Thursday, January 14, 2010

WAR OF THE WORLDS

“Inventing the wheel ruined us as a civilisation. Instead of looking within for the way to our dreams, we started exploiting our environment for quick fix solutions.” The class of under graduate students looked at me with skepticism in their eyes and chewed up pencil bottoms in their mouths…

The topic for the day was ‘Did we take the wrong turn?’ and the training tool was a book by Michael Blake, also made into a sensitive and beautiful film by Kevin Costner, called “Dances With Wolves”, an all-time favourite and one that I find deeply moving. It is the story of Lieutenant John Dunbar, who comes close to losing his leg, and is sent off to a frontier outpost on the prairies. Here the earth shakes like a drum skin as great herds of ‘buffalo’ charge from horizon to horizon and the sky is rent by the shrill whoops and cries of (American) Indian hunting parties. When Dunbar reaches the post, it is empty.

Dunbar begins a lonely vigil but eventually befriends a wolf and a neighbouring tribe of Sioux Indians. The war hero learns to appreciate their culture and their empathetic bond with the wilderness. Dunbar gradually realises that his own people are just acquisitive invaders who’re callously destroying the people whose understanding of their world goes much beyond that of his own kind. Dunbar goes over to the other side. He hunts and fights alongside the Sioux, in a battle to save not just a tribe, or its culture but their whole world and its ways, against an enemy that is stronger and cannot love or understand, but only wishes to possess all that is precious and beautiful.

It is an old battle between the lover and the ravisher, replayed in “The Last Samurai” and now again in James Cameron’s “Avatar”. It was while watching “Avatar” that I was reminded of that old hypothesis that we perhaps ended up down the wrong road, far away from where we were meant to be…

Movies like “Dances With Wolves” and “Avatar” pit the old ways against the new; where the second born, emboldened and hardened by technology and driven by a constant Oedipal lust, threatens to ravage and raze Mother Nature, and cannibalise her first born. But the pertinent question over here is, that if the natives or the Na’vi are such wise and wonderful people, then why are they weaker than their modern mechanised counterparts? Why is their saviour not one of their own?

The answer – stagnation! And whatever becomes stagnant must die. The world of the Na’vi and Indians is a world that was stuck in time and forgot to grow. But our world, the world of technology, is constantly growing, experimenting and pushing its limits, and becoming more powerful by the hour. The old worlds that crumble were as much on the wrong path as we are today. Both our world and that of the Na’vi’s is a world built on exploitation. The only difference is that while the Na’vi and the native Americans stop at horses and dragons, we’ve moved on to other more lethal resources like uranium and ‘unobtainium’.

I believe man is supposed to become a god or at least like what Sri Aurobindo said ‘…man arose out of animal, so out of man superman shall come’ but the day man thought that the only way he could go faster than his legs could carry him was by riding a horse or a wheel, he chose to become a demon instead of a deva. From that day to this, our growth has been sublime yet exploitative, enslaved to the very sources of energy that we pretend to subdue. The day they disappear, so would our growth. Stripped of technology and our tools, we still remain the naked ape we’d always been. What is worse is that our dependence on external resources has made us selfish and insecure.

And the solution? Well, one day I was browsing in a bookstore after spending some time talking to students about the goodness of Gandhi and wondering why goodness cannot protect us from a bullet fired in hate. Then, I found a book called “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”.

Born in 300 BC, Patanjali wrote his treatise “to eradicate ignorance and show mankind ‘the way’”. You can find versions of it in any bookstore. The first few chapters focus on ‘the path’ and third on the fruits of the path. In a nutshell, the book says that if we devote our lives to ‘doing good and being good’, and most importantly, we focus on the world within us through focused meditation, we’ll find all the power we need, even at the physical level, right here within us.

Do I believe it? Oh, I so want to, and it seems logical too, doesn’t it? But the proof of the pudding lies in the eating, so while I go look for someone who’s tried walking along ‘the path’, you go and pick up that book… at the very least it’ll make us nicer people.

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