Tuesday, September 29, 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 helplessness. Patriotism and nationalism, gods and scriptures, slogans and shibboleths, are all expedient grist for their self-serving mills.

The Evening and the Morning has Wilf and his brother Wynstan as representatives of these depraved leaders. Wilf is the political power in the novel and Wynstan is a bishop. They are step-brothers too, born of the same father. Of the two, the bishop is more perverted and diabolic. He is a precise mirror image of a present-day Bishop in India who faces many charges of raping nuns, amassing huge sums of black money, and running a mafia of thugs. Bishop Wynstan is a counterfeiter of currency, a lecher, gambler, and a heartless schemer who does not hesitate to usurp his own brother.

Follett always counterbalances his cast with good people too. Ragna, Wilf’s wife, is a noble character. So is Edgar who is just an ordinary, helpless citizen. There is a monk too, Aldred, who shows the redemptive potential of religion.

It is Edgar who raises the question to both Ragna and Aldred, “Why aren’t there more people like you?”

The world would have been the kingdom of heaven if there were more people like Ragna, Aldred, and Edgar. Ragna is a noble political power though very limited by her gender. Aldred is an equally noble religious leader. Edgar is a noble ordinary citizen. They are the reverses of people who actually wield the powers.

Why do perverts and criminals end up in the topmost rungs of the hierarchical ladder, whether in politics or religion? Follett suggests that there is an umbilical connection between power and venality. See what he says about Bishop Wynstan:

Two things gave him joy: money and power. And they were the same really. He loved to have power over people, and money gave him that. He could not imagine ever having more power and money than he wanted. He was a bishop, but he wanted to be archbishop, and when he achieved that he would strive to become the king’s chancellor, perhaps to be king; and even then he would want more power and money.

In the absence of Wilf for a brief while, Ragna takes over the governance and people benefit tremendously. She brings prosperity, justice, and goodness to people. She shows that it is possible to create a happy world, in spite of unavoidable evils like illness and natural calamity. But the Wilfs and the Wynstans won’t let Ragnas survive!

Why can’t people be like you, Ragna? I’m left wondering too.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

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 we hear the Gayatri Mantra in The Ministry is as a promotional material in a British Airways commercial. The burgeoning Indian middle class is very religion-conscious. After all, they elected as Prime Minister the same man, “Gujarat ka Lalla”, who wished to send all Muslims to Pakistan ya kabristan. The Gayatri Mantra must have an eerie charm for people who love to send other people to kabristan.

Zainab has to grow up in a kabristan in Delhi with Anjum. It is Zainab who recites the Gayatri Mantra later in the novel. She doesn’t know the meaning. She doesn’t even know which language it is written in. But she knows that it is a Hindu prayer. She recites it for her fiancé who was a Hindu once upon a time. She recites it, in fact, as a funeral song in memory of the dead father of her fiancé. Zainab recites it standing in a fast-food stall in a shopping mall that was built over the place where that man for whose soul she recites it was killed. “I know a Hindu prayer!” She says, “Shall I recite it here in memory of Abbajaan?”

The Gayatri Mantra acquires a prismatic spectrum of meanings in Roy’s novel. This capacity to produce meanings is the ultimate power of literature. This meaning created by literature is not morality. This meaning can lead one to morality. It should.

The Gayatri Mantra as a prayer may not do that at all. On the contrary, it can kill. Religion can be a deadly weapon in wrong hands as it has happened in contemporary India. Roy’s novel shows how cemeteries become the habitats of certain people because of religions. Such revelations can be made only by literature, I think.

This is a continuation of my last post which argued that literature is not moral science. I conclude this discussion here. The purpose of this post is to repeat what I said in the last post that literature can be more effective in transforming people into better creatures than religions. I just brought in the example of a contemporary novel. I am happy that the last post aroused some debate. I would be happy to continue that debate.

 

 

Friday, September 25, 2020

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 solution either; idealism corrupts too.

Conrad and other writers of any eminence don’t preach us any morality. They show us life as they see it. They show the essentially tragic nature of human existence, its inevitable corruptibility. Some writers see the tragedy more clearly than some others who are struck by the sheer absurdity of human existence. Many of our contemporary writers are struck by the blatant farcicality of human life. Tragedy might be better than the farce that we are condemned to endure nowadays.

There is no morality in it – tragedy, comedy or farce – except the morality you bring. Literature is not moral science class. Literature is the theatre where the drama of life unfolds artistically. It is art, not morality, not spirituality, not pious sentiments. Hamlet created his morality by killing his own mother and uncle because their fraudulence merited death in Hamlet’s moral vision which was as blurred as anyone’s in the beginning. Hamlet learns morality, his morality.

We have to learn our own morality and literature helps us to do that. That is the most fundamental purpose of literature: to make us see life more clearly, understand it, and then shape our moral vision. Shape, not teach. Literature provides the fire required for the imagination to undergo the required melting. Literature is the forge.

The process is quite similar to what religions try to achieve. Religions try to give us spiritual experiences which in turn can transmute us into nobler creatures. Literature tries to give us imaginative experiences which in turn will do the transmutation. Literature probably has done its job better than religions and gods so far.

PS. This is written in response to Indispire Edition 344: Do you look for a moral in every story? Share any story. #StoryTime. I haven’t been able to do justice to the entire theme. My profession, which has gone completely online, consumes so much of me sometimes that my hobby of writing becomes a casualty. I will continue with this in the next post which has acquired in my mind the title ‘The Literature of the Gayatri Mantra’.

Monday, September 21, 2020

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 freedom enjoyed by the members here is not seen in groups usually. I think a certain degree of enlightened acceptance of others and their otherness is required in order to coexist so blissfully. We had an informal gathering last year in a hotel in Kochi. Drinks, food, jokes, and laughter constituted the agenda. The spirit of camaraderie that bound together the boundless disparities of minds overwhelmed me. The WhatsApp group is very active to this day. There are scores of messages that flash in the group each day. And nobody fights about any of these though many of them are mutually contradictory, mutually annihilating.

Nobody imposes anything on anyone here. This is my view. Take it or leave it. You can question me and yet we remain friends. I respect you for what you are. You respect me for what I am. As Fritz Perls put it, “I am not in this world to live up to your expectations and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you, and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful.” It is that beauty which this group creates every day.

Is it possible to create that beauty in larger groups? I doubt. Enlightenment is very choosy about its receivers.  

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Azadi

 


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. Fiction becomes the only valid way of understanding a reality of this sort which is considered sacrosanct by the majority while it decimates a few million people slowly and not so slowly.

The issues raised in the book are not new. We are familiar with them all: fascism and certain Modi-created demons such as demonetisation, empty slogans like ‘Make in India’, degradation of universities and institutions, decimation of the agriculture sector, lynching, and projection of genuine Dalit problems as sheer Naxalism.  Kashmir is a recurrent theme. RSS and its multi-faced demons come and go. Fiction, particularly Roy’s recent novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, holds all these together like a magic fabric the patterns on which keep changing as we move from one essay to the next showing us new realities and new meanings.

Modi’s India does not want non-Hindus. That has been made clear enough by the various thuggish organisations affiliated to the RSS. Muslims are the primary targets. Right from the 2002 Gujarat riots to the recent Citizenship Amendment Act, too many things have been perpetrated by Modi and his henchmen to alienate the Muslim population in the country.

Even before Modi, independent India has always been “an upper-caste Hindu state”. But pre-Modi, India had a hypocritical secularism which is what actually “made India possible” [emphasis in original]. “That hypocrisy was the best thing we had,” says Roy. “Without it, India will end.”

This book shows how Modi and his protean army are putting an end to India. Modi wants to make India “One nation, one religion, one language.” It is a chimera that can’t be achieved without a shocking lot of bloodshed as well as surreptitious methods (which are all in practice now).

Democracy has been strangled for all practical purposes by Modi who behaves precisely like a dictator. Those who question him too much are done away with one way or another. Those who support him can not only get away with rape and murder, assault and lynching, but also get rewarded for their devilish loyalty. In Roy’s words, “Lynchers, and others accused in hate crimes, including mass murder, have been rewarded with public office and honoured by ministers in Modi’s cabinet.”

One of the most diabolically effective tactics employed by Modi is the fake news industry which is “corporatized, Bollywoodized, televised, Twitterized, atomized, weaponized, WhatsAppized, and is disseminating its product at the speed of light.” India is a living lie under Modi. Modi has converted 1.3 billion people into walking frauds.

There are a few out of those billions who refuse to swallow the fake patriotism shovelled down their throats by a demoniac leader. They still dare to speak the truth. “It’s a battle of those who know how to think against those who know how to hate,” says Roy. “A battle of lovers against haters. It’s an unequal battle, because the love is on the street and vulnerable. The hate is on the street, too, but it is armed to the teeth, and protected by all the machinery of the state.”

This is the ultimate tragedy of any nation: hate reigning supreme pretending to be sacred nationalism. Roy’s book exposes this demon that has taken charge of India.

Friday, September 18, 2020

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 man who infects hardly anyone, is the man who has the fewest lapses of attention.”  

Where have all the good men disappeared? Why is Diogenes unable to put down his lantern and take rest?

How many Gauri Lankeshes and Narendra Dabholkars, how many Kalburgis and Pansares, must lay down their lives before the torchbearers of ancient civilisations realise that the real light is what we create here and now and not the flickers of ossified history in the fossils of myths and legends? How many innocent and honest seekers must face charges of sedition before the government realises that power is a responsibility to care for the entire country and not for a faction?

How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?

Bob Dylan sings dolefully, “The answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.”

As long as the answer only keeps blowing in the wind, a lot of people will keep themselves busy dying instead of living. A lot will just keep watching, callously, may be helplessly. A Sanjiv Bhatt languishing in a jail doesn’t inspire anyone even to murmur like the rustling leaf in a breeze that the king is indeed naked. Naked, in spite of the varied costumes – the motley – he dons and doffs as he pleases.

Babu Bajrangi will remain a national hero. Remember him?

He was the lynchpin behind the 2002 Gujarat riots which secured Modi’s political stature in the country. He was caught on camera by Tehelka magazine in 2007 boasting about his proximity to Modi and saying, “We didn’t spare a single Muslim shop, we set everything on fire, we set them on fire and killed them … hacked, burnt, set on fire… because these bastards say they don’t want to be cremated.” [The video is still online.]

He was arrested years after he committed the heinous crimes. He was convicted of the murder of 97 people. Yet he was released last year on bail because of alleged health reasons. Can there be more dangerous viruses than people like him?

Yet people like him are heroes today. What has he contributed to his society but hatred? Some call that hatred ‘national pride’. Well, what do names matter in a country where hardcore criminals call themselves Yogi and Sadhvi and so on.

I have two pet kittens whose names are Antony and Cleopatra.

 

PS. Inspired by Indispire Edition 343: Some people are busy living while others are busy dying. What would you like to tell either or both of these categories? #LiveFully

 

 

 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

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 19th 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 focused on a rediscovery of women as they are instead of as enemies of men or as social constructs or something of the sort.

A woman is as much an individual as a man. She has all the rights that the man has. She deserves every good thing that the man gets. Real feminism should be about those rights, dignity, equality, and so on and not about childish reactions to silly men on social media or elsewhere.

Recently some women artistes in Kerala took feminism to one of its primitive phases by posting their own semi-naked photos on social media as a mark of protest against some men (boys probably) who had apparently questioned one particular artiste’s baring of her legs. This was a rather silly and very girlish reaction. Of course, the reaction came from people who looked rather like girls than mature women. When it comes from boys and girls, there is fun in it and one need not take it too seriously.

Coincidently at the same time I came across the following post on the Facebook timeline of a serious thinker and writer.


It attracted quite a few responses the most interesting of which came from a woman whom I once described as “the rage of a wildfire” after a very brief association with her on Facebook and no other connection. There is a fire in her soul which might not be “so poetic” as I described, she responded to my comment. In one of her responses to the above FB question she said candidly that she did wage a “war against patriarchy and rules for women” but added that the war is not feminism. She calls it “rebellion, women’s liberation, etc…”

What the above artistes did was just that: rebellion, and rather girlish too.

My FB feminist friend above makes it lucid enough in another part of her comment: “Feminism… is the proud embracing of femininity, and claiming its rightful place in the world, which is neither above nor below anyone or anything else.” A few pregnant lines down she says, “Looking through a wider, more holistic lens though, there exists femininity and masculinity in each of us regardless of our gender. Sometimes one is amplified and sometimes the other. This separation of womanly behaviour, feelings, etc or manly behaviour, feelings, etc, are constructs of what we have come to call the matrix… in order for the powers that be to enforce their agendas on us.”

There is fire in this feminist. But it is not the wild fire that burns one’s own clothes according to one’s own convenience [to show off beautiful legs, for example]. This is the fire of the real feminist – the real rebel a la Albert Camus. This fire is seasoned and tempered by storms and deluges over years. The young artistes may take a lesson from that. I rest my case.

 

PS. I have absolutely no issues with girls showing off their physical charms. I’m not questioning the baring indulged in by the girls in the above picture or anyone at all. I admire beauty including the feminine version of it. My concern is whether this new gen artistes will grow up from girlish rebellion into the mature rage of a wildfire.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

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 sleep a little more and wait for a decent time of the day to be milked? Who cares anyway? There must be some laws of motion for cows too. Newton be damned.

‘The final velocity of a moving object is dependent on three things,’ Malini Ma’am’s class is continuing as James emerges from the washroom feeling fresh enough for a glass of Bournvita. James picks up the phone and walks to the dining room where his glass of warm energy drink must be waiting. Amma must have taken the usual tangential motion from the cowshed in order to get the Bournvita ready at the right time for the darling son. ‘… initial velocity, acceleration, and time…’ Malini Ma’am, can’t you make this a little less complicated?

We = you + ATM will demand more attention, James decides. He can make that equation an excuse for chatting up with Megha in the afternoon. ‘Hi Megha, what’s acceleration got to do with ATM?’ And then Megha will flip the kiss-curl from her plumb cheek with her sleek fingers and say, ‘Jerk, acceleration is a tough concept. Very creepy, you know.’ And then she’ll go peppy on the phone screen with her kiss-curl accelerating onto her chubby cheek as if there was a Newtonian force acting on it irresistibly.

Sipping the warm Bournvita, James flips to WhatsApp. Malini Ma’am goes on to lecture about ‘per second per second’. Let her. There are many unread messages in WhatsApp. Per second per second can wait until the motion of Megha’s kiss-curl starts flipping.

One of the messages is from Anita. Must be quite sentimental. Anita’s sentiments accelerate like the KTM 390 Duke. James opens Anita’s message. It is a video. A girl opens her notebook and reads a poem she has written herself while her father is chilling out on the couch behind her with his mobile phone in hand. The poem is about a lonely girl’s wish to be a mobile phone.

I wish I were a mobile phone..

Nobody bothers about me.

But when the mobile rings

They all rush to pick it up…

Wow! James thinks it’s wonderful. Loneliness is so painful, Anita, I know. And he forwards the video to all his friends’ groups.

The Bournvita is over.

‘When we come to the distance travelled by a body, the final velocity is not in picture,’ Malini Ma’am is teaching.

A cow lows from the shed. Another one echoes that. The echo accelerates in the hollowness somewhere.

‘Great video, dude,’ James types a response to Anita.

 

  

Monday, September 14, 2020

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 language teacher at that. I know how impossible it is to get 16-, 17-year-olds to write a paragraph with some genuine effort, emotions, and thought. There are exceptions, of course. I still have a whole bunch of writings presented to me like a daily naivedya every morning by a student a few years ago. Every morning when I reached the staffroom a piece of paper would be awaiting me on my table. This was from a student who had passed through much pain in her life. She transmuted all those pains into elegant lines. Today she continues to struggle with life in a professional college and has no time to write at all. Genuine writers have no time. She is one of many similar examples I know.

What one student alone wrote in about 2 years

“Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic,” as Oscar Wilde put it. What creates today’s best sellers are farcical existences. People who were born into the lap of luxury, people who have known no hardships, people who have not even bothered to take a look at the hardships of other people, are our best-selling authors now. Those who don’t experience pain can’t ever produce any worthwhile art. Writing, like any other art, is not the raucousness of the weekend party but the subdued sigh in the jhuggi jhopri.

The sigh is likely to remain subdued in the dark alleys while real life roars on the highways.

 

The obverse side

 What prompted me to write this is Indispire’s latest edition: “When did you first realize that you can or must write? What was the subject of your first creative written work?” I wish I could remember any of that. I used to write quite a lot of stuff as a student but never dared to show any of that to any teacher or anyone at all. Even when I wrote some good essays in the language tests, particularly Malayalam, the teachers scoffed my attempts to sound poetic. It was a tough existence in those days. It was tough later too. Now, in the autumn twilight of my life, the toughness has become the normal routine. And I have learnt to smile as my voice merges into the sighs in the dark alleys.

 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

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 സൃഷ്ടിക്കപ്പെട്ടിരിക്കുന്നു. 

അതാണ് രാഷ്ട്രീയത്തിന്റെ വികലത. മനുഷ്യന് ആവശ്യമുള്ളത് സമയത്തു നിഷേധിക്കുകയും ആവശ്യമില്ലാത്തപ്പോൾ അടിച്ചേൽപ്പിക്കുകയും ചെയുന്നത് അന്യവൽക്കരണത്തിന്റെ രാഷ്ട്രീയ തന്ത്രമാണ്. വളരെ പഴയ തന്ത്രം തന്നെ. അറിവ് നിഷേധിച്ചുകൊണ്ട് കീഴ്ജാതിക്കാരെ അന്യവൽക്കരിച്ചു ഒരു കാലത്ത്. അതെ അറിവ് കാലഹരണപ്പെട്ടു കഴിഞ്ഞപ്പോൾ ചരിത്രത്തിന്റെ ചവറ്റുകൂനയിൽ നിന്ന് പെറുക്കിയെടുത്തു ഒരു വിഭാഗത്തിന്മേൽ കെട്ടിയേല്പിച്ചു കൊണ്ട് ആ വിഭാഗത്തെ അന്യവൽക്കരിക്കുന്നു ഇന്ന്. ‌ദേശീയത എന്നൊരു ഓമനപ്പേരും. 

ഇതിഹാസങ്ങളും ഐതിഹ്യങ്ങളും കലകൾ തന്നെയാണല്ലോ. അവയെയും യുക്തം പോലെ manipulate ചെയുന്നു ഈ പുതിയ ദേശസ്നേഹികൾ. മാവേലി ഐതിഹ്യം അടിച്ചമർത്തപ്പെടുന്ന നന്മയുടെ സുവിശേഷം ആണ് എന്ന് ഒരു വ്യാഖ്യാനം കൊടുത്തതിന്റെ പേരിൽ ഒരു കന്യാസ്ത്രിയെ അടുത്ത കാലത്തു ഏതാനും ദേശസ്നേഹികൾ police station കയറ്റുകയുണ്ടായി. മാവേലി ഐതിഹ്യത്തെ അടിച്ചമർത്തുന്നവന്റെ സുവിശേഷം ആയി ഈ ദേശസ്നേഹികൾ വ്യാഖ്യാനം ചെയ്യാൻ തുടങ്ങിയിട്ട് കുറച്ചു കാലമായി. [I wrote about this 4 Onams ago: Onam - celebration of human longing for utopia]

വിജ്ഞാനവും ചരിത്രവും കലയും സാഹിത്യവും എല്ലാം വികലമായിക്കൊണ്ടിരിക്കുന്നു. ഒരു ചെറിയ സംഘത്തിന്റെ സ്ഥാപിത താൽപര്യങ്ങൾക്കു വേണ്ടി പണ്ട് ഇവയെ എല്ലാം ഉപയോഗിച്ചത് പോലെ തന്നെ ഇപ്പോഴും ഒരു വിഭാഗത്തിന്റെ താൽപര്യങ്ങൾക്കു വേണ്ടി ഇവ ഉപയോഗിക്കപ്പെടുന്നു. 

സ്വതന്ത്ര ഭാരതത്തിന്റെ ഏറ്റവും ഇരുണ്ട ഒരു ഘട്ടത്തിലൂടെയാണ് നാം ഇപ്പോൾ കടന്നുപോകുന്നത്. മതവും കലയും തീർത്തും വികലമാക്കപ്പെട്ടിരിക്കുന്നു. വെറുപ്പിന്റെ പിശാചുക്കൾ സംസ്‌കൃതിയുടെ കാവൽപ്പടയാനെന്നു നമ്മെ ധരിപ്പിച്ചുകൊണ്ടിരിക്കുന്നു. കീഴാള സംസ്കാരം, സതിസംസ്കാരം, നന്മ ചവിട്ടിത്താഴ്ത്തപ്പെടുന്ന സംസ്കാരം പുണ്യമായി അവരോധിക്കപ്പെടുന്നു. ഹാ രാഷ്ട്രമേ, കേഴുക. 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

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 senior secondary student's knowledge of physics. I had physics as a subsidiary subject for graduation and hence photons and field theory did not sound too alien to me. Yet I could not understand much of the book. 

I enjoyed parts of it, parts which made sense to me and those which related certain ways and methods of scientists. The last chapter appealed to me tremendously. Titled 'Mystery', the last chapter speaks about the virtues of science. "Science is born from (an) act of humility," says Rovelli. 

"To learn something, it is necessary to have the courage to accept that what we think we know, including our most rooted convictions, may be wrong, or at least naive." If you believe what everyone else believes just because everyone else believes it, you can't ever be a scientist. Science does not have "faith in the accumulated knowledge of our fathers and grandfathers," says the author. "We learn nothing if we think that we already know the essentials, if we assume that they were written in a book or known by the elders of the tribe."

What was written centuries ago need not be true today even if the author claims that it was revealed by God. The Vedas and the Puranas, the Bible and the Quran, whatever, may be capable of providing certain guidelines in one's spiritual life. But they are not valid sources of knowledge. If Copernicus and Einstein followed their religious scriptures, our world would have been moving in a darker penumbra.

"To live with uncertainty may be difficult," as Rovelli says. So we create the certainty of gods and scriptures. We blind ourselves with this forged certainty and claim that we possess the light, the ultimate truth, and then we go around killing others for not accepting our ultimate truths.

Rovelli asks "to seek to look further, to go further." If we start doing that, we will love better and live better.   There is always another hill to climb, a new apple to taste, instead of clinging to the mythical Paradise and its forbidden apple. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

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. Will our strife end with that? 

No, obviously. War is universal, eternal, inevitable. War is as absolute a human truth as love, gods, and lust. We can't live without it any more than we can without the air we breathe and the water we drink. 

The world is now fighting a war with a pandemic. That does not deter a country like China from behaving like the local pickpocket by stealing a few cents of land here and another few there. But China is not what it seems to be, we know. So we have got our Rafale fighter planes ready with the mantra of peace, Om, auspiciously smeared on them. 

Let us assume that one day we will bring the Chinese dragon to its ignominious doom especially since our leader is no less than an avatar of God Vishnu himself. Let us also assume that this "strong leader" will make our country one holy Ram Raj or something like that. Will we live happily ever after?

Who created the castes within the same religion just to elevate some people above the others? Who decided that the widows should burn alive on the funeral pyres of their husbands? Who decided that young girls should be dedicated to temples as Devadasis so that their sexual services will be made available free of charge to certain sections in the society? 

One can go on asking infinite questions of that sort. We don't need enemies from China and Pakistan to bring out the universal soldiers within ourselves. Even if a Real God comes and establishes a Divine Kingdom here, we will create our own isms [at least crony capitalism] to secure our own selfish interests. That's what universal soldierliness is about. 

As Donovan sings, the universal soldier - you and I - will decide who should live and who should die and for what cause, what god, what shit. 

It is better to become a universal writer like me, my friend. Fight with words and ideas. That does no harm. Except, maybe, raise a few silly hackles. But who knows, maybe in the long run, the universal writers can bring about a better world. Let's try. Come on, join me and start writing, start questioning the feudal lords and their isms. 

Thursday, September 10, 2020

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 crankier than usual. I closed the book and continued to laugh because I couldn’t do anything else until Maggie insisted on my telling her what was so funny about quantum physics.

 Rovelli says that Paul Dirac was the greatest physicist of the 20th century after Einstein. But he is not well-known enough. “This is due, in part, to the rarefied abstraction of his science,” says Rovelli, “and partly due to his disconcerting character.” Dirac was an acute introvert who remained utterly silent in company. He was incapable of expressing emotions. He couldn’t even recognise acquaintances. Ordinary conversations made no sense to his mind that moved with electrons and fermions.

Rovelli went on to mention an anecdote. During one of his lectures, a colleague said to Dirac, “I don’t understand that formula.” Dirac paused, remained silent for a moment, and then continued as if nothing had happened. The moderator interrupted to suggest that Dirac should answer the question that was raised. Dirac was sincerely astonished. He said, “Question? What question? My colleague has made an assertion.”

I stopped reading then and there, mid-paragraph, unable to control my laughter. I narrated the anecdote to Maggie and said, “Genius is more absurd than the mediocre.”

I needed a break from reading and picked up my mobile phone. It was then Damyanti’s question flashed on the screen. This is the coincidence I mentioned earlier. Perhaps, without the bafflement of Paul Dirac, Damyanti’s question would not have bothered me much. I couldn’t have been any wiser as a young man than Paul Dirac could have been less genius in that episode.

Paul Dirac, you, and I, we all have our personalities forged partly by our genes and partly by the environment in which we had the (mis)fortune to be brought up. Dirac’s mind was far from normal. He was virtually autistic and palpably abnormal. Albert Einstein was provoked to suggest that Dirac’s mind traversed a “vertiginous course between genius and madness”. My youthful roguishness was as natural to me as the ‘vertigo’ was to Dirac.

Looking back I know how inane, absurd and futile the whole enterprise was: my writing and most of the other things I did as a young man. Life teaches harsh lessons to such people. Life doesn’t tolerate rogues as much as it does fools. Dear Damyanti, life taught me a lot, a lot more than you would imagine. If I were to tell something to that silly young writer that I was, it would be a few volumes.

This doesn’t mean I regret all that I was. No, not at all. This just means how helpless I was: I had no choice about my genes, my society, my religion and its pathetic god, all of those things that chiselled through my being relentlessly. It happens to everyone, of course. The only difference is that I was not even clever enough to dodge undesirable chisels. Can cleverness be taught? If yes, I would tell that young writer-self of mine to learn some cleverness. That would be the briefest lesson I could give him. The volumes could wait.

But it doesn’t work that way, Damyanti. A friend of mine (a rare species) told me the other day with the candidness that only a drink could have provoked: “You’re so naïve that you wouldn’t have survived so long hadn’t you cocooned yourself in your own carapace.” In other words, even life has failed to teach me some of the most essential lessons. What will I teach my younger self?

 

 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

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, ‘Even God died with regrets, dad. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Wasn’t that the last lament of Jesus?’

Stephen laughs lightly. Not the usual mirthful laugh he has after a drink. ‘God can never be happy, son. What a horror it must be to endure the terror of one’s own creation for years and endless years!’

That throws Joshua into contemplation. This has been the routine since childhood: father will raise a point and then leave the son to think about it.

‘Look at that headline in the right corner,’ Stephen points to the newspaper that was lying on the sofa by Joshua’s side. CONSCIENCE MY GUIDE, SAYS JUSTICE ARUN MISHRA. That is the headline.

Stephen chuckles. ‘Hitler could have claimed as much, no?’ Father says, ‘Conscience is quite a rubbery thing. This guy’s duty was to follow the country’s constitution and the laws. What the hell has his rotten conscience got to do with public affairs? Wasn’t it his conscience that brought down the Maradu flats?’

Justice Mishra had ordered the demolition of the two controversial but majestic flats in Kochi last year. An infinite number of illegal constructions go on and are allowed to stay in this country. But Justice Mishra’s conscience boiled only in Kochi. Some consciences are like that. They boil just on expedient occasions.

Stephen had a reason to mention the Maradu apartments. His daughter and her husband had put together all their savings and added some loans from banks and non-banking sectors to purchase a flat in those apartments. It was their dream home. They wished to return from the harsh climate of Alaska as soon as the loans were repaid and live in the romantic landscapes of Kochi’s backwaters. But then, all on a sudden, their dreams just came tumbling down thanks to Justice Mishra’s conscience. Now Stephen’s daughter and her husband will work in the inhuman arctic steppes of Alaska till the end of their lives probably building up another dream from the shambles left by Justice Mishra’s conscience.

‘All holy riots and cow-lynchings are driven by consciences, I guess,’ Stephen mumbles as he takes another sip of the Teacher’s whisky. Then he smiles feebly. Joshua is a little worried because this is not how father usually is. The more the sips, the louder the laughs. Now that is reversed.

‘When I was young,’ Stephen says, ‘before I married your mother I had an affair, you know.’

Joshua stares at his father in surprise.

‘You don’t know. A father doesn’t tell such things to his son, isn’t it? She was a young girl who worked on our farms. I was as old as she. We kissed a number of times. I caressed her smooth curves occasionally. Then my conscience awoke. She must have thought I was just impotent. One of those days I saw her stark-naked body being crushed blissfully beneath the massive naked body of another labourer on our farms. Bliss has no conscience.’

Stephen’s voice becomes feebler as he goes on. ‘Bliss is the ultimate truth,’ Stephen says. ‘Does bliss have regrets?’

‘Do you regret anything about…?’ Joshua hesitates. How do you ask your father whether he regrets not screwing a girl in his youth?

‘About that girl?’ Stephen smiles. ‘I’m not sure. But there are other regrets. Too many. Too many blunders. Like I could have been more generous… Life could have been a lot happier if… Well, if not for Mishra’s conscience.”

The glass fell from Stephen’s hand and broke into pieces. Before Joshua could realise what was happening, Stephen’s body became inert on the sofa.

‘May God forgive the sins of commission and omission of this departed brother of ours,’ Father Gregory was uttering the last prayer, ‘and grant him eternal bliss.’

Does God judge by His conscience? The thought refused to leave Joshua days after his father was buried.

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Symptoms

 


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?

 

 

 

Monday, September 7, 2020

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 virtue with power. They love to create an elite class around them.

Aristotle and Albert Einstein and others like them who follow the light of the brain and intellectual faculties identify virtue with knowledge and wisdom. This last path is the ideal, according to Spinoza, since it examines the given reality from multiple angles and gives due importance to both the heart and the brain. You can’t let the heart run away with its effeminate emotions. [Spinoza considered love a feminine virtue.] Letting the ruthlessness of power take over the entire spectrum of human activities is worse. Spinoza considered power and its ruthlessness masculine. The ideal is a harmonious blend of the heart and the power-instinct, the philosopher said.

People like Jesus and Gandhi end up on the cross or in front of a pervert’s gun-barrel. They may eventually be elevated to the most high positions: Jesus became God and Gandhi became Father of a Nation. Dictators bring about the destruction of a lot of people though they may also become heroes for certain groups. Much of their brutality may be masqueraded as noble acts in the name of culture or race or something like that.

Those who choose to follow the path of the intellect don’t kill anyone and generally don’t end with a pervert’s bullet in the heart though intellectuals are not always safe in countries ruled by dictators. There are times when we should let the heart make the decisions, and there are times when we need to put the foot down firmly. On most occasions, however, a harmonious blend of the heart and the assertiveness is what produces noble thoughts and deeds.

We often project love as the greatest ideal. This is a terrible mistake just because most people are incapable of the kind of love that our religions preach. This is why our religions are pathetic failures even after centuries of being in practice. The entire teaching of Jesus was founded on love and yet there has been no religion that committed acts of unpardonable cruelty as Christianity. The history of Islam is not much better. Hinduism today seems to be competing with these rivals to usurp their shocking historical positions.

People should be taught to forge a harmonious blend between the soft sentimentalism of the saint and the ruthless pragmatism of the hunter. Religions have failed miserably and dictatorship is not desirable. Why not try out something different? This might even work, in the long run.

 

PS. Provoked by Indispire Edition 341: Do you feel one must first have a relationship with self before focusing on others? How important is “self-love”? Do you have “me-time”? #SelfLove