Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Sketch of A September Sunday

 The Sunday isn't rushed. It calmly waits with the benign sun resting over its shoulders.
 Voices are slowly breaking in. 
The cycle shop opposite my place has opened up, with metallic sounds rising in rhythm as they take out their tool. 
The plants on the terrace dance in the mild breeze. 
Everything mild, nothing harsh, nothing hurried.
The morning milk market Is already gone, without trace
Except for blue crates.
Men on cycles ride by.
I think, men who ride cycles are the first to wake up on Sunday.
Autorikshaws are out. The man on the bike, looks bothways at the turn, confused, and then rides straight. The sun has laid its hammock over the trees and the morning languorous and glorious, lies in it. The newspaper lies neglected on the terrace. 

A man with long tattoos on his arms walks in from the lane in the front. He is wearing a strange kind of pants. Sardarji follows him on a bike, his turban vibrant as his face his. Someone shouts in the cycle shop. Human voices still struggling against vehicular noise. The pigeons looks happy, purposeful, not having a Sunday? Winters aren't here yet, but days are calmer. The earlier sternly face isn't there, like that of a father who kid, just turned eighteen has already made up his mind. This is the time, before the chill of empty nest descends. Parents are in Kerala. I think of them, tried calling them yesterday. Their phone is switched off. Must call again. I am their guardian now. Even when the image of my mother holding me in her arms, a two month old, with father in uniform, sometime around 71 war in Pathankot is vivid and alive, I know, I am now the guardian to them, to watch over them. A little girl in saffron kurta runs in the street, purposeful, like the pigeons. As a child, we always have purpose. Too much of deliberations kills the direction, until the time when we no longer know where we were going. Th squirrel plays on the tree in the front. It sits silently, having noticed that it has been noticed. Watchers always kill the beauty of innocence. The riot of green dances before me, like an orchestra rising to the rhapsody. The day has begun. Three kids walk by, that reminds me, Nonu is still asleep. One fine Sunday, one benign, blissful sunday. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Anatomy of A College Reunion

"Every Parting gives a foretaste of death, every reunion a hint of resurrection" so said the great philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. A journey filled with tearful departures- a string of them, begun from the engineering college, NIT Raipur, where I spent a great part of foundation on which my later life was to stand was made. That was the place where to put it poetically, we turned from tadpole to the butterfly, and to put it plainly, we turned from boys to men. This 13th, September, we had a reunion. 

It was in Bhopal, for two reasons- one was logistical connectivity and secondly, the city somehow had the most enthusiastic lot, the lot which could protect their enthusiasm through the years of growing up and growing old. I wanted to go and was inclined but some I spoke to weren't much. Why should I go? who was I to meet? Is this whole exercise is to meet balding, graying men with slight paunch, like me, struggling to establish their own station in life and on some sorry occasions where meeting with old classmates turns into a shameful and embarrassing exercise of those you knew as loving friends, trying to establish their own successes in life with such obstinate absurdity that the exercise becomes sad and painful? But then a call from the friend came in and all the thoughts regarding the futility of such an event melted away. It was the same, hopeful sound with which I was so used to hearing twenty years back, the irreverent and affectionate sound of the name. 

It was a long getaway for all married men, away from daily grind of marital bliss and family nuisance. We would once again call each other by first name, and once again the mist on the mirror will dissolve and show the face we once knew as ours. We are so wrong to believe that we go to reunions to meet old friends. We go for reunions to rediscover our own selves, to find the man that many loved. We are trying to find the man who we could tolerate and even love.

It is not to establish our success, it is to savor the sweet weaknesses of our souls and to meet those who softly will run their fingers over those cracks of personality, without the fear of them getting deepened into ugly wounds. It is to breathe once again the world, which did not want to improve you, make amends in your behavior, which loved you for what you were. The skins were thin, the masks, not yet arrived. It is to return to the times when handshakes had not yet replaced the bear hugs and love would flow without fear of formality. The morning Sun of greeted us with those friendly embrace which I knew would linger on for the rest of my life. 

Reunion is also a moment for forgiveness to those who in past, somehow let us down. As time passes by, things fall in place and good is good but bad isn't as bad. A teacher who didn't grade well, a mate who stole love, an institution which threw us in the world unprepared to brave the storm. The past reconciles in the present and the future redeems the past. We lived, we survived and we flourished, and it is time to return and enter into the past with soft gratitude. In the past, we were the men, who had nothing and survived on hope and feeding on hopes, we marched into the world. We embrace and hold one another, and in silence, breathe the harsh growing up we had when apart and cherish the love which joined us in the past. The common sight of the glorious mining tower, visible from the dusty exit of the railway station, which stays with every alumni of that college in that sleepy town, the college, the Alma-mater which claimed not only those four years, but claimed a little bit of our selves which even today stays back there in those pastel colored walls of the hostels named alphabetically. As we spiritually touch each other, friends from another times, we touch those walls, our fingers running on those walls, and those tranquil, shadowy, peaceful wooden benches of the Hostel mess, where a Dayaram will bring food for our hungry souls, the blue walls with dark green curtains of the Indian Coffee House, in which I held those hands which would someday hand me little, pink future of mine, which now blabbers endlessly around me as I write this. We missed each other for such long, at times, it seems a miracle that we survived this long without one another. For our past connects us and in our past, we are what nature had made us. And not to forget what Emerson said about old friends, the ease of dropping the pretense and celebrating what we are- 


Monday, August 25, 2014

Seven Lessons of Writing- From Poet-Philosopher: Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was born on 15th of October, 1844 and having contributed a verse, as Walt Whitman would say, left this world after an arduous but rich life on 25th of August, 1900. In the span of 55 years that he lived, he produced enlightening, path-breaking work which changed the course of human thoughts. He was admired, revered and even hated as a philosopher for his unorthodox ideas, his unconventional view on Christianity, his never-heard-before commitment to Individual will, which was a sharp turn from the Christian view of keeping individual interest subservient to the larger social goods. He gave us the idea of an all-powerful, unyielding, unapologetic Overman which awaits man on the other side of the abyss. His eminence in philosophy is well-established and his influence, undisputed, but his literary presence and impact is also grand and glorious. Nietzsche shares with Yeats believe in the natural aristocracy of men, (when he claims- Men are not equal), and believes in the possibility of men who have the courage to rejoice in the face of tragic knowledge.

Beyond a point, literature and philosophy merges. Like two rivulets playfully stepping down from the mountains, unsure of their path and their destiny- arrogant and audacious, eventually merging and settling down into the immense expanse of ocean- into a peaceful universality, twin rivers of Literature and philosophy flows down from the solitary heights of human sensitivity. In Nietzsche, one finds an extraordinary amalgamation of a brave and sharp intellect, responding to the world around with the sensitive perception of a poet.  We look here Nietzsche as a poet and a literary figure and what we can we learn from Nietzsche as writers.

Thomas Mann, to my mind, corroborates this amalgamation of Literature with Philosophy, this coming together of two forces of nature which define our world when he searches the equivalence and equanimity of the soul between an extraordinary Litterateur and a pioneering philosopher and writes – “Nietzsche and (Oscar) Wilde- they become together as rebels, rebel into the name of beauty”.  It is not for nothing that Nietzsche is sometimes considered as a worthy inheritor of the philosophical legacy of William Blake and Walt Whitman in his rejection of duality and the celebration of individuality and self. It is on account of literary strength of his philosophical work that many later day writers like Knut Hamsun, Rainer Maria Rilke, Ayn Rand and Jack London who accepted the Literary greatness of Nietzsche when he wrote “I am in the opposite intellectual camp from that of Nietzsche yet no man in my own camp stirs me as does Nietzsche”. 

We however, look here not at Nietzsche as a philosopher, rather Nietzsche as a writer and the lessons he left for writers of the day. In fact, the great appeal of Nietzsche lies in the perfect balance he finds between his relentless search for truth, his willingness to challenge the old wisdom and the beauty of his language. His literary style offers his thoughts the wings to carry them to the skies from where they may be visible to the most skeptic of the mind. TS Eliot goes to the extent of saying-  “Nietzsche is one of the writers whose philosophy evaporates when detached from its literary quantity.” Literature, fiction or not, is a search of truth as well as an attempt to share with the world an attempt to share with the world the truth painfully gotten. No wonder, an iconoclast worshiper of truth found great love among writers of the world with Bernard Shaw admitting that in Nietzsche he recognized a peculiar sense of world akin to his own and who was celebrated by WH Auden when he wrote, “O masterly debunker of our liberal fallacies”.  His writings carried many lessons for writers.

Write with a PurposeNietzsche argued that one should write with a purpose. To him writing was a search of Truth. It was not a matter grandiose eloquence; it was a painful wandering into the dark alleys of life. His wrote, “Of all that is written, I love only what a person hath written with his blood. Write with blood and thou wilt find that blood is spirit. Look for a higher reason, a bigger message than the story. The story, the poem is a vehicle for the idea.  Don’t look at the market when you write. Nietzsche says, “Whoever knows the reader with henceforth do nothing for the reader. Another century of readers- and the spirit itself will stink.”   Find your sacred message, your voice and build your world around it- your poetry, your stories, your novels are exquisite clothes for an exquisite thought. Don’t fall for an easy path. Have something to tell before you decide on how to tell it.

Do not blabber and confuse the Reader: Writing is the search for truth, an attempt to empathize, an opportunity to be kinder. It is not to threaten the reader, to overwhelm him with your intellect. A writer must not be too conscious of himself. Nietzsche perforce, owing to his poor eyesight wrote in short sentences, in aphorisms. He advises not to make your writing too ornamental or wordy, if you write poetic prose, it should be to ensure that the feeling is made vivid on the dead pages. Talk to your reader as you would talk to your friend, for the purpose of sharing and empathizing. Have courage to speak the truth. He say, “Courage that puts ghosts to flight creates goblins for itself: courage wants to laugh.” Writers are the bravest of the souls, for they rise above their time. “Brave, unconcerned, mocking, violent- thus wisdom wants us: she is a woman and always loves only a warrior”- He beckons the writer.  
Write With Your Heart: Do not attempt to write what you think people want to read. Write what you know of, write what you feel. Open yourself to the humility of nakedness of the soul. Dig deep into yourself and put forth what you find in the darkest, most unvisited corners of your mind and heart for the world to sea. He writes in Thus Spake Zaruthustra,  “I became weary of the poets,  of the old and of the new: superficial they are unto me, and shallow seas.” Enjoy your writing. Sing through your sufferings. One must write in one’s unique voice.

Learn from the Great Minds: It is absurdly narcissistic to believe you know all and not seek help and knowledge. Be open to accept. Read more, reading is the accumulation of tools to go for the hunt of a written word. Reading is a part of writing, sparring before the battle. Nietzsche advises, "No river is great and bounteous through itself alone, but rather because it takes up so many tributaries and carries them onwards: that makes it great. does not matter whether he is poorly or richly endowed in the beginning." Writing is a profession of constant education. Being a writer is opting for a career which is going to be forever a work in progress. You grow by reading, by collecting knowledge. A writer who does not read is never going to be a great writer. Read the great classics, read them to learn not to copy as Nietzsche says, One repays a teacher badly if one always remains nothing but a pupil.” And Zarathustra urges his pupils, “Now I bid you lose me and find yourself; and only when you have denied me, will I return to you. Keep reading, the worthy and the unworthy, of conforming, confounding and contradicting views. Be open in the choice of your reading, as long as you read. Learn to identify and build on your own voice: says he, “One must be a sea to be able to receive a polluted stream without becoming unclean.

Respect and Love your Profession: Writers are often type-cast as misplaced, lost souls- social misfits, doomed, sad souls. Don’t let it embarrass you. Love your profession, be proud of it. Nietzsche writes “Men seldom endure a profession if they do not believe or persuade themselves that it is basically more important than all others.” He elaborates more poetically (though to be fair not only about writing rather for all or any calling in like that one may have) when he writes in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, “I love him who makes his virtue his addition and his catastrophe: for his virtue’s sake he wants to live on and to live no more….I love all those who are as heavy drops, falling one by one out of the dark cloud that hangs over men: they herald the advent of lightening, and as heralds, they perish.”  Isn't that all writers want to be? to be the harbingers of future, the fearless pioneers, willing to expose themselves to the possibility of ridicule, humiliation and being burnt as witches and madmen. Stay true to your profession; don’t be swayed by the public opinion, the mind of the mob. “They hum around you with their praise too…They flatter you as a god or devil; they whine before you as before a god or devil. What does it matter? They are flatterers and whiners and nothing more.”
Stay Interesting: Truth is harsh and often colorless. We need style to render it acceptable. The lyrical prose, the sharpness of description, or one true sentence of Hemingway- is what makes the truth acceptable, even amusing to the people. Write in proverbs and aphorisms; learn from the Hunchback and madman of Nietzsche. That is the purpose of art- to make the truth bearable. Nietzsche writes - The champions of truth are hardest to find, not when it is dangerous to tell it, but rather when it is boring. Reach out to the world which is ready for you. Good writing is never for mass-market, it slowly grows on the reader as we search for our life’s answers in it. Be discerning in the choice of your audience. Nietzsche advises, “Whoever writes in blood and aphorisms does not want to be read but to be learned by heart…Aphorisms should be peaks- and those who are addressed, tall and lofty."

Tenacity of an Artist: Keep writing, without giving up, without wavering. The one who reaches the destiny is the one stays the course. Writing is a solitary profession. It takes from life, without ever being able to immerse oneself into it. It needs complete dedication. We become better writer by writing more. If the soul stirs with an ungovernable desire to assert itself tyrannically, and the fire is continually maintained, then even a slight talent gradually becomes an almost irresistible force of nature- Nietzsche writes. Writing is lonely job; there is no two ways about it, no deception can work for long. You need a strong sense of purpose, a lofty ideal to pursue and a great strength of character to persevere as a writer, to survive the mocking smiles of the world. A thinker grows every day, his days are never stagnant. A writer is full of doubts and writing is his way out of the maze of confusion, his days gray, uncertain. Every writer will find voice in Nietzsche’s words- “My today refutes my yesterday. I often skip steps when I climb: no step forgives me that.” The solitude and longing is so deep and sometimes so haunting, and there are repeated bouts of self-doubt, and looming question which threatens to engulf the whole being of a writer- “Is it worth it? What for?”   Zarathustra offers the answers to his lonely wait- “This tree stands lonely here in the mountains; it grew high above man and beast. And if it wanted to speak it would have nobody who could understand it, so high has it grown. Now it waits and waits- for what it is waiting? It dwells too near the seat of the clouds: surely, it waits for the first lightning.

It is very hard to find a teacher as competent and as honest as Nietzsche who practiced what he preached. He wrote with great flamboyance, which a characteristic voice, and told a great truth, the individualism, the will to power, the idea of Overman. He was a man in a hurry, he was bursting with ideas, had great courage in his grieving frame to be able to bring it out. It is not for nothing he said about himself, as some kind of premonition I know my fate. One day my name will be associated with the memory of something tremendous — a crisis without equal on earth, the most profound collision of conscience, a decision that was conjured up against everything that had been believed, demanded, hallowed so far. I am no man, I am dynamite.” I cannot agree more.

  This is my tribute to one of the greatest philosopher and bravest writer on his death anniversary on 25th of August.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Independence Day & Our Kids

Courtsey: The Hindu
Liberty means many things to many people. That is not new. We all know that. We all strive to liberate ourselves internally and externally. Being liberated mean many things to us at many times. Liberty is like a fragrant air which cannot be explained well enough in words. It is an idea which escapes the understanding like the most subtle and profound things in life. That is not a matter of concern. Unbearable is not multiple interpretation of liberty, unbearable is to have no interpretation of liberty, to not know what liberty means. It is no wonder that philosophers have been aspiring to define liberty which toggles between the extreme definitions of Thomas Hobbes “A free man is he that… is not hindered to do he hath the will to do.” and the more moderate one of Locke “In political society, liberty consists of being under no other lawmaking power except that established by consent in the commonwealth…Freedom is constrained by laws in both the state of nature and political society.”

We need to teach our children the meaning of liberty. I was talking to my six year old few days back and was telling her about how we got independence on 15th of August 1947 as we approached our 68th Independence day, and she was quite confused about what independence was all about. She is not having the benefit of being a soldier's son which I had. I was awakened to the need of teaching liberty to my little daughter by the confused look at her face and tried to debate if one, it was necessary and two, if it was possible. Was I driven by my own dislike of the market-driven media which was pushing the idea of a generation with exemplary intellect merely on the ground of information overload flooding the today’s generation or my own idea of why liberty is a great, even if a lofty idea? Am I trying to make her swallow the sun? But then I thought and the answers are here about why kids ought to be taught about liberty.

     The Idea of Liberty
    Liberty is the respect of free will. It is the healthy respect of self and    within it is ensconced the respect for others. We are all our life struggling to walk towards  that ever elusive goal which defines our life. Our kids need to learn liberty and value it. Our  quest and love for liberty is what elevates our existence as human beings above all the other  mortals. The early they learn about liberty and start taking their little steps towards it, the  earlier they grow as human being.

   Liberty and Independence
Independence is the sub-plot, the corollary of liberty. Liberty thrives on an inherent sense of responsibility. It is important to teach kids not only the value of liberty but also the price of liberty. Liberty doesn't come for free. We need to teach kids early that they cannot have their liberty paid by the currency spent by someone else. We need to buy our own liberty and pay with our own blood. Liberty is always a choice and like any other choice, comes at a price. It is only with independence, social, financial and moral, which entitles us to enjoy freedom. Didn't Nietzsche say, to command, we must first learn to obey?

Liberty and Individuality: 
John Stuart Mill states that within the idea of liberty “Over himself, over his body and mind, the individual is supreme.” The idea of liberty is tightly bound to the idea of individualism, the idea of free-will. It is something that our kids need to learn, to hold on to their own individual thoughts, never to succumb to the force of the mob. An early learning of the idea of liberty prepares the child to withstand the ridicule which faces every independent minded person and which in any case, is responsible for any progress in the society.

    Liberty, patriotism and our roots: 
    Patriotism seems to be an out of place idea in today’s cosmopolitan society, a world in which national boundaries are fast fading. We cannot negate nationalism, denying which would be tantamount to negating our own self. National pride and the sense of national self is not in contradiction with the idea of global unity. We cannot mitigate our own roots, deny our origins and melt in the global humanity. We need to learn about the sweat, blood and selfless sacrifices of those before us through which we, as a nation earned the right to govern ourselves. We need to teach our kids their roots and their origins, to help them find their own place in the world.

Let us teach our kids the story of our own independence, the value of free air in which we breathe today, and beyond the nationalistic idea, teach them the grand idea of human liberty. Their becoming a conscientious citizen and moral, independent thinking human beings depends on it. They need to appreciate the world that we live in and our responsibility towards it. As I said, Liberty means many things to many people; the worst thing would be to not have a meaning. Next time, don’t merely buy a paper flag; take time to teach your kid about liberty, of the nation, of the individual. Let us sneak in some stories about Chandrashekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh, Patriots who laid down their lives for the nation, in between Cinderellas and SnowWhites of the world. The greatness is fast becoming history. All great wars have been fought, all great sorrows have been endured. We will forget what greatness is unless we repeat it to our children and as they say, those who forget the history are condemned to repeat it. Let us teach our kids about National flag, Nation Emblem, National Anthem, National Song and national history and maybe in the process, we will learn something. They will not only learn patriotism, they will also learn greater and more delicate things in life- things like sacrifice, courage and love. Let's teach our kids nationalistic value and they will not only become fine citizens, they will become fine human beings. They will appreciate sacrifices of those who still stand guarding us- the greatness of our soldiers which protects our mediocrity. Let us become worthy of their love, let us become aligned with the greatness of the nation we live in. Let us soak in this perpetual and eternal sea of humanity we call INDIA. Wishing you a very Happy Independence Day!! 

The Post has also found a place on parenting Website Yowoto

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