Thursday, April 28, 2016

Jottings: Slice of life - 8

Jottings: Slice of life
Can we relate to somebody or something without the prism of opinion, Prejudices, social status, professional position or any of the other stereotypes of color, race and religion. It is worth a try. The immediate question that would assail us is : how can we live in society without such pigeon holing?. My answer would be " Have you tried it?" Such questions only arise as reactions from our deeply embedded habit of looking through solidified memory and therefore clouded perception through it. Think of it - Do we actually see, when we are in the act of seeing, Do we actually hear, when we are supposedly hearing. All that happens within is the constant chatter of interpretation of what is being seen or heard. We are, unfortunately, for the most part connected to each other only through our "idea" of each other, never the reality of the moment or the person. J Krishnamurti, often asked this question during his talks and dialogue " Can you look at a tree or a rose without naming it......" Because once you have named it, you have lost its existentiality forever - The beauty, the texture, the color, its ephemerality - all of it is shut out the moment we brand it with the stamp of past. But then, can we do without language Or memory? How do we function without tools of thought. After all, even as I write this, I need words to describe.
The issue is not about stereotypes or branding, but the problem lies in the fact that most of us are not even aware we are engaging in it, and looking at the world always through a dark glass of words, symbols and interpretations. To understand stereotyping only as a social game with some agreed upon rules and nothing more seems to be lost on most of us. We have somehow forgotten that capacity to distinguish between rules of a game vis-a-vis reality. A center forward and a goal keeper are only terms used for convenience within a football field. To extrapolate it as representing the person throughout their waking life is nothing short of foolish. But that is what we end up doing most of the time In our relationships . From the moment we wake up in the morning, we begin pigeon-holing people and events, regardless of context or circumstance. We don't look or even begin to look at the person who stands before us except as a "Husband" or a "wife" or a "child". We reach office, and all we see are "managers" and "co-workers". This list is almost endless, and tragically, this act of stereotyping is instantaneous - almost instinctual and involuntary. The habit has become so ingrained that We do not realize it happening all the time. But once thus pigeon-holed , all forms and sounds we encounter after that takes a life of its own with the parentheses of our understanding, expectation of that role and memories surrounding it; freshness of the present and its infinite possibilities gets buried under the debris of chronic perceptual paralysis.
Religion in its essence is the study of undoing false perception. Nothing else. To bring Man to experience a state of unadulterated perception or to use Aldous Huxley's beautiful description: "Cleansing the doors of perception" ( Incidentally, I am sure many of my readers know this. Jim Morrison's iconic band "Doors" got its name from Huxley. ) is the goal of every mystical religion.
I recently saw a wonderful documentary on Amazon prime named " The philosopher kings". Don't get misled by this title. It's not a historical documentary, nor is it philosophical.. It is a documentary about Janitors - yes, you read me right :Janitors working in eight top universities in America cleaning toilets, keeping the work space clean and breathing the invigorating air of intelligence around them. If you really need to understand what I mean by real person behind stereotypes , then this documentary is a must watch. Patrick Shen, the brilliant young director has not made a sentimental picture about the plight of Janitors. No, not at all. What he has done is allowed them to speak as real, authentic individuals beneath the facade of janitoring. It will be an eye opener to many. The depth of perception they bring to life will clear many a false illusion in us.
God bless...
Yours in mortality,
Bala

Jottings: Slice of life - 7

Jottings: Slice of life
There was this quite beautiful girl during my college days - whom I cannot forget two reasons. One, she was good looking in a manner which could raise an eighteen year old's testosterone to palpable levels. She was our first infatuation ( I purposely use "ours" because there were many first year's who were pretty enamored by her looks). Two, she introduced me to the world of Ghazals during that crucial period when Jagjit and his wife Chitra were at the peak of their abilities, and singing soulful songs in a manner that could leave a young listener in a state of awe and hopeless romanticism.
It is hard to believe that nearly 30 years have passed by since those adolescent days. If someone had told us then, that Jagjit and Chitra would stop singing together in 1990, or that Jagjit himself would be no more in couple of decades and Chitra would become a recluse hardly stepping out of her homely confinement, or that the poet Sudarshan
Fakir ,whose peerless , simple and pregnant words melted and lilted in the mellifluous voices of this duo, would also die virtually anonymous leaving behind a legacy of haunting poems - we would have laughed it away as vain assumptions. Yet, here I was, nearly thirty years later, listening almost the entire night yesterday to that magnificent combination on YouTube, render Ghazal after ghazal - churning within me all kinds of emotions that were dormant or forgotten for so long now. What voices and what pair both of them made together.
I was wondering what made them click. Both of them started their careers with Ad Jingles; while Jagjit did have some formal training, Chitra almost sang without any idea of classical singing. Yet, when they sang, their voices complemented each other so beautifully. The rich, deep, quivering Low baritone of Jagjit and the shrill high effortless octaves of Chitra met each other at an ethereal point in space intersecting one another, exploding into notes and words of such pristine purity and perfection, it became difficult to separate the music from their singers, and its soothing waves gathered its listeners into a world of lightness, gravity and profundity almost transforming the experience into a divine resonance of something very deep within. Their Ghazals became the lingua Franca of modern Romanticism, pain and existential angst. Stripping away ghazals from their traditional Urdu underpinnings, Chitra and Jagjit recast this art form into something accessible by everybody, not necessarily the connoisseur. That was their key to success . Even While misfortune kept knocking consistently at their private doors, first with the tragic death of their young son at 20, and then the suicide of their daughter later, Music kept flowing uninterrupted from Jagjit at least, if not from Chitra. How many songs, how different were each melody, what beautiful words embroidered them. No matter, how many times one listens, new meaning and synthesis emerges.
I have heard some critics say that Jagjt, after Chitra retired started composing monotonous tunes. There is an element of truth to that. Especially, the later years, before his death were one of repetition. But even then, there are times when simply listening to his voice is enough. Words, tune , context - all become subservient to the raw commitment and talent his bought to his singing. Like the chants of Rigveda, Jagjt's voice stilled the mind, not numbing it as modern music does. His voice reached deep within oneself, and not many singers can achieve that consistently over forty years of commercial singing.
At two today morning, when I finished my work and decided to switch of my music, I felt a little sad that Chitra decided to quit when she did. I was thinking how much more could the husband and wife duo done for music, if they had continued for a decade or so more. Chitra was always reluctant to sing in public. She came from a very conservative family, and when she lost Vikram (her son), I think she somehow blamed herself for his untimely death. I guess, we have to respect her decision. But when I listen to songs like "Kis mod se shuru kare..", I lose that resolve and wonder why life could not have kept such talent secure from its tragic buffeting. Perhaps, it's her way of saying that nothing precious can exist for too long. Its very temporality is what gives it immortality.
God bless...
Yours in mortality ,
Bala

Jottings : Slice of life - 6

Jottings : Slice of life
A question, or rather a topic that is commonly discussed when I am among American circle of friends is about "arranged marriages" and "marriage by choice". I cannot remember how many times well Meaning Westerners have asked me my opinion on this subject. It is one of those cultural traits that is difficult to accommodate, acquiesce and understand. For a conservative Indian, even today, the prospect of getting to choose his or her own life partner is still an act of defiance, no matter how much we proclaim our modernity or flaunt modern values. The adjustment may come later on, but initially there is always a reluctance by society to accept. We may argue things have changed , but all of us know, there is always a little small talk, few sneers, looks of disapproval lurking somewhere in the family or immediate social circle. On the other hand, For an American , the very idea of having a partner forced down their throat is unthinkable. It is genetically simply not possible. To have two unknown people packed together in a room with absolutely no conscious, well thought and discussed consent seems an anathema. They are perfectly right as well. Now the question is not, which is right or wrong; but rather the question should be rephrased as what is more workable as a social solution to an important issue.
There are many learned works, discourses, studies on this strange phenomenon of why marry and commit, when Biologically , it seems against all principles of survival as a species. I don think there is any evidence of any elaborate ritual of marriage as Hominids. It seems to be a later social invention, whose origins are lost in the mist of time. I am not getting into that at all. The fact, however, is it makes sense and it is critically important for members of both sexes to maintain steady relationship with one another for four reasons:
1. It provides constant source for sexual gratification for both partners, whenever required, without having to impinge on other's territory, or worse still, to socially hunt for different partners all the time. It is convenient to satiate the need in house, so to speak.
2. Human babies take the longest time to mature into adults responsible enough to take of themselves. And this means, not merely physical development, but the proper transmission of cultural, social and ethical motifs. A stable parenthood ( which means steady individuals as Father and mother) greatly contribute to mature and effective growth in most cases. This has been proved scientifically over and over again. For those of us who want proof -read Jared diamonds popular account in "The third chimpanzee", for starters.
3. Thirdly, this is more a modern need. - the psychological self of Man needs a partner who can understand each other at levels more than merely physical. As we have progressed through time, instincts have given way to rationality, which in turn generates different kinds of individual distinguished by thought - each with their own views of life, art, politics, culture and taste. So to attain stability in relationship, very soon, the physicality of it should transmute into understanding at emotional and intellectual levels. Otherwise, it is difficult to put up with each other.
4. Lastly, the bringing together of a Male and female by way of legal and social bonding, is a way to prevent bigamy, adultery and plainly put - looking for other mates, which as primates we are genetically inclined to do. Customs indirectly helps in preserving the species and lineage.
If you ask me, there is absolutely no doubt on the importance of first two points in either the Indian view of Marriage or the Western. Sex and Child rearing are equally important in both. But I guess, it is in third and fourth areas mentioned above : the resolve to Marry someone as custom versus marry somebody after courtship a huge chasm opens up. For a moment, let me play devils advocate for the Indian way of doing things. If a relationship is not tightly bound by social customs ( as it done in arranged marriages), chances are high that psychological needs and rampant sexual instincts will have a better say in deciding the longevity of the association. It is impossible to have two people live together for a life time without mutual compromises. Left to itself, marriage as an institution will fail. Add to it an element of divine fear, theological sanctions, acquiescence of family; and you have a solid case for arranged marriages.. Bind the boy and girl in a phantasmagoric ritual spanning multiple days and make them feel the inevitability of sustaining the marriage at any cost. If not...... Dire consequences ,spiritual and social ostracism. But on the other hand, if society allow mature Men and Women to decide for themselves ( as it happens in the West) on how they wish to handles their incompatible personalities ,then it can go either way. And to be fair to the west, they have done exceedingly well. No complains!!!The only thing they need to careful about is the fate of their children. However, Children here have grown to accept multiple parents, if they no choice.. They grow up as normally as any kid in India, if not better, with step father and mothers piling around them.
Having written this much, I must also add that this discussion is quickly becoming superfluous in many gatherings. Whether it is right or wrong, the rate of divorce if going up all over the globe. India is no exception. With more and more youngsters migrating to the west, or retuning from a stint there; this question is hardly worth discussing any more. "We don't get along well..." Is the common refrain you will hear from lot of couples across nationalities. Whatever that means., I don't know.. But, by way of concluding this short essay, I must say that as a species, it is imperative we find a stable solution to this important issue soon enough. After all, our survival in the long run depends upon how comfortably we procreate and how well we prepare our progeny to carry on this wonderful heritage of Human life in all its dimensions as far as possible.
God bless.....
Yours in mortality ,
Bala

Jottings : Slice of life - 5

Jottings : Slice of life
"Bill, there is a restful look on your face these days. Your body language is relaxed and you are smiling and laughing more..." Bill and I were having coffee in nearby Starbucks, after our workout.
"thank you so much Bali ( that's how he calls me, for some reason he can never get the "a" right.. I have gotten used to it though) , your observation means a lot to me..."
Here is what he recounted.
"About six months ago,My wife and me joined a Zen Buddhistic retreat in Sanfrancisco. You know, I was absent from the Gym for about three weeks. Thats where we went. I am not sure what prompted us to make this trip, but my daughter in law is an avid reader of Buddhistic literature, and I chanced to lay my eyes on "Zen mind, Beginners mind" . The last year or so has been specially stressful with a lot of personal, professional things going around us, and somehow when I dipped into this book, it touched a deep chord within me. I gave it to my wife, and she read it with equal interest. Both of us, as you know have daily jobs. So last July , we took our annual vacation and landed in this retreat. There were about twenty of us there. That's all. And our facilitator was a lady, around 45 years, not more. The only thing, apart from specifying daily schedule of activities, she said on the very first day was this:
"...For the next three weeks, just be your authentic self always, no matter what you are doing. Don't bring in your Husband or wife personality, Manager or employee personality, father or mother personality, friend or acquaintance personality to anything. Remain yourself under all conditions. ...."
"Seemed a simple enough advice. But the first few days was torture. At each point, we had a specific identity from within reacting to a given situation. Never acting, only reacting from solidified persona. It was almost we had to slow down to snail pace before we did something. It was very uncomfortable. To stop the flow of constant reactions, is like building a dam to stop flowing water. Tremendous resistance. But the amazing thing, after a week or so, imperceptibly , without our effort, the pace of life had indeed visibly slowed down. We began to act based on what was presented to us at that moment, and not from a habitual center from which we had reacting so far. I am not saying there was complete transformation, but there was definitely a few little cracks in the walls we had built around ourselves. There was definitely an enveloping peace within. A curious experience of being imperfect and not needing to assert and succeed, yet happy and serene , was beginning to flower within.
"Very quickly, three weeks came to an end. On The last, our facilitator told us : Just be as you are. Nothing more is required.. The seeds sown here will sprout with or without your intervention.."
" Bala, I am not being sentimental when I say this to you. She was right. The taste of what we experienced in those few days has somehow become an integral part of us. As a family, we have started meeting each week for dinner. During dinner, we talk, eat, laugh as individuals without the burden of roles we play. It has never happened in our family before. At work, I am more relaxed and carefree - almost as if the center of gravity has shifted a bit allowing for some room and space for empathy and healing..."
I have summarized Bill's account as far as I could within these short paragraphs. Isn't it amazing that what we call so callously practice as religion with all its madness and violence has nothing to do with what it actually means. All Mystics have throughout ages, have emphasized this fact that what you project as yourself is merely a social convention, a bundle of thoughts purely fictional and functional. The true self, the core, the center, the anchor - call it what you may is deeper and holds this fantasy together. Every now then, some of us are privileged to touch that source. And once that happens, life turns around and a new way of living emerges. A kind of effortlessness creeps in our daily life. It is not being flippant or irresponsible, but leads to action emerging from a deeper center ,where the peripheral waves of agitation does not reach..
Ramana Maharishi sums up this truth in one glorious and profound statement : "Effortlessness while remaining aware is the state of bliss, and that is self-realization..."
God bless....
Yours in mortality,
Bala

Jottings: Slice of life - 4

Jottings: Slice of life
To have a child born on American soil is a dream of many young Indian parents. I met a neighbor yesterday as I was walked back from Target. He seemed in very cheerful mood. Normally, apart from perfunctory greetings, we have not exchanged any decent conversation worth the name in about ten months we have lived together in the same block. But yesterday, he shook hands vigorously and insisted we walk together.. During our conversation, he revealed his life-story to me. How he transitioned from a BPO role to software, how he struggled to Learn software programming, how he got a break into a decent company, How he met his wife and how he got married. In ten minutes, he summarized ten years of his life. I was very impressed with his achievement until this point, and then , he said “ It was our dream to have a child born as an American citizen? My wife and I are so very happy. She is in the family way now…”.
I stopped in my tracks for few seconds and gasped for breath. It was then I realized that I have seen his wife walking around our community with bulging stomach and loose fitting clothes. I replied “ Wonderful, congratulations !!!”.
“Thank you sir..” - he said..
“ If you don't mind, Can I ask you a question?” - I politely put forth this request and didn't wait for his answer but continued “ I understand the joy of becoming a parent, but I find it difficult to understand how an American born baby is different from any other..? Or how could your joy have differed if he or she was to be Born in India or elsewhere? I am sorry, but you see, I don't have children. So find it difficult to appreciate your dream..
He was puzzled a little : “what sir, the baby will be an American citizen. Isn't that great. All of us struggle to get our Green card and residency, the child will have no such problem “
It was my turn to give him a puzzled look “ Kiran ( name changed), yes, you are right. But what difference does it make.. Your child is your child, whether he/she is an Indian or an American. And I don't think they come stamped with citizenship.. Well, if they happen to be born here, well and good. But I don't think I can share your specific happiness about they being born on American soil. Do not get me wrong!!I am happy that you are about to become a father, but if you insist you are happiness lies more in the fact that your baby is destined to be an American citizen more than anything else, then I am sorry, I beg to differ..”
Our community gate loomed in front of us, and we parted ways. Kiran was not very happy with my response. But frankly, I find it very difficult to comprehend such attitude. There is no doubt the America was and is a land where Dreams can come true. Egalitarian society, freedom to live by ones convictions, ability to channel oneself in chosen direction, great education and opportunities - all of this is true, but what troubles me is that it has become a fashion, and in many cases a meticulously planned affair to raise a family in the US. Many postpone having a child in the hope that one day eventually they will be able to do in America. Over the last seven years, even within the microscopic region of my community, I have seen innumerable couples settle in, and within few months announce with pride their impending parenthood. Now it may be absolutely natural, contrary to what I am suggesting here, but it seems far too frequent for it be coincidental.
In fact, at least a couple of them has told me “ Sir, the thing we do when we get a visa is to plan to raise a family in the US. This country is very conducive for it..” I really don't know what they mean by it, and I do not wish to know.. Again, I am not generalizing, and may be totally off the mark. But I am sure, there is at least a grain of truth to what I am saying. In contrast to the attitude, I also do know of many parents who do not care about citizenship or other such considerations, and are just absolutely joyful that they have healthy , cheerful baby in their hands. I guess, It all boils down to question of priorities and choices.
God bless….
Yours in mortality ,
Bala.

Jottings: Slice of life - 3

Jottings: Slice of life
Over the years, Many times I have heard teachers lament that they are often not treated well in the education business. They believe they are after all the last layer in the “food-chain” of this industry. It's sales, Pre sales, business leaders who hog all the limelight, and teachers who fulfill promises made by Business teams, on the floor of Customers are often taken for granted, and perhaps not very well recognized for what they achieve. I have heard this so many times in different hues and colors; sometimes I wonder if there is not a grain of truth to what they say. But then I quickly realize, it all lies in the perception and execution of teaching as a job. Personally, I find their attitude a little puzzling because, I have always felt that the Job I do in class is the most important step in this business, without which everything else in pretty much inconsequential. And I carry that pride in whatever I do otherwise. A customer can be boisterously happy with our proposal, modalities and the way we treat them; but all that will fall flat on the face, an organization’s credibility will come under question, even if one single class blows up for whatever reason.
In a recent forum, I was asked to make a comment on how education delivery wishes to excel itself. I spontaneously made this remark. I said “ The only motto for our team who go out to teach is never to have to have a bad day, because we cannot afford to...” What I meant was : Other teams in the business can make up for a misplaced conversation, or a business meeting gone little awry . But for a teacher who walks into class with paid students eagerly anticipating a great class and expecting certain levels of excellence, there can absolutely no scope for error. And that is tremendous responsibility which cannot be measured tangibly at all. I know of teachers who teach almost the same class week after week to different audiences. For them to do that with consistent energy levels, passion and commitment each time is simply commendable , and their value – immeasurable.
Also, there can no better evangelists for a training organization than its Teachers – the customer facing battalion of experts . The best feedback one can possibly get from a customer is the promise to buy one more course, if a specific instructor teaches the class.Frankly, Nothing more is required to generate business. I remember consoling a young instructor many years ago “ You are the most important person here. Without you and your commitment there is no education business at all. No one gets as much face time with such variety of customers and professionals as a Teacher does. They are in many ways the pulse of the industry. They understand what customers need, their aspiration and how a particular learning program can enhance Customer cohesion and result in increased business.
Finally, I unfailingly tell instructors that without effective sales team, you have no job at all. They crack a customer, get them to buy-in to an idea, sell it effectively and then to hand it over to us. Its almost half the job done. It is the other half we need to execute flawlessly. So, in conclusion , the entire process is osmotic, and great training organizations realize this principle extremely well. As teachers then, all that we have to do is to teach with pride, passion and expertise; realize our own special place in this chain. Once we understand our intrinsic worth, then everything else will fall into place…
God bless…
Yours in Mortality,
Bala

Two books..

Two books..
In 2006, two seminal books were published. Both of them were shortlisted for the prestigious National book awards, and one of them went on to win the Pulitzer award for Non-fiction that year. Both of them revolved around the 9/11 and its aftermath -which in is own way contributed and propelled America to invade Iraq on the pretext of ferreting out Saddam and his hidden Nuclear power.. I am talking about Richard wright’s “The Looming tower” - one of the finest accounts of the rise of Osama Bin laden and his coterie Al-Qaeda , and the other is Rajiv Chandrasekhar’s masterly journalistic narrative of America’s disastrous effort on post-conflict rehabilitation of Saddam’s Iraq “Imperial life in the Emerald city”Both these books are must read for anyone who wishes to have a sane, balanced and an objective ( If that is possible at all) view of last 15 years of terrorism and America’s intervention as Global peace maker in parts of the world largely ruled by convictions, aspirations and cultural influences so very different to what America stands for and wishes to impose.
While it is common fact, that 9/11 forever changed the social and political fabric and equations around the globe, Wright’s book traces the growth of Muslim radicalism through the eyes of its principal players, their travails, their dreams, the help and assistance they got from foreign powers, their disappointments and finally the crescendo of the twin towers (Looming tower) crumbling down on that fateful day. The sense one gets out of this research is a feeling of inevitability of what happened. And that makes it stark and gloomy. That a man like Osama bin Laden could grow, thrive, build and plan his Jihad could not have happened without help from the very sources he chose to destroy. Wright walked on razor’s edge describing the psychological evolution of the Arab world, and what he succeeds in presenting to us is a honest account of why 9/11 happened. Millions of pages have been written, no doubt , on the cause and rationale for such an inhuman act; but Wright achieves a balance between two factions - which is quite admirable for an American writing it. The country honored him with the Pulitzer for this effort. Again, a testament to the principles of freedom of speech that America stands for.
9/11 is now part of historical landscape of the Human race, and I am sure more will be written and debated on it as time goes on. I was however, more intrigued by Rajiv’s wonderful book on America’s presence in Iraq after Saddam’s dethronement. A quick historical background to this work will be in place. In 1992, the renowned Political scientist Professor Samuel P Huntington proposed a radical idea in his lecture, which he later published as a full length book. It was called “ clash of civilizations”. Prof Huntington argued that with the Cold War behind us, civilizations will now clash for establishing ones national,social, cultural and political identity over each other. The phrase “Clash of Civilizations” was coined by Albert Camus in late thirties to define a facet of existentialism. Coming back to our theme -The idea of democracy and democratic institutions as the only panacea for all problems of Humanity is an offshoot of what Prof Huntington stated. Democracy works under certain conditions, not all. From Athenian times, this theme of what is a better form of Government and is it at all possible to impose one particular form of Governance on people with diverse cultural and racial background – has been argued extensively without any concrete solution. Yet, time and again in History, we find larger powers forcefully pushing down ideological medicine in an other’s throat, regardless of whether its recipients are ready and prepared for that dose or not. This clash has generally taken the form of West vs East or East Vs West, whichever way you would want to look at it. Pages of history are nothing but bloodied words of such conflicts. Nothing illustrates this irony more than what happened in few years that followed the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The second gulf war, like the first - in retrospect looks a wasted effort. Tomes and scholarly books has analyzed threadbare why America chose to descend on Saddam’s dictatorship at all in the first place. Through the eyes of the present , past will always look colored and biased. And digging the past in the light of new evidence makes no sense, because when those decisions were taken such evidence was not present. So in Rajiv’s book, he does not talk about the origins of the second gulf invasion, but picks his thread from the point when the war is over and act of reconstructing Iraq on US terms began.
The story of CPA or the Central Provisional authority – the agency that US established on Iraqi soil to manage the transformation of Iraq from scars of dictatorship to pristine heights of democratic values and institutions, is nothing short of travesty. Established just few months after the war CPA, ensconced in the erstwhile Palace of Saddam, was to be the voice of freedom, prosperity and Liberty for Iraqians. America was to show the world how to democratize a nation. Rajiv details the abysmal failure of this effort in his book. Every aspect from Administration to Military to Industry to essential services to Entertainment reeked of complete dichotomy between what America “felt” was right, to what “Iraq” really needed to pull itself up from throes of devastating war. As one reads Rajiv’s’ objective prose, we get the feeling that right intentions were in place, but the remedy had to different and customized to local needs and aspirations. What could have been a perfect example of how to resurrect and build a nation turned out to be a caricature of how it should not be approached or done. And this where Professor Huntington’s words ring true - A victorious nation is not merely satisfied with a victory on the battlefield, but would wish to impose its national principles on the defeated.. Problem begins right there. The model which works for us need not be the model that works for another. More so, in a country that has a hoary, rich and deep past. This fundamental lack of common sense is evident in each act of restoration the CPA attempted in Iraq.
Towards the end of the book, based on interviews and conversations with Local Iraqi’s, One gets the feeling that they preferred Saddam’s rule than the healing hand of America. This is so tragic, considering there was a great opportunity to showcase a truly Global understanding of Political and social realities. Instead, the couple of years of CPA ended up doing more harm than good. There was such a yawning gap between an ideal America wished to achieve and ground realities they chose to ignore in the process, that a great effort remained wasted and groundless, when it could have easily been otherwise.
I read both these books years ago, But I was reminded of its lessons yesterday during a casual conversation in a coffee shop. There was good healthy conversation on historical currents driving Political convictions and how democracy is only an ongoing experiment and not a final conclusion. For those of my readers interested in this dialogue, I strongly recommend both these books for good weekend reading. It is entertaining, educative and illuminating.
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala

Jottings: Slice of life - 2

Jottings: Slice of life
I have a friend, who has this rather quaint habit of correcting English pronunciation, whenever he gets a chance. It could happen in the middle of a serious conversation, or it could happen just out of the blue. Either way, I find it very funny and sometimes irritating. You may ask me: what gives him the right?. Well, here is the thing. He has done his schooling here in the US for couple of years, went back to India and returned many years ago. Now anybody, who has gone to school in the US, as a young boy or girl is bound to pick up the nuances of Western accent. It is common fact. All our children are examples of that. Most of us find it difficult to understand our four year olds speak English. Quite Natural!!. When they spend hours and days together in an environment where nothing but proper Vocal training and pronunciation is enforced, they will end up picking it easily. Nothing surprising about it. Also, it is very easy to acquire accent neutral language skills when young.
Well my point is, for most of us who come to the US or for that matter into any other English speaking western country, during our thirties or forties, with English as our medium of communication, but tailor made to speak in Indian conditions - it is extremely difficult, if not impossible to change accent completely. Unless, one make a focused, concentrated and artificial attempt to mimic and imitate. Which, in any case, seems utterly stupid. The Good news though is we don't have to really be conscious of it. Except for few distinct phonetical rules, our accent and intonation is perhaps the best among non-English speaking races. Our overwhelming presence in the West is enough vindication of this acceptance. But then, we love to become Americans, don't we? A man who speaks Americanized English with pathetic grammar is held in higher esteem than one who can speak, write proper sentences in neutral and country specific accent. The problem is not with the person who wishes to change our pronunciation, but rather with us. We quickly get embarrassed. We start apologizing and make efforts to correct ourselves. Not necessary at all, Ladies and gentlemen, as long as we are understood. Otherwise repeat. No harm in that..
When Nehru or Gandhi or Radhakrishnan spoke, they were quintessentially Indian. Or when Vivekananda Thundered "brothers and sisters" - the world understood. Or today , when Narendra Modi brushes shoulders with Obama on equal terms, they understand each other. I can keep lining name after name to make my point. While it is nice to be able to speak a language as it should be spoken, but in an increasingly globalized world, those standards are no more valid. As long as one can keep semantical purity of Language clear of regional slang, maintain conventional grammatical rules of formation and not try to convert sentences from one's mother tongue into English, speak slowly and audibly - we should be good.. That's tough ask in itself.
Yesterday when My friend was attempting to correct an acquaintance, I stopped him. I said ". Rahul, I think you must stop doing this. While I understand your intention is right, your correction will only make the other person more self-conscious, reticent and withdrawn. You are spoiling your chances of getting to know him better. Also, over period of time, language will accommodate itself to its surroundings. It cannot be forced after an age. It is linguistically impractical and most cases impossible. When Westerners learn Indian languages, we are more tolerant. We encourage them even when we spot obvious mistakes. Why don't you extend the same courtesy to Indians here...". I said all this with a smile and good faith. Rahul broke into laughter " I Understand Bala..."
God bless...
Yours in mortality,
Bala

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Painted Veil – A study in Human foibles

The Painted Veil – A study in Human foibles
Among all the novels and short stories of Somerset Maugham, none reflects the pathos of human relationship, its pettiness and its greatness with as much poignancy as “The painted veil”. Maugham wrote prolifically. His plays, short stories and novels run into more than couple of dozens. And in all of them, there is an underlying current of Human fallibility that strikes the reader with great force. Whether it be “Of Human Bondage” or the “the razor’s edge” or his beautiful evocation of South Pacific seas in “Moon and sixpence” or his numerous collections of peerless crafted short stories – Maugham unfailingly depicted the simmering tension between Husband and wife, Man and his lover, rationality and instinct with an eye that few contemporaries of his age could master. His characters also displayed hostility and a certain of sense of introspection that made them look cruel and unapproachable. Perhaps, his misplaced childhood, a life long lingering stammer, inability to engage in meaningful relationships, caught between the pull of sexual preferences gave Maugham a dark view of Human life and morals. But to compensate for that gloomy outlook, ,usually his characters finally triumph and rise over their circumstances transporting the reader from apathy and suspicion to sympathy and forgiveness.. Maugham once said “ I first form a character in my mind and then weave a story…”, not the other way round.
Another important distinction Maugham’s works have is that almost all of his novels and many of themes have lent themselves admirably to Cinema. A causal search yields at least forty adaptions of his stories for screen. And some them like “on Human bondage” have been remade couple of times. To me , this is not surprising at all, considering his novels are rich, multilayered, pliable to numerous interpretations and heavily character dependent and rich. Talented actors love to play Maugham’s protagonist willingly with joy and pride, simply because his characterization is strong , and is often the pivot of his stories. Actors love the bloated feeling of carrying a story on their shoulders- A test of their ability, and of course, an inducement for fame and possible acclaim.
Talking of “The painted veil”, I cannot but compare the setting of this brilliant psychological novel with another great story of modern times – “Love in the time of Cholera” by Gabriel Marquez. In both, The ominous presence of Cholera looms large in the background and forms a fit metaphor for the kind of internal rage and turmoil that fills the story. To have a choleric disposition means to be filled with unfulfilled passion, irritation or a bilious condition (in Middle Ages, imbalance in bile was considered to be the cause of Human emotions). While Marquez captured the cool and methodical doctor in Urbino who clinically subdues the throbbing passion of his wife , Maugham created his most powerful heroine Kitty Gartsin, whose recklessness and lust for life is tamed by her Bacteriologist husband and channeled for greater purpose in a remote village of China , raging with Cholera epidemic. In both cases, Husbands are the trigger and both are doctors. It is said that Maugham lifted the title of his book from the pages of Poet Shelley who wrote “ Lift not the painted veil which those who live call life…”. It is pretty apt for what followed. Kitty marries Dr Walter Fane for pure convenience to get away as far as possible from her nagging mother who wants her to marry against her will. Unfortunately Walter loves her deeply. Both of them look at life through their own veils of expectations, passion and purpose. Kitty finds herself bored by Dr Fane’s brooding introspection and study, While he struggles to live up to the demanding involvement she expects of him. Kitty, not surprisingly , decides to commit adultery to overcome boredom and sexual gratification.. When her husband finds out, he punishes her in his own tormented way. He gives up a respectable researcher’s job in Hong Kong and volunteers to serve in poverty stricken, decaying and a Cholera infested village of South China, and forces, threatens his wife to accompany him – which she reluctantly does for fear of divorce and resulting opprobrium. What happens to their lives in the sweltering heat, death and chaos of forsaken village, and how new meaning and dimensions emerge and flower under the most adverse condition forms the rest of this remarkable narrative.
This was fit tale for Cinema, and since 1925, when the book was published , there have been three complete adaptions (one featuring the mercurial and enigmatic Greta Garbo), and at least a dozen mini series and movies that have borrowed heavily from this book. In 2006, Edward Norton (as Dr Lane) and Naomi watts ( as Kitty) featured in the lush production directed by John curran. Shot almost entirely in China, it captures the essence of the tale without diluting it for cinematic reasons. Naomi watts presents a brilliant portrayal of Kitty. Her sparkling blue eyes, naughty smirk and feminine nonchalance steals the show for the first one hour, and then comes the slow transformation of her personality into a larger, more embracing human being finding love and solace where none was existent earlier. Ms watts reflects that change with great sensitivity and depth. Norton is true to the book. Known for his serious roles, His plays Dr Fane with all the subdued passion and rage with effortless ease. The entire film dances with the prose and intent of Somerset Maugham .
Maugham would be very happy and satisfied, I should say, to see his work renewed over and over again in various forms of art. He was, during his lifetime, one of the most commercially successful writers. He wrote beautifully, but also with an eye to securing himself properly. With the result that some of works would seem a bit repetitive to an astute reader. But that is secondary. His easy prose, vivid descriptions and study of basic human passion resonates with truth and vitality even today. In my opinion , the movie form is not yet finished with Maugham. As long as adultery, infidelity and weakness of Human will are themes and aspects of daily life, his work will endure and many more interpretations of his novels will emerge. The line that distinguishes average novels from a classic lies in the ability to reinvent itself in the readers mind. And Maugham’s writings have been doing that for a century now. He may not have received all the great critical accolades and covetous awards the writing business offers, but it is undeniable that he was and is still one of the most widely printed, read and enjoyed authors in the last 100 years.
God bless…
Yours in mortality ,
Bala