Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Nandanam: Malayalam Movie

It is at meal times that the TV is usually switched on. When I did that during lunch today, they were just starting the Malayalam movie Nandanam on Asianet. I had seen the later part of the movie earlier, on some similar occasion. Today the movie had just begun and since I had liked what I saw of it earlier, I decided to watch it.

The movie has the beauty of a naadan penkidaav and the female lead looked every bit a naaadan pendikaav. [The word Naadan Penkidaav brings to mind memories of a book I had read as a schoolboy – Oru Naadan Penkidaavinte London Yaatra.] I really loved the movie, as much for its lyrical beauty as for several other things. I loved its realism as well its romanticism. And the two aspects go so well, it is difficult to separate the two. Like everyone else who watches the movie, I was touched by the ending.

Faith can be a powerful source of strength. And that was the only strength of the little girl Balamani there. Faith in human goodness and faith of the other kind – the religious kind, which fills life with magic and mystery. I loved the intimacy Balamani felt with her God. I felt that is exactly how God should be. A friend you can complain to, be angry with, play with, dance with. Jo tumhen manane ayega jab tum roothoge. I do not like the God you have to fear. Never liked him.

Sometime back I was invited to give a series of talks on the Gita. This was in a Krishna temple. While the organizers and I were sitting and talking just before the inaugural talk, one of them told me I must talk about bhayabhakti – devotion based on fear. I told him I did not know what it was. I told him so far I knew there was nothing called bhayabhakti. If there is something like that, that will be the devotion of a slave. Of a slave who has accepted his slavery and does not protest, does not revolt against it, not even in his heart. A slave who has been broken forever, the way you break a wild horse. [Disney’s wild horse Spirit refuses to be broken.] Fear can create only one thing – gulami, slavery. And I don’t believe that we were meant to be slaves. Slavery is an insult to God. And I mean this as much from the standpoint of the slave as from the standpoint of the slaveholder. I believe God would want us to fight every form of slavery others try to impose on us. I believe God would detest the love of a person who has surrendered his pride. God loves proud love – love that holds its head high.

I like the relation between Draupadi and Krishna in the Mahabharata. She can become a manini and reject Krishna when necessary because of her pride. She is not afraid of Krishna. There is no fear.

And I like the relation between Radha and Krishna in the Gita Govindam. There is no fear there either. Gita Govindam’s Radha can get furious with Krishna. She too can reject him for his betrayals, for his inconstancies. Out of her pride. And she can ask him to do anything for her because he is hers and she is his.

I love the scene in the Gita Govindam where Radha asks Krishna to do again her make up that has been spoiled by their lovemaking. kuru yadu-nandana chandana-ziziratareNa kareNa payodhare… ghaTaya jaghane kA~nchiM mugdha-srajA kabarI-bhAraM.kalaya valaya-shreNIM pANau pade maNi-nUpurAu.

[Please get hold of a good translation of the Gita Govindam for meaning.]

I love the scene in the Mahabharata where Draupadi comes before Krishna just as he is getting ready to go to Hastinapura on his peace mission. Weeping, after speaking of her pain at length, she asks him:

katham nu bhAryA pArthAnAm tava krshna sakhI vibho
dhrshtadyumnasya bhaginI sabhAm krshyeta madrzee

“How can I –– wife of the sons of Kunti; your friend, O Krishna, O lord; and Dhrishtadyumna’s sister –– how can I be dragged into a court?”

And a little later she denounces Krishna:

naiva me patayah santi na putrAh na ca bAndhavAh
na bhrAtaro na ca pitA naiva tvam madhusUdana.

“I have no husbands, nor sons, or friends or relatives. I have no brothers, no father, nor you either, Krishna.”

It is not Draupadi’s despair I see here. It is her faith that I see here. Faith that he is bound to protect her. Faith and unshakeable conviction. And she makes it clear next, when she says:

caturbhih kAranaih krshna tvayA rakshyAsmi nityazah
sambandhAt gauravAt sakhyAt prabhutyenaiva kezava.

“For four reasons, Krishna, you owe it to me to protect me: because you are related to me, because of my standing [i.e., eminence, dignity], because we are friends and because you are capable of protecting.”

She does not cringe before him. She does not beg protection from Krishna. She claims it. She demands it. And in claiming and demanding, she never treats herself any less than him.

It is not because she weeps before him that Krishna gives her the assurance he gives. No. It is because she claims it as her right. She asks from him no more than what is hers by right. And that is enough for her.

Narada in the Bhakti Sutras defines bhakti as parama-prema-rūpa – as the highest love. Where there is fear, there can be no love. You cannot love him before whom you cower. Or her before whom you cower.

Bhayabhakti, devotion based on fear, is a carry over from feudalism. Feudalism is not only a social reality, but also a psychological one. Though the first kind of feudalism has mostly ended, feudalism of the mind continues to be alive. Some of us love to be fiefs.

I loved the final song Balamani sings. I do not think there was anyone who watched that scene and heard that song whose eyes were not wet.

Later this evening I happened to see Navya in another programme – Idea Star Singer. I switched on the TV and there she was, as was Chitra, who had sung the song for the movie. Chitra was asked to sing the song again and she complied, happily. And even before she began, I could see the change in the atmosphere. Everybody had become solemn. And as Chitra finished the song, I saw several people present there wiping their eyes. Among the first ones to do so was Navya, who had become possessed by the song right from the beginning. I watched her shivering with emotions. I had a feeling Chitra too lost herself for a few moments in the middle of the song – as she sang out Krishna, Krishna…

The compere commented when the song ended: the power of music! Yes, the power of music. But also the power of love. Love for a God who can be your friend – sakha. Who can be your lover. Who can your son. And your brother. And sister. And mother. And daughter. And beloved. And whom you do not have to fear.

Yes, the power of music. But also the power of bhakti which is parama-prema, boundless love.

Boundless love that melts boundaries and makes mergers possible. The word yoga means merger. Union.

What the yogi achieves through lifetimes of practice the bhakta achieves in a trice through bhāva.

Watching the movie today was like taking a sacred bath in a tirtha. In the Ganga. In Gauri Kund. And so was listening to Chitra singing that song this evening, with Navya standing beside her and struggling not to lose herself in bhāva.


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