Thursday, January 30, 2020

Godse’s Mediocrity



Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on this day 72 years ago by a man who lacked the brains to understand profundity. The killer, Nathuram Godse, justified his pernicious deed in an eloquent speech in the court. I would like to pick out three of his prominent arguments and show why he was utterly wrong.
1. Folly of non-violence
Godse’s first major argument is that the right answer to aggression is violence. “I would consider it a religious and moral duty to resist and, if possible, to overpower such an enemy [who uses force] by use of force.” He went on to argue that mankind is incapable of “scrupulous adherence to these lofty principles [of truth and non-violence] in its normal life from day to day.”
Godse obviously failed to understand the very “loftiness” (to use his own term) of the Mahatma’s vision. Gandhi wished to elevate mankind to a higher level of consciousness. Gandhi’s was a messianic vision. He was not fighting merely for liberating India from the British but also for liberating every Indian from normal human vices. His goal was to liberate the human soul from its “normal” (once again Godse’s word) bondages to various vices. Godse failed to understand that messianic vision. Godse was just a mediocre person who was guided by the “normal” human vices.
2. Gandhi’s autocracy
Godse’s next major problem was that Gandhi was an autocrat who imposed his will not only on the Congress but also on the nation. Gandhi imposed his “eccentricity, whimsicality, metaphysics and primitive vision” on the entire nation by making use of fasting as a weapon. Godse went on to say that “These childish insanities and obstinacies, coupled with a most severe austerity of life, ceaseless work and lofty character made Gandhi formidable and irresistible.”
Ironically, Godse is right here. Here Godse shows the only flash of brilliance in the whole of his final speech. Gandhi was an autocrat in a way. Every messiah is an autocrat. Every messiah believes in certain absolutes such as truth, justice and compassion. It is this obstinate clinging to the absolutes that makes the messiah look like a social misfit and hence the target of the hatred of people with vested interests. Godse was a man with a vested interest. His interest was to create a Hindu Rashtra where Muslims would have no rights, let alone the privileges that Gandhi extended to them again and again.
3. Appeasement of Muslims
It is Gandhi’s appeasement of Muslims that led eventually to the partition of India. “When top leaders of Congress, with the consent of Gandhi, divided and tore the country – which we consider a deity of worship – my mind was filled with direful anger,” said Godse. He makes it amply clear that his love was for the territory and not for the people. The Muslims could go to hell for all that Godse cared. Their land should remain with Akhand Bharat.
Godse’s was an extremely mean attitude, not unlike that of any invader who captured territories, which was driven by greed for land and a desire for conquests. This greed is coated with the sweet covering of national pride. He thought that decimating perceived enemies was a sign of macho national pride. Gandhi was an effeminate person in this regard; he surrendered meekly to a crafty conniver like Jinnah.
Gandhi wanted people to rise above their religions to the greater values of humanism. He wanted people to understand the real meaning and value of religion. The kind of religion that Godse preached was pernicious: it divided people, it made people hate one another. Gandhi wanted people to love one another.
People like Godse never understood Gandhi. They were incapable of rising to the required consciousness level. Godse’s followers today still remain at that undeveloped consciousness levels. Gandhi’s martyrdom was quite futile. Mediocrity rules the kingdom now, pathetically so.


Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Bury the dead

Image from shubhzquotes


India is like a vehicle whose driver is always looking into the rear-view mirror. Our leaders and too many citizens are stuck in the past. They are always busy digging up gems from the past. It is nice to belong to a civilisation that has a great history. But to be buried in that history is quite insane.
Either we are stuck with the glories of the past or we are picking the errors from the same place. Glories belong to the ancient past and the errors belong to rather recent past: that’s the only difference. The recent past stretches from Nehru and his ‘dynasty’ to the Mughals. While the ancient India knew everything from nuclear physics to the Internet, Nehru and his dynasty were an ignorant and vicious lot that ruined the great civilisation of the past. The degeneration began with the Mughals, of course.
Whether the Mughals and his successors committed all the historical blunders is immaterial if progress is what we want. It’s no use looking back and grumbling about the ditches and potholes on the roads that we have already traversed. We should deal with the present if we wish to forge a great future. The present is all that we have right now. We can act only in the present. And action is what is required; not grumbling or nitpicking.
The past is dead; bury it. The future is yet to be; shape it. The present regime has wasted six years obsessed with the past. As a result India has become one of the worst nations in the world today. More poverty, more unemployment, more corruption, more violence, more hatred, an endless list of evils is what we now have because of our absurd obsession with the past. Too many of us are busy trying to correct the mistakes of the past. That’s a totally useless activity.
Liberate yourself from the past. Live here and now. Deal with the problems of today. There is no other way if you wish to create a bright future.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Happiness and India



India has got a miserable 140th place out of 156 nations surveyed by the World Happiness Report for happiness levels. Finland continues to hold number one position, followed by Denmark, Norway and Iceland.
The survey concludes that generosity and an environment which sustains mutual support keep people happy. The USA has the world’s highest GDP, the richest nation, but its rank in the happiness index is 19. Wealth doesn’t necessarily keep you happy. Happiness is a feeling created by people’s willingness to be of help to one another.
The government plays a vital role too. People alone cannot determine the prevalent mood in the country. The Happiness Report suggests that countries which improve civic engagement by making their government more representative will be happier.
India now has a government that has been promising us better days for about six years now. But the Report shows that we have dropped way behind Pakistan, China, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and even Bangladesh in happiness levels. When Mr Modi became the Prime Minister, India’s place in this index was far better: 117 in 2015. India kept sliding down ever since. Another four plus years to go under this leadership!
India should sit back and introspect. Is the present sort of nationalism doing any good to the country? Are we not on an entirely wrong track? What are we going to achieve by making India a Hindu nation? Isn’t it our duty as a nation to ensure better infrastructure and better standards of life to the citizens?
It’s a pity that India has leaders whose vision seems to stop at the ends of their noses. May better thoughts visit them sooner than later!


Saturday, January 25, 2020

Love and Compassion



Love is a kaleidoscopic phenomenon. It has infinite hues which can form endless permutations and combinations.
Admiration can turn into romantic love which can change into murderous love as it happens in the case of Othello and Desdemona. “She loved me for the dangers I had passed,” says Othello, “And I loved her that she did pity them.” Their love transcended their races. It offended quite a lot of people. But theirs was genuine love, a love that went out of oneself to the other, a love that embraced the other in an elevated realm. Such love makes the lovers grow further as individuals.
But there’s always an Iago hiding somewhere just like the serpent in the primeval Eden. Othello is a soldier by profession. The soldier in him militates against the lover in him because of the games that Iago plays with him. If he was more romantic than belligerent he would have probed more into the allegations against his wife. But that precisely is one of the most difficult problems of love: your nature plays a vital role in it. Othello chose to be a soldier first and a husband after that. That choice costs Desdemona her life. An innocent woman who deserved all the love that Othello was capable of giving her is killed by him.
Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra also loved each other very much though their love was more of lust than the kind of intimacy that Othello and Desdemona were capable of. Antony’s lust was a scorching fire that could “let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch / Of the rang’d empire fall.” Kingdoms are mere clay for Antony when he is in the embrace of Cleopatra.
But theirs is love too. A different kind of love.
Love finds a totally different hue when we come to King Lear and his daughters. Filial affection has its multi-colours as Shakespeare shows in that play like no one else can. Cordelia can love her father so much that she can die for him while her sisters are just the opposite. Sons and daughters never love their parents the same way. That love too has infinite varieties.
Love is quite mysterious.
Diogenes with his lamp
Source: Wikipedia
Compassion is a different thing. Easy to understand though difficult to practise. Compassion is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of the other. Compassion makes you go out of yourself and help the other. Compassion is perhaps the best virtue if you wish to create a better world. All religions should focus on compassion instead of the mysterious and complicated love.
Can you be compassionate unless you have love in your heart? Perhaps you can. Compassion can arise from understanding. Intellectual understanding can lead one to compassion. Many great philosophers carried much compassion in their hearts though they didn’t appear to be quite loving, let alone lovable. What motivated Diogenes to carry a lamp in bright daylight to search for an honest man was compassion. Or was it?



Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Celebrate the Diversity



You won’t find too many women in the Northeast wearing sari. The tribal people have their own traditional dresses and they wear them. They look elegant in those dresses. Those are dresses they designed for their convenience. Those are dresses that add a unique charm to the people.
The diversity of dresses in the northeast may astound you. There are over 220 ethnic groups in that one region of India alone and an equal number of dialects. All these groups have their own dresses, cuisines, festivals, and cultures. When I started my career as a teacher in Shillong in 1986, I used to have Khasi tribal food for my lunch from a small and only restaurant near my school. It was not easy to like the bland dishes with almost no spices in them. But soon I did grow to like them so much that I thought they were better than my own traditional foods. One thing was certain anyway: they were far better than the foods I cooked myself for breakfast and dinner. My culinary skills have not improved to this day.
Later when I shifted to Delhi I fell in love with the north Indian vegetarian cuisine which my school provided me. I still consider those veg meals far more delicious and nutritious than all the stuff I get to eat in my native state of Kerala now.
I have eaten all sorts of foods: Assamese to Punjabi, Bengali to Telugu. I loved most of them. I love this diversity in my country. I love the immense diversity of food, dress, culture, language, festivals, and a whole lot of things in my country. This diversity is what really makes India a fabulous place. There may not be another country in the world with so much diversity.
Why would anyone wish to pulverize all this diversity under a nationalist juggernaut? I wonder. What a boring country would India be if everyone from Ladakh to Thanjavur spoke the same language, wore the same dress, ate the same food, celebrated the same festivals and expressed the same opinions?
The present craze in the country to homogenize everything is sheer silliness if not infantile lack of imagination. We should learn to appreciate the immense variety we have in the country. We should celebrate it. We should showcase it to the world as a rare patrimony for any country.

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Menace called RSS


Book Review


Title: The RSS: A Menace to India
Author: A G Noorani
Publisher: LeftWord Books, Delhi, 2019
Pages: 547

India is passing through a painful phase, arguably the most challenging one in its post-Independence history. The nation’s very fabric is under threat of being ripped apart. It may no longer be what the Preamble to its Constitution claims: a secular republic among other things.
India has one of the best Constitutions according to many experts. That Constitution is likely to be dumped soon. Slowly and not so clandestinely, many of its principles are being undermined by the present dispensation. That dispensation is controlled by an organisation which dons a cultural garment: the RSS.
What is the RSS? Whose culture does it seek to uphold? Why does it claim to be a charitable organisation when it comes to paying the income tax? Why does it harbour so much hatred in its subterranean layers? How did it come to accrue so much political clout recently? A G Noorani’s “magisterial study” [as The Hindu review calls it] gives scholarly and illuminating answers to these and many other questions. If you wish to understand the RSS from a researcher’s point of view, this is the just the right book for you.
The RSS sprang from the conviction of people like Hedgewar, Savarkar and Golwalkar that India belonged primarily to the Hindus and that others, particularly the Muslims and the Christians, might live here as subordinates of the majority community who were the only rightful citizens here. These pariah citizens were originally Hindus and so they can return to their original faith [ghar wapsi] and enjoy better citizenship; better, not full, as they would be regarded as a special caste. Noorani says that today the RSS has enough funds to offer a price of Rs 5 lakh to every Muslim who returns to the fold and Rs 1 lakh to every Christian. Why the Christian is so cheap is not mentioned, however.
The RSS has a clear vision and crafty schemes. The vision is nothing short of Akhand Bharat, a grand unified India that will bring back Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to its geographical expanse. The schemes are already afoot under the able leadership of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Most of the institutions that matter in the country have already been infiltrated with RSS men. Noorani lists many of those institutions and the persons who head them now. “By the end of 2018, the Modi government had worked hard to turn institutions upside down, planting favourites from the RSS wherever possible especially in ones which would shape public opinion.”
Modi manages to get the support of even educated people in this process. It is “not because of their erudition but their appeal to national pride,” says Noorani. “The RSS injects an inferiority complex in the minds by playing on historical falsehoods and then pleads for restoration of ‘national pride’ by suppressing Muslims and Christians.”
A lot of evils are being perpetrated and justified in the name of that national pride, a brilliant phantom conjured up by the RSS. “The RSS was conceived in sin; the sin of criminal violence,” writes Noorani referring to the organisation’s origins. Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of non-violence was ridiculed by the founders of the RSS as effeminate. Gandhi himself became their greatest enemy. Just to defeat the Gandhian vision for India, the RSS joined hands with the British whenever that suited the organisation.
Opportunism is the lifeblood of the organisation. Any value or principle may be sacrificed if expediency required that in the process of working towards the sole objective of creating the Akhand Bharat. Today there are whole armies fighting this subtle war [not so subtle anymore] against sizeable sections of the country’s citizens. Noorani mentions many of them such as ABVP, VHP and Bajrang Dal. They know when, where and how to strike. They have also been taught that they are fighting a new Kurukshetra battle in which the majority are the Pandavas. Devious strategies were part and parcel of the Pandava arsenal.
Noorani’s book lays bare the entire anatomy of the RSS with menacing ruthlessness. Read it at your own risk.


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Joys of fishing in a bathtub

Illustration from 123Greetings


Simple things can give me heights of joy. Small things can move me to depths of grief too.
A draught of whisky with a fistful of cashew nuts can drive me crazy enough to hum a romantic song. A good book can enthral me till its last page. The little girl waiting at the door of her classroom in the morning with a smile and a greeting fills my heart with a vigour that sustains me for a long time of the day.
Life is full of small delights. Life is full of bigger disappointments. The small delights are life’s compensations for the big disappointments. Can joys surpass sorrows in human life? My experience doesn’t vouch for an affirmative answer.
One of the questions that someone raised rather casually and that gripped my fancy for quite a while was: Did Jesus ever smile? Later on, I replaced Jesus in that question with the Buddha and many others of the religious-saintly type. I could never imagine a smiling face of any of those religious personalities. They knew, I believed and still do, that human life was essentially a sorrowful affair. If you take life seriously enough as they did, your smile will vanish too.
I don’t take life so seriously. So I can smile in spite of the disappointments that visit me with relentless loyalty. I have been a staunch follower of Albert Camus’s view of life as absurd. One of the jokes that I have repeated with unfailing zest belongs to Camus:
An inmate of a lunatic asylum is sitting with a fishing rod beside a bathtub. The hook is in the tub. The psychiatrist is intrigued enough to start a session of counselling. He asks, “Hey, Martin, are they biting?” The lunatic responds instantly, “No, you fool, this is only a bathtub.”
That’s life’s absurdity, Camus argues. I know I am that lunatic trying to fish joys in the fetid water of life’s bathtub. The awareness makes me smile. The awareness makes life’s disappointments bearable, if not amusing enough.
This brief reflection has been engendered by the latest topic at Indispire: Share any recent happening that has sparked joy in you. #SparkJoy. Okay, let me share one instead of being very generic. A text message I received yesterday from a former student who was responding to my last blog post, Lost Sheep, sparked an extraordinary joy in my heart. The message went thus: “I admit the fact that u spread peace to everyone which I used to feel during ur class and every moment I spent with u sir… Ty [Thank you] for all those wonderful memories… Miss those days… Keep on spreading ur magic to the world…”
My classes are a world apart from my blog posts and so those who are not familiar with my classes but read my blog may not really catch the essence of the message above. I caught it, obviously. It gave me a spark, a much needed one at the time it came. Sometimes, the bathtub does give fish.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Lost Sheep

Image from Pinterest 
I mistook you for a black sheep
Whereas you were just a helplessly lost sheep
Caught amidst the naked thorns
Of mangled brambles and briars
In the desert with no oasis in sight 
You bleated your heart out, 
And no one heard you. 
No one wanted to hear, perhaps. 
Perhaps, your cries were smothered 
By the defeaning slogans of furious men
Whose hearts are stuffed with fossils, 
Whose tongues are forked with biting words, 
Whose breath carries the fumes of savage slogans. 

Let me release you from this thorny mess. 
Sit beside me for as long as you can. 
We'll heal each other's wounds. 
I'm as wounded as you are. 
We are both victims of the same system. 
I'm lost too. 
Though they call me a black sheep. 

Come, sit here, by my side. 
Touch me. 
Your pain will heal me. 
Let mine heal you too. 

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Dirty Saints


Fiction
Tony left.
There were only four members in the WhatsApp group. When Tony left, the group became 25% less.
Less than what? 3/3 is 100%. Vijay texted.
Isn’t it now ¾? Andrew asked.
What the hell is happening to Dirty Saints? Husain wondered after a long silence and never wrote anything more in the group.
Tony, Vijay, Andrew and Husain were the Dirty Saints, the renowned clique in the senior secondary school. After school, they all went their own ways. Tony took up computer engineering and joined Infosys, Vijay opted for medicine and became a doc, Andrew pursued literature and teaches at a university, and Husain joined his father’s business after graduating in commerce.
Tony was showing signs of frustration from the time Narendra Modi was elected the Prime Minister for the second term. His posts in the group became increasingly vitriolic against the ruling party at the Centre and its blatant communalism.
Ur Congy was the communal party, man. Vijay texted in response to one of Tony’s texts.
‘Congy’ was Vijay’s word for ‘Congress’ just as ‘Commie’ was for Communists and Marxists. Tony, in return, called Vijay a ‘Sanghy’.
Dirty Saints became a battlefield between Tony and Vijay.
Beware u Commie, Vijay responded to Tony once. How Tony metamorphosed into Commie from Congy remained a mystery, however. Trust me, a day is coming soon when a man will step out of the majority and shove cowdung down ur throat. Vijay didn’t stop with that. He added: Dare to make fun of a Muslim guy about his circumcision in an Islamic nation? U wont have head on ur shoulders. Respect the freedom u have in a Hindu nation.
Husain didn’t take the Islamic bait. He was quiet all through. He stopped interacting in the group.
Andrew texted Husain privately asking whether he was okay. I’m Muslim, bro. Silence suits me in present India. Husain answered.
Husain didn’t quit the group, however. He chose silence.
Tony didn’t believe in silence. Tolerating bullshit was never in his blood. Cowshit is no holier, he texted.
The name Dirty Saints was chosen for the group by Tony. All the four members were naughty at school but good at heart. They never harmed anyone. They didn’t bother about anyone, that’s the truth. They had their own private fun, private jokes, and intellectual conversations. They quoted Albert Camus and Dostoevsky, Albert Einstein and T S Eliot.
A decade after they left the school, after many holidays together, Dirty Saints WhatsApp group was formed. Now, a couple of years after the formation of the group, 25% of the group left, 25% is silenced, 25% thinks the remaining 25% is either Congy or Commie and hence unworthy of living in the emerging Hindu nation. The Hindu nation is for holy saints? Andrew keeps wondering.

PS. I must acknowledge my gratitude to Thomas Kuriakose for forming a WhatsApp group of some old friends including me and suggesting the name Dirty Saints in one of his comments. I also acknowledge my old student Gulshan Parmar’s contribution to one of the texts quoted in the story. I dedicate this story to Prakash Kumar whose brief conversation today on FB Messenger triggered this writing.


Wednesday, January 8, 2020

How history will remember Modi


Faces of chicanery


History belongs to the dead. History resurrects the dead from their graves again and again. With love sometimes and with vengeance more often. See how the present dispensation in India keeps resurrecting Jawaharlal Nehru and a few others with vengeance. The same dispensation goes out of the way to give a new history to Nathuram Godse and a few others. How will this dispensation be remembered when its time runs out sooner or later?
Ashoka died 2250 years ago. History still recalls him as a great ruler who learnt some of the profoundest lessons of life from a huge mistake. His territorial ambitions cost more than 100,000 deaths and 150,000 deportations. His ambition melted in the furnace of the grief that he had set on flame. He learnt great lessons like “Dharma (means) having few faults and many good deeds, mercy, charity, truthfulness and purity” [Major Pillar Edict No 2].
Very few conquerors learn lessons like Ashoka. Conquerors are usually blind, blinded by their ambition. Add to that ambition the lust for power, fame, and ostentation, and the blindness becomes incurable and absolute. Will history remember Mr Narendra Modi as one such conqueror who was absolutely blind?
Mr Modi’s contributions to the nation hitherto seem to indicate precisely that. One can understand ambition. Lust for power, fame and luxury is quite human too. But chicanery?
Mr Modi grew up in an organisation that had no qualms about manipulating anything for achieving its purposes. The RSS pledged its enthusiastic cooperation to the British empire time and again with the sole purpose of defeating the Congress because it couldn’t accept the secularism of people like Nehru. It jettisoned a whole nation’s struggle for independence merely for decimating a rival organisation.
The RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha opposed the Congress’s Quit India Resolution of 8 Aug 1942. Syama Prasad Mookerjee (founder of Jana Sangh and acolyte of V D Savarkar) wrote to the Governor of Bengal Sir John Herbert on 26 July 1942 advising him to crush the revolt which had begun to brew under the aegis of the Congress. The RSS and its satellites cooperated with the British just to defeat the Congress.
Today the same Mookerjee and Savarkar and a whole lot of others are being resurrected by Modi and his men (and a few stray women too) to browbeat the giants of India’s freedom struggle into beating a retreat. Distorting history is a potent tool. But it is nothing short of chicanery.
The chicanery of the present dispensation is all too obvious in the speeches delivered by its leaders. They tell something and do something else. They tell something and mean something else. They are masters of deception and fraudulence. They know how to get their followers to deliver blows of various types to enemies: in social medias, in university campuses, on roadsides, in marketplaces, just anywhere. The followers come in the garb of gau rakshaks, dharma rakshaks, culture guadians, student activists, or even plain goons.
Does history forgive chicanery easily? If you don’t know the answer yet, you can wait for a few more years and revisit the Modi era in India.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Country roads, take me home



One of the favourite songs of my youth was ‘Take me home country roads’ by John Denver. I was a denizen of Shillong in those days. Shillong had uncanny knack for making people feel out of place. The place made me feel like a second-class citizen all through the 15 years of my subsistence there. [One of the chapters of my memoirs, Autumn Shadows, has that title: ‘Second-class citizen’.] It’s only natural that I yearned for a better place, one that made me feel at home.
Why didn’t I leave the place sooner than I did? That is one of the mysteries of life. Destiny. Probably, I was scared of venturing out to a new place. Probably, I lacked the confidence that I would find a good job elsewhere. When I left Shillong finally, it was more out of a compulsion than my choice. I was ejected, so to say.
I spent the next decade and a half in Delhi, the place which I didn’t want to leave until my retirement. I liked Delhi for various reasons. It left you alone, for one. Delhi was the least bothered about your religious inclinations or disinclinations, your political views, your intellectual stands, and so on. Everyone was busy doing their own things. I was lost in that vast multitude of people. I savoured the anonymity.
The autumn of my life took me to my village. I wanted a relaxed life. I thought my native place was the place I belonged to. Rather, maybe, I longed to belong there. Now, five years after my rendezvous with my birthplace, I wonder whether this was what I wanted.
I don’t mind making another choice now. Even my age doesn’t deter me. The other day an old student of mine rang me from Japan and told me that English teachers were in demand in that country. “Age is just a number, sir,” he said with a laugh. I laughed too. Age hasn’t started bothering me yet. “You need to pass a simple test in Japanese language,” he added. “Just elementary knowledge. Most of the Japanese don’t know English beyond the rudimentary things.” That put me off. I am not going to work with the mystifying shapes of the Japanese alphabet now.
A friend whom I met quite by chance the other day told me about teaching jobs in Thailand. I toyed with that too. I think somewhere in a dark corner of my heart, Thailand awakens occasionally like Denver’s country roads.
Your place chooses you, I think, rather than the other way around. Delhi chose me as no other place has done so far. Now with all that’s happening in the country, my heart longs for an escape. Longs for “the place I belong.” Somewhere “dark and dusty” with a “misty taste of moonshine” and perhaps a “teardrop in my eye.”
I have quite a few friends, relatives and old students who live abroad. From Australia to Canada, from Nigeria to Saudi Arabia, a lot of countries have been chosen by these people to settle down. They have given me the impression that they are happy there. Most of them have told me in no uncertain terms that they are happier there than here. Patriotism is a different sentiment altogether.
I find myself longing for a change. That’s why I suggested the topic for this week’s Indispire:


Sunday, January 5, 2020

Love’s Victim



Book Review

“Nothing cripples a human being more than unrequited love,” says the narrator of An Orchestra of Minorities, the new novel from Chigozie Obioma. Unrequited love is the central theme of the novel. Chinonso, the protagonist, is “a small, lonely man whose only sin [is] that he was hungry for companionship.”
Chinonso is a young chicken-farmer in a village in Nigeria. One night, as he is returning home with a few new chickens, he saves a young woman named Ndali from suicide. Ndali was ditched by the man whom she loved very much and helped to study. “Nothing, nothing should make someone fall inside the river and die. Nothing.” That’s what Chinonso tells Ndali.
He meets Ndali again some time later at a petrol pump. Eventually they fall in love. But Ndali is the daughter of a chief who lives in a palatial house. Ndali and her family belong to an entirely different social and economic class. Her father and brother oppose her affair with Chinonso. They insult him after inviting him to the father’s birthday party.
Chinonso decides to improve his class by attending the university and acquiring a degree which will help him secure a job that will elevate his social standing. He sells his entire property and goes to Cyprus to attend the university. But he is cheated by Jamike who promised to help him get admission to the university. Jamike vanishes with almost all the money.
In Cyprus, Chinonso is arrested for a crime he did not commit. He undergoes much tribulation as a prisoner. A few years later, his innocence becomes clear and he is released. Does Ndali wait for him still?
The novel draws to a tragic end as Chinonso is unable to deal with his inner emptiness. All the suffering has not taught him the necessary lessons of life. Jamike, in the meanwhile, has reformed himself. He is a pastor now. He returns most of the money he had stolen from Chinonso. It’s not money that will make life meaningful, however. Chinonso needs love. The love of Jesus Christ that Jamike offers is too abstract for Chinonso. He wants earthly love, palpable love.
The novel is written in the mythic style of the Igbo tradition to which the author and the characters belong. That adds a unique charm to it. This is a novel that will keep you engaged to the end.



Thursday, January 2, 2020

The New Year is a Prayer

Image from jasonwahler.com


A prayer that has fascinated me for decades is Dr Rheinhold Neibuhr’s Serenity Prayer that Alcoholics Anonymous teaches its members. I came across this prayer in late 1970s and it has remained in my heart until today.
I don’t claim I have attained the serenity that the prayer offers. I have learnt to accept the things I cannot change. I keep changing the things I can. I hope I know the difference between what can be changed and what can’t.
I don’t much seek to change the external reality. There’s very little that I can do about that. I’m just an ordinary mortal in a very complex and complicated country that is governed by people who are too powerful for anyone to influence. I wish I could change a lot of things around me. If God appeared and gave me a boon to change what I wanted, my list would be quite endless.
But I know that even God is helpless in this regard. Does God weep over what people do in His name? Well, I don’t believe in any anthropomorphic god. So my prayer is not addressed to such a god at all. My god resides in my heart. He is a spark that lights up the dark ways that I am destined to tread here on this sad planet. He is the serenity and the wisdom that the prayer offers. He is not ‘he’, in fact.
As I plod on this weary way called life, moving into yet another new year, I feel I have arrived at a turning point. I am confronted with a choice. If I do the same things I did last year, I will get the same results. I don’t want those results, however. I need to take a less trodden path. That is the challenge the new year offers me. The new year metamorphoses into a prayer in the core of my being.