Being Sceptic

There are moments, when I feel I should be a sceptic.

A while ago, I was at the Therekol fort. It is at the border of the states of Maharashtra and Goa. At the place where the political separates us as Maharshtrian and Goanese, is defined, they had put up a board. This is Goa, this is Maharashtra, the board said. I was there with a few friends. And we were jumping across the border – once in Goa, once in Maharashtra. In one moment, we could be here, or there. It was fun.

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Does denying (or convincing) require more effort? Or does accepting? I have no idea. My default has been to accept, and then discover, if there’s truth in that which is said. If our natural tendency is to deny, then, perhaps, there’s not much motivation to discover.

This king, said the tourist guide, with what seemed like pride, had a sword made of 80 kgs. “80 kgs?” I almost shouted back. Maybe I yelped. Or shrieked. Either ways, a friend smiled at me, recognised my pain, patted my back, asked me to let it go. That would have been a wonderful time to be a sceptic. But I wasn’t. I took my friend’s advice, I let it go, and researched armoury of that period.

Hyperbole, for example, is a device used in poetry. It is a legitimate form of expression, like a simile or an alliteration. The degree of exaggeration will vary from poet to poet. When poets don’t use it, the connotation; = lies. Therein, we have to be careful. In poetry and other literary writing, it has a specific purpose. Every device has a purpose. Every device has a name. When you take the name, out of the situation, use it as a transferred epithet, to suit your needs, that artifice.

Most sceptics are cynics. They do not know the difference. Being sceptical is respectable. So they call themselves that. There are sceptics who are real sceptics. But, few. The others are just being fashionable and trendy. 

I’d like to be a sceptic. For the sheer convenience that it offers. To be able to transfer the burden of proof. You say this? I don’t agree, prove it. And then I can go back to saying the something to someone else. It’s not too difficult to harbour doubts if you are a believer (and I use this word, only as an opposite to a sceptic; no other connotation). Being a sceptic closes some doors and templates the narrative.

No, I don’t feel I should be a sceptic.

The Writer’s Paradigm

Any other day, I would have used the title above, and ranted about the compelling need I feel, to write. And then perhaps dissect and analyse this emotion, or gloriously abstract it away. I know of many other who feel this compulsion. But the knowledge is only a feeling, really. What does it really mean, to want to write? While I never gave it a thought, somewhere, I always believed that the need to write could be expressed only through words; spoken or written.

I was recently proved wrong. I saw the compelling need to write. I experienced it with someone.

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I met him on a sunny morning, the first of 2016.

We were at the cenotaphs of Orchha, and had stopped right outside, at a makeshift tea stall, slowly waking up to the new year. While the lady, perhaps my age, but seeming far elder, was brewing the tea, I sat at the platform, and opened my diary. It was, after all, the first day of the new year, I had to write something. Needless to say, I had no idea what to write. Half-clear memories were still reeling from the party last night. I had some important things churning in my head, but they were too metaphysical, for me to deal with, right now. Some words, reluctantly, made an appearance. I started writing.

A snotty little kid came and sat quietly beside me, looking at my writing. We looked at each other, smiled. He had one of the broadest smiles I had ever seen. His face was marked with vitamin deficiency, but that did nothing to diminish the warmth of his smile.

“I can write ABCD,” he said, just like that.

“Very good,” I replied with a smile, and returned to writing what lessons in life I have learnt and the ones I have ignored.

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“Here, let me show you,” came the reply and without warning, my passionately guarded Moleskin, was snatched from my hands. “Give me the pen.”

I couldn’t think very clearly, at the time. The surprise element was strong. My compulsion to write, was weak. I handed over the pen.

“A for Apple,” he told me and wrote it down, and the alphabet continued it’s journey, double-spaced, no less. We reach G. He doesn’t recall what G is for. Funnily enough, neither do I, i.e. what the nursery G is for. Groggy came to mind, but I was projecting. Glock came to mind, because of a conversation, yesterday. Yet, the word gun, didn’t cross my mind. I kept my mouth shut.

“It’s ok, let’s go ahead,” I said, and we continue. At O for Orange, I wanted to tell him, how the “r” should be written. I think better of it. Tea was served around Q for Queen, and as you see, I wasn’t paying attention, so that slipped through. (Yes, the Monkey also escaped). I take time to check if knows the meanings of the for words. He does. The pressure he uses on the paper is much. At least four pages down, the alphabet will be embossed, I imagine.

I remembered my English teacher from Class III; No, Atul, there is no need to dig into the notebook with your pencil. Hold it lightly. We will need the other pages in the notebook for the rest of the year.

It was a lesson for me in letting go. I did, though mildly upset. At Z for Zebra, he was all done, but wasn’t letting go of the notebook. I politely snatched it back from him, praised him for the wonderful work, wished him all the best, and joined my friends in touristing. He smiled back.

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It was the broadest, happiest, toothy smile I had seen, in years.

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The cenotaphs are a photographer’s paradise. Come sunset, we returned, after visiting a couple of grand palaces. The same lady was there at her open-to-air tea stall. We had finished our photography (of the cenotaphs) and it did seem like a very good idea to have some more chai-biskoot (Tea & Biscuits).

Tap on the shoulder. “I know ten colours,” same sweet mumbly voice. Without a word, I took out my notebook and pen, and handed it over. No snatching business this time. He listed a few, in his own inimitable style. Saying out loud everything that he wrote, letter-for-letter. I was more interested, and more curious, now. We were now having a sort of conversation. Mostly, I was being a spelling Nazi, but gently.

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“I also know ten animals.” The list continued, after a line that separated the colours and the animals, so that they don’t get mixed up. He finished the animal list. It’s a bit of a quandary for him, I imagine. I will want my notebook back. But he, very clearly, wants to write more. He doesn’t look up from the notebook. Starts re-writing some of the things he has already written. The left page is full.

I congratulated him. His mother, the lady making the tea, is quite proud at our conversation. I ask him some questions about his life; the conversation goes on in Hindi. Then, I ask him to sign his name. Boom. He didn’t not know how to write his name in English. He wrote it in Hindi. I spent some more time with him, and taught him to write his name in English.

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That’s when, I met Ram Ravat, who can now write his name in English. If I wasn’t paying attention, I would have missed that quick breeze of pride, that passed me by.

But Ram Ravat was not done. He now wanted to write questions and answers. Sentences. The right page is his resume. I could see he was desperately thinking of more things to write. He was at a loss. I did get my notebook back, with much, much, much reluctance.

I spoke with his mother later, apparently he is not to write in his school notebooks anything other than classwork. So, if Ram Ravat wants to write more, and more and more, he has no way. I imagined, the happiest time of his day, is when he is in class, and gets to write. Amongst managing other things, Ram Ravat’s mother cannot afford another notebook. I give her some money. I ask her to buy a notebook and a pen for Ram Ravat. I tell her to let him write as much as he wants.

Because I have known writers who have the best notebooks, papers, pens, and gadgets, at their disposal, but cannot write. And they go through their own fire in hell before they can write again.

But never, never should a writer not be able to write, for lack of paper and pen.

A Different Kind of Post

I wrote a real letter, after a long time.

There’s a context to real. It means that it was handwritten on paper, put in an envelope, was addresses by hand, postage stamps were applied, and it was dropped in a proper post-box.

India Post - Post Box "Indian Post Box". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

India Post – Post Box “Indian Post Box“. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

I’ve recently written a few letters. Some are incomplete. Some complete, but not posted. Some completed, and sent — but as scans, some nearly perfect, but sent via courier.

There were two challenges with this letter; one that it was being written to someone who was less than a third my age, second that it was (in all probability) the first letter for my young recipient ever. After all was done, I had to go to the post office. I had no postage stamps. And though my mother had some old ones, I had no idea how much postage would be required for my letter’s destination.

So off I went.

It’s five rupees now. For less than the cost of a cutting-chai two pages of a letter can travel anywhere in this country. For those of you who may not have cutting-chai as a benchmark, it costs US$0.08. Less than a dime. The Indian postal system is an institution that I have always respected, and nothing has changed in that department. No pun intended. The post office is much cleaner, spacious, and instead of letters being bang-stamped there is a whirr of a dot-matrix printer. The post office looks brighter and happier.

I owe a bit to my recipient, else this was an experience I would not have had.

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Writing the letter was a very interesting experience. Especially with the spellings, because another friend had pointed out, that I should be careful with the spellings. I discovered, the speed with which I can write, has reduced considerably. I wrote the letter as I would have written when I was prolific with letter writing. I do not know if the style will make sense to my young reader. Well, in the least, my reader will know how we used to write letters 20-25 years ago. Yet, I did not feel like making any changes in the style. In the end, I was very happy with what came out.

Postal Envelopes and Stamps

Postal Envelopes and Stamps

I knew I’d write more letters than before. And I want to write letters now. Let me know if you’d like to receive one. So, while I was dropping this letter, in the post office, I bought some prepaid envelopes and a few stamps.  The prepaid envelopes look very different now. But I’ve changed too. So has my handwriting. So has my paper. So has my pen. So have my thoughts. So have the people I’d write to.

In this ever-changing world, the sense of writing a letter has stayed the same.

I Do It For Your Love

What makes a lover say no to the love that stands, with open arms, asking only, that he take one step towards love?

What purpose or gain, if you love me
Other than being scattered in the whirlwind of my milieu.

What makes a love think so much of the life he has lived and the life that he sees in front of him, that he does not take that step?

I am the denizen of the hovel of grief and pain
It’s only me, who can stay alive in this haunt.
Why would I dream a dream whose reality is remorse
For, in my remorse, you may rue it too.

What makes a lover not see a better life and drives away the love to a better future?

Pray, what purpose, that anyone share this anxious weariness
Let my world remain dreary and dismal
Let the steps in your life be easier, in the least
In traveling with me, nothing but regret awaits you

What makes a lover hope for a good life for his lover, away from him?

What of me; there are many admirers to come
Many tunes that will echo of love, for you
Many tales of love that life is yet to tell you
You have no reason to believe you will not forget me.

Love.

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I’ve taken serious liberties in translating the song, but have stayed true to the sense this song causes, within. There is an inherent beauty in sad songs, like I mentioned earlier. Even in your happiest moments, these songs remain beautiful, because of the weave of the words and the purity of the emotion that they convey.

It’s love.

*

“Pyar Mujh Se Jo Kiya Tumne”, from Saath Saath (1982), sung by Jagjit Singh

Happy Teachers’ Day, Mr. Shukla

I’ve been having interesting conversations with Mr. Shukla; the last few mornings.

Our conversations have mostly been about Hindi. No surprise there, Mr. Shukla did his Masters in Hindi literature, from his hometown, near Kanpur. He was also a teacher in the local school, teaching Hindi up to Class 5. We’ve duelled a couple of times with beautiful verses from various poems in Hindi. We’ve discussed the structure of the language, and argued about the value of learning and teaching Hindi in schools. Once in a while, he talks of his experiences in school. His students, his hometown. Once, we lamented the side-streaming of the language in society. Mr. Shukla also knows Sanskrit. Quite well, I’d say. He rattles off Sanskrit verses with equal ease. In those instances, I turn listener. Hindi or Sanskrit, the conversations have been interesting and educational.

Next week onwards, I’ll miss him, because I am moving away from this guest house. He’ll continue his work here, as a security guard, long after I’ve left.

He moved to Delhi a few years ago, when being a teacher became unaffordable. This person, who would have otherwise be securing our future and our children’s future, is now securing just one lifeless building.

The Fault in the Pattern

Happy Teachers’ Day, Mr. Shukla.

And, a Happy Teachers’ Day to all the teachers in this world. Never mind, whether you are working as a teacher or not.

Why Do I Write?

Good writers are concerned about their writing. Often to the point of anxiety. The worry spans many concerns.

Do I write well? If I do, how do I know? Does anyone read what I write? How do I know that someone is reading what I write? How many read what I write? Do they like what I write? Do they know who I am? Are those who read what I write smart as me, or smarter? Do they like me or do they like what I write? Should I write more or should I write less? Should I write for the masses or for the classes?

These and many other such concerns are a good writer’s constant companions. Different writers are concerned differently, with varying intensity of the concern, and apart for their other interests and intelligence, these concerns are what makes them good writers.

MacBooking

Recently, while writing On the Write Path, Amit asked if writing has value outside of its readership, and I said yes. He then turned the question over its head and asked if readership has a value for a writer (apart from money), and I said yes.

The value in both, the writing and readership is intangible, but is valuable indeed. Writing helps refine our thoughts, create expression, and plants the seed for a conversation. Readership creates conversation, broadens our thinking, enables us to write better. That’s how the cycle starts and keeps going on.

That, you will agree, is a very simple, insipid value statement.

What makes the cycle exciting is all the traps and the escapes that a writer goes through. Staring at the blank page, every writer, has questioned, at least once — Why do I write? While the answer to that question is yet to be discovered, the writer writes, and the question permeates the writing, even though no word will betray it. The writer waits for a reader. Or, waits for at least an acknowledgement, that a reader exists. The writing resonates with a reader. Reader acknowledges the writer. It feels like an answer to the writer’s question, but the writer is mistaken. The writer, in turn, acknowledges the reader. Writer continues writing. More readers arrive. The writer becomes a reader. Writes. Reads. Writes, again. The writer forgets the original question. A new question emerges — Who do I write for? A new trap. And new escapes. Somewhere, while all of this is going on, social compulsions attack the writer. Promotion, engagement, statistics, popularity. Multiple skirmishes occur. New questions are born (see second paragraph, above). New escapes. The writer becomes a warrior. In a few cases, the readers become an army. Some battles are won, some lost. Much experience is gained. Over time, a few from the army, desert. The writing continues. New readers are conscripted. The question — Why do I write — remains unanswered. It bares itself at its whim. Every other question is either answered or discarded as worthless. This one question, just refuses to get answered and go quietly into the night. And the writer continues writing.

All the writing, whether it is read or not, whether appreciated or not, becomes a value in itself, over time. The cumulative experience of writing and reading, that intangibly laces the words, curiously determines their placement, and stealthily deepens the meaning, is the value. Impossible to measure or define, but most easy to feel, right after we write. Part of this value accumulates to the writing, part of value to the self.

Perhaps, that is why I write.

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.