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BARBICAN LIFE


of light in an immensity of space and time.’ Are all secular philosophers capable of such poetic self expression? And where does Man come in? I did not have to wait long.


‘10. And among them their satellites on one of which is a part of nature that mirrors nature in itself. 11. And can ponder its beauty and significance and seek to understand it: this is humankind.’


Ah, so our defining characteristic is that we are able to ponder the beauty and significance of the universe. How are we distinct ? What makes us unique and special in this most secular definition ?


‘12. All other things, in their cycles and rhythms, exist in and of themselves. 13. But in humankind there is experience also, which is what makes good and its opposite (my highlight). 14. In both of which humankind seeks to grasp the meaning of things.’


Thank you, professor. So


Sculptress Audrey Flack’s statue of the Recording Angel in Nashville, USA


Rangoli, decorations made from coloured powder, is popular during Diwali. Photo by


Subharnab Majumdar


new inspiration came for enquiry into the nature of things 7. When Newton sat in his garden and saw what no-one had seen before : that an apple draws the earth to itself, and the earth the apple. 8. Through a mutual force of nature that holds all things from the planets to the stars in unifying embrace….’ Sigh of relief. . Startling imagery –surely, Sir, this is experiential talk? I read on. The choir had moved to ‘You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains. . .’ I too was being uplifted by this amazing text… I continued reading.


‘9. So, all things are gathered into one thing: the universe of nature, in which there are many worlds: the orbs


experience, and its timely recollection counts, a triumph for the right brain, even for those who profess to be secular. A logical concomitant would be that it is bad experiences, (and not enough experience of breath control?) which lead to short term violent reactions. Not a great leap from that to say that murderers perhaps are ordinary people who are likely not to have had good early life experiences – and ‘don’t know how to breathe’, when they respond to perceived threats – the result is a violent outburst, physical and psychological. They cannot pause for long enough to discern the ‘meaning of things’ – nobody ever showed them how.


If these two young choir leaders are teaching my child to respond to small movements of their hands in a controlled way, to breathe evenly, sing well, and associate doing that with a few million synaptic connections leading to joy, then very likely they are engaged in preventing violence on whichever road their choristers choose to tread in future.


I hope that the Recording Angel


isn’t on full alert! No, I haven’t seen her, but she is known not to like the presumptuous – does she exist? Here is a list of other things which I can’t see: the human genome, gravity, misery, atoms, joy, electricity, faith, radio


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waves, memories. I make a plea for us all to acknowledge the possibility of the existence of a Recording Angel, just to cover the contingency that one day, a beautiful woman with all-seeing eyes and white wings, gently points out many instances of our complacency and folly, at the gates of a place we think might be our ideal refuge. So, for the record, this is just a hypothesis, no more.


What would I wish for all of us between Diwali (a Hindu festival of lights and spiritual enlightenment) and Christmas ? I think of the two sides of ourselves : one which feels a loss, and another which counts the gain. I have had to attend a funeral this year – a growing hazard as one enters one’s second century. This was a substantial loss. My rational self could acknowledge this, as could my vast memory of happy experiences. Decisive, rational, fanciful and impulsive, all of these were parts of this woman who had gone; my whole family had loved her. In the light of her absence I can tell you that her time on this planet was an enriching experience for all of me – rational and spiritual. When we stay within the law, let us be encouraged to stay within its spirit, not just its letter. Let our politicians give journalists from ‘Dispatches’ no more reason to ask ‘are they still at it?’ on our behalf: a bus full of ordinary people found it easy to discern that though the letter of the new rules on expenses are being kept, the spirit of these rules may well remain ignored. Waving goodbye to my Diwali guests, and settling down in my little office, I found a postcard from a friend – thankfully she is still with us – it read ‘your price is beyond rubies’ – it shows the sender’s generous nature rather than my real value, of course. In the midst of our losses, new people come into our lives, with the promise of new beginnings – let us remember to open new doors as others close – the world remains full of people whose price may well turn out to be ‘beyond rubies’.


May our collective public spaces be full of beautiful song this winter – let our whole selves, both rational and spiritual, be immersed in the joy of uplifting music, and company. Most importantly may our private space be filled with the love of the people who matter.


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