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Showing posts from July, 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

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 t

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

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.

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

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

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

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, fai

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

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

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 expe

Memories don’t die

Obituary 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 oth

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, o

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.” Mu

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 a