Saturday, September 28, 2013

Saints and other Absurdities



The Saint is a short story written by Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  In that story, a man named Margarito Duarte always carries around with him a small coffin with a dead body that never decomposes.  It is the body of his daughter who died at the age of seven because of a fever.  He had to disinter the body because a dam that was going to be constructed required the acquisition of the parish cemetery.  All the parishioners disinterred the tombs of their beloved so that the bones could be buried in a new cemetery.  Margarito found the bones of his wife who had died giving birth to their daughter.  But when he opened the tomb of his daughter he was in for a shock.  his daughter’s body had remained intact eleven years after the burial.  His daughter looked alive with her eyes open and sparkling.  Margarito, who had not studied beyond the primary school, believed what the villagers said: “the incorruptibility of the body was an unequivocal sign of sainthood.”  Even the local bishop agreed.

Margarito takes the coffin to Rome.  He makes a supplication to the Pope to declare his daughter a saint.  He waits for an answer from the Vatican.  The Vatican is no less than God especially in answering supplications, especially those concerning sainthood.   Popes come and go.  In fact, Margarito waits 22 years and four Popes from Pius XII onward come and go.  Margarito still waits.  After 22 years of waiting, Margarito says, “I’ve waited so long it can’t be much longer now.”  And Marquez concludes the story with the words, “he (Margarito) had spent twenty-two years fighting for the legitimate cause of his own canonization.”

Margarito is the real saint, according to Marquez.  He is a saint because of his single-minded devotion to perceived sanctity as well as his faith and hope.  What else is religion?  What else is saintliness?

These were the thoughts that ran through my mind as I read about many godmen in the last few weeks.  Some of the best articles about contemporary godmen and other vampires can be found in the recent issue of the Frontline.  One can always visit godmen’s ashrams and find out more ‘truths’ personally.

What makes Marquez think of Margarito as a saint?

I think of Sisyphus as a saint.  Sisyphus is a Greek mythological character.  He spent his entire life pushing a rock uphill in order to challenge the gods who had punished him with that task of pushing the rock.  He knew that he would never succeed.  The gods would always push the rock downhill just as he reached the summit of the hill.  Yet Sisyphus climbed down the hill without despair and the spirit of daring in order to pick up his rock once again.  That daring with its single-minded devotion as well as the faith in himself (minus any hope, though) makes Sisyphus a saint for me.  Conventional religions will have problems with Sisyphus’ faith in himself rather than the gods as well as his lack of hope. 

Let us take an example from a very conventional religion, Catholicism.  Simeon Stylite (390-459).  He is canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church.  What did he do in his life?  He lived on top of a pillar whose height he kept on increasing as years went by.  Single-minded devotion to God.  He hated women.  He hated even men!  This is what the famous historian, Edward Gibbon writes about the saint:

In this last and lofty station, the Syrian Anachoret resisted the heat of thirty summers, and the cold of as many winters. Habit and exercise instructed him to maintain his dangerous situation without fear or giddiness, and successively to assume the different postures of devotion. He sometimes prayed in an erect attitude, with his outstretched arms in the figure of a cross, but his most familiar practice was that of bending his meager skeleton from the forehead to the feet; and a curious spectator, after numbering twelve hundred and forty-four repetitions, at length desisted from the endless account. The progress of an ulcer in his thigh might shorten, but it could not disturb, this celestial life; and the patient Hermit expired, without descending from his column.

What do the sages hope to achieve in their solitary hermitages in the Himalayas?  Single-minded devotion.

Single-minded devotion is saintliness.  That is just what Marquez was trying to convey through the story. 

But devotion to what?  Not to sex or wealth or political/manipulative power. 

Devotion to some absurdity.

Life is absurd, asserted the philosophers of the Absurd like Albert Camus.  Can you fight it with single-minded devotion like Sisyphus?


PS.  I’ll be totally away from blogging for a week as I’m an acolyte of single-minded devotion.  I’ll be away on a certain duty which will hopefully refresh me as much as the rock refreshed Sisyphus.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Seventh Pay Commission




Keep paying taxes
The Seventh Pay Commission has been set up.  How many Indians will benefit?  About 50 lakh central government employees and 30 lakh pensioners.  That is, 80 lakh or 0.80 crore people of a country whose population is 123 crore. 

Not even one percent of Indians will benefit by the Pay Commission for which all Indians who buy soaps and tooth pastes will pay the taxes. 

Who wants the Pay Commission? 

Except those who will vote for the government that will set up the Commission and pay it an enormous amount which is paid from the money got from you and me in the form of taxes of various types?

Except  those who will use the Pay Commission as the Archimedean lever to raise their own salaries and thus get rid of those who have no voice?

What does the Pay Commission mean to the 123 crore Indians (minus the 0.8 crore)?

Inflation and price rise.

And more work!

Let us get ready to pee according to orders J                                          








Prophet of Love


Top post on IndiBlogger.in, the community for Indian Bloggers


Book Review

Book                : Prophet of Love
Author             : Farrukh Dhondy
Publisher         : Harper Collins India, 2013
Pages               : 314
Price                : Rs 299

Religion is an interesting subject of study and it can be studied from many different perspectives such as psychology, sociology, spirituality and literature.   For the vast majority of people none of these perspectives matters apparently.  For the vast majority, religion is an illusion or a placebo that provides the much needed solace during times of turbulence and anguish.  There is a minority who seek and discover genuine spiritual meaning with the help of religion.  There is another group of people who make religion the source of their livelihood.

Farrukh Dhondy’s novel is about the last group primarily.  Mr Bhavnani and Ms Shanti are the typical commercial agents of religion.  They know how to sell religion.  They make wealth out of it, and nothing less than fabulous wealth.  The protagonist of the novel is Bhagwan Saket and he is not trying to make wealth.  He is superficial both emotionally and intellectually.  He has read much and was even a teacher of philosophy for some time in a college.  But his knowledge remains untouched by the profundity that only life’s experiences can provide.  He has no experience of love; he had been separated from his mother as an infant.  He lived in a monastery in the Himalayas till the age of 7.  Later he obtained education with the help of scholarships.  He never dreamt of becoming a godman. Mr Bhavnani and Ms Shanti catapult Rahul the loafer into Saket the godman.  Saket possesses a charm and an eloquence which can draw a lot of wealthy Westerners as disciples.  Saket eventually becomes the wealthiest godman in India owning a fleet of luxury cars gifted by his devotees.

There is enough hint in the novel that Bhagwan Saket is modelled on Bhagwan Rajneesh who later became Osho.  Saket’s empire is also situated in “a quiet suburb of Poona.” 

Dhondy succeeds in portraying vividly the dark underbelly of a godman’s empire.  Godmen like Bhagwan Saket found cults which become “the religion of the lost children.”  The words “lost” and “children” are significant.  In the case of Bhagwan Saket, the people who flock to him are those who lost their moorings in their original culture and religion, mostly because they seldom cared to discover their roots.  They are also quite childish in their yearnings for love and attention.

There is another godman in the novel who is put to death by his commercial managers when he is no more able to deliver lectures and thus rake in the moolah.  The followers of that godman are mostly widows and old men who are not wanted by their children.  Religion is the refuge of the lost people, people who fail to discover themselves clearly.

Prophet of Love is a suspense thriller at one level.  At another, it throws ample light on the world of certain godmen and other similar frauds.  The world that Dhondy throws open to the readers is so bizarre that it may seem incredible and improbable in many places.  That is a drawback of the novel. 

The novel arouses the reader’s curiosity right from page one and sustains it to the end.  How far the reader will be satisfied will depend on his/her religious inclinations, intellectual proclivity and literary tastes.  Those who are not familiar with the world of religious fraudsters but are interested in a ringside view will find the book highly rewarding.  



 Acknowledgement: Thanks to Harper Collins India for sending me a free copy of the book in association with the Book Review Project of Indiblogger.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sam N Sam


Fiction

When Shyamal and Samuel got the axe from their workplace they were not shocked.  Even greater people on the staff were sacked in the name of cost cutting, retrenchment, and other terms which neither Shyamal nor Samuel understood.  All they understood was that many people were losing their jobs.  Even the executives disappeared without a trace though not before putting the blame for the whole situation on America.  Peons like Shyamal and Samuel did not understand what Amreeka was doing in their firm which was in Delhi.  They knew that Amreeka was spending a lot of its wealth creating missiles and bombs which they were raining down on a country called Iraq because that country was alleged to be amassing Weapons of Mass Destruction.    Shyamal and Samuel did not understand the logic behind using deadly weapons openly on a country which is supposedly hiding its weapons.   But they were intelligent enough to understand that life does not follow logic.  Not when countries like Amreeka are involved. 

“Hey, Sam,” said Samuel to Shyamal, “why not celebrate this gratuity we have got?”  Their firm was generous enough to offer them a certain sum of money in the name of gratuity.

Shyamal was thinking that a couple of shots in a bar would put into his feeble heart the courage required to go home and face his wife who was as domineering as his boss – ex-boss now.  She won’t believe him if he tells her that Amreeka was responsible for their present lot, he knew.  She won’t understand cost-cutting or retrenchment.  She will just say that he had failed to grease the right palms.

If I were a jolly archbishop,
On Fridays I'd eat all the fish up—
Salmon and flounders and smelts;
On other days everything else.

Samuel started singing when he had gulped down a peg.  He loved to sing whenever whiskey entered his veins. 

“Hey, Sam,” said Samuel.

“Hi, Sam,” said Shyamal.  They called each other Sam.  Such was the bonding between them.

“You know the meaning of what I sang?”

“You want to eat fish on Fridays?”

“Not I, man. The archbishop.   You know why the archbishop eats fish on Fridays?  Because Friday is a day of abstinence.  Because Jesus died on a Friday, good Christians don’t eat meat on Fridays.”

“I haven’t seen you eating meat on any day, man.”

“I’m speaking about good Christians, buddy.  The priests and the bishops and other good Christians.   People living in paradises.  Like our boss and the others who live in paradises and tell us when we can pee or breathe.”

“Let paradise go to hell, man,” said Shyamal.  “How will we survive now?  Think of the family.”

“We’ll find a job.”

“Where?”

“Maybe... what about teaching, man?  We can read and write, can’t we?”

Shyamal almost dropped his glass of whiskey.  “My sister is a teacher in a public school, you know.  She has decided not to marry because she says her school won’t give her time for procreation, let alone the responsibilities that will follow.”

They considered a variety of career options until the aroma of chicken 65 wafted in the air.  The waiter was serving their order.

“Hey, man,” Samuel’s face lit up.  “You know I’m a good cook.”

It turned out that Shyamal was a good cook too. 

Their new future started the very next day at a wayside dhaba on which they invested their gratuity. 

The dhaba became popular sooner than Sam N Sam (as the signboard announced the names of the proprietors as well as the dhaba) had imagined. 

Amreeka was done with Iraq before Sam N Sam became a multi-cuisine restaurant.  Amreeka was looking for chemical weapons in Syria when Sam and Sam were inaugurating their star hotel. 

Sam and Sam were sitting in their plush office in the centrally air-conditioned hotel when the visitor turned up having procured the right of admission from the receptionist.  The visitor suggested that the entire records of the hotel could be computerised.  “Work would be done much quicker with much fewer staff,” said the visitor.

Sam and Sam looked at each other.

“You know,” said Samuel, “if we knew how to operate computers we would still be peons in the firm that sacked us.”


PS: The conclusion is researched (in plain words, plagiarised) from Somerset Maugham’s short story, The Verger.

  

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Paras, the Paradox


Fiction

Paras is a bundle of paradoxes.  “East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,” he believes firmly, choosing to ignore the fact that it was said by somebody from the West.   Paras believes that the East and the West have their own diametrically opposed civilisations, though he has no qualms about wearing Western dress all the time, the necktie included. 

The East is mystical and mythical while the West is rational and scientific, Paras argues.  And the mysticism and mythology of the East are superior to the science and technology of the West.  But Paras would not live without his beloved laptop and the latest version of the mobile phone.

Centuries before the Westerner formulated the mathematical identity, infinity minus infinity equals infinity, Indian mysticism had formulated it, argues Paras.  “Look at Brihadaranyka Upanishad, for example.  It says, ‘Poornamata, poornamitam...’ That is, infinity here, infinity there; take away infinity from infinity and infinity remains.”

“Even the zero was a discovery of Indian mysticism,” he avers.   “We use the word soonya for zero, indicating the mystical worth of emptiness.”

But Paras can never think of living in emptiness of any sort.  He loves to have as many things as possible around him.  A fleet of cars in front of the house, all the available amenities and gadgets inside the house.

He has a lot of pet theories too.  For example, “all revolutionary bursts of genius took place in the first decade of the century.”  Paras goes on to explain, “Whether it is literature or sculpture, architecture or physical sciences, major breakthroughs came in the first decade of a century.  Dante began his Inferno in 1302 soon after the poet’s banishment from Florence.  Michelangelo carved his David from a single block of marble in 1501.  Cervantes’s Don Quixote tilted at his first windmill in 1604.  Beethoven’s greatest symphonies were composed in the first decade of the 19th century.  Einstein propounded his theory of relativity in 1905...”

“The computer and the internet did not come in the first decade of any century,” I dared to point out.

“The revolutionary changes in those sciences came in the first decade of the 21st century,” Paras asserted.

I didn’t point out that all his examples came from the West although he upheld the superiority of Eastern mysticism and mythology.   I knew he would deliver a protracted discourse on the relative superiority of mysticism and mythology over prosaic science and technology. 

When his son studying at Harvard told him over the phone that he was going to marry an American friend of his, Paras said, “Divorces are more common than marriages in that country.”  What he meant was that his son would eventually find his permanent partner in the land of mysticism and mythology, after divorcing his wife from the other land.

“Which would you like really to happen?” I ventured to ask.  “Your belief coming true or your son living a happy married life?”

“Well, my son’s singular case won’t alter history, will it?”

I grinned.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Farewell Call



Obituary

Unfamiliar numbers appearing on my mobile phone screen annoys me.  It was with much irritation that I answered one such call that came last week. 

“Mr Matheikal?” enquired the voice which did not at all sound like the usual commercial voices that sought to sell an insurance policy or a stock market account.

“Yes,” I mellowed a bit.

“Do you recognise this voice?”

“Well...”

“Forgot me in a few years’ time?”

“Mr Bhat?”  I was excited at the sudden recognition.

“ Happy that you remember and are also delighted...” 

Mr V K Bhat was a colleague of mine at the school where I still teach.  He had to leave the school a few years ago due to health reasons.  He was in his early 50s when his kidneys failed.  His wife’s kidney saved his life.  Until two days back.

Mr Bhat is a memory now.  The news rattled me yesterday morning.  Just a week back I had assured him that I would visit him soon.  I couldn’t keep the promise.  He didn’t wait for it.   The news wouldn’t have been so shocking had he not contacted me recently.  Had he called me to say farewell?

He was one of the most pleasant personalities I was fortunate to live with.  Serenity was the hallmark of his personality.  Nothing really upset him.  He had very deep religious convictions which helped him surmount problems with a smile.  While he was undergoing treatment which required frequent visits to hospital, his wife met with an accident that fractured a limb and his son suffered a severe injury in the hockey field which rendered him incapable of taking anything except liquid foods.  An ordinary person would have buckled under the pressure of such calamities that descended like a flock of vultures.  Not Mr Bhat.  He was able to retain his serene smile.  The strength of a man’s character is seen in times of adversity.  Mr Bhat’s character inspired me.

His unexpected phone call made me want to see that smile once more.  I had made the plan to visit him soon.  But destiny had other plans. 

There’s one incident about Mr Bhat that I can’t forget.  It was 12 Sep 2002.  A year after I joined the present school as a teacher.  I was packing my bag and getting ready for my next morning’s journey to Kerala in order to attend my father’s funeral.  Mr Bhat came to offer condolences.  Before he left he placed in my hand a cheque for a sum of money larger than my monthly salary and said, “You may need it.”  I assured him that I didn’t need it.  He wouldn’t take back the cheque, however.  “You go and come back.  I’ll take the cheque later.”

I was not particularly close to Mr Bhat at that time or later.  It’s simply not in my nature to get too close to any person.  What prompted him to offer help to me?  I wondered at that time.  Later I realised that goodness comes naturally to many people.  Mr Bhat belonged to that category.   

For long I have had an ambivalent attitude towards death.  Death is sorrowful insofar as it takes away someone beloved to somebody.  But death is the ultimate liberation.  I am not able to view death as evil.  On the contrary, there is some beauty in death.  In spite of the pain it engenders inevitably. 

The pain will be carried by the tide of time until it vanishes beyond the horizon.  What remain will be memories of Mr Bhat’s smile with which he battled the vicissitudes of life.   
  

I extend my condolence to the bereaved family all of whom I knew personally, especially Mr Bhat’s sons both of whom were my students. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Infatuations

Book Review

Author:            Javier Marias
Translated from Spanish by: Margaret Jull Costa
Publisher:        Hamish Hamilton, 2013
Pages:  346

This is a novel that revolves round a murder mystery, but there is not a single police officer or detective in it.  There is no investigation of the murder because the murderer is an insane person with a motive.  The narrator of the novel, Maria, knows more.  There is a cunning person behind the murderer, and Maria learns soon that “the most powerful and most cunning of people never dirty their own hands or their own tongue.”  They know how to do the dirty deeds by using other people as instruments. 

The novel is about such people.  The novel is about the prevalence of evil in human life.  Right from the beginning of the human civilisation we find the same kind of crimes repeated endlessly, ad nauseam.  “The worst thing is that so many disparate individuals in every age and every country – each on his own account and at his own risk, should all choose the same methods of robbery, deception, murder or betrayal against the friends, colleagues, brothers, sisters, parents, children, husbands, wives, or lovers of whom they now wish to dispose, and who were doubtless the very people whom they once loved most, for whom, at another time, they would have given their life or killed anyone who threatened them...”  The same character, the protagonist of the novel, goes on to say, “We see the same wicked feelings repeated over and over, and nothing can correct them...”

The Infatuations is a metaphysical novel about evil.  There is very little by way of plot.  In fact the first one-third of the novel does not read like a novel; there’s no story really.  Even when the plot begins, there’s very little progress.  Yet the novel is a masterpiece.  And that precisely is the author’s success.  He keeps you enchanted.  His words dig into your imagination like penetrating needles.  He shocks you out of complacence.  He forces you to think, think differently from what you’ve been doing so far. 

The title of the novel refers to the relationship that most human beings establish with life and other people.  “We live quite happily with a thousand unresolved mysteries that occupy our minds for ten minutes in the morning and are then forgotten...  We don’t want to go too deeply into anything or linger too long over any event or story, we need to have our attention shifted from one thing to another, to be given a constantly renewed supply of other people’s misfortunes...”  Infatuation is a superficial relationship.  

The novel touches upon such specific evils as envy and hate.  There are at least two places in the novel where envy is shown as a poison that is often “engendered in the breasts of those who are and who we believe to be our closest friends, in whom we trust; they are far more dangerous than our declared enemies.”

Evil is coeval with mankind.  There’s no escape from it.  Very few criminals get caught.  Human societies have learnt to accommodate evils of various types.  Truth is never clear in such a world; “it’s always a tangled mess.”

Caught in that tangled mess, the wise person would assume that prudence is the ideal virtue. 

The novelist, Marias, brings in a lot of literary allusions many of which are explained in necessary detail to show the prevalence of evil throughout human history.  Occasionally ‘novel’ itself becomes a dominant theme in the book.  “... once you’ve finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten.  What matter are the possibilities and ideas that the novel’s imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with...”


The Infatuations does open in our mind’s eye a vast world of possibilities and ideas.  That’s the greatest achievement of the book. It disturbs us; that's an added achievement of the book. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Happy Onam



“Guro,” called out Maveli. 

Maveli is the asura hypocorism for the deva name Mahabali.  Kerala is advertised by the Tourism Department as “God’s Own Country.”  But the people of Kerala love asura hypocorisms.  You can’t blame the people, really.  Like their favourite King, Maveli, quite many of them have been expatriated.  Those who are not expatriated geographically (or literally, if you wish) adopt expatriation by intoxication.  And expatriates love nostalgic hypocorisms.

Kerala is the land of expatriates.  Pravasi is the most favourite word in the state.  Every pravasi is supposed to be living in bliss.   If there is any Malayali pravasi who is not living in such blissful condition, Benyamin or Mukundan will write Aadujeevitham or Pravasam in honour of the hapless pravasi’s nostalgia for God’s Own Country which is actually Maveli’s Own Country.  And Maveli was an asura, a demon.

Prabho, My Lord,” came Maveli’s Guru, Sukracharya hearing Maveli’s call. 

Sukracharya was Maveli’s priest and guide, mentor and teacher, before the deva Vishnu came in the form of Dwarf and deceived Maveli.

Flashback

Time: Pre-historic

Scene: Maveli’s Palace in Asura’s Own Country

Enter Dwarf bearing a queer mix of boyhood innocence and godhood malice and wearing the sacred thread of Brahminhood.

Dwarf:           Your Majesty, I live far below the poverty line.  I cannot even apply for the Aadhar card without which your government will not even let me have cooking gas.  Give me just three feet of land and I’ll manage somehow.  You are the most generous king of kings, dayalu of dayalus, prema yogi and karma yogi...”

Dwarf unfolds a leather vesicle and takes out Amul butter.

Dwarf:           The best butter available in Gods’ Own Heavens, Your Majesty.

Maveli:          Thank you, aditi.  Order me, what can I do for you?  Whatever your wish, it will be granted.

Enter Sukracharya with a stunned expression and whispers something in the ear of Maveli.

Maveli:          No, Guro.  I may be a demon by hierarchy, but I am honest by cultivation.  This is Asuras’ Own Country.  I cannot go back on my word.  [To Dwarf]  Tell me, Boy, what is your wish?

Dwarf:           Just three feet of land, Your Majesty.  But I will measure it out with my own foot.  [The word foot resounds in the PA systems of Asuras’ Own Country.]

Maveli:          Only three feet of land?  Measure it out for yourself wherever you wish in Asuras’ Own Proud Country.

Sukracharya begins to pack his American Tourister bags.

Dwarf suddenly begins to grow large.  He grows so large that the sun is blacked out.  Maveli stands unfazed. 

Maveli:          You are a deva.  I am an asura.  I accept your verdict.  I shall go to the patalam, underworld.  I have nothing to give you in return.  So please condescend to take this Amul butter back and grant me a wish.

Dwarf-turned-giant: [imperiously – but accepting the Amul butter smacking his lips] What’s your wish?

Maveli:          Allow me to visit my praja once a year.

Dwarf-turned-god: Oh, only that?  Granted.

Exit god from Maveli’s Own Country with Amul butter clutched close to his heart.

Back to Present Time

Maveli:          Guro, I’m going on my annual visit to Asuras’ Own Country.

Sukracharya: You’ve never cared to listen to me, Your Majesty.  Yet it’s my duty to advise you not to go.

Maveli:          Never mind, Guro.  I don’t foresee any danger.  There are no genuine devas anymore anywhere.

Sukracharya: There are no genuine asuras either, Your Majesty.

Maveli:          That’s precisely why I have to go, Guro.  Good bye.  See you soon.

Sukracharya: Happy Onam to you, Your Majesty.





Saturday, September 14, 2013

Lazarus and Jesus



Introductory Note: According to the Bible, Jesus raised Lazarus from death.  What follows is mere fiction inspired by a friend’s questioning me on love. 

Fiction

“You’ve taken away my death, you’ve appropriated it,” Lazarus tried hard to suppress his anger.

“I gave you life,” said Jesus calmly, “new life.”

“You had no right to do it,” Lazarus was almost contemptuous.  “Look at me, Jesus, look into my eyes.  You had no right to bring me back from death.  Do you realise the gravity of what you’ve done?  You’ve destroyed the peace that I had found in death.  I can forgive you for that.  But you’ve upset the whole world of my sisters.  They were getting used to my death.  They were learning to accept it as an inevitable fact of life.  Do you know how absurd it is for anyone to live with someone who has come back from death?  What am I now to them?  A ghost?  They want to ask me what it is like there – beyond death.  They don’t ask because they are sensitive enough.  When they do, as they surely will in due course of time, what am I to tell them?”

“Tell them the truth,” said Jesus rather enigmatically.

“Truth!  What’s truth?”

Jesus did not answer.

“Ha!  You can’t answer that,” said Lazarus. 

“They love you, Lazarus.  I love you,” Jesus sounded consoling.

Lazarus became restless.  “Love had become unbearable,” he said.  “How could I ever reciprocate the love my sisters and you bore me?  My ailments were taking away all my love to themselves.  When did I ever have time to love anyone after taking care of my decrepit body?”

Lazarus had become calm.  “And now you say you’re going to die.”

“I’m going to be killed,” said Jesus.

“You chose death,” Lazarus paraphrased it.

“It’s not my choice, Lazarus.  It’s my destiny.  This is what I was born for.”

“What?  What were you born for?  To question the priests and their laws, to arouse their anger so much that they would demand your crucifixion and nothing less?  What will you achieve through that?”

“I won’t achieve anything.”  Jesus was quiet for a while and then he added, “The world will.”

“What will the world achieve?”

“The meaning of surrender.”

“Surrender!  Is that all what you have got to teach?  Is that the great destiny you came to fulfil?  You are a big fool, Jesus.  Love, sacrifice, surrender... You should have been born a woman.”

Jesus remained silent.   Was he really effeminate?  He asked himself.  Hadn’t he driven out of the synagogue the money-lenders and the traders of sheep and oxen?  Hadn’t he dared to question the priests and the Pharisees? 

Yet he knew that Lazarus was not entirely wrong.  At the bottom of all that fury lay the detachment of compassion.  What else prompted him to save the adulteress from the blood-thirsty crowd?  Why did he forgive everybody’s sins?  Why did he imagine himself as a shepherd who left the entire flock in order to seek out the lost sheep?  Why the sermon on the mount?  Why the miracles?

“You’re capitulating, Jesus,” said Lazarus.  “Perform one more miracle,” he pleaded.  “Transform yourself.  Stop teaching love to people.  Your love is a burden.  It demands the impossible.  At best people will start worshiping you as a god for teaching them that kind of love.  Nothing will change except their god.  Jesus in place of Yahweh.  An effeminate god in place of a vindictive god.  What use is that?  Change your teaching.  Teach them the merit of reason and wisdom.  Teach them to think.”

No, Lazarus, no.  Jesus said to himself as he got up and walked away.  The heart has reasons that reason does not understand.  It is love that my god hungers for.  It is love that all his creatures hunger for.  And that love is very demanding.  Endlessly demanding.  My death is a sacrifice on the altar of love. 

A few days later rose the cry from Calvary, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Lazarus was not alive to hear that cry.  





Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Teacher and the Hangman’s Noose

 Fiction


“You’re under arrest,” said the visitor who was in the police uniform.

The sun had just risen above the horizon far, far away, beyond the concrete jungle of the city.  Sunita was ready to go to her school where she was a teacher in the upper primary section.  The school would begin at 7.30 and she had to start from home at 6 am from home.  If she was late by a minute the attendance register would automatically mark her absent.   That was just one of the many miracles which the computer technology could perform in her school.

“Arrest!?”  Sunita was both amused and surprised.  What crime had she committed?  She had slapped a boy on his back yesterday because he had fallen asleep in the class while an interesting activity was going on.  “Interesting”, according to the lesson plan given to her by the textbook prescribed by the school and produced by experts.   Physical punishment is an offence which can send a teacher to the jail.  But she had only patted the boy on his back, in fact.  The sound produced by the hollow of her palm hitting on the back of the boy was just a ploy to send a message to the class. 

“Yes,” said the police officer.  “There’s a complaint against you by the father of a student whom you are teaching.  You hanged the student yesterday.”

“What!?”  Sunita’s jaw hung loose though it was not in her nature to open her mouth so wide in spite of being a teacher.

Sunita was arrested and taken to the police station.  She was transported from there, with as much grace as the police could afford, to the court where her bail was to be granted. 

“You hanged a student, an innocent 13 year-old student, hanged him alive yesterday?” asked the judge.

Sunita had already understood her crime in the interval between her arrest and the bail.   

“Yes, sir,”  she said.

“Say, ‘my lord,’” prompted the lawyer.

“My lord?”  and she looked at her husband.

“Just do what he says, dear,”  said her husband, “this is a world that has its own vocabulary.”

Sunita explained to her “lord” that she had played a game named Hangman’s Noose in the class.   It’s a word game.  Every student has to supply a word according to certain rules of the game; otherwise he has to draw a part of the scaffold on his score sheet.  The one who fails again and again in the game obviously gets hanged on the scaffold he has drawn for himself.

“How can you play such a game in a class of young students with tender minds?” the judge was visibly agitated.  “It’s such a negative game.  It’s teachers like you who create criminals in the society.  Terrorists are born in the wombs of such teachers...” 

The judge was very generous with gratuitous admonition. 

Gratuitous admonition come at a price, Sunita learnt quickly, in the world of “that has its own vocabulary.”

“I was only following the lesson plan given to me,” explained Sunita.

“What?  What’s a lesson plan?”  asked the judge with as much severity as he could muster.

“You know...”  ‘You know’ was a phrase that Sunita was prone to use when her confidence was under assault.  “We ... are given textbooks ... to ... teach.  And the textbooks have certain ... exercises.  They call it activity-based teaching.  The ... what shall I say... the ... Hangman’s Noose ...”

Sunita hung her head in shame.

“Carry on.  We have no time,” hollered the judge as he smacked his lips lasciviously. 

“Tell them the truth, darling,” prompted her husband.

“You know...,” said Sunita.

“Yeah,” said the judge impatiently, “we know much.  Get to your point and be done with it.”

“The ... Hangman’s Noose ... is a game prescribed in the textbook.”

“What!?”  exclaimed the judge.  “A textbook prescribes hanging!  How can this be possible in a country whose constitution was drafted after years of debating and redrafting?  There is only one judiciary in this country.  How can a textbook hang anybody?  And you,” he looked at Sunita smacking his lips again, “whoever you are, should know that there is only one judiciary in this country that can hang anyone.  And you, a mere puppet teacher in a paltry public school dared to hang the son of the local Panchayat member?  I can hang you for this, you understand? ...”

“Take it easy, darling,” murmured  Sunita’s husband.   “I have brought enough money to buy him.”

“OK,” said the judge when the sweeper muttered something in his ear.  “Your bail is granted.  But remember, don’t ever dare to hang anyone.  It’s my job...”

The sun was setting somewhere far, far away, beyond the concrete jungle where Sunita and her husband settled down to cook their dinner after an eventful day on which Sunita had decided to give an assignment, if not a project, to her students as part of the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE).






Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Road called Life

Historical Fiction

I will soon be thrown into the mass grave along with the naked corpses of the other soldiers.  I am Colonel Chabert, not just an ordinary soldier, Colonel Chabert who led a whole regiment of soldiers to many a victory for none other than Napoleon himself.  I have been famous when the blood still ran in my veins reddening my cheeks with the zest for conquests.  But now I am no more than a body going to be thrown into a mass grave with very ordinary bodies. 

The Battle of Eylau
Death makes you a mere body.  All bodies are equal and ordinary.  What makes you different is life, your life. 

My last battle was the toughest.  The Battle of Eylau.  Our brave French soldiers met the equally brave Russian soldiers in the most inclement of weathers in Arctic conditions.  The fatal wound I received runs from the nape of my neck to just above my right eye.  You can still see it.  My blood stopped running through my veins.  There was little blood left for the veins to carry.

No wonder they thought me dead. 

The distance between life and death is just a moment.  The other day I happened to watch a man with grey hairs but a face suffused with vitality buying apples from a wayside seller.  The man looked as if he would live another twenty years, hale and hearty.  Just as he picked up his basket of apples and got on to the path again, he staggered a little and collapsed.  He was dead in a moment.

Marshal Murat dispatched a whole battalion, no less than 1500 horsemen, to rescue me when I lay wounded and dying.  Napoleon himself sent two of his best surgeons to save my life.  Napoleon needs me, I know.  Every conqueror admires brave warriors.

Heroes admire heroes.  Have you ever noticed that?  It’s only the weak that harbour petty feelings like jealousy and distrust.  I didn’t say heroes love heroes.  No, love has nothing to do with it.  It’s admiration.  It’s an acceptance of the other’s abilities and skills.  Napoleon admires even the youngest of his soldiers provided he is brave.

I can feel life oozing out of me.  I will soon be dead.  And thrown into the mass grave, another body among many bodies.  Body.  That’s what I will soon be. 

Nothing.  That’s what I will be a little while from now.  The body will vanish, eaten by the soil and its maggots.

The whole rugged path I travelled from the time I was born is visible to my mind’s eye as I lie giving up my soul.  Every life is a journey.  When you are born, a road is also born.  Your road.  The road that you will travel inevitably.  It is up to you how you choose to travel that road.  You can simply walk along without noticing what’s on either side.  You can choose to kick away the pebbles on the way and beat down the brambles on the sides.  You can admire the fragrance of flowers and the music of the birds.  You can conquer the lands on the sides.  You may even erect barriers on the road, your road!

Whatever you do, in the end, you will be a body, lying dead on some cold mountain, ready to be forgotten.  Don’t count on the memories of people whom you consider beloved.  Love has little to do with life.   Other people have their roads still stretching ahead and they have to travel it – inevitably.  They cannot mourn your death forever. 

Even Napoleon will be a body one day.  To be buried and forgotten.

My spirit is giving up.  I can feel it.  I can see the end of my road.  Oh, how pathetic!  Like the culmination of the French Revolution!


Post ScriptThis is not a story about negativity.  Far from it, I love life and it abundant excitements.  My road is much different from Napoleon’s (and other conquerors’), however.



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