Saturday, February 12, 2005

Khushwant Singh
The fiction of Tagore
Khushwant Singh

"THE very name evokes awe and reverence," writes Sinjita Gupta, translator and compiler of 10 short stories by Rabindranath Tagore in a collection entitled Mystic Moods (UBPSD). To love and reverence, when it comes to assessing his worth as a writer of fiction, I add a third word, trepidation.

I burnt my fingers once when I questioned Tagoreís standing as a novelist and short-story writer. I was mobbed at Kolkata airport by group of boys, none of whom, I am certain, had read anything written by Tagore. They had been put up by someone who was incensed at my audacity to criticise Bengalís greatest icon.

Gossip is what gossip does
   February 5, 2005
Kingdom of God
   January 29, 2005
Gossip is what gossip does
Abandoned innocents
   January 22, 2005
Gem of a man
   January 15, 2005
Osho calling
   January 8, 2005
All that passed by
   January 1, 2005
Tomorrow yet to come
December 25, 2004
The truth about lies
   December 18, 2004
From Aryana to Afghanistan
   December 11, 2004
Goings-on in the name of god
   December 4, 2004
Of matters religious and erotic
   November 27, 2004
Faith should unite
   November 20, 2004
Fine art of party hopping
   November 6, 2004


Rabindranath TagoreAfter that experience I discuss Tagore only with Bengali friends who are knowledgeable and are able to make a balanced assessment. Having a worshipful attitude towards a writer, however, eminent, is not the way to judge his merit. No one questions Tagoreís pre-eminence as a poet and writer of songs. There is also something uncanny and powerful about his paintings. I cannot make up my mind about him as playwright. But I have no doubts in my mind about him as a novelist and a short-story writer.

I do not rate Tagore very high: Bengal has produced quite a few better than him. I am confirmed in my views after going through Mystic Moods. All the stories are contrived and unrealistic; quite a few are ghost stories and not one character comes to life. Part of this can be explained by his penchant for making one of his characters as the narrator in the oral tradition of story-telling when he starts by saying "Listen to this one." And you listen to what he says because he is sitting in front of you. That does not hold good when the tale is put down on paper.

To add to the readersí woes, Sinjita Guptaís translations do not read well. Despite her academic qualifications and her scholastic pedigree, her rendering of Gurudevís prose varies between the purple and the banal. However, one also get the uneasy feeling that there is little substance in the original.

I would like people to read this collection if only to refute what I am saying. I am pretty certain that if these stories were sent to any publisher today under a name other than Rabindranath Tagoreís, they would be returned with a polite rejection slip.

Moonlit madness

The tsunami killer waves occurred on December 26 last year, taking a heavy toll of human lives and property. Scientists tell us that they were caused by an earthquake measuring 9 on the Richter scale, as a result of the shifting of earth plates under the ocean. It also happened to be the night of the full moon. We know the moon has a gravitational pull on the earth which causes high tides. Was this a mere coincidence or did the full moon contribute to the disaster?

Scientists and doctors have examined the data collected on the subject. It is believed that the full moon affects human behaviour and makes many temporarily insane. This myth was based on the fact that more than half of human and animals bodies are made of water. If the moon can make waters of oceans to rise, it may well do the same to the water in human and animal bodies. After examining hundreds of case histories it has been established that it does nothing of the sort. It neither affects the flow of streams and rivers nor makes the slightest impact on lakes and water in tanks and ponds. A marginal increase in the number of people bitten by dogs, cats, rats and horses has been recorded but not enough to link them to the full moon.

Moon myths began centuries ago and persist to this day despite the fact that because of the widespread electric lighting few of us now get to see the full moon in all its glory. It is best to leave the moon for poets, lovers and newly married couples. The rest is moonshine.

Crazy laws

Lorenzís Law of Mechanical Repair: After your hands become coated with grease, your nose will begin to itch.

Anthonyís Law of the workshop: Any tool, when dropped, will roll to the least accessible corner.

Kovacís Conundrum: When you dial a wrong number, you never get an engaged one.

Cannonís Karmic Law: If you tell the boss you were late for work because you had a flat tire, the next morning you will have a flat tire.

OíBrienís Variation Law: If you change queues, the one you have left will start to move faster than the one you are in now.

(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, N. Delhi)