G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”
Shel Silverstein : “Talked my head off Worked my tail off Cried my eyes out Walked my feet off Sang my heart out So you see, There’s really not much left of me.” ~
Martin Amis: “Gogol is funny, Tolstoy in his merciless clarity is funny, and Dostoyevsky, funnily enough, is very funny indeed; moreover, the final generation of Russian literature, before it was destroyed by Lenin and Stalin, remained emphatically comic — Bunin, Bely, Bulgakov, Zamyatin. The novel is comic because life is comic (until the inevitable tragedy of the fifth act);...”
Werner Herzog: “We are surrounded by worn-out, banal, useless and exhausted images, limping and dragging themselves behind the rest of our cultural evolution.”
John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."
Justin E.H. Smith: “One should of course take seriously serious efforts to improve society. But when these efforts fail, in whole or in part, it is only humor that offers redemption. So far, human expectations have always been strained, and have always come, give or take a bit, to nothing. In this respect reality itself has the form of a joke, and humor the force of truth.”
विलास सारंग: "… इ. स. 1000 नंतर ज्या प्रकारची संस्कृती रुढ झाली , त्यामध्ये साधारणत्व व विश्वात्मकता हे गुण प्राय: लुप्त झाले...आपली संस्कृती अकाली विश्वात्मक साधारणतेला मुकली आहे."
Saturday, March 01, 2008
Are Historical Films Inspirational or Just Plain Nuisance?
Historical Hindi film Jodhaa-Akbar has created a stir in India. On February 27 2008, there was chaos in the town of Sangli. (Of course, I take every report in Indian news media with a big pinch of salt because as Steve Salerno said the mainstream news business is so unaccustomed to dealing with issues at any level of complexity and nuance that they’re wont to oversimplify their story to the point of caricature.)
Supporters of the film ask us to forget the history on which purportedly it is based and just to focus on film’s cinematic values. (I then wonder why use names like Akbar & Jodhaa or Bajirao & Mastani. Why not use Zeenat-Imran or Gangubai-Balwantrao?)
They also say history is never objective and hence should be “used” to further “good causes” like Hindu-Muslim unity.
Prime Minister J L Nehru too probably would subscribe to this view.
"...All of which shows how little Nehru understood India and the communal question which tore it apart. His arrogance and ignorance contributed not a little to the tragedy. During the First World War, socialists were dismayed to find the working class as nationalistic as any other in place of the solidarity which theoreticians accepted. Sixty years after Independence we face not only the communal question but also caste divisions…"
(A.G. NOORANI “Path to Partition: A witness’ account” Frontline, October 19, 2007)
Historian T S Shejwalkar त्र्यंबक शंकर शेजवलकर (1895 - 1963) argued that even Mahatma Gandhi didn’t have much use of history. Shejwalkar also wished that Nehru and Gandhi studied Panipat 1761 in any detail instead of him!
(Preface to “Panipat 1761”, 1968)
Inspirational history excites me too. Occasionally it moves me to tears. Amartya Sen is a leading exponent of it.
But does it work and for how long?
While reviewing “GOD’S CRUCIBLE /Islam and the Making of Europe, 570 to 1215 “ By David Levering Lewis, ERIC ORMSBY observed:
“…Thus, as Lewis notes, “sumptuary laws required that non-Muslims display badges and that clothing worn by dhimmis be distinguished from that worn by Arabs.” Non-Muslims were not allowed to ride on horseback without a permit, or to bear arms. Moreover, for sound fiscal reasons, conversion to Islam was not warmly encouraged since non-Muslims who converted were no longer required to pay the head tax on which state revenues depended. Though well aware of the overly rosy picture often painted of Muslim Spain, Lewis sometimes accepts it himself. Nowadays, we know all too well that the enforced wearing of badges to signify religious affiliation is hardly a sign of tolerance. That was true in Muslim Spain too…”
So was medieval tolerance, where conversion to Islam was not encouraged, anchored to the state revenues and not to some exalted value system? Even in India?
Reviewing “IDENTITY AND VIOLENCE/ The Illusion of Destiny” By Amartya Sen, Fouad Ajami said:
”… Sen works with the anecdote: His potted history is tailored for interfaith dialogues. He writes of the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides, who, when forced to emigrate from "an intolerant Europe" in the 12th century, was able to find "a tolerant refuge in the Arab world" in the court of the great Muslim ruler Saladin.
But this will not do as history.
Maimonides, born in 1135, did not flee "Europe" for the "Arab world": He fled his native Córdoba in Spain, which was then in the grip of religious-political terror, choking under the yoke of a Berber Muslim dynasty, the Almohads, that was to snuff out all that remained of the culture of convivencia and made the life of Spain's Jews (and of the free spirits among its Muslims) utter hell. Maimonides and his family fled the fire of the Muslim city-states in the Iberian Peninsula to Morocco and then to Jerusalem. There was darkness and terror in Morocco as well, and Jerusalem was equally inhospitable in the time of the Crusader Kingdom. Deliverance came only in Cairo -- the exception, not the rule, its social peace maintained by the enlightened Saladin…
… Inspirational history can go only so far; it will not bend to Sen's good cheer.”
In an earlier post, I noted how the Nizam’s army slaughtered cows in a temple complex in Maharashtra. I also mentioned how Chitpavan Brahmin chieftains of Maratha army looted Hindu shrines around the same time.
But there is a crucial difference between the two.
To say, Marathas didn’t slaughter pigs in mosques would be very simplistic. But by and large they didn’t disrespect shrines, holy books and women of other religions. Until 1857 at least.
In the eyes of most Hindu readers of Indian history this difference perhaps makes some Muslim rulers evil and their Hindu counterparts – much like today’s politicians- corrupt and incompetent but not evil.
India owes a lot to Sufism. People consider ways of Sufis parallel to the ways of Bhakti saints. Like saints, Sufis are considered other-worldly and hence neutral to the politics of their time. (I would argue that most Bhakti saints were not other worldly at all.)
William Dalrymple claimed: “…Sufis succeeded in bringing together Hindu and Muslim in a movement which spanned the apparently unbridgable gulf separating the two religions. To this day, while Muslims usually predominate at Sufi shrines, you also see huge numbers of Hindus, as well as the odd Sikh and Christian. Here for once you can see religion acting to bring people together, not to divide them. In modern India, Sufism is not something other-worldly so much as a religious force that demonstrably acts as a balm on India's festering religious wounds…”.
Historian Setu Madhavrao Pagdi सेतु माधवराव पगडी, expert in Urdu and Farsi, studied sufism and wrote a book on the subject: सूफी संप्रदाय , तत्वज्ञान आणि कार्य (Sufism – Philosophy and Work) 1953. While acknowledging the debt of great sufi saints, he argued that sufis fully co-operated with the policies of aggressive Muslim rulers. He further said that many sufi shrines- he personally visited them- were built by demolishing Hindu temples.
(Jeevansetu जीवनसेतु, 1969)
With luck inspirational history may help create good cinema like Mughal-E-Azam(1960) but I wonder if it can ever work as a social balm.
Artist: J B Handlesman The New Yorker 26 February 1972