Book of the Week

 

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Title: Vanity Fair
Author: W.M. Thackeray

First published in 1847-48, Vanity Fair was given described as a novel without a hero by the author, William Makepeace Thackeray. Though it is supposed to be a satirisation of society in 19th century Britain, I feel it is relevant in today’s context too.

Thackeray has given us a glimpse of  human nature was through the lives of two friends and classmates, Amelia Sedley(Emmy) and Rebecca Sharp(Becky). Emmy and Becky are two contrasting characters whose interactions with the outside world bring out the differences in their outlook and, therefore, futures. In the beginning, Emmy is the rich good and popular girl whereas Becky is the poor, clever and scheming girl leaving a finishing school. Becky had to teach music and french as well as study. Her father had died, leaving her penniless. He requested the school to help her out. Becky resented the fact that she had to tolerate the younger pupils and put up with the snobbery of the girls and teachers.

Both Emmy and Becky are given a dictionary when they are leaving as are all students at the academy. Becky throws her dictionary at the sentimental teacher who had to persuade the school to give her one as she was a charity student.The teacher fainted at the affront.  Instead of seeing what the institution could do for her (it did get her her job, and hence, her husband), Becky clung to what the institution didnot do for her. For, the rest of her life, she strove to become a socialite, forgot to be a mother, a wife or a friend. She seduced Emmy’s husband though Emmy had been nothing but kind to her. Emmy gave her a home when they left school.

When Emmy’s family lost their fortune, she proved herself to be an excellent mother, wife, daughter and friend. She lived for love and was a kind person who would never hurt anyone. Emmy’s character seems to be insipid and boring as do the lives of many upright women of conviction. Becky’s climb up the social ladder makes for more racy reading. But Emmy lived for others and Becky lived for herself.

If one were to contextualise the actions of these two ladies in terms of human nature, perhaps one should draw from a speech given by Hyperides in the 3 rd-4 th century BC. This speech has been recently translated by William Noel’s institution as a part of the Archimedes Palimpsest. I heard it in a TED talk by Noel. The translation as given by Noel says,

Best of all is to win. But if you can’t win, then you should fight for a noble cause, because then you will be remembered.

Becky’s sole cause was herself. She could not even love her son more than herself. She only wants to be the most powerful, the most sought after and the most popular. She is a character devoid of love or of appreciation of love. Only material things and fame matter to her. How she arrives at these things is unimportant. She can rob the poor to conceal her own poverty. Emmy, on the other hand, does nothing for herself, doesnot care for what people say. She lives for love and not for social recognition. She is an excellent mother. Though Thackeray uses the word  weak to describe her, I would rate her as a strong woman because she acts with conviction. Becky, in my opinion is a weak woman, because she is caught up in proving herself to a world that is perhaps not even interested in acknowledging her existence.

In the end, Thackeray gives Amelia a happy future with a loving husband and son and Becky is left destitute by her husband, son and family, eking out a living by gambling and by her wits in Europe. She seems to come into wealth by engineering the death of Jos Sedley ( Emmy’s brother) who leaves her half his fortune. So, has she stooped to murder?

Thackeray in the course of the story makes a number of astute observations on life, living and love. One of his observations on human nature says

One of the great conditions of anger and hatred is that you must tell and believe the lies against the hated object, in order, as we said, to be consistent.

I find this very relevant in today’s context of violence and hatred that is tearing our world apart. He had made this comment in context of Emmy’s father, whose closest friend (Osborne) turned against him and condemned him when he lost his fortune. I think this statement also holds against all kinds of sectarian violence and hatred.

I enjoyed Vanity Fair because Thackeray is an excellent storyteller. I like the way he relates the story and brings out the contrasts, making statements that are relevant in today’s world too. The Emmys of the world will always be regarded as insipid and the Beckys as the glamour girls that are written about in magazines and appear in newsreels. The social relevance of the book makes it a classic.

The Creators

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Lemuria… the land of mists and murmurs came into being tens of thousands of years ago when mankind was in its throes of infancy. The ancient man saw the lemurians as gods from the skies. The modern man did not know they existed!

Lemuria was a strange land shrouded by white misty clouds. They had green hills and loud raging seas with patches of sunshine peeping through the clouds and mists. Flitting in the mists were tall and graceful lemurians. They were robed in white. Their skin seemed to glow with the light of the moon.

The lemurians descended on Earth because they needed a planet to live on. Their own planet was facing destruction from an aging sun. Some remained on the planet but many left to find planets they could terraform and continue living their lives as they had been used to.

Few of the space ships landed on Earth. In those times, Earth was scarcely populated. This suited the lemurians. They lived in harmony with nature terraformed by them. Their children were thought beings they developed with emanations from their minds. To reach out and make friends with mankind, who seemed rather primitive to them, they made some thought beings look human. These creatures were sent out as lemurian ambassadors to mankind. When people met these creatures, they thought they had descended from heaven, as they seemed to appear from nowhere. In reality, they were teleporting. But in those days, man’s comprehension did not stretch beyond the confines of his land and experience. Instantly, he gave these tall well-dressed, glowing creatures a divine status. They became the gods of mankind.

Lemurians had conquered disease. Death was a process that occurred in a five hundred years. After a full life, death was seen as a process of regeneration. The lemurians just dissolved into the mists when they died.Every lemurian was replaced by thought beings, who had powers similar to their parent. Some, who were made to interact with humans, had multiple biological systems that could adapt both to human and lemurian needs. Life went on peacefully for sometime.

The lemurians communicated telepathically. They did not have a language problem. It was easy for them to understand man’s words as they could read their minds. They could pick up the language very quickly and easily without man figuring out they did not know the language. The lemurians used a hundred per cent of their brain while man used only a small percentage.

As mankind advanced in intelligence, time and history, lemurians realized that they could no longer continue to live in harmony with these creatures whose wants came not from just needs but also from their greed. When battles started over land and violence became an accepted reality among mankind, these graceful aliens decided to create a separate space for themselves. The lemurian quest for ages had been to harmonize with that source of energy that created life and eluded all comprehension. War, hatred, anger were all emotions that took away from the positive. The lemurians wanted to experience only the positive energy so that they could focus more on understanding the energy that creates and destroys life, as it did their own life-giving sun. To keep negativity at bay, they decided to create dimensions. They did not violate or hurt man but, one day, they just seemed to fade out of existence. They had gone into a new dimension.

Some of the mythological creatures on the magic dimension’s island of wonder were children of thought beings and humans. But, no one except the lemurians knew that. The gods of mankind were lemurian too. The lemurians continued transmitting thoughts to people who were able to communicate with minds.

The lemurians, disappointed at the turns mankind’s history was taking, decided to create the creator’s dimension, which would help mankind evolve into a more positive being, into a creature that would live in harmony with nature and each other. The first five councilors were thought beings with human functions only. They mated with humans and founded a new dimension.

The councilor’s job was to experiment with different ideas to create a perfect civilization and home for man. They had not yet achieved this.

Sometimes, when people thought there had been a mass disaster where many died, the creators had merely generated an illusion and moved a group of people to new dimensions. Their minds would be wiped out and they would restart life on a clean slate, thinking what the creators would have them think.

People from the other dimensions who could communicate telepathically were also brought in. Sometimes, they made sure that some of the minds were replicated in a number of dimensions, as was Jasmine’s. These replicated people had  powerful minds and had their origins from the creator’s dimension.

Over eras, the creators had developed biases and some of them, felt a little more equal than others. These people made sure that they became council members. When this group rose to power, they wanted all creators to be in sync with their thoughts. Any aberrations were not tolerated. Jasmine with her open thought process became an exception. She wanted a dimension that would be open to all dimensions. The creators, like other humans, wanted their dimension to remain exclusive. That is why it was important for them to eradicate her and her multiple selves from the multiverse.

Jasmine, Jacaranda and Gorge had pinged to Lemuria. They landed by the raging sea when they arrived. Jasmine knew very less about this dimension. She had not ever met any of them in the mind stream. In fact, the lemurians were never sensed in the mind stream. But she knew there was a seaside in Lemuria from her history lessons. She knew that every creature in the creator’s dimension looked upto the lemurians.

The sea raged around them and there was a strong breeze. The little group moved inwards towards the green cliffs at the end of the beach. Jasmine could sense soft, reassuring murmurs rising from the sea. Despite the turbulence of the sea, she felt calm and at peace at last.

 

 

Book of the Week

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Title: The Leadership Secrets of Genghis Khan

Author: John Man

Published in 2009, The Leadership Secrets of Genghis Khan, combines history and leadership theory. I truly enjoy all of John Man’s books. He writes on history with a passion and makes it come to life for me.

I found this book very easy to read and could fully visualise the young Genghis Khan creating history riding through the grasslands of Mongolia to Bulgaria and Korea. Genghis Khan by Man’s description was not only a man of integrity but also charismatic. He is a leader with a vision and a mission, the vision being to have Mongols rule the world and his mission was to attain it at all costs. Man does point out that though his vision was a little  insane , we have to understand that in his times, there were no cartographers and Genghis Khan had no idea how big the world was. Given that context, he went as far as he could go.

Man has used translations of what has been passed down of Genghis Khan’s words to bring out what a great leader Genghis Khan was. This is what the grand Khan wrote with the wealth of China at his feet in a letter to inviting his Daoist spiritual guide to his court.

Heaven has abandoned China owing to its haughtiness and extravagant luxury. But I, living in the northern wilderness, have not inordinate passions. I hate luxury and exercise moderation. I have only one coat and one food. I eat the same food and am dressed in the same tatters as my humble herdsmen. I consider people my children, and take an interest in talented men as if they were my brothers…

Man shows us how Genghis Khan actually bears out the truth of what he expressed in this letter. A sable coat was gifted to his mother by his in-laws when he married at sixteen. He or his mother never wore it. Instead, he used it as an asset to negotiate with another tribal leader. He lived frugally in tents with his herdsmen and raged through the grasslands to create an empire which lasted for almost a century as opposed to the legendary Qin Shi Huang Di whose dynasty lasted only from 221 to 206 BC and who bequeathed the world a grand mausoleum for himself in the guise of Terracotta warriors.

Genghis Khan wanted to be buried in secret for the sake of his dreams. He was in the process of subjugating the Tanguts. His team moved on to build on his vision and create the Yuan Dynasty, which lasted from 1234 AD to 1368 AD. Genghis himself died in 1227AD. His vision was fulfilled by others in his clan who regarded him as someone who had divine rights to unite them and lead them. He was an influential leader who cared for his people and unified those under him.  Man sums it up by writing Genghis Khan had

Humility and tolerance together: two surprising traits in a world conquerer notorious for his power and brutality. 

Genghis was brutal, Man explains, not because he found pleasure in senseless violence but to create an empire. The Tangut culture,among others, and its script were wiped out only because they stood in the way of his dream of unified world empire under the Mongols. His vision was more important to him than lives of evanescent humankind.

Man also highlights how Genghis Khan always valued talent beyond race. He was a multi national in his outlook as was his grandson Kublai, in whose reign Marco Polo thrived. Many talented foreigners did join the Mongols as they slashed through the steppes, unstoppable, unbeatable. He tried to integrate the nomadic tribes around the Mongols and to create a unified script by borrowing from the Uighurs. Genghis Khan lent an ear not only to good advise from his companions but also from the women of his family, mother and wives. He is said to be a visionary leader who towers above his times, an extraordinary leader. But is he a good one?

Is a good leader allowed to kill to attain his vision? Then we would have to justify Mustafa Mond (Brave New World) and Big Brother( 1984).

Where does the quest for power lead us? Does the end ever justify the means? Isn’t how you do the thing more important than the end in itself? Should good leadership not have to do with that?

The Creators

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Jasper had spent more than three hours in outer space hovering between stations. He was starting to worry that he would run out of his supply of oxygen if he did not go for a refill. Yet, he was worried that the mind police somehow could have figured out things and might have spread their web to the outer rim filling stations. He decided to make a desperate bid to contact Jasmine. He focused his mind on her.

He was desperately looking for her in the mind stream. But, there was no response. There was so much chatter.

The mind police could sense Jasper in the stream. To entrap him within the stream, they created a chatter web. This would make it easier for them to trace his coordinates.

They were now near the cloud where the two mind policemen were keeping a lookout for Jasper. They knew Jasper had not descended and was not on earth. The mind police decided to use the outer space button to locate Jasper. They jammed on the button. They rose swiftly and suddenly higher and higher at a very high speed… Confronted with the bareness of outer space, they felt bewildered. However, they were still in touch with Jasper’s mind stream.

Every time they spotted a red vehicle,they tried to tally the number plate . The mind police had  a blue car.

As they circled around , they spotted Jasper’s car hovering near a space station. They went near the car and tried to lasso it from the back with a laser loop. But, Jasper still had his shield up. The laser bumped off. Jasper swerved. He realized he had been hit. He could see the blue car behind him. He recognized the car belonged to his assistant, Rudolf. But Rudolf would never hit him. He realized the mind police must have somehow got hold of the car and had traced him. Instantly, he quit the mind stream and zoomed away. He was a more practiced and adept driver than the mind police. The mind police followed him as he re-entered Earth’s atmosphere. He went behind thick rain clouds and disappeared again. He had managed to re-enter his hideout.

The mind police again lost him at his new coordinates. They decided to post some more guards at the new coordinates. What they did not know was this time unknowingly they had hit on the coordinates of his hideout. His hideout on the surface looked like a wild mountain.

Jasper felt the roof of his hideout close above him and heaved a sigh of relief as he got out of his vehicle.

Meanwhile, Jasmine, Jacaranda and Gorge followed Daedalus into his office. It was a huge dark cavern lit by fluorescent lights made of phosphorus. The office glowed with bright lights when it heard Daedalus’s voice. The lights were obviously voice-activated. With his fascination for technology, Daedalus experimented with science and magic to come up with unique products every now and then.

“So, tell me now…,”said Daedalus.

Jacaranda related all their adventures to him. Jasmine pitched in to explain how the issue had started.

“Well, I have one thing to say that you youngsters have a lot of spunk! I have one suggestion to make however. The moon is not as safe as you think. They technological dimension has a strong base there. So do some of the other dimensions, including the magical one. Rather, I think you should start thinking of involving the Lemurians. They are the only ones that can negotiate an amicable solution with the creator’s dimension. They are the only ones the creators fear,” said Daedalus.

“The Lemurians!” Said Jasmine. “I have never met one.”

“I cannot leave this isle without risking my very existence,” said Daedalus. “Otherwise, I would have come.”

“What do you mean … risking your existence?”

“Oh! You don’t know…,” said Jacaranda. “When the residents of isle of wonder leave this island, they lose their bodily existence and remain a only as a spirit, which can occasionally show up as ghosts in other dimensions. The souls here have been given eternal existence by a magic woven into the air of the island.”

“Wow!” Said Gorge. “That means I and Jolyn could live forever here…”

“You do have to face a governing council. It consists of people from magical dimension and the Lemurians. We do not want villains to find their way here. That is why there are spells to keep out souls with black hearts in the air too!” said Daedalus. “I have seen Lemurians only once in the governing council. They are seven to eight feet tall. They wear white robes and are peace-loving. They have powers beyond our comprehension and will always help people in need,” said Daedalus.

“Can we pinge to the Lemurian dimension?” asked Jasmine.

“I don’t see why not,” said Daedalus. “I had started work on pinging but abandoned it! Well good to see it taken up again. But, you can’t pinge from the maze as it is magic proof, technology proof and mind stream proof. Come, I will walk you out so that you can start onto the next lap of your journey.”

They again trooped out behind Daedalus, emerging this time outside the labyrinth, near the stream.

“You can pinge here,” said Daedalus. “I want to see you pinge.”

Jasmine took out the tong.

“Now, what is that?” said Daedalus.

“The pinging tongs,” replied the three simultaneously.

“Use it!”said Daedalus. “I want to see it done first.”

Gorge and Jacaranda held onto Jasmine’s shoulder as she clapped the tongs and the three disappeared.

“Hey ! Get back!”shouted Daedalus. “Now, I want to see the work that went into the tongs.”

But, the three were beyond his reach…

In the dragon’s cave in the magic dimension, things had calmed down. Jolyn was still pining for Gorge but the dragon prince had them all out in the garden involved in mind games so that they could hone their telepathic abilities. Jamie had started opening up. He seemed to be getting over his fears. Jacinth had started communicating very basic issues with JaJa using her mind. For instance, she could figure out when JaJa was hungry. She could give a simple command like ‘wait’. But, when a more complex command was needed, she had to take help from the dragon or Jamie.

Jolyn was starting to discover that women could do things too on their own, without men. In her dimension, women depended entirely on men. They did not work outside the home and had very less schooling. Talking to Jacinth, she was learning that men and women were equal and women could have opinions independent of the men in their lives. Jacinth had told her about Emmeline Pankhurst and how women had moved forward in her dimension.

Jolyn wondered how Gorge would react to her new discoveries. She missed Gorge very much all the time…his smile, his touch, his warmth…

 

 

 

 

 

Book of the Week

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Title: 41 Stories by O. Henry
Author: O. Henry

O. Henry is the pen name of William Sydney Porter(1862-1910). His first collection of short stories appeared in 1904. He continues to be one of the greatest short story writers of the world in my opinion. He could find the extraordinary in the ordinariness of everyday life and bring out the excellence of common men from different cultures who had come to seek a new life in America.

One of my favourites, The Last Leaf, is the story of how an old, unknown artist,  Behrman, painted a leaf on a tree to perfection to give hope to his young tenant, Johnsy.  Behrman rented rooms to Sue and Johnsy. Sue and Johnsy were poor artists too. All of them, including the old man, looked foward to painting a masterpiece at some point. In winter, Johnsy developed pneumonia. She felt hopeless and thought she would die when the last leaf fell from the ivy that clung to the wall outside her window. When old  Behrman heard this story from Sue, he stayed out all night to paint a leaf on the wall that would not fall. It was a wet, cold night.  Behrman caught pneumonia and died while Johnsy, seeing the painted last leaf survive regained hope and recovered. And as Sue tells Johnsy of Behrman’s demise, she says

 …look out the window, dear, at the last ivy leaf on the wall. Didn’t you wonder why it never fluttered or moved when the wind blew? Ah, darling, it’s Behrman’s masterpiece — he painted it on the night that last leaf fell.

The story is poignant and beautiful. It reminds me of St Valentine’s life. When he was imprisoned to be executed for being a christian, he healed his jailer’s  blind daughter. He did for others out of kindness as did Behrman, who on the surface, pretended to be gruff and harsh.

In O.Henry’s best known story, Gift of the Magi, Jim and Della sell each other’s most precious possessions to buy a gift for each other on christmas! Jim sells his ancestral gold watch and Della her beautiful tresses. Jim buys tortoise shell combs for Della’s hair and Della buys a platinum chain for the watch. It is again a very touching story. And just as you feel your heart fill with warmth towards Jim and Della, O.Henry writes,

Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they( Jim and Della) are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

And, in one sense, they are because they value love and giving over their own possessions, a rare gift in today’s world.

Some of O. Henry’s stories are really witty and funny like The Princess and the Puma and Hostages to Momus. The Princess and the Puma is a story about early American settlers in Texas. The princess, a wealthy girl of mixed origins, and tough, is not taken in by a quick witted ranger’s glib tongue but plays along with him. Hostages to Momus is a story about two conmen who feed and feast theIr hostage only to discover he cannot afford the ransom.

Each one of the forty  stories has a surprise ending and is really endearing. The stories explore and unify the diversity of cultures that existed in one land with their irony, humor and empathy towards human nature.

They bring out the best in human nature as does the celebration of diverse festivals (Chinese New Year, Valentine’s day, Family day, Basant Panchami and Saraswati Puja) all over the globe this weekend. 41 Stories by O. Henry reiterates the spirit of giving, kindness, humaneness and multi-cultural coexistence in our one world as do these festivals with their celebration of happiness, spring, wisdom, prosperity and goodness.

Imagine…

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If…

If there were always rainbows in the sky
And colourful fishes could fly,
How would it be?
If the world were full of smiles
And no one ever sighed,
How would it be?
If the grass were always green
And it were eternally spring,
How would it be?
If flowers forever bloomed
And there were no gloom,
How would it be?
Would we still see the glory of a brilliant sunrise,
Marvel at the fishes that bring the pond to life?
Would we know that happiness makes us smile
And sadness brings a tear to the eye?
Would we know the colours of autumnal gold,
The coldness and whiteness of snow?
Would we know the beauty of a budding rose
And feel happy and sad in throes?

The Creators

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Jasper swerved in the darkness at the rim of outer space and stationed himself at a corner of the earth, which twinkled below him like a unique gem. All the buildings in his dimension had become pinpricks till they became altogether invisible. He could see the extra terrestrial movie station and anti-gravity disco at a distance. He knew that here he was safe as the mind police did not have the technology to chase him beyond the clouds. It was only the technological dimension that had successfully started using the space for living, placing stations and entertainment parks near the earth. They were also terraforming Mars.

Jasper hovered and waited trying to think of a way out. He replayed the events that forced him to zoom out of the planet in his mind.

That morning as the roof of the dome of Jasper’s hideout opened and the red saucer like car flew out, Jasper had planned a short trip. He was planning to try and connect with Jasmine’s thought waves, communicate with her and return home to his family. The car, as it flew out and ascended the sky, looked like a dot in the dawning sky as it flew higher and higher in an attempt to distance itself both from his family and the mind police. The surface below was covered with snow. The reflected morning sun made the whole planet look pristine.

The mind police had become even more vigilant. They had lost Jasmine twice in twenty-four hours and Jasper too had disappeared. They were monitoring the universal mind stream even more closely. Suddenly, one of them said, “I can sense the boy. He is in the sky trying to connect with Jasmine. Jasmine, I cannot sense.”

“Let us close in on him physically,” said the commander. “Let us get at least one. Then the other one will definitely try to rescue him.”

Jasper had been desperately trying to contact Jasmine as he hovered among the clouds. Suddenly, he felt a jolt. The mind police had landed at a nearby cloud and were trying to shoot him. But Jasper had had the foresight to have the protective shield cover on. So, the shot did not affect him. He made a full one eighty degree circle and saw the mind police on a cloud. They had pinged next to him. They were firing shot after shot at his vehicle.

Jasper acted quickly. He abandoned his attempt to contact Jasmine and jammed the outer space button. He swerved at a very high speed and rose higher. Almost every vehicle in the technological dimension was equipped to ascend above the atmosphere and explore space with its various attractions at the different space bars. Jasper used it now. As he rose higher and then zoomed out of vision, the mind police again lost him. They did not have the technology to go above the clouds, so again they were fobbed!

“We need one of their cars to chase him!” shouted the team lead.

Two of the guards remained on the cloud to try and trace him and the rest went off with the lead to try and get a space car.

“Could he connect through mind waves to Jasmine from here in outer space? The mind police surely could not reach him there,” he thought.

Jasmine, Jacaranda and Gorge woke up in the cave, after a long night’s sleep. Jacaranda had again whipped them up a breakfast of sorts.

They had their meal by the stream near the cave. They spoke in low voices for the fear of being overheard.

“What should we do next?” asked Gorge.

“It is imperative we get in touch with Jasper,” said Jasmine. “The mind police is everywhere. They want to finish us up. What should we do?”

“Fly to the moon!” said Jacaranda.

“What?! I am serious,” said Jasmine.

“I am serious too,” said Jacaranda.

“You mean you can fly to the moon?” said Gorge.

“Yes. In the magical dimension we can,” said Jacaranda.

“Wow! In our dimension we have not even thought of trying,” said Gorge.

“And how?” asked Jasmine.

“We will visit Daedalus here. He did do it for our former prince, you know the one who is the dragon now. Maybe if we tell him our problem, he can help us.”

“Why not return to the cave of the dragon prince then?” asked Gorge.

“Because we risk getting caught big time. Remember the combined forces of the mind police and Dr Doom. We cannot pinge or magic ourselves into the den from outside unless the dragon wills it?” said Jacaranda.

“Can we not get in touch with him?” asked Gorge.

“And how without having ourselves exposed to the mind police who are constantly monitoring the thought stream?” said Jasmine. “Come let us then look for Daedalus. We could again use the invisibility pulls, if necessary.”

Jacaranda, who had been feeling inside her bag for sometime, pulled out a little pouch and said, “ Ah here it is… the cold fire powder. We can go to Daedalus using the cold fire network. I do not think that is as yet monitored by Dr. Doom or the mind police. That will take us to him quicker.”

“All right,” said the other two.

“Come close two of you,” said Jacaranda.

She poured some powder from the pouch in her hand. She closed the pouch carefully and put it back in her bag. Mumbling an enchantment, she started sprinkling the powder around them. A cold sensation came over the three. They felt themselves sucked into a vortex of icy cold silver flames and then they were thrown out again, near a little hut near between the hills and stream in a pleasantly wooded spot.

As the three of them emerged out of the cold fire, they saw two old men sitting at a table. One was in a Greek tunic with sandals on his feet. The other greybeard was in long flowing robes. The one in the Greek outfit said, “Ah! Jacaranda. Good to see you. Haven’t seen you around for a few months. And who might your friends be? Students again?”

The other man got up and said, “Daedalus, we will continue our discussion another day since you have guests.”

“Oh Robi! Stay…these are young people from the mainland…”

“We will meet later. I am expecting Khayyam over soon. See you around,” said the other man decisively and walked away towards the beach.

“Oh mighty Daedalus… you need to help us. We are in great trouble. Only you can save us,” said Jacaranda softly.

Daedalus looked around and said, “ Come into my new labyrinth that I designed within the hill and tell me your story.”

Jacaranda and the other two followed him into a dark tunnel inside the hill. They followed him for almost a quarter kilometer, then they turned right and there was a strange door with a picture of a pair of wings. “The wings that ended Icarus’s life!” said Daedalus. “But I have found him here again, beyond the hills living with another legend, Garuda.”

“Daedalus, I hate to interrupt but we really need to talk to you secretly. No one knows we are here and we do not want them to know,” said Jacaranda.

“Okay! We will talk in my office,” said Daedalus pushing open the door that had the picture of wings.

Meanwhile, the mind police had pinged back to the office and turned the temperature knob to warm. As the ice began to thaw after a few hours, the snow melted and people started coming out of their homes. One of the first people to drive in to the weather bureau car park was Jasper’s assistant. He had rushed out to see what had gone wrong with the machine … why was it swinging from one to anther extreme and also to figure out where his boss had disappeared.

The mind police, who had been waiting at the car park of the office , used a mind trick on him. The lead told the assistant, “You just left your keys inside the car and someone drove off with it. Now, leave your keys.” They used a memory eraser and modified his memory as he walked away, leaving the keys inside. The mind police slipped into the car and said, “Do we know how to operate it?”

“It is largely robotized and the car has a voice manual, so it can guide us,”said the police who had been examining the car. “Looks like they can go to outer space in this. There is a button that says so.”

“Great! Let’s go for a ride,” said the commander. Four of them got in and zoomed off into the sky. They headed for the cloud where two of the mind police awaited further instructions.

“I can sense Jasper in the mind stream again,” said one of the guards sitting at the back.

“Can you locate him?” Asked the commander.

“He seems to be way off all our earth coordinates,” said the mind policeman.

“Okay let’s wait and just read his mind waves. Let him think we have not spotted him. Let us see what happens then,” said the commander.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book of the week

imageTitle: Brave New World
Author: Aldous Huxley

Published in 1931, Brave New World has been rated as one of the most popular classics over time. To me, it is a book that is becoming alarmingly real in the current day context.

The protagonist, Bernard Max, suffers because he does not fit in. In a society where babies are mass produced in bottles and conditioned to fit their job description, Max is too short for an Alpha male, Alpha being the highest caste classification in the Brave New World. The classes go up to Epsilon. Epsilon creatures are almost sub-human twins. One Alpha or Beta is made from one fertilized embryo. In case of the others, each embryo is split into multiple embryos, given less gestation time and made so that they become subservient genetically. The Alphas and Beta are at the top,the white collared workers, the Gamma, Delta and Epsilons are blue collared workers who satisfy the needs of Alpha and Beta.

The civilized world sees family, marriage and parenting as obscene. The Alpha and Beta are also taught what to think through hypnopaedia,rhymes and games. Hypnopaedia, rhymes and games are used on all children  out off bottle and nurseries to educate them into civilised beings.

Towards the end the Controller, the ruler of the civilized, tells us that Happiness is never grand . To create a peaceful society after a chaos of nine years of war, the Ford (replaces God) and  the Controller take over the process of living. They controls births, deaths and even, human intelligence with the help of Bokanovsky’s process. The Controller makes sure the Alphas and Betas think right. If they think out of line, they are exiled to a distant islands, like Iceland and Falkland, where they can pursue their passion undisturbed by civilization.

Most of the civilzed view this as a punishment as they are kept happy with shallow entertainment, a few grammes of soma ( a hallucinogenic drug), and promiscuity. The society forgets to question any move of the Controller and lives lulled like in the land of lotus eaters. Literature, passion, religion, science, beauty have all been sacrificed for a  civilized society. Science is allowed only to serve the needs of the society as is literature, which is reduced to cheap, feelies, movies with physical sensations. Books, like Shakespare, the Bible, which can make people think or emote passionately are all banned. Wanting to be alone is seen as abnormal.The Controller explains

But industrial civilization is only possible when there is no self-denial. Self-indulgence up to the very limits imposed by hygiene and economics. Otherwise the wheels stop turning.

All this is told to a  savage, a child born naturally to civilized parents and brought up in an Indian reserve. He opts for leading his life away from the civilization of the Brave New World. Because he thinks differently, he is hounded even out of his isolation till he finally hangs himself in desperation.

What I find fascinating about this book is that when mass production was still at it’s infancy, Huxley could sense how it would generate a pop culture which would dominate mankind. He could sense that to be different would be an issue. Life would be so fast that people would have no time to think. Then are we heading towards Huxley’s nightmarish vision of a dystopian world?

Or, perhaps,  there is still hope. There has been something called a slow movement. I heard a TED talk by Carl Honore, the author of In Praise of Slowness(2004). He was talking of slowing down and taking time out for things that are important. Perhaps, if people slow down and start to think, we will find a way out to Make our earth an Eden, like the heaven above in Julia Carney’s words(1845) and move away from Huxley’s premonition of a dystopian civilization.

The Creators

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Jacaranda dug into her string bag and pulled out a small, jeweled box. She opened it and took out three sugared balls colored like the rainbow. They seemed to have an iridescent glow about them.

“Here, take one each and chew,” she said.

“ Are you sure?” asked Gorge.

“Trust me,” said Jacaranda and she took one. As she chewed the pill, her neck shimmered like a rainbow, the glow spread to her body and then, she could not be seen anymore! Only the other two sugared pills remained visible. They seemed to be standing in mid-air.

“Hey! Where are you?” said Gorge.

“Show yourself!” said Jasmine.

“I can’t …not for the next hour anyway. This is the result of the invisibility pill. You both take yours, then, you will be able to see me. I can see you. We can start our hunt then. Hurry!” said Jacaranda.

Jasmine and Gorge picked up the pills and chewed. They too shimmered and disappeared.

“Hey, I can see you now!” said Gorge.

“Okay. We are all set now,” said Jasmine. “We should enter the building and look for Jasper, our technological self.”

Saying this, she moved towards the lift door under the rooftop shelter. She pressed the button. The lift came up. As the door opened, a man wearing a mind police uniform came out with a weapon and a radio. He could not see them. He was looking around but could see no one. He went back into the lift. The three of them slipped into the lift with him and descended into the building.

The mind policeman went back to Jasper’s office.

“There was no one in the lift,” he told the officer. The mind police seemed to have set their headquarters in Jasper’s office.

“It is strange that the lift should be called to the rooftop by no one,” said the officer. “Perhaps we should investigate. Kaspar, you keep an eye on things here. The rest of you, let us go up.”

Jasmine, Jacaranda and Gorge had followed the policeman down. They watched and heard the mind police. But the mind police could not see the three standing in the middle of the room.

Jasmine gestured to the other two to follow her. She stepped quietly into the corridor and ran down. Then she entered a room that seemed empty.

“Have they got Jasper?” Jasmine said in a loud whisper to the other two.

“How can we find out?” said Jacaranda.

“Perhaps, if we can get out of here, I can connect with the universal mind stream and find out,” said Jasmine.

“What if they spot your thought wave and come for us?” said Gorge.

“They still cannot see me. So, if I close my mind again, they will lose us,” said Jasmine. “Let us first get out of this building. Look for exit signs.”

The three of them ran out again. They were wearing rubber-soled shoes. As they walked past Jasper’s office again, they could hear voices.

“Why do you think the lift was called up?”

“Do you think that boy could still be in the building or has the girl got here?”

“No. It could not be the girl. She has that uncontrolled mind of Golliwog with her. JaJa cannot shut off her telepathic mind ever…”

“JaJa was not with her in the dragon cloud, remember. We lost them in the sky…property of the dragon cloud the Doom gang said…”

“Wonder if they are still in the sky above us…”

“Strange the way we lost that lot and the boy…”

“Will you shut up and focus on finding them if you value your necks,” said an angry voice which belonged to the commanding officer.

The three ran past the door. As they descended the staircase, they could see guards standing at the door. How could they step out without being noticed, eventhough they were invisible.

Again, the three ducked into an empty room near the exit. This time Gorge came up with an idea.

“You both run for the exit. I will drop something in this room and run and join you. That way when the guard comes to investigate, we can slip out. Do not wait for me. Open the door as soon as the guards enter this room,” said Gorge.

“Sounds like a plan,” said Jasmine.

Jacaranda and Jasmine headed for the front door. As they reached the door, they heard a loud sound. Gorge had picked up a glass paperweight on the table and dropped it. It had smashed to smithereens. One of the guards ran to investigate. Gorge was heading for the exit.

“Hey, you better join me here,” shouted the guard in the room. “There is broken glass all over. No one seems to be around. No one has left the room. It is bizarre. Please come fast.”

As soon as the second guard entered the room and the door was left unprotected, Jacaranda opened the swinging door and the three of them slipped out.

As they ran on the snow, which was coming down fast now, they could see their footsteps leaving marks on the soft white snow that covered the ground. There were round tables and chairs covered with snow in what had been the garden of the building.

“I think the falling snow will cover our footprints,” said Gorge aloud.

“I need a shelter to stand and focus. It is freezing here,” said Jasmine.

“Let’s go under that shed,” said Jacaranda. It was the shed for the parking the flying cars of visitors. The three went in and Jasmine closed her eyes for a couple of minutes. Then she opened them. Her eyes looked frightened.

“Quick, let’s run. I have blocked my mind again. The mind police has figured out that we are hiding here,” she said.

As she was finishing her sentence, the door of the building opened and the mind police started filing out. The three of them ran towards the building. The mind police continued pouring out of the door and running past them towards the parking shed. They, of course, could not see the invisible trio. The three of them slipped in through the open door without bumping into the guards and got into the building.

Again, inside an empty room, the three spoke in whispers. There were still voices of the mind police in the building.

“We need to pinge out to a safe spot,” whispered Jasmine.

“Where?” said Jacaranda.

“Have they got him?” asked Gorge.

“No. But they are angry to have lost all of us. They will kill if they spot any of us,” said Jasmine. “We will need to locate him from a safer spot. Let us go back to that favorite island of yours Jacaranda…the isle of wonder in magicland.”

“We need to hurry. It is past fifty minutes since we took the invisibility pills. The effect of the pill will wear off soon,” said Jacaranda.

Jasmine had the tongs in her hand. Gorge and Jacaranda held on to her shoulders as she clapped the tongs. They pinged. They were still invisible when they landed on the grass of a meadow on the island.

“We will lose our invisibility in few minutes,” said Jacaranda. “We need to find shelter once we are visible.”

“Before that, can we get rid of these clothes? It is warm here,” said Gorge.

“Here goes,” said Jacaranda. She mumbled something and the three were back to their normal war.

“Let’s make a run for shelter,” said Jasmine.

“I know there is a cave near the hill,” said Jacaranda. “We could use that.”

The three ran for the wooded area and then started walking towards the hills.

“Are you guys hungry or not?” said Gorge.

“Okay. Here is a sandwich for each of us,” said Jacaranda, swishing her arms and mumbling a chant. She handed them a sandwich and a packet of milk each. They ate as they walked through the woods in search of shelter. They came upon a stream with fishes of all colors, shapes and sizes.

“We are close now,” said Jacaranda. “ This stream will lead us to the hills and the cave.”

They walked for another half an hour and they were at the foothills. The stream fell like a waterfall from the hill.

“The cave is just there,” said Jacaranda.

The three of them walked towards the cave.

Safe in his hideout in the technological dimension, Jasper was worried. After dinner, he told Matilda, “Tomorrow, I need to try to contact this girl. Perhaps, I will leave our hideout for a short while, fly out to the sky and try to reach her again telepathically…”

“I am scared when you go out like this,” said Matilda.

“I have to for our baby’s sake and our sake try to find a final solution. I did not want to be caught in this crossfire. We have to find a way out. Don’t worry, I won’t be caught,” said Jasper.

 

 

Book of the Week

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Title: Rip Van Winkle and other stories
Author: Washington Irving

First published in 1819, Rip Van Winkle is a story about a man who fell asleep for many years and woke up to find the world had changed. The other stories in this collection, like the title story, are characterised by a tongue-in-cheek humour and a touch of the macabre. They are all stories of migrants from different cultures to a land that gave them a new home.

Rip Van Winkle is a story of a man who helped everyone except himself. To avoid his wife’s haranguing, he escaped to the Catskill mountains (New York), fell asleep under the effect of some moonshine made by Dutch faerie folk playing ninepins (bowling)and woke up after a couple of decades to find a changed world, where his wife had died, his son had replaced him as the village lounger and the American war of independence had been fought. He finds shelter in his married daughter’s home.

The Legend of the Sleepy Hollow is the story of Ichabod Crane, the tall, lanky crane-like village school master, with a strong belief in the supernatural. He disappears in the Sleepy Hollow while returning home from a party where his proposal had been rejected by his sweetheart. The New England village folk believed that he has been killed by the headless horseman who is supposed to haunt that area. The horseman, who carried his own head under his arm , threw it at the school teacher. The next day they find a broken pumpkin where Crane had disappeared with all his effects. In the epilogue, the author says Crane’s rival married his sweetheart and could not help smiling everytime anyone spoke of Crane. A suggestion has also been made that Crane left the village and became a lawyer!

The Spectre Bridegroom is set in Germany where a bridegroom is killed on the way to his wedding. His friend, who tries to tell the bride’s party of his friend’s death, is mistaken for a ghost of his friend! It is a comedy of errors and the friend carries away the bride at the end.

The Pride of the Village is story set in a small English village, the story of a girl disappointed in love. Like in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Ubervilles, the affair starts with the girl being the may queen. She does not suffer as much as Tess. When she is dying is the arms of her parents, her loved one comes back to her.

The last story, Mountjoy, seems to be a comment on private education where learning is unmonitored and sometimes aimless. This is again set in New England and talks of a family that lived in France. Though three of the five stories are set in America, by the banks of the Hudson river, the current day New York, they capture the hope of the multi-cultural migrant community that created a new world in America.

I found the first three stories very gripping. It reminded me of some of Roald Dahl’s stories in a collection called Kiss Kiss, only the horror is less horrific. The stories have a macabre humour and a tongue in cheek suggestion in the epilogue to rationalise the legends.

Irving’s description of the characters are sketched with few words and incidents which leave a strong imprint in ones mind. His characterisation of Crane with his lanky appearance, green eyes, belief in ghosts and spirits and fondness of food and women’s company is very realistic as are his other characters. You can almost hear his thin voice and laugh at his housewifish outlook. He wants to propose to a girl not only over her own worth but on the worth of her father who has a prosperous farm and a good spread at the table.

The flavour of the times are well captured by Irving. When Rip returns to his village, he is still a loyal subject of the King of England but the people he encounters have lived through the American revolution! Rip changes his world view to suit the needs of the times as he had never had strong political affiliations and lives out his life as a well-loved legendary figure.

Irving has woven Red Indian lore into his stories too to add authenticity to his legends. Catskill mountain. Historically, Catskill mountain was named after either Dutch or Mohican traditions or persons. It is not very clear. Irving has played with these legends to create a misty aura around the story. There is a statue of Rip Van Winkle in a park in New York. Irving did create a legend!

These are stories about common people anywhere in the world. You can see multicultural values built into these legends. They absorbed traditions of cross-continental cultures and created a new myth from them. That many Americans, unless they were native Indians, emigrated with their own cultures to find acceptance in the wilds of America is borne out by the multi-cultural flavour of the legends created by Irving.

I enjoyed these stories very much and would say they make an excellent weekend read with their one world outlook. After all, they have created new legends.