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Showing posts from August, 2022

Sustainability and Ecoliteracy

Landslide near my village - image from The Hindu Five members of a family were washed away along with their house the other day just a few kilometres from my village. Such incidents caused by unprecedented landslides are becoming frequent in Kerala. They are some of the consequences of climate change which is itself caused by what we have done to our planet. They are happening not only in Kerala. They happen all over the world. More than half a century ago scientists warned humanity about an imminent disaster called climate change . In the 1980s many solutions were suggested by concerned scholars and scientists. Lester Brown, one of them, defined sustainability as development that meets our needs without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their needs. Forty years after the world applauded Brown’s theory, the world stands in much poorer shape today. We don’t put theories into practice; we only clap for them. It is getting late now. We need to start acting


  Fiction Angel woke up a little later than usual that morning. It was drizzling outside and that gave him a convenient excuse for pulling the blanket over himself once again. He should have been tapping the rubber trees. A little drizzle didn’t matter because the rubber trees had been given plastic skirts precisely to let the tapping go on irrespective of the weather. Moreover, Angel was supposed to be a good young man doing everything sincerely like the angels. Angel was not his real name. He got that name after he played the role of an angel in a play directed by Father Joseph, the parish priest. Not only the people of the parish but also Father Joseph thought that the young man was as good as an angel. Well, almost. Angels are as good as God, according to Father Joseph. Not as perfect or omnipotent or omniscient. As good . Goodness is innocence. Angels have absolute faith in God because of their innocence. They don’t doubt or question God’s ways. Some angels did doubt. They

I have wings

Can you impose a language on the birds? Can you make the pigeons in Delhi coo in Hindi, for example? Will they arrest the pigeons as antinational creatures for refusing to coo in Hindi? In ‘The Last Lesson’, a short story written by French writer Alphonse Daudet [1840-1897], the protagonist, a very young student in a French school, wonders whether the Germans will make the pigeons sing in German since his province of Alsace has been conquered by Bismarck. One of the very first things that conquerors do is to impose their culture and language on the new subjects. The conquest is complete only when the subjects give up their own idols and embrace the new ones. The imposed ones. One of the reasons why I never learnt Hindi properly though I lived in North India for the most part of my life is that I had wings. I was a pigeon that knew only one language. Coo. Coo-coo. Coo coo coo. Can you take away that language? You can take away my food. You can take away my dress. You can take

When lunatics run the asylum

  I had just been two years into my career as a teacher when Salman Rushdie’s most controversial novel, The Satanic Verses , was published. Now 34 years later, two years after my official retirement from the job, Rushdie has been punished savagely for writing that book. Punished by a person who never read the book. The punishment was ordered by a religious leader who, I’m sure, had also not cared to read the book. Ignorance and hatred are the fundamental driving forces of popular religion. The Satanic Verses explores faith and doubt with a kind of ingenuity that only Rushdie possessed. The novel looked at the validity of divine revelation and scriptures with incisive humour as well as irrepressible agony of the soul. It makes use of dream sequences and fantasy and melodrama to tell the story of Gibreel Farishta, a Bollywood movie star with a conflicted soul torn between faith and doubt. There are a few equally captivating characters in the novel like Saladin Chamcha, a voice actor

Politics and Poetry

Poetry begins where science ends. “What flower is that over there?” The gardener will answer, “A lily.” That’s a plain factual statement. The botanist will tell you that the flower belongs to the order of Hexandria monogynia. That is science. Edmund Spenser says, “It is the lady of the garden.” Spenser is a poet. Ben Jonson, another poet, calls it “the plant and flower of light.” Jesus asked his followers to take a lesson from the lily: “They toil not, nor do they spin. Yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." That is spirituality. There is poetry in spirituality. In fact, poetry is another form of spirituality. A few weeks back, I wrote in this very same space that “If [poet] Keats cared to establish a religion, its deity would have been Beauty.” When Jesus equated himself (god) with Truth, Keats equated Beauty with Truth. Wordsworth found similar truth and sanctity in Nature. Isn’t every genuine poet on a spiritual quest? But poetic truths are not

A Day with Kafka

Kafka is petulant. I am not surprised. What else should I have expected? Didn’t I know that he would never like to spend a day with a stranger and that too someone as aloof as me? Neither he nor I wanted anyone’s company merely because we would never be comfortable with any other person. We are not comfortable with ourselves in the first place. Kafka would describe himself as “a cage in search of a bird.” I am the empty cage, in fact. Not he. He has earned his admittance to the Paradise. I am like the man from the countryside in his novel, The Trial , who spent years seeking admittance and finally died in vain. Was he at the wrong gate? No, he is assured by the gatekeeper who keeps accepting the bribes given by the seeker. Years pass. The seeker grows old. He has stopped asking questions. He only mutters to himself. He grows childish. His eyes grow dim. Or is the world growing darker? He realises he is dying. He has a last question to ask the gate-keeper. Was he at the right door at

Darlings – a review and more

The Hindi movie, Darlings , is sheer delight to watch. There is no glitter, no glamour, no flamboyance. It’s about some very ordinary people living in a lower middle-class housing tenement without big ambitions. They want a better residence. And some normal human joys – like a child in the family or a husband who cares. Badru’s [Badrunissa played eminently by Alia Bhatt] husband Hamza [Vijay Varma] is an alcoholic who doesn’t care about anything except himself. Alcoholism, like most other addictions, is about egomania. Addicts are people who don’t love anybody. Not even themselves. But they are always trying to find something within themselves that is worth loving. Addiction is a result of not being able to discover anything to love in oneself. “What am I but a toilet cleaner [TC]?” When Hamza who is a Ticket Collector [TC] asks that question to himself, he is revealing much about himself. He is incapable of questioning his boss who makes him clean his toilet regularly. Instead o

India: Many Nations

From 'Open' India is not one but many nations. “You can only speak of India in the plural,” as Dr Shashi Tharoor puts it in his article in the Open magazine’s Freedom Issue dated Aug 22. There are many Indias, he says, making up what India today is. There is too much diversity in this country: languages, cultures, religions, races, and so on for it to be a monolithic nation. Slogans such as One India, One Language, One Religion are not only absurd but also chimeric. Among many other things that make India different from other countries, Tharoor mentions that the country’s civilization gave birth to four major religions, a dozen different traditions of classical dance, 85 political parties and 300 ways of cooking the potato. Where on earth would you find a country in which a Roman Catholic political leader of Italian origin making way for a Sikh man to be sworn in as Prime Minister by a Muslim President? [2004 scenario] India has no majority community, Tharoor argues. Al

The Great Indian Circus

A student of mine recommended me a movie the other day: Jana Gana Mana , a Malayalam movie released recently. Since the student insisted that I’d love it, I took the trouble to subscribe to Netflix in order to watch it. I was more interested in knowing whether the student had really assessed my tastes rightly than in the movie itself. I appreciate the student’s assessment now. Jana Gana Mana raises many pertinent questions. Let me bring a few of them here. 1.      Does the law of the country ensure justice? Not in India anyway. Not in present India for sure. Here justice is what certain powers decide as just and true. Innocent students with youthful aspirations become villains in present India while hardcore criminals are the legislators. The judges in our courts are court poets. In a country where people who were buried centuries ago are disinterred for the sake of adding glamour to the present emperor by way of contrast (glitter versus skeleton), in a country where a Chief J

Wildlife and Sustainable living

‘Assessment Report on the Sustainable Use of Wild Species’ is the result of a long research by about 300 social and natural scientists from across the world. The study points out that billions of people worldwide rely on about 50,000 wild species for food, energy, medicine and income. 33,000 species are plants and fungi; 7,500 are fish and aquatic creatures; and 9,000 are amphibians, insects, reptiles, birds and mammals. About 10,000 species are used directly for human food. All these facts underscore the importance of wild life and the necessity for its sustainable use. The tribal people of India have always had their own traditional ways for preserving the forests and wild life. They have always been aware of the simple truth that forests are not fragile entities to be conserved through patronage from above. Forests are life itself. Caring for them is not a strategical and legal affair. You can’t preserve the forests merely by making certain laws as we can understand easily by l

The story of two Flags

The irony in the Prime Minister’s exhortation to Indians to display the national flag in various places may not be lost on those who know the history of India’s freedom struggle. Modi is fundamentally an RSS man and the RSS was bitterly opposed to the national flag and they refused to hoist that flag on 15 Aug 1947. They hoisted the RSS flag instead. The classical book, Freedom at Midnight , describes that flag-hoisting thus:   The ceremony being held on a vacant lot in the inland city of Poona… was similar to thousands like it taking place all across the new dominion of India. It was a flag-raising. One thing, however, set the little ritual apart from most of the others. The flag slowly moving up a makeshift staff in the centre of a group of 500 men was not the flag of an independent India. It was an orange triangle, and emblazoned upon it was the symbol which, in a slightly modified form, had terrorized Europe for a decade, the swastika. Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins,

My Idea of Utopia

I live in a state whose people’s most cherished legend is about a utopia. That legend revolves round Mahabali (whom the people of Kerala call Maveli affectionately). Maveli was an Asura (demon) king. But his reign was the most unparalleled in Kerala, according to the legend. No ruler could ever reach anywhere near the good governance implemented by Maveli. Maveli’s reign was marked by honesty, equality, justice and other fundamental human values and virtues. There was no discrimination in the name of castes and creeds. No sectarianism. No jingoism. No hate-filled slogans. No gods, too. Probably, this last thing - absence of gods – made it a utopia. I was brought up in an orthodox Catholic family. As a child I learnt about God and his absurd ways. The Bible opened with the idea of a weird god who created a Paradise (Utopia) for humans only to deceive them sooner than later. God placed an irresistible temptation right in the middle of the Paradise. He knew the human heart wasn’t im

Truth, Post-truth and Poetry

Image courtesy ‘Best of post-truth’ is an oxymoron. Post-truth isn’t good in the first place. So how do you get ‘best’? Post-truth refers to a system (socio-political, usually) in which objective facts are not given as much weightage in shaping public opinion as appeals to emotion and prejudices. Emotions, prejudices, personal beliefs and aspirations determine the evolution of public opinion. Too many countries, including my own India, are traversing the path of post-truth now. Lies are shouted loud, propagated through various media channels, and accepted gladly as truths by a sizable majority of people. Imagine millions of people believing that climate change is not real because their Prime Minister said, Sardi zada hai, unki sehne ki kshamta kam ho gayi hai . Nehru’s ghost is still haunting India’s economy, according to these same people. The Mughals who died centuries ago dominate the nation’s collective psyche. Cows in India fart oxygen. Cow urine can cure cancer. Thus goes the