Sunday, December 20, 2009


"The day, when it is established, is barely noticed in itself; continuous interests claim us; only if there is a dramatic thunderstorm, a blizzard or a partial eclipse of the sun may we momentarily forget the pursuit of our own life.

But at the beginning or the end of the day, at dawn or at sunset, when our relationship with all that we can see is in the process of rapid transformation, we are inclined to be as aware of the moment as of what we fill it with - and, often, more aware.

In the face of the dawn, even the supreme egotist is tempted to forget himself."

Page 41, 'G', John Berger
Photo: Sunrise at 4 AM in Lachung, North Sikkim, India (May 2003)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Christmas Memory

One freezing cold windy afternoon around Christmas time (Dec 2000), I take the subway to Harvard Square in Cambridge, Boston. Freezing cold windy afternoons usually find me inside heated houses remembering the warmth of the Indian sun and its people. This afternoon, I brave it all in layers of sweaters and caps and socks, the cold still cutting through the skin of my soul, because at The Coop bookstore, I had seen a notice about a storytelling session.

I find my way up to the second floor landing. There is a small group sitting on sofas chatting and nursing hot cups of coffee. I take my place among this group of strangers. And then comes the storyteller, a man in his forties perhaps, big warm smile, books in his hands. And without much ado, he starts reading Christmas stories to this motley group of adults, of different nationalities, most of us strangers to each other.

And we listen to Truman Capote's A Child's Christmas, a story about a young boy's memories of Christmases with a crazy old aunt, his best friend. Christmases going into the woods to find the perfect Christmas tree, and baking cakes for all the people who have been good to them, like the bus driver who went out of his way to drop them, and all the people who were spending Christmas alone.

And then a story by Dylan Thomas about childhood memories of Christmas in Wales. Within no time, we are feeling the snow crunch under our feet in bright fir-lined countrysides. Listening to the sound of logs crackling in warm fireplaces. Smelling fresh plum cakes just taken out of ovens. Tasting heady wine. And raising a toast to the spirit of Christmas - the spirit of forgiveness, renewal, and everlasting compassion in the face of all dryness, indifference, and betrayal.

When the one and a half hour session is over, there is a pause before everyone bursts into applause. And then people smile and laugh, tears in their eyes, and look at each other with warmth, and oddly, no one seems that foreign anymore.

As a French storyteller told during a session here last month, stories are not just meant to make little children sleep, but to make grownups think. And perhaps feel again what we lose touch with, in our haste to fit in with the world's definitions of success.

Stepping out into the darkness, the cold no longer seems so terrible. I stop to watch a group of youngsters doing a rap song and dance on the footpath to make money "to go perform in New York", a handwritten board says. Pretty weak performance by all standards, but I put some money in their collection box with a smile, so what if they just make it to the nearest pub and have a jolly good time - youth and laughter and joyful winter evenings rubbing shoulders with friends are still wonderful things in our fragile lives, and therefore causes worth supporting :)

The cold returns to us every year from the faraway places it goes to during the summer, to remind us how precious warmth is in all its forms, and how it must be created and preserved for our sustenance and continuance, now and forever.

(originally written as Editorial for 'Winter Solstice', the winter edition of the office newsletter Oct '03)

Friday, December 4, 2009


"..In classical Freudian psychoanalytic theory, the death drive ("Todestrieb") is the drive towards death, destruction and forgetfulness. It was first proposed by Sigmund Freud in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. The death drive opposes Eros, the tendency towards cohesion and unity. The death drive is sometimes referred to as "Thanatos" in post-Freudian thought, although this term has no basis in Freud's own work.'

When Freud worked with people with trauma (particularly the trauma experienced by soldiers returning from World War I), he observed that subjects often tended to repeat or re-enact these traumatic experiences, a phenomenon that Freud called repetition compulsion. This appeared to violate the pleasure principle, the drive of an individual to maximize his or her pleasure. Freud found this repetition of unpleasant events in the most ordinary of circumstances, even in children's play (such as the celebrated Fort/Da (Gone/There) game played by Freud's grandson, who would stage and re-stage the disappearance of his mother and even himself).

Freud's initial dichotomy between the reality principle (Ego) and the pleasure principle (Id) was unable to account for this phenomenon, as well as several other clinical phenomena, including primary masochism and depression. It was difficult to attribute such non-pleasurable activity to either the self-preserving ego or to the libidinal instincts solely focused on pleasure....

...To explain this discrepancy, Freud postulated the existence of a fundamental death drive that would counterbalance the tendency of beings to do only what they find pleasurable. Organisms, according to this idea, were driven to return to a pre-organic, inanimate state.

In doing so, Freud kept his earlier instinct theory almost intact, while omitting the property of reversal of content used to compensate for non-pleasure-principle behaviours of the sexual instincts, replacing it with a separate instinct of destruction and aggression not influenced by the pleasure principle.

Thus, for example, masochism is no longer the reversal of content of the sexual/self-preserving instincts, but rather the change of objects of sadism from external to internal, notably to the ego. Sadism is thus considered "a direct manifestation of the death instinct".

Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

"Because of its unique and distinctive sound, the (Shipping Forecast) broadcasts have an appeal beyond those solely interested in nautical weather. The waters around the British Isles are divided into sea areas, also known as weather areas and many listeners find the well-known repetition of the names of the sea areas almost hypnotic, particularly during the bedtime (for Britain) broadcast at 00:48 UK time."

Watch/listen to a Shipping Forecast:


Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.
Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child's name as though they named their loss.
Darkness outside. Inside, the radio's prayer -
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

Carol Ann Duffy
And this explains it:

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