Sunday, January 30, 2011

A poem by Noon Meem Rashid

ज़िन्दगी से डरते हो?
ज़िन्दगी तो तुम भी हो ,
ज़िन्दगी तो हम भी हैं

And you are afraid of life?
But, you too are life
We too are life

आदमी से डरते हो?
आदमी तो तुम भी हो,
आदमी तो हम भी हैं

And you are afraid of humanity?
But, you too are human
We too are human

आदमी ज़ुबां भी है , आदमी बयान भी है
हर्फ़ और मानी के रिश्ता हाय आहन से
आदमी है वाबस्ता
आदमी के दामन से ज़िन्दगी है वाबस्ता

Man is word, and
Man is meaning

To the iron bond
Uniting word and meaning

Man is connected

Life itself is tied to his sleeves

इस से तुम ... नहीं डरते हो

Of this, being unaware, you are not afraid.

अनकही से डरते हो
जो अभी आई नहीं उस घढ़ी से डरते हो
उस घढ़ी के आने की आगाही से डरते हो

Afraid of the unsaid
Afraid of the moment
that has not yet arrived
Afraid of even the awareness
of the coming of that moment

पहले भी तो गुज़रे हैं
दौर ना-रसाई के , बे-रिया-खुदाई के
फिर भी ये समझते हो
हेच आर्ज़ूमंदी
ये शब् ज़ुबांबंदी ,
है रहे खुदाबंदी
तुम यही समझते हो

We have seen the consequences

Of remaining aloof

Of a seemingly guileless divinity

And yet you believe

That to desire is worthless

That this night of silenced tongues

Is the noble path to salvation

तुम मगर ये क्या जानो
लब अगर नहीं हिलते ... हाथ जाग उठते हैं
हाथ जाग उठते हैं
राह का निशाँ बन कर
नूर की ज़ुबां बन कर
हाथ बोल उठते हैं
सुबह की अज़ान बन कर

How will you know though
That if those lips don’t move

One's arms begin to stir

One's hands begin to call

As the shining lights in the night

As the voice of heavens

Like the voice from the temple at dawn

रौशनी से डरते हो

रौशनी तो तुम भी हो , रोशनी तो हम भी हैं
रौशनी से डरते हो

But you are afraid of Light?
Remember, you too are a light
We too are a light

शहर के फासिलों पर

देव का जो साया था , पाक हो गया आखिर
अज्दहाम-ए-अफसान से फर्द की नवा आई
ज़ात की सदा आई

What was earlier only a shadow of the prophets

It finally became holy

A new light, a new wind, a new message was in the air

राह-ए-शौक़ में जैसे राह रवि खूँ लपके

इक नया जुनूँ लपके
आदमी छलक उठे
आदमी हँसे देखो ,
शहर फिर बसे देखो

As in the journey of love
The traveler’s blood soars
A new passion leaps
Man is consumed with it
And he laughs, look!
The city is reborn in love

तुम अभी से डरते हो

हाँ अभी तो तुम भी हो , हाँ अभी तो हम भी हैं
तुम अभी से डरते हो

You are alive, and so are we.
Still you are afraid?

Very evocatively rendered by Indian Ocean in the Peepli Live soundtrack.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I am "me" (tm)

The primary vector of cultural education in the 21st century is mass media. People are happy when they are able to do the things that the TV says will make them happy. They are joyed when they acquire a gadget that the ads say will make them cooler. They feel more confident when their bodies and clothes approximate the celebrities. They talk about the most prominent news on news channels. They form their life goals from what they see on the screen.

The movies and books of this age tell you to "follow your dream" (which dream is incepted in you by the mass media), "fulfill your potential" (which is to not have a manager, mostly), "not live a boring life" (which is to romance like the celebrities, and to be a tourist), "be cool and true to yourself" (which is to disregard how your words and acts affect others), "think positive" (which is to suppress feelings of guilt and depression), "pamper yourself" (which is to spend money on spas and hotels), "not take shit from anybody" (except from the malls), to "find love" (which is to find a lover, not a beloved), ...

This is the generation of people who think they are living for themselves when their brains are no longer their own.

When I talk to urbanites these days, I get the sinking feeling that I am talking to a conduit, rather than to an original thinker.

Someone who is putting in long hours to achieve unexamined goals, someone whose content of thought is media-driven, someone who spends more time on facebook and staring at his cellphone than in live interaction, someone who lives on soundbites rather than on considered knowledge, someone whose idea of relationships is formed by studying soap operas...

And if most of the literate hep are hooked on to the superficial (whether the idiot-box, or youtube or the wisdom-for-the-ADD-crowd aka TED lectures), to harp about philosophy and realpolitik and Jacques Ellul in these circumstances is to be an insufferable bore.

This is no country for old men.

Saturday, January 08, 2011


I recently read Terry Eagleton's The Meaning of Life.

Even though the book contains some philosophical simplifications and common misunderstandings, it is an eminently readable book. I especially liked the final chapter (available in its entirety here), which echoes my current thinking that happiness is an interactive praxis, rather than just a state of mind.

A few excerpts:
The assumption that the meaning of life is primarily an individual affair is still alive and well. Julian Baggini writes that 'the search for meaning is essentially personal', involving 'the power and responsibility to discover and in part determine meaning for ourselves'. John Cottingham speaks of a meaningfullife as 'one in which the individual is engaged ... in genuinely worthwhile activities that reflect his or her rational choice as an autonomous agent'. None of this is false. But it reflects an individualist bias common to the modern age. It does not see the meaning of life as a common or reciprocal project, It fails to register that there can be by definition no meaning, whether of life or anything else, which is unique to myself alone. If we emerge into being in and through one another, then this must have strong implications for the meaning-at-life question.
What we have called love is the way we can reconcile our search for individual fulfilment with the fact that we are social animals. For love means creating for another the space in which he might flourish, at the same time as he does this for you. The fulfilment of each becomes the ground for the fulfilment of the other. When we realize our natures in this way, we are at our best. This is partly because to fulfil oneself in ways which allow others to do so as well rules out murder, exploitation, torture, selfishness, and the like. In damaging others, we are in the long run damaging our own fulfilment, which depends on the freedom of others to have a hand in it. And since there can be no true reciprocity except among equals, oppression and inequality are in the long run self-thwarting as well. All this is at odds with the liberal model of society, for which it is enough if my uniquely individual flourishing is protected from interference by another's. The other is not primarily what brings me into being, but a potential threat to my being. And this, for all his celebrated belief that humans are political animals, is also true of Aristotle. He does not regard virtue or well-being as inherently relational. It is true that in his view other people are pretty essential to one's own flourishing, and that the solitary life is one fit only for gods and beasts. Yet Aristotelian man, as Alasdair MacIntyre has observed, is a stranger to love.
The meaning of life is not a solution to a problem, but a matter of living in a certain way. It is not metaphysical, but ethical. It is not something separate from life, but what makes it worth living which is to say, a certain quality, depth, abundance, and intensity of life. In this sense, the meaning of life is life itself, seen in a certain way. Meaning-of-life merchants generally feel let down by such a claim, since it does not seem mysterious and majestic enough. It seems both too banal and too exoteric. It is only slightly more edifying than '42'. Or indeed, than the T-shirt slogan which reads 'What If The Hokey Pokey Really Is What It's All About?' It takes the meaning-of-life question out of the hands of a coterie of adepts or cognoscenti and returns it to the routine business of everyday existence. It is just this kind of bathos that Matthew sets up in his gospel, where he presents the Son of Man returning in glory surrounded by angels for the Last Judgement. Despite this off-the-peg cosmic imagery, salvation turns out to be an embarrassingly prosaic affair ... Anybody can do it. The key to the universe turns out to be not some shattering revelation, but something which a lot of decent people do anyway, with scarcely a thought. Eternity lies not in a grain of sand but in a glass of water.
After reading this book, and reflecting on my life at present, I remembered the final line of dialogue in Robert Bresson's Pickpocket: "Oh Jeanne, what a strange path I had to take to find you!";

And of course, the famous lines of Eliot's Little Gidding:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

(The title of this post, Ikiru, is the name of a profound film by Akira Kurosawa, and which means: To Live.)

Thursday, January 06, 2011

"No religion teaches violence or intolerance"

"No religion teaches violence or intolerance."

"All religions teach acceptance, forbearance and forgiveness."

Such statements, oft-repeated by generally well-intentioned people, are plain false.


(for just two examples)

"If thy brother ... or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods ... Thou shalt not consent unto him ... neither shall thine eye pity him ... But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people." (Deuteronomy 13:6-10)

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.(Leviticus 20:13)


"Considering your specific duty as a kshatriya, you should know that there is no better engagement for you than fighting on religious principles; and so there is no need for hesitation." (Bhagvad Gita, 2.31)

"O Partha, happy are the kshatriyas to whom such fighting opportunities come unsought, opening for them the doors of the heavenly planets." (2.32)


Choon kar az hama hilte daar guzast
Halaal ast burden ba shamshir dast

(When all avenues have been explored, all means tried, it is right to draw the sword out of the scabbard and wield it with your hand)

And Section 13 of the Sukhmani Sahib describes a great deal of pain and hellfire that the slanderer of a saint will have to endure.


"O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust." (Quran 5.51)

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

A provocative anecdote

From a BBC interview with a retiring Oxford Don:

Don: "Up until the age of 25, I believed that 'invective' was a synonym for 'urine'."

BBC: "Why ever would you have thought that?"

Don: "During my childhood, I read many of the Edgar Rice Burroughs 'Tarzan' stories, and in those books, whenever a lion wandered into a clearing, the monkeys would leap into the trees and 'cast streams of invective upon the lion's head.'"

BBC: long pause "But, surely sir, you now know the meaning of the word."

Don: "Yes, but I do wonder under what other misapprehensions I continue to labour."