Sunday, January 30, 2011

111-Monday Musings – The cottage industry called Love

111-Monday Musings – The cottage industry called Love
What is about unrequited love that makes it the fancy of all human beings? Cinema, poetry, prose and in some ways all form of fine arts would have been deprived of so much inspiration had love found its fulfilment. Statistically speaking, love finding its reciprocation and logical conclusion, is an exception, if not an aberration. Yet an entire cottage industry of expression and literature not only draws inspiration from its failure to be requited, but to my mind it actually draws sustenance from it. Some would argue that precisely because of this that love has its widespread appeal – providing fertility to the painter’s imagination and converting an ordinary individual into a potential poet. There would be no romanticism left in life if love were to be reciprocated. How deserted and arid, how hopeless and uninspiring life would be without the elixir of what-if’s!
The more I witness the canvass of artists, the span of cinema, the depths of poetry and the expanse of prose, the more I am convinced that the story of human sensibilities is shaped by the stories of love and its various stages of un-fulfilment. It would also be a folly to believe that there ever existed a thing called absolute fulfilment in the matters of the heart. Each story around us is only a work in progress at best and completely unrequited at worst. The first provides struggle, the second much needed angst.
Some love stories are stories of bereavement, others are stories of anger, yet others are stories of tragedy; some are stories of exhaustion, others are stories of errors, and the most tragic of all are the stories which miss not love, but the IDEA of love. After sufficient number of years, specifics do not matter and honestly no one remembers them because may be they do not matter. Yet two complete strangers can connect through a piece of art or a song or a movie, because angst or pathos unites the creator and the observer. No wonder Devdas retains his appeal even after fifty years, whether as Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s novel or as Dev D. No wonder also that all the epic love stories which have become reference points viz. Heer- Ranjha, Sohni-Mahiwal, Romeo-Juliet, Sahiba-Mirza, Sheeri-Farhaad are stories of unfulfillment.
So what is it that makes it so much talked about, so much written about, so much mused about – this whole thing about love attaining some kind of permanence? Well I guess, precisely this pursuit of an impossible utopia makes it so popular in everyone’s imagination. Everyone knows the utopia does not exist, but its pursuit is so superbly idealistic. The idea of love is so pure in its construct, that there is inspiration even in the failure to find it.  
Unrequited love seems to be a cottage industry and everyone is milking it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

110-Monday Musings - Small Mercies

110- Small mercies
Technology has changed the world around us in ways that would have been unimaginable a few decades back. So much so, that it will be difficult to imagine a few year from now, that there ever existed a world without some of the most ubiquitous symbols of technological invasion. Let me give some examples.
Our children will shudder to think that a world existed without a 100 channel TV, that at one time there was no internet and hence no face book, mails, twitter and so on and so forth. Connectivity meant that a letter would reach in 3-4 weeks. The younger ones will look at us with disbelief that when we tell them that there was a world without gadgets and more importantly, not long ago, there was a life to be lived, without electricity. Lanterns and kerosene lamps were enough to provide with enough illumination to sit down for night long slog over and ‘burning the midnight oil’ was not a phrase but meant literally so.
I have a little over 400 letters neatly packed, that I had  received from my friends as youngster, and think I must have written at least a similar number of those – I am keen to know what my daughter will say when she sees them a decade or so later. Students will recoil in horror to know that not very long ago, Google did not exist, and that one had to, perforce, visit a place called library. Control-Copy-Paste is no longer a sequence of function; it’s a verb – a sublime act of getting things done, without compunction or shackles of ethics. Most, if not all, children will never know what a two night-three day train travel in a second class compartment means, and all the joys it would bring – flights are convenient, but lack character and experience.
But the one thing that I fear the most being lost is the joy of smelling the pages of a new book. Nothing beats that aroma, the feel of crisp pages on a stampede, the thrill of writing your name on the first page and entering the make believe world of characters of a new story. Although I entered the world of books very later by the standards of my generation, I am thankful that I did when I see some who have let an entire life pass by without enjoying the universe of books. I wonder if book reading will survive the onslaught of technology, and even if it does, will the notepad/tablet ever be able to recreate the touch, feel and aroma of fresh pages of a new book, which though not a part of the plot, is intrinsic to the joy of book reading. I wish my daughter has an affair with books, just as I did, only earlier.
I do not have anything against technology, more so when I am convinced that human quest for comfort and convenience will keep fuelling technological advances and this juggernaut will keep rolling. But there are some things from the past which are worthy of being preserved and passed down to the next generation, not because of any material benefit or even meaningless sentimentality, but because they are so simple in construct, so pure in experience, that it aches even to imagine that it will be lost in the deluge of time. It is like a family treasure – priceless to where it belongs.

Monday, January 17, 2011

109-Monday Musings - "Full joy in half Marathon"

109 -Full joy in half Marathon
I would normally hesitate to talk about any incident that involves any description of my personal exploits, lest I be charged of narcissism, but today I will bite the bullet and risk being described so. Yesterday I ran the Mumbai half marathon and the cup of my joy has been overflowing ever since.
All my life, and which is a considerable number of years, the longest I ran was a 400 meter race way back in class VII, which I had to abandon midway owing severe stress, dehydration and a sinking feeling which made me feel that the sky was descending down to meet the earth. That was the closest encounter with long distance running I ever had. Completely tormented by those memories, I shunned running ever since, allowing much needed 20 years or so to heal the scarred juvenile soul.
Circa 2009 June, I met this funny little thing called a digital weighing machine, placed strategically in the hotel bathroom I was staying in, whose sole purpose was to seduce a middle aged man with a bulging middle wanting to know how much he weighs. The figure that appears on the monitor evokes strange emotions – disbelief, shock, dismay, so on and so forth – but it all boils down to a poignant observation – ‘the machine is faulty’. As it happens in such cases of human misery, the machine was NOT wrong and it displayed a number that, to put it mildly, put more weight on my mind, than it put on the machine.
The long and short of it is that I have been running since. When I did 1 km I was amazed because I had not died. At 2 kms I was jumping with joy. 3, 4 and 5 went off like a dream and when I did 5 kms I felt the same joy that Jonny lever will feel if he ever gets a best actor award. At 6 I bragged to my wife that she had married a man of substance. At 7 and 8 kms I was on cloud nine, also because by this time I had managed to knock off a good 15 kilos off my body and far more off my conscience. Then I moved to Mumbai and someone sold the idea of a half marathon which was 21 kms. Thank you but no thank you, said I. In the last 2 months I did one 10 km and one 12 km, both on the treadmill – and yesterday for the first time in my life I was on the starting line, to attempt 21kms ON ROAD. Did someone say – ‘audacity of hope?’
The experience is heady. The people, the noise, the crowds, the sight of portly, old, young, not-so-thin grand-moms, transports you to another world – where nothing is impossible, where running is the objective and completing it is winning it. After the 15th km, it’s not the body – it’s the mahaul and your will that pulls you along. I was told of this before, now I know what they meant.
Running and completing the 21 long kms will go down in my own autobiographical account as an important lesson/inspiration for my life from my current not-so-young (another name for middle-aged) and beyond – that we can chose our distances, that we can chose our races and that we can complete it  – sooner or later, faster or slower – but we will.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

108 – History Making mistakes or Mistakes making history

108 – History Making Mistakes or Mistakes making history
I picked up a strange book called ‘100 mistakes that changed history’ by Bill Fanwcett last week. The core premise of the book can be well understood from the following excerpts:
“History- making mistakes,  or perhaps more accurately ‘Mistakes making history’….much of history happened not because of careful planning by great leaders but because of mistakes made by them and others….whether in a war or in the bedroom, the great mistakes of the past are fun to read about…it can be reassuring that so many have blundered so often in the past…..
The book clearly has a bias towards Greco-Roman history with each of those mistakes ending with a rhetorical question – things could have been different had that event not panned out the way it did- had it not been for the mistake, oversight or error in judgement of the protagonist.
Two things cross my mind as I devour page after page of that anthology of mistakes– First, how would a purely Indian list of mistakes look like and second does this theory applies to individual histories (for example one can try to chronicle ‘10 mistakes that shaped my life’). This Musing is dedicated to the pursuit of the first thought and I will talk about the second next week.
I am not a student of Indian history – in the sense that I have not dedicated much time in the pursuit of academic acquisition of it – however I am fascinated by history in general. I wish school had done a better job in fuelling my romance with the subject. It is only through unplanned and sporadic flirting with the subject that I have developed a soft corner for it, particularly in the light of a growing realisation that ‘those who do not study history are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past’. As a complete amateur here are some events/mistakes that i believe changed India and left me with the wonder of how would things could have been had those events not happened the way they did.
#1. India has been shaped by two broad influx of people at different times - the Aryans and the Moguls. There are theories and counter theories about the origin, intent, and effects of these two into the subcontinent, but there is complete unanimity in one truth – the civilisation called India, the complexity of races, tribes, kingdoms, lineages, the notion of pure and impure, the concept of who ‘belongs’ and who does not’ is a product of that fact that so many chose to come here – and today it really does not matter who came here as what and when. Who is a ‘native’ of the Indian soil depends upon what is your cut off date. I wonder sometimes, how would India of today look like had no one from outside ever came here? Would we still have its cultural diversity, its linguistic span, its ritualistic rainbow, its architectural splendour, its historical heritage? Would there be an India, the way we know it, at all? Would some of the issues that face us today be present at all?
#2. There are many hypotheses as to why India has been a cradle of so many belief systems, religions or philosophies. Two of them appeal to me the most – First, the very reasons so many diverse set immigrated in search of land, glory or gold (as enumerated above) and then chose to settle down instead of behaving only as mercenary plunderers, led to intermixing of beliefs, cultural nuances and ‘Gods’. The second is a broad set of reformist religions which arose as a response to the dogmatic, ritualistic, brahmnical domination of centuries, which whatever their exalted origin, had deteriorated into oppressive tyrannies in the name of religion. The Indian subcontinent became, in some sense, a breeding ground for an alternative solution, in mans search for salvation. Thus emerged Budhism, Jainism, the entire Bhakti-Sufi lineage like Sikhism so on and so forth. Some even argue, while political and military conquest by the Moguls’ enabled spread of Islam in India, but that in no way alone can explain its subsequent adoption and spread. Surely the social conditions here in India provided good enough reasons and favourable opportunities for the new religions/belief systems to find ready followers who were disillusioned by the prevalent system and hence were willing to experiment with alternatives. I wonder so many times, had our society not been so rigid, or ritualistic, or oppressive in its religious practices then – had God been more accessible to the common man in the context of organised religion – would India be different today? Would there be so many beliefs, so many religions – each promising its adherents the elusive salvation – and most importantly would there be have so many religious fault lines?
#3 I experience complex emotions every time I read or think of the partition of India, but ironical it may sound, I am mostly fascinated by it. Leaving the chronicling and the analysis of the origins or causes(s) or listing the actors who were responsible for the most bloody and gory human displacement, partition of India left its people with memories, sensitivities, world views and attitudes thoroughly changed. The angst that its people on both sides went through has inspired so much literature, so much poetry, so much catharsis in so many ways – and yet the memories or the consequences still refuses to fade. I wonder how the cookie would have crumbled, had partition would not have happened. How would an unified India look like, how much more the human potential would have created (much more than the adolescent fantasy of how great the cricket team would look like) had it not been truncated. Would the polity be different, would our popular discourse be any different, would our geo-political position and situation be different, would our music be different. Would India be different?
The universe of could-have-been is exotic and we all romanticise it. I am no exception. I keep romanticising how this absurd but eminently sweet idea called INDIA could-have-been.  Your guess is as good as mine.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Monday Musings107 – When events immortalize the year

107 – When events immortalize the year
Every passing year has a theme, a liet motif of its own that stays as its signature. The year is known for it for posterity sake. Once sufficient layers of time have settled, nothing remains of the year. It is buried with a finality only time can produce and centuries can command. One year with so many moments has so many possibilities across the theatre of mankind that at the end of it all, each event at best is reduced to nothing more than a tiny crease on a vast forehead. As the year unravels, each event fights for its rightful place amidst many, almost as if hundreds of advertisements vie for our attention every day – and yet at the end of the day each occupies no more than a few moments of our span. But say a century later, it is the event that gives the year a place in the annals of history. The year which was the cradle of many moments and events has no identity of its own, but the identity given by that one magic occurrence. The year is immortalized because of the event.
While the immortality of a year may be country, community, vocation or geography specific, there are a few events which transcend such boundaries and have achieved universal immortality. Interestingly, individuals too have histories and there are some years that become immortal in our own diaries. They are the milestones that we remember because we got shaped by them.
Let’s look some of the years here in the history of India which are immortal and reasons thereof.
1857 – An otherwise listless years, it’s known in the popular imagination of India, as the year of our first war of independence; although the imperialists still call it the sepoy mutiny. I wonder if independence would have come to us in 1947, had the war of 1857 not have happened.
1983 – The underdogs did it and shifted the epicenter of the cricketing future into the Indian subcontinent. The English and West Indian domination was about to end. The Kapils-Devils fuelled the imagination and aspirations of an entire generation and demonstrated ‘yes-we-can’ much before the phrase was popularised,  and a decade later we were churning champion players and now champion teams.
1991-While liberalization had actually started in the eighties under Rajiv Gandhi, history will remember 1991 as the year which awakened the Elephant called Indian economy. Despite all the gloom that the eighties had left for us with – from terrorism, to mandal, from low growth to mounting debt, from job scarcity to political uncertainty – 1991 has ensured immortality for itself in the history of Independent India. We all are, in small measure or large, children of 1991.
2008 – This is my pick. Although it’s too early to predict if the financial crisis that had its origins in the mindless greed in the financial markets of USA, and which spread like a wild fire across the continents, leading to fallen hero’s, failed organizations and massive job losses – will actually be remembered as the face of the year, my hunch is – it will. My belief is that 2008 will be the year that will be known and remembered as the year that introduced an element of caution to unbridled consumption and taught us the merit of living within our means and saving for the proverbial rainy day.
Each year there are drastic, dramatic, unique, shocking, eye & hair raising, path breaking events – but rarely is the incident so huge in impact, so overwhelming in affect, that it usurps the identity of the year and gives it its own. So while Godhra and Gujrat riots, Singur, Mumbai Blasts (and all other blasts) so on so forth were important events for the year, they may not(and I hope not) have the power of becoming the alter ego for the year itself.
So what will 2010 be remembered for? Is there one such powerful event that has the power to immortalize the year? So which are the usual suspects -The scams, the resurrection of the stock markets, the Bihar election, the innumerable corporate mergers and buyouts? While each of these events are important, does any of them has the ability to transcend its own limitations and become the face of the year itself? Forget the larger imagination of a people, was there something in the year gone by that you will remember it for – or was just another year; one amongst many.