Posted in Prose

Line of Distinction or Line of Symmetry: On Heavenly Spheres

-Pink Iguana

If it seems to you that the title of this prose is a rehash of the title of Copernicus’ magnum opus, I will warn you that I am about to pull off a cliché – I will begin with a quote from the same book.

Those who know that the consensus of many centuries has sanctioned the conception that the earth remains at rest in the middle of the heaven as its centre would, I reflected, regard it as an insane pronouncement if I made the opposite assertion that the earth moves.

It is easy to write this off as a conflict of a bygone era. However, if you look closely, this aphorism reflects the nature of most, if not all, social norms. For instance, let me change a few words here: Those who know that the consensus of many centuries has sanctioned the conception that men, unlike women, can roam about with their bosoms bare would, I reflected, regard it as an insane pronouncement if I made the opposite assertion.

It is quite convenient at this point to say that sexism is a result of age old obsolete ideologies. You might look back a few decades and think that the hypothesis stands. And from there on, it’s just extrapolation, isn’t it? Well, let’s see.

Unlike what many people think, myths are dynamic. Folklore evolves depending upon the sensibilities of people of that era and when these stories are penned in the form of epics, a particular version of a myth is established. In a way, the malleability of folklore is vital to its existence. An outdated and immutable myth may lose relevance because of lack of context. So why are we suddenly talking mythology? Because we are going to test the hypothesis mentioned above using the variable nature of myths.

In her book, Virgin Mother Goddesses of Antiquity, Rigoglioso shows how goddesses were originally independent, in the sense that they didn’t need male entities to create. While this may seem counter-intuitive to us, it is essentially the idea of parthenogenesis. The creation of a universe out of the primordial femininity of the cosmos is a prevalent belief in many ancient mythologies. In Hindu philosophy, Shakti is the manifestation of this, a cosmic energy that drives everything. In fact, in the Shaktism tradition of Hinduism, Shakti is considered as the ultimate deity with all other gods playing auxiliary roles. In Adi Shankara’s hymn from Soundarya Lahiri (considered a textbook for Tantric Hinduism), it is written: “Lord Shiva, only becomes able to do creation in this world along with Shakti. Without her, even an inch he cannot move…”

To interpret this as subordination of the male principle would be folly. As Rigoglioso writes, “…In origin stories in which the goddess is a Virgin Mother, the ‘whole’ is understood to be ‘Feminine,’ even though the Masculine is included as an equal part. Or, as the contemporary Hindu mystic Ammachi says, ‘Is God a Man or a Woman? The answer to the question is Neither – God is That. But if you must give God a gender, God is more female than male, for he is contained in She’ (in Canan 2004, 169).”

In other words, it is congruent to the fact that a boy is born from a woman. Now, isn’t that obvious? Something must come from somewhere, even if that something is a divine being. Not really; Neith, an early goddess in the Egyptian Pantheon, created herself out of nothing. Her autogenetic and parthenogenetic powers granted her the position of Supreme Being in early Egyptian religion. According to certain creation myths, she was also considered as the mother of Ra. However, after the rise of Ra as the supreme deity, she surrendered her parthenogenetic powers to him and Ra became the creator. This transition could be seen as the onset of a patriarchal religion. In a particularly amusing sarcophagus, we see how the ascension of Ra and demotion of Neith was cleverly contrived by declaring Neith as having come from Ra who then came from Neith.

Neith’s counterpart in Greek mythology is Athena. While at times she has been granted parthenogenetic powers because of her virginity, she is considered to have been born from the head of Zeus, implying she inherits her ability of parthenogenesis from her father figure. The increasing dominance of male principle later in the Greek pantheon is evident from the fact that Hestia, considered to be an Olympian earlier, was relegated to the rank of minor god when Dionysus became an Olympian. Although there is no clear reference to her stepping down as an Olympian, sometimes this incident has been attributed to her kindness, as a way to prevent heavenly squabble. This coupled with the fact that Hestia was the goddess of hearth and domestic values makes one think whether this incident was to serve as a guideline for all women.

The ancient world supposedly witnessed the flourishing of various Amazonian tribes, whether in Libya, Turkey (Thermodon) or elsewhere. In South India, Cheras, an Iron Age dynasty, ruled over a kingdom where women enjoyed a kind of freedom that they wouldn’t experience till centuries later. The importance of the war goddess Kottavai among the Cheras also points to the possibility that the ancient world was not as dominated by male bigotry as one might be inclined to think.

The evolution of various mythologies suggests a definite change in the way society has perceived goddesses. And even though we have focussed upon prejudices on heavenly spheres, these reflect the nature of schisms in the all too familiar earthly realm. As Rigoglioso describes, the cause of these schisms is taking femininity (or masculinity, in an imaginary setting) for granted. So when God creates man out of soil, He still needs Gaia (the earth) to create; the true form of a creator being androgynous as depicted in Hindu mythology through the Ardhnarishwar form of Shiva.

Shakti and Shiva as Ardhnarishwar/Ardhanari
Shakti and Shiva as Ardhnarishwar/Ardhanari
Posted in Poetry

Summer Haikus

-Cap’n Panda

Copper Spring

Spring morning sunlight
Falls on blossoming roses;
Seas of red and gold

Silent Night

A dark silent night;
A bolt of lightning invites
Thunder! then silence

Posted in Creative Writing Topic, Poetry

Lily – A Haiku

-Caustic Camel

A Haiku in English is a short poem which uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition. It is a development of the Japanese haiku poetic form in the English language. Traditionally, it consists of 17 syllables in 5-7-5 format. Haiku poets believe that a Haiku must “show” rather than “tell” and thus we give you an example.

White winter lily
stolen on nigh of blossom
sold with her body

Posted in Prose

Why the chicken crossed the road

-Pensive Piranha

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Lagon sat troubled in the corner of his room. The corner because, well, although there were eight corners in his room, he had sort of an attachment to that one corner. You know that thing that people have, which they can’t explain, makes them do weird stuff and often drives them crazy like hell. Feelings! ‘Feelings’ is the word I was looking for. So, we can say that Lagon had some special feelings for that corner of his room. There were very few aspects of his life that he couldn’t explain with the application of mathematical theorems, and this was one of them. (Another one being his fondness for pancakes!) The thought often scared him, enough to often make him think of himself as ‘human’. Now that’s an extremely scary thought, right?

Wait! Does this mean that he was not human? Difficult to say actually. His parents found his habits a tad strange (‘a tad’ being a gross understatement), his detachment from all those cool fads that bewitched people his age, his inclination to stay alone and aloof and his remaining lost in his books, be it those thick books by Terence Tao or be it those chance pieces of literature that he went through (maybe in order to get an exposure to these ‘feelings’ thing that others seem to have) . His ‘friends’ believed that he was a device for turning pancakes into equations. Equations about anything you know, from equations governing the motion of a water droplet on a windowpane during a rain shower to equations describing the crawling motion of a ladybug! Anything at all!

But all of this was just what others thought of him. What did he think about himself? What were the thoughts that went through his mind? No one knew. No one other than himself, of course. People would say that his mind was haunted by spirits, but, I beg to differ. ‘Haunted’ is not even remotely close to the actual word. More like hypnotized by some unknown omnipotent entity or maybe, mesmerized, as if lost in the eyes of Mona Lisa or the symphonies of Mozart. And if you are adamant on the use of ‘haunted’, I would say he was haunted by numbers. His prodigal brain subconsciously looked for patterns or logic in each and every thing that he could perceive. His body, his physical appearance, all of it was just a cover for a tiny little soul. I say tiny because, unfortunately some of us may say, he was one of the most single-minded creatures possible. For him, there was nothing beyond deciphering the world around him, and putting it down into a straightforward mathematical form. People might say that he was a math maniac who got joy from all those numbers and equations, but that’s not true because, he knew not what joy was. Completely stolid as he was, his indulgence in his mathematical pursuits gave him a reason to strive for in a world, that moved too fast to enjoy the little things of life, like smelling flowers closely or maybe watching birds walk.

So now that we know quite a lot about Lagon, let’s get back to the corner. The corner had been a witness to Lagon’s many an intellectual musings like the answer to universe, life and everything or the decision whether to be or not to be. But, as in every other story, today was different. Today, Lagon sat in the corner thinking, not about the generalization of one of Euler’s theorems, but about poultry. To be more precise, he was thinking about chickens.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

He just kept on thinking. Over and over. Anyway, don’t  be under the misconception that he did not know the answer. Of course he did, everyone knows that the chicken wanted to get to the other side. As simple as that. Actually, there was more to it.

Some time ago, in his quest to understand human behavior and their, what’s that word, ah, feelings, Lagon came across the concept of ‘humor’. He gave a lot of thought to it, and finally after a lot of research, found a rule of thumb, that humor generally involved a bunch of meaningless sentences, called jokes, that provoked onomatopoeic sounds, called laughter. But well, Lagon being a man of five fingers was never going to be satisfied with this rule of thumb. In order to make some sense out of the so called jokes, he compiled a set of 10001 jokes ( …01 being a very common number that he found in joke books) and set experimenting. He wrote the literal meanings of all the jokes, translated them into different languages, tested them on several people and observed their reactions.

This went on for a while when he thought that he had finally found a pattern. He had found a rule which could determine whether a set of sentences would qualify as a joke. (The rule had something to do with the primality of the 1729th power of the ASCII codes of the sentences, but well, let us not go into it). He wrote down a code in order to verify this rule and started testing all popular jokes with it. Everything seemed to be going fine, every joke seemed to be following the rule. And then, there was a violation! A joke did not satisfy the rule. A very simple and yet, one of the most popular jokes around the globe.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

To get to the other side.

Lagon didn’t know what to do. It had seemed to him that he had uncovered the ‘formula’ for humor, but apparently, he was wrong. He checked and rechecked his calculations. He tried out all sorts of other examples. Everything seemed to fit. Everything except this one joke. Lagon was at a loss. He spent hours, days and then weeks thinking about this problem. He had no idea what to do.

And then finally, a solution crept into his mind. Maybe the only way of understanding what makes this joke funny is to get to the other side. That’s where the joke lies and so, that’s where he would be able to understand the joke. Now, as there was no specific place whose other side he could go to, it didn’t take him much time to realize that he had to go to the other side of the life. Death. He had to die, to achieve the ultimate enlightenment. Phlegmatic as he was, the thought of death didn’t bring any particular emotion to his mind. In fact, when he pulled the trigger to end his life, it was just as if he was writing ‘quod erat demonstrandum’ at the end of just another one of his math problems.

When he opened his eyes, he saw that he was in a closed room with no specific features to describe. It was just a plain white room. Lagon never expected heaven to be this way! Anyway, in the room was another person. An old man with white hair, double bent, with a long flowing beard and wearing a gray cloak who was smiling mildly, his enchanting blue eyes fixed on Lagon.

“Welcome to Heaven, dear son! As you might have guessed, I am God. You were a really remarkable lad Lagon and so, I wanted to meet you personally when you came here. But, I suppose you were due later. Any specific reasons for you coming here before time, son?”

Lagon, a bit surprised  by this introduction, narrated his entire dilemma to God. God listened to him with deep interest, thought for a while and then remarked-

“Quite interesting son. Okay, tell me. This chicken that you are talking about, tell me about its birth. When was it born? What sort of egg did it hatch from?”

“I don’t know, um, I thought it was just a joke. The chi…”

“Tch tch tch. You don’t know about its birth?! Now now now! I get what the problem is. So, you are telling me that you know nothing about the birth of this chicken, right?”

“Yeah, but…”

“Then, maybe this chicken was never even born! Maybe the egg never hatched!”

“But, my prob…”

“No son, listen to me. You human beings have become very impatient. You should have known this! Do not count your chickens before they hatch!”

“But God, even if the egg did not hatch, there must have been another chicken who laid that egg. What if the joke refers to that chicken?”

“Hahaha! And how do you suppose that chicken was born?”

“From an egg laid by another chi… Oh! I see the problem! My argument is going in circles. I guess I will have to decide who came first, the egg or the chicken, before I can go on with the joke…”

And so Lagon set out on another quest, with a new problem in his mind. Some people believe, that he still goes around racking his brains in heaven, trying to find peace of mind, trying to figure out who came first, the egg or the chicken. And so friends, this is why the saying goes, do not count your chickens before they hatch.

Posted in Coordinator's Desk

Summer Wrap up

-Coordinators, ELS

As the shimmering heat gives way to sultry monsoon winds, ELS concludes its summer activities and gears up for the incoming batch. But before we launch ourselves full throttle into the preparations, here is a quick wrap up of the plethora of events we conducted over the summers.

We started off with JAM (a tweaked version of Just a Minute) where quite a few people turned up despite their exhausting sports camp sessions and intricate tech projects. Besides the obvious agenda, we also wanted to interact with each other and in the process develop a rapport with the members of the society. Keeping this in mind, we got off to a surprisingly good start. So it was obvious that the bunch of us had to go to watch X-Men: Days of Future Past together, first day, first show.

Well, some of that must have rubbed off because when we did creative writing in the next ELS meet, we wrote fantasy and adventure (Midas’ Ink). We also did free writing on a slightly offbeat topic. It certainly helped some of us who were going through what is called ‘writer’s block’. To top it all, there was a word games competition where people racked their brains to solve word puzzles, cryptic clues and displayed their linguistic prowess.

The next event was a perennial favourite, Dumb Charades. This time around we introduced a fun round where people acted out and guessed tweaked names of movies and songs. So while The Dark Knight Rises became The White Knight Falls, it was not enough to trip the seasoned DumbC troopers. To beat the afternoon summer heat, the event was conducted during the night and as the night wore on, the competition became more intense with everything culminating with the staple blitz round. By the time we left, the sun was already ready to peep from behind the horizon.

We thought we were done with the summer activities. But we didn’t want it to end so soon. Hence, we created an activity out of thin air. We got the movie ‘Into the Wild’ screened in OAT and held a literary discussion on it. While our propensity was to wander off the topic every now and then, we managed to make sense most of the times. We also drew parallels with other movies like Forrest Gump and how we could map the movie on to a classic Greek tragedy.

What was supposed to be the climax of our summer meets, the classic ELS Hucka (a restaurant in Kanpur) treat, turned out to be slightly anti-climactic because for some weird reason, they weren’t showing the Roland Garros final in the restaurant and the food took way too long to reach our tables. However, in the end, we left contented and that’s all that matters.

Posted in Creative Writing Topic

Literally Idioms

-Pink Iguana

Giant was shy. He had considered professing his love for Giantess but she intimidated him. She was known to have killed one of her suitors for calling her generous. She looked down on all who called her beautiful. Someone must have also tried to woo her by describing her as ugly and miserly. She torched him alive. Such incidents deterred prospective suitors. Even the most flamboyant ones did not flirt with her shadow.

So one fine day, Giant donned a suit of armour and sent a passenger pigeon to Giantess with a note attached to the leg of the pigeon. Notably, this was the last known individual of that species. Considering it a rare gift, Giantess happily wolfed down the pigeon and was overwhelmed by Giant’s love. The note remained unread in the dark corner of Giantess’ stomach along with the hapless courier (that is, before the digestive juices started acting). However, for posterity’s sake, the note has been recorded:

You are sinfully beautiful, Giantess; neither ugly nor generous. When I see you, I feel a shot of adrenaline rushing through my veins, with my only thoughts being of fright and flight. Come to me, please, and deliver me from my agony by ensuring a life of perpetual plight. We will live in an abode of clouds, a heaven from where nothing must fall upon the earth. And I will love you till you tear me apart.

Much has been expounded from this note and the incidents that follow but we will stick to the tale. As you can probably guess, Giant and Giantess were married off and went to live in their cloudy home. For months they lived on without any casualty. But, as all stories take a bad turn, an element of strife needs to be introduced in this one too. So, one of these days, Giantess accused Giant of not washing the clothes properly. Apparently, Giant had gone downstairs to wash the clothes using the water from thunderclouds. Since everybody knows that water from thunderclouds is dark in colour, Giantess was worried about her white handkerchief turning a shade greyer. Now the timing of Giantess’ tantrum is crucial. All this happened while Giant was soaking beans. The one sided strife as a result of her wrath resulted in the ripping apart of Giant’s armour and more importantly the spilling of beans from the vessel.

The rest is history. Jack finds those beans and plants them to grow a giant beanstalk. He climbs the beanstalk, falls in love with Giantess and runs away with her, killing Giant in the process.

What I just narrated is the origin story of the idiom spilling the beans on somebody. In this particular case, the beans were spilled on to the old man who ultimately let the cat out of the bag by giving Jack those beans (in exchange for his cow). Hence, spilling the beans became synonymous with revealing a secret.

As the title suggests, you have to explain an idiom of your choice literally by concocting a story like this one. If anyone would like to write the origin story of letting the cat out of the bag by continuing from the thread above, he/she is welcome to do so.

Posted in Creative Writing Topic

Midas’ Ink

As part of the summer activities of ELS, a creative writing session was conducted wherein participants had to write on the topic given below. The best entry from that event will be published on the blog as well.

-Pink Iguana

Midas’ Ink

Midas of Phrygia was an alchemist. In those days, the streets were full of alchemists and their useless apprentices. The people of Phrygia detested these alchemists. They called them sewer rats. Alchemists had earned this disdain because most of them engaged in fraudulent practices. They were like those quacks who had never performed a miracle. They could not even resurrect dead people, which was pretty commonplace. However, among these charlatans, there were few men of wisdom. They could mix a million potions and transform pewter into gold. Midas was not either of the two types of alchemists. His skill surpassed the skill of all those white haired ghosts who did not know what to do with stuff their gold could buy them (they generally ended up dead by synthesizing curare instead of elixir, their ingredients being similar). Midas could create tools that performed alchemy (proxialchemy). Among his most notable achievements is obviously his successful proxialchemy experiment with his own skin.

Now, it so happens that Midas was also an aspiring actor who liked to enact famous scenes that he had read about. So when he succeeded in his greatest experiment, he stripped away his golden clothes and ran naked in the streets of Phrygia, crying, “Eureka! Eureka!”. Unfortunately, nudity in public areas was a punishable offence by the conservative laws of those days. Moreover, anyone who mentioned Archimedes directly or indirectly in Phrygia could be executed because Archimedes was considered a heretic there.

Midas died a golden death because he touched the guillotine before his head was taken away from him. What a waste! The science of proxialchemy died with the death of Midas. Well, almost. There is a legend that Midas had created a quill which when filled with an alchemical ink spewed golden words, literally. In popular culture, this ink has been referred to as Midas’ Ink. Many believe that the quill and Midas’ Ink still exist…

You will tell me an interesting story which explains how Midas’ Ink travelled from Phrygia to Antarctica. You can use a series of steps with the final destination being Antarctica.

Word Limit: 600 words (NOT more than 600 words)

Estimated Time (to be taken): 60 minutes (THINK and write)