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Showing posts from August, 2020

Needed an Islamic Reformation

  Image  Creator: Max Slaven  Copyright: Street Level Photoworks This morning broke with two messages about Muslims in India. The first was Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar’s article in the Times of India and the other was a WhatsApp message. Both reveal an acute concern of non-Muslims about the backwardness of Muslims in India and the problems engendered by that backwardness. Aiyar’s article is an open letter to Asaduddin Owaisi who recently lamented the pathetic condition of Indian Muslims vis-à-vis education. Aiyar rightly argues that the Muslims must help themselves in this matter as the Christians did long ago. “Instead of depending on the state,” Aiyar writes, “Christians have long created their own educational institutions of excellence.” Even today, when Ram Raj is enforcing itself on the nation, Christian educational institutions remain in high demand among non-Christians. “Hindus and Muslims pull all possible strings to get into them,” says Aiyar. The Muslim community

Onam of the Demon King

  Image Source: Kerala is celebrating Onam, the grandest festival of the state. Onam is a festival of colours, flowers, music and abundance. In my childhood, Onam was projected as a harvest festival thus making it absolutely secular. The mythical legend of Mahabali (or Maveli as he was popularly and affectionately called by Malayalis) played relatively little role in the actual celebrations. The festive mood tended to supersede the legend though images of a pot-bellied Maveli made their presence felt ubiquitously. Perhaps people aren’t too keen to scrutinise the Maveli legend because the legend doesn’t put the gods in any good light. Maveli is an Asura (demon) king who turns out to be far better than the gods. The gods, therefore, become jealous of him and an avatar of Vishnu descends to decimate the beloved king of the humans. In her scholarly book, The Hindus – An Alternative History , Wendy Doniger says that the relationships between humans, gods, and asuras in the h

The Mirror & the Light: Review

  Book Review Title: The Mirror & the Light Author: Hilary Mantel Publisher: 4 th Estate, London, 2020 Pages: 883 Price in India: 799   The first two volumes of Hilary Mantel’s trilogy told us the story of Thomas Cromwell’s rise from a hamlet of Putney to Henry VIII’s palace. The battered son of an uncultured blacksmith and brewer rises to become the most powerful person in England after the king. The first two volumes, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies , described the rise of this shrewd manipulator. The last one, The Mirror & the Light , delineates the inevitable fall of the tragic hero. Mantel’s undertaking seems to be to show us that Cromwell was indeed a tragic hero rather than a mere manipulator who ascended too high. She does that job eminently too. This last volume of the trilogy is as gripping as the other two if not more endearing by its slower pace and more poetic diction. Nearly hundred characters are brought together in this massive book to tell u

Vis: a dream destination

  Vis: image from The Guardian Like poet Yeats I too long for Innisfree . Unlike him, however, I am not in search of peace. I want to see some places and have a different experience of life. Both India, my country, and Kerala, the state where I live, have disappointed me terribly. India has been swallowed by the hydra-headed monster of sectarianism. Every institution in the country including the judiciary has been converted into one of those many heads of the vicious monster. Kerala was doing pretty well until recently when one woman called Swapna emerged as a phantasmagorical nightmare that roams the corridors of power in the state. Moreover, the Covid pandemic has kept me home for too long shrinking my horizons pathetically. I want to be in some place like Yeats’s Innisfree: with water lapping with low sounds by the shore on one side and mountains towering like seductive sirens on the other. What about Vis in Croatia? Croatia is a relatively unpolluted place. Tourists haven’t don

ഒരു നവോത്ഥാന കഥ

 ഓടുന്ന പട്ടിക്ക് ഒരു മുഴം മുന്നേ എന്നാണ് ചൊല്ല്. ചൊല്ലിയവരും ചൊല്ല് കേട്ടവരും എറിയാൻ കല്ലുകളും വടികളുമായി ഏറെ നാളായി കാത്തിരിക്കുകയായിരുന്നു ഒരു പട്ടി വന്നു കിട്ടാൻ. അങ്ങനെയിരിക്കെയാണ് അവർക്കു മത്തായിച്ചനെ കിട്ടുന്നത്.  ജീവിതത്തിൽ എല്ലാം ഉണ്ടായിട്ടും എന്തോ ഒന്ന് ഇല്ല എന്ന ഒരു ബൗദ്ധിക ഉൾകിടിലം മത്തായിച്ചന് എങ്ങനെയോ വന്നുപോയി. അങ്ങേരുടെ ഗതികേട് എന്നല്ലാതെ എന്ത് പറയാൻ? നല്ല ഒരു ജോലി, സ്നേഹിതയായ ഒരു ഭാര്യ, തരക്കേടില്ലാത്ത വീട്, സമർത്ഥരായ രണ്ടു കുട്ടികൾ,അങ്ങനെ ഏതൊരു യാഥാസ്ഥിക വീക്ഷണ കോണിൽ നിന്ന് നോക്കിയാലും തെറ്റ് പറയാനില്ലാത്ത ജീവിതം. എന്നിട്ടും ഒരു സുപ്രഭാതത്തിൽ അങ്ങേരെ ബുദ്ധൻ പിടി കൂടി.  ഷേക്സ്പിയർ ആണ് പിടി കൂടിയതെന്നു ചിലര് പറയുന്നു. "Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" എന്നാണത്രെ മത്തായിച്ചൻ ആ ദുഷ്പ്രഭാതത്തിൽ ആദ്യമായി മൊഴിഞ്ഞത്. പക്ഷെ മത്തായിച്ചന്റെ പരവേശം ഹാംലെറ്റിന്റെ അനിശ്ചിതത്വം അല്ലായിരുന്നു എന്നാണ് അങ്ങേരുടെ ഭാര്യ പറയുന്നത്. വെളിപാടിന് വേണ്ടിയുള്ള ബുദ്ധന്റെ പരാക്രമം പോലെയായിരുന്നത്രെ മത്തായിച്ചന്റെ പരിവർത്തനത്തിന്റെ ആദ്യദിനങ്ങൾ.

The God that Failed

  Jacob, one of the biblical patriarchs, is forced to flee home in order to escape the wrath of his brother Esau whom he cheated rather meanly with ample assistance from his mother. Jacob finds shelter at his uncle Laban’s house where he falls in love with Rachel, Laban’s daughter. Laban promises to give his daughter in marriage to Jacob in return for 7 years’ of labour. Love can make you do anything, even embrace a 7-year slavery. At the end of the seven years, Laban cheats Jacob. The bride was led to Jacob’s dark tent in the night as was the custom. The marriage was consummated in the fire of a passion that had burnt for seven years. It is only in the light of the morning that Jacob realises the deception perpetrated by his uncle: he was given the ugly Leah instead of the beautiful Rachel. Laban makes Jacob work for him for another seven years in order to marry his real love, Rachel. Referring to this grim episode from the holy book, Arthur Koestler wrote: “I wonder whether he (J


India has ascetics who can pull a car with their penises. India also has software engineers whose brains are put to good use by the world’s finest IT firms. There was a time when India built hospitals and universities. Now India builds statues and temples. Slogans had meanings in India until recently when they began to be exasperating echoes of pious wishes. The independence of a nation is nothing more than the independence of its citizens. No nation can be said to be independent if even a fraction of its citizens are facing starvation, injustice, discrimination, and other such evils. No nation can be said to be free if its citizens are labouring under illusions and delusions, superstitions and ignorance, bigotry and sectarianism. Is India really independent today, more than seven decades after our first Prime Minister hoisted the national flag proudly proclaiming to the world our historic tryst with destiny? True, even the first Independence Day wasn’t all that glorious. The fat

Beyond Covid

  My early morning visitor today Half a year is a pretty long period in the autumn of one’s life. Covid has consumed as much as that at a time when I was contemplating certain substantial changes in my lifestyle. I wanted to do some travelling first of all, some long-distance drives on weekends along with Maggie. That was meant to be my way of making the imminent retirement a smooth transition from the classroom to the cosmos. Ironically, my cosmos shrank to my table with a laptop and the current book. Ironies are inescapable companions throughout life. Blogchatter’s A2Z Challenge kept me blissfully engaged in April and the exercise ended in the creation of a book about books: Great Books for Great Thoughts . This volume is available absolutely free; just a click on the given link is all that it costs you. Online classes have provided me the only meaningful contact with the world from May onwards. The alarming spread of the pandemic prompted me to look at the meaning of suffering

Why I Write

  One of the most delightful essays of George Orwell is ‘ Why I Write ’ which I read as a young student of a creative writing course of IGNOU. With ruthless candidness Orwell identifies “sheer egoism” as the first reason for his writing. “Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc…” Orwell goes on to say that “It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one.” I embrace Orwell wholeheartedly here. I am an inveterate egoist in the above Orwellian sense, every bit of it including those grown-ups, and that egoism probably remains at the top of my list too if you hurl on my face the question why I write. But that can’t be the sole reason for any worthwhile writer. Orwell has listed a few more of them in his essay and I won’t ever dare to dispute any of them. Political purpose is mentioned as the last point by Orwell. He defines it as “Desire to push the world in a certain d

Ayodhya’s Triumphalist Majoritarianism

  Every people love to belong to the winning side. Victory has more intoxications than religion. In fact, religion has been used more for achieving earthly conquests than for attaining spiritual bliss. In Ayodhya’s Ram Mandir, PM Modi is offering the nation (all the 130 crore people, in his own words) both intoxications: earthly and heavenly. How? Earthly Conquest The Ram Mandir is a symbol of the majority community’s triumph over the minorities and secularists and liberals – all the antinationals, in the new lingo. See, we have the power to bring down your god and his mosque – however historical the mosque may be – and put our own god there in a splendid temple and that too when the country is struggling with a pandemic and concomitant numerous other crises. That is the message from Ayodhya now. This country is not yours anymore; it is unarguably ours, one particular community’s. We are the victors and you are the vanquished. No one wants to be on the side of the vanquished. S


One of my friends in the village narrated an interesting anecdote. He heard a villager pray to his god one day for a strong wind in the night so that one of the trees in his neighbour’s farm would fall. “That would give me firewood for a month,” the villager explained when questioned. His neighbour is a very kind man who lets him take firewood whenever dry branches of trees fall in the farm. “But why don’t you ask your god to solve your problem without wishing harm for your kind neighbour?” My friend questioned the villager who knew the neighbour too. The villager said, “That’s true. I never thought of that.” The villager was quite innocent. He really didn’t mean harm to his neighbour whom he held in high regard. But his firewood was running out and winds were quite common in the area and the winds brought down branches of trees frequently. It was only fair to ask god to send a wind in the nearest farm. It would be easier to carry the firewood home from the nearest f

History’s Gargoyle in Ayodhya

Ayodhya Temple, national pride? In a few hours from now Prime Minister Modi will lay a 40 kg silver brick in Ayodhya to mark the beginning of the construction of a humungous temple. India is grappling with a deadly pandemic like most countries in the world. India is the fifth worst affected country and given the country’s enormous population any sane leader would think of spending revenue on providing better medical facilities. But Modi knows how to earn his place in recorded history: architecture. He spent an incredibly large sum on a statue that stands 600 feet tall on lands that belonged to 185 families. Mr Modi seems to think that the statue will give a stiff competition to the Taj Mahal. If not the statue, this temple in Ayodhya should give that competition. There’s more in the offing too: Central Vista in Delhi. Mr Modi can surely hope to get his name imprinted in history as THE ARCHITECT of endemic India in pandemic times . The Ayodhya temple has much emotive po

Where do old birds go to die?

Krishna Hari is a class 12 student. She writes stunning poems which carry evocative images and provoking metaphors. As her English teacher, I am proud to feature one of her poems in this space.  Krishna Hari The old birds in my yard⠀ Fly away to distant lands⠀ For deceptive summer eves have come⠀ Yet again with their wild rains⠀ And malicious clouds.⠀ ⠀ I sit on my balcony cross-legged⠀ Sipping warm whiskey⠀ Watching the sunset paint ⠀ The northern skies sepia.⠀ ⠀ I hear the rustling leaves of the devil's trees⠀ Within the premises of that old temple by the lake⠀ Where women used to worship serpents and fairies once⠀ Collapsed into a rubble of stones with time.⠀ ⠀ Eerie questions suck on the abysses Under my skin like leeches⠀ And I feel as if I'm⠀ On the edge of an apocalypse.⠀ ⠀ I ask, "Who makes leaves fall in autumn"?⠀ "Why were thorny roses prettier than tranquil jasmines"?⠀ "Where do old birds go to die ?⠀ Do they ever cry for their wrinkled dest

A Fallen Leaf: review

Fall is an integral part of human life. There is the natural season of fall (autumn) and there are the human falls of errors and misfortunes. There is also the sweet falling in love. Falling out of love is also a part of life. A Fallen Leaf is an anthology of 15 short stories written by 15 different writers but blend together coherently like the warp and woof of an elegant fabric. These stories revolve around the various falls in human lives.   All the stories are written in the conventional method of plot development. There is a problem which grows complex towards a denouement and the final resolution. Sharanya Mishra’s ‘A Mosaic on the Garden Floor’ is an exception insofar as it melds a couple of subplots and builds up a mosaic instead of a single picture. Each story has its own conventional lesson to teach too. Even Olinda Braganza’s ‘A Tryst with a Twist’ which has the trappings of science fiction ends with a blushing hint of a moral lesson. In short, here are 15 stories that