Excursions Of A Bibliophile

What are u reading these days?

Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

What Does Telangana Mean To Me?

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on May 26, 2015

Telangana

Telangana State with 10 districts and its new emblems – Resuscitating a lost identity

Come June 02, the 29th baby of Mother India – The State of Telangana – will complete an year. Looking back, there is a disquieting sense of wonder in me as to when, how and why I have developed this deep passion and anxiety for the well being of this fledgling. For till about 2009, I was indifferent to the issue of the statehood of Telangana and somewhere in 2010 without my own knowing my interest turned towards it and since then it has just been building in me to have reached a state where it has become an integral part of my thought process. Not a day goes by when I do not think about Telangana, its progress, future prospects and possibilities. At a personal level this obsession with Telangana is puzzling and I have been seeking answers to understand this state of mind of mine

I am not sure if I have all the answers to this puzzle but one convincingly satisfying answer that I have arrived at is that in itself Telangana is simply a powerfully fascinating idea – an idea which stands to represent three fundamental aspects viz.

  • A distinctive identity that was almost lost and miraculously regained by the collective efforts of its people

  • The possibilities for accommodative justice in our federal polity

  • A renewed hope in the strength of constitutional provisions and democratic processes of India

The region of Telangana has had a rich culture and long chequered history spanning over 1300 years leading to a distinctive identity. The place and its people have demonstrated originality in every facet of their existence with a wonderful temperament for accommodation. However, for over six decades since its merger with Andhra, it is this identity and this sense of accommodation that was subject to progressive belittling, sustained emasculation and forcible subservience with a conscious purpose of usurping the resources of the region and extending a permanent hegemony in every sphere of life. This hegemony was nothing short of internal imperialism in a democratic milieu. It is this threatened identity that was regained through the collective efforts of people of Telangana against many powerful odds. At one level this awakening to the existence of a collective identity was also deeply personal and liberating. That I have a unique identity which is also part of larger collective identity and that it can be asserted and liberated from hegemony is extremely reassuring and soul satisfying in its nature. Without sounding exaggerating, the struggle for the statehood of Telangana in my view is one of the greatest people struggles of 21st century for reclaiming a losing identity. And that it can be achieved with collective human endeavour, sacrifice and commitment is hope inducing

Secondly, the formation of the state of Telangana also points to the vast spaces for justice in our federal polity. The run-up to the formation of the state preceded destabilizing protests, raucous debates, wicked machinations, political maneuvering of the ugliest order, gambled political fortunes, horrifying glimpses of individual and collective integrities of political leaders and the parties they represented, intellectual treason (Oh! there was tonnes of it !!), wicked and malicious intents to distort political processes. Despite all of this, justice prevailed to a large extent giving immense hope and faith in our federal system and its overall logic. Had this been otherwise the consequences would have been hard to imagine

Thirdly, this prevalence of justice would not have been possible without the inherent strength of our constitutional provisions and processes. That I live in a country which has a constitution with deep capabilities to protect the legitimate interests of its people enhances my faith in the system and in turn enhances my commitment to the system itself. There are many who feel the way I do which at a certain level is wholesome for a maturing democracy like ours

Having said all of the above, the new born baby is not without its share of threatening challenges and alluring possibilities. In rising above these challenges and realizing the potential of these possibilities lies the real duty of all who are committed to Telangana and who have made this powerful idea a possibility in the first place

Happy Birthday !!!!

(An article written for the magazine Singidi )

Posted in Musings | 2 Comments »

Notes of a Nobody: In The Music Store

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on January 18, 2015

Barring an uncle from my father’s side, there was none on either side of my family who could lay claim to proficiency in music of any degree. My father often claimed that he was a good singer although I have never heard him sing a full length song either to accept or deny his claim. Once or twice, I heard him hum a hindi song arrestingly well. He often claimed he lost his singing to a bout of bronchitis which he suffered from for a while. I can vouch for this suffering though. The wheezy, tinny, heaving metallic breath in the calm nights from his bed and the resulting sleeplessness to him and to us are all familiar memories even to this day. In his early fifties he was miraculously cured of his bronchitis. Along with it, we also saw the vanishing of his claims of him being a singer. Looking back, it appears that in general music never figured in things that was a priority in our families. None spared energies to rise above the humdrum of life to achieve anything noteworthy in music. Part of the reason was also due to the lack of financial strength. Lack of notes of one kind suppressed the rise of notes of another kind in our houses

But things have changed

Kids of younger generations have started to learn music. It is as part of this change I found myself in a music shop one evening trying to buy an electric guitar for my son. It would probably be a more accurate description, if I had said that I was there to pay the bill for an electric guitar as against applying myself to the tasks of evaluation and a final selection. Peers of my son and hours of sifting information on the internet have already done all that had to be done. For every ignorant question that I had, my son had a ready answer making the need for a shop assistant redundant. Despite feeling embarrassed at his father’s lack of basic knowledge, my son grit his teeth and answered all the questions patiently. It was then I realized that besides knowledge, money is also power. It was decided that it would be a black Ibanez electric guitar with a clunky amp as its companion that would force its way into our flat and stay with us for a few years. For a brief while there was a discussion in the shop about RMV, maximum output and clean output reminding me of the grueling stuff I went through in one of the mandatory electrical engineering courses that I had attended as part of my education.

But what really caught my attention was the degree of technological sophistication the instrument and its companion amplifier oozed from their beings. Sitting among dozens of varieties of other musical instruments in the shop, they looked like a gleaming pair of shiny sci-fi beasts with impeccable builds – both part of a larger attacking horde of an unknown and malevolent power. The tautly stretched alloy strings of an evolved metallurgical process, the beautiful chrome plated supports for the strings, the electrical sockets which appeared hungry for a connection, the array of rotatory knobs – each a master in its own right to control some aspect of sound and the minion LEDs eager to indicate the performance of their masters imparted a transcendental touch to the instrument beyond the material. Here was something that represented a technology sophistication which will always be subservient to the call of human heart.

There was almost a sense of reverence with which my son touched the instrument and started playing a riff a bit hesitatingly. Very soon he looked as if he was ready to get transported into another world without his own knowing. I was a little surprised at the felicity with which he played the riff: it was coherent and demonstrated a confident sense of control which I was under the impression never existed in him. It also reminded me of the fact that our children may grow in front of us but the exact nature and content of that growth is without our complete grasp, knowing and understanding. How accurate Kahlil Gibran was when he said “children may come through you but they do not belong to you” ! I kept wondering at the riff which to me was a pleasing product of a human heart, mind and passion delivered through a musical instrument which was a product of highly evolved agglomeration of technologies. For a brief moment, I experienced the fleeting beauty of the wholesome balance of inspiration and technology. And in that same moment I wished my son sustain his interest and learn a skill which he can claim his own till the end of his life. A skill which I wish I should have explored in my younger days

Despite the hole it burnt in my purse, I paid the said amount and walked out of the music store gladly

Posted in Musings | Leave a Comment »

Notes of a Nobody: A Thing About Grief

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on February 11, 2014

Grief

I have started to realize that human grief has a strong gender orientation. Men and women grieve very differently and for very different reasons. A man’s grief, I suspect, mostly has a material basis. Loss of job, property, money and wealth affect a man more than other kind of losses. Whereas a woman is affected the most by the loss of relationships. Material things do affect them but they do not go to pieces the way a man does. The most certain litmus test for ascertaining this orientation in grief is the unfortunate death of a child or an off-spring in a family. I have seen men recovering and carrying on with their lives after some time as if nothing has happened but women get shattered completely. In time, the tragic incident becomes an “avoidable memory” or better still an “avoided memory” for men but for women it acquires a nature of “essential memory” which they carry with them fresh to their graves

I lost a maternal aunt of mine in her childbirth (she was one among the nine siblings of my mother) and it pushed both my grandparents into an extended period of grief. Gradually and over a period of time my grandfather recovered but my grandmother never did. She lived for another two decades after this incident yet there was not an occasion my grandmother did not remember her lost daughter. A festival when we all gathered together, a sweet dish cooked, a voice heard, a specific sound, a particular coloured saree bought, a song on the radio, an actor or actress on the TV were all triggers for teary remembrances. It was a common occurrence with my grandmother that pointing to one of her other daughters she unintentionally called out the name of my dead aunt and inevitably burst into uncontrollable tears. There was a time when I deluded myself that she has overcome her grief. But that was not to be. Her grief was like a smouldering ember covered with ash giving a deceptive sense of forgetfulness, making peace or worse still a complete recovery. I have a distinct memory of the dying days of my grandmother: she was crippled and down with osteoporosis and even on her death bed, in a voice that was growing incoherent, she used to call out my aunt’s name. This was always accompanied by either the sad sardonic smile of my grandfather or his frustrated gentle chiding of her inability to not let go of things of the past. For him, my aunt became a thing of past but somehow my grandmother managed to keep her memories of my aunt fresh and ready on call.

Not surprisingly, memories of grief and how they get handled have become the rich raw material for writers of stories and books. A very fine treatment of this essential difference in the capacity to handle grief and distress is to be found in John Steinbeck’s classic “The Grapes of Wrath” where Ma Joad says this to Pa Joad:

 No, it ain’t “ Ma smiled. “It ain’t Pa. An’ that’s one more thing a woman knows. I noticed  that. Man, he lives in jerks – baby born an’ a man dies, an’ that’s a jerk – gets a farm an’ loses his farm, an that’s a jerk. Woman, it’s all one flow, like a stream, little eddies, little waterfalls, but the river it goes right on. Woman looks at it like that. We ain’t gonna die out. People is going on – changin’ a little, maybe, but goin’ right on….. Ever’thing we do – seems to me is aimed right at goin’ on. Seems that way to me. Even getting’ hungry – even bein’ sick; some die, but the rest is tougher. Jus’ try to live that day. Jus’ that day”

And on a very arbitrary note, I also suspect that it is in this essential difference in the way both sexes handle grief, lies the survival and adaptive instinct of the human species. For the exact dynamics of it… well… that is the topic for another day

 

Posted in Musings | Leave a Comment »

Notes of a Nobody: The Power of Ellipticism

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on January 27, 2014

On the way to office the other day, I spotted a young school girl having a hurried breakfast in a crowded bus. There were people milling around her seat and yet she proceeded with her critical morning chore with a need driven sense of defiance and a self-imposed pretension of oblivion of her surroundings. Similarly, driving early to airport on another day in the very recent past, I spotted kids slouched in their school bus having a nap. It was at about seven- thirty in the morning and I expected kids to be chatting away with one another or throwing paper balls at one another in the bus. Instead, I found them slumped in their seats catching up on their sleep. Something about both these sights made me queasy. There was a feeling of discomfort on which I could not lay my finger on. Much later, I realized that the roots of my uneasiness lay in the recognition of how pressing our modern society is becoming which manifests itself in rushed breakfasts in crowded public spaces and power naps to fill in the deficit of sleep hours. There was nothing elegant about my thoughts and the words I was employing to describe my feelings were clumsy at best. However, I have come across similar scenes in my reading described in a way that is beautiful and memorable. And what makes these descriptions attractive and memorable is the employment of ellipticism in narration – a way to say everything with a sense of depth and profundity without actually saying it. Consider the following two descriptions: The first is from Ian McEwan‘s “Saturday” where the author introduces us to the protagonist of the novel Dr. Henry Perowne:

“Forty- eight years old, profoundly asleep at nine thirty on a Friday night – this is modern professional life”

The second is from Zadie Smith’s article “The North West London Blues” –a nice piece about the place of libraries in current day and the state of libraries in UK:

Well-run libraries are filled with people because what a good library offers cannot be easily found elsewhere: an indoor public space in which you do not have to buy anything in order to stay

In both the cases there is a brilliant damnation but in a way that is roundabout – in one instance it is the damnation of busy professional life which today is seen as the apex of individual success and in another instance of the modern economic state which constantly forces you to consume something or the other.

This leads one to the essential question: why is ellipticism employed in the first place? The simple answer is that it carries within it an inherent power of expression which is jolting and hard hitting in nature. However, the real question one has got to ask is what is it that makes ellipticism so inherently powerful and attractive? I believe there are no easy answers and my guess is that the power of ellipticism resides in its ability to forge an elbow room where a reader can allow his imagination to expand. As a case in point, what defines the “modern professional life” is left to the reader’s imagination. Using ellipticism, all that the author does is to point to his reader that such an entity with all its warts exists and any sensitive and responsible reader is forced to imagine it for himself. It is in this creative process of fleshing the imaginative space with material details lies the charm and power of ellipticism in narration

Posted in Musings | Leave a Comment »

Notes of a Nobody: The Kindness of Strangers

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on December 13, 2013

Thinking ManPaan Singh.. jal laayiye

It was an unexpected but a pleasant baritone voice that I heard from the table oblique to me in the mess hall of Jubilee hostel a month after I took up residence there as a student to pursue my post-graduate studies. What really grabbed my attention was the effortless use of the pure Hindi word “jal”. Normally, even the most fluent, fanatic and native speakers of Hindi language use the word “paani” instead of “jal” for water. I looked at him involuntarily and he noticed that he was being observed and smiled at me. I too smiled but did not say anything. He was of medium height, with a mop of thick black hair on his head. As if to match this he also sported a thick beard. The beard failed to hide a strong jaw-line that made his face look unduly flat. I made a note that had he allowed the hair and beard to grow longer, he would surely have a budding philosopher’s look. His brief smile indicated to me that he was in the habit of chewing betel leaves. He was surrounded by a group of friends who did not pay much attention to what he said indicating they were used to the way he talked. I completed eating the drab fare more as a routine exercise to keep hunger at bay and left the mess hall. Barring rare occasions of festivals and weekend meals, the food was never well made at Jubilee Hall and like others I learnt to supplement my mess food with sandwiches, bread- omelet, samosas, maggi noodles and tea from a shop outside the hall.  Since I was new and have not yet made any friends, I quite often frequented this shop alone. Actually, I preferred it that way for it gave me time to be myself and think through the adjustments that I needed to make to settle down in the newer environs which were pretty far away from home.

It was on one of those sojourns to supplement food that I met my bearded man sitting on a bench laid in front of the shop. There was a mild chill in the air and my hunger was sharp. I ordered for a bread-omelet and tea combination and sat opposite to the man waiting to be served. For want of anything better, I smiled at him. He smiled at me and said in chaste Hindi:

“Which faculty do you belong to?”

“Management,” I said

“Oh! Your life is all set then” he said. There was a tinge of envy in his voice. I smiled at his observation. I especially found the traces of envy a little bothersome and dismissed it in an amiable way “Oh! nothing like it”

My omelet and tea had arrived and before I started on it I offered the plate to him. He refused saying “whatever we have we should have in full but I too am very hungry”. I kind of guessed his situation which appeared to be the situation of many students in that place, called the canteen boy and ordered a full bread omelet for him along with a cup of tea. Waiting for his plate to arrive, I offered my plate to him once again and said “take half… I will take half from the plate I ordered for you”. He took a portion and started munching it hungrily. I looked at him carefully and asked him

“Are you in the Hindi department?”

He stopped his munching and looked at me and said “Why Hindi? I am in pure math. I am pursuing my Ph.D – number theory he said” I did not at first get the pure Hindi translation of the subject “number theory” he employed in his sentence. He had to reiterate it inserting the necessary English words. Following on that he said “what made you think I belonged to Hindi faculty?”

“The way you speak Hindi. It is so pure. It is as if you are reading from a good text book” I replied

He chuckled loudly for a while and then said “Oh that! I love Hindi. It is a wonderful language when spoken in its purity. I do not like Hindustani which has many Urdu words mixed in it. But I would not hesitate to say that pure Urdu is as wonderful as Hindi. Both languages carry a magic in them”

I could not agree with him more. Coming from the region of Telangana, I have a deep sense of what he meant. In the meanwhile the other plate came along with two teas and we had our shares. He thanked me for the fare and we walked to our respective rooms. This was the beginning of our friendship. We used to meet each other at the canteen, talk about various things. I loved the way he spoke his Hindi which was pure and musical. More and more I started to look for these meetings to hear him speak his Hindi. However, with the onset of winter, I started to see him less and less. Once in a while I met him at the tea stall outside but he appeared serious and lost in himself. The usual chatty self was gone and after a while he was not to be seen completely. In the meanwhile, I had developed a set of friends of my own and settled quite well. The possibility of having good career prospects after my management studies had changed my own confidence. About a couple of months later I spotted him at the canteen and I walked up to him. He looked gaunt with long hair and beard. I walked upto him and said

“Is all well? I do not see you at all these days. Any problem?” I asked

He looked at me for a while and said “No no major problems. I am preparing for Civil services exams and delayed my Ph.D work. They have stopped my scholarship and that is turning out to be a problem”. He paused for a while and said hesitatingly “Can I borrow 300 rupees from you? Can’t say when I will return it to you. But will return it certainly”

I couldn’t say no. I gave it to him although it was a big sum thanks to the financial support I was receiving from my father. I ordered something for both of us and we started to chat up on his preparation efforts. He had let me known that he was confident of success as his preparation was on track and he is in a revision mode now. After this, I did not see him for nearly five months. By this time much had changed at my end. I had found a nice summer job with a well sought after new-age financial services firm. My posting was in Delhi and I most probably would end up in the same company for a permanent slot in future. I started to love Delhi and had wanted to work there for a while before I made my next moves. Life looked rosy and bright. I was busy wrapping the loose ends at my institute for the year. It was during this period that I had gone all alone to our canteen for a cup of tea

After about 10 minutes at the canteen I found a clean shaven man standing in front of me trying to grab my hand. It took 10 seconds for me to realize that he was none other than my bearded friend who has now shed his beard. He was smiling at me and all the beetel stains on his teeth were gone. He was in complete formals including well polished black shoes. There was a quiet dignity in the way he looked.  I grabbed his hands in recognition and said

“You surprised me ! Don’t see you anymore these days. How are you? How did your exams go?” I asked

He looked at me for a while and said sheepishly “I did better than expected. I secured 11th in the overall merit list and opted for Indian Foreign Service”

“Congratulations!!” I said. I was in a mild state of disbelief but smiled and said “Look even your life is set”

He nodded his head. We ordered for more tea and started to exchange developments at our respective ends. He told me that he was going to Mussorie the following week for a six-month long training and then will be in Delhi for another six months before being attached to one of the Indian embassies abroad. He also told me he always had a desire to be in Indian Foreign Services and become a top notch diplomat. All of this he poured forth in his usual chaste Hindi

I said “Look you will not have a chance to speak like this anymore once you go abroad. You will have to speak mostly in English”

He laughed and said ”Yes I will miss that. “Perils of profession” you see”. That was the first time I saw him using an English expression with me and coming from him I found that a little odd. I felt like pulling his leg and asked him what would that expression in Hindi be. He thought for a while and said something in Hindi. It was beyond my comprehension. I let him go with that. We sat there for about another 30 minutes in which he told me how hard he worked for realizing his objective. It was time for me to go. I got up  and told him that I needed to get to my institute. He too stood, took my arm and quickly hugged me and said “thanks for all the help especially that money. I was really in a bad shape then” He took out his purse and pulled out 300 bucks for returning. Strangely, I did not feel like taking it. I told him that I did not want to take it back and would want to have it as a fond remembrance. I added jokingly “in future I can always tell my family and friends that somewhere in the upper echelons of Indian diplomatic circles there was a person who owed me money”. We laughed for a while. Despite his insistence I refused and requested him to let it be that way and not rob me of my remembrance. He relented after a while. We shook hands once again and parted.

That was the last I saw of him. Now I have even forgotten his name. Surely, it is not very difficult to trace him if I want to what with the ubiquitous search engines around. I am sure he must be quite a senior diplomat somewhere trying to maintain good relations between India and whichever country he is posted in presently.

It has been nearly three decades since this happened. My life too had gone many ups and downs and at every stage I was helped by friends. But more than friends I was helped by strangers. If not pure strangers by temporary acquaintances who had tendencies to become strangers rapidly. In moments of reminiscence, I always felt guilty of not keeping in touch with these good Samaritans (and there were many in my life) and being forgetful of their kindness. However, over a period, life also taught me that it is in its nature to throw strangers at us as much as it makes strangers of us and throws us at others. And therefore it is important for us to be kind and grateful to others for we never know, in life, when we will receive the kindness of strangers as much as we get an opportunity to show kindness to others

Posted in Musings | Leave a Comment »

Notes of a Nobody: The twenty-twenty-sixty crisis in our reading culture

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on December 10, 2013

Man Reading a book 3I can sum the growth of my awareness of the world around me in four phases, each underpinned by an altering equation between “Faith” and “Reason”:

Phase 1: FAITH > REASON

Phase 2: FAITH = REASON

Phase 3: REASON > FAITH

Phase 4: REASON? FAITH?

In that period when reason was on the ascendancy, I believed and even argued with acquaintances in my close circle that there are no absolutes and that every aspect of our existence gets determined by a context and therefore it is very difficult to determine what is right, what is wrong, what is good and what is bad with certainty. I notice that the pendulum has swung again. I now believe that there are a few non–negotiable absolutes in our lives and one among these is about the need for inculcating deep reading habits in children and adults alike.

Everyone one on this planet must read and read extensively

I now have enough reasons to put my faith in the belief that the overall effects of widespread reading are salutary. And at its minimum reading humanizes and tempers the many rough and unwanted tendencies in us. In a way I have started to concur with the views and thoughts expressed by the fictional Queen Elizabeth in Alan Bennett’sThe Uncommon Reader” where she says:

The appeal of reading, she thought, lay in its indifference: there was something lofty about literature. Books did not care who was reading them or whether one read them or not. All readers were equal, herself included. Literature, she thought, is a commonwealth; letters a republic”

 and

 “Books did not defer…. As a girl, one of her greatest thrills had been on VE night, when she and her sister had slipped out of the gates and mingled unrecognised with the crowds. There was something of that, she felt, to reading. It was anonymous; it was shared; it was common. And she who has led a life apart now found that she craved it. Here in these pages and between these covers she could go unrecognised”

Although reading is an anonymous and personal activity by nature, there is an urgent need for universalizing it. Here too, as in other places, the early bird catches the worm. Therefore it has to start with children when they are fairly young. However, the constraints for universalization are many and not uniform in their influence. In generic terms, these constraints fall into three broad buckets viz. Guidance, Discovery and Availability distributed approximately in the ratio of 20:20:60 from the impact they can have on the life-long reading habits of an individual

Children should be guided within loosely defined boundaries of what they ought to read even while leaving room for an element of guided self discovery. For this to happen parents themselves have to be avid readers and should be aware of a broad range of books that they can introduce to their children as they grow. By their very nature children are curious and have a natural tendency to gravitate to books. Rare is a child who is not excited by books, pictures and stories. In an insightful essay in Paris Review magazine, noted writer Julian Barnes stated that Reading is a majority skill and a minority art. In a world full of gadgets with hyper-focus on pixellated information and where there is an urgent need for making reading a majority art, reading is moving in the direction of being a minority skill. Yet the distractive power of the devices can be used imaginatively for effective discovery. Hook a child to books and it will be a life long addiction.

Knowledge of what to read goes hand in hand with the widespread availability of books to read. Like in economics even in the world of books supply creates its own demand.  In the past there were public libraries which made books accessible to common public. World over these public libraries are dying a death of thousand cuts. In India, thankfully, Govt. has managed to put libraries out of this misery by swift hacking of budgets. In the city of my stay, which boasts itself of being the knowledge hub of the country, there is not even a single public library that can match up to the standards of a decent county library in UK. This is not on account of lack of resources but due to a lack of vision and imagination. In the west, while governments were active in sustaining libraries, a large part of the impetus also came from wealthy philanthropists who donated generously to build libraries which their nations could be proud of. Some of the richest captains of the world industry are in India but I know of none who has donated to the cause of libraries generously. Some may have but definitely not enough to create long sustaining institutions. As in other places, here too, there is room for innovation in building a network of libraries: crowd sourcing, public pooling may work but we need some solid foundations laid before these approaches can become effective. And Govt. should be the central force in laying the foundations. In a time and era when Govt. is withdrawing itself from many essential facets of public life and private enterprises are taking its place, this urging for Govt’s role is in all likelihood a cry in wilderness. The result of this withdrawal is a lack of access to books to common public and reading which is one of the most egalitarian activities in human sphere is increasingly becoming the privilege of individual economic affordability – ala education and healthcare. And that in my view is a depressing development. Good public libraries are memories of nations. In our neglect of these memory banks we are allowing our society to slip into a state of collective amnesia.

There are numerous instances of brilliant endorsements of what libraries mean to individuals. If Ray Bradbury claimed that “he graduated out of a library”, Jorges Luis Borges believed that “library is his imagined version of heaven”. Writing in New York Review of Books on the issue of closure of libraries in UK, author Zadie Smith posed one of the most relevant questions for our times:

What kind of a problem is a library? It’s clear that for many people it is not a problem at all, only a kind of obsolescence. At the extreme pole of this view is the technocrat’s total faith: with every book in the world online, what need could there be for the physical reality? This kind of argument thinks of the library as a function rather than a plurality of individual spaces. But each library is a different kind of problem and “the Internet” is no more a solution for all of them than it is their universal death knell

Well-run libraries are filled with people because what a good library offers cannot be easily found elsewhere: an indoor public space in which you do not have to buy anything in order to stay…. In the modern state there are very few sites where this is possible

What a brilliant and eloquent damnation of the modern economic state !!

Library as a plurality of personal places and technology’s invasion into a collective common good of the society which defies the logic of conventional economics is a new dimension worth thinking about. The sad part is that in India our intellectual energies are so petered out and our priorities are so narrowed down that asking questions about these critical public institutions has ceased to be a priority.

Therein, I think, lies the crisis in our reading culture

Posted in Musings | Leave a Comment »

Notes of a Nobody: Beauty and Tears

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on December 9, 2013

Traveling back from Nepal, I sat in the flight with a growing sense of disappointment looking at the never ending billowing milky white clouds that have blanketed our flight. My diminishing hopes of not able to see the Himalayan range up from the sky (a desire that I had for a long while) was the cause behind my disappointment. I gave up and closed my eyes till I was gently nudged by my colleague. I opened my eyes to see my colleague pointing silently to the window. I looked in the direction and gasped. There was the Himalayan range shining brilliantly in sunlight. It was a sight that was so majestic and so beautiful that I was moved by its transcendental grandeur. The flight took almost 10 minutes to cross the range – rows and rows of giant snow clad mountains with the bright sun glittering and golding their tops. I was overwhelmed and without my knowledge I had tears swirling in my eyes.

Something very similar happened to me at Haridwar. It was in the afternoon of a hot scorching north Indian May summer, I had reached Haridwar from Delhi via Roorkee engineering college. It was in the still heat which had acquired a quality of viscous fluid we reached the banks of Ganges. The water was flowing at a ferocious pace. I sat on the stone bank and casually dipped my feet into the water simply to recoil at the coldness of the water. It was such a dramatic contrast. On the top of my head was an intensity of heat that had a capacity to loosen the skin from the body and at feet was a sensation of coldness that could curdle skin. I looked at the river carefully once again and started to understand the ferocity with which the river was flowing. It was a power at display that was beyond words.. For how many thousands of years was it flowing and flowing with this ferocity? There was grandeur in its ferocity that was humbling. And once again I experienced an emotion that overwhelmed me and once again there were swirls of tears in my eyes

Grand beauty of nature and a human being’s tears – what is the linkage? Is there an answer for this? Someday, I am sure I will understand this phenomenon

Posted in Musings | Leave a Comment »

Notes of a Nobody: In the shadows of a vague personal philosophy

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on November 29, 2013

Thinking ManIt is my belief that for most part our life is perplexingly unfathomable to the point of being meaningless. “What is the purpose of our life? Why are we here? – are two questions that confront any thinking individual.  I doubt if any school of philosophy, thought or religion has addressed this question conclusively. Maybe, it is this frustrating aspect of our existence that has prompted Albert Camus to suggest that the only serious philosophical question is whether or not one ought to kill oneself. “Suicide,” he believed, “is merely confessing that [life] “is not worth the trouble.” Writing on the topic of suicide in Harper’s magazine columnist and writer Clancy Martin says:

 “Living, naturally, is never easy. You continue making the gestures commanded by existence for many reasons, the first of which is habit. Dying voluntarily implies that you have recognized, even instinctively, the ridiculous character of that habit, the absence of any profound reason for living, the insane character of that daily agitation, and the uselessness of suffering”.

Overall a pertinent observation and the last word in the observation in my view the most critical one – “suffering”.  I think it is for this reason Buddhism, the most psychologically astute of all religions, proclaims cessation of human suffering as its banner line objective

An indisputable aspect of human life is the suffering that is associated with it. It is integral to life. I do not think there is even a single human being on earth who would confidently proclaim that he has not suffered in his life – ever. Every one suffers in some form or shape. It is the degree that varies. Human suffering is a solid reality beyond contention. Therefore, I think a critical purpose in our life should be to reduce this suffering around us to the best of our ability and capacity. Does this approach of reducing overall suffering around us bring meaning to our lives? I am ambivalent about it. However, what it definitely does is increase potential for spreading happiness and make our lives more tolerable and hopefully a joyous one for some for some time if not for all for all the time. This is an objective which can be an end in itself.

Unwittingly this approach will also tackle two other thorny questions in our lives viz. need for God and need for leaving a legacy. Reducing human suffering is a god-neutral activity. For it, the presence or absence of God really does not matter. Anybody from any walk of life can try and attempt it without taking recourse to God and still feel spiritually uplifted. Secondly, a measure of life well lived is the one which leaves a lasting legacy. Anybody who contributes to reduction of human suffering also contributes immensely to building this personal legacy.

Achieving spiritual contentment and leaving a lasting legacy can be the twin purposes in an otherwise seemingly meaningless existence

Posted in Musings | 3 Comments »

Notes of a Nobody: Authentic Vicariousness

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on November 9, 2013

Vicarious: Felt or undergone as if one were taking part in the experience or feelings of another

Thinking ManI very often ask myself the question: what is the purpose of art? And within that more specifically I ask the question, what is the purpose of literature? Many minds have applied themselves to this question and have come up with different answers. My answer to this question takes the form of two words: “Authentic Vicariousness”.  And here is what I mean by it:  From birth to death whatever we do becomes the path of our life journey. Despite our vanity and self-justification in thinking that we have exercised choice in defining our life-journey, when we look back all that remains is an immutable trajectory. It is what it is. Potentially, at each stage of our life journey there were possibilities that our journey could have forked into infinite branches. All of them are roads not travelled and will never be travelled by us.  Literature’s essential function should be to illuminate these untraveled paths in ways that is authentic and realistic. In other words it should enable me experience by proxy what I have missed out on in my life trajectory. The impact of experiencing this vicariousness can potentially have life transformative outcomes. It could take the shape of building reserves of empathy, sensitivity, edification, mellowing, restraint and an expanding inwardness in ourselves.  In other words, the possibility of flowering in us all what we broadly consider good and noble

…. and that in my view is the essential purpose of literature

Posted in Musings | Leave a Comment »

Notes of a Nobody: What is Maqdoom?

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on October 23, 2013

MakhdoomWaiting for our company pick-up bus one morning, I asked Sameena “What is Maqdoom in Urdu?”

Sameena was our company receptionist – a gregarious spinster with an infectious smile and a moderate chatterbox by nature. One could make out she came from not a well to do family. She was ordinary beyond the definition of being beautiful but had a quiet dignity and a mild air of authority that was telling. What I remember of her was her disarming smile and her bare, prominent, un-ornamented barren neck which for some strange reason remained etched in my memory. Whenever I looked at her neck, the word “desolate” popped into my mind. The quality of desolation I felt was very similar to the one I experienced watching bad prints of Dali’s paintings. Many a time I was tempted to tell her to wear something but never had the courage to go beyond entertaining thoughts of telling her

“Are you trying to be silly”? she replied to my question rubbing her collar bone with a thin  hand that had unusually long fingers with pale yellowish finger nails. It was an unconscious habit with her. Since she was not one of those who smoked, I guessed that she cooked regularly at home with turmeric as key ingredient which made her finger nails yellow

“Did I ask anything wrong?” I said

“Yes. It is not what Maqdoom is? It should have been who Maqdoom is?”

“Oh! OK. Who is Maqdoom?” I persisted

“Will tell you. But tell me why are you asking this question?”

“Well, I was listening to a song and came across a line which said “Yeh mehki thi hui ghazal maqdoom, jasie sehra mein raath phoolonki.” I understand the meaning of the sentence fully and completely but was confused with the addition of the word Maqdoom”

She smiled and said, “Oh! so you listen to ghazals. Do you?  Well, Maqdoom is a famous poet from Hyderabad and he is saying that his ghazal has a fragrance of flowers strung in a sehra. You know a sehra right?”

I moved my hand in front of my face indicating a floral cover worn by bridegrooms in a marriage and then as an afterthought said

“Hyderabad is it? Amazing!! I should know more about him. Do you know anything about him?” I asked her.

She looked at me for a brief while and said seriously “Try reading Maqdoom. He is a great poet and he is from here.” After a brief pause she added “Abba and he were good friends.”

I thought I did not hear her properly and asked her a little loudly “What did you say?”

“I said Abba and he were good friends.” she repeated

“Wow! I guess you would have seen him person. What was he like?” I asked

“Abba was ill for a period of time and Mohuiddin Saab used to come to our house to spend time with Abba. I was a young girl then. Every time he came home he bought something for us. Sweets, flowers, bangles, books and especially seasonal fruits. Custard apples were his favourite. He was a tall, kind and reticent man. Even with Abba he spoke very less. He used to sit and say something in a soft tone. It was like he murmuring to himself.”

“Have you read Maqdoom?” I asked her with a tinge of envy. I did not read Maqdoom. I could not have without knowing Urdu

“I used to. Lots of him… but now I do not read him anymore. He is very good to the point of being great, but I have moved on”, she said. She paused for a while and then said “he was a mixed bag of great things. He was. He had much in him – a romantic,  a revolutionary, a communist, a politician and a keen observer of human condition.”

I was a little surprised to this side of Sameena. I least expected her to have this kind of exposure. What did I know then that life has this habit of throwing strange things at us at unexpected times through individuals to the point of spooking us? I wanted to ask her more but as things would have it, the bus came, we boarded and the conversation was left unfinished

This was in the year 1990. A good 21 years after Maqdoom died.  I was a freshly minted engineer and I joined a small company in Hyderabad and among the many I met, Sameena was one. Nearly two and half decades have gone by after our conversation. I do not know where Sameena is now. Hopefully time and the narrow streets of old Hyderabad were kind to her and treated her and her family well

It is 2013 now. The struggle for Telangana is at its peak and there are strong hopes that a solution will be found to this six decade long aspiration with the announcements of the UPA Govt to demerge Telangana from Andhra and form a separate state. Among the many things that contributed to the growing consciousness of a collective identity of Telangana and its people, revisiting all its poets, writers, and artists was a prominent one. It is in this process that Maqdoom Mohuiddin also resurfaced quite prominently into public awareness. I started to learn more about him and found that he was an artist of definitive merit whose work needs to be explored, popularized and above all celebrated.  I also realized that I still have a lot more that I need to do to know his work better and that makes me a bit restless

But one thing is for sure: Now, I do not ask any more the embarrassing questions like; who is Maqdoom? Or worse still, what is Maqdoom?

Posted in Musings | Leave a Comment »