Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What Makes a Great Artist? And More Questions

One of my readers asks: “What makes a ‘great artist?’ Why Picasso’s or Vangogh’s doodles are greater than mine?” She further asks: Why mostly great artists become great posthumously? Why their living years are a prolonged period of struggle? Is art an elite discipline? How does one know the ‘value’ of a work of art? if there is any value, who has the control of it, the artist or the one who buys it?

These questions are not new. Hence the answers also cannot be new either. These questions have been asked by many artists and art lovers all over the world and many people have answered them adequately at various points of time, depending on their ideological leaning. If someone from the current generation still asks these questions, then we should understand that the answers given so far are not adequate enough or rather these questions beg for answers in the renewed and renewing contexts. If such questions persist and refuse to fade away, we should also think that they are relevant questions. Like the questioner does I too deem them important and pertinent I make this attempt to answer them in my own fashion.

First of all I would say all these questions arise from the myth that always develops parallel to the academically informed art history. Art history originates out of a historical need to understand, verify and assess the value of a work of art produced in a given point of time to which the art historian takes an added interest. There are various methodologies to write art history and it heavily depends upon chronicles, diaries and art critical/appreciative writings as its source materials. Hence, there is an inter-relationship between the source materials and the art history refined out of it. As art history being a part of the economic activities evolve around a work of art, it unintentionally becomes a vehicle to create economic values. Art history, when translated, transcribed and transformed for popular use, which is a pre-requisite for making art collections/museums/galleries economically relevant, assumes the form of stories and myths, which add immensely to the mystery around the works. A work of art with certain amount of exclusivity and mystery around it attracts more people to it thereby turning the location of the work of art in question economically and culturally alluring. This view is applicable in the case of artists too.

An artist, whose work could transcend the barriers of temporal times, and whose world view could represent symbolically the times yet to come despite its adherence to the contemporary aesthetics, socio-political and religio-economic realities of his/her times, becomes a great artist mainly through the double mediation of history and mystery/mythology. Greatness is relative as we cannot weigh both Da Vinci and Damien Hirst using the same scale. While Da Vinci’s greatness is time tested, Hirst’s greatness is temporally created. While Da Vinci’s art has a mystery around it, Hirst’s has a very recent history, which is closely related to the economic activities. Often, art history has a hagiographic part, which paints the life of the artist in extra-ordinary colours. Most of the artists including Picasso and Vangogh come to us today with this hagiographic halo around them. For the maintenance of ideological and economic dominance over other regions, the west also has a vested interest in renewing mythologies and histories pertaining to them and their art in order to keep them permanently great, therefore world cultural icons.

Vangogh and Picasso stand at the ends of the same spectrum. While the former was absolutely a ‘struggling’ artist during his life time, Picasso was a living legend and superstar. Important thing is that while they were doing their works, they were not thinking about their future greatness. They were simply doing their works because they were born to create works of art. But they knew their self worth as artists that’s why despite all materialistic and spiritual troubles they kept on doing their works. History behaves funnily at times; sometimes it finds the greatness of the artists during their life time itself and at other times, it recognizes posthumously. As I mentioned above, economic activities around an artist is the reason for the late or early arrival of history or mystery. The ideal and purist art history and the identification of greatness happen in a different realm of scholarship where the artists whom the world once considered as irrelevant become relevant therefore great. But the catch is once such disinterested greatness is identified by some disinterested historians soon it will be co-opted by the art industry for economic purposes. However, I would say that greatness of an artist is not based on how history treats him or her. On the contrary, many a great artist remains unknown in areas where art related economic activities are not so vigorous. So an art teacher in a rural area could be a great visionary unacknowledged by the mainstream history. Greatness is relative to many other factors.

When you are great, you don’t go out there in the street and say that you are great. You don’t even hold a card proclaiming your greatness. Your greatness as an artist and as a human being is identified by your fellow beings. Greatness, if there is a definition for it, is like fragrance to flower; they cannot be separated. Proximity reduces the gravity of greatness because you know the person. The moment the person dies, we see him/her in a detached sense and realize the greatness of that person. But considering the economic activities around a dead master, one could say that dead masters do not produce any more works of art which automatically renders the existing works rare and exclusive. Hence, dead gain greatness and the living struggle. But the struggle, thanks to the art history of the west, is understood as material struggle and anarchy. But the myth busters say that most of the artists whom we consider as the perennial struggles were in fact well off people who were living on others’ expenses, including Vangogh. But the aspect of struggle gives them a romantic aura; they will be automatically considered as the people who have eschewed the world for higher purposes. The anarchy comes from their inherent sense of freedom. True, but it is percolated to us as worth following examples. So, most of the people who enter in the art colleges convert themselves into the religion called struggle and anarchy. But the truth is material struggle has very little to do with artistic struggle.

Try singing or dancing. If you are not a singer or a dancer you fail. But you are an aspirant. You keep trying. Here, the struggle that you undertake to become a dancer or a singer is the artistic struggle. It has a lot to do with finding the right rhythm and pace; it has a lot to do with injecting soul to your voice and movement. For a visual artist, finding a language of his own, or modifying the existing one to his satisfaction and developing on that is his/her real struggle. Find an internal balance with the expressive faculties and expression is the real struggle. Becoming one with the process of creativity is the struggle; it needs observation, study, practice and more practice. Once you achieve this rhythm, your intention and image become one and the same. Then the struggling period is over for you. But that does not assure you a period of greatness. You have achieved your rhythm and it is your freedom. Once you achieve that kind of freedom you could use any material, any medium and any idea which have found a place in your heart. Material struggle is an eyewash; it is the refuge of the lazy. Like any other human being, given no other chance, artists also would look for their food, security and comfort. That does not make you different or exceptional from other human beings.

Art is not anybody’s property. Anybody could be an artist. I should add that anybody who has inclination, talent and devotion could become an artist. Only because Joseph Beuys had said that anybody could be an artist, you need not rush to become one. Art could be cultivated by rich and poor alike. There was a time when most of the artists came from artisanal classes, though it was not a rule. Some people are genuinely talented and their class affiliations do not matter in them becoming an artist. There was a time when there used to be artists and patrons. Today, patrons themselves and their children do art, taking art to a different zone of experiences and expressions. I would say that though it is not bad, it has created some sort of imbalance in the arena of aesthetic creation, proliferation and consumption. To answer the final question, I would say that an artist knows the value of his works. But it is not the monetary value. Monetary value is created by others and the artists follow the rule only because they need to adjust to the market realities. It is neither a good nor a bad thing because this is the way things are. But the value remains even if an artist’s works remain unsold throughout his life. That value may or may not become monetary value. One cannot complaint.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Recognizing your Natural Flow: Answering a few questions raised by a reader

What if meditation is an act of self reflection, an act of remembering and acknowledging the self?

What would be the extent of importance of TECHNIQUE in art? How can the artist know/accept/realize that s/he is an artist?

After reading my blog entry titled, ‘Praying and Meditating are Waste of Time’, one of my readers asks the questions quoted above. Before I take up those questions one by one to answer or explain my stance, let me briefly tell you what I have said in that blog entry. I said, praying and meditations are waste of time. People adopt various ways to pray and meditate. I have seen people silently standing in front of idol/s and praying for something or just trying to calm themselves down. I have also seen people reading from scriptures. Some people do yoga in order to keep themselves physically fit or mentally focused. These are various techniques that one applies to achieve certain objectives; here it is calmness and happiness. In spiritual terms one could say that people pray and meditate to achieve the state of bliss. Or they do it to realize their selves. Yet another way we could put it as a way to annihilate ego and become one with the eternal soul. Whatever be the case, praying and meditating pre-supposes a search therefore a fair amount of troubled thinking. Some people pray for the wellness of their being and that of others. That itself shows that something has gone wrong with their wellness or that of the others. If they are already well, then they are becoming a bit ambitious by asking for more. Some people do yoga to become one with the universal soul or physical fitness. That itself shows that they are not one with the world or they are not physically fit. Considering this pre-given condition, to which most of the people are bound, we could say that as techniques, praying and meditation are good. But the question that I raised in the article was about the lacuna between the acts of praying and meditation and the desired results. Had praying and meditation been effective, at least those number of people who have prayed enough and meditated enough would have stopped doing it. Once you achieve calmness, bliss, well being, then what is the point of meditating and praying. If you are continuing with it, then I would say such states are temporary because they do not give any permanent solutions to any of the human problems. If praying and meditating are temporary solutions then there are several ways of achieving such kind of temporary solutions; drinking alcohol, smoking weed, injecting hallucinogens, watching television, swimming, eating, having sex to name a few everything is a temporary solution to the existing problems. What I suggest in my article is simple thing; just do what you are good at. That is the ultimate form of praying or meditating. And that is the only way to be natural. That is the only way to be one with the universal soul. And that is the ultimate way to be free of all the worldly woes.

The reader asks, why can’t we consider prayer or meditation as self-reflection? If you are really serious about doing some self-reflection, in my opinion, you do not need any materialistic conditions to do so. You could do self-reflecting while cooking, eating, bathing, walking, while decking up yourself at the dressing table, in a train, bus or right in the middle of a street. Self-reflection is one thing that you could do with any other mediation or situation or condition. What you need to do is to become silent and delve deep into what you are or what you are doing. You can be silent while walking, cooking or cycling or while doing any other deed. But never ask yourself what happens to yourself when you are silent. The moment you ask this question you start speaking to yourself. The moment you speak to yourself so many things you tend to tell to your own self. Then you will be filled with silent noises. These silent noises are called thoughts. But how can you be silent without being self-conscious? For that thinking itself should cease. But if you deliberately try to kill your thinking, you would be violating your own naturalness. So the best way to be silent is to let the thoughts flow till they flow out and become dry of thoughts. When you let the thoughts drain out themselves you will know about yourself completely and you will be become light and free of burdens. But the moment you try to stop your thinking and meditate upon your process of thinking, then you are lost. Externally you may be silent but internally you will be crowded by noises and voices. The best way to self reflect is to let the thoughts pass through you, in you and around you. You will not even come to know when they have gone out. Once you are thoughtless (because most of the thoughts are useless) you are clear about yourself. Again I am telling you, to be in that state of thoughtlessness, you need not go to a temple or church or mosque. You can be doing your daily chores and still be silent and self reflecting. But one condition, the moment you feel or think or take pride in the fact that you are self reflecting, you are lost. You are again back in the crowd.

The reader asks further, can’t it be an act of remembering? Remembering is a forced act. The opposite of it is being aware. When you are aware you need not remember. Any human being who has lived on this earth for a few years is expected to ‘remember’ certain things. Remembering is an act against forgetting. But if you are forgetting certain things those must be insignificant things that have not got registered in your memory. Then why remember them? My contention in the article was that you know only what you know. Similarly you can remember only that you know. If you know well you need not remember. If you have forgotten or if you don’t know, even if you try your best you do not remember. Most of the people remember things through associations. When you see someone in the street, suddenly you remember your friend because that person looks faintly like your friend. But you remember your friend because you know him/her. If you don’t have a friend like that you don’t remember him/her at all. In some other cases you get a feeling that you know the place, person or even you have gone through the similar situation once; it is called déjà vu. It is a sense of mirroring the situation with so many similar situations that makes you feel not remember things in that way. Remembrance cannot be avoided. But you can remember only the things that you know. You cannot conjure up memories that you don’t have. If you do, you are lying to yourself. Prayer cannot be remembering; prayer can only be an act of expressing gratitude. For expressing your gratitude you don’t need to be in particular place or ambience. Your life itself could be an act of expressing gratitude to yourself and to the world in which you live.

The reader asks again: Can’t it be acknowledging the self? The idea of self that exists elsewhere or inside one’s body is an illusionary notion. Self is not separated from what you are. The rest is imagination. Self is not situated inside your body nor it is your body nor it is outside your body. Self is a totality and some people define it with body, some with soul and some with so many other romantic notions. But for me self is something that is integral to your being. When you live your life, that is the way you manifest your self. You cannot realize your self inside or outside your physical body and behave differently as a body. Your self is expressed in your action and your way of life. You cannot detach yourself from what you are. You could be a government clerk and at the same time you could be poet or painter too. But your self is not that of painter or poet because it is better than being a clerk. You are your self when your poetic sensibilities are expressed even when you are clerk or vice versa. There is no problem in being a clerk. But if you are bound by the clerk-ness of a clerk you do not realize or recognize yourself. You will be in perpetual pain. If you are a poet, you have to live the life of a poet. The clerkness cannot dominate your poetic life. Or when you are a clerk you cannot be overpowered by your poet-ness. It will put you into trouble. But your self is a totality, then you behave like a natural human being, who is kind, caring, loving and beyond any kind of corruptions. Then you do not need to sit praying or meditating. Whatever you do would make you feel you as a self and it will take you to your happiness.

Now the second part of the question does not have anything to do with the first part, apparently. However, I could see that this second part is also is an extension of the first part. The second part raises a question: What is importance of technique in art? Ask the same question in relation with the first part of the question. What is the importance of praying or meditating methods with the realization of self or bliss or other blah blah? Doing yoga is a technique to achieve something beyond that. So if someone stresses on yogic postures, it becomes a physical exercise. It will not take you to the so called realization of the self. If someone reads a prayer book for going near to God or anything like that, it is understandable. But if someone insists that reading scriptures is the only way to reach god then it becomes fundamentalism. Art is an expression of the human being that gives meaning to his existence. Most of the people express themselves in many different ways. They all use different mediums to express themselves. Each medium, over a period of time becomes traditional either because of overuse, or because it has gone beyond any kind of experimentation. Or else it has become too familiar to be called different. Mediums help artists to find a form. Form is the basic structure of expressions. Mediums help the artist to build the form either in two dimensional or three dimensional ways. In digital works or virtual works, software plays the role of the medium. Or even computer and other hardware become the medium in themselves. They are considered to be cutting edge mediums because they are no longer familiarized by over use or gone beyond experimentations. Possibilities are still abundant in those mediums. But if someone just revels in medium, then his expressions are going to be stale. Because an expression cannot be bound by a medium. When an expression goes beyond the medium, even while using it, it becomes art. When yoga practitioners go beyond the yogic postures they become yogis. Otherwise they remain gym instructors on a yoga mat with a different pack of words to qualify their practice.

German artist, Joseph Beuys once said that anybody could be an artist. Osho Rajneesh once said that anybody who does anything with a sense of involvement and rhythm becomes an artist. In that sense, in this world many people are artists and so many people are not. An artist becomes an artist when he/she comes to know that he/she cannot express himself or herself in any other way. Human beings have a lot of choices before them. They can become engineers, doctors, magicians, writers, runners, boxers, accountants, chefs, businessmen, property dealers, artists, singers, dancers and what not. The choices are too many. Out of that some people chooses to be painters, some become musicians, some become doctors, some become software engineers, some become yoga instructors. But anybody who does with utter devotion to what one does and to oneself, and feel that he/she cannot do anything other than that within the given context of too many choices, that person becomes an artist. A surgeon could be a great artist of human mechanism.  A motor cycle mechanic could be a wonderful artist in the field of mechanism of motor cycles, even he could be zen master, as they say. So there is no moment of realization for an artist to become an artist. He/she comes to know about it as a natural flow. Anybody who becomes artist by force or out of forced choice will not go too long in the journey of art. Being an artist is being in the natural flow of living. Nothing can stop it. Due to circumstances you may become a tandoori roti maker in a wayside daba. But if you are an artist there too you will make your tandoori rotis artistically because that is the natural flow of your life. Recognizing the natural flow is the most important thing to be an artist. But again, to know your natural flow, you need not sit in meditation or prayer. You just need to do what you are doing. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Re-Reading Sholay as a Possibility of People’s Revolution

(Yeh haath mujhe de de thakur...nahinn...One pivotal scene from Sholay)

In 3D, the cult film, ‘Sholay’ (1975) feel like a ‘travel through a hologram postcard’. In digital manipulation, iconic figures become a bit lesser than their demi-god status. The crowd that has come to see the movie again in 2014, exactly after forty years of its making, is comprised of the generation of people who had grown up Sholay and the youngest ones like four year olds who have seen the film’s promo in television channels and have fallen instantly in love with the characters, especially ‘Gabbar Singh’, the dacoit who has been immortalized by the legendary actor, late Amjad Khan. ‘.. ke yahan se pachas pachas kos door gaon mein jab baccha rota hai toy Maa kehti hai..beta soja ..soja nahi toh Gabbar Singh aa jayega.. ’ (When kids throw tantrums in village, their mother tell them, Gabbar would come). And kids go silent, says Gabbar in one of the scenes. Children (who have seen more menacing characters than Gabbar in various other movies) still cringe at the sight of Gabbar on screen. For the grownups sighting Gabbar is a moment of nostalgia. What is that in those dialogues mouthed by various characters in Sholay that make even the kids of today repeat them with glee? None tells them to do so. The dialogues get into their blood stream automatically, like the myths, fables and folktales that they listen during their bed time. There is something in those dialogues written by Salim-Javed duo that transcends the apparent and takes them beyond feeling and imagination. Sholay has become a part of our consciousness. Various film institutes both in India and abroad still discuss the script of Sholay as a part of their curriculum. Some say it is a rugged movie done in the western cowboy movie style. Some say it is a movie inspired by Seven Samurais by Akira Kurosawa. But westerns are eminently forgettable. Seven Samurais, though capture the anger and passion of hired soldiers, it falls into comical depths at times. Sholay grips the viewer by force and it remains.

Noted film critic, Anupama Chopra, in her book, Sholay- The Making of a Classic (2000), gives a detailed narrative of how this movie was made in a remote Karnataka village, where the director Ramesh Sippy had found an adequate location for the ravines in the imaginary Ramgarh where the story of Sholay unfolded. Ramgarh is not a South Indian village. It is a nowhere place somewhere in the North. The closest allusion could be of Chambal Ravines in Madhya Pradesh where the famous dacoits of our modern times lived. But Ramgarh is a nowhere place, like Marquez’ Macondo, a magical realist place where anybody could exercise their imagination within the limited but sufficient economics of the place. For a movie that deals with the fight between good and bad, and the ultimate victory of good over bad with some kind of sacrifices on good’s part, a nowhere place is not a new thing. Except for those Bollywood movies that revel in the idea of city, struggle and success, most of the Bollywood staples have nowhere places as the ‘locale’ of the narrative. But Ramgarh becomes exceptional because in the movie the presence of city is nearly ruled out or even its presence is almost co-opted. Seen in this perspective, we could say that Sholay’s success lies in the national imagination as a part of its reclamation of a dream; the dream of/about an autonomous nation state devoid of colonial incursions and the ensuing slavery.

How does this reclamation happen in Sholay? Or to put in other words, why does that reclamation become absolutely necessary for the Indian population that looks for solutions from a depleting socio-political and cultural situation? Talking about the collapse of the grand Nehruvian dream might not help us here much. After Nehru’s time, India had regained its national pride through some strategic wars in the east; liberating Bangladesh from Pakistan and checking China from further incursions. Indira Gandhi was on the move. With carefully planned political strategies, she became the Prime Minister of India. Her younger son Sanjay Gandhi, like an autocrat with extra constitutional powers was trying to make India/Delhi a beautiful place through industrialization and beautification. In this process, with the collapse of the agrarian economy people were moving from the villages to cities, looking for jobs and better opportunities. Gram Swaraj (autonomous village economy), as imagined and upto an extent practiced by Mahatma Gandhi was not delivering anymore. While cities were shown as the places of hope, therefore a destination, villages were shown as the places of utter abjection. The hope that ‘Mother India’ (1957) had given to people through a single woman’s struggle against the male dominated system, was already gone. Perhaps, people saw a mother in India Gandhi (elevation of her image from being a goongi gudiya, silent doll to an aggressive mother proves it) and for a few years they invested all the hope in her. Despite the five year plans and five and twenty point plans of Indira Gandhi villages were losing out to the cities. The exodus was already on and it still continues. But in late 1960s and early 70s, villages were still a possible alternative though the possibilities had been killed at every juncture. It is in this context Sholay takes place; definitely in a village called Ramgarh.

Prof.Vinaylal, who has extensively studied the cultural and socio-political nuances of ‘Deewar’ (1975) observes that pavement is an important metaphor in this transitional phase of demographic shifts (from villages to cities). Pavement is another nowhere place, between the sheltered and comfortable places of living and exercising of power, and the road that makes the movement of this power possible. The villagers who abandon their natural environs come to a city and settle in this in between zone. Unlike the romantic hopes expressed by Raj Kapoor in his movies, though his domain is road/pavement, these villagers do not get easy access to buildings where comfortable living and exercising of power is possible. Most of the time, for Raj Kapoor and the later heroes, the movement from pavement to power is through the agencies of state, women and crime. In Deewar, Shashi Kapoor moves to comfort and power through the state as he becomes a police officer. Amitabh Bacchan moves to power through crime. And both of them take a good look at the pavement from where they came to their present positions. In Raj Kapoor movies, the agency is often through women, as the hero is a permanent outcaste. His good nature is not accepted by the powerful society so he has to exercise his darker sides to survive in the pavement/road. Only through a compassionate agency could identify and understand the good sap that flows behind the troubled waves of his exterior behaviour. In a sense, the nowhereness of pavement becomes a possibility in most of the film narratives of the time. The only catch is either you have to become a part of the state which has pushed you out of your village (that is a grand compromise) or you have to move against the state through crime. In most of the cases, state co-opts the criminal as he is perennially good and accommodates him within the structure. If he cannot be accommodated in this way considering his past deeds to move from the pavement to power, he is easily killed in an encounter, either by mother (then the killing is justified as a godly intervention) or by brother (he protects larger interest as he is already a representative of the state) of by the state itself (through police). In Sholay, this familiar structure is broken.

If in other films of that time, the villagers were moving from villages to city, in Sholay, the city moves to a village. And the pivot of pavement is completely abandoned in its narrative. In one of the story establishing shots, what we see is a completely autonomous village; with its cobblers, farmers, blacksmiths, priests, temple, water tank, irrigation facilities, storages and so on. Everyone is completely happy in doing their allotted/inherited roles. There is no police station or school directly shown in Ramgarh, not even a hospital. I would say that it is a very deliberate erasure of the ideological state apparatuses (as Althusser sees these structures) therefore the erasure of the state. This nowhere place lies outside the larger economics of a nation state, and shows a possibility and extension of Gram swaraj. In this village, the presence of the state, if at all it is faintly there, is shown as a failed state in the image of Thakur Baldev Singh, the police officer, portrayed by Sanjeev Kumar. His hands have been cut off Gabbar Singh. That means the state has already been rendered useless here. To bring order one has to get some agencies that operates outside the state and its rules. So in Veeru and Jai (Dharmendra and Amitabh Bacchan respectively) we have two jail birds, who are taken out of the jail to wreck revenge upon Gabbar. Interestingly, here the roles are reversed. Gabbar becomes the state, which is ruthless, taxing and making unusual demands from its subjects. Gabbar exactly does what the state of 1960s and 70s was doing to its people. So, in Sholay, if at all there is a villain, that is state. So shall we see two guerrillas in Veeru and Jai as we had seen two revolutionary fighters in Fidel Castro and Che Guvera?

In retrospection, we have all the reasons to see a Fidel and Che in Veeru and Jai. Veeru is aggressive and playful like Fidel is. Jai is moody and romantic like Che. They come from the city as their clothes show. They wear denim jeans, shirt and jacket. Even the colour coding is very striking; Veeru wears dark blue and Jai wears light blue. They are the two sides of one and the same principle; revolution. The symbolism becomes all the more poignant and important when we see the coin that Jai uses to decide on things by flipping it in the air, has only head on either side. That means they are not Veeru and Jai as two different people; they are the two sides of the same person, who has decided to operate himself out of the state; Thakur. The song ‘Yeh dosti hum nahin todenge’ (we will not abandon this friendship) accentuates this symbolism further. Sholay’s revolutionary edge gives it the evergreen cultic status because people of all time including the four year olds cherish the ingrained idea of change, the revolution. And when a film shows that it does not operate from the limbo of the pavement but from the definitive space of anti-state or out of the state, their presence becomes all the more appealing. Because they are the breakers of all kinds of rules and regulations. While singing the song about friendship they wreck havoc on the pedestrians. Initially, when they come to become the foot soldiers of Thakur, they expect money in return as they do not feel any commitment towards Thakur; once again reiterating their status as people with no roots, no commitment but people who live freedom and change. But the moment they understand the scenario, they even return the money, a possible medium that connects them with the state. They are now absolutely free agencies of Thakur, who has pushed him out of the state. They become the friendly aliens in the village. When they are not on job, they just play fools.

For the time of its making and its release, Sholay is very much a revolutionary film. Veeru and Jai have Eros as their guiding spirit. Veeru falls in and out of love with any woman whom he comes across. Finally, he meets Basanti (Hema Malini), the tonga-wali in the village, then he is hooked up. But Jai says that this too is a passing fancy. Even if in the last scene of the movie, we see Basanti is waiting for Veeru to take her along with him, the very aspect that Veeru does not given any importance to the institutions of the state, including marriage, must have been a very fascinating therefore liberal and revolutionary idea for the audience of that time. This freakish character is counterbalanced by Jai’s silent romance with the widow enacted by Jaya Bhaduri (later Jaya Bacchan). He is calm and silent and he does not demand anything from the girl other than a few glances. Finally, Jai too decides to marry her though providence does not allow him to do so. Interestingly, marrying a widow by a heroic character was scandalous at that time and the rule of the land was kept intact by killing Jai in the encounter with the thugs, but still the possibility of widow marriage too looks quite revolutionary for the time. There is no running around trees, there is no singing of songs; what exists between Jai and the widow is a wailing note of harmonica that he plays. Like she puts down her passion for him, she every day enacts the ritual of turning off the lanterns.

Good finally wins over the evil. The anti-state agency kills the state and restores an autonomous village economy. Considering the time of its release, we can see that Sholay got a wonderful response from the people because it was the time of Political Emergency in India declared by Indira Gandhi. In one go, it decimates all the rules of the state and shows that the village economy and the idyllic life is possible. Sholay, in a way demands political decentralization but it also says that it can come only through tragedy. A revolution takes place through a series of tragedy and only those people who can see things in perspective from outside the system could alleviate it from all the woes. Anupama Chopra tells us that when it was released, Sholay was a big flop. The prints were pulled out of the theatres for a second cut in order to reduce the length of the movie. But within a week’s time, people started talking about Gabbar, Veeru and Jai. Basanti talked her way into the heart of the people. The viewers knew that something was happening to them while watching the movie but they did not know how to articulate it. It was not just cathartic. It was a thing to live on with. Sholay showed the possibilities outside the state and Sholay established the fact that freedom was possible.

Today, when I see it again, perhaps fifth or sixth time, I can feel how each frame made sense to people at that time. In the opening shots, when the dacoits follow the train and the shootout takes place, horses with no riders on their saddle madly run along with the train. It is one of the classic shots in the movie. The total annihilation of Thakur’s family is one sequence that has made its mark through freeze shots and abrupt cuts. Sequences and frames have international classical movies without copying any of the shots from them. Sholay is an eminently inspired movie. From Bustor Keaton to D.W.Griffit to Bergman to Kurosawa to John Ford to Chaplin to Clint Eastwood, every possible inspiration is taken into the making of Sholay. But they do not stick out from the movie. Sholay, pays tribute to the whole idea of ‘moving pictures’ by introducing the famous train shot as one of the first moving pictures in the history was about/of a train coming to the station. Interestingly, Sholay has become point of reference for so many Bollywood movies. In Karan Arjun made exactly after twenty years of Sholay, almost imitates the cult movie in story line and frame division. But still Sholay remains Sholay. To conclude, I would say, Sholay has become a cult film not just because it has the right ingredients but because it shows an alternative, a reversal of games and the possibility of a revolution. For the young generation, it is the fascination with a myth. Sholay is not just a movie but a culture.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Wayside Tea Seller, Crows and the Lessons on Unconditional Love

(Wayside tea seller - image for representational purpose only)

From a walk I come to this wayside tea stall. The stove is already lit and a kettle hisses on it. A husband and wife, unbeaten by the hardships of life, enthusiastically do their chores. I observe the paraphernalia of their business; a few aluminium vessels, tea making devices, a small wooden cupboard and a little cash box. A bench made out of several pieces of abandoned wood is kept by the side of the trolley on which these utensils are kept. It is has a canopy over it. Though the concept is of moving it to their living place once the day comes to an end, most of such trolley-based stalls are more or less permanent on the pavements of any city in India. They are moved only when the policemen ask their owners to do so. Cities, despite their harshness towards the economically deprived, have developed some sort of kindness to accommodate the poor sections. Perhaps, policemen take their weekly bribe from them, some pittance or a few rounds of free tea, a free shave, a free meal and a bunch of free fruits when money becomes too dear to be transacted. The city is on its wheels, always rolling, hardly resting. But these wheeled stalls on the pavement never moves; they witness the movement out there on the roads. Life passes by, in varying colours and paces. But these wayside survivors remain there, without changing the course of their lives much though they wish it to change proportionately with the changes happening before them. Then they slowly find happiness in their existence. That’s why unlike the rich and obscene, powerful and health conscious on the joggers’ park, these people do not talk much about money. This couple who runs this tea stall does not talk about money. My Bengali is very poor still I could gather their conversation and make sense out of it. They talk about computer education; they are talking about their son’s education.

Sitting on the wooden bench I look at the road with all intention to overhear the conversation of this couple. But they stop talking. I ask for a cup of tea. Surprisingly, nobody has come to the stall to have a cup of tea so far. Am I too early or too late, I ask myself. But the lady, who looks like the thinner version of a Laxma Goud character with a rustic sense of charm about carrying herself, takes an small earthen tumbler, which is called a ‘kullad’ in India and pours hot tea from the kettle. The smallness of the tumbler makes you to give and take it with some kind of a body language (perhaps, added by the hotness of the liquid which has been poured into it right then) that resembles reverence. I understand it as reverence only. You are filled with some sort of strange gratitude to anyone who gives you a cup of tea like this. I realise that in your hotel room, or in the restaurant or an upmarket coffee stall, you do not receive a cup of coffee or tea like that. You show your arrogance; you are paying a lot of money for showing off your self-importance. You can be absent minded when you open the packet of brown sugar and transfer its content to the shiny porcelain cup in front of you with a smile etched with cream by the unsmiling boy at the counter. You can look at your lap top screen and jab away digits and letters into it. You can read a magazine or newspaper. Or even you can have huge decisions in your life over a cup of coffee, with no reverence towards it. But in wayside stalls your body turns into an expression of gratitude. I realize it with a smile. I sit firmly on that wooden bench, which is a collage of refuses.

Silently I sip at the kullad. The feeling is intense. First, the dryness of baked clay touches your lips. Your lips are already dry. You feel earth, provided if you have ever felt earth in that fashion. If you have memories, you go into reveries where you see a lump of clay on a wheel, turning into a small cup, fingers of an unknown man, child or woman picking it up from the wheel while it is still circling, with trained fingers. They are coarse but still look at the dexterity with which they pick up the supple clay. He keeps it on his side. Someone picks it up with a lot of care and beat the bottom of it with a paddle. Someone else comes and takes it to the sunlight where thousands of such clay cups are drying. Then faceless people come, they pick the dried ones and stack it up elsewhere. When a huge number is ready in this fashion, a few people carry them to rustic kilns where they fire it. When the fire embraces the earth, water content in it goes out as vapours. From their earthy brown and grey, they turn into fiery red. Later the fire is killed. The cups are taken out. From the potters’ basti, they travel by different modes, carried off carefully and reverently by unknown people to various parts of the country, where unknown people like me sit at the way side and kiss them with reverence. Hot tea, then touches your lips. You could hear a silent hissing at the edges of the cup and at your lips. It gives a jolt in your brain. The tea does not taste like the teas that you have already tasted in your life. It is different because the tea maker is different. You are drinking a part of the tea maker’s life. The tea has his or her story in it. It is hot and it is different.

The man at the stall opens a fresh packet of bread with no brand name etched on the cover. He rips off the polythene cover, takes a plate crumbles the bread into more or less identical pieces and adds some curry to it from another vessel and mixes it with his fingers as he talks to his wife in a tone which oscillates between wailing and hope. I think about him eating the mix of bread and curry as his breakfast. But he walks past me and goes to the iron railings that part the pavement from the road. All the railings, road dividers, public walls and all possible surfaces that are owned by the public sector undertakings are painted in a faint blue and white. Kolkata is slowly turning into a city of blue and white stripes. Like the colour coded cities all over the world, Kolkata slowly assumes the colour of blue and white. You think about it. What could be the reason for such a government decision? In South I have seen most of the temple cities have brown/red/saffron and white stripes all over the places. That connotes the presence of religious establishments there. It is a great feel to see a temple pond reflecting the red and white stripes on the walls around it with the shiny gopurams inhabited by innumerable images of gods and goddesses. This reflection is the inverted sight of the world around. It puts the world in perspective; part real and part illusion. But in Kolkata you don’t see such reflected images of the world. The more I think about the logic of blue and white stripes the more I come to think of the white saree and the blue border of it worn by late Mother Theresa and her flock of sisters. Mother Theresa had adopted this city and alleviated many from their destitution. She wore white saree with blue borders. But my friend tells me another story. West Bengal whose capital is Kolkata is ruled by Trinamool Congress led by Mamta Banerjee, a strong leader who came up from the roots but turned into a corrupt autocrat. She too wears cotton sarees, to emphasis her humble origins. But the information given to me is a bit shocking. Someone from the ruling party runs a paint company and all the paint for turning the city into blue and white stripes come from his company. When the man goes to the railings with the plate of crumbled bread in hands, I think about the man who runs a paint company.

The tea stall man puts the bread crumbles there at the pavement and walks back to the stall. I ask for one more cup of tea and the woman pours it into the same kullad that I hold before her with some sort of unintentional reverence. I come back to the bench, rather a local constructivist collage (I cannot help mentioning it) and once again sip at the cup. This time memories do not flow. I have come to terms with the memories. But I watch the theatre of life unfolding before me. Tens of crows come down from the nearby trees. They have been sitting there all the time, which I have not noticed before. I had seen them, while walking at the lakeside, right in the middle of the lake, on a leafless tree with each branch filled up with crows as if they were black flames from a surreal lamp in the shape of a tree. These crows clean the place within a few minutes. They do not fight each other. They wait for their turn. These crows look healthy and they all have shiny black feathers. They do not make too many sounds. After having their breakfast they fly away. What surprises me is the attitude of both the crows and the man. They do not go to the man to say thanks. The man does not even look at the crows once, expecting some kind of gratitude. Perhaps, it is daily ritual. They are already bonded in an invisible thread of selfless love; unconditional love.

Love is a problematic word. I consider it as a linguistic problem. As there are not too many words to express the human bonding filled with kindness, care and gratitude, we all use the word love. From parental love to the love talk of spiritual gurus, from lovers bonding to city planners’ caring for the city, for anything and everything we have only this insufficient word, love. But it has become a powerful word of its own merits and rights. It is perhaps one word that has not lost its charm after all these ages of overuse and misuse. The adjective ‘unconditional’ makes it further problematic. Most of the people develop relationships with the others on conditions. When people get married they take vows of marriage; these vows are conditions. When attend spiritual sessions, we follow certain conditions. When we love our pets we expect certain returns from them; another set of conditions. We are full of conditions. We do something for the world because we expect certain things in return; name or fame or fortune. If we are not getting it, we leave it there. We carry conditions and norms along with us. The most ironic thing is that the more we talk about love the more we think about conditions and returns. People say that their love for god is unconditional. If it is unconditional why people carry offerings to the god and ask for so many things. It is not unconditional love. It is bribing and asking for favours. People say that god loves everyone unconditionally. As we do not know whether god is out there or not, we cannot believe in his/her unconditional love either. There are interesting stories about the unconditional love. For example, a man went to god and complained that when he was in his happy days, he could see two pairs of foot prints wherever he went; of his and the gods. But when he was lonely, tired and was in trouble, he could not see two pairs. Whatever he saw was one pair of foot prints. God smiled and told him; Look, in those days I was carrying you on my shoulders. It is good to listen to stories. But this footprint story is all about making you feel good.

Unconditional love exists in rare areas of human relationship. Whether you accept it or not, the biggest and strongest form of unconditional love exists in self love. You cannot love anybody else unconditionally than yourself. The more you love your own self unconditionally the more you could love other unconditionally. How can you put conditions on your own self? How can you go to a gym and tell your right hand secretly that ‘look man, I am going to give you some extra pushes today because you are more useful than the left one.’ We do not do it. The supreme kind of unconditional love is there in self love. I am not talking about selfishness. Selfishness is conditional. You love yourself and use others and relationships for your means and ends; that is selfishness. Self love is all about taking care of yourself without expecting anything in return. How can you punish yourself because you are angry with your face or stomach? If people are doing it, they are all the victims of perverted thinking not only on an individual level but also on a collective and societal level. If you love yourself unconditionally and your being is so aware of that then you could love others also unconditionally. That’s why sports people who makes the greatest physical efforts to make themselves fit and competitive (not with life but with other sports people within the given competitive fields) generally do not hurt others. They know the pain that they have taken to perfect themselves. How can they ruin others? If someone does it, then they do not love themselves. They are driven by the passions of revenge and hatred. You cannot destroy anybody if you love yourself. Hatred comes from self hating. If you love yourself unconditionally, you will love everyone unconditionally. If you are not loving anything and anybody unconditionally, the inference is simple; you are not loving you unconditionally.

The only relationship in which people behave and love unconditionally is parental love. But let me tell you, this too is a false belief. Children are brought in this world by parents. So they take it up as their duty to love them unconditionally. But this unconditional love happens only within a given context. When things are good or threatening, parents love their children unconditionally. When parents themselves are troubled, they just do not love their children unconditionally. They, then deliver their duties. Think about parents who beat up their children ruthlessly. Why do they do that? Is it because of unconditional love? I do not think so. It comes from self hate. We give education to children thinking that they would bring us the returns. If we are just educating them to be full blown individuals we will not think about their future. We will think about their present and will be absolutely happy about it. But most of us think about the future of the children. When we do it, we are just investing in their as well as our future. They will have a secured life, which will automatically give us a secured and safe happy life in future. And we call it unconditional love. But fortunately, we do a lot of things towards unconditional love when it comes to our behaviour towards our children. We feed them before we feed ourselves. We try to give them the best clothes. We try to keep them happy. We try to do whatever they ask us to do. But remember, whenever we oblige our kids, we are actually showing love towards ourselves. When we pamper our kids we pamper the kids in us. We love ourselves so much and in our love for our children that love gets expressed.

I can tell you for sure that unconditional love stems only from self love. The more you love yourself the more you could love others. The more you care for yourself the more you care for others. The more you avoid rules and regulations for yourself the more you bring down the barricades that you have set up for others. Self loving is a way to deliverance and freedom. I am not talking about deliverance to moksha and such romantic things. I am talking deliverance in terms of happiness. Freedom brings you happiness and freedom comes when you love yourself unconditionally and love others unconditionally. Otherwise you will remain as a bonded slave to your selfishness and hatred. However we qualify our love for nature or kids or ideology or anything, if we are looking for returns it is conditional; it is not unconditional. The man who spreads out bread crumbs before the crows shows unconditional love for them. And for whatever reasons he does it, it comes from the love he has for himself. He knows hunger so he knows the hunger of the crows. He knows what quenches his thirst and hunger so he gives the same to the crows. Unconditional love happens when you are free. A way side tea seller is a better guide than a guru who misguides you for profit.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Praying and Meditation are Waste of Time

(If yoga and meditation could bring god then you may practice something like this too)

Do we know anything that we do not know? Do we realize something that is not already in us? Does this concept called ‘search’ reveal something other than already you have in you? How can you search for a pen, which you have misplaced in your study room, if you have never possessed that pen? What is this fuss all about searching for the unknown or god? If it is unknown then it remains unknown. How do you realize the unknown when it manifests as known if you do not have any idea about this unknown? You are a searcher. You have been searching for Shiva. You go to Mount Kailash, you go to Gangotri, Mansarovar, Rudraprayag and many places where you believe Shiva resides. But you look for a Shiva who looks like the one that you have seen either in calendars or temple idols, books or television serials. Shiva comes to you perhaps in the form of a tea stall boy. But you do not recognize him because you don’t have a Shiva in you in the form of a tea stall boy. That is why the wisest of the wise, Yudhishtira could not recognize Shiva when he came in the form of a Chandala before him. Even Yudhistira was expecting Shiva to be like the one in a calendar of his times. Simple thing, you don’t realize or recognize or learn or understand anything or anybody, if that is not already in you. I am not telling anything new because there is nothing new in this world. What I am telling you is what is already in me. I may be seeing in perspective because something might have helped me to see it in perspective. Interestingly, even that something is known to me.

Let me take a simple example. While going for a morning walk in a South Kolkata park, I happened to see a piece of poster that was stuck on a round pillar. From the place where I was currently standing or walking I could see only a shiny black patch and a faint pink that reminded me of the arm of a woman. But within the fraction of a second I recognized that it is the poster of the recently released movie, Dhoom 3. Why? I did not see Amir Khan, Katrina Kaif, Abhishek Bacchan or Uday Chopra in that piece of poster because it was not visible to me from where I was approaching. What I saw was simply a shiny black patch and something resembled the arm of a woman. The immediate recognition of it as a Dhoom 3 poster comes from my previous knowledge about it. I have seen this poster thousand times during last one or two months. I have been visually assaulted by the presence of these four figures with their comically burning pieces of body and clothing. This is knowledge is already in me. I was not searching for a poster in that street. But that piece of shiny black patch made me aware that it was a poster that I already knew. Suppose, if I did not know anything about Dhoom 3, what could I have noticed in that? Could I have even noticed that? Out of the many pieces of posters stuck on the pillar why only my eyes caught the sight of Dhoom 3? The answer is simple. I knew about it. The piece of poster was just a clue to make my own conclusions. We always read about Vivekananda becoming enlightened by the touch of Shri Ramakrishna’s thumb. This enlightenment of Vivekananda is all about the realization of all what he had already known. When he was working towards it, he did not know he had it in him. Ramakrishna’s touch was a clue, a shocking clue. Same is the case of Buddha or Jesus, or Jiddu Krishnamurty or U.G.Krishnamurty. Even this is the case of Ramana Maharshi. They all understood what they already knew.

Michael Angelo, the Renaissance artist, once said that he does not sculpt anything. He chipped away all the unwanted particles from a bloke of marble so that the embedded sculpture is revealed. As a gifted artist, Michael Angelo knew and even saw the sculpture in a marble bloke. He just chipped away the things that did not belong to the sculptural form. This is the case with anybody; artists or scientists or common man. We hear a lot of voices and noises. But we don’t understand the music in it. A musician understands it because that music is already in him. Otherwise how does a blind musician create a symphony on Autumn or Spring? How does a blind musician sing of the beauties of the world, more convincingly than a person who has eyes? How does a painter paint images that do not exist in the world, if those images are not in him already? Picasso makes a bull head out of a cycle saddle and a handle bar. If, as a Spaniard, he does not have any clue about bulls or bull fighting, the national sport of Spain, how could he make a combination out of two machine parts and make the impression of a bull? The bull is already in him. So is the gorilla mother and the goat made out of a bamboo basket. There is a famous story about the artist, Benode Behari Mukherjee, who turned blind towards the middle age of his life. He and his senior, Nandalal Bose did not share a cordial relationship. But when Benode Behari Mukherjee heard that even in his old age Nandalal was painting, he wanted to ‘see’ those painting. When Bose came to know about it, he was baffled. How could a blind man ‘see’ his paintings? Someone took Mukherjee to Bose’s studio where he asked someone to run his fingers through the contours of Bose’s painting. At some point Mukherjee said to Bose that he could have used a different colour there. Had Mukherjee not known painting in him or realized it in his mind already, how could he have made such a suggestion?

I feel pity about people who are in search of the unknown as I understand that none realizes anything if it is not in him already. If it is not in you, it is not going to manifest. If it is in you, then you need not search at all. Whether you want it or not it is going to manifest in one or the other form the way the Dhoom 3 poster manifested before me. I was not searching for a Dhoom 3 poster in Kolkata. Perhaps, that would have been the remotest thing that I could do in a city like this where I have come for a different purpose. But as Dhoom 3 is in me, it manifests before me without my search. Same is the case with the so called God. He/she is already in you. If he is not there, let me tell you, you are not going to realize him/her. But is that a problem? That is not a problem at all. It is not necessary that people realize things. Why should we try to learn singing, when we do not have any talent in singing? However, you try you don’t become a singer because the ability to sing is not in you. You are wasting your time if you try to sing. If you are not a scientist, you cannot do what a scientist do. You may read a few scientific journals and try to grapple with the ideas expressed there. You may even think that you have understood and now you could be a scientist of your own right. But what is the use? Could you invent a radio or television which has already been invented? Could you bring out the traits of a creature behaviour which has already been explored? This is the same case with the so called spirituality. You are not going to realize anything if it is not in you. Sitting in various postures of meditation is a waste of time. It will give you physical inertia or exercise, it is not going to reveal you anything because you do not know.

What you could cherish in your life is silence. Perhaps, in silence, the way Michael Angelo had seen sculptures in marble blokes, in the marble bloke of your mind you may see things which you already know but fail to recognize. But you cannot be silent unless and until you have it in you. Give it a try is the worst kind of advice that anybody could give to anybody else. If you try you don’t get it. If you don’t try and if you have it already it will come out. What you have is like a flow. A flow cannot be barred. If it is barred it will come out somehow. You cannot create a flow because you do not have a stream in you. If you have a stream it is bound to flow. I am not asking you to become lethargic and non-doers. That does not help in anyway. All the biological organisms are bound to function within a pre-planned flow. We as biological beings actually do everything possible to prevent this pre-planned flow. After preventing it, we try to find out why it is not flowing. So what we need is a tremendous amount of de-conditioning. We need to destroy ourselves in order to realise the real potentials. The irony is even this destruction is natural. You don’t need to do anything. You just need to do you work with complete involvement, call it love or sincerity. When you do it, you flow. If your work is disturbing you, then understand, you are creating hurdles for your flow. If you are enjoying, then you are flowing. Things will happen to you. You just need to be. Do not do anything. Don’t ever think of praying or meditating. Nothing is going to come through praying or meditation. You just need to be in silence. Then silence starts speaking and that is the best form of conversation you can ever have in your life. And through this conversation you realize things in you. If you have it, you will have it and you don’t have it, please do not even try.

I will finish this self-conversation with one more reference to something that we all know; food. We all like to eat food. I have always felt that eating food for enjoyment is as good as eve teasing. You do it for the heck of it. You derive some pleasure. When you are hungry, you eat and it is not teasing. It is just quelling your hunger. But when you aestheticize your hunger and desire, you eat things for the sake of it. They titillate your taste buds and the sensations are conveyed to your brain and you realize that you are enjoying something. Many people say, while eating and after eating and perhaps, even after several months of that eating incident, that the food is so great. They make exclamatory noises and expressions like ‘vow’, ‘it is delicious’ and ‘yummy’ etc. People do this out of habit or peer pressure because they need to tell themselves that they are eating for enjoyment. However, I would say, compared to eve teasing, eating, if you could afford, is a harmless pleasure seeking. But even in that condition, do we eat something that we do not know already? People eat or choose eateries after discussing with their friends who have already experienced the tastes of a particular restaurant. So whatever you eat out of habit or suggestion is nothing new. You already know about it that is why you enjoy it or pretend to enjoy. In a buffet, you find a variety of food items. But you do not eat everything given. You choose and your choice is completely based on your pre-knowledge about it. You know it even if you are consuming it for the first time. You do not eat anything that you do not know. Then how can you consume a god that you don’t know?

In Kolkata streets, in the morning I see many people drinking a particular mix of liquid. I stood there and watched how the way side vendor made it. He takes a big steel tumbler and put so many ingredients in it from different packets and vessels arrayed before him. Then he adds water to it and it turns into a yellow liquid. Irrespective of age and gender, I watch, people drinking it with so much of relish. I know tea, I know neembu pani (lemon water), I know lassi, I know soft drinks, I know bottled water, I know jal jeera, I know ganne ka ras (sugar cane juice), I know fruit juices, I know so many other drinks sold at the wayside stalls. But this one drink that is made right in front of my eyes looks completely alien. I could drink it because people like me are drinking it and they are not dropping dead. They are drinking with such a flourish that one is reassured that it is harmless. But still I do not have the courage to drink it. Reason; I do not know this drink. In my acquired knowledge or mind, I do not have any reference about this drink. So I walk on wondering how it would taste. But I do not drink it because it is ‘not in’ me. Later I ask a friend in Kolkata about it and he informs me it as a ‘sattu’ which is a health drink that helps you to clear your bowels. Apparently unlike other laxatives sattu is tasty also. Now I have the knowledge about it. Still I do not dare to drink it. Why, because it is not in me. It is the same case with god and realizing the unknown. There are thousands of spiritual gurus and thousands of techniques in this world that you can read, practice and understand. But none of these would take you to god or realization of the unknown. It does not happen because it is not there in you. Like I understood sattu, it remains in the level of information. I can talk volumes about sattu with or without drinking it because for me it is just an information and it is extraneous to my being. If sattu is there in me, I need not talk about it at all. I can be silent on sattu. People who talk about God are those people who question god completely. Those people coax hoards of credulous and gullible people are just cheating them by showing some magical formulas.

So I tell you stop praying and meditating. If it is there in you, whatever you do is praying and meditation. If it is not in you, you are just wasting time.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

About Money and Meditation

I am not a travel freak. But I travel as and when work calls. Travel freaks look forward to the challenges of travelling both chartered and unchartered while I cringe even at the thought of moving away from certain comfort zones. But, when you think about it more, there are no comfort zones for a person. What one considers as comfort zones are just spaces made familiar by habit. Navigation in such places becomes easier because in those places one need not feel the need to navigate at all. Like a person who drives a car while day dreaming, things happen automatically, pressing the clutch, changing the gears, speeding up or slowing down and negotiating a curve. We live in automated zones. Even most people who are known as travel freaks like to tread on the oft-beaten path not the off beaten path because in that path, with the knowledge about the curves and straight lines, one could travel without certain amount of alertness. Most of the people like me tread the off beaten path in day dreaming; another safe zone like martial art games played in a virtual video game. You are excited, your adrenaline flow is high, you are euphoric but at the same time you are away from injuries and worries.

When I travel, I prefer to take up unchartered paths. Morning walk in strange places, or in that case any kind of walk in a strange place, is exciting because even if you have not seen that place before, during the break of dawn it definitely look different. Sights and sounds are fresh, serene and at times dipped in the syrup of early morning dreams. Office goers are not yet on the roads but cleaners and rag pickers are already there at their work. Way side eateries and tea-stalls come alive slowly. Flower and talisman sellers haunt the traffic joints. Dogs use roads as if they own it. Strange smells of cooking waft in the air. Morning walkers like you hurry to their oft-beaten tracks. Paper boys move like lightning. Maid servants from their bastis rush to posh localities where they work not because they want to be there on time but because they do not want to hear the oft repeated words of chiding from the anxious women who tackle demanding husbands, kids refusing to get up from bed and so many other chores. Sounds are still clear; of birds and radio. You are an absolute stranger amidst all these sights and sounds. You can walk like a spirit without getting noticed by any. You could melt into your surroundings provided if you do not feel so much about yourself. You are not important, I am sure, when I look at these early morning activities of people in a different city. Nobody is important for a city to survive. Like a monster it feeds on itself. Auto cannibalism is a trait of all cities.

I was not planning to tell all these things. What I want to talk is about my morning walk in Kolkata, where I am today. Kolkata is no longer a strange city to me though I do not know many areas in the city. But Kolkata, like any other city, looks different during the early morning hours. I walk to the park, which is next to the Vivekananda Park in South Kolkata. There is a huge lake where young people practice rowing. I had been here before too. This time I feel that this park is meant for old people during morning hours and it is reserved for the young lovers during the evening hours. I have often felt that seeing a person eating alone is one of the most painful sights in the world. But today, I think that seeing people desperately walking or working out for regaining the lost health is a sad sight. I insist on the word ‘regaining’ because it is different from maintaining. Most of the people start morning walk and related physical exercise activities when health issues strike and doctors intervene in their private lives. I see frail people, obese people, people trying desperately to regain their youthfulness back and people who want their egos to be intact. I am here to walk, not because I want to regain my health but because it is a habit. During the morning walk I can think of thinking. Walking is a way to flow along with thinking without resisting. It is meditative. I do not like the word meditation because meditation is a forced thing. And they say, in meditation you can do away with thinking by resisting thoughts slowly and systematically. It is a sort of violence. I like to flow with the thoughts and may be you end up in losing all your thoughts. Sometimes you realize that you were not there while walking. Suddenly you realize that you were walking. What happened to you between the thoughts that you were thinking and the sudden realization of coming back to thinking? May be you were existing.

As a writer, I have this brutal habit of overhearing things. It is not deliberate. But I hear what people talk. Today, I hear most of the people talking about money. As in Kolkata, ninety nine out of the hundred words that I heard today were either ‘taka’ (money), money, amount, paisa, rupees and everything related to money. I realize that all the people while walking to regain their health are still thinking or talking about money. They do not realize the fact that it was this very same thought that had ruined their lives so far. When I say this, please do not misinterpret me as a nihilist who hates money. I do not hate money, on the contrary I love it. But when you love something or somebody, it is not necessary that you need to think about it or speak about it all the time. If you do, then it is not love, it is obsession. Obsession leads to a sort of possessiveness, which is fatal and detrimental to health and happy living. When you are speaking about money even during your morning, which for many, is meant to be a meditative exercise, you neither walking nor meditating. You are simply obsessing yourself with the thoughts of money. Whether you are reading Gita aloud or any other scriptures aloud as a part of focusing on positive energy, at the end of it if you are still talking about money, then you are not working towards positive living. Money cannot be the sole aim of life though it is a necessary tool to live a good life. Let me explain.

 Living is a form of economics, in my view. Whether you are rich or poor, if you are living, then you are within an economic structure. Generally we say that business people are out there to make money and live a good life. They are greedy and so on. But what about others? They too are there to make money in order to live. For businessmen, money is a by product of their activities. They put their capital and entrepreneurial energy as investment and reap profits out of it. Other people invest their personal talents as executives, software engineers or accountants or menial workers to name a few job profiles, and make profit out of it. That is the way the world functions. Avarice is one of the seven deadly sins, scriptures say. But this avarice is not about money. It is about the desires and the desire to fulfil these desires. To fulfil these desires in the material world one needs money. So money is just a tool. In the Buddhist lines one could say that desire is the root cause of all worries. But I would say, having desire for anything is a beautiful thing. You need to have certain amount of desire to live life fully and killing the desire cannot a monk out of you, but a frustrated soul could definitely be the outcome of it. Understanding the desire and setting benchmarks for fulfilling that desire is the intelligent way to handle worries in the world. If you are constantly thinking about bettering your life, there are hundred ways of doing it without the medium of money. But if you are obsessing about money, then you are not trying to bettering your life, instead you are still thinking about the medium of bettering it. When you are obsessed with a medium, your life remains abandoned. However, you jog or walk your health is not going to come back because for the happy return of health one has to stop thinking about the medium. Medicine is taken to kill the illness but if the patient is obsessed with medicine, the illness remains and the pharmaceutical companies make profit.

I am not here to pontificate against/about money. But what I think is that if anybody wants to be happy in the life, he or she has to do the work that is supposed to be done by him or her. This may sound apparently quite classicist. That means a rich can further become rich and the poor should remain poor. In that case, our basic premise itself is wrong. People are differently abled and different talented and differently gifted. A painter can become a property dealer or a musician could become a businessman. There is no problem with that. But the question then is, what will happen to the painter’s painting when the painter becomes a property dealer and starts making a lot of money? What will happen to the music of a musician when he becomes a businessman? We can always accept that if a painter gets a lot of money by selling his painting or a musician gets a lot of money by selling his music. These are not unheard of things. These things happen. But the money thus comes is not used by painter to turn into a builder only because there is more money in building business than making paintings. If somebody abandons painting for becoming a property dealer, then his life as a painter ends there. Property dealing and business are not bad things in themselves. They are good so long as they are handled by people who are good at it. If so what does a common man, who goes for morning walk and obsesses about money, do?

I say, he would end up in misery. The more he thinks about money the more he misses the point in his life. He may be an executive, drawing a good salary and even might have invested in various avenues to make sure that his and his family’s life is secured today and in future. But still he is thinking about money. He forgets the fact that even if he thinks a lot about money his salary is not going to increase or his investments bring him great dividends. The more he thinks about it the more are the chances of getting him corrupted. What about a labourer who thinks about money and does not go for morning walk? They generally do not think about money the way the morning walkers think about it. They are here to survive. They think about the money that would help them to scrape through the life. But both the parties are committing the same error because a wage labourer does not have the tools or talents to increase his money making power. If he had it he would have branched himself out into more profitable ways of investing his labour. As he does not have the tools or talents, his overt obsession money could bring only misery to him. This is not different from the misery of an already comfortably rich man obsessing with money.

I want to reiterate the fact that I am not against money. But as I am not obsessed with it, money which is good enough to lead a good life comes to me because I do my work the way I am supposed to do. There was a time I used to obsess a lot about money. I always used to think that what will happen to me next if I do not have enough money. This obsession with money had put me to great misery. One day I stopped thinking about money. I started focusing on my work. I realized that if I did my work well money for my life appears through the channels that the work had opened up. It was a great realization. If you do your work well, use your talents in the right direction, help in terms of money including, follows. But one has to control the desires. One has to set a bench mark for the desirable desires. Do not kill it but understand the desire. My understanding about myself is simple; I do not earn a salary. I am a freelancer. And people approach me for doing their work; a quality addition kind of work through writing. And when I do that work they pay me for that. It is not arrogance. It is the way things happen in the world. A bus driver who earns a salary, unless he involves in various other activities is not able to more money than the salary. But still we consider him as a needy person who is suffering from financial troubles. But the trouble is not in his earning capacity; the trouble lies in his desires or the collective desire or trouble of his family or people related to him. This is a chain reaction and there is no end to it.

I have learnt to understand my desires. The greatest learning came from the fact that I can ask for help without thinking too much about myself or keeping my ego at the forefront and suffering from it. Asking for help is not about borrowing money. Asking for help is a great way of sharing your lacks with those people who are sympathetic to your life, who care for you and like you as a person. It is not necessary that you need to know the people from who you ask for help. I have learnt a great lesson from Paulo Coelho who otherwise writes spiritual soothsaying kind of books (for an Indian like me those are primers to fake spirituality). He in his autobiography talks about how he could stand like a beggar in the road and could ask for nothing. When you do not ask for nothing and only share things, which could be even your troubles, you gain happiness. You gain material and soul comfort. But for that one should shed ego. One should empty oneself and become a nothing and nobody. When you are nothing and nobody, you can ask for help. No part of yours gets hurt. After learning this lesson, I practiced it. When I travel without a laptop, I could ask someone to let me use theirs. They do not say no. When I am hungry, if I do not have any money, I can ask someone to provide me a meal. I have never been denied a meal. But if have money and freeloading becomes your tactics to save money, then you stand to lose, a meal and a kind hand.

I learnt to understand my desires too. I am a person with minimum desires. Nothing excites me; that is the first rule that I have found in myself. Nothing makes me feel awe. That does not mean that don’t wonder at things. But my wondering at a tight rope walker is different from my wondering at a sunrise or sunset. I stand wondering at the movements of ants, birds and clouds. But I do not stand wondering at some so called great personality or celebrity. I am not excited at the prospect of eating good food, going for a movie or a vacation. I take it very calmly. As the sense of excitement is not there and a sense of wonder is under control or operative in me differently, my needs to get excited and wonder are always kept at minimum. What I think about myself is that nothing defines me other than my work. If I am not writing, then I am like any other biological being, who eats, shits, sleeps, wakes up and does things for surviving. But my writing does not become great if I wear a good shirt, an expensive watch, a few gold rings or eat a good meal. I do not say that these things help people to enhance their image and self confidence. They do. But for me, my existence as an intelligent and creative human being is not defined by anything extraneous to my creative efforts. The rest is useless additions that only help other people to admire me. If I am not admiring anyone or anything, it would hypocrisy is I am letting others to admire me.

I believe, as an intelligent and creative human being like many of you, that money and any such desire is important only up to certain practical planes. Having a lot of money does not make me a good writer or a good curator. I can buy name with the money but the problem is that the moment my buying capacity diminishes my name too wanes. Let me use the analogy of food. Life is a buffet, beautifully arranged and rich in varieties. You are allowed to eat as much as you can. But you can eat only as much as you could. If you take one morsel more, you are going to throw up. When I travel on my job, I am allowed to eat anything that I want because the companies or persons who have employed me for the job are going to pay for it. But only because it is free how much am I going to eat? I cannot eat things that would eventually make me sick and render me useless. Same is applicable in the case of general life. You cannot enjoy the buffet called life; you have to choose carefully and fill in your plate as much as you want and enjoy every bit of it. But let me tell you, life is absolutely free; it does not come with a price tag. Only assurance in life is physical death. All what comes with a price tag is a product that enhances desire. If you understand your desire, the way you understand your hunger, your money problem is taken care of. It does not need any meditative practice or yoga session.

While walking along the lake side today morning, I saw a woman sitting in meditative posture. I saw a mobile phone and clutch kept next to her. Two thoughts came to my mind when I saw her; one, she is pretending to be meditative. Two, if she is really meditating, she cannot keep her phone and wallet like that. A person who goes to meditate cannot take valuable things along with them. A person who has left every valuable behind only could be really meditative. The very thought of losing a wallet and a phone could prevent her from getting lost in the meditation. What I felt at that moment was to call out and say that, hey someone is taking your phone away. She would have jumped up and run. But I did not do that. Instead, I thought of a Mulla Naseeruddin story. A person was sitting and wailing and saying that he was a fakir who has left the worldly possessions. He also was wailing that he does not need anything but just food. Mulla saw a small bundle of coins under the beggar’s feet. He picked it up and started running. The fakir left his pious demeanour and started running behind Mulla demanding his coins. Most of the meditating people are like that. Tell them there is a thief is around there meditation will stop. In real meditation you do not have anything to lose but yourself. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Unbreakable: Reading Mary Kom, the Million Rupees Mom

(Mary Kom's Autobiography cover)

“Sitting in the Rashtrapati Bhavan, with all those renowned people around me, I felt my spirit and my commitment to my country’s sporting glory renewed. I dedicated the award to my sons who were still too young to understand why their mother kept leaving them and going away. I hoped they would understand one day.” – M.C. Mary Kom (in her autobiography, Unbreakable).

Once again my belief that the airport bookstalls provide one with some interesting reading stuff to the book hunters in reiterated today. On my way to Kolkata, at the Delhi airport, after having a plain dosa from the series of eateries while wondering how the plain looking Indians could hog the KFC big meals (fried chicken and soda) and coming to conclusion that compared to the price of the food available inside the flight this could be much cheaper, and also after puffing a cigarette inside the smoking lounge sans an exhaust fan, fairly awakened with a heady concoction of nicotine and sambar, I ventured into the bookstall luckily reinstated by the authorities after a prolonged phase of renovation of the old terminal, and amongst many ‘picks of the month’ found something which I had been looking for quite some time; the autobiography of the sporting/boxing legend Mary Kom.

Mary Kom had shot up to fame, in a larger sense with her silver medal in women’s boxing, which was newly introduced to the Olympics events held in London in 2012. When she boxed way to the victory stand, people back in India stood up in ovation. The mainlanders in India generally think that the North Eastern people are good at sturdy sports; sports that demand stamina and enduring capacity from the player. This clichéd stereotyping has been there for quite some time. From Baichung Butia to Sunil Chettri and from Kunjarani to Mary Kom, stereotyped faces have the North Eastern looks. When Mary Kom was travelling with the Indian contingency of sportspeople, team members from other South Eastern countries used to ask about her nationality. When she said that she is from India, they told her that why she looked like ‘them’ and the other people in the Indian team looked different. Mary Kom knows why and what this distinction is all about; in Manipur and the other North Eastern states, people considers them as Manipuris or Assamese or Nagas or things like that and all the mainlanders, at least for the Manipuri’s are ‘Non-Manipuris’. When I read this, from Mary Kom’s own words, I remember the two girls who come from Manipur to join the Indian National Hockey Team, in the renowned film, Chak De India. They confront the person who questions their nationality and tell him that it is very painful to be a ‘guest’ in your own home.

(Mary Kom with Sushmita Sen at the book launch)

We have some fixation with medals; may be, it is with the silver medals. When P.T.Usha got her silver medal in Olympics in early 1980s, she was given the same treatment by the Indian media. Luckily, in those days we had only newspapers, radio and the state owned Doordarshan. Still she got a demi-goddess status. There were only very few people in this country who could get a letter addressed like ‘name and India’. Rabindranath Tagore was one, and so was Mahatma Gandhi. Those were the pre-mediatized days. But in 1980s too, India still struggling inside the national(ist) economy, P.T.Usha became another person who could get a letter addressed to her like ‘P.T.Usha, India’. It is interesting that we reward our sports people, when they really make the country proud with their victories, we make them police officers. P.T.Usha, Shainy Wilson, M.D.Valsamma and so many athletes had become police officers. Mary Kom too became a sub-inspector initially as she refused to accept a constable’s job after her World Championship victory almost ten years back. She was later offered a sub-inspector’s post which she accepted. Today, she is the Superintendent of Police (rank-sports) in Manipur. Mary Kom writes how she has been initially refused the Rajiv Khel Ratna Award as one of the jury members, the one and only Milkha Singh showed his ignorance by saying that he did not know what this Kom woman played in the field of sports. The intervention of the then sports minister, M.S.Gill finally assured her the deserving award.

Mary Kom’s story is fascinating. Born in 1982 to a landless farmer, whose forefathers were once the kings of the particular landholding where he worked as a labourer, Mary Kom had a very tough childhood. But the toughest of education, the lessons of developing stamina and endurance that nature provided her was zen like. She ran a few kilometres to the school every day, she went to cut trees in the nearby woods, she carried heavy weights from the farm to home. And when she put these daily labours together it became her exercise even without knowing she was preparing herself for a big challenge. Initially she did not know which sports genre she should consider as her specialisation. She was good at athletics; she hoped that one day she would get a job in sports quota and she would provide her parents with a good life. They were toiling day and night to make her dream come true. Going to Imphal to train at the Sport Authority of India was her first introduction to the larger world of sports. Kind hearted boxers who once represented India in many events helped her to learn the techniques. She realized the politics of the game and the game of politics while at SAI. She honed up her skills and started appearing in the state level tournaments and then national level tournaments.

One may find a faint similarity between the story of the character portrayed by Hilary Swank in Clint Eastwood’s ‘Million Dollar Baby’ and that of Mary Kom. Perhaps the story of the underdogs is similar anywhere in the world; it could be Rocky, Hurricane Porter or a Raging Bull. It could be even the story of Evander Hollyfield and Mike Tyson or further back, that of Mohammed Ali. Boxers come from tough backgrounds; initially they fight with nature then with their ring time opponents. In fact, they do not fight with nature. They learn the lessons from nature. Had they been fighting nature they would have become just police constables. They flow with nature and realize the inner and outer strength of their lives and then they achieve what they want to achieve in their lives. Some get trapped. Mary Kom survived the traps by playing her game; she refused to take even the basic medicines for cough and cold out of the fear that she might get tested positive in narcotic tests. She was careful and she knew the traps of being in a competitive sport. Mary Kom’s life as a sports person was not smooth sailing. She had to face all the odds, even the jealous of her ring mates. But she survived because she had to survive for her parents, for her Kom community that had stood with her all the time, for her Manipur and above all for her India.

Marriages are made in heaven and human beings make it hell. The adage is beautiful. But for many sports people, especially for women, marriage is a death knell to their career. In Chak De India, you must remember how the forward player Preeti Sabarwal who is in love with one of the top cricket players in the Indian squad, decides to break up her engagement with him only because he wants her to be homebound after their marriage. In one of the most memorable moments in the movie, Chautala passes a ball to Sabarwal and tells her, ‘Dikhao woh launde ko’ (Show that guy (what you have)) and Sabarwal hits the goal. It is not just a goal, but an assertion of her individuality. Mary Kom found the right guy in Onler. He is a Kom who was a student in Delhi pursuing law studies and was looking after the welfare of Manipuri students. He happened to be a passport carrier for Mary Kom while she was training in Hisar, Haryana. Their friendship grew and finally they got married. The story has the material to be another ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’ (that is why Mary Kom’s life is going to be a bio-pic soon, with a perfect miscast in Priyanka Chopra). She delivered a twins through Caesarean section in 2006. After two years, she got her form back with severe training and won a few medals both in national and international events. Post Olympics victory, she delivered one more child. But she has not yet hung her gloves. She is preparing for the next Olympics. In the meanwhile, she with the help of her husband, who has stood with her throughout by almost becoming a ‘house husband’, has started a boxing academy in Imphal where she trains kids from underprivileged sections of the society to become world boxing champions. Besides, she even walks the ramps in fashion shows and attends start events, which adds to her income to run the boxing academy. A girl once used to look at herself as if she were an ugly duckling today shares photo ops with super stars. Once Onler commented, if they spend these many hours on make-up, anybody could look beautiful. But he said it with a great pride.

Unbreakable is a book designed for a special purpose, I believe. This book is inspirational and self-help at the same time. Besides being the autobiography of Mary Kom, this book also prepares the readers to see the forthcoming bio-pic in perspective and context, though the book carefully avoids any mention about the impending movie. Mary Kom writes about her life and also writes about her future plans. She tells her students that if she could then they also could. She indirectly tells the readers, if she could then the readers also could. But one has to have a vision, a mission and enough conviction to pursue it. Also, achieving something is not everything. The show must go one and the role of the victor does not end with a victory. The fruits of it have to be distributed. One has to give it back to society; if possible selflessly. Mary Kom’s life tells us this story and it is a great reading material. That’s why, in a flight delayed by an hour, I could finish reading all those 155 pages. Thank you Mary Kom.