Friday, May 23, 2014

What if one happens to be possessed of a heart that can't be trusted? - a book review that isn't one

Just finished reading The Goldfinch”, a book by Donna Tartt that recently won the Pulitzer prize in fiction for 2014. While I enjoyed my journey through the at-times-agonizingly-long story, what's lingering on in my mind at the end of it all is a fascination for the painting itself, that little masterpiece by Fabritius, the theme of & inspiration behind the book.

The painting’s composition as intended by Carel Fabritius and/ or as inferred by the viewer seemingly evoked emotions of varied hues within the author and articulated through the protagonist, emotions ranging from feeling of angst, identifying with the chained but resolute bird; an overwhelming urge to free the creature from its misery and thus a symbolic effort at deliverance of a shackled self and finally a submission to the status quo, a realization that you cannot choose the being you want to be…. More than anywhere else where there's a more direct reference to the painting, I feel the text quoted below is where the author most eloquently delves into the existential angst as represented by the chained bird;

"A great sorrow, and one that I am only beginning to understand: we don't get to choose our own hearts. We can't make ourselves want what's good for us or what's good for other people. We don't get to choose the people we are.

Because--isn't it drilled into us constantly, from childhood on, an unquestioned platitude in the culture--? From William Blake to Lady Gaga, from Rousseau to Rumi to Tosca to Mister Rogers, it's a curiously uniform message, accepted from high to low: when in doubt, what to do? How do we know what's right for us? Every shrink, every career counselor, every Disney princess knows the answer: "Be yourself." "Follow your heart."

Only here's what I really, really want someone to explain to me. What if one happens to be possessed of a heart that can't be trusted--? What if the heart, for its own unfathomable reasons, leads one willfully and in a cloud of unspeakable radiance away from health, domesticity, civic responsibility and strong social connections and all the blandly-held common virtues and instead straight toward a beautiful flare of ruin, self-immolation, disaster?...If your deepest self is singing and coaxing you straight toward the bonfire, is it better to turn away? Stop your ears with wax? Ignore all the perverse glory your heart is screaming at you? Set yourself on the course that will lead you dutifully towards the norm, reasonable hours and regular medical check-ups, stable relationships and steady career advancement the New York Times and brunch on Sunday, all with the promise of being somehow a better person? it better to throw yourself head first and laughing into the holy rage calling your name?” 

When I look at the painting, my first impulse is to agonize over its chained status, it's limited boundaries & it's still stoical disposition in such a dismal state. The subsequent thought is if whether the bird even if unchained would challenge its boundaries, having never ever experienced a free life & but then a sliver of hope emerges that a free-will can never be chained. Do I associate myself with any, all of these… probably yes, probably no… I guess the given context; the prevailing mental-state determines the feelings and association with self.

Look long & hard enough; this living bird could enliven your brain.

And yes, get the book! It’s for keeps.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

An open letter to the Indian Prime Minister-designate

Dear Mr. Modi,

Heartiest congratulations on receiving a clear and emphatic mandate from the people across India!

I always believed great leadership is what India needs at the current juncture and in your relatively successful demonstration of a development based governance model in Gujarat and in your super-effective execution of the poll blitzkrieg unleashed by BJP, I see a definite promise of this leadership need getting fulfilled.

Cynicism however being the hallmark of an oft-let-down individual/ population, I am a tad cynical despite nurturing a predominant hope of seeing a promise materialize. Upon introspection, I realize that my current bout of cynicism has been triggered by what I repeatedly hear about this verdict of Indian population being a mandate against corruption; a mandate for a long overdue Indian-spring, no less & finally a mandate for development.

Mandate for development? Probably yes. But is it against corruption & pro-clean governance too? The cynic in me doesn’t agree….

I’m cynical largely since a small but a startling fact I’ve stumbled upon pretty much trashes the claim of this election being a mandate against corruption; the fact being that AAP that contested on a national scale on an anti-corruption platform manages a mere 2% vote share and trails behind the 2.5% of an upstart regional party that symbolizes everything corrupt in Indian polity.

Even if I discount this as owing to the tell-tale impact of an escapist-legacy that AAP couldn’t shrug-off, this for sure underscores the fact that corruption wasn’t the top-of-the-mind issue for the average Indian citizen headed for the polling booth & there was every sign out there to say that money flowed like water in this general election and a significant proportion of the voting junta had had a field time letting one party out-bid the other.

I am cynical also because in the revamped scheme of things within your party, the past blemished have sauntered back right-in and have been duly resurrected and reinstated honourably, all in the larger context of coming to power and providing an alternative to the chronically fatigued dynasty that grappled with corruption at all levels.

Finally, I am cynical because there is this improvised practical theory gaining ground among the Indian citizens that corruption isn’t a big issue as long as development happens & within the narrower realm of visible development.

I absolutely loved it Narendra bhai, when during the victory speech at Vadodara, you reiterated the importance of inclusiveness in development. Unlike many liberals who raised an eyebrow on what you didn’t state explicitly, I indeed understand you meant to include all segments of population in the development process without malice towards any one in particular. I know for sure anyone who has come to power on such a unique mandate, much less you, would waste such an opportunity by indulging in antics that result in polarization & marginalization of a specific segment. Only, I’m worried that all this inferred disengagement between development & corruption in the Indian psyche shouldn’t end up making inclusion merely a term to denote equitable sharing of spoils among a corrupt polity and a corruptible populace, irrespective of region, community or caste.

Notwithstanding the oft-employed reproach that Indian growth rate over the past few years has been way above the rate of most advanced countries’, I know you understand well that we aren’t exactly comparing apples to apples here & in reality India lags behind these nations in infrastructure and civic amenities by a decade at the least. I trust that you fully realize that development at this scale isn’t possible merely by launching or going after symbolic, disjointed developmental initiatives that neither impact the quality of life nor help improve the perception of an ever-doubting international community on India’s capability to operate as a transparent & corruption-free business nation.

Cynicism apart, I am thrilled by the fact that the clear mandate will help you avoid the oh-so-typical arm-twisting, blackmailing politics of the coalition/ alliance governments and this in-turn will allow you to focus on executing your vision that much more smoothly and without hindrance. Given this and given your own leadership potential this is the closest, I suspect, India would ever get to an Indian spring.

I’m positive Mr. Prime Minister-Designate that you’ll seize this moment to redefine the paradigm & give me a reason or a score to feel more proud of being an Indian wherever I go.

I wish you, your cabinet and all Indian citizens the very best in the days to come!

Acchey din…, bas ab aane hee chaahiye!!

Respectfully yours,
A fellow Indian