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  

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 – The Eternal Sleep

‘Those in the Civil Station kept watch a little, fearing an attack, but presently they too enteredt the world of dreams – that world in which a third of each man’s life is spent, and which is thought by some pessimists to be a premonition of eternity.’ – p.239

It is interesting then that quickly following this passage, Fielding has this to say:

‘Liking here better he smiled and said, ‘It’ll get us to heaven.’
‘Will it?’
‘If heaven existed.’
‘Do you not believe in heaven, Mr Fielding, amy I ask?’ she said, looking at him shyly.
‘I do not. Yet I believe that honesty gets us there.” – pp.240-241

 
Hypnos, Greek god of sleep, and his brother, Thanatos, god of death, as painted
by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)
Published in: on December 24, 2009 at 2:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Passage to India – Life Between Worlds

There’s a wondeful passage that seems to define life as a transcient trifle where what is really important is the snatching and appreciation of moments of beauty, for it is beauty that characterises this quick burst of humanity and makes it beyond bearable, but enjoyable:

‘The poem had done no ‘good’ to anyone, but it was a passing reminder, a breath from the divine lips of beauty, a nightingale between two worlds of dust. Less explicit than the call to Krishna, it voiced our loneliness nevertheless, our isolation, our need for the Friend who never comes yet is not entirely disproved.’ – p.119

Religion vs Beauty. It recalls a particular metaphor in a poem I can’t for the life of me recall where life is reduced to a bird flying in from the cold to enjoy the warmth and tremendous excitement of a festive feast in an instant before exiting through another open window. Two worlds of dust separated by life.

If anyone knows the poem, please put me out of my misery, there’s a connection awaiting conclusion.

Published in: on December 23, 2009 at 4:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Wasp Factory – Signs & Symbols, Systems & Processes

All our lives are symbols. Everything we do is part of a pattern we have at least some say in. The strong make their patterns and influence other people’s, the weak have their courses mapped out for them. The weak and the unlucky, and the stupid. The Wasp Factory is part of the pattern because it is part of life and – even more so – part of death. Like life it is complicated, so all the components are there. The reason it can answer questions is because every question is a start looking for an end, and the Factory is about the End – death, no less. Keep your entrails and sticks and dice and books and birds and voices and pendants and all the rest of that crap; I have the Factory, and it’s about now and the future; not the past. –pp.117-8

Published in: on November 9, 2009 at 4:17 pm  Leave a Comment