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Showing posts from November, 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 un

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: http:

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

Jack and Jill

Fiction The 6 year-old Jack and 4 year-old Jill had a small, little fight.  Jack felt guilty.  “I’m sorry,” he said hugging his sister very affectionately. During the unexpected hug Jill’s hand touched Jack’s little penis.  “What’s this thing you’ve got here?”  she asked groping Jack’s groin.  “That’s the pipe for carrying urine,” said Jack. “But I don’t have such a pipe,” protested Jill. “You’re a girly, silly.” “So what?” “Stop being stupid.” Jill went to the kitchen where mum was cooking dinner.  “Why don’t I have a pipe for carrying urine?” she asked. “You’re not a boy,” said mum. “So what?” asked Jill. “Only boys have the pipe...” “Why should boys have all the fun?” asked Jill. Mum  looked into the living room.  Pop was sitting there, his legs stretched out on the tea poi and reading Vikram Seth’s Two Lives .  Mum and Pop, both, worked in offices.  Both had to get up early in the morning.  Both had to work their asses out in

Beasts within Us

“Civilization is skin-thin: scratch it and savagery bleeds out.”  [Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Civilizations ] Nobel laureate William Golding’s first novel, Lord of the Flies (1954), tells the story of a group of school boys plane-wrecked on an uninhabited island.  The leadership of the democratic and sensitive Ralph is soon usurped by the savage Jack, and childhood innocence soon gives way to uncanny cruelty on the island.  The novel is the story of evil in the human being and his society. Seeing that there are no adults to restrain them, the children are initially excited.  But Ralph emerges as a leader reminding them of their responsibility to find ways of returning home.  Ralph is a moral character in the novel.  His is a cultivated morality, the product of human civilisation.  Jack, on the other hand, is the uncultivated savage.  He soon wrenches the leadership from Ralph and becomes a dictator who imposes both his will and his savagery on the group.  Most of the ch


Evil is coeval with mankind.  Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400) said repeatedly in his widely studied Canterbury Tales , “ Love of money is the root of all evil .”  How much can we alter that statement today, six centuries later? When Christopher Marlowe (1564-93) made his unforgettable Doctor Faustus utter the following lines:             Had I as many souls as there be stars,             I’d give them all for Mephistophilis, he created a character who would be perfectly at home in our own time with all its plethora of sensual delights .    Now, how evil are sensual delights? “ Fair is foul, and foul is fair ,” said Shakespeare’s (1564-1616) witches in Macbeth .  They were expressing something much more than an epigram on hypocrisy or political chicanery.  If we want, we can even apply the epigram to many of the contemporary sensual delights. We can apply that witchy epigram, moreover, to a lot of things today.  The law today, for example, protects the foul.

Children - no more childlike?

The above is a real picture of the condition of school education in India.  A front page report in the Delhi edition of The Hindu (13 Nov 2013) carries the photo from a teacher training institute in Dharwad.  The institute (DIET) which trains primary school teachers has only one student, and 6 teachers.  The previous batch had just two students. The Times of India carries another report on the same day: ' Need Parenting Help? Call a Coach .'  More and more parents are turning to experts for advice on how to deal with their children! Why have children become such a problem that parents need expert advice and teachers seem to be terrified of them - so terrified that teacher training institutes are running the danger of shutting down?


Historical Fiction Nangeli was beautiful beyond comparison.  She flowed in the veins of lustful men’s dreams like an intoxication.  Even her marriage to Kandappan did not diminish the number of her admirers. “You are the pride of the Ezhavas,” Kandappan murmured in Nangeli’s ears as he lay fondling the shapely curves of her youthful body.    Kandappan and Nangeli belonged to low caste of Ezhavas.  They were untouchables.  But even the most aristocratic Namboothiri longed to fondle Nangeli’s teasing breasts.  The people of Nangeli’s caste were supposed to stand at a distance of 36 paces from the higher caste people.  But  even the men of His Majesty Sri Moolam Thirunal, King of Travancore, slept with Nangeli in the darkness of their dreams. When Nangeli walked, the wild roses on the wayside blossomed and emitted the fragrance of musk. “Kandappa, Kandappa,” called Neelan through his gasps.  Kandappan stopped ploughing the field and asked Neelan what the matter was


 Fiction Sister Angela decided to leave her religious calling and life in the convent. “What makes you feel that you have no vocation?” asked her Mother Superior for the umpteenth time.  ‘Vocation’ in the Catholic parlance meant ‘God’s call to be a nun or a priest.’ Angela understood that she would not be granted dispensation from her religious vows unless she gave her reason for stepping out of the religious habit.  She wanted love, she said candidly.  Not the kind of abstract, spiritual love that Jesus and Mary and the hundreds of saints offered her copiously.  She wanted real, human love.  Mother Superior was shocked.  How could a woman who had been donning the religious habit for about a decade desire such a demeaning thing as human love with all its vulgar passions and filthy acts and filthier body fluids? It was now Angela’s turn to be shocked.  She had not meant sex when she said love.  Why did the Mother’s thoughts go in that direction?  Angela wondered.


"I will take you to the court," said the student who was asked to leave the classroom for being "a nuisance". The teacher bent down and touched the feet of the student. "Please, do.  If it can make you a human being."


  Fiction “Bombs are the strategies employed by people who reach their level of incompetence,” said Shyamsunder to his son, Manvender. “Why did people explode bombs near where Modi was speaking?” The 14 year-old Manvender had asked. “... and incompetence is reciprocal,” Shyamsunder went on.  “Modi had exploded some bombs about a decade ago.  They are now coming back to him.” Shyamsunder was running a coaching institute for IIT aspirants (“and also for ordinary students,” he would add with a sly smile) in Patna.  He had a been a computer programmer for a while in a private firm in Delhi.  He had to leave when the director of the firm, Mr Ram Kumar, had risen to his level of incompetence.  According to the Peter Principle, the corporate sector gives promotions to the staff until they reach a position whose demands turn out to be beyond their competence.  Incompetence gives birth to manipulations. “Management is not possible without some manipulation,” Mr Ram Kum


Short Fiction   Sculptor was frustrated.   He had a theory that every rock contained within it the statue which the artist has only to discover.  Sculpture is the art of dis-covering.  But the rock on which he was working refused to reveal the statue it contained.  Sculptor looked at his semi-finished statue from left and right, front and back, from all angles possible.  No, this isn’t what I had seen in the rock.  Yes, a sudden realisation dawned on him.  I’ve been making a mistake.  I had seen a particular statue in the rock while the rock contained a quite different one.   He took his hammer and chisel again.  In the place of Sita which he had been trying to carve, now emerged Ravana.  With one face containing all the ten faces.