Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Desecration of Monuments

' Kyon nahin deewar-e-dil pe apna aur unka naam likhte ho
Ye zaroori toh nahin ke muhabbat ki is tarah numaish ho'

                                                                      -Zafar Gorakhpuri

(Why don't you write your and your beloved's names on the wall of your heart/ Rather than adverise it so blatantly (by writing on the walls of historical monuments)? Seeing this couplet written in Urdu at the entrance of Fathepur-Sikri in Agra, I also felt in the same manner and I'm sure, you too feel likewise. Wherever you go in India, esp, if you go to see a historical monument, you get to see the walls desecrated with assertions of undying love inside a badly drawn heart and an arrow.

This makes me puke. Why this vulgar itch to let the world know that you're a lover par excellence? You see such eyesore insertions even on the outer walls of Tajmahal, one of the greatest monuments in the world.  Despite requests, reminders and rebuke, there're people, who just can't refrain from indulging in this obnoxious pastime to perpetuate their love and leave a 'loving legacy' for the generations to come. On my visit to Mohanjodaro and Harappa in Pakistan's Sindh province (Larkana) in 2005, I didn't get to see anywhere ' Muhammad loves Amina' or ' Shabaaz loves Nadira' etc. etc. I asked the caretaker, how come people of Pakistan were so sensible not to write anything on the walls of historical places? He said matter-of-factly, '' 

They were no different as the common ethos and spirit ran through the collective consciousness of the people of the entire subcontinent. It's just because, Field Marshal Ayyub Khan passed a strict order way back in the sixties that whoever would desecrate the walls (of monuments) would have to delete the names first and then he'd be put behind the bars for minimum six months.

He would also be lashed. The fear of the slammer and lashings desisted the 'great lovers' to restrain and refrain. Hearing that I wondered, is there any such punishment for such vandals and enemies of good things in India ? " In India, no one cares how to behave in a historical place. They treat such places as picnic spots," observed English travel writer Trevor Fishlock in his travalogue in 1997. He was absolutely right. Whether it's Charminar of Hyderabad or Calcutta's Victoria Memorial, no place's spared by the miscreants and extremely casual visitors.  People eat, spit and throw away plastic bags and leftover everywhere in the vicinity of the monuments. In 2004, I saw a group of girls from a reputed college in Delhi.

They were doing History Honors. A couple of 'polished-looking' girls were stealthily  plucking roses from the Tajmahal's complex. If 'educated' girls indulged in such frivolous and clandestine activities in a historical place of international repute, how can we expect others to be decent and responsible while visiting historical sites? More than forcing them to behave properly, I think it's imperative to realise on one's own that this is a national property and belongs to each and every individual. When foreigners can be so respectful of our monuments, why can't we emulate their examples and try to preserve the beauty and sanctity of these spots? After all, you can't teach certain things. One has to learn on one's own.    

                                              ----Sumit Paul

Monday, 27 February 2017

'Helpmate' not 'Servant'

' Sorry, I can't meet you today. My helpmate  hasn't come,' phoned a friend of mine. The egalitarian use of the word ' helpmate ' pleased my ears and gladdened my soul. She didn't say that my servant  or, even far better-sounding, maid  hasn't come. This is something we all must learn while treating our helpmates. ' No one is a servant any longer,' stated a famous columnist in her social etiquette column in The Reader's Digest  a few years back. 

In fact, the very term 'servant' is so demeaning to a person who works at your place. He/ she's paid for the duties discharged. S/he's not an ' indentured labourer', who was actually called a 'servant' or even worse, 'a slave' till Victorian era. The literal meaning of a servant is 'one who serves.' But mind you, who serves is not at your beck and call. He too has dignity. I read long back that when General Bewoor was the General of Indian Army, he heard a Brigadier's wife say in an army party, " My orderly is not very punctual." Gen Bewoor politely told her that he was not her 'orderly'.

He was her husband's sahayak(assistant). He was a companion, a helpmate to her husband and even her husband had no right to talk disparagingly of him, much less the lady. General drove home his point. Every individual has a sense of dignity and importance. One could be a sweeper. But he too has his individuality. In 2007, the panel of lexicographers at Oxford Dictionary House, London, decided to retain the word 'servant' but stating that it was a condescending word, if not highly objectionable terms like 'nigger' and 'slave'. We tend to treat those, who work at our place as if they're gentiles or pariahs. We don't treat them on a par with our 'respectable' friends and guests. 'Naukrani', 'kaamwali', 'mahari' and 'bai'  are the terms, we so nonchalantly use for them.

It's strange that the word mahari  is actually associated with a migrated Maharashtrian community (Mahar) based in Malwa, Mhow and Indore. This was fallaciously considered to be a socially low community as its poor women used to work at homes. Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar belonged to this community and when Rahul Sankrityayan objected to the rampant and inconsiderate use of the word mahari  indicating the associated social group, people criticised him for being a false sympathiser. He wasn't. What he objected then is still relevant. Why should we call all maids 'mahari' ? This is not just derogatory, but highly discriminating as well.

Until we give utmost respect to work of any kind, we'll continue to treat people on presumed premises of higher and lower hierarchy. We must change our attitude towards those who work at our places and treat them as independent individuals, if not members of our families.         
                                                  -----Sumit Paul

Verbosity’s Frivolity

' Coin always makes sound. But the currency notes are always silent.' This has been my favourite quotation ever since I heard it when I was a primary student. I experienced its practical manifestation a number of times. A few days back, a gentleman gave me his visting card. It'd its whole space usurped by his numerous obscure degrees. I'd a cursory look at it and pocketed to forget as soon as possible. That gentleman had done nothing worthwhile in his life except for accumulating some useless degrees. 'Avhajjham parna krit shabdim, haritam sinnojham' (the dry leaves make crackling sound, but the juicy green leaves are soundless). myxer

This saying in Prakrit articulates that substance makes no claims. Sun doesn't have to proclaim that it's a 'huge fireball' but the sand always gets heated up in no time. Ocean's always placid but river's often noisy and boisterous. When Mahavir was alive, there was yet another contender to greatness, who was almost on a par with Mahavir in knowledge and he in fact knew more about  scriptures. Yet, that man Makhhili Goshal remains a footnote to Mahavir because of his verbosity. When Laotse was surreptitiously leaving the country at night, the king sent his guards to stop the great man from leaving his kingdom. " I'll let you go, provided you write a book of wisdom. The posterity must learn from your boundless wisdom,'' the king implored the wisest man. Laotse wrote a 20-page book, that's considered to be the cornerstone of south eastern philosophical order.

He could have written a voluminous book, but he chose to write just 20 pages. Profundity doesn't lie in being profuse in quantity. A truly wise person's always taciturn. He weighs his words and speaks when it's indeed required. Thervad Buddhism's 'tripitak'  states that after enlightenment, Buddha spoke very little. Out of 89 names of Buddha, there're two beautiful names to indicate his persona: Smithasya (a person with a beatific smile) andmitshabdam ( man of a few words). It's said that Buddha conveyed his words more through his smile and silence than speech. Those who're wise, never advertise. Only those, who're  frivolous, resort to tom-tomming.

Why do politicians talk so much? Because they lack substance. ' Mere apne alfaaz badhate hain aawaaz' (My own words add to the existing noise). Allama Iqbal's immortal words succinctly put the things in perspective. We live in a world of words. We require silence of thoughts. Verbosity's frivolity.        
                                          ----Sumit Paul

All Scriptures are Mere Self-help Books

" All scriptures and religious texts are mere self-help books," wrote M N Roy, one of the greatest rationalists of the last century. I'm reminded of his famous statement in the context of C C Das' assertion that Bhagvad Gita's much more than a self-help book. According to him, it's a book of self-discovery, self-empowerment and self-actualisation. First of all, the terms self-discovery and self-actualisation are intangible and self-deceiving.

 British anthropologist Sir Martin Congdon wrote in his seminal book The Reality of Scriptures (1987) that ' Human mind still being pretty ill-developed, ill-advanced and frightened, looks for an anchorage and tries to find solace in the shelter of scriptural conundrums.' Moreover, the comparative study of religious texts reveals that there's the same old and threadbare stuff in all scriptures. I've always found Gita's core message comparable to that of the Hasidic tales and even 4,000 year old oriental totemism of the South East Asia that predated Buddhism in all forms.

 Biblical psalms and the most celebrated 'Sermon on the mount' are no different than Bhagvad Gita. In fact, Sermon on the mount's appeal's more overwhelming than that of Gita. There's a word in Cantonese (other prevalent language of China apart from Mandarin) : Minshung  that means 'feel-good' or 'euphoric'. Chinese people still call their scriptures 'Minshung' or 'Uenwong' (Mandarin)-Books that make you feel good!!! What else is the purpose of a self-help book or a scripture other than giving a faux sense of goodness that lasts for a few hours? Confucius, the scholarly Chinese sage, was once narrating parables to his select few disciples. He saw that one of the disciples Shimpenong was jotting down something. He asked him, what was he writing so frantically.

Shimpenong replied, ' Master, I'm writing this for the posterity to benefit from your teachings.' ' No need. Expunge it. Tomorrow, this will DEGENERATE into a scripture and the purpose will be forgotten.' It's said that whatever we read as the teachings of Confucius is interpolated and later-day additions because Confuscius himself had no faith in the divinity of any religious book. ' What we don't comprehend sounds very exalted,' Christopher Isherwood used to say. When the English philosopher and the 'Vedantist' began to study Vedanta, Upanishad and Gita, he was intrigued by the repetition and reiteration of the word 'self'.

It made him feel good. But once he got over his ' honeymoon with Upanishads and flirting with Eastern religions ' (his own expression) and Gita's overdose of 'self', he rejected the whole caboodle as something as useless as self-help books with no lasting impression on the consciousness. 'Rubbish', he called them. We're all deceiving ourselves by the incomprehensible, turbid and esoteric connotations of these 'self-help' scriptures and getting inebriated by their utterly commonplace teachings, meant for mediocre minds.           

                                                         -----Sumit Paul

When Taunt's a Motivator

1944. A bare-footed, poor non-white boy was playing on a beach in Barbados. All his friends were white Brits. He'd a small, broken bat. One of the white boys made fun of his bat and broke it. The teary-eyed boy pledged to have a real bat and thrash the whites with it. He didn't have to thrash them with a bat, for one day he'd become so great as a cricketer that he'd thrash the English bowlers as well as bowlers all over the world at his will. He was Sir Garfield St. Auburn Sobers, the greatest cricketer the game has ever seen. There was a boy, who'd thick fingers, too thick for a painter. His friends made fun of his fat fingers, even his teachers taunted. Stung by their taunts, he decided to become a painter and a great one at that. He was Peter Paul Reubens. A humdrum-looking young man was playing piano. He couldn't afford to have a piano, so he used to go to a nearby music school to play piano for an hour by paying a fixed amount. One day he was so engrossed in playing that he lost track of time.

 The owner of the music school came to him to remind that it was already more than an hour. The young man was deaf and dumb. The owner wrote on a piece of paper: ' You can't have your piano. Neither can you hear. Why do you waste your time and the time of other students, who can hear and appreciate the music? ' That deaf and dumb student never went to that music school. Doubly determined, he bought a third-hand piano and started practising on it. Needless to say, he was Beethoven. Many a time, taunts and subtly sarcastic remarks egg a person on and make him/ her all the more committed to realising his/ her objective. ' At times, taunts bring out a person's latent potential,' observed a famous psychologist. Chanakya rightly said, 'Vyangya prarochitam pratividhan' (Taunts are the best motivators). 

Mahakavi Bhushan, one of the greatest Hindi poets of medieval India was an indolent lotus-eater type of idle young man till the age of 24. He lived the life of a parasite on his brother, who loved him very much. One day while serving him food, his sister-in-law said something piercing. Bhushan left home and returned after twelve years with his epic 'Lalit lalaam', which he dedicated to his sister-in-law and wrote to her, ' But for your taunt, I'd still have been living here and eating.' Tulsidas would not have been Tulsidas, but for his wife's sarcasm who admonished him to sublimate his love for Ram instead of her. But sarcasm can also destroy families and dynasties. It was Draupadi's intemperate remark, " Andhe ke andhe hi hote hain" (A blind begets blind) that instigated Duryodhan so much that his seething anger led to the carnage at Kurukshetra and destruction of a dynasty. Taunt's a motivator but it could also be a destroyer if it's scathing and mordant. So remember, when next time you taunt, it should be soothing and not so caustic. In your sarcasm, you can be scathing.          

                                              -----Sumit Paul

Why didn't Iqbal & Premchand get Nobel?

R C Zehmer, the only European (Anglo-Dutch) Spalding professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics, recently questioned Nobel Committee's 'glaring omissions' of India's Munshi Premchand and Muhammad Iqbal. It's really intriguing that these two stalwarts were never considered for Nobel, despite being in the anthology of world's finest 100 literary figures of all time and even getting placed ahead of Tagore, India's sole Nobel laureate. Though I'm no admirer of Tagore, I've always felt that in spite of his rather banal English ranslations of 103 Bengali poems, there's a kind of universality in his Gitanjali  that deeply moves the hearts. And this very aspect of universality is something that's lacking in Premchand's works and Iqbal's poetry.

I may sound sacrilegious and profane, but this is an unpalatable truth, which cannot be denied. The first and foremost condition of conferring Nobel's the transcendental quality of the writer or poet's oeuvre. ' A writer should evince relatable ethos and collective universalism through his / her corpus of works.' On this count, Premchand and Iqbal both fall rather short to become truly transcendental. Iqbal, before becoming a rabidly Muslim poet with monomaniac vision of Islam being the one and only religion, was a very fine poet, who was heavily 'inspired' by his teacher and mentor at Berlin University, the redoubtable Friedrich Nietzsche.

A close analysis reveals that Iqbal's earlier works were only poetry of Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer's prose works!!! Iqbal was unabashedly influenced by Nietzschean Ubermensch (superhuman) concept. His 'Khudi' (ego, actually 'superego') is nothing new, when pitted against Schopenhauer's 'will, Free Will and Volition'. It's worthwhile to mention that Paul Egrine, a very accomplished poet and translator of European and Semitic languages, who was on the Nobel Committe for literature (1924-29), detected this unwitting 'plagiaristic facet' in Iqbal's otherwise cultured, if not sublime, poetry. He opined, 'A poet with borrowed ideas could only limit himself to his community or at the most, to his country but he can never go beyond that to be universally acknowledged.' This was his perception of Iqbal's earlier works and after that Iqbal became so pathologically Muslim that it pained even those who liked him very much. Can a poet who could write: "Rahmatein hain teri aghiyaar ke kashanon par / Barq girti hai toh bechare Musalmanon par (" You bestow your grace upon the infidels, non-Muslims /  Your blitzkreig falls on poor Muslims", from 'Shikwa', The Complaint) win a universal award like Nobel?

 Never. As for Premchand's works, though his  novels, Ghaban, Premashram,Nirmala, Kaya-Kalp and the magnum opus Godan are great, but can they be called relevant to all ages and times? His sensibilities and concerns are honest and genuine, but not universal or global. The occidental sensibilities have nothing to do with the plight of poor peasants of India, so poignantly depicted by the great novelist.

Moreover, you can't deny the occasional oversentimentalism in Premchand's stories and novels and a bit too much helplessness of his characters. Whereas, Tagore's god's universal consciousness with no sectarian leanings like those of Allama Iqbal. Furthermore, Tagore's poems in Gitanjali  are disarmingly simple with no pretensions of pedantry. But readers are free to form their own opinions, not necessarily agreeing with me.             
                                                ----Sumit Paul

Why's Dubious History Taught?

The Syrian Christian Association (SCA), based in South, and Biblical Research Institute, Padua, Rome have almost unanimously concluded that one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, Thomas, never came to India. He's believed to have come to India in 52 AD to spread the Gospel. His putative visit to India was long disputed. One more historical myth has been laid to rest. Modern findings have detonated so many legends and myths. Shahjahan never got the hands of the artisans of Taj choped off. This is apocryphal.

Alexander the great was so ill when he invaded India in 327 BCE, that the famous battle between Alexander and Porus never took place and this was corroborated by legendary Indian, British and Greek historians like Sacchidanand Sinha, Dr Muhammad Habib, Muhammad Mujeeb, R C Majumdar, Collingwood and Greek historian and ambassador to India Vasillus Vitsoxis, Dharmanand Kosambi, the greatest scholar of Pali and Rahul Sankrityayan categorically proved that Buddha wasn't born into a royal family, contrary to the general perceptions. His father Shuddhodan was a chieftain, a kind of zamindar (a wealthy landlord) and that he never saw four disturbing spectacles of death and sufferings to relinquish home and hearth.This is all symbolical. 

There're so many such myths which have become acceptable truths with the passage of time. Here's a very relevant question: When a very big chunk of history's facts agreed upon what's the use of studying it which takes one back and clutters the mind with facts that have very shaky foundations? When modern findings question Akbar's secular credentials and put him ahead of Aurangzeb in fanaticism with written proofs and documents to buttress the point, shouldn't history be rewritten? Why should one read and eulogise Akbar's perceived 'qualities' when historical circumstances of that time suggest that his 'policy of appeasement of Hindus' was politically motivated?

When Gandy, Subimal Dasgupta and world's leading researchers, archaeologists and anthropologists clinchingly proved in 1980 that except for Muhammad, no Ram, Krishna, Moses or even Jesus ever existed, why were their findings never made available to public? They further said that though Muhammad did exist but one must look at his life stripping him of any ' insane divinity.' ' He was  just a competent tribal leader, whose greatest contribution was to integrate embattled tribes into a cohesive unit. That verses from heaven descended upon an unlettered man like him is the biggest joke of human civilization' (Gandy and Dasgupta, 1982). Why don't verses descend upon anyone in this scientific and rational age? Who was there to vindicate and verify the veracity of Muhammad and his cohorts' fabrications? 
History makes us aware of our heritage and 'rich' past but at the same time it also creates a false aura that blinds us to facts and realities. It also deifies and demonises many individuals. The legendary Somnath temple was plundered by Mahmoud Ghaznavi, who came from Ghazni in Afghanistan. This's a fact. That he invaded Somnath 17 times is not a fact. He just came came twice and the Hindu priests plundered and profaned Somnath more than any Muslim invader ever did. History's always a veiled subject to be studied by scholars. I've never understood, why history, the dubious history at that, is taught at schools and colleges to students who've not yet learnt to question. Why do we pollute impressionable minds with 'facts' that are so ramshackle and wilt under scrutiny?     

                                                    -----Sumit Paul

Why can't Women Fantasise?

Years ago I read an article in now defunct The Illustrated Weekly. It was written by a female writer who vividly described how Draupadi 'enjoyed' and 'compared' her five husbands (panch Pandav) in bed and also had them together in tandem when she wanted. Mind you, Draupadi was sexually quite vocal and she made it clear that Nakul was unable to satiate her (this one finds in Belvalkar's unexpurgated Mahabharat; a copy of it is available at BORI, Poona). The article ruffled the fragile sensibilities of hypocrite Indians, especially of male readers, who still think that women can't and shouldn't fantasise. 

The editor Khushwant Singh refused to apologise and many bold women of that time hailed him as an editor of guts and gumption. Years have elapsed. But we're still squeamish about a woman's sexual fantasies and her preferences in the bedroom. This is Grundyism. Why shouldn't a woman fantasise? It's her fundamental sexual right. Masters and Johnson observed in 1967 that women fantasised more than men but they curbed their fantasies because of social conditioning that thinking and fantasising about sex was an immoral thing and only 'bad girls' thought of sex. 

We've unnecessarily dovetailed sex and morality and when it comes to a woman's eroticism, the morality aspect works overtime. This writer himself saw and read the South-East Asian version of Ramayan (there're innumerable alternative versions of Ramayan) at Jakarta University's library in Indonesia. There's a passage in that tome which states how Sita got wet to see Ravana's handsome son Indraneel, also known as Meghnaad. She longed for him and pleasured herself fantasising about her abductor's son!! Very natural. There's a passage even in Valmiki's Ramayan in which Sita subtly hinted that Ram was a sissy in bed. So when she saw the virile Meghnaad, she felt spasms in her pudenda and oozed.

But this is outright scandalising to the readers because we don't want to accept the fact that women are also sexual beings and they too can have vivid and varied sexual fantasies. It's time that we got rid of a false sexual morality and accepted wholeheartedly that sex is very natural and men as well as women of all age groups fantasise frequently. Don't they?

                                                                               Sumit Paul

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Holistic Holi

Can any festival be confined to a specific community? Never. A festival belongs to all, regardless of silly, man-made differences and discrimination. Of all festivals, Holi perfectly captures and encapsulates the bonhomie that transcends race, religion, country and language. During my extensive research in the field of linguistics and ancient languages, I even came across 14th century Tamil and Malayalam Biblical texts written by the European missionaries who extolled the positive aspects of Holi and called it ' a festival of angels played in heaven.'

 As a homonym, Holi is wholesomeness. It's a holistic festival with a universal flavour. When Raskhan and Rasleen, the two great poets of Braj language who dedicated their whole lives to eulogising Krishna, describes his (Krishna's) gamboling withgopis on the occasion of Holi, who can dare question the religion of these great poets? When Ghalib writes, 'Rang utarte hain zeest mein Holi ke sang' (Life gets colourful with holi), who bothers to know Ghalib's faith? 

To cut the matter short, Holi has a transcendental appeal. I've visited Pakistan a number of times and seen Pakistani Muslims play Holi with gaiety. Holi fills the hearts and minds with colours and colours describe life. 'Zindagi adhoori hai rangon ke bina/Jyon hatheli sooni hai baghair hina ' (Life is incomplete sans colours/ Just like, a palm is lacklustre withouthina/mehndi). 

We need colours in life to make it positive and full of optimism. Colours symbolise inspiration, optimism and hope. And which festival is better than Holi in serving this noble and ebullient purpose? 

'Rang bikher do har soo/Aayee Holi, poori hui arzoo' (Scatter colours everywhere/With Holi, the desire is fulfilled). Ahsaan Kaamil's couplet bespeaks the sprightliness of Holi. This is one festival that doesn't discriminate and is bereft of all disparities. Let's play Holi and spread the colours in these rather gloomy times and climes.

Remember, life is enjoyable when we imbibe all colours of it, even the sombre ones, for the completeness of life consists of the entire spectrum of colours so richly provided by Holi. The gamut of life's emotions is limned so beautifully by the colours of Holi.

Enjoy it and paint the world with a wide range of colours!

Happy Holi 2017 Messages
Life is full of colors,
May be this HOLI festival,
You even had more colors in your life,

And you enjoyed them at their brightest shade..
I wish you that even after the HOLI,
Those colors be there in your life and
always spawning around you creating beautiful 


Happy Holi to YOU!
                                                 -----Sumit Paul

Spying on Spouse

Casting aspersions on the character of a spouse is the worst form of cruelty and amounts to mental torture, the Delhi High Court has said. The court was hearing a divorce petition filed by a woman wherein she complained of domestic violence and that her husband accused her of having illicit relations. The late justice Tarkunde wrote that, " The easiest way to torment a spouse is to besmirch his / her character. But one doesn't understand the gravity and magnitude of such accusations, which may drive a person at the receiving end to go mad or commit suicide."

There've been so many instances when women, having been accused of an illicit relationship or an extra-marital relationship, took a drastic step. A person's (esp. a woman's) character's the most fragile thing that can be targetted very easily. Though husbands are also accused of unfounded liaisons, it's mostly wives, who suffer much more. I've never understood, why these false and baseless allegations regarding a person's character are never taken seriously.

 In a social sphere, you can file a defamation suit againt the person who has publicly tarnished your character, but within the ambit of a marital set-up, there's not much scope for either of them to defend oneself legally. Many a time, it's been found that when such allegations are levelled at a person who has no fault, that  person gets so disturbed by these accusations that s/he gets into an illicit relationship in sheer frustration. This is called 'infidelity on the rebound' or ' vindictive infidelity'.

In Muradabad (western UP), a 57-year-old husband used to insult his 54-year-old wife in front of their grown up son and daughter that the lady had a clandestine affair with her son's friend. She absolutely had no such relationship with her son's friend but constant accusations frustrated her so much that she ended up having a relationship with that guy! The woman was not at fault here. It was her husband's fault that despite having spent 30 years of conjugal bliss, he suspected that his mature wife could fall for someone, young enough to be her son. We create ineluctable situations and drive a person to take an extreme step.

In European countries like Holland and Switzerland, false accusations regarding a spouse's character might land you in a prison but there's no such categorical law to punish an erring husband or wife in India. In most of the divorce cases in India, infidelity, often ' framed infidelity', is the main factor for separation. It's indeed a lifelong mental agony and a social stigma to live through life with false accusations of having loose character.          
                                                                                                                                                                  ------Sumit Paul


Never Compare

The Sophomores (2nd year students) of Balliol College, arguably the greatest college in the world under the aegis of Oxford, were recently asked to write their views on " Mozart, Bach and Beethoven: Who's the greatest among them? " Now the very topic is perplexing. Comparisons are always odious. And when it comes to analysing and comparing the symphonies and musical styles of these three giants of western classical music, the task becomes all the more baffling. In the sphere of creativity and fine arts, comparisons are always misleading and never final. It's indeed a pursuit of failure. " Comparisons are basically vilifications. When one compares, one attempts to vilify and run others down in the fray," aptly said Nobel laureate Lesing.

In the early sixties, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Kazi Nazrul Islam and Rabindranath Tagore were being compared by the students of Calcutta's famed Presidency College and the healthy discussion eventually degenerated into a dirty war of words. It became so abusive that the Calcutta University and Amrita Bazar Patrika  had to intervene and request to stop the senseless comparisons which started savouring of prejudices and coteries. What began with a purely innocuous literary intention, turned into something very volatile and undesirable. Almost same happened in the comparative study of Ritwik Ghatak and Satyajit Ray's cinematic genius in the late eighties. Who was more close to reality? Or who was a realist or a sur-realist? It was a bitter analysis with elements of subjectivity, the most crucial ingredient in any comparison. 

Why do we compare? There's a basic human desire to put his / her idol on the highest pedestal and make that person acceptable to all. This is not possible, rather objectively impossible. This also smacks of a morbidly obdurate attitude. The critics of Sir Donald Bradman argue that the great man wasn't very comfortable on sticky wickets and even an irregular bowler like India's Vijay Hazare troubled him with his nagging cutters during India's tour to Oz in 1948 under the stewardship of Lala Amarnath. Hazare even bowled Sir Don twice on the tour.  England's Alec Bedser, perhaps the greatest medium pacer the game has ever seen, dismissed Don nine times in his career and fault-finders say that Don wasn't that good to read the away swing. On this count, English opener Sir Leonard Hutton was greater than him, but even Hutton was not very comfortable against unnerving pace of Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller. This will go on. And there'll never be an end to it. What does one get out of it? Do these perceived errors and chinks in their armour take away their greatness?

Comparisons often highlight the negative side and there's always a sort of sadistic pleasure hidden in it. When a person's compared, his/ her personal life's also unnecessarily publicised. In this way, comparison doesn't restrict itself purely to the skills of that person, but the character also comes in. This is completely uncalled for. I read poets Lord Byron and Robert Browning's comparison in the The Daily Mirror, England. The writer wrote that Byron was an incorrigible womaniser, whereas Browning was a one-woman man. This was wide-off the mark in a comparison. You're not comparing their character. You're comparing their craftsmanship. When we compare Ibsen and Shaw as dramatists, we often highlight their limitations and pit them against an absolute genius playwright like Shakespeare to make them look like pygmies.

This is unfair. Manna Dey, though himself an exponent of classical music, is always compared with his blind uncle, Harikrishna Dey, who was a doyen of classical music. Comparisons are a favourite pastime of people with not much to do. There's no intellectual and creative rigour in it. It's like the perpetual conundrum like who came first: Egg or a hen? Or who's a greater poet: P B Shelly or John Keats? We must never forget that ' Har zarra apni jagah pe aaftaab hai ' (Every particle's sun in its own right). Enjoy the pulp. Don't count the seeds.            
                                                     ------Sumit Paul  


Books Underlined

At the world renowned National Library, Calcutta, there was a mild and witty instruction to the readers: " Please don't underline and write anything. Pens and pencils are arrows that prick the souls of books."  I don't know why this beautiful instruction is not there any longer. This is indeed a worldwide habit, rather a common human trait, to mark and underline while reading a fascinating, often a thought-provoking book. American writer and humorist Mark Twain used to say that, " Those, who underline are far better than those who steal (the books).' " I fully agree with Twain. Though by underlining or incorporating one's own thoughts and notes in a book, the beauty of it gets slightly damaged, it still remains intact. At least pages are not torn or lost.

Moreover, readers get to read and know a few more fresh perspectives from mostly unknown readers and writers. At the University Library, Berlin, there's a Vulgate Bible with notes of Martin Luther King, Sr. He pencilled them in the margin in his almost inscrutable handwriting. At the world-renowned Khudabakhsh Library, Patna, there's a copy of Allama Iqbal's Persian masterpiece 'Baal-e-Jibreel' (The wings of Gabriel). The book is full of scribbles by none other than Raghupati Sahay Firaq Gorakhpuri, when he was the Head of the Department of English at Patna University. Those scribbles were compiled by the poet and librarian of Khudabakhsh, Jameel Mazhari. Firaq's scribbles are now available in a slim but sublime book 'Taasuraat-e-Baal-e-Jibreel' (Thoughts on Baal-e-Jibreel). 

Writing and pencilling in a book is not that bad a habit. One of the greatest Urdu poets of the 20th century, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, who was a poet, professor of English and editor, was in the habit of writing very relevant notes while reading a book. He seldom maintained a separate diary and wrote in the books instead!!! I myself stumbled upon a book of Urdu poetry by Ravish Siddiqi, an Aligarh poet. That book had a number of similar couplets written by some unknown reader. It helped me analyse Ravish's poetry with respect to that of his contemporaries. I'm still thankful to that reader, who didn't mention his name. Had he mentioned, I'd certainly have thanked him in person. Great literature is full of insights and a book contains many of them, yet there remains inadequacy. 

When a book has additional notes scribbled by known or unknown readers, the value of it increases manifold. Someone rightly said, " When a book's heavily underlined, it underlines its importance." You don't underline a Mills and Boon novel or a book written by Chetan Bhagat. It's to have something to be underlined and scribbled.         

                                                   -----Sumit Paul