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.