Friday, May 26, 2017

The Paradise of Kazantzakis

It is difficult to choose one favourite writer because there are quite a few whom I admire.  However, for the sake of the latest Indispire theme, I pick Nikos Kazantzakis because of his particular relevance in today’s India which is being torn apart into fragments by certain political forces which pretend to have religious motives.

Though the Greek Orthodox Church considered excommunicating Kazantzakis for writing the novel The Last Temptation of Christ, the idea was rejected because even his bitter enemies could easily see that Kazantzakis was more spiritual than the religious leaders.  When the clergy was campaigning ferociously for his excommunication, Kazantzakis’s reply was: “You gave me a curse, Holy fathers, I give you a blessing: may your conscience be as clear as mine and may you be as moral and religious as I.”

He was not exaggerating.  The tragedy with most religious people is that they don’t explore their religion as deeply as people like Kazantzakis.  Deep exploration is what makes the religion genuine.  Those who pursue such exploration experience both the agonies and ecstasies of spiritual quests.  Kazantzakis experienced them and transferred them into his fictional characters. 

Jesus is a dominant character in many of his works.  The Jesus in The Last Temptation is torn between his divine mission and his human passions.  While Christian theology admits the dual nature of Jesus as both man and god, it is not willing to give the human side its due.  Kazantzakis’s Jesus goes through the agonies of a normal human being with his need to love and be loved, to enjoy the delights of human relationships including sexuality.  The spiritual side wins in the end, after much doubt, fear and guilt.

It is necessary for any spiritual seeker to go through those doubts, fears and guilt in order to confront the divinity within.  Most people take the short cut of accepting the truths given by the scriptures and the religious authorities.  Most such people just go on through life doing their jobs and fulfilling their duties including the religious rituals.  God is a kind of panacea for them, a shelter in times of trouble and a psychological buffer in other times.  If such people face problems of identity, they are likely to wield their religion as a weapon against the people belonging to other creeds.  Those with some criminal inclination are sure to exploit the negative potential of religion as a socially divisive force. 

What I admire most about Kazantzakis is the genuine agonising spiritual quest undertaken by his protagonists.  Zorba the Greek is arguably the best novel of his.  The narrator of this novel is in search of the Buddha while Zorba, the protagonist, is an anti-Buddha with his intense passion for life and its sensuality.  When the Buddha teaches us that human desires are the cause of our suffering, Zorba teaches us how to live happily with those desires.

Zorba teaches us that happiness can be as simple as a glass of wine and some roasted chestnuts.  Zorba has learnt to have no ambition and yet to work like a horse as if he had every ambition.  He lives far from men, has not need of them and yet he loves them.  Life, for him, is as beautiful as a fairy tale.

A little madness is essential to be happy, Zorba teaches us.  Those who seek to be perfectly sane, those who calculate their profits and losses accurately, those who live by the rule book are not worthy of the paradise that Zorba reveals to the narrator. 

PS. Written for Indispire Edition 171: #FavoriteAuthor

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Happy to be

In a mathematical function
the maxima and the minima alternate.
Life is mathematics
the equations are made by the priest and the politician.
It’s a game.
Gods are game in that game.

I’m happy to be
in an inconspicuous point
where the graph is not crooked.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Paresh Rawal Blunders

American President Donald Trump was in Saudi Arabia the other day.  The man who came to power riding the anti-Muslim wave, the man who told the world that Muslims were the enemies of civilisation, now praises the great contributions of Islam to the world.  He mentioned the “ancient wonders” as well as the Saudi Arabia’s modern “soaring achievements in architecture.” He listed such “wonders” as Giza, Luxor and Alexandria to applaud the Islamic achievements.  He sought the cooperation of Saudi Arabia to bring peace and harmony into the world.

Whether Trump underwent some spiritual transformation is yet to be seen.  We know that he is a devout Christian who attends prayer services regularly and religiously.  But prayer services and rituals really don’t make people any better.  If they did, the world would have been a paradise long ago. 

Whatever that is, Trump has apparently changed his approach from one based on hatred to one based on cooperation.  This new approach might work.  I hope it does.  At least it gives hope a chance while hatred can achieve no good.

This is one lesson that India’s Right wing is yet to learn.  The latest example is Paresh Rawal’s suggestion to the Indian Army to use Arundhati Roy as a human shield in Kashmir. Leaving aside the insult it implicitly sticks to the Army, the suggestion smacks of the pettiness that accompanies the entire outlook of India’s Right wing.  

Arundhati Roy stands far, far above petty nationalism.  She has described herself as a “global citizen.” That’s what we all should be: citizens of the world who respect every human being irrespective of race and religion.  Ms Roy’s views on Kashmir spring from that broad, global outlook.  Narrow-minded bigots like Rawal cannot be expected to understand such benignity. 

Donald Trump was lauded as a great hero by India’s Right wing because he spoke the same language of hatred which the latter has not only mastered but also is wielding effectively in most parts of the country.  But Trump seems to have learnt better lessons.  Are people like Rawal ready to learn?  If they are, India might still have a chance to stay united as one nation.

“It is a choice between two futures,” as Trump proclaimed in Saudi Arabia.  “If we really want to address that crisis (in Kashmir),” Ms Roy wrote a year ago in Outlook, “if we really want to stop the endless cycle of killing and dying, if we really want to stem the haemorrhaging, the first step has to be a small concession to honesty.  We have to have an honest conversation.”

Yes, it is basic honesty that the Right wing in India should acquire first.  And then the willingness to shed hatred – if they are incapable of learning love, at least that: shed the hatred.