Saturday, March 23, 2013

Gross National Grace

In his classic novel, Shibumi, Trevanian describes "the ineffable quality" as follows:

Shibumi has to do with great refinement underlying commonplace appearances. It is a statement so correct that it does not have to be bold, so poignant it does not have to be pretty, so true it does not have to be real. Shibumi is understanding, rather than knowledge. Eloquent silence. In demeanor, it is modesty without pudency. In art, where the spirit of shibumi takes the form of sabi, it is elegant simplicity, articulate brevity. In philosophy, where shibumi emerges as wabi, it is spiritual tranquility that is not passive; it is being without the angst of becoming. And in the personality of a man, it is . . . how does one say it? Authority without domination? Something like that

Shibumi has stayed with me ever since I read it years ago. 

Spiritual tranquility that is not passive. Being without the angst of becoming. Authority without domination. Do these words not remind us of Gandhi?

And not just Gandhi. Such strength (and beauty) through grace has been the Indian tradition.

Maa Nishada Pratistham Tvamagamahsāsvati Samaa
Yat Kraunchamithunaadekam Avadhi Kaamamohitam

Our first poem was a graceful protest against senseless violence.

I also think of Shabri's ber and the grace with which Ram ate them. And the Bodhi tree under which Siddhartha found his own grace.

I think of the persecuted Parsis who arrived in Gujarat and gracefully made it their home. I think of Somnath that our people built up again and again as a graceful counterpoint to a marauder. I think of Akbar whose Din-e-Ilahi was a nonpareil act of grace.

I think of the universality of Yoga and the syncretic notes of Bismillah Khan.

I think of Ghalib and of Guru Tegh Bahadur.

I think of Rahul Dravid and I think of Irom Sharmila.

Shibumi may be a Japanese word but it is a thoroughly Indian ideal.

Modernity has made us less graceful alas.

Our cacophonous republic sees grace as weakness and vanity of intellectuals.

We mistake violence for strength, aggression for assertiveness, garishness for grace.

We pin gallantry medals on police officers who force pebbles inside hapless women.

Our cities are noise, our streets are sewers, our arguments are abuse, our politics is personal destruction.

I quite think that grace has been and should remain the eternal idea of India.

It is through grace that we will find balance at home and a place in the world.

We can be humble without being timid, simple yet sophisticated, vocal without being argumentative.

We are better off building reserves of strength, not brandishing the little we have. Indeed, when India eventually achieves Shibumi, she will find she has also become a superpower.
Lest I am accused of hypocrisy, let me hasten to note that I don't claim to be personally anywhere near this graceful ideal that I write of. It doesn't make me proud but that's how it is.

I do think it is worth striving for. Our reach may far exceed our grasp but at least we can reach for grace.