Fraying Reality.

“God made everything out of nothing. But the nothingness shows through. ” — Paul Valfry

The nothingness is indeed showing through — now more than ever.

When the gates of proverbial hell collapse around Syria and the doomed people of Aleppo and Homs , while the rest of the world stares unblinkingly at the unfolding drama of sports-as-war. When the fourth-largest economy in the world suffers an embarrassing power crisis, while the Power Minister thumps his chest unabashedly saying “The US took 4 days to fix their problem” and anachronistic do-gooders like Anna smell political conspiracy when all it really amounts to, is plain-old garden-variety incompetence. When Narendra Modi rhetorically asks that “he be hanged if he is guilty” and a Congress leader calls him a “Tiger” — not very far off, considering his predatory skills (the pogrom victims can testify). When I see two kids being hit in the assembly for being over-zealous while singing the national anthem — and singing it out of tune and sync.  Discipline and respect, you see, are very important. And the national anthem, that is beyond reproach. Sacred !

And last, but most importantly, when my school is the only one open on this weary, humid, power-deficient Monday — when all others are closed. Quelle horreur !

Nationalism evokes a mixture of pity, sympathy and revulsion in me now, in increasing order of magnitude (and also depending on the gender and physical appearance of the subject involved). Collective fear, stimulates the Herd instinct and gets legitimized by constructed boundaries. And Pandora’s box is open. But why do I question it now ? I did, at some point in time, feel proud to be an Indian, took great delight in pointing out the numerous victories of Indian stalwarts through the ages… and in weaker moments, I am still prone to indulging in this form of intellectual debasement. But I think the time is ripe — when sporting passions are running high, when the Times of India, in all its journalistic prudence, decides to prioritize Gagan Narang’s heroic bronze medal triumph over the gruesome charring-to-death of 30-odd passengers in an express train — I think, the time is right. To question nationalism.

We identify the nation as the extension of our own selves, or at least pretend to. Why ? I think the nation is a convenient way to maintain status-quo in society, power relations are kept untouched and  perpetuated forever when you have the full weight of a nation state behind you. Nationalist ideology denounces dissent– labels it, de-legitimizes it and eventually, if nothing else works, kills it. Brutally. That is the trajectory of most popular protests which try to shift the discourse from the collective Nation-State to the plight of the individual poor. But frankly, as long as lip-service is done, crocodile tears shed, committees created and statements issued, who cares ? I don’t see that changing.

On Sports then. A very beautifully disguised, ritualized form of war. Identities are formed, sometimes national, sometimes more nebulous club-identities, or sometimes the worship of the personality archetypes — and then these identities do battle. It is theater and it is a diversion for humanity’s more violent urges. Bertrand Russell once remarked about war – —

“War does not tell us who is right … only who is left. ”

Fortunately, sports does not kill. Opponents are left standing, able to get second chances at the opponent again. We humans love conflict. And even more so, when it is clean — without blood and gore, as it is most definitely not, right now, in Syria and in Iraq and countless places where the omnipresent eye of Facebook/Twitter and the Mainstream Media does not rove. How beautiful it is, when anthems are sung, athletes parade around lapping in the adulation of the blissfully ignorant masses, while people die ? Barack Obama is keeping a keen eye on Syria and will not “cease to remind Assad that he is watching.” Meanwhile Russia and China vetoed a resolution against the Syrian regime. Inaction seems to be the geo-strategic safe move.

Enough of this violence and depressing talk — Silvio Berlusconi is planning a return to Italian politics. How we missed him ? While the Euro-zone teeters on the verge of dismemberment and recession, who better to stand at the helm and direct the performance in tragic comedy ! In democracy, a fool and his money are soon elected. And how acutely aware we are of Italian democratic ideals : consistently standing up against nepotism ! (a popular Bolywood tune comes to mind …” You are my Sonia .. ooh aaaah” and repeat.  😛 )

Kids in my Muslim school are being hit for not singing the national anthem well. History and repeated betrayals at the hands of the Indian State have had the not-so-subtle impact of making the people in this community cling to national identity more fiercely than ever before. Patriotic -to a fault. Jingoist. And the kids get the raw deal. It is just a song, our national anthem, written by a poet renowned for his imaginative ideas on childhood and educational reforms. How ironic!

In times of war and calamity, nation-states work well, collective impulse drives human endeavour and creativity to unprecedented levels of productivity. (Case in point — Germany 1930s-1940s, Japan etc.) But in most other times, nationalism is a waste of breath — at best, an ideology to fill the idle moments of bored people and dull conversations, and at worst — a dogma perpetuated to protect those in power, authority — be it politicians, bureaucrats, industrialists (national development, progress over land-rights, livelihoods) and sometimes even teachers (disciplining kids with sticks over singing a song out of tune).

Russell once said, ” Many men will sooner die than than think. In fact, they do so. ”  Whoever said that man is a rational animal, was clearly wrong. No evidence seems to support that.

Irrationality, hypocrisy and apathy abounds. The nothingness is debilitating. And all the Gods are dead. Probably, by the horror of this world, this fraying reality! Save me, O Dark Knight of Gotham !

 

 

 

 

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The perpetuity of pain

It was happening all over again. The first step in that grim and inevitable triad of longing, rejection and resignation. He had had this same progression far too many times. Humanity’s joke — he called it, with a modicum of self-deprecation. Longing beset him far too often, for far too long and the winter of rejection and resignation followed obediently, mercilessly, like docile children, in its wake. Like seasons. He hated seasons. He despised the mirth of spring, the chirping and the twittering. Not for him, the gaiety that mocked in the face of his plight, nor the cheery smiles and twinkling eyes of pretty girls as they cavorted around clueless boys, that turned him green with envy. It was happening again.

And with a crash that no one heard, like a lumbering oak that falls in the forest of oblivion, like a sharp dagger as it plunges through flesh and sinew, his latest chimera was crushed. Rejection, when it happens too often, leaves one in a state of self-awareness and pity, that few would wish on their enemies. He questioned his gait, his hair, his crooked smile, his fake smirk, his breath, the odour of his sweat, his paucity of ideas, his coarseness of taste, the keenness of his wit and more silly details. He questioned his self.

But where does he go from these questions. He retreats into anger. An anger that is also a pain. A pain, like a hammer, beating at his head from within, like the dry, hard blows made by the bones of a fleshless, skeletal hand. Blows that made him remember all the bitter sensations of life. These questions drone constantly in his head, drowning out reason. It is a bedlam of despair. The noise. So heavy and hard, that he thought, if he could catch that noise and identify it, it would be like plucking the petals of a lead flower. Screeching, like tearing one’s own self apart. Self-loathing was the noise. And it was interminable. Like a child beating his head against a concrete wall. Like all hard blows against nature’s soft things.

With time, the pangs abate. Time has an insatiable appetite for scorching the life out of emotions. The memories are intact, yet you feel they are mere specters of the potent flesh-and-blood reality, that they once were. You wouldn’t call this healing — scarring, maybe. He finds a finality in resignation. No more desire, no more rejection. No more pain. No more noise. On to dying, then.

She lives in the dark. Yet she is terrified of the night — almost scotophobic. What has driven her into the night ? Her beauty. Her beauty, which is an onerous burden, a burden she did not ask for or long for. It is a curse to be the cynosure of the world. She is under seige of men’s long looks and wicked thoughts. She retreats into the night. A night where she is ordinary again, plain — such a comfort. She tries to understand the predicament she finds herself in, feeling ever more empathy to the countless beautiful woman who had come before. Did they feel the same ? The weight of privilege that she had borne, that she so desperately wanted to shrug off –who knows where ? — with the weariness of resignation, as a final gesture of a defeated creature, the weight of beauty bothered her. She looked at the portraits of her ancestors and could trace out the lines of despair writ large in those pretty cheeks, the self-pity glaring out through their un-living gaze. All victims of the same anguish, looking out of their extinguished existence, begging for a minute of rest from the pitiless beauty. Such a sisyphean burden — beauty!

At night, when insomnia stuck its pins into her eyes, she could contemplate her great renunciation. Her vow to end this eternal transmission, the eternal progression of sorrow — from the first beautiful woman to her. And no further. She despised men. She remembered a time when it wasn’t so. But then the gazes started lingering on her visage, those pin-pricks,– no insect-like, crawling all over her while she squirmed with revulsion. Those insects and their lust seemed to violate her being, it seemed as if they had somehow found a way into her blood, and they were crawling through her veins as if on a subcutaneous, voyeuristic adventure. And she wanted to curl up in a shell and avoid human contact. And then she found the night — the darkness that filled her with fear, but also the darkness which provided her comfort, freedom from beauty. During those nights, with her big, round eyes open and frightened, she bore the weight of her beauty with all the elan of a convict on death-row. Time itself was her enemy, the day with men’s gazes, the night with dark fear.

———-

It was happening all over again. She was disappointed by the self-loathing, bitter lovemaking of this man — always urgent, worried and aloof. All men are alike. Insect-like.

He was contemplating on how he would live with himself after this latest in a long line of unrequited loves. Rejection was becoming a noisome habit. Although self-pity seemed to work with beautiful women. What also worked was protestations of suicide.

Something quickened in her loins. And a beautiful woman was born.

……………..

P.S> My first attempt at a short story. And this is not me. Nor anyone I know.