Friday, July 25, 2014

The junglee crow

 The Indian jungle crow (Corvus culminatus) has become quite common these days in cities. Happen to spot this one in the morning feeding. You also see the common crow in the picture, and as you can see the jungle crow is all black and larger.

Henry David Thoreau: Tell Shakespeare to attend some leisure hour, For now I've business with this drop of dew

Thoreau happen to me quite early in one of the dusty libraries, I was going through writings of Emerson and Whitman that I happen to get into transcendentalist writings among other things. Thoreau has been an elemental impact, he tends to grow on you. His writings on Civil Disobedience have inspired Gandhi and Martin Luther King among others in the long list of people, in particular, has been source for many environmental movements and counter culture initiatives. Aren’t we grateful that he decided to spend two years, in a self build cabin, next to Walden pond, and not took up ‘some job and be responsible’!! Walden was published in 1854, and was received poorly. He died in relative obscurity few years later of tuberculosis. His thoughts slowly grew and has been quite a phenomenon ever since, and it spreads all the while. His insights touch deep into the humanity’s core and seek to wake us. The universality and contemporariness is astounding. Walden lake since has been a sort of pilgrimage for many. Surely every lake has the potential to be a Walden.

My life has been the poem
I would have writ,
But I could not both live
and utter it.
So next few days I was in the library going through Walden, few years later on a walk at Bodhgaya (Bihar) I got the American edition of this book from an unlikely second hand book stall, most likely a foreigner dropped it to lighten his luggage as he or she headed back. Since then I have read chapters here and there whenever I fancied (I had earlier written about Thoreau in context to reading). The other day I was flipping through Thoreau’s Walden again and thought of writing about him in the blog. 

Thoreau is an influential American thinker and provides a necessary counter to blatant materialism that had taken over the society. His views are universal and even after about two centuries rings quite personal. Reads these lines I was engrossed in “A saner man would find himself often enough ‘in formal opposition’ to what are deemed ‘the most sacred laws of society’, through obedience to yet more sacred laws, and so have tested his resolution without going out of his way. It is not for a man to put himself in such an attitude to society, but to maintain himself in whatever attitude he find himself through obedience to the laws of his being, which will never be one of the opposition to a just government, if he should chance to meet with such.”  

These riveting lines are so pertinent in the time we live in “If a man walk in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed as industrious and enterprising citizen. As if a town had no interest in its forests but to cut them down! Most men would feel insulted if it were proposed to employ them in throwing stones over a wall, and then in throwing them back, merely that they might earn their wages…The ways by which you may get money almost without exception lead downward. To have done anything by which you earned money merely is to have been truly idle or worse…The community has no bribe that will tempt a wise man. You may raise money enough to tunnel a mountain, but you cannot raise money enough to hire a man who is minding his own business. An efficient and valuable man does what he can, whether the community pays him or not. The inefficient offer their inefficiency to highest bidder, and are forever expecting to put into office.” “When I observe that there are different ways of surveying, my employers commonly ask which will give them more land and not which is most correct.”
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country…a stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things. …Age is no better, hardly so well, qualified for an instructor as youth, for it has not profited so much as it has lost. One may almost doubt if the wisest man has learned anything absolute value by living…I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from my seniors. They have told me nothing, and probably cannot tell me anything to the purpose. Here is life, an experiment to a great extent untried by me; but it does not avail me that they have tried it. If I have any experience which I think valuable, I am sure to reflect that this my mentors said nothing about…The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad, and if repent of anything, it is very likely to be my bad behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?"

These lines really stand out as a statement on arrogance of Indians: “...All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant. Confucius said, ‘To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge’. When one man has reduced a fact of the imagination to be a fact to his understanding, I foresee that all men will at length establish their lives on that basis”

Men say they know many things;
But lo! They have taken wings-
The arts and sciences,
And a thousand appliances;
The wind that blows is all that anybody knows

Thoreau has something quite interesting to say about philanthropy –that carries the haughtiness of religion. In Indian context philanthropy is amazingly crude, it seems like a deal for better godly returns and afterlife concerns. It is ‘tainted goodness’, I would rather prefer higher taxation and planned intervention by the government than philanthropy by people who have gained by lax laws and exploitation, and now seek to cement it through godly favors as also positive branding. However there are people who are quite genuinely involved in making others lives better and absorb the shock of lopsided development, but these are mostly exception to the rules, most are self serving attention seekers. Also, degrading philanthropy in Indian context will most likely make the elites more blatant and is another ammunition to be crude.   
“There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted. It is human, it is divine, carrion. If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life…Philanthropy is almost the only virtue which is sufficiently appreciated by mankind. Nay, it is greatly overrated; and it our selfishness overrates it…I once heard a reverend lecturer of England, a man of learning and intelligence, after enumerating her scientific, literary, and political worthies, Shakespeare, Bacon, Cromwell, Milton, Newton, and others, speak next of her Christian heroes, whom, he elevated to a place far above all the rest, as the greatest of great. They were Penn, Howard and Mrs. Fry. Everyone must feel the falsehood and cant of this…I wouldn’t subtract anything from the praise that is due to philanthropy, but merely demand justice for all who by their lives and works are blessed to mankind. I do not value chiefly a man’s uprightness and benevolence, which are, as it were, his stem and leaves. Those plants of whose greenness withered we make herb tea for the sick serve but a humble use, and are most employed by quacks. I want the flower and fruit of a man; that some fragrance be wafted over him to me, and some ripeness flavour our intercourse. His goodness must not be a partial and transitory act, but a constant superfluity, which costs him nothing and of which he is unconscious”. Brilliant.

I leave with these lines that surely has enduring impact “I could not but notice some of the peculiarities of my visitors. Girls and boys…seemed glad to be in the woods. They looked in the pond and at flowers, and improved their time. Men of business and even farmers…though they said that they loved in the woods occasionally, it was obvious that they did not. Restless committed men, whose time was all taken up in getting a living or keeping it; ministers who spoke of god as if they enjoyed monopoly on the subject, who could not bear all kinds of opinions; doctors, lawyers –young men who had ceased to be young, and had concluded that it was safest to follow the beaten track of the professions –all these generally said that it was not possible to do so much good in my position. Ay! there was the rub. The old and infirm and the timid, of whatever age or sex, thought most of sickness, and sudden accident and death; to them life seemed full of danger –what danger is there if they don’t think of any? –and they thought a prudent man would carefully select the safest position, where Dr.B might be on hand at a moment’s warning. To them the village was literally a com-munity, a league for mutual defence, and you would suppose that they would not go a-huckleberrying without a medicine chest. The amount of it is, if a man is alive, there is always danger that he may die, though the danger must be allowed to be less in proportion as he is dead-and-alive to begin with. A man sits as many risks as he runs. Finally, there were the self styled reformers, the greatest bores of all, who thought that I was forever singing,

This is the house that I built;
This is the man that lives in the house that I built;

but they did not know that the third line was,

These are the folks that worry the man
That lives in the house that I built.

I did not fear the hen harriers, for I keep no chicken; but I feared the men-harriers rather.”

These are some of poems from ‘Poems of Nature’


O Nature! I do not aspire
To be the highest in thy choir, -
To be a meteor in thy sky,
Or comet that may range on high;
Only a zephyr that may blow
Among the reeds by the river low;
Give me thy most privy place
Where to run my airy race.

In some withdrawn, unpublic mead
Let me sigh upon a reed,
Or in the woods, with leafy din,
Whisper the still evening in:
Some still work give me to do, -
Only - be it near to you!

For I'd rather be thy child
And pupil, in the forest wild,
Than be the king of men elsewhere,
And most sovereign slave of care;
To have one moment of thy dawn,
Than share the city's year forlorn.

I was made erect and lone
I was made erect and lone,
And within me is the bone;
Still my vision will be clear,
Still my life will not be drear,
To the center all is near.
Where I sit there is my throne.
If age choose to sit apart,
If age choose, give me the start,
Take the sap and leave the heart.   

Light-winged Smoke, Icarian bird,
Melting thy pinions in thy upward flight,
Lark without song, and messenger of dawn
Circling above the hamlets as they nest;
Or else, departing dream, and shadowy form
Of midnight vision, gathering up thy skirts;
By night star-veiling, and by day
Darkening the light and blotting out the sun;
Go thou my incense upward from this hearth,
And ask the gods to pardon this clear flame.      

From my scribble pad…

Fairies and underwater demons

I clutch the pen that moves and aches
The words locks in its own twisted fate
While the drizzle curl to deluge outside
Splatters the windows and the leaky roof
The inconsolable howls of the night
Emanate from the matter itself
That takes shape in an uncertain way
 As the wind carries and knocks it all about
Is this the fairy that roams about
Checking who sleeps who doesn’t?
And the pen tumbles down into the depth
In the fierce laws that governs the heaven
Under water there are demons
That snatch the spirit and toss the body out
Bloated chaffed drained out of tears
And the soul remains hereabouts
Waiting to be identified packed and sent home
And tucked to sleep in its familiar place
Among familiar people       

The way things are
The older they get
Sillier still the propositions 
The task isn’t arduous 
It’s a stultifying trail
That goes narrow and narrower
Where even the trance leads to dead ends
The occupants don’t wake from slumber
Empty swing rocks in free wind
Dry leaves rustle and russel’s viper hiss
Move forth in a dyslexic split
That muddles thoughts and the centre
No longer holds the menace