The Cruel Emptiness of D-5
Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the nights
And wonder how things are at D-5,
When I open its door its neat emptiness hits me,
A deep poignancy grabs me and I feel God was not fair
In treating its denizens the way He did.
Dad got it built after numerous postings abroad,
To find a refuge in motherland after a long care-worn life,
To savor a modicum of rest,
In preparation for the journey to his eternity.
Mother pined for a bunch of grandchildren
Running wild around her,
A bevy of daughters-in-law deferring to her every word,
But in the end her God was the only companion that gave her solace and grace.
Babu’s life was that of a man who was attempted to be killed but survived,
He lived a half-alive life, wounded and vacuumed of all ambition,
He felt a hurt when he laughed,
He saw his life as a tale told by an idiot.
After a nightmarish struggle I lock the door at D-5,
I drive back to my home thinking of how life
Copiously flowed there once in spite of its haunted tragedy,
How all the laughter there vacuumed into a graveyard headstone.
Suffern, New York, October 10, 2019
When you go again to Lakes Placid and George
When you go again to Lakes Placid and George
Years from now, do not trouble to think of me,
Your visit should be your own,
Your joys pouring out of your pores.
Lake George is a symphony of joy
But Lake Placid comes from the delicate fibers of one’s being,
Aren’t they the two sides of the same phenomenon,
How can one exist without the other?
When you visit them again do not think of the past,
Think that you have discovered them by yourself,
The pain of memory is avoidable,
If you think your life is unique.
There is beauty out there:
A reflection of your being,
Do not think of me,
As I will have become a leaf on a tree at Mirror Lake,
Waiting to serenade you.
Suffern, New York, October 3, 2019
Book Review : Days of Destiny by S.S. Ambardar – Maharaj Kaul
This is an epic autobiography written in extraordinary detail, with a deep undercurrent of nostalgic pained emotion, in exquisite English. Starting from author’s deep past, from the early childhood, to his near end, it contains a panoramic as well as a detailed sweep of his existence. The author’s soul is present behind every word he has written.
After reading the 565-page book, one is choked by the inquiry, which has been incrementally rising during the reading, who is Mr. Shanti Swarup Ambardar. One is smitten by his intensity, depth of inquiry, and faith in human goodness. There is only once when he tried to depart from the accepted life of a Kashmiri Pandit, when he wanted to renounce the world and become a sanyasi. Otherwise, he stood ramrod-straight on the path of his life. His love for human beings, especially for his relatives, was intense. This included his Muslim friends. We can summarize his stellar qualities by saying that he was a man of deep faith, which was of higher value to him than even his strong intelligence.
Shanti Ambardar describes in excruciating detail the personalities and events from his mega-family. There was a lot of love present in families those days, which found an easy outlet during the celebration of religious and social events. There were uncles and aunts, and cousins and other relatives, besides your parents, who created a stratosphere around you of love and family bond, welded with family folklore and mythology. The economic poverty of Kashmiri Pandits often remained buried under these securities, not getting a chance to raise its head often. This architecture formed a permanent ornament and security over the author’s life.
The book’s title, Days of Destiny – A Memoir, is apt as it is essentially an autobiography. But it strongly connects with the prevailing Kashmiri Pandit culture and philosophy, and Kashmir Problem. The author was born in Kashmir in a middle-class orthodox Pandit family and studied up to M.Sc. in chemistry. The timing of his birth was critical as it was just seventeen years before the birth of independent India in 1947, which lead to the birth of Kashmir Problem the same year. So, from the impressionable age of seventeen through his demise in 2016, he lived in its severe clutches. The book clearly shows that if Kashmir Problem had not existed, the author and his wife would have lived a serene life in Kashmir till the end.
After his college finished in 1952, the author picked a job with Intelligence Bureau of Indian Government in 1953. Not being happy with it, he made a bold but consequential step in moving to teaching in 1956. Starting with St. Joseph’s College in Baramulla, Kashmir, and ending up in Sri Partap College, in Srinagar, Kashmir, in 1986. The teaching profession gave him quite a good perch to be connected with the culture, politics, personalities, and places of Kashmir and the world. The book is a mosaic of the day-to-day life he lived with his family and friends, with the surrounding realities of living as a member of a minority community, Pandits, with the majority community of Muslims, evolving Kashmir Problem, and the emerging India after its independence.
There are no grand events or stark revelations in the book, but only the trajectory of three generations of a common family in Kashmir from 1930’s through 1980’s. But it is the way the narrative has been written that makes it so compelling to read. The author has woven his tale in one-day-at-a-time fashion, focusing on the circumstances and emotions present within the milieu and culture of the times. The language he has used is spartan and serene, in fine and elegant sentences. He is never excited, angry, or philosophical: just a cameraman and a commentator on the scene. So, the book is a cool narrative on the life of a sensitive, thoughtful, and good family; who, unfortunately, suffered a lot in its last phase due to the evil designs of Kashmir Problem.
Ambardars had a serene, secure, and a mentally rich life in Kashmir, which tragically was shattered by the politics of the place they lived in. Kashmir Problem was much larger than any single common family’s life. Starting in 1947 as a political situation about which newly formed dominion the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir should belong to, India or Pakistan, it mushroomed into an epic war between the original inhabitants of Kashmir Valley: the Kashmiri Pandits, who trace their roots in it to 5,200 years, and Kashmiri Muslims, who trace it to 550 years. At the exit of Britain from Indian subcontinent in 1947, the areas directly under their control, called Provinces, and the 565 areas indirectly under them called Princely States, had to be divided into two new dominions of India and Pakistan. There was no third choice. While the division of the provinces and the 562 princely states was cut and dry, the choices of the three princely states: Junagarh, Hyderabad, and Jammu and Kashmir, became problematic. The affiliation of the first two was resolved by 1948, but that of the third one, Jammu and Kashmir, continues to remain unresolved in the eyes of Kashmiri Muslims, even after seventy-three years. Pakistan claims Kashmir Valley because of the Muslim affiliation of the majority of its residents, while India claims it because its prince in 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh, opted freely to join India under the treaty called Instrument of Accession, which was the criterion used for all the 565 Princely States to join either country.
While Kashmir Valley, a part of Jammu and Kashmir State, is legally securely a part of India, it was the mercurialness of its legendary Muslim leader, Sheikh Abdullah, and the machinations of Pakistan to absorb it on the basis of its Islamic majority, that has kept Kashmir Problem alive so long. India and Pakistan have fought three wars over Kashmir Valley, but the one in 1989 was the most damaging and dramatic. One of the upshots of it was that Kashmiri Pandits were forced to leave the Valley. Out of their original population of 400,000 there, only 8,000 remain. Kashmir Valley has been more than a motherland for Pandits, it has been a part of their religion. It is this loss of sacredness of the place that has riven irreparable holes in Pandits’ psyche and soul. There have been other people in history that have been forced to leave their motherlands, but driven by human instinct to survive they have moved on. But Kashmiri Pandits cannot accept the loss of their sacred land, the birthplace of their gods.
Ambardars’ forced expulsion from their sacred land is the tragic undercurrent of the story of their lives narrated in this book. Without the presence of Kashmir Problem, their lives would have ended serenely. So is the case with almost all other Pandits who were compelled to leave the Valley. This book is studded with a detailed, incisive, narrative on Kashmir Problem as it evolved from its inception in 1947. The account of Pakistan’s attack on Kashmir in October, 1947, popularly called Qabailis attack, based on the author’s conversations with the people who witnessed it, and other sources, is excellent. It describes the painful details of the attackers’ inhumanity and the valor of Indian army to repel them back. Incidentally, the author’s nephew, whom he raised as a son, fought in one of these wars. Only an intelligent and honest Kashmiri living in Kashmir could have produced such a comprehensive narrative of a demonically complex problem such as Kashmir Problem.
Kashmiri Pandits must read this book as it reflects on their or their relatives’ lives before and after their tragic forced diaspora from Kashmir. It will make them re-absorb the veil of the rich cultural tapestry they lived under, their serene and nuanced existence in the land of their forefathers and gods. Others should read it to understand why Kashmiri Pandits are so pained to leave their motherland, when other people in history who were also forced to undergo that have borne it relatively calmly. The book’s 565 pages may daunt some, but they should then think of it to be two books on Kashmiri Pandits’ culture and ethos. The fateful tragedy of Kashmiri Pandits as narrated in this book moves you deeply.
Suffern, New York, March 7, 2020
Serendipity and Sorrow : A Tribute to Baijee
How can one sum up a long human life? Every human being during the course of his life wants to achieve several different things, be they his ambitions for himself, his family, his country, the humankind, or a particular intellectual arena. But ambitions themselves do not make them happen, as one’s passage through the world is difficult. So, what is significant is what are the inclinations one has, so that if one fails in one arena one can succeed in another one.
Baijee was an idealist. He wanted things to be done in the world and in one’s family according to established ethical principles. Having lived in Kashmir he had come to look down upon public morality. This mistrust grew up over time to become cynicism. Everything the government did was suspect. But he was proud of Indian ethos. So, one thought that India, according to his vision, one day will find a way to cross its tremendous ethical gaps in public life.
But public life was not the only life Baijee lived. He was an intense family man. In fact, he was an epic clan man. He considered Kaul clan, or more precisely Malikyar Kaul clan, to be a great family. So, over decades he poured his care and work to keep it together. He arranged get-togethers among its members and worked on individual-relationship basis to keep the body a well healed emotional-machine. He definitely is the last great leader Kauls will have, as the younger generation is not beholden to the clan togetherness, neither practically nor conceptually.
On individual relationship basis also Baijee did good. He forged many an intense relationships. But he demanded 100% loyalty. He voluntarily undertook management of many wedding events among relatives. To take such a responsibility means that you will devote yourself completely to the task, which is not easy, as it involves many difficult types of work. Only a dedicated person can do such a job.
Baijee liked to laugh and joke around. At my wedding at Jammu, in 1969, he did a humorous dance, posing as a woman. He wore his heart on his sleeve. So, one had to be careful not to joke wrongly with him. He carried lifelong a deep hurt of the loss of his father when he was at the age of four. This inner tragedy he never was able to shake off. Although the loss did not prevent him to be educated, employed, or married, but he believed that his loss had permanently darkened his life.
But he serendipitously found peace of mind in his vision of India as a Hindu civilization, in his immediate family, and in the larger Malikyar Kaul clan. He loved his grandchildren Saumya,Tanvi, and Zitin. I and him spent six years together in the Kaul ancestral house at Malikyar, Srinagar. Baijee used to be a lot of fun those days; also, straight as an arrow. He used to narrate things as he saw them, without embellishment. But while joking he would add some spice. We never had a fight.
Baijee’s two heroes were his elder brothers, Babuji and Papaji. He was fonder of the former but admired the latter more for his intellect. In the later years he was critical of many of Papaji’s views on people and life. He also thought I had earned a place to be in the circle of his brothers as an intellectual.
How can one sum up Baijee life? As I said at the outset of this eulogy it is not an easy thing to do. Because though the assessment is easy to make for those who have lived publicly, it is more difficult to make for those who lived their lives privately. Baijee had great ambitions for his country, for himself, and his family. He spent some three decades in intelligence work, perhaps two of them with Central Bureau of Intelligence. One should have seen his intensity at his work, he was a completely dedicated worker. India is on the road to doing well, his family has done very well, but Baijee himself did not directly succeed in making himself what he wanted to make. This failure is common among people of high ambition. But by making his family succeed Baijee has succeed. Also, by keeping Malikyar Kaul clan together Baiee succeed greatly.
Baijee has now reached his eternity. Our worldly measurements of him are silly. He was a loving and caring man, who wanted his country, community, clan, and family forever remain together and strive for betterment.
We will forever miss his human qualities.
A fulsome man with love and courage,
Spun with family values and dyed with mirth,
More original than the Zabarwan mountains,
A hero who was not fully challenged.
Suffern, New York, Sept. 24, 2019
Time Cannot Read
All man’s works are transient,
As time cannot read,
All man’s hopes evaporate,
As world does not remember.
Man’s efforts are pure,
His achievements noble,
But time does not write,
Humanity pours into a sieve.
Faith gives strength
And love inspires,
Failures do not daunt man,
But heartbreaks are real.
Man’s story is still a mystery,
Who is he, why is he here,
But move on he must,
As time does not help.
Suffern, New York, September 15, 2018
Inclinations And Reality
Is Human Consciousness Computable?
Human consciousness is a hot as well as a fashionable subject these days. It is because human beings want to go to the ultimate mystery of their lives – how they apprehend reality. But it is not a new subject of inquiry, it has been around since ancient times. Every new generation thinks it is special, so many times it thinks that they are the first to ask some intriguing question.
Simplest answer to the question of what is consciousness is that it is the workings of human brain. With all the theories on consciousness offered, none can question the validity of that understanding. So, then the sensible inquiries on human consciousness should be how does the human brain work?
With brain containing in the range of 100 billion neurons the product of possibilists of their interactions offer virtually limitless bits of consciousness. With that we can never quantify human consciousness.
There are so many wrong interpretations on consciousness. That it comes from God, that it is unfathomable, that it is the same stuff that guides the physical universe. All these understandings are wrong.
Human consciousness is a product of a 100 billion neurons and the physical and mental experiences of the individual carrying the brain. So, no two individuals can have exactly the same consciousness.
Human beings see reality, both inner and outer, through their brains. As consciousnesses have developed differently in human beings, their take on the complex matters differ. As knowledge expands so does consciousness. Five thousand years ago humans thought differently on complex matters. Therefore, consciousness is a developable resource. Also, it does not come from heavens. Because if it did, then it would have been the same in the ancient and the modern times. Therefore, the answer to the question that forms the title of this short essay, Is Human Consciousness Computable? is a resounding no.
Suffern, New York, June 8, 2019
Dr. Frances Pritchett is among the greatest Ghalib scholars extant. She is
from Columbia University, N.Y.
Recently I had an exchange of correspondence with her on Ghalib. Her
reply to my letter indicated at the top was lost. Read bottom up. I hope you will
enjoy reading it.
Dear Fran Pritchett,
I feel enormously uplifted by your response to my letter, and that too so
fast. When you ask for a moon and are instead given a star, your faith in
ethereality of life is reinforced.
Thank you for providing the two links that are supposed to indicate Ghalib’s
happy personality. The first one I was already familiar with, the second one
I have no access to at this point. But I am with you on the idea that Ghalib
was a life-loving personality, who could indulge in humor, wine, and flirt
with women and participate in other joy-inducing activities. But that was only
one side of his personality, there was another side to him also, without which he would
not have been the superlative poet that we know him to be.
All poets who write on human condition, are inherently sad. Thoughtful
people can not but see the suffering as one of the realities of human
existence. But it does not necessarily mean that they live a life of melancholy.
Artists and other thinkers compartmentalize their lives: one part lives in the
world, the other in their soul. Ghalib did exactly that. On one side he was
intensely oriented to achieving worldly success, but on the other he was resigned
to accept the builtin tragedy of human life. He wrote intense verses on the
suffering of life. To think that they were merely his cerebral exercises would be a
vast misjudgement of the architecture of his soul. My strength in this
perspective on artists does not only come from my understanding of human
life in general, but also on the basis that I am a poet also. So, Ghalib, in my
view, was not only a cerebral poet but also a wounded-soul one. It is in the
latter aspect of him that has gained him a high status in the realm of poetry.
Why this upliftment of Ghalib in modern times? It is because with the decline
of the old culture of conservatism in philosophy and culture of life, people
saw in Ghalib’s poetry the unglossed and un-rationalized depiction of human suffering.
In his superbly sensitive love poetry they saw was one of the anodynes available
to their suffering. His love for wine and less than idolatry relationship with
God, further drew them towards him. His dialog-like unpretentious letters
even more enhanced their respect for his realism in all walks of life. It is just
about seventy-five verses of Ghalib that have made lay people adore him. They
do not care for his cerebral verses. In this selected genre of realism-verses,
people find a vision of first the latent acknowledgement of the inherent suffering
of life, then a liberation from it in form of the ridiculousness of life, its ironies.
In them lay-people find that the real hero of human life is a human being, and
I an sending you a short essay What Is Poetry? in the attachment below, which may
or may not be relevant to what I have written above.
I had not intended to interview you in my request to meet you. I just wanted to meet
you, to discuss not only Ghalib, but also your experiences in India, of its civilization
and ethos. Also, in case you had been to Kashmir, I wanted to know your experiences
there. I was born a Kashmiri Pandit and lived my early years in the juxtaposition of
Hindu and Islamic cultures. I write a lot on Kashmir Problem.
But I believe now that my request to meet was a nouveau-fan-crush on you. How would
you spend time with a person unknown to you, who is neither in your field, nor a celebrity,
nor a journalist seeking an interview. To punish my juvenile audacity, I have decided to
go without food for one day.
I live in Suffern, N.Y., thirty-five miles north of midtown Manhattan.
With a handshake in thought, I remain your fan,
On Saturday, April 27, 2019, 3:57:03 PM EDT, Frances Pritchett <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Dear Maharaj Kaul,
Your approach to Ghalib– that he wrote melancholy verses because he was melancholy at heart– is contradicted by many anecdotes about his sense of humor told by his biographer Hali (here are some
of my favorites) and also by his own cheerful and enjoyable letters (best translated in
by Russell and Islam). If you look at both those sources and don’t change your mind, we can proceed to discuss literary theory (for example, since all ghazal poets write melancholy verses, did they ALL have melancholy lives?).
As for interviewing me, where do you live?
Yours with good wishes,
Dear Prof. Frances Pritchett,
I recently came across your site on Ghalib, oh! what a site it is.
Day in and day out I am absorbed into it. What an encyclopedic
site it is, what a labor of love it must have entailed of you?
One element of Ghalib in it I did not find so far, Ghalib’s personal
emotional life as gleaned through his biography and poetry. It, perhaps, is in the
site, I only may not have found it as yet.
While analyzing Ghalib’s poetry – you are adept at that – you do not discuss the emotional
factors that may have influenced it. Though Ghalib was an intellectual, but more
than that overall his poetry has been influenced by his personal suffering, which
was perhaps much more than his joys. To me Ghalib was a very sad man, he
viewed life as an unmitigated suffering. And that aspect of him we cannot leave
out when discussing his poetry.
I have a personal request to you, which I have never made to a celebrity until now.
I would like to meet you for half an hour or so, to discuss Ghalib. Though I know that this
is doomed to a failure, but I thought there is nothing to lose in trying it out. I take comfort in Ghalib’s
Hum ko hai malum janat ki hakikat,
Per dil ko khush rakhne ke liye Ghalib ye khyal acha hai.
(I may not have quoted this shair accurately, but the essence is there)
- · · ·
Stillness of Being
In Stillness of Being, his sixth anthology of poems, Indian-American poet, Maharaj Kaul, describes the human conditions we all must experience.
In the poems:
Stillness Of Being
The World I left Behind
A Struggling Dream Never Complete
Hope Never Blinks
Life Is A Playground
A Spiral Of Time
Music Of Earth Will Never Die
The Paradox Of God
and fifty more, the poet reflects on the joys, dreams, suffering, and will to live a man experiences though the grand and mysterious process called human life.
From the poem Stillness of Being:
Mind plots revolutions,
But inner being wants harmony.
Life came with music,
But world moves by agenda.
Childhood was a pristine dream,
But wisdom turned that into a project.
Ambitions vault our existence,
Energy seethes from our pores.
But we came with a faith,
Our elements beckon tranquility.
There is a more sublime state than success,
World wants tumult but soul seeks stillness.
Ode to Existence
We fret and fume to no avail,
Life is awake-dreaming without a goal.
World puts many a cap on human face,
But the one that matters most is one’s soul’s.
Our doings are often protests against the world,
Our best moments when we are left alone.
Desires are gateways to ultimate freedom,
Dreams its blueprint.
Make me not a villain if I knocked some wisdom,
I was only trying to touch eternity.
Brotherhood the glue that holds us together,
Uniqueness of the individual our jewel.
Give me a moment you take the history,
Dissolution in an ocean is better than life at a beach.
What is happiness but a mood,
Liberation a permanent state.
Suffern, New York, May 9, 2019
Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the nights And wonder how things are at D-5, When I open its door its neat emptiness hits me, A deep poignancy grabs me and I feel God was not fair In … Continue reading
When you go again to Lakes Placid and George Years from now, do not trouble to think of me, Your visit should be your own, Your joys pouring out of your pores. Lake George is a symphony of joy … Continue reading
This is an epic autobiography written in extraordinary detail, with a deep undercurrent of nostalgic pained emotion, in exquisite English. Starting from author’s deep past, from the early childhood, to his near end, it contains a panoramic as well as … Continue reading
How can one sum up a long human life? Every human being during the course of his life wants to achieve several different things, be they his ambitions for himself, his family, his country, the humankind, or a particular intellectual … Continue reading
All man’s works are transient, As time cannot read, All man’s hopes evaporate, As world does not remember. Man’s efforts are pure, His achievements noble, But time does not write, Humanity pours into a sieve. Faith gives strength … Continue reading