Metaphysical Poetry

Wanted to share this wonderful poem that has been on my mind for the last few days. I was quite amazed by the technique here!

The Flea by John Donne


Mark but this flea, and mark in this

How little that which thou deniest me is ;

It suck’d me first, and now sucks thee, 

And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.

Thou know’st that this cannot be said

A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead ;

Yet this enjoys before it woo, 

And pamper’d swells with one blood made of two ;

And this, alas ! is more than we would do.


O stay, three lives in one flea spare,

Where we almost, yea, more than married are.

This flea is you and I, and this

Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is.

Though parents grudge, and you, we’re met,

And cloister’d in these living walls of jet.

Though use make you apt to kill me,  

Let not to that self-murder added be,

And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.


Cruel and sudden, hast thou since

Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence?

Wherein could this flea guilty be,

Except in that drop which it suck’d from thee?

Yet thou triumph’st, and say’st that thou

Find’st not thyself nor me the weaker now.

‘Tis true ; then learn how false fears be ;

Just so much honour, when thou yield’st to me,

Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.


Satanic Verses

English: Salman Rushdie at the Vanity Fair par...
Image via Wikipedia

The Jaipur Literature Festival goes on unabated. Neither necessary or unnecessary hullabaloo over the visit of Salman Rushdie the renowned writer and winner of many of awards and honours bestowed to the best in the literary world, to the festival has catapulted the festival to the status of a hot news item for the last few days. A controversy that is now more than a couple of decades old has refused to die out and become a thing of the past. As per my analysis of the developments,  there have emerged the following broad sides with respect to the issue.

Firstly there are the ones who have vehemently opposed the said visit on the grounds that Satanic Verses is blasphemous to the core and a tricky assault on their religious beliefs. Men and women possessive of varying levels of piety and religiosity are party to this camp that has seemingly displayed little  regard for the author’s freedom of artistic expression. The other section of the public consisting of men and women of varying literary calibres (most of whom don’t seem to be reliable proponents of the humanitarianism that they preach and whose accessibility they demand) has equally vehemently defended Rushdie’s right to visit and be a part of the festival. The hollow clamour arising from this camp has centred around some notion of right to artistic expression that according to them should be absolute and un-curtailed. Thirdly there are those not so interested members of the (civil) society who have been ambivalent about the issue. I see myself belonging to this camp. Lastly there are those who haven’t even heard or don’t want to hear about the controversy. Out of these four camps the first two seem to have taken the entire onus of either opposing or defending Rushdie, on their shoulders as a matter which they consider to be nothing less than some ‘holy responsibility’. They have so far acted as the spokespersons of certain constituencies they think exist  to second and vouch for all their views. The entire universe of readers and writers, pious and the secular are being appropriated as devoted constituencies by these camps. Hardly any attempt at the deconstruction of what people belonging to the last two camps have in mind about this issue seems to have been undertaken. The silence of certain people has been somehow automatically understood by the leaders of the first two camps.

A voice that I wish to raise in this post is that ambivalence, confusion or even ignorance with regard to such an issue is a matter worthy of equal consideration and analysis. The fact that a large section of the populace does not even know or care to know what the fuss is all about, is not to be dismissed as irrelevant or of no concern. This segment comprises of the very same citizenry that votes, that decides things as far as the future of the ideals of secular democracy and life in the world remains at stake. People who are literate, erudite and equally responsible in their thoughts and actions form a part of these sections in the same way as the ones whose slogans no more excite me. The attitudes of these segments can well be written off as ignorance and political insensitivity only to yield a grossly overestimated sense of power resulting from their constituencies that the ‘representatives have increasingly come to rely on.

The idiom ‘make hay while the sun shines’ has been taken up quite seriously by those opposing or defending Rushdie. While one  faction has the upcoming elections in various legislative assemblies in mind, for the other pashmina clad section, this controversy is its chance of rising to the occasion, speaking up and showing their secular, liberal genius to the world. They well know that such moments do not recur so often. In these largely successful manoeuvres, social media has helped them tremendously. What the ambivalent and the ignorant receives from these representatives is disdain, pity and a condescending eye that actually the looked down upon has hardly cared to notice. This self celebratory aspect of the entire affair makes me very unsure of my belief in an intellectualism that ideally should help us in making sense of the complexities that characterise the contemporary world and should also gradually arrive at better argumentative positions.

I have no intention of offering a solution to this issue. I only want to focus on what as a section has until now been written off as politically immature and incapable of a kind of nauseating mode of articulation that certain sections of the wise and politically alert citizenry believe to have conquered in both letter and spirit. Such articulation is predominantly put on display in the public domain. (Remember the nods and the movements of the hands of the ‘experts’ on Television shows!). No one knows enough of the private aspects of the street smartness that today surrounds the sensibly lost and confused citizen (like never before). Who actually are these ‘guardians of the faith’? If they come out in the open as a response to such a post and declare themselves as one, I would like to ask them about their personalities and would like to decide those eligibilities based on which they have begun to execute a responsibility which was never granted to them whether on an personal or a communal level. At the root of this grossly mistaken self-burdening is the fantastic manner in which the discipline of politics has of late emerged as the wholesome cause and effect of every phenomenon, reality, event, saying and doing. Even dreams occur to us because we are political beings! What is not political or not worthy of being politicised (almost everything is political though!)  does not and should not exist. At the best the resting, loving, compromising soul is needs to be awakened from the slumber of stupidity and has to be reformed. Else the world is in danger. We shall soon be eaten up by monsters because everyone did not wake up while it was time to do so. Neither did they attest to the reign of the well read, wise avant-garde which was forever willing to raise them in their laps.

Politics (the term used in whatever sense one pleases) seems to have (in all those senses) dominated the intellectual landscape and clouded every alternate possibility after resorting to which any meaningful way out of contentious issues like Satanic Verses might be achieved. I find all political articulations which necessarily base themselves in the belief of coming up with a clear stand   on an issue utterly foolish. Such are the times that voicing an opinion like the one I am trying to do invites its own forms of ridicule and intellectual intimidation. My question to the people in the first two camps then is : “What have your political stands and the  mindless actions based on those stands done to help us in thinking of the issue in a better way?” “The problem that you have raised and sought a solution for- has it been solved?” I know the answers. Would it not be a better option then to seek alterations in the dominant mode that has trained us to continually think of our lives and those of the others in a one-sided way?

A break from politics I think would be one attempt at reconciliation. Most importantly it would offer us an opportunity to invent or discover newer vocabularies that can be depended on for future thought and action and such opportunity has to be immediately seized. Better late than never!


Book Review: Hot Tea Across India

(It was extremely nice of the website http://www.blogadda.com to have selected me for reviewing Rishad Saam Mehta’s latest book titled “Hot Tea Across India”. I wish to express my thankfulness to the site for giving me this opportunity and for ensuring the timely delivery of the book.)

Hot Tea Across India is Rishad Saam Mehta’s new book about his adventurous expeditions to so many parts of India. The stories of the many trips amiably told give the reader a wonderful glimpse of the landscapes and the people he encounters on the way. It is also an insightful journey into the soul and mind of the new age, modern Indian. The average  audience has been of late coming more and more in contact with this personality (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, the Hindi film released last year was one such occasion). To break oneself off from the routine and the mundane and explore the world in one’s own way has been an idea that seems to have picked up fast and is so ‘in’. Marking a break from the established norms and conventions, the new age young man is willing to exoticise the ‘everyday’ more than ever.  Hunting for moments in life that can be necessarily metamorphosed into occasions for laughter, witty analysis and ultimately a written book/blog post/diary entry seems to be the newly found pastime.

The book opens with a striking comment about the ubiquity of tea stalls in India. Un-arguably the most popular hot beverage of the country- tea has been rightly selected by the author to serve as the binding thread of the lovely stories he sets out to tell. However there is nothing more about tea per se in the book other than  harping on the fact that tea is prepared variously in various parts of the country, that “a lot can happen over a cup of tea” and that a hot cup of tea can be really a source of rejuvenation and energy in the hour of fatigue. That’s almost all about tea that the book has to say. A reader who expects a fascinating and fresh account of the beverage or its stalls is likely to be disappointed. Kashinath Singh’s Hindi novel Kaashi Ka Assi is the novel I recommend in that case!

Mehta’s descriptions and his skilfully crafted narrative are a delight in as far as his language is concerned. Coming to the events and situations presented in the book, the reader would be  reminded of the 1970s era of Hindi cinema (specially while reading the stories from the mountains) when “scenes from the hills” became a rage . Remember Shammi Kapoor randomly deciding to go to Kashmir and singing a song in the hills and meeting the Punjabi Kashmiri tourists on the way- I think we have seen it all. Most stories that Mehta tells are so predictable. They are also short enough to make sure that none of the people we meet in the book stay with us after the book has been closed. If not rampant, stereotyping is something that the author has resorted to throughout the book.

Mehta does bring in moments which enthrall and captivate. These are few and shorter than the long, prosaic and clichéd sections (the one about his bullet motorcycle for instance was a lot of effort reading for me).

Hot Tea Across India is likely to interest someone who is new to India and wants to know about some of the easily observable incidents and people while travelling through its length and breadth. A deeper, lengthier and slightly heavier account of things, places and people could have definitely made this book better!

Cover of the Book: Image taken from http://www.helterskelter.in

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com.  Participate now to get free books!


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That countenance is beyond the limits of any of my descriptive capabilities. Let me whisper the most to you. The surprised barber and the utterly scared thrill that accompanied. The red scissors announced to him that hair was not a dead part of the body anymore. Bunches of the same when he had tried slashing, fountains of the red liquid had gushed out and it was his dress that received all the showers. Numerous streams of pain reached the brain via the many nerves and I sat still on the throne meant for ablutions.

While asleep, the dwellings of my dreams and the abodes for the lovely sights turned passionately red. Some anger obfuscated all vision that until now had helped me make sense of all that was ever available. A red darkness subsumed and consumed the vacuüm thus created. Energy that could not be usurped and employed to any use ushered and continued to spill off from a certain bucket where I used to store all my tolerance. Blood jammed nostrils and a gory larynx stained dry allowed no oxygen either way. Asphyxia and aphasia all in the same moment. Poor living being!

Entrances to the cave of taste and foul breath, as luscious and voluptuous as ever, wore a coat on the underside. The fluid running to them in full supplies. Added to the miracle was a layer sticking to them on the outside. The remains from the victim’s circulatory system they drank from a while ago and the red tears which had by now flown down via the apple cheeks mingled to release the unsurpassed homogeneity that only beauty could ever stand to vouch for.

The turgid pole teeming and bursting with the pressure simultaneously headquartered at all the junctions mentioned above was relentless. The redness of the shaft and the tension it gave birth to sent the arrangement in shivers. Frequencies of shudder, goosebumps, hysteria and exhilaration. No release anywhere was in sight. What seemed the only possibility was that I should be  frozen forever in that plight. The skin had refused any friction and stood loyal to its master. No slippage anymore. ‘Shrivel away, freeze and die’ it said to me.

Before Midas was to appear, I ran for life. A life that I knew would again depend on the same redness. The multitasking fluid meant to ferry the red in all corners would again undertake unassigned responsibilities and would all over again turn the hair shafts into fountains, paint the barber’s dress, blind men, choke and not let them speak, drool over the dead, cause erected anxieties and last of all would refuse to leave the scene without a trace. Those footprints shall then haunt me all my life.

Can hear Midas in the vicinity. I choose mistakes and surrender once more. Hey blood! save me, help my limbs run as fast as they can. If possible, see if you can vanish from the grass. If caught and frozen in gold, you too shall be at a loss. Where, to whom and how shall you let your power be seen? Your kingdom when ossified shall kill you as well. You need to save me, I think and you should be now thinking about it!


Showcasing My Friends-2

(For the second post in this series, for which I have been interviewing people I am close to, I emailed Lokesh a set of questions. His responses have been reproduced here. I hope that you would like the idea and enjoy the conversation. The series is to be continued with other friends as and when possible. Sincere thanks to all readers who commented on and appreciated the earlier post). 

Dharaji, a village facing submergence by Omkareshwar Dam project

It was some fourteen years ago that we finished high school. Lakkhu Bhai Pathak – as most of the classmates called him, was everyone’s friend . Often seated on the back benches, I remember him as a quiet and shy but not so shy student lost in thoughts about everything other than what was being immediately taught. His ‘areas’ were quite varied- international affairs, literature, art, cinema and sports! At least that is what I can recall right now. I could be wrong and Lokesh should excuse me for any exaggerations here J

Having finished school, both of us came to Delhi for higher studies. Lokesh studied Political science (he had to!) and then went for a degree in law. In all these years, the occasions on which we met each other can actually now be counted on fingertips. In spite of such an apparent gap in communication, we have remained so much in touch. Looking at the thinker and the artist that Lokesh has evolved into, I have realized the package of talent and creativity he is. His simplicity and the “I am lost in this world” look that he wears all the time impress me the most. A voracious reader, painter and now an equally accomplished photographer (all the photos in the post are his own!) he is someone who continually chooses to defy most conventions. On the occasion of the new year, it is my sincere wish that Lokesh succeeds in all his ‘out of the box’ endeavours and continue to be the amazing individual and friend he has always been.

Lokesh now lives in Bhopal where his projects-actually several of them- continue to take shape.


Personal Concerns- Thank you Lokesh for agreeing to respond. To begin with, I want to mention to the readers that you recently changed a part of your name. Could you tell us something about this journey- from Lokesh Pathak to Lokesh Malti Prakash?

Lokesh- Adding Malti Prakash required lots of deliberation and overcoming certain hesitations. It required rejecting certain norms and accepting certain others over and above them. To put it straight, what I love most about this journey from Lokesh Pathak  to  Lokesh Malti Prakash is this element of choice and challenge. It’s definitely about standing against caste and patriarchy though it might be symbolic. In a way it is. The fight against caste or patriarchy lies at many levels and that at the levels of symbols (and languages, and names….) is no less important.

It’s also an intimate personal journey of constantly trying to regain myself, to imagine myself in a way I like. Just another milestone of a long journey!

PC- How are you liking Bhopal? How is life over there different from that in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh?

Lokesh- I love to be in Bhopal. Delhi has perfectly imbibed the new culture of the globalised India. It has become monstrous in the process. I know Bhopal is no escape. No place is an escape from this predicament unless it chooses to resist. But still, Bhopal retains something of the charm of its peculiar character.

More than this, my love for being in Bhopal is in a way related to my journey that we talked earlier. It is this particular fact that has made my life different from what it was in Delhi. Personally, Delhi was like a lost decade. In a way it’s like redeeming myself as I could be. It’s not a nostalgic longing for Deoria. It’s more like living and reimagining a lost imagination.

At a rally of Narmada Bachao Andolan in Bhopal

PC-  How do you react to a commonly held belief of our times that the national language- Hindi,  is facing a challenge and therefore is in a state of crisis?

Lokesh- I don’t care about the “national language”. But yes, the language Hindi that belongs to its people more than the nation is facing a challenge. But again it’s not in a crisis because of this challenge. The crisis itself is a challenge. A challenge more to the people than a language. A crisis of a society that is unable to accept anything except English as a language of erudition, status and power. I have nothing against English. I have loved my Shakespeare and Shelley in English. But in India and especially in our Hindi-belt English is not merely a language it is more a power-system. And I am very clear that the Hindi of Bollywood and TV ads won’t change this situation.

PC- In case you feel that to be the case, what was so remarkable about the year that just went by?

Lokesh- Personally, Lokesh Pathak became Lokesh Malti Prakash.

For the world at large, (as) you might have expected. The most remarkable about 2011 was not the crisis of neo-liberal order. That’s a stale story. Capitalism has never been free of crises. What is really remarkable is that we are witnessing the rise of resistance that is increasingly globalising. From the Arab Spring to the Occupy. The resentment is maturing into resistance. I wish in 2012 it turns into rebellion.

PC- Which book have you been reading these days? How are you liking it?

Lokesh- Most recently I started reading Hind Swaraj. I am still reading it and I love my disagreements with this marvellously frank book by Mahatma Gandhi. Though my disagreement over specific prescriptions of Gandhi do not preclude me from agreeing with some general principles I am able to discern from what I have read till now.

There is one thing called civilization, there is another thing called modernity and there is a third thing called capitalism. Privileging Marx over Gandhi I would argue against capitalism retaining modernity and civilisation. At the same time, privileging Gandhi over Marx I would argue industrialism as the means of developing the ‘productive forces’ of human society has long outlived its utility and is now threatening life.

PC- Please tell us something about your favourite artists. Who among them impresses or inspires you the most?

Lokesh-This is a very long list. There are painters, poets, writers, film-makers. To name a few….Chittaprosad, Monet, von Gough, Rivera, Picasso, Cartier Bresson, Yeats, Muktibodh, Mayakovski, Kumar Gandharva….

It’s very difficult to say what impresses or inspires me. It can be the beauty, the aesthetics of expression, the politics of expression, desire, nostalgia, love……

PC- You are passionate about photography. In what ways do you consider the photographic image to be significant?

Lokesh- I love the medium of photography. For me the photographic image is significant just like any other image. There is one peculiarity though, the certain tension in the photographic image between the apparent factual depiction (of what was there at a certain point of time) and the loaded interpretative subjectivity that it can’t avoid.

From the same rally in Bhopal

PC- What are your views regarding the need of the institution of an ombudsman in India and the movement led by Anna Hazare?

Lokesh- The movement led by Anna Hazare has obfuscated the issue of corruption in its thoughtless hyper-nationalism with reactionary right-wing leanings. An institution like ‘ombudsman’ might be suitable for checking corruption in a legal sense. But what if corruption is endemic to the system …. I mean it’s structural and beyond scope of ‘ombudsman’. We have had an activist Supreme Court at a point of time. But it could not save the system. Can the Lokpal do anything if the Parliament passes an act privatising the water resources of this country? At best the Lokpal will ensure that this is done without the need of anyone bribing the MP’s.

Anna’s movement is reactionary also because it has raised this hoopla at a time when the market driven policies of governments are increasingly being challenged and resisted. It’s a good safety valve. If the government is not listening it is not because of any revolutionary potential of the proposed Jan-Lokpal it’s only that they want to save their necks.

PC- What are your plans for this year? 

Lokesh- Read, write and shoot!

PC- One event from school days that you are reminded of- mention it here 🙂

Lokesh-Pandey sir, maths, Mrs. Sakhuja, chemistry, physics, Mrs. Ifat, samosa-wale bhaiyya, our cycle journeys!

From my ancestral village Sajaon

(All comments and suggestions regarding the format and the presentation of the interview would be deeply appreciated. Friends who wish to be included in this series, please let me know. It would be lovely to have you here on my blog. Cheers!)