For those who either did not know it, or, if they knew it, did not understand it; understanding it now, not guaranteed.
Around the age of 12 (1948), in a Gujarati charitable school, millions of questions, ideas, curiosities, began to make their rounds through my mind. Today I am unable to fathom how it happened, when the school did not have a library with works of thinkers or scientists, nor a teaching staff which was educated enough to rouse the fire of hunger for knowledge. Among many names, from various mythologies, sciences and civilisations and history, which threw themselves at me for me to grapple with, were philosophers of the past two or three hundred years, mainly from the West, like Socrates, Schopenhauer, Voltaire, Kant, Heidegger, Hegel, Nietzsche, Camus, Bertrand Russell and, most relevant to my writing today's essay, Jean-Paul Sartre. I had no access, either to the English language or to a mentor for consultation or engagement. My familiarity, therefore, with these and countless others, forever would remain a mystery to me.
I am writing today specifically about how existentialism became a brand philosophy, and Sartre its ultimate spokesperson. I confess I was no less fascinated by it than was war-torn Europe, especially Eastern Europe, which, impoverished and forlorn, embraced existentialism in its variegated forms. It probably still continues to do so, even as, as far as I know, Sartre's relevance, if any, is fading elsewhere. For four to five years (between the ages of 15 to 20), I began to feel that I had found my ultimate calling: existentialism was my philosophy and my religion. But then, I became another man, which is another story (Theory of Contingency and Inevitability of Inevitability). But I did not lose my verve as an explainer or spokesperson for Sartre and company, and began, in lighter moments, to claim that my frivolous interpretation of it was the real one. In other words, I re-shaped it in words and in my narratives, and in parables that I built to illustrate existentialism. Today my wife, Nancy (@nancygandhi), came across the 3-minute video by Will Braden, Paw de Deux. The moment I saw it, by happenstance, I found in it the definition of my interpretation of the brand of existentialism which was perpetuated by Sartre and others, which the author of the video almost certainly did not intend. I am delighted to present, through the courtesy of M. Will Braden, my brand of existentialism. I hope you exist as you enjoy, or vice versa. Bonjour. (Please watch both Henri Part I and Henri Part II - Paw de Deux, below.) Note: Those who are interested in what I call the existential cat (in philosophical terms, connected with Camus, Sartre et al.) can go to this link, courtesy the creator, Will Braden.
If I did not understand your version of existentialism the cat, a twin of my
Murphy, did a good job of explaining it.
The cats do lead a life of existentialism. I have seen it led, first hand.
While you do not like them as much I think Murphy will do a great job being an
insignia for your version of the theory.
---------------------------- Rameh Sir,
I never had a cat in my house. I used to not like dogs till we acquired a great dane. He was all of eight inches high when we got him as a two month old puppy. In three months thereafter he grew to thirty two inches and he was huge. He reminds me so much of the cat featured in the video. I was seeing my dog and not the cat in the video.
Dogs, too, lead a life of existentialism.
Unfortunately, my dog does not exist in our house as we had to give him away.
Cochin is a fascinating city. It is situated on an island which is connected to its much larger sister-city, Ernakulam, by bridges over two waterways, with the island of Willingdon in the middle. One is easily confused as to where the labyrinthine waterways end and the Arabian Sea begins.
Willingdon Island belongs entirely to the Defense establishment. It also contains some small commercial places at its edge and a hotel, the Taj Malabar. The 'real' Cochin, on the Arabian Sea, is surrounded by bobbing boats, with fishing nets cast into the air, and fish being caught in a way that has to be seen.
All my visits were to Defense-owned Willingdon Island, on which Taj purchased the best property, at the northern end of the island. I was a guest in one of the largest suites there. The picture above has been taken from there. I often regret that I enjoyed the suite in the hotel and looking out at the sea and waterways, rather than spending more time in Cochin proper. Cochin is an old city with a unique character, with architecture which is very photogenic. The above photograph does not contain that, I am sad to say.
Vasco da Gama and many other travelers from Arab lands and beyond, were not aware of Gujarat or Maharashtra when they landed between Cochin and Trivandrum. If I am lucky, by and by I would find other pictures, showing you the distinctive charms of Cochin, which not only a migrant from the north (Calcutta, like me, or others) would be able to admire.
A small window in the Taj Mahal Hotel, Bombay. The main Taj building has many curved, straight, oblique, semicircular architectural styles built into it, culminating in a central dome which has become iconic.
Nine times out of ten, I stayed in the new wing on the 16th or 17th (top) floor. This was a rare occasion, when I was offered this ornate room in one of the minaret structures, while the Reservations department sorted out some confusion about my booking. There was a small window with a bamboo blind. During the hour or so that I had to while away, I was looking through that blind; lifted it, looked at the sea, and, not finding it interesting photographically, dropped it and took this picture.
If one travelled to the left of the boats, one would reach Elephanta, Aligarh, and several resorts and suburbs, which, in 1982 when I took this picture, joined Borivali/Thane on the left, and on the right, took people to Lonavala via Panvel and Khandala, and onwards to Pune. For those passing through Panvel, it was a must to stop for a snack of the local alu bonda, which was supposed to be the best and most authentic of its kind.
I have gone a long way from that little window, and I am sorry for people for whom the story would not arouse their own memories of a terrain familiar to me.
We were going out one day in 1982. As I was getting into the car, I saw a cluster of bougainvillea hanging from the terrace at the back of my house, which I had cross-bred into multiple colours. In a flash a composition appeared to me, a challenging one: to convert the ordinary into the extraordinary. I took my camera out of the car, and mounted the old-fashioned telephoto lens (the biggest I had was 300 mm). Without a tripod, without a second thought, I reduced the depth of field, eliminated the entire bougainvillea plant, and took only three flowers. They looked as if they were spinning away, like the propellers of a colourful airplane, like a poet's dream. I clicked the shutter, and as far as I am concerned, I took one of the best pictures of my life.
growing out of adolescence
you watch the world
a little quizzical, perhaps
maybe just about to smile
I remember you
there, in the past
looking at the future
The image and the text are so compatible.
contained in the eyes and the meaning contained in the text are equally
evocative,.. in the past looking at the future and in this moment
looking at the past where the future was barely beginning to form even
as the consciousness of your subject evolved..
I called this picture A Bridge Too Far because I saw in it the abstract form of a bridge. My title is also the name of a movie, set in Norway during the Second World War, directed by Richard Attenborough in 1977.
But in fact, the movie that I was thinking of as I looked at the picture was The Bridge Over the River Kwai (1957), directed by David Lean.
Just for the record, Richard Attenborough was mostly known as an actor. He had a brief foray in India with a small role in Satyajit Ray's Shatranj ki Khiladi, which he performed only out of respect for Ray. Perhaps that spurred him on to come back to India in a very big way as the producer-director of the epic Gandhi. His career after that is more or less obscure. He is the brother of the documentary director David Attenborough, who was inspired by Carl Sagan's Cosmos. He went on to write many books and make documentary serials on nature, animal life, and evolution in general.
David Lean, on the other hand, made movies which had to win Academy Awards, such as Brief Encounter, Lawrence of Arabia, and Doctor Zhivago. Ryan's Daughter, set in Ireland, which I and many others loved very much, did not succeed, but it did not make him change his mind, and he was so hurt that he vowed not to make any movie again. I lectured on it and defended it at a seminar at the time. Just before his demise he came back to India and made his last film, A Passage to India, which neither he nor his audience understood.
When E.M. Forster, the author of Passage to India, was contacted for clarification, he laughed it off and said that even he did not understand.