Recycled Book Reading Challenge: Of Human Bondage

I finished reading the book ‘Of Human Bondage’ by Somerset Maugham. It uses the character of Philip to demonstrate how human beings, ever after birth, gets bonded by  his/her uncontrolled emotions and prejudices. In an attempt to find a meaning of existence, Philip gets entangled in the complexities of life where he finds himself helpless and indecisive. He is in a constant quest to unravel what happiness means but whatever ideals he develops, he fails to abide by them and succumbs to his uncurtailed desires.

Philip, since birth had a club foot and bore an infiriority complex because of that. He wanted to get loved but he didn’t love himself. His own fears, hatred and apprehensions weighed upon him, making him irritable and prejudiced. He met Mildred, a selfish greedy lady, and fell in love with her. She didn’t love him though and continued to humiliate him. He thought he will be able to make her love him, but it never happened, yet he continued to grovel infront of her and spend away his hard saved pennies to satisfy her extravagant desires. It makes a reader question whether he was mad to do that. Perhaps he was insanely trapped by the chains of his own uncontrolled mind.

I believe there are two groups of people- One who lives life in simple terms, that is conventionally, normally. The other group is too curious to accept things immediately. They want to unravel such philosophical dimensions first, like what is life and why are we born. This path is somewhat dicey because in the absence of a  firm guidance, one may end up forming ideals which will misdirect them. This second class of people is what Philip represents.  His quest to understand the meaning of life leads him to raise fine questions, but in the absence of a learned guide, he ends up making shallow conclusions. It leads him to  deny the veracity of the Divine and belive that life is meaningless; human existence is nothing but a biological accident and so there is no such thing as ‘morality’. The purpose of life is the pursuit of pleasure and nothing more. Incidentally, he derives joy in inflicting himself pain and succumbing to his maddening desire of wanting the love of selfish Milderd although he hates himself for that.

I would blame the vicar, his uncle, in whose custody he grew up after the demise of his parents. When Philip first began to understand about life and raised such queries like what it meant that ‘with faith one can move mountains’, the vicar answered him coldly and never bothered to understand his curiosity and intentions. Had he tutored the child lovingly, he would atleast have given Philip’s young mind some idea of morality and meaning of life rather than keeping him ignorant because of which Phillip was still struggling with basic questions even during his mature adult days. Having no solid foundational philosophy comparing which he could judge his revelations, he was bound to succumb to any fickle idea that seemed convenient to him at the moment. The result was he failed miserably all the time, hurt himself, and always lived in a state of deception, thinking that he had finally found answers and attained freedom, while in actuality he only strengthened the stranglehold of ‘bondage’ around him.

(PS: I had been missing being a part of Recycled Book Reading Challenge, a wonderful initiative by Mliae. I want to dedicate this review as my October entry for the challenge. It feels so therapeutic to get back to the habit of reading and writing!  I am thankful to a friend of mine at office for recommending me this book, and prompting me to read it. It has helped me get back to my reading schedule! )

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What makes us Human? Gossips!

“Don’t gossip” would say a stern teacher in school, “solve the sum I have given to do ” And the two buddies who were too eager to talk about the latest story about Jim’s fight with Ronny had to be curtailed.

In the evenings we meet up friends and chat all along about every other friend of us. Who is doing what, who is dating whom and who is going to get married next.

In the office, while working, the phone keeps buzzing because of the chatter that keeps going on in the Whatsapp group.

While commuting back home after office, a quick visit to Twitter exposes us to the global gossip arena. Some people are complaining about someone while another group is defending someone. One says trust this person, others say don’t trust this person. Praises, abuses, allegations, aspersions..the virtual space becomes a replica of  conventional gossip dens.

We like gossiping. We have, over time, tried to create more and more ways to gossip. No doubt the most visited sites on the internet are where gossips are facilitated to take place smoothly! Recall the success of Whatsapp? The most watched TV shows are ones which help us gossip. We love to gossip. It is in our DNA.

I am reading a book “A Brief History of Humankind” by  Yuval Noah Harari. In the book, Harari says “The new linguistic skills that modern humans acquired about seventy millennia ago enabled them to gossip for hours on end. Reliable information about who could be trusted meant that small bands could expand into larger bands,”

“Even today the vast majority of human communication, whether in the form of emails, phone calls or newspaper columns is gossip..

“It comes so naturally to use that it seems as if our language evolved for this very purpose.

“Rumour-mongers are the original fourth estate, journalists who inform society about and thus protect it from cheats and freeloaders.”

I read an aritcle in the Telegraph after this, in which Robin Dunbar, professor of evolutionary psychology at Oxford University, stated it nicely- “Gossip is what makes people human, because it allows us to pass on vital information about who to trust, and helps us bond with family and friends.”(1)

My reaction when I read it was to smile broadly. I never saw it this way. I like to understand the source of things we consider normal in our day to day life. I am the kind of person who dont talk much with people around and so consider gossip a waste of time.In my office I am seen as a ‘quiet person engrossed in his own world’ But now I see that I have my own way of gossiping. It is by writing in whatsapp or twitter or blog. I like reading and watching few talk shows which I like to talk about or write about later. These days, when we get exposed to so many debates on TV channels, it gives plenty of scope to gossip about who is good and who is not.Even I can’t avoid gossiping about it. It is afterall a primordial instinct to understand who to trust and who not so that we help each other be aware and keep ourselves protected in ‘our tribe’.

Concluding my thoughts, I would say that now I feel gossip as an unavoidable aspect of us. Gossip will happen. In office it often becomes a nuisance to become a subject of other’s gossip.But it will happen.We want to be part of gossip to know about people around us. It’s deeply ingrained. It is the quest to facilitate gossip which has helped us  develop language and technology and a social order.

'You can trust me on this, because I heard it from a friend of a friend of a Facebook friend.'

Festival of Divine Feminine Incarnation

In India, this is the festival week. People are euphoric about the Durga Puja festival, in which, according to Hindu philosophy, goddesses Durga, the God’s incarnation of Feminine energy, is worshipped. Across towns and cities massive temple structures are created by local artisans using cloth, bamboo sticks and decorated with flowers(it is called pandal). The image of the Goddesses is installed at the altars, where she is depicted killing the demon Mahisasura. She comes on a lion and has ten hands with different weapons in each hand. All these have symbolic and philosophical interpretations.

During this festival people perform austerities and fasting as a part of the prayer. During evenings grand prayers are offered and everyone visits the temple. A spectacular aarti is performed amidst the drum beats which shakes up the soul, as it is a majestic sight. A priest will wave an earthen pot with incense and holy leaves burning inside it and perform a kind of devotional dance while waving the pot with smoke rising from it in front of the deity. The sound of drums and shehnaai will add rhythm to the priest’s movements. The act displays an act of surrender towards the Goddesses and an expression of thankfulness and gratitude for her mercy.

The ancient texts tell the background of this festival. The demon Mahisasura performs austerity and penance to earn benefaction from the Creator of the Universe, Lord Brahma. After several thousand years of prayer, he pleases Lord Brahma, and demands that he be bestowed with the boon of immortality. Lord Brahma says that he cannot grant him that wish as he himself is a mortal. Lord Brahma is a demigod and the ancient texts tell that the demigods, who are subservient of the one supreme immortal God, have limited life spans. Although this limited lifespan is described as being millions and billions of years in duration. So Lord Brahma denies that boon. Flabbergasted, Mahisasura thinks and then demands that he get a boon that no one be able to kill him – nor man, nor an animal nor a demon or a demigod. This boon is granted to him that neither man nor animal, nor demigod nor demon be able to kill him. Soon after getting this boon he becomes proud of his powers. His ego bloats up and he kills anyone whom he sees performing austerities. It depicts how power corrupts an individual. He wants to be acclaimed as the most powerful creature and destroy anyone whom he considers a threat for himself. The saintly people become afraid of him and they approach many demigods for help. But because of the boon given to him, no one can do him any harm.

The ancient texts say that when saintly people are harmed and virtue starts diminishing in the universe,  because of entities misusing their free will, there is a divine intervention for the protection of the saintly. So the texts tell us that the Divine appeared in the feminine manifestation as Goddesses Durga. While Mahisasura had the boon that he cannot be killed by man, animal, demon or demigod, Goddesses Durga was a feminine power, and so she could destroy the demon.When he was asking for boon he never envisaged about the possibility of being killed by a feminine power. In the war that ensues, Mahisasura is killed and the saintly people start worshipping the goddesses for her mercy. It was a victory of good over evil.

This festival recounts this essence. During this festival, the feminine energy of the Divine is worshipped; the motherly, protective and powerful energy. Because the incarnation of Godesses Durga was out of anger against the demon Mahisasura, this form of divine feminine energy is associated with fierceness and anger, but only the demons fear it. The virtuous see it as her compassion and protectiveness.

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