MY COUNTRY, MY CULTURE!


yádum úré yávarum kélír  Kanian

It is all my town, where I’m in.
Whoever they are, they’re also my kin.

So wrote the Tamil poet Kanian, and it is from him that I have taken inspiration in these musings. Others have expressed similar view. In the Rig Veda (1:89) we have the words:

Á no bhadráh kratavo vishvato: May auspicious powers come to us from all sides.

The Latin poet Publius Terentius afer (Terence) wrote: Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto, I am a human being; nothing human can be alien to me.

Up until the middle of the twentieth century people were divided as nations and religions. From the last quarter of the twentieth century, another factor has come into play: ethnic identity. In so far as this adds to the psychological comfort level of peoples who were marginalized for several centuries by European colonialism  and the earlier Islamic expansionism, in a world where economic, scientific, and linguistic hegemony still reigns ethnic pride is worthy of being nurtured. But in so far as it generates confrontation, feelings of animosity, and belligerent postures towards others, it can and does add  to the mutual hate index in the world. Indeed ethnic pride often dilutes the spirit of the Maha Upanishadic aphorism: vasudhaiva kutumbakam: The world is one family, and goes against the framework of humanism whose four characteristics, in the words of E. M. Foster, are “curiosity, a free mind, belief in good taste, and belief in the human race.”

Pride in one’s culture and heritage is appropriate, but this need not diminish our respect and appreciation for cultures and achievements of others.   Every culture is rich in creativity and insights. There have been great poets and thinkers, scientists and sages all over the world. When it comes to good and bad people, ultimately (in the words of Andrew Marvell)

The world in all doth but two nations bear,

The good and bad, and these are mixt everywhere.

So I will continue to reflect on events and episodes, men and women, not from the perspective of one anchored to a particular culture, religion, or nation, but as a conscious entity that has been part of the human saga on this planet for a brief bracket in time. Let me recall in this context the following poem entitled My Country:

“This is my country, and I am so proud,”

Said a man in a voice a bit too loud.

Another said, “Of course that’s true,

But sometimes I like to say this too:

My country is much larger still.

I’ll tell you why, if listen you will:

Antarctica is my country too,

And all the oceans black and blue.

Mexico and Moldavia,

Canada  and Colombia,

Panama and Peru,

And every country old and new.

Uganda and Nigeria

Morocco and Algeria,

England, Europe, even Finland,

Scotland and also Ireland,

All of Europe, east and west.

North and south and all the rest.

North African lands like Tunisia,

Egypt and Syria,

Iran, Iraq, Libya,

Yemen and Saudi Arabia

Mine is Russia and Armenia

Nepal, Bhutan and India,

Afghanistan, Uzbekistan

Israel and Pakistan.

Two Koreas and Japan

Mainland China and Taiwan,

Australia and New Zealand,

Thailand, Lapland and Greenland.

African ones like the Sudan,

I can go just on and on

Alphabetically all the way

From Angola to Zimbabwe.

My country is large, it even lies

Beyond land and water, over the skies.

Includes Mars, Venus and Saturn

No matter where in space you turn.

Sun and stars and the Milky Way

Far and near, whatever you say.

I claim all these as mine in verse,

‘Cause I was born in the Universe.

My  problem is: With all this might

I’ve no foe with whom to fight.

This World is My World

This World is Your World,

From the South Pole to the North Pole

Extending to the Universe Whole.”

February 5, 2016

MAHATMA GANDHI


Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon the earth.                                                                – Albert Einstein.

On 30 January 1948, when, after  participating in a prayer session in which Íshvar (a Sanskrit word God) and Allah were both evoked, Gandhi out to talk to a crowd an angry young man approached him, saluted him, and fired shots at his chest. The pious politician slumped and died. Thus ended the life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, known with affection as Bapuji and with reverence as Mahatma Gandhi to India’s people.

Gandhi was a multifaceted individual:  He was a man of extraordinary inner strength and interpersonal skills; lawyer, politician, philosopher, social activist, strategist, saintly humanist, idealist, preacher, and disciplinarian. Though not a scientist by training he did experiments, not with measuring rods and  microscopes, not with beakers and Bunsen burners, but with Truth. He had contemplated becoming a doctor. He read works on nature cure, and served as midwife when his second son was born in 1900. He had a scientific mind for he reasoned well, analyzed situations, and drew insightful conclusions. But he was suspicious of technology to a fault, the spinning wheel symbolized for him cottage industries. His instincts on the matter were often  right: He feared and foresaw that technology would uproot traditional culture and values, and dehumanize societies.  He was simple in lifestyle but complex in thought; modest in attire, but magnificent in morals; good to his enemies, but adamant in his principles.

      Gandhi fought for human dignity in South Africa long before he was called a Mahátma (Great Soul). He spoke out against the scourge of caste hierarchy and  condemned untouchability in Hindu society. He played a charismatic role in the Indian National Congress, sometimes subtly disarming those who called for violent approaches for achieving the goal. He was the power behind the party that led to India’s rebirth as a modern nation with an enlightened constitution, a unifying national anthem and a waving tricolor with the wheel of justice and a motto that proclaims that Truth alone will ultimately triumph.

The paradox in the life and appraisal of this hero of history was that some adored him and others vilified him: symbolic of the tension between lofty ideals and crass reality. It has been said that an Utopian is a poet who has gone astray. More exactly, a Utopian is a thinker who draws humanity to a nobler path. Utopians strive to bring more value and merit to  human societies. 

There are a hundred obstacles on the way. Gandhian principles would work wonderfully well if only decent people populated the world. Gandhi wrote a letter to Hitler pleading with him not to start a world war. In some contexts, the Gandhian approach simply doesn’t work. The landing on Normandy is sometimes necessary to suppress unadulterated evil. Just as superstitions are sometimes the price we pay for the comfort and solace that religions bring, harsh measures are sometimes needed to eradicate the weeds that destroy civilization.

No doubt, in many cases “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” works. But returning good for bad, and love for hatred, is also an ancient experiment in civilization, and it too has worked in many instances. It has invariably produced more happiness, peace and harmony. There is greater glory in a victory achieved through nonviolence and handshakes than in all the battle cries and bombs of violent and hate­ful confrontations.

Gandhi has lost much of his luster in his native India. The new generation, frustrated with Kashmir and related intransigence, blame it on Gandhi’s goody-goodiness. There is, alas, some truth in this. Yet, in these times, when nations confront one another with mistrust, when we seem to be sliding to catastrophes of mutual destruction, the world is crying out for Gandhis: in Palestine and Israel, in India and Pakistan, in Syria and elsewhere. The world needs not one Gandhi here and one there, but Gandhis everywhere:  leaders who are more sensitive to the needs and predicaments of the adversary, more willing to sacrifice and serve.

Notwithstanding Winston Churchill’s disdain of him, Gandhi became a most remarkable personage of his times. He was second only to Einstein in being named Man of the Century by Time Magazine. The United Nations Organization, the voice of humanity, has declared his birth-date (October 2) to be the International Day of Non-Violence. It is a matter for rejoicing that notwithstanding all the animosities and rivalries that tarnish humanity the world still recognizes Gandhian ahimsa as supremely civilized behavior. Gandhi’s ahimsa was not just vegetari­an­ism and avoiding leather shoes. It was the showing of love in the context of confrontation

Civilizations survive and evolve by tireless perseverance in adhering to ideals. Love is surely nobler than hatred, non-violence more civi­lized than violence, kindness better than cruelty. Those who cling on to such principles add glory to so­ciety and history, whether they win or lose. Such are martyrs and saints. Such was Mahatma Gandhi.

Long after the dust and debris of hate and hurt settle down, and  the Gandhi-bashers of today (mostly in India) are laid to rest, the visions of the likes of Gandhi will be celebrated by humanity as worthy symbols of whatever is noble and enlightened in the human spirit. Gandhi’s message will shine bright in the firmament of human ideals. By then we would have realized that planetary peace is not simply the silence of guns, but  the embrace of all with love, caring, and compassion, and harmony among the peoples of the world will be based not on suspicion and suicide bombs, but on on social justice and mutual respect.

January 29, 2016

WOLFGAND AMADEUS MOZART


Mozart’s music is so pure and beautiful that I see it as a reflection of the inner beauty of the Universe.                                                                                                                                            Albert Einstein

In the Hindu framework, music (gána) is one of the several modes (márga) of experiencing the Divine. So one speaks of gána márga as a spiritual path.   At its best, music is spiritual experience of a high order for it can  provide us with an ecstasy that is as close to an inkling of the Divine as any. Even as the saints and seers of traditions guide us to religious insights and awakening, the great composers of the world have taken us to lofty experiential heights through their magnificent works.

One of the great composers – known even beyond his own cultural matrix –  is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (born: 27 January 1756). The prolific works of this most remarkable creative genius are cast in every musical form and format. His more than 620 compositions included  lively minuets, heart warming symphonies, operas serene and comic, concertos for different instruments, and more. He inherited his talents, at least partially, from his father Leopold Mozart who was a composer-violinist himself.

Like Sambandhar of the Tamil tradition, Mozart began composing when he was very young. His father thought it was a great idea to make a spectacle of his son’s extraordinary talents. The lad and his older sister Maria played the key-board and violin traveling from town to town, performing even at the royal court in Vienna.  They went to Paris, Milan, London and Munich, displaying Mozart and his music.

Mozart became a member of the then growing Freemasonry movement. With inspiration from ancient Babylon and Egypt this secret  society was sworn to symbols. Many of its early members were stone masons of medieval cathedrals.

Mozart lived at the Classical Period in Western cultural history, and he enriched its musical dimension immensely. This was the time when creative minds in art, poetry, and music were influenced as much by the majestic stature of ancient Greek architecture as by the order and symmetry in the laws of physics that were being discovered. Thus inspired, many lasting works emerged in poetry and art, science and music. There is something as aesthetically grand in the compositions of Mozart and Hayden  as in a theorem of Euler, a poem by Schiller, or a law in Newtonian mechanics. They all have implicit in them an ideal perfection. In due course, there arose a rebellion against the sheer balance, order, and symmetry of it all. Old order changed, yielding place to something new.

Even with all the free abandon, unrhymed verses and unrestrained creativity of the Romantic era,  the marvelous works of the classical period have continued to live and be loved, like the religions of our distant ancestors. Down to our own times, countless musicians have played Mozart’s many pieces, giving unadulterated joy to all who have had the opportunity to perform or listen to his immortal works.

There are so many jubilant movements in Mozart’s sonatas, symphonies and concertos, so many dancing fingers in his piano pieces, there is never a dull moment in any of his works.  Those who haven’t listened to the Eine Kleine Nachtmusik or the motet Exultate Jubilate,  haven’t hummed with Papageno, been thrilled by the Queen of the Night’s aria, or chuckled at Leporello’s litany of the rake Don Giovanni’s exploits in Spain and Italy and other places, have missed some of the most tickling musical delights available to human ears.

The notes and melodies that enter the creative mind of a gifted composer are like the majestic lines that flow through the pen of epic poets, or the theorems that light up a mathematician’s mind. As Karl Barth famously wrote, “We must certainly assume that the dear Lord had a special, direct contact with him (Mozart).” Even those who are  skeptical about religious revelations will have to recognize something magnificent and  mysterious in human creativity that seems to elude rational explanations. The creative geniuses of the human family have left works that form a true treasure-chest in humanity’s cultural legacy.  So, on his two hundred and sixtieth birthday day, I honor the memory of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

We live in an age when great music  can be heard right in our homes through many channels, including the You-tube. If you have never heard Mozart before,  urge you to begin by accessing one of them, like https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSL5-wxgvFY

January 27, 2016