Question’s Question

I have a friend who asks questions. And asking questions is good. But, to an extent. If the questions you ask are such that you seek truth, knowledge, and pertinent information, they are good. Beyond that, they are cynical. Beyond that, they only seek to create an event, where you are the superhero. If you have already decided what the answer to your question should be, there isn’t a need for asking the question.

Polarisation is the buzzword. We often attribute it to persons and personalities. Here’s a polarising figure, we say. In that instance, we give up our objectivity, I feel. Like a predator, we sit and wait; and the moment when a person says something that we can question, we pounce. But, that’s us. Because we seek that, that would confirm our own sense of beliefs. And we say it out loud. We describe the purpose of the pounce. It isn’t the person. We create the polarisation because of what we think should be.

3286- Blades in the Sun

A question has to be rooted in a belief. It has to be rooted in understanding. It has to be rooted in curiosity. It has to come from a platform of an open mind. Everything in this universe is open to a question. But if your question has no root in this universe, what would be the value of your question?

Teachers often tell their students, that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. I agree. No question is stupid, by itself. But some questions are trivial, provocative, and superficial. So-called stupid questions are often from an open mind. They seek to fill the gaps. They come from the view of un-understanding. They are usually accepting. Questions that seek to corner the answerer should not be asked, if you ask me. By the purpose of cornering, your answer is available to you before you ask.

Scepticism is a virtue, and a worthwhile one, at that. It informs that we will not accept something for the sake of it. When it is stretched, however, it becomes a vice. When you question everything, it follows, that you believe in nothing. Which is a big question mark on your sense of being.

In a recent 3AM conversation, a friend affected my belief system. I realised I was questioning it in a predetermined fashion and I promised her, I will learn more of the issue and come back to her with better questions, if at all.

We can ask questions that validate what we already believe, or we can ask questions that help us understand the human condition.

We’ll have to choose.

The Book and I

The same wise man I referred to in my previous post is the reason I love reading. I have many books, and may I say — just like him. As I have said before, I haven’t read all the books I own. I’ve seen books go out of print, in my lifetime, so buying them while they are available makes good sense. It’s, what has been called an anti-library.

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As I have grown, I have toned down my belief in books that are life-changing. There was a time I believed that. Apart from God himself (or herself, as the case may be), I believed Richard Bach and Paul Simon to be Gods. Perhaps, I still do, but I don’t pay as much attention to them. Amit recently shared a trailer of a documentary on Richard Bach. I liked it, but I am not sure I want to see it. God may, indeed, be a human.

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Our Prime Minister, in a recent public address, exhorted us citizens to read biographies of great people. I took it up with some seriousness. And I am glad, I did. I am more than half-way reading a biography of a great person, and it is inspirational, to say the least. It is changing how I think. In a nice way.

113508: Kalilah-wa-Dimnah (Panchatantra in Arabic)

Kalilah-wa-Dimnah (Panchatantra in Arabic)

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I have recently developed a phobia of publicly claiming books that I am currently reading. I discovered, I end up not finishing that book. And this is backed up by personal empirical evidence. So, this particular book that I am reading, will show up after I have read it. I am more than half-way through it. A little over 600 pages.

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Superstitions, and all.

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Books aren’t life-changing by themselves. We are influenced by what we read, learn, and assimilate. There may be an impressively life-changing book and we may ignore all that it has to offer us. Or we may find meaning in the trashiest of all books. And while Amit (yup, same guy as above) said this in a different context, I think its pertinent to this post:

It’s a sorry state of affair, two misdirected iconoclasts going after each other when they have a lot of common foes to go against, and common ground to build on. Good literature is beyond language. So is shitty literature. And thank [G]od for that! We’re richer because of the vernaculars, and because of IWEs. [Indian Writing in English] Give me more, not less … [Emphasis, and [Edits], Mine]

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And while I have not been able to do justice being a member of a library, I am glad that they are doing a wonderful job of spreading the love of the written word. In an inimitable way.

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Grudge not the unread book. Each one of them has something to say. It’s just foreplay for now. Those inanimate pages will express themselves, when the time is right.

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Meanwhile, embrace what you are reading. May there be a union of what you seek and what is on offer.

Beyond Anger

A wise man once advised me that I should be open about my feelings. Negative, even if they are. Years of suppressing your emotions is the means for creating an unpredictable event at an unpredictable time.

“It’s like trying to force an empty pot, face down, in water. For a while, you will be able to manage it by brute force, but the pot will resist and it will flip out,” he said with a peculiarly balanced tone, “and you will not be able to control the jounce of that flipping pot.”

I smiled. I nodded my head, as if in acknowledgement and agreement. The sense that you could hurt someone with a clinical explanation of your feelings was much to bear. At the time, the unpredictable pot in the future made more sense.

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Sleeping Pot

There’s an ugly side of sarcasm’s coin that I am not fond of. I love humorous sarcasm, heck, I enjoy it. Sarcasm is always a package of what’s said and what’s intended. Funny sarcasm is well-packaged. It’s simple. There’s a wrapper and the content. Completely unambiguous. When you open it, it’s clear as sky. The ugly version has compartments. Many compartments. Often, hidden compartments. That’s the one I dread.

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I am unable to relate to most of my contacts on social networks. I continue to fail to understand their sarcasm, which is veiled in cynical scepticism. Most of them seem angry. The word they are using for anger, nowadays, is outrage. Most of them are taking sides. (Which is, I will admit, so much better than sitting on the fence). There’s too much data. No, not information or knowledge. Data. And these data grenades are being hurled in the dark by people who are blinded by their shades. Each data grenade has a counter-data grenade. The hurling continues. No targets. Just hurling. There is no stock-taking of the damage. Just hurling. And data is never wrong. Data is unintelligent and perhaps, even stupid, but never wrong. It is what it is.

All this anger (outrage), righteous as it is, is an unending ripple in the calm. Minds seem so agitated and busy finding the next counter-grenade, there isn’t peace. In the mind, i.e. We aren’t talking about the world. The narrowness of belonging is sharp, one-way, and unrelenting.

We’ll have to pause.

If you read accounts of enlightened people, you will notice that because they are so open, with so few filters on perception, everything for them is poetry. Everything is alive, asking for attention.

Attention to what? To the divine that hovers beneath the surface of all life. What we respond to in the great paintings of history is the depth of attention the artist had focused on the project. We could even use the word prayer—not in a religious sense, although for some artists that might be accurate. But prayer in the sense of communion with the stuff of creation. [Principle Fifteen: Creative Authenticity]

Anger/outrage is no more an expression, it is a community. Only two sides. With us or against us. Yet, I am sure, there be pastures, where the shades of green and gold abound and call for a sense of being, and not belonging:

Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

[Gitanjali, Rabindranath Tagore]

We have to stop imagining our life; start living it.

Heartbreaks Are Personal

Of all the things in the world, heart-breaks are one of the most personal things. At the same time, heart-breaks transcend every boundary that humans have created. They cut across boundaries that are political, physical, geographical, racial, cultural, and often, those that relate to time. So, for me, they are exclusive and same at the same time.

3286- Blades in the Sun

So, when someone talks of a heartbreak, I know exactly what the person is going through and I have no idea what the person is going through. What do you say to the heartbroken person? Nothing really. All you can do is smile and be with the person. Given the culture that caused your persona, you may behave differently. But essentially, you do not leave a heartbroken person alone. I think, that’s the global common. Seems simple enough, yet, we have a tendency to analyse it all.

I have, sadly so, attended many events around death. And the worst statements of support are when people compare the degree of death to another. You know what I am talking of: died of disease? Here’s a (potentially worse) story of someone we know; died in an accident? Here’s a (potentially worse) story of someone we know, and so on. Perhaps we tend to bring in degrees of suffering to alleviate the suffering of those that will have to live on. The intentions may be in the right place. But a death is a death. A heartbreak is a heartbreak. There are no degrees.

Yet, love (or the loss of it), is nothing like death. Love is like life. Infinite Capacity. And there is no scale for measuring how much you have loved. And for good reason. In the times that we live, when everything is about facts, stats, proofs, documents and such, love remains the one experience available to us that we don’t have to explain. Especially, about how much we were loved back.

Love is not measured by reciprocity; if at all, it is measured by intensity.

Love isn’t. It just is.

हम ने देखी है उन आखों की महकती खुशबू
हाथ से छूके इसे रिश्तो का इल्जाम ना दो
सिर्फ एहसास है ये रूह से महसूस करो
प्यार को प्यार ही रहने दो कोई नाम ना दो

Since I’ve treaded in a thorny terrain, I’ll walk through it (i.e. the translation) and I call on my friends to help me correct this, if I have made mistakes. And to interpret it differently.

I’ve seen the pervading fragrance of those eyes,
Hands away; contaminate it not with trivial accusations of relationships
Feel it through your soul, the way it is meant to be
Let love be, stay away from name-calling.

Love stories and poems become popular. Popularity, however, is no method to gauge intensity, either. That a million (or more) people in this world at this instant are feeling the same, is no reason for you to feel solace. Love may be unrequited. And it means less, for when you have been in absolute love, it is only a measure of how much you have loved, not a measure of how much you have lost.

And a million words from me or anyone else will not (and should not) mean anything. A heartbreak is a heartbreak. It is yours. It is personal. Your friends can be around, but only you can mend your heart. And forgive the friend who asks you to forget. You will feel what you have to feel. And take time to feel what you feel. Your life however is richer because of the love in your heart.

As time passes by, you will know your life is better because you loved; it’s not poorer because it wasn’t reciprocated.

Anti-Anti-Library

I’ve often wondered about my library.

3383: David Sassoon Library & Reading Room

I am inclined to buy books and not join a library to borrow them, when I need. There is perhaps an apprehension that I will need to refer to that particular book again, and it will not be handy. It is usually easy for me to remember what I had read in a book; it’s a bit of a task for me to remember exactly what was written. Buying books, however brings along with it, the problem of their keeping. (If you need to know about my relationship with book, read this) Some years ago, I read The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in which, I read about the antilibrary:

“The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore, professore dottore Eco, what a library you have ! How many of these books have you read?” and the others – a very small minority – who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you don’t know as your financial means, mortgage rates and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menancingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.”

I am no Umberto Eco, but this helped reinforce, in some way, the raison d’être for my library. My mom always gives me a look when new books come home. But the looks are not for the books (she is as much a book lover as I am) but because she knows some space will be encroached upon.

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I was a bit hesitant to open the shrink-wrap of a book. The book was for sale; what if I decided against buying it?

Go ahead, open it. Books aren’t meant to be in a shrink-wrap.

And there it was, in pristine condition, Traces of India – Photography, Architecture & the Politics of Representation 1850-1900. Within five minutes of skimming through, I knew I would buy it. And then, it had to happen. I stumbled upon Concepts of Space in Traditional Indian Architecture. Oh, the pain! The dilemma! The budget! I settled for the later, with a heavy heart. (Wise words floated in the room: The library should contain as much of what you don’t know as your financial means, mortgage rates and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there.) I promised the other book: I’ll be back.

I bought only one book, but brought back four, today, from Trilogy. That’s because the Trilogy is not just a book store, it’s a library too. Given that hardly any local libraries stock books of real interest, I had long given up on joining a library. There’s also the inconvenience of returning books to the library.

The Eternal Library - Trilogy - Membership CardTrilogy was started with lots of love by Ahalya and Meethil Momaya and this love shows when you speak with them in their very tastefully done library. (Unfortunately, they do ask that you return the books in two weeks). Meethil happily removes the shrink-wrap so that you can see inside. Trilogy is a bookstore, a library, and an events location, rolled into one, but you feel the library little more than the book shop. These are of course, early days for this fantastic venture. The library provides flexible membership plans for people who generally don’t borrow books (like me) and allows you to borrow more than one books at a time. Eight books, if you take the family membership. I’ll confess, I wasn’t about to join a library when K&S took me there today. I thought, maybe, if I liked something, I’d buy a book.

I was willingly converted; took a membership. [There’s a fun secret about the membership card, but hey, you’ll know it only if you join]

Trilogy is 37kms away from my place. About an hour, without traffic, which is impossible on Mumbai’s main arterial road. Twice a month, to the library is asking for much. But I am glad about joining. Books aren’t just about words and pages and binding. They are about bonding. With people who love books as much (or more) than you do.

There is of course the disadvantage that I’ll not be able to underline and annotate, but I’ll end up using my notebook more. (Inspired by Thirteen1999). And perhaps, just perhaps, I might not take three months to finish a book. There’s your advantage. Visit teltrilogy.com for more information.

Right now, I have to go finish reading a book that I have borrowed.

:)

My Life’s Diamond (And I Love You So)

It’s dark outside.

When we close our eyes, it’s dark. The real dark. When we open our eyes, we see much light and colour. But it is a different type of dark. We can discern shapes, depth, colours, structure, and form, but we see nothing.

0748: Artificial Patterns

So we close our eyes.

The big blanket of black at the back of our eyelids is comforting. There are no colours. No shapes. No forms. No need for defining anything. It’s peaceful. It is dark grey when we start, and an impermeable black after a while. For just a while.

Then, it all changes.

Crystalline megastructures float in. They are Prussian blue to begin with. So dark a shade we can hardly differentiate between black and blue. The colours of pain. But the experience is peaceful. A mesh of see-through inter-connected horizontal diamonds of blue. The crystal structures move and transform rapidly, creating combinations hitherto unknown. A mathematical ballet; if only I could tell you the formula. It is a tense structure, stretched from this extreme of my emotion to that.

A gentle press on the eyelids, then; I dive into another world.

Green, like the moss of a discarded lake of yore. Magenta, like the colour of your bangles. Brown, like the magical mud I saw in the Deccan fort. White, like milk before I poured it in the tea. Red, like your carefully smeared rounded bindi. Yellow, like the fresh lemon on a Tuesday afternoon. Pink, like the one we both smiled at, at the store. And as one colour gives way to another, I see, in between, nameless colours. Like the trivial moments we shared. Each eventually forgotten, but always cherished, for their essence. A wild and reckless combination of the bases. I am reminded of organic chemistry. Base colours. Base elements.

Each complex crystal is an idea. A memory. A dream. Each one is transient. This is not a play of time. This is a play of experience.

There is a manner about how I love.

This is how, and how much I love you.

The Demon Within & Without

We all like to think of ourselves as nice people. And almost every time that’s true. We are nice people. By default, i.e.

Nice is an inherited; nay, an imposed definition of how we should be. We all live that. We smile at our neighbours, we thank people and we say sorry for things we would rather not be apologetic about. We serve a social contract, as we should, if we are to live in society.

Then, as the day ends, we close our doors, say our sweet goodnight, and we are alone. Are we?

Unrevealing as they are, we face our demons. Nothing social about them. They are as personal as it gets. We close our eyes, we toss & turn, we read badly written books, we take medication, we ignore them; them the demons.

A friend recently told me of beings in a temple. These unseen beings clamour and cling to you when you visit a Shiva temple. Ganas, they are called. The reason why you do not leave a temple just after you have worshipped the deity, is that these Ganas envelope you. So, you stay, and allow them to find other victims. Demons, in Sanatan construction, they have multiple incarnations. There’s the Rakshasa, the Asura, the Daitya, and other forms.

2550: Temple Art

But let’s exit the forms of a demon. Let’s not consider the kinds of the demons; their role in mythology and their accrued (and eventually corrupted) meaning. Let’s make it personal, but let’s keep the context alive. My own demon, or demons. There came a time when demons became friends. We embraced them will-fully. At the time, we had no idea that there are good demons and bad demons. But demons they were. The good, the bad, and the ugly were eventually defined. And while those that we embraced lived alongside, we qualified them, even if we did not discard them.

A new day dawned.

We had to hide our demons. Slowly and surely, all that was good about the demons was systematically eradicated. We had to take extra care in hiding our demons. Without a thought of the nature of the demons, they were relegated to the bad. Demons became demons.

Our sense of bad is directly related to our sense of good. Unfortunately our sense of good is so shallow, that our sense of bad is equally shallow. What’s good; what’s bad, is a borrowed ethic.

I have my own demons. I love them, I hate them, at times. Just like you. Yes, those same demons, that we ignore; not fear; ignore. We have to fight all our demons. Those that we do not want in our lives, we have to vanquish. The other’s, we have to tell them: leave. Demons aren’t attached to us; we are attached to demons.

Some demons, spend so much time with you, they seem to become friends. But they aren’t. They are just companions-for-long. That’s different from friends. Friends happily stay away from you for years; it does not matter. But if a companion stays away from you for a few hours, you despair.

Not all demons are demons. One of these days, we will see ourself in a mirror.