Thursday, June 28, 2018

Truth



Each truth, each lie,
Die in unjudging love. [Dylan Thomas, ‘This Side of the Truth’]

What matters is not truth,
nor falsehood,
but your heart, my beloved.
The galloping horse has a truth
whose rhythm resonates
with the beats of your heart
unlike the infinite truths in the dictionary.
Definitions are too definite,
teetering on the edges of graves
that hold your sighs and mine.
Let us bury definitions
and resurrect our sighs,
our truths.
Immortal truths.

PS. Written for In(di)spire Edition 227: #Poem


I was delighted to get the following review of my e-book, Life's Magic.

´Life´s Magic´ by Tomichan Matheikel has an international flair to it. Tomichan aces the game like a veteran. His insights range from literature, philosophy, religion, spirituality, science, art and politics. ´Life´s Magic´ is a book that I personally believe should get published in print. I hope the author writes more such inspiring gems. It would be interesting to see Tomichan Matheikel become a motivational speaker given his prolific knowledge, wisdom and offbeat insights. [Tina Sequeira]

Read the entire review here

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Is the dawn far?



For a considerably long period of my youth I was important enough to draw the attention of too many unwanted people who didn’t like whatever I said or did. One of the too many things they didn’t like was my love for old Malayalam film songs. The well-wishers thought that my love for old songs was a sign of my regressive tendencies or equally unhealthy romanticism. It is true that I was not happy with the ‘present’ that was available to me then. It is also true that there was a pining romantic in me. My well-wishers tried their best to cure me of the perceived disease as they did with everything about me.

   I’m not blaming them, of course. The truth is that even I didn’t like me; how could I expect others to like me? They were not successful, however, in curing me of anything. But I must acknowledge their relentless endeavours that lasted about five years to wean me off a whole continuum of evils that befriended me like original sins.  

   When their good wishes and better actions became an unbearable pain in my posterior, I quit the place and migrated to Delhi where people have neither the time nor the inclination to be universal do-gooders. When the well-wishers and do-gooders vanished from my life, many of my original sins too vanished. One such sin was my love for songs, old or new. I simply stopped listening to music. I don’t know why it happened. The cassettes were dumped in the store box built above the window in one of the rooms in the staff quarters of Sawan Public School where I worked as a teacher. Soon I discarded the cassette player too.

   When the henchmen and the harrying hags of a godman encroached into Sawan a decade and a half after I lost the music in my soul, I found myself becoming a romantic once again. I longed for music, for the countryside, for solitude, for goodness, for whatever the religious people normally find sinful.

   Today I live in a sylvan village in Kerala and I have a few hundred Malayalam movie songs in the pen drive that plays when I’m driving which I do every day. The songs belong to the period from about 1970 to the present. I started my driving this morning with a song from 1971, auto-selected by the player. Like the other songs of my boyhood days in the collection, this too is written by Vayalar and the music composed by Devarajan. You can watch the video clip below, if you wish:


   It is addressed to the prophets. The poet asks them whether the dawn is still far. The song laments the loss of genuine spirituality and morality. Even god stands as a helpless entity on the street strewn with the debris of broken morals and principles. Arjun stands disarmed in the Kurukshetra. Philosophies burn in some nondescript pyres.

   As I listened to it, I wondered why Vayalar wrote those lines in 1971. Aren’t they more relevant today?


Monday, June 25, 2018

Meeting deadlines


 I take on the Baton of Blogchatter Ebook Carnival from Medha whose ebook 'The Last Seychelles Flame' is also part of the mix. About Medha's ebook: Adrija has all the qualities for a boy to reject her marriage proposal, and so her parents are worried about finding a groom for her. She moves to Mumbai to become the best fashion photographer and Cupid strikes.. or not.. Will she unite with her true love?  

I took up the Blogchatter E-book challenge for a few reasons chief among which was learning to meet deadlines when it comes to writing. I find it easy to meet deadlines where my profession (teaching) is concerned. While writing, on the other hand, I have been quite a dismal failure. There are two books that I have kept half-finished. Both of them are very important for me and yet I have not been able to find time for completing them. So I decided to give me this challenge: complete the A to Z posts, 26 of them in a month’s time. I succeeded. Of course, I kept the posts short unlike the chapters of the two books which are pretty long running into thousands of words. Nevertheless, completing the Blogchatter challenge gave a boost to my desire to complete the other two books: Autumn Shadows (memoirs) and Black Hole (novel).

The challenge taught me a few lessons about preparing an e-book. I didn’t seek professional help while I put the 26 posts from A to Z into the little book titled Life’s Magic. Lack of professional skills left the book without certain essentials including a cover (which came out as a separate entity!), table of contents and the introductory title page. Well, I’ll seek a little professional help next time J

In the meanwhile, I thank the Blogchatter team for all the fun they provided every now and then with some Twitter jobs and others including this post. I am obliged to them for making me write my first e-book meeting deadlines. I thank my friends and well-wishers who downloaded the booklet, read it and conveyed to me their appreciation.  Some of the messages that came from young readers excited me. That was the best part of this entire exercise.

I look forward to much greater writing. Autumn Shadows which began with these 50-odd words: Insects come to die in my living room. Every morning I sweep them into the dustpan from beneath the CFL bulb where they lie dead in a heap of atomic dark spots while Maggie prepares the morning’s red tea flavoured with a leaf or two of tulsi or mint picked freshly from our little kitchen garden. has already grown into more than 25,000 words in 12 chapters. The fertiliser for its growth has been provided by Blogchatter. 

I will get on with the writing. Writing is becoming me. Or I’m becoming writing.

 I pass on the Baton of Blogchatter Ebook Carnival to Surbhi whose ebook 'Ten Tales' is also part of the mix.

About Surbhi's ebook: Ten Tales is a collection of ten short stories for children aged 8 years and above. These stories are a mix of magic, mystery, thrill, suspense, happiness and excitement. They are sure to widen their imagination and give it a fresh perspective.  




Sunday, June 24, 2018

Friends



An old friend of mine underwent angioplasty recently and I decided to visit him today. I asked Maggie to join me since she knew him and more since I loved company for the hour-long drive. The friend is a Catholic priest who was a classmate of mine for 6 years in the seminary. Let me call him S.

   Our conversation happened to graze religion and I mentioned that I was no church-goer. Maggie thought that the priest would find that scandalous. On the contrary, S asked, “What’s the use of going to church if that doesn’t make one a good person? I know a lot of people who attend church as a mere duty. If you are a good person doing good to others, it hardly matters whether you go to church or not.”

   “He has his own spirituality. He meditates.” Maggie offered.

   “What more do you want?” S asked. “God is not the private property of the church.”

   Maggie was neither shocked nor scandalised. Living with me had made her familiar with similar, if not much more radical, views.  I didn’t mention, however, that my meditations didn’t require even a god. My morality and my goodness (however whatever little that is) are founded on the pure logic that goodness is the foundation of healthy living.

   I recalled how a student of mine resorted to a small trick last year to get me along with Maggie to pray in the school’s prayer room during the lunch break. “Would you do something for me during the lunch break?” She had asked me. “Please,” she pleaded. “Why not?” I said without realising what she was up to. However, when she got Maggie to the prayer room I refused to accompany her because I had been assigned a duty by the coordinator. The student wouldn’t believe that I couldn’t take a minute off from that duty for her sake. She felt hurt more because I broke my promise to her than because I refused to join her in prayer. A few months later, however, she told a friend of hers that it didn’t matter whether I prayed or not because I was a good human being.

   “That’s all what matters,” said S. “And people always see through what you are whether you go to church or not.”

   Maggie understood that my friends, very few as they are, are indeed a different breed of people.


Saturday, June 23, 2018

Abraham’s Offspring



“There was a time when we used to carry something home from the theatre after watching a movie,” Maggie said as we were driving home having watched the Malayalam movie, Abrahaminte Santatikal (Abraham’s Offspring). “Why are today’s movies so hollow?” She asked.

   “Can a movie reflect anything other than its times?” I answered. “But this one was not entirely hollow,” I added.

  “Is there anything you’ll remember tomorrow about this movie?”

   “I don’t think so. But the plot was brilliant.”

   The plot is what makes Abrahaminte Santatikal entertaining enough. The movie is just a thriller, a perfect drama. There is crime, fraud, deception, revenge: the usual ingredients of thrillers. But Abrahaminte Santatikal begins with a serial crime: nine murders committed by a religious fundamentalist. The way that murderer is caught before he commits his intended tenth murder is based on too tenuous a reason and it will fail to satisfy any intelligent viewer.

   Soon the entire plot changes and it has nothing to do with all those murders. There is a love affair and a murder. Who is the real murderer? That’s the question though one person is arrested with irrefutable evidences. You will sit and watch wondering all the while how this part of the plot is related to the previous part. Well, the script writer is intelligent enough to make a number of sudden twists at the end which come as interesting jolts to the viewer, with a neat link between the religious killings in the first part and the murder in the latter part. I found the twists brilliant. Too brilliant, in fact.

   Excessively brilliant plots stay far away from the reality. But the movie does make a point: our world has become too brilliant for the ordinary folk. Our world belongs to brilliant crooks. I think I won’t forget that message. But Maggie is not happy with that message.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Ugly Middle Position



Fiction

“How do you create a story?” The English teacher asked in the class. After listening to the answers from various students he said, “Imagine a character, give him a problem, and voila there begins your story.”

   The day’s lesson was John Updike’s story, Should Wizard Hit Mommy? In that story Jack tells a bedtime story to his daughter. It is a story about a skunk named Roger whose problem is his foul smell which drives away all his potential friends. “Children can be terribly insensitive sometimes,” the teacher said. “They are not as innocent as they are believed to be. Imagine our little hero being pooh-poohed by other children calling him Roger Stinky Skunk.”

   Jenny was sceptical as usual. Children, he said. Weren’t they animals? She didn’t like many things that her English teacher said in the class. She thought his views, quite many of them at least, were outlandish. He would say things like “Miracles are dying to be born in your minds; just change the way you perceive and watch miracles exploding like fireworks in the sky.”

   “You can all write stories if you wish,” the teacher was saying. “Just imagine a character and create a problem for him or her.”

   “You are my problem,” Jenny’s mind whispered. By ‘you’ she meant her teacher. “I shall write a story about you.”

   “The wizard changed Roger’s odious smell to the fragrance of roses,” the class continued. “The problem is solved. The story can end. But the story continues because the child to whom it is being told is not asleep yet. Or maybe Jack is not happy with the solution. So how do you continue your story?”

   “Create a new problem,” said the Einstein of the class.

   “Precisely,” the teacher said jubilantly as if Einstein had made a historical discovery.

   “That’s the problem,” Jenny’s mind whispered again. Precisely. “Haven’t you said a thousand times that there is nothing precise in life except formulas like a plus b the whole squared is equal to something? You are so self-contradictory! I’ll begin my story: John Sir is a contradiction of himself. Wow! That’s quite a thing to begin a story with!”

   “Jenny, you’re distracted,” said the teacher.

   She frowned. “No, I’m not,” she asserted.

  “Okay, tell me what I just said.”

   “Create problems,” Jenny said.

   “Fine. Do you think a skunk should smell like roses? A problem?”

   “Why can’t a skunk smell like roses if he likes that?”

   “Well, shouldn’t a skunk smell like skunks?”

   “You tell us to smile even when we don’t feel like smiling. If we can smile when we want to cry, why can’t a skunk smell like a rose?”

   “Awww, Jenny!” His usual histrionics again. She hated it. “That’s just the point, the ugly middle position that Jack finds himself in at the end.”

   The teacher went on. There is the fairy world of magic and miracles on the one hand, the world of the stories Jack creates for his daughter. Then there is the prosaic world of harsh realities where his wife is right now painting their furniture in spite of her pregnancy. Jack finds himself caught between the two worlds.

   “I’m caught between two worlds,” Jenny heard her mind whisper. “Between your drama and my reality.”

   “Inertia is the ugly middle position,” said the teacher. “Jack stands inert at the end, incapable of action. Action is what carries life forward. Pick up your brush, Jack, and paint your future, er... I mean, furniture….”

   “What action could I take when my dad left mom and me to live with another woman?” Jenny’s mind whirred. “You don’t know how much I long to go for a drive with him listening to the love songs he plays in the car. But he abandoned me. I’m so unlovable? And you tell me to smile all the time….”

   “If Roger wants to smell like roses, that’s his choice,” the teacher said. “He is in action, at least. Of course, he will have to face the consequences. Will other skunks accept him? That’s his mother’s question. When that choice comes Roger has to act again. Until then, Jenny is right, why can’t Roger smell like whatever he wants?”

   “Ugly middle position!” Jenny mumbled.

   “Yes, Jenny, you said something?” The teacher asked.

   “Is life full of ugly middle positions?” She asked.

   “Isn’t it? The problem is if you get stuck to inertia, my dear. You have to choose, you have to act, you have to go on.”

   Jenny stared at the teacher. A smile longed to bloom on her lips. But she suppressed it.


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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

King’s Dharma



“Treat me as it befits a king.”

   Alexander was amused by the demand from a vanquished king. Porus stood before him as a prisoner but with all the solemnity of a king still playing on his anguished visage. They peered into each other’s eyes. Alexander could easily gauge the depths of Porus’ mind. Real kings understand other real kings. Only those who are slaves at heart will demean real kings.

   Those other kings were not real kings. When he asked them to attend the meeting he had summoned in order to demand their allegiance to him and tokens of that allegiance, they came meekly. They were intimidated by his successes hitherto, the last being Gandhara. They were not kings at heart. They deserved what they got.

   Here was the real king.

   “How do you want to be treated?” Alexander had asked him with much amusement. Standing before him was a king who had refused to attend the meeting he had summoned. “Yes, I will meet you,” he had sent the message, “but as a king would meet another king, in the battlefield.”

   That was a royal answer and Alexander loved it. It would be a treacherous battle, Alexander knew. It was the rainy season and the river Jhelum was flooded. But floods won’t deter Alexander, he said to himself. Alexander had crossed many a flooded river before reaching the Punjab. His soldiers knew their job. They knew not only to kill the enemy but also to cross flooded rivers.

   Porus might have miscalculated, thought Alexander. He must have thought that Alexander the Macedonian would be drowned in the Jhelum along with his warriors. Ah, Porus, you don’t know Alexander. Alexander loves adventure. Alexander is not interested in mere conquests. Alexander is on a quest and questers always find their way.

   Those others who capitulated without a fight didn’t deserve to be kings. They got what they deserved: vassalage. You deserve royalty, Porus, royalty and nothing less.

   Porus, I will discuss this with you soon. What I think is that you are the philosopher-king that our Plato spoke of. Shall I assume that you learnt it from the Dharma of your sacred scriptures? Someone told me about Krishna and his Gita. Do your duty like a warrior. And you did it, Porus.

   I’m performing a duty too, Porus. It is a duty to my soul which is relentlessly hungry. It is not a hunger for power as people often think. It is a hunger for what lies beyond.

   “I’m returning your kingdom to you, Porus,” said Alexander. Porus peered once again into his rival’s eyes.

   “Trust me,” said Alexander. “You want to be treated as it befits a king and I am doing precisely that because you deserve it. What’s more, I’m adding a few more kingdoms to yours as I go on into the beyond.”

   Real kings have no enemies, Alexander mused to himself as he put the crown on Porus’ head. Real kings have only quests. Real kings have their Dharma.

PS. Where did Alexander’s quest take him after this? I wrote another story about that three years ago: And quiet flowed the Beas. What prompted this present story is the way politics is moving in India these days. Any perspicacious reader will understand that, I think.  

  

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Whose India?



Salman Rushdie once mentioned a seminar organised in London on Indo-Anglian literature. It was attended by leading Indian English writers. On the first day an eminent novelist from India began his speech with a Sanskrit shloka which he refused to translate saying that every educated Indian was expected to understand the shloka without translation. There were Indian writers present there belonging to Muslim, Parsi, Christian and Sikh backgrounds, people with hardly any knowledge of Sanskrit. In one fell swoop the speaker had made all those writers outcasts, people who did not belong in India.

   That happened about three decades ago, much before Hindutva emerged as a dominant force in India. A few days back the Times of India reported that CBSE had decided to remove all languages except Hindi and Sanskrit from the list of options for Central Teacher Eligibility Test (CTET). The decision was revoked immediately because of strong protests from Tamil Nadu and the foresight of similar protests from many other states.


   
   Quite many institutions in the country have been populated with Hindutva supporters in the top positions, after Narendra Modi took charge in Delhi four years ago. The Modi-Shah combine has a devious plan to Hinduise the nation. The attacks on minority communities and their institutions including places of worship fall into that plan neatly. The lateral entry of bureaucrats planned recently is yet another step in the same direction.

   Probably the minority communities have chosen to remain silent or passive because there is just one more year left for the next general elections and they hope the elections will replace the government at the Centre. The new permutations and combinations emerging among the diverse political parties may indeed help the formation of a secular, liberal government.

   One cannot expect the Modi-Shah combine to be so na├»ve, however. They will come up with something unexpected to jettison all emerging alternative power structures. The political games they played recently in Karnataka alone (and continue to play still) show that they have no concern for any sort of ethics and power alone is their motive and goal.

   The question that will soon seek an answer is: Whose India is it?

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Warmth of a crackling fireplace


Book Review

There are some writers whom you wish to meet or at least watch secretly from a little distance because you feel that they carry a lot of secrets, if not subdued pain, in their mellow hearts. Reema D’Souza comes across as one such writer in her book, Peiskos. In the brief preface to the little book, the author says that the 26 pieces in this book are stories woven round remembered “titbits of life”. The pieces read more like recollections scribbled in a diary than fiction. What drew me to the book is the exotic title given to each story such as Quicquidlibet and Wasuremono. The author acknowledges her love for words which prompted her to weave the stories with the exotic titles. I soon fell in love with the writing more than the titles.

   Most of the stories are about love and relationships though much of the love remains unrequited and the relationships remain distant. There is dulcet nostalgia in almost every story most of which are narrated in the first person. There is a lot of longing in the lines which sound poetic occasionally and forbearing quite often.

   The stories come from a heart that has experienced much pain and joy, from a depth that is apparently unfathomable. The first person narrator of the varied stories is an introvert who loves books. “I always found my solace in silence,” says the narrator of Quicquidlibet. “Books were the only company that I needed,” she goes on to say, less because books keep you engaged productively than because they are a “good way to avoid taking to people.” Yet there is a deep longing for genuine relationship in most of the stories. There is nostalgia for remembered relationships. There is stoic acceptance of the pain of broken relationships. Helplessness of one who has not been able to sustain relationships also stands out dominantly in quite many of the stories. “Was every relationship meant to be broken someday?” asks the narrator of Feuillemort.

   There are occasions when the narrator turns mystical. “This was what I wanted to do – to breathe, to live and to feel whole without having to think about what to do next,” says the narrator of Boketto (which means gazing into distance without thinking). Sitting in a park, staring into the ripples in a lake, the narrator begins to feel a sense of belonging – almost like a mystic.

   Poetry bubbles like a soothing balm in many lines. A couple of examples:

“The petrichor brings with it a scent of the past that lingers. And with every drop of rain that falls, memories keep pouring.” [Tacenda]

“The darkness of the night doesn’t let me sleep. The light of the day makes me weep.” [Ughten]

“The early morning sun shines bright giving a lovely sparkle to the raindrops that glisten on the leaves and flowers.” [Xyst]

   Peiskos [which means the warmth of a crackling fireplace] offers a delightful read. The little stories in this book seep into you gently like a mild drizzle on a hot day, refreshing your soul with its exotic cadences.

The book can be downloaded here.
Reema D'Souza

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Why I can’t endorse BJP



I have often been awarded epithets such as Rice Bag by some people in social media who have no idea of what I am. My disapproval of the Right wing politics in the country provokes too many people. So I thought of explaining why I can never endorse BJP and its policies particularly under the leadership of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.

   My only real objection to BJP lies in that party’s hatred of certain sections of citizens. In fact, the entire superstructure of BJP is built on hatred. They think that the Hindus have been discriminated against by the Congress after Independence. They think that the Muslim rulers discriminated against the Hindus before Independence. They think that the British discriminated against them by bringing Christian missionaries to the country.

   Some of these notions are not entirely wrong. But they are only fractional truths. First of all, if the Muslim rulers were indeed as ruthless as the Right wingers in India believe them to be, India would have been a Muslim country before the British entered it. Most Muslim invaders did that to other countries which are today Islamic nations. But India has remained largely Hindu precisely because the Muslim rulers here were less brutal than elsewhere.

   Even if we take into consideration the atrocities committed by them, the solution is not replicating what they did. Becoming like our enemies is a very facile solution but that doesn’t need any ideology or leadership. Any thug can accomplish that. It is that thuggery of BJP which makes it a repulsive party for me. It is that thuggery which I question.

   Secondly, looking back at the past and kicking up dust devils in the forlorn lanes of history is the silliest thing that a nation can do especially when the world is moving forward at dizzying speeds towards progress and development. We need to look at the future, not at the past. “Let sleeping dogmas lie,” as Shashi Tharoor says in his latest book, Why I am a Hindu.

   Heaping blames on someone else is the silliest thing that a leader can do and BJP has done little else under Modi and Shah. They keep blaming Nehru for all the present woes of the country. True as it is that the Congress had become an abominably corrupt party in the last few decades, it’s no use becoming a hero by cocking a snook at the old legends like Nehru and Gandhi or the new icons like Rahul. That just doesn’t serve any purpose except win votes perhaps.

   The country today stands polarised along communal lines. “Fools and knaves divide the kingdom,” says a proverb in English. In other words, dividing the nation into two rival groups is not governance, let alone leadership. Any knave can do that.

   These are my objections to BJP. I can stomach its craze for power and all the corruption that is an ineluctable concomitant of power. But the hatred that sustains the party, the hatred that the party is spewing out day in and day out is what I find absolutely deplorable. If there are mistakes, correct them instead of blaming past leaders. Let the nation move forward, not backward. “Let noble thoughts come to us from every side,” as the Rig Veda says.


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This book can be downloaded here


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Questions for the Dancing Girl

Dancing Girl


If I were to time-travel, one of the persons I would meet is the Dancing Girl of Mohenjo-Daro. I have a few questions to ask her. After all, she had the guts to stand stark naked with her chin up looking smug. Was she rebelling against something? How did she get away with that aplomb some four millennia ago? Were the men of the Indus Valley civilisation so broadminded as to accept such naked self-confidence of a pubescent girl?

   Well, I have some more serious questions for her or her people. Since I don’t know anyone else from that time, I’m just choosing the Dancing Girl. Some elder would suit me better. I have some serious questions to ask. For example, I would like to enquire about the writings discovered from the site of that civilisation. Some 400 characters have been identified in those writings. Each one looks like a word and none of them has any resemblance to Sanskrit, the classical language of India which was quick to lay claim to the Indus Valley civilisation.

   Many scholars have observed that the characters were some kind of proto-Dravidian scripts. Was the civilisation of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa more related to Dravidians than to Aryans or did it have no connection at all with either of them? The answer will lead to more questions. If the language was indeed proto-Dravidian, was the civilisation overrun by Aryans?

   My doubts are genuine. There are some evidences for the possibility of the Aryans having some kind of connection with the people of the Dancing Girl. For example, the word for ‘plough’ in Vedic literature is non-Sanskritic. The Aryans did not have a plough. The Harappans did. The Aryans must have learnt about ploughs from Harappans or their indigenous successors. Who are the people labelled contemptuously as Dasa in the Vedic texts? Are they the people or descendants of the Dancing Girl?

   One of the Aryan gods is the virulent Indra who is also called Purandara in the Vedas. Purandara means destroyer of forts. Did the Vedic people destroy the forts of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro?

   One more question I would love to ask the Dancing Girl is whether they had any sort of religion. Researchers have not been able to find any evidence of a religious place (temple) in Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. Did the greatness of their civilisation owe something to the absence of gods among them?

   The answers might rewrite the history of my country with some shattering consequences.


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

CBSE rockets



I have been associated with CBSE for the last 17 years, both as a teacher and an examiner. When I completed just one year of teaching with that Board of education I was appointed as an examiner. I hesitated to take up the duty and informed the concerned authority about my lack of experience. “You have 15 years of experience as a teacher,” the authority told me on phone. He had my entire CV in front of him, apparently. I was forced to join the duty. On the very first day, I got just what I wished to avoid. As soon as I completed checking the first answer script, I was ordered to be magnanimous. The Head Examiner as well as the Nodal Officer (the authority who spoke to me on phone) re-examined that script and showed me how I had awarded much less marks than the examinee “deserved”.

   I realised that CBSE was as magnanimous as the North-Eastern Hill University for which I evaluated answer scripts for a year or two. I learnt the lesson quickly. I’m a quick learner when it comes to things like this. I continued to be an ‘exemplary’ examiner of CBSE ever since. I had learnt the trick: award marks wherever you can, however you can, for whatsoever you can.

   Students are happy to get 98%. Parents are happy. Schools are happy. Why should you grudge anyone their happiness? Yet I found myself agreeing with Bikram Vohra who wrote about this insane system today in the Times of India calling it the CBSE albatross.

   My best student of the Commerce batch this year told me with a wry smile how she could not make it in the selection list of a particular college despite having a percentage that would raise the envy of quite many students. It became a stunning realisation for me because the college where she was seeking admission was none other than my own alma mater, the very same college where I studied for five years. I had got admission there on the basis of merit though my percentage was abashedly far below my student’s. In fact, with that unmentionable percentage I had stood at the fourth rank in the admission list then, in the general category.

   Those were days when examiners were like the God of the Bible: eager to condemn. Now we (examiners including me) are like the monsoon clouds showering boundlessly so that no soil shall be left arid.  “Give everyone a chance to think beyond the traditional occupations,” as the Nodal officer told me during my first experience with CBSE. Yes, we are sending our examinees to the seventh heaven on rockets of marks and grades. So, dear Bikram Vorah, you may have to change your metaphor from albatross to rockets just as I changed my approach as soon as I laid my hands to the CBSE plough.


Sunday, June 10, 2018

Shashi Tharoor’s Hinduism


Book Review
Image from DCBooks

Title: Why I am a Hindu
Author: Shashi Tharoor
Publisher: Aleph, 2018
Pages: 302

“The harm religion does when it is passionately self-righteous – wars, crusades, communal violence, jihad – is arguably greater than the benefits religion produces when it does well (teaching morality, answering prayers, providing balm to troubled souls).” That is one of the concluding remarks in Shashi Tharoor’s latest book, Why I am a Hindu. The book takes a very intellectual and simultaneously pragmatic view of the author’s religion.

   The book is divided into three sections: My Hinduism, Political Hinduism, and Taking Back Hinduism. The first section tells us what Hinduism means to the author. It is both a personal interpretation of Hinduism and an objective presentation of what that religion really is (as distinguished from the distorted versions we get these days). The author’s admiration for his religion stems from his realisation that it is “the only major religion in the world that does not claim to be the only true religion.” Hinduism is not merely a religion of tolerance but one of acceptance. “Tolerance … implies that you have the truth, but will generously indulge another who does not… Acceptance, on the other hand, implies that you have a truth but the other person may also have a truth… (A)cceptance of difference – the idea that other ways of being and believing are equally valid – is central to Hinduism…” The first section draws heavily on the ancient scriptures and other texts to show why Hinduism deserves deeper attention than what it is getting today. It does not hesitate to question certain serious drawbacks of the religion too like the caste system and the god market spawned by fake gurus before presenting some “great souls” like Adi Shankara, Ramanuja, Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi.

   Section Two is a trenchant critique of the version of Hinduism called Hindutva that is currently gaining ascendancy in the country. The very titles of the two chapters in this section will give a clear indication of what they are about: ‘Hinduism and the Politics of Hindutva’ and ‘Beyond Holy Cows: The Uses and Abuses of Hindu Culture and History’. Savarkar, Golwalkar and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya are surgically dissected by Tharoor before he takes up the “Travesty of Hinduism” peddled by the Sangh Parivar today. The most sublime ideals of Advaita vision have been trampled upon in order to impose an “Islamicized Hinduism” on the nation. This new Hinduism (Hindutva) “rests on the atavistic belief that India has been the land of the Hindus since ancient times, and that their identity and its identity are intertwined.” The books reveals the hollowness of this identity politics.

   The last section is brief comprising of just one chapter of about 30 pages which bring the various themes already discussed into a neat conclusion. The quote with which this review begins is taken from that section. The last subheading in the book is: ‘A Religion for the 21st Century.’ Philosophically Hinduism, with its openness to new truths and acceptance of other truths, would be the ideal religion for the 21st century. Unfortunately, however, the present custodians of that religion are taking it backward to the darkness of the medieval period.  “Lead me from darkness to light” is the last but one line of Tharoor’s book, a line from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.

   “I am a Hindu who is proud to offer such a religion to the world,” says Tharoor in the last page. The book vindicates the claim. It shows why religion will be hollow and even dangerous unless it is internalised by the believers. Without internalisation, religion will merely be a tool for political or personal aggrandisement. Properly internalised, religion unfolds the infinite mysteries of the divine.

   I would recommend this book to every Indian, Hindu or non-Hindu (as the nation stands divided today). The Hindus can understand their own religion better and the non-Hindus can examine their self-righteous claims against the broad vision of Hinduism.

   I am a non-believer though I participate in certain religious rituals as part of my job or out of loyalty to the tribe. My disbelief has come from my personal studies, reflections and experiences as well as my genetic make-up. But I don’t impose my disbelief on anyone. Neither do I appreciate anyone trying to foist his/her beliefs on me. I am totally with Tharoor when he advocates “acceptance” of other people’s beliefs as long as they are genuine quests. It is the genuineness of Tharoor’s views and beliefs that makes his book a great work.


Saturday, June 9, 2018

Smile

Photo by Joshi Daniel
I love smiles. They make a huge difference to the way people perceive and communicate. A smile can melt the snow that envelopes the indifferent heart. It can douse fires and sprout blooms. I consider myself particularly fortunate because my days begin with a thousand smiles. The way from the parking space to the staffroom of my school is strewn with angelic smiles.

   One of the unwritten rules in my class is that everyone should keep a smiling face. Smiles make the classroom almost paradisiacal. Both teaching and learning become fun with all those smiles lighting up the air.

   Once a student decided to exhibit her displeasure with me by presenting me the most stoic indifference possible because I had given her less marks in a test than she thought she deserved. My explanation that her answer did not match her potential did not convince her. I waited for her natural beatific smile to return to her naughty cheeks below her dancing eyes. But her resolve to punish me surpassed my persuasions until I confronted her with a personal colloquy which eventually led to the beginning of an unforgettable relationship. One of the most enchanting young personalities I ever came across unfolded itself because of my love of smiles.

   I admit that outside the school campus I don’t smile as much as I would love to. The adult world is too funny a place to extract smiles from me. There are too many people out there who insist on choosing what I should believe in, write about, and even eat!  I have chosen to stay away from that world as far as possible. I have embraced solitude gladly outside the classroom. There is a plenitude of smiles in that solitary world, left by unforgettable people as indelible imprints in the deepest chambers of my heart.  

PS. Written for In[di]spire Edition 225: #Smile