Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Reality as a pet hate

Reality as a pet hate
Reality-when excessive
Sounding overdriven notes
Drives men to take cover
Seeking options to quell it.

Reality- negate or posit it
Or turn your back you may
Drawing apps and new ways,
Plying for situation control.

An earplug- born of needs
To nix the sound extern
Is deafness made wearable,
As if world has no words for you.

Or an earphone, still better
To fix a sound you like
As if it’s only one you’d hear
Though the world cries out loud.

Blindfold in its symbolic richness
Can hold the world at bay, a dark bay.
Window-blinds shut in
To let in just a beamlet;
Still reality stays and it says’
“You hear that you want
You see that you want,
But there is more and more unturned.”

Sunday, January 27, 2013



ImagepART ii
Inter faeces et urinam nascimur omnes(all are born into the midst of faeces and urine), said St.Augustine of Hippo while he was still a Manichaean and was skeptical about the goodness of created world. He believed, like any other Manichaean that there exists a positive entity which is evil. Later the Scholastic philosophers would furnish the definition that evil is privatio boni(absence of goodness), which makes it a relative or negative entity. One may still contend that a negative entity is still an entity and has existence as such; even I am inclined to believe so. Hopefully these static definitions of good and evil are improved upon by contemporary dynamic theodicy, drawing largely from the theodicy of St.Irenaeus, which was hitherto run over by Augustinian theodicy. By theodicy (a term coined by Leibniz) we originally understand the philosophical attempt to justify God despite the innumerable arguments pitched against Him, the greatest of which is the so-called problem of evil. We speak of it as a problem to shift the onus on some external factor, even when evil is an operation towards which each of us contributes a lot. It is more truthful to call it a mystery rather than a problem. A mystery is something in which one is inextricably involved. It is in the setting of a mystery that one draws the essential life-force to describe oneself; when everything is clear, life comes to a standstill- there will be no differences of opinion or that diversity what makes the world livable. We would be like automata programmed to “receive” with no options for check-out (remember Hotel California, just before the guitar begins its final weep.)
            So was I literally in the midst of faeces and urine, not a very detestable experience. A goat’s excreta are, as I noted earlier, much enriched and not very distressing to the senses. As a matter of fact I have thought of and often sought an answer to the wonder that a goat’s dropping is showered down as a rain of globules. What contraption in its guts could be responsible for this natural work of art? Forgive my naivety. Somebody commented that God must be a civil engineer for having placed a fun park very next to a sewer. There are design constraints, but what about the economy of design which ensures that same organs are sourced from radically different reservoirs to serve even more radically different ends. It takes a real genius to contrive such a multiplex. There exists a “humiliatory system” in our loins which one may conveniently call the urino-genital and the gastro-intestinal system depending on one’s erudition.  What I know for sure is that the four-letter words in many Indian languages derive their striking power by their reference to a part in the loin in an obscene light. The loin is a juxtaposition of our call to perpetuity (by its signification of generative functions) and temporality (gastronomic and scatological concerns are sure indicators of our existential exigencies.) The goats were sheltered on a raised platform of areca planks with banisters around, something like a makeshift stage. A volleyball game was underway and we could hear the distress call of a goat from that distance and a brother was sent to see. He came back with a report that it was nothing but a case of “stage fright.”
            What really pertains to this discussion is the dirty underbelly of the goat pen. One could hardly stand erect under it. The only movements possible under it were either on all fours or some other exertions employing your legs alone if you had stronger calves, but be sure that sooner or later you would fall on all fours if not already so. Had it been just a cemented floor, one would not be too much concerned about “all fours” or “toe tips” or just any other configuration. It was there I pondered on the verity of that Augustinian maxim faced with the concreteness of the experience. The cemented floor underneath the pen was, yes you guessed it, bottom-line for that sea of urine with its innumerable floats and sunken junks of those aesthetically perfect ovine droppings and you are armed with a trimmed broom and a leaky dustpan to fill up an equally leaky bucket. Well, that is the only unaesthetic side of the whole setting. Developing a taste for routine is a vital part of almost all monastic traditions. Employing seemingly unrewarding exercises and adopting those ways by which the whole performance of an operation can sound cumbersome and irrational are efficient techniques in inculcating this value. Often I have wondered whether many conspicuous faults in the schemes of work are deliberately introduced or are made out of the naivety of the monks who proposed them. There ought to be some wisdom absconding in these practices.

Friday, January 25, 2013

My Goat Days Part 1

Sorry for Coming asynchronously...My Days with Goats

Part I
What I loved most about Benyamin’s “Aadujeevitham”(translated as “Goatdays”) is not that it had a remarkable craft but it spoke of an experience which was very realistic but so distanced from our ordinary lives. Barring its cultural overtones in relation to contemporary Kerala and its amazingly large Diaspora what I could find easy in it to assimilate is the theme of condemnation to utter dejection from which there is a passover. It is the story of a man who could reconcile with the most traumatic phase of his life by following the path of meekness and resignation and at the same time reading signals of ever-throbbing life where it is most elusive. It tells us of a pace of life which is bound to land oneself in a gutter, according to popular reckoning; but in that pace one starts to count every whiff of one’s own breath and vehemently hug every moment of life with a glimmer of hope, even when the promise is nowhere. I had my goatdays too. I was under no compulsion in the exact sense to look after the goats, but it would not have been even remotely my call to care for even a living non-human, had I chosen some other ways which I chose to forfeit for the greater good. Ruminating, as a goat would do, I feel it so strongly that these goats were so close to my heart that their memories are stamped deeply in my heart and I always have a story or two about them to share with my confreres.
Well, I looked after them for not less than a month. At that time they were almost thirty three, and that was the highest number our goatherd had ever been. The herd had been a motley one. It had the very no descript run-of-the-mill goats one find in every homestead to the exotic breeds of Indian goats, that wouldn’t fit into an ordinary pocket for their sheer size, running cost and low returns. I wonder whether they are any better than trophies. Fast forward four years and you would find me perched on the terrace of this friary eyeing the tents of the circus in town, which happens to be our next door (they took that door away when they shifted and now it serves as a figure of speech). In the opening march-past they bring in an African breed of goat, which moves very disinterestedly and grudgingly that it has nothing else to do but make itself a show-piece. I have noticed that we are more moved to awe by the sight of exotic breeds of dogs and goats and cows or any other familiar animal for that sake, whose lowlier breeds we are accustomed to. Such a sight of superbreeds puts our ordinariness to shame, it seems. Rolling back, these supergoats can stand upto great heights to reach for a luscious branch if they crane their necks, standing on the hind legs, while the ordinary goats would tend to graze on the lowly grass. A goat is a real herbivore in the true sense of the word, no wonder why mutton makes a very healthy diet, by its phytochemical excellence.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Black Swan

The Black Swan

“No matter how many white swans you have seen, it doesn’t tell you anything about the possibility of a black swan”
                                                                                                                         Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Philosopher and Expert on Risk
In a celebrated dialogue between Fr.Copleston and Bertrand Russel, the latter is posed with a question as to what question he would throw at God if he chanced upon him. Russell quipped: “I will ask God why he hasn’t left anything in the world to prove his presence.” The Vedas had it that “Isōvāsyam idam sarvam”(Everything is the abode of God). In a crude way Thales spoke of everything being full of gods, thus sowing the seeds of hylozoism and pantheistic trends in the western thought. In Indian tradition one comes across the supposedly contrasting worldviews of acosmism and cosmism; these are nevertheless the same thing viewed from two different ends: from eternity and from temporality. A similar strain of thought is shared by the Stoics in their formulation of sub specie temporis and sub specie aeternitatis upholding that everything is essentially good even when it appears the contrary. Tertullian went a step further in claiming that anima naturaliter Christiana( soul is naturally Christian). The aforesaid representations point to the fact that some sort of regularity had been observed in the dynamics of the universe which are variedly ascribed to the physical, preternatural or spiritual forces.
A law or rule of action is seen as implicit in the very nature of things. This, we call, the natural law. It also designates laws that regulate the activities of nature both in organic and inorganic realms. All creatures have from their creator those determined natural inclinations to their own respective ends “which we say are natural laws”, comments St.Thomas; elsewhere he has spoken “natural law is nothing other than the participation of eternal law in rational creatures”. Not only in classical and scholastic philosophy but also in modern science one finds that natural law is deemed to have an ontological value. This is a realistic view. Various contemporary thinkers hold that scientific knowledge is assimilated as a passive representation and faithful mirror of reality.
Plato speaks of Euthyphro Dilemma: whether something is good because God loves it or God loves it because it is good. This is a moot point in moral philosophy. One can view the beauty and order as a consequence of its ordination by God or one can speak of God as an abstract representation of the beauty and goodness one finds in the world, something like a provisional subject. Are there natural laws? Science has no knowledge on things that cannot be observed. Its validity depends on the conformity of the individual observations to a hypothesis.
Consider the proposition “All crows are black” and its contrapositive “All non-blacks are non-crows.” Each time we see a black crow our supposition is proved but given that each of the above two propositions can be immediately followed from the other, why is it that a pair of white shoes (which is non-black and non-crow) does not validate the supposition that all crows are black? There is something predictable about the physical laws; in that respect how much does it contribute to the definability of God? This is under the assumption that God wills the physical laws to be unchangeable so that every time you throw a stone up it inevitably comes down. Suppose if there is a miracle or an aberration, then it too is natural in that it occurred in the natural sphere. Only thing we may conclude is that the exception was so far not recorded.
Duns Scotus said that God in His willing is “intelligissime et ordinatissime volens” (most intelligent and most orderly) and that He is not arbitrary. If natural laws are participation in this eternal wisdom why it seems that much of the occurrences in life appears as matters of chance or like game of dice. Natural law ought to orient us towards the natural end as the case maybe. The facticities (things which are beyond one’s control) of life set each individual in a different starting point and he is to grow upon that. How can one conceive a common denominator for the different individuals and speak of it as the natural end of that life. When the pronouncements about each man’s end are as varied as there are individuals how can we speak of a “law”? The universality of the “law” is at stake. It takes us back to the Orwellian paradox: “All men are equal, but some are more equal than others”. If you try to educate somebody about the aim of his life, then it’s just trying to conform him to a consensus and it stops to be natural and spontaneous. If one’s destiny depends on the formative force of his circumstances then it is not equal for all. Natural laws, if any should be applicable or accessible to all equally. This leads us to the nominalist position that there can’t be such a thing as universal and that there are only individuals.
If we are pawns in the hands of God then there is no point in speaking of our actions as bound to natural laws, because God is not part of our nature in the sense God is part of God’s nature. This leads to arbitrariness in human actions as we witness in the present sociopolitical context. Each action is targeted not on a blind abyss but on immediately fruitful results. Here appetites grow higher than the intellections. Every human action becomes hesitant or determined according to the viability of the situation with utter disregard for the “natural laws”. A jihadist has sound theology for his outrages, an imperialist wages war in the name of God. This is because God is no more thought to be abstract but as a concretization of one’s own personal whims and fancies. Therefore god’s  revelations become unmediated and very often my god draws the sword at your god. Then why wonder that the world has become self-centered and each one nothing but a juggernaut.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Save us from the peril of watching movies…

Save us from the peril of watching movies…

Let me share something on the ways the films of my land are going. Dubbed after the Hollywood they call it the “Mollywood”(M for Malayalam), but believe me its not that great a wood, something like a bush. Malayalam film scenario was typically marked by the dearth of classic movies. There used to be a time when people used to dwell on very ordinary situations of life, but as a rule they religiously observed certain developmental aspects of the story. This gave rise to stereotypes in Malayalam films. Entertainers usually centered around the “megastars” (the normal ascension is something like star-supersta-superduperstar-….megastar).The adjectives are made by the most erudite members of the fans’ association sticking to each megastar. The fans’ association is not generally an intellectually oriented lot who takes art or literature seriously. They are available for the star to show his clout and to indulge in campaigns and exercises detrimental to any opposing faction. These megastars are not very many, to be exact just two. They won’t leave and the female actors once cast opposite to them decades before are either dead or happy with the roles of granny, but enriched by the rich elixir of youth, our protagonists still dance,ogle and shoot dialogues like a loose cannon. Characters are tailormade for them assuring that they will be almighty and their deviant behaviour should be treated as pedagogical and consequently as holy evils. These characters are preferably high class people flaunting an elitist accent and impossibly rich gadgets and tastes.
Surprisingly, these days certain iconoclasm is going on in Malayalam movies. People really love that change. There is irreverence for whatever was considered sacrosanct and we have started to shed the reservations. As a rule people advise each other that a megastarrer movie should not be watched unless there are a thousand feedbacks vouching for its worth. The indiscriminate fans are happy as long as the star is alive on stage and they can hardly give you any sound piece of advice.
The movie “Beautiful” I watched last year got me struck to two instances in the story line, though there are many of them. The protagonist is a quadriplegic nevertheless heir to a large fortune also shown as indulging in ogling and ribaldry. Once returning from the hospital in the night they miss a burglar fleeing from his home. The burglar was very adept in martial skills and high jumping and all sorts of acrobatic gestures. The face of our man was alight with admiration instead of the rage that should have naturally occurred there. That night he dreams of this burglar exhibiting his callisthenic and acrobatic skills. Perhaps that is the greatest possibility he could dream of given that he is bound to the other extreme, the immobility of the body.
He meets an amateur singer who is hired to perform for him every day at his bedside. They later become thick friends. The singer takes our man for a ride in the motorbike with a special carriage to hold him in place and parks the bike on the roadside with our man still on it before going to a shop. It rains, rains heavily. It should have been choking for our man strapped to the carriage. Choking indeed, but he relishes the globule of water wetting his face with a cherubic smile.
This attention to the depiction of life as it really is can perhaps save us from the pangs of the megastars doing superhuman fete even while being very much human. Let us burn those story lines…
Poster of Beautiful.2

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The House of Rising Sun

I stepped on a man. Though painful to recall it is one of the first steps toward Arunachal that I made. It happened in one of the air-conditioned cars of the longest-running train in India. No intruders were expected but there were plenty of them if by intrusion one means travelling without a valid ticket. Those were the times of the Exodus, when North-Easterners were fleeing South in fear of life. The fat and receding eyelids always gives a pensive air to the mongoloid face, and a morbid fear can only add to it. The train was unusually packed, many times the capacity, with terror-stricken brethren from the North-East. Elsewhere in India, their physique betrays them as someone very distinct from being Indian, bordering on a Chinese ethos- a classical situation of stranger-danger. Very often men are like herds, each one strong in one’s own turf, feeding on mutual distrust. Geographical and ethical demarcations are too deep-rooted in our collective psyche.
An assortment of military and paramilitary troops is present all over the north-eastern hill states. The staccato of rifles resound in the valleys. When one hears that one can tell it apart from a poacher’s gunshot and the next best thing is to run for cover. In those districts inhabited by the Naga tribes bordering Myanmar, insurgency and counter-insurgency operations are the order of the day. These ops include indiscriminate firing and what falls out can equally indiscriminately be termed as casualties of war. It was only the other day that a village was set on fire after a showdown with portable missile launchers by two secessionist parties. Living in the districts bordering China can knock you by the drone of fighter jets doing routine sorties or reconnaissance missions. If you are more on the romantic side, then you can cherish the sight of a white Himalayan crest gleaming hundreds of miles away, a sight which you can get from Lamdeng village on the way to the friary in Veo. Nevertheless do not fail to remember that you are in the theatre of the Himalayan Blunder and there are still menaces lingering. Once a bunch of students admitted that they would fall for China in the wake of an invasion. Perhaps a jest but not a good one. Given that the youth fashion themselves around a blind imitation of the Far-Eastern culture there is practically much to worry for the Indian mind. Arunachal is so remote, culturally and physically. Harping on the maps from the Imperial period, China claims entire Arunachal as theirs. In a frantic bid to expand their soft power, China deeply infiltrates the cultural milieu of Arunachal. This is palpable even from a cursory glance at the social shifts, attitude to religion and disproportionate consumerism. When in Arunachal we are in a land being torn apart on various grounds with nobody to properly tend her wounds. Arunachal is the epitome of a neglected and exploited lot.
The inhospitable terrain of Arunachal poses logistical nightmares which the airborne top brass fails to notice. The Border Roads Organisation is doing a remarkable job but it is cripple in its own rights too. It is difficult to imagine the strenuous course and time involved in daily conveyance. The indigenous people are accustomed to this pedestrian way of life in a degree par excellence. One will be awestruck by the sheer weight they carry as a routine, uphill and downhill, a course along which hauling sole body itself can be a suffocating business. Believe me; I have seen even undernourished kids carrying bags heavier than themselves. I should be even more reminded of this when I walk with my luggage on comfortable and ergonomically designed bags down the aisles of a neatly paved railway platform. The people are adept at the art of finding the shortest (at the cost of comfort) routes to the destination (even if that involves the breaching of a perimeter fence!) but this luxury is not possible in laying roads. By way of example, if one boards a vehicle to the new friary in Veo from the nearest town of Seppa and another prefers to make it on foot then the latter would reach far ahead in time. The musculature of the indigenous people has to be a supporting factor because they frolic in the hills like yearling sheep and are built to survive. Our equipments and predispositions can become severely limited when met with conventional wisdom. The sheer distances to be travelled on backbreaking roads is one of the major difficulties in life here, that too constantly attended by deep ravines on any one of the sides. Disaster can come swooping down like an eagle. Well, this is a bother only if the road is open for travel. Torrents and landslides can block the roads at leisure and leave the lands locked, a state of natural siege, choking the arterial supply chains. This becomes critical at the face of medical emergencies or time-sensitive situations. There is no electricity 24X7 (if at all there is electricity), ergo no stable communication facilities but they hardly notice because there are more important things in life. Even as I watch the brothers coming back from a ground zero, an ascent of few miles, after desperately waiting for hours to capture a weak cell phone signal and to make an urgent call, I can hear the raucous cry of ravens flying away in the early dusk from the hills to roost as if drawing my attention to the memory of a raven that brought unsolicited chunks of meat to Elijah in the wilderness of Judea. Remarkably, when power supply resumes after long bouts of outage, the people welcome it with a salutation “Jai Jesu”(Hail Jesus.)
Life in the villages is very close-knit and dictated by tribal norms.. Arunachal is blessed with beautiful people, scenic places, cascades, virgin forests, brooks and birdsongs. The prominent tribes are Nyishi, Apatani, Adi and Tagin claiming their lineage from the patriarch Abo Tani and on the eastern side the Naga tribes of Nocte, Wancho and Tangsa. The Tani family of tribes derive their titles from the name of their original villages but among the Naga tribes a different convention is followed. In tribal life there are different levels of allegiance and one’s title can become the highest determinant. Title is the strongest signal of fraternity. Intermingling of titles can be found in urban settlements but a village always has a predominant title. Cognomens are integral part of existence in this part of the world and it can very often become a matter of life and death, especially in the case of a vendetta. The tribal norms honour the Lex talionis. Villages are perched on hilltops and some are so far flung that one has to walk on foot for a day to get there. The missionaries here are accustomed to such arduous journeys in the gospel tours. People live in large bamboo houses standing on stilts. There can be many homes within a house but each with its own fireplace. The fireplace is central to their lives; it is the centre of familiarity and hospitality and has two separate decks on top to facilitate curing and smoking of foodstuff. The villagers keep poultry, pigs, and cattle but typically not leashed. The animals move about like domesticated wild ones. The most instructive part about living in a tribal village is that it helps us to shed the lavatorial and gastronomic inhibitions (i.e., food and its turnouts.) The day in a village begins very early because dawn sets in early and so too the dusk. People are involved in hunting, gathering, scorched-earth cultivation (jhum) and wet cultivation in the fields. Rice is the staple diet and they seldom milk cattle and consume it. One cannot say that the diet is rich in nutrients. Toil and the deficiency of nutrients make the people look prematurely aged. Bamboo is ubiquitous, versatile and indispensable. Cured shoots of bamboo is an important delicacy. The village experience is one of the best things that happened in our lives. One of the villages was 600 years old and like any other villages had a history of bloodshed and internecine wars and a myth of origin. Reminiscent of an animistic past many of the villages still treasure certain monoliths which they consider sacrosanct. Geologists are unearthing rare meteoritic rocks from many districts. The villages have always known them but as clubs and warheads of demons plunged down from a celestial arena. The tribal make their utensils and artefacts out of stone, wood, gourds and bamboo. Each tribe has its unique and distinct design of daggers, knives and swords. They are necessary for survival in the wild and to work on bamboo and wood but can also become vicious as rising instances of violence and murder in townships tell us. Carrying these blades in intricately designed sheaths of bamboo is a symbol of honour.
Arunachal is predominantly Christian but the traditional religion of nature worship, Dyoni Polo, is considerably rooted. The societies still preserve the traditional festivals but with improvisations to humour the Christian faith. As a matter of fact, Protestantism is deep-rooted in the societies and it appeals more to their upbringing. Baptist and the wide array of Revival Churches with their charismatic praise and worship, dance and music are more palatable to the indigenous population. It would serve good for the Catholic Church to indulge in introspection at this juncture and examine how we fail to hit the mark. As we were opening the new friary in Veo, people were more interested to know when a school would be opened. Nothing rides higher than their tribal sentiments. There are lot of people who are sceptical about the transformations Christianity has wrought in these communities. They accuse Christians of destroying the traditions and robbing them of the pristine innocence and community bonds. Proliferation of Protestantism is a correlate of the rampant consumerism in these societies. For them, Catholicism is full of incomprehensible doctrines and time-consuming rituals. Given that the missionaries are non-indigenous and are not adept in the tribal language and customs, people prefer lay leaders as spiritual advisors and this reeks of dormant anti-clericalism with New Age churches stoking the fire. The people do not fully appreciate the value of sacramental life. At least for this generation adherence to any creed is a matter of convenience. Ironically, this anomaly has come to a church community which suffered persecutions to preserve the incipient faith.
In the light of above observations, residential schools can become strong instruments of evangelization by shaping the young minds. Education and healthcare are the keys to evangelization in Arunachal Pradesh. Her body and mind is scarred by the extremely demanding lifestyle she finds herself in.
When you raise the Sacred Host and communicate it with the words “Body of Christ,” a look at the weathered and tattered hands and faces of the people cannot but reveal to you the Body of Christ staring at you with an unquenchable thirst.
-a sojourner in Arunachal Pradesh, whose name is immaterial...

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My days with goats...contd...

Part III

          The Capuchins had a special light in which they see the harsh realities of life. They are very realistic. The capuchin crypts or ossiaries vouch for the fact that they find something remarkably aesthetical in the skeletal remains of the bygone. It is no descration, but the art of attaching only due importance to what is mortal. Would we make a work of art from the skeletal remains of somebody we know? It depends on what we are up to.  The dead teaches the living: to a despot it can be a lesson of coercion and deterrence, to a mortician it can be the sensibilities associated with death, to a pathologist it can be factors culminating on the death and for an ascetic it is the worth of death. The residues of life are hence didactical in monastic tradition. In the movie Samsara, a venerable Buddhist monk shows parchments of erotic drawings to a novice and then holds them in front of a lamp with a nod of complacency and there appears a different layer of drawing underneath which depicts the skeletal nature of the erstwhile entwined bodies. Every discipline is an act of economy of the body, notes Foucault. When one sees the body in terms of its momentariness, one is more inclined to live every moment fully, knowing that the time flows, the air flows, the beauty flows, life flows, bladder flows and bowels flow and we cannot afford to waste any of them. Add to it a sense of transcendence an then you have at hand the first lessons of asceticism. Ascetic life as I know it, is delightful because it sees life in death and not like any other macabre philosophies which see death in life.

to be contd...

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

My first Night in Arunachal

August 23, Wednesday
Tezpur to Seppa
A tree came in a landslip
We are hitting a roadblock
River Kameng gurgling
Pitch darkness
Only the headlamp
Of a backhoe glowing
They are sawing on the wood
A tail of parking beams
I sit on a rock
Watching for a creepy shift
And I write this
It's my first night in Arunachal

Addendum: A drunken driver
          Sloshy track/road
          Vademecum of ravines

(It was a landslip somewhere around Tipi, as you enter Arunachal through the

Balukphong gate in West Kameng district...It was too late for the GREF folks to do

any work but some miracles happen all the time...The most terrible aspect to me

was the constant gurgling of the Kameng which I could not see but was sure of its

menacing presence...)