Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Choice of Millions

The novel, Black Hole, continues.

For those who came in late, the story so far:  Kailash Public School in Delhi is donated to Devlok Ashram by Sitaram Rana.  The Ashram was founded by Kailash Baba. Aaron Matthews from London was the most beloved disciple. Amarjeet and Mahendra contributed to the material welfare of the ashram.  Jane Abercrombie, a Jewish refugee from Hitler's Germany, is disillusioned with Amarjeet who taught her the Non-Being of Kamasutra and gave her a son, Nitin, in the process. Mahendra discovers that he has a son back there in Kurukshetra and gets a new purpose for his existence. Rachel, Aaron's wife visits him in Delhi having obtained a free journey in the company of the Mountbattens who came to give Independence to India.  Rachel returns to England realising that she has lost Aaron to Indian spirituality.  Mohandas Gandhi's assassination eclipses the murder of Aaron by Amarjeet and Mahendra who have their own ambitions to which Aaron was a perceived hindrance.

Ishan Salman Panicker is an English teacher at Kailash Public School.  When Sitaram Rana, Mahendra's son, hands over the school to the newly founded Kailash Educational and Environmental Trust, Ishan's spirituality is stirred.  He begins to write a gospel.  Ishan's gospel has its roots in Shillong where he was born of hybrid parentage: a Keralite Hindu father and a Khasi Catholic mother, the latter of whom had a Bangladeshi Muslim father.  Shankara Panicker, Ishan's father, was one of the victims of Indira Gandhi's Emergency.  So Father Joseph Kunnel became the boy's guardian. The priest and the boy had little in common.  Eventually Ishan left Shillong along with his wife, Jenny, and got a job at Kailash.

Read on:


How will you make Kailash the choice of millions?”

The question stunned Ishan.  It was his first day as PGT in English at Kailash Public School.  The day had passed pretty well except for the normal problems of both the teacher and the students getting used to each other.  He was summoned by the Vice Principal in the evening while he was in a study room of Vasishta Hostel supervising what was known as ‘prep’ during which the students revised the day’s lessons and completed the pending assignments.

Pradeep Kumar Tandon.  Ishan had read the name of the Vice Principal on the door of his office as he entered.
“This school has had a great reputation,” Mr Tandon explained himself with a veiled expression which Ishan perceived as scorn.  “There was a time when parents used to stand in a long queue to seek admissions for their wards here.  The situation has changed rather drastically in the last few years.  What do you suggest for bringing back the lost glory?”

Ishan was confused in spite of the explanation.  Whether it was the question or the scorn which marked it that confused him, he was not sure.  He was used to scorn, thanks to Father Joseph Kunnel.  The priest had used that as a deadly weapon with the noble intention of salvaging the aberrant soul of the lost sheep.  No, the priest himself did not display scorn overtly.  He got all the people under his influence in the little town of Shillong to shower scorn on Ishan.  People were more than happy to oblige the priest.   “Every village loves its own idiot or its own lunatic,” Ishan told Jenny once.  “The idiot carries all the idiocy of the people and the lunatic carries all their insanity.  Scapegoat.”  Jenny did not understand what he meant.  She wondered whether he was really going insane.
“No one is after you.  It’s all in your imagination,” she told him with some consternation.
“The priest is not what he seems,” Ishan tried to explain.  “He uses other people to denigrate me.  They will come, sit near me and discuss things which the priest wants me to hear.  Today they were comparing Hamlet and Othello.”

“What’s Hamlet and Othello got to do with you?”  Jenny was also an English teacher and didn’t need introduction to Shakespearean tragedies.

“The philosopher vacillates while the warrior performs, they said.  Hamlet can go on endlessly asking which is better: to be or not to be.  Othello has to act.”

Jenny looked at him as if to make sure whether he was indeed insane.
“I’m faced with Hamlet’s question again and again,” Ishan said pouring another drink of a cheap whisky into his glass.  “When you’re faced with a situation that screws you thoroughly, what do you do?  Fight or flight?”  He became Hamlet.  “Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth to dust, the dust is earth, of earth we make loam – and why of that loam, whereto he was converted, might they not stop a beer barrel?”  Ishan-Hamlet raised his glass of whisky as if it was a chalice and said, “This is my blood.  Let the priest come and drink it.”  He gulped it down at one go.  And became Hamlet once again.  “Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay, might stop a hole to keep the wind away. To be, or not to be?  That is the question – whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles.”  He poured another drink and continued, “Can Hamlet take up arms against a sea of troubles?”  He asked Jenny.
“Shall I go?”  Jenny asked. 

“Where?”  “To recite the rosary.  It’s time for the evening prayer.”
“To recite mantras?  Are you a pagan, Jenny?  How many Hail Marys recited like pagan chants will take you to heaven?  None.  Heaven belongs to little children.  Don’t you know that?  If you want to enter the kingdom of heaven, be like the little children.  Do you know who said that?”  He paused for the answer.  But Jenny remained silent.  He ignored her.  “ Fight or flight?  No, Hamlet cannot take up arms.”  Ishan continued dramatically.  “If he does, he will become Othello.  And put out the light, and then put out the light.”

“As a teacher, what can you do?”  Mr Tandon repeated the question.

“Sir...” said Ishan hesitantly.  He cleared his throat and vacillated like Hamlet.  “I’ve just joined the school,” finally he said.  “Please give me some time to get used to the system...”

“The system, yes!”  Mr Tandon exclaimed as if Ishan had said something revolutionary.  “The system.  We have to strengthen the system.  How can you do that as a teacher?”

Ishan said with some affected fervour that he would carry out his duties with total commitment.

“That’s a very generic statement.  Be precise, Mr Panicker.  For example, the spoken English of our students is very poor.  How will you improve that?”

“Make them speak only English, sir,” said Ishan.  “There’s no other way.”

“How will you make them speak English?”

“The system, sir.”  Ishan said spontaneously.  He thought that the system was the panacea for all the evils in Kailash.

Mr Tandon’s scorn mutated into a scowl instantly though the scowl was also rather veiled.

Is this another version of the priest?  Ishan felt like retching.  He swallowed the retch and said with the histrionics that usually accompanied his ego whenever it perceived some threat, “Have you heard of Noam Chomsky, sir?”  Namedropping was part of the histrionics.  “He is an eminent linguist.  He says that language is inborn in all of us.  That inborn ability, which he calls Language Acquisition Device or LAD, is what distinguishes a human baby from a donkey baby.  Expose the child to a language for a few weeks and it will absorb it naturally while the colt won’t even if you immerse it in the language for a century...”

“That’s interesting, Mr Panicker,” intercepted Mr Tandon.  “We’ll discuss this later.”  He went on to give some exhortations about the sacred responsibilities of a teacher in a residential school.
“Had an interesting interaction?”  Mr Uttam Kumar Sharma, Sanskrit teacher and the House Master of Vasishta Hostel, asked Ishan when he returned to his duty in the hostel.
“Yeah,” said Ishan, “he was teaching me the choice of millions.”



Chapter 1: The Original Sin

Chapter 2: A Gospel

2.2 Dkhar
     2.4 Cry from Calvary
     2.5 The Lost Sheep
     2.8 The Y Chromosome
     Chapter 3: Heart of Darkness
     3.1 Heart of Darkness
     3.4 Longings


  1. I've read Hamlet many years ago. You refreshed it. Once you finish the book, I'm going to reread it again in its entirety. It deserves a nonstop reading.

  2. I agree with Rakesh here. I have to read it in entirety again, with a concentration that comes only when you have a book in hand. What will the English teacher do now....?

  3. Thank you, both Rakesh and Sunaina. I hope the book will be published this year itself. I know the narrative is quite complex and difficult to connect sometimes.


Not your place

Fiction I had warned him.   “Facebook is not a place for a person like you.”   That’s what I had told him.   Could I make it clear...