Monday, August 15, 2016

SEVENTY YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE: Thoughts on Political Freedom and Personal Meaning

Image Courtesy:

What does Freedom mean? We are gathered on this Monday, 15 August 2016 to celebrate the political freedom India earned from the British Empire. What does this notion of political freedom mean to the present generation of Indian citizens? The scars of the freedom movement and the partition that came after the attainment of the epic resolution are no longer the priority for the younger minds. As a teacher, over the six years that I spent with the young Indian citizen infused me with an understanding that underscores the indifference they experience towards the colonial past. I mean, all of it is a good story. Having physical and close-psychological encounter with the colonial rule is the only way to experience that fact as such. No representation, verbal, visual or auditory is enough to put the person through whatever transpired in those two hundred years of slavery. In fact, in India, slavery under colonial rule must be differently defined, since slavery has been in existence in various forms and manners throughout the centuries.

For the younger generation of this great nation, freedom and independence are words that should be redefined. A mere political interpretation would not help at this stage when, at least a minority is attempting to threaten humanitarian values to attain their own version of political correctness. Freedom should make a meaningful place in their heart and spirit. Only a spiritualization of life would matter at this stage when vigorous politicization has failed miserably.
Image Courtesy: newsworldindia
Freedom must be looked at with a spiritual looking glass. Are you free from hatred? Are free from fear? Freedom may mean the freedom to love your enemy, freedom to be free in the face of the most dreaded adversary. But such freedom comes with a price. The price is to learn, to acquire wisdom through learning the tradition. There were many who came before us; who among the face of great danger and adversity, showed us that spiritual truth could bless us with treasures more than any material could offer. One of my gurus, Dr. Wayne W Dyer registers this notion thus in his book, You’ll See It When You Believe It: “we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

It is to this spiritual source that I suggest we should channel our younger generation to. The body is always limited, but the spirit is innately eternal and limitless. When freedom and independence are only notions celebrating a relativity of political events—one in which the people of this great nation were enslaved by the British, and the other in which the people are enslaved by their own elected leaders—any thinking individual would lose his or her sense of relevance. Unlike any other animal on planet earth, humans are wired to experience and long for freedom and independence. Independence and self-reliance are stages top on the psychological evolution.

In order to take the younger minds into the arduous task of nation-building, it is important to inspire them with ideals as well as ideas. Politicization of social life and its aftermath—mass corruption—have lead many to lose hope in the very notion of nationality itself.
Image Courtesy:

Important deed is to bring the young ones closer to the path of service. Serving the nation can indicate serving the people of this nation and the values that we stand for as one nation. This, one could expect these young men and women to ooze out only if they are given a sense of meaning and concrete purpose to perform so. This could be achieved not through the abstract act of politicizing memories with political archetypes. For the young mind, these are abstract notions that, perhaps, their grandparents went through at a distant time.

It’s important to make them patriots, but with a renewed sense of purpose. It is not jingoism but a sense of spiritual reward, sought by the rishis and great men of wisdom of this ancient land that could bring our new generation together in the task of nation building.

The Commentator   

Thursday, August 11, 2016

DELHI IS NOT FAR BY RUSKIN BOND: A Love Story without Losses

Image Courtesy: Penguin
“…and I know that this one lifetime, however long, cannot satisfy my heart” (111).
__ Ruskin Bond

The Commentator says;
When it’s about love, some believe it’s natural to make mistakes. The truth is ‘mistakes’ and ‘love’ do not coexist. Mistakes are not love. Love is not a mistake. Before the book review, let me recount to you a love story flew by my life a couple of months back. As some of you know, I love blogging. As some others of you are well aware, more than blogging, I love the experience of writing. Blog or my other publishing ventures, this love for writing is at the core of it all. A couple of months before, I had thought of writing a review of the book Delhi is Not Far by Ruskin Bond, author of The Lamp is Lit. Opening a word document, I wrote the title of the book with the author’s name as a ‘clever’ appendage. Then I kept it to gather some inspiration and relevance. Then I forgot. To be more precise, I pushed the priority to love to another rather unimportant spot and, for the time being, foregrounded some other necessities. Dry as they may be, these necessities were significant to fortify the walls of my small personal world.

Then came a day when my own spirit knocked on a tiny window on that wall. It was time to push old priorities back into position. I opened a word document. Decided to write on Delhi is Not Far. Wrote a title, this time a better one and hit the shortcut keys on the keyboard to save the document in the same folder I save them always. The computer said the file named the book title already existed.
Image Courtesy: Google

Delhi is Not Far is a novella about two men who fell in love with a woman in a rural small town in India. The story takes place in Pipal Nagar, an imaginary small town in Northern India. The protagonist of this novella is a male writer, a convenient alter ego of the author himself perhaps. His name is Arun, a writer of B Grade crime novels in Urdu language eking out a living in Pipal Nagar.  Arun tries his hand on various jobs in Pipal Nagar, jobs that only a small town could offer like an attempt at selling vegetables. Those who have read The Lamp is Lit may find an element of autobiography in this action. Apparently, Ruskin Bond himself, as a young man, tried vegetable business and failed.

Arun’s companion in Delhi is Not Far is Suraj. Their common interests are Kamala, a prostitute and their liberating bicycle rides out of Pipal Nagar to the green, nostalgic countryside. Going to Delhi, the nation’s capital and becoming successful is the motive that guides Arun, Suraj, Deep Chand, the barber, etc.

The title, Delhi is Not Far perhaps demonstrates the sense of fulfillment that these characters want to achieve once they undertake the quintessential journey to Delhi, the land of their opportunities. It also suggests a sense of distance. Distance is the major ingredient of nostalgia, one of Ruskin Bond’s most common themes.

Ruskin Bond’s parents were British. They came to India as part of the colonial mission. When the empire withdrew, Bond’s parents and relatives, (most of them) went with the Queen. He stayed, however, along with some of his relatives in Dehra Dun. After his education he worked in Channel Islands in the U.K, where he worked for two years and also started honing his writing craft. The location helped emblaze his longing for India. The commentator feels that it was perhaps this experience of going away that Imbued Bond’s style with his classic nostalgia or longing for the good old days of the past.
Image Courtesy: Google
Now, as I mentioned earlier, the thing we love would get to us. It’s hard for someone to get away from true love. The Commentator thinks that the measure of true love is the ‘pull’ one feels at the strings of the heart. Arun, finally, travels to Delhi, leaving behind his friend and Kamala. The story is wonderful as it touches deeper layers of one’s psyche.

In this story that the Commentator thinks is a love story, no one loses. It’s a deeper understanding of the human condition and its magnificence that envelops the ending of the story. Delhi is Not Far rekindled my love for rural life and eye for elements that spell originality in the Indian context. Ruskin Bond’s narrative style is uniquely Indian and lovably universal.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

MY DAYS BY R K NARAYAN: A Guide for Wannabe Writers

The Commentator says;

The calamity of today’s higher education in English literature in India is the blind tailing of western canons. This bias has incurred serious damage to the products of such a handicapped academia: the students. Major English writers in India are sidelined for the shameless inclusion of those whose Indian-ness could only be proved after referring to a dozen researched articles. Five years back, I used to teach R K Narayan in the MA English classroom, his novel The Guide. I read it as a maters’ student too. Now, a few years later, this author’s name appears only as a passing reference in the history of Indian English Literature. Sad— sad for the whole generation of students.

R K Narayan’s short stories are often prescribed for students in lower grades as if they are not worthy of the perusal of university students. My Days is R K Narayan’s autobiography. This book deserves to be in the reading-list of any serious scholar of literature. Unlike many semelparous authors India has seen, R K Narayan delivers quite a busy ride in the complex arena of fiction. His fiction, mostly written in the social realist tradition, offers with clarity the images of rural as well as an emerging urban India.
R K Narayan/ Image Courtesy: Google
My Days begins with an enticing description of the childhood of Narayan. The boy with a peacock and a monkey as playmates acts as a sharp contrast to contemporary childhood. The Commentator feels that it may sound backward reading but R K Narayan’s autobiography works in today’s India-the post-liberalized, post-modern, post-globalized cultural space-as a reminder of a synchronic reality that shaped most of the present thought leaders in this nation. In order to understand India’s cultural present, one must, the Commentator believes, go imbibe the cultural past that is mostly revealed through R K Narayan. This man is India’s keeper of a nostalgic past. His words are not mere signs that have signifiers; they are both signs and signifiers all in one.
Image Courtesy: Google

Young Narayan wanders the streets of Chennai and discovers as a young boy the various lives that would appear in his fiction, later. As a young man, he falls in love and keeps his family afloat by writing stories. The only job he was ever able to acquire was a teaching job. Narayan gets this job through a recommendation made by his father, the former principal of a major school. However, the young man was unable to kindle enthusiasm in teaching students. So he runs away and chooses a different life for himself.

My Days is also a book with nuggets of wisdom on the life of a writer. My Days is a must read from a teacher’s point of view. This book can inform as well as inspire wannabe writers. My Days feels like a vantage point because it projects through its pages the big picture behind the foggy realities of failures and struggles. While perusing the book, the Commentator experienced the surge of inner knowing and the awareness towards understanding life’s trials dawned on me. The reader gets a good look at the totality of life, the inherent feature of any good biography, whether written by oneself or by others.    

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


The Commentator says;
A Flight of Pigeons is a short novel says the publisher in one of those unqualified statements in the blurb. This book, in truth, could easily qualify for a novella. The Old Man and the Sea is a novella; a long story that is not a short story in its scope. A Flight of Pigeons also gives off a similar vibration. Author Ruskin Bond carefully constructs the historical tale of Ruth Labadoor and her family’s escapades during the massacre that took place during the first war of Indian Independence in 1857. Ruskin Bond is charming with his simple and lucid narrative style. Ruth’s family, although Christian, has Muslim roots. The Commentator feels that this may be unheard of in the West, a church-going family with Muslim relatives. It is also unheard of in the Indian subcontinent, where a Muslim family could never be related with a church-going Christian family. The story is set in Shahjahanpur, a small town. 

There is a sense of relevance in this theme, as Bond himself observes in the introduction he wrote. In the post-9/11 world, this relevance takes on a deep political and therefore academic interest too. The introduction written by Bond appears a bit of an exaggeration in terms of religious harmony portrayed in A Flight of Pigeons. However, the Commentator thinks that this sense of exaggeration is short-lived as one enters the length and breadth of the story. In A Flight of Pigeons love and friendship wins over religious bigotry.  

Image Courtesy: Google
Murdering a British was politically correct for Indian troops in 1857. Ruth’s father was brutally murdered in a church, in Shahjahanpur, along with other British officials. His body lay in the courtyard of the church for two days. Lala Ramjimal, a friend of Mr. Labadoor, takes care of Ruth, her mother Mariam, Ruth’s grandmother and others who are part of the Labadoor household in his small house. The family hopes to hide until the rebellion is quelled and the British recaptured Shahjahanpur. The irony is that Mariam, whose family is Muslim and who bravely faces the tribulations of the rebellion, could not reveal her hopes of survival. Javed Khan, a commander under the Nawab, discovers the family from their hideout.

Javed Khan finds Ruth to be very attractive. Although he has a wife, he wants to marry Ruth. However, he is a gentleman and cannot marry a woman without her family’s permission. So he begs Ruth’s hand in marriage from Mariam. She being a wise woman postpones the inevitable as much as she could. The novels moves towards its denouement while keeping the suspense and uncertainty of the characters’ lives intact.

The author claims that the theme of the novella is a true story. In the section in the book named “Notes”, several news items are quoted from late nineteenth century to validate this claim. The fight for one nation’s liberation becomes the cause for a family’s tribulation. The Commentator feels that any reader would race down through these pages until the end of the book just to see if the family survives the pathans and native rebels during their run for life. The Commentator recommends A Flight of Pigeons to those who are interested in reading political novels. This book would most certainly surprise you with its directness in declaring how the political ruins the personal.

Ruskin Bond/ Image Courtesy: Google
The Commentator feels that A Flight of Pigeons delivers a message to today’s young minds, apart from what Ruskin Bond suggests in the introduction to the book. The introduction to A Flight of Pigeons focuses on the message of interreligious bonds. The book, in the Commentator’s view is also, about how the political transforms what is personal.

A Flight of Pigeons is quite different from the regular Ruskin Bond style. Ruskin Bond mostly writes about nature, Dehra Dun, small towns, and tales set mostly in present or contemporary time. However, one may observe elements of nature surfacing with a typical Ruskin Bond touch when the author touches upon the topic of rain and narrates how it affects the life of the main character.         

A Flight of Pigeons:
Author: Ruskin Bond
Published by: Penguin Books  

This book is made into a movie titled Junoon by Shyam Benegal, with actors Shashi Kapoor, Jennifer Kendal, and Nafisa Ali playing the lead roles. The year was 1978.

Thursday, May 12, 2016


The Commentator says;
 If you read teachers, I mean, not the profession or system of teaching, but the individual human being who performs the roles of the teacher, you'll find it very awkward and boring. They are just as human as any other person sitting next to them in the local bus or train. The game changes when they are brought within a classroom environment. Like a piranha in a tropical lake, they suddenly attain an unprecedented ferocity, both in their dealing with students as well as any other realm of intellectual activity. Perhaps the only form understanding of cognitive psychology is that which deals with students or in general, the learner. What about the teacher? The commentator wonders if there exists a branch of psychology that deals with the teacher and his mind.

Investigating the faculty hideouts, places innocently termed as faculty rooms, one may locate the fact that many of the ferocious piranhas in classrooms are actually silent guinea pigs. Like all natural guinea pigs, the teachers too are subjected to experiments both by the managements of their institution and by the bodies appointed by the governments. The Commentator believes that interventions don't really change a teacher. Only a teacher's inner calling is capable of reforming him in making him the man of infinite wisdom.
Image Courtesy:

The Commentator feels that reading To Sir, With Love is a life-changing experience. This is so, especially for teachers. After reading this book, the Commentator felt that perhaps, this book has the capacity to amplify the inner-calling of teachers. A real-life experience, a true story, told in an artistically relevant fashion, in the form of a novel is thus a guide to those who are beginning as teachers. Their minds will expand at the wisdom offered by To Sir, With Love. Also they will see that some of the difficult classroom experiences are not unique at all. Those touching experiences that make your skin crawl in a classrooms might have happened several times to different teachers. What To Sir, With Love does is to prove to the teacher that their experience is not isolated and therefore not unsolvable. E R Braithwaite's classical classroom drama, this autobiographical novel, proclaims through its content that as a teacher you are not trapped either by your experiences or beliefs.

The Commentator has often felt that perhaps, it's idealism that renders immobility to the persona of a teacher. The teacher is robbed of flexibility of the state of being, sometimes, thinking that any attempt at modifying one's strategies would somehow dismantle the very identity of the teacher. Braithwaite, the protagonist of the novel To Sir, With Love is an engineer originally, who goes to try a teaching job. He has a reason that forces him to take up this new job at Greenslade School, East London. His reason is very simple. It does not require elaborate explanations: he couldn't find any other job because of his skin color. In a society that treats all people with dark skins as subhumans and worst than animals, Braithwaite is a question mark. He is well educated, able, and sharp. Why wouldn't he land a good job apt for his high qualifications?

Image Courtesy: Google
The impetus for Braithwaite to succeed in Greenslade School is not idealism. It is also important to note how demanding the principal of the school is. Mr. Florian, a man of principles, offers one-on-one lecture to impress Braithwaite on the ideal upon which the school runs, on his very first day itself. Braithwaite realizes on his first day at Greenslade School that he has entered a demanding profession. Don’t you agree that many of the young people, now, just like Braithwaite, enter teaching profession as a last resort, when they fail to find another job? Nevertheless, what Braithwaite does with his situation is quite a feat and a study aid to any student of teaching.

The Commentator believes that just like any other profession, teaching too demands a learner’s attitude from the employee. Teachers must acquaint themselves with cutting edge knowledge of the times in order to stay competent in their profession, a depressing lack of which is seen mostly in Kerala. A dilemma exists: if teaching is just a job or more than a job? The Commentator empathizes with the dilemma shared by many young teachers. The answer is not with me, though. It’s out there for you to find.  


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...