Tuesday, April 30, 2019


Book Review

The meaning and purpose of life are themes that have enchanted thinkers from time immemorial. Philosophers and psychologists have given us umpteen theories on them. Novelists have entertained us with gripping stories about the same. Manu Joseph’s novel, The Illicit Happiness of Other People, is another gripping novel on the theme of life’s meaning and purpose.

The real protagonist of the novel, 17 year-old Unni Chacko, is dead three years before the novel begins. He jumped to his death from the terrace of his three storey apartment. Why did he commit suicide when he was a brilliant student and exceptionally gifted cartoonist? His father, Ousep Chacko, wants to find it out and the novel is about that quest.

Ousep is an alcoholic. Once upon a time he was a promising writer. Now he is a mediocre journalist and a total failure as a husband and father to Mariamma and Thoma respectively. Mariamma would love to see him dead and even thinks of killing him. Ousep is intent on solving the mystery of his elder son’s death and he does succeed in the end.

The plot is as simple as that and yet quite complex as Ousep moves like a phantom among Unni’s friends and acquaintances picking up every thread that he can use to complete the warp and woof of the fabric he will weave in the end. Ousep’s quest makes the novel a suspense thriller and a philosophical thesis at the same time. There is plenty of humour too though it tends to hit us in the darkest chambers of our subconscious mind. For example: “My wife died three months ago,” says a character. “Have you heard this joke, Ousep? ‘My love, I feel terrible without you. It is like being with you.’”

The novel delves into the many ineluctable paradoxes of life and hurls at us certain axiomatic statements like “Truth is a successful delusion” and “In this world, it is very hard to escape happiness.”

Truth and delusion are explored in detail since that was one of Unni’s favourite quests. What is truth if the same reality is understood differently by different people? “A delusion is many times more powerful than a lie,” says Dr C. Y. Krishnamurthy Iyengar DM, FRCP (Glas), FRCP (Edin), FRCP (Lond), FAMS, FACP, FICP FIMSA, FAAN, Neurosurgeon, Neuropsychiatrist and Chairman Emeritus of The Schizophrenia Day Ward and Research Centre. “The distinction between a successful delusion and a lie is very difference between a successful saint and a fraud.” The doc goes on to declare that “All our gods, from the beginning of time, have been men with psychiatric conditions.”

The novel can shake orthodox religious beliefs when it shows how religious beliefs are delusions and how delusions are contagious. Did a delusion steal the young Unni’s life? Or was it an anguishing truth that did it? Wait till the end of the novel to know that. And then you begin to wonder which of the two – delusion and truth – is more desirable.

The novel grips the reader right from the beginning with its rare mix of suspense, philosophy and humour. The only problem is that towards the end it begins to sound like a thesis which the author is trying to establish. That is not a serious drawback, however. It is not easy to conclude an intricate and philosophical plot whose chief characters are a dead cartoonist, an alcoholic quester, and his “buffalo wife” and “idiot son”.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Importance of pretending

Pretending is one of the keys to happiness, says Nat King Cole in the above song. "Pretending isn't very hard to do," he says. Most of us do pretend quite a lot. We pretend to be very spiritual or religious just because most others do the same thing and we don't want to be odd ones out. We pretend to be tolerant when we are actually afraid to question what we know is wrong. Some people pretend to be nationalists when their actual problem is an identity crisis. There is an increasing tribe of people in contemporary India whose love for a certain animal is nothing more than a mask placed over their snarling hatred of a particular community of people. 

In spite of these negative examples I've cited, Nat King Cole is right. Pretending expedites happiness. If you can smile when your inner world is actually crumbling, you are likely to attract the better things in the world to you and thus mitigate your misery. 

Going one more step ahead, if you start pretending to be generous when you are actually an Ebenezer Scrooge within, that pretended generosity will slowly, slowly become a part of your real self. Start pretending to love your enemy and see how the enmity melts away - give it time, of course. It takes time, but pretending isn't very hard to do. 

In fact, the image that many of us have fabricated for the consumption of the public is quite a mask, a pretension. The word 'persona' originally referred to a theatrical mask, a mask which actors used to show their character. A part of our personality is a fabricated persona.

When American writer Kurt Vonnegut suggested caution in our pretensions because we become what we pretend to be (in his words, "we are what we pretend to be"), he was stating a universal truth that is perhaps not appreciated enough. 

PS. Written for In(di)spire Edition 271: 

Friday, April 26, 2019


Image from Wikipedia

Character is something deeply ingrained and difficult to change, according to most psychologists including Eric Fromm. Fromm believed that character stems from our genetic inheritance and our learning experiences. Some aspects of our character come from our parents. They are in our genes and we don’t have much choice about them. Other aspects are learnt from home, school and society. There is also a lot of interplay between the two.

It is not easy to change one’s character which is formed in one’s childhood mostly. Certain traumatic experiences bring about major changes in a person’s character. A better way to bring about radical changes is self-awareness.

Fromm divides people into 5 personality types.

1. The Receptive Type

People of this type are passive and almost totally dependent on others. They require constant support from somebody or the other, like the family, friends or some group.  They lack confidence in their own abilities and have difficulty about making their own decisions. Children who grow up in households that are overbearing and excessively controlling tend to develop this type of personality.

2. The Exploitative Type

You must have come across a lot of people who lie, cheat and manipulate others in order to get what they want. They belong to this character type, according to Fromm. Their professions of love are usually false. I have often wondered whether our politicians, quite many of them at least, belong to this type.

3. The Hoarding Type

This type loves to own a lot of things. They collect a massive amount of possessions. Those things are more important to them than people. The more things they own, the more secure they feel about themselves.

4. The Marketing Type

These are traders of relationships. They view relationships as a way of gaining something for themselves. Marriage, for example, is a way of getting a fat dowry or better social status. These people are opportunists; they can change their beliefs and values just for personal benefits. Nowadays we see a lot of our politicians switching parties shamelessly. That shamelessness is in their genes, Fromm would say.

5. The Productive Type

This is the ideal type, according to Fromm. People of this category convert their negative feelings into productive work. They focus on building loving, nurturing and meaningful relationships with other people whether at home or workplace or the society. They are a good spouse, parent, friend, co-worker, and employee. They make you feel at ease with them as well as with yourself. They bring out the best in you or at least try to.


There are no clear-cut boundaries between these types.  Most of us possess a combination of many types but one type tends to dominate. Awareness about our dominating characteristics is the first step towards transformation. We can leave the world a better place if we are willing to make certain changes in ourselves.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Changing Tastes

Passion fruits in my backyard (a few months ago)

When I had a chance to dine out, my usual choice was Chinese cuisine in my youth. A little fried rice with some chilly chicken, and possibly a bit of noodles too as a starter. I was particularly fond of Chinese style soups but marriage put an end to that like, less because marriage put me in the soup than because Maggie had a particular aversion towards soups of all sorts. She didn’t quite agree that a first-rate soup was far superior to a second-rate book.

Eventually I grew out of the Chinese kitchen probably by Maggie’s influence and cultivated a love for the Shillong version of biryani which tasted more like the Chinese fried rice with a piece or two of chicken buried in it than any biryani I ever tasted before or after. The transition was smooth because Shillong’s biryani was more Chinese than Indian.

Delhi, later, introduced me to all sorts of North Indian delicacies: Punjabi and Mughalai, particularly. However, our bellies shrank as we grew older and the largesse of the North Indian palate exerted a pressure which they couldn’t stomach.

Then we discovered the delights of KFC which remained our favourite until we left Delhi though our visits to the MNC outlets were quite rare. The truth is I had fallen in love with the vegetarianism of the school where I worked. Sawan provided excellent food to the students and staff and the variety of vegetarian dishes it offered was as unforgettable as their taste.

I prefer vegetarian dishes now though Kerala has abandoned its wonderful variety in that category. The Malayali has developed an unhealthy fondness for what is generally (and rather ludicrously) known in India as ‘non-vegetarian’ food. I’m left longing for Sawan’s ingenious combinations of potato with everything from spinach to capsicum.

My cat will frown at me, however, if I give him any vegetarian dish. He just sniffs at it and walks away after giving me a contemptuous look. So I have become a regular customer of the local fish stall. “Lucky cat,” people tell me. These people don’t know that I share some transcendental bond with the cat: his supercilious contempt for a whole lot of things engendered by our stubborn attachments to very clear likes and dislikes.
King of tastes


Monday, April 22, 2019

Summer Shower

A corner of my garden

Finally the summer shower came as a relief. The temperature had risen to a record high. The earth was scorched. The heat singed the soul. Plants withered and flowers wilted. Only the plastic flowers on the drawing room chest remained as fresh as ever.

One good shower is enough for the earth to revitalise itself. Give her one more and she returns the colours and tangs. There was just one zinnia in my garden which Maggie had plucked from the roadside during one of her walks and I planted in a little corner of the crowded garden. “Garden?” My friend raised his eyebrows when I mentioned the word once. “Call it forest, if you prefer,” I said.

My garden looks more like a patch of jungle where there nature creates its own mess, beautiful mess. Beauty is subjective.

A couple of summer showers brought alive the seeds that lay buried in the parched soil. And the zinnias bloomed. They bloomed in red and white and yellow and pink. That’s another miracle of nature. In the place of the one red zinnia we planted, now there are so many little zinnias of different colours. Nature gives back so much more than what we give her.

The weeds grow faster and stronger than any zinnia. The summer showers are accompanied by lightning and thunder too. When the summer showers kissed my zinnias with new life, the lightning of a god struck Sri Lanka and killed people who were praying to another god.

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, the Everlasting Refuge, people are killed all over the world. I pity the God and turn to my zinnias. “I’ll do the weeding this evening,” I tell them. I cannot weed out god’s defenders from the earth, can I?

Perfect, no weeds, but they're plastic: my drawing room


Saturday, April 20, 2019

Infidel: Review

Book Review

The most authentic people are those who quest after truth. The quest can be extremely agonising and even life-threatening when it questions certain truths that are held as absolutes by large numbers of people. Ayyan Hirsi Ali undertook that quest and her book Infidel: my life is the story of that quest.

The book has two parts which are titled ‘My Childhood’ and ‘My Freedom’. Born in Somalia, the author had a terrible childhood that was totally controlled by the rigid traditions and conventions of her clan and her religion. Somalia practises a very fundamentalist version of Islam which regards girls as subhuman creatures who have to be subservient to men in every imaginable way. A woman is not supposed to have any individuality of her own in that version of Islam. She is a man’s slave. Even as a wife, she is not supposed to enjoy her sexuality; her religion sews up her sex in the ritual of female circumcision. She is only a hatchery for producing offspring for her man who may marry other women as he pleases.

Ayyan’s father himself had three wives. He seldom cared for the family as he was a political activist who often lived away from the country itself. Ayyan’s mother wouldn’t go for work since she was a faithful Muslim woman who believed that women were not supposed to work outside the home. Hence the family had to depend on the clan for subsistence. The book presents many members of the clan as well as other people whom Ayyan had to encounter in those days. We get to see how most of these people were deluded by the primitiveness of their religious faith which made them believe that all their misery was part of Allah’s eternal plan for them.

As she grew up, Ayyan began to question her religion and its rigid and prejudiced codes. The second part of the book shows us how she slowly moves away from Allah and his perverse prophet whom the author accuses of paedophilia among other vices. The Prophet legislated every aspect of life, says the book. Even your body parts are not your own, let alone your thoughts. The Quran dictates what is permitted and what is forbidden. Even to this day. Thus the holy book “froze the moral outlook of billions of people into the mind-set of the Arab desert in the seventh century. We were not just servants of Allah, we were slaves.”

Ayyan came to the conclusion that the Quran was not a holy document. “It is a historical record, written by humans. It is one version of events, as perceived by the men who wrote it 150 years after the Prophet Muhammad died. And it is a very tribal and Arab version of events. It spreads a culture that is brutal, bigoted, fixated on controlling women, and harsh in war.” True Islam, she says in another place, “leads to cruelty.”

The author ran into a lot of problems because of such opinions which she expressed loudly and clearly. She could afford such candidness because she was living in Holland to which country she had run away in order to escape from a marriage which was arranged by her father against her wishes. Holland even allowed her to become a member of its parliament. But even Holland “where prostitution and soft drugs are licit, where euthanasia and abortion are practised…” could not ensure the safety of a woman whose thoughts rebelled against a dominant religion of the world.

Infidel is the story of a fundamental rebellion. Its author is someone who will fit into Albert Camus’s classical definition of a rebel as one who says no to a system and goes on to create an alternative system. Ayyan deserves to be read.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Love without frontiers

One of the classical love stories in Malayalam literature is Thakazhi’s Chemmeen (Shrimp). When the novel became a popular movie in Kerala, I was just 5 years old. Two generations later, neither the novel nor the movie is likely to ring any bell though the theme of love can never vanish from literature and arts.

The love affair in the story is inter-religious. A pretty Hindu girl is in love with a young Muslim trader. Today a lot of political organisations would have cried foul and shouts of “Love jihad” would have rent the heavens. Some seven decades ago, people weren’t more broadminded. If nationalist politics has arrogated to itself the chastity of Indian love today, religion had its own characteristic way of subjugating human passions in the olden days. Karuthamma’s love for Pareekutty withers in the fire of the traditions that her mother lights around her.

Karuthamma marries Palani, an orphan discovered by her father during one of his fishing expeditions. Eventually Karuthamma’s mother dies, father marries another woman, and Pareekutty is impoverished because of Karuthamma’s father’s clever manipulations. Frustrated lovers roamed copiously in the literary as well as real landscapes of Kerala in those days. They could be exploited easily too. Once you have lost the passion of your heart, wealth and other such worldly things lose their charm.

Destiny has its own ways of wreaking vengeance. It brings Karuthamma and Pareekutty together once again on the romantic sands of the raging sea. Rumours about their earlier affair had already tarnished Karuthamma’s marriage and Palani became an outcaste for no fault of his except that he married a woman who had had an affair about which he knew nothing.

The extra-marital romance brings about everybody’s ruin. One of the sacred traditions among the fisher folk is that the wife’s infidelity will kill the husband at sea. Palani who has baited a shark is caught up in a whirlpool.

In the end, the sea washes ashore the dead bodies of Karuthamma and Pareekutty. A little away, the same sea brings ashore bodies of Palani and the shark that he killed. The lovers die for their love and the cuckolded husband is killed by the sea. Tradition wins in all of these deaths. You should not overstep the lines drawn by traditions, the story seems to suggest.

I would like to look at it from another angle, however. What would have happened if Karuthamma and Pareekutty were allowed to marry and live together? What if their religions could accept the sanctity of human love as superior to mere traditions? There would have been more happiness in their world.

Even today, we create all the unhappiness around us in the name of some vapid traditions and superiority of one religion over another. Most of us seem to be incapable of accepting the sanctity of human love above other things. And so we create so much misery around us.

PS. Written for In[di]spire Edition 270. #LoveStory

PPS. Today is Good Friday, a day that commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus who asserted the supremacy of love above everything else.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Militant Hinduism

Religious nationalism is more dangerous than religious fundamentalism because it plays with two identities: religious and national. All of a sudden people belonging to all religious faiths except that of the majority become enemies if not traitors. The five years of Mr Narendra Modi’s reign have converted India into what some observers have labelled as “a Republic of Hate”. Muslims, Christians and even Hindu Dalits have been the targets of violent attacks during the last five years.

Anyone who questions such attacks and intolerance is labelled as anti-national. The only true patriot in present India is a militant Hindu who carries the venom of hatred in his heart. The Prime Minister and his confidante Mr Amit Shah also express their hatred for the minority communities in their speeches and even go to the extent of making venomous statements against certain states and regions of the country which are populated by Muslims and Christians. Mr Modi’s utterance about Mr Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest the elections from Kerala’s Wayanadu constituency ["Congress ke naamdaar ne microscope le kar bharat mein ek aisi seat khoji hai jahan par vo muqabala karne ki taakat rakh sake. Seat bhi aisi jahan par desh ki majority minority mein hai. (The Congress dynast went out with a microscope to look for a safe seat to contest and selected a seat where the majority is in minority)"] is just one example. Mr Shah went one up on that by declaring Wayanadu to be a Pakistan in India.

With such leaders at the helm of affairs, India need not hope for communal harmony. An American organisation, Open Doors, has listed India as the tenth most dangerous country for Christians. Three years ago, Humanists International described India as a “Nightmare for Minorities” and reported that “more than 600 known attacks” have taken place against Christians alone after Mr Modi came to power in 2014.

Attacks on Muslims and Dalits are perhaps even more rampant and are generally reported by the Indian media. Factchecker.in has reported that 90 percent of religion-based hate crimes in the last decade occurred after Mr Modi took office. The police seldom take action against the perpetrators of such violence. Instead the victims are further harassed by the police and government agencies.

A survey carried out by NDTV claims that “communally divisive language” in speeches by elected officials shot up nearly 500 percent between 2014 and 2018. 90 percent of those speeches were made by BJP leaders.

It is pertinent to think of what India will be if Mr Modi comes to power once more. The increasingly vitriolic language spoken by Modi and Shah indicates that India is going to witness more violence and bloodshed if the country does not exercise its franchise wisely in the ongoing Parliament elections.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Autumn’s Spring

My beloved writer Albert Camus said, “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” I have almost completed a book titled Autumn Shadows. It is my own story, a sort of autobiography. Forgive the presumptuousness of a very ordinary person who dares to write a memoir. Every person has a story to tell, I’m sure. I don’t know how interesting my story is. I had to tell it for my own reasons. Let me give a short extract from that book here. The memoir will be published soon as an e-book soon at Amazon. This is a hype that I’m trying to create in the autumn of my life when every leaf is turning out to be a flower, a beautiful flower. 

Here’s the extract from the first chapter.

Insects come to die in my living room. Every morning I sweep them into the dustpan from beneath the fluorescent lamp 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.
Life and death.  Both come from the garden.  The insects breed there somewhere beyond my purview.  The tulsi and the mint are nurtured by Maggie and me. 
We live in a rather small village named Arikuzha in Kerala.  Our life has been a long and absorbing journey from our respective villages through Shillong and Delhi before returning to the relatively pristine charms of Arikuzha.
“I came here to die,” I told my friend in the village.  It was just a year after Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of India.  Maggie and I were teaching in Sawan Public School, Delhi.  The school was killed rather mercilessly and much eventfully by a cult called Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB).  More about that later.  The death of Sawan threw me into a bout of depression which fostered in me a profound revulsion towards life.  I wished to give Maggie a sheltered place which she eminently deserved.  Arikuzha became the final choice.
“You will find peace and happiness here,” my friend predicted.  I found a job immediately.  Carmel Public School at Vazhakulam where I started teaching in the senior secondary section instilled in me a renewed enthusiasm for life. I struck a unique rapport with the students.
One of the first things I did after settling down in Kerala was to go through Albert Camus once again.  Camus’s Sisyphus was my faithful companion from the time I read the eponymous book in my twenties. 
Sisyphus is a Greek mythological figure who was condemned by the mighty gods to roll a rock up to the zenith of a mountain for his sin of bringing immortality to human beings.  The gods ensured that the rock would never reach the zenith.  Just before Sisyphus reached the top of the mountain, the gods would push the boulder downhill.  That is quite typical of gods. 
I read Camus for the first time when I was grappling with my religion.  The first book of his that I read was not The Myth of Sisyphus, however.  It was The Stranger (also translated as The Outsider), a novel about a man who is an outsider to the society because of his sheer lack of conventional morality.  I read the book at the age of 21 when I was a student of religion and philosophy.  A companion brought my attention to the book because he thought – I presume – that I was not very unlike Meursault, the protagonist of the novel.

Sunday, April 14, 2019


It is rather hard to believe that you get rewarded according to your deeds when you live in a world in which the wicked flourish and the righteous perish. You see mass murderers mount high pedestals and preach dharma to the people. Swindlers are winners and the honest lose out pathetically in the rat race that life has been converted into.

There is no morality or dharma in the universe. The planets may follow their orbits; that is gravity, not dharma. The stars shine; that’s thermodynamics, not moral benevolence. That world of stars and planets can also buffet you with storms and other cataclysms. We can take such cataclysms as punishments for our misdeeds: punishment from gods or the universe itself. That is a matter of belief.

In the world of belief, just anything is possible. Angels can become demons and vice-versa. That is the power of belief. Do you know about people like Joan of Arc who were burnt at the stake as the foulest heretics and then later were declared saints? Both the burning and the apotheosis were done by the same believers.

That is karma. You get burnt and then you get deified. Or you get burnt and you get demonised. It depends on who is in power. Look at Mahatma Gandhi. He has become a villain now. His karma has not left him even decades after death. Think of Nehru: he is still carrying the burden of all the evils that plague his nation years after his death.  His karma. Karma is as vindictive as its bigoted advocates.

So, am I saying that you needn’t do good things? No, not at all. That’s just mediocre thinking. The mediocre people assume that they must get just rewards for whatever they do. Such people kill other people in order to prove that they are more powerful. Most of our ancient kings were such mediocre people.

Intelligent people understand that doing good is their obligation. Obligation to whom? To themselves. Not to any gods or ideologies. Their hearts are restless until they follow their real, deeper instincts and those instincts tell them to do good. Their intelligence tells them that when each one of us starts doing good, the world becomes a beautiful place, a heaven on earth. It is not for any god’s sake that we must do good; it is for our own sakes. That is our real obligation. Karma will be good to everyone if we all understand that.

Friday, April 12, 2019


A teacher may never know where her influence ends. When I was a student at school, teachers were terrorists who relied more on corporal punishment than teaching. Hence the school was a dreadful place and I can’t recall any of my school teachers with anything akin to affection. I would rather not recall those days. I had some very memorable teachers at college, however. They are remembered more for their personal touch than their teaching though they were excellent at their job too.

As a teacher myself, I drew a lot of lessons from those college teachers of mine. I realised the validity of the ancient Indian wisdom which exhorted a teacher to know both his subject and his student. Both are equally important if one wishes to be an effective teacher. A good teacher touches the hearts of his students while imparting knowledge in his subject.

Imparting knowledge may not be the right phrase. An effective teacher creates eagerness in his students to learn his subject. The subject becomes an entertainment in the hands of an effective teacher. Learning can be fun; it should be.

Teaching is not just a profession; it is a mission. Consequently, it demands immense dedication, a dedication that transcends monetary considerations. But no one can commit oneself to any job unless one is also secure financially in a world which is run by money and money alone.

In the olden days, teachers didn’t demand any fixed salary. They taught and the disciples or their parents made sure that their material needs were taken care of. That’s not what the world is today. Hence asking teachers today to be “altruistic” is absurd. No one can walk into a hospital, for example, and demand free treatment because he is a teacher by profession. Nothing comes free in today’s world.

So the theme for this week’s In[di]Spire becomes slightly tricky to write about. “Who should be a teacher?” asks Kajal Majhi who proposed the theme. Teachers must be altruistic, according to Majhi. I would say it is not a matter of altruism at all. It is about the passion one feels for the job. That passion makes the teacher forget her personal worries as long as she is in the classroom. But the worries do not disappear magically. She will need money for dealing with most of those worries. That is why altruism is a poor choice as a motive.

Moreover, sincere  commitment is not something that other professionals can afford to ignore. Imagine a doctor who is motivated by the money he earns. He will be a menace to his patients. Similarly, an engineer who constructs a bridge can never afford to be driven by monetary concerns.  Probably, trade is the only profession in which profit becomes the ultimate goal.

With some students

PS. Written for In[di]Spire Edition 269: #teachers

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Lucifer and some reflections

Let me start with a disclaimer: this is not a review of the Malayalam movie, Lucifer. These are some thoughts that came to my mind as I watched the movie today. However, just to give an idea about the movie: it’s a good entertainer with an engaging plot, Bollywood style settings, superman type violence in which the hero decimates the villains with pomp and show, and a spicy dance that is neatly tucked into the terribly orgasmic climax of the plot.

The theme is highly relevant and that is what engaged me more. The role of certain mafia gangs in political governance is a theme that deserves to be examined in a good movie. In the movie, the mafia-politician nexus is busted and, like in our great myths, virtue triumphs over vice. Such a triumph is an artistic requirement. Real life, however, follows the principle of entropy: chaos flourishes with vengeance. Lucifer is the real winner in real life. The title of the movie as well as a final dialogue from the eponymous hero suggests that too without much subtlety.

Just yesterday the National Herald came out with a shocking report that an enormous sum of three lakh crore rupees was printed abroad in duplicate and flown to Delhi and Amit Shah used that new currency to help certain bigwigs to exchange their old currency during the Tughlaqian days of demonetisation. Something similar happens in the movie, Lucifer. A sum of thousand crore rupees is transported to Kerala by a mafia leader in order to bribe the state’s ruling politicians. The hero intercepts the three vehicles on their various routes and the vehicles along with all that money are annihilated.

One vital question raised by the movie is whether it is necessary to have affluent corporate people to fund political parties. Can’t political parties govern the nation without such funding? Of course, that would entail basic honesty in politics. Honest politics is an oxymoron today.

We have seen ever-increasing involvement of industrialists and business people in politics especially in the last few years. We have seen our public sector banks being looted by industrialists some of whom were allowed to leave the country with their loot, a few were seen with our prime minister abroad signing new business deals of billions of dollars while at the same time those people pleaded bankruptcy in India, a few others continue to run the show with increased vigour.

The movie also shows how the media, particularly the television, has been whored by the politicians. There’s a channel, ironically named as NPTV [irony because the actual NDTV is one of the few TV channels that retain some sort of integrity even on the face of serious threats from the ruling, Orwellian political party and also because one of the characters refers to NPTV as “24x7 news channel” disregarding any subtlety], which is sold out entirely to the IUF political party [whose flag bears an uncanny resemblance to that of the Indian National Congress].

The climax of the movie implies that only a Lucifer (leader of the fallen angels, an angel nevertheless) can redeem the country now. Is counter-violence really the solution for political corruption? I’m left wondering. Personally, I can’t answer yes to that question because I believe violence is not an answer to anything. Yet what is happening in the country today makes me think that there is really no other viable solution except certain annihilations. What guarantee do we have, however, that the annihilators will be angels albeit fallen ones and not monstrous terrorists?

If you can nurture even a cruel thought in your heart, you are a cruel person even if you don’t commit the act. Can annihilators be benign? I wonder.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Candidate

“Joe, get me the broom from the porch,” Mamma said.

It was past 8 o’clock in the evening and little Joe was afraid of the dark. “Oh, don’t be afraid, sonny,” said Mamma, “God is there to take care of you.”

Joe opened the door and said, “God, if you’re out there, will you hand over the broom, please?”

Mamma was annoyed. What a silly boy! She thought. The other day, when she told her that the milk came from the cows, Joe looked at the milk bottle and asked, “How can a cow sit on a bottle like that?” But to Mamma’s surprise now, a broom was handed over to little Joe who did not dare to step out of the door.  

“Who’s there?” Mamma asked concealing her panic.

“It’s me, madam.” A man appeared at the door. “I’m your candidate in the coming election. Won’t you vote for me?”

“Oh, God!” Mamma sighed.

“Yes, madam, I belong to God’s own party: the Punya Janata Party, PJP. Please vote for us. You know that we are going to make India a Punya Rashtra. The cow is our symbol, you know.”

“Is it the same cow that sits on the milk bottle?” Joe asked.

“The same, the same,” said the candidate eagerly as he stepped into the room and picked up little Joe. He gave a kiss each on Joe’s both cheeks. Joe lifted the end of his T-shirt and wiped off the kisses immediately with a disgusting grimace on his face.

She thought of her husband who might be in some woman’s kitchen right now washing her utensils or kissing the cheeks of her daughter in order to canvass votes for his party.

“Of course,” Mamma said taking the broom from little Joe’s hands. “Both of us will vote for Pee-J-Pee.” And she smiled at him just like her husband used to smile at people during campaigns.

“Thank you, madam. Punya people like you are the builders of the nation,” said the candidate folding his arms to her as if she were a goddess.

“Bullshit!” Mamma said as she bolted the door as soon as the candidate was out of the room.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Three books and something

Reading is one of the ideal hobbies. You can be all by yourself and live in a world different from the actual one around you which is likely to be quite unpleasant. I spend my free time usually with books. The one that is waiting right now to be read is Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Published in 2007, it is the autobiography of a Somali-born Dutch-American activist and feminist. It tells the real story of a fighter who “survived civil war, female circumcision, brutal beatings, an adolescence as a devout believer, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, and life in four countries under dictatorships” (from the blurb).

I love people who struggle and fight against the mediocre world that relentlessly seeks to destroy the intelligent, liberal thinkers. Ayaan Hirsi Ali belongs to that group. In the introduction to the book, Christopher Hitchens tells us that the oft-heard advice that “we should not judge a religion by the actions of its fringe extremists” is absurd when we consider the lives of real individuals who have been persecuted and/or threatened with death in the name of religion. What is the crime of such people? That they wish to live their life with intellectual honesty.

People like Ayaan Hirsi Ali inspire me.

Another book that has found place in my to-read list is The Illicit Happiness of Other People by Manu Joseph. It is the story of a suicide. South India has a suicide rate that is about six times the world average. This novel is set in South India and I am interested to find out how the author deals with the theme of suicide. The fact that it is a darkly comical novel is an added trigger.

The third book that is waiting to be read is All the Lives We Never Lived by Anuradha Roy. It is a critically acclaimed novel that amalgamates fiction with real famous lives. Rabindranath Tagore and Begum Akhtar all make their presence felt in the novel. I’m fond of such novels that blend fiction with reality or history. Moreover, I understand that Roy has a subdued style; she is a writer of great subtlety.

I’m writing this for Indispire Edition 268.

So there’s one more thing left. Do I consider reading habits that go beyond textbooks as the real education? Undoubtedly yes. I am a teacher who seldom sticks to the textbooks. I may take an entire hour to finish one paragraph in the textbook because something in the paragraph will take me to one writer and then another and so on. I go far beyond the textbook and students love it. Of course, occasionally this habit of mine has invited complaints from parents that I shake up the religious faith of the young students. My motive has never been to rattle anyone’s faith in any god but to make such faith more meaningful. Religion without soul is the most dangerous thing in today’s world. I try to bring that soul to the young believers in front of me. I try to make them question a whole lot of things which are absurd to any intelligent, thinking person. Books help me in that process. Books will help anyone in the process of making more sense out of life.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Sun and Shades

There is a saying in Malayalam, പാപി ചെല്ലുന്നിടം പാതാളം, which means 'Where the sinner is, there the hell is.' That is quite right because you create the ambient around you with your character. If you are a miserable creature, you'll create misery around you. If you are a happy person, happiness is what will happen around you. There are exceptions, of course. Saints, for example, create misery wherever they are just because they believe saintliness is all about misery for oneself and others. 

I decided to settle down in my native village in Kerala since I have reached the autumn of my life. There's something gratifying about dying in the place you were born at. But that's not the only reason I chose Kerala for the evening of my life. The perennial greenery and the moderate temperature throughout the year and the blissful monsoon were all added fun. 

But Kerala has changed since my arrival. Am I such a sinner? Well, I am not half as narcissistic as our Prime Minister to have such delusions of grandeur. The people of Kerala have been raping their lands, mountains and water bodies for decades and now they are paying the price for it. 

One such price that I've been paying is the intense morning sun right on the face of my house since the house is facing east. Now that the summer vacation has begun I'm at home and couldn't escape the sun by going away to school in the morning. So I got a sunshade fixed yesterday. Here it is:

In the north of my house is a my beloved cashew tree which provides much cooler sunshade. The summer has not affected it at all. On the contrary, it keeps growing inch by inch every day covering more and more areas of my front yard. People have to bow their heads now to walk in that part of the yard. I won't cut off those boughs. Let us bow our heads to the virgin green of the yearning nature. 

I planted two mango trees right in front of my house two years ago. They have reached a height of about 4 metres. That's good growth in just over two years. When they grow further they will be the best sunshades in front of my house. 


Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Plumbing Lessons

Most of my time was spent on the roadside near my house during the last three days. The water pipe had broken somewhere below the road and water was wreaking havoc in its own slow but relentless way. Moreover, many people’s drinking water supply was also affected. Finally the concerned authorities took note and the plumber arrived with his assistant.

The job necessitated digging up the newly completed road. The necessary permissions were taken and the bulldozer dug its metallic claws into the newly tarred road. The contractor of the road construction happened to pass by and gave vent to his anger. The plumber said he would just cover up the dug up part and quit the job. The village people were as angry as the contractor and both shouted at each other. I took the contractor aside on the pretext of showing him the extent of the damage done to the road by the leak and explained to him that there was no way other than dig up the road and also told him that I could sense his pain on seeing his road, which was more ours since we were the people using it, mauled and disfigured. He relented.

When the plumbing was done I understood how much work the contractor’s labourers had to put in to bring the road back to its original condition. Without doing that the contractor wouldn’t be able to get his payment from the government. This repair work was done on the second day. That night the water pipe broke somewhere under the road once again!

The plumber had laid the line in such a way that the pipe could be pulled out from the side of the road without damaging the road again. But that required a whole day’s work again. The plumber and his assistant displayed immense patience doing their job and I admired that patience. It wasn’t easy to draw out a 7-metre long, 4 inch pipe from its cavity at a depth of half a metre below the ground surface. And then replace it with another one of the same size.

When that arduous replacement job was about to be over, as the last ‘coupling’ job was being done, the loose ground slipped and the entire soil fell on to exactly where the plumber was connecting the subterranean pipe to the supply line by the roadside. My hands went to my head instinctively and I cried out in utter sadness.

The plumber recovered instantly. “Such things happen,” he said as he asked for a shovel to remove the soil. No complaints, no grumbling. I noticed that the plumber always had a smile on his face. Once again he started cleaning the entire pipe ends and then applying the solvent.

It is the same plumber who had shouted at the contractor to get lost the previous day. He could not digest what he perceived as hubris on the part of a rich man who came by a luxurious car, sporting immaculate white dress from top to bottom, and questioned him rather too rudely. What happened in the moments that followed taught me that a few gentle words can mollify rising temperatures.

The ultimate lesson, however, was the plumber’s patience with his job and its hazards. I realised that the man was a wonderful specimen so long as his self-respect was not rubbed wrongly by anyone.

Perhaps most people are good at heart. We just don’t know or don’t care to learn how to deal with them.  The three days of plumbing were very instructive for me.

An hour after the plumber left having phoned to the waterman to pump water since people were not getting water for the last three days, I went to the roadside to check if there was any leak in the newly laid line. There wasn’t any. As I stood there feeling happy because I was a beneficiary of the water supply system too, a person who came by stopped his bike and said, “The pipe has broken there.” He mentioned a spot hundred metres away. I rushed there to find a whole fountain rising from the pipeline. The plumber’s smiling patience rose in my soul like a sad sigh.

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