EARNEST DISCOURSE

Towards Rationality

Lust For Life: A Monument Dedicated to Futility of Genius

by srinath

While the men of letters have duly recorded the travails of many a genius with panache, it takes an in-depth knowledge of the human mind, an impartial assessment of emotions and clarity of vision insofar as what the subject under scrutiny aspired for, to empathise with the protagonist and sit in judgement of his actions, and finally pronounce the verdict in a narrative, pregnant with a genuine urge to record for the posterity the vicissitudes that transformed a mere man into someone great. In my opinion Irving Stone manages to attain the ideal blend of all the elements required to soothe the palate of an avid reader by dishing out a book so monumental in its essence that it only adds to aura of Vincent Van Gogh. I am talking about Stone’s Lust for Life.

Tracing the journey of Vincent Van Gogh from the comforts of his prosperous life to the wilderness of ignominy before culminating on the threshold of success, Stone manages to hold the attention of his readers in a manner a seasoned wizard captivates his audience, pulling off one trick after another with unsurpassed dexterity. The book is largely based on the letter exchange between Vincent and his brother Theo, a well-to-do art dealer with the family’s concern Goupils. However, the narrative is interspersed with fictional conversations and situations, which the writer took the liberty of imagining to be the logical outcome of the evidence he had at his disposal.

I don’t intend to give away the details of the story, but for the purpose of this narrative, I must at least make some reference to the salient features of the novel, but all the way making sure that a prospective reader is not robbed of the pleasure of perusing through the pages to reach his own judgement.

The success of any novel rests on its capacity to move a person, insofar as turning over a new leaf attains a new meaning. The travails Gogh undergoes, unyielding to the temptations of an easier life, make one wonder how bright the flame of passion in his heart was to lead him on a path that brought him only pain throughout his life. Gogh was not aiming for glory; he only wanted so much from his pursuits, as he could sustain on, without burdening his generous brother.

There are passions in this world that get kindled only when the heart is hurt. Gogh’s path was charted out for him after his first love interest, Ursula, shunned all his advances. Unable to keep the overflowing fountain of passion contained, Van Gogh takes refuge in the word of god. However, his travels to the squalid Borinage only take him away from the path and he ends up taking up the easel, abandoning his mission of spreading the gospel.

The days at Borinage are spent among the wretches, whom even gods have forsaken. Gogh throws his lot with the poor miners, but is soon made to realise by the powers that be that even god does not want the miserable lot he had taken under his wings. By the time his stint at the Borinage comes to an end, it’s upon Theo to save his elder brother from the clutches of death and nurse him back to life. It’s here that Gogh decides to become a painter. In the coal pits of the Borinage Gogh finds his calling, ably supported by his brother.

However, he returns to his parents’ place to recuperate from a debilitating illness he had suffered, primarily due to lack of food, only to fall in love with another woman, who turns out to be his cousin. Once his advances are spurned by the recently-widowed cousin, Gogh suffers yet another jolt. His heart badly shattered, he immerses himself yet again in the pursuit of his dreams.

Theo arranges affairs, such that Gogh reaches the Hague, where he meets his mentor. The journey, though, is not bereft of pain. Once at the Hague, Gogh starts afresh and finds that he is far behind the masters of his age than he had thought. Months are invested in chiselling out the skill only his brother and he believed he had.

At the Hague, Gogh meets a prostitute, in whom he finds a strange sense of companionship. Here Gogh undergoes a strange metamorphosis. In the face of hostile ridicule, Gogh sets up a home with the destitute woman. However, the episode ends in tragedy, with Gogh being forced to leave again for his parents’ place to recuperate. At his parents’ place he enters into another relationship with a woman, who is much elder to him. This too proves counterproductive to his aspirations when the woman, torn between her commitment to her sisters, who were opposed to their union, and her love for Gogh, attempts suicide by consuming poison.

This time Gogh beats a hasty retreat to Paris, where he shares a lodging with his brother. It’s here that Gogh is introduced to a clutch of painters, who were revolutionising the world of art. The Impressionists leave a lasting impression on Gogh, who begins to analyse his skills in an entirely new light. He forms acquaintance with Gaugin, who later joins Gogh on the penultimate leg of his journey. Inspired by the Impressionists, Gogh decides to retreat to an Italian countryside to dabble in colours. He sets himself an accommodation and persuades Gaugin to share the lodgings.

However, the journey, so fraught with tragedy, was yet to reach its denouement. The pair – Gogh with his artistic aspirations and romantic sensibilities and Gaugin summoning his entire resource of contemptuous remarks tinged with sadistic inclination – proves to be incompatible. In a fit of rage, Gogh tries to murder Gaugin, straining their already tenuous relationship further. Though Gaugin manages to evade the onslaught, a distraught Gogh attempts suicide. After much drama, Theo brings back Gogh to his place. Later, the artist is sent to live with a doctor, where Gogh makes a successful bid on his life, ending prematurely a career, which never saw success during its term.

It’s the sense of purposeless that Stone manages to evoke in his narrative that makes the book all the more haunting. The matter-of-fact manner, in which Stone goes about, leaves a lasting impression on the mind about futility of action. However, he compensates for all the negativity with an eloquence of verse that sheds light on the lesser thought of aspects of life. Given the meticulous research Stone would have undertaken to bring the task to accomplishment, it seems as though Stone tread the same path, in a different age, to see things from the eyes of a painter long buried. Indeed, to imagine what all could have taken place behind those two eyes and then say it in so many words without wielding the scpetre of a judge is so daunting a task, which Stone has so honourably discharged. I might not be mistaken for suggesting the book as a must read to any person, who claims to be a lover of art.

The Path Young Politicos Tread

by saket

image

When Tigmanshu Dhulia was directing his critically acclaimed drama Haasil on student politics, little did he realise that his vision would resonate with the happenings in the Allahabad University even 12 years later. Dhulia was bang on in depicting the cutthroat competition for power and the ‘might is right’ reality during the university elections in his potboiler, which left many spellbound and most squirming.

This year’s elections at the over-a-century-old university had every ingredient to make any director worth his salt call for a scriptwriter, but then too much truth can be a little awkward. Be that as it may, little has changed in the modus operandi of the elections, let alone the dramatis personae, who have only gone on to become a little more ruthless and subtle in their dealings.

Like all elections, the run-up to the polling this year got spicier by the day, and by the time people were ready to cast ballots, the action had become too hot to handle. Many bahubali (strongman) contestants lost their candidature when the poll panel found them to be performing in violation of one recommendation or the other of the JM Lyngdoh committee. The bad blood created by this resulted in a pure abuse of power, with even the Vice-Chancellor and election observers not escaping the onslaught. Country-made pistols were used to force officials into submission and even bombs were hurled to make the powers that be hear the anguish of students.

It was in this backdrop that the candidature of Samajwadi Chatra Morcha (SCM), the student wing of the ruling Samajwadi Party government in Uttar Pradesh, representative was trashed. The usual drama unfolded, with SCM supporters trying to disrupt the electoral process by assaulting the authorities and bombing the University campus with crude explosives. When all the time-tested tactics failed to yield the desired result, the SCM made a tactical retreat.

The SCM decided to throw its weight behind an independent candidate, Richa Singh. Ms Singh, a Women’s Studies research scholar, is quite a popular face among the girl students. In the run-up to the polls, she had become the face of change. Those waiting desperately for a change and eager to do their bit began identifying themselves with her; and started campaigning for a person they believed was untouched by the vices of politics. When the rumours of Ms Singh accepting the SCM support trickled down to her supporters, there was widespread outrage.

The feeling was described aptly by a supporter, who chose to keep his identity close,

Politics has entered Ms Singh even before she could enter politics

Probably sensing the public mood, Ms Singh, later, came out with a statement denying any rumours of a possible tie-up between the SCM and she. Though some pundits had predicted a drubbing for Ms Singh, she defied all odds by bagging the AUSU presidential post. More than her supporters, it was the cadre of SCM that celebrated her victory. So much for denial and survival.

image

image

Being a former student of the prestigious institution, albeit away from the campus and confined to the comforts of my home a few hundred kilometers away, I kept a watchful eye on the tickers and headlines of all news channels, allegedly risking their necks to out the truth. Boy, was I disappointed. While all the major media outlets were going hammer and tongs about the Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University elections, none had much occasion to reveal the contours of political landscape of Allahabad University, where a battle royale was playing itself out. My initial skepticism about a proper story coming out of any of the channels soon gave way to outrage when the outlets failed to shed light on the polls at Allahabad University, an institution that has earned its rightful place in history by giving to the nation a couple of prime ministers; at least a dozen chief ministers spread across the country; scores of legislators; and innumerable civil servants of such mettle that reams of sheets could be spent to enumerate their achievements.

My understanding about the diminishing coverage and importance accorded to Allahabad University is based on two facts. First, journalists have made Lutyen’s Delhi their comfort zone, unwilling to move a muscle and eager to articulate their limited knowledge of things they don’t understand through lengthy editorial gibberish or prime time slots on national TV, where everybody shouts at everybody and sense is buried in the din. In their Eden surrounding Delhi NCR, and some parts of South Bombay for good measure, the truth diggers are happy. They perceive the winds of change seated on their perch in either the political or financial capital.

The second, I believe, is the proximity these regions afford the journalists to their political or corporate masters. Had the scribes been as hungry for a good story as they claimed, they would have swooped down on the Allahabad University in droves to cover the historical happenings at the institution, where a strong woman contender, backed by scores of students eager to see the wave of change on campus, confronted the established cordons of power and came out victorious.

I studied at the Allahabd University when the students union election was a banned commodity. Having lived in an epoch without politics permeating the ranks and corrupting the atmosphere of camaraderie, I can safely say those six years of my student life were the most peaceful and fulfilling. This was the fourth students’ union election I was witnessing after passing out of the institution. The happenings have left my mind with more questions than it can possibly figure answers to.

Being the opening to the political world, it is understandable that established names take greenhorns under their wings. However, when such acts go beyond the realm of mentoring and enter the shady world of corruption, wherein money and muscle power along with arms and ammunition are poured into the campus generously, the question remains where we draw the line. Why do candidates for nominal positions in universities shell out lakhs and employ retinues of supporters when their work is entirely dependent on the administration? There are many such questions that cast shadow of doubt on this humble and innocent exercise.

But for now, its up to Ms Singh to determine the course of action, in case no one is charting it out for her. The prestige and honour of the institution now rests on shoulders, but only time will tell whether what she has been chosen for is really her calling. I sign off my ruminations with a quote that is dear to my heart and from which, I hope, Ms Singh would take cue:

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely

When Children Adopt Mother Ganga

by saket

Seated by the window of my hot, humid hostel room in the heart of Allahabad, I couldn’t help but notice the bustle of the city that has been my home for over eight years. The rush, the traffic, the cows adamantly occupying a large chunk of the narrow roads and skilled motorists manoeuvring their way, missing the wagging tail of the bovine by a whisker. Seated on my perch on the second floor of my hostel, I could see that nothing had changed in the past eight years. That precisely was my problem. Nothing had changed.

Life occasionally hits a sort of doldrums, from where a march forward depends on the mercy of providence. My life was in the doldrums. With no way forward presenting itself, I decided to do what 90 per cent of the world’s tech savvy and not-so-savvy population with access to a smart phone and a decent internet connection does – check my Facebook status and Twitter timeline. As usual there were a few expressing their anguish over something that went bad in some remote corner of a First-world country, which in no manner affected them, and then there was a section deeply disturbed by the Greek economic crisis, for no apparent reason. I was following some and the rest was done by the advanced algorithm of the social networking sites. I was sympathising with one mourner after another within the short time attention span I could muster, when I came across some girl asking help for cleaning up Ganga. Rolling my eyes over yet another attention hungry gimmick disguised under a call to clean Ganga, I just surfed on to read a juicy article about the impending  American presidential election. Ganga could wait, but Trump was trolling his opponents big time. Sure I couldn’t miss that.

That night I dreamt of Ganga. I recalled the evening aarti in vivid detail and all the rush to see the river at its glorious best. The charm of Ganga cannot be beaten. It’s where religion merges with spirituality to give birth to reason. I always liked the place. My last visit there, though not exactly bad, had not left me with pleasant experience. Deviating from the norm, I visited Varanasi alone earlier this year. While seated on the last steps of a ghat, with river water splashing my feet, contemplating on the larger problem of life send death and the futility of existence, I was suddenly woken out of my stupor by a rather pungent smell. The odour was all pervasive and no matter where I went, it just stuck on. Investigating the source of the acrid scent, I reached the epicentre without much effort. A pile of human and animal excreta, right on the steps that are worshipped in the evening, there lay a heap of evidence of human indifference. Aghast, I decided not to return ever to the place where spiritual pursuits are marred by supreme apathy. However, the call to clean up Ganga struck a chord with me.

The next day I woke up and as was the custom checked my timeline. The call for Ganga clean up was on. That very evening I was in Varanasi, waiting to team up with Darshika Shah and Temsutula Imsong. Younger than perhaps me, these girls have wrought a wonder that hundreds of officials since Independence have failed to. They have cleaned up the Ghats. Watching them pep talk their team, I wondered what made them different from what I was. The story was soon to follow. Some months ago, Shah and Imsong were walking on a ghat when they came across a pile of the very same thing that made me vow never to return. But there in lay the difference. While I cursed the locals for failing to honour a river they held as their mother, these two girls decided to buckle up and tidy the shores. Prabhughat is a testimony to the vigour of these two girls and the dedication of a few volunteers, who took upon themselves to restore the rightful honour to a ghat that was pushed to obscurity and then to the brink of oblivion by apathetic people. People like you and I.

On the Ganga ghat, even as I stood looking at the group, I wondered whether I would be able to join them. Brought up in a Brahmin family, in which cleanliness was given paramount importance, I wondered if I could bear to touch the grime, the sludge, the filth and the excreta, with or without gloves on. My inherent shyness in striking new friendships also prohibited me from venturing any further and I began retracing my steps to the station. I spent an uneasy night and could not deprecate my innate sense of worthlessness and bloated perception of caste superiority enough. I decided to watch them work, even if I couldn’t join them.

With contrite steps, I ambled to the ghat the next day. The battle between doing my bit for a river held as mother in ancient scriptures and safeguarding the traditions I had been brought up in had taken a toll on my mind and my eyes were bloodshot. Watching the kids work selflessly for a call made by the Prime Minister, I was overpowered by the enthusiasm they were executing the task with, menial in my mind. I saw them clean up the grime, the filth, excreta and what not off the steps with their hands and could not stop feeling sorry for the pathetic specimen of humanity I had turned out to be. There was the river, a few dirty steps down, my entire childhood and youth I had revered, and there was I too shy to chip in. An ailing mother had a reluctant son beside her to look after her. In that moment, I made up my mind and walked down to the kids and asked for a broom. I had shed the skin of my caste off me. I was with my mother.

Meanwhile, Shah and Imsong struck a camaraderie with the motley group of students and locals that had volunteered to dirty its hand. No Detailed Project Report to dent the fragile finances of the group was commissioned, no expert was consulted and after Prabhughat, the group decided to take up another project – reclaiming Babua Pandey ghat. All this based on word of mouth. It was  Vishwanath Jha aka Vikas Bhaiya, who suggested the next task – reclaiming Sonebhadra Kund in front of Vankhandi Mahadev Temple on lane number 14 in Ravindrapuri, hardly 50 metres from the Parliamentary Office of Varanasi Constituency, from where Narendra Modi gave a drubbing to Arvind Kejriwal in the 2014 General Election.

image

Modi since then has gone on to launch several schemes for beautification of Ganga. His Clean India Campaign was a dress rehearsal for the massive programme his government was willing to undertake to transform the river. However, even as the government machinery was moving along at its leisurely pace, the volunteers conducted a spot research and this is what they came across. Of the 100-odd ponds and tanks constructed since 1892, 54 are on the verge of extinction. Though a plethora of reasons is furnished to substantiate the cause, including littering, encroachment and misuse, government apathy remains the biggest reason. In 1822, James Princep undertook a massive exercise to map the ponds, kunds and wells in  Varanasi. He documented the existence of 94 such water bodies.

In 1999, the Supreme Court of India had passed a verdict directing the government to dig up and restore those water bodies that were filled up and reclaimed for use after 1952. In 2011, a remote sensing survey was conducted to come up with the exact number of water bodies in the city, and the result was alarming. Of the 94 documented by Princep, only 49 remained. The survey was conducted in 2011. It was submitted to authorities concerned with suggestions for steps to be taken. However, five years on, the report has been gathering dust in some government office. While the file, nicely tied up in red tape, lies in some obscure corner awaiting judgment day, water bodies continue to fall prey to human greed.

Coming back to Sonebhadra Kund. It was once a famous hangout for old timers spread over 0.51 acre. Its beautification was suggested in 2011 and was immediately taken up by the then powers that be. The project cost a whopping ₹25 lakh to the exchequer, but a visit to the Kund reveals a sorry tale of neglect and waste of public money.  Of the once 0.5 acre, only 0.4 acre remain, the rest falling prey to land sharks and locals and acts as a temporary cattle shed, with loads of dung. Sewage lines from nearby houses end spilling household waste on the banks of the kund. When Imsong and her team reached the spot, they realised the gravity of the situation. Immediate action was needed or the kund would be lost forever. This resolve gave birth to another task – Mission Parijat.

This is where I fit in. I have been associated with #MissionParijat since the fag end of August and am part of the process of change. A month later, after I walked away from the ghats, this time I had to come back when the team threw an open invitation to anybody willing to join this new project under #MissionParijat. I was at a loss to describe the scene unfolding before me. Young kids armed with brooms and spades in their hands were removing years of neglect from the Sonbhadra Kund. There are some callings, so great that you cannot stifle the cry of reason while aiming to protect something so abstract as a caste. Duty can never be overridden by mere rhetorics. I no longer was a brahmin awaiting a clean my own mother land. I was a son ready to help stand my ailing mother. I walked up to the group and asked for a broom. My journey had begun.Imsong has taught me that there are always two choices before people – either wring your hands in apprehension or roll up the sleeves and be the change. The task has not been easy. A look at the kund and I wanted to be at least a kilometre away from the spot as the stench was unbearable. It resembled a quagmire and half the time I was worried that the sludge would consume me. Consumed I was eventually, but not by the fears, but by the contagious enthusiasm of the team that regardless of the dirt went about cleaning the area, as if it was their own backyard.

Looking at the young faces, I could not fathom where they drew their strength from to effect a change that even the locals residing around the pond were unable to gather. Ashutosh Dixit (@ashutoshdixit84), one of the volunteers, seemed a breed apart. Youngest of the lot, he would jump into the filth with the same eagerness that one would associate with those from privileged backgrounds taking to elite sports. Even as I stood looking bewildered at the vastness of the task, Ashutosh took a plunge into the water with a spade and began feverishly pulling out dirt deposited over years of neglect. No one on the team seemed bothered by the attack of flies in the sweltering heat under the scorching sun. They were possessed by a madness, an urge to make themselves useful at a time when the world was preoccupied with complaining from the confines of their comfortable rooms.

Be it Pavan (@p_pavanraj), Swarna Singh (@SwarnaMahy), Shubham Tiwari (@tiwarishubham03),Vishwanath Jha (@jaijha12345), Satyam Shukla (@satyamkashi), Ayush Mishra (@aayushm67), Anurag singh (@anuraaag0anuraaag07) or Vineet Verma (@vineet_verma1), all could have been at any other place, better and comfortable. However, these kids chose to dirty their hands and bodies for people who they did not even know; to clean up a water body they might never use. Their zeal spread to others like a contagion and even inspired a local man to throw his lot with them. Living on rent in a nearby house, Jai Prakash, a salesman, though bothered by the stench had never harboured any pretense of cleaning the pond up. But change was in the air and Jai Prakash wasn’t left untouched by it. He decided to join the kids and share their burden. A burden he has been sharing ever since he first joined the team. Now, he is a regular and even takes the lead in organising work.

They say faith can move mountains. Though I’m not sure how true the words are, I at least know that faith can move people. In the second week of the mission, the officials decided that they could not keep turning a deaf ear and blind eye to our efforts and wanted in. They despatched an earth mover and a couple of lorries to expedite the drive.  A few days ago I was seated in the confines of my room and now, with dirt on my hands I sign off. Change was always in the air. All I needed was to get out and start working. My association with these youngsters does not end here. It’s only the beginning.

Dalai Lama’s Reply to an Unknown Man

by srinath

A few months ago, I was a bit upset over the shape things were taking in my life. Unable to let things go and desperate to find a solution, I at the spur of the moment wrote to His Holiness The Dalai Lama, little realising that he would spare time out of his busy schedule to share with me invaluable pieces of nuggets of wisdom, which would have taken ages for me to arrive at.

It’s after several hours of introspection that I’ve decided to share this with people. The reason being, I believe, there are far too many like me who stand to gain a lot out of the empirical wisdom the monk had to share with a man who he does not even know.

Dear Srinath Ji
Namaster from the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama!
We do sincerely hope you are fine. We send you prayers and blessings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for your success in life.
Of course, you are aware how complex our life. However, to keep your life going, you need hope and aspiration. Without hope we are like dead. His Holiness advises you to be realistic in whatever you venture to do and then you could expect the result. Unrealistic approaches cannot quench our desire however great you might find it.
So, the most important thing in life, to move forward, is compassion for others. Just as you are happy and cherish others’ kindness to you, so should you be able to regard others in the same way. You cannot expects everything to go right in a world where things don’t work according to our wish alone. We are interdependent and interconnected beings who have survive on the kindness and compassion of others. So, unless you are able to give back to the world, in whatever small ways, you cannot expect to be truly satisfied and happy for yourself and others.
Therefore, you should put aside selfish attitude and selfish intentions and embrace others, beginning with those close to you first and then extending that inclusiveness to others who you usually consider irrelevant or unrelated to you; from there you could eventually embrace even the adversaries and so-called enemies. It’s not easy to to do but you should slowly train yourself. Don’t be depressed with life. Life is beautiful if you can take it despite all the troubles and difficulties that challenge us. Nevertheless, please stay optimistic and big-hearted so that you can see positive side of life more and more.
If you ever get it try to read Master Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara (English translation: Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life or The Way of Bodhisattvas). It’s one of most favourite books of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
With all the best wishes,
Tsepag
Interpreter to H. H. the Dalai Lama

Tsepag was replying to my query sent a few days ago. I hope the wisdom contained in these few paras would go a long way in solving similar problems.

Forget Validation, Live Free

by srinath

We all have a way of rationalising our fears. We cook up cock-and-bull stories to make our fears seem real to our own minds. Something always holds us back from going out and staking claim on what could be ours. We procrastinate, we delay and, eventually, we forget. Then just like an annoying pop-up box the images of what could have been ours, but we were too weak to claim, make an appearance every now and then, gnawing and jeering at us; nagging on us every living moment while we just lie there, manufacturing newer excuses to rid our minds of it.

The question is how far can a man go about like this? What stops us from being what we want to be or having what we desire? Without beating around the bush, I say it’s we ourselves. We have been conditioned to search for validation in every venture of ours, such that we forget that we have a life, independent of the by-stander’s views. Doubt is instilled in us from a very impressionable age, making us believe that we shall always have to strive for attaining the perfection that the world deserves. We, by ourselves, are not enough and we have to keep on trying. From childhood we are trained to become a vital cog in the giant wheel of society, such that each and every action of ours is measured on the touchstone of social practicality. In other words, whether it would generate the amount of appreciation necessary to boost up our egos, which are completely at the mercy of strangers’ input. So much for being free.

The veracity or applicability of my sweeping generalisation would differ from person to person, but the reality is we are trapped in a world of people having same doubts and problems as we. Though as a society we have progressed beyond the wildest of imaginations of the greatest of imaginative minds of the past, we are yet to grow mentally to accustom ourselves to the travails laid bare by our own minds. We seldom think ourselves to be fit enough for something from the outset, we always doubt ourselves at the most baseless of criticisms and rarely do we generate the kind of self-belief to see us through on our journey. In a world where individual talent is so mercilessly slaughtered for collective gain, how is a person willing to slay the inner demons supposed to find succour?

Society sells us the idea of freedom to keep us busy in material pursuits, culling out any propensity to actually liberate minds by instilling fear of punitive action in case of non-conformity. The moment a person questions the norms, he is branded heretic and declared a threat. The entire society then collaborates to dispose of this man or, if possible, the idea of becoming free. For sake of security, man toes the line drawn by society, and parts with all notion of real liberty, in lieu of an illusion. Making validation necessary has been the masterstroke of this organic collective to ensure that individual dissent is always kept in check.

When a man liberates himself from the vicious grip of validation and conformity, only then does he stand a chance of actually succeeding. Fear is product of insecurity regarding societal acceptance. Once a man sets things into right perspective can he understand his true potential. There is no manual for overcoming fears and insecurities. One has to find out a way out himself. The only true help can come from within. But that comes at the expense of shattering your ego, letting go of things that bind you and overcoming the trained impulse of seeking validation. Set yourself free by understanding your own worth and not going by what others have to say about you. Nobody knows what you’re worth, as nobody has been inside your head. Don’t procrastinate, as it is the hallmark of being in a comfort zone. Don’t be afraid of losing your job, falling behind your own material expectations or not reaching where others wanted you to be, as these are merely the parameters against which the world judges you.

Life is too precious to be lost in mindless pursuit of acceptability or fitting in. Don’t fight against the might of the world, just proceed on the path you have chosen for yourself after a determined introspection. Let not the world gauge you by what you have and don’t judge people by what they lack. Make your mind a fortress and always keep it fortified. Let not a single doubt creep in, as you were never made to fail. Don’t get into rat race, but keep a stable mind, undeterred by the ills of the world, just keep walking. Live free.

Put Food First, Deadlines Come Later

by srinath

The last few weeks have been hectic, so much that I could not even pen my thoughts, and finally when I managed to get a break, I was too tired even to sit up or write. However, this does not absolve me of my crime of not sticking to the resolve. So here I’m, compensating for time lost in mad pursuit of bread and butter, after ample dose of reality check conducted during the taxing moments.

I had resolved to read at least a book by the time the crisis at my office was over and I took a break. However, the sporadic bursts that my reading sessions comprised left me quite sceptic of my own ability to stick to a plan. To say that I’m feeling terrible would be an understatement. However, the ordeal set me thinking about the priorities of my life and how was I to go about ticking off everything on the wish-list.

Time is a relative concept (with no offence intended to Mr Einstein). Anyway, time is something some people always have and some people try hard to find. Though I generally fall in the first group, my of late adventures in the second group left me wondering about how spoilt a brat I was in not realising the gift god had sent me by giving me ample time to dispose of in the first place. My not-so-busy schedule of yore seemed like perfect bliss when I was breaking my back for some time entirely to myself. It’s when you want something that you had and lost without ever using it that you realise how handy it could have been in the present. My cravings for free time were quite similar. First lesson: Respect Time.

To drive home the point, I formulated a series of to-do things in perfect order, such that I could pursue my passions without hindering my profession and vice-versa. However, a friend of mine did raise an objection to my scheduling things by pointing out that spontaneity was the essence of life. The discussion snowballed into a full fledged debate, with neither party willing to concede an inch. An impartial judge and a votary of peace soon entered the fray to soothe the frayed tempers. According to that gentleman, while spontaneity indeed was necessary, prioritising stuff did not fall far behind.

Life is to be lived in the moment, but that does not mean that the opportune moment will make an appearance of its own accord. You will have to work to make the moment come

Spontaneity is necessary, but one can be free in this world when all the chores have been properly taken care of. Hence, prioritising stuff to be care free is necessary

Now, this indeed went a long way in helping both of us warring opponents to go home happy, with validation coming from a revered figure. Moreover, it also aided us in understanding where our own thoughts were lagging. The right impetus to iron out the wrinkles in the grand plan had made an opportune appearance due to spontaneous debate over prioritising stuff.

While earlier I used to aimlessly surf the net to find something interesting accidentally just to kill time, I during the past month or so realised how fulfilling and meaningful a conversation with a dear one or an old friend could be even in the most trying situations instead of whiling away time in meaningless sifting of plethora of useless information. A gentle word here or a calm soothing voice there go a long way in easing the mind of its burden, which otherwise would have crushed all hopes and left you a castaway even in the midst of multitude. Lesson Two: Social Networking is no substitute to true relationship, hence respect the latter

After a hard day’s labour, nothing is more enjoyable than a hot, steaming mug of black tea with a dash of lemon and a nice book in hand. I have reached a point where I feel that searching for a nice read in itself quells the spirit of a bibliophile. I may be wrong, but not entirely. The other day, I was perusing through my personal library when I realised that I had far too many books that I had never touched. It bugged me no end and I was at loss where to begin. That’s when I made my must-read list. I charted out a plan to read books, one after another in a planned manner. Though it seemingly lacks spontaneity, it is better than doing nothing, I guess. Lesson Three: Reading is a habit that one must never let go of.

I have always believed that good food, good book and excellent whiskey make life bearable. The rest are all incidental. I love cooking. But when hard pressed for time, love makes an unceremonious exit and what remains is a drab reality of inedible something on a platter. It’s one of the harsh realities of life that whatever you do, how so ever you grow, food is something that you cannot do without. The tight schedules, the deadlines, everything that shackle a free human spirit is due to the importance of this four-letter word.

It was in this backdrop that a friend of mine paid me a visit. Though it was only the second time I was meeting him, the story of our first meeting in itself is a tale worth narration, it seemed as if we were carrying forward a discussion we had dropped inconclusively only a night ago. Anyway, the gist of the matter is he took matters of the kitchen into his hands for a couple of days. His Odiya authentic cuisine opened up a new world of culinary delight. It was his love for cooking it right; and patience and eye for details that made me realise again the essence of cooking, which had given way to a rather drab perfunctory discharge of duties in the arena of cutlery. I regained my love for good food and decided never again to compromise. Lesson Four: Food is a non-negotiable commodity.

Well-cooked food is the only cure for a love lorn heart. The better you cook, the better you feel about yourself. You’re handling one of the most important roles, and if it is done to perfection, you emerge out of the kitchen with your self respect enhanced

Considering how great an impact these seemingly small tasks have on our lives, it is imperative that these tasks are performed to the best of our capabilities. However, our greatest nemesis is time or lack thereof. Now, again, with no disrespect intended, we all have avenues for spontaneous creativity, but only when we have planned our lives in a manner such that we have considerable time at our disposal. Good food, love, book and wine make life great.

So, the next time you feel that your shoulders are drooping beneath the taxing nature of your work; when you feel that life is no longer worth it; and the meaning for existence is lost; take a deep breath. Take that mobile out of the pocket and don’t check your mail or messages, but ring up an old friend or that distant friend or the love of your life and tell them how badly you miss them. After that make yourself a great meal, have it in peace in the knowledge that somewhere out there are people who love you and care for you. Wash it down with a couple of pegs or glasses of wine and then take a good book and lull yourself into a well-earned good night’s rest.

Only the well-fed and true of heart know sleep. Others just keep their brains on standby.

Lamenting A Dying Culture of Haggling

by srinath

When Kumar opened his Boeing Saree Store after years of peddling clothes on his cycle, I sort of began liking the word ‘bargaining’. It opened up a whole new world of customer satisfaction. For those who don’t know Kumar, he is a character from R K Narayan’s evergreen Malgudi Days. Known for his marketing stratagems, involving approaching his potential customers only in the afternoons while the menfolk are away, he’d rate sarees at a premium and then give the women the satisfaction of having grabbed a steal by reducing the price “only for them” after, needless to say, much haggling, all the while making a killing. The women bargained and won while Kumar got to pocket super-normal profit. Everybody went home happy.

When I was in school, the teachers used to invariably cry over the ruckus in classroom, “Is this a fish market?” Growing up in a landlocked state in the heart of India, I hand scant chance of actually witnessing a fish market, but I assumed it had definitely something to do with all the shouting. My chance came in the form of visit back home in Kerala where I got an opportunity to get a first-hand knowledge of a fully-functional fish market. While the vendors kept shouting at the top of their voice to catch the eye of prospective customers, the latter exhibited legendary lung capacity to strike a well-bargained deal. The similarity was stark. My teachers could not have been more correct.

When I was young, my mother taught me that bargaining was the essence of shopping, for the satisfaction of having bettered the vendor in haggling only added to the charm of the product. However, on a warning note she said that even as one wore a smug smile of having got something at a considerably lesser price, a strange feeling of yet having been robbed remained. The eternal battle for a better deal was what made the entire shopping experience worthwhile was her mantra.

Another lesson in the basics of haggling came from my neighbour. She once told me that the best way to get the desired price was to show just a casual and passing interest in a product, and the rest would be done by the eager salesman. True enough, when she once took me shopping, the trader after noticing her casual interest began enumerating the benefits of the material and out of nowhere pulled out mouthwatering discount offers he had denied in the first place.

Another nugget on haggling came from the same repository, who let on to me how to show tremendous interest in a product and then chicken out, citing cash crunch. I saw this stratagem work wonders when a salesman in a conspiratorial voice offered the product within her budget even as another woman was haggling with all her might for the same saree. Now, this is experience and knowledge for you. No person can demonstrate such skilled perception of human psychology than a woman hell bent on buying clothes.

I’m not against supermarkets or online stores. I like them just as much as the next man. But my grouse with them is that they don’t give me the chance to display or put to use the empirical wisdom on bargaining passed on to me by wiser generations. Haggling has become more or less redundant in this age of e-shopping, with all major stores proclaiming well in advance that the rate they sell at is best. Just like an old-timer, I get scared about the future generations losing out on something that made the whole enterprise of shopping wonderful.

The other day, strolling down the aisle of a big supermarket, flipping all and sundry into the trolley with scant regard for price, I laboured up to the cashier. After billing and packing was done, I was foraging my pocket to pay up for the damage when out came of my mouth, “Can’t you reduce the price, you see I’m a regular, cut me some slack.” Even before the scandalised cashier could reply, I realised my folly and scampered out with my bags in tow without even waiting for the change. Old habits die hard.

Wuthering Heights

by srinath

Nothing raises the standard of revolt inside a teenage mind more than a strict order prohibiting it from doing something. With all the hormones raging inside, my young mind, which had just crossed the threshold of teenage, wanted to make its presence felt. While Shakespeare would have summarised my predicament as one arising out of a reluctant period of transition between the second and the third ages, my role in the act was yet to make itself clear. While Alfred Noyes was yet to make an entry with his evergreen poem The Highwayman, there was some Shelleyesque underpinning to romanticism brewing in my heart. I wanted to do something different, something lasting.

As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean

When Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s used the figurative lines to describe the pain of the Ancient Mariner, little would he have known how apt these words would ring for a teenager centuries and seas apart. Thrown into the doldrums of inactivity that only a small town in the hinterland could generate, my wait for an opportune moment and a task worthy of my attention seemed unending. However, the necessary stimulus was given unwittingly by my English teacher, a sweet lady in the prime of her youth, when she said “don’t read Wuthering Heights, as it’s way beyond your age”.

Consider telling the wind to change its course or ordering fire not to singe. Do the forces of nature subjugate themselves to your commands? Are they subject to the whims and fancies of a capricious mind. They follow their own course charted out by nature. Similarly, when you tell a teen not to do a thing, consider it done, for that’s how things are. That’s how things would be.

Were I then aware of Paulo Coelho and his groundbreaking work The Alchemist, I would have claimed that the entire cosmos was conspiring to let me read Wuthering Heights, as around the time when I was trying to figure out a way to get a copy of the book, an article in a newspaper caught my attention. It was about Ruskin Bond and his one night adventure in his aunty’s study, where he undertook the task of reading a book that was proscribed by his elders. No marks for guessing. The book was Wuthering Heights. And he read it in one night, at one go.

After months of waiting, I finally managed to get a copy issued in my name from the school library and embarked on a journey that was to leave its indelible marks on my impressionable  mind and make me a slave of words. A slavery I have come to cherish, in so far as when I am not shackled, I feel incomplete. Of all the addictions I may be held guilty of, this one affinity to books is something I never intend to quit on.

To Wuthering Heights then. The tale revolves around Heathcliff, a vagabond rescued and brought up by one Mr Earnshaw. Heathcliff grows up with the children of his benefactor, beginning to love the latter’s daughter Catherine as much as he hated her brother. However, torn between the choice of social acceptance and uninhibited freedom, Catherine rejects Heathcliff’s advances, forcing him into exile. After a few years, Heathcliff returns a rich man, with a burning passion in his black heart. When his schemes do not work, he embarks on a rather twisted journey of wreaking vengeance on the family of his benefactor.

While unrequited love and concomitant hatred form the basic premise of this dark narrative, it’s the manner in which Heathcliff unleashes his fury and the sheer force of his passion that make the story stand apart. Neither is he an archetypal protagonist, nor a villain. Caught between the world of difference these two words entail, Heathcliff assumes the garb of an anti-hero. Supplicant in his love, menacing in revenge, Heathcliff brings about the fall of the house of Earnshaws. However, in the end, he does have a change of heart, but by then it’s too late.

Love has been the central theme of most of the literary works I have come across since my childhood, but in those cases, love was transcendental, pure and selfless. However, this was the first instance of my having read a work, in which love was criminally selfish and destructive. The very passion manifested by Heathcliff did nothing apart from generating a kind of studied revulsion one could associate with while being in proximity to vermin. There was something about him that did not elicit respect. He has been the sole protagonist I’ve come across whom I don’t want to emulate, a close second would be Philip Carey (Of Human Bondage). While Heathcliff seldom manages to evoke pity, there’s something about his presence throughout the book that makes it eerie.

Reading a good book demands patience. It’s a habit that takes years to cultivate and a few days to lose. Wuthering Heights is a book you have to be patient with. There are parts where it might seem dragging, but those who are aware of the virtue stand to gain a lot out of this small book. Thanks to Emily Bronte for bringing to life a rather twisted protagonist with all the follies of an antagonist.

Patronage Pours In, Love on the Wane

by srinath

On a hot summer evening in 2002 when I wrested out the television remote from my mother’s hand after a spirited fight, little did I know that my life was going to change forever. Though I wanted to change the channel and watch some cricketing contest, my attention was grabbed by a scene from a Malayalam movie Chintavisthayay Shyamala (Care worn Shyamala) , showing two young girls pleading with their father not to desert them again.

Ayyo acha pogalle…… ayyo acha pogalle (Oh! Father don’t leave us… oh! Father don’t leave us)

The farcical way in which the girls deliver their lines was so humiliating and tickling that I wanted to turn my gaze away but was loath to change the channel at the same time. It reminded me one such ludicrous situation my father had put me in after becoming sober, following a rather high night-out with his friends. After a long and heated verbal duel with my mother, father realised his folly. However, not the one to accept his defeat, he took me aside and promised me a treat if I cried and tried stopping him when he attempted to leave. When the moment arrived, I, in my over eagerness, cried out asking for the treat he promised, rather than attempting to stop him. My mother soon decoded from my words the under-the-table deal I had struck with my father and took both of us to task.

Enough of my digression. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. And were I to draw a picture of my childhood detailing the impact of cinema, it would not be all that rosy. Bloodshed, fight, romance and songs at the drop of a hat were what I had to come to expect of this art after having grown up on ample dose of mediocre fare based on tried and tested formula, with only names of the movies and actors changing. Cinema in its purest form was an unknown quantity.

What Shyamala did for me was a great service. It jolted me out of my comfort zone and pushed me search for more of its kind. My world had changed from “of and for enjoyment” to a more intense passion of witnessing human mind in its multitude of emotions, ranging from the sublime to the basest. I wanted my protagonists to be more like me, a common man mired in everyday issues of survival and existence, not surrounded by made-up divas vying for his attention.

Ever since that tussle over remote control over a decade ago, I have come a long way. In the bygone decade I have watched movies from across genres and world. My preconceptions about cinema being only a medium of enjoyment, not learning, were corrected over a period of time by stalwarts of this art. Be it Satyajit Ray‘s Aranyer Dinaratri, Kurosawa’s Ran or Majid Majidi’s Rang-e-khoda all have left me richer with experiences of places I might seldom visit, wisdom of people I might never meet and knowledge of the workings of a human mind at its vulnerable worst.

I have come to believe that cinema is an extension of literature and should be taken as such. Until a work of art makes you question the dogmas you have so steadfastly held on to or gives a new dimension to your thoughts, its impact is lost. The same yardstick could be applied to the impact of movies in a common man’s life. Art is the medium through which a mind expresses its creativity to rise above the dreary reality and monotony of existence. Throughout cultures and through the ages, man has invariably placed art on high a pedestal owing to its transcendental nature, as it elevates the practitioner from being a mere mortal to the position of a creator, while transporting the connoisseur to another realm of existence and experience. Were it not for art, man would have been just another animal in the food chain, battling perpetually for a higher position in the pecking order.

The progress of art could be linked to the evolution of man. From rudimentary manifestation of basic skills to elaborate depiction of human imagination, man and art have walked the aisle of growth together. Most of the things that we take for granted in this age were once ideas, scoffed at by many. The very persons that we hold in high esteem now were those persecuted for the mere act of questioning the norms of those days. We have come a long way from believing earth was flat and that our own blue speck was the centre of universe. The sophisticated repository of knowledge that we have become owes largely to the bounty of imagination that nature has bestowed upon us.

However, when the art becomes just another source of revenue generation, it loses its purity. Fame, glory and money, any practitioner worth his salt would tell you, is only incidental. Despite all the paeans one could sing about the glory of cinema, the reality is that quality is on the wane. Notwithstanding the improvements in scale and technology, the art has lost its merit and has metamorphosed into just another medium of entertainment. One among the scores that vie for human attention. The fall in standards is an indictment of the lowering levels of taste among this generation. An upwardly mobile section with disposable income capable of shelling out ₹1,000 for a weekend dash of action and romance has emboldened even those with the least affinity to the art to convert it into a trade.

What this rampant commercialisation of an art is wreaking is the end of another medium through which change could be wrought. While I’m not saying that good movies are not forthcoming, they are few and far in between. While audience taste could be cultivated by dishing out good fare, I’m apprehensive whether the same could be said about the makers, for there is no substitute for talent and love for an art. It is the responsibility of a true artist to mould the opinion of the generation he is part of. Mass frenzy should not be the touchstone he assesses his talent or worth against.

This is where the role of a cultivated critic assumes significance. A true critic has taste, cultivated over a lifetime of indulgence with an art. A review of merits and demerits of a work of art could be undertaken only when the person dissecting the subject understands its nuances, its history and implication. When a person, well versed in all the artifice that constitute the work, knows the sum and parts like the back of his hand and undertakes a detailed study to interpret and equip the lesser trained eyes with knowledge, it’s a mutually beneficial exercise, both for the reviewer and the subject. While on one hand the critic stands the chance of delving deep into the work and coming up with deeper meanings, the artist on the other hand gets an unbiased and meticulous assessment.

However, over the years, the role and importance of a critic has been diluted. From being an expert in the field, the reviewer’s status has been downgraded to that of a secretary, where he notes down the points of interest and minutes of a discussion. The combination of declining standards of these varied factors has placed cinema in a rather unenviable position. While there’s patronage for any kind of work, even if it be based on sorry story, the dearth of a true critic is hampering their chances of ever understanding what they are missing. Even as the makers rake in the millions, it’s the unsuspecting multitude with a buck too many to spare that is driving the final nail into the coffin of another art.

Confessions of A Timid Mind

by srinath

Life is one tightrope walk between passion and fact. The passion is to write, but the fact remains that there’s no free lunch in the world. While passion, every once in a while, raises its innocent head, free of all apprehensions and fear, fact keeps reality in check. There’s no looking back… no going back. Since when freedom started being more oppressive, regressive and demeaning than being manacled?

Carrying the dead weight of past, bearing the payload of future, I carefully tread on the slim rope, lest I should lose my balance, my sanity. Don’t look behind… don’t ever, my brain keeps preaching, but every now and then I experience a gentle tug, an ever so slight a pull, from behind. I dare not look. I try to keep my mind off the constant prick of conscience by thinking about the destination. The pull is ignored, I keep ploughing on.

Last night, there was this pull again. I wish it stops. I tell my heart that career, financial security, prestige and growth are all that matter. But the tussle continues. Trading dreams for status quo seems so logical. But some dreams don’t die. Everyday you complete the rituals, bury them, but somehow they keep resurrecting.

The way out seems simple. But, when simple things stare at you, you turn your gaze away because reality hurts. All I want to do is to keep the illusion of reality alive. I want to feel important and useful, for my entire life is one sorry tale of seeking validation, sometimes, even from people unknown. The fake smiles, false indignation, affectation of morality, vile and ugly lies, all are taken in the stride and life moves on towards that island of self-appeasement, carefully built over a lifetime of self-deprecation, distrust and timidity.

Yeah, I’m afraid. Timid. Scared of actually seeing things through. Made to believe that success is momentary and fortune smiles only on a chosen few. Someone, elsewhere, would be working on the same dreams I keep having; burning the midnight oil in pursuit of something dear, which I have so easily given up on for material returns. Someone, impervious to the cold stare of the public and unfazed by the mounting criticism, keeps moving towards his dreams, while I take refuge behind a mask of affected indifference.

Life seems so easy when one is ‘independent’, in the worldly terms. But is it real freedom? When materialism governs every facet of life, repenting at leisure becomes the order of the day. This vicious control of work over enjoyment encapsulates the very essence of a modern-day city life. I am free, but a prisoner to my senses. Carefully turned into a machine. A part of an equation, where my emotions, sentiments and reactions are all variables. The world has taken the responsibility upon itself of dictating what I can cherish, what I should hope for and look forward to, even as I clutch on to the illusion of freedom. But again, the question is who’s stopping me.

In pursuit of happiness, we tend to ignore and forget the small joys that comprise life. Be it a small task of reading a book which you always meant to, but could not find time for, or that phone call you promised to your dear one, but forgot in the rush when a pressing matter presented itself. We have lost touch with nature and our loved ones. It’s our mindless pursuit of safety and security that clouds our minds and numbs our sensitivity. For most of us, cat fights and rat races are what provide meaning to life, which is otherwise devoid of purpose. We envy others, for we harbour a belief that we are more suited for the work they’re doing, little realising our own self-worth. We give up on hope, but latch on to all negative thoughts because most of us like someone to put all the blame on. We like to play the victims card, love to cry how fortune gave us a raw deal and like to multiply ‘what-ifs’.

I ask myself, is there a way out, all the while knowing that yes there is. Learning to live with fear does the trick, while keeping a low centre of gravity and not taking oneself too seriously are the primary ingredients. Realisation dawns after long night of introspection, hence, a clear definition of what one wants to attain in their life becomes all the more necessary, as such deep internal assessment imparts the knowledge necessary to understand that there are things a man cannot change, and learning to accept those is the doorway to bliss. The perfect balance between mind and body is attained only after understanding, which is the byproduct of internal churning. Negativity is only a state of mind, which can be altered by changing the thoughts. If one can live with fear, surely, living with hope cannot be that farfetched.