Friday, September 05, 2008

O Fortuna

I love a Capella singing. It is the ONLY form of music that literally raises the hairs on my neck. I've been following 'The Last Choir Standing' on BBC for the last month or so, soaking up all the good singing, new arrangements of old songs, reminiscing sweetly of my Stella days and how much fun it was to be a part of good (if small) choir. So, last week when I watched Ysgol Glanaethwy perform I was moved to bits - by their singing too(even though it wasn't a capella) but mostly because what they chose to sing was O Fortuna.

It is one of my favourite pieces of classical music. Haunting and powerful. For the last 10 years I have nursed the impression that it was written by Mozart - (no thanks to a wrongly titled torrent ) So when I heard it again on tv, it suddenly struck me that the song had lyrics - presuming they were written for an opera by Mozart because they sounded italian-y, I went a-digging.

Apparently, and this took me quite aback, the music is relatively new - 1935 or someat like that, written by a chappie called Carl Orff. Oh the disappointment (of sorts) - my untrained ears were convinced it was older. And oh, more interestingly, the music was written for the lyrics , a poem from a 13th century collection called Carmina Burana.

Wiki had a translation of this one on its page. And I absolutely fell in love with it. It seems so Roman somehow and yet I feel so much familiarity - almost as though elements of the style have percolated through the centuries (or maybe it's because it's a translation that it sounds like that to me). I've been playing it over and over in my head for the last week and have become quite besotted with it, so thought I'd share, in the hope that it will enchant you as well..

O Fortune,
like the moon
you are constantly changing,
ever growing
and waning;
hateful life
now oppresses
and then soothes
as fancy takes it;
and power
it melts them like ice.

Fate - monstrous
and empty,
you whirling wheel,
you are malevolent,
well-being is vain
and always fades to nothing,
and veiled
you plague me too;
now through the game
I bring my bare back
to your villainy.

Fate, in health
and virtue,
is against me
driven on
and weighted down,
always enslaved.
So at this hour
without delay
pluck the vibrating strings;
since Fate
strikes down the strong man,
everyone weep with me!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Of Nightmares - II

My previous post was a reaction - a gut response to what I had just read. I realised that almost as soon as I had published that post and briefly toyed with idea of replacing it with something that reflected my thoughts on the matter rather than my feelings. A part of me needed to qualify why I felt the way I did. To replace sentiment with logic. But I refrained. Primarily, because I think I am entitled to express my feelings and I think my feelings on this reflected my outrage and certain (even if slightly farfetched) fears that some among us may have felt but not had either the avenue or the inclination to express. So while the post remains untouched for that reason, I am obliged to now elaborate what I think.

In the few days since I first read about this online, I’ve had quite a few heated discussions with friends, managing in the process to elicit a range of opinions broad enough to represent a substantial cross-section of urban people that one may come across, or so I’d like to imagine. But more importantly, my own thoughts on this have crystallized in the act of listening and explaining my stance to another.

Cutting out the bullshit, what it comes down to is simply this: People are threatened by a shift in social hierarchy. The Conversions (presumably to Christianity but me thinks it's more the mindset than the religion ) – now a much vilified word – is apparently supposed to explain and excuse the violence. ‘The dalits are being converted’ they cry, ‘Hinduism is being threatened, how can we be expected not to retaliate?’

To them I want to say… ‘Yeah, right!!! All of a sudden you give a shit about people that you have treated worse than pond scum , that you have shunned and cast out of your society, that you have trodden upon and taught your children to tread upon. Suddenly, you want to pick up arms in their ‘defense’ - you dare to pretend that you care - you lying, insecure, hypocritical bastards! ’

But ofcourse there is absolutely no point in addressing people that resort to violence. Instead, I want to address the ‘educated’, the ‘aware’ and the yet-somehow-apathetic (or would they prefer narrow-minded)

To them I want to say this.. ‘Think, people, think!!! Why are you so threatened by this if you are secure in your views? What are you so afraid of? Is your faith so shakeable that if some other guy gets converted you suddenly are threatened? Ok, say that 60 % of the people in your apartment complex are converted to another religion, are you going to start questioning yours?? If that is the case, then you need to re-think your faith. If it isn’t, then you might want to extrapolate that to realize that maybe even if all the dalits in Orissa get converted, it doesn’t matter. It shouldn't. Just mathematically, for crying out loud, 1 in 5 people in the world is Hindu. You belong to the fastest growing (by sheer reproduction rates) religion in the world.’

And let’s call a spade a spade, what is the big deal about conversion anyway? If something is shoved down one’s throat, if it is forced, of course I find that abhorrent and I will crusade against it with you. But if it is consensual, why does it bother you people so much. Every one of us is always trying to convert another to their point of view. I’m doing it now. You did it the last time you had an argument with someone. We always want people to come round to our point of view because we think we are right, that our point of view is more valuable, carries more credence. But all of a sudden, when it comes to religion, it is so terribly taboo. The horror of it! How could one possibly think that?! I think it’s perfectly alright for me to campaign for my set of beliefs.. religious or otherwise, to tell people I think I have a better idea, a better philosophy, a road to salvation – As long as I don’t put down another, and don’t disrespect you, I’m doing nothing wrong. And just incase you didn’t remember, our constitution endorses this freedom.

Of course the devils advocate in you might immediately fire back by oh-so-cynically (and condescendingly) claiming that perhaps because the dalits are so helpless and downtrodden that they are extremely prone to suggestion, so vulnerable that they are easily swayed and influenced, that to them, the mere suggestion of a different religion is akin to coercion and is going too far. To that, I would like to point out, that ironically, it is this religion where they will find recourse, this religion that actively reinforces the notion that everyone is equal in the eyes of god , that they are not second-class citizens, that offers education and a chance at a better life for their children , that considers them valuable and important members of society, that just might raise their self-esteem and awareness and standard of life enough for them to just maybe start thinking for themselves!

There are still those that will claim that dalits are forcibly converted in the more classic sense of the word, a notion much touted. In response to this I must say that I know that the church in India ( certainly after the graham staines thingy) began to consciously refrain from converting people, with the express directive that baptisms were to be performed only if the individual fulfilled expressed a sustained desire to become a Christian. (And why wouldn't the dalits, god knows christianity offered them an out from the oppression of caste-ism)

This was done for two reasons, first, out of respect (and maybe a little fear) for the religious dynamic in Indian society. Secondly, because whatever the transgressions in the past, there was a reaffirmation amongst the Christian community (both clergy and people) that any measure of force is against a very basic tenet of Christianity (freedom of choice). Personally, I think the Church has its hands full enough keeping the people that it has from leaving and should have outright refused to convert people in the first place. But that’s another story for another post.

The bottom line is all the tsk-tsks in the world are entirely useless. Something must be done. But what? Erm… we’re back to square one! One is left with the resounding conclusion that there really is nothing that can be done except try to temporarily protect these people in some way and get justice for those that have been victimized.

In the bigger scheme of things, it’s seems too late for this generation. The violence will stop maybe when it ceases to serve some higher political agenda for those VHP, RSS (insert expletive of choice) that feed on the ignorance of the masses (the self righteous, self-appointed protectors of our religion and moral fibre!!) which is when they will call off their goons. Until the next time they need to pick on someone that is.

We cannot fight them. I certainly cannot fathom how we can. Their poison feeds on disparity, it is spread by enforcing existent social hierarchies, by scaring the upper classes that are already terrified of losing their ground in the superiority scale, and preying on the uneducated that are gullible enough to believe that the dalits and Christians are the cause of all their problems. The voices that do cry out against this are too insignificant to make a difference to those at the receiving end of this violence.

At the end of this, there is no catharsis for me. Only the dulling certainty that I have pissed many people off. And yet I am compelled to express my point of view. Not only because I identify with the persecuted in this case but because too many of us pussy-foot around this sort of thing, not taking any kind of stand, which does absolutely no good, rather, intensifying and perpetuating all the horribly ignorant notions surrounding this. And even though I have no illusions about changing anybody’s opinions, I had to say all this - because I have a conscience and a voice.

Update : No sooner than I had posted this, I opened my feed reader to find this. God bless you Parceval!