Friday, June 20, 2008

Na hanyate (Part 2)

Antar-gṛha-gatā

Maitreyi recounts an interesting vignette towards the end of the third section of the book, in which she remembers a night when Mircea was playing the piano in his room, which was directly below hers. It was late, 2 o’clock at night, and she and her cousin are unable to sleep. Maitreyi says she will go downstairs and tell him to be quiet. I immediately thought, “Aha! She’s finally coming clean and is going to admit that she did go to his room in the middle of the night.” But of course the cousin says that can’t be done; a young girl just does not go to a single man’s room at 2 o’clock in the morning. Maitreyi makes it as far as the door before she is stopped.

Krishna played the flute and Mircea played the piano. Some gopis made it, and some had to go to Krishna in meditation only.

antar-gṛha-gatāḥ kāścid gopyo’labdha-vinirgamāḥ
kṛṣṇam tad-bhāvanā-yuktā dadhyur mīlita-locanāḥ
duḥsaha-preṣṭha-viraha-tīvra-tāpa-dhutāśubhāḥ
dhyāna-prāptācyutāśleṣa-nirvṛtyā kṣīṇa-maṅgalāḥ
tam eva paramātmānaṁ jāra-buddhyāpi saṅgatāḥ
jahur guṇamayaṁ dehaṁ sadyaḥ prakṣīṇa-bandhanāḥ

Some of the gopis were kept within their rooms, unable to find a way out. And so, completely absorbed in thought of him, they closed their eyes and meditated on Krishna. All the inauspiciousness they knew was washed away by the intolerably intense pain of separation from their beloved. And the joy of embracing him in their meditation erased their material piety. Being joined with their paramour, the Supersoul, they quickly gave up their material bodies, all their bondage having been eradicated. (10.29.9-10)
Another interesting element of the story also comes out in the third part of the book. Mircea was forbidden by Maitreyi’s father from ever communicating with her. They did have a go-between, Munna, and Maitreyi did succeed in sending her book of poems to Mircea through him, with the inscription, “Mircea, I told my mother that you only kissed me on the forehead.” But subsequently, Munna failed them both and did not bring Mircea’s letters to Maitreyi. This left her resentful, thinking that he had given up on her. Maitreyi finds out about Munna's failure when all these matters come to the surface again and she goes to find him, and amazingly he still has three of the letters 42 years later. Would she have made an attempt at escape and gone to join Mircea if she had known?

Instead, she remained bound in her room, with not even a duti to keep her hopes alive. And so she tried to kill the hopes. She sublimated them, as it were. At first in housekeeping, then in family, then in writing and social service. And then came the return of the repressed.

The Kurukshetra Moment

Maitreyi says herself that as she grew older, she became something of a conservative curmudgeon, always defending moralistic social values and condemning sexual inappropriateness, as well as drinking and other social ills. But as the book develops, and especially after this “return of the repressed,” she is starting to revise her perception. She sees how society is changing, how people react when they hear about Mircea's novel and not condemning her, but rather being sympathetic with her situation, both then and now.

Maitreyi feels she has been made use of or cheapened by Mircea’s representation of her in his novel. She says, "This Western culture sees the only culmination of love in a bedroom." Shock and horror. Still, she recognizes more and more that her feelings are on different levels: the external anger and the internal immortality of their love.

Maitreyi finally decides that she has to see Mircea and she makes the trip to Chicago, knowing in one sense that this is doomed to failure. Perhaps it is precisely the hope that she will see indifference on his part. Her husband, who by this time has heard everything, approves of her trip, just in the hope that it will put an end to the torment.

So, Maitreyi and Mircea have their Kurukshetra moment, that most disappointing juncture of all in the Bhagavatam when viewed from the material point of view. Things have changed too radically for even Radha and Krishna and they can never go back, and so Radha says, mano me kalindi-pulina-vipinaya sprihayati.

O companion! This is the same beloved Krishna
meeting me here in Kurukshetra;
and I am the same Radha,
and both of us are feeling the joy of union.
Even so, my mind wishes for the forest
by the banks of the Yamuna
where the fifth note of his flute
reverberated sweetly within my heart. (Padyavali, 383)
It is quite a scene here too, with Mircea finding it very difficult to even turn around and look at Maitreyi, even trying to avoid the meeting entirely at first. When he finally speaks to the issue, the baffled scholar plaintively asks, "What can we do? We are both married." She can tell him that he does not understand. Maitreyi is under no illusion that the past can be recreated, but she is moved by the idea that love itself is transcendent.

Mircea perhaps put the affair behind him in 1933, so it was way behind him by then, whereas for her, the whole affair has taken on a new kind of power over her. But there is something in his brief statement that makes it look like the flame never completely went out on his side either. Even so, when Maitreyi says that he doesn’t understand, it is because for her, a wider universe has been opened up by this quasi-mystical experience of love. And now it was no longer about them as individuals in relation to one another, but of them in relation to the sublime underlying spiritual force of the universe.

And that is why she challenges him, “The image you gave of me in the book is not realistic. I did not recognize myself in the portrayal you made of me there.” He answers that he was trying to portray her as the unattainable goddess. And that is a tempting line of thought that Maitreyi does not explore. Clearly, we needed to let the Mircea of 1972, with his vast knowledge of symbol and spirituality, speak. But this is Maitreyi’s book, and so Mircea is her creation, like Maitreyi in Bengali Nights was his.

The immortality of love

Anyway, the immortality of the love is definitely there. But to experience that immortality fully, you have to associate it with Radha and Krishna, I am firmly convinced of that. But because of that, you have to surrender to the love, if by Their grace, it appears in your life. Then let what may come. If you are seeking Radha and Krishna, and you see Them in the direction of your love, then They are there, asking you to surrender.

Lovers are separated. And there is no guarantee that their plans or hopes to be together will ever be realized. They float around in a semi-subjective reality, where their presence in each other's hearts and minds seems more real than the floating reality that is wisping around them like so many bits of dandelion fluff, or monsoon haze. This sense that the unreal is more real than the so-called real is a finger pointing in the direction of Radha and Krishna. And we have to follow that finger.

Part 3.

7 comments:

Speechless said...

Maitreyi's obsession is typical of people who fall in love for the first time in cultures where the opposite sex is a mystery by virtue of segregation. Of course her beloved would have moved on long before she reunited with him in Chicago because he did not come from such a gender segregated culture. Most likely he even already had a break-up or two before he ever even met her the first time and was therefore used to romantic love and it's ebbs and flows. Being a gender segregated and sheltered Bengali girl, she of course would fall hopelessly in love for the first guy who showed her attention. It's like that even now in India and that is why we see young Indian men becoming obsessed with the first western girl who gives them the time of day during "festivals" and "parikramas". The western girls think they are just hanging out or "kickin' it", making "friends" or enjoying temporary international flings, and before you know it these dudes are stalking them day and night with delusions of grandeur about true love and green cards.

Maitreyi's obsession reads very much the same and it's still typical in that part of the world.

Anonymous said...

Speechless,

I am afraid yours is a reductionist analysis that fails; it does not do justice to Maitreyi as an individual. Despite the cultural 'disadvantage' you suggest here, Maitreyi's is a far more sophisticated mind than Eliade's, the other, supposedly more 'developed' lover. Maitreyi's life reflections on that experience were far richer intellectually. The point is that, her cultural circumstances notwithstanding, from that experience she understood love to be eternal. She understood its eternal nature despite its seemingly temporary, obsessive, imperfect manifestations. She gave love a form, the form of her own experience, and made thus a fortune (albeit spiritual) out of an otherwise stale bargain. Eliade, well Eliade appears to have let a good opportunity simply pass by, despite of course the subsequent book deal and the fame.

Jagat said...

Well, I think that Eliade was probably not as sophisticated as all that. Just because he came from Europe does not change the fact that he was a introverted academic type, probably a bit of a nerd.

I don't doubt for a moment that he was equally in love with her. It is probably true that he "got it out of his system" by writing about it early on, and no doubt his being somewhat older and experienced, as well as European, made it possible for him to process the experience earlier.

She, on the other hand, repressed it. She had little alternative. Then it came back to haunt her. And that is really the interesting part of it.

What Speechless describes is really sadharani-rati. I think that what Maitreyi had was almost samartha. Even at the end, though, she did not have the tools for processing the experience.

This is what I am interested in, and would like to keep working at it.

Speechless said...

Had they actually gotten married the samartha would have turned into samanjasa and the cultural clashes may have led to divorce, causing Maitreiy to commit suicide out of "shame". Plus no Indian man would've taken damaged goods after all that.

So this way she was able to nurse the idea of "love for love's sake" like Majnoon, who when finally given the oppurtunity to runaway with Layla and consumate their love, chose instead to run alone to the hills and nurse his feelings, spouting spontaneous verse and becoming a famous ishq-bikari sadhu/fakir. By that time his love for Layla had become bigger than Layla herself. It wasn't about Layla anymore but rather about the "experience".

I get it.

Jagat said...

You are not only cynical, but you are cynical about your own cynicism. That is quite post-modern of you. Nevertheless, very interesting insights.

The point here is not to turn Maitreyi-Mircea into another Layla-Majnun, Abelard-Heloise, or Radha-Krishna. The point is to understand how human love is related to the experience of the Divine.

There is something powerful going on here that, in Maitreyi's words, made her [almost?] believe in God after a life of atheism. And indeed, because of the limitations of human life, it had to be the experience itself that became the anchor. She used Rabindranath to make sense of it all; we use Radha-Krishna, Rupa Goswami and the Sahajiya sadhana traditions to do so.

Human love has limits, which sometimes has drastically painful consequences. The potential for tragedy is there in any love affair. The important thing is always the infinite and eternal moment, which is the window to divine experience.

There are certainly many pitfalls along the way. The first trick is to keep your eye on the eternal while using the experience of this world in the mentality of a sadhaka. The second trick is not to treat any other person as utilitarian. How can that be love?

With regard to your pessimism, I only pray the gods of love that you find a sadhaka partner worthy of your own intellectual and spiritual stature, equal to you in desire to taste service to Srimati Radharani. And I do so from the depths of my being. May you be ever a manifestation of Radha's glory in the world.

Radhe Radhe, Jagat.

Jagat said...

It is something you have to pray for in humility and desperation, like praying for a sad-guru.

Sri Radhe! Prema-mayi ! Maha-bhava-svarupini ! Vrindavana-vilasini ! Kripa koro.

Speechless said...

"With regard to your pessimism, I only pray the gods of love that you find a sadhaka partner worthy of your own intellectual and spiritual stature"

He doesn't exist, ask anyone who knows me ;)