Sunday Musings and Random Notes #9

While last Sunday was spent hearing the sales pitch of established authors at the Bangalore Literature Festival, this Sunday I am taking the first step towards establishing myself as a book author. Or, so do I think.

I have finalised my first book which is a compilation of selected articles from my armory of published and unpublished compositions.  Even some articles which were published earlier underwent extensive revision. I tried to put the old wine in completely new bottles so much so that some bottles, that earlier opened from the top, now open from the bottom, making a few things go topsy turvy in the bargain. Of course, some new bottles have found new wine too.

Coming to the literature festival, this time it was heavily tilted towards the ‘left’. Kanhaiah Kumar, who was too afraid to come to Bangalore last time, was made the star attraction in spite of the presence of twinkling stars like Mrs Funnybone. The left have always dominated the press and publishing scene in India. Two years back they faced a minor threat and fear. Seems, this year their bullying bore fruit with the near absence of any right wing representation to bring in balance to the discourses.

This is a sad dilution of the festival’s original agenda. It was supposed to be a different literature festival that sought to bring contrarian voices to one platform. What happened in 2015 is detailed in this firstpost article. The only crime of the Sahitya Academy winner author Vikram Sampath, who was one of the organisers, was that he refused to join the band wagon of ‘award wapsi’ authors. This did not go down well with the so called ‘liberal’ authors so much so that they threatened to boycott the festival and pressurised others to do so, with the result that Vikram Sampath had to step down to save the festival. That is how the tolerant and liberal Indian intellectuals, who champion free speech, counter contrarian points of view.

Even though we call ourselves a country with a great culture and so on, it is cricket and films that dominate our fascination. Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid took the limelight on the first day. On the second day, the session of the great classical dancer Sonal Mansingh was scheduled after that of Twinkle Khanna. It was heartening to see many audience  members leaving immediately after Twinkle left. However, this did not dampen the enthusiasm of the virtuoso who has seen so many vicissitudes in her life. Majority of the audience members who left were young people who would have definitely found the story of Sonal Mansingh highly inspiring.

sonal mansinghThis is not to undermine the achievements of Mrs. Funnybone.  Both were born with silver spoons in their mouths. In spite of upheavals in personal life and classical dancing not having the huge earning potential compared to acting in films or writing bestsellers (that have the potential of being turned into films), Sonal stuck to the pure form of classical dance and has led a modest lifestyle. She recounted how she had promised her grand father that she would never make dance a commercial venture and she has stuck to it in spite of facing financial difficulties from time to time.  For her, dance has been a journey of self discovery like any other sincere seeker on a spiritual path or a yogi.

I first saw Sonal Mansingh some seventeen  years back in a setting in terms of place and time that was not conducive to leisurely appreciation of one of the most intricate dance forms. We were in the middle of Kargil war and it was a forward base close to the centre of action. She came there with her Odissi dance troupe. For a soldier on active duty, it was a welcome temporary relief and a morale booster. What was appreciable was her timely gesture. Of course it  has become a fad for many film stars to visit defense units and interact with the soldiers. These are perfectly timed gestures too,  coinciding with the release of their films.

Earlier in the day a ‘white’ lady in a ‘bright’ sari was drawing a lot of attention. It was German poet Jessy James LaFleur. More interesting was the content of what she said.

I come from Germany and a high percentage of women there are subject to sexual assault. But, India has been portrayed in a very bad light by the media. I personally have felt very safe walking the roads of Coimbatore. Men have been pleasant while women have come to take selfies with me.

While limit it only to the media Madam. Our celebrity ambassadors who go abroad are no better.

So, Mr Amitabh Bachchan! Here is a lesson for you.  You are a great actor and I am a very hardcore fan of your acting. Let me remind you that you are also a son of a great intellectual.  Next time when you go to US and people raise question about crime against women in India, don’t be apologetic and react like a dumb ass actor who must always act and speak out the script handed out to him. Tell them without feeling inferior and with the confidence of your character Deenanath Chouhan:

Yes. There are crimes against women in India and we are working on that. But, with an ex-groper as the president and with 70% girls getting sexually assaulted during their preteen years,  your country has a far worse record and you do not have any moral authority to point fingers at India.

 

bangalore literature festival 2017.jpg

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.

 

A Gripping Tale

 

School reopened after the summer vacation. Now I was in standard VII and a large number of of books had been added to the school library. Prominent among them were translated versions of abridged editions of all time western classics like Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, The Three Musketeers, Time Machine, Animal Farm, Treasure Island and many more.  Each book was a page turner. There being no provision for a librarian, our class teacher doubled up as the librarian.  Sometime, he became irritated and sometimes happy that every day I finished one book and asked for another.

However, among all those un-put-down-able books,  what stood out were the series on Sherlockc Holmes.

In fact when it comes to un-put-down-able, what comes to my mind first are the genre of thriller or detective books.

But, other than Sherlock Holmes, I hardly read any book of suspense or detective genre. Written by  Arthur Connan Doyle, the stories of Sherlock Holmes have been an evergreen fascination. I have read the stories, seen the movies and TV serials over and over again.

However, the book that I have found the most griping is  ‘Silence of the Lambs’ by Thomas Harris.

silence-of-the-lambsI came across the book in our office library way back in 199o. After reading the first chapter, there was no way I was going to stop there. Standing there in front of of the  book rack I  must have finished five or six chapters till the librarian called to say that  it was closing time.

I borrowed the book. As far as I remember other than essential breaks for bodily needs I did not sleep till I finished the book.

I do not wish to divulge anything about the contents of the book so as to spare the prospective reader of any preconceived idea. That is how one enjoys a thriller the best. Like I did. Had I read any review, any gist or any thing about the book , or even the fact that it has  been a best seller, it would have definite affected  my reading experience. (Once you read a book knowing that it is a best seller your expectations would be high)

However I would like to say this much that even though the story and its characters are interesting, what makes the  book unputdowanable is perhaps the way  the author has  arranged the contents and divided the chapters whereby one is naturally drawn to the next chapter just to find out what happens next. I am yet to find such a gripping thriller.

Subsequently, when in 1991 the novel was made into a movie, it bagged a number of Oscars and became a huge commercial success like the book. I watched the movie and enjoyed it. But, the thrilling and gripping experience that I got when I first read the book has remained unmatchable so far.

(In response to Indispire#157 at Indiblogger)

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The Idea of India

 

Even to this day the accepted idea of India in the west has followed the concept propounded by Sir John Strachey (1823-1907), a British Civil Servant posted in India. He said, “ ….. India is a name which we give to a great region including a multitude of different countries. There is no general Indian term that corresponds to it….. There are no countries in civilized Europe in which people differ so much as the Bengali differs from the Sikh …. That there is not, and never was an India, or even any country of India, possessing according to European ideas any sort of unity, physical, political, social and religious: no Indian nation, no ‘people of India’ of which we hear so much. We have never destroyed in India a national government, no national sentiment has been wounded, no national pride has been humiliated and this not through any design or merit of our own, but because no Indian nationalities have existed.

You are wrong Sir Strachey, as wrong as you can be. You have not only missed the sacred geography of India but also its impression of inexplicable  ‘oneness’ that was deeply felt by a western educated Nehru, who was one of the greatest votaries of secularism post independence. He wrote in his Discovery  of India, “ It was not her wide space that eluded me, or even her diversity, but some depth of soul which I could not fathom, though I had occasional and tantalizing glimpses of it. Though outwardly there was diversity and infinite variety among our people, everywhere there was that tremendous impress of oneness, which had held all of us together for ages past, whatever political fate or misfortune that had befallen us. The unity of India was no longer merely an intellectual concept for me: it was an emotional experience that overpowered me.”

The word India is a Greek word that referred to the land beyond the river Sindhu. The Greek historians wrote works they called Indika to consolidate knowledge received from this land. Of course the people did not call their own land India. The indigenous term was Bharata, derived from the famous son of King Dushyanta. It was also called Bharatavarsha, the land of Bharata. The Indian sub continent was known as Jambudwipa (Rose Apple Island) or Kumaridwipa (the island of the Virgin Goddess).

The names Bharatavarsha and Jambudwipa are not only ancient, but also very much in vogue.   Every Hindu Sankalpa, to make explicit one’s position in the cosmos, starts with,  “In Jambudwipa, in Bharatkhanda, in so and so city …….”.  This tradition has been followed since time immemorial.

What is so special about India’s landscape is that in addition to being diverse and dramatic, all its landmarks like rivers, mountains and seashores etc.  are alive with myths and stories, ranging from being local to pan Indian, being little known to being part of famous legends known throughout the length and the  breath of the country with links to the great epics like Ramayana or Mahabharata.

india-a-sacred-geographyWhatever I have written so far in this post have been excerpted, deduced or distilled from the book, India-a Sacred Geography. Diana L. Eck- the author of the  book is a professor of comparative religion and Indian Studies at Havard University. She has won numerous accolades and awards for her sensitive portrayal of religious history in Indian as well as American contexts. The book attempts to explore the myths and realities surrounding the idea of India giving us the historical perspective beginning from the vedic age.  At the core, it tries to establish that: (as excerpted from the book blurb)

“ ……….  ultimately Eck shows us that from these network of pilgrimage places, India’s very  sense of region and nation has emerged. This is the astonishing and fascinating picture of a land linked for centuries not by the power of kings and governments, but by the footsteps of pilgrims.”

The book also explores the impact of muslim invaders and colonialism on this sacred landscape and how even the replicas of this interlinked sacred places have been created by Muslims and Christians in India. However, the book primarily focuses on the sacred geography of the land from the point of view of Hinduism and there are detailed explorations of the places of pilgrimages and how they are linked to each other across India and some times find there local replicas.

Contrary to the belief that all the desecrations of temples that took place during Muslim rule were due to religious bigotry of the rulers, the author is of the view that it was more to do with stripping the conquered from their association with the source of power. For many rulers the patronizing of a particular place of worship was closely linked to his extent of power. Of course, many of the places of pilgrimage that they destroyed or tried to destroy – like the Somnath Temple, the Jagannat Temple at Puri, – have bounced back to their former glory.

My own view is that you may try to destroy the idea of India by destroying its sacred landscape, but how do you destroy the myths which are harbored in the minds of its people? At  a deeper level, perhaps, the idea of India lives in the collective consciousness of its people through the myths that have been handed down since time immemorial, construction of temples and associating the geography with the myths being a part of that process.

Prodding  through volumes of ancient Indian texts, the author has brought out many interesting facts, narrations and insights of the ancient seers. Here is one that I found interesting: India’s imaginative world map, as envisaged by the ancient seers, did not make India the centre of the world as did Anaximander who made Greece the centre of his world map. In fact the Indian seers were not only aware of the existence of the other parts of the world beyond Indian sub-continent, but also  idealized other parts of the world some of which they named as Ketumala, Uttarakuru, Bhadrashva etc. According to them in many other countries people led far better lives and had more material resources to enjoy life.

Then of course they had this final warning: However, it was only in India that the ultimate freedom or moksha was possible as it was the karmabhumi (lands of spiritual action) while other countries were bhogabhumi (lands of worldly enjoyment).

Therefore this Bharata is the most excellent land in the Rose-Apple island, O Sage. For the others may be lands of enjoyment, but this is the land of action” (Mahabharata)

Is not the above statement true even today? In fact it is so true that sometimes I doubt it was written thousands of years ago.

Isn’t it India where the serious spiritual seeker lands up, ultimately? (In spite of all her shortcomings)


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Essays on Hinduism by Karan Singh

 

essays-on-hinduismThe fact that I have categorised this article under ‘books I have loved’, goes on to show that it is not a book review in its conventional sense. I am not going to write about the pros and cons of the book. I loved the book and will give a summary of the book along with the salient features that stuck me.

I read this book over  a couple of days in a hospital waiting room. Once I started the book or every time I restarted the book, I  got lost in no time and forgot about the surroundings, till someone came and tapped my shoulders.

This book is written by Karan Singh, an Ex-Cabinet Minister in the Congress Government. So the book is not coming from a member of the saffron brigade. Nor is it written by one of those so called foreign scholars. Hence, we may expect a fair degree of neutrality along with the right amount of compassion, unlike the contents in the plethora of books on Hinduism which either exalt it to the point of exaggeration or portray it as nothing more than a religion of snake charmers, idol worshipers or  charlatans  selling solutions for premature ejaculation.

Blurb:

In this collaboration of essays the author discusses the basics of Hinduism. Outlining the message of the Bhagavat Gita and the Upanishads, he argues that Hinduism is not a cult, nor a bunch of dogmas but a religion of the highest order that speaks of an immanent and transcendental god. It also offers a philosophy of life that cuts across ethnic and geographic barriers between men. According to him, the essentials of Hindu religio-philosophic teachings are pervaded by the ideals of universalism and love for humanity.

The author drives home the relevance of Hindu unversalism to an age in which nations are armed for mutual annihilation. He maintains that successful application of the  Hindu seers will help humankind to overcome the worst crisis facing it in the nuclear age, and will lead to restructuring  the world on the all-embracing principle of freedom and equity. the text is followed by the author’s lucid translation and commentary on Mundak Upanishad.

 

However, what the blurb does not talk about is the recurring theme in the book that Hinduism has five basic tenets . The author returns to these tenets again and again. These five tenets, in brief, are as follows:

  1. The concept of Brahman, the unchanging undying reality that pervades the entire cosmos. The vedic seers saw that everything in the universe changes and they called the creation sansara, that which always moves. But they also perceived that behind this change there was an unchanging substratum from which the changing worlds emanated like sparks from a great fire. This supreme all pervasive entity known as brahman has been beautifully described in various upanishads.
  2. The second great insight of the vedic seers was that,  as the changing universe outside was pervaded by Brahman, the changing world within man himself was based upon the immortal spark known as  Atman. The human entity is born again and again across aeons, gathering a multitudes of experiences and gradually moving towards the possibility of perfection.
  3. Having perceived the existence of Brahman without and the Atman within, the great seers realized through their spiritual insights that Atman and Brahman are essentially one. This  concept of Tat Twam Asi (that thou are) is beautifully expounded and illustrated in Chhandogya Upanishad.
  4. The fourth basic tenet is about the supreme goal of life  which is to realize the deathless Atman within and its unity with the Brahman.
  5. The fifth one is the concept of Karma – a concept that includes Action, Causality and Destiny.

In the chapter, Secularism – a New Approach, the author emphasises  the need for an Indian approach to secularism as opposed to the western approach which is prevalent now. According to the author,  India has never had an organised church , so the European concept of secularism was never relevant to our requirements. The following are the three premises suggested by the author to form the basis of our secularism:

  1. The term Sarva-dharma-sambhava (Not favoring a particular religious denomination over others) is a  far more meaningful formulation than Dharma-nirapekshata and  is much closer to the view of Mahatma Gandhi on secularism.
  2. When the conflicts among various religions and religious sects which create serious law and order problem, it is clear that the myth of religion being a purely personal matter can no longer be sustained and the state has to take cognizance of religion as social force.
  3. The myth that, as education increases and living standards improve religion will steadily lose its hold over the minds of people and become increasingly peripheral, has been debunked by the facts that  more places of worship are found in developed societies than the underdeveloped ones.

The author also touches upon the subject of environmental preservation and other issues faced by the global citizen  and how the solution can be found combining modern findings with vedic wisdom. At the end the author hopes that  the world recognizes ‘Basudhaiva Kutumbakam‘ (The whole world is one family) as propounded  by the ancient seers so as to realize the oneness of the human race and rise over individual and class differences to  end the conflicts among nations and groups.

Thus, major parts of the book explore the insights of the ancient seers as found in the Upanishads and other Hindu scriptures in general and the Bhagavat Gita in particular.  In a way, though the eighteen essays along with the appendix containing commentaries on Mundaka Upanishad, the author presents the soul of Hinduism, as opposed to its body which are the various rituals associated with the religion ans which are also the major focus of many of the western writers and Indian intellectuals.

My recommendation:

If you want to have a feel of the soul of Hinduism and get many of your long held myths  (which you might be unaware till you read this book)  about the religion  get busted, this book is a must read for you.

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Of Traffic Jam, Rain and Rumi

rain.jpg
While the Bengaluru traffic jam
gets worse
with each falling rain drop,

the home bound evening crowd
gets weary and impatient.
But to me the rain outside

provides the perfect gestalt and
background music
as I rummage through
a book of poems by Rumi.

“Oh, cloud of gentle rain, pour down
Come, let us friends get truly drunk
And you, the king of tricksters
Befuddled with drink we all greet you”

Oh Rumi !
you have flooded away
all my weariness
all my impatience.
Such is your company.

Even in a gloomy evening like this
the clouds bring in messages of hope.

Your voice from the faraway land
is now my own voice
coming from a hidden depth of myself

The key I lost long back
has reappeared on its own.
It fits in to reveal the veiled
and elusive maiden of ecstasy.

rumi-love-said-to-me