Friday, January 20, 2006

The words bring moisture to one's eyes

Words of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother Hindusthan Records and Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust Vol. I 3719-C- 559 - Songs and hymns in Sanskrit - Various artistes - Price Rs. 50.
SRI AUROBINDO was a political activist, Indian Yogi, and spiritual master who first came into prominence during India's struggle for independence. He gradually withdrew from politics and shifted to Pondicherry to evolve a new method of spiritual practice or internal Yoga with the help of his spiritual collaborator, the Mother. He founded the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1926. Sri Aurobindo shed his mortal coils on December 5, 1950, and the Mother passed away in 1973.
Beginning with the chanting of the primordial sound 'Om', this audio album features songs and hymns in Sanskrit with recitation in English from the writings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. A delightful musical composition by Shobha Mitra on India and her future as visualised by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother is flooded with melody. The choral singing and the individual renditions do invoke a spirit of emotional ecstasy.
The words of Sri Aurobindo pledging his love for India and professing his affection for her as one would his mother bring moisture to one's eyes. The narrator says that the Mother asks us for no schemes, no plans, no methods, she will herself provide them better than anyone can devise. She asks us for our hearts, our lives, nothing less nothing more. The narration, as perfect as the Queen's English, is an aural joy.
Hindustan Musical Products and Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust 3725- C-558 Vol II - Words of Sri Aurobindo - Nalini Kanta Gupta - Price Rs. 40.
WORDS OF Sri Aurobindo have been read by Nalini Kanta Gupta in an audio volume released by Hindustan Musical Products and the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Pondicherry. Aurobindo's thoughts on physical sadhana, yoga, the purpose of avatarhood, and the importance of the Guru. In another album Sri Aurobindo expresses his views and attitude towards integral yoga, the supramental evolution, spiritual life, renunciation, the fundamental attitude, Sadhana and work, and education both physical and aesthetic.
The concluding sentences in the cassette get etched in one's memory: "Make the mind quiet so that what we call the opening is rendered possible. A quieted mind not necessarily motionless or silent, is good if one can have that at will and the persistent aspiration in the heart are the two main keys of yoga.'' - S.P. The Hindu Friday, September 21, 2001

Not be so bothered about making pretty gestures

The 1st Dec Programme: A conversation with Priti Ghosh ’64 , conducted in mid-November, on the intricacies of staging the 1st December Programme
Can you tell us briefly what is the subject of this year’s programme?
The subject which was suggested to me at the beginning of the year was ‘The Hour of God.’ I started working on it right away. Then, a few months later, I realised that it was getting a bit too intellectual and leading me nowhere. So I recast it in a completely different way. ‘The Hour of God’ is the theme, but the actual script is based on lines taken from Savitri and parts of the ‘The Hour of God’. Now the new script is titled ‘A Light There Is That Leads.’
I tried to find a way of expressing this idea in a simple way. The script is divided into five or six parts. First, we start with the Creation, then we show the Awakening of the Earth. After this there is the Emergence of the Ego, then Release from Ego. Earth is then ready to hear the voice cautioning her that this is the Hour of God. And finally, the Supreme Mother’s coming down to uplift mankind. That, in short, is the theme of the programme.
What will actually happen on the stage?
On stage there will be the performers, and on one side, facing the stage, the chorus, which will recite the lines. In fact we have decided to chant some of the lines rather than recite them in the usual way. And the dance movements will be in a free style, choreographed to Sunil-da’s music.
Right from its inception I had selected Sunil-da’s music for the choreography because it meant that at least one element was already fixed. That way it gave me the freedom to concentrate on the dancers and the recitations. Also, Sunil-da’s music carries an atmosphere which is very very elevating.
The interesting fact about the annual programme is that so much labour goes into the preparation of this one single performance. So many different kinds of skills are woven together before the programme can be presented. Can you tell us something about the details of the preparation of your programme?
When I started working on the script I realised that it was a colossal task. Directing one-act entertainment in the School Courtyard is one thing, and directing a programme on such a vast and abstract theme, and that too in the Theatre, is another – it is just stupendous. So I asked several people to help me, specially for the choreography.
As I told you, the music was already there. Now, for the dances, I wanted them to be choreographed in such a way that there would be no allusions to any of the classical forms. I wanted something different, something very expressive. It is impressive to see how Vimala (Molly), Shraddha, and Datta have put in their best efforts and hard work, and almost spent sleepless nights in trying to find something fresh and different and beautiful. Veenapani (Chawla) and Vinay too have put in a herculean effort to choreograph a scene for boys, which I wanted to be completely different from the others. I cannot leave out Ashok (Acharya) who has been perfectionist in taping the several pieces of music in our programme umpteen times. I have been lucky in the selection of my helpers.
And how did the dancers respond to this different choreography, since no one actually has any base in contemporary modern dance style?
Yes, that has been a problem. Our students are very gifted and graceful but the girls all have a background of either Kathak or Odissi. It is very difficult for them to break away from that mould into which they have been cast for several years. Their body automatically reverts to classical poses. We have actually had to work very hard to get them to express themselves freely and not be so bothered about making pretty gestures, to get into the feel of the text rather than execute a perfect, but flat, movement.
And what about the recitation part?
Here the person who has helped me most is Maurice. He is the perfectionist and relentless in his efforts. The only innovation he has tried is, as I told you, chanting, where Shilpa worked miracles with her suggestions.
As a director, you have an advantage in that you are also an artist. Your strong visual sense must have guided you for the lighting, décor, and the position of actors on the stage.
This is only partially true. Although I can visualise two-dimensionally, visualising for the stage has not been so easy. I have already prepared the colour schemes of the lighting by actually painting the scenes on paper. But visualising the position of the chorus has been complicated. Firstly, there is the technical factor which limits the possibilities of where the chorus can stand. Every time I chose a position for it, Mahi would point out the disadvantage it posed for the mikes. So finally the chorus will stand outside the stage to one side. As for the colours, all the costumes of the dancers are white so that the colours of the light remain very pure.
What has this work meant personally to you?
Thanks to this programme I have realised that so many of my capacities left unoperational had just gone to sleep. I have been concentrating so much on my paintings over the past long years that I have let myself get intellectually mouldy. At one point Maurice asked me to join the chorus, and I realised how difficult it was for me to memorise even a few lines, and yet it used to be so easy not so long ago. This programme has helped me to be conscious of so many other parts in myself.
How did you choose your cast? Did you face any difficulties?
Actually, the cast has changed in the course of the preparation. We had set off with a different conception so we had a different group of people. Then, as we changed our script I realised we needed more people. We have a group of dancers and another group, forming the chorus which will recite the lines. The best thing to have happened is that, apart from the selected few, some students themselves came forward and asked me if they could participate. So, in fact, leaving aside veterans, nearly the entire cast is made up of students. Some of the 3rd year Knowledge students who are passing out this year decided to stay back during the holidays and participate in the programme.
After we had started rehearsing with the final script some performers suddenly dropped out because of personal reasons, so we had to find substitutes. This did cause some difficulties. But we had decided not to get disheartened by them.
We are in a strange situation now. So few students stay back in Pondicherry after finishing their studies that we cannot any more have a group of actors who by participating in a number of performances gain experience and form a ‘talent pool’ from which you can actually choose a cast. Either you can take very young and inexperienced students or you can take ex-students, teachers and other adults who are experienced but not so young. And when they are together on stage the contrast is very striking. So how do you see the future of the annual programmes? How are you going to find the participants?
The 1st December programme is actually supposed to be a programme of the School, and so students ought to participate in it. In my opinion, students should be asked to stay here during the holidays. It should be made compulsory. They can then go out after the 2nd and come back by the 15th. The School holidays were started only so that students could prepare for the 1st and 2nd December programmes. Since most of them go away every year there are some who have never watched a 1st December programme! If one has not participated in these annual programmes then one has really missed something very special in life. They are a unique feature of our Institution. Once the students pass out of the School and leave Pondy they will never get that chance again. These programmes give the students an opportunity to ‘offer’ something creative and artistic, so it would be in their interest if they could take full advantage of this.
Once upon a time people would have considered themselves lucky if they were given the role of even a soldier who did not have any lines to say. But now one has to beg and plead with people to even play the part of the hero or heroine. If they accept they make you feel as if they are doing you a great favour and you have to consider yourself very fortunate if they don’t leave the programme half way through. Why is there this lack of enthusiasm? Why have people forgotten the importance of the 1st December programme?
Not all are indifferent. There are still some who do consider it a privilege to participate. Some of them have confessed to me that when one of their classmates was chosen to participate they did feel a sting of disappointment.
It is true that things are not like before. There seems to be this wave of media culture which has taken everyone in its sweep. For children it starts much before they come to Knowledge, they are so deeply influenced by it. But I know our students also are a part of general humanity and cannot remain ‘untouched’. To be so deeply engrossed in the entertainment media that one cannot perceive the value of anything aesthetic is an alarming signal.
But I believe strongly that this is only a passing phase. The Benevolent Power which is protecting us will see to it that our students once again become aware of the difference between what is refined and what is gross and cheap. People have suggested to me that we explain to the children the importance that Mother gave to the 1st December programme. It is true. It is our responsibility. The present generation is really not informed about the significance of the 1st and 2nd December programmes.
The 1st December programme is always based on something written by Mother or Sri Aurobindo, and yet it is often very difficult to choose the theme or the text. Putting on a play by Sri Aurobindo has become nearly impossible for practical reasons. The actors are simply not available, it is a formidable task to direct a play when you have to develop characters and maintain a continuity. So increasingly directors are turning to abstract themes where only dance and recitation are involved. However this also is not something easy. The text is often lines from Savitri which are so charged with mantric power that they cannot be recited just anyhow. How do you prepare young students to be ready inwardly to express these lines on stage?
Yes, a preparation is necessary. The only way in which this can be done is to start preparing the students and other members of the cast very gently from July or August itself. Perhaps once a week they could familiarise themselves with the text on which they are going to work. They could work on a little at a time so that when they start the regular rehearsals in October they would have been sufficiently in the spirit and the mood of the lines to feel them truly.
During some rehearsals I noticed that some students would complain that they were being made to do preparatory exercises for too long. But they don’t realise that everything counts, even the time that they spend waiting, watching others work. The one hour that they spend working on Sri Aurobindo’s lines is like spending one hour in His presence.
Nowadays a lot of plays are put up during the year so we have quite a large batch of students who get some exposure on stage, but the inner preparation is something we, the directors, have to work upon; perhaps we must help the children to understand the difference between merely ‘acting’ on the stage and ‘offering’.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Waltz of poetry, story and drama !

June 26, 2004 Reviewer: Samesh Braroo (foster city, ca United States) - See all my reviews
Having read some of the greatest playwrights, from Shakespeare to Miller to Kalidasa to Chekov, I assumed I had seen it all, or at least summed a good some of it, but not. Welcome to the dramatic world of publicity shy Sri Aurobindo ! His poetic plays are a treat of humor, tragedy, language and understandings of our world. Sadly his dramas have been buried by his own more dominant works on Yoga. If he hadn't been approached by philosophy, that drove people into making more attention for his yoga and divine elaboration, he would have been recalled as a great dramatist. Sri Aurobindo is one of the greatest and rarest of poets, philosophers, story tellers and a spiritualist of the divine caliber - indeed one of the most virtuous sons that Heaven spared for mankind's love and respect, and if I may so add - joy's best tears will not be shed reading anything else!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Bringing history back

Stephen Jay Greenblatt talks about New Historicism, its genesis and future and his current concerns in Cultural Studies. SACHIDANANDA MOHANTY The Hindu Literary Review Sunday, Jun 05, 2005
Known as the founder of one of the most influential schools of literary theory and criticism today called New Historicism (or cultural poetics), Stephen Jay Greenblatt is Cogan University Professor at Harvard University, where he teaches English. With the publication of his Renaissance Self-Fashioning in 1984, Greenblatt's ideas revolutionised literary studies. He is also the editor of Norton Shakespeare. The new insights in "contextual" reading that he developed are widely applicable in various disciplines today. Excerpts from an interview.
On the genealogy of New Historicism
and his role in founding the movement
The formal education which I had received, and was grateful for, did not allow for certain questions to be asked, about society, culture, anthropology, gender and race. In the 1970s, Women's Studies played an important role as a catalytic agent. You began to ask what the rules of the discourse were, who was being allowed to speak and who was not. Berkeley, California, in the 1970s is also associated in my mind with the smell of tear gas. In a variety of ways, Berkeley then was in a ferment of rebellion. It was a time for change. I do not wish to claim that New Historicism was mine alone. Like so many things in the 1970s, it depended on a collective enterprise. We were sitting together, reading and arguing about Althusser, Marx, Freud late into the night. The immediate genealogy of New Historicism was not German historicism but the Marxism of the mid-20th Century. In my case, studying with Raymond Williams was very significant in Cambridge. In early 1970s, I used to teach Marxist aesthetics in Berkeley. In addition to being a way of rebelling against New Criticism, it was also an attempt to try to think about how to reintroduce history into cultural studies.
How different is New Historicism vis-à-vis
Bateson, Caudwell and Raymond Williams?
Raymond Williams is trying to hold on to the model which in Christopher Caudwell (of Illusion and Reality fame) is very strong — the idea that literature is part of the superstructure and economics is the base. We wanted to make the context not simply a safe background but actually a part of the enterprise. In an older historicism, you adduced a context in order to secure the meaning of a work of art. We wanted to say that what was being described as the context, was itself open to interpretation. It was not the stable background. We wanted to have the interpretive struggle shared by what used to be called the background.
On his interest in Shakespeare
and Renaissance Studies
If you are interested in Renaissance studies, it is hard not to be interested in Shakespeare. I became interested in Renaissance while studying for the tripos in Cambridge. I read at that time Sir Walter Raleigh's "Ocean's Love to Cynthia" and I remember being powerfully struck. I thought it was a fantastic poem. In fact, I thought that it was a poem strikingly modernist, a sort of poem written by T.S. Eliot. My sense of literature holds on to a strong aesthetic dimension, an encounter with something that seems to reach you only because Raleigh sounded like Whitman. It was a work that wasn't written in the 1920s. It was written in the 1590s. How does this work seem so contemporary? In other words, historicism for me arose from an aesthetic engagement of feeling that you have been spoken to. It rises from a contemporary encounter. It is not antiquarian. In that sense it is existential.
Some want to dislodge the Western Canon completely.
Others like Harold Bloom and Cleanth Brooks
have made a qualified response. Is he defensive?
No, I am not defensive. I am actually quite interested in the range of works from different parts of the world that have now been put in play in literary studies. It is a large world and it is appropriate that there should be many things read and studied. But, there are practical problems in anthology making. The Norton Anthology, for instance, is 6000 pages long and we can't make it longer. The question is, for every Anita Desai, Naipaul or Achebe that we bring in, what is it that we take out? As an editor you have to figure out where the centres of interest might be now. But this is an ongoing problem.
On the relationship between
literary production and social production
The idea that imagination is only the possession of specialists, that language is the possession of specialists is undemocratic and unjust: We know from our daily experience that language and imagination are universal possessions of humanity and they don't belong to particular classes, groups of specialists, particular races and religions. They are part of the apparatus of human life. There is something constricting and absurd in the counter position that only cultural production will be beside the imagination.
On New Historicism
as a network of signs
New historicists feel that they can use their hermeneutical skills on all aspects of culture. We understand that most of literature is signs of systems, but sign systems do not stop on the boundary of books. They are networks and dense textures that embrace all other fields as well. I myself have been greatly interested in anthropology, in history of art, and more recently, in the history of science and philosophy. There are no a priori limits.
On Marvelous Possessions and
the discovery of the new world and the genesis of this project
Towards 1998, the U.S. was in an elaborate multi-year build-up for the 500th anniversary of Columbus' landfall. That enterprise led to what I thought was a particularly repellent burst of American/ European chauvinism — a fantasy that there was nothing there before the Europeans arrived. For many years, I was teaching in the San Francisco Bay area and there was a remarkable statue of Columbus looking out into the Pacific, suggesting somehow that Columbus had been to California and was now setting his sights on Asia. The uncritical circulation of such ideas in the 1990s served the need of an answer, a response.
On the main insights of Marvelous Possessions
with regard to the history of ideas
In Columbus' diary, there is a chilling reference to a native who touches one of Columbus' swords and cuts his finger because he had not seen this kind of sharp metal object. But what fascinated me was the way in which the dream of possession was enacted through speeches, declarations and announcements. It was the idea that you could claim to own huge tracts of the globe and human beings who lived therein, through the performance of certain words — that seemed to be compelling and fascinating. In Columbus' speech acts, there is the emptying of the other as if the other had been erased, the other had no language. He was going to kidnap some of these people and bring them back so that they could learn how to speak. As the ancient principle aptly says, to be human is to have language.
On the crucial role storytelling plays
for the practitioner of New Historicism
The idea that you could somehow escape from a narrative, that you could find your way into some kind of scientific and analytical language, could only be done at an enormously high cost. In writing recently a popular biography of Shakespeare, I saw the attraction of doing this by tapping into the popular fascinations with the literary biography. And this fascination is entirely bound up with the desire to tell a story.
On connecting with the Indian cultural universe
while traveling to South Asia
India made an overwhelming impression. I was there for several weeks. I had the feeling of encountering a world rich and complex, dense and bursting with life, intellectual and cultural energy.
On the future of
New Historicism
At least in the American cultural scene, a lot of the work of New Historicism has been absorbed. It is no longer new. It is well established. It is being absorbed into ordinary works of literary studies. New Historicism is moving, at least in one direction, towards a trust in mobility, not only in travel narratives but in the idea that culture itself is always moving from one place to another. And it is that extraordinary mobility of which India is a sublime example. That seemed to be one of the challenges in the years ahead. Sachidananda Mohanty is Professor of English at the University of Hyderabad and a recipient of the 1992 Katha Award for outstanding translation.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

New Delhi: The Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, has said that Premchand's writings belong to that unique category of literature which have deeply influenced progressive forces all over the world. Calling his literature, a rare voice against the social exploitation, the Prime Minister said that Premchand used literature as a powerful weapon for the cause of the people riddled with social and economic deprivation. Dr. Manmohan Singh was releasing Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi versions of Seva Sadan and Hindi, Urdu versions of Rangbhumi on the occasion of 125th birth anniversary of Munshi Premchand, here today. Chairman, National Book Trust, Shri Bipin Chandra, renowned Hindi critic, Prof. Namwar Singh and Urdu scholar Prof. Mohammad Hasan also addressed the gathering.

A rich veneer of subversion

Subaltern soliloquy Utpal Banerjee The Pioneer July 09, 2005
In Shakespeare's Othello, the Moor of Venice fell for and married Desdemona, but is the Moor's conversion to Christianity not a hidden agenda in the turmoil-ridden manoeuvres in the play? Our own epic poet Kalidasa may not be the Indian syllabus-makers' choice, yet his prototype of a jilted and discarded woman who finally walks out on her abhorrent lover-king in Abhijnanam Shakuntalam, is a familiar one. Parnab Mukherjee, who presented Kalidasa's Kumarsambhava, at the India International Centre besides carrying the burden of soliloquy on his sturdy shoulders, passionately believes that both Kalidasa and Shakespeare, in their own times, have left a rich veneer of subversion in their otherwise main text - raising questions on ethics, morality, sexuality, body and body-politics.
Using the superbly lyrical transcreation by Rishi Aurobindo, as well as the part rendering by Ritwik Ghatak, he keeps the story-line fairly linear, namely, the disturbances created by demons like Tarakasura; Kamadeva's efforts to tempt Shiva to fall in love with Parvati resulting in fiasco; Parvati's resolve to stick it out alone; Shiva's disguised encounter with Parvati culminating in the marriage; the much-awaited birth of Kumara; the latter's heroism as he takes on the demons; and annihilation of the evil forces after a marathon battle. "I feel Kalidasa has a powerful undertone of protest in his writings.
I consider him great for the extraordinary lyricism of his verses, but beyond that sublimity lies a very strong matrix of protest literature, which is relatively unexplored. I'm working on my fellowship on 'Alternative Approaches to Theatre and Media'. This brought me close to 'café theatre' in Kolkata and Darjeeling. I'm particularly connected with the jute-mill lockouts on the Hoogly river-stretch and the closed tea gardens in the Doors, apart from conducting programmes in Delhi and Benaras."
Mukherjee adds, "My production combines installation techniques, Purulia Chhau (in the battle sequences), hand shadowgraphs, multi-media exploration and interplay of modern symbols to create a memory scape. I've used video clippings of 9\11, I think the event shares striking similarities with the war among gods and demons." According to this young director, Kumarasambhava upholds two modern traits. Firstly, Shiva decides to marry when he wants to. This conveys male-domination. Second, only he can endorse the war and allow Kumara to fight. This is not different from dynastic pattern, as evident in Bush, Senior and Bush, Junior! Looking at Kalidasa's subaltern theatre, I was inspired by Badal Sircar's 'Third Theatre. I, too, am using spaces which are non-proscenium but, unlike Badalda, my performance is spread out."

Bride of the fire

Bride of the fire, clasp me now close,
Bride of the fire!
I’ve shed the bloom of the earthly rose,
I have slain desire.
Beauty of the light, surround my life,
Beauty of the light!
I have sacrificed longing and parted from grief,
I can bear thy delight.
Image of ecstasy, thrill and enlace,
Image of bliss!
I would see only thy marvelous face,
Feel only thy kiss.
Voice of infinity, sound in my heart,
Call of the one!
Stamp there thy radiance, never to part,
O living sun.
Sri Aurobindo
DNA Sunday, October 16, 2005 20:30 IST

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Music and the Soul

The Rautavaara Connection: In the second to last chapter of Music and the Soul, I wrote a lengthy essay on the music of the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (b. 1928), whom I consider to be an "evolving mystic." Rautavaara's music, considered as a whole, records his spiritual evolution beyond the level of thinking mind that most composers work from.
I believe that the higher levels of creative achievement are related to higher levels of consciousness experienced by longtime meditators. Beyond the thinking mind comes higher mind, illumined mind, intuitive mind, and overmind. (These terms come from the Integral Yoga developed by the early twentieth-century spiritual teacher Sri Aurobindo.)
An evolving mystic is one who is progressing through these states with each stylistic period. Bach represents the highest level of development, as an overmind composer. At this level, the cosmic or God consciousness works directly through the composer with no interference from the ego. On the other extreme, thinking mind composers are bound by the ego.
The determining factor is where one's music originates from. The easier it is for a composer to access the seventh (expanded consciousness) and eighth (cosmic consciousness) centers in his or her music, the higher the level of spiritual evolution, and the greater the likelihood of producing a transcendent musical experience in a listener. Rautavaara seems to me to have achieved the level of illumined mind, a rare distinction. Illumined mind composers write music from middle or upper 7. posted by Kurt Leland Saturday, December 17, 2005 at 9:22 AM

Monday, January 09, 2006

Art contributes to enlightenment and spiritual renewal

Cecilia Suhr's Vision Artist's Vision
A man is a transitional being. -Sri Aurobindo
Most artists are guided by a vision, regardless of whether or not they openly share it with others. Some artists may feel that explicating one's own work defeats the purpose of creation, for creating artwork in and of itself is a means of communication, a silent communication between separate souls. In my artistic endeavors, a handful of authors has influenced and reaffirmed my artistic vision and philosophy of artistry.
However, first and foremost, I owe a large debt to the great composers of the past; in my life, the most prominent are Ravel, Stravinsky, Brahms, Shostakovich, Vivaldi, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Ysaye, Wieniawski, Tchaikovsky, Bruch, Sibelius, Bach, Paganini, Bartok, Schumann, Barber, Bloch, Vieuxetemp, Arensky, Scriabin, Chopin, Saint-Saens, Sarasate, and Accolay.
Through their music, I heard their invisible outcry as it rang out in between each note and pause. More than a mere attempt to create beauty, their music contained messages filled with encouragement and love for the subsequent generations' creators. These new artists' mission is to uplift and refresh the ailing spirit of a society in desperate need of transformation. To be an artist in today's society is, indeed, a difficult task. Nevertheless, countless struggling artists continue to create their works, seeking audiences for their creations and hoping for appreciation. This virtual space is thus a blessing and an outlet for my work. I am comforted by the knowledge that my inner voices will be heard by the few who may stumble upon this site.
My music does not only reflect life itself. In my mind, it builds a transitory bridge between life and the beyond. My hope is that whoever listens to my music will proceed on his or her journey with a richer understanding of the way in which art contributes to enlightenment and spiritual renewal. The end does not exist, and perfection never ceases. Only in the process of "perfecting" can my breath be rejuvenated. Cecilia Suhr Thursday, January 05, 2006
"My hope is that whoever listens to my music will proceed on his or her journey with a richer understanding of the way in which art contributes to enlightenment and spiritual renewal."Very well put. Posted by Mike Barber on Sunday, January 08, 2006 at 2:27 PM

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Emergence of some common language

Home > Liberation > Year_2002 > September > Hindi Nationalism Author: Alok Rai 129 pgs., Orient Longman, 2000 — Sundaram
As a young boy from a south Indian family being brought up in north India I still remember my puzzlement at what exactly the ‘Hindi’ language was all about. While on one hand much of the local population spoke its own lingo — Bundelkhandi – the ‘Hindi’ that was taught in my school was quite different from the ‘Hindi’ I heard in the Bollywood movies. Adding to the confusion was that learning ‘Hindi’ was easier for me with my Sanskritised Tamil background than for many of my classmates from the northern Indian states! And then of course was the conundrum of what exactly was Urdu — was it really a different language or was it invented to sing ghazals, and organize mushairas ?
In his very absorbing and important work of cultural analysis titled ‘Hindi Nationalism’, Alok Rai not only clears up such confusions but also explains the pernicious politics of defining, redefining, refining and ultimately defiling Hindi as played out in the cow belt states over the last century and a half. At another level Rai, who just happens to be the legendary Premchand’s grandson, neatly links up the history of linguistic battles in northern India with the contemporary rise of political Hindutva and points out the reasons why English-speaking, westernised, Nehruvian ‘secularists’ fail to contain this menace.
To begin with, Rai goes back in history to the days prior to the carefully contrived debate between ‘Hindi’ and ‘Urdu’ when the two had not yet acquired distinct ‘identities’ and were indistinguishable as the most popularly spoken language of the northern Indian states. Born out of a long process of fusion of cultures, local and foreign influences as well as the daily creative talents of the common citizen, Hindi and Urdu were but two names of the same language. In tracing the ‘original sin’ that led to the schizophrenic split in the Hindi-Urdu unity, Rai’s research naturally goes back to the early days of British colonial rule around the turn of the eighteenth century when a British surgeon and self-styled linguist named John Borthwick Gilchrist took up the task of teaching ‘Hindoostanee’ to newly appointed officers of the East India Company. The College of Fort William set up in 1800, where Gilchrist was appointed Professor of Hindustani, brought together a staff of Indian scholars and translators who took upon themselves the onerous task of defining what the language was really all about.
Avoiding the cliched charge of adopting a deliberate ‘divide and rule’ policy against Gilchrist, Rai nevertheless points out how his attempts (aided by local zealots) to restore the language to its imagined ‘pre-Mughal’ form ended up in turning out all the Arabic and Persian words in Hindustani and substituting Sanskrit ones. In the words of one historian quoted in Rai’s monograph, “The British — set out to ‘discover’ something which science told them had to be there; not surprisingly, they ‘succeeded’ and soon generated a vast and consequential literature of grammars, dictionaries and lexicographies”.
Once initiated, this construction of a ‘pure’ Hindustani, like a predictable science-fiction monster, took a life of its own. Aided, abetted and fiercely nurtured by self-appointed guardians of the language from the savarna castes of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, this process finally laid the foundations of the unintelligible, highly Sanskritised ‘Hindi’ that has mistakenly been foisted on the Indian people as their ‘national language’. (While still marginally better than contemporary ‘Zee TV Hindi’ which uses phrases like “Pradhaan Mantri ney Parliament mey Vote of Thanks present kiya” or the notorious “Hamey banana hey” of Rajiv Gandhi, there are few – familiar with the living languages of northern India – who would not throw up when our Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani starts off in his ultra-puritanical ‘Hindi’.)
Tragically enough, in a classic example of how one fundamentalism feeds off another, the systematic attempts to de-Persianise and de-Arabicise Hindustani also provoked similar efforts to de-Sanskritise Urdu within sections of the Muslim elites. Ironically, it is this highly Arabicised and incomprehensible ‘Urdu’, that has become the national language of Pakistan and is a mirror image of the highly Sanskritised ‘Hindi’ in the Indian context.
Rai very interestingly points out that in its early stages, in the first half of the nineteenth century, not all of the emerging competition between ‘Hindi’ and ‘Urdu’ was about zealotry. There was, intertwined within this emerging lingusitic battle, also the valid struggle to replace the Persian script– used by the old Mughal rulers and understood only by a minority of both Muslims and Hindus– by the more widely used Nagari (Devanagari) as the language of administration and courts in northern Indian provinces.
Over a period of time, however, it was this campaign to oust Persian and open up employment opportunities for those familiar with Nagari that coalesced with the resentment of the Hindu savarna castes against political and economic domination by the Awadh ‘Muslim’ elite. The roots of the modern ‘Hindu-Muslim’ divide, cunningly exploited by colonial administrators and continued to this day by successive Indian governments were thus embedded in the controversy over language and indeed became part of common vocabulary itself.
Amidst all this depressing history of the decline of the composite culture and lifestyle that large parts of pre-British India was justly famous for, Rai points out, the one movement that could have still nipped the emerging menace of religious sectarianism in its bud was the 1857 War of Independence. But the defeat of the rebels and the massacres of thousands of innocent civilians that the British carried out in reprisal, Rai says, only exacerbated the divide with both the post-1857 Hindu and Muslim elites competing with each other to prove their ‘loyalty’ to their now well-entrenched British ‘masters’.
Comparing these massacres to the Nazi Holocaust, Rai tellingly points out that the only difference between the two events was that in the case of 1857 the ‘Nazis won the war’ and the “surviving victims were condemned to living with the victorious victimisers: the ‘guilt’ of 1857 was visited solely on the victims, while the vengeful victors became also the party of virtue, of progress and modernity”.
One result of the terror unleashed by the vengeful British rulers was that members of the Hindu savarna castes, who formed the bulk of the early Hindi/Nagari agitations, sought to distinguish themselves from the Muslims who had been so ‘unforgivingly disloyal’ in 1857. When Raja Shiva Prasad, one of the early protagonists of Hindi/Nagari, petitioned the British government on behalf of Nagari in 1868 he sought to assure the rulers that the Hindu middle-class would be happy to accept the domination of the ‘fair-complexioned’. “Never will it be safe to leave any district without a fair-complexioned head. It is not the excess but rather the dearth of the fair-complexioned that we have to complain of”. (Raja Shiva Prasad could have been Jaswant Singh, our erstwhile foreign minister talking to his new masters in the United States on behalf of the ‘Hindutva’ middle-classes !)
Rai’s account of the debates in the immediate period after Indian Independence over making Hindi the national language, the anti-Hindi agitation in non-Hindi speaking states and the proliferation of ‘Hindiwallahs’ out to preserve the ‘purity’ of ‘Hindi’ will be familiar to most readers. However, while deploring the repressed, upper-caste nature of official ‘Hindi’, Rai also poses an important question whether the current dominance of English as the language of the privileged is really sustainable.
“English is too much the language of privilege, it is too visible a symbol of a ruling elite whose social base and claim to legitimacy is becoming ever narrower and ever more untenable. English cannot break out of its narcissistic confinement, its historical complicity with a scavenging elite”. One way out of this dilemma he suggests is to adhere to the goal of democratic and participative citizenship by first implementing governance in different parts of India in the local languages. Very importantly he concludes that in the Hindi heartland, using this principle, means using all the variants of Hindi such as Bhojpuri, Awadhi, Maithili etc., and not the same old Sanskritised ‘Hindi’ of the upper-caste, urban elites. The needs of communication between different regions he avers will ensure, in the longer term, the emergence of some common language that could be ‘something like Hindi’. But this process cannot even begin till the imposter Advani’s ‘Hindi’ stands in the way!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Music and Creativity assist our transformation

"Importance of Music in Education Plato in his Republic has dealt with extraordinary emphasis on the importance of music in education; as is the music to which a people is accustomed, so, he says in effect, is the character of that people. The importance of painting and sculpture is hardly less. The mind is profoundly influenced by what it sees and, if the eye is trained from the days of childhood to the contemplation and understanding of beauty, harmony and just arrangement in line and color, the tastes, habits and character will be insensibly trained to follow a similar law of beauty, harmony and just arrangement in the life of adult man... A similar result is produced on the emotions by the study of beautiful or noble art. We have spoken of the purification of the heart, the chittaSuddhi, which Aristotle assigned as the essential office of poetry, and have pointed out that it is done in poetry by the detached and disinterested enjoyment of the eight rasas or forms of emotional aestheticism which make up life unalloyed by the disturbance of the lower self-regarding passions. Painting and sculpture work in the same direction by different means. Art sometimes uses the same means as poetry but cannot do it to the same extent because it has not the movement of poetry; it is fixed, still, it expresses only a given moment, a given point in space and cannot move freely through time and region. But it is precisely this stillness, this calm, this fixity which gives its separate value to Art. Poetry raises the emotions and gives each its separate delight. Art stills the emotions and teaches them the delight of a restrained and limited satisfaction, - this indeed was the characteristic that the Greeks, a nation of artists far more artistic than poetic, tried to bring into their poetry. Music deepens the emotions and harmonises them with each other. Between them music, art and poetry are a perfect education for the soul; they make and keep its movements purified, self-controlled, deep and harmonious. These, therefore, are agents which cannot profitably be neglected by humanity on its onward march or degraded to the mere satisfaction of sensuous pleasure which will disintegrate rather than build the character. They are, when properly used, great educating, edifying and civilising forces." Sri Aurobindo from About everydayness What is everyday guru?

Friday, January 06, 2006

Tell each child who grows on this soil everything about this soil

In An Antique Land SHONAR The Times of India Monday, January 2, 2006
The drums roll and from inside the temple comes a short yell; out jumps the body of the Sun, huge and wide, dancing with flaying arms, eyes blackened and stark, darting here and there, terrifying. It is the night of a Theiyyam performance outside a kavu in one of Kerala's umpteen villages and our orange-hued man is now no longer the toddy-tapper he was an hour ago. In trance, consumed by the spirit of his deity, he is now God, and God moves on earth to dance and bless his people. They believe in him, they touch his feet, they touch his hands, they hold their ears and bow before him. He is God and he has come to them on this special day. For one hour he showers love and blessings, collects in return tokens of gratitude, and then retreats just as suddenly into the temple. The Deity leaves man and goes back into the stone image, where it will remain, worshipped with milk and honey, until another special day arrives, another Theiyyam begins, another toddy-tapper becomes God for just one hour, and lets the devout touch him, touch God.... Bhakti cannot be completely annihilated from a people who have survived on it as a principal nourishment from the day of inception.
Bhakti is still there, but dormant. And all it needs is a shake, a little poke, and it shall rumble out of its latent state, to come cascading from the dark grottoes within our souls, pushing ahead, drenching every slumbering cell — the millions of cells in our body are just the same as the millions of people that make the body of this nation. If the wake-up call begins in us, the trumpets will echo into the air and under the seas until each and every soul is wide awake and ready to blow into the dying embers which are waiting to be refuelled once again. We have a historical past that has outlived other civilisations and is still coursing through our blood. But we cannot piggyback on the achievements of the bygone eras. We have to learn from them, better them, and move one step ahead. And in this, our education plays the biggest, most crucial role. It is the most widespread, albeit still not sufficient, instrument that we have in hand by which we can paint vivid pictures of the values, the ideals, the forces that drove this country to a status of superstardom. We have to tell each child who grows on this soil everything about this soil. Not just what pertains to his religious background or his regional placement.
He must be as well informed about the other areas of his country as about his own. Without having to go there, he should have a feeling of awe for what exists there. Konarka in Orissa and Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu, Alchi in Ladhak and Golden Temple in Amritsar should all be familiar to him. He should feel the currents which flow into the sculpting of gods, of the painting of cultures, of the spinning of yarn. His eyes must see the diversity, his ears must hear the multitude of tunes that mingle with each other across the valleys. He should hear not the sounds that break the silence but the sounds that make it. When this is imparted to him, then all else will follow. Once he has even the faintest glimpse of that eternal beauty, the beauty that we have lost contact with, then all that the ancients have discovered and left behind will be swept up in his arms and carried forward with love and tenderness.
He will improve all that they have done — not to outshine them but make them proud as a son who vies for his father's approval. The past has left us many lessons to learn and if we wish, we can dip into our reserves and let them act as constant reminders, or we can simply closet them in the darkest cupboards, and plunge into the wrong once again... To highlight the achievements of today's India is not our concern because we live in the present and we know; we know the leaps we have taken in science and technology... We know of the foresight that has led our businessmen into crafting empires... We know that our brothers-in-arms are tough as nails and save this soil, laying their lives down in sacrifice. We know we have the dedication of teachers, the skill of craftsmen, the enthusiasm of children. We have all that it takes to make a perfect nation. But we are not perfect yet. And that is what we need to look into... (India's) culture sits inside a genie lamp, always ready to spring out a new surprise. But she is also restrained and confused, suspicious and insecure. These are evils that rankle any growing soul. (If we do not) jettison such negatives, we will travel... with the pace of a snail, not the gallop of a cheetah. Excerpts from the author's Of Past Dawns and Future Noons: Towards a Resurgent India