Saturday, August 30, 2014


Madhuri had reasons to be chagrined: her idol had deserted her.  She had deserted her family, defied her beloved father, to live with her idol, the famous novelist Amitabh Sinha.  Her devotion to the idol was such that she took all the necessary precaution to avoid getting pregnant.  Children would divert her devotion from her idol. 

Five years of selfless worship.  Yet he deserted her.  What’s unbearable was that he took as his beloved the woman whom Madhuri hated the most.  Sheila the witch with her two kids one of whom was a moron. 

Madhuri had first fallen in love with Amitabh’s novels.  The love grew into admiration and it spread like a contagious disease from the creation to the creator. 

“Don’t trust writers and such people,” Madhuri was warned by her father.  “They can’t love anyone except themselves and their works.”

Madhuri was sure that Amitabh would love her.  How can a god ignore his most ardent devotee?

Such devotion brings devastation when it is spurned.  With her god gone, Madhuri found her life absolutely empty and worthless.  A fury rose in her, however.  “What is it that she has and I don’t?” she asked me.  “Aren’t I younger and more beautiful?  Didn’t I give him my entire heart and body?  What more can anyone give him?  What is it that he finds in her?”

No woman can endure being replaced by another woman.  Even the idol’s death is more desirable than that.  Death has an advantage anyway: it marks the end of memories.  Separation does not kill memories. 

I could understand Madhuri’s furious outbursts but could not console her. 

“Speak to him,” she demanded of me.  “You’re also a writer, aren’t you?  He will listen to you.  Moreover, you were his teacher too.”

It is true I taught Amitabh in the senior secondary school.  It is also true that I met him once or twice in the recent past and had brief conversations with him.  But I never conceived I could have any influence on him especially on a matter like this.  He was a famous novelist whose books sold in thousands of copies while I was a mere blogger who was lucky enough to get a few hundred readers.  Moreover, what right did I have to interfere with somebody’s private life?  I hated it when anyone interfered with my private life.  I didn’t like it when my school put restrictions on what I could eat or drink outside the school hours.  There are certain matters that should be left to the individual concerned with no undue interference. 

However, Madhuri had a right to know why she was abandoned.  No one can walk over a person this way.  Amitabh did not do the right thing at all.  Who am I, however, to tell him that? 

But I happened to run into Amitabh.  Life is like that: it fetches right before you just what you would like to avoid the most knowing well enough that the avoidance is not the best thing to do.

Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi.  I was sitting in the lounge of one of the domestic terminals reading a novel by Amitabh when he himself came and sat next to me. 

“You know what kind of creatures artists are,” he said having listened to my hesitant narration of Madhuri’s woes.  “Every artist is a person obsessed with himself.  Every artist is a creator who is unhappy with the world’s ugliness.  Every artist is trying what he can to re-create the world after his imagination.  There is nothing more important to the artist than his work.”

Madhuri’s devotion was a stumbling block to Amitabh’s creative process.  That’s what I understood.  “She had become an irritating presence everywhere.  There she would be where and when I didn’t need her at all, watching me as if I were a child in need of a guardian angel, asking me what I wanted when all I wanted was to be left alone, breathing down on my neck when I thought she was busy in the kitchen...”

“If you wanted solitude, why Sheila... with her two children?” I asked.  I thought I could take that much liberty by virtue of having been his teacher for two years.  Teachers love to think of themselves as greater than anybody else merely because they taught that ‘anybody’ for some time. 

“Can a man live like an island?” he stared at me as if I were the biggest fool in the world.  “I wanted someone... Sheila won’t be my guardian angel; she has the kids to look after, and one of them will take most of her attention, he’s mentally retarded, you know.”

The artist should not be distracted from his work unless he wants to be.  Even the distraction is his choice.  If only Madhuri knew this secret!  But can a devotee like her be contented with part-time devotion?

“There’s something diabolic about devotion,” said Amitabh.  “You give your self away only to snatch something you perceive as greater than you.  Every ‘full time’ devotee would only be contented with possessing God, nothing less.  She too wanted something similar.”  I knew who he meant by ‘she’.

“She wanted me to love her more than my work.  Do you think I can do that?  Worse, she was trying to make me make her my idol by giving herself entirely to me.”

I am no religious believer.  I found that last statement as obscure as religion itself.  But I was not surprised: Amitabh is a writer.

Note: This is a work of fiction inspired by the short story, A Man of Letters, by the Nobel laureate (1952) Francois Mauriac.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Children of Lust

Lot and his daughters - a painting
Self-righteous fool that Iam!  Lot beat his chest and lamented.  His cries rose to the heavens, “Yahweh!  Forgive me, forgive me.” 

Lot’s sin was manifold.  Lust and incest.  He copulated with both of his daughters.  His daughters’ children would not be his grandchildren as it should have been.  How disgraceful!  The mountains off Zoar echoed his laments.

Lot had fled Sodom because of its immorality.  The people were like pigs wallowing in filth: they wallowed in sex and sensuality.  Bored of the women, the men of Sodom sought and found their delights in male bodies.  Left to themselves, their women too discovered their own delights: in the bodies of each other.  Bodily pleasures.  Damnation.  Death.

The wombs of Sodom cried to the heavens for seeds to germinate.  The heavens heard the cries.  Yahweh opened the gate of the heavens and told Lot to move out.

“You have been a temperate man,” said Yahweh to Lot.  “You did not forsake the ways I had ordained for humanity.  So shall I save you from the perdition that is about to fall on your land and its men and women as well as their offspring.”

A dream.  A dream of a man who wanted something more than the body and its pleasures.  A dream of a man who wanted to dream of the heavens.

Dreams can end up people in caves.  Lot wanted to save his daughters from the evil world.  He took them out from the world.  To a cave in a mountain off Zoar. 

Caves narrow down dreams.  Caves shrink one’s horizon.  In the cave Lot saw only his daughters.  There was nothing else to see in the cave.  Young daughters.  Beautiful daughters.  Daughters who should be married off.  Where are the men who deserve to marry them?

The soil longs for seeds even in a desert.  Ova need fertilisation by spermatozoa even in a cave.  Especially in a cave.

“When will we get husbands to fill our wombs with children?” lamented Lot’s elder daughter.

“When will we get men to love us?” lamented Lot’s younger daughter.

We are doomed to die in this cave, they said to each other as they hugged each other.  Their breasts met with the softness of the flesh of each other.  Sodom rose in their groins like a volcano ready to burst.  The heat of the volcano scorched Lot’s veins. 

Lot took out the wine from the cask to quench the thirst of his veins.  The wine flowed in his veins.  Wine mellowed his veins.  Wine infuriated his sperms. Infuriated sperms long to fertilise.  Long to mate.  Long to meet a mate.  Sodom had killed meeting and mating.  There is no life without meeting and mating.  There is no life where the sperm is spilled like swine’s swill.  Where the ovum is thrown out with rags that had been stuck in the foulest places. 

Lot said, “Come my beloved.  Lie with me.  Let my sperm meet your ovum.  Let there be life.”

Lot’s wife was not there to heed his invitation.  She had been turned into a salt pillar.  She had defied Yahweh’s orders. 

But Lot’s girls had heard his mourn.  They took off the rags that had been smothering their stinking bodies.  Let our bodies find liberation.  Let there be life.  They said. 

They lay on either side of their father.

The night passed.  Sodom was burnt out totally by the volcano.  But life was stuttering in the wombs of Lot’s daughters.

“Oh Yahweh!  What have I done?” lamented Lot standing on the mountain outside his cave looking up to the heavens.  I wanted a moral world.  I wanted morality.  Oh Yahweh!  I have spurned a brood of vipers.  Children of lust.  Oh Yahweh!

Yahweh promised a “Promised Land” to Lot’s offspring.  Lot dreamt on.  Lot’s dreams crossed the Jordan river.  Beyond all rivers.  Beyond all oceans.  Lot dreamt of a world where his morality would be in practice.  In practice.  A world of dreams.  Dreams of a caveman.  The Jordan formed a few ripples which died out soon.  The dream of the caveman continued.  In scriptures.  In the same Arab Land.  Dreams.  Dreams.  Dreams of the children of lust.  Oh Yahweh!

Note: This is a fictionalised version of an episode from the Bible, Genesis, chapter 19.  I have taken much liberty with the Biblical version. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

The new page that’s tomorrow

“At the age of seventeen, working as a delivery boy at Afremow’s drugstore in Chicago was the perfect job, because it made it possible for me to steal enough sleeping pills to commit suicide.”

Sidney Sheldon
That’s the opening sentence of the autobiography of a man who became a best-selling popular fiction writer apart from making a name for himself in Hollywood, Sidney Sheldon.

Born in 1917, Sheldon had to live his adolescence through the Great Depression.  His mother, Natalie, was born in Russia, a country which drove her family out along with many others during a pogrom against Jews.  She was a dreamer, according to Sheldon.  She dreamt of marrying a prince.  But the husband she got was Otto, “a street fighter who had dropped out of school after the sixth grade.”

Poverty at home.  Great Depression in the country.  Nothing to cling on to, nothing to look forward to.  The young Sheldon managed to grab enough sleeping pills from his workplace, enough to kill him.  He got some whisky from his father’s bottle and got ready to gulp down the sleeping pills with a good shot of whisky.  It was then that his father entered the room.

He told his father, “You can’t stop me, because if you stop me now I’ll do it tomorrow.”  His father took him out for a walk.  Sidney explained his position.  “My fantasy was to go to college, but there was no money for that.  My dream had been to be a writer.”  All his stories which he sent to various editors won “black printed rejections. I had finally decided I couldn’t spend the rest of my life in the suffocating misery.”

A writer, is that what you dreamt of being? asked his father.  “You don’t know what can happen tomorrow.  Life is like a novel, isn’t it?  It’s filled with suspense.  You have no idea what’s going to happen until you turn the next page.”

His father succeeded in talking Sidney out of his suicidal thoughts.  He died in 2007 at the ripe age of 90.

I have never been a fan of Sidney Sheldon though I used to enjoy reading his novels during the long annual train journeys I made from my home state to my workplace.   As I grew out of youth Sidney Sheldon fell out of my favour.  But when his autobiography was published I felt a strong urge to read it.  I wrote a blog on it too.

Now, about a decade down the line, Sheldon’s struggles came back to my memory.  It seems both funny and awkward that at this stage in life I wanted someone to reassure me that life is like a novel whose next page could make a lot of difference.  Also, I know, it doesn’t happen that way.  I mean no difference will come from out there.  Life isn’t that benign.  We have to write in that difference on the next page.  We have to become the author of the book that our life is.  I’m left bemused by the fact that Sidney Sheldon, of all people, turned up in my consciousness at this juncture when the last book of his I read was the autobiography and I really didn’t like it.  Life can be funny indeed.  And tomorrow can be a miraculous page depending on what I choose to write on it. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Party is Important

“Get lost, you common aadmi,” shouted Meena.  She knew too well that it was her boyfriend, her beloved, her fiancé, that was at the door.  A door that any beggar could knock down with one punch.

“I’m sorry, Meena. Can’t you forgive me?  Please yaar.” Arvind pleaded.

“Go to your Deepa.”

“Please understand yaar.  Deepa is a party worker, a senior member of the Average People’s Party.  APP zindabad.”

“Get lost with your APP.  You think I’m just average and you can play your male chauvinist games with me.”  She had learnt that phrase ‘male chauvinist’ from her slum mate, Sugandha.

“Dee... Mee.. Meena, I love you, and I love you only.  Open the door at least yaar.  Let me explain the whole bullshit.”

“Cowshit, you mean, you scoundrel!  You are running after a lot of cows these days.  If I open the door I’ll have to slap you.”

“Okay, slap me, but open the door yaar.”

She opened the door and gave a slight slap on her fiance’s face.  He was not prepared for the slap though he had asked for it.  He was a politician, nevertheless. 

“Marry me, Meena.  I can’t live without you.  The politics is becoming too demanding.  Please be with me in the times of hardship. I love you more than you can imagine.”

“You love me, you cowshit?  Then why did you go with that bitch Deepa to the mall.  You thought I wouldn’t know?  You...”

You fill in the blank, dear reader, with all the expletives you know since I cannot print them here.  

“Shut up and get lost from here,” a new voice demanded.  The voice belonged to Sugandha, the well known feminist in the city. 

Arvind was not sure how to deal with yet another woman in his personal life.  So many women, he thought, and yet they are saying that the sex ratio is skewed against women.  Bloody statisticians, fools, he thought. Every statistician should be killed in a riot.  Gujarat is the best place for that.

“Get out or I call the police,” said Sugandha.  “Love is out of place here.  This is a ladies’ apartment.”

What will the police do?  Wondered Arvind. 

“A man in a women’s apartment is like a chicken soup in a veg rest,” she said.  She meant vegetarian restaurant, Arvind understood though he was a politician.

He didn’t want to be a chicken soup.  And least of all he didn’t want to be in news for being slapped by a feminist in Hindustan. The worst that can happen to a politician.

“What will I do now?”  Meena asked Sugandha when Arvind left like a dog that hitches its tail between its hindlegs.  “He is the star to which I had hitched my bloody sewing machine.”

Meena was a tailor working with Zinda Fashionware whose stock market rates were rising ever since the present government had come to power in the centre.  Her boss had, however, cut down her salary saying that he had to donate a huge sum to keep the government alive.  Why a government should be kept alive was beyond her understanding.  But her fiancé was working for a government, a future government, of course.  A government of the Average People.  She always imagined the Average as a line.  A line.  A line that could be drawn, for example, between where she lived (a slum in the city) and the city with all its glitter and glamour.  The line can be drawn and redrawn, she knew.  Because she had seen the line shifting nearer and nearer to her slum.  Every election redraws lines.  Elections are all about redrawing lines. 

“You really want to marry that scum?” asked Sugandha who had been trying for the last five years to win some man of her dream.

“The hell!  He’s a political leader though the party failed in the last Assembly elections.  But just imagine him becoming an MLA.  Oh, so wonderful to be the wife of an MLA.  And the wife of an MP in future.  And the Prime Minister’s wife in the futurest future. Oh!!!”  Meena looked orgasmic. 

“Stop it!” ordered Sugandha.  Feminists detest orgasms, especially if men are involved in the imagination.  “You want that scum as your husband?  Yes or No?”


“Fall in the sewage,” ordered Sugandha.

“Shit out you witch,” screamed Meena.

“Don’t fall yaar.  Just pretend.  I’ll cal that scum and tell him that you fell.  Leave the rest to me.”  Sugandha took out her mobile phone.

Feminists are no match for politicians, learnt Meena soon.  A phone call was all that was required to bring Arvind to her slum once again.

“You mean, you didn’t actually fall in the sewer?” thundered Arvind. 

“Where is a sewer in a slum, you stupid?” asked Sugandha.  Feminists can make sewers appear and disappear with a phone call.

“But you love me, don’t you dear?” cut in Meena.  “Otherwise you wouldn’t have come so soon.”

“But...” stammered Arvind.  Even politicians can stammer before their fiancées.

“Never mind buts and ifs. I love you, you know.”  Meena wore her heart on the sleeve of the latest kurta that she was stitching for a feminist whose boss had ordered that the formal dress in the office was sari.

“I accept your love, my dearest darling,” said Arvind patting the cheek on which he had taken her slap a few minutes ago.  “But we will have to marry right now.  I have to leave for Ahemadabad tomorrow.  My party has given me the orders to work there for converting all the alcoholics into the party.”

“Isn’t Gujarat a dry state?” wondered Sugandha the feminist.

“Only on paper, madam,” said Arvind the politician. “You want to sip your favourite wine in any village in Gujarat and we will get it for you there.”

“But...” stammered Meena, the average woman.  “Aren’t you going there to campaign against wine?”

“Campaign is different, life is different,” said Arvind authoritatively.  “Do you want to come with me or not?  Party is important for me.  I’ll be an MLA soon.”

“I have nothing to pack.  When shall we leave?” asked Meena.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Importance of Flattery

Self-actualisation is the only motive that drives an organism.  Psychologist Kurt Goldstein said that. Self-actualisation, in simple words, means being (or becoming) what one can be. 

What appear to be different drives such as hunger, sex, power, achievement and curiosity are merely manifestations of the ultimate purpose which is self-actualisation.  When a person is hungry he actualises himself by eating.  Even a rapist is actualising himself, but in the most pathological way possible.  Pathology is too complex an issue to be discussed here.  So let’s get back to our topic. 

For the psychologically healthy people, self-actualisation is the organic principle by which the individual becomes more fully developed and more complete. Every individual has various needs.  The fulfilment of each need takes the individual a step forward in the self-actualising process.

Some people read and acquire more and more knowledge, thus fulfilling the need for knowledge which for them is a way of self-actualisation.  Some people ascend the ladder of hierarchy and conquer positions of more and more power, thus finding their self-actualisation.  There are infinite ways of reaching self-actualisation.

I read a good number of psychologists who discuss self-actualisation in order to find whether flattery could be a way of self-actualisation.  Not one psychologist discusses the topic.  Why?

Flattery is neither a way of self-actualisation nor an instance of psychological pathology.  It is a survival strategy of the weak and incapable.  When survival itself is a challenge, what other need can be important?  And when a person does not have any arsenal left in his armoury to fight for his survival, what can he do but flatter those who matter and get on in life?

Goldstein said that a normal, healthy person is one “in (whom) the tendency towards self-actualization is acting from within, and overcomes the disturbance arising from the clash with the world, not out of anxiety but out of the joy of conquest.” [Emphasis added]

From within.  That is what I meant by the arsenal in one’s armoury.  A sportsman’s skills lie within him.  So do a writer’s or a leader’s or any normal, healthy person’s.  When one does not possess the skills required to face the challenges lying in his path or when he has not discovered those skills within him, strategies become necessary.  Flattery is one such strategy.  A fairly harmless strategy.

Why harmless?  In fact, we can find a lot of people achieving much using that strategy.  There are many people who get on very successfully especially in their occupations by cleverly employing flattery.

Eminent self-actualisation psychologists like Abraham Maslow listed umpteen things ranging from mistrust to despair, cynicism to gracelessness, jungle world-view to bewilderment as pathologies.  Flattery does not find a place in that very long list. 

Hence, I must sadly conclude that I am the one in need of healing since I exhibit bouts of cynicism, gracelessness, and what not.  Like the three men in Jerome K Jerome’s boat, I find myself a patient in need of a physicist.  Or, at the very least, a voyage on the river of rejuvenation.

Right now, until my situation is conducive to such an adventure, let me console myself admiring the flatterers and their ingenious strategies.  

A related post which I wrote over a year ago: Your face shines like the moon

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Wisdom and Relationships

The above illustration is from the book Introducing NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) byJoseph O'Connor & John Seymour.

A quote from the book: "Acting wholeheartedly with wisdom means appreciating the relationships and interactions between ourselves and others."

We live in the age of the WorldWide Web and the Internet.  Web and Net.  Very evocative metaphors. They bring to mind images of relationships.  They do build up a lot of relationships too: on social networks and chat sites and so on.  Yet why is hatred increasing in the world?  Why more and more of egoism, cruelty, and one-upmanship?

Maybe, we have relegated relationships to the virtual world altogether.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014



It was years since I had left Kochi.  Sitting on the shore of the Vembanad backwaters sipping beer with an old classmate, I remembered those days of my life as a college student. 

Professor Leela Menon wafted into our conversation as naturally as the breeze from the lake set the coconut leaves nodding gently.  “She retired more than ten years back,” said Mohan.  “She now lives all alone in a villa facing the Vembanad.”

I decided to visit her.  I was one of her favourite students.  I adored her poems as well as her lectures on literature.  I participated in every essay competition to which the college was invited; I participated more to please her than anything else.  Professor Leela Menon was a poet and a social activist.  She did not marry; her life was dedicated to social causes.  She was bitterly opposed to the kind of development and that was overtaking the city.  She hated people cutting down trees in order to widen the roads.  She deplored the roar of the traffic, the rush of insanity, and the illusion called progress. 

“People say that she bought a villa that was known to be haunted by ghosts,” said Mohan.

I was amused.  “All the more reason I should visit her,” I said.

The auto rickshaw stopped at the gate bearing the Professor’s name beneath the name of the villa: Valmikam

To my surprise, Professor Leela Menon recognised me instantly.  We discussed the same old issues that were her passions: environment, human greed, meaning of development and progress...  “The planet is dying,” she said.  “We are killing it.  We are blood-sucking ghosts fattening ourselves on the vital sap sucked from the planet’s veins.”

She went on talking and reciting poems.  About the market forces that had converted parts of the Vembanad Lake into resorts and commercial centres.  About the imminent death of the Lake.  About the endlessness of human greed.

As the sun began to set beyond the horizon, I said, “Somebody said you had a bought a villa that was haunted.”

She laughed gently.  “Stories people make.  I didn’t try to suppress them.  They kept people away.  I’m doing tapas in my valmikam.  I’d prefer not to be disturbed.”

When the rainclouds gather the peacock dances with all the brilliant colours of his plumes spread out.  The hen is attracted.  They mate.  Dancing, mating.  Eggs are the consequence.  More peacocks and hens.  More dances, more mating.  One day the peacock was tired of dancing and mating.  He said, O, God, let my plumes vanish.  I don’t want hens anymore.  The plumes lost their sheen.  But the hens continued to come.  Let me become an egg, prayed the peacock.  I want to do tapas

I remembered one of her poems.

“Why don’t you spend the night here and experience the ghosts yourself?” she asked when I got up to leave.

“I have booked a room in the hotel,” I said. 

“Never mind.  You can go there in the morning.”

When the light was switched off and I was in bed, I realised what Professor Leela Menon meant by the ghosts.  The light from the traffic that flowed relentlessly outside cast bizarre shadows on the walls.  The sound roared like ghosts.  Every now and then a train passed – too often, in fact, roaring monstrously, shaking up the very ground...  Ghosts, too many ghosts, I mumbled as I turned over in bed restlessly. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Maid – an obituary

She died a few days back and I got the news today.  She was a nobody in the village.  For me she was a symbol of fortitude.

From the time I can remember anything about my life she was an integral part of our household.  I remember her carrying things from our house to sell in the market four kilometres away and bringing things back we needed at home.  I remember her bathing my little sisters when they were infants.  I used to watch her bathing the infant.  In the leaf of an arecanut tree.  I remember being astounded by her dexterity.  The infant would laugh at her touch.  Even when she poured cold water on the body, my little sister would laugh.  I used to be fascinated by the sight.  My mother couldn’t extract that kind of laughter from her children.

My mother cannot be blamed.  She had too many children to look after.  Too many servants too.  Workers of the fields were numerous and I can’t recall the names of any one of them.  Mother had to prepare food for them in a kitchen that smelled of smoke and ash.  There was my grandmother to issue a lot of orders to the servant who assisted my mother in the kitchen.  Orders, mother, maids – they confused me quite a lot in those days.  We were ten children in the family adding to the chaos that adults normally make. 

“It was a tough time,” my mother told me years later when I got a job 3000 km away and was on a holiday at home.  “Life was a balancing act.”

During one of those holidays my mother told me that Maria (Mariappennu, as she was called by all of us including me) was the best maid she ever had.  Maria knew all the jobs: from giving bath to infants to cooking to planting saplings in the paddy field. 

Maria was our unavoidable maid.  She was a constant presence in our family.  Her husband, Eipe, was also a similar presence.  I remember how he used to put me in his lap and rub his cheeks against mine.  I remember how I used to be tickled by the bristles on his unshaven cheek.  I used to laugh and he would tickle me further by playing all kinds of childish games with me.  I remember how his mouth smelt  of betel juice which he would spit outside the wall of the front yard.  I remember he always used to wear a cap made of the leaf an arecanut tree.

Eipe died before he could marry off two of his daughters.  One of them was a classmate of mine.  She was beautiful in those days, I recall.  But Eipe’s death had made her mentally ill and the medication in the hospital had her look terrible when I met her after quite a period. Another daughter of theirs had been in chains due to mental illness even when I was a student in the primary school that was just adjacent to their house.  Maria continued to labour for the family, especially for her daughters.  The sons moved out with their own families. 

I met Maria every time I went to Kerala for a vacation.  She would come to my ancestral home where I stayed during the holidays.  I was happy to meet her and she was happy to meet me. I would always give her a small gift which pleased her beyond my understanding. As years passed I could notice age taking hold of her body.  Even to walk on the village roads, that indefatigable woman now required the help of her youngest daughter who was my classmate and who had gone insane for some time in her life.

She didn’t visit me the last time I visited Kerala.  I was told she was not well.  I made a plan to visit her in her house.  I couldn’t.  I had gone on a two-day programme with a specific task.  Tasks control my life nowadays. 

My sister-in-law told my wife today that on Maria’s funeral day it rained heavily in the village.  Maria was a rain when she was alive.  Her funeral deserved the shower. 

Power Games

The primary objective of power, particularly political power, has seldom been social service.  A peep into the history of political powers of various types will convince us of that without any doubt.  Political power is an intoxicant: as good as a drug is to the addict.  People don’t capture power by spending billions of dollars or crores of rupees on image building and propaganda in order to render service to anyone.  People ascend the rungs of political power because the heights intoxicate.  Putting it in a more acceptable way, success gratifies or gives one a sense of fulfilment.

The Hindu
Self-actualisation is the highest goal for any individual, according to psychologist Abraham Maslow’s theory. Alexander the Great had as much right to make his conquests as Diogenes had to sneer at those conquests.  Albert Einstein would have been as out of place on a Prime Minister’s chair as a Prime Minister would be in Einstein’s shoes. So, let each person gratify himself.  But let us be clear about one thing: Diogenes and Einstein didn’t bring doom on any section of people.

A Prime Minister who has put Machiavelli and Chanakya to shame with his manoeuvres and histrionics may describe himself as “Prime Servant,” while in the background
shrewd moves are made on the political chessboard.  It is important to understand those background moves if one is to know which discourse is being written upon the palimpsest that the country is. 

The discourse matters.  The Europeans colonised much of the world in the past two centuries in the name of a discourse which they fondly called the white man’s burden.  Israel has performed a vanishing trick in Palestine in the name of a discourse that Palestine never existed.  Hitler’s discourse cost 6 million Jews their lives and eventually cost the world 60 million lives. 

The discourse matters.  That’s why it is important to notice which individuals and groups are being given prominence and which are catapulting themselves into prominence. 

Powerful oratory is capable of creating impressive facades to edifices.  But what goes on behind the facades is what will matter in the long run.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Insanity of War

Book Review

The Cellist of Sarajevo
Author: Steven Galloway
Publisher: Atlantic Books, London, 2008
Pages: 227

War is madness.  It takes human civilisation back to savagery.  It dehumanises people and makes of them cowards that hide themselves in holes like rats or ravenous beasts that ferret out the quivering rats from their holes.  It strips people of their dignity as human beings.  Food and water become scarce commodities.  Famine and diseases replace the zest for living.  Friends become foes.  Hatred spreads like a plague.

Steven Galloway’s novel, The Cellist of Sarajevo, explores the theme of war through the eyes of four persons: Dragan, Kenan, Arrow and a cellist who is taken from the history of the civil war that rocked Sarajevo in the first half of the 1990s.  The disintegration of the former USSR in 1991 led to a brutal civil war that caused almost a quarter of a million deaths, the worst violence in Europe since World War II.    

“At four o’clock in the afternoon on 27 May 1992, during the siege of Sarajevo, several mortar shells stuck a group of people waiting to buy bread behind the market on Vase Miskina,” says Galloway in the Afterword to the novel.  “Twenty-two people were killed and at least seventy were wounded.  For the next twenty-two days Vedran Smailovic, a renowned local cellist, played Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor at the site in honour of the dead.”

The Cellist is a motif in the novel reminding us constantly of the struggle of human civilisation against savagery, hope against despair, and stoic forbearance against mindless depredation.  Dragan and Kenan are ordinary citizens who witness the war, suffer because of it in many ways and eventually learn to become more human.  Arrow, a woman who has taken up that name symbolically, is a soldier who can shoot very skilfully.  She will kill only the enemy soldiers and not the citizens among the opposite camps.  She refuses to accept the argument of a senior officer who orders her to kill the citizens too: “There are two sides to this war, Arrow.  Ours and theirs.  There is no in-between.”

Is there really no in-between?  There has to be, if humanity is to survive.  Arrow is not a mere killer; she is a soldier who is fighting not out of hatred of the enemy but for love of her people. This is not an easy decision for Arrow.  The temptation to hate is strong for any soldier, for any human being.  Anyone who is not with us is against us: that’s the basic premise in any war.  Hatred is not a specific feeling against specific individuals anymore.  Hatred is now an abstract feeling against a whole community.  War fills us with hatred.

“She didn’t have to be filled with hatred,” Arrow realises.  The music of the Cellist “demanded that she remember this, that she know to a certainty that the world still held the capacity for goodness.”

The other two characters, Kenan and Dragan, too learn the lessons.  The novel is about those lessons that we have to learn if humanity is to survive if not flourish.  “Because civilisation isn’t a thing that you build and then there it is... It needs to be built constantly, recreated daily.”

Arrow is a character from the real history of Sarajevo as is the Cellist.  Galloway has woven a moving tale out of them and the other two imagined characters.  The novel makes us sit up and reflect on the futility of war and hatred.  Why can’t we be more sensible and create a happy world for all of us?  Why do we peddle in hatred so much when we can find much joy in living harmoniously?  Can’t we create a better world for ourselves?

There is no conventional plot in the novel.  Nor is it an experiment in any novel technique.  It presents us a handful of characters and their experiences as well as their self-understanding.  It makes us think deeper about the human situation and its potential for goodness.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Happy Independence Day

If there is one starving person in your country, your country is not independent. That old man called Gandhi said it.  May he rest in peace. 

I live in a country of beggars.  The helpless beg, the slightly less helpless steal, and a few are billionaires.  Quite many others are our leaders in the Assembly Houses and the Parliament Houses.  And a few others are religious beggars, a very fascinating lot they are: they provide us with our daily sustenance of fun.

Five individuals in my country possess assets worth Rs 5,23,897 crore rupees.  Mukesh Ambani's wealth amounts to Rs 1,49,474 crore rupees.  But he will sell our petroleum abroad and not give it to us.  That's called "the Gujarat model of development".  For more about India's wealth and beggary, read the report by Wealth-X.

"Don't be a spoilsport," says M.  "Let us celebrate our Independence."

OK.  I don't want to burst the balloons on Rajpath.  Quite a few crore rupees of the taxpayers in India have been spent on those balloons, I know.  Let the black ghosts in Swiss Banks rest in peace too.  If we can bury the father of the nation in peace, we can also bury the black money in peace.  Or vice versa.  And we, the ordinary people, should learn to bargain on Jan Path.

Happy Independence Day.

Let the emperor have his way.  Let him call the Tribal Chiefs for his coronation and have parties.  And then let him go to the borders and hurl challenges.  

We have an emperor.  That is more important.  Not a dumb Prime Minister. We have an emperor who can hurl challenges to the neighbouring enemy.  We have nuclear bombs too to show off.  We are in a position to hunt heads. 

Jai Ho!  Let us be happy.  

Happy Independence Day.  

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Patriot, I am

Source: The Hindu
Patriotism has reasons to surge in me. I live in a country whose supreme leader requires even more security than the supreme leader of the world’s superpower.  My country has a leader who matters.  Matters so much that no citizen can approach him within a radius of 3 km.  “Anyone who enters within 3 kilometre of the cordoned-off area around Lal Quila will be shot.”  On the Independence Day of my country.

My leader is not just a Very Important Person, he is beyond scales of importance.  I have now reasons to be a proud citizen of my country.   

The other day, another important leader of my country drew a parallel that also surged the patriotism in me.  He compared my country to Germany where all citizens are Germans and America where all citizens are Americans.  Similarly, he argued, all citizens of India should be “Hindus”.  Why not Indians?  Because, in his terminology India is Hindustan.  Never mind that the Constitution of India does not recognise that name of the country.  We can rewrite the Constitution.

The countries used for comparison are fit to make my blood flow with the passionate urgency that normally accompanies unswerving patriotism.  Germany which pontificated over a racial purification ritual half a century ago though now, according to the UN Population Fund, the country is home to the third-highest number of international migrants.  Which part of Germany’s history is my leader alluding to, I know.  That’s the reason why patriotism is pulsating in my feral veins.

America is the other example for me to follow, according to my leader.  The American census officially recognises six ethnic and racial categories: White American, Native American and Alaska Native, Asian American, African American, Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander, and people of two or more races; a race called "Some other race" is also used in the census and other surveys, but is not official. The United States Census Bureau also classifies Americans as "Hispanic or Latino" and "Not Hispanic or Latino", which identifies Hispanic and Latino Americans as a racially diverse ethnicity that composes the largest minority group in the nation. [Ref: Wikipedia]

But all the citizens are “Americans,” assures my leader.  I bow in humility to his wisdom.

If all kinds of people in Germany can call themselves Germans, and even more kinds of people in America can call themselves Americans, why can’t the Indians call themselves Hindus?  Once again my head bows in humility to a wisdom that my puny brain cannot fathom.

I’m becoming a great patriot.  I can feel patriotism knocking at each neuron in my veins giving birth to synaptic patriotism.  

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Burden of Individuality

Franz Kafka
Franz Kafka’s [1883-1924] novel, The Castle, tells the story of a man called K who is on a futile quest.  K arrives as a land surveyor in the village which is under the jurisdiction of the Castle.  But his summoning is caused by a bureaucratic mistake committed in the Castle; a land surveyor is not required in the village now.  K meets Frieda in the inn meant exclusively for the Castle’s bureaucrats though others are allowed to buy food from there.  Frieda becomes K’s fiancée, leaving her job as a barmaid in the inn as well as her enviable position as the mistress of Klamm, the Chief of the Castle. 

Nobody in the village can enter the Castle though everybody’s life is controlled by the Castle.  K wants to meet Klamm but never succeeds.  Finally Frieda leaves him and goes back to her former job in the inn and also accepts one of the two assistants of K as her new man.

The Castle towers above the village as a symbol of both spiritual and temporal powers.  It controls everybody’s life in the village.  People have mixed feelings about it: awe, terror, respect and suspicion.  The women are proud to be mistresses of the bureaucrats in the Castle.  Men of the village consider themselves lucky if they can marry one of those women whose youth was spent in the company of the castellans.

There is one woman, only one, in the village who refused to be a mistress.  Amalia tore up the message from the bureaucrat and threw its pieces on the face of the messenger.  Since insult of a bureaucrat is an unspeakable sacrilege, her offence is mentioned as insult of a messenger from the Castle.  Her family is ostracised. Amalia is viewed as a “black girl’.

The Castle is a symbol of all human yearnings: spiritual as well as temporal.  The Castle adds meaning to the life of the villagers though none of them know what is going on in the Castle.  The Chief of the Castle is Klamm (though the Castle belongs to Count Westwest) whose name means ‘illusion’.  Klamm never shows any interest in the life of any villager though every villager is interested in Klamm.

Klamm gives meaning to their life.  Klamm adds colour and zest to life.  When one of the bureaucrats orders something to K “in the name of Klamm” K asks, “In the name of Klamm!  Does he trouble himself about my affairs, then?”  And the bureaucrat’s answer gives us an insight into the nature of Klamm: “As to that,” said the bureaucrat, “I have no information and you certainly have still less; we can safely leave that to him.  All the same I command you by virtue of the function granted by Klamm...”

Klamm, a metaphor, a symbol or a mere illusion, determines the functions of everyone in the village.  Amalia is the only individual who defied that function “engineered by the Castle.”  She asserted her individuality which she did not allow to be controlled by any external force, Klamm or Castle.

In Kafka’s world, there is little difference between the spiritual and the temporal, the real and the illusory.  That is how the real human world is.  We use the spiritual forces in order to attain certain goals and objectives in the material world, and we manipulate the material world hoping to appease the gods in heaven.  We establish relationships with people assuming it to be love or friendship when in reality it is as good as Frieda trying to “make a stir” or “cause a scandal” by leaving Klamm and taking K so that people will keep talking for a long time.

The Castle is a metaphysical novel, not at all easy to interpret.  I’m not interpreting it here.  I reread the novel in the last few days because I began to feel that  my existence was becoming something similar to K’s: being in a place where one is not wanted.  When I read it now, after a gap of three decades, it became much more meaningful to me.  The Castle is not far away.  Klamm is not a mere illusion.  To hold on to your individuality like Amalia is a struggle worth putting up. 

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...