That Human Spirit

Reese Witherspoon led me to the original book  ‘Wild’, by Cheryl Strayed. The  edgy depiction of the ‘almost destroyed -but fighting it out- and winning it back mile by mile-woman,’ appealed to me. Every painful step on the PCT, with and without boots, every epiphany about life, loss, love and self reclamation enchanted this viewer. That of course, led to the book.

The power of literature to redeem was again proven true. Cheryl is one hell of a talented, gritty, erudite,absolutely honest woman. And her gift with words is amazing. Her honesty sometimes is too sharp and makes you bleed- along with her. I wished she added one sentence about her 6 toe nails, wager lost to the excruciating trail of thousand one hundred miles-after 20 years! I just wanted to hear that she still painted them- lost and found like herself- with brightest colours that radiate her indefatigable spirit. Proud of you lady!!! And by the way, I really wanted to know if you completed that pending five page literature assignment and got your degree .You made one reader to ” put herself in the path of beauty out there.”

That Stephen King had written the original book ” Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” I had not known. I had read the script and loved it. The movie was spectacular too. I remembered the fact that human beings can be the most bestial of all living creatures as I watched it. And yes, my respect for the triumphant human spirit soared, like that Italian lady’s beautiful voice, symbolising everything free and unconquerable within.

” Frida” was surreal. Salma Hayek was elegant and fiery and vulnerable and so cool as Frida Kahlo. The story enthralled with its colours-on dresses, on canvases, on animals, on the outdoors. The muddied colours of human loyalties, love, attractions, vices were stark yet not surprising. Frida’s brilliance in both her intellectual curiosity and in her art, her vitality stunted by the horrible accident, her intense love  for Diego, her haplessness in front of her own vulnerability, her casual and detached affairs, her nightmares, and her paintings depicting that inner turmoil- it was one visual treat. Scenes which remain poignantly in my memory- a 14 year old radiant school girl debating on Communist philosophy  with her boy friend in a rickety bus . Her love of life bursting all around her, vivacity that is almost palpable as she touches the gold powder someone is carrying . ..The way she paints butterflies all over her body cast as she lies crushed on her bed, fighting death. Everyday, Frida Kahlo lived with great spirit. And she did not want to return.

Of all the movies I treated myself to, re watching a few favourites like Sense and Sensibility ( I do love Hugh Grant’s dead pan humour!) Jane Eyre, Six days Seven nights among them, my thoughts go back to the ones which celebrated the human spirit. Movies, like books ,can be energising. And in this business of daily living, we need examples  of the highest in human nature that battle it out with our lowest and  emerge triumphing.

A Rebel Seeks The Truth


The scholar stared at the lines, again and again. It did not make sense to him- at least , not in the context of the presentation.

Here was Sage Markendeya, laughing and speaking, “Nese Balasyethy Chareda Dharmam,” to a set of bewildered Pandavas, languishing in the forests of self created oblivion.

The typical Sanskrit reading was, “Balasya Ise Ithy Adharmam na Charel,” which said, ” Even when you have strength in your side, do not do Adharma”.

But the examples Markendeya quoted, of an elephant listening to his mahout forgetting his own prowess, of the great Ram banished to the forests, of the seven Rishis shining as stars in the sky,of Bhagiratha who fought fates to bring Ganga to the earth…did not resonate with the conventional putting together of words. Besides, the Sage was laughing when he said it. Anything which is accompanied by laughter has to have a deeper secret within.

The night lamp burnt as Kutti Krishna Marar stared at the words again.

Can it not be interpreted as, “Accepting one’s fate like a weakling is against the Dharma. The fighting of fate with all of one’s strength is Dharma?’ Yudhistir had lost the kingdom to  his human weakness of gambling.

Could it not be read as, “Whatever is your justification,you have no sense of your own power and worth, and hence whatever you have done is not Dharma.”

There was Sage Markendeya himself, who rebelled against his destined death at the age of sixteen and won back life! Would he laugh and advise, a submissive living?

Did not Bhishma advise Yudhistir, “Adharmo hi mridu raja kshmavaniva kunjarah?”

(A soft king is as useless as a patient elephant?)

Have not people, across countries and ages, quoted something equivalent to “Nese balasyety chareda dharmam”, (” Oh I am so weak and helpless to fight the fates” )and moved back from doing their real work in the world, hesitated in taking the reins of their own destiny in their hands and justified it to a hundred stupid reasons?

Sage Markendeya’s laughter spreads over all such self imposed frailties, weaknesses, self proclaimed helplessness that does not recognise self worth and the power of one’s own effort!

Has not Vivekananda written about Yudhistir as someone who justified in the name of dharma and goodness, a lot of evil deeds triggered by a helpless approach to life? Someone who chose not to act, in the name of Dharma, at the time when action was most necessary?

The scholar went to his friend who was ecstatic at the interpretation..”Yes, whatever you do with a sense of helplessness, saying to yourself that you are powerless, is Adharma.”

“This is a call for action, for taking control of one’s own destiny, not a justification to bow down before the fates.”

The scholar started writing…a new chapter called, ‘Nese Balsyety Chareda Dharmam,’ in his book, ‘Bharata Paryadana,’ . A Sojourn through Mahabharata- a compilation of incisively brilliant essays.

The interpretation created waves of protest, with special meetings to debate on the play of words and context, but his head remained high. He elaborated the chapter more with the next edition of his classic.


The poem “Invictus” of Henley, epitomises the shloka in Mahabharatha. Every human endeavour, to excel, to create, to design one’s own destiny is an act of Dharma. When we bow down, meek and helpless, and then justify our defeated lives with quotes and interpretations, Sage Markendeya laughs from somewhere…Nese Balsyety….


With gratitude to my brother, who let me borrow his beloved Bharata Paryadana. The sketch of Krishna, exhorting Arjuna to act, is out of context, yet well within the spirit.I loved copying it from one the illustrations by my favourite artist Namboodiry, dotted across enchantingly, in this little treasure trove of a book.