Category Archives: Thoughts

Dharma Through Prism of Sachin’s Cricket

Dharma is subtle, or so they say. I have nothing really to go by, but this sounds about right. I have always had problems with the concept of a set of codified rules. Even in smaller context, I have felt that codified rules lead to absurd situations. As the context grows, probably a set of rules become a necessary evil – except that in the context of life, it simply doesn’t work. Life is too complex for rules and absolutely priceless to base on a compromise. Therefore, it is a sense of right and wrong – inherent to all human beings – that must remain the source of all judgment. It will also remain strictly individual with no possibility of scaling up. When you scale it up, it becomes a set of rules based on someone else’s sense of right and wrong. It is this inherent individual sense of right and wrong, fungible and defying all definitions , that for me is “Dharma”.

It is this sense of Dharma that makes one sit up and notice the work of others. The variety of such work is limitless – it could be a beautiful piece of music, a well made movie, a good game of sports, literature, an act of kindness, a small gesture, et all. The common thread binding all such things for each one of us individually is our own Dharma. When our Dharma agrees with something around us, we feel pleasure – simply because for a fraction of second or more, we feel the oneness of creation – that elusive unity that is rare but everything.

I am reminded of this on revisiting in a couple of hours the life’s work of Sachin Tendulkar – a man that dominated cricket in India like no individual has any sports (Sachin: A Billion Dreams). I am not overwhelmed by his achievements, I grew up with them. Nothing he achieved surprised my generation – for we believed he could do anything. Whether it was scoring a century of centuries or a double century in limited over cricket, he did it and we were overjoyed – but not surprised.

What made me sit up and notice Sachin is not his talent or his achievements but the immensity of effort it must have taken in this journey – and the honesty and integrity that would have been necessary to be able to keep walking the line. He was no maverick, he toiled hard. He applied himself, each day through from the age of 7 when he chose the game as his life’s work. What others see is the result, what the actor goes through is the process. And that process is sweat and tears, and some smile and a lot of joy intermittently.

Two questions come to mind – common when one deals with actors of great achievement. First, is the value of one’s work to be informed by one’s actions outside of that sphere? Second, is the process of that work already sufficient achievement for the actor or is “success” necessary for him to be happy?

In the eternal debate that the first question has inspired over centuries, I take the side of the work. For me, the work stands on its own footing. I do not see it as a subset of its creator. For me Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment will continue to hold a sacred position in literature – no matter even if it was revealed now that he committed the vilest of crimes. For me, Sachin’s cricket will remain forever a work of art that succeeded multiple number of times in flashing the divine to innumerable people – that momentary sense of oneness that is the secret of all pleasure. It will not matter how he ages. Therefore, Sachin the man does not interest me. His work does.

The second question is more difficult to answer. One has to live an alternate life to know whether succeeding in one’s effort or not matters to one’s personal happiness. Therefore, it can only be explored speculatively. I believe that the process is the secret to personal happiness. I believe if one applies oneself to one’s satisfaction, what you will end achieving out of it – a bit more or less – will be satisfactory. It will be respected and therefore valued. And when you value what you achieve, you are bound to be happy. I hope this is true, for the alternate would be too disheartening. It would be too crude, even for the consumerist world we have become.

I insist in my romanticism that the process is all that matters. For I believe that the Dharma of each is different, and it insists on distinct actions – some big, some small, some on the large stage of this world as an actor, some in the background without which the play could not be – but which remains hidden from view. Action of those hidden from the view is neither lesser nor it bring’s less pleasure. For if this is not so, one would suggest that the work of Sachin’s father was less than his. The work of Sachin’s wife and his brother did not matter. That their pleasure was not the same. I don’t think that’s true.

There is something that Sachin’s work should have taught us Indians in the last couple of decades. It should have taught us Dharma, it should have made us understand the meaning of applying oneself truly. It should have shown us what hard work can achieve, and inspired us to choose our own individual paths for life with honesty and integrity. Instead we chose to focus on the man. We chose to chant his name and branded him God and believed he was a magician. We turned a man’s life’s hard work into a sorcerer’s trick.

I wish that this movie, that compresses into two hours a million hours of sweat and work will let us see things differently. I hope we will be truly inspired to live life like he played cricket – with integrity and sincerity – and with pleasure.

Confessions of an Author that Never was (TSS)

From Flickr

From Flickr

I have always wanted to write. However, I have always failed to achieve much beyond self-pleasing tid-bits. Like most of us who want to be ‘authors’ without having the discipline to churn out a single short story of any decent standard, I have always blamed it on the genius of people I have already read.

After a lot of thought, it was settled that I will be the one to show that despite the madness that is the modern life, a solution to this ‘human condition’ lies in seeking a reconciliation between the creative urge and the materialistic compulsions. Ideas after ideas were mooted and rejected. Characters were created, played with, and killed. Plots ended before they began. Ultimately, I have been left with nothing but utter desperation and a huge dint on my self confidence.

Probably, I think nowadays, I was never meant to be an author. Or rather, to be consistent with my existential claims, never ‘good enough’ to be an author. By disposition, and by training, I am a lawyer and probably a good one at that. But author I definitely am not.

People say that all illusions are best when in the past. I myself have been and remain a big proponent of that school of thought. Living in absolute reality is not only a tenet I preach but also purportedly practice. While in theory, there is hardly any evidence to the contrary, it is difficult to accept that the one thing you like, the one area were you are passionate is that where you have no talent.

For now, it is settled that I shall focus on the profession of my choice and relegate my passion to write to a hobby. Whether this is ‘giving up’ or living up to reality is something time shall tell. Or maybe, time shall not. In either case, I am bound to bear the consequences of my choice.

Sunday Salon

Killing With Indifference

 

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

 Elie Wiesel in Night

When I read these lines in Elie Wiesel’s masterpiece, I got goose bumps. I read it a number of times again and again and somewhere deep inside vowed to find out about all injustice happening around, and speak out at least against the ones of the higher magnitude. Then, with a great feeling of satisfaction, I closed the book and felt good about having read such a good book.

It has been a couple of months, and like many other, that resolve remains postponed to the uncertain future. Like many other profound ideas that never get converted to action. Then, today, while browsing from link to link, from one blog to another, I received another jolt. First this post by Ramya and from there to this one at Mow Books, I was shaken up from the deep silence of indifference.

I remember having watched an episode in Boston Legal where one of the cases concerned Darfur or the genocide in Sudan. I loved the episode and in the last one year must have watched it, with admiration, over thrice. And yet, thanks to my deep rooted rut of indifference I never felt the urge to to know more. And that is when we can google anything. I have read at least 30 books, watched at least 40 movies since I first saw that episode and blogged quite a bit. Interestingly, I have read at least 5 books and 5 movies set around the theme of the genocide by Hitler. And have written posts earlier, seemingly sounding disturbed. It is so easy to be disturbed about history, and so difficult to even give a damn about anything in the present. We are so happily living in the past and the future that the present drifts, as if non-existent.

Before the question as to what we can do to remedy such situations arise, the question arises why do we not know. And from there stems the answer to our next question. And there is a lot more we can do. Maw Books talks about it in great detail, acheiving from her side the minimal action that is required.

This is not about Darfur but about us. About me. About my indifference and reasons behind. But trying to figure out those reasons is another criminal waste of time. Specially, when very close to where I live, in Kashmir people are dying and are denied basic necessities because some land was transferred to some trust which wants to provide facilities to some people who want to visit soem temple to pray. I am a Hindu and I would never like to visit the God if that requires killing people around me. And that is being justified because the other side is not of my religion? And no one in India, NO ONE is concerned. One blast in Bombay makes national news for months and a month of blast in Kashmir hardly finds a minutes mention in national news here. And we Indians say Kashmir is an integral part of India? And when Arundhati Roy talks of freedom for Kashmir, her nationality is threatened? What the hell is happening?

I am too angry right now to write anything coherently anymore. But you might be able to. So please do.  

Are book-bloggers killing journal reviewers?

Lisa Warren’s piece in Huffington Post has drawn the book-blogosphere into a debate as to whether they are replacing the book-reviewers from journals and magazines. The crux of her piece satirically titled “Will Blogs Save Books?”  is that unprofessional, shabby, opinionated book-blogs are killing the book editors’ jobs as various newspapers are downsizing their book-review sections and laying them off. The piece also implies that this is a blow to literature and the literary culture.

Lissa Warren’s piece in Huffington Post is an expression of professional frustration. The only way

Huffington Post itself is an alternate medium experiment

Huffington Post itself is an 'alternate medium' experiment

 the post is useful is by triggering a debate on an issue that might be of interest to all ‘lovers of literature’ who blog. However, the response to her piece on various blogs has been as disappointing as her piece itself. We bloggers have responded out of sheer anger than logic. There are, however, some exceptions – like this piece at edrants which gives another aspect to the debate, and logically so.

The simple fact is that the purpose served by professional reviews in journals or newspapers and that by book-blogs is different. I may love to read the New York Review of Books and yet want to pick up suggestions from a blog. Moreover, the whole experience of reading a blog and a professional article is different in so many ways that I can not describe them in this post. 

The journals are supposed to carry literary pieces. More than opinion on books, they are an academically researched and reliable overview of a subject, author, or book. On the other hand, blogs carry personalised pieces on what one has read and what thought process such reading might have triggered. An academic piece being opinionated is a hint of bias. On the other hand, a blog without opinion is a man without soul. Reading a blog post about a book or an author you might be interested in at that point in time is like a friend talking to you about something you want to know. How did one come to read a particular book and what his/her family thinks about it would be absurd in a journal but fits perfectly in a blog.

The target audience, purpose, and effect of the two are different and there is no competition here. No one is shifting because of one to the other. Both have there own exclusive readerships, which may overlap. And if there are blogs which have equally literary pieces and are serious about what they do as a professional, then it is just another free and fair competition. If you think its the medium that’s in demand, float a professional blog and post the same well crafted articles here and compete. No points complaining.

Not only does Lisa Warren’s article miss the point altogether but also it is factually and statistically incorrect. It is a blatant figment of her imagination that bloggers mostly link to professional reviews and provide cogent commentary to the same. In my experience of reading literary blogs in the last couple of years, I have rarely found this to be true. It is also understandable why a book publicist is more bothered about this phenomenon than the critics themselves. Because if you can write good pieces, you will find brilliant readership on blogs. However, for a book publicist, the important target audience is the not-so-iclined reader who stumbles upon a review. For that, we are sorry. Be creatvie, think of alternate ways.

And to the frustrated professional outburst of Ms. Warren, my last word – book editors are being laid off because reading habits are dwindling. Majority is no more interested in reading books let alone book-reviews. Book industry as a whole has been facing this problem. It’s not because we bloggers are fooling your readers into shifting their reading habits. Did it ever occur to you that 90% of your readers are these bloggers themselves? Because we are the ones who actually read.

Dealing with Reality

Human race is addicted to illusions. I guess, at a very early stage of the evolution of human society, it became clear to man that what they termed as reality was too painful to accept as it was. Therefore, man created a pseudo ‘reality’ in the name of god, eternity, afterlife, heaven, hell and what not – this was man’s survival instincts at its creative best. When society needed order, man created god as an eternal punisher; when time became his existential limit, eternity of the soul was discovered. And probably boredom combined the two and created mythologies.

Despite all the attempts, none of this could prevent glimpses of reality in human society. Even the blind-by-choice could catch these glimpses, whether acknowledged or not. Eventually it became clear that belief in Krishna or Jesus could be desirable but disbelief in Hitler and the two world wars, however desirable, was difficult to attain. Illusions are impermanent shield and there remains no choice but to deal with reality.

The search for ‘truth’, a poetic synonym of reality, has apparently been on since the Greek ages. However, the most relevant of such inquiries have only taken place in the last couple of centuries[1]. It started when man finally decided to question his abilities and acknowledge his limitations. The first undeniable truth that came to be known by this process was that even if there is an absolute truth (or reality), man can never know it. Man is only capable of knowing what is within the limits of his five senses. Beyond that, all knowledge at best are calculated guesses. It took over three centuries and an Einstein to figure out that Newton was wrong. It was only after his theory of relativity that the idea that time need not always be a constant was brought from the realm of science fiction to a scientific theory. As absurd as it may sound, there is a very thin line of distinction between fact and fiction – the line of human capacity to see.

Therefore, in order to ensure that we live our lives true to our reality, it is necessary first to acknowledge that our reality itself is limited. Man must accept man as man – with all his failings, with all his limitations. Any attempt to surpass the limitations of the reality knowable to us is an attempt to deny the limitations of human existence. A warning for the romantics – do not misread deny as defy. Living in denial is shameful, living in defiance of reality is quixotically impossible.

It is this limited and undeniable reality of human life that Sartre[2] calls ‘human condition’. Like all existentialists, Sartre paints a dismal picture of human condition[3]. But then, is not most reality dismal? Which is more real – the happy picture of Jesus turning water to wine or Hitler turning Jews to ashes, methodically?

Franz Kafka wrote that man lives like man but dies like a dog. Sartre said that man is a useless passion. Camus said that man is condemned to a Sisyphean pointless labour. Are you shouting, “Stop it! Do you have a point?” Well, this precisely is my point. Time and again the reality of man’s futility hits him in the face. All the illusions that he has comfortably wrapped himself in, can not protect but only suffocate him in the face of reality. His situation is like someone who has sewn himself in a permanent warm overcoat in winter completely negating the fact that summer inevitably shall follow. And once summer arrives – then what? Two choices – suffocate in the coat until death or tear it open.

One may ask why paint such a dismal picture of human limitations and tragedies? Isn’t it life negating? If calling apple an apple is negating apple, then it is. Otherwise, it is a simple acknowledgement of the reality that is. And why is it necessary? Because a man living in denial of his disease always fails to take medication. A gory picture of human condition is precisely what the doctor prescribed for the human race – a race wrapped in illusions. How does this prescription help? By eliminating unfounded fears, liberating man to uninhibited and innumerable choices that had been kept away from him in the fake promise of the possibility of attaining heroic ends.

If we acknowledge human condition as it is, with all the disturbing details, what then? It is only on the acknowledgement and consciousness of the true human condition that we can truly venture into attainment of any value. When Camus talks of being aware of the absurd[4], in simple terms, he asks man to accept all the givens and not struggle into despair trying to change it. It is only when we identify the given can we concentrate our efforts on constructing the rest of our ‘conditions’ by choice. Unfortunately, most of our efforts are wasted in defying the given. A very crude example could be the time, energy, and money spent in the name of religion and prediction of the future (astrology, numerology, etc.) when every man knows within, the futility of it.

It has been said repeatedly and with an irritating conviction that desire is the root of all human miseries. I beg to differ. Desire is a given human condition and any theory that labels it as evil labels our very being as evil. And because it is not possible to change this given, it leads to false frustrations and miseries. Result – in the attempt of killing all desires, we now have added frustrations and miseries of failure alongwith the desires which, obviously, cannot be eliminated.

To see one’s life beyond the futility of daily chores – beyond aspirations, beyond achievements, beyond ‘success’ – that should be the purpose of any human inquiry. For, what are success, achievement, and aspiration beyond life? We trouble ourselves to no end in an attempt to define us, to find a purpose. We fail to see the obvious – that our existence comes predefined; the definition being ‘life’. However, our purpose on the other hand is not pre-destined. We need to realize that our purpose exists not in a pre-defined fate but only retrospectively authored by us by our choices, our actions. For, as Camus says, “There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.” Consciousness and rejection of the comfort of illusions are the only tools one needs to acquire the ability to scorn fate. The choice is simple and clear – either we deal with our reality or die within the life of illusions. As Albert Camus says:

If it (human mind) must encounter a night, let it be rather that of despair, which remains lucid – polar light, vigil of the mind, whence will arise perhaps that white and virginal brightness which outlines every object in the light of the intelligence. At that degree, equivalence encounters passionate understanding.


[1] This article is based on my personal understanding of what is commonly known as existentialism. I owe the development of these thoughts to the ideas I have read amongst the works of Albert Camus, Sartre, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Kafka, and others. Without justification to the theory, I can best explain existentialism as a philosophy which asserts that man exists first, without any meaning. He dies without any purpose. The realm of man is only that small part between his being and nothingness. Man is free to fill that void entirely at his discretion with complete freedom; whether he recognizes that freedom or not. Existentialism rejects all moral foundations and philosophies built on presumptions of tradition or after-life.

[2] Jean Paul Sartre was a 20th century philosopher, most notably known as the chief exponent of the philosophy of existentialism. His epic work, where he expounds his philosophy in great detail is Being and Nothingness. One of his most popular work of fiction is Nausea

[3] However, it may be noted that Sartre’s philosophy itself is not gloomy. Like Camus and many other ‘existentialists’, Sartre believes that man is the author of himself. In his work Nausea he shoes that glimpse of possible human victory at the conclusion, despite the entire book being set in a tone of despair and anguish.

[4] ‘Absurd’ is central to Camus’s philosophy. What Camus calls absurd is the existence of two irreconcilable eternal truths – the randomness and unreasonable world on one hand and the insatiable desire for order, logic, and happiness in man on the other hand. Camus discusses this in his work The Myth of Sisyphus and shows how it is essential for man to maintain the absurd and not defy it.

Doubting Kierkegaard

I have been re-reading Michael Watt’s book on Kierkegaard and have been wondering whether Kierkegaard was actually close to Sartre’s and Camus’s thoughts (as far as the whole ‘existentialism’ tag goes). It has been a doubt earlier and reading him in context to his life and personality, the doubt seems to grow to confirm itself.

The question of god is irrelevant to the inquiry as to how best must one live life. In face of empirical data, I agree with Camus and Sartre that even if a ‘unifying absolute truth’ (what we may universally term as ‘God’) exists, it is unknowable and therefore irrelevant for ‘earthly life’. In face of that, how does one reconcile the ‘leap of faith’ of Kierkegaard as an existential solution?

It is a common interpretation that Kierkegaard’s leap of faith is a solution offered by him to solve the empirical deadlocks that man generally hits. I consider such interpretations fallacious and biased. In my opinion, leap of faith was never a solution offered by Kierkegaard but a presumption with which he approached life and philosophy in general. It is true that most empirical data that came to be recognized as existential truths later on, had been acknowledged in some form or the other by Kierkegaard. But, it is not true to say that Kierkegaard solved these ‘existential truths’ with the leap of faith. He only stuck to his faith despite acknowledging existential truths.

Time and again Kierkegaard has expressed that his authorship was primarily ‘religious’ and his inquiry was ‘being Christian’. It is very obvious and apparent in his various writings that faith came to Kierkegaard before he embarked on any kind of inquiry whatsoever. Unlike Camus’s inquiry, Kierkegaard started with a presumption and arranged all empirical data collected by him around that presumption. Despite all his attempts, this arrangement could not lead to any logical pattern despite his brilliant penmanship. And therefore, faith took a leap.

A Cat and Mouse Chase (Me and the Holocaust)

Yes, the Nazi genocide has been chasing me. I have no idea why. First, it was the Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Then it was Imre Kertsze’s Liquidation. And now, I just finished reading Gunter Grass’s Cat and Mouse. And as if that was not enough, I ended up watching The Pianist today.

It is not that I want to stay away from the holocaust history – the fact is that I am as far from it as can be. I live in a country where there are not many Jews, none of my acquaintance have anyone who has anyone having faced that trauma. It is also not that i was never aware of (in general terms) what Hitler had done to the Jews. However, for some reason I kept myself away (consciously) from any literature or movie that describes the Jewish execution. It leaves me shaken to the core.

But the cat catches the mouse, sooner or later; only this time I was the mouse. First the books, then the dilemma

The Book Thief is mostly a humane story written with amazing simplicity and originality (imagine Death as the narrator). There is only one Jew character sheltered and loved by a stranger German family. I consider that family as the definition of ‘humanity’. However, you need to read it to understand why I say that. Book Thief is the only book by Zusak that I have read, and if it is representative of his brand of literature, I am simply in awe.

Cat and Mouse turned out to be my introduction to Gunter Grass. I had his Crabwalk lying with me for a long time, but I ended up buying and reading this one straight away. These are the kind of coincidences that make me feel that I have been the mouse in this strange game. I found Grass’s style endearing and personal. For some reason, in all the time that I had been anticipating his literature, I had assumed he will be dry, serious, and effective. Effective and powerful he is, but without the baggage. Through a strange teen-friendship, Grass has plotted the regular life of the youth in Hitler’s Germany during the war – without any bias, without any excess. I am definitely picking up the Tin Drum soon.

Imre Kertsze is different. I think he is in the category of Kafka and Beckett, only with lesser use of metaphors. I hear Liquidation is not one of his best books, but that was the one I stumbled upon, read and loved. He has attempted to characterize ‘holocaust survivor mentality’ as a whole and has tried to negate it. Being a survivor himself, I guess he was aware that it was necessary for the Jews to move on. However, I find myself incompetent to judge whether it is desirable, if at all possible.

And then came the Pianist. All the literature I had read, had never described the Hitler brand of torture. I also know that the three books I have mentioned do not intend in any way to achieve that. However, the Pianist does. I just cannot watch it! I have stopped my DVD thrice by now, and I do not know whether I will end up watching it completely. My head is occupied with a single question – WHY?

Why does holocaust trouble me? I do not live in Europe, not in the US, not even in a country where a single individual might have been directly affected. No Jews live around me. Then, why? Why so much so that I conciously avoid literature and movies related to it? I do not have answers. Probalities, yes. But no answers.

There are another set of Whys, deeper and more troublesome kind. Why did Hitler do it? I can understand a politician in a democracy trying genocide for votes, but why a dictator? It is not even that he gained power through the holocaust, he started it all at his peak – WHY? And why did he not order a shoot-at-sight? Why the methodical execution? Why the gas chambers when one absurd bullet could have done the job? Why? Why?

I have decided that I am done with running from this Cat of the holocaust. I want to read good literature, fiction or non-fiction which gives me a some idea of the those times; and I need suggestions from you. In this Cat and Mouse game, the mouse surrenders. Why? I have too many others to answer.