Thursday, 17 September 2015

Book Review: The Thinking Indian (Guest Post: Gilu Mishra)

ॐ श्री गणेशाय नमः 
A perfect day to share the first detailed review of my e-book, The Thinking Indian

I am happy to host today, Gilu Mishra, a friend and a fellow lover and student of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Gilu and I first met several years ago in Pondicherry when she joined the institution where I was working at the time, to participate in some structured courses meant to help learners go deeper into some aspects of the wide-ranging thought and works of Sri Aurobindo. I had the privilege of serving as her facilitator for some of this study and research experience. Through this shared exploration and study experience, particularly of the major works related to the social, educational and cultural thought of Sri Aurobindo, we became better acquainted with each other and a friendship began to blossom.

Gilu has advanced degrees in nursing and psychology. Having worked for many years as a healthcare professional at a premier medical facility for many years, she presently works in the area of education of young children, especially at the pre-primary and primary levels. Originally from Kerala, Gilu now lives in New Delhi. As a seeker and life-long learner she writes about some of her reflections and life lessons, though not as frequently as she would like (I am sure!) at "all life is yoga.

What makes me doubly pleased about her presence on this space today is that her post is actually about me! (Pardon the Ego Moment!) Well, it is not really about me, but about an e-book that I wrote and self-published a few months ago. Gilu is here to present her review of "The Thinking Indian: Essays on Indian Socio-Cultural Matters in the Light of Sri Aurobindo."

Thank you Gilu, and a warm welcome!

Click here to purchase

I present here some of my views regarding Dr. Beloo Mehra’s e-book ‘The Thinking Indian’, a collection of essays on several Indian Socio-cultural matters, as seen in the light of Sri Aurobindo.

Recently, during a casual conversation with a friend, our topic turned to the method of education being provided in the schools these days. We were talking about how today’s children are not interested in reading and how their thoughts are limited. ‘Thinking out of the box’ is out of question, we opined, but let them at least think! As I was reading through the e-book ‘The Thinking Indian.’ I remembered this conversation and about the ‘thought phobia’ (as Beloo quotes Sri Aurobindo) which has become fairly common now.

In the prelude, Beloo mentions that it is heartening to see people are becoming more open-minded and curious learners. This e-book is an excellent aid for such people, especially the young generation to contemplate about the current events and widen their spectrum of thought. The topics and instances provided in these essays may act as a spark to the light the fire within. All the essays are written in an ‘easy to read’ manner which will definitely appeal to every reader and not only those with an academic frame of mind. There is definitely at least one topic to which every individual can connect.

This e-book consists of nine essays related to Indian socio-cultural matters. Beloo presents a myriad of topics ranging from Spirituality, Hinduism to commercialism and movies! And all topics are contemporary, making them interesting to even the ‘not concerned about what is happening in the world’ younger generation. There is one essay inspired by the movie ‘The Monuments Men’ and there are two essays based on the TV serials ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata.’ There is one essay about spirituality being the master-key of Indian mind and another one about Indian culture.

For the one who is more materialistically oriented there are essays on commercialism and the study of Indo-American people where she talks about the evolution of the group soul. I am sure all these essays give a different point of view regarding the matter and would definitely encourage the reader to explore more regarding the same. For example, in her essay ‘Don’t Blame the Culture’ she talks about two sides of a behaviour may be seen simultaneously. One may see some people jumping the queue in a public place and at the same time there may be some people who will let a more deserving person move ahead of them! Presenting such examples, she forces us to think about the individual behaviour rather than the common trend of blaming the culture.

In most of her essays, Beloo gives us some questions to ponder on. In her first essay, ‘Spirituality, the Master-key of the Indian Mind’ she asks, “What does it mean to grapple with the infinite and how is it native to Indian mind?” Another interesting question is given to us in the second essay ‘Don’t Blame the Culture’ when she asks, “Shouldn’t we be concerned about learning what a culture really is before we start finding faults with it?” Or when she asks, “Can a piece of art be more worth than a human life?” in the essay ‘On Movies, Art and Culture.’ I am sure each of the readers would really stop for a while to think about these questions.

Many of her essays are lined with her personal experiences or observations as well, which are again some things that the reader will be able to connect with. One example where I did sit up and thought “This happened to me too...” was the picture of the sunset on page 22. Just as Beloo did, I too said, “Wow, what a beauty!” And as I continued to read her explanation of ‘The God’s Labour,’ I was mesmerized! I would not be doing justice if I talk about it here, it would be better if one reads the author herself! This is just one example. There are several such instances in this e-book which I am sure the readers will be able to identify with. In many of these instances, the reader may see that Beloo has given words to bring out his/ her own sentiment.

There is one essay about the Hindi novel ‘Abhyuday’ titled ‘Re-telling Classical Literature, Awakening a Generation: Case of Ramayana.’ In this essay, she talks about how the author presents Ramayana in the modern setting and the relevance of Ram in the present intellectual society. Here also she provides certain instances to explain this point. How Ram faces the dilemma of war, how he learns about the cruelty and oppression faced by the people and even the story of Ahalya is told in a new perspective. Beloo has to be given credit that I, one who is not very fond of Hindi literature, is tempted to read the novel after reading what she has written about it!

As Beloo says in the title of the e-book, her essays are in the light of Sri Aurobindo. Sri Aurobindo’s words are significant even now and inspire everyone who turns to Him. To quote her, “It will be well worth reminding ourselves of these words of Sri Aurobindo that are meant to guide us through these wrong steps and detours, and inspire us to search for the soul of India that is leading her to her unique mission in the world.”

I could go on about how this little e-book ‘The thinking Indian’ is a motivation for every individual, but it would definitely be better for each to read on his/her own and be invigorated.

To conclude, I wish that the vibration of positive and open thinking which Beloo inspires is well received and more and more people are motivated by her.

Monday, 14 September 2015

सुमिरन कर ले मेरे मना…

आज, १४ सितम्बर, हिंदी दिवस के अवसर पर एक विशेष प्रस्तुति

चित्रकार: बिंदु पोपली 

संगीत जब उपासना की ओर ले जाए…कल सुबह के कुछ पल ऐसे ही थे…

एक दिव्य अनुभूति थी जब गुरु नानक के भक्ति-भाव से भरे शब्द पंडित जसराज के भावपूर्ण सुरों में और डॉ एल सुब्रमण्यम के मनमोहक वॉयलिन की तारों पर नाच रहे थे। इस प्रेमपूर्ण संगीत-उपासना में साथ दे रही थीं - कविता कृष्णमूर्ती। और इस संगम में डुबकी लगाने का आनंद-अनुभव शायद शब्दों में वर्णननीय नहीं है।

प्रातः-काल की उस बेला में इस प्रकार का अनुभव वास्तव में ही एक उपासना से कम नहीं है।

(मेरे पास यह संपूर्ण भजन एक साथ ही है, परन्तु इंटरनेट पर दो भागों में ही उपलब्ध है - इसका खेद है क्यूंकि इससे ध्यान भंग होने की संभावना रहती है। )

इसे अनुभव करने के बाद यदि आप आगे पढ़ना चाहें तो....

आज हिंदी दिवस के अवसर पर रह रह कर वही गुरु नानक की पंक्त्तियां याद आ रही हैं। शायद कल के उस अनुभव की छाप है। परन्तु अपने हिंदी न जानने वाले पाठकों के लिए मैं जब इन पंक्त्तियों का अंग्रेजी में अनुवाद करने का सोचती हूँ तो ऐसा लगता है मानो अनुवाद करने से इस भजन के आतंरिक सत्य को, सम्पूर्ण स्वरूप को मेरा प्रयास कभी पकड़ ही नहीं पायेगा। ऐसा प्रतीत होता है कि कुछ भाव ऐसे होते हैं जो केवल किसी एक भाषा में ही व्यक्त किए जा सकते हैं।

गुरु नानक के ये शब्द साधारण नहीं हैं। ये एक सच्चे भक्तिलीन हृदय की अभिव्यक्ति हैं जो संपूर्ण मानव-कल्याण के लिए हैं, परन्तु इसे और किसी भाषा में कह सकना इतना आसान नहीं है। कम-से-कम मेरे लिए तो नहीं। इसलिए नहीं की अंग्रेजी में उपयुक्त शब्द नहीं है इस बात को कहने के लिए। पर शब्दों का सही चयन सही भाव भी उत्पन कर सके - ऐसा सदैव आव्यशक भी तो नहीं।

एक और कारण भी है जो अनुवाद में कठिनाई प्रस्तुत करता है। वह है - सांस्कृतिक प्रसंग जिसमें इन पंक्तियों का गूढ़ भावार्थ समझा जा सकता है । क्या "मंदिर दीप बिना " के सही भाव को अंग्रेजी का वाक्यांश "temple without a lamp" वास्तव में अभिव्यक्त कर सकता है ? मंदिर और मंदिर में दीप जलाने के भाव के सांस्कृतिक प्रसंग एवं आतंरिक अर्थ को समझे बिना मात्र अनुवाद कर देने से हम कई बार एक कोमल और पवित्र भाव को, एक आध्यात्मिक कर्म को केवल एक साधारण भावना अथवा एक बाहरी कार्य बना देते हैं।

जब गुरु नानक मंदिर में दीप जलाने की बात करते हैं तो हमारी भारतीय संस्कृति के अनुसार वे हमें स्मरण करवा रहें हैं कि मंदिर केवल बाहर ही नहीं है, वास्तविक मंदिर तो मन के अंदर है। और वह मन-मंदिर हरि नाम के बिना सूना है। बहरी दीप जलाना तो केवल एक बाहरी कार्य है, उसका वास्तविक उद्देश्य तो मन-मंदिर को ज्योतिर्मय करना है।

इसी प्रकार "देह नैन बिन" के भाव को समझने के लिए यह प्रसंग समझना आवश्यक हो जाता है कि यहाँ पर केवल बाहरी नेत्रों या बाहरी दृष्टि की ही बात नहीं हो रही है। बिना आतंरिक दृष्टि के, बिना सूक्ष्म दृष्टि के यह मानव जन्म सूना है, अधूरा है -- यह गूढ़ सत्य हम तभी सराह सकते हैं जब हम भारतीय सांस्कृतिक प्रसंग में इस पंक्त्ति को आत्मसात करें। इन सब को मैं अनुवाद में कैसे लाऊँ ?

और सबसे महत्वपूर्ण बात तो यह है -- जब एक प्रबुद्ध संत-पीर, एक ऋषि जिसने अपने एवं समस्त ब्रह्माण्ड के आत्म-दर्शन किये हों और इस जगत के सत्य-स्वरूप को पहचाना हो, जब वह हरि-स्मरण की बात करता है तो उस उपदेश की व्याख्या आप एक साधारण वाक्यांश - "Remember the Lord" से कदापि नहीं कर सकते हैं। प्रभु और प्रभु-लीला का स्मरण तो अन्य कई लोग भी करते हैं, पर गुरु नानक शायद हमें उस स्मरण की ओर ले जाना चाहते हैं जो वास्तवतिक रूप में हमें हरि-दर्शन के लिए, एक अंतर-ज्योति से साक्षात्कार के लिए तैयार कर सकता है। इस भाव को अनुवादित कैसे किया जाये ?

इन सब सीमाओं को भली-भांति अपने समक्ष रखते हुए मैं अनुवाद करने का प्रयत्न नहीं कर रही हूँ। इच्छुक पाठक इस लिंक पर एक अनुवादित प्रयास पढ़ सकते हैं। अथवा भाव को बिना शब्दों के ही अनुभव करने के लिए भजन को सुन कर हरी-स्मरण में डूबने का प्रयास कर सकते हैं। जैसा जिसको साजे....

सुमिरन कर ले मेरे मना तेरी बीती जाती उमर हरी नाम बिना रे ||

कूप नीर बिन धेनु क्षीर बिन धरती मेघ बिना |

जैसे तरुवर फल बिन हीना तैसे प्राणी हरी नाम बिना रे ||

देह नैन बिन रैन चन्द्र बिन मंदिर दीप बिना |

जैसे पंडित वेद विहीना तैसे प्राणी हरी नाम बिना रे ||

काम क्रोध मद लोभ निवारो छाड़ दे अब संत जना |

कह नानक तू सुन भगवंता या जग में नहीं कोई अपना ||

To see previous post in the series, "All Music is Only the Sound of His Laughter" click here.
To see all posts in the series click here.


Linking with ABC Wednesday, I: I is for Indian Languages

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

A Desi Secularist Dilemma (Or How to Secularize a Hindu Religious Festival)

A New Post in the Series: Current Events

If you are part of the so-called educated, English-speaking, urban/semi-urban sections of Indian populace, and spend any time on social media, you must have noticed all the status updating, tweeting, sharing etc. that happen on most of the so-called secular ‘holidays’ (since Americans call the festivals holidays, so naturally we must call them ‘holidays’) – be it Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, or others such.

Good. Always good to celebrate good things. Both real and virtually.

Since virtual is also real today, in a way, let me just focus on that for now.

At some point you too must have participated in ‘sharing’ of such secular celebrations – posted or liked or commented on pictures of restaurants visited or the cuisines prepared at home for mothers, fathers, beloveds, gifts gifted or received, cards presented or received etc. etc.

Good, very good. Spread and share the happiness.

Have you noticed that there are even more ‘secular’ days now to celebrate and share photos and messages – World Poetry Day, World Earth Day, World Nature Day, World Wildlife Day, World this Day, World that day, even days to celebrate pets, dogs, cats, etc.?

Good. Good, I say.

Because we all can use reminders from time to time to do our bit in our collective responsibility toward Earth, Nature and all of Earth’s diverse creatures. And of course, also to remember to enjoy and celebrate good things like poetry, art, literature etc.

And of course, we all can use greetings of joy and happiness on Christmas.

But here is something to consider. Have you noticed how the once-religious holidays like Christmas and Easter have now been more or less ‘secularized’ for the larger Indian consumption?

Of course, many devout Indian Christians, in the spirit of Indian Bhakti, still continue to observe the various religious practices associated with these festivals. Which is how it should be.

But as a larger global ‘holiday’ trend, the Christmas ritual that is sold aggressively for Indian urbanites, for the most part, is limited to sending greeting cards, exchange of gifts, Santa Claus, tree decoration and enjoying special meals. Is it any wonder then that our secular Indian variety, in loyal obedience to the modern ‘secular’ dictum celebrates these holidays with the same enthusiasm as Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day?

The fact that these are religious festivals now considered secular makes it more legit for our desi seculars to show their inclusiveness. And especially when the festival’s religious context is one to which our seculars may have no direct or personal affiliation, that makes them feel even more ‘secular’ when they send greetings to all humankind via a tweet or Facebook update.

Modernity and secularism both happily co-exist, as natural end-products of Western Christianity.

Of course, given the current political climate in the world, what with terrorism and all, things get a little more complicated when Eid rolls around. But the same formula still holds – the more you share Eid greetings and status updates about brotherhood and peace etc., the more secular you become.

But the biggest complication is with those other Indian festivals.

Krishna Janmasthami, Ram Navmi, Buddha Purnima, Guru Purnima, Dussehra, Rakshabandhan, Gurupurab, Mahavir Jayanti, Basant Panchami, Onam, Pongal, Vishu, Vaisakhi, etc. etc.

First of all, there are so many of these festivals. How will a desi secular decide which one to tweet about? Big ones like Diwali, Holi, maybe? Yes, those are easy.

You see, those have been more or less secularized already. Half the job of this secularization is done when a big commercial angle is added to Diwali – super sales on everything from Amul to Audi, from Bourneville to Brighton, all-inclusive-vacation package. And if you are not going on a Diwali vacation, well, you can always celebrate Diwali without all that mumbo-jumbo of Lakshmi Puja. Just light the diyas bought in expensive boutiques, drink, gamble, exchange gifts and be merry!

Holi too has come to be associated with fun and only fun. Stripped of almost all religious markings it is now mostly a merry-making holiday with all kinds of liberties built into it. So how can it be anything but a secular holiday?

Such secularization makes Diwali and Holi nice and acceptable to our desi seculars. Why can’t the same thing be done with other festivals? Especially the problematic ones such as Ram Navmi, Dussehra, Rakshabandhan, etc.

These can’t really qualify as ‘secular’ enough holidays for our secular-minded friends. Because you can’t really celebrate them via restaurant-hopping or gift-giving or card-exchanging. Or maybe you can, I don’t know. But fasting on Krishna Janmasthami – oh, how superstitious! Tying a thread on a brother’s wrist – how patriarchal! Visiting a temple on Ram Navmi – me having anything to do with Ram, you can’t be serious?!

And so it should be perfectly understandable if on these days devout Hindus see not many (or any) words of greeting or sharing from most of the secular-minded Indians in their online acquaintance circles.

After all, seculars are rational people, you see. And these ‘holidays’ aren’t rational at all, unlike say Mother’s Day. All those Surdas bhajans about Krishna and his mother Yashoda aren’t ‘rational’ songs, they are merely ramblings of a blind fool who loved Krishna! Maybe, now maybe, if one of those bhajans could be rewritten as a Mother’s Day greeting card type of poem, in English, it just might move along the path of becoming ‘secular.’ See, this is how it is done.

When will Hindus learn? When? It is all about ‘secularizing’!

Maybe I am being too nasty. Or perhaps too hasty in my analysis. Oh, well…so let me be even more brutally honest.

On some Hindu festivals, some of our secular minded desis take it upon themselves to show us how to secularize a religious festival. They offer some good advice for all those superstitious, irrational people who tie threads and visit temples and observe fasts. In their ever-helpful, civilizing mission role, they profess – if you must celebrate Janmashtami and Rakshabandhan, appreciate the spirit of these festivals, but don’t stick to the rituals.

Good advice. Or at least it looks good anyway.

But is it, really? Are they being sincere with such advice? Does it matter, one might ask? It does.

First of all, would these seculars even consider that giving flowers and chocolates to the beloved on Valentine's Day is also really a ritual, or does it not count as one because it is 'oh-so-secular'?

Honestly, do you think these ‘brown civilizers’ will lecture “follow only the Christmas spirit, give up the whole Santa stuff” to their Christian friends? Would they give such advice to devout Christians for whom the day isn’t complete without going to church or singing carols? Sure, the whole waiting for Santa Claus and the gift-giving has become more or less part of a ‘secular-commercial’ mode of this religious holiday. But will our secular-rational Indian friend tell his or her child there is no Santa Claus and all that is a superstitious mumbo-jumbo? Will they tell their children to give up this ritual? And what about the rituals associated with Eid? Shouldn’t our good-intentioned secular folks share their sound and noble advice with others also about “how to secularize religious holidays”? Why should only Hindus benefit from their good advice?

Maybe because in this desi secular worldview, it is only the Hindu who needs this advice the most.

These pagan and superstitious Hindus have been so busy worshipping crores of deities and even trees, plants, and animals that they haven’t learned the nuances of secularization process. A good secular comes to remind the Ram-worshippers or Tulsi-worshippers that they need to rise up to the ‘truth’ of the ‘secular’ world. A good secular out of his or her kindness helps the pagan Hindu see the ‘light.’ Shame on Hindus if they still refuse to give up their traditions. Shame on them for being so stubborn. Honestly, there is no hope for them, if they don’t secularize themselves and their religious holidays, as per the worldview of modern Indian secularist variety.

So the task is cut out for the Hindus. Either give up your religious holidays or secularize them. To begin with, consider renaming Rakshabandhan as Sibling Day, Guru Purnima as Master’s Full Moon or something like that.

I hear some communist groups have already started celebrating Krishna Janmashtami in Kerala; that should ensure a gradual secularization of this festival. Good! Looks like things are already on the move to resolve at least one desi secularist dilemma.

Author's note: This post is not meant to offend or hurt any sentiments. It is written in a spirit of sharing some honest observations and with an aim to generate some reflection on the part of the reader, particularly the modern Indian urbanite. 

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

Friday, 4 September 2015

Hare Krishna

A new post  in the series: When a Picture Leads

A Krishna Janamashtami Special

For the last couple of weeks I have been reading and thinking about a few things on Indian Art, especially focusing on the theme of spirituality in Indian Art. It has been a wonderful learning so far, and someday hope to go deeper into what is now a very preliminary study. 

So naturally on this special occasion of Sri Krishna Janmashtami, what else would be on my mind but Krishna in art? Krishna, whose Divinty as well as Līlāwhose Heroism as well as Love, whose Yoga as well as Pranks, all have inspired great art, music, poetry and literature in India. For thousands of years, and to this day.

Sharing today three of my current favourite 'Krishna' paintings, from three different artists, representing three different generations and genres of Indian painting.

The great revivalist Bengal School of Abanindranath Tagore is represented beautifully in Chughtai's Dream, combined with a delicacy unique to Miniature style; whereas the bold and free strokes of a globally inspired but a culturally rooted modernism is the hallmark of Hussain's Krishna Lila. And the one in the middle, Shiva's Flute, is by a young artist from Delhi, Bindu, whose work though inspired by several different styles remains a personal search for the invisible behind the visible, inviting the viewer to join her in this sacred journey.

Three out of countless different ways to express Love for Krishna. To express Krishna's Love.

Let the pictures now do rest of the speaking...

Artist: M. A. R. Chugtai

If the artist cannot put into his work what was in him…his work is a futile abortion. But if he has expressed what he has felt, the capacity to feel it must also be there in the mind that looks at his work. 

Artist: Bindu Popli is the spirit that carries the form

Artist: M.F. Hussain

Each finite is that deep Infinity 

Enshrining His veiled soul of pure delight.

All quotes are from Sri Aurobindo.

Want to experience more of Krishna love, this time in music? Click here for another Sri Krishna Janamashtami special post. 

To see the previous post in "When a Picture Leads", click here
To see all the posts led by pictures, click here.

Linking with ABC Wednesday, H: H is for Hare Krishna