Geneva Diaries #10

Tagore 17 Years, Alice, Art and Maths, Millennium, Wanted: Dead or Alive


She used to call his name  M- – -…M- – -…m- – -…

Dear Roger,

As the 21st of March approaches, I look back on the 17 years…

I wish to share with you a poem by Rabindranath Tagore (Lipika) translated by Aurobindo Ghosh titled Seventeen Years. I have attempted to read this to an indifferent Mirko over the last few dismal years, telling him through Tagore that our time together is coming to an end, and that one day he will look back at our seventeen years which he so mindlessly threw away and think:  “She used to call his name”. 

And perhaps one day while leaning on his walking stick and gazing at the setting sun his mind will wander back to these years and query: “But those days and nights are no longer strung together by the binding thread of that name – they lie scattered.” …”Who shall call us together and surround us with her presence?” 

And I will be gone, we never make it past our 17th year of that I am sure!

Seventeen Years – by Rabindranath Tagore

I had known her for seventeen years.

So many comings and goings, so many meetings, so many tetes-a-tetes!

Surrounding those years, so many dreams, so many conjectures, so many hints.

And then, sometimes, when half asleep, the light of the morning star; sometimes the scent of the Chameli flower in the dusk of a rainy day; sometimes the tired strains of the Nahabat in the last hours of the spring night!

All this had passed round his mind in the course of those seventeen years!

And, mingling with it all, she used to call his name.

The person that used to respond to this name was not merely a creation of God – he was created out of the seventeen years of her knowing him.

Sometimes in love, sometimes in neglect,

sometimes in work, sometimes in leisure,

sometimes in the midst of all, sometimes in privacy –

thus was he built in the heart of one person.

After that, seventeen more years had gone by.

But those days and nights are no longer strung together by the binding thread of that name – they lie scattered. Therefore the days ask me daily: 

“Who shall call us together and surround us with her presence?” 

I can give no answer – I pause and ponder.

But they, flying away with the wind, say:

“We go searching.”


They know not whom.

So they wander hither and thither. 

Like aimless clouds they sail across the sea of darkness and I can no longer see them.


Dear Purnima,

Sorry I’m so slow in answering your two very provocative emails of last week.  The family was here for four days this week (they needed to escape the frenzy and horrific noise of the annual Fallas festival in Valencia), and I don’t manage to spend much time at my computer while they are here (long evening meals and discussions and/or a game or two after dinner).

Spain’s Las Fallas festival: A celebration of art, satire and fire

You’re right, it’s inconceivable that a progressive country like Sweden does not recognize the rights of what we in America call a common law marriage.  The sheer injustice of all the royalties for the hugely popular trilogy going to the father and brother of Steig Larsson rather than to the person with whom he had shared his life for the past several decades and who had worked with him in writing the three novels.  Swedish law definitely distinguishes between your “public ownership” of his works and the royalties that accumulate through sales.  What will eventually happen to the rumored manuscript of a fourth novel, which is in the hands of his partner, is still very much up in the air.

I was, of course, being somewhat flippant with my take on Steve Jobs and an imaginary iTort device that would render justice in the future.  It seems that our society is moving more and more in the direction of control by those little machines that send digital code back and forth.  While I agree that there should be the subjective element in every legal decision rather than some blanket and uniformly administered take rendered by a machine.  However, I must take issue with you in your seemingly blind faith in the legal system (but it is only logical given your own legal training and background) and especially in the judges that are selected to deal with our own inability to come up with viable decisions.  Not only are they human beings and subject to the same foibles and inconsistencies as the rest of humanity, but they are also wont to frequently hand down judgements that are not only counter to what is best for society as a whole, but at times totally unjust and tainted with their own political leanings and the influences of powerful groups within any given country.  The very fact that it is so important for each sitting president in the US to be able to appoint Supreme Court judges of a particular political leaning so that he/she can stack the Supreme Court with judges that think and decide along their respective position on the political spectrum is evidence enough that they are not all totally objective, to be blindly respected and that we should accept and live with their every decision.  There is a long list of Supreme Court decisions that have had no positive impact on society or that have been subsequently overturned by later court decisions.  Plessy vs Ferguson, a Supreme Court decision that declared that separate educational facilities for whites and blacks did not violate the 14th amendment, and , in essence, ruled that segregation was legal in the United States.  That decision, I’m very happy to say, was overturned in the famous Brown vs Board of Education that said just the opposite was the case.

And then there is the case of current Supreme Court justice, Clarence Thomas.  I remember how incensed I was during the hearings in the Senate when his nomination was being considered.  He was, in my opinion, the weakest possible candidate for such a lofty office.  Not only was he an alleged sexual predator who constantly harassed one of his former female law partners, but his intellectual grasp of the constitution and the legal decisions that he had rendered prior to his appointment left one with the impression that he was Mr. Mediocrity being thrust into one of the most important positions in the United States.  I learned just recently that this same Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion in the landmark Supreme Court decision which gave Monsanto and other huge conglomerates the right to patent genetically modified organisms.  Thus Monsanto now controls a large portion of the seed industry in the world and literally goes after those farmers they suspect of not buying their seeds from Monsanto each year but, as farmers throughout the centuries have done, saved their seeds from one crop to the next.  Hundreds of cotton farmers in India, for example, have been hooked on the Monsanto modified cotton seeds, but have gone bankrupt in the process because they can’t afford the high cost of the seeds and the fertilizers and pesticides that they are told they have to use.  The suicide rate among Indian cotton farmers, as you more than likely know, is astronomical in comparison to other similar groups.  And guess what ?  Clarence Thomas, before becoming a Supreme Court Judge, was a lawyer for Monsanto !  Sorry, all respect just flew out the window.

Enough of my ranting.  I thought your 17 years song was great.  Too bad for him that he never really listened to it.  Is it ;your anniversary today ?

And, you also wrote , ” As I come near to the end of my time here in Geneva”  Does that mean that you have definite plans to move on ?      

I loved what ;you wrote about Alice in Wonderland.  More on that later, but the new Tim Burton film version of his interpretation of Alice is playing in Geneva.  A and A went to see it on Friday.

Off to watch election returns.  At least Sarkozy is getting his just desserts.



Dear Purnima,

It sounds like musical bedrooms at your place.  Does that mean that you are once again sharing the bedroom the massageathon addict ?

And a ponytail to boot.  Can’t wait to see it, but am curious about the effects of Ovomaltine on your physiognomy, and as far as finding your one true love in a virtual world where you fall in love and marry, albeit to an avatar that can hide the true features of your virtual lover, I am just a bit dubious, as you seem to be also, about the long-term consequences of such a union..  Who knows whether he/it is really a prince charming or a Jabba the Hut lurking in the outer reaches of cyberspace and playing his deadly game with countless beautiful and willing nubile creatures.  And how would you ever know whether you were really right for one another when there was only a virtual osmosis joining your two beings ?  How satisfying can it possibly be to “make love” to a virtual entity where there would be no actual and physical joining and mingling ? and your little creations crawling around a virtual nursery could actually remain such throughout time, never aging and, therefore, never leaving the cybernest ?   And would Google have evolved and morphed into the be-it-all jurisdictional authority to deal with such matters as separations, child custody, alimony, inheritance rights, etc.  Or maybe Steve Jobs will have become the final arbiter of justice with a market place savvy that settles all conflicts with his new i-judge software and hand-held, touch screen, app-driven i-tort (that may actually be a better source of justice than our present, very flawed and political interest driven system or the justice frequently meted out by the religions of the day).

I finished my third tome of Millennium two days ago.  After more than 2,000 pages of Lisbeth Salander, I am more than ready to move on to other vistas.  I was actually a bit let down by the third instalment of the trilogy, and felt that Steig Larsson left too many loose threads dangling.  But I read somewhere where he actually had intended to write a series of ten novels in the series before he was felled by a heart attack shortly after delivering his trilogy to the publishers.  There is supposedly a fourth novel in the possession of his long-standing, live-in partner, but whether it will ever be published depends on the Swedish courts’ decisions about who actually owns the rights to it and who should be in charge of editing it.  That’s a tricky legal dilemma for you.  There is no provision in Swedish law for a concubine to inherit anything from her partner if they were not married (That is not the case in French law, but apparently for Sweden, one of the most advanced social countries in Europe, an unmarried partner has no inheritance rights regardless of how much time they lived together).  Larsson’s father and brother have become filthy rich because of the international success of the novels, whereas his life-long partner has absolutely nothing.  I could tell you about another case closer to home, in fact in Genevaitself, but that’s the subject of another email or chat.

What I started to say, however, was that I have begun to read Kafka on the Shore, but I can understand your fascination with Dawkins and wanting to probe his thinking.

Thanks for the great Bon Jovi clip.  I’ve got to try and find one of my favorites from the 70’s.  You are definitely wanted, my dear, dead or alive, preferably alive, but the question you should really ask is : Am I wanted, virtual or real ?

Are you free for coffee on Tuesday morning ?  Do you have a Migro class then ?

Lots of warm hugs on this chilly Friday,


P.S.  I’ve only been to Chicago once, and that was in the dead of winter to attend the annual Modern Language Association of America meetings,  It was dreadfully cold and snowy and I’m glad I survived the treacherous drive down from Madison, Wisconsin.

Roger Stevenson


Dear Roger,

I could not let this mail go and drift into the “unanswered”. There were so many juicy openings for discussion and debate, even if I am unable to cover them all, I must struggle with some. You should see me now, bent with furrowed brow with my black rimmed glasses dangling from the tip of a rather long nose, with a sprightly ponytail bouncing in excitement at having been saved, as i pound away one finger at a time… 

You had mentioned in your email that you finally managed to finish the Millennium trilogy and were left dissatisfied as the author died without completing his proposed series of 10. 

There is no provision in Swedish law for a concubine to inherit anything from her partner if they were not married

That sounds very surprising for a progressive country like Sweden where I assume such relationships are the norm before or instead of marriage (and btw a male partner can also be a concubine!). In its most simplistic: this immensely popular work where the author has suddenly died at the peak of the fervor generated by the book which (from what you tell me) seems to have taken on a cult status. In my opinion, the ownership lies in all who embrace the story, the public. Therefore, the one who attempts to assume the authors place, edit, modify or expand the work has to not just attempt to stay true to the original, the essence but have the readers ultimate clearance. The substantial property rights of course in this instance go according to what is outlined in the law. However, the law has to accommodate, perhaps use this case to evolve, reflecting the ideas in popular culture, commitment and contribution of a partner. I, of course, would only hand over my pen to the image in the mirror! 

Or maybe Steve Jobs will have become the final arbiter of justice with a market place savvy that settles all conflicts with his new i-judge software and hand-held, touch screen, app-driven i-tort (that may actually be a better source of justice than our present, very flawed and political interest driven system or the justice frequently meted out by the religions of the day).

Dear, dear Roger, you cannot underplay the human element to me! I cannot possibly conceive how a software program could make a judgement incorporating the essential elements of “timeframe” and “cultural context”, which would vary based on the issue at hand from decades to days, as we have seen in the rapidly evolving field of cyberlaw and technology where before the issue can be brought to court and final judgement be passed, it is redundant and replaced by a competing issue. Its at times and instances like these where there is need for the human, the subjective element, which can incorporate timeframe, cultural context, and the fall back on the core issues of common law before reaching a decision. 

There is a reason why the judges are selected: they are known, respected and we recognize them for more than the mechanical application of their knowledge and their ability to identify issues. They are selected because we have read their decisions, recognize their positions and defer to their judgements EVEN when it goes against us, for we are programmed with the inherent belief that when we join society and submit ourselves to the law, we are a part of the whole. And, if the judgement passed is one against us, it must be passed for the greater benefit of society, and since we are a part of it, we vicariously benefit! Otherwise, I can’t imagine why we would agree to anything that binds us, making us vulnerable to decisions by men in wigs and men in frocks, can you?

You are definitely wanted, my dear, dead or alive, preferably alive, but the question you should really ask is : Am I wanted, virtual or real ?

Do I wish to subsist in this virtual medium or in the real world? The ultimate question is: Where would I be more real? What is the medium of today, one that would engage a broad spectrum of ages, education, background and ethnicity? The exciting aspect of the fast evolving virtual sphere is that, the medium is not merely one of language as we are historically used to (with that familiar feel of paper between the fingers), but an all engaging 3D multi-media medium encapsulating sight, sound, text, (and soon even tactile sensations) which are enmeshed and indistinguishable from each other. The only parallel I can think of from my “old world” is the realm of comics… A sizzling Japanese comic that captivates the pulse of the youth in a world language! Yes, I think I would like to live forever (like Minnie still sprightly at 80), the heroine of a Japanese comic. You would too, if you ever got a chance to meet the hero of my comic book… Boom, Boom, Pow!!

It’s well past midnight, and since I have not turned into a pumpkin, and since there is no chance of dancing with the prince, not even a little froggie, I guess i will just continue…

Apart from my favorite comics, I guess theatre has played the historic role (Roger, I need your input/feedback here…urgently) of reaching out and disseminating novel and radical thoughts, ideas and developments in  the Arts, Sciences, Government. This historic role of theatre to disseminate new ideas and educate the public through a forum that was entertaining and perhaps comics permitted many radical thoughts to be so presented and disseminated which would have otherwise been strictly censored during its time. The impact of the theatre over time with its ability to permeate society in a similar multi-media format, would probably be akin to the realm that is today partially covered by the virtual world, don’t you agree? 

Returning to our old favorite subject of interdisciplinary studies, I believe that incorporating elements of theatre in most traditional subjects still forms the most effective form of education and dissemination of information where the onlooker/participant is entertained as he is being educated.  And talking about interdisciplinary studies, the oldest and dearest example from my childhood was Alice in Wonderland, Mathematics and Literature, with my father attempting to explain the mathematics behind the madness.

In fact, Lewis Carroll, a pen name for Charles Dodgson, a professor of mathematics at Oxford University, wrote Alice in Wonderland to satirize the then radical new ideas in the world of mathematics, where mathematics was getting more abstract with imaginary numbers, abstract symbolic algebra, non Euclidean geometry. He brilliantly used this fantastical piece of literature to present what he thought was the absurdities in the new mathematics. This was his forum, his stage to present his dissent, his point of view through a memorable and much beloved piece of literature in the form of a children’s book.

 In order to satirize these new age ideas, he found fiction as the best forum to present his opinion, his dissent. Alice moved from a rational world through a rabbit hole to a land where even numbers behave irrationally, erratically. Thus this irrationality, reflecting the new age mathematics, was created by Dodgson as a construct of Alice’s mind which exists only in Wonderland as it did not need to conform to any laws of the real world. Dodgson has Alice continuously changing in size from 9 feet to 3 inches, but when Alice calls this world absurd, the caterpillar (“the worm” in her story) who lives in this irrational world pipes up and says that “it isn’t”! Here of course, I am tempted to draw the parallel with “the worm” in my story, who returns with the same response! As Dodgson through the madness that exists in Wonderland tries to highlight the dangers of the new symbolic algebra, I chant to keep my balance, my ratios constant Ignoring putty like contortions, sometimes oval, sometimes elliptical, moving from one form to another… finally looming overhead across magical glittering lake Geneva, in the smile of the Cheshire Cat that seems to know it all!

As I come near to the end of my time here in Geneva, so does my Geneva Diary which has been my friend and companion, and thanks to you, with whom I have dug up many a ghost, walked the cobbled streets of the old town and discovered the alleyways of this charming city. Like Alice in Wonderland, this has been written in a young voice, for the old and the young (I plan to reread it at 70!). And again like Alice,  and my other favorite character Tintin, my stories and many (mis)adventures have aspired a light surrealistic touch with many looming body parts. Of course, I have woven in my area of experience, the law, and pivotal topical legal issues like privacy with a lot of bizarre storytelling.

In the story of Servetus, with his tombstone poignantly placed outside the university hospital, I have attempted to pose a reminder of Medicine and Ethics: Do not use Green Wood! If the case is terminal, the decision final, then let the end be painless, swift. In keeping with my mantra,  this tale would cover the spectrum, the subjects of History, Theology, Medical Ethics, Law, Government and perhaps literature with a suggestion of substance abuse !

See below images of Geneva:

Geneva Images – Paved stone-welcome messages:

Old Town Geneva:

Pont du Mont Blanc: Crystal Blue lake Geneva

Parc des Bastions-Playing Live Chess:

Purnima Traversing the Blue Ridge Mountains – Wanted Dead or Alive:

Good night!


Disclaimer : P

All persons, places, events are fictitious; all imputed relationships purely aspirational. There were no men harmed during the penning of the Feminist Manifesto.

Purnima Viswanathan 

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