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.”