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Showing posts from October, 2018

RSS: A View to the Inside

Book Review Title: RSS: A View to the Inside Authors: Walter K. Andersen & Shridhar D. Damle Publisher: Penguin Random House India, 2018 Pages: 405 [256 without Appendices and Notes] The authors wrote another book on RSS 30 years ago. This new book takes a look at the organisation as it stands today in a different India which has catapulted it from the grey sidelines to the limelight. The book reads almost like an apology for the RSS. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh emerges in the book as a great organisation with some very noble objectives the primary of which is to “create a cadre of men who would unify a highly pluralistic country, using their own perfected behaviour as a model for other Indians” [xii]. The authors go to the extent of drawing some parallels with the Luther-led reformations that rocked the Roman Catholic Church. Even as Luther’s dramatic actions were rooted in his ‘crisis of identity’, “the RSS and its affiliates have also sought to prov

Make your life a fairy tale

A part of my bookshelf Happiness is as simple and frugal as a glass of wine or a roast chestnut. I learned that from a book which I have read again and again, one of my favourite books. It is Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis. I was introduced to Kazantzakis in my mid-twenties by a casual acquaintance. “Have you read The Last Temptation of Christ ?” I was asked. I had heard about the book but was not aware that it was available at the Ernakulam Public Library whose member I was in those days. I made a beeline to the library as soon as I learnt about its availability. The book engrossed me so much that I sat up a whole night to read the latter half. I was hooked to Kazantzakis. I read all of his books which were available in that library and later at the State Central Library in Shillong. Later when I was teaching in Delhi I got personal copies of both Zorba and The Last Temptation . I don’t know how many times I have returned to Zorba . I could just open any page

Mullaperiyar Dam and the Threat

Russell Joy speaking at the seminar at Vazhakulam I spent the weekend evening listening to a lecture on the threat posed to the state of Kerala by the Mullaperiyar dam. The speaker was Advocate Russell Joy, one who has been crusading for quite a while for the decommissioning of the dam. Recently he got a court order to maintain the water level in the dam at 139 feet instead of 142 as stubbornly demanded by Tamil Nadu. What precisely are the problems caused by the dam? How did these problems arise? I was curious to know and was happy to listen to Advocate Joy who has become quite an authority on the subject because of the relentless research he has done. First of all, the dam’s lifespan was 50 years, says the advocate. The engineer who designed it had declared that. The dam was repaired by Tamil Nadu and some support structures were added. Such a support is no guarantee whatever. The dam may give way at any time. During the recent deluge that engulfed Kerala, Tamil

Lie in the Heart

Lying to yourself is one of the most self-destructive things, said one of Dostoevsky’s characters. “The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him or around him and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.” Have we as a nation arrived at the zenith of falsehood and the consequent impotence to love? The latest incident that makes me raise this question is the removal of the CBI chief Alok Verma and his entire team. The Prime Minister misused his powers to take this illegal and unconstitutional action. As the Opposition has pointed out, “The only plausible explanation for this desperate and hasty move is an attempt to scuttle the ongoing investigations into the Special Director’s [Rakesh Asthana who is Modi’s mole] cases that might cause significant embarrassment to [the] Government.” Too many individuals who became a threat to the Prime Minister’s d

Satanic Saints

Let idealism live as long as it can! A group of my students visited an industry today as part of their curricular activity. They returned looking very ebullient because the industrial complex looked perfect to them: immaculately clean, professionally managed, subsidised food in the canteen, a managing director who is not only highly religious but also an excellent motivational speaker, and so on. They were also given a gift hamper each which contained the religious publications of the organisation that runs the industry. One of the students thrust into my hand a book written by the owner of the industry and said, “Sir, please read this.” I turned a few pages. I am a rapid reader. Within seconds I understood that the book was of no use to me. I returned it to the student saying, “I don’t think this will serve any purpose for me.” The student refused to take it back. She said, “Read it, Sir, for my sake.” I accepted it. I read most of it in a few minutes during my free period wh

Devil’s Advocate

Book Review The subtitle of Karan Thapar’s memoirs is The Untold Story . The tantalising nature of that notwithstanding, there is little that is particularly new in the book except certain personal details about the author in the first few chapters. The first 6 chapters are about the author’s childhood, youth and education. The remaining 11 are about the politicians he encountered along the way as a journalist and particularly about the interviews he had with them. The book was not meant to be a serious work, Thapar acknowledges in the Epilogue. He had time on his hands and a book of this kind felt “like an easy, even interesting, way of occupying” himself. Readability was his key concern, he says. And the book is eminently readable. It reads like a personal conversation that the author has with the reader. Thapar comes across as a thorough professional as an interviewer who is at the same time a friendly person provided one knows how to draw the line between professio

Educating the soul

“School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is,” said Ivan Illich in his book, Deschooling Society . He went on to accuse the teaching-learning system of confusing “process and substance”. “Once these [process and substance] become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results… The pupil is thereby ‘schooled’ to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is ‘schooled’ to accept service in place of value.” Half a century after Illich wrote those words, the academic situation has only worsened. It is producing robots with specialised expertise but without certain desirable values. This has happened largely because we live in a global system that has given undue importance to wealth and wealth creation. Wealth is the ultimate determiner of success in the globalised world.

Sabarimala and Women

Kerala coast: A photo from the year 1900 A century and a quarter ago, Swami Vivekananda called Kerala “a lunatic asylum.”   The prevalent caste system demeaned all but the Brahmins and their associates. The Namboothiri men could have sex with the Nair women of their choice by an arrangement called Sambandam [morganatic marriage]. The upper caste men brazenly exploited the women of the lower castes. Women of the lower castes were forbidden from covering their breasts. Women were treated on the whole as nothing better than goods and chattels. According to a legend, Kerala was created by Parasuram, an incarnation of God Vishnu. This divine avatar did not hesitate to kill his own mother and brothers just to please the ego of his father. The father’s ego was hurt merely because his wife admired a prince who was bathing in the river along with his women. Marital fidelity is an Indian wife’s bounden duty. No other man should enter even her thoughts though the man could enter any

Kayamkulam Kochunni

Kayamkulam Kochunni is Kerala’s own Robin Hood. He is believed to have lived in the 19 th century and his tomb is still preserved in good condition at the Pettah Juma Masjid in Thiruvananthapuram. There is a shrine dedicated to him in Kozhencherry, Kerala. A new Malayalam movie was released last week based on his legends and whatever history is available. This is not a review of the movie though I watched it yesterday with much interest. The cinematography is excellent and the landscapes refuse to leave your memory long after the movie is over. What fascinated me really is the theme of exploitation of the poor by the rich, the powerless by the powerful. “Who makes the rules?” Kochunni asks at one part of the movie. He gives the answer too: “The Brahmins make the rules for their own benefits. Why should we obey them?” Kochunni becomes a brigand. The social system makes him one, rather. Certain higher caste people made use of him for their personal aggrandizement and

Yes to the World

My first trekking in the Garhwal Himalayas was a decade and a half back. Along with a few colleagues, I was asked to take a group of students to Hemkund whose altitude is about 15,000 feet. On the first day we trekked from Govindghat to Ghangaria. It took us almost the whole day to reach our destination because it was raining in the entire afternoon and we were not prepared for it. Drenched to the marrow of our bones, we continued to climb up and up ignoring the weariness that knocked inexorably against our knees. We reached our destination by sunset. An icy cold bath in the morning filled me with the vigour required for the next lap of the trek, the steep ascent from Ghangaria to Hemkund. That first date of mine with the mountains urged me to undertake many more treks to equally challenging peaks in the Garhwal Himalayas in the next many years. I cannot claim that I learnt to trust the mountains blindly, but I realised that the mountains have a unique charm and that they off

When foul is fair

The Way longs to be born The tragedy of the contemporary world is not so much that there is a dearth of human values as that hardly anyone seems to be interested in values at all. People have not only accepted that corruption is an integral part of politics, religion and any system but have also started justifying it. It is quite scary when prominent BJP leaders like Nitin Gatkari and Amit Shah tell us frankly that their party’s electoral promises were not made seriously. While the former said that the promises were made because they had never imagined the party to win the elections, the latter bluntly called the promises “ chunavi jumla ” [electoral gimmick]. What is bizarre is that people accept such explanations as morally right. People like Gatkari and Shah have gifted the country a new ethical code by which anything and everything is alright as long as you are a winner. Their supreme pontiff, Narendra Modi, marched to glorious heights by doing things that would make t

Being Enlightened

Devil’s Advocate is Karan Thapar’s memoirs which I’m currently reading. One of the first chapters is dedicated to his wife Nisha who was a Goan Catholic whom he met in London and fell in love with. He agreed to marry her in the church and the priest who blessed their wedding was Father Terry Gilfedder who was an enlightened priest, according to Thapar. “He was the first Catholic priest I got to know,” says Thapar about Father Terry. “And he’s the only genuine man of God I have ever met. So when I encounter others of the cloth, I judge them by his standards. They always fall short.” Giving due respect to Thapar’s faith, Father Terry asked him to choose a passage from the Bhagavad Gita instead of the biblical passage usually read during the wedding mass. But Thapar was not familiar with the Gita. Hence the priest chose a passage from Kahlil Gibran instead. Thapar questioned the priest whether such “cross-cultural ecumenism” was permitted by the church. Father Terry’s answer

Errors and Lessons

I have on occasion described my life as a series of blunders. The mistakes taught me the inevitable lessons too. Perhaps, what makes life really meaningful, if not particularly charming, are the lessons we learn from our own mistakes. The errors and the subsequent learnings indicate that we have been on a quest of our own instead of blindly embracing given truths. “The biggest mistake of my life was joining St Edmund’s as a lecturer,” as I write in my forthcoming memoirs, Autumn Shadows . “Shame was the ultimate gift I received from St Edmund’s, the ultimate recompense of the narcissist.” Narcissism is a grave sin unless you know how to piggyback on it to conquer peaks of success. I was a born loser for whom success was a tantalising mirage. The Principal, staff and students of Edmund’s caught hold of the shame of the loser in me, shook it out and held it up for the whole world to see. Then I became less than the shame. The world will love narcissists provided they know ho

How to keep pets and cleanliness

My Dictator French writer Anatole France was of the opinion that “Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” I would have laughed at him until a few months back. Animals were a strict no for me until a kitten walked into my life quite unexpectedly. I used to associate animals with filth and I was fastidious about cleanliness inside and around my home. Maggie was even more fastidious than me. So when Kittu came along we naturally kept him outside the house. We fed him regularly but he meant nothing more to us than an animal that had to be kept off our personal limits. Eventually, however, we started buying the food which he liked keeping aside our own tastes. It was then that Maggie and I started realising that Kittu had become an integral part of our meagre family. He soon found his place inside the house. Within no time he became the master of the house. Both Maggie and I wondered how we learnt to tolerate his omnipresent dictatorship.


I never loved anyone until I married at the age of 35. Maggie taught me love with her agonised endurance of my narcissistic whims and fancies. I was not aware of her agonies until the bubble of my ego burst under certain pressures imposed on it brutally by a few self-appointed benefactors. While I’m grateful to the benefactors for their ruthless devotion to their task, I could never forget the fact that they overdid it with more zeal than the medieval crusaders. Some scars left by crusaders remain with you until your end. The lessons are obvious enough, however. One, love endures, agonises and transforms. As one of the first Christian missionaries, Saint Paul, said, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” [ 1 Corinthians 13:7 ] Saint Paul was an ardent crusader too. But he knew that “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” He did not say that love transforms. But it does. Maggie transformed me. Years

You too, Barber!

Fiction I had just finished reading Ponkunnam Varkey’s short story about a priest, his sexton and their sex lives when the TV news registered the address of Bishop Franco for sexual offences against a nun. The bishop was in news for quite some time and so his arrest did not come as a tremor to me though later I learnt that it was incredible to many Catholics in Kerala. “What is incredible?” My friend Tom asked me. He is a blogger with quite some conceit. His conceit had attracted the attention of the Catholic clergy time and again in the past though of late they seemed to have given him up probably as a hopeless case. I don’t like his conceit either. But I tolerate it because I’m more conceited than him according to my wife. Long before the arrest of the bishop, Tom had written a blog about him titled Why Franco Mulakkal should be a saint . When I questioned his prejudiced condemnation of the bishop as well as the Church, he suggested Ponkunnam Varkey’s story to me. Ther