Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Confessions by Richard Dawkins

Confessions by Richard Dawkins (Book Review)

A Devil’s Chaplain: Selected essays by Richard Dawkins, Edited by Latha Menon, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London (2003). ISBN 0 297 82973 4

When I make a statement I am certain, whether it hits the mark or not, it boomerangs. I just borrowed this book from a public library. The publishers introduce Richard Dawkins as ‘one of our most important evolutionary biologists, and a bestselling writer, for many years. A Devil’s Chaplain is a personal, intriguing selection of his writing which represents a portrait of one of the finest minds in science.’

As usual I go through the introduction (by the editor), Endnotes, Index, and the second cover page. The title refers, though not mentioned, to God, religion faith, beliefs, authority etc., and thereby its context to science. In the background lies evolution – creation debate that is going on in the West. Endnotes and Index have no clue to what I was looking for any reference to the Eastern religions/ cultures. I felt the author’s world is flat – two dimensional. The book contains lot of information though.

As I read the first chapter, “A Devil’s Chaplain” I catch a quote: ‘…There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed* into a few forms or into one…’ which carries a footnote: ‘*in the second edition of the Origin, the three words ‘by the Creator’ were introduced at this point, presumably as a sop to religious sensibilities’ (p. 13). This obviously refers to Charles Darwin and his ‘Origin of Species’, which I have not read.

Then I turn to the last and only chapter, ‘Good and Bad Reasons for believing’ of the last section, ‘A Prayer for my Daughter’. It is actually a letter written by him to his ten year daughter. I find it was worth reading and sharing with others – adults and children alike, for its orientation towards children, though no one need to agree to everything that he says. We don't know what circumstances made him write a letter instead of speaking in person.

Then I quickly go through rest of the pages, reading few here, few there. The book is full of information. However, much of it may not be comprehensible, or may not be possible to refer back to the references as not many books are available, without the help of specialised libraries. I am not a scientist, besides.

I have been gathering a lot of impressions and some information too over decades. I am not sure how much of this accumulation has turned into knowledge; about any wisdom I am doubtful.

When I read the Marathi Reader compiled by Acharya (Principal) Pralhad Keshav Atre, in my first standard, I developed liking for reading. I did my primary schooling at my native village. I, like many, did not get books (other than textbooks), newspaper or magazines. I would pick any scrap – an old newspaper used for packs that came from grocery shops – to read. Later I was borrowing books from others who had them. Our primary school had a couple of hundred books, which I finished in no time.

Now I read anything available about science from newspapers, magazines, books…, knowing that it is emerging as a new global religion in modern times, bringing along its faith, beliefs, disputes, and also superstitions. Thankfully it, too, is not universal, though global, and is in the safe custody of the scholars, experts and authority alike Vedas in the hands of Brahmins in India.

However now I read selectively, in scraps, at random, even from the bestsellers; I don’t look for entertainment that is usually taken for granted by writers and publishers. I tend to check its claims at the ground level, below my feet, here and now – the hard evidence, which Dawkins boasts while challenging religious and cultural beliefs etc. The results are mostly discouraging.

I find sciences and scientists, as in other disciplines such as architecture and planning, are fragmented, egoistic, and contented in their respective compartments and superstitions. There is no test tube containing ‘life’. They are blissfully divorced from life.

More I read about sciences – pure, natural, applied or social… more I am disillusioned. It is no more than adding the burden on history that is so fickle. This applies even to this book. More I read about the advances in different fields, and the strife it has caused all over the world, more I am convinced it has reduced the living to objects. By adding the three words Darwin has separated Creator from life.

I believe that life – Life – is larger than all the religions and philosophies, arts and sciences, forget the trades and the technologies, of all the ages and places; life is not a four-letter word. I believe that life is larger than all the gods the humanity has invented in all the ages.

How would anyone explain the birth of Sri Ganesh in modern vocabulary? Is he a clone? Did he receive his elephant head in a transplant operation?

On reading, ‘the “Information Challenge” turns out to be none other than our old friend: “How could something as complex as an eye evolve?’ (p. 102), I quote my verse ‘Oldie’s Secret’ here:

Oldie's Secret or Design by Evolution

If any talk of Oldie comes, ‘I’ quits.
This Person is pretty slow in our times.
Now see! How long did Oldie take
to design Homo sapiens, who is thriving on
the fruit of wisdom from Garden of Eden?
Now we are living sure fast life.
Instant food. Instant image. Instant Dolly.
Inflated ego. Inflated market. Inflated houses,
Such as, London – New York – Tokyo – Singapore,
taking farther the metropolitan culture,
taking over from the British Isles, turning faster
the Garden of Gaia, than ever before,
into a perpetual desert to last forever.
Cleverly we build ‘Ark of Genes’ to prepare
for man-made catastrophe, while we continue
to destroy ugly Oldie’s ugly designs.
Thoughtful or crazy Oldie the designer
be to evolve our nose and ears in pair
To carry our proud spectacles, and eyeballs
to wear contact lenses. But Oldie’s secret
and tantrum remain elusive to our vision.

(3 February 2002)

Darwinism or Evolutionism or Judeo-Christian Creationism: why worry? We – the humans – are just speck in haystack: Just be Happy. It’s high time, though civilisation hasn’t progressed much in 5000 years, to wonder at and Love the Life!
Remigius de Souza
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Remigius de Souza

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Self-portrait & Profile

Tentacles: Self-portrait by Remigius de Souza
Profile: Remigius de Souza

Remigius de Souza doesn’t prefer to identify himself with any occupation or profession, trade or creed, place or people, class or caste; and considers his name is only an address.

Born in Konkan, nursery school was his homestead, where grasses, bushes, woods were in abundance, where rich wild life moved sang danced freely, where he sucked honey drops from the Adulasa flowers.

At formative years he grew up on paddy farms. While learning by working – experiencing organic farming, spinning cotton and handloom weaving, adobe–abode building and its maintenance, side by side, he pursued literacy in vernacular at the public school at his native village, free i.e. at public cost.

He completed his architectural education at Mumbai in due course, but walked away from the qualifying exams on the first day, only to return after nine years to finish it successfully.

Meanwhile he worked in architects’ offices in Mumbai and Ahmedabad. For seven years he worked on the Development Plan, Town Planning Schemes and Urban Designs for the City of Vadodara (Baroda).

He then moved to Mumbai, and has been self-employed practicing architecture, mostly for institutions and NGOs in Gujarat and Maharashtra.

For about a decade he had been a visiting faculty and theses/ dissertation guide in the colleges of architecture in Mumbai. During this time he did some experiments in education and conducted workshops.

He researches and writes on education, architecture, housing, planning, environment, and conservation etc., reviews events and books, and compiles compositions in ‘verse-like’ format that is generally called poetry, which are occasionally published. He has also presented papers at conferences.

Time to time, over decades, he has been moving, living and/or working in villages, cities, towns, deserts, forests, ravines and ruins.

His major education comes from the countrywide open classroom. He spent one-half life in rural India and one-half in urban areas.

He believes, Environment, Ecology and Energy are closely interrelated and should not be put in separate compartments.

Remigius believes:
"Srishtiyoga" -- Way of Nature – is an ancient unwritten law
long before the birth of civilization.
Civilizations have been following
a number of Yoga practices, from Jnan Yoga – Vijnan Yog
to Karma Yoga – Bhakti Yoga to Hatha Yoga – Tantra Yoga.
People in the Vedic times or in the Garden of Eden
were perhaps blessed with plentiful of water and fruits.
It is only our wishful thinking that we sing
“Sujalam, Sufalam” - abundant water, abundant fruits
– that falls short of action.
It is time now for ‘Srishtiyoga’ – Reunion with Nature.
Remigius de Souza

Friday, 12 October 2007

My "Sri Ganesh"

My "Sri Ganesh"

Remigius de Souza

“SRI GANESH” here means “a beginning” in our languages. I did my Sri Ganesh in education by experiential learning at my native place in Konkan. We kids played with soil, lived with soil, worked with soil. We grew up on the paddy fields and woods. That was our K.G. school. Konkan has been rich in biodiversity of plants and animals. It still is.

I also did my “Sri Ganesh” in clay modelling during my primary school education. A teacher had rented a house nearby when he was transferred to the school. He made modest number of Ganesh idols in clay for the forthcoming festival. I used to visit his workshop, there in the large open veranda of the house. I would quietly sit observing. Whenever asked I would do the errands such as, whitewashing the statues etc. for him. Sometimes I was given a fistful of clay to play with. I used to make a sparrow, a cat, a lamp, a whistle etc. out of the same lump.

I also participated, as a helper, in the building work of our mud house, from foundation to roof. Of course, in villages, farming, house or temple or well or road building had been a work of community participation for generations, until now. Hence the user – the householder or the community – had autonomy in decision making. Being a child I was exposed to various skills, learnt some by working: it is a lifelong process for any art or craft – farming, masonry, woodwork, bamboo work, pottery, smithy etc.

I don’t know how “Sri Ganesh” acquired the meaning “a beginning”; some people though begin their work by invoking the blessings of Sri Ganesh. There is a story of how Ganesh was born. His mother Sri Parvati was going to take bath. Nobody was around, so she removed dirt from her skin and made a model and put life into him, and told him to be on guard while she takes bath. That dirt is sweat and soil (waters and land) that was added with Life: the emergence of Sri Ganesh.

Later I did a short course in clay modelling in the department of sculpture with Shankar Kanade at Sir J. J. School of Art. We studied under Prof. Manjarekar. Principal Dhond, the dean was kind to give us the admission. We were studying in the final year of architecture.

When I was a visiting faculty at college of architecture, I introduced the use of clay as a material to study the Basic Design and Building Design in the first year, but not without a stiff resistance from the peer. Their argument was working with clay in the studio will make the place dirty. Perhaps they were unaware that many sculptors all over the world did their sketches also in clay.

At other time, I was working for a NGO on a project to give new houses to the Katkari Tribe in Raigad District near Mumbai. I had proposed to use clay blocks for walls made by hand operated machine. I even got three sample house made. It was even sanctioned by the Union Government Agency. Here too I met a stiff resistance from some of the personnel within and well wishers of the NGO, which, of course, is run by the elite urbanite.

Apparently it seems the urban / urbanized elite are divorced from the nature, land and waters, and treat them as commodities. To restore this contact is the only way to mend the breach or the divide between rural and urban people.

Why do villagers – in rural or urban areas, and those who have roots in the past, love Sri Ganeshso much? Even though there is so much progress, and with that the meanings are getting lost, and even though I was converted to Christianity, our roots are not yet lost. The agrarian society has close bond with land, water and life.



Remigius de Souza
Post Mail: 69-243 S. B. Marg, Mumbai 400028, INDIA

Monday, 8 October 2007

My native place: Konkan

My native village in Konkan is situated in one of the biodiversity hot-spots of the world. It has lost much of its diversity in the past six decades...

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The Google map facilitates to see the natural environment at different scales. The place in the map could be moved up and down and sideways with mouse-courser. The landscape has shaped the culture of the place and people. Konkan is a biodiversity hot spot on the world map, now getting depleted.
Remigius de Souza
Post Mail: 69-243 S. B. Marg, Mumbai 400028, INDIA