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Showing posts from August, 2023

The Essence of Spirituality

BOOKS Title: The Journey Home: An Autobiography of an American Swami Author: Radhanath Swami What is spirituality? This is a question that has bothered me for a long time. It has obviously nothing much to do with religions since religions seem to forge believers into bigots and bombers. I bought this book, written by a man who was born a Jew in Chicago, left home in search of the meaning of life at the age of 19, and became a Hindu Swami at 21, because I thought it would give me some insights into the problem I face with spirituality. The book did enlighten me though in a limited way. Spirituality is a hunger, not of the body but very similar. The spirit, soul or whatever you may call it, is hungry. It is as Saint Augustine of the Catholic Church said, “Our heart is restless until it rests in you.” If there is God, then nothing less can satisfy us merely because nothing else can be as perfect and as delightful and as charming as God. Not everyone experiences such hunger, how

How to steal forests?

India is fast losing her forests, thanks to her government. India’s deforestation rose from 384,000 hectares in the ten years between 1990 and 2000 to 668,000 hectares in five years between 2015 and 2020. How do you get a few thousands of those hectares of forests? You have to be a friend of the central government, in the first place. Then you need to conjure up some developmental project like oil palm cultivation or ecotourism or something of the sort. That’s almost all. Quite simple. On 4 Aug this year, the Modi government amended the Forest Conservation Act 1980 to make deforestation as easy as bulldozing the houses of certain people in Uttar Pradesh or Haryana. There is no Forest Conservation Act now. What Mr Modi has given the country in its place is Van [Sanrakshan Evam Samvardhan] Adhiniyam. Quite a mouthful, isn’t it? Sounds exotic too. Only, it is – far from being exotic – toxic. This new Adhiniyam [half of Indians won’t understand what that is] narrows the definition

Human markers on the moon

Notice that white bag on the left India has taken Lord Shiva to the moon by naming Chandrayan’s landing point after him. Humans have left a lot of other things on the moon too. There is a lot of trash left on the moon by human missions: a whopping 181,000 kg. Quite a bit of that trash consists of what many crewless missions from space-exploring agencies left on the moon over many years. We have left a lot of other stinking waste too: human excreta and urine. There are 96 bags full of human organic waste abandoned on the surface of the moon, mostly by the various missions of NASA. When the first man to land on the moon, Niel Armstrong, was asked what the white bag in some of his lunar photographs was, he was reluctant to answer. But Charles Duke, the Lunar Module pilot of the 1972 mission, admitted candidly that the astronauts could not carry such waste back to the earth for simple logistics reasons. A whole tank of urine and many bags full of solid waste had to be abandoned on the

Why was Donald Shimoda killed?

  My copy of Illusions Richard Bach’s novel, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah , was an international bestseller in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It tells the story of Donald Shimoda who was supposed to be a messiah but gave up the mission with the permission of the Infinite Radiant who said to the reluctant messiah, “Not my will, but thine be done. For what is thy will is mine for thee. Go thy way as other men, and be thou happy on the earth.” The fundamental message of the novel is just that: walk your own way and create your happiness. Only you can do that: walking your way and creating your own happiness. It is your duty to do that too. This message is repeated like a motif in different words in the novel. “If God spoke directly to your face and said, ‘I COMMAND THAT YOU BE HAPPY IN THE WORLD, AS LONG AS YOU LIVE,’ what would you do then?” This question is put to the reader right at the beginning. The messiah realises that his teachings and the miracles he

The Paradox of Onam

From the Onam celebrations at my school today   Kerala has started Onam celebrations, the most colourful and joyful festival of the state. The schools in the state will be closed for a whole week from tomorrow. Even the government offices will not function for most part of the week. Onam is not just a festival, it is the heartbeat of the people of Kerala.  The legend that sustains Onam is quite paradoxical. Mahabali, or Maveli as he is affectionately called in Kerala, was an Asura king. He was the paragon of goodness though he belonged to species called demons, Asuras. During his reign there was no corruption whatever. People possessed and practised all good qualities. In short, Kerala was a utopia under Maveli's tutelage.  The gods became jealous. That's the paradox. Gods who should be happy to see humans living happily in peace and harmony became jealous! None but Vishnu himself decided to decimate the utopia on earth. He took the form of a dwarf named Vamana and deceived Mav

Smoke and Ashes – Review

Image from Telegraph Book Review Title: Smoke and Ashes Author: Amitav Ghosh Publisher: HarperCollins, 2023 History can be viewed from diverse perspectives. Academic historians usually look at it from political perspectives. As a result, we get very blinkered views of the past. Rulers do not constitute history. In fact, too many of them have been blatant exploiters of the common people to whom history should rightfully belong. The rulers, more often than not, snatch history ruthlessly from its real inheritors. Literary novelists give us better history than academic historians. Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy comes to mind immediately. Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy is another commendable example. History comes alive in the hands of such writers as Mantel and Ghosh. What if they actually write history instead of novels? And that is exactly what Ghosh has done in Smoke and Ashes . Smoke and Ashes views history from a totally unexpected angle: opium. “Only by recognizing th

Shrinking minds in an expanding universe

From Pinterest I picked up a 20-year-old young man the other day from a nearby town at his mother’s request. It was a cool evening and, as is my habit in pleasant weathers, I had lowered the windows of the car and switched off the air-conditioner. The boy got in on the front seat beside me and made himself comfortable by repositioning the seat and its back. Then he pushed the switch of the AC and turned its knob to the maximum. I decided to wait for him to switch it off himself after realizing that I wasn’t going to shut the windows. But he didn’t. So I switched off the AC and let the evening’s soothing air waft in from the lush green vegetation on both sides of the village road. The birds had already settled in their roosts and the crickets hadn’t started their eerie chirp. I love the evenings in Kerala’s countryside including the eeriness lent by the crickets. The young man beside me was an utter bore, however. He pulled out his headphone from somewhere, fixed it to his ears, sta

Errors and Humans

From Shutterstock “Instead of preaching forty year / I wish I had stuck to pipes and beer,” says Parson Thirdly in Thomas Hardy’s poem Channel Firing . The parson is dead and is lying in his tomb when he is awakened by the sound of cannons. He and many other dead people sit up in their tombs thinking that the Judgement Day has arrived. But God tells them to go back to sleep. “It’s gunnery practice out at sea,” God says, “Just as before you went below; / The world is as it used to be.” God goes on to say that He may abandon the idea of the final Judgement altogether “for you are men / And rest eternal sorely need.” Parson Thirdly’s skeleton nods his head in agreement. Then he turns to his neighbour-skeleton and says that all his preaching and teaching of morality and spirituality was in vain since the world never improved a bit with all that. It was better to enjoy life when he had the time. The parson feels that he wasted a whole lifetime doing something that was of no use to any

Save Children from the Net

Image from Freepik ‘Net’ and ‘Web’ are two words associated with the digital world. They are apt too because they carry a hint of the traps linked with that world. Children are often the victims of the digital snares which have protean forms. We need to be aware of these dangers so that we can save our children from them. Cyberbullying Bullying is a common problem almost everywhere in the children’s world. Cyberbullying is usually found in the form of harsh, insulting or teasing messages posted on various digital platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp. Any child can become a target of this assault on his/her dignity because of anything from physical appearance and economic background to psychological make-up and religious inclinations. The impact of cyberbullying can be phenomenal. It can lead a child to withdrawal, depression, aggression, and many other behavioural problems. There are far too many cyber predators in the virtual world just as there are criminals in the real wo

Black Magic and Religion

The Himalayas - from Lonely Planet The other day, I was at a friend’s place when the cry of two women rose in the air. It was from a house a few doors down. When I reached there along with my friend, quite a few people had already gathered. The two women – a mother and daughter – who wailed explained the cause of their grief. They believed that one particular woman, whom they mentioned by name, was doing black magic against them because of which they were facing disasters one after another. The latest disaster was the daughter’s failure in her graduation examination. One of the men who had come hearing the wailing told the mother and daughter rather bluntly that what they needed was psychiatric help. “You believe in such balderdash as black magic [ koodotram , in Malayalam]?” He turned to the daughter and said, “You flunked because you didn’t study. Instead, you were loitering with your boyfriend.” He went away in disgust. My friend told me, as we walked back, that the mother was

Touching the Divine

One of the many messages that Richard Bach’s Illusions proffers is that once we have climbed certain peaks we won’t descend. Once we have reached certain heights, we will spread our wings and fly. Once we have reached certain standards, nothing less will satisfy us. When the knight in John Keats’s poem, La Belle Dame Sans Merci , encountered the ideal beauty, he refused to be satisfied with anything less and spent his entire life pursuing that beauty in spite of its fatal elusiveness. If you meet your god, how will that encounter alter your life? Those who touch the divine can never be satisfied with the mundane routines of existence. Stating that same truth in another way: If you are just another ordinary person on the earth, you have not touched the divine. You have not met your god. Your god is only an idol in the temple or the church or some such place. There are umpteen religions in the human world. There are countless gods. But evil keeps mounting. And pretty much of

Waiting for Courier

Publishers of books for students, Educart, sent me a complimentary copy of their guidebook for class 12 English. I got the message on 25 July that the book has been “shipped through SWIFT.” On 1 Aug, the courier company, Swift, messaged me that my order from Educart is out for delivery and that I would receive it on that day. Ever since, I have been receiving the same message every day and the parcel is not delivered. There is no way of contacting the courier people; they have no customer care. Their rating is a pathetic one on Google reviews. Below are some examples:  There are plenty, plenty more of this same complaint, including mine.  Since I found no way of contacting Swift, I did some research online and discovered that their delivery partner in Kerala is Delhivery. So I complained to Delhivery via Twitter (now X). Delhivery got my complaint removed from the public domain and replied me privately: “Please be advised that the package is out for delivery.” “That’s what I’m be

Friends and Strangers

How can we trust strangers when friends keep breaking our trust again and again? A 2021 survey by the American Enterprise Institute found that the number of Americans who say they have no close friends has quadrupled since 1990, going from 3% to 12%. Having friends is important, however. Research by Brigham Young University psychologist Julianne Holt-Lunstad has shown that loneliness is a major threat to longevity. The threat from loneliness is equal to that from smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic, according to that study! Why do we avoid interacting with strangers? This is the question raised in the latest edition of a blogger community forum. My simple answer would be that people are even avoiding friends nowadays, then what about strangers? People are shrinking into themselves, I think. Including me, most people I observe seem to be withdrawing from other people. Yesterday, I was invited to an evening party of some friends from my teenage days. I found a conven

Human Irrationality

Book Review Title: The Upside of Irrationality Author: Dan Ariely Publisher: Thorsons – HarperCollins, London, 2010 Pages: 334 Ever since my youth, I have questioned the definition of human as a rational being. If humans were rational, the world would have been a kind of utopia. Just imagine everyone thinking rationally. There would be no crimes simply because crime is the most irrational deed one can do. The only drawback of that sort of a world would be that it might be a bit boring. It is since irrationality has fascinated me forever that I bought this book, The Upside of Irrationality , by Dan Ariely. I wanted to learn more interesting facts about human irrationality. But, unfortunately, this book has little to offer. It tells us what we already know. The book is divided into two parts. Part 1 deals with irrationality at our workplaces and part 2 with irrationality at home. Workplace and home are the two places where we spend most of our time. Our irrationality will b