Present

Tughlaq in the Library – Part II

Review
Read Tughlaq in the Library – Part I here.

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The siege of Daulatabad (April-June 1633).
[Source – Wikimedia Commons]

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But the play is more than a political allegory. It has an irreducible, puzzling quality which comes from the ambiguities of Tughlaq’s character, the dominating figure in the play. All the other characters are dramatized aspects of his complex personality, yet they also exist in their own right. Kannada critics have made detailed analyses of the play, paying special attention to the symbolism of the game of chess, the theme of disguise, the ironic success of Aziz whose amazing story runs parallel to Tughlaq’s, and the dualism of the man and the hero in Tughlaq, which is the source of the entire tragedy. Yet no critical examination of the play can easily exhaust its total meaning for the reader, because the play has, finally, an elusive and haunting quality which it gets from the character of Tughlaq who has been realized in great psychological depth. But it would be unjust to say that the play is about an ‘interesting’ character, for the play relates the character of Tughlaq to philosophical questions on the nature of man and the destiny of a whole kingdom which a dreamer like him controls.

Introduction, U. R. Anantha Murthy

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[Image by Jagriti Rumi]

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Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq, in the play, commits to actions with a confidence of a master player, one who is certain of the ending, one who is far sighted somewhat like an ominous oracle – a skilful, wise puppeteer who runs the show singlehandedly, unaware and forgetful of his involvement in the drama.

People unlike puppets, even though tied to strings, quietly keep gathering the power to pull down and topple the king puppeteer, they always do.

The echo of a future that reached Tughlaq’s ears, the making of history that Tughlaq could see so clearly was nothing but an illusion, a time bound vision, a trick that tricked him.

Sure about a glorious tomorrow, he dragged his people along towards it – an ever evading tomorrow.

Sultan’s experiments done so as to unite the country as one, to build an ideal powerful state, failed pathetically, leading the kingdom to anarchy. With a staunch eye on greatness, Tughlaq couldn’t manoeuvre without ‘murdering’ the stubborn present – the present, so full of the past, so treasured by his subjects.

Subjects who wrote hate-letters, full of rebukes, all addressed to the Sultan.


Let us meet Tughlaq, whom we first met in the library, who is now placed, by the playwright, on the chess board and the game has begun –

Scene One

Old Man: You can go to the Kazi-i-Mumalik for small offences. But who do you appeal to against such madness?

Third Man: This is tyranny! Sheer tyranny! Move the capital to Daulatabad! Such things never happened in his father’s days – may his soul rest in peace. Now he’s got his father’s throne. He isn’t happy with that and—

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Tughlaq has set up the court of Chief Justice in the capital where people can file a suit against the officers of State or even the Sultan.

He talks about justice and equality after accepting the Kazi’s verdict; he declares to compensate and offers a post in the Civil Service for the Brahmin who had appealed against his land being seized illegally by the State.

The humanistic monologue ends with Tughlaq announcing his well-thought and thoroughly discussed decision of shifting the capital from Delhi to Daulatabad and without waiting for a reaction or a bird to fly by, he leaves.

The shocked public worries if their worst nightmare will come true – what are they to do? The guard shoos them away shouting “Go home! The show’s over!”

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Aazam: Anyway, why did you have to dress up in these ungodly clothes? Couldn’t you have come like a proper Muslim?

Aziz (scandalized): But then what would happen to the King’s impartial justice? A Muslim plaintiff against a Muslim King? I mean, where’s the question of justice there? Where’s the equality between Hindus and Muslims? If on the other hand the plaintiff’s a Hindu… well, you saw the crowds.

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Aziz, a thug, disguised as the Brahmin, seeking justice from the Kazi, truly understands Sultan’s ‘impartial justice’; playing along with the Sultan, he makes use of the State’s scheme and presents the Sultan a chance to make use of him – Sultan gets the tag of a “fair ruler” and in turn, Aziz makes some money.

Throughout the play Aziz maintains the stance that no one knows the wise Sultan as much as he does because it is only he who participates in the Sultan’s game.

Aziz will, sooner or later, dare to check-mate the Sultan, will he win?


Scene Two

Muhammad Tughlak orders his brass coins to pass for silver, A.D. 1330.
[Source – Wikimedia Commons]

Step-Mother (bursts into laughter): I don’t know what to do with you. I can’t ask a simple question without your giving a royal performance.

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Tughlaq’s step mother is his confidant; well aware about his burdens, the Step-Mother always urges him to slow down and more importantly, to make every move not in secret, not from her.

The Step-Mother too is playing alongside the Sultan, sometimes delicately trying to use him as a game-piece, but never showing it. The crime of patricide and fratricide hangs heavily on the Sultan’s soul; the Step-Mother never brings this up, never, unless it is required to make an impact.

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Muhammad: Surely a historian doesn’t need an invitation to watch history take shape! Come, Barani, what does he say?

Barani: It’s as Your Majesty said… He says the Sultan is a disgrace to Islam.

Muhammad: That’s all? I could find worse faults in me. What else?

Silence.

Najib: He says Your Majesty has forfeited the right to rule, by murdering your father and brother at prayer time.

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First Tughlaq makes praying five times a day compulsory, then he completely bans praying in his kingdom, only to wait in the end for a messiah to bring back pious prayers for his doomed subjects.

Like a devotee crossing all boundaries – that of life too – to connect with the almighty, Tughlaq crossed all boundaries to win over the almighty.

The far-off dream seemed the biggest truth to him and making sacrifices the only way towards it.


Scene Three to Five

Muhammad: No one can go far on his knees. I have a long way to go. I can’t afford to crawl – I have to gallop.

Imam-Ud-Din: And you will do it without the Koran to guide you? Beware, Sultan, you are trying to become another God. It’s a sin worse than patricide.

Muhammad (refusing the bait): Only an atheist can try to be God. I am God’s most humble slave.

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One Sultan, one dream, one decision, and what did the thousand eyes see – bloodshed or sacrifice, deceits or promises, Delhi or Daulatabad? Perhaps they couldn’t see clearly, perhaps they were hungry – for prayers or food?

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Shihab-Ud-Din: I’m sorry. But you have never liked the Sultan, I don’t know why. After all that he has done for the Hindus –

Ratan Singh: Yes indeed, who can deny that! He is impartial! Haven’t you heard about the Doab? He levied such taxes on the poor farmers that they preferred to starve. Now there’s a famine there. And of course Hindus as well as Muslims are dying with absolute impartiality.


Scene Six to Eight

Daulatabad Fort, Aurangabad, Maharashtra.
[Source – Wikimedia Commons]

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Moving stealthily ahead, like an animal approaching its prey, Tughlaq finds it hard to remember that he is not an animal. Playing the game too well, he begins to lose the grip on reality; shuffling strategies, imposing with a hope to win once again.

Muhammad: I could have killed you with a word. But I like you too much.

Stabs him. Then almost frenzied, goes on stabbing him. Hits out at Shihab-Ud-Din’s dead body with a ferocity that makes even the soldiers holding the body turn away in horror.

Barani: Your Majesty – he’s dead!

Muhammad stops, then flings the dagger away in disgust.

Muhammad (anguished): Why must this happen, Barani? Are all those I trust condemned to go down in history as traitors? What is happening? Tell me, Barani, will my reign be nothing more than a tortured scream which will stab the night and melt away in the silence?


Scene Nine

Aziz, the thug, awaits a chance to be in the centre, right in front of the king; to be there not as a pawn, rook or knight, but to be invited by the Sultan himself, to be revered – he plans to replace Ghiyasud-din Muhammad, a saint.

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Aazam (giggles): So you want power, do you? What do you want to be, a Sultan?

Aziz: Laugh away, stupid. You’ll soon see. It all depends on whether Karim will bring the goods.

Aazam (seriously): But, no, Aziz, why are you so dissatisfied? We have such a nice establishment here. We take enough money from travellers and the other robbers are scared to death of you. There’s no limit to what we can make here.

Aziz: I am bored stiff with all this running and hiding. You rob a man, you run and hide. It’s all so pointless. One should be able to rob a man and then stay there to punish him for getting robbed. That’s called ‘class’ – that’s being a real king!


Scene Ten to Twelve

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Unlike the game of chess, the king wages a war against his own people; wounded and hurt, he tortures himself by giving his step-mother the death sentence.

Step-Mother: You had your share of futile deaths. I have mine now.

Muhammad (shouting): No, they were not futile. They gave me what I wanted – power, strength to shape my thoughts, strength to act, strength to recognise myself. What did your little murder give you?

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The Step-Mother too wanted power, power to rule Sultan’s heart and mind and through him the Sultanate; Tughlaq knew it, but couldn’t accept it anymore, not after she had Najib, the royal adviser, poisoned.

Muhammad: God, God in Heaven, please help me. Please don’t let go of my hand. My skin drips with blood and I don’t know how much of it is mine and how much of others.


Scene Thirteen

Aziz is finally face to face his idol, unafraid and gleefully meek, he praises every move of the Sultan, revealing it to him unabashedly who all profited from his ‘just schemes’ – some goons like him and the generous Sultan himself.

The only character who manages to break Tughlaq’s dream and show him the ugly reality, the present that is far off from his historically grand future. He brings forth the truth as a twist.

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Barani: This man should be buried alive this minute!

Aziz: I only acted according to His Majesty’s edicts.

Muhammad (exploding): Hold your tongue, fool! You dare pass judgement on me? You think your tongue is so light and swift that you can trap me by your stupid clowning? Let’s see how well it wages when hanging from the top of a pole. I haven’t cared for the bravest and wisest of men – you think I would succumb to you? A dhobi, masquerading as a saint?

Aziz (quietly): What if I am a dhobi, Your Majesty? When it comes to washing away filth no saint is a match for a dhobi.

Muhammad suddenly bursts into a guffaw. There is a slight hysterical tinge to the laughter.

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Aziz wins without check-mating the king – his life is spared and a job in the deccan is offered by the Sultan – as he seals a deal to continue fooling the crowd for a while and then to vanish. He makes the king adhere to his wish.

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Judgement day!
[Source – Pixabay]

Muhammad: If justice was as simple as you think or logic as beautiful as I had hoped, life would have been so much clearer. I have been chasing these words now for five years and now I don’t know if I am pursuing a mirage or fleeing a shadow. Anyway what do all these subtle distinctions matter in the blinding madness of the day? Sweep your logic away into a corner, Barani, all I need now is myself and my madness – madness to prance in a field eaten bare by the scarecrow violence. But I am not alone, Barani. Thank Heaven! For once I am not alone. I have a Companion to share my madness now – the Omnipotent God! (Tired.) When you pass your final judgement on me, don’t forget Him.

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Barani, the historian, Sultan’s only friend, prepares to leave Daulatabad; Tughlaq will soon be all alone in the magnificent palace, alone with his deeds and this terrifies him.

As a king Tughlaq took responsibility of his subjects, confident of his vision, that when it breaks, he knows he has fallen and with him, so has his people. The cries, chaos, mayhem follow him like his shadow.

But if not a king, yet a ruler, a group of elected rulers, what does responsibility of the citizens mean to them? Who falls, if they fall? What do their shadows sound like?

The play ends with the fake Ghiyasud-din Muhammad performing at the prayer time in the background (Muezzin’s call to the prayer is heard), Tughlaq, sitting on his throne, takes a short nap, then suddenly wakes up unsure of the place or time.

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What the Indian History tells us about the Present

Intricate works, intricate stories.
Image by lapping from Pixabay.

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.

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Painting of a horned boar in Rock Shelter 15, Bhimbetka, India.
[Source – Wikipedia]

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.

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Dholavira in Gujarat, India, is one of the largest cities of Indus Valley Civilisation, with step-well steps to reach the water level in artificially constructed reservoirs. 
[Source – Wikipedia]

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.

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Rigveda manuscript in Sanskrit. [Source – Wikipedia]

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.

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Vardhaman (Mahavira) sculpture at Keezhakuyilkudi, Madurai, Tamilnadu, India.
[Source – Wikipedia]

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.

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Ashoka pillar
 at Vaishali, Bihar, India.
[Source – Wikipedia]

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.

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 Qutb complex, with the Qutb Minar and some ruins.
[Source – Wikipedia]
Taj Mahal, Agra.
[Source – Wikipedia]

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.

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Two silver one rupee coins used in India during the British Raj, showing Victoria, Queen, 1862 (left) and Victoria, Empress, 1886 (right).
[Source – Wikipedia]

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.

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 Jawaharlal Nehru sharing a joke with Mahatma Gandhi, during a meeting of the All India Congress, Mumbai, July 6, 1946.
[Source –Wikipedia]

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.

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For a better world, let the children also befriend History books.
Image by AkshayaPatra Foundation from Pixabay

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MIRAI

Mixed Fiction

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Mirai o Mirai, where are you? You cannot hide for long.

Mirai o Mirai, I will find you.

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Flying in the past and future simultaneously.
©Studio Chizu    

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Those childhood days gone by, gone by in playing, playing hide and seek, ice-water and cycling, cycling all day long like a crazy fool and laughing, those childhood days gone by eating candies and ice creams, hopscotching and skipping ropes, flying kites, strolling aimlessly, gazing at the sky, merry minds flying high, those childhood days are now a dream.

I remember, I still do, Aru and I were sitting, Pinti was roaming around as always; Aru was talking non-stop, sharing one of her charming stories, a feature film story I must mention – our protagonist, a little girl, the best detective in the town, begins her quest, she is looking for some stolen bright precious stones – we paused the story and went to play hopscotch with Pinti, she had re-drawn the rectangle-y pattern for us, sweet Pinti, we talked and played, then followed the clouds, just when we were about to get hold of the moody clouds, they turned and shouted, “peek-a-boo.”

We screamed and ran back, but could not out-do the rain bullets. And then… then we guffawed and danced in the rain, I remember.

Those childhood days gone by were full of dreams, dreams of the future, pocket full of adventure and sweets and joy and endless playtime… those dreams were of the future, a hidden gold chest…

Through those dreams we time travelled and blushed, knowing well that we have to wait a bit before we discover this treasure… we treasured the future and waited.

Those childhood days gone by, what a sweet melody… the future we still dream of, what a happy idea…

And what is left is the present, this very moment – quiet, true, rudely true, factual and boring, but euphoric if grasped and powerful enough to change everything, the past as well as the future.

Take the golden thread I say, take it and chart the course, know that it will not break for it is tied to you, you of the past and you of the future.


Mirai is a Japanese animation film written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda.

A truly beautiful and emotional film, it is a must-watch for it is a piece you need to get hold of to solve this jigsaw puzzle called life. It is beautiful!

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Solving the life-puzzle in Mirai style is the best style. ©Studio Chizu    

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