Last month marked the launch of the Smithsonian Institution’s ‘Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation’ travelling exhibit at the Asian American Resource Centre (AARC) in Austin, Texas, organised by my friends ArchanaVemulapalli, PoojaSethi and others associated with the South Asian Austin Moms (SAAM). The exhibit highlights signal moments in the South Asian American experience, posing a rich counterpoint to the simplistic narrative currently being projected by hyper-nationalist voices about the history and presence of this community in America.
The opening panel was with novelist ChaitaliSen and poet UshaAkella. One audience question that most intrigued me that day, and has stayed with me, concerned writers’ rituals: whether one has them, what they are and what purpose they serve. While my fellow panellists did not seem too keen on rituals, for me they were crucial 20 years ago and like my attitudes towards everything else in writing — such as ignoring publishers’ needs altogether and writing as though I didn’t expect to get published — I have come full circle about rituals, too.
I joked that day about my bright green shirt which is in very bad shape — and which I am wearing now, stains and all, as I write this — and about other objects and surroundings I rely on to push me, unthinkingly, into a concentrated frame of mind. I cannot function, as perhaps others can, in noise and stimulation. For me, the ideal is pure emptiness, a mental and physical vacuum that frees the mind and body to concentrate on the task at hand.
The more predictability that can be built into the circumstances surrounding the writing act, the more the writer is going to surprise himself with the quality of writing. To be a writer, one must negate everything that might constitute a “writer’s personality.” At the panel I mentioned as the paradigmatic example William Shakespeare, who does not exist for us as a person, because his writing takes up all the space in our imagination.
But what role do rituals play in this conception of the writer’s task? The writer, as I suggested at the panel, ideally shouldn’t function in the time-space continuum we know familiarly, what we mistakenly interpret as “reality.” Rituals are one — though certainly not the only — way to recalibrate reality in the writer’s favour, so that one is free to imagine in a pure vacuum.
A ritual — such as clocking in at a certain specified hour (for me, it is first thing in the morning before the distractions of the day, as I suspect is true for many other writers as well) or wearing certain clothes or eating certain foods or surrounding oneself with certain objects — triggers a fall into the writing mood, as though by hypnosis or auto-suggestion, like Alice falling down the rabbit hole.
But more than that, writers’ rituals are a rude thumbing of the nose at the rituals “normal people” follow in the ordinary conduct of life.
For, make no mistake about it, though writers and artists may be maligned for their eccentric behaviour, the ceremonials of any person dedicated to slaving for corporate capitalism, or any of the established occupations, appear obsessively repetitious from the first to the last waking moment: when and how one dresses and transports oneself, what one eats and how one exercises, how one speaks and conducts oneself in public, the minute attention paid to the tiniest aspects of one’s children’s lives so that they, too, grow up believing in the indispensability of such protocols for “success.”
Compared to the unending parades of everyone else’s unremarked protocols, a writer’s rituals, by highlighting a few specific ones, almost function as antidotes to the conventional idea of rituals. By following a handful of our own choosing, we try to wrench punctuality, predictability, honour and manners away from those who currently monopolise these ideas.
When we writers follow rituals, we are signalling our allegiance to our own modes of fantasy. Using an ancient typewriter (or Word 2000 on a 10-year-old IBM laptop in my case) or writing in longhand or composing only at a certain time or in a specific room, suggests not only a closing off of conventional erotic possibilities, but an opening up of the far greater erotic potential of the imagination.
Objects are everything. Every single object in nature speaks and has moods, including rocks, which look like the most inanimate things of all. But rocks, too, think and feel, as do all objects of fetish, except that writers don’t fix them within the political economy of consuming and using up, but granting them honour as independent entities.
Our sense of independence is defined by the uniqueness of the rituals we follow. To look at a writer’s rituals is to get a glimpse into what he or she considers indispensable for the imagination to take off.
Rituals make us strip down to our barest essentials: that one piece of totemic clothing or object on the desk, or a certain tree one likes to look at, or a cat who is an indispensable companion. Rituals let us compress the entire world to the sanctity of that one object or hour or place, letting us ignore all the rest of it.
It is not so much a method of compartmentalisation, the way popular psychology has it, but a splitting off of different worlds. Once this splitting off has been set in motion, the writer, ritual-bound and honour-obsessed, observes things from a great distance, as though he or she were not even alive.
So rituals are more than eccentric observances, coincidental to the act of writing. At least, that is how I see them. They hint toward an elusive magic, of non-being, of living in the absent present that writers are always trying to seize upon. They are trivial acts of desperation, as though to cling permanently to something that doesn’t even exist.
Although the world may think of them as mere superstitions, I think of them as rather more meaningful. They are enlivened dreams, shortcuts to dreaming while being awake, talismanic triggers to the unknown world.
Beyond the edge
Amir Suhail Wani
A voice lost to wilderness or the madman’s rubric, any talk of religion, God, metaphysic, values and reality suffers any of two possible consequences. Giving him the advantage of anonymity, a top notch Jamat I Islami scholar pertinently described modern epistemology with all its offspring as the means and instruments of ensuing and securing a revolt against the God and religion. Never before was civilization so shallow in matters of faith and never before a unanimous and collective onslaught was launched against the sacred, Transcendent and divine. A mere mentions of words like “Divine”, “sacred” or “Transcendent” makes people, experiencing the opiedation of modernism, to rise their eyebrows. Any talk of worlds beyond the sensual is termed as intellectual backlog. World has seen, now and then, people rising, out of their intellectual sincerity or otherwise rising against religion and God. But historically they could never enjoy the status of metanarrative, but were always, by virtue of historical entelechy confined to margins of civilization. In post renaissance era world has succeeded, by and large, in constructing a civilisation and culture with man rather than God as its ontic reference. This man centered civilization has paved all the possible ways for criticism and demolition of religious metanarrative.
Let’s come to philosophy first. Modern philosophy, starting with Descartian skepticism and evolving through the stages of Positivism, Naturalism, Materialism Nihilism and Existentialism, seems to have ultimately ended up at postmodernism. The possibilities of future development can’t be ignored nor can it be claimed that postmodernism is an all pervasive philosophical trend claiming universal adherence. But the broader picture of things has unfolded thus. Postmodernism maintains incredulity towards metanarrative and has brought with it a host of questions. Traditionally and even upto recent past man seemed to be unanimous on ontic and epistemic stability of things. But with postmodernism not only have been the institutions of religious and traditional importance held under scrutiny but the very fundamentals of human existence like language, society and all other institutions of human importance have been deprived of their ontic reference and have been made to float freely in abyss of uncertainty.
The case with science has been no better. Being a victim of excessive and inordinate empiricism, the Modern day science has surrendered to the plight of sensory epistemology. This has left little scope for the discovery of Transcendence in the framework of traditional science.
Ibn Arabi, a classical theorizer of Islamic mysticism noted that “God is a percept, not a concept”. In this single line, the master has resolved an age old question and the problems associated with it. The notion of “conceptual scheme” as it has been adopted unquestionably alike by scientists and philosophers has brought with it an equal number of goods and ills. Man has turned obsessive to reduce everything to his conceptual categories. The human attitude of dividing a problem into subunits, though it has paid heavily in scientific realm, but has simultaneously brought irreconcilable problems in other affairs of human existence. Modern medicine treats biology disentangled from psychology and this piecemeal approach has landed us in an era where we know more and more about less and less. In a sense we know everything about nothing and nothing about everything. Traditionally things were seen associated and entangled in the cosmic Web. Coming back to human methodology of understanding things by dividing them into subcategories and then understanding things in terms of local mental categories has distorted and ruined our understanding of God, sacred and divine. We need to understand that the laws formulated by human mind are refuted within the physical realm itself. Thus the laws obeyed by matter aren’t obeyed by light and the laws applicable to fermions are completely defied by bosons. So within our physical immediacy are instances to cleave apart our ultimate trust in the laws of physics. The unending quest for unified theory in physics might bring further insights in this direction. Thus we need to be careful and watchful to the fact that the laws of matter do not apply to the realm of spirit. Coming back to God who is neither material nor spiritual, neither defined by material boundaries nor circumscribed by contours of space we need to be all the more careful. While we try to understand God in terms of mental categories derived from our physical realm we need to be very cautious that all these categories do not hold true beyond this material universe. Our conceptual schemes, which in the final analysis rest on the categories of mundane material realm are too coarse and inappropriate to conceptualise and theorise the realm of divine, sacred and godhead. At a point where despite all boasting scientific discoveries man is yet incapable of understanding his basic biology and where despite of conquering the vastness of space man is yet to gain a glimpse of his psychological depths any sweeping statements and miscalculated statements oriented towards reduction of divine to categories of psyche seems but a naive affair. The enlightened theologians, mystics and philosophers of the past have explicitly denounced the access of finite human mind to infinite cosmic intelligence. What God has informed us here and there in sacred texts is to contemplate the nature and our own selves. This unbiased contemplation is sure to bring forth some indirect aspects of divine. Though we shall be fully conscious of the fact that within the physical universe and human civilization there are instances which are heartrending, discouraging and at times they run quite contrary to the notion of divine. But the mystics and enlightened men throughout the history have been able to dissect the veil of appearance and have succeeded in looking at the essence of existence. On having this enlightened vision they bowed their heads and understood the essence of these apparent vagaries of nature. Ibrahim, the father of modern monotheism, Buddha a silent contemplator, Nanak, a socially conscious religious purgatory amply demonstrate this state of enlightenment.
Modern scientific mind is highly welcome in questioning the authenticity of religion, aspects of divine and the apparent chaos that is witnessed everywhere in physical and social landscape. There can be no proper understanding in absence of questioning. Likewise doubt is an essential ingredient of faith. But while one raises questions in atheist or any such frame one must have patience, tolerance and wide sightedness to understand theistic point of view. To dub religion irrational for its simple disagreement with science seems a rather constricted opinion. Religion has been a great architect in shaping the course of human civilization and to unfasten our knots with this perennial source of wisdom, learning, inspiration and exaltation will amount to gross intellectual injustice. The need of hour is not to posit theists and atheists as antithetical but to encourage each to understand the point of other. Maybe in this collective endeavour humanity discovers a paradigm that has still not been thought of.
(The author is a freelance columnist with bachelors in Electrical Engineering and a student of comparative studies with special interests in Iqbaliyat & mystic thought. He contributes a weekly column for this newspaper that appears every Monday. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
SURGICAL STRIKE ON AGING
A man cannot alter his inevitable fate. But he can manage the way he comes to terms with it. If he does so, rather than simply letting events take their course, he can do much to prolong the richness of his life as well as his years. It is immediately after the middle age that one starts counting the years having added to one’s life and that is the time one is visited by unwelcome feeling of getting old. Aging upsets for a variety of reasons. One finds that his longtime associates with whom were his emotional bonds, such as parents and grandparents besides many more loved ones are not around while others down the line like children or grandchildren are genuinely for life’s pursuits drifting away. This shrinking socialization with one’s kith and kin throws psychological challenges leading to the feelings of loneliness, despair and depression. The problem is particularly acute in men who have themselves carried through important activities in their careers while making a living and find suddenly the phase coming to an end with the statutory age of retirement. That may be one aspect of feeling old but otherwise also there are other bells ringing like loss of energy and will, ailment and inertia. To combat the effects of old age, from a number of sources do come the suggestions and instructions like what kind of food, exercise, interaction and activity be undertaken once the old age sets in. Having due regard to the wisdom attached to that kind of counselling, I am more impressed and influenced while remaining in association of at least two exemplary elders of our society. One was a senior colleague, late K L Koul, who lived up to a hundred and for half of it as a diabetic but his grace, wit and wisdom stayed with him all his life. I was of the age of his grandchild, when he treated me as his friend the way he treated any of his own age. He always favored me with books that I could not have read otherwise as he was himself a great book lover. He continues to be my inspiration to defeat the effects of old age which he did while confronting numerous challenges of life and never giving in to any. Another model that I have come across, was father of my longtime friend Afzal. Afzal’s father, Kh Mohammad Sidique Parray of Shivepora kicked the bucket at the age of hundred and seven as an alert person with all the positive attitude towards life and interestingly gave himself a shave the morning he died. Always as affectionate and as friendly with his great grandchildren as with the people of his own generation. More surprising is the fact that he at the age of hundred wrote a book of memoirs, though yet to be published, reflecting socio-political life of the times when none of us were born. There may be many such examples but I have come across these two classic examples who were neither afraid of death nor were they bowed down by the cruelty of the old age. Two important things I learned from them is that reading and writing trains the mind towards positivity and halts negative thoughts. There are many other instances of the advantages of reading, writing or creative activity that we read about. Titian completed his “The Battle of Lepanto”, at 95; he began work on one of the most famous paintings in the world “The Descent from the Cross,” when he was 97. Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals at 78. These men are the exceptions, of course. But the fact that many people can mature creatively indicates that there is indeed hope for all of us. Age brings experience and sound judgement. Experience is the best teacher. Old people are wise and young people, impetuous. In fact nobody gets old by merely living a number of years. People get old by deserting their ideas and ideals. Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. Better is also not to tell your age. It is not important. If you keep telling your age to the people that will catalogue you then you are sure to be in a mold from which you cannot escape. Be yourself: Let the world think what it likes. It is better not to know the age or weariness or defeat. That is going to be wonderful. It is, therefore, not to have hangovers and wrap up the past in a scroll, tie a pink ribbon around it, put it away in a drawer and go about doing the things you have always wanted to do. Never confine to a trench as there is always a new firing line beyond.
(A leading lawyer and eminent poet, author can be reached at: email@example.com)
Migratory Birds: Across the Border & Yet at Home
By Bhushan Parimoo
As the spring start replacing the winter, the Winged Visitors make necessary preparations once more for their seasonal migration. Migration has been a way of life for survival oscillating with a starling precision. Between summer and winter habitats apart thousands of Kilometres between each other. And each time before taking the flight for onward journey towards homeland. Wish the Host a thankful Goodbye with a usual V-Shaped Formation. For the homely comforts they had enjoyed here. They migrate usually in the formation of V-Shape .A typical of them to conserves their energy. Each bird flies slightly above the bird in front of him, resulting in a reduction of wind resistance. The birds take turns being in the front, falling back when they get tired. Thus fly for a long time before they must stop for rest. Easier for them to keep track of each member of the flock. Heart rates have also been found to be lower when flying in a V versus flying solo doesn’t fly in straight lines. State of Jammu and Kashmir has been a land of promise to them for centuries without fail. It is a home away from home for all the purposes in all the seasons. Late Master Samsar Chand Kaul a world famed Ornithologist from Kashmir while studying birds of Kashmir. Had often expressed that the State can be safely called a Paradise for the Migratory Birds: Universal Citizens on this planet. Geographically the State is positioned on Central Asian-Indian Flyway and the Palearctic – Oriental zoogeographic regions, partly within the Tibetan biome and on the boundary of Ladhakh. Offer ideal atmosphere and unmatched conducive Habitat. That is why it has the routes followed by migratory birds on their journeys between their breeding and wintering places. Serves passage as well a transitory camps enroute the plains of India and for the reverse journey too. Once State was proud to have envious large number of Wetlands/Lakes. Which made it a warm hearted host to winged visitors for all the seasons and reasons . Offered unlimited varied choice to offer to the migratory birds of all kinds or the local ones to select sites of their choices. That has been the reason these seasonal regular visitors make their way here to escape the harsh extreme freezing conditions prevailing in their summer resorts during this period of time and state provide them a homely environ to stay and thrive. Migrating birds cover thousands of miles in their annual travels, often travelling the same course year after year with little variation. Land here from Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, some countries of Eastern Europe (Russia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Siberia, China, Japan, Philippines. New Zealand and other regions of the world. It has been admitted beyond any shade of doubt, which elders knew over centuries though termed them illiterate, that the intimate linkages between some bird species and their habitats make them useful for identifying ecosystem health. As such, they were welcomed being indicators of deteriorating habitat quality and environmental pollution. More so as metrics to determine the success of restoration efforts. Helps in maintaining sustainable population levels of their prey and predator species and, after death, provide food for scavengers and decomposers. Many birds are important in plant reproduction through their services as pollinators or seed dispersers. This very basic parameters authorities, failed to take note of and leaving much to be desired to have measures taken to stick to basics of maintaining the wetlands and other water bodies. Lakes and other water bodies big or small are on constant on decline .In the process becoming the lesser the numbers year after year. Before our very eyes in recent past many of them have either vanished and others parching abandoned as orphans. Those still struggled to survive but like others are dying by degrees. Some of the spots scattered here all over the Kashmir range has not left even traces of them except in remembrance by the elders, laminating the wisdom of the authorities. It has been given to understand that there are 183 species from the sub-tropical plains of Jammu. In the wetlands, Pargwal, Kokerian, Gharana, Dansral, Nanga, and at other places. Except Gharana which has been reduced to one fifth of its original size all others has been vanished in the thin air. Out of 183 species said to be here in this part mention is often made of a few of them. For instance bar-headed geese, Gadwalls, common teals, purple swamp hens, , Indian moor hens, black-winged stilts, Cormorant, egret , Green Shanks etc .The Kashmir in its both the temperate and alpine regions has 262 species .Mention generally made of Brahminy Duck, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Garganey, Greylag Goose, Mallard, Common Merganser, Northern Pintail, Common Pochard, Ferruginous Pochard, Red-Crested Pochard, Ruddy Shelduck, Northern Shoveler, Common Teal, and Eurasian Wigeonthe Bar-headed Goose, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Common Pochard, Ferruginous Duck and Northern Cardinal and may be of a few more . Claimed to be spotted all the mountain areas like Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Sonamarg etc. For wild ducks (migratory / seasonal) and other waterfowl you can visit Hokarsar, Anchar, Manasbal, Wular, Dal & Nageen Lakes Feroze Nalla (Tangmarg). The cold high and dry -level desert of Ladakh has 225 species.. As winter winged visitors are being bade a heartfelt farewell here. At the same time passionate welcome awaits to the summer migratory winged visitor in Ladhakh plateau .The State Bird Black Necked Crane for whom every Ladhakhi wait eagerly to Greet .Some of the birds are found Bar-headed Goose, Himalayan Seacock, Tibetian Snowcock, Tibetan Sandgrouse, Grey-heads strike Lanius tephronotus (race lahulensis):White-throated Dipper Brown Dipper, Tickell’s Thrust Turdus unicolor, White-winged Redstart, White-brown Tit Wabler, Tibetain Lark Melanocorypha maxima.Plain-backed Snowfinch,Brandit’sMountain Finch Leucosticte brandti. Great Rosefinch Carpodacus rubicilla and many others .Noticed at,Tsokar Plains ,Tso-Kar (a salt lake) and Startsapuk-Tso (a freshwater lake) ,Tsomoriri Lake , Puga-Sumdo Valley,Nubra Valley and others. About the number of species found in the state is presumed to be compiled from the old records prior to pre 1947 reporting. Through media Department makes available number of winged visitors visited during the season, focusing a couple of places in the entire state. While this writer along with entire section of elders observe with each passing years the drastically reduction in numbers of the visitors. The sites with which the visitors had a centuries old relation are not mostly there now. And in many cases those do exits are in a pathetic conditions. What How many of the species mentioned remain, the number and the status at present seem to be a classified secret never made public. Come October Hosts both naturalists and the poachers pass days in expectation of their arrival at their usual sites in the valley as well as in Jammu. Delighted is everyone to find their arrival numbers grow with each passing days. This goes at times as late as February end. The Birdwatchers count the number compare with previous arrivals and worried all the time how to save them. It is revealing that the Department of Wildlife Protection, with limited resources do contribute to ensure to contain poaching these days. Protection Department but before those in power when involved it gets helpless which is most distressing aspect in the protection of these innocent harmless Guests. Some Hunting Gears including Guns has been reported seized by the enforcing agency at times at great risks, but past track record reveals almost nil convictions .Migration instinct have been emerged, developed and perfected in the animals for various reasons. Some travel long distances on a seasonal basis for food, finding their meal of choice hundreds and thousands of miles away. Others make their journeys to find mates while still others do it to avoid unfavourable weather. The golden jellyfish might travel just a few hundred meters on their daily migration, following the sun. Some kinds of plankton start their day hundreds of feet down the water column before coming up nearer the surface while the sun is out. At night they migrate back down to lower depths. Migratory Birds require a great deal of strength and stamina a huge feat of endurance. Roughly one in five bird species migrate. When travelling between their breeding and wintering grounds, birds don’t choose their paths at random. They undertake set routes that include suitable habitats where they can stop to rest and refuel along the way. Have remarkable migration patterns and navigation skills including homing (return to same area after migration) instinct which has always fascinated and puzzled human minds. Birds visualize and recognize even landmarks like mountains, rivers, and so on to navigate from one geographical region to other. Birds can get compass information from the sun, the stars, and by sensing the earth’s magnetic field. They also get information from the position of the setting sun and from landmarks seen during the day. There’s even evidence that sense of smell plays a role, at least for homing pigeons. Some species, particularly waterfowl and cranes, follow preferred pathways on their annual migrations. These pathways are often related to important stopover locations that provide food supplies critical to the birds’ survival. Smaller birds tend to migrate in broad fronts across the landscape. First-year birds often make their very first migration on their own. Somehow they can find their winter home despite never having seen it before, and return the following spring to where they were born. The secrets of their amazing navigational skills aren’t fully understood, partly because birds combine several different types of senses when they navigate. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was enacted in 1918 prohibits the killing of them there are a little over 1,000 different species that are protected under the act .Unfortunately migratory birds are now more threatened than ever , with more than 40 percent of species declining. Desirable for the J&K Department of Wildlife Protection has to make necessary efforts to reach unto the people around the sites where these Visitors grace the State with their selection and stay. And make them aware the importance to save them, have their active participation to ensure to protect the habitats for which they have travelled thousands of Kilometres to be our guest. Let us hope, necessary orientation shall be carried to bring the mission on right track to Save Birds.
(The Writer is a Jammu based Environmentalist)
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