A very brahminical ritual among the upper caste Hindus is of chanting a shloka while taking bath before going to the temple and also in the beginning of the process of performing the daily prayer service. The shloka goes thus:
Gange cha yamune chaiva godhawari saraswathi
Narmade sindhu kaveri jalesmin sannidhim kuru.
The sholka broadly means: “In this water I invoke the presence of holy waters from the rivers Ganga, Yamuna, Godhawari, Saraswathi, Narmada, Sindhu and Kaveri.”
Metaphorically looking at this ritual of purification one realizes that without being purified through water and invoking holy rivers in the water one cannot access the divine.
Water and religious/ spiritual experiences are closely connected through rituals.
Interestingly the rivers invoked in the sholka carry the name of goddesses, women to be more specific. In a quite imperceptible way the divine, woman and river/ water are interwoven in the sholka and a close look at it, again metaphorically, we realize that the divine, woman and water/ river are creators and also source of life!
So it is not surprising, with a basic understanding of history makes one realize, that all civilizations took birth by the river coast! To put it in another way, for civilizations to take birth, to sustain them water body has been very necessary. It is the river/ water which have nurtured human civilization.
Where rivers have dried civilizations have died.
Rahul Sakritaayana the scholar-writer constructs his fiction spanning from 6000 BC to 1942 AD around the river coast and calls it Volga-Ganga. Though a fiction in the work it is the rivers which provide the setting for the stories to unfold. The twenty fictional short stories in a metaphorical way narrate the history of human civilization. History, we realize, is built around river/ water body.
It is also a reference to how water body is central to epic storytelling and an inseparable part from the creative energy.
Shantanu’s children are drowned in the river, Karna is left afloat in the river, Shakuntala’s ring gets lost in the river—these are few examples of how river has been a very integral part of our mythology and our narratives.
While we can agree that water is the source of life, we must never forget that water has also been a tool of dehumanizing. While it is the water route which lead to colonization it was denial of water and refusal to share water which has been the cruelest way in which untouchability is practiced.
Kabir when says ‘ekai pawan ek hee paani ekai jyothi samaana, ekai khaak gaDey sab bhaandai ekai kumhaar saana’ (same air same water same fire, God the potter made all in the same mould by the same clay) it is also to be understood that it is in sharing all the basic resources, nature broadly, inclusive of water, that equality is established and refusal to share any of these and denying some to share/ use them is to not just dehumanize oneself by treating the other lesser human but is also a disrespect shown to divinity!
Water being one for all is a kind of spiritual experience for divinity and thus a propagation of equality for Kabir. But it, in social reality, is divided and denied turning the world inhumane which makes it necessity for social and political battles for equal and egalitarian society.
Reclaiming the water source was an essential part of the fight against untouchability in India. If Dalits under the leadership of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar drink the water from Chavdar Tale on 20 March 1927 then it is not just a fight against untouchability and oppression but also for dignity and for life.
Recently in Maharashtra’s Kalambeshwar village a man named Bapurao Tajne, belonging to an untouchable caste, dug a well after his wife being denied by the upper caste people to draw water from the well belonging to the upper caste.
Water, we see here, is at the heart of life, love, liberty, equality, fraternity and denial of it is in the centre of hatred, oppression, discrimination and humiliation.
The great Kannada writer Kuvempu in his autobiography speaks of his visit to Dakshineshwar in Calcutta to Ramakrishna ashram and Kali ghat. He explains in great detail how dirty the Hoogly River, a distributary of the holy Ganga, was.
He then goes on to say that on that very night he had written a poem which has remained unpublished and shares that poem with the readers. In that poem he write about a ‘pure’ Ganga which cleanses all sins.
This though looks ironic is essentially quite insightful because we realize that the mythic Ganga and the physical Ganga are different. At the same time we realize that Ganga, in specific and river/ water broadly, has been having not just physical existence in the collective consciousness but also mythical and thus an essential for the inner life too and not just physical life.
What I have tried to map in this article is also how water body has been the life source for the multiple dimensions of human life, essential for religious, narrative, historical, spiritual, physical, social, political life and has occupied space in out myths, metaphors and memories.
I would like to close this article by recollecting an overheard conversation. During my stay in Delhi I was a regular customer, in Pathpadganj, of Verma, who was affectionately called Verma ji by all, who owned a small tea stall. Verma ji hardly spoke but whenever he spoke one would realize that he was a master of words and hence did not waste much of words. Many auto drivers and cycle rickshaw riders came to him for tea.
One day as I kept sipping tea a rickshaw driver came to Verma ji and asked for water. Verma ji just pointed at the water can kept to his left. As the driver bent the can to take a glass of water Verma ji told him, “main do cheezein kabhi nahi bechta. Roti aur paani. Zindagi banti hai inn do cheezon sey,” to mean, “I do not sell two things- bread and water for they are the source of life.”
I had my jaws dropped. To actually think of it, tea is luxury so are biscuits. But bread and water aren’t. They are source of life. To realize that they are source of life and hence are not to be sold is great wisdom.
[Originally written for the Neervana campaign, for water conservation, by the web news portal News Karnataka. Published on 20 May 2016]
Over a month ago a comrade of concern on Facebook saw me sharing some of my poems and asked if I knew Urdu. My reflex almost typed, “I have met Urdu too,” but before I could type and post my comment I censored myself and let it be.
The reason I withdrew my expression is because I wasn’t sure if s/he would understand what I mean and because sometimes what we feel about a beloved person is so delicately beautiful in our heart that we fear enveloping them in words as it might just break them.
But yes, I have met Urdu. Urdu in flesh and blood.
There is nothing else that I compare her to. Coming across her, was like coming across the language of Urdu for me. She, to me, was like Urdu: Elegant yet mundane, naughty yet philosophical, romantic yet lonely, jubilant yet suffering, humorous yet melancholic, wounded yet therapeutic, divine and religious (not in the institutional sense) yet rebellious, silly still deep, strong yet delicate all at the same time and also, like Urdu, an amalgamation of (many dialects) and torn between distant, yet related, political struggles.
When I discovered the language Urdu it felt like my inner world had finally found a language to express. It had, in its collective unconscious, the right words the right expressions right metaphors right silence which would bleed into my inner world. Knowing her, similarly, was like coming to find a person who is familiar and knows the grammar of the language of my inner world in its texture, in all its seasons, all its colours, all its shades, in all its flavour and also in its silence.
Urdu, more than a language of communication, to me, is a language of soliloquy. She too is my soliloquy. Like Urdu she too made me come in tune with my inner core, my essence.
Yes, I have met Urdu. I have met Urdu.
“It is your grief,” says Shiv (Naseer) to Tara (Kalki), indicating it belongs only and only to her and she alone will have to deal with it, and goes on to explain that there are different stages to it- “Denial, anger, hope, depression and then acceptance.”
While the film WAITING by Anu Menon, as I see it, is primarily about grief and acceptance of grief, it certainly goes further to state that it is not just acceptance of grief which is necessary what is more essential is to cope with the grief, grief which is inseparable from life.
While the film is showing, quickly, the first few stages of grief through one character, it dedicates its time, to show the last leap one has to make from acceptance to coping.
Acceptance can be quite unconscious and passive, coping is a very conscious and active decision, to which one has to arrive.
Shiv, whose wife has been in coma for eight years, and Tara, whose husband Rajath, married to her six weeks ago, is in coma following a fatal accident, meet each other in a hospital in Cochin and their personal grief brings them together.
Shiv is hopeful about his wife Pankaja’s recovery against the lack of any hope in the doctor treating her, Dr. Nirupam (Rajath Kapoor) and insists on going further with treatment. Tara is anxious about her husband not being the same as earlier even if operated and is unsure of going ahead with the required surgery, in spite of Dr. Nirupam, who is also treating Rajath, being hopeful.
Dr. Nirupam tells Shiv that he is afraid of being left alone and hence wants to believe that his wife is going to be fine, some day. Shiv tells Tara that her perplexity is caused by fear of her husband not being as she wants him to be or how he was.
What is told to Shiv and what is told by Shiv, in more than a way, is similar to each other: the inability to accept the changing nature of life, the inability to cope with life, a life which is ever flowing, ever changing.
Shiv takes Tara, a declared atheist, to a temple and says “Faith is a way of coping,” a line which is repeated by Tara later in a shopping mall, to Shiv, who hates malls, by slightly altering it to say, “Shopping is a way of coping.”
How do people cope with grief?
While Tara’s friend believes in chanting and “positive energy” Shiv avoids Dr. Nirupam who, he thinks, is filled with “negativity.”
Though an athiest Tara wants reassurance from the Doctor, who in a scene tells that Doctors are the like Gods for the patients.
Shiv believes that his wife is an exceptional case, like some that he reads in medical journals, who will wake up normally, one day, to a normal morning and to normalcy.
Tara’s friend’s husband needs her presence to cope with their son’s illness. Probably the son also needs his mother to cope with his illness. It is similar to Tara seeking company in Shiv, an almost stranger, after her friends do not come for her.
Rajath’s mother believes in “raahu-ketu” i.e. astrology.
All of these are ways in which one tries to cope with life, whether it looks practical or impractical. What is important is that it helps one cope with grief, with life.
The need to cope pushes Tara, the atheist, to run to the temple, to chant Buddhist chanting and also brings out the F* word from Shiv’s mouth, though it is just for venting anger, soaked in helplessness.
To cope also means to change, for life is ever changing. To cope the will to let go for life is ever flowing.
To cope with the possible added grief of being blamed by her mother in law, Tara avoids calling her to inform about her son’s accident. To cope with possible grief Shiv hides/ remains silent of his momentary tryst with an old classmate during a reunion. But this means of escaping cannot help in coping with actual situation in hand. One has to confront reality. One has to let go off fears and also false imaginations, which possibly stems out of helplessness, an offshoot of grief.
You can escape into drinking and dancing and merry making at night but you have to wake up in the morning to the harsh reality of grief in life. That calls for acceptance of grief, coping with grief, acceptance of life as it unfolds and coping with life as it unfolds.
While Pankaja’s being cant cope with the dis-ease any more Rajath’s being can cope with the injuries and rise back.
While Tara has to decide to live with imperfections of life, Shiv has to decide to nurture himself (cook) all alone.Those are the only ways with which they can cope with grief, with life, from here.
The ability to cope with dis-ease, with injuries, with loss and life with all its imperfection is what is most crucial for life.
Though the film’s hurried ending causes a kind of discomfort, what is very commendable about the film is actually its writing. For a film which explores grief in its various shades the film at no point becomes melodramatic. The restraint makes the grief more poignant.
Undoubtedly it is Naseeruddin Shah and Kalki Koechlin who carry the film as Shiv and Tara but what intensifies the experience is the way in which these two characters have been written and not to forget the effortlessly beautiful dialogues.
When in a stranger town, for work, I befriended a person who was about to go abroad for higher studies in some days. When she left I shot her a mail and she replied. I responded. She answered.
We wrote to each other almost on a daily basis initially and quite regularly, if not daily, nearly after a month of daily exchange.
Slowly I started realizing that I was falling for her but was in denial for a long time. I was also trying to battle my feelings for her.
But then one day, I received a handwritten post card from the other side of the globe. That is it. I admitted to myself that I am in love with this girl and put on the ground all the weapons I had equipped myself with to battle my feelings.
She had drawn a flower on the card. I replied saying, “woh phool tanha mehsoos kar raha hai yahaan, tamaam gulshan ek lifaafey mein bhej deejiye…” (The flower is lonely. Please send an entire garden in an envelope)
I craved for more and I started loving her even the more.
It was that one hand written post card…
(Memory recollected while in a conversation with Rashmi Ramchandani around the magic and beauty of letter writing.)
Under the yellow light the empty bottle kept spinning and stopping making one of us become the target of the next question. It was already 1:30 in the night when we started playing the game of ‘truth or dare’ eliminating the ‘dare’ and keeping it only to ‘truth’.
After one and a half hours of questioning each other some intriguing, some notorious, some naughty, some irritating, some silly questions we decided to call it a day. Our friend in whose house we had taken shelter went to her room closing the room behind her.
Lying on one side of the bed, not feeling sleepy, I asked my friend lying on the other side of the bed, “Can I ask you one final question answer me the truth,” to which she said, “Ask.” “Imagine,” I started after a slight pause and continued the question, “If tomorrow is your last day of life. What is it that you would want to do in that one day?” We had just one more day in the city and the question was posed just to figure out what my friend likes. She said, “Nothing. May be just sleep.” Then immediately she asked me what I would do if I had just one day in my hand. Thinking for a while I said, “Go kiss Gulzar’s hand. Apologize to this particular girl who has been wronged by me. Go to another girl and tell her that she, to me, is Urdu in flesh and blood.”
There was silence for a while which we broke by turning my answer into a joke. “Had Galeano been alive I would have gone to meet him. But he isnt alive. Had he been alive it would have been difficult since going to meet him and coming back to meet Gulzar and meeting these two girls would have been too hectic for one day.”
After a good laugh we went to sleep.
The following morning we decided to go for morning walk and as we started off I asked my friend, “What to do today?” “I dont know,” she said throwing the ball in my court. “Its so funny isnt it that we do not know what to do in our lives but we ask each other what we would like to do if we had only one day of life left,” I said and both of us laughed. “Then why did you have to give me that three point program for the last day of your life?” she asked and for the sake of answer I said, “Its the rule of the game. So I had to come up with an answer.”
Suddenly the answer uttered without much thought given and only in a playful manner made me feel that probably life itself should be seen in that fashion– we invent answers or things to do, because it is the rule of the game, and if we do not invent then the game (of life) becomes either boring or comes to an end. Its a totally different matter as to why the game (of life) exists at all and if there is a compulsion to play the game (of life). But knowing the game of ‘truth or dare’ in all its colour and shades one knows that the game can be made interesting provided one invests oneself in the game and starts playing it with the ones who matter.
It is like, I realize, what Galeano says about Utopia. He says Utopia is like horizon, it moves backward when you move forward and there is no chance of one reaching there. But the point of the horizon/ Utopia is to make us progress.
There must be a reason why the world and life is called a ‘leela’ or a game/ play.
Couple of weeks ago a friend and I met at a bar in the heart of the educational town Manipal. We had long conversations about our lives, politics, cinema and a good amount of nonsensical talks too. As we spoke and spoke and spoke my friend had downed a whole bottle of whisky and I had had four glasses of lime soda.
When we were about to leave my friend initiated a conversation with the waiter who told us that he worked 8:00 to 17:00 hours in a factory in the industrial area and from 18:00 to 23:00 hours at the bar. His son goes to an private English medium school, though the fee structure is quite high. He also said that he aspired to be a writer and has several story ideas in his mind but doesn’t have the time to write. He told us that even after doing two jobs a day, every day, it was difficult to run the house.
Couple of weeks before this my friend and I had met in a small and quite shady bar. While walking out of the bar we saw the man, who was next to us inside the bar and had left some time ago, return to the bar. He was finding it difficult to walk because of over-drinking. When my friend spoke to him we realized that the man, a daily wage labourer, comes from a small village in North Karnataka and has his wife and 6 children there. He said every night he had to find a different place to sleep in Manipal since he did not have a shelter. “I want to drink so much that I can die,” he said and justified him returning to the bar again the very same night, since he still hadnt figured out where to spend the night.
Interestingly, my friend and I have been almost jobless from a long time. We do have some projects in hand at times but most of the times we, who refer to ourselves as freelance writers, and crib and laugh about how writers are either unpaid or underpaid always, are jobless and penniless too. Yet, not a single time, forget single day, we haven’t gone hungry. We can also afford, once in a while, to go to a decent bar, drink and have good food.
Though jobless we aren’t poor. With two jobs, the waiter, is poor. With daily wages, the migrant labourer is poor.
As I see so many people say, “Its me,” and “Its my life” sharing, on social media and endorse, an article by Gayatri Jayaraman which speaks of the ‘Urban Poor’ I am reminded of the waiter and the daily wage labourer.
The kind of pressure a capitalist, corporate world bring on the lives of urban youngsters leaving them ‘broke’ is a matter of concern. The world is designed in a way where the gap between the aspiration and reality becomes vast. But that state of being broke and divorced from the ‘ideal self’ is not a state of poverty.
To believe one is poor, while sleeping on one’s own car, though not in one’s own house, to believe one is poor while having a cold coffee at Starbucks, though forced by corporate circumstances, is to mock at the real poor who doesnt know where the next food is coming from, where the night is spent.
I must admit that once we make a choice of lifestyle it is not easy to get back to lifestyle which is considered lesser than the one adopted. Plus there is always a pressure of the corporate capitalist society which widens the gap between aspiration and reality only to increase its own profit. But to not recognize what has caused the so called poverty among the employed urban youths and to cut a sorry figure of oneself saying, “Look at us the miserable beings who even sociologists, media etc havent recognized,” and thus ignoring the existence of real poverty and by underlining ones own life and thus pushing the real poor to invisibility, is to be a bit insensitive, it appears to me.
It requires some amount of poverty of heart to call oneself poor because one has to walk home without realizing that there also exist people who do not have a home to go to.