Monday, December 30, 2013

Faces of 2013


January is named after the Roman god of beginnings and transitions, Janus.  Janus has two faces, one looking backward and the other forward.   January is the time to look in both directions.

I am terrified and challenged simultaneously by this January, January 2014.  Because 2013 has been the worst year in my life.  In spite of the fact I am not new to the usual ups and downs of life. 

2013 was the year of FACES for me.   MASKS.  I had never seen so many masked faces in my life earlier.  I had never seen smiles that looked angelic but turned out to be diabolic – not even when my students cared to point it out to me.  Not ever to the extent 2013 undressed itself.

I saw more than half of my colleagues lose their jobs in 2013.  I witnessed the march of capitalism and religion, hand in hand.  They marched wearing the best saris or the best of cravats available in the market.  They marched on the bones of people they buried beneath the land they acquired in the process of marching.  And they recited prayers every morning and evening, prayers copied from the internet, prayers from Tagore’s Gitanjali and Hopkins’s adaptations.   They performed rituals from the Vedas and they sermonised with the help of “workshop” experts.  They brought in criminals as VIPs whom we garlanded and bouqueted.  And they raped us.  Raped us worse than what the western colonialists  did world over throughout modern human history.   And they made us take pledge every morning that we are Indians and we should love all Indians.

No, I’m not writing fiction.   

Ashvamedha is not fiction in India.  Not in America either.

This was the reality for a lot of Delhiites in 2013.

I look forward to a better 2014.

I look forward to Arvind Kejriwal. 

This is the first time in my life I’m putting my faith in a politician.

My hope, rather.

Janus had/has 2 faces.  Looking backward, looking forward.  Don’t keep skeletons in the cupboard like Narendra Modi, for example, so that you won’t have ghosts haunting you everafter. 

Can I have optimism still?

My optimism is simple.  I want to see faces.  


Faces, not masks.

Not the best cravat available in the market.


Hope sustains.

“Let noble thoughts come from every side,” said Rig Veda. 

Wish you a Better New Year.

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Saturday, December 28, 2013

All the Best, Kejriwal

Politics has been nothing more than an entertainment for me.  When the entertainment crossed the most stretched limits of human sensitivity, I wrote blogs to soothe the ruptures within me.  The more I watched the political dramas in my country, the more I began to find it detestable rather than entertaining.   That’s when I chose to stop writing about politics and look at humanity from literary perspectives. 

I don’t know whether my choice was an escapist act.  Even Narendra Modi’s acquittal by the Ahmedabad Metropolitan Magistrate would not have prompted me to write a political commentary now.  What has prompted this blog is a question raised by someone with a pseudonym.  He seems to have taken the trouble to follow my blog using Google+ only to raise the question, what do I think of AAP’s coming to power in Delhi?  Similar questions have been raised by a few pseudonymous persons in the recent past and I ignored them.  Perhaps it’s time to tell them that I am bored, utterly bored of Indian politics.

Look at Mr Modi’s latest blog with the heading Satyameva Jayate: Truth Alone Triumphs.  “The law of nature is that Truth alone triumphs – Satyameva Jayate. Our judiciary having spoken, I felt it important to share my inner thoughts and feelings with the nation at large.”  Thus begins the blog addressed to “My dear sisters and brothers.” 

Can I take that as a joke anymore?  I can’t.  I think Mr Modi is perpetrating the most violent assault on truth.  He goes on to say, “I was shaken to the core. ‘Grief’, ‘Sadness’, ‘Misery’, ‘Pain’, ‘Anguish’, ‘Agony’ – mere words could not capture the absolute emptiness one felt on witnessing such inhumanity.” [Emphasis in the original]

Mere words.  Their hollowness echoes beyond the Himalayas.  I find myself wishing that the echoes set an avalanche in motion. 

Arvind Kejriwal is setting up government in Delhi.  I voted for his party and am happy to see it taking charge.  But I’m not a na├»ve optimist.  I know the kind of rivals that AAP has to grapple with, particularly because the Party lacks majority. 

AAP made a mountain of promises in its election manifesto.  Will the party be allowed to deliver them? 

What will be Kejriwal’s strategy (astute as he is) in dealing with stark wickedness that masquerades itself beneath heart-rending sentiments?  Mr Modi’s latest blog is an indicator of the strategic change that he (though not necessarily his party) is experimenting with.  Will Kejriwal rise above such experiments and be able to implement the policies he visualised?

I hope Kejriwal will deal effectively and efficiently with such challenges which are far more formidable than those of poverty and corruption.  

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Bottom and Titania in a Multiplex

Bottom had walked into the multiplex for window-shopping.  The centralised air-conditioning in the multiplex was a joyful relief from the scorching heat in the city’s overcrowded open spaces.  Moreover, he could gratify his voyeuristic inclination by looking at the legs or cleavages of the pretty fairies that wafted coquettishly around with mobile phones clinging to their ears like earrings and chocobars slipping through their velveteen lips.

Though he imagined the girls as fairies Bottom didn’t really believe that fairies existed.  So when he was approached by Titania, the fairy queen herself, his surprise was quite palpable.  But, like most twenty-first century boys (and girls, of course), he knew how to tackle any odd situation in life and so he overcame his surprise sooner than any person from another period of human history would.
Titania had just woken up from a sleep.  But her mind was still under the influence of the overdose of the sex pill she had had earlier.  The first man she saw as she woke up was Bottom. Yes, she was sleeping in the multiplex.  Fairies can sleep anywhere. In the olden times they used to sleep in the cool shade of trees in some jungle.  When jungles started disappearing fairies faced the threat of extinction like the Indian tigers.  However, unlike the Indian tigers, the fairies discovered appropriate places for survival – the air-conditioned multiplex, for instance. So there she was, Titania, with all her attendant bevy of fairy maids.  She saw Bottom sitting absolutely relaxed on one of the chairs on the third floor of the multiplex, watching the girls on the ever-flowing escalators, with his legs stretched out as far as they would go.
“You look fabulously handsome, young man.  I’m bowled over.”
Bottom looked at the beautiful but odd and tiny creature standing before him, then at the other creatures who accompanied her, and again at the speaker. By the time his gaze travelled so much he had overcome his surprise. 
“Yeah, no wonder you’re bowled over.  I had a lot of girlfriends at school, you know. You are also welcome.  One more won’t make much difference.”
“You are as wise as you are handsome.”
“Well, you know, I think I’ve seen you somewhere earlier.”
He must have seen her in his fairy tale books which he used to read long ago.
“Ask me whatever you wish and my maids will attend to your wishes instantly.”
Quite strange, thought Bottom.  But like most boys (and girls, of course) of his time he knew how to rise to the occasion.  “Okay, I want my parents to stop peering into my room to check what I’m doing with my laptop.”
“Do you really want that, dear?” asked Titania, though she was under the spell of the sex pill.
“You said you could get me anything. Get me this and prove yourself.”
“But...” hesitated Titania. She was not as quick as the new generation lover of hers.
“Alright, darling.  I’m paralysing your parents.  They won’t ever walk anymore.”  Fairies belonged to an ancient period.  For them curse and blessing were all a once and for all thing.  They were not aware of multitasking or part-time jobs, for example. Eternity does not understand calendars.
“Where are you going so soon, darling? Sit with me, play with me, dance with me…” pleaded Titania under the influence of the sex pill and also the ignorance about human nature. 
“You think I’m nuts? Bye, see you, ta ta... I just want to make sure that they are indeed paralysed.”
The shock of base ingratitude was too much even for the hangover of the sex pills.  When the hangover took an unexpectedly earlier leave of her, Titania realised what a fool she had been making of herself.
“This is the problem of deforestation,” she mumbled to herself as she went in search of Oberon who might be flirting with some dunce with hair dyed in brilliant colours in another part of the multiplex.

[This is a spoof on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act III, Scene i. Titania is the fairy queen in the play and Oberon is the king.  Bottom is a working class member of Shakespeare’s contemporary London society.]

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Monkeys' Festival

He came, peeped in, and hesitated a moment.

Any better option?

No, not much choose from.  The winter has denuded the trees.

Soon the family festival started. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Yet another Christmas


Father Joseph was an eccentric priest, according to his parishioners.  His best friend was Thomas, an atheist.  People loved him, nevertheless, because he cared for them with the tenderness of a shepherd who knew every one of his sheep by name. 

Yet another Christmas came and the very active parishioners were in the church building the crib. 

“Is it because Jesus taught us to care more for the lost sheep that you love Thomas so much?”  Chandy asked Father Joseph while they were working on the crib.

“Whoever said that Doctor Thomas was lost?” wondered Father Joseph.  Thomas the atheist was a doctor who gave free treatment to patients who could not afford to pay consultation fees.  People used his services but hated him merely for being an atheist.

“He’s an atheist,” said Chandy.

“Why should atheists be counted as lost?” countered Father Joseph.  “Many of the atheists are far better human beings than orthodox Christians.”

“But you are a priest of the Church and it’s your duty to bring people back to the faith,” insisted Chandy.

Father Joseph looked into Chandy’s eyes with his usual charming but penetrating smile.  “What’s more important: faith or integrity?”

Chandy did not answer.  It was as tricky a question as the one put to the law-abiding Jews by Jesus: “Who among you won’t flout the Sabbath rule if your son falls into a pit?”  Rules are made for man and not vice-versa, Jesus argued.  It applies to religion as well, Father Joseph used to say.  If your religion does not help you to lead a good human life, discard the religion and find your own way.  That was his view.

“Peace is against the Word of God,” said the American televangelist James Robinson in many of his TV sermons.  Even a nuclear catastrophe is justified if it can rid the world of the evil forces, argued Robinson substantiating his view with a Biblical quote.  2 Peter 3:10 says, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up.”  Robinson argued that the catastrophe would destroy evil and that the true believers would be “raptured” before that. 

People like Robinson were gathering more followers.  Father Joseph was aware of a youth organisation formed in his parish by certain young men who wished radical changes in the society.  They wanted to eradicate drinking (Kerala was the largest consumer of alcohol among all the states in India), premarital sex, excessive use of the electronic gadgets, and so many other “evils”.   Father Joseph was aware of one such group framing charges against him too.  Soon they would present a memorandum to the Bishop to have him defrocked for his anti-Christian views and practices such as befriending atheists and being compassionate towards alcoholics and such people. 

“Is Christmas relevant today?”  Father Joseph was preparing his Christmas sermon.  What would Jesus do if he were to appear in today’s world?   Would he point a finger at the televangelists and their followers calling them hypocrites?

The crib was finally ready to receive the infant Jesus.  The stars were hung.  The decorations looked fascinating.  A lot of glitter and shimmer.  A clay figure of the infant Jesus would be placed in the centre of the crib in the midnight by Father Joseph during the Christmas Mass.  The faithful would sing hymns and recite prayers, and then go home and celebrate Christmas in their own ways, with good food and drinks or whatever.  Jesus would remain a clay statue in the crib, waiting for Judas to come with the custodians of the law.  

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Natural Lessons

Nature can look bizarre sometimes.

It may indeed be bizarre.

Death and life coexist at times.

Life longs to thrive,

not just survive.

Even in the hollow

of a tree trunk

life can be born

and may thrive too.

When there's no nature left
the wild bees may come in hordes
and besiege the concrete jungle
with its synthetic light. 

PS. All three photos were taken today, a very hazy day in Delhi. 

      I'm longing for sunshine.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The First Christmas

Painting by Pietro Perugino (1446-1524)

I had seen greed of all sorts.  My ancestors had told me about the various kings and conquerors who crossed the mountains and the seas out of greed for land and its riches, for power and wealth, or for sheer adventure. 

The usual varieties of princely greed failed to enchant me.  My parents were disappointed in me as I did not grow up as a prince was supposed to.  “Caspar will be no good,” I heard my father tell my mother once, “he gazes at the sky more than is good for a prince.”

My greed was for knowledge.  I wanted to know everything that lay beyond the horizon.  I wanted to know what the stars knew.  I became a star gazer.  It was thus that I noticed a unique star in the sky.  Was it a dream or an illusion?  I was not sure.  Sometimes I could not distinguish illusion from reality. The star invited me to leave the cosy comfort of the palace and explore the world beyond the horizon.  Thus it was that I started my long, long journey, across the Himalayas, through Persia and Arabia, through lands that smelled of dust and lust.

It was during that journey that I came across two wanderers similar to me: the Persian Melchior and the Arab Balthazar.  Melchior said that he had seen a star too which marked the birth of some special person.  Balthazar joined us later and we all moved on, braving the mountains and deserts, the heat and the cold. 

The world went on with its usual activities of finding food, conquering lands, vanquishing other people, mating and reproducing, killing and plundering, building and destroying.

Following the star, we reached Bethlehem.  The star invited us to enter a cave where we saw a newborn baby.  The moment we saw the baby, we felt a pang within.  Melchior and Balthazar shared their experiences with me later.  We all had an experience of tragedy.  Was it another illusion, another dream?

In my dream or illusion, I saw the child’s future.  He would grow up becoming increasingly discontented with humanity.  With humanity’s greed and envy, dissimulation and treachery, diseases of body and mind, ignorance, falsehood...  “I am the light,” he said meaning that each person had to be a light.  But people refused to understand him.  “I am the way,” he said and people chose to misunderstand again.  He sought to liberate them from the evils that oppressed their being.  They made him their Messiah.  Frustration was his destiny.

Melchior saw him covered with blood at a tender age in his youth.

Balthazar saw crosses in his life.

We looked at the sky.  The star had vanished.  But the regular constellations continued to occupy their positions in the galaxy.   The Hunter and the Great Bear were all there.  We longed for a special star.

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Monday, December 16, 2013


When the celebrations were over and people started blaming him for one flaw or the other, Anand was happy.

"Why are you so happy when people accuse you of things for which you were not responsible?" asked his friend.

"I was the supervisor, you see," said Anand.

"So what?  The blame should go to those who failed to do their job properly and not to the supervisor."

"See, when people blame you, it means that at least they are taking note of you.  Otherwise who would even know that I existed, let alone that I was the supervisor?"

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Boss before God

Boss died.

"Why are you sending me to Hell?" he demanded of God.  "Didn't I recite prayers everyday, morning, afternoon and evening?"

God said, "Yes, Boss, you recited all the prayers.  But you were only bothered about the pronunciations.  You were not bothered about me."

"But..." said Boss with his characteristic diplomacy, 'you are God.  You should not be so egoistic."

"God is the surrender of the Ego, Boss," said God.  "Since you are still trying to be the Boss, go to Hell and learn to be the servant.  When you learn to serve, you will also learn to recite the prayers with some pronunciation mistakes.  Then I will accept you in Heaven."  

Friday, December 13, 2013


In 2009, when the Supreme Court of India wished to legalise homosexuality there arose a controversy.  The following is adapted from what I wrote in my blog at that time. I agree with the editorial of The Hindu that the present decision of the Supreme Court to consider homosexuality a legal offence is “a retrograde decision.”
Bruce Bagemihl, a biologist from Seattle, WA, found that in zoos, at least 5% of Humboldt penguin pairs are gay. He prepared an encyclopaedic survey of homosexual or transgender behaviour among more than 190 species, including butterflies and other insects.  Homosexuality, according to that voluminous study, is not rare among animals.
When it comes to human beings, "Research suggests that the homosexual orientation is in place very early in the life cycle, possibly even before birth. It is found in about ten percent of the population, a figure which is surprisingly constant across cultures, irrespective of the different moral values and standards of a particular culture." (Statement on Homosexuality, American Psychological Association, July, 1994)
Most human sexuality researchers believe that one's sexual orientation is fixed and unchangeable.  Various methods were employed in the past to bring the “deviant” homosexuals back to the right path.  Lesbians had their breasts amputated.  The perfectly healthy uteri of some lesbians were removed.  Gays were given aversion therapy; e.g. they were shown pictures of naked men and simultaneously shocked with electricity. Other "treatments" included: brain surgery in the form of frontal lobotomies, castration, counselling and psychotherapy, drug therapy: e.g. animal-organ extracts, cocaine, oestrogen, testosterone, and positive therapy: e.g. men were asked to masturbate and then were shown pictures of women just before orgasm. The success rate of these therapies in actually changing clients' sexual orientation appears to have been between 0% and something less than 0.1%.
Studies also show that homosexual couples are as faithful to their partners as the heterosexual ones.
What I conclude is that there are some individuals, both men and women, who are different from the majority in their sexual orientation.  Research so far seems to prove that this difference is quite natural and cannot be altered.  Hence we’d better accept it as natural enough and let them live their life the way they seem it best. 
I think the mistake we commit is to judge things by the majority’s opinion.  The majority are heterosexual and hence they think that homosexuality is abnormal, unnatural and hence morally wrong.  Was the majority ever right?  My experience is that the majority is just mediocrity.  Why should mediocrity decide the fates of all the creatures on the earth?

If homosexuality poses a threat to mankind in general it should be seen as a threat and dealt with too as such.  But is it any threat?  There is no evidence of that.  The gays and lesbians live their life in as peaceful ways as other human beings do.  So why not let them live their life as they wish?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


An anecdote and an afterthought

Every Monday the staff had to stay back for an hour after office for the Weekly Assessment Meeting.  Boss would speak out his Scrutiny Report.  He blamed each member of the staff for one failure or another. 

“Sir,” one of the staff dared to ask one day, “don’t you ever find anything good in any of us?  We complete all the tasks in time, bring in huge profits, and the company is running well.”

“Whoever said the company is not running well?” thundered Boss.  “This is your problem.  You are a thoroughly negative person and hence you see everything negatively.”

The staff responded with a positive silence.  After Boss had taken charge, over a dozen staff had lost their jobs for crimes far less serious than questioning Boss.


A docile worker who does as ordered without question is the ideal worker in the corporate world.  Famous French intellectual, Foucault, said that.  The perfect fodder for the Capitalist factory is an automaton, not a human being.  Don’t think, just do your work.  Don’t ask questions.  The corporate firm is a Panopticon with detailed hierarchies, a complex chain of authority and training.  Each level of the hierarchy keeps watch over the lower ranks.  Every behaviour that is seen by the authority as deviant will be punished.  There is only one standard behaviour.  Boss decides the standard.  If you can’t accept that standard, you quit the firm.  Or else, you will be removed.  As simple as that.  

Monday, December 9, 2013

Astrology and Opinion

Copyright for the above: The Hindu

Just analyse the above statistics.

Statistics is like the bikini.  Conceals more than reveals.

Forget that old saying.

Naya Chanakya says: manipulate the bikini.  Make it look like promising the paradise.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Great Expectations

Material success and career advancement need not necessarily bring happiness.  Genuine happiness radiates from the core of one’s heart.  It implies that one should discover it at the core of one’s heart.  Possessions and achievements have little to do with real contentment.  They remain at the superficial level of existence.  They boost the ego.

Pip, Charles Dickens’ protagonist in the novel Great Expectations (1861), is an example of this great lesson in happiness.  Pip is born in a poor family in the English countryside and he soon loses his parents.  His sister, married to Joe, looks after Pip.  Joe becomes Pip’s foster father.  As a young boy Pip is sent to the house of Miss Havisham to carry out certain works and he is enchanted by the beauty of Estella whom he meets there.  Miss Havisham is an eccentric woman who has c called a halt on her life because the man whom she had loved ditcher her.  She continues to wear her bridal dress, has stopped all the clocks in the house, and is living a life-in-death.   She has adopted Estella with the explicit intention of wreaking revenge on men by making them fall in love with her and then ditching them: a reversal of what had happened to Miss Havisham.   And Pip will be the first victim.

Pip is stung by the contempt that Estella showers on him.  The beautiful girl without a heart (Miss Havisham had replaced her heart with ice, as the novel says) makes Pip acutely aware of his inferiority.  He is an illiterate, rustic boy.  He has to become a gentleman with a decent career if he is to win over Estella.  Great expectations are born in Pip’s small heart.

When Pip gets a scholarship to study in London, he thinks the generosity comes from Miss Havisham.  He adds another illusion to it by imagining that Miss Havisham intends him to marry Estella.  As Pip acquires education and the manners and mannerisms of a gentleman, he becomes a snob.  People like Joe and the poor people in the countryside are looked down upon by him. 

The further away we go from the core of our hearts, the greater the charm of the self-destructive ways of life.  The less we are in touch with our real ‘self’, the more we seek happiness in external sources.  Analyse any addict and you will see an individual discontented with him-/herself. 

Pip is discontented with the inferiority of his status.  He thinks becoming a gentleman is the remedy.  In the process he cuts off people who are or should be close to his heart.  He shuts out from his heart the refreshing showers of love and care.  Consequently he gets into evil ways and runs up debts. 

Ego is the realm of illusions.  Pip lives with his illusions until they are broken one by one with the return of Abel Magwitch to his life.  Magwitch is an escaped convict.  As a little boy, Pip had helped him with food.  Now, years later, Magwitch returns to Pip’s life with the shattering information that it was he, and not Miss Havisham, who had been Pip’s benefactor.  Magwitch was paying out his gratitude for the kindness which Pip had shown him years ago.  Pip realises that he had become a gentleman with the kindness of a convict.  It shatters some of his illusions. 

Pip begins an inward journey.  Circumstances conspire to make that journey as deep as possible.  He becomes penniless and falls ill.  He would soon be arrested for his debts.  But Joe comes all the way from the countryside to look after him during his illness and also to pay up all his debts. 

Pip realises that a great career or social advancement or wealth or fine dress does not make one a contented human being.  Contentment comes from the great depths of the heart.  Contentment lies in one’s ability to feel love and compassion, gratitude and generosity...  Contentment lies within, and not out there.

PS. The above is not a summary of Great Expectations.  Nor is it a critical analysis of the novel.  

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013



Prabhu’s Apartments was a three storey building on the outskirts of the city.  It housed a dozen families including Prabhu’s own.  The open area in front and on the sides was meant for parking the vehicles of the owners of the flats that Prabhu had constructed and sold.  Prabhu took a personal interest in the welfare of the inmates.  The interest was his passion. 

Prabhu was reading an article in the day’s newspaper on women’s empowerment when Raja, the caretaker, announced himself.

“There’s a lady who insists on parking her car in our front yard,” said Raja.  He had told the lady time and again that the space was private and meant exclusively for the flat owners.  But she came every week, parked her car in the yard, and walked majestically to the beauty parlour on the other side of the road, without caring two hoots for Raja’s request.

Fairness and justice was Prabhu’s predominant passion.  How can people do such a thing?  He asked himself.  How can people just walk into somebody’s property and park their car or whatever?

He waited for the lady to return.

“Respected madam,” said Prabhu with his characteristic politeness and authority which had been reinforced presently by the article on women’s empowerment that he had just read.  “The caretaker informs me that you’ve been parking your car here regularly in spite of his repeated entreaties against it.  May I remind you that this is purely private space and it is meant for the parking of the inmates’ vehicles?”

Madam looked at Prabhu with a sneer that pierced through his retired army man’s chest.  Her face glowed and glowered under the creams and colours slapped on at the beauty parlour.  The diamond ear rings shattered the sunlight in kaleidoscopic colours. 

“What’s the harm if I use your space for an hour?” she demanded.

“But the space belongs to...”

“... people who go out in the morning and come in the evening.  At this time it’s free,” Madam completed Prabhu’s sentence.

“That’s not fair,” said Prabhu.  “The people can come at any time.  It’s their right...”

The argument went on for a moment more.  Then Madam said, “Look here, mister.  If you argue any more, I’ll file a case against you for trying to molest me.  You don’t know who I am.”

She might have been a Panchayat Member, or the wife of some party worker, or the sister of a local goon. 

Prabhu was glad to have encountered an empowered woman as he walked back to his flat with the decision to erect a wall with a gate in front of Prabhu’s Apartments.

Acknowledgement: This story is based on a real incident narrated by a columnist in today’s Malayala Manorama [4 Dec 2013].

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Monday, December 2, 2013

Sin and Redemption

Religion can make one a devil.  Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter (1850), shows how.

Roger Chillingworth, a sombre scholar, marries a pretty woman, Hester, much younger in age.  During his long absence she develops an affair with Arthur Dimmesdale, a pastor.  When a child is born to Hester in the protracted absence of her husband, she is labelled an adulteress and punished.

All this happens in the 17th century Boston, then a Puritan colony.  The Puritans were a kind of religious fundamentalists.  They followed the letter of the law.  Love, mercy and other such tender feelings had no place in the Puritan worldview.  People should abide by the law at any cost.

Hester is punished to wear “the scarlet letter” on her bosom throughout her life.  The letter A, for Adulteress, is emblazoned on her chest, and she has to spend some time on the pillory everyday displaying herself for the edification of the public.  

Dimmesdale is struck with guilt feeling and remorse.  But he is a Puritan at heart, and a pastor to boot, and hence cannot transcend the straitjacket of the law.  He lacks the courage to own up his guilt in public and accept his human failing as well as his love for Hester. 

Chillingworth, Hester’s husband, who has returned wants to avenge the ignominy brought on him by his wife and her lover.  But he won’t kill them directly.  He knows that the scarlet letter is enough of a punishment for Hester.  His intention is to seek out the man who brought the ignominy on him and punish him with the typical Puritan cruelty.  It takes him a while to know that Dimmesdale is his enemy.  And Dimmesdale is already wasting away because of his sterile guilt and remorse.  The guilt and remorse have produced a stigma on Dimmesdale’s chest in the form of a scarlet letter.  If Hester is wearing an artificial scarlet letter on her dress, Dimmesdale is wearing a painful physical stigma on his chest. 

Dimmesdale goes through excruciating psychological and physical pain before he is able to make his confession in public.  The confession kills him. 

Hester goes on to become a character loved by the people as she turns to social service.  The scarlet letter ‘A’ slowly loses its stigma.

Chillingworth dies within a year of Dimmesdale’s death.  He does not have a purpose to live for anymore.  His only purpose had become taking revenge on the man who had assaulted his wife’s marital fidelity.  And he was firmly convinced that he was fulfilling a religious duty by pursuing his vindictive aspiration.  He does not understand the implication of his wife’s observation, “... the hatred ... has transformed a wise and just man to a fiend!” 

Stringent adherence to the law can transform a wise and just man into a devil.  That’s one of the themes of the novel.  Neither Chillingworth nor Dimmesdale –  both of whom are very religious – understands the lessons of compassion and forgiveness that Jesus, their God, had taught.  In fact, no religious fundamentalist understands the spirit of his/her religion.  Fundamentalism is more about following rules and regulations than understanding the values of the religion and internalising them.

The narrator of the novel tries to present a moral in the last pages.  “Be true!  Be true!  Be true!” says he.  “Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!”  Live with transparency.  Be true to yourself.  Dimmesdale achieved that toward the end.  But it was too late.  His religion had already become a terrible burden for him by the time he understood its spirit rather than its legal scaffoldings. 

Did Hester learn the lesson?  Given the society in which she lived and the upbringing she had, she could only think of herself as sinful and hence in need of redemption through penitence.  She continued to live as a penitent.

How would she live were she living in today’s society?  She would have accepted her error, learnt the lesson, and then gone on to live a life of dignity.  Falling is not the tragedy, refusing to get up and walk on is.

Error is natural to mankind.  Each error should teach us the lessons they contain and help us to cultivate sympathy and understanding of others, help us in our personal growth.  Religions often fail to teach this with their unhealthy focus on man’s sinfulness and suggesting rituals as the remedy.  Understanding is the secret of spiritual health, not rituals or prayers.

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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Kiss Me

Kiss me,
Kiss me with the poison on your lips
So that I’m energised
To survive in your world.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

To a God Unknown

“I’m not sinning.  If Burton were doing what I am, it would be sin.”  Joseph Wayne, the protagonist of John Steinbeck’s novel, To a God Unknown, utters those words.  He is referring to his act of venerating a particular tree as sacred.  He sees the spirit of his dead father in that tree.  His brother, Burton, is a puritanical Christian for whom even the act of sex is a sin if it is indulged in except for the purpose of procreation.  Burton thinks that Joseph is committing the serious, pagan sin of worshipping a tree.

Joseph tries to explain away his love for the tree as a mere “game.”  But his wife, Elizabeth, understands that it is much more than a game for him.  However, she won’t condemn him as a pagan.  She knows that her husband is a rare human being who has some peculiar qualities and proclivities.

Rama, her eldest sister-in-law, had already told Elizabeth that individuals like Joseph were “born outside humanity.”  Such people are so human as to make others seem unreal.  Joseph is compared to a godling with “strength beyond vision of shattering, he has the calm of mountains, and his emotion is as wild as fierce and sharp as the lightning and just as reasonless as far as I can see or know.... I tell you this man is not man, unless he is all men....”

Spiritual belief is the fulfilment of a psychological need.  And the need varies from individual to individual.  People like Burton want it all very formulaic and they follow the written codes and canons strictly.  People like Joseph cannot find satisfaction except in the truths they discover for themselves. 

Christianity fails to satisfy Joseph.  “To Hell with my soul!” he shouts at Father Angelo when the latter advises him that the soul should be his primary concern.  Joseph thinks that the earth and all creatures on it including the trees and plants are his primary concern.  He had approached the priest with a request to pray for rains.

Father Angelo knows Joseph well enough to understand that the man is not unlike Jesus in some ways.  But Joseph has no message to preach.  Nor does he have any desire to be remembered or to be believed in.  “Else there might be a new Christ here in the West,” says Father Angelo to himself. 

Joseph’s view is that each individual must discover his or her own God.  He encounters an old man on the hill who sacrifices an animal every evening.  He believes that he is controlling the sunrise and sunset with the help of these sacrifices.  But his reason tells him clearly that he cannot control the sun in any way.  Yet he needs the belief for his own happiness.  Later when Joseph sacrifices a cow in the hope that he could control the rain, he realises that neither can he control the rain nor can the sacrifice bring him any happiness.  “His (the old man’s) secret was for him... It won’t work for me,” he concludes.

Burton leaves Joseph unable to absorb the latter’s pagan ways.  But Burton has girdled Joseph’s sacred tree before he leaves.  The tree dies.  Joseph’s life becomes sterile.  All the more so, because a series of tragedies strike him.  His beloved wife dies in an accident.  The drought kills animals and plants on the ranch.  His eldest brother, Thomas, leaves the ranch with the remaining cows.  Joseph does not listen to his advice to join him.  Joseph thinks he is an integral part of the earth.  Its sorrows are his own.  He perceives mystically that he is the land and that he is the rain.  He decides to sacrifice himself for the sake of the earth.  He cuts his veins on the wrist.

The rainclouds gather in the sky.  “I am the land,” he said, “and I am the rain.  The grass will grow out of me in a little while.”

The people of the area dance in the rain.  Father Angelo gets ready with his crucifix to go to the people and prevent their pagan fiesta during which “They’ll be taking off their clothes... and they’ll roll in the mud.  They’ll be rutting like pigs in the mud.”  Soon he puts away the crucifix reasoning that he wouldn’t be able to see the people in the dark.  “I’ll preach against them on Sunday.  I’ll give everybody a little penance,” he decides.   The last sentence in the novel is given to Father Angelo who says, “That man (Joseph) must be very happy now.” 

To a God Unknown is a novel that is largely about religious beliefs.  It shows beliefs of various types.  It shows that for most people belief is a mere given thing which means nothing more than a few rituals and prayers.  They don’t mind going back to the ancient rituals when that’s more natural to them. 

For a very few individuals like Joseph, belief is beyond institutionalised religions and their canons.  They have their own personal understanding of reality.  Such understanding transcends the notions of the good and the bad.  It is non-judgmental.  It is more Christ-like than the Christ of Christianity, more god-like than the gods of most religions. 

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Tarun Tejpal

The only time I listened to Tarun Tejpal speaking in public was when he was the chief guest on the occasion of the Annual Day in my school five or six years ago.  I loved his speech.  He spoke on the importance of courage, courage to question what’s wrong.   It was an inspiring speech, a really motivating one.  It came from genuine convictions. 

Tejpal’s magazine, Tehelka, has always reflected that courage.  The magazine has been questioning a lot of wrong things in Indian politics.  Tejpal had the courage to attack formidable leaders like Narendra Modi.  He brought convincing arguments and evidences against people like Modi.  I have a fair share of admiration for this person called Tarun Tejpal.

The scandal that has erupted is being blown out of proportion, I think.  The media loves to report about the sexual fallibility of people who have some reputation.  It’s true that Tejpal slipped; he did make a mistake.  He admits it.  See his letter to the woman concerned:

I think the letter reveals Tejpal’s characteristic courage.  He acknowledges his error and asks for forgiveness.  I don’t know if what Tejpal has said in his letter is the entire truth regarding the matter.  If it is, I would like to see a happy ending to this affair.  Sex scandals are really boring affairs, all the more so when they are magnified.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Perversions amidst Oppression

Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye, is a challenging work.  It is a complex novel with multiple themes each of which is interwoven with all others creating an intricate texture.

The title reveals the dominant theme: dissatisfaction with one’s self and longing for something that can make the self appear better.  Pecola longs for the bluest eyes.  She is a Black girl in America.  It is not only the complexion of her skin that bothers her but also the ugliness of her appearance.   It is a perceived ugliness, to some extent.  Everybody in her family thinks that he or she is ugly.  Every one of them “wore their ugliness, put it on, so to speak, although it did not belong to them,” says the narrator.

One’s environment – social, cultural and also the family – shapes one’s character as well as perceptions to a great extent.  Living with a man like Mr Cholly Breedlove, Pecola’s father, the family cannot but see themselves as ugly.  People like Mr Breedlove perverts everything that they touch. 

The novel is also the story of many other Blacks in America who have been perverted by the racist society to some extent or the other.  Geraldine’s and Mrs Breedlove’s obsession with cleanliness is an example of such perversion.  This obsession is a mere mask for their dislike of their own people and their ways of being.

Elihue Micah Whitcomb, aka Soaphead Church, is one of the most perverted characters though he is not an African American.  He is a West Indian.  He has converted religion into a convenient business.  Using that new religion of his, he claims to help people “Overcome Spells, Bad Luck, and Evil Influences,” though he is a “misanthrope.”  He helps Pecola materialise her longing for “the bluest eyes.”  What he does is the climax of all the perversions in the novel.  [Ironically, in the novel, the more religious a person, the less loving he/she is.]

All the perversions we see in the novel are products of an oppressive society.  For the coloured people, survival in the White Man’s world is a tremendous challenge.  Some like Pecola are broken by the oppressiveness.   Perversions help others to go on.  A few like the narrator and her sister make it – by learning to be themselves and to love...

Reading this novel is a difficult experience because of its narrative style and structure.  The experience can be a rewarding one provided one has the patience and will power to plough through.

PS.  I wouldn’t have read this novel had it not for been a student who thrust his personal copy into my hand with the request: “Please read it and tell me what it’s about; I can’t make head or tail of it.” 

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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...