Manifestation of the Truth

The past two weeks have been challenging…mainly because of the manifestation of the truth that the world is no more free. I have been spending my time at home reading and educating myself about the facts that we will like to not accept outright…rather pretend that everything, yes every damn thing, is okay and fine. This superficial feeling can help us in overcoming the anxieties that refuse to calm down. Well, as a follower of the Buddhism, I really do see end to the rapidly rising incidents of violence, intolerance, prejudice and other dehumanizing emotions across the length and breadth of the world, especially in my own country. I know everything has an end, for sure. However, to not act and voice one’s deep fears and concerns is equivalent to cowardice, a stigma that haunts the person till his or her last breath. Right now as I speak, I am sure, many might be silently debating in their own minds and might also be trying really hard to build up their courage to stick to their values despite all odds. It’s never easy becoming courageous, it’s never easy embracing kindness, and it’s never going to be easy to remain physically and emotionally sturdy even when faced with difficulties.

AZADI by Arundhati Roy | Waterstones

Man Booker Prize Winner Arundhati Roy’s fearless essays on the recent political churnings of India

Raghuram Rajan’s book The Third Pillar rightly highlights the importance of the empowerment of the community as an agency of change and development

Though I do not always agree with the ideas of the Man Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy’s writings, her books are eye openers and a warning of a future that we might refuse to foresee.  While her novel “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” has a poetic and heart-touching plot that makes readers aware of the world of the deliberately marginalized communities along with the striking changes in the Indian politics, her latest collection of essays titled “Azadi” speaks the truth without any fear of punishment. She without any hesitation and fear uncovers one facet after another of the current Indian government. She discusses the deliberate transformation of a socialist and secular country into a majoritarian country through strategic marginalization of the minorities, especially Muslims, by distorting the concept o citizenship and increased free capitalism. Though she might particularly target the incumbent government, she nevertheless criticizes the past Congress-led government for laying the foundation of free market that eventually led to crony capitalism and privatization of the national institutions. She interestingly highlights the way language has played a crucial role in the concept of nationhood and creation of a separate state. The unacceptability of the people speaking another language has been heavily misused by the political powers for their own gains, whether it is the colonial powers, far right political groups, nationalist political groups, etc. At the same time, I am reading the book named “The Third Pillar” by the renowned economist Raghuram Rajan. It seems both Arundhati Roy and Raghuram Rajan are ultimately aiming for the same goal, i.e., empowerment of the community though via different yet similar methodologies. Raghuram Rajan underlines the importance of the community in creating a comparatively much safer and developed society through collaboration and cooperation. Rather than looking up to the state for intervention, people should empower themselves to empower the society.

The novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is all about vulnerable and marginalized sections in tough political and social times

When surrounded by such writings, one is undoubtedly likely to get disturbed over things not working rightly. They force readers to question the status quo and the shortcomings of the government which are often masked by stoking religious sentiments.  The reduction in the proportion of affirmative action for the citizens should be a warning signal for anyone who cares for his or her nation. It is essential that political groups and pressure groups create an environment for growth and safety. However, it seems the world has been suddenly pushed backwards, with the celebration of the far right sentiments. It seems none of those progressive movements ever existed as the world seems to be once again divided between haves and have nots, women and men, white and black, etc. Sometimes I sit back and try understanding these changes and find no relevant answers. Probably, at the end, people want power, they want it by any means. The glorification of the man made differences and stigmatization of the natural differences seem to be gaining much popularity lately than even as per my opinion. We need to seriously reflect and understand the political churnings around us to comprehend the magnitude of the dystopian world  thatw e are walking into.

Read folk tales to understand people

How far will we go to understand people and their emotions? Can we understand them only by devouring the highly manipulated and exaggerated news reports that tend to divide the world simply into black and white? One of the ways to overcome the inner prejudices and the imposed imageries of people based on their culture, nation, religion, etc. is to read and understand the age-old traditions and beliefs. This will assist us in comprehending the roots of any nation, culture, religion, etc. The Orientals’ attempt to project the West as progressive and far more refined has led to the normalization of this myth; this artificial divide can only be busted by reading the local literature.  In this attempt to understand Turkey and its people, I thought it wise to commence this journey by reading their common and popular folktales shared by the Turkish peasantry through the word of mouth and collated by Dr Ignatius Kunos, a passionate ethnographer.

Embedded with the beautiful illustrations by the author Celia Levetus, the book named Turkish Fairy Tales and Folk Tales will definitely assist readers in understanding the world of the Turkish people. Such folk tales play a crucial role in humanizing people from different cultures and spaces, according to me. They enable us to understand that people irrespective of time and space hold and believe in similar universal moral values and try to pass them on to their progeny through such tales. Such folk tales helped me through the tough times to stick to the values like honesty, sincerity, kindness, among others. Therefore, it was not difficult for me to connect with such tales.

A Book Review – My Arctic Journal: A Year among Ice-Fields and Eskimos

The book My Arctic Journal: A Year among Ice-Fields and Eskimos, written by the woman explorer Josephine Peary, is a lucid memoir of a woman who opts to travel with her husband, the North Pole explorer Robert Peary, to the mysterious, rough and unexplored ice fields of Greenland, rather than being confined to the four walls of her home. Penned in the late 19th century, this memoir becomes a seminal work for the folks motivated to explore the untouched and undocumented landscapes of the earth, especially woman. Let’s not forget that Josephine undertook such a challenging and path-breaking exploration journey when women were commonly being groomed merely for a suitable wedding. She also succeeds in breaking the existing divide between men and women in the field of exploration and laying the foundation for the future generations by undertaking this journey.

What really impressed me about Josephine’s writing are her unfiltered accounts and opinions pertaining to the weather, natives of Greenland, Eskimos, etc. Rather than masking her real feelings, whether it be her first thoughts about the appearance of the natives, their low cleanliness standards due to ignorance, their customs and rituals, etc., she accepts them and documents them to project the exact picture of this challenging project. I call this project as challenging because such explorations aren’t fancy and luxury travels undertaken to pamper oneself. These back-breaking, mentally stressful and unpredictable exploration journeys are rather full of unimaginable climatic and environmental dangers capable of breaking your spirits and bringing you closer to death any moment.  Therefore, I would avoid making any comment on her feelings about the natives whom she without any premeditated approach called ugly. Let’s not forget that language has undergone a lot of revolutionary changes since the time this book was written, and the current writers definitely try avoiding the usage of biased and inegalitarian words for any particular community, particularly words that define appearance or beauty.

Josephine Peary
Robert Peary

Josephine was not just a bystander in the entire exploration. Despite accompanying the team as a wife of Robert Peary, she never shirked from participating in all kinds of demanding activities, like cooking, hunting seals for food, facing all dangers bravely, strategically deciding the dress according to the climatic changes, etc. As a multitasker, it seemed she had more workload than at home. It was unimaginable for me to think that Josephine’s journey was full of hardships right from the starting of the journey. She had to not only endure the roughness of the weather and the ship trying to make its way through bergs and thick ice sheets, but also look after her husband who fractured his leg when the ship almost went out of control in the tussle with bergs. This incident exacerbated her hardships by leading to sleepless nights spent nursing her husband moaning in pain. Josephine comes across as a highly sincere and hard working woman who endures all pain and does not glorify them to gain attention. One can also feel her strong attachment with her husband when she spends many nights worrying about his well being and simultaneously managing other activities with so much dexterity.

Josephine clearly played a vital role in motivating her husband and other members by keeping things in order especially food, shelter and clothes. Therefore, one cannot strike off her contribution in this exploration.  What struck me personally the most was her endurance capacity in arranging and cooking food for so many men using whatever hunt was available in the store. It’s definitely not easy and I as a reader and a woman can absolutely comprehend her nostalgic soliloquies wherein she clearly expresses her yearning to see her family and friends. Whether it’s keeping a happy and brave face in odd times or making others feel at home by celebrating their anniversaries, social events like Thanks Giving and Christmas,  Independence Day, etc., Josephine just succeeds in keeping everyone emotionally together. She is equally adept at hunting and shooting local animals like seals, reindeer, birds, etc. and proves to be an asset for the exploration team. She remains practical and chimes in with others as per the need of the hour. Therefore, one can see how easily she overcomes her inner inhibitions and feelings to connect with the natives and work along with them in stitching weather friendly clothes, arranging other safety equipment, learning the local ways of cleaning animal skin, collecting bird eggs  on plateaus, overhauling large stinking seals, living with other locals in the igloo, etc. Josephine’s account of Arctic region journey is kind of sociological and ethnological survey of the region and its inhabitants. Her memoir enables readers to understand the landscapes, anatomy of the locals, their social and cultural customs, their myths, their language, their problems, etc. This book is definitely a must read for people looking for a mix of adventure and knowledge about such far flung regions.

Understanding Margo Roth Spiegelman

Last few weeks have been quite enlightening… as the ultimate truth “solitude is bliss” steadily dawned on me. This realization leaves one feeling lonely and empty initially, but eventually turns out to be that truest companion whom you trust more than yourself. The innate quietness of solitude calms the mind lost in a maze of indecipherable thoughts and imaginations constantly trying to control our actions. You get to understand the beauty of nature only once accompanied by solitude and bereft of desires that tend to pull us toward the cacophony of living. After being indoors for long due to pandemic, I finally decided to take a walk to a nearby local bookstore and just purchase whichever books strikes as different, even if a bit. I selected John Green’s Paper Towns and expected nothing much, except an entertaining teenage story. Yes, it is an amusing adolescent “coming of age” story. However, never judge a book by its cover, as it turned out to be a much more serious stuff, though not every time.

The protagonist Margo Roth Spiegelman impacts the readers in a massive way, especially those who have always longed for solitude and have made all efforts to escape from the traps of a defined way of living. A defined way of living is kind of lifestyle wherein procrastination is discouraged and success means fulfilling others’ dreams and not those make us different. It also means proving success by ending up like every other old grumpy person around us, i.e., bored, frustrated, irritated, constantly feeling like a loser, waiting for death and so on. It also means becoming as irrational and mundane as everyone around us; you become so mundane that you mix up with the crowd by becoming one. But here comes Margo, like our favorite characters of any fiction, who is just too bored of family and friends too mundane to discover adventure. Their superficial life and fascinations simply bore Margo and push her to the extreme side of living. What started as a mere vindication spree against cheating friends and boyfriend soon transformed into a real search for her truer side through anonymity, invisibility and mystery. If you enjoy anonymity and hate glaring at the simpering profiles of people on the so easy to reach social media sites, this book might touch the chord of your heart.

It’s just Margo and her mysterious hiding , or better to say hangout, places that made this novel a good read for me. I simply enjoyed the way she hid the true side of her personality from everyone; in fact, it fascinated me. The rich, yet not contemporary, music taste of Margo leaves the feeling of nostalgia and the innate desire to search the meaning of life and surrounding through art.  One can also relate with the inner turmoil of Margo that she was in turn able to decipher through the classic poem “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman. Finding one’s truer self and ultimate destination through a poem that encourages and inspires everyone to discover themselves and explore the unexplored makes total sense to people like me who continuously shape their thoughts through the chisel of thought-provoking literature. Every piece of literature enlightens readers by hiding meanings in between words beautifully adorned like a pattern embedded or woven in a carpet. The novel “Paper Towns” celebrates the concept of “solitude”, “discovering oneself”, and “taking the oft less taken roads”. These are not mere fancy words but true yearnings of the current noisy times when it’s difficult to lead a nomadic and anonymous life.

Overcoming the inner prejudices and attachments

My deep interest in Buddhism and the ultimate goal to become a Buddhist monk motivated me to start reading the history of Buddhism from across the world and prepare myself for my goal by understanding the key principles of Buddhism. It’s interesting to note how closely are  Zen Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, etc. interrelated in terms of philosophy. In the first go, a person might feel exasperated by going through so many philosophies that ultimately highlight and underline the same universal truth, i.e., understanding the inner consciousness through detachment, intuition, and meditation. Discarding the duality of the world, Buddhism propagates the oneness and encourage devotees to understand the truth by overcoming the inner prejudices and attachments. I am yet to gain enough confidence to state the principles and key takeaways of Buddhism without any confusion or doubt; I am fully aware that this entire process of learning and unlearning will turn out to be a long journey and have started preparing myself for any sacrifices and endurance involved in this arduous process of gaining enlightenment.  When I started reading the books on Zen Buddhism, I was spell bounded by the stories on the early Zen masters like the swashbuckling Bodhidharma and his extremely humble and grounded Hui-Ko.

Bodhidharma - Wikipedia
Bodhidharma emphasized upon meditation/dhyana to realize the higher consciousness

What is interesting to note about Bodhidharma is his entire look and physique, which is extremely different from the conventional images of monks embedded in our minds. Popularly know as a blue-eyed barbarian, he is apparently the first Buddhist with a fully grown flowing beard. Whatever little I have read about him, it made his personality and approach towards life as a Buddhist monk more and more fascinating. As rightly presented in the later records, he was well know for his toughness and straightforwardness. There’s an interesting anecdote about his conversation with the fanatic Buddhist Emperor Wu during a meeting.

Emperor Wu of Liang, the August Thearch Bodhisattva | Buddhistdoor
Bodhidharma in Fanatic Buddhist Emperor Wu’s court

The emperor under the impression that he has done the best as an ardent devotee of Buddhism by building temples, organizing assemblies, promulgating sutras, etc. invited Bodhidharma to his court and probed his take on his activities pertaining to Buddhism. The emperor, who till now was regaling confidently over his efforts, was surprised to hear Bodhidharma’s response. When the emperor asked earnestly if he has earned any merit by constructing temples, organizing assemblies, the blue-eyed barbarian simply responded “None whatsoever, my majesty.”

The Monk, the Butcher and the Incredible Origins of Deep Counting | by  Somik Raha | Invaluable | Medium

The shocked emperor further investigated about the main principle of Buddhism and Bodhidharma enlightened by stating “Vast Emptiness.” The concept of “Emptiness” as underlined by Bodhidharma made me rethink and reflect upon my current situation and work upon deep cleaning the grey areas of my mind by undertaking the path of simplicity and learning through consistent practice. As a lay person, I have been struggling hard for years like many until I realized as mentioned in Buddhist teachings that with the physical existence comes suffering. Like everyone else around me, I thought my sufferings will end once I get a job, maybe once I get hold of a plump job or win a lottery, etc. I also believed that people whom we love are always there for us through every thick and thin. I was too naive to imagine that the love between two people related through blood is unconditional until I stumbled upon the Buddhist philosophy.

Another Buddhist philosopher who has made a mark on my mind is Hui-ko or Dazu Huike. An ardent follower of Bodhidharma, Dazu Huike, as per the popular stories, apparently chopped off his arm to draw attention of his master Bodhidharma about his devotion to learn from him. Though the above incident has been contested by the early literature, I was deeply impressed by his take on learning. Once the baton of Zen Buddhism was passed on to Huiko or Huike, he started living an inconspicuous life among peasants by doing menial jobs like any laborer or a peasant. He justified his action as the best approach for his mind and learning. This also enabled him to emerge as a much stronger and learned leader.

Huike 慧可 (487-593), aka 神光慧可 Shenguang Huike; 大祖慧可 Dazu Huike; 太祖慧可 Taizu  Huike; 慧可大师 Huike Dashi
Dazu Huike, as per popular stories, apparently chopped off his arm to draw attention of his master Bodhidharma about his devotion o learn from him

Many philosophers have emphasized upon leading a simple and anonymous life for understanding the true meaning of life. Apparently, the great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu rejected the offer of joining the King’s court as he believed that the short-lived luxurious life weakens our capacity to endure the tough times witnessed thereafter . I might sound weird but I somehow totally agree as I find the concept of “material richness” to be nothing but a negative turn in our lives. I just can’t imagine myself always worried about my safety due to my wealth and being surrounded by sycophants than true or real people. Money has the capacity to make a person blind by numbing his or her rationality and inflating his or her ego.

A Voice from the Main Deck: A Book Review

Discovering lesser-known novels is like getting hold of a hidden treasure. Such books despite looking old and less exciting can turn out to be a real treat for a book lover.  They can influence the readers by enlightening them with lessons of life than none around then can offer. Recently, I had the opportunity to page through three such books. They have definitely added new meanings to my life and have transformed me into a much better person than before. These books enabled me to think beyond this ephemeral world inundated with toxic information and details. I suddenly felt far more human than before as I felt these books resonated with my emotions and feelings. These feelings ranged from sadness, despondency, guilt, joy, to innumerable indescribable emotions. I started floating in a world much safer and saner than that right now around me. In addition, interestingly, the voices and emotions that surrounded me were those that I so much yearned to hear and feel in every inch of my soul. I wanted to leave everything this world, become part of that world, and converse with those characters. I would have preferably just stood in a discreet corner of the pages and watched the characters in flesh and blood. I would have watched them crying, yearning, praying, fighting, and emerging victorious.

A Voice from the Main Deck: Being a Record of the Thirty Years' Adventures  of Samuel Leech eBook: Samuel Leech: Amazon.in: Kindle Store

The autobiographical novel “A Voice from the Main Deck” penned down by a former seaman was an enlightening book. Written in the 19th Century, it leaves a mix of joy and sorrow feelings among readers. One might feel blessed to be living in the 21st Century when the definition of rights has broadened with the increased awareness of fundamental and basic rights. It can also make readers reflect and compare their current situation with the condition of people in the 18th Century, especially those located in the lower rungs. The detailed and exact description of the condition of seamen on ships destined for war can leave one vulnerable from within. The fact that inhuman and atrocious punishments like flogging was a legalized and a regular method of reformation on ships for anyone committing a crime as small as drunkenness to as big as fleeing can leave anybody’s blood run cold.

The point to note is that “flogging” was not for everyone, but only for those who did menial jobs on ships. The living conditions in which these seamen lived will also make us reconsider any sea rides. On a second thought one might also feel that the world has not really reformed as inhuman and discriminatory practices based on one’s socioeconomic positioning continues in many parts. However, we fortunately have bodies and legislations to check and restrain such practices. The novel gives a firsthand account of the life of seamen; their tedious life schedule and work, unimaginable restrictions, atrocious hierarchical system of working, inhuman living conditions (such as availability of hammocks instead of beds, limited pantry, no correspondence with kith and kin, destined for suffering for the lifelong, etc.). The protagonist Samuel Leech succeeds in portraying his fears and dreams through the pages of this book.

English Historical Fiction Authors: Samuel Leech's Account of War at Sea
Image of Samuel Leech

The wrongs committed on war ships were so many and so unforgettable that like others Samuel too escapes from his ship after a long wait and relocates on the American soil under a fictitious name and past. One needs to read the entire novel to understand the travails a seaman had to undergo, as they did not enjoy the freedom to leave the job. They also were not in the position run away easily due to the strict rules and vigilance on ships. The mortifying fear of being lashed like a street dog in front of hundreds of seamen restrained many from fleeing the ship. The absence of civilized rules on the ships made many tough and extremely cold from inside. Along with the daily dose of inhuman discriminatory practices and intimidations of ship captains and so on, the travails of war and unpredictability of the sea and weather further worsened the inner self-esteem of these seamen. One’s life depended on the kind of captains and officers on the ships; the captains who were much kinder gave more freedom and respect to their boys than others did. Unfortunately, there were hardly a few who were kinder and cheerful by disposition.

An Introduction to Punishment in Aubrey's Royal Navy | The Dear Surprise
Flogging was legalized and regularly practiced on ships

The detailed description of the death and flogging can make all of us think. The sudden death of a seaman can lead the body to be thrown overboard. It gives me chills to even imagine that a seaman who a while ago was climbing and stretching the canvas of the ship might accidentally fall and kill himself. The unimaginable diseases and injuries witnessed by those on ships, especially seamen, due to the nature of their menial jobs can leave all of us coiling in fear. Like many undocumented seamen, Samuel witnessed a head injury that further worsened for life due to the negligent and inconsiderate behavior of a fellow seaman. Apparently, when Samuel was recuperating from a head injury, someone threw a bucket of seawater over his head just for fun; the salt in water worsened his injuries.

The detailed description of the rough life on ships can prove really eye opening on many fronts. Sometimes one should go back and read such less-read books to understand at what cost people achieved their freedom. It came at the cost of death, lifelong exile, separation from loved ones, unimaginable disabilities, and fugitive life, among others. This  novel will make everyone think and reflect over their life and stop complaining for lesser comforts and problems.

Last Conversation

It’s only at the break of dawn that I sleep these days,

There’s meditative silence resonating peace all around,

A stream of moonlight peeks through the open window,

Maybe it’s just the incandescent bulb flickering in my neighborhood,

I finally let my tired hair fall on my shoulder,

To be caressed by my childlike fingers

I run through my fingers through my shoulder length hair,

To disentangle hair and calm down my mind lost in regrets and guilts,

I roll over his side to whisper the thoughts running through my mind,

Is the time of seriousness over and only pretension will work now?

He rolls over to face me and says “No”.

The last conversation of the day echoes in my mind,

Forcing me to recontemplate and rephrase my thoughts,

Winter is ready to step in,

And it steps in discreetly like a cat on a lookout for shelter,

The rashes of summer heat have magically vanished,

As if they never existed,

My body and mind are exultant,

Steadily sleep envelops my mind and eyes shut the door to reality,

Leaving my body wandering in the land of dreams.

Dark emotions and feverish passions

I can be serious, really serious, so serious that people around me can take me as an insane person with a feverish passion for everything dark and sombre. So I try to cool my fever and check on my sensitivity every now and then.

I keep them under check by writing, writing anything that troubles me and my mind, anything that makes my day lovely, anything that make me calmer than before. Alternatively, I find my own peaceful and silent zone where I can reflect and remain temporarily disconnected from people and nerve-wrecking media.

Maybe I am running away from my past, maybe I am an escapist (as mostly accused), maybe I need time to heal, maybe I just want to forget my social and economic connections and just sleep away blissfully in the lap of nature, or whatever. The days when I spent hours without randomly checking on my thoughts in front of the sea were the most memorable days of my life. Away from the worries of earning my daily bread and butter, away from the dark emotions and energies, away from the constant game of intimidation and control, among others, those days instilled pure joy and happiness. I would just feel the air in my face and feel the cold water healing my exhausted feet, and collect shells of all shapes strewn like coins on the smooth surface of the sea sand.

But, on a second thought, it seems to me that even darker days have been an integral part of my memorable days. I love nights, for the silence, and a soothing play of light and music. I love the way moon looks at the earth, isn’t is lovely? This is also the time when I look forward to reflecting on my nightmares and dreams, whether it’s related to fear or profound intimacy. I remember them next day as vividly as any real situation in daily life. I can never forget one of the nightmares that disturbed my inner consciousness so immensely that I kept brooding over every scene for God knows how many days. Frankly, I have lost the count of days. In fact, I still think about them. In this particular dream I found myself stranded on the footsteps leading to a well. I find myself struggling really hard over the only footstep that eventually remains and other structures leading to exit are demolished like a pack fo cards. I saw myself in such a precarious situation that nothing except drowning seemed like a solution. It reminded of the character Ophelia, painted and written by innumerable artists and writers.

It’s then I knew I fear, fear something, in fact many things. Maybe I fear of being chased and punished in the name of culture and religion. So deep is this fear that every dream has entrance but no exit. I take my dreams and nightmares seriously as they make me comprehend my inner self and yearnings, especially for freedom and invisibility.

Right now…

Right now… I am struggling with the  overwhelming feeling of “loss”, in all forms.  A feeling that surges in our hearts and minds when we decide to walk alone.  And, walking alone on a yet-to-be-determined road can be a very lonely journey my dear folks who are right now trying hard to find their way out of intimidation and suppression.

With the passage of time, I have realized there’s no linear solution for a problem. The solution differs from person to person and yet all ultimately aim to achieve freedom from manipulation, fear, exploitation, slavery, suffocation and so on. We have to keep fighting and banging our heads till we achieve freedom that empowers us and enables us to love ourselves. May be this struggle might end up in poverty and other struggles for which we need immense courage, who knows…

Sometimes I re-educate my mind flipping from one thought to another to just calm down like a peaceful sea and just destroy the inherited knowledge to learn to appreciate whatever comes to me and wherever I end up.