The cuckoo Cuckoo

When I was living in Pune, the window of my room opened near a hedge. The hedge was lush green and had many trees. The tree closest to my window was that of a fig, (umber, उंबर in Marathi). Now throughout the day and the night, a variety of fauna visited the tree. Avians, insects, mammals all of them benefitted from the tree.

During the prime of the fruiting season, one would get an aroma of ripe fruits in the middle of the night. The closest smell I can think of is that of a very sweet and ripe apple. Nothing else comes close. I would wonder why does this smell manifest in the middle of the night. Then I discovered that there would be fruit bats munching on these delicious fruits, and the tearing of the fruits would give this aroma. During the day, various other birds including crows, cuckoos, mynahs, some times hornbills too, along with the resident squirrels. So this tree was full of life. A couple of crows used to sit on the tree for hours, caressing each other. Some love couple it was.

But the reason I am writing this post is because of a cuckoo the Asian koel (Eudynamys scolopaceus), a cuckoo who was a cuckoo. Now, as a noun, the cuckoo refers to the bird, but as an adjective, it refers to someone who is mad. Now, what does a cuckoo mean? It means a mad cuckoo. Now one would hear the cucu of the cuckoo during their mating season at the start of the summer, we find nothing odd. In fact, the call of the cuckoo signifies the season change, and for rest of the year, the cuckoo stays relatively silent.

Being familiar birds with loud calls, references to them are common in folklore, myth and poetry. It is traditionally held in high regard for its song … Wiki

And mostly one would hear the cuckoo only during the day. All this being said, I come to the protagonist of the post.

This one cuckoo was mad. I would say this because it would sit on this fig tree and sing in the harshest possible way, much higher notes than usual melodious tone, in the middle of the night. At 1 AM, at 3 AM at any time in the night. The cuckoo would sit right next to the branch of the tree which was closest to my window and sound the alarm. When I first heard it, I woke up thinking that the world is coming to an end or some epic disaster has occurred. The cuckoo from hell. I looked at it from the window, hoping that its eyes are glowing red with hellfire. I could not make sense of what was happening. The intensity and the harshness of the vocalization were like a shock given to me. Once woken, I could not sleep due to the continuous assault on my auditory senses. That night I slept, uneasily, after a few hours almost at the start of the dawn.

This event repeated over many other days.  But over many episodes, I got used to this. It was like my internal cognitive mechanisms created filters for ignoring this. Only on an occasional off day, I would be awakened by the calls. Some of my friends, who had the misfortune to visit me during those days would get the jolt to be woken in the middle of the night.

I don’t know whether this was normal behaviour of the cuckoo. I am sure avian experts would be able to put more light on this, but for me, it was cuckoo who had gone cuckoo.


Trump’s Trumpeting Triumph

Election of Donald Trump and Democracy

I have two observations to make for the election of Donald Trump to the president’s office in he United States. First there is a certain sense of bewilderment in general public as well as the intelligentsia, they ask this question: “How can this possibly happen?”, “This is the doom of America” among other things. The arguments that are generally given are he is white-supremacist etc. And one of the major reasons for people to not expect him to win was that major media houses were against him. They portrayed a very peculiar negative picture of him through and through the last few months of campaign. Anything he said was scrutinized and all kinds of people were supposed to be against him. But how did we know this all? It was through the very same media houses that were biased against him. Can you really expect the media houses to give us an accurate description of ground reality when their entire aim was to derail his campaign. So what happened is that the entire rhetoric that was built upon against him didn’t stand actually reflect what the pulse on the ground was. People had different moods and different agendas on mind. And they were frustrated with the nexus that they thought was reason behind their miseries. So all this so called appeal to the “logic” or “reason” of the people to see Trump stood for (according to the media houses) and not vote for him had no takers. All those attempts by his followers were seen as hollow and shallow attempts to demean and demonify Trump. And in the final days to the election the shrillness only increased. Each attempt by a new group or a new person to vilify Trump was seen as desperate attempts to keep him out of power. He was the one who could do something, who promised to do something. He was the hero America needed to be great again. In contrast to this Hillary Clinton’s campaign can be seen as an ass saving campaign. She was caught in many hiccups, but managed to balance the possible derailment of her campaign, be it her emails or other things. The very fact that she managed to come to finals bating Sanders, in spite of so many problems itself reeked of crookedness for many. The entire anti-Trump rhetoric, instead of helping her, hurt her. So for his supporters there was no appeal to reason against him as they were already convinced beyond doubt that he is the person, and at the same time attempts to stop him were seen as conspiracies of the old system. The intelligentsia rhetoric was hollow and appeal to reason was a treason.

The Indian Election of 2014 had a similar trend. In this Narendra Modi was the candidate (also right wing). In this case also we see that the appeal to reason seen as a treason. Though he did not promise a wall, but tall promises were nonetheless made. The entire image was manipulated as if he will deliver all the things in a jiffy, when elected. We see similar bashing of the intelligentsia in this case also, the rhetoric also went overboard by calling anyone not agreeing with their tag line as anti-national, which continues till day.

For those particularly in intelligentsia lament at Trump’s victory as “Democracy has lost”, they are missing a very crucial aspect. The election of Trump actually shows the true nature of democracy. It is literally the rule of the people. And if more people think a particular candidate is good for them they will choose him. To claim it as a “Dark day” is to question the democratic process itself. These same people would have been perhaps happy if Hillary Clinton was selected. But then this for me is just changing of the goalposts when you have lost an argument. If you cannot convince people to vote for someone, it is not loss for democracy, rather it is the way it operates. The democratic process cannot remain correct if some candidate wins and problematic when someone else wins, of course under the assumption that these are fair elections, not rigged ones. This for me reflects obliviousness for the obviousness of democracy.

The Sons – Franz Kafka

The first time I heard about Kafka was in a interview of Kabir Bedi in a Times of India Sunday supplement called Times Life. Kabir told the scribe that one of his former wife quoted Kafka a lot. So, then as you know Google is your friend, I googled Kafka. And I was introduced to one of the authors who is enigmatic and mysterious, with shades of surrealism in in. But it was not until very recently that I bought the works of Kafka, in hard copy. I had them in soft version, tried to read them on screen, but without success. It was not until Strand Book Fair 2009 that I had mint copies of Kafka’s work with me. Apart from The Trial, now I have almost all of his major works. I started with The Sons, which is a collection of three stories, namely, The Judgement, The Stoker and finally The Metamorphosis.

Kafka wanted to publish these three stories in one volume, he said in a letter to his editor there is a secret strand which runs through these three. The novels I think are a window to Kafka’s mindset. The stories reveal a complex personality of Kafka, which was tried to carve an existence of its own in the shadow of the overpowering personality of his father. The feelings of Kafka are made clear in the part of the compilation, A Letter To His Father, where he tries to convey his father, tries to convey him, how strong and suffocating his
personality was for Franz as a child and also as an adult. It relates small incidents, which made a dent on Franz’s egg shelled mind, whose repercussions he felt even as an adult.

Some of the incidents in one’s childhood can have a lasting influence on one’s future. This I guess, most of us can relate to. How many childhood memories, especially non-pleasant ones, are still fresh in your mind, as if, they happened just yesterday? On the other hand the joyful ones, many times, are harder to remember. This where I guess Kafka is just great, he remembers little episodes from his childhood, and relates them to the person he is now. As far as qualities were concerned Franz was a direct opposite of his father. And he makes a point how his forced silence in the childhood made him the person he was. I think this is where Kafka gets his inspiration from. The things which he was not allowed to say, came out in form of the literature that he has produced. This is why I say, that his literature is a window into his complex and sometimes surrealistic persona.

My reading of Kafka is also confirmed by others. In the Fontana dictionary of Modern Thinkers [1], it says,

Himself slim, sensitive, an intellectual, Kafka was dominated by his well built, bullet headed, businesslike father, about whom, he said, all his works were written.

The picture above appears on the front cover of the same book [1].

And in Franz’s own words

My writing was all about you; all I did there, after all, was to bemoan what I could not bemoan upon your breast.

Now to the three stories themselves:

The Judgement

In this story an obedient son commits suicide

The Stoker

In The Stoker Kafka

You can think whatever you like. But morals change every time you go to a new port.

Oh, that’s just the way things are; it doesn’t always depends on whether a man likes it or not.

I am complaining just for the sake of complaining.

You don’t listen to what I say, and then you give me advice.

Activity without end, restlessness transmitted from restless element to helpless human beings and their works!

All his strength was concentrated in his fists, including the very strength that held him upright.

And all other people here are of no consequence.

The Metamorphosis

This getting up early, he thought, can make an idiot out of anyone.

… since he was well aware his mediations, would come to no sensible conclusion if he remained in bed.

But what’s the use of lying idle in bed?

… if that were possible, and saw no way of bringing any calm and order into this senseless confusion, he told himself again that it was impossible to stay in bed and most sensible course was to risk everything for the smallest hope of getting away from it.

.. he did not forget to remind himself occasionally that cool reflection, the coolest possible, was much better than desperate resolves.

Inspite of his predicament he could not suppress a smile at the very idea of it.

I’m in great difficulties, but I’ll get out of them again.

Don’t make things any worse for me than they already are.

Letter to His Father

Nothin alive can be calculated.

The effect you had on me was the effect you could not help having.

I couldn’t pick and choose, I had to take everything.

You mistake the person for the thing.

But that joke is, in a sense no joke at all.

Between us there was no real struggle; I was so finished off; what remained was flight, embitterment, melancholy and inner struggle.

All this, however, is today only a dream.

Even in other circumstances I should probably have become a shy and nervous person, but it is a long dark road from there to where I have come.

It is not easy to find a middle way.

My writing was all about you; all I did there, after all, was to bemoan what I could not bemoan upon your breast.

Probably I am constitutionally not lazy at all, but there was nothing for me to do.

To live with such fantasies is not easy for a child.

In reality, however, the marriage plans turned out to be most grandiose and hopeful attempts at escape, and, consequently their failure was correspondingly grandiose.

That so many seem to succeed in this is no evidence to the contrary; first of all, there are not many who succeed, and second these not usually don’t “do” it, it merely happens to them; although this is not that utmost, it is still very great and very honorable.

There were certainly obstacles, as there always are, but then, life consists of confronting such obstacles.

… but they are not decisive; they do, like worms, complete the works on corpse but the decisive blow has come from elsewhere.

It is too much; so much cannot be achieved.

But if he escapes, he cannot rebuild and if he rebuilds he cannot escape.

In my hand I have nothing, in the bush everything.

But I did not ask this question but live it from it from childhood on.

Everything is entered but never balanced.

But you sit at your window when the evening falls and dream it to yourself.

A way of life so natural that is borders on existence.

Just think of how many thoughts a blanket smothers, and how many unhappy dreams it keeps warm.

Do you think I have no memories?

rooted in ordinary life, he experienced or imagined ordinary fear,
distress, frustration, to an extent that we can all empathize with
because it corresponds, if not to our actual experience, then to our
apprehensions, even our nightmares.


[0] Franz Kafka, The Sons. Schocken Books, 2000, 0805208860

[1] The Fontana Biographical Companion to Modern Thought: Alan Bullock, R B Woodings (Eds.), Fontana, 1983, 0006369650