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Showing posts from September, 2020

Why aren’t there more people like you?

  I’m entering the last quarter of Ken Follett’s massive novel, The Evening and the Morning which is set in the cusp of the tenth and eleventh centuries: a whole millennium back. The novel is a prequel to the author’s popular and equally bulky novel, The Pillars of the Earth [which I read 12 years ago with unflagging interest]. Follet can bring alive the medieval period like no one else. We get clear glimpses into the way of life of those times, dark times. The Church and the State together wielded tremendous powers over people and exploited the people ruthlessly. Many of Follett’s novels clearly show the venality that lies at the very core of people in power, whether in politics or in religion. I have often been repulsed by our contemporary leaders – both in politics and religion – who are absolutely uncouth and subhuman. Beneath the elegant attires they wear, whatever the colours be, they are sheer savages who feed on the carrion of human ignorance, vulnerability, folly, and h

The Literature of the Gayatri Mantra

The Gayatri Mantra is a highly revered prayer in the Rig Veda. It has the potential to inspire one profoundly. But it can also acquire sinister meanings or connotations depending on how and where it is used. That is true of most religious symbols. The Gayatri Mantra appears like a motif in Arundhati Roy’s novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness , three times. Anjum, the protagonist who is a hijra as well as a Muslim (doubly unwanted), finds the child Zainab orphaned during the 2002 Gujarat riots and takes her to a barber, gets her hair cut off like a boy’s, dresses her like a boy, and teaches her the Gayatri Mantra as a talisman against future communal assault “in case Gujarat comes to Delhi”. Delhi is where Anjum takes Zainab to. Anjum has made her home in a cemetery in Delhi. After all, cemetery is where the Muslims in Modi’s India are supposed to belong. Pakistan ya kabristan is a slogan shouted again and again in the novel in which Gujarat does come to Delhi. The next time w

Literature is not moral science

  Samuel Beckett by Javad Alizadeh Literature is meant to show what life is as understood by the writer. Life is a complex affair which has no intrinsic meaning. Meaning is created by each one of us. The meaning each one of us gives to it depends on our psychological and intellectual make-up, our experiences, inclinations, attitudes – a whole range of things. Writers too have their own unique individualities consisting of this range of things which prompt them to see life in certain ways rather than others. The meaning seen by Shakespeare is not the meaning seen by Samuel Beckett. Yet both Shakespeare and Beckett continue to find fans even today. Both inspire people to perceive the meaning of life in their own particular ways. Joseph Conrad’s novels show us that society is as corrupting as it is necessary. Society inevitably gives us material interests which in turn corrupt our very souls. But solitude is not the solution; it results in destruction of the self. Idealism is not a so

Dissenters’ Group

  At Bhoothathankettu Dam - the kind of beauty that stands out I am a member of a unique WhatsApp group of just 15 members. We were all companions for a couple of years or so in the latter half of the 1970s. Teenagers then, now we are all in the twilight of our lives: senior citizens. people with very strong views and convictions which are as diverse as women’s attires. There is an atheist and a Catholic priest in the group. There are NRI businessmen and simple village folk. There are Congies and Commies. There are devout religious believers and ruthless blasphemers. All the diversity possible in a group of 15 men (yeah, it’s an exclusively male bastion) can be found in this group. Most of these men are very articulate too. Views and opinions are expressed clearly and without any fear of being rebuffed or assaulted. You are respected for what you are. Of course, every member maintains respectability even when dissenting strongly. This is a rare group because the kind of responsible f


  Book Review Title: Azadi: Freedom, Fascism, Fiction Author: Arundhati Roy Publisher: Penguin, 2020 Pages: 243, Price: Rs499   Arundhati Roy is a personification of intellectual acumen coupled with moral indignation. She belongs to the realm of rebellious angels. Her writings show us clearly the truth as she sees (and she sees more clearly than most ordinary people) and also make us feel what she feels provided we are on the side of ugly truths. Her writings can also create more enemies of whom she has already gathered too many around her. Azadi is a collection of nine essays most of which were originally lectures delivered to diverse foreign audiences in the period of 2018-2020. The themes of these essays are indicated in the subtitle of the book: freedom, fascism, fiction . Roy deals with the particular variety of fascism that is being practised in Modi’s India which gives too much freedom to one section of citizens and denies even the freedom to exist to others. Fictio

The living and the dying

  Some people add value to life, their own as well as others’. Some people do just the opposite: suck and drain. There are also quite many who just watch indifferently, may be helplessly. Some are busy living while others are busy dying, in other words. There is always enough pain and sadness around. You don’t need to go to the slums in the big cities to see the wretchedness of life. You see it everywhere, especially these days when a pandemic has been holding us hostage for long. As Albert Camus says in his classical novel, “What’s natural is the microbe. All the rest – health, integrity, purity – is a product of the human will, of a vigilance that must never falter.” The microbe is natural. The virus is an ineluctable part of the nature. It nibbles away at the core of human vitality. Its very function – raison d'être – is to suck and drain. It is our duty, human duty, to keep the virus under control. With constant vigilance. “The good man,” to return to Camus again, “the

Flames of feminism

  ‘I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is,” said Rebecca West, well-known British writer and thinker. She went on to say that people called her a feminist whenever she expressed “sentiments that differentiated (her) from a doormat or prostitute.” The very concept called ‘feminism’ underwent much evolution from the time it made its presence felt in the 19 th century. A leading feminist, Elaine Showalter, identifies three phases in that evolution. First, there is what she calls the “feminine” phase [1840-1880] during which women writers imitated the dominant tradition. The feminists of this time did not dare to stand up against the men but showed that they were no less than the domineering men as far as capabilities are concerned. In the second phase which Showalter calls the “feminist” phase [1880-1920], the feminists asserted their rights and protested vehemently against oppressions by men. It was followed by the “female” phase [1920 onwards] which

Online class

Fiction The online class began at 9. James woke up just in time to switch on the phone and log in to the class. Attendance is important. Having marked his attendance and making sure that both his audio and the video are switched off, James got up from bed. The teacher’s audio and video are on. ‘Inertia is a property of matter…” Malini Ma’am has already begun class. James searches for his toothbrush among all the pens, pencils and other such litter on the study table. ‘… existing state of rest or uniform motion…’ Malini Ma’am goes on. Phrases like straight line and external force are heard while the toothbrush is fished out and James moves to the washroom. Ensconced on the commode and chewing the toothbrush, James wonders why people like Newton had to bother about motions in straight lines and all when what matters most in real life is this motion in the toilet. Appa and Amma were busy in the cowshed and pigsty. Their motion starts at 4 o’clock in the morning. Can’t the cows s

Best sellers

  The best sellers of today are so atrocious that I have vowed to stay away from them come what may. “Self-published author” Varadharajan Ramesh recently provided the secrets of the making of a best seller as well as securing a career with that. Anyone can write anything and make that a best seller too within a day. It’s a game among friends. You buy my book and I’ll buy yours. Let’s make a group of such people and we all become best selling writers. Simple. Have you ever read some of those best sellers? There’s no content worth reading. Worse, there’s no grammar, let alone style. Most of these best sellers are not read by anyone at all. Why does anyone write them then? Writing best sellers is arguably the easiest way to get some fame, a feeling of self-worth, and possibly a feeling of intellectual superiority. I wonder how many of these best-selling authors actually found any delight in writing a school composition when they were students. I am a teacher by profession and a lan

മതവും കലയും വികലതയും

രക്ഷകൻ അന്തകൻ - Source: here മതവും കലയും തമ്മിൽ ഒരു ആത്മബന്ധം പണ്ട് മുതലേ ഉള്ളതാണ്. കലയെ ഏറെ പ്രോത്സാഹിപ്പിച്ചിട്ടുള്ള ഒരു ശക്തിയാണ് മതം. മൈക്കൽ ആഞ്ചലോയും ഡാവിഞ്ചിയും അവരുടെ ഏറ്റം മഹത്തായ കലകൾ സൃഷ്ടിച്ചിത് ദേവാലയങ്ങൾക്കു വേണ്ടി ആയിരുന്നു. ഭാരതത്തിലെ സ്ഥിതിയും വേറൊന്നായിരുന്നില്ല. അജന്തയും എല്ലോറയും മാത്രമല്ല, നൂറുകണക്കിന് ക്ഷേത്രങ്ങൾ കലയുടെ കേളിരംഗങ്ങൾ തന്നെ.  കലയും വിജ്ഞാനവും ഒരു പറ്റം വരേണ്യ വർഗ്ഗത്തിന്റെ കുത്തക ആയിരുന്നു അക്കാലം. ഭാരതത്തിൽ കീഴ്ജാതിക്കാർക്കു നിഷിദ്ധമായിരുന്നു കലയും വിജ്ഞാനവും. സംസ്‌കൃതം എന്ന ഭാഷ തന്നെ ഒരു ന്യൂനപക്ഷത്തിന്റെ സ്വകാര്യ സ്വത്തായിരുന്നു. ഭൂതം കാത്തു കാത്തു വച്ചിരുന്ന നിധി ആയിരുന്നു സംസ്‌കൃതം. ആ നിധി സ്വായത്തമാക്കുക പോട്ടെ അതിന്റെ അടുത്തൊന്നു പോകാൻ പോലും കീഴ്ജാതിക്കാരന് അവകാശം ഇല്ലായിരുന്നു. സംസ്‌കൃത ശ്ലോകങ്ങൾ ആകസ്മികമായി കേൾക്കാൻ പോലും ഇടയായാൽ ചെവിയിൽ ഈയം ഉരുക്കി ഒഴിക്കുക എന്നതായിരുന്നു കീഴ്ജാതിക്കാരനുള്ള ശിക്ഷ. ഇന്ന് ആ വരേണ്യ ഭാഷ ആർക്കും വേണ്ടാതായപ്പോൾ അത് മൊത്തം, അതിന്റെ സംസ്കാരം, രാഷ്ട്രത്തിനു മേൽ അടിച്ചേല്പിക്കുക എന്ന അവസ്ഥ വന്നിരിക്കുന്നു അല്ലെങ്കിൽ സ

Knowledge, Religion, and Science

 An "acute awareness of our ignorance is the heart of scientific thinking," says Carlo Rovelli, a physicist and author of Reality is not what it seems: The journey to quantum gravity . Science never hesitates to say "I don't know" when it does not know. Science does not take leaps of faith. Science is ready to admit its own errors when it learns better and it is ever ready to correct its errors.  Rovelli's book concludes with such thoughts. I understood only that concluding chapter. Hence this is not a book review. I bought the book seeing a few reviews which implied that a lay person could understand quantum mechanics by reading it. All the quantum mechanics I learnt from this book may be summarised in the following diagram from the book itself: The book is mostly an elaboration of the above evolution of understanding the reality. There are a lot of technical terms and even scientific formulas which remain beyond the grasp of anyone who lacks at least a sen

Universal soldiers

One of the most moving songs of Donovan Phillips Leitch is 'Universal Soldier' [link above]. Written in early 1960s, the song tries to tell us that we are all warmongers at heart, fighting for one ism or the other, one piece of land here or an antique god there, like the old feudal lords bossing over their vassals and peasants.  He'a a Catholic, a Hindu, an Atheist, a Jain A Buddhist and a Baptist and a Jew And he knows he shouldn't kill And he knows he always will Killing you for me my friend, and me for you That's one of the stanzas. All of us have one cause or another to fight for irrespective of our religions or whatever holy phantoms. We in India today have been fighting for quite a while now for a god who was supposed to have lived in some prehistoric period. Now we have managed to retrieve his birthplace by usurping another god who had at some period in history turned a usurper himself. We're going to construct a glorious house for this particular god. Wi

From the diary of a blunderer

  If you have an option to tell something to your younger writing self, what would you tell? Writer Damyanti Biswas raised this question recently. I was fascinated by the question if only because I would have liked to be an entirely different person in my youth (or at any phase, in fact). I have often described my life as a series of blunders. I am not much wiser today either though a lot of summers came and went with many sparrows chirruping various melodies. If only we could start all over again to begin with whatever semblance of wisdom we have acquired so far. I think it was a sheer coincidence that Damyanti’s question came just as I put down the book I was reading, Reality is not what it seems by Carlo Rovelli. This book is about the uncertainty of reality from the point of view of quantum physics. Rovelli is a physicist. It is a serious book, very serious, but a particular page of it made me laugh out uncontrollably so much so Maggie began to wonder whether I had gone crankie

God’s Conscience

Fiction Father was in high spirits though he looked older and weaker than ever. Joshua picked up his whisky glass once again as he watched his father stealthily. He had come home on a weekend holiday. ‘I want to have a drink with you,’ father had said in his last phone call. ‘It’s quite a while since we sat down together for a relaxed chat, isn’t it?’ They were the best of friends, father and son. Joshua worked in the city and lived there with his family. He would visit his parents on some weekends, once a month usually though the frequency had dwindled considerably after the breakout of Covid-19. His father, Stephen, retired landlord, would be delighted to buy the best whisky for the evening with his son. ‘Do you think anyone is able to die without any regret?’ Stephen asks his son putting down his whisky glass. This is the first time father is broaching the topic of death, Joshua recalls with a shocked sadness. But he decides not to reveal his emotions. He smiles and says,


  You show stress symptoms, the doc said, What’s it that bothers you?   Nothing, I said as he wrote the prescription of the usual pills and one more. You need some good sleep, he said.   There’s nothing that should steal my sleep, I repeated but he didn’t believe me.   The truth is that I was losing sleep. Over an ambulance driver who rapes the Covid patient he is taking for medical care. Over film stars and heroes who are arrested for drug pushing. Over the topmost bureaucrat arrested for smuggling in kilograms of gold. Over God’s own men on the road who lynch peasants taking home their cows.   Bolo, Jai Sri Ram! The lynch mob’s scowl looms like a spectre over my bed stealing my sleep.   Why to bother you, doc, with my spectres? Even gods are helpless, what can you do? Except prescribe tabs for my symptoms?      

Blend the saint and the hunter

  Outside a church in Kerala Philosopher Spinoza identified three ethical systems that human beings generally tend to follow. One of them centres on the heart, the second on passion for power, and the third on the brain. The first is the way of the saints and religious people. Jesus and the Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa followed this path of the heart. These people consider everyone as equally precious, resist evil by returning good, identify virtue with love , and inclines to total democracy in politics. Conquerors and dictators follow their passion for power. From Alexander the Great to Narendra Modi (whose greatness has apparently been acknowledged by quite a few million people of India), many people who were perceived as “strong” leaders or rulers belong to this category. Spinoza argued that for these rulers some people are superior to others. They don’t care two hoots about equality and such stuff. They relish the risks of combat, conquest, and rule. They identify