Amongst voluntary organisations, at least two broad categories can be identified. One category is of those that are, in terms of birth and working method, essentially ‘conceptual’. These are created with the avowed intention of accomplishing certain tasks, serving particular political or ‘para-political’ doctrines, exhorting social groups to act in certain styles, persuading people to exercise their choice in specified ways. Dedicated to clear-cut ideologies, such institutions tend to work with a missionary zeal towards achieving their agenda through premeditated master-plans.
The second kind (Ninasam loves to believe it belongs to this kind) is of institutions whose genesis, growth, and activity are predominantly ‘contextual’ in nature. Originating as a manifestation of some passion of some person or group in specific contexts, these revel in just ‘being’ more than in ‘doing’, and then in doing things more out of love and joy than in commitment to any ideology or ideal. Fulfilment for them lies in finding diverse ways of interacting with one’s community, without getting confined by explicit theories or declarative creeds. Their tolerance naturally accepts difference, and treasures plurality.
There is a reverse side to the two sets, too. The concept-bound first kind, for instance, could, over time, become hardened and dogmatic, privileging abstractions over concrete realities. Very much like a channel moving only along pre-cut routes, its ‘movement’ could soon lose touch with the ever-changing ‘moments’ of human existence. Its zealousness, when contested or resisted, could degenerate into an arrogant, violent mindset. The second kind, the ‘context-sensitive’ one, does of course tend to flow naturally like a river, but on encountering an obstacle too many, it could meander too much, and become distracted. Or, through self-indulgence, such as treating even fancies as passions, it could sink into dissipation.
While preferring to believe that it belongs to the second category (without, however, claiming that its kind is superior to the other), Ninasam has also been cautious, and corrective, about the faults that its category is naturally heir to. It likes to believe that its evolution has been an organic one, and its ethos a ‘communitarian’ one. Its unique character and achievements have been a result more of the creative wisdom of the community, which gave birth to it, than of its own individual initiative.
One proof demonstrating this distinctive communitarianism that pervades Ninasam’s activities can be seen in the fact that Ninasam prefers to work, whether in theatre, literature, or film, with ‘classics’ rather than compositions which are held up by some as models of ‘social relevance’. The ‘classics’, old or modern, Ninasam believes, do not ignore the specifically temporal and spatial issues even while aspiring to be universal, and actually address them in a much more courageous and creative, if a little less overt, manner than do texts programmed with political correctness. Ninasam would contend that while ‘good aesthetics’ might not always make ‘good politics’, it certainly never makes ‘bad politics’.
At the same time, Ninasam is not obsessed with the classics or traditional forms, either. Deeply reverential to these forms, Ninasam continues to draw vital inspiration from them even to this day, particularly from Yakshagana, a hallowed, centuries-old, ballet-like performing art of Ninasam’s own geo-location, a splendorous blend of the folk and the classical modes, and one that sustains itself on the ethereal magic of Indian mythology. Nonetheless, it finds it hard to endorse calls for saving them at any cost, mainly because in its view, such efforts at static preservation, which do not seem to take into account the simple laws of life, would only either mummify or dumb down those media.
If pressed to point out one motto as the one mirroring its self-image, Ninasam would like to state that it would be gratified to be seen, above all, as working in consonance with the principle of kriyajnana, an ideal advocated by ancient Indian philosophy. The term, which roughly translates as ‘action-knowledge’, unambiguously implies that of all possible kinds of knowledge, the only reliable kind is the one that is gained in and through action, and that for all its aura, knowledge (jnana) cannot gain precedence over action (kriya). If one were to acknowledge ‘culture’ as an implicit form of ‘philosophy’, Ninasam would wish to be regarded as an organisation striving towards the ideal of ‘action-knowledge’ in the field of culture.