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Sunday, 22 January 2012

Jaipur Lit Fest: The wonderland in our stories

Jan 22, 2012, 12:10 IST

By Gauri Sinh | Place: Jaipur | Agency: DNA

Myth plays such a large part in our lives, especially that of the entertainment world.

So it is gratifying to find it front and centre in Jaipur right now, as Gurcharan Das moderates a conversation between Arshiya Sattar, Jawhar Sircar and who else but the Meluha triology’s Amish Tripathi on the power of myth at the colourful overflowing baithak at Diggi Palace.

It is day two of the Jaipur Lit fest, and yesterday’s mellow mood has been replaced with a certain boistorous enthusiasm, at least as evident in this session.

Gurcharan begins with suggesting that the title of the session, ‘The Power of Myth’ might be familiar to some, and I am thrilled. Because the book, The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, is something of a Bible for afficionados.

He defines myths as ‘stories handed down from age to age, with universal themes, portraying the eternal truths of mankind.’ If that sounds rather lofty, he immediately tries to bring in the accessibility factor, by asking each panellist to relate a myth or two of their own.

Arshiya, who introduces herself as ‘having worked with the Ramayana for more than 30 years, which is older than some of you present’ (to appreciative laughter), narrates how she has always been ‘intrigued and fascinated’ by Hanuman, the ‘idea of a monkey who flies and speaks Sanskrit.’

‘For me, the power of myth is eternally joyous,’ she echoes the views of many in the audience, ‘In the story of Hanuman meeting Laxman, what strikes him is that ‘what good Sanskrit Hanuman speaks.’

He isn’t thinking, ‘Oh My God, a monkey’s speaking Sanskrit — to me that’s the power of myth, coz you don’t stop to ask ‘why is the monkey flying…!’

Jawhar takes this further, talking of the acceptance of Lord Shiv in the Bengali pantheon.

“What was finally accepted was his avatar of being a bare bodied potbellied poor peasant, who’s only act of bravery was to stay away from his wife, who chased him with a broom! The Brahman version of Shiv was a box office failure!” Once more the audience is appreciative, hooting loudly.

Amish takes the discussion further, narrating two myths wherein the ‘devotion of the heart’ triumphs over ‘the arrogance of knowledge.’

“Which is why the Bhakti and Sufi movements are so popular in India, we worship with our hearts,” he asserts.

Which leads the talks to renunciation, and later the aspects of balance.

Somewhere along the way, Jawhar rues that some Gods, like Indra, have today become just suffixes in names — like in ‘Dharmendra’ for instance, once more drawing cheers from onlookers.

There is the notion put forth that we tend to admire renouncers, or people who may be successful, but live austere lives — Warren Buffet, Azim Premji etc.

Here Amish raises a red flag, talking of the dangers of extreme ascetism, which might lead to moral arrogance, giving the example of Bhishma in the Mahabharata.

Thee are complex questions to be answered — ‘A lie told often enough is taken for truth’ could that be part of myth creation?’ or then, “What if myths were derivatives of the truth?”

Arshiya offers a novel take on the latter, “I don’t want it to be true. If it’s true, its history, if it’s not, it’s our imagination!”

And then, towards conclusion, heady ideas put forth.As Gurcharan emphasises, “We’re the oldest storytelling culture in the world — that’s our soft power, and writers today create stories that take that forward..!”

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