Modern Politics

I don’t know why anyone would want to watch Game of Thrones when real life is throwing up such jewels of intrigue and barbarity. In Myanmar they have ploughed up the villages the Muslims’ lived in and are building army bases upon them. Humans have been breaking down the homesteads of the enemy from mythical Troy to actual Carthage right through to American Indian towns.

Putin is widely seen as having ordered a nerve agent attack on the last remaining members of a family of a spy – I will kill you and all your family is an ancient invective used by such luminaries of behaviour as Genghis Khan and every regal anti-semite Europe has ever crowned.

And the UK sells fighters to Saudi Arabia which will be used to slaughter Yeminies. The hypocrisy of the permanent members of the Security Council. Other’s lives are not even footballs, they simply do not count in the game.

And nothing on TV matches the horror of Syria, the nationalism of India, the fraudulence of the White House. You just don’t ever need to make it up.

It’s an Old Adage

Years ago I used to say that if you travelled through India into rural villages, in each one you would find one overweight man sitting on a verandah doing nothing while everyone else was busy and thin. That man was the one to whom all the others were indentured from birth – or a slave owner in common parlance.

I am sure in some places they still bond their children to pay debts but it isn’t as widespread as it used to be, I hope. But this whole continuous story of young girls being enslaved to provide sex for men is still embedded in our society – as long as the girls are runaways, with no one to care much about them, and / or foreigners.

It is long past the time when men should be held responsible for this. The men who pimp these girls should be imprisoned and the men who buy them should be criminalized and publicly shamed. Slavery has many debased forms but none of them should exist in European society.

Which Planet to Vacation Upon?

I hear India is going to the Moon this coming year and Japan and China are both sending probes to various regions of the Moon. I also see japan is sending a probe to an unvisited asteroid and China is sending a probe to Mercury. Now I understand why the USA is reopening the Moon landing projects, it is being left behind.

Or is it? These technologies have all fed off each other and for the most part scientists, unlike politicians, are really good at sharing information (ok Newton is an exception) and learning how to do things. They are also hungry to get their pet projects funded and if they don’t get funding from their own countries they will go to where they can. In this regard they are a little like the artists who travelled to city-states in Italy and Greece to find patrons.

So go world, get those probes out there, get those landings penciled in the calendar. We need the knowledge. and try, my scientific friends, to keep the politicians out of it otherwise they will ensure you take war with you.

The Art of Visiting

Am happy to report my friends have returned from Mumbai ans that all-in-all they had a lovely couple of weeks holiday.

One of the highlights was going to a village in Matheran, an out of the way stop-over in the hills which has no roads and no electricity. It is probably something of a dream for lots of people to ride horses to get anywhere. In this valley they were invited into the house of people who had never, as far as they were told, met English people before and the children happily used the digital cameras to take pictures. The Indians also had the art of celebrity off to a tee as they often stopped my friends and asked to have the photographs taken with them.

In the village with a family they could not talk directly to, food was exchanged and gifts and offers of a place to stay when my friends returned. I found myself thinking of the man they found in the ice between Switzerland and Italy who 4,000 years ago died of his wounds in the mountain slopes. I wondered when he wasn’t running if travelling over the mountains he would have found the same welcome from people.

The ancient art of saying hello.

India Aside

Mumbai has always been the bustling, legal and financial centre of India  even when I was last there in 1977 as a teenager. It has changed. Not that there is less bustle, but the whole enterprise here is one of huge modernity, mixed with the same sights that have haunted visitors for centuries. The high fly overs and modern shops filled with items from all over the world, and the beggars as traditional as the temples and their gods, with generations of hands held out for a few pieces of coin to buy food, pay off thugs and try to get through the day.

I remember the beaches. the coolness of coconuts, the brightness of sand sculptures, the playfulness of street performers and the sea I was told never to swim in because of the dangerous tides. It doesn’t stop the children jumping in all day long; just tepid European adults.

They say in England they can never build on the sea but Mumbai is a contrary woman, she builds on the sea all the time. Reclaiming more and more as the city grows into something evolving yet immutable. The warmth, the smells, the people do not change, not in a mere lifetime or a single century or over the brief stretch of a thousand years.

Cities evolve with us at the same pace as our DNA mutates: a little bit here, a little bit there. It looks the same. The differences are subtle.

The Walls We Dare To Cross

The brilliant and original George Orwell was disenchanted with his own class in English society and thought that the working classes embodied the values he wanted to live amongst. He was disenchanted to find they did not. In fact the values he espoused are not to be found anywhere in a strata of society – they are only ever found in individuals.

One of the reasons the British and India got on so well was the fact that both during the time of the Raj had well defined classes in their societies. Definitions which E.M. Forster knew well and outlined in his overvalued book A Passage To India. But these strata build up in all societies and people do not cross them very often. The stuff of Hollywood 1930 comedies centres around the rich and poor meeting and having a laugh.

But class is no laughing matter. The fear the rich have for the poor, the indifference one class has for another, the forced marriages to enclose families and class, the passing on of inheritances purely to maintain power over others, the accepted over the talented.

It may be that these things are normal for human beings. But we should own them as part of our animal nature and not part of reason.  Reason should not do anyone down.

Two Worlds

I was asked when I was twenty, by a don, if I felt any tension inside myself between the two nations from which my mother and father descend. At the time I said none at all, and I have to say that has been true all my life because in people of mixed blood there are no tensions, we are wholly who we are.

The tensions arise when we mix in two cultures. When we try to mingle in two different ways of living that produces as many tensions and problems as you may conceive. As I was brought up in Cornwall with my mother and never visited by my father, and hardly ever corresponded with my father, the tensions of clashes in cultures never arose. I had no ties to any political system but that of a democratic one, I had no language but English (the native language ironically, of neither of side of my ancestors), I had no influences but those from my mother’s family.

If India ever rose in me in my character it is in my quietness and patience, which I exhibit in large amounts and which is noticeable only by its absence in my mother’s family. But being characteristics inborn in me they are not by definition, in any way a cause of tension.

People of mixed blood are usually confused by the competing expectations of different families, rather than any competing aspects of their own nature.

Festivals

When my mother lived in India she had a friend who jokingly used to say he didn’t do any work because he enjoyed participating in  everyone’s festivals and each one meant a day off. The festivals of so many religions and sects are bountiful in India but all over the world people celebrate. Celebrations can be lovely things and they bind communities together in traditions that sometimes seem obscure and exclusive to those outside the community. In fact some celebrations are only for the select community and you are forbidden to participate, but the best festival are those that encompass any passing stranger because they have the core element that people enjoy, look for fun and simply delight in celebrating.

The fact that even serious celebrations are afterwards complemented by food or dancing or some other simple pleasure show how committed people are to making ‘observance’ as fun as possible. And, yes, let us say it – when we see what other people take as normal we do raise an eyebrow now-and-then and wonder how on earth such traditions get started (and in the mists of the past some got started for very bad reasons) yet once established people are loathe to give them up.

Like my mother’s friend all those years ago if we had the chance, who would not take six days off a week to have fun with other people.

The Questions Of Life

Long ago in a cave on a mountain in the Himalayas a sage thought that the answer to the question of why we are here was ‘to ask questions’. His fellow sage thought that such questions were fatuous as reason was a human faculty not a natural one and nature never asks why. The third sage in the cave who was younger than his fellow troglodytes thought that self-awareness demanded answers and created the questions to support the sense of self.

Three people separated from the rest of humanity, with nothing to do but think,  resolved upon existence itself as the key to self knowledge. They did so because existence is married to experience and experience informs our reason. They could not think of eternal death as central to human life because they had no knowledge of death save as the end of experience and reason as they knew it.

So it is when we ask any questions. They always arise from our experience. To attempt to generate questions about the unknown is always to guess both at the questions and the answers. We base everything upon things we know, and we are at our best when we reflect deeply and cut ourselves off from experiences that take our reason away from us.

You see a sage doesn’t need answers, a sage just needs the best questions.

Poverty

I was fourteen and in Bombay for the first time in my life. I was on a four week holiday to meet with relatives.

My entire childhood I had been brought up in the UK. I only spoke English and that with a received English pronunciation and I was at boarding school. Just started that year. To fully understand this you must know I was deeply loved as a child and at fourteen with the world telling me it would be at my feet I was slightly arrogant, in the ‘A’ stream at school, liked, strong and had all the attributes that go with being spoiled.

India itself could change anyone’s opinion of life. There is almost no need to talk to anyone, just observe. But though I saw the poverty and the shanty town it was only after a week there that it really came home to me. I sort of accepted the family taking me out and throwing money at legless men and broken bits of baby and giving it to beggar children outside the house. The money was foreign to me. Meaningless in fact. I had no reference point as to how much anything was really worth.

Then my aunt took me to a market place. A covered market built by the Brits in the centre of the city. A large mass of stalls and we walked around it, me in a bright red shirt and blue jeans (all new and made to measure) and she was buying some fruit and gave me a plum to try.

The woman who touched my shoulder had no name I would ever know. No history I would ever know. No voice I would ever hear. The lightest touch on my right shoulder and I turned and there she stood. In a once colourful sari covered with dust, a lined face with two brown eyes staring into mine and her wrinkled hand cupped before me. A human being asking me for money and I had none on me. Not a coin. All I had in my hand was a half eaten plum and…may you forgive me…with a strange reflex action that seemed to say I had to offer something…I half offered it to her.

I quake at the thought. My eyes still brim with tears. Can you imagine that? I offered a woman old enough to be my mother, asking for my help, a piece of eaten fruit. And she stood there and didn’t move and I stood there until suddenly my aunt pulled my arm and I was gone.

I was gone but that woman stayed there. Never moving in my imagination all these years. And I looked around me more deeply from that moment on. I worked out what this money was, what this thing called poverty was. And I took these thoughts home with me. They fed themselves into what I think about humanity, about politics, about liberty. That careworn woman changed my life. I only wish it had been in my gift to change hers then and there.

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