Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?
Because the barbarians are coming today.
What’s the point of senators making laws now?
Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.
Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting enthroned at the city’s main gate,
in state, wearing the crown?
Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor’s waiting to receive their leader.
He’s even got a scroll to give him,
loaded with titles, with imposing names.
Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?
Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.
Why don’t our distinguished orators turn up as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?
Because the barbarians are coming today
and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.
Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home lost in thought?
Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven’t come.
And some of our men just in from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.
Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.
Waiting to take a stand, sitting comfortably, letting the waves cover with silt our body, mind and soul, we continue waiting, living.
Glaring caustically at the silt, we regurgitate pompously.
Unable to cross the maze, we burn the walls down, unable to touch the sky, we pull it to the ground.
Waiting for them to distinguish between the truth and hearsay, to dust off our earnest intentions, to demystify our vision, we humbly stretch and wait.
In waiting for an autonomous lustrous life, we steadily pass by, dulling our society.
C. P. Cavafy, “a Greek gentleman in a straw hat, standing absolutely motionless at a slight angle to the universe” (as per his friend E. M. Forester), wrote the poem “Waiting for Barbarians” in 1904, juxtaposing the past with our modern thoughts, superimposing the ancient image on the now, yes the now, swiftly jolting the reader from slumber and questioning “this wait”.
The leaders in ancient Greece, the poem shows, await desperately, in static opulence, for the Barbarians to come and take over everything and to begin mending every disaster, but when they don’t come, the city dwellers are aghast as now they will have to tackle problems and take decisions on their own.
And so the free individual, waiting for an external source to revitalise the life, takes a dip in the bright, glittering mirage, dreading, complaining, ignoring, barricading, adjusting all the while, and refusing to end “the wait”.
Have You Ever Had A Dream, Neo, That You Were So Sure Was Real?
Morpheus (The Matrix, 1999)
Our world, our home, this table, that apple forms our reality… what we experience is the reality and déjà vu is déjà vu… or is it?
What if the funky sci-fi stories are correct? What if we are living in a simulation?
Taking just the ‘sci’ route for now, we move ahead.
Definition says – “A simulation imitates the operation of real world processes or systems with the use of models. The model represents the key behaviours and characteristics of the selected process or system while the simulation represents how the model evolves under different conditions over time.”
Nick Bostrom, a contemporary philosopher, in his seminal paper ‘Are You Living In A Computer Simulation?’ published in Philosophy Quarterly (2003) argues that at least one of the following propositions is true –
(1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.
This galvanizing thought, also explored in literature, reached the masses, in leather-overcoat-black-shades defining manner, via the 1999 blockbuster film, The Matrix.
In a cyberpunk style, The Matrix, fantastically paints a futuristic grim image of us all ignorantly trapped/living in a simulation. But this world fluctuates as there is a ‘Neo’ hero and an ‘Agent’ villain and also a Polestar named Morpheus; while the villain manipulates, dulls and destroys, the hero trusts the revolution and liberates.
A journey with a final destination, the film knows where to end.
A hypothesis doesn’t worry about endings, it is simply and honestly a hypothesis; like one shared by Nick Bostrom, a straightforward, happy philosopher.
He states –
Proposition (1) doesn’t by itself imply that we are likely to go extinct soon, only that we are unlikely to reach a posthuman stage. This possibility is compatible with us remaining at, or somewhat above, our current level of technological development for a long time before going extinct. Another way for (1) to be true is if it is likely that technological civilization will collapse. Primitive human societies might then remain on Earth indefinitely.
There are many ways in which humanity could become extinct before reaching posthumanity. Perhaps the most natural interpretation of (1) is that we are likely to go extinct as a result of the development of some powerful but dangerous technology…
The second alternative in the simulation argument’s conclusion is that the fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running ancestor‐ simulation is negligibly small. In order for (2) to be true, there must be a strong convergence among the courses of advanced civilizations…
What force could bring about such convergence? One can speculate that advanced civilizations all develop along a trajectory that leads to the recognition of an ethical prohibition against running ancestor‐simulations because of the suffering that is inflicted on the inhabitants of the simulation…
Another possible convergence point is that almost all individual posthumans in virtually all posthuman civilizations develop in a direction where they lose their desires to run ancestor‐simulations.
This would require significant changes to the motivations driving their human predecessors, for there are certainly many humans who would like to run ancestor‐simulations if they could afford to do so. But perhaps many of our human desires will be regarded as silly by anyone who becomes a posthuman…
The possibility expressed by alternative (3) is the conceptually most intriguing one. If we are living in a simulation, then the cosmos that we are observing is just a tiny piece of the totality of physical existence. The physics in the universe where the computer is situated that is running the simulation may or may not resemble the physics of the world that we observe. While the world we see is in some sense “real”, it is not located at the fundamental level of reality. It may be possible for simulated civilizations to become posthuman. They may then run their own ancestor‐simulations on powerful computers they build in their simulated universe.
Such computers would be “virtual machines”, a familiar concept in computer science. (Java script web‐applets, for instance, run on a virtual machine – a simulated computer – inside your desktop.) Virtual machines can be stacked: it’s possible to simulate a machine simulating another machine, and so on, in arbitrarily many steps of iteration.
If we do go on to create our own ancestor‐simulations, this would be strong evidence against (1) and (2), and we would therefore have to conclude that we live in a simulation. Moreover, we would have to suspect that the posthumans running our simulation are themselves simulated beings; and their creators, in turn, may also be simulated beings. Reality may thus contain many levels…
In the dark forest of our current ignorance, it seems sensible to apportion one’s credence roughly evenly between (1), (2), and (3).
Talking about the second option, how wonderfully sublime, explicit yet indefinite it is? “Ethics”, Nick Bostrom, matter-of-factly, talks about ethics. That the post-human civilisation may find it ethically wrong or simply may not be interested in undertaking such “ancestor-simulations” is superbly intriguing.
Flood-gates of what is bright and reverberating distinctly, incessantly somewhere, suddenly leaves us with a promise – its nature and terms we know not as yet for we are too far away.
But this gratifying simple thought present as the second option balances and bridges the other two, quite possible, extremes, as if it knows the truth, as if it is the truth … while we wait and work our way towards…
Fate, It Seems, Is Not Without A Sense Of Irony.
Morpheus (The Matrix, 1999)
Download and read Nick Bostrom’s complete simulation argument now –
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.
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.
The Hindi language is a treasury that stores precious jewels gained from different languages like the ancient Indian languages – Sanskrit, Prakrit, Pali, Apabhramsha and others like Dravidian, Turkish, Farsi, Arabic, Portuguese and English. Gathering from such enriching sources and reforming itself continuously, the Hindi language aimed both for simplicity and profundity, to be an easy guide for its user.
While every form of Hindi literature has only helped in fulfilling this goal, nothing matched the influence of Hindi Poetry. The word Hindi and/ or Hindavi, meaning Indian (the inhabitants of the Indus) in classical Persian, was understood to be the language of India and was taken up by many great poets like the Sufi poet and musician Amir Khusrow (1253 – 1325) for his poems.
Until the printing technique was invented, handwritten books and social gatherings were the only medium to spread literary and cultural ideas; it also meant that very few could afford handwritten books and reading was only for the scholars. Thus, it was poems that reached the masses in the form of songs, stories, folklore, fables and pure poetry; the most famous being the two epic poems of India – The Mahabharata and Ramayana.
The Hindi poems as well as other literary forms catered to and evolved with the time, changing styles and themes accordingly. With the records available, we find Hindi poems taking a firm position when the poets found patrons in the kings in the 11th to 14th Century, thus, beginning theVir-Gatha Kaal or the AdiKaal. As this period saw many invasions and battles, it influenced Hindi poetry immensely; the poems were mostly about the valiant warriors of the time, adding fictitious encounters to please the King.
With Hindi speaking majority being in the North, the poems of this era also came from this region – Delhi, Kannauj, Ajmer, ranging up to central India. Prithviraj Raso, an epic poem, dedicated to the ruler of Delhi and Ajmer, Prithviraj Chauhan, by his court poet, Chand Bardai, is considered to be the most famous work of this period; though not historically reliable, it gives insights into society under a Hindu ruler. The poem celebrates Prithviraj Chauhan as a ruler; the widely known part of the poem being the King’s love life – how he fell for Sanyogita, his enemy’s daughter, who too wanted to marry him as Prithviraj Chauhan’s success wasn’t a secret, and how he barged in with an army on the day of Sanyogita’s sawayamvar and eloped with her. It is majorly because of this epic poem, that even today we see Prithviraj Chauhan’s love story being enacted on different platforms.
Other works by royal poets include Naishdhiya Charitra by Harsha, Khuman Raso by Dalpativijay, Bisaldev Raso by Narpati Nalha and Parmal Raso by Jagnayak, most of these being a lively rendition of battles and their consequences. Unfortunately, many of these poems were destroyed by the army of Muhammad of Ghor, thus, only a few manuscripts are available today.
Other poetic works include devotional works of the Siddhas (belonged to Vajrayana – a Buddhist cult), Nathpanthis (yogis who practised the Hatha yoga) and Jains. Gorakhnath, a Nathpanthi poet, wrote in styles like Doha (couplet) and Chaupai (quartet) and on themes that laid emphasis on moral values and scorned racial favouritism.
In the Deccan region in South India, Dakkhini or Hindavi was used. It flourished under the Delhi Sultanate and later under the Nizams of Hyderabad. The first Deccan poet was Nizami, his most famous poetical work is Panj Ganj (Persian for – Five Treasures).
By the end of the 14th century devotional poems took the centre stage and maintained its hold till the 18thcentury and came to be known astheBhakti Kaal. New verse patterns like Doha, Sortha (Chhand/ verse), Chaupainya (four liners), Shringara Rasa, etc. were added to Hindi poetry styles. Also, fresh dialects like Avadhi, Brij Bhasha and Bundeli gave fervour to these new styles. The main works in Avadhi are Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s Padmavat and Tulsidas’s Ramacharitamanas and in Braj dialect are Tulsidas’s Vinaya Patrika and Surdas’s Sur Sagar.
Kabir, the great mystic poet and saint, is said to use a mixture of many dialects (especially Khaddi Boli) in his poetry and Dohas –
माला फेरत जुग भया, फिरा न मन का फेर, कर का मनका डार दे, मन का मनका फेर।
Translation – Kabir says, you spent your life turning the beads of a rosary, but could not turn/ change your own heart. Leave the rosary, try and change the evil in your heart.
In the Bhakti Kaal, two schools of thought were formed – Nirguna School (the believers of a formless God) and the Saguna school (the worshippers of Vishnu’s incarnations). Known as the Bhakti Movement, both these schools worked to transform the orthodox and biased ways of the society and offered every individual an alternative path to spirituality regardless of one’s caste or gender.
Kabir and Guru Nanak belonged to the Nirguna School; they were truly secular and thus, had a large number of followers irrespective of caste or religion; in fact, Guru Nanak became the founder of a monotheistic religion – Sikhism. The Saguna School was represented by mainly Vaishnava poets like Surdas, Tulsidas, Ramananda, Mira Bai, Tukaram and others.
This was also the age of tremendous integration between the Hindu and the Islamic elements in the Arts with the advent of many Muslim Bhakti poets like Abdul Rahim Khan-I-Khana who was a court poet to Mughal emperor Akbar and was a great devotee of Krishna.
जे गरीबपर हित करैं, हे रहीम बड़ लोग।
कहा सुदामा बापुरो, कृष्ण मिताई जोग॥
Translation – People who work for the poor are great ones. Poor Sudama says that Krishna’s friendship is like worshipping the supreme; Rahim means that one who helps the poor becomes worthy of getting divine love.
The 18th and 20th century saw the unfolding of Riti-Kavya Kaal, the age where the focus shifted from emotions to ‘riti’ which means procedure and to poetic theory and its elements like Alankrit Kaal, Shringar Kaal, Alankaar Kaal, Kala Kaal; euphoria, beauty, heroism and fancy became the major aspects of poetry in this era.
Riti Kaal’s poets lived in the shelter of kings and nobles. The literature written in such an environment was mostly decorative and artistic; thus, the poems also became distant from the general public.
Most of the Riti works were related to Krishna Bhakti, with emphasis mainly on the Rasic (joyful, passionate, playful) and Shringar (physical love and beauty) elements – Krishna Leela, his pranks with the Gopis in Braj, and the description of the physical beauty of Krishna and Radha (Krishna’s consort). The poems of Bihari (Bihari Satsai), Keshavdas (Rasikpriya), Chintamani (Pingal) and Matiram (Rasraj) are well-known works of this period; their poems were a collection of Dohas, dealing with Bhakti (devotion), Neeti (moral policies) and majorly Shringar (physical beauty).
The shift from Sanskrit to a simpler language, even for the royal courts, had long ushered the change that kept on evolving Hindi language and that finally resulted in the formation of Devanagari script in the end; the first two books in Devanagari script, the year 1795, were by Heera Lal, which was a treatise on Ain-i-Akbari and by Rewa Mharaja – a treatise on Kabir.
From the 19th century onwards, started the Adhunik Kaal (modern literature); with the British East India Company establishing a complete hold on the country, Hindi poetry became the catalyst for the chain of revolutions in India. This period is divided into four phases – Bharatendu Yug, Dwivedi Yug, Chhayavad Yug (1918–1937) and the Contemporary Period (1937–present).
Bhartendu Harishchandra(1850-1885), known as the father of modern Hindi literature as well as Hindi theatre, used new media like reports, publications, letters to the editor, translations and literary works to shape public opinion.
Writing under the pen name “Rasa”, Harishchandra represented the agonies of the people, the country’s poverty, dependency, inhuman exploitation, the unrest of the middle class and the urge for the progress of the country. He was an influential Hindu “traditionalist”, using Vaishnava “devotionalism” to define a coherent Hindu religion.
निज भाषा उन्नति अहै, सब उन्नति को मूल। बिन निज भाषा-ज्ञान के, मिटत न हिय को सूल।। विविध कला शिक्षा अमित, ज्ञान अनेक प्रकार। सब देसन से लै करहू, भाषा माहि प्रचार।।
Translation – Progress is made in one’s own language, as it is the foundation of all progress. Without the knowledge of the mother tongue, there is no cure for the pain of the heart.Knowledge is boundless, we should take new ideas from different cultures, but these new ideas should then be proliferated in our own language.
Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi (1864 – 1938) was a Hindi writer and editor who played a major role in establishing the modern Hindi language in poetry and broadening the acceptable subjects of Hindi poetry from the traditional ones of religion and romantic love; he encouraged poetry in Hindi dedicated to nationalism and social reform.
One of the most prominent poems of the period was Maithili Sharan Gupt’s Bharat-Bharati, which evokes the past glory of India. Shridhar Prathak’s Bharat-git is another renowned poem of the period.
Chhayavaadi Yugrefers to the era of Neo-romanticism in Hindi literature, particularly Hindi poetry, 1922–1938, and was marked by an upsurge of romantic and humanist content, by a renewed sense of the self and personal expression, visible in the writings of the time.
The great literary figures belonging to this school are known as Chhayavaadi poets –Jaishankar Prasad, Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’, Mahadevi Varma and Sumitranandan Pant. These four representative poets of this era embody the best in Hindi Poetry. A unique feature of this period is the emotional (and sometimes active) attachment of poets with the national freedom struggle, their effort to understand and imbibe the vast spirit of a magnificent ancient culture and their towering genius which grossly overshadowed all the literary ‘talked about’ of next seven decades.
Himadri Tung Shring Se is a patriotic poem by Jaishankar Prasad; though a short one, the poem holds the capability of encouraging a whole generation and is often sung as an anthem –
हिमाद्रि तुंग श्रृंग से प्रबुद्ध शुद्ध भारती — स्वयं प्रभा समुज्ज्वला स्वतंत्रता पुकारती —
अमर्त्य वीरपुत्र हो, दृढ प्रतिज्ञ सोच लो, प्रशस्त पुण्य पंथ है — बढे चलो,बढे चलो
असंख्य कीर्ति-रश्मियाँ , विकीर्ण दिव्य दाह-सी सपूत मातृभूमि के — रुको न शूर साहसी
अराति सैन्य सिंधु में, सुवाड़वाग्नि-से जलो, प्रवीर हो जयी बनो — बढे चलो, बढे चलो !
[Translation – the poem tells every Indian to be as strong as the Himalayas, to be a gallant son of this land and to take a firm vow to continue walking on the path of virtue (i.e. to continue serving the country). Endless glories await the ones who are patriotic. Not to stop, but to burn like pure fire, to keep on walking ahead until you achieve your goal.]
The other prominent poets who also used Chayavaadi elements in their poetry include names like Ramdhari Singh ‘Dinkar’, Harivansh Rai Bachchan, Makhanlal Chaturvedi and Pandit Narendra Sharma.
After India’s independence, the core socio-economic, political and cultural aspect went through a whirlpool of changes and so did the Modern Hindi literature. It entered Pragativaad (progressivist-socialist), Prayogavaad (experimentalist) tendencies culminating in new poetry and further labels like contemporary poetry and reflective poetry.
Some of the famous poets of the Contemporary Period include – Bhawani Prasad Mishra (Buni Hui Rassi), Gulab Khandelwal (Usha, Alokvritt), Kedarnath Singh (Akaal Mein Saras), Nagarjun (Bādal kō Ghiratē Dēkhā hai), Sudama Pandey Dhoomil (Sansad se Sarak Tak), Padma Sachdev (Meri Kavita Mere Geet), Dharamvir Bharati (Toota Pahiya), Geet Chaturvedi (Ubhaychar).
A section of poets also wrote for cinema and television; poets became lyricists and screenwriters, moulding this literary form further. Some of the known lyricists are – Anand Bakshi, Shailendra, Saroj Mohini Nayyar, Sahir Ludhianvi, Amrita Pritam, Gulzar, Javed Akhtar, Prasson Joshi, Jaideep Sahni and Irshad Kamil.
It has been a long journey for the Hindi Poets, forever evolving along with the Hindi language. The ability of the Hindi language to sanction and its power to absorb new ideas has given Hindi literature a colourful past. While we compartmentalize the eras for it is then easier to approach the bulk of literature produced, it many times overshadow the individuality of a poet for poets are not of one era, they are of every era.
Poets, by nature of their profession, see what is beyond their times, see what is invisible to others, and this is what makes every honest poem unique. The 21st century Hindi poets, like their ancestors, present an image of the world around, and also give us a peek into a deeper world, the inner world.
This light and bright book, ‘Japan Haiku by Marti’, is a library to me that has a collection of thoughts, wise words of a wise heart.
Haiku, a form of Japanese poetry that is dated back to the 17th century, is a fruit that a poet bears in her mind. It tastes subtly sweet and brazenly true. (Truth tastes different to all people, what does truth taste like to you?)
Carrying oceans and mountains and all the seasons within, it takes me on a journey every time I visit it.
Shying away from nothing, neither life nor death, haikus sing about nature and dance in the present. They capture it fully, through the lives of those who craft it, the haikus capture the moment fully.
No less than an explorer or a monk who practices meditation, the haiku poets in ancient Japan travelled to witness the peaceful, dramatic, kind, unforgiving nature. They did not hurry and that is why could understand it all.
Fetching cold water from a deep quiet well, with wit and brevity, the haikus quench our thirsts in this manner.
I finished reading this delightful book (part of my Auroville collection) sometime back, but I knew the journey has not ended yet.
Earlier I had taken a haiku turn to meet Matsuo Basho, the master haiku poet, and today I found a hidden haiku trail that took me to visit Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali polymath.
“They reveal the control over the human emotions. However, they are never short on aesthetic sensibility. Their sense of aesthetics is marked by deep appreciation yet there is a mastery over expression.” – In Letters from Japan, published later as JapanJatri, Tagore recorded his views on haikus and his experiences of visiting Japan.
Interested in reading Japanese literature, knowing their culture and art history, Tagore in 1915 wrote to Kimura Nikki, who had studied Bengali under him at Calcutta University, “I want to know Japan in the outward manifestation of its modern life and in the spirit of its traditional past. I also want to follow up on the traces of ancient India in your civilization and have some idea of your literature if possible.”
Knockings at My Heart is a collection of short poems by Tagore (discovered only recently and published in 2016) that highlights the impact of haikus on him.
Let my life accept the risk of its
Sails and not merely the security
Of its anchor.
The pomegranate bud hidden behind her veil
Will burst into passionate flower
When I am away.
The mist tries
To capture the morning
In a foolish persistence.
The simplistic approach, depth of thought and brisk climactic acuity make this poetry form of the past very much of the present as well as of the future, for the passionate are always searching.
And so my journey continues.
Fireflies, an epigrammatic poem by Rabindranath Tagore, is a perfect complement to this post.
On the road you travel with the familiar and the unfamiliar together. Familiar landscape, known route, desired destination, accompanied by your loved ones and yet with an unfamiliar feeling, a comfortable anxiety, a strange pleasantness, a quiet freedom and a quiet fear. It fluctuates, this feeling, it dances.
Maybe it is ‘change’, for the road takes you on a journey and before you realise it, it changes you.
On the road with just the familiar is a routine and on the road with just the unfamiliar is an adventure, for Gelsomina it was the latter.
Federico Fellini, one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, co-wrote and directed La Strada, Italian for ‘the road’, a 1954 film that also won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (first of Fellini’s total four wins in this category, the most for any director till date).
[Though spoilers cannot ever mar the magic of a Fellini film, still let me alert you that this article will analyse the story of La Strada. So go watch it first if you have not already.]
The vagabonds, the circus, a fatal incomplete relationship, and the seashore – Fellini’s favourite elements to weave a story – all merge harmoniously to create a tragedy that stays with us in the form of Gelsomina’s round clown face and her innocent eyes, a sketch of whom, Fellini said, acted as the germ of a story for this film.
Gelsomina is not like other girls, she is a little bit strange says her old mother who has already taken 10,000 lire from Zampano and is begging her to replace her late sister Rosa as Zampano’s wife.
Crying her eyes out, the old mother cannot let go of her simpleton daughter, but has to do so as then she will have ‘one hungry soul less to feed’.
Gelsomina is confused but excited at the same time as she would get to visit new places and learn to sing and dance.
But when the neighbour enquires about her return, Gelsomina becomes quiet, she goes and sits in Zampano’s motorbike cart (a cart covered with tarpaulin, attached to the motorbike) and leaves crying and waving at her mother, her six younger siblings who run behind the bike-cart, shouting out her name and waving back.
And so, in this sudden, brusque manner Gelsomina joins Zampano, a travelling performer, donning two hats, one as his clown assistant and one as his wife.
A tall, well-built, rough and rogue looking Zampano’s famous street act is to break a 0.5-centimeter thick iron chain bound tightly across his chest; Gelsomina’s role is to first build the tension by playing the tambour, wait for Zampano to show off his strength, and then to go around collecting money in her hat.
Sometimes they perform spoofs where Zampano becomes the hunter, aiming with his rifle at Gelsomina the duck and sometimes Gelsomina the clown dances and Zampano plays the tambour.
While she stays dressed as the clown the whole time, Zampano alters his look from macho strongman to a silly giant, now breaking the iron chain, now playing a simpering buffoon.
And the journey continues, with performing for the audience being the highs for Gelsomina and spending money on liquor and women the highs for Zampano.
“I go away… back to my village… it is not because of the work… I like this work, I like being an artist… but I don’t like you”, says a troubled Gelsomina to a drunk and sleepy Zampano, who asks her to “stop the bullshit”; Gelsomina then leaves.
Reaching the town, she witnesses a religious procession, watches another street performer, Il Matto (The Fool), walking on a high wire, relishes these new experiences, her eyes gleaming with joy.
But this joy doesn’t last for long, as Zampano reaches there in his bike-cart, thrashes Gelsomina and leaves with her, shouting at the silent drunk onlookers.
Who can speak up against the short-tempered strongman, the brash brawn mind, the rude and cold-hearted? Who else, but The Fool?
Zampano and Il Matto hit off on the wrong foot as Il Matto doesn’t stop giggling, teasing Zampano about his chain-act, calling him an animal, telling the circus owner that they indeed needed one in their circus.
In Roma, St. Paul, a world-famous circus Girafa, presents the audience with its amazing acts. Gelsomina, Zampano, and Il Matto perform on the same platform now.
Sticking to their traits, Il Matto jokes around with Zampano in between his act and Zampano chases him, swearing that he will kill him.
Later when Il Matto wishes Gelsomina to be a part of his skit, Zampano roars at him, warning every circus artist that Gelsomina will work only with him.
To cool down a grumbling lion, The Fool strikes again, this time with a bucket full of water and splash, he empties the bucket on Zampano.
Zampano chases Il Matto with a knife; luck favours The Fool as the police intervene.
With Zampano still in jail, Il Matto asks Gelsomina to work with him or join the circus crew, leaving Zampano for good. But understanding Gelsomina’s dilemma, Il Matto tells her that everything, even a stone, has a purpose, and maybe she is meant to stay with the poor brute Zampano.
The journey continues and Gelsomina dreams of marrying Zampano, she believes they are meant to be together; the nun, whom they meet in a monastery where they take shelter for a night, also tells her the same, that “we both are travellers; you follow your God, I follow mine.”
But a reckless Zampano is too numb to think so. Moving towards a disaster, Zampano and Gelsomina meet Il Matto one day; a bitter Zampano hits him twice only to accidentally kill him.
Scared and shocked, he then dumps both Il Matto and his car into a nearby stream and runs away with Gelsomina.
“Il Matto, he feels bad”, says Gelsomina and cries every time Zampano tries to talk to her; she looks shattered, she whimpers or stays quiet.
Zampano asks her if she wants to return home, but she refuses to, saying that Il Matto had suggested her to stay with Zampano.
Travelling in a snowy region, after a gap of ten days, Gelsomina steps out of the bike-cart; a haggard Zampano tells her that he did not mean to kill Il Matto, that he should not be punished for an accident.
Wavering thoughts make Gelsomina enjoy the cold weather and then make her cry for late Il Matto.
Finding Gelsomina sound asleep, Zampano, in his desperation leaves; he keeps some cash, her wears, and the trumpet by her side. He looks at her as he quietly drags the bike-cart, starts it at some distance, and drives away.
A few years later Zampano, now working with another circus group, living with another woman, performing the same chain-act, on a roadside hears the tune that Gelsomina used to play on the trumpet.
A woman who was humming the tune tells him that her father gave shelter to a strange girl some four-five years back and that she picked the tune from her. When he asks about her whereabouts, the woman says that she is no more; the woman asks him if he knew her, but Zampano leaves without saying a word.
That night a drunk Zampano, after having a fistfight with some people at the bar, comes to the seashore, washes his face, sits down, looks at the sky and breaks down. All alone there, he cries.
Gelsomina represents the gentle femininity, one who always forgives, makes sacrifices and is loyal, and Zampano the harsh masculinity, one who is stubborn, insensitive, and also self-destructive; both are the extremes, lacking a balance.
Zampano made it a point to tell everyone that Gelsomina knows nothing and felt jealous if others praised her. At the monastery when the nun is left amazed by how well Gelsomina plays the trumpet (a tune that she picked from Il Matto), Zampano goes to a side and starts chopping woods, to show off his prowess.
He needed her, but could not admit this and thus, never changed his behaviour; in the end, he meekly chose to run away instead of facing Gelsomina’s honest eyes.
Il Matto, whose entry formed a triangle, though acted like a fool, laughing every time in a high squeaky giggling manner, understood them all better. Il Matto valued relations and he valued life, but nevertheless was a lonely soul.
As fate would have it, Il Matto and Gelsomina both die, and Zampano, reaping what he had sown, lives a miserable life.
The melancholic yet dreamy tune that enchants and leaves a listener yearning is one of the key elements in the movie; the entire score was composed by the brilliant Nino Rota.
First played by Il Matto on his kit violin, later by Gelsomina on her trumpet, the tune is a leitmotif that marks these two character’s inner voice.
It is through this nostalgic tune that Gelsmina’s inner voice is heard by those who listen.
The perky track that introduces the circus appropriately captures the attention, alerting the public to gather around and get ready for the show. The element of humour in it announces the arrival of the fools, the jokers, the clowns amongst the crowd.
In a post-world war Italy, when poverty shackled the majority, the travelling performers set out to earn a living by entertaining the masses.
They left their sorrows, their losses behind and moved from village to village, town to town to sing, dance, and make others laugh. A huge responsibility shared by the marginal class.
Through Gelsomina, Zampano, and Il Matto’s lives, we got a glimpse of the world of the vagabonds, the gipsies, the outcasts. They were crude and curt like Zampano, simple and full of warmth like Gelsomina, witty and notorious like Il Matto; they restricted themselves to the periphery, mingling with the rest of the world now and then, living un-noticed, bringing their unique charm and performing spectacles only heard of in tales.
The nomadic still carry magical chalks, bordering the society, with us on one side and all of them on the other side.
On the other side, life is too unpredictable and ruthless; throughout the film, Gelsomina enquired about her late sister Rosa – whether Zampano treated Rosa in the same manner as he treats her, whether Rosa knew about Zampano’s affairs, whether Rosa had met Il Matto – she had taken Rosa’s place but never had wished for the same end. Alas, she had to face it too.
And in this way, the story completes a circle.
Strange for the circus people and even The Fool was Gelsomina, the way she walked, talked, and especially her face; Il Matto in a scene says, ‘What a strange face! Are you really a woman? You look like an artichoke!’, and yet, this outcast amongst the outcasts was the most humane.
Gelsomina’s loving and kind behaviour is a reminder of what Margaret Mead, the cultural anthropologist, had said about civilisation –
“Margaret Mead said that the first sign of civilization in an ancient culture was a femur (thighbone) that had been broken and then healed. Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die … A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety, and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts.”
Quote from Ira Byock’s book ‘The Best Care Possible.’
Directed by – Federico Fellini; Screenplay by – Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano; Story by – Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli; Cast -> Gelsomina – Giulietta Masina, Zampano – Anthony Quinn, Il Matto – Richard Basehart; Music by – Nino Rota; Cinematography – Otello Martelli, Carlo Carlini; Edited by – Leo Catozzo
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.