Thursday, 31 October 2013

Light an Incense

Deepavali spirit continues...with the series, Reminders to self



Concentrate on a newly lit incense stick. It becomes deeply fascinating and delightful to notice that amidst the initial wanderings of what could be called its “visible fragrance”, there soon emerges a purposeful voyage for its light and fragrance. What is it that this humble burning incense trying to tell us? To focus, concentrate and aim high, to constantly aspire for the highest.

Even when the “visible fragrance” disperses itself the movement seems purposeful, conscious and fully self-aware that it will soon find its upward-bound direction. And even in its dispersal the incense is spreading fragrance, purifying every nook and corner of the space – inner and outer.

Why is it so difficult to sustain a consciousness that is gathered and focused like the fragrant incense that is always aspiring upward? Why do the mind and heart keep wavering, and in all possible directions without a centering focus? Why do innumerable thoughts keep flooding the surface mind? How to stop this wandering?


Diwali at my home, 2012

Light the Inner Incense, the incense stick seems to say. Let those wanderings help uncover and reveal all that is dark, all that needs to be purified. Remember that only in the slow burning of the outer form the inner true purpose is lived out, the humble stick shows by example. Let the gradual unveiling of the outer layers help uncover and reveal the real reason for existence - to aspire toward Light, to spread Sweet Fragrance all around.




Tuesday, 29 October 2013

"God is at Home....

....it's We Who Have Gone Out for a Walk."



The above quote from Miester Eckhart came to my attention just at an appropriate time. Deepavali or Diwali is just around the corner. The festival of Lights. 

And like in almost all Indian homes there is some activity going on at my home too. After taking stock of my sufficiently large collection of diyas and candles, which include those leftover from the last couple of Diwalis as well as or the new ones that were acquired over the year, I have decided that I don't need to purchase any more of these for this year's festival of lights.

Over the last few days some neglected corners of the home are getting cleaned and spruced up. I have been trying to bring some newness to a few corners, moving a few things around, re-organizing and re-arranging, and even adding a little bit of quiet glitz to certain areas.

All this preparation to remind that God is at Home, Light is at Home, the Inner Home, the Home Within. It only gets hidden under the darkness or dullness. We need to clean up, dust off and polish those dark areas, those hidden corners, make room for the Light to shine through.   

Walk back to the home, the home within, to the Light Within. 
Search for that Harmony - Inner and Outer.




(Photos clicked by me at home)

With this post I am starting a new series- "Reminders to self." A self-explanatory title.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Do Not Imitate

A new post in the series - Satyam Shivam Sundaram

A series featuring inspiring words from various sources, words that speak of  timeless truths, words that remind me of the deeper and hidden truth behind surface events and phenomena, words that shine light when all seems dark, words that are just what I need - 
for this moment and for all times to come.


There are times when all you need to do is stop trying. Stop trying to know, understand, explain, decipher, imagine, make sense of, struggle. You don't need to. 

These are times when you just need to be ready. Ready to be in the mystery, the unknown. Ready to be present, to receive when the mystery unravels itself, when the known reveals itself.

Those are the times when you actually experience. Experience Art, Beauty, Knowledge.
Those are the times when you stop copying and start seeing. Really seeing the unseen. 

Photo by Nandini Valli


"Photography is an art when the photographer is an artist."


"The greatness of Indian art is the greatness of all
Indian thought and achievement. It lies in the recognition
of the persistent within the transient, of the domination of
matter by spirit, the subordination of the insistent appearances
of Prakriti to the inner reality which, in a thousand ways, the
Mighty Mother veils even while she suggests.
....
Imitation is the key-word of creation, according to
Aristotle; Shakespeare advises the artist to hold up the mirror
to Nature; and the Greek scientist and the English poet reflect
accurately the mind of Europe.
But the Indian artist has been taught by his philosophy and
the spiritual discipline of his forefathers that the imagination is
only a channel and an instrument of some source of knowledge
and inspiration that is greater and higher..."
~ Sri Aurobindo


Friday, 25 October 2013

Those Quiet Memories



Painting by Bindu Popli


A quiet, lazy summer afternoon.

A mother and a daughter sitting side by side on comfortable chairs. Sitting quietly. The daughter is idly browsing through some files on her cell phone, looking for nothing in particular. The mother is meditating with her eyes closed. Or at least trying to meditate. A nice, warm feeling prevails in the room. No sounds, except the slight hiss of the airconditioner, mixed with their quiet breathing.

Out of the blue, the mother opens her eyes and asks the daughter what she was doing. Nothing, she says, and stops fidgeting with her phone. Turns toward her mother, wating for her to speak.

"Do you have any old bhajans on your phone?"

"I don't think so, but let me check. I may have a couple. Do you want to hear some bhajans?"

"No, not really. I just asked because your sister has a lot of bhajans on her phone. The other day, when she visited she played some for me."

"Well, I only keep a few old songs on my phone...here, I found this old song, I think you may like it. Do you want to hear it?"

"Ok, play it."


Voice of Manna Dey, who died yesterday, 24 Oct 2013, Music by Salil Choudhary


As the song plays, they both listen quietly. The song ends. The daughter plays it again. A few tears begin to swell up in corners of their eyes. The song ends. They sit quietly. Just with each other. Just by each other's side. Nobody says anything. Only the silence speaks. Speaks of a quiet love, a quiet longing, maybe a quiet fear of what is to come.

They both know the inevitable can happen any day. The daughter may never have such an afternoon again with her mother. The deadly disease could strike its final blow any day. The memory will always remain with her, of that quiet afternoon, those few minutes spent in her mother's drawing room...listening to the lines...

maa.n kaa dil ban ke kabhii siine se lag jaataa hai tuu 
aur kabhii nanhii.n sii beTii ban ke yaad aataa hai tuu
jitnaa yaad aataa hai mujhko utnaa taDpaataa hai tuu
tujh pe dil qurbaan 

Sometimes you cling to my chest as my mother’s heart,
and sometimes I remember you as my little daughter.
The more I remember you, the more you torment me.
I shall sacrifice my heart for you. 

Motherland. Land of her mother. Her mother's home. Her motherland. What will it be like to visit that home when she is gone? Does a mother's home, a mother's land remain so when the mother is gone?

The daughter may never know the reason why she chose that particular song to share with her mother that afternoon. May be she will.

Click here for the previous post in this series.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Of Temples, Poetry and Life

A Poem and A Song - VI: A Series to Celebrate Art in All Forms 

It is actually quite amazing when you find the same thought being expressed through a picture, a poem, a song, or even a gesture.
Perhaps it happens because the thought has sunk deep into you, at least for the time being, and you just view a certain picture, read a certain poem and hear a certain song as expressions of that singular thought.
Or perhaps they really are conveying the same thought, but in different shades and hues. 
And it just so happens that when that very thought captured your attention, certain pictures, poems and songs also appeared before you allowing you to delve deeper into the thought and let it reveal its deeper essence to you.
Regardless of how it happens, it is always a moment to relish and cherish the beauty. The beauty of the picture, the song, the poem. The beauty of the experience. The beauty of the moment.


The evolutionary idea in the Indian view of Life, the gradual progression made - through one and several lifetimes - towards self-finding or finding of the Divine has been on my mind lately. Could be because of my recent visits to several magnificent Chola and Pallava temples in different parts of Tamil Nadu. The deep symbolism behind the design and layout of these temples, the rich abundance of detail and ornamentation - both inside and outside the temples, the long pathways, often meandering, to the inmost sanctum santorum for the darshan of the Diety - to see and to be seen by the Lord, all this can be a powerful symbolic reminder of the inner view of Life, namely, that all that we do, experience and go through in life works as means to grow in life, mind and soul. The more we grow in awareness and become conscious, the more we begin to see it all as a gradual, evolutionary path to progress.


Gangaikonda Cholapuram (Photo by Suhas Mehra)

I am reminded today of some beautiful lines from Savitri, the epic poem of  Sri Aurobindo where he speaks so beautifully about a view of life that is centered in the supremacy of Spirit and a Divine Presence that guides all life and everything in it :

Our outward happenings have their seed within,
And even this random Fate that imitates Chance,
This mass of unintelligible results,
Are the dumb graph of truths that work unseen:
The laws of the Unknown create the known.
The events that shape the appearance of our lives
Are a cipher of subliminal quiverings
Which rarely we surprise or vaguely feel,
Are an outcome of suppressed realities
That hardly rise into material day:
They are born from the spirit's sun of hidden powers
Digging a tunnel through emergency.
But who shall pierce into the cryptic gulf
And learn what deep necessity of the soul
Determined casual deed and consequence?
Absorbed in a routine of daily acts,
Our eyes are fixed on an external scene;
We hear the crash of the wheels of Circumstance
And wonder at the hidden cause of things.
Yet a foreseeing Knowledge might be ours,
If we could take our spirit's stand within,
If we could hear the muffled daemon voice. 
Book I, Canto IV, p. 52

And then, there are moments in that Book Called Life when all that is needed is a simple, melodious ghazal in the silky voice of Jagjit Singh....




Other posts in this series:

Remembering the Mother      On the Road      Who is that Presence?     Only You     Reckless Lovers

******
Linking this post with ABC Wednesday - T: T is for Temple


Monday, 21 October 2013

Rajmohan's Wife and the Future of India

This is a follow-up to my previous post on the first Indian Novel in English, written by Bankim Chandra.

Wanting to know a little bit more about this novel, Rajmohan's Wife, I was searching the web a few days ago and came across a thought-provoking essay by Prof. Makarand Paranjpe. I have in the past enjoyed several of his writings, and so naturally I clicked on the link to his essay, enticingly titled, The Allegory of Rajmohan's Wife: National Culture and Colonialism in Asia's First English Novel

I must say that I was quite intrigued by his 'allegorical' reading into the characters of this novel and the analysis of the whole novel as a national allegory. Paranjpe quite convincingly argues that while the pronounced nationalism of Anandamath comes later in Bankim's literary career, its beginnings may be found in Rajmohan’s Wife. This is, in fact, the sentence that made me really go on with reading rest of the essay.


Bharat Mata, Painting by Abanindranath Tagore


The novel, through its "richly textured negotiation of cultural choices for a newly emergent society," according to Paranjpe,  "is really an allegory of modern India, of the kind of society that can rise out of the debris of an older, broken social order and of the new, albeit stunted, possibilities available to it under colonialism.  The novel shows both the glimmer of hope and a more realistic closure of options towards the end."

Here are some more excerpts from Paranjpe's insightful essay - 
"The importance of Rajmohan’s Wife only increases when we realise that it is probably not just the first English novel in India, but in all of Asia.  Its dramatic location at the cusp of history only adds to its fascination.  In Bankim’s slender work, not just a new India, but an emerging Asia seeks to find its voice in an alien tongue. In this effort, a spark shoots across the narrative sky in the form of a new beautiful, spirited, and romantic heroine, Matangini.  There has been nothing like her in Asian fiction before.  Created from an amalgam of classical, medieval, and European sources and a totally unprecedented imaginative leap into what might constitute a new female subjectivity, Matangini is a memorable character.  In all of Indian English fiction, there are few women who have her capacity to move the narrative.  She, moreover, embodies the hopes of an entire society struggling for selfhood and dignity.  Her courage, independence, and passion are not just personal traits, but those of a nation in the making.  This subtle superimposition of the national upon the personal is Bankim’s gift to his Indian English heirs.  The trail of an epoch making novel like Midnight’s Children (1981) can thus be traced back to Bankim’s more modest trial as far back as 1864.
             .......
Rajmohan’s Wife gains in value and interest when we see it as a part of the story of modern India itself.  This is a story that is still being written; in that sense it is a work in progress, which is exactly how I’d like to see Rajmohan’s Wife too.  As a work in progress, rather than a false start, it negotiates one path for India’s future growth and development.  In this path, the English-educated elites of the country must lead India out of bondage and exploitation.  While the Rajmohans and Mathurs must be defeated, Matangini must find her happiness with her natural mate, Madhav.  However, the latter is not possible just yet; Matangini has therefore retreat to her paternal home.  Like an idea ahead of its time, she must wait till she can gain what is her due.  But not before she enjoys a brief but hard-earned rendezvous with her paramour and smoulders across the narrativescape of the novel with her disruptive power. Indeed, the novelty in Bankim’s novel is precisely the irruption, the explosion that Rajmohan’s wife—both the character and the story—causes in the narrative of modern India.  Like a gash or a slash, the novel breaks the iterative horizons of a somnambulant subcontinent, leaving a teasing trace that later sprouts many new fictive offshoots."
I am sure after this small taste, many curious readers would want to read the whole essay. It can be accessed here. After all, national consciousness, when invoked through and inspired by thoughtful and noble literature, art and  music is always much more real and uplifting than anything uttered by the so-called political leaders and workers of the official machinery.


Thursday, 17 October 2013

That Sad Sweet Moment...




In my very first post in this series I made a reference to these famous line from Shelley, actually, the last line in particular.... 


We look before and after,
And pine for what is not;
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell 
Of saddest thought.” 
~ Percy Bysshe Shelley, To a Skylark


Today I found myself remembering these lines as I heard this beautiful song, composed by A.R. Rahman and sung by Sadhana Sargam. Based on the early morning raag Bhatiyar, this song has a certain haunting quality - in a pleasant way of course. It sort of stays with you long after, it brings a type of quietness that is both endearing and lingering. The heart-touching lyrics of the song are penned by Sukhwinder Singh. 



There is a certain  sweetness in the emotion of sadness, and when captured in a beautiful composition it can be powerful in its impact, almost soul-stirring. It is a quality, if we can get to it somehow, that doesn't allow us to wallow in our sorrow but rather takes us higher in a way. 

It can move us beyond our narrow and egoistic self-pity, away from the "oh, how unfortunate I am" type of sentimentality to some deeper place that is a bit more detached, a lot more calm, and certainly a whole lot more gentle than the brutality of a raw emotion of sadness and despair. 

Beautiful music can often help us move to such a place, a place of cleansing....opening the way to a more peaceful place inside, a place where we may begin to experience emotions  in their sublime form, in their more purified form. 

The Light begins to shine its way through such an opening within, the Light of Life, the Light of Love, the Light of Beauty.



 
Painting by Freydoon Rassouli

When I hear this song again, and again, and slowly take in the beauty of this painting, somehow I begin to feel that the truth of Shelley's thought finds its truer meaning when seen in the light of these lines: 


He delights in our sorrow and drives us to weeping,
Then lures with His joy and His beauty again.

~ Sri Aurobindo, from a poem titled 'Who'

Click here for the previous post in this series.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Gratitude

Today this blog completes six months.

Today is the day to express Immense Gratitude:

To the Divine Mother whose Presence and Words are the inspiration for this blog.
To the Divine Master whose Guidance and Grace are the force behind this blog.
To all those regions from where the ideas and thoughts and feelings come.
To all those parts and planes of the being which facilitate reflection and integration.
To all those faculties within which help sieve, select, synthesize and express.
And,
To all those who click, read, motivate and encourage.

A BIG THANK YOU!

Ipomea Carnea, Pale pink Morning Glory
Spiritual Significance: Gratitude, It is you who open all the closed doors and allow the saving Grace to enter.


Today is also the day to remind myself of why I do this blog: 

As as a humble offering to Her.
As a humble attempt to contemplate upon, live out, and express the following words:
"Let beauty be your constant ideal.
The beauty of the soul
The beauty of sentiments
The beauty of thoughts
The beauty of the action
The beauty in the work
so that nothing comes out of your hands which is not an expression of pure and harmonious beauty.
And the Divine Help shall always be with you." 

Today is also the day to express a prayer:

May I always remember to 'Remember and Offer'. 
May I always remember to reflect deeply on all that appears on this blog.
May I always remember to assess deeply before anything gets expressed on this blog.
May I always remember to see all this as:
a means to progress, 
a means to become more open and receptive to Her Force.
a means to grow in gratitude and humility.
a means to seek and express deeper delight in all life and work.





Sunday, 13 October 2013

Prayer, On My Mind, In My Heart

Navratri spirit continues...

...With a Prayer for Vijayadashmi 


A few years ago I had read an essay titled “How to Call and Pray”, in which the author Jugal Kishore Mukherjee speaks of the seven elements of a sincere prayer:  Goal, Insight, Adhesion, Presence, Faith, Supplication and Resignation. I remember jotting this down in my journal at that time, and next to it, I wrote an old couplet in Hindi/Urdu that I have sort of always remembered since childhood. It is a rather simple verse and goes like this –

Dua manzoor hoti hai agar woh dil se hoti hai
Magar mushkil bus itni hai ki woh mushkil se hoti hai

This may be translated as follows:

A prayer is answered if it is from the Heart
The only difficulty is that it happens with difficulty

I don’t remember where or when I first read this couplet or who wrote it, but it has stayed with me ever since. As I continued to dwell on Mukherjee's words and this couplet next to it, it occurred to me that in a way this couplet actually brings together and integrates the different elements of a prayer that Mukherjee speaks of, almost in a process of re-constructing the 'parts' into a ‘whole’.

To pray with utmost sincerity and devotion and faith, that is to pray really from the Heart is the only difficulty, the poet says. If one can do that, one’s prayer is granted. Of course, there can be philosophical, intellectual debates on whether all prayers are granted. But from a spiritual point of view it is not in the limited human capability to know whether a prayer should be granted or not. Only the Divine knows what is needed for the aspirant, and that the Divine gives. There is certainly an important role for personal effort, the aspiration of the seeker. That is what the anonymous poet (anonymous to me, at least) of this couplet is perhaps referring to when he or she says that for the prayer to be granted it has to be from the deepest and most sincerest part of our heart, the heart that is purified and is above the limited, egoistic consciousness. And to get to that part of the heart is the challenge in front of the aspirant.  

This heart as described in the couplet above, which is the source of most sincere prayer, has a clear sight of its purpose or goal, that is, to seek only the Divine and only for the sake of the Divine. This heart has a deep, uncompromising faith and trust in the Divine and remembers to reject all the little temptations that come along the way in the form of desires and attachments. This heart knows what is not in its interest as it continues to proceed on its path of purification, and therefore, firmly rejects and withdraws from all that is a potential hindrance. This heart firmly knows that the most sincere act of rejection is possible only with the Grace and Presence of the Force, the Shakti. This heart is fully open and receptive to the Power of the Force, which is the most essential aid in its journey of purification. This heart grows further purified in the Presence of the Mother’s Force. 

When all of this is present, the heart can call to the Divine in a truest, simplest and most sincere way and offer all that it has and all that is – even its limitations and weaknesses – to the Divine Mother in the form of a purest prayer that it can draw from its deepest core. 

This prayer, this calling is the most gentle and delicate form of offering, and without any concern for whether it is granted or answered. There is no pulling of any kind, no mental or intellectual pressure applied to this call. There is no eagerness or impatience to this heart’s prayer. There is no bargaining that if the prayer is granted, the heart’s faith will grow stronger. There is none of that. This is purest form of call, a most sincere prayer with only one motive – to unite personal will to the Divine Will, and leave all else to the Divine Mother. Such a prayer, the poet says, is granted. 

Sri Lakshmi at Gangaikonda Cholapuram, photo by Suhas Mehra

While flipping through the pages of the same old journal I was reminded of some beautiful lines from Sri Aurobindo, which I think are so helpful to remember always, especially because in his most unique way Sri Aurobindo through these words helps us get closer to a really deep truth about the prayer. The perfection and beauty of his words also makes me think of the need to laugh often...perhaps only a heart that knows how to truly laugh and smile can experience a sincere and perfect simplicity, the source of a sincere prayer.
"As for prayer, no hard and fast rule can be laid down. Some prayers are answered, all are not. You may ask, why should not then all prayers be answered? But why should they be? it is not a machinery: put a prayer in the slot and get your asking. Besides, considering all the contradictory things mankind is praying for at the same moment, God would be in a rather awkward hole if he had to grant all of them; it wouldn't do." 

~ Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga


Thursday, 10 October 2013

The Sweet Sounds of Silence

A new post in the series - "All Music is Only the Sound of His Laughter"


"Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter;"

Yes, after that post about that beautiful photograph I have been reading a bit of John Keats off and on. And perhaps I may still do a sequel post about the film, Bright Star.

But for some reason, today these beautiful lines from Keats' poem " Ode on a Grecian Urn" made me think of a sweet melodious song...yes, from an old Hindi film. 

Composition by Hemant Kumar, Singer: Lata Mangeshkar

Listen. Listen to the Silence.
Silence of the Heart. Listen carefully.

Not easy. Not easy at all. But this is what we must do.
If we really want to know.

The Sounds of Silence. The Sounds of the Heart.
Sweet. Melodious. Gentle. Calm. Blissful. Peaceful.

And yes, Silent. Can almost go Unheard.
Meant for the hearts attuned to hear the silences.

But what of those Sweet Unheard Melodies, you say?
Sing them. Sing them to the Sweet Silence Within.

Like a Silent Prayer.
A Prayer for Someone Far Away.

A Silent Wish. A Silent Dream.

A Silent Hope. A Silent Love.

Photo by Anna Hurtig



What does the Silence say?

Kuch bhi nahin....May be Nothing at All.
Or is it that I am not Silent Enough?

Be Still. Very Still. 

May the Silent Prayer reach Across the Sea. 
Sea of Tumultuous Passions. Sea of Serene Silences.


Click here for the previous post in this series.





Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Beauty, Not a Stone on the Beach

A new post in the series - Satyam Shivam Sundaram

A series featuring inspiring words from various sources, words that speak of  timeless truths, words that remind me of the deeper and hidden truth behind surface events and phenomena, words that shine light when all seems dark, words that are just what I need - 
for this moment and for all times to come.




“Why should you think that beauty, which is the most precious thing in the world, lies like a stone on the beach for the careless passer-by to pick up idly? Beauty is something wonderful and strange that the artist fashions out of the chaos of the world in the torment of his soul. And when he has made it, it is not given to all to know it. To recognize it you must repeat the adventure of the artist. It is a melody that he sings to you, and to hear it again in your own heart you want knowledge and sensitiveness and imagination.”

~ W. Somerset Maugham, The Moon and Sixpence

A chance encounter with this passage today really made me want to re-read Maugham, perhaps starting with The Moon and Sixpence, a novel I had enjoyed decades ago. May be soon. Right now, there are several other books on my side-table enticing me with their beautiful covers and some also with their new-book-fragrance!

But for now, since this particular book is based on the life of Paul Gauguin, allow me to share one of Gauguin's works that has been quite a favourite of mine. No prizes for guessing why...the title says it all!



Just look at it. 

I mean, really look at it. 

Doesn't the artist seem to be inviting the viewer to join him in this warm, luxurious experience of a relaxing siesta? 

Being in Tahiti is optional :) 

***
Previous posts in this series:

So, What are You Working on?     Inner Truth of a Flower 

On Sensitivity and Appreciation of Beauty     "No Construction Without Destruction"



Saturday, 5 October 2013

Remembering The Mother

Celebrating Navratri....

A special post in the series: A Poem and A Song - V



Aditi - The Mother. 
Aditi is the indivisible consciousness, force and Ananda of the Supreme; 
the Mother, its living dynamis, the supreme Love, Wisdom, Power. 

~ Sri Aurobindo


White Lotus, Nelumbo nucifera 'Alba'
Spiritual Significance: Aditi-the Divine Consciousness
Pure, immaculate, gloriously powerful.
~ Photo by Suhas Mehra

What better way to start this special time of the year, this season of remembrance and of invoking the Divine Mother, than to meditate on these divine lines of Sri Aurobindo from his epic poem, Savitri....

At the head she stands of birth and toil and fate,
In their slow round the cycles turn to her call;
Alone her hands can change Time’s dragon base.
Hers is the mystery the Night conceals;
The spirit’s alchemist energy is hers;
She is the golden bridge, the wonderful fire.
The luminous heart of the Unknown is she,
A power of silence in the depths of God;
She is the Force, the inevitable Word,
The magnet of our difficult ascent,
The Sun from which we kindle all our suns,
The Light that leans from the unrealised Vasts,
The joy that beckons from the impossible,
The Might of all that never yet came down.
All Nature dumbly calls to her alone
To heal with her feet the aching throb of life
And break the seals on the dim soul of man
And kindle her fire in the closed heart of things.
All here shall be one day her sweetness’ home,
All contraries prepare her harmony;
Towards her our knowledge climbs, our passion gropes;
In her miraculous rapture we shall dwell,
Her clasp shall turn to ecstasy our pain.
Our self shall be one self with all through her.
In her confirmed because transformed in her,
Our life shall find in its fulfilled response
Above, the boundless hushed beatitudes,
Below, the wonder of the embrace divine.

~ Sri Aurobindo, Savitri, Book III, Canto II, pp. 314-315

And to continue the meditative mood with this divine music.... 


Singer: Pandit Jasraj

For previous posts in this series, click here, here, here, and here.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The Joy of Reading the First Indian Novel in English

I recently read an interesting novel, titled Rajmohan’s Wife by Bankim Chandra Chatterji. While the plot and the main characters of the novel are quite appealing in their own way, what is most fascinating about this novel is its history. This is the first Indian novel written in English in 1864, and the first and the only novel ever written by Bankim in English. This piece of work was considered a ‘false start’ by some commentators and critics of Bankim’s work and has often been ignored by those interested in Indian writing in English. After Rajmohan’s Wife, Bankim never wrote any fiction in English and wrote only in his native language, Bangla. The rest, as they say, is history...of the gigantic literary contribution made by this great son of Mother India!


In the Penguin Classics edition of this novel that I read there is an informative Introduction and an analytical Afterword by Meenakshi Mukherjee. She provides the reader with some highly interesting facts about how some chapters of this novel were lost and then found by a mere stroke of luck (luck as in seemingly ordinary occurrences such as wrong sets of pages getting stapled together....yes, that is the kind of exciting story that led to the final surfacing of the chapters that were once considered lost by the lovers and scholars of literature and Bankim’s writings). She also examines the place of this very special work in the whole corpus of the fictional writings of Bankim, as situated in the time and the literary and social-cultural context in which he lived and wrote, as well as the significance and impact this novel continues to have on the genre of Indian novel in English language that came afterwards, “a genre shaped...by the contending pulls of colonial education and indigenous traditions of storytelling” (Mukherjee).

As much as I appreciated reading the scholarly analysis and its contextual background, what I found most captivating in the novel was a “deep feeling for the poetry of life and an unfailing sense of beauty” — what Sri Aurobindo remarks as the distinguishing marks of Bankim’s style (Collected Works, Volume 1, p.109). Read this passage below and you will know instantly how accurate this insight is. Read it once again to fully visualize the painting the novelist is painting.
"The recent shower had lent to the morning a delightful and invigorating freshness.  Leaving the mass of floating clouds behind, the sun advanced and careered on the vast blue plain that shone above; and every housetop and every treetop, the cocoa palm and the date palm, the mango and acacia received the flood of splendid light and rejoiced. The still-lingering water drops on the leaves of trees and creepers glittered and shone like a thousand radiant gems as they received the slanting rays of the luminary. Through the openings in the chick-knit brought of the grooves glanced the mild ray on the moistened grass beneath. The newly awakened and joyous birds raised their thousand dissonant voices, while at intervals the papia sent forth its rich thrilling notes into the trembling air. Light fleecy clouds of white wandered in the solitude of the now purified blue of the heavens, which were fanned by a light breeze that had sprung up to shake the pattering drops from the pendant and wooing boughs."
What a delightful picture of a fresh morning after a rainy night! The clear blue sky, the pleasing sounds of the birds, the moistened grass, and still-lingering water drops on leaves....beauty all around, loveliness that pleases and delights. And all this comes right after the description of a rather ‘heavy’ sequence in which a gang of dacoits is running around in the rain and feverishly hunting down the wife of one of the gang members who might have been a spy and an informer! All traces of any inkling of suspense, horror or anxiety that the reader might have felt when reading the preceding passage were completely washed clean by this delightful portrayal of after-the-rain-morning that brings with it a new hope and a new adventure in life. This is perhaps an appropriate example of what Sri Aurobindo describes as the novelist’s “keen sense for life, and the artist’s repugnance to gloom and dreariness” (ibid., p. 96).

Image credit: Penguin Books

Another prominent aspect of the novel is Bankim’s portrayal of the characters, particularly of the women in the story. This aspect is sufficiently analyzed by Mukherjee in her Afterword, but primarily using the familiar and ‘scholarly acceptable’ perspectives such as social conformity, morality, virtue and honour in man-woman relationship, narrow confines of domesticity and silencing of women. Informative as these viewpoints may be, perhaps they still fail to do full justice to the beauty of Bankim’s insights into the feminine character. The following passage serves as an example.
        “‘You weep!’ said Madhav. ‘You are unhappy.’
        Matangini replied not, but sobbed. Then, as if under the influence of a maddening agony of soul, she grasped his hands in her own and bending over them her lily face so that Madhav trembled under the thrilling touch of the delicate curls that fringed her spotless brow, she bathed them in a flood of warm and gushing tears.
        ‘Ah, hate me not, despise me not,’ cried she with an intensity of feeling which shook her delicate frame. ‘Spurn me not for this last weakness; this, Madhav, this, may be our last meeting; it must be so, and too, too deeply have I loved you—too deeply do I love you still, to part with you forever without a struggle.’
        Did Madhav chide her? Ah, no! He covered his eyes with his palm and his palm became wet with tears. There was a deep silence for some moments, but their hearts beat loud. Matangini, recovering her presence of mind as speedily as she had lost it, first broke the heart-rending silence.
        The distant and reserved demeanour, the air of dejection and broken-heartedness which had marked her from the first, had disappeared; the impetuosity and fervour of the first burst of a deep and burning love had subsided; and Matangini now stood calm and serene, her usually melancholy features beaming with the light of an unutterable feeling. A sweet and sober pensiveness still mantled her tender features, but it was not the pensiveness of deep-felt enjoyment, for the wild current of passion had hurried her to that region where naught but the present was visible, and in which all knowledge of right and wrong is whirled and merged in the vortex of intense present felicity. Was not Matangini now in Madhav’s presence? And had not her long-pent-up tears fallen on his hands? Had he not wept with her? That was all Matangini remembered, and for a moment the memory of duty, virtue, principle ceased to fling its sombre shadow on the brightness of the impure felicity in which her heart [revelled]. There was a fire in that voluptuous eye, —there was a glow on that moonbeam brow, and as she stood leaning with her well-rounded arm on the damask-covered back of the sofa, her beautiful head resting on the palm of her hand over which, as over the heaving bosom, stayed the luxuriant tresses of raven hue; —as thus she stood, Madhav might well have felt sure earth had not to show a more dazzling vision of female loveliness.”
What a beautiful description – of Matangini’s beauty, yes of course! But what is even more beautiful is the portrayal of her state of mind, her deep inner conflict —between passion and virtue, between love and family duty, between strength and weakness. It was probably such descriptions—in this novel and in Bankim’s later Bangla novels—that perhaps made Sri Aurobindo write a wonderfully phrased comment on the portrayal of women in Bankim’s novels. Taking a humorous jab at the Anglicized social reformers of his time —sadly enough, many such so-called reformers exist till today among the circles of westernized, urban, Indian intelligentsia who can’t find anything beautiful in Hindu ways of life and social organization —Sri Aurobindo wrote in his unique style:
“Insight into the secrets of feminine character, that is another notable concomitant of the best dramatic power, and that too Bankim possesses....The social reformer, gazing, of course, through that admirable pair of spectacles given to him by the Calcutta University, can find nothing excellent in Hindu life, except its cheapness, or in Hindu woman, except her subserviency. Beyond this he sees only its narrowness and her ignorance. But Bankim had the eye of a poet and saw much deeper than this. He saw what was beautiful and sweet and gracious in Hindu life, and what was lovely and noble in Hindu woman, her deep heart of emotion, her steadfastness, tenderness and lovableness, in fact, her woman’s soul; and all this we find burning in his pages and made diviner by the touch of a poet and an artist” (ibid., p.110).
To appreciate the vast contribution made by this noble soul, Bankim Chandra, to the awakening of his motherland and to the renaissance of Indian literature and thought, and to do it through the lens of a literary criticism that is grounded in the eternal essence of all things Indian and is not merely an imitation or regurgitation of whatever theoretical frameworks that may be the "fad of the day" among the Westernized Academic Circles of the Indian literati —this is what makes reading Bankim extra, extra special for me.