Starlight

When I was green and free of heart,

I thought I would forever sing

In words of strength of the mighty deeds

Of wizards wise and noble kings.

My theme was grand, beyond the earth

And its petty cares of seed and soil:

‘Twas a soaring hymn of Light’s bright birth

Above our tedium and toil.

But shackles now (not all unsought,

Or unconsented to) me bind

Where once were wings are human hands,

In place of sunlight, walls I find.

And so I sing

of little things

My praise goes to a single star

Against the dull grey field of night

Alone, invincible and far.

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Sit

Sit

–Vikram Seth

 

Sit, drink your coffee here; your work can wait awhile.

You’re twenty-six, and still have some of life ahead.

No need for wit; just talk vacuities, and I’ll

Reciprocate in kind, or laugh at you instead.

 

The world is too opaque, distressing and profound.

This twenty-minutes’ rendezvous will make my day:

To sit here in the sun, with grackles all around,

Staring with beady eyes, and you two feet away.

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The Call

I live under a rock, so I discovered Regina Spektor accidentally while searching for an extremely beautiful Hebrew song called Halikha LeKesariya (“A Walk to Caesarea”). Which in turn I got to know because of a question in a great quiz I attended recently. I think I basically attend quizzes in order to get to know about good music and literature, because asking other people in a normal way is so mainstream (tongue, meet cheek).

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The Others

Of the other man, who stood in the background, effaced, as you spoiled his wedding and flew to your one true love;

Of the other girl, who cried until tears are no more and turned her heart to the heavens above;

Of the other player – no underdog, but who practiced for ages, who turns up and loses each match and is not very cute;

Of the other student who worked long at his lessons but realized that’s not quite what you need in a suit.

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The Star

“Oh, you poor thing! What a beast he must be, to keep you waiting so!” said Victoria Forrester. “Why do you not go through, and look for him?”

“Because…” said the star, and then she stopped.”Aye,” she said. “Perhaps I shall.” The sky above them was striped with grey and white bands of cloud, through which patches of blue could be seen.”I wish my mother were out,” said the star.”I would say good-bye to her, first.” And, awkwardly, she got to her feet.

— Neil Gaiman, Stardust

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Valentine’s Day Poem from 400 CE

यां चिन्तयामि सततं मयि सा विरक्ता, साप्यन्यमिच्छति जनं स जनोऽन्यसक्तः।
अस्मत्कृते च परितुष्यति काचिदन्या, धिक् तां च तं च मदनं च इमां च मां च॥  

“The maid my true heart loves would not my true love be;

She seeks another man; another maid loves he;

And me another maid her own true love would see,

Oh fie on her, and him, and her, and Love, and me !

(Showing how little has changed since Bhartrihari’s times)

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Geek Goddess

The endearing thing about the Hindu pantheon is that there is no end of deities. Thus, you can pick a favourite according to your temperament, mood, traditions or some linear combination of the above.(I think only Catholicism comes even close, with its dazzling array of saints).

SW2

Only gets upset if you interrupt her reading.

. I’m not particularly religious, but if you forced me at gunpoint to worship a god or goddess of my choice (what a very, very disturbing thought, by the way), I’d probably pick Saraswati. Yep, I know that Krishna is clever and fun and popular and Kali is beloved of the feminists, maximizing their respective cool quotients. Nevertheless, Saraswati remains my quiet, unassuming favourite.

First of all, she has the most extraordinarily relevant powers. If you’re unaware, she’s not only the patron of all kinds of learning, but also of poetry, music, literature and art: in short, all the things Rothinzil wants the world to have more of. Goddess knows our ignorant, restless world badly needs a lot of the above.

Secondly, personality-wise, she’s the least intimidating of the whole goddess-clan. Kali and Durga naturally win the scariness stakes hands down, but even the other milder goddesses seem a little bit like those too-nice primary school teachers who only just hide their strictness behind a sweet smile. In contrast, I have never come across a single instance of Saraswati being angry at any one or anything. (And I’m supposed to be a reasonably intense mythology nerd). In fact, if there’s one quality I’d associate with her, it would probably be infinite patience. I kind of have a hard time thinking of her as a scary, powerful being: I can imagine her more as a kindly, slightly stooped lady, probably peering down from behind unfashionable glasses and gently encouraging one to have another go at that tough economics reading.

But stop a moment, and think of how powerful patience really is. No art or knowledge in the world can be achieved without a steady, cheerful patience. Hell, one cannot even write a coherent five-hundred-word blog post without patience. All inborn talent or intelligence comes to nought in its absence. And this brings me in a roundabout way to the other thing about Madam S.: I like to think she’s also, in some way, responsible for creativity in general – both in terms of generating ideas as well as implementation.

Finally: while it’s pretty obvious how Durga and Kali got to become feminist icons, I find Saraswati an equally powerful one, in a more subtle way. If “being a learned and wise woman” is not the epitome of feminism, then what is? Only if you understand feminism as some kind of violence does this sound incongruent. But if feminism is simply the belief that women are as flawed, or as perfect, as men, and deserve an equal chance in life, then there is no contradiction at all in the idea of a person being wise, learned, patient, mild – and feminist.

Anyway. Off I go to lay down my pen and paper for the weekend!

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The Stoic’s Prayer

“It matters not if dusty summer skies

Are cruel and white above my parched mouth;

Or verdant landscapes soothe my hungry eyes

Beneath the scent of rain-clouds from the south;

 

If armies proud oppose with sudden might

My single helpless self in desert lands,

Or gold-enthroned I sit and in my sight

A thousand men obey my least command –

 

My mind is still, perturbed by neither grief

Nor frenzied joy that worse destruction brings,-

Like a forest lake that mirrors every leaf

Above it, undisturbed by surface things.

 

A steadfast arm and clear untroubled thought-

Let these be mine, and all else be forgot.”

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The Radicals

April 14, 1967

I have kept Isaiah Josefs’ tale far too long to myself. Sometimes I wonder what is the use of writing -all this. After all, who will read these lines ? Then I feel that it is my duty to bear witness. Even against myself.

Where do I start ? Perhaps in the beginning of the thirties, when I first moved to Berlin. I was lonely at first. But (atleast in those days) I was said to be good company, and within no time a little group began to meet at a restaurant in the Alexanderplatz. It was a time of great changes and of revolution.

There were twelve of us and Isaiah. We were bachelors and so our weekends were spent discussing philosophy and politics, our voices loud and free, our thoughts clarified by the good beer. It was a motley bunch. There was James Clausewitz, the half-English professor of logic, a fiery Communist who we nicknamed Freiherr for his refined manners; Shimon, the taciturn bookbinder; Peter Fischer – that’s me – I worked then in the department of statistics at the University. There was Matheo, the businessman who supplied us fine wines through his contacts when wine became a little difficult to find. Can I ever forget those well-known faces ? But the face that rises up before me again, and again, is that of Isaiah Josef, the sculptor. He was not our leader, not the most talkative man there, nor the most intellectual, nor the most humorous. No, Isaiah was simply our conscience.

The years passed and the shadows lengthened, but we continued to laugh and sing and make irreverent jokes at our meetings, and to play forbidden jazz music. But soon we could exclude the shadows no longer. One weekend Lukas did not come for our weekly dinner. We went to see him at his home. He was sitting with his head in his hands: they’d taken his fiancé away.

And so it went on. As life became more and more difficult we thought of retaliation, of bombs placed in strategic halls and targeted assassinations. I was most enthusiastic about these ideas, and soon it was an increasingly more radicalized, directionless set of men that I led. Isaiah would sometimes look troubled at some of our ideas. But he did not hinder us in our activities, and actively aided us like a good comrade should.

He never quite agreed with us, though. “Paying back our enemy in the same coin is never the answer” he would say. “How can we, comrades, hope for a moral revolution if we use the same repulsive methods of our enemy?”

“What is the answer then?” I cried out one January evening, in real agony. I looked around me at the withered, stricken faces and wished I was not the one they called their leader. All of us were there, gathered in a ramshackle inn on the riverside. A meagre dinner lay uneaten on the table, but we dared not go back to our apartments. We were wanted men.

“What is the answer then?” I cried again. The clock struck eleven in answer. Only I noticed Jude Ullmann slip quietly out of the door. I thought little of it. We kept staring listlessly at the single candle on the table.

“I do not know, Fischer,” came Isaiah’s voice, a little troubled. “Perhaps all this really has no meaning, and it’s exactly like the modernists say: life is meaningless, and men are inherently wicked, and God doesn’t exist. Perhaps all that we have believed in is false. I hope it does not come to that.” he added softly.

“It’s you!” I cried angrily, walking up to my old friend and shaking him roughly. “It’s you who are the cause of our failure, you who have sold us to the fascists! You have purchased your safety at the price of your comrades!” I do not remember what else I said, my eyes were stinging and my throat burnt as I flung accusation after accusation at the man. All I remember is that he remained seated calmly through my diatribe, neither rejecting, nor accepting, his only expression one of compassion.

I stopped only when I heard the dull thud of hob-nailed boots.

“It is too late to go anywhere now,” someone said.

“But not too late to pray,” smiled Isaiah.

And so when the police broke the doors in, they found us kneeling, side by side, praying to a God we weren’t sure existed. They laughed uproariously. For ten whole minutes.

Anger rose in my heart, to be overtaken by a mad fear, when I saw Ullmann with them.

“Which is the leader?” barked the captain. My wrists were trembling, I thought surely they would notice, our hands were up above our heads. Ullmann said nothing in reply to the soldier’s question, but pointed mutely at my friend, the sculptor.

I froze.

In that moment, my past and my future all ceased to matter. Before me was a choice, and I had to decide in seconds. Both paths led to Death, but one would kill my body first, and the other, my soul.

I was not sure I had a soul any more. And so I chose accordingly.

********************************************************************

They executed Isaiah Josefs, stateless man, sculptor, failed conspirator, on a cold day while we watched, shivering. They hanged him at sunset, as an example to the Camp, and through each horrible moment of it it was as though I saw my own hands putting the noose around his neck and my foot kicking away the rough stool, heard my own voice laugh harshly and blaspheme at the limp body as it swung in the bitter Saxon breeze.

Is it of any use now to record the terrible ways in which all of the others died ? More skilled men have told of the dreadful things that happened in those days. I am the only survivor of the thirteen: the twelve of us and Isaiah. But my soul is dead. It died the day I saw them take Isaiah away, and did not say a word. It died truly, whatever religions say about the immortality of the soul. I don’t believe in God and Heaven and Hell anymore. But sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, cold and sweating, crying out: My God, my God, how will you forgive me ?

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“And what then?”

http://aclerkofoxford.blogspot.in/2015/04/and-what-then.html

” Imagine if Lanfranc had said to Anselm, as many a powerful person might have done, ‘if you don’t know what you want to do with your life by the age of 26, I can’t help you!’ What a difference kindness makes.”

 

 

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