Thoughts

Silences and voids

We all have been there, slowly getting sucked into them, against our wishes, helpless.

We try to navigate our way out using whatever device we can engage – tact, humility, stupidity, sometimes verve, but the more we try to fight the silences and voids in our lives, the more deep we fall into them. They keep expanding over time, enveloping our nights and days, our thoughts and dreams, with their suffocating embrace.

They unsettle us even more as we grow old and mature, forcing us to strive hard in filling them with pettiness, mundane undertakings like small talk, work which doesnt interest us, food that dont appeal to our palates, love that is never there, each of these undertakings no different than a random fling, a bizarre nightout, so that we can forget that the next day won’t be any different.

But then, maybe the right way to handle them is to let them be, to not fight, to not ignore, but to be comfortable in these uncomfortable silences and the soul numbing voids. Maybe that’s when we will start to see them for what they really are, and maybe it will be the revelation that we all live our lives for, the beautiful essence of existence, the exhilarating truth about everything, in its primordial and therefore most powerful form.

This is how the optimists talk, the ones who have subscribed to religions and faiths.The rest of us must try to forget or try to fight till we fill our silences and voids with rational answers. Oh, how wonderful it would be if we could only believe.

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Thoughts

The lure of dark literature

Why are we attracted to dark literature?

The art of living, as the wise gurus tell us is to be thankful, to enjoy every moment of it, every breath we take. To the practical mind this translates to finding happiness in every moment and the mind concedes the futility of this search. However, it sees the logic in the search for a less ephemeral and less insignificant happiness, one that transcends concepts like moments and breathing. This practical and average mind, average because of the number of beings it rides on is far more than the other types therefore makes people live in the search of happiness.

With the platitude elegantly established, we will attempt to address the question in the first line which must feel misplaced in the paragraph that it finds itself in. We might even modify the question, now that it feels happy to be back in focus and therefore amenable to changes, and ask what is the happiness that people derive from reading dark literature. For, if reading the material is not making them feel good, then they wont belong to the club of averages. And if that was true, there would only be a few lovers of the dark writings, the irrational being the minority. On the contrary, tragedies over the ages have held a greater veneration than any comedy or writing of the type that justifies why we should be thankful for the gods, for mankind, for our existence and such things as world peace. Contemporary literature is also mostly dystopian, it reeks of suffering of the individual, a pain that one must live with, in every moment and every breath. A darkness pervades every word that comes out of the melancholic souls of these writers. It is overdone to such an extent that to a discerning reader, discerning being a euphemism for the cynic, this blatant display of darkness starts to seem pretentious.

Discerning or not, we all enjoy the books we read, and that takes us back to where we started this ramble. The question remains unanswered. Instead of jumping into the arena and proffering an answer let us remain on the sidelines for a little while longer and examine the nature of the contradicting states of happiness and sorrow.

Happiness compels us to seek company. It makes us look outwards, mostly because everything looks good when we are feeling so. It induces the urge to spread it around. Happiness demands dissipation of the inadvertent answers it conjures up.

Suffering and pain on the other hand makes us look within. It makes us introspect as we are flooded with questions. Everything we believed in, we loved, we thought of ourself, lies shattered to pieces rendering us incapable of expressing the gruesome reality that lies within to others. Suffering is inherently implosive, it leaves us stranded on the island with a heavy backpack of these debilitating questions.

Given these definitions, and being forced to accept the definitions as they are offered, we might re-establish the platitude that no sane person would like to indulge in anything that leads to the island. At this juncture, one might feel like giving up on the answer out of frustration with the author or one might persevere and delve further as one does while reading dark literature. The reader and connoisseur, or even the sceptic of the dark must understand that though the author has been striving to apply the question in the purview of grand schemes and ubiquitous definitions, the question is not pertinent to darkness in life, it is about dark literature.

Reading is an exclusively private activity. Even though some might cite book clubs and public reading, those same members of the clubs and the audience would understand the frustration of expounding the inexplicable more than the outsiders and the non participants. Reading, as we all know and which we in our personal spaces are doing right now with this post, is a private affair, but so is suffering. The subject matter resonates with the verb when we take up writings of the darker shades. It also seems promising because it relates and joins us in the search for the answers to our suffering. As a result, we tend to immerse ourselves in the work instead of the detached, flippant attitude we wear while reading something comical or something uplifting.

The reason we love dark literature is also because of the fact that we all suffer, unless we are the smiling gurus making others aware of their suffering and then providing ecstatic vacuous solutions. Dark literature provides us with perspective that might equip us not only in answering the questions that fester, but also prepare us in coping with life as it would unfold, both on the introspective and the emphatic grounds. The art of living is not about finding or acquiring the state of happiness in every moment, but in accepting the nature of the contradicting constructs that life is made of and reading till you drop dead.

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Thoughts

Mysuru Dasara

 

The festival of Dussehra is a perfect example of the multiplicity of Hinduism, elucidating its various mythological, symbolic, and ritualistic manifestations. To start with, this festival has different names in different parts of India, it is Dussehra in the north, Durga Puja in the east, Vijayadashami in some parts, Navratri in others. The word ‘Dashahara’ is derived from Sanskrit that translates to ten days. Accordingly, there are ten days of festivities but the stories and how the festivities unfold over the ten days vary. Three of the prominent stories are:
– victory of Rama(incarnation of Vishnu) over Ravan(king of Lanka), celebrated as Ram Leela, a play based on the epic poem Ramayan.
– the victory of Durga(goddess) over Mahisasura(demon)
– worship of nine forms of Shakti, or the divine feminine, culminating in Dussehra on the tenth day

Barring the Ramayan story, this is essentially a festival celebrating Shakti, which in Sanskrit translates to power, or energy. The dualistic view of the universe is an cohabitation of energy and matter, and it is this concept that is exploited in the Hindu philosophy of life, universe and everything. The translation in terms of mythology includes a trinity of Gods – Brahma(creator), Vishnu(preserver) and Shiva(destroyer) presiding over the world of matter and Goddess Shakti representing energy. The material world goes over well defined cycles of these three stages of creation, preservation and destruction, which in a way signifies how everything material in life, and the universe goes in cycles and it is our ignorance of the grand vision that makes us indulge in things like material, or emotional possessions and their sustenance. Energy, on the other hand  has a transient and less tangible nature, and this fluidic aspect is captured in the numerous forms which Shakti acquires in the forms of various Goddesses. Nine of which are worshipped in the nine days of Navratri, with a tenth, Durga worshipped on the day of Dussehra.

Given the freedom which translates to different branches of the same family celebrating the festival in a different way, one cannot help but wonder at the unstructured nature of the religion. But then, Hinduism has always been more of an interpretative religion than an instructive one. It not only lacks codes of conduct or edicts, but is equally vague in its philosophical implications. What it does have is myriads of options to choose from depending on your disposition, profession or inclination. For the ones looking for something to practice as a way of everyday living, there are the Vedas, and for the ones who look for philosophy as a way of everyday thinking, there are the Upanishads. But for most of Hindus, both these variants are inaccessible due to the lack of knowledge of Sanskrit language. One can subscribe to the translations, but they come the riders of the translator’s opinions inevitably muddling the original text and intent. The saving grace for most Hindus is a rich mythology in the form of epics and Puranas from which to derive stories, and celebrate festivals. Dussehra, for example, is a celebration of the basic element of mythology, the celebration of the victory of good over evil. And it is this simplicity that endows it with acceptability over most of India.

 

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Mysore city

A detailed reading of the epics, stories and mythology, though entertaining, is something I am not going to do here, except the one mentioned in the title of the post – Mysuru Dasara, or Dussehra as celebrated in Mysore over ages. The demon Mahisasura was a shape shifting monster who acquired the form of Buffalo and wrecked havoc on the world, or Mahisuru, the ancient name of the place which was modified by the British to Mysore, and recently restored to a more vernacular Mysuru. Goddess Chamundeshwari, which is another of the forms of Shakti and whose temple is now situated on the Chamundi hills in Mysore killed the demon on the day of Dasara. Celebration of Dasara is therefore a big event in Mysore, or to be more precise a series of events over the ten days. The place is crowded though, so it is enjoyed by people who have an appetite for multitudes, which are usually the same people who have an appetite for multitude of stories that fill Hindu mythology.

 

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Mysore palace

Both the crowds and the bizarre stories are however abhorred by the intellectual who finds peace and solace in philosophy and the abstract. WP, for instance has most of its denizens favoring poetry. But poetry was severely criticized by the philosophers of ancient Greek, the way mythology is criticized by the lovers of the esoteric. This interplay of poetry, philosophy and mythology was a vital aspect of the ancient religions, the last of the still followed being Hinduism. With its poetic epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata, philosophy of the hundreds of Upanishads and mythology captured in an even more number of Puranas, one is bound to be spoiled with choices. It is therefore sad and also in a way Quixotic that some people engage in imposing norms and try to ordain how to practice this interpretative religion.

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Thoughts

Of loss, and moving on

Losing something you hold dear is not destiny, or bad luck, or something to do with a God, something that is beyond your control.

The loss being discussed here is not about losing because of something you did, but for no apparent reason, for no fault on your part. Such loss makes us question the futility of life, the existence of a just God, questions that are more rhetoric than introspective. These questions, like all rhetorics sound good when it doesn’t concern us, when it does they end up in making us wallow in self-pity. We are told that loss is arbitrary, just like life is and we must look at the bright side – be thankful of what we still have, be thankful for being alive and the infinite choices we still have. Being rationalists, that we are or raised to be so, we take such advice with the same hopelessness with which we were dealing with our loss.

The natural tendency of rationalists is to look for a theory of cause and effect, a search that inexorably leads to distress. Rationalists lack the facilities for subscribing to faith, they continue to seek answers no matter what they are told to imbibe by the wise. This enquiry either leads to frustration or to the one answer which offers no solace. The feeling of sense of loss, we realize, is conceived in our feeling of the sense of possession. Possessions are never involuntary, you need to be very much in control to claim something to be yours, attachment is always a conscious choice. The problem arises due to the anachronism of these two events, making us question if there is a free will after all. If it exists then it must play a part when we are distraught. One might argue that it does, manifested in the way we deal with loss, the way we stretch the mourning only so far. The inertia of life makes us move on towards further acquisitions and the imminent losses.

Having said that, one would question why we must indulge in the doomed affair in the first place. Can we not live without a sense of possession, thereby eliminating the concept of loss. Alternatively, if we do indulge why do we get sympathy on our losses, an act that looks humane on the surface but inevitably acts to aggravate the problem at hand. The most relevant question however is still the one we started with – is there something like destiny, bad luck or God that we can continue to rely on, to put the blame so we can keep on making sense of our lives. The only solicitous thought I have on this topic is that life may not seem to offer the answers to these questions, but it is because at the moments we are close to the answers, we are prodded to move on.

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Thoughts

The irresistible charm of music

There is just one thing that philosophers from various schools of thought and inclinations agree upon. It is the questions that they collectively ask, questions that arise from philosophical ruminations. The topic of these questions range from life, universe, God, existence, behavior, dreams and cover just about everything a human mind is capable of inquiring about. The nature of such questions are universal in nature, in the sense that they don’t discriminate between instances. Questions about existence, for example, applies to all individuals equally. The same goes for enquiry into the metaphysical aspects of an emotion, say love between two individuals, the same question applies to both the parties involved, or the whole population.

This plethora of questions has kept on piling up, forcing mankind, starving for answers to take refuge in science, faith, religion and such systems of well structured beliefs. The reason why we have failed to address these questions in a satisfactory way lies in the conflicting premises of these questions and their probable answers. The questions may be universal, but the answers as it is more or less established are existential in nature. Philosophers who have attempted to create an universal model have usually failed. This unique combination, however; brings to the arena the human endeavor of art. Art fits so well in this situation that the lines between art and philosophy have been flimsy since the earliest known civilizations.

Art, in its various forms attempts to answer the philosophical questions but it does that by taking a path that is not straightforward. The artist tenders the answers for mass consumption but stops short from getting down to the details, the intention and thesis is neither defined nor defended. This indirect approach makes art susceptible to attack from the philistines and fundamentalists, alike. On the other hand, this circuitous nature of the presentation allows the individual to investigate further without external aid, it acts as a guidance on the path to discovery of the answers to the posed questions, paradoxes and dilemma. The individualistic aspect of art might explain our fascination for it, a fascination that has pervaded time and space. To further elaborate on the idea, let’s take a painting and its import on the individual. It might evoke a feeling of longing, act as an exposition of love for one, while another person may derive a sense of peace, or an answer to the question on the apparent futility of existence.

Comprehension is essentially a sensory phenomenon, or at least it is stimulated by the senses. The wise men and seers may advocate detachment from senses and urge us to inculcate a method of understanding that comes from insulated meditation. What they also say, which is usually found in subtext is you need to envisage the world with enough lucidity as presented to you through the senses to appreciate the inadequacy of the sensory perception.

Art in its attempt to come up with answers to the eternal questions appeals to the senses, at least at the first glance. The purpose is half fulfilled in this appeal, as it triggers the latent sensibilities and inchoate profundity present in every human. What follows then is the path taken by the individual beyond the realms of physiological limitations of the senses and psychological limitations of a cognitive mind. This realm is visceral, a personal space that obliterates the existence of everything else, one that transcends the conditioning received over ages, it is that world within that defines the essence of the individual or soul as the romantics and poets would prefer to call.

Most forms of art are about visualization, they are meant for the eyes and even if it is not the case, they would require one to keep the eyes open. The intended transport to the surreal world happens with intermittent closing of the external eyes and opening of inner ones. But it is still intermittent, one can’t get away without the visuals and in this process one is inadvertently aware of the external world thereby impeding one in the unobstructed flight, the dive into the soul.

Music may be the only art that doesn’t rely on eyes for perception, it actually demands the listener to close the eyes and feel the art. As soon as we do that, we are cutting off the rest of the world, people around us, emotions we struggle with and the questions that confound us. The quest is expedited by the prerequisite. It’s easy to critique or discuss a painting, a book, a poem, dance, sculpture and almost about every possible form of art, because the critic visualizes the piece in juxtaposition to the external or peripheral reality. Thus the criticism is understood by masses since they also perceive it in similar circumstances, similarly a discussion on a piece of art remains pertinent. When it comes to music, and here we might leave out the lyrics which might require a rephrase. So, when it comes to pure music it’s almost impossible to critique, discuss, analyze or do anything that might require others to be in the same plane as you, or having the same perception as yours. At the best, one may only give the verdict, that the piece of music is good or it is not. Equally impossible it is to find a person who doesn’t enjoy music.

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Thoughts

The art of storytelling

Stories are no less living than the ones who tell them. I say “tell” because in the days that I am writing about in this post, people mostly told stories. Writing was considered as killing the essence, the free spirit that defined the beauty of a tale. This spirit dictates how it panes out, how it varies with a new teller, even with the same person every time it gets narrated, the place, crowd and such circumstances in which it is reenacted.

I came across a reference to the lost art of Urdu storytelling called dastangoi. What piqued my interest is the fact that Urdu is famous for the inimitable poetry ever written or ever will be. Dastangoi is a Persian word, dastan meaning tale and with suffix goi it translates to “tell a tale”.

A dastan, like an epic has elements of adventure, bravery, beauty, romance, magic, treachery to name a few, but the plots are linear and usually predictable. The beauty of a tale is not in its outset, the events that follow or the conclusion, but in the imagery. For instance, illustrations of a war scene may involve how the hero makes entrance, the colour of the sky and the war-torn soil, the sounds of the running horses, clash of shining swords and the smell of spilt blood infusing a wave of bravado in the most disinterested soldier. No other language fits this requirement more than Urdu, which with its poetic inclinations allow the storyteller to embellish a trivial event, or say, to romanticize the look exchanged between the protagonists for hours. The language and astute usage of the rich words enables the teller to weave a mesmerizing maze that you won’t want to escape.

The history of dastangoi is as interesting as the art itself. Though many readers will question its authenticity, the great Urdu poets always looked at history with disdain. They wanted stories to continue evolving, with every new generation adding more illustrious sub plots, new ways of gilding the oft cited with mellifluous Urdu harf.
In a way, the great tales are no different from life itself, it’s a pity that we think it’s the same tale that is being narrated over ages whereas life is beyond our control and we just need to bear with it as it unfolds.

Further reading: dastangoi.blogspot.in

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Thoughts

What makes India famous

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J&K Map complete

Ever since the abrogation of article 370, I have come across a full spectrum of opinion on the matter of Kashmir. I knew that my opinion on the subject will not bring anything new on the plate, also it’s not a plate anymore but has becomes as big as an Indian Thali. However, the urge to write something on the matter couldn’t be easily dealt with, not even by writing a poem, yet another poem that is. So, stuck in the famous Bangalore traffic, I started thinking on what to write. Like most non-fiction, the writer doesn’t come up with something novel in terms of facts and figures, the novelty lies in the interpretations, assumptions and conclusions. A rambling mind is not well suited to write such structured material, so I end up wondering about the essence of India, is there a definitive story, a categorical history, or say is India still famous for what it was fifty years back, or say five years back. The political picture has definitely changed, with leftist and centrist parties turning out damp squibs in the elections. The economical picture has also undergone changes, albeit not as dramatic as the political version. The social picture is the one which has most of the inertia, but everyone wishes it changes to more coherency and cooperation. But we won’t discuss these, instead we will go over, yet again, on what is India famous for.

Some might say, given the topic is hot, it is Kashmir; and they wont be wrong. But for me, as I grew up, Kashmir was just in the movies and the Led Zep song. Academically it was always Jammu and Kashmir. The fact that a large part of it was occupied by Pakistan and another by China was a revelation in the school years, a sad one too because without these parts the map of India looks like a bald man. It is not an internal matter or a bilateral matter as we have been reading in the Media. With the involvement of China, partly due its own endeavors and partly because of Pakistan handing over a piece, it becomes a trilateral issue, and therefore even more interesting. But Kashmir is a dreamy place even for most of India’s citizens, it’s more of a matter of geopolitics, a matter of nationalism, and India is big, it has other things that it is famous for.

 

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Taj Mahal, for instance has been the top of the top 10 lists for everyone. It is worth a visit too, especially for that moment when you enter and the raw beauty of the monument hits you. Even for the most unromantic, it stirs those alien feelings that can only be admitted in confidence. At least that’s what I thought of the top ten nature of the beautiful Taj Mahal before I searched for the top ten lists, and came across another revelation. Beauty has apparently given way to the raw, abject and disturbing reality of the Dharavi slums. It is easy and comes to us naturally to relate with the rich art and structure and romanticism of Taj Mahal but the slums are a revelation, and anything that disturbs us attracts us viscerally. Surprisingly, slum tourism is not just enjoyed by the foreign tourists but also by Indians, many of whom have never been in, or seen a slum. These people were born in what were once small towns, studied engineering or medical for that is what they were allowed to study, and given that engineering was easier, most have become the engineers that throng India’s IT and BPO industry. Being one of them, and not that I have been on one of the slum tours, and not that I am not interested in one, I can gauge why it’s sought after. For the aftertaste that it must leave, you can’t help feeling thankful for everything you have when you witnesses misery of others.

dharavi

 

But is India famous for its IT engineers. There is global recognition of the talent for sure, especially when the corporates do the maths of ROI. Indian engineers are the least expensive in terms of compensation when compared with their American, European, Chinese or Israeli counterparts. They are also good at English, a skill that comes in handy when communication has become important with teams scattered all over the globe. So the jobs have kept pouring in and the middle class has risen. These are the white money making, tax paying and therefore the new moderately rich class with a clean conscience. The rise however comes at a cost of stress, the sedentary lifestyles leads to diseases, and not just the physiological ones. As a result, many of neo middle class seek guidance and gurus, mysticism is now a domestic industry and not just consumed by the foreigners.

eco

 

Gurus have been defining the image of India for as far as you can see back in the past. They have created an image that is full of wisdom, contentment and minimalism. But they have not spoken anything that one didn’t know, especially one with the minimum amount of sense and sensibility that defines a human being. The reason why the gurus are popular, is as simple as the reason why common sense when extolled and delivered as an epiphany by a smiling and seemingly content orator, seems like a divine disclosure. It is the same divinity that Indians are now searching for, probably more than the foreigners these days. But it was not Gyan that attracted the foreigners in the old days to India, it was ganja.

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With most of the rich west suffering from drug abuse and issues, the governments banned all narcotic drugs as early as the 40s. Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report, completed in 1894 however; established that recreational and regulated use of cannabis was beneficial. India, happily, went on with that report till 1961 when the UN treaty was forced upon them, which clubbed cannabis production and trade along with heavier drugs. However, the treaty applied to the flowering and the fruiting tops of the plant, also, it gave India 25 years to implement the ban. For 25 years, it was the ganja that ruled till a law was passed in 1985. But there was a caveat, as long as it is the leaves and the seeds that was consumed it was still legal to smoke, or drink bhang. Malana cream from the village of the same name is still considered the best hash available in the world, with its price skyrocketing in the Amsterdam cafes. Given that the US was the biggest mouth in the 1961 treaty, and India its stern opposer, it comes as a surprise now to Indians that many states in the US are now allowing the recreational use of marijuana. Laws made by governments however never made sense, and lie at the opposite end of the rules propounded by the gurus which make so much sense that they seem redundant.

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The alcohol laws in India for instance seem to have been written under the influence of the subject matter. First and foremost, alcohol is one of the few laws that don’t have a federal uniformity. The laws vary between state to state, with some banning it completely to others where only the state is allowed to sell. The legal age to drink alcohol has its own stories ranging from 18 to 25 years. So, in some states 18 year olds are considered mature enough to vote and choose the government but not mature to hold their drinks. Maharashtra outshines other states with different legal ages for different drinks. Wine can be consumed by anyone, beer if you are 21 or above and all other liquor only if you are 25. Maharashtra produces the best wine in the country, Sula, so yeah it makes sense that everyone in the state gets to have a taste. But is India known for its alcohol? Probably not, unless if you have been fortunate to have come across Old Monk. It is losing its popularity over time though. However, it was the iconic molasses rum produced in India that served as the fuel to cash crunched students, leftists, revolutionaries and government employees. It fueled revolutionary ideas and determination but didn’t leave a hangover, either of the alcohol or the ideas, and the next morning you went on to your classes or jobs with renewed vigor.

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Now that I read this long post, I feel I got carried away with the intoxicating love for my country. What makes India famous might actually be something as simple and as obvious as the huge population it carries on its shoulder, with the diversity of problems, opinions, food, customs, religions and beliefs, and the choice of the favorite intoxicant among these that keeps them going.

thali

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