‘If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable’

By Rakhi Dalal

Vaishnav jan to tene kahiye je 
Peed paraayi jaane re 
Par-dukhkhe upkaar kare toye 
Man abhimaan na aane re (Vaishnava)

One who is a Vaishnav (Devotee of Vishnu)
Knows the pain of others
Does good to others
without letting pride enter his mind.


It is a 600 years old devotional poem by Gujrati poet-saint Narsinh Mehta and we know it probably because it is known to be Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite bhajan or devotional song. He loved it because it speaks about humanity, truth and empathy among humans; traits which he thought were indispensable for harmonious living and which could create a world living in tranquility and peace. His convictions in these humanist traits make his stance on non-violence more comprehensible and relevant to us today. Especially today, when all across the world we witness the grisly play of vicious might bent on establishing hegemony by creating animosity among people, unleashing violence not only in action but also in thought.

The 2010s saw a rise in fascism across the globe. Characterised by ultra-nationalism, unquestioning adherence to a single party/leader, hostility towards minorities, suppression of dissenting voices and people’s civil liberties, this decade’s worse fears have been made worst by the exploitation of social media to spread fascist propaganda. Over the years, most of the platforms have indulged in giving a free pass to hateful messages simply for the sake of maximum engagement and shareholder return or for the sake of not losing business in respective countries where they operate. Even the mainstream media, including news-channels and newspapers, have resolutely carried out the objectives of such propaganda thereby aiding the spread of hatred in society.

In a recent documentary called The Social Dilemma on Netflix — many individuals, who once worked with big giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter, come forth to talk about the threats that our societies now face in the wake of frightening explosion that media has wilfully abetted. Besides addiction to social media, rise in anxiety and depression among people, what these individuals are really troubled about is the onslaught of fake propaganda on social media, which they worry, could lead to civil wars.

According to The Social Dilemma, fake news or propaganda gets viral six times faster than genuine news. This has given a way to effortless creation of polarised factions of people in the virtual world. As a result, sometimes a carefully engineered hatred, which if escalated, can be easily employed to provoke the factions into indulging in actual violence. It does really make for a very powerful tool in the hands of fascist regimes, which is exactly what we are witnessing around us. Social media has helped escalate it. The othering of people on the basis of caste, religion, class and communities has always existed in societies, even in democracies. Now this list also includes people having different opinions than a majority. It seems we have reached a point of no return. We have lost the sight of what social media had initially really intended to do – to bring people closer and connect them.

We have forgotten that violence only begets more violence.

But perhaps, collectively, mankind was never a kind species. Did we ever believe in vasudhaiva kutumbakam, the world is one family? A look back at history is sufficient to prove that, as a species, we have never lived congenially with each other. Neither World Wars nor the consequences of environmental destruction have been enough to make us realise the value of living in accord with each other or with nature. Perhaps that is why saints like Gautama Buddha, Guru Nanak Dev or Kabir searched for a spiritual path, one that could steer more people towards love   and compassion. That is why Mahatma Gandhi realised that violence could never be an answer to anything, not even to the fight for independence. BR Nanda, a scholar on Gandhi, has confirmed in an essay on ‘Gandhi and Non-violence‘:

“He (Gandhi) objected to violence not only because an unarmed people had little chance of success in an armed rebellion, but because he considered violence a clumsy weapon which created more problems than it solved, and left a trail of hatred and bitterness in which genuine reconciliation was almost impossible.”

And don’t we all know it first-hand? Recall any of your fights with your friends, even as a child, which turned physical. Can you remember what you felt after the fight was over? After one of you lay down on ground, wounded and defeated. And whether you were able to easily reconcile with that friend afterwards, without a feeling of bitterness inside your heart? We know better, don’t we? We do realise that violence is seated in something much more innate. Engaging in violence is always an easier option because it comes from a place of feeling superior, and not equal, with respect to other. Violent action is usually preceded by violent thoughts. And such thoughts never leave a person at peace. Neither the aftermath of a violent scuffle ever leaves us calm.

Jiddu Krishnamurti says: “It is violence when we use a sharp word, when we make a gesture to brush away a person. So violence isn’t merely organized butchery in the name of God, in the name of society or country. Violence is much more subtle, much deeper.”

On the other hand, choosing non-violence requires courage; it requires a sense of equanimity, kindness, empathy and the necessity to stand true to a notion of higher purpose, which we humans believe is our goal in this world. Gandhiji placed satyagraha and ahimsa at the centre of force of life which can sustain humankind and present an approach to curb the world of brute force of violence. These ideas are eternal because they are inevitable in coming to terms with human condition.

Gandhiji did not only postulate the idea of non-violence, including non-cooperation and civil disobedience, as a form of resistance against colonial occupation, but also against long held prejudices in the social system. He understood it too well that it wasn’t only against colonisers that India was fighting. He conceived violence in its elemental form as anything which is inflicted to hurt, whether physically or mentally. Therefore, he emphasised upon ahimsa as a way of life, upon harmony between people of different religions and upon being kind-hearted. He changed his stance on the practice of caste system in Hindu religion, which he once believed in, later in life.

According to Gandhi, non-violence is the greatest and most active force in the world,” writes Subrata Sharma, a scholar. He quotes Gandhi while defining non-violence and explains the perspective of this great leader:”‘Avoiding injury to any creature in thought, word and deed’. It is a positive force, when positively put it means love in the largest sense that means love for all without discrimination of good doers and evil doers. Non-violence does not mean meek submission to the will of the doer. Rather, it inspires man to stand against the will of the tyrant. It not only enables us to conquer the opponent but also unites with all our fellow men.”

In the chaotic times that we find ourselves in at present, Gandhiji’s ideas assume greater importance because we have already suffered the consequences of indulging in violence, even on social media. We are forced towards fascism, towards submitting to brute force of authoritarianism, resisting which, in the most assertive and non-violent way has become an absolute necessity. We stand at the junction where we may either decide to put at stake the future of our coming generations, this country and the world at large by giving in to the violent forces of fascism and enmity or we may decide to follow Gandhian principles of non-violence, truth and humanity. 

“If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving towards a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore him at our own risk.”Martin Luther King Jr.


Rakhi Dalal is an educator by profession. When not working, she can usually be found reading books or writing about reading them. She writes at . She lives with her husband and a teenage son, who being sports lovers themselves are yet, after all these years, left surprised each time a book finds its way to their home.




 Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author.


Gandhi – an enduring universal vision – and those spectacles

He’s regarded as ‘The Father of the Nation’ and the man who brought down the mightiest global empire without firing a single bullet, yet Gandhi’s ideals and vision go beyond India’s borders and the last century to offer us inspiration and hope. Keith Lyons applauds the Mahatma from New Zealand.

I’ve seen Gandhi everywhere. Not just on my recent trips to India, but also in my native New Zealand, and on television.

Throughout the state of Kerala, during my two-month stint last December and January this year, it seemed that every town featured a prominent tall monument to the pioneering leader, the larger-than-life man who stood just 1.64m tall.

In my New Zealand birthplace, the capital Wellington, a bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi was unveiled in 2007 in recognition of his non-violent approach to end injustice and free the Indian sub-continent from British colonial rule, as well as the influential man’s simplicity, purity and tolerance.

Gandhi has also featured several times in my favourite television show, the long-running American animated sitcom The Simpsons. In one episode, Gandhi appears next to Homer, protecting him from the murderous intent of Mr Burns, while in another, Bart says he is using non-violent resistance, much to the disgust of his sister Lisa who can’t believe Bart is comparing himself to Mahatma Gandhi.

Also, in The Simpsons Gandhi is wrongly listed as a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize — he was nominated five times, and the awards committee later regretted never awarding it to the campaigner. To give you an idea of how Gandhi is internationally regarded, in 1999 he was runner up to Albert Einstein as Man of the Century — Gandhi had been named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1930. There’s another vague approximation moment in ‘The Simpsons’ when Marge declares, “If Gandhi could go without eating for a whole three-hour movie, I can do this.”

While Gandhi is universally acclaimed, and something of an icon for peace and civil disobedience, in India there’s both much admiration and respect for his accomplishments, as well as some criticism for his views on race (and sex), along with the complaint that he was hopelessly unrealistic. Gandhi is still revered as a hero, but it seems regard for the man is more nuanced, reconciling the Westernised lawyer with his frugal lifestyle adopting the clothing style of the poor and khadi.

I attempted to read the hefty 738-page book Gandhi by his grandson Rajmohan Gandhi, pulling it out of the shelves of my local library and holding the substantial tome with both hands hoping not to strain the muscles of my forearms.

However, after reading inside the cover, and admiring the photos of the bespectacled Gandhi, I skipped to the end, to his assassination. One of the conclusions of the book is that the bullets of a Hindu fanatic didn’t kill him. Supporting evidence might include you reading this piece about Gandhi, the longest-running American scripted primetime television series, and some pretty cool spectacles.

During my last trip to India, it was revealed to me just how ubiquitous Gandhi is. At Cochin International Airport, the world’s first airport fully powered by solar energy, I exchange my US dollars for fresh 2,000 and 500 rupees notes, each with a smiling image of Gandhiji.

Gandhi is literally put on a pedestal in Kochi city, frozen in time calmly striding out with his walking stick, while all around the traffic swirls around one of the main roundabouts of the commercial port city. It took me a while, but then I realised why many of the cities I’d visited across India had an ‘M.G. Road’ as its main thoroughfare — and it wasn’t because they were named after M.G., the British sports car.

The other obvious Gandhi-related iconography was the omnipresent image of Gandhi spectacles. Initially, I thought this was something to do with helping poor-sighted people, perhaps some kind of campaign to donating your old reading glasses so someone less fortunate might be able to read.

My misconception was cleared  when I listened to the then Union Minister of State for Culture and Tourism, the very approachable Kerala-born Alphons Joseph Kannanthanam, who addressed the 2019 Jaipur Literature Festival (the world’s largest free literary event) outlining the progress of the Swachh Bharat Mission, an ambitious plan to achieve an ‘open-defecation free’ India by the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth. Oh, that was on 2 October last year.

The effort to clean up the streets as well as build millions of toilets flows on from the revolutionary dream of Gandhi, who once declared ‘I want clean India first and independence later’. Officially around 110 million public, community and household toilets have been built across India, though some are not used, and there’s still a long way to go to ease the sanitation woes of a nation of 1,380,004,385 souls, and the social stigma attached to cleaning latrine pits.

I wonder if Gandhi were alive today how he would view the progress towards better sanitation and hygiene, the plight of those urban sewer workers, and the use of his trademark spectacles for the ambitious ‘built-it-and-they-will-come (or dump)’ campaign.

The world’s largest toilet-building and behavioural change initiatives feature just the glasses, not the face of Gandhi. The bridge on the round-frame spectacles of the Swachh Bharat Mission has India’s flag tricolours, reinforcing the patriotic duty to play one’s part — and not to lay a cable outdoors.

Gandhi himself first acquired those steel-frame specs while in London in the 1890s — that style was popular around the turn of the century. Some pairs of his glasses have recently turned up, including a pair from South Africa which fetched over $340,000 at auction in the UK.

For most people outside India, Gandhi’s spectacles have other associations. Seeking to emulate the visionary and pacifist was John Lennon of The Beatles, who wore similar-styled spectacles, and also wanted to have Gandhi on the album cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs wore similar spectacles in tribute to Gandhi. Jobs said that Gandhi was his choice for ‘Person of the Century’ because “he showed us the way out of the destructive side of our human nature”. Gandhi used moral acts of aggression instead of physical acts of aggression to force change and justice. Jobs said, “Never has our species needed this wisdom more”.

For me, Gandhi is an example of what can be achieved in making the world a better place, without the use of force or violence. He believed in creating an ideal society, with full democracy, and freedom. Gandhi ‘walked the talk’ on living a simple life and showed the virtue of patience. More than a century and a half after he was born, his message about the need for religious and political tolerance is just as relevant today. What a man. What a message.


Keith Lyons ( is an award-winning writer, author and creative writing mentor, with a background in psychology and social sciences. He has been published in newspapers, magazines, websites and journals around the world, and his work was nominated for the Pushcart prize. Keith was featured as one of the top 10 travel journalists in Roy Stevenson’s ‘Rock Star Travel Writers’ (2018). He has undertaken writer residencies in Antarctica and on an isolated Australian island, and in 2020 plans to finally work out how to add posts to his site Wandering in the World (




Without Protest : On the meaning of Searching for Truth

By Dustin Pickering

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the root of the verb protest is “to make a solemn declaration” or as a noun it refers to a pledge. Throughout The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Mohandas Gandhi notes the oaths he carried with him at various lengths. In Part One: Chapter VIII, he resolves to never steal again after he began atonement and reconciliation with his father. At a young age, he shows devout courtesy to truth. He dedicates experience of life to the pursuit of truth hence the book’s subtitle.

Later he swears an oath to his mother to not consume meat while visiting England. His Hindu faith, of which he claims ignorance, requires vegetarianism. He studies and reads on his visit to learn dietary regulations on his own that keeps his promise. When he returns home, he learns of her passing. Throughout his life he continues a strict diet without meat or milk, and his wife Kasturbabai, is also expected to abide. Even under severe threat of losing her life, Kasturbabai refused the doctor’s advice to have beef broth. Gandhi demonstrates such commitment to his ideals that he writes, “Let no one cavil at this, saying that God can never be partial, and that He has no time to meddle with the humdrum affairs of men.” His abidance to truth and oath seem to uncover God’s existence within the human sphere.

The land of India has not changed much since Gandhi’s protests and life devotions. What then is the purpose of a man of God? Gandhi notes the lack of sanitation and negligence of the poor. He is appalled that Indians would defecate in the sacred of river Ganges. He opposes the caste system and refuses to wear the sacred thread until Hinduism improves and serves the people’s well being. However he is not a bigot as he notes, “In matters of religion beliefs differ, and each one’s supreme in himself.” Gandhi’s dedication to moral improvement becomes a passion he shares with his fellow countrymen by founding schools to eradicate prejudice and ignorance so that the poor can become stronger in their self-reliance. Gandhi is not just a political activist as we understand it, but he is also a moral leader and a clear signal that God indeed exists and is concerned with human affairs.

India’s national life and character may not have improved according to Gandhi’s liking or expectations. He frequently suggests that God allows his efforts to flounder. He cannot explain why but suffers his disappointment gladly. He offers this piece of wisdom that all religions aspire to express, “The salvation of the people depends upon themselves, upon their capacity for suffering and sacrifice.” The people of India have their leader and learned to love him—however, the next important task for them is to learn to reverence each other in their habitude. It is always up to a people to secure their own blessings and reconcile with the Spirit.

Satyagraha, or passive resistance, is not a tool of destruction or self-interest. In the Autobiography, Gandhi expresses that passive resistance intends to improve the enemy’s well-being also. This is a powerful statement of political reality, that to resist you must hold the deepest compassion for the opponent and maintain moral strength and fearlessness. In the world today, such moral sacrifice and leadership appears to be absent.

In the United States, riots and violence broke out in protest of police brutality and racial injustice. The movement Antifa, a decentralised ideology and tool, wages violence with right-wing counter protests in a display of moral cowardice. Without securing blame, these street battles escalate and small businesses are ravaged. Government buildings are burned to the ground. A legal analyst on CNN requested that the viewers not focus on the destruction of property because the pain of the Black community is of greater importance. This response was in reference to the killing of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, Georgia. In his drunk fear of being sent back to prison, Brooks stole a taser from police and resisted arrest, eventually being shot by the officer who then tried to administer CPR.

Some scholars of literature compare Black American fiction to dalit fiction. Dalits are the untouchables of the Indian caste system. Gandhi’s social mission was to unify people of all castes, faiths, and walks of life. Frequently meeting with people of different faiths, his life effort was in understanding and showing compassion even to those with whom he disagreed. The caste system was something he wished to see overcome so that Hinduism could bear equal measure to other faiths. As mentioned earlier, he would not wear the sacred thread because he felt it was a symbol of superiority. He disavowed himself of self-righteousness.

His ideal State is one without violence, yet he maintained realistic understanding of the nature of the State. He wrote, “If national life becomes so perfect as to become self-regulated, no representation becomes necessary.” For this writer, such anarchism is the height of mature political ideals. Gandhi served this ideal of a nonviolent state with utmost clarity and dedication.

Finally I must refer to the great statement in the Autobiography on language. As a poet, I am deeply engaged with the thought presented, “Human language can but imperfectly describe God’s ways.” The devotee of Truth must recognize that our world is predicated on falsehood and deceit. Truth, it seems Gandhi suggests, is a lifelong pursuit in virtuous effort and suffering. Sincere willingness to undergo the difficult pursuit of Truth was Gandhi’s mission: however, in no way has he completed it for us. After all, it is our own choice to renounce the world and defy it’s injustices.


Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 




Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author.


Republic of Rananim

Sekhar Banerjee explores the relevance of D H Lawrence’s utopia … a tribute to the great writer who was born on 11th September 1885

D H Lawrence

“I want to go south, where there is no autumn, where the cold doesn’t crouch over one like a snow-leopard waiting to pounce. The heart of the North is dead, and the fingers of cold are corpse fingers. There is no more hope northwards, and the salt of its inspiration is the tingling of the viaticum on the tongue.” – writes D.H. Lawrence, or rather, D.H.L, in a letter to J.M. Murry in October, 1924 from a ranch in New Mexico. His death was then only six years away.

Lawrence always wanted to go somewhere. As we often do.  But, classically, DHL’s escape was never a tour. It was a flight; a refuge; an escape to an alternative space. We do not do it always.  However, we, at least some of us, do it sometimes.  We go from North to south and, again, from South to North with a secret intention of a flight even to the East and the West.  His letters reveal that it was neither a romantic wish nor a search for a place to live happily ever after. It was a desire, a fate, an ending ordained. This mortal wish was neither aggravated by a logical conclusion to live happy and healthy for another seventy years and write more on ways of the world, intimacy and relationships in a secluded place, nor by a wish to be immortal. He, actually, sought a comfortable place to live and die, unmasked. All he wanted was to unbound, to unfurl himself like a flag of his being — a flag of DHL. It would have been his republic.

However, deciding on a direction depends solely on where you are, and how geography and, to some extent, your perspective affect you. A north can be a north just beside your house, a south can be a south beyond your town or the continent, and a west is something which is just opposite of the east and vice versa.  But directions, rather than your perception of a place in a desired direction, dictate how you interpret directions and places.  Lawrence, for that matter, went almost to the end of directions — Australia to the south and Mexico to the west. And he had tried to measure such kilometres and latitudes that encompass Sri Lanka, India, and Vietnam in Asia besides some major cities nestled in sunshine in Europe and, obviously, in America.  Why had it become so imperative to traverse so many miles for him, mostly in sea from 1913 till his death in Venice in 1930 like an unhappy fish?

Aldous Huxley writes: “I remember very clearly my first meeting with him. The place was London, the time 1915. But Lawrence’s talk was of the geographically remote and of the personally very near. Of the horrors in the middle distance – war, winter, the town- he would not speak. For  he was on the point, so he imagined, of setting off to Florida- to Florida, where he was going to plant that colony of escape, of which up to last he never ceded to dream. Sometimes the name and the site of this seed of a happier and different world were purely fanciful. It was called Rananim, for example, and was an island like Prospero’s. Sometimes it had its place on the map and it was Florida, Cornwall, Sicily, Mexico and again, for a time, the English countryside. That wintry afternoon in 1915 it was Florida.”

The search for such Rananims gets more pressing when faced with constrictions — of war, of societal regulations, of totalitarian regimes, of rigid beliefs, of weather and of health — mental or physical, or, for that matter, a pandemic of world war proportions.  Don’t we all now harbour a wish to escape to a sanctuary of safety of eternal sunshine and quietude? 

The desire and resonance for a Rananim is as old as the birth of fire and use of iron. For Lawrence, it started as early as when he was seventeen or eighteen. All he wanted at that age was to take one of the big houses in Nottingham where he and all the people he liked could live together. This idea of a Rananim, a safe sanctuary of emotions and wellbeing, surfaced in DHL’s mind throughout his life. Beginning as a child’s wish to an indistinct political philosophy to a romantic idea of a promised, virgin haven  to, ultimately,  a dystopia of his own psyche, the Rananim he harboured inside the recess of his colourful mind changed its place , shape and essence with the changing realities of the world and the standing of his mind. But he held on to it like a piece of wood which he would use to make his own chair and would sit comfortably under the shade of a tree in a place only to be soothed — free and happy. In a letter to S.S.Koteliansky (January 3, 1915), Lawrence writes:

“We are going to found an Order of the Knights of Rananim. […] I want to gather together about twenty souls and sail away from this world of war and squalor and found a little colony where there shall be no money but a sort of communism as far as necessaries of life go. […] We keep brooding the idea – I and some friends.”

This was a pure, almost naive, wish to escape to someplace else.

Do we have our Rananims ? Don’t we all have a faint trace of an idea of living a ‘full’ life in another place, another time, as if, it is a memory of the past life? Don’t we actually have a sense of a perfect place etched in our skulls like a sense of proportion or a sense of aesthetics? How many times did we say while visiting a place that we would have loved to settle here or how many times did we look for pieces of land for a perfect dwelling – mostly in the countryside? What, then, compels us to think in a certain way for a paradise which might be lost forever?  Is it the endlessness of wars, violence or a pandemic? Is it a Sylvania (Latin: forest land ) printed in our genes since pre-historic times?  Or, rather, is it a monolith of a society which, slowly but surely, bypasses the individual and his or her otherness?  The more ‘other’ you are , the more you are excluded , and that, in turn, like the stereotypical third law of Newton, forces one more to dream up a parallel world, a civilisation of his or her own like an exclusive club with limited members. It’s either a Prospero’s Island or a Rananim of D.H.L.

We all have our republics within ourselves. And there are definite yet illegible directions inside our lingering thoughts to reach those Utopias. In another place, in another landscape, in another country, in another time, or in another society. We also, intrinsically, know that these Utopias are also destined to fail. They are always conceived to fail. Still we wish to find one.

Sekhar Banerjee is a bilingual writer.  He has four collections of poems and a monograph on an Indo-Nepal border tribe to his credit. He is former Secretary of Paschimbanga Bangla Akademi under the Government of West Bengal.  He lives in Kolkata, India. 




What Use is It?

Dustin Pickering argues that Joyce is what we need during this pandemic

James Joyce’s oeuvre is an extravagant literary experiment in stretching the bounds of language. Ulysses, for instance, is colourful and surreal in its use of stream-of-consciousness as we walk with the central characters through an actual Ireland Joyce recreated from memory. Finnegans Wake is linguistically complex yet satisfying to read only for enjoyment. These works are often criticised as being too obscure for readers, but I will argue that such obscurity is an essential force of the novels which resonate in today’s reality as much as in the times they were written. Ambiguity grants flexible interpretations, so in the spirit of Joyce, I will define how his work could relate to contemporary conflicts. This essay will present critical ideas that balance opposing approaches. Joyce’s literature is in dialogue with works of the past which present similar conundrums.

Structuring his novel Ulysses against The Odyssey creates a full loop culturally from the ancient western literature to modernist fixtures such as T S Eliot and Samuel Beckett. The novel was put on trial in the United States in a famous case that helped liberate literature from rigid legal definitions. Ulysses also challenges old fashioned perceptions that define a human being and suggests pivotal questions that flood the reader with exciting emotion. In and of itself, the use of image, myth, and form make the novel a tricky read but challenging as well. Any reader who decides the novel is worth exploring may find that he or she is Odysseus himself in the Protean sea of literary accomplishment. 

Chapter three, the Proteus chapter, can be construed as Dedaleus’ philosophical confrontation with identity. However, identity is interrogated philosophically, not politically, and the young Stephen presents the adolescent’s crisis of personal growth. He is sharp and inquisitive but not afraid of the tough questions. His perceptions suggest androgyny and continuous flux to identity as the narrative courses between thought and material reality. His interrogations are not just philosophical refutations. The use of stream-of-consciousness stylistically may serve an alternate purpose. 

Nicolas Berdyaev writes in The Destiny of Man, “It is with the greatest difficulty man learns to discriminate between personal and collective responsibility.” The question of the measuring rod of reality is brought to trial—was George Berkeley correct in asserting the primacy of the ideal world thus negating the material world? Does external prodding of self-image from peers and strangers construct identity socially? In a time that has turned this question upside down, the 21st century can benefit from this healthy skepticism. 

Sartre writes in the essay Existentialism, “We definitely wish to establish the human realm as an ensemble distinct from the material realm.” As moral creatures, humans establish value systems on principles of free will. Kant writes in Critique of Practical Reason, “For the moral law in fact transfers us ideally into a system in which pure reason, if it were accompanied with adequate physical power, would produce the summum bonum, and it determines our will to give the sensible world the form of a system of rational beings.” Perhaps Stephen’s own deliberations lead us to accept the premise that moral law is ultimately social. Human ability to reason and develop complicated societies is mimetic, but the final question is where do we derive our freedom—in the absence, or in the presence, of divine omnipotence? Meaning itself seems derived from moral foundation. 

Kant further suggests that material principles cannot lead to the moral law, and thus places moral foundations with a transcendental order that also creates freedom. Through these constructions we are granted the “categorical imperative.” Kant recognises the division of our nature into personal and social responsibility, but also that individual choice is founded through free choice. 

Stephen Dedaleus is plagued with guilt and restless yearning for truth, but that yearning is his own. The social world shapes it to a degree. However, Marx would offer that the individual is free only through the foundation of social relations, centrally the means of production. These questions are disputed fervently throughout western history. The previous century is rife with argumentation on this subject. In the world today we come in confrontation with this abstract freedom of will and are closer to renouncing it in favour of collective moral purpose. Ulysses provides a imaginative perspective for thought. Joyce’s life work is centred on language and its social reality.

In Finnegans Wake he explores the construction of language, but in Ulysses literary device does not offer conclusive formulations. The progress of the novel is embedded with this conflict. Even in Bloom’s moral crisis with his cheating wife, he appears to be alone with his emotions, yet we recognise that humanity’s struggle for freedom and happiness are universal especially when we don’t recognise the collective existence.

My own reading of Ulysses was without assistance from annotated guides. I enjoyed the language and the depth of imagination. Its impact is emotional and leads to intriguing self-discourse. In and of itself the book is worth examining for its carefully wrought structural dynamics. The Protean chapter plays interesting logical games with the reader. Perhaps the purpose of confounding so many questions into one literary space is to demonstrate their futility. The sea is described by Buck as Stephen’s “mother” although Proteus is male. Perhaps this skilful tactic of ambiguous symbolism anticipates many of the same questions asked today concerning sexuality.  Gender is conceived as “fluid” rather than fixed by a growing swath of intellectuals. 

Stephen Dedaleus lost his mother in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and is probably burdened by guilt for his defiance on his mother’s deathbed. “I will not serve” is Dedaleus’s rejection of orthodoxy; however, clearly his emotions are hither and thither. In the opening chapter, Stephen is in Martello Tower with two boarding mates. In the characterisations of these young men we observe differing understandings of time. Mulligan is insensitive and only recognises the near future while Stephen is more reflective and seemingly harmless in his introversion. We learn that Stephen is a deeply conflicted man, apparently searching for a kind of surrogate masculinity. In today’s world we are also questioning what masculinity means and how it affects men’s interpersonal behaviour. 

We see that Ulysses is almost a herald of today’s confused and hostile world in transformation. Today’s sociopolitical reality is lost within violent flux. Ulysses portrays a mock-heroic venture to define one’s reality in spite of turbulence. The novel also characterises Irish history and culture. By uniting the particulars of Ireland within the general presentation of complex reality, this literature challenges the reader in philosophical, not just literary, terms.

Joyce also employs stream-of-consciousness in his most difficult work Finnegans Wake. World languages are synthesised into brilliant puns as Joyce explores Irish history with mythical grandeur.  The title comes from an Irish ballad about a drunk named Finnegan who falls from a ladder and is assumed to be dead. He comes back to life when whiskey is accidentally spilled on his “corpse” at his own funeral. The cyclical structure of the book indicates a surreal resurrection. The central dreamer, HCE (Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker), is buried by sleep only to wake into the world of the damned again. A strange variety of theological, philosophical, and scientific explorations are developed within 12 years of writing. In essence the novel demonstrates the baptism of languages in their own fire. Finnegans Wake is Menippean satire and parodies much of the frailty of human incompetence or hubris. Several extenuating allusions to war and political fratricide coexist within the pages. The complexities of language are apparent as the reader experiences HCE’s dreamworld. 

In Teaching and Researching Listening, Michael Rost writes, “Whenever multiple sources, or streams, of information are present, selective attention must be used. Selective attention involves a decision, a commitment of our limited capacity process to one stream of information or one bundled set of features.” Perhaps the name of the protagonist (Earwicker) signifies the nature of the unconscious as an ambiguous language, a system of thought unavailable to the conscious mind. In itself, the inner ear practices selective attention as the reader by nature also selects particulars of the created dreamworld. 

William James wrote, “Everyone knows what attention is. It is taking possession of the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seems several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalization, concentration of consciousness are of its essence. It implies a withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others.” Consciousness in itself is perhaps selective hearing of the mind. The modern world is assailed with continuous information and data, most of which is useless. In reading this masterpiece of Western literature, we see our unconscious realm as thick and convoluted. This potentially admonishes the reader into carefully considering valid input from the external world. Again, we see how much of ourselves is left in the dark, yet we recognise the importance of the individual mind, and reflect on our massive blindness to how much we don’t know of what we don’t know. The conundrum is bare before our eyes through the Finnegans Wake text.

Joyce’s wife once pointed out that his writing is too obscure even for her reading. However, the obscurity is its carnal delight in facing reality and truth. Obscurity should not deter us from our own experience in reading these two masterpieces. Today’s world is more in need of obscurity in literature. Mystery encapsulates the world and literature is a powerful force to help define and interrogate it. 

Joyce’s literature is certainly not the exception but rather the proof of this rule. His literature abounds in ambiguous logic and allusion, thus making it fruitful for our ripening contemporary minds. Using complex but intriguing language concealed in moral and philosophical contemplation serves as powerful incarnation of truth. For the truth itself is dialogic. As he defines the distinct characteristics of the novel, Bakhtin writes, “A crucial tension develops between the external and the internal man, and as a result the subjectivity of the individual becomes an object of experimentation and representation.” Bakhtin also elaborates on humour’s ability to bring its object closer to us so we are able to laugh and mock. In this act, we liberate ourselves from the things that we least understand and wish to confront. 

These imaginative and complex novels of James Joyce present the noblest truths of human existence in a light that is not cruel or pretentious. For these reasons, they are fascinating books to read and enjoy even in the confused and hostile contemporary atmosphere. In fact, such perilous times are the greatest of times to appreciate literature.


Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 




Cozies and Me: Adventures during the Pandemic

Soma Das explores comfort reading during the pandemic

I have always enjoyed curling up with a mystery novel, especially on days when nothing seems to go right. But over the last few years, I started experiencing a vague sense of guilt every time I would read a non-academic book.            

All that changed thanks to Covid-19. In Mumbai, the lockdown (in place since March) has meant limited mobility and life coming to a standstill. Exams have been postponed or cancelled, work is now largely done from home, and there is little incentive or safety in stepping out or travelling.

Reading is the best antidote to unpalatable things in life, including uncertain times. So, I started browsing through my bookshelf and tentatively selected a few dusty titles. The books, however, didn’t speak to me. I would keep reading the same passage over and over again, without being able to decipher the meaning hidden in the text.

So, I turned to the only thing that didn’t tax my brain: a cozy mystery. Also referred to as the cozies, this is a type of crime fiction where an amateur sleuth (usually a girl/woman) investigates a particular incident — it can range from arson to blackmail, a haunting, or a murder.

The plot is set in an idyllic location, such as a small village in England/France, or at a seaside resort. The stories are often humorous and tend to feature pets (mostly cats). There can be a culinary angle to the story, as the sleuth may be working/frequenting a cafe, or a crime may take place there. While some of the novels stand-alone, others are part of a series.

The titles of cozy mysteries tend to be strangely alluring, and hunger-inducing: Chocolate Cream Pie Murder, Mystery at Apple Tree Cottage, Murder over Cocktails, Profiteroles and Poison, Cookies, Spells and the Tolling Bells, Feral Attraction, More Cats, Cupcakes and Killers, A Sprinkling of Murder…  

Unlike regular crime thrillers or mystery novels (where the goriness of the crime takes centre-stage), in cozies, the actual criminal act is not graphically described. And there is rarely any use of profanity. In other words, these are the non-PG (parental guidance) versions of sordid mystery novels.

The usual plot for a cozy mystery involves an idyllic locale where most people know (and trust) each other. The sleuth (usually someone resourceful and quick-witted, but not a trained detective) makes an entry. Just in time, a crime occurs. The amateur sleuth is somehow connected to the incident and must investigate. There may be a romantic angle as well. Several characters appear suspicious, but eventually, the sleuth eliminates the false leads and points out the real culprit. Interestingly, in these stories, most of the culprits are victims of circumstances and not serial killers.

Most of us have read cozy novels, but we perhaps never identified them as such. Some good examples are MC Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series, Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series, and Alexander McCall Smith’s The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.   

For me, an additional incentive to read these stories came from a simple fact: Kindle has a large number of cozy mysteries available for free. The pricing changes over a period of time (and what’s free today may not be free tomorrow), but there are always a few cozies available at any point of time.

Cozy novels are one of the most popular forms of crime writing. Novice authors along with seasoned ones often take a stab at it (pun intended), which accounts for the extensive range. It is safe to say we will never run out of cozies.  

In terms of quality, some of the books can be boring and average, as the authors come up with improbable storylines or lose their hold on the plot during the denouement. But there are some works that are able to build suspense and keep you hooked till the very end. To save precious time, I would advise you to read the reader reviews and steer clear of the terrible ones.

Writing in Psychology Today, author David Evans described murder mysteries as “fairy tales for adults”. And therein lies their charm. While the stories talk of all kinds of evil things and people, it also offers a template on how to deal with your fears, as well as a reassurance that things will some day return to normal. More importantly, it tells you to trust your intuition and bravely face the challenges that life may throw at you. That is priceless advice in times like these. And all included within the price of a cozy!

Soma Das is an independent journalist and lecturer at the Department of Mass Media, Kishinchand Chellaram College, Mumbai.




Schumpeter, the Luddites, and the Post-COVID Workforce

By Avik Chanda

This is not a commercial.

But if you happen to find yourself in Abu Dhabi at this moment, and are planning to take a flight back home to Delhi, you might be advised to try Etihad Airways, especially in these pandemic times. To check in via their ‘Fit to Fly’ application, just stand in front of the monitor, remove your mask, and the system will scan your health particulars within seconds. The application will then quiz you on your activities over the past fortnight, to each of which you reply with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. An algorithm at the back-end analyses the information, issues an all-clear, prints out your boarding pass, and you drop your bags off at the counter. You’ve not met a single person among the airlines staff, let alone be within contamination distance. From the moment you entered the airport, your experience thus far has been as risk-free as possible. The application has replaced check-in executives, most of whom may never be coming back – but it’s a relatively small price to pay, for saving lives.

And as your journey becomes a montage, from the white-heat glare of an Arabian sun outside the window, through a somewhat claustrophobic, masked-on slumber, to the thick drapes of nimbus covering the sky at your destination, imagine that the same risk-free application that checked you in, has been implemented in all airports and airlines across India. This thought-experiment has just added to the toll of the estimated 2.9 million jobs already affected in the immediate term, across Indian aviation and allied sectors, as a direct result of the ongoing pandemic.

While it’s hoped that a significant number are expected to regain employment, in the wake of a vaccine, herd immunity and economic recovery, those employees that are displaced by superior, robust, cost-effective technology, will have no cause to be recalled to their counters. And once you reach home and begin to adjust into your self-quarantine regime, consider that if you’re working in real estate, retail, hospitality, travel, tourism or for that matter, even information technology, the odds are in one in six you may not have a job to go back to.

The effect of innovation and improvement in industrial processes on employment and jobs is both well-researched and documented. Conceived in the intellectual shadow of Marxian constructs, the Austrian-born economist, Joseph Schumpeter, writing in 1942, introduced and developed the concept of ‘the gale of creative destruction’, in his book, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. According to him, creative destruction was an integral part of the way that capitalism functioned in the modern world. A fait accompli, it was “the process of industrial mutation that continuously revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one”. Over the subsequent decades, theoretical models of growth, as well as empirical studies evidence and models have very largely converged to the conclusion that the process of creative destruction is an inevitable concomitant of economic growth and fluctuations.

In his book, Schumpeter argued that the unending cycle of creative-destructive forces in a capitalist system would eventually lead to its demise. History, to date, has however not borne out his prognosis, and in fact his term, creative destruction, has been enthusiastically adopted by generations of business gurus and industry magnates, to justify downsizing in the workplace, in favour of efficiency and innovation.

As a concept, its intellectual successor, ‘disruption’, has carried the argument to its logical and inalienable conclusion. The march of ground-breaking, innovation cannot be arrested. The giddy rate of technological advancement witnessed in a remarkably short span seems to support this view, hurtling an essentially analogous world into one where machines, algorithms and automated processes vie with, and increasingly, surpass their human counterparts at a range of tasks. The ramifications on employment are massive for labour-intensive economies such as India, where an estimated 30 to 40% of the current workforce cannot be readily re-skilled.

Alarm bells about the effects of automation started to ring early in 2017, when a report by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, was made public. The report indicated that 600,000 people working in Information Technology (IT) services firms across the country might lose their jobs over the coming three years. This amounted to 200,000 jobs lost on average, per year – to automation. McKinsey urged IT service providers to explore new models of man-and-machine working in conjunction, and re-skilling employees with emerging technologies. Corroborating this view, a report by US-based research firm HFS Research, stated that around 700,000 ‘low skilled’ professionals in IT and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industries in India could lose their jobs to automation and artificial intelligence, by 2022. For those reading between the lines, it’s apparent that while the initial brunt of automation would be borne by IT and BPO, sooner or later, other sectors would also be affected. As with most things in economics, there’s a tradeoff – the benefits in costs and efficiency of jobless growth, powered by technology that replaces labour, versus the social and moral responsibility of mass-scale retrenchment.

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown all projections out with dishwater, and disrupted the prevalent ecosystem irrevocably, in two significant ways. First, faced with the outlook of forced social distancing sustained over an indefinite period of time, industries would scramble to replace current methods of running the business with means that are capital and technology intensive, at the exclusion of labour. Second, and even more telling, the whole moral argument of retrenchment has been turned on its head. Employers are safer when not in contagious distance within each other, even if it means there are significantly fewer of them left on the rolls. And customers would understandably like to shop in an environment where the prospect of any tactile interaction with salespersons is minimal to zero. The same organisations that would have held back on cutting jobs for its debilitating effect on lives may now be compelled to introduce technologically advanced processes of production, storage, distribution and sales, to reduce manpower across the board, from the workshops to warehouses and retail outlets.

The 2018 World Economic Forum report on the Future of Work indicates that two distinct streams of skills and attributes are coming into greater demand, as technological innovation, powered by artificial intelligence and automation, deepens across industries. First, there are those skills that involve a high degree of mathematical and technical ability, catering to the niche requirements of the AI industry. Such jobs will be limited in number, compared to programmers and testers in the previous scenario. Also, the ability of professionals to upskill themselves suitably to the required level will be limited. At the same time, there’s a growing need for a range of skills along the human dimension, including creativity, imagination, innovation, design thinking, and increasingly – empathy. Expertise in these attributes greatly increases the chances of sustained work for individuals, even in a largely automated workplace.

The ongoing pandemic has only increased the urgency of reskilling the existing workforce along the emergent technologies and also more evolved behavioural attributes and competencies. At some point in the future, the world may well gravitate to a new equilibrium where goods and services are more readily available and general living standards are higher than before. But the road will be rocky and painful. In the meantime, the sweep of the resultant unemployment will be as endemic as the virus that has caused it, from migrant wage labourers who represent the poorest section of society, to college-educated, middle-class professionals aspiring to become corporate managers and startup entrepreneurs. When savings run dry and children can’t be fed, the collective bewilderment of the dispossessed often turns to rancour.

From the earliest days when it began centred around the textile mills in Nottingham, the Luddite movement has come to epitomise all form of concerted protest against technological advancements and machinery that threaten to rob workers of their livelihoods. The movement came into being as a series of protests by traditional textile weavers, who feared, not without cause, that the newly introduced machines in the mills would replace them. The protests swiftly degenerated into arson and destruction of property, as groups of armed men stormed factories and destroyed the looms and machinery at hand. The Luddite rebellion ended in 1816, but the legacy of their revolt has sustained as a symbol of opposition to hyper-industrialisation and automation, that leave masses of people unemployed. If the dispossessed of the present times turn into Luddites, how are their protests likely to be met?

The answer, entailing the exact same method deployed to quell the original revolt, is to be found in Eric Hobsbawm’s 1952 essay, The Machine Breakers. By means of the state. At the height of the Luddite movement, 12,000 soldiers of the British Army were deployed against the so-called ‘machine-breakers’, a considerably greater number than what the intrepid Duke of Wellington had managed to muster in 1808, to give battle to Napoleon’s forces in the Iberian Peninsula. Fast forward to the grunting shuffle and press of 1st November 2019, when 80,000 police officers in France were deployed under “Act 9”, to counter the swell of the nation-wide Giles Jaunes protesters. And now, finally, imagine for a moment that all the 21st century Luddites across the world, displaced by the vagaries of the pandemic, and the automated, smarter-than-thou technologies that have emerged as a response to it, have come out onto the streets, in protest.

What will it take this time?


Avik Chanda is a bestselling author, columnist, business advisor, entrepreneur and educator. His book, From Command To Empathy: Using EQ in the Age of Disruption (HarperCollins, 2017), was selected for Amazon India’s Best Reads, under the category, ‘Business, Strategy and Management’ . His latest book, Dara Shukoh: The Man Who Would Be King(HarperCollins, 2019), garnered rave reviews from academics, authors, the national press, and general readers. It was in the Top 10 Non-Fiction Bestsellers List, for 10 consecutive weeks, post its publication, and has recently been released as an audiobook, by Audible.




Time is a Holy Substance

By Dustin Pickering

If any diagram were even to suggest my meaning, it would be a spiral, with unity to begin with, a spiral enlarging itself as a consequence of its selective open-ness to the press it responds to. The image of rings of growth in a tree would be helpful if they did not suggest more or less even growth around a center, when in fact concrescence witnesses to the fact of its uneven career in the environment. Thus, the ground for affirming the continuity of the datum-person (a) with the subsequent growth now (b) is that (b) is a unity with datum-person (a) with (b) as its new change growth. The route or series of successive experiences is possible because each moment in the succession is the original and creative unity that is able to maintain its essential activity-potentials as it interacts with its ambient.

 — Peter A. Bertocci, “The Essence of a Person”

In truth, in the actual present the self transcends change or mutually external time-lapses, through the act of synthesis by which it grasps a succession as one and continuous. The simultaneity, or so-called timelessness of a self, consists in this power of continuous synthesis.

 — Joseph A. Leighton, “Time, Change, and Time-Transcendence”

Our notion of time, then, is the empty form into which we project from the living present the continuity of our interests, aims and values. Actual time can have no more continuity than human ideas and purposes and the ideas and purpose of other psychical beings may have. Time is the shadow cast by the unsatisfied will of man across the world of becoming. It is the mark of the incomplete moving towards completion. And the so -called direction of time’s flow is determined by the tensions of human interest and aim. Hence, the movement of history and biography appears as an irreversible series of qualitatively individual acts and never-to-be repeated events, in contrast with the reversible character of a purely mechanical system.

 — Joseph A. Leighton, “Time, Change, and Time-Transcendence”

The doctrine of the Trinity is difficult and perhaps there is no way to firmly master it. However, the creative potentiality in the human mind enables reflection and steady thought on deep subjects. If we apply our reflections to God as essentially one in essence but three in Personhood, we can arrive at a few conclusions concerning the nature of time, the limitations of Being, and the wisdom of our destiny.

The human mind is both conservative and liberal in its tendencies. It both desires static predictability and motion forward. Our minds individually are therefore two value sets within one another. We want motion and change yet long for the past and its certainty. Time is an empty concept without its tensions. Its ability to both Be and Become, to sustain moments while lifting out of them to the next enjoyment, is something unique about the experience of living. These steady tensions make advancement possible and preserve the good foundations of our being.

It must be noted that these tensions originate somewhere. We can safely attribute them to motion and flux throughout time—that is, Becoming. Yet we know Being has its place too. The present moment is composed of the fading past and the emerging future. This seems to imply that time can be both divided and united through the same dichotomy.

This dichotomy is the dissolving crux of Being. The continuous flexing of moment after moment offers an array of possible definitions. We “will” them into existence. Time creates its own environs but it is the human mind that interprets and decides the fact from the excess. History is an accumulation of determined patterns reconciled with human nature. The facts are arranged to suit narratives that are pre-assumed by values. These values shape our thinking and organize events into lucid structures. We are able to affirm and imperil powers depending on values we choose. Our constructs serve a larger purpose of arranging and envelope planning and expectation. We are thus limited on how we imagine events because our nature is confined.

Perhaps it is possible that the Trinity creates an environment of divinity similar to how time creates one for us? The three-in-one essence defies logic on first glance. But what if these three persons create a set of relations: that is, an environment where creativity emerges? There is more to divinity than mind or thought. Essence is an all-encompassing question that ambitiously defines selfhood. An environment is a structure one relates to and with, and it also limits the person within it. Will is free but also limited. You must circumcise your dreams before they can fly.

The Trinity then, by being three Persons united (and thus creating Selfhood), initiates a constructive conversation between the Godhead and His separate aspects. Are these roles chosen for the Ultimate? No, because then they are chosen by the Ultimate. What after all is timeless existence? In one verse, God is described as “the Alpha and the Omega.” Beginning and end are the determinants of causality and God is the Ultimate. Therefore, the end of time is the final recognition of all that takes place—that cyclical, static embrace. Time is shot like an arrow and as in the poem, “falls I know not where.” The seemingly aimless nature of time is actually due to its hidden dimension as God. God is an extension of reality rather than the embodiment of it. An appropriate analogy is the unconscious mind that conceals yet drives being overmuch.

Time then, as we know it and conceive it, is a phenomenon chained to itself and unable to escape the influence of our creative mind. Mind (is it true?) is a substance, a mere signifier for material processes. Language structures are hardwired into the brain and form a complex sum of orientations. If language is mind’s product, then it is a product developed and sustained by the neural structures of the brain. Their patterns of being and developing are what make language possible for an individual.

Now I may interject that I believe God is a substance. That is, what T. S. Eliot called a “stillpoint.”  It is a feathery substance but a highly charged, hyper-velocity, moment in the purity of being itself. Its fundamental nature, however, is as we described. Underneath the dense layers of our physical existence, within them, is an intense reverberating energy that individuates all things. Although the human capacity to think is granted in our divine nature, self-awareness stops short of perceiving its source. Limitations are natural to that which is created but not to that which is self-created. All is the fluctuation of mind, yet the mind is not ours. Our imperfect ability to perceive, understand, and know is due to being separate of God yet of the same essence. We know the Tree of Immortality is guarded by a cherub with a flaming sword.

This individuation is the product of a triple tension: a tension that springs from duality, and a third that releases creative potential. The third tension is the Son released into the world. All three have existed since time immemorial but remain within the material our known being constitutes. This divine conversation is the height of what is holy. In Hinduism the Trinity exists as three separate beings known as Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva; together, they form the essence of Godhead which is Being that unites, calibrates, and also tears apart order to restore it. The Godhead floats through being as Being itself. The supreme Godhead is never found. Rather it is felt through its powers. It’s being is substance, but its actions and motions are ephemeral and glorious. Is Desire something transformed, or something we can understand logically?

Holiness is something beyond our own understanding because our being limited through its engagement with the divine. This dialectical understanding is a communication between Creator and Created. It is this relationship that develops our free will and determined existence. All things must have foundation for the sake of stability. The foundation of Godhead is groundless being. It restores and spans eternity. To communicate with it through your individual existence is the most powerful and blessed thing offered to the human frame.


Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 




Binapani Mohanty: The iconic Odia story-teller

By Bhaskar Parichha

Binapani Mohanty

‘Writing comes spontaneously from the heart, from one’s own experience, from search for truth and by empathizing with characters and grappling with incidents.’ — ‘Meet the Author’ programme by Sahitya Akademi

When eminent author Binapani Mohanty was recently conferred with the prestigious Atibadi Jagannath Das Samman –- Odisha’s topmost literary award — at her Cuttack residence in the midst of the pandemic, it was only a fitting compliment by the Odisha Sahitya Akademi to an author who has immensely contributed to Odia literature and enriched it.

In a literary career spanning six decades, Mohanty has carved a niche for herself in the field of Odia fiction writing. She was awarded the ‘Padma Shri’ this year. Numerous other awards have come in her way during the long career. 

Born to Chaturbhuja Mohanty and Kumudini Mohanty of Chandol in an otherwise politically sensitive district of Kendrapara, the eighty-four-year-old Binapani Mohanty is a retired professor of Economics at Cuttack’s Sailabala Women’s College — an exalted institution that has added a glorious chapter in the realm of women’s education in Odisha. Mohanty had also been a chairperson of Odisha Lekhika Sansad — the women writers’ group.

Binapani Mohanty’s career as a story-teller began with the publication of ‘Gotie Ratira Kahani’ (Story of a Night) in 1960. Some of her best-known stories are ‘Khela Ghara(Doll House),’Naiku Rasta’(Road to a River), ‘Bastraharana’(Disrobing), ‘Andhakarara Chhai (Shadow of Darkness), ‘Kasturi Mruga O Sabuja Aranya’(Kasturi Deer and the Green Forest).

But it was Pata Dei and other Stories that won her the Kendriya Sahitya Akademi Award in 1990. Mohanty’s oeuvre has been ever-expansive: thirty short story collections, three novels (Sitara Sonita, Manaswini and Kunti, Kuntala, Shakuntala); autobiography; translated Russian folk tales from English to Odia. She has also   a one-act play entitled ‘Kranti’ to her credit. Several of her short stories have been translated into different Indian languages:  Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Bengali, Urdu, Telugu and obviously English and Russian.

If Odia short stories have evolved over time and kept pace with the changing trends, writers like Binapani Mohanty have experimented the form in all its hues and colors. A feudal society with all its specious characteristics, Odisha has been a fertile ground for literary exploration and the short story genre has only facilitated that quest.

Social injustice, women’s rights, and the caste system have been the central themes of Mohanty’s short stories. The focus has, all along, been on the storyline and the circumstances rather than the new-fangled aspects of syntax and language.

 ‘Pata Dei’ essentially talks of how women are expected to conform to societal norms and are taken for a ride by the very people who take advantage of their hopelessness.

The story begins somewhat like this:

 “Nobody had ever seen Pata dei (1) after that fateful night of Dola purnima. It seemed as if the night itself had engulfed her. The moon was spread clear and bright all over the village. After the ritual journey from house to house the deities were being gathered in the field. The air was thick with the swelling crowds, the sounds of cymbals and bells, and the children smearing colours on one another. The excitement of the purnima night is very different from what follows the next day – the Holi celebrations. This night comes once a year, only to disappear before one realizes it was there. But the experience generally settles down like dust, like the colours, unnoticed by all. It clings to the body and mind the whole year long – piled up inside. That is how, maybe, behind her pleasant smile Patadei had layers of worries spread like slime inside her.”

Mohanty’s Pata Dei (Elder Sister) tackles the hypocrisy that surrounds sexual assault in society. As Pata Dei — the protagonist — returns to her father’s home with a child, slanderous accusations are hurled at her and the villager’s question who the child’s father is. Defiant and fearless, Pata Dei narrates to the villagers the trauma of the night when a group of her own village men had raped her

“You want to know who the father of this child is. There, they are all standing here. Ramu, Veera, Gopi, Naria and a couple more of them later. How can I tell whose child this is? That night, during the Dola festival when the mock fight was going on, these people had stuffed a cloth in my mouth and carried me away to the edge of the graveyard. There, behind the bushes, they had chewed me up alive…like plucking out flesh from bones. My mouth was closed but before losing my senses I did recognize them all by the moonlight. How can I tell whose child this is? Ask that Hari Bauri. He took money from all of them to leave me at Cuttack. I didn’t come all these days because I didn’t want to bring more shame on my father. After returning too, I’ve revealed nothing. But ask them all now. Let them swear on themselves and decide who the father of this child is.” (Translation by Sunita Mishra*)

Then she turns to her infant son and says, “…Why should you cry, dear? Don’t be afraid of these people. None of them is man enough to stand up and admit to being your father. But your mother is always there for you…” 

 Pata Dei was serialized as ‘Lata’ in the now extinct Femina in and around 1986. In 1987, its Hindi dramatization was telecast on Doordarshan as a series entitled Kashmakash.

Many of Binapani Mohanty’s stories are grim tales where characters refuse to bow down to social prejudices, despite undergoing extreme torment. But then the reader does not lose all hope and there is a silver lining at the end of each story.

*Sunita Mishra teaches in the Department of English, University of Hyderabad.


Bhaskar Parichha is a Bhubaneswar-based  journalist and author. He writes on a broad spectrum of  subjects , but more focused on art ,culture and biographies. His recent book ‘No Strings Attached’ has been published by Dhauli Books. 




Commemorating the writings of Emily Bronte

Children of Wuthering Heights by Sohana Manzoor

A common concept today about the children portrayed in Victorian literature is that they are innocent in spite of their sufferings and brutalization by the society. One can refer to an apotheosis of childhood innocence through characters like Dickens’s Oliver Twist, Little Nell in Old Curiosity Shop, and Pip in Great Expectations, or Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. During the Victorian era morality and didacticism were appended to the Romantic imagination, and these childhood victims of social injustice were redeemed by their inherent sense of goodness and modesty. Consequently, later on in life these victims of tyranny did not turn into tyrants themselves.

Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, however, treats children and their sufferings in a very different manner. Peter Coveney observes, “the symbol which had such strength and richness in the poetry of Blake and some parts of the novels of Dickens became in time the static and moribund child-figure of the Victorian imagination” (33). Emily Brontë perhaps captures this idea more acutely than any other of her contemporaries.

When it comes to the novel, most people visualize a grand romance on the Yorkshire moors as portrayed in Hollywood movies by the same name. But I wonder how many actually realize that the heroine of that romance died when she was just over eighteen and Heathcliff had left home three years before that. Doesn’t that make it more of a romance of adolescence or even childhood?

The pain and anguish represented through the two characters is more about the loss of a love that belonged to the freedom of childhood and was lost as they encountered social segregation and class-conflicts as they grew older. In this article, I have chosen to look at those troubled children of Wuthering Heights whose childhood was virtually disrupted by the adult figures surrounding them. The sufferings they encountered as teenagers or adults are rooted in the cherished and tortured existence they led as children.

The popular belief today is that the horrors of the World Wars, concentration camps, and other nightmarish situations took away that world of innocence from the modern child. Such an assumption suggests that nineteenth-century children were more innocent than the children of the twentieth century because they did not experience the horrors of the Great Wars. But standing in mid-nineteenth century England, Brontë shows with brutal honesty that a child’s world might be simpler and less complicated than an adult’s but is still far from being innocent and guiltless.

In ‘Le Chat’, one in the collection of The Belgian Essays, she draws an analogy between a cat and a child. When a child comes to his mother with a crushed butterfly in hands, she hugs him praising his efforts. For Emily Bronte, however, the scenario is reminiscent of a cat “with the tail of a half-devoured rat hanging from its mouth” (58). Using the metaphor of a predator she thus brings forth another aspect of “childhood innocence” which can be cruel and terrifying. And hence, the youngsters in Wuthering Heights torture and kill helpless animals on different occasions. They are reported to kill birds by hanging traps over their nests, and to strangle puppies from the back of chairs.

Early in Wuthering Heights the uninvited guest Mr. Lockwood has a nightmare during his stay at the Heights which in crucial ways sets the tone of the novel. He dreams of someone or something knocking on his windowpane, and when he tries to close the window, a cold little hand grabs his wrist and begs for entrance:

Terror made me cruel; and finding it useless to attempt shaking the creature off, I pulled its wrist on to the broken pane, and rubbed it to and fro till the blood ran down and soaked the bed-clothes: still it wailed, “Let me in!” and maintained its tenacious gripe, almost maddening me with fear. (20–21)

The dream, or rather the nightmare is fearful in its realistic description and neither the author nor the narrator attempts to interpret it except in incoherent blabbering. His fear makes him act irrationally and thus the readers are made to enter a world where children are treated unkindly, cruelly even.

While cruelty toward children is not all that unusual in Victorian novels, the problem with Wuthering Heights is that here it seems rampant. The houses in Emily’s novel are not work-houses or orphanages as one can find in the novels of Dickens. And yet the way children are reared and treated here can hardly be described as benevolent or nourishing.

The idea that children are to be treated kindly, a theme repeatedly emphasized by the Victorians, seems to have gone completely awry in Wuthering Heights. Children are mostly treated whimsically by adults as if they are mere playthings. Moreover, because the purveyor of ill-treatment is a parent or guardian, there is nobody to interfere, nobody to question the authority of the wrongdoer.

Old Earnshaw takes a fancy to the foundling Heathcliff but turns against his own son, Hindley. So much so, that in order to have peace in the house after his wife’s death he sends Hindley away to college. Not once does he consider the way he as a father has allowed an outsider to usurp his son’s rightful place. On the contrary, he blames Hindley for unruly behavior. Naturally, when Hindley returns home after his father’s death, he has no compassion for his usurper of a foster brother, Heathcliff.

Then we have old Mr. and Mrs. Linton, generally known as kind and just people. And yet during Catherine and Heathcliff’s nocturnal adventure at the Grange, they are unperturbed by Catherine being bitten by their watchdog, Skulker. It is only later when Edgar identifies her as Miss Earnshaw, they tend to her wound. Mr. Linton allows young Cathy to be welcomed inside, but Heathcliff is turned out because he does not conform to the behavior or appearance of an ideal child as Mr. Linton observes:

“Oh, my dear Mary, look here! Don’t be afraid, it is but a boy—yet, the villain scowls so plainly in his face, would it not be a kindness to the country to hang him at once, before he shows his nature in acts, as well as features?” (39)

Instead of the angelic golden looks of Oliver Twist, or Edgar Linton, Heathcliff possesses the dark appearance of a gypsy; he swears, and often speaks gibberish instead of clear English. To be welcomed as a cherished child, however, one would have to appear and act as a perfect child, and not just have the size and looks of any child. He is younger than Edgar, is still in his adolescence, yet the Magistrate of the province wants him hanged—Linton’s real feelings here survive his irony—based on his gipsy-like looks.

Oliver with his innocent appearance earns occasional compassion even from the master criminal Fagin, but Heathcliff with his dark countenance fails to gain an iota of sympathy from either Mr. or Mrs. Linton. They never attempt to understand Heathcliff’s plight or Hindley’s tyranny. On the contrary, they also seem to feel that the “little Lascar” deserves that kind of treatment because of his unbecoming appearance and unruly behavior. Such an attitude toward children indicates a problematic aspect about Victorian England. Often characters were decided based on physiognomy, just as Mr. Linton assumes Heathcliff to be a criminal.

Nelly, who presents herself to be better than most in her appreciation of Heathcliff, admits that Hindley’s treatment of Heathcliff “was enough to make a fiend of a saint” (51). And yet she too often confides in her audience that Heathcliff might very well have been a devil’s child, as she says, “where did he come from, the little dark thing, harbored by a good man to his bane?” (252). Such concerns against Heathcliff are uttered by almost all characters of the novel on different occasions, throwing light on a very provincial attitude of contemporary England. Even children could not escape the clutches of such convictions, and therefore, were treated accordingly. The problem with Heathcliff is not just that he is a foundling, but also that he is a foundling with non-English physical attributes. Moreover, he often resists social decorum and takes a perverse joy in acting wicked. It matters little, therefore, that he is a child; more important is the fact that he does not fit the criteria set for an adorable child.

Thus, it obviously seems that in spite of promoting innocent childhood, nineteenth-century England could very well have been a challenging sphere for children. Religious beliefs encouraged strict discipline but there was nobody to oversee the tyranny practiced in the name of religious teaching. So, while young Heathcliff and Catherine are bullied into reading the Bible by Joseph in a cold fireless room, Hindley and his wife enjoy themselves in idleness, resting by the fire.

Furthermore, Emily Brontë questions the traditional understanding of a good child and a bad one. Heathcliff tells Nelly that the reason behind his and Catherine’s nocturnal visit to the Grange was to find out if the Linton children are treated as badly as they are. When Nelly sinks into the purely conventional again [and], says that they are good children and therefore do not need punishment, Heathcliff scoffs at her for being partial to the Linton children because she thinks it is acceptable: “‘Don’t you can’t, Nelly,’ he said. ‘Nonsense!’” (38). Soon and often it becomes apparent that there is nothing so extraordinarily good about Edgar and Isabella. They are the children of a local, influential man, and therefore, petted by everybody around them. They are taught to be polite in company and dress well. In spirit, however, they are no better than the children of Wuthering Heights.

Another interesting aspect about the children of this novel is that they are all are left without the care and protection of their mother. Not a single one of them approach adulthood with their mother to protect them.

It indeed seems that Emily Brontë’s world is a place where children are left without the protection of their guardians, and “normal” emotions are reverted (144). In some significant ways, they pose as a commentary on the children of Charles Dickens who are idolized as perfect children. This is how even some of Brontë’s contemporaries looked at her work, and failed to understand the meaning of such random atrocities. The Victorian mind probably expected a kind of pattern of stable life which Emily’s novel refuses to provide.

Sohana Manzoor is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh.