Room with a View|Jan 29, 2006 5:01 AM| by:

Of Past Dawns and Future Noons

Book: Of Past Dawns and Future Noons; Author: Shonar

‘…when we call ourselves Indian, there just has to be something more to it than belonging to a patch of land between the Himalayas and Kanyakumari. That’s where this attempt slides in.’

So says the author right at the start.

Today when I think of India and Bangalore in particular (from where I come),  I see crumbling roads, traffic jams, pollution and politicians busy scheming to stay in power. I hear of rape and murder, MPs caught taking money to ask questions in parliament and on the other side of the fence, politics entering the gentlemanly sport of cricket. There is cut-throat competition everywhere, extreme pressures applied at work, study and play.

There is nothing Indian about this. This could be the story of any country around the globe¾Brazil, France, Sri Lanka, Pakistan or USA. This description fits all, the difference is only in degrees.

Is there anything that sets us apart from the rest?

Shonar goes back in time and unravels the Indian-ness of India.

As one reads about the fabulous past, one realises how much one has taken for granted the things that should have been revered. It is just a lack of knowledge about the riches of our own country that has made us crave and chase after the cultures of others.

The Indian-ness of India is revealed in Sculpture, Architecture, Painting, Craft-work, the world of Drama, Dance, Music, Poetry, Literature, Education, Agriculture, Law, War, Science, Astronomy, Medicine and Religion. Entire chapters have been dedicated to each of the above, lucidly bringing out the essence of India seen in every nook and corner of this country.

A common thread that runs throughout the book is the approach taken by the ancient Indian towards all the various fields of human activity. Coming to the fore at all times are the facets of observation, assimilation, the sense for detail and a consistent search for something more meaningful and beautiful.

‘Each spin of the potter’s wheel was a prayer, a mantra like the Buddhist’s prayer wheel. Every spark from the furnace travelled Godward.

Craft was an offering, a sacrifice. It was a means for effecting the steady climb towards the Light above.’

The commitment shown by the artist was total.

‘The sculptor inherits his profession at birth, but it is only when he has learnt, experienced, imbibed the subtleties behind his art that he truly becomes an artist.

He has to master not only his own craft but educate himself in literature and poetry, yoga and dance, music and warfare. When the time comes, he should know how to create the fiery breath emitted by a warhorse before it tramples its enemy into the dust. He should feel the pain when the maiden pulls a thorn from her foot.’

The same expectation of scholarship was expected of critics of drama.

‘A critic should be open minded, one who knows about music and dance, one who is well informed about the four kinds of acting and one who has good acquaintance with the different dialects and customs.’

The Indian painter was subtle.

‘The Indian artist, with the backing prop of his spiritual understanding, never drew what he saw but what he meant. The meaning is not overtly apparent but lies beneath the bliss of a smile or a half-clenched fist. It lies behind the colours, in the shadows.’

Musicians played with an inspired soul.

‘The artist waits to be told what he must play: not by the audience or the organisers but the soul of his music. When Kumar Ghandharva was asked, a few minutes before a performance, what raga he had decided to sing, he replied, ‘I don’t know yet. I shall wait for the tanpura to tell me.’’

For the ancients, Dance was simply an expression of joy.

‘… when such a feeling overtakes a soul, it feels the urge to break all bounds. And joy is nothing save being in harmony with all that is. And thus, the varieties of dance are infinite, for each man has his unique language of expression. There are war dances, bamboo dances, cow dances, stilt dances, snake dances. Each has its peculiar trademark, season, occasion. Each is indigenous to an area, to a people. Each is vivid, animated, sublime’

Education in ancient India was as exacting.

‘The gurus themselves were put to many tests for they were to possess the highest morals, the greatest spiritual qualifications. They were to reveal the truth as they knew it to be and hide nothing. But the ancient scriptures warned, ‘This ‘truth’ is not grasped when taught by an inferior man’’.

And the qualities and outlook of a statesman is simply enviable, especially today.

‘In the happiness of his subjects lies his happiness; in their welfare his welfare; whatever pleases himself he shall not consider as good, but whatever pleases his subjects, he shall consider as good’.

The ancient Indian approach was always very complete in every domain. Medicine was no exception…

‘Mind, soul and body  are the three pillars of life; the world rests on a combination of them – neglecting any of them would be inimical and disastrous. Little wonder that Ayurveda meant the ‘Science of Life’.’

As you read the book, a sense of awe fills you. What an amazing country we live in. What richness of thought and depth of understanding.

And then there is this overwhelming feeling of reverence. One’s approach is no longer casual or dismissive. The book destroys all arrogance and a feeling of superiority a ‘modern’ mind has for all things ancient.

By the end there is a strong desire to visit the places described in the book, accentuated by the visuals – photographs, illustrations, paintings. To touch, see, hear and feel the art as the ancient Indian artist felt becomes almost imperative.

And above all, it is the inspiring words sprinkled throughout the book. Every word or idea has the potency to bring about a paradigm shift in the way we tackle our daily lives. Every page reveals hints and clues and lessons which can take us into a glorious future, not just for India but for humanity in general, for now, it is almost impossible to think of individual nations.

And as the author puts it ‘If we can teach each other, then there is no reason why one age cannot teach another. Past with the Present – that’s the secret concoction for the Future’.

Srinivas Sastry