ebrahim alkazi, studying mahabharatha – some notes

28/09/2013

I’ve read the Odyssey and the Iliad a few times, soaked in them (not in the original Greek though, sadly), I respect them – but nothing that I have ever read so far, comes even reasonably close to that grand  epic mahabharatha.

It is not because, I am from India or anything that I think so about mahabharata. I would consider the likes of  Kurosawa Akira, Johannes Sebastian Bach, Dawn Upshaw, Parveen Sultana, Kiri Te Kanawa, M S Subbulakshmi (this listing is delightfully endless..) – not to mention ‘The Brothers Karamazov,’  ‘Remembrance of things past’  etc etc – all part of my tradition & hoary past too! In my view, all great and grand things &  people of the world are part of our common tradition. Ahem!

So, one can ask why? What is so significant about mahabharata??

Oh, where do I even begin…(this would be a long staccato list)

I feel that mahabharatha has fine character studies with a significant lack of claustrophobic & premature judgementality; a continued grand celebration of grey areas and the joy (and sometimes sorrow) called life. The attitude that no one is a pure saint, and therefore of course,  no one a pure sinner – each having his / her own foibles and strong points.

Accommodation of multiple points of view, Rejuvenation and hope.

Non-immutable basic ethics and contextual applicability of morals. Time & situation variant dharma

The danse macabre called war. Lessons in strategy and tactics.

Beautiful weaving in of contradictions with stretched limits of grand possibilities.

Very tight script. Ingenious storytelling devices.  Carefully woven matrix of characters and scenes, from across times & contexts. Wonderful philosophical diversions – even if one excludes the Gita part from the epic.

Deep social, anthropological expositions. Timeless applicability of storylines. The incredible fables & allegories.

Adaptability to beautiful stage productions.  Political and administrative craft. No hollow praising of moral high grounds. Oh the variety, the diversity

… I also feel that, to reduce mahabharata to a mere soulless item of mindless worship, would be a ghastly waste!

Whether all the events in the mahabharata  really happened or not is not at all relevant.  I think, it is a pure and distilled joy savouring the epic, period.

So, with my kind of, to put it politely and mildly, a laissez-faire approach to learning (or for that matter, the Rg Vedic hymn approach – aa no badrah, kritavo yantu vishwatah – ‘let noble thoughts come to us from across the world (from all directions)’ – if you will & if you would pardon my self-delusion), that has been very kindly allowed (actually it is more like an indulgence) by the schools where I pretend  to teach – I have just started the adi parva – the first part of the symphony called mahabharatha, with our adolescent children and hope to finish ‘the first pass’ with them, in the next term. Wish me good luck and blissful times ahead!

A couple of decades back, I had the pleasure of viewing Stephen Spender‘s inspired theatrical rendition of the Greek classics – especially  ‘Antigone‘ of Sophocles  I wish we could do something like that with mahabharata. Forget about Peter Brook and his mahabharata, sorry;  sadly, Peter’s  rendition was not at all as thoughtful as perhaps, the rest of his oeuvre. To be precise, his idea was puerile, insipid, uninspiring and gaudily executed – hollow… Really sad.

Incidentally, I am sure many of the readers of this weblog would be familiar with our own theatrewallah – Sri Ebrahim Alkazi. If not, please go read up about him.

There is a very readable and reflective interview with that doyen of Indian Theatre – Ebrahim Alkazi – published by Indian Express. It has a lot more stuff about the Indian theatre scene and much else. What a fine guy Alkazi  is!

When I wanted to study the Mahabharata, my tutor said it’s obscene. I said I wanted to study the entire epic’

“SHAILAJA BAJPAI: I heard that your father migrated to Pakistan during the Partition. Why did you choose to stay back?

Ebrahim Alkazi: That is correct. My father wasn’t one those Arab-Muslims who was orthodox, although he did wear a fez and other Arab robes all his life. In fact my sisters and I were tutored by an Arab teacher throughout our childhood. He believed Pakistan was going to be a free and liberal nation. Soon after he migrated, he became disillusioned and finally relocated with the family to Lebanon. Most of my family now lives in Lebanon and in the United States.

As for me, I believe I’m an Indian. I’m rooted in India and I pride myself on being an Indian. I have an Indian passport. I belong here.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

More on our learning and joint-reading of mahabharata, sometime later… :-)

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JournalEntry# March 31, 2008.

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One Response to “ebrahim alkazi, studying mahabharatha – some notes”

  1. rajamani Says:

    i wish there were more of these. but these are the exceptions of one in a million. the run of the mill feelings of the community is i
    diametrically against all that that is mentioned here, i feel. i only wish i were wrong.


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