Sunday, January 31, 2016

Haiku Fest


Buddha

The Buddha smiled and
Touched his own heart for once to
Choose death o’er haikus

Christ

Deliver me, Lord,
From the cross of the preachers
Mostly blog haikus

Mahatma

Shoot me Godse dear
Save the world from the winter
of barren words drear

Haiku

Death by words without
My fate in leaves that never
Grew syllable count



Inspired a little by Umashankar Pandey and largely by blogger-haikuers

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Hangwoman – Review

Book Review

Title: Hangwoman
Author: K R Meera
Translated from Malayalam by J Devika

The hangman’s noose is a symbol of power.  The hangman experiences a sense of power when he pulls the lever to strangle the victim: the power to allot death to a human being.  Chetna Grddha Mullick, the protagonist of K R Meera’s novel, Hangwoman, experiences the exotic sensation of that power as she sends a condemned convict to his death by enacting her duty as the hangwoman.  But there is a greater sensation awaiting her: that of the symbolic power she has acquired over all men, especially those men who have played the role of patriarchal subjugator in her life.

K R Meera
The novel is really about woman-power.  It is about how women have been subjugated in various ways through centuries by men who took pride in the power they wielded over people for centuries.  Even Phanibhushan Grddha Mullick, Chetna’s father and 88-year old hangman, is proud of his profession whose history, according to family tradition, dates back to 400 years before Christ.  Being the hangman is not a mere job, he repeats time and again, it is a noble profession, an obligation to the nation. 

If hanging is a noble profession and an obligation, so can many other forms of power wielded by men be interpreted as noble traditions or obligations.  And men do that: they justify subjugations and suppressions in the name of tradition, culture and obligation.  This is one of the fundamental messages of the novel.
Cover of the Malayalam version

The novel has a complex texture, however.  It weaves history, mythology and legends into the story of the Mullicks to show us how power manifests itself in various forms.  There is much irony in the narrative.  Quite a lot of satire too when the TV reporter, Sanjeev Kumar Mitra, enters the plot – and he enters quite frequently.  Interestingly, Sanjeev’s parentage subtly implies the shady nature of contemporary journalism.  There are a thief and a prostitute in Sanjeev’s lineage.  When Chetna mentions it, Sanjeev is infuriated.  Chetna understands his fury.  “Those who have nothing else to hang on to need the glory of their ancestors,” she mulls.  Such people also need to wield power over others.  “I want to enjoy you at least once” is what Sanjeev tells Chetna during their first encounter.  For men like Sanjeev, the woman is an object of pleasure if not a maid while a woman like Chetna is in search of a mate.  What people like Sanjeev call love is actually a form of hunting for the prey. 

The Malayalam original of the novel, which is what I read, runs into 552 pages.  There is little by way of plot in the traditional sense.  Yet the novel grips with its illuminating insights into the power structures that underlie history, myths and family legends.  Women are more likely to enjoy this novel than men.  But even men will find it interesting especially if they have a taste for the offbeat. 

Note: The quotes in this review are my translations from the Malayalam version.



Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Selfie



I take the liberty to bring here four reviews of my book, The Nomad Learns Morality

Amit Agarwal, blogger and poet: “Brevity is the essence of this awesome work. The language is crisp ant curt. The extraneous details have been done away with and the reader cannot find an excuse to take a breath while reading, their deep interest is maintained throughout.”

Sunaina Sharma has neatly summed up each one of the stories in her review.  “The book is a collection of 33 stories that deal with topics ranging from mythology to religion, history and politics. The themes are vivid - faith, doubt, human fallacy, God's devise, divinity, morality, sin, facticity, fantasy, truth,  illusion and deception,” says Sunaina. 

“The author has probed deeper and, asks the questions which might have stirred every logical mind. The stories not only make you mull over harder on a few things but also help to come out of parochialism,” says Maniparna Sengupta

Sreesha Divakaran sums up: “… all the stories in the book, in subtle ways, question morality as we know it, what we have been taught as “right” or “moral.” 


To buy the book from the Publisher: CLICK HERE

FLIPKART

PS. When I requested my publishers to offer discount on the book, they accused me of meddling with their professional expertise.  They seem to be very interesting people.  Wish you a nice experience with them.

PPS. It is only after I posted this my attention was drawn to Lata Subramanian's beautiful blog about my book.  With pride, I present the link to her post: A Letter to Fellow Nomads.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Waking up to a Gold Morning


Every morning is a new promise.  It is the beginning of the rest of my life.  It is the opportunity to begin anew once again.  To start the journey again with the confidence that I can change what can be changed and with the insight that I will accept what cannot be changed.

What makes a good morning begins with the pre-dawn freshness of the cool air that distils through the chinks in the window.  The sun has not risen yet.  The lark has not only risen but is on its wings.  It whistles its usual tune from its blissful height.  The tune may be usual but its meaning depends on my response to it.  I choose to whistle back.

That’s what converts my good morning to a gold morning.  My choice is the miracle worker.  I choose to smile rather than smirk.  I choose to respond rather than react.  I choose to hope rather than give up. 

I set my value rather than let others do it.  I forgive myself and others.  I refuse to be a victim.  I choose to carry on the journey.  With renewed vigour.  Start again.  The new dawn is the new promise.  The new promise is the alchemising mantra.

The hurts of yesterday are not just an old chapter in the present book; they belong to an old book.  This morning, I begin to write a new book.  I know that this book too will have its share of both joys and sorrows, agony and ecstasy, ennui and buoyancy. 

What transmute the good morning to a gold morning are my choices, my attitudes, and the insights that yesterdays have taught me.  “The chief beauty about time is that you cannot waste it in advance,” as Arnold Bennett put it charmingly.  The good morning turns into a gold morning the moment I realise that there’s a whole day ahead of me to use it whichever way I choose.  Gold is a matter of choice even as mediocrity is.   The day is mine to convert into gold, in short.  It is there waiting for me, as perfect as it is, spotless, waiting for my hands to craft it as I wish. 

Colgate 360 Charcoal Gold
And there are certain things to start the day with, catalysing the conversion of the good into gold.  More mundane things than the alchemising attitude.  A steaming cup of green tea, for example.  What about a good tooth paste and a matching brush? 

They too matter.  In fact, this blog post has been inspired by one such morning accoutrement: Colgate 360° Charcoal Gold


asks the question what is it about a morning that is great enough to alchemise it into golden.  This post is my answer.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

No Salvation, sonny!


One of the many well-wishers I have managed to gather along the way, much against my wish, sent me the above video a little while ago via Whatsapp.  Having watched it, I replied to my well-wisher: "I agree with him (the speaker in the video) totally.  But my experience: those who preach love are the greatest peddlers of hatred.  Or they are self-righteous and want to reform others.  And ruin many in the process." [I don't know anything about the speaker in the video and my remark was not against him.]

My response was spontaneous and it came from my experience that goes back to decades, not just years. I have been ill-fated to attract a lot of self-appointed well-wishers in my life for reasons that I never managed to understand.  There are so many murderers, drug addicts, corrupt politicians, and all kinds of evil-doers in the world, but why are these well-wishing moralists bothered about me even when I try to live as far away from people as possible except for the virtual contact through my blog?

My well-wisher, who expected me to acknowledge my alleged hatred or whatever and go like the biblical Prodigal Son to a confessor, replied in a language other than English and is translated as: "There's no salvation for you, sonny."

Never mind the patronisation; I'm used to that.  Used to the condemnation too.

My response was: "That's what I am saying.  The only salvation lies in death."

I meant it.  My experience teaches me that these well-wishing moralists won't leave people like me alone simply because we are easy targets for their paternalisation and moralisation.  Who else can be moralised so easily but petty bloggers like me?

Interestingly, I come across more and more of them as I go along trying my best to avoid them. I would never have written this post had the situation not become sickening.



PS. I'll return to my novel in the next post.  This post is just for the intermission.

Friday, January 8, 2016

My Hunger is Concrete




I’m just a year and a half old
and am constructing this huge shopping mall.

Here I am sitting in the shade of a bush
by the side of the towering structure
to which my mother carries the mixture
of gravel and sand and cement
in a grating crater on her head.

When I’m hungry, I wail loud.
That’s when mother comes
and makes me stand on a wall,
opens her blouse,
and pops a nipple into my mouth,
her one hand behind my back
and the other holding the crater.

It’s my hunger that builds the mall.

PS. I wrote this poem some ten years ago when I watched a mother stopping to feed her child at a construction site in Delhi.  The photo was taken a few years later while walking through Bhatti Mines, a part of Delhi that has palatial ashrams belonging to godmen and also slums where people struggle to make both ends meet. 


Anyone interested in a free pdf copy of my book, The Nomad Learns Morality, is welcome to contact me. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Octopus and Leech


Insipid humour like life

“Yes, Sir, I was just thinking of you,” said Dr Prerna when Dr Rakesh walked into her office.  He was not even in the most remotest part of her thinking.  He knew it too.  That was just one of their many secrets. 

Dr Prerna had done her PhD on the artistry of octopus tentacles and Dr Rakesh’s thesis was about the destiny of leeches for sucking blood.  The former was the principal of the school and the latter was a leading principal-aspirant.  The latter warmed up to the former hoping that she would recommend him for the vacant vice-principal’s chair and the former entertained the latter as he played the role of both the stooge and the snitch.  Having buried his soul in the most dishonest flattery and having informed on all his colleagues who matter, Dr Rakesh would cover up the stench and filth of his inner rot beneath his three-piece suit.

“Your disrobe looks fabulous today,” said Dr Rakesh as usual trying to flatter his boss’s new dress.

“What?” Dr Prerna was scandalised in spite of herself.

Dr Rakesh’s knowledge of English was one of the many handicaps that he hid beneath his three-piece suit.  So he had sought the assistance of the English teacher, Joyonto, to learn the name of the Queen’s latest garb which looked like a hybrid between the cassock of Catholic priests and the habit of Tibetan monks.  The crooked Bong had played a nasty game on him, realised Dr Rakesh.  Saala, what does he think of himself?  That eating fish-head will make him more shrewd than Dr Rakesh?  Let him wait and watch what Dr Rakesh, the Chanakya of New India Residential Public School, has in store for him.

While the Chanakya sat in the air-conditioned office of his Queen, Joyonto was taking his usual evening walk on the campus with his little son.

“Be careful,” he warned his son.  “Don’t fall down.”

“Why, dad?” asked the boy.  “What will happen if I fall?”

“Friends will laugh,” said Joyonto.

One of Joyonto’s friends was having his laughs sitting in the Principal’s office.  “He is promiscuous,” Dr Rakesh had learnt that word from Joyonto the other day.  “Have you noticed the way he flirts with the lady teachers?”

Promiscuity was a good allegation, thought Dr Prerna.  She encouraged the stooge to exercise his creative imagination and fabricate some substantiating episodes for Joyonto’s promiscuity.  Every staff member has to be kept in his or her place.  A principal who doesn’t know how to do that is a potential failure.

“Your AC is very good,” said Dr Rakesh having come to the end of the creativity of his imagination.  He thought it wise to depart from the disrobe while flattering the Queen.

“Sir, sir,” the Queen became suddenly excited.  That was one of her diseases.  “Have you heard the joke about the patient who complained about the cold in the operation theatre?”

“No, tell me, madam.”  He said though he had heard the joke twenty-five times since the lady assumed her present office.

“The AC is very cold, said the patient.  Then the doc said, if you find this cold unbearable how will you bear the cold in the mortuary?”

Dr Rakesh roared with laughter.  “Oh, I’m sorry.  You made me laugh so loud,” he apologised.

Don’t be sorry, you numbskull!  The Queen said in her heart.  Your mortuary is getting ready.


Monday, January 4, 2016

Whose Country?


On the New Year’s Day, the government of India slashed the price of aviation turbine fuel by 10 percent. This is the second reduction in the price of ATF in a month’s time.  The New Year gift to the common person was a hike in the price of cooking gas.  The price of non-subsidised LPG was hiked by Rs 49.50 per cylinder.  LPG price was hiked on 1 Dec by Rs 61.50.  Prior to that, rates were increased by Rs. 27.5 per cylinder on November 1.

The flight ticket rates have not changed though ATF rates were cut.  The benefit does not trickle down to the passengers.  The corporate sector harvests the benefits.  The trickle down effect of neoliberalism is a myth. 

When the price of petroleum shot up to $140 per barrel, Dr Manmohan Singh managed to keep the price of petrol in India at Rs 72 per litre by providing subsidies so that the common people would not be taxed too much.  Now when the international price hovers around $37 the prices of petrol and diesel in India refuse to come down except by a few paise.  Who reaps the benefits?  Where are those who hollered and wailed about the evil called subsidies?

Well, Adanis and Ambanis are the actual policy makers of the nation.

What does ATF rate cut mean for Indians?
Picture from Forbes
Prof Ashok Gulati  writes in today’s Indian Express, “The BJP manifesto had promised to raise profitability levels in agriculture to 50 per cent above costs, when these were hovering around 20-30 per cent in most crops during the UPA’s terminal years. But the reality now is that profitability has plummeted to less than 5 per cent in major crops, and is negative for others.”

The BJP has seen many electoral defeats after the landslide victory it obtained in the last Parliament elections.  Even in the PM’s own state the recent Panchayat elections let down the party gracelessly.  Arun Jaitely, who became the Finance Minister though he lost the 2014 election from Amritsar, may have to do some alterations in the party’s policies unless the whole party will be shown the door by Punjab where the Assembly elections are not far off. 

Still waiting for DEVELOPMENT
Picture from Forbes
“The rich in India have always lived a life quite oblivious to the ocean of poverty around them,” wrote Pavan K. Varma in his book Being Indian.  The present regime in Delhi seems to be doing what the rich in India have been doing.  Unless Mr Modi cuts short his foreign trips in order to find time to walk through the streets and by lanes where live 44% of India’s malnourished children and their impoverished parents, India will soon surely show him the real power of democracy.  It already has started doing that.  The writing on the wall cannot be erased by rhetoric even if the speaker is an accomplished orator.


Sunday, January 3, 2016

What are Books Worth?


Indian Bloggers

In today’s Time of India, Ruskin Bond narrates a revealing anecdote.  A boy who looked after his father’s ration shop requested Mr Bond for a book.  Always happy to encourage youngsters to read, Mr Bond gave the boy a copy of his latest, large-format children’s book.  The next day, Mr Bond bought some jaggery (gur) from the boy’s shop and the writer was chagrined to find that the sugar lumps were handed to him in a paper bag made out of the pages of his own book.  “My author’s ego was shattered,” he writes.

Ruskin Bond
When I decided to gather some of my short stories in a book form I had varied motives.  The primary motive was to dedicate the book to a religious cult because of which I lost my job in Delhi and, far worse, I threw away a large collection of my books in a fit of depression.  The cult took over the school where I taught with the promise “to run it at least for a hundred years” but killed it in a brief span of two years.  The entire school complex including hostels and staff quarters was bulldozed to smithereens within weeks after two years of shameless prevarication which masqueraded itself as religiosity.  Thousands of books from the school library were bundled and thrown into a truck and sold, I believe, at paper value.  Were they pulped and transmuted into cartons for transporting items such as gur?  I don’t know and don’t wish to know.

By dedicating my book to the cult, I sought to exorcise the devils put into my soul by the various people of the cult with whom I had very revealing interactions for over two years.  Most of the stories in the book were inspired by my encounters with those people though none of the characters correspond to any of them.  The themes of “faith, doubt, human fallacy, God's devise, divinity, morality, sin, facticity, fantasy, truth,  illusion and deception” – as listed by an extremely perceptive reviewer, Sunaina Sharma –  were inspired by them.  Most of the stories would never have been written had I not had the (mis)fortune of interacting with the people of the cult.  Dedicating the book to them occurred to me as natural an affair as Alexander the Conqueror beating the retreat from the banks of the Beas in ‘And Quiet Flowed the Beas’ (one of the stories) or  Galileo the scientist capitulating in order “to be” in ‘Galileo’s Truth.’

There was another motive too in publishing the book.  A lot of my blog readers had asked me to do it.  They said that the stories were inspiring in many ways.  I trusted them.  Or, to borrow Ruskin Bond’s phrase, “my author’s ego” was on a gratification drive.  Having lost in one place, I sought to win elsewhere. 

Did I win?  Not at all.  Even those who asked me to publish the book didn’t show any interest in it once it was published.  Two months after the publication of the book, without intending to draw any parallel with an eminent author like Mr Bond, I should say I feel like him when he received his sweet lumps of gur packed in the pages of his own book which he had donated to the shopkeeper. 

Paper bags are far more acceptable than plastic bags, Mr Bond consoles himself towards the end of his piece in the Sunday Times.  If his writing can reduce the toxin of plastic from the planet, he would be happy to make the sacrifice.  Not without some grumpiness, however.  That grumpiness is obvious in many remarks he makes about contemporary youngsters whom he compares to porcupines “with their hair standing on end like wire brushes.”

I felt consoled after reading Mr Bond’s piece.  If a great writer like him has reasons to be grumpy, I have nothing to complain about.  All other motives of mine for publishing the book have evaporated now.  My ego is restored to its state of equilibrium, thanks to Mr Bond.





Friday, January 1, 2016

My India in 2016


“Every Indian has a right over everything that India has.  From this, he or she is free to weave his or her dreams.  The India of tomorrow will have 125 crore such dreams, and will be built on the same.  We will not only empower our citizens with the ability to dream, we will enable them with the capacity to actualise their dreams.”

The passage is quoted verbatim from the 2014 Election Manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party which went on to win the elections.  A year and a half is not a period long enough for materialising such a grand vision.  But it is a period long enough to move in the direction, at least a few steps. 

Modi at Sivagiri math in Kerala recently
Instead of empowering the dreams of the citizens, they are being driven deeper and deeper into a quagmire of rising prices of food and communal dis-ease, in addition to all the old problems of corruption in politics, unemployment, widening gap between the rich and the poor, and so on.  Worse, certain concepts like secularism and tolerance have been villainised into bad words.

As Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes in today’s Indian Express, BJP’s “hubris and doublespeak” along with the garb of “victimhood” which it refuses to shed even after winning a landslide majority in the elections jettisons any possibility of letting the people dream, let alone materialising the party’s own promised dreams.

I still dare to dream.  What is life without dreams anyway?

My dream is not for a utopian India.  Mine is a simple dream.  Let me borrow Mr Mehta’s words once more.  I look forward to an India where “the balance of hope and fear, trust and distrust, possibility and constraint, progress and inertia tends in the positive direction.” 

In plain words, it is a simple dream which looks forward to an India where, if the great dreams of empowering the citizens cannot be materialised, we can at least have an atmosphere that does not stifle mutual trust among the people.  If nothing can be done to prevent corruption, to bring back the black money from the foreign banks as promised, or to bring development to every citizen, at least let there be a healthy atmosphere of trust and hope, cooperation and forward movement.  Let India remain as a single nation of diverse people living together in harmony.

That is not an impossible dream provided the party can shed its “hubris and doublespeak.”  


Indian Bloggers


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...