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Showing posts from April, 2023

Z of Life

Death was the reward that Greece presented to Socrates for thinking freely and teaching others to do the same. Those who teach people faster than they can learn are doomed. And people don’t really learn much. Socrates was not understood by the ordinary folk of Greece. So they wanted him to die. Socrates could have got a longer life had he apologised. Apologise to whom? The ordinary people whom he had always held in contempt. No, he would never do that. “Give me the hemlock,” he demanded. They put in him prison till the hour of his death. His influential friends visited him in prison and told him that he could still escape; they had bribed all the officials who stood between him and liberty. Socrates was 70. He knew he didn’t have much time left anyway. Why not die honourably then? “Give me the hemlock.” The jailer brought the poison and apologised. He did not wish to kill “the noblest and gentlest and best of all who ever came to this place.” But he had to obey orders. Socrates a


Have you noticed how flimsy our memories are? What we remember is not what really happened. Our memories twist the reality according to our psychological needs. We apply soothing balms on painful memories. We exaggerate the sweet memories. As times passes, the reality and its memory may become totally different. My yesterdays are largely a continuum of pain of different tinctures and decibels. A childhood of horrors conjured up by the adults in my life and an adulthood haunted by the ghosts of my childhood. Is it all nothing more than my memory? Is my memory a true chronicle of what actually happened? One of my favourite Malayalam poets, O N V Kurup, composed a touching song about memories and nostalgia. The poet persona longs to return to the courtyard of his childhood where sweet memories amble. He would love to sway the gooseberry tree there once again. The berry’s bitterness and sourness and eventual sweetness effervesce in his memories. He longs to sit on the bank of the old


The height of xenophobia - remember this face? Last month, Scotland elected 37-year-old Humza Haroon Yousaf of Pakistani origin as the head of their government. A few months before that, the United Kingdom elected Rishi Sunak as their Prime Minister. Sunak’s parents are Indians – Punjabis, to be precise. Kamala Harris, vice president of the USA, has Indian roots too. Can someone like that – a person of Italian origin, say – become India’s Prime Minister? Is it hypocrisy or xenophobia that prevents India from being more open towards diverse cultures and races? Both, I guess. Our hypocrisy is phenomenal. We pretend to be everything that we are not. The leader will be preaching tolerance and love for all people while his followers are attacking places of worship belonging to other religions. The same leader will be preaching about morality in politics while his mentor is engaged in buying MLAs and MPs belonging to other parties. This post is not about our hypocrisy, I remember.

Wherefore art thou?

Romeo and Juliet [ PNGwing ] In Shakespeare’s notable romantic tragedy, Juliet hurls the question: “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” The meaning is ‘Why are you Romeo?’ Those who are familiar with the play will understand what Juliet meant. If Romeo’s name was different, their love would have met with no resistance. Romeo was the son and heir of the Montague family while Juliet was a Capulet. There is a violent feud going on between the two families and hence the love between Romeo and Juliet is not welcome. Juliet’s question, in fact, is: ‘Why are you a Montague?’ ‘What’s in a name?’ A few moments later in the play, Juliet who has not turned 14 yet, will ask. That little girl who is yet to understand that there is much to a name will end up stabbing herself in the heart for the sake of love. Wherefore art thou, Juliet? I am left thinking. I turned 63 the other day. [Hitler and I share the same birthday!] Half a century older than Juliet, I ask myself: Wherefore art thou, Tomichan?

Velocity in Shillong

In Shillong's Lady Hydari Park, c1997 I lived in the somnolent hill town of Shillong for 15 years. My teaching career started there at St Joseph’s School. St Joe’s students were, with the exception of a handful, Khasi tribal girls and teaching them maths and physics wasn’t a cakewalk. [I started as a maths teacher because that was the subject I graduated in first.] I invented strategies to make the lessons appealing and relevant so that my girls [it was a convent school – quite many of those ‘girls’ may be grandmothers today] would take interest in them. One strategy was to connect the lessons with the actual life in Shillong. I still remember one of the questions that I used to give in the physics class. Shillong town bus takes half an hour to travel from Iewduh [the bus stand of Shillong] to Nongthymmai [place of my residence] which is 6km away. Carl Lewis takes 10 sec to run 100 metres. A sloth bear can run 500 metres in a minute. Find out which is the fastest among these an


From World Happiness Report According to the World Happiness Report 2023 , Finland is the happiest country in the world. All the Nordic countries rank very high on the Happiness Index. The Finns might have found it hard to accept that they are the happiest people in the world. Because they are rather unsociable people who look melancholic. They don’t look happy. But the Finns are the happiest people, according to the Happiness Report which was prepared after a long and systematic research. What makes Finland the Utopia of 2023? First of all, the Finns enjoy the small pleasures of life . They don’t build luxurious houses, they don’t show off wealth, and they don’t compete with the neighbours. They don’t spend much time on the internet and social media. Instead, they spend time in the company of nature. Their summer holidays are all about living a simple, rustic life. A country of 56 lakh people, Finland has 32 lakh cottages most of which are located in forests near one of the 1.8


image from istock The Monkey’s Paw , a short story by W W Jacobs, revolves around a talisman. An Indian fakir created the talisman which is a mummified monkey’s paw. Three persons can have three wishes each fulfilled with the help of the paw. But there’s a catch: the consequences of getting your wish thus fulfilled – by meddling with nature through the supernatural – can be formidable. When the paw reaches Mr White, two persons have had their wishes already fulfilled. The first one killed himself with the third wish. The second one, who speaks about its ominous possibilities, throws the paw into fire saying that he did not want one more person to suffer because of it. Mr White retrieves it from the fire. Mr White makes a simple wish. Just 200 pounds which will repay all his debts. His wish was as simple as that. Yet he paid too heavy a price for the fulfilment of that wish. Next day, 200 pounds came to his house as insurance-compensation for the tragic death of his son in an acci


A church in Kottayam, Kerala Frederick Douglas was a slave in in the 19 th century America. After emancipation, he wrote a book titled Narrative (1845) in which he mentions his master’s spirituality. His master experienced a religious transformation at a Methodist revival programme. Douglas naturally thought that his master would become a kind and magnanimous person after his religious transformation. What good is religion and spirituality if they don’t make you at least a person with basic human kindness? Douglas found, however, that his master became “more cruel and hateful in all his ways.” We are living in a time when a lot of atrocities are being perpetrated in the name of gods and religions. Don’t they make you wonder what good religion is, gods are, if they bring more agony and evil into our world? I gave up religion long ago precisely because of this problem. I noticed that religions bring more evil into the human affairs than anything else – with the exception of politic

Rand’s Dreams

Rand on my shelf Ayn Rand is a writer who enchanted millions of young people in the second half of the 20 th century. I was one of those millions. My first encounter with Rand was utterly casual. I was travelling back to Shillong from Kerala after the winter vacation. A friend who was on the train was reading The Fountainhead . When he went to sleep after lunch, I picked up the book and read a few pages. I was enchanted. Howard Roark, the hero of that novel, was my kind of the ideal man in those days. He would have had similar effect on a lot of young people in those days, I’m sure. Roark is a genius who is condemned to be an outsider by the society’s ineluctable mediocrity. Roark remains outside the social conventions. He refuses to be moulded by the normal social forces. He makes his own choices which determine his life. He is his own man. And a defiant one too. I loved him. I was in my 20s. I continued to read the novel whenever my friend was not reading it. By the time the t

Quintin Matsys

Quintin Matsys, from Wikipedia There was a young man in Antwerp. And there was a young girl too. We don’t need anything more to begin a romantic story. And that’s just what happened. The man and the girl fell in love with each other. Passionately. The normal course would have been marriage and family life. But that didn’t happen. Because the man was a blacksmith and farrier by profession and the girl was the daughter of a painter. ‘I don’t want my daughter to marry a blacksmith,’ the master painter asserted. It was in the 15 th century. Feminism was not even a thought-experiment. And the boys didn’t have all the fun. Love has a unique power – the century doesn’t matter. Quintin Matsys was determined to win over the master painter and then his daughter. He sneaked into the master’s studio one day and painted a small fly on the master’s current frame. When the master returned to the studio, he tried to swat the fly only to discover that it was a painted one. The master was quick t