Tag Archives: Krishna

“They’re human beings” — December 6th

6 Dec

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Niko was never a name I was nuts about, though it was that of a grandfather I’m proud of.  And I never had a massive crush on St. Nicholas the way I do on St. Demetrius or St. Stephen or Nestor…or my Kanha…

‘Krishna and the Gopis on the Bank of the Yamuna River’; miniature painting from the ‘Tehri Garwhal’ <i>Gita Govinda</i>, circa 1775–1780

But I do remember a sermon on December 6th ages ago, an unusually enlightened and intelligent one for a Greek-American priest, and an older one at that, at my parish in Whitestone.  I can only paraphrase it now:

St. Nicholas was not one of our great warrior saints like St. Demetrius or St. George.  He wasn’t one of our intellectual, theologian saints like the Cappadocians.  He was simply a saint who made sure that, to the best of his abilities, everyone under his care had a place to sleep and food to eat.

Then he went on to the part that I’ll really never forget:

When someone comes to you in need, the first and only thing you’re to think of is the vulnerable and potentially humiliating position this human being has put himself in by needing and asking for your help.  You’re not to think of how much you can give or how much he needs.  Or if “he’s gonna spend it on drugs.”  You’re to keep him from feeling humiliated with whatever you can.  That’s all.

My favorite St. Nicholas story — and probably the one that Santa Claus has its roots in — is how he went secretly to the home of the three daughters of a poor man at night and left them three bags of gold through the window so that they would have dowries and be able to marry.  He didn’t rail against the dowry system; he didn’t get off on his ideological correctness, like those anti-tipping assholes in New York who leave their waiter a little card explaining that tipping in the restaurant industry is exploitative, drafting the hapless kid into their cause by depriving him of income and not leaving him anything except the little card.  He simply gave three poor sisters what they needed so that they could survive in the world.  And we can talk ideology and exploitation later.

St. Nicholas Fra AngelicoFra Angelico

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Riz Ahmed, Immigration, Suketu Mehta and me, Identity Politics, and Varun and Sidharth’s “shining future”

21 Sep

riz-ahmedRiz Ahmed is the first man of Asian descent to win an acting Emmy Getty Images

Suketu Mehta’ conclusions in “This Land is Their Land” (see: Suketu Mehta in Foreign Policy addendum, whole text) echo some of my points on immigration in Greece, Britain, U.S. and everywhere (see: It’s immigration, “stupid”: the United States’ best-kept secret…streams of thought on a hot Sunday afternoon).

Me:

“It’s when immigrant/migrants/refugees are leaving that you should worry.

“My often-stated opinion that the West has both the resources and the historical obligation to take in every-body that needs and wants to come still holds.  That the European Union’s migration agreement with Turkey marked people fleeing a country in the condition of Afghanistan’s as “economic migrants” was a scandal.  But when you’ve got a problem with Poles — whit-er, better-educated, harder-working, more Christian, cuter, better-mannered and less binge-drinking than you — then you really do have a problem…

polish-scum

“America’s best-kept secret, despite what trailer trash Donald Trump and his crew tell you, is that immigrants are a self-selecting group of already highly motivated people who are connected and aware enough to have heard that things are better where you are.  And they’re not coming to take that from you; they’re coming to improve it.  They’re the A-list crew that crashes your party because they’ve heard your parties are the ones to crash and in the process makes them even more of the hottest ticket in town.  It’s a self-fufilling, auto-re-perpetuating process.

“New York, in other words.”

“Olympian Zeus, king of the gods, will tear your head off if you’re unwelcoming to the stranger — or worse, for a Greek, make you ugly — so you better watch out. He comes in disguise to test you. Like the angels to Abraham.”

“So…wooops…there they are. Here they come! They’ve arrived. And they’ve instantly made Greece a more interesting place. And interesting is strong. And strength is freedom.”

And Mehta:

“Countries that accept immigrants, like Canada, are doing better than countries that don’t, like Japan. But whether Trump or May or Orban likes it or not, immigrants will keep coming, to pursue happiness and a better life for their children. To the people who voted for them: Do not fear the newcomers. Many are young and will pay the pensions for the elderly, who are living longer than ever before. They will bring energy with them, for no one has more enterprise than someone who has left their distant home to make the difficult journey here, whether they’ve come legally or not. And given basic opportunities, they will be better behaved than the youth in the lands they move to, because immigrants in most countries have lower crime rates than the native-born. They will create jobs. They will cook and dance and write in new and exciting ways. They will make their new countries richer, in all senses of the word. The immigrant armada that is coming to your shores is actually a rescue fleet.[My emphases]

Was that one of the subtexts or even the skeletal structure of “The Night of…”, the brilliant mini-series and incredible ethnographic essay on New York from HBO for which Ahmed won his Emmy: good, criminally uninclined, son of hard-working Pakistani immigrant parents from Jackson Heights, with …a shining shining future
Sadda bright si (see full video at bottom), gets led to his doom by decadent white girl? or is he a good Muslim boy led astray by Hindu seductress disguised as lawyer who then screws herself in the process?  (I have to admit that the sexual scratch-marks on the back of Ahmed’s character, Naz, that come to light in one courtroom scene put me in mind of the Gita Govinda.)  Or more misogynist than that even: that women — period. — are trouble?

‘The Lovers Radha and Krishna in a Palm Grove’; miniature painting from the ‘Tehri Garhwal’ <i>Gita ­Govinda</i> (Song of the Cowherds), Punjab Hills, kingdom of Kangra or Guler, circa 1775–1780

Some of the frustrating contradictions of identity politics in the Washington Post‘s Riz Ahmed makes history as the first South Asian man to win an Emmy acting award.  If Riz Ahmed wants to not be type-cast as a Muslim or South Asian man every time he gets a role, but to eventually just play a character called “Dave”, then he’s going to need his fans’ help and have them not get apoplectically happy because he’s the first “Asian” (whatever that means) to win an Emmy, but because he’s a great actor who won an Emmy.

In the meantime, tabrik.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

 

The Dark Lord

12 May

In a previous post, April 10th “A Dancing Girl,” I wrote about the ubiquity of Krishna-Radha imagery in Indian culture, from the obvious traditionally religious contexts to Bollywood cinema.  Sudhir Kakar, Indian psychologist and I guess all around cultural critic has a very interesting analysis of the Krishna archetype in Indian cinema.  He contrasts him, the playful phallic teaser, with the Majnun archetype, the distraught, longing lover (“majnun” means crazed in Arabic, the same Semitic root as “meshugeh” in Yiddish), setting up an interesting Hindu-Muslim interplay between the two:

“The Krishna-lover is the second important hero of Indian films.  Distinct from Majnun,the two may, in a particular film, be sequential rather than separate.  The Krishna-lover is physically importunate, what Indian-English will perhaps call the “eve-teasing” hero, whose initial contact with women verges on that of sexual harrassment.  His cultural lineage goes back to the episode of the mischievous Krishna hiding the clothes of the gopis (cow-herdesses) while they bathe in the pond and his refusal to give them back in spite of the girls’ repeated entreaties.  From the 1950s Dev Anand movies to those (and especially) of Shammi Kapoor in the 1960s and of Jeetendra today, the Krishna-lover is all over and all around the heroine who is initially annoyed, recalcitrant, and quite unaware of the impact the hero’s phallic intrusiveness has on her.  The Krishna-lover has the endearing narcissism of the boy in the eve of the Oedipus stage, when the world is felt to be his “oyster.”  He tries to draw the heroine’s attention by all possible means – aggressive innuendoes and double entendres, suggestive song and dance routines, bobbing up in the most unexpected places to startle and tease her as she goes about her daily life.  The more the heroine dislikes the hero’s incursions, the greater his excitement.  As the hero of the film Aradhana remarks, “Love is only fun when the woman is angry.”

“For the Krishna-lover, it is vital that the woman be a sexual innocent and that in his forcing her to become aware of his desire she get in touch with her own.  He is phallus incarnate, with distinct elements of the “flasher” who needs constant reassurance by the woman of his power , intactness, and especially his magical qualities that can transform a cool Amazon into a hot, lusting female.  The fantasy is one of the phallus – Shammi Kapoor in his films used his whole body as one – humbling the pride of the unapproachable woman, melting her indifference and unconcern into submission and longing.  The spirited, androgynous virgin is awakened to her sexuality and thereafter reduced to a groveling being, full of a moral masochism wherein she revels in her “stickiness” to the hero.  Before she does so, however, she may go through a stage of playfulness where she presents the lover with a mocking version of himself.  This in Junglee, it is the girl from the hills – the magical fantasy-land of Indian cinema where the normal order of things is reversed – who throws snowballs at the hero, teases him, and sings to him in a good-natured reversal of the man’s phallicism, while it is now the hero’s turn to be provoked and play the recalcitrant beloved.”

—  Intimate Relations: Exploring Indian Sexuality, Sudhir Kakar

Bollywood classicists will probably object to my not using one of the above-mentioned actors as a movie clip example, but I’ve chosen to use recent meteor-hottie Imran Khan instead:

Not that Imran Khan…  No relation to Shahrukh Khan either or Salman Khan, but the nephew of Aamir Khan — just in case you doubted how nepotistic Bollywood is, how full of super-size Khan egos it is, or how disproportionately Muslim the industry is, a fact that usually remains unspoken.  Other than his still teenage swagger, which the other Khans are getting a little too old to pull off, I think Imran is so perfect in the role of this archetype because he has those exaggeratedly large, murti-like* eyes and eyebrows that so many Indians have and have such deep religious significance and symbolism.  “Darshan,” or the viewing of a deity, is usually centered on the eyes — on a visit to any temple one will usually find at least one devotee staring endlessly into the god’s eyes — and Hindus believe that the deity’s energy does not come to reside in an image until that very final moment when its pupils are painted in.

Anyway, here’s Imran with his Gopis, in the title number of the 2010 I Hate Luv Stories, playing the Dusky One to perfection (though as in Kakar’s classic trajectory, he’s later humbled into the Majnun lover):

And for those old-schoolers, here’s SRK, perhaps the central casting expert at the type, in the wedding scene from Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, the wedding he’s impudent enough to crash because he’s smitten with the bride’s sister and shows up to hit on her.

 

*”Murti” is the image of a deity in Hinduism, any image: statue, painting, drawing, cheap print from the kiosk.  Obviously I don’t use the word “idol,” with its reek of monotheist condescension and demonization, as I generally consider monotheism — all of them — to be something of a plague and a great historical tragedy.  We’ll just have to do the best we can with what we have for now.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

A Dancing Girl

10 Apr

A “dancing girl” giving us another vision of divine love…

Madhuri Dixit, maybe the most spectacular woman the gods have ever given us, playing the courtesan with the heart of gold, Chandramukhi, in perhaps the twentieth film version of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s 1917 Bengali novel Devdas, dancing a beautiful, if heavily Bollywood-ized, kathak — when she was four months pregnant…  They don’t make ’em like that anymore.  Kathak is a form of classical north Indian dance that always tells the story of the love between Krishna and Radha (Krishna an avatar of Vishnu, Radha often said to be an avatar of Lakshmi, in Hinduism’s dizzying, endlessly intelligent loops of shape-shifting.)  One of the reasons I love Kathak so much is that it’s a form developed primarily in the Muslim courts of North India, heavily Persian-derived in many of its elements, that tells a Hindu story.  One wishes that that kind of fecund inter-generosity characterized all of India’s history.  More on Kathak: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kathak  I’ll try and find more classic versions of it at some point soon.

Much to be said on Devdas.  Even more to be said on the erotic adventures — sweet, playful and tortured — of Krishna and Radha, which is the background music to, and occupies a huge space in, the collective unconscious of Indian sexuality; its imagery is ubiquitous; it turns up everywhere, sneaking up on you like Krishnaji himself on the banks of the Yamuna.  The breaking of Radha’s bangles by the adolescently phallic and annoying Krishna — “Why do you tease me so?” — who’s a god nonetheless, is one of the most powerful erotic images I know of.  When a religious culture understands that the soul in the presence of God is a flustered young woman being teased by a hot guy, there’s really nothing else to say.

Shahrukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit in Sanjay Leela Bansali’s 2002 Devdas (click)

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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