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Showing posts from June, 2021

If I am not I

  “If I am not I, who will be?” Philosopher Thoreau wondered. Didn’t he like himself? I wonder. Who likes himself? I ask myself with a chuckle. I don’t, at least. I never did. It’s bad strategy to admit that so loud, I know. Even if you detest yourself, never admit it openly. No one likes people who pity themselves. Self-pity destroys everything except the pathetic self. It’s better to follow the example of Thoreau and move to your private Walden and live your life as you like. People thought that Thoreau was a hypocrite because he supposedly severed ties with society and yet visited the town when he liked and visited his mother “for pie and laundry service” (Eric Weiner’s phrase). The truth is that Thoreau had never claimed that he hated society and hence wanted solitude. Thoreau, like most good people, had a fair share of crankiness. That doesn’t make him a hypocrite. In fact, he was quite a good guy whom many people didn’t understand in his time. He was a philosopher. And there

Seeing with the heart

  “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly,” Antoine de Saint-Exupery says in his classical little book, The Little Prince . “What is essential is invisible to the eye.” The most vital truths are not arrived at through reason. Even philosophers need to listen to their heart, as writer Eric Weiner says in The Socrates Express . The answers of the head are not only less satisfying, says Weiner, “but, in the deepest sense, less true.” It is not clever answers that the world needs. It is authentic answers which are required. Authentic answers come from the heart. The great teachers were all people who sat with their ignorance and doubts for a long, very long while, before they arrived at answers that eventually made the world wiser. When answers of the heart are lynched, we will have a perverse nation. Too many poets and writers of India are perishing behind the bars because they looked at the reality with their hearts. In a penetrating article titled ‘ There is freedom, b

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 were much simpler than the ones I see nowadays, for example. Fifty years can make the world quite a different place. By this logic, people who lived a few centuries ago would have been very nice creatures. Well, not quite. It doesn’t work that way. People had more or less the same degree of wickedness at any time. What Jean-Paul Sartre said in 20 th century is what Marcus Aurelius said in the second century. Sartre said, “Hell is other people.” Aurelius said, “When you wake in the morning, tell yourself: the people you deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, jealous, and surly.” Even Mother Teresa, who being a saint would have been expected to foster a more generous view of human beings, seemed to think quite in the lines of Sartre and Aurelius. “People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centred; forgive them anyway,” Mot


The best differentiation between knowledge and wisdom is given by Miles Kington, British musician. “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit,” he said. “Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.” Wisdom is not an accumulation of knowledge, as I used to think for a long time. I kept on reading book after book on every possible topic under the sun from religion to science deluded by the hope that I would be wise one day until I realised that the semiliterate neighbour of mine whom I offered a lift once was far wiser than me though he had never read any book. What makes us happy or miserable is just a choice we make, he said when I made a snide remark on a hoarding that promised all Indians achhe din , happy days. “Knowledge is something you possess. Wisdom is something you do.” Nobody could have put it better than Eric Weiner [ The Socrates Express ]. I know that I am a silly old man on a tiny planet in a cosmos that has billions of galaxies. But I act as if I am the Lord of

The Road to Xanadu

  Book Review Title: Xanadu Author: Harshita Nanda Format: PDF E-book   Harshita Nanda’s novella, Xanadu , is more about a road to Xanadu than Xanadu itself. The idyl is not natural or easily available. It has to be created. It demands much agony and endurance from us. This novella is about those agonies and endurances. That is precisely what makes it enjoyable too. Utopias can’t entertain us; they can only satiate us and then leave us exhausted with ennui. The reason why there aren’t any utopias in the human world may be precisely that. We have all the potential to create utopias. But we won’t create them. In fact, if someone does create one, the others will sow the seeds of all possible vices there and kill it. That is how human nature is. All our good literature is about those vices and follies of ours. Any good novel has to end where the idyllic Xanadu begins. And that is just what happens in Harshita Nanda’s novella too. The plot revolves primarily round Anita, Bhoom

Godse’s ghosts

  Asharam Bhakt woke up in his dream. A figure that looked supernatural and possibly divine in spite of its resemblance to Nathuram Godse said, “Who controls the past controls the future.” The apparition vanished instantly but Asharam found himself standing in the Ambala jail where Godse was being readied for his execution. Gandhi’s killer looked scared to death. Asharam could see Godse’s knees wobbling. Is this the man who fired bullet after bullet into the frail body of a man who was uttering God’s name? Asharam wondered. Not that he had any sympathy for Mohandas Gandhi. On the contrary, he was an admirer of Godse and his advocacy of the Brahmin superiority. And all the more his hatred of Muslims. If Godse were alive today wouldn’t he be pleased to see how India has become the kind of nation that he wanted it to be: an exterminator of Muslims and slow killer of the low castes? No, Godse says to Asharam. The executioner is getting the gallows ready yonder. What! Asharam cannot

We: The Losers

  Hamlet was a loser and a hero. Faced with a shocking evil – the murder of his father by father’s own brother who marries the victim’s wife even before the mourning is over – Hamlet wavers between violent vindictiveness and philosophical inaction. He can raise a question like “To be or not to be?” and contemplate on it endlessly when the wretched life around him demands prompt and stern action. This young man who is insistent on proving his uncle’s guilt indubitably before wreaking vengeance can be impulsive too. He can draw his sword and drive it straight into the man hiding behind a screen without even bothering to find out the man’s identity and purpose of hiding. At one moment he can address his beloved Ophelia as a fair nymph and at the next he can hurl insulting questions on to her face: “Are you honest?” “Are you fair?” Is Hamlet a real hero? He does not possess qualities that belong to people whom history venerates as heroes. Yet Hamlet has continued to enchant audiences f

Importance of a breakdown

  Each one of us carries within ourselves a child who is confused, angry, hurt, and longs for recognition. The degree of the confusion, anger and hurt will obviously vary from individual to individual. Instead of coming to terms with that inner child, instead of dealing maturely and intelligently with the anger and/or other states of emotion, we let them be. We get on with life. We are experts at it. At getting on. That is easier to do than deal with our deeper personal problems. It is easy to surrender to the demands of the world around us and go on. No strife. It is easy to live up to what is expected of us at the workplace, in the society, even at home, and move on. No quarrels. We get on apparently smoothly with priorities defined by others. How long? Maybe till the end of our life. Many people manage that. They are only half alive. They have killed a part of themselves for the sake of peace with others. Turn a blind eye to unpleasant realities. Create darkness by shutting your

In Praise of Melancholy

  Though happiness is the ideal that we all love to chase, the fact remains that sorrow is the solid underpinning of human reality. There is no life without a touch of grief. The possibility of failure lurks at every bend along the road. There is no mountain, however alluring it is, without its due share of boulders and ravines that impede your progress upward. Certain truths are painful but also inevitable. You can’t avoid them. You can’t escape them. For example, the truth that most people won’t understand you when you desperately need to be understood. There are times when you wish that at least your spouse understood you better. Your best friend will ditch you when you most need help. Have you ever noticed that loneliness is a universal phenomenon? You can feel lonely in the middle of a party. The realisation that the other people are grappling with their own shame and sorrow must have hit you like an enlightenment more than once. These are just a few examples. There are other

Agony of Self-improvement

  Who doesn’t want to be better and better? Self-improvement books sell in millions. Pop preachers and cult gurus attract hundreds of thousands of wellness-seekers. Most of us want to be better than what we are. Psychologically better if not in many other ways too. Self-improvement is not all that easy, however. We have deeply entrenched tendencies to shut our ears to all major truths about our real selves. That is why self-improvement is not easy. We would prefer to do almost anything other than take in information that can save us. We will climb tough peaks by way of pilgrimages in order to save ourselves. We will fast and do penance. Attend workshops and webinars. Join laughter clubs and listen to podcasts from masters. The path to self-improvement is tough, painful. In order to improve ourselves, we need first of all confront our fears about ourselves, our deepest selves. We need to stand face to face with our inner demons. The demons of jealousy and greed, lust for power and

Hanuman Complex

  It was by sheer chance I met Sri Hanuman ji at the junction where history turned into many diversions. It wasn’t at all easy to recognise him since he had a mask on to protect himself from the overenthusiastic Kerala Police that impose heavy fines on people without masks. The Kerala government’s revenue was limited severely by the closure of liquor outlets and the lottery business. Mercifully, the central government kept on increasing the prices of petrol and diesel everyday like a sacred ritual so that the SGST kept coming in. Without that, what would the State do? Beg from Delhi? That would be of no use because Delhi was an alien capital these days with Lutyens’ history being rewritten by roaring earth movers. Aryan pride was wiping out both British and Mughal symbols from Bharatvarsha. It was not just the mask that made it difficult to recognise Hanuman ji. He had no tail. I asked him about that. “I never had a tail, man,” he said. “That tail was an honour added by Valmiki j

Most Sacred

  Salman Rushdie grew up kissing books and bread before he could ever kiss a girl. The writer says that in his essay, ‘Is Nothing Sacred?’. It was a tradition in his household to pick up and kiss any food item or book that was dropped by mistake. “Bread and books: food for the body and food for the soul – what could be more worthy of our respect, and even love?” He asks. What can be more sacred than food and books? Trust. That is my answer to Rushdie’s question. I hold trust above everything else. Have you ever noticed that it is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend? That is because the enemy does not betray trust. The friend does. Trust is the very foundation of human relationships. Psychologist Erik Erikson places trust at the threshold of our psychological wellbeing. A person’s whole outlook is determined by the trust she is able to develop as she grows up and that ability to trust is built or crushed in the earliest days of childhood. A baby that receives prope

The Charm of Falsehood

  The Dream of a Ridiculous Man is a short story by Dostoevsky. The narrator-protagonist is a total misfit in the human world. “Oh, how hard it is to be the only one who knows the truth!” He reflects. The truth he knows makes him a ridiculous man first and later a mad man. He knows that human life is absurd. That is the truth he knows. He is incapable of loving that life. He cannot accept the normal human jealousies, greed, mendacity, and so on. He is utterly frustrated and wants to kill himself. He buys a revolver and wants to fire the bullet right into his brain. One day, while walking towards home in the night contemplating suicide, a little girl of eight tugs at his elbow frantically. The girl’s mother is in some danger and wants urgent help. The girl looks absolutely miserable wearing tattered clothes and torn shoes. The protagonist does not feel any sympathy for the girl. He pushes the girl away and walks off. At home, the girl rises in his consciousness. He wonders why

When will Covid-19 end?

  Image from ShutterStock Historically a pandemic has 3 types of ends. One, medical end which implies that the disease does not spread any more. Two, social end which happens when life returns to normal. And the last is political which is decided by the government.   Obviously, it is the first kind that matters. And that end seems quite distant as of now. There is a lot of movement of people even now, including international journeys. That makes it a big challenge for medical science to contain the virus. People will have to acquire natural immunity to the virus if a medical end to the pandemic has to arrive. The vaccines are meant to bring about that immunity. Some may develop immunity by contracting the disease and overcoming it. A few may develop the immunity internally. There is also the possibility of the virus weakening due to various reasons and eventually disappearing. Science has observed that the rate at which a pandemic moves towards its peak is the same as the rate of

Stinging Flowers

  Book Review Title: She and Other Poems Author: Huma Masood Format: PDF E-book Carl Sandburg defined poetry as an echo asking a shadow to dance. Good poetry is a dance of words. No, not really words but images and metaphors. Take this haiku, for example:             A flower stung me             One bright, beautiful morning             Shocked, I hear a buzz. This is from Huma Masood’s collection under review. Most of her poems have that stunning effect on the reader. The effect comes largely from the images and metaphors that the poet employs dexterously. Huma has a scintillating imagination. While too many poets of our day rely on what Coleridge calls ‘fancy’, Huma is blessed with an imagination whose creative intensity can aesthetically shape and unify experiences. This is the secret of the power of her poetry. Let me give one more example. Here is another haiku titled ‘Unspoken Words’:        Louder than the noise        Graceful, intense, deafening    

Prufrock’s Helplessness

  Prufrock is the poet persona in T S Eliot’s ‘ The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock ’ . Like most characters created by Eliot, Prufrock is a fragmented psyche.   He lives in a world where authentic personal commitments don’t seem quite possible. The “one-night cheap hotels” give you “restless nights”.   In more serious places you’ll meet women coming and going talking of Michelangelo. There are lonely men in shirt-sleeves leaning out of windows, not particularly curious about the meaning of the smoke that rises from their pipes. Prufrock has his own mask in place, ready to meet other masks. Prufrock wants to commit himself to something deeper than the restless nights, smoking pipes, and discussions that sound intellectual. But he is helpless. “Do I dare?” He asks himself many times. He doesn’t. He can’t. He is helpless. Imagine Prufrock in contemporary India’s half-deserted streets where dreams die by the second. There is the pandemic. And there is a government. Is there really?

Worlds of fairy tales

  Book Review Title: Beyond Fairy Tales Authors: Deepika and Shalini Format: PDF E-book Fairies inhabit a world different from ours. In that world, they hold mirrors to us wherein we may see the images of our inner selves. Or sometimes we see the images we wish to see, as the authors say in this book: The women of the globe secretly call, To the mirror on their wall.   They see in themselves the beauty of Snow, To uplift their spirit that might be lying low, Not bothering about opinions of a friend or a foe, They help their unique grace and enchantment grow. Fairy tales were created at different times for different purposes. They entertain little children while teaching them certain lessons of life. They engage children creatively. Yet many of them don’t seem to be meant for children at all. This book presents us 26 fairy tales taken from various sources. The presentation is unique and that is what makes this a special book. We are given minute details about