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Showing posts from September, 2014

Illusions of Sapiens

Yuval Noah Harari’s book, Sapiens: a brief history of humankind , was a best seller when it was originally published in Hebrew in Israel.  The English version is released in hardbound form.  I’m waiting for the paperback edition and will definitely get hold of one as soon as it is available.  Why?  Harari’s ideas are revolutionary, radical and tickling.  Let me focus on one of the main themes. How did man come to dominate the earth though there were many other more powerful animals on the earth?  As I gather from an article which introduced me to Harari’s book, man created stories which in turn created an immense sense of cooperation among people.  Let us understand that better.  The other animals don’t create stories.  Man creates stories about many things like gods, nations, money, human rights, etc.  These are all imaginary entities given reality to by man’s stories.  What does the thousand rupee note actually mean without the support of the story created by people a

Real Power

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Mata Amritanandamayi celebrated her birthday yesterday.  India's topmost leader (since PM is away in the States) sought her blessings. Kerala Chief Minister, Oommen Chandy, did not want to be left behind in his own state. Chandy knows how to smile even when the treasury is empty.  Mata's blessings. Poor Jayalalithaa.  In spite of all the crores she had amassed and in spite of the additional 'a' in her name attached in obedience to the cosmic laws dictated by spiritual powers.  Prisoner number 7402. Did she miss out somewhere?  Like, she never bent down to touch anybody's feet?  She had an ego bigger than even politician is supposed to have?  Had she begun to see herself as a Mata when there are real Matas elsewhere ruling the roost? Life is such fun in our days.  Politics is far more entertaining than Bigg Boss :) Courtesy: All images from today's Malayala Manorama newspaper. 

Dyeing

Fiction Nostalgia is one of the many escape routes for boredom.   People in business know it particularly well because their job keeps them occupied from early morning puja to the god of wealth till late in the night puja to the same god.   “I’m bored,” said Kamakshi to her husband on a Sunday evening.  Mithun, the husband and businessman, had made sure that his business would not disturb him on Sundays.  But the god of business is no kinder than any other god.  The executives would call on Sundays too to enquire about how to deal with some consumer who complained about some defective product which was sold in one of the many outlets of the Mithun Chain of produces.  If the executives didn’t call up, Mithun would call them up to make sure that no consumer had any complaint.  “I’m bored,” declared Kamakshi during one such call on a Sunday evening. They were newlywed couples, Kamakshi and Mithun.  She had just turned eighteen and passed class 12 from a reputed public school

The Modi Fiction

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Book Review The Fiction of Fact-finding Author: Manoj Mitta Publisher: HarperCollins, India Pages: 259,  Printed price: Rs. 350 “Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through,” wrote Jonathan Swift three centuries ago.  Our jails are full of petty thieves and proxy prisoners.  The wasps and hornets establish business empires or occupy political thrones. A few are worshipped as gurus and godmen. Some go on to become historical heroes. In his classical work, Civilizations , historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto says that “Heroes do not make history but history makes heroes.”  Hitler would not have become a hero for the Germans unless the economic hardships of the time had not conspired against the German Jews who were relatively better off.  The Jews became a convenient enemy for a people who needed a scapegoat to carry away all their grief and sins. Seven decades later Hitler’s experiment was replicated in Gujarat o

It’s in our stars

Mohan squarely put all the blame on the stars and planets for Dileep’s failures in business.  “Because Saturn is in line with Scorpio...” he mentioned a number of planets and constellations whose relative positions in the outer space allegedly caused the downfall in Dileep’s business. Mohan, Dileep and I were classmates in the village primary school.  After the primary school we parted ways.  I went on to study in the city and eventually became a teacher.  Mohan dropped out of college and became an insurance agent.  He picked up some astrology from somewhere and used that knowledge to determine the ideal positions of buildings.  Vastu , people call it.  Mohan also claimed he could predict people’s future using astrology.  Dileep didn’t study much beyond the primary school and eventually took over his father’s shop in the village. It was during one of my rare holidays in the village that Mohan and I visited Dileep in his shop.  There were many indications that Dileep wasn’t

Worship

Fiction Nebamun was determined and nothing could deter him now.  Now was his opportunity.  Antony had gone back to Rome being summoned by Caesar.  Cleopatra would be alone.  Nebamun could offer her his heart.  Offer his heart to the goddess of love whom age cannot wither or custom cannot stale – that was how one of Antony’s commanders described her the other day.  Let her trample upon his heart if she so chooses.  Nebamun was the devotee and Cleopatra was the goddess.  The goddess can choose what to do with the devotee and it is the bounden duty of the devotee to obey, to make whatever sacrifice the goddess demands. He stood outside Cleopatra’s royal chamber waiting until she came out. “Your Majesty,” Nebamun drew Cleopatra’s attention when she was about to pass him by as if he never existed.  Queens don’t pay attention to ordinary soldiers even if they stand in places where they are not expected. “Yes,” said Cleopatra staring at him.  “What do you want?  Why ar

A Brief History of China

In one of his Odes, the Roman poet Horace portrays Maecenas, Roman statesman, as wondering what the Chinese were up to.  Horace lived in the first century BCE.  He was exaggerating when he wrote that; he was trying to please his patron by depicting him as someone whose concerns extended far and wide.  But, with hindsight today, we can say that Horace’s line was not sheer hollow flattery. Some 200 years before Horace, Shih Huang-ti, who was called – or called himself –  ‘the First Emperor of China,’ employed 700,000 labourers to build the humungous Great Wall of China by linking the many existing fortifications.  He also constructed a huge network of roads and canals paving the material foundations of a great civilisation. Shih Huang-ti was a barbarian conqueror, however.  He was illiterate and was despised by his literate subjects.  His dynasty failed eventually.  His renown became equivocal.  But the Great Wall caused him to be revered as the founder of China. Many dyn

Caliph of Two Worlds

Historical Fiction His smile could quell a mob or raise an army.  The charismatic Usman dan Fodio was a holy man whom the Sultan of Gobir (today’s Nigeria) brought into his kingdom in order to make the people more religious.  Bringing a religious person too close to your life can be like taking the snake lying on the fence and putting it in your pocket.  At least that’s how it turned out to be in the case of Yunfa, the Sultan of Gobir. William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge had just brought out their Romantic Manifesto, The Lyrical Ballads , ushering a poetic revolution in England.  The bloodcurdling violence of the French Revolution had given birth to a whole series of reforms implemented by Napoleon.  In Africa, Allah was beginning to bring light in quite another way. “There is no God but Allah,” Usman’s voice reverberated in the streets and highways.  “All ways are impure except those shown by Allah.”  Usman denounced the ways of the ordinary people as evil. 

Ibn Battuta’s Blind Guide

My blindness will cost you more than the sight of the other guides, said the eyeless man to Ibn Battuta, me. I started this journey as a pilgrimage, the Hajj that ensures the soul the bliss of Paradise. But Paradise is here, on the earth, I learnt as I travelled through Dar al-Islam. Mountains and valleys, rivers and deserts, The birds that fly and the snakes that crawl, The infinite variety of hypnotic women Whose men are grappling with fate In the torrid ruggedness of their life. Sight is a curse, said my blind guide, in the desert where a wind can shift a mountain. The sand dune you see now is a valley after a storm. Trust not your eyes in the land of illusions. Trust not your ears in the land whose air echoes the songs of spirits and calls of phantoms. Trust not your senses in the land of Ostriches that bury their sight in sand. Trust me, I’m the blind man of the desert whose heart beats with insights; I’m the blind man who sees

Ahalya

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“I knew you would come to deliver me from my stony existence,” Ahalya said touching Rama’s feet. “I’m just a means,” Rama said with an understanding smile.  “Deliverance is one’s own choice, not given by somebody else.” “But your touch sent grace flowing through my being.  I could feel it.  I felt the stone within me melting away.  The lightness of my being now brings me bliss untold.” Ahalya - a Ravi Varma painting Ahalya was living in a granite cave ever since the intercourse she had had with Indra, the lord of svargaloka.  Gods can transform your life in either way, she realised.  Here is a god who liberated her from the monolith that weighed down her consciousness, a monolith that was put there in her consciousness by another god. She had become a monolith after Indra visited her that day when her husband, Sage Gautama, old man with wrinkled skin and matted hair, had gone to fetch the materials required for his religious oblations.  Indra looked like Gautama

Power and Prejudice

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India is governed by a political party which draws its sustenance from the Us-Them divisiveness.  From the infamous Gujarat riots onwards, India witnessed about 7000 incidents of communal violence engendered by the Us-Them thinking. The Us-Them thinking is as old as known human history.  Every people always loved to make some distinctions between themselves and the perceived others .  Look at our movies and you will see how people belonging to other cultures or speaking other languages are made to look like either fools or villains.  Such division achieves many purposes at the same time.  One, it enhances our own sense of identity.  Our group identity becomes stronger when the rival group is portrayed as weak, illiterate, villainous, etc.  Two, it tilts the struggle for the limited resources in our favour.  We turn the tables so that the resources will fall to our side.  Three, it prepares the members of the community to fight against perceived threats from the others. 

Those Pricey Netas

Some three or four years ago, a former student of mine who was then a budding leader of a national political party, told me that he could “sell” me a party ticket for Rs 5 crore.  The sum astounded me.  “It’s nothing, sir,” he reassured me, “I’ll teach you how to get that amount back in a month’s time once you win the election.” When I heard Aam Aadmi Party’s lament that the BJP was trying to buy its MLA for Rs 4 crore, it didn’t surprise me.  If people are ready to buy party tickets before the election for crores of rupees, the neta’s price after winning the election should be a double digit crore.  Four crore is rather cheap, I think, for a sitting MLA.  Is that why AAP decided to cry foul? Delhi BJP vice president, Sher Singh Dagar, reacted very formulaically.  “If it is proved I’ll not only resign from the party, but from politics itself,” he said.  Every neta worth his sodium chloride knows how to plug any hole with darkness.  If you are not a master of darkness, you c

Teaching

Teacher was very fond of parrots.  They keep repeating A, B, C... And when they grow up they repeat s = ut + ½ at 2 or sin 2 Ɵ + cos 2 Ɵ = 1.  When they grow up more they keep repeating “Yes, sir; Yes, madam.”  That’s why Teacher decided to take over the caged parrot from his cousin who was leaving the village to settle down in one of the posh apartments in Delhi.   The cousin had just won the Lok Sabha bye-election. Teacher was not characteristically ignorant and so he knew that keeping birds in cages was against the law.  Love does not follow laws, however. Teacher was very upset when Parrot spoke.  It did not speak the formulas.  Instead it uttered expletives.  Teacher decided to teach Parrot.  “A, B, C...” Parrot said, “AAP, BJP, Congress...”  As if that were not enough, Parrot added some expletive to each word it uttered. Teacher presented the problem to Counsellor.  Every school must have a counsellor, according to CBSE, so that students learn formulas right

Happy Onam

There has been no human society which did not have some myths and rituals.   Myths and rituals are a kind of psychological defence mechanisms.   Onam, Kerala’s most celebrated festival, revolves round the myth of a primitive king, Mahabali (more affectionately called ‘Maveli’), during whose reign there was no evil in the kingdom.   A kingdom without evil is a fascinating myth.   The associated rituals are meant to bring people closer to one another and to the environment.   Onam stresses on social functions and art performances as well as floral decorations.   But the traditional ways of celebrating the festival have been replaced with modern ways dominated by new rituals.   The high priests of the new rituals are traders of different shades, ranging from the unavoidable supermarket to the redundant jeweller, from the film industry to the television channels.   Onam is no more about equality and fraternity, goodness and generosity.   It is about shopping and entertain