Posted in Books, Hermann Hesse, Knulp

Knulp- writers of the past are still relevant today

Herman Hesse has always been one of my favourite writers, if not the most favourite. But most people, if they have read him at all, are only familiar with Siddhartha, that was made into a movie. Recently I read a blog written by a young Facebook friend. The ideas in it had some similarity to one of the works of Knut Hamsun, and to Knulp by Herman Hesse. On my recommendation, the young friend read Knulp and loved it. I hope that after reading the summary below, some more people will read and appreciate Knulp, written over a hundred years ago.

Knulp by Hermann Hesse was first published in German in 1915 during the first World War.
Knulp has three integrated stories. The first is narrated by Knulp himself. He is a wanderer, with no steady job or income, no wife, though he reveals that he does have a child, one whom he can never meet. He has no fixed abode, and walks or travels from one place to another. Yet he likes to dress well, to look neat and presentable, is a good dancer and singer, and can whistle a good tune. He writes poems, has his own ethics, and a soft corner in his heart, specially for women. But above all he values his freedom and space.
Knulp has been ill, and now on a cold and windy night, he reaches the house of his friend Emil Rothfuss, who welcomes him, and offers him food and shelter. Rothfuss has recently married, and after a few days rest there, Knulp moves on. He is unhappy as Rothfuss’s wife desires him, and once again rejoices in his own freedom from the pretences of family life. Before leaving he befriends a lonely young maid, who has recently been employed in a house next door, takes her dancing one night, and through the brief friendship, makes her forget her loneliness for a while.
The second story is by a fellow wanderer, who reveals some other aspects of Knulp, who was always fastidious in his habits, and did not like to drink much, or be in the company of those who did. After a brief period of travelling together, Knulp quietly left his travelling companion, after the latter drank too much one night.
In the third story, Knulp, though only forty years old, has consumption and is dying. Still travelling on the road, he meets a doctor friend, who takes him to his house, gives him food and shelter, and finds him a place in a hospital, with the hope that he could possibly be cured there. Knulp knows that he cannot be cured, but agrees to everything. He only requests that he be sent to a hospital in his hometown of Gerbersau, a place he longs to see again before he dies.
After reaching Gerbersau he does not go to the hospital, instead visiting the places familiar to him, recreating the ‘mysterious days of his boyhood’, when life was full of potential. His illness is consuming him, and he climbs a hill knowing his end is near. The winter sets in, and he thinks of going to the hospital, but finally does not do so. A snowstorm begins, and as he begins to lose consciousness his past flows before him, and he feels he is having a conversation with God. ‘He was not afraid; he knew that God can do us no harm.’ But, he wonders, couldn’t he have lived differently? Was there a certain point in time when he could have chosen a less futile direction? But God assured him that everything he had done, the way his whole life had been, was fine.
‘ “Look”, said God. “I wanted you the way you are and no different. You were a wanderer in my name and wherever you went you brought the settled folk a little homesickness for freedom.” ’
And soon, life was over for Knulp. ‘He felt the snow lying heavily on his hands, and wanted to shake it off, but the desire to sleep had grown stronger than any other desire.’

Posted in book review., Books, Philosophy

Bohm-Biederman Correspondence: Creativity and Science

The physicist David Bohm and the artist Charles Biederman wrote letters to each other on relationships between art and science, amounting to 4000 pages! This book presents some of these letters, edited by Paavo Pylkkanen. The letters are fascinating, brimming with ideas, and even opening the book at random and reading a few lines provides something to think about. Bohm, as seen earlier in a review of his biography, sought to find the universal principles of life, the inner reflecting the outer, and vice versa. Biederman, a structurist in his artistic style, tried to represent the structure of reality through geometric planes. Among the aspects they discussed was how the past existed in the present, each moment therefore, representing an inexhaustible totality. They discussed art, physics, nature, time, relativity, identity, and a lot more. A refreshing book to delve into, to look at two intellectuals exploring the nuances of life.

Posted in book review., Books, Short stories, Theosophy

Madame Blavatsky–fiction

Madame Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society in 1875, well known for her works on the occult, including The Secret Doctrine and Isis Unveiled, also wrote some horror stories. These were evidently based on her nightmares. I just read The Ensouled Violin, expecting something mysterious and beautiful, but  found a gruesome story of violinists achieving heights by using the intestines of loved ones as violin strings!

The story narrates that it was rumoured that Paganini’s brilliant playing was due to this. ‘Exaggerated as this idea may seem to some, it has nothing impossible in it.’ How the young violinist Franz Stenio, emulates this rumour, and how it ends in disaster, forms the rest of this horror story, which evidently draws on another, The Violin of Cremona.

The Ensouled Violin is available online, though I don’t recommend it.

Posted in book review., Books

Infinite Potential: The Life and Times of David Bohm

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David Bohm [1917-92] was something of a genius, a physicist always searching for parallels between theories of physics and the functioning of the universe. This biography by F. David Peat, is one of the best books I have read for a long time. Bohm delved into quantum physics with innovative theories that were not always appreciated by other physicists at the time. He should have won the Nobel Prize but somehow he was overlooked. From childhood he thought about the cosmos and created a world of imagination, imagining  a light that could penetrate matter.

Among Bohm’s significant theories was that of implicate order. Explicate order that we see around us reflects something that cannot be seen, that is, implicate order. Thus the dichotomy between mind and matter, brain and consciousness, could be resolved. He also proposed that information, like matter and energy, is a basic principle of nature.

On the whole he had a difficult and in some ways a tragic life. But he was lucky that his wife Saral was always there to support him. At first a communist, Bohm, born to an immigrant family in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, had to leave the US during the McCarthy years. He was teaching at Princeton, but even that elite university succumbed to political pressure. He went to Brazil, later to Israel, and finally settled in Birkbeck College in England.

Bohm, says his biographer, ‘took the world on his shoulders and agonised about what should be done. Corruption, political mistakes, and military actions he believed, were all evidence of deep errors in human thought and society. And since Bohm believed in the wholeness of the world and consciousness, these errors were also enfolded within his own thinking.’

Einstein had referred to Bohm as his ‘intellectual son’, and intervened several times to help him get a job, difficult because of Bohm’s communist past.

I came across Bohm through his Dialogues with J Krishnamurti. Bohm’s ideas were similar to those of Krishnamurti even before meeting him, and thus these dialogues are among the most profound. Yet  the relationship with Krishnamurti did not work out well. After many years of close association, one day Krishnamurti criticised him fiercely. Bohm, who had had episodes of depression earlier, sank into depression. He recovered from this, and even gave talks on Krishnamurti after the latter’s death, but heart problems and depression continued to haunt him.

This brilliant biography is for anyone interested in the world of physics, particularly new developments in quantum physics, and in the life of a man who suffered a lot, yet made immense contributions to the world.

 

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Posted in Uncategorized

Chess, writing, and the unconditioned mind

This was written three years ago–but chess is still an important part of my life as a writer.

Roshen Dalal

How does a writer begin each day? Some start writing as soon as they wake. Some write at night. Some start with emails, twitter, facebook– I start my writing day with chess.

As soon as I get to my table, I look at my online chess games and make one move in each of them. During the day, if I am stuck in my writing, I make a few more moves. Most of these are somewhat routine, though they help to focus the mind. Once in a way, I suddenly see a brilliant combination. And that is when the mind makes a leap from its normal level, and becomes different–fresh and sharp.

I have heard the same thing happens to mountaineers, and perhaps to people playing  other  sports. I think that is the ‘unconditioned mind’, the ‘freedom from the known’, that J Krishnamurti talks about. Applying this to writing, it…

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Posted in Dehradun, emergency

When Dehradun turned blue

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the Forest Research Institute, Dehradun, against the backdrop of the blue mountains

Not sure why some cities have a colour code–pink Jaipur, blue Jodhpur. Seeing Jodhpur yesterday on TV  it brought back memories of  the Emergency of 1975-77. Very few may remember or even know, that at this time an order was passed to paint Dehradun blue. As the deadline approached, house painters were in great demand. Frantically, everyone was getting the buildings painted, often an inky, watery blue. Dehradun’s ferocious monsoon, with incessant rain, is well known. Soon all the buildings had strange smudged streaks of blue, with the earlier colour showing through. The Emergency ended. With another monsoon the blue was all washed off, the buildings were dirty and streaky. Finally they were repainted in their original colours.

Posted in India, Jawaharlal Nehru

Children’s Day

1958

Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, in 1958. I had met him on his visit to Mt Abu at this time–and presented him flowers. I was six years old.

Today is his birth anniversary, also celebrated as Children’s Day.

‘Every country has a Children’s Day, to celebrate the innocence and courage of  childhood, and to remind one to work for the welfare of children. India’s Children’s Day  is observed every year on 14 November, the birthday of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. He was known for his love for children. This day was chosen in 1952. Earlier, it  was known as Flower Day, and celebrated  on 5 November, 1948. ‘ [From my book, India at 70].

Nehru, to me, was India’s best prime minister, so well read that he could write on world history in jail without access to relevant sources. He composed his speeches himself, and was a great speaker. He had a world vision, initiating the non-aligned movement. He made India a secular and democratic country, and if we are still a democracy today, it owes a lot to him.

Posted in Books

The benefits of reading: some points for young people

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With books as one’s lifelong companions, there is not much else that one needs. Once while inaugurating a book fair at a school I gave a talk on the benefits of reading, and was thinking about the many benefits again today. So a few points for youngsters, on how reading can change and improve your life. What books you read do not matter, and nor does the media through which you choose to read it. But do make sure you are reading books by authentic authors, and not fake news on the internet.

Some of the benefits:

  1. Improves the imagination. Books like Harry Potter create a make-believe world and your imagination is fired when you read these. This increases your intelligence as your right and left brain begin to work together.
  2. Reading is an escape and a safety valve. Everyone had problems in life, and if you are feeling overwhelmed, very often reading a book can temporarily take you away from the problem so that you can look at it in a more balanced way.
  3. You gain knowledge by reading. If you read non-fiction, the knowledge gained is obvious, but you also gain knowledge by reading fiction. In non-fiction, you can start with memoirs and biographies which are easy to read and interesting. In fiction, each book has a background, of a country, a place, or time, which provides you with knowledge that is absorbed without you being aware of it.
  4. Reading makes you an independent thinker. This is perhaps the most important benefit. You learn to think for yourself, and thus are no longer influenced by what others say or do not say. You become a critical thinker, and don’t believe everything you read or hear. You stand apart from the world, with confidence and self-esteem.
Posted in book review., Books, Education

Education–Not Just Grades

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School education has so many variations, and across India there are schools that are trying to educate differently. Rajeev Sharma puts together the stories of some of these schools in this book, Not Just Grades.

Here we come across schools that have done away with exams and textbooks in the lower classes, and schools that specialise in admitting failures! There is a principal who makes a difference by first trying to get a good relationship with the students, and does this by sitting outside the school greeting the students who enter. This simple move was the beginning of an improvement in all aspects of the school. The book covers both urban and rural schools, as well as schools for first-generation learners.

Worth reading for anyone interested in education.

Posted in Books, India, J Krishnamurti, Philosophy

Thoughts on The Masters and the Path by C W Leadbeater

  1. The philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti advocated having an open mind. A freedom from all beliefs was essential. This seems a very valid approach to life, even though in his later years Krishnamurti seemed to subscribe to several beliefs…more on that later.

C W Leadbeater, in The Masters and the Path, also puts forth the view that one should be free of beliefs and conditioning–and then goes on to describe his own beliefs! So this freedom is required only so that one can take on new ideas and believe in them. Is it the same with Krishnamurti? If one insists that ‘Truth is a pathless land’, as he said, isn’t that a belief, a concept?

2.  The Masters and the entire hierarchy were male, from the king of the world, to the Buddhas, bodhisattvas, Manus and Chohans, who form part of it. Leadbeater says there is also a female element, a world mother, Jagdamba Amba, permeating every aspect. At the same time he says, the greatest role of a woman is to give birth! She shouldn’t try to live the life of a man. With this, and the theosophical concept of ‘root races’ of which the ‘Aryan race’ is the present one, perhaps theosophy influenced Hitler?