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British etiquette

Look into my eyes, look into my eyes. I am increasingly convinced that we live in The Matrix. What else can explain Brexit, the rise of Trump and now the uproar over The Great British Bake Off (GBBO)? Each for its own significance or lack of?
A cousin told me how his son, a budding herpetologist, tried to get his compulsive video gaming sister interested in nature. He caught a cobra in his back yard in the suburbs of Bangalore and contained it in a glass jar. He then called his sister to see the snake in the hope that the real thing would perhaps jolt her out of the chimerical world of computer games. She took one look and said, “oh! I can see much better snakes on Youtube”!
To paraphrase a friend who wrote on FB recently, people don’t bat an eyelid when tornadoes and floods wreak havoc, but when the GBBO presenters quit the BBC, they ‘lose their shit’. To my friend’s list of natural disasters, I add the depravity of the wars and human suffering that rage around us and our capacity to exist happily, nevertheless. If not in the Matrix where else? How horrible must it get before we snap out?
Brexit has now become a one word replacement for ‘anything is possible’ or ‘f*** up big time’. A large number of people voted to leave the EU in the belief that their individual votes would not matter. But when the majority deluded themselves, the Matrix only got more real. It happened, aided by the despicable lies of odious characters. When we Brexited, it felt like someone close had died. The leading lights of the out campaign soon stabbed each other as expected and like in the Matrix we observe in ‘bullet time’, the gradual unraveling of the lies they told us.
Donald Trump, the billionaire buffoon is gaining in the presidential polls. Is he real? Has anyone touched the guy or even seen him up close? Where has his wife disappeared to after plagiarising Michele Obama? I think Trump is an illusion. He is an evil but sentient computer programme powered by the body heat of fools. A few months ago, at a conference, I asked an American delegate if he was returning to the States soon after the conference. He said, “No. I am visiting Bath tomorrow and spending a couple of days there before I return home”. I couldn’t resist it. I asked, “that means you are not a Trump supporter?”. He couldn’t see the connection. I expanded, “Bath is a place of culture and history …”. Unfortunately, this erudite professor had already succumbed to the Matrix. He said to me, “Actually, I am a Trump supporter.” If scholars have succumbed, what hope for the rest of America and for us poodles?
Brexit, Trump, GBBO… what next? As Jonathan Freedland in yesterday’s Guardian asks, ‘a plague that takes out kittens and disfigures puppies?’

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The following story attempts to illustrate how our dormant identity governs our world view, but how transient these identities actually are. The corollary is that although our world views may differ, essentially the world is unchanging. It is only the fallibility of human kind to look at the world from one perspective and deny all other. Man’s worst enemy is his dogma.


Many years ago I was visiting my sister who lived in Malakkallu (Kerala) at the southern end of the 1000 mile long mountain range that bisects the Indian Peninsula. I had acquired a new camera and intended to capture the sights of Kerala for my friends back in London.

When I looked around, however, I found just mundane everyday stuff: cashew fruits in bright yellows and reds, translucent orange mangoes falling in the wind, oversized and abundant jack-fruits with their succulent flesh hidden by the spiked outer skin, hibiscus flowers bursting over the fences and the occasional goat nibbling lazily at them, coconut and betel nut trees competing to canopy the clear blue skies, precarious bamboo bridges swaying in the wind, the shy touch-me-not leaves closing in on themselves on contact and a myriad other sights. Nothing novel to photograph.

It was my sister’s 60th birthday. A priest conducted ancient Vedic rites in her honour, chanting Sanskrit verses and gesticulating with timeless gestures. The ritual fire fed with the occasional spoon of ghee, leaped and raged. A mother hen chaperoned her chicks feeding them with the grains on the hard mud courtyard. The mountain stream flowed nearby and a cement tank interspersed in its path sparkled with clear fresh water, forever overflowing back into the stream. The delighted cries of little children splashing about mingled with the mantras invoked by the priest.

I sat there mesmerised by the flames of the sacred fire, the air intense with the smell of burning ghee and camphor. There I was: born here, grown up here, part of the scene in every sense. I slipped into a semi trance induced by the evocative smells and sounds. I had moved beyond the present as I floated on the magic carpet of happy childhood memories. The spirits of my departed parents smiled upon me.

Suddenly and without warning, I was thinking of London. I was trudging across London Bridge on my daily march to work. I was thinking of my home in England, the breathtaking beauty of the magnolia in April, the daffodils and cherry blossoms of Spring, the robins, the swallows and the blackbird. I was homesick! I missed my family and friends back in London. I wanted my Guardian newspaper there and then.

I was sitting in one part of the world and missing another! I was curiously happy and thankful for this dichotomy. The existential concepts of the West: free will, choice, and personal responsibility sat comfortably with my Eastern Karma and its very diminution of the self! “Sarvam Maya” or “All you behold is an illusion” seemed a bit more palatable in that ephemeral moment! I observed the dualities of my mind with an objectivity that comes to one at rare moments. I felt thankful for everything, for my past and my present, for my mental reconcilliation of divergent philosophies and above all for my feeling of comfort with them. I was a whole man of dual identities, both transient, both illusory.

Almost without thinking, I started seeing the sights I had grown up with as if for the first time. I photographed everything- the jackfruits, the cashew, the untranslatable vegetables and the misty mountains. Even the unforgiving stark laterite soil where I had grazed my knees as a child.

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