The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the unthinkable by Amitav Ghosh

Amitav

Very rarely does a book appear with the quintessential element of relevance crying out from every page. Amitav Ghosh’s”The Great Derangement” is exactly one such book. In a time characterised by an undesirable and unfortunate transmogrification where Riparian states wreak vengeance upon one another over what has been contrived into a contentious issue such as water sharing, and where fossil fuels are recklessly and rampantly exploited to the point of abuse, this work by Amitav Ghosh serves as an empathetic, elementary and essential reminder not to view the consequences of Climate Change as yet another set of an Emperor’s New Clothes.

Ghosh’s perpetual lament that threads its way throughout the contours of his book seems to be the ‘unjustified’ neglect accorded to the topical issue of Climate Change by litterateurs (himself included in the offending phalanx), artists and filmmakers. He attributes this defect to a tendency of ‘uniformization of the bourgeois life’ where exceptions to stereotypical norms are decreed as belonging to the realms of surrealism and magical realism. The carefully structured form of the novel has a general tendency, in the view of the author to preserve and protect the typical and not dwell too deep into the probability of the atypical. In the words of the author himself “Making a difference isn’t the point; the point is to examine the meaning of the arts. If we believe that the arts are meant to look ahead, open doors, then how is this huge issue of our time, absent from the arts? It’s like death, no one wants to talk about it.”

Ghosh also has an axe to grind on the economies that are carbon dependent and whose carbon footprints have the potential to wreak wanton ecological damage. He also mulls in despondency the future fossil fuel consumption patterns that might characterise the functioning of two of the largest economies in the Planet today – India and China. He also takes a very skeptical and scathing view of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, viewing it as an irascible and irrelevant fall out that is the contrivance of a handful of economic super powers that are bent on manipulating outcomes to suit their selfish needs. The poorer countries in Ghosh’s opinion are the real sufferers who are forced to bear the brunt of the avoidable consequences arising out of the perils of global warming.

Mulling about the preparedness (or the lack of it) of a mega city such as Mumbai to tackle the effects of climate change, Ghosh concentrates more on the preventive rather than the post mortem efficiency. Bringing the reader to the fact that the acts of reclamation and ursurpation of space from the seas have put the city of Mumbai in a perilous position vis-a-vis a probable natural disaster in the form of a Force 4 or 5 Cyclone, the author proceeds to detail the inefficient preventive measures that are currently in place for avoiding a catastrophe of gargantuan proportions. He also lays the blame on unscrupulous real estate developers who harrumph the luxuries of plots and condominiums that boast a magnificent sea front view to boost the value of properties when in reality these structures of opulence would be the ones that would be directly in the path of destruction of a venomous tsunami or a remorseless cyclone.

In summary, The Great Derangement serves as a clarion call for all the ‘denialists’ of climate change who instead of facing up to the real and present threat of global warming, bury their heads into the sands of complacency and callousness. This Ostrich like behaviour in the opinion of Amitav Ghosh will only ensure to blacken and blotch our maturity and sensibility in the eyes of a future generation which will look back startlingly at the anodyne and inane foibles of a populace that stood by their attitudes of tepidity and stupidity instead of heeding to an umpteen number of timely warnings that was delivered to them by Mother Nature.

Before that happens though there is still time for us to rouse ourselves from this self imposed slumber of negligence and act to save a Planet which is under a real threat of destruction.

The Turning Point: Science, Society, and the Rising Culture by Fritjof Capra

Capra

In “The Turning Point”, Fritjof Capra, the bestselling author of “The Tao Of Physics” elucidates the perils of being obsessed with the Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm. The effect of acruthless and focused reductionist approach, Capra argues, would only result in a world that is restless, impoverished, polluted and disillusioned. Capra’s proposed solution to the problem of reductionism is to adopt a “Systems” view of the world.

According to the Systems or the Systemic view envisaged by Capra, the ideal way for making the world better would be to view various processes from a holistic perspective considering the fact that the entire world is nothing but an agglomeration and synthesis of interactions, integrations and inter connectedness. This symbiotic approach can be seamlessly adopted to all social as well as hard sciences such as Economics, Physics, Medicine and other mercantile activities. For example a recognition that the field of Economics has an inextricable linkage with the Ecology within the contours of which the dismal science operates would facilitate a holistic approach towards embellishing the economic progress and removing the various disparities currently permeating the global economy such as income inequality and wealth dispersal.

Similarly when it comes to the domain of medicine, accepting that there is an invaluable linkage between the modern biomedical methods and the traditional approaches to healing such as Eastern medicine, mysticism and shamanism would enable the practitioners to treat their patients in a more humane and rational fashion rather than reducing patients to disabilities and concentrating on a particular part of the affected anatomy instead of viewing the sufferer as a whole. This is where according to Capra, a willful and voluntary synthesis between physiology, psychology and psychiatry and psychotherapy would play a vital and indispensable role revolutionising the field of medicine itself. While physicians will move out of the mindset that treatment of the body alone is their sole prerogative, psychiatrists and psychologists will also experience a paradigm mental shift whereby they would devote more attention to the human body. Thus the Descartes notion of mind-body duality would be rend asunder.Pursuing the Systems Approach would lead to a cascading flow of benefit such as alleviating poverty, reducing the stockpiling of nuclear weapons, lower reliance on nuclear fission and the consequent production of dangerous elements such as Plutonium, and obliterating the economic chasms separating countries in the world today.

While “Turning Point” lends a radical twist to modern thinking, some of the means to attain the end are controversial and disputable. For instance, relying upon the Primal Scream technique evolved by Arthur Janov as a mode of psychotherapy and according an elitist status to mysticism and shamanism as touchstones of healing surely does raise an eyebrow or two. Capra seems to place unfounded faith in P.D.Laing’s quote, “mystics and Schizophrenics both swim in the same ocean, but while mystics swim, schizophrenics drown”.

All in all, “Turning Point” serves as a brilliant and refreshing mind churner whose avowed objective lies in making the world a better place to live.

Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges, Anthony Kerrigan (translator), Anthony Bonner (translator)

Borges

Jorge Luis Borges was an inveterate thinker, an incorrigible genius and an inevitable tinkerer of thoughts. One need not go beyond a reading of “Ficciones” to grasp these facts. Borges auscultates his readers with a preciseness that puts the word ‘clinical’ to veritable shame. He hurls them into an inescapable and powerful vortex of contemplation, chaos, cacophony and calmness. A vortex which at first asphyxiates only to gain, at a later point in time a complete and voluntary submission on the part of the once-perplexed but subsequently contended subjects.

Ficciones is made up of seventeen awe inspiring and breathtaking pieces of fiction that transports the reader from the mundane wheel of every day existence into a temporal and metaphysical realm punctuated by vicissitudes and victories. The whorl of story telling has an impact that is scarring, an effect that is surreal and an outcome that is inexpressible. Lashing irony, lacerating contradictions and laconic surrender all weave together in an unparalleled tapestry of a human imagination that has reached exalted heights. Borges’ mind represents a niche connecting agony and ecstasy, light and shadow and purity and taint.

The remarkable ability of this wonderful story teller is revealed in the very first piece in the book, ‘Tlon Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’. The chance discovery by the narrator, of a mystical and mysterious Middle Eastern Country named Uqbar, triggered by what Borges describes as a ‘conjunction of a mirror and an encyclopedia, sets the tone for the reminder of the book. One can only marvel at the sheer and infinity capacity for conjecture and visual allegory possessed by Borges as the further search for details on Uqbar sets the seeker onto paths of regret and alleys of retrospection.

While ‘The Approach to Al Mu’tasim coalesces the gift of divination with a transformation of human angst and primal anger, ‘The Circular Ruins’ is a masterly tribute to Borges’ unnatural and unreal talent of crafting masterpieces out of thin air. A wizard deliberately dreams up his son and breathes life into him by singularly employing the technique of dreaming. ‘The South’ is a tragic tale befalling an optimistic man heading home to spend his future in a ranch restored by him and belonging to his ancestors.

John Updike in his praise of Borges, said “in resounding the the note of the marvelous last struck in English by Wells and Chesterton, in permitting infinity to enter and distort his imagination, [Borges] has lifted fiction away from the flat earth where most of our novels and short stories still take place”. Ficciones represents the very crux and core of Borges’ imagination, an imagination that frightens, allures, embraces, reviles, rants, reverberates, throbs and tantalisingly addicts anyone who has access to it. It is at once appealing and outrageous; exquisitely divine yet intensely demonic. Ficciones does not come to a conclusion once the last page between the covers has been absorbed by the reader. For this cannot be absorbed in one reading, it cannot be fully assimilated even after multiple readings. This collection is a magnificent prism which emanates a different pattern of colours each time one views it. It is the similar yet completely different. Claiming to be fully immersed in this work after just a singular read is not merely a plebeian claim, but a meek endeavour at self-deceit. The reader is best advised to avoid enveloping herself in such a self imposed cocoon of false security. Instead the reader will be best served in sincerely pledging never to stop reading Ficciones.

For Jorge Luis Borges should not be merely read, he has to be lived and experienced!

Número Zero by Umberto Eco

ECO“Numero Zero” by the late Umberto Eco is a thriller rendered willingly readable on account of a plethora of plots and sub-plots.

The one time Italian dictator and a sworn ally of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini a.k.a The Duce along with his mistress, Clara Petacci was captured trying to flee a lost cause, by the Political Commissar of the partisans’ 52nd Garibaldi Brigade, Urbano Lazzaro, on 27 April 1945, near the village of Dongo (Lake Como). The very next day, both Mussolini and Petacci were summarily shot. The shootings took place in the small village of Giulino di Mezzegra and were conducted by a partisan leader who used the nom de guerre of Colonnello Valerio.

The facts as stated above are those that are universally accepted, acknowledged and to a great extent, forgotten. But what if by a bizarre twist of fate, The Duce had a body double and as an act of ultimate sacrifice, it was the body double who gave up his life instead of the original leader? What if Benito Mussolini actually escaped to Argentina and sought refuge within the bowels of Buenos Aires waiting for an opportune moment to arrive, before he could spring a malevolent surprise on Italy yet again?

A disillusioned and dispirited author desperate to make ends meet, and who ends up working for an editor running a ‘dummy’ newspaper, comes into the know of some very uncomfortable facts relating to Mussolini and his possible escape conspiracy. He dismisses it as a fabric of improbable fiction before the acquaintance responsible for postulating this theory is found in a dark alleyway with a fatal knife wound in his back. Things heat up as the conspiracy theory gains substance and stature.

“Numero Zero” is a one sitting read and a just tribute to the story telling talents of a master author and a superb innovator.

The Aleph and Other Stories by Jorge Luis Borges, Andrew Hurley (Annotations)

Aleph

Jorge Luis Borges takes the oeuvre of fiction to an ethereal plane, a plane where fantasy ceases to be the tug and pull of human imagination and concocted tales breathe more conviction and credibility than recorded reality. Along with ‘The ‘Ficciones’, ‘The Aleph’, represents one of the most enduring collection of stories penned by this Argentinian literary genius. Ranging from the mellow to the macabre, each of these tales regale, rivet and reverberate under the dexterous influence of their creator.

‘The Dead Man’ hold forth on the untrammeled ambitions of a strapping young lad, who nurses a burning ambition of being the unquestioned and celebrated leader of a famous smuggling racket. The story unfolds at a dizzying pace and hurtles towards its tragic end, which on hindsight is the only befitting conclusion that merits the designs of the protagonist. “The Aleph” is a spellbinding tale of intrigue and perceived delusions, where an old man is desperate to hang on to a run down house, the landlords of which are equally hell bent upon destroying it. “Ibn-Hakam al-Bokhari, Murdered in his Labyrinth” would be a contender to give any detective story of repute a honest run for its money. This short story of deceit and revenge boasts of peculiar twists and pernicious turns involving a brave king and his cowardly but cunning Vizier. Add a slave and a lion to the mix, and you have a melting pot of visceral emotions, vertiginous plots and a vengeful conclusion.

The range covered by Jorge Luis Borges in this book leaves one reeling with admiration and astonishment. The perpetual motion machine that is the mind of Borges, weaves in and ducks out between Soul and Savagery; Barbarism and Benevolence; Introspection and Idiosyncrasy; darkness and realisation. Gods rule and rue, mere mortals ravage and repent; miracles proliferate and perish. This enchanting collection in the readers’ mind like an obstinate leech or a drop of the most powerful glue. There is no way that anyone who has devoured “The Aleph and Other Stories” will ever be able to eviscerate the same from her memory.

This collection symbolises the Latin Phrase “bis dat qui cito dat” (“he gives twice, who gives promptly -a gift given without hesitation is as good as two gifts”). Borges favours the world of literature with a precious gift given without the slightest jot of hesitation or reluctance. A gift that is ephemeral yet eternal, possessed easily yet most rare; and revealing yet hiding the most intricate of secrets.

We should be all perennially grateful to Jorge Luis Borges for such an extraordinary gift!

The Imaginary Girlfriend by John Irving

Irving

Too short a book for an autobiography and even shorter to qualify as a John Irving novel, “The Imaginary Girlfriend” is easily one of the most endearing books ever written by this marvelous author who has created a formidable niche for himself in the American literary landscape. Dedicated to two of his most beloved wrestling coaches and a close friend, this condensed memoir blends the bustling contact sport of wrestling with the more personal and imaginative art of Creative Writing.

A “half decent” wrestler (in his own words) on account of an inflexible athletic bent, and a more than good (as recognised by the world) author, John Irving started his academic career in a none too luminous manner. Afflicted by Dyslexia which made reading an enormous niggle, Irving overcame this hiccup to blossom into one of the most essential and celebrated authors of our time. His discomfort in academics was as prominent as his comfort on a wrestling mat. Under the able tutelage of his beloved coach Ted Seabrooke, Irving developed an incorrigible affection towards this sport. An affection that lasted for more than four decades as he served the sport in the capabilities of a competitor, referee and coach. Immersion in the gymnasium halls however did not detract from his literary aspirations as Irving went on to pen some of the most indelible works of fiction including the “The World According to Garp”, and “A Prayer For Owen Meany”.

What makes this condensed work worth reading is the boldness and candour employed by Irving. Not shying away from his own disabilities, he lays down with utter simplicity the trajectory which his life took crisscrossing between classrooms and competition venues. He also shares with the reader some invaluable lessons drilled into him by mentors of the likes of the inimitable Kurt Vonnegut. The book is an assortment of spontaneous wit and sedate wisdom. A perilous taxi ride costing $100 and involving a driver petrified of the dark (and who also turns out to be a suspected thief) is enough to have the reader in splits. Poignant and pertinent, this book by Irving is one which unlike the rest of his work will not leave the reader enervated, but instead will generate a feeling of insatiability for being over too soon!

“The Imaginary Girlfriend” – John Irving at his honest best!

Slapstick or Lonesome No More by Kurt Vonnegut

Slapstick

This is Kurt Vonnegut at his satirical and comical best! “Slapstick or Lonesome No More” is a science fiction comedy that will have you guffawing. Dr. Wibur Daffodil-11 Swain, 2 meters tall, 100 years old, a former pediatrician and also a former President of the United States pens his quasi autobiography while taking refuge in the now derelict precincts of Manhattan. “The City of Sky Scrapers” is now the “City of Green Death” after being mercilessly assailed by a fatal strain of plague popularly termed “The Green Death”. Dr.Swain lives with his grand daughter, Melody Oriole-2 von Peterswald and her lover, Isadore Raspberry-19 Cohen. His nearest neighbour is approximately a kilometer and a half away from him and it is the famous and magnanimous owner of slaves, Vera Chipmunk-5 Zappa. Dr.Swain is an incorrigible and inveterate collector of candlesticks and hence is adoringly referred to as “The King of Candlesticks”.

The birth of Wilbur Daffodil Swain and his sister Eliza was in itself not an event to be remembered for reverie and celebrations. Two monstrous, ugly and misshapen kids, Wilbur and Eliza were a stupendous shock to their parents who unable to bear the sight of their wretched offsprings’ dispatch them to a sprawling mansion on a secluded asteroid. However beneath the ugly constitutional veneer lies two minds of great intelligence and intuition. Eliza and Wilbur ransack the humongous collection of books in a stately vault in the mansion. Even though Eliza is incapable of either reading or writing her photographic memory stores every minutiae of detail as Wilbur reads all his books aloud. However their happiness is rend asunder courtesy of a psychiatrist who recommends that the pair be separated. What follows is the story of the separated siblings who each go their own way to face the harsh predicaments of life.

Lacerating wit and dollops of skepticism makes “Slapstick and Lonesome No More” a splendid read. Uncannily similar in its contour to “Cats Cradle”(yet another Vonnegut masterclass), this very short book juxtaposes comedy with profundity. A dying and plague ridden Manhattan, Miniature Chinamen whose astonishing levels of intelligence extends to tampering with the powers of gravity and triggering natural calamities, an edict from the American President to share middle names etc all in a subtle sense depict the shambolic state of existence characterising humanity today. References to a “Dresden Candlestick” reveals the extent of pain caused to Vonnegut as a result of the Dresden bombing during which he happened to be on duty as a soldier in World War II. The references to Dresden also chillingly reminds us of the magnificent “Slaughterhouse Five”, arguably Vonnegut’s greatest and most indelible work.

John Updike in his review of the book said about Vonnegut, “In “Slapstick” he transmutes science fiction into something like medieval myth, and suggests the halo of process, of metamorphosis and recycling, that to an extent redeems the destructiveness in human history to which he is so sensitive”.

We can all agree that Vonnegut does what Updike deems him to and much more!