Wednesday, November 4, 2015

To God or Not to God

I know most of us have been there - at some point - where we wonder at the reality of reality. Is the world real? Am I real? What are we doing here? Where is the end? The beginning? And should we believe in a Creator/God? Should we follow a religion/"Godding" (my coinage)? Hence, to God, or not to God.

I think. Therefore I am. But my question is does S/HE/IT (IT could stand for internet too :))  think? If S/HE/IT thought, and given that the S/HE/IT is an all powerful magician, (omg! I just looked at S/HE/IT, and realize another way of reading it!) , and all good, the said God can make it all right in the world for every one of us! So how come God doesn't do that? Oh, free will. Whose, I wonder! God's, of course. But can't God think? Can God think? Back to the circle.  If God doesn't think, God doesn't exist. If God thinks, God exists. If God chooses not to think, which explains the misery of mankind, then do we need a thoughtless God like that?

If free will is the basis of faith in God, then shouldn't I be  my own God? As long as I don't act God to others that should be ok?

In any case, "Godding" or religion is a club. Its members have the ability to network - to make lucrative or other social connections. Mutual back scratching and/or back -stabbing. A major area of power plays, and intrigues, and abuse of powers. One common goal seems to be about control over the female sex. The religions differ only in degrees in this area. Obviously the clubs do some good too, esp in the charity field, but they  always have  their own survival and propaganda as their main agenda. Along with other vested interests. These clubs are not that different from nations, Specifically the colonizing ones. With all its ramifications.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Fall again, and a paean to Champaign

Did I say I love fall? Sure, I did! what's not to love about this enchanting drama queen! No tantrums, just a dazzling display from a colorful diva! Her flying, flitting shining leaves shake as she twirls in her jewel toned sequin-layered skirt, not caring if some frills and sequins fall, at times with a dramatic sigh. There are the heaps of fallen leaves, like multi-colored candy wrappers, like crunchy pappadams, or crab rangoons.  and in between there are a few green leaved trees - stubbornly resisting- to- turn old timers -- and then  those wall flower types who wish they would turn like the others,( I am sure!) Every year, fall, to me, is a carnival.

This year's fall is extra special. I am in a new city. So it's a city Fall. And neither the city nor the season have disappointed me yet. Champaign is made for this season! Its paved streets dotted with old world lamps  are a good setting for these painted ladies and gents to make a spectacle of themselves! This city has parks ( I haven't seen this many squirrels anywhere!) on most streets, sidewalks in all parts, it has little lakes that soothe you, and old homes that evoke old memories. The little town is eminently walkable and the little shops and cafes, endearing. I loved its little Oktoberfest, with its Apple Saison beer that tasted like Fall, as much as like apple pie. And the farmer's market that introduced me to Autumn Berry jams and relishes that reminded me of those good old days back home, back when I was a child.

 And then there is the University with its libraries and stadiums and theaters. I feel I have come off my (self-imposed, I guess) exile into a new world!
As I walk beneath these trees flamboyant in their drool-worthy candy leaves, as usual, I long to absorb it all. As the cozy cool wind and the equally cozy but warm sun hit the leaves, and then touch me, I am so happy that I can almost taste the sensual feast!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Death and lemonade: Leaves of Grass (2010)

As often with me, I have to start with an apology -- here goes - please do not think I have too high an opinion of myself. That I consider myself to be up there with highly talented, successful people. But whenever I see a Woody Allen movie, I feel that movie was something that I would write. Well, I thought the same thing when I saw "Leaves of Grass" by Tim Blake Nelson. He wrote and directed, and even acts in the movie. Why do I feel this? There is something familiar in the themes, in the way they unfold. You may say it is the universality of the themes, the characters, Maybe, but that would be enough to appreciate those movies. It is more than that in the sense that there is an underlying thread of exposing/teaching/information-dissemination in most of such movies. Just like I would do, like I have done in my novel. Detractors can call it preaching or propagandist. But such a movie, that with a message or messages, is an example for  another version of art for social change, according to me.

This is my perspective of Tim Blake Nelson's movie. When I watched it, at first I was tempted to dismiss it as superficially intellectual and artificially attractive or vice versa -- a phrase I remember from my past :) Look at the academic shenanigans at that Ivy League University on the East coast. One of the protagonists,  portrayed wonderfully by Edward Norton, is a teacher of Philosophy. Since it is not a philosophic treatise, but a movie about many other things too, it struck me as superficial, simplistic, shallow etc. Then there is that stock female character - intelligent, attractive, with a surprising quality, sometimes she appears as the prostitute with a heart of gold, but always as the one who has all the answers. (ya, right!) Here we have the village poet beauty who is an expert at "noodling" too! And she is like Socrates to our poor philosopher who by sheer grit and focus achieved his dream. Very mean of her, I thought. And I wished that he would influence her too - make it more of a mutual affair. Let's see if the sagely young woman will feel the same in say, 5 years! Will it be easy then to make that change, for this time, she won't be the same, and time will be against her. But then we all got through such choices, and ideas, and changes, and then we all die - that is life!

That takes me to my next change of mind, regarding the movie - superficial, artificial - that is what the academic world really is. After all those discussions about Foucault and Derrida and Lacan, (genuflect here- as an aside, we in India tend to look at any written word as sublime, and if especially it is by a foreigner, we treat it like the scriptures. Same with movie stars, rock stars, political/religious leaders, - we are in awe of them, guess we still haven't lost that naive wonder and admiration for success and fame -  here there is an irreverence, and more of an envy towards everyone and everything, except, maybe national security and full body scanners in airports) and aesthetics and politics, what did we achieve? What did I achieve? Other than long papers and dissertations that are buried under layers of dust in some corner of a room. Papers that are really papers on other papers. Mishmash, rehash, analyses that in the final analysis may be really splitting hairs- and that is how the other (anti)hero, who, fascinatingly, is the twin of our philosopher, also ably portrayed by Norton, describes it. But that description also is not new, but that doesn't make it any less real. He is the alter ego of the protagonist - literally, and figuratively.

So what does this movie teach? Philosophy, mainly. Practical philosophy. Philosophy democratized. Practical aesthetics. For instance, all those deaths in the end happen in the "idyllic" ambition-less countryside, where the characters seem to go with the flow of Nature, rather poetically. And there is ambition and dream here too - the brother wants to sell his scientifically advanced drug business in order to start a normal family life. So death - the deaths in the movie did not really make me sad. The build up of the story till then prepared me for it, thus reinforcing the inevitability of an end. It is as if I was ready to die, or to let them go! Not out of disappointment or depression, but after a sense of completion, satiety, catharsis.  And then that awareness of  the futility of it all. No matter what one's reality is, and here we have parallel realities of twin brothers - one whose life has the order and the beauty of a Zen garden, outwardly anyway, and the other, whose life looks like a riotous cottage garden filled with wild flowers and vines, with a rocky brook running alongside. Again, I am reminded of those stereotypes - say in a Hallmark movie- the busy city/career girl or man vs the free-flowing, nature-loving warm country girl/guy. They all always end up in the country. But here, the writer-director makes it more realistic -with  death - many deaths - in the country, and then with a pitcher of cool lemonade in the end. That is what happens in real life, isn't it? People die, we move on.  There are little cosy comforts at the end of a long, hot day. We just aren't aware of that fact of death all the time, that's all.

So - what else does the movie teach? We are aware of the writer-director's mind working  in many of the characters - we learn that a god-fearing Jew can be a drug dealer, that a pothead or a redneck can be smart, I liked it all, even as I felt they were contrived. Maybe I prefer it that way - the movie is a construct, after all. Just like the sublime brother-crude brother juxtaposition. I think I did not mind all that  in the end because we see that they are not all that different in the end. Those stereotypes are dismantled.  I have done all this in my writing - which doesn't make it right, but it is done with a purpose - to make the viewers/readers think, look at the world from a different angle. And that in my book is art for social change. And that is where all those seeming useless discussions in the field of Humanities are there for.

At the end of the movie, I was not judging one way of life against the other. I realize that they are all equally good or bad. The lives, the choices. But I wished that we all could live different lives at the same time! Not just one other life where someone from the past or the future comes and tells me my past or future, like, say, Dr Who. I don't mind it, but I want to be that person who can travel through time, live many lives, in many places.  Everyone has to be that person. Now that would be flowing, real freedom, or, total anarchy. Who knows! As it is we have a couple of choices - wine or beer? death or lemonade? Or both, and all.  :)

Friday, March 20, 2015

quirks of the mind- Next (2007)

That's it! I have decided - I am not a  sophisticated movie connoisseur. And I am never going to be one. But clearly, I am an incurable romantic - even now! (bah! humbug!) The other day I saw the 2007 movie Next -- starring Nicolas Cage and Jessica Biel, Julianne Moore etc. To put it simply, I liked it. I am no Nicolas Cage fan, but somehow I liked him in this one. I liked the story, I liked the main characters, I liked the setting - I liked it all once I accepted the basic kind of superpower that Cage's character possesses. Apparently, he can see two minutes - just 2 minutes - into the future. Except in the case of this girl who keeps cropping up in his visions. The romantic in me loved that age old concept of true love, the existence of the  one person that you are meant to be with. Add to that, a man,  a hero with the power to be aware of this preordained special person, and is sure of what he wants, and is not afraid to go for it! The result, "And they lived happily ever after", as we romantics hope for, even though at this point in my life, "forever" seems kind of daunting, as in YIKES!

However this is the same movie that I have heard being called crummy. I find that Cage and Biel were nominated for worst actor, worst actress  awards. And I liked their acting! I did not expect to, actually I did not think I would watch the whole movie, but I did. Can someone feel all warm and cozy just by looking at people wearing warm and cozy earth tones? Or seeing them against the backdrop of sun-kissed mountains? I have to think that that happened in my case. I loved the amber tones of the people and the places. The golden honey highlights in Jessica Biel's hair, on her simple burnt sienna cotton dress, on her glowing skin, on Nicolas Cage's tan/mustard yellow jacket, and on the gold and caramel and copper-hued rock formations at once alive with all that rich glorious light and redolent of many an ancient story. I am sure all that, including that soothing rain that danced around, enveloped the pair, and the intermittent cool blues that broke the pattern of the golden rust colors, played a part in stopping me from switching channels.

I know many would see the special power of the hero as a  simple crude mind gimmick of altering reality. But again, I did not mind it at all! :) Not surprising. I usually like such ways of defeating time,  and space, however simplistic. I even like that twist to the tale in the end. The movie is loosely - very loosely, I hear -- based on a science fiction piece of the fifties. That story of mutants has been humanized here, I guess. And if the fact that I like the result makes me a pleb, so be it. Let me hasten to add that the same goes for my liking of that Jennifer Lopez-Ralph Fiennes movie, Maid in Manhattan. I have heard many criticize the story, Lopez's acting - but I loved it! I think she was good in it. ( I do like all of her movies, by the way). And Ralph Fiennes! He can do no wrong in movies, as far as I am concerned. But then, that's me! What do I know?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

my Vetaal

King Vikramaditya and the Vethaal

They say everyone has their own baggage that they carry around. Most of the time, like any baggage, it weighs you down, will even leave you paralyzed. Still, there must be some good kind of baggage too. There are some kinds that never gets lost, or that we can never totally get rid of. We may put it down for a while, but soon like long lost friends or unwanted guests show up at inopportune times. Or worse, like that wily devil or vampire or ghost, Vetaal/Bethal/Vethaalam of the Vikramaditya stories, climb onto our shoulders and refuse to let go. A dead weight that  manages to drag one down, fill us with dread and despair. A point comes when we just want to get rid of the burden. Out with the bad, and whatever outdated, or spoiled stuff is  in there, which may have been good once, for that time. The only way out then is to listen to that Bethal and answer its questions, which may or may not help me in the end.

Mine is a peculiar kind of baggage. Nothing special, but then I guess everyone's baggage must be special to them. When people talk of baggage, I always hear of doing the wrong things in the past, doing a lot of wrong things, having a racy youth, having lost a lot of valuable things, say, in the area of relationships. When I say "wrong" I do not mean to say that they were all wrong in the moral sense. They may have been or not, but I think that those become baggage when the individual looks back with regret and considers them to have been the wrong choice, the wrong path to take.

In any case,the peculiarity of  my baggage is that it is empty. My Vetaal is unreal. When I look into it, there is nothing in there! My past and present are ruled by inaction. No racy past - to sum it up. No  addictions to recover from, or to not recover from,  not even one shade of grey to feel guilty or proud of, or to cherish - - nothing that I can thrash around and about. Painfully shy, and  submitting to the Nazrani conditioning, rebelliously at times, I avoided all excitement. Except for the grand speeches and  funny gestures made within that safe circle of family and friends. I did manage to get that reputation of willfulness, stubbornness, and sheer muleheadedness from most of them, though. But many did not care about the extent to which I succumbed to tradition in the end. My perfectionism (quite personal) and that other personal code of honor-  of duty, responsibility and loyalty took care of that. So now this empty bag of mine weighs a ton. And it has been asking me these questions.

Did I make the wrong choices? Take the wrong path? Still no clear answer. But the answer that comes up right now is that maybe not. At those points in time, those were the only ones to take. Should I be happy about that? Not necessarily, and not necessarily should I be unhappy either. Things are as they are. Hope that Vetaal is satisfied, at least for now.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

India's Daughter

Village Belle by Raja Ravi Varma 

I watched the documentary, India's Daughter today. I couldn't bear to listen to most of the men in there, including. and especially, the literate lawyers -hard  to watch the whole documentary. For a while, I was at a loss for words. Disturbing, heartwrenching, and terribly real. The mindset of the majority of citizens of a democratic nation, that prides itself on its culture! I was lamenting about a few hate mails I received after a story of mine was published a long time ago. Why am I even surprised? I just saw and listened to a few representatives of the educated males in our capital city of New Delhi, in modern day India. But watching this should be mandatory in India.By the way, to the lawyers- even a girl going out with her own father or brother is not left alone by anti-social elements like these.  But then I am sure people like these lawyers and many religious persons still would not get the message. That girls shouldn't walk outside their homes at all,  would be the lesson that  they would want us to take away from this. Better, let them all kill themselves! Which they do do to the unborn female child.
Even elderly nuns in convents are not safe, when it comes to insecure men wanting to reinforce their sense of power. News - Elderly Indian nun raped . I cannot forget what those misguided, cruel, pathetic, stupid  men did to Jyoti. I cannot forget her dreams, her hopes. Her mother's eyes. And this will and should haunt us forever.  I am so ashamed of my country, of its so-called "tradition" and "culture". 

It was hard to see even the hope of the protesters, for change, for a better tomorrow. . This is one time when I value the merits of a brutal, long drawn out war that will affect the whole of India, but which took the men out of India, into other countries.  That is the one long term change that came out of the world wars, in the West.  Women had to take over. They came into their own, in spite of the loss of lives. The sacrifice had an unforeseen effect of women's liberation.  Of course I do not want needless deaths of men.  or women, which is what is happening now. If we could learn something from history, without bloodshed and killings, that is it. Education is the answer. How - that is the question. How to educate? What modes to use? Through travel, and exposure to other cultures? Through classes? Movies? TV? As it is, las I mentioned before.  even if many of them saw this movie, I know what many Indians -men and women - would say , shaking their heads - the girl shouldn't have gone out at night. They just wouldn't get the message, or pretend not to get it. And when  they do that, they are denying the humanity of their daughters and sons. Forgetting the real meaning of civilization.

But why am I racking my brains as to how to stop men from behaving inhumanly? Strict enforcement of a just law is all that is needed. Where the responsibility to not to commit evil deeds is on the individual. For instance, disbar and dismiss those lawyers, politicians, policemen etc  who nurture such inhuman notions about women. If they still do not understand, throw them in the jail with the other rapists. After all, we did manage to eradicate caste system, at least in certain parts of India. According to that old tradition, the lower caste women were considered untouchable, but at the same time, playthings for the high caste. Much like the other tradition of slavery, and the feudal system. Strict enforcement of the law did help with those. But then gender inequality is of benefit to all men - regardless of class or race. So the number of people who will feel cheated out of their "rights" is higher. And they won't let go off their "rights" that easily. So the struggle becomes harder.

For Catholics, in the Ten Commandments - thou shalt not kill does not put the onus on the victim, but on the perpetrator. But in the case of rape, the law in India seem to think that the victim is the culprit. Once that attitude changes, things will fall in place rather nicely. The eleventh commandment should be "thou shalt not rape". 

I found this on the internet. Seemed very helpful.

11. When you see a woman walking with a man, do not rape her.
12. When you see a woman walking with a child, do not rape her.
13. When you see a woman walking with another woman, do not rape her.

14. If you feel you are a thorn, and the woman is a flower, hit your head, repeatedly, on a stone or brick wall, whatever is convenient, and knock yourself out.
15.Use the buddy system here too if you fail to remember the above. Ask a trusted friend to bring a rock or brick to knock you out.

Still, I am hopeful for India's men and women. Looking at the thousands of girls and women protesting in the streets. Their courage, their hope, and their strength. I see the change right there. This would not be seen thirty years ago. These are the women of my generation, and their daughters. I can only bow my head before them. I am so proud of them, of how far we have come. I am ashamed of myself because I ran away from my country. It was escapist. 
The struggle has just begun, and it should include all humane beings - women and men. Because just like that assumption that women are basically "sex" (as in the words of that lawyer) and so need to be controlled, while in the same breath he said that women are "flowers" to be protected - that is what we have to face. Who on earth can live according to that contradictory idea? And the other assumption that all men are savage beings who are less than human who have no control over their own minds, and no intelligence to take responsibilty for their own actions,  or do not have the least bit of sensitivity to think of a girl or woman as a human being. That is degrading our own fathers, brothers, and sons. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

1986 : an old story - translated.

In 1986, when I was a college student, I participated in a short story competition, "a story for a movie", organized by a leading Malayalam film magazine. The selected stories would be published in their weekly. The stories had to fit a page. It was a time when some fiery thoughts were searing through my brain. I had just passed my B.A. in flying colors, and my parents who had promised me that I would be allowed to go out of state for higher studies, backtracked. They cited many reasons, the main one being, I had to be married off pretty soon, and my going away like that won't help with that. Needless to say I was heartbroken, and angry at the injustice. My rebellion stopped at chopping off my hair, and starving myself. Nothing like the heroine in the story.

But it made me think as to the why's. And I wanted to share my thoughts with people. I wanted to change attitudes, the old stupid ways of thinking. A story was born out of that. As far as the plot went, it was nothing, even by my standard. But then it was a story of ideas, a story for social change, all of which I knew even then. I sent mine in, never expecting to be selected.  But still, every week I would run to get that weekly to see if it was in there.  And one morning, I opened the magazine, and my story was in there! The delight! the pride! But I could  not share that happiness with anyone. When I sent it in, maybe they thought it would not see the light of day - my parents just watched me indulgently.  But now that it was out there, they were not happy. What will people say! They would think everything in there, that I had written in order to shock people out of their complacency,  was true. That I was a "bad girl". No man from a respectable family will want to marry me. What I wrote there, say, about marriage or religion, would not faze a westerner or a westernized Indian. But back then, in India, in Kerala, in Thrissur, things were different. I am sure, even now, it would shock at least a few. Even the outfit of the heroine must have disturbed them.

The thing is they had published my address with that story.  Two movie companies wrote to me asking to meet for a discussion. Another one for a tv program. I was not allowed to write back, as all men were bad. Because meanwhile other things happened. Hate mail. For daring to think and talk about freedom for women, one letter writer threatened that  he would gather up a group of men and come and rape me. They seemed to, or wanted to assume that my silly little plot, which was just a vehicle for my status quo-shattering ideas, was true. Actually they just did not like the idea of women being free. And of course, I had to be punished. I was intimidated. My parents felt I let them down by bringing such shame on myself and the family! I was guilty without committing any sin, except write. In fact at first my parents did not show me these letters - don't know why they did after a few days, maybe to prevent me from doing it again. Anyway, it worked. I stopped writing. I felt so guilty at hurting my parents, and ashamed at myself, that I pretended it did not happen. I did not talk about it even to my University friends, a year later. In fact it was only last year that I gathered up the courage to read it again. Looking back,  I did not know how to deal with publicity, the little I got - it was a time when there was no internet, and when TV was still new, with less than a handful of channels. I was too naive, lead too sheltered a life, had no supporter, let alone, a mentor. The nuns in my college weren't too pleased either. Except for one teacher who wondered what went on in my mind. However, even though there were a few letters that congratulated me, I foolishly, or pragmatically, overlooked those. And focused on the negative comments, not knowing that those comments arose out of fear and spite. That fear and sense of guilt lingered on for so long that my attitude to the whole concept of publicity was confusing, to say the least. On the one hand I wanted people to read my writings, actually a lot of people, and I wanted to change the way they saw things. But at the same time, I did not want anyone to! I dreaded it. I hoped no one would read it! Again, when they did not, I felt disappointed! I am sure there are others who are in the same boat as me. That is  one thing I have learned so far - that I am not particularly unique or special in any way, unlike my heroine.

Here's a translation of my story -- I do admit that some of it is cringeworthy. My heroine, Ribelle (Oh my God! the name , for Rebel! haha.) now reads like an arrogant little show off.  Still, she is mine. :) Funny thing is I wrote it first in English back then, and then translated it into Malayalam. Maybe, unconsciously I felt that writing my ideas down in English  made it less dangerous somehow, than in my own language! I lost the original, or maybe I destroyed it.  Sadly, I do have a tendency to delete or tear up old letters, writings, emails etc. I know I will be sorely tempted to modify when I am translating now. But I will resist, and be true to the original. But remember, Rebel's ideas may be mine, but not her experiences. When I wrote this, I was still a student in an all-girls' college run by nuns. I did not have any male teachers.  Later on, I did go to a University for Research, but then I was so loyal to my family's Puritanic codes that I avoided any kind of romantic/sexual relationships. In fact I quite successfully rationalized it all so well that I fooled myself into thinking that I was an evolved rational being who was above mere emotions and needs. So I ended up being a truly celibate and chaste Christian even though I wasn't religious!  ah, youth! (look at me! I am  still doing  it -- justifying, defending, explaining -- trying to be the 'good" girl - I am never going to change, I guess. sad. )And the subject for research that Rebel chooses is amusing, to say the least.And obviously she did not know the difference between an atheist and an agnostic. Please do not laugh too much when you read this. Boy, was I brave, and stupid! ;))

You can find the Malayalam version here: ഗുരുവിനെത്തേടി - Guruvinethedi

Translation follows (with some editorializing in italics)
In search of a Guru

A pair of faded blue jeans, a loose-fitting yellow shirt,  steel-framed glasses, a reserved look on her face, and eyes that searched for someone - that is Rebel. (probably needed new glasses). No one would notice that girl who walks by fast, her fingers running through her short, cropped hair. You would wonder if this  is the same girl who scribbles in her diary in the bag thrown over her shoulder  as the one who acts the clown in her home.

At home, she is everyone's apple of the eye. The girl who makes everyone laugh out loud, at times stating small philosophical theories, the girl who pouts, has to try hard to stop herself from crying at a little scolding. She is not especially close with anyone.

She is here for research. The goal is to get a doctorate in English Literature. The subject is "The Problem Plays of Shakespeare". At times, she wondered as to the necessity of researching such a subject.  Rebel is a repository of the old and the new. In her mind, it is a constant struggle between the two. Although she is a total non-believer, she believes that an unknown power rules the world. However she thinks that that power is a cruel one. Or else why is there so much suffering in this world?

Once, while she was sitting with a classmate in her hostel room, Rebel looked outside the window, at the trees bathed in moonlight, and said, "When a time comes when any girl can walk by herself, even in the middle of the night, unmolested,  I would agree that women are free".(This seemed to enrage the males more than anything - apparently I wanted sex!) At another time, she said, " I do not have a great belief in marriage.  We are ready to lose that valuable treasure called chastity, (she means virginity), which we guarded so closely till then, the moment a  man puts a string around our necks. I can never understand that. Why is there a double standard for the man and the woman in our society?" Dowry , or property for women, is necessary. But, in Rebel's opinion, the brides who are sacrificed for it, suffer more than the son of man who was crucified, but who  got to rise from the dead on the third day.(god, she is insufferable!)

There was someone who noticed this girl who spent most of her time in the library. Professor Philip. Professor Philip is married. With one child. He is the friend of Rebel's Research Supervisor. At first, when he talked to her, Rebel barely answered him, and went her way. But they got closer during a send off party for someone. One day he invited Rebel over to his house. On another day, while Rebel was walking around town with her dad, they met the Professor and his wife. The Professor's wife was beautiful. It looked like she too liked this serious looking girl. (hahaha -sorry,  couldn't help it!)

College Day came around. Rebel was slowly falling in love with the Professor. As expected, she did not talk of this to anyone. (Thank God!haha) . This was something that a student should not feel for a teacher, that too, a married one. When he made fun of her usual blue jeans, Rebel felt bad. Whenever the thought of a family life, she chased it away.  Why should she marry? After all, we all have to die. (aha - so I always talked of death) Why be a slave to someone else, till then? As it is, Rebel was always against rules.

The Professor was surprised when Rebel appeared in a black silk saree. She proudly strutted away.  Was it her theories, or her seriousness, or her clownishness - the Professor did not know what attracted him to her ( or in other words, the Professor didn't know what hit him!hehe) They had more chances to meet.

In one moment of weakness (or sleaziness ) Rebel gave herself to Philip. (yikes!) The next day she told the Professor who was suffocating with his sense of guilt, (ya, right!), (now begins the speech!), "Let us end this here. I am saying good bye.( :) good byes are my old friends, obviously) I am not asking you to marry me or anything. I do not like that either. The mistake is mine too, anyway. (aah - the eagerness to accept responsibility!) I feel guilty when I think of your wife. (how nice!) If we meet everyday, this will only lead to sadness. You are not going to love me like this always. Not just you, no man can ( I am a know-it-all!) What I need now is a guru. (hmm) I feel I have to do a lot in this world. I am not playing an intellectual. May be I will go to some forest and live there by myself. Of course, I am not going to turn to God.I do not like to see human beings. (uh -oh) May be some would brand me as a crazy woman. But there is one thing - The mad men in this world are the fortunate ones. May be they are the real human beings."

That unusual girl went her way - in search of a guru.

The End.

(hahaha - lucky Professor. )
well, this obnoxious girl and the equally obnoxious professor managed to make people mad! Which is kind of what I wanted - not mad, but to think differently. And, like I said, the girl and the man are mine, no matter how irritating they are. :)

I said I stopped writing, but I never stopped thinking or reading. My abilities, for what they are worth, were directed into my studies and my dissertation. Years later, in another country, I wrote a novel. Imagine what they would say if they read  that!

how to die : the read - dead confusion

After reading another news item about mad men murdering a writer for speaking certain facts, I have to admit I got a little bit scared. But then the thought that I do not have many readers, actually less than 20, should have given me some comfort. It did not. And when I read this passionate essay calling upon people to stop writing, (in desperation),and by extension, making movies, music, and art in general, that sounded pragmatic. Sensible. Burning the existing troves of creative and philosophical works would be the next step. Lest people should be tempted to do it all again.

Still, as in the case of those lovely full body scanners in airports that slowly invade our bodies, for our own good, as they tell us, let us look at the positive side of this whole business of attacking freedom of expression. Isn't that what we, as enlightened beings, are supposed to do these days? So, let us not be so depressed at the whole situation that we lose sight of the silver lining. First of all, is there anyone, even a handful of people who  could benefit from this state of affairs? Forget the murderers - the benefit that they imagine they get out of all this, is just that - imagined. They die too at some point. What about the rest of us? I am talking about some of those creative beings, or  the ones who pretend to be,  say, myself. Before that, we have to define "writer", or "singer", or any "artist". What makes one a writer? Am I a writer, if  no one reads what I write? Or if what I write are stupidities, inanities? I think that some of these  may prefer death to that kind of anonymity and mediocrity, or something less than that. So this set could actually benefit from these attacks. However, they will be the last to be done away with, since no one reads them! Vicious circle.

Second, I agree that not all of  these same set of writers would benefit. Unless we are really disappointed in our situations, in our pathetic little lives, or they just want to be in control of how it all ends.  Especially, the older we are. After all, we do have to die, and isn't it better to die, than live as if  we are already dead?  Face it, no matter what you see or read, old age is no picnic. Then this kind of ending might be welcome. On the other hand, the older we get, the more we  tend to cling on to life. And the more we read, we tend to not commit murder, hopefully. In other words, be well-read, or be well-dead.

To sum up, looking at the positives, for those who want to put an end to their life, when they have had enough, here are some options:

1. take a trip to, say, the south side of, and/or all sides of, certain cities, after having been read by many or not
2. be homeless in another, is the same as
3. walking around waving a toy gun in  yet another
3. just be the wrong color or the wrong sex
4. wear the wrong head dress (or not wear ) in a particular place at a certain time.
5. scribble something (even  if it's in the safety of your ivory tower, like me) about how certain factors tend to incite violence using religion.
6. And pray hard that you'll be read, sorry, dead.

In any case, the culprits or the warmongers would have to change their mode of doing away with those elements that they do not like. After all, they are all tech savvy, the way they use the internet proves that. Machetes and guns and bombs are too primitive, in any kind of war, in any kind of violent endeavor - imperialist, or religious. If they want to show their advanced level of thinking, they should find other means. Or the more advanced set should give them the means to do it with empathy, with a sense of humor. More or less like in assisted suicides, under the care of doctors. More humane on the whole. I hear some of us can talk people to death! Words can kill. I have tried to look at the positive side of it all - but regrettably, still fail to see the need for killing another human being, for any reason, imagined or otherwise. It just breeds more killings. Now, if you start talking ... .
So, why do we need to kill each other with writings, with machetes, with guns, with drugs? We all die anyway.

Can't we just talk? Please? :)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Being a girl in India or how dare they be naked under their underwear!

A satirical comic strip depicting what 'bad girls' get up to in India

Apparently this is a trending topic online these days. Cute! But we haven't got there yet! It does make you think, and it is amusing, but it is also ambiguous. Because most of these  could be said in relation to Indian boys too, except for the round roti or dosa in the South, and the eating bit. And it can be pointed out too that too much of alcohol and porn can be detrimental to one's mental and physical well being. If the intention is just to provoke, it is fine. But we must be aware that we are giving ammunition to the perpetrators again, to say the least. As it is, this satire is a luxury that we cannot afford yet. When the common man thinks that girls and women are asking for it, if they are attacked, that it is  for our own good that we are not allowed out, we have our work cut out for us. No one seems to be interested in changing the underlying cause for this need for special "protection or persecution" of women. How come these same men know how to behave once they go to other countries? In India they want that "difference" perpetuated - simple economic matter. The distribution of money/power, the holding on to it. Controlling women, and by that, their sexuality is the only way they can be overpowered, the premise being all girls are bad, from before they are born. Naked under the underwear bad.  How dare they be naked under their underwear!! Not that the common man or woman is aware of that deep truth, or has the time or inclination to know it. They just take the easy way out, follow the herd. Keep the woman inside. Everything will be fine. What if these evil men broke in? Will they have to kill off all the girls to "save" them? Oh, I forgot, we do kill off baby girls.
It is not the outfit, it is not the hair, it is not age, or class or caste - latest news - elderly Indian nun raped .

Still it is sad that it is hard for us to appreciate the humor and the message in this colorful strip. Why? Because the reality is that it is hard to be a girl in India -- good or bad. Jyoti and a thousand other Jyotis proved that. That is the main reason, I am ashamed to say, that I grabbed the first chance to escape. And no, it is not the actions of a few mad men. It is the reflection of how many Indians, educated or not, consider the girl, the woman. For them, girls are not equal to boys. We are not talking about what boys can do, girls can do better kind of equality. Just plain human being equality, as opposed to lower than animal level thinking. Listening to them talk, we would think we are not human. Some raise us to that impossibly high mother/goddess- standard, and others lower us to dirt level. We cannot win either way, let alone afford to laugh at the above fun piece, as things are now.

But then if people want to pretend they do not know what is meant here, in this picture, then we can do nothing about that. Remember my last essay on this? (Going to see an English movie (let alone porn!) was frowned upon when I was at University. Not that we did it all the time - the antisocial elements around made sure of that. But once in a blue moon we tried, I remember when "Gorillas in the Mist" came to our town. My friends and I took the bus to town a few miles away from our campus. And lo and behold, there were a small group of male students following us! Not from our department - anyway they followed us around town to the theater, sat right behind us making nasty comments, laughing and altogether titillated. Of course we were laughing at them - quietly - always pretend not to see them - do not provoke the beast! Once the movie started, and they saw that it was not porn, they got up and left. haha. And these were University students!) 

Anyway - the main point, which is still beyond the grasp of our girls,  is or should be the one about our (man or woman) right to choose for ourselves, once we are old enough to know. It could be my profession, it could be my partner in life, it could be that I want to live my life on my own terms, as much as possible. As it is now, the conditioning from our families, and our schools and colleges which are naturally religious institutions, is so successful, that some of us who act "free" or "fearless' by Indian standards, still are worried what "they" would say, or think! That image of the "good" girl has to be maintained at all costs. While growing up, we are trained to please everyone around us, and even those with whom we have no real connection to! And if we rebel, we are branded "bad". Girls' determination is translated as stubbornness, arrogance, and selfishness. Men have to deal with this too, I admit, but to a lesser degree - after all, boys will be boys - everyone accepts that in the end. Even the sense of humor of a girl has to be controlled - they have to be above all that! Or else they will again be branded as bad or immoral or even crazy! Or worse, they are looking for sex! with anyone! well - they said that if you cut your hair! or drank black tea, when you had a tummy ache. You walk around in the town, they think you are public property. In the above picture, they talk of partying! Some of us did not want to party - just wanted to study, get ahead. That was seen to be bad!Imagine what it would be  if I were partying then! But I get the idea - if they had let me study, say abroad, or in another state, what if I did party? Oh no! that is taboo. Most of the time religion is brought in as a controlling weapon. As if God has no other business but to control women!

In India, the reality is that  even now, even in the best of homes, what makes a girl good is her obedience to whatever the elders wanted her to say, to do, and even to think. No matter how outdated or downright stupid it is, or totally detrimental to her growth as a fully mature, responsible human. Obviously we are not human . As said before,  "how dare you are naked under your underwear?" But when the main goal or ideal in the Indian girl's life is supposed to be pleasing the men, then it is  going to be a hard fight. Women themselves buy into that way of thinking, and fail to support other women. It is a rivalry, a fight for survival. well - it is a man's world. And the sooner we learn that if we are to survive, we have to manipulate the men and other women, we succeed! Or not. As the case may be. And those who don't want to play that game, or are too "good", too well-conditioned, they lose.

Not letting girls be who they want to be, putting obstacles in their way of growth, at every turn, pulling them down whenever they try to fly,  let alone train them to stand on their own feet are the norms there.  The invisible now illegal dowry system doesn't help at all, showing us the economic basis of all these oppression and inequalities. Not educating everyone on the necessity for change in attitudes, and then blaming them as burdens on the family, is not smart or fair. But sadly, that is what is happening in India. It is easier to assume that all men are evil, and therefore girls should be shut up in their homes - easier for those men. But once you acknowledge that not all men are evil, that even bad men can be changed through education, only then can there be lasting change. The importance of empathy, the development of the so-called feminine qualities of kindness and forgiveness and nurture - these cannot be over emphasized. That should be the ideal that we move towards. To laugh it off, or to think that those men will never change, is doing a disservice to men's brains, to the entire human race itself. Again, I have to wonder at how fast these same "unchanging" male, once he comes to a western country manages to learn the lay of the land soon enough! So really good implementation of the law could bring about change! But there lies the problem in India - the law enforcers themselves are cut from the same cloth as these supposed dregs of society.

Related to this is the adage, "Know your station in life, and you will be happy, if you stick to it." No one likes an upstart. Why? America was built by upstarts. When the African Americans began to or tried to stand on their feet , they were called upstarts. Poets are upstarts, artists are upstarts. It is the fear of the Establishment.  People getting ideas. Of equal rights, of equal right to choose. Of losing their own station. But this is a big world - it can accommodate upstarts, old and new.

This putting people in their place, asking them if they haven't achieved enough, asking them to be content with what they have - after all they are better off than their predecessors -- that theme is not limited to race. It runs across nations, first world-third world, across classes, across the sexes. Wives , and women on the whole, are supposed to be put in their places. The dominant group does not want to share their privileges. They seriously believe in their divine right to have it all. They are the entitled ones, they are the chosen ones. You don't have to look too far to find the bases  of the elaborate rules and structures of caste system, of slavery, and of feudalism  It is just a question of perspective, really. Again!

Just remember that when you may make much ado about the petty presumed differences, an outsider won't see any such difference. Just as if a creature from another planet should see us humans -- I think to them we all belong to one race - the human race, whether you are a man or a woman, black, white, or brown.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Flowers that Bloomed in the Snow

This morning, I woke up to this wonderful sight. Reminded me of our old black & white movie sets for the song/dream sequences - white paper flowers, silver branches, a big, bold moon playing hide and seek among the white clouds . . . etc. (except here, the moon and the clouds are on the ground!) This morning, the scene was arranged so perfectly that it looked almost artificial! There was nothing there when I went to bed last night. The last remnant of the previous week's snowfall had melted away. But now - a world of difference,! Needless to say, the snow never ceases to amaze me, even after all these years.
Always manages to give me a jolt ! as if I am seeing it for the first time.
Sometimes in its stark and cruel, and well, cold way, ( the eerie stillness of all that ghost-like whiteness gets to me ) but mostly, it makes me exclaim at the beauty of it all. And when the sun hits it! It is as if sparkling sugar crystals are  sprinkled all over. Powdered sugar, whipped cream, cool frosting, glass-like glazing, clear candy cane icicles, cotton candy - you want to eat it all up! :) variety, thy name is snow! You are drawn to jump into it, to bury yourself in its softness, to let it blanket you in its frozen warmth. How easy it would be to drift away into oblivion, in that  embrace?(all this, from your cozy vantage point inside the house, I know!).  I am still in awe of even the huge mountains of snow that the snow- plows heap up. And the dirty half crystallized snow piles on the side of the road? Those look like sheared piles of sheep's wool to me. This snow is one thing that will never lose its magic for me.

My wonder is not surprising really. I come from a place where it never snows. Which has its own special qualities. Magical ones. But this experience of snow is something else. It can render one speechless. For a minute or two!  - I mean, I have heard that people who live in cold climes have more than one word for snow, and its different faces. That is, by the way, an understatement - they have a lot more than one - hundreds. And where I come from, we, that is, Malayalis/Keralites,  have just one word, as far as I know, unless we count Sanskrit. We have "manju" - which is deceptive totally. It could mean "the cold weather", and fog, and everything beyond that, connected to extreme cold.We have no corresponding word for "snow" as such.  And when you read that word in English, "manju" sounds like that usual name in India - Manju. The pronunciation is different. :) Anyway, now you get an idea as to my fascination for "manju".
( On the other hand, we have a few different words for rain.) just remembered - there is a Malayalam word for snow that we never get a chance to use in a normal conversation - it has its origins in Sanskrit - "himam" as in Himalaya - the abode of snow.
icicles like melting candle wax

snow cotton puffs

Also, my photos haven't done justice to the beauty, to what I saw. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

of mindfulness, and also of other less savory matters

Suddenly that word is everywhere - "mindfulness". There have been debates about its actual meaning. The word has its roots in Pali, and also in Sanskrit. It originates from Buddhist principles. This is how I understood it, after reading a little about it. Mindfulness is "to be aware". To be aware of the moment. Free from judgment. Just to be. It is a presence of mind where one accepts without confusion, what each moment brings - the emotions, the thoughts, the plans for future, the whole experience.

I think that in this age of self-conscious living, 'mindfulness", which is another level of consciousness, can be of great benefit. For instance it can aid in creating an empathetic society, not unlike the Buddhist ideal. Or that of other religions. Where it could differ is that it could in practice go beyond mere religious to- the- letter morality, where  great power is wielded by leaders who soon forget how to be compassionate or humane. Where we covertly do whatever we like without thinking of another's pain or humiliation, while we judge others openly.

( I just had to touch on that "kiss-revolution" going on in my state, Kerala. The older generation and some of the "holier-than-thou" younger generation reproach and condemn that as immoral and against tradition and altogether sleazy. But then that is their way of controlling the progressive youth, especially girls, of any generation. These judging hypocrites (who have done this and much more against true morality in their lives behind closed doors - including rape and murder of women and little boys and girls), conveniently forget that this whole drama started as an act of protest. They want to erase that true spirit behind it and instead focus everyone's attention on the supposed debauchery of these young people, destroy the morale of the activists.What better way to suppress it than to instill fear in the girls' minds by branding them as loose women who were asking for it? And unleash  anti-social elements, like rabid animals into their midst, as punishment? The so-called 'traditionalists" and "culture-ists" should hang their heads in shame.

I remember an incident from long ago during my university days. In our university auditorium, it was segregated seating - boys on one side, girls on the other. There was this program there once which was held by the students. The usual songs, dances, skits etc on the stage. Every time something like this took place, the girls' side would be full and the boys' section half-empty. What more, the girls sitting at the very back had to endure the catcalls and other stuff from the crowd immediately behind them - all men, not necessarily university students. Well, this time, when my friends and I got there, the girls' side was almost totally full. And I could see the hooligans at the back just waiting for us to get there, with unconcealed glee. If we were to stick to our designated sphere, we would have to go to this problem area. And the boys' side was totally empty. So according to my suggestion, my friends and I went and sat in the second row of the boys' side. Well, it was a statement on my part. It was not because I wanted to sit near boys. In fact we were 5 or 6 girls sitting together. and the chairs around us were vacant. And there was no boy there that I wanted to sit near to. Or may be the one that  I would've liked to sit next to, was not there! (not that even if he were there, I would have! )Anyway, before the program started, a Student leader came to us, and called us outside. He told me in a sleazy manner that they all would love to "interact" with girls "closely". He did some insinuating innuendo-filled gesture with his hands when he said that. Then he went on to say that we will not be allowed to sit there for our own protection. Protection from whom? From him? Yes, we would need it. But he should not have assumed that all the rest of the men there were like him. It was a University after all. But then he had a small group of similar-thinking sheepish looking guys with him, who seemed to agree with him. I will never forget the sarcastic tone and the salacious expression on his face when he gave his speech. And he was supposed to be an enlightened student. A leftist revolutionary. I felt humiliated, angry, powerless, and incredibly sad thinking of our society, of our girls.  We walked out of that place that day. So I know  how people can distort the truth, erase the spirit and the ideal behind situations, by degrading and maligning the act of protest, and focusing on incredibly spurious ideas that maintain the status quo. Women are not allowed to step out of the slots handed down to them by the males. They pretend not to understand that women do not want to step out into the world just to sleep with all men. Now if they had practised true mindfulness, they would think differently, with compassion, knowing the plight of women in my country, understanding  the need for change.)

On the other hand, this mindfulness  holds higher and evolving standards.  The advantage of this way of living -- as a mindful subject -- is that even if one does not believe in a God, you can still be a fully evolved human being.Or at least on our way to being one. Because when we  practice mindfulness we begin with our own minds.  We focus on what goes on in there. Each one of us is our own authority. Not some religious leader. We become responsible for our thought and thereby for our actions. We owe it to ourselves to be good and kind. When each person is good and kind to his or her own self, (because it makes him or her feel better on the whole) , then that could extend outward and spread and reach the whole society.

Mindfulness can be practiced, as in meditation. It is being used in many areas of our lives these days. Many government agencies, hospitals, schools, businesses and such have started using it as stress-reducing /healing method. Nothing wrong in that, as far as I can see. There is that fear in many scholars that commercialization of mindfulness will make us forget the real spirit of the whole process. Which is "social harmony" and compassion. They fear that it may just teach people to adapt to stress, for instance, rather than deal with the cause of that stress or strife in a compassionate, wise, and humane manner -- in other words, in the manner of that evolved being. Which is what the underlying ideals of many religions are, but everyone conveniently or ignorantly forgets that part. (And those who are really clever and successful in this world know how to use those ideals without themselves following them, to their advantage. But that is another story).

For me, the immediate step in mindfulness is that I would start with breathing mindfully. anything easy, I can do! Stop. Stand up straight. Shoulders back. Tummy in.  and take that deep slow breath, and exhale. That is centering. And cleansing. And then, I can use mindfulness when I eat.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

astrology matters

Or rather matters of astrology. I am no astrologer. But I think I am a natural researcher. You may be doubtful, but let me explain. I like knowing stuff, and I am rather good at connecting the dots. Now, there have been times when I am way off the mark, and that has landed me in hot water a few times. yikes!
 However, there have also been many times when I've got it uncannily right. I may have that sixth sense! :)

Anyway -- what I am trying to say here is that down the years I have found and settled on a few astrologers online. At first I just used to read the horoscopes and promptly forget them. Soon I wanted to know more about it, and I started going behind the scene so to speak. Now I can cast a basic chart, more or less use an Ephemeris, and am more knowledgeable about the characteristics of the planets and the zodiac signs, and the houses.  I am not a fanatic believer, as moderation in anything is the ideal that I always try to follow (again, I fail miserably at times in that too). I would like to believe that there are more things out there that we do not know about completely - just so that we can entertain some hope in our day to day living. I do not think I am going to make a career out of this, but then we never know, do we? - mostly because my interests are too varied and I am more like a Jill of all trades and master of none.  Someone like that can never amount to much, materially, but still can be happy. :)

So I have  read what astrologers have to say, (Somewhere along the line, I decided not to spend time looking at the positions of the stars when it is already being done by these wonderful experts - I use that knowledge and build on that - always the easy way ) and do the observation bit on myself and others, and have kind of got an understanding as to how it all works. Still no expert, but like I said, I can connect the dots, bridge the gap, as my ultimate goal is very simple -  to make people, including myself,  believe in themselves, and just be happy in their own skin, as much as possible for each of us. To just use my commonsense and try to maintain my faith in human nature, and give people the benefit of the doubt. Walk a mile in their shoes... hopefully. Or just be.

 And so, I am not focused on predictions and prophesies - but more of a self-help kind of thing.  I believe that there are always things that are beyond our control, and others that are within our control. If we stopped and thought about it, we ourselves can realize that - sooner or later. The choices we make are influenced by the genes that were handed down, the upbringing we had, the society we lived in, the times we lived in, and the family we lived with - to sum up, our heredity, and our environment. And then the collective unconscious of a whole tribe, a region, a nation. Add to that our own free will. Our not inconsiderable ability to rise above the occasion at times, and to shoot ourselves in the foot, at other times. They tell us to learn from our mistakes, from our past, from other famous people, but there is one thing that sometimes defeat us - the march of time, that inevitable process of ageing. That inability to turn back the clock, go back in time, and fix everything. And with great age, comes great wisdom, and great foolishness and great helplessness. :) In the midst of all these, if the stars can give us a little insight, a little respite, I will take it. When they can help us prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Or vice versa. Because I do not think of them as all-powerful beings that are supposed to care about what happens to me.

Nevertheless, there is this germ of an idea that has taken root in my mind. It is about  the planet Jupiter. Every time that planet transits a sun sign, I read about the wonderful benefits that he bestows on the person. He is the great Benefic, they say. Looking back when Jupiter was in my sign ,over the years, that is in my First House of Self, I find that it may be true. I did enjoy some great blessings, including the birth of my son, when Jupiter was in Aquarius. But then the last time Jupiter entered my sign, I lost my father. Another coincidence - both my father and my son are Leos! During one Jupiter transit, a Leo came into my life, and in another, a Leo was taken away! By the way, Leo and Aquarius are opposite signs. Suddenly I remembered that one of my friends who had Jupiter in her sign the previous year, lost her father that same year. Soon I started looking at the charts of a few people I know, and there was a pattern. Of course it depends on the position of other planets in their signs  , like Saturn for instance, but there is some connection between Jupiter and death, which I am sure the real astrologers know. Astrologers say that we lose people and things that we do not need anymore. And that only when there is an empty space, that the universe can fill that space with something new, and better. May be true in a way. But it still hurts, when you lose something or someone precious, then I remember that pain is part of our human existence. Sometimes with great blessings, great hurts happen, and at other times, with great hurts, other great hurts happen. And to some, it looks like it's always sunshine. But then again, it all depends on our perspectives, and on how we choose to take it, doesn't it ? :)