Wednesday, 27 May 2009

The Triumphant

“Who is your favourite Aunt?” A seemingly innocent question is posed but the air crackles with dramatic tension as these leaden words fall in place to complete the sentence. Even the voice initiating the probe is sweet, almost sickly sweet. The Aunts from among whom you have to crown a favourite are perched around you on a getting smaller by the second bed. Watching you keenly eagle eyed. They are smiling but you notice a glint behind the smile and can suddenly appreciate how the mouse feels just before it gets caught in the eagle’s talon.

You pause. Take a breath. Then another. But are mindful that too much time shouldn’t elapse or your answer would appear to be pre-prepared. To stall for time you’d like to ask for the question to be repeated but that would invite ridicule so you launch into your answer. One by one you name the Aunts in descending order according to their age and extol their virtue or rather what you think they admire the most about themselves. And so flatter their vanity. The eldest is a fabulous cook, the one younger to her has a fabulous brain, the one younger to her is a fabulous artist and the youngest Aunt is a fabulous storyteller. And they all are great fun to be with.

There your answer has now been recorded for posterity in the family history book. And judging from their gentle ribbing and laughter you are confident that you performed exceedingly well. Suddenly you appreciate how the mouse feels after he has made a daring escape just in the nick of time leaving nothing but a wisp of thin air within the eagle’s deadly talon. In this family drama quite appropriately after the culmination of unbearable dramatic tension now is the time for a light comedy interlude before the cast gets busy devouring the hapless mangoes cooling in a bucket of water.

However your triumph and elation are recorded only in your memory. For even you don’t fully appreciate the significance of this moment, just as yet. But little boy one day in the near future when people will pose questions only to hear what they already know, this memory will once again guide you to safety. For at the age of five and a half years you’ve learnt the skill to navigate the minefield where senseless questions are spread only for the purpose of flattering self-deluded egos. Where questions and answers are mind-numbingly endless echoes of nothingness. And therein lies your real triumph.

Monday, 25 May 2009

And so reason died

And so reason died. Again it was the first to quit the scene. Mercifully this time there was just a gulp and a mental “um” before angelic wings carried it away to what one hoped was a safer and more welcoming place. Its spirits floated by right before one’s eyes leaving behind an inaudible sigh and a mild sense of relief, ‘At least it wasn’t tortured to death.’

Oh reason! Ye fool! Incorrigible optimist! Rising a million times like the phoenix only to meet the inevitable. You and your ‘rational’ always coming in the way of thought or rather lack of thought. Such a killjoy. Poking and peering and peeling through layers that encrust the mind. Those beautiful embellishments more precious than any crown jewels. Ah the reassuring embrace of ignorance!

Damn you reason. Damn your logic. Damn the entire gamut – judging, predicting, inferring, generalizing and comparing. Damn the mind that conjured the term. Damn the quest for knowledge and original thought. Damn enlightenment itself.

Sunday, 17 May 2009


…(T)his is the real and the only reason for friendship: to provide a mirror so that the person can contemplate his image from the past, which without the eternal blah-blah of memories between friends, would long ago have disappeared.
(Milan Kundera, Identity)

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Reading Saki

The Collected Short Stories of Saki (Hector Hugh Munro)

Oh joy! Just the thought that you’ll get to curl up with your old tattered copy of The Collected Short Stories of Saki at the end of it all makes even the day especially created to torment and test your deepest emotions seem like a party. The hatred, for lack of a stronger word, you feel towards your fellow beings will receive just the right kind of comeuppance at the hands of Reginald and Clovis. Every hypocrisy and idiocracy will be laid bare and branded as such. Oh the tears of joy and laughter! And finally, you’ll bring another day to a close with that big smile on your face.

Ah! The sublime delights of reading Saki. You don’t remember when you first entered this wonderland for now it seems to have been always there; your hidden paradise. The much needed secret valley where you can escape from the trails and tribulations of interacting with human society. No wonder Christopher Morley in 1930 remarked, “There is no greater compliment to be paid to the right kind of friend than to hand him Saki without comment.” And rightly so. You can’t indiscriminately pass around the keys to the gates of paradise.

You may be living in a dump in some corner of this wide world. Your patience almost frayed beyond repair. You’ll have sipped tea in silence with many a people whom you are convinced “would be enormously improved by death”. Then Reginald on the Academy will say, “Every reformation must have its victims. You can't expect the fatted calf to share the enthusiasm of the angels over the prodigal's return.” Or Clovis, The Match Maker, will coolly extrapolate, “All decent people live beyond their incomes nowadays, and those who aren't respectable live beyond other people's. A few gifted individuals manage to do both.” While Conradin will slowly chant, “Sredni Vashtar went forth, His thoughts were red thoughts and his teeth were white, His enemies called for peace, but he brought them death. Sredni Vashtar the Beautiful.” cajoling his wonderful god to do that one thing for him. Thus the gathering dark clouds of gloom and doom will lift and you’ll be safely home.

Sometimes a few words will be enough to redress the balance:
We all know that Prime Ministers are wedded to the truth, but like other married couples they sometimes live apart. (The Unbearable Bassington)
A little inaccuracy sometimes saves a lot of explanations. (The Comments of Moung Ka)
I think she must have been very strictly brought up, she's so desperately anxious to do the wrong thing correctly. (Reginald on Worries)
The people of Crete unfortunately make more history than they can consume locally. (The Jesting of Arlington Stringham)
Whenever a massacre of Armenians is reported from Asia Minor, every one assumes that it has been carried out "under orders" from somewhere or another; no one seems to think that there are people who might like to kill their neighbours now and then. (Filboid Studge, the Story of a Mouse That Helped)

And so, when a new day will dawn you’ll sit and endure the same old circumlocutions about everything and nothing albeit with a secret smile for you know soon Reginald will ask the gathering of incomparable twits, “What did the Caspian Sea?’ thus clearing your secret pathway to happiness.

(Afterthoughts on books: part 8)

Monday, 11 May 2009


Beauty crowds me till I die
Beauty mercy have on me
But if I expire today
Let it be in sight of thee-

(Emily Dickinson)

Friday, 8 May 2009

The Madman

(Photograph by Anvita Lakhera.)
You ask me how I became a madman. It happened thus: One day, long before many gods were born, I woke from a deep sleep and found all my masks were stolen -the seven masks I have fashioned and worn in seven lives -I ran maskless through the crowded streets shouting, “Thieves, thieves, the cursed thieves.”

Men and women laughed at me and some ran to their houses in fear of me.

And when I reached the market place, a youth standing on a house-top cried, “He is a madman.” I looked up to behold him; the sun kissed my own naked face for the first time. For the first time the sun kissed my own naked face and my soul was inflamed with love for the sun, and I wanted my masks no more. And as if in a trance I cried, “Blessed, blessed are the thieves who stole my masks.”

Thus I became a madman.

And I have found both freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us.

But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a Thief in a jail is safe from another thief.

(How I became a Madman, from The Madman by Kahlil Gibran.)

Wednesday, 6 May 2009


Rashomon (1950) Directed by Akira Kurosawa

Then came Rashomon. And it was not a moment too soon. We were in our mid twenties crawling towards the thirties- the age of cynicism. We had crossed the moment when reality and truth are enthusiastically, even euphorically embraced. Right or as we were soon to discover what we perceived to be right and good were passionately defended. And life was simply a struggle between the good and the evil with naturally the good always emerging victorious. We were suspended in that nebulous region somewhere between passionate adherence to our sense of right and the soon to engulf us unfathomable skepticism.

At that moment Rashomon happened. The rain falls incessantly and the three men take refuge under a gate and soon the monk and the woodcutter are narrating to the commoner a most incredible tale. A woman is raped and subsequently her husband is murdered. At the enquiry the woman, the accused bandit, the ghost of the dead husband and the woodcutter who chances upon the lifeless body in the forest narrate four versions of the story. Each version totally different from the other and yet each describing the same truth while dragging us through a labyrinth of trees and human deception with the dappled light hiding much more than it reveals. The sun peers through the dense foliage, the leaves rustle, the shade flickers, the shadows stretch across the faces and the rain refuses to relent. Even the elements conspire to obscure that, which should be self-evident. The camera seems to run to capture the truth that shifts shapes with every passing moment to elude it.

So, a simple story gets transformed into a philosophical treatise on the relativism of truth and the subjectivity of our perceptions. It becomes a film about, as Kurosawa writes, “…such human beings–the kind who cannot survive without lies to make them feel they are better people than they really are…this sinful need for flattering falsehood going beyond the grave...Egoism is a sin the human being carries with him from birth; it is the most difficult to redeem.”

Rashomon showed us who ultimately wins when reality and the ego clash. Therein lies the truth. And we think we became better humans, if only in our perception, just by becoming aware of that.

Another thing, Rashomon went on to win the Grand Prix at the Venice Film Festival and the American Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Kurosawa writes, “ Japanese critics insisted that these two prizes were simply reflections of Westerners’ curiosity and taste for Oriental exoticism, which struck me then, and now, as terrible. Why is it that Japanese people have no confidence in the worth of Japan? Why do they elevate everything foreign and denigrate everything Japanese? Even the woodblock prints of Utamoro, Hokusai and Sharaku were not appreciated by Japanese until they were first discovered by the West. I don’t know how to explain this lack of discernment. I can only despair of the character of my own people.” (Something Like an Autobiography)

If we replace the word Japanese/Japan with Indian/India the above thought would still hold true.

(On cinema part 2)

Sunday, 3 May 2009

The Enkindled Spring

Acrylic on cardboard

The Enkindled Spring
D.H. Lawrence (1916)

This spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green,
Wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes,
Thorn-blossom lifting in wreaths of smoke between
Where the wood fumes up and the watery, flickering rushes.

I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration,
Faces of people streaming across my gaze.

And I, what fountain of fire am I among
This leaping combustion of spring? My spirit is tossed
About like a shadow buffeted in the throng
Of flames, a shadow that’s gone astray, and is lost.