Saturday, April 20, 2013

What Ramar teaches humanity

In a world awash with Machiavellian thinking, Ramar's fidelity to the right means even though he had the higher ground is truly refreshing and inspiring. Even though the King Of Sri Lanka, Ravanan, unjustly abducted Ramar's  wife, Sita out of lust and Ramar was clearly wronged,he was grounded in "Dharma"- righteous conduct throughout the war he waged against Ravana. He knew well that just because you are facing an "Enemy Combatant" doesn't endow you with more latitude; what is normally morally reprehensible doesn't become permissible. When Ravana was sick,Ramar could have pounced on the weakness to end the war decisively. He didn't. He told Ravana to recuperate and return to the battlefield when he was back in shape so that they could square off fairly. When he finally vanquished Ravana, he demanded that Ravana be given a proper funeral as per custom. When his associates dithered, he readily stepped forward to do the funeral rites. 

Ramar's actions embody the belief that, "Ends don't justify the means. The means to the right end, need to be right in themselves." Moving towards a more just outcome, should not blind us to the process by which we reach it. 

No one can know if the story of Rama is indeed a figment of imagination. It could well be. But it is clear, that it lays out a very understandable way of living which speaks to our highest aspirations. That explains the enduring appeal of Ramayana across the generations. 

Today, millions of people will throng to temples to celebrate Rama Navami-the birth of Ramar. Many others will mark the occasion, by engaging in their own family prayers . Wishing them all, a very Happy Rama Navami ! 

For most of us, including myself, who don't mark this occasion in any special way, this day still presents an opportune moment to reflect on how we want to live our lives ? It is inevitable, that in the face of exigencies of the moment, the righteous impulse, would be challenged to adopt the more convenient route. The least we could do it is to renew our commitment to not sully justice in pursuit of it. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Falling in love with fiction late

Recently, there has been considerable public discussion in Singapore about the merits of studying literature. Many have lamented the decline in formal study of the language. Personally, it took me a long time for me to realize the intrinsic joy and merit in reading works of fiction. While I have always loved reading, I abstained from fiction when I younger because of my naive belief that fictional works were irrelevant. It took me a rather long time to realize how warped my understanding was. 

The following essay that I penned describes the process of how my erroneous views of literature were corrected.
Falling in love with fiction late

As I walked out of my school library, I saw Dven urgently motioning me to his table. Conversing with Dven, my thoughtful junior, was something I cherished. I went over.

He picked out a plain paper and folded it into two halves. On the left side, he drew a circle with one thick spoke extending far. On the other, he drew a chakra, with numerous short spokes emerging out.

Sketching the diagrams, he mused out aloud, "Broadly speaking, there are two ways you can live your life: You can devote all your energy to a singular pursuit or dabble in everything. So Palani, how do you think life ought to be lived?"

The question was earnest. While I was no sage, I knew a little about the perils of the former path.

Since young, I remember being intrigued by public affairs. From 8, I keenly followed the news,strangely digesting even the recondite stories with great relish, seeking patterns within the unfolding kaleidoscope of events. The lives of Lincoln and Lee Kuan Yew resonated. I felt that augmenting the public good was my calling. My interest in the "real world" manifested in the befuddling choices I made. The worst one: to pay short shrift to the world of fiction since I was 9.

Then, I saw no value in indulging in fantasies when the real world was the arena of action. I determined that it was better to plough through the intellectual gems of statesmen, social scientists and political theorists: I paid them their rightful due- with time and thought- but fiction writers barely commanded my attention. Mistakenly, I assumed that it was just me maturing earlier.

In many ways, my ignorance of literature was an act of sheer folly. Some detached reflection would have shown that the realms of imagination and reality are actually tightly interwoven. Both are interdependent. Disregarding either leads to an incomplete understanding of the forces animating the world.

It was a random conversation that I had with my well-read uncle during a family gathering in mid-2009, which was to be the turning point. He somewhat convinced me to give reading fiction a try. He even came home and passed me his well-thumbed copy of .Les Miserables. For his sincerity, I relented.

So after nearly 7 years, I went back to the table to read someone's figment of imagination. -willingly. As the intricate plot unfolded, it drew me in further. In my mind, the narrative of Victor Hugo wrestled with my notions of power, society and morality all erstwhile forged through my limited life experiences and readings. It was an edifying experience: some beliefs were chipped away, others fortified.

Les Miserables proved to be the tome to stir me from my deep slumber. I have turned a new page since; fictional works are now part of my reading staple. The stories I have read helped add nuance to my worldview.

After my recount, Dven asked, "So Palani, you ... put the cart before the horse?"

Laughing heartily, I exaggerated to drive my point, "Nope. I had left the cart empty!"

My constitution hasn't changed. I am still the person single-mindedly determined to understand the grand game of politics and make my mark. But who said engaging with the world of fiction isn't serious stuff ?