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Showing posts from April, 2014

Retreat

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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

The Loneliness of Silas Marner

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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. 

Family Affairs

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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

Dislocated People

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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

The Power of Bad Language

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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 childr

You are you, and I am I...

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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 c

Easter, the Spring Festival

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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

Do or Die

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

Pope Francis

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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

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 r

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

Pearls and ... bullies

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  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

Where has the youth gone?

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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/h

How truth catches up

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“ 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