Friday, April 20, 2007


The Namesake, both the novel and the film, deals with the experiences of community of expatriate Bengalis in the United States, leading otherwise mostly unremarkable lives. It is a story about a name, that is, search for identity and cultural identification. The protagonist, Nikhil "Gogol" Ganguli, along with his family struggles to find his identity in an alien land. In one way or other Gogol’s life-story shows familiarity with the lives of the Indian Diaspora at large.
Recently, a debate is in the air over The Namesake as to which one is better, Jhumpa Lahiri’s book The Namesake or Mira Nair’s film adaptation of the book.

Jhumpa Lahiri, a celebrated writer and the year 2000 Pulitzer Prize winner for The Interpreter of Maladies, had taken long strides with the publication of the novel The Namesake. Lahiri’s panache as a novelist is seen in the emotional portrayals of her characters. Search for identity, loss of sense of belonging, anguish of separation, and cruel demands of larger society that seek definitions, are the high points of her works. It also shows her familiarity with the lives of expatriates. However, the narrator in the novel held some limitations, which can’t be recounted as narratorial flaw. It is something that often makes novel appealing, somewhat evocative and at times allows varied interpretations.

Mira Nair', acclaimed Indian filmmaker, through her films has often taken into account human lives and relationships in a world where cultures-boundaries lose colour. The Namesake, Nair’s most remarkable film to date, is a screen adaptation of Lahiri’s novel. The film is somewhat personal to Nair as the novel is to Lahiri. Both Nair and Lahiri share the emotional space peculiar to the people of Indian Diaspora.

A photo from the Fox Searchlight release "The Namesake", directed by Mira Nair and starring Kal Penn, Zuleikha Robinson, Tabu and Irrfan Khan.

The audio-visual felicity that comes with the cinema-form always had an added advantage. Mira Nair too has used this aesthetic form to bring to the screen the complex web of expatriate experience. Characters in the film as compared to the novel are profoundly carved out. The way this film has received applause shows Nair’s expertise to transport thematic reality of the novel into triumph of visual world of film. Nair not only explores modern life and vicissitudes of change, loss, fear, conflict, and catastrophe with remarkable ease, but also paves way for the ties and bonds that overarches frustration and agony, desolation and identity-crisis, that creeps in the lives of global families.

The ongoing debate is misdirected if it focuses to judge the relevance of the Film or the Novel, or one over the other. None of the two aesthetic forms may be compared for both rely on entirely different way of expression.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Shakespeare: Thou Art Free

A Tribute to Shakespeare on His Birthday on April 23

"Still constant is a wondrous excellence."
Sonnet CV

Shakespeare’s great plays and sonnets create such an amazing wonderland before which the meager story of his life is usually swayed with utter disbelief. An ordinary country boy, not so-well- educated, poverty ridden, raised himself to such a sublime stature to which even gifted minds fail to comprehend fully. His genius can hardly be explained, but it is apparent as ST. John Ervine observes in his introduction to the complete works of William Shakespeare that- “we cannot take him in our stride, observing all his points after a swift look, but must remain with him until we have learned his high features, when we will be content to stay for ever in his company because of the multitude of little pleasant corners in his work which are revealed to us only after much patient exploration. His own words suit best for his life-

His life was gentle, and the elements So mix’d in him, that Nature might stand upAnd say to all the world, “This was a man!”
Julius C├Žsar. Act V Scene V.

Despite Shakespeare’s fame and celebration, he remains a mysterious figure concerning personal history. William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, allegedly on April 23, 1564. There is also great speculation about Shakespeare's childhood years, especially about his education. Nicholas Rowe, Shakespeare's first biographer, wrote that his father John Shakespeare had placed William for some time in a free school. However, what is certain is that William Shakespeare never ensued to university schooling, which of late has stirred some questions pertaining to the authorship of immense body of his works. To surmise the stature of the immortal Bard his own words is of immense value: - “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em” Twelfth Night ACT II Scene V. While he neither was born great nor was the greatness thrust on him, he had achieved what he is known and respected for.

Human being is not a systematic entity, whose hopes and desolation, pleasure and pain, ability and weakness, faith and inconsistency, emotions and spite, virility and deadness of soul, aspirations and disgust, are all neither determined by perceptible laws nor a subject confined to be gauged by trained intellect. Perhaps why amongst the great contributors to humanity fewer were learned scholars. Shakespeare may not be as great a scholar as other men of his time but he had realized all the shades and colours of human mind, which find no parallel in the history of English literature. His characters are not types but distinct individuals who represent one peculiar mind; and this multitude of characters are but projection of his experience of multitude of minds.

Shakespeare’s firm reason, a definite plan, and a will to organize have not been recognised rather he is known universally for his natural genius, imagination, brave ideas and gentle expression.

That is (this) pre-occupation with the actors’ works, vicissitudes merits and shortcomings, which run through Shakespeare’s imagery. Macbeth figures life as “a walking shadow” and man as the player who “Struts and frets his hour upon the stage.” “All the world’s a stage, and the man and the women merely players.” Shakespeare appeals to the common man for he believed as he writes in King Henry VIII:

“T is better to be lowly born, And range with humble livers in content, Than to be perked up in a glistering grief, And wear a golden sorrow.”

Talking of his literary career, we find the often-heard story that Shakespeare arrived in London around 1588 and began to establish himself as an actor and playwright. Robert Greene, a London playwright attacked Shakespeare, in 1592: evidently, because Shakespeare garnered envy early on for his talent. He referred Shakespeare as " upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger's heart wrapped in a player's hide… is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country."

Putting aside the criticisms, he joined up with one of the most successful acting troupes in London: "The Lord Chamberlain's Men." The popularity of William and of the group raised considerably. After the death of Elizabeth I and the coronation of James I (1603), in fact, the new monarch adopted the company and it became known as the King's Men. Shakespeare's last two plays were written in 1613, after which he appears to have retired to Stratford. He died on April 23, 1616, at the age of fifty-two.

Shakespeare is believed to have produced most of his work in between 1586 to 1616, although the exact dates and chronology of the plays attributed to him are often doubted. He is counted among the very few playwrights who have excelled in both tragedy and comedy, and his plays combine popular appeal with complex characterisation, poetic grandeur and philosophical depth. Shakespeare’s forte seems to be life and animation. His characters created an illusion that they are living and true just because they, irrespective of their historical and romantic background, have a sure touch of humanity that makes them plausible keeping them within the range of our sympathy. He exalts the human weakness for he perceives the sublime in man-

"What a piece of work is man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals!” Hamlet
Act II, Scene II.

World civilization has witnessed a legacy of Shakespeare in form of his vast body of work, which will never again be rivaled. The incense of the literary petals he had left has endured four centuries and by no means, there seems any stopping yet. Even in death, he leaves a final piece of verse as his epitaph:

"Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbeareTo dig the dust enclosed here.Blessed be the man that spares these stones, And cursed be he that moves my bones!"


This article is also published by Savitri Era Open Forum
Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) is one of the most influential figures of the Indian renaissance. He is renowned today as the propounder of Integral Yoga, the prophet of Life Divine, but we often insidiously let pass the fact that Aurobindo was also a British-trained literary scholar, a literary critic and a prolific poet. He worked all his life to show that the New Consciousness developed by certain yogic discipline would influence the affairs of mankind. His popularity as a mystic has drawn admirers and followers alike, resulting in a plethora of works on him and his Integral Yoga. This counts for the lesser attention paid to Sri Aurobindo as a critic. His monumental works like-- The Future Poetry, Letters on Poetry, Literature and Art, and Talks on Poetry etc. when taken together place Aurobindo on the highest plinth of criticism in India in recent times. C. D. Narasimhaiah recognizes Aurobindo as the inaugurator of the tradition of Indian Literary criticism in modern times.

Sri Aurobindo seems highly impressed by English poetry, but at the same time he does not agree with western emphasis on intellectual value of art. Sri Aurobindo's vision and thought has a very broad pedestal that incorporates in itself the history and development of human civilization. In his view the role and import of Indian art and culture in the development of human civilization has been remarkable. It is only through Aurobindo’s theory of poetry that we can best be aware of the importance he attached to art and culture in leading towards the spiritual evolution of mankind. His vital and unique body of critical work calls for serious attention, and it would be to the benefit of criticism in general and of poetry in particular to look for what Sri Aurobindo finds deficient in the tradition of English poetry.

Western readers and critics may find deep interest in Sri Aurobindo’s claim that “English poetry is powerful but imperfect, strong in Spirit but uncertain and tentative in form, extraordinarily stimulating but not often quite satisfying.” In India, as Sri Aurobindo observes, where the general critical climate and critical intelligence lacks, his seminal and epoch making work opens a new arena. Aurobindo remarked in the very first chapter of The Future Poetry-

“It is not often that we see published in India literary criticism which is of the first order, at once discerning and suggestive, criticism which forces us both to see and think.”

For Aurobindo, says C. D. Narasimhaiah, this function is two-fold—Prayojana, an immediate utility which is Chitta-Vistara or Ahalada, also a means of sense relaxation; and the ultimate end of poetry is Purushartha which many think as Lokkotara, that is, super-mundane experience or ecstasy. For Aurobindo, the poet is capable of perceiving the universe in its complete wholeness and putting across his writing the creative rhythm and beauty of the universe, ensuing in a sense of fulfillment. Sri Aurobindo wrote—

“Vision is the characteristic power of the poet, as is discriminative thought the essential gift of the philosopher and analytic observation the natural genius of the scientist. . . Therefore the greatest poets have been always those who have had a large and powerful interpretative and intuitive vision of Nature and life and man and whose poetry has arisen out of that in a supreme revelatory utterance of it. . . Sight is the essential poetic gift. The archetypal poet in a world of original ideas is, we may say, a Soul that sees in itself intimately this world and all the others and God and Nature and the life of beings and sets flowing from its centre a surge of creative rhythm and world-images which become the expressive body of the vision; and the great poets are those who repeat in some measure this ideal creation, "kavayah satyasrutah", seers and hearers of the poetic truth and poetic word.” [The Future Poetry, pp. 29-30]

Sri Aurobindo places Homer, Shakespeare, Dante, Valmiki, and Kalidasa on one plane, for in his erudition despite differences in content and outlook their greatness lies in the essential oneness of vision and revelation of poetic truth. In The Future Poetry, Sri Aurobindo analyzes the development of English poetry, indicates the significance and direction of its drift, and then traces the lines of its future development. Sri Aurobindo indicated that the poetry of the future would embody a harmony of five eternal powers: Truth, Beauty, Delight, Life and the Spirit.

Sri Aurobindo’s theory of art assimilates the stirring belief that through poetry nature, God and humanity can all be expressed. He believed that it is the sublime source, an elevated consciousness, from which all poetry or intuitive thinking emanates. In his book, The Future Poetry, Aurobindo says that the poetry of the future will be the true breath of poetic inspiration and creation; it will be mantrik and, as such, it will have the power to awaken consciousness. Sri Aurobindo wrote in The Future Poetry that--"The Mantra, poetic expression of the deepest spiritual reality, is only possible when three highest intensities of poetic speech meet and become indissolubly one, a highest intensity of rhythmic movement, a highest intensity of interwoven- verbal form and thought-substance, of style, and a highest intensity of the soul's vision of truth." For Sri Aurobindo mantra was the innate medium of poetry. It was his firm belief that the ‘future poetry’ be it in English or in any other language—will increasingly adhere to mantra, and thereby effacing the influence of the role of—the intellect, the senses, even the imagination—both in the creation and communication of poetry.

Aurobindo believed that intuitive or mantrik poetry could be a potent aid to the transformation of consciousness and the life requisite to achieve the great spiritual destiny of mankind that he foresaw. Sri Aurobindo's poetry itself, particularly his epic poem Savitri, expressed his spiritual thought and vision in the fullest and most powerful means. He believed that intelligence and imagination play but a little role in true poetry which is rather a creation of the soul. And the ultimate end or the target of poetry is also neither the intelligence, the emotions, nor the vital nature, but rather again it is the soul.

Sri Aurobindo exhibits in his The Future Poetry--- “a cosmic consciousness with a global perception." His chief concern here is to present how “ poetry in the past has done that in moments of supreme elevation; in the future there seems to be some chance of its making it a more conscious aim and steadfast endeavour”. The Future Poetry is the most intelligent expression of Indian mind in criticism in recent times; it embodies the epochs of many cultures and most appreciably points to the infinite possibilities in future. A responsible criticism of this sort reflecting a sense of history and obligation to the present can be a valuable directive to those involved in poetic creation.

While estimating Sri Aurobindo’s influence on criticism in India, we find not as great an impact of his monumental works as the authority they possess. There is near-sterile condition arising from the failure of the Indian critic to capitalize and carry on the tradition of criticism laid down by Sri Aurobindo. His epoch making work The Future Poetry and three Volumes of correspondence contain some of the best criticism of our time, and make a case for the desirability to Indianize Indian literary criticism. Slowly but steadily the critical climate in India is changing. Successors of Sri Aurobindo like— Anand K Coomaraswamy, K R Srinivas Iyengar, C D Narasimhaiah, etc. keenly felt the need of treading on the luminous trail blazed by Sri Aurobindo.

In Sri Aurobindo's philosophy synthesizes the disparity and the contrasting points arrived at in Western thought. By aligning these points with the ancient Indian wisdom, Aurobindo comes up with an integral vision. A vision that is both universal as well as contemporary. Sri Aurobindo has not only engrained several masterpieces in the field of literature and criticism, but as a critic he has envisioned and anticipated the path that modern critics would follow.

It is, however, the need of the hour to make an Indian approach to show that Western discipline in criticism has yielded remarkable results no doubt, but turning to other possible modes and new explorations could result in un-trodden perceptions, fresh insights and indigenous accomplishments.


There are not too many people who represent the great Indian ethos so perfectly and fiercely, Dr. S Radhakrishnan is surely one of them. He belongs to that rare class who revived the true genius of India and received laud appraisal and respect in the country and abroad equally.

A great philosopher, teacher and once the President of India, Dr. S Radhakrishnan was a master of Hindu faith. An exceptional genius and a scholar, he was like an Acharya of ancient Vedic tradition. He has helped to revive the lost and derelict wisdom of Hinduism, not merely in words, but formulated in works also.

We are living in a world which is virtually becoming spiritual wasteland, a place which is unfertile to any deeper consciousness of living, and if anyone realizes the folly thinks of eliminating the evils only in terms of social, political and economic readjustments. But, he believed that what we need today is a spiritual reawakening, rediscovery of Belief. He writes in his book Recovery Of Faith: “The spiritual homelessness of modern man cannot last long. To belong nowhere, to be incapable of committing oneself is to be isolated. It is not ease but a personal burden. We must win back our lost security.” He insists on the reawakening of spiritual belief for, he says: “to live without faith is impossible. If nature has horror of a vacuum, the human soul has fear of emptiness.” This idea forms the human nature, it will stand somewhere, if not positive then negative.

Dr. S Radhakrishnan gives the reference of Blake: “Man must and will have some religion, if he has not the religion of Jesus, he will have the religion of Satan, and will erect the synagogue of Satan, calling the Prince of this world God and destroying all who do not worship Satan under the name of God.” There are different cults and Philosophies about the way and purpose of life; each religion carries with itself philosophy as of how to come closer to the ultimate reality. But often those people become the adherent of such belief, who doesn’t have the faintest idea about the metaphysical and supernatural order; and from here religion becomes the homeland of intolerance, extremism and bigotry.

The growing starvation of modern man from spiritual faith prepares the ground for the hedonistic attitude towards the life that leads to inactivity, listlessness and apathy. T.S Eliot in his poem The Wasteland aptly presents the same diagnosis of the spiritual distemper of the age as Dr. Radhakrishnan; a malady that arises from the degeneration, vulgarization and aimlessness of our consciousness. He expresses the utter futility, chaos and disillusionment of the modern age when he says:

I think we are in rat’s alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.

Dr. Radhakrishnan connote with what T. S. Eliot expressed, he writes, “We live in an age which is numbed and disillusioned. Our values are blurred, our thought is confused and our aims are wavering.” Dr. Radhakrishnan insisted on the need for belief, belief in God, belief in transcendental reality, because, to quote him again. “Belief may be difficult but the need for believing is inescapable. We must present struggling and aspiring humanity with a rational faith, which does not mock the free spirit of man by arbitrary dogmas or hesitating negations, a new vision of God in whose name we can launch a crusade against the strange cults which are now competing for mastery over the soul of men.”

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Meena Alexander in Allahabad

This article is also published by : Musepaper
Meena Alexander, a celebrity poetess and writer, visited Allahabad on 24 March and stayed for about three days. Meena was born in Allahabad on February 17, 1951; therefore, her visit was like home-coming. At present Meena is distinguished professor at Hunter College, New York.

What I liked about Meena is her deep sense of nostalgia. The way this gracious lady showed connection with her home town was remarkable. She recited some of her poems and delivered a lecture, that too mirrored that she, though she lives abroad and has traveled whole Europe and is well adept to various European cultures and languages, is still very much Indian.

I found her sensibility unique in a manner that whatever she said and recited was unlike a celebrity. Her poems accentuated a deep anguish and identity-crisis, which eventually characterizes all expatriate writing. What makes her different from others is her desire to connect to her past. The sense of being one in exile and struggle to forge a sense of identity are prevalent features of her writing. Her autobiography Fault Lines also demonstrates her struggle for identity and self-creation amidst a world that strives for definitions demanded by greater society and cultural identification. Fault Lines reflects both her triumph of will and her talent as a writer.

Moreover, the remarkable facet of her muse is that not only her poems possess such sharp and emotional nuances, but also reflects her naturally gifted ability to give vent to these feelings in a manner which enthralls from a common student to a colossal critic of poetry.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


The child-life is a hiding place of mans` power where man must seek it with all his mature faculties. Our tradition asserts that “Home is the best school and parents are the first and best teachers”. This thought has been a continuous source of inspiration for our society to protect the creative and spirited life of the child.

Today, the situation is absolutely averse. Growing restlessness and stress in small kids is something very strange but a harsh truth, which was not existent in past times. When our parents or their parents tells how easy, joyful and carefree their childhood was, it seems to our coming generations as a fairy tale, not possible in these days. Erich Fromm once said that “the danger of the past was that men became slaves but the danger of the future is that men may become robots”, and that is what we are beginning to face.

We are living in an age where there is no scope in our life-style which can nurture and evolve self-born genius in every child. Parents think it normal to admit child in school very early where within a few months small becomes an obedient bull to carry the load of heavy school bag upon their back. We people appreciate this pattern very well on the name of education without being bothered that it has been killing the innocent spirits and dormant potentials before they get manifest.

‘A child,’ said William Wordsworth, a famous poet, ‘is the Father of Man’. What he means here is that everyone `s mature imagination faintly follows out the traces of the childish-fancies, innocence and wonder visions?

Sources of joy and fun play and merriment in the past are now supplemented mechanically by video-games and computers. Conventional ways of growth i.e.-idea of building character in manifolds is un-deliberately forsaken. Young-ones are temped to emulate their all habits from these unscrupulous resources with disastrous consequences. Together with this they come to know all the tact and ugly information in a very tender age, what they really should not. Such unwanted things fed into the young minds, ultimately stifles the possible manifestation of the right conduct, characters and inherent creativity.

The worst role in un-shaping the tender mind is played by our modern pattern of education through unsystematic institutional body. Displaying the meaning of education in terms of marks, grades or merits has increased immense pressure on the young learner, which not only brushes aside all the creative faculties but also leads young ones often to emotional and mental breakdowns. Every year after results we meet with such news that a boy or girl has committed suicide after unsatisfactory performance.

There is a must situation today that thinking people within educational regulatory bodies and in our society together rise to resolve this serious but long neglected problem. It is true that in our world today, to discriminate what is going on right track and what is not, because everyone claims to be on right direction. But, a simple question always remains to be answered that if we are really heading correctly then why we reach at wrong ends. Does it not signify that there is a need of great introspection, yes we do? This is so because regarding this problem, no policy or educational reform alone would be able to mould and protect the healthy future of child unless it is decided individually ‘for what are we marching forward’, what is the result of such a bone-broken hard work due for a small child. To gain what values in life we indulge him in such un-deliberate state of affairs.

It is true that to resolve it means to swim against the tide, but if we want to save our children from becoming robots and if we want this phrase ‘Child is the father of Man’ to remain true in the test of time, we must have to penetrate, introspect and work positively, for there can be no better way than this.


A whole new generation has grown up since India’s freedom, more than five decades have passed since Gandhiji’s physical departure but he seems still alive in millions of hearts across the globe. Pt Nehru explains the phenomena called Gandhi and his enduring charisma that lingers on for time immemorial; he said- “And then came Gandhi. He was like a powerful current of fresh air that made us stretch ourselves and take deep breaths… He did not descend from the top. Gandhiji who was undoubtedly the greatest and the most dominating figure of India was more a man of the people, almost the embodiment of the Indian peasant, though, at the same time he represented the other ancient tradition of India, renunciation and asceticism”.

To think about Mahatma is itself enough to instill wonder and amazement in millions of hearts worldwide; and more so one must be in awe when come to realise even a scrap of his overwhelming personality, his enduring grace and sagacious tryst for Truth in life. That is why world renown scientist Albert Einstein felt about Mahatma: “Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a man as this, ever in flesh and blood, walked upon this earth.”

The uniqueness of Mahatma betrays all human logic; the way he was identified with the people of India and the veneration he received and will always receive is something phenomenal. A prophet he was whose voice had evoked vigor even in most sullen hearts, whose mere presence had pacified intensely vulnerable riots, whose words enabled men to believe in those long forgotten conventional paths, which at that time was not even conceivable. An aura of ultimate good emanated from him for ages to last; the very touch of this aura dignified the mistakes and wrong though hardly there were any. The words he uttered in November1925 reveals why he was acceptable to all: “I may be wholly wrong. Then the world will be able to write an epitaph over my ashes: ‘well deserved, thou fool!’ But for the time being my error, if it be one, must sustain me. …I shall lose my usefulness the moment I stifle the still small voice within.”

Every year we celebrate his birth anniversary, people pay homage to their father of nation. Many things we read and are told and reiterated time and again about mahatma but with the passing of every single day our social, economic, political and moral life becomes more volatile and lifeless. Modern time is certainly the most complex and duplicitous period in history, where it seems difficult to envisage clearly, what is heading right and what wrong. The world of ours as T. S Eliot rightly denotes has reduced to ‘The Wasteland’: a spiritually infertile land where there is no peace, no certitude nor faith either.

Nevertheless, we are certainly fortunate enough to have a legacy of mahatma. He made us believe in virtues, which were earlier him heard but not realised or practiced. Path and means he adopted were not something indigenous, Satayagraha, Ahimsa, Brahmacharya etc such values had a long acquaintance in our country but one do not find that kind of driving force and enthusiasm merely by a hearing of these values unless one find before oneself its being embodied, realised and practiced to a greater end. Perhaps that is why the Gandhiji’s legacy is immortal because he said, he lived, and he taught what the people of India were and is thirsting for ages.

Long after mahatma’s material departure from this world, there is a growing talk about his relevance today. Does it not sound painful? If not, then our sensitivity is certainly deadening, for anything that impugn for our endorsement of Gandhian values is our lessening apprehension and receding stature and not his honourable bequest. Gandhiji understood the mind and soul of India as none did. Therefore, whatever he said in relation to India has a permanent relevance. To look at Gandhiji as unique leader of freedom struggle against British rule would be a wrong perception. He was also not theoretician confined to mere intellectual exercise but was a pragmatic reformer. He was not a man of intellect but of spirit. To him, getting victory in the liberation struggle against British rule was not the primary goal. He always aimed at the universal well being here on earth and the realisation of a spiritual community of all men. To this purpose, we can see that the means adopted by him were by nature not only supportive to the struggle but also capable of providing basic spiritual discipline to men’s own inner evolution. In the pursuit of his comprehensive universal mission, Gandhiji was devoted to introduce a new spirit and value into the Indian life with least damage to its traditional structure.

Gandhiji’s conception of the new social order is rooted in religion, and seems built in the image of social justice and freedom. Therefore, he like our ancient spiritual masters, Acharyas, performed his social and even revolutionary activities within the boundaries of our religion and culture. He was a moral idealist, but he does not present impossible practical norms. He tells us that morality has an unconditional character that it is for not only sages and saint but meant for ordinary people as well.

To Gandhiji man was the center of all considerations. He had no sympathy for programs predicated merely on material progress. His ideas are based on the religious tradition, not political or economic. According to him, the key to the recovery of India’s lost glory lies in her ancestral village culture. Thus, he looked upon modern civilization with the feeling of distress. To him, India’s salvation lays not in imitating the west but in becoming more like ancient India. Gandhiji’s message that would always be relevant –“Instead of copying the west, India should ask herself what she really is where her true calling lives”. Moreover, if we want Gandhi to be relevant, no amount of intellectual debate or analysis of his works and life will be of great use until we let at least a bit of Gandhi live in us.

Gitanjali: A Magnum Opus of Rabindranath Tagore

The light of thy music illumines the world (III).
“Let all my songs gather together their diverse strains into a single current and flow to a sea of silence in one salutation to thee.” (CIII)
Being introduced to Tagore is like entering in a world that was blurred and musty in the subconscious and is suddenly brought forth vividly with gust of tenderness and purity of gurudev’s mystic touch. Born on 7 May 1861, Tagore was a versatile genius who as a literary artist excelled in various forms of art such as poetry, drama, novel, criticism, music and painting. He was a philosopher and occasionally ventured in national politics too.

Tagore was born with a silver spoon in his mouth but did not have formal education in a school or college. Tagore cemented the way for a style of writing that reconciles poetry with prose, art with morality and religion with science. His predecessors Madhusudan, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Bankim Chandra had already set trends in poetry and in that expectant ambience Tagore exhibited infinite possibility.

In 1912 when W B Yeats found the prose translation of poet’s Gitanjali he felt: “it had stirred his blood as nothing had for years.” In the introduction to Gitanjali Yeats writes again about Tagore and his verse, as:-“I have carried the manuscript of these translations about with me for days, reading it in railway trains, or on the top of omnibuses and in restaurants, and I have often had to close it lest some stranger would see how much it moved me. These lyrics-Which are in the origin, might Indians tell me, full of subtlety of rhythm, of untranslatable delicacies of colour, of metrical invention—display in their thought of old I have dreamed of all my life long. The work of a supreme culture, they yet appear as much the growth of the common soil as the grass and the rushes……. Mr. Tagore, like the Indian civilization itself, has been content to discover the soul and surrender himself to its spontaneity.”

From the day of its publication in 1912, ‘Gitanjali’ took the world by storm. It also brought the most coveted prize for literature for him ‘Nobel Prize’ in 1913. The Nobel Prize citation reads as follows: “Mr. Tagore, who is fifty –two years old, is Bengali poet, beloved and almost worshipped in his country. He is one of those rare authors who have produced fine literature in two languages.”

Gitanjali is a proof of Tagore’s towering genius and marvelous artistic predilection. Our amazement increases when we consider that Tagore was quite unaccustomed to write English when he began to translate Gitanjali. R I Paul writes in ‘Tagore Centenary Souvenir’ that “it is really a wonderful literary feat to be reckoned one of the few living masters of English style on the strength of one’s first and, at the same time, only published work.”

Apart from friends and admirers, Gitanjali received laud and appreciation by The Times Literary Supplement (Dec 1912), citing Gitanjali as the noble contribution to literature.

Gitanjali is primarily a collection of 103 devotional songs translated by Tagore from his various poetical works in Bengali. It has been written in lyric tradition of Vaishnava Hinduism. The influence of study of Upanishads, which he undertook accompanying his father Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, is clearly seen in the spiritual contours of the songs. The relationship between God and Man is the apparent core of all songs. Here this relationship has been looked at from different angles and herein lies the beauty of these songs. In his songs Tagore tried to find inner calm, a bliss that comes only with the experience of divine, and tried to explore the themes of divine and human love:--

"When one knows thee, then alien there is none, then no door is shut. Oh, grant me my prayer that I may never lose touch of the one in the play of the many"(LXIII)

Gitanjali thrives on Hindu mysticism and presents complex of thoughts. Tagore tries to establish an inseparable link between individual soul and greater soul. His mediations on God, man and nature, in the Gitanjali, not only echo the Vedantic awareness of the Absolute but also transmit the fervor of a Vaishnava bhakta's love for God. K R Srinivasa Iyengar points out that “The Gitanjali songs are mainly poems of bhakti in the great Indian tradition….. The current coin of India’s devotional poetry is melted and minted anew by Rabindranatn, but the pure gold shines as brightly as ever, even though the inscription on the coin is in English. The imagery, the conceits, the basic experience, the longing, the trial, the promise, the realization –all have the quaintly unique Indian flavour and taste.”

Gitanjali represents the journey from finite to infinite. The songs in Gitanjali embrace the whole gamut of tender human feelings – love, humility, detachment, devotion, affection, dejection, and gratitude. WB Yeats believed that in these songs “A whole people, a whole civilization, immeasurably strange to us, seems to have been taken up into this imagination; …”

This journey to infinite begins with imagining God as flute player and poet himself as flute, -
“Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure. This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again, and fillest it ever with fresh life.” (I)

Boundless admiration for Master’s a skill in music overwhelms the disciple:
“I know not how thou singest, my master! I ever listen in silent amazement. The light of thy music illumines the world. The life breath of thy music runs from sky to sky. The holy stream of thy music breaks through all stony obstacles and rushes on.”(III)

Humility for Tagore is the mean of communion with the Master who sits on the throne:
“Here is thy footstool and there rest thy feet where live the poorest, and lowliest, and lost.” (X)

Gitanjali is a poem of detachment and the earthly defences crumble in it. Not earth but supernal regions temps the poets soul:
“I know that the day will come when my sight of this earth shall be lost, and life will take its leave in silence, drawing the last curtain over my eyes.” (XCII)

The poet has in Gitanjali given considerable thought to the stern reality of death, but death is not painted a dark, grey or fearsome, instead death is powered by the poetic touches of Tagore:
“On the seashore of endless worlds children meet. Tempest roams in the pathless sky, ships get wrecked in the trackless water, death is abroad and children play. On the seashore of endless worlds is the great meeting of children.” (LX)

The journey to infinite ends with complete surrender and thereby merger with infinite spirit. Poet devotes everything and every possible effort to the Almighty:
“In one salutation to thee, my God, let all my senses spread out and touch this world at thy feet.”(CIII)

A long poem runs the risk of disunity of thought. Tagore has maintained this unity by coalesce of the theme. Gitanjali is indigenous in its content. K R Srinivasa Iyengar truly calls it “poetry unmistakable”. It is a kind of spiritual therapy for the ailing souls. W B Yeats observation is also similar; he sees its long lasting relevance: “… as the generations pass, travelers will hum them on the highway and men rowing upon Rivers. Lovers, while they await one another, shall find, in murmuring them, this love of god a magic gulf very in their own more bitter passion may bathe and renew its youth.”

To explore the undying muse of Rabindranath Tagore in a short span is impossible. Tagore was a solitary pilgrim whose quest was nothing but ceaseless bliss, that which is beyond mundane faculties of experience. He devoted his life in search of transnational and universal form of religious and spiritual expression, rooted at the same time in Indian ethos.

This is my prayer to thee, my lord---strike, strike at the root of penury in my heart. …
Give me the strength to raise my mind high above daily trifles.
And give me the strength to surrender my strength to thy will with love. (XXXVI)


It is customary to say that ideals of manners and human values, civility and respectability changes moderately with the passing age. Doubtless, we belong to whichever stage of our lives, our perception to the world outside gets influenced a great deal by our social ties and companionship.

The portion of life which we spent in college brings so many facets of experiences that may violently change the meaning of life of an inexperienced youth if not sensibly supervised. He thinks that whatsoever he is doing and thinking, all men have thought so while they were young. He thinks himself mature enough up-to now to determine the pathways of his own life.

This may be true to some extent but very often there lies a trap, an irrevocable trap that may result in ultimate doom of higher prospects and genuine growth of character as well. In our times when society is passing through transition with the culture of the other parts of the world it is very difficult for us to be clear in mind that as a separate entity in art and culture, spirit and ideology from rest of the world what is to be accepted and what rejected.

At such crucial juncture of our life which is going to determine the mode of future, any wrong inclination to false goals can diminish our aspirations against some nobler career. To avoid and retaliate such follies of transitional and crabbed age, one needs to have open his eyes with sense of observation and precision; and such discrimination comes in life by seeing the life of eminent predecessors and by following the advice of experienced elder ones`.
Therefore, to ensure that there will be nothing left today to repent in future, we need to be diligent and alert all the time to the goals of life we set. And if we are indeed willing to perfect and complete our own nature and character, and grow larger and stronger, and more confine to some higher and nobler aim, we have to be best bestir of ourselves while we have the time, for this is the only way to realize long lasting happiness and peace in futile vagaries.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Sri Aurobindo: The Return of Rishi

In our thoughts, we hopelessly confine to think in terms of the exterior world. Often we tend to believe just what we see and not what is real, for our senses have by nature its own limitations. Therefore, we are usually left unaware of the forces and influences, which are really at work at subtler levels. The education we get produces only mechanical beings. The focus has now shifted from the development of man to the developments of means; hence, man of today is reduced to be an educated illiterate.
In such uninspiring atmosphere, Sri Aurobindo looks as an outstanding star in the firmament of Indian Philosophy and literature. Any account of his luminous life, reveals but a fraction of divinity and glory he lived, realised, and taught. Truly to quote him: “Neither you nor anyone else knows anything at all of my life; it has not been on the surface for a man to see”; and to say the least this little attempt by its virtue stands insignificant to sketch his majestic life and works. However, this is merely a tribute to the Divine Master on his birth anniversary on 15th August.
Sri Aurobindo’s birthday makes the birthday of free India even more special occasion. In addition, there is more than obvious significance of the coincidence and the relation between the two. He had foreseen the Indian Independence almost three decades ago. In N. A. Palkhivala’s words Sri Aurobindo “after stating that the birthday of free India and his own was not a fortuitous accident, but represented the sanction of the Divine force that guided his steps in all his life-work, he dealt with the evolution of mankind and India’s role in the future”. As the profounder of Integral Yoga, the prophet of Life Divine, fighter for National liberation, critic of life and literature Sri Aurobindo ranks among the supreme masters of not only our age but of all ages.
Sri Aurobindo grew up in entire ignorance of India, its culture, people and religion, for he was sent to England early for education and remained there till twenty years of age. Before he was twenty years of age, had mastered Greek and Latin, English and French and had acquired some familiarity with German & Italian.” It is not a surprise that he learned his mother tongue only after his return from England.
Though he was cut off from his Homeland and was brought up under strict instructions by his father that he and his two brothers should not be allowed to make the acquaintance of any Indian or undergo any Indian Influence. But, the born mutineer was destined to play an indomitable role in every sphere of his country; and the first role he decided for himself at an early age when he was in England-was to liberate his own nation. Young Aurobindo then started taking interest in Indian Politics of which he was utterly ignorant, and by the time he joined the secret society-“Lotus and Dagger”-while in England. It was a first society of its kind by Indian students in England at that time when Indian Politics was lackluster and spineless.
It was Sri Aurobindo who firstly intended to propel the entire nation to the ideal of Independence, which was at that time regarded as impractical and unrealistic, impossible and illusory by the then distinguished peoples in politics and outside. He focused his revolutionary ideas and activities mainly on three objects. First, start an action for armed insurrection with the help of a secret revolutionary-organization. Second, arouse in public fervor to the ideal of Independence of the country. Lastly, carry out united opposition and detest towards the foreign rule through continuous non-cooperation and non- violent resistance.
Sri Aurobindo believed Peace is a part of the highest ideal, but it must be spiritual and if attempted on any other basis even on the gospel of Ahimsa for that matter, it will not yield the intended results and may leave things worse than before. Non-violent resistance adopted by him for a time being as a policy and not as a part of moral ideal of Ahimsa. To carry out his political vision he started a paper, Yugantar, in which he wrote himself and published series of articles preaching open revolt against the British rule.

Sri Aurobindo represents “the return of Rishi.” He is the prophet of peace and evangelist of Nationalism; one who believed that his Yogic pursuit could manifest itself in enhancing his task of liberating his motherland from the clutches of cruel foreign rule. A master and inspirer of all works and actions, he always preferred to remain on back of the scene and not let all the credit go to him alone.

In 1906, he was appointed for the publication called Bande Mataram. He was imprisoned in 1908 for one year under the suspicion of conspiracy in the famous Alipore Bomb case. It was in jail where Lord Krishna blessed him with His Vision, the moment when he attained the fulfillment of his Sadhana with the blessing of Sri Krishna Himself. He also heard the voice of Swami Vivekananda giving him direction on his Yoga practice.

When he released from prison, thereafter a new and far higher resolve and greater motivation worked through him. The ideal of Independence now mingled in the word Evolution: a path of spiritual emancipation of the humankind. The most valuable contribution of Sri Aurobindo to us is his enormous body of writings dealing with the escapade of consciousness and man’s unwavering search for Supramental. What he believed the evolution of man to a higher consciousness would unravel the perplexities that have vexed the society since it came into existence; and would ultimately result in the individual perfection, and hence in perfection of the society.
After few more years of fiery political activity, he decided to leave the active politics, not because he was not interested in it anymore but because he assumed something superior and subtle role for himself. To quote him “I didn’t leave the politics because I felt I could do nothing more there; such an idea was very far from me. I have cut connection entirely with politics, but before I did so I knew from within that the work I had began there, was destined to be carried forward, on lines I had foreseen, by others and that the ultimate triumph of the movement I had initiated was sure without my personal action or presence.” Moreover, what next for him he said “I came away because I did not want anything to interfere in my yoga and because I got a very distinct adesa (divine order) in the matter. We got freedom though not exactly in the way, he wished but on the lines, he had foreseen.

People look at him for various purposes and inspirations but what we find is mere a tip of an ice-burg; for he himself once said “It would be only myself who could speak of things in my past giving them true form and significance.” Truly, he was one of the greatest men that ever lived.