A few years ago, I attended a Pujo, which was being organised by a friend. He is a quintessential Bong, with one exception, which is perhaps his defining character — he doesn’t eat fish. In fact he quite hates seafood and I don’t believe it has anything to do with the delicacy of his constitution.
Her idol was in it’s grand splendour and I was spellbound by the vision of the Devi. By itself, such imagery can easily evoke strong feelings of contemplation. I had a chance to get closer to the idol, my friend being the organiser and all, and he introduced me to his uncle. An old person, with a twinkle in his eye. More friends joined in, in an attempt to get closer to God. I stood away, the spell of the vision and the environment, lurking heavy on my head. My organiser-friend walked up to me and asked me what the matter was. I said I didn’t know, just that I seemed to be overwhelmed. It was, perhaps, I said that this is the first time I ever attended a ‘true’ Pujo. I also mentioned, in a muttering manner, that I was overwhelmed. He smiled, he has this uncanny way of smiling, a unique one when he thinks he knows what you are thinking about, which he usually does. It isn’t rocket science, but I have seen him smiling proudly in such instances. He pointed to his twinkly-eyed uncle, and said:
“I was speaking with him a while ago, before all of you came. I think I know why you are overwhelmed.”
“There is an amazing metaphor in what you see, you are experiencing that, yet the ability to decipher it, is what overwhelms you.”
“You see the demon being slain at the feet of the Goddess? That’s our ego. When we pray to the Goddess, in effect we praying to her to help us slay our demons – one of them just happens to be our ego.”
“So all the imagery here is a metaphor? Of sorts?”
I smiled back at him. He did the same. He seemed to be glad that I approved. The rest of the friends came to wish him and our conversation never went any further.
Since that day, I have yet to attend a Pujo. No reason.
A couple of months ago, I happened to see India’s latest entry for the Academy Awards. Eklavya. A large section of the film hinges on a dilemma in interpretation of the philosophical premise taken from the Mahabharat, which is Bhishma‘s, about the interpretation of something as complex as Dharm. Basically, Bhishma says that Dharm is that which appeals and feels right to the mind (the intellect or the conscious mind). (Read this article by A. V. Srinivasan, [apologies; broken link, will update when I find the source] especially the fifth and sixth paragraph). For those of you who have studied Vedic Philosophy more than I have (or know Sanskrit more than I do), you know that I am over-simplifying it. I know I am. There is a much larger context to the dialogue, which I am not presenting.
Hopefully it won’t dilute the thought I am wrestling with.
Making meaning is difficult — a common meaning, especially. A standard meaning that most of us can take as a premise and argue about. What, for example, did the bleeding demon under the feet of the Goddess really represent? Was it ego? Was it weakness? Was it fear? Was it a single representation of all that I wish to conquer? Was Ramayan a story of morality or obedience? Or, deep down, was it a love story? A tragic one at that. In your mind, who would you qualify the real villain of the story? Was it Ravan, who caused such distress and war or was it that dhobi (laundry-man) who made a arbitrary statement about the character of Ram and Sita. In pop-culture, you notice many references to Ravan; hardly any references to the moral laundry-man.
The words I have heard all my life about the interpretation and meaning of Godliness whiz past me like sub-atomic particles in the quest of anti-matter. The question, however, isn’t about God.
All stories have been relegated to just that — stories. The premise, the dilemma, the philosophy, the context, the essence – the meaning of stories has been pushed hard, back into deeper recesses where we may not touch them, where we may never experience them.
But, we should.