Monday, March 30, 2020

God’s Penis


The Covid-19 lockdown in the country had reached the fifth day and the day was drawing sluggishly to an Eliotean twilight that was spread out like a patient etherised upon a surgery desk. Days were horrors now. Eat and sleep, and watch the TV during the intervals. There was nothing else to do. He couldn’t even sleep now. He realised that he was no incarnation of Kumbhakarna or Rip Van Winkle. He was Martin, English teacher at a CBSE school.

John and Tom were also feeling equally restless in their own homes which were not far from Martin’s. They used to have weekend flings together over a bottle of McDowell brandy. John had given up his lucrative job as the branch manager of a Dubai firm and taken to tapping rubber in his village. Tom’s furniture shop in the city was closed due to what he called the ‘Coronation of China’.

“Hey, there’s a bottle of JD available,” Tom said on phone.
“What’s JD?” Martin wondered.
“Jack Daniel’s, man. Top class whiskey. Aren’t you a teacher? Shouldn’t you do it in class once in a while?”
Eliot’s patient stirred. The totally deserted street outside grew dark.
“We’ll have to pool in the money,” Tom added. “That ex-military guy is ready to give.”
“Is John interested?”
“Yeah. What’s more, he wants to know whether God has a penis. That was the topic of his contemplation during the Coronation of China.”
Martin laughed. Then he whistled.

The party was always held at John’s place since he lived all alone. He was a bachelor because he believed that other people, particularly women, are viruses. He was in love with a girl while they were at school. They were all classmates: Tom, John and Martin, and that girl who became John’s proto-virus. She didn’t ever know that John was in love with her. So she married somebody else and John remained a bachelor.

“John is returning to the fold like the lost sheep being redeemed or the prodigal son repenting,” Tom said after the first shot of JD.
“Why? Has he found God’s penis?” Martin asked.
“Is God a man?” John asked.
“You’d prefer a god with a vagina?” Tom asked.

Tom was a devout Catholic. He was the only devout Catholic in the group. Martin attended the church for his children’s sake. “In case they want to marry in the church.” John never attended the church. He was the potential Buddha of the group.

“A god with a vagina.” John laughed. “Just imagine the Bible then. God with a vagina creates Eve in Her image. Let us make womankind in our image, God said, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. Then you two wouldn’t be sitting here with me gulping down Jack Daniel’s, your wives would be. And you’d be home cooking dinner for the family.” John’s laughter rang among his rubber trees and the branches swayed in the darkness.

“Like Antony Flew, John will rediscover the real God one day,” Tom prophesied. He pretended not to be serious. He was always like that. He made everything sound like a joke but he was dead serious about everything.
“What’s that flu in the time of corona?” Martin asked.
“Is that the atheist-turned-believer guy?” John asked.
“The rubber tapper is more knowledgeable than the CBSE teacher,” Tom mocked.
“To John the Enlightened.” Martin raised a toast.
“What I learnt is that one Malayali guy named Roy Abraham Varghese abducted the philosopher’s brain in the latter’s old age,” John said. Sometimes John’s diction became philosophical. It meant he was serious.
“His last book, There is a God, was co-written by Roy Abraham Varghese, that’s true. But when critics hinted at Flew’s senility, the philosopher issued a statement that the book contained his own views, not Varghese’s.” Tom explained.
“And the statement was written by Varghese,” said Martin.
“Of course,” said John, “Flew was unable to write anything at that age of 84.”
“You mean he turned the tables of his religion at the age of 84?” Martin asked. He was serious.
“Yup,” John said.
“Then that Varghese chap must be the brain behind it. Roman Catholic, Syrian Catholic, Syro-Malabari brain.” Martin said conclusively.

“Hey, something’s not right with that migrant road show at Paippadu, looks like,” Tom drew the others’ attention to the TV that had remained on all along though no one was watching it.
“We know who are behind this agitation,” the district collector was saying, “we’ll get them soon enough.”

“Another Malayali brain,” said Tom looking at Martin, “not Roman Catholic, Syrian Catholic, Syro-Malabari type must be behind it.”
“The same, it’s the same brain,” Martin said. “It’s another abduction of history, this time the highwayman took the place of the theologian, that’s all.”
“Imagine it was a highwaywoman,” John said taking another swig of Jack Daniel's. 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

What makes Kerala different

Malankara Dam's reservoir [in Kerala, a few km from my house]

Kerala is quite different from the other states in India. The difference is not just about literacy or economic development or health infrastructure. There is much else that marks out Kerala as unique.

Kerala’s religious demography comes to mind first. According to the 2011 census, 55% of people in Kerala are Hindus, 27% are Muslims and 18% are Christians. Yet Kerala is seen by a lot of Indians as a Christian state if only because the state consistently opposed the kind of communal politics played by the BJP. Even Mr Modi’s histrionics failed to move the Malayali hearts.

Mr Modi took his own revenge on the state too. Kerala was hit by severe floods in 2018 and 2019. The Modi government pretended not to see the devastation. Even the state government’s pleas for deserved assistance in a federal system fell on deaf ears. Let alone that, Mr Modi went to the extent of denying the help that came from foreign nations. He was right to say that India does not accept foreign aid as a policy. But he was immensely wrong in refusing to extend the required assistance to the state in the direst times. And Malayalis don’t forget; after all, the elephant is the state’s official animal.

When Mr Modi’s party and its thugs ravaged North India with the vehemence of savage invaders in the name of the holy cow and its excreta, the Malayalis filled the social media with trolls that carried the aroma of beef roast. When Mr Modi and his party tried to impose Hindi and its culture on the whole of India, the Malayalis learnt English and took up jobs abroad. Today the economy of the state is held up largely by the money sent from abroad by Malayalis.

One look at the government hospitals in Kerala alone will convince anyone from outside the state about the state’s difference from the rest of the country. The government hospitals in the state are run with meticulous efficiency and hygiene and they can compete with any private hospital. And they provide absolutely free treatment to every patient irrespective of their economic status.

Kerala leads in many ways without making much fuss about it. We don’t spend millions of rupees advertising our achievements. We spend our money to do something good for the people, especially the backward classes. You won’t find any slum in Kerala. You won’t find visible poverty. The government cares for the people. I don’t think there is any other state in the country which spends a good bit of its revenue on migrant labourers, for their education as well as physical welfare. There are about 35 lakh migrant workers in the state.

When COVID-19 hit the country, it was Kerala that showed the way. The state imposed restrictions on people’s movement even before the country did. The state told the people what to do and what not to. The state followed every person who came from outside and quarantined everyone who was suspected of infection. The state made free food available to all the people irrespective of their economic status much before the country thought of doing the same.

That’s how Kerala is different. There’s a lot more to say. But I don’t want to sound boastful. I wrote this in response to fellow blogger Anita’s prompt for this week’s Indispire: What is that one thing you would like to share about your village, city or state that many are not aware? Do you try to create awareness? #StateInfo

Friday, March 27, 2020

God is not a ferryman

All my friends – with one exception or two – seem to be very God-fearing people. My WhatsApp space is replete with religious messages every time I open it. Some messages are prayers or spiritual messages related to COVID19. Some are warnings and threats issued on behalf of none other than God. Quite a few are prophesies made on the basis of certain scriptural verses or the visions that certain preachers claim to receive from God directly. I rarely open any of these. I opened one this afternoon because it happened to be a very large file, the video of a prolonged speech by a Catholic priest. The speech went on for an hour or so. I listened to half of it. The message that accompanied the video was that the priest was making an accurate prediction about the present happenings and the future of the earth. It turned out that the priest was opposed to all such predictions, miracles and other misuses of religion. So why did the sender of that message mislead people by giving a false introduction? I don’t know. Maybe, he was trying to grab some attention from people.

I noticed, however, that there are a lot of people who have suddenly become religious because of COVID19. I know that their religion is just a temporary shield that will fall off the moment the virus vanishes from their neighbourhood.

This is precisely my problem with these religious people and their preaching. They make use of god(s) and religions as if these were some ferry boats just waiting to row them across to a safer shore.

God is not a ferryman, please. Neither is he your replica to send a virus when he is angry with you and then perform a miracle when he is pleased with your slobbering prayers. If you wish to believe in that kind of a puerile god, keep that belief to yourself. Why send such silly stuff over to me?
She's a miracle too
My god is a divine presence within my being. It’s not a silly old perverted irritable man. It’s a soothing breeze, a gentle caress, a healing touch, a warm embrace, a soul-stirring melody… It has no religion. It doesn’t need prayers and sacrifices. It needs you. It is you.

Don’t ask god to work miracles. You perform the miracles. Love is a miracle, for instance. Compassion is. Goodness is. You decide what miracle you want. And perform it. You are the miracle worker. The world can be a better place if you leave puerile notions about god and discover the real god. May this lockdown help you in that. Amen.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Great Books for Great Thoughts

My personal library: a view

Great thoughts come from great minds. We live in a time that seems to have sacrificed thinking at the altar of expediency. There is too much superficiality around because of lack of thinking on the part of human beings. Our religions have become mere rituals and some of those rituals have degenerated enough to be murderous. Our literature is increasingly becoming cerebral puzzles that at best tickle the brains. What we call culture today is nothing more than a shop-ware peddled thoughtlessly at social media platforms.

Thoughtlessness is a serious problem. Thinking has to be brought back to our lives. Perhaps the old masters can help us. That’s what I think. Hence I have taken up the A2Z Challenge thrown by the Blogchatter team.

The theme I have chosen for the challenge is ‘Great Books for Great Thoughts’. I intend to present 26 books to you starting from 1 April. We’ll have a sweet look at books from Arms and the Man to Zorba the Greek. We’ll traverse the dark, musty corridors of Kafka’s Castle, look at the intrinsic wickedness of human nature in Golding’s Lord of the Flies, realise the meaning of deep spiritual quests in Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, and so on.

Be with me in April. I assure you it is going to be worth it.

Are you participating in A to Z Challenge 2020? Sign-ups are open till April 5.
Do you have a theme for the month? Check out other Theme Reveals as-well.
And do check out A to Z Challenge to find more details.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Lockdown Day 1

It was not a bad day at all. I read a lot, gathered my unpublished short stories into an e-book titled Love in the Time of Corona [which will soon be available at Amazon] and ended the day with the usual gardening. I had ordered two books from Amazon which were to be delivered one of these days. My premonition about the lockdown went wrong by a day or two.  Hence my new books are stuck somewhere on the road and I went back to my existing collection and read [reread, rather] The Ugly Duckling by A A Milne, The Jest of Hahalaba by Lord Dunsany, and Cathleen ni Houlihan by W B Yeats. They are all one-act plays and hence short. Then someone sent me a few Malayalam novels via WhatsApp. I read one of them too: Balyakala Sakhi [Childhood Friend] by Vaikom Muhamad Basheer.

All of these, the English plays as well as the Malayalam novella, belong to the old gen literary tradition. They have the regular plots, familiar settings and palpable joys and sorrows. Even the fairy tale world in Milne’s play is rooted in our own soil much unlike the world we see in, say, Salman Rushdie’s Quichotte.

Basheer’s Childhood Friend took me back to the Kerala of my own childhood. The novel was written in 1944, sixteen years before my birth. But the world presented in the novel is not much different from the one in which my childhood unfolded: a very conservative society in which religion and wealth played the biggest roles in the lives of people.

The world has changed much from the days of my childhood. Religion and wealth may still be the most significant social factors even today but people are not conservative anymore. Today’s people have no qualms at all about exploiting anything and anybody for personal interests. This self-centredness is what has led to the present global lockdowns. The earth is wreaking revenge upon us for whatever we did to it. I’m speaking metaphorically, of course. We deserve this vengeance. That’s why I accepted the lockdown meekly.

I have decided to use the time well: reading, writing, contemplating and gardening. I have signed up for the AtoZ Challenge of Blogchatter which begins on 1 April: a blog post per day in April on topics starting with A and moving consistently to Z, leaving out Sundays. I’m planning to write on 26 books, starting with Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man.

I’m not touching the new gen books in this AtoZ challenge. The new gen books like Rushdie’s and Arundhati Roy’s may be intellectually challenging, but they fail to stimulate the heart. What is literature without the heart? So I shall go back to the 20th century and present some of the interesting writers from there. I feel today’s new gen writers need some roots in the old literature too.

So, day 1 of the lockdown has not been bad at all. I loved the silence, the serenity around me. Young boys were conspicuously absent on the road near my house with their new gen bikes with deafening sounds. I fervently hope that these boys sit patiently for a while at home and read some serious stuff.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Autumn Shadows in Print

It's been almost a year since my memoir, Autumn Shadows, was published as an e-book at Amazon. Quite a few people asked me for a print version of the book. It took me a while to get the print version ready. Here it is. 

You can order your copies here

Here is an extract from the book:

“Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being,” as Camus wrote. The disquieting ruggedness of my ascents with the Sisyphean rocks through years has not depleted my nostalgia for innocence.  Rather I have rediscovered it in the autumn of my existence on the earth, the only existence that I will ever have.  Like Camus’s quintessential rebel, I have said No to certain systems and realities and Yes to certain others so that my life has acquired a unique meaning for me.  This book is about that meaning and about my journey toward it.
I have come a long way from Meursault through Sisyphus to Dr Rieux.  Dr Rieux is the protagonist of Camus’s The Plague.  A plague epidemic that breaks out in the Algerian city of Oran extracts a simple but overwhelming heroism from Dr Rieux who is an atheist. Can one be a saint without believing in god?  Dr Rieux shows one can. 
Father Paneloux, on the other hand, shows that god can lead to disillusionment and despair.  The Jesuit priest delivered a fiery sermon to his confused and frightened congregation declaring that the plague is God’s punishment for their sins.  Dr Rieux confronts his theory with the death of an innocent boy.  How can God punish an innocent boy? 
A personal experience had shaken Camus’s faith in god much earlier.  He witnessed a child being run over by a bus.  Camus averted his face from the gruesome sight and, raising a finger towards the heavens, said to his friend, “You see, He is silent.”  How can a god who permits so much mindless evil make sense to any rational creature?  “To become God is to accept crime,” as Camus wrote in The Rebel.  This was a problem that I grappled with in the summer of my life.  In the spring of youth I said adieu to god more like a wanton adolescent than a serious thinker.  Wantonness made me a dissolute person.  For years my life was a journey downhill like Sisyphus who had abandoned his rock altogether. 
The rock will not abandon you, however.  It waits and gathers mass with vengeance.  Then someday it comes to haunt you like a witch with a magical brew.  You put your shoulder to it and there you go ascending the hill to dare the gods.
Father Paneloux’s God betrays him.  The priest alters his view in a second sermon delivered after the death of an innocent boy.  He still believes whatever he said in his previous sermon but adds that the death of an innocent child pits a Christian against the wall.  The child’s death is a test of faith, he argues.  It requires the believer to either deny everything or believe everything.  Soon after this sermon, Father Paneloux falls ill and he dies clutching a cross.  Dr Rieux knows that the priest did not die of the plague.  What killed him then?  He lost out in the test of his faith.  Disillusionment and consequent despair killed him. 
Camus’s concept of intellectual honesty has always appealed to me.  I cannot take anything merely on faith.  It may be a flaw in my character.  I need intellectually satisfying answers especially when I am dealing with things that matter much in the human world like gods and religions.  I put my shoulder to my rock once again and started my ascent.  The climb has been both challenging and stimulating. 
When I gather the dead insects in my living room into a dustpan every morning, I wonder about why those insects were born at all.  Why was I born?  The insects probably live just a few hours and then fly towards a source of light which kills them sooner than later.  My life has also been a search for certain lights.  The lights I have discovered so far are quite different from what other people seem to have discovered.  That’s one of the reasons why I still remain an outsider to the society around me.  I am fortunate to have a wife who understands me and loves me.  But she has also suffered much with me especially in those days when I abandoned my rock and just kept walking downhill like an irresponsible and recklessly gleeful Sisyphus.  She has taught me a greater lesson than Sisyphus, however: love has no logic.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Lessons from Corona

The veranda of an ancient church in Kerala

We are essentially vulnerable creatures. All that medical insurance and the elite treatment promised by it may suddenly abandon us on the wayside like unwanted orphans. All that security we built in concrete in the form of walled mansions may mock us. There is apparently no refuge even in religious rituals.

There is no escape from certain inescapable frailty. Covid-19 places us face to face with our susceptibility to sudden death. This is the quintessential absurdity of human life to which philosophers like Albert Camus drew our attention again and again.

We live as if we are conquering Alexanders or Genghis Khans. There is no end to conquests in our dreams. One conquest urges us on to the next. Even our gods become our tools in the process. We forget the real purpose of our religions and their rituals and use them for personal aggrandisement. Our fellow human beings become our stepping stones to what we perceive as success.

Coronavirus disease may be a reminder. This is not to suggest that there is some supernatural entity sitting up somewhere there teaching us lessons or punishing us with viruses. This is not even to suggest that the cosmos has any moral sense or conscious motives. At best, the cosmos gives us back according to what we give to it. Seen that way, Covid-19 is our own creation. It is a brake that the cosmos applies when the rocket of our personal aggrandisements gathers intolerable accelerations.

Covid-19 is a reminder, a much needed one. A reminder to a people who forgot themselves, their roots, their hearts and also their gods. A reminder to slow down and take a look within.

A reminder to redeem yourself with a softening of the heart. All that craze for power and lust after wealth, the endless conquests, the throat-slits, the deafening slogans, hollow rituals, jubilant marches, halleluiahs and frenzied chanting of mantras, all rise before you like phantasmagoric grins.

Now you know how helpless you are.

Perhaps, if you had conquered less and contributed more you’d have been a happier person. Perhaps, now is the time to learn that fundamental lesson. Doing something to ameliorate the suffering in the world around you, to bring a little spark of light into all the darkness that surrounds you, a small act of kindness amidst all that brutality, would have given you a greater sense of satisfaction now than all your great conquests. Perhaps, there is still time to start anew.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Corona and God

God is one of the topics of discussion these days because the Corona disease makes people aware of their inevitable vulnerability. God is a safety valve for most people. However, a lot of religious centres which claimed to work miracles in the name of God(s) have shut down and I expressed my amusement over that in certain places like Facebook. One of my friends, who is otherwise very sensible and humorous, objected to my amusement arguing that if there is no God there would be utter chaos in the human world. Some people would even become cannibals, he said.

Though I have written much about my views on god and related affairs, I’m going to discuss some points once again for the sake of my friend.

1. I live a life of morality. I follow a very personal code of ethics which has a lot in common with socially and religiously accepted codes of ethics. But I don’t need a god to uphold it. I am good not because I am afraid of punishments from god. I am good not because I want the rewards in heaven after my death. I am good because I am intelligent enough to understand that goodness is what I should cultivate around me for my welfare as well as the welfare of others. Welfare is good, no one will dispute that. Knowing what is good, why would I choose evil? That’s simple logic. That logic is the foundation of my moral codes.

2. Being good out of fear of punishment and/or for the rewards waiting somewhere is extremely childish. Freud and many others saw religion as infantile. Shouldn’t we grow up into adulthood and take charge of our own lives instead of shifting certain responsibilities to an entity out there which we have empowered with all kinds of supernatural prowess and magical powers? I choose to look at my life without leaning against silly crutches invented by feeble minds.

I know that I am just another little creature born here because of a simple, natural biological process. I am a mere accident, just like anybody else, that happened at a moment in the eternal flow of time. If the accident had happened a moment later or earlier, if one chromosome was different there, I would have been a different person. I might have been religious too! This accident will end too just like any other creature in the natural process called death. And that’s the end of me. Except that I may linger on in the memories of a few people who chose to love me (in spite of me?).  In other words, I know, or I believe, that there is nothing waiting for me after death. I am neither afraid of eternal punishments nor concerned about eternal rewards. I choose to be good, nevertheless. I am mature enough, intelligent enough to make that choice.

3. My amusement about religious centres that keep making endless claims about the miracles they perform day in and day out continues unabashedly even in the time of Corona. Even more in the time of Corona, I should say. If they were really performing those miracles, why not perform a few more miracles when the world is facing a serious threat? Work a miracle and heal the sick. Why not? Don’t give me the oft-repeated argument that we can’t order God to perform miracles. I have seen priests and pastors and many others ordering God about as if He was their footman.

4. What is God’s will? Is Corona God’s will? Is the death of a three-year-old innocent child God’s will? Are the detention centres in various states of India God’s will? Is the brainlessness we see in India today in the name of religion and culture God’s will? I have infinite questions, my dear KK (that’s my friend who triggered this post). Maybe the next time we sit over another Bacardi party we can discuss this further, though I’m not inclined to do it because I know that reason and religion have nothing in common. Nothing, KK. Nothing at all. Faith is the antithesis of reason.

To conclude, I trust my rational faculty. I trust my imagination. I trust my intuition too. But when it comes to faith, I would rather trust the gossamer petals of the roses in my garden, the winks of the distant stars in my heavens, the protean music of the waves in the Arabian Ocean…

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Beach

A very short story

The waves roared. It looked as if they were angry with someone. Or maybe with a lot of things or people or both. The beach was deserted. Silent. Still. Just the opposite of the raging ocean. The rage of the ocean contained a hunger that the beach did not seem to understand. Was the beach the cause of that hunger, all that anger?

The tall coconut trees stood indifferently off the beach. The roads beyond those lanky trees were frighteningly abandoned. The sun lashed the tarmac mercilessly. Move on the road, a few kilometres, and you will come across the woods. The lovely, dark and green woods. A virus laughs in those woods. 

I prefer the rage of the waves. 

Monday, March 16, 2020

Lingering goodness

The entrance to the Refineries School

I was under the impression that goodness had vanished from the human world altogether. We have majestic leaders now who openly advocate hatred and violence, and the number of their followers is mounting by the moment. Even religions are more about donations and palatial buildings than love and compassion. Worse than the lusting after power and wealth is the mendacity of the people in high positions. They propagate a lot of falsehood among the gullible people of the country. Falsehood has replaced truths in a country whose motto is Satyameva Jayate. The situation has made me so cynical that I turn and look around for a coffin the moment I smell roses.  That’s why what happened on Saturday last made a lasting impression on me.

I was at Cochin Refineries School near Ernakulam for over a week on a duty assigned by CBSE. Saturday was my eighth and last day of duty there. Many people on the campus like the security guard at the gate had already become familiar with my face. As soon as I entered the gate of the school on Saturday, the guard pointed at one of the front tyres of my car and said, “Puncture, sir.”

The Refineries School is still under construction and the road leading to it is a rather narrow one which forces vehicles to move out of the tarmac whenever another vehicle is encountered. My tyre had taken a nail in the process. Since it was a tubeless tyre, it survived until I reached my destination.

“Can I get somebody to mend the tyre?” I asked the guard. He turned to a young man who was sitting near the gate waiting for someone. He looked like a labourer. He told me he knew two persons who did the job and would contact them. “Give me your phone number and I’ll call you as soon as it is arranged,” he told me.

An hour later he called me to say that the two persons wouldn’t come since they had a lot of work at their respective tyre work centres. But he added, “Since you’re going to be here till afternoon I’ll try to convince one of them to come when they can manage it.”

Since it was the last day of my duty my work was over before the usual time of 4.30 pm. At 2.30 I called the young man. “No, sir, they won’t come,” he said. “Can I get someone to replace the punctured tyre with the spare one that I have?” I asked. “Oh, I can do that for you,” he said. I heaved a sigh of relief.

The parking lot of the Refineries School stood burning hot in the afternoon sun. It was impossible even to just stand in that sun. But the man was there waiting for me as I arrived having completed all the paperwork in the school. He got on to the job immediately. By the time he changed the tyre and put the punctured one back into the boot of the car, he was drenched with sweat.

I thanked him and asked, “How much?”

“No, nothing,” he said.

I was stunned. I pulled out my wallet. He waved the money away and said, “I was only helping you. Please start your car and I just want to make sure the alignment is okay.”

He waved me off as I was still trying to absorb all that goodness that came as a shock rather than a surprise.

Yesterday I was outside my home at about 8 o’clock in the evening. I had just closed the drinking water supply to my tank and was going into the house when I heard a sound from the entrance to my house. “Chetta,” someone called. There was a young man and a woman with a little child in her hand. Their bike had run out of fuel.

“What shall I do?” I asked.

“Can you lend me your scooter for a while?” He asked. “I’ll get some petrol from the nearest pump.”

The image of the young man at Cochin Refineries School rushed to my mind. I brought the key of my scooter as well as an empty mineral water bottle which he could use for bringing the petrol.

Goodness is contagious too. I wonder why our leaders don’t understand that.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Life is imitation

Jim Jarmusch

In his book, The Seven Basic Plots, Christopher Booker says that most works of literature are repetitions of one of seven basic plots. Those seven plots are: 1. Overcoming the Monster, 2. Rags to Riches, 3. The Quest, 4. Voyage and Return, 5. Rebirth, 6. Comedy and 7. Tragedy. Thus David Copperfield is an imitation of The Ugly Duckling and Steven Spielberg’s Jaws has more in common with the ancient Beowulf than you might imagine.

Nothing is really original. Can’t be. Long ago, Plato said that art is an imitation of life. The philosopher was not quite happy about that either. The imitation takes you away from the ideal reality, he thought. You become like a cave dweller who mistakes a moving shadow for the reality. Plato’s disciple, Aristotle, was kinder towards writers and story tellers. Imitation is an essential aspect of human nature, he accepted. We can’t help being story tellers. We are all story tellers. And we take our stories from out there. We copy from the life around us.

Copy makers, that’s what we are. My fellow blogger, Anita, seems to be worried about this quintessential human nature. She raises the question at Indispire this week: How do you react when you come to realize that your idea has been copied? What would you like to say to the copycat?  Obviously she doesn’t mean the kind of copying that people from Plato to Booker meant. She means lifting of your lines by someone who then claims them as her/his own.

You can copy ideas. Every artist does that. Plato would say that God is the only original creator. We all just make copies of the ideals created by God. Well, if you think like me that God is only an idea created by us human beings, you will nevertheless agree that there’s a lot of copying of ideas in the world of writing. Most of my ideas come from great writers of the past. I owe much to Albert Camus and Dostoevsky and many others.

You shouldn’t copy words, however. You copy ideas. There aren’t too many ideas out there anyway. Whatever there are have already been taken. What do you do then as a writer? Steal the same things, wrap them in new clothes and present them as your own to the world. What else? That’s how it goes from the epic Mahabharata to Steinbeck’s East of Eden.

Steinbeck didn’t copy words from the epic, however, as, say, Melania Trump did at the Republican National Convention in 2016 when she allegedly plagiarised Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech. Melania stole ideas rather than words, I think. Maybe, that wasn’t stealing even. Because she spoke about the values of hard work and respect for others which were taught by her parents. Michelle said the same thing. Now, can’t two parents teach the same things to their children? Well, Melania could have dressed the words in her own clothes. Maybe, she’s not much concerned about clothes, you see.

British author Adrian Jacobs claimed that J K Rowling stole many of her ideas for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire from the book, The Adventures of Willy the Wizard. Even J R R Tolkien was accused of stealing from Ring of the Nibelung, a Wagnerian opera. There are infinite such allegations. The world moves ahead in spite of them. People continue to read Tolkien and watch Harry Potter or vice-versa.

Now, to answer my friend Anita. If I see someone copying me, my first reaction would be: “Wow! Did I deserve this?” Imitation is a form of admiration, isn’t it, Anita? The person who copies you or from you is telling you indirectly that you are worth it. I’m still waiting for such a noble person to come along and make me feel so worthwhile.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Love in the time of Corona

When the schools and colleges in the state were closed to prevent the spread of the Covid virus and Corona disease, Abdullah’s question was: “Isn’t Kovind our President?”

“It’s Covid, not Kovind, Covid-19,” said Adil, Abdullah’s son.

Adil was an undergrad, the first in the family of butchers to cross the threshold of a college. For that reason alone, he was the hero of the family. Everyone from father Abdullah at home to the remotest aunt somewhere in a Malappuram wilderness believed that Adil was a genius because he was going to be a commerce graduate in another couple of years. Adil would be the first graduate in his family. He was going to be the progenitor of a new family history. It was important these days, a new history.

This creator of the new family history had suddenly turned melancholy. Mother Aisha noticed Adil’s face losing its colour the moment the announcement came about the holidays. Abdullah had not noticed that, however. When he did notice the melancholy eventually, he wondered with unbounded anxiety whether his prodigy of a son had walked in the shadow of the Kovind virus.

“Don’t utter such ominous words with your black tongue,” Aisha berated her husband as they lay in bed waiting for sleep to visit them. “I know it’s something else,” she said with a certainty that sounded mysterious to Abdullah. “I’ll find out tomorrow. You go to sleep now.”

Aisha spoke to her son the next morning as soon as Abdullah left home. Adil was evasive. But he was the sort of a son who wouldn’t evade his mother for too long. That too, a mother like Aisha.

“You’re in love with some girl in the college?” Aisha asked after Adil had exhausted all his skills at prevarication.

Adil’s eyes shone for a moment. And then they went dim again.

“I know,” said Aisha. “Mothers always know. Who’s that lucky girl anyway?”

Adil fidgeted with his fingers.

“Love is natural, my boy,” she prodded. “Only don’t tell me that it’s a kafir girl.”

Adil’s face clouded further. And Aisha knew instantly. “So it is a kafir girl! Allah!” Is this the new history that this prodigy is going to create for the family?

“Umma, mutton.” It was that boy who was helping Abdullah in his mutton shop. Aisha went outside and took the parcel from the boy. It was a small portion of the lamb that Abdullah killed that morning in the name of Allah, Bismillah. Nothing but halal meat would ever enter Abdullah’s kitchen.

“Who is the girl?” Aisha asked returning from the kitchen promptly.

“She’s my classmate,” Adil said. “You don’t know her.”

“Doesn’t she have a name?” What she wanted to know was the girl’s religion, her caste, her family.

“Ganga,” Adil said.

“A rather forbidding name these days, my son,” she sighed. “What’s she? A Namboothiri, a Nair, what?”

“Isn’t it enough that she’s a girl?” Adil became petulant.

“Not quite, my boy,” Aisha said instantly and decisively. “Allah must will it. And she must will it too. Let Allah wait for now. What about her?”

“I don’t know,” Adil said. “I haven’t asked her.”

“Does she know that you love her?”

“I don’t think so.”

Aisha sighed. “Is it a one-way traffic?”

“If I don’t see her every day, I feel empty in my heart,” Adil said. “Isn’t that love, Umma?”

“Not necessarily,” Umma was certain. “Your mate is Allah’s choice. And Allah can’t choose a Ganga for you, I think. Not these days, at least. Anyway, this Kovind or whatever it is, may it erase this girl from your heart.”

“If it doesn’t?”

“Inshallah!” She went away.

“Allah can’t wish this,” Abdullah said as soon as Aisha told him that evening about the new history that their son was apparently forging for the butcher’s family. They were waiting for sleep to descend. They were in their bed.

“How do you know?” Aisha asked. She wanted her son to be happy at any cost. Moreover, she often wondered how some people always knew what God wanted. Their God always wants just what they want. Too facile, she thought. She fell asleep facilely. And she dreamt. In her dream the River Ganga merged into the River Meghna in Bangladesh. Is the Ganga Hindu? And the Meghna Muslim? Somebody asked standing on the bank of a river which was nameless. “If a Muslim marries a Hindu, what will happen?” The man asked the sky. “They will copulate and populate like any other couple.” The man answered his own question and then laughed uproariously. Then he approached a woman who was wearing a burka. “Make love, not war,” he said to her and lifted the veil from her face. Alas, she had no face.

Aisha turned in her bed restlessly. She knew that Adil was turning in his bed restlessly. Mothers always knew when their sons’ sleep was disturbed.

The Ganga’s destiny was to flow indifferently, absorbing all loves and hates into her roiled waters.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Tinkers of Emotions

Image from The Daily Star

I wept bitterly like a child when my cat died. He was killed on the road by a vehicle. It took me quite a while to accept the loss. “I never knew that I was such an emotional person,” I told a friend later. Even now, a month after the cat’s death, his memories bring tears to my eyes.

I used to think that I had no emotions, that I was just a robot who went about doing a lot of things mechanically. True that I used to reflect a lot about many things. The reflections were of an intellectual nature; emotions seldom came into play.

Really? When I introspect now, I realise that Mr Modi and his kind of politics make me emotional. I have written quite a lot about Modi and his politics and, as someone told me the other day, much of that writing is driven by “passion”. Yes, Modi makes me emotional. The kind of emotions that Modi arouses in my heart are diametrically opposite of what my cat’s death aroused. The cat arouses feelings of tenderness in my heart. Modi arouses feelings of revulsion.

Modi arouses strong emotions in most Indians. I realised this from my conversations with people these days as well as from what people write about him in various social media and blogs. People either love him or hate him. Some even go to the extent of adoring him. For a considerably large number of Indians, Modi is a messianic figure, the redeemer of Hinduism.

Religion is an emotion for most believers. Modi knows that and he has exploited that emotion from the time he entered politics. Today in India, everything from a boulder on a Himalayan hillside to a grain of sand on the Ganga’s shore has a religion. Even the bills passed in the Parliament have a religion.

Mistrust and hatred are the final offshoot of all that religion, unfortunately. Sane people would expect religion to make people kinder and more loving. When the opposite is what we get, we need to look at the situation, understand it and seek remedies.

What India needs today is a healthy detachment from emotive rhetoric, the kind that has been popularised by Mr Modi and his acolytes like Yogi Adityanath. Have you noticed the hatred that burns in their eyes? Venom flows in their veins and comes out as riveting rhetoric that mesmerises a whole nation. This rhetoric is India’s nemesis today.

India stands in need of real statesmen. There is not one in sight. That’s the nation’s tragedy. What we have are tinkers of base emotions.

Pessimism of the gods

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