Sunday, 23 August 2015

Fabulous Bahubali: Some Musings

Late that I almost always am in watching the 'big name' movies, maybe everything that I thought or felt after watching Bahubali has already been said, contradicted, analysed, deconstructed, etc. But still I feel like sharing a few thoughts that came to me, as and after I watched this mega-film Bahubali.

Given the epic-like character of the film, it only makes sense to speak of a few larger points rather than the nitty-gritty details about this or that of the film. So here are my Big 8 musings on the film:

1. What is most impressive about the film is its grandeur, both of the backdrop as well as of the plot itself. While there is much said about the excellent special effects and the wondrous epic-scale narrative of the film, what I found most appealing in the film was the essential grandness of the symbolism behind the big themes in the film's plot and narrative. That's what make the film what it is, I think.

2. In today's age of commercialism, a film like any other cultural product meant to make money for its producers, is definitely going to use all the tricks that would help make the product more marketable and profitable. But using that against the film is like denying the existence of the gross physical-vital-commerical-consumerist nature of the times we live in. So there's hardly any point in going any further down this flimsy route of criticism.

3. But there is something else. All those who get caught up in the sub-text of one little scene here or there miss out on appreciating the real impact the film is meant to make. All those who like to view and critique everything, including a period drama, using the presently-popular moralistic and politically-correct view of things totally miss out on the eternal essential truths that a film such as Bahubali is trying to represent.

4. The film, being a period drama, represents rather well a certain social-cultural-political-moral-ethical framework which has to be accepted as one piece in the long evolutionary march of human civilization as well as Indian civilization. It is rather silly, if not outrightly flawed, to apply either a modern feminist view (straight-jacketed though it may be) or a modern democratic view of outer individualistic equality (narrowly rigid though it may be) to critique a story -- and the actions or choices or beliefs of its characters -- based in a time much different from today. This not only shows a complete disregard for the evolutionary and upward-spiraling nature of civilizational march, it also shows an utter neglect of the deeper human quest for the timeless in the time-bound and for the universal in the context-bound nature of a good story. That's what all good stories are all about, ultimately -- having the richness both of a context- and time-bound specificity as well as a universal and timeless essentiality. Bahubali is a story like that.

5. What also makes the film a real winner is its ennobling and uplifting quality, which comes through the nobility of its leading characters and the symbolic nature of the events which move them.

6. Looking at these characters and the contexts in which they move only from the outside -- e.g. larger than life, heroic, wars, violence, revenge etc. --  misses the real point, I think. It is what these characters and circumstances typify and represent as the big themes in the ever-evolving yet essential Indian cultural psyche that need to be appreciated if one really wants to get to the essence of the film.

7. Whether it is the kshatriya virtue of power that is grounded in the ideal of dharma or the ideal dharma of a king to both suppress the enemy and protect the weak, whether it is the working out in the outer life and nature of the principle of Satyam Shivam Sundaram (Truth, Divinity, Beauty) or the perennial struggle between the forces of Truth and forces of Falsehood, whether it is the interplay in life of Prakriti and Purusha, Destiny and Free Will, or the essential oneness and interdependence of man and woman -- equal yet different, all such themes and ideas are beautifully depicted through the leading characters, their aspirations, their works, their choices as well as the contexts in which they work out their lives, choices, actions and feelings.

8. Finally, what stayed with me after watching the film last night was this feeling of being engrossed in a soothing spirit of nobility, the real Aryan character that Sri Aurobindo speaks of so beautifully in these words:
For in the Veda the Aryan peoples are those who had accepted a particular type of self-culture, of inward and outward practice, of ideality, of aspiration. The Aryan gods were the supraphysical powers who assisted the mortal in his struggle towards the nature of the godhead..... 
....In later times, the word Arya expressed a particular ethical and social ideal, an ideal of well-governed life, candour, courtesy, nobility, straight dealing, courage, gentleness, purity, humanity, compassion, protection of the weak, liberality, observance of social duty, eagerness of knowledge, respect for the wise and learned, the social accomplishments. It was the combined ideal of the Brahmana and the Kshatriya. Everything that departed from this ideal, everything that tended towards the ignoble, mean, obscure, rude, cruel or false, was termed un-Aryan or anarya (colloq. anari). There is no word in human speech that has a nobler history.....
...Intrinsically, in its most fundamental sense, Arya means an effort or an uprising and overcoming. The Aryan is he who strives and overcomes all outside him and within him that stands opposed to the human advance. Self-conquest is the first law of his nature. He overcomes earth and the body and does not consent like ordinary men to their dullness, inertia, dead routine and tamasic limitations. He overcomes life and its energies and refuses to be dominated by their hungers and cravings or enslaved by their rajasic passions. He overcomes the mind and its habits, he does not live in a shell of ignorance, inherited prejudices, customary ideas, pleasant opinions, but knows how to seek and choose, to be large and flexible in intelligence even as he is firm and strong in his will. For in everything he seeks truth, in everything right, in everything height and freedom.
Self-perfection is the aim of his self-conquest. Therefore, what he conquers he does not destroy, but ennobles and fulfils.
~ Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 13, pp. 441-443 

After all this, I am sure you can tell I am looking forward to the film's sequel next year.


Linking this with ABC Wednesday, F: F is for Fabulous

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Freedom: What is it for?


Bharat Mata by Abanindranath Tagore

August 15 is Sri Aurobindo's birthday. It is also India's Independence Day. What better day than today to recall and meditate on following words of his:
Our first necessity, if India is to survive and do her appointed work in the world, is that the youth of India should learn to think,—to think on all subjects, to think independently, fruitfully, going to the heart of things, not stopped by their surface, free of prejudgments, shearing sophism and prejudice as under as with a sharp sword, smiting down obscurantism of all kinds....
....The old fixed foundations have been broken up, we are tossing in the waters of a great upheaval and change. It is no use clinging to the old ice-floes of the past, they will soon melt and leave their refugees struggling in perilous waters. It is no use landing ourselves in the infirm bog, neither sea nor good dry land, of a second hand Europeanism. We shall only die there a miserable and unclean death. No, we must learn to swim and use that power to reach the good vessel of unchanging truth; we must land again on the eternal rock of ages. 
Let us not, either, select at random, make a nameless hotchpotch and then triumphantly call it the assimilation of East and West. We must begin by accepting nothing on trust from any source whatsoever, by questioning everything and forming our own conclusions.... 
We must not begin by becoming partisans but know before we take our line. Our first business as original thinkers will be to accept nothing, to question everything. That means to get rid of all unexamined opinions old or new, all mere habitual sanskaras in the mind, to have no preconceived judgments.
~ CWSA, Vol. 12, pp. 40-41, emphasis added.
(All mentions of Europe may be understood to refer to the West).

These words were written for an essay titled "On Original Thinking", circa 1910-1913. More than a hundred years have gone by, but we still seem to be floating around, rather slavishly, in the decaying pool of the second-hand, borrowed understandings of Ourselves and the Life around us. Of what it means to be and become. Of freedom and liberty. Of unity and diversity. When will we start waking up to the truth that there is a deeper, much deeper meaning of all these?

We seem to have forgotten that the Indian cultural view considers Freedom as one of the many higher ideals of the spirit, the attributes of the soul, along with Equality, Unity, Harmony and Oneness. In this view, freedom and liberty are not merely meant as unrestricted expressions of our lower mental-vital nature which insists on its fulfilment, no matter what the cost to others' freedom to exist and be, no matter what the cost to the harmony and unity in the larger collective. We seem to be even lacking in the spirit of questioning our badly-borrowed second hand overly-rationalistic-modernity which emphasises only an outer and an absolute freedom.

Blinded by the extremely aggressive, outwardly focused and rationalistic individualism largely popularized via the contemporary representations of the West, we continue to practice being modern by aping this "marketed" version of the West. We confuse Freedom with merely an 'outer freedom to do whatever' with no regard to the complementary truth of Harmony. We mix-up Liberty with a 'license to do as one pleases' with no regard to its potential negative consequence, both for the individual and the collective.  
For the vice of individualism is that in insisting upon the free development and self-expression of the life and the mind or the life-soul in the individual, it tends to exaggerate the egoism of the mental and vital being and prevent the recognition of unity with others on which alone a complete self-development and a harmless freedom can be founded.
 ~Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 25, p. 215

Some of the recent socio-cultural discourses among Indian educated classes serve as good examples, if we want to examine the working of this exaggerated mental-vital egoism. Egoism that only seeks to fulfil its demands and preferences, no matter what the cost. Egoism that refuses to admit any new light once it has bought into one highly limited view of what it means to be free.  

Whether it was an attempt by one Indian state to regulate the cow-slaughter industry, or an idea being floated by another state regarding a possible alcohol prohibition, or a hasty and badly-executed Government ban (which was later revoked following the outrage) on some 800 pornographic websites (out of millions and millions of such sites), many of which also suggest child pornography, – almost all the "liberalist" opposition to such measures was raised under the garb of "freedom." 

Those opposing the beef ban exclusively championed the cause of "freedom of food choice" while refusing to admit the extremely high environmental costs of meat-industry, particularly beef (never mind the need to even consider any religious sensitivities of other groups in society). Those ridiculing any calls for prohibition, all in the name of a pseudo-modern "freedom to drink," never bother to find out how the uncontrolled disease of alcoholism among the poorer sections of the society completely destroys the lives of women and children (never mind the duplicity that the same champions also rally around the "cause" of poor women and children). Those who were opposing the porn ban went the furthest. 

Naturally, such knee-jerk opposition under the garb of "freedom" begs the question – freedom to do what? What are these champions of freedom really asking for?

Shiva Kumar, who is associated with the India Council for Integral Education, a unit of Sri Aurobindo Society, and has more than 15 years of experience working with teachers and youth, recently made a highly insightful comment in this regard. His words provoke us to reflect on the question – Freedom: What is it for? 

Knowingly or unknowingly, all of us seek freedom – but it is not the freedom that merely demands external freedom to stand up and say “it is my body, I will do what I want with it” (a popular actress said it recently); or à la the (in)famous AIB’s roaster where one says, “For us filth is also fun, if you don’t want it, don’t see it – you are an adult and you have the freedom to not see it, whereas we too are adults and it should be our freedom to do even what you might call nasty, indecent or even repulsive, so long as it is not illegal”; or the most recent one where a lot of freedom-celebrators are crying foul of the moral policing behind the Govt.’s banning of 800-odd websites—some of which were even carrying or suggesting child pornography. And I am sure that those who are against this ban are not in favour of any form of child pornography even in the name of the holy word ‘freedom’.
So, what should we be demanding in the name of Freedom? If we do not have clarity on what we seek for, we might end up getting it and then harming things rather than bettering things! When we seek for freedom, should it be for the expression of what is baser, vulgur and repulsive in us?
For those in the habit of looking within and searching within for answers, they can find, with a little effort, that deep within every one of us, there is a Light that shines, a Beauty that revels, a Power that wants to gush out, a harmony that wants to manifest through all these. If at all we seek for freedom, should it not be to express these in our lives -- collective & individual -- in an uninhibited, unfettered, bold and creative way.
Freedom to express the best in us, the deepest and the highest in us—the LIGHT and the BEAUTY that is within us all...

As India celebrates her 69th Independence Day, it is an appropriate time to reflect upon the idea of freedom. Let us each take some time to look within and uncover any mental prisons we may still be living in. 

Let us ask ourselves -- are we working toward gaining a true freedom in our minds and hearts, freedom to express the best in us, the deepest and the highest in us? Have we freed ourselves from the prisons of second hand, colonial mental structures (all in the name of modernity, individualism, rationalism) that actually prevent us from digging deeper into any and all ideas and ideals that we must be pursuing, including the ideal of Freedom? 

Freedom from such a colonized mental and intellectual prison must be the cornerstone of all real and effective work each one of us needs to do to safeguard our political, social, economic and cultural freedom. Every attempt to break the chains of that intellectual prison we carry within; prisons that we may not even be aware of, thanks to our "modern" education which has produced generations of culturally uprooted Indians, is a step toward greater and truer freedom. 

I am reminded today of some words I wrote in the Introduction of my e-book "The Thinking Indian: Essays on Indian Socio-Cultural Matters in the Light of Sri Aurobindo".
Decolonization or un-colonization of mind is not about “going native.” It is also not about purifying oneself of the “foreign elements.” It is essential because it prevents the colonized from becoming colonizers. It is a step toward intellectual liberation of sorts.
This decolonization is not something that happens instantly, it is an ongoing, experiential, lived process at individual and collective levels. It is a part of the ongoing journey of my self – obviously only the apparent, outer self because the real Self will be above and beyond any such national or cultural identity. But the inner knowing of my real Self can’t be unaccompanied by the outer knowing of my apparent self, the individuality that I hold on to in this present manifestation of my true inner Self. 
All sincere attempts to de-colonize and "free" our ways of thinking, seeing, and being are steps toward seeking a true intellectual Swaraj, toward a self-rule or rule of one's inner consciousness. 

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother are my guides, my teachers, companions and inspiration on my journey of such seeking. Understanding or trying to understand the various outer socio-cultural phenomena in the light of Sri Aurobindo’s profound social-political-cultural thought and writings is part of my journey at present. Such an intellectual attempt, I find, guides me tremendously as I continue to integrate my inner and outer journeys. 

On this special occasion of Sri Aurobindo's Birthday and India's Independence Day, it will be worth our while to recall with our deepest gratitude Sri Aurobindo's role in the freedom movement. There are no better words than the following to conclude this post. Words that were said more than a hundred years ago, but their spirit still serves as a perfect reminder for all Indians. 
There are times in a nation’s history when Providence places before it one work, one aim, to which everything else, however high and noble in itself, has to be sacrificed. Such a time has now arrived for our motherland when nothing is dearer than her service, when everything else is to be directed to that end. If you will study, study for her sake; train yourselves body and mind and soul for her service. You will earn your living that you may live for her sake. You will go abroad to foreign lands that you may bring back knowledge with which you may do service to her. Work that she may prosper. Suffer that she may rejoice. All is contained in that one single advice.
Sri Aurobindo, Talk given at the Bengal National College on August 23, 1907.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Current Events 12: The Parliamentary Drama

I simply love it when my research and reading of some of the gems from Sri Aurobindo's extensive writings lead me to an extra-ordinarily exact and supremely succinct interpretation that helps me make sense of some recent phenomenon or observation which I have been mulling over. It is as if the Master himself was guiding me to that passage. Of course, He is, always.

The phenomenon I am speaking today is the drama that is being played out in, or rather outside, the halls of Indian Parliament.

The reactionary, ill-intentioned, selfish politics being played by some opposition parties, led by the Congress, as many serious political thinkers have already commented, is nothing but a ploy to disrupt the much-needed economic-political reforms that are critical to put the country back on a growth trajectory. The opposition knows that this drama is the only way to put brakes on a growth and development agenda being pushed by the government. As one seasoned and thoughtful analyst recently wrote: "Sonia Gandhi would rather have India fail than see Modi succeed. Her recent picture gesticulating to the cameras and circulated on the internet tells it all."

But let me get back to the heart of the post. For the last few days, as part of a small personal research project, I have been re-reading some of the political writings of Sri Aurobindo that he did for the nationalist journal, Bande Mataram, during 1906-08.

Sept 29, 1907 Edition, Source

Once again, I have been marveling at his revolutionary fervour, a fervour that is firmly grounded in a penetrating and accurate understanding of the ground realities which existed at the time in the political landscape of the country. It is a fervour that is deeply inspired by the eternal truths that India as a nation has always stood for since times immemorial, truths that he had also realised in his sadhana.

Once again, I have been awed by his fiery expression, an expression that is fully soaked in the colour of love for the motherland and the truth for which she lives. It is an expression that has the power to rekindle that deep-seated love we all feel in ourselves for the truth of our nation, despite the outward differences in political leanings and preferred ideologies.

The coming weeks and months may see me write a bit more on what I see as some of the most relevant implications for our present-day contexts, emerging from some of these political writings of Sri Aurobindo from more than 100 years ago. But today I wish to share one small passage he wrote in a piece titled "The Vanity of Reaction" published on October 7, 1907.

In this piece Sri Aurobindo spoke of the destined failure of all repressive moves that the then British colonial government was making to crush and suppress the growing fire of revolution for India's freedom that was spreading in the country. He even cautioned that such repressive reactionary moves would spread the revolutionary fire even further and bring a shameful end to the colonial power.

As I read and then re-read the piece, a part of me kept coming back to the first paragraph. I couldn't help but see how perfectly his words explain the deeper truth of the drama that is being played out outside the Indian parliament. The Parliamentary logjam we have been seeing is a bitter and utterly non-sensical reactionary tactic of the political opposition parties which don't really care for what happens to the nation. Their only interest is to dislodge any move that could open a new path of growth for the country.

In a strange way, the following words written more than a hundred years ago, in another context, seem to describe exactly what is going on in the name of the selfish drama of the parliamentary holdup. What is interesting to note is that what Sri Aurobindo wrote for the reactionary absolutism of a foreign colonial power back then holds true for the so-called Indian opposition parties, as if to suggest the lack of the Indian-ness behind their ill-intentioned tactic.

The devices of reactionary absolutism have a curious family resemblance all the world over. Reaction is never intelligent and never imaginative. Limited to the narrow horizon of its own selfish interests, committed to the preservation of the impossible and the resuscitation of corrupt systems and dead forms it has neither the vision to understand and measure the forces that have been new born to replace it, nor the wisdom to treat and compromise with the strength of Demogorgon while yet unripe so as to prolong its hour of rule for a little,—the only grace that Heaven allows to doomed institutions and forfeited powers. (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 6-7, p. 705)

What is also interesting (and heartening) to note is that such reactionary absolutism results in only prolonging for a bit the hour of doom for the old institutions and powers, whose end is near and certain.

Poor in invention except in the cunning variation of savage tortures or petty brutalities, it reiterates the old worn-out spells, the once potent lies which had been powerful to prolong the death-sleep of the peoples and sees not that the mumbling of its incantations only awakes the scorn and rage of strong men indignant that such deceptive bonds should so long have availed to bind their strength. (ibid)

The rational and informed sections of Indian people are no longer fooled by such reactionary and disruptive tactics. And the longer such logjam continues the more the thinking people will be enraged against those sections of political classes that are seen as impeding any meaningful work in the nation's legislature.


To read full text of Sri Aurobindo's piece, titled "The Vanity of Reaction" click here.

To read previous post in the Current Events, click here.
To read all posts in the Current Events, click here.

Linking with ABC Wednesday, D: D is for Drama

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Quote UnQuote 3: Herd


“Most people say that Shakespeare rocked merely because most people say that Shakespeare rocked.” 

― Mokokoma Mokhonoana

Isn’t this a bitter truth?

Why this need to be liked that we pretend to like all those things – books-authors, art-artists, films-filmmakers – that must be “liked” if we are to be liked by the up-and-coming-socially-elite-politically-correct-economically-successful-newsmaker-of-the-day-types?

Confusing, no? Wouldn’t it be simpler to just make up our own minds after reading Shakespeare?

Sadly, this isn’t limited to authors or artists. Replace “Shakespeare” with words for creeds, ideologies, religions or any other “ism”, and we find the same herd-type-non-thinking. Getting away from the herd is the real struggle. The first battle is within, where it is more important that the truth wins.

This is the last of the 3-day-quote-challenge, for which I am writing 100-word-commentary on any quote of my choice. I came across this particular quote one fine day when browsing for something else on the net. I don't know anything about this writer, but these words just caught my attention.

Quote Unquote 1: Death

Quote Unquote 2: Sleep

Thanks Rachna for the interesting challenge :)