19 August 2017

Meera and Krishna

Krishna and Meera have been visiting my mind, now and then, for quite some years now. It was 18 or 19 years ago – I cannot quite recall; the two years (1998 and 1999) seem to have become one in my mind – when they first appeared and with Fimh and my best friend. After a few years of semi-silence they appeared again and now it’s been a decade and a half with a few missing years, here and there. I used to imagine at some point that I could write a whole book about Meera but I can’t. Yet Meera and Krishna have appeared in very odd dreams or as very tantalising images - or maybe it’s all a delicious piece of imagined reality or my delusions? I don’t really know but I don’t really think that’s what it is. This year too Meera visited and I kept asking her questions, and it was Krishna’s Birthday, and Fimh absolutely insisted that I write about what transpired. So here is a part of it:

Janmashthami 13th/ 14th  August –

There is a time when silence is sharper and clearer than any possible sound. The silence rings away in my ears and thuds away with my heartbeat – especially when I am waiting and waiting, and waiting some more to hear what I want to hear, to sense what I wish to sense, to feel what I want to feel and some of what I don’t know and cannot expect  – the footsteps, the embrace, the whispers and his voice murmuring near the nape of my neck, the sense of touch from The One who has caressed my mind and soul, the whispers through the night, listening with my very being so as not to forget later, fighting, arguing, laughing, teasing and being teased in turn – and I don’t care then about weeping with the departing strains of his voice and the fainter notes of his flute as I see dawn riding in through my windows and hijacking my dream – or was that my reality? Was he here? Was he not? Did I not hear him? Did I not feel him? Why was he here, and why did he leave?

What? – What is it that you’re asking me? Do I see him? – You ask me.

Yes. I do.

Why can’t you? – You ask me. To that I’ll give you different answers depending on my mood.

…because you don’t have the eyes – I’ll say. Because you haven’t tried hard enough. Because you think you can see him with the same eyes that you see the world. Because you think you can hear him the same way you do your listening in the world. Because you’re too full of what doesn’t matter. Because you are blind and maybe deaf? Oh, I’m so sorry – I have offended you. Well it’s because you haven’t loved him like I have. Because I love him – I see him. I see now that you’re all teary-eyed and you are hurt and you are angry and offended – all at the same time. There, there. You love him? Maybe you haven’t called him loud enough? Any louder and you’ll sound like a tuneless foghorn? – You say. Oh, no! – I don’t think you should sing. Well then, maybe I sense him because I’m mad, and utterly deaf and blind to the world. And so I feel him in communion with my body, spirit, soul, mind and everything about me – till there is no space or place that is private or “just” mine or me any longer. I don’t know what this “me” or “I” is apart from that which recognizes him, knows him, adores him and worships him. I don’t know of any “I” or “me” which doesn’t adore him.

Just seconds ago you were relieved – and almost smugly happy that I had called myself mad – how do I know that?  – I could see it on your face! – and now you call me a saint, you silly girl?! Would you rather have me be sick and mad or are you calling me a saint?

I’m no saint.

I’m evil and cruel and depraved and a wretch in more ways than you or anybody else can count, and many have counted and told me why I am disgusting and they have seen the better sides of me. Oh, it doesn’t matter if I haven’t acted upon every terrible thought or feeling in this life. They are all there in me from other times and other places, and they – the thoughts, feelings and selves and voices erupt from within me like macabre monsters and self-righteous angels and demons and they are all in me. I'm not stupid, you say? - Oh, I’m stupid, vapid, inert and mindless in so many countless ways too. You would be horrified to see all the selves and parts of me which move around about me and which I know prowl about in me with their mangy bad breath trying to spit at this “me” which you see (which you want to be – and only because I see him and can sing out my love for him) and which want to consume me with their evil.

What is evil? – You ask me?

That thing which feels no love and senses no love and which knows no love – that is evil. That thing becomes evil. It becomes putrid. It rots itself, and it tries to rot and corrupt everything else that comes close to it or that which it sees as easy prey. There are worse things than just murdering a person – even yourself – with a sword or dagger. It’s to rot from the inside.

What is love? – You ask me? Why am I smiling? – You ask me? Love means different things to different people. I smile at what different people call love. But you called me a saint, not seconds ago! That is what I’m saying too. I am not a saint.

Lust, greed, sloth, avarice, rage, resentment, anger, apathy, violence, mindlessness jostle about for space in every other cell that I carry in me. They are imprinted in me. They flow like sudden poisonous, malodorous lava spewing from ugly volcanoes lying dormant, which I think are dead and they catch me unawares, and right when I am convinced that I am holier-than-thou and deserve my Lord. Did you know that?

You call me a saint?!

“Who is this person?!” – I scream at myself.
“Is this me?” I ask in a whisper.
It is me.
Yes. It is.
And yet - He saves me from myself – from those mangy-breathed monsters I carry within me, which want to feed upon me and leave me to rot with no love or memory of love. He with his flute and with that insouciant feather and humour and everything else that makes him him. Each of my cells of terrible memories, each of those horrible and twisted strands that carry the tides and imprints of evil, malice, resentment, spite and vicious rage – all of that upon which I have acted somewhere, sometime – aeons ago, ages ago, many or more summers ago even – it doesn’t matter – but even those, even those horrors and the numerous insipid, petty, ghastly vulgarities and inanities in me are washed over by gigantic, tremendous and complete waves of love and tenderness for him and from him.

Which comes first? – His love or mine – You ask me? – I do not know that. How does that matter, you silly girl?!

I lose myself in him. I find myself in him. I melt with him. I am cast asunder from him. There is bliss – infinite, ineffable, eternal, and there is the utter and absolute agony – of the sort you maybe cannot imagine in separation, in estrangement, in abandonment – in being tossed aside like a tiny, insignificant, ugly, cheap, unwanted raft by the mighty, expansive, gorgeous and churning oceans. And there are in betweens too, aren’t there?

How does he love…? – You ask me?

I wonder too. He stands before me. He smiles. He speaks. He sits. He teases. He is cold. He allows an embrace. He is vulnerable. He ignores. He is aloof. He talks. He laughs with his eyes. He banters. He is brusque. He listens. He responds. He is quiet. He laughs. He is silent. He thunders. He shoots lightning forks at you which are beautiful and can burn. He reaches out his hand for you to touch – maybe once or maybe twice – and that is what you want to remember. He quarrels. He sulks. He talks like the adorable young boy he once was about his loves. He is insouciant (yes, like his feather! – You remember). He is naughty. He is wicked. He is irritated. He plays his flute. He talks of the heavens and earth. He shows you glimpses from his universes. He makes you laugh. You carry that laughter, that beauty, that love and the memories through strange days and stranger nights as time spins about like a spinning wheel. He caresses with a caress, like no other and the only one you want or will ever desire. He tells you about dharma, artha, karma, kama, karuna, gyana, bhakti, prem, moksha, shanti…You want to know more and more, and everything about him. He looks at you with those deep eyes almost mirroring your love, tenderness and bizarre desire.

What, then? – Then what?!

Then – he is gone. He leaves. With not a backward glance. He leaves you bereft. Shaking, screaming and wailing, and out of your mind. What? – No, of course not. That does not make him cruel. No! Are you out of your mind? Why would he want to be with me all the time? Can you not be reasonable? He has many things to do and he loves many  – don’t you know?! And even if he wants to be alone? Is he not allowed to get bored by me and my prattle and my love? What about the Gods and Goddesses? – You ask. Speak up, you incoherent girl – I cannot hear you when you mumble beneath your breath. Hahaha! Shiva and Shakti, Vishnu and Lakshmi, Rudra and Tara - they do not get bored of one another! That is what you say? - You must ask them. I am not Lakshmi or Parvati or Durga or Tara. I am Meera.

23 July 2017

The Sky

The sky has been changing colour. I have been noticing the sky – for weeks on end, and usually rather intensely during the weekends barring a couple of weekdays which now seem to have been from a sleep-dream sequence. One weekend the sky impinged upon me and my dim senses, and the more I tried to ignore it from my window the more loudly (and utterly silently) it demanded that I take notice of it. Now it demands to be written about – and I’m not sure why. I even gave in to the sky and one very early morning while writing in my diary, dedicated some long, involved and loving paragraphs about and to the sky and its moods and how it appeared to me – but now it demands that I write a few lines here – and after weeks of trying to ignore the demands of the sky – I am writing here.

I have to say at the onset that I have loved the sky. One cannot hate the sky or find it obnoxious or even dislike it or harbor ill-feelings or anger towards it or be irked or irritated or annoyed by it but I guess one might find it rather too obvious and all-present to harbour too many feelings about the sky. Unless one is a genuine poet or a genuine writer, one also feels that it is a trifle silly or a little ridiculous to express the feelings of rapture or ecstasy or in fact, any feelings, about the sky that one might experience in private. But I can’t help feeling that there probably are many human beings who have at some point felt something beautiful inside or even in company while watching the sky. The sky insists that I turn my attention to it and not to my own explanations and excuses or apologies for writing about it. I apologise still.

I have seen rather strange skies – and not merely in my mind’s eye, which would be of little interest here. I remember January 2003 when I had awoken very, very early one morning and with great anticipation for Fimh was telling me something or the other, and I had gone and sat in my chair to look out of my dorm window and had seen a pure black sky with a blood red gash of a horizon. I couldn’t really believe that I was seeing what I was and put on my glasses – but there it was. The sky was the blackest shade of black that I had ever seen and a little lower a liquid inky blue, and just at the horizon there was a streak of orange and right below it – a streak of pure crimson. Nobody believed me when I told them later. And I didn’t have a camera but I doubt the camera would have picked up that strange sky. I had sat there in my chair mesmerized and had felt that the sky somehow made sense. It was almost as though it were reflecting a particular mood – it felt like the sky was in a rather swashbuckling mood or even a quietly wicked mood where it was smiling softly and even grinning and was putting on a show to let whoever was awake see how utterly splendorous and enchanting and desirable it could be. Yet another time – and it was sometime in the middle of 2011 – I had gone outside to go for a walk rather late in the evening. Now in the mid-west, there is some daylight till past 9. But this was closer to 10 and it was dark but there was something a little odd that I sensed. I looked up and by God, I do not quite know how to describe what I saw. There was a humongous white elliptical band of a fuzzy white light covering the sky and the centre of the sky contained within that elliptical band looked like a puffed up black and grey cloudy swirl – and it looked as though it was trying to descend or ascend but couldn’t make up its mind completely as to what it wanted to do. I cannot remember whether I actually called a neighbour to ask him whether the aliens were finally coming or whether he just happened to be strolling into the apartment – but he was utterly unfazed when I told him to look up at the sky. He looked at it and described it as something, which I have completely forgotten, and said that it was a known occurrence in Indiana skies. He had seen the same when he was a child and it was called the “ring…” (of something that I have clean forgotten) and had seen it a few times while growing up. But even so – I couldn’t help but keep an eye on the sky while I went out for my walk up and down the hill; if the aliens were landing their spaceship - I didn't want to miss that. I also remember the huge hanging moon in the Indiana sky. The moon was incredibly large during some of the full moon nights – it looked frankly unreal, and would change colours – the dense black sky with wispy white streamers would be all there overhead and even in front of my vision in certain stretches, and I remember feeling that the moon seemed to be undecided as to whether it should keep growing larger and larger and softly descend to earth or stay in the sky. I remember seeing that dense black sky with the wispy streamers and the scudding clouds and that growing, unreal silver-gold-reddish moon while driving back from the department or while walking over the overhead bridge on some late nights and it seemed to me that the sky did have a hold on the moon and the moon rather did want to stay with the sky. And I remember the sky from other nights from even longer back. The sky, which I didn’t notice too well or just noticed in the passing but I remember the feeling of the open, expansive sky overhead and while up on a terrace and looking at trees and imaginary scenes and the freckles of stars and the lone star which shone just that little bit brighter and sharper. And I remember reading my first P.G. Wodehouse a very long time ago and laughing aloud and being in uncontrollable fits of laughter and feeling that the sky had joined me in my moment of absolute laughter. And I remember of other times – running away to the terrace and finding a secluded spot to look at the occasional aeroplanes with their flashing lights which seemed to speak of such freedom in flight and glorious shared adventures up above in that dark, mysterious sky, and of being up on the terrace one summer, so very long ago, and feeling this ineffable rush of a feeling of split-dreams and a delicious dreaminess and of the fleeting feeling of an unbelievable bliss and perfect clarity and under that great, dark, inscrutable sky stealing even a naughty, beautiful kiss.

And now there is the sky from the past few weeks and these abominable weekends. Had I never noticed, across two score summers that the sky changes in its moods and dispositions most awfully and capriciously during the monsoons? One day it is a refulgent glorious shade of blue – azure – and it is almost as though the sky is so joyously and absolutely in love that it is unashamedly and vociferously proclaiming its love and even beckoning at me to sing with it as it insists on shining through my window at the bleakest of moments. If I won’t sing out aloud it insists that I sing inside my head or heart or with my Holy Spirit. If I obmutaciously shake my head and say that I can’t possibly sing – it insists that I acknowledge that I feel the desire to sing and dance and connect to some parallel world or universe where maybe I am singing and dancing! And then if I do finally, pushed to a corner, agree and some bars of a song appear in my mind on demand, it wickedly tells me that it’s not about the singing, is it?! – By then of course I have to admit that no, it’s probably not just about the singing but about the feelings that rise and spill over from ever since I can remember – dreams and images and desires and expectations and ambitions and adventures and all those worldly and unworldly pursuits. And the sky shining and glowing with that unearthly blue, laughs and winks wickedly and says, ‘oh, you fool. You know it is all about Love.’ And on other days the sky has merely been a glass. A sheet of glass. And there is nothing that is given or received or taken. It stays there like a sheet of clear, invincible glass. I look at it almost expecting it to say something – but there is nothing. And on yet other days it is as if it is brooding and grey and dark and beyond gloom and yet holding back the tears that it simply will not shed. On those days I have felt that if I shed my tears, the sky might feel a bit better. But the sky is withdrawn and away from the world and far away from me. It does not care and doesn’t even care that it doesn’t care. It stays there with its beyond-gloom and even the fluffy clouds stay away. It is simply a flat, uncompromising grey – unreachable and certainly not inviting me. It refuses to correspond in any manner. “And so why were you shining so blue-ly the other day and now you won’t say a thing?!” I almost yell at it aloud when Fimh almost laughingly points out that “blue-ly” is not a word. And then now, for a whole week, there have been the rains and the rains and the rains and the intermittent and continuing rains. But the rains of the monsoons, the stormy sky, the thunder, the lightning are a different story.



And here's a picture and memories of a sky and river and of conversations of disappearing wormholes, unreal skies and the horse and Pushpak, and pure delight. 

8 May 2017

A week gone by

6th-7th May. 2017.

The matters of living and dying, sickness, illness and old age, relationships and love have been whirling around in my mind along with (other) worldly concerns like work, income and livelihoods and related matters. The previous week that just about went by – I have to say – was rather – well, beautiful with conversations, whimsy, walks, delight, laughter, munching, movies, summer rains, and more – and despite the darkness, greyness, awful oddities, broken dreams and brooding mushroom clouds that hover over the world of human beings and despite my being what I am (I think I only stay with myself - for the most part - because I don't have the option of jumping out of my skin). Maybe it’s true that God has a strange sense of humour and so has blended paradoxes along with irony in the woof and warp of life. Anyhow. I know I thoroughly cherish the previous week. Now the weekend is almost over and I’ve been re-visiting very old favourites from Rabindranath (Taalgach being one of them – I was in class II when I read and memorised the poem! – it was listening to the live recital of the poem that made me return to it), walking, working over summer posters, having mini-prophetic sleep dreams, reading up for an upcoming research project, doing some yoga, worrying in bouts, watching some animations - in the hopes of inspiration and possible future use and for a bit of fun (and feeling so strongly that a story titled Sorcery could be made into such a marvellous animated film), breathing some sighs of relief and of even happiness…and reflecting over recent conversations. 

I remember reading in early October last year, an article which had made me grumble, frown and argue instantaneously and scribble a bit. It was a particular article from the Public Discourse blog. The writer was against all forms of assisted suicide and of having any control over the process of dying. Death is an end – according to the author – not a part of life and is a final blow full of nothing but indignity, humiliation and tragedy. Death - said the author - was “viscerally disturbing” and nothing but a “sombre tragedy”. The author made no distinction in terms of age or state of health or mental functioning. Towards the end of reading the article, the only thing I found “heartening” about it was that the writer mentioned that how a person lives and the kind of person that one chooses to become and the kind of life one chooses to live are what count and that the only dignity to be found in death is to be found in the life that preceded it. I don’t disagree with the living part. It does matter. How a person lives, thinks, speaks, acts, the values a person lives and dies by, whether s/he loves, whether s/he truly cares, whom and what s/he loves and cares for, what s/he does, how s/he is as a person – I think these matter. Somewhere, someplace, sometime – yes, but also within the temporal worldly space. Living life – as far as I have noted – does not involve only a matter of making-do or what sociologists used to term an “organic level of existence”. In our current times, maybe many human beings have turned it around and said, “we live to eat, shop, take selfies and go woo-hoo for no reason” but that doesn’t make it right. That said and I could go on with this part – but to cut it short – I certainly do not agree that all death is undignified. Death is a part of life. Absolutely, irrevocably and even perhaps, at some point, enjoyably and to be met with acceptance and peace. Horrible illness or terrible suffering or to be completely incapacitated by physical or mental debilitation...make me feel helpless and undignified but why would the entire process of dying - and with no exceptions - be considered to be undignified? I think it matters how a person faces death, accidents, illness, pain and suffering just as much as it matters how a person faces life in its happiness, joys and meaning and bursts of unalloyed laughter. The monk who was making people laugh at his funeral with the bursting firecrackers hidden in his clothes knew so. The same goes for the individual who opts for Nirvakalpa Samadhi – when s/he knows that “love is done”. Morris Schwartz felt so. Sikander sang about dying with a laugh in Muqaddar ka SikanderThe brother from the tale of the three brothers (Harry Potter) who asked for the invisibility cloak knew the same. Dumbledore said so and believed so and even when he knew he was going to die. Emily Dickinson felt and expressed the same. Sogyal Rinpoche says so in The Tibetan Book of Living and DyingSuvro da writes so with his, “Life is short, fun and precious…it should be fun, even the dying”. Debjaan paints a vivid picture about there being more to death than meets the eye. Only if we believe that this flesh-blood-bones and body is the only reality that exists can we actually say that death is only viscerally disturbing and a sombre tragedy and always undignified. Even if lots of people do believe in the same – I have the feeling that all those who have passed on will have something different to say about that.

And yet. It isn’t that making some semblance of peace with the fact of death and dying being a part of life makes all the pain, questions and doubts go away. Further questions arise. For one thing, one starts wondering and worrying about the hereafter. I do not know whether this is a function of age. Two decades ago, I remember I had been blissfully bereft of any broodings about the hereafter. I was sure that that would be taken care of by the powers-that-be. Now twenty years later, I am still here and I can’t help but wonder sometimes and worry. And then if one goes along that particular pathway – the matters of bardos, reincarnation, karma and the utterly improbable hits and the even more ludicrous misses (in this lifetime) keep rising to one’s foreconscious or maybe have made a permanent home there. The contrast between what has transpired and what hasn't feels well-nigh remarkable. I sometimes feel (and I cannot even begin to explain the conundrum) that I am rapidly and horribly racing against time towards making this lifetime a little useful before it’s too late (leave alone any future ones) and sometimes feel that all is in place and I am exactly where I am supposed to be, so help me God (I am quite sure that it's Fimh who makes me feel this). One can rage against God and weep with one’s Fimh or howl in Fimh's presence or be utterly peevish when suddenly God or maybe Fimh will decide to grace one with a break. Or else one can be as calm and as true to oneself as one can possibly be, insist upon feeling and sending out positive/good vibrations, be utterly grateful...and say that one will just believe in one’s highest truth that one has truly felt and seen and known, and move along at which point there might descend further darkness or sudden light and even words and a pathway that just might bring solace within and a way on the out...I know that there is a correct combination for moving ahead in both the true and useful mode in a single lifetime. Some six years ago, I was jubilantly sure I was putting it into practise and I still have the feeling that I really did at that point, but sadly enough I cannot say that I have come anywhere close to mastering the method in the intervening years, and something tells me that I should have, by now. Even if God came and gave me a consolation prize for 'best effort' - I would grunt at this point and shake my head.  

I know I have thought a bit and reflected a bit in this lifetime – although I am not claiming to have always thought and reflected fruitfully and with great purity (my best friend sometimes calls it “wool gathering”) – but I think that what scares many people about dying and death is the matter of physical pain, the fear of the unknown or of getting stuck somewhere, the fear of letting go of what has become habitual and familiar and known, the niggling feeling or fear of not having lived the life they feel they were supposed to have lived this time around, the fear of being an inconsequential bit of nothing, and for some or a few – of love not mattering. And then there is the matter of those who are left behind, about which I will stay quiet about here. Maybe sometimes a fear or a couple are dismissed or they evaporate or they are warded off or one is told repeatedly that there is no real reason to fear - and one can feel the truth of it in moments of clarity or immense love even if one does not understand the reasons behind it. And I do feel that no matter whether a single lifetime is a mere bubble in the cosmic sense of time and space – a single lifetime does matter. That's why finding meaning and identifying and having a purpose or a few or maybe many, matter. And then one takes one’s leave when it is time and one goes somewhere else. I don't know how many "purposes" can be fulfilled across a single lifetime but one must be able to look back and say that one did what one could do and that one was able to give some times of pure joy and laughter...I don't have material evidence of whether I am right or wrong or delusional but through my readings, reflections, and the moments of clarity and beauty, and even prayer or meditation - that is as far as I have got. And these are just a few of the aspects which keep taunting or teasing or niggling at me me when they do.

And yet. I know for a fact that there are so many aspects (more than I usually think of or imagine) which are not just out of my control but don't even fall within my scope of understanding, no matter how I have tried to coax them to reveal their secrets across the decades. But sometimes I wish that even if I didn't have the power to control outcomes - I understood the complete picture of life, living, specific lifetimes and the hereafter. But I don't even fully understand what the soul is - and this annoys me. What really is the soul? I had this utterly barmy idea once that every soul has a soul-keeper but I think that was just my wistful bit of imagination doing what it does. Anyway. I won't digress further. Sometimes I am sure that such understanding (of life, living, specific lifetimes and so on) would bestow upon the perceiver a wonderfully rare and glorious power. And in a very worldly sense - it would lead to becoming naturally productive and useful...which would be perfect for me. That makes some part of me immediately call myself a "donkey". That part of me is quite right in addressing me thus and for thinking that I can get away with such a thought. For it was this realm precisely which is so utterly beyond my ken that The Buddha brought within his purview of understanding. Old age, illness and death – every human being, at some point or the other is made aware of these parts of life and yet it was The Buddha who made it his life’s single purpose to understand the same, see through the same, remember his past lives and to even state that he would never be involved in the same and then he went forth to do what? - To teach others. 

And yet...but I'll let this post be. 

Here is a School of Life video, which made me nod my head in parts, disagree vociferously (a brain in a jar! - it reminded me of the creepy Roald Dahl tale) and mildly in parts and wonder a bit. I think it is still interesting on the whole. And here is an animation with a doggy Dustin and a Dust-in, which made me grin...it sort of reminded me of the lifelike robots from Asimov's tales.

1 April 2017

I see the sea...

I spent three and a half hours splashing about in the sea, showing all my pearly whites every now and then and trotting along a beach and through the waves, and drawing and writing gigantic words on the sand with a staff that got washed onto the beach right near my feet and I pretended to be a woman Moses but the sea did not part and so I just kept looking away at the sea and the sky and I could almost see words (I did in my mind) and images and was reminded most awfully of the utterly unexpected holiday at Pondicherry from the previous month and some songs too and words as well and even rather distant dreams. God knows why some songs keep following me around and from where they suddenly spring a well of memories and even memories of what never really happened. There has been Nazia's 'Boom boom' and John Denver's 'Annie's Song' and there's Jack Johnson with 'Upside down'. For the last one the whole video keeps playing in my head and I feel a little or a lot like Curious George...well, I don't quite feel like a monkey but I do feel like Curious George. Here's the video of the song - below:


14 March 2017

Down South from February

14th February 2017

Hullo, It’s over a month that I’ve been away from my domicile state. I’m officially in Andhra Pradesh – and I realize as I’m writing this that this is the first time that I’m visiting this state in all my 41 years. I was in Madras for a bit and then in Bangalore. There was a trip to Vellore which we cancelled. But the project on Young (and Old) Biologists in India is coming to an end. I find myself even hoping sometimes – that it blooms.

Away for a month from my usual moorings doesn’t make me feel any different as a person. For better or worse, I see the same thoughts and same images in my head, talk to Fimh when I do, worry when I do about old worries, smile a rather toothy smile when I do about the identical reasons, pray for, rant about and wonder about the same things that I usually do. Come to think of it – wasn’t I the same when I was 10,000 miles west? I’m not sure whether that makes me bizarre or boring. The only difference here is that I take a bus to work at the same time every morning and I probably smoke a little less, since there is this draconian no-smoking policy in almost all campuses and guest houses and so forth.

The places that I have been staying at in the South of India feel very different from the plains of the North-ish and East. Not so much in terms of geography or the spread of the land or the colours. But in terms of culture and language and the people – the regions strike me to be as being remarkably different. I feel guilty for feeling thus – but I feel like an outsider. Every day as I travel by bus and when I look out and observe people and signs and the hustle and bustle of this town which is famous for its temple – I am quite perplexed by my own emotion. Objectively speaking, the people don’t look that different, on an average, from the people of West Bengal. I thought they did. I was sure they did. But one day I told myself on the bus to pretend that I was traveling through some districts of West Bengal and while the emotional side of me told me that I was an idiot for even trying to pretend – one part of me observed. Not the language on the billboards or the flexboards and signs on the shops – but just the people. I was less sure of the absolute difference. And what about the people of Sri Lanka? That part of my head said. Do they look very different from Indians? The only discernible difference among the people that I can actually notice without bias is that many women go about their daily days with flowers in their hair and many of the men sport very big, almost handlebar moustaches. But it’s the language – whispers a very diffident part of me. The language sounds very different.

The language does sound different to the ears – true. The majority in Madras speaks Tamil and here in Tirupati, the majority speaks Telugu. The language barrier is probably what makes me feel like an alien. Hindi is really a no-no. By this time, I feel as though I could carry on a medium-length conversation in Hindi – given the options. One is more likely to be understood if one speaks English or very-broken-English. The head bob that Desmond Morris spoke about in his BBC documentary on body language is very popular here – far more than in the East is my guess. As far as I have noticed – the head bob is almost conspicuous in its absence in Delhi and its surrounding areas. But the meaning of the head bob is not always clear.

On the first night when I took a taxi to a guest house in the IIT campus at Madras – the taxi driver gave me a smile and a vigorous head bob when I asked him whether he knew where the guest house was and he led me to his taxi. In the middle of the ride he suddenly spoke a sudden string of sentences and I had no real clue as to what he was saying. He might have been asking me where I was from or speaking about the weather. I knew after a bit that he had no clue of where I wanted to go. I spoke from my end repeating the address and he didn’t know what I was saying but he was vigorously doing his head bob. He didn’t seem in the slightest bit perturbed as he kept driving at a healthy almost speedy pace to God-knows-where. I wanted to ask him where he was going. Finally I managed to get him to stop the taxi and I asked a policeman. The policeman, listened to and nodded at me in a deadpan way (which is probably the universal code for policemen) and gave the taxi driver the directions. I sat in the back not knowing what was being said when the policeman breaking the universal code for policemen waved me off with a smile and the head bob. I asked the driver in an absurd mix of Hindi and English whether he now knew where we were going. He half turned around and gave me a smile along with the head bob. This time he did know where to go and we reached the campus and the guest house. I think I have now almost picked up a permanent head bob.

Many college and university campuses in India are all becoming no-smoking or have been for decades and I have not known about it. Even smoking in public spaces is frowned upon. It would have been marvelous had we shown the same religiosity regarding cleanliness in our public surroundings, maintaining road rules (having some enforceable laws in the first place might have been a good idea) and really dealing with and taking care of the hungry, diseased, injured and often emaciated stray animals. Those are just three things I can think of right now. For a day and a half I went about smoking on the IIT campus and thought it distinctly strange that not only was I the only person to be doing so but that there was not a sign of even one random cigarette butt anywhere. Nobody said anything and so I went about my business. Finally one afternoon while I was running out of one appointment to go to another and I was taking a few hasty puffs – a student stopped me on the road and informed me that the entire campus was no smoking. And that campus gate was at least two miles away.

The Saturday that I was there in Chennai, I felt an overwhelming urge to visit the beach. The interviews were done. I had got my workshop proposal in. I was leaving early on Sunday morning. “We can go to the beach!” –  so Fimh said. But I didn’t go to the beach. Between then and now there has been the trip to Bangalore apart from this stint at Tirupati. I think I prefer Bangalore to Tirupati – in terms of distant-places-where-I-do-not-stay….which is odd because normally I prefer towns to cities. But then again – this whole work trip seems very odd. There might be a real holiday trip to Pondicherry – but I don’t know for sure, as yet. I have an interesting view out of the window from the guest-house here in the evenings and early mornings. I can see gentle, rolling hills in the distance and the open expanse of the sky is full of stars and there’s one very bright star in the midst. I am sure of this. Tata for now.

2 November 2016

The curl of a year

The year for me seems to have travelled from September 2015 to September 2016. Given the way my mind works – that doesn’t seem off or abnormal but it does seem queer even to me that the mind can create odd realities of its own. Or does it? The past month feels like it has been an interim period. It feels like it was a this-worldly bardo during Durga Pujo: a period of introspecting, looking back, understanding or trying to understand; a period of looking at what I did wrong or what I can do right in the coming round, reconnoitering the possibilities out-there and a period of praying for a mind expansion which makes the universe conspire to work with me. I can’t say that this bardo has been as grand as the one in winter 2010-2011 before it blew up partly in my face or the one in winter-spring 2002 that turned out to be a dream within greyness and opened into a golden experience by Fall or a couple of other ones…; of course all my past bardos, I can see led to one final point of realisation. This was a particularly non-hallucinating bardo for the most part with a few streaks of unmistakable colour and very quiet bits of insight in between the lonely pits and dungeons. But I was expecting the state back in the middle of the year, so this time, at least, I can’t say it was unexpected.

I have no 5 minute miracle wand. Deluded or not – I am convinced I have my failsafe guide. What is to be? The old year feels like it is over. I have memories I cherish – a few of which I even wrote about on the blog – ones that I wouldn’t give up, including a burst of workshops in Spring, warm conversations in the external world, which made me feel that all was becoming right in my world and even while the scratching fingers, inside my mind, showed me an empty expanse in terms of workshops for the future months. My scratching fingers are not always right in predicting gloomy futures but in this one they were right, which doesn’t make me feel any better. I had been travelling a fair bit through the year but that simmered down when the organisation with which I work on projects started going through changes of its own. But there were still times of delight post Spring and despite the scratchy fingers too which made me believe that maybe I wasn’t born to endless night – some of those times now feel like they happened to somebody else.

In the age of the internet, it is true that one will find an answer to any question that one might type into the google box or about a topic of interest. Pupu said, among other things, that there’s a movie liner which says, ‘you can find anything from how to make a baby to how to make a bomb, on-line’. Whether the answer is likely to satisfy one or makes sense or proves to be useful in some form or manner is another question. I would be the last person to be against the internet, email, blogger and even youtube, for which I have my own reasons. On the other hand, I am quite firmly with the Dalai Lama on the fact that we have more and more marvelous means of communication but have nothing meaningful to communicate. Where there is meaningful communication, however, the internet has been a boon for the likes of me who neither have the ability to go gaga over every new bit of technology for communication that comes into town nor wish to go back to the time of carrier pigeons. I remember a few of the scenes from the film ‘Mona Lisa Smile’; one of them being a young woman who is desperately trying to be happy by showing off her husband’s novel purchases of which she is the proud owner – a washing machine and dryer. Now it has become phones, apps, the social media…and more and more gadgets and selfies.

The only reason I catapulted and bought a smartphone this year was because my best friend first coaxed me, goaded me and then when I still gave excuses and reasons – he threatened to buy me one. It is a useful gadget certainly; it helps me find the way through this city to places I have never been and it has helped me earlier on in the year to get to places in unfamiliar cities for appointments or meetings. It helped me book an Ola cab too, in July, on one marvellous morning. A week ago, I told somebody that she could check the projected fare ride for Ola on her phone and she called me ‘tech savvy’! I even bought and got an A/C fixed this year. I sometimes look at it happily, being reminded of some particularly fine memories or sometimes glare at it – poor thing – while grumbling (and for an utterly bizarre reason).

I have never been a Marxist and I’m almost grinning as I write this but my point is that with my views well and truly beaten and tempered, I can well see that there is nothing inherently bad or wrong in technology or in making money or even shopping for material items or discarding old technologies for the new but it goes back to why one is involved in the same. I don’t think my views about this nugget have changed in the last 14 years. But Fimh says a ‘haha’ to me and I have to shake my head for I am reminded of my batty beliefs from some years ago: imagining that the knowledge of the presence of the reality of thought-communion at a worldwide scale would usher in a new age of consciousness.

I have been on the net more often over these last couple of months and especially during the long Pujo break, thanks to Suvro da who insisted I get broadband cable instead of using a ‘silly’ dongle. And it’s not been a waste at all, I think, despite my inner and often adamant railings and even plain mute wonderings against and about the obsession over technological marvels in our present-day world. I even managed to have two consecutive Skype chats and not with my imaginary friend for one thing – and all because I got broadband cable. Normally, I was reflecting, my net habits had stayed more or less the same (with all factors remaining constant? – which they didn’t) through a decade. Along with my daily ritual and sometimes regular and sometimes not-regular communication over the net, I watched movies and read on-line in the US when I could afford to and now I have watched some TV series, longish youtube videos, read all kinds of stuff on self, creativity, sexuality, mindfulness, memory, meditation, self-hypnosis, karma, past-life regression and stock market trading, and I got hooked onto yoga and pilates all over again via some youtube videos and stuck to a daily mixed ritual of my own. The yoga has not done the good like it did in expanding my mind one Spring  quite some Springs ago and all of a sudden when I needed it badly. It even led to receiving a clear sign from the external world. Back then I practiced from what is called a book and had attended a few classes with a matter-of-fact teacher who told me that I should practice on my own and she told me quite firmly that I didn’t need to come to the class. This time, I’m hoping that the yoga is at least benefitting my body if in some invisible way but the mind expansion and the ‘lighter feeling of being’ that I was looking for and even looking forward to have not transpired as yet – sadly enough. But then I did still receive the sign - so there's something to smile widely over, for now!

I have been thinking too, recently, that by certain individuals, people and communities I would be seen as a crackpot or an insane woman or at best sick or obsessed or useless. Strangely enough, I don’t think I had ever processed this bit. I have certainly been called all those things at various points in my life, and not always without reason and not always by people I don’t care about (Come to think of it, in an earlier age I might have even be seen as a witch, I guess, which seems more interesting in a way; I certainly have some of the right attributes for being branded as one!) But I would not argue against the names or the same because the individual calling me the same has not always been wrong. I have not been entirely right – which would have made me a marvelous messiah, of sorts, by now, or at least, gloriously successful by worldly standards or something else. The years I have gone through across the past 20 years weren’t always productive and they haven’t always been beautiful and enchanting and while I am sure that I have gathered riches beyond compare – from worldly standards, I do come across as rather poor and/or abnormal…

Before I start counting or recounting my experiences here – let me move over to a few other matters. While practicing some very good yoga videos, I noticed with a wry raise of an eyebrow and an inner grumbling that all the best yoga videos are made by North Americans. Why is that? Also, I noticed that for every general self-help video or random article which supports a point of view – there is always another which espouses the opposite. The opposed voices on the net do not all come from the same source, and they don’t belong to one who takes count of the ‘fluid many-sided nature of reality’, and so I wasn’t expecting any miracles. But I wanted to see what was out-there, for multiple reasons. If someone is talking about the importance of clear goals, another person will say that it’s not goals but the ‘systems’ (process) which are (is) important. For someone who says ‘follow your passion’, someone else will say ‘find something to do which is socially worthwhile’ or ‘find your market’ or ‘create a demand’. If someone says ‘you are what you think’, there will be someone who says, ‘you are not your thoughts’. For someone who says, you are powerful and can accomplish anything you set your mind to, there will be a cautionary voice piping in saying you must accept certain conditions for what they are, and a voice of some psychiatrist saying that to think that you are powerful and to believe that you can do something great could actually mean you have bi-polar disorder. For the very reasonable voice which says, ‘do not let anyone else define who you are’, there will be voices in unison saying that success, happiness and bliss can never be experienced alone. For someone who sings, that there is always visible beauty and love around us in the external everyday world, there will be someone – meaning my own self saying ‘gah’. For someone who says ‘stick on’ because that’s the only way to accomplish something even if things don’t work the way you want or wish them to, there will be yet another reasonable voice saying that there is nothing good about a flat period of rejection and failure – so, ‘move on’. For someone who says let go of all desires, there will be someone who says that desires – all desires – make us human while The Buddha's voice rings around my ears with his, ‘desire leads to suffering’ and my Fimh, many years ago, pointed out to me that the very 'root of life is in desire'. For a Dumbledore who says, “Of course it’s happening in your head, but why on earth should that mean it’s not real?’ – but let me stop right there.

I could go on with the list of opposed ideas that I have found on the net just across the last month and more, and it can be confusing – even if they don’t necessarily sound wrong or absurd or silly all the time. It reminded me of Eliot’s bit on the wisdom we have lost in knowledge and the knowledge we have lost in information and that was quite some time ago. It also provided me with objective proof that I’m certainly not ‘la-la, gushy-mushy’ biased when I am biased or ‘obsessed’. Personally, I think while remembering what one has read and/or heard or seen and felt – one has to judge the context of where one is placed, look at one’s own experiences, examine one’s own motives and consider the significance of what one is intent on achieving and pray a prayer. I have never seen anything noble or glorious about being a failure. From the perspective of plain reason, I can quietly accept that the joys, delight, bliss, adventure and perfect experiences that life potentially offers will not be granted to a single human life (maybe that’s why imagination and the inner world become over-active and one’s Fimh speaks?) and maybe many questions are answered in the hereafter and many unspoken of joys are experienced there too – but the intention in this world is to win in some crucial rounds and on very clear grounds, after beating certain odds which seem unfathomable and inscrutable. To me, it almost feels sometimes as though God is playing a bizarre prank – but then I cannot believe that God would play a malicious prank…

Occasionally, I find myself loudly arguing over Shakespeare’s bit about nothing being good or bad – only thinking makes it so. Yet Rumi’s line about meeting in a field beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing also strikes a chord somewhere deep down. 

22 May 2016

Fate and Faith

I sometimes am compelled to wonder over some matters of life, which cannot be understood or explained by reason. That could be a long list because life as whole on this planet, life-chances, the experience of living life, happenings and incidents and accidents, encounters, feelings, responses and interpretations do not work like gravity, lunar and solar eclipses or because of some immediate, observable cause and effect relationship. I remember from many years ago, when I was once wondering about reason, my best friend had shot off the quote to me about reason being like a drunk on horseback; you prop him up from one side and he slips off the other. Maybe if human civilization flourishes – human beings will one day, with more conscious and co-operative intent explore and find other ways to tap into the great mysteries of the mind, world, life and the beyond. In my early twenties, I never got consistent, unequivocal answers for all that which lies beyond reason or out of the boundaries of reason. I was instead propelled into another direction and one which was very much in-this-world, for the most part. This allowed me to let some of those other matters alone. ‘Those other matters’ do not refer only to spirits, the supernatural and suchlike. I explored those matters as well, at 21. But before I start scratching my head over all the uncanny, inexplicable or humorous (if seen from one angle, I think) shots from life, let me write about the matters of faith, meaning, purpose and fate that have returned to my head.

I can’t say how old I was exactly when I first felt that beyond the general meaninglessness of everydayness, life has a meaning and where one’s purpose is attached to that meaning. I felt this in a general way but more so, in a very individualized way. I had doubts too – for what really explained why people were born where they were? Across the past decade and more – I see meaning, purpose and sense criss-crossing. But without karma, I cannot see how the other three factors can criss-cross.

Through my school years, I did not even know what karma was. But I could see that girls who came from similar backgrounds – did not turn out to be very similar in terms of thoughts, views, intelligence, likes, dislikes, sensitivity and what they considered to be important. Two, maybe, at a stretch, three stood out sharply in their reading habits, levels of intelligence, memory, powers of articulation, levels of General Knowledge and awareness of current affairs. They were also the ones who used to top the examinations. One girl could sing outstandingly well, another was excellent at track and field competitions, a couple of girls could sketch and paint very well. Then there were girls who had remarkable memories for remembering almost every line in the textbooks and they scored very high marks but that was about all they did. I fell in none of the categories. I am very much aware of what intelligence looks like, enjoy reading about it and I am still interested in the exceptional human mind but that is as far as I shall speak on the subject. On the other hand, I didn’t care two hoots about marks. I was oblivious to it to the point of idiocy. I felt fine when I got high marks and I wasn’t particularly happy about failing in various subjects – but I could never equate life as being the summation of marks. I didn’t see anything wrong about what I felt. If anything, across the last two decades of my life – I actually feel vindicated in being an idiot about this. On the other hand, I used to feel delighted to the point of idiocy when we won in basketball or kho-kho or we won some inter-class prize for the best one-act play or received an ovation even if we didn’t always win the prize. I’m not really sure how to explain this. I have mulishly stayed away from anything group-related for ages unless I’m planning or conducting different group games and team activities for the workshops, which I enjoy doing.

The matter of making choices in life and what influences the choices we make could fill a library. But at a basic level, the way I have understood it – choice-making often depends upon the choices that are available, visible and one’s awareness of what is out-there. Secondly, it depends upon whether one sees oneself as being capable or having an ability or some value in a particular area. The third is abiding interest. This very basic combination often directs and drives one towards building a life of meaning and purpose. The fourth which relates to one’s character – with its eccentricities and personality – is a combination of perseverance, tenacity and belief. The fifth and sixth are serendipity and faith. The seventh, I would say is Karma. From another angle, if one considers the ‘compartments’ of life – one can see that life falls into the compartments of work, relationships, inner-world and hobbies/interests.

I know that even if one chances upon the meaning of one’s life in however a fuzzy or plain barmy way early on by one’s early twenties – things don’t become beautiful overnight and stay that way ever after. But there is a break. There is a distinct before and after moment that one can clearly point out to: when life began to make sense. One might then consider oneself to be the luckiest and most blessed person alive until the matter of actually living out one’s purpose turns out to be a far more jumbled and muddled affair than one could have imagined. There are rapid ups and downs, plateaus, grey lonely flatlands and distant peaks covered in mist. As one proceeds along the path with the bursts of meaning, one sees that the meaning of life leads to more questions for which one doesn’t have answers. But, I have found out time and time again that if one holds on and stays true to one’s course, the meaning, sense and the answers to various kinds of questions that perplex one are revealed in layers if not in a linear manner.

One cannot always control the outcomes or correctly predict as to what will happen even when one is on course and consciously knows one is on course. The outcomes along the path are good, bad, beastly and beautiful. I never advocate abandoning reason. A lot of life is based upon the principle of reason. Yet the bad, meaningless, dragging and horrid patches or their opposite – the delight, radiant patches, beauty and the best experiences which make life worth living cannot be explained by reason alone.

The process related to finding one’s meaning and staying on course towards one’s purpose is most likely different for different human beings. I do know that by finding and being anchored to one’s meaning and purpose in life, one is unimaginably better off than one would have been otherwise. It might not be anybody’s else’s meaning and it might not seem very reasonable to believe in it but to find one’s meaning and purpose are practically the first steps towards conscious living. It is not that finding one’s meaning makes living pain-free. But the meaning is not something that I would trade for any pain-free existence.  And the strange thing about meaning and purpose is that as life goes on, there are often layers that are revealed. One can feel when one is on the path, and keenly, and more than once why the Buddha left the world with his four Noble Truths even when one tries to rail against it. One is then reminded of writings and conversations (which make one wonder and keep the faith) although one has forgotten almost all of what one had read for decades in college and university courses.

All that said, maintaining faith and ‘moving on’ is something I have been a colossal failure at during certain periods and points in my life. But I have been resolute about maintaining my faith in one aspect even when I couldn’t move on. By my mid-thirties, I was donkey enough to believe that I had passed my final test on the matter of faith. As far as my experience goes, it’s easier to keep the faith when the path is not as dark and grey as the path from years and moments which one can remember at will. Indeed when there is a particular hurdle crossed or a mini work-mission accomplished or when one knows one hasn’t been abandoned – one’s faith is rekindled. People of unshakeable faith will tell me that I simply do not know what faith is; for what is so great about keeping the faith when they going looks good or better than what it had? I quite honestly do not have any response to that.

I don’t know whether faith can move mountains and I don’t even want to move mountains any more; moving around in the mountains one day and with happiness would be a miracle enough. And I can’t help but hope that keeping the faith as one walks on through the maze of fate allows one to fulfill one’s purpose that one has set for oneself. 

25 February 2016

Spring 2016

Life is strange, and it’s strange and unpredictable in an unpredictable and beautiful way not too often – but it does happen, and one can cherish the same and hold that life very close. I'm looking about my room as I write. 

Spring arrived over the days leading to the weekend of Saraswati Pujo, which still comes across like bits from a dream.

I was wondering a bit about things from the past.

  • Every Spring, and barring a few years, since the time I was 21 and then 22 I used to feel a weird, abnormal and unreal surge of the absolute promise of life making absolute sense. There was, during those periods, a lot of activity within the mind, strange connections formed from God-knows-where, a tumult of ideas would incessantly explode in the mind and within whatever it is that I happen to be and I used to feel that I had chanced upon the meaning of being human and experienced a profound love. I’d merrily or not so merrily gabble with Fimh in unbroken conversations which spanned days and nights till my inevitable plummet. Much of it was most likely the firings of a lonely and abnormal mind which probably created a reality of its own and could not distinguish between the real and the forking paths of fantasy and the imagination; I can’t say that I really know for sure whether God and Lucifer get together for a tête-à-tête when either God or maybe even Lucifer is feeling lonely. But all of it was not a delusion – so I feel and two decades down the line.
  • While putting together batches of power point slides, I’ve been reminded again of my one and only video-making experience almost exactly a couple of years ago with The Beatles song ‘Here comes the sun’…there wasn’t much sun that year.
  • For ten years when I was staying in the West I had two hobbies, which built into three once I had enough savings and very quickly (which didn’t matter much later because the savings didn’t fulfill the purpose for which it was being saved even though it did come to my use). Reading books from the school and public libraries, going to the river and then buying books by the dozen. I know I didn’t read enough or read anywhere as much as somebody else but I did read a bit and forgot a lot of what I read. I considered this recently and in my objective manner: I don’t miss anything from the past in terms of material items and places and things but sometimes I absent-mindedly go to search for a book in the evening or am reminded of a book which I think is on the shelf – and it isn’t. Then I grin for I am reminded that when many girls and boys, women and men around me were spending money on gadgets, clothes, shoes, cosmetics and stuff of that order – I had, if even once in a while, felt an indescribable and even  smug delight for buying books. I used to survey my four shelves and would feel like a collector and a surrogate-keeper of books; books which I had collected and books which I was safe-keeping until they were posted or delivered some time with smiles on both sides. I couldn’t get any of the books back with me. All my bitty savings would have been spent on shipping the four shelves of books.
  • Visiting the river was another thing I did through the ten years. On some random eves, I almost miss water bodies in this city, where I can go and sit. In this regard and in no other I think I am a little like Thoreau. I would like a pond of my own. Once every couple of months, I even think of buying a little zen water fountain. I could go and visit the holy river but that seems too much of a detour and I tell myself that it’s much too far away and that that same amount of time could be spent on activities which can bear fruit and blossom before too late. The famous lake is fairly close but one unfortunate evening, a pack of dogs decided to take offense at me (or maybe they were barking happily on seeing me but I rather doubt it) and I know I moved faster than the dogs. I can’t remember whether it was the last year or the year before. I ran faster than a dog when I was a little over 8 years old and on two occasions, and even if I didn’t break out into a sprint three decades later – I moved fast. Maybe I really should have trained for that Olympic 100 metres gold medal? But 'with all factors remaining constant', I’d have still aimed at doing these workshops though after winning that gold...I did sit near a spot of water on a smooth stump of a tree, about a week ago. A gardener gently chided me when I sat there on Monday late afternoon for a wee bit while chomping on a chicken butter fry and having absolutely divine memories and rather inexplicable memories run through my head and even ghostly memories, and the gardener didn’t seem too terribly displeased when I told him that I wouldn’t disrupt his plants and small trees.
  • This article, which Suvro da sent me to read some weeks ago made me write a long and rather rambling essay. I won’t go through the points about jargon and atomization here. But to take some points: I was reminded how intensely and miserably I had started questioning the value of the social sciences or the humanities myself and for the second time in my life, about ten years ago. I found my lost compass and anchor when and where I did.The problem, I used to think when I was in academe myself, is that a majority of formal social scientists seem to think that talking about values or morals or too much talk about inculcating or nurturing meaningful values is non-scientific. And that is also because I think that not too many people have very clear ideas themselves about what their own values are or why. The last time a social psychologist actually talked of self-transcendence or self-actualization or self and identity as complex wholes was in the early 20th century. After that a majority of social psychologists in the latter parts of the 20th and through the 21st century decided that those were not matters that deserved attention and that it was on the whole all airy-fairy stuff or non-measurable and therefore unimportant. It was far more important to study the significance between childhood obesity and self-esteem or conduct an nth study on some aspect of race or gender or class (something that Dr. Cole mentions too in his article). Dr. Cole in his article doesn’t come out clearly and say exactly why and how the humanities are useful to individuals. Personally, I think the social sciences and humanities share a similarity in their essence. First, they do not teach one how to fix a broken appliance or to build a bridge or send a rocket to space or to produce HYV seeds or to find the causes of diseases in humans or animals or to build a gadget that can detect gravitational waves from more than a billion years ago or to understand how nature, sentient and non-sentient life-forms work at a scientific level. Secondly, they do not and are not in a position to propose laws about humans or about nature (even in the sciences for that matter, Darwin’s contribution is known still as a theory – while Newton’s Law still holds good unless we enter the realm of sub-atomic particles and I should be the last person to enter that scientific territory). Thirdly, to state what the humanities and social sciences do and borrowing from Schumacher’s distinction between convergent and divergent issues – the way I see it, the humanities and social sciences deal with divergent issues. Here, no quick fixes are available. Applied science can tell us how to make a gun or a bomb – it does not tell us whether and when we should use either. Science can tell us how cancer or a particular disease spreads. It tells us how to treat a disease. It does not say much on how we must and should take care of individuals carrying a disease (or why some diseases and the individuals carrying the abnormalities are stigmatized). Applied science can tell us how to build dams and different kinds of dams and generate hydro-electric power – it stays quiet for the most part about matters concerning human relocation and the means of recompensing those who are asked to leave their homes and land. Applied science can even tell us the most efficient way to kill a human or an animal – but does it have much to say about the moral act of killing? Applied science can help us devise faster and more efficient ways of travelling and communicating – it has very little to say on how faster and more efficient leads to more substance and meaning or genuine feelings being generated. Applied science can come up with various gadgets that make housework and other chores physically less demanding – does it have much to say about what I should do with the extra time that I now have? That is where the humanities and the social sciences matter or should matter. There are more reasons of course. Far more than I have listed and individuals of a different and much higher order have elaborated and written and talked about the importance of the sciences, humanities and the social sciences and what matter in the ‘making of genuine civilizations’. And when I think of these disciplines mattering – I cannot help but think of the truly great and it’s not PhDs and certificates which make for the truly great. 
  • I was looking at one random diary from 1996 and I was very unimpressed with my range of thoughts and expression. Much of it is boring. But I found a couple of humorous bits with one letter/diary entry addressed to no other than God and where I tried to wheedle Him into granting me a favour. The first of them is right after the First Paper in Sociology of the Part I examinations (incidentally I got the University highest in that paper, which had one topic dealing with ‘human freedom and determinism’) where I’d been bellowing about a miserable exam-taking experience, “…[I couldn’t] even remember the words I wanted to use or remember! My mind was just enveloped in a dense fog (now that bit does sound familiar still, sadly enough) and I was struggling with things that I never had to worry about before. What’s the use of going on like this? Oh heck! How does it matter anymore? – Why did it have to happen now? – all I wanted to do was to get through one more [exam] and then another and another, I guess. And then what? – Get a great job, a fat paycheque, a car and my dream-house. That’s all. I don’t want anything else from life. Dammit! If only there was one single thing where I could be the best. Perhaps there is – only problem is that I’ve got to find it. Cheerlessly yours…”
  • It’s odd which memories are preserved. Last week I was reminded of the bits that I actually remember from Aranyak and one bit is where Satyacharan raises the question of improvement versus happiness. Unnati could mean self-improvement or possibly success. Satyacharan is quite clear about what he thinks matters more. He says it’s always happiness that should matter. People who obsess too much about improvement lose their way, become blunt and forget to be happy. He’s talking of course of people who are motivated by purely material indicators of success as ends in themselves. But it got me thinking of another connection. I’ve felt that if one can improve oneself so as to make another individual happy then one might chance upon and discover an incomparable happiness and even bliss. It sort of feels like chasing the golden deer...

26 December 2015

A Post from Christmas Eve and After, Part I

And so it’s Christmas eve’. I got a project for early on in the coming year, a Christmas card and a conversation on Christmas eve’ while having a Christmas carol playing softly from the card.

Winter came around with military precision on the 15th of December and it was delicious and I was delighted to see one of my predictions coming true and also because I was with my best friend. I spent some time shivering in Delhi and Faridabad. By God, I was cold out there apart from when I was inside the warm and toasty hotel late in the night or next to the warm and toasty heater in Delhi. The hotels – nice as they might be don’t impress me as much as the bathrooms do. The bathrooms – all sparkling and snazzy with glass and chrome and stainless steel and cleanly tiled and with huge square shower heads in glass shower cubicles which make one feel as though one were standing under the warm rain make me sometimes wish wistfully and sometimes with a matter-of-fact determination that I might have a perfect bathroom in an apartment someday. People are fascinated by different kinds of gadgets and machines – for me, I think, it is the pedestrian bathroom and even sewage systems. Back in primary school I was enthralled by the fact that people in the Mohenjo Daro civilization had well planned sewage systems and had bathrooms which drained well and were designed such that they were slightly sloped at an angle towards the drain. I used to wonder then about quite a few 20th century bathrooms designed in colony flats that frequently got waterlogged and were designed so that the floor tilted away from the drain. I don’t have any engineering ability but I’m almost sure that in some lifetime I might have pored over designs and charts and spent time on creating the perfect sewage system.

The main work-related science conference for which I went was held in a huge hall and various auditoriums and I was shivering every now and then even there unless I was busy in focused and concentrated shifts. The RCB and THSTI at Faridabad are set in the middle of a large expanse of land and new buildings are coming up, including apartment buildings for professors and hostels for students and new labs while there are functioning buildings where the current scientists have their labs and office spaces. The land around looks very barren and dry with hardly any greenery. One of the professors was showing me the view from a fifth floor window and a part of the campus looks like it has a huge ravine running straight through it. The labs, which I peeked into can compare to the ones I saw in Purdue (although the problems here are of a different order). I remember going into a Chemistry lab once during my days in college at Calcutta – and that could hardly be called a laboratory. I don’t think anyone had used that lab since 1922. Lots of people at the conference were dressed in just full-sleeve shirts and half-sleeve sweaters. I was a good old Bangali with my trusty monkey cap and a hoodie while travelling around in the open. I was almost missing my muffler. I think I may have grown very old for I did note that more than a few people were dressed in dapper or chic light jackets and braving the winter chill in the open as though it were nothing. The only time I was walking about in an almost-new blazer was for work reasons. The blazer cannot be worn in Calcutta because it’s too warm here and yet over there it felt too light. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve travelled more than I had in my decade-long stint in the US. Many people might not think that this is something to talk about – but I can’t help but feel a wee bit pleased with my rather uncommunicative hermit-self. I quite often question whether my hermit-self is even particularly intelligent. It just seems to be a tongue-tied, mind-knotted hermit crab. God knows though that there is only one reason that the hermit in me has been transformed across the one and a half year and my awkward and clumsy selves have been traveling quite smartly almost every month or every other month for work and for hunting for more work. The calculative part of me has been hoping and praying hard that the work-related travels and networking shall start paying bountiful returns in terms of numerous workshops by the coming year. In this sense, I have been hopeless at practicing the Gita tenet of ‘ma phaleshu kadachana’. I put that into practice for my PhD without even thinking about it. For long months during the last lap I had forgotten even to worry about whether I would get the degree at the end of the journey…but that is a different matter. They don’t call it a Doctorate of Philosophy for no reason even if the meaning has gotten mangled in actual practice in our 'modern' times.

While I was walking about the very crowded Delhi airport yesterday evening, Fimh was trying to get me to grin – ‘look at how many places you’ve gone hither and thither without losing your marbles and look at all the people you’ve talked with over the last couple of weeks for work or for prospective work without losing your top and with your White Light at the back of your mind (that was in reference to MacNeice’s Prayer before Birth…that’s how Fimh is: he doesn’t rattle off poem liners in my head – which would have been weird – but he reminds me of poems I have encountered) and you didn’t even get me irritated’. He was telling me that I was slowly but surely evolving into a human being while I was grumbling that I was taking far too long. I normally experience a child-like thrill at airports and also start experiencing something of a ‘vacant and pensive mood’ while staring at the aeroplanes and gazing at the runway and the vast and empty spaces beyond while playing two particular tracks on my battered i-pod: Ravi Shankar and Philip Glass’ Offering and Kishore’s O Saathi re while calling out to Fimh. But yesterday it was too crammed at the airport for my meditative moments. I played my songs later while on the bus to the aeroplane. At the airport I grimly kept giving myself glares over my coffee and cigarette about whether any of my travels would make a difference and whether I could make a significant difference and be of use to one human being. I was asking myself when I would make that happen. I was barking at myself inside my head but Fimh wouldn’t let me feel grumpy for too long. He reminded me that I’d been in Calcutta, went to Mohanpur for a couple of days for work, was back in Calcutta to attend a workshop as a ‘spy’, was back in Mohanpur, and then there were a few delightful and  swinging days in between (when I wasn’t expecting them at all: whoever knew that the difference amongst a lotion and a moisturizer and a face cream could send one into unmusical peals of laughter and there were more moments that I will not elaborate upon here), then it was back to Mohanpur via Calcutta, and then I went to Delhi and Faridabad for work. There have been leads – but I won’t try making any predictions even though I can’t help but pray that a few of the leads mature into actual workshops: the one thing that I know I’m good at and can get better at doing and enjoy doing.  I know I’ll keep trying to better myself in a few other ways too even though I’ll never try singing again (I fancy myself to be a mix of a phoenix and a dodo – I don’t think that such a creature is meant to sing).

This was my very first time staying in Delhi for longer than half-a-day and the first time that I actually travelled in the city (apart from the couple of times that I visited Delhi as a school-child and then as a teen for a couple of days and then as an oldie for a wedding and for a couple of other times because my international flight was delayed by a day on both occasions). I travelled around using the public transport system. I must say that they have done an excellent job of the metro service from what I experienced of it. I had no problems traveling through and about the city. I was telling Pupu very recently with a chuckle of how 'smartly' I took the metro service to Faridabad. I even got a place to sit and read careful bits from the only Modesty Blaise paperback novel that I hadn’t read this year. I found it at a bookshop in Delhi for Rs. 250. Now the entire Modesty Blaise collection is complete. I’ve been collecting the Dune series on the cheap too but for some strange reason I seem to be able to gather the books only in backward sequence. I didn’t know when I boarded the metro that they had two reserved coaches for women but got to know about that through the voice-over service. The folks organizing the conference had sent a car to pick me up from the Metro Station and so I didn’t have to use the public transport in Faridabad. I also availed the auto service a few times, in Delhi, for appointments and from the little bits I saw and experienced – the men I encountered were decent, polite and helpful. But I wouldn’t want to push my luck. It may be beginner’s luck. The cab I took from the airport had a very clear sticker about respecting women (and I was wondering about ‘which’ women and whether I would qualify) and I saw official posters ‘beti bachaon; beti parao’ emblazoned on the walls in public places. We don’t have such messages in Calcutta – it most likely means that on an average, a female foetus has a better chance of making a life in West Bengal. The scaredy-cat part of me (which I keep deeply buried) did feel the faint jitters about going around in Delhi before I’d reached the Capital (but that part emerges in Calcutta during late evenings and emerged even in Lafayette too one year and so I try very hard not to pay too much attention to it. If I’ve gotten a bit better at handling blind panic and frenzy – I know exactly whom I have to thank for this. The roads in Delhi are horribly crowded with traffic but it seems that people are still sticking to the rule of the odd/even numbered cars ploughing the roads on alternate days; I don’t know how long that will last and I guess it doesn’t affect people who have three or four cars.

I found out with my brief travels through the city that some of the stray dogs are treated well by the small shop owners in Delhi. The stray dogs look very well-fed and quite a few of them had little blankies/vests wrapped around them in a sturdy manner to protect them from the weather. There was one black and white dog who sported a blue vest who caught my attention and when I gave him almost half of my burger – he very carefully ate the chicken and came over to get petted and I petted him. I scolded him for leaving bits of the bun behind but he was rather unapologetic about that. When a dog butts one with his nose for more petting – one can’t really scold him for too long: maybe he knows that too many carbohydrates are bad for his system. He was limping some and I had mixed feelings about that but he kept nudging me to get some more petting. He seemed happy about the petting and I was content about petting him while talking aloud to him and to the universe and the powers-that-be and I was utterly unconcerned about who might be listening. Another fat dog sporting a smart red blankie, where I stayed, looked like a Spitz but was a mutt and all she wanted was to butt into me with her bum or nose and get some petting. If I called her ‘Pootu’ (I don’t think that was her name but that is how I christened her) – she would run/waddle over to me as though I were her favourite person. So I had a close to meditative time with the four-peds and it goes without saying with Fimh for the bits of time I had by myself. There was a pop social psychological quiz that I came across at some point, many years ago: what’s the first word that comes to your mind when you think of a dog? What’s the first word that comes to your mind when you think of a cat? Remember the words….The interpretations for the pop quiz shall be available in the future. For me the two words were quite apt in their hidden meaning: for dog, I had come up with ‘unpredictable’ and for cat I had come up with ‘solitary’.

I stayed in Delhi at Guha’s place. His parents were not there but their very able and good natured housekeeper reminded me of one of Suvro da’s laments! I figured out very soon that it was a very well-off locality in South Delhi. It also had clear side-walks as I found out during my first evening out to just walk about the place and get some print-outs. But the side-walks in Delhi left me wondering whether they were made for humans or horses. The sidewalks are really more than a foot high so it’s a feat to be able to get up onto them and then get off and then repeat the manouvere when the sidewalk ends in some places. And I was startled to find motorbikes going at fairly medium speeds up on the side-walk since the roads were so busy. I was not pleased at all and yelled a couple of times. But I manouvered the side-walks very safely even while wearing heels, one day, when I’d been out for a school appointment. I managed to meet and chat with one of Suvro da’s old students, Aakash, and he absolutely insisted on treating me to a tremendously tasty chicken patty and a perfect mince pie from Wenger’s in Delhi, which was established in 1926 – as far as I remember, from one sign. It was a good meeting where we discussed work prospects mainly. He actually remembered that I had fought with him over Shiva’s trilogy and Amish on Suvro da’s blog and told me that I was an ‘out-going’ person. I laughed about this wondering what Suvro da might say about that. I actually talked in Hindi in public places and I wasn’t too bad if I didn’t think about it too much or didn’t get frazzled. Nobody smirked when I talked in Hindi and they answered my questions and a few people even made a bit of small talk with me about the weather. I came across a very old Sikh driver, Balbir Singh, who philosophized about life. He mentioned that it was good to learn from other nations and adopt good habits – like road rules – which could make everybody’s lives a little less stressful and smoother. He said that every family of four to six members in Delhi should be allowed to have only one car. That might reduce pollution levels a bit.  He mentioned that if one was cheery and tried being nice to other people for a moment – one wasn’t really harming anyone. He told me that human beings should smile a little more often. I do not know whether that was a direct comment directed towards my grim and watchful and unsmiling self – but he was a mix of a taciturn and a talkative driver and it was Guha’s sister who chatted with him and got him to talk and philosophize while we were out to the airport. If I were a true social scientist I would have asked him about 1984 for I had that going through my head in a distant way. I was quiet on the whole and thinking about different things. 

Here's Part II.