Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Letter to the Thief

Dear Thief,

I don’t know you. I cannot imagine that you were in my home in my absence like an unannounced guest. If I were there I would have made you sit, talk and even offered a cup of tea. My children would have spoken to you in all their innocence. But you chose to come when I was not there. You took away the things that I could earn on buy again. I am not worried. Perhaps, I am a bit thankful to you that you left my kids unhurt though you hurt my maid servant, a vulnerable young girl. You gagged her and tied her down. Your fury was so much that you took out the tube light and bashed her up.

Do you know what I was thinking about you when all the neighbours had gone back to their secret happiness of seeing others in trouble or to their private fears of being pilfered by you at some point and the Police too had done their bit of forensic experiments? I was thinking about you as a huge absence that was present in my home when I was physically not present there. Isn’t it interesting to see that it was my absence in a way created your presence? Or was it the other way round, your presence pre-supposed my absence? But in the night, when the room is filled with filtered light from a white bulb in the bathroom that has made my children two frightened silhouettes and my wife silently sobbing her fears away, I look out for you; the shadow that you have permanently left in my home.

The rule of the game is our mutual anonymity. Or it must be an affected strangeness. We might have seen each other while you were doing your trial runs, marking out my departures and arrivals. You must be a like a bird watcher who keenly follow a bird to know all about it. Yes, I was a bird for you. You made a data of my behaviour, routine, arrival and departure. You have made my family, a bird family. And finally you came, when the bigger birds were away and the chicks were at home with a care taker bird. What did you want exactly?

In the semi darkness of a night robbed off of sleep, I try to reason with your shadow still lingering as an absence in my bedroom. What exactly did you want from here? Money or Gold, or both? What would have you done had you not found the keeps to the locker? What would have you done if the children had put up resistance by howling their lives out? What would have you done to the young maid if she had fought like a wild tigress who did anything to protect her cubs? You slashed her blouse sleeves and you slapped the kids. You pushed them into the bathroom and gagged the girl. You were satisfied because you got what you wanted.

But if you had touched my kids, I would not have left you alone. You slapped my daughter. You showed knife to you my son. Small they are but they will remember you forever; they will remember your kohl lined eyes and rough hands. While my daughter will remember for you that reasonless slap, my son would remember for his inability to act against you. You see, he is a kid but he wanted to knock you down. But for a seven and half year old child, a pair of kohl lined eyes and the rest of the face covered by a scarf are enough to get scared and above all you put the knife at his chest. They will not forget you. Perhaps, you are a person in the police records. But in my children’s records you are an eternal presence for you have registered it with your masked face and brutish behaviour.

Will you meet me ever in the street? May be. People told me to suspect everyone who had worked for me at home; maid, driver, plumber, electrician. If you start suspecting like that you will suspect even yourself. You may come to me again as a newspaper boy or as a clothe seller, or an enumerator, or as a kabadi wallah. You may see me everyday again but we will live in the same society happy in our mutual alienation. No, I need to correct; it is my problem alone. You recognize me but I don’t recognize you.

But if you ever happen to shake hands with me, I will recognize you because you have slapped my daughter, put knife at my son’s chest and bashed up the maid. I can feel the hurt inside me and I can feel your hands. With my eyes folded I can recognize you with your touch because the pain that has come into me could help me discern you. I will not slap you back and I will not hand over you to the police. I will not ask you to return the money and gold that you have taken away from home.

But I will definitely ask you to look into my eyes and the eyes of my kids and the maid, and I will ask you to talk about your life. “Tell me,” I would say. You should then speak out everything you know about your life. May be it would be a better story than mine.

Yours faithfully


Monday, January 28, 2013

Do Artists Need to Struggle?

(Vincent Van Gogh- Portrait of a quintessential struggling artist)

There is a mythology about artistic struggle. An artist should be someone who takes all responsibilities of the society. There was a time when artists were considered to be the unacknowledged legislators of the society. But then artists were seers and thinkers. They were the creators of beauty and truth. They in their works, irrespective of their mediums spoke of eternal values; the sublimation of human selfhood and the eternal Godward travelling. There were people in those days to support artists who thought for the good of the society; lived within the society like sages and experimented with their lives. People valued their presence in the society and harked to their words and deeds. The struggle then understood was the struggle of ideas; a fight against the normative. The struggle then was all about the artistic liberation and spiritual elevation. Then the great art historical adventures of early 20th century happened.

Earlier even in the 16th century itself Vasari’s ‘Lives of the Artists’ had sketched out the kind of lives that the individual artists used to lead during the Pre-Renaissance and Renaissance times. Artists, mostly the heads of artistic guilds, supported by patrons had led a life of grandeur and opulence. Their struggles were with the patrons and their changing equations with the clergy and local governance. Church was one platform for these artists to show their genius and the characteristics of their respective guilds or schools. They resorted to subtle subversions whenever their idealism was questioned or stringent directives were sent out to them by the patrons. With the Industrial Revolution in the post 17th century and the rise of the new mercantile class patronage was taken away from powerful families and the Church. Individual artists got patronage from the neo-rich and the individual lives and geniuses became a point of departure for a different art historic discourse.

(Georgio Vasari)

However, we see the transformation of western art historiography from the textual analysis vis-à-vis the lives of the artists to the glorification of the individual artists’ personal struggles along with the commodification of works of art through gallery and museum practices. A new history verging into mythology was needed and after the aesthetic movements like Realism, Impressionism and Post-impressionism, it became imperative that an artist should always take the side of the struggling masses and he was expected to struggle, a metaphorical and empathetic parallel with the struggling working classes, and live a life of perpetual penury, loss of faith, love and eventual death by disease. He wanted to be seen as a social outcast who operated from the social fringes and challenged the normative and mainstream ideologies and aesthetics. But incorporation of the individual’s struggle as a part of the museum discourse was necessary for the 20th century west to further its aesthetic causes through the publishing industry.

The western art history industry pumped in such glorified struggles of artists of the 19th and first half of the 20th century (which is continued even today) into their colonies and as Macaulay had envisioned it could produce artists in those places who were like Western artists in thinking and colonial subjects by looks. This art history helped only in brainwashing generations of artists in the colonies, in our case, in India too. The first critique of this (male) artistic struggle came out interestingly from the west itself. It was the feminist thinkers of the 1970s and 80s first questioned the male struggle, actively probing into the socio-economic and cultural and gender relationships that existed between the male and female artists of the times. Linda Nochlin’s ‘Why Have there Been No Great Women Artists’ was one of the early attempts to thwart this imaginary male struggle oriented western art history. The art history that we grew up with did not tell us that Van Gogh, Matisse, Cezanne, Gaugin and so on had comfortable family backgrounds which they could deliberately shun and live the lives of the anarchists. Until recently, critical readings of these artists came up in the art history market, the whole of Indian artists were thinking of the struggle as something to be taken up on their own shoulders for the sake of it.

(Linda Nochlin)

Poet, madman and lover are same, they say. There is no rhyme or reason in their behavior. This romantic notion in its most confusing form had facilitated the production of modern art history in the west especially produced for international consumption. While on the one hand this history highlighted the fact that most of these artists took to anarchism not only for personal reasons or non-reasons, on the other hand it also said that they did it for their added social responsibility. A clever juxtaposition of anarchy with social responsibility would yield a mutant species of artists who would neither resort to complete anarchy or would show perfect social responsibility. The consumption of western art history in countries like India produced artists who are neither anarchists in an absolute fashion nor socially responsible crusaders in a true sense. But artists lapped up this twilight zone position in India and elsewhere often finding refugee in the imported art history.

Today, artists still talk about ‘struggling’ artists. Unfortunately, the struggle has become absolutely materialistic. Today the word struggle connotes lack of money and facilities for an artist. This outlook manifested immediately after the market boom that had lasted only for three years. Those artists who were ‘struggling’ in the western art historical sense suddenly gained materialistic success and they shifted their position very cleverly arguing that art is not about ‘struggle’. One artist even declared in an interview that he was a ‘capitalist communist’. Such moronic oxymoron looked palatable because the general feel of the art market was euphoric and whatever those artists in their success induced intoxication said was taken for altruisms. ‘Capitalist Communism’, in a pragmatic sense looks an acceptable position because today communism is as capitalist as capitalism itself and capitalism has all what communism had once offered. But theoretically speaking, communism and capitalism are polar ideological opposites where the approach towards human situations differs radically.

(Jean Michel Basquiat)

So if an artist is without money and even if he or she is still not struggling with the materials but with concepts and ideas, s/he would be pushed into the zone of ‘poor’ artists. The spiritual struggle of today’s artist has become a synonym for materialistic want. Struggle equalized with poverty, fringe positioning, gender disparity and disease is the new emergence of the western art history in a new form. That’s why today many artists hesitate to express their ideas about struggling. Pressured by the success of their peers they too dress up in odd ways to appear successful in art openings. While that is pardonable, many of them try to grapple with materials that are absolutely alien in making their works of art. Styles and systems are followed because they have misunderstood the idea of struggle in a different way. For them life becomes a perpetual struggle because that struggle is accentuated by the lack of conviction about their own lives and creativity.

What do artists expect to do in order to process themselves through a spiritual as well as creative struggle and avoid materialistic struggle? In my observation, the young artists while opening their minds to the global processing of contemporary lives should root themselves to the realities and philosophies that have helped them to form their identities despite the onslaught of the homogenizing cultures. This is a primary need that would help them to understand the cultural and political systems within which they operate and also their subjectivities are shaped. Art and its struggle should be to become the legislators of a society understanding perfectly well what constitute that society. General rule of globalization and its arguments do not help an artist in India to function like his or her counterpart in the US or in Africa. To do this, artist should become a seeker devoid of selfish motives. There should be perpetual enquiries into the self so that s/he could understand what exactly is filtered through him/her of the multiplicity of experiences.

(Struggling Artist by Picasso)

My second argument is that a young artist should not get carried away by the imported art history. That does not mean that a present day artist is supposed to read shilpa shastras every day and produce art accordingly. An artist of our times should be deeply involved in the present day life with a passionate attachment and equal detachment. If that is the case, how much that does a peer group artist earn or where does he exhibit becomes absolutely immaterial.

The third and highly important point is that one should aspire for a life with dignity. Anything that brings you down from your self-esteem should not be pursued with rigor. Life of dignity is a life of self-realization. To lead a dignified life you don’t need the help of a critic, a curator or a gallerist. Any work of art that brings you down from your self esteem, or any effort to create a work of art that would nullify your self-esteem and self-love, you should not attempt to do that. Life is so vast and immense that there are several avenues to find a dignified life. That means you need not necessarily create art and say that you are struggling materialistically. It is not advisable today that you are poor and still struggling to do art because this struggle is just an illusion because when you struggle you are not doing your art but your reactions to your frustrations. The best art of you will come out when you are happy with your own dignity which is not determined by anybody else other than you. If you are not able to do art due to lack of money, do something that would not affect your dignity, earn some money to lead a life and simultaneously pursue your interests.

(The Angelus by Francois Millet)

Anything that is done with absolute concentration, perseverance, dedication, self-love and love for the universe, is bound to find patronage if not today, tomorrow. It is absolutely your choice. Inspired by the struggles of the western art history, if any one struggles today without heeding to dignity and love for oneself, s/he is bound to create depressing art which would neither help the artist himself or herself or anybody else. So don’t struggle. Be like air and water and flow. Struggling is a western myth because the west wanted Indian artists cloning anarchy and struggle. Today we are living in a changed world where terrorism, religious intolerance and gender disparity and hatred have taken upper hand. Today’s artists’ role is to address these issues through primarily self sublimation and then through art.

Rest remain a spectacle and all spectacle and events are destined to pass. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

When I write my 500th Blog

(JML in 2008. Renu Ramanath who edited artconcerns for a while is also in the picture)

When I sit to write my 500th blog post, I am overwhelmed by emotions. I thank all my readers; many of them I have known personally and many are still a photograph in the Facebook and yet another lot are those people who come and tell me that they read my blogs and they like it, whenever I travel out of Delhi. Thank you all. I have recounted once the reason for starting a blog in 2008. It was a challenge with an American friend at an art opening in Delhi that triggered the idea of blog in me. He had a blog and he said he was so fast. I told him I was faster. Then I was editing www.artconcerns.com, which is redundant now after three years of existence (2006-09). I started the blog with the help of a friend who was better in technology than me. Soon I learnt the techniques of posting and it became a habit. Initially I promoted it through a side bar in artconcerns and later through Facebook.

What I learnt from blogging was a very simple but a very pivotal lesson: If you have an opinion and if you are bold enough to express it in public you need not wait for any big magazine to invite you to write for it. You should be truthful to what you say and you should believe in what you say. You should have a style and you should have a convincing argument. And above all you should have the patience to sit for a couple of hours and jot down your ideas into a readable essay. Fundamentally you should be disciplined enough to maintain a blog. Blogging is not an easy job as most of the people think. Your opinions could hurt others, challenge their sentiments and hamper their image. In your blog you become the write, editor and publisher, and as you know the responsibility is many times graver than when you are just a published writer. You could be sued for your opinion expressed in your blog. I have faced a Rs.250 Crore defamation suit for writing a blog, which fortunately fizzled out eventually. That means, when you write a blog not only you earn a friendly reader but also you earn a lot of enemies.

(JML 2009)

Blogging became a boon for me when I found some of my views were not palatable to the publishing houses that brought out magazines. Also I found that most often the copy editors of the magazines severely punish the copies by rewriting them and almost killing them by homogenizing the style. A writer is recognized for his or her style. Most of the art magazines do not promote a personalized style of the writer. When I was the editor of www.mattersof art.com, www.artconcerns.com , later the editor of Art and Deal and the Guest Editor of Art Etc, what I tried to promote was the style of the writer. I am happy to tell you that I could bring out a set of young writers with distinct style during my tenure as the editor of those two online magazines mentioned above and the editor of Art and Deal.

When I started off as a full time writer in Delhi in mid 1990s, there were not enough avenues to get the articles published. I wrote my pieces and went to each and every newspaper office in Delhi and asked the page editors whether they wanted my pieces. Some of them accepted my writings and some of them rejected. I was fortunate enough to have a few good editors who helped me to flower as a writer. Though I had started writing in Malayalam in 1980s itself, writing from/in Delhi gave me a larger audience and more authentic voice. However, I would add that it took many years to polish my skills and strengthen my determination to be a writer. Today I am happy to say that I could find my daily bread through writing and writing only. It needed perseverance and discipline. I remember reading each and every magazine and newspaper published in India (in English and Malayalam) for years together and stacking them up against the walls in a flat where we lived in those days. Parting with them was very painful. One day I called a kabari walla (who buys old papers and utensils) to home. Upon seeing those huge piles of magazines he asked me whether I myself was a kabari walla! Preparation, practice and perseverance, that’s what makes one a writer or a blogger.

(JML 2010)

Towards the end of 1990s, newspaper spaces for art criticism was shrinking. Its place was taken over by automobile and real estate advertisements. A person like me who was depending completely on writing features and reviews found it heart wrenching experience. I continued to be a writer by joining certain magazines and journals as a staff reporter. By 2005 I could come up with the first online magazine in India for art, www.mattersofart.com and then www.artconcerns.com in 2006. I do not want to glorify myself as a blogger. But I have only one advice for the young and aspiring writers; you need not wait for the great gods from the sky to give you an opportunity. If you have an opinion, please write and post. It will take time to catch up with the public imagination. We are living in a world where soothsaying is what everyone wants. People read or cursorily look at soothsaying types of writing and forget them eminently. But when you tell truth, call spade a spade, people will hate you but they will secretively admire you and your writing.

I remember one of my artist friends commenting on my social status as a critic and blogger. He said: You see JML, everyone wants to read you and really appreciate your way of telling it. But they are afraid of saying it out because it would bring a few enemies for themselves. They are like the god fearing people caught between a pack of atheists who have better arguments. The god lover wants to supplicate when he passes a temple but he does not want to give away to the atheists. So what he does is that he raises his hand to his chest as if he was scratching away some imaginary itch. People scratch their chests when they see you though they don’t openly salute you.” I take my friends words as a compliment though I don’t get carried away by compliments as I know very well that any time anybody could turn a staunch enemy depending on my next writing.

 (JML 2011)

Initially, I thought of writing only general issues in my blog as I was writing a lot on art in many magazines and my own web magazines. But soon I realized that I should not shun the opportunities to put my ideas into a blog form. I started writing about anything that fascinated me. I feel that my blogging is a sort of prayer for me and a very blissful experience. I do not worry about the number of people reading my blogs. Google Analytics gives me a day to day picture of my blog’s reach. Some postings are visited 40,000 times by readers. I do not minimize the support of my readers. I owe them a lot. When I write I am not conscious of my reader but like Orhan Pamuk once said I hide a secret message for the reader, which is extremely personal and humane. When the reader gets that message he/she smiles. That’s the moment of real communication for me.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Rain and the Hunters

These clouds do not shadow
The eternal sun that rejoices
At the sight of the mortals
Toiling day in and day out
Thinking that they are in pursuit of
Happiness and eternity.
His smile melts down through
These clouds that we mistake
For rain and its tickling touch
Trees do not shrink their leaves
The meadows do not hide flowers
Instead they take those wet messages
Of eternity with humility and joy
We the mortals run for covers
As if we were afraid of the truth
Sent by heavens in the
Cold thin threads of water
He resides there with Her
In the wet wings of the birds
And the shivering of their beaks
And in the hurrying feet of a leach
Whose back is broken by a
Blind man’s feet
Blinded are we, aren’t we
Asks the leech in its muted pain
While the ants peep out from the mounds
As they get welled by soiled streams
I will not tell the hunter
To withdraw his arrows
Whether he is aiming at Him or Her
Whether the ant in his cosmic gratefulness
Scramble up to bite his shin of not
Until I could withdraw my arrows
And walk out into the rain

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Feminist Temple with a Discursive Iconography

(Ankala Parameswari Amman)

A few kilometers before Auroville, between the spiritual vibes and the foreigners-made Goa feel there is a small village with no significant name of its own. Perhaps as a visitor I have not cared to look for the name of the village. But by the side of a sharp turn in the road, I notice this small temple with a lot of idols. They cannot be missed because like in the many Tamil Nadu temples, these idols also are painted in enamel colors. These anthropomorphic images are highly impressive with their rose bodies and multi-color costumes. I could have regarded this as one of those temples and invested my gaze into the silent wonders of nature around. But what attracts me is the main idol that lies down on the ground under a canopy, with guarding votive figures around it.

By the time I could take the details in my car has crossed the temple. Hence, while coming back I ask the driver to stop at the temple. I get down with my small camera and walks into the premises. I am very impressed by what I have seen there.

The signboard done in flex board says that it is ‘Arassummoottil Sree Ankala Parameswari Amman Aalayam’. I look at the main idol that lies on the floor. It is the idol of a goddess and I recognize her as a Devi figure. Later researches prove that she is one of form of Parvati worshipped in the Southern Part of India. She is called Ankala Parameshwari. Ankala means Universe. This goddess rules over the universe. And she is in a posture of relaxing. Myths say that she did a cosmic dance and after that she took rest in that form.

Ankala Parmeshwari is worshipped in different parts of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. In some places she is worshipped as a pregnant goddess. And most of the pregnant women from these regions travel to Ankala Parameshwari Amman Alayam for healthy children and painless delivery.

(Female Narasimha)

(Female Varahamurti)

There is a beautiful mutation of Shaivite and Vaishnavite cults in this temple. The guarding angles of Ankala Parameshwari are the incarnations of Vishnu. And interestingly most of them are in the female form. So you see a Narasimha moorty and Varaha in female forms. Even the mutations of the cults are shown in the Ardhanareeshwara.

This particular village temple is called Arasummoottil because there is an arasu tree in the premise. And one interesting idol that I find is a small sculpture of a tortoise kept under a tree. And before this turtle figure there is a row of bricks kept vertically smeared with turmeric powder and kajol. There are yellow threads running around it.


Women constitute the majority of devotees in this temple. What interests me is the celebration of femininity and feminine principle including pregnancy as a center of worship in this temple. Without scandal the transformation of male incarnations are made into female incarnations. This I feel like a reading of the male scriptures from a female point of view; a sort of discursive cult that challenges the male point of view without breaking much of the ideologies built around the Hindu temples.

My reading of the temple could be wrong and if anyone knows more about Ankala Parameshari could write their comments here.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Story of a Slipper

For you it may sound like a silly story. But it means a lot to me. It is the story of a lost slipper (chappal). When I see lost foot wears on the roads I think about its other pair. Generally we do not see one complete pair abandoned. What makes one slipper fall down? What happens to the other? Why these lost slippers give you a sense of pathos? I know, by looking at a pair of footwear one could weave a story around it. One can have several hypothesizes around a pair of shoes as done by Martin Heideggar, the German philosopher. Or like the cobbler in Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Miserables’, one could look at the footwear and identify the character of its owner. But abandoned shoes and slippers are a painful sight. It brings the history of holocaust in your mind. Those dead people who were once the owners of those footwear come back to your mind and haunt your peace. Yes, the abandoned footwear is an object of meditation.

I have strange memories about slippers. When I was a child, in our village people rarely wore footwear. Those people who went out for jobs wore rubber slippers made by two major companies called Bata and Corona. Those people who could not afford to buy branded slippers wore rubber chappals bought from the streets. They looked thin and poor like their wearers. Unlike these days people did not throw their slippers at the slightest provocation. If the belt was torn they went to the cobbler who either mended it or replaced it with a strap of the same color. Mostly chappals came in two colors; blue and faded yellowish brown. Cobblers stocked such straps as they knew often people broke their slipper straps thanks to over use. Some people wore slippers till their foot print gets imprinted like in a linocut sheet. Some people walked in a peculiar way so that the pressure of their toes and heels formed similar shaped imprints in a color hidden under the white upper layer. Looking at the slippers removed at the doorsteps one could see islands of blue and brown in them. Some people wore them for long years and they became wafer thin. Some developed holes at the sole. Still people wore them. Losing a slipper was a major crime and a cause of a lot of heart burn.

(Shoes by Vincent Van Gogh)

People were very careful about their slippers. We saw shoes in town shops and newspaper advertisements. During the rainy season, papers and magazines advertised plastic footwear. Duck Back was the major company that produced gum boot like shoes. Children like us used to imagine how we would look if we wore those royal duck back shoes. I had never seen a single child in my village or elsewhere wearing those boots. I used to wonder who would be wearing those magnificent boots in Kerala Monsoon. Summers brought dust on these slippers and they got discolored in the process. Hence, visiting the grandparents’ home or some relatives’ houses during the summer vacations started off with this major ritual of washing the slippers clean near the well. We spent hours in cleaning slippers. During the monsoon days, which heralded the opening of the schools after summer vacation, slippers used to be a menace for the mothers. As children and grown up walked alike in mud and slush, the slippers gloriously flapped against the soles slinging mud dots behind the dhotis and shirts. A person who could walk in slippers without staining his or clothes used to be considered as a person who could ‘walk well’. We, children invariably created innumerable archipelagoes of mud behind our clothes.

If you ask me one footwear that could go with any kind of dress code, I would say it is rubber slipper. But today, slippers have become bathroom chappals. Dashing young men of our village in those days wore bellbottom pants with slippers. Respectable school teachers, government officials and politicians wore rubber slippers without any problem. Shopkeepers and fish sellers also wore the same chappals. Perhaps, the real equality was in the case of footwear in those days. Getting a pair of abandoned slippers was considered to be a boon for many of us during Sundays when most of us used to turn out to be treasure hunters. Those were not the days of Chinese toys. As necessity was the mother of all inventions we used to make our toys; a piece of rope could turn into a train or a bus or even a covetable Fiat car if both the ends of that rope is tied together. Depending on the length of the rope the type of vehicles changed. An old cycle tire could become another vehicle. A few coconut shells could create a Walmart superstore where we sold available grass, pebbles, sands and stones as consumable items. And the money was the broken pieces of pots.

When the fervor of invention went to further heights a pair of rubber slippers fished out from the attic or from some pits, transformed itself into a pair of tires fitted against a thin steel rod from an old umbrella. This was passed through a papaya leaf stem or a reed and the middle of it was tied to a long stick procured from some old furniture. Then a speedy two wheeler was ready. With mouth making engine sounds and the indispensible horn children ran along the plots of land, across the courtyards of various houses where elders rested by looking at newspapers or listening to radios. We kept our times in the watches made out of coconut leaves. Police chased us with their caps, cross belts and socks made out of knitted jack fruit tree leaves. A pair of slippers carved into a pair of tires could create a national highway out of the courtyards. We had to confront mean machines of other boys who were more inventive by adding more tires to their vehicles carved out of rubber slippers. They often acted as trucks that brought merchandise to the Walmart superstores under mango trees and tamarind trees.

Have you heard of cutting foot into size according to the shoes? Yes, it is a cynical expression that qualifies the sized up truths. But in villages people used to size up the long rubber slippers as per their needs. Once I went to visit a relative with my mother. Children have the tendency to forget things though they are very possessive about the things that the grown up people generally consider as the most insignificant things. On that day, after visiting that house when we got back home, to my shock I realized that I had forgotten my rubber slippers there.  It was night and the house that we visited was a few kilometers away. I spent a sleepless night thinking about my dear pair of slippers. Next morning my mother engaged one of my truant friends to accompany me to the next village to procure my slippers from that home. We walked all the way, both of us without slippers and reached that house. I demanded my slippers back. They were poor people. Initially they feigned that there were no slippers left behind by me on the previous day. I insisted that I needed to inspect that house. I was innocent enough to be rude in that way as the thing I lost was my beloved pair of slippers. Finally they brought forth the pair. I was at the verge of tears as I found them completely mutilated. Half of the heels were missing from them. Some sharp knife was used to cut those pair of slippers to make suitable for a small boy of my age in that house. With anger welling up in my mind I snatched the pairs and ran back home with my friend following me all the while holding his knickers going down from his waist. When I reached home my mother asked me why I had not left them there itself. I did not understand why she asked me to do so.

When you stand at a sea shore you always see abandoned pair of slippers coming back to the shore seated at the crest of the waves. In childhood we had two beliefs about seas. One, if you wrote anything on the shore the waves would come and erase it. Mostly we wrote , “Mother Sea is a Thief”. The next wave would wash it away. We thought that our mischief had angered the sea and she did it deliberately. The second belief was that whatever you threw at the sea would come back in a few minutes carried by the waves. One day we all went to Kanyakumari as a part of our family trip. Shibu Natesan, now the well known artist, was in the group. We were hardly ten years old. Shibu threw one of his slippers into the sea. And it came back in the next wave. He threw it again and it came back. Emboldened by the returning nature of the sea he threw it again and again. But alas, even after waiting for a long time it did not come back. He had this rebellious character then also. So he picked up the other slipper which was there in his foot all the while, and threw it to the sea. Take it, he called out. And secretly we believed that after sometime both the slippers would come back. But they did not. He received enough scolding by his parents and relatives. And rest of the journey he finished like a true pilgrim with naked feet.

I know I have written a lot of about slippers. But I wrote all these to tell you about a slipper that was lost recently. My daughter wears a pair of beautiful red slippers with some pictures on it. Like any child of her age who has this divine gift of misspelling words and making them sound much better than the actual sound, she also calls her slippers ‘Pacchal’. It comes from the word chappal. In Pondicherry we went for dinner to a hotel which was a kilometer from the hotel we stayed. After strolling enough at the beach, we took a short cut to reach this restaurant that we had fixed for dinner. After dinner my daughter was very tired and she slept on my shoulder while we walked back to the hotel. Just before the hotel, a man who was starting his scooter found something and called us out. Hey, the child’s slipper has fallen. I thanked him and picked up the cute little slipper. But to our shock we found that the other slipper was also missing. While sleeping she had loosened the grip of her toes and it had fallen somewhere. We were very sad. After sending the family into the hotel I decided to walk back to the restaurant.

I could have thought it differently. I could buy her many other pairs of slippers if she wanted in the next morning. But I knew it was very dear to her; it was her pacchal and she wore it with pride. Perhaps, it was one new addition of her possessions in this material world that she has started learning about recently. I walked along the same side of the road with my head bent down, looking for each and every object at the side walk thinking that it was her slipper. I saw a few cars parked along the way. I even bent my knees surreptitiously to check whether they had parked their cars over that cute little slipper. I walked till the restaurant. Walked back but in vain. Interestingly, I found many other single slippers lying in different postures, but not hers. Next morning she got up and asked for her pacchal. We told her about it. She cried for long time and then she forgot about it. Even on the next day, I found walking the same street, by the same side with my family in silence. When we covered that stretched, I looked at my wife and she exchanged the same look and asked, ‘did you find’? My son pitched in, even I could not. We all were still looking for that one cute little slipper. All these while my daughter was thinking about a cat she had seen sitting at a fence.   

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A.Bapus and Spiritual Business

(Aasharam Bapu)

Aasharam Bapu is in news because he has made this weird comment about the late gang rape victim. According to this so called satsang leader, the victim should have taken the name of god, folded the hands before the rapists and said that they were her brothers. This would have prevented the brutes from committing the murderous act on that hapless girl. In a way he puts the onus of crime on the girl. It is her lack of fear for god, which had caused her subjection to brutal force and eventual death, according to this so called spiritual leader. This statement also could be further interpreted that the girl was not a custom fearing one. She did not fold her hands before the rapists and did not remind them of their brotherly duties of protecting her dignity. This ‘spiritual’ man must have said it in all good faith according to his belief in Hindu Dharma, which he has wrongly understood as a set of codified laws that subjects women. For him even at the direst of situations a woman should not resist instead she should supplicate so that her rights will be delivered ‘naturally’.

Imagine we are living in 21st century. And we let people like Aasharam Bapu to speak like this. Our politicians and law enforcing agencies let these people to talk like this because politics, business and religion have become one and the same thing with the same vested interests. We living in time where people are asked to fear god not to love him/her. When people are asked to fear or when they are threatened by greater calamities from above, people subjugate themselves to the forces of power. God unfortunately has become a symbol of power, which is menacing and threatening. God has become a thug turned politician who speaks to people about socio-spiritual and politico-economic reformation holding a weapon right at their temples. Fear is the biggest point of investment for both the political and religious leaders. They threaten people with dire consequences. So people stand in queue to vote for their tormentors and queue to worship them.

(Akshay Kumar and Paresh Rawal in Oh My God)

First of we have to understand a few things. This is a country where the movie ‘Oh My God’ (OMG) was successfully ran and collected. Kanji Bhai (Paresh Rawal), a confirmed skeptic files a case against all the religious leaders in this country as the Insurance agency refuses to pay the damage of his business citing that ‘the acts of God’ cannot be compensated. So Kanji Bhai goes to court saying that if it was an act of god, his retailers on earth should pay him. Lord Krishna befriends him in a contemporary guise. Kanji becomes famous because his arguments in the court are simply logical therefore valid. The religious leaders are brought to answer the questions. Kanji, prodded by Lord Krishna (played by Akshay Kumar) reads Bhagavat Gita and finds points for his arguments. And just to make Kanji understand that there is god, Krishna gives him a paralytic attack and saves him from it also. When Kanji is in hospital the religious leaders start a sect on Kanji Maharaj and invest Rs. 400 crore rupees to pay the damages to people who are affected by ‘the act of God’. They are shrewd enough to start a sect in the name of Kanji so that they can earn the money back in no time.  Finally Lord Krishna’s presence is proved by a key chain, which a recuperated Kanji is asked to throw away by Krishna’s voice and he does so.

Despite this film’s success and message if still Indian people are thronging before shrines, temples and spiritual gurus like Aasharam Bapu, they have absolutely missed the point. First of all they missed the point in the act of throwing away the key chain. The key chain flies towards a temple. But the director has very consciously made it fly beyond the temple and disappear in the infinite vastness of sky. It is a moment of revolution in Bollywood films but nobody recognized it. Most of the Bollywood films social ills are justified or the acts of cruelties are corrected through godly interventions manifested through a storm starting from a temple idol or the clanging of temple bells or something. Religious sanction is (mis) interpreted as social sanction. But in this movie, the key chain of Krishna does not go into the temple. It goes beyond pointing out the Sanatana Hindu Dharma philosophical fact the god resides in the universe and the individual’s search should be to attain that without mediation but through meditation. The jeevatma (individual soul) would merge with the Paramatma (eternal soul/god) through yogic meditations. No priest is needed for attaining godhead. Besides, Hindu philosophy says that Jeevatma and Paramatma are not different they are one and the same. Only the realization is needed to attain than undivided selfhood, where even self does not exist.

(OMG Poster)

The second point that we missed in this movie is the last statement or a challenge thrown at Kanji Bhai by a spiritual leader (an effeminate leader as a spoof of some real spiritual guru) played by Mithun Chakravarty. He tells Kanji Bhai, look man, the spiritual pursuit is quite addictive. People are afraid of god so after some time they would come back to us. In fact, what lingers on from the movie unfortunately is not the brave act of Kanji Bhai but the brutal and fatal statement of the spiritual guru who knows for sure that his establishment thrives on the fear of people who are bound to be afraid of anything and everything. This film should have changed the mental make of the common men in this country. Perhaps, if it was promoted in the right way (not as an Akshay Kumar starrer) and brought into the attention of the international intelligentsia it would have created much better results in our society. The film is absolutely uncompromising. But somehow it failed to reach people with its pivotal message: discard all religious and spiritual leaders.

Religion is an anachronism and ‘spiritual leader’ is a linguistic aberration. Religions are establishments formed around the philosophies propounded by the seers and sages. Their philosophies were the essence of human sublimation mostly originated out of going deeper into the reasons for the human existence and the pertaining issues. Most of the sages and visionaries had reached a stage of realizing the god where the experience of it is the ultimate. To tell this to the world, they needed to find words. It was really difficult for them to express the experience which is beyond words through words. Hence they created a language which was metaphorically loaded. These metaphors paved way for symbolisms and they were the corner stones of the establishments that became religions. Religions were formulated for decent social conduct. The establishments were the necessity of the times in order to sublimate the human beings from the crass animality. By now we have reached to a stage where we do not need religions as those establishments do not solve any of our problems in our lives. But of course, the philosophies definitely give us solutions if we have the mind to study them and become aware about our own existence.


Similarly spiritual leadership is a linguistic aberration. It is a linguistic aberration because spiritual pursuit is not a collective thing or mass movement. Only for a mass movement leadership is needed. Gurus are not spiritual leaders because they do not lead a pack and they do not establish a religion. They are just helpers in realizing the people to become aware. That’s why it is said that Buddha was not a Buddhist, nor Jesus Christ a Christian. People built establishments around their words became Buddhists and Christians and any other religious followers. Establishments originate out of fear and out of instilling fear amongst masses. A frightened mass needs leaders to lead them to some destination. In the case of religions the destination is abstract. And most of us forget the fact that spirituality resides in one’s own self. It is here and now and it is sitting within this ‘I’. Once the I is understood spiritual liberation is manifested. The process is spirituality and the life invested for this realization is a spiritual life. Such lives do not need any leaders.

Any act could be a spiritual act in our lives provided if one does it with complete awareness. I look at the kids and their activities. They are not conscious of what others are thinking about their acts. They act and they themselves become the act and the acted. They do it in complete awareness though they do not translate that awareness into spiritual terms. Hence, anything that we do with complete awareness and are not conscious about what others are thinking about us and are not pre-occupied with the worldly judgments and achievements, our acts too become spiritual act. Giving alms to beggars or doing charity work cannot be spiritual acts because when we do it we do it with a sense of achievement or a sense of getting liberated out of our sins or something of that sort. But if giving becomes the most natural thing and also receiving becomes the same, we become spiritual. We don’t need any Aasharam Bapus for that.

(Jesus Christ)

But people prefer Aasharam Bapus and they kill a Buddha. People prefer A.Bapus because they are afraid of what they do not know. How can one be afraid of what one does not know? That’s why people say that you should be beware of your friends than your enemies because the friends know you well and you don’t know your enemies at all. When you don’t know your enemy you don’t have enemies either. That means when you don’t know god you need be afraid of god. If someone frightens you in the name of god you need not feel challenged at all. The moment you understand god as your friend you need to worry. But the moment you realize that god is not a different person sitting up there you just become aware that god is not a stranger, he is you only. How are you afraid of yourself? How can you say that your hands would grab someone else’s dignity without your knowledge? When you realize that you are god, the establishments vanish, only the philosophies remain. They remain because they are pure poetry. Poetry is not an establishment.

People do not see the god in themselves. So they go behind A.Bapu’s. They consider a physical trainer as a sage. They regard an interpreter of slokas and poetry as god. Total misunderstanding is what brings people to satsangs and shivirs. The danger of these spiritual leaders is also the same as their followers. They slowly start believing that they are really gods or spiritual leaders. They act according to what the frightened followers expect from them. This is a mutual blackmail. The more a spiritual leader becomes successful in gathering people around him or her the more he implements the strategies of fear and threat. These spiritual leaders would not tell them to leave their fear. Instead they would tell the people to read more and more scriptures without understanding a word, make donations, do exercise, go on certain diets, visit temples and so on. And inadvertently all those become a part of the larger establishment called religion/s.

 (A temple in Vakkom where I used to spend a lot of time in my childhood- It was just a temple with no boundary walls and all then)

Having said that, one might ask me whether I am against all religions or going to temples or things like that. I am not a hypocrite. I am not against religious philosophies. I am against religious establishments. But then you may ask why do I go to temples? I am not an avid visitor of religious places. But I have visited a lot of religious shrines both popular and lesser known, and absolutely unknown temples. I have visited churches and mosques. If given a chance I don’t mind going to a place of worship and sit there for some time. I am not a hypocrite to say that I do go to places of worship in order to see the architectural beauty or their art historical relevance. I do stand in front of the shrines, fold my hands and try to pray something. But each time I try to meditate in this way, I ask several questions to myself. The more I ask the more I go away from meditation. I think. I keep thinking. The more I think I remain in the plane where I stand. So I cannot say that I have attained any kind of spiritual union with god or I have realized god in me. What I could say is that I do things with maximum awareness so that I need not worry or regret about my actions.

Does my visit to temples differ from those people who are not ‘educated’ like me? Do they look inferior in my eyes? Not at all. According to me, temples are the places created for the congregation of people to worship a deity in the middle of all sublimated things. All what is related to a ‘temple’ has a lot to do with human education and piety. It has all forms of arts in its complimentary edifices and rituals including music, literature, fine arts and performing/performance art. All these things could together create an ambience in which a devotee could transpose him/herself to a state of godliness, which in fact a realization of god in oneself but manifested in the temple idol. A temple is meant for such realization. But today temples have become problem solving centers and god had become a chief consultant with a lot of sub consultants around him. If you have a bank loan, you consult god. God’s mediator tells you to visit that temple on Tuesdays and do a particular puja for six months. But that mediator does not tell you that you need to pay the installments on time. So in fact they defer the real issue. Temples are not meant for that. Also I do not visit any commercial temples which are created for business purpose. Nor do I believe in temples that are famous for their wealth. But I have visited most of them and come out with a sense of dejection.

(Any place could be a place to meditate)

As places of meditation one should be going to very small temples where there are not much organized rituals. If you really want to meditate, in fact you need not even go anywhere. As you are the center of the universe, the focus of all the universal energies is in the place where you sit. So you just need to sit where you are sitting or standing or walking. One just needs to be aware of that place and become one with that place. People travel to hills to meditate or sea shore because they just don’t want to sit in the same place they have been sitting for long. It is just to change the ambience nothing much. A hillside will not bring you better meditative effects than the fourteenth floor of an apartment building where you are residing. A forest will not bring you more calmness than a city center provided you are unreceptive of the energies around you. Then one more thing, you need not sit cross legged to meditate. You need not know the chakras and energy points in your body to meditate. You need not do pranayama and other exercises to meditate. You just need to do whatever you are doing with complete awareness. That's why a butcher gets salvation and good sleep while a professional sage worries about his bank balance. Mediation does not come from learning, it comes from being meditation itself.

The day you become aware of what you are doing and you become one with your deed, you don’t need any more A.Bapus because you have overcome the fear of a punishing god. You have become the friend of your god and you have become a great friend of yourself. If so how can you think of violating anybody’s rights and dignity, whether you are drunk or not.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Mathan’s Story: Small Little Gestures of Kindness and Grace

(Mathan and his car)

Mathan (Madan) oru Kathai...means Madan is a story. In fact I should say, Mathan has a story and Mathan’s life is also a story. Perhaps, everyone has a story and the way it is told makes each life interesting. Some people do not have a story. They die like a story untold. When I sit at the Chennai Airport, I remember Mathan, who has just dropped me and my family here. I have written about this pleasant young man with a disarming style. Mathan drives his family car with a taxi permit. He does it unlike other taxi drivers. He does it unlike other taxi drivers because he has seen the world. He drives a taxi to keep himself occupied, to earn a little, but above all to enjoy himself. Mathan waits for me at the Water Tank bus stop, a fifteen minutes away from Cholamandalam. We had arranged it in that way.

“When you cross Mahabalipuram, give me a call,” Mathan had told me when he dropped me and my family at the Thiruvanmayoor bus stop a few days back. Then we were on our way to Pondicherry. Today we were coming from there. The most important thing was that when I took out my wallet to pay him, Mathan had told me to pay him when we came back to Chennai to go back to Delhi. He had become our friend in that few hours that we had spent together. He behaved as if he were a younger brother who had come to drop his elder brother and family at the bus stop.

(Mathan and Me)

Mathan walks towards the bus with a smile and takes the suitcase from me. He holds my mischievous daughter’s hands and carefully takes her to the car. Maitreya hauls his bag as if he had taken a vow. He drags with so much of disinterestedness that I feel the wheels of the bag are up in the air. Finally we are all in the car. And Mathan asks whether the trip was good. He says that we could have taken him along. I really feel that we should have taken along. I promise him that I would be in touch and whoever comes to Chennai from my side would be contacting Mathan for local hospitality and conveyance. He is happy but humble. With a smile he accepts the offer. For some time we listen to the FM Radio songs. All 1980s Tamil songs. We move our heads together and lip to the lyrics. Outside it is quite hot. But the air conditioned interior gives us some comfort. I tell him that I remember the songs and the scenes. He is very happy.

Delhi is cold. Chennai is hot. I look at my dark skin. After sometime it will become white, I smile to myself. Not all the produce of Fair and Lovely Company for year would not make me white. But in Chennai you can be very black or very yellow. If you are really black in complexion you can add to the hue by adding a little bit of turmeric paste. Then you will look like a black person seen through yellow cellophane. Myself and Mathan are dark in complexion. We don’t use fair and lovely. But market surveys say that it is in Chennai the maximum numberof people use Fair and Lovely as well as Fair and Handsome. Most of the men here are handsome. Mathan too is handsome. I remember Rajnikanth turning himself into a white man in Shivaji the Boss. Vivek in the same film says that in Tamil Nadu you cannot criticize black complexion. Fair heroines sing that black complexion is the best complexion in the world. Delhi’s cold would not turn me white. But it would definitely make me pale. 

(Mrinal and me at Chennai Airport)

I tell him how we would change into layers of clothes when we reach Delhi. Mathan informs me that Delhi is very cold. The other day he was watching a One Day cricket match in television. At two o clock in the afternoon it looked like night. And most of the people were wearing jackets and even gloves, he tells me. I could feel the Delhi cold in Chennai’s weather.

Mathan is 1981 born. I do not ask him his year of birth. But I do ask him for his email id. He tells me. And there is mention of the year in his email id. I smile at him. Your birth year, I quiz him. Yes, he tells me. I have saved myself from the embarrassment of asking his age. Mathan belongs to a fisherman’s family. His father goes fishing even now. He has two brothers; an elder and a younger one. They are all educated. Mathan is a diploma holder in Mechanics. He worked three years in Singapore in a ship company as a mechanic. He earned well and came back. I came back to get married, he tells me with a cute smile in his eyes. I got married and now I have four years old daughter, he says. After marriage and daughter’s arrival Mathan did not go back to Singapore.

 (at Chennai Airport)

What do you do Mathan when you are not driving the car? I ask him. He smiles. I have a shrimp farm, he says. I am surprised because I know someone who has done shrimp farming and spent a few years in Thailand. He had travelled along Pondicherry to survey the shrimp farms with his friend. He had told me about the shrimp farming. This needed a lot of land and lot of water, and a lot of patience. Yes, it needs patience and it is a six months job in a year, Mathan explains. He has four acres of farm. He spends a few hours every day at farm, feeding and cleaning. By noon I am free, Mathan tells me. And I drive car in the afternoons mostly. I like to go with people once in a while. It is a time pass as well as a means to some earning.

Is Mathan happy about his life? I do not dare to ask this question because I feel that he is really happy about his life. I had noticed him listening to cricket commentary on FM Radio on the first day. He likes to listen to music and especially that music of 1980s which was dominated by the folk melodies created by Ilayaraja. Thrity two years old Mathan has a taste similar to mine when it comes to Tamil film music. Mathan is happy because he is happy to have his family, his car, his shrimp business, his love for music and cricket. He dresses well and behaves well, and drives his car carefully. He could have charged me a bomb as he came to drop, pick me up and drop again at the airport. He does not do it. He smiles. I pay him and he takes it without a word of complaint and with a lot of smile. First time I feel like hugging a person. But I don’t do because I don’t hug people generally.

(Mrinal and kids)

Human beings are such animals who could tell stories. Mathan did not reveal so much about his life. But I have gathered something his life. And my recounting of it is real for me and through that I realize the presence of a friend and a brother. I remember him saying, Sir, my shrimps have never failed me. Once it happened. When it happens it is great loss. But when it is a great harvest, it is all profit, he is full of optimism. Such optimistic people are rare in tourism industry. Everyone tries to make a quick buck here. Mathan stands out because he is here to know people and learn from them. His way of communion is being friendly and serving with a smile. Such people are rare in today’s world. Mathan is a rare example. And he shines like a gem when I know that after a few hours I am going to face a different tribe of taxi drivers in Delhi. 

Auroville Diary

(Matri Mandir, Aruoville)

There are several places that one must visit in his/her life time. There are some places where one must visit only in imagination. If you ask me to rate Auroville in Pondicherry, I would say that it is one place that one should visit only in imagination. If you go there in person there are all chances of getting disappointed. Reason is simple. You have a lot of expectations about a place that you have been waiting to visit for a long time. When the place does not come up to your expectations you get disappointed. One of the famous columnists in Malayalam, late M.Krishnan Nair used to write repeatedly that one should not personally meet the writers and artists that one likes very much. When you read someone you create an idea about the writer. That is the real poetic justice. You willingly suspend the disbelief about the person who writes things that you really admire. When you meet him/her in person, there are all the possibilities of you facing disappointment. You may meet a person who is just ordinary looking and perhaps even complaining about the loans that he has taken from a bank to buy a car or house. You don’t expect that from ‘your’ writer. He is beyond all those worldly worries, you think. But things are different.

 (Walkway to Auroville)

Before I set out for Auroville, in my mind I had this idea about the place: it is a place where you could sit in contemplation for hours together. It is a place where you could lose yourself and merge with nature. This is one place you might witness certain changes happening in your life. So early morning itself, after uploading my Pondicherry Diary in the blog, I get ready with my family. I share the enthusiasm of the kids. I wish I were like my kids or like any kids who are excited at the prospectus of travelling provided they are with their parents. If they are with their parents they could face any hardships without realizing that they are hardships. If they are ready for a journey, they get really enthusiastic because they like the unknown and unexpected. Grown up people like us don’t like the unknown and unexpected. We often prefer to travel by the chartered routes and are ready to witness the known or the things let known to us by others. In fact, when I get into the car I lose my age and become a child. I rediscover the child in me and prepare myself for the unknown and the unexpected. And I deliberately push out what I know about Auroville.

(The grand old banyan tree at Auroville)

Our car takes a left turn from the main highway and enters into a village kind of place. I feel for a moment that I am in Goa. In Goa you see the foreigners moving around in motor bikes and bikes. Or they must be spending their time in shacks sipping beer or coffee. It is at the vicinity of Auroville, a divine place hence the chance of people sipping beer or liquor is ruled out. People sip spirituality with the crumbs of Indian-ness. The moment I think about Goa, I get back to my older self again. And I realize that I have lost my childhood permanently. As the car passes through the village road where hardly a vehicle could pass, I see so many coconut trees cut down. There are cashew nut trees groves on the either side of the road. Driver, Prabhakar, tells us that there was a storm in 2010 and most of the trees were felled by that storm. It was one of the worst calamities in the area. I speak to him about Tsunami. He tells him about the rehabilitation works that he had done during that time.

(A shelter for walkers at Auroville)

Suddenly a car park appears before us. We are at the gate of the Auroville. Hoards of foreign visitors get down from their vehicles and move in groups. We also start our walking towards the township. At the information centre you are asked to watch a ten minutes long video about Auroville. Once you finish watching it you are given a free pass. If you are disabled, hurt or unable to walk, you can avail a shuttle service. If not you can walk for one kilometre to Matri Mandir, the dome of/for contemplation and meditation and watch it from a distance. The video says that if you are really serious then only you are allowed to go inside and meditate. I feel sting inside me. I see the video. Auroville was started by the Mother, the spiritual collaborator of Aurobindo in 1968. That means the place is forty four years old. The work for the township, which is conceived as a university of humanity, was started in the beginning of 1970s and it went on for another three decades and the final shape of Matri Mandir was established in 2004.

 (Matri Mandir model)

I feel some sort of dejection in me while watching the film because the film says that anybody who has left their religious beliefs could meditate here. The township is run by a Trust but the donations come from people who willingly donate. There is no fund raising program for the running of Auroville. But then the question is why everyone is not allowed inside the meditation tomb? May be meditation is not meant for everyone; that it is the only answer that I could think of. Common people do not have enough time and mind to meditate. Osho Rajneesh, in all his irreverence says that meditation is not meant for poor people. Poor people are worried about their daily bread. But the rich has the time and space for thinking about spiritual elevation. In fact there is a lot of truth in Osho’s words. A tourist is a poor man. He is poor not because he lacks money but because he lacks space in his mind. He comes there with a lot of worries. If you are worried there is no space for meditation in your mind. You just want to experience the place and go. That must be the reason why Auroville authorities ask the visitors only to visit the Matri Mandir from a distance. If you are really serious you can come back for meditation. I am sure majority is not going to come back, not because they are not serious but because they are poor in their daily worries.

(This is how the meditation room looks like, they say)

I walk one kilometre. The grand old banyan tree is the centre of the Auroville estate though Matri Mandir is considered to be the centre. There are stone benches around it. And I sit in one of them. I look around and feel the ambience. Suddenly I feel that I have felt it before. This ambience there in every kaavu in Kerala, where I had spent my formative years. In my village there were at least three kaavu (a small forest like area near the temples). I used to spend a lot of time there with my friends. One of the largest Kaavus was in Varkala where Shibu used to live. We two used to spend hours together there. Sitting inside a kaavu itself was a rejuvenating experience. Then the same ambience I had felt in Sivagiri, Varkala where the Samadhi of Sree Narayana Guru is located. Also in the Gurukulam established by Nataraja Guru. As a Pre-degree student in 1985 I spent a lot of time in Sivagiri, sitting under the mango trees at the Sarada Devi temple at the foot of Sivagiri. I could spend many hours reading or just looking at things happening around. It never occurred in the context of meditation or contemplation. It was kind of spending time in tranquillity.

(Aesthetically subtle donation box)

Hence, Auroville does not give me anything new. I walk further and finally reach the golden dome of the Matri Mandir. Visitors could see it from a distance which is not less than two hundred meters. People generally take photographs. And meditation is the last thing that comes to your mind when you stand there and look at the golden sheen of the dome. Somehow I remember Subodh Gupta. I think at some point he could lay claim on this structure as the cover of the dome looks like large golden plates. After spending around fifteen minutes there, absolutely dejected we walk back to the main information centre. I know that there is a township in Auroville, where there is a library, residential estate, art workshops, school and so on. It would take a lot of time to see all those things. I have the number of a resident, who is an artist. But I decide not to call her as I think that there is not much to experience from here. We go into the boutiques and book stalls. The place looks like a mall. Everything related to Auroville is made into merchandise here. Somehow I am put off by all these. May be I was expecting too much when I was coming here, I tell myself.


I think of my own Ashram where I want to live with books, music and people. This would be an absolute research centre of arts and culture, where people could come and stay, do their research and go. I want to establish and live in an ashram where there will not be any merchandise or souvenir to take home. There will not be a shop. I am sure such an ashram would eventually get institutionalized and all what is peculiar to institutions would come in place. But couldn’t there be an ashram which would later become a research centre when the purpose of the initiator is done and he is gone. It should go to the people in some way. The best way is through a university, which is serious enough to promote research on art and culture. And it would be a place where a foreigner is treated as a national and a national is treated as a foreigner. And together they would treat each other as world citizens. No language will be superior in this ashram. I am on my way to create that ashram. I know I don’t have the resources. But when you are blessed enough to do your work resources would appear before you in abundance. I welcome you to that place where you would cook for yourself and share a portion of it with me. You would bring a book for others before you pick up one to read. You would sing a song for others before you listen one from them. And this would be a place where none initiates other into sex in the name of art or culture because to do sex you don’t need to go to a place like my ashram. You could do it elsewhere. Mine is a place for knowledge and awareness.