The Tribune - Spectrum

Punjabi: steady but spectacular growth
by Jaspal Singh

PUNJABI developed into a distinct language towards the beginning of the second millennium of the Christian era like most other modern Indian languages of North India. During the past one thousand years the most important texts which symbolise the Punjabi zeitgeist in its entirety have been the Guru Granth Sahib and "Heer Waris". The former was compiled towards the end of the 16th century and the latter some two centuries after that.

The Guru Granth Sahib is a spiritual journey of the Punjabi soul that always yearned for a reunion with the divine in absolute peace and harmony. "Heer Waris" is the temporal itinerary of the Punjabi psyche with its quest for romance and adventure.

These two seminal compositions shaped the subsequent Punjabi literature and intellection. Both of them are revolutionary texts in the sense that they changed the order of epistemes constituting the existing structure of knowledge in North-West India.

The Guru Granth Sahib launched the Indian version of reformation something parallel to the European Reformation that redrew the map of medieval cosmology. Man as a doer and knower was again brought back to the centre-stage of the universe after a gap of many centuries since the Buddha.

The Granth ushered in a sweeping socio-political transformation of Punjab. Its epistemology though spiritual in form had a direct bearing on the political structure of the epoch. At the cultural level "Heer Waris" liberated the innermost resonances of the Punjabi geist that found its articulation through this melodious muse.

Till the end of the 19th century, in addition to these compositions, the Punjabi language had a corpus of stirring romances in the "qissa" tradition. Mention may be made of Pillu’s "Mirza", Fazal Shah’s "Sohini", Hasham’s "Sassi" and Qadar Yaar’s "Puran Bhagat".

Apart from this, there is a rich treasure of Sufi kaav by Bulle Shah, Shah Hussain and others. Two other significant Punjabi texts of the 19th century are "Panth Parkash" by Rattan Singh Bhangu and "Jang Nama" by Shah Mohammed.

On this epistemological foundation the 20th century Punjabi literature flourished. Bhai Vir Singh is the most important literary figure at the beginning of the 20th century. He is the first to compose modern Punjabi poetry which is distinct from the earlier "qissa" tradition, both in form and content. He is also the father of Punjabi novel as Richardson is that of English.

The first Punjabi novel "Sundri" by him appeared in 1898, just at the turn of the century. This was set during the first half of the 18th century when Sikhs were hunted in towns and villages. Mughal rule was on the decline and disintegrating day by day. A bloody struggle for power was on between the Sikhs and the Mughals.

The first novel of Punjabi is about those turbulent times when Punjab was witnessing the emergence of a new historical force on the political horizon.

Subsequently Punjabi novel matured as an established genre in the hands of Nanak Singh. He wrote dozens of novels, "Chitta Lahu" being almost a masterpiece.

Nanak Singh was imbued with the reformatory zeal of the times which is sharply reflected in his writings. But the later novelists of Punjabi such as Kartar Singh Duggal, Surinder Singh Narula, Jaswant Singh Kanwal, Gurdial Singh, Dalip Kaur Tiwana, Ram Sarup Ankhi, to name only a few, concentrated mainly on sociological and existential themes.

In Punjabi poetry Bhai Vir Singh’s "Mattak Hulare" (1922) is perhaps the first modern compilation. With the publication of "Bijlian de Haar"(1927) and "Lehran de Haar"(1928) Bhai Vir Singh became the most celebrated Punjabi poet of his time.

During those very days Prof Puran Singh appeared like a meteor on the firmament of Punjabi poetry. He added a new dimension to it. Blank verse, which was seldom used in Punjabi until then, got a pride of place at his hands. His "Khulle Maidan" and "Khulle Ghund" dazzled the Punjabi readers.

Another Punjabi text that presents a panorama of rural life before partition is Lala Dhani Ram Chatrik’s "Chandanwari", a collection of poems portraying variegated colours of the Punjab landscape.

The first half of the 20th century also saw the emergence of Punjabi humour and satire in verse. S.S. Charan Singh Shahid was the leading humorist of the age. His "Beparwaian", a collection of satirical poems, makes pleasant reading.

Punjab had a long tradition of folk theatre but formal literary plays were attempted only in the beginning of the 20th century. Bawa Budh Singh’s "Chanderhari" and Bhai Vir Singh’s "Raja Lakhdata Singh" appeared in the first decade of the century.

"Suhag" (Dulhan) by I.C. Nanda is, however, treated as the first Punjabi drama with some sense of stage and theatre. He staged his plays in colleges. They pleaded for social change and were simple in plot.

During those very days Norah Richard was also making efforts to develop theatre in Punjab. Later Harcharan Singh, Balwant Gargi, Gurdial Singh Khosla, Kirpa Sagar and others wrote and staged plays which were a little more sophisticated.

Towards the last years of the 20th century the most active playwrights and theatre personalities in Punjabi are Surjit Singh Sethi, Harsharn Singh, Gursharn Singh, Devinder Daman, Atamjit, Ajmer Singh Aulakh and so on. Some of them are no more now.

Punjabi short story is a late entrant in the literary field. Kartar Singh Duggal, Sant Singh Sekhon, Sujan Singh, Gurbaksh Singh, Kulwant Singh Virk and Santokh Singh Deer are almost contemporaries. Kulwant Singh Virk is reckoned as the most popular story writer of this generation.

Nowadays Punjabi short story writers like Ajit Kaur, Prem Parkash, Gulzar Singh Sandhu, Mohan Bhandari, Gurbachan Bhullar, Waryam Sandhu, Jasvir Bhullar, Baldev Dhaliwal, Prem Gorkhi and a few others have done some of the finest short stories in this part of the world.

The Russian Revolution of 1917, the great depression of 1929-33, the Spanish civil war and the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy were some of the events that gave an impetus to the progressive movement in literature. Almost all Punjabi writers with the exception of Bhai Vir Singh were associated with it.

This movement was anti-feudal with pro-liberal humanistic ideals. Gurbaksh Singh Preetlari became its main spokesman through his popular journal Preetlari. Mohan Singh’s "Saawe Pattar"is the most popular anthology of progressive poetry. Other poets of this era are Amrita Pritam, Bawa Balwant, Pritam Singh Safeer and so on.

Essay form in Punjabi had a good beginning but it could not remain a popular literary form. Principal Teja Singh, Lal Singh Kamla Akali, Gurbaksh Singh Preetlari wrote good prose.

In literary criticism Sant Singh Sekhon’s "Sahitarth" remains a masterpiece. In the last quarter of the 20th century Attar Singh, Kishan Singh, Prof Pritam Singh, Jasbir Singh Ahluwalia, Harnam Singh Shan, Tejwant Singh Gill, Raghbir Singh Sirjana, Kesar Singh Kesar, Joginder Singh Rahi, Gurbaksh Singh Frank. T.R. Vinod, Satinder Singh Noor, Ravinder Singh Ravi, Jagbir Singh, Tarlok Singh Kanwar, Gurbachan, Karanjit Singh and others have produced rich critical literature in Punjabi.

Even the younger lot like Jaswinder Singh, Satish Verma, Surjit Bhatti, Harbhajan Singh Bhatia, Harchand Singh Bedi and Amarjit Singh Kaang have remained quite active in recent years.

In the sixties, seventies and the eighties the most popular Punjabi poets have been Shiv Kumar Batalvi, Dr Haribhajan Singh, Jasvir Singh Ahluwalia, Sohan Singh Meesha, Jagtar, Surjit Pattar,Paash, Harinder Mehboob, Surjit Hans, Manjit Tiwana, Lal Singh Dil, Sukhbir, etc. Shiv Kumar’s "Loona" created a flutter in the sixties as did Paash’s "Sade Samian Wich" and "Loh Katha" in the seventies.

In addition to literary compositions some of the Punjabi writers concentrated on the philosophy of religion. Mention may be made of Kapur Singh ICS, Gopal Singh Dardi, Sahib Singh and Jasvir Singh Ahluwalia.

In the 20th century some Punjabi writers tried to collect folk literary forms of Punjab. Dr Mohinder Singh Randhawa, Devinder Satarthi, Wanjara Bedi, Nahar Singh and a few others did some field work and came out with a respectable collection of folk literature of Punjab.

The role of encyclopaedists, lexicographers and text interpreters cannot be underestimated in the development of a language. Scholars like Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha, Mayya Singh, Principal Teja Singh and Harkirat Singh ("Shabad Jor Kosh") and a few others are important in this field. Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha’s "Mahan Kosh"(encyclopaedia of Sikh literature) is a monumental work of its own kind.

By the end of the 20th century, Punjabi language and literature in the Gurmukhi script have acquired a huge corpus of literary creations in various genres. But sadly, very little has been done in Punjabi in the field of social sciences and philosophical ideas. A language does not go beyond the entertainment level unless it becomes a vehicle of ideas and intellection.

Now at the onset of the 21st century Punjabi writers and scholars should concentrate more on this aspect of the language.Top


Word: strangled here, strident elsewhere
by M. L. Raina

IN a poem that may as well be the epigraph to this piece, Philip Larkin, a distinguished minor poet of our day, recognises the imbroglios of our dragon-ridden century : "Things are tougher than we are, just/as earth will always respond/However we mess it about;/Chuck filth in the sea, if you must:/The tides will be clean beyond/— But what do I feel now? Doubt?"

If there is one thing that stamps the temper of our century, it is doubt whose current legacy Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud bequeathed to us in the late 19th and early 20th century. We made Faustian contract with the engines and technologies of change, to a point where the very human languages ceased to be human. The instruments of progress evacuated our human languages of their inner core of meanings that are the tacit significations not to be specified in any formal language.

We progressed but doubt remained, because in our drive to ever-new milestones, we lost what sociologist Pierre Bourdieu calls habitus, the basic fabric of our language and its spontaneous intimations. We became exiles from the word just as we became exiles in distant lands and climes, forced by our century’s incessant carnage. Having lost the word, we lost that innate sense of belonging Wittgenstein and Freud called heimet, home.

But the century that is about to wind down amidst the continuing clamour of military ordnance (in Chechnya, Rwanda, Kosovo and Kargil), has not lacked those who sought meaning outside the politically ordained but debased languages of statesmen and power- brokers. For me the people who made a difference in the all-pervading miasmas of our century are a philosopher, a novelist and a poet who, with their solitary tunnelling through the gloom kept the lights burning for us all.

Ernst Bloch, James Joyce and Paul Celan are not the only ones who built imaginative utopias of language, comprehensive philosophical thought and fictional structure to affirm Nietzsche’s belief that "we have art in order not to die of truth". Personally, however, I would celebrate them as the supreme voices of resistance and counter-energy which upheld the power of language and free-wheeling speculation to confront the despair of our century.

Ernst Bloch is nobody’s idea of a Marxist revolutionary; yet in "The Principle of Hope" he reinfused the Marxist doctrine with the spirit of utopia, of an integral outlook which while being receptive to the revolutionary change in Russia, kept its sights fixed on the future. As a philosopher he gave theoretical shape to a vision which is all-encompassing and at the same time, responsive to what he calls "the little daydreams of the present". To the "closed, static concept of being", to the "degrading suffering, anxiety, self-alienation, nothingness" — all the catch-phrases by which existentialists and others of their ilk set out to define this century’s malaise, Bloch offered the antidote of a "propensity towards something, latency of something, and this intended something means fulfilment of the intending".

For him utopia is a total reconciliation of the human and the natural, being-in-history of classical Marxism and the "not-yet-conscious" of aesthetic and sensual possibility. It is through such totality that man recovers the integral wholeness denied to him by false revolutionary doctrines designed primarily for social and economic renovation of the existing systems.

Bloch’s rich metaphoric non-linear prose reconciles the revolutionary message of Marxism with the heritage of religious, mythic and mystical speculations, endowing his philosophy with a visionary gleam that remains what he calls the very principle of hope he charted in his monumental work. His bold utopian thought has withstood the seductions of Marxist promises and continues to withstand the blandisments of today’s other power-mongers.

If utopia is the mainstay of Bloch’s thought, myth in Joyce remains a buffer between reality and desire. In "Ulysses", in my opinion the archetypal novel of our century, he demonstrated the power of language to arrest the homelessness of the post-war generation in a structure that encompassed the entire history and literature of the world.

Through this novel wander all the major heroes of the classic literature of the past, giving credence to Blake’s claim that an artist can hold eternity in a "grain of sand". For him language not only mirrors reality but, more to my point, transfigures it. For him the mundane world is far more extensive than it is for most of us, and its map is thick with configurations of fact and symbol.

Into his novel went actual people and events of a particular June day. He collected shards and shreds of their life in a linguistic structure that both revealed their actuality and made them patterns in a vast network of relations. Thus Homer rubs shoulders with Joyce’s contemporaries, and history becomes a continuous trail linking past and present in contradictory but meaningful ways.

"Ulysses" is a world in itself, fashioned by all the resources of language that Joyce commands. Having exiled himself from Ireland, he reconstructs his city, Dublin, in all its squalor and glory. Dublin becomes the vehicle for Joyce’s linguistic exercise to capture life in its flux and simultaneously render it fluid and overlapping. This is the utopia of language’s making which provides a stay against chaos, to use an American poet’s phrase. The utter incestuousness with which his language combines high speech and vulgar argot, the unbridled libertinage of his play with the various styles of the English literary language and the inherent belief in the immanence of world in the word — these are not available in any other writer of our century. "Ulysses" becomes both the roadmap and a milestone in the 20th century’s image of itself.

And all this in the service of a small but significant truth — the sanctity of home, of the necessity of returning to where you belong. In life he never returned. But in this novel he created a surrogate home, as rich and sensuous in its nurturing powers as any.

A Romanian Jew who suffered exile and harassment, Paul Celan captured the age’s spirit by using German, the language of his tormentors. As if to prove Adorno wrong over the prospect of poetry after Auschwitz, he answered the question "how may one bless...ashes in German" in a body of work in which language remains secure in the midst of other losses. He knew the murderous power of language that the Nazis exploited to the hilt. But he also knew that language alone could provide him with "ways of a voice to a receptive you", "a desperate dialogue" and "a sort of homecoming". That is why in the poems "So Many Constellations" and "Meridian", he accepts his mission to speak, name names and create new realities from the debris of Nazi ruin.

Loss, death and absence are Celan’s points of departure, but the power of the word overcomes their pain. He admonishes us to examine the undeclared avoidances of our discourse and in that admonition lies his relevance. His poems speak with outrage and remembrance and preserve an ethical apprehension of individual dignity which makes the horror of his experiences seem inconsequential.

In this our blood-smeared century his kind of poetry could still reassure if not save.Top


Long shadow of light
by Surjit Hans

LIVES of men and those of nations are made by forces beyond their control. The light and long shadow of Bolshevik Russia attracted the finest flower of humanity and blighted the life of half a continent plus one-sixth of the globe.

The Promethean dream was turning into a nightmare. "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" was published in 1962 in the Soviet Union. It was a moral, intellectual duty of a socialist to know the situation and think of course correction, if possible. I published the Punjabi translation of Solzhenitsyn’s novel in 1970 in Lakeer. There was such a profound will to disbelieve on the part of progressive readers that their hostility made the journal pack up.

After being moderately fluent in Russian, and at my own expense, I visited Moscow in 1973 not to see and hear what was officially permitted but to have a first-hand experience on my own. There was a surprise. The Russian communists at the time were more unpopular than the Congressmen in India, not a mean achievement. The people working in the offices were more inefficient and unhelpful than the babus in our country.

"Hoping Against Hope", Nadezhda Mandelstaum (Penguin, 1975), lets you know the socialist misery in all its local colour. There is a punning reference to the author in the title of the book. Nadezhda in Russian means "hope". Mandelstaum, the second greatest Russian poet of the century, was sent to internal exile because he wrote a poem against Stalin at the height of Russian famine in the twenties. He perished in his second exile.

It would take some finding to come across a literary critic as perspicaciously involved as Nadezhda, Mandelstaum’s wife. The seeds of progressive writing were sown in the twenties to ripen in the nineties when not a single Soviet writer, famous or infamous, has protested against the introduction of capitalism in Russia. Be it enough to say that thousands of (wo)men hopefully looked forward to death which would end their wretchedness.

As an ill-known but not an infamous writer in Punjabi, "The Social History of Art" (in four volumes) by Arnold Houser (Routledge &Kegan Paul, 1962), came handy to me. All the arts are not equally amendable to the advancement of the interest of the working masses. Music has served the tyrants more than the people, except folk music. Equally none knows how to revolutionise folk music which is conservative by nature.

To date architecture has failed to design successfully working class housing estates and college hostels. The success in building stadia should be an occasion to worry, not for celebration. Painting is the primer of illiterate societies. What after literacy?

Short story can surprise; it has very little scope to educate. Only the novel can. (That the maturity of novel in the ex-imperial countries and its backwardness in the dependent countries has something to do with the power to mould and observe reality is a later discovery.)

A theoretical discussion of the across-the-board connection between class and art is not very fruitful.

Paradoxically the demise of the Soviet Union has liberated imagination. The future is not obliged to be what it was told. In the twenties Simmel bracketed communism and psychoanalysis. Both claimed to know the secret of life (and history)only to be absorbed in the study of the secret at the cost of life. They were destined to be reduced to sects. Interestingly both died in the eighties.

We have not heard the last of socialism. The failure of Seattle WTO meet and the roll-back of GMcrops have been achieved by non- governmental organisations. Not by the "vanguard" of the toilers which had appropriated their consciousness.

As an off and on teacher I had to be interested in the quality of argument to appreciate a work and possibly to advance my own logical skill. "The Age of Capital 1840-1875" by E.J Hobsbawm, (Weidenfeld &Nicolson, 1975) is unsurpassed. The great man lets you know; 1) what Marx knew about capital; 2) what a few contemporaries knew additionally that Marx was not aware of; and 3) how much extra we know because of later researches. A reviewer in the Guardian confessed his lyrical enthusiasm for the book minus critical competence.

"Masochism in Sex and Society" (originally "Joy out of Suffering") by Theodor Reik (Grove Press, New York, 1941) is a marvel of logic in psychology — how observations can point to contrary directions pretty long. Quite simply masochism reverses the order of crime and punishment. A masochist gets punished before enjoying his transgression. In society martyrs, saints, dissidents suffer in the present to glory in the future. There is an element of theatricality. In mystic poetry (of suffering) the lyrical quality springs more from theatricality than from the necessity of experience.

"Shamans, Mystics and Doctors" by Sudhir Kakar (OUP,Delhi, 1982) does our academic establishment proud. He describes in ordinary language what a folk-medicine man is doing. A translation in psychological terminology follows along with the result, again described in plain language. Society would not rid itself of shamans and witch doctors unless it cures itself if it does. Yes, tantriks, too.

"Guru Nanak in History" by J.S. Grewal (PU, Chandigarh, 1969) is a solid achievement. Contemporary society, politics and religion are described in detail, leading to the taking up of Guru Nanak responses to them. This is one sure way of understanding Guru Nanak in the absence of reliable biographical information. Incidentally God has no biography, a saint can do without it.

History has been my potboiler, a living but not life. As an outsider I should be able to see things the insiders cannot. Of course, I cannot claim to be a heavyweight which only they can. The subject has moved beyond kings and battles, facts and causes, colonialism and nationalism.

The great French historian Marc Bloch aspired to the writing of history of emotions. "Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family" by Philippe Aries (Penguin 1977), "The Hour of Our Death" by Philippe Aries (Alfred Knopf, N.Y. 1981) are unique achievements. Aries is a Frenchman, belonging to the annales school, working for a fruit company in America, not much known in our country.

Childhood (as an institution) is a post-Renaissance phenomenon though physically there were children in earlier ages, too. Considered manikin, his transgression was an aggravating circumstance right upto the 18th century because he would later grow into a bigger criminal. This is the exact opposite of practice today. The pupils sometimes shot their teachers. In most of history, education was the only route to upward social mobility by the poor. The middle-class takeover is a 17th century development.

Equally, the changing attitude to death is a sobering thought. Modern society is choking itself for lack of expression of grief.

"The Natural History of Love" by Morton M. Hunt (Hutchinson, 1960) would cure you of your belief in the universality of human nature. Of "The Invention of Pornography: Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity, 1500-1800" edited by Lynn Hunt (Zone Books, N.Y 1993) I wrote in The Tribune that only a fool would lend this book and a knave return it.

Lastly "Mohammed" by Maxime Rodinson (Penguin, 1977) has been professionally useful to me. Rodinson identified the early group of Muslims from an analysis of the theological imagery of the Quran. I did the same to socially locate the followers of Guru Nanak from my reading of his compositions. The changing social composition of the Sikhs is the key to their history and their literature, giving rise to different genres of Janamsakhi, Gurbilas and reformist novel. The advent of Sikh rulers about 1765 was also the beginning of a period of forgeries by seekers of patronage

It would be false on my part to end on an optimistic note. In our country for about a century the brave aspired to revolution; the decent ones, to secularism. Now both are defunct.

History is blessed with a squint vision. You keep one eye on the past and have the other on the future. If the future is dark, you can hardly shed light on the past. I have said goodbye to history so that I can whistle in the dark to make hope triumph over experience. The flag is flying on lower pinnacles if not on the Kremlin.Top


Vikram Seth’s unknown book
by Parshotam Mehra

IN a long and by no means uneventful span of years, literally hundreds of books have come this reviewer’s way. Not a few were easy to skim through; others stayed on the desk for a while; still others became compulsive reading. Both for their own sake and the immense satisfaction and pleasure they gave. It is by no means easy to bring them back to life. In the event, the lines that follow must confine themselves to a very few which stand out.

As a young undergraduate in the late 1930s, G.M. Trevelyan’s "History of England", which has run into any number of editions and reprints since its first appearance in 1926, was a superb introduction to the Muse. Its mastery of the subject is unrivalled; its sheer literary delight is compelling. Two passages in that remarkable work of scholarship still come back. "If the Papacy was, as Hobbes called it, ‘no other than the ghost of the deceased Roman Emire, sitting crowned upon the grave thereof’, it was a living ghost and not a mere phantasm."

And again: "The very limits of the reform effected in 1832, with which modern criticism is often impatient, had the advantage of keeping unbroken the tradition of upper class connection with political life and avoiding the development of a class of ‘professional politicians".

Long Master of Trinity at Cambridge and author of several best-sellers, Trevelyan thought it was the duty of the historian to make his subject as fascinating as possible. And never conceal this fascination under a heap of learning which ought to underlie but not overwhelm written history.

In the early 1950s, a distinguished political geographer opened up for me the vast empty spaces of China’s land frontiers. Professor Owen Lattimore’s seminal work, "Inner Asian Frontiers of China" (1940), has gone into a second edition and a reprint and still remains a classic. I had the privilege of studying with him as a graduate student. His mastery of languages was unique: Chinese, Russian, Mongol, Manchu, and French, besides his native American English.

As an indefatigable traveller, he acquired a first-hand understanding of the Great Wall frontier of China, from Manchuria, through Inner Mongolia, to Chinese Turkestan. It helped him in a better construction of certain aspects of Chinese history through a deeper understanding of nomad history. A key to the history of Central Asia, Lattimore was convinced, lay in a proper appreciation of the fluctuating relationship between the steppes the nomads inhabited and the mainland.

Not only was Lattimore a stimulating teacher with his lectures attracting in record attendance, his books too read remarkably well. Distinguished for its clarity, he had a style of his own: indicative, interpretative, suggestive, provocative.

Two short passages may help recapture it. The rule of the Dalai Lamas "does not represent the extension of the power of Lhasa over the country. On the contrary, it was founded on the projection to-wards Lhasa of the numerically weaker but strategically stronger Tibetans of the north, allied first with the Mongols and then with the Manchu emperors of China.

Again, (British) India’s North-West Frontier was "clearly comparable to the Great Wall frontier of China, with the ‘Inner Mongolia’ of tribal districts and states... running into the ‘Durand Line’. Beyond the Durand Line is the ‘Outer Mongolia’ of Afghanistan with Baluchistan lying on the flank of both Inner and Outer Mongolia."

Of scores of books and papers one has to wade through as a teacher and researcher, a few stay in the mind’s eye. Harvard Professor William Langer’s "Eurpoean Alliances & Alignments" (1931), Cambridge’s A.J.P. Taylor’s "Struggle for Mastery of Europe" (1954), and the Indian scholar-statesman, K.M. Panikkar’s "Asia & Western Dominance" (1953). For their scintillating prose, stimulating analysis, deep insight. The temptation to reproduce them is great but must, for obvious reasons, be resisted.

Of recent books, three come easily to mind. John Kenneth Galbraith’s "A Life in Our Times" (1981), Hsiao Kimura’s "Japanese Agent in Tibet" (1990) and Vikram Seth’s "From Heaven Lake" (1983).

Galbraith, economist, diplomatist, and writer has two unique assets. His interests and affections are not inhibited by his discipline, much less his country. Born a Canadian, he acquired American citizenship and has lived and worked and travelled in such diverse lands as India, Africa, Latin America, China, Europe; as a Harvard don for over three decades, he has taught at some of the world’s most prestigious universities.

For a few eventful years, he was US Ambassador to India. His "Life" is a treat to read.

Hsiao Kimura is an altogether different kettle of fish. His is a tale of high adventure of a young 19-year-old Japanese, disguised as Dawa Sangpo, a Mongol Lama, who embarks on his travels through the vast and empty heartland of Asia in the waning years of World War II. His principal journey starts (October, 1943) from an Inner Mongolian Settlement and wends its way across the Alanshan range and the Tengri desert, to Kumbum in Qinghai.

Following a 15-month interlude of detention in the Tsaidam basin, his progress towards Xinjiang is firmly arrested. In the event, DS and his two Mongol companions make their way to Lhasa instead from the north via Nagchuka. And end up, in the autumn of 1945, just about the time the war draws to a close, in the busy, picturesque town of Kalimpong.

Later (April, 1947), DS (Dawa Sangpo) joined another Japanese acquaintance for an intelligence mission to Chamdo, in Kham, to ascertain Chinese preparations for the much-talked of assault on Lhasa.

Both of DS’s missions proved unqualified disasters. By 1945, his first sponsors, the Japanese military, had ceased to exist; by 1947, just as he crossed into Kamlimpong to submit his report, the Raj had wound up. No wonder his long-range hope of the British eventually planting him on a ranch in Inner Mongolia faded away fast. His last two years in India (1947-49) occupied DS as a trader (kerosene), smuggler (gold) and activist (working out a constitution for Tibet). Trader and smuggler, largely to make his little pile for an eventual return home; an activist for Tibet’s lost causes.

Through his fascinating pages, the Japanese "agent" comes through live as a keen, perceptive observer and a brilliant raconteur. In his years of travel as a Mongol lama, there were any number of intriguing, even bizarre, situations. One such was administering to the ailments of a young Mongol girl who made no secret of her fascination for the youthful Lama. Advances DS found impossible to resist and almost succumbed. Almost! Cursing no end his fake lamaist robes which came in the way.

On another occasion, he had an encounter with a genuine Mongol lama much older to him in years. Even as he was retiring after a day’s hard chores, the old man reminded DS of his most important work: chanting the holy texts. And a minute later "with a wicked gleam in his eyes enquired: ‘Which way you like it, young fellow, from the front or back?’"

Though a Mongol, he had spent long years in Tibet and "could go either way." With difficulty, DS wrested himself by throwing the genuine lama against the wall and running away into the wild.

Nearer home, Kimura’s book reminds one strongly of Vikram Seth’s "From Heaven Lake" with the difference that its author wore no cloak to hide his identity while his account of Tibet and of Hsikang and Qinghai is powerfully evocative of the mid-1980s. Vikram Seth’s was an unbelievable hitch-hiking odyssey by a graduate student of Stanford and Nanjing universities, the more remarkable in that it was a solo performance. All the way from the oases of north-west China, across Xinjiang and Gansu in the north-western desert, through the basin and plateau of Qinghai — and finally Tibet.

Much of what Vikram Seth was to write later "A Suitable Boy" (1993), and "An Equal Music" (1999) — is so transparently manifest in these pages. Broad human sympathies; a keen, observant eye for detail; a sharp, incisive mind. Above all, his inimitable, fetching prose; short, well-chiselled sentences which make for fascinating, almost compelling reading.



Three writers who moulded many minds
by V.N. Datta

THE vastness of human knowledge fills us with awe and also despair. Time and tide wait for none. Art is long and life is short. Life piled on life is totally insufficient to satiate our appetite for reading, and we cannot do justice to even a small part of literature.

IqbalDue to shortness of life which limits the pursuit of interests that engage humankind, we have to naturally pick and choose only a few books from the large number published every year.

There are books of various types: books of the hour and books of all time. Books of the hour are like instant coffee which interest us only for a little while and slip out of mind; but books of all time mould one’s outlook and character and leave an indelible imprint on society. Such books are a priceless treasure of mankind, that neither time nor custom doth stale. They continue to radiate sweetness and light, promote knowledge, deepen understanding, and spread human sympathy.

There are all sorts of books in my personal library, books of an ephemeral kind which can be read in one sitting and are just forgotten. But there are books of eternal value to which often I turn such as Edward Gibbon’s "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", Shakespeare’s works including his sonnets, the Bhagavad Gita and Dante’s "Divine Comedy". Such books set our standard. Gibbon remains for me the most favourite historian who helps me understand the vicissitudes of human nature. Shakespeare I can’t ignore — he triumphs over time, and there is hardly an aspect of human life which he doesn’t unravel with his penetrating insight. The Bhagavad Gita unfolds the critical human predicament, a dialectical question that still exasperates us. Dante is the poet of great depth.

Books come one’s way by choice or design. As a historian by profession, it is necessary for me to study such books which not only help refining and sharpening critical faculties in order to wrestle with the past and reconstruct it in its interlockings, but also to be well acquainted with growing historical literature relating to my field of enquiry and research. For one’s field of specialisation, two types of books are necessary; one, those relating to methodology and, two, actual research monographs on common or kindred themes.

From the point of view of my professional interests, the book that profoundly influenced my studies was Sir Lewis Namier’s "Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III" (second edition, London, 1957). By focussing on the working of the British Parliament during the reign of George III, Namier shattered the traditional view of the relations between the Crown and Parliament at that time.

But it was Namier’s path-breaking methodology that had a decisive impact on the historiography of our age. What Freud did for psychology, T.S. Eliot for English poetry, Namier did for history. Examining scores of collections of original manuscripts, Namier analysed the evolution of institutions by studying minutely the actions of individuals.

To a serious history researcher, I would recommend the first chapter of Namier’s book titled "Why men went into Parliament"? The sheer brilliance of the methodology and precision of thought and expression have stood the test of time. "Here is an ant-heap, with the human ants hurrying in long files, along their various paths; their joint achievement does not concern us nor the changes which supervene in the community; only the pathetically intent, seemingly self-conscious running of individuals along beaten tracks." Namier studied these types which are still with us in the topsy-turvy world of politics, the types that live only for the promotion of their mundane interests.

The Namier method of historical interpretation underlines the interplay of innumerable acts of innumerable persons which has come to be known as prosopography, the study of personalities — which he applied to the study of 18th century British politics. Addressing his friend Arnold Toynbee, the famous historian, Namier said "You try to look at the whole tree. I try to dissect the tree’s texture, leaf by leaf. Most of the others break off a branch and try to cope with that. You and I agree in not favouring that method."

The Namier method has been adopted in the reconstruction of political history all over the world. The most striking feature of the method has been the massiveness of its detailed research on a variety of themes in which the main focus is on analysing the motivating factors that operate in the conduct of human action.

Imposing though Namier’s achievement has been due to solid scholarship, insight and brilliance of interpretation, the Namier method has been subjected to criticism. The chief criticism is that Namier because of his emphasis on material interest took his mind off history. His critics argue that men do not support the government merely because they enjoy office and its profits. Promotion of interest and corruption are not the only factors of parliamentary governance.

There are higher ideals which inspire men to work for them. Life is not merely a manipulation! Namier seems to underestimate the role of ideas in the conduct of human affairs. There are certainly political and constitutional issues in which "interests" are of little consideration such as the emancipation of a country from the fetters of foreign rule or issues of social and economic justice.


The author who has consistently fascinated me is Bertrand Russell. His writings are not confined to the advancement of science and philosophy. Like Francis Bacon and Erasmus, he took all knowledge to be his province. In his vast range of writings Russell presents himself as a scientist, mathematician, philosopher, educationist, moralist, statesman, a great thinker in his own right, a man of the world and a writer of incomparable lucidity and style. He has profoundly influenced contemporary intellectual and moral life.

His writings have been widely read and admired. There is a stamp of greatness in them. When Russell’s "History of Western Philosophy" appeared in 1946, Einstein wrote, "I regard it a fortune that so arid and brutal a generation can claim this wise, honorable, honest man. It is a work in the highest degree pedagogical which stands outside the conflicts of parties and set opinion."

Generally, I distrust autobiographies, because they are reconstructions in retrospect, and tend to suppress which the author wants to hold back from public gaze. That is why I doubt their veracity. Of course, there are exceptions. John
Stuart Mill produced a remarkable autobiography in which he portrayed his own intellectual development step by step as a social and political thinker.

Russell’s father Lord Amberley was a disciple and friend of John Stuart Mill. Mill was also Russell’s godfather. Like Mill, Russell in his autobiography published in three volumes, 1967-70, gives a blow-by blow account of his own intellectual development. In fact, his autobiography, a work of great importance, is the intellectual and social portrait of his age. Russell died at the ripe age of 94 widely honoured and acclaimed as one of the most creative minds of the 20th century.

Three passions dominated Russell’s life: longing for love, search for knowledge, and deep sympathy for the suffering of mankind. In his prologue to his autobiography, Russell wrote. "These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair?"

Love he sought because it brought him ecstasy. He sought knowledge to understand the world but pity confronted him with the grim, sordid reality of life. He dedicated his authobiography to his wife Edith, and this deeply moving dedication is a poetic summum bonum of his life.

Russell took to learning like a duck takes to water. He read voraciously. I think that like Lord Acton, he read one book a day. His range of study was astonishingly wide, his memory sharp, and his retentive power extraordinary. He was not a traditional bookworm relying on rote. He assimilated what he read with his agility of mind and grasp and meditated on it. All this led to original thinking and deep analysis. It is a difficult thing in life to find things for oneself. Russell depended on himself entirely to charter his own course and cultivated his garden unobstrusively.

His authobiography, a psychological revelation, shows that he was a free thinker and a questioner of things established. An agnostic, he stood his ground fearlessly. When Oxford don Isaiah Berlin asked him, "Lord Russell, what would you say to God when you meet him?" Russel replied, "I’ll tell him how imperfect he is when the world he created was such a terrible muddle." During World War I, being a pacificist, he launched an anti-war campaign for which he was arrested, and lost his prestigious fellowship of Trinity College, Cambridge. His friends deserted him, and he was isolated, but he never faltered in his convictions.

Of immense value in his autobiography is his correspondence with some of the leading thinkers of the age — philosophers Whitehead, Moore, and Bradley, historian G.M. Trevelyan, the Webbs, Bernard Shaw, Joseph Conrad, T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, J.M. Keynes, H.G. Wells, Einstein and countless others. Some of the sentences in the correspondence cry out to be quoted and deal with matters of general interest which are relevant even today.

His pupils testify to the tremendous influence he had on them by his teaching. In their letter of April 11, 1940, while commenting on the general effect of Russell’s teaching, they wrote that his object was "to sharpen the student’s sense of truth both by developing his desire for truth and by leaving him to a more rigorous application of the test of truth" ("Autobiography", Vol, II, page 229).

A number of women came into Russell’s life, and he developed intimate relationship with them, about which he has written with absolute, candour. Russel was not a man of weak morals. Some of the women stirred his creative work and evoked a sense of exaltation; and he felt a deep exhilaration in those shared moments.

One of the finest and deeply moving passages in the autobiography relates to Russell’s intense feeling for the ailing Mrs Whitehead. The ground seemed to give way under him. Russell writes, "Within five minutes I went through some such reflections as the following: the loneliness of the human soul is unendurable, nothing can penetrate it except the highest intensity of the sort of love that religious teachers have preached — a sort of mystic illumination possessed me. I found myself filled with semi-mystical feeling — with an intense interest in children and with a desire almost as profound as that of the Buddha to find some philosophy which should make life endurable" ("Authobiography", Vol I, page 146).

Russell’s "Autobiogoraphy" is an astounding performance of a meticulously honest thinker and genius who lived his life in pursuit of truth and reality and gave a tremendous impulse to thought for all time to come.


Lin Yutang, known for his nimble wit and puckish humour, wrote that a person who has no taste for poetry is not a civilised human being. In our younger days Tagore and Mohammed Iqbal were the most popular poets. In Punjab, there was a sizeable Urdu knowing elite that read Ghalib and Iqbal. I preferred Iqbal to Ghalib because the latter I thought was rather pessimistic. Ghalib was essentially a great poet of sorrow, the last sigh of the Mughal twilight.

Iqbal sang of the ego, free will and the vital (khudi). Iqbal exhorted us to fortify our personalities by holding our heads high and keeping the spirit unbent. His "Bal-e-Jabrail", a collection of poems on a variety of themes, made a powerful impression on youth. There was no place for cowardice — the battle must continue and we must not falter in our resolution. These poems present Iqbal as a positive thinker deeply committed to finding a way to a new affirmation and enrichment of life. He returns to this theme repeatedly, approaching it from different angles.

In his poetry packed with powerful rhetoric and imagery, Iqbal projects vividly a Faustian vision of unyielding and unlimited power, the new vision of Man, the adventurous and explorer on an endless quest for perfection. The ideal man for Iqbal was the monim, the superman who discovers his own path and to whom will is more important than understanding, and character far more decisive than the riches of mind.

Iqbal’s style is both didactic and contemplative, and the reader must accept him or reject him. In his poetry there was no hiatus between his personality and his themes. He had no predecessor or successor. He was a class by himself, who shone bright like a solitary star on the firmament.

Though I disagree with him on many things, I remain constantly in touch with his Persian and Urdu verses which are a source of great inspiration and strength in the battle of life.Top


Trade in illusions and kill ideals
by Bhupinder Brar

ERIC Hobsbawm begins his engaging account of the 20th century "The Age of Extremes" by quoting among others Yehudi Menuhin, eminent musician. "If I had to sum up the twentieth century," says Menuhin, "I would say that it raised the greatest hopes ever conceived by humanity, and destroyed all illusions and ideals."

Hopes indeed marked newly independent India in the 1950s, the decade in which I was born, and hopes of global emancipation marked the radicalism of the 1960s, the years in which I grew up.

As the century comes to a close, there is widespread feeling, which I share in my mid-life, that a good deal stands destroyed. What I am still in the process of deciding, however, is which part of the wreck are ideals and which part the illusions. To which category, for example, does the collapse of the Soviet-style socialism belong?

Read Francis Fukuyama’s book "End of History" for a ready and unambiguous answer. To him the demise of the USSR means the end of the greatest, and the most dangerous, illusion: socialism. To me, too, the demise means the end of an illusion, but of a very different kind: the illusion that the Soviet Union embodied, even in its heyday, the ideal that socialism was, and is.

My reading involves going back to two writings I consider most seminal. Both were published as books although neither was meant to be. The first, Karl Marx’s "Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts" (EPM) was written in 1844 but was discovered and published first in the original German in 1932 and in an English translation only in 1959. The second, Antonio Gramsci’s "Prison Notebooks", was written in the late 1920s but the English translation became available only in 1971.

"EPM" presented a critique of capitalism, and a vision of socialism, which remain not only valid but have become even more relevant after the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the consequent universal sway of capitalism. The primary critique of capitalism in "EPM" was not that it was based on economic exploitation of the real creators of wealth, the working class, or that capitalism as an economic system was inherently moribund, ridden as it was with irresolvable internal contradictions. The primary critique was that capitalism was dehumanising for all.

The unique character of human species, which distinguished it from all other animals, was that humans were creative: they did not have to adapt themselves to environment given to them; they could create the environment, both material and cultural, of their choice. It is in creating this environment that they found fulfilment and happiness.

Under capitalism, Marx argued, large majorities of creative, and potentially creative, people were denied independent access to the material means which they required to realise and express their creativity. Capitalism imposed impersonal and arbitrary conditions of work, which left humans dissatisfied and frustrated. It alienated them from their own creativity and from other creative fellow beings.

The soundness of a socio-economic system, Marx said, had to be measured not in terms indices of economic wealth and growth, not in terms of ever rising levels of possession and consumption of material goods. It had to be measured in terms of opportunities it provided to human beings to explore their inner creative selves, to express themselves freely, spontaneously and creatively. All this, Marx believed, was possible not under conditions of capitalism but socialism.

Did the Soviet-style "socialism" provide such opportunities and freedom to the people? It is true that it removed many obstacles such as unemployment, illiteracy and ill-health. This was a remarkable achievement in itself, but the costs were very heavy. The means adopted aborted the desired end.

Excessive political and economic centralisation, indeed regimentation, resulting in authoritarianism and bureaucratisation, killed the creative potential of the people even while their material conditions improved.

This led many to argue, most noteworthy among them Charles Bettleheim, that capitalism of a kind, state capitalism, had been restored in these countries. It may not be exploitative like the conventional forms of capitalism, but it was equally dehumanising.

The argument may be exaggerated but is well taken if we go by how Marx distinguished socialism from capitalism. The point here would be that even if the Soviet-style states had not only survived but also thrived as great economic and military powers, their achievements would have been recognised by Marx for their efficient "model of economic development" but not lauded for their record of establishing socialism.

Similarly, Marx would have noted that capitalism had found not only ways of managing its contradictions but also of spreading its sweep to newer and newer territories, but he would have still seen it as a negative, inhuman and dehumanising system which it undoubtedly remains to a large majority of people in the Third World as also in pockets of deprivation and discrimination in the First World.

Why is it, then, one may ask, that despite all this, capitalism is being embraced by an increasing number of regimes in the Third World? One easy answer to this question lies in the character of the industrial and business classes in these countries. Rather than opposing the neocolonial form of capitalism as some of them did for some time, they have all turned collaborators of foreign capital. Even if true, this answer begs another question: why have they, all of a sudden and all at once, done so? To this latter question, there are no easy answers.

This is where the second seminal writing, Gramsci’s "Prison Notebooks" might provide an answer, or at least a clue. The "Prison Notebooks" offers several invaluable insights, but the most important, as also the most relevant for the present purpose, is his notion of hegemony and hegemonic ideas. Some ideas, he argues, can under certain circumstances transcend the immediate context of their origin and validation and cut across class and territorial boundaries.

This happens because they are able to appear as universally true, an objectively drawn picture of the existing socio-political reality or else as universally applicable moral, cultural and political values with which to change the existing reality. In other words hegemony meant uncritical internalisation of ideas borrowed from an alien context.

Gramsci used this understanding to explain why the exploited classes of industrial workers or poor and landless peasants did not rise in revolt against their exploiters. I believe that it can explain two more things to us. First, it can explain to us why the Soviet-style "socialism" appeared as genuine socialism to vast sections of leftwing parties, movements, groups and individuals across the globe. That is because Soviet ideas about socialism became hegemonic.

And that is why when the Soviet-style states collapsed, not only were the detractors of socialism mighty pleased but, barring a few exceptions, the Left also stood dismayed, disarmed, defeated. The collapse of an illusion became equated with the defeat of an ideal.

Second, Gramsci’s notion of hegemony makes us aware of the importance of what ideologues like Fukuyama do. By talking of the "End of History", Fukuyama is trying to establish capitalism as the universally applicable and valuable system for all times to come. He is, in other words, trying to establish the hegemony of capitalism.

For all we know, he is quite wrong, but for all we know, he has quite succeeded in his purpose. Hegemonic ideas, after all, do not have to be true ideas. They can, if they become hegemonic, replace hard-to-achieve ideals with easy-to-entertain illusions. Top


Oh, all the sentimental stuff!
by Manju Jaidka

"WHAT can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful. And brilliant. That she loved Mozart and Bach. And the Beatles. And me."

Thus began a cult-making book of the seventies which carried the message, "Love means never having to say you’re sorry!" The most coveted of all gifts one could receive, this was a book that had the young and old alike swearing by it.

Today Erich Segal’s "Love Story" may be half-remembered, misplaced somewhere in the dusty attics of memory, but time was when everyone, just about everyone who was anyone, was talking about it. And when it was made into a film with Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw in the stellar roles, with that unforgettable, haunting music, "Where do I begin the story of how fateful love can be…" it was almost unbearable! Consciously or unconsciously it permeated deep, deep into the recesses of the mind and remained there. Simply remained there. For keeps!

Books like this one mould you into what you are. They enter your system and become part of you. You read and appreciate them not because contemporary literary taste tells you to do so but because you take them up with no pretensions and they strike a responsive chord somewhere within, reminding you of the immense power and glory of life; of the trials, the sorrows and the ephemeral joys that we ordinary mortals must encounter as we plod through this temporal terrain; of the fact that we are all co-passengers, not one more special than the other, fellow human beings who must remain humble in the face of a quirky, whimsical destiny.

But let me pause a moment and ask you a question: suppose you are faced with an innocuous query like "What are the books that have influenced you the most?" Is it not tempting to hold forth for the rest of the day on all the literary classics of the world? On all the thick, dull, uninteresting books that have rarely been read from cover to cover but have won all the prestigious awards. On the ideologically and politically correct writing that one, as a so-called intellectually aware social animal, is —or at least ought to be — familiar with.

Oh yes, you’d love to talk about it for, let’s face it, it may be a long while before you get another chance to impress your listeners with your cleverness or the wide range of your reading interests or your name-dropping familiarity with all those literary landmarks.

Sure, you’d talk about something like "Demonic Verses" which everyone is supposed to have heard of; or of "A Suitable Catch" — yes, yes, you have seen the book; or of "Hullaballoo in the Country Churchyard" which, even if you haven’t read it, why, you know all about it, you’ve read reviews of it and it is the "in" thing to talk about it, so why not? You’d pontificate on the merits and demerits of the writer’s technique, try and pin a label on him/her, and leave your listeners gasping for breath, all of them suitably impressed!

Or perhaps you’d talk about something safer, something less controversial. "My Experiments with Truth" which your dad, with the best of intentions, was always trying to hammer into your unreceptive mind when you were barely into your teens. Or Lin Yutang. Or Dayanand Saraswati.

In your most personal moments, however, when you are face to face with yourself, when you’ve dropped all those social masks you’re forced to wear for the sake of survival, why not take the question up again, this time honestly? What are the books that have "influenced" you the most? As an adult today you can no longer be influenced for you are no longer malleable. You can’t even pretend to be influenced and if you do, there’s got to be something wrong, something very wrong somewhere!

If you’re familiar with the poetry of William Blake, you’d probably know what I’m talking about when I say that once we step out of the innocent green, we enter shades of grey — the grey of experience when the prison house of the world closes in around us, cutting us off from divinity that we were once part of. From innocence we step into knowledge and, need I repeat, after such knowledge what forgiveness? You no longer respond with your heart but with your mind. And the mind is one that has become tough with worldly ways.

So, as hardened, calloused adults caught up in the rat race of the world, can we really be moulded or moved or touched or influenced by a book? I really don’t think so!

Speaking for myself, what were the books that stayed long with me, apart from "Love Story"? Honestly, I don’t even remember. But some titles stand out. Some lines echo in the memory. For instance: "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderlay again. It seemed to me that I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter for the way was barred to me..." from "Rebecca". Again, you wrinkle up your nose and dismiss it as popular stuff that adolescence feeds on!

But, as the bard said, such is the stuff that dreams are made of. And in dreams begin responsibilities. Manderlay, with its swirling fog, its misty landscape of sea and sky and rock, its characters caught up in a nexus of love and hate, fear and suspicion, looms large as a landmark from the past, a relic from an age when impressions could still be formed.

Then came that book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry which I had to buy again and again: "The Little Prince", translated from the French. I had to buy it repeatedly because I couldn’t resist showing it to all the folks I became fond of. They would borrow it, cry over it, wish to keep it, and that would be the last I’d see of my copy. A child’s fable for adults, this is how it is generally described. The copies I bought were all illustrated ones, showing the Little Prince and the Star, the journeys through different worlds, the lump-in-the-throat ending with the reminder that the best things in life are still the simplest ones and that real wealth is giving to others.

These were all raste-ke-patthar, milestones of those years gone by. But perhaps the one that stayed with me the longest was a popular version of a book that came out exactly 100 years ago, in 1900: Sigmund Freud’s "Interpretation of Dreams". Yes, I did read the original – that dog-eared, yellowed copy that I found rummaging in my dad’s cupboard.

But what I enjoyed even more was the hardbound, green-covered "The Dreamer’s Dictionary", a spin-off from Freud that I discovered one serendipitous moment on the reference shelves of the library. This "Dreamer’s Dictionary" became my Bible, not for a day or two, nor for a brief spell, but for years altogether. I couldn’t borrow the book, so I trooped to the library every day, the previous night’s dream hastily scribbled in my diary sometime in the early hours of the morning, in a half-somnolent state.

The noisy years go rushing past and milestones get left behind. New cult-makers repeat the age-old message in different words: Love is just for one time and lasts for a life time…. You grow and you move on. Life brings many surprises that take you away from those long leisurely days filled with books. Those early companions, "Atlas Shrugged", "How Green Was My Valley", "The Lost Horizon", and other such books once surreptitiously sneaked into the classroom lie in unobtrusive corners, gathering dust. Were someone to ask me today of the best books I’ve read, I’d probably draw myself up to my full height, put on my superior-than-thou expression, and rattle off big-sounding names: the works of James Joyce or T.S. Eliot or Salman Rushdie or other writers that I (being a teacher) must read for bread-and-butter reasons. No, I would probably not mention "Rebecca" or "The Little Prince" or "The Dreamer’s Dictionary" or even "Love Story". Especially not "Love Story" for fear of being labelled a sentimental slob!

It is so much easier to wear the mask of a hardened criminal who never had any fanciful dreams. Who didn’t know the meaning of caring. Of human bondage. Or nostalgia. Or love!Top