The Theater of Death

For grief to survive publicly, it needs to be deemed marketable, preferably with the banality of a self-help manual.  At the minimum, a germ of communicable optimism must be present in its ectoplasm.  The infrastructure of commerce demands once the natural disaster is past its due date, in order for the deaths and grief to survive in our collective memory, it must find ways to smuggle itself as an event of reaffirmation. 

A Biographer of Self-Deceptions

Naipaul leaves behind at least two generation of writers — mostly male and often from the developing world who recognize in his self-assessments the awkwardness of their own engagement with the West — who span the political spectrum.  

The Inner Lives of Other People

For much of history, human subjectivities have been “porous”. However with the rise of scientific reasoning, constructs that we traditionally relied upon — curses, ghosts, spells, jinns, angels, blessings, demons, gods — to explain our worlds have had to relinquish their explanatory claims. The result has been that the phenomena we took for granted as ‘facts’ of how our world was put together moved from the ‘outside’ to the ‘inside’.

Good Fences Make Lonely Neighbors

Even in everyday language, I noticed a shift. Instead of referencing lands by an old markers — the land where the tamarind tree blooms or the grounds where the toddy tapper was bitten by a snake — the lands were now explicitly tagged with the name of their owners. Nature had become indistinguishable from property.

The Sounds of Silence

We wade through the detritus of sound with the recklessness and joy of addicts. It is amidst this recognition that the tree outside my window, and the need for trees in our cities, acquires a meaning that transcends their physical form. They become great absorbents of the furies of the city.

A Brief History of Time

Irrespective of your belief in religion or membership in a community of co-believers, modernity declared that individuals and societies belong in the same flow of time — each is subject to the same imperium of the clock wherein one second follows another.

In praise of amateurs

All that exists at that moment is the task at hand, with neither its past nor its future apprehensible to the performer. It is what our ancients called ‘sadhana’, a state of performative being that is indistinguishable from meditation.

Dreams of a Muslim Cosmopolis

Amidst  such conflicting pulls of history, the art of liberal historiography has tried to shepherd constitutional democracy as and when it has found breathing space amidst military coups by elevating liberal heroes like Jinnah over above the religious voices.  What Dhulipala, in a way, has done is broken ranks and written in a part for those who are deemed as villains of our progressive, liberal age — the Islamists.

Memoirist of Fire

Since Atahualpa was executed by Pizarro in the 16th century, waves of violence under one pretext or another lashed over these regions rich in minerals, forests, and water. That said, Galeano repeatedly noted, even during these ‘plague years’ of 20th century authoritarianism, people laughed and cried, made love and fought, gossiped and conspired after reading novels and poems.

The knowledge of our own finitude

Geographical systems seem so terrifying in their consequence, so relentless in their march, so impervious to human presence. It is little surprise that geography, or even nature, rarely preoccupies the modern mind except when disaster arrives home in the form of fire or a tsunami.

Chronicle of a Revolution Foretold

Currently we are, as the hedge fund manager Michael Novogratz argues, in the “story telling phase” of cryptocurrencies — wherein the average person is slowly coming to terms with the radical possibilities contained in the blockchain and bitcoin.  This is no different than learning of transatlantic steamers in 1850s or even the internet in 1990s.  We are only beginning to learn the consequences of decentralized consensus making via technology.  

The Stories We Tell Of Ourselves

However, unlike origin stories in the past when multiple origin stories coexisted, the modern origin stories that flourish within the nation-state make extraordinary efforts to claim uniqueness. They assert with an unyielding assuredness that the present is an inevitable consequence of their specific retelling of the past.

The loyalty test for literature

We often mistake these demands of fealty for their show of strength, but in reality, these loyalty tests only speak to the fragility of ideas — ideas that work in practice only if they have, like some telephone calling plan, prepaid admirers.

Between home and the world

In fact, there is a whiff of treason when declaring that one’s loyalty to home as a place, as a geography circumscribed by the present, has now changed to something more ephemeral and yet just as vivid: a loyalty to the idea of home.

The Shape of a (Mushroom) Cloud

This tendency to be loose with words and looser with their meaning is not solely a forte of distant political or military rulers. It permeates across society, including our education system, media discourse, and self-descriptions where technical and commercial vocabulary substitute for moral conscientiousness.

This Ever New Self

For most Americans, however, by now, Thoreau is a distant, curious, and even idiosyncratic figure: a long unseen house-cat who every so often prowls back into the attic of American mind to mew and to taunt them.