Saturday, October 31, 2015

Monday Musings 244 - The Halloween Hungama

Monday Musings 244 - The Halloween Hungama
The other day as i was walking into my residential tower, a young boy of 8, a friend of my  elder daughter, stops me and says “Uncle tomorrow is Halloween’’. I could not decipher his drift, if this was information or instruction and so i asked him ‘’Thanks but what do you want me to do’’.  He gave me a deep look, i think it was a healthy blend of astonishment and disappointment, as if i had fallen a few notches in his eyes and then said ‘’I am just informing you – so that you should keep some chocolates for us when we visit you’’.
The residues of my middle class small mofussil upbringing warns me to be careful of boys who happen to be your daughters friends and who are trying to be too friendly to you but then effects of education takes over. I recognise that the boy is only 8 but you see one day he will grow up and i shall still be the girl’s father!
I came back with many thoughts after that brief encounter. I think the boy has vision.  He is clear that he wants chocolates and he is also clears who he wants it from and he is giving an advance notice so that no ill prepared ignoramus father comes in way of his spoils.
Then i think of Halloween. I heard of it only three years back and for the first time came to know that it is almost a festival that children actually enjoy. I always thought it was something to scare – like demons or vampires.  A little google research tells me about the origins of Halloween. What baffles me is why are we celebrating it here but then i keep my mouth shut or else i risk being clubbed with the rabid right wingers who i loathed when they said the same thing about valentine’s day and who are making hay these days because the sun is shining (is it hard to guess who is the sun?).
I find my reaction to this suspiciously close to the reaction of the parents to my generation when they first experienced their children’s growing fascination for Archie’s cards (which later expanded to Archies teddy bear and other assorted mushy things which helped the young ones proclaim their eternal undying love towards someone – which rarely lasted more than a sultry summer or an icy winter).  Those parents never fathomed what was the fuss about these cards and why did we need one day in the year to let the mother, father aunt, brother, sister etc know that we loved them and i don’t understand the fuss about Halloween either. It is someone else’s festival rooted in someone else’s context – it means nothing to us. Now I perfectly understand what our parents went through during the peak of the  Archie’s epidemic.
In its purest form Halloween is about entertaining ghosts and keeping them in good humour so that they do not play truant with our lives on earth. I am reminded of the tribal priest my grandmother used to call in Jharkhand when our cow did not return home in the night. The priest who was called ‘markondow’ or the learned one – would talk to ghosts and tell us that the cow will be found under this tree or that tree, behind this meadow or that. I found the whole practice quite funny or backward or unscientific or worse still very regressive. I wonder what i should call Halloween.
I gotta – i need to buy chocolates for the boy.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Monday Musings 243– Bad is dramatically eventful

Monday Musings  243– Bad is dramatically eventful
Badi bahut dilchasp hai, hangama-khez hai; Neki kathin hai, lohe ke chane chabane ki tarah’’ (bad is interesting,  dramatically eventful; good is difficult, like chewing iron) -
from Massoma, Ismat Chugtai (1962)
 ‘’Dharma is sukhsm – subtle. Its difficult to be good’’ – from the Difficulty of being good (2012)
Separated by language, temperament and background and over 50 years in time, I noticed two authors asking the same question. I was intrigued to find the same thing written in two very different books. Ismat Chugtai was a firebrand author who shook the social establishment when she wrote what she wrote 60 plus years ago. I am told that she was charged for vulgarity in writing and there was a case against her then, a charge that another of my favourite authors Sadat Manto had to fight around the same time.  65 years later both are revered as cult writers and anyone who is a reader of Hindi/Urdu writing and has not read them must do so right away.  Gurcharan Das belongs to the corporate world and studied Mahabharat to find answers about the many layered nature of the good and bad and the above quote is from the book he wrote based on that study.

I am fascinated by Chugtai’s take on what is considered as bad and unacceptable. She finds it ‘interesting dramatic and eventful’.  No wonder vice is a magnet that pulls us and sucks us into it. I am not sure what is the exact word for ‘hangama khez’ in English – the word I have used ‘dramatically eventful’ does not really capture the depth and imagery of the original urdu word.  Bad has the power to disrupt, to create ripples, to create flutter and a drama which has its own life. It has momentum and exhilaration, an ability to make things happen like nothing else. It engenders action which is also immediate and urgent. It’s difficult to resist it. It has a sway over us. Good rarely has that power. It’s boring, drab and a drag. It might have many other virtues but good is rarely exciting. No wonder there are not many takers for it.

I find the polarity of good and bad extremely unnerving and sometimes meaningless too. There are but only a few universal goods i.e. looked at from any angle it is the right thing to do. These are few and far in between. Most of the usual things that get wrecked by this polarity of good and bad in the day to day life – in thoughts, behaviour, conduct etc carry this meaningless burden to falling in any of the two extremes. History they say is written by the victor – the vanquished do not get that opportunity and a few hundred years later no one asks who was right. The powerful dictate the notion of right and wrong – earlier it was the Gods, then it was emperors, then there are elites, parents, teachers and senior leaders in the corporate world. It was Voltaire if guess who said, ‘’morality is the recourse of the weak’. The influential often get away with anything.

I am becoming more and more acutely aware that the right and the wrong change colours over time, sometimes they even change places. It confuses me. Perhaps this is what Das means when he says that dharma is subtle, it is not easy to be good – assuming one knows for sure what is good today and will remain so forever. 

So the two questions if ask myself as if read Chugtai are – Do I need dilchasp/hangamkhez or do I need a life that is drag – at 60 what will I rue more? Second what will it take to liberate myself from the polarity of right and wrong – it’s very draining.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Monday Musings 242 - Two doctors and afterlife

Monday Musings 242 - Two doctors and afterlife

Many springs ago i remember reading the popular novel 'Doctors' by Eric Segal. In the first few pages there was a scene depicted by the author in the first lecture for new class of aspiring doctors in the medical college in which the novel was set, where the welcoming professor says - and i quote from memory at the risk of not being completely accurate "Medical science knows the exact cure for 26 all is guesswork". 
The memory of this came flooding back to me over the last few days as a nagging shoulder pain took me two orthopedics with whom i had some interesting conversation. 

The first one was avuncular, with sufficient grey hair to give the impression of experience and authority. At the end of my examination  i asked him if there was anything i should really be worried about. I told him that i was quite obsessed with healthy eating and regular exercises and try to be as disciplined as a foodie Punjabi could be and that i was quite scared about morbidity, disease and illness. Instead of calming my frayed nerves he gave me a long calm look and asked "Do you believe in second life or reincarnation?" Needless to say i was jolted by his question and spotted the aroma of an interesting conversation. I asked him why does he ask this. Let me try to recreate what he said from memory - "You see everyone is busy making his current life healthy, conveniently forgetting that this life at best will last only 80 odd years. There is no point fretting over making only this life healthy - you should also be worried about making your soul healthy. That will take care of not only this life but also the next - don't worry there is nothing wrong with you"

I am sure you can appreciate my sense of surprise with this rather unexpected answer. The surprise is both in the content of the answer as much as the fact that we usually do not expect someone to be trained in the business of science, rational thinking and evidence based education to talk about something as esoteric (cannot think of a better word) as the business of next life. 

Although it had nothing to do with his last question and the answer i got, i went to second Orthopedic who came with a huge across the board recommendation. At the end of the examination i asked him the same question - if there was something serious and if i should be a worried man. Let me try to recreate from memory what this guy said. - "You see while there is no evidence of anything wrong, the fact that the pain is real. When the problem is certain but the reasons are not known we call that idiopathic - even medical science does not know everything and the doctors learn it the hard way and only with time"

Eric Segal and that quote came flooding back to me at this point. I am intrigued and perplexed both at the same time. We live in times where certainty has a premium - at least in the corporate world it has a huge premium and penalty both. However those who are in the business of life and where certainty of opinions and outcomes can be life giving or life threatening, are veering towards accepting underlying uncertainty of things - what is this obsession with clarity and certitudes the rest of us live with. 

Are we missing something here? Do they know something we will just not accept?