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Showing posts from April, 2015

Farmers and Criminals

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O P Dhankar [Courtesy The Hindu ] Farmers are criminals and cowards, according to the BJP.   The party’s agricultural minister in Haryana, Mr O P Dhankar, explained the logic .   “Committing suicide is a crime , according to Indian law.   Any person who commits suicide escapes from his responsibilities and leaves the burden on his wife and innocent children and such people are cowards .”   Mr Dhankar was the former head of the BJP’s Kisan Cell. It is easy to dismiss Mr Dhankar’s view as a personal opinion.  Rahul Gandhi, who seems to have found some enlightenment after his long contemplation abroad, has started questioning the BJP’s anti-farmer policies eloquently if not effectively enough.  His lack of effectiveness stems from his lack of vision.  It is not enough to question a system; one has to suggest an alternative one.  Mr Gandhi is yet to rise to the stature of a leader with any practical vision in spite of rubbing shoulders with the aam aadmi for quite some time.

Fallen and Free

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When the wind played with the mulberries outside my transient residence The wind played among the foliage Bringing down the mulberries prematurely. The wind comes from the heavens Where games are cosmic and frolicsome. Give me a Sougandhikam, bring me the delight; But I’m no Draupadi and there’s no Bhima in sight. Some quests are fated to die before they’re blessed, Some quests are obliged to clash with other quests. The mulberries seemed infinite in their potential And sprouted more and more fruits the very next day. The wind whispered in cosmic frolic: “When everything is lost, is real freedom found.” Note : Draupadi saw a Sougandhikam accidentally fallen at her feet and demanded more such flowers.  Bhima, ever happy to please her, went to fetch them.  He crossed mountains and forests and reached Kadalivana, abode of Hanuman.  

God is within us

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Ludwig Feuerbach  The 19 th century was a century of revolutionary changes in human thinking.  People started questioning religion openly without fear.  The Romantic Movement questioned the absolutisms of classicism.  Karl Marx laid the axe at the root of the traditional social hierarchies.  In spite and because of Marx, capitalism broke a million more traditions. Industrialisation pulled people out of family-based work, colonialism led to miscegenation of different races and cultures, the Enlightenment of the previous centuries conquered new heights in human consciousness, women began to assert themselves against the strictures of patriarchy and religion was forced to take a backseat.   Ludwig Feuerbach is one of the many philosophers who redefined divinity for the thinking man (and woman, of course) in the century of various upheavals.  The leading religions of the time had externalised God and put Him (not Her , significantly) somewhere out there – Heaven or some such p

Galileo’s Truth

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Historical Fiction “Generally speaking, truth has been suffered to exist in the world just to the extent that it profited the rulers of society.”   [Barrows Dunham, Man Against Myth , 1947] “And yet it moves,” mumbled Galileo as he walked out of the Inquisition Chamber having accepted the punishment imposed on him for upholding the truth.  Galileo (1564-1642) The earth is not the centre of the universe.  Galileo had argued.  The sun was the centre of the solar system.  The earth moved round the sun.  The earth was just another planet like many others. “Your teaching explicitly contradicts the Holy Scripture,” said Cardinal Bellarmine.  “You run the risk of being branded a heretic and being burnt at the stake.  “We exhort you to abandon the mathematical hypothesis completely and unconditionally.  You will not hold the opinion that the sun stands still and the earth moves.  You will not henceforth hold, teach, or defend it any way whatever, either orally or in writi

Hospital

Fiction Mr and Mrs Fernandez wanted a holiday.  The school where they were working was being bulldozed.  That was the reason.  But they couldn’t write that as the reason in the leave application. Bulldozing schools had become the fashion in the city. Land mafia had become the fashion designer under the new government. “Medical,” wrote Mr Fernandez.  “The hell awaits those who tell lies,” warned Mrs Fernandez who was a regular Sunday Christian. “The hell is already here,” Mr Fernandez dismissed her fear with the hubris that comes to him as naturally as the rain from a clear sky in the days of the Antichrist. Mr Fernandez regarded himself as practical as the bulldozer that was breaking down enormous buildings into smithereens in seconds.  So Mrs Fernandez found herself standing before the best eye specialist in moments after the alleged holiday journey. “You’re not seeing things clearly,” declared Mr Fernandez.  “So walk in, the automatic door will open for yo

India, Religion and Noise

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Japan's latest maglev train   When Japan was test-running the fastest maglev train in the world, India was discussing whether Taj Mahal was originally Tejo Mahalaya, a Hindu temple.   In spite of all the great slogans like ‘Make in India’ that the Prime Minister bestowed on the nation, nothing has changed for the better since the BJP came to power.   Many things changed for the worse, in fact.   There is more communal polarisation, for example.   There is increasing disgruntlement among the economically weaker sections.   And history is being twisted out of shape. History as social science is being replaced by history as fantasy and myth, says the editorial in today’s Hindu .  Why is India still so much obsessed with religion and its infantile myths and rituals, when countries like Japan are making rapid progresses in science and technology in spite of the conservatism that runs deep in the people’s veins? The BJP wanted to come to power and used religion as an easy t

Waste Land

1.  The Burial of the Dead April is the cruellest month, stirring The winter-frozen blood in the veins, rousing Mosquitoes and dust storms, dousing The light in the souls with the fire of the sun. You came riding waves of promises, Development topped the list, Quality was sought in and through workshops, Sweatshops are what we are left with. Unreal City, Under the glare of the blaring sun, A crowd flowed over bulldozed debris, Performing the rituals chanted by the Guru. “You! hypocrite lecteur! – mon semblable, - mon frère!” 2.  A Game of Chess The Chair she sat in itched her bum with allergens, Her dress, words and smile sanitised by detergents, “Your move, your move,” cried she ready to pounce On the King on every board, every board she played against Keeping multiple gadgets alive on her capacious crowded table. “Bulldozer,” people called her. Queen, she considered herself. Heads rolled when she smiled. Tails wagged whe

Marcus Aurelius dies

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Marcus Aurelius [ Source ] I will die soon.  Even the Emperor of mighty Rome is ultimately a feeble human being whose body will be consumed by the flames of time.  Nothing will remain after that.  Nothing.  Nothing but the earth.  The earth will cover us all.  Then the earth too will change.  And the things that result from the change will continue to change too.  What is there to be priced in this world of transitoriness? Be good.  Do good to your fellow creatures.  Nothing else really matters.  Fame will mean nothing ultimately.  Everyone who remembers you after your death too will die one day.  Those who succeed them too will follow them soon.  Memories of you will be extinguished totally.  Even if there were means by which you could make the memories eternal, what would you gain?  What can anything mean to the dead?  Meaning itself has no meaning once you are dead. Augustus is lost to history.  His court is lost.  So are his wife, daughter, descendants, ancestors,

Lost Paradises

Fiction Reverend Father Lawrence Marangodan was restless.  He walked up and down the rubber plantation of the parish church while the parish priest, Reverend Father Daniel, was preaching a Charismatic retreat to the parishioners.  The cries of ‘Praise the Lord! Alleluia!’ rose and fell like the frenzied waves in a disturbed ocean.  Father Marangodan’s mind was even more disturbed.  The spiritual masturbations of charismatic retreats could never ease his mind.  Worse, he had just received a note from Reverend Sister Prarthana. Dear Father, I need help.  Benjamin is becoming a serious pain in the neck... Benjamin was a boy in class three of the primary school run by the parish church and Sister Prarthana was the class teacher.  Whenever Sister Prarthana’s heart longed for the proximity of Father Marangodan, Benjamin became a pain in some convenient part of her body.   Father Marangodan did not like what he called the spiritual masturbations of charismatic retreats.  O

The Cost of Being Gunter Grass

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As a young man I tried to read Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum two times and failed miserably both the times. I was not intelligent enough to understand the subtle depths of a novel that narrated the story of a man who had chosen on his third birthday not to grow up any more.  His toy tin drum became his best friend or his means of expressing his protest at the political chaos that surrounded him.  Eventually he allows himself to be falsely convicted of the murder of the woman whom he loved and ends up in a mental asylum. The pipe was Grass's most abiding companion The novel put me off so much that I never read anything that Grass wrote.  Yet I felt sad when allegations of Nazism and inveterate hypocrisy were levelled against him a decade back when he admitted in his autobiography that at the age of 17 he had been drafted into Hitler’s Waffen-SS towards the end of the second World War.  He was accused of trying to sell more copies of the book by making the confession, accu

Dangerous People

More than 2200 years ago, The Chinese philosopher Hsun Tsu wrote: “When stars fall or a sacred tree groans, the people of the whole state are afraid.  We ask “Why is it?”  I answer: there is no (special) reason.... These are rare events.  We may marvel at them but we should not fear them.  For there is no age which has not experienced eclipses of the sun and moon, unseasonable rain or wind, or strange stars seen in groups ... but when human ominous signs come, then we should really be afraid .  Using poor ploughs ... spoiling a crop by inadequate hoeing and weeding ... these are what I mean by ominous human signs.” Han Fei Tzu, a contemporary of Hsun Tsu, wrote: “If the ruler believes in date-selecting, worships gods and demons, puts faith in divination, and likes luxurious feasts, then ruin is possible.” We Indians are bogged down by both of the above problems.  Replace the examples given by the philosopher with contemporary examples.  We have contractors and engineers, fo

Google’s instant

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More than 30 years ago, I walked up proudly to a stage before a few thousand people in the city of Ernakulam and received a prize, a good cash amount for a student in those days, from Justice Subramanian Poti.  I had come first in an essay competition organised by the Corporation of Cochin.  It was Professor Primus Perincheri, one of my Malayalam teachers in St Albert’s College, who urged me to participate in the Malayalam essay writing competition.  I had to write 2000 words on a topic that I can’t now recall.  “I’ll help you,” said Prof Perincheri.  A moment with Justice Poti There was no computer, internet and Google in 1983.  Being a member of the Ernakulam Public Library, I had access to the reference section which possessed a fabulous collection of encyclopaedias and other reference books as well as back issues of newspapers and periodicals.  I spent two entire days collecting the material for the essay.  I wrote the rough draft of my essay which Prof Perincheri edite

Masks

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Psychologist Wilhelm Reich argued that our character is a mask or a set of masks.  We constantly encounter various pains in our life, pains caused mostly by other people.  “The other is my hell,” as Sartre put it tongue-in-cheek.  Our parents are our first hells, as little Wilhelm learnt personally.  His father used to beat him frequently.  His mother was a pain because she refused to intervene between little Wilhelm and the father’s cane.  When his mother started an affair with Wilhelm’s tutor, she added another pain to the boy’s psyche.  When the boy took revenge by informing his father about her affair, the boy added another pain to his mind because his father now started employing his cane on both of them until his mother committed suicide. Our leaders have a different sort of Power Point Parents, teachers, the society, priests of the religion – the list of hells that we have to endure is endless (especially in childhood, though pain seems to be the only faithful lifelo

India’s Hitlers

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One of the few surviving intellectuals, Umberto Eco, described the following as the characteristics of fascism. ·         The cult of Tradition: Elevation of a particular culture as superior to all others, rejection of modernism ·         Anti-intellectualism, irrationalism ·         Belief that disagreement is treason ·         Fear of difference ·         Appeal to a frustrated middle class, the fears and aspirations of the lower social groups are highlighted in order to accentuate the fears of the middle class ·         Obsession with a ‘plot’ and hyping up of an enemy threat: e.g. hatred of certain sections of the society ·         Aversion to pacifism ·         Contempt for the weak ·         Selective populism ·         ‘Newspeak’ or doublespeak meant to restrict critical thinking ·         Distorting history, blatantly lying, copious use of propaganda The Right Wing in India has been making ample use of all of the above ever since Mr Narendra Modi

Bible’s God of Absurdity

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  Job Job is one of the classical characters in the Old Testament of the Bible who is used by various preachers of Christianity to illustrate the ideals of patience, suffering and submission of the individual will to God’s will.  Job was a “perfect and upright man” and hence was a favourite of God.  He lived a rich and contented life with his good wife, seven sons, three daughters, countless servants, lot of land and herds of cattle.  The devil challenged God saying that if Job’s prosperity was taken away then he would lose his trust in God as well as his virtues.  God gives a free hand to the devil who goes on to wreck Job’s life totally.  Job’s cattle are stolen, servants have their throats slit by enemies, sheep are burnt to death, and his children are killed when a fierce storm knocks down his house.  When none of these tragedies succeeds in eroding Job’s trust in God, the devil inflicts a severe skin disease on him.  When Job scratches his worm-ridden body with a pie

Gods and Clouds

Aristophanes, Greek playwright, was a contemporary of Socrates, the philosopher.  In his play, The Clouds , a philosopher named Socrates operates a ‘Thinkery’ which dismisses the gods. Socrates is questioned by his neighbour, a farmer. “Who makes it rain if there is no Zeus?” asks the farmer. “The clouds,” answers Socrates.  “If it were Zeus who made the rain, the clouds would not be required at all.  Zeus could make the rain from a clear sky too.” “It must be Zeus who moves the clouds to the sky,” insists the farmer. “No, you idiot,” says the impatient Socrates, “it’s the Convection-principle.” “Convection!” the farmer wonders whether that’s a new god.  “So Zeus is out and convection is in.  Tch, tch!”  He thinks awhile and asks, “What about the lightning?  It must be Zeus who sends the lightning to kill liars.” “It’s Zeus’s own temples that are frequently struck down by lightning,” mocks Socrates.  The philosopher goes on to demonstrate a large model of th

Mystery

Philosopher Gabriel Marcel drew an interesting distinction between problem and mystery.  Problems have solutions, he said, while mysteries are to be enjoyed unsolved.  “Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived” is an aphorism attributed to Marcel.  Too many things lie beyond our capacity for solutions.  The earthquakes and the cyclones belong to the nonhuman side of the universe, beyond human control.  When the variegated colours and sounds of nature enchant us we are immersing ourselves in the mystery of the same nonhuman universe.  The universe does not comprehend the difference between the shifting of the tectonic plates and the warbling of the nightingale, between a shipwreck and a swan’s neck.  The heavens are indifferent whether lightning strikes down the greatest monument or Beethoven composes the sweetest symphony.  The sense of wonder or despair belongs to the human consciousness.  The heavens are above and beyond the need for wonder as well

The Sense of an Ending

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Book Review This Booker winner of 2011 is a short novel that takes you to peaks of insights and intellectual probes into life.  But the plot nosedives to the standards of mediocre thrillers with the suspense revealed at the end.  The author is a brilliant writer and hence the reader is not left disappointed in spite of that apparent flaw.  What is life?  This is the most fundamental question raised by the novel.  Can it be understood and explained by logic and reason?  Can people live together without causing “damage” to one another?  How do we react to the ineluctable damage?  Is life mostly about the damages and our responses to them?  “Some admit the damage, and try to mitigate it; some spend their lives trying to help others who are damaged; and then there are those whose main concern is to avoid further damage to themselves, at whatever cost. And those are the ones who are ruthless, and the ones to be careful of.” (44) * Adrian and Anthony are two of the four