Tag Archive: albertcamus


The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.Albert Camus  

Iconoclast till the end – The Hindu.

………………. carved out a place for himself in the intellectual history of the modern world. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957 and became a world icon with a lasting legacy.  Camus left behind an impressive crop of writings comprising fiction, plays, non-fiction, letters and essays that still continue to be read and widely admired. He pioneered a new literary-philosophical movement with a fresh idiom and a remarkable style of narration whose parentage he disowned. He introduced a new world view that was avidly picked up by the members of the counter culture everywhere, encompassing the conscientious objectors to the beat generation. He was inspiration to a whole generation of writers and translators in the postcolonial societies who saw in him and his art an effective antidote to the establishment.

 

Camus broke every stereotype and rule of the game. He survived an early attack of tuberculosis in 1930, and fought under the name of Beauchard (as the novelists George Orwell and André Gide did during the Spanish Civil War) for the underground Resistance in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. He opposed the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima and was against the two power blocs during the Cold War. He gave up a lucrative association with the UNESCO in the 1950s for the world body granting membership to Franco’s Spain.

Charismatic and ebullient both in life and letters, Camus led a chequered life. Married twice, he was friend to some of the most illustrious men and women of his times including Jean Paul Sartre. It is with Sartre that he is generally associated for the literary philosophical movement best known as existentialism. In some quarters, Camus is also known as a major exponent of the Absurd Movement in literature and drama. Both claims have a ring of truth, and yet both must be open to necessary caveats.

 

On different occasions, both Camus and Sartre denied their affiliation to existentialism as it has come to mean in the literary-philosophical circles, while Camus shows a qualified and nuanced approach to the notion of the absurd in his literary works. The best treatment of the theme of the absurd in Camus is seen in his iconic works such as L’Etranger (The Outsider), 1942, La Peste (The Plague), 1947, L’Homme Revolte (The Rebel), 1951, the play Caligula, written in 1938 and performed in 1945, and several essays such as ‘Reflections on the Guillotine’ and the collection of essays posthumously published in 1961, entitled Resistance, Rebellion and Death.

 

To put the question simply: How does the individual deal with the sense of meaninglessness and the sense of the absurd in life? In his pivotal work, The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus shows that ‘the total absence of hope’ has ‘nothing to do with despair’. It must not be ‘confused with renouncement and a conscious dissatisfaction’. And thus, Meursault, the protagonist of The Outsider who faces imminent execution for manslaughter and is offered the prospect of salvation by the Christian priest in the prison, makes a paradoxical affirmation of life as evidenced towards the end of the novel in Part Two. Similarly, Dr. Rieux in The Plague must serve the citizens of Oran afflicted with the dreaded disease and the ensuing horror. …………….. It is the need for personal responsibility that can finally redeem our life and add meaning to our actions.

 

 

Camus lived as he wrote — on his own terms. An iconoclast till the very end, he saw the need for action in a world beset by horror and the spectre of war. He believed in the need to change the world, but rejected the doctrinaire approach. Camus’ protagonist may have remained an ‘outsider’ to his world, but he remained true to his individual conscience. As Camus wrote in typically Blakean terms: “I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn’t, than live my life as if there isn’t , and die to find that there is.”

 

Prose over verse 

At Shantiniketan, 1932.

The Hindu Archives At Shantiniketan, 1932.

 

 

The year 1913 was important for Rabindranath Tagore. It was the year four important works (including Gitanjali) were published in translation. His output during this period — innovative works in diverse genres (poetry, drama, novel, essays) — invites reflection, as does his contribution to the shaping of the modern Indian literary tradition. Tagore’s poetry has become the dominant lens through which we remember him. The Nobel citation spoke of “his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse”, and acknowledged the “consummate skill (by which) he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West.”

This is why he was appreciated by modernist poets such as Yeats and Pound. But    But many of these poets eventually grew disillusioned with him. Often, they diplomatically blamed the translations. Perhaps it was always a little odd that some of these modernist poets lauded a poet writing in an openly spiritual register in the old lyric mode. Even if the beauty of some of these spiritual ideas could not be denied, this alone does not make great poetry. In poetry, there needs to be a closer marriage of the sound of words and the ideas they carry. The problem is compounded when poems travel between languages.

His prose, however, poses no such problem. And though there were extraordinary achievements in many prose forms (letters, memoir, essays, drama), Tagore’s most comprehensive achievement was, perhaps, his novels.

Tagore wrote around 12 novels, ranging from large, sweeping works such as Gora (1910) to miniature novellas such as Chaturanga (1916, translated as Quartet) and Dui Bon (1933, translated as Two Sisters). His novels span the period of the coming of age of the Indian novelistic tradition, which had its earliest beginning in the last quarter of the 19th century, and reached maturity in the first half of the 20th in almost all the major Indian languages.

The influence of Tagore’s novels is evident in the oeuvre of writers not only in Bengali, but also in languages such as Hindi. Premchand’s correspondence with Jainendra, another great Hindi novelist, is full of admiration (and some competitive envy) for Tagore’s imagination of the feminine voice. The novels are arguably Tagore’s greater legacy. They have too often been sidelined by the immediate beauty of his poems and songs. However, the novels travel further, unencumbered by Tagore’s brand of 19th century Advaitic spiritualism, which is not always intelligible or accessible to contemporary readers

  ………………..the more sublime Tagorean qualities — the facile creation and shifts of mood, the light touch with which he paints a world, the kaleidoscopic quality of his novelistic architecture.

Breaking free of the shackles of lyric spirituality, Tagore emerges a more lithe-limbed, incense-free contemporary novelist, with more concrete, more useful, more modest, and thus ultimately more powerful things to say to us today.

Slow food – Asia

  • Knead the dough. Photo: Shonali Muthalaly
    The Hindu Knead the dough. Photo: Shonali Muthalaly
  • Asia’s first big Slow Food gathering focussed on introducing children to a wide spectrum of flavours that will change their perception of food.

 

…………………Namyangju, in South Korea, may have been chosen to host Asia’s first big Slow Food gathering – AsiO Gusto — because of their organisational skills and exhibition space. However, over the six days that the festival runs, drawing more than 5,30,000 visitors, the locals also show the Slow Food movement the simplest way forward: Create a generation that cares about what they eat by introducing children to a wide spectrum of flavours.

Slow Food, an international member-supported non-profit organisation, which began in Rome in the 1980s has grown far beyond its original mandate, a simple opposition to fast food. Now this eco-gastronomic movement — once criticised for being Europe-centred and elitist — works with grassroots organisations around the world to fight for food that is “good, clean and fair,” and promote biodiversity.

………………………..“Think of your favourite food. Then think about eating it every day — breakfast, lunch, dinner. We need diversity. We love tasting something new.” Reade suggests that teaching people to appreciate quality food “removes much of the need to learn about sustainability, ecology, nutrition, distribution and food systems.” He adds, “People have to learn to taste. Learn to listen to the components to food. Taste enables you to recognise nutrients and toxins.” We are a generation biased towards sweet and salty flavours, thanks to a lifetime of processed food, layered with sugar, salt and fat. As a result our taste buds are so over-stimulated that we crave exaggerated and familiar flavours constantly. The market responds with dumbed-down food, creating a vicious cycle.

Former lawyer Heliante Heman, who supports Indonesian artisanal ingredients, talks of how her country once had 7,000 types of rice in purple, pink, black and white, all nurtured by indigenous wisdom-based agriculture. Discussing how she brought up her baby on food from her garden, she states, “You don’t need to be rich to bring your baby up on a healthy diet; you just need to be informed.” Then adds, “This is not just poetry… We need to go directly to the communities.  Build alliances and organic organisations. Demonstrate that sustainable agriculture on a small scale has a future. It’s the only way to ensure that everybody has access to food that is good and healthy.”

It’s worthwhile to remember that most farmers don’t eat what they grow for the market, because they know how pesticide-laden crops theirs are, choosing instead to keep a separate organic garden for their families’ food.

A Japanese farmer at the conference talks of how he realised the chemicals were making him sick, and then switched to organic farming, committing to protect and preserve native seeds. Seed-banks like these are an insurance against a future of flat flavours. Which brings us back to the children. Benedict Reade suggests it’s time to focus on educating them. And expanding their palates. “Teach them what a good carrot is. When you taste a carrot from the ground it can be an epiphany. I can tell when it was picked and where it was grown.” Introducing children to a wide spectrum of flavours will change their perception of food. “It will change what they like eating,” says Reade, adding, “And what future generations will eat. It will change what’s available in stores. If we have good taste we have a healthy ecology… Because the markets will respond as they always do.”

The new jungle drums

 

CGNetSwara Calling. Photo: Purushottam Thakur

A unique cell phone-based networking system in Chhattisgarh helps Adivasi Gonds share local news and air grievances.

The phone call that Bunkar made is part of a unique cell phone-based social media networking system called CGNetSwara, which operates inside sensitive territory termed ‘Maoist areas’. Set up by former BBC journalist Shubhranshu Choudhary, CGNetSwara gives the Adivasi Gonds of central India a voice that reflects their interests, their local news and events.

CGNetSwara’s Bangalore-based server was set up by Bill Thies, a researcher in Microsoft and a self-confessed IT geek whose interest in user-generated technology aligned with Choudhary’s ideas. Using open-source code and a simple desktop computer with a modem, Thies built a piece of software with 10 voice lines that automatically call the caller back and record his or her message. “It’s going to sound very strange for a computer nerd to tell you, however, that technology is not the secret ingredient here,” says Thies. “The secret ingredients are Choudhary’s social contacts and the community itself.”

CGNetSwara now gets up to 400 calls daily. The callers talk about local happenings, a lot of it related to their interaction with government schemes. Bunkar is very happy with CGNetSwara’s sphere of influence. He says that earlier efforts like dharnas in front of the Assembly in Raipur, agitating for land rights for Adivasis, had not worked,

“There is no need for a newsroom”, says Choudhary. “Geography is now history.”

In another instance of the government taking notice of CGNetSwara, Thies talks of CGNetSwara’s recorded reports of malaria cases in the villages. “CGNetSwara had more malaria incidents in a single year than what the government reported in a decade; we even had reports of government health workers dying of malaria”. The Swara reports made the government machinery pay attention to the malaria cases, and the reported figures rose more realistically thereafter.

But CGNetSwara appears to have taken root in tribal Chhattisgarh. Choudhary calls it citizen journalism of a different kind. In an area neglected by mainstream media (unless the news concerns Maoism), there is now a system to get across local Adivasi news to others in the community. CGNetSwara has spread, purely by word of mouth, to Adivasis in the central Gondwana belt in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Odisha, Jharkhand, and Andhra Pradesh — an expanse that Choudhary calls the ‘media dark zone’. “We are trying to create another paradigm in the term ‘development,” he says. “This communication system could well become the ‘Google of the poor’.”   The area’s ‘Maoists’ have taken note, issuing threats to Choudhary, but he feels they are threatened by the concept of self-empowerment that CGNetSwara brings to its users. Bunkar, though, thinks the system works better in areas that are ‘Naxal free’, away from Chhattisgarh’s borders with AP and Jharkhand. He says, “Naxals gather strength from cross-border infiltration.”

Any wonder, then, that CGNetSwara is fast becoming India’s new ‘jungle drums’?