Saturday, May 28, 2011

From ‘A book of Memory. Confessions and Reflections’ by Sudhir Kakar

We do not know the true value of our moments until they have undergone the test of memory

- Georges Duhamel

For brief periods of time, immersion in the rituals, pilgrimages and other baroque practices of traditional Hinduism lets us transcend what Yeats called ‘the desolation of reality’ in a way the dry Arya Samaj Protestantism of my grandfather’s more ‘modern’ religious faith could never have done

It was not only musicians but all performing artists who were spurned by ‘respectable society’ as entertainers. This disparaging attitude was an old one. For instance, ancient Hindu law books such as the Manusmriti have strict injunctions against adultery. One of the few exceptions, though, where ‘criminal conversations with another man’s wife’ is condoned is with ‘the wives of actors and singers’ ……. Dance in the 1940s and 1950s was associated with ‘nautch girls’, a skill needed by prostitutes of some refinement.

….. my father’s family home ……. my memories of that period ……. The images stamped enduringly on my psyche have an impress of swirling movement and excitement combined within secure boundaries of loyalty and protection with which the family surrounded each individual member, no matter how small. Moving from one part of the house to another, I could, within a few minutes, be witness to loud quarrels, heart-rending sobs, tender consolations, flirtatious exchanges, uproarious laughter and sober business conversations. The kitchen on the second floor, as much the heart of the house as it's stomach, was always full of women – daughters of the house, female relatives and visitors. Presided over by my strong-willed grandmother, it was busy from early in the morning, and except for a couple of hours’ break in the afternoon, closed late in the night. One ate whatever one liked and whenever one liked and there was always a steaming hot snack that had just come out of a deep-bottomed, cast-iron frying pan. At all times, there were more than a dozen cousins and visiting children from the neighbourhood and we played everywhere: on the roof terrace, in all the rooms of the house, outside in the alley. There were no private spaces and all these sites were without boundaries, blending seamlessly into one another. Whenever I was tired, I’d find an empty bed, generally a mattress on the floor, and some woman would eventually drift over and put me to sleep. As the eldest son of the eldest son, I had the privilege of demanding that my favorite aunt, Darshana, my father’s youngest sister, put aside her kitchen or other household duties and tell me stories while I tried to fight the encroachment of sleep. Many of the stories were from the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata but what I loved most was when she read out of Chandrakanta, a six-volume romance that was her favourite and soon became my obsession.

I now wonder how much of the warmth and excitement of the memories of my recurrent immersion in the life of my father’s extended family can be attributed to the majesty of Eros. The promiscuous sharing of beds and the contact with many different bodies in sleep are highly eroticizing for a child. Even otherwise, the extended family, given the constraints of space in which most Indians live, creates an erotic field that is inconceivable for those who have grown up in modern, nuclear families. Living in close quarters with many couples and with at least a pre-conscious awareness of their sexual lives by registering in half-sleep at night those special whispers, giggles and stifled cries of pleasure against a background score of snores in many different pitches, and witnessing the signs of passion on the faces and bodies in the morning as mattresses are rolled-up, is a constant source of sexual excitement. The large Indian family is not only a system of duties and obligations but also a highly charged field of eroticism. Occasions such as a marriage, where an imminent sexual union is the raison d’etre of the whole family coming together, crackle with erotic excitement. Dozens of cousins, male and female, are thrown together in close proximity for a succession of celebratory evenings of music and dance, without the prohibitions and injunctions that normally govern the contact between the sexes.

Urdu was not only the language in which most of the government work was carried out in north India but it was also the language of literature, indeed, of civilization. ….. It is a tragedy that after the independence of the country and the partition riots that accompanied it, Urdu came to be identified solely as the language of Muslims and condemned to lead a ghetto existence as religious identities began to harden. The loss of a specific Indian sensibility associated with the language, which I would identify as a yearning that is simultaneously of the body, heart and spirit, constitutes a loss of patrimony for all Indians.

The Indian preference for an arranged marriage is partly based on the young person’s acceptance of the cultural definition of marriage as a family, rather than individual, affair, where harmony and shared values that come from a common background are more important than individual fascinations. The greatest attraction of an arranged marriage, though, is the fact that it takes away the young person’s anxiety about finding a mate. Whether you are plain or good-looking, fat or thin, you can be reasonably sure that a suitable mate will be found for you.

I cannot remember my mother,
only sometimes in the midst of my play
a tune seems to hover over my playthings,
the tune of some song that she used to hum while
rocking my cradle.
I cannot remember my mother,
but when in the early autumn morning
the smell of the siuli flowers floats in the air
the scent of the morning service in the temple comes
to me as the scent of my mother.

I cannot remember my mother,
only when from my bedroom window
I send my eyes into the blue of the distant sky
I feel that the stillness of my mother’s gazing on my
face has spread all over the sky
- Rabindranath Tagore

In 1969, Ahmedabad was the site of one of the worst outbreaks of Hindu-Muslim violence since the country’s independence. The city, as a commission enquiring into another riot pointed out, had witnessed recurring bouts of violence between the two communities that go back in history to 1714. The 1969 riot, though, was the bloodiest. It's official toll of 560 dead and 561 injured was matched only by the Gujarat violence of 2002; in both carnages, the majority of lives lost were Muslim.

For there is no greater pain, as Dante observed, than to remember in present grief, past happiness.

…… Greek or Roman sculptures which have greatly influenced Western gender representations. Here, male gods are represented by hard, muscled bodies and chests without any fat. One only needs to compare Greek and Roman statuary with sculpted representations of Hindu gods, or the Buddha, where the bodies are softer, suppler and in their hint of breasts, nearer to the female form.

….. the wise Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius who held that ‘those who do not observe the movements of their own minds must of necessity be unhappy’. No mental problem can be finally overcome, Krishnamurti says again and again. It can be understood but not conquered. Freud, too, has observed that a man should not strive to eliminate his complexes but get into accord with them, for they are legitimately what direct his conduct in the world. To understand deeply (Freud’s ‘get into accord’) required one to observe by paying full attention, which is not to be confused with concentration. When the conscious mind is attentive, he said, it has not thought, it is empty but aware, then it can observe. Here Krishnamurti, the intellectual-mystic, was at one with the mystical-psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion who advised analysts that to really understand the patient in an analytic hour, the therapist needs to come to the session with an empty mind, a mind ‘without memory or desire’.

The role of a community’s women in it's men taking up arms, or in the making of a terrorist, has not been appreciated enough …… there is no stronger goad to arousing a man’s fighting spirit than that of a woman mocking and challenging his masculinity. Militancy starts losing it's vigour once the women turn away from demanding masculinity from their men and begin to think more of the survival and well-being of their children. Unfortunately, anti-terror efforts are rarely directed towards influencing a community’s women.

…… Samuel Goldwyn’s observation, ‘I don’t think anyone should write their autobiography until after they’re dead.’

One of those Sanskrit love poems goes:
She let him in
She did not turn away from him
There was no anger in her words
She simply looked straight at him
As though there had never been
Anything between them.

……… a fifth-century Sanskrit poem

By rising to greet him from afar
she circumvents their sitting on one seat;
by the pretext of fixing betel
she prevents his quick embrace.
She makes no conversation with him;
instead, gives orders to the servants;
her skill is such that by politeness
she satisfies her wrath.

…….Samuel Goldwyn’s school of leadership: ‘I don’t want any yes-men around me. I want everybody to tell me the truth even if it costs them their jobs,’ or ‘If I want your opinions, I’ll give it to you.’

It is hard not to start believing in your own ‘greatness’ when those who surround you are constantly testifying to your perspicacity and wisdom. The Romans had the right idea when at the back of the chariot in which Caeser rode through Rome after his triumphs in foreign lands, acclaimed by cheering throngs, there stood a man repeating, ‘Remember, Caeser, you are human. You are human, Caeser.’

Schopenhauer once said that at the end of life, no man, if he were sincere and in possession of his faculties, would ever wish to go through it again.


yves said...

Hi Nirvana,
Can you tell me what is the link joining your selections from this book? They're all rather suggestive quotes... Especially the ones about the closeness of the Indian communities.

Nirvana said...

Hi Yves,

I am not sure i understood your question. Could you pls explain further what exactly it is that you require?