Intoxicated in Love

Laila and Majnun

Many of us may have heard of the legendary and timeless love story of Qays and Layla, popularly known as Majnun Layla. It is reported to have been composed by the Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi as well as Amir Khusrow later on, and many others who have interpreted and been inspired by it in different cultures. The love that Qays has for Layla is such that it surpasses the boundaries of mortal love, and he becomes known by the people as Majnun – meaning the mad or possessed.

Here is one of the anecdotes which involves Majnun and the Praying Man that I came across many years ago and which I have presented in my own words. Continue reading

The Madness and Aliveness of Nietzsche

It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.

(Jiddu Krishnamurti)
The alleged moment which executed Friedrich Nietzsche’s journey into apparent clinical insanity is the basis for Bela Tarr’s masterpiece film ‘The Turin Horse’ (2011).

This moment of inhumane cruelty and bleakness that Nietzsche witnesses in his life against an innocent animal, could be a symbol of the tyranny and silent desperation in elements of our lives and the world around us.

We continue with our lives desensitised and immune to the brutality within, and around us. Perhaps our inability to not become ‘clinically’ insane at all this, is evidence of the silent sickness (or the true insanity) that has engulfed our lives.

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Ghazal and Qawwali: The Gifts of Rumi, Khusro and Ghalib

Yes, there is truth to the idea that Ghazals and Qawwalis are the passions of the old.

Despite my limited proficiency in Urdu and my complete ignorance of the intricate differences between the different forms, I have seized the few chances I have had to attend such gatherings. Each time I have been surrounded mostly by the older generations.

I think this may be partly due to the frequent use of complex Urdu or Punjabi poetry which is difficult for the generally linguistically-challenged generations of today – myself included. It could also be because there is a greater focus on the lyrical value of the words sung, rather than simply emphasising repetitive foot-tapping musical numbers which appeal so much to the mainstream. But mostly, I think it is because of the deeper existential and melancholic themes that dominate the poetry – which appeal to older people who have perhaps had the gift to reflect on the past experiences in their lives, unlike the naive and inexperienced younger generations.

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“Don’t Read Books!” A 12th-Century Zen Poem

Written by Maria Popova


We live in a culture that often romanticizes books as the tender and exhilarating love-making to the “orgasm without release” of Alan Watts’s admonition against our media gluttony — an antidote to the frantic multitasking of modern media, refuge from the alleged evils of technology, an invitation for slow, reflective thinking in a fast-paced age obsessed with productivity. Books, Kafka memorably asserted, are “the axe for the frozen sea inside us.”

Given I spend the majority of my waking hours reading and writing about books, I have certainly bought into that romantic notion. But everything, it turns out, is a matter of context: Imagine my amusement in chancing upon a poem titled “Don’t Read Books!” in the altogether wonderful slim volume Zen Poems: Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets (public library).

Penned by Chinese poet Yang Wanli in the 12th century, the poem, translated by Jonathan Chaves, is a renunciation of books as a distraction from the core Buddhist virtue of mindful presence:
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The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka – Tragedy of a Family?

The Metamorphosis -

Now, I’m not an expert, nor even a pseudo-academic of literary devices that are used in this book – even if I ignore the loss in translation from its origins in German. Yet, the anguish in this story has not only touched the innermost of my soul, but compels me to read it again. This, in my humble opinion, is what makes it a masterpiece, which after all is a subjective label that is given to so many works of art.

The Metamorphosis was written in 1915 by the great writer Franz Kafka.  It begins with a nightmarish scenario of an overworked travelling salesman (Gregor Samsa) who upon waking up, is transformed in to a giant hideous beetle-like creature (although this is open to translation). As frightening as it sounds, what follows is not really a straight forward horror story. In fact absurdly and darkly comically, Gregor is at first more concerned with the consequences of missing his train for work, and the dilemma of explaining this to his oppressive employer, who has gathered in the adjoining room with his parents.  Continue reading

May I propose a Herzog dictum? Those who read own the world, and those who watch television lose it.

When legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog was asked about any advice that he could share with aspiring young filmmakers, his response – in his trademark thick Bavarian accent was along the lines of:

“Read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read…”

There was no mention about the viewing of films. Naturally, this was not surprising for a man who did not encounter the television till his late teens, and devoted most of his years of youth traversing borders by foot, gaining more than a lifetime of memorable experiences. He then went onto independently write, direct and produce the most original films ever made, in the most inhospitable environments known to man.

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