On Matters That Matter

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones

Posts Tagged ‘Fiction

Is The Tiger Lost In The Woods?

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As children my brother and I used to think, like I presume some other children also perhaps thought, whether celluloid heroes like Amitabh Bachchan and sporting ones like Sunil Gavaskar also had to answer nature’s call. For a brief period—at an age that I can’t pinpoint but can indicate by saying that it was characterised by an overwhelming feeling in which everything seemed larger than life—we found it difficult to place our heroes atop a commode. And precisely because our minds were in conflict we occasionally did wonder about what to us was then a profane thought. Nothing remarkable happened when the idea just dropped out of our consciousness; there was no ceremony and there is no memory of it and the only fact is that we grew out of that brief period as naturally and as simply as one season melts into another.

This unsanitary beginning is to make a point that childhood curiosity is one thing and a deep-seated interest in the life of others quite another; it would be a lie to say that I don’t have any interest in the lives of others but I will emphasize that with every passing year an interest in my own life has grown gradually while the interest in the lives of others has declined. And I think that is what happens with most people; my mistakes, just like those of most other people, can be traced back to me. The margin I am keeping here is for a small minority of good boys, who are capable of committing heinous acts and also ensuring that the trail never leads to them.

With that said allow me to start this post about the paparazzi culture and the Tiger Woods life uncovering mission which has become the latest obsession in the world. Is the Tiger Woods scandal a really big story with everything remarkable about it? Truth, by the way, is no defense in defamation cases and the saviour of a reporter and a publication is fair comment (public interest). I got to learn about the fact that it had become a big scandal only via a blog called Medium Term on December 1; and my comment to it suggested that I had reacted only to the last line and not the point of the whole post. Then I read a December 8 update to the blog and the various gormless comments on both the posts; including my own.

Tiger Woods is a genuine great on the golf course and he may not be an ideal husband but is there any shortage of less-than-ideal husbands that Tiger deserves to sit on top of that heap as well. This is typical Daily Mail journalism for you; just go to their website any day and you’ve got to give them credit that they do not lose a single opportunity to have two perfect images that would tell you how an X celebrity has lost or gained a stone since she was last spotted in public. Any female celebrity that walks out without wearing a bra underneath would be up on their website with her cup size and her success at keeping gravity at bay spelt out for the reader.

There is no doubt that the public is interested but I have serious doubts on whether it is in public interest. It is in the interest of our gusto for the lurid that justifies such excavation. There is no moral high ground to claim but I would prefer some erotic literature over what to me is boring tabloid crap any day. How about a paper that unveils the life of tabloid scribes; would that be any less interesting?

I have learnt from friends, who have more than a passing interest in the range, that golf is a sport that mirrors life very closely. I know the rules but only those who play can tell you that it is a simple game if you can keep it simple and can get as entangled as life if you start messing with it. Mark McCormack—the man who founded the first sports management company with just under $500 in capital and thereby gave birth to a multi-billion dollar industry—loved the game of golf and wrote in his bestseller What They Don’t Teach You At The Harvard Business School: “I have often said that I can tell more about how someone is likely to react in a business situation from one round of golf than I can from a hundred hours of meetings. Maybe golf cuts more directly to the psyche than other games and situations. Or maybe it is the venue itself—green grass and rolling hills. It’s astonishing how so simple a game can reveal so much.” Tiger Woods pulling out of golf is already being seen as a threat to the sport that is struggling amid the recession and one newspaper reported that the Tiger Woods brand alone is 50 per cent of the sport.

In a statement published on his Website Tiger Woods said he was profoundly sorry and asked for forgiveness. Golfer John Daly said, “I’m in shock over it all, a lot of our players are in shock. I’m not happy with the way some of our players have responded—that’s their way of getting back because they know they can’t beat him at golf…”

Heinrich Böll, one of Germany’s leading post World War-II writers and the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1972, wrote ‘a marvel of compression and irony’, The Lost Honour Of Katharina Blum, that was translated into English a year after its publication in 1974.

The back of the book cover reveals the plot: “Katharina Blum is pretty, bright, hard-working and at the centre of a big city scandal when, at a carnival party, she falls in love with a young radical on the run from the police. Portrayed by the city’s leading newspaper as a whore, a communist and an atheist, she becomes the target of anonymous phone calls and sexual threats. Her life is ruined by the distortions of a corrupt press; she shoots the offending journalist and gives herself up for arrest.

Step by step, and with an affecting forensic clarity, Katharina’s story is reconstructed for the reader, gradually disclosing an entire panorama of human relationship and motive. The novel is a masterful comment on the law and the press, the labyrinth of social truth and the relentless collusion of fact and fiction.”

The Times said, “Böll sustains a masterly and insidious tension to the end. He is detached, angry and totally in control.” Heinrich Böll served for several years as president of International P.E.N. and was a leading defender of the intellectual freedom of writers throughout the world. He died in 1985.

The plot is revealed because it is not the plot but the narration that makes the book great. On one side is Werner Tötges, the journalist behind all the falsification and on the other is Böll’s narrator, whose profession remains unmentioned, but he consistently separates facts from assumptions. The Sunday Times said: “Such is the force of Böll’s conviction, the clarity of his vision and the icy economy of his unemotive prose that within this short space he has distilled a spirit that burns into the palate the unmistakable and lasting tang of truth.”

The thickness of the book is inversely proportional to its impact—just about 140 pages. It is the social milieu of late 1960s and early 70s that the book attacks indirectly; especially the Alex Springer-owned Springer Press that controlled almost half of the newspaper circulation in West Germany.

“Art is always a good hiding-place, not for dynamite, but for intellectual explosives and social time bombs. Why would there otherwise have been the various Indices? And precisely in their despised and often even despicable beauty and lack of transparency lies the best hiding-place for the barb that brings about the sudden jerk or the sudden recognition.” (Heinrich Böll from Nobel Lecture, 1973)


Ode To A Simple Man

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I keep coming back to the saying of the Guardian’s legendary editor C.P. Scott and his words as I love the simple manner in which it defines the job of a journalist: Comment is free, but facts are sacred. The fact is not a matter of interpretation. It makes no difference to the fact whether you face it or you avoid it; the fact is just the fact. This post is dedicated to a simple man who lives with the fact.

My 88-year-old uncle, K.C. Tewari, has limitless attention, not a single problem and a face that conveys without a word immense love, understanding and concern. He is the husband of my mother’s eldest and only sister. His life has been quite eventful; six children, 3 boys, 3 girls, all of them married and all having growing up children. The eldest son is about 58. My uncle had a pretty senior government job, and all his children were married after he retired. He is not one of those old men who get together in the park and discuss a lot of things, he is quite happy on his own. He neither seeks company nor does he avoid it. Everyone faces the fact, one has to; but to live with it is quite another matter.

I have seen only one in my life. To quote a 20th century philosopher, “Is there a basic duality at the very core or, does duality arise only when the mind moves away from ‘what is’?” You have pain in your stomach, that is the fact, and the process of thought that there was no pain yesterday or will not be tomorrow is duality. My uncle is always with ‘what is’. I admire him, and on very cold and stormy days I just go and sit by his side for a while, his warmth is enough to heal. I don’t have what he has and I don’t even try because any comparison is an even bigger movement away from the fact.

Perhaps that is the reason that he has never carried any problem in his life despite having a multitude of them over the years. When death and tragedy and the inevitable suffering that most people get caught in came to his doorstep and in the lives of his children then that was the fact. When all that passed and the Sun came out on a bright new day then that became the reality. You can’t fight with him because he is beyond conflict and it’s not possible to drag him into one. It is tough to be with the only thing that exists, which is this moment in which you might be rich or poor, happy or miserable, lonely or ‘absolutely whole and alone’ like my uncle.

I am told that he did his work with a lot of care and he was a man of few words. He now speaks a little more than when he was young. Sometimes you can see him looking at the dictionary because he might have seen a new word in the newspaper. He loves to watch football. His handwriting is so beautiful and so clear, that each and every alphabet is worth looking at. And there is a lot of his written work available as after he retired and even before it there was always someone or the other that he was teaching.

He made all the college notes of his youngest daughter and then must be for five or six grandchildren after that. Before he had retired he would teach Hemraj; a servant in the house who was very interested in getting educated. Hemraj cleared his 12th standard, and I don’t know how many man hours my uncle devoted everyday after work for more than six years. Hemraj now runs a successful motor repair shop in my hometown of Mandi; he always comes to meet whenever my uncle is visiting. My uncle must be sitting in his house right now with ‘what is’. You can talk about the past with him; he has a great memory it’s just that he is not stuck there.

He was close to dying twice, but when he survived there was no thinking of that time because he was all attentive to the now. According to him there is no problem with the fact; while there are all sorts of problems in escaping it. He is a man of action and needs no activity. My uncle is very frugal with money but is blessed with the generosity of the heart. And at 88 he takes care of quite a lot.

As such things cannot be inherited the children have the DNA but not even one of the qualities that he has in abundance. He is full of life; and has a dignity that is so easily visible yet difficult to describe as it is not linked to a position, title or any tangible material accumulations. He must have seen me as an infant but my memory of him goes back to when I must have been six or seven years old. The pleasure of his regular company started when I began my first job in Delhi and lived in my uncle’s home initially. It was home not just to me but for many of my journalist friends in the initial years.

The cover of security had to be broken and the temptations of the world at 22 had a gravitational pull that I never thought was worth resisting. So first with friends and then alone slowly I settled in the city and would meet my uncle with irregular regularity. One day and I don’t remember when; just like the last scene of the movie The Sixth Sense my memory of him went all the way back after a thought crossed my mind.

My uncle was never caught in the process of becoming and all the strife that goes with it; he always had the joy of simple being. Some things cannot be planned, they just happen. Becoming can never know being; becoming is psychological effort and being is effortless. A man is either simple or not and there is no way of becoming simple. The only possibility here is to realise one’s complexity and the mind may stumble upon the simplicity that takes all the worries of life away.

He is a wise man and, therefore, many a times just says a word or two to change the course of a life he cares for if it is going sideways. More than that my uncle lets everyone go his or her way and never interferes as he probably understands what the Hermann Hesse novel Siddhartha talks about: Knowledge can be transferred but wisdom is incommunicable. He doesn’t read fiction or non-fiction so the sentence for him is a statement I wrote as it seems to be true in his case.

If anyone has the desire to see a man who is completely unscarred by 88-years of life, I can arrange for that. My only request is just observe simply without making him feel strange, he is rare but otherwise normal; I am pretty sure you will have a good time if you are one of those who love the facts of life.

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