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A Fragment For Obama

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These are times which make you feel intensely sad.

Barack Hussein Obama was a leader nearly as great a Lincoln. He was greater than the people he served. He was bigger than his country. He was more than they deserved.

And now he is gone. Out of the shadows. In the sunny isles where fat men do not scheme in quiet rooms guarded by men with sidearms and earpieces. He is not in the shadows, where men can kill 60 million others in 20 minutes, and when the president laughs, the senators roar with laughter. And when he cries, the little children die in the streets.

So much for democracy.

These Are Your Worst Enemies

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I had a terrible night, a few months ago. I learnt something important. Something that, if I knew earlier, I could have been saved a world of pain and indignity.

We strolled by Hussain Sagar Lake and ate warm, moist, delectable Kebabs on park benches and sat on the edge of the lake. The moon was out. The water rolled past as if paying us no heed. The largest Tricolour in India fluttered and waved in the distant spotlight. In the quiet night, I convinced myself of a lesson. I would forget it. I would forget what it meant to fight or win for a long time. But again, it takes time to learn serenity.

We've all heard the saying, 'Friends make the worst enemies,' or in a different form, 'With friends like these, who needs enemies?'

Sometimes, this does seem to be true. But it is true only because you let it become true. Your friends will no longer become enemies if you walk the straight path, listen to the better angels of your nature, and rein in your instincts.

It takes time and mistakes be critical of yourself. Arrogance, Ego, Hubris: It takes time to recognise that these, and not friends, make the worst enemies.

Friends are not your worst enemies because you know that you have greater enemies within yourself.

Battle them off. Cut off their supplies. Do not let them influence you. Do not let your instincts overtake your judgement.

Fight the immediate instinct.

Unless you learn to do that, you will be forever beholden to others and to their whims, which is the only thing worse than being beholden to your own.

Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live it properly.

-Marcus Aurelius

Diamonds Are a Scam. Books Are Forever.

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I spend a ridiculous amount of money on books. The above photograph is probably the first of four purchases I'm going to make this month. I probably spend more on books every year than I've ever spent on clothes. That's the point. Not to blame my parents or fate, my appearance really is unimprovable. My mind, however, is not.

A book stays on the shelf. It stays there as long as you want it to. You will not outgrow it. It is an investment in your mind, an add-on that will not depreciate. And since you're investing, invest wisely. Do not buy something you would not reread later. Do not read books not worth keeping.

Here's Christopher Hitchens with some advice on alcohol.

Even if it makes you look like a brand snob, do specify a label when ordering spirits in particular. I once researched this for a solemn article and found that if you just ask for, say, vodka-and-tonic the bar­man is entitled to give you whatever he has on hand, which is often a two-handled jug labeled “Vodka” under the bar. It can be even worse with scotch, where imi­tation blends are rife. Pick a decent prod­uct and stay with it. Upgrade yourself, for Chrissake. Do you think you are going to live forever?

The same is true for books. Read whatever you want, but please try not to make reading just momentary titillation. if you're still stuck with your third-rate brew, then it might be time to take a sip of Mr. Walker to see what it tastes like.

So then, you may ask, what of my passbook? What if I have more pressing needs? What if I need to save up for an iPhone, or this Hand of the King brooch?

Well, in that case, you have two options.

  • Buy the fucking book and think about the brooch later. Considering how much you spend on Netflix and Targaryen Tie-Pins, you can afford a book.
  • If you really don't have the money, go to your public library and borrow books. If you can't afford a subscription, read there for an hour a day.

Diamonds are a scam. Book are forever. So, since I just berated two authors, what makes for a good book?

A good book, in my view, is like Michael Lewis's The New New Thing, like Walter Isaacson's Kissinger, like Albert Camus's The Plague, like J.M Coetzee's In the Heart of the Country.

A good book is thrilling, in the most literal sense of the word.

Not in the Ludlum way, where each book has a title like The Gemini Contenders or The Bancroft Strategy. (The London literary elite used to play an interesting game, which Salman Rushdie always won. Take a Shakespeare play, and imagine what title Robert Ludlum would give it. Othello, for example, became The Kerchief Implication, and Macbeth became The Dunsinane Reforestation. The Ludlum novel is literary laziness of the most base kind.)

No, a thrilling book gives you what the French call frisson. The tingle down the spine, the short feeling of excitement, the goosebumps that come with a Eureka. It might come during the middle of a movie, a book, a conversation... It might even arrive in the middle of a MUN, where you think of a new idea, a new solution. That's what makes for a good book, as well. The sense that you're reading a new story or a new idea.

For the reader, that's The New New Thing. That's what I live for. I live for the frisson. I live for the throb.


I have a couple of books still on my reading list this summer. Don't stare. Buy the fucking books.

  • David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Night by Elie Wiesel
  • A Bend in the River by Naipaul
  • The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis
  • Thinking Fast, And Slow by Daniel Kahneman

The 'Politics of Division' Is All There Is

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I opened the Slate homepage during the US Democratic Primaries ages ago to search for a couple of old Christopher Hitchens Columns and noticed this phrase on the frontpage:

Bernie Sanders is a divider, in a good way.

The title, if not the article, reminded me of the Hitch. One of my favorite videos is him talking to Jeremy Paxman.

When Paxman asks him about the 'politics of division':

When you say in this country, "I'm a unifier", you expect and usually get applause. I'm a divider. Politics is division by definition. You need a difference of opinion.

The article was about the failures of the Obama Presidency and Sanders's statements about not wanting to work with the GOP on issues he did not support for the sake of (ugh) bipartisanship. So, Hitchens was acutely right, and if not in his lifetime, it's safe to say he's been vindicated.

Politicians like to talk about fundamental differences, and unlike much politicians talk about, these differences exist. There is a fundamental, undeniable difference between the Democrats and the Republicans, the RSS and the CPI(M), Franco and the Republicans, the Allies and the Axis, and between Salman Rushdie and the late(I cannot help but snigger at Rushdie's sly remark: 'One of us is still alive. Do not mess with novelists') Ayatollah Khomeini.

These differences are irreconcilable. What Martin Amis once said about chess is occasionally true of politics: "It's a fight. It's a fight."

The Hitch, sadly, is not with us. But we can contemplate what he would do if he was.

I think we would find him, perhaps not speaking for Sanders or Clinton or the Democrats, but at least eviscerating the Republicans. Sean Spicer should be glad that the Hitch is dead. Or he would see, as he stood in the press room, Christopher Hitchens in his element, bobbing and weaving; jabbing and parrying; ripping and tearing; protecting and defending.

You know you don't want to be on the other side.

On Prohibiting The Vernacular

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What a country. Perennially occupied with debating what to eat, what to drink, what to ban, what to make compulsory. What a country. Ours.
- Anand Ranganathan

After a commonplace birth on 21st July 2000 at the Kozhikode Cooperative Hospital, I was whisked away to Chennai, where I lived for the next 12 years or so. I grew up learning only Tamil and English at School. I managed to pick up a modicum of rudimentary spoken Malayalam,but I was never able to properly learn the language. That was until we moved back to Kerala. Upon arrival, I was enrolled at a high-toned school in Kozhikode run by the CMI.

Looking back, the admission interview seemed like a red flag. Standing outside the principal's office was a young girl from the 6th grade, looking vaguely guilty and squirming in her shoes.

"Why are you here?” I asked.
"For speaking Malayalam in class.”

We smiled and moved on. It was only later that I found that Malayalam was prohibited except during the Malayalam class, which was hardly three quarters of an hour long. No Malayalam in the corridor, no Malayalam in class, not even in the school courtyard. If caught, though this is rare, a fine is levied.

The rule isn't always enforced, of course. Monitoring 1200 students is a singularly difficult task for a school principal, even a competent one. Yet, even the existence of such a rule prohibiting students from speaking the language of their ancestors is banal. It restricts communication.

Even more unsettling was reading the 10th standard Malayalam textbook which contains a translated section from Kenyan Writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's excellent Decolonising the Mind. In a chapter, he speaks about the British colonial practice of prohibiting the use of a Kenyan vernacular, Gikuyu, in convent schools and punishing students for speaking in the language most familiar to them. The idea was disgraceful then, coming from foreign colonialists.

It seems even more so now, coming from the head of an education institution in a quasi-liberal democracy. Of course, I am not accusing my former principal of neo-imperialism, but it must be said that these ideals still remain entrenched in our post-colonial minds. I am not rejecting Western Civilisation or the consolations of Philosophy, Literature, or Science. I am basing my arguments on them.

Considering Malayalam inferior(condescending and utterly incorrect in itself as many western writers would do well to aspire to Srinivasan's Satire or Basheer's immense resonance) is just stupid. Barring it from students is frankly disgusting.