Reading between the (Experiments with) Truth

Man and his deed are two distinct things. ‘Hate the sin and not the sinner’ is a precept which, though easy enough to understand, is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world…

These words are of a man who made a deep impact on the psyche of not only India’s masses but also to the world at large. He was not only a man of words but he followed what he preached in fact he first experimented with his thoughts on himself and then only recommended others the medicine that could prove beneficial. Reason was tantamount in all his actions and with reason and a strong belief in Truth, he led India and its people towards a journey not only of freedom from foreign rule but a journey of freedom from the shackles of ignorance to the pursuit of truth and philosophy of non-violence.

This ahimsa is the basis of the search for truth. I am realizing everyday that the search is vain unless it is founded on ahimsa as the basis. It is quite proper to resist and attack a system, but to resist and attack its author is tantamount to resisting and attacking oneself.

The cover of 'The Story of My Experiments with Truth'

The cover of ‘The Story of My Experiments with Truth’, An Autobiography – M. K. Gandhi

The autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi or Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, ‘The Story of My Experiments with Truth’, is filled with many such observations about Gandhiji’s continuous effort towards the practice of truth and non-violence as a result of a life sketched out of experiences and experiments, about which he confessed,

After all, however my striving after Ahimsa may have been, they have still been imperfect and inadequate…In fact what I have caught is only the faintest glimmer of that mighty effulgence. But this much I can say with assurance, as a result of all my experiments, that a perfect vision of Truth can only follow a complete realization of Ahimsa.

This book tells the story of Mahatma in his own words from his birth to the beginning of his active participation in Indian freedom struggle. He gave the masses of India a potent weapon in the form of non-violence through which they could participate in the Indian freedom struggle making it a popular mass movement. His ideas focused not only on the uprising of people and their awakening towards the cause of freedom but taking an active interest in self-purification. For him, this was the way Ahimsa could truly be practiced.

Without self-purification the observance of the law of Ahimsa must remain an empty dream. Self purification therefore must mean purification in all the walks of life…Ahimsa is the farthest limit of humility.

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A Guide Into the depths of Morality

A good book is that leaves as many questions in the reader’s head as it answers.

Paperback Edition of 'Charitraheen'

Paperback Edition of ‘Charitraheen’

Charitraheen‘ by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay is one such book which makes the reader pierce its conscience as many times as do the characters in this epic novel do.

This book written about a hundred years ago depicts the Indian society of the time and reflects on the complexities and subtleties of man-woman relationship. One goes off wandering about looking for the character who meets the title adjective of the book ‘Charitraheen’ (without any morals).

Is it Satish who falls in love for a maid working at his place and later tries to hate her because he thinks she left him for another man for money. Or is it Savitri, the maid who absconds with a secret in her heart which she will not reveal till the end. She loved Satish, but did not think herself worthy of him. He is the son of a wealthy man and belongs to an upper caste but the origins of Savitri’s caste are not revealed to anyone and since it was considered to be folly to love and marry outside caste in the then India (a practice still prevalent to a great extent), Satish who is an observant Brahmin does not find the courage to reveal his feelings for Savitri out in public.

Is it Kiranmayee who was deprived of love from her own husband and when her husband is dying of a fatal disease, she realizes that she never loved him. She looks for love everywhere but finds its expression in Upendra. Upendra who is unaware of this, despises her when she tells about her feelings.

Or is it Divakar, who mistakes lust for love and makes it his becoming turning into a miserable wretch. He feels he has committed a crime when Kiranmayee asks him to take her away.

Everyone commits one cardinal sin, they fall in love or mistake lust for love. All characters are in dilemma how to make this wrong correct. But in the end when everything is falling right, the reader is left baffled as to why did Upendra not allow Satish to marry Savitri. They love each other, the doubts about Savitri’s character and intentions have been cleared to everybody. She is the one who has sacrificed everything so far and yet again is asked to sacrifice. Was it because, the writer wanted to reveal the hypocrisy of society by not letting two lovers meet or because he did not consider this love to be pure? As a writer and a person, Sarat Babu had denied all the hypocrisies of the society and revealed the true nature of human relationships, so probably it is the former.

Kiranmayee, the unfortunate widow who lives her life as an experiment and is the only rational character, who understands and believes in reason, but goes mad in the end. It goes on to show another hypocrisy of the society.

If you try to talk reason to the presumably sane, you may go insane.

*Note:

Picture Courtesy: Ahranya© (The cover of ‘Charitraheen’, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. Published by Vani Prakashan, New Delhi)

** Contains Spoilers 

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Tagore’s Stride into the World

The slight obstruction of the screen seemed unbearable to me. I don’t remember when, quite unaware of my action, I parted the screen a little, thrust out my face and gazed steadily at him….at one point I noticed that Sandipbabu’s eyes, bright as Orion in the sky, settled on my face. I was past caring. At that point I was no longer the daughter in law of this aristocratic household: I was the sole representative of all the women in Bengal and he was its hero.

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Bimla did not know that at that very instant, she had taken her first step into the world which was so far obscure to her. Her tryst with destiny’s path had begun and her life which was so far passing like a dormant stream of river now realized that she was capable of bringing havoc.

Up until then I had been a nameless river in a village – I had a certain rhythm, a language. But suddenly, with no warning, the ocean flooded me…Where was the old me?

Home and the World‘, originally titled ‘Ghare Bhaire’ (in Bengali), a modern classic novel written by Rabindranath Tagore raised the many important issues of that time when India’s struggle for freedom from British colonization was at its peak. The book was published in Bengali in 1916, after Tagore had won the 1913 Nobel Prize for Literature for his literary contribution. This book was the result of his conflict with the ideas of extreme nationalism.
He cautions against blind nationalism which runs as the background theme of the book while the major focus of the book remains on the relationship shared by the three protagonists, an unconventional but liberal hero, a radical anti-hero and a heroine finding awakening through conflict between liberalism and radicalism.

Once I had asked Bimal to come out into the world. Bimal was…confined to a small space, caught up in trivial duties….I didn’t want something being kept under lock and key in an iron chest: I desired her who can only be had when she wanted to give herself to me…
At that time I hadn’t thought of one thing: that if you really must see a person in her true, free self, then you can not expect to lay any definite claims on her. Why didn’t I think of it then?…I had complete faith in love.

Nikhilesh wants her wife to make a choice on her own, to explore what life has to offer and not remain limited to what the life of his household had to offer. He understood the anxieties of Bimla when she became restless at his calm response in comparison to the reactionary Sandip. Nikhilesh believed that a truly strong person does need not apply force because force was the weapon of a weak person.

The weak man doesn’t dare to judge fairly. He will avoid the responsibility of following justice and arrive at his goal quickly through unfair means.

But Bimla sure was attracted towards the display of strength, the use of strong words, force and even violence and in Sandip she saw the antithesis of her husband. All that she wanted him to be, Sandip reflected that. Sandip was the force of destruction that had come to remove the inhibitions that she had and in that process find her true energy.

The story weaved around the philosophical dilemma of violence over non-violence, ignorance over knowledge, home over the world is written in absolute poetic style which reflects the genius of Tagore in each paragraph and sentence of the book.

Yes, I am coarse, because I am Truth, I am corporeal, I am instinct, I am hunger, shameless and heartless – just as shameless and heartless as the gigantic boulder that’s dislodged from the mountainside by the rains and comes rolling down onto the heads of human habitation, irrespective of lives lost or saved.

When the boulder gets dislodged it brings a lot of destruction but once the storm has passed, everything becomes clear, all the dilemma clears away and decisions are taken.

 

*Note:

Picture Courtesy: Ahranya© (The cover of ‘Home and the World’, Rabindranath Tagore. Published by Penguin Books under Modern Classics)

** Contains Spoilers 

 

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The Story Begins on a Winter’s Night

Everything has already begun before, the first line of the first page of every novel refers to something that has already happened outside the book. Or else the real story is the one that begins ten or a hundred pages further on, and everything that precedes it is only a prologue.

These lines written by Italo Calvino, in his novel ‘If on a Winter’s Night A Traveller‘ is only the reflection of what we feel and how we behave in our day to day lives. Aren’t we all an actor living a set script on the stage of life?! This is the story of a reader which goes on to become the protagonist of the intertwining plots and changing stories. This protagonist represents every such reader who picks up this novel only to find that this book is about him. Is it a strategy of the writer to confuse the reader, Calvino asks, or is it just a ploy to hook the reader into the book?

He creates situations where a part of reader’s life gets invested into the story and before any of you knows, you are running behind the fragments of the beginnings and the desire to find the remaining parts of the stor(ies)y of which you have become a part. You are given many beginnings but at the end of each chapter you become restless to find that you have been played with again and that there is no end to this search. Photo Courtesy: @Ahranya

The lives of individuals of the human race form a constant plot, in which every attempt to isolate one piece of living that has a meaning separate from the rest – for example, the meeting of two people, which will become decisive for both – must bear in mind that each of two brings with himself a texture of events, environments, other people, and that from the meeting, in turn, other stories will be derived which will break off from their common story.

So, there is a writer who is struggling to get his writing style back while suffering from the paradox of readers’ expectations, and a conspirator who is stealing stories and transporting them to different places, as well as an autocratic government which has decided to banish all the books of the world but still keeps a library of them. Among all these characters and plots, you are the thread which is taking the story further. But still the climax is nowhere in sight, it is like a mirage created in a desert which makes itself appear when you are losing hope, but just as when you are about to touch it, it vanishes again. There are no endings, there are only the beginnings which keep intersecting the other beginnings which ultimately make a single story.

The ultimate meaning to which all stories refer has two faces: the continuity of life, the inevitability of death.

It is you who will write the climax, either chose the continuity or face the extinction. So do you chose the continuity??

 

*Note:

Picture Courtesy: Ahranya© (The cover of ‘If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller’, Italo Calvino. Published by Random House under Vintage Classics) 

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Lives of the Poet

Dear Baptu,

I am sure you will enjoy this.

With Love,

Ma

1\12\2002

The copy of ‘Memoirs’ by Pablo Neruda, which I possess has been passed on to me from my cousin brother. He also did not buy this copy as it was passed on to him, probably borrowed to him from a friend, possibly called ‘Baptu’ with love.
Baptu was gifted this book by his mother and the brief hand-written note in the beginning of this book is by Baptu’s mother. This one line note is filled with warmth which when I first read it, I thought (as a stranger to the mother-son), I must not intervene between this bond by reading or sharing it. But I could not let go of it and it keeps coming back to me with its blue ink and small fonts written carefully below the author’s bio on the first page of the book. I imagined how the duo would look like and the day when Baptu would have received this book. When this book changes hands again, I am sure in addition to the brilliant narrative of the life of Pablo Neruda, one would also touch upon this short yet beautiful feeling.

So begins this amazing journey through Memoirs of Pablo Neruda, a poet of Latin American descent who went on to win the Nobel Prize for Poetry in 1971.

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From the very first chapter of my English translation version, the mysticism of his craft starts unraveling itself and the reader finds itself immersed deep in the poetic verses of his memories. He starts with a note saying,

In these memoirs or recollections there are gaps here and there, and sometimes they are also forgetful, because life is like that… What the memoir writer remembers is not the same thing the poet remembers… The poet gives us a gallery full of ghosts shaken by the fire and darkness of his time.

Perhaps I didn’t live just in my self, perhaps I lived the lives of others… My life is a life put together from all those lives: the lives of the poet.

With a bundle of memories, collected from the very first page, I may also get to live the various lives of the poet through his written words. His journey takes the reader through different countries and the events of the early twentieth century, seen from the eyes of a poet, along with the innocent first memories of childhood and adolescence.

The beginning is mesmerizing and I imagine being captivated by the poetic craft in which Neruda writes his life building years along the verses of ‘The Chilean Forest’ so that I can also feel what he might have felt when he wrote,

Anyone who hasn’t been in the Chilean forest doesn’t know this planet.

I have come out of that landscape, that mud, that silence, to roam, to go singing through the world.

*Note:

Picture Courtesy: Ahranya© (The cover of ‘Memoirs’, Pablo Neruda. Published by Penguin Books)

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The Mandela Story

What one finds in the Mandela story is the strong persistence for human rights and belief in the equality of all irrespective of their color, language or culture. Reading through Long Walk to Freedom, the autobiography of Nelson Mandela, one finds several passages and pages marveling with sheer persistence and power of determination that we as humans are capable of.
The majority of this autobiography was written, while Mandela was still in prison and was published in 1994 by Little, Brown Book Group.

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In the final chapter of his autobiography, the 1993 Nobel Prize for Peace winner, Mandela writes,

I never lost hope that this great transformation will occur…I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there was mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion.

May be this was the power of hope that kept Mandela’s faith in the struggle against apartheid. He spent about 27 years in prison but that did not break his spirit nor did it lessen his belief in humanity. He writes,

Even in the grimmest times in prison, when my comrades and I were pushed to our limits, I would see a glimmer of humanity in one of the guards, perhaps just for a second, but it was enough to reassure me and keep me going. Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.

The autobiography also depicts not only the freedom struggle of the black and colored people of South Africa, but the sacrifices that the freedom fighters had to make in order to bring that much awaited equality of life and opportunity to all. They sacrificed the normality of life in which a person can enjoy the smallest of pleasures that life brings such as living with one’s family. Those who chose the path of struggle, sacrificed their personal lives and were

forced to live a life apart, a twilight existence of secrecy and rebellion.

Mandela’s story is a reminder that to achieve something worthwhile you have to pay the price for it. Freedom to live life the way one chooses is a basic necessity which is the first step in the direction to the philosophy of live and let live. Mandela realized this, when he wrote,

…to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others…

Those who seek freedom, have to keep walking in the direction where they can cast off the shackles of “hatred, prejudice and narrow mindedness” and become truly free.

*Note:

Picture Courtesy: Ahranya© (Cover of ‘Long Walk to Freedom’, Published by: hachette India)  

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