Archive for the ‘Provoked’ Category

Today I am supposed to be a real Malayali. Malayali is the linguistic title for the residents of Kerala, the southernmost state of India, a tourist hotspot with the assumed name of “God’s own country” (that name, I suspect is an exparte decision), a haven of monsoon forests where you can ride on the swings of heavy raindrops constituting an ethereal thread . It’s the national festival day today: the Onam day. (When I mean national read it as provincial because India itself is a conglomeration of a wide variety of ethnic and linguistic groups well within their geographical confines.  For me it’s a great incidence that India never have had the ill fate of falling on a military government for its upkeep. Our sister land in the immediate west is not so blessed that way.)  A quick google can reveal the exuberance of this remarkable festival to you:  all its colours, noise, folk performance and of course the flyers announcing you what you would probably miss if you miss Onam. In flesh and blood this translates as an amplification of all the inconveniences that a typical Malayali experience in his hometown every single day: conveyance, logistics, and rash drivers honking and raging like a musty tusker bull. Oldies, kids and those with kneejerks wait for a gap to relay them to the other side of the road. As you know, pedestrian crossing is a myth in this part of the world. Special outlets to sell the Onam paraphernalia mushroom up. Shopping carts loaded with greens, tubers, vermicelli, flakes, rice chips, garments, banana leaves to serve the food (not to mention the laminated paper variants if one is not too keen on going for the tongue edge of the banana leaves that tradition stipulates). There used to be a lot of folk games and village jamboree surrounding Onam yesteryears. But no more in that freestyle way, perhaps a local organisation would hold a fete or two with least spontaneity. Nevertheless they will hog the social media with all the mighty displays of their exploits, the paramount of which is the laying of the flower carpet, an intricate floral pattern made of flowers (or if you are cash-strung, stained sawdust or salt crystals would do). Of late so much attention is made to produce complicated and assymetric patterns that the simplicity of what was originally a space in one’s front yard bedecked with flowers which were available in the homestead and fields is entirely compromised. Instead they go for looks that kill, shipping flowers all the way from Bangalore or Tamilnadu just to pamper the irresistible ego of Kerala.

Kerala is a really wet country (more…)


Leave those Popes alone!!

                Pope Francis has made a cakewalk into the hearts of even those who are not the least interested in papacy by his simplistic gestures and stances, so many think. The “goldlessness” of his pectoral cross, aversion to the bullet proof Pope Mobile, non-descript pair of shoes and apparels and all the more his exhortation to a life of simplicity made especially to the prelates have started a storm. Two posts on my FB newsfeed on this regard had been particularly pestering to me.

1) A snapshot of the humble pair of shoes the Pope was wearing. It drew questions regarding the validity of that gesture as the Pope was expected to wear the pair of red shoes symbolizing the blood of the Holy Martyrs. It even led to the larger question of who is bigger : Pope or Tradition? Convinced that the colour of the clerical vestments cannot be part of the Sacred Tradition (understood in the sense of Tradition and Scripture) I commented wondering what colour would have St.Peter, the first Pope sported. This tradition is functional and not dogmatic. So the ones waiting for the Pope to get loose on certain moral and dogmatic rulings that the Church has “vehemently” upheld ever will be thoroughly disappointed. There can be no dilutions in the essentials. Be ready for that. Later all those who heap praise on the Pope shall not swallow their own words and get choked by its sheer volume.

2) Of the many celebrations of the simplicity of Pope Francis many things are poised on the funnier side. A diptych showed St.Francis of Assisi taming the fierce wolf of Gubbio on the one hand and Pope Francis fondling a service dog on the other. It is quite apparent that there is a world of differences between the two situations. We are still overstretching.

With no prejudice to the simplicity and sanctity of the person of Pope Francis certain observations shall be made.

a) Simplicity may be the charism of Pope Francis and he will surely have a host of other virtues too, which shall not be delectable at times.  They shall not be overlooked.

b) In assuming that Pope Francis is simple, one shall not presume that no other Pontiffs were equally simple. Perhaps they failed to register an external gesture to show that they are simple. We cannot make a relative gradation and evaluation of the lives of Popes as much of their life is hidden from the public eye and is known only to God.

c) Cardinal Bergoglio was always involved in humanitarian activities and was noted for his exceptional preference for the poor. I am a bit wary about the media glare his past accomplishments receive now. It would amount to saying that all the great works he has done have become very appreciable now as he has become the Pope. Otherwise nobody is interested.

d)  When we celebrate the simplicity of Pope there can be many perspectives to it. Taking the clerical status of the Pope as our starting point there is a blunt allusion in it that the clerics are generally steeped in a life of luxury and impropriety. We are ill informed to make that comment even about a majority of the clerics. Taking the authoritative status of Pope as the starting point we are sending a signal to all centers of power to behave more humanely. Now there is a “third-party” situation: I-The Simple Pope or his equivalent- and the flamboyant/wicked/inhuman other and “I” elucidating the example of “Simple Pope” for the “Wicked Other” to emulate. That is just another way of passing the buck. You too are an oppressor as much as you are oppressed too. It is easy to celebrate somebody else’s virtue, especially if it is most endearing and difficult to cultivate, and it is even easier to celebrate the shortcomings of others.  Let us learn to say “mea maxim culpa.”

                Let us not allege the Pope of sanctity. He is holy inasmuch as he has responded to the Divine Will. He will be evermore strengthened to guide the Church through these difficult times. The Pope himself knows it better than anybody else as is reflected in his motto “miserando atque eligendo”(shown mercy and elected). He received greater mercy and grace from the Lord which he shall share with us all the more. And for our part we shall stop harping on the virtues of the Popes lest familiarity breeds contempt. Rest assured that human standards fail miserably when trying to assess the Pope or Petrine ministry.


            When a girl was molested in the streets of Guwahati, a few months ago, there was a journo at hand capturing every single moment of the assault in his cam and got it later streaming in the Youtube, of course pixellating the image to smooth the sensibilities of the viewer. Debates came in quick succession and fingers were pointed at the skewed ethics of the photojournalist. How vague are the lines that separate right and good! It is known that all our moral judgments are based on a value, which depends on one’s station. It was reminded that it was the duty of the journos to report and reproduce the event rather than preventing the event. That is a very professional view of things, of that sort of coarse and heartless professionalism that drove the Pulitzer Prize winner Kevin Carter to a desparate end. Martin Luther King is reported to have stopped a photographer who sought to intervene when an outrage was committed against him suggesting that the latter should record the events and bring it to the world so that the world shall know them and thus it is not just a single instance of outrage that is prevented but all the future recurrences. Perhaps we are confusing the photographer’s “right” with our “good.” What if the photographer is only saving the records to bring it later to an audience who are ready to decide on the course of actions? Such newsfeeds should be maintained to bring a consolidation of events around us and to trigger corrective actions. That is the most natural thing we can expect from man.

            The problem does not stop there. We are confronted by a situation where every other person is wielding a camera and is quite senselessly adept at it. We have become a lot obsessed with the delights of vision. When everybody becomes a self-styled reporter the reporting is taken into a realm that transcends the primary, actual and immediate capabilities of man. We record events out of fascination. When everybody runs the cam then who is the target? One has the provisions to broadcast the video captures as raw as he meant it and get it running. Doing so would displace the responses that the report could generate to a virtual plane, where anonymity is the order and where nobody really cares. Suppose a brutal act of assault is taking place before a crowd and nobody cares to intervene. By later presenting a video footage of the same, sourced by various onlookers, we are depriving the victim of that justice he should have received immediately in space and time. What is the good of elevating an event to a plane of discussion and ideational exchanges when action was precluded in the first instance? We are a folk who have reserved stock words to express our pseudo-commiserations. There will be a time when even the most violent turnout in one’s life becomes only a piece of information for the world whose emotional appeal, if at all there is any, will be systematically painted over by the diktats of the technocosm.

            Susan Sontag has aptly observed that a camera is “the ideal arm of consciousness in its acquisitive mood.” She also notes that any knowledge derived from a photograph is not ethical or political and that it is at the most sentimentalist and that photographs cater to an aesthetic consumerism. Attempts have been made to reproduce a historical event using photographs and cinema and we shall call this supplement to historiography as historiophoty. Certain emotions are better conveyed in visual or imagistic depictions rather than verbal discourses of the traditional historiography. It was firmly believed that the pleasures of man are largely scopic and that of women tactile. This is the very reason that man is capable of ocular assaults- the very look which can engender a sin. This is yet another reason why the girls are always skimpily clad in the silver screen even when their male buddies will compensate superfluously for their deficit. That seems to be an old story if we believe the social watchers of our times- women have started ogling at men now and so you understand why the heroes move about baring their abs. This is no minor indication. The very sense of sight has overwhelmingly run over all other faculties of man. Just pay attention to the advances made in display technologies that we relish in our television screens. It is a race to capture even the finest detail and with the advent of ambient modification techniques we will be tempted to take the projections for reality. The designers may cut down anything but not the screen size. Read with this the deluge of reality shows that can go to the most ridiculous extremes. We are concocting reality.

            When an event is caught in an amateur cam (we can spare the journos because they are condoned by certain interpretations of their professional ethics) does the photographer makes an ethical evaluation of the situation- something like him saying that he caught it in the tape because it was an infraction which needed to be publicized? Very often, it is not so. When we speak about moral judgments, some are of the opinion that our moral judgements are drawn from sensory appraisals. We may call it a “Humean” version. There is the “Kantian” line which suggests that there involves reasoning behind all our moral judgments. Controlled experiments regarding the moral judgments one makes reveal that sense and reason play non-exclusive roles and so it is aptly suggested that men are “Rawlsian” creatures in their moral judgments. It was John Rawls who suggested that there is an inherent moral grammar which determines our moral valuations. The amateur photographer is largely the one who is detached from the gravity of the situation and is only concerned with the rarity of the sight. The intelligentsia who dwell on these problems are equally clinical. They represent the opposite poles of sense and reason. In the age of information proliferation, even the slightest of microhistories are prone to get global attention if sourced through the appropriate channels. This should not be a violation of the privacy that the dignity of the individual justly demands. As men we should be keener on coming to the rescue rather than feasting on the flesh of a violated, mangled or wrecked body.

            Sontag writes in Regarding the Torture of others that the lynching photographies, like the ones from Abu Ghraib are maintained as trophies. This happens in our place too, when the vigilante groups or individuals commit an atrocity in the name of an ideal they believe and represent and eventually circulate the record of the act in the web. Even when the act is blatantly criminal, they maintain a daring impunity over publicizing it. This is the case when an onlooker or a perpetrator take the photographs which is exactly the journos’ cup of tea. This ubiquity of photographs reveals a wide spectrum of emotions which can never be treated as one and the same.

            There is a very poignant message in the Jackie Chan starrer Police Story. A team of police officers are led into a deadly trap and are killed by a gang of cult gamers. They make that fatal operation into a video game and post it in the Net. Knowing that the whole plot is centered on the depression Chan is in, unable to reconcile with his state as “the one who lived to tell the tale” and accusing himself for the death of his team, presumably the most devastating phrase found in the script is “they made you into a videogame.”



Ephraem maria gilbert

Capuchin ashram Thumpoly

14 August 2012


Sic transit gloria mundi*”: quoted the Italian premier on hearing the ignominious death of Col.Gadaffi- a mere rhetorical remark and not a didactic one. That we are not concerned with a virtue until we find it lacking in our adversaries, we observe with Nietzsche. Our epistemological and ethical quests have taught us to treat the other as a mere object and ensured that an inescapable dichotomy is maintained. As a result the inauthentically constructed or constituted human nature enters into a labyrinth of complex power relations.  The papal election was once followed by the illustrious ceremony of burning a ball of flax mounted on a gilded pole with the exhortation of the above mentioned: *“Thus transits the glory of the world,” serving a grim reminder against hubris.

Imagination goads man to further the limits of his exertions. All the technical advancements of our times are augmentative rather than therapeutic. The classical attributes of God- omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence- seem to lure man into their realizations in the temporal realm. This is to be read together with the death-of-God trends in the contemporary worldview. The plight of the technologically, informationally or cognitively disadvantaged sections of the society signals the new equations of power that takes apolitical forms but nevertheless presenting an increased existential impact. Social watchers speak of zombification of the society where corporate greed has made zombies out of men drawing away all the vitality. Mimetic contagion impels men to herd-thinking and increased levels of socio-cultural claustration and poses hermeneutical ceilings. Hannah Arendt has observed that the leader of a mob appeals to the generic or biological needs of the mob and hence cannot lead to an effective social reconstruction. The decadence in our public and private lives is a clear indication of the mob compliance that is latent in our collectivities.

            Reflecting on the word “authority” can be enlightening. It is double headed and hides within itself connotations of a making (authoring) and of an enforcement or administration of a set of norms. The objectivity of moral norms has always been objectionable. Consider the case of a religious rule. There exists a sort of realism in understanding this rule. The rule has to precede the congregation of adherers normatively and constitutively of its lifestyle. It is inauthentic to think that the rule can be disposed to suit the congregational contingencies. There is objectivity of a norm, which at the same time warrants concretization in an intersubjective real-time situation. When a keeper of law presumes himself as the author of the law it becomes purely whimsical and subjective. In that case the sense of “authority” can be suggestively and conveniently explained by the term auctoritas. Let me posit it as an embodiment of an obfuscated distinction between being an auctor in the genitive sense and in the administrative sense. The objectivity shall never be lost sight of and the subjectivity shall not go untouched.

The Nativity reminds us of a dialogical discourse. Arendt classifies actions as those which are meant to fabricate or make and those which are meant to communicate acknowledging the intersubjectivity. Action can become the most dangerous of human faculties. The monologic discourses that govern the world actions can become constitutive of reality. The theocratic world view, reeking of an authoritarian God, gave way to a Christophanous ontocracy in our religious understanding. This was effected by Incarnation. By Incarnation God became perceptibly pervasive of all realities. Every moment of our life should, hence be open to the public aletheia– the gradual disclosure of the whole. There should also be the admittance of non-sovereign qualities of human freedom. God the Auctor-par-excellence subjected his auctoritas to the non-sovereignty of human condition.

This makes the life of Jesus, a kaleidoscope of miraculous activities, a celebration of spiritual spontaneity and a preparation of the unexpected.