A brief vignette of a wakeful mind

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                                 And nothing in the world is lovelier than sleep,
                                       dark, dreamless sleep, in deep oblivion!”

                                                                        [D.H Lawrence, ‘Sleep And Waking’]

                         If just skipping through these immortal lines make me yawn wide and deep, I consider myself one of the few lucky Sapiens roaming the earth, walking on air. Don’t get me wrong, I slide off to slumberland, not for the reason that these lines are tedious. But, for the reality that these timeless words read like a lullaby to me. D.H Lawrence, for all his fame and creativity, had not been as lucky. He happened to be the chronic insomniac wandering on the sea of wakefulness, the shore of sleep sailing afar from him. It seems ironical that those same lines, written by him on one of the many sleepless nights, rock me to sleep as I read them.

                       I grew up reading Dickens’s classics and studying Wordsworth’s poems during the course of my school years. I should never say that I had been rote learning those poems for the exam, I was literally dreaming about them, ‘wandering like a lonely cloud among the golden Daffodils‘(‘I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud’ by William Wordsworth). I met with those clouds and Daffodils while tripping into the deep abyss of sleep. Little did I know then, that these two literary maestros were connected by a ‘common chord’. Both of them were intractable insomniacs.

                      Many of us might have sailed through the rough sea of wakefulness at some point or phase in our lives. Those journeys almost strike me as sailing on tides high and low, twisting in the wind, solitary, disconnected, languishing as outcasts banished from the kingdom of slumberland, yet, they never drag on for long. Soon I catch sight of the sleepy shore, sneak around for some time and moors the restive, swinging mind to the secure wharves, piers, and docks. In short, that sort of sleeplessness simply means our body is responding to the vagaries of life and it autocorrects itself by some tweaks and twists, lulling us into a stupor.

                     In ‘Night Walks’, a collection of essays, Charles Dickens describes his nightly walks that extended for hours through the London streets, reaching back home by sunrise. His literary prowess and insomnia were intertwined, in a way. The same should be true for other night owls like Wordsworth. Those creative minds were melting pots of dazzling ideas and hyperactive brains were a maze of fired up neurons. Some of the famously insomniac creative class brought out their respective magnum opuses during one or the other of the sleepless nights. It seems, this sort of insomnia, known as ‘creative insomnia’ is an efficacious exasperation, offered free, gratis, and for nothing along with the creative genius.

                   But, cerebral and creative minds do not automatically equate with insomnia, beyond question, and without doubt. While there is some direct and observable correlation between creativity and insomnia, there are no studies that substantiate definitively that sleeplessness contributes to creativity or all mental giants are insomniacs or stretching the point even further, that all insomniacs harbor giftedness, talents, intellect or skills of some sort, by all means. In fact, a good night’s sleep could enhance the creative skills per se and long term insomnia is definitely detrimental to creativity and health. To be specific, an assortment of medical reasons, thyroid issues, for example, should be ruled out and never should one seek to self-medicate.

                   As a physician, I have had occasions of getting reminded about the ‘lucky me’ in full control of this intangible asset, something I had taken for granted. Or, sometimes encounters of mind-bending synergistic interaction with patients, while I keep my ears open, mouth shut, eyes of the mind receptive, sailing near the reveries of the wakeful drifter who goes over again like the haunting refrains of a discordant dirge. In short, I could appraise the ‘sensible experience’ after those interactions and a few up-close-and-personal ones with my near and dear. Yet, one could never get to the bottom of it unless one experiences it. There is an adage in my local language that translates like ‘you could never understand what fire is unless you feels it’. I would say I had only been near to the fire or I could only see the burning ember. Its a dream I dare not feel.

                 Let me add the finishing stroke by dedicating this article to one of my colleagues, a friend who happened to be a chronic insomniac. That was, back in time by 11 years in the Middle-East where I had been working in a multi-specialty hospital. The place had been sort of a microcosm of the globe, a world city, cosmopolitan, tolerant, secular and above all welcoming. My friend, an Arab, was a blend of all these qualities, an archetypal lady from the East, and I could easily glimpse in her a commonality of views, interests, and traditions of an Eastern culture that I was accustomed to. More than anything else, she stood out from the crowd in the country of my origin, only in her appearance by virtue of her azure blue eyes.

                The truth was that I had seen those eyes only on the pages of novelists like Charlotte and Emily Bronte. They seemed exactly like the novelistic material from those pages, like the deep, calm ultra-marine sea on a cloudless day. Or, from an exclusively Eastern perspective, like the turquoise blue lapis lazuli on the incisive eye of a khamsa.

                 Coming back to her insomnia, a few of our friends once tried to extend our solidarity just to lighten her up from a melancholic reverie. She peppered it figuratively, poured in color, kneaded that into an easy to mold texture, molded it into a simple form with a subtle shape. We were able to discern the form with vivid colors from the abstractness and vapidness of the term. It should have been something like this if I would express her thoughts in verse 

                     

                   ‘ When you glide away into the dark abyss of slumber,

                              My soul goes astray in the vast expanse.

                       

                      I clamber onto the thorny track uphill,

                               To seek my alter ego who is awake,

                     But to find her deep asleep on the tattered, tawny shroud,

                               With all her dreams spangled,

                      Like diamonds on the ink black hair.

                       

                     Catching on to the tip of a low hanging dream,

                             Wading through the murky bank on the shore of sleep,

                     I stumble on the deep spreading roots of thought,

                             Watching the fog of consciousness drown the land.

 

                     I pine for the knight in shining armor,

                              To take me to the no man’s land,

                      Beyond the curtain of the eyes,

                              Where the thespians perform the vivid showpiece.

 

                      I close my eyes tight, beseeching to reach the shore,

                              Before they exit the stage in the rage of light,

                       But all I see, through the faraway curtain,

                              Is dancing dandelions and a flashing spectrum.

 

                      I keep my eyes closed,

                            Still, all I do is chase my rambling muse,

                      Now, I see the chink of light,

                             Sneaking through the worn out facade.

 

                     I see him with the palette and brush,

                            Blending the black and white,

                    On the dull ashen monochrome sky,

                           Pasty as my pallid face.

 

                   I watch him paint the dome of the sky,

                         Dipping the brush in the vibrant sun,

                   Strokes of lemon yellow, warm orange and flaming red,

                         Dappled on a cool opalescent cerulean blue.

 

                  The kaleidoscopic dance from the strokes so flawless,

                        Smooth and flowing and vertical and circular,

                  Nothing but a banal reflection,

                         Yet never do the hues reflect in my mind’s eye.

 

                 All I possess is a drop of azure sea,

                       In the deep well of my eyes,

                 For you all to see,

                       And dreams of a dreamery,

                  Buried deeper beneath.

                       

              Oh dear sleep, it’s not you whom I miss,

                      I miss those wistful dreams of yore,

              Woven from the web of mirage,

                      Dancing to the tune of light,

              Dreams that escape the dreamcatcher’s grip……

                       

                            I am sure I might not have been able to get to the bottom of her thoughts completely, yet, at the very least I was able to look behind the curtain of her beautiful blue eyes and dredge up those obscure layers from the deep well of her eyes. The salient thing for me was that I could see other sleepless souls through her eyes, from thenceforth.

 

 

 

 

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I, me and my shadow

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(Photo by Simeon Jacobson on Unsplash)

                       The vague, scant, childhood joys doggedly cling on to me like barnacles with an engaging tenacity, occupying the reserved spaces deep within, the most obstinate tenant whom I refuse to replace or evict at any cost. That point in time seems like an inordinate moment in the infinitesimal pauses of time travel, stopping intermittently to peek into the well-lit repositories. There were confines, restraints, limits, rules, but also a celebration of the joy that seeped into every corner of life.

                         Any likelihood of indulgent or materialistic splurges was virtually non-existent there. As a child, I never had many toys. Of the odds and sods that I had, I cherished a happy drummer monkey that turned defiant after years of toil. I could never discard it since it looked so happy, even if dysfunctional. My wish list was full to the brim, still, I could pluckily strike them off without a murmur or a speck of resentment or simply there was no other alternative. There wasn’t any need to pursue happiness, it just happened, bright, breezy, full of joys of the spring. No hard feelings, no anguish, no frustration, no disillusions, no despondency, no dejection. Wonder how grown up a child’s mind could be and how puerile a grown up’s mind!

                        Happiness was an orderly passion then, never chaotic, a perennial feeling that lasted long. I still savor the moment of the yearly treat to a single Cadbury’s Five Star chocolate, conditional on getting good marks for the final exam for the grade. The tacit edict of conditionality meant, no chocolate treats in between, no matter what. I had the feeling of achievement, a rhythm of joy repeated in a cycle, the zest alive in all respects until the next year. A bite of chocolate meant scaling the peak of success and accomplishment, a sublimity, not a material to be surfeited with. The taste, a hard-earned bliss and not an indulgence. Though I never possessed the mastery of self-restraint against the tantalizing sight of it, rules were hallowed in a stern upbringing and I wilfully followed them jolly well. The consumerist and materialistic culture had no place in that world, a modest milieu that stressed a familiar ‘make-do-and-mend’ groove.

                       Personal space had never been cramped or exclusionary. There was no definite perimeter or bounds and it was ever-expanding like the Universe. It made space for all and sundry on the earth without needing to rely on affected decorousness or without needlessly delving deep into dialectics, dialogues or debates. Contenting with the few possessions was not hard. There never seemed any need for someone to teach the noble art of sharing and caring, those were opportunities accepted with alacrity and enthusiasm.

                     Getting along with someone was an undemanding exercise. And the accompanying rapture was different. It was not facile, it had a certain depth and it never went dry. It was not just happiness, but happiness fortified with faith, though the halo was discreet then. While struggling to compete, to hurriedly climb the different ladders, this cardinal asset seems to have been left behind. Not sure whether it had been a leap of faith or a stretch of inanity, to have thought of it as an enduring patrimony in the present times of avarice, puffed up egotism, one-upmanship and calculated grandstanding.

                   No amount of excesses could bring back the warmth of the lost spring. Turning back to the distant dream is a no-win, on a rock-strewn road. The vast space has now shrunken to a twilit zone with restricted access, and the self a shadow that has condensed unto itself.

 

Book review on ‘ Jerusalem The Biography’ by Simon Sebag Montefiore.

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“Like a snowy mountain glittering in the sun”

–  Flavius Josephus, the Romano-Jewish scholar, and historian.

                            A casual observer could be forgiven for being drawn into the dragnet of bias when it comes to broaching and expounding on the subject matter of Israeli- Palestinian quagmire. Responsible journalism and authorship, though ostensibly non-partisan and unprejudiced is by no means so as the evidence suggests. That leaves us with very few options for digging deeper into the marshlands of history and collating the layers beneath to prepare the ground of conceivability in our conscience.

                            The beliefs of historical determinism and fatalism, more often than not, rear their ugly head in almost every causal analysis of the conflict in spite of the contrarian disposition of the rational mind. Not even a page of this book could be flipped by without contemplating retrospectively of a more lucid outcome, had the powers that be shown a speck of farsightedness or a morsel of horse sense about a region that in itself had been tangled in the cobweb of politics, religion, ethnicity and pincered between the grasp of bloodthirsty warlords and religiously evangelical zealots. The infamous Sykes-Picot agreement which unabashedly apportioned the Middle East map among British and French stemmed from the ‘ divide and rule’ dogma followed by the empire, the repercussions of which echoes to the present day, albeit in the form of protracted quasi-occupation in Afghanistan or Iraq before, by the West. Lessons will never be learned it seems, after imbibing Jerusalem’s travails.

                      Though the book offers a prolonged read and is steeped in history, titles and chronology Montefiore has done justice to his subject by dissecting Jerusalem right from the roots, eruditely, not in the least exhibiting any sort of pedantry or pomposity. Palpability of the spirit of Jerusalem and perspicuity of the ghosts of the past sauntering through the narrow alleys of Old Jerusalem is a haunting experience that lingers on. From the Maccabees to the present day rulers, the list of conquerors and occupiers seem never-ending, yet the provenance of the three monotheistic Abrahamic religions, the seat of religious secularism, the cynosure of the world presents herself as a desolate sweetheart whom the lovers have forsaken.

                       The weightiness of the issue and the two-state solution on the cards endows a special significance to the book now than ever before. Montefiore’s pedigree and his ancestor’s role in carving up a Jewish state and propounding Zionism have been distinctly documented. I just loved the myriad footnotes which by themselves could be collated into a compendium of sorts. The sheer magnitude of research that has been put through by the author is unbelievable.

                     A magnificent tour de force, scholarly penned, bluntly chronicled, holistically viewed and meticulously researched. An absolutely enlightening tome.

Review on ‘The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks’

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                               Rebecca Skloot in her debut science-based non-fiction deals with the journey of Henrietta Lacks, contributor to the famous He La cell line, to immortality. She also discusses the early stages of tissue culture, how the He La cells transformed the fields of cytology, cancer research, virology, genetics, chemotherapy through years of research, it’s implications in almost every area of medicine, tribulations endured her posterity and the ever-relevant topic of ethics in scientific research.

                             Early and mid 20 th century medicine had been so overshadowed by racism and permeated by the insidious and festering ideas of eugenicist theories that the essence of medical science had often been jettisoned by parochial, condescending physicians and researchers. As we navigate Henrietta’s biography, it is interesting to mull over the paradox of ‘benevolent deception’ touched upon by the author, the term itself being self-contradictory. Nevertheless, whether her gynecologist Dr. Jones and John Hopkins researchers and physicians had been benevolent enough not to add oil to the fire of cancer diagnosis by withholding it’s sinisterness from her thus aiding and abetting her death or whether they had been unwittingly naive and deceptive in misdiagnosing the type and extent of malignancy is debatable, given the incipiency of cancer management and research then. Much more contestable is the justifiability of procuring and harvesting Henrietta’s cells without the knowledge or permission of her near and dear, the diverse sentiments of which are dealt with in the epilogue, shedding light on the ethicality of tissue research, by platoons of pro and anti-tissue ownership rights crusaders.

                           The bigoted and invidious practices towards patients in the first half of the twentieth century had been much lofty as to tilt the equations of ethics and norms away from a soi-disant plebeian race to such an ignoble extent that the boundaries of conscience, ethics, and oaths were routinely transgressed in delivering care to the indigents. Yet, ethics has always been a thorn in the flesh of medical history. An example being the sensitive issue of euthanasia where ethical dilemma of decision making contravenes legality. Other downsides from the medical fraternity’s perspective are the liability on the physician to bring forth the burden of proof or the denial of the benefit of doubt from the public even though life-saving decisions need to be prioritized and executed in good faith. 

                            In this context is the need for physicians to be proficient in juggling the priorities, treading the fine line of mental maths, a sort of acrobatics for which many of the noble jugglers are ill-trained, at best. Most of the medical schools do not cater to the topics of ethics and etiquettes in their curriculum or those that include them just makes a passing reference over a few sessions. The gravity of the topic rationalizes the incorporation of these as a distinct subject.

                           In Henrietta’s case, she inadvertently lent her hand and cells to medical innovations that turned out to be the elixir of life for many, in the process growing to a cause celebre in the history of tissue culture. Though medicine has come of age and the past specters of puritanical eugenic misadventures exorcized, ethics is still a hot-button issue, it’s complexity being shaped by determinants like subjectivity, intangibility, unfathomableness, religious, geographic and cultural influences.

                         Since the progression of science is far-fetched without pushing the limits, often the black and white facileness ought to be smudged to grey zones and hard and fastness tweaked to pliancy so as to fit into the tailor-made molds of necessity and enterprise in the course of research-based furtherance. While there are specific laws regarding human experimentation for research that sprouted from the Nuremberg trials and these are universal, regulations for tissue research is still somewhat murky and in its infancy.

                        That doesn’t mean, as a physician or researcher, one has done with it once the patient or subject initialed the consent form. Their accountability only begins there, in seeing to it that by pushing the limits they are never crossed, by holding on firmly to the pledge of ‘ Do No Harm’. 

Going that extra mile in search of lost times

                      In case you happen to be a travel or tourism aficionado, there are around 85 different varieties of tourism to select from, enough to fill and make your wish list full to overflowing. From atomic tourism to whale watching, the list takes in activities as commonplace as just visiting new places to bizarre ones like booze tourism( colloquially known as ‘booze cruise’ in Britain for the trip they used to take to France or Belgium in the ’80s and ’90s to booze it up, owing to the low price of alcohol there), enotourism (this one is for the classy ones, in highly polished terms, to imbibe the wisdom of wine-making/ booze-distilling, plunging oneself into that well of knowledge while participating in the whole process, though the final approach to crash-landing is towards the same runway as booze tourism), glamping( glamorous camping) and a litany of other strange ones.

                       I, for one, am a happy camper indulging myself in the visual, virtual tour through the fine print than the real one. That would seem to qualify for the profile of a dreamer( as per myself) or damper( according to the other half ) and I admit it as a bit of a maverick trait. On those rarest of rare occasions, when a confluence of serendipities strikes hard enough at the roots of my complacency, I do take pains to travel, but never would I go for the sort of buccaneering trips that I jovially watch on television via the National Geographic or Discovery Channel. And those rare happenings almost always turns out to be a sort of edifying trip, when I insist on visiting historical sites, exclusively focussing on the war relics and remnants of ancient dynasties and kingdoms( not sure if this would pass for history tourism), while I see to it that I read the history of the whole thing before setting out to explore them. Not contenting myself with just reading and visiting, I deliver an impassioned homily about the whole history to the other two hapless beings( my husband and my son) with meticulous attention to all the details. Though in the end, I watch those vexed faces, imploring implicitly not to bore them to tears, exhorting explicitly that they had had enough and more of history lessons while at school. In short, planning our trips, by the very fact that they are usually mini-trips, struggles to take into account the different tastes of all three of us, my son preferring soccer related tourism and my husband opting for ‘tourism photography’.

                       I still remember our 2016 trip to Dachau concentration camp in Bavaria( a site that I had long wished to visit). My choice of places included Dachau and the idyllic castles of Germany built by the odd ‘Fairy Tale King’ of Bavaria, Ludwig 2. The choice of the castles were fine with the other two, but the suggestion of the concentration camp raised those four eyebrows in front of me, and my husband tried to goad me out of that by proclaiming the nature of the camp premises as nothing extraordinary, but exactly like the Central Jail in our place( as if he was well versed with the jail premises). I dug in my heels and the visit had in me an experience of a lifetime, where I literally went through the pangs of the Holocaust. Now that they are accustomed to my immutable nature and an anachronistic existence, my preference for historical places is included in the menu-card, albeit their level-headed counsel to come out of the past and step into the present.

                      I am a history fanatic, so the rare occasions of tourism for me is something like viewing for real those things which I had seen through the print and screen only. But, I just wish to take them in visually, to an extent experience them conceptually and apprehend the physical torments one suffered, such as in a war zone and not to experience it totally in the fullest sense of the word. Recently, while reading a New York Times article, I came face to face with the term ‘dark tourism’ ( Oxford Dictionary defines the term as ‘ tourism that involves traveling to places associated with death and suffering’). In the article, just to give a few examples, they have included places as Dealey Plaza in Dallas where President John F Kennedy was assassinated, Nazi death camps like Auschwitz in Poland, Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia( a school turned into torture and extermination center by Khmer Rouge in the 1970s).

                         By and large, the article cites a Sarajevo hotel in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the concept of dark tourism has been stretched to the extremes. Here one could literally experience war as it occurred during the 1992-95 Bosnia war. I admit I am not one in favor of that though. The hotel manager’s website boasts of a memorable stay in a bunker( yes, an original bunker with no proper food, light, windows, washroom, pillows, sheets, cots) with an added advantage of a piped-in din of gunshots and explosions 24/7 that helps sleep run for the hills. He claims that millennials rush to experience the effects of sleep deprivation and self-denial through abstemiousness. But he does acknowledge that they could do away with all the above-mentioned temporal add-ons but not wi-fi. So, he was forced to offer this luxury to attract young customers who wanted to have the war zone experience with a 24/7 wi-fi network.

                       I fail to grasp the kind of adrenaline rush these youngsters experience from a simulated war site with wi-fi facility. It is true that at worst they get to feel a slice of the torment experienced in person by the survivors of the war and at best practice a kind of spartan lifestyle, even as it would last for a short duration only. As per the article, dark tourism had its origin in Bosnia where, during the war and siege, sadistic Orthodox Christian fanatics from Russia and Greece arrived with sniper rifles and anti-aircraft guns to take a pot shot at the Muslims of Sarajevo, for a fee.

                    As you search the net for Bosnia, one of the questions that pop up is whether it is a safe place to travel or not? From what I have read and watched in TV programmes, Bosnia and Herzegovina or BiH as it is called is a beautiful country with a troubled past. Citing possible terrorist attacks and presence of old landmines and minefields, the US Bureau of Consular Affairs advises level-2 caution(to exercise increased caution), the UK too cites the same reasons as security concerns for travelers. Those who have direct experience visiting the country considers it safe in the cities and cautions to be careful in the countryside and hilly areas where landmines are still an issue.

                     Until 1908 Bosnia was ruled by the Ottoman Empire when Austria- Hungary annexed its territory. There are three main ethnic groups, the Muslim Bosniaks, Catholic Croats and Serbs who are Orthodox Christians. And the 1992-95 war occurred following the break-up of Yugoslavia resulting in differences among all three by virtue of nationalism, ethnicity, religion, and secessionism. During the war, as it happens in any war, ethnic cleansing, genocide, sieges, deportation, and rape were allegedly committed by Bosnian Serbs that included the genocide of 8000 Muslim Bosniak men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995 ( notorious as Srebrenica genocide). The Serbs contend that they too had been tortured, raped and killed by Bosniaks. The country is an independent one now though partially under international oversight under the terms of 1995 Dayton Peace Accords, the US-led treaty that ended the war. Geographically, Bosnia and Herzegovina is a European country in the southeast of Europe and Northwest of Balkan peninsula. It is a potential candidate for EU accession. The ethnic and secessionist tensions still remain, with the Bosnian Serb leaders raising the specter of secession from what according to them is a failed state.

                      Almost 50% of the total population is made of Bosniak Muslims, 31% Serbs and 15.5% Croats( as per 2016 statistics). According to the World Bank, the economic challenge for Bosnia after a post-war slowing of the economy is a model favoring public than private policies, import more than export and consumption more than investment. The war caused production to plummet by 80% and unemployment to soar. As per EPALE (Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe 2018), almost 60% of the young people are unemployed (overall unemployment rate is 20.5% according to Bosnia State Statistics Agency). In response to the high youth unemployment, a UN programme funded by Spain helps people find jobs and develop skills. Skilled and educated youngsters migrate to other European countries to find jobs leading to a considerable brain and talent drain. There is a widespread sense of hopelessness among the unemployed youth( according to EPALE survey) and in the survey, more than half of the participants said they would leave the country if they had a chance.

                     It was amidst this situation that the 27-year-old Arijan opened the War Hostel Sarajevo in the Bosnian capital. He should be applauded for the ingenious idea of avant-garde tourism, upending the normal and conventional in any tourism industry by taking an axe to the very root of it, that is, hospitality. According to him, locals are least interested in visiting the bunker ( of course, they had lived every moment in the horror of war and those who had gone through the torments could not be expected to come and stay there to relive the experience). Many of the visitors are from Europe, the US and Australia and most of them are youngsters, who are happy to forego all material things barring wi-fi. Arijan makes sure that his guests are incessantly pummelled with gunshot and explosion sounds through sound blasters such that they forget even the shadow of sleep. In addition, he pumps some kind of choking fog inside the bunker to suffocate his guests and emulate the smoky environment of wartime bunkers! No less of a blissful experience for a sleepless tourist! ( Is there something like ‘torment tourism’ in the A to Z of tourism index? I have to check the list again.)

                      I can understand very well that this twenty-seven-year-old Bosnian need to lead a decent life as other men of his same age the world over and he came out with this innovative idea of avant-garde tourism, handed out to him by the past of his country. But for the youngsters willing to put up with insomnia and choking spasms to learn about history, I still can’t come to terms with whether it is a fad that would pass away once they return back home and get a good nights sleep or whether it is some sort of a masochistic personality disorder punishing oneself to self-hurt or a Buddhist way of abnegation of hedonistic excesses even if for a short while.

                   Or could it simply be the hard way of treading those extra miles in search of lost times?

( Ref: The New York Times)

 

Paris riots – a reality check

           

                     If there is one thing the recent Paris riots teach us, it is the cliché ‘easier said than done‘. President Emmanuel Macron has been the torch-bearer of advocating climate change buffering by cutting the use of fossil fuels right from the moment he set foot in Elysee Palace. The 2015 UN climate conference held in Paris negotiated the Paris Agreement setting the goal for limiting the global warming to well below 2-degree Celsius compared to the pre-industrial levels. Out of the 196 countries who had signed the agreement, 176 has ratified it.

                  The US, under Obama, used to be a tireless exponent of limiting global warming until Trump came over and repudiated the science of climate change as hoax in 2016, elucidating the purported ‘ very big political agenda of scientists’ ( though in two years time he replaced the definitive tone of it being a hoax to his acknowledgment that he was not sure if it was manmade or not). He pulled back the US from the Paris Agreement recently, making it clear that he ‘does not want to give trillions and trillions of dollars or lose millions and millions of jobs and put the US at a disadvantage’. Skepticism to climate science is rife among most of the far-right and even far left ( like the new Mexican President, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador). The 2015 per capita carbon dioxide emission share of countries show the US as the second largest greenhouse gas emitter after China. India closely trails in the third place.

                  While climate change is pure and simple science and the occurrence of frequent extreme weather events like the California wildfire, droughts, floods and hurricanes in many other parts of the world are forewarnings of many more in future, for an average person to absorb this abstract, unseen global phenomenon is not that easy and it might seem unreasonable for many. It is hard for one to relate driving a diesel truck for a living to a flood or drought in another continent ( predominantly so in a scenario where global leaders themselves talk dismissively of global warming, questioning how on earth could snowfall occur if the global temperature was shooting up). Even for the educated and informed ones, there is an element of cognitive bias at work while encountering abstract phenomena like global warming for which no cognizable evidence could be provided in terms of an immediate cause-effect relationship.

                 Macron seemed expeditious in tackling the problem by imposing a carbon tax that would have seen the price of diesel, petrol, and coal soar upwards, curbing old diesel vehicles from plying the roads and a host of other measures. The fact that these measures would exclusively batter the poor hard-working majority of rural France was passed over, deliberately. A blue-collar worker, who had already been struggling to put a square meal a day on his plate, who has paid the highest tax from his meager income while Macron lavished tax cuts to the elites, could be forgiven for not imbibing the cause-effect relationship theory of climate science. Macron’s grandstanding attempts at the cost of the poor and favor for elitism is all too patent for one to ignore. Discontent and disillusion have been smoldering among the French right from the time he acceded to the throne, only that it reached a boiling point now.

                    The social media, particularly FB, has played a huge role in simmering the discontent and helping organize this unorganized revolt with its platform for venting emotions and feeding rage. France, the wellspring of many illustrious revolutions that toppled dynasties and even world order, is on fire once again. Though vandalism of historic monuments like the Arc De Triomphe and the public property is untenable, the fire on the streets is too intense and burning for Macron to ignore. He has since then taken a sharp U-turn from his proposed tax measures after an affected intransigence initially, but the point at issue has already reached a new high and protestors are coming up with new demands for a pay hike, pension revision, educational reforms and so on. The picture is an atavistic reversal to the pattern of all the French revolutions to date except that it lacks a definite leader, party patronage or manifesto exactly like the student protests of 1968 and the banlieue riots of 2005. There seems to be no other way for Macron but to yield to their demands or else quit his throne. He could even be forced to negate the tax cuts previously bestowed on the elites.

                 Such is the power of democracy that the other leaders who are watching the events with trepidation will no doubt be more expedient in proposing environmental laws from now on and many could even join the league of climate change deniers and skeptics or be more in cahoots with the fossil fuel lobby citing the French example. And the common man is not to be blamed if he gives preference to his short-term existential goals to long-term climate change statistical extrapolations. Unless some improvement in his circumstance or lot happens, whether it be living a decent life or moving up the social ladder, he is justified in opposing what to him seems like draconian measures to tamp him further down the socioeconomic strata while the rich and powerful clamber up the ladder by stepping on his back. Macron has finally begun to take stock of this but learned that the hard way.

              The formidable French general Charles de Gaulle who became president in 1959 was one who was not afraid to make controversial decisions. Despite his inflexibility and intractability, he was nearly toppled by student and worker protests of 1968 and resigned from power the following year. Science akin to religion is an archetypal iceberg with a small superficial floating part that is visible and comprehensible to most and a huge deep submerged part perceivable to an esoteric minority. Metaphysical and religious preaching about the ways to envision the God to a hungry man is useless when the only thing in which he sees his God is a loaf of bread or a person providing it to him. Likewise, Macron would do well to appease the common French citizen giving his ear to their needs first before lofty goals.

                 As de Gaulle quoted, A true leader always keeps an element of surprise up his sleeve, which others cannot grasp but which keeps his public excited and breathless.”

 

 

The untrammeled masterpiece of Gustave Flaubert- ‘Sentimental Education’

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Gustave Flaubert was a nineteenth-century French novelist, whose works include the famous ‘Madame Bovary’ and ‘Salammbo’.

‘Sentimental Education'(1869), when published, was something of a shock that left most of its readers receiving it in a cold, hostile way. It is a Naturalist novel belonging to the genre Bildungsroman or apprentice-novel(coming of age novel), a boho work in the nineteenth century France.

By the same name, Flaubert had written another novel(1845) when he was twenty- three, before this one. That too was an apprentice- novel. The 1845 novel depicts the relative nature of success and failure in the contrasting areas of Art and Life on the same line as Goethe in his ‘Wilhelm Meisters Apprenticeship’. But, the conclusion of Flaubert was the polar opposite of Goethe who glorifies the bourgeois life to Art.

In Flaubert’s antithetical representation of Art and Life in the first ‘Sentimental Education’, the protagonist who embraces Art succeeds, while the other one fails. But this has something to do with the France of 1840s where Art was epitomized and the bourgeois way of life( Tatigkeit) deplored. In his second Sentimental Education, a certain haziness of conclusion is felt, though the perspective of readers from a particular period of time is significant. A reader of today could feel his aesthetic and perfectionist style, as compared to the common readers of the 1860’s France. Still, contemporary Naturalist novelists of Flaubert’s time, like Emile Zola had recognized it as ‘ a most audacious and difficult composition’. During his time, such an attempt at Realism was literally unheard of.

What makes the narration distinct is its uninterrupted flow just as the daily life in France of that time. And such a realistic approach to fiction was unprecedented at that time. According to Flaubert himself,’ It is too real and what’s lacking is falseness of perspective’.

Set in the backdrop of the 1848 Revolution, the story revolves around Frederic and his unconsummated love. This makes the novel, in the genre of historical fiction as well. At one time, while writing it, he had even mused of how the background could swamp the foreground of the novel in the case of a historical fiction.

Frederic’s chaste and virtuous love for Madame Arnoux has its echo from Flaubert’s fruitless love for Elisa, a woman considerably older than himself. His passion for Elisa leaves its thinly veiled marks in most of his initial semi-autobiographical works. For Frederic, Madame Arnoux is an ideal like Art, an angelic soul, a beatific presence, not to be defiled. Such a romantic passion had indeed been out of the box in the bourgeois society of France. The ideal of Madame Arnoux is contrasted with the reality of Rosanette, a harlot.

Flaubert was a perfectionist in every sense of the word. He used to revisit and edit his writings many times until it peaked the artistic perfection of ‘ prose with the rhythm of poetry’. He was not as prolific in churning out works as his contemporaries, due to this. Marcel Proust had mentioned the poetry of Flaubert’s prose in his 1920 essay. The scrupulous portrayal of life won him as many critics as admirers. His romantic cum realist writing style has greatly influenced many 20th-century writers like Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, and Vladimir Nabokov.

Deslaurier is the other main protagonist in the novel, who sacrifices his life for power as Frederic did for love. Both turn out to be unsuccessful in their respective endeavors, yet possessing the world wisdom to laugh off their follies in a bantering way, in the end. It is difficult for those without a firm grip on the history of French Revolution, art and literature of the nineteenth century to grasp the arts vocabulary in the novel( a profusion of luminary names in the arts and philosophy fields flash by, whom I am not at all familiar with, so that was cumbersome). Sentimental Education is a literary masterstroke, not easy to read, but, familiarizing us with Flaubert’s style on each re-read.