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Home > Contents > Article: Pu. Thi. Narasimhachar
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The Laboratory and the Theatre

Pu. Thi. Narasimhachar
Translated from the Kannada and annotated by Raghunandana

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Purohita Thirunarayana Narasimhachar (1905-1998) was a great Kannada writer and, along with KV Puttappa (Kuvempu) and DR Bendre, one of the doyens of the Navodaya period. This is an annotated translation of an essay written in 1949 that uses the chemistry laboratory as an analogue for experimentation in theatre and reflects on the latter’s possible political uses. It may be taken to imaginatively prefigure political simulation games and is the work of a thinker brought alive by independence, and intellectually confronting the choices ahead for a nation still in its infancy.

There are some evenings when I have time on my hands. On such evenings, I visit the laboratory of a scientist-friend and sit there for a while. In the early days, even as my friend immersed himself in his experiments and let me be, I would tend to disturb his meditations with impertinent questions. But I have stopped doing so of late! 

It is a fascinating place, this physical laboratory. On one side of it, there are experiments taking place in physics and, on the other, in chemistry, and my imagination begins to take flight as I watch. Therefore my interest in them.

The physics laboratory is home to the beauties of the sciences of electricity, light, and sound — our worldview being currently dominated by the theatre, the play, of electricity in particular. Now, there are two kinds of electrical energy, it seems: one male; the other female.1 Electricity is therefore an ardhanaareeshwara, something that is as much male as it is female, as much Shiva as it is Parvathi, or can become as much Shiva as it is Parvathi. Of the two, it is said that the male energy is indolent and dormant! Or, is it possible that it practises self-restraint of the highest order?

In any case, in the world that we live in today it is the female energy that rules the roost; it is the ‘weaker’ sex that is dominant. I do not therefore foresee the end of female dominance until such time perhaps as we harness nuclear energy to satisfy our worldly needs!2
If the world of electricity seems strange, the world of light is stranger still. The energy of radiance lights up and makes visible everything, but is itself invisible. All things are visible only because they consume radiance and regurgitate part of it, it seems. The world that we see is thus an effluent, a leftover and a by-product of the feasting upon of light by the things of this world. 

Let us recall the first mantra of the Eeshaavaasya Upanishad.3 Does it not seem as if the message of the science of light is a bhaashyawritten to that mantra, an exegesis of it? It is said that light travels at a velocity of 1,86,000 miles per second. Such is the contempt it has for space, for distance. That is perhaps why nothing makes us more aware of the vastness of the universe than the phenomenon of light.

Mark, too, that light is not a pristine, pure phenomenon: it is not indivisible.  Light is complex. It is a composite and divisible entity.  To a three-sided piece of glass,4 placed at a certain angle, or in a certain position, light would seem to be made up of seven colours. If, like us, that piece of glass had consciousness, that is!  And if these seven colours were to fall on it when it is placed at another angle or in another position, it would seem to the same piece of glass that light was possessed of a pure white colour.

That is how the Universal Spirit manifests itself to us. It manifests itself to the network of our senses and sense organs as various and variegated — when that network is in a certain state of being, or when it adopts a certain attitude. However, I shall leave it to you to ponder upon how it seemed to the redoubtable Shankaracharya. And to that rishi,that seer,who said:

yadeko varno bahudhaa shaktiyogaatvarnaananekaan nihitaartho dadhaati... ...5

That Colour, that Alphabet,
Which, enjoined with great potency,
Has within itself the richness
And the meaning
Of many colours,
Many alphabets

There are many experiments that have to do with the property of sound. We can strike a pane of glass to make it produce sweet sounds and direct the vibrations caused by these sounds to a collection of dust particles so as to make those particles arrange themselves in strange and fascinating patterns, as of rangoli.  We can, through another experiment, wonder at the fact that there can be no sound at all without the movement of air, that all sound is realised through the medium of air. Which is why we had best meditate in silence, if we want our prayers to reach the heavens.

Here now is an experiment that seems to be related to nothing less than poetics, the study and art of making poetry. Ten or twelve wooden balls — these cannot and should not be leaden balls — are suspended from a rod in such a way that they touch each other and are all at the same distance from the rod. There is a bell hanging from another rod at some little distance from this ensemble of balls, on the right hand side. The ball at the extreme left, on the side opposite to where the bell hangs, is pulled — to the left and away from the ensemble — and is then released so that it swings back and hits the ball next to it. As a result, the ball at the other end, on the extreme right hand side, springs away from the ensemble and strikes the bell. The bell rings. The balls in between the ones at the two extremes do not move at all.

The poet’s inspiration must touch the heart of the sahrdaya,6 thelover of poetry, like that. It is not enough if just one part or another of the poetry is good. It is not enough if the poetry is all passion and sentiment but bereft of lines, a succession of words that show true craftsmanship and skill. The inspiration of the poet must flow secretly until the end of the poem is reached, and immediately upon reaching the end, it must burst forth and irradiate, gush out and bathe the heart of the sahrdaya. Only that which is blessed with skilfully chosen, well-formed and appropriate words — words that receive the poet’s inspiration, absorb it, fill themselves with it, swell out and then allow the inspiration to flow on, and having done so return to a state of equanimity — only such cultivated expression can be called poetry. Unless the poet creates lines that capture and radiate feeling and thought, he cannot connect to the sahrdaya. And if such a connection cannot be established, there is no poet, no poetry and no sahrdaya.  

To come back to the experiment, although I have been carrying out this exercise — of  making the bell ring again and again, my excitement remains undiminished. One pulls and releases here, at this end. The balls in between do not move. But the ball there, at the other extreme end, springs forth to strike the bell, which goes — tddannh! Truly, it gives me great pleasure – ananda – and reminds me of Kunthaka’s7 meditation on poetry.

The physics laboratory contains many other wonders, or so it seems to me. But I shall make no further attempt to describe them, for I do not wish to be laughed at by the learned people who work there. Moreover, here is a chair waiting for me impassively at the chemistry laboratory.

The chemistry lab seems to me to be more entertaining than the physics lab. We do not have to exercise our intellect here as much as we do there. There, it is all measurement and mathematics, all calculation of mass and enunciation of principle.  What is the speed of light? What is the size of the nucleus? And so on. Things that are beyond the understanding of dimwits like myself!

Now, after the making of the nuclear bomb, poisonous chemical gases are used less and less in warfare, and so these physicists put on all sorts of airs. They say that the science of chemistry is nothing more than the tail of physics. Whether this tail of science is similar to the tail of the Supreme Brahman, I truly do not know! But I have heard it being said that some sheep collect all their fat in their tail itself!8

Therefore I, for one, certainly find the chemistry lab to be ‘juicier’ than the physics lab. Many glass vessels are fascinatingly arranged here, in their strange and myriad forms. Here, inside these glass vessels is the theatre, the play of colourful liquids. In one, there is a liquid boiling. In another, there is a tinted misty smoke rising. Here is a chemical, simmering, whispering. Here is another exploding. And here is one more burning, burning. Here is something that is at one minute solid; at another minute it turns into a liquid, and the third minute it has disappeared. At each shruti of temperature, each nodal degree of heat, the things of this chemical world take on a state of being - solid, liquid or gaseous - that is appropriate to that shruti. In each state, the laws they follow are different from those seen in any other. Perhaps the laws that we human beings follow ought to be different too at different times. (Instead of changing our samaajashaastra, our idea and notions of society and social life to suit these dynamic times, we still cling to the dharmashaastras, the old books of social law and code. That is how 'sensible' we are!).

My friend entertains me by playing with the properties of some of the gases stored to the brim in these jars of glass. One of the gases burns and turns into a liquid. Another does not itself burn, but catalyses the burning of a third. Yet another neither burns, itself, nor does it let other things burn. And here is one more that has similar properties, but mixes only very tardily with other gases, and when it does mix, does not stay mixed for long — a gas but inert.9  

These four gases rule this Earth of ours, it is said. Without the first, there can be no life that breathes. Without the second, there is no water. Without the other two, there is no food. However, except in the artificial environment of laboratories such as this, nowhere else in the world can these four gases be seen in such a pure, unique, and uncontaminated state and, relatively speaking, in as great a quantity within as small a space as in the confines of this bell jar of glass.

Their state here is unnatural and uncharacteristic of them, but not ‘untruthful’ — or illusory and unreal in the philosophical sense of the words. If, in the complex edifice of nature, these gases do have a real and ‘truthful’ existence, then in this artificial environment, where man’s intellect is quoting and abstracting them from nature, they are veritable images, veritable and potent essences of the truth, of the real and the existing. And there stands my scientist-friend by the table (which, with its esoteric apparatus, seems to me to be the very image of his mind), looking very much like a skilled magician who can actually create such potent essences of the truth.

Like someone who excites the emotions by playing upon musical instruments, here is my friend heating some substance with a flame of gas, measuring a liquid with the greatest of care and sensitivity and pouring it, drop by drop, on to the substance he has just heated; weighing another pure substance with as much care as he would a strand of hair and distilling and extracting some solid substance out of two liquids he has just mixed. And thus, he dances his way, here, there, further and around the table, taming the various substances by skilfully applying various kinds of force and energy to them, and so bending them to his wishes; heating, boiling, draining, cooling, his curiosity always foremost and open; testing, testing and testing again to see if the results obtained and the new substances thus thrown-up agree with the theory, the principles he has in mind. Happy when his curiosity is satisfied, he makes his way to where I am sitting, still and quiet, and asks with a beatific smile, “What, bored-ah-ayya?” 

He does not know. Even as I sit here, watching him immersed in his experiments, I have been dreaming of some paatraprayogas, of the enactment of some dramatis personae. I have been dreaming of the enactment of those archetypal dramatis personae with whom our rishis have impregnated our epics (the itihaasas, the puraanas and the kaavyaas). Forthese paatras, these dramatis personae,resonate10 those fundamental aspects of the atman (the soul) that nurture our inner being.11

Even while watching him doing his experiments, I have been dreaming of such things and my scientist-friend does not know it! For, I do not see any difference between the work of the rasa-curious, essence-searching theatre artist,12 whose work is supported by the rishi-kavis (the seer-poets), and the work of this vastu-curious, substance-searching scientist friend of mine. After all, inspired by the seer-poets and following in their footsteps the artist of the theatre carries the complex of bhaavas, the complex of emotions and feelings that is this worldly life into the laboratory of his orher intellect, and there, after distinguishing and separating each bhaava from every other, the artist collects these bhaavas and combines them variously, proceeding to giving form to the dramatis persona of a Nala, a Harishchandra, a Rama, or a Ravana ─ thereby revealing and exhibiting these very potent, essential and archetypal personalities to the world at large.

So, it seems to me, the mind of the scientist and the mind of the artist both flow the same way. I do not therefore answer my friend but remain silent, fascinated by this similarity. He too simply sits by me for some time, drags on a couple of cigarettes, blows out clouds of smoke — and then returns to his theatre space, his world of action.

Even as my friend returns to his physical meditations, I wander mentally for some time among the ancient and the more recent branches and pathways of the sciences in Europe. By and by, my mind returns to the aarsheya hermitages, the ancient and holy leafy hutments of the seer-sages of our country. Then, having bathed in all those waters of knowledge, my mind comes back to this present laboratory, and still dripping with the waters of its wanderings, stops in front of my friend. And as if they were halos of great and holy effulgence that encircled these three waters of knowledge — European, ancient Indian and the present — my mind now echoes the majestic madhutraya mantras. A sage-like, rishi-like figure appears from within those resounding chants:
madhumat paarthivam rajah…
maadhveergaavo bhavantu nah...13

May the dust, the soil
Of Earth be imbued
With sweetness
With honey
With ambrosia...14

May our cows
Turn us, ourselves
Sweet, into honey,
Into ambrosia...

'Cows’, or 'senses and sense organs'? The translation of this mantra should perhaps read:

May the dust, the soil
Of Earth be imbued
With sweetness
With honey
With ambrosia...

May our cows        
Our senses,
Our sense organs,
Turn us, ourselves
Sweet, into honey,
Into ambrosia...

At that moment, it seemed to me that a certain dhvani, a certain resonance of this rishi mantraof many meanings (that could be applied to both the arts and the sciences) had begun to bear fruit, had begun to resonate very deeply in our modern day science.

I must say I felt very happy when I  saw that the sciences have, in this way, the backing and blessings of our rishis. For, the goal of the sciences is not violence and destruction but the realisation of well-being and happiness for all. Our desire for a life of heightened happiness and for a conscious,  uplifting and ennobling evolutionary journey inspires in us a curiosity regarding the physical world. Life moves not towards death or towards inertia and ennui but towards a ripe and lively richness. Fired by the senses and sense organs, turning its face towards material happiness, life has ascended the chariot of science and moves speedily to conquer and subjugate the universe. With our pourusha, our forceful power and expanse of being, we have set out to conquer and subjugate the knowledge, the forces and riches of that Supreme Reality which we have called omniscient and the omnipotent.15 And that reality — in all its mercifulness — has kindly been giving up16 to us, day by day, a larger and larger portion of its powers. We have succeeded in harnessing a major part of its srishthi-shakti, its creative powers, and a large part of its laya-shakti, its destructive ones as well. But we are not yet graced enough with the stithi-shakti of the vaishnavaamsha,  the powers of providing sustenance, the power and the will to nurture and maintain the balance of nature and the universe characteristic of Vishnu. That state of grace is yet to descend to earth from the heavens. May it come down to us now:

madhu dyourastu nah pitaa…17

May Father Heaven
Turn us, ourselves,
Sweet, into honey,
Into ambrosia...

May the grace and mercy of the almighty bless us our lives with such sweetness. So as to have our lives and life itself enriched and uplifted, may we be commandeered by that potent and balancing Intelligence, which can harness the powers of Creation and Destruction. Such is our inner prayer now.

Bereft of such a commander, the pilgrim, the traveller, is now sore and tired. The chariot speeds but the road is not easy and the horses run but awkwardly. The science of the physical grows and develops but our atmashaastra, our science of self-knowledge, remains stunted.  Because we lack the powers of restraint that match the speed of our sense-horses, we find the road tiring, the journey dispiriting and its nights as well as days depressing. We have now conquered space but not time. It is possible to conquer space with the help of the physical sciences. But time can only be conquered by a feeling of well-being, contentment, and congeniality; by a generous plenitude and plentiful generosity, by sympathy, gaiety and good cheer; in sum, only by ananda, only through happiness can time be truly conquered.

While our institutes of knowledge have laboratories, why do they not have theatres? In the old times, our temples were steeped in the aagamika traditions — codified, ritual celebrations — and had a constant stream of utsavas — festivals — happening inside and around them. Besides, they were also seats of learning and constant discourses in knowledge were being given: a lot of learning and teaching used to take place in and around their locations. They served to nurture and increase our knowledge as well as our happiness, jnaana as well as ananda. Why is that balance lacking now? Our apathy in the matter is surprising and even alarming. The day to be given to experimenting, teaching, discussing and critical thinking; the evenings to playing, playmaking and acting, turning our harvest of the day into the milk of the evening, by chewing the cud, as it were; unless that happens, I wonder whether we will be able to truly savour the sweetness of life and existence, in the outer as well as inner realms.

Our modern age is enamoured of the knowledge that is gained through and wedded to sense-perception, inference, and experimentation.18 Today we perforce adopt that route — even to achieve our happiness and our sense of well-being. However, just as the physical sciences, wedded as they are to knowledge gained through sense-perception, inference and experimentation attempt to imbue our outer world with the sweetness of honey, why should not our atmavijnaana, our science of self-knowledge (through that very same attribute of sense-perception and propensity for inference and experimentation) also imbue our inner being with sweetness?19 We see that in the outer world there are many kinds of hybridity in the things and objects that make up that world, many kinds of equilibrium and balancing of forces. Likewise, we see that in the inner world of man, in the crucible of our bhaavas or feelings too there are many kinds of mixing, many kinds of equilibrium and balancing of sensory experiences. Would it be wrong then to say that the jeevaatma — the vital, inner self of each individual entity in this world — is a corporation, an entity made up of such amalgamated bhaavas or feelings?

We bring objects of external, physical nature to our laboratories and there subject them to various processes such as the separating of their constituent elements from one another — probing, filtering, distilling, collecting, and culturing them; testing them for their attributes and qualities; studying them for their properties and tendencies; discerning and postulating relationships between them so as to construct new compounds and substances by combining or separating them variously. Thus experimenting with substances and objects in the artificial environs of our physical laboratories, we strive to discover their inner nature. And we then strive to put them in the service of our welfare.

Just as we do so, why should we not bring the material that is mankind and its nature to the artificial environment that is the theatrical stage (with its costumes, its makeup, its dances, its songs and other such artifices), and subject it to experiments such as the stimulation of bhaavas,of feelings and emotions? Further (as we do with physical objects and substances) why should we not probe, filter, distil and collect these bhaavas, test them for their attributes and qualities, and study them for their properties and tendencies? Why should we not thus seek to discern and construe relationships between them so as to make freshly felt rasas, fresh new feelings and emotions? Why should we not, by such means, strive to discover mankind’s inner nature and thereby strengthen and nurture our inner beings and selves? Even as our scientific understanding and technological prowess increases and our material wealth grows, should not our spiritual riches also grow and flourish?  

What is the proportion of a Duryodhanaa in our natures, what that of a Shakuni, and what that of a Karna? Under what circumstances does a coming together of these three tendencies not cause a transformation of our inner nature itself — and lead to disaster? And under what circumstances does their coming together not cause such a disastrous transformation? How much do we have of a Gandhi in us, and how much of a Jinnah? When does love turn into hatred? When does intolerance turn into friendship?

And then, what is the essence of the varna system? At one time, this system served us well, and helped us develop and evolve. Why is that same system ineffective now, and in disarray? What bhaavaamshas, what elements (or types) of temperament have made their home in a jeevaatma born in the womb of a certain varna that distinguish it from a jeevaatma born in the womb of any of the other varnas? What is the extent to which these bhaavaamshas, these elements (or types) of temperament, have made their home there?  Then again, what is the essence of these differences, and what is the rationale behind them? Under what circumstances can there be a positive transformation in the differing temperaments of any two of these human groupings so that there is a pleasant and congenial relationship between them?

We see that qualities like humility, respectfulness, devotion, and dedication are disappearing from human behaviour, day by day. Are these qualities worth preserving and nurturing, or not? If they are, by what means can we preserve and nurture them? What are those changes that we need to make in our Dharmashaastra, our constitution of social laws and codes of behaviour, so that it adjusts itself to the new state of our society, and serves the cause of our welfare?

Why should not hundreds of questions like these be asked and the answers to them sought before they are discussed in our public bodies and then, and only then, our legislation made appropriately? Why should not the issues they raise be explored on stage in the form of dramatis personae created by our poets, and seen by these public bodies and associations? The very idea of it fascinates me.

If every school and college in our society had its own theatre, many problems that now trouble our teachers and students would perhaps be solved. Students would then probably find their schooling and their college studies more interesting. Passions such as socialism and communism (which attract our students greatly today), and the piteous cry of their parents and teachers (‘our children are going astray!’), these passions and these piteous cries would then be able to meet face to face in the form of dramatis personae that are steeped in and personify those very passions and worries and a resolution between them brought about on stage. Why should that not be possible? 

Such an outcome would perhaps not be possible in our public, commercial theatres. For, what is demanded there is the embodying of specific bhaavas, determinant and accurate, so as to evoke20 some specific rasa, predetermined and exact - stock bhaavas and stock rasas, so to speak. Our public, commercial theatres are not so much laboratories as performance spaces.

The theatres that I have in mind, for our current purpose, would have a different goal. There, inferred principle would have to become experiential rasa and thus prove itself. There, intellectual inquiry and inquiry into principles, the making of hypotheses and theory, all abstractions, ideas, doctrines, ideologies and world-views, all '-isms', and thought, and the act of thinking itself: all of this would have to become concrete, palpable rasa: feeling and emotion that is firstly absolutely truthful, then movingly enacted and felt.21 Once that is done we would have to judge how nourishing the rasa thus produced is to the atma, the inner self.22 If the ensuing rasa is vishama, if it is unwholesome, or unsatisfactory,23 if it does not ring (or taste) true, the discursive thought behind it would have to be questioned, corrected or changed. Therefore, the theatres that I have in mind are laboratories for research in rasa.24

Just as the palaces and temples of the past had their theatres, why should not the legislatures of our democratic age have such theatres as their subsidiary organs? Just as scientific principles that are established by logic, discussion and discursive inquiry need to be corroborated and proven by direct and empirical experiments, so too do we not need our political principles and our social legislation to be probed (or supported, as the case may be) by the theatrical productions of accomplished poets and artists — those who have the requisite expertise but are entirely dispassionate, and only interested in creating truthful rasa?

Even if they — our poets and artists — are not honoured in this way, can we say with impunity that the adage ‘poets are the legislators of our world’25 is entirely meaningless?  Let our legislators therefore indulge in discussions during the day and in the evening and at night let them — through the work of accomplished, truth-loving, dispassionate, frank, and fearless scientists of feeling — test on stage and experiment with the legislation they wish to promulgate. Let them thus observe the possible and probable impact that such legislation might have on the individual citizen and on society as a whole. For that to happen, this wing of rasa must be respected and protected as much as the judicial wing. Only then can the exercise be fruitful.
Our politics, instead of its being played out directly in the arena of everyday life; our political battles, instead of their turning into street-fights; our political decisions, instead of their being implemented directly in our social lives (catching us unawares and with tragic consequences) — if these, our politics, our political battles, and the decisions arising out of them, were all played out and fought out, debated upon and realised playfully, first on the stage and only then, duly tempered, allowed to descend into our everyday lives, I dare say that we would then be much better off than we are today.26 If our men of the Congress Party, before giving their consent to the partition of the country even while being under the spell of illusions and passions, if these Congress men had seen enacted on stage events that reflected in very potent ways the essential state of mind of the country and the real state of its affairs, I dare say that such truths as they might not have imagined or foreseen would have become evident to them. Then, what the Mahatma could see with his inner eye, these people would have seen with their outer eyes, and we might have chosen a different path to tread. Or, at the very least, we would have been better prepared for what followed.

Then again, consider the proposals for legislation that we have now entrusted the various Select Committees with to examine: the proposal to abolish the zamindaari system; the proposal to re-organise and re-allocate funds that have traditionally been with places of worship and the mathas; and the proposal for legal codes concerning marriage and other forms of relationship between men and women. If we were to entrust these proposed pieces of legislation to the seers of rasa who have living contact with the people and can feel the pulse of the feelings that run in their hearts, if we were to ask them to subject these proposals to some engaged probing on the stage, would we then not be able to choose a safer and better path than the one we are now treading?

These suggestions will evoke laughter, I know. Such laughter would only be natural, and there is a gleam of that same humour in this daydream of mine, the very daydream from which these suggestions are pouring out. However, if life is to be lived to its fullest, the riches of rasa, of feeling, should be as important to us as are the riches of knowledge, of the intellect. Our goal must be the attainment of jnaanaananda: of joy and knowledge, together and in a non-dual way. That is why my mind has set about building the dream of a theatre around this house of science.

But today, there are temples for science; the arts have only hovels and hutments built for them. Of the two, if the one is nourished and the other starved, we will lose our balance and fall on our faces. That is a scientific insight that we do not yet seem to have had. In the past, our minds and hearts were full of feeling and were dedicated solely to the upkeep of tradition. They had then thwarted the growth of science and held it in contempt. Now, on the other hand, our minds and hearts are set on objective science and we curl our lips at the theatre. We forget that the theatre can lead us to atmavijnaana, the knowledge of the self, and towards spirituality. However, both of these (objective science, on the one hand, and arts such as the theatre, on the other hand) must learn to respect each other.  They must join hands, learn from each other, and grow together in all humility, like the shaastras and the aagamas (the sciences and the codes of ritual worship and celebration) of the past. We must wait for the time when that will happen and give us jnaanaananda, the togetherness of knowledge and joy in all its non-duality.

And so my imagination runs free and wild, set against this laboratory and amidst it. I dream attractive dreams. I dream of building playhouses in the impeccable and fully equipped environs of our houses of knowledge and legislation. I dream of creating dramatis personae that are steeped in the ethos and the principles of our modern society and politics. I dream of making them play every kind of scene and every kind of situation on the stages of those playhouses. I dream of thereby imparting joy and knowledge to teachers and students, and ministers and people’s representatives, alike. I dream of forging truthful and imaginative reflections, metaphors and symbols out of dry logic. I fall into a reverie.

By and by, my friend is done with his experiments. “Shall we go?’’, he says. I have a sudden desire to tell him about my reverie. But a fear stops me. His mind has a particle-like quality to it; mine, a wave-like quality! If he were to hear me out and say nothing, that would be all right. But if he were to put me through the mill I do not know whether I would have the strength to bear such an ordeal. I stand up silently and follow him. He wants to relax, lights a cigarette, draws on it, and walks past me, puffing out smoke. As the smoke makes its way through the air and floats away, the dreams of my ignited mind merge with it and vanish. I too make my way home after him, happy in the cool of the night.

Raghunandana is a Kannada poet, playwright and stage-director.

The earliest version of this translation was published in the year 2006 in issue number 11 of Theatre India, the journal of the National School of Drama, New Delhi, along with a short introductory article on PuThiNa.

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The terms male energy and female energy may sound odd and quaint to some ears. But I have consciously desisted from saying masculine energy and feminine energy here. The reference here is not to gender in any mundane, socio-political sense, or even to sex. PuThiNa says gandu and hennu, in Kannada. He is here referring to the male principle and the female principle, respectively,in the cosmic, philosophical sense of the words. Their usage and meaning here can be compared to the principles of prakrti and purusha enunciated in Samkhya philosophy and to the principles of yin and yang enunciated in traditional Chinese philosophy. And in modern electrical trade, of a pair of mating connectors or fasteners, one connector is by convention called male, and the other, female. In Indian music a tamboori or tanpura can be either male or female.

The meaning of this passage is not immediately discernible and, in addition, may seem sexist. The following is a reasonable guess of its import, arrived at after some reflection. As may be construed from Note 1, the cosmos is an eternal bonding of the male principle and the female principle, namely Shiva and Parvathi. But besides that, Parvathi is also Shakti, pure power and energy. Interpreted in terms of Samkhya, Shiva is purusha, the male principle, pure consciousness, silent witness (‘self-restraint of the highest order’ in person, principle and practice), and Shakti is prakrti, the female principle, myriad forms of energy and matter at play, nature itself in all its fecundity. And for PuThiNa, in 1949 (when this essay was published), all industry, all industrial energy – including carbon and hydro-electric power - is an expression, a form, of the untrammelled fecundity of Prakrti-Shakti. Then there is the terrible Shakti of uncontrolled, ‘unharnessed’ nuclear fission (a forced breaking up of Shiva and Shakti), and the destruction it can cause, as demonstrated in 1945. Now that Shakti needs to be ‘harnessed’ by Shiva-Purusha-Pure Consciousness so that it can no longer ‘rule the roost’ and so that we can produce peaceful nuclear power ‘to satisfy our worldly needs’. The world will then be a better place. Shiva and Shakti will then stay united, even as Shiva harnesses and controls Shakti. It bears saying here that electricity was generated for the first time by a nuclear reactor only on December 20, 1951, at the EBR-I experimental station near Arco, Idaho, USA. PuThiNa thought and felt in leaps and bounds, in his poetry as well as in his prose writings, and the reader too needs to make those leaps so as to connect things. Nonetheless, the sexist undertone of this passage remains.

The first mantra of this Upanishad - eeshaavaasyamidamsarvam/yatkinchit jagatyaam jagat/taena tyaktaena bhunjeethaa/maa grudhah kasyasvidhanam: Whatever is dynamic in this universe is pervaded by the Supreme Brahman. Do feast on whatever is given up by it. Do not covet the wealth of anyone.

A prism of a certain type.

Shvetaashvataropanishat, Chap IV, Mantra I. Varna, in Sanskrit, and in many other Indian languages, means both colourand any unit or single letter of the alphabet. Varnamaala means the entirety of the alphabet. That the word varna has this double meaning is of very deep and extraordinary philosophical significance. Again, the Upanishads have been interpreted in different ways by different schools of thought. For the advaitic, non-dualist Shankara, yadeko varnois  yateka a-varno, 'that One, which is Colourless'. For the vishishthaadvaitic Ramanuja School, which asserts the philosophy of qualified non-dualism, yadeko varnois  yateko varno, 'that One, which is that Single Colour'. Here, it is the meaning given by the Ramanuja School that has been retained, for PuThiNa was a vishishthaadvaitin, himself.

The word sahrdaya indicates anybody whose heart beats in unison with that of another, generally the artist. It is used in our, Indian, aesthetics to signify a sympathetic spectator, audience, or reader. The literal translation of the word would be same-hearted.

Kunthaka was an eleventh century aesthetician who authored the Vakroktijeevita, a Sanskrit treatise on poetics. PuThiNa’s reflections here also remind us of sphotavaada, another ancient concept of Sanskrit linguistics, poetics and aesthetics.

The Taittireeya Upanishad speaks of the annamaya, praanamaya, manomaya, vijnaanamaya and anandamaya koshas. These are the five koshas—levels, realms or coccoons—of existence, and exist in all living things. They have been listed here in the ascending order of their spiritual-evolutionary potentiality. Each one of the last four named here serves as the atma, the soul, of the level that precedes it. Therefore the highest level of the lot is the anandamayakosha, of which the Supreme Brahman itself is the atma. It follows, therefore, that the anandamayakosha is the tail-end of the Supreme Brahman. The effable experience of ananda, joy or bliss, is the tail-end of the ineffable state of the Brahman. Our experience of the world, including our aesthetic experiences, can provide ananda, joy or bliss, but true seekers knows that even that is only the tail-end of the Supreme Brahman. It is only the Brahmapuchcha! True seekers know that they must hang on to this tail, and climb their way up it, so as to attain the ultimate state that is the Brahman itself and, therefore, ineffable. Against such a philosophical background, PuThiNa seems to be here saying that our physical sciences have no call to puff their chests out and indulge in any game of ego display, for they belong in the vijnaanamayakosha,  a realm even lower than that of the anandmayakosha. Here, he also seems to be indicating, in a lighter and ironic vein, that if some sheep can store all their fat in their tail itself, and not in their bodies, then it is possible that chemistry, which physicists hold to be the tail of their science, can be the juicier science of the two, for it has more 'stuff' than physics!

PuThiNa is here talking of the gases oxygen, hydrogen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen, respectively.

PuThiNa says vyanjisu, which has been translated here as ‘resonate’. Vyanjana, of which the Kannada word vyanjisu is the verb form, is a concept that belongs to the rasa-dhvani tradition of our aesthetics and poetics. It denotes the concept of dhvani, resonance. Hence the present translation of vyanjisu.

I have chosen to translate the Kannada paatragalu as paatras, and dramatis personae, and not as characters. The decision is deliberate and considered. The usage of the term character, to indicate a role in a play, or a person or any other being in a work of narrative fiction, began only after the English Restoration, in 1660, and became widespread only from the second half of the eighteenth century. The two periods mark the time when early capitalism began to really take root, and bourgeois individualism became to be seen and accepted as ‘common sense’, as the normative way to live. The English term character is derived from the Greek charakter and is a cognate of the Sanskrit charitra, which means history, life chronicle or story and, in certain contexts today, the moral and ethical conduct of an adult individual. All three terms are very limiting and misleading when one seeks to understand the duty of an actor and of theatre. In its modern avatar, the notion of character is strongly essentialist and positivist notion, and has a background of psychological naturalistic-realism in the enacting of theatrical roles and, ultimately, works against the soul of theatre. A longer and more nuanced analysis of this problem demands a full essay or monograph by itself. 

PuThiNa says rangachaalaka here, which translates, with a bit of stretching, into ‘stage conductor’,but he obviously means ‘stage director’. He does not say ranganirdeshaka or digdarshaka. PuThiNa was deeply interested in music, and probably listened to Western classical music as well, apart from Indian classical music. That is probably the reason why he says ‘stage conductor’,  familiar as he may have been with the presence of the conductor in the orchestras of  Western music. Evidently, PuThiNa saw the stage director as the guiding intelligence of the laboratory of the stage. I have however preferred to say ‘theatre artist’here, as the term  includes everybody who works in the theatre.

From the Madhusookta of the RgVeda,Mandala 1, Sookta 90. See also, the Trisuparnasookta of the Krishnayajurveda,iv-ii-9.

The word madhu means, simultaneously, sweetness, honey and ambrosia.

The word pourusha here reminds one of the well-known Purushasookta of the Rg Veda, Mandala 10.  Pourusha, derived from the word purusha, means both masculine prowess—masculinity—and the full length or measure of the masculine body with its arms extended upwards. Hence the word 'expanse' employed here. PuThiNa, it seems, is a making an ironic comment on the expansionism of mankind even as he compares and contrasts our power, and our measure, to the manifest form of the Supreme Brahman as described in the Purushasookta. The image also brings to mind Leonardo da Vinci's very well known sketch, Vitruvian Man. One contemplates this comparison of the Purushasookta with the great painter’s work not with irony entirely, but with mixed feelings—out of a feeling of fond deference for da Vinci, and for the spirit of his age, perhaps!

Compare the phrase giving up, employed here, with the phrase given up by it employed in Footnote 2. Compare the contexts: given up by itrefers to the reflections on the nature of light contained in the Eeshaavaasya Upanishad, while giving up refers to the relationship of science to Reality. There is integrity of philosophical meaning and purpose in such usage. The material world feasts upon light, and then gives up some of it to our eyes, thus enabling us to see it, the material world. Our scientific inquiry into the nature of Reality and our ever-increasing understanding of it, leads to that Reality’s incremental giving up of its powers to us.

See Footnote 12.

pratyakshaanumaanaprayoganishtha jnaana is the phrase employed here by PuThiNa to indicate the nature of our modern knowledge.

Note that PuThiNa says modern physical science attempts to make a happy world for us. He does not employ the word when talking of what atmavijnaana can, or should, do.

PuThiNa speaks of rasa being performed or displayed — rasadapradarshanavaagabaeku, he says in Kannada — and does not speak of the evoking of rasa, of rasotpatti.  However, I am not sure that rasa can be performed or displayed. I tend to believe that rasa can only be evoked,and thatonly whengiven the right conditions. I also tend to believe that rasa is not something that is born on the stage but is born in the audience, or rather, between the actor and the audience. I have therefore said evokedhere.

Or, presumably, an attempt should be made in that direction.

We have to judge the truth of such rasa, and thus of the discursive thinking behind it.

There are echoes of the concept of vishamaalankaara here. In poetics, vishamaalankaara can be defined as a figure of speech, or prosody, which is off-key, jarring and inappropriate or, sometimes, intentionally and artistically shocking.

Cf. The Upanishadic saying: raso vai sah meaning ‘That, certainly, is rasa itself’, where the word ‘that’ indicates all of Creation. Therefore, Creation itself, all of it, is here equated with rasa. The saying can be found in the Taittireeya Upanishad, Brahmaanandavalli, Anuvak VII. The great Kannada poet K. V. Puttappa – Kuvempu - has written a very influential essay with the title Raso Vai Sah.

PuThiNa’s Kannada text says, ‘Poets are the legislators of our world’. Obviously, he is quoting the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelly here. Actually, Shelley said ‘Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world’ (italics mine).

Here, I have much expanded on, and explicated, what I think PuThiNa is saying in the preceding sentence.

In this provocative essay PuThiNa proposes experiments in theatre in which ‘all kinds of situations’ will be acted out but it raises an important question. It is as though the players will not be directed either by texts or by a guiding hand with a preconceived plan but will be simply made to act out the feelings generated in them by the situations. Since, if they are guided in their actions, their actions will not be ‘experimental’, this exercise is apparently the author’s sugestion. Even admitting that PuThiNa is being playful and imaginative, as he constantly emphasizes, one wonders if the spontaneous or undirected playacting apparently envisaged can lead to ‘understanding’ – i.e.: the useful reduction of enacted behavior on the stage to a few fundamental political principles through the mediating device of the theatre. Can, in effect, learning take place when the actors are left to improvise? This is an idea which clearly needs to be reflected upon, not because it can be implemented in practice but because it could tell us much about understanding the world through theatre.


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