A life lived in truth : The Tribune India

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A life lived in truth

A life lived  in truth

Photo for representation. File photo

Shelley Walia

AS it was the last year of Senior Cambridge, we were asked to join school in January instead of March for ‘extra-rigorous’ preparation for the finals. It was a dismally cold month to be up in the mountains. We had a house lower down in the valley and my mother sent our family cook to accompany me. He would make me delightful minced mutton and Spanish omelettes and we would sit around the fire talking about our village into the night. There was a certain warmth in his company.

It was in these bitter winter months that I came close to our teacher, Brother Mulligan — who often springs alive before my eyes, chatting, laughing, joking — during the evening tutorials that always turned out to be invigorating and profoundly engaging. Our many tête-à-têtes with him infused in us students a spirit of freethinking, of speaking up even if we disagreed with him, a practice sadly lacking in the highly codified systems that we have degenerated into. One-way dialogue was anathema to him, an exercise in dumping knowledge on students.

Over the years, I kept in touch with him and received warm and edifying replies to every letter. It is difficult to forget how stridently he argued against the use of the atomic bomb or the Bay of Pigs crisis that brought the world perilously close to a nuclear holocaust. Voicing a political opinion was for him a way of attaining some intellectual space in times when it is increasingly shrinking. His adversarial stand on regionalism or racism was the raison d’etre of his ‘living ideology’. His commitment to liberalism gave him a balanced worldview, in which he envisioned a society full of justice and commitment to the idea of free critical thinking. It was in one of his letters that I discovered that his political concerns for Irish nationalism, and the continuous turmoil that he had experienced as a lad growing up in Northern Ireland, were responsible for the quiddity of his sensitivity when it came to echoing the ethical dimension of politics.

Early on in life, I began to appreciate his progressive views on civil society, which for him comprised not merely the rule of law, but also a public effort to create collectively a democratic space distinct from the state and its valorisation of ideology. With this perspective, he continued to believe in the efficacy of determined intellectuals and writers who keep working silently towards a better tomorrow, a new civil and democratic politics discernable in the post-war years when oppressive colonisation failed to douse the smouldering flame of liberty. I recollect that he could never accept lies in a world where the frailty of the human political condition demanded an animated commitment to human dignity.

I am saddened to know of his passing. At such times of loss of dear ones who have given us so much and so warmly, I face an emptiness exacerbated by the real-life stories of natural disasters, mass deaths and, of course, the venomous makings of ethnic violence, betrayal and parochialism. Remembering him today draws me face to face with these pressing issues of human concern.

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