Showing posts from April, 2020

Writing without pen and paper

My little world When I was a little kid, I saw my elder brother using palm leaves for learning the Malayalam alphabet. That’s how the preschools in Kerala worked in the early 1960s. Those preschools were a far cry from their counterparts of today; they were terror centres. The teacher, known as ä s ä n (guru) in Malayalam, was Kerala’s version of Dickens’s Gradgrind. The ä s ä n didn’t teach, he ground the alphabet and numbers into the tender skins of the little kids. He used a cane when he thought all those pinches on arms, earlobes and thighs were not enough incentives for the little ones to master the bizarrely twisted letters of Malayalam. The ä s ä n was such a terror that I refused to go to the preschool. I was fortunate to have a father who accepted my stubbornness. He, my father, decided to teach me. He was a good teacher. I learnt the outlandish twists of Malayalam alphabet [have a look at the first few letters to understand how tough it was for a kid to reproduce

Zorba the Greek

Wisdom and knowledge are entirely different things. In fact, they need not have much in common. Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel, Zorba the Greek , is a kind of trailblazer for those who seek wisdom. Zorba is a 65-year-old man whose heart is still in the twenties. He refuses to grow old by celebrating life to its fullest. Old age is scary, he says. “Death is nothing,” he says – “just pff! and the candle is snuffed out. But old age is disgrace.” The narrator of the novel is a 35-year-old man who loves books and knowledge. Right now he is on a different quest, on an adventure undertaken in order to escape that bookworm tag which his friends have attached to him. He encounters Zorba on the way and takes him on as a staff. A friend, rather. Zorba is a kind of Buddha, quite a different kind though. Life is a celebration for Zorba. He is always happy, come what may. What is his secret? “My joys here are great,” he says, “because they are very simple and spring from the everlasti

Yuval Noah Harari

[Note: Since I couldn’t find an appropriate book whose title starts with the letter Y for this A2Z series, I have chosen an author for this chapter. Harari’s name is more popular than the names of his books anyway.] Today there is only one species of humans left on the earth: homo sapiens. The sapiens are a deadly species, according to Yuval Noah Harari’s acclaimed book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind . It is a book of consequential reflections rather than academic history. It can jolt us out of our complacencies. And we need all those jolts. Humans evolved in East Africa some 2.5 million years ago. That is a rather short period of time compared to the lifespan of the universe: 13.5 billion years. There were many species of human beings up to about 10,000 years ago. But the one species of homo sapiens exterminated all the others slowly over many centuries. We, the homo sapiens, are a terrible breed. We have caused the extinction of thousands and thousands of speci

X, Malcolm

X is the surname that Malcolm gave himself when he shed his old self in order to be a dignified human being. The Autobiography of Malcolm X is the story of that conversion and what happened eventually. Malcolm Little was an African American born in 1925 in Nebraska. His father, a Baptist preacher, was killed by the Ku Klux Klan and his mother was sent unjustly to a mental hospital when he was still a boy. Malcolm grew up in a detention home till eighth grade after which he moved to Boston to live with a foster family. Discrimination and ridicule from the white majority drive him out of school to the streets of Boston where he learns more evil things than good such as gambling, drinking, and doing drugs. He becomes a go-between for black pimps and their white clients and begins to date Sophia, a white woman older than him. He abandons his girlfriend Laura for the sake of Sophia and Laura is driven to prostitution. He tries many jobs such as washing dishes on a train and