Thursday, 28 February 2013

The True Believer by Eric Hoffer

This slim book (175 pages), first published in 1951 , became a classic in social psychology and tells us how a person becomes a fanatic and what the dynamics of a mass movement are .It is very provocative and insightful , and is as relevant today as it was in 1951.I enjoyed reading it and benefited immensely from it .                                                     
        Early Christianity was very outspoken  in its antagonism  toward the family .When one of His  disciples asked leave to go and bury his father,Jesus said to him:"Follow me;and let the dead bury their dead."Disruption of the family creates a responsiveness to the appeal of mass movements.Hitler made full use of"the society ladies thirsting for adventure, sick of their empty lives, no longer getting a kick out of love affairs." A rising mass movement preaches the immediate hope.Later, as the movement  comes into  possession of power,the emphasis is shifted  to the distant hope.
                         It requires an exceptional leader to mobilise existing attitudes and impulses into a drive of  mass movement . In such leaders , we do not find exceptional intelligence, noble character and originality  indispensable , or even   desirable."The main requirements seem to be : audacity and a joy in defiance;an iron will;a fanatical conviction that he is in possession of the one and only truth faith in his destiny and luck; a capacity for passionate hatred;contempt for the present;a cunning estimate of human nature;a delight in symbols , spectacles and ceremonials;unbounded brazenness which finds expression in a disregard of consistency and fairness;a capacity for winning and holding the utmost loyalty of a group of able lieutenants. The leader has to be practical and a realist, yet must talk the language of the visionary and the idealist .       
                              The book is about the active phase of mass movements.This phase is dominated by the true believer-the man of fanatical faith who is ready to sacrifice his life for a holy cause.When we lead a selfless life , we gain enormously in self -esteem.'The vanity of the selfless, even those who practice utmost humility,is boundless." ''True Believer attempts successfully to trace the genesis of such a fanatic and outline his nature.The opposite of religious fanatic is not the fanatical atheist but the gentle cynic  who cares not  whether there is God or not .The atheist is a religious person .The fanatic mostly comes  from the ranks of the non-creative men of words.He is often ready to sacrifice relatives and friends for his holy cause.A movement is pioneered by men of words, materialized by fanatics and consolidated by men of action .
                               A very insightful book on fanatics , true believers and mass movements.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

The Invention of Solitude by Paul Auster

The book is all about solitude , invisible style of life, memory and its relationship with our relationships .If you are looking for  a light entertainment , this novel is not for you .But if you are ready to stretch your mind  a little , it will grow upon you .I liked the book .It has two parts .The first part is 'Portrait of an Invisible Man'.It is about the elusive  life of author's father ,and his feelings after the death of his father.The second part is 'The Book of Memory'.It is about the author and his relationship to his son .The first part is easy to understand and enjoy .The second part is more complex(complicated) , but once you begin to understand it , the rewards are higher .Obviously , the second part takes more time to read .The first part is 73 pages  while the second part is 112 pages long.
                                      Does this sound familiar? "Ït was never possible for him to be where he was.For as long as he lived , he was somewhere else, between here and there.But never really here.And never really there".The author looks at the old pictures left by his father and learns new things about him .And how he learns about the fact that his grandmother murdered his grand father and how and why .For his father , money was not an elixir but an antidote,the small vial of medicine you carry in your pocket when you go out into the jungle-just in case you are bitten by  a poisonous snake .
                                                   The book of memory starts with with a quote from The Adventures of Pinocchio by Collodi.Solitude is crushing .Solitude and memory are related.Only   in the darkness of solitude, the work of memory begins ..Solitude as sung by Billie Holiday:Ïn my solitude ,you haunt me/With reveries of days gone by/In my solitude , you taunt me?with memories , that never die . .. ".Depth of solitude is equally the depth of silence.Stillness of solitudes is almost heart breaking.The act of writing is an act of memory.The idea of  work gives  purpose to his life..He is fond of Anne Frank(Diary of a young  girl).
                                      Paul Auster writes from the depths of his heart and soul .I recommend you to read this novel.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

How Macaulay is still shaping modern India

As a member of Indian Administrative service  since 1980 , I  had been looking for a long time a book on Macaulay  , to know about the man who was  responsible , more than any one else , in the creation of Indian Civil Service,drafting of elegant Indian Penal Code , introduced English as a medium of education at grassroots.I am happy that I finally found the book I was looking for .Zareer Masani  has written this absolutely delightful and profound book on Macaulay (Macaulay:Pioneer of India's Modernization, 2012,Random House India:, 269 pages ,Hard cover).After reading  it , I love Macaulay , and I hate him at the same time .Born on October 25,1800 , he died on December28,1859.
                        A few things strike the reader as one progresses through the book ;
1.Macaulay was  always reading  books inluding classics and popular novels.His favourite author was Jane Austen.He rated Northanger Abbey higher than all the works of Dickens and Pliny put together.He had a daily reading session before breakfast. "Ï would rather be a poor man in a garret with plenty of books than a king who did not love reading.".
2.Macaulay never married .He loved his sisters , Margaret and Hannah.
3.Macaulay was a reviewer , essayist and writer.The Lays of Ancient Rome is one of his best remembered books..He was in constant communication with the editor of the Edinburgh Review.
4.He firmly believed in the education of the governed."To trade with civilized men is infinitely more profitable than to govern savages."
5.He was a Westernizer as against Orientalists.
6.If one person is to be named who was responsible for creation of  professional Indian Civil Service , recruited on the basis of an examination , it is undoubtedly Macaulay.
9.He regularly wrote his daily diary.
                           Macaulay was closely involved  in the drafting of The Charter Act of 1833.It effectively nationalized the East India Company and created government of British India(Governor -General -in -Council, based in Calcutta).This Council was accountable to the British Crown..Macaulay was nominated Law Member of the Governor-General's Council in August , 1833.
                         Macaulay ridiculed Indians and  Hindu Gods.He described Ganesh",ä fat man with a paunch like Daniel Lambert's(the fattest man in England), an elephant's head and trunk , a dozen hands , and a serpent's tail" And this is what he felt about Indian music:"the national music of India is most deplorably bad . . .Whether the boatmen or the bearers make the more horrible noise , whether the vocal or instrumental music be the worse , I cannot decide."
                  Macaulay unleashed his famous Education Minute in 1835(when he was about 35 years old) in which he advocated for the need  for English as opposed to Indian Vernacular languages.In this he set the objective of creating a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern ;a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions , in morals, and in intellect.Here is his much quoted dictum:"who can deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole literature of India and Arabia"."Public money was henceforth to be spent on imparting to the native population a knowledge of English literature and science through the medium of English language.
                             Macaulay was appointed President of Law Commission for framing a comprehensive Criminal Code for the British India .They prepared the draft of Penal code by 1837.But it was only in 1860 , 22 years after it was written  , that the India Penal Code was finally enacted into law .It came into operation in 1862.It was war of Independence(The Great Mutiny) of 1857 which brought out the urgent need for enacting the new Criminal Code.
                                       Macaulay was a member of the Parliamentary Select Committee which drafted the India Bill of 1853.Its most important provision was the recruitment by open and competitive examination of Indian Civil servants.After passing the Act in 1853, the government set up a special committee with Macaulay as Chairman  , to supervise the implementation of the new system of civil service exams.The first advertisements for the new exam appeared in the London Times in January , 1854.
                     Macaulay has made India the world's second largest English speaking country , second only to the United States of America.
                      Zareer Masani has done  rigorous research  and done full justice to Macaulay in this first biography of this very influential and outstanding shaper of modern India .The book is fascinating and reveals very lucidly how Macaulay is still shaping India , and will continue to shape India .His influence is for ever.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Over , a novel by Margaret Forster

Publishers blurb says that it is a novel that" pushes into the heart of grief".At first , I too thought so .Yes , it is about  love , loss ,grief and pain .But slowly , it grew on me .It starts with grief but that is only one  thread .It is  more about alienation .It is about what  happens  when you expect warmth and kindness from some one close to you( when you  confront the death of someone you love) and  the other one does not come any where near that expectation ."He  didn't take me in his arms first, he didn't present this appaling news any better than his sister had done .From the very minute he heard  he separated himself.We were never together."
                    Happy  memories  continue to bind people but memories don't stretch into future.Is it really necessary to go to the roots of what happened?Does   finding  the truth why the death or loss took place become more important than kindness? " Ï felt angry with Don.He has become so arrogant in his despair and misery, he really thinks  he has been marked out  for suffering  far more than any one else and that this entitles him to receive, but not give , sympathy."
      When alienation begins , phone calls are replaced by emails , and then emails by occassional texts  and then it begins to near the end . You don't  even feel guilty about enjoying yourself.Alienation does bring the feeling of loss of romance and sex but you ignore it.Concern becomes a luxury you can afford." Don was in hospital.Slowly ., on the long drive to hospital, I had begun to feel anxious and troubled about Don and what might have happened , but there was certain luxury about my concern.I could  afford it .This was awful to admit, but I didn't have to admit it to anyone but myself.

            You begin to feel jealous about how affectionate your children are towards the other ."  I had a feeling of alarm:Don had found her,Don would keep her.She would not find a telephone and ring me."He can't be completely out of my life but I don't want him at the centre.
                   It is one of the benefits we bereaved bestow on other people-we make them feel lucky .Alienation is as much painful as grief , if not more.
                                 The book ends with a hope in spite of despair:"I have recovered a little , I will recover more."
 I liked the  novel for its profound  and powerful expression of death , loss , grief , alienation and flickers of hope .