“The enjoyment of art is an act of recreation, or rather of creation in the reverse direction, towards the source of intuition, i.e., an act of absorption, in which we lose our small self in the creative experience of a greater universe.”
Anagarika B. Govinda
I happen to have a small sweet book titled Art & Meditation (actually a few years back I took it from my brother), written by Lama Anagarika B. Govinda – an artist, a Buddhist monk, traveller and writer.
Sharing his paintings, poems and thoughts with us, he talks about the ineffaceable, elusive yet real, sublimely beautiful link between art and meditation; how true art merges with true religion and vice-versa.
It is not digressive or sluggishly cumbersome, this thought, rather it is stimulating for the one who is not in a hurry.
The author wishes his essays and artwork to serve as koans i.e. ‘meditative problems’ for his readers that churn our thoughts and act as an impetus for continuing the search.
I have gone through this insightful book twice now. What struck me this time was its size, how come Lama Anagarika Govinda’s lectures on art and meditation along with his artwork were capsuled in such a tiny book?
Of course, there must be other collections of his essays and pictures, surely in not-so-tiny a book.
But here I would intentionally turn this coincidence into a grand undertaking and happily say something ambitious.
This beautiful book holds, yes-yes it does, the secret to enlightenment and simply because of its humble, calm and forgiving nature, affordable price, elucidations of the artwork and colour schemes given and the profound ideas shared.
With these balmy thoughts, I will read this book again in the near future for then it will reveal a new secret to me.
Leaving you with an edifying thought –
“Art in itself is a sort of a paradox, a Koan in the deepest sense of the word, and that is why the followers of Zen prefer it to all other mediums of expression. For only the paradox escapes the dilemma of logical limitation, of partiality and one-sidedness. It cannot be bound down to principles or conceptual definitions, because it exaggerates or abstracts intentionally in such a way that it is impossible to take it literally: its meaning is beyond the incongruity of the words.”
Wars fought for peace have nothing to do with peace as in the very end the avaricious intentions and deceits also win along with the just, powerful ones. All this after crushing many innocent souls.
Yes, life is a cycle of chaos and calm, and we do evolve. We evolve because of the unsung kind-hearted simple folks continue to work no matter what.
Just like the protagonist in the short animation film titled Laymun (directed by Catherine Prowse and Hannah Quinn; original compositions and sound design by Kalle Jurvanen) who continues to revive the spirits of the Syrian public traumatized by the unending war; she gifts the residents in that area with lemon plants, trying to refresh and enliven their war-sick eyes.
The lemon’s yellowness and its leaves spunky greenness transforms the cracked walls into a brave embroidered piece and beautifies the broken windowsill.
Soon the war frenzy returns without any shame, aerial bombing the city, shattering the gardener’s nursery; she manages to escape.
Bowed but not defeated, she boards the bus that will take her maybe to a better place.
Seeing a little girl, who is sitting next to her, crying and clinging to her mother for comfort, the gardener takes out the only lemon that she had, scrapes off its skin and gives it to the little girl.
The sweet fresh smell of the lemon makes the little girl smile.
What a beautiful film this is! The gardener in her gentle manner wins over the war, albeit, she continues to struggle. She thus becomes the unsung kind-hearted hero who contributes in bringing change.
“We didn’t want to oversimplify the issues we were depicting in the film and offer a neat, unrealistic ending, but we wanted to offer a note of hope. We found the idea of a lemon seed being taken with the protagonist at the end offered the perfect balance of a possible new start for this character but also a sense of precariousness: would the one lemon left in her city have a chance to grow into something better, or would it perish?”
Surely nothing could have highlighted the ephemeral human life better than the usage of paper animation/ cutout animation, quietly mocking the idea of wars, the profitable victory of one over the other… as if they are immortals.
The light-spirited-jumpy smell of any citrus fruit, its taste cheers up a sick one, especially one who has motion-sickness, this age-old remedy is known to all, it has travelled via the “oral culture” routes.
And so has the stories of bloody battles, clashes and bloodshed… we have learned from our mistakes, we have!
Let the paper-light-lemon-fresh stories carry the tales freely.
A Must Watch Short Film –
Read Chelsea Lupkin’s review of Laymunhere. Complement it with the true story of the last gardener of Aleppo that inspired the makers of Laymunhere.
Check out another write-up on a short film titled One, Two, TREEhere.
Every language brings a distinctive flavour in the story, making its world unique and familiar at the same time. The world of Hindi stories always comes across as very honest and subtly profound to me.
Just like visiting a beautiful village, coloured green with flora, blue with water-wells and brown with earthen-wares, the Hindi language stories that I have read till now have become this lovely quaint place in my head.
And the people that inhabit this place, interesting characters from all over India, each one has struggled, battled, lived and loved this life truly.
Malkauns, Yaman, Basant bahar, Darbari, Khayal and other such ragasintricately design the wind here.
The others – Vishambharnath Sharma ‘Koshik’, Sudarshan, Vishnu Prabhakar, Kamla Chaudhary, Jainendra Kumar Jain, Chandragupt Vidyaalankar, Acharya Chatursen Shastri, Yashpal, ‘Agyaya’ and Siyaramsharan Gupt are the ones whom I had the opportunity to meet for the first time.
What a world they have all created – sensitive, soulful, revolutionary and inspiring.
The title of his short story is मूर्खा Murkha (A Fool).
अम्माँ का नाम गुलाबो, मुँह देखो तो छुहारा, आकृति धनुष की तरह। गुलाबो अम्माँ की अवस्था अस्सी और पाँच पचासी वर्ष।
[Translation – “Amma (Granny) is called Gulabo (Rosy), face, a dried date, shape, bent like a bow. Gulabo Amma is eighty and five, eighty-five years old.”]
Bang!! That is how the story begins, gripping instantly, visually powerful; it reminds you of an old lady, one who is waiting on the roadside to cross the road or sell vegetables or beg.
The author’s famous penname ‘Ugra’ describes his writing aptly. Ugra means fiery, radical, hot-blooded.
He writes economically, hitting the right chord without any delay, not shying away from the truth, not allowing the eyes to escape, making a satirist out of you before you can realise it and run.
The Story Gist
Amma is old and so is the cow that had for past ten years served the family without a complaint; she gave six-litre milk every day, six of her bull calves and four heifer calves were sold for a good amount.
But now old, she is of no good and thus, Amma’s three darling sons want to get rid of the cow.
Though politically inversely aligned – eldest one a congressman, other a communist and the youngest follows a Hindu party – they have unanimously made up their mind to either sell the cow to the butcher or send it to a cow-shelter or simply abandon her.
But Amma has become a heavy hurdle for them; she is horrified to even hear of such a suggestion about her beloved cow.
She argues with them, starts eating one meal a day so that they still buy the cow’s feed and saves her one wintry night when the youngest son tries to drag the cow away.
Amma lovingly apologises to her; seeing the cow shivering in the cold weather, she runs to her room, calling herself a fool.
Out of the two blankets that she owned, she picks her own warmer one, goes to the cowshed and happily covers the cow with it.
A two page long short story, dramatically strong, dipped in sweet sarcasm, this piece raises questions unabashedly. What path have you chosen dear one? What rules do you abide by?
You weigh matters miserly, falsely, egotistically and complain of the imbalance. Why do you refuse to learn and almost always forget?
Ugra’s मूर्खा Murkha (A Fool) boldly strengthens the storyteller’s voice; still pertinent to the present times, one looks around to see what all has changed and what has not.
The lovely quaint place is kaleidoscopic in nature; I often see through its lens to pick up the different shades and rhythms of life.
What is history? Does the dictionary tell us everything about it?
History is the branch of knowledge dealing with past events; a continuous, systematic narrative of past events as relating to a particular people, country, period, person, etc., usually written as a chronological account; the aggregate of past events.
While such definitions are important, especially for students and for others to have a basic idea about this field of study, but surely history is more than just a record book.
History tells us about the unapproachable yet important past for generations have lived this life we are now living, on this very planet before we were born and to understand how they succeeded, failed, survived or thrived is a piece of valuable information as then we can prepare well for what is coming in the future.
Talking about future, what will be the future of India, this great country that was once called the golden bird and was the centre of worldwide trade, that was once colonized and had to struggle hard for its freedom, that is now developing into becoming one of the fastest-growing economies in the world and an emerging superpower, what does the future hold for it?
Let us go back in time and see how this land managed so well with its rise and fall to become the India of the present times.
Indus Valley Civilisation is the first name that comes to our minds when we turn to the ancient past of our country, but what is not known to everyone is the fact that there lived people long before the Harappan and Mohanjo-Daro cities were even conceived.
Archaeological studies have proved that human species were present in the Indian sub-continent since over 250,000 years ago and it is, therefore, one of the oldest inhabited regions on the planet.
The earliest records of the Indian history exist in the form of the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh (9000 BCE to 7000 BCE) from the prehistoric Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods, as well as the historic period. Another site belongs to the Neolithic Age, Mehrgarh (7000 BCE to 3300 BCE), Pakistan. Archaeologists have not only found Stone Age weapons here but also cave paintings depicting hunters, animals and people dancing.
It was around 5000 BCE that Indus Valley Civilization started shaping throughout the Indus and Ghaggar-Hakra river valleys (now in Pakistan), along with the northwestern parts of India, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan.
The well-developed cities of this period, especially the Harappa, Ganeriwala and Mohenjo-Daro, with houses built of kiln-fired mud bricks, the streets laid out evenly at right angles and a sophisticated drainage system, the Great Bath (it may have been a public bath), bronze and copper items like the statue of the Dancing Girl, of Indra (the god of storm and war), terracotta pieces depicting the Shakti (the Mother Goddess) and the cultivation of barley, wheat, peas, sesame and cotton, show how successful a civilization it was.
Also, seals belonging to Indus Valley Civilization have been found at sites in Mesopotamia (another one of the oldest civilizations), meaning that trade was an important source of commerce.
Such details not only highlights the fact that we are a very old civilization that had flourishing art and culture, but it also tells us that our land is ideally located for people to thrive, geographically India is more of a mini world – we have oceans, rivers, deserts, islands and mountains; rich flora and fauna that is supported by six seasons (while there are only four in most of the other countries) – and these favourable conditions were majorly responsible for the early hunters and gatherers to survive.
Knowing then the fact that India’s land is very fertile, that the present situation where our oceans are polluted, rivers dried up, deserts have become harsher, islands are frequently under tsunami threats and mountains are getting much populated, it becomes the duty of every Indian to not exploit, but value the gifts of this land.
After the Indus Valley Civilisation ended, a group of small settlements of different tribes appeared in the North-Western regions of India until the arrival of the Aryans who become responsible for ushering the new age in Indian History – the Vedic Age.
In this period, along with the archaeological legacy, India also got a source of literary legacy – The Vedas (collections of hymns, prayers, and liturgy) are the earliest record of Indian culture. These texts composed in Sanskrit comprises of four major texts – the Rigveda, the Samveda, the Yajurveda and the Atharvaveda. Also, the great religious and literary works of The Upanishads (commentaries on Vedic rituals and philosophical treatises), The Puranas (traditional mythical works), and the two epics – The Mahabharata and The Ramayana – all come from this period.
The Vedas put forth the concept of varnashramadharma, the bedrock of Indian traditional social organization, is built on these three fundamental ideas: varna (social class), ashrama (stages of life), and dharma (duty or righteousness).
The Varna system divided the society into four classes – Brahmana at the top (priests and scholars), the Kshatriya next (the warriors), then the Vaishya (farmers and merchants), and last, the Shudra (labourers). Initially, this system proved good for all as everyone worked according to their capability, but gradually it degenerated to become a corrupt, biased, rigid and false law.
Then came two religious reformers Vardhaman Mahavira (549-477 BCE) and Siddhartha Gautama (563-483 BCE) who completely rejected the orthodox, repressive ideas that Hinduism had then started fostering. Both these belief systems emphasised on renouncing the world and opposed the ritualistic Brahmanic schools that enjoyed the exclusive status of being the interpreters of the ancient Sanskrit texts.
Jainism and Buddhism, formed by the followers of these two reformers, promoted asceticism, the abandonment of ritual, domestic and social action, and the attainment of spiritual illumination in an attempt to win, through one’s efforts, freedom from repeated rebirth.
Not only religion was undergoing such changes, the society as a whole was facing many alterations then like the rise of many powerful kingdoms; while urbanization and wealth of these kingdoms multiplied, it also started attracting attention from the outside.
Cyrus, ruler of the Persian Empire invaded India in 530 BCE and also tried to spread his religious ideas. In 327 BCE came Alexander the Great, who continued his winning streak by conquering some regions of Northern India before his army mutinied. Again, Greek culture influenced all areas of culture in Northern India from art to religion to attire.
With Alexander’s departure from India, the Mauryan Empire (322-185 BCE) rose under the reign of Chandragupta Maurya (322-298 BCE), a significant period in Indian History as it became the first pan-Indian empire. The Mauryan dynasty ruled almost the entire subcontinent (except the area south of present-day Karnataka; Chera, Chola and Pandya dynasties were ruling the south), as well as substantial parts of present-day Afghanistan.
In the 100 years of the successful Mauryan imperial system, the one king who is the most popular even today is Ashoka the Great (269-232 BCE), under whose rule the empire flourished at its height. After the bloody battle of Kalinga, in which more than 100,000 people died, Ashoka had a change of heart; he accepted Buddhism and focused on maintaining peace in his kingdom. He also sent missionaries to spread the teachings of Buddhism in far North, South and even overseas.
With years passing by India saw new empires rising and facing a downfall. In the 3rd century CE to 590 CE, arose the glorious Gupta Empire and under their rule, India witnessed its Golden Age. Philosophy, literature, science, mathematics, architecture, technology, art, engineering, religion, and astronomy, among other fields, all flourished during the Gupta rule, resulting in some of the greatest of human achievements.
Aryabhatta, Kalidasa, Varahamihira and Vatsyayana were some of the many scholars who made a significant contribution during this age; decimal system, the concept of zero and chess came into existence. The Gupta philosophers also discovered that the Earth is not flat but round and that it rotates on its own axis causing lunar eclipse; discoveries regarding gravity and the planets were also made during this period.
The famous caves of Ajanta and Ellora, with their elaborate carvings and vaulted rooms, belong to this age. The Gupta rulers advocated and propagated Buddhism as the national belief and this is the reason for the plentitude of Buddhist works of art, as opposed to Hindu, at sites such as Ajanta and Ellora.
The empire declined slowly under a succession of weak rulers until it collapsed around 550 CE. After this period various dynasties ruled different regions, all contributing to social, economic and cultural changes.
With such a lengthy list of invasions and battles, the Indian battleground had just been prepared for what was yet to come.
The Muslim general Muhammed bin Qasim, in 712 CE, conquered northern India (modern-day Pakistan) and thus, ushered the beginning of Mughal rule in India – invasion by Mahmud of Ghazni, the battle of Tarain between Mohammed Ghori & Prithivi Raj Chauhan, the establishment of the Khilji Dynasty, the seven main Mughal rulers: Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb and Bahadur Shah – that lasted for 331 years, modifying the Indian society to a great scale, merging their culture in the heart and soul of this land and making it a truly diverse country.
While the Mughals ruled and expanded their reign, explorers from the West like Marco Polo and Vasco-da-Gama also visited this country and empires like the Vijayanagar Empire and Maratha Empire saw many successful decades. Many battles were fought by each to expand and save their respective kingdoms, but what ultimately beat them all was the coming of British East India Company.
European countries all scuffled for a piece of rich Asia and thus, originally arriving as traders (of silk, cotton, tea and opium) the British soon started functioning as the military authority in growing sections of India.
From the battle of Plassey (1757) to the revolt of 1857, the British had established themselves rather comfortably in India. Though Queen Victoria promised that the British government would work to “better” its Indian subjects, the British successfully tried to ‘divide and rule’ this diverse country.
Independence movement started and great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi demanded the British government to ‘quit India’. And as it became difficult for the British officials to handle the violent outbreaks that took place in between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, they decided to leave the country once and for all.
India, in 1947, became a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic. From the year of Independence to the present times, India has been fighting its way through communal riots, poverty, famines, unemployment, corruption, illiteracy, population, pollution, gender inequality, terrorism and more such issues.
And yet, its booming economy, geographical location suitable for world trade, young population, good foreign relations, advancement in science and technology, a strong military force are some of the factors that make it a strong contender to become a superpower in future.
History proves that Indian civilization has stood the test of time and survived against all odds. This fact in itself is an indicator that the future holds good things for this country, but what history also shows is that more than often we have been conquered, sometimes by weapons and sometimes by ruses.
We need to remember this lesson from our Modern History class – ‘united we stand, divided we fall’.
Rather than falling prey to the ideas that lead to communal unrest and disputes, today’s India needs to be tolerant and broad-minded, its leaders should not worry about power, but should work for the public interest, its industrialists should enforce transparency and generosity, and its public should become aware, responsible and hardworking citizens, for this ancient land has nurtured those who have valued it.
History is a guidebook, it shows the magnificent rise and tragic fall of civilizations, for both are a possibility at any given period of time.
“The time scheme of the epic is somewhat puzzling to us who are habituated to a mere horizontal sequence of events. Valmiki composed (Ramayana) as if he had a past tale to tell, and yet it was broadcast to the world by Kusa and Lava, the sons of Rama, who heard it directly from the author.
One has to set aside all one’s habitual notions of movement and get used to a narrative going backwards and forwards and sideways.
When we take into consideration the fact that a king ruled for sixty thousand or more years, enjoying an appropriate longevity, it seems quite feasible that the character whose past or middle period is being written about continues to live and turns up to have a word with the historian.”
An excerpt from R.K Narayan’s book ‘Gods, Demons and Others’, Chapter 3, Valmiki
The myths, the legends, the folktales, the epic victories and defeats, the deaths and rebirths simplify the reality of the extraordinary spirit – confounded and weakened often by tribulations or lulled by indolence – that resides within us all.
These stories take myriad routes, journeying from the world of Gods to the world of Demons, concluding on a high and happy note, introducing one to the game of life, entrusting with the secrets to winning.
Every emotion makes an appearance here; ego clashes until it shatters to accept change; Gods create obstacles almost breaking one’s spirit, but blesses the resilient one in the end with immortality and splendour.
These unfathomable, and at times a bit ridiculous, tales are the means to measure the unfathomable, ridiculous reality we live in; these tales, the bases of our culture, our rituals and an amalgamation of past societies, lead us.
Splendidly well-adjusted to change, it accepts deletions, additions, revisions without much hullaballoo. It revels in various versions and shades read throughout the country. Same gods-goddesses, demons, sages, avatars… often playing different roles, but embarking on similar journeys.
Written in a playful and ambitious tone these valued legends, retold by storytellers in every generation, are our inheritance; it holds a secret for every tenacious individual.
It is not a particular theme that is the moral of the story here but the journey, the journey with its endless possibilities and absurdities, twists crafted by the capricious fate and the supremacy of time that gives us insight into our understanding of life.
And such has been the role of the myths, legends and epics and of course, the storytellers and it continues.
The renowned author R. K Narayan’s Gods, Demons and Others is an interesting and engaging read, one that opens the gate to Indian mythology for one and all.
“Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.”
Stories – every well-told journey – give us a chance to understand different characters – the hero as well as the villain. But who wants to partake in the villain’s journey…? And yet we do, very keen to know her fate. We are thrilled, appalled and disgusted to see her commit a crime, knowing faintly and accepting quietly the destined end.
Stories are cathartic and a key to understanding the difficult, the “stranger than fiction” reality.
The Fiction Route
A crime thriller TV series set in Northern Ireland, The Fall, is about senior investigating officer Stella Gibson’s search for a serial killer, Paul Spector, who is targeting white young professional women in the capital city of Belfast.
The show is very well written, interestingly shot and credibly performed; a multi-layered plot and pacy structure make it an engaging watch.
Series 1, Episode 1 Analysis
The episode one is titled ‘Dark Descent’ and indeed the darkness falls engulfing not only the protagonist but also the antagonist, for the serial killer’s identity is revealed to us from the very start.
When we see Stella Gibson, who works for the MET (UK), working on an unsolved murder case, we also see the murderer visiting his next victim’s house. He is way ahead of the protagonist and is ready to attack again; the audience knows more than the protagonist and thus, stays engaged to know even more.
What is fascinating is that we are not told much about Stella Gibson’s personal life, rather the questions are left unanswered to be solved by the viewers gradually and thus, she remains Metropolitan Police Superintendent Stella Gibson who is smart, strict and brutal when it comes to dealing with murderers.
And on the other hand, we meet the antagonist, Paul Spector’s entire family – his wife and his two lovely children. Yes, the serial killer is a family man and not only that, but he is also a Grief Counsellor (a form of psychotherapy). We are repeatedly shown how particular he is about things in his personal and professional life, quiet in his demeanour, but always ready to pounce back if pestered. Paul Spector is an intelligent criminal.
These details show what Stella Gibson is up against, it makes the antagonist stronger, raises tension and keeps the viewer on edge.
One does not see scenes of murder or violence scattered impractically in this series, but the fact that a serial killer is on the loose, someone whose psychology the audience has now started to understand, creates another level of dreadful yet gripping mood.
We understand that two equally clever and fierce personalities are steadily moving towards each other, but we also get to know that the other characters, the side tracks, will come in their way – either to help or to obstruct. Such intricately are all the characters crafted that they stay with you.
One such character is Olivia, Paul Spector’s little daughter, who gets night terrors and is unable to sleep properly. In the first episode, it is established that Olivia is a bit too sensitive and picks on small things. In another scene, one of Paul’s patients, who recently lost his son and had come for counselling, tells him that his son died because “a son has to pay for the sins of his father”. Though Paul does not agree with him, we understand that this scene is a foreshadowing of what is yet to come.
In the first episode, Stella Gibson finds out a link between the case she is investigating and another murder case but struggles to convince her seniors that they are chasing a serial killer and not just a murderer.
Meanwhile, Paul Spector executes his plan, the darkness within overpowers him completely.
The multi-layered storyline unfolds bit by bit, not at all diminishing its impact in any way.
The antagonist’s world is drawn with much more clarity than the protagonist’s, allowing the audience to know the villain’s psychology and to maintain a mystery around the hero.
Every subplot is in one way or the other linked to either the hero or villain, thus, keeping the interest alive throughout the show.
Both the hero and villain are presented as vulnerable characters; both have weaknesses and can be defeated.
The grey side-characters give the show a realistic feel.
While mobiles, laptops and cameras in a thriller can make things too simple, here the advance technology only supports the story and does not override it.
The gritty, ominous music that sparingly plays in the background adds to the overall tone of the show.
The Fall, a character as well as a plot-driven show, is an engrossing watch that leaves you wondering about how psychological complexes possess a human mind.
Written by Allan Cubitt; Directed by Jakob Verbruggen and Allan Cubitt
Gatherings under the giant Mahogany tree in the evenings, the jubilant stream meandering modestly and maybe also a talkative Koel’s parleys encouraged the wanderer… and the love stories, happy and incomplete ones, beaded in a melody and sung by folks for generations… it touched his soul.
Time failed to bind him as he travelled back and forth in the past and present to collect these melodies for posterity.
Nicknamed as Ghumakkad (wanderer) and Darvesh (saintly), Devendra Satyarthi (1908-2003) was a folklorist, poet, essayist, novelist and translator who wrote in Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi and English; he is famously known for his pioneering work, Giddha, an anthology of folk songs.
Travelling during the British Raj in an undivided India he met farmers, traders, tribals, mendicants and learnt from them their stories, listened to their songs and sang along.
Accumulating a treasure of around three thousand folk songs in fifty different languages, a beautiful feat in itself, he gifted it to the public for free; when All India Radio decided to pay him royalties for the folk songs, he refused it saying that the copyrights were vested in the motherland.
Rabindranath Tagore, who shared Devendra Satyarthi’s passion for folklores and folk songs, urged him to explore the world of folk literature throughout the country and also suggested him to write predominantly in his mother tongue i.e. Punjabi. Satyarthi obeyed him like a true disciple.
Folklores – the traditional beliefs, customs, and stories of a community, passed through the generations by word of mouth – certainly are a repository of knowledge that has an answer for the one who is astounded by life and its candour.
No doubt Devendra Satyarthi lived like a gipsy, he had to astound the norms so as to grasp our folklore heritage in a single lifetime.
‘मेरी प्रेयसी हीर नहीं है
न ही मैं रांझा
मैं पथिक पैर में चक्कर
मेरी प्रेयसी पथ की अभ्यस्त
चल पड़ती है उधर
जिधर मैं हो लेता हूं
न हंसकर, रोकर
नयनों में प्रिय नयन पिरोकर.’
(Translation – Neither is my beloved Heer*/ Nor am I Ranjha*/ I am a traveller/ And my beloved is habitual of the travelling life/ She walks along with me/ Wherever I leave for/ without a smile or tear/ with just love in her eyes.)
Living a life of a roamer, on the mercy of the others, travelling on almost no budget, this became impossible for Devendra Satyarthi’s wife after they had their first child.
Taking the responsibility of running the house, his wife started sewing work; for a while he too stayed back, working as an editor of a Hindi newspaper, but not for long.
His free-spirited folklorist’s soul made him embark on his next journey to different cities and villages.
“I confess that it was the sewing machine which saved the family, I just scribbled on paper,” Satyarthi said so as an old man. His poems, novels, short stories, essays, folk song anthologies, his contemporaries and the readers speak differently though; he continues to be a wanderer sage for them.
Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, the famous Hindi novelist, historian, critic and scholar, wrote a poem praising Devandra Satyarthi in which he compared Satyarthi’s loner lifestyle with that of the sun and the moon in the sky, as he too walked alone, spreading brightness through his words.
Devindra Satyarthi fought for independence with songs of freedom, love, devotion, brotherhood and unity.
He gathered this harmonious spirit and shared it with the countrymen; leaders like Sarojini Naidu, Jawaharlal Nehru appreciated his work and so did the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi.
“Many were foresighted in those times of the Raj and talked about the importance of recording the country’s cultural diversity, but few had the courage to step out of the cushioned life and do it. It required a lifetime, and Satyarthi dedicated his.”
Awarded with accolades like the Padma Shri, the fourth highest Indian civilian award, Devindra Satyarthi continued working in his late eighties and passed away at ninety four.
In his rigorous journey, it was his passion for folk songs and folk tales and the unflinching support of his wife that made him a jovial philosopher-poet.
A khadi kurta-pyjama, long white beard and hair, thick spectacles, a rough jhola-bag and a few notebooks clenched close to the chest, one might have called Devindra Satyarthi a strange, poor old man, unaware about his legacy and treasures.
[Footnote* – Heer Ranjha is a tragic romantic folk story from Punjab.]
Thematic Analysis of the film The Silence of the Lambs
A classic, critically and commercially acclaimed, and one of the few films to have won Academy Awards in all the top five categories i.e., Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay, The Silence of the Lambs (1991) undoubtedly is a masterpiece.
This psychological thriller is adapted from Thomas Harris’ novel; the screenplay is by Ted Telly and it is directed by Jonathan Demme.
The story revolves around a young ambitious FBI trainee, Clarice Starling, who is interviewing a serial killer now in prison, Dr Hannibal Lecter or famously known as Hannibal the Cannibal, to get his help in finding another serial killer – Buffalo Bill.
An astute psychiatrist, Dr Lecter, agrees to cooperate only if he is transferred to a prison of his choice.
The situation aggravates when Buffalo Bill kidnaps a senator’s only daughter so as to finish his ‘woman-suit’ made from real women’s skin. Clarice knows only Dr Lecter can help her, but when he escapes from the custody she is left with unclear anagrams and a few hours to save the senator’s daughter.
Thematic Thread Runs the Story
What is that which helps weave the plot, the characters, the motivations, and the milieu in a story as one? What is that which subtly runs the story? It is the theme/ the central idea/ the core of a story. The plot builds on and the characters reflect the theme, solidifying the thought behind the tale.
In The Silence of the Lambs too it is the theme that gives enough space and opportunities to the screenwriter and the makers to explore the story cinematically.
Adapting a novel into a film script is not that easy a task, one needs to fix the storyline, make it crisp and compact, shuffle and alter it without disturbing its soul, rewrite it using the cinematic language.
The Silence of the Lambs is a great study to understand film adaptation; not even a second of the screen-time is wasted, with every scene we get closer to catching the serial killer and yet, the suspense continues.
Main Themes in the Film
Clarice Starling, Dr Hannibal Lecter and Buffalo Bill – the protagonist, the pivotal character and the antagonist – all want to bring a change in their lives; they instigate, obstruct and fight not fearing the consequences.
“Lecter – Was it a butterfly?
Clarice – Yes. A moth. Just like the one we found in Benjamin Raspail’s head an hour ago. Why does he place them there, Doctor?
Lecter – The significance of the moth is change. Caterpillar into chrysalis, or pupa, and from thence into beauty. Our Billy wants to change, too.”
Stifled by his real identity, Buffalo Bill wants to become a transsexual, and after failed attempts to achieve it via sex reassignment at selected few hospitals, he decides to stitch a woman suit; he kills women and skins them for it. Accepting this gruesome act as his destined journey from being a caterpillar to a butterfly, he treats his victims as mere objects.
He calls Catherine Martin, the senator’s daughter, ‘it’ and refuses to take her as a person.
“Bill – It rubs the lotion on its skin. It does this whenever it’s told.
Catherine – Mister, my family’ll pay cash. Whatever ransom you’re asking for, they’ll pay it.
Bill – It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again. Yes, it will, Precious. It will get the hose.”
Though we meet Bill rather late in the film, his deeds speak for him from the very beginning. It is Buffalo Bill’s case that Jack Crawford (from the Behavioral Science Department, FBI) is unable to decode and thus, sends Clarice to meet Dr Lecter in the hope of getting his help.
Dr Lecter sees through Jack Crawford’s plan, but nevertheless decides to play along, one, because this could be his only opportunity to get out of Dr Chilton’s custody and two because he enjoys talking to Clarice, she is like an interesting subject for him.
In his first encounter with Clarice, he understands how desperate she is to get to the bottom of this case, how badly she wishes to catch Buffalo Bill. He astonishes and scares her at the same time; appreciating Clarice’s genuine desire to do well as a detective, he gives her the first hint.
A change of scene, another place where he could be closer to nature is what he wants in return. Quote –
“What I want is a view. I want a window where I can see a tree or even water.”
And through Clarice lies the way. Playing a game of ‘Quid Pro Quo’, Clarice tells Dr Lecter about the worst day of her life – the day when she tried to save a lamb from getting butchered but failed, allowing Dr Lecter to manipulate her, hoping to gain his trust, determined to know more about Buffalo Bill.
Then, like in the game of chess, Dr Lector moves to check-mate the asylum’s warden Dr Chilton; aware that the abduction of a senator’s daughter by Buffalo Bill could probably be his only chance to escape the life of a prisoner, Dr Lector overtakes both Jack Crawford and Clarice and sides with his ‘nemesis’ Dr Chilton and works out a deal. As demanded he is transferred to the state prison and in exchange he shares his old patient Louis Friend aka Buffalo Bill’s information with the senator.
Confident about breaking away from the makeshift prison at the Courthouse, in his last meeting with Clarice, he, like a teacher, guides a troubled Clarice step by step to understand how Buffalo Bill’s mind works. He asks her to focus on ‘simplicity’ and gives back the case file saying that everything that she needs to know about Buffalo Bill is already in the case file.
Later, he executes his horrifying plan – kills the guards, makes a face mask from one of the guard’s face to fool other officers and once in the ambulance, he kills the medical crew and runs away.
Clarice Starling also wants to bring a change in her life. Her sincere desire to succeed as an FBI trainee is actually, as Dr Lecter psychoanalyse her and reveals, an honest wish for the lambs in her dreams to stop screaming, she wants to save at least one innocent life from getting butchered, she wants to be redeemed. As a child, orphaned after her father was killed, she was helpless and this crippling state of helplessness is what she wants to change forever.
To achieve their set goals, Buffalo Bill and Dr Lecter move forward without any fear, eager to grasp transformation/ freedom, but clever enough to be cautious, while Clarice Starling, vulnerable, anxious yet brave, collects clues, discovers the truth and ultimately meets the butcher before he could make his next kill and ends his journey.
The Strong Feminist Voice
The Silence of the Lambs is a fantastically strong feminist film. It talks about, shows and breaks the “male gaze” beautifully. Clarice Starling is not even close to being a damsel in distress; she is a confident independent individual. Her persona, her fighting spirit breaks the stereotypes we all are usually too lazy, slow and comfy to react to.
Still a student, Clarice Starling is called to be a part of an on-going investigation, but Jack Crawford does not reveal his plan outright. He places her forward as a pawn and waits for Dr Lecter to react, not sure if he will agree to play.
When Clarice confronts him about the same, Jack Crawford says that he did it so as to help her win Dr Lecter’s trust as he would have otherwise simply refused to comply.
Working in a field with a male majority, Clarice does not hesitate to raise her voice or correct her seniors. Jack Crawford tells the Sheriff while examining another Buffalo Bill victim, to discuss ‘this type of sex crime’ in private indicating that doing so in a young woman’s presence might be inappropriate; when tries to clarify it later he gets a blunt reply from Clarice – quote –
“Jack – Starling, when I told that sheriff we shouldn’t talk in front of a woman, that really burned you, didn’t it? It was just smoke, Starling. I had to get rid of him.
Clarice – It matters, Mr Crawford. Cops look at you to see how to act. It matters.
Jack – Point taken.”
To discern what “male gaze” actually is, we, the audience, are placed in Clarice’s position almost every time when Jack Crawford, Dr Chilton, Dr Lecter and Buffalo Bill address her, they see directly in the camera while Clarice looks slightly off the camera, their searing, manipulative gaze falls directly on the viewers.
Then there are striking scenes like when Clarice takes the lift at the FBI academy and is the only woman amongst the men who stare at her, also when she tells Sheriff and his men to vacate the room so that she and the FBI team could finish the investigation, every one of them looks straight at her/ the audience, confused seeing a young woman asking them to leave and let her work.
This ‘experiencing’ rather than ‘showing’ of what Clarice goes through in her day to day life, subtly and firmly makes one aware about the disturbing presence of the “male gaze” in our working culture.
But here, effortlessly, Clarice Starling becomes the change she and we all wish to see around us. And she does so by simply not giving up – the horrifying experience at Dr Lecter’s cell, the way she is moved in and out of the Buffalo Bill case does not deter her spirit – and when finally she cracks the case and alone faces the mad serial killer, she stands her ground, fighting her way through the darkness, unaware about Buffalo Bill’s night-vision-goggled-eyes following her and fully alert, she fires on hearing him cock his gun. She fires again and again, the dark glass window shatters and light pours in the damp room.
The transformation process concludes here and is in favour of Clarice Starling.
Symbols and Metaphors –
Symbols and metaphors always assist in developing the theme, plot and characters in a story. In movies, it becomes imperative to utilize every bit of screen space to understand the underlying concepts and motifs that cannot always be explained via dialogues.
Death’s-head moth is a symbol of transformation and also of impending doom in the film. In two of the Buffalo Bill’s victims, moth cocoons were found; not his calling card, but it is rather a ritual for him as he killed them in the hope to transform, to break-open his cocoon and sooner or later emerge as a beautiful butterfly.
But as he had to pay for his grisly, despicable acts, in the end, Clarice recognises Jame Gumb as Buffalo Bill when in his house a Death’s-head moth flies by her side and rests silently on a thread roll; she chases him in the labyrinth of a basement and shoots him down.
Throughout the film, lambs are used as a metaphor for one who is innocent but is still suffering, for a troubled soul wanting redemption. Clarice Starling’s father, a Town Marshal, was killed by two burglars, and an orphan at ten, she could not do anything but watch.
She grew into a brave individual, but still carries that grief, that state of helplessness within and aims to redeem herself by fighting crime. Dr Lecter understands this; he also sketches the profile of Clarice holding a lamb, showing his growing interest in her.
“Have the lambs stopped screaming”, asks Dr Lecter over the phone on Clarice’s graduation day, leaving her surprised. No longer a prisoner, he assures her that he will not come after her and hopes that she will extend the same courtesy towards him. Clarice does not promise him anything.
With this, a well-knitted story comes to a closure where Clarice sleeps peacefully, in the silence of the lambs, but only in the novel. In the film, Dr Lecter leaves Clarice guessing where he could be and hangs up to follow Dr Chilton in the crowd in the Bahamas. Thus, here Clarice’s journey does not end.
Sound clarity is a must when exploring the thematic range of a story. Clarice Starling’s past and present moves parallelly, an aspiring FBI agent she agrees to be psychologically manipulated by Dr Lecter, not only to be a good detective and win praises from Jack Crawford but to truly help rescue Buffalo Bill’s next victim.
Here, it is the theme that builds the plot, structure and moves the characters; it is the theme that writes the screenplay.
The Silence of the Lambs was the first psychological thriller since Rebecca (1940) to win the Academy Award for best picture. A compelling and clever script, tight direction and impeccable acting both by Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins make this film an unmissable classic.
With themes like metamorphosis, good versus evil, feminism, male chauvinism and redemption interwoven into the story, the film transcends the single genre of a psychological thriller.
It raises questions for the individual as well as the society for what is nurtured is what comes out of the cocoon, both a butterfly and a death’s-head moth.
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.