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.

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