Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Moony Evening

The moon shines down on my front yard


The moon was not very pleased this evening.  I was keeping a watch out for the phenomenal blue blood super moon, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  The clouds suffused the eastern sky conspiring against my new heartthrob. Clouds are also my friends, however.  “Deprive me of my once-in-a-lifetime experience, but give me a shower,” I chanted to the clouds with all the devotion I could muster.

Prayers usually have the opposite effect.  You pray for sunshine and you get a blizzard of rain.  The clouds listened to my chanting and began to clear slowly like a lazy, arrogant deity who farted at my prayer.  A hazy red disc peeped through the miasma of shifting clouds.  Gradually the redness sharpened but not clear enough for my camera to capture.  Once-in-a-lifetime experiences cannot be facile, I reminded myself. 

The clouds vanished eventually.  The earth cast its shadow on the moon whose red colour changed into the usual silvery yellow.  I watched the shadow move slowly, lazily.  I remembered that the earth moves round the sun at a speed of 30km/sec.  I realised that I was there on that shadow moving over my moon at a speed of 30km/sec. 

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage,” the Bard reminded me.  “Thank you, boss,” I responded courteously.  “A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” the Bard concluded.

The earth released the moon from its shadow.  I am a walking shadow on you, I told the earth.  A tale whose sound and fury have had their day.  Signifying nothing.  The moon smiled at me. 

The real people were busy taking their ritual dip in the Ganga at Haridwar and Varanasi and…


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

From light to darkness

PM Modi paying homage to the Mahatma - perfunctory


Prime Minister Modi paid a perfunctory homage to Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, on his 70th death anniversary today.  His tweet was conspicuous for what it did not say rather than what it did.  His visit to Raj Ghat was something he would have liked to avoid if he could. 

The Mahatma and PM Modi are the opposite poles of a continuum that holds a nation together in spite of differences.  Gandhi’s vision was wholly inclusive while Modi’s is wholly exclusive.  It is true that Modi has come quite a way from the days of his hate speeches in the initial years of the millennium.  Not only the hatred but also the sarcasm has mellowed. Apparently. 

PM Modi's tweet today
It is not mellowing really.  India is witnessing communal hatred like never before.  The Mahatma’s death anniversary used to be remembered in schools with a minute’s silence until Modi became the PM.  Slowly, surreptitiously, like the petrol price hikes, like the communal poison being injected, like Modi’s increasing narcissism, slowly, unnoticed, the Mahatma’s memory is being erased from the nation’s collective memory.

We are left with clashes. Misery. Terror. 

The worst is yet to come.

May all the gods of the PM save us.  But they won’t.  They belong to the wrong pole.  The right pole has been buried and forgotten.  We are moving from light to darkness.  From the Mahatma to a Narcissist.




Sunday, January 28, 2018

Milton’s Lost Paradise



Maggie went to visit her relatives yesterday and will return tomorrow.  Since absence makes hearts grow fonder, I was left afflicted by pangs of solitude.  Though I had started rereading The Karamazov Brothers, the feeling of loneliness became oppressive at a moment and I found myself picking up her Bible from where she keeps it after her daily evening prayers.  I opened a page randomly and there it was:

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. [Genesis 3: 6-7]

Paradise Lost: Painting by Russian artist Pavel Popov
The Bible is rather terse when it comes to things that really matter.  Why or how did the fruit open their eyes?  And when it did, why was their nakedness the first thing that struck them?  The questions immediately reminded me of Milton’s epic Paradise Lost.

Adam and Eve were intoxicated as if they had drunk new wine when they ate the forbidden fruit, sang Milton.  They swam in mirth and felt divinity taking wings within them.  Carnal desire enflamed both of them.  Milton says that they burnt in lust. 

Milton’s Adam tells Eve, “We have lost so much pleasure while we abstained from this delightful fruit…. If such pleasure lies in forbidden things, we might wish for ten such trees in place of one…. You look more beautiful now than ever.  Enflame my senses so that I enjoy you with greater ardour than ever, thanks to the bounty of this virtuous tree.”

Milton’s Adam and Eve then lie down on “a shady bank” with a “verdant roof” over them with the pansies, violets, asphodels and hyacinths making the “earth’s freshest softest lap” for them.  They make love until “dewy sleep oppressed them, wearied with their amorous play.”

Milton says that the first couple woke up with a deep sense of guilt.  The intoxication given by the forbidden fruit had dissipated.  Their innocence that “like a veil had shadowed them from knowing ill” was gone.  Their nakedness now becomes a shameful thing.  Sex became sin because of the intoxication of lust.

That is Milton’s interpretation of the Bible.  Literature definitely makes a lot more sense than scriptures.  Excess of anything can become evil.  Lust is evil for its excess.  But the excess of guilt feeling that Milton pumps into Adam’s soul after that realisation is more religion than literature.  Milton’s Adam, true to the macho Bible, puts the whole blame on Eve.  He thinks of saving himself by denouncing her and living in paradisiacal solitude so that his lost “honour, innocence, faith and purity” can be regained and he can face his God again.

This is where my problem arises.  Suppose the maker of the Adam-Eve myth was not so much a guilt-obsessed sexist in addition to being an escapist who passes the buck, suppose he was an honest and balanced man who could accept his sexuality candidly, how different would the Semitic religions have been? 

I know the answer is wishful thinking.  The harm has been done and irreparably too.  I can only make the reparation in my life.  I made it long ago.  My paradise is not lost.




Saturday, January 27, 2018

Somewhere she died



Somewhere in Gurugram she roamed
with a beer can in hand and kicks in heart.
Children cried from a school bus
unable to grasp the zeal of neo-patriots
who pelted rocks at their window panes.

Somewhere in Gurugram I bled saffron

Padmavati earned hundred crore rupees
The box office is a different world
with its own holy cows that feed on plastic
and Rajput pride and nationalist noises

Somewhere in Gurugram Eklavya lost his thumb

The beer can was found near the girl’s skirt
Beer, blood and saffron mingled
Padmavati lost her ‘i’
The girl lost her skirt and much more
The patriots made her a whore

Somewhere in Gurugram she died


Friday, January 26, 2018

App Trap


Some messages that come on WhatsApp make me cry.  Because I’ll be reading them for the umpteenth time. 

Why should my mornings begin with these?
WhatsApp is the only messaging app I have on my phone.  Until a few days back there was FB Messenger too.  I uninstalled Messenger the moment one particular friend snapped the friendship.  Santosh used to write meaningful things and I loved reading them.  It was only for him I installed Messenger.  His writings were poetic, philosophical, funny, personal, bizarre, and just anything depending on his mood.  I loved each one of them for the resplendent personality behind them.  Then some well-wishers came between us.  Well-wishers have been my nemesis for most part of my life.  They ruined my happiness whenever they got an opportunity to do so. 

Well-wishers rule the roost of messaging apps.  I get at least a hundred messages from them every day.  Clich├ęd rules of thumb, jokes that have gathered patina over time, muffled trumpet-blowing.  I have stopped opening most of them.  I need WhatsApp because sometimes my workplace issues important messages on it.

Some jokes are welcome :)
I would install as many messaging apps as you please provided there were more Santoshes in the world.  I love writing that comes from one’s own heart.  I don’t understand why people send to me things written by unknown others.  What interests me is you, you as an individual.  What do you have to say to me? 

“Eeeee…”  Santosh would write sometimes in response to my remark or comment.  Even that Eeeee held a kaleidoscope of meaning for me.  That sort of meaning is what I look for in any text; one’s own meaning, not borrowed ones.  Borrowed meanings are as useless to me as religions.  That’s why messaging apps and I don’t get along well.

Beauty queens from Saudi Arabia.
Sent via WhatsApp by a friend with a good sense of humour.
This was fantastic. I hope it won't gather patina with nauseating repetition.



Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Book of Strange New Things

Book Review

Title: The Book of Strange New Things
Author: Michel Faber
Publisher: Canongate (2015)
Pages: 585

Search for meaning is one of the things that distinguishes intelligent life from others.  How much does religion help in the process?  Michel Faber’s novel, The Book of Strange New Things, takes Christianity with its Bible (which is called ‘The Book of Strange New Things’ by the inhabitants) to Oasis, a planet in a distant galaxy. 

“I’m an alcoholic,” says the protagonist.  “Me too,” says Grainger, a prominent character.  “It never leaves you,” responds the protagonist.  Grainger smiles.  “Like God, huh?  More loyal than God.”

The protagonist is Peter Leigh, a Christian pastor who has been appointed by a shady American corporate named USIC [whose expansion is never given; does it sound like You-Sick?] to take Jesus and his gospels to the native population of Oasis.  Before becoming a pastor, Peter was an alcoholic and a drug addict who stole others’ money and things in order to get drugs and liquor.  He met Beatrice, a nurse, in a hospital and they fell in love.  Bea had endured a terrible childhood whose scars left an ocean of longing in her which, perhaps, only a reclaimed addict could satisfy.  The two marry and become a very loving couple.  It is Bea who fills Peter’s heart with Jesus and the gospels.  Peter never reverts to his addictions though he uses the present tense while speaking to Grainger on Oasis: “I’m an alcoholic.”

Financial hurdles attract Peter to the prospects offered by USIC.  Peter and Bea are separated by galaxies.  The native people of Oasis had accepted Jesus as their God and Saviour even before Peter reached their planet.  But the former pastor had abandoned them; he just disappeared.  The Oasans [as they are called by the USIC scientists and engineers] cut off food supply to the humans until a new pastor is provided.  God is the ultimate meaning and solace for the Oasans who don’t even want the Bible to be translated into their language.  The relative mysteriousness of English renders the religion more magical to them. 

Religion is magic.  It is addictive.  It gives hope. 

But none of the scientists and engineers taken to Oasis from the earth require god or religion.  They tolerate Peter because their food depends to a considerable extent on his services to the native population.  The scientists and engineers are also people recruited by USIC after a lot of screening.  They also had a shady past like Peter.  But their profession and its skills which find a new playfield on Oasis give a new meaning to their life and they don’t revert to their addictions.  They are all meritorious people who had gone astray for one reason or the other.  The earth can destroy the meritorious.  Oasis can regenerate them.

Oasis breaks Grainger, however.  She reverts to alcoholism as the craving for normal human love takes shape in her.  She wants to meet her father, the person who meant everything to her as a child. 

Peter is broken too in spite of his deep faith in God.  In fact, the novel suggests that his faith is shaken when Bea finds the earth of the 21st century a terrible place to live on.  “There is no God,” writes Bea using the interstellar email system provided by USIC and Peter is jolted.  Bea is breaking up.  Peter has to be with her. 

The novel explores human love, love for god and discovering meaning in one’s profession as means of making life meaningful.  It is a pleasant read all through.  Faber’s style is simple and captivating.  Yet nothing much really happens in the novel, pretty long as it is.  One can read it delightfully as a narrative about an alien planet and the human struggle to domesticate it.  The rest lies beneath as an undertone. 

One of those undertones I personally found fascinating is Peter’s doubts about his own faith toward the end of the novel:

The cynicism he’d thought he’d banished for ever was coursing through his system.  Placebo, all is placebo.  Swallow the pills and feel invigorated while the cells die inside you.  Hallelujah, I can walk on these septic feet, the pain is gone, barely there, quite bearable, praise the Lord. [Page 551]



Tuesday, January 23, 2018

End of the World

Painting by Adolph Hiremy Hirschl

I grew up listening to a lot of stories about the imminent end of the world.  Jesus spoke pretty much about it and we listened to those biblical verses in the church often enough.  The romantic dreamer in Jesus conjured up a vivid image of “the Son of Man” coming in his glory on the final judgment day, escorted by all the angels.  In that glorious vision, God is a King ensconced on a glittering throne.  The entire mankind will assemble before him.  No one is given a choice, of course.  The King will weigh the virtues and sins of each person and accordingly assign heaven or hell.

It was my childish fancy that the gala event would come soon and I would escape from the misery of life on the earth.  I don’t remember whether I gloated about sitting in heaven and smirking at all the sinners burning in hell. 

As I grew up I realised that Jesus had imagined all those things long ago and nothing happened in all those 2000 years.  In my own little lifetime I came across many other prophets who smugly predicted the end of the world.  Some of them became fabulously wealthy as many people set store by the prophecy and donated their wealth hoping to secure seats in heaven.

I’m now reading a novel, The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber, which is set on an alien planet that is being domesticated by the Americans who hope to sell seats to the privileged rich on the earth as the planet is nearing its end.  [My review of the novel will appear in this space tomorrow.]  It is typical of Americans to think of a heaven whose seats will be sold commercially.  They have not left anything more on the earth to be commercialised.

The novel made me ask a question to myself: would I like to buy a seat in that American heaven?  I scorned myself for asking that question.  My childish longing for Jesus’ heaven was less ridiculous. 

What if the world ends?  Nothing, I guess.  I escape from what the Buddha called a misery, life’s misery.  The Buddha wasn’t romantic enough like Jesus to imagine some fantastic heaven up there.  He was profoundly practical to understand that existence was the biggest pain.  He hated existence.  Would he have welcomed the end of the world gleefully?  I can’t imagine the Buddha smiling anyway, even at the prospective end of the world. 

But I prefer the Buddha to Jesus, notwithstanding the fecundity of the latter’s imagination.


Monday, January 22, 2018

Liberating Love


It is with a heavy heart that I deleted the number from the contact list.  My Samsung phone cautioned me: Do you want to delete the number or remove it from the favourites?  And it gave me three options: Cancel / Remove / Delete.  When you have chosen a path after enough deliberation, there should be no hesitation.  I hit the delete option.

Last Christmas my phone showed a number of missed calls from a particular number.  Both Maggie and I were outside home and we didn’t hear the call.  I am usually reluctant to answer calls from unrecognised numbers and I never make a return call to such numbers.  Finally Maggie answered the call from that particular number when I was still outside. 

It was a call from a person whose number I had deleted from my contact list as well as memory some 15 years ago.  He said he wanted to shed a burden from his heart this Christmas day.  He said he had wanted to do it during many other previous Christmases but had no courage.  He also asked Maggie not to tell me that he was the one who called lest I block the number.

Maggie told me, however.  I didn’t block the number.  I was not interested in a call from that person, nevertheless.  I thought he wouldn’t call.  A day or two later, while I was sitting in a hospital where Maggie had an appointment with a doctor my phone rang.  I thought a phone conversation would be a good entertainment while I sat on the dreary bench in the hospital’s musty corridor.

It was that man who wanted to make his Christmas meaningful.  As soon as I answered he laughed uproariously which prompted me to move out of the hospital.  I feared his laughter would disturb the solemn and sad silence in the hospital.  I moved out on to the road.  I suddenly remembered that I had another work to complete in the town.  Let me do it, I decided.

“Do you recognise me?” The caller asked after the bout of laughter which strangely reminded me of Ashwattama after he had made his nocturnal and vicious assault on the Pandava camp when the Kurukshetra war was drawing to a close. 

How could I forget that laughter?  I told him I had no ill feelings towards him.  I have made it a policy not to harbour any ill feelings toward anyone because such feelings are harmful to ourselves.  He said he wanted to visit me personally and I said it was Christmas vacation and I would be available at home during the vacation.  But he didn’t come.  I didn’t save his number anyway. 

This morning I had to delete a contact for an entirely different reason: to stop hurting someone I love a lot and who loves me too equally.  Sometimes love hurts and it becomes necessary to keep a distance.  It was precisely that lack of distance that had created the uncomfortable situation between the Christmas caller and me.  He had taken it on himself to reform me.  There were a lot of people who joined him in the reformation process.  I found the whole process so hellish that I left the place altogether and moved to Delhi.  I didn’t want to be him to another person though I had never thought of such a possibility.  But love can be a burden sometimes.  Such love is counterproductive.  Love should liberate. 


Friday, January 19, 2018

Achche Din

Fiction

“Veg or non-veg?” the waiter asked.  I was travelling on Rajdhani Express which served too much of inedible food throughout the journey after which the waiters would stand at the doors of the compartment demanding what they called ‘tips’ without paying which you had no way out although you had paid a hefty sum for your journey.  Those were the days before the achche din. Those were days when the travellers could choose their food without fear irrespective of what the guy on the next seat liked.

“Non-veg,” I said to the waiter because I was bored of the stale paneer they had served during lunch. 

Tu maans khate ho?” asked the guy who sat next to me.

“I found the veg lunch boring,” I said.

“Boring?” he looked menacing.  “It’s the healthiest food.”

“I know,” I said. “But what they served was stale.  I’m hoping for something fresh, you know.”

“Vegetarians are compassionate people,” he said.

“I doubt,” I said hesitantly. 

“Why?”

“You see what happened in Gujarat just a few months back,” I said. “Hundreds of non-vegetarians were killed or displaced by vegetarians.”

The man stared at me as if I were the most diabolical person he had ever met.

I realised I had spilled the beans. 

The waiter served the meals in the meanwhile.  I munched the chicken bones and the guy licked his fingers dipped in tomato chutney. 

Actually I loved the potatoes on his plate.  But he didn’t seem to love it.  He didn’t seem to love anything, in fact.  I wished the potatoes were mine.  I wished the tomato chutney was mine.  I wished they were not stale.

He got down at the next station which was his destination.  Not without giving me a warning, “You will see what we’ll do. Watch out, you cannibal!”

Achche din followed soon.  A pure vegetarian PM ascended the throne.  My son says that he can’t eat what he likes in his IIT hostel.  

Tu maans khate ho?” They ask him.

“Did they call you cannibal?” I asked.

“Yes, dad, indeed. How did you know?”

“Take care, my son. We live in achche din.”

PS. Written for Indispire Edition 205: #shortstory



Thursday, January 18, 2018

Why politics has become boring


Mediocrity is a big bore.  What can be interesting about people fighting for power, money and manipulations?  I never took interest in politics for a large part of my youth and my well-wishers said it was because I was too full of myself.  They were not entirely wrong, I agree.  I was an egomaniac to a great extent.  But I was interesting enough to entertain my well-wishers.  Otherwise they wouldn’t have taken me as seriously as they did.

Eventually I began to take interest in politics.  I was forced to.  The massacre of the Sikhs that followed Indira Gandhi’s assassination jolted me, but I rationalised it as a reaction, disproportionate though, to the brutal killing of a prime minister by her own security guards. 

When Graham Staines was burnt in his wagon along with his two sons aged 10 and 6, I was hurt too deeply to write about it.  The gruesome act was perpetrated by Bajrang Dal fundamentalists who claimed that Staines was converting Hindus into Christians.  I have always opposed religious conversions.  But I have always defended works of charity carried out by religious people because India needs such works.  The kind of work that was done by Staines had no comparison with the kind of violence perpetrated by Bajrang Dal.  India does not need violence.  What hurt me beyond words was the killing of the two innocent boys.  Nothing justifies such cruelty.  Such cruelty makes religion and culture a big mockery.

While a dominant political party harped on Islamic terrorism in India, it failed to look at its own terrorism, the kind of violence unleashed on the country by its allies.  This led me to take interest in politics.

A decade and a half after the murder of Staines, the missionary made an appearance in the novel which I was writing (and which is still in the process).  Let me quote the passage from that novel:

Graham Stuart Staines and his two little sons were burnt alive in their station wagon by some Hindu fanatics in Orissa.  Father Joseph was extremely worried about certain happenings in many parts of the country.  Christians were the targets of many recent attacks in Gujarat where churches were vandalised wantonly.  Maybe, a new leader was emerging, thought Father Joseph.  Religion has been the handmaid of political power more often than not.
The Staines couple worked among the poor tribal people neglected by their government, particularly those inflicted with leprosy.  They brought dignity to human lives.
“They corrupted the tribal culture,” explained Mahendra Hembram, one of the killers.
“How did they corrupt the tribal culture?” asked the prosecutor.
“They made the people eat beef.  They made the women wear bras.  They stuffed sanitary pads between the women’s legs.”

The new leader who was emerging in the novel goes on to become the Prime Minister of the country.  A lot of massacres were perpetrated in the meanwhile, the Gujarat riots of 2002 being the most unforgettable. 

What is interesting about such politics?  What can be interesting about communal hatred, violence and massacre?  Along with those, now we have the comedy of petrol and diesel prices rising like an arrogant but whimsical kite whose thread is in the hands of a boy of the type that Shakespeare immortalised in King Lear: “As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods, / They kill us for their sport.”

My grocer and vegetable vendor and fish vendor, almost anyone on whom I depend for my essential requirements tell me, “When the fuel prices rise, everything becomes dearer because everything is brought by transport systems that depend on the fuels.” 

So I decide to tighten my belt and sit before my laptop converting my hunger into words for blogs.  That’s not interesting exactly, I guess.

I find myself longing for statesmen instead of politicians.  I long to listen to at least one political leader today who can tell us that there is a way ahead of this mess that the country has become.  I turn the pages of the three newspapers with which I begin my mornings hoping to read at least one report that gives me reason for hope.  Perhaps, that hope is interesting.  Hope was the last item in Pandora’s Box.



Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Beyond Words

Fable

The balcony belonged to the pigeon couple.  From the time we moved into the apartment they were there.  It was their home before the apartment became ours.  We didn’t disturb them except for putting up the cooler against the window.  Then they made the cooler top their home. They built their nest there and the female of the pair laid eggs which hatched in the due course of time.  The nestlings grew wings and flew away when their time came.  The cycle continued.  Years passed.  Many more eggs were laid and many more nestlings grew wings.  We cleaned up the cooler top each time the nestlings flew away.

One day I was standing on the balcony when the mother started pushing a nestling out of the nest.  That was not a new sight for me.  It happens occasionally.  The first flight has to be forced sometimes. 

The nestling cried.  “Ma, please, don’t,” It said.

“You have to go, my dear.  You have to move on,” said the mother.

There was one more nestling sitting in the nest trembling in fear apparently.

“Don’t you love us?” the nestling asked.

“Love belongs to time,” the mother cooed.

“We don’t want to miss you,” the pigeon pleaded.

“Memory belongs to time,” the mother cooed.

The little pigeon cried.

“You have to move on,” Ma said.  “That’s the law of nature.”  By then she had already pushed the little bird to the edge of the cooler.  “Move on.”  And she gave the final push.

The little one didn’t even get the time to be startled.  Its wings spread out.  It remained in the air for a moment and flew away into the space that unfolded itself before it.

The other little one had stopped trembling.  It came out and fluttered its little wings.  “Go to the edge,” encouraged Ma.  “The take-off is easy from there.”

The little one obeyed.  And it took off.  Easily. 

The mother bird heaved a sigh.  Then it flew away into the air.

In the evening two pigeons cooed from the cooler top.   They were the original pair. 




Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Persecution is outdated


The world’s two largest religions by population grew large and mighty under persecution.  Both Christianity and Islam suffered much persecution in their toddler years.  Religion has a peculiar ability to convert torture into a virtue for the believer.  That’s why persecution is not the way to eliminate any religion.  Just the opposite.

That’s why BJP and its allies are making a terrible mistake in India.  They are persecuting the minority communities in a variety of rather unimaginative ways like cow protection and women protection (anti-love jihad).  Neither the cows nor the women are protected and that’s not the purpose either.  The goal is to victimise certain communities of people in the name of cows and women.

The ultimate goal is Hindu Rashtra.

Is the strategy good, however?  History shows it is not.  The Right wing in India should invent more imaginative and effective methods for achieving their objective. 

During a free period today at school, I was reading a book by a Catholic priest, Fr Sebastian Kappen.  I showed the following paragraph to one of my colleagues.

From 'Ingathering' by Sebastian Kappen  


After reading it my colleague who is a Christian said nonchalantly, “Do you think the new generation bothers about sin and such things?  Religion is merely practical affair for them just to belong to the community and little more.”

That’s how the world has changed.  Religion is merely about a sense of belonging to a community.  Gods and sins, rituals and idols hardly mean anything to the younger generation.  But that sense of belonging may mean something to them.  And that sense usually grows stronger under threat.  Hence the Right wing should stop the air of threat that they have created in the country if they want to weaken the perceived enemies. 


Take away fear and you'll find religions weakening, as Kappen says. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Mistakes


My life was a series of mistakes.  If I am given another chance, I’ll do the whole thing differently.  But does that promise a life without mistakes?  “It’s only those who do nothing that make no mistakes,” as Joseph Conrad wrote.  So if I am given another chance, I’ll make mistakes different from the ones I made in this life.


But I know this is the only chance.  And that’s enough too.  Perhaps the only purpose of life is to teach us certain lessons.  I am not among people who believe that life has any great purpose or meaning.  The philosophy that appealed most to me is absurdism which states that human beings exist in a purposeless, chaotic universe.  We discover meanings.  Rather we forge them for our consolation, in order to make life bearable.  We create patterns in the Brownian motion that goes on endlessly and chaotically all around us all the time.  Religions, philosophies, art, music and a whole lot of other things help us create meanings.

I created quite a lot of wrong meanings, meanings that didn’t work really.  That’s more because I couldn’t accept meanings given gratuitously by religions and other conventional contraptions.  I tried to beat my own track.  When you do that you make a lot of mistakes.  In the end you can look back and heave a sigh that in spite of the rugged journey you have reasons to feel gratified because you dared to do things that many people wouldn’t.  Never mind the falls on the way and the wounds and the scars. 
The lessons you learn are what really matter.  Life is a series of lessons.  That’s why I think of myself as a constant learner.  Though the lessons accrued so far are my present guiding lights, I may still make mistakes.  I still cannot accept many of the readymade truths and axioms.  So here I go on my own way ready to embrace more mistakes and learn more lessons. 



Saturday, January 13, 2018

Parents


“All parents damage their children,” as Mitch Albom observed in The Five People You Meet in Heaven.  Parents play the most vital role in the formation of their children’s character.  Right from the hug in infancy to every word uttered to them or in their presence later on, everything makes certain impressions – many of them indelible – on the child’s mind.  Everything influences the child’s character.

Image courtesy ocduk
Psychologist Erik Erikson divided an individual’s life into eight stages and identified the psychological crisis that dominates in each stage.  From birth to about the age of 18 months, the crisis is trust versus mistrust.  The human infant is an utterly helpless creature unlike the infants of other animals.  It needs a tremendous lot of tender care and attention.  An infant that receives the necessary care and attention develops a sense of trust.  It helps the child is to grow up into a person who will trust other people.  On the other hand, an infant that is deprived of such attention will be a timid and suspicious individual.  Such a person will suffer from anxiety, feelings of insecurity and mistrust of the world around him.

From 18 months to three years of age, the child is learning to be independent in its own ways.  It demands a lot of patience from parents or the care-takers as the child will play with whatever comes to its hands.  Proper upbringing will develop the child’s sense of autonomy.  Otherwise the child grows up acquiring a sense of shame and doubts.  Lack of self-esteem is a serious problem that many people develop because of the improper care given to the child in this stage.

Well, I took Erikson as a model.  There are other complex issues at work.  For example, the family environment, the parents’ behaviour towards each other, their presence or absence, their temperament and attitudes and a whole lot of other things come into play in the formation of the child’s character. 

Erikson goes on to say that from the age of three to five, children begin to plan activities, make up games, and initiate activities with others.  Nowadays children of this age group go to school and hence the role of parents in the character formation become slightly less compared to the previous two stages.  Nevertheless, parents remain the most important persons for the child.  A child whose initiatives are not attended to properly will develop a sense of guilt.  They may feel like a nuisance to others and, therefore, remain followers who won’t venture anything new on their own. 

A lot more can be said on this matter.  The purpose of this post is not to teach psychology, however.  It is just to say that parents make or break their children.


PS. Written for IndiSpire Edition 204: #parentsresponsibility

Friday, January 12, 2018

Upagupta and Vasavadatta

Fiction

“Finally the time has come?” Vasavadatta groaned.  “But it’s too late.  Too late.”

Upagupta sat down beside her on the bare ground of the graveyard where she was left to die with her limbs cut off.  He looked at her.  She could easily perceive the compassion that welled up in his eyes.

“When I was whole and beautiful, I waited for you time and again with my body bathed in the finest of perfumes.  You sent my maid back with those cryptic words: the time has not come.  Now why are you here when I’m rotting and dying?  Rotting before dying!”

“I wish you to know that my love is with you,” he said.

“Love?”  She tried to smile. Or was it a smirk? “I loved you all those years.  The other men were only clients for me.  But you?  You were my love.  You scorned my love.”

Upagupta sighed.  He continued to look into her eyes.

“Whenever I see a lake or a river, I long to bathe in it.  But I feel terribly unworthy.”

“So you never bathe in a river or a lake?”  She remembered watching him once stripping himself off his monk’s robe and stepping into the Yamuna while she was on a journey with a rich client.

“I do, but standing as close to the shore as possible.  Having asked pardon from the water body.”

“Why do you hate yourself so much?”

“Do I hate myself more than you hated yourself?”  He wondered why he used the past tense when he referred to her.

“Hmmm…” She struggled to chuckle.  “Now you say your love is with me.  A cruel joke!”

“No, I mean it.”

“Could you not love me when I was whole and beautiful?”

Upagupta hesitated. Beauty is too relative.   Love is a dangerous word.  It carries a kaleidoscope of meanings.  Yet he knew he owed her an answer.

“Which man would not be swayed by an invitation from the most desired courtesan of Mathura?”  She deserved the honest answer, he thought.  He perceived a sparkle flash momentarily in her eyes.

“Swayed?  Were you?”

“I did not sleep many nights.  You were with me, keeping me awake.”

“I wish that were real.”

“The distance between the real and the unreal is as flimsy as the human mind.”

“You are the mind.  I am the body.”  Vasavadatta seemed inspired momentarily.

Upagupta did not say anything.

“I’m dying happily.  With the knowledge that my love kept you awake in the nights.”

“I love you,” he said.

She closed her eyes.  Her breathing became hard.  And then it stopped altogether.