Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Crows : My Angelic Ancestors

The Crow Pair

Wheatfield with Crows ~ Vincent van Gogh (1890)

Crows ~ Nicoletta Ceccoli (2009)

The birds are the messengers from heaven. They fly in order to mediate between the beings on Earth and their guardian angels in the sky. It is possible only for them to soar up into the blue yonder and kiss the stars. Alighting back safely to the embrace of the tree. Their eternal companion and shelter. The wings of the birds are a mystery. It is not through the wings that they are able to fly. The first flap of their wings is a call for the seraph, who would instantly descend from the celestial space. By the next flap, the bird is buoyed up for the flight. All in a wink. It is the seraph who lifts the bird and makes it fly. The flapping of the wings is just an illusion to hoodwink the human eye.   

There is no other bird which can be as intimate to the human being as the crow. For it is the crow which can spontaneously read the human mind. One look at your eyes. And it sees you through. An eyeball to eyeball encounter with the crow is difficult to sustain. The crow slouches its head playfully to look into your face. It is a gaze that penetrates through your heart. There is something intimate about those twinkling eyes. It has an inexplicable connect with our soul. The ancient mysteries are inscribed in that look. It is indeed the watchful eyes of our departed ancestors, who are unable to take off their eyes from their beloved progenies. Once we start to converse with that gaze, the archetypal memories that are deeply entrenched within the unconscious starts to unfold out. But we are not capable enough to endure it. And turn away. That is our misfortune.    

In our mythologies and folklores, the crows find an enviable place in the order of things. The crows are considered to be the symbols of conjugal love and fidelity. In the dialogue by Plutarch entitled On the Use of Reason by the So-Called 'Irrational' Animals (1st Century AD), the wise pig Gryllus states that crows upon losing a mate, will remain faithful for the remainder of their lives, seven times that of a human being. The Innuits consider the crows to be the harbingers of daylight, as they welcome the dawn with their wake-up calls. For the Tlingit Indians in the North-West of the Pacific, the crow is a divine character, which organises the world, gives civilisation and culture and creates the sun. The most interesting of the legend is from Scandinavia, where the crow symbolises the twin principles of creation : the Spirit and the Memory. The crow is the treasure-house of the memory of the universe.
The crows are the birds of prophecy. In the Oriental mythology, the Mahakaala is represented by a crow in one of its earthly forms. The magnificently judicious God of Shaneesvara has chosen the Crow as His Divine Vaahana.  The most magical aspect of the crow is its ability to divine the future, organise the present and reconcile the past, by criss-crossing time. It is the most stupendous endeavour assigned  to any divine being in the Hindu cosmology. And it is the Crow which is regarded to be performing this task with a natural ease and an ethereal finesee. It has always been possible for a wise seer to comprehend the multitudinous meanings that remain hidden in the diverse calls of the crow. It pours out myriad answers to the perplexing mysteries of existence only into the ears of an ardent listener. Being the carrier of divine grace and enjoying a special intimacy with God, the crow has been created to teach human beings how to live a life full of love, humor and playfulness. 

It is always bewildering to watch a crow building its nest meticulously along with its conjugal pair atop an embracing tree. To witness the bonding between the crow pair and the ways in which they feed and nurture their young ones are life intensifying experiences. One ought to have a thousand eyes to glimpse at the rain-soaked crow preening its feathers or a pair of crows cajoling each other with their smooching beaks and caressing necks. They belong to a sublime sphere of time and space. A crow would rejoice with its beloved when we are born, when we are in love and when we die. Every significant time. For they know the mystery of birth and death, all too well. There is a poignant moment in  Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven (1845). The narrator asks a raven that had flown into his chamber, whether he could be reunited with his deceased beloved. The bird gazes imposingly, as befitting a messenger from the world of spirits and memories, but reveals nothing. It is this profound silence of the crow that compassionately envelops the vast expanse of the cosmos. And that is its beauty.

Monday, November 28, 2011

How Do You Herd Your Ox ?

 1. Undisciplined

With his horns fiercely projected in the air the beast snorts,

Madly running over the mountain paths, farther and farther he goes astray!

A dark cloud is spread across the entrance of the valley,

And who knows how much of the fine fresh herb is trampled under his wild hoofs!

 2. Discipline Begun

I am in possession of a straw rope, and I pass it through his nose,

For once he makes a frantic attempt to run away, but he is severely whipped and whipped;

The beast resists the training with all the power there is in a nature wild and ungoverned,

But the rustic oxherd never relaxes his pulling tether and ever-ready whip.

3. In Harness

Gradually getting into harness the beast is now content to be led by the nose,

Crossing the stream, walking along the mountain path, he follows every step of the leader;

The leader holds the rope tightly in his hand never letting it go,

All day long he is on the alert almost unconscious of what fatigue is.

 4. Faced Round

After long days of training the result begins to tell and the beast is faced round,

A nature so wild and ungoverned is finally broken, he has become gentler;

But the tender has not yet given him his full confidence,

He still keeps his straw rope with which the ox is now tied to a tree.

 5. Tamed

Under the green willow tree and by the ancient mountain stream,

The ox is set at liberty to pursue his own pleasures;

At the eventide when a grey mist descends on the pasture,

The boy wends his homeward way with the animal quietly following.

 6. Unimpeded

On the verdant field the beast contentedly lies idling his time away,

No whip is needed now, nor any kind of restraint;

The boy too sits leisurely under the pine tree,

Playing a tune of peace, overflowing with joy.

 7. Laissez Faire

The spring stream in the evening sun flows languidly along the willow-lined bank,

In the hazy atmosphere the meadow grass is seen growing thick;

When hungry he grazes, when thirsty he quaffs, as time sweetly slides,

While the boy on the rock dozes for hours not noticing anything that goes on about him.

 8. All Forgotten

The beast all in white now is surrounded by the white clouds,

The man is perfectly at his ease and care-free, so is his companion;

The white clouds penetrated by the moon-light cast their white shadows below,

The white clouds and the bright moon-light-each following its course of movement.

9. The Solitary Moon

Nowhere is the beast, and the oxherd is master of his time,

He is a solitary cloud wafting lightly along the mountain peaks;

Clapping his hands he sings joyfully in the moon-light,

But remember a last wall is still left barring his homeward walk.

 10. Both Vanished

Both the man and the animal have disappeared, no traces are left,

The bright moon-light is empty and shadowless with all the ten-thousand objects in it;

If anyone should ask the meaning of this,

Behold the lilies of the field and its fresh sweet-scented verdure.


The Ten Ox-Herding Pictures ~ Tenshō Shūbun (15th Century)


The Manual of Zen Buddhism  ~ D.T. Suzuki (1870 ~ 1966)


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Each One..


Each one shall sit at table with his own cup and spoon,
and with his own repentance.
Each one's own business shall be his most important affair,
and provide his own remedies.
They have neglected bowl and plate.
Have you a wooden fork?
Yes, each monk has a wooden fork as well as a potato.


Each one shall wipe away tears with his own saint,
when three bells hold in store a hot afternoon.
Each one is supposed to mind his own heart,
with its conscience,
night and morning.
Another turn on the wheel : ho hum!
And observe the Abbot!
Time to go to bed in a straw blanket.


Plenty of bread for everyone
between prayers and the psalter :
will you recite another?
Merci, and Miserere.
Always mind both the clock and the Abbot until eternity.


Details of the Rule are all liquid and solid.
What canon was the first to announce regimentation before us?
Mind the step on the way down!
Yes, I dare say you are right, Father.
I believe you; I believe you.
I believe it is easier when they have ice water and even a lemon.
Each one can sit at table with his own lemon,
and mind his own conscience.


Can we agree that the part about the lemon is regular?
In any case, it is better to have sheep than peacocks,
and cows rather than a chained leopard says Modest,
in one of his proverbs.
The monastery, being owner of a communal rowboat,
is the antechamber of heaven.
Surely that ought to be enough.


Each one can have some rain
after Vespers on a hot afternoon,
but ne quid nimis,
or the purpose of the Order will be forgotten.
We shall send you hyacinths and a sweet millennium.
Everything the monastery provides is very pleasant to see
and to sell for nothing.
What is baked smells fine.
There is a sign of God on every leaf
that nobody sees in the garden.
The fruit trees are there on purpose,
even when no one is looking.
Just put the apples in the basket.
In Kentucky there is also room for a little cheese.
Each one shall fold his own napkin,
and neglect the others.


Rain is always very silent in the night,
under such gentle cathedrals.
Yes, I have taken care of the lamp, Miserere.
Have you a patron saint, and an angel?
Thank you.
Even though the nights are never dangerous,
I have one of everything.

~ Thomas Merton (1915 ~ 1968)

(A Practical Program for Monks)

A Photograph By Thomas Merton

The dialogue between the Orient and the Occident has been historically elevating. Such two-way processes to comprehend the broader similarities and the underlying differences between Oriental mysticism and Occidental theology were attempted by many. Among them, the corpus of work of Thomas Merton stands out as an important landmark. Merton's most significant writings include his autobiography Seven Storey Mountain and his study of Zen entitled Zen and the Birds of Appetite. Besides his close association with DT Suzuki, the quintessential scholar on Zen philosophy, Merton was also an avid photographer. That makes the journey of discovering Merton more exciting.

It is not known as to who had taken the photograph atop, of a child playing with the paper boats. But it does capture one of those intensely meditative Zen moments, which can be felt in the photographic works of Merton as well. He lived for about five decades till he passed away in 1968, enjoying jazz and poetry, being a social activist and above all, intimately interacting with the Eastern philosophical traditions. All the while, he continued to be an ardent and loyal descendant of the precepts formulated by Saint Benedict of Nursia, belonging to the 6th Century and the guiding polestar for monastic living in Christianity.

The Roman Catholic religious Order of contemplative monks who follow the Rule of St.Benedict are called the Trappists, if they are males and Trappistines, if they are females. The followers of this Order take the three vows for stability, fidelity to monastic life and obedience. The emphasis is more on silence than to indulge in any general or idle talk. They even have a distinct monastic sign language to dissuade from talking. The monasteries are allowed to brew beer and to sell it to the outsiders. Interestingly, the monks are not prohibited from drinking beer. No wonder, the Trappist Beer is considered to be among the finest in the world.

A Practical Program For Monks is a meditative poem on the zeniths and abysses of monastic life, being led by quite a significant few, in their search for salvation. While looking at their ascetic temperament in a satirical and self-critical way, the poem also opens up new vistas of understanding life. It captures the not-so-ossified mindscape of a spiritually sensitive monk, who reflects upon the transcendence of life through everyday routine and the million mysteries that are embedded in its myriad happenings. It adds varied hues and colours to the predicament of life, where everyone is fundamentally alone and are destined to find out their own inner solitary truths.

This mystical poetry reaches out to the sky in the following lines :

There is a sign of God on every leaf

that nobody sees in the garden.

The fruit trees are there on purpose,

even when no one is looking.

The most beautiful part of Merton's life is the way in which he fell in love with a nurse named Margie towards the later part of his life. He was torn apart between his passion for his ladylove and his beloved Jesus. But that made him more human. In the latest book on Merton written by Mark Shaw, which got published only last year and appropriately entitled Beneath the Mask of Holiness: Thomas Merton and the Forbidden Love Affair that Released Him, there is an illuminating passage which is excerpted as under :

Beneath the mask of holiness, the plastic saint image promoted by the Catholic Church, was a sunken man who yearned for love while realizing he could never truly be one with God until he found it. Then, the skies opened up and there was a gift, the love of a woman. It is no wonder Merton grabbed the chance to experience love despite the risks involved. And Margie taught him about loving, and being loved, opening up a path to freedom Merton never knew existed..

Friday, November 18, 2011

Devajyoti Ray's Art : Redeeming Innocence From Post-Modernity

The Journey
Good Bye
Twilight By The Window
The Gaze
Reclining Fantasy
 The Smoker
The Gossip
The Baul
Grooming The Self
A Quiet Evening

There are various solutions, and I find Andy Warhol’s position particularly interesting. Warhol interests me because he develops a media-oriented, mechanical strategy. It is consistent with the strategy of the system, but faster than the system itself. It doesn’t dispute the system, but it pushes it to the point of absurdity, by overdoing its transparency..

 ~ Jean Baudrillard on Andy Warhol

The first half of the twentieth century had witnessed a series of turbulent transformations in the sphere of art and culture. The two World Wars had exposed the fault-lines which were hitherto hidden in the project of Modernity. The self-procalimed authority of Enlightenment Rationality crumbled. And the arrogance of the singular Truth, with a capital-T, became stale and obsolete. In its place, a mosaic of multiple truths germinated like amoeba. The certainties and fixities of modern living gradually came to be replaced with the uncertainties and insecurities of a fractured existence. In short, during the second half of the twentieth century, post-modernity emerged from the carcass of modernity. Rejecting the grand naratives of  modernism, the post-modern art evolved by blurring the boundaries between high and low forms of art. Modernism was seeking the closure in form and was concerned with conclusions. But, post-modernism began to long for openness and unboundedness. Post-modern art became more interested in the processes and journeys rather than with the end results and destinations. This has come to be a reflexive moment in the history of art as it rolled over to demask pretensions and accelerate the process of self-consciousness.

It is interesting to note that while the fin de siècle of the 19th century saw the birth of modernism, the same twilight zone of the 20th century mutely witnessed its withering away. And heralded the emergence of what Jean-Francois Lyotard had called as The Postmodern Condition. The grand (or meta) narratives of human history like the Enlightenment or the conception of Marxism have become untenable because of the mind-boggling technological advances in the domains of communication and mass media, from television to the internet. This has resulted in a totally new form of production of signs and symbols in the post-industrial economy, hitherto unkown to the experiential unvierse of mankind. Among a wide array of thinkers starting from Jacques Lacan to Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault to Jacques Derrida, the most illuminating insights on the modes of mediation and technological communication are found in the astoundingly wonderful writings of Jean Baudrillard. In the contemporary times, complete understanding of the minutiae of human life is impossible and it would remain an elusive ideal. This is inevitable because human beings as consumers of mass media are seduced into a simulated version of reality, or, to use one of Baudrillard's neologisms, a state of hyperreality. Thus Marshall McLuhan's global village has got transformed into a simulacra due to the communication revolution where nothing is real anymore. Unwittingly though!

In such a predicament, the creative expressions of artists have become radically different from the modernistic period. A few artists in South Asia have begun to conceptualize their unique position in the international contemporary art. While operating in a post-colonial society, these artists have a genuine need to discover their indigenous idioms and metaphors in order to evolve their own unique styles. In this post-modern cultural landscape, which is distinctly fluid, it becomes imperative to interpret the multiverses that co-exist both within and outside the vortex of human mind. And as Lyotard says, while there is no certainty of ideas, there are definitely better or worse ways to interpret things. Therefore, it is vital to understand, comprehend and above all, relish the works of such contemporary artists who see and interpret these panoramic worlds which we inhabit. One such fine artist with a creative flourish and vitality who is emerging in the contemporary South Asian art scene is Devajyoti Ray. In his recent works during the last few years, he has been pioneering a new style of art which he has termed as Pseudo-Realism. By experimenting with this new genre, Devajyoti Ray approaches reality through abstraction by means of abstract colours and shades. In the process, he creates a simulacra of the real, depicting the hyperreal, which approximates the real but multilayered worlds which we simultaneously live with.

The works of Devajyoti Ray are refreshingly original and fascinatingly new in the contemporary art practices prevalent in South Asia. Devajyoti's works are meditative attempts to unravel the semiotics of the hidden symbols and meanings that are embedded upon the fractured consciousness of the post-modern Self. Unlike many of his contemporaries, his works are not pretentious. They communicate to the viewer with an innate genuineness and calls for a longer conversation with the objects of art. It is this beauty and innocence, the defining hallmarks of his paintings, that makes them stand apart in the post-modern cacophony of the art world. In the existing marketised artscape, where art has become yet another commodity and where the scribbled signatures, not the object of art, sells, Devajyoti's works are uncompromising. Post-modern art holds that all stances are unstable and insincere, and therefore irony, parody and humour are the only positions that cannot be overturned. The works of Devajyoti not only redeems innocence and beauty from post-modernity, but also contain with them an ironical stance and a self-critical gaze. That is an interesting way to look at oneself and the world around in these difficult times that we are condemned to live with and get along.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Billy Joel ~ The River Of Dreams

The River Of Dreams
In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
From the mountains of faith
To the river so deep
I must be looking for something
Something sacred I lost
But the river is wide
And it's too hard to cross

And even through I know the river is wide
I walk down every evening and stand on the shore
I try to cross to the opposite side
So I can finally find what I've been looking for

In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
Through the valley of fear
To a river so deep
I'm a searcher for something
Taken out of my soul
Something I'd never lose
Something somebody stole

I don't know why I go walking at night
But now I'm tired and I don't wanna walk anymore
Hope it doesn't take the rest of my life
Until I find what it is I've been looking for

In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
Through the jungle of doubt
To the river so deep
I know I'm searching for something
Something so undefined
That it can only be seen
By the eyes of the blind
In the middle of the night

I'm not sure about a life after this
God knows I've never been a spiritual man
Baptized by the fire, I wade into the river
That is running to the promised land

In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
Though the desert of truth
To the river so deep
We all end in the ocean
We all start in the streams
We're all carried along
By the river of dreams
In the middle of the night

~ Billy Joel

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bhupen Hazarika : The Jajabor Of Assam

Bhupen Hazarkia, the wanderer (Jajabor) of Assam, has passed away at a ripe-old age of 85. It happened just a few hours ago in the vicinity. Probably they would be electrically cremating his body a short while later in the day. Or they might have have already done so. Does it matter anymore? The body becoming ashes. The eternal home of everyone born on this Earth : Death. The dissolution of a physical presence in the memory. Waiting to disappear into an eternal oblivion in the due course of time. The Mahaa Kaal. The abode of the great God Bhairava.

Bhupen lived his life completely. Being a multi-faceted persona, he made his mark in the diverse domains of music, poetry, singing, writing and film-making. He had always attributed his musical roots to the tribal music and its rhythms with which he had grown up. His soul-stirring musical renditions, many of which he had himself rendered in his baritone voice blending with his sonorous lyrics, contain within them the twin elements of simplicity and innocence. The rich folk heritage of Assam got beautifully re-interpreted in a modern idiom through his varied musical compositions spanning across many decades. 

The personal life of Bhupen Hazarika was interesting. He had married Priyamvada Patel with whom he had a son, who is now living in the US. They had separated after 13 years of marriage. After his association with the Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA), he had adopted Mumbai as his second home. Subsequently in the year of 1977, after crossing 50 years of age, Bhupen met Kalpana Lajmi. She was 23 then. Being a feminist that Kalpana is, Bhupen lived the rest of his life of more than three decades with his director companion, without any 'pact for marriage'. When he breathed his last, she was by his side. Bhupen has now left his compositions to continue to haunt the lonely nights of human beings and make them get more drenched in their longing for communion with their beloved souls. 

Bhupen With Kalpana An Unconventional Companionship

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ra.One & 7-aam Arivu : Two Moronic Techno Monsters!

Ra.One (Hindi)

Shahrukh Khan : A desperado running amok?

After a series of flops, Shahrukh Khan wanted to resurrect his delusional King Khan image which is fast eroding in the highly competitive and creatively combative Bollywood movie-making industry. To settle scores with his falling stars, he initially tried a few directors and finally employed one to make this 3-D movie called as Ra.One, rhyming as Raavan. Shahrukh should have consulted Mani Ratnam to understand the curse behind the name. Unfortunately he didn't. We are therefore subjected to undergo the torture of sitting through the movie, wearing those smudgy stereoscopic glasses, as a form of divine retribution during Diwali by the ghosts of ten-headed Raavan. The film starts in the most boringly possible way ever made in the history of Hindi cinema. And it continues to carry on with the same pace and tedium till the very end. A remarkable three-dimensional feat in wasting technology. Ra-One, G-One, Lucifer, Kickass, HART, Akashi, Aiyo! and Aiyo!! These are not just terms or cliches from any of the kids' computer games. They sum up the entire script and screenplay of the film. During some of the song and dance sequences, one gets to watch the titillating gyrations of Kareena Kapoor with the 3-D effect! That remains the only solace, insufficient though! The entire hyped-up attempt of Shahrukh Khan to create an Indian science fiction superhero film ends up as a creative disaster. Tragic.

Movie Rating : 2 out of 10     

7-aam Arivu (Tamil)

Murugadoss : A mimicry artist aping to become a director!

The Tamil film industry has become creatively challenged ever since the advent of film-makers like S.A.Chandrasekhar's protege Shanmugam Shankar, Balu Mahendra's favourite disciple Bala Palanisamy and S.J.Suryah's assistant Arunsalam Murugadoss. They, along with their cohorts, have collectively set a trend where loud-mouthed propaganda and intellectual mediocrity gets renowned as works of great cinematic endeavour while successfully churning out third-rated trash. Mere technical finesse by coupling brilliant cinematography with a good soundtrack would not make up for good cinema. Which oddly seems to be the case with these crop of younger directors. The latest in the offing from this bunch is 7-aam Arivu by Murugadoss. The first episode of the film begins with a chauvinistically biased portrayal of the story of Bodhidharma, who was a descendant of a Pallava king from Kanchipuram. The historical fact that he was also called as The Blue-Eyed Barbarian in many of the Chinsese texts and the controversies sorrounding his biographial accounts get conveniently buried in the Tamil linguistic zealotry generated in the movie. This part of the film ends with interviews  of many contemporary road-side Tamilians who express their naive ignorance on the subject matter, upon which the director warms up to profoundly explore during the remaining part of the film, the storyline of which is set in present-day Chennai. The hero of the film, who works in a circus, happens to be the descendant of the historical Bodhidharma. The heroine, who is a PhD scholar doing research in genetic enginering, happens to discover the missing link. Her mission : to perform the task of genetic re-engineering on the DNA chain of the hero so that the lost valour, the immense medical knowledge and the vast technological wizardry, which remain hidden in the legendary gentic code of Tamil chromosomes, are rediscovered for the utmost benefit of mankind. To this effect, the heroine delivers an inspiring lecture, interspersed with a few choicest Tamil abuses, which gets unfortunately censored preventing the Delhi Belly effect! Employing his noku-varma technique of marital art, the Chinese villain keeps staring at the camera, thereby looking at the director first and the audience next, benumbing the drained sensibilities and left-over intelligence, to sail through the film. Here, the villain gets transformed into a comedian, which is a staple diet of every Tamil cinema. But such an inventive transformation, no doubt, can be made possible only by a Tamil gene! The grand finale of the film is yet another gutturally repulsive speech delivered by the hero on the greatness of Tamil history, Tamil anthropology, Tamil sociology, Tamil polity, Tamil economy, Tamil geography, Tamil mathematics, Tamil astronomy, Tamil science, etc., etc., the subjects which the director Murugadoss had struggled hard to pass through during his school days! The saving grace of the film are the stellar performance of Surya, the tantalising cinematography of Ravi K Chandran and the enjoyable soundtrack by Harris Jayaraj. Shruti is too plastic in her expressions and too trite for her role. Hope she follows the footsteps of her national award winning Marathi mother rather than falling into the claptrap of her Tamil father. Long live the Tamil chromosomes of the Tamil director so that it can wreck more such Tamil havoc upon the Tamil cinematic future!

Movie Rating : 3 out of 10