Thursday, May 17, 2018

Leonardo Da VInci by Walter Isaacson

          This is the latest of the biographies authored by Walter Isaacson, one of the contemperory writers specializing in biographies.   I have already read his books (Biographies) on Einstein, Steve Job.  I read more than 50 percent of the Biography of Henry Kissinger.  I have obtained biography of Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson.  I will start reading it anytime.  One of my friends, C.K. Vinod presented me this book on Leonardo Da Vinci, on my retirement.  I started glancing through. It was so good both in content and in presentation that I could not but start reading, leaving aside other books I have yet to read/complete.  I trust this author who gives authentic information after thorough research on every aspect of his subject’s life. I expected the same about Leanardo’s life.  I read Biography of Steve Job by chance and I could not but finish it at the earliest.  Then I read the one on Einstein with the knowledge that the author who wrote biography of Steve Job, in whom I was not interested, so well could not but write an excellent biography of the great scientist. I was very happy to read biography of Einstein by Isaacson

           When I received this book on Leonardo, I liked but when I started reading it, I fell in love with it.  I propose to write an account of this book to pay tributes to the great genius Leonardo and also to the great writer Walter Isaacson, who has portrayed Leonardo with passion.  He has brought out the life of Leanardo as a human being. Leonardo’s obsession, curiosity to know the true nature of things in and around him were human. His genius was not superhuman. All human beings possess the qualities which made Leonardo.   As we grow we ignore our curiosity and instead pursue the path of earning.   It is not that pursuit of knowledge will not generate economic returns.  In the end, knowledge is the fountainhead of better living and human beings are always trying to live better than before. The central message of the book is that to be a genius like Leonardo does not require any supernatural skill.  All human beings can be like him only if we continue with our passion for knowledge and make efforts to observe the world more carefully. The basis of excellence is in observing wonders in ordinary things. Since I only know Walter Isaacson by reading some of his books, I cannot express my feeling of exhilaration to him in person.  This I am doing by writing about his book.

2.        Whatever tribute I pay to this book is in part a tribute to the great innovator Leonardo and in part a tribute to the author.  Everything connected with the production of this book is excellent. The photographs of Leonardo’s paintings in the book are a delight.  I only yearn as to when we would get books and authors like this in Indian languages.  Only if the habit of reading in India increases, we may hope to get such a situation.     I would in this writing  often quote try extensively from the book. 

3.        The first sentence in the book is very provocative, original and perspective: ‘Leonardo da Vince had the good luck to be born out of wedlock’.  The author cites the reason that ‘otherwise, he would have been expected to become a notary, like the firstborn legitimate sons in his family stretching back at least five generations’.  This shakes us from our sleep. We are prepared for an unusual life, full of innovations, dreams about doing so many things in so many fields of knowledge.  This is in particularly relevant in India where offsprings are guided, coerced and spoiled by the ‘advice’ given by parents on what to study.  This also states that knowledge is not the preserve of the cultured families brought up in traditional values. It is for those who seek it on their own.   

4.        Leonardo was Steve Job’s hero.  Jobs said, ‘He saw beauty in both art and engineering and his ability to combine them was what made him a genius’. ‘Yes he was genius: wildly imaginative, passionately curious, and creative across multiple disciplines.  But author cautions that we should be wary of that word.  Slapping the “genius label on Leonardo oddly minimizes him by making it seem as if he were touched by lightning.  In fact, Leonardo’s genius was a human one, wrought by his own will and ambition.  It did not come from being the divine recipient, like Newton or Einstein, of a mind with so much processing power that we mere mortals cannot fathom it.  Leonardo had almost no schooling and could barely read Latin or do long divisions.  His genius was the type we can understand, even take lessons from.  It was based on skills we can aspire to improve in ourselves, such a curiosity and intense observation.  He had an imagination so excitable that it flirted with the edges of fantasy, which is also something we can try to preserve in ourselves and indulge in our children.

4.        In these times of stigmatizing anything that is not normal as criminal, when our rights for having a different opinions or different life styles or even eating habits are threatened for what they are, it is necessary to know the kind of society at the time of European Renaisance i.e. 15th Century.  Leonardo was a misfit: illegitimate, gay, vegetarian (in Europe), left handed, easily distracted and at times heretical. It was an epoch of innovation. This kind of freedom from fear is necessary prerequisite for such thinkers and innovators to emerge.  In author’s words ‘Leonardo’s relentless curiosity and experimentation should remind us of the importance of instilling, in both ourselves and our children, not just received knowledge but a willingness to question it-to be imaginative and, like talented misfits and rebels in any era to think different’.

5.        Leonardo’s mother Caterina was born in 1436 to a poor farmer.  She was orphaned when she was fourteen.  She and her infant brother moved in with their grandmother, who died a year later in 1451.  Left to fend for herself and her brother, Caterina had a relationship with Piero da Vince, then twenty four who was prominent and prosperous.  There was little likelihood they would marry.  He was born after his father had married another girl of appropriate status.  It was not a public shame (then) to be born out of wedlock.  As Jacob Burekhardt gave a label to Renaissance Italy “a golden age for bastards”. An advantage of being born out of wedlock was that he was not sent to one of the “Latin Schools” meant for upper class children.  He had little training in a formal school, but was mainly self-taught.  He ironically called himself an unlettered man, though he took pride that lack of formal schooling led him to be a disciple of experience and experiment.  His lack of reverene for authority and his willingness to challenge received wisdom would lead him to craft an empirical approach for understanding nature that foreshadowed the scientific method developed more than a century later by Bacon and Galileo.  He had said ‘There arose in me two contrary emotions, fear and desire - fear of the threatening dark cave, desire to see whether there were any marvelous thing within” Ultimately desire won. 

6.        Leonardo lived with his grandparents and his uncle.  His mother was living with his stepfather and his father was living with his stepmother.  He was born in 1452. By the year 1564 his step mother died in childbirth.  His father took him from vinci to Florence.  At that time Florence was not ruled by hereditary royalty.  More than 100 years before Leonardo arrived, the most prosperous merchants and guild leaders crafted a republic whose elected members ruled. But one family dominated.  Later members of this family becames dukes and popes.  It was a prosperous town.  He went to school to learn maths, useful for commerce.  A left hander, Leonardo wrote from right to left and drew each letter facing backward.  They could only be read with a mirror. He had right from his childhood this peculiar habit.  This has enabled researchers to trace his handwriting and his notes which are distinct, after many centuries.

7.        Leonardo’s father was a notary and he was well known in his town. There is a suggestion in the book that notary as a profession was reserved for persons born in good families.  This may be one of the reasons that his father had sent his ilegitimate son to an artist, Verroccio to study drawing. He thought it would be profitable. The master appreciated Leonardo’s talent and kept him.  Lacking formal education, this artist’s workshop became Leonardo’s school.  Leonardo was well built and he also became a model for sculptures and portraits. He learned so many different skills.  He observed the world around him with a sharp eye.  His skill in depicting even a very minute detail in his paintings made his master wonder that his discipline is better than himself.  He had well developed sense of perspective.  Over a period of time he attained perfection.  Because of his interest and curiosity he had involved himself in painting, drawing, engineering, architechture, weaponry, city planning etc. In each of these disciplines he tried to know as many things as possible and strove to achieve excellence.   For studying the muscles of horses he had dissected dead animals to know exactly how many muscles are there in its legs. His involvement in so many disciplines had the flip side too.   He had not finished many of the projects he had initiated.  There are scores of unfinished paintings, drawings, architechtural plans.  One of the unfinished projects was a statue of a duke, father of his patron, sitting on a horse standing on hind legs.  He had planned and made a clay model of the statue three times bigger than life-size. But because of a war in which his patron was defeated, the half finished work i.e. clay model of the statue, was destroyed by enemy soldiers. 

          After gaining sufficient experience in practical knowledge, he acknowledged that ‘he shall endeavor to satisfy you (his patron on a project of architechture) with theory and partly with practice, sometimes showing effects from causes, sometimes affirming principles with experiments’ and that he would ‘make use of the authority of the ancient architects’.  In other words Leonardo was advocating our modern method of combining theory, experiment, and handed-down knowledge-and constantly testing them against each other’.  Thus he became more than a century before Galileo to pursue in a persistent hands-on fashion the dialogue between experiment and theory that would lead to the modern Scientific Revolution.  He compared his method of observation to looking at the page of a book which is meaningless when taken in as a whole and instead needs to be looked at word by word. 

          Leonardo watched how birds fly, stay aloft and land and described them in detail in his note books.  He noted the movement of feather, wings, muscles, neck legs etc. He not only got the fluid dynamics correct but he was able to turn his insights into rudimentary theories that foreshoadowed those of Newton, Galileo and others. He also tried to create flying machines and failed.  But this adds to his stature rather than diminishing.

          Being a painter he could conceive and do mechanical drawings with perspective. He was made numerous drawings of machines most of which he could not build.  However, he made a workable model of a machine for grinding needles. His mechanical drawings were visual thought experiments.  He found that by lubricating machines can work better.  He was the first to use ball bearings and roller bearings.
It was he, before Newton who said that ‘All movements in the universe-of human limbs and of cogs in machines, of blood in our veins and of water in rivers-operate according to the same laws’.

          Leonardo was also curious to know about Geometry.  Throughout his life he was trying to notice the shapes and how shapes can be changed. One of his obssessions was to fit a circle in a square with the same measure of area. To study shapes and study the changes he had made numerous drawings and notes which are available even today for us to see. 

          Leonardo was the first to draw skull drawings cross sections and placed it in a single drawing with one half of it showing what is outside and another showing what is inside.  He also studied human proportion obsessively to the extent that he found proportion of each part of the body to the whole and also in part (for example he noted the proportion of distance between the nose and mouth and found its ratio to the face.

          Leonardo studied friction and recorded his studies in his note book.  He never published them.  They had to be rediscovered almost two hundred years later by French scientific instrument maker Gullaume Amontons.  He devised an instrument Tribometer that would not be reinvented until the eighteenth century.  He made a screw jack with ball bearings.  He was three centuries ahead of his time. 

          He was one of the greatest painters.  But he wanted his paintings to be perfect.  He would go to any extent to make them perfect.  In fact he had kept some of his paintings with himself till his death for this purpose. He took more than 15 years to finish some paintings.  He tried many versions of some paintings. Some of which were done by his disciples, as samples to know as to which version would be the finest of the alternatives. He was the first to study optics to clearly paint the light and its effects on the subjects of his paintings.  He was the first to use the concept of blurring the picture of a distant object in a painting. He disliked sharp edges in painting (as in in a sculpture.  This was in contrast the painter Micheal Angelo’s style who was a painter and sculpture and his competitor in some sense.  Leonardo had represented optical effects, authentic geographical material and painted bodies which showed the inner emotions in their appearances.  For example, his painting the ‘Last Supper’ presents movements of each of the disciples that show their inner thoughts on hearing Jesus say that ‘one of them would betray him’.  Hundreds of thousands of pages have been written about this painting.

          Leonardo drew many parts of the body (internal and external features) to indicate the nature of muscles, nerves bones in a single page and in this he was considered a pioneer.  Primarily he wanted to know the muscles of the body to perfectly paint them but then it became a passion for human anatomy.  He was also interested in the structure and movements of animals and his records observations of animals’ movements is one of the rare examples of human desire for knowledge. For example he was the first to study flight of birds. He saw similarities between nature and man for example, between tree roots and blood capillaries.  This he could do as he keenly observed everything around him.  What he found about how bloods flows in aorta was confirmed after 450 years by anatomists. The fact that he did not publish his observations diminished his impact on the history of science but it did not diminish his genius. His grandest and most encompassing of these analogies, in both his art and his sciences was the comparison between the body of man and the body of the earth.  He wrote ‘Man is the image of the world’.

          Leonardo wrote in detail about fossils and argued that the biblical story of the flood was incorrect.  Showing no fear of combining heresy with blasphemy, he wrote ‘of the foolishness and simple-mindedness of those who require that these animals should be carried by the deluge to the hills far from the sea.  He intuitively guessed that the lands and sea were changing their heights and elevation often and this was the reason that fossils of sea animals are available in the hills etc. HE noted that ‘ancient bottoms of the sea have become mountain ridges. This was a leap that was far ahead of his time.  More impressive was his realization that the moon does not emit light but reflects the light of the sun and that a person standing on the moon wold see that the earth reflects light in the same way. One of his idiosyncracies was to leave any project in the middle if his interest wanes and shift to some different work or project till he again felt inspired to return to the original work or project or subject. This has resulted that many of the projects he conceived had not been executed for lack of interest in his part.   He never did any work for earning money.  He did any work only if he is fully interested. Even if he was forced to do something, he would leave them unfinished when he felt so. Most of his later paintings were done only because he had the passion to do them.  As for Monolisa hundreds of thousands of pages have been written all over the world about it.  This books gives a sample of its greatness. He had painted it layer after layer and never delivered it to the man who had originally ordered.  No intrusive examination is allowed on the painting Mono lisa as it would disturb the original and this would create public outrage in Europe. This is the kind of respect European, countries particularly France, gives to its monuments and historical articles. We can only sigh about India.    

          Leonardo waited for perfection in everything he did.  By refusing to churn out works that he had not perfected, he sealed his reputation as a genius rather than a master craftsman. 

          Isaacson the author of the book also enumerates what we can learn from Leonardo:-
1.     Be curious, relentlessly curious
2.     Seek knowledge for its own sake
3.     Retain childlike sense of wonder
4.     Observe
5.     Start with details
6.     See things unseen
7.     Go down the rabbit hole (i.e. go deep into the detail of the things you are interested).
8.     Get distracted (Leonardo’s willingness to pursue whatever shiny subject caught his eye made his mind richer and filled with more connections)
9.     Respect facts (Leonardo was forerunner of the age of observational experiments and critical thinking). If we want to be more like Leonardo we have to be fearless about changing our minds based on new information.
10.   Procrastinate.  He told his patron that “creativity requires time for ideas to marinate and intuitions to gel. Men of lofty genius sometimes accomplish the most when they work least”.
11.  Let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
12.  Think visually.
13.  Let your reach exceed your grasp.
14.  Indulge in fantasy.
15.  Create for yourself , not for the patron
16.   Collaborate
17.  Make lists.  Leonardo’s to do lists may have been testaments to pure curiosity the world has ever seen.
18.  Take notes on paper.  Five hundred years later, Leonardo’s note books are around to astonish and inspire us. Fifty years from now our own note books if we work up the initiative to start writing them, will be around to astonish and inspire our grandchildren unlike our tweets and facebook posts.
19.  Be open to mystery.


          This book ‘Leonardo Da Vinci’ By Walter Isaacson is one of the most fascinating books I have ever read in my life.  This may be my longest article so far.  There are so many inspiring and surprising facts and events that  propel me  write more that I may end up reproducing the whole book. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018


Thoughts after reading Political Violence in Ancient India by Upinder Singh.

         The book, as I understand brings out  the following:-
1.   India was and is not a non-violent country.

2.   Non-violence was preached by Mahavira, Buddha, Ashoka and others.  But it was not and it is not practiced to the extent it was preached.

3.   The claims that India was a tolerant country is not correct.  Indian was and is as violent as other countries are. It might even be impossible to follow non-violent path while ruling a nation.

4.   Non-violence was a concept that can only be conceived by human beings and it is against the order or nature.  It is not to state that Natural Instinct must be the guide.  Violent instinct may be overcome by practice like human beings had in the past learnt civilized conduct both in private life and public life without invoking violence.  Man has forgotten his barbarian instincts and has learnt to do agriculture, practice democracy This civility has benefited mankind.  The yearning for peace at the time of formation of states while fighting for control of land had resulted emergence of concepts of Non-violence etc. Similarly, man should overcome his instinct of violence against what he considers the ‘other’. 

While the author says that Gandhi and Nehru had presented a picture that India was a country which preached and practiced violence, history does not support this. It was a conscious decision of Nehru and others to incorporate Buddhist symbols of wheel in the national flag and Sarnath Lions as Government seal.  In a country like India where faultlines are numerous, this appears to be sensible suitable decision.  Nehru knew more about Indian History than any other politician of his time. 

The remarkable continuity and stability of Indiana Culture was the result of Ideas such as detachment and penance, extreme tolerance of others’ belief and centrality of Dharma.

Gandhiji’s non-violence is extension of the concepts of Mahavira and Buddha in Indian political situation.  He spun non-violence into the ideas of struggle for freeing the country from the imperial power.  For Gandhi modern Capitalist industrial civilization was based on greed, selfishness, exploitation and a great deal of violence against self, other and nature.  Bhagavat Gita inspired aggression and violence in many But Gandhiji read it as a manifesto of non-violence.  According to him, Gita rejects all acts that cannot be performed without detachment i.e. killing, lying and dissolute behavior. Ambedkar saw Buddha as a rationalist and social revolutionary. Savarkar saw ahimsa as effete and negative value.

       The books brings out that ancient India wss not without violence.  There was violence that was considered necessary to defend the king and the kingdom, social structure and polity.  Justifying the existing order however, inequitable and unequal it may be was not considered violence of human values.  For thousands of years violence has been practiced as essential instrument to maintain order.  The differences lie in interpreting what violence is.  Once violence is interpreted and limited to fulfilling certain  requirements or theoretical preconditions, instead of actual physicality violence, justifying violent acts as just and other acts as not just becomes easier. 

   All kingdoms including Buddhist states were violent in fighting their enemies, real or theoritical.  Enemies have to be defined.  Once a nation state is established with whatever conditions and whatever circumstances it entailed, violence as a threat is required to maintain the social and political order had to be maintained.  Speaking or acting against the King or his state has always been classified as a justification for inviting violence.

Vedic texts are pervaded with violence and allude to the ideas of extensive conquest, political paramountcy and empire.  Killing of animals in sacrifice was of some concern but killing of men in battle was not.  People who called themselves as Aryas fought dasas and dasyus and also battled among themselves.  Right from Vedic period this book traces texts on violence including Ramayana and Mahabharat, Arthashastra and Manusmruti. All yagnas are part of elaborate ritual and actual violence for domination.  The general View one gets from the book is that violence has been used by rulers, the powerful and educated for subjugating their enemies, subjects and ‘others’ who are treated as less than equal.  All violence against these people have been justified.  The educated and the State apparatus have actively aided the powerful in enforcing the violence be it caste category or gender or any other.

Even Ashoka, the emperor known for his preference for non-violence has in the some texts, i.e. Buddhisit texts, justified violence and used the threat of violence in the administering the empire.  Whereas his edicts on stones he appears as a non-violent and graceful emperor, keen on ensuring violence, the Ashoka of the texts written during his reign portray a different picture, where he uses violence. 

It is not true that India was a non-violent country or a tolerant civilization.  But it is also true that there were people like Buddha and Mahavira who preached non-violence, reasoning and living amicable in the oceans of violent conflicts.   Even the emperors of Buddhist states preached and followed non-violence and India is unique in that respect.

Everything said the book written in academic style could have been written in a more accessible style so that ordinary readers could also benefit. 

Breathless and the Prime Minister

The announcement was made in a speech by Prime Minister over Government media.  All the chananels of telecast and broadcast his peech.  It was in the interest of 1350 million citizens of the country.  That he has at the stroke of midnight decided this measure. This came as he had to do what it takes to make the country great. It was obvious that he also wanted to be a great PM. And that any great feat could be achieved only by involving each citizen of this country.  They should feel touched by the decision. Some may feel it as smooth as silk and others may feel it as a electric shock. It depends upon whether you are good or bad. There would always be cynics who would say that they were tortured by the decision.  The PM thought that they should feel that they have contributed substantially to the nation building by going to the places where he has ordered them to go and stand in queues.  BY this they would show that they are also patriots like the PM.  Yes the PM had made his mark in the history of the nation.  None of the rulers in the past 2000 years of history had dared to do what he has decided to do now.  For this alone he would be in history books in future.  That is what he desired and achieved.  Some distractors said that this is only a stunt without any substance.  There are economists and doctors who said that this could have been done in a graceful and better way and not necessarily as a weapon of surgical strike implemented without prior planning or notice. But the deed is done.

         The Cabinet Secretary came to know of it when he listened to the official radio in his office for at that hour of midnight he continue to perform his duty of the nation’s wealth and health. He immediately called his Deputy.  Has he been kept in dark? Has his loyalty been doubted by the PM, he wanted to know.  If it is so he would be shown the door.    If any of his deputies knew or even had a hint of what was coming,  he would take it as an insult to his position and his integrity.  He would immediately resign.  But he wanted his pension and reputation in tact at least for one or two years till his tenures fades from the memory of officers.  How can PM announce, what has not been disclosed to his immediate subordinate and the supreme officer in Government above him there is only the PM.

         The deputy Cabinet Secretary was prepared.  He had also the same doubts about whether PM had ignored him and had faith in some of his deputies?  Have they betrayed him? He told cabinet Secretary that neither he nor his collegues betrayed him for none of them had prior information on the announcement.

         Later it turned out that none of the Cabinet Ministers, not even the senior most who dealt with the subject knew anything about this.  The political party to which PM belonged and to whose reputation he attaches himself were aware.  But Cabinet Secretary’s intelligence deputy expressed a doubt – it means that it is the news for this is his method of communicating the truth - that an organization outside the Government linked to the PM could have known that.  That is those political leaders who control the cultural organization connected with the PM knew it.   It was a betrayal as for as the Government officers are concerned.  But the thick skinned officer only mind only about their reputation and next promotion and not about the respect that the organization of Govt. failed to get.  The cabinet Secretary did not speak more.  He was not a novice.  He was very happy and relieved to know that the PM himself had kept it a secret.  

The method of taking this decision was ancient in accordance with the beliefs of the PM. In his sleep he had dreamt of a healthy country into which he would march, taking everyone along.  But it will be kept a secret.  Ancient holy books of knowledge envisaged that a Saint of a leader knows everything that happened in the past and that would happen in the present and future.  The elephant that occurred in his dream was that which appeared in the dream of Buddha’s mother and which was also the vehicle of Indra, the leader of Heaven.  These are the determining factors for taking the country forward to 22nd century.

Cabinet Secretary (CS) immediately took action to save his position.  He released a statement explaining the nitty-gritty of the decision and impact of the decision on the people and economy.  People said this is nothing but the standard ‘everything will be fine after 15 days’ press releases for the consumption of the fools that governments release after every crisis that does not simply go away. This cannot be taken at face value. The officers linked with the health policies and Finance also expressed their solidarity and support to the move made the PM. There was no other way.

The PM today has announced that each of the citizens should be advised initially and coersed subsequently to attend sessions of physical exercises at the designated places.  A name was given to the programme ‘Breathless’ for each citizens would be forced to be breathless in between the exercises in order to make them breathe freely after they complete the physical workouts.  This will ensure the health of all the citizens and save 15 lakhs of rupees for each in the future costs for treating lung diseases acquired by the pollution and pollution cannot be avoided in a coutry aspiring to be the leader of the world.  Who in the middle class and upper class does not want to be in the country that is leader of the entire world?  For that they are ready to bear even a dictatorship of the worst kind. This is what they would say. 

The news was treated with an explosive anger but no citizen expressed it. Whoever heard it was shocked at first and surprised after sometime.  Though no logic or reason could be found for the decision to intervene in the personal life of millions of citizen in the name of ensuring their health, since it is done in the name of the country and in the name of patriotism, none of them could speak for the fear of becoming anti-nationals.  They expressed the view that it is not in the five year programme of the Government.  PM in his speech said that none of the Governments in the last 80 years had thought of citizens lungs and its health and that he is taking this step to ensure better health of the masses i.e not only those who voted for them but also for those who forgot to vote for them.  This way those who did not vote for him will remember him in the next election.   

None of the citizens questioned whether they can improve the health without enuring the availabaility of food items throughout the year all over the country and that would be more important for them to earn, eat and survive and lungs can be taken care of only if they survive. 

None of the criticisms affected the decision.  Everybody was busy locating the centre to which they have to go and how to reach there and how much time it would take to finish the task everyday. PM announced that all the citizens of the country irrespective of religion language region or anything else will have to do pranayama also.  All schools will be the designated places for this purpose.

         On his election by 30% of the people of the country PM has become God. It is not that he was not a God earlier.  He sacrificed everything for the country i.e. for becoming the PM of this country.  As per Indian tradition any man who sacrifices everything for the country is a pure saint and if he has additionally sacrificed his family, paticularly his wife, he becomes God even before he becomes PM.  If God becomes PM of a country what would not happen, think of it.  Bharat Mata ke jai.

Thursday, May 03, 2018


                             திவாசி நடனமாட முடியாது

நான் படித்த மிகச்சிறந்த கதைத்தொகுப்புகளில் ஒன்று இது.   நாம் எழுதியும், சொல்லியும், கேட்டுமிருக்க வேண்டிய கதைகள்.  இந்தக் கதைகள் ஆதிவாசிகள் வாழ்வைச் சித்தரித்தாலும் மிகச் சமீப காலம் வரை நாமும் பார்த்தோ கேட்டோ அல்லது அனுபவித்த நிகழ்வுகளையே சொல்லுகின்றன. நவீனத்துவத்தின் பெயரில் நாம் மறந்துபோன எளிமையான மொழியில், நேரடியான நடையில் எழுதப்பட்டிருக்கின்றன.  ஆங்கிலத்தில் இக்கதைகளை எழுதியவர் ஹன்ஸ்தா ஷொவேந்ர ஷேகர். (தமிழ் நடையில் ஹன்ஸ்தா சோவெந்திர சேகர்).  இந்தியப் பண்பாட்டின் வேர்களான பல விஷயங்களை ஆதிவாசிகளைச் சொல்வதன் மூலம் எழுதிக்காட்டுகிறார்.  அங்கே தெரிவன நமது முகங்களே.  சாஸ்திரமும் சனாதனமும் நம்முன் நிறுத்திக்காட்டும் பல பண்பாட்டு விழுமியங்களை இந்தக் கதைகளின் மூலம் உடைத்தெறிகிறார்.  ஆனால் மிக உள்ளடங்கிய மொழி இக்கதைத் தொகுப்பின் மிகப் பெரிய சிறப்பு. பாத்திரங்களின் பேசுமொழி, நடை உடை பாவனைகள் மூலம் அவர்களின் உணர்வுகள் வெளிப்படுகின்றன.  ஆசிரியரின் குரல் ஒலிப்பது போன்றே நான் உணரவில்லை.  ஆதிவாசிகளாக அறியப்படும் அவர்கள் இந்திய அரசியல் சமூகப் பண்பாட்டுக் கூறூகளின் மீது வைக்கிற மிகக் கடுமையான விமரிசனம் அவர்கள் இயல்புடன் நடத்துகிற வாழ்க்கைதான்.  உரக்கக் கூவிச் செய்திகளை விற்கிற இக்காலத்தில் உணர்வுகள் மங்கிப் போனவர்களுக்கு இந்தக் கதைகளின் பின்னே இருக்கும் குரல் கேட்காமல் போகலாம்.  கொஞ்சம் கவனமாக வாசிக்கிற எவரும் இத்தொகுப்பைப் படித்தபின் அவர்களது கருத்துக்களை மாற்றிக் கொள்ள வேண்டியிருக்கும்.

வெளிநாட்டுக் கதைகளின் ‘மாய நடைகளில்’ மயங்கிப் போயிருக்கும் நமக்கு இதன் நடையும் முறையும் புதிய வெளிச்சத்தைப் பாய்ச்சும்.  உண்மைகள் மிக எளிமையானவை.  புரிந்து கொள்ள மறுப்பவர்களுக்கு அவை கடினமானவை, அவர்களால் செரிக்க முடியாதவை.  உண்மைகளும் கதைகளும் தெரிந்த கலைஞன் மிக எளிதாக கதைகளைச் சொல்லி மனங்களைத் தொட்டுவிடுகிறான்.

’அவர்கள் மாமிசம் சாப்பிடுகிறவர்கள்’ என்ற முதல் கதை அகமதாபாதில் வேலையில் இடம்மாற்றலாகிச் சென்ற ஒரு குடும்பத்தினர் அசைவ உணவு சாப்பிட எவ்வளவு ஏங்கினாலும் மனநிறைவுடனோ அல்லது பயம் இல்லாமலோ முட்டையைக் கூட சாப்பிட முடியாத நிலையைச் சொல்லுகிறது.  பொருளாதாரத்தில் மிக வளர்ச்சியடைந்த மாநிலங்களில் ஒன்றான குஜராத்தில், உயர்ந்த பண்பாடு என்ற பெயரில் அடுத்தவர்களின் உணர்வுகளை மதிக்கத் தெரியாத பெரும் மக்கள் கூட்டம் இருப்பதை எப்படிப் புரிந்து கொள்வது?  பண்பாட்டில் பத்தாம் நூற்றாண்டிலும், பொருளாதாரத்தில் இருபதாம் நூற்றாண்டிலும் வாழ்கிறவர்கள் நிறைந்த மாநிலத்தை சிறந்த மாநிலமாக எப்படி ஏற்றுக் கொள்வது?  அடுத்தவர்கள் மீதும் தங்கள் பழக்கவழக்கங்களைத் திணிப்பவர்கள், அசைவ உணவை மட்டும் வெறுக்கவில்லை. அதை உண்பவர்களையும் வெறுக்கிறார்கள்.  அசைவ உணவை, முட்டையைக் கூட யாருக்கும் தெரியாமல், வாசனை வந்துவிடாமல் தயாரிக்கவும் உண்ணவும் வேண்டியிருக்கிறது. 

            கதையில் நடுவே 2002 குஜராத் கலவரம் வருகிறது.  அசைவ உணவையே பொறுத்துக் கொள்ள முடியாதவர்கள் எதைத்தான் பொறுத்துக் கொள்வார்கள்? அசைவை உணவு அஹிம்சைக் கொள்கைக்கு எதிரானது என்று நினைப்பவர்கள், மனிதர்களைக் கொல்வதை வதையாகக் கருதுவதில்லை. ஏனெனில் நமது சனாதன சாஸ்திரங்கள் எதை ஹிம்சை என்று சொல்கின்றனவோ அது ஹிம்சை.  நமது சாத்திரங்கள், கீழ்ச்சாதி மனிதனை அவனுடைய பழக்கங்களைக் காட்டியும் இழிவுபடுத்திக் காட்டுகின்றன.  இப்படி பண்பாட்டின் பெயரால் நிகழும் வன்முறைகள் அநாகரீகமானவைகள் அல்லவா? இப்படி மனதைக் குடையும் கேள்விகளை எழுப்பிவிட்டு, ஒன்றும் அறியாதவர்கள் போல் பயந்து பயந்து வாழ்ந்து ஜார்கண்ட் மாநிலத்துக்கே சென்றுவிடுகின்றனர் கதைமாந்தர்கள்.  ஒரு இடத்திலாவது அவர்கள் கேள்வி கேட்பதில்லை, உரக்கப் பேசுவதில்லை. நகரத்தின், மத்தியவர்க்கத்தின் அநாகரீக நடவடிக்கைகள் நம்மனதை யோசிக்க வைக்கின்றன.  வழக்கம் போல ஜாதி மத வெறியர்களுக்கு இந்தக் கதை எதுவும் சொல்லாது.

            இன்னொரு சிறந்த கதை ‘நவம்பர் இடப்பெயர்வுகளுக்கானது’.  நவம்பர் மாதத்தில் சந்தால் இனத்து ஆதிவாசிகள் கூட்டங்கூட்டமாக இடம்பெயர்ந்து வேலை நிமித்தமாக வேறிடங்களுக்க்ச் செல்வது வழக்கம்.  அவர்களில் ஒருத்தி தலாமாயி – நடுவில் பிறந்த பெண் – வேறு பெயர் கிடைக்காமல் அவள் பெயரே அதுவாகிவிட்டது. இரவு பத்தரை மணியாகிவிட்டது.  அவள் பருவமடைந்த பெண்.  எல்லோருக்கும் ஒரே பசி.  கையில் எதுவும் இல்லை.  இளமையாகவும் கட்டழகாகவும் இருக்கும் அவளை ஒரு ரயில்வே போலிஸ்காரன் பார்க்கிறான்.  அவளுடைய நிலைமை அவனுக்குத் தெரியும்.  வருடாவருடம் நடப்பதுதானே.  அவளும் அவனைப் பார்க்கிறாள்.  பார்ப்பதற்கு நன்றாகவே இருக்கிறான்.  அவன் கையில் ஒரு பிரட் பகோடா வைத்திருக்கிறான். ‘பசியா?’ என்று கேட்கிறான். ‘ஒரு வேலை இருக்கிறது செய்கிறாயா என்று கேட்கிறான்.  அவளுக்கும் தெரியும் என்ன வேலையென்று.  சந்தால் பெண்கள் டிரைவர்கள், சிறுவியாபாரிகள் மற்றவர்களுடன் ‘அந்த’ வேலை செய்வதைப் பார்த்திருக்கிறாள். அவளும் ஒப்புக் கொள்கிறாள்.  வேலையை முடித்துவிட்டு, ஐம்பது ரூபாய் நோட்டை அவள் ஜாக்கெட்டில் திணிக்கிறான்.  அவள் போய்க்கொண்டிருக்கும் மற்றவர்களுடன் சேர்ந்து கொள்கிறாள்.   மிகச் சாதாரணமாக எல்லாம் முடிந்துவிடுகிறது.  இந்தக் கதை புதுமைப்பித்தனின் ’பொன்னகரம்’ கதையை ஞாபகப்படுத்தியது. பல ஆண்டுகளுக்கு எழுதப்பட்ட கதையின் கடைசிவரியை எடுத்துவிட்டால் இரண்டும் ஒன்றுதான்.  எல்லாம் முன்னரே தீர்மானிக்கப்பட்ட நாடகம் போலத் தவிர்க்கயியலாமையில் நிகழ்கின்றன.  பொன்னகரத்தில் நமக்கு அதிர்ச்சி ஏற்படும்.  இக்கதையில் அது கதையில் அல்ல நமது மனதில் ஏற்படுகிறது.  இத்தனை ஆண்டுகள் கடந்த பின்னும் வாழ்வும் விழுமியங்களும், பொருளாதார நிலையும் சிலருக்கும் அப்படியே இருக்கின்றன.

            ’விரும்பம், தெய்வதம், மரணம்’ என்ற இன்னொரு கதை தினக்கூலி வேலை பார்க்கும் ஒருத்தி, தன்னுடைய மகன் மிகவும் உடல்நலம் குறைந்திருப்பதை அறிந்திருந்தாலும், அவனுக்குக் கஞ்சி கொடுக்கக் கூடக் காசு இல்லாமல், அதற்காகவே வேலை செய்யச் செல்கிறாள்.  அவள் மகனை விட்டுவிட்டு எப்படி வந்தாள்? என்று கூட வேலை பார்க்கிறவர்கள் கேட்கிறார்கள்.  ஆனால் வாழ்வின் முரண்களுக்கு அவளிடம் விடை இருக்கிறதா என்ன? சரியாகிவிடும் என்று அவர்களுக்கும் தனக்கும் நம்பிக்கை இல்லாமலேயே சொல்லிக் கொள்கிறாள். அவள் மகனுடைய நினைவிலேயே முழு நாளையும் கழிக்கிறாள்.  வேலை நேரம் முடிந்து விரைவாக நடந்து செல்கிறாள்.  அவளிருக்கும் ஊருக்குச் செல்ல சிறு வேன்கள் இருக்கின்றன.  ஆனால், கூட்டம் நிரம்பி வழிகிறது.  ‘நீயும் ஏறிக்கொள், வருகிறாயா? என்று உள்ளர்த்தக் கிண்டலுடன் வண்டிக்காரன் கேட்கிறான்.  சீக்கிரம் போக வேண்டிய தேவையிருந்தாலும், அவள் அதில் ஏறுவதில்லை. வேகமாக நடந்து செல்கிறாள்.  மகன் தனியாக இருப்பான் என்ன ஆகியிருக்கும் என்று யோசிக்கிறாள்.   வீட்டை அடையும் போது அங்கிருந்த ஒரு தெரிந்த பெண் சொல்கிறாள். ‘அம்மா எப்ப வருவா? என்று கடைசிவரை கேட்டுக் கொண்டே இருந்தான். அவள் அருகின் சென்று பார்க்கிறாள். அவன் அசைவின்றிக் கிடந்தான்.  இந்தச் சிறுகதை இந்தியாவில் வறுமையில் வாழும் பலகோடி மக்களின் ஆதரவற்ற நிலையைச் சொல்கிறது. கல்வியில்லை, வேலை சரியில்லை, சம்பளம் போதவில்லை, குடும்ப நிலை சரியில்லை, யாருக்கும் உடல்நலம் பேண எந்த வசதியும் இல்லை. இத்துடன் மரபுவழியாக பெண்களை இழிவு செய்யும் மடமைக்கும் குறைவில்லை.  இதில் குழந்தைகள் நலம் கேள்விக்குறிதான்.  உணர்ச்சி வேகமின்றி எழுதப்பட்டு, நம்மை உணர்ச்சிவசப்படுத்தாமல் சிந்திக்க வைக்கும் கதை.  சொல்லப் போனால் எல்லாக் கதைகளுமே சூழலை விவரிப்பதன் மூலமே அனைத்தையும் உணர்த்துகின்றன.  எந்தவிதக் கூக்குரலோ, ஆசிரியரின் உரத்தகுரலோ இல்லை.  இந்தக்கதை நான் படித்த மிகச்சிறந்த கதைகளில் ஒன்று.

            ஆதிவாசி நடனமாடமாட்டான் என்ற கதையும் மிகச் சிறந்த கதை.  ஆதிவாசிப் பகுதியைச் சேர்ந்த ஒரு பெரிய மனிதர் இந்திய நாட்டின் குடியரசுத் தலைவராக இருக்கிறார்.  ஆதிவாசிகள் அவருக்காக நடனமாட வேண்டும் என்று ஒரு குழுவுக்குப் பயிற்சியளித்து அனுப்புகிறார்கள்.  ஆதிவாசிகளில் ஒருவரான கதைசொல்லி, குடியரசுத் தலைவரின் முன்னிலையில் பேச அனுமதி கேட்கிறார்.  அனுமதி தரப்படுகிறது.  அவர் கேட்கிறார். “ஆதிவாசிகள் இனிமேல் நடனம் ஆடமாட்டோம்’ அவ்வளவுதான்.

அடுத்த காட்சியில் போலிஸ் அவர்களைப் குப்புறப் படுக்கவைத்து அடி வெளுத்துக் கொண்டிருக்கிறது. கதைசொல்லி நம்மைக் கேட்கிறார் ‘நான் கேட்டது என்ன தவறா? நாங்கள் என்ன பொம்மையா?  நாங்கள் ஆடுகின்ற எங்கள் நிலங்களையெல்லாம் எங்களிடமிருந்து பிடுங்கிக் கொண்டிருப்பார்கள் அப்போது யாராவது எங்கள் பின்புறம் உள்ள பட்டனை அழுத்தி ஆன் செய்தால் டமக், டும்டக் என்று தாளம் போட்டு, குழல்களை ஊதி ஆட வேண்டும்.  சொல்லுங்கள், நான் கேட்டது தவறா?”

பிறகு அவன் வரலாற்றை விவரிக்கிறான்.  தங்கள் நிலங்களில் தன்னிச்சையாக வாழ்ந்த அவர்களின் வாழ்வில் மதபோதகர்கள், அரசுகள் அரசு அதிகாரிகள், பெரிய பன்னாட்டு நிறுவனங்கள் எப்படி அவர்களுடைய நிலங்களிலிருந்து அவர்களை விரட்டிவிட்டு, இயற்கை வளங்களை அபகரித்துக் கொண்டு ஒன்றும் இல்லாதவர்கள் ஆக்கிவிட்டனர் என்று.

இந்தக் கதையின் எதிரொலி தஞ்சையிலும், நெடுவாசலிலும் ஒலிக்க வேண்டும்.  ஆதிவாசிகளின் வளங்களைப் பறித்துப் அவர்களை வறுமையில் இயலாமையில் தள்ளிய அதே அமைப்புகள் தமிழ்நாட்டின் வளங்களைச் சுரண்ட வருகிறார்கள்.  ஆதிவாசிகளுக்குப் பிரச்சனை வந்த போது நாம் கண்டுகொள்ளவில்லை.  இப்போதாவது, அவர்களின் போராட்டங்களைப் புரிந்து கொண்டால், நாம் நமது வளங்களை, வாழ்க்கை முறைகளைக் காப்பாற்றிக் கொள்ள முடியும்.

மிகத் தீவிரமாகச் சிந்திக்க வேண்டிய பல கேள்விகளை எழுப்பும் கதையிது.