I can never say which is more poignant: the sun breaking into colours from the darkness of the night sea, or the bright sun sinking over the darkening horizon. When I was there in the east coast each day was a miracle. Each day began with the birth of new light, like a new and newer horizon being discovered. Like any eager soul who has without regret or remorse, un-reluctantly left the warmth of the bed and sought the sea shore in the early dawn in the east coast I too have known the touch of the sun. Pondicherry was for me like a warm tin-can placed squarely under the glowing sun; all it does is to go from warm to extreme hot and then rework from where it left off throughout the year. The birth of the sun was the beginning of a blistering hot day the year around. But the sweetness and silence of a glorious sun emerging from the deeps of the sea was always a sight that brought tears from the deeps of myself. I recall murmuring to myself: hiranmayena patrena, satyasyapihitam mukham/ tat tvam pushann apavrinu, satya-dharmaya drishtaye | (The face of truth is covered with a golden disc. O Pushan, Sun, unveil it so I who love the truth may behold it!)
There is certainly light behind light behind light. What blinds us at the beginning need not be the true light. Do I search within myself again and again?
The Mother of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, in one of her conversations, speaks about the idea of beauty thus:
. ..At first your sense of beauty is instinctive, impulsive, infrarational, lacking light, wanting reason, simply without any true understanding, and so, because the origin of the aesthetic sense is infrarational, it is understood, one always says this: “There’s no disputing tastes and colours.” You know, there are all kinds of popular proverbs which say that the appreciation of the beautiful is not a matter of reasoning, everyone likes a particular thing he doesn’t know why, he takes pleasure in looking at a thing, and this pleasure cannot be discussed.
(WRITINGS BY THE MOTHER, Aesthetic consciousness, 1 June 1955)
One just looks upon sun rising like this with awe like a child, infrarational. It is full of mystery full of meaning. Although at the back of our rational mind we “know” that it is the earth that goes round the sun and not the other way round. But like the wise scientist Galileo Galilei we also murmur to ourselves: nevertheless it moves! It moves alright it “moves” our minds too!
But the mind of man is never satiated: the artist and poet are condemned to wander forth forever never tied to one place or time. As I left Pondicherry the sun had begun its descent. Of course it resurfaces even in the west coast. From among the mountain ranges I see the quiet dawn breaking free once again. Now when the sun goes down I see the magnificence of another secret. There is no light without darkness as there is no darkness without light.
Does the intellect realise this or does the heart feel it? What can we say after the touch of God in the glorious dawn? Sri Aurobindo has written:
[…] Whoever has once felt the glory of God within him can never again believe that the intellect is supreme. There is a higher voice, there is a more unfailing oracle. It is in the heart where God resides. He works through the brain, but the brain is only one of His instruments. Whatever the brain may plan, the heart knows first and whoever can go beyond the brain to the heart, will hear the voice of the Eternal.
(Sri Aurobindo on the Glory of God in Man, January 1, 1908)
To feel at one with the universe is to touch the deeper self of all being. This is a realization that just dawns on one or need I write “in “one? Have I felt that the glory of the dawn is profounder or more poignant than the serenity of the sun setting over the Arabian sea? What can I say?
There is no secret in life: everything is free for the taking, open and approachable. As one walks towards the rising sun one feels this truth in one’s veins. It is the similar state of being one arrives at as one walks toward the setting sun. East is East and West is West. There is little difference.
The sun is a miracle. Dawn. Silent and serene. Evening. Silent and serene. We are such tiny creatures that we cling to the edge of all being and refuse to let go. The night is broken and dawn is free. The day is ended and the sun is set. Our heart is hushed. Silenced. If we are willing to turn inwards our hearts will learn to sense much more that what our brains later reason with us. Pondicherry or Trivandrum.
In this west coast I feel the rush of the centuries as the sun disappears round the bend in the silent horizon. It is with a suddenness that my heart is overtaken by the sweeping sadness of emptiness. Have I lost the sun? Which is more poignant? The sun breaking into colours from the darkness of the night sea, or the bright sun sinking over the darkening horizon? Do I know?
This is the empty nest syndrome they speak about. When the children have grown up and left for the wide world seeking spaces for themselves the parents who stay at home feel the pang. My father used to say, I recall: “Leave the front door always open!” Now I know. The sun rise and sun set are never separate. The question that remains large is just this: Is it the same sun that comes round? Silence and solitude are deep within the seeking self. To touch silence is to awaken the whir of the reasoning mind. To realize solitude is to awaken the ever questing mind. The poet and artist are condemned to wander in silence and solitude. Only the sun follows him.
Murali Sivaramakrishnan[Professor of English at Pondicherry University, India. He is also a poet and painter. His recent publication includes the poetry book Silversfish. E-mail: <email@example.com>
It had rained so heavily last night. But now the dawn has brought so
much soft light on the wet boughs and silken flowers. Everything appears
fresh and clean. The sky bears an amazing touch of blue. From where
I sit on the low balcony of my house I can see right up to the end of the
street where it turns sharply to the left and right hiding beyond the heavy
laden trees. Now there is a shower of insects. There are termites all over
the place. Crows, mynas, drongos and magpie robins are dashing in and
out of the strange volcano-like eruptions from the ground. Millions and
millions of tiny winged creatures zoom about only to be devoured in hundreds
by these birds and other little lizards and hairy mongooses which
join them. This is certainly a protein rich repast for them. Nature is so
strange. Each one thrives on the other. Life is one long unending chain.
And yet the survival of each species is ensured through different means.
The termites might be food for the birds but their sheer numbers makes
them outlive their predators. It is not the time span or specific niche in the
food chain that ensures this, for after all in nature time means different
stuff for different species.
They say that the Mayfly has the shortest life span of all living creatures.
It lives barely for one day. And within this short life circuit the entire
drama of birth, growing up, reproduction and the ensurance of the species
and death comes full circle. Some moths and butterflies live a little longer
and dragon flies live up to a week. While on the other hand, the longevity
of elephants and tortoises takes them close to a century and beyond
sometimes. All life forms on earth have their own intrinsic space and time,
and one significant point we have to bear in mind is that they are there
for themselves and they play a significant role in the biosphere and ecosphere.
We can say they have intrinsic significance which means they have
essential rights to exist independently of what we humans might consider
their worth. Of course we human beings have the definite capacity to decide
their fate and destiny because of our might and forceful histories. We
have become the dominant species on earth the masters of all our universe
(until we encounter such superior alien creatures in other planets or stars
which is a future possibility). But for the present we humans have absolute
right of control over all of this planet earth, this third rock from the sun.
I once heard someone state over the television that Americans have
such superior weapons nowadays that they can destroy the entire earth
nine times! This immediately made me wonder how such a threat is feasible!
Simply because once the earth is destroyed there would not be another
to destroy a second time let alone till the ninth! But the threat is obviously
a bit exaggerated for the sake of its magnitude! Of course humans do have
the power to annihilate all life forms including ourselves. This is certainly
a potential threat to all nature.
But nature thrives through creation and destruction. Even the giant
reptiles of the Jurassic age had to face extinction through the great ice age.
Nevertheless nature did find a continuity in ensuring the success of life by
permitting new and newer life forms to germinate even after such a massive
catastrophe. It is said that even after a horrendous chemical warfare
cockroaches can survive to live another day! Perhaps they have evolved
their own biological adaptations after encountering repeated attacks from
us humans inventing and reinventing several chemical and biochemical
atomisers and such stuff to eradicate what we hold as pests from our domestic
spheres! Life does find new ways!
We humans are indeed great consumers. We gorge on our planet. And
down the centuries as we read in our history books we have been exploring
and conquering new territories inside our earth as well as on the surface
and even above our earth. We have created cultures and civilizations,
languages and technologies that have helped us spread all over the globe.
There is virtually no place on earth which has not felt the shadow of a
human being! Our great creativity and adaptability has ensured our survival and success. There is little doubt that us humans are the sole owners
of this mass of rock from the sun. We might defend ourselves by saying
that we have every right to ensure our own survival because we are the
dominant species on earth. We can command the fate of all else. And now,
even if we do produce a mass of garbage which might pollute our earth and
water and air around us we can eventually find new scientific means to
get rid of all that. There are many among us who would strongly advocate
for human beings alone as the apex creations of god – after all we are the
direct decedents of god – he or she produced us in their own image (this is
what our religions would teach us).
This I have heard: humans are not the only creatures who leave debris
behind. Large herds of wandering elephants pull down and destroy
innumerable trees, thorny shrubs and bushes. Aren’t they then culprits of
destruction of nature and habitat? With the discovery of fire human tribes
have torched and scorched miles and miles of bush and terrain down the
history. So then, why only blame our present day generation solely for habitat
Having said that, we come to realise that the axe and the fire have laid
waste miles and miles of living land through countless generation. But the
point is simply that now we have reached such a pass that we do not have
any more chance: we have reached a cul de sac in our history and the history
of our planet. We have the first wake up call.
We have built up our civilizations and cultures with us humans as the
centre of it all. When we put our interests in front of everything such a
view is called anthropocentricism – human centred world views. Little do
we recognise as the intrinsic rights of all other non-human stuff to exist.
But nature as we have come to realise through all our learning and pursuit
of science, is something that cherishes what is called biodiversity. There
are innumerable living and non-living things that are besides the human
existence and they too have a need and necessity to exist side by side. In
fact it is through the continued preservation of this vibrant harmonious
web of life that we can also aid in our own survival. Ecology teaches us
that everything in our universe is interlinked with every other thing else.
We break one and it makes a dent in all others as well. When each animal,
each bird, each amphibian, each insect is deprived of its survival space – its
biological habitat – we also are making dents in the other interconnected
chains. We are locked in with everything else that exists. Some we can see
and make out, others are invisible to us but nevertheless exist. We have
so little right to assert our own right over everything else. But yet, this is
exactly what we have been trying to do so far. Our history, or rather our
environmental history is so full of our own footprints and finger prints.
We are the culprits.
Our second wake-up call is one that tells us our earth is not a garbage
dump! All the nations of the world produce waste and they are of several
levels from chemical to bio-chemical to nuclear waste. What do we normally
do when we are left with some waste? We simply dispose of it over
our wall; if it is in our neighbour’s yard it is safe beyond our sight. Now that
we have come to realise that all of this is our home where shall we dump
our waste? Is there space beyond stars? Can we find a distant galaxy where
we can heap all our waste?
These are not mere lists of facts or a fanciful array of fantasies – but
his could be a clarion call to stay awake and recognise our responsibilities.
We should not reach out for the snooze button
There has been no time in our histories as in the present when our
wake-up call has been so persistent. It is screeching. We have so polluted
our earth, our waters – including fresh water lakes, rivers and the seas –
and our air. We have to change our ways of living. Before that we need to
wake ourselves up. Do we need to wait till the last and final call has to go?
Was it indeed Mahatma Gandhi who said that we have not just inherited
the earth from our forefathers but simply borrowed it from our children!
My reverie is rudely broken by the door-bell. Someone is at the door.
I need to go and get the front door. The sunlight outside has become warmer
and shadows have started to shrink. The sun is moving beyond the tree
line up into the blue skies. The termite volcano appears to have subsided.
The crows have already left. Satiated no doubt with their fill of sumptuous
protein-rich meal. Only a couple of stray mynas still hang about pecking
at this and that. A couple of squirrels dash in and out of the bushes. Probably
the late comers. It dawns on me suddenly that I have left the lights on
inside my rooms. It is imperative that I conserve whatever is left, including
our electricity. I definitely do not want that doorbell to be the third and
final wake-up call. I am up and about in no time!
Revista rile, joão pessoa-pb, v. 1, n. 1, p. 289-292, jan – jun 2018
The forest closed in all around us as the sun was infringing the western-ghats in a halo of orange and red. And it was not just another evening for the four of us who treaded softly over the drying cluster of leaves that carpeted the jungle floor: it was so eventful. The guide who led us all the way here was suddenly waving excitedly for us to troop over—he was pointing out something up in a broad leaved tree. I looked and could barely make out the bird’s shape in the evening glow. It was the Sri Lanka Bay Owl. The excitement was visible on all four of us and our guide was just as equally excited. He was gesturing like a magician and practically dancing in his glee. It was a moment to freeze for all eternity. We were on a forest track that branched off Urulan Thanni near the well known Thattekad Bird Sanctuary. Earlier in the day Usha and I had driven up from our home in Trivandrum. This was strangely enough my first visit to this famed part of the world—a haven for all bird lovers.
Apparently it is impossible to continue to exist without righteous indignation at the present. There are more than enough reasons to exercise your anger. In fact, it is becoming more and more difficult to continue to contain ones anger. Everyday debilitating news brings us close and closer towards breaking our own vows of resistance and restraint at social indifference and rampant callousness. This one takes the cake: A man waited too long for an ambulance to transport his wife’s body, and finally gave up. He had to wrap the body in a bed sheet and carry it slung over his shoulder in plain day light over the street! In this country where each undeserving political autocrat is given undue security from God knows what and has a whole retinue of cars and jeeps to accompany him or her wherever they go it has come to such a state that an ordinary citizen cannot avail of an ambulance to shift a dead body! Cry my beloved country! My indignation swells over and so would yours my dear reader I am sure in sheer helplessness.
I am reminded of a forgotten chapter in my own life. I had just about taken up a job as a Lecturer in a college in Kerala. My parents and my kid sister were then in Trivandrum. Those good old days did not have instant connectivity and communication facilities like the present, one had to depend on the now-old fashioned landlines to get some sort of connectivity outside, and that too after waiting for hours on end to get the operator to connect your call across districts through their trunk facility.
But of course one would write long letters with the aid of Indian posts and Telegraphs. However once it happened that I rushed home for no obvious reason only to find to my dismay the doors all locked and lights turned off. I enquired with our neighbours and got to know that my father had suddenly taken ill and my sister and mother had rushed him to the nearest hospital. Shouldering my bag I retraced my way to the hospital and ran from pillar to post to locate my family. Finally when I did find them my father was in a dangerous situation, and beside him crouched my mother and sister helplessly. I don’t distinctly recall my mental state but I dashed over to the doctor who was kind enough to let me know that the patient was in a critical coma and was in urgent need of higher specialised medical attention. He coolly told me to shift him to another bigger hospital without delay! To my indignation he also let me know that this had to be done within no less than six hours! I was at a colossal loss. I just didn’t know what to do. Somehow I managed to put on a brave face for the sake of not upsetting my mother and sister and withdrew to the porch in search of an ambulance. As was to be expected none was available just then and I had to resort to a way side shop and beg the shopkeeper for the use of his land phone to call nearby hospitals. I succeeded eventually to trace a driver who was condescending enough to bring his ambulance over within an hour or so. I had never felt the ticking of the seconds and the minutes so loud as then when I stood out in the rain all alone in a strange evening waiting for a strange ambulance to deliver my father to another hospital! Gradually the rain cleared or I thought it had cleared when they lugged him on to the backseat of a decrepit van. The three of us crowded round my father in the dingy space while the van tossed and tottered and tooted its way meandering through busy streets and byways. And finally we were in front of a super-speciality hospital. Some helping hands came aboard and rolled the patient inward. We got off to follow suit when the van driver sauntered over to me and demanded his fee: Rs 90/-. I was flabbergasted. This might appear to be a paltry sum of money for many youngsters these days, but back in those days this indeed was a good deal. I searched all my pockets and drew close to forty. But that won’t do. I didn’t know where to turn or what to do. I took off my watch and handed it over to the exasperated driver! But he was a good soul deep within. He handed it back to me and said: please get me the money as quickly as possible. Now you run after you father and get him all the medical help needed!
I was left holding the watch and for a long minute didn’t know what I was to do. But then I looked at the watch once again and realised how fast time was ticking. There was barely an hour or so left as per the first doctor’s instructions. I dashed in with the crowd and caught up with the stretcher bearing the patient. We were extremely fortunate to run into many medical practitioners who knew us as family friends and their timely help saved my father.
Come to think of it, I was extremely fortunate—there were indeed helping hands that were wilfully extended all through my life in times of dire need. But the situation of the unfortunate man I mentioned at the beginning still turns my insides. Where have we gone wrong as a community? What has happened to our human selves?
Among his favourite poems that my father used to recite was this one Only a Soldier by Agnes Macdonnell: see http://cambridge.dlconsulting.com/cgi-bin/cambridge?a=d&d=Chronicle18800529-01.2.4#
Unarmed and unattended’ walks the Czar’
Through Moscow’s busy street’ one winter’s day.
The crowd uncover as his face’ they see:
“God greet the Czar!” they say.
Along his path there moved a funeral,
Grave spectacle of poverty and woe –
A wretched sledge, dragged by one weary man
Slowly across the snow.
And on the sledge, blown by the winter wind,
Lay a poor coffin, very rude and bare;
And he who drew it bent before his load
With dull and sullen air.
The Emperor stopped and beckoned to the man:
“Who is it thou bearest to the grave?” he said.
“Only a soldier, sire!” the short reply;
“Only a soldier, dead.”
“Only a soldier!” musing, said the Czar:
“Only a Russian, who was poor and brave.
Move on, I follow. Such’ a one goes not
Unhonored to his grave.”
He bent his head and silent raised his cap;
The Czar of all the Russians, pacing slow,
Followed the coffin as again it went
Slowly across the snow.
The passers of the street, all wondering,
Looked on that sight, then followed silently;
Peasant and prince, and artisans and clerk,
All in one company.
Still as they went, the crowd grew ever more,
Till thousands stood around the friendless grave,
Led by that princely heart, who, royal, true,
Honoured the poor and brave.
This might be read by the rabid post-colonialists that we are as the very embodiment of hegemonial power structure, or even how power is maintained by such devious measures as the fostering medieval values of loyalty and chivalry which lead to heroism. But if one were to read some vestiges of human value into it irrespective of class and cunning, one can still see this short poem as engendering what is dreadfully lacking amidst us these days. A poor man’s dead body is casually being lugged across the street, and the Tzar espies this:
The Emperor stopped and beckoned to the man:
“Who is it thou bearest to the grave?” he said.
“Only a soldier, sire!” the short reply;
“Only a soldier, dead.”
Move on, I’ll follow, and so saying the Emperor of Russia followed suit. Eventually there are thousands: Till thousands stood around the friendless grave, paying homage to the departed. It did not take long for the Tzar to recognise the significance of this ordinary soldier who is not to be thus dismissed. Each and every human soul requires to be honoured. How can we just turn our heads at the sight of another’s grief? When did we become as callous as to disregard the cries of another human? Sartre has written somewhere: “…all our philosophies fade into meaningless gibberish at the hungry cry of a third world child!” Forgive the discriminatory terminology (the i/thou, we/they, first/third binaries implied in the French philosopher’s statement) and let’s perceive the essential truth behind the observation. Aren’t we human’s still? Or has the machine entered our soul?
The image of the wretched man with the corpse of his wife flung over his shoulder meandering the streets uncared for, overlooked and disregarded by the world that passes this sight by mercilessly is one that is going to haunt a whole generation no doubt. Is he just another soldier battling the unjust elements in a lost world bereft of humanity?
As I said earlier there are indeed several reasons why the sensitive intellectual cannot hold his/her own peace. Life these days is not without its own share of horrors and dreadfulness. “The horror, the horror!” This phrase occurs in Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness. Many have discussed the meaning of this in terms of the horrendous experiences that Mr Kurtz undergoes in the wake of colonialism and imperialism in deep Africa; this has also been linked to the profound state of the protagonist’s sanity that as in a process of onion peeling just comes off layer after layer! But perhaps taken out of context this could fit quite well with our own present day situation. The horror the horror!
One should not use the name of God mechanically and superficially without the feeling of devotion.
Of late media is rife with information regarding public demonstrations of kissing couples and their multitudinous onlookers. There is also so much in the news about several young men and women (?) who have also taken upon themselves the role of moral policing. As urban centres are the hub of these intense activities there has also been instances of skirmishes and state interventions. As with everything else much might be said on both sides; nevertheless the issue is one that needs to be taken seriously.
There are several factors at work here. To begin with, the visual media is so ubiquitous these days and the young people behind and off the camera are on a rush to feed the dragon always and all times. Thrillers like kissing wars are the right type for these to latch on for hours together. There are also enough and more spectators who switch on their televisions for these sort of sensational news: they are willing to watch and wait for equally long hours. After all ticklers like these make life worth living. There is this other factor of small-time hatchers—people who are otherwise-talented and who might be involved in many other fields like the arts or sports. They find this sort of arenas the right kinds to latch on to and swing on to the bandwagon: automatically the limelight falls on them. Take any issue related to the environment, or violence against women, we are sure to find such barbs and hatchers who latch on for dear life and rise with the tide of popular media hypes. After some days they are hardly there in the field, simply because they have made enough notoriety to get by in their chosen fields of expertise by then.
The most significant factors involved in the kissing wars are of course the demonstrations and demonstrators themselves along with the moral police who oppose them. Public demonstrations are of course intended to raise public awareness with regard to issues of significance. The Mahatma had resorted to soul-force or satyagraha as one genuine mode of resistance and protest. The kissers of the present have by all means a genuine reason to protest: they are demonstrating for raising mass- awareness of what we have as a civil society sidelined and repressed. It is significant that several young men and women have come to the open to protest and demonstrate against the slow closing of the civil mind. We need to wake up and recoup our society and safeguard its health and well-being. This of course needs to be done on a war footing, no doubt. They have resorted to demonstrate by making a public event of kissing. What is there if two willing people get to embrace and kiss in public? Why should it cause offence to the others? And anyway why should the other get involved? Why not learn to turn a blind eye as we often do when we see two animals coupling in public? Is a public kiss that offending? Why this dramatic emergence of a Hanuman Sena all of a sudden? Our social mores are so stilted and ossified that there is hardly any sensitivity when genuine issues crop up. We have been repressed into subhuman beings never to respond to those subtle issues: we have been taught to turn a blind eye to all and everything except ourselves. And now all of a sudden our moral insides are churning when two people embrace and kiss. But then, we need to pause a little here and reconsider the issue a little more in depth.
Anthropology and History tells us that human beings have evolved considerably (or that’s what we are given to think) from the level of mere animals (not meant to demean the animals in any way!) and in this process developed a social system and a civil society (perhaps, several systems and several societies at the same time) which actually has imposed several self-imposed or hegemonial restraints on our behavior with ourselves and in relationship with the other. In many ways we are not simple biological entities existing as mere life forms, growing, breeding and dying. We have constructed innumerable but invisible complex structures all about us which control and manipulate us: sometimes we are conscious of these but mostly we are unconscious of these factors. Making love as we understand in the present in civil terms is a private affair. In sociological terms love and sex are definitely separate factors and could exist as mutually exclusive categories. There are of course innumerable dimensions to sex and love. Nevertheless, sex or its “higher evolved” version of love is something which we as civil and social beings have accepted as a private affair. Violators of girls and women might resort to any level of physical abuse seeking gratification by any and all means: there is hardly any point in theorizing these to such inhuman beings; their acts need to be condemned and such offenders severely punished. But to make what is a private affair as a token of demonstration may not be quite right. What happens when two people kiss is certainly a private affair, but it is often held that kissing is an act of sealing genuine love and relationship. Young people certainly would recognize the thrill attached to a kiss, those furtive glances and that tender touch. To make of that a mere tool for display and protest might be taking things a little too far. As they say, streaking or display of nudity in public also would a little later appear to be a fair play in this direction. Just imagine the simplicity and prowess of a Bahubali or an AkkaMahadevi who shed all clothing in the face of a society that was built on external trappings and seeped in self-delusions. Theirs was a mode of subversion that was self-inflicted in order to inculcate a different set of values. If the kissing demonstrators had wanted they could certainly have chosen a different path or a different mode of public protest rather than resorting to a genuine and intimate affair like kissing and turning it into a public event. They are perhaps doing a gross injustice to the sacred art of loving. Have we suddenly landed in a system where the very meaning of sacred has eroded away? Don’t we hold anything, not even love as sacred? Now, this definitely wasnot the reason why those self-styled protectors of social values took to the streets to harass the demonstrators. They were on the other hand, only mere pawns revealing the larger process at work in our repressive culture—that of sidelining genuine issues and harping ceaselessly on the trivial.
Now how could the self-styled moral police call themselves Hanuman Sena? What has that eternal brahmachari got to do with these issues? In the Ramayana and elsewhere Hanuman is portrayed as a monkey who is extremely chaste and wise. Even at their first meeting Rama remarks on his clear sightedness and the clarity of speech. The Vayu Putra whom every genuine devotee is used to meditate on in his or her hearts is a sacred soul extremely devout and intensely benevolent. After all even his physical prowess needs to be evoked and incited by external agencies before they manifest through him. To invoke such a sacred name in a putrid war of moral impositions is certainly to cast dishonor on that noble soul. Erudite scholars of religion and philosophy have reminded us time and again that the god one worships externally is a projection of one’s own ambition and desire.Bhagavan Ramana has cautioned us that: One should not use the name of God mechanically and superficially without the feeling of devotion.
If those noble souls who parade themselves as self-styled moral protectors of society hold any faith or belief in their insides they have little business to drag the name of a unique soul into the public sphere. To quote Nietzsche, where the rabble also drinks all waters are impure! Do we have any right to such acts of violence against all that we hold as good, true, and beautiful? And anyway who stays long enough in the highways of profound reflection inquiring into the deeper significance of religion and spirituality?
Even if the kissers were simply allowed to show their act of protest everything would have gone fairly unnoticed even, because our present society is fed day to day with new sensational news that we have forfeited our memories. Alas! Our self-styled arch defenders of a public morality have to take arms against such offenders who tickle their sexual energies, and our voyeuristic society thrives on such traumatic sado-masochistic sexuality. The visual media is our new eye and heart. Whither is sped the inner eye?
Dr. Murali Sivaramakrishnanis Professor and former Chair of the Department of English, Pondicherry University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This copy of The Book of Indian Birds was presented to me by Prof K K Neelakantan, the doyen of Ornithologists in Kerala, in appreciation of my work in connection with wildlife activities in the mid seventies. I still cherish this copy because the legendary Salim Ali himself signed it. We were assembled at the office of the Chief Conservator of Forests, Kerala. I recall vividly the animated conversations we had with him and later my walking alongside him discussing birds and wildlife. Those were wonderful days. A page from those wonder years…
If there is one major aspect of writing the self then it is located between seeking independence and experiencing interdependence . The entire history of Anglo-American Modernism has been the formulation of the work of art and literature as an autotelic object, or an independent being initself , quite distinct from the interdependency that constitutes raw life. Writers like James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Marcel Proust desired independence from all and everything — including culture, family, and language — and the great illusion of the irreplaceable uniqueness of the individual — one of Europe’s finest illusions — blossomed forth. The aesthetic of the Modern was conceived in such a desire to be independent. Nevertheless in the contexts of writing that has changed over the years, multicultural issues and pluralistic perceptions in the fast lane of life in the present have altered the concerns of the evolving narrative self as fully evidenced in Gish Jen’s exploration of her own writing and the cultural phenomenon of literature in America. Gish Jen is a writer living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is the author of four novels including the acclaimed Typical American andWorld and Town .
Gish Jen’s Tiger Writing: Art, Culture, and the Interdependent Self , is a three-part lecture she delivered as part of the Massey Lecture series in Harvard. The forum obviously offered for this second generation Chinese writer in English a specific reason to delve into herself and close-examine her own cultural and literary situation. The book is thus a testament and a manifesto for interrogating the closure of the self in the context of the West and the cultural necessity of opening up to the larger issues of interdependency in a globalising present.
In his essay Why I Write , George Orwell confidently gave “four great motives for writing” that he feels exists in every writer. The first of these is sheer egotism — to be talked about, to be remembered after death etc. The second is aesthetic enthusiasm — an investment “in the impact of one sound over another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story.” Then there is historical impulse — the “desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.” And finally, political purpose — a “desire to push the world in a certain direction,” which he finds in every person. For Gish Jen there is another motive: the fascination with the western narrative per se . She discovers that the novel is fundamentally a western form, and her fascination with the classics of modernist writing she had encountered even from her childhood helped her locate the narrative strands as drifting toward a sort of narcissistic solipsism, as quite distinct from her own Chinese roots that she soon identified.
Tiger Writing is a remarkable achievement on account of its sobriety and unique perception of difference between what Gish Jen considers as the West and Asian narratives. The novel needs to be located within the ambit of anguish and joy and not constrained in terms of a narrow self-exploration as she desires.
Growing up in America as the second daughter of a Chinese immigrant Engineer, Gish Jen was well exposed to the wealth of classical modernist writing. Eventually with her discerning critical eye she was able to discriminate the appalling casualness of pronouncements like Lionel Trilling’s about how Thomas Mann “said that all his work could be understood as an effort to free himself from the middle class, and this of course, will serve to describe the chief intention of all modern literature.” With a characteristic Chinese clarity recalling Confucian insight, she dismisses this as ever being true of all times despite the special evocation of the radical political agenda in both Mann and Trilling.
Further there is a distinction in the interior exploration of Mann and Kafka and eventually Milan Kundera as she discovers. Gish Jen cites Kundera: “For Proust, a man’s interior universe comprises a miracle, an infinity that never ceases to amaze us. But that is not what amazes Kafka.” It is the involvement with history that discriminates the Kafkaesque.
Gish Jen’s thesis is that there is a distinct trait to individualism in the aesthetic of the West, while its Asian counterpart is one that liberates the self from its own mundane-ness through its involvement with the everyday and the rest. Individualism intensifies from the East to West, as pointed out by Richard Nisbett, she says.
In the end, what is ultimately required is an integration of the individualist and the interdependentvisions — “a balance of independence and interdependence, I might say today.” “We need both interdependent and the independent self. But how interdependent of me to see them as two poles of human experience that cannot be disengaged!”
Gish Jen, we must remember, is a second generation Chinese American western writer — and she thinks critically and thinks at times in terms of even us and them . However her sensitivity to her own roots and the transparency with which she focuses on these textures is what makes Tiger Writingremarkably interesting.
The book as we have it now is divided into three sections, and the first section is entirely devoted to her father’s autobiography which he wrote when he was 85. Here the focus is entirely on non-episodic experiences and what we could term as personal history. The items described are external objects and the narrative reads like a map of external experience.
The second section is an exploration of art, culture and the self in western especially white middle class intellectual tradition. The third is suitably entitled “What Comes of All That”, and is a critical exploration of the integration of interdependence and independence. Gish Jen cites John Updike’s use of a “fervent relationship with the world” as a critical touchstone, Updike “affirming with this a nose-pressed-to-the-glass-ness that seemed to me the opposite of nose-pressed-to-the-mirror-ness .”
In conclusion the author resorts to an observation from Czeslaw Milosz on poetry which could be true for fiction as well and which lends the title to this book:
In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent;
A thing brought forth that
we didn’t know we had in us,
So we blink our eyes, as if a tiger had sprung out
And stood in the light, las ing his tail.
This element of surprise and discovery that takes place in a work of art that leaps straight at both the reader and the writer is in the end that which matters, and Gish Jen’s translucency as a novelist with an astute critical sense is that which leads us through the pages of this extremely interesting narrative. Tiger Writing is thus at once a text of critical exploration and a manifesto.
( Murali Sivaramakrishnan teaches English at the Pondicherry Central University )
The scene is the cricket match between India and the West Indies during the recent WorldCup. Sachin Tendulkar is batting. He has barely faced a few balls when one races through his arm-pad and lands in the wicket keeper’s gloves. There is no appeal—neither from the bowler nor from the wicket keeper. But Tendulkar is walking toward the pavilion. The players are stumped! And so are the million audiences over the world! Tendulkar realized perhaps that the ball had indeed grazed his forearm and so without waiting for the umpire’s decision he retired. While in the commentary box the erstwhile icons of Indian Cricket Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Sastri debated the issues and virtues of “walking” the play resumed.
Now, we in the present appear to have forgotten the fact that cricket is a game to be played with the sportsman spirit it calls for. In all fairness Tendulkar had demonstrated it albeit the fact that he was playing for a country and that there are enormous amounts of money involved in the whole process. After all, the entire industry of Indian cricket and the business of the World Cup with its whole rigmarole of mega crowds, hoardings, televisions and their ubiquitous commercials, big business offers and betting and so on, revolves round the strategic issue of big money. How could anyone deny that? The spirit of play may be one thing, but the spirit that runs the whole thing is another. In this context what has playing fair and square got to do with the game?
And what is game? What is play? What is fair and square in the field and off the field? All games we must recognize are essentially sport, which entails entertainment, recreation, and exercise primarily. There is a whole history of human sports that would trace its evolution from the primordial ritual to the contemporary scenario of big Capitalist business. There is also the implied connection with war and destruction and domination: all contemporary games at the international level (and even at its minor levels) are perhaps symbolic versions of battles and wars—a mockery of the all consuming, vindictive passions of the human being!
Game, Sports, Play—almost synonymous, but each are descriptive of different issues. Game as it is usually understood, is something innocuous, non-violent, played out for the sheer pleasure of it all, and for the most enjoyable and involving little or no disastrous physical violence. It has a beginning, middle and an end—there is a marked difference between the before and after in terms of the protagonists as well as the spectators; above all there is entertainment and enjoyment for all in a game. Sports I would categorize in the similar manner as one that involves outdoor, physical activities, for the most. Entertainment and enjoyment there is, no doubt. There is a game in Sport and there is a sport in game as well. But the point is that all games and sports have their own set of rules which are purely arbitrary, having evolved over the years over cultures and times. In simplistic terms we could even state that all games and sports are products of sets of rules—they keep varying of course, but their visible presence (read umpires, referees, field book etc) and invisible presence (read time, place, action etc) account for the structure of all games and sports. However, the concept of play is something rather loose. It has a structure, no doubt, but this is an ambiguous, amorphous and protean structure, very loose and almost a non-entity, as when children get together and play about.
All three words have conceptual backgrounds; their own socio-political, cultural, economic and historical dimensions too. The proto game-sport-play is of course shrouded in human prehistory. It has necessarily evolved over many centuries. One could trace its graph from ritual to the romance of the Capitalist market economics of the present. However, there are these sets of rules that govern the logic and pattern of the game that is disrupted if not observed in practice. Rules, we recognize are invisible (or visible as the case may be)–threads that govern, condition and control all sports and games. The rules themselves are arbitrary and not nor never absolute, and this is what makes sports and games entertainment. For instance from the long colonial structure of a five day test match (with a rest day in between) how far has cricket come these days! When Kerry Packer invited major players to a fifty-over limited version of the game there was so much hue and cry over the sanctity of the test match structure and its disruption. Nothing sanctified was violated but the limited over cricket game evolved and attracted more viewers and audience. Commerce and market caught on and the television and technology supplemented the game. From there to the twenty-twenty rules and regulations have been altered and amended from time to time: nothing has remained inviolable, everything was open to transformation, change. All it required was convenience, consent and consensus. All rules are subject to change, very much like human history. We play on.
Jacques Derrida the harbinger of deconstruction—a veritable destructive and reconstructive practice of re-reading and reinterpreting interpretations themselves—initiated the whole issue of recognizing the play element in human sciences while delivering a significant address in the mid sixties in the Johns Hopkins University in the US [See Jacques Derrida, “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,” Alan Bass, tr. Writing and Difference (1966), pp. 278-95)]. According to him, human history (read western history of ideas) has been one structured round the idea of centre and periphery. It has been a virtual centre that has potentially ruled, manipulated and conditioned the structured thinking of the human being (read western). The invisibility of a centre that could be transcendentally present within a system maintaining the stability of the system without undergoing any change in itself has been the mainstay of western history of ideas. There have been no doubt many attempts to overthrow or discard this centre but for the most these attempts have been toward replacements rather than any displacements. As Derrida demonstrated, western history of ideas has revolved round such invisible centres. If one were to think of the idea of a god as the centre, one could almost logically close off all doubtful positions—all elements within the circle of the invisible structures are created, organized and maintained by god, and while he/she is at the indispensible centre all else is locked. The various elements within this system cannot bring any change to the centre, while they themselves could be changed. From Derrida’s reading the process of western structural change has been from god as the centre through science and rationality in turn replacing god as the centre. There has been virtually no change in the system even when such transplanting take place. This could perhaps account for the system’s stability. It is however when the element of play enters that a new discourse comes to be created. When the centre remains invisible and unaltered play is possible for all elements within a given structure. But this is playing within the structured rules of the game—playing fair and square. This element of play could be unending if one could imagine a structure without a centre, because then all the elements with and without the system would be constantly in a state of play! This just like a kindergarten class-room without a teacher in the middle! Utter chaos? Sheer confusion? But a recognition of total freedom, no doubt! However, the moment the teacher enters the class-room the system is restored to its harmonious structure.
The implications of Derrida’s concepts can be seen in close examining a totalizing situation where everything is dictatorially controlled and maintained. Human freedom is at stake here. So then, play reintroduces the element of human freedom, the recognition of the very condition of human existence. This is play at its extreme. When all totalizing systems collapse (like the state withering away) then the extreme conditions of entertainment and ecstasy would be revealed in play. We have come very far from the idea of play we started out with. But we are armed with new insights. When Tendulkar walked away from the crease he probably never even dreamed of all these possibilities. He was playing fair and square on the green fields! But he was also making a statement that rules and regulations are invisibly present in the game and this sport is essentially a play that needed to be played out within a structure– an arbitrary system– that is always open-ended. Many new transformations could be padded on to these rules—much could be changed, but for the most there is an implied idea of entertainment and ecstasy within a set of rules at a given time—all players have to adhere to that. Some of course play fair and square, others might wait for the umpires to dismiss them—still others would appeal to the third umpire loaded with his techno-tools and rule-books and strategic calculations. But the point of it all: heroes are made within the set of invisible rules– to play well is sometimes strategically to break the rules, to go beyond the boundaries, but the play within the imaginary rules is sometimes even more magnificent.