Sunday, September 10,
Resurrection of Kumar Vikal
Satya Pal Sehgal
year of the World Book Fair in Delhi is always the year which
sees a number of very significant publications. This year
being the World Book Fair year, it has brought out three new
anthologies of poetry by three major Hindi poets. I begin this
coloumn with Kumar Vikal’s Sampooran Kavitaien" (Aadhar
in 1935) was undoubtedly a well-known Hindi poet of this
region. After his death in 1997, this newspaper dedicated a
full page to highlight his contribution.
But then, he
was also a poet who had been widely accepted as a major voice
of his generation and loved, even worshipped, by a large
readership in Hindi. "Sampooran Kavitaien" presents
an opportunity to have another look at his work, though the
collected poems are culled from his three earlier published
anthologies. "Ek choti si ladai," "Rang khatare
mein hain" and "Nirupama Dutt main bahut udas hoon".
As a matter of fact, "Sampooran Kavitaien" is not
really "sampooran" as Vikal reportedly had a few
other published poems not included in any of his three
anthologies and there must be some unpublished poems too!
poetry, a record of intense inner struggle, expressed in the
idiom of radical social change, ends its journey at a cool
interface with death. What makes Vikal’s poetry special is
that it presents to us the story of the desire to stretch out
of the lower middle class limitations to a broader social
vision. In this process many Third World realities find their
way into his poems. He also introduces a poetic style which
can only be of the language of the oppressed.
For all real
reasons, Kumar Vikal was a son of the soil. He was a Punjabi
by birth, by culture, by social values, and in the use of the
Hindi language in social interactions. His decision to write
in Hindi has roots in the complex language and literary
history of Punjab. Rightly or wrongly, the greater Punjab was
a bastion of Hindi literature, particularly fiction. Vikal was
the first Hindi poet of this region, who was considered a
stalwart in the larger Hindi scene.
Still, he was
not enamoured of the typical Hindi image at the level of
literary expression. His poetic diction has this impregnable
imprint of Punjabiyat and makes a case for deeper
intra-culture studies. In this context, he can be considered
close to Krishna Sobti, the well-known Hindi fiction writer.
poetry also underlines a characteristic sense of guilt. Guilt
for what? Not coming up to one’s own self-image of a
practising revolutionary? Does this need a deeper
psychoanalytical investigation? This sense of guilt is
something peculiar to post-independence Hindi poetry,
particularly among those with leftist learnings. Perhaps it
can be found even beyond that with a larger space.
It should be
said that Vikal’s poetry enriches this particular poetic
space. It provides it with a different language, a different
idiom. This idiom is concrete, earthy, local.
Madhav Muktibodh, the doyen of Hindi poetry after Surya Kant
Tripathi Nirala, was perhaps the first poet in Hindi who made
the sense of guilt a theme of poetry in a classical manner.
Though Vikal’s poetry is not that volumnious, a comparison
between the two is still called for. Vikal has used the sense
of guilt in a manner which makes a common reader share it.
Immediately, Personally, Historically.
* * *
Dabral and Rajesh Joshi, the other poets whose anthologies are
under discussion, belong to the next generation of Vikal.
"Aawaj bhi ek jagah hai" (Sound is also a space,
Vani, Delhi) is Manglesh Dabral’s (born in 1948) fourth
collection of poetry. Dabral is a poet, whose forte is
memories and who comes from some remote hilly village of what
is now called Uttaranchal. He belongs to the generation of
Hindi poets which is considered the post-naxalite movement
considerable time in the post-independence history of Hindi
poetry, there was this bunch of poets who had a very fine
sense of diction with a rich experience tinged with refined
imagination and magic. For once, these poets were not
influenced by the current western aesthetic trends and instead
showed empathy with the soft, humane, simple poetry of East
European poets like Wislava Shimborska, Yevatushanko, Misolav
Holub, Bertolt Brecht and poets from Latin America, Africa,
Asia and black American poets.
about marginal voices, new definitions of a writer’s
commitment and believed in undertone. Though Hindi literary
criticism has been mixed to their accomplishments, Dabral won
universal acclaim for his rich imagery based on a skilful
understanding of the expanse of nature. His sense of
proportion has made him distinct.
Manglesh’s generation would have to face issues raised by
deconstruction and by a stronger decolonised spirit and new
fundamental upsurges brewing up in the Hindi heartland.
bhi ek jagah hai" is conspicous by a good number of poems
either on musicians or on poets or on the creative process
itself. The poet either perceives creativity as a marginal
activity or looks for the performer who has been pushed
towards the margin. "Keshav anurag" is one such poem
which has this real character Keshav Anuragi, a Dalit, an
extraordinary musician but who ends up as an incurable
alcoholic. By all standards, this is a remarkably moving poem.
there is this poem on Ustad Amir Khan, a poem on the
accompanist (sangatkar) and so on.
who have been following Dabral’s earlier collections
(namely, "Pahar par laltain", "Ghar ka rasta",
"Ham jo dekhate hai") would find that Dabral has
tried to reassert his poetic self with this particular
collection, his assertion is that of a native language poet,
which is really a tough thing in our times. In the process,
the poet has succeeded in creating some really marvellous
poems. "Drishaya", "Phal", "Tare ke
prakash ki tarah," etc.
contemporary of Manglesh, Rajesh Joshi’s (born in 1946)
anthology "Do panktion ke beech" (Raj Kamal, Delhi)
is also his fourth. Rajesh is a Bhopal-based poet and this
fact has much to do with the making of his poetry as the
locale is quite pronounced in every aspect of his poetry. In
the milieu, characters, events or even the kind of Hindi he
uses. He has been perhaps the loudest in his peer group,
reminiscent of the failure of poets and their poetry in the
occasions, he shows that he is the one who has given political
poetry in Hindi some real success. One remembers "Mare
jayenge" (We would be killed) in his last anthology
"Naipathlhaya mein hansie" (Laughter off the stage,
1994). This collection also has two such poems worth a mention
— namely, "Jab tak main ek appeal likhta hoon"
(Till I write an appeal) and "Barbar sirf barbar
the" (Savages were only savages).
also shows his mettle to defy time. Looking on the general
pessimistic view the Hindi world has about the place for
creativity in contemporary society, four collections of poetry
that too at regular intervals, speak clearly of the poet’s
positive worldview. Joshi had all along these years an idiom
and used emotion and rhythm. Populist, and at times,
sentimental in putting up. Objectively speaking, by over-doing
these things, Joshi unwittingly creates problems of
authenticity for his poetry. Still, it goes to his credit that
his poetry, in this fourth collection as well, underscores the
fascinating thing called human emotional warmth which is
missing in the works of many poets. Interestingly, like
Maglesh Dabral, Joshi too has a few poems at the beginning of
this particular collection, which focus on the act of writing
a poem and the medium, the language itself. "Do panktion
ke beech", "Aadhoori kavitaien", "Ityadi",
and "Shahayak kriya", Hamari bhasha".
some time, this has been a phenomenon in Hindi poetry —
poets have been writing poems as a simple act of poetry
writing. Any way, the poems which affect us most in this
anthology by Rajesh Joshi are poems who have characters as
their central theme, emotional characters, who always provide
a clinching line to the poet, at the end of his poem. "Chitra
main ladaki ki umar", "Restaurant main intjaar"
and "Hamare shehar ki galian" are also beautiful
poems which can surely make many a reader of this coloumn
remember streets of their own towns, cities, left behind as
life goes on taking its own unpredictable course.
These three poetry
collections by three major Hindi poets may give the reader
some insight into the main predicament of contemporary Hindi
poetry — that is, it fails to appreciate the future of the
world which advocates globalisation, world market and IT
The Karmapa conspiracy as pulp fiction
Review by Baljit Singh
Cries by Anil Maheshwari UBSD Publishers, New Delhi, Pages 145.
author, a senior journalist with The Hindustan Times, describes
his book as a "chronicle of rogues in robes..... a racy
potboiler depicting the seamy" struggles of venerated
Tibetan reincarnations, spiritual gurus who trace their roots
far back in antiquity to the Buddha and even earlier.
And he lives up
to the claim. The account is littered with tales of monks
smuggling gold on diplomatic passports, indulging in drunken
orgies, conspiring in forgeries and assassinations. There is
even a guru’s steamy affairs with his disciple, another
accused by male lovers of infecting them with AIDS, culminating
in the final ignominy of the senior Regent actually dying of
A sordid if
forgettable confirmation of the rot in the lamaistic
establishment were it not for the fact that the lamas are the
here and now of contemporary India, and their machinations often
pit the world’s two most populous nations against each other.
Nuclear powers locked in an intractable territorial dispute
flowing from the land of the lamas.
The holy grail
in the present case is the institution of the Karmapa, a 12th
century Tibetan guru now in his 17th reincarnation.
Unfortunately for the Chinese, the Karmapa sought refuge in
India in 1959 in the wake of the 16th Chinese occupation of
Tibet. But unlike other, mostly Tibet-specific Buddhist orders,
his Karma branch of the Kagyu order already had a wide following
in the Indian Himalayas to build on. Even a ready-made base in
its monastery in Rumtek.
Given this and
the Karmapa’s efforts, the order flourished and before the
death in 1982 he was head of a world-wide organisation with some
200 centres and an estimated six million disciples, surpassing
even the Dalai Lama’s Gelug sect in terms of reach. A legacy
worth fighting for. And once the exiled Karmapa died, the
Chinese were back in the fight.
For should the
Chinese, who have a long history of taking in the reincarnation
"game" be able to steal a ‘‘patriotic’’
candidate past as the Karmapa’s reincarnation, it would allow
them greater control over Tibet’s restive Buddhist population.
Especially once the ageing Dalai Lama, the symbol of Tibet’s
old theological order, died over the next decade or so.
"candidate" also get control over the 16th Karmapa’s
seat in Rumtek, allowing them to tweak the ears of their
interfering neighbour by perhaps recruiting the Karma Kagyu as a
fifth column in the service of the "motherland", it
would be two birds with a single stone. As for the Kagyu’s
many officers and its fabulous wealth stashed away in the
western world, it is welcome icing on the Kagyu cake.
With such high
stakes, it is obvious that Communist China should pull out all
stops. Even shed its avowed distaste for religion in the race to
ensure that its lama gets into the saddle at Tsurphu, the
Karmapa’s headquarters in Tibet. And at an opportune moment
"escape" to India, where the Kagyu faithful would
propel him into Rumtek, as an unassailable Chinese mole in the
But the Chinese
plan had one fatal weakness — its Karmapa candidate would have
to be endorsed by Kagyu regents, the Tibetan monk officials
entrusted with looking for him, the very lamas China had hounded
out a quarter century earlier. Which is where the gilded lamas
come into the picture.
China, the Kagyu lamas have been split down the middle ever
since the Karmapa’s death. There is even a serious division
within the Kagyu establishment itself over who is the seniormost
and hence deciding regent in case of any dispute, and the 16th
Karmapa left no clear public testament about his reincarnation.
A vacuum which gave the regents a carte blanche to manoeuvre for
control over Rumtek, the Karmapa’s most valuable legacy.
Indeed for most
of the 10 next years after his death they would do little else,
shrugging off even their primary responsibility of finding the
new Karmapa. Whenever the prodding of the Kagyu faithful got too
insistent, they would be brushed off with vague and enigmatic
pronouncements of the time not being ripe.
were probably despairing when one of the Kagyu regents, thwarted
in his quest for control of Rumtek, decided to play the Karmapa
hand. On March 19, 1992, Situ Rinpoche, one of the four regents,
publicly proclaimed that he had the 16th Karmapa’s secret
testament. Predictably, the other regents smelt fraud and one of
them, Shamar Rimpoche, said as much.
But the three
other regents failure to come up with a testament, even a
suspect one, in a decade, and the impatience of the Kagyu
following their failure, gave Situ Rimpoche a clear edge. Except
now he would have to deliver, launch a search for the candidate
It was the
perfect setting for the Chinese to step in, especially since any
search would require Chinese permission if not actual
cooperation to allow the search parties to roam Tibet for likely
candidates. Once the Chinese came into the picture events
proceeded at lightning speed. On April 8 a search party from
Tsurphu left for eastern Tibet, an area the size of South India,
to begin the search. A fortnight later, on April 24, it found
and photographed its candidate for confirmation by Tsurphu. On
June 15 the seven-year-old Ugyen Trinley was in Tsurphu. On June
29, before the two other regents, shocked into stupor by the
accidental death of a third regent, could react, Beijing and the
Dalai Lama and recognised Ugyen Trinley as the Karmapa.
crest of his audacious success, just over a year later, in
August, 1993, Situ’s Rinpoche’s faction seized effective
control of the Karmapa’s seat, Rumtek, in a monastery coup. If
it was a China-inspired plot, Beijing had got it right to the
dot. Still, what is a pot-boiler without its good guys. The
reclusive Shamar Rimpoche, hitherto content with protecting his
status as senior regent and in charge of Rumtek, now suddenly
jumps centre-stage. It turns out that he, rather than
"Chinese-agent" Situ Rinpoche, has been the inheritor
of the Karmapa’s testament all along, a secret message
conveyed through Chogbye Tri Rinpoche, a Sakya monk, back in
1986. A dream complete with an accompanying photograph of the
three-year old Karmapa. The only problem is that while the
"impostor" is in Tsurphu the real Karmapa is in Lhasa,
Tibet, a no-go area for the "pro-India" Shamarpa.
situations demand desperate remedies, even taking
life-threatening risks. So Shamar Rinpoche, disguised as a
businessman, flies to Lhasa (no dates are mentioned). But he is
unable to contact the reincarnation. Still, some sort of contact
seems to have been made for in January, 1994, the real Karmapa,
Trinley Thaye, arrives in Kathmandu along with his family, then
moves on the Shamar Rinpoche’s base in Delhi. On March 17,
1994, Trinley Thaye is ordained as Karmapa in Delhi.
has called the Chinese bluff. They can keep the Tsurphu Lama, he
says, the Kagyu empire will be inherited by the Karmapa in
India. But Situ Rinpoche hasn’t been sitting idle either.
Realising he has been outwitted, he hectors China and the Kagyu
establishment to send Ugyen Trinley to Rumtek "for
studies". His fraternising" with China catches India’s
eye and in August, 1994, Situ Rinpoche is banned from India.
Buoyed by their success, the good guys are ready to deliver the
coup de grace. On August 8, 1995, Shamar Rinpoche’s monks
march peacefully on Rumtek in a bid to regain their
As one would
expect of the bad guys, the monks are met with violence, denied
entry and Shamar Rinpoche excluded from Sikkim. But the worst is
yet to come. In August, 1998, the BJP government lifts the ban
on Situ Rinpoche. A little over a year later, in January, 2000,
his Karmapa candidate walks over the Tibet border into India,
and a credulous Dharamsala. Despite Shamar’s pleading, he is
permitted to stay. As a fitting postscript, a conference of top
Kagyu officials from around the world meets in Dharamsala on
August 18 and resolves that the Tsurphu Karmapa, now in
Dharamsala, be sent to Rumtek for studies. Only the last act,
that of getting the "Chinese" Karmapa into Rumtek, now
quite so direct in its chronology this is the essence of
Maheshwari’s potboiler. If despite his superpower brew, the
plot doesn’t quite boil over, it is because the author is not
quite able to carry off the inherent contradictions in his
story. His evident reliance on monk Shamar Rimpoche’s
testimony, to denounce other monks for instance. His manifest
ambivalence about his subject — cynical disbelief of lamaism’s
current practitioners combined with a credulous faith in the
fantastic accounts of lamaism’s originators — does not help.
Add poor chronology, and odds
and ends of information that just seem to hang in space and
"The Buddha Cries" becomes just another crying tale to
cash in on the Karmapa conundrum. Still if you are seriously
into the gold-digging or boiling religious pots business, this
slim volume, 145 pages, has enough meat to keep you flipping.
Utopia, and why it is unattainable
Review by M. L. Raina
Revolution: On the Origins of a Metaphor or Some Illustrations
of the Problem of Political Tem-perament and Intellectual
Climate by Melvin J. Lasky. The University of Chicago Press,
Chicago. Pages xiii+ 726. $ 36.
A heaven on
earth they hope to gain/ But we do know full well/
Could they their glorious
ends attain/This kingdom must be hell.
— Marchmand Needham.
— Josh Maleehabadi
is common in Cherneshevysky’s "What Is To Be
Done", Zamayatin’s "We" and Andrey Platanov’s
recently discovered novel, "The Foundation Pit"? All
are in a sense concerned with the building of an ideal
society, a utopian dream. Zamayatin’s novel is a hard satire
on the dream fulfilled at tremendous human cost, Platanov’s
an abstract and surreal imagining of the building of a palace
of proletarian culture in which the world’s working men can
enjoy eternal bliss. All, however, show up the symbolism of
utopia and revolution in a suspicious light.
other documents to illustrate the troubled relationship of
utopian hope and militant action, but I refer to the Russian
examples for two reasons. One: the Russian Revolution of 1917
was the most significant event of the 20th century in which
utopia and revolution were in constant interplay. Second:
Melvin Lasky, the editor of the now defunct Encounter
magazine, has been in the forefront of the anti-Soviet
crusade. He draws his inspiration not only from his native
Anglo-American liberal political tradition but also from the
inherent revolutionary temper of the Russian intelligentsia of
the 19th century, particularly Herzen and Bakunin, besides the
Bolshevik ideologues such as Leon Trotsky.
deep-seated desire for utopia is as old as humanity itself and
has been expressed in various terms such as the building of a
New Jerusalem, an earthly paradise, a Communist society or
just simply a never-never land where milk and honey flow in
abundance ("Forest of Arden" in Shakespeare). In
this new reprint of Lasky’s magisterial study, utopian
aspiration and revolutionary purpose are viewed as recurring
motifs in the evolution of human society, though these motifs
acquire different vocabularies in different historical periods
book is a mine of intellectual ideas, extensive in reach and
often provocative in argument. He covers the entire spectrum
of European history from Plato to the present and discovers
the various mutations of the "metaphors" of utopia
and revolution. He finds the earliest metaphor for utopia in
the parable of the ants building a disciplined
"commonwealth" through ordered participatory labour.
The relevance of this metaphor for the Stalinist state is all
represent the ideal of a utopian order which has not been lost
on writers of dystopia. In Platanov’s "Chevengur",
written in the early thirties but allowed to be published only
recently, ants point to the perversion of the utopian Soviet
state. "If only we were given ant or mosquito reason,
then life could be smoothed over right away," says the
old cynical Zakhar Pavlovich in this, the bitterest of anti-collectivisation
It should be
made clear at the outset that Lasky does not set out to write
a "history" of utopia and revolution, even though
the book is replete with a phenomenal range of historical
evidence. What concerns him is the way successive generations
of western politicians, pamphleteers, intellectuals and a
number of poets and dramatists have conceived these metaphors
to express their dissatisfaction with the existing order, and
the desire for the renovation of that order either through
reform and, when that fails, through revolution. One does not
have to be a utopian or a revolutionary to entertain these
always the danger of utopian and revolutionary zeal turning
into their opposite. Milton, in spite of his sympathies for
the Cromwellian cause and in spite of being on the side of the
apostate Satan, makes Angel Gabriel tell Adam in
"Paradise Lost": "Be lowly wise/Dream not of
other worlds." Dante, long before Milton, made a
distinction between the earthly and spiritual paradise and
preferred the latter, his own political exile notwithstanding.
Rogers, an early admirer of Cromwell, was later thoroughly
convinced of the "apostasy, hypocrisy, murder and
treason" of the Lord Protector. Voltaire, a lover of
liberty and a scourge of tyranny, nevertheless pleaded for
moderation against excessive renovatory zeal. Indeed, the word
"enthusiasm" comes in for a good deal of critical
scrutiny in his writings, as also later in the writings of
Some of the
chapters of this remarkable book detail the see-saw of the
revolutionary enthusiasm and its limits. Lasky’s intention
is both to show the twin dreams of utopia and revolution
pervading what Frederic Jameson would call the "political
unconscious" of certain critical historical periods, and
to study the consequences of actions arising out of these.
What catches our attention is the remarkable similarity of the
utopian-revolutionary rhetoric, particularly the rhetoric of
"fire", "thunder" and
"destruction". Lasky’s central chapters provide a
rich glossary of the uses to which these metaphors were put by
thinkers in different epochs.
is pervasive during the Cromwellian revolt and the French
revolution. Lasky quotes Winstanley, Bunyan and a host of
minor pamphleteers and feulitton writers to suggest that fire
and thunder were the symbolic embodiments of the desire for
change and the need to destroy old institutions. ‘‘Why may
we not have our heaven here, and heaven hereafter too?"
asks Winstanley, reminding his flock of Christ slaying the
beast. Fire both purges and burns and is, therefore, an apt
metaphor for ushering in the heavenly kingdom. Three centuries
later, in Andrei Tarkaovsky’s film "Sacrifice",
fire destroys the writer-doctor’s house as well as his
revolutionary thunder continue to be the dominating metaphors
during the French revolution. Robespierre saw Jacobin France
emerging as if like a phoenix. His cult of destructive
violence, advocated in another sphere by Marquis de Sade,
became the rallying call for the new faithfuls to destroy the ancien
regime. In Victor Hugo’s novel "Les Miserables"
the exchange of fire between Javert’s troops and the communards
takes a heavy toll, not least that of the innocent voice of
the young tramp Gavroche.
chapters on the English response to the French revolution do
not add anything to what we already know, particularly through
the work of E.P. Thompson, whom Lasky sidesteps entirely, just
as he sidesteps the work of Christopher Hill on the
revolutionary impulses in the English civil war.
of Coleridge, Wordsworth and Southey are rehearsed yet again,
but only to suggest their disillusionment with the
revolutionary Promethean ideology itself. Wordsworth’s two
visits to France and his imbibing of the fiery spirit of the
Jacobins is recorded as are the relevant references to the
French revolution in "The Prelude". Yet the point
Lasky makes is that these poets had outlived their brief
infatuation with the cult of violence into which the French
revolt degenerated (Shelley’s "Prometheus Unbound"
is untypical). Thompson, however, has a different story
a good part of his argument to account for the fact that the
English were not particularly warm to the total renovatory
project of the utopians. It is true that except for Shelley
and briefly Wordsworth, Southey and a minor poet John
Halliwell, whom Lasky does not mention, we do not find among
English poets of the Romantic period anything like the
sustained sentiment expressed by Josh Maleehabadi in lines
such as "kam hai mera tagayur, nam hai mera shabab"
nor do we find the equivalent of the fervour that minor poets
displayed for the Spanish Civil War in 1936-38. Lasky’s two
chapters on "The English ideology" are a liberal–humanist
defence of moderation that the English are supposed to have
displayed in times of crisis.
like Locke, Hume, Bentham and Edmund Burke spoke for
moderation in spite of their sympathy for change. Burke in
particular warned against the excesses of the French
revolution and others equally expressed their belief in what
Lasky calls the "pragmatic empiricism" of the
English. In spite of a large British colony in Paris
sympathising with the revolution, gradualism becomes the
watchword in British politics as well as in British literature
of the period.
Lasky relies mostly on what we already know about the English
penchant for compromise. By stressing this point throughout
his narrative, he seems to be defending his own bourgeois
there was a tradition of millenarian socialism of Saint-Simon,
Fourier and the Brook Farm in America which Hawthorne examined
in "Blithedale Romance". This tradition develops
independently of the British stream and is parallel to the
revolutionary spirit displayed by writers like Adam Mekweikcz
in Poland, and the later anarchist movements in Russia. Marx
and Engels were aware of them and called them
"utopian" in a limited sense. Later on Lenin and
Rosa Luxemberg were to denounce this tradition while in
service of the Bolshevik cause. Herbert Marcuse was not far
ultimate analysis it has to be accepted that no revolution or
utopia turns out on expected lines. Here dreams are up against
harsh realities. The Russian and Chinese Communist revolutions
turned sour because they were foisted on an inhospitable soil.
The collapse of the Soviet model and the melting of the
Chinese one are ample proof of the non-durability of the
degeneration of revolutionary ardour into a wrenching civil
strife in Africa belied the hopes of Third World statesmen
like Nehru and Nkrumah. As Shakespeare would say (he knew the
renovatory logic of his time and observed its defeat in his
history plays), there is always a shadow in between. Lasky’s
argument makes us recall W. B.Yeats’s verdict on the whole
memorable poem he says "Hurrah for revolution!/let the
cannon shoot, /The beggar upon horseback lashes the beggar on
foot. /Hurrah for revolution! Cannon once again/The beggars
have changed places/but the lash goes on."
I think the poet of "The
Second Coming" knew it all too well.
A liberal’s lament of things present
by M. L. Sharma
Greatness by Jitendra Kaushal. Karma Bhoomi Foundation,
Yamunanagar. Pages 86. Rs. 125.
of Greatness" is collection of 15 illuminating essays
touching on various themes from democracy to mafia, faith to the
Pokhran nuclear tests. Written in a racy style and in chaste
English, the book surveys the national as well as international
scenario with comments likely to provoke further thinking on
fundamental issues like democracy and a republican form of
eassys by Bacon, Hazlitt, Charles Lamb and Montaigne, these
essays do not aim at providing wise saying or making our
literary and worldly knowledge richer and more refined.. They
are more concerned with the current scenario or the current
socio-political milieu. Corruption in public life seems to be
the main concern of the author and he cannot reconcile with what
is termed these days as diplomacy and politcal acumen. Total
sincerity in every walk of life seems to be his cherished goal.
This has coaxed him to air his views.
or Economics", the author seems to have a grudge against
those economists who manipulate figures and blow up economic
achievements of their country out of proportion. "Deny an
economist the use of figures and you take away his ability to
make cogent arguments. Jugglery with figures, better known as
statistics, has played havoc with mankind, with gurus of
economics dragging nations from one mirage to another".
argument is that the true strength of a nation "lies in the
resilience and vibrancy of" social and state institutions
and not in economists’ jugglery of figures and in state’s
fiscal or "accumulated power".
"Republic’s decline", he has a dig even at swamis
and Hinduism at large. "Gun-running swamis brought succour
to the corrupt ruling elite and bought for themselves aircraft
and endless acres of strategic land. Tantriks not only foretold
things but undertook to alter the course of political
events". He sees depravity in youths’ lure for wealth.
Gandhian motto of simple life and the earth can satisfy one’s
need but not one’s greed appeals to him.
In one of his
essays, he calls the President of India as the uncaring supreme
commander because he did not intervene in the dismissal of
Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat. The author has spit venom at the BJP
government for this gross injustice in disciplining the
disciplined man of the defence forces. "It takes not very
fertile imagination to picture how a beleaguered Vajpayee must
have readily acquiesced in to the loud pleadings of his Man
"democracy’s crippling flaws", he maintains that
without the active participation of youth and political
awareness of masses, people’s meaningful participation in
political process, the freedom of media, especially electronic
media, from government’s control, it is not possible to
restore a crippled democracy to vibrancy and good health. In
"Playing nuclear godfather", the author is critical of
the role of big powers and their double standards as he believes
that owing to their insincerity, the dream of nuclear
disarmament can hardly be translated into reality.
About the USA’s
role, he comments; "America topples legitimate governments,
floods countries with lethal weapons to fuel civil strife and
gets away with it. Hijacking the UNO, it rains missiles and
bombs where it pleases and clamps trade embargo to serve its own
interests." While the USA made a hue and cry over India’s
nuclear tests at Pokhran, there was not a murmur from Washington
when Russia conducted a nuclear test some days earlier.
"Freedom of expression", he underscores the fact that
truth and not cheap publicity and public glamour should govern
our artistic pursuits. The artistic creation should have quality
and a touch of the sublime, displaying dedication and superior
human faculities. He is not appreciative of Salman Rushdie’s
"sarcasm-packed caricatures", Shoba De’s
"salacious gossips", M.F. Hussain’s portrait of
goddesses in the nude. This essay has a message for those who
masquerade profanity and sensual titillation as creative
excellence and creation of beauty. Nudity in art, he says, is
being unfair to the fair sex.
"Harvest of happiness", he has written in the same
vein in which Vincent Peele, James Allen or Swet Marden write to
make us believe that happiness does not lie in riches and
luxuries. It is a state of the mind. "Happiness," he
says "is an attribute of a tranquil mind." In
"Faith is crucial" he lavishes praise on the melody
queen, Lata Mangeshkar for her unflinching loyalty, dedication
to work, the unwavering faith in Saraswati, the goddess of
learning, and her character. Abdul Kalam, the eminent scientist,
is highly appreciated for the faith and dedication to work,
well-written book of essays (why not call them articles?) is
quite thought-provoking and merits study by scholars as well as
students for creating awareness of the current politico-social
milieu. The book also explores the causes of shaky moral values.
* * *
The Mystic Soul
by Fakeer Ishavar Dass. Grace Books, Bathinda. Pages 110. Rs.
Mystic Soul" is a spiritual diary of an eminent saint
containing poetical musings on various themes. The author has a
catholic outlook and does not seem to believe in ism, and in
superiority of a particular religion. All religions, he says,
have the same message. "I and my father are one." In
this respect the gospel taught by Jesus Christ and the Vedanta
propounded by Shankar show hardly any difference. Gnosis and the
path of non-dualism can alone save mankind and this path, he
says, is universal.
that even the best of men "remain enslaved by the iron bars
of their own thinking". It is "a babe of innocence,
deprived of all ego, self-conceit, bookish knowledge,
superstitions" who can reach the divine. Anybody who thinks
himself to be somebody can never tread on the spiritual path.
All those who remain in "mammon’s embrace" cannot
reach the kingdom of heaven.
teachings are: "One is life of all manifest and latent
existence". It is by the "will of nature" the
mystic third eye opens and not by the "self-will" of
any yogi. for this devotion, surrender and true way are the key.
It is by following true commandments that "nature
cooperates with man spontaneously" and thus the eye becomes
single. Just as in an ocean no wave claims that it came into
existence first, man and woman should realise that no religion
can claim superiority and precedence over the other because it
traced its origin to antiquity or times immemorial:
He comes up
with the following lines of a special message for humanity:
The book will inspire those who
are in quest of solace and spiritual insight. The book needed
proper editing as it can hardly be called a poetic work, in
metre or in blank verse.
Partition riots and the trauma
Review by Jai Narain Sharma
Trauma Continues: Northern India and Independence edited by D.A.
Low and Howard Brasted. Sage Publications, New Delhi. Pages 238.
is a complex phenomenon and reaches out to far beyond what
normally constitutes an historian’s archives. For, memory is
much more than what the mind can remember or the events can help
us document the past. What we do not always consciously know we
remember when something actually happens. And there remains the
question much discussed these days — literature on the Indian
partition. People do not even wish to remember the pain and
horror of life. Memory, then, is an investigator-historian which
approaches the past with one aim: "tell me all".
There are two
aspects of memory that concern us here: nostalgia and trauma,
and their contradictory relationship to the past. A memory of
trauma has a narrative structure which works on a principle
opposite to that of a historical narrative. At the same time,
however, this memory can be plausible if it supports the claim
of the victim. There is no getting around the fact that the
partition was traumatic for those who had to leave their homes.
Stories and incidents of sexual degradation of women, of forced
eviction, of physical violence and humiliation marked their
The set of
essays ("Freedom, Trauma, Continues: Northern India and
Independence" turns fundamentally to this question of the
difference between history and memory.
massacres of 1947 are part of the freedom lore in India and
Pakistan. This knowledge is, however, insubstantial. Details,
the distinctive character, the endless ramifications are rarely
followed thoroughly. Following earlier and variously problematic
official accounts, a major beginning has been made by Swarna
Aiyar in the article "August anarchy: the partition
massacres in Punjab 1947". Here an objective account of
some key aspects of the traumatic events is given.
It seems clear
that the riots of March, 1947, which were largely confined to
the western districts of Punjab, need to be distinguished from
the partition massacres of August - September of the same year,
which, among other things, were spread over the whole province.
The former were triggered by the outrage the Muslims felt that
despite their preponderant numbers in the province, the
provincial government following the elections of 1946, was
formed by the Congress and the Unionist Party with the support
of the Sikh members and excluded the largest party, the Muslim
League. Muslims feared that unless this situation was speedily
righted, this key province, or at least a big part of it, which
was crucial to the viability of the Pakistan, would elude them.
In the wake of the riots, the coalition government was toppled.
That immediately encouraged the province’s many entrenched
advocates of violence.
Aiyar gives details of the sequence of the killings in Punjab,
in railway carriages, of those marching to safety on foot and
elsewhere, one hitherto understandable consequence of the
horrific character of the mass killings and trauma disruptions
has been that many people have apparently shrunk from detailing
them in retrospect.
contributions help, however, to lift the veil a little more. In
seeking explicit and available descriptions of what occurred,
Ian Talbot in his "Literature and the human drama of the
1947 partition" finds these not in any oral or memory
accounts, nor in any studies based on them, but in literature,
where direct personal experience is on many occasions evidently
drawn upon. These fictionalised narratives apparently furnish a
more bearable description of the horrors than raw accounts by
victims and survivors.
Andrew Major in
his article, "The chief sufferers: abduction of women
during the partition of Punjab" takes the story a step
further. In 1947-48 both the Pakistani and Indian governments
were deeply perturbed over the mass abduction of women, and both
mounted operations to secure their restoration to their
families. Yet as he details, the problem was so deep that even
the solicitous intentions of the governments often never touched
the core of it. And there is the unspoken implication which
nowadays is perhaps rather more difficult to understand — that
women were abducted after their men had been slain.
The depth of
human suffering of the partition period is never likely to be
fully fathomed though a beginning is now being made. Estimates
vary but it seems as if during the course of 1947 and into 1948
something like 5.5 million Hindus and Sikhs crossed over from
west Punjab to India, while something like 5.8 million Muslims
moved in the opposite direction. Estimates for the migrations to
and from East Bengal seem impossible to compile, both because
they were spread over a considerably longer period and because
they were essentially far more episodic.
this theme is Sarah Ansari’s account of the difficulties
involved in settling the Muslim mohajirs, as they came to be
called, mostly from north-central India, in Sindh and, more
particularly, in Karachi. It is a story which, as she rightly
underlines, lives on to this day, in a seemingly aggravated
form. Her contribution is the only one which in any way touches
upon what by any account must be seen as one of the most
poignant consequences of partition.
This lies in
the fact that in so many ways almost all major cities across the
pre-partition northern India bear to this day one or the other
characteristic of refugee settlement. If, as she emphasises,
this is true of Karachi, it is true as well of Lahore, Delhi,
Calcutta and Dhaka, to mention the most obvious cases. One of
the major gaps in South Asain historiography lies precisely in
the absence of major studies of what has happened to these
cities in the second half of the 20th century.
There remains a great deal more
to be learnt about violent years of the 1940s. These studies,
and the larger accounts, of which there are several here, are no
more than a foretaste of what is yet to come. Such research is
starting to widen our perspective on the momentous events of the
1940s, particularly across northern India, where political
decisions of the time had a much more tumultuous impact than
elsewhere. That promises to advance the cause of historical
writing about the post-independence years which hitherto has
largely been the scholarly preserve of professionals and
political scientists. In that sense these chapters serve to
underscore the fact that a new generation of historians is
emerging to cross the existing frontiers and cross the terrain
of South Asia’s post-independence history. The result will be
interesting to watch.
Another trip to Malgudi
by R.P. Chaddah
The World of
Malgudi — R.K. Narayan edited by S. Krishnan. Viking, New
Delhi. Pages 600. Rs 395.
KRISHNAN has come out with a second book on R.K. Narayan. The
first "A Town Called Malgudi" contained the finest
fiction of Narayan, two short novels and a several popular
short stories. In the present volume he combines the old and
new world of RKN by taking four novels, two from his early
period, "Mr Sampath" and "The Financial Expert,
and two novels from the mature period when Narayan was in his
seventies (he is now into his nineties), "The Painter of
Signs" and "A Tiger for Malgudi".
offer a study in contrast. The editor has been an academic at
the university and college level and now he is a weekly
columnist with a Chennai daily. His love for RKN fiction comes
out periodically in the form of volumes on his writings which
he edits for Viking/Penguin.
RKN is a
Tamilian who has spent all his life in Mysore. Quite early in
his life he decided to earn his honest penny by writing,
though the first few years were not fruitful money wise. So he
became a reporter for a Madras journal and it enabled him to
meet a wide variety of people, many of whom inspired the
characters of his novels. And then Graham Greene showed
interest in RKN’s fiction and there has been no looking back
novel came out in 1935 and till date he has written 20-odd
novels, a large number of short stories, essays, articles and
what have you. In a career spanning more than six decades.
Narayan, till recently, continued to use materials and
characters experienced and explored personally, but he is
always on the "outside looking in".
Sampath" was first published in 1949 in London, but its
Indian edition came out in 1959. Around that time it was
filmed in Tamil and Hindi. The novel is in two sharp parts.
The double structure is all too apparent. The first part is
devoted to running newspapers and is organised around Srinivas,
the second to film industry in which Mr Sampath is the more
considerable experience of movie making as he used to work in
Gemini Studios in Madras. His description of Srinivas’s
brief encounter with the tinsel world is hilariously accurate.
Even his knowledge of the intricacies of printing gained
during the short-lived "Indian Thought" magazine
(1941-42) came in handy when describing the production of
"The Banner" in the novel.
context of place, family and work, we find a striking duality
in the development of the character of Srinivas, being one of
those young, ardent, idealistic Narayan characters, when
compared with Mr Sampath who belongs to a group of characters
found throughout his fiction (the aged landlord in "The
English Teacher", the strange priest in "The
Financial Expert" or the sinister Marco in "The
Guide"). A comparable distinction exists between simple
Indian family life- loving Srinivas and the ostentatious,
establishment and chaotic sexual mores of the film studios.
The substance of the novel is made up of the apparent
relationship of these two, the female characters have been
relegated to a secondary place. In the end Mr Sampath himself
has to leave Malgudi to escape the wrath of his creditors and
he bids farewell to Srinivas.
Financial Expert" was Narayan’s masterpiece till
"The Guide" appeared in 1958 and he got the Sahitya
Akademi Award in 1960. This was later made into a gripping
movie by Dev Anand. Years ago "The Malgudi Days",
based on Narayan stories was telecast on the TV, week after
week. The novel tells the story of the rise and fall of
Margayya, probably Narayan’s greatest single comic
creation", the financial expert. The novel revolves
around lust for money and it is also a revealing study of the
cash nexus in modern life.
is no incarnate of greed and wickedness, RKN has succeeded in
humanising him by showing that despite his lust for money, he
is human like all of us with our foibles and frailities. His
prosperity is the outcome of his money-lending business by
some foul means, but all this does not give him peace of mind.
He learns the hard way the age-old lesson that prosperity and
peace do not always go together.
Painter of Signs" was first serialised in the then
popular magazine The Illustrated Weekly of India (since
discontinued) and later in a novel form in 1976. The novel is
based on the family planning fad of the 70s. At the end of the
novel he felt it to be a sham propaganda by the government.
signboard painter, comes in contact with Daisy who is ardently
devoted to the family planning programmes and her passion is
birth control. Her ambition is to check population growth and
in that scheme of things, Raman finds no space. Raman falls in
love with her, but she spurns his advances. Romantic
entanglements she avoids, because the cult of individuality is
the supreme value to her. Daisy’s earlier incarnation of an
independent-minded lady appeared in the shape and form of
Rosie in "The Guide".
Tiger for Malgudi", a tiger ruminates over its past. This
is almost a spiritual odyssey starting from the early wild
days through circus and then to the training by the ring
master. Narayan endows a tiger with an intelligent
personality, spiritualised by the mysterious power of his
master, a swami, a tiger that can talk. It is only in India
that yogis perform miracles and a tiger behaves like a wise
man after coming in contact with a swami.
attempts a new fictional form by combining myth and fable.
This form is deeply rooted in the cultural context of Narayan’s
India and he brings it into fictional narrative.
Margayya and Raman are mysterious and unpredictable in their
ways. They are pitiless and selfish with money, sex and the
like being their chief preoccupations. In pursuing their
objectives they are ready to sacrifice everything. They spell
evil, they are dynamic, intelligent and shrewd. Raju of
"The Guide" is not far away from our minds.
In the body
of his work we recognise the limitations of his range but he
has achieved greatness by working on his "two inches of
ivory" just like Jane Austen. The formative years of his
life were passed in South India and he confines himself to
this region in particular. It is the life of Malgudi, the
small town which he knew intimately, and which fertilised his
imagination. He renders it effectively, vividly and
In short, Narayan is a
storyteller, nothing less and seldom more. The world of
Malgudi is a world of enchantment, we are the luckier for
being privileged to experience it, though in small doses,
because the editor S. Krishnan likes it that way.
Doctrine of duty, here and now
Review by Satish K. Kapoor
The Doctrine of
Karma: Its Origin and Development in Brahmanical, Buddhist and
Jaina Traditions by Yuraj Krisnan. Moti Lal Banarasidass
Publishers, Delhi. Pages xviii 650 Rs 595.
karma means action. But actions are not isolated acts.
They culminate in inevitable consequences both good and bad,
in this life or in a reincarnation.
In Hinduism karma
is regarded as "a neutral, self-perpetuating law of the
inner cosmos much as gravity is an impersonal law of the outer
cosmos" (Sivaya Subramuniyaswami).
of four types: the accumulated actions of previous births
which do not influence a man’s present life are called sanchita,
the actions of past life which determine his destiny are
called prarbdha and the actions which are now performed
are called kriyamana. The kriyamana is
transformed into sanchita and becomes the basis of
future actions (agami).
also been classified as white (meaning good), black (meaning
bad), mixed (both good and bad), or just colourless (meaning
insignificant). In a reitualistic sense, karma has six
more categories to it. They are: nitya (daily); naimittika
(occasional pilgrimage, fast, etc.); kamya (that
which is performed with a special purpose such as putreshti
yajna (for obtaining a son); adhyatmic (undertaken
with a spiritual motive); adhidaivic (relating to
tuterlary deity such as a mantra) and adhibhautic
(related to living beings).
provides a comprehensive study of the doctrine of karma
in its various ramifications. It takes in its gamut such
questions as how do Indian religious traditions view karma?
How do karmas operate? How has the karma theory
helped the evolution of the ideal of Moksha? Is the
doctrine of karma entwined with the concept of four
yugas? What is nishkama karma? Is there balacing of karmas"?
How is karma linked to social responsibility? And
with, the author describes three essential features of the
doctrine of karma. First, it is an ethical or moral
law; second, it is a law of retributive justice; third,
retributive justice is possible only through punarjanma
or rebirth. "No one can get anything unless be earns
it," said Swami Vivekananda. "Our karma determines
what we deserve and what we can assimilate. We are responsible
for what we are."
of karma exists in an "embryonic form" in the
samhitas and Brahmanas. Although the Rigveda
mentions it "about 40 times", it is primarily used
in the sense of scrificial acts. The Brahmanas specifically
identify karma with "liturgical rites".
Although there is absence of ethical or moral concept in pre-Upanishadic
vedic literature, the ideas of transmigration and rebirth
occur both in the Samhitas and the Brahmanas.
Upanishadic exposition of karma is somewhat ambivalent
in the sense that they uphold karma as a moral law;
and, in the same vein, teach how they can be "destroyed
or arrested and rendered sterile".
elaborations of karma are unique in many ways. Jainism,
for example, regards karma as a form of matter which is
atomic in its nature. The Uttaradhyayana sutra states
that the number of atoms of each karma is infinite and
is to be found in all the six directions of space. "It is
this atomic matter which binds all souls."
classifies karma into eight forms; those which impede
right knowledge; those which shake right to faith; those which
cause delusion; those which lead to pleasure or pain; those
which determine the nature of one’s existence; those which
prescribe the specific form of existence; those which
determine one’s status in society and those which prevent a
person from doing philanthropic work.
In the Jaina
way of life, five mahavratas and five anuvratas
are prescribed for monks and laymen respectively, for the
creation of a righteous social order. Like Hinduism and
Buddhism, Jainism explains the factor of inequality among
human beings as a product of good and bad karmas.
As many as 16
types of karma are mentioned in the Buddhist texts.
Buddhism believes that man is tied to the wheel of birth and
death and can attain nirvana only by braking the chains of karma.
Karma is regarded as a causative force, as a law of
personal responsibility and as a law of inexorable
retribution. Reincarnation is the working out of this law.
None can escape the consequence of his deeds.
what distinguishes a "Brahmin" from a "shudra"
is not birth but karma. The karmic law is not
discriminatory "like the man-made law codes".
According to the Buddha, past karmas determine the
present caste of a human being and the present karmas determine
the caste status in future or future births.
crisply delineates the doctrine of karma as it occurs
in the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Puranas and six systems
of Indian philosophy. It also relates, karma to Indian
astrology, the Hindu law, to Sanskrit drama, to Ayurveds and
to the incarnations of God.
was opposed by the Charvakas, the Niyativadins, the
Svabhavavadins, Ajhanavadins and other schools of thought. But
the real danger to it came from "Shunyavada" and
"Vijnanavada" of the Buddhists and Advaitavada of
Sankara. It survived nevertheless.
contends that even though the doctrine of karma can not
be experimentally or empirically proved, it provides the best
possible explanation for inequality and suffering in life, for
the immense diversity in the universe and for varying results
produced "by the equal human effort with identical
environment or other related factors". Besides, it
debunks the view that karma breeds an attitude of
resignation or that of fatalism.
The book having five useful
appendices, select bibliography and a comprehensive author
title and subject index, besperks of the author’s erudition
and the publisher’s skill to produce it flawlessly.
Truth is invented in
is an extract from Isaiah Berlin’s book ‘‘The
Power of Ideas’’.
hundred years ago, the German poet Heine warned the French not
to underestimate the power of ideas: philosophical concepts
nurtured in the stillness of a professor’s study could
destroy a civilisation.
Berlin in "Two Concepts of Liberty".
theme that links the contents of this volume of Isaiah Berlin’s
shorter, more introductory pieces is the same as that of three
earlier volumes of his longer essays — namely, the crucial
social and political role, past, present and future — of
ideas, and of their progenitors. Within the confines of this
theme a rich variety of subject-matters is represented, and
the appositeness of Heine’s warning is exemplified on a
broad front. It was a warning that Berlin often referred to,
provides one kind of answer (there are naturally others) to
those who ask, as from time to time they do, why intellectual
history matters. — (Editor’s, Preface)
* * *
These are the
two central senses of "liberty" which I set myself
to investigate. I realised that they differed, that they were
answers to two different questions; but, although cognate,
they did not in my view clash — the answer to one did not
necessarily determine the answer to the other. Both freedoms
were ultimate human ends, both were necessarily limited, and
both concepts could the perverted in the course of human
history. Negative liberty could be interpreted as economic laissez
faire, whereby in the name of freedom owners are allowed
to destroy the lives of children in mines, or factory-owners
to destroy the health and character of workers in industry.
But that was a perversion, not what the concept basically
means to human beings, in my view.
was said that it is a mockery to inform a poor man that he is
perfectly free to occupy a room in an expensive hotel,
although he may not be able to pay for it. But that, too, is a
confusion. He is indeed free to rent a room there, but has not
the means of using this freedom. He has not the means,
perhaps, because he has been prevented from earning more than
he does by a man-made economic system — but that is a
deprivation of freedom to earn money, not of freedom to rent
the room. This may sound a pedantic distinction, but it is
central to discussions of economic versus political freedom.
The notion of
positive freedom has led, historically, to even more frightful
perversions. Who orders my life? I do. I? Ignorant, confused,
driven hither and thither by uncontrolled passions and drives
— is that all there is to me? Is there not within me a
higher, more rational, freer self, able to understand and
dominate passions, ignorance and other defects, which I can
understand only by a process of education or understanding, a
process which can be managed only by those who are wiser than
myself, who make me aware of my true, "real",
deepest self, of what I am at my best?
This is a
well-known metaphysical view, according to which I can be
truly free and self-controlled only if I am truly rational —
a belief which goes back to Plato — and since I am not
perhaps sufficiently rational myself, I must obey those who
are indeed rational, and who therefore know what is best not
only for themselves but also for me, and who can guide me
along lines which will ultimately awaken my true rational self
and put it in charge where it truly belongs.
I may feel
hemmed in — indeed, crushed — by these authorities, but
that is an illusion: when I have grown up and have attained to
a fully mature, "real" self, I shall understand that
I would have done for myself what has been done for me if I
had been as wise, when I was in an inferior condition, as they
they are acting on my behalf, in the interests of my higher
self, in controlling my lower self; so that true liberty for
the lower self consists in total obedience to them, the wise,
those who know the truth, the elite of sages; or perhaps my
obedience must be to those who understand how human destiny is
made — for if Marx is right, then it is a Party (which alone
grasps the demands of the rational goals of history) which
must shape and guide me, whichever way my poor empirical self
may wish to go; and the Party itself must be guided by its
far-seeing leaders, and in the end by the greatest and wisest
leader of all.
two reigns that preceded the Revolution the leaders of the
Russian intelligentsia, both radical and moderate, Marxist and
anti-Marxist, and the writers and artists who belonged to
their world, lacked neither breadth of knowledge nor balanced
imagination, nor critical judgement, nor — although they
have often been accused of it — sober common sense. Anyone
who doubts this proposition should tear himself away from
Chernyshevsky’s "What is to be done?" or Pisarev’s
"Destruction of Aesthetics" and turn to the arts and
letters, and still more the social and political literature,
of the years preceding and immediately succeeding the abortive
Revolution of 1905. This "Silver Age" of Russian
culture — in the realms of science (including the social
sciences) and the humanities as well as that of pure art —
is part and parcel of a great European advance, and not the
peculiar achievement of a remote, barbarous, exotic or
generation had become more sceptical. The Russian
intelligentsia had grown disillusioned, a notorious chasm
divided the educated from the uneducated, deprived the
educated of "organic" connection with the society
which they criticised and sought to guide, and rendered them
incapable of influencing events. The swan song of the old
intelligentsia takes the form of a correspondence between a
famous and aging critic and his friend and contemporary, a
greatly gifted, civilised and influential symbolist poet,
about the crumbling of the world in which both were brought
Mikhail Gershenzon, a Jew, confesses to being crushed by the
enormous burden of the unforgotten, unburied past — the
weight of tradition too heavy to be borne by those who are,
for good or ill, steeped in Hebraic as well as western culture
with its obsessive historical sense. The poet, Vyacheslav
Ivanov, who speaks as a "Hellene" and an heir of
Byzantium, seeks a synthesis of pagan classicism and
Christianity, of Dionysus and Christ, through which the
individual, if not the masses, can be transformed and saved.
This is the final, fascinating and tragic document of a
declining civilisation, overwhelmed by a cataclysm partly of
its making, consciously averting its eyes from the "new
shores" towards which the post-revolutionary society was
to drive full steam ahead. It is the social and political
outlook of this civilisation, and the impact on it of the West
in the two centuries that preceded the epoch-making (for once
this term preserves its literal meaning) collision in our own
day of two worlds, that the writings of the intelligentsia
call up from the half-forgotten past.
These are the
dangers of the West. But in the land in which the
intelligentsia was born, it was founded, broadly speaking, on
the idea of a permanent rational opposition to a status quo
which was regarded as in constant danger of becoming ossified,
a block to human thought and human progress. This is the
historic role of the intelligentsia as seen by itself, then
and now. It does not just mean intellectuals or artist as
such; and it certainly does not mean educated persons as such.
The educated can be reactionary, just as the uneducated can.
So can intellectuals. So can artists. We know this very well
in our day. It is a melancholy phenomenon which happens on
both sides of the Iron Curtain. Nor does it mean sheer
opposition to the Establishment as such. Protesters and
marchers, people who oppose the use of atomic energy for
destructive purposes, or the Vietnam war, no matter how
sympathetic their moral position, or admirable their sense of
social responsibility, are not members of the intelligentsia
simply because they are protesting against the behaviour of
their government. These persons do not necessarily believe in
the power of reason or the beneficent role of science, still
less in the inevitability, or even the desirability, of human
progress, conceived in secular and rational terms. Sone of
them may appeal to irrational faiths, or wish to escape from
industrial society into some simpler, but wholly Utopian,
protest, whether justified or unjustified, does not qualify
one to be a member of the intelligentsia as such. What does do
so is a combination of belief in reason and progress with a
profound moral concern for society. And this, of course, is
much more likely to occur in countries where the opposition is
deepest and blackest; and least likely to occur in loose,
democratic, relatively open societies, where those persons who
might be made indignant in the more reactionary societies are
apt to bend their energies to ordinary pursuits — to being a
doctor, lawyer, professor of literature — without any
oppressive sense that in doing so they are somehow failing in
their duty, that in not taking part in some kind of collective
civic indignation they are indulging private desires and
deserting their civic post.
intelligentsia militants — and this is what the
original intelligentsia was, and it is part of its essence —
is generated by truly oppressive regimes. There are, no
doubts, many despotisms: but to look on England, of all
countries, as despotically ruled seems perverse. There are
many other things wrong, socially and economically; but a
country in which the government needs to make up to a wide
electrorate, however it does this, and is in danger of being
turned out, is, whatever else it may be, not a despotism. To
say, therefore, that British society stands in need of this
kind of ferocious, unsurrendering, well-organised
revolutionary intelligentsia seems to me an exaggeration.
Others may think quite differently.
To the old
19th-century intelligentsia the very notion of a class of
persons involved in intellectual pursuits — such as
professors, doctors, engineers, experts, writers, who in other
respects live ordinary bourgeois lives, and hold conventional
views, and who play golf or even cricket — this notion would
have been absolutely horrifying. If a man was a professor in
the late 19th-century Russia, then the mere fact of his
involvement with ideas made him an implacable opponent of the
regime in which he lived; if it did not, he was, in the eyes
of the militant, a traitor, a man who had sold out, a coward
or a ninny.
But before a
revolutionary can educate others, he must educate himself.
Possessed by this characteristically Russian belief, Plekhanov
set to work. Forced into exile, living in penury in
Switzerland, he made himself the foremost Marxist scholar of
his time. Within 10 years he became the leading authority, and
that not among Russian Marxists alone, on the civilisation and
social history of Russia, on the theoretical foundations of
Marxism, on the ideas of the western precursors of socialism,
but above all on European civilisation and thought in the 18th
century. He understood the methods and ideals of the writers
of the Enlightenment, particularly in France, as very few
understood or mastered them before him.
They were, of
all schools of thought, the most sympathetic to him. The
devoted effort of the French philosophers to reduce all
problems to scientific terms; their belief in reason,
observation, experiment; their clear formulation of central
principles and applications of them to concrete historical
situations; their war against clericalism, obscurantism and
irrationalism; their search for the truth, sometimes narrow
and pedestrain but always fearless, confident and fanatically
honest; the lucid and often beautiful prose in which the best
French intellectuals expressed themselves — all this he
admired and delighted in. Civilised, sensitive and fastidious,
Plekhanov towered head and shoulders above his fellow Russian
socialists as a human being, as a scholar and as a writer.
writings are not among the clearest or most readable in the
literature of socialism. It was not only Keynes who found
himself physically unable to plod through Das Kapital; and if
Lenin had not radically altered our world, I doubt whether his
works would be as minutely studied as they necessarily are.
Plekhanov has been badly served by his foreign translators;
but if you read him in his native language you recognise at
once — it is a feeling which those who have known it will be
able to identify instantly — that you are in the presence of
someone of first-rate quality. At its best his style is
direct, limpid, rapid and ironical. The knowledge is vast,
exact and lightly carried; the reasoning is clear and
forceful; and the final deadly blows are delivered with an
impeccable elegance and precision.
Greeks, and perhaps long before them, men have believed that
to the central questions about the nature and purpose of their
lives, and of the world in which they lived, true, objective,
universal and eternal answers could be found. If the answers
could not be discovered by me, then perhaps by someone more
expert or wiser than I; if not in the circumstances in which I
found myself, then in others more propitious; in an innocent
and happy past — a Garden of Eden from which our ancestors
had for their sins been expelled, or perhaps in a golden age
that still lay in the future, which posterity (perhaps after
much labour and suffering) would, or at any rate could, one
day reach. It was assumed that all the truly central problems
were soluble in principle even if not in practice. Somewhere
true answers to all genuine questions must exist, if not in
the minds of men, them in the mind of an omniscient being —
real or imaginary, material or ideal, a personal deity, or the
universe come to full consciousness of itself.
presupposition, which underlies most classical and Christian
thought, orthodox and heretical, scientific and religious, was
connected with the belief that, whether men knew it or not,
the whole of life on earth was in some sense bound up with the
search for answers to the great, tormenting questions of fact
and of conduct; of what there is, was, will be, can be; of
what to do, what to live by, what to seek, hope for, admire,
fear, avoid; whether the end of life was happiness or justice
or virtue or self-fulfilment or grace and salvation.
schools of thought, entire civilisations differed about what
the answers were, about the proper method of discovering them,
about the nature and place of moral or spiritual or scientific
authority — that is to say, about how to identify the
experts who are qualified to discover and communicate the
answers. They argued about what constitutes such
qualifications and justifies such claims to authority. But
there was no doubt that the truth lay somewhere; that it could
in principle be found.
beliefs were held about the central questions: whether the
truth was to be found in reason or in faith, in the Church or
the laboratory, in the insights of the uniquely privileged
individual — a prophet, a mystic, an alchemist, a
metaphysician — or in the collective consciousness of a body
of men — the society of the faithful, the traditions of a
tribe, a race, a nation, a social class, an academy of
experts, an elite of uniquely endowed or trained beings —
or, on the contrary, in the mind of heart of any man,
anywhere, at any time, provided that he remained innocent and
uncorrupted by false doctrines.
common to all these views — incompatible enough for wars of
extermination to have been fought in their name — was the
assumption that there existed a reality, a structure of
things, a rerum natura, which the qualified enquirer
could see, study and, in principle, get right. Men were
violently divided about the nature and identity of the wise
— those who understood the nature of things — but not
about the proposition that such wise men existed or could be
conceived, and that they would know that which would enable
them to deduce correctly what men should believe, how they
should act, what they should live by and for.
This was the great foundation
of belief which romanticism attacked and weakened. Whatever
the differences between the leading romantic thinkers — the
early Schiller and the later Fichte, Schelling and Jacobi,
Tieck and the Schlegels when they were young, Chateaubriand
and Byron, Coleridge and Carlyle, Kierkegaard, Stirner,
Nietzsche, Baudelaire — there runs through their writings a
common notion, held with varying degrees of consciousness and
depth, that truth is not an objective structure, independent
of those who seeks it, the hidden treasure waiting to be
found, but is itself in all its guises created by the seeker.