Friday, February 28, 2014


People travel to wonder
at the height of the mountains,
at the huge waves of the sea,
at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean,
at the circular motion of the stars,
and they pass themselves by without wondering.

I came across these lines written by St Augustine in a book on neuro-linguistic programming.  Living in a world in which I witness the belittling of people through ingenious ways for varied motives by people occupying positions of immense responsibility, I’m left wondering when we will discover the wonder that every individual is.   

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


A couple of weeks back, my sister gave me a call from Kerala informing about the vacancies in a certain school in Bangalore.  “The principal’s post carries a monthly salary of Rs 1.5 lakhs,” she was reading from the Malayalam newspaper in which the ad appeared. 

“What about the teacher’s posts?” I asked hoping for a proportionately good salary for teachers.

“They haven’t mentioned the teachers’ salaries though there are many vacancies.”

Nevertheless, I emailed my application for the post of English teacher.  Delhi kind of politics even in workplace has become utterly boring and I look forward to some change.  Even politics calls for variety in order to be entertaining enough.  I hoped that Bangalore might be able to provide that much needed change.

The reply came today: a call letter for the post of principal.  I was disappointed.  Looking at my sullen face, a colleague asked what the matter was.

“Why are you worried?” asked the colleague coolly after listening to my answer. “Take up the job and appoint a secretary at the salary of Rs40000 per month in order to deal with the political part of the job.  The rest is good enough money.”

“Make it Rs60000,” said another colleague who offered his own services with implicit mockery.  “Don’t make politics so cheap,” he suggested.

Now I’ll have to ask the school whether they are ready to split the responsibilities of the principal into two parts: the political and the non-political. 

Warning: Not every written discourse is to be taken seriously.  And levity is not always frivolity.

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Sorting Out Sid

Book Review

Reading Yashodhara Lal’s novel, Sorting Out Sid, is like watching a Bollywood comedy, especially of Priyadarshan type.  There is lot of fun and frolic in the first half and then the plot becomes more lifelike, sorting out problems created by the fun and frolic.  One difference is that in Lal’s novel, the fun and frolic runs into two-thirds of the book. 

That is a major flaw in an otherwise captivating novel.  There is something Wodehousean about the novel.  The protagonist, Sid [Siddharth], may remind the reader of Bertie Wooster.  He gets into all sorts of embarrassing situations because of his immaturity, superficiality and idiosyncrasies.   We meet him in the very first chapter walking into his friend Aditi’s house, later than he should have been, and wishing her “Happy Birthday” while it is actually her little son’s birthday.   We find Sid in many such comic, sometimes bordering on the farcical, situations.  The comedy drags on a bit too much into about 200 pages.  Unlike Wodehouse’s, Lal’s comedy fails to be brilliant flashes on human foibles and peccadilloes. 

Hence the novel remains a light entertainment for the most part.  Occasionally, though, Lal displays flashes of brilliance.  For example, the conversation between Aditi, who is a kind of mentor with an ‘elder sister’ bearing , and Sid about the latter’s relationship with Neha who is the lovely, spunky mother of a little kid and separated from her husband:

‘So you’re not serious about her?’  [Aditi asks Sid.]
‘There’s nothing to be serious about.’
‘So you’re not going to sleep with her?’
‘Adu...’  He glared.  ‘What is this?’
‘Look.  I’m asking because I’m concerned.’
‘That’s a very personal question.’
‘Oh my god, you slept with her on the first date!’
‘I have not!  It wasn’t a...’  He swallowed. 

The plot is very lifelike.  The characters are drawn from the next door.  You know them; you have seen them.  They belong to our own society, with its superficiality, lack of both emotional and intellectual depth.   Rather, unwillingness to probe deep into oneself.  Relationships bubble and froth like beer which flows abundantly in the novel.  And threaten to fizzle out eventually.

But there are redeeming factors: people who genuinely care, though they are very human too, all too human with the usual foibles and peccadilloes.   That is how life actually is.  And the novelist has shown us that life.
Yashodhara Lal

However, the author’s failure to bring in the “intensity” of life keeps the novel a light comedy.  Life is not “all fun and games, after all,” as the novel itself says.  But that realisation comes a little too late, on page 301.  By that time, the reader is saturated with an excess of “fun and games”. 

When Shelley declared that “our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought,” he was not merely being petulant.  The deep truths of life lie far beneath superficial fun and games which the contemporary world, especially of the economically better off, has become addicted to.  There is a touch of melancholy about those truths.  Lal tries to touch that melancholy but fails. 

“Tears and laughter are, aesthetically, frauds,” asserted Ortega y Gasset, Spanish philosopher and essayist.  A good novel probes deep beneath both laughter and tears to show the deeper meanings of human existence.

Sorting Out Sid rises to a certain degree of eminence in the third and last part.  Sid approaches the ineluctable self-understanding. 

For those who love light reading, the novel is a boon.  Personally, I felt that Yashodhara Lal is capable of more depth.

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

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Racism: India and the Northeast

courtesy The Hindu

“Unless we hate what we are not, we cannot love what we are,” said a nationalist demagogue in Michael Dibdin’s novel, Dead Lagoon.  Elaborating on that view, Samuel P. Huntington said in his book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, “For people seeking identity and reinventing ethnicity, enemies are essential.”

I lived in Meghalaya for a decade and a half.  As an enemy in the sense Huntington means.  Dkhar was one of the first Khasi words I learnt.  It is a pejorative term for the ‘outsider’.  I was a dkhar in Shillong just like thousands of others there who hailed from ethnically different backgrounds.  In the latter half of 1980s I witnessed people of Nepali origin being hunted and driven out of Shillong.  I lived in a part of Shillong where people of Nepali origin abounded.  I witnessed people being beaten up brutally.  I saw people being loaded into trucks and driven away.  My landlord, a Khasi gentleman who smelled of whisky most of the time, advised me to stay away from his house where I stayed on rent.  It was a friendly counsel for my own safety.  He moved away with his family to some other part of the town that was not affected by the riot.  I had no choice but to seek the hospitality of a friend.  When I returned a week or so later, assuming that the riot was ebbing away, my landlord’s apartment on the first floor stood empty.  They returned a week after I dared.

A few years after that I witnessed a similar riot.  It was people of Bangladeshi origin that became the target this time.  On both the occasions, the town of Shillong remained under curfew for many days.  One had to survive on whatever resources one had already stocked.  I survived on rice and pulses. 

Very few days passed without my being reminded that I was a dkhar. 

I left Shillong in 2001 and have been living in Delhi ever since.  Delhi has never made me feel like an outsider, my hilarious Hindi notwithstanding.  Nobody in Delhi has so far called me anything like “Madrasi” or whatever.  Nobody has treated me as an alien.  I have lived my life in Delhi with all the freedom that any Indian citizen enjoys in the city. 

Today’s Hindu magazine carries a smorgasbord of articles by people from the Northeast living in Indian lands they seem to consider alien.  With the exception of one person living in Chennai, every writer seems to be a victim of ‘Indian’ racism. 

Is India so racist?  I can’t speak for the whole of India.  But I have noticed that in my school where many students are from the Northeast, particularly Manipur, there is no such thing as racism.  True, students sometimes use words like “Chinki” in jest.  But that usage reaches nowhere near the “dkhar” in racist feeling.  The spirit of camaraderie that exists among the students is commendable.  It is palpable given the fact that it is a residential school. 

I have been provoked to write this by the lead article in the Hindu.  Aruni Kashyap, author of The House with a Thousand Stories, taunts people outside the Northeast for their ignorance or stereotypes about the region.  Ignorance and stereotypes are inevitable. 

Two years ago, at a petrol pump in Delhi, seeing the registration number of my scooter, the pump man asked what ML stood for.  “Meghalay,” I said making it sound as good Hindi as I possibly could.  “Kya?” he asked.  I repeated the name and asked him whether he had not studied about such a state in school.  “If I had studied would I be here filling your scooter with petrol?” was his prompt response.

Such ignorance is rampant anywhere in India.  But ignorance is not racism. 

However, if the people from the Northeast really feel that they are being discriminated against racially, there must be some reason for that.  Could it be that they don’t try to integrate themselves with the others?

I made that mistake while I was in Shillong.  I kept myself aloof.  But the people were as friendly as anyone could be when I made the effort to extend my friendship.  If I didn’t make more friends, it was my failure.  The racism I experienced in Shillong was in fact the fear of the outsider.  It was more or less what Huntington calls a necessity: the necessity of an enemy for the forging of one’s identity and reinventing one’s ethnicity.  Today, I hope, the situation in Shillong or elsewhere in the Northeast must be different.

And I wish the people of Northeast find the ‘other’ India less ‘alien’.

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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Modi Politics

The front page of today’s [22 Feb 2014] Malayala Manorama (a newspaper with 20 million readers) reports that Narendra Modi has made a contract with the Marxist Party [CPI(M)] in Kerala. 

The Marxists in Kerala turned capitalists long ago when Pinarayi Vijayan took over the Party.  V S Achuthandan (with his foot in the grave) questioned the capitalist tendencies of the Party, the result being that he was bullied by those who control the economy.

Marxists are turning capitalists all over the world.  Let’s forgive Achuthandan for growing old and yet not retiring.  Idealists don’t retire, unfortunately .

Modis flourish.   And gather followers. 

Achuthandan was invited to join AAP [Aam Aami Party].  By none other than Arvind Kejriwal himself.  But how can a senior join a junior party?  Ego problem. 

What really bothers me is the report that Mr Modi offered to pay money for buying up votes in Kerala.  The newspaper says that  Modi offered to pay any amount for winning the Thiruvananthapuram seat as well as the neighbouring Attingal one.  Given Modi’s Chanakya tantra, the report cannot be false.  Given Malayala Manorama’s credentials, the report cannot be false. 

So, what does democracy in Modi Raj amount to?  Buying votes?  Worse, fascism?

Any Gujarati trader (chai wallah, I can’t rise to Mani Shankar Aiyar’s status in this regard) can come and buy votes in Kerala?  Has Kerala degraded itself to this extent?  Has Marxism in Kerala degraded to this extent?  These are some questions that will haunt my sleep tonight. 

Thankfully, Modi won’t haunt my sleep.  He has no ideology.  He can keep buying and selling things, as far as I’m concerned.  I only hope he won’t mastermind another mass killing in some place (Rama forbid, in my village where nobody knows about Rama – they worship Krishna, you see) in India for the sake of votes.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


In a village in Kerala, Mathew bought a cow.  It was a beautiful GM (genetically modified) creature which promised to yield enough milk to support Mathew’s basic needs.  Mathew had no needs more than the basic ones.  The only problem was that Mathew didn’t know how to milk a cow. 

His very next neighbour on the western side was a man named Krishnan who was a velichapadu (oracle in a Hindu temple in Kerala) but was an adept at milking cows.  After all, one becomes a velichapadu only much after one becomes something else in life. 

Krishnan was happy to get an opportunity to utilise his best skill.  He came early in the morning and went to the beautiful young cow who had delivered her first calf a  few days ago.  The moment he touched her udder the beautiful thing reacted.  One kick.  Krishnan fell on his bums and took a somersault by kinetic force. 

“No problem, I’ll bring a sacred thread from the pujari (priest in a Hindu temple) and tie it on the neck of the cow and the problem will be solved.”

Mathew was glad that the problem had such a simple solution.

But the cow did not respond to the sacred thread at all.  Another kick and another somersault was all that Krishnan got in reward from the beautiful GM cow.

“Let me try another thing,” said Krishnan.  He wished to go to the mullah who was the next neighbour of Mathew’s on the eastern side and get a unani solution to the problem. 

Mathew said, “Let me try my parish priest once, if you don’t mind.” 

Krishnan never minded any such thing.  Solution is important. It doesn’t matter where it comes from. 

Mathew brought some holy water blessed by his parish priest and told Krishnan to sprinkle it on the cow before milking it. 

Krishnan had no probs.  The cow too seemed to have no probs.  Milk flowed from the udder.  Miracle?

Who knows?

This is an anecdote that appeared in a Malayalam newspaper quite a few days ago.  I disregarded it when I read it.  But it refused to go from my mind.  The anecdote was cited as an example of the religious integration that existed in Kerala.  People were not  bothered about religion as much as about solving their day-to-day problems.  And solutions came easily when solution was the focus. 

Today problem  has become the focus.

I have adapted the anecdote quite a bit.  But I the spirit remains the same. 

Kerala has a mixed population. Hindus: 56%, Muslims: 25%, and Christians: 19%.  The people lived in harmony until certain politics entered the state recently.  The writer of the above anecdote was questioning that politics, I guess.  [I don’t remember whether the writer was a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian.]

I too would like to question the kind of politics that is entering Kerala these days.  But I don’t believe in any religion.  I can live very well with a velichapadu and a mullah on my east or west provided no politician comes anywhere near my house. 

I look forward to a world without politicians. 

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

AAP and I

Who defeated Arvind Kejriwal?  Himself or us?

His party ruled for just 49 days.  They were momentous days.  He implemented his promise on setting up a number for reporting corruption; in two weeks instead of the promised two days.  He met people to discuss corruption issues, though the crowd was beyond his control.  He did what he could.  He would have done more if he could. 

He put an end to the VVIP culture in politics.  The politician became aam aadmi.  Ministers started travelling in vehicles without the screaming red lights and horrifying screeches.  But the police had to go out of their way to provide protection to the chief minister.  Who defeated the chief minister’s vision that political leaders need no such protection from their own people?

He revolutionised the admission procedures in schools.  Schools which charged hefty amounts from parents illegally stood to lose.  The aam aadmi would have gained.  Then who defeated AAP?

AAP appointed people who visited the government schools in Delhi to ensure that they are functioning properly.  Procedures were undertaken to end contract labour and thus ensure the welfare of workers.  Steps were taken to train a special commando force for the protection of women in Delhi.  Enquiries were initiated about the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.  Power supply and water supply were being made more effective and efficient – no doubt there were many teething problems.  Harassment of auto rickshaw drivers by the police was stopped.  Government hospitals were made more effective. 

49 days.  What more could be achieved in 49 days by a government with no prior experience?  Kejriwal dared to take up the cudgels against people like Mukesh Ambani who have hijacked the economic system in the country and people like Veerappa Moily who have sold democracy to the corporate sector. 

We keep on accusing our politicians of being corrupt.  When one man took the initiative to clean up that corruption and bring good governance, he failed.  Did he defeat himself by resigning?  Maybe he did.  Was he helpless?  His helplessness is our own.  Is he simply a shrewd politician who is aiming higher – for the PM’s chair?  Well, I will vote for him in the Lok Sabha elections too. 

My likes and dislikes are instinctive initially.  I began to like Kejriwal instinctively just as I disliked Anna Hazare instinctively and hated Modi instinctively.   But I don’t let my instincts dictate terms to me.  I evaluate my instincts with my reason.  So far my reason has told me that my instincts were generally right. 

My instincts tell me that Modi will only work for the corporate sector and use one particular religious community for furthering his ends.  Modi will engender a civil war in the country if he becomes its Prime Minister, my instincts predict.  My instincts tell me that the Congress has become impotent.  My instincts tell me that we need a leader who is a bit cranky.  

Friday, February 14, 2014

We disturb ourselves

“People are disturbed not by events, but by the views which they take of them,” said the Greek philosopher Epictetus 2000 years ago.  20th century psychologist Albert Ellis [1913-2007] said the same thing in slightly different words, “People disturb themselves by the things that happen to them, and by their views, feelings, and actions.”

It is facile to argue that Salman Rushdie or Wendy Doniger disturbs us with their books.  The fact is they don’t.  There are more people in the world who are not disturbed by their books than those who are.  What makes the difference?

There is a model in psychology known as the A-B-C framework.  A stands for activating agent, B for belief, and C for Consequence (emotional and behavioural).  A book may be the activating agent.  It creates a belief in us: that our religion or god is in danger or something of the sort.  And the consequence is anger, frustration, or some such reaction. 

The basic premise of this approach to psychological understanding of human behaviour is that faulty thinking, making incorrect inferences on the basis of inadequate or incorrect information, and failing to distinguish between fantasy and reality engender problems

In other words, how we feel and behave is determined by how we perceive and structure our experience. 

How to rectify our wrong or inaccurate perceptions and interpretations which lead to problems?

The A-B-C framework suggests that we should question our beliefs with a disputing intervention (D) which will have an effect (E) on our emotions and behaviour leading to a new feeling (F).

If we feel hurt by a book, we can questions ourselves why feel so?  Is the book factually correct?  If it is not, it need not disturb me since I can disprove the claims of the book.  If it is factually correct, it is my beliefs that need correction or modification.  This is just an example.  We may need to ask more questions than these.  Relevant questions.

This may appear too simple or even childish.  The fact is that this model is working wonders in psychological counselling.  It can work wonders in our lives too if we are genuinely interested in solving our problems.  If we want to take political mileage out of problems, then neither this model nor any other will work.  Psychological theories and frameworks are effective only if our quest for solution is genuine.  

Let me conclude with Ellis’ words: “The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own.  You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president.  You realize that you control your own destiny.”

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Blindness of the Religious

Religions have an uncanny knack for making people intellectually blind.  The latest example for religious blindness is the withdrawal by its publishers (Penguin) of Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus: An Alternative History.

Doniger quotes in a letter to the press:  “An example at random, from the lawsuit in question: ‘That YOU NOTICEE has hurt the religious feelings of millions of Hindus by declaring that Ramayana is a fiction. “Placing the Ramayan in its historical contexts demonstrates that it is a work of fiction, created by human authors, who lived at various times……….” (P.662) This breaches section 295A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). ‘ 

Doniger is an accomplished scholar on Hinduism.  It is absurd that ignorant people are questioning her scholarship and trying to ban it from public access. 

Ramayana may not be the only bone of contention in this case.  However, since Doniger has mentioned that explicitly in her letter, let me quote some relevant passages from Dr Amartya Sen’s book, The Argumentative Indian:

“... many Hindu political activists today seem bent on doing away with the broad and tolerant parts of the Hindu tradition in favour of a uniquely ascertained – and often fairly crude – view which, they demand, must be accepted by all.  The piously belligerent army of Hindu politics would rather take us away from these engagingly thoughtful discussions and would have us embrace instead their much-repeated public proclamations, for example that Rama, the epic hero, is an incarnation of God; that all Hindus worship him; and that he was born on a well-identified spot ‘nine lakh [900,000] years ago’.  We are thus not allowed to see the Ramayana as ‘a marvellous parable’ (as Rabindranath Tagore saw it), but as a historical document which cannot be questioned.  It is also taken to have enough legal status to give actively destructive Hindu politicians a licence to tear down a place of worship of other people ... in celebration of his alleged birth exactly there.”

“Many Hindu schools of thought,” continues Dr Sen, “do not mention Rama at all, and, among the texts that do, many hardly portray him in the spectacular light of divinity in which the present day Hindutva activists insist on seeing him.”

There may be many other points in Doniger’s book, apart from her views on Rama, which infuriated the blind believers (or those who maliciously make use of religious sentiments for political purposes, which is a more vicious thing to do).  But all those points will have rational and historical counterviews too.  So why should the book be banned?  Isn’t it better to let the readers find out the truths about their religion and beliefs? 

It is more likely that these so-called religious leaders want to keep people in darkness.  Every religion flourishes when the people are ignorant.  Anyone who tries to remove the ignorance is persecuted in one way or another.  Wendy Donigen is the latest victim of religious blindness and its attempts to keep others blind too. 

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Modi’s Dalit Parivar

Courtesy The Hindu

Narendra Modi, India’s possible future Prime Minister, was in Kerala yesterday.  According to a front page report in today’s Malayala Manorama (the widest circulated paper among all the regional languages in India – leaving out a Hindi paper), Modi proclaimed in Kerala that his family meant the Dalits, the oppressed, the Adivasis and the backward communities in India.  He didn’t mention Muslims, of course.  Please understand his constraints.

Vote for Modi so that all the backward communities in India will be liberated.

Don’t ask which backward community of Gujarat he liberated so far in spite of being the Chief Minister of that state for three consecutive terms.

He brought development to the state.  At what cost?  And what kind of development?

According to the Raghuram Rajan panel conclusions, Gujarat does not even figure in the list of developed states.  The hunger rates in Modi’s Gujarat are higher than those in the Yadavs’ UP.  The Shiv Sena’s Maharashtra is preferred by Amreeka for FDI.  There are more malnourished children in Modi’s Gujarat than in most states of India...  What has Modi done?  Except play politics for the sake of becoming the Prime Minister?  Rags to riches ambition?

I loved Modi’s joining hands with the failing politicians of Kerala.  Because it has made me understand Indian politics better.  Modi teaches me that politics is the best refuge for the most useless scoundrels on the earth.   

Modi spoke the most divisive politics in Kerala.  He made it appear the most uniting.  Such people can never  be trusted.  Should not be trusted.  They can change their stance at any time.  They can join hands with the businesspeople when that suits them.  They can join hands with the lowest castes when it suits them.  [The person raising hands with Modi on the left is Vellapally Natesan, a man who has been trying to promote caste politics of a different kind in Kerala, the same kind that Modi succeeded with against Muslims in Gujarat].
Modi and Natesan can be a good team.  Both belong to the same category by their roots. 

I love India with its infinite variety.  I hope Modi won’t be its Prime Minister. 

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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Life as Story

After food and shelter, man’s basic need is story.  I read this a few days back in The Hindu, but have forgotten who said it.   Stories fascinate us.  Most of the great lessons of life were taught to us in the form of stories when we were children. 

The life of each one of us is a bundle of stories, stories we tell us about ourselves as well as those told by others about us.  These stories create our reality to the extent they determine our perceptions and feelings, and hence our actions.  In our stories, we may see ourselves as the hero, the victim, the villain, or anything.  Our life is completely influenced by these roles we assume.  Consequently, if we wish to make changes in our life, it is necessary to make changes in the story we script for ourselves.

In psychology, there is a whole therapeutic process known as Narrative Therapy.  According to Michael White, a theorist and practitioner of Narrative Therapy, we construct the meaning of life in interpretive stories which are treated as “truth”.  Narrative Therapy encourages clients to script their stories in such a way that they emerge as courageous victors. 

People go to a therapist because they have psychological problems.  In other words, their lives have become problem-saturated stories.  Problem-saturated stories make us live in negative ways.  Narrative Therapy argues that people can continually and actively reauthor their lives.  Today is the first day of the rest of your life.  You can begin a new story for your life today. 

The Hollywood movie, Legally Blonde, tells the story of a girl named Elle Woods.  She is in love with a young man named Warner who gives her up when he gains admission to Harvard Law School.  Elle is devastated.  She could have written a problem-saturated script for her life.  Instead she takes up the problem as a challenge.  The potential victim becomes the heroine because of the script Elle writes for herself.  She takes the situation as a challenge.  Putting aside her superficial attitude to life (shopping, parties, and the like have been her specialties), she starts studying and aces the entrance test to Harvard Law School.  Warner, however, is now engaged to another woman.  But Elle keeps scripting a positive story for herself.  She becomes a brilliant student.  She is invited by a faculty member, a famous attorney, to join him in defending a rich young woman accused of murdering her husband.  Elle does a fabulous job in the court and wins the case.  She becomes famous.  Now Warner returns to her, trying to win her back.  But Elle is no more interested in him now.  The challenges she has overcome have elevated her to a greater level of consciousness.  She rejects Warner.

Like Elle, each one of us can write positive scripts for ourselves at any time, on any day.  What if Devdas had written an alternative story for himself when faced with challenges vis-à-vis Paro? 

“Life … is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” lamented Shakespeare’s Macbeth when he had created a big mess out of his greed for power.  But life need not be such a bizarre tale, unless we want to make it so.  The simple truth is that we keep on creating ourselves with the stories we script for ourselves.  

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Saturday, February 8, 2014



I started this journey at some point in the pointless flow of eternity.  As purposelessly as the motion of a stone set rolling down a mountain by the insensate boot of a careless traveller.

Unlike the stone, I have a lot of freedom to choose my path, the mode of my travel, the diversions and digressions.  I can choose the people I want to meet, or at least my responses to them.  I can laugh or brood.  Laughter will not necessarily generate flowers on my way.  Flowers are not necessarily more desirable than brambles.

Why do I have to make this journey at all?  The May fly which has no mouth answered.  “I live just a few hours,” said the May fly which had no mouth.  “When I become an adult, I mate with another adult.  Then I die.  She lays eggs and she dies.  The eggs hatch.  More May flies are born.  Only to mate and die.”  And the May fly which had no mouth died.

I learnt that the May flies never eat any food.  They have neither a mouth nor a stomach.  Food is not required for such a short journey as a May fly’s.  Yet May flies make the journey.

What’s the point of the journey?  The point is that there is no point.

Okay, if your craving for a point is irresistible, how about this: the point is that you’ve got to go on.  You’ve been kick-started into motion like the stone on the mountain and you have no choice but roll on.  You’ve got to complete the journey.  It’s your journey and no one else can make it for you.

What will I gain in the end? I ask.  Nothing.  There’s nothing to gain.  Nothing to be lost either.  It’s a journey, not a commercial enterprise.  It’s a journey in which you are condemned to make choices.  Only the beginning and the end are not in your control.  All the rest is your choice.  The people are there around you because you’ve chosen to have them.  The places, the events – you’ve chosen them.  Of course, you had no choice but to choose.

Your choice determines the whats and whys of your life.  Call it meaning, purpose, loss or gain, what you wish. 

While making the inevitable journey,
You can choose to learn, though there is nothing to be taught.
You can choose to understand, though there is nothing to be explained.
You can choose to unfold secrets, though there is no secret.

You can choose to be wise, though in folly lies the real wisdom.

If you choose the folly of the wise, you will laugh much along your way. 

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Thursday, February 6, 2014



Manav was arrested and thrown into a dark dungeon.  No one told him what his crime was.  When they hurled him into the dark cell whose door shut with a bang, all that he could see was a beam of light passing through a slit-like ventilator at the top of one of the walls.  Silence and darkness enveloped him.

He stretched his body and touched the narrow sill of the ventilator.  He pulled himself up and looked out through the ventilator.  The light outside helped dispel some of his gloom. 

He spent most of his time and energy doing the same thing day after day, without once caring to explore the darkness in the cell. 

If only he had explored the darkness, he would have discovered that the door was not locked.

What stood between him and his freedom was his obstinate clinging to the narrow slit.

Acknowledgement: This parable is adapted from Sheldon B. Kopp’s book, If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him!

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Mathew Effect

“The poor are poor not because the rich are rich,” says Robert J. Samuelson in his Washington Post column reproduced in The Hindu

In 1968, the sociologist Robert K. Merton coined the phrase ‘the Mathew Effect’ for the phenomenon of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.  The name Mathew came from the Bible.  Jesus said, according to Mathew’s gospel, “For to him who has more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away” [Mathew 13:12]. 

Jesus did not live in a time which promoted capitalism and its wealth-creating ideology.  Jesus was far, far from being a capitalist.  In fact, he would have been the ideal communist, had he been allowed to have his way by the various leaders of his time (political as well as religious).  What he meant was that those who have the spirit of life in them will be given more of that, and those who are just bullshit will get lost.

But religious scriptures can be interpreted in myriad ways.  Even as I did above.  And Robert K. Merton interpreted it the way Robert J. Samuelson does it now, half a century later.  All interpretations are correct so long as the frameworks are prepared by a carpenter who knows his job.

So, the poor are poor not because the rich are rich.  Samuelson’s argument is that the rich got richer and the poor got poorer because of the situation prevailing in the world.  The rich flourished because of the access they have/had to wealth-creating avenues such as car dealership, real estate business, and computer software business.  More people wanted cars, houses and the digital technology.  So those who had access to such business ventures got richer. 

Who remain poor today?  Those who don’t know how to exploit the prevailing situation?  Or those who don’t have the resources?

The answer may be ‘both’.

Samuelson doesn’t say why such people have no right to live their life.  Isn’t this coming down to Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest? 

If only the fit can survive, what does human civilisation mean?
Who are the fit?  Those who have the resources to manipulate the given system? 
Was the savage the fit person in the olden days?
Was the witch-hunter and the heretic-burner the fit person in the medieval days?
Is the property-dealer the fit person today?

I’m attaching the link to a video which I had put up in my blog earlier too.  I’m putting it up again because it is more, far more articulate than I can ever be ...

It asks the same question: Who is fit?
Will I be more fit a writer if I can get some businessperson to sponsor my writing so that I can quit teaching?  [I intend to do it!]
Is the forest dweller less fit a person because he doesn’t know how to use the digital technology?

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Devil


Father Joseph woke up from sleep with a tremor running down his spine.  His body was drenched with sweat.  This had become a routine now: a nightmare would kill his sleep halfway through it.

In his nightmares he was a sorcerer, or a witch hunter, or a medieval knight tilting at some mysterious windmills.  He dispensed magical potions and panaceas to the people who came and knelt down in front of him with childlike trust.  He drove a stake into the heart of every sinner in the parish.  He led some amorphous army to he knew not where.  Every dream ended with somebody like John the Baptist making a mocking apparition to him and accusing him of cardinal sins of all hues.  Often the Baptist had only the head; there was no body.  There was fury in his mockery.  His words lashed out like lightning and thunder. 

Father Joseph put on his white soutane as he got ready for his morning meditation.  He spent an hour every morning in silent prayer and meditation before the parishioners came for the morning Mass.  He mortified his flesh in many ways during the day in order to ward off all evil.  The devil prowls round everywhere and can overpower you at any time.  One ought to be on constant guard.

Darkness enveloped the church as Father Joseph came out of the presbytery.  He had forgotten to switch on the outside light last night.  Darkness had swallowed the whole world, thought Father Joseph.  What use was the artificial light of bulbs?  Light had vanished from the hearts and souls of people.

Father Joseph’s meditation was about to end when Sara appeared before him.  Sara had the beauty of an angel and the seductiveness of a witch.  She must have come to confess for the umpteenth time about her marital infidelity.  Yet another night in the arms of a man who was not her husband.  Her husband was in Dubai making money.

Father Joseph looked at Sara.  Not into her eyes as he used to do.  His eyes slipped.  They fell on the beautiful curves of her youthful body.  Father Joseph felt an unusual tremor in his loins.  The tremor rose from the loins towards his heart, shaking up his whole body.

“My God, my God!” his soul cried out silently. 

The lights had been switched on in the church.  But Father Joseph saw darkness everywhere. 

“The devil!” he muttered to himself, his eyes widening in alarm.  “The devil is inside me!” 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Quickfix Solutions

The tagline of Quickfix adhesive in the 1970s was “Joins everything except broken hearts”.  At about the same time, a therapeutic process known as Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) was gaining ground in psychology. It sought to help people arrive at quick solutions to psychological problems since everyone was too busy to go digging into the past and thus arrive at radical solutions. 

The advocates of SFBT argue that it is not necessary to know the cause of a problem to solve it and that there is no necessary relationship between the causes of problems and their solutions.  The problem is not what matters, but the solution.  Searching for the “right” solution is as futile as seeking to know and understand the problem.  What is important is to know your goals, what you want to accomplish, rather than diagnosis of the problem and its history.

The fundamental assumption of SFBT is that people are healthy and competent and have the ability to construct solutions that can enhance their lives.  Each one of us has the ability to resolve the challenges that life inevitably throws on our path.  But at times we lose our sense of direction or awareness of our competencies.  We become negative in our orientation as we focus on the problem more and more. 

What if we started focusing on solutions?  On the goals that we wish to achieve?  This is exactly what SFBT tries to accomplish.  It asks us to focus on what is working in our life.  Nine things out of ten may not be working.  Catch the tenth one that is working.  It is important to concentrate on small, realistic, achievable things.  Such things lead to big changes eventually.  Success tends to build upon itself.  Modest goals are the thresholds of great changes. 

SFBT suggests the following simple strategies while dealing with your problem(s).

1.     State your goals positively in your own words.
2.     Define your goals clearly.  Make sure they are action-oriented.  No abstract, sublime goals, please.
3.     The goals should be structured in the here and now.  Don’t make five-year plans.
4.     The goals should be attainable, concrete and specific.

Here are some strategies that may help in focusing on solutions rather than problems.

1.     Look at exceptions: You had expected the problem to occur but somehow it did not.  What was different?  Can that difference lead you to a solution?  At any rate, the exceptions remind you that problems are not all-powerful.  You’ve beaten them sometimes at least.
2.     Ask the Miracle Question: “If a miracle happened and the problem was solved overnight, how would you know it was solved, and what would be different?”  If you can visualise what would be different, you can also work towards it.  In fact, viewing the problem from the solution-angle is already halfway to the solution.
SFBT may not work in the case of broken hearts with deep wounds.  But it can work miracles with most problems of day-to-day life. 

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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...