SAALT Immigration Forum

SAALT (South Asian Americans Leading Together) is holding a free immigration forum on Saturday, August 18th. You can learn about:

– Current immigration policy in California and the U.S.
– Your immigration rights at work, at airports, at home, and with police
– Immigration Fraud
– Learn if your immigration status will be affected if you receive Cal-works, Medi-Cal, Section 8, or other public benefits
– What to do if you experience hate crimes or discrimination

This is a free community event for all; Nepali, Bangladeshi, Afghani, Sri Lankan, Pakistani, and Indian community members are welcome. In partnership with: ASATA – Alliance of South Asians Taking ActionAsian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law CaucusServices, Immigrant Rights and Education Network (SIREN)South Asian Americans Leading TogetherNarikaMaitri Bay AreaJakara MovementCalifornia Immigrant Policy CenterThe Sikh CoalitionSikh Family CenterCAIR – San Francisco Bay Area

Saturday, August 18th from 3-5pm,. Comfort Inn – 5977 Mowry Ave, Newark, CA.  Contact info@saalt.org or call 301-270-1882. 
RSVP  here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/fremont-immigration-forum-tickets-48605159340

Tinder Has Changed the Mating Game

Go into any bar in New York City or San Francisco (or, increasingly, Mumbai and Delhi) popular with the younger crowd and you will find a curious transformation. The majority of the patrons spend at least as much time checking their phones as they do checking out potential mates, or talking to people they are with.

Why? They are on Tinder. The wildly popular dating app has changed the mating game, in ways that are toxic. A growing body of research associates Tinder use with less romantic satisfaction, less happiness and even diminished sense of self-worth — particularly among men.

Let’s be clear: online dating isn’t itself bad. This new way of finding mates has broken down plenty of barriers. We can now meet people from different parts of the country, from diverse social groups. Websites such as Shaadi.com and BharatMatrimony.com are good at doing what marriage brokers and classified ads have long done.

But Tinder brings a fundamental change to online dating. In the past, online dating was an intentional act. People logged on to a dating website to look for partners. The website was separate from other online activity and wasn’t just focused on inducing addictive behaviour.

Tinder used swiping and other clever user-interface tricks that foster the actions of rating, comparing and selecting potential mates. This made dating an omnipresent activity — swipe left, swipe right — that Tinder users could play in bars, in elevators, on the subway. Tinder’s innovation made online dating more addictive and comparative in an unhealthy way.

The effects of dating apps on happiness are complex. On the one hand, online dating exposes people to a far wider set of options and allows filtering by criteria of the user’s choosing.

On the other hand, the paradox of choice affects many by making a decision difficult. And when they do make a decision, they can be less happy with it — possibly because that style of online dating promotes a mentality that views people and relationships as commodities to shop for.

Find Me a Find

Tinder promotes a winner-take-all effect, wherein everyone seeks the most attractive people. This eliminates selection of mates by other variables that may be more predictive of compatibility, leading to frustration all around.

Evaluating choices side by side tends to encourage daters to emphasise factors and characteristics that are unlikely to determine compatibility. Whether someone is fairer or taller, is highly unlikely to reflect compatibility over time. Far less so than more innate traits such as empathy, intelligence or humour.

Particularly useless are superficial physical traits that tend to be overemphasised due to reliance on photos as the primary basis upon which to choose a date. Psychologists have long known that humans are bad at predicting compatibility.

Tinder makes that bad prediction far more common, and replaces other modes of interaction that might lead us to better matches. Scientists are coming to believe that physical attraction is not fixed.

We change what we think about people’s attractiveness based on our interaction with them. Funny, clever or extremely empathetic people may become more attractive to us after we talk or spend time with them.

Kansas University researchers documented this effect, calling it the ‘Tinder trap’. In a lab setting, they showed subjects pictures of potential mates and asked them to rate their attractiveness.

The researchers then introduced some of the subjects to the people they had rated face to face. The scientists found that potential partners they had rated as less attractive or moderately attractive were far more likely to get increased ratings after a face-to-face meeting than were potential partners they had rated as attractive.

So, evaluating a potential partner solely on visual attractiveness is a poor predictor of what you will think of that person once you meet in real life.

Perhaps, most importantly, rating people’s attractiveness prior to meeting them tends to diminish the rater’s evaluation of that person afterward, “probably because the rater is comparing their conversation partner to all the other potential partners they saw online”.

In other words, the apparently endless choice that online dating offers may cheapen and undermine our perceptions of people in real life.

Some online-dating applications have been linked with low self-esteem. In a survey of Tinder users and non-users, those who used the swiping app recorded lower levels of self-worth and, along with other negative impressions, said that they were less satisfied with their own face’s appearance. Curiously, this effect was stronger in male users.

Catch Me a Catch

In our new book, Your Happiness Was Hacked: Why Tech Is Winning the Battle to Control Your Brain — and How to Fight Back, Alex Salkever and I look at how some technologies are actually diminishing our well-being.

Tinder is one of the most troubling developments we have seen, but it is in a long line of efforts by tech companies to addict users using techniques perfected in Las Vegas casinos and fine-tuned by armies of scientists and user experience experts in Silicon Valley.

The fact is that the tech industry is working overtime to steal our happiness, and we must wrestle it back.

This article has been reprinted here with the permission of the author.

Date/Time Event
Aug 5, 2018 - Aug 19, 2018
11:00 am - 5:00 pm
The House Imaginary
The House Imaginary
San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose CA
Aug 9, 2018 - Aug 19, 2018
All Day
The 5th Annual Desi Comedy Fest
The 5th Annual Desi Comedy Fest
Aug 9, 2018 - Aug 19, 2018
9:00 am - 12:00 pm
Violin Summer Workshop
Violin Summer Workshop
Aug 9, 2018 - Sep 23, 2018
11:00 am
Circus Vargas
Circus Vargas
Various, San Jose CA
Aug 11, 2018 - Aug 18, 2018
12:00 am
Anita Dongre Bridal Week 2018
Anita Dongre Soho, New York New York

Amit Bhandari Donates $50,000 to Ekal

By Manu Shah

Houston based entrepreneur Amit Bhandari and his wife Arpita shaped their own American dream but along the way they also nurtured the aspirations of thousands of children, whether in the remote village of Rampura or the slums of Mumbai.

Ekal was one of the first charities the Bhandaris supported and they have consistently raised this support. They recently topped it by donating $50,000 dollars to outfit a bus with 10 laptops for the Ekal-on-Wheels Mobile Computer Labs program.

The Ekal movement which started in 1989 to transform India, one village at a time, today, has a school in 70,000 villages offering free schooling, vocational training, digital competence and agricultural education. It has impacted 4 million children and 10 million families to date.

The Mobile Computer Labs initiative is working to enhance digital literacy and has helped over 50,000 children become computer literate. The solar powered bus has pre-installed self-learning software developed by IIT, Mumbai and accommodates two students per computer. One dedicated trainer, assisted by the local Ekal teacher provides two and a half hours of training in one village.

The bus, which will serve the Khargone district of Madhya Pradesh near Indore, was inaugurated by Amit and Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan. Amit was impressed by how “coachable and open to learning the children were.”

However, this isn’t the first time the Bhandaris have opened their checkbook. They support the Jain Society of Houston, donated six acres of land for the Gujarati Samaj center in Houston, wrote a quarter million dollar check to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Fund for Hurricane Harvey relief work, paid off the loans of a temple in Phoenix and raised $3 million for Magic Bus, an NGO that is deeply personal to them and aims to bring children out of poverty through a unique sports based curriculum.

Amit attributes this empathy to his modest upbringing. He is a native of Indore, Madhya Pradesh. His parents were professors but the family was always stretched financially. Despite this, his parents supported a handicapped school and were always ready to provide a helping hand.

Amit’s entrepreneurial leanings kicked in as early as middle school when he and a friend made paper bags and sold them to local vendors. At 17, he was accepted in the Rotary Student Exchange Program and attended High School in Hicksville, Ohio. America turned out to be “a tremendous experience” so much so that he got his aunt to sponsor his green card. He headed to Drexel University in Philadelphia for Chemical engineering and footed his tuition by waiting on tables. The job was a formative lesson in “time management, juggling priorities and dealing with people.”   

The engineering degree landed him a job at ExxonMobil but Amit’s afterhours were spent scouting for a good business idea. He plunked his savings into a daycare, rental properties and a convenience store and in 2006, started his own company BioUrja (Urja in Hindi means energy.)  The company trades in ethanol, petroleum products, crude oil, grains, metal tubing for the oil production sector and now renewable energy. It is ranked as one of the most successful companies in Texas.

There’s parental pride in his voice when he talks of his daughter and son who spent weeks as Magic Bus Youth Leaders in slums and villages engaging with the children. The experience moved Aanya, 16, to present a paper at the United Nations outlining ways of providing nutritious food and educating farmers on employing better agricultural methods. Ansh, 14, on his part, is looking forward to spending more of his summers supporting Magic Bus programs worldwide.

 

Dhadak: Ishaan and Jhanvi shine, but the beat is missing

Dhadak lacks the unbridled consonance and passion of Marathi movie Sairat, on which it is based, but the lead pair and a compelling second half make it worth a visit. Janhvi Kapoor’s star presence is unmistakable as Parthavi Singh. She is talented, dewy, and has inherited Sridevi’s grace and easy charm. Ishaan Khatter’s Madhukar Bagla is au naturel, and gets ample space to show off his acting chops. It will be interesting to watch where the two actors go from here.

Writer-director Shashank Khaitan’s interpretation of Sairat is similar to the original in most parts, with changes to suit its new popular context. This version starts with a food-eating competition where Parthavi and Madhu fall in love at first glance. The first half is set in Udaipur and the second half in Kolkata, their living conditions are slightly better and urbanised post interval. That compromises the original’s seamless social message as well as its rural character and twinkle, and so Dhadak stays in the above-average zone. It is also jarring pre-interval and rushes through the couple’s journey towards the end. Shashank does retain Archie’s spirit in Parthavi. Of course, she is more decorous and less wild, but still spunkier and different than the average Hindi heroine, which is refreshing.

Moving on, love strikes when Parthavi and Madhu meet, both different in caste and class. Parthavi is daring, spontaneous, and assertive. Madhu is shy, smitten, and malleable. Parthavi will do what it takes to love and fight for it, unlike Madhu, who also loves but prefers to toe the line. Pehli Baar captures the first flush of his sentiments for the most part – especially with the final jump into the lake and Parthavi’s visit to the doctor. I missed Parthavi’s version – which was an important element in Sairat as it showed both sides in the culmination stage. Madhu’s father (Govind Pandey) cautions his son while his mother (Aishwarya Narkar) remains oblivious to the development. He tries to resist for a bit but gives in after Parthavi’s wicked prods. Brother Roop (Aditya Kumar) is on to them and snitches to father Ratan Singh (Ashutosh Rana). The plot is marred by screen time devoted to Ratan’s political confrontations. Gokul (Ankit Bisht, sincere) and Purshottam (Shridhar Watsar, underused) hang at the sidelines.

The movie picks up after the pair escape to Mumbai, and move to Calcutta where they rent a small room from Sachin Bhowmick (Kharaj Mukherjee) and wife (Subhavi) although Sairat‘s Suman Akka (Chhaya Kadam) was more effective. Her compassion in the slum setting had made the couple’s struggle for survival appear more profound and real. Madhu and Parthavi, in comparision, find jobs and settle fairly easily in sweet Bengal land.

Shashank doesn’t cover the wide expanse of caste and honor divides as well as economic marginalisation that Nagraj Manjule did, which is a disappointment. Sairat was richer for what it conveyed in as much screen time by respecting all its characters. Archie and Parshya’s friends, parents, and Suman Akka were treated with warmth and care despite their length, surroundings or failings. The handicapped character is replaced by a little person, with his treatment bordering on caricaturist, which is a shame.

The result is that no one makes a mark apart from Kharaj Mukherjee, Subhavi and Ankit Bisht. Ashutosh Rana is good but miscast. Vishnu Rao’s cinematography is effective, especially with making Janhvi look ethereal. Editor Monisha R. Baldawa does what she can with the material she is given.

Ajay-Atul return to rejig their tracks, with Amitabh Bhattacharya’s lyrics, and do fine repeating tunes in the delicate Dhadak Title Track and sweeping Pehli Baar. They replace Aatach Baya Ka Baavarla with the lovely Vaara Re. Sad to report that Zingaat suffers on all fronts: the lyrics and picturisation are plain awkward. It needed a fresh tune and setting.

Both Janhvi and Ishaan seem more comfortable in the city, which shows in the ease of their performance. I loved the Howrah Bridge scene where they make up after their final fight.

Ishaan has some fine moments and just needs to get comfortable with the Hindi film hero mold if he wants to continue that journey. The actor holds his own with little glances here and there, with sincerity and an open body language.

Janhvi is hesitant in comparision but still makes Parthavi shine. If only her dialogue delivery was more consistent, she would have been the scene stealer. I loved her simple look in Kolkata as compared to the ornate one in Udaipur. In terms of acting, she is fresh and comes with her own identity. Although in some scenes, I could see and hear Sridevi in the way she turned her face or said a line. She will take time developing her skill; her mother had practice since childhood.

If you are a die-hard Sairat fan, please venture with adequate care and no expectations. If you haven’t watched the original, it is an above average watch. Sridevi fans, do watch it for Janhvi. Even if you don’t like her acting as much, you will see glimpses of what we all lost in February.

3 out of 5

 

Dhadak. Writer-Director: Shashank Khaitan. Players: Ishaan Khatter, Janhvi Kapoor, Kharaj Mukherjee, Ashutosh Rana. Music: Ajay-Atul. Lyrics: Amitabh Bhattacharya. Theatrical release: Zee Studios, Dharma Productions.

 

Hamida Parkar is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of cinemaspotter.com. She writes on cinema, culture, women, and social equity.

This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain.

 

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In That Moment

As I stood there, and watched him walk those last steps of high school, time just froze and our journey together flashed in front of my eyes. It was a bittersweet moment as he proudly walked up to receive his high school diploma. He was a little less than three, full of curiosity and a twinkle in his eye when I landed on the shores of America 15 years ago, expecting nothing, but hoping for everything.

He was my partner as we discovered this land together. We started our journey with inhibitions but with hope in our hearts. He must have missed the attention and love he got from those that surrounded him when he had been in India. I, on the other hand, missed the chance to have any kind of adult social contact. Absolutely lonely, with no work visa, I had suddenly transformed from a busy working woman in India to being a full-time mother in America deprived of all adult interaction till my husband returned home at the end of each work day.

From discovering how a dishwasher was operated to the marvel of tasting sweet yogurt, he was my confidant and partner. We squatted on the kitchen floor to create figurines made of play dough and we squealed in delight as we created buildings with all kinds of blocks. His passion for cars came alive in that 2-bedroom small apartment, which overlooked green well-kept gardens, with not a soul as far as our eyes could go. We walked to the balcony each morning, clapping whenever we saw someone walk by. We created daily routines around one another, since we had no friends or family for company. We started to unravel the mysteries of America slowly through the lens of a mother and son.

As I struggled with the idea of leaving my social structure behind, with my family and home of several years thousands of miles away, he was my hope and my distraction from always wondering about whether things would work out for us in this country. His unbridled sense of curiosity and his ability to start conversations with complete strangers got me acquainted, over time, with many new people. We started to make friends soon, outside our circle of two. He would strike up conversations with people at Walmart and I would soon make new friends. We were good together. Very soon for his first birthday in America, we found ourselves celebrating with several other families. His first mommy and me classes taught me about the value of building communities and taught him his first lessons in sharing, making friends and learning consequences for ill actions. I don’t know when “good job” and “high five” became part of my lingo.

They say that parents teach their children language, life skills, and social norms helping them grow and learn new things, but a lot of that is actually a two-way street. As I look back, he made it so much easier for me to assimilate into this new life. I can’t even imagine how lonely I would have been had it not been for the company of my first born when I first came to this country. We shared not just happy moments but also anger, frustrations and growing pains.

He led the path for us as he took his first journey in his new elementary school. I held his hand as he walked to his first classroom, without mommy. He turned around and I remember his first look of disappointment as he saw me leave him. Those small droplets of tears in his eyes pleaded with me. The teacher’s assurances that he would be okay seemed dishonest. After being with him and only him for many months, this seemed like the hardest thing to do. He had become the friend that I liked sharing big and small things with.

Years later, today as he stands tall with his friends, in a cap and gown, talking with confidence and assurance, he is looking ahead. His journey has just begun and there is a lot to discover, and look forward to. Memories of us starting out together in America will always hold me close to my first born. While those wondrous days will never come back, I hope that I continue to be a small part of the big world he is going to create for himself. They call out his name and he starts to walk up those steps and suddenly, just like that, he turns around, looks at me and smiles. In that small moment I cherish the friend that I discovered years ago. With pride, nostalgia and tears in my eyes, my truest blessings involuntarily go his way, as they invite the Westview High graduating class of 2018.

Veenu Puri Vermani – An Analytics professional, a freelance writer and a full-time mother who lives in San Diego California with her two sons and her husband.

 

Yoga: Walking on a Path Beyond the Asanas

The characterization of stress as a “silent killer,” and of yoga as an antidote to stress rests on solid scientific research. And just as prolonged stress can literally shorten one’s life, yoga as an antidote to stress can be seen as enhancing wellness.

One of the earliest definitions of yoga refers to the power of yoga to soothe mental agitation. In Patanjali’s Yogasutra, we find a definition of yoga as “the suppression of the modifications of mind.” (Yogah chitta vritti nirodha.)

In his book, Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar believes that the modifications of the mind disturb peace. “As a breeze ruffles the surface of a lake and distorts the images reflected therein, so also the chitta vrtti disturb the peace of the mind. When the mind is still, the beauty of the self is seen reflected in it.”

In 1957 Basu Kumar Bagchi from the University of Michigan conducted research for the first time that showed that yoga brings about “deep relaxation of the autonomic nervous system.” Advanced yogis can control both sympathetic as well as parasympathetic systems. The sympathetic nervous system exhibits the “flight or fight” response. The adrenal glands produce adrenalin, which inhibits digestion and makes blood available to the muscles for quick action. The parasympathetic system serves to calm the nerves, promotes the absorption of food, and curbs the flow of adrenaline. The sympathetic system thus serves as an accelerator, and the parasympathetic system as a brake. Prolonged exposure to stress can have deleterious health ramifications on the nervous system.

Harvard physician, Herbert Benson, who examined the effects of yoga and meditiaton wrote a 1975 book The Relaxation Response, which became a modern classic on undoing stress.’ Benson and his colleagues studied the phenomenon they referred to as hypometabolism—a “wakeful cousin of sleep that exhibits low energy expenditures.” He called the relaxation response “an inducible physiologic state of quietude” that healed and revitalized.

While the ancient yoga sutras of Patanjali outline the meditative traditions of yoga emphasizing concentration, contemplation and self-realization, a more modern version has become popular under the umbrella of “mindfulness.” Kabat-Zinn, a professor of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has popularized the notion of mindfulness that he learned from Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. “Mindfulness means paying attention, in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally, ” he says in a video on Youtube.

My own experience has borne out much of these research findings. Though I had practiced yoga as a child, I felt what has been referred to as the “mind-body connection,” only as an adult practicing in America. Yoga became a peaceful oasis in the middle of a stressful week. Whereas aerobics classes left me energized, the sense of quietude that followed a yoga session was as if I was flooded with wellbeing and bliss. As class sizes grew, the YMCA in the Dallas suburbs where I lived offered one, and eventually, three yoga classes.

When I moved to California, I eagerly sought out the yoga offerings at the local YMCA. A “traditional” yoga class that I signed up for was different than what I had encountered. Rather than focusing on energetic asanas, it proceeded at a meditative and slow pace. My younger self found this a bit irritating, as I mentally tapped my foot restlessly, waiting for the action to happen. Focused as I was on burning calories and weight reduction, I avoided this slow pace for several years, focusing instead on the more energetic asana-based yoga styles. Eventually, I began to appreciate the restorative yoga classes more.

By this time, I had mastered the warrior poses as well as the sun salutations, but the crow pose still presented a challenge for me. Only recently have I begun to feel comfortable in these poses—crow, tripod headstand, and wheel, which prove that I am still making progress along this path. The adage that we learn something new everyday has been an accurate portrayal of my yoga experience. Without fail, though, the shavasana at the end of the class has quite consistently been the most rewarding part of the class for me.

While discussion of one’s meditation “phenomenon” is discouraged among yoga practitioners, I was quite drawn to the descriptions of other meditators, who discussed colors and lights and sounds during meditations. In my own meditation experiences, there are some distinct experiences that I can recall. One such meditation experience was when our family was faced with a very stressful decision of whether to move our family away from California. My daughter, who was then in high school, was reacting very negatively to this possibility. During one of my meditation sessions, I focused on a wish to free my daughter of her pain. During my meditation, I had a sensation of energy streaming through my body. A few weeks later, we made a decision not to move from California. The sheer intensity of my meditative experience has made this an unforgettable memory.

Another intense meditation I experienced was during a visit to the Tibetan monastery in Dharamsala. I was in a room with a large statue of the avalokiteswara, and began to meditate. Again, I felt a very strong cathartic emotion, as if the pain that I had been experiencing was being dissolved and tears began to flow from my eyes. This is the closest first hand experience I had to the melting of toxic emotions in a meditative state.

More recently, I have found that at the end of a yoga class, during the shavasana, I might experience meditative bliss. Waves of pure joy seem to course through my closed eyes and I am filled with ananda (joy). It is a disappointment when the shavasana comes to an end.

This inner sanctuary of peace can become a refuge during life’s ups and downs. It is a sanctuary to which one returns time  and again. Though alcohol and drugs can induce a state of artificial happiness for a little while, ancient yogis had discovered a natural mood and creativity enhancer in meditation and it is no wonder that today many more are literally paying attention.

First published in December 2016.

Geetika Pathania Jain is a yoga practitioner.  She has been teaching hatha yoga in the Bay Area for several years.

Naipaul’s Lives: Half and Whole

MAGIC SEEDS by V.S. Naipaul. Knopf, 2004. Hardcover, 288 pages. $25.00.
Magic Seeds is the second half of Half a Life, V.S. Naipaul’s novel written just before he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001. Although the two books together do not stitch together an entire life, they do weave a wholly satisfying evolution of a modern worldview—that of Willie Chandran, born in India of a Brahmin father and a low caste mother, spottily educated in England, married and lost in Africa, redirected by his sister, Sarojini, from the relative comfort of Germany to a doomed social revolution in India, and finally rescued from an Indian jail back to London.

Because of Willie’s wide-ranging and seemingly aimless travels, he does not possess a rooted voice. “It’s the one thing I have worked at all my life: not being at home anywhere, but looking at home.” Increasingly he is aware of his place in the world, but it is always as a seeker who has not yet found what it is he is looking for. To be sure, Willie changes and grows. In a stretch of writing that feels almost religious, with Willie, Buddha-like, setting out on the Indian road to see the world anew, Naipaul transports the reader to places never seen, or visited and long-forgotten. He helps Willie, and thus the reader, to see what has always been there—dust, old dust—but has gone unnoticed and unremarked upon. Naipaul makes the unremarkable remarkable: “At every halt there was dust and the smell of old tobacco and old cloth and old sweat … Willie thought in the beginning, ‘I am going to have a shower at the end of this.’ Then he thought that he wouldn’t: that wish for hour-to-hour comfort and cleanliness belonged to another kind of life, another way of experiencing. Better to let the dust and dirt and smells settle on him.”

But in the end, even though Naipaul bestows upon Willie this yogic discipline as well as a Naipaulian certainty about the world, Willie remains both an unreliable and unsympathetic character. This makes the fiction less a pleasure and more a vehicle for understanding Naipaul’s worldview and his way to that view, not unlike reading Orwell for his politics of power and powerlessness or the Mahabharata for its commentaries on virtuous behavior in a just society.

Some liberal critics have always found much to dislike in Naipaul’s politics, finding him to be a defender of imperialism. While they will take similar issue with Magic Seeds, they will again be wrong. Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul (he was knighted by the Queen of England in 1990) is not sympathetic to the politics of the oppressor; but neither is this diasporic descendent of indentured servants sympathetic to the politics of the oppressed. Naipaul only claims allegiance to truth, his truth as he sees it.

Although Naipaul does have an expansive worldview, he certainly does not take everything into this expansiveness. There is little, if any, room for love or optimism. Magic Seeds has no sustained belief in the possibility of love and optimism. It is sad, and it is perhaps a reason to not read him. But it is a far better reason than the unfair politics of the left that have demonized Naipaul as some kind of coconut with a pen—all brown and hairy on the outside, but pure white inside. A more accurate metaphor would be an unopened but achingly dry coconut: the exterior shell hardened by, and to, a hard world; the interior unseen and unseeable because the protective brittleness of the shell penetrates to the core.

Naipaul gives small glimpses into this vulnerability in a letter from Willie to Sarojini about his late-in-life desire to be an architect. Upon returning to London after his stint in an Indian jail, Willie writes: “The difficulty there is that to any logical mind it is absurd for a man of fifty to start learning a profession. The main difficulty is that to carry it out I would need an injection of optimism … The only optimism I had was when I was a child and had a child’s view of the world. I thought for two or three years with that child’s view that I wanted to be a missionary. This was only a wish for escape. That was all my optimism amounted to. The day I understood the real world the optimism leaked out of me. I was born at the wrong time.”

Just as optimism leaked out of Willie, somewhere on Naipaul’s life journey, optimism also leaked out of him. But unlike Willie, Naipaul was not born at the wrong time. Over the past three quarters of a century, he has been witness to a changing world. He has used the written word to translate what he has seen and make sense of it all. Born in Trinidad, he left that island as a scholarship boy and observed the final gasps of British imperialism. As Naipaul matter-of-factly, but with a hint of the pride of a self-made man, claims in the publisher’s Note About the Author that accompanies all his books, “After four years at University College, Oxford, he began to write, and since then has followed no other profession.”

In Dublin, not faraway from Naipaul’s adoptive England, there is an exhibit at the Trinity College Library called “Turning Darkness Into Light.” The exhibit takes its title from “Pangur Ban,” a poem written about the writer’s life by a 9th century Irish monk.

’Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
’Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try,

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.

While Naipaul has always been full and fierce and sharp and sly, for me he turns light onto darkness, shining his particular brilliance on the world’s darkness. He dourly demands that we see the shadows. As with Magic Seeds, I usually leave his books shaken and troubled, my sunny optimism braced for the challenges of our changing and unchanging world.

Rajesh C. Oza is an organization alignment and change management consultant. He seeks to align that calling with a change back toward a writer’s life. 

This article was originally published in 2005.

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