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My book partner and intellectual freedom

Loitering here and there on Telegram searching for some books to read, I found my book partner. I really wanted to read with someone and a book partner was the best thing that could happen to me at that time. If you come to think of it, every person has miracles in life; good and bad both. I may not get struck by lightning, or see a ghost and get a heart attack. But I may find a bag full of gold bullions, I may marry Deepika Padukone, I mean who knows. There are so many miracles around us that I think every person will get at least 3-4 big surprises in life. I also think that people are the best kind of miracles that may happen to you, like the trust of a friend, the warmth of family, or finding a nice book partner.

So after we chatted for a while I declared that we should read a biography. Having done some research we settled for reading about Lincoln. Among so many things that we read in that biography, there’s one that I’m writing about here.

The American revolution for Independence (from British) basically started in 1763 and on 4th July, 1776 Thomas Jefferson wrote the American declaration of Independence. It has some of the most famous starting lines “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal”. Thomas Jefferson, the writer of these lines, owned more than a dozen slaves at that time, so much for equality. Anyways, the point is that America got its Independence in 1776, but that was just its political freedom. America still depended on Europe culturally and intellectually. The united States borrowed its philosophy, culture, and followed the intellectual Giants of Europe quite religiously.

Fast forwarding to 1840s, the time when Lincoln was practising law, there rose a new wave, a movement called transcendentalism. This was a cultural, literary and traditional transformation movement which freed America intellectually. The most influential writers of transcendentalism were Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau etc. The basic idea propagated by them was to be original. Emerson wrote “We’ve listened too long to the courtly muses of Europe.” He wanted America to be original, intellectually free from European ideas. He urged Americans to recognise that everyone was a uniquely significant human being and their own ideas could also be worthy of greatness. He busted the intellectual dependence of America on Europe and gave her people self confidence. Many original intellectuals emerged after this movement. Walt Whitman, one of the newly freed intellectuals, wrote “I was simmering, simmering, simmering, Ralph Waldo Emerson brought me to a boil.” After this United States never depended on Europe culturally and intellectually. 

One example of this that we can see today is that Americans make fun of the accent of British English, though it’s originally Britain’s language. So much self confidence they have gained. Another example may be of the Man Booker prize. Right after it was opened for “any English language novel” in 2014, the prize has gone to American authors two times (2016 and 2017). There are examples galore to prove the point that intellectual declaration of Independence is also necessary alongwith political one. If we think about it, we mostly follow Western lifestyle and consider it cool, modern, progressive etc etc. When we go to a McDonald’s outlet (MacDonald RIP) and order our Burger in English, we’re declaring our cultural and intellectual dependence on West. I think we do this to proclaim our class, that we are Western level modern and rich.

Anyways, what I noted while reading about all this was the timeline. In 1776 USA got its Political Independence and in 1846 (approximately), it was proclaiming its intellectual Independence. Therefore, it took America some 70 years to progress culturally, something that we call the cultural lag. Let’s draw this parallel for India. In 1947 we got our Independence, and it’s 2017 (only a few days left now), 70 years since we became politically independent. So, what about our intellectual freedom? 

We’ll write about it in the next post.


I don’t remember when I started preparing and for what. In a sense we all prepare for something all the time. But I’m talking about focussed intense preparation which takes us places, gets us selected in tough competitive exams. That kind. They say that by failing to prepare you are preparing to fail .The etymological meaning of preparation is ‘make ready before’. This means that even failure is made ready before, is prepared, and you can’t fail spontaneously. 

Years of preparation has taught me that one can fail spontaneously and similarly succeed spontaneously. There’s a certain meaninglessness in life, some randomness that makes it possible. And it’s not so rare, it happens all the time. Small accidents, small serendipities, big coincidences, sheer luck; whatever I might call it. I sincerely think that those stories which don’t have an element of randomness are not close to life. Some irrationality, some frustrating inexplicable things are part and parcel of life and stories based on it. So there’s a case for believing in miracles. Both good and bad ones. I mean read this Wikipedia entry, “Peng Fan, a chef in Foshan, China, was bitten by a cobra‘s severed head, which he had cut off 20 minutes earlier. Fan had set the head aside while using the body to prepare a soup.”

Still randomness is just that; random. I can’t count on it, but also can’t count without it. Sometimes miracles fit into our situations so perfectly, they are so what we need at that moment that they change our lives. Nietzsche once said that “But for every man there exists a bait which he can’t resist swallowing.” What if that bait comes to me, and lures me to success. Nelson Mandela held that where you’re born and the color of your skin decides pretty much your life.

But because I can’t control randomness, I could either wait patiently waiting for the force majeure to show me the way or I could strive for my goals. It’s safe to say that sometimes striving and sometimes leaving myself loose seems the best way forward. 

By now it may have become clear that I have this tendency to delve deep into topics which I don’t fully understand. Which noone fully understand, I think. The philosophical muses aside, I’m Kunal and this is the story of mein Kampf, my preparation. I’m in India, from a middle class family. My education is the typical Indian education; based on the old and new division of labor, while the artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain etc have rendered it somewhat obsolete. I’m not whining about the education system, actually I’m whining a little. The bottom line is that with the conventional Indian education, with the stories of Panchtantra and messages of Hinduism, and with a brain which is painfully slow to start at anything, I was readying myself for a preparation journey that everyone was taking. 

Let me start by telling about myself. Like most other people I grew up believing that I’m the only actual person, the protagonist of the story. Everyone else is just out there for my entertainment, to make my world full of people. With this comes the sense of entitlement that I’ll get whatever I want, sooner than later. One more thing that comes with this is the sense of invincibility. I found it hard to imagine that others can feel everything I felt. Even if they can feel it, well, not as clearly as I do.

The story of growing up is the breakdown of this simplicity which gets replaced by complexity. The food chain turns out to be a food web. The sooner this happens, the sooner a person matures. My story is also a story of painful realisations.

I keep digressing while telling my story. This is partly because I’m wired that way and partly because it’s required to provide richness to the story. But mostly because as and when ideas which I think to be impressive pop up in my mind, I’m tempted to make an impression. Mostly these ideas turn out to be boring. Like take this idea: Is impression the opposite of expression. Which one should a writer focus upon. A mix of both probably, who cares.

So apart from philosophising and digressing, I have a dumb brain. No kidding, when I was in class 7th, I once cried for 3 hours complaining that I can’t understand what they teach in class the way others can. I was slow to learn dance steps. It took me three full months and a lot of practice to play C and G chords on guitar. People usually called me dumb, blank etc.

But I’ll not fool you. I was always good with academics. The secret was my mother’s famous slaps. She was a school teacher in my school or alternatively I was in the school where my mother taught. And she could slap, like really slap someone to work. Under the influence of slaps my dumbness would lift for some time. And in this limited time I could learn the most important topics at least. Later on, tuitions kept me afloat. I usually performed when I was beaten first.