Sunday, December 28, 2014

My Log 453 Dec 28 2014: Kumaré, a movie about gurus by a phony guru, which tells us everything we need know about religious exaltation

Elmer Gantry (film)
Elmer Gantry (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Guru Gobind Singh (with bird) encounters Guru ...
Guru Gobind Singh (with bird) encounters Guru Nanak Dev. An 18th century painting of an imaginary meeting. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Guru Har Rai ji. Painting by Amolak Singh.
Guru Har Rai ji. Painting by Amolak Singh. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Natyacharya Vidushakaratnam Padmasree Mani Mad...
Natyacharya Vidushakaratnam Padmasree Mani Madhava Chakyar performing Chakyarkoothu. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Guru-prasada Swami speaks at Bhakti T...
Guru-prasada Swami speaks at Bhakti Tirtha Swami's Vyasa Puja in Mayapur, West Bengal, India (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
His Holiness Riaz Ahmed Gohar Shahi blessing a...
His Holiness Riaz Ahmed Gohar Shahi blessing a Sikh audience in a Guru Nanak Gurdwara, Phoenix Arizona, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Birth Place of Guru Govind Singh
English: Birth Place of Guru Govind Singh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I saw a most amazing documentary movie yesterday called Kumaré, which is available on the American Netflix.

Made by a young man called Vikram Gandhi, of Indian descent, but himself born in New Jersey, he tells the story of how he went to Phoenix, Arizona, ran into a number of cults, each with their phony guru, decided to make a film about gurus, and said to himself, he should go to India to see the real thing. He did go, and it was worse! The gurus in India were more, and more phony, than in the US of A. So, returning home, he had a wonderful idea. He would himself become a guru, invent his own cult, and see how it went.
He grew his hair down his back, his beard down his front, got the Indian dress and phony accent, and set himself up in business, talking that simplified, incorrect English to which we have become accustomed in the American-centred Indian guru of fairly recent fame.
He took along to Phoenix with him two girl followers, one to book dates, and the other to spread the word. He wangled an invitation to some sort of Yoga conference, where his supporter told a small audience, that Kumaré meant Divine Child, and, quoting from what she said was the Kumaré Sutra, Chapter 3, Section 12, that the “seeker who finds a teacher, finds himself with the milk of wisdom like a child at the mother’s teat.”
Soon he had a small group of followers, whom he had no difficulty in persuading to chant his own personal chant --- U Wa é, a meaningless chant  --- and he began to pedal his own version of the path to nirvana. He said he “holds up the mirror for you, not literally, but metaphorically,” and grasping for some message in which to wrap his deception, he said he saw himself in other people.  Some of those to whom he first peddled this rubbish said they found “there is something about him that is truly unique,” and others said they would like to spend more time with him.  Over the weeks that followed, he developed his schtick, inventing what he called Blue Light meditation, which put some of them into such paroxysms of ecstacy that they saw him “bathed in a white light that clung to him all over.’ He told them he came from Halikash, and when they couldn’t find it on a map, he indicated a location in India, and said, “we don’t like to advertise its location too much.”  Another woman said she was getting warmer in his presence, “and I am sure that’s your energy.”
He had learned some yoga before embarking, and now he invented fake yoga moves that he passed on to his followers, as he began to ask them if they had seen a Vikrama?  Since it was just something he had made up on the spur of the moment, he was not surprised no one had seen it. One young woman who had a husband confessed to him she didn't even believe in marriage, that now she was free to go with the flow, to be blown with the wind, and what would he advise? In commentary Vikram said that in a moment of honesty he didn’t feel in any position to advise her about anything; but she disappeared to California soon after, presumably leaving husband behind.
He wondered how his followers  would get on in his absence, and accepted an invitation from some sort of spiritual guru in Tucson, who, it turned out, based his whole teaching on the phrase, “in the beginning was the word,” his interpretation being that “the word” implied sound, so his teaching was based on everyone bringing out their personal sound. “I found that the power of illusion was greater in Tucson than I had ever imagined,” said the commentary. He had invented his own sign to paint on the forehead of his followers, and called it a Pinasignore. But when he returned to find his followers already felt like they were experiencing Blue Light meditation and chanting “U-Wa-é” over and over, he said he almost began to believe in his role as a guru himself. He thought he had better deepen his message, so he began to tell them, “I am a fake, no one needs a guru, your guru is inside you, everyone is his own guru,” a message that they began to embrace because of the intense spirituality with which he invested it.
Invited to a Yoga centre near the Mexican border, kept by a guru called Gabriel, he discovered the followers there believed they were each from a different planet, and that they called the planet they were on for the moment Urantia. He discovered this centre had been investigated by a TV channel, which raised questions about their having detached people from their money. “But all I saw were a group of environmentalists, people who were removing themselves from the pain of American life,” Vikram said, in commentary. Gabriel told him he had been taken aboard an alien craft, whose operators had wiped it out of his memory for years, revealing the memory only later, leaving him with “a mandate of the bright and morning star.”  (This reminded me of the phony evangelist in  Sinclair Lewis’s novel Elmer Gantry, whose mantra was, “and what is faith? Faith is the evenin’ and the mornin’ star.”)
Back among his followers, he began to philosophize about their space, saying their yoga spaces outside were not real, that they had settled “in this sacred space”, (indicating the hall they were sitting in), and that “you do not need it. You have your yoga centre inside of you.” One of his followers, a teacher, organized a concert in his honour, and said that she considered Kumaré “a living embodiment of the divine.” Another group which invited him to visit was run by a little fat chap who called  his discipline the Law of Attraction. Everyone created his or her own vision board, and on the mantra, “One, two, three”, everyone shouted “Kaboom,” thus proving how happy they all were. When Vikram returned from all this, one disciple said, “I couldn’t get him out of my mind,”; another “he’s a doctor, that’s what he is”; and a third, that he was a mirror who allowed people to look inside themselves. Unphased by Kumaré’s frequent insistence that he was a fake, one disciple said, “today I embrace illusion to find faith.”
In commentary Vikram said: “I wanted to teach my students that they could help themselves, they never needed a guru in the first place.” He sat them around a pool, had them light little candles on  small dishes which they embarked on the water. “Look at your candle,” he intoned. “It is a reflection of your inner light.”
Eventually, after a 40 day absence, he staged a ceremony called The Great Unveiling, in which he intended to expose his fraud to them, after they had, themselves, searching their inner guru, exposed their own desires for themselves.
But Kumaré/Vikram  tried, and could not utter the words he needed. So, he retired again, and a week later had his two women helpers convene his followers for a last session. Meantime he shaved off his beard, cut his hair, took to wearing jeans and shirt, and dropped his phony accent. Then he walked casually into the room to face them all, stood looking at them for a few moments, and said, “I am Vikram. I am not a guru. I am an American citizen, like you. I was born in New Jersey.” 
There was a stunned silence, for perhaps a minute before someone started to applaud, an applause joined by most of them. Two or three of the younger women got up and rushed outside, never to be seen again.
The film was over, having told us as much as anyone needs to know about religion, and messages on the screen record that of 14 besotted followers, 10 were still in touch with him, still believed in him and thanked him for the inspiration and change he brought to their lives.

An amazing movie, no matter how you look at it.

Friday, December 19, 2014

My Log 452 Dec 14 2014: My idea of a great book: a complete, brilliant and moving portrait of the superb comic writer P.G. Wodehouse by Robert McCrum

P. G. Wodehouse, Bolton's friend and collaborator
P. G. Wodehouse, at 23 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
1st US edition
1st US edition (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
For many years I have believed that the following paragraph is  probably the greatest opening paragraph ever to grace an English-language novel:

“While I would not go so far, perhaps, as to describe the heart as actually leaden, I must confess that on the eve of starting to do my bit of time at Deverill Hall, I was definitely short on chirpiness. I shrank from the prospect of being decanted into a household on chummy terms with a thug like my Aunt Agatha, weakened as I already was by having had her son Thomas, one of our most prominent fiends in human shape, on my hands for three days.
“I mentioned this to Jeeves, and he agreed that the set-up could have been juicier….”

I am brought back to this favourite topic of mine, the Jeeves and Wooster novels of P.G. Wodehouse, by the absolutely superb biography of the master written by Robert McCrum under the title A Life of P.G. Wodehouse, published to wide acclaim in 2004, and picked up by me in excellent condition for a minuscule $10 from The Word bookshop, of whose proprietor Adrian King-Edwards, someone remarked this week that he is more like the curator of a collection than a bookseller.
I am sometimes accused of having gone overboard in my enthusiasm for the Wodehouse prose style. But look at that first paragraph quoted above: it is amazing. Within the six or seven orthodox lines of a perfectly straightforward English prose construction lie at least half a dozen almost unimaginable  syntactical bombs: first, “starting to do my bit of time at….”, an expression normally reserved for imprisonment; second, “I was definitely short on chirpiness…” a throw-away semi-slang expression at odds with the formal setting in which it is found….; third, “being decanted into a household…” an expression usually used for pouring wine into a carafe; fourth, “ with a thug like my aunt Agatha…”, an expression almost unimaginable as a description of an Aunt; fifth, “one of our most prominent fiends in human shape…”, an unheard of description of a small boy; and sixth, at the beginning of the next para, “the setup could have been juicier…”, on a surface an expression so ludicrously inappropriate to the use to which it has been put as to be so funny as to make one laugh out loud.
This is a perfect example of what Mr. McCrum on page 253 calls “Wodehouse’s marriage of high farce with the inverted poetry of his  mature comic style.”  Seven pages later McCrum describes Wodehouse’s reaction to being told that on  June 21, 1939, he was to be awarded an honorary doctorate of literature by Oxford University, an honour that, wrote The Times editorially, weighing into the considerable debate that had followed the announcement, was unquestionably deserved, because “everyone knows at least some of his many works and has felt all the better for the gaiety of his wit and the freshness of his style.” Wodehouse himself said, “I had no notion that my knockabout comedy entitled me to rank with the nibs.”
But a page later Mr. McCrum has discovered among Wodehouse’s vast writings an amusing description  of a walk taken by him the day before that momentous occasion with the famous literary man, Hugh Walpole, who, as they walked,  alluded to Hilaire Belloc’s recent judgment that Wodehouse was “the best writer of English now alive.”

“He said to me,” wrote Wodehouse in his memoir Performing Flea, ‘Did you see what Belloc said about you?’  I said I had. ‘I wonder why he said that.’  ‘I wonder,’ I said. Long silence. ‘I can’t imagine why he said that,’ said Hugh. I said I couldn’t, either. Another long silence. ‘It seems such an extraordinary thing to say!’ ‘Most extraordinary.’ Long silence again. ‘Ah, well,’ said Hugh having apparently found the solution. ‘the old man’s getting very old.’ ”

This is a perfect example of how Wodehouse would make everything that he was describing seem like a comedy.   In fact, the description of the ceremony at which Wodehouse was honoured does sound highly comic, with the university’s Public Orator presenting Wodehouse to the Vice-Chancellor with “a brilliant and witty celebration of Wodehouse’s gifts composed in faultless Latin hexameters,” in which he made ingenious references to Bertie Wooster, Jeeves, Mr Mulliner, Lord Emsworth, the Empress of Blandings, Psmith, and Gussie Fink-Nottle. He then described Wodehouse in Latin, as  “wittiest of men, most humorous, most charming, most amusing, full of laughter.” Later, at the culminating dinner of 400 guests, all impeccably dressed in white ties and waistcoats (except Wodehouse, who wore a dinner jacket), the undergraduates banged the tables and demanded a speech from Wodehouse. “The new Oxford man,” records McCrum, “author of some of the funniest books in memory, rose awkwardly to his feet. If the guests were hoping for a comic tour de force, they were to be disappointed. Wodehouse simply mumbled, ‘thank you,’ and sat down in confusion.”
A recurring theme in McCrum’s book is how unmemorable Wodehouse was in person, one person after another being quoted who found him, frankly, dull. Alec Waugh, for example, brother of Evelyn, and himself a popular novelist, wrote of meeting Wodehouse: “He had no peculiarities or manner of expression. He was not funny. He never repeated jokes. There was no sparkle in his conversation. He did not indulge in reminiscences. There was a straightforward exchange of talk… ‘It is an extraordinary thing,’ he would say, ‘Marlborough beat Tonbridge and Tonbridge beat Uppingham, but Uppingham beat Marlborough. What do you make of that?’ ” Yet Waugh remarked on how easy he felt in Wodehouse’s company, and how he could recall “only the pleasure of his company.”
Wodehouse was one of four sons of one of those incredible British families, raised in the so-called public (that is, private) schools, especially to administer the British Empire, who simply drifted off around the world, leaving their children behind to be looked after by someone else. He records that first the new baby (somewhat eccentrically named Pelham, like his brothers Armine and Peverill), born in 1881, was looked after in Hong Kong, where is father was a magistrate, by a Chinese nursemaid, but before he was three he had been brought back to Britain and deposited with a Miss Roper. He did not see his mother again for three years, and Mr. McCrum records that between the ages of three and fifteen, the child spent barely six months in the presence of his parents. “The psychological impact of this separation on the future writer lies at the heart of his adult personality,” McCrum writes. Somehow or other the boy survived: “the damage inflicted on him in childhood was counterbalanced by his exceptional good nature, and the light, personal sweetness that all those who knew him comment on.”
The writer says of his subject: “his childhood made him solitary, but his genius --- the word is not too strong --- made the solitude bearable and transformed its fantasies into high comedy.” He also adopted defensive strategies of evasion, one of them being constant travel. He could seldom settle anywhere, was always changing houses, made countless trips across the Atlantic (the fare was a mere ten pounds in those days), where he found editors willing to pay him more than in England, and got into writing for the stage. Before he finished, he was said to have contributed to more than 50 musical comedies, usually as a lyric writer, but also quite often as author of the book. He recorded in his memoirs: “My father was as normal as rice pudding. My childhood went like a breeze from start to finish, with everybody I met understanding me perfectly while as for my schooldays at Dulwich they were just six years of unbroken bliss.” What a lie!
He became what is called today a workaholic, always writing, day and night, month after month, no sooner one work finished than he was busy on another, so that by the time of his death he had published almost 100 books, in addition to his extensive work in the theatre. But the nature of those books is what counts. They described a world that really never existed in actual fact, but that became so familiar to his readers that they could never get enough of them. Although he was enough of this world to manage a busy, successful career for more than seventy years, there was also about him some sort of disconnection with what most people would call reality. Not long before the Second World War he wrote that “all this alliance-forming” reminded him of form matches at school. “I can’t realize this is affecting millions of men. I think of Hitler and Mussolini as two halves, and Stalin as a useful wing forward….anyway, no war in my lifetime is my feeling.”
Famous last words!  Wodehouse owned a house in Le Touquet, just south of Boulogne on the Channel coast of France, close enough to London that he could indulge his restless nature by moving back and forth easily. He was staying there as the German armies began their assault on France. Like most other people he believed he was safe behind the Maginot line, but eventually he had to face up to the fact the Germans were on their way. Twice he tried to move, but both times he was stymied by mechanical breakdowns, and in the event he was captured by the Germans ---  typically, he makes a comic scene of it in his description, quoted in this book --- but when they placed him in an internment camp, the laughter stopped. He was moved a couple of times, but when the Germans realized they had in their captivity a famous British author, they released him from such direct internment, and moved him to Berlin, where after a slight delay, they asked if he might be interested in recording some talks for them to broadcast on the radio. They whistled up two Germans whom Wodehouse had known in Hollywood, to help make him feel at home, and these men helped inveigle him into doing the talks. He himself thought he would take the opportunity to pay tribute to the stiff-upper-lip manner in which British detainees behaved. He had no idea that just by appearing on the Nazi radio, he was labelling himself a traitor in English eyes, and almost before his talks --- which were intended originally for the United States --- had been broadcast, a media onslaught against him had begun in London.
Foremost among these was William Connor, the acid columnist Cassandra of The Daily Mirror, whose bitter diatribe on the BBC against Wodehouse attracted more unfavorable comment than favourable from listeners. An early defender was George Orwell, whose childhood had been not dissimilar from Wodehouse’s, but the broadcasts, however innocuous their subject might have been, were a fatal error of judgment,  and their fallout were a blight that hung over Wodehouse for the rest of his life. For some time he was accommodated by an anglophile German woman, Baroness Anga von Bodenhausen at her country estate, where he, typically again, soon became Oncle Plummie to the children, and a family favourite (although his wife Ethel, a more aggressive, bustling, self-interested person, one of whose functions in life had been to spend much of Wodehouse’s hard-earned money, was not a favorite). A revealing anecdote illustrating his  air of being out of touch with reality is that of a young German journalist who was asked to talk to Wodehouse. He found the writer wanted to sue some of the perpetrators of the slanders emitted in England. “I need a lawyer I can talk to here who could then plead for me in England. Would you know any?” he asked Michael Vermehren. “Mr. Wodehouse,” said Vermehren. “I do know such lawyers, but do you think it is likely that they would get a special permit to cross the war zone and the frontiers and go to England and plead your case?” Wodehouse replied, “Do you think it would be difficult?” “I said, ‘Actually I think it would be completely impossible.’”
This man later became a close friend of the writer, as had the Baroness who had put him up in her country estate, but both were disappointed when, after the war, hoping to renew their acquaintance with him, he failed to respond, a curious affirmation of how much he had been wounded by his German experience, and was determined to put it behind him.
Later he was permitted to go to occupied Paris, where he was when the war ended. He then turned himself in to the British authorities, who sent people to interrogate him, as was done with other British subjects who had spent the war in Germany. The first interrogator was Malcolm Muggeridge, who immediately fell under his spell, and declared the fuss about the broadcasts was nonsense. Later came a Major Cussen, who was persuaded of Wodehouse’s innocence, but who turned in a report that, while exonerating him, was no whitewash, as McCrum writes. Cussen concluded that “a jury would find difficulty in convicting him of an intention to assist the enemy.” Finally, the French government cleared him, and he was free to go. He decided to go to the United States, and never set foot in Britain again.
It summarizes Wodehouse’s attitude towards the world he found himself in that when he was arrested by the Germans in 1940 he was within four chapters of finishing Joy In the Morning  which many aficionados of his work regard as his greatest novel. And while Churchill was warning the British that he could offer them nothing but blood, sweat and tears, and urging them to fight on the beaches, landing fields and so on, this dedicated artist, for whom the work always came first,  was engaged in finishing a narrative of, as he says on page one of the book, “the super-sticky affair” of Nobby ‘Stilton’Cheesewright, Florence Craye, his Uncle Percy, J. Chichester Clam, Edwin the Boy Scout and old Boko Fittleworth --- “or, as my biographers will probably call it, the Steeple Bumpleigh affair.”
By 1942, in the throes of the worst turmoil of his life, Wodehouse began thinking about the plot of The Mating Season (my favourite book), and its dramatis personae of “a surging sea of aunts,” who occupied Deverill Hall, with Bertie undertaking a task imposed by his Aunt Agatha (“who chews broken bottles and kills rats with her teeth,”), namely, to ensure that Catsmeat’s fiancee Gertrude remain true to him, while promoting among the aunts the idea that Gussie Fink-Nottle (“goofy to the gills, face like a fish, horn-rimmed spectacles, drank orange juice, collected newts”)  was a worthy catch for Madeleine Bassett (“England’s premier pill.”). The motivating factor for Bertie, the narrator, was, as usual, that he had previously been engaged to Miss Bassett, and could consider himself safe only so long as she was affianced to someone else: because the moment she was free of such entanglements, she was poised to make herself available to Bertie, a helpless victim who she mistakenly believed was pining away for her.
These two books are described by Mr. McCrum as the main wartime production of this remarkable writer who allowed nothing to get in the way of his work. Need anything more be said? The man was a genius, a great writer, an innocent, and as sweet a guy as ever trod the earth. He was awarded a knighthood at New Year's 1975, a symbol that all was forgiven at last, and he died within six weeks at the age of 94. He was found sitting in his armchair with a pipe and tobacco pouch in his hands, the manuscript of yet another unfinished novel close at hand.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My Log 451 Dec 15 2014: Eager reporter strikes out in effort to bring the nationalities together from former Yugoslavia

A cello player in the partially destroyed Nati...
A cello player in the partially destroyed National Library, Sarajevo, during the war in 1992. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Photo from a serbian possition in the...
Photo from a Serbian position in the mountains overlooking Sarajevo ‪ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Nele circa 1980
Nele circa 1980 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: The government building in the centre...
The government building in the centre of Sarajevo burns after being hit by tank fire during the siege in 1992 Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have just watched for the second time a sad, almost haunting AlJazeera programme got up by a former BBC reporter, Jackie Rowland, which bears on the tragedy of the Yugoslav war. Ms Rowland was a reporter covering Yugoslavia after the war, and she has vivid memories of seeing tapes of a show by a three-man comedy group called  Toplista Nadrealista (or the Surrealist Hit Parade), whose mapcap comedy routines  made life more bearable in the late 1980s and early 1990s, before the outbreak of the war, and later in the besieged city of Sarajevo during the almost four years the city was under attack by the Serbs.
All three, though of different racial and religious origins, were born in Sarajevo, which, famously, was a city totally integrated as between races and nationalities until that sense of perfect harmony was destroyed by the brutal war in which the country broke up into  numerous self-contained, neighbour-hating entities.
Ms. Rowland was in Yugoslavia as a member of the staff of the BBC School of Broadcast Journalism in 1997. In one class she had a pupil called  Zenit Djozic, whom she first regarded as a rather disruptive element, but with whom she later became friendly. He had been a member of this comedy group, and he showed her tapes of their shows, “rather Pythonesque”, as she describes them in her programme notes,  which she greatly enjoyed. She never met the other major member of the group, by the name of Nele Karajlic, who had already left the city and was heard broadcasting some rather tendentious commentaries about the war from Belgrade. He was a Serb, and Ms. Rowland says on the AlJazeera web site that the remaining members of the troupe in Sarajevo were tending to regard him as a kind of villain. She says that in 1997 she sent Zenit to Belgrade on a mission of some kind, and while there he had met his old friend Nele, but the meeting had not gone well, and he didn’t say much about it afterwards.
Returning to the former Yugoslavia  more than a decade later, Ms. Rowland was harbouring what she thought was the terrific idea that with a bit of feminine persuasion, she could persuade the three principals of the old show to get together and even to perform together again.
She set out by meeting first  her old friend Zenit, who turned out to be still a delightful, well-balanced, amusing clown of a guy, who said he was willing to meet his former friend Nele and looked forward to having such a meeting, However, he had already visited Nele once in Belgrade, he said. But In fact, although he had always regarded Nele as his best friend, on that occasion he had discovered a new Nele, one who believed differently from him on questions arising from the war, such as who started it.  “I lost my friend,” he said.
So off went the aggressive Ms Rowland --- to my mind she played rather too hard at being accepted as “one of the boys”, as it were, while carefully disguising the fact she had met only one of the three performers before   ---  to Belgrade to contact Nele himself, who was on a tour to plug a successful book. When she told him Zenit was ready to meet again, he said, “Well, he has my phone number, he knows where I am, what is the problem?” Asked why he left Sarajevo, Nele said he was forced out, along with 200,000 Serbs who had also been forced out.  He said, ”I would be happy to go back to live in Sarajevo, but only when the other 199,999 who had been forced out were welcome to do the same.” But that, he added, will never happen.  In Sarajevo, no one now mentions that 200,000 Serbs had been forced out of the city, he said. In his mind Sarajevo was a city in which Serbs should be living. Sarajevo had been a utopian idea, but “we failed.”
On the subject of Zenit’s failed visit to Nele in Belgrade he said Zenit had “come too soon. He came when I was hot, angry, on the subject.” But he shook his head vehemently when the reporter put it to him that Zenit had said he had found “a different Nele,” he had not found his old friend.  Ms. Rowland discussed with him different places where it might be possible for the former partners to meet, but without getting any firm commitment. On this subject, the stereotypes of nationalist suspicions in former Yugoslavia were exhibited.   Nele thought if Zenit wanted to meet him, it should be in Belfgrade; Zenit said he had already visited Belgrade, so it was not his turn to do so again.
Back in Sarajevo, Ms.Rowland,  summarizing her discussions with Nele, said she was struck by  his assertion that he was right, and everyone else was wrong, an assertion that would have come as no surprise to anyone who has studied this issue even superficially.
And so, on her quest, on to Ljubljana, where the third member of the trio, Banko “Djuro” Djuric, has been  working successfully for the last 20 years, in films and other media.  Asked if he would be ready to work again with the TopLista group, he shook his head sadly and said, “Unfortunately there are political problems.”  TopLista, although it had been a beautiful experience, was just one of many projects on which he had worked.  The three principals had not seen each other for more than 20 years, and they were no longer friends, he said.
Djuro said his mother was a Moslem, his father Serb. “I am therefore, in-between. I don’t accept these labels,” he said. He referred to his late grandfather who died during the siege of Sarajevo, but who, before his death, had asked forlornly who was bombing them?   Djuro had said it was just…. someone. “Someone told me it was the Serbs,” said granddad, to which Djuro nodded his assent. “Who are ours?” the old man asked.
A good question, indicated Djuro.
At the end of this fruitless search for grounds for accommodation, Ms. Rowland asked Zenit to enact a contemporary version of a famous sketch done by the three which had forecast the war by having the proponents hurl insults across a wall.  In its contemporary version, two garbage collectors engaged in a fruitless discussion, ending with their going off, each into his fastness.
Oddly, Ms.  Rowland,  anxious to the end not to report a complete failure, recited a line of pious commentary hoping that Bosnians would eventually realize there was more that united them than divided them.
A faint hope, given that the war was stopped by the American-imposed Dayton Accords which divided Bosnia into the Bosnian republic, and a so-called Serpska Republic, which officially is part of the Bosnian republic. The  theory of the decision-makers was that these two entities would gradually accommodate to each other. But, as in the rest of Yugoslavia, this has not happened, but in fact the Serpska Republic seems more and more to have dug in its heels, and to have made not a single gesture towards reconciliation.
Earlier this year I was in the former Yugoslavia  and had the experience of moving across the original republic, now divided into a panoply of borders that have to be crossed as one moves back and forth. Often they did not even bother to look at the passports, and it was sometimes difficult to tell which of the new republics one was leaving and which entering.  The thought that struck me forcibly at the time was that these meaningless borders seem to be about the only thing these new republics have obtained from the brutal war, a war fought to solidify these borders, just as, further north in Europe, borders we moved across on a bus tour up to Prague seem literally to have disappeared, since whenever I asked the driver which country we were in now, he usually didn’t know.

Ms. Rowland’s programme, far from contributing to greater understanding, seems merely to fortify the deep levels of conflict that have survived even this most unnecessary and terrible of wars.