Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Clown on the Trapeze

Each faltering step, each fall of mine,
Makes you burst out into laughter:
Because I am the clown in the pack
Because the motley is my birthmark.

Each swing of leotards on trapezes
Sighs in comic relief in the tail of my coat:
Because the show must go on
Because the Master is watching it.

Watching it is His way
Of creating and preserving;
Watching it is your way
Of playing for a while
The game within the game;
On a spiralling ladder
Of intertwining Venn diagrams;
With no place determinate
For the clown in motley:

Because the show must go on

Note: I wrote this poem almost two decades ago.  Both the show and the clown have changed quite a bit, and they go on entertaining those concerned in their own ways. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Inevitable Veils

The seats meant for the economically weaker sections in some Delhi schools are being sold at prices ranging from Rs 3 lakh to Rs 10 lakh, according to reports. Reputed schools including those run by religious organisations figure in the list of the culprits.  It is not clear whether the school managements are directly involved in the crime though it is impossible to believe that such rackets function in schools without the knowledge of the managements. 

When today’s Times of India came with many headlines about the above racket, I had just completed reading a short story titled ‘Pilla the Thief’ in Roji Abraham’s collection, Kaleidoscopic Lives.  The story is about Shivan Pilla, a very efficient thief, who later gets converted due to the affection shown by an elderly woman.  Pilla becomes a religious preacher after his conversion.  The people who called him a thief earlier now call him “Pastor”.  His reputation changed after he presented a ‘testimony’ at a religious convention.  The participants of the Convention were all ears as they listened to Pilla narrating his story. 

When I saw the names of some of the schools that figure in the Times of India’s reports on the EWS racket, Pilla and his conversion rushed to my mind without any rational connection.  There are religious organisations that do excellent works in trying to convert Pillas from a petty thief to a pastor.  Some of the very same organisations may figure in a list of racketeers too. 

How do we accept such contradictions?  The last thing I read before I went to bed last night was an email from a good old friend who recommended to me The Book of Mirdad.  I checked a few details about the book and came across this quote from it: “Ask not of things to shed their veils. Unveil yourselves, and things will be unveiled.” I am unveiling myself.  Trying to, at least.

PS. I promised Roji Abraham a review of his collection of short stories.  Dear Mr Abraham, I’ve managed to read only two stories so far.  Please bear with my sluggishness.  

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Path of the Masters

The following passage is extracted from the book, The Path of the Masters, by Julian Johnson who was a disciple of Sawan Singh, one of the Radha Soami Masters.  Johnson was a doctor by profession.  He was also a Christian pastor.  He came to India with the intention of converting Indians to Christianity but ended up converting himself into a Satsangi.  He wrote five books about his Master and the Satsang.  He died under mysterious circumstances in 1939.

The extract:

I can almost hear some Western critics say: “Why don’t Masters take measures to prevent the downward drift of mankind?”  The answer is that the Masters do not interfere with the natural order.  It has been on the program from the beginning of time.  These ages must come, as they are ordained by the Creator.  It is no part of the duty of the Masters to interfere in world processes.  Their duty is to help individuals to escape this melee of troubles.  And one thing we should always keep in mind – the Supreme is in command in this world and he will manage affairs to the best advantage.  We need not doubt it.  Just as certainly as the planets move in their orbits, so surely will this world go on as the Creator wishes it to.  No man or group of men can wreck the world. ... And in all this confusion and strife, the Masters are doing all they can for the world, while their chief attention is centred upon the relief of individuals who are ready to make their way up and out of the world of conflict. 

A personal reflection

I read this book a couple of years ago when circumstances conspired to bring me into contact with the troupe that follows the present successor of Julian Johnson’s Master.  I went through it again recently because of my present personal circumstances.  The above passage, particularly the last sentence, stared at me like a phantom.  The Master helps the individuals who are ready to make their way up!  I understood a lot of things. 

My review of the book: The Path of the Masters

Sunday, June 7, 2015



“What are you thinking of so deeply?”  Anita asked her husband as they were walking up the narrow street leading to the school where they were going for a walk-in interview for teaching jobs.  The bus that took them from the suburban rail station had dropped them at the foot of the hillock that was majestically crowned by the school building.

“I was thinking of our destiny,” answered Sridhar.  “I’ve just a few years left for retirement.  You have a few more years.  And here we are hunting for a job.”

“What is in your destiny, no one can take away.  What is not in your destiny, no one can give you.”  She laughed glumly.  She was repeating exactly what Sridhar had told her the other day when she grieved the death of the school where they both had been working for years.  

Their school was founded by an industrialist.  He now wanted an amusement park in its place.  The city needs relaxation, he argued.  People who were not very kind to him said that the school failed to bring in as much profit as an amusement park would.

Sridhar shared his wife’s gloomy laughter.  “This street strangely reminded me of my village and my walks to my school and back home,” he said.  “Wild shrubs and brambles with carefree flowers on the sides.  No traffic.  Only the hum and buzz of some insects and the rustle of the leaves.  Rustic serenity of kongini blooms.”

“Full many a flower is born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness...”  Again Anita was teasing him by quoting one of his favourite lines from Thomas Gray.

“I was thinking whether we could give up this job hunt, return to our village in Kerala and settle down there.”  Sridhar ignored her taunt which was actually meant to liven up his spirits.

“I’m ready,” she looked at her husband eagerly.

“But we can only return to the place.  Not to the time.”

Sridhar’s heart was roaming the streets of the village of his boyhood days when Anita asked him what he was thinking of so deeply.  His memories had conjured up pictures of farmers pedalling the water wheel, women carrying water in pots balanced on their heads as well as hips, children throwing sticks to fell mangoes from the trees...  Ready to let go the water wheel when a howl for help rises in the air, let go the pots and sticks... Letting go.

“Destiny can only move forward?”  Sridhar could not make out whether it was a statement or a question. 

“What is destiny?” he asked his wife in return.  “Who shapes it?  The industrialist who converts a school into an amusement park or the economist who computes the worth of human life in figures of profits and losses or the Man-god who draws the Lakshman rekha for human potential or the politician who dangles all of them and us on puppet strings?

Sridhar and Anita had reached the school.  “You stand outside,” the security guard ordered looking at Sridhar. 

“But...” he explained that he was a candidate too.

The guard looked at Sridhar’s grey hairs and laughed.  “At this age?  Moreover,” he chuckled, “only ladies.”

As Sridhar fiddled with his smart phone while he waited outside for Anita to come after her interview, the ring tone sang John Lennon’s lines: There's nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Michael in Jail

“Put him in the same cell as that Baba’s Chela,” said the Inspector of Police when Michael was brought to the Royal Incarceration.  “The Chela should know how to deal with witches and their lovers.”

Michael had been accused of practising witchcraft because some charge was needed for relegating him or anyone to the Royal Incarceration according to one of the many Orders promulgated by the new King.

“Baba wanted to own the Taj Mahal,” said the Chela having introduced himself to Michael.  “Baba Sena tried to carry out the wish.”  His devotion had landed him in the Royal Incarceration.

“Why does Baba want so much land?” wondered Michael.  He had seen enormous tracts of land encompassed by tall walls with the Baba’s signboards declaring proprietorship in many places during his extensive journeys over the last few months.

Chela looked at Michael as if the latter were an imbecile.  “He wants the whole country,” explained Chela.  “Ownership is the only real power and power is the only real key to Paradise founded solidly on morality.”

Women, wealth and vanity.  People usually conquered lands for these.  Michael learnt a new lesson now.  Morality can be a reason for conquests too.

“But Taj Mahal is a national heritage.  How can that become a private property?”

Once again Chela’s look made Michael feel like an imbecile.  “Privatisation and Liberalisation.  Haven’t you heard of such things?  Haven’t we sold our forests to the private ownerships?  Haven’t we sold the skies to private airline operators?  Why, even the oil in the wells deep down there (he pointed at the ground) has been made private property.  The rivers will soon become private property.  The air you breathe will also be privatised eventually.  Why can’t the Taj Mahal be privatised then?”

“Then what’s your crime?” asked Michael.

“Nothing.  Who said I committed any crime?  It’s a matter of time.  If you eat slowly, you can eat the whole country.  That’s what the King told Baba.”

Chela imparted great lessons to Michael.  But Michael was incapable of learning them.  Hence the Superintendent of the Royal Incarceration was ordered to conduct an IQ Test.  The result of the test was doctored so that Michael became a certified imbecile unfit to take up any profession that requires some intelligence at least.  He was given the permit to work on the streets bringing swatchhta to them.

Earlier Michael episodes:

2.     Michael’s Devils

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Michael’s Devils

Michael whispered something into his folded palm and then made a throwing gesture at the village.  He was leaving the village along with his family as the land had been acquired for development.  In fact, an adventure park was going to be constructed on the land. 

The security guards at the gate stopped him.  A huge wall was erected around the village with security guards at the gate after the land was acquired under the Land Acquisition Order promulgated hurriedly as soon as the new King was enthroned.  One of the many mottoes of the King was: ‘Decisions are in; delays are out.’  Michael being lazy, his family was one of the last to be out of the village. 

“Why did you curse?” asked one of the guards.

Michael looked at him in dismay.  “I didn’t curse.”

“But you made the gesture of a curse.”

“That’s not a curse.  It’s exorcism.”  Michael explained that devils had started entering his soul from the time the guards and their bosses had taken over his village.  He wished to leave the devils behind.  “How can I carry your property with me?”  He looked at the guard waiting for appreciation of his honesty.

In the meanwhile messages had been conveyed through radio phones and one of the bosses arrived.  The boss looked like any of the numerous soldiers of the King who had already cleared 240 similar land acquisition projects within three months of the Coronation. 

When so-called experts from organisations like Greenpeace warned that such projects would engender drastic climate changes, the King delivered a characteristically powerful speech.  “Climate change?” asked the King.  “Is this terminology correct?  The reality is that in our family some people are old and they say the weather is colder.  Old age and climate are not the best of friends.”

Soon Greenpeace was barred from receiving funds from abroad.  Its license was suspended until its memory would be replaced with something else in the minds of people who cared about it.  The King had already ordered out the Royal Board for Wildlife.  Decisions are in.  Delays are out.  The Forest Conservation Act was decimated.  Development is more important than forests, declared the King.

The boss refused to accept Michael’s exorcism.  “We’ve already got evidence of your associations with witches,” said the boss.  He flicked open a gadget and showed Michael kissing Viola the witch.  “We arrest you for your unholy practices.”

When Michael was being carried to the Royal Incarceration, yet another Order was being promulgated by the King making astrology a mandatory subject in senior secondary school.

You may also like Michael and the Witch

Monday, June 1, 2015

Bhakti in Indian Politics

On 25 Nov 1949, the day before the Constituent Assembly wound up its proceedings, Dr B R Ambedkar made a speech summing up the work of the Assembly and thanking all the people associated with it.  He ended his speech with three warnings.

The second warning was about the dangers of unthinking submission to charismatic authority.  Quoting John Stuart Mill, Ambedkar cautioned Indians not “to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with powers which enable him to subvert their institutions.”

“In India,” went on Ambedkar, “Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world.  Bhakti in religion may be the road to the salvation of a soul.  But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.”

Today the two major rival political parties in India are laying siege to Ambedkar’s legacy.  An international centre costing Rs 192 crore and a monument costing Rs 99 crore are on the anvil.  Things that don’t cost much to the exchequer like a postage stamp in Ambedkar’s honour, street plays to bring him close to the masses, speeches and rallies are also being planned. 

On the other hand, organisations like Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle at IIT Madras which questioned the same Bhakti movement that Ambedkar warned against are being banned.  A Dalit whose mobile phone played an Ambedkar song was beaten to death supposedly by the people who are practising the same Bhakti that Ambedkar cautioned against.

Certain decisions like whose pictures can be carried in advertisements and whose picture should be displayed in government offices and other public places point to the possibility of the government machinery nurturing the Bhakti movement in the country.

Is Ambedkar being honoured or is he being made use of for nefarious political purposes?

Is what Ambedkar said about the Congress a few years after Independence valid for today’s leading political party?  He accused the Congress of degenerating into a dharamsala, a gathering without any unity of purpose or principles, and “open to all, fools and knaves, friends and foes, communalists and secularists, reformers and orthodox and capitalists and anti-capitalists.”

All his life Ambedkar fought vehemently against “narrow-mindedness and communalism.”  It is ironical that today his legacy is being is resuscitated by people who are staunch advocates of what Ambedkar fought fervently against.

A book review: Dr Ambedkar

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...