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Showing posts from April, 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. Ou

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 pretendin


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

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

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 o

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

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. Eventuall

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 Gand

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 g


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 sa


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 subje

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 sugg

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 sym

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 consid

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 M

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 o