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Effective story telling

One of my favourite short story writers has been Somerset Maugham for a long while. The most obvious reason is that the characters he presents in his stories are hauntingly fascinating. The second reason is the themes he deals with. And I must add his quintessential cynicism to the list too. He didn’t hold humanity in high regard. In the words of one of his own characters, “Perhaps the best of us are sinners and the worst of us are saints.” Deftly crafted characters and themes carved straight from ordinary human life are the primary ingredients of a good short story, for me. Maugham had the additional virtue of telling those stories in a simple, unadorned style that keeps the reader hooked till the end. His insights into human nature were shrewd. Maugham didn’t go for the kind of technical gymnastics we find in today’s stories. Let me present just two of his characters to illustrate what I’m saying. One is a zealous Christian missionary named Davidson who is determined to reform

Whose India?

The Sangh Parivar and the corporate clique that supports them are celebrating the Amrit Mahotsav of India’s independence. Their India has reasons to celebrate. Two of them have entered into the top ten of the Forbes list of the richest people in the world. Adani has climbed over Ambani to occupy the third place while the latter is in the eighth place. Gautam Adani’s economic growth has been nothing less than fabulous after Narendra Modi became India’s Prime Minister. His brother, Vinod, has also emerged as superrich with a wealth of Rs1.69 lakh crore. IMF has declared that Indian economy has beaten the British economy to emerge as the fifth strongest economy in the world. At this rate, India is going to push Germany and Japan behind by 2030 to become the third largest economy in the world. Great. But who benefits? That’s a pertinent question. There is a dark, very dark, side to this economic growth. In the global hunger index, India is slipping down pathetically.   Out of 116 count

Yogi and Politician

Whenever I see Yogi Adityanath’s pictures, I am reminded of oxymoron. A despotic ascetic, ruthless sage, religious criminal… He is a long list of oxymorons, in fact. The BBC recently described him as “India’s most divisive and abusive politician who often uses his election rallies to whip up anti-Muslim hysteria.” Hatred drives this yogi. That is rather funny if you are an irreligious person like me. For religious people, especially for those who believe in this Yogi’s kind of religion, that description may sound spiritual or jihadist. What I find funny about this man is that he is a despicable criminal but revered by a few million people merely because he wears a particular dress and speaks a particular language. Anywhere else, he would have been confined to a prison. But in the heart of India, he is a saintly yogi. Eugene Ionesco would have written his best play had he met Yogi Adityanath. If asceticism is about renunciation, this Yogi has nothing to do with it. He is attach

The darkness of Indian media

I deleted my Facebook account a few months back because that social media was blocking me off and on. Initially it blocked me for a day each. Then it became three days, seven days, and so on until they blocked me for a whole month. The reason: I was satirising the ills that plague my country. The evils that I questioned were ostensibly promoted by Facebook which had no issues with the various individuals as well as agencies that advocated sectarianism openly on the platform. Facebook views me as an antinational person because I want peace and harmony in the country! This is the tragic situation in the whole country. Sane voices are stifled and sheer madness is promoted as patriotism. Media is one place where you see it blatantly in practice. India has been sinking pathetically in the ranking of press freedom ever since Modi took charge as Prime Minister. Now the country stands at a low of 150 out of 180 nations in the press freedom index. Modi has taken India close to despicably

CBSE English Paper – a review

The Central Board of Secondary Education [CBSE] has released sample question papers for the current academic session. As a teacher of English in the senior secondary section, let me take a look at the class 12 English question paper . Fosters Creativity The first thing that struck me is that many of the questions in the Literature section foster the creativity of the students. Earlier there used to be only bookish questions and answers. Now there are many questions that let a student exercise her creative imagination. Look at this question, for instance: ‘Their mother sighed. Sophie watched her back stooped over the sink and wondered at the incongruity of the delicate bow which fastened her apron strings.’ The prose selection, Going Places includes this telling comment about Sophie’s mother. In Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers , we are told that - ‘The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band / Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand.’ Imagine a conversation between Sophie’s mother

Don’t be yourself

I have a student in one of my present classes who gives me the creeps. He holds everyone in contempt and thinks that he is the only perfect human being. He has a magnanimous attitude towards his mother, I observed, whom he resembles way too much and who thinks that her son is nothing less than an adorable prince. Let me call him Holden after the protagonist of J D Salinger’s celebrated novel about an adolescent’s inability to grow up. Holden – mine and not Salinger’s – lives in his own world even if he is in the classroom not even pretending to be listening to the teacher. He dreams keeping his eyes open when he is not really sleeping. I have always wondered what he could be dreaming about. It took me a while to realise that all his dreams are about himself because nothing engages his mind except himself wherever he is. Holden thinks that all other people are nothing more than insects beside his eminence. He misses no opportunity to sneer at people, their appearance, views, anyth

The Ideal Blog

There is no ideal blog , let us face that plain truth. There are over 600 million blogs in the world today, out of over 1.9 billion websites. More than 3 billion blog posts are published each year worldwide. Almost 6000 blog posts are published each minute. And these posts deal with topics like How to make coconut chutney and What to pack if you are travelling to Timbuktu . People blog about food, travel, fashion, movies, photography, and what not. People like me blog about almost everything under the sun. Yes, there is politics in my blog and there is philosophy. There is fiction and there is provocation. Some of my most popular posts are rather mediocre stuff written for students. What I consider my best writing has invariably got poor readership. My presently active blog is about a decade old. It has clocked over a million views so far with the graph showing very encouraging slopes. Let me speak here from my personal experience and not as an expert on anything, least of all blogg

More or less of a man

From istockphoto Fiction It was after many years Ramesh visited a beach. He had just retired from his lecturer’s job in a college and suddenly felt too free. All those countless research papers he wrote for academic journals seemed to mock him now. The short stories he wrote for his blog made more sense. His only published novel, Sarayu’s Sorrows , was a better consolation. Nevertheless, a sense of emptiness loomed like a mocking monster before him. That was when he decided to sit in contemplation on a beach. The sea has a peculiar charm, he knew, though he hardly got the time to visit the beach that was just a few kilometres from his college. He was always engaged. Reading, teaching, and writing research papers in adherence to the university’s norms. He hadn’t found time even to marry in that hectic schedule. Ambitious schedule, he smiled wryly to himself. If he had a wife and children life wouldn’t have been so empty now in the retired life, he thought. He was not sure, though. H

Vamana versus Mahabali

Kerala celebrates its state festival, Onam, today. The spirit of Onam is the sheer antithesis of contemporary politics which is governed by post-truth strategies. This morning’s national dailies brought us the news that the Income Tax raiders laid siege to more than 110 offices which were not kowtowing to the ruling party at the Centre. Raids and other forms of oppression have become the most common way of dealing with critics of the union government today. Every Indian today is expected to dumbly accept whatever the union government dishes out. This is just the opposite of what Onam teaches. Onam is about self-sacrifice and integrity. Fundamentally a harvest festival, it is sustained by the legend of King Mahabali during whose reign Kerala was a sort of utopia where the people were highly virtuous. Honesty, equality, justice and other principles guided the nation unfailingly. The king was the paragon of all such virtues. But he was an Asura king. Hence the gods in the heavens were

Memoirs of a Teacher

The last tour from Sawan The examiner was visibly offended by my answer. That was in 1988. I was completing my B.Ed. course and the viva voce exam was going on. The question put by the examiner was: “How useful has the B.Ed. course been to you as a teacher?” My answer was: “A year of actual experience in the classroom is far more useful than this course.” I had had a year and a half’s experience at St Joseph’s school in Shillong before that school deputed me for the B.Ed. course on a contract. So I was speaking from real life experience. Nothing teaches you a job better than the work experience itself. True, some theoretical knowledge does help and stuff like Bloom’s Taxonomy still comes in handy years after my B.Ed. course brought it to me. But no one learns acting from the National School of Drama any more than one learns to teach from a B.Ed. college. The Taj Mahal was not built by a university-trained architect. Frankly speaking, most of my B.Ed. teachers were utterly uninspi

Suffering

 Book Extract Suffering is inevitable. That is a fundamental lesson of life. Religions teach us that, philosophy does, and literature shows the same too. While dealing with the inevitable though unwanted, our options are quite limited. We should change what can be changed and accept what cannot be changed. We may need to adapt ourselves in the face of what we cannot change. Religion, philosophy, the arts, and a lot of things can help us to make life easier in the face of suffering. Aren’t these things primarily meant for that: to help us make life bearable and as pleasant as possible? Why haven’t they been able to achieve their purposes? Obviously, they have not been used rightly. On the other hand, they have been misused by certain people. Religion joined hands with politics and became a tool in the hands of bigots or the power-hungry. Philosophy is dead for all practical purposes, killed by our pursuit of the superficial and by the prevalence of the farcical. The arts have been t

My Cats

 Some days are very uninspiring. Today is one such. The school closed yesterday for a week of Onam holidays. Brownie's little kittens kept me entertained this morning. They are 32 days old, just the time they get restless. They move out at the very first opportunity and their mother, Brownie, goes after them to bring them back, one by one, taking them rather laboriously by the scruff of their neck. They don't stay in, however. Brownie becomes impatient and growls. I opt to help her by carrying all the four together to their bed and closing the door of the room. They rush to the door and register their protests loud enough. After that, they go to sleep.  I wish to bring some pics of my kittens and cats. At present there are seven of them at home: 3 adults and 4 young ones. These young ones will leave us soon. One is already booked.  Brownie's kittens Brownie and Bobby Bobby is also Brownie's son but from the previous litter. His favourite hobby is to prevent me from read