The Death of Vishnu – Experience and Worldly Pleasure

Considering Manil Suri’s ‘The Death of Vishnu’ further, exploring the various characters inhabiting the apartment block on which stairs Vishnu lays feverish seeing out his final days, I find a lovely subtle emphasis on experience. As my last post illustrates, Mr Jalal is seeking a religious experience through his bare-foot wanderings in the park, quiet moments under a banyan tree and sleeping on the floor, while Vishnu reminisces past sensuous encounters with his lady of the night Padmini, and the widower Vinod on the top floor has accepted the transcience of his marriage experience, acutely aware that ‘he had already experienced whatever there was to be experienced between a husband and a wife, that he had shared a part of himself with another person in a way too profound to be duplicated’ (256).
         I suppose we find a host of characters at different points throughout life looking back fondly at experiences gone, ploughing forward in search of new half-known experiences, existing without experience, or in the case of the Asrani’s daughter on the cusp of experience hoping to run away with the boy she loves while also meeting suitable marriage candidates to satisfy her mother.

        I’m not really sure if I have a neat concise point to convey, but I’m sure there is something to be said about the way everyone in some way is experiencing or reacting to experience, especially in India where there is so much stimulus to be filtered and absorbed whether it’s customs, religion, love, relationships, family life or city life, essentially trying to deal with it all. It’s nothing like the simplicity of the West where in contrast to the heat in anything and everything there is a permeating coldness that disconnects people and isolates them to an extent, perhaps a more easily manageable extent.
        And so we come to a passage in ‘Vishnu’ where Vinod visits an Ashram [a kind of monastary, a holy place] to pass his time in retirement and takes in the words of a Swamiji [a religious figure]:

”How long can man live for himself?’ he would ask his audience. ‘How long can he allow the rule of the jungle to govern him? Plundering the pleasures he fancies, acting on every pinprick of desire, a slave to the promise of wealth, a puppet to the callings of the flesh?
        ‘And yet. If he doesn’t sate himself at this stage, he will never graduate to the next. He must drink from the pool of selfish gratification until he is sure he will be thirsty no more. Until he realises that his body and all it desires is just maya – no more real than the reflection that stares back from that very pool from which he is drinking. It can take many lifetimes, but I have seen it done in a single existence, or even half an existence.’
…….
        ‘And there will come a day, when all attachment is relinquished, when there is no memory of desire, of hunger, of pain, and then, only then, will he know what true freedom is.’ – p.283

Experience and the negation of experience – we indulge so we no longer need to indulge, in fact indulgence ceases to exist – once again there’s something of Freud’s Death Instinct in these concepts. And like Mr Jalal’s religious journey and the short-lived elopement of the Asrani’s daughter and Vishnu’s life and death on the steps, there seems to be a poignant cyclical quality to it all.

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Published in: on January 8, 2010 at 12:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Death of Vishnu – Religion; rationality & reason vs the primitive force of faith

In the apartment building, the Jalal’s live on the floor above the petty warring Asranis and Pataks are perhaps the most intriguing couple, married together despite glaring differences. She a simple muslim, he a philosopher and intellectual compelled by a romantic desire to craft her into ‘a multifaceted jewel, able to hold her own with razor wit and glittering personality’ (142). This ‘Pygmalion-like’ project ultimately fails however as Mr Jalal in spite of his persistence realises that Arifa, his wife, is far from the blank slate he had once perceived, ‘she came programmed with ideas of her own, convictions he had not been able to dislodge, beliefs he might never exorcise’ (143). Mr Jalal perhaps restricted in understanding fails to appreciate the nature and extent of this ‘flaw’, religion:

‘What was it about Arifa’s faith that had such tenacity in the face of his efforts? How could he have underestimated it so disastrously? He had always been proud of his conversance with not only Islam, but all the major religions of the world. He could explain how different beliefs arose and melded with their parent philosophies, detail obscure rituals from Africa to  the Amazon practiced in the name of worship. Why, then, did he not understand the mechanism of faith? What did religion do to people, to provoke such obstinacy, such hysteria – how did it push people to the stage of torturing themselves and killing each other?
        He had always assumed it was a flaw in people, a human failing, that created this need to believe in something beyond the ordinary. Religion existed to control society, to monitor those without the capacity to think things through for themselves, to provide promises and shimmering images in the sky, so that the urges of the masses could be calmed and regulated. What, after all, did the word ‘faith’ connote, except a willing blindness to the lack of actual proof? It was only natural that Arifa, with her untended intellect, had to lean on the crutch of faith to negotiate the inscrutability of life. Whereas he did not, in fact could not, have any use for the same.
        But then an unexpected doubt arose in Mr. Jalal’s mind. What if he was being too arrogant? What if there was another dimension to faith, another way of understanding it, of experiencing it, of which he was simply not capable? What if the shotcoming lay not with Arifa’s outlook, but his own – if it was he who was limited, closed-minded? After all, wasn’t he constantly amazed at the number of very smart people who were believers – hadn’t even Einstein professed the existence of God?’ -pp.143-4

So begins Mr Jalal’s attempt, investigation and experiment into enlightenment, involving a healthy programme of renunciation, deprivation and discomfort.

I wonder what Suri’s narrative concludes regarding Mr Jalal’s journey.

Published in: on January 8, 2010 at 8:56 am  Leave a Comment  

The White Tiger – The fall of the White Man and the Rise of the Yellow and Brown Man

A nice passage that culminates in a suggestion that luxury will destroy the white man while those not so ‘developed’ shall inherit the world. I can’t help but wonder if Balram will become what he deplores…

‘On the topic of shampoo advertisements, Mr Premier, I must say that golden-coloured hair sickens me now. I don’t think it’s healthy for a woman to have that colour of hair. I don’t trust the TV or the big outdoor posters of white women you see all over Bangalore. I go from my own experience now, from the time I spend in five-star hotels. (That’s right, Mr Jiabao: I don’t go to ‘red light districts’ any more. It’s not right to buy and sell women who live in birdcages and get treated like animals. I only buy girls I find in five-star hotels.)
        Based on my experience, Indian girls are the best.
        (Well, second-best. I tell you, Mr Jiabao, it’s one of the most thrilling sights you can have as a man in Bangalore to see the eyes of a pair of Nepali girls flashing out at you from the dark hood of an autorickshaw.)

        In fact, the sight of these golden- haired foreigners – and you’ll discover that Bangalore is full of them these days – has only convinced me that the white people are on the way out. All of them look so emaciated – so puny. You’ll never see one of them with a decent belly. For this I blame the president of America; he has made buggery perfectly legal in his country, and men are marrying other men instead of women. This was on the radio. This is leading to the decline of the white man. Then white people use mobile phones too much, and that is destroying their brains. It’s a known fact. Mobile phones cause cancer in the brain and shrink your masculinity; the Japanese invented them to diminish the white man’s brain and balls at the same time. I overheard this at the bus stand one night. Until then I had been very proud of my Nokia, showing it to all the call-centre girls I was hoping to dip my beak into, but I threw it away at once. Every call that you make to me, you have to make it on a landline. It hurts my business, but my brain is too important, sir: it’s all that a thinking man has in this world.

        White men will be finished within my lifetime. There are blacks and reds too – the radio never talks about them. My humble prediction: in twenty years’ time, it will be just us yellow men and brown men at the top of the pyramid, and we’ll rule the whole world.
        And God save everyone else.’ – pp.304-305

Published in: on January 7, 2010 at 12:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

The White Tiger – The Swastika

For some time I did wonder why the devil was the Hindu religious symbol adopted by Hitler to represent the Nazi party. Well, here’s a passage that provides a clue:

”…you know that’s where the future is.’
        ‘The south? Bullshit.’
        ‘Why not? One in every three new office buildings in India is being built in Bangalore. It is the future.’
        ‘Fuck all that. I don’t believe a word. The South i full of Tamils. You know who the Tamils are? Negroes. We’re the sons of the Aryans who came to India. We made them our slaves. And now they give us lectures. Negroes.” – p.272

Wikipedia naturally informs us:

‘The use of the swastika was associated by Nazi theorists with their conjecture of Aryan cultural descent of the German people. Following the Nordicist version of the Aryan invasion theory, the Nazis claimed that the early Aryans of India, from whose Vedic tradition the swastika sprang, were the prototypical white invaders. It was also widely believed that the Indian caste system had originated as a means to avoid racial mixing. The concept of racial purity was an ideology central to Nazism, though it is now considered unscientific. For Rosenberg, the Aryans of India were both a model to be imitated and a warning of the dangers of the spiritual and racial “confusion” that, he believed, arose from the close proximity of races. Thus, they saw fit to co-opt the sign as a symbol of the Aryan master race. The use of the swastika as a symbol of the Aryan race dates back to writings of Emile Burnouf. Following many other writers, the German nationalist poet Guido von List believed it to be a uniquely Aryan symbol.’

For the full article click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swastika

Published in: on January 6, 2010 at 7:59 pm  Comments (1)  

The White Tiger – The Source of (Male) Evil?

‘This…is the famous ‘red-light district’ (as they say in English) of Delhi.
        An hour here would clear all the evil thoughts out of my head. When you retain semen in your lower body, it leads to evil movements in the fluids of your upper body. In the Darkness we know this to be a fact.’ -p.250

Published in: on January 6, 2010 at 7:11 pm  Comments (1)  

The White Tiger – Trapped in The Rooster Coop

Servitude is engrained in the Oriental. Give them freedom and they won’t know what to do with it. Supplication, propitiation and obsequiousness certainly have their place in a generalised view of the characteristic Indian steriotype. Genetically predisposed to be of service, even when being dishonest. A behaviour full of contradiction. And this is the kind of sense Adiga creates in the character of Balram Halwai, who attempts to break free of this ‘Rooster Coop’. But what exactly does it mean and how does it work:

‘When you get here, you’ll be told we Indians have invented everything from the Internet to hard-boiled eggs to spaceships before the British stole it all from us.
Nonsense. The greatest thing to come out of this country in the ten thousand years of its histor is the Rooster Coop.
        Go to Old Delhi, behind the Jama Masjid, and look at the way they keep chickens there in the market. Hundreds of pale hens and brightly coloured roosters, stufed tightly into wire-mesh cages, packed as tightly as worms in a belly, pecking each other and shitting on each other, jostling just for breathing space; the whole cage giving off a horrible stench – the stench of terrified, feathered flesh. On the wooden desk above this coop sits a grinning butcher, showing off the flesh and organs of a recently chopped up chicken, still oleaginous with a coating of dark blood. The roosters in the coop smell the blood from above. They see the organs of their brothers lying around them. They know they’re next. Yet they do not rebel. They do not try to get out of the coop.
        The very same thing is done with human beings in this country.


        Watch the roads in the evenings in Delhi; sooner or later you will see a man on a cycle-rickshaw, pedalling down the road, with a giant bed, or a table, tied to the cart that is attached to his cycle. Every day furniture is delivered to people’s homes by this man – the deliver-man. A bed costs five thousand rupees, maybe six-thousand. Add the chairs, and a coffee table, and it’s ten or fifteen thousand. A man comes on a cycle-cart, bringing you this bed, table, and chairs, a poor man who may make five hundred rupees a month. He unloads all this furniture for you, and you give him the money in cash – a fat wad of cash the size of a brick. He puts it into his pocket, or into his shirt, or into his underwear, and cycles back to his boss and hands it over without touching a single rupee of it! A year’s salary, two years’ salary in his hands, and he never takes a rupee of it.
……..
Why?
        Because Indians are the world’s most honest people, like the prime minister’s booklet will inform you?
        No. It’s because 99.9 per cent of us are caught in the Rooster Coop just like those poor guys in the poultry market.
        The Rooster Coop doesn’t always work with miniscule sums of money. Don’t test your chauffeur with a rupee coin or two – he may well steal that much. But leave a million dollars in front of a servant and he won’t touch a penny…The trustworthiness of servants is the basis of the entire Indian economy…The Great Indian Rooster Coop.
…….
A handful of men in this country have trained the remaining 99.9 per cent – as strong, as talented, as intelligent in every way – to exist in perpetual servitude; a servitude so strong that you can put the key of his emancipation in a man’s hands and he will throw it back at you with a curse.
…….
I will never envy the rich of America or England…they have no servants there. They cannot even begin to understand what a good life is.
        Now, a thinking man like you…must ask two questions.
        Why does the Rooster Coop work? How does it trap so many millions of men and women so effectively?
        Secondly, can a man break out of the coop? What if one day, for instance,  driver took his employer’s money and ran? What would his life be like?
…….
        The answer to the first question is that the pride and glory of our nation, the repository of all our love and sacrifice…the indian family, is the reason we are trapped and tied in the coop.
        The answer to the second question is that only a man who is prepared to see his family destroyed – hunted, beaten, adn burned alive byu the maasters – can break out of the coop. That would take no normal human being, but a freak, a pervert of nature.
        It would, in fact, take a White Tiger. You are listening to the story of a social entrepreneur, sir.’ pp. 173-177

Published in: on December 26, 2009 at 3:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

The White Tiger – Value for Money

The reason behind 3hr+ movies with intermissions and tasteless excess:

‘That evening, while driving back to the apartment, I looked into the rearview mirror. Mr Ashok was wearing a T-shirt.
It was like no T-shirt I would ever choose to buy at a store. The larger part of it was empty and white and there was a small design in the centre. I would have bought something very colourful, with lots of words and designs on it. Better value for the money.’ – p.149

[please post any pics to best communicate this]

Published in: on December 25, 2009 at 3:46 pm  Comments (3)  

The White Tiger – Murder

‘Here’s a strange fact: murder a man, and you feel responsible for his life – possessive, even. You know more about him than his father and mother; they knew his foetus, but you know his corpse. Only you can complete the story of his life; only you know why his body has to be pushed into the fire beofre its time, and why his toes curl up and fight for another hour on earth.’ -pp.46-47

Reminiscent for me of Clint Eastwood’s excellent portrayal of the reality of violence in Unforgiven:

                               MUNNY
                   Well, that fella today, you shot
                   him alright.

                              THE KID
                          (forced bravado)
                   H-hell yeah.  I killed the hell
                   out of him... three shots... he
                   was takin' a sh-sh-shit an'...
                   an'...

     The Kid is shaking, becoming hysterical, he can't go on, and
     Munny hands the bottle back.

                               MUNNY
                   Take a drink, Kid.

                              THE KID
                      (breaking down, crying)
                   Oh Ch-ch-christ... it don't... it
                   don't seem... real... How he's...
                   DEAD... how he ain't gonna breathe
                   no more... n-n-never.  Or the
                   other one neither... On account
                   of... of just... pullin' a
                   trigger.

     Munny walks back to the edge of the rise and watches the
     rider and it is a lovely sunset happening and he is
     talking to no one in particular.

                               MUNNY
                   It's a hell of a thing, ain't it,
                   killin' a man.  You take
                   everythin' he's got... an'
                   everythin' he's ever gonna have...

                              THE KID
                        (trying to pull him-
                           self together)
                   Well, I gu-guess they had it...
                   comin'.

                               MUNNY
                   We all got it comin', Kid.
Published in: on December 25, 2009 at 1:05 pm  Comments (1)  

A Passage to India – Death (Again)

Fielding converses with Adela Quested:

”…it has made me remember that we must all die; all these personal relations we try to live by are temporary. I used to feel death selected people, it is a notion one gets from novels, because some of the characters are usually left talking at the end. Now “death spares no one” begins to be real.’
‘Don’t let it become real, or you’ll die yourself. That is the objection to meditating upon death. We are subdued to what we work in. I have felt the same temptation, and had to sheer off. I want to go on living a bit.” – p.262

Published in: on December 24, 2009 at 2:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Passage to India – Marriage

Fielding, the learned professor provides us with another rejection of accepted tradition:

‘At my age one’s seldom amazed,’ he said, smiling. ‘Marriage is too absurd in any case. It begins and continues for such very slight reasons. The social business props it up on one side, and the theological business on the other, but neither of them are marriage, are they? I’ve friends who can’t remember why they married, no more can their wives. I suspect that it mostly happens haphazard, though afterwards various noble reasons are invented. About marriage I am cynical.’ -p.260

But Fielding obviously has a view on REAL marriage of which he is not cynical, surely…

Published in: on December 24, 2009 at 2:23 pm  Leave a Comment