Friday, October 31, 2008


If you are into poetry, you should try Anna Akhmatova. She was a great Russian poet. Wikipedia entry on her states "Her work addresses a variety of themes including time and memory, the fate of creative women, and the difficulties of living and writing in the shadow of Stalinism". I will reproduce here one of her best known poems.

‘Like a white stone in a well’s depths’

Like a white stone in a well’s depths,
a single memory remains to me,
that I can’t, won’t fight against:
It’s happiness – and misery.

I think someone who gazed full
in my eyes, would see it straight.
They’d be sad, be thoughtful,
as if hearing a mournful tale.

I know the gods changed people
to things, yet left consciousness free,
to keep suffering’s wonder alive still.
In memory, you changed into me.


I stumbled on this news item from London and found it amusing and yes, I do support it.
Read on:

London buses may advertise 'there's probably no God'

LONDON (AFP) — London's iconic red buses could be plastered with the slogan "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life," in an atheist advertising campaign responding to a set of Christian ads.

Comedy writer Ariane Sherine, 28, objected to the Christian adverts on some London buses, which carried an Internet address warning that people who rejected God were condemned to spend eternity in "torment in hell".

She sought five-pound (7.80-dollar, 6.25-euro) donations towards a "reassuring" counter-advertisement -- and received the backing of the British Humanist Association (BHA) and atheist campaigner Professor Richard Dawkins.

The campaign has already smashed its 5,500-pound target and the slogan is planned to hit the side of several London buses in January.

"We see so many posters advertising salvation through Jesus or threatening us with eternal damnation, that I feel sure that a bus advert like this will be welcomed as a breath of fresh air," said BHA chief executive Hanne Stinson.

Dawkins said: "This campaign to put alternative slogans on London buses will make people think -- and thinking is anathema to religion."

A Church of England spokesman said: "We would defend the right of any group representing a religious or philosophical position to be able to promote that view through appropriate channels.

"However, Christian belief is not about worrying or not enjoying life.

"Quite the opposite -- our faith liberates us to put this life into a proper perspective."

A spokesman for Transport for London told AFP they had not received such an advertisement application and would wait to view it before deciding whether it met their advertising guidelines.

"No advertisement of this kind has been submitted to TfL at this time," he said.

"If approved, then it will appear on our network."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Here is a short gem of a story by great science fiction writer Fredric Brown. He wrote many short stories with humour and shocking endings. I give below one such story. Please read and give your comments.



Dhar Ry sat alone in his room, meditating. From outside the door he
caught a thought wave equivalent to a knock, and, glancing at the door,
he willed it to slide open.

It opened. "Enter, my friend," he said. He could have projected the idea
telepathically; but with only two persons present, speech was more

Ejon Khee entered. "You are up late tonight, my leader," he said.

"Yes, Khee. Within an hour the Earth rocket is due to land, and I wish
to see it. Yes, I know, it will land a thousand miles away, if their
calculations are correct. Beyond the horizon. But if it lands even twice
that far the flash of the atomic explosion should be visible. And I have
waited long for first contact. For even though no Earthman will be on
that rocket, it will still be first contact--for them. Of course our
telepath teams have been reading their thoughts for many centuries,
but--this will be the first _physical_ contact between Mars and Earth."

Khee made himself comfortable on one of the low chairs. "True," he said.
"I have not followed recent reports too closely, though. Why are they
using an atomic warhead? I know they suppose our planet is uninhabited,
but still--"

"They will watch the flash through their lunar telescopes and get
a--what do they call it?--a spectroscopic analysis. That will tell them
more than they know now (or think they know; much of it is erroneous)
about the atmosphere of our planet and the composition of its surface.
It is--call it a sighting shot, Khee. They'll be here in person within a
few oppositions. And then--"

Mars was holding out, waiting for Earth to come. What was left of Mars,
that is; this one small city of about nine hundred beings. The
civilization of Mars was older than that of Earth, but it was a dying
one. This was what remained of it: one city, nine hundred people. They
were waiting for Earth to make contact, for a selfish reason and for an
unselfish one.

Martian civilization had developed in a quite different direction from
that of Earth. It had developed no important knowledge of the physical
sciences, no technology. But it had developed social sciences to the
point where there had not been a single crime, let alone a war, on
Mars for fifty thousand years. And it had developed fully the
parapsychological sciences of the mind, which Earth was just beginning
to discover.

Mars could teach Earth much. How to avoid crime and war to begin with.
Beyond those simple things lay telepathy, telekinesis, empathy....

And Earth would, Mars hoped, teach them something even more valuable to
Mars: how, by science and technology--which it was too late for Mars to
develop now, even if they had the type of minds which would enable them
to develop these things--to restore and rehabilitate a dying planet, so
that an otherwise dying race might live and multiply again.

Each planet would gain greatly, and neither would lose.

And tonight was the night when Earth would make its first sighting shot.
Its next shot, a rocket containing Earthmen, or at least an Earthman,
would be at the next opposition, two Earth years, or roughly four
Martian years, hence. The Martians knew this, because their teams of
telepaths were able to catch at least some of the thoughts of Earthmen,
enough to know their plans. Unfortunately, at that distance, the
connection was one-way. Mars could not ask Earth to hurry its program.
Or tell Earth scientists the facts about Mars' composition and
atmosphere which would have made this preliminary shot unnecessary.

Tonight Ry, the leader (as nearly as the Martian word can be
translated), and Khee, his administrative assistant and closest friend,
sat and meditated together until the time was near. Then they drank a
toast to the future--in a beverage based on menthol, which had the same
effect on Martians as alcohol on Earthmen--and climbed to the roof of
the building in which they had been sitting. They watched toward the
north, where the rocket should land. The stars shone brilliantly and
unwinkingly through the atmosphere.

In Observatory No. 1 on Earth's moon, Rog Everett, his eye at the
eyepiece of the spotter scope, said triumphantly, "Thar she blew,
Willie. And now, as soon as the films are developed, we'll know the
score on that old planet Mars." He straightened up--there'd be no more
to see now--and he and Willie Sanger shook hands solemnly. It was an
historical occasion.

"Hope it didn't kill anybody. Any Martians, that is. Rog, did it hit
dead center in Syrtis Major?"

"Near as matters. I'd say it was maybe a thousand miles off, to the
south. And that's damn close on a fifty-million-mile shot. Willie, do
you really think there are any Martians?"

Willie thought a second and then said, "No."

He was right.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


This is one of the Zen stories I often come across. Reminds one of Amitabh pulling this coin trick on his buddy Dharmendra in the greatest curry western of all time - Sholay.


During a momentous battle, a Japanese general decided to attack even though his army was greatly outnumbered. He was confident they would win, but his men were filled with doubt. On the way to the battle, they stopped at a religious shrine. After praying with the men, the general took out a coin and said, "I shall now toss this coin. If it is heads, we shall win. If tails, we shall lose. Destiny will now reveal itself."

He threw the coin into the air and all watched intently as it landed. It was heads. The soldiers were so overjoyed and filled with confidence that they vigorously attacked the enemy and were victorious. After the battle, a lieutenant remarked to the general, "No one can change destiny."

"Quite right," the general replied as he showed the lieutenant the coin, which had heads on both sides.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Happy Deepavali

Here's wishing all my fellow bloggers a very happy Deepavali. Let the festival of lights bring joy to all our lives and usher in peace and prosperity everywhere.

Awesome Photo

I chanced upon this when reading one of my favorite haunts on net Churumuri. Let me reproduce some extracts from the article by T.S. Nagarajan:
Spencer Tunick is a New York photographer who prefers to be seen as an artist, not a photographer. He convinced 18,000 Mexicans to take their clothes off for him. The volunteers posed for Tunick at the Zacalo square in Mexico City on a Sunday morning, last year.

“I just create shapes and forms with human bodies. It’s an abstraction, it’s a performance, it’s an installation.” he says.

He has photographed over 75 similar installations in which hundreds of people posed in the nude in artistic formations at various locations all over the world. He calls his work “flesh architecture”.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Being a Muslim

I read this piece by Samina Mishra in a blog I frequent. I am reproducing it. I found it very insightful and deserves wider reading in these times of poisoned communal atmosphere.

[This is a piece I wrote for India Today but the version that has appeared in the magazine is an edit that I did not agree to. It's not clear to me how that happened since I edited the longer article down to this final version and sent it in to them. But the magazine is out and I am both angry and saddened at their careless editing of ideas that are particularly under siege at this point of time.

So, here is my edit and I would be glad if it was circulated widely on the net - more widely than the magazine!


Being Muslim means many things to many people

by Samina Mishra

Not far from L18, in the posh part of Jamia Nagar, is a house on a tree-lined avenue that will always be home to me. But my life, with all its easy privileges, could not be more different from Atif and Sajid's, the two young men shot as alleged terrorists at L18. I contain multitudes, Whitman so eloquently said. But we live in a time when even multitudes are forced to lay claim to a singular label. And so by writing this, perhaps, I will forever be labelled the voice of the liberal secular Muslim. A voice that is accused of not speaking up. Ironically, it is this very tyranny of labels that grants me this space in a mainstream national magazine.

As someone with a Muslim first name and a Hindu surname, I suppose I have always swung between labels - a poster girl for communal harmony or a confused, rootless individual, depending on who was doing the labelling. I went to a public school and have never worn a burkha. I might escape being thrown in the big cauldron with "Islamic Terrorists" but I will certainly be added to the one for "misguided intellectuals" . While there is no mistaking
that it is zealous nationalists who seek to light the fire under the first cauldron, the other is a bone of contention between those who seek to define for me how to be Indian and those who seek to define for me how to be Muslim. My condemnation of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Imrana's rape or the media circus around Gudiya will always be seen in the context of my
privileged background, my gender, my religious identity. Perhaps, it can be no other way.

In this rhetoric of binaries of "us and them", it is difficult to find the space to create a new paradigm of discussion. And so, in conversations that throw up Islamic terrorists, rigid religious beliefs, Pakistan and madrasas, the response is inevitably another set of questions - why is the Bajrang Dal not labelled a terrorist outfit, why is the growing public display of Hindu festivals like Navratras and Karva Chauth not considered rigid religious beliefs, why should Muslims in India be answerable for what goes on in Pakistan, what spaces other than madrasas are available for thousands of believing Muslims who choose to get educated and still retain their Muslim-ness. As a Muslim in India today, not only are you fighting to shrug off the label of fundamentalist- if not terrorist - but you are also succumbing to a paradigm of dialogue which has been set for homogenous communities with clear markers of identities.

But how does one fight that when shared cultural spaces, other than those created by the market, shrink? How does one speak of the diversity of being Indian when Diwali is celebrated in schools and Eid just in Muslim homes? How does one avoid a singular label for experiences that are diverse and yet have a common thread running through them - the experience of a tailor in
Ahmedabad whose Hindu patrons have stopped giving work to, the butcher in Batla House who couldn't get a bank loan, the software professional who will now have to watch every single byte that leaves his computer.

Being Muslim in India today means many things to many people. But how easy it is to forget that one fundamental reality. How easy it is to say, as someone said to me after the Delhi blasts - "These are all educated Muslims. Don't they know that their bombs can also kill their own?" As if everyone with a Muslim name is a terrorist's very "own".

In the India Today

Friday, October 10, 2008


I came across this Hindi poem Kitabein of Gulzar (whose Hindi film songs incidentally are my eternal favorites) translated into English by Pavan Varma. I liked the way he contrasts physical touch and feel of books and rather cold computer screens. Read it yourself :



They peer from the

Panes of locked cupboards,

They stare longingly

For months we do not meet

The evenings spent in their company

Are now passed at the computer screen.

They are so restless now, these books

They have taken to walking in their sleep

They stare, longingly

The values they stood for

Whose ‘cells’ never died out

Those values are no more found in homes

The relationships they spoke of

Have all come undone today

A sigh escapes as I turn a page

The meanings of many words have fallen off

They appear like shriveled, leafless stumps

Where meaning will grow no more

Many traditions lie scattered

Like the debris of earthen cups

Made obsolete by glass tumblers

Each turn of the page

Brought a new flavor on the tongue,

Now a click of the finger

Floods the screen with images, layer upon layer

That bond with books that once was, is severed now

We used to sometimes lie with them on our chest

Or hold them in our lap

Or balance them on our knees,

Bowing our heads as in prayer

Of course, the world of knowledge is still there,

But what of

The pressed flowers and scented missives

Hidden between their pages,

And the love forged on the pretext

Of borrowing, dropping and picking up books together

What of them?

That, perhaps, shall no longer be!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Balbir Singh Seechewal

Time in its Heroes of the Environment 2008 has honored Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal who has taken upon himself the task of "cleaning and mending the sewage-ridden, weed-choked rivulet Kali Bein" in Punjab. Here is the link:,28804,1841778_1841781_1841808,00.html

Here is the link for an old story on him in Outlook magazine:

I salute him and wish we had such noble souls in my state Tamil Nadu too.