Thursday, January 31, 2013

What is Real?

An individual’s behaviour (“strategic conduct,” to be more precise, as phrased by Anthony Giddens, sociologist) is based largely on how s/he interprets his/her environment, or the reality around.  But what is reality?

How real is my laptop?  The ancient Greek philosopher (to start with our ancestral wisdom) Plato would say that the idea of the laptop is more real and this particular laptop. Ideas are more real for Plato than particular concrete things.

Modern science will tell me about the various components that make up my laptop which in turn are made up of atoms which consist of subatomic particles which are made up of more fundamental particles!  Which among all these is real?

This post is a sort of continuation of my previous one titled Truth is Beauty.  I think we cannot speak of truth unless we tackle the issue of reality.

People see reality differently.  Hence truth too varies according to people.  For most people the scientific world of atoms and subatomic particles will make little sense, although they may be making use of things invented or manufactured putting the scientific truths to practical use.  The whole science of electronics and information technology mean little to me and I understand little of it though I can make efficient and effective use of my laptop.  My laptop is real to me in a way significantly different from how it is to the mechanic who repairs it when it fails to function properly.  The laptop is almost a meaningless reality for an illiterate labourer in the granite quarries off my village.

I know I’m mixing up reality, truth and meaning.  They are, in fact, interrelated.  Cognitive scientists today argue that the human mind is embodied.  That is, human reason does not transcend the body.  Human reason is not as abstract as Plato would have us believe.  It is shaped “crucially by our physical nature and our bodily experience,” (Fritjof Capra). 

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, eminent cognitive linguists, argue that most of our thought is unconscious, and the argument is backed by scientific researches.  Most of our thinking operates at a level that is inaccessible to ordinary conscious awareness.  “This ‘cognitive unconscious’ includes not only our automatic cognitive operations, but also our tacit knowledge and beliefs,” (Capra).  Even without our awareness, this cognitive unconscious shapes our tacit knowledge and beliefs. 

That’s why reality appears differently to different people.  That’s why truth is not singular.  That’s why there are so many opinions on the same issue and occasionally violent conflicts too.

It is facile to insist that the reality shown by scientific equipments like the electron microscope is the real reality.  Real for whom?  Real for what purposes?

It is here the arts make their entry.  Literature, painting, music, etc express the non-scientific truth of certain reality in their own way.  When I assert the epistemological value of these handmaidens of human quest for the truth, I’m not devaluing science.  I’m merely stating that these too are as legitimate tools as science in the human pursuit of truth.  This is not condescension.  Nor is it schadenfreude.  And I’m aware enough of the limits and limitations of each of these as a method of inquiry into truth; hence not exultant about any of them.  

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Poor Politician

Manik Sarkar

The poorest chief minister in India is Manik Sarkar of Tripura.  His total assets amount to a meagre Rs250,000, according to the accounts submitted by him to the election commission.  He has been the chief minister of Tripura 3 times.   When he filed his papers to the election commission in 2008, his total assets amounted to Rs13,920.  The amount rose to lakhs (!) this year not because he fished in the troubled waters of politics but because he inherited his mother’s house whose value is placed at Rs220,000.   It is a tin-roofed house, the usual ones you’ll find anywhere in the state. Mr Sarkar does not own a car.  His bank balance is Rs9720.  He had Rs1080 in his pocket when he was filing the papers to the election commission. 

Mr Sarkar’s monthly salary as chief minister is Rs9200.  He donates the whole amount to the party since he is a genuine communist.  The party gives him a monthly allowance of Rs5000.  That’s communism. 

I’m not an advocate of poverty.  Temperance is different from poverty.

Imagine a situation like this.  Everybody on the earth is like Mr Sarkar.  Nobody is keen on amassing anything for him-/herself.  Everybody shares everything with others.  Can we have a different world?

Imagine an easier situation.  People choose to live with less things.  People decide not to have things which are really not essential.  Luxury is out.  Simple living, but sufficiently comfortable living.  Can we have a better world?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Truth is Beauty

“What is truth?” Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator, asked Jesus.  The Bible [John 18:38] does not quote Jesus’ answer.  We don’t know whether Jesus chose to remain silent or Pilate had no patience to listen.

Nineteen centuries later, the Russian novelist Mikhail Bulgakov extracted an answer from Jesus.  “The truth is,” tells Jesus to Pilate, “first of all, that your head aches, and aches so badly that you’re having faint-hearted thoughts of death.  You’re not only unable to speak to me, but it is even hard for you to look at me.  And I am now your unwilling torturer, which upsets me.  You can’t even think about anything and only dream that your dog should come, apparently the one being you are attached to.  But your suffering will soon be over, your headache will go away.” [The Master and Margarita, Penguin Classics, 2007, p.24]

Bulgakov’s Jesus goes on to advise Pilate that he would do well to go for a stroll, maybe in the gardens on the Mount of Olives.  “The trouble is,” says Jesus, “that you are too closed off and have definitely lost faith in people.  You must agree, one can’t place all one’s affection in a dog.  Your life is impoverished....” [p.25, emphasis added]

For Bulgakov’s Jesus, truth is an imaginative and compassionate understanding of reality.  It is not a philosophical or scientific understanding.  It is an understanding that leads to trust in people and compassion for them.

A century before Bulgakov, one of the British Romantic poets wrote: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, - that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” [John Keats (1795-1821), Ode on a Grecian Urn]
What Keats meant to say, according to many interpreters, is that the truth or the ultimate reality is not known by the reasoning mind but by imagination.  Such knowledge of the reality opens up a world of beauty to the perceiver.

It is a beauty perceived by one who understands the deeper meaning of reality.  The beauty that transcends appearances.  Beauty that lies beyond costumes and cosmetics.  Beyond opulence and copulation.  Beyond economics and technology...

Of course, beyond mere discipline and order.  Beyond spirituality and mortifications.

It is the beauty of a profound understanding of life.  The kind of understanding that Bulgakov’s Jesus reveals.  The kind of understanding that the great visionaries possessed.  An understanding of the essential interrelatedness of all beings.

An understanding that fosters trust in one’s fellow beings. Fosters compassion.

Edelman’s latest Trust Barometer survey shows that people are increasingly losing trust in other people, especially the politicians and the business people.  “...only 18% trusted business leaders, whilst government leaders scored a yet more miserable 13%,” says the report, as quoted by an article in the latest issue of the Economist. Technology is the most trusted industry, say the report, with 77% approval, 8% ahead of the car industry. 

Perhaps, we need to remind ourselves once again a la Bulgakov’s Jesus that one can’t place all one’s affection in a gadget or a car or even a dog. Perhaps, we can reclaim our potential to dig deep...

Note: Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940) completed the manuscript of The Master and Margarita in 1938.   But the novel was published only in 1966.  It is a merciless satire on the novelist’s contemporary Russia ruled by Stalin.  The devil and his henchmen are the major characters. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

My School

I love my school.

Though it is changing colours.

The green is changing.  Into cream.

And I know

it will change soon from cream to some other colour
the colour of the Hegemon

The process is under way

The gate looks like a prison


Are we keeping students out with all that black?

I wonder.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

My Wedding Anniversary

Courtesy: The Hindu

My wife and I are celebrating our 17th Wedding Anniversary today with sambar.  Sambar is a good dish when Chicken Manchurian is outlawed by the institution in which we are working.  We are law-abiders. 

I liked Rahul Gandhi’s speech at the Congress Chintan shibir or whatever it is called.  Poor fellow, I thought.  He has a vision.  He wants to take the power from the wicked old people who have amassed enough and hand it over to the youth who are struggling to make both ends meet. 

I wanted to thank my wife for tolerating me for 17 years.  She would have enjoyed a chicken dish.  I donned the senile turban of worn out traditions and said, “My love, thank you for bearing with me for 17 years.   Please bear with our institution for a few more years.  I’ll feed you karimeen (a fish that is likely to become extinct) to your heart’s content …”

Rahul Gandhi came in between.  With his tears.  His past.  I felt sad.  So much feeling, so many emotions.  How do you deal with life with all that burden of the past?

“Forget the past,” said Maggie (that’s my wife).  “Why not look at the future?”

Give the power to the powerless, said Rahul Gandhi.  And he had travelled much in India before he said that. 
I’m waiting for that promised power.

“Aren’t you the dictator here?” asks my wife.

“Ok, let’s have a sambar dinner, dear.  Who dictated chicken out?”

Mrs Sonia Gandhi cried on the shoulders of Rahul Gandhi. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Waiting for Godot

Courtesy: The Hindu

The literary world is celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the first performance of Samuel Beckett’s short play, Waiting for Godot.  It was first staged on 5 Jan 1953 in Paris.  Though it has no plot in the conventional sense, it went on to create history in literature.  It established a new convention in drama called the Theatre of the Absurd.  True, dramatists like Ionesco and Arthur Adamov had already written plays in that convention in 1950.  But Beckett catapulted the genre into limelight.

Estragon and Vladimir are the two major characters in the play.  They are beggarly creatures waiting in a desolate street for someone called Godot.  But they are not sure whether they really have this appointment, nor whether they are in the right place.  They don’t know why they are waiting for Godot.  In fact, they are not even sure of their own names. 

While waiting, they indulge in seemingly meaningless conversation.  They talk about the two thieves crucified along with Jesus, of leaves falling and the transitoriness of life.   They contemplate suicide and even attempt it but fail due to sheer incompetence.  Sometimes Estragon’s shoes fit him and sometimes they are too tight.

In each of the two Acts of the play, Estragon and Vladimir meet another pair, Pozzo and Lucky.  The fat and opulent Pozzo is the master of the thin and old Lucky, though Pozzo says that Lucky taught him everything.  Lucky speaks little and when he does at his master’s order it is meaningless, apparent burlesque on some scientific or philosophical argument.   Pozzo controls Lucky with a halter and whip.  In Act 2, when Pozzo has gone blind, Lucky is struck dumb.

Nothing really happens in the play.  The absence of the conventional elements of a play – the exposition, middle and end – is conspicuous.  There is no study of any character.  There is no analysis of life in any meaningful way.  The final situation is just the same as the opening one – waiting for Godot.  Both the Acts end with a boy announcing Godot’s inability to come, but there is also a promise that he would come the next day.

Beckett refused to give any meaning or interpretation to the play.  He even claimed that he didn’t know what it meant.  Literary critics have given various interpretations.  Most interpretations rely heavily on the Existentialist philosophy propounded mainly by Nobel laureate novelist, Jean Paul Sartre.

Nothing really happens in human life though we all go about doing a lot of things: marrying and begetting children, earning and spending, ensuring as great a future as possible for our offspring, grabbing and bequeathing, worshipping god(s) and even fighting for them… waiting for some glorious future!

“Godot is nothing but the name for the fact that life which goes on pointlessly misinterprets itself as ‘waiting,’ as ‘waiting for something,’” said literary critic, G√ľnther Anders.  The waiting is futile because life is essentially absurd, without meaning or purpose.

Except the meaning and purpose given to it by each one of us.  The Existentialist philosophy says that each one of us is responsible for what is happening to us.   True, life sets limits to our potential and it may even proffer a tragic dimension to our existence.  Yet there are possibilities and opportunities.

We have no choice about being thrust into the world, but how we live and what we become are the result of our choices.  If we don’t make the choice with intellectual honesty, we won’t be any different from Estragon and Vladimir.

Note: This blog is occasioned by an article [The hopeless human predicament] that appeared in the Sunday Magazine of today’s Hindu [20 Jan].

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Teacher is a parent away from the parents. 

Today’s Hindu editorial demands better teacher training institutions.  The editorial thinks that lack of qualification has led to deterioration in teaching.  I don’t agree.

The plain truth is that lack of remuneration has led to the deterioration.

Quality flocks to where the money is.  If money is the ultimate value in society. 

We are not living in the ancient days of the Gurukala when gurudom was the noblest position in the society.  Guru was god.  Guru possessed all the knowledge and hence the power.

Today knowledge is not power.  Money is power today. 

Does India want good teachers?  Pay them – that’s the answer.  Otherwise, change the system based on economy.

At any rate, who is a good teacher?

Let’s forget the economy and ask that question.

A good teacher is one who has a passion for learning.  One who has a passion for learning will keep learning his subject and that passion will automatically flow out to the students.  The students will absorb that passion in a process that is similar to what science calls osmosis.  Inquisitiveness for and acquisition of knowledge will then become the highest values. 

Most teachers I come across are people who lack such passion.  The reason is simple.  They find that with that passion they cannot look after their families.  Money is what runs families today. 

Alas, money is what runs religions, hospitals, and the teacher’s car which he/she bought in order to keep up with the Joneses.  The teacher cannot live in a personal ideal world.

If the teacher has to be a parent away from the real parents, he/she has to be sustained by the value system of the society, in short.  Why doesn’t even the Hindu understand that basic fact?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Proof of Heaven

Book Review

Author: Dr Eben Alexander
Published in India by Haechette in 2012
Pages: 194, Price: Rs 350

The subtitle of the book is A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife.  Dr Alexander, the author, is a neurosurgeon by profession.  Bacterial meningitis sent him into a coma for a week from Nov 10, 2008.  The bacteria had made the entire neocortex of his brain dysfunctional.  But Dr Alexander claims that his consciousness (or soul, if you prefer) travelled to a realm which he thinks is the ultimate reality, the divine milieu.

Dr Alexander’s experience reveals a reality or phenomenon which many mystics experienced in the past, irrespective of their religion.  It is a reality in which everything is interrelated and love is the binding link. No one / nothing is a separate entity with a distinct ego.  You have your identity, but you are at the same time deeply aware of your essential relationship with all the reality around.  You can feel the love and the relationship.  You can understand whatever is around you without any communication. 

Perfect understanding and love.  That’s the heaven to which Dr Alexander’s consciousness rose while his comatose body lay in the ICU of Lynchburg General Hospital.

Dr Alexander claims that he met God though he does not use that word.  He uses the word ‘Core.’  It is an experience rather than a personal entity.  But there was an angelic individual, a beautiful girl, who escorted him to that Core.

Without the use of or need for any medium of communication, Dr Alexander learnt that it is a world in which everyone is loved and cherished; no one has anything to fear; and that there is nothing you can do wrong.  There is only love and understanding in that world; there is no evil.  He also learns that evil is necessary on the earth “because without it free will was impossible, and without free will there could be no growth – no forward movement, no chance for us to become what God longed for us to be” (48). 

While I can accept Dr Alexander’s vision of heaven as a place of pure love and unmediated understanding, I find it impossible to accept his logic (or the revelation he received in heaven) about the necessary link between evil and free will.  Does this imply that there is no free will in heaven?  Moreover, why should free will necessarily imply evil?

Dr Alexander analyses his experience using the various hypotheses and models available to medical science only to find that there is no scientific explanation for his experience.  But a mere absence of a scientific explanation does not validate a supernatural explanation.  The doctor, however, argues that his experience was indeed real and divine, and scientific too.  Scientific, because Heisenberg and many other scientists showed that our consciousness is an integral part of the reality around us, and Dr Alexander’s experience just validated that theory.  “What I discovered out beyond is the indescribable immensity and complexity of the universe, and that consciousness is the basis of all that exists” (155, emphasis in the original).

I’m not questioning the meaning or relevance of Dr Alexander’s vision.  I can accept the mystical perception into the nature of the ultimate reality.  If all the people on the earth could actually raise their consciousness to that level of perception, the earth would be a paradise and we wouldn’t need to crave for a heaven elsewhere.  Dr Alexander’s vision is valid.  The method by which he arrived at it is not what really matters.  Here I’d go with Bernard Shaw who said in his preface to Saint Joan, “The test of sanity is not the normality of the method but the reasonableness of the discovery.”  Shaw went on to say that if Isaac Newton had seen the ghost of Pythagoras walk into the orchard and explain why the apples were falling, the theory of gravitation would not be invalidated.  Similarly, Dr Alexander’s vision of the deeper meaning of reality and the need for making our consciousness more profound in order to understand it is valid.

It is his claims about God and spirits that I find it difficult to accept.  God is not necessary to explain the doctor’s experience, according to me.  The doc himself says, “The brain is the most sophisticated – and temperamental – organ we possess.  Tinker around with it, lessen the degree of oxygen it gets by a few torr (a unit of pressure), and the owner of that brain is going to experience an alteration in their reality.  Or more precisely, their personal experience of reality” (138).  With a brain whose entire neocortex had become dysfunctional, Dr Alexander too experienced the reality in a different way.  Maybe, like the mystics did.
I enjoyed reading the book in spite of the images of the omniscient, omnipotent, all-loving Christian God that dominates the heaven of the doctor although the sound he hears in association with that God is Om!  I enjoyed it because I have always felt somewhere deep within me that the mystical visions about the essential interrelation among beings are true.  I too believe that the basic evil is in separating ourselves into our little egos instead of trying to understand the relatedness. 

I don’t accept Dr Alexander’s God, the angels and spirits.  But I accept the profundity, the mysticism of his vision.

I also found the doctor’s biography interesting.  He was born to a 16-year old girl who left him in a children’s home.  He was adopted (“chosen”) and very much loved by the family in which grew up with step-siblings.  His quest for his biological parents and biological siblings, the acute pain he experienced when his mother refused to contact him, the resulting alcoholism, and the final triumph – I enjoyed reading every bit of it.  Dr Alexander comes across as a very loving and equally sensitive person.  It is quite understandable that he had a mystical vision.

The fact that he was speaking about flying and skydiving when he recovered from his coma also may indicate that his consciousness was indeed flying somewhere in the clouds while his body lay helplessly inert.  Flying and skydiving were the hobbies of his youth.

The book keeps a suspense too about the angelic girl who escorted him in his heaven.  I shall not mention the suspense here.  May you enjoy reading it if you wish to.  If you are a staunch unbeliever, the doctor says himself, you won’t enjoy the book, perhaps. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Surrender to Traders

Courtesy: Internet

Government employees belonging to the Leftist unions in Kerala have been on strike for the last 5 days.  They are opposing the contributory pension scheme that the state govt has implemented for staff  from April this year.

What the govt of Kerala is telling the employees is that they should contribute 10% of their basic salary and DA (dearness allowance) to the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority.  The govt will make an equal contribution.  When they retire they be eligible to withdraw 60% of the amount in the Fund and will receive a monthly pension from the remaining amount.

Most of the states in India and the central govt offices have already implemented this scheme.

The govt of Kerala has certain valid arguments for implementing the scheme.  The govt says that 80.61% of state’s revenue goes towards payment of salaries and pensions for govt employees. A meagre 19.39% is left for looking after the welfare of the 3.25 crore people of Kerala.  This is not a balanced distribution of the revenue.

The employees argue that the Pension Fund is investing the money in the share market, mutual funds and bonds issued by banks.  The share market does not and cannot guarantee any fixed returns.  Will there be any worthwhile amount given as pension when the employees retire?  Gauging by the returns currently yielded by the equity-based schemes, there won’t be.

The employees’ anxiety is genuine.  The govt’s arguments are valid too.

One wonders whether we cannot have any better investment schemes than the unreliable stock market.  Why should the governments capitulate to the stock market and the traders?

Recently the Nobel laureate-economist, Joseph Stiglitz, showed that the top 1% of Americans possess 25% of the country’s income and one-third of its wealth. 90% of the gains of growth go the top 1%. The plight of most Americans worsened in the last several years.  Who are these 1% people? They are the ‘monopolists’, people in the finance sector, and those who earn corporate revenues. 

There is growing unemployment, inequality and frustration in America, thanks to its economic policies.  Why should we too follow those policies?  Don’t we have other options?

Professor Robert Wade, who shared the platform with Stiglitz, accused America of promoting plutonomy.  Plutonomy means economic growth that is powered and consumed by the wealthiest upper class of the society.  In such a system, the government is quite powerless.  Power shifts from government to the business people.

Professor Ravi Kanbur, another speaker, cited examples of countries which did not follow the American policies to show that there was much less inequality in those countries.

I wonder why our government cannot redeem our economy from the traders.

Our Prime Minister has promised us a bleaker future.  He has assured us that the prices of many things including diesel will rise soon.  Subsidies will be gradually removed. 

It is the end of the welfare government in our country, in short.

Private employers will be free to cut wages and allowances as they are doing already.

Who will benefit?  We know that. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Waste Land

This is a silly post though I dare to call it a poem.  Read it at your own risk.

“In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.”

T S Eliots’ Prufrock had at least the consolation of women coming and going talking of Michelangelo.
I’m back to regular routine tomorrow.  And women will come and go talking of duties, workshops and seminars.  They call themselves experts.  They will dictate the terms and conditions.  They have the backing of a religious sect.

And I will sing along with T S Eliot:

Weialala leia
Wallala leialala

The winter break is over.  The real break is going to begin. Religious break?

Or feminine break?

I’m looking forward to Madame Sosostris with her Tarot cards.  She will determine the future.

The future of her staff.  She has started by terminating the services of the redundant. 

Who is not redundant in this world?
Is the expert essential?
Is the Swami ji essential?
Is the Manager essential?

In this “Unreal City, Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,”
the crowd is thinning down the sullied Yamuna’s banks.

Old Delhi.
Too old.  Dying. 

Dying in Khooni Darwaazas.

Died long ago at India Gate and Raj Path.  Only Jan Paths may remain open.

At Jantar Mantar.

Sighs, short and becoming infrequent, are still exhaled.

Sita lila. In Ram lila grounds.

Satis coming as sirens.  As queens. And then?

Back to square one.
Back to duty. to life and its routine obligations.

To patriarchy?
Or promised matriarchy?  Where paternity will be an opinion
and maternity will be the only fact of identity?


Life is.

I am not at all a masculinist.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Antichrist and other philosophies

“The Antichrist can be born from piety itself, from excessive love of God or of the truth…”

That’s one of the concluding lines in Umberto Eco’s fabulous novel, The Name of the Rose.

I’m celebrating the 30th anniversary of the publication of the English translation of the novel.  The original Italian version was published in 1980.

The novel is set in a Christian monastery in Italy in the early 14th century.  The plot unfolds in seven days in the year 1327 though the background will span many years earlier. Those were the years in which many people were burnt as heretics and witches by the Catholic Church, the most powerful religion of those days.

Eco’s novel illustrates in its own subtle way how a very innocent woman was burnt as a witch simply because she had to sell her body to two monks in the monastery in return for the food she could take home for people at home.  The monks in question are tortured as heretics, and they are not innocent anyway.  The inquisitor who orders all these punishments is not the embodiment of truth either in the conception of the novelist.

What is truth?

That’s one of the many questions raised in the novel.

Is God the truth?  God cannot be known except in one’s individual wisdom  – that’s the answer Eco gives.  Individual wisdom will not be accepted by others as the truth.  There wouldn’t be so much villainy practiced in the name of God(s) if individual wisdom were to be accepted as truth.  If there was only a single truth Eco’s protagonist would be teaching theology in Paris instead of seeking the truth in Italy!

Eco seems to imply that the real truth (which we may call God) remains beyond objective knowledge; that is, beyond science.  That truth can only be know individually.  It is a truth that remains beyond “the God of glory of whom the abbots of my order spoke to me, or of joy, as the Minorites (a heretic Christian sect) believed in those days...”  It is a God that remains even beyond piety.  We, human beings, can only see God’s shadow, the shadow of the truth.  “I shall sink into the divine shadow,” says Eco’s protagonist, “in a dumb silence and an ineffable union, and in this sinking all equality and all inequality shall be lost, and in that abyss my spirit will lose itself, and will not know the equal or the unequal, or anything else: and all differences will be forgotten.  I shall be in the simple foundation, in the silent desert where diversity is never seen, in the privacy where no one finds himself in his proper place.  I shall fall into the silent and uninhabited divinity where there is no work and no image.”

Eco’s novel which sold millions of copies in the 1980 was as mystical as that.

That’s why I’m celebrating it now.

How far away have we come from the 1980s?  To the best sellers of today?
And why?

No, I’m not going to give answers. 

There are no answers except the ones we have already in our hearts.  Buried deep there.  Buried beneath the superficiality and superfluousness that is celebrated today in the name of liberalisation and economic security.
“The only truths that are useful are instruments to be thrown away,” says one of the last pages of Eco’s novel. 

Can science be the truth? 

“... there is no order in the universe,” Eco would answer.

Whatever order is given to us is given by our science.  We created that order.  And that order will keep changing.

The villain of Eco’s novel is a monk who wants to keep knowledge stashed away in a labyrinthine library to which access is denied even to the monks of the monastery.  There is only one knowledge that matters, according to that villainous monk, and that is knowledge of God as given in the religious scriptures.  All other books are redundant.
It is this absolutism that Eco questions eloquently and powerfully in his novel. 

This is the absolutism that has created a number of religious terrorists in the late 20th century and in our own time.  This is also the kind of absolutism that has set up many a vulgar idol in the economic niches in capitalist cathedrals all over the world today including our own country. 

“A dream is a scripture, and many scriptures are nothing but dreams,” says Eco’s novel.  Dreams have their value. 

Dare to dream.  Dare to live your dream.  Even if your dream questions the absolute truths.

There is no truth except the one you have internalised. 

There is no god except the one you have understood in the deepest core of your heart.

Give the same freedom to others.  Freedom to discover their own god, their own truth. 

Don’t be an antichrist who inflicts others with his/her truths.

For more wisdom in the same vein, please read Eco’s novel.  Or simply sit and meditate.  

Monday, January 7, 2013


Delhi is too cold for me.

I like it hot.

So I decided to take some sunshine though the sun was too cold for me this morning just as it has been for quite some time.

But some interesting photos I got as I stood on my balcony reading a novel...;

Monkeys come and go. As usual.

But one monkey gets the other to bow down.  To stoop low.  Too low.  That's Delhi.  That's administration. That's human life.  That's life...

Then the deal is settled.

Once the deal is settled, we look the other way.  For the next prey!?

And life goes on
in Delhi
or anywhere in the world of men/women

PS: Believe me, each shot above was taken in the same sequence as given here.  Only the text was invented.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Simple People without a Leader

The English translation of Umberto Eco’s novel, The Name of the Rose, was originally published 30 years ago.  It’s the only novel of Eco that sold millions of copies.  I started re-reading it during this brief winter break in order to re-live the thrills I had gone through reading it about a quarter of a century back.

While I’m about half way through the brilliant novel set in a Benedictine monastery in medieval Italy, I would like to share a thought from it on why certain new teachings, especially religious ones, gain popularity among the masses.

In the medieval Europe, any new religious teaching [what other teaching was there in those days?] would be viewed as heresy, a challenge to the authority of the Pope.  Eco’s protagonist argues that the majority of those who flock after the new teachers are the “simple” people (who lack “subtlety of doctrine”) who are also marginalised by the dominant classes. 

The marginalised people are powerless in any society.  What they really want is power, power to earn their livelihood, power to live with dignity, and power to control their own lives.  When a new teacher, a reformer, “passes through their village or stops in their square” they cling to the man hoping that his teaching is going to subvert the existing power structure which is inimical to their interests.  The people [aam aadmi] hope that the new teacher, the reformer, will help them move from the margins toward the centre of the power structure.

As more and more people join the new teacher, his teaching acquires greater force and thus becomes a threat to the existing power structure.  Hence the new teacher is labelled a heretic and burnt at the stake.
“Actually, first comes the condition of being simple, then the heresy,” says Eco’s protagonist.  The simple people create the heretic.  In other words, if the simple people were not so simple, they would not follow a teacher so easily.  “The simple cannot choose their personal heresy,” in Eco’s words.  They lack the intellectual sophistication required for that.  Hence they follow the reformer.

This is how Maoism, for instance, becomes a lucrative ideology today for the marginalised people.  Maoism promises them some power with which they can move from the margins of the outcast existence nearer to the centre of the power structure.

This is how anti-corruption movements gain momentum on the spur of a moment.

This is also the reason why new and newer religious teachers find more and more followers. 

Some such teachers may indeed help people move from the margins nearer to the centre.  Eco’s protagonist cites the example Saint Francis who wanted to bring dignity to the impoverished people by giving them the dignity of the “children of God.”  We may recall how Mahatma Gandhi did something quite similar with the people whom he called “Harijan.”

Eco goes on to show that Francis did not succeed in his attempt, however, because “he had to act within the church, to act within the church he had to obtain the recognition of his rule, from which an order would emerge, and this order, as it emerged, would recompose the image of a circle, at whose margin the outcasts remain.”  In other words, the church would ensure that Francis’s people would continue to be outcasts or marginalised!

Otherwise, Francis would have to act outside the influence of the church’s hierarchy.  He would have to create a new power structure, as the Maoists are trying to do today in certain parts of India.

The Reformer must have a profound vision.  Otherwise he/she would be counter-productive.  Eco argues (as part of his fiction, of course) that the marginalised people “tend to drag everything down in their ruin.  And they become all the more evil, the more you cast them out.”

A reformer without a profound vision will only end up making the marginalised people even more marginalised.  By making them worse enemies of the various forces in the hierarchy.  Their greater depravity will create worse evils in society.

One of Eco’s characters (his narrator, in fact) gives the example of lepers.  Lepers were the most wretched outcasts in those days.  When the young and beautiful Isolda was condemned by the King to be burnt at the stake, the lepers made a plea.  The stake was a mild punishment, they argued, for someone who “at your (the King’s) side enjoyed rich stuffs lined with squirrel fur and jewels.”  “... when she sees the courtyard of the lepers, when she has to enter our hovels and lie with us, then she will truly recognize her sin and regret this fine pyre of brambles.”

What the lepers really wanted was not to give Isolda a just retribution or to teach her penitence for her sins; what they really wanted was to bring her exotic and unattainable beauty beneath their power.
Every act of rebellion is a banner for power raised by an outcast – actual or self-perceived.  I hope Eco wouldn’t frown at that conclusion of mine. 

The power need not be political, however. It may be simply the power to live one’s life with a feeling of security and dignity.  The kind of protests that Delhi’s public grounds witnessed in the recent past were banners raised for such power.  If there was one real leader in India, the maidans of Delhi would have throbbed with alleluias chanted for him/her.  What a pity – our alleluias are destined to remain unsung!  We are a nation of mere sloganeers.

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...