Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Thoughts from India

Some of you may know that I am in India these days. Much is said about India becoming a superpower in the not-so-distant future. However, the situation on the ground, in my opinion, doesn't lend itself to such a degree of optimism. The majority of the people here do not have access to clean running water, basic healthcare, electricity, and proper education among other necessities. Even in my grandparents' relatively decent neighborhood, power has been cut three times TODAY!! Imagine what life must be like for the common person. The country needs to cover the basics before it can be expected to move into higher levels of development.

Rant over.

One of the most interesting books I've read in the last two weeks has been The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Never have I found the moral degradation of an individual quite so fascinating. I think each of us has a bit of Basil Hallward, Dorian Gray, and Lord Henry in our personalities (well at least I do).

I found this exchange between Lord Henry, a corrupting influence who himeself will never be harmed, and a Lady particularly striking:

L: 'It has development.'
LH: 'Decay fasninates me more.'
'What of art?' she asked.
'It is a malady.'
'An illusion.'
'The fashionable substitute for belief.'
'You are a sceptic.'
'Never! Scepticism is the beginning of faith.'
'What are you?'
'To define is to limit.'
'Give us a clue.'
'Threads snap. You would lose your way in the labyrinth.'

You may hate him, but I can't help but want to be him.

Speaking of pictures, I recently made a drawing I call Prisoner of the Self; it's most accurately described as surrealist and cubist. It's essentially a man in a tuxedo, sitting on a chair, trapped in crystal boxes. I'm planning on turning it into a full painting when I have some proper time on my hands. It would take me hours to explain where the inspiration comes from.

My spiritual guru here says that it would be best to do something creative with my life. You may laugh in my face, but when he looks into my eyes I feel that he can see what is called "The Self" in the Bhagvad Gita, and knows my future to some extent. Maybe art, fashion, writing, something abstract is my true calling. Speaking of the future, a soothsayer met with my mother here (apparently his predictions have a good track record) and said that I would be with a woman with beautiful hair and eyes. What does that mean? Haha

Photos to come soon. I'm having loads of fun playing cricket on the street.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

The Lamentation and Death of Farhad

Leaf from a dispersed manuscript of the Khamsa at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Nizami, arguably the greatest romantic Persian poet, wrote Khusraw and Shirin in the 12th century. It is a masnavi, or long epic, of 7,000 couplets written in the hazaj hexameter. Khusraw and Shirin is part of Nizami's Khamsa, or quintet, which also includes the more famous Layla and Majnun.

Unlike other poets of the time, Nizami was well-off enough not to have to follow a panegyric style of composition. Rather he explored a diverse range of philosophical themes. Khusraw and Shirin in particular contains several sufi mystic ideas, such as the manifestation of love for God in love for a person. F.I. Abdullaeva (incidentally my tutor) believes that Shirin, the queen whom the poor sculptor Farhad falls in love with, is simply a vessel for his love of God. She argues that it is not Shirin that he is actually in love with, rather he is in love with God, and his love is simply manifested in this particular form. Similar to sufi songs, which may superficially be interpreted as romantic ballads, Khusraw and Shirin represents a devotion to God that pervades an individual's (or mystic's) entire existence. When Farhad is cruelly told that Shirin has died, his purpose in life also ends. One may interpret Nizami's idea as, "without God, what is man?".

(A small fragment of Khusraw and Shirin)
The Lamentation and Death of Farhad:

"O'er my sad heart the fowls and fishes weep;
For my life's steam doth into darkness creep.
Why am I parted from my mistress dear?
Now Shirin's gone, why should I tarry here?
Without her face should I desire to thrive
It would serve me right if I were boned alive!
Felled to the dust, my cypress quick lies dead:
Shall I remain to cast dust on my head?
My smiling rose is fallen from the tree:
The garden is a prison now to me.
My bird of spring is from the meadow flown,
I, like the thundercloud, will weep and groan.
My world-enkindling lamp is quenched for aye:
Shall not any day be turned to night today?
My lamp is out, and chilly strikes the gale:
My moon is darkened and my sun is pale.
Beyond Death's portals Shirin shall I greet,
So with one leap I hasten Death to meet!'
Thus to the world his mournful tale he cried,
For Shirin kissed the ground, and kissing died"

E.G., Browne, A Literary History of Persia Vol. 2: From Firdawsi to Sa'di, (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1906) 406
(One of my favorite books)