Sunday, January 26, 2014

What Women Want Most

One of the stories in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is about a young knight of King Arthur’s.  The knight could not control his lust when he came across a beautiful maiden.   Arthur’s Court was scandalised by the rape and the knight’s execution was ordered.  The Queen and her ladies, however, interceded and got the punishment commuted.  The knight is given a year’s time to find out what women want most in the world.

The knight went from place to place finding out what women wanted most.  He got different answers from different women.  “Wealth and treasure,” said some.  Honour, jollity, pleasure, gorgeous clothes, fun in bed... thus went the women’s options.  Some even wanted to be “oft widowed and remarried.”  Seeing that women could never agree on one thing, the knight rode back with the odour of death in his nostrils. 

On his way back, he came across an old hag.  Chaucer’s narrator, Wife of Bath, reminds us that those were the days of fairies and elves, days before religious leaders displaced those spirits.  [Believe me, this is not my personal dig at religious people; read Chaucer, if you don’t believe me.]  The horribly ugly old woman promises to salvage the knight’s life provided he pledged himself to her.   What can be more important than one’s existence?  The knight makes the pledge. 

A woman wants the self-same sovereignty
Over her husband as over her lover.

This the old hag’s answer to the Queen’s question.  Every male lover is a veritable puppet in the hands of his female counterpart.  But the roles reverse after marriage.  What women want most in the world is absolute mastery over their men.  This answer elicits a resounding endorsement from the Queen and her ladies.  The knight’s life is spared.

But only to be claimed by the old hag.  “... keep your word and take me for your wife,” she demanded in the presence of all the VIPs in the royal court.  The knight was nauseated.  “Take whatever I have,” he pleaded with the hag, “but leave my body to myself.”

His plea fell on deaf ears though the hag was not deaf in spite of her senility.  He refused to look at her, let alone touch her, on the bridal bed.  She admonished him, as all grandmothers do, that physical looks did not matter at all.  What matter are the inner qualities.  What if he marries a woman who is as pretty as Helen of Troy but is also unfaithful like her? 

The hag was ready for a compromise, however.  The knight was offered the choice: either he could have her old, ugly and faithful till she died, or she could change herself into a pretty young wife whose fidelity he wouldn’t have.  Remember, both she and the knight belonged to a time before religious leaders snatched miracles from the fairies along with their habitats.

The knight was in a dilemma, the kind of which only women can fabricate.  He submits himself to her.  He lets her make the decision.  The submission makes her happy.  That’s what all women want, hasn’t she taught him?  She rewards the knight with both her beautiful youth and fidelity.  Submission does bring rewards, especially where women are the masters. 

That’s Chaucer’s story.  And his narrator’s view.

What if we changed it?

What if we were all willing to be a little vulnerable, to be helpless, to give up control... to be companions rather than masters... willing to trust... ?

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Mystery of the Unknown

Crises are an integral part of human life.  Doubts, anxiety and even despair seize us mercilessly sometimes.   They can be excellent opportunities for personal growth, provided we deal with them effectively.

Personal growth calls for some change.  It may be a change of attitudes, environment, job or something else. 

Most of us don’t like change.  Change frightens us with the uncertainty that inevitably accompanies it.  Psychotherapist Sheldon B. Kopp wrote 4 decades ago (in his book, ‘If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!’) that the neurotic who comes to a therapist doesn’t want to change himself.  “His goal is to become a more effective neurotic.”  He doesn’t want to give up his neurotic feelings and attitudes because he is scared of the changes that would ensue.  He would rather have his neuroticism and have the therapist make him feel more comfortable with it. 

Change is  challenge to face the unknown.  The misery of the familiar is preferred to the mystery of the unknown.   Life is hard here, but at least I know the terrain and its pitfalls – that’s the thinking.  Will I ever get to know the new terrain equally well?

I was faced with that situation in 2001.  And I gathered enough courage to call it quits.  It took me a while to get used to my new environment which was almost entirely different from the previous one.  Then I got used to it.  “Man is a vile creature; he gets used to anything,” says Dostoevsky’s protagonist in Crime and Punishment

But we don’t have to get used to anything.  We are free to call it quits at any time, provided such an action is necessary, and move to yet another unknown reality.   It is not desirable to prefer the misery of the familiar to the challenge of the unknown, if the familiar is bogging you down. 

Blind alleys appear at certain phases of life’s journey.  We should keep searching for the exit, for the light that shimmers somewhere in the darkness.  But if there’s no light in sight, if there’s no reason to look for it any more, what shall we do?  When everything seems lost, if we care to listen, we can hear the gentle creak of the door of hope opening somewhere.  I do hear it.  

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Thursday, January 23, 2014


Games are interesting only when you get into the play field and get hurt.

Hurts are like orgasm: pleasure and pain simultaneously.

You can be an observer too.  But you will have no orgasm.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Baba’s Solace


Manohar didn’t go home after he left his office.  Instead he walked up the mountain where Baba lived.  Baba was said to have the powers to see one’s future and give appropriate counsel.

Yesterday Sunanda Pushkar proclaimed her love for her husband and today she is found dead in her bed.  Aam Aadmi Party’s law minister took the law into his hands and ordered the police to do something illegal, out of the natural earnestness of the new broom to sweep clean rather than malice.  Life is more complex than death.

But these were not the problems that really nagged Manohar.  His office was in turmoil.  People were just disappearing from the office day by day just like they disappeared during Stalin’s rule in Russia.  More than half of his colleagues had disappeared without a trace.  If Sunanda Pushkar can die laughing and without a warning, people can disappear equally mysteriously.  Yet… yet, something seemed uncanny to Manohar.   He needed Baba’s counsel and solace.

The climb was steep and arduous.  The way to solace is rugged.  And filled with the eerie screeching of crickets.  Wild animals might be lurking behind the bushes and thickets, inside the caves and beyond the rocks.  But Manohar was not scared.  He was ready to disappear if his office chose to perform the vanishing trick.

“What’s in your destiny, none can take away,” said Baba solemnly.  “What’s not in your destiny, none can give you.”

“What’s in my destiny?” asked Manohar.

“Why should your destiny be different from that of millions of people?” asked Baba maintaining the same solemnity.   “Seek not to be different from your fellow human beings.”

Babas are a solace indeed, thought Manohar as he climbed down the mountain.  Motivation gurus give you false hopes.  Babas give you your destiny.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


The institution was going to collapse.  Everybody blamed everybody else for the situation.  The leader is not good, said some.  The staff were playing politics all the time, said some others.  The infrastructure is outdated, said yet others. 

Everyone has a reason for blaming others, to paraphrase the advertisement slogan of an agarbati.

Let us do something radical about it, said someone.  The action may make some drastic demands.

“Let me ask my husband/wife,” said some.

“I’d love to join you, but you know…” said some others.

“I’m in the South Pole now, but I’ll definitely join you as soon as I reach our place,” said yet others.

You deserve the leader who was foisted on you by your destiny. 


"What does the future hold for us?" she asked.

"Look up," I said. 

Monday, January 13, 2014


A manager, who had just returned from a Motivation Seminar, called an employee into his office and said, “Hence forth you are going to be allowed to plan and control your job.  That will raise productivity considerably, I am sure.”

“Will I be paid more?” asked the worker.

“No, no.  Money is not a motivator and you will get no satisfaction from a salary raise.  Happiness comes from within, you know.”

“Well, if I do my job better and production does increase, will I be paid more?”

“Look,” said the manager.  “You obviously do not understand the motivation theory.  Take this book home and read it; it explains what it is that really motivates you.”

As the man was leaving, he turned and asked, “If I read this book will I be paid more?”

The above story is taken from Anthony de Mello’s book of parables, The Prayer of the Frog.

The moral given by the author is: “Truth does not lie in theories.”

A meeting which I attended today motivated me to bring this story here.   People, including me, have their own pet theories about almost anything.  The truth lies beyond those theories.  The truth often lies in simple things, like feeling of security, for example.   The real motivator is that simple, personal truth.

Friday, January 10, 2014

And Jesus Died

“Why did these bastards bring you to me” asked Pontius Pilate.

“Because Herod wants to fuck his brother’s wife,” said Jesus.

“You are questioning the authority,; Herod is my man though he is a Jew,” said Pilate.

“The only authority is the one that comes from the author, the conscience,” said Jesus.

“Conscience!” exclaimed Pilate.  “I can buy it from Caesar.   And the price is as cheap as that dirty beard of yours.”

“What’s your problem?” asked Jesus.  “Is it my beard or is it my truth?”

“What is truth?” asked Pilate.

Jesus said, “Condemn me to the cross.”

Little Creatures

This little beetle (or whatever creature it is) sitting on a yam (chembu, in Malayalam) leaf looked helpless.  As I closed in on it with my camera, it seemed to want to run away but couldn't.  I couldn't help imagining myself in its place.

Red ants don't like to be disturbed.  They attack you with all their life if you disturb them.  But I didn't disturb them...  I hope you can see them sitting on the coco shell.  They were building a sweet little nest on the seed without realising that the farmer would soon come and pluck away the coco.

Chembu and coco have value in the market.  Beetles and ants are like me and most people: little creatures at the mercy of the big ones. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014


Kerala usually gives me fantastic pictures.  This time, however, my visit was too brief - just two days - to go shooting pictures.  These chillies fascinated me. They grew in a place where one wouldn't expect them.  But that's Kerala: it throws the unexpected on your face. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Barking Dogs

The traffic crawled at snail’s pace.  Maybe, some politician or baba or such VIP was passing and there were security barricades somewhere…

VIP security inevitably means insecurity for the aam aadmi.   One man’s security is another man’s insecurity, in the words of antediluvian wisdom.

Poet was on his old scooter whose expiry date had elapsed long ago.  He became weary of the honking from behind; he felt insecure, in other words.  So he pulled his scooter to the brambles on the side of the road and waved his hand to the honking driver to indicate ‘Go ahead.’ 

The car of the honker overtook Poet’s scooter.

“Don’t Honk.”  Poet could read the poster with big letters stuck on the rear of the car.  “Kute bhi nahin...”  The poster went on to admonish: “Even dogs do not bark without a reason.”

Friday, January 3, 2014

I'm not a Maoist

I loved the following video, a link to which was posted as a comment to my last blog.  I felt the urge to bring it forward from the comment box to the mainland.  So I'm posting it here.

Gaaon Chhodab Nahin

Do watch it, if you can spare 5 minutes.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

How much land does a man need?

How much land does a man need?  is a short story by the classical Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy.  The story highlights human greed.

Pahom, the protagonist, is a peasant.  He thinks that more land means more happiness for a peasant.  But how much land does a peasant need?  Making the question more general, how much wealth does a person need?

This is the question that Tolstoy answers in his story.  Using all his savings as well as selling his colt and a sizeable share of his bees, hiring out his son, taking advance wages and borrowing from his brother-in-law, Pahom collects enough money to buy more land thinking he would be happier.  In fact, he became contented with all the vast acres he possessed. 

But human nature is seldom contented.  It always wants what it does not have.  [Leave out exceptions like saints (extinct species) and lunatics.]  Pahom learns about a place where a Commune gives 25 acres of land free to every individual and more if he/she wanted to buy.  He sells all he has and acquires 125 acres of land (25 acres for each member of the family) free.  “Of the Communal land alone
he had three times as much as at his former home, and the land was good corn-land. He was ten times better off than he had been. He had plenty of arable land and pasturage, and could keep as many head of cattle as he liked.”


Yet Pahom became unhappy eventually.  Human nature is such that even heaven would be a very discontenting place eventually.  We have to reinvent our heavens and our gods. 

Pahom’s quest for his heaven and his god takes him beyond the Commune to the land of the Bashkirs, simple shepherds, who allow him to take hold of all the land he can walk around.  Simple: just walk around from sunrise to sunset and own the land that you circumscribe.  Pahom starts walking at sunrise.  He walks and walks with all the energy within.  He beats all the MBAs and IITians, Babas and real estate mafias, godmen and politicians of today.  As the sun is setting he thinks he can manage to conquer a little more, another mount.

Just as he conquers that mount and returns to his designated position,
he falls down.

Let me quote the last lines of Tolstoy:

"Ah, what a fine fellow!" exclaimed the Chief. "He has gained much land!"

Pahom's servant came running up and tried to raise him, but he saw that blood was flowing from his mouth. Pahom was dead! The Bashkirs clicked their tongues to show their pity.

“His servant picked up the spade and dug a grave long enough for Pahom to lie in, and buried him in it. Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed.”

Six feet from head to heel.

Is all the land that we require in the end.

But the MBAs and IITians, Babas and real estate mafias, godmen and politicians of today won’t give us even that.  They belong to Pahom’s species, you see.  You will see them in the museum of the outer spaces where they will buy land soon.

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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year Meditation

One of the phone calls that greeted me this New Year’s Day drove me to some serious contemplation.  The friend quoted the example of Galileo who retracted his scientific theory before the religious Inquisitors and later explained his action: “Science doesn’t need martyrs.”

My meditation led me to the notion of freedom provided by the 17th century philosopher, Spinoza.  He argued that we were not totally free.  We are controlled by certain inescapable laws of nature as well as our genetic makeup.  Evil is also an essential part of nature.  “The evil which ensues from evil deeds is not therefore less to be feared because it comes of necessity;” said Spinoza, “whether our actions are free or not, our motives still are hope and fear.”

Hope for a better future; fear about the present situation.  The martyr is not afraid for himself; his fear is about the future of the society. 

Martyrdom need not be a virtue. To be really great is not to be placed above humanity, ruling or controlling others, counsels Spinoza.  Real greatness lies in rising above the partialities and futilities of uninformed desires, and ruling one’s self. 

Desires or passions drive human beings.  Passion for wealth, power, luxury, assets, fame…  “A passion ceases to be a passion,” says Spinoza, “as soon as we form a clear and distinct idea of it...”  When we understand our passion adequately, it becomes a virtue.  All intelligent behaviour – i.e., all reaction which arises from an understanding of the total situation – is virtuous action.  Spinoza even goes to the extent of saying that there is no virtue but intelligence.

“Men who are good by reason – i.e., men who, under the guidance of reason, seek what is useful to them – desire nothing for themselves which they do not also desire for the rest of mankind.”  Spinoza’s words.

Can I invert that wisdom?  We don’t live in 17th century anyway.  If you live in a society of human beings who do not desire for the rest of mankind what they desire for themselves, use your reason and find your escape route.  What good would Galileo have done had he accepted martyrdom for the sake of preserving his integrity?  Visualise him in his given situation, of course; it would be absurd to argue that integrity is immaterial.  Intelligence is virtue.  And Galileo was not acting without integrity; he was acting with the virtue of intelligence. 

I’m convinced Spinoza is right even 337 years after his death.

PS. Spinoza’s fate was not much different from that of Galileo at the hands of his contemporary religious leaders.

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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...