Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Retreat



Fiction

Religious centres are the best places for studying human nature.  All kinds of people assemble there.  The best and the worst, the poor and the rich, the mathematician and the novelist, the entire spectrum of human behaviour is available at religious gatherings.

People are driven to religion by entirely different motives.  Dag Hammarskjold, a very famous UN Secretary General and Nobel laureate said, when asked why he went to the church every week, “Loyalty to the tribe.”

I was at a Christian retreat centre for a week’s retreat.  Retreat is a kind of meditation, self-analysis, prayer, or whatever you would want it to be.  I had gone for the retreat because I was failing in my life.  I was becoming an alcoholic.  Rather, I had become one.  And someone suggested the retreat as a remedy when all other remedies including psychoanalysis had failed. 

I said “someone”.  But the someone was none other than my boss.

My boss was a good man.  He was religious.  I mean he was a priest.  He still is.  But the story has to be told in the past tense, according to the English lecturer, my colleague.  I am a mathematics lecturer who doesn’t know anything about story telling.  So I asked for help from the English lecturer who scowled at me when I said I wanted to write a story.   How can a mathematics lecturer write stories?  He wondered.  Mathematics is bloody numbers without a heart.  Stories are words from the heart, he said.

I have no heart.  That is what he implied.  That is just what the retreat preacher said too with Cartesian precision at the end of the weeklong retreat.  This is what saddens me.  This is the problem I want to write in the form of a story, in fact. 

Even my wife thinks I have no heart when I don’t drink.  When I drink I speak lovingly to her.  When I don’t drink I’m morose, she says.  She said, I must say to be linguistically correct.  “When you don’t drink, you only speak about heartless Euler and Gauss,” she said.  And when I drink I speak about Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal.  Do they have heart?  I don’t know. 

Oh, I’m breaking the rule of the English lecturer.  I’m going into present tense.  Forgive me, I cannot stick to rules when I come to real life, I mean life outside mathematics.  I never knew art had so many rules.  I always think, “How wonderful it would be break free from the rules of mathematics!”

But people play mathematics in life.  They call it politics.  Politics is mathematics.  In fact, my problem with mathematics started the day I realised that politics was mathematics.  No psychiatrist could heal me of that problem.  I think psychiatrists never studied any mathematics.  I also wondered whether psychiatrists were people who failed in life altogether.

Now that I have completed my retreat I wonder whether priests are also people who failed in life altogether.

My retreat preacher, Reverend Father T G Joseph, folded his arms standing before the name board of the retreat centre: “Divine Preaching Mission”.  Just behind him were some of the other believers who had attended the retreat with me.  One of them had asked me on my way out, “Do you think Descartes who said ‘I think, therefore I exist’ and then went on to make the geometrical coordinates was a mathematician or a philosopher or a religious person?” 

There was also in that crowd a man who had told me during one of the few intervals in the retreat, “I am a wife-beater.  I think my wife loves those beatings.  When I don’t beat her she thinks I don’t love her.”  There was another man who had told me while smoking a beedi that was smuggled in, “There’s food here when you’re hungry.  Food for the body.  Who cares for the food for the bloody soul?”

As I was leaving the place after a week's retreat, Reverend Father T G Joseph folded his arms while his people stood behind him with smirks on their faces.  That’s the scene I wanted to convert into a story.  But my English lecturer-colleague didn’t help me.  So it has come out this way.  By the way, my English lecturer-colleague is the best friend of my boss. 


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Monday, April 28, 2014

The Loneliness of Silas Marner



Silas Marner, the eponymous hero of George Eliot’s novel, is too good for the ordinary human society.  He has a childlike trust in both man and God.  He loses that trust, both in man and God, when he is falsely accused of theft.  He leaves the place and settles down in a richer place where he lives a very lonely life.  People view him with fear and suspicion; fear because they believe that he has some magical powers since he cured someone’s illness that was considered incurable.  They do not believe him when he says he has no magical powers. 

Marner is a good weaver and the profession brings him a lot of money.  His single obsession and source of joy becomes the gold and silver coins he amasses over the years.  But one day his fabulous wealth is stolen.  Marner is faced with a terrible sense of emptiness within.  His present situation elicits some sympathy from the people. 

Marner’s life undergoes a radical change when a three year-old child walks into his house one day.  The child’s mother had died in the snow outside.  The child becomes Marner’s new wealth.  He gives his entire love to her whom he christens Eppie after his own mother.  She grows up into a very loving human being.  She is a personification of goodness.  And she marries another personification of goodness, Aaron.  The three personifications of goodness – Silas, Eppie and Aaron– live together happily ever after. 

Yes, Silas Marner is a fable more than a novel.  It is a fable about goodness and innocence.  Such goodness and innocence is too fragile for the world of real human beings.  Hence Marner is destined to live apart from the world of real human beings.  He may have gained some human company in the form of his daughter and later his son-in-law.  But such angelic existence is possible only in fables and fairy tales. 

Marner’s loneliness is the loneliness of any human being who refuses to accept the inevitable evil in human nature.  When Marner finds solace in his increasing heap of gold coins, he is merely escaping from human wickedness even as certain drug addicts and alcoholics do.  Marner’s love for gold is merely the addiction of an escapist.  When that addiction is stolen from him, he is a desolate man.  But all the goodness he wanted comes back to him in the form of the little, charming Eppie who grows up as the epitome of human goodness. 


The kind of goodness that Marner wants and what his Eppie symbolises is impossible in the world of human beings.  That’s why Silas Marner will remain a lonely creature.  While Marners are real, Eppies are dreams. 


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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Family Affairs



I must thank my cousin, Jacob Matheckal (as spelt by him), for compiling the history of Matheikals.   

No connection with Matheikals
Of course, this may not be of any interest to anyone who is not directly related to the family.  I found it an eminent enterprise and wish to thank Babychettan (Jacob Matheckal) for the amount of labour that he has put in for bringing out this history.  The fact is that I know very few of the Matheikals mentioned in the history.  I look forward to getting to know a few of them at least in the near future, though I’m not sure how far I’ll be successful in that venture.  My hesitation owes much to my reticence and lack of interest in spending time with people.  I prefer books to people. 

During a light-hearted telephonic conversation with the author of this history some time ago, he asked me, “Shall I present you as an icon for all the mad people in the world?”  I laughed and said, “Why not?”  But what he has actually written about me is very flattering:

Tomichan and his spouse Margret are into academics and teaching. Tomichan emulated his father and developed a philosophical approach to life and events and is an avid promoter of ecological environment. He is a vocal and fearless crusader against injustice in the society and the political spectrum through his blog - matheikal.blogspot.in . Tomichan has proved that the pen is mightier than the sword. [Page 111]

I take this opportunity to pat myself on the back.  I must add that my father’s contribution to my interest in books is colossal.  He had a library of nearly 5000 books which he donated a few years before his death to the library of a parish church.  I had read almost all the novels and story books before I left home at the age of 15 to pursue my studies.  Reading has remained my best habit up to now.   I hope to cultivate a greater interest in ‘family affairs’ now that I know there are more Matheikals out there than I had thought of.   Thanks, Babychettan.




Saturday, April 26, 2014

Dislocated People



When a society changes in any important respect, dislocation of character takes place, said psychologist Eric Fromm.  For example, when the feudalist system was replaced with the capitalist system many people found themselves like fish out of water until they adapted themselves to the new system. 

We live in a time of rapid changes.  Each day comes with a new technology, a new software for the laptop, or a new app to be added to the smart phone.  Our world is not what it was twenty years ago.  Post offices have become redundant.  The video player metamorphosed into CD player which soon became defunct.  The CD/DVD drive replaced the floppy drive, only to be overtaken by the pen drive even before we could absorb all these changes.  Door Darshan became a romantic nostalgia struggling to breathe amid a plethora of channels of all types.  Banks went to ATMs before coming home on our laptop screens.  Queues for paying all kinds of bills vanished when online payment gateways opened new avenues.  Even the music player went individualistic with earphones attached to personal gadgets.  

We live in a world of individuals cut off from one another.  The community life became virtual with bloggers’ communities and social networks where we shared a lot of things like our views and photographs, without actually sharing anything.

Such radical changes don’t happen without affecting our character.  Many of us have adapted ourselves to the new world.  Many of us are trying to adapt.  Quite many are not able to, may not know how to, may not have the accessories required.

There are many people who feel dislocated in the new world.  The old character does not fit the new society, to use Fromm’s words.  A sense of alienation and despair may be the result.  Crimes increase as a result.

What is the remedy?  We have to find new roots and relationships, suggested Fromm.  In other words, adapt ourselves in a healthy way without losing our core values and personality. 

Many people are unable to do that.  Consequently we have a society of dislocated people.   People who are mere shadows of themselves.  The virtual life of shadows won’t give us any satisfaction.  Loneliness, despair, frustrations… unhappiness is the result.  And we search for happiness in all kinds of places.  In the malls, in eateries, in acquisitions… But they fail to provide the real happiness which can only come from a well adjusted personality.  Happiness does not lie outside there. 

When things in the mall, food and drinks in the eateries or increasing number of apartments or villas or luxury cars fail to give us happiness, we start looking for the panacea.  Gurus and Babas offer instant remedies.  Cults mushroom.  Fraudulent organisations and industries trap us.  They may come even in the garb of beauty parlours or massage parlours.


Happy are those who can see the superficiality of all these and touch the real depths within.  Theirs is the kingdom of heaven, if I may paraphrase Jesus.  Without the waters of life that spring from the deepest cores of our very souls, our existence remains like the fountains that go on recycling the same putrid water.  


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Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Power of Bad Language



Caliban and Prospero
“You taught me language; and my profit on't / Is, I know how to curse,” says Shakespeare’s Caliban to Prospero, the man who taught him the gentleman’s language.   Caliban was no gentleman, however.  He was an evil spirit whom Prospero tried to civilise.  After all, civilising the savage is the white man’s god-given burden.

Caliban cursed Prospero because that was his way of asserting his power.  He had been enslaved by Prospero, and words are the only source of power left when one is enslaved.  Words are powerful.  They can make or break people. 

 A recent study by psychologist Timothy Jay shows that children learn a lot of “bad” words even before they begin schooling.  They pick it up from their parents and other adults at home or around. 

As a teacher in a residential school, I have observed how children pick up foul language much more quickly than the more desirable alternative.  The “bad” words carry a certain power, as far as children are concerned.  When they use them, the children are asserting their power much like what Caliban did with Prospero. 

Yesterday’s Hindu reproduced a Guardian article in which the author argues that “bad” words belong to the savage part of our brain.  Even those people who lose their linguistic faculties because of brain damage tend to retain the capacity to curse or to use swearwords.  “While parts of the highly evolved cortex may have been destroyed,” says the author, “areas that developed earlier in our history — the limbic system and basal ganglia, which mediate emotion and habitual movements — remain intact. This is where swearwords seem to live, in the animal part of the brain that once gave rise to howls of pain and grunts of frustration and pleasure.”

In other words, when we curse and abuse we are becoming animal-like.  We are degrading ourselves.  There is power in such degradation, no doubt: the power of verbal muscles.


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Monday, April 21, 2014

You are you, and I am I...



Gestalt therapy is one of the many forms of psychological therapies.  One of its founders, Dr Fritz Perls [1893-1970] made the following lines a kind of prayer:

I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I,
and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful.
If not, it can't be helped.

In my youth, I had typed this and pasted it in a place I could see often.  For years, it remained there.  Finally it was worn out.  By that time, however, it had become part of my memory, my consciousness. 

The fact is that I never mastered the art of relating to others.  Maybe, too much ego.  More probably, sheer inability.  Most probably, lack of inclination.  Today, moving towards the autumn of life, I’m still convinced that Perls is right. 

Each one of us has to grow in our own way.  There is much that others can contribute, but whether people choose to make that contribution or whether the contribution becomes relevant to us is often beyond us.  “If we find each other, it’s beautiful.  If not, it can’t be helped.”

Perls was a brilliant psychologist.  He counselled many, conducted seminars and workshops related to psychology and counselling, and earned a name for himself in the history of psychology.  Yet he was eccentric too.  He was viewed variously as “insightful, witty, bright, provocative, manipulative, hostile, demanding, and inspirational.”  [Gerald Corey, Counselling and Psychotherapy]


We may have wonderful theories which help others improve themselves.  Yet we are not perfect.  None of us is.  If we can discover and relate to each other, it’s beautiful.  If not, it can’t be helped. 


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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter, the Spring Festival



Easter brings to mind the resurrection of Jesus.  But Easter was celebrated even before Jesus.  It was a spring festival.  Many states in India have similar festivals.  Vishu in Kerala and Bihu in Assam are examples. 

In Western literary traditions, winter symbolises death and spring is the harbinger of new life.  “April is the cruellest month,” begins T S Eliot’s classical poem, The Waste Land. The Eliotean waste land is a metaphor for the aridity of modern life.  In such a world there is only perpetual winter, winter that keeps us warm.  Our life is no better than death, implies Eliot.  We live death-in-life existence clutching lifeless roots in “this stony rubbish”. 

Easter, or resurrection as it has come to mean today, is a celebration of new life.  Spring comes with a new life that stirs up the dull roots that lay beneath the snow in winter, to use the Eliotean metaphor.  

The whole Christian concept of the Holy Week which starts a week before Easter Sunday is an interesting look at life.  Palm Sunday, one week before Easter, commemorates the glorious entry of Jesus to Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.  The donkey indicates that the glory is ephemeral.  Soon Jesus, the man who was raised by the people to the position of a king on the Palm Sunday, would be betrayed and crucified, by the same people!  Those who sing alleluias for you today will demand your blood tomorrow if all that you are offering is wisdom, because wisdom is not what they hanker after.

Jesus shed his blood for those same people who had hoped that he would redeem them from their slavery to the Romans.  From political bondage.  But Jesus was not interested in political liberations.  He was as cranky as the Greek Diogenes who lived in a barrel mocking the security people built up like fortresses round them.  He was no different from the Buddha who lived the life of the birds in the sky and the lilies in the wilderness. 

From Nehru Planetarium, Delhi
The new life, the liberation, Jesus promised was different from what people of any time have been looking for.  It was a liberation from the bondages of the spirit.  It was a liberation from the capitulation of human dignity to the glitters of the trivia.  It was an invitation to go beyond the body to the soul (or consciousness, as I would like to put it).  An invitation to rise above the animal existence to the level of the angels (beings who have conquered physical passions and emotions). 

The problem with such teaching as Jesus’ and the Buddha’s and that of Diogenes and others of the kind is that it makes superhuman demands.  It mocks our very simple delights and pleasures.  It makes our existence look like a caricature of what it should be.  That’s why we would rather keep Jesus, the Buddha and Diogenes on the pedestal and worship them rather than let them walk with us.


Happy Easter J  
From Nehru Planetarium, Delhi



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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Do or Die

Along with other teachers, I took some students on an outing. Some pictures I found interesting.








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Friday, April 18, 2014

Pope Francis



Christians all over the world commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus today, Good Friday.  Jesus, in all probability, did not intend to found a new religion; he wished to reform his own religion, Judaism.  This is the opinion of many well known theologians like Hans Kung.  In his brief history, The Catholic Church [Phoenix Press, 2002], Kung says, “... he (Jesus) did not seek to found a separate community distinct from Israel with its own creed and cult, or to call to life an organization with its own constitution and offices, let alone a great religious edifice.  No, according to all the evidences, Jesus did not found a church in his lifetime.” (page 12)

In Dostoevsky’s novel The Karamazov Brothers, there is a Grand Inquisitor who asks Jesus who appeared in Russia teaching people freedom and love, “Why do you come to disturb us?” 

Will Jesus be a nuisance to the Church and its leaders if he comes again today?  Will the priests seek a way to eliminate him?  After all, wasn’t it the Jewish priests who really got rid of Jesus?

Perhaps, we should not be so cynical.  The latest issue of The Economist carries an article titled The Francis Effect.  The article argues that Pope Francis is doing his best to make the Catholic Church a meaningful religion.  “One of his first decisions,” says the article, “was to forsake the papal apartments in favour of a boarding house which he shares with 50 other priests and sundry visitors. He took the name of a saint who is famous for looking after the poor and animals. He washed and kissed the feet of 12 inmates of a juvenile-detention centre. He got rid of the fur-trimmed velvet capes that popes have worn since the Renaissance, swapped Benedict’s red shoes for plain black ones and ignored his fully loaded Mercedes in favour of a battered Ford.”

There has been some controversy too about the Pope being a socialist of some sorts.  The very mention of words like socialism and communism brings wrinkles on the foreheads of present day intellectuals.  Those ideologies may have become defunct.  But the world cannot go on for long as it is going today, flying on the wings of aggressively acquisitive capitalism.  Someone has to apply the brakes and say, “Slow down, there are more important things which we are missing while rushing thus.”

Can Pope Francis do that?  Isn’t he doing it already?


Maybe, Good Fridays and Easters will become really meaningful hereafter, thanks to the Pope. 


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Cycle Arrested

Fiction

My husband was arrested tonight.  What was his crime?  He used a bicycle to travel from home to his office and back. 

We live in Bhatti Mines, a wild side of Delhi where the jungle mingles with the spiritual.  Bhatti Mines is a reserved forest, strictly speaking.  But the forest has been encroached upon by people of all sorts.  They say that we are encroachers too though we lived here long before the land was declared reserved forest.  They tried to throw us out of here many, many years ago.  We refused to go.  So Sanjay Gandhi, Indira Gandhi’s infamous son, decided to leave this land to us.  Our ancestors called it Sanjay Colony in his honour.  Our ancestors were too illiterate to know what Sanjay Gandhi meant, let alone what his politics meant. 

Today, long after Sanjay Gandhi and his sterilisations are dead, when the land has been declared reserved forest, there are all kinds of religious people who call themselves swamis and babas and gurus that build fences round lands like beggars falling upon whatever they can catch and the government chooses to keep its eyes shut.  No, the government helps them to grab, as far as I know.

I’m an illiterate woman who knows only how to make earthen pots.  The clay in the land becomes the food for my family.  My husband goes cycling to work as a peon in some office beyond Fatehpur Beri, the last place I have ever seen in my whole blasted life.   People tell me that the world does not even begin at Fatehpur Beri.  That’s why I said we live at the end of the world. 

My husband was arrested.  Because he refused to carry his cycle on his shoulder for the sake of a Scorpio to pass by.  He told me that for the past one year the road between Fatehpur Beri and Dera Mode was on repair.  So the traffic remains one way and it crawls. 

One Safari-suit-wala who thinks himself a VIP slapped my husband and said, “Give way, you rascal.”  My husband didn’t understand what was happening.  He turned back to see a Scorpio trying to push its way through the blocked traffic.  Everybody in the Scorpio was wearing a Safari Suit in Delhi’s torrid heat.  Stupid people, said my husband.  They asked me to take my bicycle on my shoulder and stand out of the road so that they could drive another two feet ahead.  This is Delhi, said my husband.  Bastards, trying to get two feet of land from a cyclist. 

My husband refused to take his bicycle on his shoulder.  Does this road belong to you?  He asked the Scorpio-suit-wala.  The suit-wala slapped my husband. 

My husband felt insulted.  He thought that it must be a follower of one the gurus in the area who did this.  Who else would possess such hubris?  He cycled all the way to the particular guru who was holding his Satsang this evening.  There was no Scorpio there. 

But he was arrested.  Why should a cyclist come to a religious gathering?  He was asked.  He explained why he went there. 

Are you sure that the number is DL 3 CAS 4043? The security managing the parking lot of the guru asked him.  He said, “I’m only a semi-literate man.  I don’t have the literacy of the gurus and babas and other great people.  May be, it is not CAS, may be it is CSA.  But it is a Scorpio.”

My husband was fond of numbers.  He could have been an economist if babas and Scorpios had not thrown us out of the main road all the time.

How to get him out of the vicious cycle of the police, the baba and the Scorpio?  I will have to fall at the feet of the baba’s chela, I guess.


PSBased on a real incident. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Jungle Global School

Fiction


The very sight of his school’s name board, Jungle Global School, filled Raju Skunk with horror.  The school was a place of nightmares for Raju.  “Stinky Skunk,” his companions called him.  They tormented him because of his smell.  Raju had no friends and no one played with him ever.  Even the manager, principal and various deans in the school discriminated against him although discrimination of any sort was against the Constitution of the Jungle Republic.

“Why do we stink like this?” Raju asked his mother.  “Can’t we get rid of this stupid stench and live with dignity?”

“We are skunks,” his mother explained.  “We smell like skunks and it is our birthright to smell so.  It is our duty to smell so.”

Right, yes, Raju could understand that.  He had seen animals fighting for all kinds of rights.  The tigers fought for the right to kill other animals when the Republic wanted to pass the Bill of Vegetarianism.  The foxes had fought for the right to declare sour all the grapes that were not within their reach.

Right, yes.  But duty?  Why should anyone consider it his or her duty to stink like the drains in the cities of human beings?

“It is our lineage, our ancestry, our culture…”  Mother used a lot of words which Raju couldn’t really grasp.

One day when Raju was sitting on a rock scratching it with a stone and looking dejected, the wise owl came and sat on a tree branch nearby. 

“Do you want to change your smell?” asked the owl.

Raju looked up surprised.  “How did you know my problem?” asked Raju.

“It’s not for nothing that we are considered wise creatures in western countries,” said the owl.  “There’s a Jungle Beauty Parlour at the end of that trail,” the owl pointed with her claw.  “You can get your smell changed there.  You have to pay, of course.”

Raju Skunk thanked the wise owl and went home to collect all the pocket money he had saved. 

In an hour’s time Raju Skunk was smelling like roses.  And then a lot of friends gathered round him at school.  His social network profiles were flooded with friend requests.  Matrimonial sites sent him emails asking him to register himself.

The manager and the principal of the school presented him on the stage as the ideal student.  The various deans showered much adulation of varying types on Raju Skunk.  The dean of academics gave him free formats on how to study each subject, how to read novels, how to read poetry, how to read even the Jungle News...

“What’s this stupid smell?” asked Mother Skunk as soon as Raju Skunk reached home. 

“It’s me, mom,” said Raju.  He explained how he got the new smell.

“What nonsense!”  Mommy Skunk fumed.  “How can you smell like a rose and be a skunk?  A rose is a rose and a skunk is a skunk...”

“Mom!,” said Raju Skunk, “gone are those days.  Culture, ancestry, lineage... these are words we can throw in whenever we want to bluff some creatures.  The world is moving towards one culture, a global culture.  Everyone will have the same kind of dress, the same smell, the same looks...  We will be given blueprints for thinking, for breathing, for eating...”

Mommy Skunk stared at her son.  There was a sense of déjà vu in that stare.  Her husband who had gone to collect a family Visa for emigrating to a better jungle in Africa had spoken in a similar vein.  Maybe, there’s much that I’m yet to understand, she sighed.  Then she embraced Raju though a frown spread on her face due to the filthy smell that her son had acquired.  “I’ll get used to this smell,” she sighed.



Acknowledgement: Inspired by John Updike’s story, Should the Wizard Hit Mommy?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Pearls and ... bullies

 Fiction

Mollusc (mollusk, in American English)
Little Johnny went as usual to his grandma when he was bored of everything else.  Grandma would tell him interesting stories.  Johnny was carrying his mother’s latest pearl necklace that came free with the saris she had ordered online. 

“Pearls,” said grandmother fondling the necklace.  “Shall I tell you the story of pearls today?

Johnny was excited.  Do pearls have a story too?

Yes, they do, said grandma.  A great story.  Do you want to hear it?

Of course, Johnny was all ears. 

Pearls are found inside the body of creatures living in the oceans, started grandma.   Shell fish.  Molluscs.  They are extremely tender creatures.  Like the soft boys and girls you may see at school.  Do you see such boys and girls?

Yes, there are some.  Johnny agreed. 

What happens to them?  Asked grandma.

Boys bully them.

Exactly, said grandma.  Bullying becomes an acute problem if you are very soft.  The molluscs are too soft for this world.  So the nature gave them a protection.  They have a very thick and hard cover outside their soft body.  If you see the molluscs with their hard shells you will think what horrible creatures they are.  But, in fact, they are the most delicate creatures in the ocean.  So delicate that they have to live inside their thick shells all their life. 
How boring!  Exclaimed Johnny. 

Yes, agreed grandma.  Very boring life.  Who likes to live jailed within thick walls?  Everybody loves freedom.  Everybody wants to venture out beyond one’s limits.  The molluscs too do the same.  The urge to open up their shells becomes very strong.  And they open up.  What happens then?

Some bully comes and bullies, said Johnny.

Exactly.  Grandmother fondled Johnny’s lovely cheeks.  Bullies abound in the world.  Even simple dust particles can be bullies for a mollusc.  Some such particle enters the shell of the mollusc when it is opened up.   You know, whenever you go out into the open spaces out there, this is a risk that you run.  Some filth may enter inside you.

Virus, said Johnny.  He had a computer class that day at school.

Yes, viruses are just waiting to enter inside you.  That’s how the world is.  And they enter the shell of the mollusc when the mollusc only wants to enjoy some freedom in the sea.  But any little speck that attaches itself to the delicate body of the mollusc is like a thorn that enters your body. 

Pearls - as imagined 
Ouch!  Johnny knew how painful it is to have a thorn in his flesh.  He had them piercing his body occasionally when he entered the rose garden.  He could imagine what it would be like to have one of those thorns sitting inside your body.  His imagination had not yet been ruined by his school which would eventually give him rules for everything including how to read a newspaper.  But Johnny was too young for reading newspapers.

Once the speck enters the shells close, grandma continued.  The shells are a defence mechanism, you know.  But the speck inside becomes a terrible pain.  What do you do when you have pain?

Apply the balm, said Johnny.  He had seen grandma applying the balm frequently in different parts of her body.

Exactly, said grandma hugging Johnny.  The shell fish applies a balm.  It secretes body fluids.  Your father once told me that the scientists call the body fluids by some names like aragonite and corichiolin.  But the names don’t matter.  They are the tear drops of the shell fish’s body.  The shell fish cries in pain.  And its body sheds tears.  The tears form an enveloping layer round the thorn in the flesh.  But one layer is never enough for the pain to subside.  So the shell fish, the mollusc, continues to shed tears.  More and more liquid layers are added.  These layers become solid as they are laid.  Many, many layers of such pain balm become ...

... the pearl, Johnny completed the story with brilliance in his eyes. 

Yes, said grandmother.  Pearls are formed... ok, you tell me, what did you learn from the story?

We have to cry a lot if pearls are to be gained, said Johnny.

Grandma smiled.  Tears were always a part of her stories.  And Johnny knew it in his own childish way.

Pearls cannot be created, said grandma paraphrasing Johnny, without a lot of pain. 


Acknowledgement: I’m indebted to Maggie (my wife) for this story.  Last Sunday (Palm Sunday, for Christians) she visited the local church after a long time.  Her job never gave her time to attend the church.  But she was excited that the system had changed and she could now attend the church every Sunday starting from the Palm Sunday .  She had invited me too.  But churches and temples don’t appeal to me except for their architecture.  Maggie came back from the church and told me the story of the shell fish.  The “Father” (priest) had narrated it in his sermon.  Probably, Maggie wanted to tell me that my present situation was good enough to produce some pearls J  The grandmother and Johnny are the only pearls I could add to Maggie’s (her priest’s) story. 


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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Where has the youth gone?



I loved the passage given for the reading comprehension this time by CBSE for class 12.  It’s about youth and values.  It begins thus: “Too many parents these days can’t say no.”  It goes on to argue why saying ‘no’ to children is important.  Giving in to all the demands of children is paving the way of their ruin.  It creates a generation of people who are never satisfied with anything they get, because they’ve been getting it all too easily.

Easy availability is a dangerous thing.  It makes you feel that you deserve the best.  If you don’t get it, you will grab it by hook or by crook.  That’s the kind of generation we have created, says the passage.

“Today’s parents aren’t equipped to deal with the problem,” goes on the passage.  “Many of them, raised in the 1960s and 70s” went through hard days.  They were whipped at school and at home.  They are the people, like me, whose parents went to the school and told the teachers, “Whip my child as much as you like.  Make him/her obedient.”  And the school never spared the rod in those days.  Those students who were whipped mercilessly by the teachers and parents are today’s parents.  And teachers.  We, the parents and teachers want to give the best to our children.  So we made it an easy world for them.  Too easy.  We gave them the best.  We gave them whatever they wanted.

Except values and principles.  We taught them to question since we were deprived of that right.  And they questioned.  They even brought the police to the campus if any teacher dared to speak a word that they didn’t like.  And the teacher belongs to the same generation as their parents who only want to pamper as much as possible.  How far can the pampering go?

I’m writing this because I met with a minor accident today.  I was knocked down by a bike driven by two “children”.  Both the driver and the pillion rider were less than 18 years old.  How they got the license to drive is only one of the many questions that arise.  They were driving in the wrong direction on a one-way road.  I looked in one direction only while crossing the road since it was one-way traffic.  These youngsters came from the wrong side and knocked me down.  I fell prostrate on the road at Chattarpur in Delhi, an area where the traffic is not too busy usually.  I got up from the road with dust all over my body.

“Saala,” the boys started abusing me.  I couldn’t understand much of the Hindi they spoke.  Thankfully, they didn’t give me the usual MC/BC adulation. 

I smiled at them and said, “You came in the wrong direction, you’ve broken the simple traffic rules, you’ve knocked me down, and you’re abusing me.  What kind of behaviour is this?”

The pillion rider who had stepped down from the bike came to me with a raised fist.  I said, “Ok, before you hit me, let’s call the police.  Let the police decide who’s right.”  I took out my phone.

The rider of the bike said,  “Leave it, get on...”  And the “children” continued to ride in the wrong direction.  Not before hurling a few more expletives at me.

My instincts said, “Bastards.”  I said it loud enough for them to hear.  But in Chattarpur few people understand English, thankfully.

Am I, as a teacher (I never dared rear children of my own), a useless entity in this society?  This is a question that has been nagging me for some time.  I’m happy I’m not a parent.  But I’m not happy to be a teacher now.

The CBSE passage for the exam ends thus: “That means parents eager to teach values have to take a long, hard look at their own.”

But the parents’ obligation will continue to be confined to question papers.  CBSE and the present school managements have put a lot of duties on teachers in this regard: duties to build up values in the children who are “bastards” in the sense that they have no moral parentage. 


My question as a teacher is simple: can the teacher alone build up values in children?  What is the role of the parents, the society, the politicians, and particularly the ADMINISTRATORS?


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Friday, April 11, 2014

How truth catches up



Satyameva jayate” is India’s national motto.   That may be one of the many ironies in a county steeped in corruption of all sorts.  Truth and falsehood go hand in hand in India.  That’s why we, Indians, never had the concept of the devil in our mythology.  We never polarised the good and the evil into watertight compartments.  Our gods were a queer mixture of both good and evil.  That’s one of the best things about our civilisation.

Neither truth nor falsehood is absolute except in the pure sciences.  In actual life, they mingle obscenely.  Narendra Modi’s admission that he has a wife is a recent glaring manifestation of that mingling.  Why did he admit it now in the nomination papers submitted by him at Vadodara? 

Is it any indication that the truth is catching up with Modi?  I don’t think so.  Modi is more shrewd than Chanakya, Goebbels, or Machiavelli.  Modi must be having some trick up his sleeve by disclosing his marital status at this point of time, the cynic in me says.

Modi’s brother, Somabhai, has explained that the marriage was a mere ritual carried out in Narendra’s boyhood and the couple never lived together.  Fine.  That’s understandable.  Modi belonged to the kind of background in which children, ignorant and innocent, were subjected to the bond/bondage of marriage by parents who thought they were doing the right thing.  When Narendra grew mature and realised the absurdity of that marriage, he might have chosen to ignore it.  That he did not marry again goes in his favour. 

But Narendra Modi had denied his marriage up to now.  Why does he declare it publicly now?

What could be the political motive?  This is the first question that will rise in the mind of any politically aware citizen, as it did in mine.  But I’m not a Modi or a Machiavelli to figure out the answer.

In my own foolish way, I think truth is catching up with Modi.  It’s not the polarised truth I mentioned above.  It’s not any absolute truth.  There are no absolute truths, I reiterate, except in the pure sciences.  It’s the personal truth.  The skeletons in the personal cupboard have to spill out some time or the other before we bid goodbye to the planet.  Is that happening with Mr Modi?  Is this the beginning of a series of admissions that he will have to make eventually? 

Peace of mind lies in keeping the cupboard empty of skeletons.  Cupboards are not meant for keeping skeletons, in fact.  Truth has a way of penetrating the locks of the personal cupboard.  Has it started doing the job with Mr Modi?  I’ll be happy if it has.  I’ll begin to support Mr Modi if he dares to go a few steps ahead in this regard.


Mr Narendra Modi becoming transparent will be the best miracle of the century. 


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