Discourse on Democracy

“Jab dil bhara ho aur dimaag khaali ho, toh charchey mein ruchi kaise aayegi” (When your heart is heavy and mind is blank, how will you have the appetite to engage in discourse?”). That was the crux of the evening well-spent under the aegis of Arun Shourie and eminent panelists. If you were plain unlucky to have missed the discussion on Shourie’s books at Indian Habitat Centre, I can lend you what I have gathered:

Indian democracy needs to be ‘spirited’. It needs to have the vigor and vivacity to get the momentum going.

Free speech is democracy’s consummate partner, but not ‘frank’ speech. Elaborating on the need for encouraging frank speech, Pratap Bhanu Mehta suggested that politically correct statements muffle the genuine voice and suppress truth. We need to be told what we ought to know and not what we would love to know. Only free speech can’t dust ambiguity from democracy’s fabric. Someone had rightly coined the term ‘political spine’ to assert the need for gumption on the leaders’ part to speak their mind regardless of ideology supported and position held.

In democracy, political leaders must bear the burden of justifying their stance. Indian polity has been about fast-changing dynamics where leaders shuttle from one affiliation to another, and this is where public needs to be informed. Every major shift in policies and views should be substantiated with facts.

Bureaucracy should emit good faith and credibility. According to Pratap Bhanu Mehta, we often bump into intelligent analyses and logical discourse when fine minds huddle together. However, the outcome of those discussions seldom sees the light of the day. Lack of credibility stands tall between ideas and their implementations. Why should Dalits trust us? Why is not a single political leader seen protesting Khap Panchayat’s (caste council) dictum? Pratap Bhanu Mehta also asked other aligned questions. He has a point. These are manifestations of authority-erosion among top echelons of Indian polity.

This brings to us a frequently ignored facet of democracy- gross disconnect between public and public servants. Politicians are far from understanding the root of malaise. They don’t seek reason behind people with heavy hearts. No diligence is seen in getting to know why they are doing what they are doing? True democracy realizes the inherent and political apprehensions shaping outlook and conclusions of billions. It’s democracy’s duty to evolve a healthy discourse to counter straight-jacketed views born of pandering to opinion leaders.

According to Arun Shourie, media have also made the water brackish. Instead of purging the political environment and holding a mirror to the on-goings, media agreed to be led by vested interests. Regretting the fact that news channels are losing a sense of proportion, Shourie added that sound bytes have degenerated public discourse. The fast-paced frenzy and breaking news psychosis are doing no good to the profession and its practitioners.

The tall claims flashed by news channels are often based on surface knowledge leaving vacuity unattended. Shourie felt, media should devote more time to fact-finding mission, look into the still water and be probing in its approach.

Taking a dig at vandalism and mob mentality, Shourie recollected attacks hurled at him on several occasions as protests over his books. Borrowing BJP leader L.K. Advani’s words, “The answer to a book is an even better book”, Shourie wished some sections of Indian populace learn to voice protest in a more civil way and not by rising up in arms.

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A Hamlet And Few Handsome Hours

I gathered myself on my way out of the platform and boarded an ogre-sized three wheeler. For company, I had January nip, ruffle of a shawl (borrowed at the last minute) and an indigenous roller-coaster. For those who don’t know, I was heading ‘Bankathi’, a quasi-obscure hamlet in West Bengal’s Bankura district.

A short ride and I am in the midst of thatched nests and whistling trees. Festivity was written all over the place where I rested myself. It has long refused entry to modernity.

A hurried lunch of rice and lentils and I sank into somnolence.

Evening was lighted in patches. A common assembly ground turned out to be a confluence of devotional songs with minstrel-like jingle and random body movements. Being oblivious of the occasion, I wandered unfettered. A not-so-confident podium graced solemn looking guests with beads around their neck and sandal paste on forehead. From them came rustic epigrams decked with wisdom. Audience soaked in their sayings as oracles waiting to see the light of the day.

In Bankathi, observing rituals is a common hobby. Few hours into my arrival and already a host of divine names did good to my already shaky general knowledge.

An early morning walk and my lungs rejoiced. At the breakfast table, hospitality was unrelenting.  In few minutes, I was heading towards the temple town – Bishnupur. The milky sun on my shoulders and wind followed behind until metalled roads found me.

Mind you, history is in town’s favour. 17th century kick-started cultural reformation and Bishnupur waded deep into culture. Terracotta (Italian for ‘baked earth’) temples and their daily struggle to exist are so glaring. Instructions and ‘do not’ caveats make them unapproachable, if not less admirable. The labour of past had yielded applause and mentions across the world. What craftsmanship! Peerless is the word to describe engravings on episodes from Mahabharata.

Local rickshaw puller and a self-proclaimed guide served a few anachronisms, and as a story lover would do, I allowed him to continue. The structures small and big, flat and bumpy, formidable and suave, burgeoned the dormant photographer in me. And suddenly, camera was invented just for me. Taking shots of the marvels and potshots at visitors’ arguments I left behind some handsome hours.

With evening, came longing – as if to bind me to the place.

The dimly lit hamlet resembled a cake with half-extinguished candles. It was a jamboree of silence and darkness. Morning arrived much before I could get acquainted with the night’s mumblings. Not to forget, the night was spent in company of folk songs.

Inebriated, I had announced my sleep.

Before I could reflect on nature and consume the unbridled greenery, the trip neared its end.

Journey downhill always takes less time even though you want it to procrastinate. The travel bag, when realization struck me, was petite with local produce. The soil of the place followed me to my city. May be that is nature’s way of reaching out to civilized ones with a hope of one good turn in return!!!

Tuesdays With Morrie: Rendezvous With Life As It Is

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Author: Mitch Albom

Genre: Philosophical Novel

Publisher: Random House

Publication date: 1997

Pages: 192

ISBN:  0-385-48451-8

The cover of the book reads: “An old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lesson”. The thinking is along the lines of Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge: “The greatest thing you would ever learn is just to love and be loved in return”.

Mitch Albom’s “Tuesdays with Morrie” is a genuine attempt at countering despair with hope and pain with acceptance. The book exports profundity wrapped in lukewarm humour and sincerity. Unlike other books blowing motivational trumpets, Tuesdays with Morrie is a hearty exchange between learned and the learner, the teacher and his student.

It was a watershed moment in newspaper columnist Mitch Albom’s life when he got to reunite with his teacher Morrie Schwartz, former professor at Brandeis University, US.  Albom started taking weekly trips to Massachusetts, which opened before him a new vista. He threw difficult questions at his mentor and the latter retorted with answers learnt from the book of life.

It took an unassuming man in his late 70s to say, “Accept who you are; and revel in it.” It is through Morrie that the author sold his ideas and takes a dig at American Dream. He rejects the idea of popular culture – the kind of culture media create. “If the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it”, he said. Morrie regretted consumerism and flimsy values like a fisherman weeping at the sight of dried-up river.

Morrie spoke at length over forgiveness at a time when life has been tad unkind to him. He had lost his mobility but not his Mojo. Lou Gehrig’s disease made him retreat to his bed but he refused to make that final surrender.

Albom’s Tuesdays with the old man used to herald poignant moments with life’s greatest lessons learnt under the veneer of random exchanges. Morrie’s words, “Don’t let go too soon, but don’t hold on too long,” touched upon a wide gamut of subjects under the sun.

The unpretentious lucidity of words and brevity ensured that lessons don’t become hard on readers. The ‘classroom lectures’ were doled out in nonchalant way making a pulp of philosophies for easy digestion.

Brimming energy, coupled with spotless optimism described Morrie the best. He has been an onlooker all his life, and his empathy begets an affable outlook. He posited during one of his conversations with his student, “But there’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begin.”

The final chapter, ‘We say Good-Bye’ is very unlike conventional ending. Pathos was never dominant, even though it was evident. Parting was not something to mourn about. If Morrie is to be believed, “All endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time.”

According to Morrie, the conversations were a part of ‘’final thesis’ and Albom admits having learnt that that there is no such thing as too late. He observed how the professor “was changing until the day he said good-bye”.

The author’s relation with Morrie was never meant to end as he says, “Death ends a life, not a relationship.” Read this Magnum Opus if you think wisdom is elusive and answers don’t come easy!

When Poetry is Born

Poetry is born in the dead of night

It is born when the sun is high.

Poetry takes birth when sorrow clings on to you,

When elation takes your side.

Poetry is a love child,

A token of exchanges unbridled

 

It is what is left behind when love is gone

 

Poetry is born of moaning and wanting more

It is a leftover feeling after day’s rigmarole.

Poetry is born of smoky mountains and pensive evenings

It is made of what shall be and what has been!