Circles and circularity



Mandala (Sanskrit for ‘circle’) is an Indian spiritual sign, symbolising the never-ending cycles of the cosmos.
As it was in the beginning, so it will be in the end.
Today I went and watched a Hindi movie, Tamasha, with my mentor and her friend. The same friend who accompanied us to Manji The Mountain Man, all those months ago. I was excited to be able to understand a little bit more this time!
Several other aspects of my life are starting to come full circle here; I am throwing away more than I buy, I am being recognised in my same old local haunts as opposed to visiting new places. A new teacher has started teaching Class 2, and now I can tell her the ways of the school.


Some things have not come full circle. The expectations I had before coming to India were not met by the reality of life here. That is not to say that I was disappointed in everything, just that my time here has ended up treading a different path to what I had envisaged. There are the silly little things that I didn’t think about, like the fact that there are still mosquitoes in December, or the fact that it actually does get really cold here.


Then there are the bigger things, I haven’t really made as big of an impact on the school as I’d hoped, for various reasons I haven’t started a new after-school club, or organised a big event, or even a themed lesson-day. Does this mean failure? Not necessarily, just success in areas that I didn’t know existed, and strength drawn from a part of myself that I was unfamiliar with until now.


Even this blog is not what it ought to have been. Packed in my folder, alongside insurance documents and flight details, were academic resources, fresh from the Bodelian library, that I intended to comment on; photocopies of Indian architectural wonders, articles on Indian democracy from The Oxford Historian (Issue XII if anyone’s interested…) and even some notes I made from a talk I attended by the director of the contentious short film India’s Daughter – Leslee Unwin (the talk was organised by the University of Oxford’s India Society and took place on the 02.05.15 at St. Catherine’s College).


Yet the road less trodden proved more interesting, and commenting on the things that I have observed here, as they happened, has proven more interesting than any abstract, scholarly insight.
As a cinema attendant showed customers to their seat in the darkened screen today, I thought about what a great metaphor that was for my time in India. Trying to navigate a huge and complex space, whilst at times feeling completely in the dark, and at other moments, as though a torch was being shone from somewhere, lighting the way.


After all, as all circles illustrate, what is an ending but a new beginning…

3 Reasons to see a film in India (even if you don’t speak Hindi)

  1. It’s a completely different experience to European cinema. For example, there’s an interval about half way through the film. This gives the audience time to buy snacks, go to the toilet etc., without worrying about missing anything. When the curtains come down at half-time, you feel more like you’re watching a theatrical performance than a pre-prepared film. The interval allows you to talk to your friends about developments in the plot, and helps to build suspense as it normally occurs just as the plot is beginning to twist. You come back into the screen refreshed, having stretched your legs a bit (I’ve often heard complaints about the length of films from people with longer legs than myself). The interval also gives you the chance to change seats more subtly, if you want to.
  2.  The snacks are like a strange variant of what you might expect in a European or Anglophone cinema. You can get mini Domino’s pizzas to take back into the screen. Instead of Pick ‘n’ mix sweets and confectionery, you can select pakoras and samosas. Strangest of all (to me) there is popcorn, but not as I knew it. Popcorn is either salted or spiced, or even tomato-flavoured!
  3. The atmosphere is much more interactive. Watching a film in Indian is like watching a live cricket match. The audience audibly reacts to events onscreen. At times this can seem disruptive, to those of us used to restrained emotions and near-silent cinema screens, but I actually quite enjoyed the gasps and clapping of the audience – especially useful when you’re trying to gauge the mood of the dialogue without understanding any of the language!

The film I watched a couple of weeks ago was Manjhi: The Mountain Man. It concerns the story of a man from Bihar who, by various events, feels compelled to start building a road through a perilous mountain range, thereby connecting his remote village to the wider region. The story takes place over many years, but is fairly straightforward – as my mentor comes from Bihar she was able to explain to me the basic plotline, and I would say that I understood most of the essentials, if not the detail. It was also a good opportunity to see exactly how much Hindi I had picked up! I’d say that the point of this post still stands even if the language concerned isn’t Hindi, but any other Indian language. Obviously Bollywood films are a bit different, with a lot of the plot being conveyed through songs and dances, but I genuinely enjoyed and would recommend the experience.