Posts

Showing posts from February, 2014

Wonder

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.   

Diplomacy

Image
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

Sorting Out Sid

Image
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 2

Racism: India and the Northeast

Image
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 wh

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 win

Oracle

Image
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 an

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 visi

We disturb ourselves

Image
“People are disturbed not by events, but by the views which they take of them,” said the Greek philosopher Epictetus 2000 years ago.  20 th 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 psycho

Blindness of the Religious

Image
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

Modi’s Dalit Parivar

Image
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

Life as Story

Image
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 stori

Journey

Image
Meditation 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.  Fo

Imprisonment

Image
Parable 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!

Mathew Effect

Image
“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

The Devil

Fiction 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 pa

Quickfix Solutions

Image
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