Tuesday, February 26, 2019
I have been asked again and again why I hate Mr Narendra Modi. The most basic answer is I don’t hate him. I don’t hate anybody because I know that hatred will corrode my goodness. I’m opposed to Mr Modi’s worldview. That’s not hatred; I’m sure people will understand or try to understand that essential difference.
India has now become a country where even that difference is not quite understood. Anyone who questions Modi is portrayed as antinational if not a traitor by an incredibly large number of people among whom I’m quite surprised to find highly educated and very intelligent people too. Modi has created that situation. That’s part of his personality disorder; he is a narcissist and he knows how to veil that narcissism efficiently beneath the veneer of religious nationalism (a very dangerous though potent concoction).
His worldview is highly tainted by the same disorder. In a healthier political system Modi would have been a struggler on the sideline. India’s political system was vitiated over a long period of time by various rulers most of whom belonged to the Congress Party. Modi knew how to convert that fact to his advantage. There is nothing wrong in using a situation to one’s advantage. But a person who rises to the highest post in the country should have certain basic personal integrity and a noble worldview. Modi lacks both.
He uses nefarious strategies to project himself as a hero. Discontented people lap up all that propaganda assuming that they have a messiah in the person of Modi. But what Modi is doing actually is to divide the country into two broad groups: one supporting an ideology labelled Hindutva and the other opposing it. He has cleverly succeeded in equating Hindutva with Hinduism while the two are as different as chalk and cheese.
Modi has made hatred the official policy of the nation. That’s the most fundamental reason why I’m opposed to him. His worldview is based on hatred and little else. All the slogans he hurls at us like raging meteors in his eloquent speeches are nothing more than clanging cymbals and reverberating kettledrums. Hatred remains the only foundation of his worldview. That hatred has permeated the entire air of the nation. So much so that the one who questions that policy of hatred is labelled as the hater!
Monday, February 25, 2019
People want a different entertainment once in a while. The King knew it. That’s why he constructed the arch across the Raj Path. He also made sure that a marble slab was affixed at the foot of the arch with his name emblazoned on it so that posterity would remember him as the builder of the arch. It was a monumental arch, the biggest and tallest of its kind so far.
When its construction was over, the King announced its grand inauguration on all TV channels controlled by him. There were very few channels that were not under his control and such channels were breathing their last anyway. The offices of those channels were raided frequently for one reason or another.
On the day of opening the grand arch to the public officially, the King rode on the Raj Path standing on an elevated platform in an open jeep waving at his admirers who stood on both sides of the Path. The ride and the inaugural address were telecasted live to the entire admiring nation.
The arch was decorated in multi-colours. Pretty young girls stood on either side of Raj Path holding pom-poms whose glitter matched the King’s royal robes. Republic TV had been given the exclusive rights to the live telecast. Its anchor seemed to reach orgasm again and again with the description of each thing from the pom-pom to the royal robe.
And then the unthinkable happened. The King’s crown fell down to the dust. It touched one of the frills was hanging from the arch decoratively.
The King instantly ordered the arrest of his chief critic accusing him of antinational conspiracy.
“Burn him alive.” “Hang him.” “Lynch him.” The citizens shouted.
"The nation wants a hanging," Republic TV roared.
"The nation wants a hanging," Republic TV roared.
The King was happy. The nation chooses its own entertainment. This is democracy. This is Melon City.
Sunday, February 24, 2019
When I look back at my life, there’s plenty to be ashamed of. So many mistakes were made because of my immaturity, my obstinate refusal to grow up. It’s only in the autumn of your life you realise that so many blunders of youth could have been avoided. In Tagore’s words, clouds now come floating into your life, no longer to carry rain or usher a storm, but to add colour to your sunset sky. The metaphorical rains and storms belong to a different phase. The hues of the sunset sky remain now.
Those hues may look resplendent but each has a sad story to tell. That’s how life is, I believe: more tears than laughter. Or is it more folly than wisdom? Wisdom comes through the tears, perhaps.
The wisdom does not make you perfect, however. The truth is that none of us grows absolutely. We grow in certain dimensions and remain clumsily retarded in certain others. I have at least grown wise enough to know where I’m likely to make a fool of myself. That’s why I stay away from society.
When you stay aside and watch, there’s more fun than tears. You watch others make fools of themselves. In the name of gods and gaus. In the name of territories and allegories. They die or kill for the sake of myths. Sometimes you’re confused whether to laugh or cry. You’ve seen enough to make you laugh, but your sensibility doesn’t let you laugh.
I wonder if it’s because I haven’t yet grown up like the majority of people that I’m unable to mount the bandwagon. The reason doesn’t matter except my awareness that I don’t belong there.
Saturday, February 23, 2019
The vey mention of the word ‘tradition’ brings to my mind the above song from one of my all-time favourite movies, Fiddler on the Roof. The song says that the Jews have a tradition for everything from how to eat to how to work. Tradition governs everything that they do. Without traditions their life would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof, the character says. The fiddler who plays his fiddle standing on a slopped roof is in a precarious situation. The Jews were in a similar precarious situation. Perhaps we are all in such a situation all the time. Human life is never possible without some precariousness. Look at India’s situation now, for example. Aren’t we standing on a slopped rooftop and playing a fiddle?
Traditions give them the balance required in life’s precarious situations, says the character. Traditions teach each Jew who he is and what god expects of him. The Jews continue to follow their ancient traditions with canine and clannish loyalty. Muslims are not much different though the two cannot see eye to eye with each other. One of the fortunes that befell Christianity is its Westernisation because of which traditions lost their claws and fangs. Marauders cannot afford to cling to traditions. Hindus have been inclined to follow traditions which suited them. They were also clever enough to conceal opportunism beneath the label of tolerance.
I was born and brought up in Kerala which had insane traditions with religious moorings until the last century. One such tradition was that the low caste women should not cover their breasts. In case they happened to have a breast cloth, they should remove it on seeing a higher caste man. What was the reason behind this tradition? The higher caste men loved to ogle. Yes, many traditions are created by people who have perverse vested interests. What’s more interesting is that such traditions also get divine sanction. Scriptures are written by upper caste people only!
What the gods sanction, the kings ratify readily. The kings of Travancore imposed a tax on those exposed breasts. Thus the tradition became a legal stricture as well as a source of revenue.
Remember that only the untouchable women were placed under that stricture. They didn’t have a caste, in other words. They were not eligible to belong even to the last caste, the shudras. That caste system is another tradition.
The upper caste men – Brahmins particularly and then the Kshatriyas too – could mate with the untouchable women of their choice. Untouchability was only in the public. Yet another tradition.
Tradition is quite a weird thing. If we learn about their roots we may be able to liberate ourselves from them. Maybe, not. Traditions get rooted in our DNA, metaphorically. See the way the people of Kerala reacted to the Supreme Court’s judgement to let women enter the Sabarimala Temple. Traditions are deeply entrenched memes. As Mark Twain wrote, “The less there is to justify a traditional system, the harder it is to get rid of it.”
PS. Written for In[di]spire:
Thursday, February 21, 2019
Young Jesus goes to join a monastery. A monk who is the ‘guest master’ meets him at the gate and asks him to go back thinking he was just a crazy young boy.
“God commanded me to come,” says Jesus who is visibly worried.
The monk cackled. He had seen a good deal in his lifetime and had no confidence in God.
“God is the Lord,” says the monk. “So he does whatever comes into his head. If he wasn’t able to inflict injustice, what kind of an Omnipotent would he be?”
The above scene is from The Last Temptation of Christ, a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis. [The lines in italics are quoted from the novel.]
The predominant theme of the novel is the conflict between the good and the evil, between the flesh and the spirit. Right at the beginning of the novel we find Jesus wondering whether God and the devil are different entities at all. “Who can tell them apart? They exchange faces,” Jesus reflects.
Both god and devil are within us. Both good and evil are within us. What most of us do is to externalise them and personify them into God and Satan, one all-good and the other all-evil. Many of us, especially those who follow the Semitic religions, also identify the body with evil and the soul or spirit with good.
In the Prologue to the novel, Kazantzakis says that usually the struggle between the human and the divine in us is unconscious and short-lived. “A weak soul does not have the endurance to resist the flesh for very long. It grows heavy, becomes flesh itself, and the contest ends.” [Emphasis added]
I think the contest ends less dramatically. I think most people don’t experience the conflict at all because right from birth they are fed ready-made answers to all spiritual conflicts. My religion did that to me. I was born a sinner, according to my religion which named the status ‘original sin,’ an inborn inclination towards sinfulness. So I was baptised and thus cleansed of that ‘original’ evil tendency. But I remain human (what else?) and hence possess all the “weaknesses of the flesh”. [Don’t ask what use the baptism was then. There’s no such logic in religion.]
There are solutions for all those weaknesses. For example, there is a counter virtue for every “deadly sin”. There is humility for pride, temperance for gluttony, and so on. One readymade antidote for every evil. Or there is the ritual of confession which can cleanse the evils without much trouble.
These readymade solutions may not satisfy the genuine seeker. That is why Kazantzakis says that “among the responsible men … the conflict between flesh and spirit breaks out mercilessly and may last until death.”
I think it is better to take both good and evil as an inseparable continuum rather than as polarised opposites. Both are potentials within us. It depends on us to cultivate those which we like. When I cultivate the good within me, the evil automatically is held under restraint. Rather, I don’t focus on the evil; I focus on the good. I have noticed how my students make remarkable improvements in behaviour when I point out the good things about themselves. I pretend not to see the dark shades. I focus on the goodness and the goodness flourishes. My perspective is not virtue-sin poles or venom-antivenom treatment.
I don’t see it as a conflict between the spirit and the flesh. I don’t see the flesh as evil. The body is good. I love a good meal whenever it is offered to me and see nothing gluttonous about relishing it. I enjoy a drink once in a while. I love to listen to music, romantic and melancholy. A philosophical novel will entertain me better than any of these, of course. Writing a good blog post also gives me a sense of satisfaction. Now some people may see some of these as evils. Well, these are my own devils and I accept them. I don’t fight them because I know there is no need. I know the god within me is more vibrant. If people don’t see it, that’s not my problem.
Wednesday, February 20, 2019
|Devotees at Chottanikkaram Makam|
Image from Mathrubhumi
Today’s newspapers in Kerala carried images of devotees at the Chottanikkara Temple. The best image was the one in Malayala Manorama in which a young girl was shown praying to the deity with tears streaming down her cheeks. I couldn’t get that image online because of Manorama’s copyright possessiveness. The intensity of the fervour in the eyes of that devotee struck a chord with me. I am not a devotee of any deity and I can’t stand crowds even in places of worship. But the image made me question the meaning of prayer.
I guess prayer means a whole range of different things to different people. Most devotees must be praying in order to influence the deity, to make the deity change his/her mind, to alter the existing unpleasant reality. Most devotees expect miracles, I’m quite sure, though the degree of the miracle may vary widely from getting a good spouse to curing someone’s incurable ailment.
Can we really influence a deity that way? Can our prayers make a deity change his/her mind? Logically that sounds quite bizarre. The fish prays to god to save it from the fisherman’s net and the fisherman prays to the same god to give him a good catch of fish. What will the god do? Whose prayer deserves to be answered? How does god judge that? Pretty tough job, I should say, being a god.
I don’t think there is any god sitting up there listening to any of these, anyway. Who can be so callous as to watch all the agony of his/her creatures and yet be so indifferent in spite of being supposedly omnipotent? There are too many unanswerable questions when we reach that milieu. Then the religious friend tells me that I should take it on faith. Faith is a problem for me; it refuses to be faithful. So I have quit that arena.
But prayer has its uses, I’m sure. I find myself praying almost every morning. Not to any god but to the mystery out there that is cracking through the eastern sky with the stars fading away into the dark infinity. I pray to let goodness prevail. I pray to enable me to bring in as much goodness as possible at wherever I will be during the day. I pray to keep myself good in spite of all the evil I may encounter today.
Prayer, for me, is an exercise in self-improvement. All the rest are just wishes placed before mute and blind deities with the faith that they will hear and see one day.
Tuesday, February 19, 2019
|Image from Wikipedia|
Diogenes was on his usual quest,
Holding a lantern up in his hand,
Searching for goodness
In the species called human beings.
The most right place should be
Where else but places of worship?
Where man meets his gods
There should of course be goodness.
The priests wore habits of different colours,
They spoke truths of different colours,
Only the hatred in their eyes had the same colour.
In god’s house, muttered Diogenes to himself,
There’s no place to spit but the priest’s face.
The offices of political parties
with elegant slogans and proud flags
must be the place where goodness resides.
Kill, kill, is all that he heard in each office,
Kill the ones holding the other flags.
Kill the ones mouthing other slogans.
Those who are not with us are against us.
Kill them for the sake of the nation.
Why not whip the politician, the leader,
when the citizen is led astray?
Diogenes’s lantern flickered.
In the cottage of Rahab, the prostitute,
Was a tenderness rare and soft,
Come my beloved, she said,
Put out your lantern and hold me tight,
Love has only one colour,
And it doesn’t need any light.
Friday, February 15, 2019
The strength of your opinions is directly proportional to the strength of your convictions. Convictions are an integral part of strong characters. But expressing them in the form of opinions may not always be the best thing to do especially if you seek to win hearts. If you seek to be popular, rather.
All the people who matter in history had strong convictions and hence strong opinions. From the Buddha to the Mahatma, from Socrates to Bertrand Russell, they all expressed their opinions boldly because popularity was not their primary concern. As Bernard Shaw pointed out, “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” is a snivelling modern invention because the Jesus of the gospels went to the extent of calling the dominant religious leaders of his time “a brood of vipers” and he did not hesitate to use the whip against some of them. The brood of vipers put him on the cross, of course.
Strong opinions can be lethal. Only those who have nothing to lose can afford them. We have much to lose today. Reputations are made or marred as easily as Whatsapp messages are forwarded. Your promotion at the workplace may depend on saying things like “What a perfect shine! Which polish do you apply on your shoes, sir?”
If you want to rise in life you need to know how to win hearts. William Hazlitt advised his son long ago. That’s true today too. When I was teaching that letter of Hazlitt’s in a senior secondary class long ago, my students immediately responded. “Flattery, doesn’t it mean that, sir?” They were very familiar with what they called chamchagiri in that residential school which had a rather closed, well-knit community, a miniature society.
All societies demand a high degree of chamchagiri. I have lived long enough to see people rising to positions they never deserved merely because they had mastered the art of winning the right hearts. I never learnt that art. I lost much due to that neglect or disability. I wish someone had taught me that art in my childhood.
So I agree with fellow blogger Arvind Passey who raises the issue in the latest edition of In(di)spire:
Be flexible if you wish to be an idol in the marketplace of the aam aadmi. It’s good to master the art hunting with the hound and running with the hare. You may even become the Prime Minister of the Nation.
Wednesday, February 13, 2019
|Some of Rael's female followers|
Image from here
Religion can be quite funny and occasionally weird if you are a sceptic or non-believer watching it from the periphery. Believers pour hundreds of litres of milk on a mass of granite while thousands of children go hungry in the vicinity. Buxom ladies sweep littered floors of temples with much hardship while they won’t even dust the furniture at home. I can understand the ritualistic fulfilment that the believer derives from such practices because I was a similar believer myself once. There was a period in my life when I flagellated myself with my belt believing that would rein in my carnal addictions. Today such practices bring a wry smile to my lips.
That’s why, perhaps, the very title of the book Intelligent Design: Message from the Designers by Rael caught my fancy. The author-publisher advertised it as a kind of Bible inspired by the “intelligent designers” of life on earth. Curiosity egged me on and I read the entire stuff – a collection of three books, in fact, running to over 400 pages – in two days. I would have given it up as sheer balderdash had I not been amused thoroughly.
The first of the 3 books, The Book which Tells the Truth, describes the author’s encounter with an extra-terrestrial (ET) man (yes, man – one who looks just like you and me) who gives him a startling revelation: that life on earth was created by him and others like him on his planet which is about a light year away from the earth. Quite many of the biblical events from the Genesis to the Revelation are given entirely new and plausibly scientific interpretations. For example, the tree of life in biblical Eden becomes the advanced scientific knowledge possessed by the intelligent designers and the original sin becomes the betrayal of some of those alien designers who refused to obey the order to keep a distance from their terrestrial creatures. When the prophets of the Old Testament went up mountains or into the skies to speak to Yahweh they were actually taken up by the aliens in a UFO to be given certain instructions. Yahweh is, in fact, the person who spoke to Rael whose original name was Claude Vorilhorn. He assumed the name Rael which means Messenger. Eventually he becomes the last prophet – the one who succeeded Muhammad – who had a virgin birth! Yup, Claude was born of artificial insemination given to his mother by Yahweh. Claude grew up without knowing his father as he was born out of wedlock, in reality. You don’t question the reality in religion, however.
The second book, Extra-Terrestrials Took me to their Planet, is a kind of Bible for Rael’s followers. Some of the instructions in that Bible are based on scientific and humanitarian principles and hence are good. Some are quite outlandish like interpreting self-fulfilment as doing whatever you wish to do so long as you don’t harm others. You can mate with any person if you like provided the other person also likes it irrespective of the gender. Rael himself was a man with a strong libido and had quite a few women in his life. I was reminded of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses in which Aisha, the most beloved wife of the Prophet, teases the man of god saying that he was shrewd enough to have invented a god who danced to his tunes. Rael has no god, however. Yahweh is just another man albeit belonging to an advanced planet where life is eternal for chosen people. In that eternity live Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, the Old Testament prophets, and so on having been brought alive to eternity using scientific cloning from their cells collected from the earth at relevant times. Well, the ETs were monitoring everything right from the first couple on the earth. They are monitoring us too with the help of a super computer which records all our deeds. Our final retribution is awaiting us there on that planet of our creators.
In that extra-terrestrial paradise, there are beautiful women too awaiting the men to pleasure them in whatever way they choose. Those women are robots, however, though beautiful and lifelike and also belonging to different races of your choice. There seem to be no women, however, among the eternal heroes in Rael’s extra-terrestrial Paradise: no women of the stature of Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, and of course Rael who will join them eventually.
The final book in the trilogy, Let’s Welcome the Extra-Terrestrials, Rael clarifies certain doubts raised by his followers as well as critics. This book also contains the testimonials of some of his prominent followers. The book is an attempt to get more followers who will contribute to the construction of a gigantic “embassy” on the earth for the ETs. You have to contribute one per cent of your income towards the cause. So it is just like any other religion: a massive swindle! With a salacious paradise on a planet that’s not so far away. And its time is at hand too: the Apocalypse is imminent.
I suppressed my laughter many times as I read the book. I found it funny, very funny, much more funny than all the religions I am familiar with so far. I imagine Rael laughing all the way to the bank though he was born to an impecunious woman in a remote town in France and couldn’t complete even basic schooling. He knows the tricks of his trade, however.
Monday, February 11, 2019
Many people on Facebook have advised me to go to Pakistan though I have time and again stated clearly that what I dislike about present India is that it is becoming increasingly like Pakistan. The Sangh Parivar has more or less succeeded in creating what Dr Shashi Tharoor has tersely named ‘Hindu Pakistan’.
This morning broke with someone dispatching me to Israel. If the “Indian Hindu culture” was not as “tolerant” as it was, I “would have been born in Israel” – that’s what the Facebook pundit wrote sounding rather ominous. I don’t know why this person wishes to consign me to Israel. There is tremendous irony in the suggestion since Israel was created for a people who were victimised by Fascism which seems to sustain the ideology of the Sangh Parivar.
I’m writing this to make one thing clear to these Facebook champions of the “Indian Hindu culture” who assume that I am an enemy of that culture. I am NOT. I have great respect for the profundity of the Upanishads. I am convinced that there is no better religion than the advaita (non-dualism) of those inimitable works. I am unambiguously certain that if god does exist, that god is within ourselves. God is the divinity we discover or create within us. God is the love in your heart, the love that overflows from your heart towards the entire reality outside you. God is what unites you with the cosmos. God is the realisation that everything that exists is as sacred as you are. Tatvam Asi.
What then is the problem? Why do I irk so many people who claim to be the champions of “Indian Hindu culture”? The answer is simple: they are not championing anything of the sort. They are all, without any exception that I can recall, champions of a political claptrap that has been popularised by a small group of people with an acutely myopic worldview which seeks relentlessly to project itself as a contemporary messianic version of the Sanatana Dharma.
I have analysed the writings and profiles of quite a few of these recent champions of India’s ancient wisdom. My findings led me the following conclusions:
1. None of these champions know anything deeply about India’s real greatness.
2. None of them is interested in knowing about that greatness.
3. Most of them believe that Hindus and Hinduism are under serious threat from other religions and/or secularism.
4. Almost all of them love to blame the Congress party, particularly Jawaharlal Nehru and occasionally Mahatma Gandhi, for all the ills that have plagued the nation since Independence.
5. Most of them seem to have blind if not jejune faith in Narendra Modi’s messianic prowess for redeeming Hindus, Hinduism and India.
6. Most of them believe, or seem to believe, that anyone who questions the Sangh Parivar is anti-national.
7. Most of them lack the etiquette required in public debates.
Let me assure them, anyway, that I don’t regard any person as my enemy. What I question are certain ideological views and positions which I know are dangerous for India’s pluralism which is also India’s identity.
Saturday, February 9, 2019
|The company mattes on the way|
If destination is all that mattered, the graveyard would be the happiest place. What really matters is what happens between the cradle and the grave. That is true about leisurely travels too.
Some of my happiest journeys were the treks in the Garhwal Himalayas which were all made with students while I taught in Delhi. My first trek was to Hemkund which is at 4633 metres (15,200 feet) above sea level. Dr S C Biala, the principal of the school, was a passionate mountaineer and he introduced mountaineering to the school. Though I was initially hesitant about my physical ability for a trek of that sort, I fell in love with trekking after that first experience. In the next few years, I trekked to quite a few peaks in the Garwhal Himalayas with my students and loved all of them.
The destination is not what really matters when you go trekking. Most of the places like Hemkund or Gaumukh have nothing much to offer for sight-seeing or anything. It is the trek that really lingers on in your bones. The ascent and its excitements as well as exhaustions remain in your memory for years.
However, when it comes to the usual tourist destinations where we reach by vehicles, I don’t know if we can say that the journey matters more than the destination. I remember the long journeys I made with students to Goa from Delhi or Coorg from my present school in Kerala. The journeys were quite harrying and the destinations were the real fun.
Some of the places I visited with Maggie alone, such as Gangtok, Darjeeling and Shimla, offered much thrill on the way as well as at the destinations. The journey becomes bliss when you have the ideal company, I guess. Travel has its romance too. I still remember our car ride from Bagdogra airport to Gangtok and the long hours spent waiting on the road for the landslide-caused block to clear. The bumpy ride from Gangtok to Darjeeling on a shared taxi driven by a drunken surly young man who kept grumbling all along the way had its own memorable excitements too.
Life is a journey too. The sights and smells on the way make that journey worth and meaningful. The bumpiness of the rides and the grumpiness of co-travellers also add charm to the journey. When I look back at the journey so far, I’m amazed by the variety of experiences I have had. I learnt a lot of lessons along the way. The tragedy, perhaps, is that the lessons were learnt rather late. If only one could begin the journey with the inherited wisdom of generations!
PS. Written for In[di]spire Edition 260: #TravelTrends
Wednesday, February 6, 2019
|Image courtesy: Pexels|
“Mother died,” Lily said without any introduction as soon as her sister answered the call.
“Good for her,” Rose said after a sigh. “When was it?”
“Last night. Pop saw her in the morning lying dead in her bed.”
“How did you know?”
“Daisy rang up.”
Daisy was their younger sister. She still has connections with some people in their hometown in the fishing coasts of Kochi.
They were four sisters: Lily, Rose, Daisy and Zinnia, in that order, the last two being twins and the youngest. When their mother was pregnant with the twins, father was very certain that it was going to be a boy. “Big tummy. Means boy,” he said looking at Ma’s belly. Ma told them later about it when they were grown up enough to understand the dark underbelly of relationships.
When father was told that it was twins, and that too girls, he refused to see them. He walked out, spat out angrily and contemptuously on the way to the local joint where he got drunk on illicit country liquor. He never stopped drinking after that.
Mother tried to compensate for the father’s lack of love by being tender towards the girls. The names she gave them were a sign of that intended tenderness.
Father never spoke to the girls. He did not even look at them. He never missed an opportunity to blame mother for not “producing” a son. Ma’s failure to “produce” a boy became the professed cause of father’s alcoholism.
Father was what he called “a salesman” at the fishing harbour. In fact, he was a broker or, more correctly, a tout.
The day Lily turned 17, father’s sense of paternal duty emerged as if from nowhere. He came home that evening with a middle-aged man whose face resembled that of a devil in one of the catechism books of the twins. His bald head and protruding belly accentuated the resemblance. The man took only a brief glance at Lily who had just returned from her tailoring class. “It’s good,” he said to father as if Lily were a piece of furniture that he was buying. He was a wholesale dealer of fish at Munnar. He bought fish from Kochi.
“Your father is a good salesman,” Ma said when father announced Lily’s marriage with that man. His wife had died a year back. Thus Lily became a mother of two children, not much younger than her, even before her marriage.
As the bus rolled down the rollicking hills of Munnar, Lily considered herself luckier than Rose though she had to go alone for her mother’s funeral.
Lily did not take the children with her for her mother’s funeral. Her husband’s children were as indifferent as a dead fish to the news about the death. Her own children were already at school when Daisy’s call came. “Why to disturb them?” The Fish Dealer asked. “Their annual exams are round the corner.” Anyway, they hardly had any association with their grandmother.
“What about you?” Lily asked the Fish Dealer.
“How can I leave the fish market? What will the fish do? They’re as dead as your mother.”
The analogy made her wince. Mother as dead as a fish. The fish will be embalmed with formalin to prevent their decay. Mother is not as valuable.
Mother was the Lady of Sorrows. She was the Valley of Tears. Her salesman husband was her perpetual sorrow. Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow. I was her supplementary sorrow when my adolescent hymen was sold to an ageing Fish Dealer, Lily thought with some perverse amusement. Rose was her deepest sorrow, perhaps.
Rose was gambled away by salesman father. In one of his drunken 3-card poker games, when he lost everything including the house, an offer was made to him by the Poker Master.
“Want to play once more, one last chance?”
“What more have I got to stake?” Father asked.
“Rose,” said Poker Master staring deep into Father’s shallow, shrunken eyes sodden with inebriation.
“What if I stake Rose?” Father asked daring Poker Master.
“I take Rose and you get your house back,” Poker Master said with a generous sweep of his hands. “I’ll add some money too for the wedding.”
Father shook hands on the deal.
Your father is a good salesman.
Lily visited Rose once, a year after her marriage to Poker Master. She smelled of Tiger Balm which was given to her by a generous neighbourhood nurse who had come home for holiday from Dubai. There were scars on her face and arms. The image of Poker Master’s belt swishing in the air with the steel buckle glistening against Rose’s tender flesh did not leave Lily’s nightmares for long. Rose was the Daughter of Sorrows. Rose was the Periyar of Tears.
Daisy was the lucky one. She eloped with a fisherman when Father Salesman sold Zinnia to an old Arab in what had become quite popular in those days under the name of Arabi Kalyanam, Arab Marriage. The old Arabs came to Kerala to buy young brides in order to rejuvenate their senile erections.
Nobody ever heard of Zinnia after her marriage. Her Arab buyer had renamed her Zeenat for the wedding which was an indeterminate ceremony conducted by a local mullah. Zeenat must have beautified one of the infinite harems in the Arab land as long as the Master of the Harem found sap in the tender zinnia stalk.
Daisy and her husband, Martin, had made all arrangements for mother’s funeral when Lily reached. Rose was there too with some new scars on her neck and arms and the tang of Tiger Balm on her body.
Father was sober enough during the sombre funeral ceremony. When it was all over, the three sisters stood in the church yard trying to bid farewell to each other. Martin stood nearby with some of his friends.
Father approached Martin and said something. Martin pulled out a few currency notes from his pocket and gave to father.
“After my marriage,” said Daisy, “Ma must have had fish every day. I hope so. Pop extracted that from Martin, my price.”
Tuesday, February 5, 2019
Mountains look formidable from a distance. When you start ascending them, a slow realisation hits you that they are more seductive than formidable. You conquer heights and your vision expands. Finally you are there, at the zenith, with a whole world lying stretched before you. What was it that I dreaded before I began the ascent? You wonder. And you look at the higher peak that catches your eyes. It beckons you like a seductress.
Why don’t you surrender to that seduction? It’s so much better to be there on a peak, breathing in the smell of the pines, looking at a wider horizon, and wishing you were a bird that could stretch out the wings and fly, fly away, rather than be down here listening to quotidian slogans shouted by faceless mouths. What’s more: you realise that you have just conquered a peak but that you have conquered yourself.
You have conquered yourself. That’s the real ascent. Now you see things differently as a result of that conquest. You don’t see the creatures at a distance far below you as small entities, much inferior to you. On the contrary, you see how small you are with respect to the vast landscape that lies unfolded before you.
Those who have ascended great heights and then begin to see others as small creatures are pathetic indeed. Such people’s greatness depends solely on belittling others. In other words, they are great only in comparison with others’ smallness. Such people have to highlight the littleness or inferiority of the others in order to prove themselves big or superior. How sad that is!
Sunday, February 3, 2019
|This was the village road until two years ago|
Sunday is the best day in the village not because it is a holiday for me as for others too but because the village road becomes desolate. It doesn’t look like a village at all on weekdays because of the heavy traffic on the road. Sunday is a holiday for the road too, mercifully.
I have walked on this road for years and years during my childhood. There were hardly any vehicles those days except a rare, rickety bus and a few bicycles. People walked kilometres in those days, most of them barefoot, with the sky above their head and small dreams at the feet. Hardly anyone walks these days and the dreams have gone abroad.
When I decided to leave Delhi and opted for a rural life, many well-wishers advised me against it. “You won’t survive there more than a year,” one told me with the certainly of a prophet. “You give me a year!” I retorted. “I give myself only half of that.” Now I’m completing four years in the village. Life lies beyond our predictions.
And I enjoy the cool Sundays. It’s so quiet all around. Except the crow that visits frequently with a hungry caw. It perches on the bough of the rubber tree beside the waste pit and looks around stealthily before making a dive for something it espies in the pit. Interspersing the crow’s caws are occasional sounds of other birds that hardly appear before my eyes. Their sounds are soothing. Their beauty remains hidden. Good things often lie beyond our eyes.
Kittu, my cat, wants a little petting on Sundays. He is also busy on other days; he has to visit the neighbourhood and meet his friends. Sometimes he returns home with scratches on his face: the inevitable price of socialising. He lets me clean him but won’t listen to my counsel to avoid too much of society. A cat is safest at home but a cat is not created to stay without mates, he tells me. Fine, go ahead and mate, but why do you bring to me the scores? I ask. He blinks at me and then goes to sleep on a cosy chair next to me.
“The soul of India sleeps in its villages.” Didn’t the Father of the Nation say that? No, my collective unconscious corrects, “The soul of India lives in its villages.” The narrow village road of barely two years ago is today a state highway. The soul is really alive. A bit too much alive, I think. But I appreciate the development. I too don’t walk these days, you see.
|The road today: development|
It's the same road in the 1st photo above
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