Saturday, March 11, 2006

An (Unfinished) Autobiography of an Afterthought - Part II

Foreword: This is Part-II of my brief autobiography. Part-I may be read here.

He wasn't his usual self today. The soft stop-go-stop whistle, that had been his usual companion on the walk back from his office to the subway station, was missing. He looked like a man possessed by a strange ghost that seemed to have robbed him of his emotive abilities. He walked in lazy steps, looking somewhere down in front of him, lost in thoughts, past familiar faces down the steps of the subway station on Canal Street - faces that he would greet with a gentle "Good evening, Mr. X" in the normal course of events on any other day, faces he had seen almost everyday, faces of people who today threw half-amused-half-surprised second-glances at the man who would usually respond with a smile to their "Hi Mohan!".

When you keep your share of worries, frustrations and sad thoughts to yourself, using them to slowly fill a small China cup that is your heart, two things can happen, eventually: one, the cup runs over, and flows out from your eyes or two, the China cracks.

In either case, people who care about you, usually know it before they give you a second glance. You cannot expect too many people to care about you at 7pm in a subway station in New York City, the world's loneliest city if your nearest loved ones are 7000 miles away.

Mohan stops abruptly. He hears the train approaching. He waits for the alighting passengers to clear the way into the train, and quietly steps in. He doesn't care to look for a seat; he stands and stares into blankness. His lips don't twitch, nor does his gaze shift from a direction looking out the glazed windows, scratched and abused by years of blatant incivility of uneducated commuters and advertising-obsessed corporations.

I am observing him now, his mind completely preoccupied with haunting memories. Memories of a long-lost past, previously condemned to an isolated corner of the mind, with a post-it that reads Touch-me-not. But touch he did today, and how?

Afterthoughts like me are extremely powerless sometimes, and this is one of those moments. I did not expect to enter a mind so stirred with emotional precipitate. Apparently, not everything dissolves with time. Some memories are like undigested bitter pills, swallowed with difficulty, but still to dissolve after eternity, merely settling down at the bottom. And when these memories don't dissolve, it only takes a few moments of stirring to make a clear liquid into a turbid mass, so opaque and so ugly with suspended thoughts that nothing except prolonged inaction will ensure any return to clarity.

Mohan took up a job as a journalist with The Global Times in New York City about four years ago. He had no family here. The only human form at his house other than himself was the man in the mirror. His parents stayed in Kerala in India, and were a happy couple, grateful in the knowledge that their only child was well-educated and well-off. Their only wish left unfulfilled was that Mohan should start a family of his own soon. He was thirty-three and single, and in India that wasn't the most socially acceptable status. Mohan's parents had brought it up with him on his last two visits to India in the summers; he had politely declined any discussions on the matter the first time, and the second time, he told them a story that was to prevent them from ever bringing up the matter again. His story. A love story.

Mohan now gets out of the train, and walks slowly toward the exit. I see what his mind is upto. Should he call home and talk to his mother? He decides against it - might be too early for her in India. His mother usually woke up around 6 a.m - another ten minutes, perhaps. Mohan realises he has gotten off at the wrong station, he should have gotten off one stop before Church Street. Too much going on in the head today. He can't be faulted for not remembering that today is Janmashtami, the festival celebrating the birth of Lord Krishna in India. His mother was already awake, and had taken her bath and said her daily prayers; she was actually expecting Mohan to call her anytime now. Mothers know their sons so well. I help Mohan decide. He picks up the phone again and dials home again.

"Hello Amma", his first words in the last two hours, and fittingly to his mother, in a Malayalam-accented Tamil.

"Mohan? How are you? Good morning..sorry, Good evening. I was just thinking of you, I knew you would call today, as you always do". "You sound tired, are you home or still at work? Is anything the matter?"

Some lies are pardonable. "I am fine, just have a head-ache. Is Appa awake?, I am fine....nothing at all, just felt like talking to you and Appa....oh? I didn't remember, today is Janmashtami....don't strain yourself by making too many sweets and snacks....Okay, I'll talk to Appa...", as he takes the steps, then across the road and to the other side of the subway station.

"Hi Mohan! Happy Janmashtami to you. Amma has made seedai for you. Eat some sweets tomorrow morning", his father said warmly,continuing,"....Mohan, speak louder, I can't hear you clearly..."

"Nothing, I just said I may not be able to eat sweets tomorrow, let me see...", said Mohan, his turbid thoughts further stirred by some more worried thinking. The train is approaching. The rattle-rumble of the oncoming train getting louder, every moment.

Oh, no ! I didn't see this coming. No, please Mohan, relax. I have to stop watching and get working in his mind, before he does something stupid.

"Where are you? You are not at home, it appears...your voice is not very clear...", his father shouted into the phone.

"I am in a subway station..."

"Okay, go home and call us later....oh, wait your mother wants to say something".

"'s okay, I will not call again now...just wanted to speak to you...okay Appa, take care of your health, take care of Amma....yes..I'll talk to Amma". He gets into the train.

Phew!I almost had a heart-attack here. I'm glad you are safe and inside the train, Mohan. For all the tough-guy image I have told you about myself, I am quite a chicken-heart.

"Hi Amma,, I am not silent...I am saying that I love you.....yes Amma,, Amma I won't call again now...some other take care,please take care of your health, take care of Appa, and pray for me.....okay Amma, thank you Amma....good night...........yes, I am on the line still....nothing....just wanted to hear your, nothing...okay, you and Appa go to the temple...bye Amma", he closes his eyes and forces himself to cut the line.

Mohan gets off the train. I must confess I am relieved now, as Mohan walks on, thinking of his parents, leather-bag in hand. In another time zone, his mother and father smile at each other. His mother walks off into the kitchen and his father sits down by the phone. Mohan walks on, now at the end of the platform, just by the flight of steps that take him home. I see Mohan stop in his track, turn-around, stand still, then turn around again. The tears threaten to flow down his dry cheeks, they cover his pupils, as people walk behind him and in front of him, even as he sees the train rattling past him and ruffling his hair, as it leaves the station.

He had tried, for two years now, to take it in his stride.
He had tried, for two years now, to wear a smile and ignore the painful prick of the past.
He had tried, for two years now, to live without defining an immediate purpose to his life.
He had tried, for two years now, to hide his gradual emotional wrecking from his parents.
He had tried, for two years now, to fight the inevitability of tomorrow by the power of sheer hope and courage.

In Kerala, his mother is pouring her husband his second cup of hot coffee of the morning. He stands like a statue on a deserted subway station, a hundred thousand volts passing through his brain, his thoughts speeding uncontrollably on an over-congested mental highway, now approaching a red signal. He doesn't hear the sound of the next train approaching. His thoughts are not slowing down at all, if anything they're only faster now.

I need to put the brakes on his thoughts; this is probably going to be the most important time for afterthought in Mohan's life. In his mind the thoughts are still speeding, no room for another thought here.

He sees the train through the corner of his eyes. The tear drop still intact in his eyes, as he stands motionless, almost as if his incredible mental activity has rendered him paralysed and unable to make any physical movement. An afterthought is invaluable in a world like this, filled with billions of thoughts, hopes and dreams.

The train stops at the station, far to his left. Mohan's mother walks out with the cup of coffee for his father, the air filled with the smell of coffee. Elsewhere, the air is pregnant with tension. Mohan's hand trembles slightly, and the leather-bag falls to the ground, a few books and papers partly slip out.

"Here is your cup of coffee", says Mohan's mother and extends the porcelain cup to her husband. I am just about to enter her mind and make her remember to say,"Please be careful, the cup is very hot!", when in New York, Mohan clinches his fist, and steps forward to throw himself in the path of the train.


The thoughts jumped the red signal.

The China breaks. One instant. Two places.

Ten minutes later, the police arrive on the scene; an officer bends down to pick up the bag dropped on the platform. He sees an envelope: a suicide letter, he thinks. Opens to read it: Satish weds Radha, a small fateful card announces.

Sometimes the wind blows hot, sometimes it blows cold. Sometimes, the wind blows too late.

P.S: This incident affected me deeply enough to make me decide not to continue writing my autobiography anymore. Apologies to one and all.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Women and Philosophy

For a variety of reasons, I have recently been reading and thinking a lot more about philosophy than I ever did, and one of the things that I found intriguing, is the essential domination of men in the field of philosophy. Women, for the most part, had little to do with philosophy in general, or organized philosophy, or what we understand as "famous" philosophy.

The even more curious part is that this has happened over several hundreds of years, while there have been innumerable contributions, and the concomitant development of the schools of thought by men, across a wide range of religions, geographies and socio-political environments. It appears that the most famous women philosophers have been the more recent Ayn Rand types, and not too many of them anywhere in the ancient and medieval history of mankind.

Of course, the most obvious reaction would be to say that women were not allowed to enter the domains of philosophy, as in the case of most other professions. But if you look at it closely, philosophy is far from a profession. And besides, there is no skill or training involved in becoming a philosopher; it requires perhaps a little bit of reading, and most of all a curious mind. This proposition of "entry barriers", seems somewhat similar to the reasons why very few women took up the study of the sciences, until very recently. But the distinction must be made here, that, although in the ancient times, there was not a lot of difference between the fields of science and philosophy, pursuit of science did require, progressively, a lot more reading, over the ages, than philosophy did. And despite the interconnections between pure science and philosophy, they have been quite clearly, two vastly different fields.

Most of us have periodically reflected on life, being, society, conscience and many other topics that may be loosely classified as "deeper questions", but not too many of us have put in any reasonably concerted effort to pursue these deeper questions. For most of us, basking in the glory of what is the sparkling crown of materialism, these questions are not worth the serious effort it takes to think and build on our own system of perspectives, or philosophy.

I believe the pursuit of philosophy does not need any more than a very keen mind, and the love of wisdom. I also believe that there is not one among us, who has never dwelled on these "deeper questions" for however small a period of time. I also believe there cannot, possibly, be any barriers to pursue the line of thought and wisdom, as it essentially involves much occupation with the self, more than any thing else.

In the light of this background, aside from any biological programming in women in contrast to men, I am tempted to say that women, in general and over the years, have demonstrated no seriously strong interest in pursuing matters of philosophy. I make no presumptions on whether the pursuit of philosophy is good or bad, or any judgmental remarks to any effect.

I am, therefore, led to believe that within the framework of my understanding, women over the ages have been, essentially, materialists. This may be for either of two reasons: one, because most women think about the philosophical aspects of life, and essentially conclude that it is a pointless pursuit very early in the game. Or, it may be that women do not think too much on these lines, and possibly are quite content with the more mundane aspects of life.

While we all know that men and women have different dynamics of the grey cells in our heads, I am still quite puzzled that this in some way means, that women are not as likely to have as much metaphysical inclinations as men do. For all we know, it may have all been programmed in our DNAs, probably, to ensure the continuity of the human race, but still, for good or for bad, to me this world looks slightly different when I begin to see it in the light of this understanding.

Whether I am putting on spectacles on a pair of eyes with perfect vision, or indeed taking off a lens that has been clouding my vision, I don't know. Maybe, I will never know. But I'll be glad to know what you have to say.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The White in Black (or How I saw Black in White)

Suggestion:Please read this post slowly, word by word.

There is a black square in the middle of nowhere. It has been there for a while now. Yes, it has been this black for a while now.

It is still black. An absolute black; not a hint of a bright shade.

Even now, it is black. See, now you begin to see it. A lonely square, with edges so perfectly straight, it just could not be man-made. As black as anything that was black. Absolute. Black. Everywhere. Total. Perfect.Black.

Wait, you can see a speck of grey there. No, that's just an illusion; you see there, its gone, it's all black.

Yes, absolute black it is.

No, you see a tiny spot of grey; it's actually white. Oh, yes, white. So, there is a black square, with a small tiny white spot.

Now there is another, off-white dot, in the far corner. So, there is a black square with a small tiny spot and another off-white dot. Perfect.

Hey, there is another, and another, wait, there are atleast three more white spots. So, there is a black square with a few white spots.

There are more white spots than you saw at first. Here's another, you didn't see that before, did you? How about this one, star-shaped? See, that's what I mean. So, then, there are a lot of white spots on a dark black square.

Now, I'm sure you're beginning to see the point, if you are not getting tired already. The black square now begins to look like a grid of black and white spots. Really?

Come to think of it, it is more like a spread of black spots on a white mass. You see it now, don't you?

Where is the black square that I just saw in the center?This can't be true! I just saw it. Bang in the middle, and now it's gone! Now, this is queer. Which is the illusion? The black or the white?

Now it's really white, save a dark spot here and another one there. A perfect white, no, not yet; a speck of black bodes well. Now, perfect white. Absolute.Total. Everywhere.

There is a black square in the middle of nowhere...