The best use of my iPad is reading comics. Authentic DC/Marvel comics are rare in India, even if they are available their price is beyond unreasonable. So I rely upon those illegal downloads. If the publishers are listening they can make some money by making their comics available in India for cheaper prices.
I have been a great fan of mythology right through childhood. I really love the way people put complex ideas in simple form and vice-versa. In school we had this complete bullshit concept of stories with a moral. I remember kids even by-hearting morals of some few popular stories. A story that has got a moral has got to be an uninteresting story and hence no story at all. This does not mean stories are not meant to leave an impact. But that impact should always be in a very subtle way, only the person who is looking for that meaning gets it others just get entertained. At the same time real good art is the one which has got more than one meaning. Sometimes the meaning might even extend beyond what it’s creator wanted to imply.
What is that subtle learning we get from Mahabharata? Most of the people will sing the usual “victory of good over evil” tune. As a matter of fact, the message of Mahabharata is very different. Most of the people get lost in the action packed war of Mahabharata and dont go beyond that to see the climax of the legend. Original name of Mahabharata is Jaya. For the uninitiated there are 18 parvas (volumes) of the story. The war is over by the 10th volume. In the last 18th volume. The protagonist of the story (really? you might ask) Yudhishthira reachese heaven. There he sees that the so called evil Kauravs are enjoying in heaven where as his brothers and wife are in hell. The king who was known for his behavior suddenly loses his temper. He asks God why this injustice, why the adharmi Kauravs are in heaven but his dharmic brothers are in hell. He is told that Kauravs died on land which was sacred. By the stroke of luck they are in heaven where as Pandava’s need to suffer for some of their sins. God also advices Yudhishtira that he should get rid of his enmity for Kauravas because it is really futile at this point of time. He needs to win himself. That is “Jaya”. “Vijaya” means victory over others where as “Jaya” means victory over self. That is the climax of this great epic only those who stick till the end see it but most stop at B. R. Chopra’s rendition.
Coming back to the original topic, I find the superhero comics as enthralling as Ramayan and Mahabharat. Three popular superheros are Superman, Spiderman and Batman. For the unfamiliar crowd these are the people who jump over rooftops to save kids from fire and catch the bad guys. For the fanboys however there are more subtle differences to focus upon.
Superman is not human. He is from a different planet Krypton. He is by default a superhero. His default nature has got all those powers. Those blue clothes are his real clothes. However to hide among us mortals he has to take up an alter ego called Clerk Kent. Clerk Kent is exact opposite of Superman. He is unconfident, goofy and a critic of superman. Superman does have weakness and pain. His planet was destroyed where his parents to were killed. There is no one left in this universe of his kind. But almost everyone deeply loves him that ensures that he does not feel lonely.
In reality superman became a cultural icon. (think of R. K. Laxman’s Common Man in India). He even influence politics in United States.
Spiderman is a smart but otherwise ordinary kid getting superpowers by accident. He is a normal human being with normal emotions. While this superpowers help him do amazing things as spider-man, in reality he is still an emotionally vulnerable Peter Parker. He has to carry this burden of superhero whether he likes it or not. Because of that he has to make a lot of sacrifices. Unlike superman he is by default weak human being called Peter Parker, he has to wear that costume to become a superhero.
My favorite of the lot is however Batman. Batman’s alter ego is Bruce Wayne. Son of millionaire (and then billionaire) and a thorough gentleman Dr. Thomas and Martha Wayne. His life suddenly changes when one day his parents are shot dead right in front of his eye by an ordinary roadside thug. The case remains unsolved for years but that has deep impact on Bruce Wayne. Dr. Thomas also own a large company called Wayne Enterprises which young (10 year old) Bruce inherits when his parents are killed. Most people worry that Bruce will not be able to live up to this trauma and to some extent he does get affected.
Their faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth however takes good care of Bruce. Bruce is blessed with great intelligence and good body. He takes up the task of taking both these gifts to it’s supreme perfection and travels all around the world to master martial arts, meditation techniques and also learn to be the worlds best detective. Two things however never leave him. His fear of bats that arises from one childhood accident and the scene of his parents dead before their eyes. He blames himself for their death and that guilt is his perhaps only weakness yet strength.
Bruce returns to his city Gotham to fight crime in all possible ways as the caped crusader. He dresses like a bat to strike terror in the hearts of the criminals. Bruce is always a human being with no special superpowers. He gets hurt and injured every now and then. He fails several times. It is never about the action but all the things he has to go through to survive. One major difference between all other superheroes and Batman is that Batman is a Dark Knight. That is, the people dont really love him. They think he is a nuisance or a criminal himself. Batman doesn’t mind that, he knows in his heart that he has not killed anyone or committed any crime.
Batman has all the traits of the yogi. He is he perfect man. Gives importance to duty over personal emotions, has not attachment to anything, doesn’t show anger or act on emotions and so on. Batman is also a geek and his comics are full of nonlinear stories that will be generally beyond comprehension of a 16 year old kid.
Personally I like Batman because I look at him as an ideal example of how one should learn to deal with one’s pain and suffering. I dont mean that one should become a caped crusader but one should put his suffering to work. Developing a sense of empathy and compassion one’s pain should get converted into strength to turn things right. Pain and suffering should not make you inactive and despondent but instead should become a driving force to do something better for others.
Batman is also about pushing your own limits to go beyond what is expected out of you. It is also about silently working for good without expecting any credit in return. Batman will always remain an inspiration for me.