The day S. Diwakar gifted me his copy of Nazim Hikmet’s book my evening was spent along with Diwakar Sir and a very fine critic and writer Narendra Pai.
The conversation between Diwakar Sir and Narendra Pai, with me as an active listener, went for long without us realizing the time. On seeing darkness having settled outside the window Naredra Pai sir got up to leave. Diwakar sir, at that point, said, “Lets have a cup of coffee before we disperse.” We decided to have a cup of coffee near the bus stop so that Narendra Pai sir could catch the bus then and there. Since I had my scooter, I drove to the bus stop while Diwakar Sir and Narendra Pai came walking. By the time the two reached the bus stop Narednra Pai had changed his mind. He said having coffee would actually get him late and caught the bus immediately.
Soon after he caught the bus Diwakar sir lit a smoke and as we continued conversing I got a call from my father asking me to come pick him up. While I was taking leave Diwakar Sir said, “At least we could have had a cup of coffee together.” Even I felt the same but I had to leave as my father was waiting for me. I left having assured Diwakar Sir that I will join him for breakfast the next morning.
Coming home that evening I wrote a blog-post about the creative coincidental kinship between Nazim Hikmet-Ramachandra Sharma-YNK-Satyajit Ray-Diwakar-Samvartha and also Nazim Hikmet- Faiz- Chittoprasad- Samvartha- Srajana- Diwakar.
Next morning I woke up relatively early and left home to meet Diwakar Sir. While I was on my way my phone rang and I stopped my scooter to see who it is. It was my mentor K.P. Rao who was calling.
“Hello Samvartha. I saw your write up. Is Diwakar still in Manipal?”
“Yes Sir. I am on my way to meet him. If you want to come I will come pick you up.”
“You know, I follow the rules and dont break them.”
“Do not worry Sir. I have an extra helmet.”
“Then come home to pick me up.”
I turned my scooter and drove towards KP Rao’s house. Getting on the scooter KP Rao said, “I felt very happy reading your post. In fact Satyajit Ray stayed very close to my boss in Kolkata. He would wave at us whenever he came to his balcony,” and after a while added, “The beauty of YNK and his gang of people is that they have the entire world on their table.”
In a while KP Rao and I reached the International hostel where Diwakar Sir was put up. When we reached the 15th floor and rang the calling bell of room number 1525, Diwakar Sir opened the door. When KP Rao introduced himself to Diwakar sir who immediately recognized him and saying, “You taught Kannada to computers, isnt it?” welcomed us into the room.
For the next one hour the conversation between the two moved from Panini to Arya to Chomsky to Satyajit Ray to Homi Bhabha to DD Kosambi to Vedas to Sanskrit listening to which my jaws dropped.
The conversation was abruptly cut when there was a knock on the door. It was the driver of the vehicle which was to take Diwakar sir to the air-port. He had come to inform Diwakar sir that the vehicle will leave soon. We immediately left the room and took the lift from the 15th floor to the ground floor only to see that the co-passengers of Diwakar had not yet arrived. We seated ourselves on a couch there in the lobby and the two continued their conversation invoking the lives and works of KK Hebbar, memories of the first all India cartoonist meet and also discussed the tulu paaDdana. After a while the co-passengers of Diwakar sir arrived and so KP Rao and I took leave from Diwakar sir.
During the conversation in the room KP Rao while remembering his teacher DD Kosambi had recollected what was told once to him by the master. “Kosambi would say that if you are not interested in everything then you are not interested in anything.” That sentence kept ringing in my mind when KP Rao and I walked out of the hostel taking leave from Diwakar Sir because the two, I realized listening to their conversation, are literally interested in everything under the sun and above the sun.
If you look at it closely you realize that everything in the world is interconnected. KP Rao says to make computer learn Kannada what came handy was not just his knowledge of technology but also his interest in linguistics and his reading of vedas. That reminds of what the Kannada poet Pu.Ti.Na. says; ‘ee jagadoLu posadaavudu peLiri joDaNe horatu?’ (what is new in this world, everything is an extension, a continuation, an addition.) Everything is connected and hence if you are interested in something then it leads you to everything.
Yes, everything is connected that is how the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, a non-residential Indian Kannada poet Ramachandra Sharma, YNK, Diwakar get connected with Samvartha after 50 years. Yes, everything is connected that is how when Samvartha is on his way to meet Diwakar gets a call from KP Rao and he becomes a witness to the memorable meeting between the two giants! Yes, everything is connected and that is how creative coincidental kinships are formed.
Last night I had a strange dream.
In my dream all of Amrit Gangar sir’s experience- reading, viewing, listening etc- was turned into a library where he would visit every now and then to access the huge archive of experience and knowledge. It was a huge huge huge library.
In that library of experience, I was the librarian. Of course I was feeling extremely happy that I have access, though second hand, to all that Sir has read, heard, viewed, experienced and understood.
On waking up I realized the trigger for this dream was my envy for all the experiences in reading, listening and viewing Sir has had and my deep felt desire to be able to access all of them through him.
This was one of the two most beautiful dreams I have ever had, the other being one where I was a line of poetry in the heart of Gulzar.
Thanks for everything Amrit Sir.
Jayanth Kaikini, one of the finest Kannada writers, in an informal conversation recently spoke to me about the cover photo of the book by Dr. Mamta Rao on the short stories of Jayanth Kaikini titled ‘Janath Kaikiniyavara Kathanaavarana’. He said, “I like the pic on cover which Srajana clicked in Delhi market when I was unable to cross road. It looks as if my charcters have gheravoed me and asking me, “what do you think you are?” Pen and paper in my shirt pocket look so stupid and helpless like me.“
That reminded me of a short note I had written, in Kannada, on 10 April 2015 on Facebook when I finally managed to lay my hands on a copy of the book. Here I just reproduce a translation of that small note.
The book by Dr. Mamata Rao titled ‘Jayanth Kaikiniyavara Kathanaavarana’ finally reached me last evening. I first learnt about this book when the designer of the book Raghu Apara, months ago, shared the cover page of the book on Facebook.
A book on the stories written by Jayanth Kaikini triggered immense curiosity and excitement in me. And I was thrilled to see the cover page because I was very familiar with the moment – time and space- in which the photo on the cover page came to life.
It was monsoon of 2010. Jayanth Sir had come to Delhi for the admission of his daughter Srajana, also a dear friend of mine, at JNU for MA in Arts and Aesthetics. After completing the admission process on day one we decided to go around Delhi to see places of historic and heritage value on the following day.
Next day we started our Delhi tour with our visit to Kutub Minar. On seeing the flowers and creepers chiseled on the walls there, some broken some fallen some still intact, Jayanth Sir clicked photographs of those sculpted floral designs and said, “This can make a good cover page for a book.” He followed that sentence with his observations and thoughts on what makes a good cover page, what is the purpose of a cover page, what emotions should a cover page invoke, what impression do cover pages create etc.
I had heard, until then, people discussing books. But never had heard anyone discussing the cover page of the book and its aesthetics.
After the visit to Kutub Minar we went to the Lotus Temple and from there we went to the Red Fort. Opposite the Red Fort we found this small but colourful shrine which made Jayanth Sir say, “even this will make a good cover page picture.” As he said that he clicked couple of photographs of the shrine along with the cycle rickshaws around. He made Srajana and me stand in front of the shrine and clicked a photo of us.
Following this Srajana clicked the photo of Jayanth sir caught in traffic, which has now made it to a book cover page.
I am thrilled because the photo that came to life while discussing about cover pages, has now become a cover page by itself and I have been a witness to that moment.
Thrilled also because the cover page is so apt with this photograph! Jayanth Sir is standing amidst the flow of life and observing the life and humans around him, breathing the same air. There are human beings around him, there is a shrine behind him where God resides. Behind the shrine is a huge tree, representing nature. There are cycles around, which stand for mechanization and human craving to make lives easy. Amidst humans, motors, nature and the divine stands a writer who seeks humanity in the rush of life, enriches human spirit through his writings and tries, in his own way, through his writings, to makes life easy/ bearable by showing the beauty of life.
I congratulate my friend Srajana for this meaningful and loaded photo and also Raghu Apara for designing this beautiful cover page
Couple of months ago a friend on Facebook (Guruprasad Nayaran) put up a post on Satyajit Ray. While commenting about the books written by Marie Seton, Chidanand Dasgupta, Gaston Roberge etc on Ray I also mentioned about an essay by S. Diwakar where he mentions about Ray having designed the cover page of a poetry collection of the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet.
In that particular essay (found in the book ‘naapatteyaada graamaphone mattu itara prabandhagalu‘) S. Diwakar recollects how he first read Nazim Hikmet’s poetry in translation, translated by Ramachandra Sharma and how went looking for a collection of Hikmet’s poetry, without any success. He remembers how, during those days, he once mentioned about Hikmet to the great Kannada writer YNK who on hearing the name of Hikmet got excited and spoke of Hikmet, his poetry and his politics with great enthusiasm in one breath. But to Diwakar’s bad luck YNK’s copy of Hikmet’s poetry collection was borrowed by someone and never returned to YNK.
But then “Twenty five years ago” writes S. Diwakar, “in a small old book stall in the then Madras,” he found a book of Hikmet’s poetry titled ‘Nazim Hikmet Selected Poems.’ He continues to say, “Recently” (at the time of writing the essay) he chanced upon the book again in his library and a detail that had skipped his eyes all those years caught his eyes. The cover page of the book was designed by Satyajit Ray and the book was published by one ‘Parichaya Prakashini‘ based in the then Calcutta.
Narrating these S. Diwakar writes in his essay, how thrilled he was to see a a Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, non-resident Indian Kannada translator Ramachandra Sharma, a Kannada writer YNK and the Bengali language film director Satyajit Ray get connected and how thrilled he was to see all of them get bound together in his mind.
I had forgotten about my comment on Guruprasad’s post on Ray. Completely. But then…
On 24 of June 2016 S. Diwakar came to attend the inaugural function of the Hebbar Gallery and Art Center in Manipal. He was one of the speakers in the panel discussion conducted as a part of the inaugural programme. He was surrounded by other friends and admirers during the tea break following the panel discussion. When one by one started dispersing we met and on seeing me he immediately put his hand in his bag and took out a book saying, “This is for you.”
A yellow bind book with an image of human figure in black whose titled read ‘Nazim Hikmet Selected Poems.’ !!!
“I saw you mentioning about my essay on Facebook. I was happy that someone had read and remembered it as well. I dug out the book from my library that very day and thought of sending it to you by courier but got held in some other work. But in a day or two after that Srajana called me to invite me for this programme and I thought it is better to give you the book personally when I come here. So, here it is,” said S. Diwakar.
My friend Srajana Kaikini, who is the curator of Hebbar Gallery and Art Center was right there when this exchange happened. When I showed her the book saying, “See he gifted me this,” there was a memory recollected.
Sometime in 2011 Srajana and I had attended the exhibition of paintings by Chittoprasad in Delhi. In one of his paintings one can see Hikmet’s book in the frame. Standing before that painting I had recited Faiz’s translation of Hikmet in Urdu; “Meri jaan tujh ko batalaaun bahut naazuk yeh nuqtaa hai, badal jaataa hai aadmi jab makaan uska badalta hai.”
Next day when Srajana went to class with Raqs collective the discussion in class was around Nazim Hikmet’s poetry! That evening we had wondered at the coincidence.
Years after this Srajana witnessed Nazim Hikmet Seclected Poetry collection, where Turkish poet Hikmet and Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray are bound together, being gifted by S. Diwkar who has his own history with the book where Ramachandra Sharma, YNK, Ray get connected with Hikmet, to Samvartha with whom she shared her own Hikmet story where Faiz and Chittoprasad are Hikmet are connected.
Srajana clicked a photo of Diwakar Sir and me with the book.
When I opened the book I saw S. Diwakar Sir having documented the date of purchase on the first page of the book under his signature. It read 1. 12. 66. The book was purchased 50 years ago and the essay ‘Sharma-Hikmet-YNK-Satyajit Ray’ was written 25 years ago.
In his essay he says to him Sharma, Hikmet, YNK and Satyajit Ray are not just humans but threads who connect with each other to weave a grand narrative of their times. And he wonders how a creative kinship is formed
I am thrilled to know that 50 years after these threads passed through Diwakar Sir has now passed through me too making me a part of this strange yet beautiful creative kinship. And in a strange way another series of coincidences involving Faiz, Chittoprasad, Hikmet and Raqs collective met S. Diwakar’s narrative of creative kinship.
I am also thrilled about the fact that the book is now in my possession.
Siddhartha born in present times holds within him the possibility of becoming a part of the system and strengthening it and also holds within him the possibility of becoming a rebel and subvert the system, said the wise ones.
Seeing the possibilities within Siddhartha the Emperor to ensure the tragedies, miseries, poverty etc. are not seen by Siddhartha, created an illusive world of make belief ‘good days’ with the use of media, advertisements, public relations and sugary slogans.
Blinded by these Siddhartha, for long, failed to observe price rise, land grabbing from Adivasis, attack on Dalits, communal disharmony, dis-empowering of educational spaces, censure on speech and expression, market favoring governance etc.
Siddharatha of current times will, one fine day, wake up to the reality of the times. He will break away from the trap of fake good days to move out for a while in search of ways of resisting, ways of countering the miseries and tragedies of the world. He will become the Buddha and concentrate his efforts in creating a new world and thus liberate the world from the tragedies, miseries and also the make belief good days.
Every individual trapped by the illusion of fake good days is a Siddhartha, holding within himself a rebel and the possibility of becoming Buddha and creating a new world. A new dawn will arrive, good days, real ones, will arrive too.
Troubled times compel every Siddhartha to take this political-spiritual journey collectively to the new self to the new world.
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]
Day before yesterday (10 April) was the death anniversary of Kahlil Gibran.
That evening while speaking to a friend my friend quoted couple of lines from Gibran and told me that she, in all these years, has not been able to read Gibran’s most celebrated work The Prophet completely because every time she picks up the book she gets lost, in the thoughts triggered by one line or one passage, for a long long time. I immediately said, “You shouldnt read The Prophet if you are not in the right state of mind.”
When asked why did I say what I said and what I meant by it, I had to recollect a story from nearly 15 years ago.
It was while reading APJ Abdul Kalam’s autobiography that I first came across Kahlil Gibran whose lines on ‘children’ is quoted in Wings of Fire. The lines caught my imagination and I desperately wanted to read The Prophet from which book the lines were quoted. I immediately left to the nearest book store and got an omnibus book of Kahlil Gibran.
Looking at the size of the book The Prophet I thought I would finish reading it in couple of days. But it took a whole month to finish that book small in size because the ripples every line every passage would create would drown me in an ocean of thoughts and meditation.
When I completed reading the book I knew the world would never appear the same again. I started recommending the book to every single person I knew. All of this happened during vacations.
When the college reopened I went to a teacher of mine with whom I used to discuss everything under the sun that interested me. I went to him and spoke at length about Gibran. My teacher asked me if he could borrow my copy of The Prophet. “Yes,” I said and the next day I gave him my copy of the book and told him that he should share his thoughts on the book when he completes reading it. “Yes,” he said.
After nearly two weeks when I crossed paths with my teacher in the corridor he said, “Samvartha come meet me.” I thought he must have read the book and would share his thoughts with me. I walked with him to the staff room and took my seat.
“What have you done Samvartha?” asked my teacher. I was puzzled. I asked, “What did I do?”
“Victor is hospitalized.”
I knew no Victor and hence was puzzled even the more.
“Who is Victor? I dont know any Victor.”
“Victor is my friend.”
“Okay. What happened? And what did I do?”
My teacher saw me getting perplexed and worried. He smiled. With the smile on his face he said, “I know you do not know him.”
I got even the more confused. “Then why did you ask me that? And what happened to your friend?”
Asking me not to feel worried or feel guilty my teacher said, “Actually he had come to my room the day you gave me Gibran’s book. He asked me if he could borrow it and I gave him the book,” and immediately changed the tone to apologize saying, “Sorry about giving it to him without your permission.” I dint know what was happening and before I could join these dots my teacher continued,
“Any way, he took the book and started reading it.” Giving a pause my teacher said, “He had a nervous breakdown.”
“What?” I screamed.
Calming me down my teacher said, “He has been going through a tough time and I guess this was not the right time for him to read that book.”
I dint know how to react. I felt guilty because somehow the nervous breakdown of this person not known to me was connected to me. I had a role to play.
My teacher could sense these thoughts in my head, I guess. He immediately said, “You are not responsible for it Samvartha. Its just wrong timing I guess. Any way, he is recovering now and that is a good thing.”
I was shocked because when I read the book, couple of months before this incident, I too was going through depression after losing a good friend under mysterious circumstances. But the book did not damage me further but in a way healed me. As I kept thinking about it I realized that what can heal can also harm. A realization that came somewhere from the depths of The Prophet itself: “Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potters oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit the very wood that was hollowed with knives?”
Victor recovered eventually and I happened to see him, just see him, once nearly six years after this and I was glad that he was doing fine.
In these fifteen years I haven’t stopped being a missionary for The Prophet. But every person who I recommend or gift this book, I make sure, I tell them the story of Victor and tell them, “Its a powerful book. Make sure you read it only when you are in the right state of mind.”
It was around the same time seven years ago. October end 2008. I was already on anti-depressants and one evening when my parents were out I decided to swallow several pills at once and kill myself. But to my bad-luck on returning home my father figured out what I had done and immediately I was rushed to the hospital and immediate actions were taken to clear my system.
Since it was a long weekend because of Deepaavali holidays my the then psychiatrist was out of town. The PG students were to take my responsibility till she returned from her home town on the other coast. I was given sedatives and made to sleep on that night.
Next evening I was called for counselling and it was a PG student who was to conduct the personal counselling session. I was in no mood to speak partially because I was still angry about what had prompted me to take the step, partially angry at my bad-luck since I couldn’t succeed in my attempt to kill myself and majorly because I was witnessing how my suicide attempt had impacted my parents and was feeling quite guilty about it. But the PG student had to do her job. She began the conversation and I, being the stubborn me, refused to speak for a long time. But finally at one point gave in. After having spoken for three-four minutes at a stretch I said something like, “You will not understand. It is all so Kafkaesque.”
Having uttered this I was feeling suffocated and was searching, desperately, from my limited vocabulary, for words to express what I was feeling deeply inside me. And the PG student asked, “What did you say? What is that word you just used?” I, who was desperately looking for language, least expected this clarification being asked.
“Yeah Kafkaesque. Meaning like the world of Kafka’s writings.”
“Franz Kafka, is it?”
“Can you please say more about this Kafka?”
I was baffled. “What?”
“You must have read him so I am asking you to explain to me. Our HoD keeps mentioning his name quite often in class. We are too scared to ask him why he keeps mentioning Kafka again and again. We are too busy reading our medical books to go read Kafka. So when you mentioned Kafka I just thought of asking you to help me.”
I had my jaws dropped.
For the next ten-fifteen minutes I tried explaining Kafka to this PG student within my limits. As I was explaining I was laughing in my head seeing myself take a crash course on Kafka when I was there to be counselled.
It has been seven years since this happened. Late October 2008. Now I read that the first work of Franz Kafka which I read i.e. ‘The Metamorphosis,’ completes 100 years this October.
Thanks Kafka for the book which changed life for many, which gave tongue to the unspeakable suffering of many.
Happy birthday Gregor Samsa, happy birthday ‘The Metamorphosis’ 🙂
The remark made by K.S. Bhagwan at the Periyar Birth Anniversary function in Bangalore has triggered a major controversy. What fanned the fire is the State Sahitya Akademi Award being conferred on him on the very same day. Speaking at the function Mr. Bhagwan said, “Rama was not born of his father.”
Angered citizens not only raised objection but also started getting a petition signed by people requesting the Akademi to withdraw the award conferred on K.S. Bhagwaan.
In the last few months K.S. Bhagwaan has been in news for quite a few controversies. But never before has he managed to anger people to this extent. What has angered people so much this time? Why are people so angry this particular time?
Looking at the statement made by K.S. Bhagwaan factually there is absolutely nothing to be outraged about. His statement did not twist facts or misinterpret them in any which way. He has just said what is said in the text of Ramayana including the Ramayana written by Valmiki which many consider to be the authentic Ramayana.
Dasharata calls Sumantra and tells him that he needs to perform a yaga to have children. Listening to this Sumantra tells Dasharata that long ago a sage named Saantakumara had told him that Dasharata to have children will need to take the assistance of Rushyashrunga and his wife Shaanta. Dasharata on listening to this goes to his friend Romapada and requests him to send his daughter Shaanta and son-in-law Rushyashrunga along with him to Ayodhya. Romapaada agrees. Back in Ayodhya all arrangements are made for the yaga to be performed by Vasishta, Vaamadeva, Jabaali and Kaashyap in the presence of Rushyashrunga. From the fire of the yaaga a representative of Prajaapati comes and hands over a jug of paayasa to Dasharata and asks him to distribute it to his wives and assures that after consuming the paayasa they would bear children. Dasharata obliges and thus Rama, Bharata, Lakshmana, Shatrughna are born.
So it is Valmiki who is hinting that Dasharata is not the father of Rama (and also Bharata, Lakshmana and Shatrughna) and not K.S. Bhagwaan. But why did this anger people so badly? The anger of people is not because the statement of K.S. Bhagwaan has hurt their religious sentiments, as I look at it. The anger is triggered because their male ego has been hurt by the statement made by K.S. Bhagwaan. Let me try explaining this.
In a patriarchal society the male ego is high and masculinity is celebrated in different ways like conquer, martyrdom, bravery etc. At the same time what is prevalent in a patriarchal society fear about impotency and infertility. They are also a matter of shame. These factors are quite closely associated with the idea of manhood and if any question is raised about the potency of a man then the male ego gets terribly hurt and angered.
The reason the statement of K.S. Bhagwaan irked so many people is because his statement kind of mocked Dasharata’s impotency and infertility and also reminded the mass about the collective unconscious fear hidden deep within them regarding impotency and infertility. This is the reason why people are reacting so aggressively. There is a masculine aggression in the reaction of the people and that is because the male ego has been hurt and not ‘religious sentiments’ as many are saying and want to believe.
If it was actually the ‘religious sentiment’ which was hurt then the anger should have been more towards Kalai Selvi, who on the same day and in the same occasion, sharing the stage with K.S. Bhagwaan, made a much more ridiculous statement saying reading of Mahabharata has caused increase in child abuse.
But no. The statement of K.S. Bhagwaan has hurt the people more. And nobody has a word to say against the illogical unscientific statement made by Kalai Selvi. That is exactly why, to me, it appears like its not the religious sentiments which has been hurt but the male ego.
While writing about the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi writer and social thinker Ashis Nandy examines not just the political and social background of Nathuram Godse but also explores his mindspace. One of the major complaints Godse had against Gandhi is saying Gandhi turned Indian politics feminine and thus made it “impotent.” His anger is also against the Mughals and the British invaded India and made it sterile. Nandy recollects the observation made by L. Collins and D. Lapierre which makes note of the sexual metaphors in the speech and writings of Godse which expressed fear and shame regarding impotency and infertility.
In such a society which is high on sperm when someone reminds people of impotency and infertility which is a nightmarish fear hidden deep in the male ego, the ego is certainly going to get hurt and invoke aggressive reaction.
After having watched the Polish film ‘Jan’ at the International Film Festival of India, Goa in the year 2012 I was not able to make my mind about the film. To my luck I met the veteran M.S. Sathyu while walking out of the hall. When asked how he liked the film M.S. Sathyu instead of remarking about the film said something related to the storyline of the film. He said, “Every woman has the right to conceive or not conceive. When she wants to conceive and conceives nobody, not even the husband, has the right to ask where she got the seed from. Anybody questioning it actually holds the desire within him to control her right and that is quite patriarchal.”
So when K.S. Bhagwaan states that Rama is not the son of Dasharata in a mocking way he too is representing patriarchal mindset and those who are trying to prove that Rama’s mother conceived from her husband and in no other way are also representing patriarchal mindset where there is a desire to control the female sexuality and her right to conceive. There is nothing revolutionary in remarking that Rama is not the son of Dasharata nor is there any religious sentiment attached to the defense of Rama as being the son of Dasharata.
[written for my column ‘baaLkaTTey’ in the daily newspaper Kannada Prabha and published on 5 Oct 2015]
On 19 Sep 2015 media reported one Institute for Scientific Research’s claim to have established that Lord Rama was born on 5114 BC January 10 at 12:05 hours and that Mahabharata war began on 13 Oct, 3139 BC. On the same day media reported Kalai Selvi making a statement in Bengalooru that “Mahabharata has resulted in increase of child abuse.”
Sharing the same stage with Kalai Selvi was K.S. Bhagwan who couple of months ago was in news for making his statement critiquing Bhagawad-Geeta and his call to burn Ramayana and Mahabharata. Following this the seer of Pejawara Mutt, Udupi had called K.S. Bhagwan for an open debate in Mysore which got cancelled in the last minute as the police did not grant permission for the event.
Recollecting D.D. Kosamb’s argument that Bhagwad-Geeta was inserted into Mahabharata at a later stage of history and in real is not a part of the Mahabharata text one must make note the observation made by U.R. Ananthamurthy at a seminar held in Mangalore on Art vis a vis Violence. U.R. Ananthamurthy said, “… If you read the Bhagawad-Geeta in Mahabharta, as a part of Mahabharata, it shows that wisdom is possible, it can be taught, it can be analyzed; like Krishna does, it can be even shown how futile it is. Yet, man will go through the same futility, as if it is inevitable. That is frightening in Mahabharata. That even after Vishwaroopadarshana the war doesn’t stop. The war goes on…”
While the take of Ananthamurthy can be critiqued what is actually important to note is that Ananthamurthy instead of looking at the Bhgawad-Geeta in a devotional manner or suspiciously through an ideological/ rational lens as a conspiracy, looks at it to decipher it in a way to understand human nature and human life. That is significant because it shows a pathway to read mythologies which refuses to be devotional or get caught in ideological or an extreme rational framework.
While a devotional approach to epics can result in hilarious claims and statements, for which we have innumerable examples in the recent past, and distant past too, the approach to epics which look at them from an ideological or extreme rational framework also end up taking us away from the purpose of epics, the only difference being the latter approach can never be as hilarious as the earlier one.
Epics, as I see them, are the attempts made by humans in a state of anxiety and awe regarding life, to understand human life, human world, human mind, human nature and human relationships while swimming and crossing the tumultuous ocean of life.
Ramyana Kalpavruksham (Ramayana, A wish-fulfilling divine tree) was written in Telugu by Vishwanath Satyanarayana. As a response to this book Ranganayakamma wrote the book Ramayana Vishavruksham (Ramayana, a poisonous tree). Both the titles suggest the approach taken by the authors to decipher Ramayana. While one takes the devotional path the other takes an extremely ideological and rational path. Both, as I see, are traps.
Ramayana scholar Arshia Sattar in her collection of essays titled Lost Loves speaks of how over the years of reading and studying Ramayana she was pulled towards the character of Rama making her empathize more and more with him. She says the character of Rama, because of his vulnerability, the pressures on him, his helplessness and his turmoil, made her heart ache for Rama. In her attempt to understand the character of Rama and his actions, without trying to justify him or his actions or accusing him for his actions, Arshia Sattar provides us with a picture of Rama which speaks of human vulnerability and the human conflict with himself and the world while being a part of the world at large.
Arshia Sattar in her reading of Rama draws our attention to what he hears from the people of Ayodhya when Dasharatha in order to keep his word to Kaikeyi agreed to crown Bharata and not Rama. The people of Ayodhya, who were celebrating the return of Rama to Ayodhya and looking forward to his crowning ceremony, angered by the move by Dasharata speak of him quite lowly as a person whose weakness was women and who for something very personal put his public/ social responsibility at stake. This accusation targeted at Dasharatha gets etched in the mind of Rama who sees the same pattern, of women becoming the weakness and for which people putting their public life and public responsibility at stake, repeating itself in Rama and also in the case of Vali and Sugreeva. This constant reminder of a ‘mistake’ makes him utter to Sita, at the end of war, that he waged war against Ravana to save the honour of Ayodhya, fearing if he doesn’t put Ayodhya over Sita he too will be accused of someone for whom matters personal is more important.
Demonstrating how the shadow of our fathers burdens us with their weight Arshia explores the human in Rama by dissecting how Rama got caught between his personal and public life and as a result of which lost Sita and also his peace of mind. Rama, in the reading of Arshia, comes across as a fallible and failed, like anyone of us and spells out the inner and outer conflict which makes Rama fall and break.
By reading Rama neither as a ‘maryada purushottama’ (man of noble qualities) nor as a ‘conspirator’ Arshia, through Rama, throws rare insights at human life, human nature, struggle of human beings and human relationships.
Similarly in reading of Mahabharata a devotional or ideological/ rational reading can actually dissuade from an understanding of life, humans and society. It was Anandavardhana who studied the entire text of Mahabharata for the first time as a whole. It was he who first said that Mahabharata is not just kavya but also shastra.
But a non-devotional and non-ideological reading of Mahabharata tells us that it is neither a text preaching righteousness. What the text of Mahabharata finally says is that whether you live a life of righteousness or not, on the path of truth or not, you are bound to suffer. It speaks of how one oath of Bhishma can unleash an entire Mahabharata to happen leading to collapse and at once and at the same time also speaks how the river of life continues to flow even when individual characters die, disappear and decay. It speaks of the significance and insignificance of humans and their actions at the same time.
The revolutionary Kannada theater artist C.G. Krishnamoorthy in his autobiography Kattaaley Beladingalolagey mentions of an episode from his student life. As a student CGK was active in politics and Marxist study circles. He, as he records, hardly attended classes. One day when he got back to his room in the hostel his roommate mentioned about the exam on the following day about which CGK was unaware. CGK asked his roommate what the portion for the exam was and the roommate said, “Udyoga Parva.” CGK, says in his autobiography, listening to the word Udyoga (employment), because of his ideological frame of mind of those days, told himself that he knows quite enough about employment, class, capital, surplus etc thanks to the study circle. Its only on the following day when CGK went to the exam hall that he realized that Udyoga Parva is a chapter in Mahabharata. He says he had walked out of the exam hall leaving the answer sheet empty.
Human life and world are extremely complicated, complex and chaotic which pushes humans to understand life in various ways, in his helplessness and his will to sail through. While devotion is a method to deal with the chaotic life and ideology is a method to decipher and set things right, epics are a humanistic way of understanding human life in its complexities within its context. But this approach is metaphoric where metaphors are shot into the void of life causing multiple echoes and making way for multiple meanings which fill the gap which neither a devotional reading nor an ideological reading of epics fail to fill.
While it can be understood as to what prompts people to take into a devotional and ideological frameworks to read epics and mythologies, the texts actually demand a different approach to read and decipher them.
(Paintings: Maqbool Fida Husain)