On Rasas…

A couple of years back, I read an engaging book – The Tell-Tale Brain, by Dr. V.S. Ramachandran. An interesting look at what makes us human, from a neurologist’s perspective. Dr. Ramachandran takes a look at the neurological structure of our brain, not through complicated instruments, but by basic methods and experiments, and comes to some very enlightening conclusions.

But today’s post is not about that book.

I reached a section of the book where the author speaks about the neurology of aesthetics – what makes us like art…can be visual, or audio, or visual, but there are some parameters that are common and can be taken as the basis of our liking of any form of art.

He likens this to the Sanskrit form of रस (rasa), a fundamental concept in Indian arts that speaks about the aesthetic flavor of any visual, literary or musical work that evokes an emotion or feeling in the reader or audience but cannot be described in words. The English translation – aesthetics- does little justice to this concept.

Moving a step further, Dr. Ramachandran then speaks about how the Western concepts of art, while brilliant in themselves, are seen and pursued largely as individual endeavors. In India however, they are woven into the fabric of our daily lives. For instance, when we pray, we invoke mantras that have been chanted in the same manner for thousands of years, in a language whose grammatical format was laid down three centuries before Christ, and has not needed any updating since, and in front of a deva that has been depicted on the first inscriptions that were made by man.

In Dr. Ramachandran’s words – Unlike the West, all these different aspects of life and culture are in pleasing and harmonious resonance, and are integrated into one’s daily life routines.

And this may also be the reason why we take what we have for granted.

A newborn in today’s India learns English nursery rhymes and A-Z first, and most parents don’t introduce the kid to the basic sounds of Sanskrit, which are incidentally more scientifically arranged and cover the whole spectrum of all sounds possible in human beings.

A child writes fluent English prose, but struggles, and makes fun, of essays that are to be written in Hindi, relegating it to the template “गाय हमारी माता है”.

A teenager quotes Shakespeare, but is not even aware of the surrealism of Kalidasa’s Shakuntala or mysticism of Rabindranath Tagore’s and Tyagaraja’s poems. Worse still, the advent of quotable quotes from good morning messages now mean that we are more familiar with silly and often mis-attributed quotes than genuine words of wisdom.

We learn about Greek and Roman history, but fail to even locate the Hoysala and Vijayanagara empires on the Indian map. And the icing on the cake? We learn watered down-pilates-based postures and call it yoga.

All this boils down to education.

And no, I don’t mean the kind you get in schools – that is rote-based, marks-focused and rat-race defined. I mean the kinds you get at home, where the parents spend time in teaching their kids on various facets of life.

I personally want to work on correcting this anomaly, in my own small way. Through my blog, I have attempted to bring to you works like the Panchatantra and Vetālapanchavimshati, in their original and unadulterated forms.

Some stories may seem like magic and fantasy, but when one speaks of teleporting through various words and flying machines, it demonstrates the imagination and thought process of the persons in those times, which were advanced enough to have conceptualized such happenings.

I want to extend this to Kalidasa’s works for starters – not the mundane English translations that we have encountered, but the original Sanskrit versions, rich in rasa and wordplay.

I want to explore the works of Premchand, and come out with quotes that you can forward as good-morning messages, only this time – with a lot more substance (and so that people can finally unblock you).

I want kids to know more about how sophisticated the ancient empires of North and South India were – to take them out of the dry descriptions in textbooks, and present them in a manner that children can truly understand the amazing technological and scientific advances of those times.

I want them to be fluent in English, but not at the cost of richer languages like the ones that we have in India.

A window to the world, but comfort in your own home – that is my definition of a ‘citizen with a global outlook’.

That, in my opinion, is true education.

And I am more than happy to welcome anyone who wishes to contribute to my endeavors.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you get in touch:)