A stray incident, a facial expression, the note of a song - sometimes they creep into your mind and keep coming back to you as recurring images long after the moment is over. Sometimes they are troubling; sometimes they make you feel nice; mostly they just stand there demanding your attention like my dog who cannot express what he wants but will keep coming back to me until I have guessed his need and attended to it. Well, there is this short story by a Lebanese author which I read about a month ago which has been doing this to me. I have not been able to put my finger on what it is that the story wants me to do with it so I thought if I wrote about it and shared it with you, it may get resolved.

The story is titled "La Chevre Du Liban" (the goat of Lebanon) by a Lebanese writer called Andree Chedid.
Autoun, a Lebanese Shepherd is about to return home with his sheep when he hears a voice in the distance calling out for a lost sheep.The anguish in the voice disturbs him as he can understand what a lost sheep can mean to a shepherd. He looks for it as far a his eyes can see but finds nothing. When he returns home he talks about it to his wife but she is unconcerned and is busy with getting the supper ready. Autoun is irritated about the nonchalance of the woman to another shepherd's distress. He worries about the shepherd who might not be able to eat or sleep that night until he finds the sheep. He cannot bring himself to eat so he decides to go and look for it himself. His wife is worried about the cold and his health. Unmindful, he takes the lantern and searches all night in the hard and hilly terrain until morning when he finally reaches the neighbouring village where a couple see him tired and worn out. They invite him into the house so he can rest. Autoun asks them if they know about a man who lost his sheep and has been looking for them .
The lady laughs and says "He is the biggest shepherd of the village. He sold the sheep in the morning and forgot about it in the evening and was looking for it."
Autoun asks her if she is sure and she confirms it and also tells him that the man would be passing by on his caravan shortly and he could have a look himself.
In a few minutes, the caravan passes by with a well dressed man on his camel who tips his head as a mark of respect to the woman.
In passing he shoots a casual glance at the tired old man in dusty clothes who was seated outside the house as one might look upon haggard Vagabonds.
And that is where the story ends.

I wonder what thoughts and feelings went through Autoun's head.
I remember being left with a similar feeling after watchinga tamil film called "moonram Pirai" (Sadma in Hindi)

You care too much for someone and give all of yourself to help them out because you think they need you but then, the other person has no such need and does not even know you exist much less know and appreciate your efforts for them.
What does that make you? a fool, a busybody, naive or just plain human?


Here is an extract from the text:

Autoun, a Lebanese shepherd, heard the remote call of a neighbor who lost his goat. This voice torments it all the day. The evening, it returns at his place.

As soon as that it opened the door of its house, Autoun called to its wife:
“Chafika, there is the neighbor of the mountain which lost a goat. You did not see it in trimmings?
- No. But, come, soup awaits you. “
Ah! If only this woman spoke less!
Of the nests of silence, girls of this country. All day long, they plunge their arms in the water of linen and crockery; or, they polish the back of the copper pans and the tiling of the stripped rooms (1).
“He would not be able to eat this evening!
- Who?
The neighbor! He who lost his goat…
- Hurry, your soup will get cold. […]
- I prepared you what you like, of the stuffed vineleaves. They are the first.
- Vineleaves, is that what you can think of?
How could it be question of vineleaves whereas - up there - a man, a neighbor, a brother has corroded the heart? Antoun imagined the voice: it went and came in wood, it beat the thickets, the nervous step, the closed face. It called, it called:
“My goat! Where are you my goat?” It is terrible a man who calls! That does not leave you any more rest.
“He will not sleep this night.
- who? “
The woman returned carrying her pan wrapped in a cloth.
“But the neighbor!
- The neighbor! The neighbor! (Chafika raised the tone). It is ridiculous, you never saw him! You do not even know his face.
- I heard his voice… “, said Antoun.
Chafika sighed. It was useless to answer. When men harness themselves with an idea, they are so involved, all stupidly, like carrioles.
“But at least finish your soup.” […]
Antoun pushed back the table, rose:
“Listen!” The plate full of soup flowed on the tablecloth:
“I cannot stand it any more… Give me the lantern, I am going to seek the goat!
- You are insane! With your age and in this cold, you will catch death.
- It is perhaps somehwere in the neighbourhood. I know the way well.I also know the path of the goats. “
She knew she could not stop him. It was like that, he was obsessed with the idea and no one could do anything to dislodge it."
“I will find his goat, I will find it.”
Chafika gave him its lantern and he left.
Hiphopgmom tagged me with the following

1.Are you happy/satisfied with your blog with its content and look?Does your family know about your blog?

I do not have the technical expertise to change the look of my blog as much as I would like to. So I do not have much choice except be happy that it allows me to do this much.
As for content, I would certainly like to do better.
Some of my family know about it – others don’t because they are not interested.

2.Do you feel embarrassed to let your friends know about your blog or you just consider it as a private thing?

No I do not feel embarrassed to let people know about my blog. In fact, although I have given the link to many, I do not think most of them read it.

3.Did blogs cause positive changes in your thoughts?

Yes. I realised that organising stray thoughts and writing them down imparts clarity. And the comments are a great tool to share others’ perspective on one’s thoughts and many times they open up new lines of thinking.

4.Do you only open the blogs of those who comment on your blog or you love to go and discover more by yourself?
I make it a point to visit those who visit my blog and comment. I would love to go to other blogs if time permits.I enjoy reading blogs.

5.What does visitors counter mean to you? Do you care about putting it in your blog?

Yes. I like it. It lets me know who is visiting me and why.

6.Did you try to imagine your fellow bloggers and give them real pictures?

Yes, but not a face but a personality.

7.Admit. Do you think there is a real benefit for blogging?

Yes. It fills a need for communication and companionship.

8.Do you think that bloggers society is isolated from real world or interacts with events?
Being isolated from the real world could actually be one of its strong points. In any case it is changing with bloggers meets etc.

9.Does criticism annoy you or do you feel it's a normal thing?
When one is airing ones thoughts in a public domain, one should be prepared to face criticism. But if the criticism becomes a personal attack and not restricted to the writing, then I get annoyed.

10.Do you fear some political blogs and avoid them?

Have never been to one but I am very likely to avoid them.

11.Did you get shocked by the arrest of some bloggers?

Yes. That some people find a way to misuse every new invention.

12.Did you think about what will happen to your blog after you die?

Yes, I hope somebody will read it and remember me.

13.What do you like to hear? What's the song you might like to put a link to in your blog?

I would like to hear something inspirational and something that we need to remember at all times:
For starters, I would like this song by Bob Dylan:

What good am I if I'm like all the rest,
If I just turned away, when I see how you're dressed,
If I shut myself off so I can't hear you cry,
What good am I?

What good am I if I know and don't do,
If I see and don't say, if I look right through you,
If I turn a deaf ear to the thunderin' sky,
What good am I?

What good am I while you softly weep
And I hear in my head what you say in your sleep,
And I freeze in the moment like the rest who don't try,
What good am I?

What good am I then to others and me
If I've had every chance and yet still fail to see
If my hands are tied must I not wonder within
Who tied them and why and where must I have been

What good am I if I say foolish things
And I laugh in the face of what sorrow brings
And I just turn my back while you silently die,
What good am I?

Now it is time for me to tag others and this time I am going to name a few as I would definitely like to hear their story

Mahadevan, my Captain Souvik, Pradeep, Ravi

Would you people mind doing it please?
Today a friend told us how her daughter was taunted by some of the kids in her schoolbus for her dark skin. The 10 year old seems to have taken it rather badly and my friend is totally clueless on how to make her see that the colour of one's skin does not matter. How do you make a 10 year old understand that it is what is inside of you which matters? How do you make her see that your looks are inherited and most of all how do you make her understand that to a caucasian , even her fair friends would seem "dark skinned"? My friend does not want to interfere and talk to the teacher as she feels she cannot protect her child from such prejudices all along and that she would have to learn to face it by herself. Why are we so obsessed with the colour of our skin and what right do we have to complain about some others being racist?

I have had similar experiences in my childhood too and it gets worse when you have a sister who is almost milky white. The comparisons are open and odious - no one cares about the child's sensibilities.It is almost like it was my fault that I was born dark - it took almost 21 years for me to understand that it was my genes that made me dark and one's achievement lies in what you make of yourself and not what you look like.

I was pleasantly surprised when blogger hiphopgrandmom wrote about facing a similar plight in her childhood in this post. Perhaps all dark girls in this country have the same story to share. Today most of us do not openly talk about fair skin being an essential pre requisite for being considered pretty and there are a few actors and models who are cited as an example of how this is no longer a criterion but still most models for beauty products ( or personal hygiene products) use models who have a fair skin and some are not even Indian.

I do not know about the others but I did suffer from a complex , a kind of feeling of inferiority and a lack of confidence for a long time. During adoloscence one even went through a phase of considering oneself good for nothing as good looking girls always got all the good roles in the school plays, dance dramas and got he front rows in most parades. It seemed like one had to work twice as good just to stay in the race. It really took some special friends who loved me for the person I was to make me see that it is what is inside which matters.

I do not know how this prejudice took roots in India as our most loved god Krishna was supposed to be dark skinned. We do have many proverbs in Tamil which extol that black is beautiful. And in recent times this was reinforced by a popular song that listed all the nice things that are black. It is easy to conclude that this revulsion to things dark was inherited from the invaders from central Asia and Europe but I do not know if that is true. I wonder when we will begin to see that it is a pigmentation issue and a dark skln may actually be giving us resistance to some skin diseases.

I also wonder if we will ever see in real life what I read somewhere (can't remember where or was it a film?): A dark skinned man places his hand on the hand of a fair skinned girl and asks her : "Do you see the difference?" and the girl reples, "yes, your hands are larger."
About a year ago, I remember watching an old Tamil classic film on Video with Shivaji Ganesan in the lead with a group of teenagers. It was a heavy emotional drama but every time the hero would be at his finest in the portrayal of some deep sadness or affection or love, the youngsters would go into peals of laughter and comment on the excessive dramatisation of quotidien emotions. I remember seeing the same film when I was about their age and it all seemed so appropriate at that time. We believed nobody else could express emotions as naturally as this actor. And then I also remembered that I have actually seen people in real life who displayed emotions openly and without restraint - they shouted in anger, they laughed loudly, they wept hysterically - in short they were not ashamed to display their emotions publicly at least within their inner circle. We`were not excessively polite and did not believe in using a voice that did not betray deep emotions.

I suppose this younger generation is not used to such unfettered theatrical display of emotions in their day to day interactions. Conversations at all levels are more polite and restrained, crying publicly is a sign of weakness, raising your voice is rude - there is a general dilution of drama in life. Even occasions with scope for high emotional drama are resolved across the table like diplomatic negotiations between foreign secretaries.

Love triangles are resolved by the loser understanding that the other two are right for each other and actually blessing them. Emotions like possessiveness, jealousy are becoming outmoded. In fact one of my friends was slightly concerned about the recent trend when people divorce amicably and remain friends. She says that it is a matter of concern that people do not seem to be fighting hard to save their marriage, they give up easily and a little possessiveness might actually help save the marriage. Interesting thought!

It is a matter of perspective whether the lessening of drama through softening of passions is good or bad. It might be a cultural trait and with increasing westernisation, the educated younger generation might have acquired the traits of another culture. It might also be that as reason takes over in relationships, there may be less room and need for such emotions. This came up when I mentioned this to a group of friends when one of them said that "it is a sign of evolution."

As human beings evolve, do they become less emotional and more rational? By the same logic, would highly evolved beings be somewhat like the character so brilliantly portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the film Rainman or the character Christopher in the novel The curious incident of the dog in the night-time?
would they be personifications of kindness as in this poem by Naomi Shihab Nye?
"For everyone of us that succeeds, it's because there's somebody there to show you the way out. The light doesn't always necessarily have to be in your family; for me it was teachers and school." (Oprah Winfrey)
I suppose this is true for a lot of us in the 40s and 50s where teachers played a major role in shaping our values and inspiring us. They took their job very seriously be it in preparing for the classes or in helping a laggard get over her/his learning troubles or in guiding us when we needed it. I went to a school where a lot of poor and lower middle class children studied. They came from backgrounds where their parents were not highly educated or aware of the world. For these children a whole new perspective and vision of the world was opened up by our teachers - a history teacher who would bring her daily newspaper to make us read about what was going on in the world, a science teacher who would ask a failed student to stay back after school to counsel her to help her cope with a problem father, an English teacher who would write our speeches for the competitions and train us for elocution competitions. Many of us put in extra work to please a teacher who was our favourite. My whole interest in English language started with the English teacher in class 9. I am sure there was such an inspiration for many of us - a teacher who was an example, a teacher who saw the innate talent and made you see it and nurture it, a teacher for whom we took that extra interest in a subject which became a lifelong passion. And the best part is that they did it out of genuine interest and not with any expectations. Their pride and satisfaction came from seeing their students reach great heights while they themselves stayed where they were.
There have been many moments when I have remembered my teachers with overwhelming gratitude. I wonder where they are today and feel sad at not being able to trace them until finally I realise they are there right within me having left apart of them in me while shaping me become the person I am today.

Albert Camus, the nobel prize winning Algerian writer dedicated his prize to his teacher and wrote a letter to him after winning it. He said:
Dear M. Germain,When I heard the news, my first thought, after my mother, was of you. Without you,without the hand that you held out to the poor boy who I was, without your teaching and example,none of this would have taken place. I will not aggrandise this honour. But it is a chance to tell you,what you have been and still are for me and to assure you that your efforts, your work and the generous heart you put into it are still living within the small pupil, who, despite his age, has not ceased being your grateful disciple."

What a touching gesture and each of us can think of at least one teacher who has done to this to us and shaped us become what we are today.

It is sad to see that today teaching is probably the last choice for most people. They are so poorly paid, their working conditions are hard and their work is hardly recognised and rewarded. It has always been so for teachers but then the average salary levels were not very high and a teacher could still make both ends meet. But in today's level of salaries and consequent price rise, how can we expect them to stay motivated when a fresh graduate in other sectors gets more salary than a post graduate teacher with 10 years experience? Even if they were to resist all such temptations and become teachers out of their passion they are eventually disillusioned by the quality of students and the respect they have for their teachers.I met a chemistry professor from a reputed college in Chennai who shared his sadness over the kind of students who opt for science courses today and it was pathetic. He says that the core of his students are those who have not managed to get seats in any professional courses and are there just to get a degree and no higher ambitions. He says that it is impossible to attract his best students towards research in the subject as they are recruited for domain expertise by IT firms.I worry about who is going to teach our future generations English and history and chemistry and mathematics.If this is the case in private institutions, I shudder to even begin to think of the government colleges.
I think it is time we woke up to the extent of the problem and implemented steps to make teaching an attractive career option.

And my salutes to all teachers on the eve of Teachers' day.May your tribe increase and continue to inspire future generations.