What happens to an epic such as Ramayana in the age of globalization and technology? We know well by now of the new lease of life that the epic received with its televised avatar in the 1980s. Shubha Vilas the author of this new series on the same epic seems as fascinated by the tale of Rama as so many other writers and artists. His project reminds me of the great works of Hindi novelists such as Narendra Kohli and of Amrit Lal Nagar. Going by the blurb of the book under review, the narration is that of the ‘riveting drama of Rama’s exile‘ and is aimed at teaching us ‘how to handle reversals positively‘. The book is a sequel and is the second part of a series that the author wishes to complete. The nine chapters of the book are organized according to the sequence of events as outlined in Valmiki’s Ramayana and other regionally popular versions such as Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas and the Kamba Ramayana.
The book makes for a not so smooth reading. Vilas writes while facing obvious difficulties of translation. His language in the book is colloquial and at times quite informal. Vilas seems to be in a hurry to address a modern audience that in his view does not care so much for the poetics and details of presentation as much it cares for the ultimate product that can be quickly read and done away with. Take for instance the scene from the first chapter where Dasaratha has had a bad dream. Vilas calls it a nightmare-
“Between his delusions and his consciousness, Dasaratha realized that he was in fact fighting two monsters- the monster within and the monster outside, Everything had become a big blur. Which of these two monsters was he fleeing from?“(p.2)
Another instance from the book dealing with the Kaikeyi-Manthara episode where he writes:
“Kaikeyi was disturbed by Manthara’s constant babbling. She said “Don’t go in circles or mince any words; just speak clearly, without fear. What’s on your mind?” (p. 86)
It is not that one gets merely a sense of ‘loss’ in this translation, one also gets a sense of an imposed contemporaneity as far as an attempt at adapting the text for a new age audience is concerned. It ends up sounding like a desperate bid to make the epic sound fashionable and hence marketable. Instances abound where the flow of sentences is interrupted by words and terms (read expletives) written in ‘quotes’ which do not add to the quality of the tone and tenor. Despite these weaknesses, the innocence and the personal attachment and admiration of the author for the epic is amply visible throughout the text. It would have turned out to be a much more enjoyable read had the author spent some more time reflecting on the readership that he wishes to generate. Ramayana in my opinion cannot merely be a new age self-help book bereft of its music. It has to necessarily have a magical rendition to it for there lies its real character. Reversals of fortune and ensuing problems in life may well be addressed by reading about monks who sell and do not sell their Ferraris. I don’t really know much about those things. Coming back to the question that I ask in the beginning I have this to say- what we have come to call the era of globalisation and of new technology, is an era where frivolity goes unnoticed. The epic is bound to lose out substantially on its aura and beauty!
As beings lacerated in thought, throwing up our judgments of the world at it, we can’t help seeming pitifully ridiculous. Our predecessors were content with a handful of what we have in gazillions. Intellectual achievements today are too many to be even bothered about. A Socrates grins in eternal sleep at the contagion he unleashed. It bites into the discontented soul and induces ugly utterances-the hyperbole as we shamelessly tag it today for matters of favour and convenience. I waste my acumen being ecumenical in ideas and belief. To my mind, life isn’t one truly lived if it does not aspire for the universe in its undecipherable oneness. To surrender to its easily graspable diversity is plain mediocrity. And that is to be merely very kind of me. Loathsome putrefaction of integral analysis may be checked for the universe to be regained. Quite a bit of it has been silently slipping away while we relax relieved of the burdensome reason that philosopher smiles about!
The common themes in both of these very well made Alexander Payne films are old age, the superficiality of human (read familial) relations and the ugliness that we have, bereft of options, increasingly come to celebrate as the ordinariness of everyday life. Payne brilliantly succeeds in unraveling the layers that comprise this ordinariness. Having watched these films, I found myself reflecting over the cinematic consequences of such an attempt. I am not sure if Payne intended to turn it sad and sour in the end. Despite being ‘light’ films, they end up leaving a very unpleasant taste. The images that persist are of sagging chins and balding heads, of jammed knees and of smelly underarms and of poor dinner tables and bland soup. The protagonists in both the films- Jack Nicholson as Schmidt and Bruce Dern as Woody deliver excellent performances and in doing so make us look inward into the crevices of our familial and professional lives. No prizes for guessing that we see only make do arrangements all over. What disturbs the most is the dumbness and the stupidity with which one goes about rejecting one permutation of sociality over other equally painful combinations. Be it divorce, moving away from parents or choosing a new lover, one is always face to face with hope and despair in equal measures. Roaming about the city and the urban neighborhoods in Omaha and Nebraska with these old men- sick of their wives and dim wit children and with a loathing of the treatment the world has meted out to them post retirement, we get to see the meaninglessness of self-imposed obligations that shape the entirety of our lives. Both the films have a number of characters that do little to repose our faith in the ideals of personal and social responsibility and in virtuous conduct. What guides their behavior is instead selfishness and a go with the flow attitude that is hilarious and yet extremely irritating. Mulroney’s act as the mediocre sales rep specially left me wondering about the trajectories that lives of people like him follow. Not that those of people like me would be any better. Overall, these powerful films leave their mark. They mirror very truthfully what and who we are today and force us to suspend judgment and go back to celebrating once again how ordinary have we all become. Watch them in a series if you haven’t already. They are very ordinarily impressive. Congratulations to Mr. Alexander Payne!
I have read a number of your writings. I belong to an age where satisfying the needs of the person at the consuming end matters more than anything else and hence I write to you with a wish list of things I want you to pen down in the work that you take up next. I sincerely hope that you would not take to heart a petulant reader’s intrusion into the world that you alone are and should be the master of. See if you can be accommodating enough and touch upon themes I so want to read about. If you could write a short story dealing with the bane of our times. Yes, I mean privacy. If you could clarify through the wisdom soaked nib, nuances of all the lies we say to each other all the time merely to keep our cupboards with hidden skeletons locked and away from the public view. Would you be interested in painting the portrait of an artist as a young man who does not realize and has no belief in his acumen. It would fascinate me no end reading about his encounter with a real life successful artist who cannot do justice to his oeuvre merely because of the shallowness of his approach and the powerlessness of his style. See if you can talk about vanities that have come to count for distinction. Thackeray is dead and gone. I want to read about a pair of women professionals who live a dying life each day in order to proclaim their status of being alive to the rest of the world. If you could put in a chapter where they cry hoarse about their birth as humans first and as women later. Will it be possible for you to devote a section of your book to overgrown children who look half their age and think along varying shades of grey. Write about a tree that looks at all these people standing silent and firm. Bring in the buffalo chewing its cud and pondering deep over the next big thing that the internet would be able to do for it. I don’t think including all of these requests into a piece of writing would be feasible, but then, yes, at times you must attempt a failed novel, a prosaic poem and an autobiography that is a disaster of all sorts. After all nonsense matters as much.
I hope to hear from you,
In a rather first, today, a whiff of anxiety and scare lashed by my soul. For a moment I found myself lusting for being amidst the unseen and the exotic. The moment when one despairs at being fettered to inconsequential chores stood staring me in the face. It so happened that I ran into a gentleman who had that care free aura around his congenial face. A short striking conversation with him made me brood over for a while and I sat down to think of his talk about racism, about visual communication and of temples and beggars in far-flung corners of the country. In the rest of the journey that he alighted somewhere in the middle of, my mind flew away to distant shores. I heard the storming, gorgeous waves and saw those picturesque tides. The inability to have that world surround me for real meant that the world was no longer at my feet as it always used to be. I cannot recall the last time I yearned for anything not within my immediate reach as strongly. That fleeting moment I was yearning to break free. As someone who has maintained, if not professed, that breaking free is not an option available to the human race, that desire of doing so came as a tough pill to swallow. That leap of imagination has left me weaker in terms of my suitability for a set pattern that I have tended to follow and fall by.
Curiously enough, I was haunted yet again, equally ephemerally, when in the market I saw this group of young boys selling chillies and gourds. Sitting side by side, attending to buyers, weighing the greens, they were jostling their things at each other and constantly conversing about things I could not know much about. Amidst the shrillness and the chaos was their world- unfettered, jovial and supple. It is funny to admit but I will. I felt like being one of them for the evening. Oh that I could travel back with them to their fields on a rainy noon and tend to their crop. Thankfully, I was done buying by the time I could take a firm decision. Smiling to myself and at the pretentious sounding plans that got sketched in my head, I headed back home.
These fleeting distractions today in a way have left me confused and right now I am thinking about my confidence in things, about the levels of my contentment with everything that I have until now not taken very seriously. I seem to be scoring lower on these counts than ever before. Should this be a cause for worry? Be it or not, twice in the day today, I was not myself. That is the best face I can put up right now to account for a weakening of my faith in conformity and austerity, in being content and in being oneself. The day has seen me split into two. Another defense, I think it should calm me down- I am no exception. Its only natural to vie, to be jealous of others and to dream of not being one’s real self.
Sharing a personal favorite today. It is a song from a huge musical hit of the 1960s. Asha Bhosle’s gorgeous playback, excellent picturisation and mind-blowing lyrics. A classic picnic song from that era. Considered by some to be a not so talented music composer, this one by Ravi is truly remarkable. For me the song stands for a sense of energy that accompanies longing and loneliness and infuses ephemeral pathos which depending on one’s mood may well turn out to be lasting. Non Hindi speakers too might love this one. Try n let me know!
Doesn’t matter. The blistering sun outside or the thunderous rain. Surpassing the season of the day is the weather of the heart. When gloom and dark surround one’s soul, no luminosity of lightning can be bright enough. At the end of it we must accept, we face it all by ourselves. The human capacity and it’s predisposition to anxiety and worry are not merely states of the mind that can be dealt with in counseling sessions or through anti-depressant capsules. The fear of the bad and the unpleasant is many a times a fear of the real. It is not an imagination rooted somewhere in the crevices of the brain and is not always a result of a series of chemical reactions that take place within that curious organ. The proneness to rejoice and to be arrogant in times of success and riches is precisely the human way of balancing out on the tragic moments that life offers to all of us- I would not say in varying measures, rather I would say equally. A life that is lived is always a life replete with a complete set of emotions, memorable, not so memorable and despicable experiences. Look at the fate of the happiest seeming and of the most destitute and downtrodden. Both groups of people always have a lot to envy each other for. The man on the street and the king are both privy at the same time to their own sets of possessions as well as deprivations. What the haves refer to as stress and as ignominious is nothing but a fragment of the lived reality of the have-nots. Our worries and fears and our leaps of exuberance can not be traded for worthier things. Hence the formula that the wise have devised. Do good and expect good to happen to you. If it does not turn out to be like that, just accept it and be brave in the face of hardships. I think we need to own up and live free. Nothing really helps!