‘I liked your first story better.’
His spring-blue eyes that froze into icicles
at the mention of philosophy and high art,
they thaw, bloom, widen and mirror the skies
at the mention of simpler tales.
‘That one sounded accessible to all’.
His laughter echoes the birdsong,
that I try in vain to record every morning.
Some things cannot be captured in pixels
or even words, some moments are better lived.
I don’t tell him that the stories write me.
It is not as though I have a choice.
But all the same, I listen to him laugh,
as I do to the birds, with placid joy.
(7 April 2017)
An asylum seeker about to migrate to another country: “The undiscovered country from whose bourn, no traveller returns. For so long it has beckoned me. This cliff upon which I stand today, this has been my little nest egg that I had tucked away for the future, my plan B. This little Himalayan town is the polar opposite of others, them where they go to renounce the material world for the abstraction, the endless light of an eternal life. Here where I stand, a poor priest once jumped into these swirling waters where the three mighty rivers merge into one. He was reborn as an emperor, they say, wealthy and handsome, kind and wise, surrounded by good family and friends, replete in the sixteen blessings of life. I too should like to return, someday. To the quietness of the leafy lanes that I have loved, the peace of mild blue skies, the unfailing joy of birdsong, to the hallowed libraries that I have seen, the blessed classrooms where I have been. To voices raised in laughter, to silent warmth of friendship, to glances, handclasps and words of love. In those moments, I remain. To them I will return someday. In another name, with another face.”
A watching stranger: “I see her from the bathroom window. Where have I seen her before? She stands close to the edge of the cliff. The wind blows the hair across her face so madly that now I see her, now I don’t. Hers is that sort of face which once seen, remains imprinted in the mind, as it has remained quietly somewhere within mine. Was it on that winter morning–maybe five, six years ago? The mass of humanity among the bright pink and yellow canopies, the overpowering smells, the muddy taste of cardamom tea in clay cups and the annoying anchor woman who was drooling over me so much that I had to shield my eyes by focusing on the audience. I knew my lines so well by then that I did not have to think too much to speak, and then she came in, midway and left early. I have seen her somewhere else too, recently. She is edging closer to the cliff. Stop, wait, don’t! It will get better, I want to tell her. Please wait. I open the window and shout, willing the wind to carry my voice across the river. She looks serene, hands clutched on the iron railing, eyes focused on the crystal waters. I suddenly remember where I had seen her last when with a graceful movement she steps over the rail. Suddenly she looks up and catches my eye as she glides like an angel into the streams the waters of which are bursting forever upon the rocks like fragments of stars. Unable to do anything else, I wave.”
“You can make anything by writing.”
Clive Staples Lewis
One of the many things that make Oxford magical is its association with writers. Though St.Giles’ street is now a familiar place, every time I pass in front of the Eagle and Child pub, I still find myself thinking of its legendary association with Lewis and Tolkien, and how the writers would meet there on Tuesdays to discuss their work.
“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.”
C.S.Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew
The most memorable scene in all the books of Narnia, to me, remains the journey to the world between worlds which is described in The Magician’s Nephew. More than one reviewer of The Reengineers has mentioned that the scene in which Chinmay and friends find their way into Conchpore reminds them of the wardrobe in The Chronicles of Narnia. There are any number of fantasy stories in which the characters find a portal to a different world. However the most subtle of these portals is perhaps the world between worlds. A cool, green place where one can almost hear the silence, a place covered with shady trees and full of magical pools, each of which takes one to a different world. It is the perfect metaphor for a library. The scene in The Reengineers was very subtly inspired by this idea, as Chinmay and friends open a door in Uncle RK’s library and find themselves in the old library of the Seeker’s School. When they return, it is from the new library and back to Uncle RK’s study. I had included a paragraph describing as much in Chapter two which was cut out in an early edit, as my editor felt that the transition between the fictional worlds came through clearly and did not need to be spelled out.
“In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.”
C. S. Lewis
I still feel the same way whenever I enter a library and sit down in its silence. Be it the British Library, the Old Bodleian or the smaller libraries of my college, or my own little library at home, all of them are equally magical worlds between worlds. Where silence seeps through the mind and calms it down, preparing it for fresh new adventures within the pages. This idea is the greatest gift that I received from Lewis’s writing.
“We read to know we are not alone.”
C. S. Lewis
I rediscovered the joy of television for a while, thanks to a long, lingering spell of viral flu and found myself hooked to two particular serials on YouTube on the weekends.
The first was Upanyas, an old serial that I vaguely remembered from childhood. I was too young to watch it when it was first broadcast on Doordarshan many years ago. Watching it for the first time, I was delighted to find that it had a metafictional premise. A woman vacationing in a hill station meets her favourite novelist who is semi-retired and requests him to resume writing. The episodes then take parallel tracks, one following the author as he proceeds to create his story, and the other depicting the story which mirrors the author’s life and the characters around him. The author’s own story is far more interesting than the world that he writes into being.
Mohan Vatsal is by no means the perfect author or even a perfect man. There are hints of a shady past linked to his multiple divorces, which comes out when his partner attempts suicide. His condescending attitude towards everyone including his reader and artistic arrogance which comes out through his reflections on the world around him make him a very complex character, though one who is self-assured of his powers of creation. When the reader Yashodhara points out that his novel was less of a plotted story and more a group of incidents loosely connected together, he acknowledges that he had been inspired to write it that way.
The character of the Vatsal’s partner Prabhavati is reminiscent of Mohini in Mahesh Elkunchwar’s play Party. Both women fall in love with artists on account of their art and later find themselves unwanted, alone, bereft of their identity, perhaps hinting that relationships between authors and readers are best when they stay on either side of the page. A victim of domestic violence, Prabhavati seeks solace from her troubled marriage in Vatsal’s books and gets into a relationship with him. Short flashbacks reveal her own artistic temperament with flashes of inspiration that are comparable, even superior to Vatsal’s imagination. When he becomes uncomfortable with her creative expressions, she is happy to remain in his shadow, cooking and keeping house for him until he tires of her presence, and she grows frustrated and insecure as their relationship does not have a future. Vatsal admits to himself that Prabhavati’s dependence strengthens him as he feeds off her need for him. After an unsuccessful suicide attempt, Prabhavati makes a dignified exit from Vatsal’s life. In a poignant scene, she tells the writer that she was leaving for a place where all her needs would be met – food, clothing and most importantly, books to read.
A number of literary references and philosophical reflections are woven into the dialogue. To cite just two examples, Vatsal talks about the joys of intertextuality, his admiration of Tolstoy and how he hopes to write a character like Kino from Steinbeck’s The Pearl into one of his novels someday. His character Chalakha writes to her cousin that the ego needs unhappiness to reinforce itself for absolute joy dissolves the sense of the self, which seems to reflect this quote by Greene:
“The sense of unhappiness is so much easier to convey than that of happiness. In misery we seem aware of our own existence, even though it may be in the form of a monstrous egotism: this pain of mine is individual, this nerve that winces belongs to me and to no other. But happiness annihilates us: we lose our identity.”
Graham Greene, The End of the Affair
The serial is set in a period when time was richer: when people took pleasure in unhurried walks, wrote long letters by hand to each other, and had endless leisurely conversations about life and art.
Just as I thought that it was a pity that no one makes such fine programs anymore, a cousin sent me a link to a relatively recent serial called Upanishad Ganga, a 52 part series which presented the wisdom of the Upanishads in one hour long fictionalised episodes.
I was not surprised to discover that the program had been broadcast by Doordarshan, which remains the gold standard for quality television content in the minds of millions of Indian viewers. Dramatizing stories from the Upanishads which are considered to be the essence of Indian philosophy in the form of short capsules is a huge challenge and the producers have been successful in their vision. The concepts, the settings, the costumes, the actors and above all, the screenplay blend together beautifully. Employing the structure of stories within a story, the series is portrayed as stage dramas presented by a group of artists who question the relevance of Sanskrit and the scriptures in present times. The episodes raise profound philosophical questions, suggest possible answers and leave the watching seeker both enriched and inspired.
A poet once sang, that when
pain finally finds a voice,
at that moment, art is born
Benumbed beyond the reach of pain,
I flailed my arms against the vacuum
within the bell jar which held me, for a decade.
Words were the window through which I
Caught glimpses beyond the dark
Words that kept my heart thawed, if not warm.
On a day when the words shone
bright enough to see, I opened the window
and walked out into life. With a fifteen year old
Mind, in a decade older body. Free
At last, from the darkness that had fed upon
Many of those whose words freed me.
While my wings were tied, I had still dared
to dream of the skies. But once free, I could barely
walk and fell many times before I found my voice.
The detour from regular paths of life that I may
have walked otherwise turned the lost years into a voice
strengthened by a decade of singing in the dark.
A voice that now colours each moment gold.
Each breath a swig of light, each word a blessing.
I had assumed that words would bring
Catharsis – an uncomfortable word
But I sing, and find with unexpected joy
That it is alchemy that goes into making a voice.
(4 September, 2015)
The Brain Pickings website is a treasure trove of wonderful articles, brimming with delightful, intense and thought provoking excerpts hand-picked from the works of some of the greatest writers and artists of the world, and shared with the readers so lovingly that each post reads like a personal gift to the reader.
I greatly enjoyed this article by Maria Popova which collated the wisdom of Joseph Campbell’s writing on how to find your bliss.
“Poets are simply those who have made a profession and a lifestyle of being in touch with their bliss“, says Campbell.
“We are having experiences all the time which may on occasion render some sense of this, a little intuition of where your bliss is. Grab it. No one can tell you what it is going to be. You have to learn to recognize your own depth.”
Campbell explains how he arrived at this philosophy. “I came to this idea of bliss because in Sanskrit, which is the great spiritual language of the world, there are three terms that represent the brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence: Sat, Chit, Ananda. The word “Sat” means being. “Chit” means consciousness. “Ananda” means bliss or rapture.”
“I thought, “I don’t know whether my consciousness is proper consciousness or not; I don’t know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is. So let me hang on to rapture, and that will bring me both my consciousness and my being.” I think it worked.”
The bliss that Joseph Campbell talks about exudes from each of his books. I can sense it whenever I turn the pages of ‘The Power of Myth‘ or ‘The Hero with a thousand faces‘. I could re-read his books any number of times, and each time feel the same sense of rapture fill me, making me aware of my consciousness and my being. It is a blessing to read such writers.
Short reviews of two favourite books that help the mind to return to mindfulness in the fast-paced corporate environment.
Sur/petition by Edward de Bono
Every business has to be competitive In order to survive in the global marketplace. “The paradox is that you cannot truly be competitive if you seek to be competitive” says Edward de Bono in his book Sur/petition.
It is vital for a business to keep up with its competitors, but competition is only the first step for a business to grow and flourish. Competition focuses on environments, customers, products and processes. ‘Sur/petition‘ is changing the elements on which competition is based, so that products create a new niche for themselves, by unique value addition to the customer’s requirements.
Analysis of information and decision-making are primary activities for any business. But these are essentially maintenance aspects of management. When a business adds conceptual thinking to data analysis and generates alternatives for decision making, it can generate new concepts that would offer better and cheaper ways to get added value out of existing resources. This requires a creative approach to management. Towards this, Bono proposes Valufacture which is identifying what would specifically add value to the client, and implementing it in the product or service. He advises businesses to create a ‘value monopoly’, that would give the product or service a place that normal competitors cannot reach easily. Sur/petition is then all about integrated value addition and research & development for generating fresh concepts and creativity.
“Edward de Bono inadvertently wrote one of the more accurate futurist books anyone has written in 20 years. In describing what he judged to be the trends and problems of 1992-93, he is actually describing today’s crises and hot-button issues almost perfectly. He was way ahead of the futurists on declining margins, offshoring, focus on competition by price, the limitations of customer-service investment, and a dozen other things that started coming to pass just a few years after he wrote the book.” says Jeff Angus, a senior IT management consultant, in a review of the book in CIO Insight.
What Would Buddha Do at Work?
What Would Buddha Do at Work?101 Answers to Workplace Dilemmas by Franz Metcalf and BJ Gallagher Hateley is a beautiful book written in the form of questions and answers relating to finding the right kind of work, the right working style, handling issues at the workplace, dealing with colleagues, customer handling, etc.
The questions are grouped under three sections – Becoming an Enlightened Worker, Cultivating Enlightened Work Relationships and Creating an Enlightened Workplace, and range from topics like personal growth at work, the mindset to getting promoted, conflict management, positive business language, telecommuting, leadership and much more. The Buddha’s approach is explained against each of these situations, describing how any employee can find spiritual fulfillment in their work.
Each question is followed by a verse from the Buddhist scriptures or a quote from a Zen teacher, and an explanation in simple, direct words.
What would Buddha do to empower employees?
You must walk, Buddhas just show the path. Dhammapada 276
(Sourced from What Would Buddha Do at Work?101 Answers to Workplace Dilemmas by Franz Metcalf and BJ Gallagher Hateley, Page 51)
The book has an introduction by Ken Blanchard (Author of The One-Minute Manager) who is the CSO – Chief Spiritual Officer of the Ken Blanchard Companies.
Reading a page at random brings a lot of stillness to the mind, and helps to raise it towards a state of mindfulness.
Coming soon! The Reengineers (HarperCollins) A walk through the boundaries between fiction and reality
“The heaven of modern humanity is indeed shattered in the Cyclopean struggle for wealth and power. The world is groping in the shadow of egotism and vulgarity. Knowledge is bought through a bad conscience, benevolence practiced for the sake of utility. The East and the West, like two dragons tossed in a sea of ferment, in vain strive to regain the jewel of life. We need a Niuka again to repair the grand devastation; we await the great Avatar.
Meanwhile, let us have a sip of tea. The afternoon glow is brightening the bamboos, the fountains are bubbling with delight, the soughing of the pines is heard in our kettle. Let us dream of evanescence, and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things.
Nothing is more hallowing than the union of kindred spirits in art. At the moment of meeting, the art lover transcends himself. At once he is and is not. He catches a glimpse of Infinity, but words cannot voice his delight, for the eye has no tongue. Freed from the fetters of matter, his spirit moves in the rhythm of things. It is thus that art becomes akin to religion and ennobles mankind.”
From The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura
I picked up this classic in a Tokyo bookshop a few years ago. It is on my desk as I type these lines, the very presence of the book exuding the stillness contained within its words.
Profound reflections on art, life and culture put down gently and lucidly, as though in a conversation with a friend over a simple cup of tea.
Coming soon! The Re-engineers (HarperCollins) A walk through the boundaries between fiction and reality
“Most problems could be diminished by the drinking of tea and the thinking through of things that could be done while the tea was being drunk. And even if that did not resolve the problems, at least it could put them off for a little while, which we sometimes needed to do, we really did.”
– Blue Shoes and Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith
I couldn’t agree more with Mma Ramotswe.
Words, Wide Night
Somewhere on the other side of this wide night
and the distance between us, I am thinking of you.
The room is turning slowly away from the moon.
This is pleasurable. Or shall I cross that out and say
it is sad? In one of the tenses I singing
an impossible song of desire that you cannot hear.
La lala la. See? I close my eyes and imagine the
dark hills I would have to cross
to reach you. For I am in love with you
and this is what it is like or what it is like in words.
By Carol Ann Duffy
Today I remembered an afternoon from years ago on which a friend and I spent a few hours in the library of the arts college adjoining our engineering college. We had a good time giggling over the cookbooks one of which described several ways of preparing the humble Mysorepak, and afterwards we read and wept gently as only silly, sentimental nineteen year olds can do over a book of poems titled The Tender Muse, a collection of verse by Russian poetesses.
It was over ten years ago and strangely, I am unable to recollect the friend’s face, or her name. But I clearly remember the lines of verse that we read together, and how they evoked the same feeling that I had when I read this poem by Carol Ann Duffy today.