Monday, May 21, 2007

P l a y i n g B l i n d

There was once a monkey, clutched to the branches of a tree, in the thick of a green rainforest, that sees an extraordinary thing. That its eyes blink.

It cannot believe what it sees. Because at that moment its gaze is transfixed to the ground, on the lookout for a leopard.Fear is what breathes life into every living creature. In this game for survival, every moment remains critical, vital. The punishment for laxity is quick and severe. There will be no looking back.

The monkey is petrified. It has experienced a moment of complete helplessness. It's a moment when a curtain falls before the eyes, dissolving reality into a whiff of smoke. It is only a moment, but a moment, before reality reappears before the eyes. As the cold golden eyes of a leopard, only closer.

Having survived that moment, the monkey is bothered with a greater fear. What's wrong with its eyes ! It closes them, it opens them again, trying to assert its control. It twitches its arm, wiggles its tail, squeaks with its mouth - all seeking some comfort. But the monkey is still bothered, there is a force, invisible, troubling it. What was wrong with its eyes !!

Again, it closes them slowly, this time for longer. It is dark, thick as a night. The monkey hears sounds - pleasant sounds, alarming sounds, sounds from afar, sounds from the deep. It can hear sounds from other monkeys in the herd. It has to get back to them. Can it get back to them, in the darkness ?

This is a game it has never played. The monkey opens its eyes. Everything is as it had been. No sight of the leopard anywhere close. The monkey closes its eyes again. The game is now on.

It feels for the grip of the branch with its arms. It moves along it slowly, carefully feeling the wood as it tapers gently into a tiny twig. The monkey knows what it has to do, it has done this thousands of times. The reflexes are stored deep down inside its body.

It jumps.

The ground gives way underneath its feet. Its fingers clutch gently against the vacuum. Then slowly, the ground reappears, firmly touching the feet. The feeling sinks in with a very strong smell. A smell the monkey has just felt. Just like the blinking of the eyes.

The monkey keeps moving across the branches. Then it jumps over to the ground, and starts walking on all fours, taking in the smell of the wet grass as it moves along. It comes across a tiny stream of water. It crosses it gingerly, feeling the ripples of the water across its legs. Its feet can touch the round pebbles on the surface. Where will the next step lead to ?

Its feet get onto the hard ground again. The monkey can now feel the sharp rays of the evening sun, tickling across its skin. There are sounds of birds, coming gently from a stationary point. There, is a tree.

The monkey feels for its trunk, and then starts climbing it. It moves across its branches. It can hear sounds of other monkeys nearby. They are close. It moves gingerly across the tree in that direction.

But it comes to an end. The monkey knows what it has to do.

It jumps, taking a strong plunge with its legs, manoeuvring its tail as a prehensile instrument. And slowly, it lands onto the firm branches of the next tree.

There are hurried cries from alarmed birds. The monkey moves forward. It feels instinctively for a fruit. There, it picks it up and puts it into its mouth.

The monkey opens its eyes. The fruit is delicious.

There are green leaves all around. Thin veins are running across each one of these leaves. Thin veins in yellow. Then, there are the birds. They have brilliantly colored feathers. Each one of these feathers is split into thousands of tiny little hairs. The monkey looks around - the earth is huge. The possibilities are endless.

It stands up on its hind legs. In the orange evening sun, it is standing erect, no longer blind.

Friday, May 18, 2007

S í t á y a n a

I have decided to publish a personal correspondence - just as a means to show how one can protest democratically against perceived defamation by an artist. One should not resort to arson, hooliganism or legislation to curb the freedom of speech of an artist. Art and culture require no patrolling of policemen. Instead, we should always remember the famous adage "Satyaméva Jayathé - truth always wins".

Here is my correspondence with Nina Paley, a brilliant illustrator from USA. She is the creator of Sitayana - a very cute comic on the story of Sita. I urge all of you to visit her website. My contention was against her portrayal of the character of Rama.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

O r p h a n s O f S a r a s w a t i

"Ambitame Sindhutame Devitame Saraswati"

The best of mothers, the best of rivers, the best of goddesses, Oh Saraswati.

This is how the Aryans addressed the mighty river that flowed through the green valleys of Rajasthan and Gujarat. As a result of tectonic plate shift, Saraswati lost its waters. The vedas are filled with hymns expressing the anguish of the Aryans at the loss of this river - their mother.

The bulk of the settlements of the majestic Harappan civilization were along the river bed of Saraswati. After they arrived, the Aryan people were as tremendously inspired by this great civilization as by the great river. Since it nurtured the civilization, the river Saraswati was equated with the very notion of culture.

Though now reduced to a tiny broken stream that dries up in the summer, the mighty Saraswati once flowed as the greatest of all rivers. But Saraswati would forever be preserved in the consciousness of India. She became the goddess of culture and learning. Vaagdevi (the goddess of speech) became another name for this river, because the ancient people knew about the equivalence of ideas and rivers.

The waters of the Saraswati got diverted to flow into the Sindhu and the Ganga, making them mightier than before. Sindhu in Sanskrit means river, and the people who lived by the banks of this mighty river are termed as Sindhu people. This got corrupted as Hindu by the Persians, and further got corrupted as Indians by the Greeks. Thus, Indians actually mean river people - the people who acknowledge the equivalence of rivers and ideas.

The other name for these people is Bhaarateeyas, meaning the people who live in the Bharata country (bharata means dazzlingly beautiful in Sanskrit). The knowledge goddess Saraswati earned another name Bhaarati (the one who is bharata - the one who is truly beautiful). Thus, the second name for the Indians - Bhaarateeyas means " the children of Saraswati ". Due to the equivalence of rivers and ideas, the two terms Indians and Bharateeyas become equivalent. The only other people who share a similar nomenclature were the Athenians who were named after Athena (the goddess of knowledge in Greek).

It is with this knowledge that I bemoan the current state of the Indian citizens. Just as the river Saraswati dried up turning lush green valleys into desert, the ethos of India is drying up turning it into a wasteland of cultural vacuum.

The mother Saraswati has been forsaken by the Indians and she has left them. Thus, Indians have become the Orphans of Saraswati. Does anybody have any craving for their mother (knowledge) anymore ? In the blind rote of religion, they have forsaken the very essence of Hindu thought.

God the omniscient is understood in terms of creation (Brahma), preservation (Vishnu) and destruction (Shiva). Each of these forms are equally represented by their female equivalents - knowledge (Saraswati), beauty/wealth (Lakshmi) and energy (Shakti). Even though they have separate names, all these three forms are one and the same. That is the essence of God (Brahmaan). Call Him by any name you want - Yaahveh, Elohim or Allaah - He is essentially the Brahmaan. The very act of worshipping Brahmaan means invoking his wife, Saraswati / Vaagdevi. Every word that is spoken (vaak) is a form of worship to God. The highest form of worship is an act of genuine creativity. Thus, the dearest sons of Saraswati would be the very people who get the closest to God (Brahmaan).

One need not even believe in Brahmaan (God/truth), but one needs to believe in Saraswati (prayer/knowledge).

Such people are already on their way to salvation. The mumbo-jumbo about God is unnecessary. This mumbo-jumbo becomes all the more useless if the very belief in prayer (knowledge/beauty/energy) is lost. Such orphans of Saraswati do not even deserve to be called as Bharateeyas / Indians.

Such people seem to populate the very shores of the once mighty river Saraswati - in the state of Gujarat. Mr. Niraj Jain, a politician of the Bharateeya Janata Party and his goons have entered the campus of a university in Vadodara and beat up Mr. Chandra Mohan, an art student.

An artist is the best chosen son of Saraswati and his creations are the most sublime forms of prayer. Just because one thinks that this art is offensive to one's own misunderstood religion, one does not hold any rights to suppress the freedom of speech of an artist. But, the state of Gujarat seems to license such behavior. These people are no less than Raakshasas (filthy demons) who torment the sages who meditate in the forest.

Just like Sri Rama, who came to the rescue of these sages and drove away the demons, the youth of Gujarat need to wake up and offer themselves in service to the sages (artists).

But instead, they would rather shout angry slogans of "Jai Sriram Ji" and go butcher other human beings. These people are nothing less than Raakshasas. Seeing his name sullied like this in the Kali Yuga, Srirama is bemoaning his fate. He is questining sadly, "Oh Saraswati, why did you turn these people into orphans ?"

That is the feeling of every Indian who knows about his mother and his roots "Oh mother, why did you turn us into orphans ? Please come back and make green valleys out of these desert lands".

Like Bhageeratha, who convinced the Shiva to let go of the Ganga and let it flow on the earth, we need Parama Bhageerathas who could bring the Saraswati down onto this orphaned land, and let it flow once again like the mighty river it used to be.