Archive for the ‘Mythology’ Category

‘Perchance to dream..’: Creating literary masterpieces from dreams (Column: Bookends XCVIII)


Do you recall where you went or what happened to you while sleeping last night? Did you see fondest wishes come true, or something you dread? Were you among friends or strangers and in a normal and ordinary millieu or one surrealistic and bizarre? You may not recall much of your dreams once awake, save some confused fragments that mystified, enraptured or disturbed you, but these visions have inspired or form the basis of some of the most famous literary works ever.

Dreams, most simply, are a progression of images, ideas, and emotions occurring involuntarily in certain phases of sleep, but their content and purpose has not been understood to any level of certainty, despite best efforts of thinkers from the fields of science, philosophy and religion down the ages. For those interested, see Sigmund Freud’s seminal “Interpretation of Dreams” or his former disciple Carl Gustav Jung’s “The Practical Use of Dream-analysis” (in “The Practice of Psychotherapy”) or “Dreams”.

In literature, dreams as inspirations, settings or plot devices are wide-ranging, right down to J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer.

Among the oldest is Roman philosopher-politician Cicero’s Socratic dialogue on contemporary politics, “De re publica” (54-51 B.C.). Its sixth and final book “Somnium Scipionis (Scipio’s Dream)” has legendary soldier Scipio Africanus Minor thus told his future by his late illustrious grandfather, Scipio Africanus.

Medieval English literature like William Langland’s “Piers Plowman” (late 14th century) freely made use of dreams to advance plot, and in William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (c.1595), dreams are what the two pairs of lovers and poor Nick Bottom – whose head has been transformed into that of a donkey – imagine their adventures to be after awaking from enchanted sleep.

But at the finale, the mischievous Robin Goodfellow/Puck tells the audience: “If we shadows have offended,/Think but this, and all is mended,/That you have but slumber’d here/While these visions did appear./And this weak and idle theme,/No more yielding, but a dream..”

Mary Shelley is said to have dreamt the idea for “Frankenstein” (1818), while a nightmare about a “vampire king” rising from his grave, caused by a too-indulgent dinner of mayonnaise-covered crab or lobster inspired Bram Stoker to write “Dracula” (1897) – though he had been researching vampire folklore for seven years.

Robert Louis Stevenson tried to find story ideas and material from his dreams and it was one of them that inspired “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1886). As a story goes, his wife, seeing that he was having a nightmare, woke him but got no thanks – for ending it as things were getting interesting. Stephenie Meyer has admitted the idea for “Twilight” (2005), the first of her vampire romances, came to her in a dream on June 2, 2003 about a human girl and a vampire who was in love with her but also thirsted for her blood.

But the most famous work with dreams is Charles Lutwidge Dodgson alias Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (1865) and its sequel, “Through the Looking-Glass” (1871), which, unlike many of their ilk, follow the ‘logic’ of actual dreams, with flexible transitions and causality.

Visions, of both the past and the future, are significant in both J.R.R. Tolkien’s chronicles of Middle Earth and Rowling’s Harry Potter series, where they can also reveal the truth (if our boy wizard had remembered a dream in Book One, it would have gone easier on him).
Some most imaginative use of dreams are in three separate works of engineer-turned-master storyteller Nevil Shute.

“An Old Captivity” (1940) has pilot Donald Ross, on an air survey mission of Greenland for an Oxford don, go into a coma where he dreams he and Alix (the don’s daughter who has come along) were once slaves aboard Viking chief Leif Ericson’s sailing expedition and had travelled up to North America where they left a stone, with their names carved on it. Later, they find it too!

Set in the Australian outback, “In The Wet” (1953) has ill Anglican priest Roger Hargreaves tending to an aged dying ex-pilot Stevie in 1953 when he dreams of a situation three decades hence where Stevie is a decorated Royal Australian Air Force pilot, who aids Queen Elizabeth II deal with anti-monarchial sentiment in Britain. In the end, the narrative shifts back, Stevie is dead and an exhausted Hargreaves tries to make sense, a task more difficult when the child who will become the future pilot is brought to him for christening.

Also set in Australia, “The Rainbow and the Rose” (1958) has pilot Ronnie Clarke, trying to save retired senior Johnnie Pascoe who has crashed on a medical evacuation mission and is seriously injured, dream about the latter’s chequered life while resting overnight in Pascoe’s house after his first attempt to land a doctor there fails.

So if you have literary ambitions, remember your dreams, or wish they get more colourful!

(28.12.2015 – Vikas Datta is an Associate Editor at IANS. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at )


The case of Shishupala… and what I learnt from it II

This has been one of the posts I never got back to completing for a long time, in this case for nearly a month. But then, better late that never, as they say… thiugh I must recapitualate a little of the story.

I was writing about Shishupala or Sisupala, who was a cousin of Krishna being the son of Vasudeva‘s sister, but an implacable foe despite the prophecy at the time of his birth that he would insult his cousin greviously and be killed by him.  

As can be expected, his mother approached her nephew and begged with him to spare her son and he assented that he would forgive him an even hundred transgressions before he took any action.

Nevertheless, Shishupala had  reasons to feel great ill-will against his more famous cousin, who utterly humilated him by running off with his beautiful bride to be (And lets be honest, which red-blooded male could countenance such an insult?)

However, as I was saying, Shishupala over reached himself when he sought to insult Krishna at the conclusion of the Rajasuya Yagya conducted by the Pandavas (again first cousins of Krishna but having much more cordial ties with him) , after they gained their patrimony.

I was telling you how this scene of Shishupala‘s eventual come-uppance was portrayed in the 1960’s film version of the epic Mahabharata. As I said, it was an admirable depiction with some deft casting, including the inspired choice of Abhi Bhattacharya as Krishna.

As far as I recall, the film does not mention the background of the Shishupala story but dovetails it at the point where the Pandavas are celebrating their spiffy, new capital (built with divine assistance, it must be said) and are preparing to honour Krishna.

Suddenly, there is a clamour and into the chamber, bursts in Shishupala, spewing abuses and angrily contesting the choice of Krishna for being honoured.

He demands Krishna step down from the high rostrum where he is waiting to be annointed as the best of all the kings. ‘Neeche aa (come down here),” he  

A remarkably patient Krishna, with the barest hint of a smile, replies – in true Bollywood style: “Jitna tum gir gaye ho gir gaye ho, utna neeche main nahi aa sakta (I cannot descend to the level you have fallen to).”

As you might make out, this fails to have any effect on Shishupala, who insteads retorts with a string of abuse. Krishna, maintaining his cool, merely strikes off the numbers….”Ninnave, Tiranve….(92, 93…. as I recall)” . Shishupala merely continues with his vituperative outburst and the numbers keep on counting as they approach the lethal three figure mark that will spell his doom.

As Shishupala continues and breaches the margin, Krishna then merely raises the index finger of his right hand and on it magically appears his whirling Sudarshana Chakra (the discus with razor sharp edges…. and operating on the principle of a boomerang) .

As Shishupala views it, all his hateur and anger seem to evaporate without a trace and are replaced with a expression of pure terror (no other sight can be as poignant as the sudden realisation that the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against you). He turns to flee but cannot outrace his fate….. (thankfully the gory incident when the weapon meets its intended target happening offscreen).

However, this was the incident and now I must deal with the reference that follows the ellipse in the title.

On what I learned from the case could superficially be deemed that one should forgive transgressions to a defined number of times before countering the affronts with all the powers one possesses but that is too simplistic.

I will not go into a lengthy discussion but it will suffice to say forgiveness… forbearance, to be more exact, is a better course to pusue – notwithstanding accusations of being weak, inert and the ilk. It requires a great internal strength (which not many being capable of, instead choose to deride).

You may not be in accordance with me but do note that when a Scorpio – whose whole life is geared to the dictum of devastating vengeance for any slight, real or imagined, and the concept that a man who takes his revenge in forty years is acting in haste –  says so, it bears consideration. Just think about it – and deeply when you do – is all I can say.

The case of Shishupala… and what I learnt from it

It has been quite some time since I dwelt on a question of mythology and I have two topics I wanted to write on. One is another example of comparative mythology – a particular case which I have found in Germanic tradition as well as in the Hindu mythology but details are hazy in my mind.

I must also add that ever since I read that episode of the Germanic king and the dwarf in my youth, I have searching for it but have never been able to locate it…. And as expected, it figures in my mind at the most inopportune times. One of these, I suddenly remembered the case from Hindu mythology and thought they have some points in common and I would share both with you… Very soon I assure you.

But for now I will deal with the other thing, I had in mind…. the case of Shishupala.

Shishupala or Sisupala (depending on which form of pronounciation your prefer…I will go in for the former) was son of Damaghosha, king of Chedi, by Srutadeva, sister of Vasudeva, thus making him a cousin of Krishna, one of the best-known deities of the Indian pantheon, but at the same time, an implacable foe after his humiliation by the deity. As can be expected, it was all due to a woman.

Krishna rides away with Shishupala‘s beautiful bride to be, Rukmini, as she was supposed to marry Shishupala who happens to be a great friend of her brother Rukmi…. but we are getting ahead of our story.

According to the Mahabharata, a prophecy at the time of Shishupala‘s birth warned that he would insult his cousin grieviously and in turn, be killed by him. The distraught mother approached Krishna, her nephew, and took a vow that he would pardon his cousin a hundred times before he decides to kill him. But then, there is no escaping fate…..

Now the account is I tell you is from the film “Mahabharata” I was particularly addicted too when I was young….. I still believe it had the best Krishna ever seen on screen as enacted by Abhi Bhattacharya and not to mention some more ideal casting of the main characters of the epic…. but we will not digress from the topic.

Let me give you some background from the Mahabharata, before I return to my thrust…. When the Pandavas came of age, their uncle, King Dhritarashtra sought to avoid a conflict with his sons, the 100 Kauravas, by giving the eldest of them, Yudhisthira half the Kuru kingdom (upon the elder statesman Bhisma‘s advice), albeit the lands which were arid, unprosperous and scantily populated, known as Khandavaprastha…. or what is now south Delhi.

With the help of Krishna (the Pandavas’ cousin too), a new city, Indraprastha, was constructed by the divine architect Viswakarma. The Asura architect Mayasura constructed the Mayasabha, which was the largest regal assembly hall in the world. Yudhisthira was crowned king and began his reign.

Yudhisthira then performed the Rajasuya sacrifice (described in detail in the epic) – a ritual performed by Indian kings who considered themselves powerful enough to be an emperor – to become the paramount sovereign of all the known world.

His brothers, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva led armies across the four corners of the world to obtain tributes from all kingdoms for Yudhisthira‘s sacrifice. At his sacrifice, Yudhisthira honored Krishna as the most famous and greatest personality. This incensed Sisupala… who burst into the chamber and let fly a violent tirade of abuse against Krishna, terming a cowherd and other derogatory epithets.

Now we return to this scene in the film…. but in the next post because I have run out of time today.

To be continued…..

The wish motif in a few Twilight Zone episodes IV

Coming to my fourth example……

A leprechaun on vacation to the United States is captured by three boys who take him to their clubhouse. The leprechaun, annoyed to have his vacation disturbed, tells them that they may have one wish each and all the three exult…. violating a cardinal principle of life as I see it: Be careful of the intentions of someone you have just annoyed and when his smile looks rather like a grimace…..

They flip a coin to see who goes first. Buddy wins the coin toss and makes a wish for X-ray vision. The next morning, he tries his new power, begins to see beneath the local girls’ clothing but then finds out that he is unable to control the intensity of his powers. He sees internal organs and skulls instead of being merely able to see under clothing…… He faints and his friends approach him and the sight of those skeletons seeming to glower at him is too much and he swoons again……

Seeing that Buddy has learned his lesson, the leprechaun reverses the wish.

J.P. makes his wish next. He wishes that his parents, as well as those of his two friends, would do “exactly what they tell them to do”. However, J.P.’s wish is too literal. The boys find that they must tell their parents to make every single step in exact detail…. and it gets so ennervating for them that they give it up. Imagine telling them what to do …. miniscule step by step

His wish is also reversed.

After seeing what happened to his friends, Richie, who has said for two days that he wants to sleep on his wish, makes the third and final wish. He asks for a fancy, fast car, a “really hot” car and a driver with a mind of his own. They find a limo and driver waiting (the license plate reading: “Third Wish”).

While riding in the limo, the police try to stop them for speeding. The boys tell the driver to pull over; however, the driver shows that he has “a mind of his own” and tries to outrace the police.

When the limo is finally forced to stop by road construction and a vehicle coming the other direction, the driver disappears and leaves the boys in the “hot” (which apart from referring to be breathtaking and trendy,also happens to be synonym for “stolen”…. choice of words is key, as I always say) car. The boys are taken into custody for auto theft.

At the station, they see the leprechaun, who tells them that he likes the looks of them and to take care of themselves, and the third wish is also reversed as he disappears. The police now have no knowledge of a stolen car or chase.

A chastened three head back to their tree-house.

Well, I hope these examples were illustrative enough to forewarn you if you find yourself in such a situation. Remember a wise man one remarked that the only tragedy at par with not getting your heart’s wish…. is getting it, or words to this effect.

The wish motif in a few Twilight Zone episodes III

I was telling you about wishes….. and one very different man, who mulls over some of the most popular things one may wish for – a beautiful companion, huge amounts of money, and great power – and decides each may seem worthwhile, but have their own pitfalls. Hanley then decides to make a “different wish” but we are not told what……

We find what Hanley wished for, when the scene  changes and we see:

~~A homeless man in an alley finds the genie’s lamp lying in a garbage can. A genie (wearing traditional “Arabian Nights” garb) emerges from the lamp and offers three wishes, on the condition that the lamp will be returned to the alley afterward for another needy person to find.

The camera pulls away from the stunned man to reveal that the genie is none other than George Hanley himself, accompanied by his faithful dog (also sporting a turban).

“Mr. George P. Hanley. Former vocation: jerk. Present vocation: genie. George P. Hanley, a most ordinary man whom life treated without deference, honor or success, but a man wise enough to decide on a most extraordinary wish that makes him the contented, permanent master of his own altruistic Twilight Zone.”

 After this, this motif did not appear again till the series revival in the mid-1980s. There it reappeared…. in a most different, and may I say post-modern manner….

“Wish Bank” was the second segment of the fourth episode from the first season (1985-1986) of “The New Twlight Zone”.

Visiting a garage sale with her friend, Mary Ellen, Janice Hamill stumbles upon a golden lamp that is engraved “Rub me and your wish will come true; Certain restrictions may apply”.  (That second clause is a nice touch…. remember what I said about a post-modern tinge). 

When Janice rubs the lamp, she is transported to the Department of Magical Venues, a bank-like room where one of the workers begins to write up her three wishes.

After overcoming her confusion, Janice requests $10,000,000, to look 10 years younger, and for her ex-husband, Craig, to suffer moderate sexual dysfunction for 18 months. The bank worker, her “broker”, gives her a stack of papers to sign, tells her that she will have to pay taxes on the wishes, and then he directs her to stand in a long line at the validation window to get her wishes approved.

After finally getting to the front of the line, Janice is told that she is missing a form, and is directed back to her broker, only to find that he has been dismissed for an error he allegedly committed. She confronts the head of the department, but he tells her that it is quitting time and everyone disappears…..

 Frustrated, Janice wishes she had never found the lamp in the first place, and she is transported back to the garage sale to the moments before she originally found the lamp, but this time she leaves for a “sale at Fashion Square” before she gets to the lamp…

Well, this was not actually a episode that really supported my contention about how wishes may actually lead to a situation which may be the reverse of what one intended… Not everyone is a George Hanley, who will carefully analyse the pros and cons….. The last episode I cited shows that in  our epoch, bureaucracy has taken over even the department of wishes and may so disconcert you that can lead you storming out in a huff, forsaking the “privilege”…… But we return to our theme in my last example….

“The Leprechaun-Artist (aka Three Irish Wishes)” was the first segment of the nineteenth episode in the same season (1985-1986).

To be continued…..

The wish motif in a few Twilight Zone episodes II

Continuing my series on how wishes granted by supernatural forces may not turn out to be what we wanted…. with examples from “The Twilight Zone”.

I was telling you about the case of the Castles, a pawnbroker and his wife, who are granted four wishes. They first test it (wasting one) by having a broken cupboard repaired, then ask for a million dollars – most of which they distribute and the tax man comes and takes most of the rest, leaving then $5. Castle then wishes he is the leader of a country, where he never has to fight an election and finds himself to be Hitler in Berlin during late April 1945…..  

Castle uses the fourth and final wish to wish that “none of this ever happened”, cancelling the third wish and returning him safely home…discovering the wine bottle the genie emerged from has shattered to pieces.

The couple ends up with nothing to show for the experience, except for a changed perspective on life and the repaired cabinet which, as fate would have it, the pawnbroker accidentally breaks. However, given their just concluded bizarre experience, they accept the accident with good humor.

The closing narration begins after the pawnbroker disposes of the bottle’s remains into a trash can outside his shop. Slowly, the genie’s smoke “reforms” the bottle into a whole one again—awaiting its next opportunity to grant a new “master” four wishes.…

The closing narration: “A word to the wise now to the garbage collectors of the world, to the curio seekers, to the antique buffs, to everyone who would try to coax out a miracle from unlikely places:(bottle reassembles) Check that bottle you’re taking back for a two-cent deposit. The genie you save might be your own. Case in point, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Castle, fresh from the briefest of trips into the Twilight Zone.”

The second on such a topic was episode 114 – “I Dream of Genie”-in Season 4 (1963) but it had a nice twist.

As the narration goes….

“Meet Mr. George P. Hanley, a man life treats without deference, honor or success. Waiters serve his soup cold. Elevator operators close doors in his face. Mothers never bother to wait up for the daughters he dates. George is a creature of humble habits and tame dreams. He’s an ordinary man, Mr. Hanley, but at this moment the accidental possessor of a very special gift, the kind of gift that measures men against their dreams, the kind of gift most of us might ask for first and possibly regret to the last, if we, like Mr. George P. Hanley, were about to plunge head-first and unaware into our own personal Twilight Zone.”

Hanley is offered one wish by a genie summoned from a lamp (dressed in modern clothing, except for his curl-toed slippers). Rather than make a rash wish, he carefully considers the three most popular options.

#1 He wonders what it would be like to wish for love. While having a beautiful actress for a wife sounds like a dream come true, he begins to imagine his wife so obsessed with her acting career, and wearing makeup at all times, and living a starlet’s life that it drives him crazy.

#2 Hanley next decides whether or not great wealth is a proper wish. The ennui that comes with excessive amounts of money is soon recalled, and Hanley chooses not to make this wish.

#3 His final thoughts are on wishing for great power, but he then imagines becoming the President of the United States, and being paralyzed by indecision when faced with a global crisis.

Realizing that he’s not really cut out for any of the things that most people would wish for, Hanley comes to a sudden conclusion and decides that he’s going to make an “original” wish.

The audience is not made aware of what he wished for until later….

To be continued…..

The wish motif in a few Twilight Zone episodes

The wish motif  – or a supernatural force appearing to grant a lucky man wishes, usually three – is one that can be found in many folklores across the  world, though it is the variant (s) found in the Arabian Nights that has become the most famous. I do allude to the Genies (or also jinn, jinni, djinni, from Arabic جني), trapped in a bottle or the slaves of a ring or more often, a lamp. This is not because the current generation, like us, has picked up the virtues of reading these tales as we did in our childhood but because they are available in other media, such as animated films and the like. However, let me not digress.

I was talking about wishes. It is a common human tendency that people dreams of getting their heart’s desires or for that matter, measures that may ensure a comfortable and sparkling life such as great wealth or great looks or the like, fulfilled in a jiffy. However, this may lead to more problems than even anticipated while dreaming of a blissful future.

I recall reading a story when in school from a book I do not even recall the name of or most details of the tale. It is basically that of a prince, who offered three wishes by his fairy grandmother, but plays smart….. a little too smart. He uses each of the wishes to wish for three more wishes and each of these for three more…. and so on and on till he has amassed thousands. However, the fairy godmother is not amused and arranges a pitfall. Basically, she hangs on by his side, waiting for a single slip to fix him.

Her chance comes when the prince, playing a game of cards with his friends and having a good hand, remarks “I wish it come again” and presto, his wish is granted, but the fairy puts him in a loop where every repetition of that good hand ends at the point he utters those words and has to undergo it again…. thus ensuring its a long time before all his wishes run out. Imagine if you were in his place and conscious of what is happening…… but powerless to break the spell.

However, the examples I had intended to cite from “The Twilight Zone”, so without further ado, lets go to it.

It was episode 38 in the second series of the original run of  the series in 1960-61, titled “The Man in the Bottle”.

As the opening narration says: “Mr.and Mrs. Arthur Castle, gentle and infinitely patient people, whose lives have been a hope chest with a rusty lock and a lost set of keys. But in just a moment that hope chest will be opened, and an improbable phantom will try to bedeck the drabness of these two people’s failure-laden lives with the gold and precious stones of fulfillment. Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Castle, standing on the outskirts and about to enter the Twilight Zone.”

The Castles, a downtrodden pawnbroker and his wife, are offered four wishes by a genie. Distrustful, they use their first wish to repair a broken glass cabinet to prove the genie’s power. They then wish for one million dollars, but after they give tens of thousands away to their friends, the tax man comes to claim the rest, leaving them with $5.

The genie warns them that every wish has consequences, and that they should consider carefully before making a wish.

Castle makes his third wish, to be the leader of a modern, powerful country in which he cannot be “voted out of office” — and finds himself as Adolf Hitler in the last days of World War II, hiding in a Berlin bunker and contemplating suicide. (The look on the overweight pawnbroker’s face when he realises his predicament was simply unforgettable).

To be continued…….