കാണുന്നു ഞാന്‍

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This is my first attempt at writing Malayalam poetry.

കാണുന്നു ഞാന്‍

കാണുന്നു ഞാന്‍ ഓരോ പൂവിതളിലും
നിന്‍ നറുപുഞ്ചിരി
പ്രതിധ്വനിക്കുന്നു നിന്‍ കളമൊഴി
ഈ കിളിനാദത്തിലും.

ഇളംകാറ്റത്തുലയുമീ മരച്ചില്ലകളിലൂടെ
കളിയാടിടുന്നെന്മുന്‍പില്‍
നിന്‍ സുന്ദരനൃത്തവിലാസം.

ഈ വിശാലനീലാകാശത്തിങ്കല്‍
മുകില്‍മാലകള്‍ ചാര്‍ത്തുന്നതു
നിന്‍ മുഖത്തിന്‍ ഭാവവൈവിധ്യമോ!
രാവിന്നിരുള്‍ പട്ടില്‍ തിളങ്ങുന്ന
താരങ്ങള്‍ തന്‍ പ്രകാശം നിന്‍
മിഴികളിന്‍ കെടാവെളിച്ചമോ!

ഈ പുഴയോരം കടന്നുവന്നെന്നുടെ
ക്ഷീണിതമാമൊരീ ഗാത്രത്തെ തഴുകിടും
നീറുന്നോരീ മനസ്സില്‍ കുളിരേകിടും
സുരഭിലമാം പൂങ്കാറ്റു നിന്‍
തരളമാം കൈകള്‍ തന്‍ മൃദുസ്പര്‍ശനമോ.

കാണുന്നു ഞാന്‍ പ്രിയതമേ നിന്‍മുഖം, എന്‍
മിഴികള്‍ പരതുന്നതെവിടെയാണെങ്കിലും.
പ്രകൃതിതന്നോരോ ചെറുചലനത്തിലും നിന്നെ
തൊട്ടറിയുന്നു ഞാന്‍ നീയിന്നരികിലില്ലെങ്കിലും.

(Edited by: Moulik K B)

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Books I’m Taking With Me

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1. ഒരു ദേശത്തിന്റെ കഥ – എസ്. കെ. പൊറ്റേക്കാട്ട് – it’s become one of my favourites- though I’ve read it, I like to relive certain portions now and then.

2. ആരോഗ്യനികേതനം – താരാശങ്കര്‍ ബാനര്‍ജി – recommended by Ammamma. Searched for it at many book shops and finally got it through Harimama’s publisher contacts.

3. മയ്യഴിപ്പുഴയുടെ തീരങ്ങളില്‍ – എം. മുകുന്ദന്‍ – recommended by Harimama.

4. പ്രഥമപ്രതിശ്രുതി – ആശാപൂര്‍ണ്ണാദേവി – Jnanpeeth award winning novel, first in a brilliant trilogy on the lives and position of women in the Indian society. Have read the other two. I feel they’re relevant even today.

5. പഥേര്‍ പാഞ്ചാലി – ബിഭൂതിഭൂഷണ്‍ ബന്ദ്യോപാധ്യായ

6. ഖസാക്കിന്റെ ഇതിഹാസം – ഒ.വി.വിജയന്‍ – haven’t read this classic yet.

7. ഓടയില്‍ നിന്ന് – പി. കേശവദേവ്

8. നാടന്‍ പ്രേമം, മൂടുപടം – പൊറ്റേക്കാട്ടിന്റെ രണ്ടു നോവലുകള്‍

9. The Complete Works of Kahlil Gibran

10. Selected Essays of Rabindranath Tagore

On Competition

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In the Eleventh standard, we had a lesson called The Other Side of the Hedge by E.M.Forster, in English (looking back now, we had some amazing lessons with good philosophical content). It is a satirical essay on the notions of progress we have in our civilized society.

To briefly sum up, the story starts with the protagonist walking briskly along a dusty road, lined by tall brown and crackling hedges on either side. He had been walking down that road for as long as he could remember, like everyone else he knows. It’s the only world he has ever known. He’s weary and stops by the wayside to rest. People jeer at him as they pass him. He is reminded of his brother, whom he had to leave by the roadside a few years ago because he couldn’t walk any further, and wonders whether his fate was going to be the same.

He feels a puff of cool air coming from the other side of the hedge, and he becomes curious to see what is there on the other side. He tries to peer through the hole in the hedge but gets stuck and has to wriggle completely to the other side. He’s amazed by the sight that he beholds- he had never seen such green grass, hills, meadows, the blue sky in its full expanse, clear pools before. He had known only the monotony of the road.

He meets an elderly man who greets and welcomes him. He asks the old man where this place led to, and he replies, “Nowhere, thank the Lord!”. That it led nowhere, and there could be a world without progress was inconceivable to our protagonist. Moreover, he’s puzzled by some peculiarities of this strange new world. When he saw a person swimming alone in the lake, he asks the old man, “Where are the others?”. He replies, “There are no others.” Again, it’s inconceivable for him that someone would be so foolish as to waste energy swimming alone, without anyone else to hold a race with.

He’s amazed to find in this world people he had known on the road, and the old man explains that people keep coming over to this side of the hedge when they are tired of “walking”. As they stroll around, he notices a gate from which ran a road just like the one he had been walking on for ever. The old man says, “It is through this gate that humanity went out countless ages ago, when it was first seized with the desire to walk… It is the same road. This is the beginning, and though it seems to run straight away from us, it doubles so often, that it is never far from our boundary and sometimes touches it.”

The day was getting older, and he told the old man that he should get going, back on the road. Though this world seemed pleasant, mankind had other aims and he felt he had to join them. But the old man wouldn’t let him go so soon. They passed by a group of people having their dinner, who invited the newcomer to join them, but he wouldn’t because he mistrusted them.

They now reached a new gate, similar to the first one and the old man says, “This is where your road ends, and through this gate humanity—all that is left of it—will come in to us.” His transformation is complete when he notices a person walking by and cannot believe his eyes when he sees that it was his brother, whom he had left by the road a long time ago.

This story influenced me deeply. It was a time when I had just started thinking about the problems with the human world, and had this feeling that there was something wrong with the world, and this story seemed to ring true. Right from the early school days, we are initiated into a world of competition, just like the road in the story. We are not aware that there is an alternative.

One of the main hurdles that we have, in escaping from the rat race, is our deeply ingrained belief that “progress” is essential to mankind. We believe that it is a natural law just like gravity, and to not progress would be to become fossilized. Of course, happiness is dynamic, not static, and we should be constantly renewing ourselves. But our notion of this renewal, along the lines of “progress” is misguided. Wherever we look in nature, we can see constant renewal in equilibrium with its surroundings. “Equilibrium” is the key word.

Also, in my previous post on Ishmael, I had mentioned how we have this misconception of “survival of the fittest” as an unbreakable law. But that is not how nature works, and that is certainly not the only way humanity can work. In fact, when you observe nature carefully, it is so diverse that each creature finds a niche, which suits its characteristics. I feel that our human world is similarly diverse and each one of us can find a niche which suits us. We don’t have to take part in the rat race, and keep “climbing the ladder” or “progressing on the road” (which doesn’t lead anywhere). For me, “success” is finding this niche which we can fit into, which gives us space to pursue everything that makes our life meaningful and worth living.

Note: The idea of niches evolved from a discussion with Ayyappadas, who says that our identity crisis is our failure to look for and create a niche for ourselves. When we follow the set trends of society that do not suit us, it’s likely that we lose a part of our identity.

Anuragini…

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Here is a recording of myself attempting to play my favourite song “Anuragini Itha En Karalil Virinja Pookkal” on the flute. I know I cannot do justice to the song, but still, just thought I’d post it.

Download the recording

P.S. The recording is an OGG file and can be played using VLC.

Myths Debunked by Ishmael

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Why do we humans seem unable to stop destroying the world and why do we seem unable to live in harmony with the world?

This is the most important question I’ve had in life so far and I had been looking for an answer for, ever since I was in the Twelfth standard. This is not an easy question to answer. Many pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are easy to find in observations made in our everyday life, but it’s not very obvious how they fit in together.

That’s what the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn does. It helped me consolidate my thoughts and changed my life forever. It’s the most important book I have read in my life, and I think it should be right up there among the most important books that have ever been written. I just thought I’d note down some of the common myths about humans and civilization that this book exposes.

1. Man is fundamentally flawed. The negative qualities of man like selfishness, cruelty, greed etc. outweigh the positive qualities like love, selflessness, kindness etc. And so, man cannot stop consuming the world.

This is not true. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with humans. All these qualities, constructive and destructive, are there in all of us. Given a system which fails to keep the destructive qualities under control, man will go on destroying the world, and given a system which can successfully keep them in check, man is perfectly capable of living in harmony with the world, as our tribal ancestors did for almost 190,000 years before civilization began. In short, we are captives of a civilizational system that makes us go on destroying the world.

2. Human history began only 10,000 years ago with the birth of agriculture and civilization. What happened before was insignificant and just a prelude. It was a long and uneventful chapter in the history of the human race. Man was always meant to be a civilization builder.

This is what conventional wisdom teaches us, through stories, text books, cartoons, movies, conversations, all sorts of media. We are made to believe that only after civilization began, did man fulfill his destiny, and potential and whatever preceded was just an uninteresting period when it was only a matter of time before man would discover the glory of civilization.

Evolutionary Anthropology has turned this view upside down, and the “Recently Out of Africa” theory reveals how resourceful our ancestors were in overcoming the challenges they faced in colonizing the entire planet. Not only that, by at least 40,000 years ago, people already possessed technology like the sewing needle, and sea faring vessels.

3. Tribalism was the first chapter of a story of which civilization is the second chapter.

Or in other words, tribalism is a relic of the past and has no relevance today. We are made to believe that civilization was a massive improvement over tribalism. But even today, tribal people lead very happy lives wherever they have been untouched by civilization. Ishmael says that tribalism and civilization are entirely different stories, based on contradictory premises.

4. Spread of agriculture was a revolution, much like the industrial revolution.

We are taught in history about the “Agricultural Revolution”. But there was no such thing. Around 12,000 years ago, the world was made of many tribes. Some of them followed the practice of selectively encouraging the growth of their favourite foods, and had been for centuries, but none of them practised full time agriculture.

It was then that a tribe in the Near East started practising this form of agriculture which led to huge surpluses, which made them powerful. They started expanding and this led to conflicts with other tribes. Some of them were lured by the power and seeming control over their lives afforded by this form of agriculture and joined with them, but most tribes resisted because they knew that full time agriculture meant a life of toil, and they were quite happy with their way of life.

But ultimately everyone had to either join or fight because the ones who practised agriculture were far too powerful for the hunter-gatherer tribes and they were intent on bringing every piece of land under agriculture. This is explained beautifully in Daniel Quinn’s article, The Great Forgetting . Also, this had many interesting consequences which ultimately led to the formation of classes, hierarchical societies, kingdoms, the need for legislature etc. as explained in another article, The Great Remembering.

This is quite unlike the Industrial Revolution where manual labour was systematically replaced by machines. “Agricultural revolution” was more like the Colonization of lands by the European powers during the 1500s-1700s.

5. Nature is a chaos which is not fit for man to live in and so man has to build his empire to put everything in order.

Not only is Nature a system in perfect balance with intricate feedback mechanisms, but all creatures that have evolved and survived, did so because they were very well able to live in it.

6. Man can do what he wants with nature because the laws of nature do not apply to us.

The laws of nature DO apply to us. Ultimately we are dependent on the green leaves of trees to capture sunlight and convert it into biological energy, to produce enough oxygen, for the proper functioning of the water cycle. Life, or the biosphere is an intricately woven web, and we have not even begun to understand the full extent of the interdependencies between organisms.

7. The life of primitive man was unimaginably hard and terrifying and the birth of civilization was a relief.

We are made to picturise primitive man as a savage, without any morals, always on the futile search for food, always on the run from predators. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The so called “primitive” man lived in egalitarian social groups. Man is well adapted to eat an amazingly wide range of food, and it is inconceivable that primitive man could have gone hungry. Also man is not the preferred prey for any of the predators. So the life of “primitive” man was not that bad actually. In fact, anthropologist Marshall Sahlins went so far as to call the Stone Age people the “Original Affluent Society”.

8. Nature’s law is “Survival of the fittest”. Man is proving that he is the fittest, so it is inevitable that he will rule the world.

Survival of the fittest is an over simplified way to look at nature’s laws. True, there is competition at each level, but this competition is not like the one we have in our economies and politics, where any underhanded tactics may be used to maximize one’s gains. This is not an attempt to romanticize Nature, but it’s just that that’s not the way nature works. There are some rules which are invariably followed by all creatures, without which there would be no bio-diversity on our planet. These can be summarized as:

  • Take what you need and leave the rest alone
  • You may compete to the fullest extent of your abilities but you may not hunt down your competitors or destroy their food or deny them access to food

We have temporarily found a way to circumvent these rules with our technology, but anyone with common sense can understand that we cannot be absolutely independent and are ultimately dependent on the biosphere for many things that we take for granted.

9. Tribalism means living in caves, walking with leaves tied around your waist, and leading a hunter-gatherer existence.

Well, if that is what tribalism means, we can forget about it for good. Because there are too many of us today to be able to lead a hunter-gatherer existence. But there are deeper, valuable lessons to be learnt from tribalism as an egalitarian social organization that works and has been working for humans and our other ancestral species for almost three million years. Daniel Quinn defines a tribe as a group of people make a living together. He says that a “tribe” is to humans what a “school” is to fish, a “pride” is to lions, a “flock” is to geese etc. – a social organization that has been tried and tested by time, and passed down as a gift of natural selection.