Thursday, September 1, 2016

Jottings : Slice of life -42

Jottings : Slice of life -41
The day before Yesterday, Hindus across the globe celebrated what has come to christened as "Janmastami" - or the birth of Krishna, the youthful God. Among the Gods and Goddesses created by Human Mind, nothing comes even close to the deep symbolism of this little dark prince of Vedic times. He is Aphrodite, Zeus, Ra, Hermes and Apollo - all rolled into one creative symbol. It is interesting though, that the name krishna drives from its Sanskrit root "The Black one", or the "blue-black one". It has deep mystical significance. Black absorbs everything into itself Just as the sky placidly reflects the colour of the ocean and vice versa, Krishna consciousness in each man obliterates the scars of experience , and purifies the experience of objective world outside. Its an osmotic process of cleansing and experiencing. In Krishna's symbolism, there is nothing right or wrong, Moral or immoral. It is contextual. His actions reflect the need of the present moment. To Arjuna, he is the teacher; to Karna, he is treachery personified,; to Yashoda, he is the darling boy; to Gopikas , he is unquenchable lust; to Draupadi, he is the savior, to Shishupal, Justice; to Bheesma, God.. One cannot hold Krishna's myth within well defined moral boundaries. He escapes all categorization, just as consciousness per se escapes all names and forms. That is the true depth of Krishna Symbolism, as it needs to be understood.
The problem with religion is that it can very easily descend into a literal interpretation of myths. In a land, where there are a million Gods in all shapes, sizes and forms, it is natural that legends, apocryphal stories -Made made dreams and fantasies translating into theories of God - will abound. Especially, if the God in question is conceived as vivacious, omnipotent, supremely intelligent, schemer and charmer as Krishna is. An entire epic revolves around his life and times. The largest tome of Devotional literature ( Bhagavatham) extols his numerous virtues. The most number of temples, alongside his peer Shiva, is consecrated to his name. The most profound spiritual exposition of Advaita finds its voice in Charotieer Krishna. Majority of Hindus (Vaishnavaites)wake up in the morning uttering his name, and go to bed cleansing their lives with a prayer to him on their lips . Take Krishna, the formal idolized god, away from the Hindu pantheon of Gods, and it seems, nothing more is left of institutionalized Hindu religion.
But Is Krishna, the God to be venerated and deified and worshipped as a form, an idol?, or is it that the myth of Krishna a pointer to a deeper truth about Human life and Cosmos. "Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths". So writes Joseph Campbell after a lifetime spent in studying and understanding the power, significance and relevance of Myths. It is not the literal objectification of a myth that makes sense, but its underlying symbolism pointing to deeper truth. Mystics across religions, across cultures have emphasized and realized this deeper meaning. It is childish to think of Krishna's childhood pranks, amorous adventures, bravery and magical life as historical happenings and enact them on stage as entertainment, or bow our heads in devotion without understanding the significance and depth of his story. His carefully scripted acts are pointers to inward psychological flowering. His life was meant to be a symbol of Playfulness - both Physical and intellectual. The beautiful Sanskrit word "lila", of which Krishna is a personification, has no parallel in any language. It means a game, a process, a dream, a movement, a happening, a mutation, a transformation, a state of timeless motion - and much more. Along with that elusive, seductive and mesmeric word "maya", Lila represents the highest Flowering of Indian thinking and realization. The Universe is dance, a play without purpose, and none expounded this understanding for Modern times better than Alan watts.
In a clipping, which I shared with you yesterday, you will hear the lovely , baritone voice of alan watts talking about Playfulness, the essence of Krishna consciousness. Many years, nearly two decades ago, My first introduction to Watts was though his short book called "The Book - the taboo against knowing who you are". There has been nothing like this book ever in the history of Spiritual literature. Its a must read for all parents, and after them, their children. The condensation of deepest, simplest and intimate truth about oneself and the universe is laid bare in 150 odd pages. Its the one book, you will need , if you are ripe for it.
God bless..
Yours in mortality,
Bala

Jottings : Slice of life -41

Jottings : Slice of life -41
Audrey Hepburn - An elegant and authentic life
When you look at Audrey Hepburn, the thing that strikes you first with tremendous force are those large eyes, eyes that are not merely beautiful, but deep placid pools revealing honesty, spontaneity and deep love of life. You can keep looking at them forever. Nothing else about her needs to speak. Her eyes does all the talking needed, and all we lose ourselves in those bright orbs, and through them into the character and person Audrey was, is , and will presumably be for generations to come.
The history of World cinema has seen no better ambassador of its art, or a more imitable icon of what an actor could achieve in global arena with fame, publicity and the reach it brings, than Audrey Hepburn did in her public life which spanned over 40 years. Hers was a special life indeed. Born to royal blood. Her mother was a baroness and her father an aristocrat. Cuddled and happy, the 1930’s she was born in quickly turned into a nightmare of worse kind. Holland was brutally invaded by Nazi Germany, and the massacre and inhumanness that followed gave young Audrey a first account experience of poverty, appalling misery and death.It also gave her a premature depth , which she would have perhaps not known otherwise, and a sense of destiny which sometimes only catastrophe can trigger. Her mother and she escaped to England, and the baroness had to work hard to make ends meet and give her growing, vivacious daughter a decent education. Food deprivation during war time made sure that Audrey was never going to plump. Her lithe, thin figure, long slender neck which hoisted her angelic face chiseled to perfection was all she would physically be throughout her life. But her inner glow was visible even at that tender age. Her teachers, friends remember her tremendous sensitivity to life and a willingness to be a good listener. She was always a center of attraction, with a spring in her feet and twinkle in the eye. It was not surprising when the emerging world of Cinema quickly took note of her. From brief modeling, a stint in theater and few brief movie appearances in early 1950’s, She was quickly spotted by William Wyler when he was planning his masterpiece - The Roman Holiday. It was the era of Elizabeth Taylor, the bewitching beauty. Because she was unavailable the role landed in the lap of Audrey. It is interesting how Wyler asked the cameraman to continue shooting her screen test, even after the director had called “Cut”. It was the after-cut footage that showed Audrey at her relaxed,elegant and effortless best. And it was this important element that Wyler wanted for princess Anna in her Roman Holiday. With Gregory peck as her Male star, It was to be the perfect launching pad for any aspiring actress. The Six months the crew spent in Rome filming, is still a legend in Hollywood circles. It was clear the world of cinema had found its most elegant ambassador and actress beyond the ordinary. The young Audrey playing the role of a princess caught in the trappings of royal mandates, escapes for a day to the outside world, meets this debonair and struggling journalist, and through him experiences simple joys that life offers, returns to her position much more mature, composed and grownup. It is a fairy tale story, but the honesty and grace Audrey bought to the role would remain as hallmark of her personality throughout her acting career. There has never been a princess so appealing, beautiful and dignified as Audrey was in Roman Holiday. Seventy years later, a new generation still stand in awe as they watch Audrey walk down the aisle in her immaculate Givenchy attire.
The fifties and sixties were the glorious periods of her professional acting career. She was lucky to get choice roles to play, and great directors and costars to work with. Call it providential, if you will, but sometimes destiny is self made. Audrey believed in it. In Sabrina(1954) she played a poor chauffeurs daughter forced to chose between two lovers, then in 1956 as the pivotal Natasha Rostov, Tolstoy’s most regal and enigmatic character in “War and peace”, during the filming of which she met her Husband Mel fewer and with whom she was live with for twenty years before they divorced; in 1959 she was mature enough to switch to a Nun’s role in “the Nun’s story”, silencing critics who were beginning to rank her amongst the beauty dolls doubting her capacity to play serious roles; followed by Truman capotes “Breakfast at Tiffany’s" in 1961. The controversial role of a high society call girl was never played with such innocence ever before or after. And then in 1963, Cary Grant ,who was then leading Male icon paired with her in “ Charade” - a sensitive portrayal of an elderly man in love with a younger girl.
At this distance, Audrey’s roles will look pretty stereotyped. It is a natural reaction to something imitated countless times decades of cinema that followed .But what is important and inimitable is the authenticity she bought to all those roles. By mid seventies, she knew her time to move on had arrived, and in 1976 she featured in “Robin and Marian” alongside Sean Connery, one of her last full length movies. It is my favorite film of hers. In it, her inner glow shone with greater intensity than ever. Those deep eyes radiated fulfillment and sense of peace. She had come a long way from a sprightly young girl to a woman of depth and maturity.
When most actors are undecided on what to do next after their blazing career in Cinema, Audrey had no problems deciding. She knew her work lay with young children who were deprived of life across the globe. UNICEF was her choice of work. As their ambassador from 1988 to 1993, she travelled to different countries spreading warmth, positivity and goodwill and carrying the message of UNICEF to impoverished families. It was the crescendo of her life. Unlike so many models and actresses these days, who wear the crown of UNICEF, but barely step out their comfortable surroundings, Audrey was passionate about her cause. To her, the image of an actor was only an entry point for the work she was trying to accomplish. And during her years as ambassador for children, she had banished acting completely from her life. That phase was over.Her commitment to work in hand without any distractions is a trait she displayed in everything she undertook.
To me, what is amazing was the personality and finesse she bought into movies. In 1993, when she was diagnosed with rare form of cancer, and died soon after, the world of cinema and all others whom she had touched in million ways remembered her not so much for her acting performances, which was extraordinary, but more for the unconditional love, spontaneity and empathy she possessed, and so amply gave away to everyone she cared. Who can forget Gregory Peck’s extempore eulogy on television delivered in choking voice and tearful eyes. He ended his tribute with a poem Audrey loved. It is poem written by Rabindranath Tagore titled “Unending love”. The last two verses of that beautiful poem is worth quoting in full, and fitted Audrey's life vision well.
“You and I have floated here on the stream that brings from the fount.
At the heart of time, love of one for another.
We have played along side millions of lovers, shared in the same
Shy sweetness of meeting, the same distressful tears of farewell-
Old love but in shapes that renew and renew forever.
Today it is heaped at your feet, it has found its end in you
The love of all man’s days both past and forever:
Universal joy, universal sorrow, universal life.
The memories of all loves merging with this one love of ours –
And the songs of every poet past and forever.”
The dreams of a generation began and ended with Audrey - a lady gifted and blessed to charm, elevate and educate.
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala





Jottings : Slice of life - 40

Jottings : Slice of life  - 40

Sitting in a plane, business class, with thunderstorms rumbling outside, and thin razor sharp lashes of rain striking the windows with ferocity, visibility almost nil, and the calm voice of pilots deceptively announcing that we may have to remain on taxiway for "few more minutes" - you know you are going to be stationery for quite a while. At least, as a seasoned flyer one should know that. This is the probably the best time to catch up with reading or writing. There is nothing much else one can do. I pulled out my rather thick volume of "basic writings in existentialism" edited and introduced by Gordon Marino, and flipped to the section on Nietzsche and began reading "On the genealogy of Morals" , an essential tract in the Nietzsche pantheon. There was a middle aged lady seated beside me. Blonde, dark penetrating blue eyes and a smiling face. After the announcement from the flight deck, she turned and said "It seems we will be here for a while. Might as well, catch up with my emails...". "Yaps, thats a great idea" I replied and continued reading. After few minutes , she pulled our her ear plugs, and spoke again " I couldn't help noticing you are reading quite a thick piece of writing. I did my major in Philosophy in college, and the one guy I couldn't really figure out was Nietzsche. Not only was he dense, I felt he was not even intelligible. In fact to be honest with you, I thought most of the so called philosophers I read as part of my course were dry, and I couldn't really relate what they were saying to anything in real life. It seemed their writings are so abstract and wordy. I dropped the course within three months.. Are you a student?, or, are you reading this out of interest?.."
“Well, this is certainly out of interest? “ I laughed and replied.. “But you are right, and i completely what you are saying. This is the problem with Western philosophy since the middle ages. It has become verbose, epistemological and completely divorced from life and its real problems. Ever since Aristotle posited the importance of Logic and thought (he meant it in a different context though), all subsequent philosophers have tried to arrive at some kind of living truth though verbose definitions and word play. Socrates, considered the father of western thought was simple. he said “Know thyself”. But from there till the 21st century, the parade of thinkers have turned away from subjective examination and started elaborating on the importance of the Word and its meaning without any relationship to living problems and its answers. Who can ever read Hegel without tearing out one’s hair, or for that matter schopenhauer, or Kant or the medieval commentators on the Holy texts. The essence of what they wished to say is lost in an elaborate attempt to verbally justify their findings. And this is where, eastern Philosophy, can act as a palliative to western thought. The directness, the simplicity and and intimate relationship to day to day human issues which a Bhagavad Gita, or the upanishads or our epics bring in is refreshing. When I read Nietzsche, I am looking for that essential element in his writings, that gets lost in the plethora of words. He did discover something very important and alive in himself, but the point is, in the period he lived, he needed to elaborate his discovery only through logical dialectic and extensive verbal proofs. When he said “god is dead”, He meant something so very deep and true, which can only be felt, experienced and not explained. But for more than a century Western philosophers have been arguing about what he could have meant by it. An Eastern mystic would have instantly acknowledged his statement and kept quiet…”
She heard with rapt attention what i had to say, and then raise her eyebrows a little. “You seem to have gone rather deep into this thing…” “No Maam, scratching the surface. But at least I know for sure that I am only scratching and not deluded by flowery verbal explanations I find in Modern western philosophy..” I smiled , and she did too.
God bless..
Bala

Jottings : Slice of life -36 (Part 2)

Jottings : Slice of life -36 (Part 2)
I wrote the first part of this piece when my flight was waiting on the tarmac in DFW airport for signs from Traffic control to take off. The inclement weather delayed the flight for over two hours. Enough time for me to read a little and write about Texas de Brazil. Let me continue.. After we had finished dinner, I noticed for the first time a gentleman sitting towards the other end of the table holding fort, gesticulating wildly and making incisive remarks to a set of rapt individuals. I politely asked my friend near me who he was, and I was told his name was James. He had been an integral part of their group for nearly a decade, helped set up their IT infrastructure. However, he left their organization about year ago due to irreconcilable differences with his managers, and now works as an architect for another IT company in Dallas. It was clear, he was well liked and respected by all for his technical virtuosity. When i turned my attention to him, he was talking about how he shortened the project life cycle by nearly three months the moment he stepped into his new role. He was mocking existing developers for taking two months to learn a new platform, which he claimed, took him ten days. It was obvious, he had good technical command, and the look on his audience faces left room for doubt. They venerated him. They wanted to be like him. Audacious, outspoken , critical, go-getter, willing to risk a respectable career for minor differences ,brash and charismatic. James knew he had his audience in his grip, and he spoke with an authority born from a confidence that whatever he says would taken as an oracle from God himself.
But somehow, I didn't quite feel comfortable with his voice and tone. Not that I am prejudiced, or had formed an opinion of him. After all, I am seeing him for the first time, and even here, in this gathering I noticed his presence only after the noise of dinner was over, and there was short respite from eating and drinking.. So there is no way for me to be biased. What irked me was the manner in which he was speaking disparagingly about his previous organization ( whose Dinner he was incidentally attending). No matter how competent one is, how technically and managerially superior one may be, I dont think it is in right taste to criticize an organization in which one has invested greater part of their lives. James had worked for twenty years before his quit. He joined when he had no credentials or experience, and the atmosphere of this organization had given him the ladder to climb - both personally and professionally. Yes, there comes a point, when you may have to part ways. Thats a decision taken based on several factors. In many cases you outgrow your role, or probably personal circumstances change necessitating a change in Jobs as well. Whatever it is, the growth or movement is only a transition from one state to another. A professional career is a data point on a sloping graph. you cannot have a unsupported dot floating precariously in the middle of axes. It has to be joined to dots before, to account for where it is plotted and seen right now; and the current dot will form the base for where and how the future will be tomorrow.
One of the most destructive aspects of Industrial civilization is that there is no pride or ancestry in our jobs. In earlier times, when a son took over the role of a carpenter from his father, he knew what he was inheriting. There was a history, an accumulated tradition of learning and expectation set for him. But today, Jobs are on sale and we are often not grateful for what we have learnt from previous jobs. Secondly, there is this distinct feeling in every employee that given an opportunity they could be the CEO’s of their organization. Commenting from the sidelines, passing judgements on company decisions over a drink is pretty common sight. James here was doing exactly that. My point is if one is that good, why are they not CEO’s or business leaders already. Or if there is enough gumption in them, they should carve their own path, create their organizations as many in the silicon valley do. That is courage and backbone. When one cannot be that brave, the next best option is to perform the role assigned well, learn from it as assiduously as we can, and then grow up the ladder if possible. There is absolutely no shame in that. James is very symptomatic of modern breed of professionals, who believe their opinions are always the right ones, and any dissent is utterly unacceptable. With ambition to make lots of money, this attitude does not come as a surprise, but an intelligent professional is one, who will quickly settle down and look at the bigger picture.
God bless…
yours in mortality,
Bala

Jottings : Slice of life : 37

Jottings : Slice of life : 36
Everybody's life is a biography worth telling. Each one has challenges, little successes and failures, emotional and physical demands, personal milestones which may or not be reached, but the effort continues unabated no matter what the circumstances are.. A Man's life is an ever unfolding story, never static, often fascinating; but always interesting and different.
It was on August 20th 2013 (some dates remain etched in memory) I took an important decision to join a fitness club, and commit myself to a regimen of physical exercise. The idea had long been germinating, but somehow, I never got around to doing it. Painful memories of previous years, when my body had almost collapsed to a point of no return kept returning almost daily, reminding me of the need to take care of it as much as I could from now on. But I tarried the decision.. The intention was there, but would not translate into action. It was during a chance remark in a car ride with a close and respected friend, my mind was finally made. I was talking to him about swimming, and he turned towards me and said “ Bala, you have been thinking about this for quite some time. I hope you realize that you have to personally take the decision of going to a swimming facility and enroll. The pool is not going to come to you..”. A pretty commonsensical remark from a well wisher; but, this time the import of his words pushed my indecision away for good. The time was ripe. A tipping point occurred. The very next day, I walked to the nearest facility and joined. And on the very same day bought myself a swimming costume and bravely jumped into the pool at around 4 PM, hoping to put the skills I had learnt thirty years ago to some use. I still remember the first sense of tingling coldness that penetrated my skin, my first desperate gasp of breath as I tried floating a few feet in water, first few unsuccessful strokes that only made lot of noise and splashed water all around, but never got me moving an inch , and above all the sheer physical exhaustion after 30 minutes of such effort. I was bone dead when I staggered out of the pool. My body felt like pulp.
Since that day, I have hardly missed a day of exercise. No matter, where I am, and whatever be the demands of the day, I have always found a little time to stretch my body and pay attention to it. Like my daily schedule of reading and writing, swimming and cardio exercises have become part of my being. Those odd days, when I do not get time enough to exercise, there is a strange dullness in my muscles; as if something essential is left undone. Again, I am not obsessed with fitness. I just enjoy my routine, thats all. If for some reason, I do not find a facility to swim, I dont feel miserable. I run , or walk, or simply stretch my arms and legs in the hotel room. The point is : I thoroughly enjoy those moments of physical attention.
I dont celebrate my birthdays or even remember it some years. Social media has taken over that responsibility, I guess. But last Saturday, 20th of August, I decided to commemorate my three years of swimming in my own little way. Instead of the the normal 30 lengths across the pool, I wanted to swim 75. I have never done it before. But there is nothing to lose. I am not going to be beat myself, if I dont, and I am not setting speed and time checks to do it. It was a weekend, and I have all the time in the world. I wanted to swim with ease enjoying every moment of it. And so, I slid into water at 6.30 PM and within few laps, my body had found its rhythm and the mind had detached itself from the act of swimming, leaving it free to think of other matters. There was a whispering internal clock which was silently and mechanically keeping number of lengths without being intrusive. Length after Length, I kept gliding slowly at my own pace without any pressure whatsoever. When the count reached 75, the alarm inside rang. The time on the wall clock was 8 P.M. I held my hand against the inner walls of the pool, and for the first time deeply felt raw tiredness and fatigue of this effort. A pent up sigh of breath escaped through me. There was a sense of pleasurable pain in my limbs, and the brain was light and easy. I was overjoyed. I did do it, after all. Little did I realize that there was an audience gently clapping their hands and saying “ You are in great shape..” They were pool buddies, watching with surprise my more than unusual effort that day. I had not told them about my intention to celebrate my third anniversary of swimming.
In terms of swimming as a sport, by no stretch of imagination is this effort worth talking about. Any competitive swimmer would laugh at it. I was neither pushing myself, nor completing laps in reasonable time.. I was just swimming to prove a point to myself. That was all there is to it. My philosophy of exercising is that I just feel good inside - which, in my opinion, is the only sane definition of Health possible. The body will eventually age, and the most carefully managed muscle building programs will give way. But none can take away the feeling of joy in the body which exercise can bring, at any age.. And for someone like me, who has seen what a damaged body can do your soul, it does mean something really deep. As I said, earlier in this post, to each man his life story is a biography worth mentioning. When I walked out of the pool last Saturday, i couldn't help thinking of one particular day in 2011 at San Francisco Airport, when my health had deteriorated to such an extent I could not walk hundred feet without feeling breathless, legs wobbling and extraordinary tiredness of mind and body. That today, i could pull of nearly mile and quarter of swimming without any undue effort is a vindication of one of the most powerful statements in the Gita
“Uddharedatmanatmanam natmanamavasadayet;
Atmaiva hyatmano bandhuratmaiva ripuratmanah.
Bandhuratma'tmanastasya yenatmaivatmana jitah;
Anatmanastu satrutve vartetatmaiva satruvat”
Roughly translated , it means
“You can raise yourself only by yourself. In the process of growing, maturing and individualizing, there cannot be greater friend or foe than yourself. You are your own boon, and your curse as well. Choose Arjuna!!, which did you wish to follow!!”
God bless…
yours in mortality,
Bala

Jottings : Slice of life - 38

Jottings : Slice of life - 38
The age of reading books is slowly dying, I guess. But I suppose that is true of reading in general. The physicality of books do not excite us any more, and publishers of books, except in rare cases, really dont care about quality, typeface, introductions, prefaces, frontispiece. Paperbacks rule. I wouldn't blame them. With content available on screens in front of us, or reading done only for professional purposes and not much otherwise, why would anyone care at all about making books with care, or why would anyone read anything other than what enhances their work. When I walk into second hand book stores, I sometimes get this feeling of being transported back in time. A 1902 hard bound illustrated edition of Lady Montagu’s letters from Istanbul in musty, aged condition, beautifully embroidered on its outside, tastefully colored and structured - takes me to a far off time and place. I end up buying it, even though I may have two copies of the same book in different editions. It is almost an instantaneous love affair. The book and I strike a strange chord, whose origins are mysterious, cannot be explained. But then, I may be a freak. At least, thats how i am perceived.
Anyway, I wish to dedicate this post to two beautiful Women, who devoted a life time to recovering old books, establishing their authenticity, and passionately advocating the written word as a conduit for cultural, social and intellectual transformation. They were Leona Rosenberg (1910 -2005) and Madeline Stern (1915 -2007). Both of them were from Jewish Immigrant families, who came to this country, as all of us do, to make their dreams come true. Their parents stressed education, hard work and discipline, without ever forcing them. Leona and Mady accidentally met each other at a Jewish Saturday school in their teens, and the spark of friendship ignited. Leona was nerdy, bookish and interested in Medieval history; Mady was more of an intellectual vagabond and her interests were varied. During the 1930’s, both of them embarked upon their common interest - Books. Leona was deeply interested in the impact of Printers on early Publishing history and wrote her doctoral dissertation on it, and Mady pursued English literature. By a tryst of Destiny, Leona’s dissertation was not accepted By Colombia university as a recognized doctoral topic, but then It didn't matter much. She along with Mady had already began on a journey across Europe and America, visiting Old booksellers, antiquarian publishers and collectors . Their passion for what they called “Literary sleuthing” had them recognize instinctively an Old book with historical significance. By 1940’s with little financial help from Mady, Leona set up her own little business procuring and selling Old and rare books. It was a magnificent and intriguing journey full of surprises, disappointment and immense joy. Soon Mady also joined Leona as partner. And thus began a partnership of over sixty years and more of one of the most beautiful examples of personal friendship, and love of Books. Both of them never married, had no children. They had their little flirtations when young, but as Leona writes in her memoir , they were only on the “fringes of their life”. Their relationship was platonic in the true sense of the term. Contrary to rumors, they weren't lesbians either, and even though they lived together, theirs was a relationship based on intellectual togetherness and nothing else. A rare relationship indeed!. While their name as reliable antiquarian booksellers spread, Leona and Mady accidentally embarked upon on an ambitious project, which was to give universal fame in the world of letters. The reading public knew May Louise Alcott as the gentle lady from Connecticut, who wrote the homely word “ Little women” - One of the best known English works of the 19th century. Ms Alcott was known for her homely stories around fireplaces and moral dialogues on virtues and family decorum. During their literary investigations, Leona, found that there could be more to Ms Alcott’s world than mere homely stories. Both Mady and Leona, spent the next three years uncovering trails of Alcott, her pseudonyms and gothic stories printed in steamy journals during that period. In an age when pen names were rare, Ms Alcott almost lived a double life. On one hand , she wrote gentle stories for puritan reading public of New England, and on the other she conjured grotesque, lurid and sensational short stories for journals and newspapers to monetarily support her family. Based on their joint investigation Mady published in 1953, her Brilliant biography of Mary Louise Alcott, still considered the most authoritative, lucid and comprehensive life of that great author. Along with it the reputation of Alcott as a staunch feminist, a writer with tremendous talent and oeuvre was also established. A new revived interest in the academic world in Alcott’s work became possible. Mady went on to write couple of other biographies as well. Each of them, a testimony to her eloquence, research and narration. The ABAA ( Antiquarian Booksellers association of America), an organization of volunteer booksellers and collectors who specialize in recovering, restoring and selling old and valuable books which help in understanding a bygone age, or illuminate a cultural period - appointed Leona as their President in 1971. During her tenure, Both ladies travelled the globe in simplicity and style, warming the hearts of all those who came in contact with them. Their joint publications, catalogues of old books ( 12 of them) on different themes are works of literature themselves. Almost all libraries in the United states are in some way obligated to Leona and Mady for their contributions. Well into the eightieth year, they were requested to write an account of their special friendship and passion for books. They readily agreed and jointly authored an autobiography titled “Old Books, rare friends”, perhaps their last literary effort together. It came out in 1997, and soon became a bestseller. In fact, I have this book in front of me as I pen this essay. In it, in their inimitable style, that is at once scholarly, elegant and profound, they unfold their lives before us. It leaves a reader speechless. Their passion for what they took to be their life’s task, and their deep friendship for each other will be a legend echoing for long time to come. Towards the end of their beautiful book, they sum up their lives in two simple, moving statements. I wish to reproduce it verbatim. They write
“Our lives are our legacy, and it is a legacy dominated by the first person plural. Together we look to the future, to our next find, to our next book, to our next adventure…”
This, they wrote when they past 80 years of age..
In the spirit of this duo, I dedicate this essay to all those who believe that the written word is our precious legacy. From it we derive our sustenance , and its preservation and transmission is a responsibility of each generation to the next. There is a grave danger in allowing ourselves to be carried away by digital revolution. The musty, physical smell and feel of a printed page is giving way to the placid, unflickering presence of a plasma screen. But it would be foolish to believe that the era of books are over. There will always a small group of people who will like to cuddle with a book in their hand, a warm light suffusing the page read, and a mysterious communication between the two happening. And as long as people like Leona and Madeline appear at regular intervals , we will never run short of books to be able to do that.
God bless…
your in mortality,
Bala
(PS : The baby photos of Leona and Mady are from the back cover of a catalogue authored by them. I found this copy in Dallas, in an old dilapidated bookstore near Fort worth…)


Jottings : Slice of life - 39

Jottings : Slice of life - 39
He was a young man. In his mid thirties. Articulate, extremely technical, had his bachelors from one of India's premium colleges and moved to the United states five years ago. He had come in on a Work visa which allowed him to change jobs. And he did change. Not once, but thrice in five years. He nows works for quite a respectable IT firm for a project in Downtown Atlanta.
We were a group of five, sitting in a coffee shop after our workout at the Gym. I normally skip this gathering, but today they insisted I join them for a quick cup of coffee. Nothing better to do on a Sunday evening, I consented. After customary small talk, drinks and snacks ordered, our conversation weaned towards employee satisfaction and switching jobs. Apparently Ajay ( name changed) was contemplating one more change. And all others, in the same age group and profession as him, were debating their value in their respective organizations, and how each of them considered themselves to be thorough professionals who were being grossly underpaid. They were slandering their managers, and making jokes on how they did their jobs.
Ajay broke out " You know what Guys. I am know I am technically good, and I am willing to sell my services to the highest bidder. If Company B is offering me more to do the same job than company A, I have no qualms switching. Its not about loyalty, or any of that. Its purely monetary. I dont see anything wrong with that.."
Others nodded their head in concurrence. Vikram ( name changed) joined in " yap, thats right. Being a professional means to extract the right price for your work. Its a different thing if you are not good. But if you are, and willing to advertise your expertise, then let the highest bidder be happy.."
There was lot of energy in those youngsters. you could see them bubbling with ambition and confidence in themselves. They must be, no doubt good at what they do. But, as i sat listening to their effervescent conversation, and raw energy, I felt a little uncomfortable about their belief and use of the of the term Professional. I didn't say anything though, and abstained from participating in their bonhomie. After ten minutes or so, Raj , a slightly elderly member of this group, turned to me and asked
"Bala, you are quiet on this topic. dont you agree with what these guys are saying..?"
"Well, Not entirely. Let me tell what I agree upon first. I do agree upon the fact that an expert must eventually be paid well for his contribution. Especially, if they are completely devoted to their specialization with passion and devotion. But what I do not agree is your definition of a Professional, which is selling your passion, your expertise to the highest bidder. You see, A professional is one who gets paid for his devotion to his talent and commitment to a job. They will finish what they are doing before they move on, and a Mercenary is one who may be as talented , if not more than a professional, but sets a price to his soul and compromises his current job in hand, and is ever unhappy and unsteady in the present. As an example, An army of ordinary soldiers are more likely to be trusted, believed and likely to grow than a band of talented ruffians who will switch allegiance for money. It may work in the short run, but over period of time, one loses trust.
I am not saying, money is not important. It most definitely is. But then, there is a time to move on as well. You dont weigh your current job only on the scale of money, unless you are grossly underpaid, exploited and you are stupid to be still there. But that is rare, and an exception in most cases. For most of us, a time will come, when an inner barometer will unfailingly tell us that we should move on. And when such a movement happens, it will not be only for money, but other things as well - Broader roles, wider responsibilities and greater focus.
I may be old school. I dont know. But this is how I look at this conversation we have been having..."
Vicky broke in with a laugh " Bala, being a teacher, you cannot help lecturing, Can you?..." All of them joined in the laughter.
"I didn't volunteer to speak Vikram. When asked, I give my opinion.."
Evening had quietly turned to dusk, and red fringes around blue clouds were gently announcing the arrival of darkness. We said our goodbyes, and the group slowly left, a little more contemplative and less garrulous than before.
God bless...
yours in mortality,
Bala