The enlightened call a person wise when all his undertakings are free from anxiety about results.

— Krishna in The Gita

The mind is everything. What you think you become.
— Buddha

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Thoughts on New Year

So the year 2010 draws to an end and here we go again, looking starry-eyedly at a brand new year as if it is going to be dramatically different from the outgoing one, and all for the better, of course.
I’ve never been big on celebrating New Years Eve (I even play down my birthday except for some extra prayers thrown in). So this year it isn’t going to be different unless I’m dragged out of the house. I do wish Happy New Year to everyone I bump into at least in the first week of Jan, but it is more after fashion than anything else.
Now don’t brand me a pessimist or a wet blanket. Because I am not. I really marvel at the enthusiasm people can muster on such occasions, but I wonder if they wake up and find the first morning of January any different from the night before. Not that I begrudge their joy or optimism, it’s just that I seem to find nothing momentous attached to one particular day of the year.
As for resolutions, well, when I used to be a naive young thing, I used to make them every year about various self-improvement “projects” like being regular with exercise, getting more organised and so on, until I realised the foolishness of it. Nowadays I believe firmly in the cliché -- ‘no resolution is the best resolution’. If you badly want to do/start something you wouldn’t wait for the New Year.
Having said that, 2011 promises to be different. I do feel that it’s bringing a lot of good things my way. Only time will tell whether I am right or not.
So here’s wishing you all a great New Year. May all of you be peaceful and happy.
So long.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Hesse’s Siddhartha

Hermen Hesse’s Siddhartha is supposed to be one of the most read novels in the 20th century, but I had never spotted it on the bookshops in Dubai or India. So I leapt at it when I saw it in the classics section of Barnes & Noble in Pennsylvania during my recent trip there. I had picked it up for my daughter though, not for myself. I had read the book years ago and for some reason I had always thought that I remembered it too well.
But I was mistaken. Back in Dubai when I started flipping through the pages I realised what a remarkable book it was. All the more because it was written much before Indian philosophy became fashionable and familiar in the West.
Published in the 1920s in German and translated into English in the early 50s, Siddhartha became intensely popular in the West during the Swinging Sixties and afterwards. At the heart of the novel lies the spiritual quest of a young man named Siddhartha, a Brahmin boy who is dissatisfied with the ritualistic life led by his father and other elders. He leaves home and spends months with wandering ascetics who have attained extraordinary mental and physical powers, some of which are now imbibed by him. But the true seeker that he is, it means nothing. What he wants is the annihilation of the “I”, the ego.
At this point he hears about Gautam Buddha, who he hopes will be the answer to his quest. But when Siddhartha comes face to face with Buddha, he realises even the great master can’t lead him to enlightenment and that he had to find his own path.
In the period that follows, Siddhartha falls in love, earns money and becomes a typical householder. Only when old age creeps on him does he again feel the urge to seek the Truth. What Hesse tries to show is that self-denial and instruction alone don’t lead to enlightenment. What matters is learning through one’s own experience.
If you can plough through the awkward translation and keep yourself focused on the narrative then Siddhartha is illuminating. The author’s grasp of Hindu philosophy and its ultimate quest – the destruction of ego and self-realisation – is impressive.
Ironically, Hesse himself never set foot in India. His love for India was derived in his childhood through his father and grandfather, who worked in India as missionaries. Later he read the German philosopher Schopenhauer (who maintained that the world is a mere reflection of our consciousness), and the Gita is said to have made a lasting impression on him. At the same time he was also deeply influenced by Buddhist philosophy. The cumulative effect of all this can be seen in a highly nuanced but instructive Siddhartha.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

People's balladeer

So music maestro Bhupen Hazarika has bequeathed all his property to Kalpana Lajmi. I read the report with great interest.
I don’t know much about Hazarika’s family life; his career was at its peak in the pre-internet, pre-tabloid days. But I know he and Lajmi have both been living together for more than three decades now, despite a whopping age gap of 28 years. His ex-wife, Priyamvada (a Gujarati woman of Ugandan origin he met while in Columbia University) is settled in Canada and son Tej, a writer, is an American citizen. I don’t know how they took the news, but going by the interviews of Hazarika and Lajmi, they all seem to be on good terms.
Lajmi was 17 when she fell in love with him and ever since she has stuck with him through thick and thin, despite his mercurial temper and drinking problem, and is credited with revamping his career and nursing him in his old age. She seems to be incredibly in love with “Bhupso”, as she fondly calls him, despite folks on both sides not having accepted their relationship.
Here in Dubai I don’t get to read much about him. Last time when I had visited Assam, I was told that he had collapsed on stage during a function. Well, he is 84. What can you expect?
Bollywood buffs know him for the music of Aarop, Rudali, Ek Pal, Saaz and Gajagamini. But, like me, if you grew up in Assam (or Bengal) in the early 80s you’d know what a prodigious talent he is. In his velvety, crisp, baritone voice he has sung about love, personal tragedies, integration and social justice. At times his songs are like parables -- the famous O Ganga behti ho kyon? was addressed to Indira Gandhi. His style varies effortlessly from folksy to tribal to modern.
And that’s just his music. He is a poet, actor, journalist, author and film-maker of the first order. Take just one segment of his career and you can compare it with the best in the field.
He is a PhD in Mass Communication from Columbia University and a recipient of the Lisle Fellowship from Chicago University. It was during his stay in the US, he met Paul Robson, whose influence proved to be everlasting.
Just listen to some of his Assamese or Bengali songs on YouTube and you will be hooked. The saying that music transcends language was invented for Bhupen Hazarika.
I fervently wish he is awarded Bharat Ratna, and while he is still alive.