December 22, 2002
Journey as a symbol and metaphor
M. L. Raina
Journey to the City: The Village and the Other Odd Ruins of the Self
in Indian Imagination
by Ashish Nandy Oxford University Press, New Delhi.
film, as opposed to art film, is a democratic medium since it
appeals to a large section of the masses and makes little pretense
of intellectual refinement. It lends itself to an infinite number of
approaches. The sociologist or cultural anthropologist uses it to
study the nature of society. The Freudian psychologist considers the
element of wish-fulfilment rippling under the social plot.
illuminatingly joins the methods of a cultural anthropologist and a
Freudian psychologist to illustrate the ‘function’ of the
popular film in representing social mores. He reminds me of the
literary critic Leslie Fiedler who too projects the society’s
cultural myths to grasp its collective character. Like Fiedler,
Nandy reads the Indian social mores by focussing on some defining
myths and symbols that underwrite it, especially in the film medium.
For him the myth of
the journey, yatra, is central. "The journey as a trope
for growth, learning, the unfolding of collective experience, and
for life itself, has been a favourite of philosophers, scholars and
mystics in South Asia for centuries," says Nandy, in the
introductory statement. Not simply spiritual, as the word yatra
would imply, it is also a territorial journey, particularly from the
country to the city and back.
The journey symbolism
is not unique to India. European literature and mythology make
extensive use of pilgrimages and journeys while major structural
devices in the European and American narratives involve a journey
plot, ranging from the providential plots of Fielding to the
picaresque movements in Cervantes and the wanderings of Ahab and
Natty Bumpo. This journey is also laden with moral and spiritual
meanings as in the Indian journey pattern.
In the Indian context,
particularly with the colonial metropolis, the city has been
regarded as the place where self-definition can be achieved and the
country as a non-self, denying total fulfilment. "Colonial
ethnography…has turned the village into a summation of the feared
untamed fragmentation of one’s self…"
however, believes the author, "the village becomes a serene,
pastoral paradise." In Indian popular cinema this dichotomy is
extensively played out in quite a few Bachchan and Jeetindra films
of the seventies, as it is in Raj Kaoor’s Jagte Raho.