Kannan Srinivasan, the son of well-known journalist Kalki Kannan and the grandson of the Carnatic icon MS Subbulakshmi is not new to the world of high-culture, having experienced it both in India and in Boston. His new book Boston Brahmin premiered at the Sharjah Book Fair and is a tale of migration, identity and spirituality in a fast changing world.
The book is about the physical and spiritual journey of Jai, a young Indian expatriate student from Dubai who moves first to Boston and later to Cornell University for higher studies, travels around the globe on work only to realise the path of spirituality that leads him inwards.
In an interview with CSP, he talks about the book and his experience as a first-time expatriate author.
What is the significance of the title Boston Brahmin?
Knowledge acquisition, development of values, comprehending roles in society, performing all that enables understanding the ‘inner self’, gaining economic stability, experiencing family life and finally, giving back to society, are the significant objectives of one’s existence.
During an extended stay in Boston, I got to appreciate the genesis and development of the institutions of higher learning in and around the city. A migrant community of Englishmen (Irish origin), facilitated their setting up with liberal grants. They also enabled the evolution of institutions in the cultural space of art, music and literature. They preferred to remain anonymous and not seek any recognition/ visibility for their noble gesture and continue to support such causes. They are referred to as ‘Boston Brahmins’ in the USA. This did strike a chord in me. The title, aptly captures the enormous value that they provide. This gets further accentuated with their not seeking any leverage for personal gratification! In addition, it is also catchy and memorable. It consequently, may trigger interest amongst the target group, particularly in a crowded market of millions of offerings.
Such people do exist all over and do form a significant ‘value group’ of material size! Hence the title of my book!
What has been your personal experience of ‘spirituality’:
Like most middle class families, I too experienced an upbringing that instilled in me, values, education, religion, culture, physical development... The one special aspect that provided the ‘edge’, was getting to experience performing artists, religious gurus, politicians, influencers of communities/society, in addition to my peer group. The common thread of ‘simplicity’, of having similar issues and challenges, provided an understanding that ultimately, everyone gets to experience a ‘spectrum’ of life along a continuum of expectation to achievement. I did have the good fortune of visiting places of religious significance, on holidays with my parents and siblings. The Sree Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam, with the Divine Mahaperiyava had and continues to influence my spiritual journey.
Spirituality, to my comprehension, is an ultimate convergence of all beliefs. Religions and practices eventually seek to enable the practitioners to understand the one perpetual ‘Brahman’ though it is known by various names. So spiritualism is the one converging point for all living beings to work towards. It has taken me a lifetime to comprehend this, not because of its complexity but for the time I committed (erratic/inconsistent). I believe it easily coexists with our daily ‘karma’ and does not seek our excessive indulgence.
What do you think is the influence of South Indians on the rest of the world?
South Indians do contribute significantly to practices related to their religion and culture. They are as active as other Indian communities and the visibility of such groups is commensurate with their size and share of the overall population. The propagation of such practices/activities is a function of the extent of ‘space’ provided by the environment/authorities.
How has your family background and legacy shaped your writing?
The good fortune of growing in an environment of artists, journalists, writers and publishers did build in me an interest in writing. I developed a habit of registering aspects of life, habits and attitudes across various geographies that I got to visit. Over time, one was able to sieve and arrive at common points that linked up diverse ethnic groups! A combination of travel, reading, experiences with spiritual gurus and evolved souls, did cause a churn and interest in seeking greater understanding of spiritualism! ‘There are two ways of achieving wealth- one is to chase and eventually achieve a significant part of aspired wealth and the other is to develop economic contentment and achieve it fully’, is an advice that my father, mentor and Guru, conveyed as profound wisdom. My mother and Guru, constantly guided my development along this path. Though I have a way to go, I believe sharing of this wisdom may trigger interest amongst the aspiring lot of the target group.
What is the scope of reach of your book given its content?
While my foundation and development is from within my religious upbringing, I believe, as explained earlier, spiritualism is the ultimate common point of convergence for all faiths and culture. Hence, while the book is primarily focused on India, it reaches out to the wider world. Limitations of logistics, do restrict its reach.
Which Indian authors have influenced you?
The highly successful book, Autobiography of a yogi by Swami Yogananda , Intuition and Silencing the mind by Osho, biography of Sree Lahiri Mahasaya, Deivatn Kural by Sri R Ganapathi (have been reading relevant excerpts in English), writings of Devdutt Patnaik, are some of those that have had a profound influence on me.
Having said this, I realise (to my limited capabilities) the challenges that seekers of spiritualism experience. For one, the terminologies are ‘so’ many to confuse a beginner. The other is the complexity of concepts. Many writings have a liberal dose of both and this in itself, is a huge inhibitor. As one browses through such writing, the effort shifts from comprehension of the terminologies to concepts. This process being quite intense, it takes one away from understanding the essence of the subject. Such an experience stunts one’s travel on the spiritual path. I had this in mind while developing my rendering and felt it appropriate to create an environment of comfort and restrict concepts of spiritualism to subtle blends with the core narration.
How can combining Hindu wisdom with popular writing help to spread the message of Sanathana Dharma?
In a world that is increasingly rational, where unsubstantiated concepts do not find interest, addressing this anomaly can evoke interest in the target group. For example, the ‘black hole’ theory is the scientific interpretation of ‘brahman’ of spiritualism. Most spiritual concepts are the source of science, medicine and technology. Hence validation can be a key strategy of spiritual writing. Creation of an environment of familiarity, interest and entertainment can help gain acceptance of the target group.
We have today, the good fortune of many spiritual ‘gurus’ who evoke good following amongst the contemporary audience. Sri M, Sri Sri Ravishankar, Satguru and many expounders of the subject are huge influencers. Concepts and context of their rendering can provide thought that can be creatively worked around to reinforce the writings.