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Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?

The White Castle: A Novel by Orhan Pamukh is about a scholar who was captured along with his shipmates by the Istanbul army. He managed to escape death by sharing his knowledge of medicine and stars. The book divided into 11 chapters takes you on a journey of the years this man spent in Istanbul first as a captive, then slave with the hope of returning to his homeland. When he becomes an instructor for his master, do the master-slave relations change? How binding is the master-slave relation and how difficult it must have been to nurture this very delicate thread of the unequal relationship? Aren’t all unequal relationships more difficult to nurture because of the manipulation it requires? To manipulate, one needs to make an effort. This again takes up one’s time and energy. I see my senior trying to throw his weight around but few listen to him and fewer still respect him. I see the agony he is in daily.

Go a little further and you enter the mind of a slave. How he thinks? What are his fears? How he acts? How he takes decisions? And in the process, he learns to suppress himself. He begins to live with whatever each day offers to him. His aspirations, his dreams, his plans are no more his. He only longs to return home and in this longing, he keeps living each day as it comes. Will he be able to return home? or Will he be able to make this land his home? This novel is a compelling read. The characters are portrayed interestingly. You can see their journey. Some parts of the novel are really vivid. It feels as if you are actually there.

If we say this book is relatable, we are opening up a whole plethora of questions. More so, because the book is situated in 17th century Istanbul. We feel we have come far away from this time and space. Have we really? Would it be too wrong to say that master-slave relation has remained and even strengthened in our time and space in a disguised form?

Let us just reconsider ourselves for a moment. What are your dreams? What do you aspire to be? Who are you? What do you want from your life? What is the purpose of your life? How do you spend your day? What are your likes and dislikes? Did you marry the person you loved? Our answers would tell us how close and far we are from being a slave of someone or may be ourselves?

Mahatma Gandhi had in 1909 in his book Hind Swaraj explained that true swaraj would be achieved when we live fearlessly. Fearless living means that we become the rulers of our life. We rule our mind, body and soul. We initiate action. We take decisions about our life. We are well aware of our strengths and also of our weaknesses. He envisioned an individual who could take charge of his/her life. Are we there yet?


When Words Come Alive

I read.


Took a break. 

Days passed. 

And passed nights. 

I re-read.

But nothing. Words remained distant. Familiar but distant. As if I am looking from the small window in my room to a celebration happening outside. But my window is railed behind a fine mesh. So I could make out the figures and detect movement but cannot see it. I felt excluded. Imprisoned.

Desperately, I looked for the key.

I tried again. This time, I read what was written about it. Searched for clues. Words remained elusive. 

I talked. A friend responded. We talked. I saw a flicker of light. 

I wondered. 

And wondered.

Re-read. The mesh was unraveling thread by thread. Words were coming alive. The railing was disappearing. I could see the sky. And the celebration. 

I went to the door. I turned the key. It opened. 

I was under the sky. 

Saw the dance of words with plain eyes.

Words in their glory, dancing and prancing.

Oh! What energy!

Pleasant, fragrant wind.

Soothing and exciting at the same time.

Oh the words have come alive!

Exploring Possibilities with Mahatma Gandhi

Fear, violence and uncertainty of the modern life very often compels you to look for possibilities of engagement with our reality especially to make sense of it. There is a dramatic spike in cases of violence against self and the ‘other’ during the past few months of lockdown. Unemployment rate has also increased. There are fewer work opportunities available. Along these dark clouds, there appears a silver light of the strength of the human spirit and capacity. This is our hope. This hope has revealed itself in the form various individual initiatives towards self-sustainability.
In these circumstances, let us explore possibilities through a close reading of texts. By close reading, I mean read a text sentence by sentence and let out exploration go beyond the main argument and ideas to really know what is being said, how and why it is being said. What are its implications? Then examine its relevance by relating it to our lived experiences of fear and violence.
This exploration of possibilities would begin with an engagement with Gandhi’s philosophy. To understand the philosophy better other writers and concepts would also be explored through the process. More recent writings on Mahatma Gandhi would be included. Also, the group members can decide how far to go into a text and how to move on (which could be a good follow-up reading).

Structure of the Meeting

The meeting would be for 45 minutes to an hour.
A text would be read aloud by a member. After each paragraph, all members would contribute in terms of questions, observations, criticisms and interpretations. These will be discussed in some detail.There will be no homework whatsoever. However, if any member feels the need to look-up other sources to understand the text in hand, they are more than welcome to do so. They can share their sources with the group as well.A preferred group size is 10 members.
These will be weekly meetings. A proposed time is Sunday, 5:30 PM. This is negotiable.
Let me know if you are interested to dive in to a text from a purely academic perspective to explore possibilities for the present.

Men Without Women

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Title: Men Without Women

Author: Haruki Murakami

Publisher: Harvill Secker, London

Year: 2017

I just finished reading Haruki Murakami’s Men Without Women. It is a collection of stories. There are in all seven stories. Each one with a distinct flavour and a lot of mystery.

What a master storyteller Murakami is! This book is about men without women. Each character in the story has loved and lost a woman. He is an amazingly thoughtful storyteller. This comes across in the slow pace of his stories. His words and expressions are rhythmically attached to each other and form sentence after sentence carefully maintaining the pace he has set for the story.

But what I enjoyed most were his characters. Such layered characters are a treat for readers. You are actually not reading a story but getting to know each of these characters and his study of these characters. They make the story.

Finally, story always leaves you asking for more. It always makes you want to take it forward in your thoughts. Your engagement with it does not end with the book. After reading the story, you find yourself asking why was he in such a bad shape locked up in a house? Why did she commit suicide? or Why did her husband phoned him to inform about her suicide? Each story leaves you with a number of questions and you don’t want answers to them. You just want to live with them a little more.

Amazing book. A must read.

Our Expression in the Money Economy

I am in between translating an English text on Black Drongo in Hindi for my magazine for children. The text is informative and readable. There is this one sentence that caught my attention- “sometimes black drongo takes a free ride on a cattle”.

The phrase ‘free ride’ particularly got me interested. How commonplace has it become to use phrases like ‘free’ to describe a relationship between two organisms. It is two people sharing a space at a certain time and interacting with each other. Their moment and their relationship can not be described as a free ride or free anything.

It could be a fun ride. One could think about drongo’s perspective from above the ground. Or the feeling it could be feeling. Or how does the cattle feel about it. It’s just them being themselves.

Success is Trending

As I was growing up, my parents urged me to study harder. “Just be financially independent. I don’t want you to be a career-driven girl.”, my mother would remind me. She was worried if I got trapped in a bad marriage, I should have the financial stability to take my stand. She was also concerned about my wishes after marriage. She would say that although she earned but she gave all her earnings to my grandmother, who was very loving and gave everything to my mother before she even asked. That is mainly because she never asked. But my mother lived this pain of not being able to buy even trinkets when her peers could buy expensive saris and jewelry. She thought that my financial independence would let me fulfill my wishes.

She never desired me to be successful. In fact, she was very clear that I should not be successful. I should just be able to get by. Because I am a girl, you know. I have to get married and be a mother. Here, she set the bar very high. She trained me to be the best daughter-in-law and a self-sacrificing mother.

However, my commitment to my professional degree gave me a different perspective on my life. I worked and it got appreciated. This new found confidence in my skills encouraged me to walk on a path of creativity. My father used to say, do whatever you wish to do. But be the best in what you do. I found this desire to be the best at whatever I did. At some point, I was actually quite good.

My cousins and peers had the desire to be successful, which I could never develop. So, even today I am not successful but I am good at what I do. Success never attracted me.

However, success has become quite popular. Today, many people are discussing it. Successful people are talking about their success. They are not sharing success stories. They are telling you that they are successful. They are successful in spite of their educational failures.

This is new to me. I wonder what is the meaning of success for an academic who does not read well or write well. I found that a government job that pays well is the definition of success for an academic. Then I hear stories of humiliation by the hands of these successful people. I wonder what is this kind of success that is not creatively satisfying, that leaves you with a strange emptiness, which is filled by arrogance and violence.

Money and domination are the two ingredients of success. We got this definition of success from the colonial rule. We saw their success in the form of their ability to dominate us and acquire riches. This idea of success is not new. Empires were built and conquered for it. What is new is that my friend, my brother, my peer wants to be successful and dominate the world.

Can you see the implication of this success in our world today? Is this why grand old wisdom tried to show us the difference between happiness and success?

Happiness is so tacky and low standard. Success is trending.


Learning to Revise and Edit

Ever since I plunged into the write everyday cycle, writing the first draft has become easier. In the past two years, I have written several first drafts. These drafts are based on hours of research. However, once the idea is on paper, I seem to find it painful to revise it.

Once I get to it, I keep revising it. This revision is directionless. I feel like I am lost in a jungle of words and don’t know where to go and how. I also continuously doubt my decisions. The process stretches to months and years and most first drafts never make it to the editing table.

Editing is less painful and there is some direction. I would know more about its pain if I get more papers to the table.

Dear Readers, do share your learning and experiences with me to achieve this milestone in my writing journey.



How To Read A Book

I have been reading a book by Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read A Book. The book was first published in the early months of 1940. I am reading the revised version of the book that came out in 1972. This version is co-authored by Adler and Charles Van Doren.

A friend introduced me to a chapter from this book by a friend, How to Make a Book Your Own. In this text he advocates such a reading of a text that it enters your bloodstream and becomes a part of your self.

In my last post, I talked about my teacher’s teacher. An interaction with him informs you how well he has read the text that even after 40-50 years of reading it, he can quote from the book. I want to read a book like him. Adler discusses the steps to become such a reader. I read this chapter more than once. Inspired by his convincing and authoritative style of writing, I decided to buy the book.

This revised version of the book is even better. It is a fat book of 418 pages. It is a compelling read especially today when we are increasingly losing the capacity to read. I will write more about the book once I finish reading it.

My Teacher’s Teacher

I went to see my teacher’s teacher yesterday. He taught my teacher during his graduation years. Now, he is 90 years old. He never fails to amaze me with his memory. Yet during every conversation, he complains that he forgets. I tried to tell him to see how much he remembers.¬†During our conversation, he narrated a long poem that he read in a newspaper in 1945. The poem was about an incident in which a student died during lathi charge.¬† He remembers the names, writers and even quotes from books. My teacher still consults him for books because he remembers nearly everything that he read even if he read it in a newspaper.

I wonder how well he must be reading. Yesterday, he shared an anecdote about his teacher, Dr. Dhirendra Tripathy. Dr. Tripathy was a D.Litt from Paris. Around 1945, as my teacher’s teacher graduated, he went to Dr. Tripathy for a testimonial. He had applied for a teaching position. Dr. Tripathy called his secretary and dictated a testimonial. One thing I valued most in the testimonial was that Dr. Tripathy described him as a student who almost always, “either adds something of subtract something from the lecture that was given to him. He chose what he liked. So, he is a man of independent ideas.”

So, after Dr. Tripathy gave him his testimonial, he asked, “Do you know how to teach?” He replied, “I know how to read.” The forever serious Dr. Tripathy smiled and said that you must take three counsels from me:

  1. Always be better than the best student of your class.
  2. Never enter a class unless you are fully satisfied with your preparation.
  3. Be honest. Tell your students with honesty that you do not have an answer to a particular question but will find out about it.

I have a feeling that my teacher’s teacher gave this counsel to my teacher too.



In one of our conversations before marriage, my husband said, “Relax. We all have a lot of time. We have to live a long life. It is not time that is less.”

His tone was so peaceful. His expression was so calming. I believed him. He believes in it too. He is never in a hurry. He works at his pace. He loves his work. He loves himself. He has a strong sense of ownership towards his work. He keeps re-doing it until he is convinced with it. Once, convinced, he looks at it admirably.

In case you are wondering, my husband is an artist. He paints. Water-colour is his preferred medium. From him, I am learning to do one thing at a time. Give it my best and keep at it till it is not the best I could do. From him, I am learning to understand time. I am learning to observe my pace. Most importantly, I am learning to understand myself.

Time is never less. We are not giving it its due. Every moment needs to be lived to the fullest. It should not be rushed or passed. I have to learn to make every moment my moment. It comes from a sense of security and calmness. The world I live in is one of my making. The time that I live is also of my making. Looking back, I should be able to say how well I have lived every moment of my time. I remember each moment touching me and leaving me.