Sunday, December 25, 2005

is life worth living....?

It was my alter ego who spoke first. “Is life worth living?” he demanded with the confidence of a pugilist. I found myself sitting at the bus stop, chewing pensively on the remnants of ‘our’ earlier conversations. I bought time as I ravaged for a fitting rejoinder.

My deliberation was cut short as my loquacious ‘partner’ was speaking again. “Life for most of you is as sinuous as a verbose English sentence punctuated by birth and death, conspicuously imperfect and unconscionable. Seldom are you careful enough to dot the i’s and slash the t’s. Your indulgences have overshadowed the very essence of life. You are like a tiny flame flickering in an immense void, straightjacketed by waste, horror and degradation. And as if the intricacies of life were not enough look at the mess you’ve created around you - coffee has caffeine, water has pesticides, and the road can kill you.

I was taken aback. Never in our earlier bouts had he exhibited such effrontery. The scathing accusations left me stranded in a hideous lonely emptiness. However I did not feel defeated rather the more I fathomed the facts the more they piqued my interest. The root of our plight lay in our failure to realize that we live in a relative world where flaws are as conspicuous as there are people, therefore any demarcation in terms of responsibility and accountability is redundant and futile.

Having mustered my thoughts I replied, “Life does not know any bounds nor does it understand limits. It has never offered explanations nor has it demanded any. But it is inherently perilous for otherwise it wouldn’t be fun living it. Life hails ‘existence’ and not ‘essence’. Life has never been utopian, though the nature of perils has changed with time. Encyclopedias give us a vivid depiction of the prehistoric horrors – ice ages, gargantuan predators etc. Historians have mentioned in detail the gory wars fought, the disgusts of industrialization, imperialism, and nuclear bombs etc. Every eon brings with it concomitant dangers but life continues. Life has only one rule - ‘all is permissible’. If you try to violate this sacrosanct rule life loses its appeal and reduces to a pedestrian set of tasks not very different from the fate Sisyphus was condemned to.”

I could see his confidence melt away. His tone was no longer imputative rather that of apprehension and speculation. “But”, he began, “ last night when you were asleep I overheard the coke bottle plot against you. And the mobile phone under your pillow the one you trust so much, well he was all praise for the coke bottle. And soon the Cadbury chocolates joined in; their perfidious instincts aroused.” He was almost out of breath by now.

His naiveté apprehensions brought a smile to my face. It also made me realize that I had a gift - the gift of life, which in spite of being incomplete was sans peur. I also realized that life was beyond reproach, in fact it would be an imbecile attempt to inculpate an individual for promotion of his self interest unless his actions are aimed at deliberate harm. It doesn't really matter that you cannot alter your behavior on the basis of consequences that you cannot know, because you are not accountable for your behavior anyway. Therefore to say that people responsible for pollution should be sought and punished is as preposterous as finding a needle in a haystack. It therefore becomes imperative to accept the fancies of life in their authentic form and to sift out misleading essences. The ultimate aim should be free, autonomous existence.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

globalization er glocalization...

The precincts of the world seem to be shrinking, the demarcations are getting blurred; globalization has evolved form being just a figment of visionaries to a ubiquitous phenomenon. Satellites, jet planes, Internet and coke cans all seem to carry the contagion.
The homogenizing influences of globalization promote integration and the removal not only of cultural barriers but also of many pejorative dimensions of culture. Globalization is a vital step toward both a more stable world and better lives for the people in it. Besides, current trends that fall under the broad definitional umbrella of ‘globalization’ are accelerating a process that has been incessant throughout history as discrete groups have become familiar with one another, allied, and commingled - ultimately becoming more alike. The blending of cultures through migration, dissemination of news, ideas and fashions through trade, travel and media and through the rise of global references ---- Coca-cola, Addidas, Rupert Murdock has led to an indisputable uniformity. It has evolved into an impeachable tradition, binding and infallible.
The reverberations of globalization are no longer superficial rather they have percolated into every local sphere of culture be it language, art, education, religion, entertainment, food, attire, dances, songs or books. ‘Glocalization’ as most economists term it certainly seems to be an ideal portmanteau for the phenomenon.
It is said about the language that it is the essence of a culture, converge the language and people would follow. One of the landmark achievements of globalization has been the introduction of a universal language - English. It is estimated that by 2050 half of the world would be more or less proficient in it.
Even the most ironclad barriers are succumbing to the force of globalization. The countries like Russia and communist China are also opening their gates for the world, symbolizing a convergence of ideologies. Shanghai for example has evolved into a glasshouse for global brands. Globalization is not only transforming the world; it is creating its own metaphors as well. Satellites carrying television signals now enable people on opposite sides of the globe to be exposed regularly to a wide range of cultural stimuli. Russian viewers are hooked on Latin soap operas, and Middle Eastern leaders have cited CNN as a prime source for even local news.
The fall of individualism can also be credited to globalization. Individuals are forming new communities, linked by common interests and fads that cut across national borders. People today are chatting with foreigners sitting miles away, scientists are sharing their ideas over the Internet, and environmentalists are campaigning together using email. Groups like an international Juventus supporters’ club, a worldwide U2 fan club have become a commonplace. It all signifies greater understanding and cohesiveness creeping into world culture. The world is indeed becoming one. David Beckham may walk the Santiago BernabĂ©u with his ingenious coiffures but it does not much time for our budding footballers in the street to emulate his style. Such has been the impact of globalization pervasive and ‘all embracing’.

However, it would be juvenile to even imagine that a planet of seven billion people could incorporate a single culture. It would be impossible to counteract or eradicate the subversive elements of diverse cultures prevalent in the present world, preposterous to think of framing social laws that would transcend culture.
The fear that globalization would lead to an undifferentiated culture is pretty benign. After all drinking coke is not a compulsion but a matter of choice. English may usurp other languages not because it what people prefer to speak but because, like Microsoft software, there are compelling advantages to using it if everybody else does.
Nobel laureate Amartya Sen pointed out - “the culturally fearful often take a very fragile view of each culture and tend to underestimate our ability to learn from elsewhere without being overwhelmed by that experience”.
Beyond the obsessions of global uniformity, there exist an opulent potpourri of cultures so eclectic and so apart. People are not only guzzling Mac D’s hamburgers, there are over 8000 Indian restaurants – six for every Mac Donald’s in the UK up from just six in 1950. Mariah Carey and Madonna are global chart toppers, but so are Britain’s Elton John and Ireland’s U2 and how about our very own A.Rehman. If Tom Clancy and Jeffrey Archer sell well abroad so do Paulo Coelho, Vikram Seth and Arundhati Roy. And not to forget J.K. Rowling and J.R.R Tolkein who seemed to have taken the world by a storm. Today India produces more commercial films than Hollywood. People around the world are looking beyond Armani and Gucci. The hegemony of brands is approaching a suffocating end. These realities tend to endorse the fact that globalization does not threaten local cultures; instead it led to the enhancement and diversification.

Appearances may be deceiving. The progressive world gives an impression of having tacitly approved globalization. However the ground realities differ. The majority people still remain untouched by the phenomenon, preserving the inveterate cultures. One of the many contrasts is the disparity that exists between the third world countries and the developed nations. As the rich have got richer and the poor have got poorer, there cultures have moved strikingly apart. I had mentioned earlier that drinking coke instead of being a compulsion is a matter of choice; you can easily narrow that down to a matter of affordability.

Another important change accompanying globalization is that of immigration. Emigrants carry their revered habits and cultures across the globe and tend to assimilate as immigrants the practices of their accepted land, leading to a multicultural society.
The homogeneity of globalization exists only in parochial sphere of urban life, beyond that the effects if any are very limited.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Gin Soaked Boys

It is a place where even Time stops to party. Talk of hedonistic appeal and it is brimming with it. Ganesha is prominent, so is Mahakali and I think I can discriminate the ‘Nine Inch Nails’ in the backdrop digging into the boisterous mirth. It’s a place replete with our own home grown backyard rockers, our beloved noisemakers and boss viziers of the sleaze-o-rama precincts of the rockers club. Where transients slide into cheap rooms and get awakened in the middle of the night by yelling neighbors, they are the presiding booze-hound laureates. On the proscenium stands Monish - my friend and schoolmate, we’ve known each other for years now. Monish isn’t much of a celebrity. You could meet him on the street and not feel inclined to give him a second glance. The demure looking boy who had trouble appearing for his Infosys campus interview, in his den today he’s the cynosure of every vagabond pupil, every vacant mind. They cheer as he strikes the chord on his guitar. Reminisces of Jimmy Hendrix and Joe Satriani come fleeting past. The very image of his celebrated kisser—the tattooed skull, the pierced eyebrows and the 666 t-shirt—has been enough to consign him to the bohemian backwaters of rock culture.

What is rock culture all about I wonder? It’s not the women, not even the booze, no not the drugs, definitely not money and don’t give me that shit about expression and symbolic meaning. Somehow I am inclined not to buy all that. There is something deeper and more profound to it. There has to be. For nothing superficial can drive people to such insanity, such obsession, such confusion, and such illusions – a life of no comprehension and resurrection.

Rock beat is not intrinsically sexual or evil, or maybe it is. Works of art, including musical art, seldom convey a direct or explicit moral message. For this reason, the morality of art is extremely hard to discuss. Various kinds of art may have a tendency to stimulate us, to portray evil in a positive light, or to communicate an alternative understanding of reality. But because the message is almost never as clear and direct as an argument, different people can receive music in different ways, and precise lines are difficult to draw. Even among those with similar values, problems with works of art often induce consensus only at the extremes.

Rock groups consistently convey a false or otherwise evil message in their lyrics, their gestures i.e. smashing of guitars evil depicting signs loudness of music and distortion of human voice what we call growling etc. While this is by no means universal in rock music, it is probably characteristic of a larger and the more famous portion of rock than of most other genres. It is common to encounter rock lyrics obsessed with narcissism, anger, and rejection of authority, despair, destruction, sex, drugs, paganism, and Satanism.

It is clear that “rock culture” is a manifestation of the evil, which is incorporated into the public personae of many groups (whether for deliberate moral or merely business reasons). Young people, who are necessarily impressionable, are more likely to perceive rock culture in which ugliness and evil are so often “popular”, “awesome”, “honest”, and even “profound”. Objectivity can wait for the next morning; at present it is the ‘Rockers’ who rule, the evil who plays the fool and ‘Gin Soaked Boys’ who drool. Ain't it cool?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Prophethood vis - a - vis Philosophy

Consider: In the world of mankind, from the time of Adam until the present, two great currents or lines of thought have, like two tall trees, spread their branches in all directions and in every class of humanity. One of them is the line of Prophethood and religion, the other that of philosophy and human wisdom. Whenever those two lines have been in agreement and united, by which I mean whenever the line of philosophy has joined the line of religion in obedience and service to it, mankind has experienced brilliant happiness and a brilliant collective life. But whenever they have followed separate paths, truth and goodness have accumulated to the side of Prophethood and religion, and error, evil and deviation have been drawn to the side of philosophy. We shall now elaborate on the origin and foundations of those two lines.

The line of philosophy, whenever it has split away from the line of religion, has taken the form of an evil tree spreading the dark veils of ascribing partners to God and of misguidance in every respect. On the branch of empowered reason, it has yielded for the consumption of the human intellect, the fruits of atheism, materialism and naturalism. On the branch of empowered anger and passion, it has produced tyrants like Nimrod, Pharaoh and Shaddad to tyrannize over mankind. On the branch of empowered animal desires and appetites, it has produced the fruits of ‘goddesses’, idols and those who have claimed divine status for themselves. By contrast, the blessed line of Prophethood, which takes the form of the Tuba tree of worship, has borne, in the garden of the earth, on the branch of empowered reason, the fruit of the Prophets, Messengers, saints and the righteous. On the branch of empowered anger, the branch of defense against and repelling of evil, it has yielded the fruits of virtuous kings and just rulers. On the branch of empowered attractiveness it has borne, throughout human history, the fruits of generous, benevolent persons of good character and modest bearing. The line of Prophethood has thus demonstrated how mankind is the perfect fruit of the creation. We shall now shed light on the two aspects or ‘faces’ of ego as the origin and principal seed of these two lines of thought.
One ‘face’ is represented by the Prophets and the other by philosophers. That is to say, Prophethood takes hold of one ‘face’, while philosophy takes hold of the other, causing them to diverge.

The ‘face’ represented by Prophethood is the origin of pure worship and slavery to God. That is to say, the ego knows itself as the slave of God. It realizes that it serves One other than itself. Its essential nature has only an indicative function. Ego understands that it bears the meaning of one other than itself, and it can be meaningful only when it points to that one. Its existence is dependent. Ego believes that its existence and life depend upon the creativity and existence of the one other. Its feeling of ownership is illusory. Ego knows that what it enjoys is an apparent, temporary ownership by the permission of its real Owner. It has a shadow-like reality. Ego understands that it is a contingent entity, an insignificant shadow which manifests the true and necessary Reality. As for its function, being a measure and balance for the Attributes and functions of its Creator, that function is conscious willing service.
It is in this regard that the Prophets, the pure, righteous ones and the saints who have followed the line of the Prophets, have truly perceived the nature of ego. Therefore, they have resigned sovereignty to the Exalted Sovereign of the creation and believed that He has no partner or like, either in His Sovereignty or in His Lordship, or in His Divinity. He is no need of an assistant or deputy. His is the key to all things; He has absolute power over all things. Causes, they have also come to believe, are but a veil of appearances, and nature is the sum of the rules of His creation, an assemblage of His laws, of the ways in which He displays His Power.

This radiant, luminous, beautiful ‘face’ of ego has always been like a living seed full of meaning from which the Exalted Creator has created the Tuba tree of worship, the blessed branches of which have adorned all parts of the human world with its illustrious fruits. Through this ‘face’, the darkness over the past is lifted and it is then understood that past time is not a domain of non-existence nor a vast graveyard, as conceived by philosophy, but a source of light and a bright, shining ladder with many rungs from which the souls traversing it may leap into the future and eternal felicity. It is also a radiant abode and a garden for the souls who have departed this world and cast off their heavy loads and been set free.

The second ‘face’ is the one represented by philosophy. Philosophy regards ego as having an essential meaning of its own. That is to say, it maintains that ego has an independent existence of its own; that ego is the index only to itself and that it labors wholly on its own behalf. It considers the existence of ego as necessary and essential. It falsely assumes that ego owns its being and is the real lord and master in the domain where it is active. Philosophy supposes ego to be a permanent reality. It considers the duty of ego to be self-perfection for the sake of self-esteem. And so on. Philosophers have in these ways built their various schools of thought on many such corrupt foundations. Even such eminent philosophers as Plato and Aristotle, Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and al-Farabi, maintained that the ultimate aim of mankind is to make themselves like the Necessary Being, in other words, to actually resemble Him. In that they drew a very wrong conclusion. They provoked ego through such opinions and set it free to run in the valleys of polytheism, thus opening the way to numerous different ways of associating partners with God, like worship of causes, of idols, of natural forces, of the stars. They closed the doors to man's perception and confession of his impotence and weakness, his insufficiency and need, his deficiency and imperfection, which are basic to human beings, and thus blocked up the road to worship and slavery to God. Immersed in naturalism and completely unable to escape from ascribing partners to God, they were unable to locate the wide open doors of gratitude.In contrast to the line of philosophy, the line of Prophethood considered that the aim and function of mankind is to be molded by Divine values and to achieve good character. They believed also that mankind, by perceiving their own impotence, should seek refuge with Divine Power, by perceiving their weakness, rely on Divine Strength, and by realizing their insufficiency and essential poverty, trust in Divine Mercy. By knowing their need, they should seek help from Divine Riches, by seeing their faults, they should plead for pardon through Divine Forgiveness, and by perceiving their inadequacy they should glorify Divine Perfection.It is because philosophy has deviated from the Right Path, in disobedience to the line of religion, that ego has taken the reins into its own hands and galloped into all sorts of error. Consequently, out of such an ego an evil tree has grown and swallowed up more than half of mankind.

freedom and equality

Meet me; I am the harbinger of civilization. I represent the quintessence of creativity and individuality. I am free and unimpeachable. I am above all.
I have a friend, my only friend. She is not like me; she lives with other people who are like her. She speaks a language, the semantics of which do not permit her to use ‘I’ before ‘they’. I sometimes envy her for she is popular. But her plight devastates me for she seems to be fettered in chains of social responsibility. I have tried to help her but she won’t listen. She says I’m colorblind. I don’t understand her.
My name is Freedom and she is Equality.
I remember our first date; I was replete with exaltation and frenzy. She felt the same but wouldn’t show it. Her voice was inspiring yet so bland, her eyes blissful yet so distant. I like driving fast. But she wouldn’t let me. My anticipation grew as we approached the ball. She spoke of the people, their attire, and their customs. Somewhere inside me I felt in visceral fear creep in, for convivial gatherings intimidated me. They say great people find inspiration in little things. I find my stimulation in dance. Though I can be conspicuously unconventional at times, but when I dance, I do so with a complete apathy of all around me. That day I danced my heart out, a grotesque avant-garde performance; at least that is what I thought. I was wrong. They stared at me as if I had committed blasphemy. I didn’t care for their gibes. My eyes searched for Equality’s and finally met them. She seemed to see right through me. Her eyes told me all. She, like them wanted me to change.
I accepted Equality and her world. I compromised my liberty for benevolence and brotherhood. I like my equals drove within speed limits, danced to the rules, and ate according to the menu. I could not blame them; they were equals or rather should I call them puppets striving for economic and social parity. But it gave me jitters when I saw myself among them, working towards a goal that did not exist. What love could do to a man? “What kind of a society is this”, I asked Equality, “it penalizes genius and rewards mediocrity; economically, it murders the goose that lays the golden egg; it dehumanizes humanity and sometimes causes it to suffer indescribable pain”? She had always been proficient with words. Her reply was in her usual nonchalant tone, “the pain is promethean for it is for the greater good. It is the inherent human aspirations that are the cause for man’s greatest sufferings. We have learned to curb desire, as a result independence has ceded it place to interdependence”. I was befuddled. Though now I was able to see the colors I lost my ability to choose between them. That day at night I stole from my tent to see Equality for last time.
Memories of Equality linger on. I probably still stay in her heart and she would not let me go. Freedom however has moved on. Today, he walks the corridors of the power and prestige. His name finds its place in the highest echelons of civilization. His company includes visionaries like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Richard Branson, and Vijay Malaya. He admires free thinkers, scientists, mavericks and nonconforming artists for he finds solace in their work. Solitude for him is not a sacrifice it is a privilege. He drives fast in his new Ferrari. His hair carry the wind and eyes shine with hope. He is free again, unleashed.
Equality still lives with her people. I live in her heart. It is a happening place, her heart. There is room for almost everybody, no place for vanity though. I have begun to understand these people through the eyes of Equality. ‘She and I’ often venture out to the fields after the rains; she finds immense pleasure in the rainbow. She explains to me the hierarchy; I guess I have finally begun to understand colors. I try to persuade her. I speak of the riches, the opportunities that wait for her only if she was to take my hand. She responds didactically, “Free people can never be equal and equal people never free”. I am held by her charm, speechless.

- Siddhartha Proothi