The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, September 21, 2003

Short takes
Buddha’s appeal to logic won him mass following
Jaswant Singh

Gautama Buddha
by Kadambari Kaul.
Rupa, New Delhi. Pages 67. Rs 95.

THE story of Siddhartha Gautama, a Sakya Rajput Prince, whom his father, King Suddhodhana, kept isolated from the miseries and sufferings of human beings, is well known. How he broke away from the luxuries of the palace, left his wife and son sleeping, clothed himself in a single garment and set out in search of the ultimate truth and salvation is also narrated in textbooks. His wanderings, the sufferings he inflicted on himself and his final enlightenment are also recorded.

But the textbooks do not say much about what he stood for and what he really preached. This sixth century BC Prince-turned-ascetic, known to the world as the Buddha, founder of the Buddhist faith, had the courage to attack superstition, ritualism and priestcraft, and all the vested interests that clung to these practices. He exhorted his followers to give up rigid rituals and superstition and practise truthfulness and charity, and avoid greed and violence. He also condemned the metaphysical and theological outlook, miracles, revelations and dealing with the supernatural. His appeal to logic and his emphasis on ethics received widespread acceptance and soon after his death, Buddhism emerged as the accepted religion in most of south and central Asia.


The story of this remarkable man has been told by the author in a capsule of just 67 pages, and the result is that it leaves the reader wanting to know more about him and what he stood for. The author could also have avoided references to all the supernatural events believed to be associated with his life. A simple narration would have been more appropriate. After all, Buddha’s main attack was on superstition, ritualism and faith in the supernatural.

Mrinal Sen
by Shoma A. Chatterji.
Rupa, New Delhi. Pages 71. Rs 195.

Any mention of Bengali cinema brings to mind three names—Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen. Ray and Ghatak are no more with us but Mrinal Sen continues to give us thought-provoking films.

Shoma A. Chatterji, who has been writing about cinema and television for nearly two decades, besides other topics such as human rights and gender issues, presents the life of this remarkable film-maker mostly in his own words. The book is full of direct quotes from him.

At a time when Satyajit Ray dominated the Bengali cinema with a hit a film a year, Mrinal Sen created an audience for himself. His films provoke people into a serious debate. But his departure from the conventional narrative form and venturing into the exploration of the human mind did not always go well with the audience. Obviously, the response was not as enthusiastic as it was to Ray’s films. Undeterred, Mrinal Sen never lost sight of his objectives and created a style that carried his special stamp. He moved from contemporary social and political themes to a searching analysis of the individual mind.

He is one of the pioneers of what has been known as the New Indian Cinema. This movement, however, fizzled out by the mid-80s, but Sen held on to his vision and continued to take risks that brought him more disappointments than rewards.

Mrinal Sen has been presented in this book with all his successes and failures, with all his strong and weak points. At the end, he regrets that you live only once. "I wish I could start from scratch so that I can correct the mistakes I have made in my life and re-live a better life."

Management of Entrance Tests
by Baldev Singh. Punjabi University, Patiala.
Pages 74. Rs 60.

If you were hoping to get some insight into how to approach the entrance test for a course that you are keen to join, you are in for a disappointment. This, in fact, is a handbook on how to hold an entrance test. It is meant not for the candidates but for those who organise these examinations. It starts with an explanation of the concept of an entrance test, its administrative requirements such as setting up of examination centres, evaluation centres and other preliminary steps. Then it moves on to preparation of prospectus, receipt of forms, allocation of roll numbers and the conduct of the examination. The book also discusses problems associated with paper setting, printing the paper and its delivery at different centres. Then follow evaluation, declaration of the result and counselling. Thus, by the end you have a fair idea of what an institution holding an entrance test has to go through in the course of running the project.