Sunday, May 27, 2012

Elan vital or other people's trades

Yadhuvansh Singh explains to our team  as he has done for tourists for 42 years now the history of Nalanda

Sociologist Susan Visvanathan sits under an ancient tree in Nalanda. If only more could be planted for the pilgrims and tourists on the wayside.

Rich farmland in Nalanda district, sugarcane, bajra and mangoes grow abundantly here

Ninety kms to Patna on a hot dusty road with traffic jam at every bend

The tarmac is so hot that punctures are frequent or so we are told.

47 degrees and the pillion rider has a Kerala muslin called Yamuna Ganga to protect the face.

The driver is totally puzzled at the traffic staring at him in odd location

Tyre has popped again, but the lone tree on the road looks like its 600 years old

The ancient tree is host to lots of other plants

Work on the bridge over the river Ganges continues

The  Ganges river in summer

Heat haze over the river

Outside the railway station at dusk. The temple plays Hindu Bhajans in the morning, and Buddhist shlokas in the evening on megaphones.

Barber keeps a traditional customer at ease under the blitzkreig of advertising which is just beginning to hide the enclaves of the poor.

Keeping calm in Patna is a state of mind. People do take the clamour of the traffic in their stride.

A merchant does his accounts in the evening

Cooks and waiters in a working class eatery. The poor eat well if left alone, they look after each other, and there is brisk trade in fresh cooked food, particularly fried  river fish.

Archeypical tea shop

And these are fresh fried kachoris for the vegetarians

Sands of time, the river will look different in the monsoon.

A Week in Patna

Patna was amazing. It was hot, and the sense of the past, of Patliputra and the trade routes are still very evanescent. Crowds just mill onto the road, and an honking, multifarious beastly traffic clogs all the main routes in the town. And the Ganga flows expansively at the heart.
My colleagues and I spent a hot morning in Nalanda, the ancient fifth century B.C University. The ruins are very well cared for, the bricks are laid out in excavations which have been careful to see that the various strata merge, and yet are distinct. Buddha visited Nalanda, and in his memory others have gathered, and continue to visit. Like Sarnath, Nalanda, possibly named after lotus' of the mind, carries the sense of an enduring peace. There was in it's significant years, ten thousand students and fifteen hundred teachers. Ashoka patronised it, Hiuen Tsang visited it. It is built so charmingly with meditation slabs for the students to sit on, and as for the monks' cells, each is very small and the flat bed is still evocative of a time when the sky would have been open for the student to look up at.
Patna itself is a hurly burly of life and work. The people have been looted so often, that they tend to be basilisk about it. Crime rates are now down they say (murder and abduction being rampant in previous years) but now, its property that is escalating in cost. A land mafia is at work. building flats, this is the precursor of development, which they say will change Patna. Liquor entrepreneurs have already arrived, and the advertisements are for a new Patna, with a swinging elite. What will happen to the farmers and the kirana or mom and pop stores? Near the  railway station, there were no fruit merchants, because the local populace could not afford the fruit. However cucumbers, melons and bel, the traditional vegetable and fruits that   help people beat the heat were freely and cheaply available. Bel is delicious, its the ascetic's fruit, fiery orange inside, a hairy sort of pulp which when squeezed and sieved and served with lime juice and sugar makes the most amazing cold drink. Like raw mango juice it works very well in reviving those who suffer from exposure to  heat. And then there is crushed juice of sugar cane, bottle green in colour and with a dash of lime and rock salt, makes one feel there is a tomorrow. Most people dont worry about street food, their immunity is good.
When we returned from Nalanda, we drank some  cane  juice on the way back, because we had two tyre punctures, and the heat was so bad, that we could have died. The driver insisted that the heat of the tarmac made the tyres to pop. But his spare tyre was punctured too, and we had to wait while he went to the nearest town and got it repaired. What really perplexed me was that there were no trees on a tourist route. Think of it, this road has been traversed by the Buddha, maybe even by Adi Shankara, and there are no trees. No shady mangoes, no tamarind trees, no pipals, no figs, no neems. No trees. Wierd, and really hot!
But I can never forget Nalanda with its sense of a distant past, (hidden under a hill, until it was excavated,) and now there for us to see.

Nalanda, the 5th century C.E, University in Bihar

Monk's room in  the 5th century A.D

Well for the monks

Monk's bed re-cemented according to Huien Tsang's description

Thick walls of the monastery ensuring coolness of the rooms in Nalanda University

The Mauryan Bow, which is like a signature to architecture of their period


Burial sites and temples

workshop altar for the students to learn how to carve buddha in rock

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Fortnight in Ramanasramam Library The old Library, near the Morvi guest house was still in use. It will soon be demolished as the new one is ready. The new one is circular with glass, and looks rather like a space ship settled comfortably in the back yard. The old one is memory laden, with my three daughters reading in it, a glimpse from the past.
Here is what I wrote on my Ipod,  an elder with a new gadget.

Wishful Thinking

whisper in the earth
finding its way
to the secret stamen
Of the soul
Down by the clouds
The earth seems seamless
Waiting for seeds to drift.

 Asramam Library
 18th April 2012
In the Brothers Karamazov, the problem is essentially that the characters in the novel are essentially contestatory causing a sense of turpitude. This essentially means that the violence set up between  them leads to an understanding of our own lives, as given in the text of the spectacularly difficult. Dostoevsky essentially works with rage as the most banal of human emotions. I quote from the Brother Karamazov, minus punctuation, since I havn't figured that out on my new Ipod,  a gift from the JNU.
"The path Aloysha chose was a path going in the opposite direction but he chose it with the same thirst for swift achievement. As soon as he reflected seriously he was convinced of the existence of god and immortality and at once he instinctively said I want to live for God and immortality. In the same way if he had decided that god and immortality did not exist, he would at once have become an atheist and a socialist. For socialism is not merely the labor question it is before all things the atheistic question, the form taken by atheism today. It is the question of the tower of Babel built without god not to mount from heaven to earth but to set up heaven on earth."

20th April 2012
So characters juggle emotions each aware of the effect of speech or thoughts on the other. They know that what they say is important to themselves as much as to those whom they direct their attention to. The vulnerable and the innocent create alliances that are not at all shadowy. While louder protagonists scheme for the readers attention, the quietest and the most lucid occupy pages just hushing the others into rational spaces. Yet the contestants can only be oppositional whether calm or not. Goodness by itself remains a lambent quality. Monks have it, in the novel and children have it, and perhaps those who have nothing to lose. Those who occupy the still place of the soul as they watch the water flow into the field or polish lamps or carry the weight of another's soul. And yet the real world, the temporal world, is peopled by those others full of rage and passion and enmity and lust, they too are rivetting to read about.

21st April 2012
Sometimes the heat not just burns the leaves, it causes forest fires which then can be seen like a trail of heat scarring the mountain simply, like a memory that holds no story. Sometimes the longing for rain is so profound that everyone looks sky ward but the clouds say nothing back, for its like any other day when the blueness creates distance between us and serendipity. There does however remain that single strand of hope when one sees the fragile flowers of the neem tree and the possibility that the almond flowers equally fine, will drop, leaving a trail of desire for fruit.

22nd April
The calamity rises not for discordance in faith but from the value put on one's own work sphere, which edges out all other options in real time. It's thus not an absence of love and longing, it is only the exaggeration of these. The aphorism becomes the mirror of the discourse because  in the fragment of the moment arises a shard of memory. This is where theory becomes philosophy and time moves from enumeration to meaning. Symbols are essentially a quest for brevity, where complex meanings and larger narratives can be immediately grasped. We know that this homogenising act must be immediately grasped by the receiver, but further there must be a preparedness for this moment. Whether it is religion or advertising, the actual display of meaning lies in the spectacular use of a meta language. Here dualism appears not only in the empty sign but when it is fulfilled, the shift from grammar to usage takes place. What is actually used remains a moment of choice for the author of the symbol who is usually a social being, and the subject who receives the symbol perfect if its fully dramatised form. How ancient were those choices (the 'arbitrary' in symbolic analyses) and how modern their contextualisation is a subject for speculative histories.

23April 2012
Adi Sankara the eighth century philosopher, walked from Kaladi in Kerala, to Kashmir (Kasimira). My interest in him was aroused in 1981 when on a field trip for my Phd thesis (I wrote it in Delhi School of Economics, Department of Sociology from 1980 to 1987) I saw Kaladi, from the hilltop of Malyatoor, where St Thomas the apostle of Jesus is said to have left a footprint.
 Today, I read about seventy pages (I have recovered from exhaustion after a week at the Ramanasramam, and am back to reading forty pages an hour!) of a book by Jonathan Bader, from New South Wales, which looks at the coceipt of digvijay or pilgrimage as conquest. The idea is that by defeating opponents to Saivism, Adi Sankara was able to actually communicate, through the use of the 'lingua franca' of Sanskrit, that a pan Indian Hinduism was possible through saivism. The conversion of difference to homeogeneity was made possible by overcoming dualism. While this is a convenient assumption, what becomes interesting for any writer on this subject is  the geographical details accompanying the narratives of hagiographies.Ofcourse the legend of national integration is powerfully woven into the texts. So also, it is interesting that a thousand year difference in terms of dating appears in the hagiographies, and I think this might be because the inflection of Nestoreanism  in the Bhakti cult would thus be negated.
24th April
Heat rises spiralling upward and the peacocks become anxious without rain. The summer advances like a convoy of marching soldiers, and flowers wilt and fall in a star spray of quietitude swept up with dead leaves. Rain remains a distant memory and the dogs loll about, laughing with an ancinet memory of just such summers, when humans waits for thunder, like a drum clap of clouds. The cat caught an Arani, a little female snake, with a pink tail and interrogated it  allowing it to hope for an extension of life and tail, and then ate it, savouring it inch by tiny inch as if it was a land eel. The brahmans think the cat lives off the ghee they keep for lamps. It rained at last, and the battery of the Ipod is now diminishing. Next time I will experiment with shorter notes. The haiku, and black ink on paper drawings. The older one grows, the more time there seems released.

27th April
It's so hot, my eyes are soldering themselves in my head. The forest fire, according to Arun Venkatraman, (school teacher at Marudam Farm School and an ecologist, ) burnt up 15 percent of the new woods planted in nurseries on the hill, and that was about 80 % of the work they  have done in the last eight years. If it rains, perhaps some of the saplings might survive.