Monday, 19 November 2018

The world is not ready?

Wild Wild Country (Documentary; 2018)

It is easy to classify everything as either good or bad. There are, however, two sides of the story. At a cursory look, both sides seem justified with their assertions. In the old uncivilised world, might prove to be right. Violence and killing settle everything. In the civilised society, the fight through rhetorics and mind wars can be equally brutal. At the end of the day, both parties would realise that there are no winners in wars, only losers.

Hence is the story a sleepy hollow of retirees with a population of 40 in the middle of nowhere in Oregon, USA; in a town called Antelope. Nothing was happening till a band of members of an international New Age Awakening group bought a large piece of barren land there. At first, they were undisturbed by their activities minus the curiosity. Soon, the original town dwellers realised that they were unnumbered and the newcomers' practices were different to what they had held dearly. That is when all the might of modern armamentarium was used to put things in order- law, media, protests and all. 

The newcomers, the Rajneeshees, were a group of religious commune under the leadership of their guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (later known as Osho). The leader, after establishing himself in Poona, (perhaps running afoul with the law there too), wanted to spread his wings to the land that propagates freedom of speech and liberty of mind. The movement drew attraction from professionals disenchanted with the trappings of modern living. They found solace in the Guru's quests in exploring the hidden secrets of the human mind and to partake in his social experiments of studying the human Consciousness. 

From a piece of unproductive land, the worshipers, comprising engineers, builders, and entrepreneurs, managed to transform it into an oasis with crops, residential buildings, power grids, dams, malls, banks, and even an airstrip. Within the ambit of law, they also appointed a Mayor and started a policing department. The township was named Rajneeshpuram.

That is when the more one-on-one trouble started - the fear of the 'other'. A group of different looking people in strange red garments chanting mantras in an unknown language and practising a lifestyle alien to the original inhabitants of the county was no comfort. Accusations of Devil worship and countered by replies of having Mayflower mentality were heard. Amidst all these was the commune's de-facto spokesperson and Guru's secretary, Ma Anand Sheela.

From then on, things became uglier. One side wanting to practice their religion as stated in the American Constitution and citing discrimination in their defence; the other using the brunt of the law and the legal institutions against them - the Immigration laws, surveillance and electorate processes.

As it was found out later, things even took a grimmer turn. The commune members brought in homeless people from all over the country to boost their chances at the local elections. Then, there was the most significant salmonella poisoning in the history of the USA orchestrated by them. It also saw attempted murders (of even a US Attorney) and the most intricate web of wiretapping.

Finally, as most things do, this far-sighted human experiment to change humanity failed miserably. Rajneesh, Sheela and many of the frontliners were apprehended, charged for high crimes. Rajneesh was deported to India. Back in Poona, he rebranded himself as Osho and continued his work there.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Not in a lifetime!

Carvings on the wall of the Amaravati stupa 
One lifetime is just not enough to complete perusing all the artefacts at the British Museum. This, I realised during my second trip to this place in September 2018. Just like in the first trip, three years ago, I managed to browse through part of the museum -the Indian, Chinese and part of the European sections in this six-hour walk. 

Sure, critics would gripe saying that the British squandered all the valuables from their colonies and shamelessly exhibit their spoils under a roof calling them monumental gifts of mankind! We all know many of them were substantial gifts but obtained through suspicious and sometimes clandestine ways. A case in point is glaring on the headpiece of the monarch for all to see.

For their credit, the Westerners did discover things that their subjects had long lost, abandoned or had no clue. India, with all its wisdom, propagated through the ages of intellectual discourses, had all but forgotten about a soul called Siddharta Gautama and all his not-so-humble beginnings. They had to wait for the white men archaeologists to cut through the overgrowths and undergrowths of Nepal to show the natives where the teachings of Buddhism actually started. Kapilavastu and Lumbini were lost from the memories of Indians till someone came to show them.

The special exhibition which took place during my visit there was the display of slabs from the 2nd - 3rd century BCE Amaravati stupa in Andhra Pradesh, Southern India. Buddhism was supposed to have prospered here and was imported to other regions of Asia. But did the local populace no any better? Imagine such a vital landmark forgotten in the annals of time. The local municipality was alerted when a local zamindar was seen building his exotic abode sourcing his building materials and stone pillars from an ancient ruin.

Colonel Colin Mackenzie, a military engineer who was given the task to investigate the monument in the 19th century, managed to source part of the building and took the liberty to send it back home to London for scrutiny and display.

In this exhibition, the curator tries to recreate the layout of the stupa complete with its splendour through diagrams, computer imaging and the physical feel of the walls.

Seen at one the pillars @ Amaravati stupa ©FG

British Museum, London. ©FG

Sandstone depicting Matsya, the fish, the first incarnation of Vishnu. Matsya is supposed to have warned Manu, the first man of impending floods. It advised a boat to be built. The theory of evolution and Noah's Ark fused into one? Matsya is seen supporting the Vedas and mankind from floods. ©FG

The Union - Man-Woman, Positive-Negative, Ying-Yang, Matter-Anti-Matter? ©FG

All of the places, the sculpture of Karthikeyan, complete with his peacock seen in Western China. ©FG

White Man's 19th-century understanding of Hinduism. ©FG

No mere dance but of symbolisms, geometry and mysticism. ©FG

A time when people were more tolerant, were they? ©FG

Konarak representation of Surya, the prime mover of the Universe. Odisha ©FG

R-L: Jagannatha, Subhadra, Balabhadra. (Puri Gods) Odisha ©FG.

The 2,200-year-old Rosetta Stone- a royal decree written in three scripts; hieroglyphics, Demotics and Ancient Greek. Found in Egypt. Monumental in deciphering hieroglyphics. 
Now Egypt wants it back! ©FG

The extremely delicate handiwork of boxwood microsculpture. Must have been quite a fad amongst the European aristocrats in the 16th century Europe. ©FG

We know who did what in the 1930s around Persia; who was digging around for black gold? And tear up the country like a pack of wolves fighting over their kill! And what they must have found? Loot from the Nebuchadnezzar's hanging garden? Even the word 'loot' is a word plundered from the Indian language! ©FG

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Caring, being sick and obligations to stay so.

Sharp Objects (HBO, 8-part miniseries; 2018)

They are there more than you think exist. How they smother you with love. They go out of their way to do things for you. Then they make you dependant on them. You think that they are indispensable. You cannot function without them by your side. You cannot make decisions. Simple decisions. They make you incapacitated. They make themselves valuable and liked. 

In the eyes of the public, they are the exemplary guardian. They have the reputation of going that extra mile to fulfil their motherly duties. They are warm and fuzzy to the general public, but to you, they are toxic. They never give you breathing space. It is either their way or the highway; one way and no other way. With their power of quick thinking, wit and charm, they win arguments. You are helpless in their presence. They brought you up that way. Your knees buckle by the mere mention of their name. You are stunted. You like it. It makes things easy. You do not have to make hard decisions. You do not grow; stuck in the ever inter-dependent quagmire of caregiver and beneficiary. 

This type of dynamics defeats the purpose of parenting. Should it be one where the parent prepares a child to seamlessly find his place in society learning after making bad decisions and mistakes?

What about the significant other? Is his presence just a figurehead to witness the whole hullabaloo? Sometimes he is just steamrolled by the ever-domineering other. Maybe he is too lethargic to fight back after years of doing so but finds it much easier to let nature take its course. He would find a reason and an avenue to look the other way!

Sometimes, one wonders whether all these are effects of affluence and empowerment. When survival is a question, and thinking of the next meal fills up most of your brain, there is no place for caring for the other. Everybody would be holding on to their dear lives. But the desire for power and domination is as old as humanity itself.

This gripping and dark miniseries tells about a city reporter who is assigned to cover the disappearance of a young girl in her hometown. The reporter, herself with problems with the bottle, self-harming and institutionalisation, has to revisit her traumatic childhood as she has to deal with a domineering mother, a sickly stepsister, a mousy step-father and the whole town of high-school mates. Set in a sleepy town of Wind Gap in Missouri, the story, over the eight episodes, narrates how she deals with the hostile small town folks, a lackadaisical police chief, an annoying mother and the painful memory of losing her younger sister in her childhood. A good one 4.5/5.

Monday, 12 November 2018

The hammer will fall, eventually!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) 

Forget all the historical inaccuracies and that the filmmakers jumbled up the timeline to make their story larger than life than they already are. That is the artistic licence for you and me, the liberty to romanticise up the story to spice it up for the screen.

1985 Live Aid concert was not the parting short for Queen before Freddie Mercury withered into the sunset to deal with his illness. In reality, his diagnosis was only known to him in 1987. No, Mercury was not the villain who wanted to part ways for a solo career. Other band members also had their individual gigs before that.

Nevertheless, the movie turned out to be quite an exciting depiction of a musical genius who had the trappings of wanting to bring out the best of rock music while living life to its fullest in his short lifespan and burning out before the legend in him ever did.
Farrokh Bulsara - Romi Malek

The take-home message that I took from this film that at the end of the day, when the tide is low, it is family that one can rely upon. In Freddie's case, there are his biological family and musical family. His biological family, by the twist of fate, a pure freak accident of Nature or a cruel throwing of dice by the Master Maker, are intertwined in the DNA of compassion and bond of love. The band buddies are bonded by the shared passion for music, the cement of life.

As strung in the lyrics of the Queen's super hit, 'We are the Champions', our words, actions and deeds land us in a lot of troubles. We regret, we pay our dues. Time and time again, we make the same bad mistake. Even though these wrong footings are a few and we come out unabashed even after falling flat on the face, sometimes we fail to rebuild our bridges. We go on and on, thinking we are indestructible and that we are doing the right thing. We think we are champions of the world.
But when fall comes, when the curtain falls, all the fame, the glory, the friends and all the things that came with it will just fade away. That is when family matters, to cry with you.

At the end of the day, only good thoughts, good words and good deeds leave a mark at the end of your time when it is ripe to move to the other side. 

Saturday, 10 November 2018

History repeats itself, again!

The Battle of Kurukshetra: Bhima killing the King of Kalinga, 
from  1605 illustrated manuscript of the Razmnama, the Persian
translation of the Mahabharata, 
Birla Academy of Art & Culture, Kolkata.
Being a historian must be quite scary; seeing everyday events unfolding in front of his very eyes just as it happened many times before in history. From time immemorial, the issues are the same. Even the language used is eerily the same. The end point is the same; usurping of power, wealth and dominance being the intent. Modus operandi remains the same; coming as friends or liberators with goodies beyond compare. Little do the recipients realise that it is just a bait to fish bigger catches. Your enemy is my enemy, they say. They speak of new incomprehensible lingos, the marginalised, the minority, the downtrodden, the outcasts and they embrace you despite the wart and all. 

The setting may be different. The tool may vary. It would happen at a different time. But the manner would be the same. They would make you see a matter as a problem when it never was, to you or anyone in your vicinity. You will resist. They would use their resources make you feel stupid, obsolete and aloof. They would show proof to demonstrate their assertions. You relent. Poof! They have the solution, and you have a big hole in your pocket.

In times like these, the excellent observation of Freidrich Nietzsche comes to mind. In fact, it was observed in the Vedanta teachings many many centuries ago. That our life goes up and down in oscillation like a sinusoidal wave, with peaks and troughs. Sadness and happiness are temporary events. Do not be too contended when things go your way and, at the same times, do not despair when you are in the doldrums. It would not be long before you start singing and chirping once again.

Like an immortal seeing event of life unfolding in front of him again and again, like in the cycle of rebirth being born yet again, like the life repeating itself, a historian may develop a God-complex. The frustrating part would be that what appears plain to him may not be so to anyone else. Maybe the insanity in the other expects the outcome to be different!

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Eternal vigilance is King!

Hannah Arendt (German, English; 2012)

Hannah Arendt, a political thinker, who is famous for her assessment of the Eichmann trial and the coining of the phrase 'banality of evil' is depicted here. The film depicts the time surrounding the trial and the controversies of Arendt's articles in the New Yorker and her subsequent book, 'Eichmann in Jerusalem' in 1963.

First of all, the trial was considered an illegal exercise. Eichmann was charged in the Israeli Courts for cruelty against humanity as if Israel had jurisdiction over this; there was already the Nuremberg trial for that, and the International Courts would be the appropriate platform to try war crimes. Furthermore, the Israeli Secret Service, Mossad,  apprehended him in Argentina through clandestine methods. Prime Minister of Israel then, Ben Gurion, thought it was apt that the world should hear the plight of the Jews during the Second World War. It was an opportune time for the Jews to showcase to the whole wide world their sufferings through the Holocaust survivors and 200 over witnesses during the trial.

Featured post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian BloggersMany of the trial scenes were actual footages of the actual proceedings. Interestingly, it is said that, at a time when Israel did not have TV transmission, the hearing was transmitted live the world over. It mainly drew viewers from the USA. 

Rather than seeing a monstrous person, the epitome of evil, Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann who was tasked with the logistics of transporting Jews to be terminated turned out to be an unimpressive chap. He had no personal hatred towards the Jewish people. He did not perceive his job as morally wrong and was not remorseful. He portrayed an image of a bureaucrat who was just interested in carrying out diligently the orders given to him by his superiors. With a smirk on his face, he gave the impression of victimisation, speaking in a bureaucratic language, comparing himself as a steak being grilled.

Arendt posited that totalitarianism is an absolute evil that is no longer related to human victory but its destruction. In the words of her somewhat tainted mentor and ex-lover, Martin Heidegger, thinking is a lonely business. It is easier to follow orders than to think. People feel that it is their job to just carry out the instruction and that judgement can be done by history or God in heaven.

Like a caged animal.
Eichmann in a bullet-proof glass enclosure.
As it appears, the whole stage was set for the world to sympathise with the Jewish, for the world to look at the accused with contempt. Arendt's article, on the other hand, did not vilify Eichmann but instead put him just as a vessel of a greater narrative. Eichmann was just a diligent civil servant, a non-thinking fool with no ill-intent but just carrying his designated duties. That is terrifying enough, worse than any atrocity carried out by evil regimes. The worse kind of evil is done by nobodies. And the act of evil becomes a banal affair.

Arendt got a lot of brickbat for that; accusing her of being as anti-Semantic and a closet Nazi supporter. Whatsmore with her past intimate liaison with Martin Heidegger, a Nazi party member. She was also ostracised for criticising the Jewish leadership for allowing such an event to happen in the first place. But that responsibility also fell on the people themselves for their inability to choose a capable one for themselves.

A pessimist outlook on the whole of humanity. The lesson we get here is that this type of mishap can happen anywhere. No part of the planet is immune from it. It is our duty as thinking individual to be wary Eternal vigilance is King. When a person is stripped of his name, identity and personality, he is no more a person, he is just a piece of flesh, a number.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Celebrations, come on!

Dhanvatari - God of Ayurveda.
Note the Chakra, Sanghu, Leech and elixir.
Bloodletting was an accepted way of
treatment in ancient time. The pot
holds the potion of health.
Chakra to slice of tumours or maybe
denoting pressure point, Sonic or
ultrasonic waves to treat ailments?
It used to be an almost non-event. It came at a time when major public examinations were scheduled. Forget about gearing up for Deepavali, we were oiling ourselves to run through the grinding mill of tests and the uncertainty of passing exams. 

When we started working, some of us even had the misfortune of not having a day off. Work had to go on. Still, life went on, knowing jolly well that to serve humankind equals to showing salutations to the Almighty. So we missed many Deepavali and never felt short of anything.

But then, now they tell us that the Deepavali celebrations must go on for five days. That reminds me of someone in our childhood who said that if one is healthy and wealthy with a peace of mind, every day will be Deepavali. 

The homage to the Maker starts even before the event itself. To get people to clean their household, people have dedicated the day before the Festival of Lights to the Avatar of Vishnu, Dhavantri. Dhavantari is the God of Ayurveda who held the elixir of immortality during the churning of Ocean of Milk. Prayer to this deity is to invoke good health. Since 2016, India has proclaimed two days before Deepavali as Ayurveda Day.

There are many version to the reason for rejoicing Deepavali in the month of Karthik (North) or Aippasi (South) in the complicated lunisolar Indian calendar. Narakasuran, the destroying demon, was traditionally blamed for mayhem and when he was slain by his mother, Satyabhama. Narakasura begot a boon of longevity and not to be killed by a man. His death was celebrated with much pomp and light.

Now they tell us that the demon is nowhere but within us. Naraka is hell and Asura is the demon. We need to kill our inner demons to relieve ourselves from the life comparable to Hell; a life filled with sinful activities. Deepavali is the day to renew that pledge. Yeah, right but life is a daily struggle, not a one-off thing. They also say we need darkness to appreciate the bright.

Then there is the Lakshmi Pooja - offerings to the Goddess of Prosperity. The lighting of little clay lamps is to usher wellness to the household and to ward off evil eyes. And this is done daily at night for the five days. For the business community, this is deemed as necessary. The annual accounts are renewed, and the place of work is spruced up to meet the challenges of the following year.
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Since Lakshmi is involved, the purchase of gold or metalware came to be intertwined. To prove the point, came another oral tradition. To avert a curse of snake bite and to trick Lord Yama who manifested in the form of a serpent, the young bride of a King stacked gold and silver coins at the entrance of the slumber chamber. The snake, tired of manoeuvring over the heap of coins and probably blinded by the glare of brightly lit lights whilst at the same time enchanted by the palatial musical accompaniment, fell asleep and missed the deadline. The King was spared.

One can do what he wants; he can be an Uncle Scrooge, be a sourpuss shunning all festivities or party all the time like it is 1999, the duties to the family and the people surrounding us need to go on. While invoking the elephantine powers of the Universe for removal of obstacles and a smooth path to the other side of life, let us not forget the elephant in the room.

N.B. It is pertinent to note how the prefix 'dhan' can be extrapolated to denote wealth and cereal (food). Since coriander (dhane)sounds similar to dhan, a delicacy is made by mixing coriander and jaggery to give it a divine justification of serving. It is, for this very reason, Panini, the great ancient Sanskriti grammarian, emphasised the importance of language and grammar in acquiring knowledge and talking philosophy.

The world is not ready?

Wild Wild Country (Documentary; 2018) It is easy to classify everything as either good or bad. There are, however, two sides of the st...