Posts

Showing posts from May, 2015

Dmitry Karamazov and Father Zosima

Almost twenty years ago I attended a week-long retreat at a religious centre in Kerala.  A few circumstances in my life had conspired together to throw my inner life into absolute chaos.  When you are going through a protracted ordeal, you are quite sure to attract a lot of well-wishers.  Though many of these well-wishers are actually people who derive a secret delight by peeping into your agony, a few of them are genuinely interested in putting into practise all their pastoral skills.  A universal verdict was passed by all those who claimed to have diagnosed the condition of my soul: that I should attend a retreat. A Catholic retreat usually consists of a series of sermons or religious lectures interspersed with prayer services culminating in the purgation of one’s sins through the confession.  Like the drowning man clutching at the floating straw, I embraced the retreat as fanatically as I could. The preacher, the retreat guru, was informed by some of my well-wishers much

Michael and the Witch

Michael’s nights were haunted by the woods.  The woods were vanishing from real lands.  They were encroached upon by people who knew how to bribe elected leaders.  Thus residential apartments and health resorts replaced the woods.  Godmen and Ammas replaced the tree nymphs and the elves.  The woods were lovely, dark and deep.  Michael had no promises to keep or miles to go before he could sleep.  In fact, sleep had deserted him.  Nymphs and elves haunted his nocturnal wakefulness.  The woods beckoned him. Not all the forests were swallowed by human greed.  Michael lived at the edge of the greed.  His village was yet to be sold to builders and developers.  It would be sold soon, however.  An Adventure Park would replace the village.  Michael drank the last bit of the distilled brew left in the bottle, mounted his cycle and went off whistling all the way to where the builders and bulldozers had not reached yet.  The moon was shining brightly in the midnight sky boosting t

Undo Button

If there were an undo button in life, what would I undo?  This is the question raised by Anjana at Indiblogger this week. Wishing to undo something is a sign of regret.  There are many things in my life that I have reasons to regret. But I choose not to regret.  I go with Don Juan, the “Man of Knowledge” in Carlos Castaneda’s many inspiring books, who advised us not to regret but make decisions.  Regrets don’t achieve anything.  To err is human.  To forgive or not to forgive is also human.  Forgetting certain errors makes life easier.  Learning from certain errors makes us wiser.  Undoing errors is only wishful thinking.  There is no undo button in life. Could I undo my birth?  The ultimate absurdity of human endeavours would have made me wish that.  But I don’t want to be a Hamlet oscillating between a harsh reality and an undesirable alternative.  Nor am I pining for the Buddhist nirvana since nirvana is the inevitable end of every human being as far as I understand hum

The Hammer of God

The Hammer of God is a short story by G. K. Chesterton about two brothers, Wilfred and Norman.  While Wilfred is an exceptionally devout priest, Norman is a retired colonel who finds his delight in wine and women.  Wilfred’s attempts to inject some fear of God or the divine morality into his brother’s soul are only met with ridicule from the latter.  Finally the priest kills his brother.  Worse, he tries to put the guilt on Joe, the village idiot. The theme of Chesterton’s story is the potential devilishness of self-righteous morality.   The self-righteously religious people see themselves as superior to the normal people who have certain weaknesses like lust and gluttony.  The self-righteous people prefer to pray alone in some corner or niche of the church or the Satsang, away from the sinners.  They may even ascend some mountain in search of their superior aloofness.  Standing at a height, actual or metaphorical, they begin to see the normal people as too small.  One can onl

Point, Counterpoint

Image
Today’s Hindu newspaper carries a number of articles on the one year of Mr Modi as Prime Minister. Except the one BJP supporter, none of the other writers has anything good to say about the year that India passed through.  I found it an interesting exercise to take the major arguments of the BJP spokesman, Ravi Shankar Prasad, and rebut them with the arguments given by the other writers.  Here’s a discussion I fabricated out of the views expressed by the four writers.   Ravi Shankar Prasad R S Prasad : In just a span of 12 months, the NDA government has succeeded in restoring India’s image as a fast-growing economy . Sitaram Yechuri: The statistical base year for national income accounts has been changed in order to project the GDP growth rate in better light.  Despite this, it is clear that the manufacturing and industrial growth are just not taking off. Prasad: The government’s priority is the poor and the marginalised . Sitaram Yechuri Yechuri : The sha

Lessons in Secularism for India

Image
Lesson No. 1 Firoze Mohomed Shakir (left) Firoze Mohomed Shakir lives in Mumbai.  I have been haunting him like a ghost in some vague quest for quite a time in the virtual places I was permitted access.  His photographs , for example.  What drew me to him initially was his poetry which I used to read via indiblogger.in .  The poems were entirely different from the ones I had ever come across.  They looked initially like prose broken into arbitrary lines.  As I focused more I realized that secularism has as much hope in India as Sufism. Below is his latest poem that I have copy-pasted from his status update in Facebook.  The postscript also belongs to him. [Dear Firoze, I hope you don’t mind my using you as a lesson. Personally, I’d rather be a Hindu (to use your words) than be religious!] I Would Rather Be a Hindu Than Be a Wahhabi yes   i would rather be called a kafir   than be a wahabbi   i would rather be a hindu   than be a wahhabi   both options   clos

Enlightenment

Image
Historically the Enlightenment refers to a paradigm shift that took place in the 17 th and 18 th centuries.  It was also called the Age of Reason because it emphasised the power of the human mind to liberate the individual and improve society.  It argued that knowledge can be derived only from experience, experiment and observation.  It encouraged people to use their own critical reasoning to free their minds from prejudice, unexamined authority, and oppression by their religion or the state. The world made tremendous progress in science and technology because of the Enlightenment ideas.  Consequently human life was revolutionised.  Religion and the superstitions it generated took a backseat.  Priests lost most of their political clout.  Secular values spread considerably across the globe.  Science and technology gave us more leisure and luxury than we deserved.  More gadgets than we could handle with responsibility.  More individual liberty.  More selfishness too. Th

Gulliver in Dilliput

When Gulliver chose Dilliput from the list tourist destinations offered by the online operator, he was prompted by fervent Lilliputian nostalgia.  He could never forget those miniature creatures with so much national pride and cultural fervour.  He had read that Dilliput is inhabited by people with similar pride and fervour though they are far from being diminutive like the Lilliputians. The King of Dilliput was on yet another foreign voyage when Gulliver visited.  But the Prime Minister was happy to receive Gulliver.  He explained to Gulliver the achievements of the King within a year of his coronation.  He boasted about the tremendous achievements of the King in turning around the plummeting economy of the country, Make in Dilliput programme which has given employment to millions of citizens, land acquisitions to take development to the villages, creating bank accounts for every Dilliputian with subsidised insurance against accidents as well as death, cleanliness drives, aca

Aruna: Paradoxes of Life

Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug passed away this morning.  She lived 42 years in a bed of King Edward Memorial Hospital, Mumbai.  A brutal rape had rendered her comatose.  The rapist spent seven years in the prison and became a free man.  His victim lived in a vegetative state as a question mark on many things. The most controversial question her life raised was about the limits and possibilities of euthanasia when Pinki Virani, writer and human rights activist, moved the Supreme Court seeking euthanasia for Aruna in 2011.  Can anyone choose another person’s death however absurd that person’s life may be?  This was the question that the apex court was faced with.  Obviously, the court decided against Virani’s choice.  Yet can we blame Virani for what she did?  She was being compassionate to Aruna.  Compassion and justice need not always be on the same side of morality.  That was one of the paradoxes raised by Aruna’s life. Aruna’s relatives in her home state of Karnataka had aba

No More Exams, O Boy!

CBSE has decided to do away with Board exams in class 10.  This is what the latest decision is: I Scheme 1–   there shall be no Board Examination at Secondary (Class X) level for students studying in the schools affiliated to the Board who do not wish to move out of the CBSE system after Class X. Every School, Sahodaya Cluster or City may design its own date sheet for classes IX and X School Based Examination accordingly. II Scheme 2 –   is applicable to those students from affiliated schools who wish to move out of the CBSE system after Class X (Pre-University, Vocational course, Change of Board etc). Such students are required to take the Board’s External Examination at Secondary (Class X) level. Question papers and Marking Scheme will be prepared by the CBSE and evaluation will be carried out by the Board through External Examiners. Wow!  Don’t have to study anymore. I have been teaching in a CBSE school for the last 14 years.  I have watched the change in the

Understanding

I go to Moopan just as other people go to temple or church.  Moopan is my inspiration, my spiritual succour. “Why don’t you let go, man?”  He asked when I mentioned my problem to him.  I had come to a situation in which I had to make a choice: whether to continue my job or turn to something else that my heart urges me to do.  “All through life people live like shopkeepers,” Moopan continued.  “How much profit did I make today?  Which items are the most popular?  What new item can I sell tomorrow?  Is this life?” He paused and stared at me a while.  “Did you ever live your life?”  I could feel his gaze penetrating through my heart into something that I may call soul.  “All through life people tie themselves with a chain to something: wealth, generally.  You have your monthly salary.  Each day you calculate how much you can spend on what, how much you should save, how to evade the tax – not that those who handle the tax are any less bastards than you....” “Let go the cha

Participial Phrase

Image
“What is a participial phrase?” asked a teacher who was preparing for an interview because her school was being shut down by vested interests. “No clue,” I said.  “Never heard of such a thing.” She wondered how I had mastered the art of lying so quickly.  She refused to believe that I had not heard of such a thing as participial phrase.  She opened the grammar book she had brought (a fraction of which is here in the picture) and showed me the phrase.  It was a grammar textbook for grade 8.  I flipped through the pages and realised how ineffective English language teaching is in our country.  My memory went back to my childhood when they taught me things like Vocative Case and other Cases all of which disappeared without a trace from English grammar eventually. “See, dear,” I told the teacher, “I didn’t learn English by learning the grammar.  Did you learn your mother tongue by learning its grammar?” She pondered a while and said, “No.” “If I ask you abou

Goat Days

Image
The original Malayalam version of the novel, Goat Days , is celebrating its hundredth reprint.  The novel tells the story of a young man named Najeeb who goes to the Gulf from Kerala in the 1990s in pursuit of his dreams for a better life: a decent home, a TV with a VCP, some gold ornaments for the family... What he gets, however, is a solitary life with a herd of goats somewhere in the Arabian deserts.  He is trapped inescapably between the burning desert sands and the freezing lonely nights.  Every attempt of his to explore beyond the enclosure assigned to him is met with inhuman punishments.  The goats eventually become his friends, the only friends, so much so that he consummates the bond by mating with a she-goat one night.  His dreams do not die, however.  He is innocent enough to dream endlessly.  His innocence and the dreams born of that innocence help him to escape finally. The novel is based on the experiences of a real person who is still living in Kerala, having r

Faith and Doubt

Image
Book Review One of the characters in Salman Rushdie’s controversial novel, The Satanic Verses , argues that doubt rather than disbelief is the opposite of faith because disbelief is as certain as faith.  Doubt is uncertainty, a refusal to take sides.  Doubt is the ultimate openness towards phenomena.  Doubt can question both, faith as well as disbelief.  Jennifer Michael Hecht’s book, Doubt: a History , is a masterpiece that presents to the reader all the great doubters from the ancient Indian Carvakas and the Greek Xenophanes to our own Salman Rushdie and Natalie Angier.  The best feature of the book is its readability in spite of the highly philosophical themes it deals with.  The next best is that it does not confine itself to philosophers, rather it discusses novelists, scientists, historians and others of some significance who have contributed to the history of doubt. Thousands of people have been killed merely because they questioned certain religions.  In the hey