Who’s the Mother of Magic Realism?

posted in: English

By Mukunda Goswami

In the Ramayana, the vanara Hanuman takes flight like a bird, and enters supra-mundane realms.
Sometimes it’s fun to take a retrospective—a look back at what was happening in the world a few years ago. The following article originally appeared in the Hindustan Times, New Delhi, on November 9th, 2005.

What do C.S. Lewis, Quentin Tarantino and J.K. Rowling have in common? Maybe nothing, but here’s what I think: One, all will have hit the big screen by December 2005; two, all are considered innovators; three, all have written about their characters entering a parallel world.

In Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (part of his Narnia series) Lucy, a young girl, mysteriously enters a wardrobe in a new house when she suddenly finds herself in a snowy, moonless land, totally unlike the house she had been exploring. In Kill Bill, Tarantino’s Hollywood blockbuster, Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman) opens a paper screen door in Japan only to find herself magically transported into a blue winter wonderland, before starting a lethal sword battle.

Harry Potter gets to Hogwarts, the wizard school that’s invisible to ‘muggles’ of this world, by charging through an imperceptible train platform in London’s King’s Cross station, thereby entering into an unseen but real dimension.

This is the first time three successful giants of entertainment will have had their wares displayed so dramatically only months apart.

All three stories involve the inexplicable existence of fantasy worlds, different from our ‘real’ world, but somehow accessible. If the real world is truly the one we live in – drive cars, walk on beaches, go to work, watch TV, and visit friends – why even consider another dimension? Is it only because unknown, imagined, unexplained, mysterious, mystical, fantasy and sci-fi worlds entertain people of all ages? In Murder in the Cathedral, T.S. Eliot wrote, “Power is present; holiness is hereafter.”

But what if these magical dimensions were real and we were the fantasy? This is exactly what volumes of Sanskrit literature have been telling us for centuries. For example, in the Mahabharata, we read that Arjuna (a mere mortal) visits the heavenly regions of Svarga, even attracting Urvasi, who falls madly in love with him.

In the Ramayana, the vanara Hanuman takes flight like a bird, and enters supra-mundane realms. The sage Vyasa writes in the Puranas of Devahuti, the wife of Kardama Muni, who dives into the lake Bindu Sarovara where thousands of young girls decorate her elaborately. The Panchatantra and the Hitopadesa brim with stories of animals and birds that speak real words, think and strategize.

Few care to realize that there is a reality to ‘other-worldliness’ and that it is not so inaccessible, after all.

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