Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Destructive India

Yet another rape victim is struggling for her life in a state ruled by a yogi. India has a central government and too many state governments whose sustaining force is religion. Yogis and sadhus as well as RSS ideologues are governing the nation. Yet the country is going through the worst phase in its history as far as crimes are concerned.

When religion is used for committing crimes against a very large section of a country’s population, the result is a monstrous national entertainment. Crime has become the primary national entertainment in India. In a country, an enormous one at that, which provides little by way of life-enhancing entertainments, people will be delighted to have destructive entertainments. When the destruction is of enemies [perceived, albeit], the entertainment becomes intoxicating.

India is intoxicated with destruction and elimination. I think it was Erich Fromm who said that destructiveness is an outcome of unlived life. Unlived life – that’s what we now have in India.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

The Ruthless Pragmatism of General Takima

General Takima is a minor character in Nobel laureate Pearl S Buck’s short story, The Enemy. It is one of the lessons prescribed in class 12 by CBSE. One of the questions that students often ask is whether Takima is a patriot at all since he is driven by self-centredness to let an enemy soldier escape. Recently a teacher-friend of mine raised the same question in slightly different words.

For those who are not familiar with the story, here’s a brief summary. Dr Sadao, a Japanese doctor, is moved by sheer humanitarian consideration when Tom, a fugitive American prisoner of war, is washed ashore near his house. Dr Sadao not only treats him to the utter dismay of his servants but also helps him to escape in the end. General Takima refused to take action when the doctor had reported the soldier after he had recuperated totally.

Why does General Takima fail to take action? Is it blatant selfishness because he is Dr Sadao’s patient and may require a surgery too? Dr Sadao is the best surgeon around. The General cannot afford to antagonise the doctor by killing a man whom the latter had nurtured back to health. So he promises to take action by sending his private assassins to kill the American soldier and dispose of the body too.  He doesn’t do it, however. He knows enough about the American sentimentalism and that Dr Sadao studied medicine in America.

General Takima wishes they could “better combine the German ruthlessness with the American sentimentality”. The General is a ruthless man: he beats his wife and (apparently) tortures the prisoners of war. The doctor is a sentimental man in the General’s perspective.

Dr Sadao is not sentimental, of course. He is a paragon of professionalism and humanity. He cannot but save a human life. Saving life is his profession. He says repeatedly that he never liked the Americans for various reasons. Yet he gives his own boat equipped with all necessary things so that Tom can escape safely. His heart towers above his reason.

It is motive that makes our actions right or wrong, noble or ignoble. Dr Sadao’s motive is humaneness. General Sadao is driven by self-centredness. “The truth is,” he says when the doctor informs him about the soldier’s escape, “I thought of nothing but myself. In short, I forgot my promise to you.”

He chose to forget. That’s a choice prompted by the ruthlessness of his pragmatism. He does not forget to assert that “it was not lack of patriotism or dereliction of duty.” Is he a patriot? Of course, he is; he loves his country. Was there a dereliction of duty? There was. He failed to take action. He chose not to act because the only action he knew was to torture and such action would not go down well with Dr Sadao. The real problem with General Takima is not lack of patriotism or dereliction of duty; the problem is that he is an inferior human being.

The patriotism of people like General Takima is inevitably destined to be hatred of others masquerading as love of one’s nation. The patriotism of Dr Sadao’s servants who leave the house all together because the doctor is sheltering an enemy soldier is fear masquerading as patriotism. Most patriotism is one evil or the other doing a masquerade. And there is a ruthless pragmatism sustaining the masquerade.

Dr Sadao is the genuine patriot. He loves his country and is proud of its culture. But he knows very well that love of one’s own nation need not necessitate hatred of other nations. Dr Sadao is the superior human being.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

I’m learning

‘Can you teach a 55-year-old man to drive a car?’ I asked the woman who sat in the driving school’s office. That was four years ago. I had quit Delhi and taken up job in Kerala. Since Maggie and I worked in a residential school in Delhi which provided us with staff quarters on the campus, we had never thought of buying a car. For emergency, there was my ancient Bajaj Chetak.  

‘Why not?’ The woman gave me a broad smile. She was nearly as old as I was. ‘Recently a 60-year-old man got his license through us.’ Her son was the instructor and he succeeded in teaching me driving in a few weeks. I wasn’t quite confident in the beginning and even thought of giving up more than once.  My nights were haunted by spectres in the shapes of gear lever and other car parts. But learn I did. Eventually I bought a car and drove through the rugged terrains of surrounding villages just to reinforce the confidence that had found its way into my being.

I am not a reluctant learner, however. On the contrary, my WhatsApp status has always been ‘At school – always learning.’ I learn something new every day. It may be from the books I read [and I read a lot], from my students [and they are excellent teachers], or from the society around [at the workplace, especially].

My recent book, Autumn Shadows, is the story of my constant learning. Life has been an inexorable teacher for me. Even the publication of the book taught me a profound lesson: hardly anyone is interested in my life story. It taught me some minor lessons too. For example, a blogger friend of mine wrote the following review:

I learnt that people can lose their patience for very frivolous reasons. I messaged that friend on how to solve the problem the final solution being to return the book to Amazon and receive a refund of her money. That friend chose to ignore every message of mine! Friendships can be as brittle as that. But resilience is one of the many virtues that life has taught me.

I keep learning. Life is nothing but a series of lessons. And learning has no age limit. It should not have, at any rate.

PS. Written for

Another review at Amazon


Thursday, July 25, 2019

I want to love

Your eyes sparkled with love when you came
My eyes longed for the sparkle
But the sparkle was stolen long ago
By gods.

God, oh gods,
Why have you forsaken me?
Too many hues and colours you have
And no heart.

I have a heart.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Are Heroes Dead?

A question that has been haunting me for quite some time is whether heroism is as dead as the dodo especially in India. Heroes died quite a while ago in literature. Writers replaced them with ‘protagonists’. Protagonists are entitled to their peccadillos while heroes are not expected to have even a toe of clay. Not only Caesar but even his wife should be above suspicion.
Gauri Lankesh
Heroes must possess certain qualities. They must be brave, first of all. Gauri Lankesh was brave enough to question the atrocities of the mighty and the powerful. She paid for her bravery with her life. She couldn’t have been braver than that, of course. There have been others too like her: M M Kalburgi, for example; killed again for the same crime. A few like Sanjiv Bhatt IPS will spend their lifetime in prison.
Sanjiv Bhatt
Bravery is not enough to make heroes, however. Villains are brave too. Heroes are guided by an exemplary moral code in their personal life. They have very clear ideas about what is right and what is wrong, and they do what they believe is right irrespective of the consequences. Arundhati Roy is a hero by this criterion as well as the above one. She has displayed a tremendous lot of courage too.

Readiness to sacrifice their own personal interests for the sake of the greater good is another vital quality of heroes. Self-sacrifice has become outdated, it looks like.

I was gladdened by the news report that 49 eminent personalities of India have written an open letter to PM Modi expressing their anguish about the various evils that are swallowing the country these days. Even though heroes have vanished apparently, we have some intellectuals still left with us. Thank heavens for that.

Our leaders know, however, that intellectuals are as innocuous as the lily of a day that is fairer far in May. They may be brave enough to write an open letter sitting in the security of their posh homes or offices.  They may even possess a fairly remarkable morality. But self-sacrifice? As long as that is missing, bravery and morality will only limp and lisp.

When the British Empire decided to give independence to India, Winston Churchill made a very uncomfortable prediction that the enormous landmass called India with its infinite diversity would ‘fall back into the barbarism and privations of the Middle Ages.’ The monster of communalism which ravaged most parts of North India for months that preceded and followed 15 August 1947 proved Churchill right. More than seven decades after that prediction and what ensued it, the monster continues to rule India. The country does not even have protagonists to resist that monster, let alone heroes.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

I have to shoot you, brother.

Rampur, July 1947.

“You have lived your life,” Yakub Khan said to his mother. “Mine lies ahead of me. I don’t think there’ll be a future for Muslims in India.”

Major Yakub Khan was a young officer in the British Viceroy’s bodyguard. Lord Mountbatten, the Viceroy, had drawn up the details of the country’s partition.  Soon the landmass that the British called India would be cut up into three segments and two nations. True, the Pandit and the Mahatma had not given in to the demands of the extremists to name the new country Hindustan. True also, the Pandit and the Mahatma were magnanimous enough to let the new nation be secular. But a time will come when puny-minded people with small hearts in big breasts will rise to power and create a nation of heartless citizens.

“I don’t understand this,” his mother told Yakub. She looked out at the drive that led to their family mansion. Her husband was the Prime Minister to the Nawab of Rampur whose palace stood a stone’s throw away.

“We have lived here for two centuries,” she said with a sigh that did not suit her royal demeanour. “Hum hawa ki lankhon darara aye, we descended here on the wings of the wind. We fought, fought and fought. Your great grandfather was executed in the Mutiny. You are a fighter yourself. So is your brother Yunis.” She paused a moment and added, “Our graves are here.”

Yakub’s gaze went beyond the drive on which Rolls-Royces drew up until recently. He remembered the eminent guests who came to their mansion and dined in their capacious banquet hall. The balls and the music. A rich life, it was.

“Nehru wants to make a socialist country, Ma,” he said. He thought that would convince her mother to leave India and join him on his journey to Karachi.

“I’m old, my son,” she said. “My days are numbered. I don’t understand the present politics. I am a mother more than anything else and my desires are selfish. I’m afraid I’m going to lose you.”

“I’ll come back once I settle down in Karachi. I’ll take you with me to Pakistan, the Land of the Pure.”

He left the next morning. It was a beautiful summer day. His mother waved goodbye as she stood there on the veranda wearing a white sari, the Muslim colour of mourning.

He did return a few months later. But not to Rampur. He led a battalion of Pakistan Army up a snow-covered slope in Kashmir to attack India. On the other side marched the Indian Army to defend their land. Yakub could see the leader of the other side. It was his brother, Yunis Khan.

PS. This is history, not story. 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

These kinky rulers

I was doing a little research on the princely states of India prior to the country’s independence. I wanted to construct a reading comprehension passage for my students on those states so that the students would realise what a complex country India was when Mountbatten was grappling with the Congress leaders and Muhammad Ali Jinnah to determine the destiny of the independent India. What I stumbled upon turned out to be as entertaining as enlightening though I couldn’t use much of that stuff in a passage for my students.

Quite many of those princes were fabulously funny creatures. Their egos and their antics made me wonder how such caricatures become rulers [even today] and why the substantial part of human history dedicates itself to recording the follies and villainy of these cartoons.

Of the 565 princely states, over 400 were nothing more than fiefdoms of some 50 square kilometres or less in area. A good number of them were efficient administrators, no doubt. But some of those who presided over large kingdoms were sheer megalomaniacs if not sheer neurotics.  

The Maharaja of Baroda, for instance, used court tunics of spun gold. One particular family only was allowed to weave their threads. The fingernails of each member of that family were grown to considerable length which were then cut and notched like the teeth of a comb so that they could caress the gold threads into perfection.

This king also had a collection of fabulous diamonds including the Star of the South, the seventh biggest diamond in the world. His royal elephant was decorated with ten gold chains, each of which was worth 25,000 British pounds in those days.  He also organised annual elephant fights in which two elephants were made to fight with each other after they were driven mad by lance wounds. The fight went on until one of the elephants killed the other.

The Raja of Dhenkanal also used elephants for entertainment, but not violently. His hobby was to exhibit the copulation of elephants for public entertainment.

Elephants played quite a role in the lives of most of those kings. The Gwalior King wanted to install a chandelier that would surpass the one in the Buckingham Palace but was told that his ceiling might not hold such a mammoth chandelier. He got the heaviest elephant of his kingdom raised to the roof of the palace with the help of a specially constructed crane to prove that his roof was strong enough. He was right, fortunately.

The Maharaja of Junagadh was more fond of dogs than elephants.  He celebrated the wedding of his favourite bitch Roshana to a Labrador named Bobby by inviting all the prominent people of the kingdom and around including the British Viceroy. The Viceroy declined the invitation. The canine party cost the country 60,000 British pounds. That in a country which had 620,000 impoverished subjects.

Mysore Maharaja impoverished his treasury when a Chinese sage told him that crushed diamonds had aphrodisiac potency. Hundreds of precious diamonds were ground to dust and the potions made with it were fed to the royal concubines.
Bhupinder Singh of Patiala in 1911
Image from Wikipedia
Women were a weakness of all the kings. The award for maximum sexual delights should go, however, to none other than Bhupinder Singh of Patiala.  His harem consisted of 350 beauties some of whom joined him in the swimming pool, all naked, and served him whisky as well as entertained him with some of the most complex positions described in the Kamasutra.

All the kings of Patiala had a special bone in their penises apparently. Until the turn of the twentieth century, the King would appear in public fully naked once a year wearing only a diamond breastplate which had 1001 brilliant blue-white diamonds. His penis would be in full and glorious erection.  It was believed in the country that the royal erection radiated magical powers which could drive out evil spirits from the land.

We could go on and on. Our rulers were great entertainers, in short. As I continued my research, which obviously was not giving me the stuff for the comprehension passage, I halted to wonder whether some of our present leaders are any different.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

What Jonathan Teaches

Jonathan Livingstone Seagull is a short novel by Richard Bach. Jonathan is a seagull that is bored by the usual routine of life: eating, mating and sleeping. He wants to do something more meaningful. So he chooses to perfect the art of flying. The moment he makes that choice he is stepping out of the crowd; he becomes different from most others in his community. Soon he is cast out by his community. Jonathan goes on to learn the subtleties of flying and becomes a master of that art. He remains outside his community during this period of learning. Once he becomes a master, he returns to his community to teach those gulls that are willing to learn from him. He has more than flying to teach. He is a real Master.

We can divide Jonathan’s life into three phases:

1. The Novice. He is a learner at this stage. He has the urge to learn something new rather than go with the herd. The usual routine of life, what most others do without thinking a bit about what they are doing, fails to satisfy him. He seeks out new meanings. He forges new meanings, rather.

Most people are mere floaters. Most people float through life doing little more than eating, mating, sleeping and amassing a lot of things like wealth, possessions, and positions. A few are unhappy with that sort of life which appears quite absurd to them. They need substantial meanings. And they search for those meanings. They create those meanings.

One of the dangers, and a serious one at that, is becoming an outcast. The ordinary people don’t like the extraordinary which they perceive as an aberration. Ordinariness always wants to maintain its own status quo. It cannot survive otherwise. The ordinary survival has a cosy feeling about it. The seeker is seen as a threat to that cosiness.

2. The Seeker. The seeker has little choice but to stand out and move away from the community. Jonathan does that precisely. Of course, you don’t have to stand out really because the community will cast you out anyway. You are perceived as a cranky chap, an aberrant, or a threat.

Jonathan is lucky that his quest takes him too far from his community. Otherwise, they might have eliminated him altogether. Jonathan flies in the infinite skies, far higher than his fellow creatures whose mundane hunger keeps them close to the sea with all its fishes. Having conquered great heights, Jonathan cannot come down; he has to spread his wings and fly higher. Heights are addictive. Heights belong to the potential masters.

3. The Master. The genuine seeker eventually becomes a Master. He learns the great lessons of life. He learns, for example, that he and you and anyone is “an unlimited idea of freedom.” It is you who set limits to that idea. Your religion can be a limit, your nationalism may be another, your politics, your ignorance, your cowardice, greed, envy – ah, that’s an endless list of limits.

The Master has conquered those limits. He flies above them. Having conquered certain heights, he cannot descend anymore but has to spread his wings and fly beyond.

But Jonathan chooses to descend. He wishes to communicate his lessons to those who are willing to listen. Because he has also learnt that without love all those great lessons are quite empty. “Keep working on love.” They are Jonathan’s final words.

Every genuine Master has a tenderness within, the tenderness of love or compassion. Love is the climax of all great ascents.

Related post: What Derry Learnt

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Yogi and a Miracle

“My cat is dying, Swamiji,” Aravind says to Yogi. “Please perform a miracle and save him. I love him and cannot live without him.”

The yogi is famous for his miracles. He heals the sick merely by a touch. Sometimes he materialises ashes from the air with a wave of his hand and the ashes heal those sick people who cannot come to the yogi’s presence personally. Of late, the yogi is thinking of joining politics where he can perform greater miracles like healing the whole country. Moreover, yogis becoming politicians has become the style of the day. The yogi-king, Plato would have approved.

“Your problem will be solved, my son,” Yogi says to Aravind. “Go home in peace.”

Aravind is happy. It is not easy to gain such personal access to the yogi. Only those who offer fat donations to the yogi’s ashram get such access. Aravind had given half of his property to the yogi’s ashram and the yogi was mighty pleased since the property lay just adjacent to the ashram complex.

“Isn’t it the same cat that we poisoned?” As soon as Aravind leaves, Yogi asks Komal, his secretary and confidante and much more.

“Yes, the same one that used to steal food from our kitchen. That cat has a unique talent for sneaking into our kitchen.” Komal says.

“Solve that man’s problem once and for all.” Yogi says.

Komal understands. Aravind has not been seen in the world ever since. The cry of a cat continues to haunt the yogi’s ashram in spite of all the religious rituals that the yogi has performed.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Pen and Evolution

The fountain pen became history for me long ago. It’s more correct to say that it has become prehistoric since I can’t even recall when I abandoned it and adopted the handy ballpoint pen. The fountain pen was a mess. You had to fill it with ink every morning before going to school, a task which required much patience and an equal dose of expertise too. You couldn’t be sure when the pen would catch a cold and start leaking and dye your fingers and shirt pocket in blue.

The ball pen, as it was called, descended from heaven as a miracle some time when I was in high school. My first ball pen was one of the many sent from America by a friend of my father, a gift that came as a parcel. Though it was American by origin, it didn’t write quite smoothly; it had a rather too big tip, a rotating ball.

The best ball pen I ever used in my student days was Red Leaf.  At Rs10, it was quite expensive in those days for a student. But its refills were available for Rs3. Today my students use ball pens costing Rs3. They are use-and-throw pens because the refill can’t be changed. Moreover, todays Rs3 is a tiny sum compared to the three rupees of the early 80s.

As the last academic session drew to a close, a student gifted Maggie with a pack of 20 pens of the three-rupee kind. All red pens. I joked that perhaps the student was hinting at the teacher’s inexorable fondness for leaving red marks in the answer sheets of students. I shared those pens anyway and found them as good as the Red Leaf of old days.

Occasionally I receive high-end pens as gifts. I don’t like them, however, because they tend to be too heavy and rather unwieldy. So I give them as presents to students who do something exceptional in the class. I continue to use the simple five-rupee pen.

The truth is that I don’t use the pen much these days. I use red pens more frequently since that’s part of my profession. I use the laptop for all my writing purposes and the phone for all the reminders and jottings. The pen has undergone such an evolution in my life that it is on the verge of extinction.

PS. Written for Indispire Edition 282:

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Who stole my laughter?

Whenever I tried to be humorous, I ended up like that yogi who claimed to have ascended the highest pedestal of wisdom. “I’ll tell you whatever you want to know,” the yogi said to his chelas. A schoolboy took him seriously and asked, “What’s the orbital velocity of the moon?”

“What?” The yogi asked indignantly and gave a stern look to the father of the boy.

“Oh, you want something simpler?” The boy asked just as his father whisked him away.

The latest edition of Indispire throws a similar challenge in my face. “Look at life around you and write a post that makes everyone laugh,” it demands. And the accompanying hashtag is #laughter.  When I averted my gaze from it, hoping like a vainglorious yogi that some chela would whisk away the challenge, it came back with a bang and last night it disturbed my sleep like a moronic nightmare. “Where is your fidelity to Indispire?” The spectre in the nightmare sneered at me.

I expressed my helplessness, like anyone who experiences a nightmare, by writhing in my bed silently.

It was then that the spectre presented an array of yogis before me and asked, “Aren’t they enough for all the humour you want?”

The yogis had a wide variety of appearances. One wore a shining a waistcoat-jacket over his half-sleeved kurta, another wore a parody of the same dress over a very un-yogi mass of flesh that hanged loose from all over his body, yet another wore the usual saffron beneath his clean-shaven villainous mug. There were yogis and yoginis of various hues and shapes in that array and some of them had guns and bombs in their hands.

 The one who appeared like the chief yogi snarled at me and said that India was going to be a $5 trillion economy soon. Before I could wonder why he had to snarl even while giving a humorous promise, the saffron skinhead mimicked the promise with a $1 trillion economy for his fiefdom.

Cows marched on the highway in the meanwhile. One of the cows found a banana peel lying outside a garbage tank and started licking it. A skeleton of a boy rushed towards the cow, snatched the banana peel and started eating it.  All the yogis together rushed towards the boy. All I heard was a muffled cry. All I saw was the corpse of the boy lying beside the garbage dump. The yogis were marching on the highway promising dollars to those who stood on either side with admiration and veneration in their eyes.

I woke up, my body drenched with sweat.  I picked up the water jug and gulped down that precious liquid which was becoming a rare commodity in my country. “Who has stolen my laughter?” The little sparrow in my heart asked.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Memories don’t die

Father Thomas Augustine

Some memories run in your veins like a soothing feeling. They are left by people who have touched your heart one way or another. A simple gesture, a timely help, or a kind word at the right moment: that’s enough to leave lasting impressions on the palimpsest of our memories.

Today I’m destined to bid farewell to a person who left a few such memories in my being. An automobile accident has brought a tragic end to Father Thomas Augustine’s life. He was a priest in the congregation of the Salesians of Don Bosco. I was 15 when I met him first at a Salesian school in Tirupattur, Tamil Nadu, where I was a trainee for priesthood and he was a teacher. My memoir, Autumn Shadows, recalls how he made a place for himself in my memories. Let me quote the relevant passage:

I cried when I was diagnosed with chicken pox as if it was the most grievous sin on my part not to have protected myself against the disease which had already contracted two other aspirants of my batch.  I was quarantined to a room in the priests’ wing of the seminary where the other two became my instant company.  When those two were declared fit for normal life a week after my arrival, I felt lonely.  I had to stay a week more in solitary confinement, I was told.  But in the first evening of my solitude, someone called my name from the playground in the back of the building. 
“Come out,” the man said standing in the playground.  It was one of the Brothers who looked after the aspirants. 
“Through the door?” I was dismayed.  I had been told in no uncertain terms that I would not cross the threshold of the room until I was certified fit to do so.  I trembled at the thought of breaking the commandment.
“Not through the door,” said the gently smiling Brother.  He was one of the most benign persons I ever came across in my life up to today.  “Jump through the window,” he told me.
I was amused.  I thought it quite funny that an ecclesiastical person was encouraging me to break through the window to my brief freedom.  I was a very small boy then and my body could easily pass through the bars of the window.  I was in the playground with Brother Thomas Augustine in a moment.  We walked in the playground while all other aspirants were engaged in serious studies in their respective study rooms.  This ritual continued every day without fail until I was released from my solitary confinement a week or so later. I don’t remember anything of what we talked during our fairly long walks.  There is one thing that I never forgot in the years that followed: I was walking with an angel, someone who knew only to love. [Emphasis added]

I didn’t have much association with him after that personally. A few years after the above episode, Father Thomas met with a scooter accident and was unconscious for quite many days. I remember writing a highly emotional letter to him wishing him speedy recovery. In those days, I was still a student of priesthood and I offered prayer after prayer for his recovery. He was one of the finest persons I had ever come across, a gentle soul whose very presence was like a fondly caressing breeze.

When I decided to marry in the winter of 1995, exactly 20 years after my evening saunters in his angelic company on the playground of the Salesian school at Tirupattur, I met him personally at Don Bosco, Ernakulam to invite him.  His presence at the wedding added a touch of the divine to the function.
At my wedding: he's at extreme right
I didn’t meet him again after that much as I would love to have. But he always remained as a soothing memory in my consciousness.  That memory becomes an ache today.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Don’t fight with monsters

If you fight with monsters, you are likely to become a monster. If you gaze into an abyss, the abyss gazes back into you, as Nietzsche said. Stand in front of the mirror and see the beauty that stares back at you. If you don’t see beauty, discover it; wait in front of the mirror until it reveals the beauty to you, your beauty. If the mirror doesn’t reveal your beauty, you won’t ever discover it.

I know people who travel miles and miles in search of their own beauty. They go on pilgrimages. They ascend mountains. They traverse deserts. They cross oceans. And return weather-beaten.

If travel doesn’t make you younger, stand before your mirror and look at yourself again.

Your god is not in any temple, church or mosque. Your god lies in that mirror. If that god doesn’t smile back at you, you are a gonner. No pilgrimage, no religion, no ritual will ever save you.

Get back to the basics. Start from the scratch. It doesn’t matter how much you donate to temples, godmen, or even orphanages. What matters is that image in the mirror. Do you see a monster there? Stop fighting with that monster. Love that monster. Miracle is just a gaze away.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Romance in the Tombs

The tombs of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan inside the Taj

“Mumtaz, my beloved, my heartthrob,” Shahjahan was in his usual romantic mood. “My most noble, magnificent, majestic, unique…” he went on until Mumtaz put her finger on his lips.

“You silly,” she chided him mockingly, “they are the 99 names of Allah the Great. Even the burning passion of your romance…” She paused a moment to think whether it was burning passion of romance or romance of burning passion. Then she continued without correcting herself anyway, “… does not permit such blasphemy.”

“Hahaha,” Shahjahan laughed merrily and said, “Four centuries. We have waited here in this cenotaph for four centuries hoping that Allah would take us from here to Jannatul Firdaus and nothing happened…”

“Except that you crept from your tomb into mine,” Mumtaz laughed.

“And we created our Firdaus here in our tombs. What greater blasphemy could we commit?”

“We pour out our feelings, ya Allah; You only hear the words.” Mumtaz became poetic.

“I wonder whether He hears anything at all,” Shahjahan sighed.

There was silence for quite a while. “We might soon lose this Firdaus,” Shahjahan said remembering how Aurangzeb, his son, was magnanimous enough to bury him near his beloved though that was not in the original plan of the Taj Mahal. Mumtaz was given the central place with no provision for another tomb in the same chamber. But Aurangzeb, the same man who had incarcerated Shahjahan for eight years for the sake of kingship, had him buried next to Mumtaz. “Aurangzeb had a heart, after all,” Shahjahan thought loud.

“Present day rulers are not a fraction as generous,” Mumtaz said. “Back-stabbers are rulers and criminals are yogis because the walls and doors are silent.” Poetry came to Mumtaz quite naturally. After all, she was of a great Persian ancestry.

“They fly on gossamer wings whose warp and woof are the bones picked from the graves of dead heroes.” Poetry is contagious and Shahjahan caught it from his beloved. “They will excavate us too from our tombs sooner than later and call us traitors and marauders.”

“But we shall wade into the river of love, my darling,” sang Mumtaz, “and find the depths that will save us, while the surface will drown them in ripples of hate.”

“Indeed love endures when everything else shall be burnt away. Power and glory will bite the dust one day.”

“There is no god but love. This is our Firdaus, my lord and my god.”

“And my goddess, my love.”

Monday, July 1, 2019

What Derry learnt

Illustration from the NCERT English textbook for class 12

Derry is a 14-year-old boy in Susan Hill’s short play, ‘On the face of it’. He has a terrible scar on side of his face caused by an acid burn. He hates himself because of that and that self-hatred makes him hate everyone else too. An elderly person, Mr Lamb, whom Derry meets by chance teaches him the most vital lessons of life.

You have a scar, so what? Mr Lamb asks Derry. You have everything that a normal boy has: arms and legs, brain and heart, and so on. If you want you can be a success. Let other people say what they want about your scar. We can’t make other people shut their mouths, but we can choose to ignore what they say. “Keep your ears shut,” Mr Lamb says.

Keep your ears shut when required and start looking at life squarely on the face. You can’t keep running away all the time. Life has to be faced. There was a man who kept running away from risks. He was afraid that he might slip on a banana peel and fall down, and people would laugh at him. Or that he might fall in love with a girl who would then ditch him. Or that he might be kicked to death by a donkey. So he chose to shut himself up in the security of his home. “And then?” asks Derry. A picture fell on his head and he died, says Lamb.

Derry is drawn to the old man naturally. Lamb is an enlightened man who looks at the brighter side of things. You can see beauty even in weeds if you change your perspective a bit. The buzzing of bees can be music. It is a matter of attitude.

Miracles are awaiting you if only you choose to make them happen. Miracle is a change of attitude. Change your attitude to yourself, Lamb tells Derry. You are not your scar. You are what you choose to make of yourself. No fairy will come and kiss you to make the scar disappear. You have to give the kiss to yourself and make the miracle happen: the miracle of loving yourself. And then a whole new world begins to unfold before you.

People will become your friends. Friendship is an attitude of openness. You don’t even have to know their names and personal details. Friendship is the readiness to accept people as they are.

Derry makes his choice at the end of the conversation. “If I chose…” he stops hesitantly, though. “Ah… if you chose. I don’t know everything, boy. I can’t tell you what to do.”

Derry has to choose what he should do. And he does. And the miracle unfolds before him. “I want the wold,” he says. “I want it.”

Pessimism of the gods

There is a romantic at sleep in my heart who likes to believe that people were better in the good old days. The people I saw as a child we...