Archive for December, 2008

Where does life of a man or woman begins? Birth is merely a point, a reference point, a milestone as death is. Influences of life from its parents have already made its own impressions even while it is still a foetus. A life is measured between birth and death as a way of convenience. But it misses the essentials, which are supplied by life. Stendhal in his own time had to put up with indifferent public and conspiracy of silence from literary critics of the day. Nevertheless he kept on with his writing of which a few perceptive minds, Honorè de Balzac was one, were enthusiastic about. Stendhal dedicated his ‘ The Charterhouse of Parma’ to these ‘ happy few,’. He also predicted that he would be read some 50 years hence which uncannily was proved true.
Oneness of things works on a different timescale than we hold. We have a quality time and it is for doing the needful things like our creature comforts. We are simple and misguided to think of success in terms of material riches. It is arbitrary. Creative genius of Van Gogh or Gaugin was such that they had different priorities in life and they outraged the conservative tastes of the day.


Van Gogh sold only one painting in his troubled life and now his works are priceless. Paul Gaugin’s bad luck persisted throughout his life. He left France and Paris the art capital of the world hoping that the king of Tahiti would buy his works. Before he could see him the king had died leaving him to fend for himself to a yahoo life as TE Lawrence qualified any life that was given into ‘ possession of aliens.’ Worse still his only skill, which he possessed was of not much use in Tahiti. He was forced to a life in a limbo entirely cut off from the world of art, which was necessary for him. Three years after his death in 1903 in Marquesas islands, an exhibition of his retrospective works held in Paris was a triumph. It caused a revival and interest in his works. Soon he was judged as one of the greatest painters who had impressed upon the 20th Century art.
One may in course of his or her life come up for many disappointments. What are many missed opportunities or disappointments  of a genius if he is denied what is his due? It is not that the public or the masses are dumb but the sorrows of a genius owe to the fact the public and the genius march to a different beat; The  public have their opinion on tastes and would act as an arbiter of what is good and what is bad. These guardians of morality derive their authority from their perception of finite time: they fashion their judgment to explain their times from their insufficient evidences; they are like automatons sold to the tyranny of time. Creative minds have a different concept of time. As the sage who said, these march to a different drummer than they. Character is what balances a life whether it is done on the coordinates of time or Time. These variable Speeds still give Character its recognizable form. Truth.
Truth is that quality which, like a keystone, holds all facets of a life where influences, what is derived and what is patently homegrown, are in equipoise.

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Once while waiting for a customer to come Agostino sat on his front veranda and whittled away a piece of wood out of odds and ends piled in a basket. His penknife went on with a sure touch, and the man with whom he had some business to talk over startled him. To that purpose they had agreed the night before the hour and the place. He had completely forgotten about him! The fellow did not frown at his neglect. Instead he stood there rooted and then squealed; and said the face was the spitting image of the stove maker. “Why look at that pendulous nose and his double chin!” Before he could add a word Agostino abruptly changed the subject. He didn’t want to waste his time he explained by way of an apology for his curtness. He was rather put out for his lapse. Nevertheless the customer went that day happy because he had done a thorough job with his broken down chair.
That evening Agostino while going through the day’s events knew he had discovered another side to his many talents. He picked up the figure of the stove maker. It was his spittin’ image. Well he was ugly. Yet something in that soothed him in a way he had never before felt. It was inexplicable! Like some sorcerer he had lifted some discard and given it a new dimension- a second chance!
In the days to come he applied his leisure wholly to carve figures in wood. At first his figures were quite crude; yet he kept at it till he could invest character in the way he set out features and posture to a form. With patience and perseverance he polished his craft till he could take pleasure; even the tedium of creation gave him joy. Art was not in his axe; neither was it in his penknife or awl. But something in the way he applied his hands so closely to a block of wood, and tried to keep to what he had only imagined worked. It made the piece of wood something else.
It made all his toil worthwhile.
Such was his thrill that he invited those who happened to pass by to take a look. They said with one voice, ”How smart the oddjobs man is!”
Agostino made three dolls no bigger than his palm. It took him about one year. He had drawn them from life and gave them familiar features that however were so mixed.
Yet that didn’t fool his young admirers. They could detect who served as a model for any particular figure they happened to examine. One day Cyprian, the son of the drover hazarded to give name to one doll but the sudden arrival of the doll-maker put a stop.
Agostino did not care much for the children who stopped by to watch him at work. Being much of a loner he learnt to work on despite of their curiosity. Slowly more children from the neighborhood came to look at the handiwork. They watched with bated breath at the furious way he blocked out in wood and how his strong hands glided over details as if the metal knew its routine. While he worked on the head his chisel cut away only the non- essentials and lo and behold the nose, ears or the chin they could see come largely unscathed. Thereafter while he applied cuttlefish bone along the surface smoothening the skin it always caused great commotion. ‘Will he succeed or miss? The children would wonder. Had he rubbed too hard and knocked out a nose or an ear that would have rendered all his effort in vain. No, his attention and mastery over his material always succeeded.
In their awe Agostino thought they were sincere and let them free run of the house. He even let them handle the dolls as long as they were gentle. He liked the way their eyes lit up to watch his creations. Soon the children from the neighborhood become a constant fixture in that cottage by the Cloud Peak.
Unknown to him they thought he was a sorcerer. He had carved three dolls at first. They saw his cleverness was inhuman. Cleo Nike who never liked to speak ill defended the doll-maker thus, “Agostino is regular like you and me. But may be too clever for my liking.” Ambrose who was treated as an idiot, said all those dolls were done in memory of those children lost so young and in suspicious circumstances. How they laughed him down! What followed it got somewhat out of hand. Only the timely arrival of the doll-maker put a lid on the rough play.
‘ Agostino is a wizard!’ It was their secret and they shook hands on it. They would never breathe a word of it to their parents.
Whatever they might have thought of Agostino it was at his cottage they always converged. Those three dolls had grown larger in number, and there were a few girls adding to the collection. By the time he had made ten dolls, five of them boys the children could well anchor their fantasy to the five pairs.’ Watching the dolls’ had became a routine and these five pairs had taken a life of their own filling as large as life. It made their fantasy world colourful and always gave them something to talk about.
Agostino indulged their presence only as admirers who did rightful homage to his handiwork. They were intrusion, nevertheless an unavoidable distraction.
After he had finished the twentieth doll he stopped. It had taken three years of constant toil. Since he worked as oddjobs man he took to applying final touches after supper. Till late into the night he could work by the candlelight sitting by the workbench and before the fire. That rounded off each day satisfactorily.
He showed the same care in their dress as he took in giving names and character. He dressed them in clothes, which were currently in fashion. With loving care he stitched dresses in bits and pieces of silk, calico and natural fibres he could lay hands on. Those sequins and mother of pearl in-lay work he had saved came now handy.
He fell in love like a foolish father with all of them. Still he had his favorites. Marcos, an ivory skinned lad with curls of wool was dressed in sailor suit with gilded buttons. Deborah had a dress in long skirt with four flounces and a blouse. She showed a shepherd’s crook in her hand and a basket of wool, which was picturesque. ‘For a shepherdess on her way to market she was dressed, too pretty.” so said the stove maker once. When the news reached the ears of the doll maker he said,” Bah!” He wanted his creatures to look their best. He was looking into an ideal world rather than what their humdrum lives would have warranted. Thus he happily worked out details for each. It made sense to him.
Ah, the dolls took so much of his time and during the day he kept them arrayed on the workbench. With great care he put each away for the night on a shelf he had fixed between two windows.
He knew he was neglecting his career. Making dolls now took his all. But he was old and he assured himself that he had reached a point where he needed not do anything where he could not put his heart and soul.
(to be cont’d)

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Uncertainty principle ought to teach every life the importance of making a stand even where there is nothing to hope for. Moses was a timid man by nature and it was on him God had entrusted the children of Israel. Consider him stuck between the Red Sea and the chariots of the Pharaoh and his army. Each of us is like Moses in one sense. We are hemmed in by circumstances. The vital point to remember is that circumstances are always on uncertain mode while how we make a stand is on certain mode.
Just because of recession and economic meltdown do we  throw down the towel? Do we give up our lives as of no consequence? Do we leave our wives and children in the lurch because some crooks have  made off with our life savings?
Circumstances are of uncertain mode while our actions have certainty: energy spent in one sense is part of our energy profile. In addition our options are progressively narrowed according to what choices we make. Our actions after we have finished whether good or bad have a life of their own.
Look at history: At the close of WWII the Allies dropped bombs  in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It ushered in the atomic age. What was its effect? The Allies won the war but created a condition for a nuclear war between the USA and USSR. Now the world’s biggest worry is that rogue nations may decide to use one in order to score a point. It may be to prove the devil’s ideology or it may be sheer out of malice. The effect is a no man’s land and makes a mockery of cause for which a nation would make a stand. The WWI was a war to make an end of all wars. We are living still from the hangover of that war.
Tailspin: Circumstance that Moses faced was uncertain but his certainty of God’s promise was rooted in something else. What is our certainty in our everyday lives, (leaving aside connotations of God,) but our character?

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A New Beginning

Those good people in Lefkareon saw Agostino at unusual times wandering about in their midst. They could only guess and they turned to other things than ask unnecessary questions.

The woodcutter had his axe that he could not any longer carry around. He hated to look silly. So he left it behind as he went daily to be among people. He was hoping to be called for by some one who needed a helping hand.  He had enough to live on but he didn’t like the idea of doing nothing. Time hung heavily and he thought he was being swallowed up in a crowd who pretended not to notice.
It was then he thought he could rearrange his cottage. He  lived in a cottage in Spartan simplicity. In one room he had set a long table. All his clothes and bed linen were piled up in so many heaps. When he used to work he had a woman to wash and tidy up his place, who was no longer needed. He thought all the household chores he could do by himself. It would at least take some of his time. Having set about arranging a new order into his life he realized there were many matters that had hitherto escaped his attention.
He repaired window shutters, which did not close properly. He whitewashed his house so it looked good as new. He took up mending his clothes or tears in his bed-linen which were not so important before and he set about making his home as spruced up and comfortable.
Earlier he could manage with one room where he slept at nights and the hall that served him as a parlour. On one end he had set up his fireplace about which he had a few pieces of furniture for needful things. Along the thick stonewall there was a niche that he now converted into an alcove. A wooden plank served him for a guest bed and in the same hall between small openings for windows he set up a row of planks. His intention was to place some interesting finds there. Only that he had not found anything worthwhile that he could display to advantage.
Gradually the cottage by the Cloud Peak showed a character that exactly fitted with the man who occupied it. Simple and neat it had become because the man who lived in was precisely that. Simple and neat.
On either side of the house ran a veranda. Morning and evening as the sun went up or down he found there plenty of sunshine. It suited him well to attend to his chores while seated there. He laid a plank over a half wall along the passage. It served him fine as a worktable. When his eyes wearied of knitting he could leave spools of thread aside and take up changing soles or laying out new straps for his well-worn wooden sandals.
Silent he was by nature but he slowly opened up: familiarity often than not opens up natural reserves, and he got around to warm up to some who showed interest in his handiwork. His home was a living proof to it.
One day one of the neighbours dropped in and asked if he could look into his house and repair wherever it was necessary. He had nothing to lose so he took up the offer. He did it to his satisfaction. Since he had never done odd jobs for hire he accepted a week’s supply of firewood in return. Then it was his grandmother who wanted to know if he could sew as well. Her eyesight didn’t allow her anymore-such delicate tasks as sewing. He took over and made her shawl as good as new. In return she gave him a handful of buttons inlaid with mother-of-pearl. (These had pride of place in her youth and it remained useless ever since). Another one gave him spools of coloured threads and strip of lace by yard. Within a matter of one year he became known as the odd-jobs man of the village. There was nothing that his hands could not do or set right what needed to be done.
One day he went out to the nearest town where a Supplies Store had every knick-knack that he was in need of. That evening he returned with an assortment items he urgently needed: spools of thread, twine, awl, adze and other implements that were necessary to his purpose. After six months he once again went to the same store, – for his list had grown considerably, and the storeowner in a show of familiarity offered credit but he would not hear of it. He had enough cash so he didn’t wish to be under obligation to any.
Because of his prudence and diligence the work of his hands was always well spoken of.
With time his natural reticence was somewhat loosened. He lent his help wherever it warranted without thinking of any reward. As an odd jobs man it was to him children turned whenever in need. He fixed little tin toys for them or put in parts that were missing or beyond repair. Some mechanical toys would need to be wound up and he got the hang of the mechanisms that he had never before handled. It made him happy. It made him learn new skills. He attended to the needs of the young with the same single-mindedness that marked his manner with their elders.
Children saw their toys moving once again as good as before and exclaimed,” How smart the odd jobs man is!”
Such expressions of delight somewhat softened the dour face and he thought they spoke truly from their heart and turned his attention to other matters.
(to be cont’d)


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UFO, Mr. President?
Bush: Iraq war is not over, more work ahead
BAGHDAD – On an Iraq trip shrouded in secrecy and marred by dissent, President George W. Bush on Sunday hailed progress in the war that defines his presidency and got a size-10 reminder of his unpopularity when a man hurled two shoes at him during a news conference.

“This is a farewell kiss, you dog!” shouted the protester in Arabic, later identified as Muntadar al-Zeidi, a correspondent for Al-Baghdadia television, an Iraqi-owned station based in Cairo, Egypt.

Bush ducked both shoes as they whizzed past his head and landed with a thud against the wall behind him.

“It was a size 10,” Bush joked later.( Jennifer Loven, Ap White House Correspondent –)
Is it a bird, a plane, or superman or a flying saucer?
No! It is a size 10 shoe.

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The cave dwelling bats of Borneo at the twilight leaves for the outside world in search of its food; It is a dangerous trip since leaving its relative security of the caves to the forests makes them an open target to the aerial predators that are about. Daily a trickle of bats would leave the caves which create a wave involving some three million and odd bats following the first batch; This batslide develops itself into a cloud within which bats flit about, blind yet without colliding into one another. At any given moment what position a bat will occupy is uncertain; yet the only certainty is this: till the critical mass of that cloud is reached any bat will have infinite options to choose from, which for its sheer number of possibilities cannot be predicted. “In any given set of circumstances on account of infinite options that allow a life- form to choose in context of others a path for its development (and is impossible to predict,) the only certainty that controls its exchange will be the consideration that other life- forms can benefit from”.
Thus a beggar might wish for horses and would ride as though he was born on the saddle. By the same token one who is born with a golden spoon in his mouth would choke on a cent.
Certainty we may leave to God and in our uncertain mode we call a man’s rise or fall success or failure according to what may fit us.  Mr. Madoff was once held up as a man of importance. Today he is fighting to prove he is not a fraud. While man is hasty in judgment God works with a different timescale. Who can foretell these things?

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The Doll-Maker And The Child ©


Benny Thomas



Once upon a time there lived a woodcutter on the island of Cyprus. He was called Agostino. He was lean and handsome in a manner of speaking. His hands were as knotted as the handle of his axe he wielded; rude health gave his movements quickness and his weatherbeaten face its character. Come rain or sunshine he spent his days out in the open.
He lived in a village at the edge of a forest. No one there in those days had seen him without his trusty axe.
He had a steady job since the sultan who sat in a palace far across the ocean wished the finest timber for furnishing his many halls. All year round he had work; and all the trees he felled were by order. He did not care to know how these were transported so far or what the sultan thought of their quality. It pleased him that he worked to satisfaction and got his money on the dot. Everything else was besides the point.
Having found a comfortable livelihood so early in life the young man would have wished to marry and raise a family. There were some talks. But somehow nothing came out of it. He didn’t take time out to look for a woman since his work took his all. ‘Marriage and raising a family can wait!’he said.
Days sped by; and then months and he could have counted in years he supplied the Sultan the choicest timber that ever grew on that part of the island. Soon  the wagon-loads of logs he sent out to the Receiver Of Royal Timber became past reckoning. He took his routine in his stride and went at it daily.
Agostino would have loved to be part of his community but work was a hard taskmaster. He was a stray orphan who had come into a village and stayed on by some force of habit. Lefkareon was not a village where one sought because of anything special: it had none. The only advantage as far as he could see was the Katria woods that supplied him with work.
There among those mountain-people Agostino lived quietly without falling foul or endearing himself to any one in particular. He lived honestly for their liking and they let matters at that.
Agostino was more at home among the silence of the dark woods and the noise of falling trees. In their midst his life also took on some aspect of strangeness. More like a magician who with his axe cast a spell,- and the steady blows with the axe were some incantations, to free those old giants spellbound into centuries old stillness.
One day he went as usual to the spot where he had marked on the day before, the trees marked to be cut. He led his mule through the welltrodden path where a fork on the left took him to the spot. His men were waiting his arrival. To his surprise he also saw the messenger from the office of the Reciever. He handed him the  message he had brought.
It simply said. ”Stop the work forthwith. Collect your severance pay and await further instructions.” Having done his duty he left as quietly as he came.
It left for Agostino to break the news to his two assistants that they were no longer needed. They took it ill because they had their families to think of. ”How shall I feed five hungry mouths? And clothe them?”one cried while the other said his sick woman would not survive the blow. They were sore at him since he was single and not affected as they were. But Agostino had no way of softening the blow. It was all too sudden.
Why he was relieved of his tasks he couldn’t say. Why must he be stopped from what he was good at? He was confused.  He was perplexed as well as bitter at the penury, which he considered unfair to a man like him.
He did not know the reason: it was not Suleiman the Magnificent who sat on the throne but another. The changing of old guards was observed at Topkapi palace. The new sultan had replaced all with his own cronies. The new upstarts set about changing everything that stood for something: what was old in the Ottoman Empire was to be swept away. Such a change hit him in some curious way.
He was also old as everything that the new sultan got rid off.
(To be cont’d)

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Man as Blaise Pascal would say, is a thinking reed. He thinks and gives his thoughts a shape and fashions it into something tangible. Man sees crises between nations and sets up a crisis management centre. He may have had no backing of the nations who are ratcheting up quarrel that has the potential of a war. If he did succeed to use his contacts and bring the nations to sit face to face and hold a dialogue what shall we say? He is a man of peace and has sown peace where there was a likelihood of a conflict. It is a man’s response to his world and as he thought so has he remedied a part of evil that existed in his midst. Naturally the world honors the former Finnish president with a Nobel prize for peace. His thinking gave shape in holding peace between two nations who are talking of war. He did it in Kosovo and in Acheh, north of Sumatra. Nobel Laureate Martti is a thinking reed but someone who could make a difference to his world.
A sculptor like Michelangelo fashioned the statue of Moses out of marble. His creative vision gave a slab of marble grandeur that it never had. Of course a piece of marble has its beauty that needs to be brought out by careful handling. Nature gives a jagged piece of rock roundness as it is worked over and over by river flowing over it again and again. Perhaps million years it works on each of its treasures. Beauty of nature has its own language which a flower or pebble shall speak to one who is tuned to understand them. Coming back to Moses when one looks at the prophet he or she sees quite something else. Moses is a sublime example of man who has learnt to speak with his heart, mind and with his hands. It is however done by a thinking reed. But in the way Michelangelo excelled himself to create a work that is grand as well as having power in itself to communicate what are we to assume? He made his work to prove what he thought or in which true calling was. His genius required time, discipline and perseverance. Because he mastered himself he could makes his works speak to future generations though as a reed he succumbed to the way of all flesh. His death however could have no sway over what he had achieved with his life.
If Martti Ahtisaari and Michelangelo could so could any one who is willing to pay the price.
In our modern age however everyone knows what money can buy. Madoff’s alleged $50 billion fraud, hit the headlines only yesterday. It is a symptom of the times. Mr. Madoff apparently knew how the system worked rather than his own power and wisdom.
Perhaps modern education and social structure have let many of us down. If the brightest minds of our age fresh out of college should run off to join the bandwagon of Wall Street (and all want to be millionaires before they hit thirty) I dare say that they have missed their true calling. They have sold their precious gifts for a trifle. Their lives cannot amount to much.

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