Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Across The Universe

About twentyfive years ago I was sitting in our home in Duliajan in Assam with my head bowed down, ostensibly listening to my late father giving me a severe dressing down for rejecting a career in the corporate sector after graduating as a civil engineer and instead deciding to go and do voluntary work among the adivasis. Useless lotus eating he dubbed it. I was only half listening to him, however, and silently humming a song -

words are flying out like
endless rain into a paper cup
they slither while they pass
they slip away across the universe
pools of sorrow waves of joy
are drifting through my open mind
possessing and caressing me
jai guru deva om
nothing's gonna change my mind
nothing's gonna change my mind
nothing's gonna change my mind
nothing's gonna change my mind

This memory came back to me because the anniversaries of some epoch making events have coincided over the recent past which are all related to that day. First this beautiful song, "Across the Universe", by the Beatles, which has been described by John Lennon as philosophically the best lyrics he has written and acknowledged by connoisseurs as being musically one of their best, has been beamed out by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the USA  (NASA) in digital form towards the North Star Polaris as a signal to extra terrestrial beings of the existence of human beings on earth on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the formation of NASA and the fortieth annivesary of the composition of the first version of the song. Secondly this year is the twentyfifth anniversary of my choosing to work among the adivasis which has been the best decision I have ever taken in my life. Finally this is also almost the twentieth anniversary of my first meeting in 1989 with my surrogate father Baba Amte who passed away today in Anandwan after a long illness at the age of ninetyfour. A sad occasion which brings back to me all the great things that this modern saint had done throughout his life and prompts me to sing the second stanza of the song as an affirmation of my continued determination to follow the path I have chosen and on which I received critical support from him -

images of broken light which
dance before me like a million eyes
that call me on and on across the universe
thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box
they tumble blindly as
they make their way across the universe
jai guru deva om
nothing's gonna change my mind
nothing's gonna change my mind
nothing's gonna change my mind
nothing's gonna change my mind

There are so many contradictions in this concatenation of anniversaries for me. The setting up of NASA in my opinion was an extremely retrograde materialistic step for humanity while the composition of this song marked the best of east west spiritual fusion as the Beatles at that time were impressed by the virtues of the eastern spiritual tradition of meditation on mantras which they learnt from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who also has passed away just a few days ago. The first version of the song was released in 1968 for a charity show in support of preservation of wild life and that is why it has the sound of birds flying and chirping in the beginning and the end. Thus it sparked off in a sense the modern environmentalist movement and so in this way too it is contradictory to the crass materialism of NASA. The most poignant contradiction is that between my two fathers. While my biological father was dead against my decision to go into the wilds among the adivasis my sociological father Baba Amte not only lauded this decision, which as it happened duplicated his own but also provided me with support at critical times to continue on the path I had chosen. Then there is the contradiction of a non-adivasi middle class Beatles fan like me deciding to spend my life among the Bhils. Political theory, spiritualism and aesthetics combining together in an odd decoction that has finally produced an adivasi loving atheist and anarchist.

Baba Amte is a modern icon like the Beatles and Mahesh Yogi were in their own ways. The Beatles brought philosophy to the masses through music, Mahesh Yogi brought spiritualism to the masses through meditation and Baba brought self dignity to the masses through social work and rights activism. Even though Mahesh Yogi has never been much of an inspiration for me yoga and meditation certainly have and there is no end to what can be said on the virtues of the music of the Beatles and the selfless life and work of Baba Amte. Even though it is a sad occasion nevertheless it provides me with an opportunity to rededicate myself to the cause which I chose to serve twentyfive years ago. So I end with the final stanza of this gem of a song that I have hummed time and again since I first heard it as an adolescent -

sounds of laughter shades of life
are ringing through my open ears
exciting and inviting me
limitless undying love which
shines around me like a million suns
it calls me on and on across the universe
jai guru deva om
nothing's gonna change my mind
nothing's gonna change my mind
nothing's gonna change my mind
nothing's gonna change my mind

To listen to the song click here


readerswords said...

Superbly written, Rahul ! Can feel that it has come from deep within the heart.

Rahul Banerjee said...

baba's passing away has left a deep void in me. he was a superb human being.

Raheema said...

Everything comes from the same source and to it will we return.
May their souls rest in peace.

lamp post said...

i have read that he was a very rich person. Yet, he left all that; set up a leprosy patient ashram - and what is shocking, he allowed to test the medicine being developed, in his own body after actually injecting the germ. Nothing happened to him - as he was to do good to mankind.

The entire double "White Album" of Beatles, contaiang Across The Universe, is a gem. All the album songs speak about pain, joy,about their own life. I like the song Eleanor Rigby. It can heard at
Unlike, other Betales album, it has a very few love songs. It was Lenon's best work - better than his much later "Imagine that there is no heaven" song.

Rahul Banerjee said...

the white album had another hilarious number, a love song or rather a jilted lover's song, which i consider to be the best beatles number ever in terms of music - rocky raccoon. the white album numbers mostly got written and composed in rhishikesh in india in 1968 when the beatles were there for a transcendental meditation camp with maharishi mahesh yogi. incidentally even though across the universe too was written there it finally appeared in the last beatles album "let it be" album in 1970 and not in the white album in 1968 as you say.

rahima while searching for material on Bina on the internet I found that you too knew her well. another friend of mine commented after reading this post that i had not written anything on Bina after her sudden passing away despite having been a close friend of hers at one time. actually since this is a blog dedicated to the Bhil adivasis I do not normally bring in personal stuff here that does not have some connection with them. However, Bina was intimately involved with both the Bhils' struggles and the larger environmental struggles and so fits in very well here. we are doubly bereaved as you say.

Anonymous said...

hi rahul
just a quick line to say I was looking at this post again,
did'nt get to know bina as well as i should have.
the remembering goes on...

Rahul Banerjee said...

i too would have liked to know bina better than i did. unfortunately for many years i had not met her or talked to her before she passed away so suddenly.