Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Typical Indian Happy Ending

No. This is not one of those so called ‘modern’, ‘westernized’, young Indians reveling in fashionable self-deprecatory talk. It’s an understanding, an explanation of an Indian pattern often mocked at.

Among other things, the book ‘Discovery of India’ discusses art – music, painting, poetry, literature and drama – that developed in different nations, races and civilizations.
Although there was some form of art everywhere, Greece and India seem to have produced copious amounts of significant art. There are some inevitable but interesting comparisons.
One comparison was that between Greek and Indian Drama. Indian drama essentially meant Sanskrit Drama those days.
The author observes that there are powerful tragedies in Greek drama. But there is no tragedy in Sanskrit drama. I have studied Sanskrit in school and college and in the course of my study I have come across several plays – Abhijnyana Shakuntala, Mritchhakatika, Swapna Vasavadatta among others. I have read the great Indian epics. But I never noticed this characteristic feature!
Only when I read this book, it struck me – ‘Oh yes!, there is no tragedy in Sanskrit Drama’!

This I believe was in keeping with the Indian spirit.
Indians have always had unwavering faith in the doctrine of Karma. Even today, Karma is a strongly believed theory in India. Good begets good and evil begets evil. It’s a doctrine above and beyond questioning, above and beyond verification. It governed most of morality and ethics that prevailed in the ancient Indian society. It was a sort of paradigm in which people lived.

Now, what is a tragedy? A bad thing happening to a good fellow. Isn’t it?
And this is not in keeping with the principle of Karma and people would not be able to identify with it or reconcile with the idea. A bad thing happening to a good fellow was simply not acceptable to them. A good thing happening to a bad fellow was equally unpalatable.
True, in the Ramayana, Rama is exiled to the forest, his consort is kidnapped by Ravana, but in the end he triumphs and returns victorious. In the Mahabharata, the protagonists, the Pandavas were humiliated by the Kauravas (antagonists), they lost their kingdom, spent 13 years in the forest but in the end, they won.
So tragic events are permissible in intermediate stages but in the end, the good fellow has to be happy. The whole thing has to make sense, meaning, it has to be in keeping with the doctrine of Karma.

All of modern Indian drama and Indian cinema directly or indirectly derive from Sanskrit drama. Therefore it has been a pattern in most Indian movies that the hero wins in the end always, no matter how improbable his winning may be, no matter how impossible his situation.
Nowadays, of course things are changing and we have heroes with imperfect character and villains whose actions, the movie attempts to justify. We do have tragedies and there isn’t necessarily an explanation. But the happy ending pattern is always mocked at.

Now that I know where the pattern comes from, I UNDERSTAND. It does continue to seem funny, but it has ceased to be ridiculous.

Just thought I would share this all with you.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Palli Samaj - Sharat Chandra Chatterjee

Palli Samaj is all about life in rural Bengal.
Ramesh, a native of the village, but bred mostly in the city of Calcutta romanticizes village life. He imagines it must be charming and innocent. But when he revisits his village after many many years, he is simply disillusioned.

He sees that the village society is plagued with politics, persecution of the innocent, rivalry, jealousy, greed, selfishness, family feuds and disharmony between people.

There is the caste system, ostracization and untouchability. The custodians of so-called religion are the most fallen people. People are scheming against one another and preoccupied with schemes to usurp other people’s property.

There are Muslims in the neighbouring villages who are more united than the Hindus (who are divided because of caste), but the Muslims covet each other’s daughters and wives.

There is malaria that has confined people to bed for weeks and months but no one cares to cover up the stagnant ponds which are the breeding grounds of the disease.

He decides to return to the city disgusted with what he sees but is detained by his aunt Bisveshwari who is one of the few good people in the village and has retained her sensibility in the midst of madness.
He tries to help the people there by attending to the causes of the village such as bad roads, dilapidated school, etc, only to find himself in an imbroglio and finally lands in jail.

When Ramesh returns from Jail he sees that the problems have corrected, as if by a strange dispensation of Providence.
What his conscious battle for months could not do was achieved by his going to prison.

Beni, Rama, Ramesh, Bisveshwari are the main characters of the story.

A few noteworthy lines from the book...

Always make fully sure that the fire is out, the debt is paid and the enemy vanquished...

While in city, Ramesh had thought to himself, “if only I can once reach my village, I can escape all these evils. There, religion governs life and society has still preserved its integrity.’
But where was religion alive in these villages? If the very essence of religion has disappeared, why did its putrefying corpse reign supreme? It seemed as if rural society was clinging in desperation to this distorted and decomposing cadaver and in the process, sinking deeper and deeper into slimy degradation. But the most pitiful contradiction of ethics was that the jibes of the villagers were directed at city life – where, they asserted, religion was non-existent!

After raining non-stop for two days, it was just letting up towards the evening...

Whether or not a person is truly worthy can be assessed only when money comes into play! This is the time when no deception is possible and only man’s true nature comes to the fore...

Author observes that there was more unity in Muslim villages. “the manner in which everyone clustered around to help the needy in whatever manner possible was something Ramesh had never witnessed in any Hindu village”...

The disputes and discord that result due to caste differences, are a sign of progress and not the cause. The strife has to come first...

Persecuting the innocent...
If he returned to the city, there would be no hope of any redress t all...

The more we analyse falsehood, it increases in strength. There is no greater sin than increasing evil through one’s own impatient actions...

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Diwali. October 09. Mysore.

I, my brother Murali, my cousin Phani and another cousin Aravind – all gathered at my place. After fireworks and dinner, it was bedtime. There was a lot of laughter as we talked about this and that… and finally we came to the topic of ghosts.

My cousin Phani has a penchant for running into ghosts. This time, it was during his stay in a room in Bangalore with his friends.

They were the three of them in this room on the first floor of this independent house in Ashoknagar near Vidyapeetha circle.
One of the boys was careless and the other two would rebuke him for being forgetful about various things.

After bathing, for instance, this boy would forget to switch off the boiler. After a few times of being told to be careful and after some scolding, the boy started being careful. But the problem continued. The boiler switch was found to be on! And the poor boy pleaded that he had surely switched it off!

At night when the boys were asleep, their blankets would be pulled off or misplaced.

One day, my cousin’s friends planned to go to the temple. The two of them woke up first, had their bath and started getting ready while my cousin was asleep. My cousin woke up in a while and entered the bathroom. When he was still bathing, his friends shouted goodbye to him and said they would lock the door from outside. My cousin came out of the bath to find that his friends had gone.
What he also found was that the door was bolted from the inside and there was nobody else in the room! That’s when his suspicion was confirmed.

The next day, he accosted the house owner’s son and made a few enquiries about his family members and who had stayed in the room previously. The boy revealed that he had an elder brother who had committed suicide and he used to live in the same room as these boys lived in now!

My cousin is a fearless guy and continued to live in the same room. Of course, they brought in pictures of Gods and hung them on the wall and all that, but if I were in his position, I would have vacated the place the same day. Freaky!

The discussion that night went on to other ghosts that my grandparents and other people had run into in our native village. My mother who had been sitting next to me asked us to stop the morbid discussion as it was quite late and we should not be going to bed with all that in our head. Moreover, I was going to be sleeping alone upstairs in my room!

But courageous as I am and not easily shaken by these things, I encouraged my cousins to share some more of it with us. And then we went on to discuss ghosts of presidents in the white house, ghosts of patients who died on the operation table in hospital corridors, this really gory picture my cousin had seen, this really scary movie which they had watched during broad daylight and got scared etc. and then there was the inevitable question “Do you believe in ghosts?”. All of us agreed that we did.

It was time to retire. I walked to the dark stairs and turned on all lights in a hurry. (Usually, I climb the staircase without caring for the lights!). I walked to my bed and sat on it. The windows behind me were all closed. Thanks. But one window on my side was open. I looked in its direction. It was dark outside. And quite still. I called up two of my friends and consulted them. I could have slept alone. I told you I am courageous. But then, what if I saw a scary dream and woke up in horror? What if I heard some sound and opened my eyes to see the tall figure of my father standing at the door?(He has this habit of walking around the house ‘making sure everything’s alright’ on days that he does not sleep well).

So I decided to sleep in my room downstairs. I did not dream that night. And the next morning we talked about more ghosts. Some very mischievous proven ghosts that have made people vacate their houses. The unstoppable ones that did not even care for exorcists who are scarier than ghosts. I will write about them later.

Last night (my place in Bangalore), as I woke up in the dark to drink water and groped my way to the kitchen, this episode about my cousin occurred to me and a chill ran down my spine. Having stayed in different places and for the last 2 years, all by myself, what with so many people committing suicide all the time, I am grateful that I have not run into a ghost!