Thursday, December 13, 2012

Missing

This is a recent case of girl child missing, from Star City, West Virginia, the United States.
This picture says it all. I uploaded it from my Facebook page.

I spotted this picture shared on one of my friend’s wall. I shared it on to my Facebook timeline from there, thinking it would be helpful for some aching hearts to find out where their only panacea, their lovely daughter, is.
Image Courtesy: Google
This picture has been added on this blog, to create more chances of finding Skylar Neese. And to let the family know people do care about them, even if they are miles away, on the other part of the world.

The news and search of Skylar Neese’s disappearance reminded me of a book I read about three months back: Harlan Coben’s novel Caught. I had announced a book review before two months on this book. Due to some reasons this review could not be posted until now. However, with this post my intention is to renew that promise and to let you know that the review will be out soon! Real soon!

Caught reflects on a lot of levels the agony, suspense and search in a similar missing case of a teenager. The search in the book turns pessimistic; that however, is not my point here, at all. It’s just the similarity in how a suburban family confronts such a situation that I found identifiable. Needless to say, this news of Skylar Neese generated my renewed interest in Caught.

The review will appear in another post.

May God bless the Neese family find their peace and happiness soon.
Image Courtesy: Google

Friday, December 7, 2012

Secrets of a Storyteller

Image courtesy: Google
Teaching English at a local college provides me the necessary income for survival, since my books have not started their earning journey into the wide and wondrous world, yet. Still, I must say, teaching provides me not just money, but the experience as a person undertaking a professional responsibility. This experience amalgamates the innate creative impulses into a literary text exhibiting order, alignment, pattern and style, elements that are much needed in any writer’s success journey.  Even if I hadn’t taken this job up, I would have learnt these elements, but perhaps in the hard way, who knows.

Doing any other job, while pursuing a writer’s life, can bring to the surface a similar set of experiences that at a second stage, can culminate into a writing genius. I hope the story I am going to tell here, might influence, inspire and help move forward many like myself, who at some unfortunate turn in their lives, are forced to believe they are good for nothing. It is a debate that occurs in every mind, irrespective of one’s profession. Even if you are a writer, police officer, teacher, or doctor, at some point in your life, you must have taken this exceedingly inappropriate step to judge yourself. That their craft sucks would be the first impression they themselves are concluding with, if they are artists. Police officers might conclude, they are bad officers, blinding their eyes (for a moment or month or year—to whatever extent this feeling lasts, which in some people, until a messiah comes along and shows them the light of day) at those corrupt and indecent officers. For teachers, these days must be just as bad and hurtful as any other person. He might feel he is not worthy of the job.

As a teacher, I felt that too. I felt as if I was the worst teacher ever walked on the earth. This psychological upheaval happened occasionally. It was this June, when for the previous time it happened. It’s remarkable to see how the Universe kept its solution for the mental trap I was in, just within what I am, inside my self. I came back home one evening puzzled over the next step I should take, as it was clear teaching was not going to leave me any peace of mind whatsoever. When I opened my blog and thought of checking the comment box casually, I had not considered the possibility of anything else, not even a comment by some reader.

As you might have heard of, there are moments when fairies come alive and fire spitting dragons take us to new worlds—magical moments. In one such moment, I opened the comment box in my blog and there it was! A very positive comment on a book review I had written. The comment was just one line. It said, “You are a really good writer and inspiring too!” and nothing else. It felt like I was taken into some magical world by a dragon or this very world itself had just transformed and acquired a fantastical nature, for it was only in stories I had heard of such acute presence of coincidences! As a matter of fact, my self-doubt was washed clean by this single line of comment. The next day, I was a new person and had a lot of creative ideas to share. I felt, even if I may not able to make it to be a good teacher, I am doing great on another side of my personality, my writing.

But the same wall of doubt was due for the same personality I was so confident about on that day. Before long, I came across a situation where my short story collection could not even find a reply from the publisher I had sent it for publishing. It was clear the publisher had rejected it.

Perhaps dejection attracts a fair magnitude of dejection. There was no option, all my thoughts had tuned into the morbid frequency of hopelessness. Someone was telling me from inside that I should never write stories, they are worst; that I could not succeed as a writer. It was as if all other thoughts were unreal and hope was a fantasy. I denounced the writer in me. It was not because I found any fault with my writing though. Self-criticism felt good. I just felt consoled when I criticized myself. But the peace self-hurting gave me did not last long. Soon my mind was on high fire. There was a need to write that arose within me. I had to submit to that call, I felt strongly. However, without confidence and trust on what I do, writing was impossible.

I decided to help myself, to forgive myself for the failure I was. But to believe I still could write stories was impossible. In order to ward off these caustic thoughts, I resorted to reading self-help books. One day in college, I was reading a book on the dichotomy of form and formlessness and how through transcending the barriers imposed by the world of form one can enjoy everlasting happiness in the formless dimension of existence. A young girl came near to my table. I was sitting in the staffroom, in my table. The book in my hand, I was totally absorbed into the reading process that the movement of the student nearby did not create any response from my senses. I noticed her only when her voice was identified by my ears and my mind decoded her presence.

She asked what I was reading. What she wanted to know was if this book was fiction. I remembered that in the previous class, I had discussed a novel about a shepherd boy, who took the courage to follow his dreams and ended up learning the Language of the Cosmos and Soul of the World. In that journey the shepherd boy had also found the love of his life. The story had been of great interest to the young adult students, and I knew it would be.

The girl stood in front of me. I remembered, how this same person had, after that class once I discussed the novel, asked me for the copy of the novel. I could not, however, give her the book, as it was my personal copy and due to reasons I deem exceedingly psychological, I never consider lending my personal copies of books. She must have thought this was the same book in my hand now. I told her that was a non-fiction book I was reading.

Once I told her what the book was about, she had a surprise expression on her face. Her eyes went wide. She then explained why she considers it a very dignified act to read non-fiction. Her words took a confessional turn first. She said she did not read much non-fiction books other than her text books, mostly because she did not know how to remember in a sequence, the ideas in a book that is written without a story to connect all those ideas. She said this was a question she always thought about, but could not find an answer for and so avoided generally, the genre of non-fiction. Then she appreciated me for keeping such a wide variety of tastes in books. Before leaving, she asked two questions. Can I keep what I read in memory, even if it’s non-fiction? And how do I remember what I read?

I answered her something like—it worked in a complex manner. The ideas inside the book are elaborated in a sequential order. So one can remember what one reads even after one had finished reading the book, through connecting ideas and linking their connections. She left the staff-room  wishing me a good day. That turned out to be a magical moment and a very good day, indeed.

The answer I gave that young girl was the answer I needed myself, desperately. The way I remembered the ideas and concepts from the non-fiction book was through creating sequences of ideas, sometimes following the same lead and order given in the book and sometimes through creating my own order of concepts. This sequencing happened internally and as a matter of fact, I never was conscious of this internal activity. At that moment, this internal and unconscious process revealed itself in front of me. It was simple. I would create some categories and put the ideas into different categories as per their nature, importance as well as significance in my personal view. There were other ideas, which I found now, connected with what I read in the current book, which were not actually part of that book. This happened by connecting similar ideas that I had heard of or read in other places. This too was an unconscious process.

Thinking about how this chain of responses happens unconsciously, one can discern a hidden symmetry in this process of connecting ideas and creating an internal sequence of them. This symmetry is very much the essence of a fictional story. There must be structure, which will give order to the story and that can only be achieved by sequencing the events. This will follow another step; connecting the characters with events. So in a close analysis of the processes involved with writing a story and the internal processes involved with remembering what we read in books, we can observe a striking similarity.

On that day, in the staff-room at the local college I realized, there is a hidden storyteller in each one of us, and an excellent one, for to achieve such a complicated sequence and order in our minds, to whatever we read cannot be work of just a na├»ve.

We all can bring that veiled storyteller out into daylight. Only, one should be prepared to deal with one’s success!  
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Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Tiger of Wayanad


Image Courtesy: Google
Wayanad is the third in the column of fourteen districts that form the state of Kerala, located between Calicut and Western Ghats, if counted from North. Wayanad is famous for its coffee beans, paddy fields, tea estates, the hills, forest, valleys and streams. Wayanad is notorious for farmer suicides, as well. There had been another diabolic issue, for the past one month that the district was notoriously conspicuous in the news media for—a tiger. On the second of December 2012, the Forest Guardians shot it dead.

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

There is a story behind it. It had been one month; the news of a tiger roaming free in the residential areas in Wayanad had been celebrated and anticipated along with each morning’s cozy tea in each household outside Wayanad, throughout Kerala. There was nothing literally sarcastic about the celebration of this news either. The tiger had taken lots of cattle. People were living in constant agony between life and death. The news slowly ceased to become just news and became a wild fire of political and social movement. People came out to streets in protest against the cold attitude of the government towards letting the tiger wander without restrictions in areas where people lived and on farmlands. Then one day, just like a dew drop condenses into moisture at the end of a grape vine, the struggle of the people forced the government to take a decision.

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

The authorities of the Forest Protection brought a cage and trapped the tiger one fine morning and declared the terror of the tiger over. It was a momentous feat. The event was so meaningful for the people of Wayanad and the atmosphere was tense, that if someone had said that the tiger had entered the cage on its own discretion finding it a potential chance to go back home to the forest to rejoin with its family and friends, he would have been burnt on a stake. The tiger was let loose in an area in the forest, where it could take a breath or two from the nearby village and the authorities deemed that it would greatly please the tiger. It could meet its family and can take a stroll on the borders of the forest occasionally. However, like they say in ancient Indian philosophical discourses, to read someone’s mind is like getting a respectable position for a toilet paper or the water tap in the toilet (in these parts, people mostly use water for those purposes. Cultural difference). This adage had a pretty decent wording than what I have written here. It seems the adage originally goes like this; “No invention had been made yet, to read the other’s mind!” No one could read the tiger’s mind, either.

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
      
The next day, some farmers said they saw the tiger near a house. Everyone, including the newspapers thought the farmers were lying, in the attempt of harvesting public attention when such things as suicidal notes or un-paid bank loans didn’t work in such a bend of things. How could this be possible? The Forest Guardians had executed such an intelligent and scientific plan for the rehabilitation of the son of forest, the tiger. Truth, as they say, is very much like the sun. It burns. A burning truth pounced upon the world soon. Cattles started to be ambushed in the dark of the night. And soon, the world realized the elegance of the plan laid by the Forest Guardians to safeguard the tiger as well as the people population, miserably failed.

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

Some remarked, alas, the tiger is too primitive to understand the excellence and diligence of their plans and its importance for the civilized world. The people of Wayanad came to streets again. They cordoned off the roads that connect Wayanad and Calicut. The centres of the major cities in the district saw similar protests too. The Chief Minister came, at last for his routine visit. There was only one slogan, one mantra among the people and then subsequently in the media, and that was: kill the tiger, because it killed our cattle and caused us panic. The chief minister agreed and asserted that justice would be done. Let there be a cat for a cattle—a giant cat, the tiger! It was no fun. A search party was announced once again and sent for the mission of recapturing the pride of the government. In fact, the tiger issue, according to some news papers and television channels, was a disgrace to the governmental claim that we all march forward to development and march with integrity. The free roaming of the tiger had questioned something, perhaps development or political integrity or freedom. It caused the whole society of Wayanad to sit and plot against the intoxicating freedom the creature was enjoying, just like they would have done in tethering the individuals, who seldom obeyed the political fat cats and engineers of false morality.

When the stars threw down their spears
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Inspired by the earlier Forest Guardians and their tales of excellence, the present team of experts brought with them no cage at all. If there was no cage, how could the tiger break the cage, or even think about it! They were two men. They were a team and had two guns—one loaded with a sedating bullet and the other with a real bullet, to kill. Some newspapers even said they indeed brought a cage, but the tiger, being as uncivilized as it was, never ventured itself into it. Finally, due to the roar of excitement by the people who surrounded the area of operation or the treachery of its fate, the tiger was scared and cornered in a banana plantation. A human wall trapped the tiger inside with people screaming and shouting in a ring formation. The sedatives were fired twice. But the two rounds of sedatives did not do much benefit to build peace for the place. The tiger still stood fully awake, and it roared. As said by great philosophers, there is no gadget to read minds, or else the tiger’s mind could have been an interesting subject for study. It should not have begged for life, of course. But what might it have thought, just after being hit by the sedatives? The tiger bared its fangs and prepared for its final response for the call of the hunters. The tiger extended its right leg forward. He must have been a good fighter. The Guardians made their choice, at the spur of that moment, when the son of jungle met the arrogance of the sons of Eve, the scientifically precise, logically accurate and reasonably just bullet was fired. The tiger died. The promises of the politicians were kept. The thirst of the people for vengeance was quelled.  

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
Image Courtesy: Google

That ends the story.

Courtesy: The tiger of Wayanad and William Blake, for his poem “The Tyger”, 1794. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

What are the causes for cultural differences?—Remnants of Babel


“That is why its name was called Babel, because there Jehovah had confused the language of all the earth, and Jehovah had scattered them from there over all the surface of the earth.”—Genesis 11:9
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This is one of the most puzzling of questions. Some of you might have thought of it as a brain twister, just a labyrinth of infinite contemplation with no definite answers. To a certain extent you are right in thinking so. The reason to say this will follow and we will learn it, perhaps, at the end of this passage.

In significant books such as the Holy Bible, there are spots where history, science, philosophy, religion, spirituality, and psychology all merge to create a single event. One such moment is when Jehovah God said, “Look! They are one people and there is one language for them all, and this is what they start to do.” [Genesis 11:6] God said it looking at how the descendants of Noah, who settled in the plain valley in the land of Shinar, were able to construct a city and a high tower towards the heaven, using all their expertise in vain, for pride. He went on saying, “Why, now there is nothing that they may have in mind to do that will be unattainable for them. 7 Come now! Let us go down and there confuse their language that they may not listen to one another’s language.” [Genesis 11:6-7]

Until then, the Bible says, the descendants of Noah had the same language and they all lived within one complacent fortress of a unified linguistic and interpersonal communication system. It is this complacency God had apparently broken and as a result, according to the Bible, the many languages in the world were born.  
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What significance languages have in deciding the culture? Language closely mirrors cultural contours. It is through language every culture finds its voice and expression and preservation of its values and spread its ethos. The libraries, science, technology, art, spoken or written records of the roots of their pasts, thoughts and dreams indicate that language is the bread on which the cream of culture rests. In a secular point of view, there may not be any advantage in pointing out the direct correlation between the origin of different languages and the event in Babel. However, irrespective of the Divine intervention in the process of the split up of languages, one thing is decisive and curious; the splitting up of languages indeed resulted in the broadening of human knowledge and civilization. The conflict of two unknown languages produces results as pleasant as dictionaries and as gruesome as nuclear bombs. In both cases, it is furthering the horizons of what man knows and wants to possess. In the conflict of languages, both good and evil co-exist; both boon and blessing are delivered.  
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Are there any other elements other than language that defines one culture unique or helped to shape the destiny of one culture antagonistic with another? Yes, there are, and it is evidently present in the causes that resulted in earth shaking battles and cold wars—it is ‘thought’. From revolutionary movements to civil wars, there has been a constant impetus that becomes the projectile for all cultural and political changes, and it is thought. Thoughts lead human beings in search of self fulfillment and prosperity, which is evident from the travels and immigration ever since the origin of Homo sapiens. The immigration into different geographical areas once led the common creed of humans to split and develop or evolve, according to Darwin and others, into different groups that are antithetical from one another in colour, language, customs and thinking.

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Then what are the elements that control thoughts? Even though thoughts are beyond the material world in their existence, they require the world of physical presence to survive. Thoughts can influence the world of form with their lack of any physical form. In this mutually influential system of existence, the physical world too has its crucial role to play in developing and influencing thoughts.

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Here is an example from a simple culinary difference. ‘Roti’ is a North Indian food, made of wheat. It’s commonly made in any North Indian household. But in the southern part of India, for example in a state like Kerala, roti is rarely made at home among people of Kerala origin. One can buy it in some restaurants as a North Indian food, though. The common food in Kerala is boiled rice and curries, which may include vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. Still there are overlapping influences, such as Chapatti. People usually cook chapatti at their homes, which is a North Indian food, but much light for the stomach. In the extremely humid atmosphere of Kerala, roti would not be recommended as a viable food item. This indicates the significance of geography in deciding the traits of a specific culture. 


The question ‘what are the causes for cultural differences?’ is indeed a brain twister. But there can be answers that may found through investigation into science and ancient texts. An answer with a definitive nature, however, seems inappropriate for such a question with multidimensional significance. Therefore, it’s up to you to conclude this passage and its dialogue.
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