Thursday, April 30, 2015

Farmers and Criminals

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.

Laptops for Haryana MLAs
Courtesy The Indian Express
Coming back to the BJP, look at what the party did in Haryana recently.  While the state did nothing to alleviate the misery of the farmers, it has declared a lot of benefits to the MLAs.  Every MLA is being given a free laptop.  Every MLA can claim a car loan amounting to Rs 20 lakh.  The housing loan for every MLA is increased to Rs 60 lakh.  All the 90 MLAs of the state have already received their free laptops.  All of them are quite sure to make ‘proper’ use of the car loans and housing loans.  And the poor farmers in the state will be labelled “criminals” and “cowards” because they are unable to make both ends meet.

Mr Dhankar did not understand the gravity of his statement or the situation in his state.  He stuck to what he said and asserted that some “drama” like suicide won’t make him change his statement.  Our tragedy as a nation today is the abundance of leaders like Mr Dhankar who lack understanding and sensitivity.  Lack of intelligence is not a crime.  But trying to lead a whole people without the ability to understand their problems and needs can be a crime. 

Who are the real criminals?  Our political leaders or the hapless farmers?


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Fallen and Free

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.  

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

God is within us

Ludwig Feuerbach 

The 19th 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 place.  In his path-breaking work, The Essence of Christianity (1841), Feuerbach argued that a God sitting somewhere out there would be quite useless.

God is within us.  God is a projection of ourselves onto the heavens.  God corresponds to some feature or need of the human being.  It is the human being who craves for infinite love, endless compassion, benevolence and wisdom.  These qualities are divine but they are part of the human nature.  Our mistake is to externalise them and put them onto an idol in the religious place.  By doing this we are denying these qualities within us and transferring the responsibility to God for loving us and looking after us.  And also for giving us truths. 

Some clever people go one step beyond and make scriptures and claim that they come from God.  These clever people become the manufacturers of our truths.  They make use of God and religion to enslave other people.  Feuerbach argues that this process of externalising the divine qualities and truths “poisons, nay destroys, the divinest feeling in man, the sense of truth.”  Worse, it replaces the qualities and truths with rituals and superstitions.

Feuerbach did not wish to eliminate God or religion.  Rather he wanted us to discover our God within ourselves.  The qualities we ascribe to God lie dormant within us, wake them up, allow them to grow and spread so that the world becomes a divine place.  Jesus would probably have agreed for he had said (among many contradictory things) that “the Kingdom of God is within us.”  Religion can be an excellent tool for self-examination, argued Feuerbach.  It can enhance our self-understanding significantly. 

If we understand Feuerbach and apply his theory to our lives, the world would be a paradise of divine creatures.  We would be the real gods.  The imaginary gods we create could still be there as our aids and guides in self-analysis and self-understanding.



Sunday, April 26, 2015

Galileo’s Truth

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 writing.”

The Scripture!  What do these people understand of the Scripture?  Galileo had despaired of trying to make the religious leaders understand that the Scripture was poetry to be interpreted for the sake of bringing the truth to the people in a way they could understand.  The sun rises and sets.  That is poetry.  But that does not mean the sun actually moves.  Didn’t Copernicus say the same thing?  Yet wasn’t Copernicus a doctor in canon law?  Didn’t Augustine exhort the Church to avoid making decrees about the physical world lest they be overturned by new knowledge?  And wasn’t Augustine a saint of the Church? 

“The purpose of the Bible is to teach how to go to heaven, while science teaches how the heavens go,” Galileo had argued.

The scientist drew the attention of his religious leaders to Anaxagoras who died two millennia ago.  In 467 BCE Anaxagoras pointed at the meteorite that had fallen and raised the question: “What do the authorities want me to say now?  Will they permit me to say that the stars up there which are worshipped as gods are actually inert rocks like this?”

If the Scripture is the divinely revealed truth, why does it contain so many contradictions?  Is truth the expediency of the authorities?

“You are inviting the wrath of God upon your head, Galileo,” said the Inquisitor Cardinal.  “God finds you vehemently suspect of heresy.  You are questioning the word of God.  Unless you abjure, curse and detest your opinions, God won’t be able to save you from the stake.”

How helpless is God!  Galileo suppressed the thought.  If God is so helpless, what can one say about the mortal man?

The mortal man abjured, cursed and detested what he knew was the truth.  He remembered Bruno, the man whose tongue was imprisoned by the same Cardinal Bellarmine before his body was burnt at the stake and works put on the Index of Prohibited Books.  When Bruno was burning on the stake in Rome, Shakespeare’s Hamlet was wondering on a stage in London: “To be or not to be, that’s the question.”

To be, decided Galileo.  To be.  He abjured, cursed and detested the truth.  To Be.

“Your recantation saves your life, Galileo,” said Cardinal Bellarmine solemnly.  “But we cannot give you any more liberty.  You will not teach anymore.  You will not appear before the public.  We place you under arrest.”

How long, O Lord, will you hide your face from your people?  Galileo asked God like the Psalmist.  Arouse Yourself, why do you sleep, O Lord?

The heavens were silent.  But they moved, Galileo knew.  The bodies up there, they moved.  To Be.



Friday, April 24, 2015

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 you, and get your eyes checked while I park the car.”

Mrs Fernandez was amused by the automatic door and forgot the holiday.

“Your BP is high,” said the nurse who performed the preliminary diagnostic test. 

“Bulldozer,” babbled Mrs Fernandez.

“A bulldozer keeps invading her dreams,” explained Mr Fernandez who had just reached after parking his car which he had bought a day ago in order to keep up with the Joneses while his and his wife’s jobs were being bulldozed right in front of their eyes.

“A bulldozer is shattering our dreams,” explained Mrs Fernandez to the nurse who was not at all amused by the appearance of Mr Fernandez like a bolt from the blue. 

“Who can destroy anyone’s dreams?” wondered the nurse after listening to Mrs Fernandez in detail. About the latest fashion in the city. “Even a farmer can make statement at Jantar Mantar,” asserted the nurse.

The farmer was buried while Mr Fernandez waited for Mrs Fernandez to open her eyes after the dilation treatment. 

“You have absolutely no problem as far as vision is concerned,” said the doc going through pages and pages of test results.  “But buy the medicine for BP.”

TheGarden of Five Senses was on the way back and Mr Fernandez thought three times before taking the diversion.  "Miser," mumbled Mrs Fernandez to herself.

“You sit here and enjoy your vision,” said Mr Fernandez after dropping Mrs Fernandez at the Garden of Five Senses.

He’s going to enhance his vision with Teacher’s whisky, mumbled Mrs Fernandez to herself.  And her BP rose.  She could feel her heart palpitating. 




Wednesday, April 22, 2015

India, Religion and Noise

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 tool.  Fine.  One can understand the game given the history of the country’s politics.  Having achieved the goal, why does the party still cling on to the tool?  It’s like the hunter searching for the shot bullet instead of the fallen game. 

Why can’t India grow up?  Is it because the right wing is suffering from an acute identity crisis?  No one feels the need to assert a particular identity raucously unless one feels insecure or inferior on account of that identity.  Even the strident assertions of the superiority of one’s religion and culture usually have their roots in some painful feeling of inferiority.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

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 when she screamed.
The Guru chanted mantras of success
For her the chessmen transmuted into pawns.
Before her the world prostrated
And the Guru laughed his way to the bank.

3.  The Fire Sermon

The chelas lit the fires
On pyres of protests
Ghar Vapsi, ghar vapsi,
Chanted the fires
That danced in the darkness
Of development built on infinite debris.

4.  Death by Sun

The bulldozer took on feminine agility
And achieved multiple orgasms beneath variegated costumes
When the April sun scorched the souls
That longed for spring rains and resurrection.

5.  What the Thunder Said

Datta
Dayadhvam
Damyata

But there was no thunder
There is no promise in the Waste Land
Except farts from bums
Rested on chairs that cause allergy.


Note: The poem is a silly parody of T S Eliot's famous poem of the same title and same parts. I admire Eliot. I claim nothing. Not even understanding Eliot.  I'm not worthy to lick his boots. But I love his imageries.  I love the way he can tease us out of our complacencies.  Out of our hypocrisy, perhaps.  Not out of our greed, I'm sure. Greed for power and wealth and land and...    

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Marcus Aurelius dies


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, Agrippa, Areius, Maecenas,  their physicians and their sacrificing priests.  Not only the individuals, but whole races are lost to history.  Where is Pompeii’s race today?

Even the gods cannot save history.  They cannot change history.   Neither the pride of Alexander nor the indolence of Diogenes is my way. 

I will die soon.  I will pass into nothingness.  But I will die happily that I had a heart that was made wise through the right measure of pain and anxiety, fear and despair.  Without my helplessness, without my awareness of my helplessness as a human being, I would not have made the space in my heart for the generosity that I valued much.  It is in giving that I got what I wanted.

Now I’m giving up my life.  Happily.



Note: Marcus Aurelius [26 April 121 – 17 March 180 CE] was the Emperor of Rome from 161 to 180 CE. The above lines are adapted from his book, Meditations.  

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

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.  Otherwise he was a committed priest of the Roman Catholic Church, the assistant of Father Daniel.  He wanted the church to be more orthodox than charismatic, austere rather than boisterous, more compassionate than exuberant.  He liked Sister Prarthana’s approach.  She cared for the individual children of her school.  She patted their cheeks and ran her fingers through their hair.  She threatened to beat them with the cane that was kept perennially on her table.  Occasionally she would even threaten to shoot them or chop off their heads with an imaginary sword.  Like in: Children, don’t force me to take out the pistol from the drawer or Kids, I have a sword hidden beneath my tunic.

Father Marangodan overheard her once and thus became her counsellor.  “Don’t use such violent metaphors in front of children,” he said to her.  He exhorted her to imbibe the forbearance and stoicism of Our Lord.  “Always keep in mind the image of the Lord in Gethsemane.”

Sister Prarthana tried her best to keep the image of the Gethsemane in her mind.  But the more she met Father Marangodan, the more Paradise kept invading Gethsemane.  Instead of the Lord, it was Adam that entered the Eden of her mind and she was Eve there.  She was troubled by the strange resemblance which her Adam had with Father Marangodan. 

“Don’t let Satan into your soul,” warned the priest.  “You and I are religious and our way is strewn with pebbles and thorns.  Gethsemane is our only garden.  Take the Eden out of your mind.  Embrace the cross...”

“The Eden refuses to fade from my visions,” confessed Sister Prarthana days after she had carried out the penances stipulated by Father Marangodan. 

Sweat drew Father Marangodan’s  soutane close to his skin.  These days the very sight of Sister Prarthana made his body hot and it sweated profusely.  He wished Sister Prarthana did not have such beautiful dimples on her rosy cheeks.

Praise the Lord! Alleluia!

The chanting from the church brought Father Marangodan back to the present.  Back to Sister Prarthana and her Benjamin-the-pain-on-her-neck and the dancing dimples on her rosy cheeks.  Father Marangodan’s soutane was wet with sweat.  The breeze brought down some dry rubber leaves on him.  It cooled his body too.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Cost of Being Gunter Grass


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, accused of cynicism and hypocrisy and even of being a supporter of Nazism.  I read more about him and learnt that none of the charges were deserved.

Grass passed away yesterday. I cannot write about his contribution to literature since I stayed away from his books.  Yet I always felt drawn to him whenever I read something about him.  I liked his refusal to commit himself to any ideology.  I loved his scepticism.  I loved the helpless yet raucous protest that his eccentric protagonist raised by hiding himself under a platform and subverting the Nazi band during a rally.

Grass was a rebel and his enfant terrible protagonist was an aesthetic expression of his own rebellion.  It is the rebellion of a person who thinks differently from the vast majority of the people on the planet and hence is destined to remain an alien throughout his life.  And that’s what Grass was.  He was not a coward, however.  He did not hide beneath any platform when Germany was unified in 1990, for example.  When his compatriots celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall as “the greatest street party in the history of the world”, he remained sceptical and his reasoning was vindicated by the ruthless treatment meted out to many former East Germans.

Grass was credited with a profound understanding of public life.  His views were solidly founded on clear ethical principles.  Yet when he admitted honestly his erstwhile connections with the Nazis people including so-called intellectuals found it difficult to digest.  This difficulty of the people to understand certain subtle truths about life is what made me write this.


Monday, April 13, 2015

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, for example, who construct roads or buildings that have  very short lives.  Our food is adulterated, our water is no more free, our air is unbreathable... The cow is more sacred than human beings.  Our religious leaders demand sterilisation of people belonging to particular faiths.  Human ominous signs are rampant putting us on our guard.

It is not the gods in the mythology or the heavenly bodies of astrology that control our lives.  It is us.  Especially our leaders who form the policies and shape public opinions.  Quite many of our leaders are yet to acquire a fraction of the wisdom that some of our forefathers possessed more than 2200 years ago. 


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Google’s instant


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 edited before I wrote the final version.

Three decades later, as a teacher of English when I give assignments to my students, what I get is instant work copy-pasted from the internet via Google search and printed out without even being subjected to some basic necessary editing.  When I question the students on the material submitted by them, I get the rude shock: they have not even bothered to read it.

What has Google done to the world?  I asked the question to myself when I saw the latest discussion topic at an Indian bloggers’ community website.*

I rely heavily on Google for a lot of information so much so Google is the home page on every electronic gadget (four in number) I use.  Google literally makes information available at the fingertips.  I don’t need membership in any library anymore.  The arduous journey to the temple of wisdom is unnecessary.  Google is my threshold to that temple now.  The temple travels with me wherever I go.  So life without Google (or any such efficient search engine) would be unimaginable now!

But I’m not sure whether Google and the internet are made proper use of by the youngsters.  Secondly, hasn’t the internet with its bewitching accessories like chat-sites and social networks undermined real relationships?

Two years back, i.e., almost three decades after I had my last encounter with Prof Perincheri, I spoke to him on phone.  A classmate of mine who visited me in Delhi from Ernakulam gave me the professor’s number.  I was reluctant to make the call.  I didn’t want to face the possibility of having been forgotten by one of my favourite teachers.  “He remembers you,” assured Joseph Henry, my classmate who is now a Jesuit priest.  I dialled the number reluctantly and was thrilled beyond words when Prof Perincheri recognised me as soon as I mentioned my name. 

Such surprises and excitements are sure to vanish from the world run by Google and the internet.  In the world of instant links and instant clicks, the soul is left with a longing, a longing for a stirring, a stirring somewhere deep, deep below the instant gratifications.


* Prompted by #worldwithoutgoogle of Indiblogger



Friday, April 10, 2015

Masks


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 lifelong companion).  They invariably inflict some pains on us and we put up self-defence mechanisms.  These defence mechanisms create our personality, argued Wilhelm Reich. 

We describe persons as introverts or obsessive perfectionists or clumsy... The simple fact is that nobody wants to be an introvert, or an obsessive perfectionist or clumsy.  The introversion or the clumsiness is a mask, a defence mechanism, put up for shielding the individual from potential threats emanating from the hell that the other is.

We live in a world where masks are becoming increasingly important.  People who consider themselves religious are turning into menacing hells for us circumscribing our choices.  They insist on choosing the books that we will read, the movies that we will watch, the clothes we may wear, the food we can eat, the person one may marry...  They insist on writing or rewriting our history.  They insist on converting us into palimpsests.  Worst of all, they impose themselves on us as our leaders. 


Thursday, April 9, 2015

India’s Hitlers


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 became the Prime Minister.   Most Indians seem to have accepted the new system as an inevitable one.  We, Indians, get used to anything too quickly.  We have got used to the Indian version of fascism.

New victim
The latest is Shiv Sena’s breach of privilege motion against Shobha De and protests in front of her residence.  What the lady said was that the state of Maharashtra had no right to impose Marathi films on movie-watchers of Mumbai during the prime time in the multiplexes.   The fascists of Maharashtra accused the lady of criticising the government and “even ridiculing the Chief Minister.” 

Maharashtra has already decided what its people will eat, what they will wear, who they will marry, and so on.  The various avatars of the Right Wing in the country are deciding what the people of the country can or cannot do.  Which books we can read, which movies we can watch, what we can eat or wear, which language we may speak, which god(s) we can worship, who we can fall in love with, where we can kiss the beloved...

Will our politicians and their moral goons slip between the bed sheets to check the brand of the condom used?  Will they force us to drink the urine of the sacred cow?  Will Manu return in new forms?

Will they outdo Hitler himself?


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Bible’s God of Absurdity


 
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 piece of pottery, his wife howls at him: “Do you still retain your sanity?  Curse your God and die?”  Job questions God but without losing his trust.

The Biblical God’s answer to Job is quite a lesson in existential absurdity.  Do you think you understand the working of the universe?  God asks Job.  Can you control the waves in the sea?  Have you seen the world beyond those waves?  Job is bombarded with question after question.

Do you give the horse his strength or clothe his neck with a flowing mane? Do you make him leap like a locust, striking terror with his proud snorting? He paws fiercely, rejoicing in his strength, and charges into the fray. He laughs at fear, afraid of nothing; he does not shy away from the sword. The quiver rattles against his side, along with the flashing spear and lance.

Do you think justice and mercy govern the universe?  That’s what God is asking Job in other words.  It is a violent and chaotic universe that I have created. God is telling Job.  Violent and chaotic.  But bountiful and marvellous too at the same time.

Life does not follow your petty human logic, God implies.  Life is absurd.  In case Job does not understand that, God is ready to make it clear enough.
Sisyphus

The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully, but they cannot compare with the pinions and feathers of the stork, says God. The ostrich lays her eggs on the ground and lets them warm in the sand, unmindful that a foot may crush them, that some wild animal may trample them. She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers; she cares not that her labour was in vain...

God has given the ostrich wings that are as good as the intellect is for most human beings. 

Who do you think you are to question me?  God is asking Job indirectly.  You are as good a joke as the ostrich possessing wings that cannot take her anywhere in the heavens. 

Prometheus
Job’s story ends on a happy note because Job understands and accepts the terrible absurdity of his life.  “No plan of yours can be thwarted,” Job tells his God in all humility and submission.  God returns to Job all his wealth, servants and children. Job is totally unlike Sisyphus or Prometheus, his Greek counterparts, who refused to surrender their will to their Gods.  The three responded to their destinies differently.  But their destiny was the same: the inescapable absurdity of human existence.   


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

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 the universe and the function of the convection-principle in it.  The farmer is convinced.

A few days pass.  The farmer is unhappy that he lost his gods.  Socrates is responsible for the loss of his gods.  He gathers a few people who value gods.  The people march to Socrates’ house and sets it on fire.  The philosopher and his followers are burnt alive.

This drama was written when Socrates was still alive.  In reality Socrates was poisoned to death.




Monday, April 6, 2015

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 as despair.  We don’t like that indifference.  Our hearts long to feel emotions such as love and hatred, wonder and despair.  That’s why we need a god (or many gods) in the heavens.  To mitigate the inhuman indifference of the heavens.  To be our alter egos up there in the emptiness, the scary emptiness, the emptiness that stares into our hearts. 

The emptiness and the indifference of the heavens is the mystery that we have to live.  Instead we fill that emptiness with mumbo jumbo offered to gods with our own shapes.



Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Sense of an Ending



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 fast friends at school who are brilliant and are conscious about their superiority too.  But Adrian ends up killing himself at the age of 22.  “In the letter he left for the coroner he had explained his reasoning: that life is a gift bestowed without anyone asking for it; that the thinking person has a philosophical duty to examine both the nature of life and the conditions it comes with; and that if this person decides to renounce the gift no one asks for, it is a moral and human duty to act on the consequences of that decision.” (48)

There are a couple of allusions to Albert Camus’s argument that the only question worth answering in life is that of suicide.  Is life worth living?  What makes it worth living?  Can Camus’s answer, “intellectual honesty”, satisfy us fully?  Do we need something more than mere logic and reason to sustain us through life?  What about that terrible subhuman part of our being, the dominant part, the emotions?

Julian Barnes packs a lot of fiery material in his small novel of 150 pages.  Almost every page of the novel puts some spark into your brain and makes you think deep.  About life.  Its meaning.  The worthwhileness of putting up with it.  If one can really see through life, see life with complete transparency and objectivity, would one still choose to put up with it?

In spite of all the intellectual acumen, will life leave you feeling terribly “average” in the end because you haven’t understood what life is really about?  “Average, that’s what I’d been, ever since I left school,” the protagonist of the novel realises.  “Average at university and work; average in friendship, loyalty, love; average, no doubt, at sex.... Average at life; average at truth; morally average.” (100)

Most lives consist of “compromise and littleness” (140) and does the ego of the intellectual permit him to accept that simple fact?  Is the intellectual above the compromise and littleness?  “We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe.  We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly.  What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather facing them.  Time ...give us enough time and our best-supported decisions will seem wobbly, our certainties whimsical.”  (93)

And the time comes at the end.  When death approaches.  Too late.   Or does it come at all?  Will our life rather be “merely the story we have told about life.  Told to others, but – mainly – to ourselves”? (95)

A lot of big questions are raised in this small novel about life and its meaning.  Reading the novel is like taking a plunge into a metaphysical pool.  The suspense revealed at the end comes as a terrible anticlimax, a thumbing of the nose at all the intellectual quests and questions.  Is the author telling us that life is nothing more than what Shakespeare’s Macbeth described as a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?

* All page numbers refer to the 2012 Vintage paperback edition of the novel.


The Artist Makes his Funeral Pyre

Fiction Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there was a kingdom.   The King was very particular about law and order, discipl...