Thursday, July 23, 2009

There are times when...

There are times when...

  • I get frustrated easily.
  • I feel like I am being cynical and skeptical of everyone.
  • I want to share my feelings with someone but find none!
  • I think of the past when I didn't miss some friends...
  • I remember my worst deficiencies and brood over them.
  • People doubt my integrity and the occasional frank-speak.
  • Somebody I know says I am not confident enough and I start believing it.
  • I think destiny has nothing but the worst plans for me.
  • I see a look of intense hate even in strangers.
  • Life seems like a monotonous drag.
There are also times when...

  • I smile to a stranger and he smiles back.
  • I think, maybe this girl seems nice and talk to her and she opens up. (this is very rare :) )
  • A person makes a sincere comment of appreciation and it goes straight to my heart.
  • I cycle for some distance and strangely, happiness overwhelms me for no particular reason.
  • I see a monkey sniffing at a flower on the temple steps and the sight calms me.
  • A song I love plays on the radio just when I want to listen to it.
  • I unearth a gem of a book by instinct and savor it every bit.
  • I feel a spring in my step and a rare streak of empowering confidence.
  • I get a call from a friend after a long time and we tease each other over those good old days.
  • I feel my worries are no big deal compared to what others go through.
There is a good amount of difference between these two sets of feelings.

When I realize that:

  • People have their own idiosyncrasies that are inflexible no matter what.
  • I should not expect a great deal of attention and words of comfort too often. After all, I am a grown up :)
  • Intense observation is powerful enough to make me forget my worries.
  • Whether I am confident or not depends solely on me.
  • Friends may be busy and have their own worries to occupy themselves with.
  • A smile and a brisk walk will wash away any signs of tiredness and boredom.
  • It is up to me to make my life interesting.
  • I should not look for approval, instead proceed to do whatever is right.
  • I can make the first step towards a conversation but not always; if somebody finds my company good, they'll also take some steps.
  • There are some people who don't need explanations to understand me.
That is when I enter a realm and I don't judge anybody, am comfortable in my own skin and the whole world seems a lot more friendly.

If this seems like a boring post, it is!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Reader - Pithy and Poignant

Pithy – Concise and expressive; Poignant – evoking a keen sense of sadness. This is how my Pocket Oxford Dictionary defines these words and this is exactly how I feel now after completing ‘The Reader’ by Bernhard Schlink. Some novels leave me drained emotionally and in a sense physically too though in a strange fashion. I get so involved in them that to be disturbed from reading kindles unreasonable anger and a strange state of weariness. I become irritable and often find myself at a loss to respond to any conversation.

This novel would squarely fall under that category. With its pithy prose and taut flow, it was unputdownable and intellectually stimulating, always pushing the borders. Some readers of this post would have seen the movie though I haven’t. I would like to hear from those who have seen it on how they felt. I am very curious to see the movie now because to capture such a novel in visual form would require great skill and craft.

Coming to the novel, Hannah is a woman who has worked as a prison guard in the SS during the Nazi period. Post war, she leads a routine life until she meets Michael, a 15 year old in strange circumstances. What follows is a period of lovemaking – Michael wants to feel grown up, is eager to forget his illness and finds in Hannah an attractive Woman who is determined and forceful in a manner that is seductive. He is eager to please her and wants to be in her good books.

Hannah indulges in this “kid”, their difference in age rarely getting in the way of each other’s needs. Slowly, he begins to read to her from novels which she encourages and admires. Years later, Michael meets Hannah in quite different circumstances when the past seems to have caught up with her and she is charged with the crime of standing by indifferently when several prisoners are engulfed by flames. The circumstances of their death make her seem brutal while nobody could comprehend the reality in a way Hannah seems to.

She has a secret: her illiteracy. She guards it with a determination that is self destructive. When Michael comes to know about it, he is confronted with several moral questions. Should he against Hannah’s wishes try to save her? Is she a criminal? Did she have any alternative when flames were engulfing the innocent prisoners? What is the role of law in retrospectively delivering justice? What is the moral position of people who looked the other side when the establishment cruelly targeted a community?

In raising all these questions, there is a never a discordant note. Michael is unable to lead a normal life; Hannah follows him in his memories whatever he does. The writing is beautiful in several parts when the author unravels the working of the mind.

“But behavior does not merely enact whatever has already been thought through and decided. It has its own sources, and is my behavior, quite independently, just as my thoughts are my thoughts, and my decisions my decisions.”

“Is this what sadness is all about? Is it what comes over us when beautiful memories shatter in hindsight because the remembered happiness fed not just on actual circumstances but on a promise that was not kept?”

Towards the end of the novel, I was overcome with sadness at Hannah’s fate. The manner in which we take others for granted, assume things about people without ever confronting is conveyed so matter-of-factly that it deserves a place among the very best books I have read.

In categorizing books we make the mistake of choosing words that are worn with overuse. While talking about them, we make the same mistakes. ‘The Reader’ presents a complexity that is quintessential here. This is a must read for any serious book lover. It tells a story that would have a resonance with every man and woman!

There is always a greater satisfaction I experience from reading literature that is not contemporary. Is it because such books satiate a yearning within me that is hard to define or is it because contemporary subjects don’t afford the pen a certain gravity and poise? The question is open and answers are welcome…

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Islamist - a complex web unraveled

When Islamist terrorism is being discussed the world over, more as a reaction to cruel and barbaric acts, this book written after the July 7 London bombings is a revelation. It seeks to dispel several myths which we, as consumers of popular media stories, take for granted and often use to perpetuate several other myths amidst our friends in cycles.

This particular book written by Ed Husain and the cover of which says “Why I joined radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left”, is a narration that will have few parallels in the publishing world for its sincerity and honesty. It is not easy to examine one’s past critically, come to terms with it and move on to a better existence that is not misguided.

Ed Husain writes about a sweet childhood spent in the company of understanding and loving teachers, English countryside and caring and religious parents. He moves on to describe a turbulent adolescence that leads to self doubts and isolation. Evident throughout the book is the nature of British society, tolerance and freedom of speech that was exploited by wide ranging elements who seek to recruit young adults into their myriad organizations often under the guise of a “better Muslim way of life” .

The cocktail of politics with religion that some organizations espouse by interpreting the works of Abul Ala Mawdudi, the founder of Jamat-e-Islami and Syed Qutb, an Egyptian Islamist ideologue is laid bare through the author’s personal involvement during his teenage years (in the 90s) with YMO and Hizb ut-Tahrir. The allusions to the blatant intolerance and vocabulary of hate preached with abandon across college campuses by charismatic and brainwashed speakers sends a chill down the spine.

The hate propagating agendas these groups stand for is at odds with moderate and traditional Muslims to whom religion is a private entity, writes Ed Husain. In writing about the threads that separate such groups and gives each its own space, there is a complexity involved. The funding for these groups particularly those that have roots in Wahhabi literalism is shocking. In striving to bring out the differences between the lifestyle of Muslims in Damascus and Jeddah – two places where the author spends considerable time – the book scores heavily. The irony is nowhere lost when one reads how Syria is part of the ‘axis of evil’ and Saudi Arabia, considered to be an ‘ally’ in the fight against terrorism.

Racism and subjugation of women, rampant in Saudi Arabia combined with the Wahhabi literalist rigidity makes the kingdom more than just an exporter of oil as the author suggests. “Al-queda is a hybrid beast, a marriage of convenience between Islamism and Wahhabism whose offspring is terrorism”. In contrasting such hate with the practices of Sufism to which the author gets exposed in Turkey, the author makes a strong case for Islam as a religion of peace.

While it is the contemporary relevance of such revelations that is striking in the beginning (events of 9/11 run parallel to the narrative), the more important aspects of the book are those that shed light on how nearly two generations of British Muslims are led astray by bigotry. To be persuaded by the simplicity that the media so assiduously strives hard to impose and to brand every Muslim a terrorist is a crime. Once we as a people realize and confront the prejudices we harbor, there is hope for a better tomorrow. The sooner we dare do it, the more peaceful our atmosphere will be.

Read this book to know about the experiences of a man who has been through the good and the bad and confronted his mistakes in the past most sincerely. It is indeed a complete eye-opener (The Times describes is aptly here).

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Skandagiri trek - A sojourn in the lap of pristine nature

When the whole being is attentive, there is an awareness and silence;
we begin to hear, see, smell and feel as if the senses were asleep all along...

Plans and preparation:

This is one trek that I always wanted to experience ever since I went to the KP trek and learnt soon thereafter that this is equally thrilling and exciting, but quite in another manner. Apart from this "high" expectation, this trek has also given me a sense of confidence which, only the slightly peculiar circumstances could have helped unearth.

It all started off quite a while before when I was more eager and thirsting very badly for some adventure. As events tend to shape eventually, a man who is denied food hardly longs for it when the hunger subsides. To cut this needless part short, we set out (18 of us) on Friday night from Deepika's apartment complex.

Fun on the way:

From the time the journey started, a mood of "spontaneous gaiety" set in. I suppose it was the nature of the people on board that was responsible. Whilst we were still in the outskirts of the city, JK introduced his friends and dumb charades got underway. Hindi and English movie names were equal in number and the challenges were quite hilarious. As is the outcome with this game, I found out some innovative actors in the bunch and a lot of crazy movies that can be a real spot of bother!

Sneha and Mr. D (I opt for the popular name here) had quite a reservoir to draw from, while Niranjan, Saurabh and Deepika added the most fun with their funny lines and some times really high decibel levels. I doubt if anybody slept except Gauri! The driver accelerated outside the city as a gush of chill air belied what the journey will offer...

Anxious moments:

At Chikballapur, we missed the chance to ask the few policemen on duty, the exact way to Skandagiri. Instead we moved on straight ahead only to get a little apprehensive some 3-4 kilometers later. Finding no source of correct information to throw light on the route, Devesh with his presence of mind used the Google maps on his cell phone. We had to make a turn which cost us a good half an hour. We hardly had any wind of a surprise when we eventually took the elusive "left" turn.

Reaching Skandagiri, we would have almost missed the trek if we had relied on "initial" reports of a "no trek till 5". The few moments spent discussing the alternatives seemed to change the will of destiny. We were all joyous when the policemen relented and allowed us to trek at close to 3 AM.

Walk to nature's lap:

The torch lights were pulled out and with that went away any traces of sleep waiting to gnaw its way in. The crowd at the place was quite huge and in equal proportion was the excitement. Some people are naturally good at livening up the environs and we fortunately had plenty of such folks that day. Singing anything that comes to mind, making sure that our group kept together for the most part, passing the few torches to each other, it was fun all the way.

Suddenly when Sneha and Deepika started off with "Nirma washing powder", they had everyone in splits. A stray dog gave us company for some time, walking by our side and enjoying the mood every bit. A variety of languages, from Tamil to Punjabi could be heard all around. A sigh here, a smile there, a thumbs up here and a gentle rebuke there - Sleep and the fact that it was very early in the morning was nowhere in the vicinity of our minds.

Teaser - that was how I read this trek described somewhere on the Internet and teaser it turned out to be. Whenever we felt we had almost made it, the route had other intentions, not always comforting, when energy levels were dwindling. Finally near the peak, we relaxed for some time and took a few good pictures. Thinking that we might yet get a chance to catch the sunrise, we carried on only to find that the clouds and the mist had neatly wrapped the Sun between them.

As things turned out:

A moon light trek to catch the sunrise turned out to be a torch light trek to watch the mist and clouds play pranks. The winds were chilly and quite strong enough to frisk away loose caps. Saurabh and Hema decided to try some stunts and went to a secluded edge and oblivious to the wet rock, lay down blissfully. Later, Hema said, he was trying to vent out his frustrations...ideal place to do, I should add!

We stayed at the top for a little more than an hour striking all kinds of poses for the few cameras around. Once in a while, it needs a visit like this to know what people in the city miss. The clean, fresh, unpolluted morning air, the natural smells, the ever stretching hills with rocks scattered hither and thither - experiencing this is like attempting a communion with one's roots. I got the feeling that the trees and the clouds were whispering to each other - what, I know not and nor do I want to be privy to intimate moments!

Back to the plains:

The walk down lent a new look to the surroundings with the early morning light filtering through the clouds. The dew made the climb down tricky. Pausing every few minutes to take pictures, we were so happy and overjoyed that each and every person was in their own world - just about accessible to others, but having a thin veil to hide the tide of imaginative landscape that their minds were busy constructing.

The ride to urban madness:

In the bus, some dozed off too tired to resist the waves of sleep while some others dreamed beautifully of a pleasant and fantastic world nearly within reach. Alas, the noise of the traffic towards the city jolted us to remind that a return to madness was inevitable. I hated the sounds of horns and loud mobile ring tones throughout the weekend. It was like a rude intrusion after an intensely private conversation. But the door to madness has to be opened...