Sunday, 28 February 2016

Flying Ducks Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot

Flying Ducks Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot: Nothing seems to beat the sheer beauty of ducks in flight! When I approached a few ducks wading in the water, they took to the air. Having my camera ready, I took a snap. These migratory birds land up at the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary for nesting during the winter months.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Joseph Conrad's Short Stories contain strong elements of Determinism and Existentialism that question the meaning of life!

Conrad’s deterministic view of what makes the story of mankind  tragic is because in spite of all his genius and intelligence,  he is an unconscious victim of nature. As long as one is not conscious of this fact, life is easy, but the moment one realises how one is enslaved to this Earth, things become painful! Joseph Conrad’s short stories, a few of which I will attempt to examine, question the very meaning of life, in a civilized society, especially when we are fed the concepts of religion, propriety,youth, ambition, love, and brotherhood. Unfortunately, the moment one steps out of the protection of a civilized society, things begin to change. Take for example the case in the short story and Outpost of Progress where Kayerts sees no purpose in returning to the civilized world because his exposure to a primitive world, unmitigated savagery, and the primeval instinct that he sees hiding beneath the veneer of a civilized culture have proved to him that he is just another savage.
Another story by Conrad, The Lagoon, questions the purpose of life when one is deprived of the company of his beloved. Ultimately Arsat’s sacrifice of his brother for the sake of  eloping with his beloved, and the risk he takes in eloping with Diamelen, a woman belonging to the ruling family end in the moment when he states to his western friend, Tuan, ‘In a little while I shall see clear enough to strike-to strike. But she has died, and  …now…darkness.’ Arsat had sacrificed his brother, he had involved him in the plan but had to abandon him so that he could flee with his beloved, while his brother was overwhelmed by their pursuers, the ruler’s men. The final words describing Arsat are poignant enough, ‘Arsat had not moved. He stood lonely in the searching sunshine; and he looked beyond the great light of a cloudless day into the darkness of a world of illusions.’ Arsat’s romance ends in tragedy, and grief, and a descent into a realm of darkness and a world of illusions. If all the struggle, all that planning, all that risk, and the guilt of choosing Diamelen and leaving his brother to die, even when he called out for help was in the long run worth it. Earlier, immediately after his beloved had passed away from fever and illness, Arsat said to his western friend whom he called Tuan, ‘Now I can see nothing – see nothing! There is no light and no peace in the world; but there is death – death for many. We were sons (His brother and him) of the same mother –and I left him in the midst of enemies; but I am going back now.’ Romance has ended up in a sense of emptiness, and life will end up in a sense of guilt for having abandoned his brother. Death, for Arsat is the ultimate reality!
Conrad’s short story, Youth attempts to examine the meaning of youth especially youthful visions of success. In some ways, it even brings out the emptiness of the visions that young people have about future careers of success, building up business empires and making a mark on the professional front. In the short story, Marlow describes how he looked forward to his first Voyage to the East, and his first voyage as second mate on a ship named Judea. He had high hopes of it being a successful voyage. His vision of the voyage and its future benefits are described in his own words, ‘It was one of the happiest days of my life. Fancy! Second mate for the first time-a really responsible officer! I wouldn’t have thrown up my new billet for a fortune.’ Unfortunately, the ship turns out to be a jinxed ship that barely sails. On its final journey, the coal in the holds of the ship catches fire and the whole ship sinks. There something rather tragic about the way the ship lingers on, and how Captain Beards stays on board the doomed ship till the last moment, attempting, as it were to salvage whatever can be saved for the underwriters. Ultimately, the survivors board their life boats and manage to reach Eastern shores where they tie up their boats for the night at a jetty.
Twenty years after the whole episode, Marlow recounts to his gathered friends the whole story and he analyses the emptiness of that vision of youthful adventure and excitement and opportunity that his appointment as second mate on board Judea had given him. In his words, the East is ‘contained in that vision of …youth.’ His trip to Eastern shores made Marlow understand the paradox of life, that within that vision of youth, to which the East is connected, ‘a stealthy Nemesis lies in wait, pursues, overtakes so many of the conquering race, who are proud of their wisdom or their knowledge, of their strength.’ Marlow had thought that he would be a swashbuckling second mate on an English ship and that he would go to the East, Malay and win all that he saw. It was a truly romantic vision of success and adventure. In Marlow’s own words, ‘And for me there was also my youth to make me patient. There was all the East before me, and all life, and the thought that I had been tried in that ship and had come out pretty well.’ He was young and the vision was young, the words on the ship’s stern spurred him on with the exhortation, “Judea, London. Do or Die.” What starts with a bang for Marlow ends with a whimper when he sees what he had once thought to be less cultured than him  look down at the exhausted sailors  as if in pity. Marlow describes the moment to his friends in the following words, ‘And then I saw the men of the East – they were looking at me. the whole length of the jetty was full of people..I saw brown, bronze, yellow faces, the black eyes, the glitter, the colour of an Eastern crowd.’ It is  this defining moment that challenges Marlow’s vision, he had though he was going to bring civilization to the East, but here were people who were perhaps more civilized than he was, this was a culture that was ‘so mysterious, resplendent and sombre, living and unchanged, full of danger and promise.’ Who knows how they perceived the survivors of  the Judea, perhaps they looked like savages to them? Ultimately it all boils down into the following words, ‘But you here…you all had something out of life; money love – whatever one gets on shore – and , tell me, wasn’t that the best time, when we were young as sea; young  and had nothing, except hard knocks – and sometimes a chance to feel your strength – that only what you all regret?’ What did that  feeling of strength and false bravado displayed by the narrator and his fellow sailors on board the doomed ship amount too? It all came to nothing and thereof lies the existential question, was it worth it after all?

Conrad Joseph, Selected Short Stories, Wilco Publishing House, Mumbai India, 2006

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Evans tries an O level, A critical analysis of the short story by Colin Dexter

It is clear from a reading of the short story, Evans Tries an O Level, that the protagonist is a shrewd and clever person, someone who understands human nature very well. He knows how to play with effects, perceptions, and the minds of people, especially his jail warders, Jackson and Stephens. When Stephens comes into the cell and he sees a figure on a chair slumped over, with blood pouring out of his head, he jumps to conclusion and assumes that the person in the chair is none other than McLeery! This is apparently how the human brain works, sometimes the visual impact of the scene overrides our rationality and we jump to conclusion without even verifying the facts. 
In the case of Stephens we can say with great confidence that his hasty conjecture, and the visual impact of the man sitting slumped in a chair with blood pouring out of his head was so great that he just could not see the obvious! It is exactly such weaknesses that a criminal targets to make good his escape, or even to commit a crime. But it doesn't end here, it was not just Stephens that Evans targetted, rather it was the Governor, and entire prison machinery that was targetted. Take for example, the deliberately misleading hints left in the paper. The words read, 'You must follow the plan already somethinged. The vital point in time is three minutes...'. The Governor continues to read, ' the Headington roundabout, where you go straight over and make your way to ... to Neugraben.' and then it hits him like it has been planned by Evans, that the destination was Newbury! The excitement of discovering the secret, the euphoria of having found the answer to a difficult riddle makes the Governor lose his presence of mind! He cannot see that something is wrong and that this might be a red herring.
Evans knew very well that the Governor had  weaknesses, he believed he was very intelligent but was in reality rather 'good for a giggle, gullible governor'! After all, the Governor was no different from his subordinates, Stephens and Jackson. He saw what he was meant to see, his attention was diverted away from what was really happening inside his own prison. He was made to look away so that Evans could make good his escape! Evans was able to exploit the Governor's overconfidence. He was a conman who used his knowledge of human perception to create a virtual reality, a mirage and an illusion. Evans had turned things upside down, he knew that prison officials are trained prevent prison breaks therefore he knew that if he created drama with special effects, then the people running the prison could be fooled into thinking that Evans had made good his escape, not realising that the person sitting in the chair was Evans and not McLeary! Twisted logic, one would term it!
Another feather in the cap for Evans was that the clues were meant to lead the Governor to the very hotel where Evans was lodged. That was part of the devious plan that Evans had for him. Again, the Governor's sense of elation was exploited to the fullest so that when he apprehended Evans in his room in the hotel, the Governor made one more mistake! He let Evans out of his sight, and let him go in a prison van that had already been commandeered by Evans' cronies. The whole escape plan is a brilliant masterpiece of criminal wit. The final escape takes place when Evans is let out of the prison van by his friends, and he makes good is escape, finally!
The moral for prison staff is not to develop any kind of soft corner or sympathy for criminals. Jackson did have a soft corner for Evans. The Governor thought he knew Evans very well. He was perhaps dulled into a sense of satisfaction that he had taken all the steps to secure Evans, although he continued to have nagging doubts that something was wrong. Perhaps, the Governor should have trusted his instincts more than his mind!
The short story is meant to remind us that often seeing is not believing, and that the reality can often be disguised with the help of special effects, like blood pouring out of a wounded man's body. As Madonna says in her song, Frozen,  "You only see what your eyes want to see." It is exactly this vulnerability or weakness that Evans targets in this short story. In the battle of wits between the criminal and his keepers, it is often noticed that the criminal often gains an advantage over his keepers because of his keen observation of their weaknesses. In many cases, this fear of having made mistakes, doubt, and the stress of taking adequate steps to confine the criminal may often rob keepers of the law to see what is not obvious!  It was a matter of great foolishness on the part of the Governor to believe that Evans would erroneously leave clues that would lead to his arrest at the Golden Lion Hotel!

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Selma Lagerlof's The Rattrap describes how people can help bring about a transformation of character

The lesson, The Rattrap describes how transformation of character is often the result of the impact of good people on one’s life. In the case of the peddler, it is a drawn out process starting from the time when he comes across the old crofter and then ending up with his departure from the Manor.
In the beginning we see the peddler as a rather cynical and asocial kind of a person, a person who would rather take revenge on the world than view it with kindness and tolerance. This, in effect was because of the fact that he had never come across kind people in life! This, rather negative and rather asocial attitude towards the world is because, ‘The world had, of course, never been very kind to him’. The  bad company one keeps often leaves a lasting effect on the character, and this rings true for the vagabond, until at least he comes across good people who want to do good for him.
What is transforming about goodness is that it is all about unconditional kindness. This is what the rattrap seller is not able to understand, thus he views the Old Crofter’s kindness with suspicion, believing perhaps that by sharing his confidence, especially the bag with the thirty Kroner, he wants to tempt him with a bait, so that he gets trapped in a world as a rattrap! When he shows him the bag with the thirty Kroner, the peddler notices him, ‘nodding knowingly’ as if he were the devil’s advocate, the tempter who is bent upon taking something from the peddler in return for his hospitality, tobacco, porridge, and confidence!
The process of transformation starts immediately after the peddler enters the forest after leaving the Old Crofter and then finds himself lost. This starts a process of introspection and reflection and he thinks how, ‘He had let himself be fooled by a bait and had been caught. The whole forest, with its trunks and branches, its thickets and fallen logs, closed in upon him like an impenetrable prison from which he could never escape.’ He has literally and symbolically become trapped and punished for his misdemeanour of not respecting the confidence reposed in him by his host. One might also state that when he gets trapped in the forest, it is as if he has gotten a taste of his own medicine for believing so negatively about the world as a rattrap where even the smallest things like warmth and clothes are baits!
The ironmaster’s invitation to visit the manor is also a part of the process of transformation, although one might not look at his invitation as being motivated by pure kindness because the ironmaster was kind towards the peddler since he thought him to be an old comrade of his! It is unfortunate that the moment the ironmaster realises that the peddler is not his old friend, he tells the peddler to get out of his house!
It is Edla’s intervention however that sets the peddler thinking. When she intercedes on his behalf, the peddler wonders, ‘What could the crazy idea be?’ Later when she tells him that he is to keep the suit as a Christmas present, and that he can spend next Christmas with them, ‘He only stared at the young girl in boundless amazement.’
Edla’s honesty, unconditional kindness, and ability to put him at ease are the qualities that force the peddler to undergo a transformation. While the ironmaster made the peddler feel vulnerable and insecure, even while at the iron mill, Edla was able to put him at ease! The peddler felt safe and secure in her company because she was a compassionate person. While at the iron mill, she tells him very clearly that, ‘you will be allowed to leave us just as freely as you come. Only please stay with us over Christmas Eve.’ It is this sincerity and unconditional kindness that wins over the peddler.
As a final thank you gift the peddler leaves a rattrap with a letter in it. Both, the rattrap and the letter are a proof of a positive transformation of a peddler from a vagabond and a petty thief into a Captain in the army. The peddler won his dignity in himself because Edla had ‘been so nice’ to him all day, ‘as if I was a Captain’. He wanted, therefore, ‘to be nice’ to her in ‘return’. Just as bad begets bad, in the same way, good begets good! Ultimately one can only accept that the process of transformation was the result of three people being kind towards the peddler – the Old Crofter, the Iron master, and Edla. Each one of these people had an important role to play in this process of transformation.
The Rattrap is written as an allegory, rather like a fairy tale with a message to convey. The message apparently is that the company of good people can bring about a change for the better in us. The company one keeps defines a person's character. In the beginning peddler was cynical, suspicious, and bore ill will to others because of the kind of company he kept. He liked to think ill of the world, he liked to think of the world as a rattrap because the world had never been kind to him. He had never come across people who did things without expecting anything in return. There was always an ulterior motive behind each action of his so called friends in the beginning. It is only when he comes across the 'Unconditional Kindness' of the Old Crofter and Edla that the peddler comes to understand what kindness means. The letter that he leaves for Edla at the end is proof enough that kindness has the ability to transform a person. Edla's kindness prompted the peddler to change his ways. He is forced to shed his tramp clothes and tramp manners and instead take upon himself the dignity and respectability of a Captain in the army because Edla had been kind towards him, she had faith in him and treated him with respect.

Monday, 15 February 2016

A glimpse of a memorial service held in honour of my father in law on the 14th of February at the Holy Trinity Church, Ghaziabad

The memorial service for my Father in Law, Mr Oliver Peter took place on Sunday, the 14th of February, 2016 during Sunday Mass at the Holy Trinity Church, Ghaziabad. Gathered that day were relatives, friends, acquaintances and parishioners. The memorial service was conducted by Revd. Sushil Kumar, the Presbyter in Charge.

Just before the service, making the finishing touches

The presbyter, Sushil Kumar saying a few words about Mr. Peter

Inside the church

The family

Close relatives and family members

A vote of thanks

A prayer before lunch

Fellow ship lunch was served by the Peter family after the service

It was also a moment for family members and relatives to get together


It is a joy to worship in this rather fairy tale church!

Sunday, 14 February 2016

In Memorium of a Father in Law

A Tribute to a wonderful person

He was a man, most timid and yet so firm, he did educate his children
To the best of his abilities, and he ensured that they did not want for sure!
He gave them the best of everything, and went the extra length to provide
For all, his sisters and mother too!

All those who knew him speak of a gentleman most true, for me it was an
Honour to know a man most fair! For so he wanted to go to a better world,
Perhaps to join my father who left us a month ago! Many a jokes and anecdotes 
We had shared, my father in law, father and I!

But then the Lord did call them all, my father, father in law and uncle, all leaving
Us one after the other, perhaps they wanted to be together in a better place where
The Lord has reserved a place for them! And so I saw first one star blaze across 
The sky, and then another, and then another!

The stars now blaze across the sky, one after the other, all eager to reach their
Heavenly abode! Sure it was another age, another generation to which they
Belonged, an age of joy and happiness, friendship and all! 
Farewell  take care, God speed you on to your destination!