Wednesday, September 28, 2011

ये कौन चित्रकार है

To read poetry requires thought. Developing the mental faculty for discovering, expressing, or appreciating the poetic insights could occupy a better part of one’s creative lifetime. As they say, in order to enjoy poetry, a person does not need to be a poet.  One only needs to learn to appreciate the beauty in such creative works.  With my somewhat rudimentary sense of appreciation for the poetic beauty of the verses.....sharing with you few beautiful verses, simple yet deep, exploring one single recurring thought – Praising eternal beauty of the nature and the UNKNOWN force behind its creation.
First poetry is by lesser known Marathi poet Suryakant Khandekar. Pan. Hridayanath Mangeshakar also brilliantly composed and rendered this work. The composition literally follows verses' meaning. The thought in the poetry enfolds in itself an element of Unknown, and delineates the beauty of nature and things therein, yet completely hidden from the view an element unknown which manifests itself in this beauty.
त्या  फुलांच्या गंध कोशी
सांग तू आहेस का
त्या प्रकाशी तारकांच्या
होतीसी तू
  तेज का
  नभाच्या नील रंगी
होऊनिया गीत का
गात वायूच्या स्वराने
  तू  आहेस  का  ||
मानवाच्या  अंतरीचा प्राण तू  आहेस  का
का वादळाच्या सागराचे घोर ते तू
  रूप का
जीवनी या वर्षणारा तू
  कृपेचा मेघ का
आसमंती नाचणारी तू
  विजेची रेघ का
  फुलांच्या  गंध  कोशी … .. || 1 ||
जीवनी  संजीवनी तू  माउलीचे दूध का ?
कष्टणार्या बांधवांच्या रंगसी नेत्रात का
मूर्त तू
  मानव्य का  रे बालकांचे हास्य का  ?
या इथे अन त्या तिथे रे
  सांग तू आहेस का  ?
त्या  फुलांच्या  गंध  कोशी … .. || 2 ||
This recurring thought appears in one of Sri Aurobindo’s poems known as “WHO”. This piece of poetry raises similarly questions, embedding within itself an answer to them  
In the blue of the sky, in the green of the forest,
Whose is the hand that has painted the glow?
When the winds were asleep in the womb of the ether,
Who was it roused them and bade them to blow?

He is lost in the heart, in the cavern of Nature,
He is found in the brain where He builds up the thought:
In the pattern and bloom of the flowers He is woven,
In the luminous net of the stars He is caught.

In the strength of a man, in the beauty of woman,
In the laugh of a boy, in the blush of a girl;
The hand that sent Jupiter spinning through heaven,
Spends all its cunning to fashion a curl.
These are His works and His veils and His shadows;
But where is He then? by what name is He known?

Remember the lyrics of the track that was played at the beginning of each episode of Bharat Ek Khoj. This is Nasadiya Sukta from RigVeda, first the original Sanskrit version followed by its Hindi translation. Notice again axiomatic eternal question of the creation in nature. 
नासदासीन नो सदासीत तदानीं नासीद रजो नो वयोमापरो यत |
किमावरीवः कुह कस्य शर्मन्नम्भः किमासीद गहनं गभीरम ||
सृष्टि से पहले सत नहीं था
असत भी नहीं
अंतरिक्ष भी नहीं

आकाश भी नहीं था
छिपा था क्या, कहाँ
किसने ढका था
उस पल तो
अगम अतल जल भी कहां था

सृष्टि का कौन है कर्ता?
कर्ता है वह अकर्ता
ऊँचे आकाश में रहता
सदा अध्यक्ष बना रहता
वही सचमुच में जानता
या नहीं भी जानता
है किसी को नही पता
नही पता
नही है पता
नही है पता

Yet another simple but profound poesy portraying this thought is from this Hindi Movie “Boond Jo Ban Gayee Moti” sung by Mukesh

हरी हरी वसुंधरा पे नीला नीला  ये गगन 
के  जिस   पे  बादलों  की  पालकी  उड़ा  रहा  पवन
दिशाएँ  देखो  रंगभरी ,  चमक  रही  उमंग  भरी
ये  किस   ने  फूल  फूल  पे  किया  सिंगार  है
ये  कौन  चित्रकार  है , ये  कौन  चित्रकार 
ये  कौन  चित्रकार  है .. ..

तपस्वीयों  सी  हैं  अटल  ये  परवातों  की  चोटियाँ
ये  सर्प  सी  घूमेरादार , घेरदार  घाटियाँ 
ध्वजा   से  ये  खड़े  हुए  हैं   वृक्ष   देवदार  के
गलीचे  ये  गुलाब  के , बगीचे  ये  बहार  के
ये  किस  कवी  की  कल्पना  का  चमत्कार  है
ये  कौन  चित्रकार  है ..

 P.S. updating this post as I forgot to mention that this Song from movie "Boong Jo Ban Gayee Moti" was written by noted lyricist Bharat Vyas who has also penned the immortal prayer song "Ae Malik Tere Bande Hum" from movie "Do Aakhein Barah Haath".

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Vision of the Sublime

Gazing up into the heavens dotted with innumerable stars, who wouldn’t be moved by its manifestation or mystified by its expanse? Standing before the open vastness of the ocean or magnificent sight of snow capped Himalayas, how wouldn’t one feel that sudden surge of emotions aroused from deep within? Who wouldn’t be exalted, discovering the irresistible simplicity and beauty of a mathematical idea? Who wouldn’t get smitten by the utter brilliance of an artistic or musical work?
Sense of Sublime, as the above situations bespeak of, and its very nature is a fascinating subject in philosophy and psychology. We would discuss some of its dimensions.
The sense of sublime, primitive in its existence and central to human experience, would manifests itself in all such contexts described. As Grant Allen in his work The Origin of the Sublime puts it– “There is perhaps no feeling in nature more strangely compounded and more indefinably singular than that we call sense of Sublime”. It is inexplicable feeling blended with awe and unspeakable joy, fear of something mysterious, or veneration for something profound.  This experience of sublime may be evoked in all pursuit of religion, philosophy, science, arts etc. Nobody is left untouched by this experience. This is how precisely Erwin Chargaff, famous biologist whose contribution in understanding of the structure of DNA was not acknowledged by Nobel Committee, reflects this emotion in his article in Journal Nature
“It is the sense of mystery that, in my opinion, drives the true scientist; the same blind force, blindly seeing, deafly hearing, unconsciously remembering, that drives the larva into the butterfly.  If [the scientist] has not experienced, at least a few times in his life, this cold shudder down his spine, this confrontation with an immense invisible face whose breath moves him to tears, he is not a scientist.”
What Chagraff delineates as “confrontation with an immense invisible face whose breath moves him to tears” is what we define the moments of sublime.
Philosophers and psychologists have tried to conceptualize this state of mind as “Aesthetic Appreciation”. Edmund Burke’s famous treatise, A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of The Sublime and Beautiful, was a breakthrough in the uniting idea of sublime in philosophy with psychology. In his work, he posits that the effect caused by the great and sublime is ‘Astonishment’ and can be reckoned as ‘of the highest degree’; while others are its inferior effects such as reverence, admiration and respect. According to evolutionary biologists Keltner & Haidt, ‘Awe’ as an experience can include –
 “Both a perceived vastness (whether of power or magnitude) and a need for accommodation, which is an inability to assimilate an experience into current mental structure.”
We can clearly identify this definition of ‘Awe’ with our subjective experience. When we are confronted with objects of physical grandeur, supreme works of arts and science, or religious or philosophical ideas, a sudden awareness dawns which transcends our current understanding of the nature of things, followed by an emergent overwhelmingness, so overpowering that our mental faculty is at loss to accommodate its sheer depth, mystery or might.
There has always been a clear debate amongst early philosophers either to associate or discern the Sublime from Beautiful. M a r k o U r š i č * in his essay, Sublimity of the Sky from Kant to Sayantana and beyond, examines this difference as given by Emmanuel Kant in his treatise Critique of Judgment (1790)
“The Beautiful in nature is the question of the form of the object, and this consists in limitation, whereas the Sublime is to be found in an object devoid of the form, so far as it immediately involves, or by its presence provokes a representation of limitlessness, yet with a superadded thought of its totality”
What it means is that our perception of beautiful exists as an aesthetic idea in our mind and is not a characteristic of the object being perceived. It is a concept in the mind of the subject and is intuitive in nature. It cannot be given an adequate perception that would realize the cognitive whole symbolized in the concept.  This wholeness of cognition in the concept transcends all possible experiences and hence by virtue of this limitation of mind to perceive that experience it cannot become recognition.  However, the argument takes a deviation when Kant says that the whole could exist as the “general without concept” in the “aesthetic idea” given to the subject of the perception. Hence this is an experience subjective which pleases “in general and without a concept”.
Sublime, according to Kant, exists as an “aesthetic idea” in the mind, and these aesthetic idea coveys the idea of infinity or limitlessness in a more cognitive form i.e. the wholeness in the cognition could be recognized in the aesthetic idea.  Sublime is more inner than the beautiful.
Kant also discerns between “mathematical” and “Dynamical” sublimes in nature. Mathematical sublime happens by the immeasurableness of the sublime such as the night sky or the cosmos which overwhelms our imaginations capacity to comprehend it or hold it. This inadequacy in our “faculty of senses” evidences its “smallness”. “Dynamical sublime purely refers to immeasurableness of the might of nature. We might experience fear by stormy ocean, thunderous clouds or volcanoes while knowing ourselves that we are safe and hence without being afraid. While the above analysis is more inclined towards sublime in nature, it is equally applicable to the sublime in arts or sciences. 
One depiction which comes very close to the idea of sublime is the scene from the movie “Contact” based on novel by Carl Sagan where Ellie, the protagonist, is transported with her alien aircraft via a series of wormholes to far reaches of the cosmos. The sequence is breathtaking in its depiction as it shows her journey through space-time continuum which culminates into a sublime moment when she encounters with spectacular view of the cosmos. 
When she returns she has no evidence to prove what she had been through. And when she is asked to prove the experience, in its response she says something which would only reinforce what has been discussed earlier
- I had an experience. I can't prove it. I can't even explain it. All I can tell you is that everything I know as a human being, everything I am, tells me that it was real. I was given something wonderful. Something that changed me. A vision of the universe that made it overwhelmingly clear just how tiny and insignificant and at the same time how rare and precious we all are. A vision that tells us we belong to something greater than ourselves that we're not - that none of us is alone.
Truely, Sublime is a visceral feeling indescribable in words.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Land In Limbo

PM Manmohan Singh is on a visit to Bangladesh on 6 and 7th of September. This visit was touted as historic and of import by the media and there is reason to do so. This was first in last 12 years when an Indian PM was on a visit to our eastern neighbor. The visit was of crucial significance within the context of India’s bilateral agreements involving the disputed border and sharing of teesta river water between both the countries. This was aptly referred to by the economist as 'a watershed agreement in the annals of a bizarre geography'. In this context, it would be interesting to know the current state of affairs in the relations between the two countries and more interesting, to study what makes this geography so unique.
The border that we share with Bangladesh unlike our other geographical neighbors such as Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Maldives or Myanmar, has one of the most bewildering feature called "enclaves complex" which exist along Bangladesh's northern border with India and is called Cooch Behar enclave complex. The story behind this enclave complex is too compelling to tell and has deep historical and political bearings.
An Enclave, as Wiki puts it, is a territory whose geographical boundaries lie entirely within the boundaries of another territory i.e. fragments of one country which are entirely surrounded by other. The word "enclave" entered into the dictionary of British diplomacy in 1868 and owes its etymological origin to Latin word "clavus" which means 'embedded and surrounded'.
In his book "Stateless in South Asia: The making of the India Bangladesh Enclaves”, Wilhelm Schendel refers to about 250 such enclaves surviving in the world today and are found mainly in three geographies - western Europe, eastern fringes of former soviet empire and south Asia. Most of the enclaves in south Asia are found along the borderland of India-Bangladesh. Cooch Behar, as the territory falling into the Indian side of the border called, is a district in north Bengal which once had been the seat of the princely state of Koch Bihar, ruled by the Koch dynasty. Cooch Behar possesses almost 200 exclaves out of which 106 are in Bangladesh. Of those, 3 are counter-enclaves (enclaves within enclaves) and world’s only counter-counter enclave i.e. a patch of Bangladesh that is surrounded by Indian Territory itself surrounded by Bangladeshi territory.
The border between India and Bangladesh runs for 4096 km where its entire stretch  splits up into flat/plains (in West Bengal, Assam-Barak Valley, Tripura), riverine (southern extremity of West Bengal border and of Assam) and hilly/jungle (in Meghalaya). Along its length it touches border with Assam, Tripura, Mizoram, Meghalaya and in the longest stretch 2,217 km with West Bengal.
In his scholarly work titled Waiting For the Esquimo, Brenden Whyte chronicles the history of Bengal and of Cooch Behar dating from Mughal and British period (1500-1950) to Indo-Pakistan period (1947-1970) till formation of Bangladesh in 1971. It would be worthwhile to spend some time on the crucial periods of this history.
The Mughal Period
About 1200 AD much of the Bengal was conquered by Muslims enlarging the Mughal Sultanate except the northern part which was overrun by local tribes called Koch. During the same time, Assam was ruled by Asom dynasty. Muslim rulers from central and south Bengal, under the patronage of Mughals tried several times to attack and occupy kingdoms of north Bengal,  but could not succeed. 1500 - 1600 AD saw the rise to power of Koch dynasty, the rulers of Behar. Around that period, Muslim rulers such as Sher Shah Suri, Suleman Kararani who ruled Bengal, invaded this region several times. Finally, Emperor Akbar removed Kararani from Bengal and added it to Mughal Empire with Koch’s help.  However, the powerful landlords of Cooch Behar retained possession of their land surrounded by the area of Mughal state giving a tough fight to the Mughals. The period between 1600 -1700 AD was chaotic due to dynastic wars and fight for succession within Koch Dynasty. Taking advantage of this condition, Mughals under Eebadat Khan begun occupying the outlying regions called Chaklas, of the dynasty. These Chaklas were established by Mughals replacing the previous divisions called Sarkars for easy administration and Zamindars of these and nearby Chaklas paid allegiance to Mughal. The remaining region remained under control of Kochs.
Whyte lays importance on the crucial peace treaties happened in 1711 and 1713 between the kingdom of Cooch Behar and the Mughal Empire which ended a long series of wars in which the Mughals wrested several districts from Cooch Behar thus leading to the formation of enclaves. This is because the Mughals were not able to remove some of the powerful overlords of Cooch Behar from some of these Chaklas. So these lands were still held by these chieftains even though they were annexed from that state and were ‘enclaved’ in Mughal land. Similarly other side, disbanded Mughal soldiers who occupied lands inside reminder of Cooch Behar retained their allegiance to Mughal Empire although detached from it and ‘enclaved’ inside Cooch Behar. The Mughal Empire never considered these enclaves as problematic as they lacked the scientific methods to earmark boundaries.
The British Period
Over time Mughal Empire disintegrated and eventually the Nawab Nazir of Bengal became the de-facto ruler till the time East India Company established itself in India in mid-18th century. After Robert Clive defeated Siraj-ud-daula at Plassey in 1757, Mir Jafar, uncle of nawab, was enthroned who was later replaced with his son-in-law Mir Kasim. The control of Bengal was slowly passed onto East India Company with the granting of Diwani of Mughal Bengal and enclaves of Cooch Behar.
The company accidently in 1814 discovered existence of Cooch Behar enclaves, their jurisdictions being held independent of company control and had no authority of magistrate. Such regions were then natural sanctuaries for notorious offenders fleeing the police.
British indirectly ruled north Bengal, and so the Maharaja and his administration were retained under their rule and eventually Cooch Behar survived as princely state till the end of colonial rule. Being the principality, Cooch Behar saw little unrest for independence from British rule.
After the colonial rule ended, princely states had only two options either to join India or join Pakistan. Cooch Behar was end up being wedged between India and east Pakistan. As Wilhelm Schendel puts it succinctly “The Mughal outliers in Cooch Behar had become part of British India and then part of Pakistan, whereas the Cooch Behar outliers in Mughal territory had become part of princely state and then part of India”. Eventually in 1971, as a result of Bangladesh liberation war and Indo-Pak war, East Pakistan seceded to form Bangladesh. Remarkably, even after being a part of such an eventful history involving frequent changes in dominion, the enclaves survived.
Post 1971
Relations between India and newly formed Bangladesh were pleasant since solving the boundary problems were not on the priority of newly formed independent state.  In 1972 signing of trade agreements led to trade movements across border in specified commodities. The agreement expired after one year and then never reinstated. In 1974, a treaty was signed between two countries called Indira-Mujib Treaty. This treaty listed 15 sectors of boundary to be demarcated and agreed that enclaves of both the countries in others region shall be exchanged expeditiously with no compensation for loss of Bangladesh and with exception to few enclaves which shall be retained by Bangladesh. India also agreed to lease an access corridor between Dehagram and Bangladesh known as Teen Bigha. Teen Bigha was one such attempt to connect the Bangladeshi enclaves to their ‘mainland’.  India ratified this agreement in 1980 after passing a bill in parliament. However, the implementation did not happen due to 1) Dispute regarding the transfer and terms of lease of Teen Bigha to Bangladesh 2) an ongoing dispute regarding use of this land by anti-India elements and illegal immigrants to cross over into India, and the agreement remained a pipe dream. After lot of political and social hullabaloo, eventually in 1992 Teen Bigha was transferred to Bangladesh.
The condition of those stuck in those enclaves is beyond what we call livable. They are virtually cut from all amenities like water electricity roads, hospitals, schools etc. They are trapped into a no-man’s land with limited ingress to their ‘mainland’ and even need a visa to get that access. This resulted in rise in illegal border crossing.
Fencing the Border
Border between India and Bangladesh is highly porous which also makes it highly conducive to illegal immigration and smuggling of goods. To curtail this, in late 1984, Indian Government announced its plan to fence the border. The construction started in two phases. Phase I began in 1987 and completed fencing only 20% of border while Phase II started in 2000. BSF was deployed to guard the border. However, the illegal immigration continued and over time condition worsened due to rise of terrorism. This border became notorious for enforcing a shoot-to-kill order against Bangladeshi migrants by BSF.
Notwithstanding the daft of agreements between both the countries, little progress has been made from both the sides raising ire of the people trapped between disputed borders. The economist puts this plight of those living in this limbo pertinently-
“A few years ago, away from Cooch Behar, on the eastern border with India, I met a man who lived smack on the border between Tripura state and Bangladesh. His living room was in Bangladesh, his toilet in India. He had been a local politician in India, and was now working as a farmer in Bangladesh. As is typical in such places, he sent his daughters to school in Bangladesh, and his sons to India, where schools, he thought, were much better. To his mind, the fence dividing the two countries was of little value. But, he conceded, “at least my cows don’t run away anymore.”
Waiting for the Esquimo by Brendan Whyte
Stateless in South Asia: The making of the India Bangladesh Enclaves by Wilhelm Schendel