Sunday, April 19, 2015

Waste Land

1.  The Burial of the Dead

April is the cruellest month, stirring
The winter-frozen blood in the veins, rousing
Mosquitoes and dust storms, dousing
The light in the souls with the fire of the sun.

You came riding waves of promises,
Development topped the list,
Quality was sought in and through workshops,
Sweatshops are what we are left with.

Unreal City,
Under the glare of the blaring sun,
A crowd flowed over bulldozed debris,
Performing the rituals chanted by the Guru.

“You! hypocrite lecteur! – mon semblable, - mon frère!”

2.  A Game of Chess

The Chair she sat in itched her bum with allergens,
Her dress, words and smile sanitised by detergents,
“Your move, your move,” cried she ready to pounce
On the King on every board, every board she played against
Keeping multiple gadgets alive on her capacious crowded table.

“Bulldozer,” people called her.
Queen, she considered herself.
Heads rolled when she smiled.
Tails wagged when she screamed.
The Guru chanted mantras of success
For her the chessmen transmuted into pawns.
Before her the world prostrated
And the Guru laughed his way to the bank.

3.  The Fire Sermon

The chelas lit the fires
On pyres of protests
Ghar Vapsi, ghar vapsi,
Chanted the fires
That danced in the darkness
Of development built on infinite debris.

4.  Death by Sun

The bulldozer took on feminine agility
And achieved multiple orgasms beneath variegated costumes
When the April sun scorched the souls
That longed for spring rains and resurrection.

5.  What the Thunder Said


But there was no thunder
There is no promise in the Waste Land
Except farts from bums
Rested on chairs that cause allergy.

Note: The poem is a silly parody of T S Eliot's famous poem of the same title and same parts. I admire Eliot. I claim nothing. Not even understanding Eliot.  I'm not worthy to lick his boots. But I love his imageries.  I love the way he can tease us out of our complacencies.  Out of our hypocrisy, perhaps.  Not out of our greed, I'm sure. Greed for power and wealth and land and...    

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Marcus Aurelius dies

Marcus Aurelius [Source]
I will die soon.  Even the Emperor of mighty Rome is ultimately a feeble human being whose body will be consumed by the flames of time.  Nothing will remain after that.  Nothing.  Nothing but the earth.  The earth will cover us all.  Then the earth too will change.  And the things that result from the change will continue to change too.  What is there to be priced in this world of transitoriness?

Be good.  Do good to your fellow creatures.  Nothing else really matters.  Fame will mean nothing ultimately.  Everyone who remembers you after your death too will die one day.  Those who succeed them too will follow them soon.  Memories of you will be extinguished totally.  Even if there were means by which you could make the memories eternal, what would you gain?  What can anything mean to the dead?  Meaning itself has no meaning once you are dead.

Augustus is lost to history.  His court is lost.  So are his wife, daughter, descendants, ancestors, Agrippa, Areius, Maecenas,  their physicians and their sacrificing priests.  Not only the individuals, but whole races are lost to history.  Where is Pompeii’s race today?

Even the gods cannot save history.  They cannot change history.   Neither the pride of Alexander nor the indolence of Diogenes is my way. 

I will die soon.  I will pass into nothingness.  But I will die happily that I had a heart that was made wise through the right measure of pain and anxiety, fear and despair.  Without my helplessness, without my awareness of my helplessness as a human being, I would not have made the space in my heart for the generosity that I valued much.  It is in giving that I got what I wanted.

Now I’m giving up my life.  Happily.

Note: Marcus Aurelius [26 April 121 – 17 March 180 CE] was the Emperor of Rome from 161 to 180 CE. The above lines are adapted from his book, Meditations.  

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Lost Paradises


Reverend Father Lawrence Marangodan was restless.  He walked up and down the rubber plantation of the parish church while the parish priest, Reverend Father Daniel, was preaching a Charismatic retreat to the parishioners.  The cries of ‘Praise the Lord! Alleluia!’ rose and fell like the frenzied waves in a disturbed ocean.  Father Marangodan’s mind was even more disturbed.  The spiritual masturbations of charismatic retreats could never ease his mind.  Worse, he had just received a note from Reverend Sister Prarthana.

Dear Father,
I need help.  Benjamin is becoming a serious pain in the neck...

Benjamin was a boy in class three of the primary school run by the parish church and Sister Prarthana was the class teacher.  Whenever Sister Prarthana’s heart longed for the proximity of Father Marangodan, Benjamin became a pain in some convenient part of her body.  

Father Marangodan did not like what he called the spiritual masturbations of charismatic retreats.  Otherwise he was a committed priest of the Roman Catholic Church, the assistant of Father Daniel.  He wanted the church to be more orthodox than charismatic, austere rather than boisterous, more compassionate than exuberant.  He liked Sister Prarthana’s approach.  She cared for the individual children of her school.  She patted their cheeks and ran her fingers through their hair.  She threatened to beat them with the cane that was kept perennially on her table.  Occasionally she would even threaten to shoot them or chop off their heads with an imaginary sword.  Like in: Children, don’t force me to take out the pistol from the drawer or Kids, I have a sword hidden beneath my tunic.

Father Marangodan overheard her once and thus became her counsellor.  “Don’t use such violent metaphors in front of children,” he said to her.  He exhorted her to imbibe the forbearance and stoicism of Our Lord.  “Always keep in mind the image of the Lord in Gethsemane.”

Sister Prarthana tried her best to keep the image of the Gethsemane in her mind.  But the more she met Father Marangodan, the more Paradise kept invading Gethsemane.  Instead of the Lord, it was Adam that entered the Eden of her mind and she was Eve there.  She was troubled by the strange resemblance which her Adam had with Father Marangodan. 

“Don’t let Satan into your soul,” warned the priest.  “You and I are religious and our way is strewn with pebbles and thorns.  Gethsemane is our only garden.  Take the Eden out of your mind.  Embrace the cross...”

“The Eden refuses to fade from my visions,” confessed Sister Prarthana days after she had carried out the penances stipulated by Father Marangodan. 

Sweat drew Father Marangodan’s  soutane close to his skin.  These days the very sight of Sister Prarthana made his body hot and it sweated profusely.  He wished Sister Prarthana did not have such beautiful dimples on her rosy cheeks.

Praise the Lord! Alleluia!

The chanting from the church brought Father Marangodan back to the present.  Back to Sister Prarthana and her Benjamin-the-pain-on-her-neck and the dancing dimples on her rosy cheeks.  Father Marangodan’s soutane was wet with sweat.  The breeze brought down some dry rubber leaves on him.  It cooled his body too.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Cost of Being Gunter Grass

As a young man I tried to read Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum two times and failed miserably both the times. I was not intelligent enough to understand the subtle depths of a novel that narrated the story of a man who had chosen on his third birthday not to grow up any more.  His toy tin drum became his best friend or his means of expressing his protest at the political chaos that surrounded him.  Eventually he allows himself to be falsely convicted of the murder of the woman whom he loved and ends up in a mental asylum.

The pipe was Grass's most abiding companion
The novel put me off so much that I never read anything that Grass wrote.  Yet I felt sad when allegations of Nazism and inveterate hypocrisy were levelled against him a decade back when he admitted in his autobiography that at the age of 17 he had been drafted into Hitler’s Waffen-SS towards the end of the second World War.  He was accused of trying to sell more copies of the book by making the confession, accused of cynicism and hypocrisy and even of being a supporter of Nazism.  I read more about him and learnt that none of the charges were deserved.

Grass passed away yesterday. I cannot write about his contribution to literature since I stayed away from his books.  Yet I always felt drawn to him whenever I read something about him.  I liked his refusal to commit himself to any ideology.  I loved his scepticism.  I loved the helpless yet raucous protest that his eccentric protagonist raised by hiding himself under a platform and subverting the Nazi band during a rally.

Grass was a rebel and his enfant terrible protagonist was an aesthetic expression of his own rebellion.  It is the rebellion of a person who thinks differently from the vast majority of the people on the planet and hence is destined to remain an alien throughout his life.  And that’s what Grass was.  He was not a coward, however.  He did not hide beneath any platform when Germany was unified in 1990, for example.  When his compatriots celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall as “the greatest street party in the history of the world”, he remained sceptical and his reasoning was vindicated by the ruthless treatment meted out to many former East Germans.

Grass was credited with a profound understanding of public life.  His views were solidly founded on clear ethical principles.  Yet when he admitted honestly his erstwhile connections with the Nazis people including so-called intellectuals found it difficult to digest.  This difficulty of the people to understand certain subtle truths about life is what made me write this.