Saturday, January 6, 2001
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

Honouring Gurudev
By Khushwant Singh

PEOPLE who do not understand Bengali have much to thank William Radice for bringing out the greatness in Rabindranath Tagoreís poetry. Many scholars, including Tagore himself, translated his poems, songs, plays and essays into English but they left non-Bengalis with an uneasy feeling that Bengalis, congenitally prone to exaggeration, also overestimated Tagore as a writer. And on account of the fact that most Bengalis are very thin-skinned few people dared to question their reverence for their Gurudev. I was rash enough to do so by airing my opinion that other Indians, including Bengalis, had written better novels, plays and short stories and barely managed to save myself from being lynched in the lounge of Calcuttaís airport hotel. That did not prevent the Bengal Vidhan Sabha and the Rajya Sabha from passing unanimous resolutions condemning me. I partly redeemed myself when I published a lengthy review of Radiceís earlier translations admitting that Tagore was indeed a great writer of songs.

Assamese are the friendliest Indians
December 23, 2000
The Father Teresa of Punjab
December 16, 2000
Metros bursting at the seams
December 9, 2000
Going for Ganga darshan
December 2, 2000
To be among celebrities
November 25, 2000
The dawn chorus at Santiniketan
November 18, 2000
A priceless Divali gift
November 11, 2000

Making documentaries is her forte
November 4, 2000

The Indo-Malaysian connection
October 28, 2000
Lessons terrorism taught us
October 21, 2000
Blood-letting in Punjab
October 14, 2000
Translating the Japji Sahib
October 7, 2000
Indian concept of beauty
September 30, 2000
To forgive and forget
September 23, 2000
Memoirs of Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit
September 9, 2000
Times are out of joint
September 2, 2000
His voice is immortal
August 26, 2000
No end to hostility
August 19,2000
Visit to a once peaceful metropolis
August 12, 2000
The most abominable crime
August 5, 2000
Unveiling Indian women
July 29, 2000
A spiritually incorrect mystic
July 22, 2000
India without Pilot
July 15, 2000

William Radice is currently Senior Lecturer in Bengali at Londonís School of Oriental and African Studies. He is also a poet and writes a fortnightly Letter from England for The Statesman. His latest work is hitherto untranslated writings of Gurudev: Particles, Jottings, Sparks: The Collected Brief Poems of Rabindranath Tagore (Harper Collins). The strange title, in fact, stands for three genres of poetry to which Tagore himself gave names Kanika (particles, or kabitika), Lekhan (jottings) and Sphulinga (sparks, published posthumously in 1945). They are reminiscent of the kind of messages sent out by Panchtantra tales and Aesopís fables but are in verse. Tagore was almost forced to compose them during his tours abroad, particularly to China and Japan. His admirers and autograph-hunters would insist he write a few lines on whatever was handy: slips of paper, paper fans, napkins etc. He obliged. Many of them were lost for ever; some were copied out by family members and friends accompanying him.

Tagore was deeply rooted in Indian tradition, deeper than any of his contemporaries or any Indian poet after him. O.E. Lessing rightly remarked "Tagore is perhaps the last great poet of ancient India". This is amply borne out by Radiceís compilation. They are indeed as claimed by him, "pointed, witty, lucid and profound". Here are a few examples:

Plain speaking

The forest blooms with the coming of spring:

All that the koel-bird does is sing.

"I suppose", says the crow, "youíve nothing to do

But flatter the spring with your hullabaloo".

Pausing for a moment, the koel looks round:

"Who are you? Where do you come from, friend?"

"Iím the plain-speaking crow," the crow replies.

"Delighted," says the koel, and politely bows.

"Be free to speak plainly all the year long.

"Iím happy with the truth of my own sweet song".

The need for height

The flat field said in anger and pain:

"I fill the market with fruit and grain.

The mountain sits doing who knows what,

Like a great king perched on a throne of rock.

Why is Godís management so unfair?

To me His reasons are not at all clear".

"If all," said the mountain, "were flat and even,

How could rivers bring manna from heaven?íí

Professional difference

Nose says, "Ears, your life must be poor.

No sense of smell, just earrings to wear".

Ears say, "Nose, how sad not to hear,

And all you can do in bed is snore:"

The same path

Letís shut the door to block out sin;

"Then how", says Truth, "shall I get in?"


However you turn and turn about,

Your left hand is left and your right hand is right.

Bottom pincher

I am an admirer of K.P.S. Gill and share his passion for Scotch, dames and poetry. But he is a doer; I only an voyeur. Doing got him into trouble; ogling has not created any problems for me. I only read poetry; he reads as well as writes it. A common friend Dr Lakhshmi Goswami of Tezpur (Assam) sent me his composition of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair.

Bill Clinton: an astrologerís advice

Verses without a copyright

All others were asked to kneel

Only Monica was told to lie

There is nothing that is sinful

In what is oral and done on the sly

All tomes which talk of sin

Will surely testify

In this hypocritical world

You are the greatest man they say

Most want some freedom around midnight

You want it throughout the day

As any astrologer will tell you

There is a malefic Star (r) in your stars

With a Lewinsky heíll surely Trip (p) you

And make you wage mid-eastern wars

Make you shed bitter tears in your pillow

Make you slide on the popularity charts

Make you ponder on the State of the Union

And the ways of unconscionable tarts

By scanning your frumious horoscope

A sure remedy the astrologers espy:

Wear a watery agate on your finger

And a lock on your errant fly

All others were asked to kneel

Only Monica was told to lie.

Prayer ó 2001

O God; you are merciful and kind

I hope you will not mind.

Some favours if I seek

You are aware, I am meek.

A palace or mansion you neednít give

Just give me a farmhouse to live.

Ten million rupees and nothing more

I shall be content with a single crore.

I do not beg for four or five

I want only one car to drive.

A lovely wife and children two

A small family ó that will do.

As for occupation, let me be frank.

Make me a Minister of Cabinet rank!

If you donít accept my prayer

Who will call you just and fair?

Contributed by G.C. Bhandari, Meerut