Review: This Dog Barking – The Strange Story of UG Krishnamurti

ug krishnamurti, nicolas grey, james farley, graphic novel, this dog barking, philosophy, life, society, art
Dog 1
A heartfelt thanks to Dennis Lindfors who went out of his way to provide me with the sketches, publishing dates, and most of all the Advanced Reading Copy. And never got irritated by my endless questions.

This Dog Barking by Nicolas Grey / James Farley will be published in India by Harper Collins.

Go green, go green, cheered almost everyone. Green is ecology, he shouted back in crooked and uncomfortable English. And then, to dodge the football thrown at him, he jumped, tried a split in the air, tore off his dark-green track pants from the middle and grasped at the tear as if holding his guts from splitting out. Not a glimmer of embarrassment on his face, he continued to bask in the attention while smilingly ricocheting off various spots within the human-circle around him. The fifth day of this self-discovery program (a term I am using on my own, not used by the organization conducting it) fell on a Sunday and attendees were asked to bring along friends, families, and alike for the early morning session of six a.m. I considered myself lucky to find a rickshaw in the dead of the morning, but soon started doubting when it took me through lanes dominated by dilapidated buildings, around naked toddlers, atop flowing sewers, and amidst the unforgiving, distinctive stench of a slum. The apartment buildings looked frozen in a depressed moment of time, unable to forge ahead on their own, and shamelessly unaware and unappreciative of the 'bliss' which was being discovered by more than a hundred upper-middle class 'souls' on the adjacent school ground (a radio jockey had expressed on the first day that he was there to enquire about and experience eternal-bliss. The seated teacher, conductor of the whole program, had glanced upwards for a second or two from right behind him. Yeah right, she must have thought).

ug krishnamurti, life, bliss, this dog barking, nicolas grey, james farley, philosophy, society, life, graphic novel, religion, truth, enlightenment
Bliss, yeah...bliss!

If there ever was anything even closely resembling eternal-bliss, then the tenants of those apartment blocks needed it the most. You couldn't miss them - the pale coloured walls overridden by grayish-black witherings; windows fashioned by sagging cloth-lines which in turn were burdened under garish clothes; and blackened utensils jostling with peeping kids for a whiff of fresh air. Many over-looking balconies and closed-off windows had black iron grills over them, serving as a constant reminder to the middle-class of being safe from thugs, robbers, and thieves; but here in the middle of a slum jungle these grills served only as proof of borrowed thoughts: were they, those who had installed the grills, declaring themselves as rich enough to warrant protection from thieves, robbers, and thugs? Or were they already middle-class?

Is bliss only for those who can earn enough to sustain? Maslow would agree. Social work is thrown at the lower-income groups; while bliss, happiness, transformation, enlightenment at the others. It is easy to be blinded when the word 'divine' is invoked, mixed, and churned while propagating  beliefs and practices. Divine is often perceived as beautiful (through fantastic and rich imagery), stirring (melodious music), powerful (admonitions by ritualistic pundits), and forgiving (in the form of blessings, confessions, and acceptance). So what does a sceptic do? Does he just lose his belief in this society - for that matter any society? Hesse's Siddhartha's imagined perfect world was only in his head - and when he realized this, he corrected his rejection of the world. The world, whatever it is, is whatever it is. So for the questioning one, however difficult and painful it may be, solace is to be had from realizing that this is it, this is it, this is it. This is what the world is, this is what the society is, this is what your era is, and this is exactly what you were born in. And because of all of this, this is how you have turned out to be. One may not find any reassurance in gods and hymns, but at the same time find it nearly impossible to "abandon the straitjacket of a personality"2, which we wear around us to show off as medals of character development - but this prevents us from accepting, understanding, and even acknowledging that we are not happy in an outright rejection and that peace is nowhere to be found. It is only after reaching this stage that one can veer towards welcoming the liberating embrace of one's not knowing anything. Does one really know what he knows and knows not? Is there anything to know at all? Why harp about the rights and wrongs all over and be cantankerous all the time? Enjoy the fruits of existence till, when in the end, you sleep in peace. Throw away your thoughts - nothing they are but prejudices, your views - nothing they are but borrowed ones, your morals - nothing they are but comforting lies, and your beliefs - nothing they are but deluding unknowns.
ug krishnamurti, life, bliss, this dog barking, nicolas grey, james farley, philosophy, society, life, graphic novel, religion, truth, enlightenment
Frisbee anyone?
In the assembly hall of the school, flowers adorned the floor, a stage, and a framed picture. Flowers were kept on marble tiling, which must have been preferred over regular tiles by the school administration because of it being more appealing. The marble was there only because of its appeal, but it wasn't enough that day - more of beauty was needed; flowers had to be there in a mix of yellow, red, and pink to make it more beautiful. They had to be brought as offerings. They had to be arranged in circles, large and small, everywhere. They had to be in the sights of everyone, not hidden behind the doors where their existence (but they are dead anyways) wouldn't mean anything to anyone. They had to be there. The teacher had told us, gently, that all offerings were symbolic, but the participants didn't have any of it and brought dozens of plucked-out ones - the more they brought the more generous they would appear. And this is the same beauty which is used to adorn the 'divine'. Beauty then, too, has a purpose: to appear beautiful to us.

ug krishnamurti, life, bliss, this dog barking, nicolas grey, james farley, philosophy, society, life, graphic novel, religion, truth, enlightenment
Dead for the cause of Beauty

Frisbee anyone?, the teacher enthusiastically asked at the beginning to gather everyone. I assumed it was being played just to while time away till the late-comers joined in. But I was wrong. This game was actually a part of the program. And three more were to be played later. I wondered what the radio jockey must be thinking of all this - 'I am here to find eternal-bliss and they are making me play Frisbee'? I was the last one to join the game, that too after one of the volunteers spotted me fooling around. Ah, straitjackets.

While playing another game wherein a handkerchief had to picked up, or the one picking up had to be touched to win the game, a girl - fairly plump and bespectacled - thrust her pelvic in a mocking gesture to her opponent. She wasn't playing for herself, her gesture wasn't for herself, it was for all those who were watching her - that she could scare off anyone by a few thrusts. She lost the game. Braggadocio - 0; humility - 1. (On the second-last day of the program, this very girl volunteered to share her experiences and while trying to explain her initial skepticism of such programs, she described herself as an Existentialist and then went on to give such a warped definition of the term that Beauvoir would have turned her back to Sartre in the grave).

As the program drew to a close on the seventh day, I felt happier, at peace with myself, and brimming with positivity. I was ready to whisk away all worries with laughter and walk towards happiness, one moment at a time. I didn't know what it did to the believers - maybe they found their eternal-bliss or became enlightened. I tried to keep my inhibitions away, but couldn't exactly succeed. At the same time, however, a lot of them would have attributed their well-being and experiences to some divine force out there, trying to reach out to them and help them. Most of them had already taken charge of their 'destinies' by accepting blame for events from their past when they couldn't have their way with their families, friends, or with themselves - many of these individuals had said, "I was responsible for this not happening" or "that not working out". I was nobody to deny their experiences or beliefs. This non-interference on my part also stemmed from a realization that I really didn't know much and would never know much. But what about this pendulum of life oscillating between sadness and happiness? What is this thing called life that becomes happy and sad? And what is this happiness and sadness to begin with? When would the I, Me and Myself realize their folly of being I, Me and Myself?

Amidst this chaos comes UG (b.1918-d.2007), the man. But UG wasn't here at all, he never was born and so never died. What UG am I talking about? The one I have created in my head or the one about whom I have read? Reading Mahesh Bhatt's A Taste of Life gave glimpses of how he lived in his last days. UG said, "unless man comes to terms with the fact that he is no more significant than the mosquito or the ant, he is doomed". In Mahesh's book - poking fun at UG is liberating ("happy death day, U.G."); basic facts hold ground ("work, buy, consume and die"); honesty is naked ("suddenly I discover that a part of me is waiting for U.G. to mention the money that he has been saving up for me"; "all your relationships are based on one brutal question: what can I get out of this relationship?"); pessimism is abound (UG: "you guys first destroy and kill, and then give lectures on the sanctity of life"); being a hypocrite is okay ("in this room, lies a man who himself turned his back on power but never said a word against others pursuing it"; but UG is seen making mockery of J Krishnamurti many times. This is not to say JK was pursuing power); insight is often around ("I realize that the feeling must write itself. You cannot write to evoke a feeling"); confusion emanates from incomprehensible words ("the body is immortal; it contributes to the continuity of life even after death"). There are countless books, blogs, and websites devoted to UG and He rips everything off you and makes you an animal - which you are in the first place. There are many others too who have pondered over the inescapable human condition, just like UG. Say, Emil Cioran (b.1911-d.1995) in his A Short History of Decay (published in 1949), "We mistrust the swindler, the trickster, the con man; yet to them we can impute none of history's great convulsions; believing in nothing, it is not they who rummage in your hearts, or your ulterior motives; they leave you to your apathy, to your despair or to your uselessness; to them humanity owes the few moments of prosperity it has known: it is they who save the peoples whom fanatics torture and 'idealists' destroy". He continues, "In every man sleeps a prophet, and when he wakes there is a little more evil in the world. The compulsion to preach is so rooted in us that it emerges from depths unknown to the instinct for self-preservation. Each of us awaits his moment in order to propose something - anything. He has a voice: that is enough. It costs us dear to be neither deaf nor dumb". Or Rousseau (b.1712-d.1778) in On the Origin of the Inequality of Mankind (written in 1754), "So long as men remained content with their rustic huts, so long as they were satisfied with clothes made of the skins of animals and sewn together with thorns and fish-bones, adorned themselves only with feathers and shells, and continued to paint their bodies different colours, to improve and beautify their bows and arrows and to make with sharp-edged stones fishing boats or clumsy musical instruments; in a word, so long as they undertook only what a single person could accomplish, and confined themselves to such arts as did not require the joint labour of several hands, they lived free, healthy, honest and happy lives, so long as their nature allowed, and as they continued to enjoy the pleasures of mutual and independent intercourse. But from the moment one man began to stand in need of the help of another; from the moment it appeared advantageous to any one man to have enough provisions for two, equality disappeared, property was introduced, work became indispensable, and vast forests became smiling fields, which man had to water with the sweat of his brow, and where slavery and misery were soon seen to germinate and grow up with the crops".

ug krishnamurti, life, bliss, this dog barking, nicolas grey, james farley, philosophy, society, life, graphic novel, religion, truth, enlightenment
JK look-alike. Price: Rs. 280/-
However, it is No More Questions: The Final Travels of U.G. Krishnamurti by Louis Brawley, with all its honesty, which brings out the daily underpinnings of UG's life - the endless car trips in Italy, Germany, and Switzerland; the constant and ceaseless vitriol that he spewed on all around him; the repetitive drawl of old man disproving everything. Brawley's version is easier to relate to compared to Bhatt's. The rendering of UG's Swan Song and 108 Money Maxims (noted down by Claire Nettleton) are two most important things you would want to look at in this book. Brawley's putting aside whatever he was onto in his life just to while time away with this irresistible magnet and trying often to repel himself from the gutter of void he felt with him underline the anxieties anyone would have within himself when on a mission to achieve and do nothing.

You would reach the border of nihilism after reading UG. So at a time when our generation is the "most comfortable generation ever"3, where is happiness? Still hiding somewhere amidst the bushes of sadness? The dog will keep barking, barking, and barking - but it is you who has to break the glass of your windows to be awakened by him. It is you who has to let his sharp, incising tongue in your psyche. With clarity of thought as of UG, nothing seems difficult or muddled.  This Dog Barking, a graphic novel on UG's life, by Grey and Farley comes at a time when the current generation just can't find a way out of the depths of gloom. But so has every generation till now. They feel it is only their gloom which has existed and is unreleasable. As each new one builds upon the past one for progress, development, and happiness, it does so inevitably for misery and dejection as well.

"There is no beginning and no end. Nothing is immutable, everything changes. That thing which does not come into being does not die". So begins one of the most iconic movies on the circuit: Why has Bodhi Dharma left for the East. The young Kibon in the movie rues about what he has left behind to become a monk and has thoughts about returning to his city-life and taking care of his blind mother. So the monk wants to leave the peaceful existence of the mountains and go to the hustle-bustle of the city, and the city dwellers want the peace of the mountains by, well, playing frisbee. Sri M's Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master chronicles his own experiences of faith, and what and where all it led him to. Some of his experiences are so far-fetched that one starts believing in UG's acid-head theory. Om Swami, in his If Truth Be Told, on the other hand doesn't have as many experiences to recount as Sri M, but in the end he too experiences what UG would term as continual. If to hear a never-before-heard-sweet-voice calling out your name is not continual, then what is?

This Dog Barking begins with the creation of Theosophical Society by Helena Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott. The Society, through Annie Besant and CW Leadbeater, chose Jiddu Krishnamurti as the leader to guide human civilization. Later, JK turned his back to them and started out on his own, stating that "the truth is a pathless land, you cannot approach it from any path whatsoever". But UG's maternal grandfather, TG Krishnamurti, was already impressed by JK. Otherwise too TGK was a deeply religious person and UG's early years were spent reading Upanishads, Vedas, and other religious scriptures. UG stayed at the Society while studying at the University of Madras but was discontent with everything that was being fed to him, just about nothing made sense to him. His encounters with Swami Sivananda, Ramana Maharishi, and others, reeked of his disbelief in their beliefs. He ended up marrying Kusuma and had three children with her, while losing all will-power to do anything in life: What to do? Where to go? His marriage terminated with dire results for Kusuma, who became depressed and underwent ECT, and soon died due to a neck injury. UG became a vagabond in the U.S. and lived off the streets with some help from others. Then came the 'calamity', which changed his perception of the world, resulted in physical mutations in his body, and freed him of thought. He landed at Indian Embassy in Switzerland, penniless, hoping for a one-way ticket to India where he would at least have people keeping bananas at his feet if he were to just sit under some banyan tree. In came Valentine de Kervan, who became a friend and set up a chalet for him in Saanen, Switzerland.

It is this chalet that forms the core the book, where UG expounds his views -  or rather barks like a dog at whom stones have been thrown - to Douglas, who has come there either to make the world a better place, or to be compassionate, or to understand himself, or to free himself of illusion, or to realise purpose of life. UG annihilates all that. He disrobes Douglas of any pretensions of compassion he might have towards mankind and states that there is nothing to understand. That there is no 'I' in him and he is just a tool of furtherance for the society, culture, art, or whatever. Even if he wants to take help of UG to find a way out, he won't be able to help him because there is no problem at all and nobody out there can help him. UG's prophetic (he would have hated that word) harking of discontinuity and the flow of time as disjointed moments is the helping hand which not just a skeptic, but everyone, needs. The graphic novel is divided in three parts: part-I covers UG's early years till his watching a strip tease at a joint in Paris (instead of hearing JK speak at a lecture); part-II is till his acid-head theory; and part-III ends with UG telling Douglas that he can't give him stand alone. Part-II gets confusing because of UG's utterances about what he went through in 'calamity' and the strange, if not completely unbelievable, transformations he describes. The epilogue, or lets call it the beginning of the end, talks about the body being immortal - not in the sense we interpret 'immortal', but in the way that it continues to feed others endlessly even after death. Nothing here is lost, nothing comes to an end.

"Be miserable and die in your misery" - UG

Nicolas' hand-drawn sketches are mesmerising - some of my favorites are: UG amidst a whirlpool during 'calamity'; UG explaining slow-motion and suddenly becomes hydra-handed; the 'world-mind' sketch depicting hundreds of people from various religions, beliefs, and nationalities; and 11-year old Blavatsky reading occultism and magic books in her grandmother's library. The most momentous yet ephemeral encounter depicted is of UG meeting Ramana Maharishi: Ramana answering a question of UG, then both of them depicted individually in multiple frames, with many close-ups of their faces and their eyes having unquestionably a look doubting the other and a belief of superiority in one's self. A Pyrrhic war of egos, I must say. Farley's carefully selected text concisely sums up UG's life in a subtle and helping manner - helping because lot of UG's words don't make sense at all (like when he wonders whether a tomato soup is a tomato soup, or when he asks if his body is actually his, or when mutters something about taste of food being so singular that he could sense each element which the food was made of). His one-page brief on Advaita Vedanta (Non-Dualism) cannot be missed. Towards the end, when UG's views have gained enough momentum to overpower you, dawns the sudden realization that everyone, like Douglas, is alone in this world and must start out in his / her direction of endeavor, and it hits hard, especially so after the harking, barking, and shouting of UG. This graphic novel is a collector's edition and deserves a place in one's five-foot bookshelf

ug krishnamurti, life, bliss, this dog barking, nicolas grey, james farley, philosophy, society, life, graphic novel, religion, truth, enlightenment
Young Blavatsky in her grandmother's library (source: This Dog Barking)

ug krishnamurti, life, bliss, this dog barking, nicolas grey, james farley, philosophy, society, life, graphic novel, religion, truth, enlightenment
UG's wife undergoing ECT (source: This Dog Barking)

ug krishnamurti, life, bliss, this dog barking, nicolas grey, james farley, philosophy, society, life, graphic novel, religion, truth, enlightenment
UG wishing for bananas (source: This Dog Barking)

ug krishnamurti, life, bliss, this dog barking, nicolas grey, james farley, philosophy, society, life, graphic novel, religion, truth, enlightenment
The bench where Calamity happened (source: This Dog Barking)

ug krishnamurti, life, bliss, this dog barking, nicolas grey, james farley, philosophy, society, life, graphic novel, religion, truth, enlightenment
World-Mind (source: This Dog Barking)

ug krishnamurti, life, bliss, this dog barking, nicolas grey, james farley, philosophy, society, life, graphic novel, religion, truth, enlightenment
A concise mind-map of the characters

-1 - Source: 
-2 - Sadhguru's words of wisdom
-3 - Explained lucidly by the teacher during the 7-day program


Post a Comment