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Showing posts from January, 2019

Don Bosco

Don Bosco (16 Aug 1815 - 31 Jan 1888) In Catholic parlance, which flows through my veins in spite of myself, today is the Feast of Don Bosco. My life was both made and unmade by Don Bosco institutions. Any great person can make or break people because of his followers. Religious institutions are the best examples. I’m presenting below an extract from my forthcoming book titled Autumn Shadows to celebrate the Feast of Don Bosco in my own way which is obviously very different from how it is celebrated in his institutions today. Do I feel nostalgic about the Feast? Not at all. I feel relieved. That’s why this celebration. The extract follows. Don Bosco, as Saint John Bosco was popularly known, had a remarkably good system for the education of youth.   He called it ‘preventive system’.   The educators should be ever vigilant so that wrong actions are prevented before they can be committed.   Reason, religion and loving kindness are the three pillars of that system.   Though th

The Mahatma and some savages

Image courtesy Scroll Any act of violence is a form of savagery; only the degree varies. The Hindu Mahasabha leader’s act of shooting at an effigy of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, is as much savagery as was Nathuram Godse’s attack on the real Gandhi. The woman did not stop at shooting Gandhi but went on to garland Godse, make a ritualistic offering to the killer and also distribute sweets to the onlookers. The organisers of the event also ensured that the effigy of Gandhi shed a blood-like liquid upon the shooting which added a high degree of perversion to the depraved episode.  What Godse did was to encounter one of the most peaceful ideologies (Gandhi’s version of non-violence) with the most violent response (murder). As mankind evolved we learnt to shun violence and have recourse to the legal system for resolving conflicts. Violence continued to be wielded by some people: criminals. Crime is a form of savagery, a negation of civilisation. Animals have fa

Bumper Lottery

Fiction “Did you check your bumper result?” Anna asked as she dropped the chopped onion into the sizzling oil. “Not yet, not yet,” Chacko answered with visible impatience. “Where do I get time for anything once I put my hand to this?” He was kneading the dough for the parathas which the clients of the restaurant relished throughout the day. Chacko and Anna were the popular pair at the restaurant in the small town on the bank of the Periyar River. Chacko made the delicious parathas while Anna cooked the Kerala delicacies that accompanied the parathas. Both Chacko and Anna belonged to the social class that could never dream of any annual income which the government recently fixed as the limit for job quotas for the economically backward classes. The classes in the country and their various quotas never made any sense to Chacko and Anna except that they knew they never belonged to any of these privileged classes whichever party came to power. “Ten per cent jobs reserved

Listening is not reading

A part of my little library There was a time when I used to listen to the speeches of Osho Rajneesh on my cassette player. Osho spoke on and on while I cooked my meals in the tiny kitchen of my rented little house in Shillong. It was a pleasure listening to the old man. He could speak about almost anything under the sun and even beyond the sun. He had an exquisite sense of humour too. His speeches were interspersed with witty anecdotes or parables. I still remember some of those stories. Eventually I lost interest in Osho. Maybe I outgrew my protracted adolescent appetite for outlandish wisdom. The cassette player emanated songs instead of speeches.   For wisdom, I relied on books. Nothing can take the place of books when it comes to intellectual stimulation. What about audio books? This is the question raised at In[di]spire this week. I never listened to an audio book until I came across this topic. How can I write about it unless I listened to one? So I went to LibriV


The umbrella is your inevitable appendix if you live in Kerala. It used to hang on my shoulder as I trekked to school in my childhood. There were no folding umbrellas or pocket umbrellas in those days. My umbrella like most people’s was a half-metre long canopy with a ferrule that jutted out so that you could use the whole thing as a walking stick when it did not rain. The men’s umbrella had a curved handle which enabled you to suspend it on your shoulder if you didn’t want the walking stick. The rains lashed Kerala for nearly half the year in those days and hence the umbrella was a loyal friend and as cumbersome too. The fidelity of the umbrella continued when I left the state to take up my first job in Shillong as a teacher. Shillong too had quite a lot of rains in those days with its proximity to Cherrapunji. Eventually, however, the rains in Shillong became as flighty and coquettish as the place itself and Cherrapunji lost its designation as the place of heaviest rainfall


One of the hundreds of pics I clicked at Sawan School, Delhi. There are 2 parrots on that tree. The tree and the parrots are memories that linger funnily with pain. [pic from 2014] Gabriel Garcia Marquez suggests in Love in the Time of Cholera that we manage to endure the burden of the past because the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good. Maybe, nothing substantially good ever happened to me because my endeavours to magnify happy memories fall by the wayside refusing to go far enough. It’s not that I don’t want happy memories.   Who doesn’t? But I have imagined happy memories. I’m more like Sara Teasdale. Stephen kissed her in the spring and Robin in the fall. Stephen’s kiss was lost in jest and Robin’s in play. But Colin’s eyes haunted her night and day though Colin only looked at her and never kissed at all. Unheard melodies are sweeter, I can hear Keats moaning. In the dust-ridden lanes of the past, I look for the unheard melodies, I feel the se

The other side of The Browning Version

A page from the play The Browning Version is a brilliant one act play by Terence Rattigan. A brief extract from it is incorporated in CBSE’s grade eleven English, though I have never understood why. The extract presents an interaction between a sly student Taplow and a young teacher Frank. Apart from some little games that people play in day-to-day life, the extract conveys nothing about the complex intricacies of human relationships which is what Rattigan’s play is about. The play is primarily about the incompatible relationship between Andrew Crocker-Harris and his wife Millie. Andrew is aware of his wife’s infidelity. Millie has her flings with other men, Frank being one of them. Frank is not aware of her other flings, however. Rather he assumes she is in genuine love with him. The play brilliantly portrays the complexities of human motives and behaviour. Andrew is a rigidly strict teacher who knows that he is not liked by his students who are in the 15-16 age grou

Power versus Culture

Vikram Seth tells a moving story about power versus culture in his poem ‘ The Frog and the Nightingale ’. The nightingale has the innate culture and the art of music. The frog has arrogated to himself the power over the area. The denizens hate the frog and love the nightingale. However, the nightingale is decimated soon by the contriving frog. The frog is not without culture, however. He is a self-proclaimed critic of music and a writer too. He knows how to project himself as a great personality. He knows how to rewrite history. He is the master of chicanery. Does that mean that power and culture are antithetical to each other as Arvind Passey seems to suggest at In[di]spire ? “Power and culture are in perennial conflict with each other,” his opening line says. No, I don’t agree. There were kings in the olden days and statesmen in the modern world who were great artists or promoters of art. But we have travelled a long distance from Jawaharlal Nehru to Narendra Modi, fr

Thank you, Reader

Tomorrow my blog will clock half a million views. For me, it’s a significant achievement. It would not have been possible to make that achievement without you, dear reader. A big thank you from the depths of my heart.   The Readership Franz Kafka was a rare genius who did not wish his writings to be read by anyone. He let his friend Max Brod read them, though. Towards the end of his brief life (he died at the age of 40), he ordered Brod to destroy his works. Brod chose to disobey the last wish of his friend and so we have some of the finest novels like The Trial and The Castle . I have read both of them two times and may read them again. Kafka was a genius. I am a mediocre individual by any standards. Unlike Kafka, I love to be read. There was a time when appreciation meant almost everything to me. Now I have transcended that phase and it doesn’t matter even if no one appreciates me. Yet I would be sad if no one cared to read what I write. That’s why the numbers matte

The Accidental Prime Minister

Book Review   Quite a contrast! Let me start with a disclaimer. This is a book review and has nothing to do with the movie of the same name. I read a few reviews of the movie and each one trashes the movie as cheap propaganda for the right wing. The movie seems to be an attempt to denigrate Dr Manmohan Singh as well as the Congress Party, according to the reviews I read. The book, on the other hand, is a genuine attempt to understand Dr Singh as a person. The author, Sanjaya Baru, was Dr Singh’s media adviser during UPA-1. He had very close associations with the Prime Minister if the book is to be believed. When the book was published in 2014, the Congress Party was displeased with it for obvious reasons. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are shown to be manipulators who did not let Dr Singh wield any real power during his second reign as PM.   The Prime Minister’s Office released a press release then labelling the book as mere fiction. Baru carries conviction, however

Writer and his society

All genuine writing is rooted in at least 3 things: 1.      the complex social reality which the writer is trying to understand and interpret; 2.      the literary tradition in the Eliotean sense; and 3.      the writer’s heart. The writer has to be constantly in touch with the world around him. Unless he understands that world, unless he is in constant touch with it, how can he write about it meaningfully? Good writers are sensitive people whose hearts are moved by what is happening around them. William Faulkner advised writers to “read, read, read”.   He asked them to “read everything: trash, classics, good and bad.” Absorb what you’re reading, then write. Without such moorings in the literary tradition, no one can be a good writer. The interpretation of the reality around comes from the writer’s heart, from his entire personality. Writing is the bleeding of the heart, as Hemingway suggested. Whatever has not been processed in the writer’s heart fails to car

What’s wrong with religions today?

Joan of Arc The lead article in the op-ed page of today’s Deepika (a Malayalam newspaper which is the mouthpiece of the Catholic Church in Kerala) is a slap in the face of a Catholic nun who dared to question the Church particularly on the Bishop Mulakkal case . The writer questions the nun’s virtues instead of looking at the evils she questioned. Many of the allegations made by the writer against the nun may be true. She might have broken her religious vows of poverty and obedience. But are her sins even comparable to what the Bishop did and what many priests of the Church have been doing for years and years? The nun can be questioned for her transgressions. My personal view is that she has no right to stay on in her religious congregation since she seems to have lost faith in its ways. She should quit her religious vocation and raise her finger against the Church, particularly because she seems to be going against the rules and regulations of that profession. That does n

Cat in my arms

I came across the following page from Hugh Prather’s Notes to Myself on a blogger friend’s Facebook wall. I had not heard of Hugh Prather until now. I liked the wisdom exuded by the page, however. I wondered whether I have reached that stage of holding my cat in my arms so it can sleep. My cat does love to sleep in my arms. I can also enjoy just lying on the rug picking up lint balls. I do it sometimes, in fact: just lie there, if not pick up lint balls since there are no lint balls to pick.   Comfortable with each other Is it just lethargy? I used to wonder. The wondering metamorphosed into self-probing and eventually I realised that I could just sit watching the colours of a croton feeling absolutely relaxed.   A croton in my little garden You reach a stage in life when nothing matters more than the peace you enjoy with yourself. There are no demands for anything. You are happy with whatever is. Things do go wrong at times but you know how to absorb tha

Live life fully

In one of his poems , Pablo Neruda suggests that if we were not “so single-minded / about keeping our lives moving” we would be a happier lot. We take life too seriously. Take a specimen from our species. Let’s call him Raj. Raj is a ‘focused’ student. He studies all the time. In addition to his school studies is the entrance coaching. Finally he gets admission to one of the best institutions of higher learning. He becomes a professional success eventually. Now he is single-minded about constructing a good house. Then marriage, children and their quality education, promotion in the job, and so on. Raj is a great ‘success’. Is he? Does Raj ever live his life? He exists. He succeeds by the standards of plebeian perceptions. He may appear to be happy too. He has his occasional holidays with his family, hasn’t he? He goes abroad to enjoy them. He has everything he wants, apparently. The reality is Raj may not be happy at all. Worse, he may not even be aware of that deep in