Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Dr.Rajkumar – A phenomenon and after

© Vinay Nagaraju

“When a big tree falls, the earth is bound to shake”. Circa 1984; Rajiv Gandhi allegedly made this remark in the aftermath of his mother Indira Gandhi’s death. He was obliquely justifying the anti-Sikh riots that followed Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The following gallimaufry of words will not do anything of that breed. It will only throw a few questions in an attempt to analyse on what ensued the death of Dr.Rajkumar in Bangalore and elsewhere and also attempt to paint the larger jigsaw puzzle of life.

Death and grieving : Death, cannot be better described than with the clichés of being a great leveler or the only thing certain in this world. However, certain sections of the humankind have also not given up on holding steadfast to beliefs of immortality et cetera. Dr.Rajkumar’s death brought in an unforeseen jounce with a flavour of sorrow, shock, despair, distraught and a sense of loss to entire masses in Karnataka. In many cases it was a medley of such emotions. The immediate reaction of disbelief translated into helplessness to many.

It was around 2:30pm in the afternoon when I received a call from my home with the usual imperviousness. Amma was on the other end trying to share the ‘incredulous’ news with me. She just asked if I had heard of the news of Dr.Rajkumar. She never even mentioned the word death in her conversation. It was understood. She was being appropriate. I said no and turned to Google to help me. Within the next few minutes the air was filled with messages carrying the incredulous news through SMS and phone calls. Many of my friends at office were on their feet in their own territorial cubes. Then they huddled to share, express and tried to assimilate the news. Strange are the ways of the civilized or the educated. We always like being appropriate. We have invented, practiced and bequeathed appropriate ways of grieving. So much so that crying in public view is an embarrassment for many, unlike another diametric emotion of laughing. This isn’t true for all classes of our society. The not so educated and the not so ‘conditioned’ classes do not consider it inappropriate to express their emotions in public. They do not consider any public display of anger, sorrow, distraught or elation improper. A common example may be a woman abusing her drunkard husband which each one of us has seen an umpteen times. Similarly, during times of death we have seen people grieve without any qualms on how they are occurring to others.

In Cultural perspectives of grief: an expanded concept analysis, Cowles KV of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Nursing writes and I quote “The concept of human grief has been of interest to scholars and practitioners for many years. However, there are many aspects of grief about which little is known. One of these is the role that cultural heritage plays in influencing the individual, intrapersonal experience of grief. Through the use of six focus groups, each consisting of persons from a specific cultural background, the investigator explored the concept of grief. The data were thematically analysed and the findings then compared to the findings from a previous concept analysis of grief drawn from professional literature. The findings indicated that individuals from a variety of cultural backgrounds whose knowledge of grief was derived primarily from their personal experiences defined grief in much the same way as had the authors of the professional literature. Most importantly, the findings also clearly indicated that although cultural differences are perceived to exist in mourning rituals, traditions and behavioural expressions of grief, there are no particular differences in the individual, intrapersonal experience of grief that can be attributed to cultural heritage or ethnicity alone. Implications for future research and considerations for practising nurses as they pertain to the highly individual and pervasive nature of grief are presented.” Some researchers such as Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and others have posited sequential stages including denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

In the case of Rajkmar, for millions of homes across Karnataka it was a personal loss. The land was bereaved of its beloved hero. He was a hero who had transcended his area of work to shine as a leader, representing the ethos of the Kannada culture. He was synonymous with Kannada and Karnataka for decades. One main reason for this was the timeline of his career and that of the state. Rajkumar entered the movie world in 1954 and Karnataka was formed in 1956. In many ways his growth can draw parallels in the milestones on the state. He came to stand up for the cause of the local culture innumerable times. Few culturati or intelligentsia from other fields came to acquire the charisma that he had. So, the sense of loss to the common man was palpable. They had lost the last icon on the horizon of Kannada culture.
“There is a historic aspect to Rajkumar’s artistic contribution. His first film Bedara Kannappa was three years before the state of Mysore was born. He gave shape to the Kannada consciousness through his movies, his music and his values.’’ “Litterateurs and journalists played a key role during the formation of state of Mysore. But their writings touched only the educated. However, Rajkumar’s role was greater as he reached the illiterate masses. He gave a new dimension to Kannada pride.” - Jnanapith awardee Litterateur Girish Karnad

State in the neo-liberal world: In the neo-liberal world, economic liberalisation has not gone hand-in-hand with social progress. Political-economic philosophies of free market have shaken the high tenets of social progressivism that were supposed to govern societies. Aggressive affirmative action has not been appreciated by the elite.

Egalitarian (in all connotations of the word) society does not seem to be the guiding principle of the democracy that we are. The state and its machinery are increasingly seen as a protector of the rich and the influential elite. The police force has not come out of the mindset of British Raj. Passive resistance movements expressing dissent have not acquired the required critical mass that it can dictate the ways of governance. The gap between the haves and have-nots has widened into a deep gulf. This in particular is perceptible in the big cities of developing nations. Bangalore is a good instance in the case.

What was seen in the aftermath of the demise of Dr.Rajkumar needs to be also seen in this light. The lynching of a policeman, torching of police vehicles, damage to property that are representative of the state are expressions of ire against the state. Private property was damaged without any consideration. People in general having subtle inklings of the ways of the new world where they are marginalised and their voices don’t transform into intelligible words that have impact find themselves indulging in acts of violence against the state and the elite.

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum - even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate." - Noam Chomsky (The Common Good, 1998)

Bengalooru and Bangalore: The state of Karnataka came into existence with the passage of the States Reorganisation Act (1956), with the incorporation of districts under the dominion of Bombay, Hyderabad, Madras state and Coorg within the existing state of Mysore State. Linguistic reorganisation was the premise that drove the formation of the state. Bangalore located on the Mysore plateau (also known as the South Karnataka plateau), is located close to the three other southern states of India. The British setup the Bangalore Cantonment that resulted in a large influx of immigrant workers from neighbouring states. Bangalore’s character has always been evolving and assimilative in nature. However, in the last decade with the onset of neo-liberalism and the emergence of the city as a knowledge hub of the country in particular the IT industry, the city is more a city of implants with people from all over the country drawn to this place. In many senses it has become two cities, one land. The Bengalooru of the quintessential Kannadiga, and the Bangalore of the elite. ‘Bangalore’ has not made much effort in catalyzing the process of assimilating itself to the local culture. The original intention of the formation of the state seems to have been lost in crossroads. Dr.Rajkumar represented for millions in Bengalooru the pride of the evaporating Kannada culture. Some of the feeling of being thwarted in realising the intention of preserving and developing the local culture was evidently expressed in the aftermath of the thespian’s demise. There is no doubt that the image of the city took a beating. It brought into focus the fact that many stake holders of the city and its image were not in picture earlier.

Governance or the lack of it: The final angle that I am going to address is that of the state administration or the lack of it. And this is not not true in various other parts of the nation. The response of administration was termed guarded and restrained. Add to this the indomitable, evil designs of elements of the society who took advantage of the chaos. A state funeral without the chief minister ? Varanata deserved a more honorable farewell. The peaceful sea of humanity that turned up to witness the farewell did not draw attention. What drew attention was the chaos created by a seemingly smaller groups. Emergency responses were lackadaisical at its best. There have been few instances of exigencies being dealt with power and grace.

Dr.Rajkumar belonged to them… : Minutes after the news of the legend’s demise, his fans had laid siege to his house to catch a last glimpse of his mortal remains. On the one hand, the administration came forward to ‘conduct’ his funeral and the burial, claiming the actor to be Karnataka’s asset. On the other hand was a vast multitude of people who came from far and near to take part in his funeral. When there was confusion on where Dr.Raj will the laid at state for the public to pay their tributes and when the last journey had already begun, there were groups of people who visited his home demanding that they be allowed to catch a last glimpse. It was a heart rendering scene with Parvathamma Rajkumar, his wife pleading to them that ‘their’ Rajkumar was already being taken to the Kanteerava stadium. The people had taken over ‘benevolently’ upon themselves the task of performing the last duties and the last journey. Dr.Rajkumar no more remained his family’s man. He was the asset of the masses. Ravi Beligere said, “It is a day of shoka for all homes in Karnataka”. The legend’s sons had to jostle with the common man to be with their father. Their appeal to maintain calm fell on impervious ears. Perhaps never before was this disconnect evident than on the last day. It was a paradox. The legend was always listened to and emulated. Today, there was no other leader of that stature anywhere who would get the same listening as he did. It would be incredulous if it happened elsewhere. The maestro belonged to an entire generation. Celebrities elsewhere should perhaps just be willing to just give up on their privacy when they are alive. But, here not just in living but in death too.

After the demise of Dr.Rajkumar, someone rightly remarked that he was a phenomenon in Karnataka. Indeed he was. Annavru of the masses. Salutations to the cultural icon !

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Choosing freedom

© Vinay Nagaraju

(...a short story)

The clock crept towards 8 in the evening. Lakshmi picked up her laptop bag, signed off at the reception and hastened her steps out of the front lobby. There was an unusual sense of urgency in her gait this evening. No one else noticed. She was unaware too. She waved to the guard at the main gate, indicating to him to stop her cab, lest she would miss it. The driver had already started off towards the exit. She rushed towards the cab, climbed up the stairs with a lunch bag in one hand and a laptop bag in another, and gasped for breath every few seconds. There were a few frowns that greeted her inside the cab. Impermeable to all this, Lakshmi took her seat next to Rajesh as he stuck a smile with effort.
She said “Hi”.
He stared.
The RJ on the radio exclaimed “Welcome to Top 8 @ 8, with me …” The voice on the radio sounded all gay and merry. What an unearthly hour to be cheerful she thought. There was not a speck of joy on anyone’s face in the cab. It was as though they were getting back home after attending a funeral. There were some who had already immersed themselves in books, some working intently on their laptops and others frigid.
The cab careened through the chuckhole ridden roads. The voices on radio continued to shout mirthfully. Interrupting the monotony of chatter from the radio that had filled the air, Lakshmi asked Rajesh “How have you been doing these days ? How is your project going?” Lakshmi resisted silence. She resisted monotony. There was silence in the air. There was hollowness in all the noises around. Even when she was pensive, she wanted someone to talk to. Rajesh turned, as if woken from deep sleep and said,
“Well, good. Nothing significant though.”
The words nothing significant carried a lot of significance. He had snipped off any further conversation with those words, as if to say ‘Leave me alone.’ Lakshmi held the bags that were slipping away on her lap and pulled them close to her with both hands. She let out a deep breath and said “Today has been very draining on me. Just want to get back home soon.” Rajesh stared at her with half closed eyes and a coldness that would have put off anyone else in her place. Lakshmi insulated herself from such indifferences. She had seen enough of these to entertain them any longer. And today there were other things to occupy her mind than his petulance. She recognized his peevishness and sat muted.
She closed her eyes and gently tilted her head back to rest it on the seat cushion. Images of her son playing with a round red ball flashed by her closed eyelids. Her three year old had not been keeping well in the last couple of days. The boy had been sick very often in the last few years. The doctor blamed it on Bangalore’s capricious weather. She recalled her quarrel with her husband when they had chosen to move to Bangalore from Mysore. She had resisted. None in her family had found reason to turn down the fat paying jobs in this city then. She had taken issue. She had an inkling this was coming. There was little strength left in her to dispute with them. This time around, she had not even found courage to ask for absence from office. She knew her boss would never agree to her being away from office at a critical juncture of the project. She could have experienced indispensability at that thought. However, she experienced helplessness. An impuissance that she strongly believed was a woman’s karma. There was a tear that tried to escape her eyelids onto her temples. She immediately opened her eyes and wiped her tear off with a handkerchief.
The bus stopped in front of Iyengar’s bakery at 9. Bangalore’s traffic showed mercy on this poor lady this evening. Her house was ten doors from the corner of the street. She bought a packet of rusk for her son. He had always liked the idea of his mother dipping small pieces of rusk in warm milk and placing them on his little tongue. She struggled with the bags as she schlepped towards home. She wished a fairy would fly down from heaven to carry her home. There were no fairies. Only the sounds of the title song of Mukta that echoed across the dark street. It appeared as though every concrete wall on the street had started singing at the stroke of 9. She felt a shred of comfort in the company of that music as she took the next few steps to the gate of her home.
Her son Puneet stood there at the gate, frail and weak waiting for his mom. He was sticking his small face between the iron bars of the gate. A few days of fever had rendered him sapless. Her pity ran down as tears as she opened her arms for him. As her thin frame merged with his, the gulp in her throat carried her sorrow deep inside. Her left shoulder and her eye met to share the tears between them. She kissed his forehead. It was still warm and her lips sensed the pain in his body.
Bhushan just walked in to meet them at the gate after his stroll. It was his wont to go around the neighbourhood post dinner every night. Lakshmi embraced her son and carried him in her bosom as he threw his thin arms around her neck. Puneet planted a kiss on her cheek. Bhushan picked up her bags and followed. Bhushan’s parents sat there in the drawing room with their eyes glued to the television. His younger brother occupied the bean bag listening to music on his iPod. As they both walked across the drawing room, all the three glanced towards them for a fraction of a second before returning to their chores.
Lakshmi stopped, looked at her mother and said “Amma, I am back home.” In that statement she made an effort to acknowledge her own existence. And it was a futile attempt to assert herself, the ability of which she had gradually lost. At work, with her parents, husband and friends alike, she had lost the aptitude to cause communication. She had gradually forsaken the ability to be listened to. She had never felt so forlorn since the days of her adolescence. That was last when she was host to a plethora of emotions. These days she felt lost and vulnerable.
Today, life had brought her to a podium and asked her to recite the poem of future. And she fumbled like a five year old. She had forgotten the words. Words deceived her oftentimes. She wasn’t intelligent enough to create her own now, nor remember the poem from her mind that she had written long ago. A poem called the future of life that had evaporated in her dreams.
The three entered their room on the second floor. A cool breeze from the balcony cleansed the air between them. Bhushan placed the bags on the table and opened the snail mails one by one. Lakshmi stood there near the door surveying a frame on the wall. It enclosed their wedding card. And it read …
“In corridors of time, WE have reached a moment. The moment is delicious and the mood is intimate. The heart is filled with tender aspirations and an audacity to embrace life in all its colours. In this moment, WE choose to begin a new journey in OUR lives.
Join us on the 13th of May 1998 at…”
Lakshmi’s college classmate had written this piece for her wedding invitation at her behest. He was an aspiring writer, but had never made it big. His biggest moments were the joy he derived when he wrote something like this for his friends.
The frame hung there for seven years now. A witness to the changing times. There was a small crack in the azure wall that carried the frame. It started behind the frame and ran all the way down to the marble skirting. During the days that followed the house-warming of this new villa of theirs, every mark on the wall mattered. Not any more. The crack was there untouched for years now.
Puneet was half asleep. He locked his fingers around Lakshmi’s neck and pulled himself close to her. The tender warm skin of his face caressed against her neck. Lakshmi carried him and walked towards the table where Bhushan continued to read the mails. She placed her hand on his shoulder. He tilted his head onto the fingers on his shoulder and then onto her face. He saw Puneet resting his face on her shoulder. He was awake again. He started stroking his dad’s arms with his small legs. And then he played with the curls that hung on Lakshmi’s forehead with his fingers.
Lakshmi said, “Bhushan, Did you notice that crack on that wall.” He nodded.
“We should get them fixed.” She added. He nodded again. This time with eyes closed. His assent meant something more.
Her conversation had provided him the necessary avenue to broach on issues that were more close to his heart. Issues that mattered more than the crack in the wall.
He said, “Lakshmi, I have wanted to talk to you for long. It is important that I do it now. You have been slogging too much off late. It has started taking its toll on you. Have you looked at your eyes in the mirror ? They look hollow and pale. With all these long hours of work you are withering like a flower. I know you want to spend more time with Puneet and the family.”
Lakshmi sat on the cot next to him and slowly laid Puneet on it. He had fallen asleep again. She unfolded a blanket and wrapped it around him fitting it snugly around his neck. She then turned around to hold Bhushan’s hands in hers.
“Money is not everything Lakshmi.” He said. In a tone that shattered the shallow context that they had been leading their lives from all these years.
She held his palms in hers. “I know.” She said.
“Bhushan, I have chosen to quit.” She said in a voice that did not surprise him. It followed as a necessary thread of that conversation.
“I will take on staying with Puneet for the next few months. Puneet has also been missing me much. After that I am considering joining some of my friends with their social projects. That will give me a sense of belongingness. I have always wanted to contribute to people’s lives. I don’t find myself realizing any of that if I continue to work like this. I will also pick up from where I left at the music classes.”
“Is that okay with you ?” she asked.
“I may consider working again after a few years. But now, I want the freedom to choose. Is that fine ?”.
Their eyes met. They connected. Bhushan nodded gently as he held her head in his palm and guided it to his shoulder.
There was a sense of fulfillment in that conversation and a sense of setting out. They both stood up and walked towards the door. Lakshmi lifted the veil of her dress and wiped the frame on the wall clean. Bhushan looked back. Puneet slept in peace with the dark blue blanket tucked around his neck. They took steps out of the door and then down the stairs.
~ o ~
PS: All characters, settings and events are a figment of the author’s imagination. Any semblance to reality should be construed to the contrary.

Monday, March 20, 2006


© Vinay Nagaraju

(...a short story)

Prajwal sat there sipping his espresso at uneven intervals. He had never tasted espresso earlier. He had always enjoyed coffee with cream. Today was different. And he wished that it would be so, hereafter. He was distressed. An impulsive urge to change the predictable ways of his life, had prodded him to even have espresso, which did not fit into his fixed ways of being.

He stretched his crossed legs, with hands locked behind his head. He twitched his fingers releasing the tautness hidden in his knuckles. There was a certain weariness concealed in every corner of his body. And he resisted it. He resisted it because it reminded him of the conflicts in his mind. He protested himself, for adding meaning to these banal actions of his body. But somewhere, deep inside, they were all entwined. And he knew it.

The silences between his sipping were pregnant with thoughts. Thoughts, which he later classified as gibberish. There was hardly anything worth discerning in the cacophony inside his head. He closed his eyelids, vainly trying to erect barriers between himself and the world. Images of Bush, Iraq war, a coffee cup, Milosevic’s funeral, long lost girlfriend, soccer goal post, Jonathan seagull, a margosa tree on a hillock, Ayn Rand and all passed by his mind’s screen like the first reels in a movie hall. He experienced helplessness. In that moment there was a certain numbness in his experience. He opened his eyes. The only thing in control was the half-empty coffee cup in his hand. His impuissance in all other areas of his life was camouflaged, as he kept staring at the curve of the coffee cup’s handle. The waiter passed by wondering what profound thought must have engaged this young man. Prajwal’s imperviousness to the blaring music in the café was evident.

The setting in the café was perfect or rather not imperfect. Towards one end of the café, two chairs across a little round coffee table overlooked a busy street. He had last visited this place with Shreya, exactly a month ago. That was before she flew off on her first onsite assignment to Brno. What an unearthly place for software development he had thought then. He had started missing Shreya. Her round curious dilated eyes punctuating her animated conversations were no longer there across the table. They were now searching their owner’s destiny in Brno. How he had beseeched with her not to take up this assignment, before giving her a Good luck card. A card, a symbol of his disagreement of her choice. A card that was ordained to adorn her cubicle in far away Brno in Czech Republic. She had left with a huff, leaving behind a taste of her annoyance for Prajwal’s company. As he stared at the emptiness in the opposite chair, it slowly occurred to him that it was not a few moments ago that he had sipped the last cappuccino with Shreya. She had left him over a month ago. She avoided calling him or even writing an e-mail, for she thought she will be able to erase all her memories by doing so. She had failed miserably in that endeavor and she did not know that.

Prajwal tilted his head to cast a glance onto the street through the glass wall. He was fond of this table at the café. He did not know why. The view from the first floor of the café onto the busy street was always inviting. It put things in perspective. He liked to see life from a distance. And he intellectualised his outlooks. It gave him a sense of intangible control over life. A view of life that he construed to as the view of life. He could see his car parked against the curb at arm’s distance. He had this strange habit of keeping an eye on his stuff over and over again. He was on the fringe of being labeled as having obsessive stress disorder by his friend who studied medicine. He suddenly felt the weight of his laptop bag against his leg. He looked down at the bag with a sense of possession. And then he turned to see the car again. The footpath had started teeming with people. It was seven in the evening on a Friday. The time when software professionals in Bangalore, came out of their self-imposed hibernation to begin enjoying a weekend of unintrusive freedom. Some people were sticking smiles on their faces walking merrily on the pavements while there were many more who took frantic footsteps as they rushed to their next destinations. He could not stand that sight any longer, as if something inside him was provoked. He asked for the bill, paid up at the counter, picked up his bag in one hand and the jacket in another and took long steps towards the exit, not noticing the ‘have a nice evening Sir’ smile on the waiter’s face.

He reached his car, religiously buckled up and sped away onto the busy street to the next traffic island. The red digital countdown clock read 133. He switched off the engine leaving the radio alive. A young girl in ragged clothes was at the window. She curved her palms around her eyes with her wrists supporting her cheeks, blocking light and as if imitating a horse, as she tried hard to see through the tinted glass. Then she took a step back and started knocking on the glass with a rhythm that expressed her abandoned hope. He set aside his judgments and evaluations on why people ask alms and wound his glass down. He picked up a few coins from the ash tray and filled her small dirty hands. This was yet another instant that evening when he defied his usual way of being. Prajwal’s grandpa used to say “When you are happy is when you ought to be generous.” He smiled to himself at the paradox. The girl returned the smile with her own sweet one and a gratitude that she expressed as she raised her folded palm to her forehead and walked away.

As Prajwal parked his car at home, he heard his dad’s footsteps and the clinging of the garage keys in his hands. Even at odd hours, his dad used to wait for him, to lock the garage and the gate behind after the car was parked. Prajwal, picked up the bag, flung the jacket on his shoulder and walked into the house. As he walked across the drawing room, he gave a quarrelsome look at his younger brother who continued to munch chips as he sat transfixed to the television screen. Prajwal’s anger was not palpable to his mother who stopped by to give him a glass of cold water. Without a hint of what was coming he started yelling at his brother. “How many more days do you have before your exams ? Why the hell do you keep watching some nonsense movies on TV all the time ?”. The younger one, pushed the red button on the remote, flung it hard on the table and walked away to his room. That was his way of exhibiting rebelliousness to his elder brother. There descended an eerie silence at home soon after.

Satisfied with his moral victory, Prajwal climbed the stairs to his room. He did not know if it was his arrogance at play a while ago. It was rather his untamed disgust at his own life that kept erupting at regular intervals. He was always an emotionally guarded guy. He had barriers between himself and others. He rarely allowed anyone to peek into the realm of his emotions. He loved looking stoic and this pretense had ruled for long.

Prajwal’s room faced the intersection of two roads. On the inside, it lead to the staircase on one side and opened up as a balcony overlooking the dining hall on the other. Prajwal changed into his pajamas, came out of his room and looked down at the dining table. His mother sat there, waiting to serve him dinner.

He said “Amma, make some tea for me.”

“What about your dinner son ?” she asked.

“I am not hungry” came a quick reply.

She took to the kitchen uncomplainingly.

It was half past 10. Prajwal sat there crouched on his chair. His fingers locked in front of his face, supporting his goatee chin and his elbows firm on the smooth, polished teak table. There was stillness in the air. The laptop sat waiting for his commands. The only sound was that of the sultry air, being ripped apart by the blades of the ceiling fan. There were tiny ripples in the tea cup right next to the wires of the laptop. He cast a glance on that, picked up the cup and sipped in a spoonful of tea. The warm caffeine flowed down his throat into his body. It made its feeble attempt to pump in some life. He moved a bit, as if from deep slumber. He sipped another time. He clicked open the internet explorer and logged in to his mail box. There were no new e-mails. His eagerness to connect with people was unanswered. He thought to himself that all his friends were in their own worlds. Toiling and struggling hard to make meaning to life. He derived a sense of pleasure at these meanings that he attached. He opened the chat window. Some of his friends were online with a ‘Don’t disturb me now’ or ‘Busy’ message. He signed off, closing all windows and shutting down his laptop.

Taking calculated steps towards his bed, he looked around his room. The clock said 11:55 pm. There was a backpack lying on the floor. A small distance away was a bookshelf. The bottommost rack had a line of his college text books and the topmost row a collection of spiritual texts. There was a collection of Maslow’s essays too on that rack.

He moved his eyes onto the opposite wall. There hung a deep blue poster that read from Robert Frost, ‘Miles to go before I sleep’. Prajwal, smiled to himself. There was a certain glow in his eyes as he stood at a crossroad.

~ o ~

PS: All characters, settings and events are a figment of the author’s imagination. Any semblance to reality should be construed to the contrary.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Rendezvous with a nondescript village – one in silent revolution

26th February 2006, Saturday

A Saturday like any other. Except that I set off with a few other acquaintances to visit Saragooru on the banks of river Kapila for a stopover. Around 50 kms from Mysore, this nondescript village is a unlikely place for anything unusual, until you start exploring her. 21 years ago a group of young Doctors from Mysore began working for the community of kurubas (tribals) in this area who were displaced by the big dam project. Dr.Balasubramaniam, the thought behind the movement, was inspired by the ideals of Vivekandnanda and Gandhi. Two decades hence, Vivekananda Youth Movement as they call it is a silent revolution in around 12 districts of Karnataka. They provide primary and secondary health care, ayurvedic and allopathic, education, leadership trainings, community healthcare, HIV/AIDS control programmes, housing, training, research, consultancy and all.

We had been to the hospitals, the school and met with people from the haadi’s (tribal villages) and also with Dr.Balasubramaniam. We also saw the back waters of Kabini.

The whole experience was very inspiring and empowering. It did a lot in cleansing away the disempowering thoughts from our minds and it also provided us renewed hope in the amelioration of the socio economics of our world.

The school we visited is in bandipur forests which is around 26 kms from Saragooru. You will not imagine such a resourceful school so far from the towns. Being with children was such a lovely experience. I met this guy called Ramesh, a district topper who wants to be a scientist and two more boys who want to be software engineers. We had lunch with children.

A memorable getaway indeed. http://svym.net/

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Karma Yoga

© Vinay Nagaraju
(Originally written as an essay titled ‘Secret of Success’)
[ based on the 3rd chapter of Bhagavad-Gita – The Karma Yoga ]

“Time never stops – it ever flows ; the future rushes towards us to become the present and moment by moment it merges with the entire past. In this river of time, you and I stand, work and achieve.”

…and every moment in the present we make trysts with success. ‘Success’, the word by itself invokes into one’s mind a conglomeration of thoughts. Thoughts of each individual are both based and biased by their perceptions of life, which spring from shallow domains of mind. But, what one could read beneath every human being’s comprehension of what success is, is bliss. The zenith in the kingdom of happiness. Contentment, joy and tranquility are what we aspire for as we tread in life’s path.

Before we dwell on the theme ‘Secret of Success’, which is marvelously unfolded in the Karma-yoga, in Krishna’s sermons to Arjuna, a brief introduction to the whole, the Bhagavad-Gita is demanded and will not be out of place at this juncture.

In the divine song ‘Gita’, the discourse forms an ocean of knowledge-wealth to its readers, in particular the youth. Arjuna, the despondent, is an embodiment of varied characters that are seen in the youth of the day. He reflects in his speech and queries the rationality, temperament, confusion, ideals and despair, strengths and weaknesses, self-confidence and also deep-rooted doubts, characteristic of modern day youth. Youth, today are proficient in various fields. But their efficiency in availing the knowledge imparted to them ‘seems’ to be at a low ebb. Knowledge by itself can raise a man to the level of mediocrity, but not distinction. What is missing is education. In the Karma-yoga and in the other chapters, Krishna summarises the high tenets of Vedanta and provides us with approaches and solutions to problems in their various colours and absurdities. It serves as a stupendous compendium.

The gist of the treatise is that the secret of success lies in the mastery over the trio body-mind-intellect and attaining a level of life where the comprehension of the world around us is not limited by the events of the past, or the desires for the expectant future nor the excitations of the present, but to tread the path of selfless dedicated activity.

In the karma-yoga, we are introduced to a term called vasana. Vasanas are the impressions that an individual’s personality garners from its own thoughts and actions in the past. They express themselves as a ‘desire’ in the intellect, a ‘thought’ in the mind and as an ‘act’ at the body levels. Thus are born both noble and ignoble actions. These are the prime constitution of all the activity that we see around us in the world and what we call ‘life’. Karma-yoga discourses on the elimination and exhaustion of these vasanas. It unfolds us the way to act i.e. in the spirit of unselfish enthusiasm, surrendering ego and dedicating oneself to a higher ideal in life. Purified vasanas lead to noble thoughts and actions. The bosom, which is the seat of all feelings and thoughts then becomes home for intense inspirations and peace. Man’s quest for mental equipoise, inner calm and strength and an unmatched stature is thus answered.

Vedanta, identifies two types of men in this science of self-perfection. It offers the path of wisdom to men of intellect and thoughtfulness and the path of action to the active and dynamic type. The path of wisdom should in no way be confused to inaction. In the supreme state of perfection, there exists no anxieties or phobias, no desires or thoughts, only a state of bliss.

All schools of thought, from time immemorial have had a rendezvous with this state of perfection and they seem to appreciate and compliment each other in their views, ideas and conclusions. All organisms are on a journey on an incessant path of action. Every individual should act by virtue of their own nature. No one can afford to remain stoic or passive. The quality of action is determined by the Sattwic, Rajasic or Tamasic vasanas. They are the pure, active and dull type of gunas.

Action is the insignia of life. No individual is bestowed upon with a choice between action and inaction. Only the kind and quality of action. An immoral individual finds pleasure by indulging in actions to gratify his own desires, and such a one is a hypocrite. But, the one who compels himself in actions oriented to serve the society and embarks upon tasks with a motto of service for all, excels. His actions translate into good for his fellow beings. Such individuals are powerful and exemplary by their way of life. They provide leadership and enrich their communities. The communities then strive, achieve, prosper and reap successes and its existence is cherishing. Such men act without any attachment. As a prelude to this concept of action, is the following lucid verse in the second chapter :

That is the way to act. Egocentric constitute attachment in actions, but those without any lust or greed do not. They alone create a conducive environment for the purgation of vasanas. We can attain a mind, which is the abode of peace, a vehicle to the realm of happiness and harbinger for progress. Actions without any attachment promises fulfillment and joy. Thus, un-attachment should be the watermark of all our actions. To perpetuate this attitude, it should be nurtured and nourished throughout our existence. The experience of being alive then transforms, conferring upon the serenity and equipoise of mind. The constraints the past imposes on our view of life disappear and a new view of life emerges.

In the Gita, four types of karma or action are distinguished for us. Of these, the ‘Niyat’ karma encompassing both the ‘Nitya’ and ‘Naimittika’ karmas are obligatory duties and every individual should perform these.
Man is a gregarious being.

"Without deep reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people . …A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of others ….Only a life lived for others is a life worth while ."

This thought has been echoed and expounded in the Gita in a very limpid way. All of us need to act diligently at all times to come. We should stare at problems in their face and not escape by being passive. If we act without fear or fervour, but being selfless and un-attached, we can guarantee not just a healthy mind but also a healthy body.

‘Yagnas’ are popular mass rituals known to us since Vedic times and the spirit of which teaches us to live life with a feeling of community with fellow beings. A community, which believes in ‘All for one and one for all’. We should stop being individual players and act with a spirit of team. Unless everyone wins, we don’t win. The society needs to be happy, if we should find peace and contentment. Such actions with spirit of yagna stem from selflessness and do not perpetrate vasanas. It allows us to embrace life and not just exist with it.

Umpteen examples of the yagna spirit is seen in the nature around us. Every nuance of the creation contributes to what we sense and perceive as the world. All revolutions that history boasts of are examples of co-operative human endeavour. Modern day gurus like Stephen R.Covey, author of the best seller ‘ 7 habits of highly effective people ’, also propagate this concept of yagna spirit; in their version synergy. ‘Synergy’, simply defined says that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. For example, if we plant two plants close together, their roots co-mingle and improve the quality of soil and both grow better, than if separated.

The challenge is to employ such principles of creative co-operation, which we learn from nature, in our social interactions. We can then write a new script for life where there is less of adversity and more of love, warmth and cordiality. Krishna says if we dare to engage ourselves in such kind of actions, the environment will also cherish it. Paulo Coelho, author of the work ‘The Alchemist’, says, “Dare to dream and the whole world conspires to see to it that you realise it”, seems to much support of what has been said in Gita.

The substance or essence of Hindu Socialism is also the same. The entire universe is like a family. All of us should strive towards a common cherished goal and share the fruits borne thereof equally, which is the remnant of the yagna. There can be no second thoughts about the rewarding success guaranteed by such actions and it also purgates the vasanas. All of us should oblige on this count. Those who beg to differ and corner more than their humble share, commit a sin. Krishna emphatically drives home this point by explaining the Wheel of Action. The supreme, imperishable Self is at the source. Then come co-operative endeavours, which provide conducive environment for all efforts and after which are reaped the results. Arjuna is advised not to stand against this wheel of action because this is nature’s law, nor to submit to passions and impulses.

The only exception to this rule is the man who has risen above all passions and transcended to a state of perfection, Infinite Consciousness, the Self in Him. He is a master of the body-mind-intellect. He neither loses by inaction, nor gains by action. The only way to attain that state of tranquility and fulfillment is by performing one’s duty without attachment.

History, mirrors the fact that masses tend to ‘imitate’ or more respectfully said ‘emulate’ the actions of wise men and tall leaders amidst them. They are the men of glory who provide guidance towards cherished goals. Their words and actions invigorate the life of the people. Krishna says, atleast for this reason, Arjuna should act; to lead people from ignorance to wisdom. The youth of the day should also build exemplary characters and personalities by perpetually being in pursuit of knowledge

LIFE ! is like a field of newly fallen snow; where we choose to walk, every step will show.

The real recipe for success in all spiritual and material undertakings is to act with a spirit of dedication to a higher ideal. This will spring in us unbelievable vigour and gushes within us indomitable energy. We should renounce hope and ego. Hope is a big risk and only causes anxiety in the present and ego flaws our actions. We should act with no regrets of the past.

But what comes as a hindrance to such a sure way to success, are the vasanas. Man follows his own tendencies. Knowledge is available in abundance, but lack of education makes it intricate to navigate through life. Even the most erudite scholars experience this difficulty. We should thus not entertain attitudes of ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ that are born out of our vasanas.

Actions by themselves are neither a merit nor a sin. The intentions clandestine within us make them so. What impels us to perform an act of sin in spite of all the wisdom is the lust and anger. This is man’s greatest enemy. Its called Rajoguna or mental agitations. By gratifying these desires, man ends up in a vicious circle, committing actions of varying degrees of merit and sin.

Desires veil the wisdom in us. The Lord gives wonderful analogies: a flame covered with smoke, a mirror covered with dirt or a foetus in the womb. The sense organs, mind and intellect act wildly according to the whims and fancies of these desires. A life of intelligent discrimination then eludes us.

Self-conquest they say is the greatest victory. At the outset we need to exercise restraint at the level of sense organs. As Mahatma Gandhi says in his dissertation of the Gita, we need to have confidence in the soul force to attain discipline at the mental and intellectual levels. Parallels can also be drawn to Plato’s thoughts on this. A problem cannot be solved at the same level where it was created. By rising to higher levels the lower ones can be controlled. The problems of the mind end when we dedicate ourselves to a higher ideal in the intellect. Transcending beyond that we reach the Self or the supreme, the consciousness that illumines the thoughts and ideals. Then we can be masters of our life.

In conclusion, the source of all bliss is the dedicated performance of one’s duty and this is the utterly exceptional and infallible recipe to success.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Movies – An escapist's haven

© Vinay Nagaraju

It's funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you view them on the screen. - Alex Delarge, "A Clockwork Orange "

Filmmaking is a chance to live many lifetimes. – Robert Altman

Looking back at the year that died a couple of days ago, I can see how much I got addicted to watching movies over its lifetime. Movies, of all genre and hues. These wonderful little pieces of art, are such inviting, creative and free expressive medium for its maker. It is also an open arm embrace to the viewer to explore and experience different worlds. Never had I any aversion to these creations. However, the limited exposure to Indian movies killed the chi during adolescence. Parallel cinema as it is known, always endeared me. I always thought it gave enough 'food for thought', as if I was starved for it outside of cinema. But, films never served the purpose of entertainment for me.

During my teens when this indulgence germinated, watching heroes on the silver screen, their idealism, their charisma was always alluring. Captivating were the performance of the likes of annavru and others. Sometime later, the leisure pursuits turned into something like, 'I shouldn't miss this' attitude, impervious to how bad the movie actually was. It was a way of killing time and being with a circle of friends. It was an opportunity to skip classes at college. In the last few years however, it has been an assured and safe escape from life's responsibilities. A few entrancing hours, when the mind will considerably be free of judgments and evaluations. The task of killing time, especially over a weekend, when I think I cannot do anything else, was outsourced to movies. Not that on those weekends I am incapacitated or something, but nonetheless overwhelmed with lethargy.
This year was different. I carefully nurtured the desire to see the world on my lap at just a feet and a half away from my eyes. Thanks to my laptop and its widescreen. Here was a window to a world that I would any day be willing to escape to. A sanctuary that I fail to create myself amidst the din and roar of everyday life. A foreign land, which I 'may' some day flee to; meeting people of all shapes, sizes and colours. Meet characters and know their idiosyncrasies and characters that touch, move or inspire. Adaptations of tomes that I would need another thousand lifetimes to read. Scents of women that I can never recognise, but would always love to fall for.
Call it entertainment, pursuits or diversions, watching movies from Spanish and French to Italian and Mandarin, was an exhilarating and invigorating experience.
The year is dead, long live the propensity.
" Whoo - ah ! I am psyched."