Sunday, August 28, 2016

My Bright Saturday- The Magical part of the Mundane

There were many things of immense import which begged to be written. Religion in politics, the art of creating a narrative- how slyly media creates a narrative. I was reading Sol Stein on Writing on the way to office on Friday, and it occurred to me, the total apathy with which a student, a leftist leader from JNU charged with rape is being treated by mainstream media. A regular in TV debates, a known figure from a University much in news for all wrong reasons of late, and media acts as if nothing has happened. The silence is to kill the story, so perfectly dead truth being presented. Nothing beyond facts, no flesh, not blood, not personality caricatures. It is discomforting. But then I will write about it next week. This week, I write about simple pleasures of life. My monthly visits to children library with my eight year old. Here it is, I share my Saturday with you.

While on my way from the Car workshop where I had dropped the car for repair, I get a call from Nonu (my eight year old), reconfirming the sojourn and reiterating that lunch will be at the Udipi next door to the BC Roy Children Library, in ITO. I pick her from home, just picking the four books to be exchanged, the magical part of my mundane existence begins. We take the auto from home, her friend, landlord’s grand-daughter, two years older than Nonu, accompanies us. We mostly take public conveyance on this day. She mustn't think Public conveyance an impossible inconvenience when she grows up. Furthermore, it is a great equalizer. Her hairs lose, her face iridescent in the afternoon Monsoon Sun, her demeanor buoyant, more than usual with her friend for company. We get on the metro, I park myself resting my back on the glass partition at the door, and they get the seat. They are talking at the moment like two grown-ups, on their way to do attend to things of business, work- things grown-ups do. I look at her with the fond affection of a father. She is playing with her locks and the bright yellow hair-band stands out, splendidly as if a sunbeam has stuck in her hairs. I try to figure out what is painted on her Tee. It occurs to me, how much we see, how little we observe. I thought it to be a Donald duck, only today I realize it was Dory and Nemo. It brings smile to me. I wonder, how quickly time passes, and for how long she will be wearing such dresses. A tinge of sadness, and an urge to hold the clock back. My thoughts float to the Nursery in Max hospital, where I had met her first, and her palms had first curled around my finger. The first night I slept, almost sitting, holding her on my shoulder. Life was never to be same again. We get down at Central Secretariat for the change of train. Trains towards ITO seem to be running late. She is unperturbed. Delays do not worry kids. More time to play. She plays, as I watch her. A deep blue canopy of night sky stretches itself under the hot, Monsoon Sun, with her sudden laughter shining like stars spread over the deep blue sky of my imagination which covers us. She breaks into a dance. Yes, at the platform. She isn’t perturbed about who might be looking. She is happy. She is always, I silently pray, she always be as happy, as unrestrained. She takes off her Disney slippers and jumps. Her friend also jumps. They hold hands and jump. At the platform. People watch. Whenever you feel like flying, my child, you jump. Never look around who is watching. Just jump. Always believe your father is watching over you. Even when you are seventy and I am long gone. Stay aloft, levitate- I remember the dialogue from the Movie, Meet Joe Black, where Businessman, William Parrish (played by ever elegant, Anthony Hopkins) tells her daughter- “I want you to get swept away out there. I want you to levitate. I want you to sing with rapture and dance like a dervish. I mutter something similar. 

The train to Mandi House comes first. The crowd thins at the platform. She sings, loudly, in her yet untrained voice of unadulterated innocence. Her friend is couple of years older. She looks little embarrassed, a little held back. She is also happy, but she thinks. Her thoughts seem to hold her back. Nonu’s exuberance is not yet adulterated with thoughts, thoughts of who might be watching. Her friend tells her that people around might think them mad. She doesn’t care. She sings. Some rhyming sounds, not even words. Happiness doesn’t need words, it needs soul. We get on the train. She keeps repeating the announcements- “Please stand clear of the door. Please mind the gap.”  We reach ITO. We have lunch first. Then we reach the library. And the magic is now augmented with fantasies and fairies. She runs among the books, she touches the books. She and her friend find a book of schoolkid’s jokes. They read them and giggle. She looks for Roald Dahl. She loves Roald Dahl, his life. She almost wants to become a writer like him. Him and Ruskin Bond. She is an only child, but with this friendship, she will have company which will never abandon her, which will never judge her. These books, they will carry her through to the day when she’ll be swept off her feet; the day when she will sing with rapture and dance like a dervish. And even beyond. These moments are the brightest part of my weekends, they will take me through the worst days of my life. This ability to sing, dance and whistle while walking through the loneliest and darkest patches of her life, is the biggest inheritance I leave her. I wrote once- When kids grow up, they judge their parents. Sometimes, they forgive them. I hope she will judge me kindly, when her time comes. This is from this Saturday, this is my one Saturday of each month. This lights up my days, hope it does light up yours as well.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Book Review- The Waves- By Virginia Woolf

Book: The Waves
Genre: Fiction (Spiritual/ Philosophical)
Style: Experimental
Published: 1931
Publisher: Hogarth Press
Rating: Must Read, Classic

“The Author would be glad if the following pages were not read as a Novel.” – Wrote Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) on the manuscript of The Waves (Initially called The Moths). It was first published in 1931.  We are close to a century since this book was published, still this book is unparalleled and unequaled. The Independent called this Book of a Lifetime.

This is not an easy book to read. Beauty is never too easy to create, or is it ever too easy to savor to the fullest. Both production as well as the consumption of true work of art needs to be earned. This is a difficult book to read yet immensely elegant and infinitely exquisite. The story, unlike most fictional novels, does not unfold through dramatic events. It doesn’t depend on drama, it deftly steers clear of the mundane. It is sensually sublime and magnificently mystical. It breathes softly in the cusp of prose and poetry. Riding on fascinatingly gorgeous prose, it rises to glory from the space where literature melts into philosophy and the exact intermingles into the abstract. The words written here have a soft tone, almost like a whisper as if they were giving away some magical secret to the reader.

The Wave tells the story of six individuals who are the key (and only) characters in a beautiful story. Well, there is a seventh one, who is there only as reference for the six characters. The story is told through the monologues of the six characters- Bernard, Susan, Rhoda, Neville, Jinny and Louis. They meet, as kids at the beginning of the story on the sea-shore against the backdrop of waves, hitting on the shore- incessant, unrelenting, representing the continuum and passage of time. It is this rhythmic sound of life which Virginia Woolf refers to when she wrote- I am writing to a rhythm, and not to a plot. And one really feels a soft beat of drums coming from a distance as the words unwrap themselves, unhurriedly.  The novel traces their lives through school, college and work. The story moves in monologues, as Mrs. Woolf wrore- The Wave resolves itself into a series of dramatic soliloquies.

Through monologues we understand the characters and how they look at each other and at life as it unfolds for them. Susan accidentally finds Jinny kissing Louis and is very unhappy. Their individual characters unfold in the first part of the story itself. Jinny is a happy kid. She says, “I dance. I ripple. I am thrown over you like a net of light. I lie quivering flung over you.  She is sure of herself, and looks for happiness. Susan is earthy and sad. Bernard wants to comfort her. Bernard is the writer in search of right phrase. He writes letter like Byron to his friends. He explains Susan’s anguish, “Susan has spread her anguish out. Her pocket-handkerchief is laid on the roots of the beech trees and she sobs, sitting crumpled where she has fallen.” She is not anguished because she loves Louis. We find the sorrow is within her, on account of her own image about herself, incapable of love and happiness. She has already concluded, and resigned to a life of the usual, the unremarkable, when she says about herself, “And I am squat, Bernard, I am short. I have eyes that look close to the ground and see insects in the ground. The yellow warmth in my side turned to stone when I saw Jinny kiss Louis. I shall eat grass and die in a ditch in the brown water where dead leaves have rotted.” Susan has already given up on life. She trades passion for propriety and in the end, laments, "I am sick of the body. I am sick of my own craft, industry and cunning, of the unscrupulous ways of the mother who protects, who collects under her jealous eyes at one long table her own children, always her own." 

 Bernard continues his journey into the search of a voice of his own, as he keeps looking for the best of the phrases. Neville advises him that you are not Byron. You are Bernard, in the college, Cambridge. It is only towards the end Bernard agrees. There they meet Percival, who is only external character in the story. Percival is quintessential representation of orthodoxy, a conventional hero. He is an old-fashioned hero of myths, to who all are attracted – like Moths. 

Rhoda feels inadequate thought spiritual. She misses earthiness. She says, “I have no face. I am whirled down caverns, and flap like paper against endless corridors, and must press my hand against the wall to draw myself. She is in dilemma. She wants to become like Susan or Jinny. She never is able to come into her own. Her own self is lost. She says- “I am cast up and down among these men and women, with their twitching faces, with their lying tongues, like a cork on a rough sea. Like a ribbon of weed I am flung far every time a door opens..I am also a girl, here in this room.” She has lost herself in her menial, an inconsequential identity, a broken self and she is twenty-one. She will jump off the cliff eventually and kill herself, hounded by her own sense of inadequacy.   

Louis is the ambitious one. He is articulate, thinks of himself as an unhappy poet. He is a realist. He says, “The bird flies; the flower dances; but I hear always the sullen thud of the waves; and the chained beast stamps on the beach. It stamps and stamps.” The chained beast is the sea, the stamping- the sound of the waves. Louis is artistic but notes the time which is passing by. He goes to London, who spoke of “My father, a banker in Brisbane” with embarrassment, is laboring in office. Maybe his picture will not be on the wall as an unhappy poet. He has given up on being a poet. He says, “I repeat- I am an average Englishman; I am an average clerk.” He is tortured by the sense that he has compromised his potential, his ability. He says, “I smoothed my hair when I came in, hoping to look like the rest of you. But I cannot, for I am not single and entire as you are. ..I am the caged tiger, and you are the keepers with red-hot bars.” His sensitive soul, we find later, is tamed when he says, “There is no respite here, no shadow made of quivering leaves, or alcove to which one can retreat from the Sun, to sit, with a lover, in the cool of the evening.

Neville is pursuing a dream, following a chase. He too is hounded by a certain emptiness, a certain sense of loss. He says, “ I am like a hound on the scent. ..I shall never have what I want, for I lack bodily grace and the courage that comes with it.  ..I excite pity in the crisis of life and not love. Therefore I suffer horribly.”  

Percival dies. The hero dies the most ordinary death. He falls from his horse in India and dies. The six lives, who would be attracted to Percival like moths will suddenly come home to the ephemeral nature of life. Bernard says- “This then, is the world that Percival sees no longer.”  From ashes to ashes.

What we have to the end? What memories hold to their own in the end, when we look back? Are there these six distinct people whose life we watch with some sort of vicarious attachment, or are they one? Neville says in the last chapter, “The old corrosion has lost its bite- envy, intrigue and bitterness have been washed out. We have lost our glory too.”  Bernard says- “ Percival is dead and Rhoda is dead. ..As I talked I felt, I am you! This difference we make so much of, this individuality we so feverishly cherish, was overcome. Here on the nape of my neck is the kiss Jinny gave Louis. My eyes fill with Susan’s tears.”

 The characters are incidental, so is the story. It is deep philosophy, it is the story of spiritual search. It is a story that one ought to read, even though it is difficult. It is like life. We have to live, no matter how difficult it might be. For anyone, as an early reviewer wrote, it should be twice read. For a writer, one should read, re-read it many times, hoping some of the genius would rub off on your own writing. While being path-breaking and experimental, it attracted some scathing early reviews, I would only quote from this book itself, before you make an opinion about it- “To read this poem one must have myriad eyes… one must put aside antipathies and jealousies and not interrupt…Nothing is to be rejected in fear or horror…The lines do not run in convenient lengths…One must be skeptical but throw caution to the winds and when the door opens, accept absolutely..Let down one’s net deeper and deeper and gently draw in and bring to surface what he said and she said and make poetry.” This quote from this book is apt for this book.

Link to Amazon Page of The Waves 

Some initial Reviews to The Waves:

It is important that this book be read twice. The book is difficult. Yet it is superb.” – Harold Nicolson- 1931

Ms. Woolf’s writing has always been difficult: by which I mean that it will yield motive, its clear and luminous core, only to a reader who is ready to empty himself of preconceptions and to become in the highest degree receptive, patient, searching..” – Gerald Bullett, 1931

Her genius is like a shaft of sunlight breaking into a room- a golden medium in which float a million fiery particles but beyond that enchanted area the darkness is darker than it was.”- L P Hartley, Weekend Review- 1931

Mrs Woolf has not only passed up superficial reality; she has also passed up psychological reality… A far cry from the ‘Biographic style’ but a very far cry from greatness.” – Louis Krorenberger- New York Times Book Review- 1931

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Why I Hate Birthdays?

Don't get me wrong. I am not a depressed teenager contemplating death as a plausible way out of life. I have too tough a hide for that. There used to be a time when Birthdays excited me to no ends.
A birthday is a perfect occasion to reconfirm and substantiate one's station in life. Friends embrace, kisses, blessings- your role as a father, husband, child is all settled once again. Your station in life is substantiated, reaffirmed. You are a prince (or the princess if you are a woman) for a day. 

But then you grow up, get wiser and broken from inside. You realize the inadequacy of the dream to keep you aloft. You no longer levitate, in spiritual terms. You dread the day, you drag yourself through it. It lies at your door, like a dead dog, in such an awkward fashion that you cannot walk around it. The pretense of your being a special person doesn't survive unblemished for even for an hour- an unadulterated, unbroken hour. 

You realize that the day is as crappy as any other day as the one that preceded it or the one that is to follow it. Social media makes it easier for people to make a wish. Even Linkedin connects, people you have never met or spoken to in person, start wishing you. You know they could as well be wishing a very happy birthday to a dead person. You are old enough, so old that life is tiring. I was reading Virginia Woolf's writer's journals the other day. She laments, ponder over the fact she is 45, and wonders how many books she still has left in her, yet unwritten. She is the Virginia Woolf. I think of it. I am 45. I have written couple of poetry books, I have just published a collection of stories. It is there up. I suck at promoting and selling them, even though I know I do have something to tell (which is why I wrote them). But the painful saga of awkward promotion of The Rude Tenderness of Our Heart is another story. Pertinent point here is that scathing, unforgiving thought that much of life's work is yet undone. And no, it has nothing to do with the career, the selling of IT, which I do for the upkeep of the family. How many books will I write? How many by the time I am 55?

I write in short jerks and between long breaks. Sometimes I convince myself that I am writing when I am spending long hours preparing to write, or trying to approach real writing in a hugely round-about way- reading interviews, twitter (author's platform) and all that nonsense. Time passes me by. I do not get fooled anymore. I am old. I know my station in life. A small cake is just an alibi of the value of a relation, value of a person. The ideas are uncertain, the voice is tremulous. I mutter what I want, slowly, hesitatingly. I am given a small, pale Pineapple cake to cut, and brief embarrassed clap follows. My daughter laughs. The laugh is pretty, as always, like clinking of crystals. It fills and lights up the bland day.

The day is over. I read Yeats. 
An aged man is but a paltry thing
A tattered coat upon the stick, unless
soul claps its hands and sing, and louder sing

I whistle against the night breeze, but the soul doesn't sing. The soul is tired, of years of neglect, of being relegated to good sense. I ran after happiness, a hope of an ideal life fades. People around me, do not realize that time is outrunning them quicker than it is outrunning me. Still stuck in their diminutive egos, they strut around. We smile, while hating one another. Civility or cowardice, the line is too thin. The fan, makes unpleasant sound, which rises, hammering the conscience. I end the day, reading Virginia Woolf- I have lived a thousand lives already. Everyday I unbury- I dig up. I find relics of myself in the sand that women made thousand of years ago, when I heard songs by Nile and the chained beast stamping

Will I once again hold this unruly beast steady, only time will tell? The hope is little, the adamant soul is unyielding. Phew, another birthday is gone. I am old. Last year have seen some younger souls than me leave this mortal world. Age rides on my soul. I always had an ancient soul, it is even older now. The era behind me is longer than the era ahead of me. The shadow of my past mistakes is longer than the dim Sun of my future can ever wash away. The shadows are getting longer by the hour. 
It is embarrassing to write about unhappy passage of the birthday in an age when pouts and loud celebrations mark the birthdays in very public celebrations. But that what it is. I found a quote which covers beautifully my feelings on a birthday. It is by Hemingway.

His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly's wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless.” 

He wrote it long back. I feel he wrote it for me.
The shadow of silences walk in wearing heavy boots.
The night is overwhelmed in those shadows. The night is
 drowning. It gasps for breath. The birthday is over. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Writing on Independence Day- Yet Again

There is an advantage of being a blogger over being a columnist. One is not tied up to events and deadlines. I have earlier also written on Independence Day. This time, I thought I would take it easy. I thought, I would rather let myself laze out through Rain-drenched days of Delhi, read Virginia Woolf, watch kites flying high, and take pride in the sight of Tricolor fluttering in the enthusiastic Monsoon Breeze. But here I am writing again. On Independence day. 

I am writing on account of some unsettling things which have happened over the last two months, gets worse over the day. And no, I am not talking about the intolerance. In a nation, where soldiers are shot everyday on border, women get raped and killed, without a whimper, unless they fit the political agenda of political and thought leaders, the mass outrage on beating of people is more outrageous than the beating itself is. Further the same people who are working on the well-designed, although largely exposed agenda, are relentless in service to the powers-that-might-be hell bent on destabilizing the nation. If that breaks the nation so be it. A journalist, Rahul Kanwal, today wrote about Army symposium on Geeta, which is less of a religious tome, more of a philosophy. Immediately, a journalist with NDTV, with known leaning against the current government wrote asking if they also covered Quran and Bible? It is any day disgusting to communalize the Army, even more on 14th of August. Something snapped and I am writing this. 

This began with 2014 General elections. There was (and is) a well-oiled, well-crafted ecosystem which always wanted to maintain the status quo. Do not get me wrong. They do not love Congress and hate BJP. What they hate is change. What they loved was what Congress has come to represent over the decades of Independent India- a world-view stuck in history. It is a world of courtiers, a world of Zauq with no space for Ghalib. The spaces of public debate was allocated to them- The English-speaking, good-looking, stylized and suited for TV studios, DU graduates whose world began and ended in Delhi, and mostly Post-graduated from abroad with powerful connections. That anachronistic, monarchic world of Congress protected their Journalistic Zamindaris. That explains their loyalty to Congress, they derived their power from there. They were also OK with, to borrow from Arun Shourie, Congress with a Cow jibe on BJP, BJP with an Advani. They did not love Advani, rather hated him. Still he represented the old world, where the schemes of this intelligentsia could propagate unhindered. 

But then Social media happened, and while the Satraps of Mainstream remained lost in their Shatranj Ke Khiladi moment, deriding the unknown, unwashed masses, the tide turned and Narendra Modi was their in the driving seat. It is not that Social media was the making of Modi. On the contrary, it was democratization of social media, which created the space for Modi in National polity. To his credit, he did not fight it (unlike his ministers like Maneka Gandhi and couple of MPs), he rode the wave. When the interpreters are not there, honesty of the person stands. This is where Modi fared. He and his cabinet paid heed to those who earlier had not voice. This made the travelers through power galleries of Delhi redundant. 

This change in polity hurt the whispering, conniving cult of Lutyen's Delhi. The world changed for the unwashed natives who suddenly found their voice on Blogs, Twitter and Facebook. The established thought-leaders and opinion-makers struggled for relevance. The so-called custodians of national conscience suddenly realized that they were so out of touch with the reality. The had no space in changed regime, except as an equal to the citizenry. They had ignored the waves of change when some of them had threatened to run out naked in the event of Modi becoming the PM. Thankfully, they did not keep their arrogant and foolish word for it would have been a horrendous sight. The new dispensation did not speak to people through them, cabinet positions were no longer meditated through them, policy decisions were not disseminated through them. 

The change had come. Suddenly very-articulate, very well-read voices started to flood the public discourse. One can only wonder why we never earlier had read them in National dailies or heard them in Television debates. They were independent voices which defied the ground rules and refused to tow the line.  The melodramatic, fact-less, rhetorical drama of mainstream media was now routinely called out on nameless, faceless people on social media. While they lost their power with the change in style of governance, now they lost their repute by rhetoric and falsifying the information. With no hidden agendas, no ministers to appoint, no TRP to address, these truly neutral voices found friends in the government led by a leader who was not a part of Lutyen's Delhi. They were called "Bhakts" by intellectuals in derision, which is an irony, if one looks at how the same people took the government to task when they would it deviating from the idea of India- the popular idea of India. This further infuriated the cabal as their citadels of power crumbled about them. 

They sided with Congress, humiliated, defeated, out of power as a result of corruption and dynastic politics. Congress to them represented a world of absolute power, naive consumers of news and no voice to counter them. The game began. A sad, but innocent suicide (10th such in the University, 9 in earlier regime did not agitate media or Congress leaders) in Hyderabad became a stick to beat the government with. This was quickly followed by JNU, where the national media openly sided with those calling for the destruction of the nation. There was nothing hidden, gloves were off, masks were down. Old media went about threatening individuals, who pointed their dishonesty. Journalists were fighting with people for whom they wrote, who they claimed to represent, soldiers, students, professionals. Anyone who objected to their vile politics was a Bhakt. Student leaders with 300 votes in the University with 15oo voters, backed and funded by opposition parties, were propped up by media as an answer to a mass leader who rose to power with absolute majority, in election among 125 Cr voters. Anything and everything would go. People getting thrashed churned the stomach of a reporter who stayed blind to a Dalit girl, Jisa, raped and killed in Kerala, merely because that would have implicated the political party she favored. A decorated General made speech on military strategy, quoting 1971, calling for destruction of Pakistan, which has been sending more terrorists to India then Ghazal Singers. No national media thought of covering it. A student, under-grad called it hate speech and that was newsworthy.  

A public spat happened between journalist who decided not to call AK 47 trotting terrorist a terrorist and another who wanted to call the slain terrorist thus. Now is not the time to play neutral. Daggers are drawn, masks are off. Suddenly, being proud of being Indian is being old-fashioned, illiterate Hindu. How are the media, the now discharged-of-duty conscience-keeper intelligentsia celebrating the 70th Independence day? Questioning the size of the flags, calling an even of patriotic fervour hyper-nationalism. 

The old-world power ecosystem of Indian Polity are diligently designing the methods to fracture the society. Left-Liberals are making the narrative of Dalit-Muslim solidarity. It is so absurd and outlandish. It would take another post to cover that. Left is atheist, Muslims follow their religion to the dot, and they are friend. Muslims really think left will let them follow the religion if the nation of Leftist's dream is created, or Leftists really believe that Muslims will become Atheist comrade, once the idea of India- the democratic, secular India is defeated. And there does this leave the Dalits. Same place where they were in Pakistan and Bangladesh in 1947. Their choice is not between democratic India and Leftist-Muslim Government as in Pakistan, where they will become crowd to convert and chant, "Insha Allah, Insha Allah." That is no choice at all. Their choice is between Una- Model and Kerala model. Una model, can transform from thrashing (politically staged or not) to social equity, Kerala's Jisa model ends in death and silence. We escaped political slavery in 1947, Constitutional Slavery in 1977 and eventually, intellectual slavery in 2014. There is no going back. We need books and library to continue moving on this path and thwart the designs of demagogues with questionable integrity. We need to free knowledge from the clutches of few privileged ones and they are bound to not like it. The nation is its lands, its symbols, its forces, its citizens, but it is much bigger than all of it put together. We cannot let it fail for petty bickering. Let us overwhelm this bickering with a resounding Bharat Mata ki Jai or Jai Hind, if you like. Lets stand as one nation. Let us pledge to be the citizen, our soldier will be proud of defending. Let's pledge to be the soldier, our citizen will be proud of deifying. This is the day to celebrate. Happy Independence Day. Hold the flag high and don't be bothered about the questions on the size of the Tricolor.

My other posts around the same idea: