Musings, Verse perverse

A Short Prayer on Deepavali Eve

a-short-prayer-on-deepavali-eve.jpg

Even now

As residents of the neighbouring apartments, in pre-Deepavali revels

Rend the peace; render the night hideous with 240 decibels…

I contemplate the serene wisdom of the ancient sage

Who counselled against rage, advised restraint with the adage

Of Yudhisthira, that troubled  but patient ass of bygone age…

 

Even now

As the last ghastly Bollywood song fades, like a bad dream

Anon a Voice begins reciting Tambola numbers in soprano scream

Interspersed with inane jokes, in baritone bray

As hardened bandicoots flee in terror, their fur in disarray

 

Even now

In this dark noisy hour, when Despair threatens to cloak all humankind

Lo! The clouds disperse; Inspiration illumines my fevered mind!

Now we too can play Tambola; there’s no need for tiles

All we need are tickets; that Voice carries for miles!

 

Even now

I beseech thee,  O Mighty Devi—thou who felled Mahishasura, that Incarnation of Ignorance!

Do shine Reason’s Light on these cacophonous fools; gift them Silence, common sense!

That our ears, and Earth, be spared their racket; that we may awaken from this deafening dreadful night

To the glorious Dawn of Deepavali – the Celebration of thy Light

A short prayer pre-Deepavali - 2

 

Musings, Remembering

Chords of memory

It’s amazing, how quickly one’s equanimity vanishes beneath the stresses and strains of living in our beloved Rajdhani.

In the present instance, by ‘equanimity’ I mean the peace of mind that I found at the India Music Summit in Jaipur (4 – 6 October). Time flew while I was there.  Now , barely a fortnight later, all that peace of mind too has flown out the window; my Delhi window that is,  beyond which the afternoon sun is hidden by a haze made up of equal proportions of PM10 particles, toxic fumes from factories and vehicles, and toxic abuse from a million marauding muttering motorists.

Where has all the music gone?

You know how it is sometimes with a wonderful childhood experience?  You remember you had a good time; but that’s all you can recall. It’s as though all the little details— the when and where and how, the who did what with whom and to whom and why, the people and places and happenings and all the other elements— have vanished from memory; they’ve been chopped up fine and atomized in Time’s great grinder and swirled in the waters of forgetfulness, and then slow-cooked with the spices of experiences and the tadka of love and joy and sorrow (stirring frequently all the while), till everything has become like one cerebral kootu.

And so, when you try and remember your childhood experience, you can only discern the kootu; a tasty but uniform, featureless stew.

Yet it takes just a random spark— perhaps a certain aroma, perhaps the way the morning sunlight gleams on a leaf, a certain voice or giggle or chord, or a stranger’s face that reminds you of someone you knew …and at once the years and decades fall away like dream’s architecture dissolves with awakening, and for a brief thrilling moment the wonderful childhood experience of ten years or fifty years ago returns in all its intensity and washes over you and renews you;  and just as you become aware of returning memory it vanishes …leaving you smiling, longing for more.

Sometimes, of course, you can seek out the spark yourself. And with music it’s really easy, music as a spark always works for me.

That’s what I did just now;  I turned to YouTube and sought Aruna Sairam. I found a wonderful performance by her with sarod player Soumik Datta, including  songs she’d sung at Jaipur! Here are two—the 500 MWe Durga stotram Aigiri Nandini, and the Kalinga Nartana joyously and passionately recreating young Krishna’s sport with the great serpent Kalinga.

And in less time than it takes the law-abiding but stressed-out Delhi motorist to yell “Abbe saale, wrong side pe kyon chalaa rahe ho!”, all my stresses and strains have evaporated. 🙂

I can’t wait to attend the 2020 Summit.   To temper my impatience, I just listened to, and share here, the ethereal voices of the Shillong Chamber Choir singing Vande Mataram:  as they did in Jaipur; singing here on another occasion, when Chandrayaan II silently circled the Moon and the Lander Vikram was lost; evoking what their songs always evoke in my mind, the embracing and celebration of Life with all its ups and downs, the joy and awe and grandeur of Eternity.

General ravings, Musings, Potshots

One last “Eff Off!” at the Web Spiders

Are you one of those who despise, detest or otherwise dislike the kind of crap that’s being dished out in the name of ‘news’ by media?  Are you increasingly nervous about discussing politics—especially issues related to Modi and Trump and Brexit and Kashmir and Iran and Triple Talaq and Article 370—because people, even people you know well, fly into a rage at the drop of a secular hat or communal topi?

If so, I’m like you.

I’m scared of the growing intolerance among people. I deeply distrust and often loathe the news that I get via media – meaning all media, including social media.

I see a sinister connection.

That’s why I’m writing this Fèihuà (Chinese: bullshit – click here to know how to say it]

But first, I have a confession to make. Despite my aversion to and distrust of media, I follow media news, daily and avidly, sometimes even with immense amusement.

Each day, I spend between 30 minutes and an hour surfing through a variety of TV news channels, English and Hindi, in no particular order (feel free to gasp in horror): channels like Wion, Times Now, Republic TV, Aaj Tak, Rajya Sabha TV, DD News, BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera come to mind.

Experience has taught me that spending anything more than an hour on these news channels is as pleasant as  swallowing 10 ml of strong ammonia solution; which incidentally I actually did when in school (for details on symptoms, please click here).  It probably explains why I still find a lot of things difficult to swallow; especially in the media.

Oh, and I also glance through the following online papers/magazines at least once each a week: Newslaundry, The Wire, Quint, and Dawn (Pakistan). I also get two daily newspapers—Indian Express and Times of India—on which I spend a maximum of 30 minutes before turning to the Sudoku in the former which takes me anything between 5 minutes and forever. I read select WhatsApp forwards from select friends; I do not exist on Facebook or Twitter or any of the other social media platforms.

Blanch in horror you well might, precious reader; but I inflict this media bombardment on myself for two reasons:

  1. I recognize that I need the media to know what’s going in the world—because the world is too big and there’s too much happening too fast everywhere for me to experience and understand personally. But I simply refuse to take the easy, lazy way out and depend on just one media source for news, or on friends to tell me the news.  I believe no media source is telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth; yet every media house is perforce putting out bits of  truth at the behest of its corporate/political paymasters because it knows that even a semi-literate bakra like me will not swallow pure lies. In this situation, with so many scattered locations of what are at best ‘bits of truth’,  the closest I can get to know the whole truth is to make the effort to sift and scan through every shade of media—from the deceitful extreme Left to the deceitful extreme Right, from pro-CPM through pro-Congress to pro-BJP, from capitalist to communist, pro-Islamic kook to pro-Hindutva kook via pro-Christian kook, from ultra-conservative to neo-liberal—to identify these truth-bits and put them together like pieces of a jigsaw. Without prejudice, without pre-conceived notions, with as much balance as I can summon up in what’s left of my deranged mind. In doing this I have complete faith in my own discerning power to tell truth from lie, right from wrong; yet I remain aware that I can make mistakes, and I try and stay alert for traps.
  2. I enjoy taking potshots at the media for brazenly partisan or false reportage, so it’s important for me to know the various varieties of ng’ombe (Swahili: bullshit) that the media is manufacturing and selling me in the name of news. Only with this knowledge can I develop my own superior varieties of ng’ombe to counter their assault.

It’s not easy absorbing and sifting through so much multimedia garbage daily; it’s not always pleasant.  I know it’s probably futile, and you’re welcome to laugh at me, but still I keep at it— like Sisyphus rolling the rock up the mountain, knowing it’s only going to roll down again. I keep at it because I think this is the only way I can remain – and maybe even crawl along – the top of the slippery, ever-narrowing Wall of Balance that runs between the two great Chasms of Choice that define today’s world.

That’s the thing: everything has become ‘binary’ – have you noticed?

I feel pressurized to choose, all the time, between great extremes, stark opposites. I feel driven to take radical positions on all kinds of issues and ideas and events and things about which I know little and have little or no personal experience on, issues that really have no bearing on my daily life, but that seem to have somehow become incredibly important for me, and every person on the planet, to have and to express very strong views on: political views, religious beliefs, ideologies, causes, calls to war.

And often I feel this pressure too: other people, not just media-folk, are always trying to CONVERT me to their view(s).

And such is the pressure to opine, so immense the flow and intensity of information that batters me, so compelling its power, that there’s no time to think – leave alone reflect. I’m asked to choose at once.  Choose NOW.  At every step, every turn, I am being pressurized to choose between binaries: between extremes of opinion, world-view.

Choose—and be judged. Choose—and be rewarded by group acceptance, or condemned by social isolation.

Choose between binaries like: Love Modi vs.Hate Modi. Love Rahul vs. hate Rahul. Bhakt vs. Tukde Tukde Wallah. Left—Right. Majority—Minority. Brahmin—OBC. Hindi—Tamil. White–Black. Us–Them. Blah–Blah.

Thus far, I’ve managed to gasp “Thloh!” or “Eff Off!” at the Spiders, and those who quote them, without giving in to the pressure of choosing; without becoming a groupie – a bleating Animal Farm sheep, whether of this flock or that.  Thus far, I’ve not alienated friends.

But I’m getting weary, I’m feeling more and more alone.

And I’m writing this because I’m also increasingly alarmed. I notice that people I’ve known for years and decades, wonderful loving people, young and old, are succumbing and becoming sheep; impatient and angry sheep, intolerant and abusive sheep, narrow-minded sheep. They follow cheer-leaders (bleat-leaders?); they echo the crowd; they parrot the safe slogans, the politically correct spiel. It doesn’t take much gentle conversation to reveal that they don’t make the effort to read and research and reflect and work things out on their own.

They don’t have the self-confidence any more. The self-confidence to swim against the tide; to be individual, unique.

I’ve said this before: I believe the information maelstrom on every issue, every subject, every topic, is designed to sap our individuality, our self-confidence; to addle our minds so that we respond like digital switches. ON-OFF. And that’s why, I believe, the whole world is becoming more and more impatient, more radical in opinions, more intolerant of differences.

O noble reader, I do believe every media house everywhere in the world runs on a business strategy that is even more simple, powerful, effective and sustainable than the age-old strategy followed by the shrewd paanwallah who blends a little opium into his qiwam (kimam).

For the paanwallah, I, you, all of us, are loyal clients to be hooked…and to stay hooked on his paan alone for the rest of our paan-eating lives.

Easy way to escape: don’t start eating paan.

But in the Web of Pseudo Reality woven by today’s marketing–advertising–media (MAM) Spiders, using artificial intelligence and Big Data and Allah and Rama and Jesus and Marx knows what other psychometric and information technology tools, we are already hooked, already trapped and secured.

We are a billion little flies in the Web. Flies with brains (sure, go ahead and laugh, I know that leaves me out…I wish). Flies that can make choices.

Our minds are trapped in the Web; the Spiders have painstakingly (lovingly?) wrapped us up in translucent pouches woven from silky-soft strands of psyche that define our personalities, our attitudes and emotions, our responses to stimuli—a thousand and more strands of our own private selves that we have so openly, so eagerly and thoughtlessly placed in public domain over the years. Our Facebook and Instagram profiles, our Likes and Dislikes, our Twitter and Snapchat and WhatsApp groups and follower lists and forwarding patterns, our responses to countless seemingly trivial online tests and surveys, our Google searches, YouTube and Netflix watch-lists,  reading habits, patterns of travelling, shopping, eating-out, entertainment…

Easy way to escape: none. [But for a while you can try screaming “Thoh”! “Eff Off!” and suchlike.]

And the Spiders now feed on our naked minds, for they can better predict and measure our responses to different stimuli, our behaviour in different circumstances. The Spiders use our minds as testing grounds for innovative propaganda ideas and actions on behalf of their transnational political–corporate–religious–criminal–terrorist clients.

That’s why for us, the flies in the Web of MAM, every day is becoming like every other day—a long, blurry, endless  series of frenzied jumps from one stressful decision to another, one crisis to another, one worry to another, with no time to think or rest or reflect. Only the Products of the Day change; only the Products of the Day dominate our conversations when we meet; and each of us must make a YES-NO choice in regard to each Product each day. There is no place for neutrality, moderation, no room for a third way, a middle path…and a pall of dread hangs over the very idea of choosing not to choose. I am made to feel I must choose, one way or the other…or be condemned to the pseudo-death of total social isolation.

And what are these Products of the Day?

You guessed it: Love Modi vs.Hate Modi. Love Rahul vs. hate Rahul. Bhakt vs. Tukde Tukde Wallah. Left—Right. Majority—Minority. Brahmin—OBC. Hindi—Tamil. White–Black. Us–Them…ad nauseum, ads and advertorials nauseum.

So it is that sooner or later, you and I will succumb to making a choice without hesitation. Without thought. To respond instantly and ferociously to just about anything and everything, however trivial, however important.

And as my progressive choices help the Spiders categorize me and adjust their individualized Product presentations accordingly, I easily, almost unconsciously, adopt a certain narrative; a certain ideology; a certain world-view. I won’t even know that my mind is trapped and my vision clouded.  On the contrary, I will continue to think that I’m broad-minded, sober, independent, unbiased; that I am right, WE are right. And I will eagerly try and convert others to my view — because there is comfort in numbers, there is less fear of being socially isolated.

And the sheer beauty, the sheer horror of it all is, my short-term memory becomes shorter and shorter till it dwindles to nothingness. And because this is happening to everybody, I can switch my opinions, my stand on issues, my entire world-view, 180° overnight – or even within an hour —without my feeling in the least bit guilty or ashamed about being hypocritical or deceitful or unprincipled. And without anyone even noticing.

In the Realm of Subliminal Consciousness, Conscience withers… and Memory dies” – Bakasura the Great, 2477 BCE

I know there’s no escape from the Web while I live. The sleepless Spiders watch; they see all, know all.

So long as I have ever used the Net (and I started  20 years ago), so long as I have a mobile phone, so long as I use any social media platform, so long as I use credit cards and debit cards and passports, I am naked before the cold, clinically efficient, half-machine half-human million-eyed monsters that are the Spiders of MAM.

Even if I fling my phone away, shoot my TV set (and cable operator with it), burn my credit cards and de-register from all social media, I will be as free as a butterfly impaled by a sharp pin on wax paper.

You too.

If you don’t believe me, watch this TED talk to learn how and why the entire Brexit farce-turned-horror of June 2016 was orchestrated by a Spider named Cambridge Analytica and Facebook et al … leaving the peoples of Britain, and indeed the EU, still grappling with the aftermath in August 2019. Watch this TED talk to understand why, and how easily, Russia and Cambridge Analytica manipulated the entire American electorate to turn against Hillary Clinton and vote for Trump as President. If you want a detailed account of all this and much more, watch ‘The Great Hack’ (it’s on Netflix; here is a trailer.)

You might think: “Arre boss, this is all about USA and Britain, what’s it all got to do with India that is Bharat, hahn jee?”

Well…check out how the same Spider—Cambridge Analytica—was wooed by our very own Indian National Congress and possibly other political parties to help win Lok Sabha elections: [click here]

Of course, gentle reader, as soon as you visit any or all of these links, the ‘data points that define your existing electronic psycho-profile will instantly be updated and suitably modified by the Spiders on countless databases in unknown locations on the Web of MAM…

And then you will wait, as I do.

You and I  wait, secure and comfortably numb in our own little silken pouches in the great Web …we wait for the next Spider, the next brain-numbing stab of e-heroin that always marks the start of the next Product of the Day campaign…

But don’t worry: we’ll have forgotten the pain, and the very memory of today, by tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

Beastly encounters, General ravings, Musings

Anopheles Dream: an exploration into the Nature of Reality

I’m not sure what philosophy is.

It’s such a heavy, intimidating word: like ‘intellectual’.

I’ve read a few people who are called ‘philosophers’ – Russell, Thoreau, Camus, Huxley, Gandhi, Sartre, Vivekananda come to mind (and leave the mind as quickly as they come). I’ve found them really interesting and absorbing to read because…well…they are common-sensey in a kind of deeper way. They don’t use long, hard-to-understand words like ‘philosophy’. They talk about the simplest, most common day-to-day things: people, situations, events and feelings and emotions that you and I and everyone else feel and experience. But they delve so deep into these things they talk about that very soon you find you’re looking at and experiencing just about every possible thing in the universe.

Right now I sit here, muttering and stuck for ideas as I always am, while Tangerine Dream’s moody notes beat on my tympani and gently stir the frail wings of the mosquito that sits on the wall across the room, relaxing and soothing our respective muscles and joints and nerves jointly and severally in gentle, soporific and sonorous waves.

I stare at the mosquito. It stares back at me.

I drink, therefore I am…

I shift my stare to the white rectangle of a blank Word document. It too stares blankly back at me.

After profound thought, I decide to undertake a philosophical Exploration of Reality.

I touch the ‘Enter’ key.

Now.

I feel, I felt, the Enter key!  It felt hard but not too hard. As I pressed it down, I heard a slight, soft click. I released the pressure of my finger; the key sprung back. And even as I went through these steps, in a fraction of a second, I saw the blinking vertical line of the cursor dart down the white virtual page on the screen.  I felt, I heard, I saw.

All these things I understand well! I know what these senses are, of touch, sight, of hearing. As I do the sense of smell, of taste.

I am aware.

I know the shapes and hues of the hills and forests, the houses where I lived in childhood, the expressions on people’s faces; I can feel winter sun’s warmth, a neem tree’s cool shade, a caress, the slap of an affectionate cat; I know and can recall the taste of mango and rum, of keema and sambar; the sighs of pine trees and tired people in a queue, the howls of lonely puppies and unseated politicians. I know the smells of coffee, of freshly peeled oranges, of grass growing in a Himalayan meadow and smouldering in a chillum, of Mumbai in the monsoon and crowded Metro trains in Delhi.  I know the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, feels of the millions of things, living and non-living, small and big, that I have ever encountered in my long and misspent life and that have influenced me, shaped me, made me what I am.

But now I ask myself: are these sensory phenomena and their vasanas—their impacts on the sense organs by which I perceive them—really ‘real’? Do these phenomena actually have an absolute, immutable, non-relativistic quality about them? Do their characteristics transcend space-time, are they perceived the same way by others, human and non-human, irrespective of frame of reference?

Do bacteria shiver in winter the way I do? Are goats and dust-mites moved by music as I am?

‘Of course not!’ shrieks the Voice of Rationality in my skull. Pressed for evidence to the contrary or in favour, however, the Voice of Rationality subsides into muttering curse-words like an aggressive Delhi driver who’s not been allowed to overtake on the wrong side.

The Voice of Rationality, too, has no answer.

Ha.

If, then, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the reality or unreality of the animate and inanimate things that impinge on my senses and enables me to sense them….what of my senses themselves? Are these senses with which I perceive the Reality around me false? These senses that have helped me define and delineate and categorize and sort and arrange and play around with the objects – living and non-living – that have surrounded me from birth, and indeed enabled me to create my version of Reality; are these senses ‘unfixed’, variable, entirely subjective, and therefore unreal?

‘Of course not!’ comes a feeble croak from the Voice of Rationality. ‘Because if indeed our senses are unreal, non-Absolute, then what you and I and everyone else’s devar and mausee and periappa think of as Reality is in fact Unreal. Illusion.

Ha!

In that case, I press on triumphantly, what I think of as Reality is real only to me –  this world of shapes, of objects living and non-living and their interactions with me and with one another, their patterns of behaviour – are quite unique to me, and me alone.

I, I alone AM.

Kazhudai vishtaham,whispers the mosquito on the wall. It has covertly been listening to my thoughts.

It is, I realize with a start, a Tamil-Sanskrit scholar whose ancestors date back to the Sangam era.

“Donkey’s droppings,” the mosquito translates helpfully, and takes flight.

I am chagrined, deflated. I am also bitten several times by the mosquito.

As I mentioned earlier before I rudely interrupted myself: philosophy and I don’t get along.

My moment of enlightenment (mosquito can be seen near right ear)

I find solace in Odomos, and in the fact that physicist Richard Feynman didn’t like philosophy too much either: he found it boring, pointless, filled with long, complicated words and explanations that didn’t seem to mean anything.

Feynman’s supposed to have said: “Philosophy is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds”.

By his own admission, Feynman took an unholy delight in replying, in the most philosophical manner, to the too-clever-by-half questions framed by people who want to appear extremely profound and deep.

An example—Feynman’s reply to a question from the audience, at the end of a lecture he had given on the properties of light:

Q: When you look at something, do you see only light or do you see the object?

Feynman: The question of whether or not when you see something, you see only the light or the thing you’re looking at, is one of those dopey philosophical things that an ordinary person has no difficulty with. Even the most profound philosopher who’s sitting eating his dinner, hasn’t any difficulty in making out that what he’s looking at perhaps might only be the light from the steak, but it still implies the existence of the steak which he’s able to lift by his fork to his mouth. The philosophers who are unable to make that analysis and that idea have fallen by the wayside through hunger!

Hail Feynman, hail the great philosophers of MAD Magazine and other immortal epics.