Thursday, December 31, 2009

My New Year's Eve Meditation

Are ye not as children of the Ethiopians unto me, O children of Israel? saith the LORD. Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt? and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?
(Amos 9:7, KJV)

In the context of the Old Testament, this verse is quite stunning. The Old Testament is an exclusive record of God's special favour on the chosen people, the Hebrews. The way their history unfolded was the result of how they responded to the loving-kindness and guidance of Jehovah. In time, they began to believe that their being chosen by God meant that all the others were rejected by Him. But this verse shows that the historical experiences of other peoples too were guided by God's favour and mercy. God did choose to reveal Himself more fully to the Israelites but He did not disappear from the scene as far as the other nations were concerned.

Is there a message in this for the Church today, or am I on the way to a heresy?

Not a bad scripture to reflect upon as one year, no, a decade, comes to close and the other one begins

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas emotions!

Christmas this year was a solemn affair. Grandmother went to be with her beloved Father on 22 December 2009. She was very old and died at the ripe age of, going by my father's estimate, 104 years (my own guess is 97). She passed away peacefully in her sleep. All this meant that life would go on as usual. I thought I would be able to celebrate Christmas like I generally do, catching up with friends and extended family from next day onwards. But on 23 morning I knew it wouldn't be the case. I woke up not wanting to socialize. Didn't even go to the church for Christmas worship service, simply because I couldn't visualize myself mingling well with people. On Christmas eve, my celebrations were limited to listening to some Christmas carols (many versions of "Silent Night" and Boney M's "Mary's Boy Child") on Youtube and singing "Make me a channel of your peace" with wife. Later in the night, I spoke to my sister on phone and told her that I didn't feel like going to church and she agreed with me that the old women did deserve a period of mourning.

This Christmas I also miss my older nephew a lot. Since last few Christmases, I had gotten used to listening to him singing at full throttle "Mary's boy Child". He being the first child in our family has always been a bit special, especially because, I think, he replaced me as the youngest child of the family. He was also a trend setter for the kids who followed. During last two years he must have become a better caroller; he is part of his school choir In England, I heard. But he should know that his best audience is back here in India.

Melancholy and nostalgia were dominant emotions for me for this Christmas.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Indian Christianity on a furlough

(The article was originally written for The Herald of India and was published under the title 25, yet no Christian)

THE WEEK, one of India's leading current-affairs magazines, has a cover story on 25 most valuable Indians. This Independence Day Special issue aims at celebrating, in the words of Shobhaa De, who wrote the opening note on values, "people who have impacted one billion lives directly or indirectly during the past one year". Whether they did have an impact on the entire one billion and also if these are truly the most eligible 25 valuables are questions that I wish to put on hold for a while.

Though the publication of this list wasn't supposed to be an Independence-Day event we have in schools, where all major religions are needed to be adequately represented in a show of 'unity in diversity', the ideal behind our national ethos, what I found intriguing is the absence of a Christian from the list. And one shouldn't be too hasty in pointing out the inclusion of Ashis Nandy. To be fair to the publishers, they seem to have conjured a 'facts-based' list, where the religious backgrounds hardly mattered. But on the eve of the sixty-second anniversary of Independence, this might give something to Christian communities of India to think about.

Christianity claims to have been around in India for over two millennia, but it seems it took a break for entire last year; perhaps it was too nervous about Madam Sonia Gandhi's Catholic connection resurfacing in the election year, or perhaps too shocked since killings in Kandhamal last August.

Had Mother Teresa been alive, she probably would have made it to the list, if nothing else then perhaps just for the sense of balance, religious as well as that of gender. There are three women as compared to 22 men in that list. And though T.N. Seshan believes Mata Amritanandmayi is a great soul too, he chose to pen the paean for Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, whose educational work in rural areas he highly appreciates and whose Sudarshan Kriya keeps the 76-year-old former Chief Election Commissioner 'energetic'.

For far too long, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, the Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, had been a sole representative of the Christians, for the Roman Catholics as well as non-Catholics, and definitely within the media. I remember, once a friend wanted to work on a documentary about the nurses in India, and he asked a reputed Indian journalist, a liberal Muslim, for some clips he had, which my friend thought he could use. Apparently the journalist replied that if it were something involving Mother Teresa, he would have given it but not now!

One of our most celebrated artists, M.F. Husain, paid glittering tributes to the diminutive frail nun from Albania by painting her as Mother Mary nursing the bruised body of the crucified Christ, a symbol of the sick and the poor dying uncared for on the streets of India. On the flip side that also means legitimising only one aspect of Christian faith.

Christianity in India cannot merely remain a religion of uncommitted piety, uncommitted to social, political and economic changes, that is. The poor and the suffering of the country need impartially dispensed compassion, but they also need ethically inspired intellect dedicated to press for structural changes at all levels of our shared life. The hand of compassion must be joined with the hand of critical engagement in a gesture of service to the nation. The task of moral and spiritual regeneration of the country that was visualised by every concerned Indian in that watershed year of 1947 could not be wished away by Indian Christians.

And today when we celebrate the anniversary of our Independence, the burden of the promise of new India must weigh heavy on the Christian chest.

In the year 1971, when the nation was still in its 20s, Nayantara Sahgal published her, if I remember correct, sixth novel, The Day in Shadow. The novel was inspired by real events in the author's life and like her other novels, this one too is imbued with her concern for emergence of a more humane India, which is fast sinking into a stupor generated by corruption in high places, petty politics and cruelty in human relationships. The reason I am reminded of this novel is because it is one of those rare ones where you find a 'Christian' character unbound by stereotypes. Raj Edwin Garg, who though doesn't share his father's religious convictions, brings Christian values, and occasionally Christian 'language', into public discourse. He is a 'brilliant, rising Member of Parliament', an independent, who seeks to find ways to propel the country out of the impasse between the 'Reds' and the 'reactionaries.'

He often enters into a good-humoured banter with his mentor, and father's friend, Rama Krishna, who in the last pages of this open-ended novel seems to have come terribly close to resolving the conflict between Hinduism and Christianity and finding a way to harness the energies of these two mighty streams of spiritual energy for the regeneration of the nation. Even though a work of fiction, this novel testifies to a time and occasion, or at least a possibility, when Christian thought was neither considered alien, nor marginalised, nor a minority view in relation to the so-called mainstream. Most importantly, it wasn't a dialogue between a Western Christian and an Indian Hindu. Here you have Indians on both sides examining the problems from two different angles and towards the end more sympathetic to the other view.

After all, the object of their concern was the same. Just as a note for those who think that the depiction of Christians in novels is not really a matter of particular concern and this novel by Sahgal is not a special achievement, one only needs to look at some of the recent novels, for instance, Tarun Tejpal's The Alchemy of Desire, where the only achievement of one Christian character is the number of bottles of whisky he has piled up in his backyard, or one can look at M.G. Vassanji's The Assassin's Song, in which the blind drunk presbyter of the Shimla church, tumbles into the protagonist's room, and has to be escorted home by his son. That is indeed the image of a Christian in many a mind, a jolly good fellow fully committed to having a good time till the Second Coming, untroubled and unmindful of any such list.

As for Ashis Nandy, the only hardcore academician in that list, he will agree that my observation, which set me off, is not that flimsy. Ashis Nandy comes from an elite Bengali Christian family; he really makes it look that he has come out of it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Nothing sentimental about college education

I just came across an interview Tarun Tejpal gave to a career magazine. The interview had a rather catchy title "India's rich fund temples, not educational institutions", but what was of interest to me was his recounting of his college days. I felt a bit lofty that he did his BA from my city, though not from my college. DAV College in Sector 10 would too be proud of its alumnus. There is only one problem—Tejpal admits that he did not attend a single class in those entire three years! That obviously means that his "education" happened outside the institute and his college was merely a document-provider, giving him an official-looking piece of paper, a testimonial that he is a graduate. And barring some elite institutions, which mostly teach sciences, colleges in India are perfect breeding grounds for autodidacts. Two of my classmates immediately come to my mind, one has ended up being a bureaucrat while I saw the other selling vegetables in a mandi, sitting alongside men, most of whom, I am pretty sure, never had the chance to see how a degree college looks like from inside. College education was incidental to life pursuits of these two classmates of mine. I am increasingly of the opinion that for most of us Indians, it is not the education system that decides what we will end up doing in life but other things such as our family background and the web of social relationships we are part of. In this sense, perhaps, Indian education system is still a bit medieval if not ancient, where things like caste and class limit one's vocation in life. This, of course, is not to generalize, individual freedom does exist and perhaps in many other cases children find it easy to slip into the role their parents once performed (talking about roles, Shah Rukh Khan and Hrithik Roshan are examples of individual freedom and family legacy respectively), but there have been umpteen number of cases where undeserving candidates get selected at the cost of people really cut out for a particular position. We do meet such professionals who are there because of a plug and not because of merit alone.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Sunday that Splintered Humanity

(The article originally written for The Herald of India, published as Black Sunday)

In 1992, just like this year, 6 December was a Sunday. We got up early morning to claim a cricket pitch before some rival teams came and denied us the chance to have a game on a much-awaited weekly holiday. We won the spot but I think we lost the match; and, when we got back home in the evening we heard the news that Babri Mosque has been pulled down. The news did not have much meaning for me. I was neither a Hindu nor a Muslim and lived in a largely non-politicized city. There weren’t any Muslims among our playmates and, as hindsight, we were saved the exchange of uncomfortable glances. Most guys I played with were Hindus and Sikhs but they seemed not too interested in this news item either. Those were the days when Sikh terrorism was still palpable in our parts; Hindu–Muslim conflict belonged to the Partition era. In any case, all of us teenagers loved our cricket more than anything else and were more interested in India playing first one-day international cricket match against South Africa the next day. I was fascinated by the Proteas; by the fact that they were no minnows though they had just started playing international cricket. I had fallen in love with that electrifying fielder at backward point, Jonty Rhodes and worshipped White Lightning Allan Donald. The historic match was played on 7 December 1992 at New Lands, the first ODI to be played in South Africa. India lost that match, much like our team the previous day. India’s best fielder and captain, Mohammad Azharuddin, another of my idols, dropped not one but two catches. Catastrophic as it was, it was a sort of thing that happened on a cricket field and an Indian fan had learnt to make peace with such debacles.

Meanwhile, the reports of Babri demolition and subsequent analyses were multiplying every single day. For a brief moment, next day, I listened to a panel discussion on the same. What caught my attention was what one panelist said. If my memory serves me correct, he very categorically declaimed that that event had disconcerted each and every Muslim in this country; how else could one explain Azhar grassing those straightforward chances. Is this true? Or is it just a fantastic conjecturing—I asked myself but could not decide. This was something far more disturbing than India’s capitulation in Cape Town could ever have been. In fact, it was at that moment the name Mohammad Azharuddin began signifying the notion of Muslim to me. Before that it only meant a dashing middle- order batsman and a supremely agile fielder to me, whose feats I secretly wished to emulate.

As a child, after Indira Gandhi’s assassination, I had learnt to neatly divide humanity in three—Christians, Sikhs and Hindus. After Post-Mandal agitation, as a pre-teen, I became aware of another set of categories to divide my friends and acquaintances—General, SC and OBC. While I was knocking at the gates of adulthood, in December 1992, humanity further splintered.

These divisions were real as I once found a younger man explaining to me the difference between Hindus and Muslims. We are so different—he said to me—We worship full moon and they worship new moon; we pray with our palms joined together but they keep them apart; we pay obeisance to the rising sun looking east, they turn towards west to pray.

Surface differences like these became creeds of separate nationalities.

Those who wanted to begin a movement of one people only gave birth to unbridgeable differences between one individual and the other. Those who thought they had won that spot in Ayodhya on Sunday, 6 December 1992, lost their souls bit by bit, category by category.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The house I left behind

I forget the context but wife said, "It seems we have been living in this house for a long time." "Yes," I said, "in fact, to me it seems that we never lived in that old house." That old house is a government accommodation where we spent first three years of our married life and where before that I had lived about seven and a half years of my bachelorhood. That was a house from where we married my sisters. The house my nephews and nieces fondly called 'nana home' and my mother's side of the family, 'guddi da ghar'. Nearly eleven years of my life were spent in that house and about another seventeen in that same, what we call, colony. But I do not miss it. Why? Why am I not nostalgic about that house? I only think about it when I am thinking of changing address in one document or the other. And even then I only think about the combination of some numbers and letters that comprised our address line. Nothing more.

Perhaps, we always knew that we had to leave it one day. Perhaps because my peers had all gone (one of them from this world), their nurse mothers having retired or, at least in three cases, died. Perhaps it was simply that we were at last able to move out from the unmindfully architectured and hurriedly fabricated dwellings. I use the term fabricated deliberately, because these belied the idea of decent housing.

But those houses shaped us. Gave us invaluable lessons in space management, for example. We were taught to be thankful for what fate (State) bestows upon us. And in turn, we continually shaped them. We tried and made those our own by experimenting with things like furniture and paints, doorhandles and commodes, by constructing extra rooms with corrugated-iron roofs, by growing a mulberry tree in the backyard, where we often saw some of the most exquisite birds stopping by to amuse our kids and make us adults curious.

After all this, if I am not nostalgic, am I ungrateful? I don't think so. Individuals in the service of the State deserve respectable housing for themselves and their families. The architects, the builders and the contractors must be sensitized to the needs of people who, though will not personally commission them and whom they will perhaps never meet face-to-face, inhabit the city envisaged by that savant of an architect, Le Corbusier.

Maybe, by nature I am not sentimental about places. But I do feel strongly about the arrogance, and callousness, with which government houses are constructed. And this strong feeling overpowers any amount of nostalgia my old abode can hurl at me.

Friday, November 06, 2009

My Orkut "Today's Fortune"

I am no sucker for those trite thought-of-the-day quotes, though I have begun to enjoy the occasional "Today's Fortune" on my orkut page. There was one I quite liked some time back and I had sent it to some of my friends, especially the ones suckling gloriously on Facebook, which incidentally, with some notable exceptions, gathers every triviality under the sun under its imbecile aegis. Well that day the fortune was:
Watch what you say — of those who say nothing, few are silent
But what I got today made me write a blog post. I did send that one too but without any catty design. It was, in fact, I must admit, a moment of edification. Some friends did reply. Here are some of the responses:
  1. I miss orkut :(
  2. Couldn't agree more. Thanks for sending it my way. Here is something similar: Imagination is the reality waiting to be created. Or, Imagination is reality-in-waiting.
  3. Fabulous quote. True and liberating.
I was glad that these words did have a power to lighten up quite a few of us. It seemed to provide a key to some of the issues we continue to grapple with inside ourselves. It did give us a reason to be hopeful. It spoke gently and confidently to something deep inside us that refuses to surrender to hedonistic cynicism of the times. And most importantly, it became alive because we shared it among ourselves. By the way my orkut "Today's Fortune" read:
The best way to predict the future is to invent it.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

First blogger's park

Five of us met for the pretentiously named "First Blogger's Park" on Tuesday, 3 November 2009. I was glad that we all could make it despite it being a weekday. We already have one blog post on that meeting. Fellow bloggers it was great to spend time with you! Writing has meant so much, and so many things, to each one of us. I am sure we can have a series on this one topic alone—what has blogging done to, or done for, me. There were many things that we randomly picked and mostly left unfinished but perhaps that's a good sign; we all are brimming with ideas, which would sooner or later be turned into "written expressions". And while I hope we are encouraged to spend more time in solitude tapping on the keys, I also want to make some time in coming months to sit and unwind in the same company. Looking forward to meet you more and grow together with you all. One regret! We did not click any picture. So I am putting this painting I came across by chance on the Internet, by "a professional quilter, author, fabric and pattern designer". (Picture:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dirty education!

A little distance from the new house we have recently shifted to is a slum. Our house is in Mohali and the slum technically belongs to the union territory of Chandigarh, the quintessential modern city that was supposed to be "unfettered by past" especially the filth that that past has accumulated over centuries. While I drove with my wife this morning past that slum, euphemistically called a "village", we wondered what happened to the residents in the monsoons, for some houses were actually built over the sewers while a channel of dirty water flowed below them. And as we were trying to clear the scenes of that obscenity from our minds, I caught sight of two little girl students of a local school relieving themselves in the open. They were in their uniform so they couldn't have been two urchins who were never taught the rules of propriety and the need of hygiene. Their classmates played close by and some of them would have taken a "bathroom break" sooner or later. Yes, it was a school.

A naïve question. Is one allowed to run a school without a bathroom? Schools are being run without libraries. Schools are being run without classrooms, furniture, blackboards. Schools are being run without teachers. Who gives a damn about bathrooms when schools are being run without conscience? The conscience of a nation is dead when two little school-going girls have no option but to sit on a garbage heap close to their playground to pee. The conscience of a nation is dead when the poor are deceived with empty rhetoric of Right to Education. The conscience of a nation is surely dead when, quite literally, the filthy rich businessmen begin running the education show, and that too with only one aim—to find ways to fish for another rich man's fortune through the fishing rod of his child with a bait of "world-class" education.

This is not a one-off incident. Today itself I found two reports in the city edition of The Tribune about abysmal conditions in our schools. One is about a school in another "village" around the city of Chandigarh, where 200 students share one toilet and about four are locked for the use of teachers. Another one is a story about a school in Fatehgarh Sahib where fire-fighting equipments are thought to be as useless as bathrooms in our neighbouring "village".

(Pictures: From the two news reports)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Before I lose more

While clearing my table this afternoon, I came across a piece of paper on which I had scribbled something while I was in Goa in April. On the last day of our national sales meet, just before the closing, I wrote this in a jiffy. I might lose the paper sooner or later, so posting this here.

I thought I lost my pen
But what I lost were
My thoughts
A 24-hour journey from Delhi to
Goa was spent
Playing cross and noughts
Without the pen, of course

The mind was at work
Though it couldn't quite work out
The whole point of journeys
Of life, the mystery of
Lost clout
A pointless discourse

Many things were going on
Were all put on hold
One thing went on unstoppable
You see, couldn't help growing old
Nothing else got worse.

— 9 April 2009, Cidade De Goa, Goa

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Elections 2009 – II

The good was, of course, the freshness of youth. Young MPs have been in focus and to many this is sure sign that politics of this country will change for the better. But this optimism is paradoxical. The good and bad are not that distinct perhaps. Vir Sanghvi has made a point. Most of the young MPs are actually second- or third-generation politicians, heirs of a family business. Commenting on this he says, "A disturbing proportion of them were born into political families." Disturbing indeed, as he goes on to name the political heirs running the nation. And mind you, not all are young : Farooq Abdullah, Prithviraj Chavan, Salman Khurshid, Dayanidhi Maran, Selja, G.K. Vasan, M.K. Azhagiri, Parneet Kaur, Ajay Maken, Bharatsinh Solanki, D. Purandeshwari , Tushar Choudhary, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Jitin Prasada, R.P.N. Singh, Prateek Patil, Agatha Sangma, D. Napoleon. And then Sanghvi goes on to name other dynasties. Naveen Patnaik, Chandrababu Naidu, H.D. Deve Gowda and his son. I think he gave a special thought to this sentence when he wrote about the Badals: "In Punjab, the Akali Dal is a family business run by Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal and his millionaire son, Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal." I found that truly amusing. He points out dynasties in BJP: Vasundhara Raje, whose son Dushyant Singh is an MP, Manvendra Singhand so on. Towards the end of his Counterpoint in today's Hindustan Times he makes a chilling observation:
But family-dominated politics is a closed shop. Entry is open only to those with the right credentials of birth. Outsiders are banned from entering. And slowly but surely, true democracy is replaced by a kind of feudalism in which the peasants are given the right to choose between various aristocrats. The peasants can never enter the ruling class because the wrong blood flows in their veins.

Good and bad are in front of us. Intertwined. Can we begin a process of untangling the two? Sanghvi pins his hope on the "dynast" to free politics from the clutches of "dynastyism". But shouldn't the reviver search for talent beyond the obvious quarters. Maybe he is doing his best. But maybe the aam aadmi shoudl do his bit. Perhaps there is a way the youth of this country can serve in politics despite the lack of the dynastic patronage. That will be good indeed.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Elections 2009 — I

Let's start with the ugly. That's easiest to spot. While in the NDA rally in Ludhiana on 10 May, Nitish Kumar clasping Narendra Modi's hands was a slimy sight, what was uglier than that was Badal Junior, Sukhbir, hugging the Gujarat chief minister. As a member of a minority community that suffered state-sponsored pogrom, one wonders how Sukhbir could embrace that shameless trader of death. What values, or lack thereof, does this espousal exhibit? That's for students of politics to decipher. I would go back to poetry. To a poem to be exact that my friend Laltu wrote after the Gujarat riots of 2002. The poem was in Hindi. Here is my English translation that I discovered recently on my hard drive.

It's too late

Little black drops can be seen from afar
Sitting in the bus we overlook them
Assured no matter how difficult the journey may be
In the end each one will get back home

The cold that freezes on the windowpanes
Pushes us close together
We don't know that what rains out there
Is clotted blood; even the blood of the real
That burns
And we still smell it in coals of memory
No longer startles us
Suddenly the bus turns on a bend
And with a start we wake up

The sound must be of the clouds
We think and our bus
Plunges in chemical smoke
It's too late
By the time we see
Written on each other's faces.

© Laltu

Monday, May 11, 2009

Key to the Deadlock

Deadlock is a curious situation. The whole universe is caught in a state of an intriguing impasse. Nothing is really happening. Nothing of consequense, that is. Yes, there are terrible things happening, like the massacre in Sri Lanka, but if one looks closely, this is a stage in deadlock where one contending faction has made a manoeuvre and the other is going to respond soon to neutralize it. And by factions I don't mean Sri Lankan Army and the LTTE. In old-fashioned terms, in T.S. Eliot's words

The world turns and the world changes,
But one thing does not change.
In all of my years, one thing does not change,
However you disguise it, this thing does not change:
The perpetual struggle of Good and Evil

There is a fight of principles. Each has a bag of good and evil mixed, out of which they hurl the sin-stained clusters of their innocence on the other. A lot is happening in Nepal, Pakistan, the general election in India too and far off three ladies (four, if you count his mother, or some failed love affair) have pushed the success of one man in South Africa. But is there a breakthrough in sight? There is a seeming movement though. People are wanting to get married. Houses are being bought. A friend is graduating in the USA. Another one is going for poetry reading in Europe, despite the fact that poetry makes nothing happen. Now the latter phrase is W.H. Auden's who was a 'committed' poet himself and wrote that line to commemorate another 'committed' poet (W.B. Yeats). Poetry does not break the deadlock. Poetry, in fact, is the mainstay of any deadlock, promising deliverance, yet not delivering on the promise. It is the opium of the aesthete. It gives hope. It defers the fruit of that hope. Yet in this janus-faced relationship with deadlock and hope, poetry performs a useful function. It helps survive in the deadlock, in the eye of the storm. Auden comes to mind again as in his "Musée des Beaux Arts", he highlights the co-existence of suffering and indifference, the deadlock of apathy and tragedy. This record, this recognition compels endurance, the grandest virtue for this age. There are few things possible, perhaps, only in poetry.

It's 11 May today and by sheer coincidence I chanced upon this little gemstone of a poem by Joel, which, incidentally, he wrote on this very day many years ago, when 'existentialism' was in vogue and people typed not on computer (which means I exercised my editorial discretion while italicizing "can" and "may" at the end).


Always, of course
One chooses: the eternal
Curse of the blessing of free will.

One may praise
If one wants to,
One may not die
If one wants to

One always can
But not always may

© Joel V David

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A poet and a friend

One function of the poet at any time is to discover by his own thought and feeling what seems to him to be poetry at that time. — Wallace Stevens

I am not a poet. And, if one agrees with a poet's function as Stevens puts it, I am certainly not one. But then recently I have this urge to engage with poetry. Not read poetry but engage with it and of course that includes reading of poems. I wonder what is behind this urge. Perhaps it is a thought of a poet friend who has long left writing poetry and who now is moving out of this city. But as he shifts base, I sense the poet returning, or rather reawakening, in him. He feels it too and the other day we did talk, perhaps for the first time in thirteen years, at some length about his poetic self. And that poetic self is perhaps—I have my fingers crossed—becoming prominent once more. He is non-commital about being a writer of poems again. Even if it is so, I suspect that there will be a dash of the poetic in most things he does. Joel David published his first collection of poems, The Bowl of Silence, with the Writers Workshop in 1991. It is a slender volume of nineteen poems. Talking to him I realize how seriously he once persued the art and craft of poetry. He is an image of the poet Stevens had in his mind when he wrote that sentence quoted in the beginning. Stevens, as a matter of fact, is (was?)one of Joel's favourite poets. As an undergraduate commerce student in Baring Union Christian College, Batala, Punjab, Joel once gave a three-hour long lecture on poetry of Wallace Stevens to the postgraduate students of literature. In the recent conversation I had with him he spoke enthusiastically about his keen interest in the technique of poem and how he thought that one poem creates its own world beyond all theories about what poetry is. He is not preoccupied with that at the moment. But there's something else poets need. To be in touch with their inner selves. And Joel is lingering there. In solitude. That's the beginning of poetry anyway. The first poem in his collection gives the anthology its title and goes like this:


Where is the bowl of silence now
the one we dipped into so often, and emerged
with a sudden face brought up, upturned and lit,
speaking new words, words spoken, spent and born again:
food and drink you know not of.

When we but lisped, did we say and did we hear,
did voices come to us from flaming bushes?
Or, caught in the rush of words, did our stumbling tongues
pick and choose wrong ropes and tangles: did we know
food and drink the world knows not of?

To be born and be moulded—did we ask
for crafted lives, manufactured ideals—were we cast
in bronze—did we search our minds, sound our depths?
Now, floundering, blind in the floodlit blaze, do we eat
food and drink we know not of?

What of our souls, when in the troubled midnight watch
something rises like mist, clings and softly curls?
Invisible, barely felt, the hand of someone touches me.
Who comes? A gentle spirit longing for home, bringing
food and drink I know not of?

© Joel V. David