A Gash in the World

Chapter 15 The Politics of the End or The End of Politics

 

The two weeks in Naperville at Kulkarni’s house had flown by in a blur of activity. The beginning of December had ushered in the first snowfall. Samir saw snow for the first time in his life. He and Asha were returning from the supermarket and had just parked the car by the house. As they emerged into the twilight, the first flakes drifted from the sky. Samir set his grocery bag down and reached out for them, their wetness dissolving in his palms. He stood there, not uttering a word, as the sounds around him subsided. The earth turned white. At first, it was gradual, a patch here, a branch there, a roof nearby, until a luminous glow filled the sky. When Asha stepped on a twig, it snapped with a loud crunch. Neither of them said a word. Everything seemed deeper, rounder, fuller, a moment of rare disclosure, of slow revelation that overwhelmed and transformed them. Samir held Asha for a long time.

Asha and Samir stayed indoors most of the time and worked. Somehow she translated as many as sixty pages. Perfect translations were seldom available. The hardest thing was selecting from the many approximate English words corresponding to the Sanskrit. Samir helped by editing her prose and rendering it simpler and more graceful. The pages flitted back and forth between them. When they had finished a page, Samir would email and fax it to Bombay. Samir used Kulkarni’s fax machine and broadcast the page all over. He also emailed a number of addresses.

It started slowly. No one read the first few pages seriously. But it did make them curious. A small handful of people, maybe a hundred, scanned them, and then spread them all over the city. Some read them at home, some at work, and some in the many commuter trains that connected North Bombay to South Bombay. A large map of Bombay would have shown just a hundred sparsely distributed points in the city where the Sahityashastra had descended. As more pages flowed in, they started to talk about them to their families and co-workers. Soon they were copying and distributing them in their offices. The number of points on the map grew in small clusters as the pages circulated. And then people attended to them. As they read page after page, excitement mounted in the air. At first, people discussed the Sahityashastra in hushed tones. They didn’t quite understand it, but the sense of mystery and promise the pages conveyed kept them going. Then a couple of newspapers covered the story, fanning it like wild fire.

Before long, Bombay was full of anticipation. Samir had accessed a hundred addresses, and from what the newspapers reported, these hundred had distributed the pages to another thousand, and from there to another ten thousand and hundred thousand. And they were still being disseminated with the possibility of touching a million. The map would by now have been swathed with points extended more uniformly over the city. People emailed and faxed them to others. Some traveled outside Bombay and even outside India. Those who didn’t read them heard about them. People were enthralled by the pages that trickled in each day. The social organism was responding to the argument, playing out the logic of the Sahityashastra. The spheres of literature, religion, and state had seized their minds and hearts.

By now, the newspapers were trying to anticipate Samir’s next move. In fact, the process was becoming the product and the product was becoming the process. The social organism embodied the argument. As people read about rationality, they began to act more rationally with each other. In this vast realm, different people explored the domain of rationality in different ways. This did not mean that conflicts disappeared. But the way people approached conflict became increasingly rational.

There were many discussions in the press, people attacking and defending the Sahityashastra, and many interpretations of its relatively cryptic formulations. It was like an unfolding of a dialectic of experience, with all its ups and downs, its clashes and syntheses, its successive triumphs over apparently irreconcilable differences. People could join together in a shared transformation, discovering and inventing the many truths of the Sahityashastra. It was clear to Samir as he watched these developments from afar that the Sahityashastra was like a seed crystal in this process of crystallizing people’s ideas and feelings.

After two weeks, Kulkarni had an accident on the highway. He was driving home, talking to Samir from his car phone, when his brakes failed and he crashed into an oncoming car. Samir heard a surprised gasp and was stunned.

Kulkarni had narrowly escaped death but had to be hospitalized. Samir and Asha stayed on a couple of days and helped Mrs. Kulkarni to stabilize things. But an examination of the brakes in Kulkarni’s car had revealed that their failure had not been a mere accident. They decided it was no longer safe to continue in Naperville.

They chose to fly to Boston, to stay with Allison. Asha called her the next day. “Allison, this is Asha.”

“What have you been up to? Have you seen what’s happening in Bombay? The Sahityashastra is transforming the city. Do you know who’s behind it?”

“We are. We still have a long way to go. Can we stay with you for a while?”

“Of course.”

“See you soon. We’re on our way.”

 

 

……

 

 

Though Boston was now severely cold, another month passed in a frenzy of work. The streets were glazed with slush. Cambridge, where Allison lived, was adjacent to Boston. The stretches of white land and reddish brown rooftops appeared still and quiet, insulating them from the idea of a seething, churning Bombay, full of the turmoil of Bharata’s argument.

The days were filled with translating and emailing, and late afternoons were devoted to snow fights followed by coffee in Harvard Square. Allison and Anil and Asha and Samir had a lot to discuss, as they were all working on translation, Allison and Anil on its theory and Asha and Samir on its practice. They compared notes and ideas and tips and strategies. Anil and Allison solved Asha’s central problem with their recent topological breakthrough. She had struggled to choose the best word from a number of possible translations, a process that had slowed her down. Their method enabled Asha to choose the word that was closest to the original word in Sanskrit: translation as nearness! Anil had formulated the mathematics of translation by using the idea of a metric lattice. And Allison had written a computer program for it. All they had to do was feed in a sentence and the program would produce a list of possible translations with their distances from the original words. Asha would then pick the word with the smallest distance. The method didn’t always work. Sometimes they got absurd and amusing results as when, instead of `Religion and state are in harmony’, the program spewed out `The priest and the politician are copulating’. But it succeeded enough to speed up her translation significantly.

Bombay had received about a hundred and eighty more pages from Samir and was completely bowled over by the logic of Bharata’s reasoning. By now it had the whole argument, so it was possible to evaluate it. The city held many public discussions, and there were many articles in newspapers and magazines. The ideas of rationality, of balance and imbalance, of separation, and of optimality fired everyone’s imagination. Many explicators of the argument and the ideas came forward. They simplified it, offering many illustrative examples that inspired a deeper understanding on the part of the lay public. Interpreters and intellectuals broke down the somewhat abstract nature of Bharata’s argument into more concrete segments to make it more accessible to the public. As the argument was explicated and understood, it was absorbed and embodied. The mood of Bombay shifted from one of guarded hostility and latent shame after the riots to one of openness and questioning. Bombay became more gentle, more quiet.

Samir’s idea of emailing the Sahityashastra page by page was now outside his control. He was a mere cog in the machinery he had set to work. Asha’s translations lacked the nuances of the original, but something had to be sacrificed. There would be time for subtle shades of meaning later.

More and more pages sluiced into Bombay.

 

 

……

 

 

As the second part of Bharata’s book, the part in which he had developed the implications of his argument, permeated Bombay, another round of transformations swept through the city. The separation of religion and state and the meaning of their minimalism echoed through the streets and byways. Religion evolved into a matter of personal choice and inclination rather than one of organization and institutionalization. Those who chose religion favored a sense of the spiritual over rite and ritual. A desire for a secular state swelled among the people.

The deepest effect was undoubtedly that of the role of literature, and through literature, of science and secularism. This new sense, a sense of a new form of life, diffused gradually as if by osmosis, from a relatively narrow sphere to all of social life. There were moments when it also transformed the city suddenly, and Bombay changed overnight, to a new grasp of realities, to a new realism. A sense of finitude, of the particular and limited, pervaded the city.

 

 

……

 

 

Samir glanced up and his eyes met Asha’s. The translation of the sixth Veda was over. And he had completed emailing and faxing the last installment. They were both hunched over some cereal. Asha’s face eased into a smile. They had completed their crucial task. Bharata’s book had the desired effect, so many hundreds of years later.

“I can’t believe it,” Samir said.

“Neither can I,” Asha said.

“I find it hard to believe the effect on Bombay.”

“It is a transformed city.”

“I can feel a different pulse in the city, even sitting so many miles away,” Samir said.

“What will we do now?”

“There is only one thing left to do. As Bharata would say, ‘Maximize desire’.” Samir reached for Asha.

“Why don’t you stay in New York for a bit?” Asha said.

“I could become the foreign correspondent for the Indian Times. They’ve wanted someone for the last year. That would work out perfectly. I could write some more books.”

“Do we just pack and return to New York?” Asha said.

“No. I think we should wait a few days and let the waves of Bombay’s internal tremors die down a bit. It’s still a little dangerous,” Samir said. “Fundamentals has still to be completely disbanded, despite Harold’s dismantling of the top and the police’s chasing after the bottom. So far, people at large don’t know that we translated and emailed the Sahityashastra. It is best to maintain this anonymity for some time.”

The juggernaut of Bombay rolled on. The Sahityashastra seeped into the daily life and daily work of men and women. And their life and work was transformed by rationality, action, and balance. A certain equilibrium infused the spheres of literature, religion, and state.

Needless to say, all this did not happen in a smooth way. There was a great deal of chaos, of confusion and commotion. But Bombay muddled through, as it always did. The stock market reflected these ups and downs. The mood of Bombay, the mood of Marine Drive, the mood of its many suburbs all flickered from dark to light to dark to light. Even the sunsets matched the alternating somber and ebullient feel of the city.

By now, by the end of Bharata’s book, the importance of the separation of religion and state had been underscored and accepted. The pluralism of religion was felt to be a source of richness rather than weakness and confusion, a source, that is, of authenticity and holiness and desire. The minimalism that was hidden now surfaced. Literature had come to be the new form of life.

The city felt like it was pregnant, like it was going to give birth.

 

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