Last week on Sunday, Nederland 2 (the Dutch TV channel – Netherlands 2) started the VPRO series on India – Van Bihar tot Bangalore (From Bihar to Bangalore).
Only – it began in Varanasi. The first words of Jelle Brandt Corsius, the reporter are, ‘Who hasn’t seen the Ganges hasn’t seen India’ and Varanasi is the place that he chose to introduce the viewer to the Ganges.
I have a joke about IDFA – the most prominent documentary film festival in the world that takes place in Amsterdam. Every year there’s a film to be seen by someone from ‘the west’ who has been to Varanasi. (It’s a joke – but almost true). Apparently this is the place that comes closest to delivering the source of Hinduism to a Dutch audience. As Brandt Corsius says, ‘in every train in India there is an Indian family taking an urn of ashes to be submerged in the Ganges’ and he reports this out of Varanasi.
The river – go with the flow 1
In the words of Brandt Corsius, ‘ I have always been jealous of the carefree attitude of Indians. Maybe we in the west swim against the tide too much. We think we have it all in our hands. Everything can be constructed, like the weather forecast on the ‘buienrader’. But the idea that fate has mapped out the path for you is also dangerous. If you think you don’t have free will, then nothing is going to change. That’s maybe why there’s still a caste system and the position of women is so destitute’.
Just before this commentary, he has concluded a conversation with a yogi who ran away from his home when he was twelve. On Brandt Corsius’s questioning him about this act of ‘free will’, the yogi replies, ‘ everything is pre-determined. My will supports that what is flowing, and if you want to flow, you just have to slowly move your hand and you will float with that’. Cut to the image of the river in full flow.
But, but but – how do I exactly find this secret button so I can press it, and my free will and what is pre-determined will find each other so I go with the flow?
Maybe I could take some help from marijuana – to be found on the streets in Varanasi and in the Netherlands.
And maybe the answer lies in embracing death. What could be more pre- decided than that? It is very re-assuring (even weird at times) to see those who speak about their impending death with laughter and a twinkle in their eyes as in this episode. Are we pressing that button when we decide to put en end to our lives when we are terminally ill in the Netherlands? The final act of free will that joins hands with pre determination?
But…do I have to wait to get terminally ill or smoke a joint to experience this? Are there other ways and means by which I can do this?
Like me, Brandt Corsius would also like to know the secret.
The river – go with the flow – 2
How do ‘Hindus’ manage to trick materiality? In Varanasi, we do this by purification rituals with the help of a putrid river. Brandt Corsius tries out some of the measures. Because as he says, ‘if you want to learn about a land, you have to jump into the deep end as soon as possible, as I have learnt in Russia. If you resist too much, you don’t get anywhere’. So, the river is full of half burnt dead bodies of humans and animals and yet Brandt Corsius and others drink it or /and dip in it, soak it up and apparently don’t fall sick. We then begin to believe the man of science who claims that some bacteria eat up some other ones and so maintain the balance between purity and impurity.
If one goes a step further, then re-incarnation or how to shed the body like it is a piece of garment only to live on on better terms in the next life is another way in which we deal with material life. As one wise man says of his body: it is meant to provide food for the fish and the birds, while his soul has found another place.
In this context a man who has taken ‘sanyas’ – or, in other words come to a place of retreat after leaving his family, to prepare for death gives an explanation that I simply fail to understand. Brandt Corsius’s help with summing up in in one word ‘karma’ doesn’t do it for me. The link to the episode is here below, and I am referring to the conversation from minute to 12: 50 to 15:15
Can anyone help me with clarifying this?
This first episode of Van Bihar tot Bangalore has ended up raising more questions than giving me answers. But maybe therein lies its success. In answer to a man who tries to explain Hinduism to him as ‘a way of life’, Brandt Corsius wants to know: ‘I will never understand?’ Could that apply to me too?
And so, beginning the series ‘Van Bihar tot Bangalore’ with Varanasi and it’s themes of free will vs determinism and transcending the material sets up the viewer up for the next episode – arranged marriages with dowries and the killing of female foetuses and babies, sometimes in the most barbaric of ways.
Second episode to be seen if you haven’t already on uitzending gemist. Click here: