|Saturday, May 12, 2001||
I OFTEN wonder what kind of society we when the temples of Khajuraho and Konark were constructed. In those times, as it is today, temples were not only places of worship but also places where people socialised, exchanged gossip, arranged marriages and transacted business. Around them grew bazaars, markets and dwellings. Town life centred round them; worship was only a part of the citizens’ preoccupation. It must have been a very liberal society, the like of which did not exist anywhere in the world.
Things changed with the
advent of Islam and Christianity in the country. They were puritanical
faiths which regarded erotica sinful. Hindus imbibed Islam and Victorian
attitude became equally censorious about matters concerning sex. Some
were ashamed of their ancestors’ frank portrayals of sexuality; others
tried to explain them away as spiritual exercises. This is nonsense. In
most temples that have erotic sculptures, there is nothing spiritual or
mysterious: all forms of sexual variations, homosexual, lesbian, even
intercourse with animals, can be seen. The one thing Khajuraho and
Konark have in common is artistic excellence: the sculptures however
explicit, are extremely beautiful. We don’t have to apologise to
anyone for having and cherishing them. I have no patience with the new
‘morality’ which has assumed epidemic proportions in our country.
Banning books, destroying paintings, censoring films because they are in
conflict with the prevailing religious prejudices, are unworthy of our
How old is old?
I read about a lawyer in Haryana who has been in the profession for almost 80 years and is still handling briefs of his clients. He is 102. I have no idea how he has been able to keep himself physically and mentally alert to this long age. Our ancestors, who did not live as long as we do, thought 50 was long enough for an active life. They prepared themselves for vaanprastha to be followed by sanyaas. The classic case that comes to my mind whenever I ponder over the problem of the age at which we should retire is of Sher Shah Suri. When he defeated Humayun and became the ruler of northern India, his one regret was that he was too old to rule such a large kingdom. In his memoirs he wrote, "Allah in His wisdom granted me the empire of Hindustan at the time of the maghreb (evening prayer) of my life. He was then only 52. He died a few years later.
More startling was the case of poet Lord Byron (1788-1824). He was a handsome young aristocrat, a reckless fornicator and loved good living. In his classic Don Juan, he summed up his approach to life: "Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter/sermons and soda-water the day after."
He sensed the shades of mortality drawing close to him when he was barely 33 years old. He wrote in his diary:
Eheu, fugaces, Posthume, Posthume,
Labuntur anni, —
(Alas! Posthumous, how fleeting years slip past but I don’t regret them so much for what I have done, as for what I might have done.)
Through life’s road, so dim and dirty,
I have dragged to three-and-thirty.
What have these years left to me?
Nothing — except thirty-three.
Three years later he was dead.
All said and done, what is important is not how long a person lives but what a person puts in the years given to him or her, Sultan Sher Shah Suri is remembered as a great builder of three-lined roads with serais along them. The Sher Shah Suri Marg which runs across the country from East to West is a living tribute to his memory. Lord Byron who lived only 36 years remains one of the most loved poets of the English language.
Thoughts on love
Urdu poets divide love into divine (Ishq-i-Haqiqi) and love for humans of the other sex (Ishq-i-Majaazi). I regard love for God a spurious concept which borrows its vocabulary, at times even erotic, from genuine love between men and women. I read a lot of love poetry. My raakhi sister Prema Subramaniam, who works in New York with Barnes and Nobles, the biggest chain of bookstores in the world, keeps sending me poetry books which she likes. She also marks passages I should read. Her latest gift is Love Poems by Charles Ghigna. I had never heard of him but he is apparently a well-established poet in America. From the short note about him, it would appear he is a Black living with his wife and son in Alabama. His approach to love is refreshingly new:
Your eyes are the sea
Upon which the ship
of all my dreams
When the beloved is away, he/she leaves a void which is hard to fill: everything reminds the lover of the missing beloved:
not this closet night,
not this need
to count them all;
not even this writing time
to kill this time
can fill your shoes,
your soundless steps
that walk this house
True love encompasses everything around one:
It would be easy
to write of love
if I could build
in every poem
A father was approached by his small son, who told him proudly, "I know what the Bible means!" His father smiled and replied, "What do you mean, you ‘know’ what the Bible means?" The son replied, "I do know!"
"Okay" said his father. "So, son, what does the Bible mean?" " That’s easy, Daddy. It stands for ‘Basic Information Before Leaving Earth.’"
(Courtesy: Indian Currents)