Translation – Do not delay when planning to do something good, but when inclining towards the opposite, think twice.
Contemplation is good and needed. Action is better and a must.
Plans in a potli-mind take time to come out, yes, for they are grand ones, created meticulously, weaved with love.
Inspired thoughts build this glass minar with intricate designs, colours of hope and success and appreciation and a little bit of all that is magical in this universe. We fly high when planning in a potli-mind.
Now how to fabricate such a tall glass minar in reality? Where to start from? How do we know if the time is right?
And what about all the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’? Oh, and our dominating ‘know-it-all self’ that loves to put a stamp on every new thought, issuing summons, calling the poor thought a fraud, out-of-our-league or an impossibility, come what may?
Or worse, comparing it with the giant called the OTHERS?
Maybe this is the moment to tell yourself, shubhasya shighram, why wait to do something good.
Maybe this is the time to take the first step towards that glass minar, an overwhelming act it may feel at the beginning, but by the end, whatever the result is, we get enriched, we understand the rotating world and our bumbling selves a little better.
What a brilliant mantra then, a pocket sized mantra!
So, my friend, go ahead with that plan… because shubhasya shighram, shighram shighram.
“There is no village in Inida, however mean, that had not a rich sthalapurana, or legendary history, of its own. Some god or godlike hero has passed by the village – Rama might have rested under this papal tree, Sita might have dried her clothes, after her bath, on this yellow stone, or the Mahatma himself, on one of his many pilgrimages through the country, might have slept in this hut, the low one, by the village gate. In this way the past mingles with the present, and the gods mingle with men to make the repertory of your grandmother always bright…”
Author’s Foreword, Kanthapura, Raja Rao
Kanthapura is a 1938 novel by the wonderful, most eloquent writer, Raja Rao – one of the finest amongst the Indian English novelists.
The novel shares the ‘Katha’ (traditional Indian style of storytelling) of a South Indian village, Kanthapura, that rises in tune with the Gandhian movement, imbuing everyone with the colours of Swaraj.
Achakka, an elderly lady, narrates this story as if she is telling a folk epic; passionately she shares, and you dare not disturb her, for she once lived in Kanthapura, high on the Ghats, high up the red hills, where Kenchamma, the goddess, reigns and blesses them all.
Achakka tells before anyone asks the reason behind the red earth – it is all blood that was shed in the battle between Kenchamma and a demon; Kenchamma won.
Goddess benign and bounteous,
Mother of earth, blood of life,
Goddess benign and bounteous.”
“One has to convey in a language that is not one’s own the spirit that is one’s own. One has to convey the various shades and omissions of a certain thought-movement that looks maltreated in an alien language. I use the word ‘alien’, yet English is not really an alien language to us. It is the language of our intellectuall make-up – like Sanskrit and Persian was before – but not of our emotional make-up.”
Author’s Foreword, Kanthapura, Raja Rao
Writing in the Indianised English Raja Rao’s Kanthapura moves in a serpentine style, meandering boldly to present the Indian thought.
From Achakka, the narrator, to Moorthy the Satyagrahi, to the two widows – Rangamma, the wise, and Ratna, the defiant who was married at 10, to Ramakrishnayya, Patel Range Gowda, Bhatta, the Sahib, Bade Khan, Seenu, the Pariahs, Potters, Weavers, Coolies, children, cattle and strays, together they weave this sthalapurana tying it not to a time and place, yet speaking of a true era.
“There must be something in the sun of India that makes us rush and tumble and run on. And our paths are paths interminable. The Mahabharata has 214,778 verses and the Ramayana 48,000. The puranas are endless and innumerable. We have neither punctuation nor the treacherous ‘ats’ and ‘ons’ to bother us – we tell one interminable tale. Episode follows episode, and when our thoughts stop our breath stops, and we move on to another thought. This was and still is the ordinary style of our storytelling…”
Author’s Foreword, Kanthapura, Raja Rao
Flowing like a river, the story of Kanthapura, whether consumed mid-way or at any given point, continues to be powerful, calm and vibrant.
The distinctive style/ form of the story is the protagonist as it very straightforwardly propels the story, colouring all the plots, characters, twists and turns, monologues and prayers, speeches and rebukes, songs, celebrations and sufferings alike.
The form glues the novel’s world beautifully, heartily – not one cardamom plant or the fragrant sandalwood forest or the moon eyed gods and goddesses are unaware of what Moorthy discussed with Rangamma and Patel Range Gowda in the secret Congress meeting and what the whispering hearts shared, and what the sari-clad, bare feet, hands-busy-cooking offered their families and the deities.
Everyone and everything moves ahead together like twigs, leaves and swans in a river.
Even the readers become an essential part of this ‘sthalapurana’ because sooner or later they sit down in a humble gathering to tell the others about a tiny village named Kanthapura.
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.
I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
Rivers – streams, creeks, brooks or rivulets – love to flow; flowing towards a sea, lake, an ocean or another river, and at times also drying out. Rivers love to flow just like life.
Most of the earlier civilisations prospered when they settled around rivers, channelizing the same love when drinking its fresh water.
And when mankind sat in a circle around the fire and created stories – of the sun, the moon, the thunder and the wind – they fostered their imaginations and decided to pass on the love running in their blood to a lovely supreme one.
Different supreme ones took the centre stage at different places and myriad dramas unfolded that the rivers watched quietly, flowing, gushing with joy every moment.
Resisting neither the rocks nor filth, accepting the dead and plastic bottles alike, it continues to flow… for now.
Langston Hughes in his poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers connects the human soul with the world’s ancient rivers; the hands that cupped to drink water, the feet that crossed the river, whatever race it belonged to, felt the same damp calmness every single time they drank water and crossed the river.
Written during the early twentieth century when African Americans struggled to achieve equality and justice, Hughes, presenting a powerful historical perspective in this poem, emphasises the link between his ancestors, the ancient rivers and the rest of the human civilisation.
The Euphrates, often believed to be the birthplace of human civilisation, the Congo, powerful and mysterious, that saw the rise of many great African kingdoms, the magical Nile that carries with poise the secrets of the great Egyptian pyramids, the folklorist Mississippi that shared here the tales of Abraham Lincoln and American slavery – shows how rivers carry the past in its depth, carrying it always with love.
And the one who sees with love can sense the connection between rivers and souls, between them and us; we all started this journey together, the rivers are a testimony.
“I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”
Experience and history, though often oppressive, have not extinguished but rather emboldened the development of a soul, the birth of an immortal self, the proud ‘I’ that now speaks to all who will listen.
Love, the key to living a fulfilling life, the path that leads to the real you, this emotion called love is universal and free.
An enigmatic thing, love is everywhere – in and around you and me, in our blue planet’s core, it is the main component of every heavenly body and the equally mysterious dark matter. Why else must the dark matter be dark if not for love?
Love – the power that knows the art of giving only too well, that takes pleasure in calmness, that patiently and leisurely creates, that also manoeuvres without light, that is fathomless – humbly colours the dark matter dark.
Who ventures in the unknown, hoping to pierce through the darkness like a sharp arrow, in a speed that surpasses the twang of its bow?
One who is courageous enough to Love.
Landing back on earth, let us see how Regina Spektor has perceived Love and what rhythm has she given to her definitions of Love.
Listen to ‘Blue Lips’ –
He stumbled into faith and thought “God, this is all There is” The pictures in his mind arose And began To breathe And all the gods in all the worlds Began colliding on a backdrop of blue
Blue lips Blue veins
He took a step But then felt tired He said, “I’ll rest A little while” But when he tried To walk again He wasn’t A child And all the people hurried past Real fast and no one ever smiled
Blue lips Blue veins Blue, the color of our planet from far, far away…
No one said that it will not hurt, that there will not be any sacrifices, that we will not forget and misconstrue, no one said Loving is easy and so we failed, repeatedly we failed.
But why lament when we can try again?
As humans, all we need to fully revel in Love is our ability to breathe and our home planet that looks blue from far, far away.
Regina Spektor believes in Love and Loves our beautiful blue planet; it is evident in her songs.
Listen to ‘Eet’ –
It’s like forgetting The words to your favorite song You can’t believe it You were always singing along It was so easy And the words so sweet You can’t remember You try to feel a beat eeet eeeet eeet…
‘Eet’ is a backspace key that you find on typewriters that allows you to type over the previous letter if you make a mistake.
Mistakes and life, life and mistakes, go well together if you are truly in love (no matter with whom/what). Even if you stumble, forget or lose, you will still try, sooner or later, for love will not allow you to rest.
It is strangely powerful, this emotion; it attacks with a strong gust of memories and then waits, it tickles with happy thoughts and then waits… waiting as if it knows it will win in the end.
If you ever think of using the ‘eet’ key, do try the Regina Spektor way of editing – turn the mistakes into musical notes.
Listen to ‘Better’ –
If I kiss you where it’s sore If I kiss you where it’s sore Will you feel better, better, better? Will you feel anything at all?
Born like sisters to this world In a town blood ties are only blood If you never say your name out loud to anyone They can never ever call you by it
If I kiss you where it’s sore If I kiss you where it’s sore Will you feel better, better, better? Will you feel anything at all?
Just like opening an old album, with slightly tattered and folded edges, we are greeted with some golden memories – happy and sweet and sad; sad because we cannot travel back to meet the ones we have lost.
And yet we go on, asking hypothetical questions, somehow reliving the moment mentally, grasping the answer that we know will work, at least for now.
Just like opening an old album, ‘Better’ by Regina Spektor gives us such a feeling.
Listen to ‘How’ –
Time can come and wash away the pain But I just want my mind to stay the same To hear your voice To see your face There’s not one moment I’d erase You are a guest here now
So baby, how Can I forget your love? How can I never see you again?
One always remembers sad endings and unanswered questions, but why?
So that one keeps walking, searching and living more sensitively… maybe.
Coming soon – Regina Spektor’s Musical World and Addressing the Hero – Part IV
Her picky parrot was partying somewhere and the crystal ball was dead, though she chanted to switch it on nevertheless, the old fortune-teller, with a trademark red-riding-hood cloak, was keen to predict the future. “Your future”, she squeaked suddenly.
Looking at the fixed-price board she beamed unambiguously.
“No, tell me about your future, predict first one for yourself”, said the customer confidently, sternly. “I’ll pay you extra.” The customer took out three silver coins and kept them on the table.
Fortune-teller’s eyes sparkled, slowly but firmly she picked the silver coins, mumbling to herself, gleefully, she hid the coins in one of her many pockets. Grinning, with some plans in her mind, she casually said, “I don’t believe in predictions.”
One hand still clutching her silver coins, she realised her mistake. “I-I mean, I can change the future. I often play with my-my future predictions.”
After a short staring competition between the two, she rudely said, “Now listen to what I foresee for you.”
“If you are any good, first predict your own future”, the customer said adamantly, taking out one gold coin and placing it near the crystal ball. The old fortune-teller’s toothless, sweet smile made her look delicately pretty.
She nodded her head, picked the rugged bag that was lying on the floor next to her and rummaged for something in it, happy and mumbling once again. Nimbly, she took out a tiny tin box, tore a paan in half, placing it in her mouth to the right side, she readied herself.
“Hmm, I carry five things with me you see, magical objects, I change the future as I please using these… mm (enjoying the paan) first is that precocious little parrot of mine, little nuisance, for ages now I have been looking after this (gestures towards the empty birdcage)… parrots are picky you see, mine feels he is a filthy gourmet (laughs loudly)… once he flew away, returned only a week later, bloody I almost fried him that day (more laughter)… but my parrot keeps me grounded, taking care of this fine finicky red-green creature I never lose focus when I sit down to alter my future life… if I mumble a wrong spell, my parrot rebukes me brazenly (laughs and relishes the paan).”
“My magic staff (points towards a wooden quarterstaff resting silently against the tent wall), partly made of dragon bones, many centuries old… swish-swash and the scene changes magically… ask those two thieves I met near, near (trying to remember the town’s name, coughs a little)… they thought an old dame like me, what can I do, I broke their noses, hit them with my staff non-stop, then I broke their ankles, heels and their filthy toes. Tempest-no-tempest, I always face it head-on (with an emphatic look raises a finger as if pointing towards her head), head-on, come what may… ya-hoy, I have built new paths where…where there were no lands you see, me and my magic staff.”
She tried to pick the gold coin that was silently shining brighter than the crystal ball sitting next to it, but the customer took it back and said, “what about the other three magical items?”
Visibly displeased the old fortune-teller swallowed the paan and then mumbled something, possibly some curses.
“Hmm… this crystal ball is no ordinary crystal ball, I can see the future and the past in it. But don’t ask me to see your past, I cannot make it work for others, what a shame! If you can give me two gold coins, I can give it a try, hmm? No? Sissy!”
The customer looked at the crystal ball and pondered.
“This crystal ball shows me my past, times when I acted like a goof and times when I was a spectacle, I balance things, add condiments accordingly, that is the recipe to a pickled life. And here, see-see this red cloak it has so many pockets, I keep my charm books in it, plus (takes out an old hand-mirror from one of the pockets) this mirror, it is also magical. Do you want to buy it? Hmm? Think wisely!”
The old fortune-teller showed the inside pockets of her cloak, she tried getting up but her aching knees refused to budge. The customer got up and turned to leave.
“Listen, special offer for you… buy this cloak and get one of my charm books for free; refer to it when stuck somewhere or attacking an enemy, this is the best way to create a bright future; (gets up slowly, grunting and pushing her chair backwards) buy this mirror then, magical hand-mirror, price -one silver coin only, ask it when you have failed and it will brazenly speak the truth, I always use it, did it just before you came in, and see I have moved on, so… hey!”
The customer turned, keeping the gold coin on the table said, “I would need all the five”, then smiled and left.
The old-fortune teller, as if transfixed, picked the coin, checked its authenticity and kept it safely in her pocket. As she sat down slowly, her parrot flew back in; she cursed him badly before offering him half of the paan.
If you were the customer, which magical object you would have bought and why?
The certainty of it being the night promises us of the erubescent dawn. It is an inky night, it has been for aeons and aeons… and, mind you, she uses charcoal-ink… for the stove is still burning, she never forgets to collect woods.
And so, with her inky fingers she writes messages, anecdotes, dead secrets and stolen dreams on the walls in the kitchen.
A custom followed since antiquity, now the charcoal-ink smells of these quiet cursive messages. It talks about the dark night and the breaking of the dawn.
Her inky fingers will turn red with the dawn.
But Sita needed all the strength she could muster to face the big trial awaiting her. After that, it was one straight path to a single goal, wifehood. The veena was a singularly jealous lover.
Then one morning, abruptly, without an inkling that the choice that was to change her life lurked so near, Sita gave up her love. She tore the strings off the wooden base, and let the blood dry on her fingers, to remind herself of her chosen path on the first difficult days of abstinence.
It narrates the many tales of Indian women – the celebrated mythical ones and the limited editions – with such excellence that the novel takes the shape of a woman carrying a heavy potli bag full of tales.
The tales, entangled badly, still echo well and dramatise their essence. The tales are spicy and heart wrenching and true.
Devi, Sita, Mayamma – daughter, mother, maid – kindle fire that burns time, others and themselves. And so powerful is this fire that life gathers around it to get some inspiration.
Delicate like earthenware, painted beautifully, allegedly breakable, they hold intact their stories, cultures for centuries; you must have seen the pieces of such earthenware dug out from archaeological sites, displayed in a museum safely.
Their resilience never fails them even if it means to walk alone, against the tide, the familiar sunshine. Devi, the present, dares to break away, in her agility, eager to explore, moving away from Mayamma and Sita, the past.
Posing in front of the patriarch, they contribute to his legacy/magnificence. After foolishly spending a long time and suffering from backaches, Sita straightens up and Devi dodges the mockery, while Mayamma continues.
The patriarch sees Mayamma and smiles, Mayamma bows and cusses silently. She prays for Devi.
After etching their charcoal-inked messages on the kitchen walls, the three ladies change the notation of their melody slightly, making the raga, still sung at night, fresher.
I must have, as I grew older, begun to see the fine cracks in the bridge my grandmother built between the stories I loved, and the less self-contained, more sordid stories I saw unfolding around me. The cracks I now see are no longer fine, they gape as if the glue that held them together was counterfeit in the first place. But the gap I now see is also a debt: I have to repair it to vindicate my beloved storyteller.
Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul Of the wide world dreaming on things to come, Can yet the lease of my true love control, Suppos’d as forfeit to a confin’d doom. The mortal moon hath her eclipse endur’d, And the sad augurs mock their own presage; Incertainties now crown themselves assur’d, And peace proclaims olives of endless age. Now with the drops of this most balmy time My love looks fresh, and Death to me subscribes, Since, spite of him, I’ll live in this poor rime, While he insults o’er dull and speechless tribes: And thou in this shalt find thy monument, When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.
The idea of timelessness, eternity, immortality must be true as we wish, look and aim for it in some way or the other. Imagining living continuously, building and creating happy ways of life, chiselling and shaping the continuous source of happiness, we forgetfully live with the idea of forever.
The decisive time gone by, the melting present and the secret future, though definite, knows the indefinite. And one is lured, naturally, to know and identify with the indefinite. Why? For the indefinite is the absolute. So? The absolute appears to be complete, eternal, beyond the cyclic drama and free. Then? We may be a part of it or we too may want to be complete. And so? I don’t know, I am living forgetfully with the idea of forever, remember.
Shakespeare, the greatest and most famous playwright ever, via his works, attained immortality and this is what he celebrated in Sonnet 107. Full of creative splendour, he announced his lead on rusty cenotaphs and statues of the rulers.
“The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured”
That the grand, rock-hard, grave and lovely moon too continues its finite journey, eroding gradually, black red white, suggests that the moon knows well the infinite’s will. Or else why will it so humbly accept its role? This long journey, then, is no less than a quiet meditation. The deep circular craters are the timekeepers and the moon knows it.
One of William Shakespeare’s renowned 154 Sonnets, Sonnet 107 is often linked with the contemporary events of the time: the defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588), Queen Elizabeth’s death (in 1603), the Long Turkish War (1593-1606); the Armada charged in a crescent formation, Queen Elizabeth was also called Cynthia (name of the Greek moon goddess), the Ottoman Empire’s flag boasted the crescent moon symbol.
In times so precarious, one would want to hold on to a secure thought or remember the limits of mortality, mocking unabashedly the warmongers and peace-lovers alike, or even hope to create something timeless.
Read the wonderfully crisp commentary on Sonnet 107, here.
Chihiro – My goodbye card’s still here. Chi-hi-ro… Chihiro, that is my name, isn’t it?
Haku – That is how Yubaba controls you, by stealing your name… so hold on to that card, keep it hidden and while you are here, you must call yourself Sen.
Chihiro – I can’t believe I forgot my name. She almost took it from me.
Haku – If you completely forget it, you will never find your way home… I have tried everything to remember mine.
Chihiro – You can’t remember your real name?
Haku – No, but for some reason, I remember yours.
Those forgotten names, memories, thoughts, bemused glances, talks, ear-to-ear cheers, that sweet-warm feeling of forgetfulness and the forgotten tales complete us in the truest sense. Our best friends, these forgotten episodes, always stay with us, kindling our being with love. Absurd if seen with open eyes, pleasant when seen with eyes closed, our forgotten selves are immortal. And surprisingly these bond us strongly as a community.
A warm feeling of forgetfulness slips away and enters this community hoping to meet us one day. Just remember… remember if you want to meet such a feeling, it will come and surprise you.
Forgetfulness, a boon or a curse, every individual experiences it differently. One of such mystical experiences captured is titled Spirited Away, in a Japanese anime style by the incredible writer, animator, director Hayao Miyazaki.
Chihiro and Sen’s Spiriting Away is the literal translation of the Japanese title of this film. But how can a 10-year-old girl experience the “spiriting away” twice? Maybe it can be done by forgetting and accepting.
Storytelling & the Art of Forgetfulness
Folklores and myths, since ‘eternity’, have used the art of forgetfulness to complicate the hero’s journey and to open a gate to a unique never-heard-of-yet-familiar world; an enchanted world with flying mountains, a lotus island with tempting, misleading heavens, a charlatan with a devious plan, a monster masquerading and a memory trick that evades reality.
What is the art of forgetfulness? Surely something very delicate, absurd and too hard to explain. That we forget both good and bad days and yet remember it all when the need arises, that everything is stored in our subconscious and we forget what we must, to evolve, we forget and make mistakes and grow and bring a change… this is such an ephemeral art, and nonetheless, we have mastered it.
In stories, forgetfulness raises the stakes for a hero that it becomes a matter of life and death, bringing a drastic transformation.
Chihiro almost forgets her real name when working for Yubaba at the Bathhouse, Chihiro becomes Sen, but this helps her to be in the moment and give her best when trapped in the spirits’ world. She is worried for her parents who have turned into pigs and her goal is to rescue them and return back, but as if cut-off from her past, she works in the Bathhouse as an employee, searching for answers, helping Haku and others, living like her true self, making decisions without her parents’ guidance.
A very thin thread connects her with the real world, she holds on to it without sorrow or regret and moves ahead anticipating nothing, accepting every new surprise.
What Chihiro doesn’t remember about herself, we do and this information gives us an upper hand, we stick to it galloping blindly, trusting her at every step, waiting carefully for a breakthrough. The storyteller uses the art of forgetfulness to build a strong bond between the audience and the character via a short fabulous episode.
And so if someone asks, “why doesn’t Chihiro simply runs back to where she comes from or why doesn’t she take Haku’s help to escape”, we leap forward to answer, “because she cannot leave her parents behind and because Haku is Yubaba’s slave.” We know Chihiro only too well because we know something of great importance that she now doesn’t remember.
The Japanese ‘Chi’, when translated in English, means thousand and ‘hiro’ means to question or search. When Yubaba hires Chihiro, she steals her name, her identity, trying to trap her in the spirit world forever.
Your name is something that defines you throughout your life and Chihiro, having lost her name in the spirit world starts to forget about the living world. So she will effectively forget everything about her life of the living, who she was, her parents and basically everything she ever knew.
– Hayao Miyazaki
Chihiro survives, she tackles and finds the untapped power source within, like the leaves of grass she holds her ground and even without a clear picture of herself and her name, she lives by it; she questions and searches without knowing concretely what she is looking for. She simply doesn’t give up and continuously reminds herself that she has forgotten something.
Initially hoping the spirit world to be nothing but a dream, later Chihiro accepts it without any qualm. Why? Because she is Chihiro, the one with abundance, thousands of questions, she is someone who has plenty of tricks up her sleeve, moves on freely, whose imagination is still alive, just like any other little 10 year old.
Adults, routinely signing their names on several documents well aware of its meaning, forget to live by it. Often begrudgingly they accept the plain perspective, effacing a possibility, forgetting their search, abandoning it altogether.
Haku, the Dragon
Haku, the spirit of river Kohaku, serves Yubaba as she stole his real name “Nigihayami Kohaku Nushi”. He remembers nothing but the fact that he had met Chihiro when she was very little. He recognises her and helps her from the beginning, expecting nothing in return. Chihiro saves Haku from Yubaba’s cursed spells and liberates him in the end as a sweet warm memory returns to her. As a little child she had almost drowned in a river, but survived mysteriously; the name of the river, she tells Haku, was Kohaku. Immediately Yubaba’s spell breaks and Haku’s memories return to him.
A forgotten childhood memory, an upsetting one that must have left everyone (related to Chihiro) troubled, beautifully turns into a magical key setting a soul, a dragon soul free.
And in flashes when we see those episodes, those hazy childhood memories – good, bad – we realise how it has shaped us, how far we have come and how its randomness is actually a puzzle piece.
Chihiro and Haku’s friendship represents the fragrant spirit of the romantic era (late 18th century); an era (especially Europe) that through its artists shifted towards a more imaginative and free life, valuing the sublime thought and expression, living more passionately, revolting against classicism and Yubaba like overwhelming Industrial Revolution.
Valuing freedom, both Chihiro and Haku, take risks to win it back, to win it back for each other. In a short span, they bond strongly, like one does with an old memory, not burdening their steps with the idea of remembrance, but only sealing their love with a promise to meet again. That is how they part ways.
Yubaba and Zeniba
Two twins, one evil the other caring, Yubaba and Zeniba, act like a see-saw on which the story plays (and plays so well). Yubaba is not a dark character nor is Zeniba a saint; Yubaba is greedy, cunning and at times silly, silly enough to be tricked.
She may thunder when on a hunt or when managing the Bathhouse employees, but she becomes a tip-toeing mother of a giant baby (Boh), ready to do anything for him. She has flaws and this makes her a doubly interesting antagonist.
Zeniba, a kind-hearted smart witch, recognises Chihiro’s bravery and admires her amiable nature. Her presence assures Chihiro that Yubaba too is vulnerable. She supports Chihiro but not by snapping her fingers and resolving everything, rather by trusting her spirit and asking her to trust it too.
Zeniba – I am sorry she turned your parents into pigs, but there is nothing that I can do. It is just the way things are… You will have to help your parents and Haku on your own. Use what you remember about them.
Chihiro – What, can’t you please give me more of a hint than that…? I feel I have met Haku before but it was a long time ago.
Zeniba – That is a good start. Once you have met someone, you never really forget them, it just takes a while for your memories to return.
Zeniba asks Chihiro to call her granny when at her place and later, Chihiro before leaving the Bathhouse thanks Yubaba and calls her granny too (leaving her annoyed). Things turn out to be in Chihiro’s favour by the end, as her memories return, she keeps no hard feelings against anyone, not even the antagonist.
Chihiro forgives and forgets easily, like children usually do, freeing her own spirit, feeling its happy push towards the next destination.
Purgation, the holy ritual of cleansing oneself of the sins committed, is one ceremony that is celebrated in many religions worldwide. The Great Bath of Mahenjo-daro, built in the 3rd millennium BCE, had a special religious function for the Indus Valley civilisation according to the scholars.
The unrecognisable “stink spirit” who is Chihiro’s first customer is the spirit of a polluted river. She and her partner Len, Yubaba and all the employees at the Bathhouse work together to cleanse it; the free and happy river spirit, in the end, floats away, giving Chihiro a gift (a herbal cake) that she uses later on to heal Haku’s fatal wound. The purged river spirit also, like a mirror, shows Chihiro her forgotten memory, just a sneak peek of the incident when she had fallen in Kahaku River as a little girl – of how she and Haku first met.
Forgetfulness is not an answer, it is a stage, a brief mental stasis, that gives you a momentary way out or presents you with a leeway so that you can start your journey again.
The Bathhouse here represents a place where you can not only clean your spirit but also free it by remembering all that you have forgotten, ignored, absorbed, quietly accepted, helplessly agreed with. The bright and active Bathhouse, run by Yubaba, is strictly professional, always focusing on the guests need.
Amongst Yubaba’s employees busy running the business, elevators moving up and down, workers keeping the baths clean and the floor shiny, the spirits find peace; in all this loud drama, the spirits manage to find a way out, they cross the maze and pay the company for allowing them to play.
A contradiction for Yubaba steals names, removing an individual’s memory and the baths tend to remind a guest of her unique forgotten identity, the Bathhouse tirelessly functions to unite the community. Together and yet alone we all move forward towards the unexpected future.
The Spirits and Yubaba’s Employees
In my grandparents’ time, it was believed that kami (spirits) existed everywhere – in trees, rivers, insects, wells, anything. My generation does not believe this, but I like the idea that we should all treasure everything because spirits might exist there, and we should treasure everything because there is a kind of life to everything.
– Hayao Miyazaki
The animal, plant, river and other spirits, and the little dark soot-ball spirits, bring in, ironically, the element of permanence in the story. These forgotten souls never pause, they steadily keep acting, dutifully participating in the after-life drama.
The radish spirit’s gaze, the old river spirit’s thank you gift, the soot-ball spirits’ liveliness all help in solidifying the backdrop; it appears then that Chihiro has entered an ancient mythical land, where everyone has a job to do. That it is not a vague dream but a wonderful possibility. And the same goes for the weird looking frog-like men and women.
Every spirit and employee gathers near the Bathhouse’s entrance where Yubaba quizzes Chihiro about her parents at the end, when Chihiro wins, the spirits jump up and sway joyously. We don’t meet them once Chihiro leaves, but one feels that they must have gone back to work immediately.
A spirit that has no memory, no goal, waits in stillness and clings on to the first hope it gets, a hope to create new memories, to set a new goal. This is No Face, a very interesting grey character; vulnerable for it is clueless, dangerous for it has limitless powers.
When Chihiro, out of generosity, keeps a sliding door open for him to enter as it is raining outside, No Face quietly enters the Bathhouse with the sole purpose to help Chihiro; very soon it becomes greedy to fulfil this purpose – first by offering Chihiro too many herbal soap tokens and then by showering gold. No Face, hungry and out of control, starts swallowing the workers and creates havoc in the Bathhouse. Chihiro then feeds him half of the herbal cake gifted by the revived old river spirit, bringing No Face back to normal; it regurgitates all that he had swallowed.
This quiet, puzzled spirit then accompanies Chihiro on her train journey to Zeniba and later, agrees to stay back and help Zeniba.
How superbly then No Face’s journey points at the significance of memories and a purpose in life! And what an apt name it has got… No Face… purposeless, faceless, one without an identity.
Kamaji & Lin
The spider-like six-armed, goggled eyed boiler man, Kamaji, is a character who never forgets, even if he does, he hasn’t got the time to remember what and when, because he singlehandedly runs the water-supply system in the Bathhouse, he and his little soot-ball spirits. Kind-hearted, but always occupied, wise, but always busy, Kamaji’s six arms, which can stretch indefinitely, also find it difficult for such is his workload.
Another character who hasn’t got the time to forget things is Lin; a human-like servant who is not less than an informant as she knows everything about everything. Interestingly, according to the Japanese picture book, The Art of Spirited Away, Lin is described as the spirit of a white tiger, she surely is like a free-spirited soul, rushing, resourceful and undaunted.
It is with Kamaji and Lin’s help that Chihiro survives her time at the Bathhouse; they are the ones who make Chihiro see the spirit world’s reality, suggesting her to adjust immediately and act quickly. And this is what Chihiro needed the most, to keep her forgotten memories aside and build some new ones for her own good. Action always leads to progression; it is the answer to Chihiro’s thousand questions.
Before Yubaba could steal Chihiro’s name and her identity, we get to meet her parents who are two lost beings, unaware of their true identity. Living on the borderline, they act superficially smart on a routine basis but get greedily excited on seeing something that they love – food (or whatever is free).
As they are hardly in touch with their inner voice, with every passing year they have learned the ways of the consumerist society, they are the first ones to forget the reality, leaving their kid with the responsibility to liberate them.
We are not supposed to hate Chihiro’s parents, they may be lost, stubborn, calculative, but they too can find their way back, all they have to do is remember what they have forgotten about themselves.
The fact that their greediness leads to Chihiro going forward all by herself doesn’t appear to be a stereotypical writing tactic because they immediately raise the stakes for the protagonist by turning into pigs. What if they are butchered, what if they can never return back to their human selves? Will Chihiro be able to save them?
These tense queries leave us with no time to wonder about any cliché, we are hooked to witness the unfolding of the uncanny drama. We forget the rest.
The vast stretch of grassland, the well-lit restaurant market, the flooded river with big bright carrier ships, the Bathhouse building and rooms, the staircases, the pigsty, Kamaji’s boiler room, Chihiro’s dormitory, the witches’ dwelling, the railway track under the ocean and the dainty cloudy blue sky… the film’s setting contributes richly in making us feel the Chihiro’s “spiriting away”.
It is unique and dreamy, it is intense and crowded, scenic and sublime, wonderful and ridiculous and more… the setting makes the story believable and palpable in a brilliant way. It is a place we have never been, yet is remarkably familiar… like a forgotten memory.
‘Spirited Away’ is one of the most loved and successful anime of all time; a bundle of magical moments and surprises, tussles and raptures, it connects with our inner child, one who believed in dreams and magic and talismans…
It reminds the forgetful ones that they too can find a way out of the crudeness that ties them down, that the answer to their thousand questions and their endless search lies within, hidden in a forgotten memory.
Winner of Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (making it the only hand-drawn, non-English-language animated film to win the award); it was also named the second “Best Film… of the 21st Century So Far” by The New York Times.
It held the record of becoming the most successful and highest-grossing film in Japanese history for 19 years (Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train broke its record in 2020.)
Read these reviews to know more about Spirited Away –
Is it the time for the fluttering bird to take a dip in the tiny cool puddle, and for the other one, that flame-throated bulbul, carrying a silky grass leaf to that topmost branch of that lush happy tree, to finish weaving its nest?
And is it the time for the Oo slithery snake, zigzagging like a threatening thought, to just be itself and rest in the sun, simply meditating, with its uncanny sense of smell taking in the jungle’s fragrance?
And… and is it the time for the slim sharp golden jackal, dancing a slow jazz twist otherwise, to sit under a tree with a full stomach, attentive ears and a cheerful beam?
And ohhh… is it the time then… for the lion-tailed macaques, frolicking as a rule, to alert-a-l-e-r-t-ALERT all in the jungle about the royal king’s visit?
Is it the time… I don’t know… there isn’t a clock in the jungle that tells time. Is there? Yes, there indeed is.
The animal and plant kingdom are joyful disciplined folks, every species, diurnal and nocturnal, breathe in the jungle’s air, finish all its chores on time, maintain a balanced diet, sip water leisurely and quietly rests zzz…
They keep following the clock that shines up in the sky – they follow the shadows and the white shimmery light at night and the rhythmical wind and the damp, dry, crumbly and chilly seasons.
Clock in the Jungle (written by Ketki Pandit and illustrated by Sneha Uplekar) narrates in verse this saga of the punctual wildlife, revealing a powerful secret that every species adhere to by choice, the simple sweet habit of keeping the clock always running.
Listen to this another story that utters no word, that is as silent as a voiceless thought, behold its magic, it will enchant you, surprise you and remind you of the climate’s call.
My Friends Are Missing (by paper artist Keerthana Ramesh) is a pop-up book that introduces us to thirty endangered species in the world, delicate, quiet and tolerant beings, that are battling the climate’s challenge, positioned at the forefront, they continue to face the impatient and greedy world’s madness.
Just like in the pop-up book, these species with a functioning clock and a devoted heart, step forward in the drastically changing world where their natural habitats are transformed into a smog-loving, power-hungry factory that clickety-clack runs in the anti-clock direction, challenging the earth’s circadian cycle.
“The damage is ours, the curse is ours, the solution won’t come from the aliens”, said a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle before taking a dip in the Gulf of Mexico.
And what the elusive bird, New Caledonian Owlet-Nightjar, commented in 1998 isn’t clear because it vanished before the reporter could pen-it-down and hasn’t been spotted since then.
Only our blue-green planet knows where this elusive bird resides, but she won’t tell for she loves mysteries. Our lonely planet is not so lonely as so many hidden mysteries and stories unfolding simultaneously accompany it; our dear earth provides a home for all.
In How The Earth Got Its Beauty (written by Sudha Murty and illustrated by Priyanka Pachpande) Mother Earth, decades after the creation of the planet, disguised as a little girl meets three sisters – Sunaina, Shyama and Seeta – to find out if humans are living peacefully and she finds out that the three sisters desire for something else in their lives. Will Mother Earth grant their wishes?
The story emphasises values like patience, compassion and empathy, highlighting also the selflessness and power of Mother Earth; the author writes, “Whenever humans become selfish and uncaring towards Mother Earth, she makes her presence felt and restores the balance in the world.”
We, the forgetful ones, so often forget about our home, not the walled-well-lit-well-decorated-space, but the beautiful breathing planet that never forgets us even when it rotates ceaselessly, matching its clock with the burning star’s every aeon.
It is time for a treasure hunt, go to the jungle and look for a clock, then walk in the direction its three hands (seconds, minutes and hours) point at, one day at a time, and look for the endangered species. Be patient and kind, focus on the treasure, the great grand treasure, value it, it is your home, your only home.
Grab these wonderful books now –
Clock In The Jungle by Ketki Pandit, Illustrated by Sneha Uplekar (click here);
How the Earth Got its Beauty written by Sudha Murty and illustrated by Priyanka Pachpande (click here).
And also flip through Keerthana Ramesh’s My Friends Are Missing –
‘Madhumati‘ is one of the most successful films of the legendary filmmaker Bimal Roy. A revenge-drama, thriller, romantic, mystery film, it presented to the audience, who had already seen Mahal in 1949, the idea of reincarnation in a more believable manner.
The highest-grossing Hindi film of 1958, Madhumati’s story was written by one of the most influential Bengali filmmakers and screenwriter Ritwik Ghatak, while the prolific Urdu novelist Rajinder Singh Bedi wrote the dialogues. The melodious soundtrack was composed by Salil Chowdhury and the lyrics were penned by Shailendra. The film won nine Filmfare Awards and the National Film Award for the Best Film in Hindi.
The duo, Roy and Ghatak, created a piece that has inspired every Hindi film dealing with the theme of reincarnation. Let us try to understand the novelty of the screenplay of Madhumati.
The storytellers often use a literary device – hook or narrative hook – at the very beginning of a story to immediately grab the viewer’s attention; the starting sequence of Madhumati is a brilliant example of this.
On a dark, rainy night, the hero (Dilip Kumar), along with his friend, is on his way to a railway station. The thunderstorm, mountainous road and hero’s restlessness creates tension; he tells his friend that he does not want his wife and child to wait at the platform on such a night. Thus, the story hooks the viewer instantly, so much so that one involuntarily starts expecting something dramatic that will stop the hero from reaching on time. This hunch proves right; a landslide compels the hero and his friend to take shelter in an old mansion until the driver can fetch a few men from a nearby village.
The Haveli’s door creaks open itself, an old man comes walking towards them with a lantern in his hand, his ghostly expressions and the overall setting subtly triggers the mysteriousness that will be present throughout the story; subtly because logic is still entertained here – the old man explains that he opened the ‘automatic’ door which has a switch in the hall.
Until now the audience is with the anxious hero, worried for him that something external, probably a spirit, might cause him harm, but as the hero starts recognizing the place as if he had been there before, the audience detaches itself to observe the hero more objectively. This is the writer’s masterstroke that in a few minutes the audience connects with the hero and in another second sits back to listen to the hero’s saga.
The saga links the hero with the Haveli, with a particular portrait and with a girl’s voice that only he can hear. The wild storm sets the mood for a revelation; the girl’s sob leads the hero to a portrait that he claims he had painted; it is the painting of the late owner of the Haveli, Raja Ugranarain (Pran) and thus, the hero starts to narrate as he remembers his past life’s story.
The entire love story, the twists and turns, the climax; happen in the flashback. The melodious songs, the scenic surroundings build the atmosphere of otherworldliness and the enchanting love story hypnotises and makes one forget that it is a tale within a tale. Anand (Dilip Kumar) meets Madhumati (Vyjayanthimala). He is struck by her beauty and simplicity, she is charmed by his bravery and honesty; the city-bred Babu, boasting the egalitarian progressive ideas, is not threatened by his colleagues who worship the corrupt and biased elite class.
The Archetypal Characters
An archetypal character has come to be considered a universal model. Archetypes are found in mythology, literature, and the arts, and are largely unconscious image patterns that cross-cultural boundaries. All the main characters in Madhumati are archetypes.
Raja Ugranarain is an archetypal villain whose sole purpose is to oppose the hero; in every scene, his inherent wickedness is highlighted. For example, in his entry scene, riding on a horse he almost crushes a little child when Anand comes and saves the child on time. He is arrogant and behaves rudely with his servants, treating them as his slaves. When he sees the alluring Madhumati for the first time, he attempts to grab her but fails.
Considering himself to be invincible because of his wealth, all he knows is to seize. He goes to every extent to get Madhumati and once he traps her in the Haveli, he tries to rape her. After she jumps from the terrace, he, showing no remorse, makes sure that her dead body is buried in the jungle. In the end, when he is cornered by Anand and Madhumati’s spirit he admits to his crime and is, subsequently, arrested by the police.
Charan (Johnny Walker) is Anand’s valet who is given the archetypal role of the Fool (for comic-relief) in the story. He often warns Anand not to trust anyone or mingle with the wrong sorts, but mainly cares only for a drink. Through a satirical song, he questions the questioning society and reminds the viewers that evil thoughts and actions are more harmful than alcohol. He does support Anand when he is devastated, but never leaves his character trait. The scene in which he urges a psychic to help Anand puts him back in command as the comedian and after doing his bit by the climax this character exits the story.
Similarly, Anand is a true Hero with the archetypal qualities of being kind as well as brave. He will do anything to help others and kill or die for his love. Throughout the story, Anand, directly and indirectly, keeps challenging the villain. He takes a stand for the downtrodden and is not afraid of the king.
When Madhumati dies, in his anger he attacks Raja Ugranarain in the Haveli who is enjoying a dance performance. Anand beats up Ugranarain, but soon his goons take over him. The hero is defeated and a period of lull passes; just as an insane man, he runs around looking for his love, until one day he finds a girl – Madhavi – who looks exactly like Madhumati.
Anand then regains his strength and plans wisely; he acts like a repenting man and requests Ugranarain to let him make a painting of his so that he can earn something.
Anand and Madhumati trick Ugranarian to speak the truth and thus, after hearing his confession the police arrests him. Alone with Madhumati, Anand realises that it is Madhumati’s spirit that helped him and not her look alike Madhavi. Anand follows her and jumps off the roof to meet his love, his Madhumati.
Madhumati is the archetypal rebel – the one who cannot be tamed; she is innocent and full of warmth, but also strong and independent unlike the usual heroines of the 50s. She is portrayed as the queen of the jungle (she is after all the tribal chief’s daughter) running around in the forest, leaving behind the hero who is not used to the tribal ways. In a scene, when the hero asks her if she is not afraid to return to her house through the forest at night, she laughs loudly at the question and then leaves. Confidently, she takes the hero to her father who, upon finding out that Anand works for Raja Ugranarian, warns her never to meet him again, but this does not stop her and later Madhumati herself asks Anand if he would marry her.
Overshadowing a tragic episode, Madhumati tells Anand that she was never afraid of death, but she is now as she wants to live for Anand’s sake. Immediately after this, she is ambushed and trapped in the Haveli; there too instead of giving in, she chooses to end her life and thus, jumps off the terrace.
Madhavi, not just by looks but by character traits, is also like Madhumati. She represents the modern woman, who after knowing the truth, decides to help Anand.
The complete album of Madhumati, composed by Salil Chaudhary, was a super-hit becoming one of the many reasons for the film’s massive success. Songs like Aaja Re Pardesi, Suhana Safar Aur Ye Mausam Haseen, Dil Tadap-Tadap Ke Keh Raha Hai, Chadh Gayo Paapi Bichua, Jungle Mein Mor Nacha in the voices of the legends like Mukesh, Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammad Rafi and others added to the strength of the story. Shailendra’s brilliant lyrics worked superbly with the tribal folk music, giving the film an authentic appeal.
Suhana safar aur ye mausam hansi, humey dar hai hum kho na jaye kahin (a wonderful journey and this beautiful weather, I am afraid that I might get lost)… this melodious number sung by the hero is like an introductory song, he is welcoming himself and the viewer to the picturesque landscape which is so fascinating that one can get lost in its vastness. The stanzas talk about how the hero is hopeful that all his dreams might come true in this magical place, and so it does, as he meets the love of his life, Madhumati, here.
The mystical song – Aaaja re pardesi, main to kabse khadi is paar ki akhiyan thak gayi panth nihaar (Come O parted-lover, I have been standing here for so long, my eyes are tired of staring down the path) – has become a symbol of unfulfilled love yearning to reunite in life or death.
List to this mystical track now –
Madhumati is a landmark film, every aspect of it complements the other; the scenery and the sequences shot in the studio are compelling and the images are very powerful. The only scene that appears as a misfit is the last scene when Divender (Dilip Kumar) meets Radha (Vijayanthimala) at the railway station, Radha does not say a word, but is happy to see Divender who, as if to underline the theme, tells her how they are meant to be partners in every lifetime. The film ends as we see the little child smiling happily at his parents. According to an online article Ritwik Ghatak never wrote this last sequence, which probably means that the film ends in the mansion where Divender says that he has finally got his Madhumati in the present birth as his wife Radha.
Madhumati is a fantastic study of Hindi cinema as it shows how our storylines incorporate mysticism in romances, make the mundane grand, celebrate emotions via songs, heighten the drama, leaving the audience enthralled. The greatly detailed script of Madhumati gives it superb clarity and makes it a compulsory study for a screenwriter.
A roguish year, 2020, I believe was a twist in our LIVE story. Terrible, oh, terrible things happened. Let us nurture hope, let us learn from our mistakes, let us help each other and contribute honestly to this change.
Let the old charm of stories work, let stories heal your tired heart.
This colossal twist proves that the great writer is planning to finish a chapter, but the story is far from over. Dawn is about to break, the sun rays will fall on a new beginning soon.
Come to Chiming Stories, pocket old and new posts and watch, along with me, the horizon.
Gabbeh, the 1996 film, is a simple tale of a gipsy girl, her clan and the way their life goes on. Unfolding beautifully just like an artist painting a canvas, Gabbeh quietly touches the grand questions.
Arthdal Chronicles is a South Korean fantasy drama TV series that takes us back to the Bronze Age in a mythical land named Arth, where different human species and tribes struggle to be on the top of the power pyramid.
Yes fly! For walking on the second track is dull and usual, but dreaming high, high, high requires tools. Tools like the right pair of shoes, a chirpy, gritty soul that eats butter-jam dreams, a soul that drinks milky-milky creams.