Thursday, October 31, 2019

The ant at the edge of a leaf blade


Fiction
Image from Amazon

‘I often feel I’m an ant,’ Samuel said.
‘An ant?’ Meenakshi frowned in spite of herself. As a psychiatrist she had trained herself to accept any fancy, however farfetched, from a client without any visible reaction.
‘The ant climbs up a tree and moves to the end of a branch,’ Samuel continued. ‘It creeps on and on until it reaches the last leaf of the branch, the most jutting-out leaf.’
‘Then?’ Meenakshi was genuinely interested now.
‘It reaches the tip of the blade,’ Samuel stopped. Meenakshi could sense the angst that throbbed in his vocal cords. She kept looking intently into his eyes. ‘It bites the edge of the blade tightly with its jaws and hangs there. Hangs, not sits.’
‘What is it doing there? Just hanging?’ Meenakshi wondered.
‘Waiting.’
‘Waiting for what?’
‘For a passing crow.’
‘Why?’
‘To be eaten by the crow.’
Samuel was passing through acute depression. He was a lecturer of English at St Edmund’s college. He was 35 though he looked more like an adolescent who had forgotten to grow up. He was a blogger of some repute who loved to boast about the Alexa rank and the PA and DA of his blog. He boasted to his students and posted screen shots of his ranks on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
The principal of St Edmund’s college, Reverend Father Lawrence, was not quite chuffed with Samuel’s accomplishments in the half-witted blogosphere. ‘Even if you conquer the whole blogosphere, your future is doomed if you don’t get a PhD,’ Father Lawrence told Samuel often enough.
Samuel detested PhD which he thought was like looking for the meter of the dictionary or investigating Hamlet’s penile dysfunction. Father Lawrence, on the other hand, thought PhD ought to be the ultimate aim of any academician. ‘You’re floating on the evanescence of Alexa,’ he told Samuel, ‘whereas you should be probing the depths of the soul. PhD probes depths. Alexa floats on surfaces.’
‘Even if you conquer the whole blogosphere, what use is it if you lose your soul?’ Father Lawrence went on.
The question agitated Samuel. It scorched Samuel’s soul. Samuel grieved. But Samuel didn’t know why he was grieving. He didn’t know he had a soul.
Samuel, are you grieving over the acacias unleaving? Samuel heard someone ask him. The beautiful acacias on St Edmund’s campus had begun to shed their leaves. Their glorious yellow flowers had disappeared long ago. It is the blight acacias are born for: unflowering and unleaving. It is Samuel you mourn for, Samuel heard someone say.
Samuel began to see an ant walking up a tree. The ant was waiting to be eaten by a crow. It is the blight ants are born for. What about the ant’s soul? Samuel wondered. Shall I do PhD on the ant’s soul? He asked Meenakshi.
Meenakshi frowned in spite of herself. “Sorrow’s springs are the same,” she said as she wrote the name of an antidepressant pill on the prescription slip. The ant’s sorrow is the acacia’s sorrow is Samuel’s sorrow. Let Alexa sleep, Samuel. Let the ant grieve at the edge of a leaf blade. Let the acacias unflower and unleave.

PS. Inspired partly by Gerald Manley Hopkins’s poem, Spring and Fall.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Heart of Darkness

Watching the recently released Malayalam movie, Jallikattu, was a painful experience much as the movie was hilarious. The film has nothing to do with the savage entertainment by the same name indulged in by some people in Tamil Nadu. The film is about the savagery that lies deep inside the human heart.

Man is a beast, far more evil than the wildest beast in the forest. The movie tears apart the facade of sophistication that we have put up to conceal our intrinsic savagery. A buffalo escapes from the butcher's sledge hammer and runs amok. How the people of the village react to the situation is what the movie is all about.

Violence reeks right from the beginning to the last scene. The killing of a buffalo by a butcher who cuts up the flesh into lumps that are suspended on hooks in the meat shop is the revolting scene that ushers you into the terrifying and simultaneously hilarious darkness that follows.

Soon you are made to realise that the darkness actually lies within you. You become part of the mad crowds that run after  the buffalo with various motives. Many are greedy for the flesh. Most revel in the cruelty being inflicted on the animal both physically and psychologically. Even the local parish priest who orders 3 kg of beef from another butcher (since this buffalo's fate is uncertain) is a caricature of contemporary religiosity.

The priest and the police, the leaders and their followers, all are butchers at heart. You are there too in one of those crowds, you realise again and again.

You can be part of the lynch mob without being physically present among the savages. Savagery lies in the heart. If the darkness out there - in the lynchings, to stick to the allegory - doesn't arouse your indignation, you are very much there, right in the midst of the savage mob. The ideology you preach from there - nationalism or whatsoever - is bound to be painful and hilarious at once. 

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Cats and Man

Kittu established his place at home too soon
The great philosopher Immanuel Kant said, "We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals." I was seldom overwhelmed by love for animals. At best I would admire them from a distance. I loved watching certain animals for their ferocity and majesty. My heart would resonate with William Blake's admiration for the "fearful symmetry" of the tiger. I have often wondered with Blake whether the same creator made both the lamb and the tiger. But I could never bring myself to domesticate any animal. I never dreamt of keeping animal pets. 

Nevertheless, a cat whom I named Kittu walked into my heart two years ago. He had been abandoned on the roadside near my house by someone who obviously had not cultivated the sensibility that the great philosopher suggested. Even before I realised what was happening, I fell in love with Kittu. When I had to be away from home overnight, I worried about Kittu's well-being. 
Kittu got closer and closer 

Kittu is a great survivor. He learnt to navigate the rugged terrains dominated by rather cruel creatures called human beings. He escaped two attempts of poisoning: some neighbour who was probably annoyed by his frequent trespasses poisoned him. I got him the necessary medication both the times. Kittu was also attacked more than once with some sharp object. I nursed his wounds. 
Kittu could arrest my movement 

Nowadays I make sure that Kittu is well-fed before I leave home for school and as soon as I return so that he won't have to sneak into any neighbour's kitchen. He gets his first dole of milk at 5.30 in the morning so that he will be hungry enough for his breakfast by the time I have to leave home. Kittu taught me to care for someone without any selfish motives. 

Yesterday evening, as the sky was just turning dark, my attention was drawn by the loud cries of a small kitten from the same roadside where Kittu had been abandoned two years ago. This time it was a tiny creature that still required its mother's milk and warmth. As soon as it saw me, it came running to me, crying all the way. I gave it some milk. It didn't know how to drink it initially. It learnt slowly. But it couldn't drink much. It is learning now to drink milk. Hunger is a great teacher, I guess. 
Kittu is apparently not quite happy with the new arrival

How could someone abandon a kitten so small? That question worries me. Couldn't the owner of this tiny creature wait for a few days more, until it would wean itself from its mother?

Little kitten, who made thee? William Blake haunts me again. Did the same god who made human beings create you too?


Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Tenderness

Kittu in the sit-out

Maggie and I feel sad when Kittu, our cat,  is not at home to welcome us as we return home after the day's work. Most evenings he's there. He escorts us from the car to the door and enters ahead of us. It's his home. He belongs there. We like it that way.

What makes home really beautiful is someone waiting there for us. What makes any place beautiful is someone waiting there for us.

There was a little girl of UKG who waited for Maggie and me at the door of her classroom in the morning as we walked from the parking lot to the office. She would greet us with a smile and beam with joy as we patted her cheek. Occasionally she would beckon Maggie to bend so that she could plant kiss on Maggie's cheek. When the year ended and her classroom changed, she disappeared from our routine way. I wished she was still there. I'm sure Maggie did too.

Some people create a tender space for themselves in our hearts. Some disappear after that, they grow wings and fly away.

Sometimes I wish the relationships lasted longer. Last an eternity.

Even Kittu places conditions on our relationship. If there's no fish at home, he expresses displeasure by moving out and going to sleep on a chair in the sit-out.

I go and sit on the next chair and watch him watching me with his slightly open eyes. He then gets up, stretches himself, yawns, and steps onto my lap where he lies down making himself comfortable by burying his cold nose into the crook of my arm. I feel the rumble of hunger in his belly. His hunger becomes my pain.

I start the scooter and Kittu is all alert. When I return, he rushes towards me because he knows I  went to bring him his favourite food.
Tender moments 

I'm glad the cat extracts such tenderness from me. I'm glad the tenderness is not lost from my heart. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Choices

Leonardo da Vinci
Image from rfi


Leonardo da Vinci was an illegitimate child. However, his father was considerate enough to let him grow up in the Vinci mansion though he was not entitled to get any formal education. He had minimal schooling. His boyhood was spent on the Vinci estate and surrounding landscapes watching birds and animals, cliffs and waterfalls.
One day the little Leonardo grabbed some sheets of paper (not easily available in those days) from his father’s office in order to sketch the beautiful things he saw around. He had no teachers, no paintings to learn from; he was his own master.
Eventually his talent came to the attention of his father. Leonardo was sent at the age of 14 to be an apprentice of the Florentine artist Andrea del Verrocchio. Verrocchio taught much more than art to his disciples. Leonardo too learnt engineering, mechanics, chemistry and metallurgy from the master.
In 1481, at the age of 29, Leonardo was a master himself. The Pope was looking for the best artists to decorate the Sistine Chapel which he had just built. Lorenzo de’ Medici was asked to find the artists. Lorenzo never liked Leonardo because the latter had no knowledge of the classics while the former was a great scholar. Leonardo felt bitter at this rejection. He also hated the role played by sycophancy in securing success in life.
Leonardo decided to make a choice: a choice between bitterness and steadfastness, between failure and success, between rejection by others and self-acceptance. The choice made all the difference to his life.
Leonardo decided to settle down in Milan and be more than an artist. He pursued all of the crafts and sciences that interested him: architecture, military engineering, hydraulics, anatomy, and sculpture. The rest is history: Leonardo became one of the greatest masters of the period. Mastery was his choice. Our choices make all the difference.
“When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return,” said Leonardo. The sky was his choice. Heaven was his choice. He made himself belong there. That belonging was a choice.

PS. Written for Indispire Edition 295: #WiseChoices


Monday, October 21, 2019

The comedy called Savarkar

The self-proclaimed Veer


The BJP leadership seems to be determined to confer a posthumous Bharat Ratna on V.D. [no pun intended] Savarkar, if not elevate him as an interim Rashtra Pita while the original Pita is being assassinated again and again by the currently fashionable febrile nationalism. Was he indeed a Veer or a Bheeru? Who conferred the title of Veer on a man who tendered four apologies one after another to the British colonial oppressors and two to the Indian government?
India is determined to rewrite its history. Amit Shah has articulated that intent too clearly. Narendra Modi is shrewd enough to play it safer. In the original history, it is Savarkar who wanted to divide India along communal lines before even the atheistic Mohammad Ali Jinnah put on the robe of the Muslim Messiah.  Interestingly, Savarkar was an atheist too.
Savarkar propounded the two-nation theory in 1923 in his essay on Hindutva and later, in 1937, elaborated on it in his presidential address to the Hindu Mahasabha meeting in Ahmedabad. Jinnah embraced the same theory in 1940. The original father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, was starkly opposed to both of these atheists who fought for two polarised religious groups. Gandhi wanted one nation of many religions, many languages, many cultures. Savarkar wanted to be the bulldozer that pulverised all diversities.
That is the history which BJP will soon rewrite. Savarkar will soon be more than a Veer. Who conferred the honour of Veer on him is another interesting question. In all probability, he conferred it on himself in a pseudo-biography of his which he wrote himself.
He was a coward. He was characterless. Why? He tendered too many apologies to the British rulers and behaved like a pathetic beggar all his life.
He was first despatched to the Andaman Islands in 1911 in a case related to the murder of ATM Jackson, Collector of Nashik. Jackson was a reputed Sanskrit scholar who admired India for various reasons. Savarkar found a sitting duck in that gentleman and killed him. Veer indeed!
Within a month of reaching the Cellular Jail, Savarkar went on his knees and tendered his first apology to the British government. The letter found its place in the dustbin sooner than Savarkar thought. Then, in 1913, he wrote a very cowardly and absolutely characterless apology. “I am ready to serve the Government in any capacity they like,” he wrote to the British Government. He added that he was the “prodigal son” returning to “the parental doors of the Government”. Moreover, he promised to “bring back all those misled young men in India and abroad” to the British fold.
In 1917, Savarkar submitted another mercy petition, this time making it a general apology on behalf of all the prisoners in the Andaman. Savarkar’s fourth apology came in 1920 following a proclamation from the British King that the Empire desired to improve the relations between the King and his subjects. In this apology he promised to be a loyal citizen of the British Government in India.
His servile apology got him a release from the Andaman. He was transferred to the Ratnagiri Jail and then to the Yerwada Jail in Pune. Here in Yerwada, Savarkar’s spine broke for the fourth time when he signed an apologetic bond with the British on 6 Jan 1924. “I heartily abhor methods of violence resorted to in days gone by,” reads that bond signed by the Veer. He promised to “uphold (the British) Law and the Constitution”.
The Veer’s fifth apology came after the assassination of the real father of the nation with the Veer’s assistance. “I beg to submit that I am now 65 years old,” wrote the Veer to the Commissioner of Police, Bombay, after Gandhi’s assassination. He was in the Arthur Road prison for his involvement in the Gandhi assassination. He wrote that he had accepted the nation’s new national flag “even to the embarrassment of some of my followers.” He went on to say, “I wish to express my willingness to give an undertaking to the Government that I shall refrain from taking part in any communal or political public activity…”
Veer's followers today
Savarkar’s sixth apology followed the Nehru-Liaquat Pact in 1950. He was detained, along with other Hindu Mahasabha leaders on 4 April 1950. Within three months the characteristically cowardly apology came from the Veer who also went on to resign from the Mahasabha.
This characterless man is projected as a hero today by worse men. It is up to India to choose its history and heroes instead of being silly puppets in a ridiculous comedy that is being directed by two crooks.


Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Goddess of Koodathai

Jolly before her arrest



A serial killer named Jolly took the state of Kerala by storm ever since the police took her into custody a few days ago. She had fooled too many people for a decade and a half during which she killed at least six persons including a little child. She pretended to be a lecturer at NIT Calicut when in reality she had not even completed her undergraduate studies. She was apparently a very devout practitioner of religion in her parish. People regarded her as an exemplary woman in many ways.
How can someone fool so many people for so long?
Obviously the social, electronic and print media in Kerala celebrated Jolly in predictable ways. There have been endless TV debates on her, newspaper articles, and relentless posts on the social media. The jokes and trolls that descended like incessant bombardment on the social media revealed the average Malayali’s taste for the insipid as well as his latent cynicism.
The Catholic Church in Kerala was too quick to come out with official and unofficial statements about Jolly being not as religious as she has been portrayed in some of the social media posts. Why the Church should have taken these posts so seriously is not a mystery given the scandals that have buffeted the very foundations of the sacred establishment. Many priests, bishops and even a cardinal of the Church have recently been brought under the scanner because their cocks transgressed too many fences to feed on forbidden farms. The Malayali taste buds savoured the vapid tangs of clerical scandals with more relish than the fervour of their routine religious rituals.
I chose to remain a casual observer all through knowing the futility of questioning anything that has a religious flavour. I would only make a fool of myself by expressing any genuine opinion in a state where you are quite certain to meet the most virulent weekday social media troll leading the choir in the parish church the next Sunday.
I certainly don’t mean to make this a typical Malayali syndrome. Go to North India and you will find similar incarnations wearing the robes of passionate nationalists and pious lynch mobs.
Who is good and who is evil in this country is rather impossible to say now. What is good and what is evil here? Who is with god and who with Satan? [I find it amusing that my computer has capitalised Satan automatically while it left god alone.]
Jolly after her arrest
My ruminations hit an orgasmic climax when Killer Jolly assumed godly proportions in my weird [or perverse, as a friend suggested] imagination. Our gods kill with the same grace as Jolly, I thought. The floods and landslides that buffet Kerala with religious meticulousness these days have a supernatural grace. Lynching in North India has assumed a similar grace. We have successfully kept the people of an entire state shut within their homes for over two months with a grace that belongs to the heavenly milieus.
I live in Kerala where a flyover can collapse even before vehicles begin to run on it. I live in Kerala where sky-reaching apartments with paradisiacal elegance can be built and handed over to home-seekers and then get the judicial courts to order their demolition.
I live in India where millions of people can be thrown out of their homes and homelands in the name of infrastructure development. I live in India where thousands of people find themselves stripped of their citizenship every day. I live in India where a humungous statue can consume as much revenue as can feed a whole mass of hungry people for years.
Koodathai Jolly emerges as a symbol, a supernatural one, a graceful and gracious one, somewhere in the lurid horizons of my country. As flies to wanton boys are we to our jolly gods.




Monday, October 14, 2019

BSNL on deathbed



In a lecture delivered at the closing rally of the World Social Forum in Brazil in 2003, Arundhati Roy said, “The two arms of the Indian government have evolved the perfect pincer action. While one arm is busy selling India off in chunks, the other, to divert attention, is orchestrating a howling, baying chorus of Hindu nationalism and religious fascism. It is conducting nuclear tests, rewriting history books, burning churches, and demolishing mosques. Censorship, surveillance, the suspension of civil liberties and human rights, the questioning of who is an Indian citizen and who is not, particularly with regard to religious minorities, are all becoming common practice now.”
Vajpayee was the prime minister then. He was quite benign in comparison with his successor who strutted up the Rajpath a decade later. Today, that successor has almost sold the entire country to his cronies. The sales are going on. And nationalism is also marching royally all over the country with quixotic fervour. Soon BSNL and MTNL will be no more.
When BSNL was formed in 2000, it was making an annual profit of Rs 10,000 crore. For about a decade, it continued to make profits. When the 3G spectrum was auctioned in 2010, BSNL bagged it in 20 circles. Bharati Airtel, Reliance Communications, Aircel, Idea, Vodafone and Tata won it in others.
A year after Mr Modi took charge as Prime Minister, Reliance Jio entered the scene with a bang. A year later, Jio won the 4G spectrum and offered freebies to customers. When all the private players switched over to 4G, BSNL continued its romance with 3G. The government was not interested in improving the services of BSNL for obvious reasons.
BSNL has little chance of surviving now. The fate of about 200,000 employees hangs in the balance. We know who stands to benefit. The beneficiaries are already in the top positions in the Forbes list of the wealthiest Indians.
India is being bought off by these richest people. Six airports have been auctioned away. Another 25 will follow soon. 150 rail routes are going to be auctioned. Roads, ports, power stations and so on will soon become private properties in the country.
It is treason to question the sales. We are being told that the enemy in the neighbourhood is going to attack us at any time. That is a usual ploy to divert attention. As Hermann Goering, a Nazi, said, “People can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders… All you have to do is tell them they’re being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism…”
The country’s economy is staggering. More and more people are losing their jobs. There is unhappiness and discontent everywhere. But nationalist fervour helps to sweep all that discontent under its passionate slogans and mumbo jumbo. What if people are losing jobs? They will get more temples and gods.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Sanity of Insanity

Socrates accepts the poison
Image from masshumanities


Today [10 Oct] is the world mental health day. Who is mentally healthy and who is not? It’s not very easy to determine anyone’s sanity. Men and women who were considered insane by significant numbers of people eventually turned out to be geniuses or saints or something similarly eminent. Mahatma Gandhi’s thoughts and views were quite insane by the world’s normal standards. Joan of Arc was considered an insane woman and bunt at the stake for her alleged collusion with the devil before being canonised as a saint by the same Church that burnt her as a witch.
Geniuses and saints are insane by the world’s average standards. Psychologist-philosopher William James wrote candidly that religious experiences can have “morbid origins” in brain pathology. Religious experiences are often irrational but nevertheless are largely positive by their outcomes. Geniuses are initially perceived by people as lunatics.
A genius sees reality differently from the average person. A genius sees farther and probes deeper. He has a different set of ethical valuations and has the ‘insane’ energy and guts to pursue his valuations even if the whole world stands opposed to him.
Socrates was killed by people who regarded themselves as sane. Socrates was insane by their standards. He corrupted the youth of Athens, according to them. What he actually did was to expose the stupidities of the common people so that his disciples would live saner lives. Superior minds like Socrates usually fail to understand the fury roused by their exposures of the stupidities of the people who run the social, political and religious systems. Every time Socrates opened his mouth, these eminent leaders of the systems were shown up as idiots. The philosopher probably never understood that. It is most likely that Socrates drank the hemlock without knowing exactly what his offence was: that he was saner than the majority.
Napoleon was a great ruler. When he was asked how the world would take his death, he said it would heave a sigh of relief. Superior minds arouse the envy of the mediocre ones by wounding the latter’s vanity. Not only that: the superiority frightens them. So the death of the superior mind is a relief to the common man.
The superiority of ordinary leaders like our common politicians is founded on their position, on the power resting in that position. People may fear that power since it can be dangerous. But such fear is limited. The fear roused by great minds is different. That fear makes the common man feel too small, too insignificant. People like Jesus aroused this fear. Jesus’ demand for love was too inhuman. Too insane for the ordinary soul. Hence Jesus deserved the cruellest punishment. The sanest person was killed in the cruellest way possible.
Sanity continues to be crucified to this day. The methods are different, that’s all.


Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The menace of social media



Social media has become a powerful tool today in the hands of ordinary people. It gives opportunities to anyone to propagate whatever he wants. As a result, a lot of falsehood gets peddled as truths, reputations are more marred than made, and relationships may be ruptured.
I happened to watch a new Malayalam movie today on the theme of the menace of social media. I went to watch another movie in fact, but its timing didn’t suit me and hence I bought tickets for Vikruthi, Mischief.
The plot is based on a real incident that took place in Kochi recently. A man named Eldho who has a speech impairment suddenly finds himself in the centre of a whirlpool because of a picture of his that was taken while utter weariness had made him fall asleep lying supine on a row of empty seats in the Kochi Metro train. Eldho had spent the whole night in the hospital where his daughter was being treated in the Intensive Care Unit for pneumonia. But the social media picture lampooned him as a drunkard. He lost his job and, worse, his reputation. The plot hitches a lift on Eldho’s plight and moves elegantly and with tear-jerking sentimentality to a neat moral lesson.
The protagonist, played dexterously by Suraj Venjaramoodu, is also named Eldho. Soubin Shahir who is the mischief-maker plays his role exquisitely too. Their acting stays with you as you walk out of the theatre. The warp and woof of the plot are fairly well-woven though the shaft bars of the loom hit you again and again with blatant moral preaching.
The message that the movie tries hard to hammer down into the consciousness of the viewer is relevant and valid. Quite many of us make use of the social media without thinking of the consequences of our actions there. I have been bombarded with more falsehood than I can endure on WhatsApp groups particularly. I try my best to post links to the reality. People seem to take a particular delight in falsehood than truths. The movie is a remarkable attempt to draw our attention to this great menace.


Monday, October 7, 2019

Mastery


Book Review

Robert Greene’s best-selling book, The 48 Laws of Power, fascinated me no end when I read it about two decades ago. I found the book in the capacious library of the erstwhile Sawan Public School, Delhi. Greene struck me as a ruthlessly pragmatic person who knew exactly what he was dealing with. I was never interested in power, but the book taught me all I wanted to know how people acquire power and how power works. Greene brings us real examples, and a whole of lot of them from all over history, to teach us the intricacies of power.
When I stumbled on another book of his, Mastery, I ordered it without a second thought. The book is sheer delight. Once again, Greene gives us the lessons of mastery through real examples. We meet in this book Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein, Henry Ford and V S Ramachandran, and a score of other persons who were masters in their fields. We learn profound lessons from these masters.
Each one of us is unique and has a unique role to play on this planet. Greene calls it our Life’s Task. You are meant to accomplish a particular task in the time you are given here on earth. How to identify that task and accomplish it like a master? This is what the book will teach you.
Most people just float through life doing very ordinary things: follow a profession for the sake of regular income, marry and bring up a child or two, grow old and die. Aren’t we missing something vital? We are. We fail to be the masters we were meant to be.
How to observe and understand the world and your role in it? That’s one of the first lessons we learn from this book. Then it goes on to teach us the need for a mentor. “To learn requires a sense of humility,” says Greene. We have to humbly submit ourselves to the “people out there who know our field much more deeply than we do.” We learn from these masters their knowledge and experience.
The part which I loved the most is about social intelligence. I have been an utter failure in this regard and hence Greene’s lessons came to me as revelations. How to acquire social intelligence? Greene suggests four strategies: Speak through your work; Craft the appropriate persona; See yourself as others see you; and Suffer fools gladly.
The last two parts of the book enable us to look at the ingredients of mastery itself. Obviously, mastery is not an easy thing to achieve. The book offers no short-cuts. It shows you concrete examples of great masters who slogged day in and day out to reach where they did. What Greene does is to show us some strategies that the great masters employed successfully. They show us the way. We have to do the walking.
I found the book very inspiring and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in carving a niche for himself in this dull world of quotidian tasks.


Sunday, October 6, 2019

Monument to Romance


The Taj Mahal is more a monument to romance than a mausoleum of royalty. What is life without romance? Romance makes life worth living. Romance adds colours to dark clouds. Clouds without colours are like religious preachers without eloquence.
I visited the Taj for the first time before my hairs turned grey. Romance had not died in my heart in spite of the religious people around me with Modieqsue eloquence. It was the winter of 2000, almost four centuries after Shah Jahan planted his first kiss on the ruby lips of Mumtaz. The sweetness of the first kiss determines the lifespan of the wedlock. Kiss is a lock that needs no key.
The Taj beckoned me again and again. I don’t think it was the architecture that lured me. I am no architect. Buildings don’t fascinate me. Poetry enchants me. The Taj is a poem. The Taj is the kiss of the infinite lover on eternity.  
The poem of my life ten years after the photo above
PS. Written for IndiSpire Edition 294:#Heritage
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Friday, October 4, 2019

Coping with Envy

Image from Psychology Today


Envy is arguably the most universal human vice. There is hardly anyone who is not unhappy with the relative success of the next person. The tendency to compare ourselves with others is as natural to human beings as imitation is to apes. Do I look better than my colleague? Is my house more attractive than my neighbour’s? Does a colleague enjoy more reputation than me at workplace?
Envy is a wide-ranging feeling. At the simplest or innocuous level, it can be a trigger for self-improvement. At the other extreme, it can destroy ourselves and others.
If the success of another person makes you feel uncomfortable, you have a problem. If it prompts you to ascribe the success to sheer luck, political connections, or anything other than the person’s merit, then you have a serious problem. If it drives you to hate that person and do things that can damage him in any way, then your problem is hazardous and you need psychiatric treatment.
Envy is universal and yet it is a menace that has to be dealt with. First of all, let us see how we can deal with our own envy.
Stop comparing yourself with others. That is the basic remedy. You are you. Your only obligation in this cosmos is to unfold your own beauty by moving towards self-fulfilment. Your physical appearance, the charm of your neighbour’s house, your colleague’s superiority: none of these matters in the least. What matters is what you make of yourself. What you do with yourself is what makes the entire difference to your life and to the cosmos. Have you ever wondered that the infinite cosmos can be altered for the better by what you choose to do with yourself? If you understand that, envy won’t ever be a problem for you.
Most things that people accumulate around them don’t serve any significant purpose at all. Positions may make you feel important. Possessions may make you feel secure. Comparisons may boost your ego. None of these, however, will give you any sense of fulfilment in the autumn of your life.
If you feel that this is too sublime or unreachable, start with something simple. Start with appreciating the guy sitting next to you. Tell someone everyday something good about him or her. Do that for a few days and see the difference it makes to your life. You will see miracles unfolding around you. You will see deserts blooming. This is no exaggeration. I’m speaking from experience.
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What about others’ envy? How to cope with that?
Envy is invariably a sign of feeling of insecurity. People are seldom comfortable with themselves. It is that discomfort that makes them compare themselves with others. So the simple remedy is to take interest in them. Understand what they feel discomfort with in themselves. Begin to appreciate whatever good they possess, whatever good they do. Their envy will slowly metamorphose into a quest for self-discovery and self-improvement.
If that is not quite easy for you, here are some simple practical tips. First of all, never display your skills and potentials unnecessarily. Why do you want to arouse envy in others? You do your work and move on. Avoid ego displays. You don’t need other people’s admiration. If you do, treat yourself first.
Self-deprecatory humour is a panacea for envy. Look like a fool sometimes. Make yourself a fool occasionally. People love fools more than heroes. Not that you are looking for their love. Don’t. Love has nothing to do here. We are discussing envy. And we are being very practical. Where there is love, there is no envy. Moreover, love is not quite practical. So, don’t wear your heart on your sleeve. Put on the clown’s cap once in a while.
Reveal your own insecurities occasionally. People love weaknesses in others. Show that you are weak too. You may be a good orator, but you don’t need to leap at every opportunity in the office to enlighten your colleagues with the gift of your gab. Give the other guy a chance. And tell him that he was great. Or, if they push you on to the podium again and again, fumble a bit here and there. Be a little vulnerable.
Be a part of the group which you can’t avoid. The more you stand out, the more envy you will arouse. People don’t want exceptionally gifted people except for doing their work. Do your work and pretend to be just another mediocre guy. Your greatness will be noticed by others and they will secretly admire you. What you need is not their admiration but the secret inner power you carry within yourself: your power over yourself. Once you acquire that power, nothing else matters anymore.

You may be interested in Hypocrisy is a virtue

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Hypocrisy is a virtue

Do not sit up when others are lying down
unless it is to keep their feet in your lap
[Sorry, boys, this is just an illustration.]

“You’re a hypocrite,” an old mate of mine told me a few months back when I criticised certain practices of a religious community in a WhatsApp group of hostel mates. “You criticise the community and yet work in an institution run by the community.”
He was right. I left the WhatsApp group soon after that when I realised that there was an unbridgeable gap between most members there and me. But I didn’t leave my job. “I won’t be able to live without that much hypocrisy,” I explained to another friend who raised the same question this morning when he called me up to invite me to his daughter’s wedding. “Even a hospital in Kerala has a religion,” I said. There is no escape from certain facts and factors of the society. Hypocrisy is essential if you want to live in peace in any society.
Think of the workplace as a kind of theatre in which you are always wearing a mask.” I would have found it extremely hard to digest that counsel of Robert Greene [in his book, Mastery] in my youth. These friends who accused me of hypocrisy knew me only as a young man. They are not aware of how much I have changed, how worldly-wise I have become especially in the last quarter of my life hitherto.
I who detested hypocrisy as a deadly vice in my youth am now not only a hypocrite myself but also recommend hypocrisy as a virtue to those who genuinely need that counsel. I wish someone had taught me this in my youth.
It is unwise and even dangerous to be what you are in most places especially if you happen to have thoughts different from those of the majority. The majority of people are conformists. They make groups precisely because they are conformists. Religion is the most sacred group for them. Other groups are no less sacred. The dominant culture at your workplace, at the club of which you are a member, in your village community, or in any other social group is a fabrication of these conformists. If you are markedly different from them, you make them feel terribly uncomfortable and insecure. Insecurity is a deadly thing; it brings out the demons within people. Why do you want to waste your time wrestling with demons? It is better to pretend to conform. Hypocrisy is a virtue.
You can share your dissent and the comic as well as traumatic experiences engendered by that dissent with your friends outside the group. You can write about them in appropriate places, as I do. But never be foolish enough to create unnecessary enemies in any social group. Do not stand up when everyone in the group is lying down.
The most dangerous people in any group, with whom you should exercise hypocrisy as much as you can, are the moral custodians of the group. Self-appointed moral custodians of any group are people who suffer from severe insecurity problems. Anyone who suffers from insecurity problems is best kept as far from you as possible. Beware particularly of moralists.
People who have insecurity problems will never attack you directly. They are like snakes that lie concealed in the grass. They will bite you stealthily. They have valid reasons for doing that. They can never stand up to your boldness and potentials. They don’t have it in them. That is precisely why they need to conform with ferocious loyalty. Their conformity, its ferocity, is a shield placed over their insecurities. Your dissent is an arrow you shoot straight into those insecurities. No one will forgive you for such inhumanity. Yes, they will project your deed – however noble you may think it is – as inhuman or anti-group or anti-national or anti-anything.
Practise hypocrisy. Anyone can learn it without much effort.

Next post will be: Jealousy: how to guard against it

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Beat Writer’s Block



I wanted to write a blog post today just to beat my blues. Words refused to rise in my veins. When words don’t flow out of your veins, they will sound hollow. So I shut down the laptop and moved out to the garden. The weeds had overgrown and they were smothering my garden plants, thanks to the recent rains. Weeds are like your blues: they love to smother whatever is good around them. I pulled up my jeans, put on the garden boots, picked up a knife and a pair of gloves, and stepped into the garden. An hour or so, and the weeds lay dead in green heaps that exuded their heady tang. I stood back and looked at the garden. My blues had vanished long ago. Despondence is a form of energy and I had unleashed it mercilessly on the weeds. The garden looked thankful.
I relaxed a while breathing in the cool air that accompanied the setting sun. After a detailed shower, I switched on the laptop again. No. Words rebelled against my veins again. I wanted to continue the book which I have been writing now for quite a while. “Not now,” my veins said.
I remembered reading quite many blog posts in the last one week alone about writer’s block. Quite many bloggers had written on that subject and I didn’t find their suggestions really helpful. So I decided to launch my surfing board into the endless ocean of the internet.
Quite a few psychologists have studied writer’s block, I discovered. I found one of their suggestions very helpful. I realised that I had used it a number of times though I was not aware of the study carried out by the psychologists and their suggestions.
Write a dream sequence. That’s the suggestion. You’re not going to publish what you write. You’re writing something as you dream it while you are totally awake. It’s just a dream, something you make up just to unfetter you from your blues. You can dream about anything.
The famous novelist Graham Greene actually kept a dream diary just for dealing with his writer’s block. [It’s interesting to note that even a prolific and eminent writer like Greene had to grapple with writer’s block.] One of Greene’s entry began thus:
I was working one day for a poetry competition and had written one line— ‘Beauty makes crime noble’—when I was interrupted by a criticism flung at me from behind by T.S. Eliot. ‘What does that mean? How can crime be noble?’ He had, I noticed, grown a moustache.
I had used this method quite effectively many times. I once dreamt that I was one of the soldiers of Alexander the Great, one of the many that rebelled against him standing on the bank of the Beas River. The end result was a story: And quiet flowed the Beas.
Interestingly, I have dreamt many times as joining Eliot’s Prufrock on his historic evening walk. My dreams didn’t stop at being exercises to overcome the writer’s block; most of the time, they became something worthy of publication.