Archive for April, 2011

I must admit to a time when I was thoroughly enamoured by the words of Ayn Rand. I was a mere adolescent then and did not have the intellectual or  perceptual wherewithal to consider her words deeply. I could not really look beyond the powerful fiction she created about the ubermensch or superman to the truth of her bloated assumptions.

Howard Roark, the hero of Rand’s novel, The Fountainhead, was everything I could admire in a man. He was intense, single minded, intelligent, creative, non-conforming, sincere, and sexy. He endured impossible hardships, gained great success without losing his integrity, and commanded the complete devotion of an extraordinary woman. I was so drawn to him that it did not cross my mind at the time to question the nuances of his character or thinking in any way. For instance, I did not think much about the claims that Roark made about the history and interpretation of art and architecture.

Through Roark, Rand exalted Modern architecture while totally denigrating the rare achievements of the artists and builders of say, the Medieval Age. Maybe because their highest creations were too religious for Rand’s tastes. Or were the outcome of collective effort and not the individual enterprise that Rand supported. It is obvious that Ayn Rand did not think much about sacrificing truth at the altar of rhetoric. As long as she could get across her point, no matter how bigoted or one-sided it was. That, I think, actually made her quite like the villain of her own story, Ellsworth Monkton Toohey, a man with a scrawny body but with the voice of a giant. However, the novel does have some redeeming value because it commends self-enrichment and self-improvement. It speaks of heroism, courage, and resolution. Qualities that awaken a sense of romance and desire for greatness and even today, I have to confess that I find The Fountainhead quite engaging.

Rand’s later work, Atlas Shrugged, also had a cast of strong characters who seemed to possess the power to change the world. But by then the writer had begun to abandon all pretension to storytelling. Heroes and antagonists were all painted in extremely broad strokes. There was no organic development of characters or situations. Rand was the shrill force that moved the narrative. Things happened not because of the subtle and intricate demands made by a veracious and believable storyline but because the occurrences suited the author’s righteous and vindictive ideology. And, she indulged in direct propaganda of the most pernicious sort. The story-lover in me was, therefore, sorely disappointed.

After reading Atlas Shrugged, I felt that the novel form was allowing Ayn Rand to engage in half-truths, gross exaggerations, and outright lies while retaining the facade of fiction. She made the characters mere mouthpieces for her ideas.  But since the books were novels and not serious philosophical dissertations, she could get away with the absence of a proper outline of her political and social theories. Maybe, she was also spared a thoroughly rigorous examination of her thinking process because one, after all, could not be too critical of philosophical tenets in what was only a work of fiction. I also find it quite funny that while promoting a sort of exclusivity and elitism, Rand used an extremely melodramatic and populist style to generate mass appeal for her ideas. So, ironical.

Later, when I read or revisited the works of writers like Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Steinbeck among others and was made aware of their broad and deep understanding of the human condition, I realized how Ayn Rand was lacking, not just as a writer but as a thinker. Her characters were mostly one-dimensional. Their actions were motivated by black and white ideas about freedom or altruism. And there was simply no complexity or genuineness in her portrayal of reality. I realized that people were not how they were etched by Rand. People like Howard Roark and John Galt were too cardboard-ish, too unaffected by human emotions and sensibilities to be real. And, even when I regarded them as philosophical or artistic ‘ideals’, I could not feel much enthusiasm for the kind of inhuman perfection they symbolized.

It is a known fact that Ayn Rand and her family were forced to flee Russia and its oppressive new Communist government, after the Bolshevik Revolution. It explains how and why the author developed a lifelong hatred for Communism and its dictatorial principles. And conversely, it tells us why she became such a strong proponent of Capitalism, the antidote for the great evil that was Communism. I am not too surprised by that. It is only to be expected that a burnt person should fear, even hate fire. Maybe, Rand should have been more balanced in her indictment of ‘collectivism’ and espousal of individualism. But her utter lack of objectivity is not entirely unacceptable in the world of fiction. However, the fact that her one-sided and biased views have mustered such credibility in political and philosophical circles, simply boggles the mind.

It is incredible that Ayn Rand has become such a loud name in political and social discourse. I understand why the heads of corporations or some politicians would propagate the Randian ideal. To put it simply, it serves their interest. It allows them to ‘search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.’ I can even understand why rabid Republicans and brainless teabaggers would quote Rand. Because it is somehow very fitting. It is only right that her pseudo-philosophy should attract spurious, inane, pretentious, and scheming adherents. What I cannot at all fathom is the enthusiasm for such ideas in the middle-classes and employed poor, who do not profit at all by mouthing Randian ideals, who are perhaps manipulated everyday by faceless corporations and are in danger of becoming nothing more than slaves or automatons.

I have come across ordinary individuals who greatly admire Rand’s philosophical ideas and regard her as some sort of messianic figure or prognosticator. They also base their entire belief system on her writings. Like Rand, they display a remarkably dismissive attitude towards other ideas. They just need to establish their sense of right and find a scapegoat (in this case, altruism or socialism) and every other historical fact or human instinct is relegated to the realm of apathy or contempt.

I cannot help but wonder at the sophomoric confidence of these people. I am not talking about people with endlessly deep pockets but those like us, who have had the benefit of education in government-sponsored schools and colleges. The ones who stand to gain from social security, healthcare, educational and scientific research, firefighting services etc. etc. Do they really think that privatization and the concept of personal profit alone will take care of all these needs? It is laughable that they can dismiss these things so easily when their idol, who was vocally against government hand-outs,  secured Social Security and Medicare payments, under the name of Ann O’Connor.

I wonder how the fanboys of Randism would feel if they could imagine themselves in the shoes of a young slum-dweller, rickshaw-puller, or inhabitant of a remote caste-ridden or war-stricken village. If they could be in the place of those who have no access to the basic amenities of life or  education because they were born too poor. Would they reject medicines or food or educational assistance just because they did not believe in altruism? Do they think that merit alone would suffice under such adverse circumstances? Would it matter to them then that Randians pontificate about  poverty being ennobling and selfishness being the only way to higher good? No, I do not think so. It would not be so easy to display smugness when poverty is more than just a vague theory. It would not be  so easy to preach against ideas that would help pull them out of misery.

It is very revealing that Ayn Rand had a great admiration for the brutal serial killer, William Edward Hickman, who dismembered and murdered a twelve year old girl in a most gruesome fashion and horrified the nation. Ayn Rand was so affected by Hickman that she based her heroes, Danny Renahan or Howard Roark, on him because it seemed to her that he had the ‘true innate psychology of a Superman’ and because he could ‘never realize or feel ”other people”’.  The fact that Rand could draw inspiration from such a monstrous sub-human creature does not only raise questions about her judgment and humanity but also about her right to lay down a moral and ethical code of conduct.

But well, Objectivism, has nothing really to do with any serious system of morality, has it? It does not demonstrate any understanding of genuine human relationships and behavior, or any sympathy whatsoever with noble human impulses. Also, it does not truly differentiate between right or wrong. Rather it advocates indifference and moral nihilism. But only towards the masses, not those who are like gods in Rand’s estimation. Glorious men like John Galt may bask in great self-admiration and have genocidal fantasies about destroying whole groups of ‘non-productive’ or ‘parasitic’  men and women. But any harm to men like Galt would certainly not be brushed aside as a simple amoral or self-interested deed. No, that would instead be regarded as a singularly heinous criminal act, by the opinionated and dreadfully prejudiced Rand.

In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand paints a scenario where the capitalists or ‘creators’ shrug off the burden of supporting all the ‘second-handers’ of the world by leaving them behind and forming their own exclusive society. The brilliantly funny Stephen Colbert suggests that those who love Randian ideas should truly follow her precepts and go ahead and form a perfect country or island, consisting of only people who make society work. People like hedge fund managers, CEOs, House Republicans, and TV pundits. With this satirical statement, Colbert hits the nail on the head. The very people he mentions seem to benefit the most by chanting random Randian words. But the idea of them making it on their own on an island is just so consummately farcical. In reality, can these people even imagine survival without those who sweat and labor? Definitely not. And yet, the lovers of Rand do not hesitate to detest the working poor, the unions, the so-called leeches of society. But who are the leeches really, I wonder.

I wonder how any thoughtful person can attribute the success of a man to individual enterprise alone or to his being completely ‘self-made’. Is it not true that most rich people and capitalists today are rich because they have inherited their wealth? Does not family wealth and status disprove Rand’s theory of meritocracy? Even those of us, who have not been been the recipient of handed down wealth, have had the privilege of some kind of support during our formative years. What would we have done if our Objectivist parents had denied all moral responsibility for us, granted us emancipation, and left us to fend for ourselves? Could we have then existed in an ivory tower of glorious individualism?

I suppose, it is very telling that Randian heroes are either orphans or have families that cause them grief or distress and the only way they can triumph is by destroying the family. Another instance of Ayn Rand’s rather attenuated and single-tracked approach to life. As if there can exist only pure good and pure evil, whereas in reality people are a shadowy combination of numerous traits and compulsions.

Another dicey idea that Rand establishes her theory of Objectivism on is that truth or reality is absolute. She recognizes only the supremacy of cold and unconditional logic, when it comes to ethics or morality, politics or economics. There is something very dismissive and intolerant about this assumption. Because truth or logic, I think, can only be precise if people are completely without any dissonance or contrariety, more gods than humans, like Roark perhaps. But real people are not like that. They are complex beings molded by circumstances and genetic predispositions. Even their reasoning faculty is subject to their quality of mind. So, how can they express a truth that is completely untouched by their individual perception?

Umberto Eco in his wonderful novel, The Name of the Rose, says that truth is ‘an adjustment between the thing and the intellect’.  The important word here is ‘adjustment’ or compromise. We can perceive order in the Universe only because of our mind’s capacity to perceive, interpret, and bestow order. But how can we be absolutely certain? How do we know we know? With experience come knowledge and doubt. And the need to adjust perceptions and the understanding of truth. Cocksureness can only be the prerogative of extreme youth, extreme arrogance, or downright stupidity.

If I leave the pages filled with rants alone, I mostly find Ayn Rand quite entertaining. As an author, she is second-rate, but she knew how to create arresting heroes, terrible villains, and overly dramatic but fascinating situations. And to generally give the readers a good time. I would have been happy if Ayn Rand had written only The Fountainhead and it was regarded as just another novel by mature people.

But the hullabaloo surrounding her so-called ideas confound me. She celebrated originality in her books but all her ideas were carelessly borrowed from other far more accomplished thinkers. Like Aristotle, Nietzsche, Auguste Comte, and Hugo. Even Plato, whose thoughts she barely comprehended and overtly rejected.

And what absolutely galls me is the fact that seemingly intelligent and potentially compassionate people, who are no longer the impressionable, rebellious, or disgruntled souls of their teenage years, will still fight tooth and claw to prove the moral and rational rectitude, rather superiority of Ayn Rand’s theories and preserve the illusion of her almost divine status. Objectivism is like Scientology, I think, founded on low fantasy and followed by those who wish the world to revolve around them alone. Or those, who wish to affect the conceit and complacency that are associated with intellectualism, without possessing a shred of intellect or a modicum of philosophical imagination.

If only, Ayn Rand had not aspired to be more than a novelist, albeit a lurid, aesthetically impoverished, and not quite believable one. If only, she had not indulged in such eye-popping exaggerations and sociopathic ideological rantings. If only some powerful and idiotic people had not traced back to Rand, their right to froth in the mouth with an inflated sense of ego and their right to openly engage in anti-social diatribes. If only, Rand had even faintly comprehended the value and beauty of human feelings such as love, empathy, tolerance, and generosity, I would not have found her so repulsive today.



Copyright © 2011 [Violet Dolui]. All Rights Reserved.


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She woke up one morning with the memory of his angel eyes deeply embedded in her mind. Her blood raced and heart pounded with the thought of his warm embrace, his wistful smile.
Was it only a dream? Then why did he seem so familiar? Why did his face fill her with such longing and ache?

He was not young. Strands of gray peppered his hair and there were a few lines on his thin face. But something about his dream-filled, distant-looking, all-seeing eyes, spoke to her heart and made her want to be with him. Made her want to erase that look of veiled desolation from his beautiful eyes.

He was gentle. As if he held within his core, something very precious and fragile. And secret. He moved slowly like in a dream, afraid to shatter the moment. He was invariably courteous, like a man from a different, more gallant age. And he was attentive, his faraway eyes never wavering once from her face.

They talked. The intimacy of the words, the thoughtfulness of his manners, lit a candle in the depths of her soul. She saw that despite his earnestness, a gently humorous glint always danced in his eyes and a tender smile played upon his lips.

She gazed into his eyes, those endless pools of liquid brightness. She buried her face in his shoulder and he murmured soft words against her hair. She closed her eyes but she could sense his mouth curving into a smile. It was perfect. Her heart soared with great joy. And yet, why did she experience a strange tug in her heart? A faint premonition of loss?

He caressed her with his gaze. A sweet lingering look that suggested friendship and togetherness. A subtle understanding that made the silences shimmer with beauty.

She turned and leaned her head back against his chest. Kisses like white flowers rained down on her neck and shoulders. He bent his tall frame to graze her throat and cheeks and hair with his lips. She tilted her face towards him and he tasted her mouth, almost hesitantly. Then something flared between them. A deep strong desire that took her by surprise.

Until now, they had sought comfort and affection from each other. But suddenly, it seemed that her soul was burning with desperate need. He trembled a little and his kisses grew heated. And she returned his ardor with feverish urgency.

They looked at each other. His eyes shone with an inner fire. But she saw that he still retained an aura of hopeless yearning. Perhaps he saw things that were at too great a distance. Things that would always remain beyond their reach. His soft, sad gaze lingered on her, trying to commit her face to his memory.

They kissed again, his mouth seeking hers now with poignant intensity. Her heart was breaking with love and sadness. And the painful awareness of a deep and abiding loss.

Then as the night deepened, he faded away. The brightness of his eyes finally dimming into nothingness, his fond whispers receding into a void. And there was left only the memories, beautiful and melancholy. And the knowledge of those incomparably beautiful and hauntingly sad eyes, lodged firmly in her heart.



Copyright © 2011 [Violet Dolui]. All Rights Reserved.

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“It’s a kind of magic. Firelight makes time stand still. When you put out the lamps and sit in the firelight’s glow there aren’t any rules any more. You can do what you want, say what you want, be what you want, and when the lamps are lit again, time starts again, and everything you said or did is forgotten. More than forgotten, it never happened.”

Beautiful lines from a breathtakingly beautiful film.

I do not know how I can describe it faithfully. Because to me, Firelight is more than just another piece of cinema. It is an experience so absolutely stunning, that it cannot be captured in words alone. It is like a dream half-remembered, a thought barely grasped, a secret vision of strange, sheer, and unfathomable beauty.

I could tell the story. I could speak of the fine performances. I could rave about the lovely Sophie Marceau and the intriguing Stephen Dillane. I could describe the wonderful cinematography and the perfect costumes. But all that would not suffice. They just would not touch the magical essence of this film.

I have heard reviewers brandishing the word ‘chemistry’ often, while describing the relationship between male and female protagonists. But only after I watched the characters of Elisabeth and Godwin together, did I realize what that particular word can actually mean.

The chemistry in Firelight is like a complex dance of will and passion and hopeless longing. The eyes speak words that should not be spoken. The expressions reveal nuances that make breathing a tad difficult. And the exquisite whispering subtlety of the relationship makes the atmosphere smolder with unnerving and arousing intensity.

The relationship between Elisabeth and Godwin begins with cold necessity. But, they are soon overcome by feelings that shake their composure and engender a terrible longing in their hearts. Elisabeth stands at the beach and claims that the sky, the sea, and the nothingness make her want to shout. When Godwin urges her to do so, she laughs and admits that it is not easy. Later, she expresses the wish to shout again when she shares a particularly intimate moment with Godwin. But again she is unable to. She is forced to bury her overpowering need for him in her inmost soul.

And though Godwin may seem self-contained or cold, his eyes give him away. There is much hunger there and loneliness. He cannot face Elisabeth without the aid of a strong drink or a stern facade.But he is more staggered than harsh, more agitated than cruel, more supplicating than demanding.

Stephen Dillane, accomplished actor that he is, makes every shuddering breath, every suppressed sigh, every startled or hopeless or bright glance mean a thousand words. And, the supreme poise of Sophie Marceau has to be seen to be believed. As Elisabeth, she might be a prisoner of her circumstance but she behaves like a queen in exile. She also seems to see things with extraordinary clarity and reaches the core of a matter with a surprising directness and determination.

The scene where Elisabeth secretly watches Godwin as he stands naked, drying off after a swim is particularly memorable. It conveys not just a sense of her heightened physical consciousness of the man but also her deep knowledge of his principled, vulnerable, and involved nature. The foggy glass between them stands for the societal and personal barriers that they cannot perhaps surmount.

The firelight, in the film, is a symbol of the break in time. When a moment freezes and one can pass through the fabric of reality into a world of dreams and fantasy. When nothing is impossible and the deepest desires can emerge from the subconscious and take tangible shapes.

Godwin, during his first meeting with Elisabeth, says, ” Fire gives more light than one expects…” He repeats the same line, later, when Elisabeth is working as a governess in the manor. For Godwin, turning towards Elisabeth had meant a momentary unburdening from the burden of his responsibilities. It had meant the pursuit of his own happiness, for a little while. What he had not anticipated was that his inner needs would begin to dominate so much of his consciousness and that it would become so hard for him to give up his love and don the mantle of duty again. In the cold cavernous halls of the English manor, Godwin is forced, time and again, to draw close to the fire to seek warmth. Very telling, indeed.

Elisabeth’s relationship with the difficult and lonely child underscores her difficult relationship with the father. Louisa’s attempts to read the picture-cards, slowly progress from pretension to understanding. Similarly, the love of Elisabeth and Godwin moves from longing and denial to acknowledgment and fulfillment. The firelight of secret dreams destroys all restraints and becomes the reality.

However, the underlying somberness of the story is never truly dispelled. Even in attainment, there is loss. Godwin has to lose his old life in order to follow his heart. And Elisabeth knows that the single-mindedness and the overwhelming strength of her desire have made things happen. And maybe, there is an element of selfishness in her longing. At the end, there remains a shadow… a humble recognition of what has  made their happiness possible. But that only intensifies the union of Elisabeth and Godwin. Their love is both defiant and reserved, triumphant and hushed.

This story could have turned vulgar and melodramatic so easily. But the presentation is so fine and measured, the performances are so controlled and sincere, and the atmosphere is so emotion-laden, yet subtle, that this film comes as close to perfection as possible.

Firelight, in a word, is enchanting.

Copyright © 2011 [Violet Dolui]. All Rights Reserved.

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For My Canine Friends

Today I feel the urge to write about my favorite creatures on four legs. Dogs. They are cute, intelligent, loving, and loyal. I cannot imagine how anyone could resist their appeal after a glimpse of their round shiny doggie eyes, wet button noses, lolling pink tongues, and enthusiastically wagging tails.

Did I mention that they are loyal? Many have heard the remarkable tale of Hachiko. The beautiful Akita dog was adopted by Professor Ueno. Hachiko would faithfully wait everyday at the Shibuya station for his master to return from Tokyo, after work. Together they would then walk home. This ritual went on for sometime until the day, Professor Ueno failed to return. He had died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Hachiko continued to wait for his master everyday, at the same railway station, even after nine years of the professor’s death.

Can a story like this fail to move? How many of us have encountered such single-minded devotion? Hachiko, deservedly, has become the symbol of loyalty in Japan and everywhere.

I knew a priest once who had a dog called Queenie. She was a leonine and regal looking thing. But very ladylike and gentle. She was so attached to the priest that she could sense his troubles, almost preternaturally, even when he was very far away. One night, he met with a serious accident, and Queenie kept the other priests up with her incessant yowling and crying. It was only later, when they got news of the accident, that they realized why Queenie had been so distressed. When the priest was transferred to a different parish and he could not take Queenie away with him, she pined for him like a forlorn lover, and finally passed away, within a couple of months. Yet another story that brings a lump to my throat.

As a kid, I had a great Doberman Pinscher, named Topsy. She was quite large and could make most people weak in the knees from fear, merely by raising her grave eyes to them. And yet, she was a complete family dog, sweet-tempered and very amiable. Topsy was my constant companion. She patiently listened to my childhood woes, endured my childish tantrums, and even protected me from suspicious strangers. She would console me by licking my hands and face and I would often see an almost human intelligence or compassion in her rather eloquent eyes.

One day, my two-year old sister quietly stole away from the house and went dangerously close to a deep pond nearby. Before anyone could even realize, Topsy had broken her strong metal chain into two and rushed off, barking madly. We followed Topsy, quite bewildered, until we spotted my little sister. She was kneeling only inches away from the edge, staring at the deep green water, almost hypnotized. It was a narrow escape. And we could only extend our wordless thanks to the keen and strong and utterly marvelous Topsy.

Then there was Jimmy, a stray that had suddenly appeared one fine day from somewhere and made a home with us. He was a natural leader, ferocious, independent, and almost disturbingly intelligent. He guarded our house with a zealous devotion. One day, he followed my grandma’s car all the way to the hospital because he knew that something was wrong. He was a little like Hachiko because he too would wait at the railway station for my father and return home with him.

There were others too. Doema, the black Himalayan beauty with her deep blue eyes and completely fearless character. The only dog, I have ever known, who could calmly sit out on the porch during a thunderstorm or stare at a severe lightning, without even batting an eye. She loved the rain too. Doema looked less like an animal and more like a wild and untouchable goddess, listening to the songs of the mountains and forests, that perhaps played somewhere in the secret recesses of her mind.

There was Jolly, the Indian Spitz, with his scarred but stalwart heart. Tiger, the large German Shepherd, with his patience, affection, and softness. Despite his great size, he could literally fly through the air with the greatest ease, to catch a frisbee or a biscuit. And the energetic, loving, and playful Tony, who passed away much before his time. They all belonged to my family at one point of time or another. Each possessed a distinct personality and each one of them managed to impress upon us a realization of the magnificence, generosity, courage, and steadfastness of the canine soul.

The only thing that makes me miserable about these fine creatures is that they stay with us for such a little while. They touch our lives like angels in many small and unforgettable ways and then fade away, leaving us disconsolate and full of memories.

But, when they are around, they are invariably a source of joy and sunshine and pleasure. How they light up our lives! Even add to our days. The best friends anyone anywhere could ever have.


Copyright © 2011 [Violet Dolui]. All Rights Reserved.

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There was a time when I had to leave my known world and everything familiar to venture into a strange territory. I was excited about the change and was not too fearful because I had someone who would accompany me through all my joys and travails. But I had no other friends. And I thought that I would be lonely. At least, at times. How wrong I was!

For I met Lakshmi didi- a diminutive bundle of energy and enthusiasm, compassion and love. She was older to me by quite a few years. Her education, social and religious background, current circumstances, and even physical attributes  differed from mine considerably. And yet, there we were, two very dissimilar creatures thrown together by fate.

From the very first moment, something just clicked. Maybe it was the meeting of minds or coming together of two kindred spirits. I looked into her great dark eyes and sweetly smiling face and I felt comfortable. At home.

Almost subconsciously, I responded to her warmth and genuineness. There were times when her frequent visits seemed a bit intrusive. At other times, the reserved core of my being rebelled against all the probing and the sharing. But it did not take me long to realize that the ordinary citified  rules of our polite and indifferent society did not apply to a generous soul like Lakshmi di.

She would surprise me by bearing platters of yummy food and endless cups of hot coffee to my house. Just so that we could sit and eat together and enjoy moments of friendly intimacy. We would happily while away the hours chattering like a couple of kids, who have together discovered an exciting new enterprise.

Lakshmi didi did not hesitate to ask questions because she was truly interested in knowing me. There was a simplicity in her that allowed her to be refreshingly, almost shockingly candid. She was equally forthcoming with her own stories of woe and joy, adventure and ordeal.

Her tales were told with such vigor and clarity that I could picture each and every detail. Through her I became aware of aspects of life that I would not have experienced on my own. I discovered interesting new colors and shades, faces and characters that left their impression on me. I absorbed her words and saw things from a distinctly different perspective. I even got to live a life, vicariously.

Lakshmi didi was simple and direct but far from being gullible or foolish. Something about her unaffected spirit called upon the clean lines of my soul, touched a part of me that was unfeigned and wholesome. But, I was also fascinated by her imagination, acuity, and eloquence.

Often I was startled by Lakshmi di’s lightning-quick understanding of an event or situation, without the aid of too many words. She could read people well too. I felt privileged to have been chosen as her confidante because I suspected that even though she was pleasant at all times, she allowed only a selected few into the inner sanctum of her world.

She was certainly not blissfully unaware of hurts and betrayals. What she had was a resilience that allowed her to remain childlike in many significant ways. An optimism borne out of great faith and positive thinking.

The funny part of our relationship was that we employed only broken words and gestures to communicate. We did not even have a language in common and tried to do the best we could under the circumstances. And the interesting part was that we did manage to speak to each other without a shred of reserve, without holding anything back.

I remember how Lakshmi didi painted word pictures to describe a simple matter and in the process, imbued it with beauty and deeper meaning. She could extract bright images from her mind and arrange them in a way that was thoroughly charming. She was a poet at heart.

Eventually, I had to move on. Other places were calling and one could not  ignore such calls. Lakshmi di cried the day, I left. She was always transparent when it came to divulging her feelings before me. I had no word of consolation. Only a conviction that she was now an indelible part of my history, that I would revisit time and again.

My encounter with Lakshmi didi made me a better and happier person, in many ways. Though I regret to say, that it also made me more vulnerable to malice and mean-mindedness. I was inclined to look for virtues in places where none existed and I was left severely disappointed, even hurt.

I am only beginning to learn how to limit my enthusiasm and distinguish between dispassionate interest and genuine warmth. To differentiate between a false smile and a handshake that promises true friendship. But that is another story.


Copyright © 2011 [Violet Dolui]. All Rights Reserved.

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While browsing casually over the internet, I came across a few blogs that left me in a daze. No, I was not overwhelmed by the literary or imaginative prowess of the writers. Though some were not bad at all. What stunned me was their extreme indulgence in a confessional mode of writing.

The only way they seemed to communicate was by sharing every little detail of their lives. And I mean every minuscule, clandestine detail. There were a few picturesque sections on their roaring or whimpering sex lives. I also viewed prodigious and tedious elaborations on other equally intimate themes.

It can be argued that these subjects provide good writing material. And there are some noted names in literary circles, who have become famous by adopting the confessional style of expression. Sylvia Plath, for instance.

I also believe that any kind of expression is to an extent confessional. We cannot write a word without divulging something about ourselves. No matter how factual or objective we are, we cannot transcend the limitations of our own genetic predispositions, backgrounds, and education. We are no more or less than the sum of our experiences. And we can only express what we are.

But how much of our inmost selves should we lay bare? Is there a point that we should not exceed? Or, is everything permissible? These are the questions in my mind.

At this point, I am reminded of a particular work of dubious art by Britain’s Tracey Emin. Her notorious ‘My Bed’ was exhibited first in 1998. Emin captured our attention by displaying intimate objects like contraceptives, dirty bed sheets, stained panties, cigarette-ends, slippers etc. Those things symbolized her personal space or messy life and was thus supposedly, art.

That might very well be the case. Exhibitionism undoubtedly gets attention and appeases a certain voyeuristic tendency in us. It lays claim to our sympathy. Maybe it even amounts to art. But not in my book.

In the same way, I feel that over-sharing is neither synonymous with good writing, nor does it make for interesting reading. Of course, a person keeping an online journal is expected to scribble about personal matters. But the operative words here are ‘moderation’ and ‘discrimination’.

The writers, I have grown to admire, do confess. But theirs is a secret kind of confession. A subtle rendering of experience. A personal truth wrapped in quiet poetry, delicate fiction, or complex thought.

What is the value of indiscriminate, wholesale experience? Only knowledge that has been sieved through good taste, restraint, intricacy, deliberation, and deep understanding is significant. What is the worth of an account that relies on too personal a system of expression, is too self-absorbed, and offers only momentary attraction?

Such diaristic indulgences and tell-all memoirs may excite scrutiny for a little while. But, only writing that lends itself to subtlety, multiple interpretations, and a universal symbolism is truly interesting.

I am not the last authority on writing. But, as an avid reader, I claim the privilege of stating my preferences and opinions. And I think that, disclose-every-fact kind of writing is a bit like nudism, albeit of a more psychological variety. It gives some people a sense of freedom and openness. But, it is not for the likes of me.


Copyright © 2011 [Violet Dolui]. All Rights Reserved.

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I am proud and happy to be a Bengali. Reasonably, judiciously, gently so. I am not zealous enough to think that we are the best people on earth but the realization has come to me now that there is, after all, something quite  special about us.

During my growing up years in Kolkata, I did not have any significant regard for my people. They were mostly like me. What was so wonderful about that? In college and university, I started meeting men and women who, for some reason or another, often made me cringe. Perhaps it was the blatant bohemian aura they put on with such unwarranted swagger. Perhaps it was their fake accents, the cigarettes dangling from their lips, or the fact that they were always so ready to spout seemingly learned stuff, without delving too deep. Maybe it was their fierce competitiveness, superciliousness, pretense of musical and political expertise, a certain arrogance, or braggadocio. I could not exactly pinpoint my source of irritation but I was put off.

I began to agree with many who thought  Bengalis were ‘pseudo-intellectuals’. I also hated the excess, the intemperance, and the mob mentality that I sometimes saw on the streets. Don’t get me wrong. I always had a great admiration for our past, culture, and our intellectual heritage. I was very proud of the fact that we used to be the ‘Renaissance people’. But all that glory was in the distant past. The future looked bleak.

I suppose, young people are wont to judge more strictly and unforgivingly than those who have been tempered by experience. Youngsters are less inclined to be tolerant of the quirks and conceits of men. In my case, there was also the familiarity which breeds contempt.

However, circumstances and time have, I think, given me a better perspective. I have had the opportunity of meeting people from different parts of the country. Some have beguiled me, some have upset me. But on the whole, I have got to know that we are not alone in our weaknesses, prejudices, and flaws. In fact, I feel that Bengalis actually blunder on the side of some positive ideals.

We are guilty of affectation maybe. But not small mindedness or malice. No matter how bloated we are, we do have a genuine appreciation of learning and culture.We may take excessive pride in having a cosmopolitan outlook but that does make us more open-minded than most.

In my encounters with non-Bengalis, I have become suddenly very aware of foul realities like the caste system. I have learnt how entire communities and even sacred places of learning can impart the conviction of inferiority to many a young boy and girl. Appalling! It is not like I was completely unconscious of these things. But my knowledge was purely theoretical. I had not witnessed such a climate of degradation and intolerance in Kolkata, when I was growing up. And I am inordinately thankful for that.

I am also thankful for the kind of teachers and educators I had, in my school days and later. Not all, but most of them were interested in more than just brainwashing the students with bookish information and commonplace norms. They encouraged us to think for ourselves and pursue creativity and perfection over meaningless qualifications. We were taught to appreciate not only our doctors and engineers but our writers, singers, and dancers.

There are also a few other things that I value more highly now. Like our ability to engage in lively conversations and hot debates. How we love to exchange ideas and discuss all subjects under the sun! We may argue and spar a little but all in good humor. I did not appreciate this quality much, until I came across specimens who take offense at every word and care more for stiff formality and lifeless ceremony than vivacity and joie de vivre. Those who prefer to politely and indifferently gossip about trivialities for hours than contemplate matters that require a modicum of passion, intelligence, and understanding.

Another thing that I have noticed is that men and women meet more as equals in Bengal than in any other part of India. I am not referring to education or other opportunities. But to a more subtle divide.

I realize full well that I am indulging in generalizations, even exaggerations. But, my purpose here is not to belittle the non-Bengali people. Rather to think aloud about my experiences so far and understand them. I think highly of many non-Bengali individuals and I have met some truly admirable ones, including my better half. What I really want to do here is to acknowledge the fact that the Bengali character is certainly much stronger, brighter, and finer than I realized.


Copyright © 2011 [Violet Dolui]. All Rights Reserved.

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