Dangers of mindless iconising

Apropos of Khushwant Singh’s “Fiction of Tagore” (Saturday Extra, Feb 12), it is hard to digest some of the contentions in the article. Khushwant is usually generous while introducing new books and authors. His comments, therefore, on a literary giant like Tagore come as a surprise to many. One agrees with him on the dangers of mindless iconising, which might come in the way of one’s appreciation of an author. Still more invidious, however, can be the impact of an influential writer like Khushwant on the mind of a lay reader regarding the worth of another artist.

Creative writers have usually been known to be harsh on artists whose genius may follow a different direction. Is such a dogmatic attitude, especially without knowing the object of one’s attack fully, justified? Is it right to keep people from what may be an enriching experience of the soul, an experience to be discovered only in the best of art, simply out of a perverse bias?

Every author has to be appreciated for the best that is produced by him. And there is so much that is indispensable in Tagore’s fiction. I have not, for instance, come across any reference to Gora, Tagore’s greatest fictional work (which ought to be a “must-read” for an educated Indian), anywhere in Khushwant Singh’s writings.




The story in which a fervid Brahmin youth wants a meaningful life through his full identification with his nation, its people and culture and comes to realise the dubious foundations on which many of his strongly-held principles had rested, is rightfully considered among the great masterworks of the world. The questions regarding identity, along with those of gender, caste and religious prejudices, in the light of India’s cultural and religious traditions (with a questioning stance on many of those) get the subtlest treatment imaginable. The language is that of compacted thought and characters live with one after the story.

One forgets that one is reading a work written almost 100 years earlier (Bengali original in 1910 and the superb English translation by W.W. Pearson in 1924, the name of this translator is not even acknowledged in most of the editions we see today). One finds oneself confronting the same religious, caste and identity squabbles today. The best of Tagore’s short stories, too, have the force of sentiment, which might have been confused with sentimentality by a broad-stroke writer like Khushwant.

Yubee Gill, Amritsar

The maker of the modern novel

Apropos of “Signs and signatures,” by Darshan Singh Maini, (Spectrum, Feb 20) highlighting Henry James, the maker of the modern novel. No account of this author is complete without mentioning The Europeans (1878), another important novel considered to be one of his best.

Interestingly, not many know that Henry James was the younger brother of American psychologist and philosopher, William James, who became Professor of Philosophy, Harvard University, in 1882 and was the founder of the philosophical system known as pragmatism. Elder to him by a year, William James wrote Principles of Psychology in 1890, which established him as one of the most lucid writers of his day.

However, in the contemporary literary scene, books on Henry James continue to pour in offering fresh interpretation and relevance of his works, providing rare insights into the working of the author’s mind, thus further enriching and expanding what Maini calls, ‘Jamesiana.’

The readers would be pleased to know that the Henry James Society (USA) regularly brings out a scholarly journal, The Henry James Review, edited by Susan M. Griffin from University of Louisville, which is exclusively devoted to the writer and his works. Published thrice a year, it carries critical essays and reviews by both new and established critics of Henry James. The annual subscription amount for individuals is $ 34 but attractive discount is offered to students.

Those interested to subscribe to it may contact the Johns Hopkins University Press, Journals Publishing Division, P.O. Box 19966, Baltimore, M.D. 21211-0966, USA.

Rajeshwar Sharma, Chandigarh

Returning awards

Jaspal Bhatti’s suggestion of starting an “Awards-returning ceremony” (Spectrum, Feb 13) is thought-provoking. The way they are being returned, awards are losing their importance. As far as Bhatti’s suggestion about presiding over these functions goes, it can certainly not be politicians. It is the latter’s habit only to give away awards and not to take them back.

Vijay Dhiman, Kangra

A delightful read

This refers to “Women today are honorary men” by Ashwini Bhatnagar (Saturday Extra, Feb 19). Shobhaa De has come out with some timely advice for modern-day couples, who in their pursuit of money have forgotten to take care of children. She has rightly said to build a career at the expense of children is not wise. This is a recent phenomenon which is ruining family life. Save some rare situations where both need to be earning members to keep the hearth burning, one of the parents should be there for the children.

Nowadays, most couples are not working out of need but just to be a part of the consumerist society where your address and the model of the car count. They don’t mind leaving their children to the care of maids or in creches just to satisfy their lust for hoarding money. One wishes they could know the inner happiness of taking one’s child to school by holding her arm and listening to small chatter. Such moments of togetherness, if missed, can never be bought by money.

Saubhagya Prada Sood, Chandigarh


Shobhaa De, true to her established image of a surgeon-writer dissecting human-relationships in a laboratory, rightly states that “Women today are honorary men.” “Even the world’s most debauched husbands would feel betrayed if their wives had affairs” speaks much of the calls of fidelity and possessiveness in love. Most of De’s writings deal with problems of love and betrayal and that too in a ‘as naked as life’ manner.

Surjeet Mann, Sangrur

Period films

Why is Prixit Shakya so allergic to period movies? (Jan 30). We have had a number of films of this genre which excelled in every department. Mughal-e-Azam, Pukar, Sikander, Sangeet Samrat Tansen, Anarkali, Shaheed (made by Ramesh Sehgal as well as the one made by Kewal. P Kashyap), Halaku, Taj Mahal, 1942: A Love Story, Lagaan and The Legend of Bhagat Singh are some examples.

The makers of commercial movies surely know how important it is to lace their movies with entertainment even if they relate events to history. In fact, the above mentioned movies are examples of how history can be depicted in a beautiful and an entertaining way on screen. After seeing movies on contemporary themes for too long, a period film comes as a whiff of fresh air. Let there be all kind of movies so that we have a rich, varied fare.

Surendra Miglani, Kaithal


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