2021

We: The Losers

 


Hamlet was a loser and a hero. Faced with a shocking evil – the murder of his father by father’s own brother who marries the victim’s wife even before the mourning is over – Hamlet wavers between violent vindictiveness and philosophical inaction. He can raise a question like “To be or not to be?” and contemplate on it endlessly when the wretched life around him demands prompt and stern action. This young man who is insistent on proving his uncle’s guilt indubitably before wreaking vengeance can be impulsive too. He can draw his sword and drive it straight into the man hiding behind a screen without even bothering to find out the man’s identity and purpose of hiding. At one moment he can address his beloved Ophelia as a fair nymph and at the next he can hurl insulting questions on to her face: “Are you honest?” “Are you fair?”

Is Hamlet a real hero? He does not possess qualities that belong to people whom history venerates as heroes. Yet Hamlet has continued to enchant audiences for centuries. Why?

Geniuses like Shakespeare present Hamlet to us in such a way that we are fascinated. We are fascinated by his failures. His failures are our own potential failures. Hamlet and other such characters (Jude the Obscure or Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina) hold up a mirror – nay, a lens – to ourselves. We see our frailties in that mirror or through that lens. We are all losers in many ways. Our flaws and frailties are what Hamlet lives on the stage. Helplessly oftentimes. Is he a born loser? Is there a “tragic flaw” embedded in his DNA so that he cannot but fail?

Aren’t all of us similar to Hamlet one way or the other with our own flaws? Aren’t we failing again and again? It may not be a wicked uncle or a treacherous mother that jabs their boots into the ribs of our flaccid moral sense. It may be a corrupt government. It may be an exploitative system. It may be a neighbourhood thug. We keep sponging up the insults and humiliations and injustices. Since these are not usually directed specifically at us but at a whole society or community or the nation itself, it is easy for us to ignore them. But they are there. Always. And we are the losers because of that. Sometimes our losses may be more personal too.

Even if we don’t have the talent of a Sophocles or Shakespeare, we can tell the stories of our loss and error. We will redeem ourselves that way from the insult of an existence in a system that dehumanises us. More than that, if we learn to see other people as the great losers whose stories have not been discovered by a Shakespeare yet, they too will become heroes instead of ordinary losers. Losers are potential heroes too.

PS. This post is a part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Importance of a breakdown

 


Each one of us carries within ourselves a child who is confused, angry, hurt, and longs for recognition. The degree of the confusion, anger and hurt will obviously vary from individual to individual. Instead of coming to terms with that inner child, instead of dealing maturely and intelligently with the anger and/or other states of emotion, we let them be. We get on with life.

We are experts at it. At getting on. That is easier to do than deal with our deeper personal problems. It is easy to surrender to the demands of the world around us and go on. No strife. It is easy to live up to what is expected of us at the workplace, in the society, even at home, and move on. No quarrels. We get on apparently smoothly with priorities defined by others.

How long? Maybe till the end of our life. Many people manage that. They are only half alive. They have killed a part of themselves for the sake of peace with others. Turn a blind eye to unpleasant realities. Create darkness by shutting your eyes, as we say in Kerala.

Not all can do that, however. A time comes when you break down. A time comes when certain personal truths demand your attention. This half life doesn’t satisfy you. You want to be fully human and fully alive. You want to be psychologically healthy.

Every nervous breakdown is painful. Excruciatingly painful. It makes you appear like a vulgar gargoyle to yourself.

The nervous breakdown is not the illness, however. We were ill before we broke. It is our illness that made us break. Every breakdown is rather an invitation to health than an illness. It is a demand for greater self-knowledge. A life-force within us is urging us on to process of personal growth which we had hitherto refused to undertake. Every nervous breakdown is an invitation to healing, to a fuller life.

PS. This post is a part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

In Praise of Melancholy

 

Though happiness is the ideal that we all love to chase, the fact remains that sorrow is the solid underpinning of human reality. There is no life without a touch of grief. The possibility of failure lurks at every bend along the road. There is no mountain, however alluring it is, without its due share of boulders and ravines that impede your progress upward.


Certain truths are painful but also inevitable. You can’t avoid them. You can’t escape them. For example, the truth that most people won’t understand you when you desperately need to be understood. There are times when you wish that at least your spouse understood you better. Your best friend will ditch you when you most need help. Have you ever noticed that loneliness is a universal phenomenon? You can feel lonely in the middle of a party. The realisation that the other people are grappling with their own shame and sorrow must have hit you like an enlightenment more than once. These are just a few examples. There are other sorrows, innumerable ones.

That is how life is. Sorrow is the unheard melody that holds up the entire orchestra of life. You can’t avoid sorrow unless you choose to live in some private sheltered little world. Like a ship that never moves out of the harbour.

The ship has to move out. It has to face the storms and waves.

With sobriety. With sober melancholy.

Contemporary philosopher, Alain de Botton, describes this melancholy as a “noble species of sadness that arises when we are properly open to the idea that suffering and disappointment are at the heart of human experience.”

Suffering and disappointment are at the heart of human experience. There’s no escape from them. A sober realisation of that fundamental truth gifts you melancholy. It gives your smile a strangely seductive charm.

PS. This post is a part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.

Pessimism of the gods

There is a romantic at sleep in my heart who likes to believe that people were better in the good old days. The people I saw as a child we...