Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A CELEBRATION IN SEARCH OF MAN: Contemplating Onam

Routledge Publishers publishes a book in 2001. The book is, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, written by German psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung. I consider Jung, one of my gurus. The book seems significant to me in two ways. One: Its title reminds me of another life changing book namely Man’s Search for Meaning. Two: I have an intuitive awareness that all human beings undergo some form of soul-searching at least once in their lifetime. What I realize today is more significant than a man’s soul-searching. I realize that sometimes, celebrations search for man.

Before untangling the knots of this puzzling thought let me take a moment to wish each one of you out there, reading, thinking, and sharing human being, a very happy Onam.

A celebration is in search of man. By ‘man’ I do not mean a gender specific entity. I would like to use the term to refer to the entire human kind. Apart from being a Malayalam nostalgia, Onam is yet another celebration where the role of humanitarian considerations have given way to concerns and anxieties of a post-humanist universe. Love has not a dime’s worth of value neither does family, commitment of friendship, and respect for our fellow beings’ feelings. “I don’t care what someone else thinks,” they say. It’s fine until the bothering is restricted to the other person’s thoughts. Still, I think there is a little hypocrisy about it. No one actually bothers to check how our behavior made the other person feel about life. 

We can’t find enough time to go and meet our grandparents, or parents, for that matter. Our cousins and siblings are mere buddies in Whatsapp and Facebook. Reality TV is our new pal. But they don’t give us that sweet friendly hug. We are not great huggers, by the way, so that is OK. The TV show host tells us that our childhood was better and that there used to be a lot of flowers in the open fields. They tell us in the morning that Onam is here and everyone is celebrating etcetera. The truth is available readily in front of us. It’s laid on the couch. The patriarch lies and the mother is either tending the garden or getting busy with her kitchen chores, as usual. By noon, they eat an ordinary meal and by night, the kids come home from special tuition and complain of not getting enough out of Onam holidays. The patriarch argues about getting a better future. The children dream about their summer vacation. In some other homes, the wife calls the catering service and orders a good Onam sadya, the family feast.

There is celebration. There is no celebration. Between this ironic binary exists one of humanity’s greatest challenges: the loss of empathy. The culture of celebrations acts as yearly reminders of the lost empathy among humans. What someone else feels about our actions does matter; it is this concern that makes us human. Instead, today, we are concerned about our performance and stand in public. This concern is all for the wrong reason. A verse from the Bible comes to mind: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8.36-37).

Only a success, which is harmonious with our ability to show empathy, could help us keep our souls in exchange for all the agonies we go through. After all, we go through all those nerve-breaking struggles to be happy and content. It seems that the new generation of India is busy improving their grades in schools. I doubt if they truly feel the great joy of forgetting every worry in a celebration. Each celebration and holiday season is an opportunity for an additional tuition class or remedial coaching. They prepare for an endless contest, forgetting that the beauty of any contest is at its conclusion. Onam comes every year. So do Easter, Ramzan, Christmas, and Diwali. And these festivities are supposed to remind us that it matters what our actions make someone else feel. Empathy… empathy… empathy.

But… the root of empathy is love, isn’t it? It’s simple and clear at sight. The celebration is in search for man, to be fully present, without holding any of the joys back, without holding any of the love back, a man without prejudices, a man with empathy…    

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

TECHNOLOGY VS TRADITION: Familiarity Breeds Blindness



There is no other way to fool someone better than to speak of these two in antagonistic sense. Technology is not in antagonism with tradition nor is tradition antagonistic to technology. They are in mutual alignment. In fact, their mutual correlation even surpasses those devices and symbols that come to our minds when we contemplate these two universal notions. Let me elaborate on what I have already said with a new example.

Occasionally, my computer breaks down. I use an old desktop version of it. I am no computer savvy. But I use this legend of technology whenever I can. The limits to which it could help us have no limits. Therefore, when this device breaks down I feel great anxiety. What would happen to all my readers’ souls across the universe that are at this moment in dire need to peruse some wise damn pearl of wisdom that I puke out random! This worries me a great deal, as it might, any self-confident writer, blogger, or columnist. One of the many painful realities they endure on a daily basis.

I worry a great deal about my own soul that would rot and degenerate without the help of the Internet or the writing mechanism that I am addicted to: the Word Doc. There really is no other way around if your desktop breaks down, is there? Your android cell phone, you think, might help you hit out a quick 200 words passage. But once you paddle around with that virtual, touch key pad, you discover for the umpteenth time that these gadgets look cool but are clumsy in reality.

Ultimately, I run with the heart of the mice caught in a trap for salvation. My escape route is through a telephone number. I dialed the number and the messenger of peace answers: “Hello, Computer Service.”

This phone call does not mean that everything is sorted out clean though. Peace of mind after the clean sorting out of things wouldn’t bless me yet. I must wait. The service person said before hanging up the phone that he wouldn’t be available until the next two days.

It was disappointing. The immediate ally on such an occasion would be what Dr. Viktor E Frankl called, an ‘existential vacuum’. Although not a computer savvy, I still spent my fair share of time in front of my personal computer to get things done. The vacuum created in the place of the computer was the first challenge I had to deal with. What surprised me in my own reaction to the situation was that I preferred to deal with the existential vacuum rather than dealing with the work to be done.

My focus was tuned to curb my psyche from wandering off at the edge of the darkness of the emptiness created by the malfunction of the computer. I adopted a strategy that one may call traditional. I decided to spend time with books, my favourite remedy for all issues- reading.

Elizabeth L Eisenstein in her book Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe presents a technological advancement that washed over the European society in the early 15th century. This technological advancement transformed the whole of humanity, just like how the internet today.

Books are equally a product of technological advancement, just as the computer and the internet. To consider books and publishing a matter of tradition is only relative with reference to the computer technology- and not entirely true. What we understand and pass along as tradition in the present, therefore, might be a cutting edge technology in the past. Perhaps, familiarity breeds blindness too. What we take for granted as ‘tradition,’ therefore, is not antagonistic with technology.

My reading experience was fabulous. The breakdown of the computer was indeed a blessing in unexpected garb.         

Monday, September 5, 2016

TEACHERS’ DAY: The Dedication Line and its True Meaning

I published a book named Better Than All Happy Ever Afters to legitimate the celebration of Valentine’s Day. This happened on February of this year (2016). The book made me not very rich financially but it definitely made me wealthy in terms of relationships. Through the work on this book, I got to know many young voices, talented and certainly bearing the mark of genius in literary art. The underlying existential dilemma was palpable in the Editor’s Note that I wrote in that book. Love becomes a challenge. It obviously is; ask any sufi poet for better clarity on the supernatural aspects of love. For mortals, it certainly comes with its own qualms and worries. There was another underlying problem with Valentine’s Day. It was a day that celebrated open celebration of love and romance. When would someone commemorate an open celebration? When that particular aspect of existence is no longer present, right?

Celebrations have this odd reality around them: they always mean the departing of something or remind us of the transitory nature of something else. Take birthdays for example. We celebrate either in joy or in dejection, like author Khushwant Singh remarks in a short article titled “Celebrating Old Age” published in Me, The Jokerman.

Applying the same theory to the celebration of Teachers’ Day would clarify certain assumptions that exist among us. I am quite fortunate to have discovered some great teachers in my life. On some occasions, I was discovered by them too and that was beyond being mere fortunate. That was a miracle, manifested reality. A celebration of Teachers’ Day would only mean a reserved commemoration for a transitory personality that at some point in time touched our lives. The celebration itself, in other words, diminishes the significance of great teachers. The truth is, one must always cherish and celebrate teachers. All of the teachers, all the time.

Don’t look for good teachers. There is no such thing. Look for teachers who can help you grow mentally, spiritually, and as a person in the society. Entrepreneur Thai Lopez recently made this comment that one must, at any cost get a good mentor. Mentors are important study materials. Good mentors are those who we could study and learn from. It doesn’t matter what they teach us. What matters the most is what we learn from them.

What I did in order to ‘celebrate’ my teachers on a daily basis and not “just” on a particular day is something quite interesting to note here. I have seen people sending e-cards, making song dedications with phony FM radio jockeys, put a cliché add in B-grade newspapers, etc. I did something different.

I wrote a book and dedicated it to all my teachers.

I am talking about the book I published in 2014, Prabuddha: The Clear-sighted.

Prabuddha is dedicated to all my teachers. Many names came to my life in the form of many multidimensional personalities and gifted teachers. Many showed up in my life during my student days. Many other came into my life through their books. And some were not even human beings. My memory and other limitations that I carry within me as a human being may perhaps hinder my recollection of many a names that came across through my life as a Truth seeker. So I decided, instead of writing names, to dedicate Prabuddha to ‘all my teachers’.

I still go back to this book, one of the most successful of my books, to draw inspiration from as well as to improvise my own self that appeared in it. Every book carries a piece of its author’s soul. As a teacher presently, I cherish the memories of my teachers and the lessons I learnt from them. Prabuddha was my way of showing my gratitude. Perhaps, gratitude is the bridge that perfectly connects a teacher and student. Many readers commented that my books Wall of Colors and Prabuddha have teacher-student theme at the centre. This wasn’t intentional. But I consider this unintentional state the expression of the gratitude I feel on a subconscious level, toward all the teachers in my life.

Note: Prabuddha: TheClear-sighted is available for purchase online.       
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