Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Maktub

Maktub. It is written.

Destiny. Fate. Karma. It is all written.

But where we err is in believing that is irrevocably written. In believing that our fates were pre-determined and that the “prarabdh” we carried forth from our previous lives is unalterable. I have seen too many individuals, bright and promising, giving up at the first sign of resistance and consigning their lives into the hands of what they deem to be their ordained lot in life. Even worse, they seem to use this pre-disposition towards the supremacy of the heavens to justify their meek surrender to the privations of life, while absolving themselves of any guilt at not having put up a struggle.

Einstein once said that “God does not play dice”. Translated into the myriad aspects of the universe, it reflects that the rhythm of His creation is rooted in reciprocity. The human race has been set forth with one primary challenge-to struggle with their mortality while combating with the perennial mutations of heaven and earth.

Man has been given command over the elements that comprise his being (air, water, fire, earth and ether) to nourish or exploit as he deems fit. At the same time, he has also been made subject to the outer disintegrating powers of nature-planetary stimuli that determine the course of his life, beyond what he himself may determine or crave.

According to the ancients, a child is born at a time when the celestial rays are in harmony with his individual karma. As such, his horoscope is a portrait not just of his unalterable past but also of his probable future. Probable, for the stars themselves have no conscious benevolence or animosity-they merely offer a direction based upon what each man has set into motion in the past.

The message indicated by the stars is not meant to emphasize fate as an inevitable result of past good or evil. Rather, it is meant to serve as a road-map, a reckoner of one’s limitations and potentialities. In its purest form, it is meant to arouse man’s will to escape his universal thraldom. To show him that what he has done, he can also undo. Since none other than he himself was the instigator of the limitations he now finds himself burdened under, it is he himself who can overcome them. And he can do so merely by taking the right actions, actions that are principally dependent on his ethereal resources and are not subject to planetary influences.

Once we identify the latent power within each of us to shape our own destinies, it becomes evident that a superstitious awe of astrology and the power of the stars denigrates us to mere automatons, slavishly dependent on mechanical guidance. If it is true that God created us in His image, it is impossible that he intended for us to be to so servile in our subjugation to extrinsic forces. The logical corollary is that we are meant to use the gift of our “free will” to choose our destiny. And once we have made this choice, we will also, without exception, gain an understanding of the travails and sacrifices it entails.

The multitude will never even contemplate upon what their destiny might be; they will merely resign themselves to it. Of the few who do ponder over it, the majority will yield to the severity of its demands. The chosen few who do dare to pursue their destinies will be mocked, scorned and ridiculed. And if they stick the course, they alone shall be admired, revered and idolized. But above all, they alone shall find happiness.
For all too often, a person finds his destiny on the very road he took to avoid it.

“A wise man struggling with adversity is said to be a spectacle upon which the Gods look down with favour”

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

G-l,U-k-p

I don’t watch television. It started about half a decade back and with time, I lost interest in it altogether. Gradually, this aversion to the idiocy that most of our electronic media transmits with unrelenting vengeance grew to encompass movies too. Given the junk that Bombay has been passing off as “entertainment”, I soon started to look at it all as little more than chewing gum for the eyes. Not that I never indulged myself in its indolent decadence. But each time, I came away reassured that the only way television could be educating would be if every time someone switched the set on, I went into the other room and read a book.

A week or so back, I happened to make a trip to Dalhousie, one of the very few hill stations I have come across that still retains vestiges of its colonial past. It is a quaint little town, almost caught in a time-warp, with its hillsides strewn with lovely bungalows and mist-laden pathways. It was raining torrentially when I arrived but by the time the afternoon gave way to the evening, the skies had cleared. And despite my repugnance for all the tourists who can never seem to get enough of the hills, I had to admit that the vista was captivating. The firmament was cleansed of the dust and as far as the eye could see, nature seemed to be spilling its exquisite bounties in abundance. The greens of the flora, the azure-blue sky, the milky-white wafting mists-together, they dwarfed the ugliness that we tend to pass off as civilization and served as a poignant reminder of the fact that the simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

Tender as the mood was, I succumbed to the easy temptation of lethargy and upon reaching my room, turned on the television set. And the visage I encountered shocked me no less than accidently pouring a mug of cold water onto yourself while enjoying a splendidly warm bath in the winters.

It was a music channel I had tuned into and the song I had the misfortune of listening to went .."He’s a good looking ullu ka pattha..” !! I mean, we all know, thanks in no small measure to the genius of Anu Malik, that Indian cinema faces an acute paucity of talent but this seems to have taken absurdity to unimaginable depths!

I am no prude and have enjoyed my share of the ridiculous. I will not, out of sheer self-respect, mention the gems that once found a tune on my lips. But I can admit that the rhythms accompanying most of Govinda’s onscreen inanities did lend a lilt to my moments of senile indulgence-the last being this particularly outlandish song from Partner called "Kehndi paun, kehndi paen"!

However, momentary insanity apart, Bombay really seems to have lost it. Consider the songs in the era of India’s new-found independence. They were masterpieces, lyrically and visually. There wasn’t the slightest hint of any indecency, vulgarity or inanity. They were perfect accompaniments to the story and encapsulated the pathos of the story in hauntingly beautiful melodies.

And consider how much it has degenerated since. Ishq, that beautiful Urdu word which has no equivalent in the English language, has been derided without remorse in the last decade. Urmila gyrated to “Kambakth Ishq”, Aishwarya almost had us convinced that life was tough because of “Ishq Kameena” and to be honest, I am really apprehensive what the next female icon would have to call it to cement her status!

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Lay just a little strain on your memory and you will realise that beyond being the land of Ghalib and Tagore, we are also the people responsible for subjecting the world(and ourselves) to classics such as “Teri nani mari to main kya karoon, Andey ka fundaa, What is your style number/what is mobile number, Sarkailo khatiya jaada lage, Aa aa ee, uu uu ooo...” And the list is endless!

Agreed, there are exceptions to the rule. There are a few songs that have aesthetic appeal even in these times. But exceptions don’t always justify the rule. And given the pace with which we are descending into this maddening chaos where every second channel has a contest featuring every possible format (crooning grannies, dancing toddlers, battles of has-beens et al), the mind shudders to imagine where we will be in the coming few years.

For the moment though, it seems to be a menace that everyone loves to hate but can’t seem to live without.

P.S.- For the uninitiated:
Ullu-ka-pattha = son of an owl
Anu Malik = “inspired” lyricist and musician from India; unfortunately, his inspirations are often misconstrued as plagiarism
Govinda = yellow shirts with red pants, need I say more?
Ishq = an abstruse and enigmatic Urdu word; conveys more emotion than liking/admiration/infatuation but less than love
Kambakth Ishq = goddamned Ishq
Ishq Kameena = Ishq-the-wretched
Urmila and Aishwarya = popular Indian actresses who reached their cinematic pinnacles at the time these songs, respectively, were released
Teri nani mari to main kya karoon = “what can i do if your maternal grandmother died?”
Andey ka fundaa = “the enigma of an egg”
What is your style number/what is mobile number = c’mon, this one is in simple English!
Sarkailo khatiya jaada lage = “move the bedstead, I’m feeling cold”
Aa aa ee, uu uu ooo = here, I GIVE UP!!

.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Non Mihi,Non Tibi,Sed Nobis


Once upon a time, there was a boy. Intelligent, caring, sensitive and ambitious. When he came of age, he fell in love with a girl who adored him with an equal intensity. Together, they fashioned for themselves a life of unparalleled harmony-a small piece of heaven removed from the cares of the world, filled with the ecstasy and exuberance that love inspires. As they grew older together, they unconsciously gave form to one of the most hauntingly beautiful romances ever.

But nothing lasts forever. And at the tender age of 37, the wife died during childbirth. Given his stature and his appeal, everybody expected the husband to find a new consort and move on with what remained of the day. But they had grossly undermined his love for her. So grief-stricken was he by her irrevocable absence that he almost gave up on life itself. His ambitions met with a premature demise, he barely ate and all the little pleasures which once had given him so much joy now merely served as reminders of a paradise lost forever. He aged overnight and paced endlessly in his disconsolate state, trying to comprehend why providence had chosen him for this tragedy. Why do we meet someone when fate has already decreed that we must part before the association bears its full fruition?

And then he remembered his promise to her-that he would not let the world forget about her, about them. As the Greeks said, “Non mihi, non tibi, sed nobis”. Not for you, not for me, but for us. Suddenly, gone was the morose frame of mind, the lethargy and the indolence. Replaced with a definite vision as it was, it gave him hope and a sense of purpose.

And thus started the construction of a memorial for his wife. It would take 20 long years before it was unveiled to the world but history stands testament that not a single day went by when the Emperor himself did not visit the site to personally supervise its progress. And thus was created the monument that Tagore so famously described as “a teardrop on the cheek of time”. The Taj Mahal. Not just India’s most famous cultural icon, not just a marvel in marble. A reminder. A reminder of one man’s undying love for a woman who had not been with him for over two decades.

That is the stuff love stories and fairytales are made of. Or so we would think. But then let us for a moment consider also the story of a man as far removed from Shah Jahan as can be imagined. A poor labourer in a small village in India’s poorest state of Bihar. Not in a bygone century but in this very century, infact in our own times.

The story starts again with a well-possessed boy falling in love with a girl and striving to give her more than he can reach for. They are happy together until the cruel hands of fate snatch her away forever. After the customary turpitude brought about by the bereavement, this husband too started pondering over why providence had been so unmerciful. His wife had been unwell for a long time and was undergoing continuous treatment at the nearby health centre. She had suffered paroxysms of pain in the past too but he had always been able to get her to the doctor in time. This last time, however, he had gotten there a little too late.

The reason was simple-between the village and the health centre stood a hill which doubled the travelling time. Had the hill been absent, she might have been saved. Armed with this clarity of vision, he knocked on the door of every official who could have sanctioned a road to be cut through the mountainside. And always, the answer was a sympathetic but firm no-the government could not afford to waste money on a needless project, and that too in the memory of an unaccomodated individual.

But they too had undermined his love for her. He did not have the wealth of an Emperor or the luxury of an empire at his disposal. What he did have was just four things-an undying love, a clarity of purpose, a shovel and a spade.

And thus started the construction of a memorial for his wife. Armed with his meagre tools and the ferocity of his determination, this one man started cutting away at the mountainside. Alone and single-handedly, he started his herculean task and kept at it doggedly till even the mountain made way for him and he was able to cut a road across it. By some mischievous quirk of fate, he too took 20 years to complete his labour of love. The government took due notice of his feat and the road was metalled soon thereafter. The Chief Minister of Bihar invited him for the inauguration of the road-a standing testimony to the ecstasy and exuberance that love inspires. Baba Dashrath Manjhi died soon thereafter.

The road still stands. A teardrop on the sands of time. Not just another macadam road in India’s forgotten hinterlands, not just another instance of asphalt on rock. A reminder. A reminder of one man’s undying love for a woman who had not been with him for over two decades.

"Absence diminishes small passions and increases great ones, as the wind blows out the candle and fans the bonfire"

Monday, July 19, 2010

Immortality

"The more magnificent the prospect, the lesser the certainty and the greater the passion"
There are times when you question the very genesis of your beliefs, your convictions and your own self. All too often, such doubts arise when taking a call on a task that you have never faced before or one which seems insurmountable. Should you succeed, the doubts fade into the background and are effortlessly replaced with an enviable sense of confidence. But, as is more likely, should you meet with failure, there is the very legitimate risk of plunging into a ceaseless progression of hesitation, misgiving and uncertainty about almost everything that you once held dear.

Mavericks. That’s what they call the ones who do not toe the line, who dare to think differently. Rebels. Eccentrics. Misfits. For persisting in trying to adapt the world to themselves, instead of just adapting themselves to the world and living a simpler life. And it does seem foolish to challenge conventional wisdom-the wisdom of the ages, proven true since time immemorial. Why risk it all on a turn of pitch-and-toss when you could very easily settle for just a notch below?

I pondered upon the dilemma of risking everything for a faint chance at attaining something truly magnificent. And logic said that the risk inherent in such a foolhardy enterprise should be deterrent enough for any rational individual. But then rationality does not create empires-it can never spur you to go the extra mile, never urge you to look beyond the obstacles, never replace the passion that excellence demands and deserves.

By some fortuitous coincidence, I happened to watch a movie called Tin Cup where the protagonist, a deserving underdog who is within a whisker of winning the US Open Golf Tournament, blows it all away because he wants to prove to himself that he is as good as he thinks he is. He can take the easy way out, play a safe shot and win the tourney. Or he can risk an audacious shot which will either give him a spectacular victory or a heart-breaking defeat.

He takes the shot. And misses. And keeps taking one shot after the other, each of them knocking him irredeemably out of the tournament, till he manages the perfect shot and sinks the putt. The spectators explode in applause at his grit and belief but he loses the tournament because he will not succumb to conformity. Immediately thereafter, he questions the validity of his apparent obstinacy. Why did he squander away the chance to enter the record books as a winner-merely to satisfy his own ego?

And the answer is simple. Because he knew he could do it. The record books are for trivia buffs and people who profess to love sports without ever having set foot on a playing field. But true love for any endeavour must necessarily embrace the madness, the perils, the failures and the passion without which all of it would be little more than a mundane chore. Passion can never be a business. And regardless of the multitudes seduced by the glamour of choreographed extravaganzas, it does not take long to recognize the presence of a genius.

Be it Lance Armstrong who overcame testicular cancer or Edison who so famously failed a thousand times before making the bulb or even Gandhi who subdued an empire wearing just a loincloth, each of these individuals believed in the beauty of their dreams. Dreams that we all have but few dare to pursue. For all purposes, dreams at first glance seem impossible. For those who ponder over them, they start seeming improbable. And to the scant few who are audacious enough to go after them, they soon become inevitable.

So here’s hoping that you realise that the greatest gift of all is something to strive for. And if you have that something, give it your all-break the shackles and reach for the stars-even if you lose, you will have some stardust on you. And should you win, immortality would be yours. 


"Talent does what it can.
Genius, what it must. "

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Memory called Life

There are altogether too many people who mistake their imagination for their memory. Do we not have a tendency to view the past with a tinted vision that is certain to conjure up images far better than what the reality was? Or maybe, far worse than the reality? It’s hard to tell for sure unless you have the chance to revisit the past and live it again through the vicarious eyes of an outsider, almost as if all were an out-of-body experience. And all of a sudden, you can feel the pieces fall into place with a precise clarity.

I had just such an opportunity recently when a very old friend of mine came visiting. Even before he had left Calcutta, he elicited from me the promise of taking a trip up to our old school. Sanawar. And even though I wasn’t too excited at the prospect of going back up the hills, I couldn’t bear to dampen his ardour. But, truth be told, even I was a little pleased to go back to school with someone whom I had shared a lot of its joys and tribulations with.

And so it was that a bright Saturday morning saw us set off for Sanawar. The gibberish that nostalgia evokes had started the night before-the food, the clothes, the studies, the dorms and, of course, the girls- we went through the entire gamut of experiences which for us symbolised our years at that little hilltop. Wherever one of us ran out of conversation, the other would pipe in with a forgotten anecdote and soon, the conversation would become animated again. Smuggling chapattis out of the dining hall to use as a midnight snack with ghee, lighting a paper bag full of monkey-shit outside the housemasters door and watching him try to stomp it out, sharing a single packet of uncooked Maggi among 5 friends, signing up for boxing to impress your latest crush and getting hammered senseless in the ring ! Many, many memories of a carefree and innocent time- a time gone by, never to return.

And right when we reached the last bend short of school, some more memories kicked in-the hockey sticks raining on our backsides, the rotten food, getting beaten up over a pack of biscuits, early morning runs and late night errands and the ubiquitous homesickness. Maybe it was the nostalgia and the fact that we were finally out of school that made it possible for us to reminisce so fondly about it. For while we were there, there was many an occasion when we would have given just about anything to exchange places with the millions of kids who went to school just for classes and then went back to the warmth of a homestead-while we rubbed our sore posteriors and put up a brave face for the world, frightened and forlorn as we were from within.

At almost the same instant, the same question crossed both our minds-what did we miss so much about Sanawar when there were clearly so many bad memories attached to it too? Getting kicked around, polishing shoes for our seniors, getting a fresh change of uniform only after 4 days, spending the bulk of our 50 rupees worth of weekly pocket-money on seniors? Was this the life that we missed? Driving past the school gates and towards our dorms gave us time to mull over this question.

As we drove onwards, every bend in the road, every tree and every building seemed to smile at us in welcome. A smile that could be shared only between those who had lived together, shared joys and sorrows, been there for each other. We drove past the nooks which cloaked us when we wanted to sob after a particularly bad beating, the staircase from atop which we yelled out our triumphs, the pavement that still resonated with the chatter of our adolescent dreams. And by the time we reached our dorms and stood before the nameplate proudly proclaiming the name of our house, the truth had sunk in with an unmistakeable clarity.

We missed Sanawar and remembered it fondly because regardless of our experiences, good or bad, this was the place that had made us who we were. This was home for 8 months every year and even your fiercest rival was in truth your best friend. We certainly did get a bundle of agony and anguish along the way but it was also the place where every success was yours and yours alone-you had earned it and could relish it as you chose. We were the masters of our destiny, independent and untrammelled in the vista of choices that lay before us. And although an aeon had gone by since we passed out of its portals, there wasn’t the slightest doubt that we could never have been even a pale shadow of our selves without this very special entity in our lives. The entity that gave us the benefit of its own form of disinterested guardianship and moulded our fledgling forms in the brand of its legacy.

And that seems to be true of life too. It is surprising how much of remembrances are built around things unnoticed at the time. Yet, the slightest moment of reflection would reveal that things were never as bad as we today accuse them of being nor as good as we so wistfully remember them to be. Most of the time, they were just the right blend of bitter-sweet occurrences. And together, they have given us the moments that we remember as our life thus far. The life that has made us what we are today. And the life that we choose to make of it from this day forth.


“Life is whatever you want to remember of it”

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Total Eclipse

“I was so horrified when I read about the ills of smoking that I gave up reading”


DISCLAIMER: The protagonist in this article bears no resemblance to any person, living or alive. For the sake of artistic expedience, the article has been written in the first person-this should not be misconstrued as a reflection of, or upon, the author’s own proclivities which remain irreproachably untainted and chaste.



Never in the history of human strife has so much antagonism been directed by so many against so few. The battle lines have been drawn and are gradually tightening about the exclusive clique of individuals who have chosen not to forsake the perennial companion of human solitude-the cigarette.


Restaurants and bars, theatres and parks, offices and markets, they have all devised newer and more nefarious ways to keep smoking at bay. Why, you are no longer permitted to smoke even in the privacy of your own car! (Well, technically you are but only if the car is moving or if the car is stationary but the windows are rolled up or the windows are rolled down in a moving car but there is nobody in the vicinity of x metres or.....God knows what the damn rule is-this is where I need a cigarette!).


Ostensibly, all of this is being done for the sake of humanity at large-not only are the smokers given definite disincentives to quit an injurious habit, it also ensures permanent riddance for those afflicted by passive smoking. Agreed, it would be criminally offensive to blow rings of smoke around a new-born baby’s pate. But banning smoking at virtually every possible location on the pretext of public health is inane-given the ubiquitous defilement of our surroundings, that’s like having a urinating and non-urinating section in a swimming pool!


As for the question of kicking the butt, believe me when I say (from a purely vicarious perspective) that there is no incentive required to do so. A very big misconception people suffer is that quitting smoking is difficult. Nonsense, I say-my friend Vineet himself had already quit about 26 times at last count. And although I would not call him a heavy smoker, he does get through about two lighters a day.


Yes, continuing to quit cigarettes may be a little trickier but then most smokers really do not see the logic in it all. To begin with, cigarettes are a much cheaper and easily available alternative to nicotine patches. There is the obvious benefit of getting your sense of smell back but with the pungent odours we are subjected to, who would want it back anyway. Possibly the only set of factors that could induce a severance from the Great God Nick-O-Teen would have to do with a play on human emotions-the frown of a child, the concern of an elder or a bewitching smile from the better half.


But even these are mere possibilities. Those given to the bliss that cigarettes afford would aver that “a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke”. Cigarettes don’t just give the illusion that you are doing something when you do nothing. They are companions, counsellors and comrades. They are a balm to soothe away the problems of the world, the perfect accompaniment to all forms of hedonism. They are consistent, reliable and convenient. And best of all, they ask nothing in return-like the proverbial moth enraptured by the flame, they ask only that they be allowed to do their duty, even as they slowly perish for your sake.


And if these are sentiments that only smokers can relate to, the uninitiated could savour the enigmatic temptation of a cigarette by thinking of it as a beautiful woman who also knows Tendulkar’s statistics!



"A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?"

Miracles

I know what I have given you, I do not know what you have received.”


If God were generous enough to tell us what lay in store for us in the future, most of us would probably not undertake the journey. Would you study as hard for an exam if you were told that you would not clear the interview? Would you scrape together every last penny to buy a house if you knew that this is where you would lose a dear one? Would you allow your heart to go aflutter at the first sight of a special someone if you knew that you would have to part after a few years? In most cases, the answer would not be in the affirmative.


Yet, we live and get bruised and battered. And if given a chance, would not think twice about living it all over again. Strange, but true. We are, after all, the only species that brings home another species just for the pleasure of their company! For that seems to be the exact purpose why man has been made in this fashion. To bring into manifest the most noble emotions- love, sacrifice, courage, honour and civility. These are what separate us from the others and make us true masters of our destiny.


And the bedrock of every human endeavour is the need for acknowledgement. Even the humblest or the most severe of individuals revel in being appreciated for what they do for others. The irony, however, is that very often the sincerest of intentions unfolds in a manner that may well be misinterpreted. You do the correct thing but in the wrong way. As the poet said, “Kehtein to hain achchey ki, lekin buri tarah”. And far from being acknowledged, every successive attempt to undo the misgivings of the past snowballs into a quagmire of blunders.


But the fragrance always stays in the hand that gives the rose. And the efforts continue ceaselessly, with an ardent intensity and the fervent belief that the ends will justify the means. This is why we succumb to irrational lying, to recurrent anger, to inversions of the self, for we consider all of it as almost essential to preserve the greater good. I remember here this brief aside in the movie Casablanca where a young woman approaches the cynical protagonist and asks him if she would be justified in doing “a bad, a very bad thing” if it would allow her to secure happiness for the man she loves. Although the movie furnishes no definite vocal response for this moral dilemma, it nonetheless provides the issue with a treatment similar to that accorded to a white lie-if a wrong can lead to a right, then the wrong itself is not far from being a right.


And that is the very embodiment of the enigma we call life. That there is no right or wrong, that there is nothing and nobody more important than life itself, that the only time we go wrong is when we go against our inherent inclinations. For each and every one of us knows what the right thing to do is. Without exception, we know. Problem is, it is tough to do so. And therein, within the sliver delineating “should” and “can”, lie the plethora of choices that determine our destiny.


“There are two ways to live your life.

One is as though nothing is a miracle.

The other is as though everything is a miracle.”