Gift Wrapping Our Way Out of Existence

‘Your delivery is scheduled to arrive today’, says the message on your phone. There was a time when you would have been excited after reading this but now it doesn’t matter. Ting Tong, the doorbell rings. The delivery guy brings your order in a white plastic bubble wrap envelope. Congratulations you have a new toy and a complimentary I-will-still-stick-around-way-beyond your-extinction envelope that lands straight in your dustbin, without even a goodbye.

Packaging products, right from bubble wrap envelopes to water bottles, form a major part of the solid waste – their quantity was estimated to be about 77.9 million tons in 2015. (29.7 percent of total generation)

 

But hey how is this your fault? It’s just the way it is, right?

 

The envelope is trashed and what you hold in your hand is probably a book. You can tell even if it’s wrapped in an average looking gift paper. It’s wrapped because it’s supposed to be your birthday gift. You tear it apart and find the exact book you had asked your friends to get. Surprise. Surprise. A temporary smile lands on your face. The book lands on your shelf. Gift paper lands in the dustbin. Again without even a goodbye.

 

Rude, a tree died for this bro!

 

Why do gifts even need to be wrapped? I wonder. Although the practice of gift wrapping can be traced back to 2nd century BCE China, modern gift wrapping practice only became mainstream after it was popularized by Hallmark back in 1917. It was an accident. They ran out of traditional tissues so they started selling colourful envelope liners from France instead. It was a hit. America loved it and eventually, it made it to the rest of the world too.

The psychology behind Gift wrapping says that it influences the recipient to rate their gifts more positively. The short-lived suspense of not knowing what exactly is your gift somehow seems to excite you. As you unwrap the gift, you wonder what’s inside. This curiosity feels good. But is it really worth it? Just a few seconds of our unnecessary pleasure sits on the planet for hundreds of years, asphyxiating anything that comes in its way.

 

Sure avoiding plastic packaging and switching to paper may be a good start but paper isn’t as environment-friendly as you would believe it to be. The problem begins where the paper begins. Wood. Deforestation. Loss of habitat. Loss of biodiversity. Soil erosion. Reduced water quality. And this is just the beginning.

We move on to manufacturing. Here come the chemicals, which seep into our water bodies through a poor waste disposal system. Chlorine, mercury, halogens, nitrates, ammonia, phosphorus, caustic soda – each of these chemicals used in making paper, damages the environment differently. And next is the disposal. Tonnes of paper make it to landfills every day and when they decompose, they release methane – one of the major greenhouse gases.

Paper manufacturing is also water and energy-intensive process. In India, the national norm of water consumption per tonne of paper is 200-250 kiloliter in large paper sectors.

 

That’s equivalent to a lifetime water supply for a family of four!

 

As water shortage becomes more commonplace, it’s going to get harder to manufacture paper. A technology upgrade is necessary. It is possible to make the paper-making process more eco-friendly. The technology is available to reduce water consumption, at least to half. The question is – how important is it? And do the decision-makers realise that?

So we can’t use plastic. We can’t use paper. What can we use?

 

The Three Rs.

 

1. Reduce

Our consumption is a major burden on the planet. And our demand is only growing. We don’t have any other habitable planet known to us. Even if we did, we have no technology to shift 7.7 billion people to a faraway planet. We talk about our end but our civilization has actually only begun. There are so many things that we haven’t discovered yet. There are so many things that we haven’t even seen. And we are already losing our only home?

We must act. We must act now. Big or small doesn’t matter. If it takes a gift wrapper, gift wrapper it is. Ask yourself – do you need it? Do you really need it? If the answer is no then you know what to do.

Okay, so if we are not buying new stuff, what are we replacing it with?

Stuff we already have!
Welcome to the second R –

2. Reuse

Newspapers. Brown bags. Shoe boxes. Pieces of clothes, our options are endless. Are you willing to be creative enough to use them? The Internet can always help.

Our last R brings us to –

3. Recycle

Fact is that we are drowning in our own trash. Fact is also that we are importing more and more waste paper from western countries. Special thanks to China for closing its gate, now all the western garbage comes our way.

We are not in any shortage of waste paper. India produces 62 million tonnes of waste every year. Paper makes a huge part of it. What we are in shortage of is an efficient collection and segregation system. We need better waste management and recycling facilities.

Although paper is one of the easiest things to recycle, there is a limit to that too. After repeated processing, the fibres become too short to produce new paper. In that case, virgin fibres have to be used. Ultimately, even with recycling, there’s no escaping cutting more trees, polluting our rivers and trashing our land.

 

Unless, and until, we start caring.

 

The gifting season is almost gone, gift wrappers have already been used, but when it returns which it inevitably will, I hope you choose to care.

No plastic gift wrappers and reduce, reuse, recycle as much as you can. And when it comes to online shopping, avoid it until sustainable packaging becomes their priority. They may not hear your voice alone, but they can’t avoid us if we all start speaking. Our planet, our only home, is worth it.

 

 

 

References:

repository.upenn.edu/
fespa.com/en/news-media/
icontrolpollution.com/articles
downtoearth.org.in/interviews
intechopen.com/books/
indiatoday.in/india/story/
bbc.com/news/
mapsofindia.com/my-india/
wiki/Paper_recycling
bustle.com/articles/
wikipedia.org/wiki/Gift_wrapping
wikipedia.org/wiki/Packaging_waste

http://www.personal.psu.edu/bfr3/blogs/asp/media-spoonfeeding-cartoon.jpg

Read Your Friends Close And Your Enemies Closer

While he was still a student, Swami Vivekananda had already read Herbert Spencer, John Richard Green, Immanuel Kant, Schopenhauer, John Stuart Mill, August Comte, Aristotle, Wordsworth, David Hume, Percy Shelley, and Charles Dickens among other writers. Dr. Ambedkar, during his lifetime, had collected more than 50,000 books at Rajgruha (his house in Mumbai). On being asked to furnish a list of books that influenced him, Leo Tolstoy sent an age-wise list of 50 books that influenced him through his lifetime. We can make a list of the most original thinkers and leaders in the world and barring a few exceptions, we will invariably find that they were and are the most avid readers you can find. They never shied away from reading ideas that challenged their own perceptions of the world. Now, in a world where our habits are defined by the ways of the internet, thanks to the algorithms that track our preferences and reading history, we keep reading what we keep reading. As a result, forget the ideas we do not like, we don’t even understand the ideas we actually like.

 

Reading is a different space in the mind, a battleground where ideas meet. Some ideas mingle and sign treaties while some meet only to fight and decimate each other. Now, if this open field keeps hosting only one particular kind of idea and never lets other ideas anywhere near the battleground, the mind becomes a complacent place. It forgets how treaties are signed, it forgets how battles are fought and won, and most importantly, it forgets how a battle of ideas is lost. It is therefore, the duty of a reader to keep the battlefield alive and bloody, so that the ideas may sweat more during peace and bleed less during the war. If that duty is not taken care of, a stronger idea keeps coming at you until you are annihilated and you surrender without putting up a fight! It is at this point that you make a choice between – getting co-opted by the stronger force or remain exiled till you prepare for the battle anew. Sadly, most of us get co-opted.

 

Apart from their personal struggle, a lot many change-makers of this planet took their own sweet time to understand their own self better. They read ideas from different corners of human development. They examined them first hand and reached their own conclusions. They sieved out things and kept what they needed. They strengthened their ideas by putting them to rigorous tests and only then, came out to talk about them to people. These people had minds of their own. It was impossible to co-opt them. It was impossible to overshadow them. It was impossible to disagree with them in totality. This happened because they were sincere in their efforts and they all found one or more element of truth for themselves. An easy identifier to mark such people is that you will find otherwise completely divergent groups trying to appropriate their ideas after they are gone. That happens because of several reasons. One, these men and women were not afraid of revising their ideas from time to time, so one group cites from one phase of their lives and another from another without understanding the context. Two, these people have already done the hard work of reading and filtering of ideas, so the appropriating groups have it easier if they just accept them as their Heroes and follow whatever they like in their repertoire.

 

Now, things would have been still better if people just did not want to read about ideas they disagreed with. However, we have people who do not even want to read ideas they like, ideas that appeal to them, and people they adore otherwise. This is partly their own laziness and partly peer pressure.

 

“Ambedkar was a great man”
“…yes, Ambedkar was a great man”
“why?”
“because he drafted the constitution?”
“ok, so have you read the constitution?”
“What? No! How can one read the constitution?”

 

This population bifurcates at the point ‘action’ comes into the picture. Case in point, a protest march in the name of Ambedkar. One set will stay at home and the other will join the march with all their zeal. The ones staying at home are more or less a harmless set. The one on the street is capable of burning buses and hurling stones at trains in peer pressure or on the command of the leader who has studied Ambedkar but knows what to conceal and what to reveal to effect a nihilistic vandalism. That’s why I wonder why people are so surprised to find protestors in Anti-CAA and Pro-CAA marches not knowing what CAA even stands for. The lot that doesn’t want to read but is eager to burn is the injurious one and the growth of such set should be a cause for worry for all of us. People who have read 2 more books or a few more wiki links than these gullible people are able to preach to them and drive them according to their own fancy. The gullible warrior is too lazy to do his own background work and hence, walks behind people who do it or at least pretend to do it.

 

This is one reason for the widespread reach of fake news. Any influencer puts out a piece of news that might be fake (intended or otherwise) and his followers start sharing the piece without a care for its authenticity or consequences. The followers do not like the idea of reading, they do not like the idea of fact-finding, they do not like the idea of getting corrected – what they like is – does that shared statement help them ascertain their own beliefs? If it does, click retweet. If not, hurl insults. The reading and the contemplative population remain a minority. It is  common to see someone who has not read Ambedkar swearing in his name, someone who has not read Gandhi speak about Satyagraha all the time, someone who doesn’t know Sanskrit talk of protecting it with all their might, someone who has never read Karl Marx dismiss him nonchalantly or fight for him tooth and nail.

 

If you have read this piece till here and if you know you belong to this set, there is nothing to be ashamed about. The systems of our world make it easier for you to fall prey to a bigger fish and get co-opted. We like people who agree with us. Online bookstores suggest you books on the basis of your reading history, streaming channels show you show suggestions based on your viewing history, news aggregators show you news according to what you have clicked before on their site, and friends gift you books according to your taste. It is a difficult arrangement. The battleground of mind is a difficult place by itself and that space should not be up for co-option by anyone anywhere. Start making the change today. Dust your armoury, sharpen your swords, and if you want to bring about a revolution of ideas outside, bring it inside your head first. To begin with, read. Then, come out of your ideological silos and read some more.

 

Of Toy Trains and Tunnels – Kalka To Shimla

Growing up in pre-millennial era, train travel was an inescapable part of holidaying. Almost every holiday started at the station. The bags were stuffed under the berths. Dad and uncles haggled with the coolies and we kids squabbled over the top berths. Finally, after a whistle and one lurch back and one lurch forward, the train rolled out. I loved that backward-forward motion and always exaggerated it a bit, it was the signal to the start of the holiday.

 

Were the trains less dirty in those days? Were the seats unstained with who-knows-what? Were my olfactory organs under-performing and I could use the loos without gagging? Perhaps my childlike senses had yet to develop to the hyper discerning level they are at now. Perhaps, I just didn’t care. In the last twenty years, train travel has not figured in my holiday plans. Air travel has become affordable. It is faster – every moment counts when there are only that many days you can take off work. But that’s not it. In all honesty, I’d rather change my destination than board a long-distance train. Snooty? Guilty as charged.

 

So, I surprise myself more than anyone else when I opt to take the train from Kalka to Shimla, popularly known as the toy train. Besides the rave reviews – most scenic train journey in India, exceptional panoramic views, and the likes – I am also wary of going by road for two reasons. One, I am not sure I have the stomach for the curvy mountainous road. And two, I have visions of the car tumbling down the hillside, splattering my bones and brains on the pine trees. Yes, I am morbid like that. 

 

Kalka to Shimla
Kalka to Shimla

 

All pros and cons weighed, I find myself at the Kalka station pre-sunrise. It’s a brrrry cold morning and I am layered up such that I have more clothes on me than in my suitcase. The station, almost gleaming clean, is a pleasant surprise and takes the edge off the cold. The train brings me shivering back to reality. Positives – the floral artwork on the bogey is cute, wood-panelled interiors are nice-ish and the pendulum-like seat backs can be slid to change direction. Negative – stained seats (why have we not yet discovered a solution for this?) and the characteristic grimy-ness associated with Indian trains. And the loo? I don’t intend to find out. The bowels and bladder have been emptied and I intend to keep them that way till I reach my hotel in Shimla. 

 

The first hour and a half passes in darkness interrupted by the occasional cluster of lights indicating human settlement. Not much to see outside, I Netflix and chill. It’s an hour and a half later that the first rays of the sun light up the vista that the Shivalik Express has been chugging through. And, all the accolades I had read on blogs in the weeks preceding this journey race through my head like a ticker tape. The sky is the perfect blend of dawn colours. The tree trunks are hanging on to the sloping hills at near precise angles. The route has many sharp curves and since I am in the middle bogey, there are times when I can see both the head and the tail of my train. The narrow gauge line that connects Kalka to Shimla was laid in 1903. It passes through 103 tunnels and crosses over 900+ bridges in the five hours it takes to cover a distance of 96 kilometre and ascend 1400 metre in altitude. 

20191229075433_IMG_6883

 

A little over two hours after it started from Kalka, the Shivalik Deluxe goes through the longest of the 103 tunnels. The Barog tunnel is a little over a kilometre long and takes 2.5 minutes to cross. At the other end of the Barog tunnel is Barog station. A row of squat buildings make up the station. The walls of all the buildings are whitewashed, the gables, accents and door-window shades are painted a cornflower blue and the rooftops are post-box red. Picture perfect. The train halts for 15 minutes for the attendants to load the bogeys with packed breakfasts, the standard Rajdhani fare of bread-cutlet or bread-omelette. The passengers stream out to stretch their legs and click the obligatory selfies. 

 

20191229075329_IMG_6882

 

The next leg of the journey all the way to Shimla is without any unscheduled stops. Many stations pass us by and the colour scheme of blue, white and red roofs is consistent. Some are adorned with quaint blue benches, others with pots of geraniums. At one station, a branch laden with bright pink flowers is angled across a wall with such precision that it is difficult to believe coincidence of nature could have achieved it without human intervention. Both, the parry that came up with this colour palette and the one that ensured its application need to be eulogized. 

IMG_20191229_094109

 

Unfortunately, it does not seem that they were allowed to apply their exceptional taste and influence on the towns that dot the hills. The houses are stacked like a toddler would stack his first set of Lego bricks without thought to colour, design, or symmetry, the kind that would only win applause from doting parents. Hoardings advertising lodges, products and services add to the cacophony of colours. The hillside along the rail-track which for the first leg had only been covered in vegetation is now speckled with wrappers, plastic bottles, discarded garments, and other ugly odds and ends. I suspect as man runs out of space and expands over the rest of the hills he will leave more of these breadcrumbs to mark his trail. 

20191229075451_IMG_6884

 

IMG_20191229_102044

 

At 10:35 a.m., the train begins to slow to a crawl, its destination is around the corner. I am expecting Shimla station to repeat the blue and white. It does not entirely. I guess, sitting at the top of the pile, it needed to be set apart from its lowly subjects. But, the woodwork is artistic and the stone floor is gleaming. My breath does not catch like it did at the sight of Shoghi, Jutoh and others but it is easy on the eyes. I smile at the attendant and skip out of the bogey like I would have 20-25 years ago. The five hours had flown by. Netflix had been turned off after the first hour and I had turned not more than ten pages of my book. Mostly I had been engrossed in the images unfolding outside the window. In times, when it is usually about how fast can we get there, it had been a nice change of pace to take my time.

 

 

Note:
Photos & Doodle Courtesy – Himali Kothari.

 

GadgetWise – Smartphone Apps That Will Make You Smarter in 2020!

5 million apps! That’s how many options are available in the leading app stores worldwide in 2019. With Google Play Store and App Store listing more than 2 million apps, the consumer is not only spoiled for choice but uncertainty as well. As you wade through the multitude of choices in this digital maze, worrying about having enough space on your memory card (or maybe not), the criticism of ‘too much time spent on the phone” might not consider the positive aspects that smartphones provide in terms of productivity and personal well-being.

From educational apps to productivity enhancers, from apps which track your health or exercise/diet to options for daily motivational quotes or regular happiness assessments; the multi-million dollar apps industry provides customisation that might come at a premium but is often available for free. If you’re looking for the best, these are the most popular apps among those downloaded:

 

Educational Apps

Dragonbox Algebra
Dragonbox Algebra

For students grappling with grueling school schedules which are increasingly competitive, mobile apps can provide an edge in academic preparation. While content libraries such as Epic and Khan Academy offer a range of educational material including audio-books and videos, games like Dragonbox Algebra 5+ and 12+ ensure math-haters have a fun way to learn the dreaded subject. 300 million language enthusiasts love Duolingo for its Candy-Crush approach to learning nearly 35 languages.

 

 

 

Wolfram Alpha
Wolfram Alpha

Available schedulers include iStudiez Pro and myHomework Student Planner, and knowledge wizards such as Socratic and Wolfram Alpha provide problem-solving ranging from a simple history factoid to bewildering questions in categories such as mathematics, science and technology as well as society and culture. Last-minute exam preparation is easy with Quizlet which allows you to create flashcards for note-taking or speed-testing your memory along with the option of downloading from among 335,784,000 existing study sets. Desmos Graphing Calculator is even being incorporated into school assessments and testing such as the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress by state organisations. While apps such as Tynker: Coding for Kids and SoloLearn offer free lessons in computer programming, online learning platforms such as Meritnation, Toppr, Gradeup, and Coursera have apps for mobile learning. So, even if your kid seems to be wasting time on their phone, they could just be self-starters engrossed in an educational app.

Medical/Health Apps

BlueStarHealth management has been made easier with apps like BlueStar and mySugr for patients with Diabetes, along with options to manage your medication with Dosecast and CareZone. While Medimetry, Doctor Insta, and Lybrate provide online consultation services; Portea and Zoctr assist with home healthcare services. Along with facilitating diagnostic tests, Docprime, Practo, and Credihealth also make booking appointments with doctors easier.

Even as doctor consultations anytime-anywhere is the recent healthcare trend, advances in mobile technology have ensured portable medical testing such as ultrasounds by Lumify and skin cancer screening by SkinVision. Updated information about clinical trials worldwide is also available from Guideline Central and Clinical Trials Mobile for those seeking to participate. In case of emergencies, there are apps such as VMEDO and Medulance which you can rely on for booking ambulances and finding registered blood donors near you.

Exercise/Diet Apps

In 2019, more than 800 million people use fitness apps worldwide for calorie counting, workout companions, or barcode scanning for nutritional information. As the digital fitness industry grows exponentially, verifiable data is important for diet plans to work. Among the leading weight loss apps, Lose It! offers a personalised analysis based on your daily diet log (including ‘Snap It’ for tracking portion sizes) to provide a projected date for achieving your desired weight. With curated nutritional information about ‘7 million+ foods, restaurant items and brands from around the world’ and integration with fitness wearables, Lose It! is among the most user-friendly apps.

Lose It!
Lose It!

Similar weight-loss apps include MyFitnessPal which has the additional feature of a barcode scanner and FatSecret which includes community support. While Fooducate grades food items based on scanned nutritional information, HealthyOut scans nearby restaurants for healthy options. Leading workout apps include Map My Fitness, Nike Run Club, Strava, Freeletics and Yoga Studio. On-demand workout streaming is also available from NEOU. If the motivation Diet Coach (Android/ iOS) offers isn’t enough, you can sign up for Sweatcoin (in select countries) and collect sweatcoins for outdoor walking/running. The sweatcoin is a digital currency which can be exchanged for goods from its 300+ partners.

Productivity Apps

Trello
Trello

From organisers that remind you about your schedule to integrated task automation, apps for productivity depend on personal requirements. While Evernote helps with note-taking including “meeting notes, web pages, projects, to-do lists”, IFTTT (Android, iOS) is ideal for automating tasks based on an an “If This, Then That” structure. Organising to-do lists are made easy with apps such as TickTick which includes shareable tasks, with Trello and ToDoist extending to project management features. Trello’s upgrades (Power-Ups) provide enhanced workflow integration with third-party services such as InVision, Jira, Salesforce and Slack. Of course, Dropbox remains one of the most popular integrations for online storage and sharing.

Self-Care Apps

SuperBetter
SuperBetter

According to the Institute for Health Metrics Evaluation (IHME), depressive disorders are among the top three causes for disability globally. Considering nearly 500 million people suffer from mental disorders worldwide, it is not surprising that self-care market is generating more than USD 10 billion in annual revenue. Apps to enhance well-being include gaming solutions from SuperBetter and Happify, meditative techniques from Calm and Headspace, and CBT mood trackers based on cognitive behaviour therapy such as MoodKit and Sanvello. While Breathe2Relax (Android/iOS) offers tips on diaphragmatic breathing for stress management, MindShift provides strategies for coping with anxiety. When all you need is a calming soundscape, Relax Melodies includes “100 soothing sounds and music” that can be combined for a meditative playlist. For that gentle reminder to ‘Rest, Hydrate, Fuel, Breathe, Move’, Aloe Bud is around to make sure you take care of yourself.

While the jury is still out about the accuracy of nutritional/healthcare information available on many apps, research suggests that apps which promote physical activity have been found to be generally effective. Considering consumer well-being in the digital economy extends beyond financial measures, the expanding app landscape can be harnessed to bring positive changes to your life. Whether tapping into a knowledge database or finding the fitness app that works for you, sometimes even a gentle reminder could be sufficient for self-improvement. 

List of apps mentioned in the report for your easy reference –

Please take the following survey to help us understand how our readers use their smart phones and apps.

 

Once you have taken the survey, please click here to view the responses.

 

 

Amrita Pritam

100 Years of Amrita Pritam and Her Feminism

As the year 2019 draws to a close, we at The Seer would like to pay a small tribute to Amrita Pritam’s stories in the hundredth year of her birth anniversary. Amrita Pritam was born on 31st August in 1919 in Gujranwala, Punjab (which is in present day Pakistan). Earlier in August, Google commemorated her 100th birth anniversary with a beautiful doodle

She wrote several poems, short stories and novels in her lifetime. Amrita is most famous for her melancholic poem, Ajj Aakhaan Waris Shah Nu (Today I Invoke Waris Shah). The poem addresses the 18th century Sufi poet, Waris Shah, to look at Punjab that was bleeding due to Partition. 

Her other works include Pinjar, which was her first novel. The story portrays Partition’s aftermath. Her autobiography, Raseedi Ticket (1976) recounts her experiences of the Partition and also her relationship with poet, Sudhir Ludhianvi, among other things.  In the Times of Love and Longing is a collection of soulful love letters exchanged between Amrita Pritam and Imroz. One of her other famous poems is Main Tenun Phir Milangi (I Will Meet You Again), a beautiful love letter to Imroz. 

A rare photograph of Amrita Pritam and her partner, Imroz, in 1969.(Photo by Ravinder Ravi )
A rare photograph of Amrita Pritam and her partner, Imroz, in 1969.(Photo by Ravinder Ravi )

 

Female desire and thoughts are integral to Amrita’s works. She was unabashedly a rebellious writer and was unafraid of writing on taboo topics. Her short stories show women’s perspectives on love and art as well as their plight in a constraining society. She also did not shy away from writing about masculinity and its constructions in an age when ideas around toxic masculinity had not yet gained traction. 

Amrita-Pritam (1)

The Stench of Kerosene or Bu in Hindi is striking in its symbolism that haunts Guleri’s husband, Manek. Guleri is a carefree girl but one who is unable to bear any children. Children have and continue to be a goal that a married Indian woman is expected to achieve. Because Guleri is unable to do so, her mother-in-law pushes Manek to have a second marriage. Manek seems reluctant to do that. Later, he becomes numb after hearing about Guleri’s death. Guleri sets herself on fire with kerosene when she heard about Manek’s second wedding. The story ends with a son being born but the sight of his son ironically reminds Manek of the kerosene’s stench. Through this story, Pritam does not implicate anyone directly but brings together various ways of thinking that create boundaries for a woman and even lead to her death. Manek is trapped between his love for Guleri and his mother and the obedience to social norms. Guleri’s mother-in-law is blinded by the idea of the necessity of children in a marriage. 

Five Sisters or Paanch Behene in Hindi describes different experiences of women. The story reads like an allegory or a fable. It is as if she is depicting the problems of all women, creating an everywoman. Two characters Life and Wind visit the five sisters of the 20th century. The first one is trapped within the walls of the house and so are all her fellow women. The second sister belongs to a subaltern section and has consequently faced many hardships. The third is compared to a statue and her marriage has forced her into undergoing an operation that turns her heart into a rock. The metaphor of an operation is apt to describe how marriages steal women’s identity. The fourth one cries out that she has lost hope in life because of her rape during the Partition. The last sister that Life visits seems to be a young singer and writer. Although she seems successful and talented, she is not spared from gendered criticisms. One could also interpret the last sister as a reflection of Amrita Pritam herself when the society was quick to criticise her unorthodox choices. 

 

Amrita Pritam, 1970
Amrita Pritam, 1970

The Wild Flower or Jangli Booti in Hindi speaks of Angoori’s conversations with the narrator. Angoori is the wife of one of the servants in the narrator’s neighbour’s neighbour’s house. Angoori is a simple, innocent girl who believes that falling in love is a sin and that those girls who eat a kind of wild herb are the ones who fall in love. Like many of her other short stories, The Wild Flower emphasises on how women’s right to love and have a desire are controlled by moral and righteous forces which deny them any voice.  The story can be read online in English on The Little Magazine website

 

 

References:

 

CAB Protests and Our Grammar of Anarchy

The first thing in my judgement we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.

 

When we do not use the constitutional devices made available to us and begin to disrupt our own society to get what we want, in my opinion, there can be arguably two chief driving forces – first, we have lost all faith in our judiciary. After all, just a few days back, a lot amongst us wanted the men accused in Hyderabad rape case to be lynched in a public spectacle and a large part of the country celebrated when they were killed in a police encounter. The defenders of the law are still having a hard time explaining what was wrong in such an act by the police. When you hear Nirbhaya’s mother speaking about her wait for justice for the last 7 years with one ‘juvenile’ already walking free, there is not much left to defend about the systems that were designed for justice but have almost become impediments to the same. Like any other pillar of democracy, our judiciary has become a prisoner of its own laws.

 

However, a large majority still fights with its self-doubts and conflicts with the system to rush to the court when needed. There is a reason that we have more than 3 crores cases pending in our courts. In absence of faith, most of these citizens involved in litigation would have become vigilantes themselves. This brings us to the second force – a lot amongst us do not believe in the institutions of the country, including the judiciary. So, when we are not busy fortifying our beliefs or absence thereof, we take to the streets to bring theory into practice. This set holds the constitution holy in public and burns it with the other hand in private and when provided with an opportunity to be their private self in public, they burn the constitution in public too. They are the ones who have carried out the so called ‘hijacking’ of the Citizenship Amendment Bill/Citizenship Amendment Act protests.

 

Hijacking of protests is not a new phenomenon. When you venture out to protest on the streets through your voice or your pen, you must begin with the assumption that there will be attempts to hijack your movement. If you don’t start with this understanding, your movement will be corrupted in no time. Now, if you do have that understanding, it is also incumbent upon you to prevent it from happening. However, if you consciously want your protests to be hijacked so that it becomes viral and you can extract a career out of it, you are not solving any problem. You are the problem.

 

 

The Question of Group Identification

A lot of people, including most of the media agencies, have betrayed their ignorance in the last week. There are individuals who have claimed that India does not share a border with Afghanistan, many have claimed that they live in India and not Bharat (ignorant about the adoption of the name Bharat in our constitution). There are individuals who have confidently tried to fact-check people who have been using the term ‘CAA’ instead of CAB after the bill was passed in the parliament. Then, there were people who took a week to understand that they cannot support the anti-immigration protests of Assam and the inclusion of Muslims in the Citizenship Amendment Act at the same time. Such people ranged from a few lazy but opinionated people, a few celebrities and their followers, a few small-time opinion makers on social media to some high and mighty so called intellectuals of the country and abroad. That such ignorance could be displayed with such confidence without even a reluctant look at our country’s history, geography, official documents, and most importantly our constitution, has amply proved that Indians don’t like details, we hate to read, we hate to understand our surroundings, and we absolutely abhor being questioned. Ignorance is not the greatest sin, believing that ignorance-is-bliss is.

Between being ignorant and believing that ignorance-is-bliss, lies a greater folly – the desire to play ignorant for the optics. This happens when you know what you are saying is wrong but it sounds politically correct and you can get claps for it, so, you go on to say it anyway. 

When presented with a question – If you had the option to take liberties with some facts and crack a really funny joke or being accurate with the facts and risk dishing out a bland one or no joke at all, which one would you choose? A populist choice makes you dishonest. An honest choice makes you less popular or even unpopular. Many intellectuals in our country however, choose the first option and divide the society into groups that carry one chief value that they decide to label them with. So, if a woman slanders you and you slander her back, they will come at you saying things like ‘how could you talk to a woman like that’ because even when they know that the woman in question is an individual first and the response to her was in her individual capacity irrespective of her gender; for these people, using the gender crutch helps them project themselves as feminists and also perhaps agreeable to a lot of people. 

 

One such oversimplified group in question in the ongoing protests is ‘students’. You will be hearing a plethora of generalizations flying across from both the warring sides – “these students are anti-national”, “a student doesn’t burn buses”, “JNU students are enemies of the nation”, “students like to study”. The absurdity of the arguments have reached such incredible heights that it appears that students are aliens whom most of us do not know and a few of us know too well. A student can be anything – nationalist, anti-national, sub-nationalist, ethno-linguistic fanatic, fascist, communist, sexist, homophobe, islamophobe, xenophobe, or even a terrorist. When the BHU protests happened over the appointment of a Muslim scholar and professor to teach Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Vigyan, students were called out as bigots. A student can burn buses, another can douse the fire. A student may not want to study, a student may only want to study and do no politics. Being a student is not a qualification for righteousness. Depending on their life choices, it might prove to be the path to it. So, it would be a pragmatic thing to stop enjoying and promoting such oversimplifications.

While group identification is necessary for administrative purposes, our society (including the government and law enforcement agencies) will do itself a great good to stop assigning moralistic and ethical values to these groups. They can only be assigned to individuals irrespective of the group he or the government thinks he belongs to. 

 

 

The Question of CAA

The major protest to the bill came from Assam where certain groups want all illegal immigrants identified and sent back. Other groups in other parts of the country took the cue but changed the message and objective. They successfully carried out the pejoration of the Assam protests and went public with all their prejudices and politics. The issue was quickly turned into a Hindu-Muslim question and concerns were raised about the exclusion of Muslims. In that sense, this was the complete opposite of what the indigenous Assamese wanted. If you change a few variables like the party in power or the state in question (say, Maharashtra), the same set of people would have attacked the agitators for ‘complete exclusion’ for being xenophobic and fascists. So, instead of doing any good, the political protests across the country (more specifically Bengal) have in effect diluted the protests in Assam and when there should have been a rigorous debate over the process of identification, implementation, and impact on the Assam demographics, we got brute-braked on the usual Hindu-Muslim speed-breaker.

The group in favour of the Citizenship Amendment Act is happy with its current form and a few among them also want Sri Lankan Tamils, Atheists, and Apostates to be included. If India were to be morally one, then, only one of these sets is right and everyone else is wrong. But that is not true. Every region has its own problem and a state like Assam has a lot more than those which do not share a porous border internationally. So, the moral question changes with our vantage point. Kashmir has a different moral question than New Delhi and hence the same moral compass can’t be applied to the entire country. Then come the existential questions. Can we allow the migration to take place to an extent that the very purpose of migration is lost? That’s the question Assam is battling right now. On the technical aspect, everyone seems to be having a strong case, hence, I will be keenly following the court proceedings to be held in January 2020. The questions I will be looking for answers to are – 

 

  1. The Act does not mention the term ‘Religious Persecution’ but only minority religions in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. These two terms do not mean the same thing. So, what exactly is the basis of the amendment – ‘minority-status’ or ‘religious persecution’?
  2. If the basis is ‘minority-status’, then why have Jews, Atheists, and Apostates not been included?
  3. If the basis is ‘religious-persecution’, how will the government ensure that all Pakistani Hindus in India claiming citizenship have been persecuted on religious grounds?
  4. Mr. Amit Shah has mentioned in his Rajya Sabha speech that the bill will bring relief to lakhs (sometimes crores) of people. According to our Intelligence Bureau, “a total of 31,313 persons belonging to minority communities, including “25,447 Hindu, 5,807 Sikhs, 55 Christians, 2 Buddhists and 2 Parsis” will be immediate beneficiaries of the amended Citizenship Act”. Which number is correct?
  5. Will CAA be used to grant citizenship to people who have not found their names on the NRC list? If no, then how will the act bring relief to lakhs of people? If yes, then how will religious persecution be determined?
  6. Since, the persecution clause itself is not mentioned in the act, will it not become just an optional check for the government?
  7. One of the points supporting the amended act says that Muslims can still apply for citizenship using the preexisting channels. However, that is true for other minorities too. So, why the new amendment?
  8. How will the government prevent the evergreen bureaucratic lethargy and corruption of our country playing a role in this exercise and implementation?
  9. What is government’s defence for the Kargil veteran not finding his name on the NRC? How will such cases be avoided in the future?  

 

 

The Question of Our Neighbours

What is the reason that a secular state like India is surrounded by theocratic states that prioritise one religion over others? If we are hopeful of solving all our domestic problems while they remain theocratic, we are set on a fool’s errand. Of all the geopolitical realities of South Asia, this is perhaps our biggest failing. When a Hindu nation (Nepal) can become a secular state and the world can welcome it, what is inspiring our neighbours to remain Islamic in nature? Why are the secular forces in these countries not able to effect a constitutional change or escalate their agenda into a mass movement? Perhaps, mass movement is not the answer. When the government swears by a particular religion, raising a voice in protest becomes blasphemy. So, either the leaders of South Asia can sit down and have a conversation on the subject or we would have to wait for a popular government that sees secularism as an aspirational value to adopt. Even though Indian constitution valued secularism without declaring India a secular state, the process of officially becoming a secular state was a top-down action when the Indira Gandhi government brought the forty-second amendment. Do our neighbours have the necessary political will to effect such a thing?

 

 

The Moral Question

On the moral dilemma, what is more humanitarian, to shelter a few (minority who have been persecuted consistently according to reports from reputed organisations) or shelter none? Who is to be given a safe home, the persecuted or the persecutor? Should the act then be seen as a great humanitarian step that not many nations are ready to take? It is interesting to note that the act includes Christians too. The BJP has been accused of being against the Christians in the past and will be accused again even if a bird poops on any church in this country. But then, while religious persecution is a reality in our neighbouring countries, can groups alone define who is persecuted and who is not? Could there be only one Muslim who would have escaped and entered India because of his sectarian differences or apostatic persecution? Will it be moral to send that one person back? What details must this person furnish to prove religious persecution? What are the safeguards our government has put for such people? These are relevant questions, so I would suggest you to keep away from people who are straitjacketing this issue into Hindu versus Muslims battle. While people are throwing up on social media because they are habituated to, very few have seriously considered all aspects and tried to find answers. Fewer have even gone on to read the bill in detail to understand what it is and what it isn’t. Lazy citizens do not bring revolution. They just bring misinformation and a resultant bloody violence, upon others and in the end, upon themselves.

 

 

Three Warnings of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

In Indian newsrooms and public discourse, there are people who use Mahatma Gandhi’s name whenever they can’t make their own point. “Gandhi said this, how can you go against our Bapu”, is the favourite catchphrase of such lazy intellectuals. Since, they swear by Gandhiji’s name, I am sure they know why the Non-Cooperation movement was withdrawn. Using their favourite rhetoric, I can confidently say that Gandhi would have withdrawn from the so called anti-CAB movement at the first sign of violence. Invoking Gandhi is a hogwash most of the times – just a thorn to take out the existing thorn. Once, the existing thorn is removed, the Gandhi thorn will be thrown away without a care.

On the other side, if one is to believe that the BJP and our Prime Minister have nothing to gain from the Hindu-Muslim polarisation, it would be repeating the mistake. Mr. Modi lost the moral battle the day he referred to the clothes of the protestors during one of his speeches in Jharkhand. So, now we have one side referring to saffron colour to identify the criminal and other side referring to skullcaps and kurtas to know the criminal. In doing so and not able to see the problem, we have already ignored the 2nd warning of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (another utility thorn of our lazy intellectuals, always discarded once the point has been made)-

The second thing we must do is to observe the caution which John Stuart Mill has given to all who are interested in the maintenance of democracy, namely, not “to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with power which enable him to subvert their institutions”. There is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered life-long services to the country. But there are limits to gratefulness. As has been well said by the Irish Patriot Daniel O’Connel, no man can be grateful at the cost of his honour, no woman can be grateful at the cost of her chastity and no nation can be grateful at the cost of its liberty. This caution is far more necessary in the case of India than in the case of any other country. For in India, Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.

 

The focal points of power must be checked. Government, political parties, media, academia must be asked questions when they want to remain unquestioned and unaccountable. Anarchy is not the answer. Anarchy is nothing but dictatorship at the level of an individual. Soon enough, power centres more devious than what we set out to demolish will rise again. Democracy is still the best solution we have in our hands and a strong democracy needs an opposition with a spine. That is partly our misfortune and partly our own doing. The present opposition doesn’t inspire confidence. The arsonists can never make a good opposition. 

 

I should put out a disclosure here. The first paragraph in this article is the first warning of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Please read it again if you did not pay enough attention for the first time. As the Nirbhaya rape convicts have their review petition rejected, Kuldip Sengar stands convicted of rape, CBI gets yet another thrashing by the court, and the court decides to hear petitions regarding the CAA in January 2020, I would still like to believe that our judiciary keeps showing signs of life every now and then. In the absence of an intelligent opposition, the judiciary of our country has been holding better and much more informed debates on matters important to us and just by doing that, it gains the right to become our first resort to justice, of course, only if we believe in our democracy and our ability to plug the existing holes. Otherwise, individual and group dictatorships are already exhibiting their designs on the streets. Decide.

 

E-Waste Scrapyard in China | Source: Greenpeace

The Modern Junkyard – Electronic Waste and the Right to Repair

44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste in the modern junkyard and 8 million tonnes of plastic dumped in the oceans ANNUALLY! That’s a lot of waste management each year.

Mapping out E-waste | Source: World Economic Forum

Mapping out E-waste | Source: World Economic Forum

With the global economy expected to be flush with 25- 50 billion electrical goods by 2020, it’s not surprising that policymakers worldwide are focused on waste management solutions. Considering that even solar energy’s photo-voltaic (PV) modules are likely to leave behind 90 million metric tons of waste by 2050 each year, the hazardous impact to environment and health is, as yet, not adequately discernible.

 

Woman Washing Clothes in Chinese River | Source: Greenpeace
Woman Washing Clothes in Chinese River | Source: Greenpeace

The concomitant environmental degradation is subject to measurable scrutiny, but nearly 80% of e-waste presently remains unaccounted for. Meanwhile, millions of tonnes are being shipped off to developing countries in Asia and Africa in a centre-periphery model that has existed for centuries. The Agbogbloshie dump near Ghana’s capital, Accra and Guiyu in China’s Guangdong Province are among the largest e-waste dumps in the world, with the Giuyu waste junkyard spanning 52 sq. km and more than 5000 family-run recycling workshops. In India, northern Delhi’s Seelampur is locked in a battle of noxious fumes in a city with the highest air pollution in the world.

 

Harmful Effects of e-Waste Dumping | Source: Greenpeace
Harmful Effects of e-Waste Dumping | Source: Greenpeace

Although “67 countries have enacted legislation to deal with the e-waste they generate” including India’s E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2016, an increasingly developed world is characterized by new gadgets that are cheaper to purchase than repair. According to leading Right to Repair activist, Gay Gordon-Byrne, the trend is going to continue –  “Because the cost of manufacturing will drive those changes. People are competing on price at the retail level. So, you know, speaker A is a hundred dollars and speaker B is $200, and you can fix speaker B, but not A, Well, if you’re like everybody else, you could buy the cheaper one, right? Which is probably assembled with a lot more glue and a lot less mechanical fasteners, just because of the cost of manufacturing.”

 

With annual e-waste “equivalent to almost 4,500 Eiffel Towers,” the burgeoning Right to Repair movement is offering an alternative. While modern consumer culture engenders product disposability, 1,653 Repair Café groups held nearly 20000 meetings in 2018, repairing “more than 350,000 products” while preventing “around 350,000 kilograms of waste.” In India, the first Repair Café was organised in September 2015 by Purna Sarkar and Antara Mukherjee at Rangoli Metro Art Centre on MG Road, Bengaluru. According to graphic designer, Antara, “It’s a hands-on approach. Volunteers will help you with the repair, will tell you what could go wrong. Basically, get people interested… A direct way to apply your intellect.”

While the Indian Repair Café has not yet ventured into high-end electronic repair such as cameras, printers, and mobile phones, their 39 workshops have a 90% repair rate, with a landfill diversion of nearly 4300 kg. Most of the 1010 items at the Bengaluru workshops include kitchen equipment such as “mixies, grinders, hand blenders” and household items including “radios, cordless landline phones, and mosquito rackets.”

The Right to Repair Movement | Source: Great Lakes Electronic Corporation

The Right to Repair Movement | Source: Great Lakes Electronic Corporation

 

India is ranked as the 5th highest generator worldwide for its yearly e-waste of 2 million tonnes which is expected to grow at a rate of 30% annually. Despite 178 registered e-waste recyclers in India, the informal sector forms an unorganized industry within this circular economy in clusters such as Shastri park, Seelampur, Mustafabad in Delhi, and Moradabad in UP. Open burning and acid stripping are involved in e-waste recycling of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) such as PCBs (Printed Circuit Board).

 

 

As part of India’s e-waste strategy, “the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has developed indigenous technology at C-MET and Central Institute of Plastics Engineering & Technology (CIPET) for recovery of precious metals and plastics from e-waste respectively,” and implemented an awareness programme involving “more than 3 lakh participants during 600 workshops and activities.”

 

E-Waste Dismantling in Sangrampur | Source: Sean Gallagher
E-Waste Dismantling in Sangrampur | Source: Sean Gallagher

 

E-waste As a Resource | Source: Umicore
E-waste As a Resource | Source: Umicore

 

“More than 100 million computers are thrown away annually in the United States, with China discarding 160 million electronic devices a year,” according to The Energy and Resources Institute. Despite the Basel Ban Amendment for banning export of hazardous wastes becoming international law, countries that have not yet ratified the amendment include “Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia, India, Brazil, Mexico, and the global leader in waste per-capita, the United States.” Simultaneously, the European Union recently passed legislation requiring manufacturers to adhere to ‘Right to Repair’ standards based on its ‘Energy efficiency first’ principle, while activists battle for similar legislation in the United States. For Gay Gordon-Byrne, “Legislation just takes a long time. That’s the number one challenge.”

 

While the Right to Repair movement gathers momentum worldwide, it is crucial that effective implementation of waste management legislation is as integrated as the global digital economy, very least, if there is to be any hope of reversing global environmental degradation and the resultant climate change tide!

 

Nithyananda is Inevitable and His Kailasha Solves a Real Problem

The Dalai Lama and HDH Nithyananda Paramashivam are incontrovertibly two of the most powerful spiritual figures of the present times. Both are outspoken, against the tyranny of the establishment and are working towards a new world order – one where divisions disappear and people live in peace, powerfulness and prosperity. Both are exiled from their homes and have hence become citizens of the world. Both are ancient beings who have re-incarnated to bring back order into the chaos that the world has become today. (Source – kailaasa.org)

 

Apparently, cancelling someone’s passport in India ensures that the person will be found tweeting from a different country the next day. If you appear stupid enough to be deemed harmless to the government, the government will let you continue with your stupidity for as long as you want. However, if the party in power has over-promised to its people and you suddenly start doing less stupid things like ‘inspiring terrorist groups’ as in the case of Zakir Naik (who otherwise kept parroting scriptures with exact coordinates of verses) or ‘kidnapping’ and ‘employing child labour’, in Nithyananda’s case, you start to become an eyesore. The government then, cancels your passport.

 

So, who is a citizen of the world? Trash all your pretentious concepts of cosmopolitanism and culture-assimilation myths. The first thing you would need to do is escape (not exactly escape, just book with an airline and fly, nobody is chasing you) from India to start your journey of attainment. Expand your operations to other countries. You keep spreading your deeply spiritual operations of radicalization, kidnapping, extortion, and sex carnivals. Only when you become the most-desired in most of these countries, you have a shot at becoming the most-wanted. Of course, when you are wanted everywhere, you have attained world-citizenship. Since, he can’t be everywhere till such time that he seriously, and not ‘casually‘, tests his teleporting and cloning machines, Nithyananda has created a new nation. The exact location of this new country is not ascertained yet but let’s trust Mr. Vijay Mallya to mark the place on google maps once he arrives. Mr. Mallya must have realized that buying an island and creating a nation out of it are two different things, much like how Mr. Fadnavis realized that having the largest number of MLAs and forming a government in Indian politics are not the same.

 

Nithyananda means business. He is a thought-leader, a spiritual giant of his time who discusses ideas and world problems with his fellow thought-leaders like the former CFO of Infosys – TV Mohandas Pai. In the past, he has also discussed the future of science with Mr. Rajiv Malhotra. The stakes get higher if you look at the website of Kailaasa (his new Hindu nation). It gives you a point by point comparison between Dalai Lama and Nithyananda. Having some experience as his audience on youtube, I was able to separate the chaff from the wheat, chaff being the parts written by some freelance content writer (the boring stupid parts) and wheat being the parts blessed by His Divine Holiness. By the end of these impeccable comparisons, it was obvious that Dalai Lama and Nithyananda are the same person. Dalai Lama is the Bruce Wayne. Nithyananda, the Batman! The only difference is – Nithyananda, the arch-nemesis of Einstein, knows more physics than Batman can ever know. (Refer E=MC2 ≠ E=MC2).

 

Nithyananda’s country – Kailaasa or ShriKailasha serves an important purpose. While the BJP is concerned about persecuted minorities from only our neighbouring countries, it has given no thought to the Hindus persecuted within the country. Thanks to Nithyananda, persecuted Hindus of India too have a home now. Now, when the courts ban crackers right before the next Diwali, the persecuted Hindus of India can #ChaloKailaasa.

The price of onions in our country is sufficient evidence to prove that in any case, all Indians, are a persecuted lot and a lot of non-Hindus will also try to sneak into Kailaasa for the free-food Nithyananda is offering. If he wants to prevent this illegal immigration, he must direct his department of health to reach out to Nirmala Sitharaman for her onion-free recipes and to make her their brand-ambassador! We will console ourselves with radish instead and suffer in our own country.

Albert Camus

Albert Camus was Born this Month!

Albert Camus was born on 7th November 1913 in Algeria. To mention the unnecessary, he would have been 106 years old this year! While he died young, at the age of 46 in 1960, his ideas surrounding the absurd have made him supremely relevant even today. So, in his birth month, let us revisit some of his ideas and question their importance today. 

Contrary to popular belief or rather popular misunderstanding, his works do not celebrate absurdity or worse, nihilism but rather provide meaningful answers to overcome the meaninglessness of life. His two most famous novels, The Stranger or The Outsider and The Plague look at the hopelessness of the situation the protagonists are in but also portray their rebellion against that utter lack of hope. 

In 1942, he published his essay, The Myth of Sisyphus. In this essay, Camus used the Greek mythological figure of Sisyphus as a metaphor for absurdity.

 

So who is this mythical Sisyphus? 

Sisyphus was the King of Corinth who tricked Death twice but could not do so the third time. 

The first time he was sentenced to death was when Sisyphus helped Aesophus, a river god, find his daughter, Aegina. Zeus had abducted Aegina. Aesophus promised Sisyphus that if he helped him find his daughter, he would create an eternal water spring in Corinth. Sisyphus thus told him about Zeus’ abduction of Aegina. This betrayal enraged Zeus and he banished Sisyphus to the Underworld. Once there, however, he was able to trick Thanatos by pretending to be unaware of how chains would chain him. Thanatos thus chained himself in an attempt to demonstrate to Sisyphus how chains functioned. Sisyphus was thus able to escape while Thanatos remained chained. While the latter was imprisoned, there was utter chaos in the world as no one died. Eventually, Ares, the God of War, found Sisyphus and freed Thanatos.

 

However, this time as well Sisyphus had a trick up his sleeve and before entering the realm of the dead he asked his wife, Merope, to not carry out any funeral rituals and to not give him the coin needed to pay the ferryman, Charon, to cross the river Styx. Using that as an excuse, he pleaded to Hades and Persephone that he be allowed to return to the world of living for three days to ensure that all the rites are carried out properly and then he would return. His wish was granted but he had no plans of returning ever.

 

Zeus was now thoroughly maddened by Sisyphus’ sheer insolence as he had cheated death twice. Eventually, Zeus banished him to Tartarus, the lowest region of the Underworld and punished him to repeatedly roll up a boulder to the top of a hill. Forever. Eternally. No escape. Zeus had finally managed to outwit the trickster with this punishment. Nobody would want to be stuck in such a never ending cycle. It is absurd and that is why it is such a cruel fate for Sisyphus who was always tricking others. Now he would have no time to fool anyone.

 

Sisyphus
Sisyphus | Credit – akrockefeller.com

Camus used this apt image, this myth to highlight Sisyphus’ constant rebellion against the world. He called him an absurd hero: “You have already grasped that Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is, as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth.”

 

But what is so heroic about Sisyphus’ eternal struggle? 

For Camus, it was Sisyphus’ scorn to be overcome by this struggle. He explains how Sisyphus’ walk downhill to push the stone up again is his “breathing space… hour of consciousness.” It is in those moments that he receives a respite, albeit short, from his arduous task. It is also in those moments that he is very much aware of that very task, yet he still moves towards it.

 

For Camus, being conscious of your own absurd condition helps you to contemplate about it and thus aids in surmounting it at the end. It may be tragic as well but Camus believes that it is better to know the full extent of your actions rather than being disillusioned by false hope. Sisyphus for him symbolises that strength to be aware and be willing to be able to overcome the nothingness of the situation by your own thoughts. Because Sisyphus refused to be bowed down by the task and instead chose to revel in his routine, Camus believed him to be “superior to his fate… stronger than his rock.”

 

The myth had become a well-known metaphor for futility, for nothingness in our lives. Yet Camus subverts this very myth and lets us know that you can overcome the absurdity present in your lives, we can each surmount our own boulders and routines: “The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious. Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent. The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.”

 

Camus does admit later that we are all at times overwhelmed by melancholy, grief and absurdity; when our boulders become too much to bear. Yet acknowledging that grief or the truth of the absurdity is the first step in acknowledging that there is meaning in life and that we can master the futility in our lives: “the absurd man, when he contemplates his torment, silences all the idols.”

 

At the end of the essay, Camus imagines Sisyphus to be happy.  And why not? Because, we all have our burdens to bear, yet not succumbing to them is surely a means to be happy, a means to infuse meaning in our lives. Let us all, therefore, not be overcome by our routines or the mundaneness of life but rather know that we all, each one of us, can do something constructive about it! 

You can read the essay here

Check out this School of Life video to know more about Camus’s life and philosophies. 

Here is a great conceptualisation of the Greek myth of Sisyphus by TedEd

 

 

References:

 

 

The Perseverance of Dream Catchers

Veena Baruah
Veena Baruah

The golden years… When life has become a blurry montage of experiences, often tempered by patience in the face of obstacles and compromise in the midst of complexities, a different breed of senior citizens decides that it’s time to chase unfulfilled dreams. Veena Baruah’s retirement from her teaching job at Juhu’s Maneckji Cooper School got her thinking, “What is my unfulfilled dream, what can I do, what will give me satisfaction?” For many, retiring after decades of working years brings about a lifestyle change combined with elderly ailments. The routine likely maintained daily for decades of professional life suddenly requires re-scheduling.

Surjit Kaur
Surjit Kaur

Surjit Kaur joined Terence Lewis Dance Academy’s senior citizen classes, “I really wanted to learn dancing, you know, properly.” Among her proudest moments among various public performances is an appearance in Shah Rukh Khan’s Happy New Year promotional TV show. Since retiring, Surjit has begun participating in marathons such as Mumbai-Pune marathon, and in talent shows such as Umang.

 

 

 

Sailesh Mishra
Sailesh Mishra

The Silver Innings foundation and its annual talent festival for senior citizens, Umang, has helped many to shirk their inhibitions and perform in front of a cheering audience. Silver Innings founder Sailesh Mishra says, “Since 2008, we found many seniors who have left their careers, or lived their lives for their families, their society or nation… But they did not get a chance to explore their talents, their skills, their hobbies. That’s why we started Umang.”

Sailesh’s “social keeda” prompted him to leave behind 17 years as a corporate marketing executive and volunteer for the Dignity Foundation. As he realised the paucity of social welfare organisations “working for seniors”, Sailesh founded Silver Innings for elderly support and services. Silver Innings’ Umang, the Senior Citizens Stage Talent Show, has “people from 60 to 92 years participating.” Among participants, Navanita Parmar (78) has moved on to professional choreography for other senior citizens and children with disabilities.

 

Vaishali Joshi
Vaishali Joshi

For someone like Vaishali Joshi, dreams re-surface before retirement. A classical singer and an ex-Senior Accounts Officer with the Central Government, Vaishali, “passed Visharad in Hindustani Classical Music in 2004, when I was working only.” With retirement, personal goals emerge out of the shadows, put aside earlier for the hum-drum of monotonous work routines. Vaishali, who joined organisations such as “Senior Sobati and bhajan classes” post-retirement, found that senior citizen forums also provide the opportunity to explore hidden talents and unfulfilled interests. And the silver lining appears…Time to finally focus on personal goals and dreams, without the baggage of family or children.

 

 

 

Shibani Bagchi
Shibani Bagchi

 

For Shibani Bagchi, it means having the time to pursue her Masters in Social Welfare towards her PhD dream: “I want to work for children and women from the disadvantaged communities, and try to contribute towards bettering their lives in whichever way I can.”

Those who are not yet ready to part ways with their careers often search for job opportunities with service providers such as HUM Communities and NotRetired.in. Familial pressure, which extends to being the family’s primary care giver, often drives life choices for many, and retirement offers the perfect spark to re-ignite unfulfilled dreams. As Veena reminisced about her youthful desire to act, she was reminded that “my parents, my father especially, wouldn’t allow it.” When she finally decided to send a few photographs to a model coordinator, it took nearly 6-8 months to receive a callback, and the offers began pouring in. Of course, she hasn’t looked back since.

According to the United Nations Population Fund’s “India Ageing Report” (2017), the global elderly population will be approximately 2 billion, accounting for 20% of India’s population. While organisations such as the Dignity Foundation have been working for elderly care since the 1990s, a recent spurt of senior citizen forums include community-driven platforms like Parikrama and Silver Surfers. With the support of social welfare professionals, retirees such as Ramgopal Cancherla (69) find new avenues to spend their time. The former Head Sales & Marketing at Sanofi-Aventis, Ramgopal, has become a laughter coach.

 

Hira Mehta
Hira Mehta

Spare time in post-work years trigger unexplored hobbies. Since retirement, podcaster and former Corporate Communications manager at ICICI Bank, Hira Mehta has already authored “Twisted Tales and More…” in her 50s, made short films like The Selfless Soldier, and even pursued her acting dream in short films including The Blue Helmet.

Sailesh says, “Life doesn’t end at 60! After 60, you just get retired from your job, not your life.” Many dream catchers will agree.

The Endgame

The Yayati stage arena at the Bangalore Literature Festival’19 witnessed a remarkable burst of energy amongst the audience at 12.45 PM as Kunal Basu took over the stage. Kunal, the author of critically acclaimed novels such as – The Opium Clerk, Kalkatta, etc. was accompanied by Teesta Guha Sarkar, the Senior Commissioning Editor at Pan Macmillan India. The session basically revolved around familiarizing the audience with Kunal’s upcoming novel- ‘The Endgame’ which releases this December while Teesta moderated the session. 

 

The Endgame is Kunal’s first novel to be translated from Bangla (originally Tejaswini O Shabnam) to English. However, he did not take up the translation work of his novel. He further went on to narrate how The Endgame as a novel took shape. It started off 2 years back when a Bollywood producer approached Kunal to do a story on the notion of trafficking which he, in turn, wanted to turn into a film. Even though the anguish and rampant about trafficking kept him miles away from writing about it, a small voice from within seemed to call out to him to explore the unexplored. He agreed upon writing such a novel with a word from the producers to get in touch with the trafficking victims from the villages and the traffickers. He narrated how a visit to an NGO that was arranged for him completely changed his take on the entire subject. Prepared with his “toolkit of a writer” he entered a derelict shed where 11 little girls between the age of 14-18 years waited for his questions. “I broke down”- said Kunal. As a result, his gaze into those 11 pairs of eyes melted together to become a character called ‘Shabnam’.

His novel, The Endgame revolves around the tale of two girls- one raised in India and another in New York who ends up meeting in the battlefields of Iraq. Kunal explains his reasons for locating the novel in the context of the conflict by stating that he wanted to see the subterranean connection- war over women’s bodies fought in our country. “Wars never end”, said he. 

 

The 63 years old writer says that he belongs to a bilingual tribe and in spite of being a bilingual writer he kept aloof from translating this novel on his own because he believes going back to translate his own work from Bangla to English is a tedious affair. On his distinctness of style, he expresses his views on making his story the hero of his novel. Coming off the land of Ramayana and Mahabharata, story making he said is fundamental to his outpost. He addressed the audience in this regard by telling them how he needs to think of “a story that would keep people awake at night”. “The writers do not seem to understand the readers’ thirst for stories”, he added.

 

The session ended with him reading out a portion from the manuscript of ‘The Endgame’ and several questions from the audience to which he responded with his need to engage with imagery to bring a story to life, valuable advice to read a lot and write a lot without restricting oneself to any one particular genre, about how writing a novel changes the writer as it changes the readers. He concluded with another significant advice to budding writers – “Research to fertilise your imagination. Not detailing. Imagination will do the detailing.

 

 

About the Author: Upasana Mahanta is an MA in English with Communication Studies student from CHRIST (Deemed To Be University) – Bengaluru, who firmly believes that there is nothing more exhilarating and liberating as poetry. She finds solace in writing poems and travel blogs and has amongst her laurels a 1st Prize in the English category of the All India Poetess Conference, Meghalaya Chapter’s Seventh Poetry Competition cum North East Poetry Festival. She currently writes for TheSeer.

Savarkar: Misunderstood Messiah?

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar commonly known as Veer Savarkar has attracted renewed academic interest in the country thanks to the highly successful biography by Author and Historian Vikram Sampath. While Savarkar has always been a device for shrill disputes in our country’s polity, this rare academic revival brought him and his biographer to the festival. Vikram Sampath, who is one of the founders of the festival was deftly interviewed by veteran Journalist and SwarajyaMag’s Editorial Director Mr. R Jagannathan. 

 

Mr. Sampath while replying to Mr. Jagannathan said, “The proponents as well as opponents of Savarkar know very little about him. He is discussed during every election for political gains and to some extent both the so called Left and the so called Right have misunderstood him. There are many positions that Savarkar takes which will make the current Indian Right uncomfortable. For example, his position on caste system, divinity of cows are things that today’s Right might not like. Also, a bulk of misunderstanding comes from the history books written by the Left historians.” Mr. Jagannathan went on to ask about the ensuing debate after the demands of Bharat Ratna upon Savarkar. “Ofcourse, this was done with an eye on the elections. In fact, Uddhav Thackerey set the cat among the pigeons in his book launch. Thereafter, the BJP picked it up. Now, both parties have together won the elections, so it remains to be seen what happens of the demands. Also, it is true that these awards of national importance have been the preserve of one particular ideology and family. Our freedom struggle has been narrated in a monochromatic way which is not true. So, maybe it will be some kind of recognition for him. Although, even if it is not bestowed, it won’t make any difference to him or his family.”, Mr. Sampath answered. 

 

Mr. Jagannathan asked several other questions pertaining to Savarkar’s shift in his outlook from when he wrote about Hindus and Muslims fighting together in the first war of Indian independence in 1857 to his idea of Hindutva and also his time in the Cellular Jail at Andaman. Mr. Sampath went into detail and explained how Savarkar was actually the one to start the first secret society in India called Mitra Mela which was later called Abhinav Bharat to create disaffection in the armed forces. For his book on the 1857 revolt, Savarkar spent five years in London, researching in libraries. He understood the Indian perspective of the mutiny and reinterpreted it as the First War of Indian Independence. The book was so popular and effective amongst the revolutionaries that Bhagat Singh got the second edition published. Similarly, Rash Behari Bose and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose too got the book republished.

 

Savarkar was somebody who spoke of different communities being rainbow on Indian sky and in Mr. Sampath’s opinion, two particular events – first, his experience at the cellular jail where the British played the game of divide and rule and got the Muslim jamadars to convert the Hindus and second, Gandhi’s role in the Khilafat movement to mobilize an entire community to fight for a movement thousands of miles away that resulted in riots across the country, affected his positions and ideas. During the Moplah riots, Gandhi praised the rioters as great warriors fighting for their community and addressed Abdul Rashid, the killer of Swami Shraddhanand as his brother. Savarkar thought that Gandhi needed an intellectual counter and a small book called ‘Essentials of Hindutva’ that he wrote from Ratnagiri jail should be read. Mr. Sampath also stressed that the allegations of him being a coward because he wrote mercy petitions were unfair to him. Petition was a legitimate legal recourse available to the prisoners then and even Gandhi himself on requested for help by Savarkar’s brother, asked him to write a petition and wrote one himself. Also, the petitions were for the prisoners and Savarkar was ready to stay in the jail if others were released at his expense.

 

The discussion was brought to a close with Mr. Sampath explaining many points where Savarkar’s views would differ from the current Right of our country. There on a subject like caste system, his ideas were more like those of Ambedkar and not Gandhi. Savarkar believed that the cow must be treated as a utility animal and not a divine being and his idea of Hindutva was more cultural and nationalistic where allegiance to the country was the only identity marker. With a couple of questions from the audience members, Mr. Sampath explained the inclusive nature of Savarkar’s Hindutva and his idea of ‘equality for all, appeasement of none’.