Frontiers to freedom

Is humour for one offensive to another? Is fun at one’s expense mirth for another? When does humour transgress limits to become a slight? Are we touchy when we are made fun of but can’t hold back a smile when another is being mocked? These were questions that  were bounced off in a debate on television yesterday. The context was a PIL (public interest litigation) by a Sikh group in the Supreme Court of India against the infamous ‘Sardarji’ jokes that stereotype male members of the Sikh community as being dim-witted.

The Americans for their English (‘Americans haven’t spoken English in ages’, Prof. Henry Higgins, immortalised on screen by Rex Harrison, famously said), the British for their accent (when attempting to speak in Indian languages, for instance), the Germans for their love of ‘organization’ and their lack of humour (see the delightful ‘Those Magnificent Men and their Flying Machines’) and Indians for their love of loudness – in everything from speech to honking on the road to colourful attire – are all stereotypes that humorists unapologetically milk to the hilt.

While artists of all genres (from stand-up comedians to actors, writers, painters and media-persons) are unanimous that they have the freedom to spoof whoever they wish, they stop short of political incorrectness. Certain communities (of which the brahmin community is not one) and certain religious adherents (of which the Hindu affiliates are not one) are sacrosanct, their sensibilities and sensitivities are not to be trifled with.  As for the rest the said actors, litterateurs et al refuse to be held responsible for thin-skinned audiences.

Can there be frontiers to freedom? Should there be? Wouldn’t talk of ‘limits’ to freedom become oxymoronic? Perhaps, an answer can be found in this ‘Fool’s Prattle’. Says D V Gundappa in his classic work of philosophy for the layperson, Mankuthimmana Kagga:

The roving bird responds to the call of its nest, the ambling cow lets the rope on its neck hold it back. What is life if not bound by any value?

Self-restraint and allowing oneself to be restrained by societal norms are limits that make freedom a happy choice for all and not just the ones who claim their right to it. To be civil is not to be unfree!


Tolerance as the mid-point on a continuum: a tool to manage our differences

In the turbulence of a world order where cultures pull in conflicting directions, how does one move ahead? How can democracies, oligarchies/ authoritarian regimes and fascists ever find common ground? The short answer is, ‘one cannot’. To operate under the illusion that one can is dangerous and unsustainable. One cannot, after all, choose one’s neighbours or direct the contemporary happenings set in motion by co-inhabitants of the planet! It is important to remember this fact as we, the human inhabitants of this planet, negotiate to achieve better lives for ourselves. But we live in a world full of problems: social, ecological, economic … So what does one do if one is not the ‘throw-up-one’s hand in despair’ kind, or the ‘don’t-care-a-damn’ kind?

I think a way may be found if we cultivate the tendency to think in terms of possibilities rather than problems. The former helps place options on a continuum while the latter considers choices as opposites. It is easier to glide along a continuum rather than to jump across a divide.

As we negotiate for a more peaceful, more egalitarian world order, it would be worthwhile to not let Tolerance be faced off against Intolerance and Acceptance against Rejection. Rather, Tolerance should be the mid-point on a continuum that has intolerance at one end and acceptance on the other.  All contesting parties/ positions should count their steps towards a minimum of Tolerance first, before attempting to move towards greater agreement or unanimity.

Manifestations of greed



When skills are auctioned, when emotions become commodities, when knowledge is enslaved by commerce; when plagiarism is acknowledged as literature, and political clout masquerades as concern – whenever these things happen, and they have become commonplace, ‘greed has grown beyond mere gluttony’ one may shrug and move on. It may seem incongruous that there is a failure to engage with these issues symptomatic of apparent deterioration in human values. But step back and consider: When Kerry Packer innovated the limited overs version in the game of cricket, and lured players from across the globe with mammon, several national federations suspended these cricketers. Later, when the Packer version of the game became par for the course, the inventor of this version of the game was forgotten, and so were the bans on the cricketers. Cricket, and cricketers, since, have become even more commoditized. Self-effacement was once a value among creative artists. Not unoften they were dead before their works became celebrated. Today, it is expected of even mockers and misrepresenters of these works to parade in the arc lights.  Not long ago, mass movements were fed and funded, if at all, by the masses themselves; today, fund-raising for mass movements is a respected profession that employs personnel trained for the purpose and by promoting and advertising their ‘cause’, it seems the movements feed vicariously on the people they seek to represent. Under the circumstances, it seems morality cannot be a permanent standard: Times change and values change with time. How then can the science of morals aspire to be a ‘science’?

[More to come in the coming days]

James Holmes.Taking a mirror to society.

I share the anguish of the victims of James Holmes’ assault. The unexpectedness and suddeness of the end to near and dearly loved ones is not easy to come to grips with. At the same time, I can’t help asking whether it is James who deserves all condemnation?

His family, from the meagre accounts that are available, seems to have invested the time and effort required to bring up the child after bringing him into the world. James seems to have responded well to the familial care, being a good citizen, being a dedicated student, and doing well to get one of the few scholarships available to pursue a PhD.

James became a different person almost on a sudden. It is only in the last few months that he has failed to live up to the rigour of academics, and also gone out of the way to prepare himself to become a criminal.

Do not James and his parents, who have been socially conscientious persons for all this while deserve a thought about what it is that society did, or society lacked, which transformed a regular guy into a criminal? By failing to ask this question now, are we not endangering the prospect of a safe and secure future for ourselves? The disease has to be identified before it can be treated. And, there is no question that there is something terribly, horribly wrong with the way things are if it can transform a Dr. Holmes-to-be into a Mr.Hyde.

Thirteen-year old Jemima dies, donates organs and saves eight lives

“Since her death her heart has gone to a five-year-old boy; a 14-year-old was given her lungs; and her liver was split between two boys, aged ten months and five.

Two people, aged 19 and 24, received her kidneys; a 40-year-old man was given her pancreas; and her small bowel has changed the life of a boy aged three-and-a-half.

Jemima – who wanted to become an author – also donated eye tissue which will restore the sight of two people.

Her proud parents, photographer Harvey, 43, and mum Sophy, 38, today paid tribute to their daughter, who passed away on March 14.”

Jemima Layzell, you’ll live with us for ever more.

Click on link to read her inspiring story.

Yahoo! News UK.

Food for the mind and the body:Countdown 365/6 [Feb. 3, 2012]

Food for thought:  Ashley Jones on my mind, and other such misguided, misunderstood multitudes…

  • Everyone is a product of circumstances, upbringing and opportunities, and the physical, mental and spiritual health of each individual has a bearing on their outlook, thoughts, words and actions. Remember this before condemning someone.
  • Feel emotions without becoming emotional; empathise without losing your objectivity. Beware of taking an extreme stance. Be ‘involved’ rather than ‘activistic.’
  • A little less negative adds to a lot more positive in human relationships. For a start, let’s try to be a little more polite when we are angry, a little less self-absorbed when we are sad, a little more understanding when we are upset.

From my page at:

To read about Ashley Jones:

Food for the body: Neer more [Buttermilk]

Add 4 ounces of water to 2 ounces of curds. Add salt to taste – the saltier, the better. Grate fresh ginger and add 1/2 a teaspoon full. Add a pinch of asafoetida and a few curry leaves, pinched into bits. Stir till salt dissolves. Drink cool or cold. A refreshing drink for a hot afternoon. And full of natural goodness.


Food for the mind and the body: Project 365/6 [Jan 10, 2012]

Food for thought: Disproportionate disparities

A London pub serves a special menu for dogs, which are the pets of their clients. The canines-only menu includes a special beer brewed for dogs and a roast with cat-flavoured gravy.

In China, an enterprising entrepreneur will soon be bringing to the market tea grown on gardens fertilized exclusively with panda excrement. Priced at 70,000 dollars per kilogramme, it will be the world’s most expensive organic tea.

At the other end, in Afghanistan, winter has set in, it has begun snowing, and there are thousands who have to make a choice between spending on food or firewood because they can’t afford both. A Los Angeles Times article by Laura King has this quote from Faida Mohammed, a forty year old labourer: ‘If we eat lunch, we won’t have dinner. If we eat dinner, there’s nothing for breakfast.’

Food for the palate: Lime juice

Maybe good to fast for a day. Just to experience what some have to go through day after day after day.

In India, fasts are normally broken with lime juice. Squeeze out juice of half a medium sized lime. Add a pinch of cardamom powder, 2-3 teaspoons of honey, 3 ounces of water. Mix well and drink fresh.