Thursday, December 31, 2009

South Asian Ensemble on the Web


South Asian Ensemble
An Interface of Arts, Literature and Culture for South Asian Diaspora



South Asian Ensemble is a Canadian quarterly devoted to the arts, literature and culture of the South Asian diaspora.









The inaugural issue is now available online:

http://www.southasianensemble.com/

RUCHIKA

By Badri Raina

Ruchika, golden fawn, your

Joy-filled, wide-eyed view

Of the world

Was too untutored to see

The wolf in the office room.

You trusted his disguise

And paid fatal price.



You must have been taught

How this is the land

Where women are put

On the deified grandstand.

Too young a pupil you to know

There is that here which is worshipped

And that other which is true;

That throughout the ages

It has been so.



Or that wolves that roam the Indian prairie

Are also known to band together

In all sorts of weather.



But times now are a changing.

You might just have been the little fawn

Whose blood is set to secure

A whole world of fawns,

And bring many a wolf to book.

Your pristine little life, so abused,

So defiled, so murderously denied,

May just have put tongue

Into a million mouths

That had no voice before.

The cruelty of your going

May just have made a whole nation

Realize how rotten we are to the core.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Book Review: Amarjit Singh Grewal's Sach Di Siyasat


Sach Di Siyasat
(The Politics of Truth)
by Amarjit Singh Grewal
Published by Chetna Parkashan, Ludhiana, 2009
Pages: 184
Price: Rs. 220

Rajesh Kumar Sharma

(Extracts from the book review to be published in the winter number of South Asian Ensemble)

Amarjit Singh Grewal’s Sach Di Siyasat (The Politics of Truth) proceeds through a series of structured deflections. It begins with a reflection on the possibility of grasping the “truth” of Guru Arjun Dev’s martyrdom, moves on to explore the truth value of the historiographic object in terms of poststructuralist theory, the discourses of science and game theory, and goes on to unfold the world-historical specificity of Sikhism as a cultural-political project of humanization with implications for the emerging global society. Along the way, it briefly pauses to consider also the contemporary social situation in the light of what the Gurus had arguably envisaged.
--- --- --- ---

Grewal’s most significant accomplishment in this work is that on the strength of a sustained rational discourse and without resorting to any mystification he is able to situate the world-historical strategic vision of the Gurus in a cultural politics of the global scale. And he is able to spell out that vision as a concretely redemptive one for our real world.
--- --- --- ---

Grewal’s theoretical-methodological position as it emerges in the present work derives almost exclusively from Western epistemologies. I wish he had bolstered it with insights from the Indian epistemologies, particularly the Buddhist. Moreover, while he aptly deploys poststructuralist theory to wrench open several complacently accepted notions (including that of the self), he could have engaged with poststructuralism more elaborately and rigorously: that would have prevented the impression one gets here of poststructuralism as a finished and closed thing, a kind of conceptual and critical toolbox. In its present shape and elaboration, the work falls short of sufficiently demonstrating at the level of practice the validity of its key theoretical stake that truth is a function of the apparatus (a translation of the French dispositif). The reason, probably, is that not all interlocutors in the dialogue are equally equipped with the subtleties of theory. For instance, the precision that attends on the exchange on story, narrative, discourse and virtuality (49-52), or the incisiveness that characterizes the sustained critique of binarism (148) is not to be found everywhere in the work. Perhaps Grewal could have filled up the gaps by pointing them out: he could have, from his parallel position as the omniscient narrator (in addition to that of an interlocutor), added to what some of the interlocutors had not stated or had inadequately stated.
--- --- --- ---

Somewhat similar fate attends on the treatment of Derrida’s critique of logocentrism, which was actually formulated against the background of Platonic logos conceived as a mathematical conceptual form. To think of logos as something that “travels invisibly through different interpretations” (25) is to succumb to logocentrism again – in the very act of trying to describe it and trace its itinerary. I guess the peril inheres in the very move of describing the logos metaphorically.
--- --- --- ---

The historical – and symptomatic – importance of Grewal’s book in terms of the contemporary critical-theoretical scene in Punjab lies arguably in its constitutive contradiction: it is a poststructuralist anti-project (the conversational, dialogical form is one of the markers), yet it does not decisively liquidate the humanist subject. Actually, the contradiction dogs Grewal’s undertaking right from the moment of its conception. His very problematization of the text of the Guru’s martyrdom finds articulation in a humanist conceptual vocabulary as he formulates his basic questions: Who writes this text? Why? For whom? And how does it come into existence? The only properly poststructuralist question is the last, that too if we agree to read it the way Foucault might have phrased it: How does it emerge? And once Grewal has taken the humanist road, he is destined to envisage Guru Arjun Dev’s work as a “project” in the pre-structuralist, modernist parameters. The advantage of his taking the humanist road is that it paves the way for his candid encounter with the current situation in which he sees barely any signs of the pluralistic democracy that the Guru had founded. But this obviously also suggests that there might be a chance that the Guru’s great dream probably did not take into account the all-too-human reality, or that the great dream has suffered betrayal at our lesser hands. If Grewal had avoided the modernist trap and walked an extra poststructuralist mile (this time with Deleuze, over Hegel’s still active grave), he would not have been distressed at the current situation. He could then have contemplated the work of the great Gurus without the constraining limits of projective linearities and as opening up radically new fields of possibilities. And in the fields of possibilities, there are no reasons to despair.
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Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Roma People

From Manzur Ejaz of wichaar.com

The gypsies or the Roma people, presently settled in Europe, are of Punjabi origin. In this movie if you follow the dailogues you will recognize Punjabi words like pee (drink) kha (eat) main (me) tu (you) etc . This is very intresting film about seperated Punjabis.

http://www.wichaar.com/videos/gadjo-dilo/gadjo-dilo-part-1-video_3a6c85ee4.html

Some artiles about Roma people.

On the road to Roma people


Tarot of the Romas


Roma People

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Copenhagen, 2009

By Badri Raina

At Copenhagen they met—

Greed and Need.


Greed said, “ cut down your need”;

Need said, “enough of your greed.”


Greed retorted, “the Earth cannot wait

For your need to become greed”;

Need rebutted, “you are a great one

To say so,

Having created all our need.”

Greed, you know,

Of course wished to have the cake

And eat it too;

Need knew if that continued to be done,

There would be no place for Need in the sun.


Everyone

Swore they would cut down their carbon,

And save the Earth

For a renewed birth,

But not before Capitalism had its full-bull run.


Greed said, “Capitalism is ours; we made it;

Leave it to us; you do that which is fit

For your station.

We shall carry the corporation

To your lands,

And thereby have less emissions on our hands.”


Need said, “emissions anywhere

Will not spare you,

Because the Earth is one;

Thus either all of us Capitalism shun,

Or we all roll down the mountain.”


The Bolivian, the Cuban, the Venezualan

Said, “the Earth cannot be parceled out

Anymore for anyone’s convenience;

The Capitalist lout

Had better see sense,

And recongnize

That the world’s mountains, icebergs,

Rivers and seas, air and fire

Are Socialist:, making no distinction;

Either everyone lives or everyone dies.”


Consternation followed upon

That recognition,

Obliging the chief spokesman of Greed

To exclaim:

“If indeed the Earth is Socialist,

It is best dead;

We shall go build Capitalism anew

In heaven or hell instead.


Come Christmas, we walk away from Jesus,

And walk into the Shade;

We swear upon the blood of the Barons,

We shall never let Capitalism fade.

Having brought down the Berlin Wall,

Wall Street shall stand unbroken,

However the Lehman’s and the others

May have rashly spoken.

Let the fatcats be the fatcats,

And the hungry be in the billions;

We have all the arsenal,

We shall train our guns

On all the world’s ragamuffins

Who have no reason to be;

And, being, who only obstruct

The Market from being free.

War shall be our answer

To that ultimate perfidy.”


Thus at Copenhagen

Did the Earth make up her mind

To put an end to mankind,

And some better species find.


badri.raina@gmail.com December 20, 2009



Sunday, December 13, 2009

On Harvinder Bhandal’s Review of Amarjit Singh Grewal’s Sach Di Siyasat

(Published in Filhaal, No. 5, Oct-Nov 2009, Pp. 13-17)

Rajesh Kumar Sharma

Harvinder Bhandal’s review (“Sach di Siyasat ate Siyasat da Sach”) of Amarjit Singh Grewal’s Sach di Siyasat (Politics of Truth) in Filhaal (Oct-Nov 2009) is a well-written and interesting piece, but as someone who has read Grewal’s book I wish Bhandal had re-read the book before hastening to ‘demolish’ it. The form and argument of the book demand that it be read and re-read, and seen from a distance. Intellectual judgements are best not made in haste and passion. And it is always good to reflect on one’s opinions before rushing out to proclaim them in the streets. There certainly are several problems with Grewal’s book, but Bhandal’s hasty reading only puts them out of focus, thus forestalling a fruitful critical discussion that should rightly follow the arrival of a work of serious intent.

Bhandal probably misreads the book because of his own un-deconstructed position. The first evidence of this is provided on the very first page of the review. He rushes to summarize the book and so plunges into a trap which a little reflection could have helped him avoid. If Grewal’s methodology is “textualizing”, as Bhandal admits it is, his “text” can obviously not be subjected to summarization since “text” and “summary” are embedded in different and incommensurable paradigms. Here, then, Bhandal’s error is methodological, and therefore fundamental (as Aristotle would say). Secondly, anyone who reads Grewal’s “text” followed by Bhandal’s response can see that the summary is both reductive and incorrect. Grewal does not really state that historians are motivated by their specific objectives to “create” history as they imagine it. On the contrary, he repeatedly says that he does not disavow historical events but only suggests that those events are not transparently available to us in a purity unmediated by discourses. In fact, he does not reject history at all but only problematizes conventional historiography. And in this, he does not do anything new.

Yes, he does nothing new in the sense in which the ‘new’ is habitually and uncritically understood. But then Grewal does not also claim to be doing anything new. It is a misdirected quest that wants to find something new, such as new historical facts and discursive form, in the book. One of Grewal’s main points is to problematize the given. His stance is that of a cultural critic and theorist, not of a historian. In any case, the fascination with the new deserves to be interrogated: it can be covertly theological (hunting for an absolute genesis, a delusion that Buddhism has so sharply pierced through), or consumerist-capitalistic. As a serious and insightful reader, Bhandal could have been more alert to what the ideologies of the ‘new’ might conceal.

While the book’s discursive form is manifestly not innovative, there is something to be said in its defence. Grewal mentions at the outset that it is a response to the invitation for a paper. Instead of penning a paper, Grewal however weaves a dialogic text. The authorial, authoritative and authoritarian connotations of a scholarly paper as a mode of discourse that sets out to state a “truth” are too well known to readers of theory to bear another restatement here. The very choice of discursive form should be sufficient to warn that the author of the book cannot be seen to be making any ‘truth claims’, including the claim that there is no truth.

Actually, the parameters of Bhandal’s reading can be discerned in his inability to shed the baggage of binarism. He refuses to think beyond binaries, such as the subjective-objective dichotomy. The book, however, makes its very inaugural move on the rejection of binaries. Indeed, even when the author speaks of the relationship between history and memory, he is careful to insert a third term: discourse as a practice that shapes both. And as practice, discourse has a material presence, as the examples and treatment of the subject matter also indicate; it is not some transcendental fog. Bhandal, however, seems to have expected a kind of clarity that can only be called, with considerable restraint, pedestrian. Grewal complicates the issues progressively because he asks fundamental questions; Bhandal oversimplifies because he assumes that the fundamental questions have been resolved once and for all.

It is precisely such assumptions that lead Bhandal to accuse Grewal of treating his interlocutors as no better than his mouthpieces. As a matter of fact, from Bhandal’s assumed point of view (that sees Grewal’s project as “textualizing”), Grewal as the “author” of the text should himself stand radically “textualized”: neither he nor his numerous interlocutors can be seen as “selves” in an unqualified Cartesian sense but only as “speaking subjects” within the matrices of discourse. But then Bhandal perhaps does not want to concede, even to himself, that so many among the articulate Punjabi intellectuals think the way they do. He does not wish to believe that the time of unquestionable certainties has long since passed. He is not willing to recognize the contemporary Punjabi intellectual moment.

To that extent, of course, his review is symptomatic of the Punjabi intellectual crisis today.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE: THE CINEMA OF ANDREI TARKOVSKY

M. L. Raina

1. Collected Screenplays by Andrei Tarkovsky
Translated by William Powell and Natasha Synessios
Faber, London.Xxv+564 Pages. $ 25.
2. The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue
By Vida T. Johnson and Graham Petrie.
Indiana University Press, Bloomington
Xvii+331 pages. $ 25.95
3. Mirror: A Film by Andrei Tarkovsky
Artificial Eye Video Production, London
102 Minutes. 24 Pounds.


Let me confess at the outset that I am a Tarkovsky addict. He reminds me not so much of other filmmakers, as of a number of Russian writers from Turgenev and Chekov to a much younger contemporary, Andrei Makine even though the latter writes in French. They share a cultivated sensibility that allows them to be at home in the quintessential Russianness of their heritage and, at the same time, encourage an uninhibited acceptance of Western ideas. One thinks of Tolstoy and Turgenev (particularly ‘Sportsman’s Sketches’ and ‘Ayesha’), of the poems of Lermontov and Pushkin, the plenitude of the Russian landscape in ‘Dr.Zhivago’ and the neurotic brilliance of some of Dostoevsky’s stories.

This essential Russianness is hinted at by Andrei Makine in his 1997 novel “ Dreams of My Russian Summers”: ‘a whole host of actions, faces, words, sufferings, privations… all that buzz of life resounding against a single echo’. That ‘echo’ for both is memory, a recurrent nostalgia for a way of life in which the mother occupies pride of place in a benign pastoral setting. Through the images of the grandmother in Makine and the mother in Tarkovsky’s early films,’Ivan’s Childhood’ and ‘Mirror’, they explore the sustaining power of tradition and nature.

Both recreate the lost moment and are closely attached to the physical fetishes of the past. For both the love of the mother (Russia) is a continual heartbreak. They love her absurdity (as Solzhenitsyan would say), her capacity to absorb pain and joy in equal measure. In ‘Ivan’s Childhood’ and ‘Mirror’ Tarkovsky’s favourite actress Margarita Terekhova (he uses her way Bergman uses Liv Ullman in film after film) establishes herself as the mother-spirit animating the stories of love, sacrifice and feminine vulnerability. In ‘Solaris’ Kris Kelvin’s mother has no relevance to the plot, but is there to uphold her creator’s belief in her catalytic power.


In these films memories and reminiscences spill out pell-mell though anchored in the expressive presence of the mother figure. She remains the centre of the narrative as well as a source of coherence and order.

Andrei Tarkovsky made seven full-length films and a few smaller ones, as this collection of his screenplays attests. He is equally the inheritor of the Great Russian cinematic tradition and a dissenter from it. Like the pioneers Eisenstein and Pudvokin, he displays a passion for history and a visionary boldness in presenting it. An English critic, Mark Le Fanu, credits him with visualising the epic traditions of the 19th century Russian novel in the sweep and scale of ‘Andrei Rublev’ (it’s a pity that the screenplay of this two-part film is not available in the Powell-Synessios edition). He is a dissenter because his genius refused to compromise with the official Soviet ideology. He dared the censors and suffered neglect, hostility and inevitable ill health leading to early death in exile.

A major stylistic innovator in film of the past thirty years, Tarkovsky baffles a lay viewer as well as some of his more informed admirers nurtured on the European art cinema of Bergman, Rohmer, Renoir, Bresson and other avant-garde auteur-directors. The lay viewer, accustomed to the easy formulaic narrative of the Hollywood fiction film, finds Tarkovsky difficult since he does not adhere to a linear plot, nor satisfy stereotypical expectations. He is elliptical, hermetic and intellectual to the point of obscurity. One wonders how he managed to survive in the Soviet Union as long as he did and why he made films in different languages (‘Nostalgia’ partly in Italian, ’Sacrifice’ in Swedish).

Critically mature ‘readers’ of film as art are uncomfortable for other reasons. They find Tarkovsky wordy, allegorical and often given to experimentation as a means of obscuring meaning rather than clarifying it. True, the appearance of the horses (forces of nature?) in ‘Andrei Rublev’ at the beginning and the end, the ticker-tape cascade in the last cathedral scene of ‘Nostalgia’ or the scatter of papers at the close of ‘Ivan’s Childhood’ can not be easily explained away. Their symbolic depth invites deeper involvement, which even sympathetic viewers find inconvenient.

Speaking of Tarkovsky’s last film, ‘Sacrifice’, Johnson and Petrie believe that the protagonist Alexander’s discursiveness represses the effects of the great scenes, especially the fire scenes and the lonely road. These demurrals are justified. In extenuation we could say that the filmmaker is more than a narrator. He complicates his scenes, overturns our responses in order to accommodate his meditations on the human condition. In a sense he stretches the medium to express the metaphysical dimension of experience.

The metaphysical experience in Tarkovsky’s films is felt in the inner world of his characters, even as the external historical and political themes enclose their dreams, reveries and hallucinations. The documentation of the features of lost time subverts the narratives in which his characters are enclosed, or better still, immured. For example, the stories of war in ‘Ivan’s Childhood’ are not of much value by themselves. Their significance is in the residue of human attachment such as loyalty, courage, and memory that they can muster. When the Soviet censors criticised what they considered a lack of sufficient patriotism in the film, they ignored the fact that Ivan’s protectiveness towards his mother is in itself a metaphor for the filmmaker’s protective attitude towards Russia.

Though ‘Ivan’s Childhood’ is not as openly metaphysical as, say, ‘Mirror’, ‘ Solaris’ or ‘Nostalgia’, it often deflects attention from the purely documentary details (war, Berlin Chancery and the flying papers). We are made to inhabit a space halfway between history and hallucination, as in the recurrent images of the mother intervening in the war narrative. We are also asked to puzzle out the paradox between Ivan’s child-like innocence and his skills as a guerilla fighter behind the Russian lines. Our routine expectations are frustrated at the very beginning when the film opens with Ivan’s dream of a hand and reveals Galtsev who will later play a significant role. The frequent crossing of boundaries between dream and reality in almost all his films forbids simple naturalistic appraisal of their style and content.

As Tarkovsky began to experiment with stream-of-consciousness and narrative disjunction, his films became more inward and their hold on external reality more problematic. Part of the reason may be his increasing impatience with the Soviet censors who ordered cuts and revisions at the slightest suspicion. Even when he tried to make epics on the scale of Eisenstein’s ‘Ivan the Terrible’ and ‘Alexander Nevsky’, he could not bring himself to follow the beaten path of the great master. ‘Andrei Rublev’ is motivated more by Tarkovsky’s religious fervour than any endorsement of secular glory that Eisenstein represents. The director is drawn to the traditional church icons and makes his hero something of a protector of their beauty amidst the cruelty and oppression of the medieval period.

But it is in ‘Solaris’ and ‘Mirror’ that Tarkovsky’s religious and non-political attitudes receive their fullest expression. In ‘Solaris’ he uses the novel by the Polish science-fiction writer, Stanislaw Lem, to create a collage of melancholy forebodings triggered by the emptiness of the Space Sea

There are extraordinary scenes of the countryside in the scientist Burton’s dacha. The mental turmoil of the hero Kris Kelvin and the chaos of the Space Sea sharply contrast with the beauty of the earth represented in the abundance of hay, the polish of the floorboards and, most poignant of all, the evocation by Kris of his dead wife Hari and the mother. Whereas Lem questions anthropomorphic thinking and the limitations of human knowledge, the film celebrates our capacity ‘to stay human in an inhuman world’ menacing us from across the Space Sea.

By all accounts ‘Mirror’ is Tarkovsky’s masterpiece. Generally acknowledged as one of the most challenging films of the last three decades, it brings to successful fruition his experiments in different cinematic modes and demonstrates his ability to combine various genres in a mosaic of reality and desire. It alternately takes the form of rich and highly charged documentary footage woven within the practices of a Cubist painting. The title creates the ‘prismatic effect’ of a broken mirror radiating a scintillating glow all around. The filmmaker’s ‘eye’ is genuinely innocent since it plunders from the imagery of childhood a vision unsullied by evil, though not far from its corruptions.

Given the dual perspective of a child and an adult, the film finds its epiphanies in an emotionally charged and imaginatively visualised edenic state. In his search for a stable identity amid the interactions of past and present, the director rifles through all the resources of art to fix the mystery of human life in all its high and low tides. The casting of Margarita Terekhova in the dual role of grandmother and mother of the boy calls all identities into question. Against the moving images of the vast Russian landscape demarcations dissolve. Struck by the imprecision of contours, we are lifted into a timeless experience by the power of Pushkin’s and Arseny Tarkovsky’s poetry and merged with the colours of the landscape as the music of Bach, Purcell and Pergolesi transforms the whole into a profound revelation.

Many-layered in conception, the film intertwines family relationships with topical newsreel sequences. With his father Arseny reading his poems on the sound track, Tarkovsky enhances the film’s meaningfulness, making it seem contemporary and tans-historical at the same time.

Johnson and Petrie have written a comprehensive evaluation of Tarkovsky’s films and analysed his distinctive cinematic techniques. They are more thorough than Mark Le Fanu and will remain the best guides to this enigmatic genius. Their analysis of what they call Tarkovsky’s thematic and image clusters defines these films as poetic in the most sublime sense. One of the successes of this book is in the originality of the authors’ reading of the films. Not until I read their commentary did I grasp the connection in ‘Mirror’ between Lenardo Da Vinci’s broken mirrors and the luminous juxtapositioning of the Cyrillic script of the captions. Similarly, the Breughel painting at the end of ‘Solaris’ would have remained a mystery to me had not the authors found its relevance to the landscape and Tarkovsky’s symbolic purchase on it.

The ‘visual fugue’ in the title speaks eloquently of Tarkovsky’s jumbling of the artistic genres in his work. This is an appropriate description of his method and captures its ambidexterity.

In a poem by Arseny Tarkovsky, used in ‘The Stalker’, the poet says “What is soft and weak is good: hardness is close to death”. Perhaps this is Tarkovsky’s credo. Does it imply his openness to experience? His distrust of the given, the prescribed? Tarkovsky’s own readiness to confront extremes is a clue to his religious acceptance of suffering, of the paradox of being human. The rest, the ancient sages would aver, is silence, as of the Space Sea in ‘Solaris’.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

From Pokharan To Private Ryan

A Day In New York Remembered

By M L Raina

My New York is not the city Thomas Pynchon’s V explored through its sewers, nor the city that Garcia Lorca thought diabolic as well as inviting. My New York is a city on whose symmetrical streets and avenues I have walked miles and capped milestones of memory and remembrance. One such memory is of a day more than ten years ago, a memory that is evoked as I rediscover those streets on a day’s walk.
I arrive in New York a few days after India blasted its way into the nuclear club. Suitably puffed up with patriotic fervour I recall the words of the actor George Scott, playing World War II’s prima donnish general Patton in the Hollywood movie of that name: “No poor bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other bastard die for his country”. So, on arrival, my first impulse is to see how the other bastards, Pakistanis, were coping with our new-found pride and self-respect. What right, I ask, has the American President who couldn’t hold his own zipper in place, to lecture to us on the ‘immorality’ of owning an atom bomb? How dare the Chinese, the Brits, the Japs and the Ruskies deny us a place in the nuclear monopoly? And what right have the Pakistanis to cry fire when all along they were readying their own bomb with stolen uranium? My pride balloons further when I read my fellow academic Harish Trivedi ticking off the New York Times for not taking note of us as a nuclear power. Armour-plated with assertiveness I set out to reconnoitre.
I call up my friends at the university where I occasionally lecture to know how they felt about us. They respond with the usual familiarity. I notice no awe in their voices at my new status as the citizen of a nuclear–armed nation. The same banter, the same opening gambits to conversation about who was in and who was out in the market place that is an American campus. No hallelujahs at my new avatar as a nuclear-toothed third world academic. A close friend, particularly sympathetic to India, doesn’t even bother to know how it feels to be saying with Wordsworth ‘we are seven’ not five. Instead she asks when my niece Priya, a Columbia university undergraduate, is giving her next Bharatnatyam performance and if my friend’s daughter would be invited. I begin to simmer with indignation. While the rest of the world shivers with the tremors from Pokharan, here is a friend who isn’t even aware (or pretends not to be) of our achievement. Is it envy or racial arrogance (two excuses the friends of BJP in America offer) that keeps the West from genuinely acknowledging our feat? Access the BJP’s website and their print columns to grasp their swaggering self-righteousness.
Turn to the people on the streets of New York and you are assailed by their yawning indifference to what is happening outside their yard-sized self-absorbed world. Does the American establishment hate us? I wonder. Shouldn’t they be rejoicing at the world’s largest democracy squaring up with the world’s ‘greatest democracy’? I recall William Hazlitt’s 1826 essay “On the Pleasures of Hatred” wherein he speaks of hatred as a spur to achievement. Then the penny drops. First it was the Russians and America’s hatred spurred them into space exploration. Would the blasts from Pokhran and Chagai spur them on to some deadlier technologies?
To feel how our ‘traditional enemies’, the Pakistanis, were cowering under our nuclear threat, I saunter into Nagma House, the famous Pakistani electronics store on Lexington Avenue (now gone without trace, as everything in New York disappears when you look for it after many years), where subcontinental shoppers would pick up their gadgets in 240 volts and shop for papers and magazines from India and Pakistan. The affable young owner greets me with the same warmth as on other occasions and asks why I hadn’t stepped into the store for a long time. I sense neither bitterness in his voice nor any menace in his manner. Knowing my preference for Urdu papers he signals his Nepali assistant to bring me latest issues of Jang and Nawai Waqt. With screeching headlines threatening the destruction of India, the papers carry extensive reports on how the country is facing up to India’s ‘hegemonism’. A middle-aged Muslim enters the store and asks for a Bhim Sen Joshi CD. Nodding to me as fellow shoppers do in a store, he says, “You don’t get them in Pakistan”. A youngster, another Pakistani, asks if Amol Palekar’s film Dayara was available in video-cassette (DVDs appeared much later). Meanwhile Javed, the owner, sells me a pay-per-view for the India-Pakistan cricket series soon to be held in Toronto. A bubbly girl with her semi-rouged mother in tow comes in to return the cassette of the Pakistani TV serial Marvi. “What a relief from the dreary fare from Doordarshan”, she chortles. Papers tucked under, I leave the store rather dismayed at the absence of hatred inside.
Are the ‘other bastards’ just putting up a brave face? Or are they just stupid? Or are they unconcerned as long as I buy their papers and they our CDs? Suddenly, as if in a flash, I realize that these private gestures are more revealing of the inherent commonality of us all than the public postures of belligerence. Inside Nagma house you sense no war but commerce of cultural give and take as well as an occasional cordiality if not a total bonhomie. (Cynics call it sheer business instinct which it also is.). Nuke rattling would kill these sentiments. After all, in a real sense, there is no patriotism but only an instinct to preserve our private selves under the grandiose slogans of ‘Love Your Country Above Everything Else”. These private transactions constitute our civilized individual responses to the scabrous reverberations heard at Pokhran and Chagai. These only endure amidst the war cries of our ruling establishments. They are incorporated into our common vulnerabilities, our not-to-be-wished away desire to defend our private selves against the jingoistic assaults on both sides. Patriotism has no meaning unless it is private—a fact brought home to me in Steven Spielberg’s film Saving Private Ryan.
In this film the gung-ho war-mongering of the likes of Patton or the chief protagonist of the 1962 film The Longest Day is put to a severe close scrutiny. “Private Ryan opens and closes with the Stars and Stripes spread on the screen. But unlike in Patton, it is faded suggesting the difficulty of surrendering our private selves to the state’s version of patriotism. A clear shift is visible here: ones private prerogatives are preferred over the aggressive public demands for conformity. Private Ryan is more important than all the blather about defending our country against our enemies who also, it would appear, have their own private Ryans. Even the mission undertaken by Captain Miller to find Ryan (the two brothers are already dead on the Omaha Beach) is justified in the hope that in the end, “I could go back to my wife”. The first thirty minutes of the film showing broken limbs, hanging entrails, bodies torn asunder in tender spots, mock the hollow exhortations to war. Every death becomes my death, every pain my pain. Spielberg has ripped the mask from all consoling vocabularies.
Private Ryan is appropriate to the present sub-continental occasion as it reveals the enormities of war behind sensational slogans. I wonder if it is more moral and just to oppose nuclear war on the ground that it negates my private world as well as my enemy’s, than to support ideologies that encourage all round destruction. Americans needed Vietnam to cool their patriotic frenzy for a time. But they learnt no lessons then in Vietnam and now in Iraq and Afghanistan. Do the new Godzillas of Pokhran and Chagai need other enactments of the killing fields before they step back from the Armageddon?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Three Poems of Pash

Translated by Rajesh Kumar Sharma

Truth

(Sachai)


I have never desired
the wind to sway to beats on Vividh Bharati
and play
- away from my view -
hide and seek with silk-soft curtains

I have never desired
tinted lights to filter through the glass pane and kiss
my songs on their lips

Whenever I have dreamed
I have seen myself console a weeping city

I have seen cities multiplying against villages

And I have watched
folded worker hands
closing into fists

I have never longed for cushions on a car seat

My dreams have never wandered
beyond the borders of a rickshaw puller’s
sleeping on a board outside some shop
and craving a bidi’s draught

How can I desire the wind to sway
to beats on Vividh Bharati?

I watch fodder crops burnt by scorching winds

How can I think of sweet luscious eyes
when I see lightless eyes raised towards heaven
and begging for rain?


---


From Cards

(Cardan Ton)


I am acquainted with the sand-built wall
of venerable customs

Scolded by parents
I will not cry

When I surrender myself to your embrace
your memory so fills the mists of sensation
I cannot read any news
against me

I know the old coppers with holes in them
are current no longer
and yet, like relics of the dead,
they have gone, leaving their conspiracies behind

And man remains as small as he looks
through the old copper’s hole.


---


Out of One’s Insecurity
(Apni Asurakhya Chon)


If the country’s security means
that one must murder conscience
as a precondition to live
that every word other than ‘yes’ looking out of your eye
must seem indecent
that the mind must bow in humiliating submission
to a depraved time --
we then stand in danger of the country’s security


We had thought the country to be something sacred
like one’s home,
free from any sultriness,
a place
where man moves like the sound of falling rain in streets,
where he sways like stalks of wheat in fields
and grants meaning
to the magnanimous vastness of the skies

We had thought the country to be some experience
like an embrace

We had thought the country to be some intoxication
like work

But if the country is a factory
for exploitation of the soul
if it is a laboratory
to produce morons --
we then stand in danger of this country

If the peace of the country only means
that we should break and crumble
like stones rolling down mountains
that the unashamed laughter of prices should for ever spit
on the face of earnings
that bathing in one’s own blood should be
the only holy virtue earned --
we then stand in danger of the peace

If the country’s security means
that strikes must be crushed to dye the peace in deeper hues
that the only martyrdom should be the one attained on borders
that the only art should be which blossoms on the ruler’s windowpane
that the only wisdom should be which waters the land from the authority’s well
that the only labour should be which sweeps the floors of royal palaces --
we stand then in danger of the country’s peace.

26 September 2009
---

Monday, September 21, 2009

What's the Matter With Cultural Studies?

A timely article, a semi-obituary. . .

But I still have hope that the history of cultural studies might matter to the university—and to the world beyond it. My hopes aren't quite as ambitious as they were 20 years ago. I no longer expect cultural studies to transform the disciplines. But I do think cultural studies can do a better job of complicating the political-economy model in media theory, a better job of complicating our accounts of neoliberalism, and a better job of convincing people inside and outside the university that cultural studies' understanding of hegemony is a form of understanding with great explanatory power—that is to say, a form of understanding that actually works.


Link:
http://chronicle.com/article/Whats-the-Matter-With/48334/

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Call for Papers

“Identity and Cultural Dynamics
Tribes of South Africa, Nigeria and North East India”

Rajiv Gandhi University, Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh, India

October 28-30, 2009


A three-day International Multidisciplinary Seminar on “Identity and Cultural Dynamics: Tribes of South Africa, Nigeria and North East India” is being organized by Rajiv Gandhi University, Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh, India in collaboration with the African Studies Association of India, New Delhi, from October 28 to 30, 2009. Papers are invited on any of the sub- themes of the seminar. Please send in the abstracts (not exceeding 300 words) by 30th September 2009 and full research papers by 15 October 2009.


For further details please contact:

1. Dr. Shreya Bhattacharji
Seminar Coordinator
Email: bhattacharjishreya@gmail.com
shreya_bhattacharji@yahoo.com
shreya_b3@rediffmail.com


2. Mr. Miazi Hazam
Email: miazimiazi@rediffmail.com


“Identity and Cultural Dynamics
Tribes of South Africa, Nigeria and North East India”

Concept Note

Multiple extraneous dominations, politico-economic, socio-cultural, as also lingual; invasion, onslaught, influx, slavery, settlement, colonialism, contemporary neo-colonial-consumerism; the violation of tribal cultures world over, is brutal and varied. Today tribal socio-cultural traditions, whether in South Africa, Nigeria or North East India, are either extinct or deeply threatened. These mostly kingless, casteless and creedless tribal orders, where communal ownership of land combined with communal ethics and collective consciousness to prevent the creation of coercive state apparatuses, are unfortunately bowing down to the hierarchical diktats of supposedly superior hegemonic mainstream cultures. “Age-grades”, remarkably egalitarian community welfare organizations found in almost all tribal orders are fast vanishing as are the vastly tolerant, reconciliatory traditional law courts. And the three very powerful, very vocal, all women grass root organizations of traditional tribal Igbo Society in Nigeria are nearly nonexistent today. Tribal languages both oral and with distinct scripts are fast-eroding.
Colonialism with its imposition of alien exploitative politico-administrative super structures onto traditional orders, aided and abetted by an ambitious religion doggedly determined to win more and more converts shredded the very matrix of tribal societies. And neo-colonial consumerism covertly packaged in glossy terminology exuding a heady fragrance of easy money has wrecked havoc with all psyches and identities world over, whether tribal or mainstream.
Perhaps it is not too late to redeem the past, to rise above the politics of exclusion and distortion sported by dominant cultures in connivance with master narratives and master languages, to unearth and mainstream fast-vanishing tribal traditions, whether in India, Nigeria or South Africa. Perhaps it is not too late to awaken contemporary nation states to the realization that only through the re-establishment of such democratic, reconciliatory, gender friendly grass-root tribal traditions could one create a more equitable, more just world order. Perhaps the time has come to amplify long marginalized voices. Perhaps the time has come to foreground Caliban in Prospero’s narrative.

Sub Themes of the Conference

1. Master Narratives vs Tribal Counter Narratives
2. The Problem of Identity: Who is a Tribal Today?
3. Of Nationalisms and Arbitrary Borders: Insane Cartography and Tribal World Orders
4. Located at “Triple Negative”: The Tribal Woman
5. Who Cares for Tribal Pasts? Dying Tribal Socio-Cultural Institutions
6. Lee Cooper Jeans and Ray Ban Sun Glasses: Neo-Colonial Eco-Cultural Invasion of the Tribal Youth
7. The Game of Linguistic Politics: Tribal Vs Mainstream
8. Learning from the Margin: “Amaechina” May the Path Never End

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Are You Married?

By Rajesh Kumar Sharma

It was a tight, neat cabin. Files were piled up like trophies against a wall. An air-conditioner peeped out of the twisted mouth of a window. Across the table sat the gatekeeper, the all-potent PA, chattering with some malevolent soul on his elegant white-gray telephone. “I am like a mongrel’s carcass, torn to shreds by those vile crows,” he said with the touching vanity of a poet who has just discovered himself. The tall man looming over him with a file and a smile frowned at the comparison, unable to determine whether the first simile was more honourable or the second. “VIP after VIP has been tearing into my flesh, but I tell them I can’t get them an appointment with the Sahib. At least not yet.” I was amazed at the range of images his uneven head could harbour – from disintegrating dogs and scavenging crows to exhausted courtesans! Keats’s negative capability, or the ancient seers’ aham brahmasmi? Had I yielded to a fit of that idiotic sentiment which sometimes fuels our acts of choice, I would have cast off my academic robe and donned the glorious gatekeeper’s costume. If he can empathize so readily with such a variety of creatures, there must be something in his calling. I read poetry, but he lives it!

Six of us sat across that overworked table of his, which defined his universe. What a noble and humble way to live your life.

And then a seventh person pushed open the short, creaky door, and dragged herself in. She was a youngish woman, with a file in her hand. “I have come directly to you, hoping you will help me see the Sahib.”

He looked through her file and ran his tongue tentatively over the lips in several directions. “But I see no cause of action that should compel a meeting with the Sahib. You may leave your file on my table. I will put it up.” But she was not going to be shooed away so conveniently. “I have been facing harassment for a year and a half. They have made my life hell. I can’t take it any more.”

The PA raised his eyes to look into hers. His lips quivering, he paused with the pause of hills, before turning on the humble tap of his ancient wisdom. “Are you married?” he asked. “Yes, I am.” “Then you should be tolerant. Marriage teaches women tolerance.”

My colleague, sitting behind me, exploded, “What a stupid thing to say! By God, what an idiot!” But the “idiot” ducked the explosion, pretending not to have heard the angry woman’s compliment at all.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

On Teaching

Memories come like winter sunshine when the mind turns to those who have been my teachers. Now that I have myself been a teacher for several years, I have begun to realize how difficult – impossible even – it is to become, and remain, one. Teaching, like learning, begins – as the story of Nachiketa and Yama hints – with dying. The will to know, which sprouts in the will to be, must crash against the farthest bounds of being. To seek is to eternally destroy and create your being. It is to be, like Nachiketa, the flames of yajna agni (sacrificial fire) . . . even as it is to be Yama, the one who lives dying.
...

Friday, August 7, 2009

On Higher Education in India

Rajesh Kumar Sharma

Even as the country moves towards evolving a comprehensive higher education programme, we need to steer a middle course between euphoria and cynicism. Comprehensive restructuring is urgently required, but it should not lead to a monolithic system. Diversity needs to be nurtured if only to realize the larger purpose of restructuring, which is to develop global competencies in an increasingly challenging world. Innovation and creativity flourish most in the soil of diversity. In place of a New Delhi-centric conception, a multi-centric conception of higher education would therefore better serve the purpose. It is possible to strive for uniformly high standards while keeping the focus on specific regional and local priorities. Moreover, the needs of rural India also should be adequately integrated into the project of restructuring. Care has to be taken that the project does not become a prisoner of the metropolitan agenda.
The guiding mantra of restructuring should be glocalism, understood not merely as a blend of the global and the local but as the application of global resources to local problems and of local resources to global problems. This would keep the focus firmly set on both relevance and competitiveness. Otherwise the cultivation of global competencies is narrowly interpreted as merely the preparation to tackle issues faced by the most advanced countries of the world. We need to have global competencies, but for what? This question must be a constant guide. We need to do best not in the abstract; the best has to emerge in the face of concrete, given situations. There are issues and problems in the immediate environment that too should command the application of the best skills.
Higher education should have the priority areas defined, within a broader long term vision with specific objectives and grounded in a culture of diversity. All teaching and research should find its justification in active dialogue with such a vision. There is no reason to fear any threat to academic freedom and innovation, provided the dialogue is alive and impassioned. The fact is we cannot afford to squander or under-utilize any of our pedagogic and research resources. For instance, a good deal of the available resources can be put to far better use if only the implications and potential of academic work for policy formulation could be kept in view.
There has been a tendency in recent years to overemphasize the economic and the technological to the detriment of the social, the cultural and the political. This imbalance would have to be removed if we want to walk into the future in sound overall health. Progress in tackling problems is to be measured in terms of the ability to see the problems in their totality and complexity, and not through the glasses of some fashionable and oversimplifying reductionism. There are so many issues that the academy has only addressed as if these are one-dimensional and isolated. The media has been trying to fill the gap by drawing attention to such academically ignored or undervalued issues, but it has its limitations. The academy must put its act together and offer a more integrated and concerted approach to the emerging complex issues that no one-dimensional vision can hope to tackle. Over the last few years the University Grants Commission has been trying to promote interdisciplinary studies in recognition of the complexity of emerging problems, but in practice interdisciplinarity has itself become a rationale for academic activity. Projects are sometimes pushed through for the simple reason that they are interdisciplinary. But time has come to move on to a problem-centric approach to knowledge; interdisciplinarity should not find its rationale in itself but in problem-solving. Indeed the depth model of knowledge should be complemented by the network model. Even as we keep boring for truth with the tools of specialization, we ought to trace the most impossible of connections. More than ever, innovation today requires putting the horizontal axis in contact with the vertical. And for this to bear good fruit, space should be widened for sheer experimentation. The freedom to experiment and innovate, little of which is available as of now to teachers and students, has to be extended and strengthened in practical terms.
Like any system, higher education too has a tendency to be self-enclosed and to slowly become insensitive to change. Teachers need some degree of freedom, even compulsory freedom, in order to innovate. For example, a certain proportion of the courses they teach should be left entirely to them to design, so that they can better integrate their research with teaching and carry the students along to the frontiers they are exploring. This can produce greater involvement, responsibility and even accountability. Of course, the freedom of the teacher should be balanced by total transparency of academic work. Information technology can be deployed to ensure transparency as also to reduce repetitive, unproductive labour.
One final thing: if higher education is to produce leaders, the system of rewards and responsibilities must be linked to ability. Unfortunately, years still matter more than competence in the academia. Ways have to be found to harness the resources of initiative, innovation and risk-taking wherever they exist. The barriers of age must go, and only they should occupy positions of leadership who have the ability to lead.

-----

Saturday, June 20, 2009

CINEMA AS A DEMOCRATIC EMBLEM

Alain Badiou
Translated by Alex Ling and Aurélien Mondon

Philosophy only exists insofar as there are paradoxical relations, relations which fail to connect, or should not connect. When every connection is naturally legitimate, philosophy is impossible or in vain.

Philosophy is the violence done by thought to impossible relations.
Today, which is to say “after Deleuze,” there is a clear requisitioning of philosophy by cinema — or of cinema by philosophy. It is therefore certain that cinema offers us paradoxical relations, entirely improbable connections.

Which ones?

Link

Thursday, June 18, 2009

How do examiners mark exams?

Mary Beard

(Courtesy: TLS Online)

I wouldn't want to claim that exams are as bad for the markers as they are for the sitters. But the Cambridge Tripos is still a big investment of time and hard work for the dons. It's not just that you have to read each paper carefully (and I have spent more or less the whole of the last week on this, more than 12 hours a day). You have also to decide what principle of marking to adopt.

Put simply, if you are dealing with standard "essay" papers, you can either go question by question (that is mark all the answers to question one, then all the answers to question two and so on) -- or you can go candidate by candidate (that is, mark all the answers from candidate a, then move on to candidate b and so on).

The advantage of the former is that you can compare the answers more directly and see more easily which candidates have got new or more interesting material.

Link to the article

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

INDIA: Through a Pakistani's Eyes

Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy

Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy (born 11 July 1950) is Professor of High Energy Physics and the head of the Physics Department at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan. He graduated and also received PhD from MIT and continues to do research in Particle physics. He received the Baker Award for Electronics in 1968, and the Abdus Salam Prize for Mathematics in 1984. He has authored various scientific research papers in peer-reviewed journals. He is also a prominent environmental and social activist and regularly writes on a wide range of social, cultural and environmental issues. He is the chairman of Mashal, a non-profit organization which publishes Urdu books on women's rights, education, environmental issues, philosophy, and modern thought. He is a staunch opponent of Wahhabist militant Islam in Pakistan and an advocate for democracy in the country. His article, ‘India Through Pakistani Eyes’, is worth a read and is appended below. It was emailed by my friend Deep Inder.



Few Pakistanis get to visit India, the so-called "enemy country", and fewer still to independently assess the development of science and education across its hugely diverse regions. I had the exceptional good fortune to make such a visit recently, made possible by the award of UNESCO's Kalinga Prize for the popularization of science. One part of the Prize included a 4-week lecture tour that took me around India: Delhi, Pune, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bhubhaneswar, Cuttack, Calcutta, and then back to Delhi again before I returned home to Islamabad in mid-February. Although the Prize was awarded in 2003, frosty Pakistan-India relations had made my tour impossible until 2005.


It was a relentless schedule from the first day onwards with several lectures daily at schools, colleges, universities, research institutions, and peace groups. I chatted with children from excellent schools as well as those from rather ordinary ones; had long sessions with students and professors from colleges and universities; met with the "junta" (cooks, taxi drivers, and rickshawallas); and was invited to see ministers and chief ministers in several states, as well as the president of India. Some observations follow:


Many Indian universities have a cosmopolitan character and are world class. Their social culture is secular, modern, and similar to that in universities located in free societies across the world. (In Pakistan, AKU and LUMS would be the closest approximations.) Male and female students freely intermingle, library and laboratory facilities are good, seminars and colloquia are frequent, and the faculty engages in research. Entrance exams are tough and competition for grades is intense. Some universities, "deemed universities" and other research institutions I visited (TIFR, IISC, IITs, IMSC, IICT, IUCAA, JNCASR, IPB, Raman Institute, Swaminathan Institute,...) do research work at the cutting edge of science. A strong tradition of mathematics and theoretical science forms a backbone that sustains progress in areas ranging from space exploration and super-computing to nanotechnology and biotechnology.


The rural-urban divide, and the class divide in education, is strong. Schools and colleges in small towns have a culture steeped in religion. Here one sees hierarchy, obedience, and even servility. The national anthem is sung in schools and religious symbols are given much prominence. Some students I met were bright, but many appeared rather dull. Although most Indian colleges are coeducational (unlike in Pakistan), male and female students sit separately and are not encouraged to intermingle. It is sometimes difficult to understand the English spoken there. Where possible, I spoke in Hindi/Urdu. This enhanced my ability to communicate and also created a certain kind of bonding. There is an evident desire to improve, however, and at least some college principals go out of their way to organize events and invite guest speakers. My lecture at the Basavanagudi National College, a fairly ordinary college in Bangalore, was the 1978th lecture given by academicians over a period of 30 years!


Independent thought in India's better universities is alive and well. Office bearers of the Jawaharlal Nehru University students union in Delhi were requested by the university's administration to present flowers to President Abdul Kalam at the annual convocation. They flatly refused, saying that he is a nuclear hawk and an appointee of a Hindu fundamentalist party. Moreover, as young women of dignity they could not agree to act as mere flower girls presenting bouquets to a man. Eventually the head of the physics department, also a woman, somewhat reluctantly presented flowers to Dr. Kalam but said that she was doing so as a scientist honoring another scientist, not because she was a woman. Bravo!I have not seen comparable boldness and intellectual courage in Pakistani students. Student unions in Pakistan have been banned for two decades and so it is a moot question if any union there could have mustered similar independence of thought.


Taking science to the masses has become a kind of mantra all over India. My columnist friend Praful Bidwai - a powerful critic of the Indian state and its militaristic policies - counts among India's greatest achievements the energisation of its democracy and refers to "our social movements, with their rich traditions of people's self-organisation, innovative protest and daring questioning of power". These movements have ensured that, unlike in Pakistan, land grabbers in Indian cities have found fierce resistance when they try to gobble up public spaces - parks, zoos, playgrounds, historical sites, etc. Praful should also include in his list the huge number of science popularization movements, sometimes supported by the state but often spontaneous. These are sweeping through India's towns and villages, seeking to bring about an understanding of natural phenomena, teach simple health care, and introduce technology appropriate to a rural environment. There is not even one comparable Pakistani counterpart. I watched some science communicators, such as Arvind Gupta at IUCAA in Pune, whose infectious enthusiasm leaves children thrilled and desirous of pursuing careers in science. Individual Indian states have funded and created numerous impressive planetariums and science museums, and local organizations are putting out a huge volume of written and audio-visual science materials in the local languages.

Attitudes of Indian scientists towards science are conservative. Progress through science is an immensely popular notion in India, stressed both by past and present leaders. But what is science understood to be? I was a little jolted upon reading Nehru's words, written in stone at the entrance to the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute for Advanced Research in Bangalore: "I too have worshipped at the shrine of science". The notion of "worship" and "shrine of science" do not go well with the modern science and the scientific temper. Science is about challenging, not worshipping. As a secular man, Nehru was not given to worship but his metaphorical allusions to industries and factories as temples of science found full resonance. Indeed, science in India is largely seen as an instrument that enhances productive capabilities, and not as a transformational tool for producing an informed, just, and rational society. Most Indian scientists are techno-nationalists - they put their science at the service of their state rather than the people. In this respect, Pakistan is no different.


India's nuclear and space programs are nationally venerated as symbols of high achievement. This led to India's nuclear hero, Dr. Abdul Kalam, becoming the country's president. When Dr. Kalam received me in his office, after the usual pleasantries, I expressed my regret at India having gone nuclear and causing Pakistan to follow suit. Shouldn't India now reduce dangers by initiating a process of nuclear disarmament? Dr. Kalam gave me a well-practiced response: India would get rid of its nuclear weapons the very minute that America agreed to do the same. He displayed little enthusiasm for an agreement to cut off fissile material production. However, he did agree to my suggestion that exchange of academics could be an important way to build good relations between Pakistan and India.


Indian society remains deeply superstitious, caste divisions are important, and women still have a long way to go. While I found myself admiring the energetic popular science movements, I was disappointed that they pay relatively little attention to the anti-scientific superstitions widely prevalent in Indian society. After I had given a strong pitch for fighting irrational beliefs at a meeting of science popularization activists from villages in Northern India, a young woman asked me what to do if "koi devi aap pay utr jayai" (if a spirit should descend upon you). The jyoti (astrologer) dictates the dates when a marriage is possible and even whether a couple can marry at all. When I was in Bangalore, hundreds of thousands had thronged to be cured by an American faith-healing quack, Benny Hinn. Inter-caste marriages are still frowned upon, and usually forbidden. In local newspapers one typically reads of tragic accounts such as that of a boy and girl from different castes who jointly commit suicide after their families forbid the match. Although Indian women are freer, more visible, and more confident than their Pakistani counterparts, India is still a strongly male dominated society. However, the rapidly increasing number of bold and well-educated young women gives hope for the future.


Muslims in India remain at the margins of scientific research and higher education. Hamdard University in Delhi is distinctly better than the university bearing the same name on the Pakistani side. Jamia Millia, a largely Muslim university, appears to be doing well and probably better than any Pakistani university in the field of physics. But, although Muslims form 12% of India's population, I met only a few Muslim scientists in leading Indian research institutes and universities. Discrimination against Muslims does not appear to be the dominant cause. A professor at Jamia told me that an overwhelming number of Muslim students were inclined towards seeking easier (and more lucrative) professions in spite of special incentives offered to them at his university. In general, Muslims in India appear more modern and secular than in Pakistan. However, Hyderabad astonished me. Is it a total exception? In the lecture that I gave at a government women's college, there was only one young woman without a burqa in an audience of about a hundred. These women were surprised to learn that Pakistan - at least in most places - is more liberal than Hyderabad. The extreme conservatism in the Muslim part of the city reminds one of Peshawar.


There was a remarkable lack of hostility towards Pakistan. Indeed a desire for friendly relations was repeatedly expressed in every forum I went to. This is not to be taken lightly: many of my public lectures were either about (or on) science, but others dealt with deeply contentious issues - nuclear weapons, India-Pakistan relations, and the Kashmir conflict. Various Indian peace groups and NGOs organized public discussions and screenings of the two documentaries that I had made (with my friend Zia Mian): "Pakistan and India under the Nuclear Shadow", and "Crossing the Lines - Kashmir, Pakistan, India". To be sure, my views on Indian policies and actions in Kashmir occasionally provoked knee-jerk nationalistic responses and accusations of pushing "a Pakistani line". But these were infrequent and even heated exchanges always remained within the bounds of civility.


Ignorance about Pakistan is widespread. In most public gatherings, and certainly in every school that I spoke at, people had never seen a Pakistani. A puzzled 12-year old girl asked me: "Sir, are you really a Pakistani?" Many Indians have a misconception of Pakistan as a medieval, theocratic state. In fact, only a few parts of Pakistan are really so. I also encountered the belief that Pakistanis have been totally muzzled and live in a police state. This is untrue - articles in the Pakistani press are often blunter and more critical than in the Indian press. An Indian friend hypothesized that knowledge of the other country is inversely proportional to the geographical distance between our countries. Unfortunately this will remain true unless there is a substantial exchange of visitors.


Indians are deeply nationalistic and may dislike particular governments but they only rarely criticize the Indian state. This is not difficult to understand: the democratic process has given a strong sense of participation to most citizens and has successfully forged a national identity (except in Kashmir, and parts of the North East) that transcends the immense diversity of Indian cultures. But this has an important downside: nationalism is easy to mobilize and highly dangerous in matters of war and conflict. I found the Indian elite (especially the former heads of nuclear, space, and technology programs) condescending and irritatingly smug. Even if India has done well in many respects, in most others it is still behind the rest of the world. Fortunately, Pakistani intellectuals are less attached to their nation state and therefore more forthright. The reason is rather clear: three decades of military rule have dealt a serious blow to nation building and firming up the Pakistani identity.


Similarities between the two countries exceed the differences. Cities in both countries are poisoned with thick car fumes and grid-locks are frequent; mega slums and exploding populations threaten to swallow up the countryside; electricity supplies are intermittent; and water is fast disappearing from rivers and aquifers. The rural poor are fleeing to the cities, and wretched beggars with amputated limbs are casually accepted as part of the urban scenery. There is little long-term planning, and none at all for coping with the inevitable changes that global warming will soon bring.

India is upbeat about its future and the feeling of optimism is palpable down to the lower middle class. The steady improvement in educational quality and outreach, the growth of social movements that keep excesses of power and authority in check, and a sense of participation among people are among India's most significant gains. But its problems are no less than its accomplishments. Will India's poor be able to find a voice, get help in fighting superstitions and notions of caste, and be spared the marginalization that accompanies globalization? Will India's leadership have the wisdom to arrive at some reasonable accommodation on Kashmir, cease obsessive militarization, and divert resources to pressing social needs? These larger issues, and not just advances in science and technology, will decide just how high India can rise.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Will designer brains divide humanity?

(New Scientist Science in Society May 13, 2009)

It will soon be possible to boost human brainpower with electronic "plug-ins" or even by genetic enhancement. What will this mean for the future of humanity? Would it widen the gulf between the world's haves and have-nots -- and perhaps even lead to a distinct and dominant species with unmatchable powers of intellect? It won't be long before...

Read here

The Disembodied Book

The age of the printed book is drawing to a close. But there's no need to mourn its passing, says Jürgen Neffe


In the shadows of the global financial crisis of the early 21st century, another revolution is gathering pace, whose repercussions reach far beyond the current correctable economic buckling. It impact on the world will compare with Gutenberg's. And with it, the era of the printed book will come to a close. Dissolved digitally like sound and image beforehand, limitlessly copyable, globally downloadable by the million with the click of a mouse, the book is entering the world of multimedia like its disembodied cousins from film, photography and music. This is the disintegration of the oldest serially produced data carrier in terms of form and content.

Read here
--

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Doing Dissertational Duties

By John L. Jackson Jr.

(Courtesy: The Chronicle Review)


My one-year-old and I spent the bulk of this week down at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, sitting in on both a dissertation defense and a dissertation proposal defense. It was a wonderful way to spend three days.

I always tell people that my favorite moment as a Columbia graduate student had to be during the two hours (maybe it was only an hour and a half) that I spent discussing/defending my dissertation proposal with a dissertation committee that included faculty members from Columbia and NYU, the Department of Anthropology and Columbia Law. They were critical and encouraging. They cautioned me against methodological missteps and challenged me to think more ambitiously about my intellectual endgame. I appreciated them taking the time to really engage my work, and the session gave me the nerve I needed to strike out for “the field” and begin my ethnographic research.

But the other side of that dissertational experience is equally fulfilling, maybe even more so. There’s nothing like watching a confident doctoral student frame his or her research on the fly. Nothing like admiring the way a dissertator deftly answers questions with a purposeful deployment of “the literature” and a nimble analytical mind. That’s particularly thrilling when you can recall such students’ graduate school applications so many years before, or their first few semesters as tentative and uncertain graduate students. The growth this process sometimes demands can be amazing.

The dissertation defense, at its best, represents one stunning culmination of an early scholar’s developmental trajectory. Is there anything more inspiring than sitting in on an unequivocally successful dissertation defense, especially when the student demonstrates real nuance and rigor, even shades of true brilliance?

I sometimes balk when academics call specific colleagues or students “brilliant.” “Smart.” Every once in a while it feels like a throwaway comment, something people just say. But I can certainly understand why a person might witness a stellar dissertation defense and label that student-cum-doctor brilliant for all time.

I definitely think that signing-off on a well-written dissertation and its compelling oral defense can be the most fulfilling part of an academic’s job. And this week’s defenses were so wildly successful that I can’t help but feel energized about my own writing plan this summer.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

RELIGION, MYSTICISM AND PHILOSOPHY IN THE MAHABHARATA AND THE RAMAYANA

Aarttee Kaul Dhar


To quote S Vivekananda, “The Ramayana and Mahabharata are the two encyclopedias of the ancient Aryan life and wisdom portraying an ideal civilization which humanity has yet to aspire after.”

Tracing Indian philosophical and literary history is an interesting exercise as it reveals records of religious and philosophical developments all striving towards ‘samanvaya’ which is synthesis, reconciliation and concord.


Cultural patterns different environments diverse racial contributions and numerous local and historical traditions must have though influenced the Indian culture and philosophy they could not but affect its continuity during six thousand years or more.

It would be impatient on my part to just talk of the epics without mentioning the itihasas, puranas, dharmas and other shastras significant in their own way providing necessary base and background to the whole picture in this humble tour-de-force. It is a huge topic but this is just a glimpse.

The wisdom correctly imparted by these ancient epics and shastras is specially felt to be significant in the present day Indian conditions and invaluable for a proper solution of the problem of national integration exercising the minds of the Indian leaders. Also in global context it’s of imminence as it talked of the world being one family the ‘Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam’ centuries before the development of the mass communications actually made the world a global village.

The message brought forth by these ancient texts is the conviction of the presence of the Supreme Being or the param Brahma in every animate entity leading to the realization of the dignity of each individual thus creating bond of love and mutual sympathy. It is indispensable for today and tomorrow and it puts values emphasized in modern civilization in proper perspective. India has always stressed the importance of human personality against all challenges to it.

Neither stark individualism nor collectivization can solve the problems confronting humanity today and this message is specially conveyed by the puranas dharmashatras and the epics. As pointed out by Amarkosha the Vedic commands are like those of the master [Prabhu samhita] whereas the pauranic teachings are like advice and counsel of friends [Suhrit samhita].

The age of racial and ideological conflict that produced the epics also produced the Manu dharmashastra, yagyavalkya’s code and other puranas, this time was characteristic of mental expansions and new political outlooks resulting in the emergence of the idea that India in spite of all its diversities of race caste kingdoms cultures and creed was essentially one. This fundamental unity is enforced in various passages of the puranas Ramayana and Mahabharata. For ex. The Kurma purana & the Vayupurana talk of one Bharatvarsha. The Hindu scheme of life - dharma artha kaam & moksha was perfected and codified during this period. Ideal characters representing all stages of human life became epic heroes whether rishis sanyasins students or princes all were presented. Their influence cannot be exaggerated as perfect examples of human potentiality and relationships as well as achievement may it be Ram Sita Bharata Bhishma Arjun or Yudhishthir. The purpose of these holy books was not to record events in dry detail but to furnish role models. The fact that these books have been proven by researchers as more accurate geographically n historically than supposed to be is beside the point, they did provide examples to emulate.

Though each Purana exalts a particular deity the uniformity of the Hindu approach to the supreme one is confirmed at every turn, e.g Ram is described as a devotee of Shiva and aditya so is Arjuna, the Vayu purana calls one a sinner if one asserts the superiority and inferiority among divine manifestations. Some may accuse these texts of exaggeration distortion or gross over accentuated virtues of some characters like Ram Harishchandra and even Karma but these great products of human genius were not intended to be part of historical directories. These are works of great seers who wove certain traditions inherited truths and ideals into narratives anecdotes episodes and homilies reflecting a certain attitude towards life intending to diffuse their purport amongst the people at large.


The Ramayana presents a picture of kings leading a spiritual life and seers playing a vital role in assisting and advising them in the affairs of the nation. Difficult situations and their impacts are analyzed. Dharma or righteousness is the chief factor and the underlying motive of all human lives in the Ramayana. No compromising correctness for convenience is the message.

The Mahabharata is a manual of ethics and politics, picture of great struggle illustrating conflicting human motives and attributes but a repertory of comprehensive secular and religious learning. Together the two epics have been the foundations of Hindu ethics and beliefs. They deal with actions of heroes as mortal men who embody both human virtues and frailties whereas the puranas celebrate the power and work of various superhuman personages and deities. They are a valuable record of Hindu beliefs originating next after Vedas and incorporated hero worship and divine worship. They can be called pantheistic in character with an underlying quest for unity of life and of Godhead.

All puranas are in dialogue form between the exponent and the enquirer. Vayu purana is the oldest, Vishnu purana was Brahma’s gift to pulatsya who communicated it to parashar and then to maitreyi. Markandey purana and Bhagwat purana are the most celebrated. Bhagwat is estimated equal to Ramayana in popularity and Mahabharata in value, dealing in detail with Krishna incarnation and his activities as supreme avatar. Puranas and several Upapuranas rightly construed furnish a compendious portrayal of human life as it ought to be lived as the epics furnish impressive illustration of cause being followed inevitably by effect of karma rebirth and destiny. According to Dr. S. Radhakrishnan the Mahabharata is an illuminating account of the Indian genius both in nobility and greatness and its tragic weakness and insufficiency.

Characters are animated by strong passions good and evil. The basic purpose is to show futility of betrayal of ideals and of pursuits of shams and evils. It stresses that an underlying purpose and a guiding destiny are inseparable from human history.

Bhagawat purana appeals to the bhakta or devotee. Various attractive stories embody devotion and detachment in several forms supposedly composed on advice of Narada to Maharishi Veda Vyas that by doing so he would attain serenity and peace of mind as a true devotee of God and his incarnations. The psychology of bhakti has been inimitably studied and expounded in the most popular Bhagawad purana. The spiritual prescriptions in it are adjusted to different stages of individual development.

The itihasas and puranas are also most remarkable for the no. of episodes contained. Here The Gitas deserve special mention most famous being the Shrimad Bhagwad Gita, a revelation granted to Arjun by Shri Krishna at a critical period not only for the kurus and pandavas but for humanity as a whole. It’s been described as embodying pure monism or qualified monism with introduction of prakriti stated as Sankhya Yoga rightly viewed its not a weapon for dialectical warfare. In Shri Aurobindo’s words – “It is a gate opening on the whole world of spiritual truth and experience and the view it gives embraces all provinces of the human mind and soul.”

Gita maps out but does not cut up or build walls. It came into existence after Vedas and Upanishads starting with a freshly conceived synthesis and constructs harmony of knowledge love and action, gyan bhakti and karma through which a human soul can directly approach the eternal it seizes on the real obstacles to spiritual life and compels them to become the means for a richer spiritual conquest. The body and mind are to be utilized for the opening up of a divine life. Gita is said to be a gospel of the divine perfectibility of life.

There are other works entitled Gitas e.g. The ashtavakra samhita – a dialogue between janak and ashtavakra, the Avadhuta Gita- dialogue between rishi Dattatreya and Skandha, the Anu Gita found in ashwameghparvam of the Mahabharata and udhavgeeta embodied in bhagwat purana containing lord Krishna’s instruction to his devotee udhav. The basic message of all geetas is enunciated in the ashtavakra samhita – ‘’ you the immanent self do not belong to any caste or ashram, are beyond any visual perceptions, detached and beyond forms. Witnessing all phenomena you are happy and maintain your equilibrium”.

In udhav geeta Krishna says earlier there was only one caste known as hansa. In the beginning he says the four castes were created by me to function according to individual qualities and inheritance. The conclusion is he who does his duty in consonance with his innate potentiality incurs no sin. The main requisites remain the same – detachment and faith in the ultimate!

The dharma and artha shastras and legal treatises comprise normative sciences devoted to practical methods by which life should be regulated people should be trained, educated, trade and economic progress can be attained and stimulated and right end of human life can be secured

The Manu smriti is called the leading dharmashastra, kautilya’s ArthaShasta and kamandikas NitiShasta are celebrated manuals on polity. The mitakshara dayabhaga and other legal treatises were based on dharmashatras and governed human and family relationships amongst Hindus through centuries expounding rules that outlined rights and obligations; the king was the fashioner of the times the final appellate authority but was bound by dictates of dharma and custom founded on practice of good men all over the country. In essence it meant that law moved with the times and was not static.

The Manu dharmashastra contains teachings of Manu or the primeval man expounded by his pupil ‘Bhrigu’ setting out rules of living. Many verses of manusmriti occur in Mahabharata. Other dharmshastras were compiled by yagyavalkya, Narad, Gautam, bodhyayan, apasthamba, and others in a period when after epic age India settled down into social and economic strata. Rules of life were formulated by seers to be followed at all stages of human existence by various social and economic groups.

Dharmashastras treat social life from point of view of religion and morality whereas the Arthashastras take account of earlier literatures and study contemporary states from the point of view of their political and social nexus. Kautilya’s treatise in this regard is the most well knit and logical. He says ‘artha is the object of man’ and this Shastra aids in acquisition and protection of property and governance of each country. He mentions schools of polity example jaimini, bhadranarain and others. Arthashastra is based on logic of material interest of kings monarchs and means of securing them keeping in mind presence of small states and their interrelations. Kautilya is in favor of an expanded empire (chakravarti) Vishnu gupta/ chanakya/ kautilya was not only a celebrated king maker but also regarded now as greatest exponent of realistic policies of governance and methods of diplomacy during period of foreign impact and internal disunity. Both economic and political, practical and theoretical problems were studied by our ancients, herein lies their greatness.

In general the epics may be regarded as describing the penetration of Aryan culture into the rest of the country. Where Ramayana is regarded as describing exemplary behaviour, Mahabharata reflects various forms of struggle between good and evil, Bhagwad Gita is a great form of synthesis and Bhagwad purana is marked by spirit of accommodation. In the Hindu view of life ideals and activities were interdependent, society was indivisible, the harmony of the whole creation, not only the state or country depended on reconciliation and equipoise of duties and obligations whether of individuals classes or functionaries.

‘’Life hence was a continuum’’, to quote K V R Aiyangar in his Rajdharma- “not interrupted by death and so were deed and thought”. Along with development in North India in literature polity and ethics there was a parallel evolution in the Dravid region resulting in notable works like- Kural, literary output of Sangam period and later didactic poetic and devotional literature.

In the two great epics which we are going to discuss here are said to be unique documents in the literary history of the world depicting phases from transcendental to empirical view of life from divine to mundane.

In Ramayana the divine unknown and nature are brought together and in between are encrusted gods and goddesses, gandharvas, apsaras, nagas, asuras and others. Human mind not resting here we also find moral code common to both gods and men in antipathy to whom the devils and demons are always shown as acting. We thus have a separate pantheon a separate moral code and treatment of religious mysticism and philosophy. The Mahabharata being encyclopedic in nature contains whole chapters on these. In histories of various peoples of the world we find religio-superstitious aspect is meant for the layman mystic elements for the saintly and philosophical features for the analytical mind. As the age of the epics oscillates between the bharata war and the age reaching almost the precincts of the Christian era. We find in epic texts a spiritual fountain quenching the thirst of all alike the agnostics the mystics the philosophers and others. Different systems of philosophy are all described in the epic that is the yoga, Sankhya, Vedanta (aranyak), the sects of shaiva, saura, nandidharma etc. These ageless epics have eventually imbibed the Aryan and non Vedic Aryan element of mythology creating a background for the Hindu religion. For example, the Krishna and Shiva elements found in Mahabharata are foreign to the early Vedic and Brahmanic periods and there is complete assimilation of the two. From the point of view of mythology Mahabharata stands midway between Vedic and later puranic periods. In the epics for welfare of humanity men and gods act together shown at places even fighting against each other. Arjun fights with Shiva in the guise of Kirata, Inderjeet/Meghnad, Ravana’s son defeats Indra. The best of gods descend upon earth in a crisis (Indra comes to take away the divine earrings of Karna) and epic heroes descend to heaven at a time of emergencies as Arjun’s descent to heaven for the divyastra. As men quarrel for supremacy gods try to usurp supremacy among themselves. Gods marry at times among human beings and beget children mysteriously as Karna is Surya putra. The epic gods can be said to be fully anthropomorphized.

In addition to Vedic elements epics present the holy trilogy – Vishnu /Krishna, Brahma and Rudra Shiva. Supposedly the outcome of the Upanishad period is Brahma’s worship as the ultimate father and creator of the universe. The epic authors incorporated characters of Narayana and Vishnu Krishna in the Vedic Vishnu and brahmanising the cult of Krishna who was the warlord of Akhiras. In harivansha the supposed appendix of Mahabharata Krishna is the supreme Vishnu born on earth. Vedic gods recede into the background and sectarian gods take prominence in epics. Superiority of one god over another may be mentioned but efforts were also made to show the holy trinity of Brahma Vishnu and Mahesh.

The epic pantheon has eight major gods- Surya, Som, Vayu, Agni, Yam, Kuber, Varun, Indra called as lokpalas by manu of the guardians of the quarters.

Vayu vat marut and anila are designations of the wind god and life of the world. Marut is vataskandha, vayumarut is serving god to Indra, hanumat is son or messenger of vat or pawan, skandha is army chief or senapati of Vishnu, yama is bestower of bliss upon the good and woe upon the wicked, is hell guardian and carries souls of the dead to his realm yamaloka. His assembly hall is built by vishwakarma the engineer god. Yama’s dialogue with nachiketa and savitri figure prominently. He is son of god Surya and all gods are in awe of him as he is god of justice or dharma. Varun described by Rig-Veda as supreme moral and physical ruler is shown as mere lord of the west in the epics accompanied by male and female rivers snakes demons half gods and deities called daitya and devata. Kuber is a dwarf residing in mount kailash in the north. He is a demonic gate keeper god of wealth jewel giver; he is also a guardian of traveler and yaksha king. His synonyms are manibhadra or vaishvanara. Indra is anthropomorphized to quite an extent endowed with his own court Indrasabha, grandeur and heaven Indralok. Called soma, fire, air, time in all its divisions earth and ocean – the overlord of the great cloud and its thunder, its creator and destroyer. Indra the king of vasus could not conquer tripura/ three lokas. People celebrated the Indra mahotsav in place of which Krishna advocated the celebration of go-mahotsav.

Then there are ribhus higher gods, guhayakas, demons, physicians of gods, the golden birds weaving black and white of time, the first borns among gandharvas are vishvasu and chitrartha. Lore of singing and war music is referred to as gandharva tatva and yudh gandharva. Menaka sahejanya panini punjaktasthala manovati are daughters of prada and are renowned apsaras. Kamadeva or cupid with the ensign of makara is mentioned with his arrows. Reference is made to sadhayas the vidyadhars the 12 adityas the 8 vasus the 11 rudras and the two ashwins. Identical with gods are pitris or pretas. They worship prajapati Brahma in his paradise with pishachas yatudhawas rakshasa etc. They are of one being (ekibhuta) and can assume mortal forms. The stars are believed to be the souls of the departed. After devs and pitars come the divine rishis like agastya and bhrigu. Agastya is the lord of the south who drank the whole ocean benumbed the vindhyas and married lopamudra the perfect woman. Under the category of zoolatry we may include surabhi the divine cow with her own heaven hanumat the divine monkey, elephants or the dig-gajas - mythological guardians of the quarters, nandi - shivas bull vehicle, hansa- the swan, garuda- Vishnu’s eagle vehicle and snakes like the sheshanaga. Divine rivers are mentioned as Ganga yamuna. Divine and magical trees as peepal ashwath kadamb udumbara parijat kalpavriksha Santana etc among groves are devadars kadaliks on mount

Gandhamadhan devaranya divyavana etc. some gods at times are associated with trees as Vishnu with udumbara nyagrodha and ashwatha, Krishna with parijata. The vrikshasi is a tree girl.


THE THREE GODS

Among gods of the epic pantheon Brahma Vishnu and Shiva represent the three functions of creation, preservation and destruction of the universe; from them and their spouses (from who has stemmed the cult of Shaktism) the epic period gathers the religious beliefs and practices. The existence of god Brahma can be mainly assigned to the efforts of the Brahmans of the day. The neuter Brahma is turned into Brahma (masculine) father god. Shiva and Vishnu Krishna have their own history. Shaivism arose out of contemporary religious notions and beliefs. Vaishnavism may have emerged as combination of many faiths found in the brahmanical and the non brahmanical circles. During the epic period the Brahmin bards were said to be busy assimilating the lore of the indigenous Indian people. They must have met with success at the end of the period.

Trinity Gods have their own heavens. Brahmaloka Vaikunth and Kailash. Sectarian rivalry was but a natural outcome. Hence efforts were made in Mahabharata to smoothen the ill feelings. The scene of Vishwaroop and final fight of Narayan and RudraShiva emphasize unity of Narayana and Shiva giving rise to the notion of ‘hari-hara’. Vishnu and Brahma supposedly sprung from right and left sides of Shiva. Many a time one of the trinity praises another hinting at sometimes subordination and sometimes basic unity and absence of difference. Later these three became starting points of different systems of philosophy and also were identified with three gunas – satva rajas and tamas.

Brahma - is the supreme creator in the epic pantheon, passive wise eternal god sprung from lotus in Vishnu’s navel. He’s designated as prajapati parampita pitamaha chaturmurti chaturmukh etc. MB refers to his seven mind born sons his heaven is above Indralok, Shiva is born from his forehead, gets a son by procastration before him. Krishna acts on Brahma’s behest in case of jarasandh. In MB Brahma acts as Shiva’s charioteer and asks Shiva to help Indra. Vaishnavism and shaivism are cults that antedated Brahma worship.

Vishnu – Vedic works as Rig-Veda, kathopnishad, taitreyi Upanishad, show different stages through which Vishnu attained eminence. In Bhishma parvam the supreme spirit is identified with vasudev and is addressed as Narayan and Vishnu. Anugita speaks of virat roop shown by Krishna to uttanka as the Vaishnava roop. The Mahabharata enlists 1000 names of both- Vishnu and Shiva, thus establishing parity. Notion of avatar was taking shape as Krishna Vasudev and Ram are both identified with Vishnu. Hence they are gods on earth. In Shreemadbhagwad Gita Krishna tells Arjun- “I am born when dharma sinks – yada yada hi dharmasya glanirbhawati bharata abhuthanam adharmasya tadatmanam shrijamaham paritranaya sadhunam vinashaya cha dushkritam dharmasansthapnarthaya sambhavami yuge yuge.”

The ten incarnation theory Dashavatar is only mentioned in the interpolated sections of Mahabharata.

Narayana – The taitrye aranyak mentions Narayan for the first time as Supreme Being endowed with upanishadic attributes. Mahabharata identifies Krishna with it. His ayan or resting place is the waters ( nara-apah) hence Narayan, probably is of Dravidian origin. The serpent god of proto Indians with ocean as his resting place. Apparently a polarization of sorts is seen of the fierce destructive qualities and the lotus a symbol of fertility divinity and gentleness from which Brahma is said to have emerged.

Vasudev Krishna - It appears from taitreyi aranyak that vasudev was the name of a divinity before the Mahabharata period. He’s called satyaki satvatah and janardhan in Mahabharata. Bhim calls vasudev eternal god, beneficent and mysterious who Brahma Vishnu and Shiva worship alike. Bhagwadgita calls vasudev to be all. Shri Krishna says among vrishnis I am vasudev. The name Krishna appears in Rig-Veda as composer of hymns. Chandokya Upanishad speaks of devki putra Krishna. Early struggle between Krishna and Indra in Rig-Veda finds reflection in the epic when Krishna advocates govardhan mahotsava in place of Indra mahotsav. Krishna appears in Mahabharata in three stages.

Stage 1– as an ordinary human being, arjuns friend and pandavas counselor

Stage 2 – a semi divine being and finally 3- the Supreme Being.

The harivansh and puranas hint at gopal Krishna the cow herd boy, slayer of Kansa son of devki and vasudev and vishni prince of dwarka. Personality of supreme Krishna appears to have resulted from brahmanic traditions of Brahma Vishnu and others and the vratya tradition adding its doctrine of monotheism and narayana.

Shiva rudra – in the MB there are three stratas presenting Shiva 1. Is the older reference being maha-yogeshwar, maha-sepa-nagna, urdhav-linga, digvasa and urdhava-ratas indicating early yogic and nude representations of Shiva familiar to mohen-jo-daro period. Apparently the naga tribe was closely associated with Shiva indicates the mention of the seven hooded serpent, the second period Vedic and brahamanic refer to Shiva as fierce malevolent destroyer or shatrudriya and rudrahoma kritivasa makhagna with mujavat mountains as residence of Shiva and parvati. He’s mentioned as kuru karta maker of kurus kuruvasi dweller amongst kurus giver of boon to markandeya and weapon to arjun pashupatastra. The third strata refers to Shiva as neelkanth bhootnath his bearing a crescent his association with nandi and ganga episodes of his father - in - law daksha, tripurari etc and versions of 11 rudras. Like Vishnu Shiva is also the super being. The all in all ruler of universe though his principle job was to be the destroyer.

In Ramayana Shiva is designated as Shankar or raudra. He’s god of north and ram defeats him in his role as hara. Shiva is described as destroyer of the universe at the end of the Yug. Hara drinks poison at the insistence of hari. He’s called mahadev maheshwar and shambhu, also has a wonder tree on himvat. When Kuber sees him he becomes yellow eyed. Shiva has 11 epithets as triyambak amaresh bhootnath tripurari burner of kamdev skandha’s father drinker of world destroying poison destroyer of daksha’s sacrifice gangadhar carrier of rosary etc. In the interpolated uttar kand Shiva is more exalted and put under Vishnu. The institution of gods and goddesses was hence coming of age and in Mahabharata it was in full vogue. Their spouses are listed in udyog parvam. Ravi= prabhavati, valin= swaha, Chandra= rohini, yama= dhoomorna, varuna= gauri, dhaneshwar= ridhi, narayan = lakshmi, udhav= jhanvi, rudra=rudrani, pitamah = vedi. More names as Hri, Shri, lakshmi, uma, saraswati occur in here. There’s indication of mother goddess worship. Rukmani at the time of her marriage worships durga arjun’s prayer to durga and yudhishtir’s prayer to her in bhishma parvam and virat parvam are late interpolations. There’s description of kali in account of ashwatthama’s nocturnal raid of the pandava camp.

Then there is kartikeya who is son of Agni and aakashganga married to devasena also referred to as son of durga and Shiva responsible for destruction of tarkasur. The epics accept authority of Vedic scriptures as means of knowledge perception and recognize their influence as valid.

The philosophical systems found are

· Cosmology - creation of universe from the cosmic egg by the primordial person, by duality of the sex and by the unmanifest or avyakt. The personalistic hypothesis of creation is introduced by raising Shiva or Vishnu Krishna to the status of the Supreme Being then considered ishwar. A direct development of ardh-narishwar theory may have paved way for theory of purusha and prakriti. Prakriti is different from cosmic purush and they are two aspects of Brahma. Brahma is also said to have been created from Brahman or avyakta or the unmanifested.

· Sankhya – Mahabharata speaks of Sankhya as a system, darshan or philosophy and an enumeration parisankhya. The shantiparvam besides the panchashikha and deval theories gives three different accounts of cosmic principles of Sankhya system. Yagyavalkya explains to janak the eight prakritis comprising the avyakta unmanifest mahat cosmic intelligence and ahankar or egoism. Five gross elements 16 vikaras comprising 5 finer elements 5 organs of perception and 5 organs of action and the manas gyan Buddha etc. thus 24 principles. Sankhya in early phase is called nirishwar or atheistic devoid of a belief in one personal supreme god. Later by addition of 25th principle it became panchavinshatika the yogins pashupaths bhagwats super added 26th principle namely one exalted spirit as supreme god. The epic Sankhya assumes the three gunas satva rajas and tamas - all varnas animals and beasts come under these three categorizations the plurality or unity of souls is discussed in detail. Panchashikha kapilaey is said to be the first disciple of asuri who was a disciple of kapila who was the propounder of the Sankhya system. Disgusted with birth actions and with all things, sarva nirveda it’s on these foundation of panchashikha system is based. It says nirvana is attained by rejection of unnecessary and untrustworthy delusion anavashyak moh which leads to religious practices and hopes of reward. It uses the terms Sankhya jeeva and kshetrayan (atma). The 31 principles given by panchashikha are 5 karmindriyas 5 gyanindriyas budhi satva ahankar vasan avidya prakriti maya sukh dukh priya apriya dwandwa kal panchamahabhuta sadhav asadhav (5 gross elements with being and non being) 7 constituents vidhi shukra bal, purush and atma. Probably after this gita added 7 elements to its 24 principles making 31 in all. Elements added were desire aversion pleasure pain body perception and courage. The highest goal lies in anand in the state of Brahman.

· Yoga – two kinds of yogas are described in Mahabharata – one, which enables a person to wander in 10 directions, the other eightfold path or ashtangyog described in Vedas and accepted in classical schools. Correct diet, mode of attaining bliss, such rules are also described. Sankhya ensures knowledge and yoga health. The Mahabharata effects an amalgamation of the two by declaring both to be as equally efficacious. The first gives knowledge and the second direct perception.

· Vaishnavism – this in epics is varied in character. Mainly found in anugita and bhadwadgita and moksha dharmaparvam. At places its like pantheism to which is superimposed a personal god at others it’s a theistic doctrine explained by the vyuhas. The doctrine of the vyuhas explained in narayaniya section can be summarized as vasudev is the supreme soul, sankarshan is the primeval matter or prakriti pradyumna is cosmic mind or manas anirudh is cosmic self consciousness or ahankar. Sometimes one form of the lord or vyuha is taught and sometimes more than one.

Ekantika religion is said to be the best from of vaishnavism at many places equivalent to narayaniya shashwat bhagwat. Sole devotion to narayan or supreme god is preached in it as the only means of seeing god. The shantiparvam states ekantika was revealed to janmejaya in harigita and to arjun before the big war.

· Vedanta – some passages or chapters are found on vedantic doctrine on Brahman. The shrimadbhagwad gita also refers o the expression vedantakrit hence to most it appears that the epics gave philosophies in transition between Upanishad period and that of later systems. Epics describe 4 purusharthas or human ends and dharma is code of life keeping the society together that is dharmo dhariyate prajah.

Itihasa samavadas belonging to ascetic poetry teach universal morality. Love of all human beings and renunciation of the world and they come under category of niti or ethical standards. The epics also enunciate the doctrine of karma and state that by knowledge a person becomes free from bonds of birth and rebirth. Discussions on types of karma and on the issue whether destiny or self effort prevails in life are also met with. Dictums like that ‘which is conducive to the utmost welfare of the human being is the truth’ are found.

On the whole the summumbonum of life is to have a perfect piece of mind and joy that does not know sorrow in this world and next. Epics teach first of all that in the pursuit of emancipation nothing can get in your way no barrier like cast creed birth or sex. Women philosophers like sulabha and courtesan pingala are also mentioned.

The epics for the first time it seems bring together diverse systems of philosophy and give them new color and vigor preaching karma bhakti and gyan with a widened meaning. God showers his grace on everyone irrespective of divisions even a leaf flower or a little water offered with devotion and love is acceptable to him. In the light of these teachings the frustrated human mind calms down as does Arjuna’s after he puts non desire in place of fears worries attachment and hopes.

It is said epics became the real Vedas for the masses. Their influence was so profound lasting and continuous in moulding life and character of the Indian people that not only on literature but it was witnessed on all forms of art and culture and general texture of social life. Works which have affected so large a population over such a long period of time and moulded the character and civilization of so vast a region often transcending geographical limits should not be termed mere epics they should better be called history of India not of events but of urges and aspirations strivings and purposes. They form the context of our collective subconscious wherein breathes the united soul of India and individual soul of her people. They represent the two moods of our Aryan civilization moral and intellectual. The world is still grasping the true meaning behind the great dramas of Indian life that inspire us to derive the enduring vitality of our cultural and spiritual basis as well as of our social and political life.

Aarttee Kaul Dhar hails from Jaipur [Rajasthan]. She writes in English, Urdu and Hindi.