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The Pre-1947 Period of Indian English Poetry
by Bijay Kant Dubey
Manmohan Ghose, Aurobindo Ghose, Rabindranath Tagore, Sarojini Naidu, Harindrananth Chattopadhyaya and a host of others are the poets of the pre-1947 period of Indian English poetry. On the one hand the British had been the masters then while on the other the freedom struggle had been going in full swing. People led by the celebrated personalities, having learnt the lessons in nationalism and nationalistic consciousness from them were using the weapon against the same masterly English who taught the lessons to them. Apart from the agitation and protest, demonstration and strike, even during those days, we could find the exponents of poetry who were more or less closer to the Raj, whatever say we with regard to the British. Had they been against Gandhi, they could have crushed brutally if compared with the foreigners ruling India during the medieval times. English just remained an elite language knowledgeable to a handful of affluent persons which is but a drawback of our society divided across the caste and creed lines. A few in the proximity to them got benefited while the rest could not avail of that opportunity.
All the poets or poetesses whom we intend on discussing are the privileged few of the British times. Had Sarojini been not to England, could she have thought of becoming a poetess? Rabindranath’s visit to England too occasioned the translating of Gitanjali into English. Manmohan Ghose and Aurobindo Ghose too received their education in England. Most of the English poets or poetesses represent the India of metropolitan towns and they continue to think in their own way rather than the common-manly approach. What it is painful is this that Sarojini remained a poetess till the time of marriage through a love-affair and after the culmination of that, all the notes vanished away. She joined politics and forgot poetry. The nightingale did not remain a songbird, but turned it into a politician. Aurobindo too had been a nationalist before the shifting of loyalties and his power flowered actually in yoga, poetry emanating as yogic reflexion.
A quote from K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar will prove the point:
Numberless are the other practioners who have in the main followed ‘tradition’, but no more than a bare mention of some of these can be made at the fag end of this chapter: Dhan Gopal Mukherjee (Rajani,1961,and Sandhya,1917); N.V. Thadani (Triumph of Delhi,1916, and Krishna’s Flute 1919); A.F. Khabardar (The Silken Tassel, 1918); Sir Nizmat Jung (Sonnets, 1918); S.S. L. Chordia (Seeking, 1925; Chitor, 1928); T Basker (Passing Clouds, 1932); R. Appalaswami (Songs and Lyrics, 1935); R.A. Mishra (Life’s Fantasia, 1938); S.R. Dongerkery (The Ivory Tower, 1943); Sabita Devi (Phantasies, 1953); Nilima Devi (When The Moon Died, 1944); Subho Tagore (Rubble, 1936, and Flames of Passion, 1944); Fredoon Kabraji (A Minor Georgian’s Swan Song, 1945); Cyril Modak (Jawaharlal Nehru and Other Poems, 1946); Lotika Basu (White Dawns Awakening, 1950); Nanalal Dalpatram (The Perennial Fruit, 1953); K.S. Ramaswami Sastri (A Vision of India, 1954); Elsa Kazi (Terrestrial and Celestial Echoes, 1960); Burjor B. Paymaster (The Last Farewell, 1960); G.B. Ramamchandra Rao (Wings and Warbles, 1965); Karan Singh (Welcome, The Moonrise, 1965); R.M. Challa (Beauty and the Poet, 1969); and Gopal Singh (The Unstruck Melody, 1969). A random garner from some of the above titles might give a rough idea of the variety and richness of this body of verse.
(K R Srinavasa Iyengar, Indian Writing In English, Sterling Publishers Private limited, New Delhi , Reprint 1993, p..637-38)
While discussing ‘The Gandhian Whirlwind: 1920-1947’ chapter, M.K. Naik comments:
Among other writers of verse of the period may be mentioned K.S.R. Sastry (The Epic of Indian Womanhood, 1921; The Light of Life 1939); N.M. Chatterjee (Parvati, 1922; India and Other Sonnets,1923); A. Christina Albers (Ancient Tales of Hindustan, 1922; Himalayan Whispers,1926); D. Madhava Rao (Madhavi-Lata, 1923); S.L. Chordia (Seeking and Other Poems, 1925; Chitor and Other Poems,1928); M.U. Malkani and T.H. Advani (The Longing Lute, 1925); M. Krishnamurti (Song of Leaves, 1927; Love Sonnets and Other Poems,1937); Uma S. Masheswar (Among The Silences, 1928; Southern Idylls, 1939); .J.R.P. Mody (Golden Harvest, 1932; Verses, Grave and Gay,1938), Nilima Devi (The Hidden Face 1936); SubhoTagore (Peacock Plumes, 1936; May Day and Other Poems, 1945); Baldoon Dhingra (Symphony of Love,1938; Comes Ever the Dawn, 1941), S.R. Dongerkery (The Ivory Tower, 1943), Fredoon Kabraji (A Minor Georgian’s Swan Song 1944); H.D. Sethna (Struggling Heights,1944) and Serapia Devi (A Book of Beneficient Grief and Other Poems,1945; Rapid Visions, 1947).
(M.K. Naik, A History of Indian English Literature, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 1982, p.146)
Though there is something in K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar, but M.K. Naik just makes a passing reference to them, who lie in bracketed with the titles of the books merely. These books are rarer to be found, traceless, nowhere to be found and even if they found, Gokak or Iyengar, but Naik heard about from them. At least Naik could have photocopied and gifted to one or two libraries if he could not enlighten upon. The history of modernism in Indian English poetry can never be started with P. Lal, Nissim Ezekiel and others of their company abruptly as the novice critics state it today. M.K. Naik too is a poet of the Bombayan school. I wonder many of the Bombayan men could be poets or poetesses just with one or two collections of poems, but why could they be not? They may take, even the govt. of India, but I do not. Just with a book or two in the beginning, Kamala Das did marvels.
As we have failed to maintain our archives and museums, so we say it in the absence of records that there were no poets during the pre-independence period. There were of course many good poets, but took we no notice of them. Had the people not supported, Aurobindo, Sarojini, Tagore and others could not have been poets in sole isolation.
Stray Birds by Tagore is one of the collections of poems which contain in the briefest poems of Tagore which may also be called the capsule poems as for the brevity of presentation and these have been dedicated to one named T.Hara of Yakohama. A few of these can be noted in:
Stray birds of summer come to my window to
sing and fly away.
And yellow leaves of autumn, which have no
songs, flutter and fall there with a sigh.
O Troupe of little vagrants of the world, leave
your footprints in my words.
The world putts off its mask of vastness to its
It becomes small as one song, as one kiss of the
It is the tears of the earth that keep her smiles
(Stray Birds, Macmillan India, 2001, p.7)
There are some 326 ideas, thoughts or images, smallest units of poems in Stray Birds which are really his Japanese birds or maybe they the sparrows with chirps picking the grains scattered around. Stray Birds, in other words, is a book of dispersed meditations put into one, two or three liner stanzas.
Let us mark a one-liner. In a single-liner like this, the poet Rabindranath Tagore tells about the Creator and his delight of creating in poem no. 46:
God finds himself by creating.
The poet says that he cannot choose the best as the best chooses. Here what the poet says as a juggler the same has been by Coleridge before him and by Nissim later on. Something he has taken from hearsays, something from proverbs and sayings:
I cannot choose the best.
The best choose me.
They throw their shadows before them who carry
their lantern on their back.
That I exist is a perpetual surprise which is life.
“We, the rustling leaves, have a voice that
answers the storms, but who are you silent ? ”
“I am a mere flower.”
Rest belongs to the work as the eyelids to the eyes.
Man is a born child, his power is the power of growth.
Stray Birds as small collection contains in the scattered, but condensed meditations and reflections of the poet. One small unit is independent of another. We may see a few of them:
Sorrow is hushed into peace in my heart like the
evening among the silent trees.
Some unseen fingers, like an idle breeze, are
playing upon my heart the music of the ripples.
“What language is thine, O sea? ”
“The language of eternal question.”
“What language is thy answer, O sky?”
“The language of eternal silence.”
Listen, my heart, to the whispers of the world
with which it makes love to you.
The mystery of creation is like the darkness of
night – it is great. Delusions of knowledge are like
the fog of the morning.
(Stray Birds, ibid, p.9)
Tagore’s Lover’s Gift And Crossing is a joint collection of poems released by Tagore and the success of Gitanjali overshadows these as one can mark the influences of it and its admirable success. The collection is a renewed attempt of the author to put up afresh in the light of the success gained through Gitanjali.
Lover’s Gift which consists of sixty prose stanzas is a booklet of love and its feelings and the poet as a lover expressing love - the feelings of his heart, personalizing or impersonalizing them. Published in 1918 by Macmillan, a joint collection, a two-in-one, the first half representing Lover’s Gift and the second Crossing, is the text in hand. Having gifted the things, the lover is crossing over the stream to return back to. The poet as the speaker of Andrew Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress and Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Maud just imagines in a various mood of his, the things of his heart coming out and he saying to his imaginary ladylove so emotionally. The poet opening his heart before and the beloved all silent, is the thing, the heart brimming with and he laying them bare, lyrically, going sentimental. Tagore’s Crossing is like Tennyson’s Crossing The Bar and C.G. Rossetti’s Up-hill and here the poet preparing mentally to be with the steersman, the helmsman or the boatman, who is none but the God and the poet praying to humbly to take him across the shore. Crossing, a collection of some 78 prose-poems, is a collection of going and meeting, sometimes on the roadway all alone, taking the name of His and fearing and going, but He seeing it all, helping strangely. There is one problem in going through the verses of Rabindranath and that is the lack of change in his poetic style. Barring sentimentality, one cannot look for anything new in his poetry.
The second stanza of the collection, Lover’s Gift presents the things going within his heart:
Come to my garden walk, my love. Pass by the
fervid flowers that press themselves on your sight.
Pass them by, stopping at some chance joy, which
like a sudden wonder a sunset illumines, yet eludes.
For love’s gift is shy, it never tells its name, it
flits across the shade, spreading a shiver of joy
along the dust. Overtake it or miss it forever. But a
gift that can be grasped is merely a frail flower, or a
lamp with a flame that will flicker.
(Lover’s Gift And Crossing, Macmilan India, 2001, p.8)
Though full of aesthetic beauty and sense, Tagore is somewhere sensual too in his poetic expression:
There is room for you. You are alone with your few
sheaves of rice. My boat is crowded, it is heavily
laden, but how can I turn you away ? Your young
body is slim and swaying ; there is a twinkling smile
in the edge of your eyes, and your robe is coloured
like the rain-cloud.
The travellers will land for different roads and
homes. You will sit for a while on the prow of my
boat, and at the journey’s end none will keep you
Where do you go, and to what home, to garner
your sheaves? I will not question you, but when I
fold my sails and moor my boat I shall sit and
wonder in the evening - Where do you go, and to
what home, to garner your sheaves?
The prosaic poems of Lover’s Gift contain in the same feelings which we in find in Gitanjali and one can see the influence of it on all the texts which Tagore has written in English in the aftermath of it as because the poems full the same type and tenor of expression and have been cast in the same mould too. Lover’s Gift the title too is apt and suggestive. Here the poet-lover goes on reflecting on love and beauty. His heart is full with and is brimming no doubt, sometimes with the flowers, sometimes with the love-letters to give to.
The untitled stanzas as the separate poems go in their own way:
The suns breaks out from the clouds on the day when
I must go.
And the sky gazes upon the earth like God’s wonder.
My heart is sad, for it knows not from where comes
Does the breeze bring the whisper of the world
which I leave behind with its music of tears
melting in the sunny silence? or the breath of the
island in the far-away sea basking in the
Summer of the unknown flowers?
The wind is up, I set my sail of songs,
Steersman, sit at the helm.
For my boat is fretting to be free, to dance in the
rhythm of the wind and water.
The day is spent, it is evening.
My friends of the shore have taken leave.
Loose the chain and heave the anchor, we sail by
The wind is stirred into the murmur of music at this
time of my departure.
Steersman, sit at the helm.
Had Tagore not taken the help of the Englishman friends and well-wishers, he could not have succeeded. Several scholars have helped him in translating the texts. The same Yeats who supported him with his all favor before the giving of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 detached himself from him, how could it be? People say that Yeats had been envious of him, but this is not the thing. Had it been, Yeats would not have written the preface to Tagore’s Gitanjali, matching it with his poetry, on a par with no doubt. Actually, Yeats had not been satisfied with the loose and repetitive sentimentality of Tagore coming out in the books after Gitanjali which we can ourselves see it. The success of Gitanjali occasioned the other slim texts in English. Tagoe too could not keep the bonding with Yeats intact. Had he appreciated his poetry, it would have been a good critical piece, but Tagore took to it not. Tagore’s English had not been good enough too to be called of that standard. Instead of it, he carried the things well. The bhakti-yogi is there in Gitanjali approaching the Invisible with his garland of love-lyrics and utmost devotion. The humility seen in prayer is the hallmark of Gitanjali.
Crossing, to some extent, is a Gitanjali in a changed version as because many of the poems relate to the application of same myth, mythology, discourse, philosophy, spirituality and metaphysics applied in earlier. The same discourse in the form of a humble prayer leads to the Unknown Divine as for the resolving of the unsaid questions of life and the world. The devotee knows it that the tangles can never be resolved, but the fears of the unknown pathway disturb the heart and mind of his. Death too is the greatest fear and the terror of it, who can ever say it? His Hindu view of life in a secular form is available for ready reference. Tagore as a Vaishnavite singer is a poet of maya and love and he can never think of renunciation. Through love, devotion and humility, he wants to approach the Unapproachable Divine.
An example from Crossing will suffice it to say:
When bells sounded in your temple in the morning,
men and women hastened down the woodland
path with their offerings of fresh flowers.
But I lay on the grass in the shade and let them pass
I think it was well that I was idle, for then my
flowers were in bud.
At the end of the day they have bloomed, and I go to
my evening worship.
Swami Vivekananda’s poems have come as In Search of God And Other Poems; a compilation of several poems writte in English directly, a few translated into. In Search of God, The Song of The Free, Misunderstood, My Play is Done, No One to Blame, The Cup, Hold on Yet a While, Brave Heart, The Song of The Sannyasin, To an Early Violet, The Living God, Requiescat in Pace, To the Awakened India, To the Fouth of July, kali the Mother, Angels Unawares, Peace, To My Own Soul, etc. are the poems which have been inducted into this work. We generally cannot expect for a romantic piece from a saint, but here lies To An Early Violet, really an astounding nature poem.
The last stanza of To An Early Violet may be taken into account:
Change not thy nature, gentle bloom,
Thou violet, sweet and pure,
But ever pour thy sweet perfume
Unasked, unstinted, sure!
(Swami Vivekananda, In Search of God And Other Poems, Advaita Ashrama, Calcutta, 1981, p.19)
To see the whole scenario in the eyes of Vinayak Krishna Gokak is to see as thus,
“The first quarter of the 20th century produced a number of poets who continued to write in the Romantic and Victorian manner of the Indo-Angian poets. Meherjee, A.F. Khabardar, N.V. Thadani, Nizamat Jung, Harindranath Chattopadhyaya and Ananda Acharya exploited India or oriental thought and legend and wrote in that typical Indian manner. N.W. Pai produced a romance in blank verse, The Angel of Misfortune in 1905. Ananda Acharya was, in particular, considerably influenced by Tagore’s English renderings of his own poetry, for Acharya wrote several prose-poems in the manner of Tagore. But there were other Indo-Angian poets who responded to the new trend that was now perceptible in English poetry — Georgianism; Robi Dutt, Joseph Furtado, P. Seshadri, J. Vakil, G.K. Chettur, S.K. Chettur and Kabraji reveal a Georgian love of the colloquial idiom and of a simple and forthright handling of poetical themes.”
(The Golden Treasury of Indo-Anglian Poetry, Selected and Edited, ibid, p.21)
Indian English poetry though a study in slender anthologies and minor voices has been coming down to us as a thin trickle of poesy, never dry and useless. The problem is there with the ramshackle critics of nondescript Indian English poetry as they fail to locate the older authors and their compositions. Had it been so, we would have read newer poets or practitioners of poesy in our classes.
“The second quarter of the 20th century may be said to yield a richer harvest. V.N. Bhushan, S.R. Dongerkery, T.P. Kailasam, M. Krishnamurti and A. Menezes continue the humanistic trend. Nolini Kanta Gupta, Dilip Kumar Roy, E.L.Vaswani, J. Krishnamurti, Nirodbaran, K.D. Sethna, Nishikanto and Themis carry forward the tradition of mystical poetry. A third group, consisting of poets like Manjeri Iswaran and P.R. Kaikini, who used to write in the Romantic tradition, have now changed over to modernistic techniques and others like Nilima Devi, B. Rajan, R.R. Shrestha, and B. Dhingra, who show a love of compact expression and new techniques from the very beginning, reveal new developments in this field. The ‘progressive’ manner of the thirties is seen in some of the poems of Saklatvala, Appal Swamy and Humayun Kabir. Nirodbaran has produced a few surrealist lyrics.” - Vinayak Krishna Gokak in his ‘Introduction’ to The Golden Treasury of Indo-Anglian Poetry. (Ibid, p. 21)
It will wrong to say that there were no poets in the pre-independence period. The problem a full-length idea of the whole genre. A single poem cannot do justice to a poet who is almost unknown and whose poems the critics lies with the critics who are absenting and in the case of the absentees, whatever a layman prescribes that turns into our ordeals. My point is this that you at least try to prescribe the single book authors of the post-independence period rather than concentrating on the moderns of today. Let the students have prescribe them not, which they themselves have not seen, nor have perused as they do not have a full-length study of Indian English poetry. The poets of the gap period need to be perused deeply. The connecting link should be ignored in such a way.
We read the poems of Aurobindo, have we ever tried to study K.D. Sethna, Punajala, Nolini Kanta Gupta, Nirodbaran, Nishikanto, and other Aurobindonians? It is true that the Aurobindonian School of poetry flourished under the leadership and guidance of Maharshi Aurobindo and his Pondicherry Ashrama. But the problem is this that the yogi nurtured them not so well and hos towering personality overshadowed them. Even he is unresponsive to the poetry of Manmohan Ghose. Had he kindled the poetic fire in them to catch up the generated light, they could have been biographed as the famous practitioners of Indian English poetry and could have brought laurels to the Pondicherry School.
Apart from Sarojini and Aurobindo, Harindranath Chattopadhyaya too is not less than and his genius can be marked in shorter lyrics which have come down to us for our study. One such poem is Noon:
The moon a mystic dog with paws of fire
Runs through the sky in ecstasy of drouth
Licking the earth with tongue of golden flame
Set in a burning mouth
It floods the forest with loud barks of light
And chases its own shadow on the plains
Some secret Master-hand hath set it free
Awhile from silver chains
At last towards the cinctured end of day
It drinks cool draughts from sunset-mellowed rills,
Then chained to twilight by the Master’s hand
It sleeps among the hills.
(The Golden Treasury of Indo-Anglian Poetry, ibid, p.194)
J. Krishnamurti, Swami Ram Tirtha, T.L. Vaswani, Brajendra Nath Seal, K.S. Venkataramani, etc. are the historical stuffs that just we refer to casually with passing references, but we need to take them seriously as because we cannot sidetrack their historicity and relevant significance to connect and continue with.
G.K. Chettur, S.K. Chettur, V.N. Bhushan, Manjeri S. Isvaran, P.R. Kaikini, Humayun Kabir, etc. also need to be perused as we cannot do away with our historicity and poetic tradition. Instead of referring, we need to elaborate the discussion. Had they not to take up, they could have discarded them from incorporating or assembling in to show the collective strength. The Indian critics have to re-think it if they really want to learn from and improve upon and if one says that one knows it all then nothing to say to.
To work on Indian English poetry is not an easy job as a library visit becomes a must as for the things of its nondescript history and tradition which none has cared to anthologize and even if these are, lie buried deep like the statues into the columns and pillars of the terracotta temples in ruins or as the pale sheets of paper lying in some undusted library shelves and racks.
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Bijay Kant Dubey
Contd. with Rosseti's Uphill
Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert frost too is not less than in thought and idea, image and reflection:
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Gitanjali, on the whole, is a compendium of Eastern and Western thought and expression, so much so Indian and Oriental, so much so Occidental in the use of the vocabulary, selection of Biblical syntax and phraseology which is evident on the text. Something is the in the form of a humble expression; something in a prayerful tone of own; something of man’s karma and dharma and their bhoga, man’s manners and the way of the world, as it was in the past and has been continuing for so long. It is a song of the pilgrimage of life yet to be undertaken, the lips quivering and praying and the God standing before. Tennyson’s Ulysses and Longfellow’s A Psalm of Life are the songs of karma, asking to be a karmayogin so is the poem of Frost, split between fascination for mysterious beauty and a return home, the contrast between desire and duty prevailing upon.
Tennyson’s Ulysses tells of a history and tradition and it is worth-mentioning hereto show the germ of the idea:
It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
A mariner and a navigator, the king lives by the lust, thirst for knowledge and discovery and the fire of knowing more, delving deep burns him to find it more.
Rabindranath Tagore as poet is a lover and his a loverly heart of own and he can nowhere leaving this world of attachment and the bond of relationship. He can never be a Bhartrihari, discarding maya for Pingla as for to be a bairagi. He is a man of maya, by maya and for maya; the world of maya his own; a worshipper of the Sagun Brahma, the statue of Radha and Krishna glistening around and he hearing the musical and magical spells as played in tunes by the Flutist Lord :
Deliverance is not for me in renunciation.
I feel the embrace of freedom in a thousand
bonds of delight.
Thou ever pourest for me the fresh draught
of thy wine of various colours and fragrance,
filling this earthen vessel to the brim.
My world will light its hundred different lamps
with thy flame and place them before the altar
of thy temple.
No, I will never shut the doors of my senses.
The delights of sight and hearing and touch
will bear thy delight.
Yea, all my illusions will burn into
illumination of joy, and all my desires ripen
into fruits of love.
Gitanjali as a work is neither a Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett nor a Waiting by Jayanta Mahapatra, but a small text of some devotional fervour and self-surrender rarely to be marked. With the hands folded, he is praying to the Lord of Life into the hands of whose everything is but folded unto Him. God can inflict upon, heal and cure forth.
The Retreat by Henry Vaughan may enlighten the topic in hand as for a grappling:
Happy those early days! when I
Shined in my angel infancy.
Before I understood this place
Appointed for my second race,
Or taught my soul to fancy aught
But a white, celestial thought;
When yet I had not walked above
A mile or two from my first love,
And looking back, at that short space,
Could see a glimpse of His bright face;
When on some gilded cloud or flower
My gazing soul would dwell an hour,
And in those weaker glories spy
Some shadows of eternity;
Before I taught my tongue to wound
My conscience with a sinful sound,
Or had the black art to dispense
A several sin to every sense,
But felt through all this fleshly dress
Bright shoots of everlastingness.
O, how I long to travel back,
And tread again that ancient track!
That I might once more reach that plain
Where first I left my glorious train,
From whence th’ enlightened spirit sees
That shady city of palm trees.
But, ah! my soul with too much stay
Is drunk, and staggers in the way.
Some men a forward motion love;
But I by backward steps would move,
And when this dust falls to the urn,
In that state I came, return.
Poetry as bhakti-bhavana, devotional feelings or outpourings continue to overshadow the whole text of Gitanjali and he finds himself wet with. Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda is a fine example of it where the devotional fervour can be marked. The Vedas, the Upanishadas, the Puranas, etc. are there to engage us with their chants and mantric incantations. The poet as a singer of heart sings the songs of love soulfully in Gitanjali to take the world by surprise through his love, devotion and dedication to the Divine, never seen, never felt in the Western world, a foundation based on so much internal and intrinsic bonding, affection and sympathy of individual intimacy. The Ship of Death by D.H.Lawrence too is a very fine poem where the journey is like that of Tagore’s boatman ferrying the boat away to that side of the river-bank. G.M.Hopkins’ Pied Beauty and God’s Grandeur are unique poems and so is George Herbert’s Virtue to enlighten upon the metaphysical theme of delving. God is Himself Life and Death, the Journey and the Pathway of life and the world. The beginning well as the endway is He Himself and there is nowhere to go leaving God the Father. Religious mysticism is the chief specialty of Tagore’s Gitanjali so profuse, so abundant in him though the matter is one of classical love poetry where the man as a traveller can be seen setting out on the pilgrimage of life; the boatman taking the boat away.
A reading of the text magical and mythical makes us believe, as if God were fluting and Tagore hearing with enchantment in Gitanjali, tumbling and trickling down to us as the lyrics of it, distilled as nectar drops, falling from the lotus of the rock-built temple and its ceiling roof on the Shiva-lingam the sanctum sanctorum inside the premises.
If the heart is pure, everything is within the reach for one can be with the Lord. Innocence and simplicity is quite essential for seeing God or feeling His Bliss. The poem no. LX from the same text of Tagore seems to be one under the influence of William Blake:
On the seashore of endless worlds children
meet. The infinite sky is motionless overhead
and the restless water is boisterous. On the seashore
of endless worlds the children meet with shouts
They build their houses with sand and
they play with empty shells. With withered
leaves they weave their boats and smilingly
float them on the vast deep. Children have
their play on the seashore of worlds.
They know not how to swim, they know
not how to cast nets. Pearl fishers dive for
pearls, merchants sail in their ships, while
children gather pebbles and scatter them
again. They seek not for hidden treasures,
they know not how to cast nets.
The sea surges with laughter and
pale gleams the smile of the sea beach.
Death-dealing waves sing meaningless
ballads to the children, even like a mother
while rocking her baby’s cradle. The sea
plays with children, and pale gleams the
smile of the sea beach.
On the seashore of endless worlds
children meet. Tempest roams in the
pathless sky, ships get wrecked in the
trackless water, death is abroad and
children play. On the seashore of endless
worlds is the great meeting of children.
Indian Philosophy And The Traces of It In Tagore’s Gitanjali:
A Study In Comparison And Contrast
The morning sea of silence broke into
ripples of bird songs; and the flowers were
all merry by the roadside; and the wealth
of gold was scattered through the rift of
the clouds while we busily went on our
way and paid no heed.
We sang no glad songs nor played; we
went not to the village for barter; we
spoke not a word nor smiled; we lingered
not on the way. We quickened our pace
more and more as the time sped by.
The sun rose to the mid sky and doves
cooed in the shade. Withered leaves danced
and whirled in the hot air of noon. The
shepherd boy drowsed and reamed in
the shadow of the banyan tree, and I laid
myself down by the water and stretched
my tired limbs on the grass.
My companions laughed at me in scorn;
they held their heads high and hurried on;
they never looked back nor rested; they
vanished in the distant blue haze. They
crossed many meadows and hills, and
passed through strange, far-away
countries. All honour to you, heroic host
of the interminable path! Mockery and reproach
pricked me to rise, but found no response
in me. I gave myself up for lost in the depth
of a glad humiliation—in the shadow of
a dim delight.
The repose of the sun-embroidered
green gloom slowly spread over my heart.
I forgot for what I had travelled, and I
surrendered my mind without struggle to
the maze of shadows and sons.
At last, when I woke from my slumber
and opened my eyes, I saw thee standing
by me, flooding my sleep with thy smile.
How I had feared that the path was long
and wearisome, and the struggle to reach
thee was hard!
(Gitanjali, with an Introduction by W.B.Yeats, Macmillan India Ltd., 1983, p.29-30, Rs. 8/)
TELL me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream ! —
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real ! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal ;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way ;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.
Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle !
Be a hero in the strife !
Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant !
Let the dead Past bury its dead !
Act,— act in the living Present !
Heart within, and God o'erhead !
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time ;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate ;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
----H.W.Longfellow in A Psalm of Life
Gitanjali is a slim volume of prose-poems translated into English from their original Bengali version by the author himself which fetched him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, the first Asian to have received ever. The book as drawn from the various works of Tagore is a collage of devotional verses and their fruition. The soul’s desire to merge into the Soul Supreme, call it the Oversoul is the testament of the long interconnected poem and is a plunge into the waters unfathomable, deep down to and immeasurable. Replete with Indian philosophy, metaphysics, spirituality, theology; thought, culture, tradition and ethos; myth, mysticism, morality and ethics, it is a work of its type, moving along the Vaishnava text and thinking. The poet is a raagi, not a vairaagi; one of attachment, not of detachment. The rhythms of life and living cannot leave him and he too is so much so attached to this life of mortal values and perception where it lies the reality hidden from absolutely. It is but lost love which converts him into a saintly figure of his reckoning and his heart pours down in utter love and lovelessness. The bonding between You and I, I and You is unbreakable and he envisages that in the poems of the soul and the Supreme Soul. The visions of life combined with conjectures, dwellings and delvings take us to the different planes of thinking and reproach and we dwell far from into the domains quite unknown and unseen just at the mercy of the Lord.
“A few days ago I said to a distinguished Bengali doctor of medicine, ‘I know no German, yet if a translation of a German poet had moved me, I would go to the British Museum and find books in English that would tell me something of his life, and of the history of his thought. But though these prose translations from Rabindranath Tagore have stirred my blood as nothing has for years, I shall not know anything of his life, and of the movement of thought that have made them possible, if some Indian traveler will not tell me.’
I have carried the manuscript of these translations about with me for days, reading it in railway trains, or on the top of omnibuses and in restaurants, and I have often had to close it lest some stranger would see how much it moved me. These lyrics—which are in the original, my Indians tell me, full of subtlety of rhythm, of untranslatable delicacies of colour, of metrical invention—display in their thought a world I have dreamed of all my life long. The work of a supreme culture, they yet appear as much the growth of the common soil as the grass and the rushes. A tradition, where poetry and religion are the same thing, has passed through the centuries, gathering from learned and unlearned metaphor and emotion, and carried back again to the multitude the thought of the scholar and the noble.”
(Gitanjali, with an Introduction by W.B.Yeats, Macmillan India Ltd., 1983, Rs. 8/)
Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home—
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene—one step enough for me.
I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path; but now,
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.
So long Thy power hath blessed me, sure it still
Will lead me on,
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.
----- Lead, Kindly Light by Cardinal John Henry Newman
The Light Divine which is seen as a pure-ring of light and is the bliss of meditation, the lotus of it is not exactly the thing of deliberation rather the light dancing on the world and the things shining through and life seen through the glisten, glow and glaze. Let us take poem no. LVII:
Light, my light, the world-filling light, the
eye-kissing light, heart-sweetening light!
Ah, the light dances, my darling, at,
the centre of my life; the light strikes,
my darling, the chords of my love; the
sky opens, the wind runs wild, laughter
passes over the earth.
The butterflies spread their sails on the
sea of light. Lilies and jasmines surge up
on the crest of the waves of light.
The light is shattered into gold on every
cloud, my darling, and it scatters gems in
Mirth spreads from leaf to leaf, my
darling, and gladness without measure. The
heaven’s river has drowned its banks and
the flood of joy is abroad.
Tagore tries to see the Divinity in Form and the Formless Divine in many a metaphor and simile of his own which he keeps stitching and adding to. Sometimes like a shy and coy country beloved, sometimes fearing the lightening and sparks with thunders in the months of Shravana and Bhadra when thunder and gloom keep frightening and awe-struck, she waits for the arrival and coming of the lord.
Clouds heap upon clouds and it darkens.
Ah, love, why dost thou let me wait out-
side at the door all alone?
In the busy moments of the noontime
work I am with the crowd, but on this
dark lonely day it is only for thee that I
If thou showest me not thy face, if thou
leavest me wholly aside, I know not how
I am to pass these long, rainy hours.
I keep gazing at the far-away gloom
of the sky, and my heart wanders wailing
with the restless wind.
India cannot be India if understand we not the myth, mysticism, philosophy, spirituality, metaphysics and theology; the religion, thought, culture and faith of the land, stretching from Kanyakumari to Kashmir to Kanchanjunga to the northeast fringes, the land of the great sadhus and sadhakas, who lived anonymously and died anonymously, without striving to be acknowledged and these hang heavy on us to be a part of our psyche and cultural ice of tradition; India cannot be India without Rama and Krishna, if we comprehend not our folk traditions, Ramlila and Krishnalila and the teachings imparted though and if this can be the truth, how to take to Gitanjali in the negation of these? Before taking the name of Tagore and his Gitanjali, it appears imperative to talk of the Bhakti tradition which is cast over as an influence on the latter-day poetry of the poet. The three yogas, the gnan-marga, the bhakti-marga and the karma-marga are the paths leading to somewhere destinations and man can never accomplish without taking to any of these and these lie in expounded so beautifully in the Bhagavadgita and Tagore alludes and adheres to indirectly in a secular language of his own though the traces of these can be marked in the form of the influences of translation studies, Asiatic researches, Oriental studies and the interpretation of the Sanskrit texts of which Tagore can be no exception to it, whatever say they and whoever interprets them. The poet too has carried forward the trend continuing for so long, drawing from classical imagery, where everything has been attributed to God, dharma and karma, papa and punya and thereafter bhoga and prayaschita to be cleansed and pardoned. Surdas, Vidyapati, Tulsidas, Mirabai, Rashkhan, Malik Muhammad Jayasi, Kabir, Nanak, etc. are some of these whose bearings can never we shake off to be called new. To the West, his Gitanjali can be new, but for us, the Indians, these are but a part of our household culture and tradition, our Orientalism, Eastern view of life. Lord Mahavira and his theory of non-violence, Gautam Buddha and his philosophy of peace and nirvana, Guru Nanak’s pilgrimage undertaken, these form a part of our hagiography and we are so much so beholden to these. Nagarjuna, Shankaracharya, Bhartrihari, Trailangaswami, how to forget them and their legacy and heritage? Rabindranath Tagore has improvised Indian thought, culture and tradition to accomplish with so much dexterity and the root is one of the bhakti tradition. Our treasure trove of devotion and sadhna can never be emptied as it is endless.
Brahma by Ralph Waldo Emerson has also something to speak it before:
If the red slayer think he slays,
Or if the slain think he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep, and pass, and turn again.
Far or forgot to me is near;
Shadow and sunlight are the same;
The vanished gods to me appear;
And one to me are shame and fame.
They reckon ill who leave me out;
When me they fly, I am the wings;
I am the doubter and the doubt,
And I the hymn the Brahmin sings.
The strong gods pine for my abode,
And pine in vain the sacred Seven;
But thou, meek lover of the good!
Find me, and turn thy back on heaven.
Gitanjali, Song Offerings, is an offering of songs consecrated to the Lord Divine who is the Maker of this universe, vast and varied, of pied and freckled beauty and diverse domains and the poet is approaching Him with the folded hands and in a prayerful and submissive tone of his own. The submission is one which we can see continuing since the days of medieval-time which it resulted in chaos, anarchy and disorder and thereafter resultant upheavals and repercussions recuperating in the form of a synthesis. The loot and plunder of India, devastation brought into its trail human agony and misery, torture and tyranny, but survived somehow to survive and sustain the onslaughts on Indian culture, thought and tradition. Our internal rivalry, factionalism and feud brought ruin to us and gave scope for foreign invasion and they invaded too without taking into consideration the long-standing thought and tradition of ours and it resulted into the destruction of Nalanda, Takshila and Vikramshila, but the spirit lay it invincible in the form of the continuity of the everlasting tradition and the sense of spirit. So many sects and viewpoints and so many paths is the thing which Ramkrishna Paramhamsa opines and it is up to anybody to choose a path of liking which will ultimately lead to the same.
Our art and architecture, sculpture and iconography, admiration and adoration too went in favour of Divinity and theology, myth-making and belief rather than thinking about ourselves. The rock-built temples, hewn and chiselled out of the boulders and chunks of stones and rocks or hills converted into, are a legacy of the past, our historicity and glorious ancient past, but never did we houses for ourselves. The mud-built and straw-thatched were just for us to live in and think from. The rains wetting, lashing against and dampening and we went praying to Indra for reining in the heavy downpours and showers drizzling and flooding it all as Lord Krishna once held Govardhana.
The first poem of the set; series of interconnected poems opens the whole of the Pandora’s box with mellifluous music and lyrical intensity:
Thou hast made me endless, such is thy
pleasure. This frail vessel thou emptiest
again and again, and fillest it ever with
This little flute of a reed thou hast
carried over hills and dales, and hast
breathed through it melodies eternally
At the immortal touch of thy hands my
little heart loses its limits in joy and gives
birth to utterance ineffable.
Thy infinite gifts come to me only on
these very small hands of mine. Ages pass,
and still thou pourest, and still there is
room to fill.
Adi Shankaracharya’s narration of the cycle of repeated birth and repeated death, Nachiketa’s dialogues with the God of Death, Yama, Savitri’s boons as for reviving
Satyavan from the coma of death, Bhartrihari’s break-up of hypnotism from Queen Pingla’s beauty seen in the form of infidelity in love, etc. are the things to be reckoned with and these keep imparting to our ethos. King Harishchandra’s testing of truth, devoid of royalties, working as a chandal guarding the Ganga ghat on the behalf of his chief as for collecting taxes for the dead bodies to be burnt and he not allowing wife Sabya to place the dead body of the snake-bitten son Rohit can move anyone else whoever sees the story and the after effects will be as such that he will undergo changes.
In Indian philosophy, God is All, everything but the Desire and Will, the Divine Testament of His, which but the Almighty God knows it, what it is in one’s lot. God is Omniscient, Omnipresent, the Invisible One; God is our Brother, Sister, Mother, Father, the Nearest and the Distant Relative too. When there is darkness all around, He is but Light showing the path. Even in the sorrows of life, if one calls Him, He will come, come to attend to the call. Such a thing makes us conjured up with the imagery and devotion of Mira for Krishna. The modern Hindi poetess Mahadevi Verma too used to in such a strain. Poet Suryakant Tripathy Niralal’s poem, Bharat Ki Vidhwa (India’s Widow) can illustrate it best. May be it the painful love of a widow, as they are permeated to hardships and restrictions, and the case had been as such cruel and inhuman in the past! God the Healer and Curer is the other side of the picture. God is Trikaldarshi, a seer of the three, the past, the present and the future.
The silent steps of His keep sounding with, as if he were coming, coming. Just a glimpse of His Face Divine will be enough for him to be blest and he has been waiting for His coming for so long, when will He arrive finally is the thing to be dispensed with? The patience seems to be breaking, but the music of expectation keeps him imagining:
Have you not heard his silent steps? He
comes, comes, ever comes.
Every moment and every age, every day
and every night he comes, comes , ever
Many a song have I sung in many a
mood of mind, but all their notes have
always proclaimed, ‘He comes, comes,
In the fragrant days of sunny April
through the forest path he comes, comes,
In the rainy gloom of July nights on
the thundering chariot of clouds he comes,
comes, ever comes.
In sorrow after sorrow it is his steps
that press upon my heart, and it is the
golden touch of his feet that makes my
joy to shine.
On His Blindness by John Milton will compare it well with the poem under our discussion:
When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide,
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?
I fondly ask; but Patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts, who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best, his state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.
Milton too says it that God does not need man’s services; there are so many at his command and they keep dispensing with. It is better to serve Him, stand and wait for in utter submission rather than being expectant and hoping for.
Generally, during the seventh or the eighth day of the Durga Puja, in the villages, some people can be seen saying that Bhagavati visits the nights on such an occasion, fragrant with her coming. The sadhaka during the sadhna waits for the dawning upon of the supernatural things and experiences. Sometimes the dreams showing the snake too is considered auspicious as for the vision of Nilkantha Har, Har Mahadeva, Blue-necked Beneficent and Blissful Mahadeva. Sometimes it is presumed that the white-clothes wearing lonely lady passing through the solitary ways may be she the attribute of Bhagavati and such a thing has kept the villages going along the myths, right or wrong. Sagun Brahma and Nirguna Brahma are two forms of seeing the Unknown and Unseen Divine, One in Form while the Other Formless. Tagore as a man is an adorer of the Saguna Brahma and such a philosophy it is there in Surdas’ description of the wailful gopis, milkmaids who are not willing to accept the philosophy of calm and resignation as preached by Uddahava with regard to the departure of Krishna for Dwaraka. Those who love with heart and soul fail to believe in renunciation or resignation unless they get blows and their maya is broken. It takes time in forgetting. Maya is as such and it is difficult to detach. In the words of Kabirdas, Maya mahathagani, mein jaani, Maya is a great cheat that I know and to take to the words of Adi Shankaracharya, Brahma satyam, jagat mithya, only Brahma is true, the world is false.
It is none but God who introduces man with strangers; it is none but God at whose blessing the day starts with a fine morning. If wants He not, nothing can take place or materialize it. God is the source of inspiration and of the flying spark. In birth after birth, life after life, He keeps nurturing and guiding. The poem is like the Chicago address of Swami Vivekananda, a look back in respect and homage:
Thou hast made me known to friends
whom I knew not. Thou hast given me
seats in homes not my own. Thou hast
brought the distant near and made a
brother of the stranger.
I am uneasy at heart when I have to
leave my accustomed shelter; I forget that
there abides the old in the new, and that
there also thou abidest.
Through birth and death, in this world
or in others, wherever thou leadest me it
is thou, the same, the one companion of
my endless life who ever linkest my heart
with bonds of joy to the unfamiliar.
When one knows thee, then alien there
is none, then no door is shut. Oh, grant me
my prayer that I may never lose the bliss
of the touch of the one in the play of the
(Ibid, p. 42)
To read here is to feel that God the Guest has come and the host is in full respect and submission to welcome Him in all cordiality:
What divine drink wouldst thou have,
my God, from this overflowing cup of
My poet, is it thy delight to see thy
creation through my eyes and to stand
at the portals of my ears silently to listen
to thine own eternal harmony?
Thy world is weaving words in my
mind and thy joy is adding music to them.
Thou givest thyself to me in love and then
feelest thine own entire sweetness in me.
All the poems included in Gitanjali are without the titles and the first lines themselves serve as the titles for the said poems under our perusal. The poems are in the form of prayers which do we daily and these can be seen in the form of flower offerings to the Divine.
People say it that Tagore did not study in a school and this we cannot take it for granted as because without getting lessons, one cannot learn the things in such a way. Tagore was coached and tutored privately and something he definitely got from his brothers too. There would have been someone definitely to school him in British poetry classics and the New Testament. It was a fault with him that he could never understand the poetry of Yeats. Had he, a criticism of Yeats’ poetry would have come from Tagore. He could not keep up his friendship with the Irish poet, the one who contributed a beautiful introduction to Gitanjali, even going to the extent of recommending it for the Nobel Prize instead of taking himself or being referred to and recommended for that year.
It is also true that inaction, too much fatalism, blind faith, unnecessary superstition, a search for the Unknown Divine and adherences to the odd and old views taken a toll upon and we could not desist from shedding them and these hindered the progress and development of the nation.
Tagore prays to the Almighty to lift the nation forward:
Where the mind is without fear and the
head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken
up into fragments by narrow domestic
Where words come out from the depth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms
Where the clear stream of reason has
not lost its way into the dreary desert
sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by
thee into ever-widening thought and
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father,
let my country awake.
(Ibid, p. 20)
Taking to the poor state of inertia, the poet is praying for liberation from all sorts of darkness. A nation can progress if the people remain fearless and morally high. Our words must come out from the depth of truth. There must be a co-ordination between thought and action and in the absence of any one of these, one cannot succeed at all. Perfection takes time in to reach at. The poem, if we title it Heaven of Freedom is like G.B.Shaw’s radio-broadcast Freedom, though there is no-anti-thesis like that of the idea-giver and talker anti-romantic dramatist and contrary to that only propositions and suppositions lie in here in Tagore’s poem, relating to India’s liberation from the shackles of slavery.
Tagore has tried to capture the cadence and nuance of our prayer and submission to the Divine in all of our humility and without whose blessing nothing can be possible here. A feeling of total surrender is the essence of Gitanjali which endows it so much.
To light an earthen lamp at morn and eve and to pray with the flower offerings and others are the things of our daily worship and submission, accepting our sin, expiating for and asking to cleanse forth the sinful activity.
Tagore is hesitant and shaky enough as he cannot hurl a defiance to death to kill him like John Donne, as he is engrossed in maya, the snares of the world, which he cannot shake off so easily and is a weak character as well, so much frightful and fearsome. He fears to stride along Yama, no doubt a fearsome, awesome mythical character of the Indian folks. The fear of death is the greatest human fear to grip and overtake man as nobody can avoid it. Death is the ultimate reality which is bound to come and none can escape the jaws of it. There is the death conquering mantra on the one hand, Yama releasing Satyavan and holding dialogues with Nachiketa whereas on the other hand is hard-hearted and pitiless. Tears cannot wet the eyes. The butcher and the hangman are alike in their karma as Yama carries out the orders and executes to end spans. Dharmaraja, the King of Religion judges it what it is right as per the ledger book of openings and balances, debits and credits and sum totals of one’s karma and dharma. For every karma of ours is there a bhoga and we have to suffer, if that is wrong and bad indeed. As you sow so you reap, none but Lord Buddha has said.
The soul, spirit is like a pink-necked green parrot which will someday fly away even though pet you for so long. Keats too discusses it in some other terms in the poem entitled The Terror of Death. There is not even a single house wherefrom the seeds of mustard can be brought and this consoles to some extent the wailing old woman asking Buddha to return the life of her near and ear one.
Death, thy servant, is at my door. He
has crossed the unknown sea and brought
thy call to my house.
The night is dark and my heart is
fearful—yet I will take up the lamp, open
my gates and bow to him my welcome.
It is thy messenger who stands at my door.
I will worship him with folded hands,
and with tears. I will worship him placing
at his feet the treasure of my heart.
He will go back with his errand done,
leaving a dark shadow on my morning;
and in my desolate home only my forlorn
self will remain as my last offering to thee.
The death poems of Tagore can be compared with those of Donne’s Death, Be Not Proud, Tennyson’s Crossing The Bar, Keats’s The Terror of Death, Lawrence’s The Ship of Death and Rossetti’s Up-hill. But his is a poem of some mythical base and of explicit Indian reference. Yama, the God of Death or His Messenger, will come to take the soul away and the soul will weep at the time of going, will pray to humbly to be bailed out of the psychic crisis.
Death, Be Not Proud of John Donne deserves to be quoted in as for a comparison:
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou'art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy’ or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
Crossing the Bar as a death poem from Alfred Lord Tennyson has all the substance of its own, not less than:
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.
The Terror of Death by John Keats can be another example:
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charactry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love; -- then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.
The people sitting and doing the Ram-nama japa, doing the recitation of Hare Rama, Hare Krishna for a period of time continuously and that too without a break too has an importance of own which but we cannot deny it.
There is nothing new in the poetry of Tagore as he has just used and applied in the household Brahminical thoughts and ideas to mould them into a whole as to showcase them for the Western readers’ understanding of India and Hinduism and its universalism. The whole world is godly, is the thing of Hinduism.
Tagore approaches the Divine in the form of a prayer, following the track of devotion as enumerated in the Bhagavadgita. The Bhakti-marga, the Path of Devotion is the path of his which he undertakes to reach. As C.G.Rossetti also promises of an inn at last in the poem, Up-hill similar is the case with this poet.
Uphill from C.G.Rossetti may conclude it well:
DOES the road wind uphill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.
But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow, dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.
Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you waiting at that door.
Shall I find comfort, t
The Colonial Past or The Time of National Awakening
It was the second or the third decade of the nineteenth century which witnessed the beginning of Indian English poetry under the authorship of Henry Louis Vivian Derozio who deserves to be called the first Indian English poet who laid the foundation of it. One of mixed origin, half-Indian and half-Eurasian blood and geneology, he would have definitely found it a difficult time to adjust with Indian society marred by caste, creed, culture, sect and society in their full conservatism, backwardness, medievalism, illiteracy, backwardness, fatalism, blind faith, loss of reason, guilt of suspense, untouchability, social boycott and superstition and all these would have troubled the tender self of the young poet in making. Derozio would have definitely a tougher time to mix and deal with the Indians. A Christian and that too a European, he would have felt isolation in being with the Hindu society of the then times. As the space of Calcutta even then had been one of maritime, seafaring and inter-racial and inter-national mixing and assimilation, so in the atmosphere of that Anglicized outlook, he got a scope to express himself. As the Orientalists and Indologists had been doing their jobs quite satisfactorily; some of the like-minded colonial British educationists had been willing enough to endow with a good education, so the things appeared quite easy for young Derozio to take up and he just furthered their wishes and aspirations.
Had they been not schooled in the Western education, they could not have. The same is true with regard to Derozio, Toru Dutt and others. Toru Dutt as a poetess has based her works mainly on the reading of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata which she might have heard from her elders. What she does it here is this that she presents the characters in a narrative and personalized form.
The whole Dutt family figures in as and when we discuss her contribution to Indian English poetry. Just a handful of poems present one as a poet or a poestess as for our assessment and evaluation, making it difficult to sort out who a big poet and who a small one, an adjunct fellow and these conform to the idea that writing is but secondary to every Bengali as for linguistic lyricality and a natural love for musical cadences and rhythms and they are no exception to it. Sentimentality is one the characteristics and it can be seen in Toru as well as Sarojini.
What it is more important is this that some noble souls definitely cared for the manuscripts and texts of the Derozio archives otherwise these could not have been preserved. What we call it history, we would have forgotten.
Henry Louis Vivian Derozio (1809-31), who is generally considered to be the one, with whom is connected it the origin and history of Indian English poetry, though it was not so then, what we see it today. One of a mixed descent and origin, extending legacies differently, Derozio received his early education from David Drummond’s school in Calcutta where he came to learn about the English romantics and the lessons in the French Revolution. After working for a short while in an office, he departed for Bhagalpur to assist his uncle. Finally, he returned back to Calcutta. He joined Hindu College as a teacher and had been popular with the native students too, but stiff opposition on behlaf of the guardians forced to relinquish as he facilitated some of debates with regard to soicial evils and customs and their validity. He also tried his hands at journalism, but the epidemic cut down his life untimely and claimed it over so ruthlessly. Derozio (1809-31) as a poet is a teacher, a nationalist, a radical thinker, a rebel, an educationist and a social reformer.Though he died young, while serving the cholera patients, there is not too much to say, as the material available to us is scanty and is relevant from the historical point of view. A beginner, he started imitatively, following the romantics and put up a few to strike us no doubt. Derozio had been a bard, a minstrel of India, if not the saint-singer, the yogi-fakir or the sadhu-mahatma, singing in his full-throated voice the past glory and grandeur of the native land, playing the harp and relating to, going deep into time and bringing out, really a true son of the soil, who deserves a mention never to be eked out. It is true that as a reformer he opened his mouth against the monstrous Sati system which he might have seen painfully. It was really an inhuman system which might have crept in due the loot and plunder of India, the inroads which the barbarians might have made into the peace and calm of India. India was really a bird of gold singing its sweetnotes, but medieavalism, inaction, excessive ritualism, blind faith and the loss of reson wreaked havoc. Apart from his crystal clear reasoning, the guardians of his friendly pupils brought the charge against Derozio of corrupting the young minds.
The Harp of India, My Native Land, Poetry, Song, To The Moon, To the Pupils of the Hindu College, Chorus of Brahmins, Song of The Hindustanee Minstrel, etc. are the oft-qoted poems of Derozio. The Fakir of Jhungheera is the most ambitious work of the poet wherein just through a narration, he seeks to bring the evil of the Sati system prevalent in the then time society which Raja Ram Mohan Roy has already tried to resist it and the Calcuttans were quite aware of his reforms.
To write a column about him after reading a few modern books of nowhere nondescript criticism is not the thing to be dispensed here. What we want to say is this that so many scholars have worked for the furtherance of Derozio studies anonymously and they were not less than. The credit must go to the like-minded people who had been the mentors, friends, disciples, preservers and curators of his things.Actually the mediocre scholars or teachers, novice research research students and the so have turned into the stalwarts of Indian English poetry criticism. The mediocre teachers just collect in the matters and turn into the so-called critics of it by re-arrnging and assimilating them into a unified whole.
Before turning to Bengali poetry, Michael had been an ardent learner as well as imitator of English life-style and manners as for to be an Englishman, like Gandhiji in the initial stages did his all to be a perfect English gentleman. He even abandoned his religion, dismantled his legacy, family and tradition and so mad had been after the English and Englishness and the quest took him to England, followed by a lavish life-style and money laundering. The poet even married an English lady but to part away from and to be with the second European lady of his choice. A Bengali Hindu, converted to Christianity, he prepared himself for the bar, but failed as a professional and promising lawyer. The Captive Ladie and Visions of The Past are two ambitious works of Michael which speak of his towering genius and good attempts,but the lukewarm criticism went into not his favour. Had he even continued after, he could have excelled others. Toru too is of not that verve and strength as we see it in his ambitious handling of the stuffs. Michael has the zeal and fervour of a poet and he speaks in the language of poetry, but switches loyalties to his mother tongue as to serve it, i.e., Bengali poetry, and he succeeds too and the same professors of the Oriental school trying to translate it into Englsih. Today we love to read the imitativiely and copiously written Indian English poetry, even there is nothing original about it. But during those times, they demaneded for original things and Michael failed to suit in. This is just the one side of the picture. The other thing is this, had he continued, he would have carved a niche for himself in the domain of Indian English poetry without any doubt.
The Captive Ladie deals with the narrative in a historical way resulting in the defeat and isolation of the king of Kanauj which is but a love-story of Prithviraj and Samyukta. Prthiviraj aducts princess Samyukta, which but results in enmity between two states, finally giving way to the Muhammedan invasion of India. Michael commemorates the incident in a very fine way.
Michael Madhusudan Dutt (1824-73) has the fire, frenzy and fever of creative poesy and he can take to so easily, but fame came to him not and he sided with Benagli literature to serve it. A romantic and a historicist, he dreams of beauties and alien mistresses taking his heart away. I Lov’d Thee as a poem may tell of his infatuation for as writer James Joyce feels it for the sister of his friend in the story Araby, related to as the quest for beauty:
I Lov’d Thee
I lov’d thee--how oft on thy soft beaming eye,
I’ve gaz’d with deep rapture and heart swelling high!
There was life in thy smile—there was death in thy frown;
Thy voice it was sweeter than melody’s own!
I lov’d thee – how oft Hope sooth’d me to dreams
Of paths strewn with flow’rs--of day gilt with beams;
’T was bliss when on Future’s horizon afar
She shin’d thee in glory--my Destiny’s star!
But ’tis past--like a vision of ethered ray
Thou camest--but to dazzle and vanish away—
A seraph forth straying from Heaven’s bright bow’r,
In sun-shine and glory to bless--but an hour!
But ‘tis past-what is past?-- Can it be that fond breast
Is now cold as the sod it hath silently prest—
Can it be that those eyes-- so soft and so bright—
Are now quench’d in the grave’s eternal-dark night!
How fain would I dream ’tis delusive and vain—
How fain would I dream thou wilt come back again—
But Reality lends all a tongue and a tone,
To break the sweet spell by fond fancy thus thrown!
( Madhusudan Rachnavali, Edited by Prafulla Kumar Roy & Kshetra Gupta, Patraj, Calcutta, Third Edition 1950, p.386)
I Lov’d Thee is a love poem of some five stanzas and he has maintained the rhyme and rhythm , though the sense of loss and yearning pervades it. Fancy and imagination add to the verve and strength of the poem. Something as sweet melody and dreamy glide seems to be dripping, as the poem is full of aspirations, yearnings, visual images and dreams seen in contrast with reality. A reading of the poem reminds us of Thomas Wyatt, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare and Michael Drayton. But the ladylove of his unknown, maybe a European girl, as he had been after them mainly. Had Michael Madhusudan Dutt contributed a few more, it would have been great for Indian English poetry. My Fond Sweet Blue-Eyed Maid, a poem of five stanzas, is alike in theme and expression, matter and content. They Ask Me Why I Fade And Fade is also one of personal worry and realization. The poetic style is in their tune and tenor and attracts too with his romantic notion, poetic imagery and the flight of imagination, but the time had not been in his favour.
To A Lady as a poem too can be taken into account:
Oh! That thou wert as fair within
As thy ang’lic outward is,
Then, of what value hast thou been
In this earth, a perfect bliss!
Lady! tho’ beautiful thou art,
Tho’ Nature hath gi’vn thee ev’ry grace
Yet, oh! how cruel is thy heart,
Thou art deaf to the voice of distress.
Madhusudan’s poems, such as Composed During A Morning Walk, To A Star During A Cloudy Night, Composed During An Evening Walk, After A Shower In The Evening, A Storm, Verses, Song of Ulysses, The Parting, Sonnet To Futurity, Night, etc. are the representative poems of the fiery poet.
The whole poem To A Star During A Cloudy Night may be quoted as to enlighten upon:
Shine on, sweet emblem of Hope’s lingering ray!
That while soul’s bright sun-shine is o’er-cast,
Gleams faintly thro’the sable gloom, the last
To meet beneath Despair’s dark night away!
Tho’ lawless clouds rest ‘round thee, and they seem,
As if impatient to enshroud thy brow,
Yet, O sweet star! thy dim and struggling beam,
That, like the weed which angry Tempests throw,
Far from their native soil in the dark wave,
Now sinking, as if buried, disappears,
Now bursting forth from its dark cloudy grave,
Sails trembling on pale with a thousand fears,
Has charms that still may please the gazer’s eye,
Thou solitary tenant of the sky!
(Ibid, p. 400 )
Night is no doubt a beautiful poem, though incomplete, wherein he recollects, compares with and contrasts personally. The poet seeks to delve deep into the history, myth, mystery, creation and beautifulness of the stars. The last stanza of the said poem may be put before as for our reading:
O, Night! Sweet Night! thy melancholy brow,
Wreath’d with those pensive stars, is beautiful!
Breathes there a being, calm Night! that does not now
Feel a soft—soothing sadness, like the cool
And whispering breeze, that wakes the slumbering stream,
Steal in his heart!—how beautifully there,
The firefly sports—while fitfully the beam
Of its bright star-crowd brow falls on the air
Like fickle Fortune’s smile!—
Madhusudan’s fiery zeal for to be a poet is everywhere and he longs for so much so earnestly and this too we can see in his letters written to his friends and mentors. The influence of the English romantics is quite visible on him and he of course draws from them so profusely and his sadness is a painted sadness of his own which he could not get rid of, got deeper and deeper into, as he chose the wrong pathway and made his life turned into a blunder.
The sonnet which Derozio writes addressing his disciples the same fruitions in Kashiprasad Ghose and he is a true follower of the thoughts and ideas shown by the teacher. To a Young Widow, The Shair’s Farewell, To a Dead Cow, etc. are the poems which have come down from the poetic pen of the new learning-inspired poet. The Shair and Other Poems, published in 1830, is the memorable work of the poet which he is famous for. The book ever by a Bengali has been dedicated to Sir William Bentick. It is a problem to get these books. Had these in market, the readers would have formed an opinion of their own, but in the paucity of these, one can get the real taste of text. It is very difficult to find, where in which shelf or rack of library, the pale copy lies it.
So many things went in the making of Toru Dutt (1856-77), first she was from a well-to-do family of Calcutta, the second thing that she got the best of education at home through private tuitions, the third was that she was a Christian convert and the fourth no less than to put it forward, a Bengali, to whom poetry-writing is but second nature. The foreign tours and travels too gave an impetus and verve to the poetry of Toru Dutt as her uncles were too well-educated and steeped in Western lore. The Lotus, A Mon Pere, Our Casuarina Tree, Lakshman, etc. are the poems which we find in the anthologies of poems. Instead of being a convert, she loved to dwell upon the Ramayana and the Mahabharata which she used to hear from her mother and a study of these has occasioned many of her poems. She is mainly a poetess of legends and ballads and it forms the poetic base of her poetry. Her knowledge and acquaintance with French too has contributed to his writing of poetry apart from English and Indian elements. Her competence can be seen in the translation of the French lyrics which she has done it herself with a few by sister and there is nothing to more to say about her as because theirs is a collective effort and all the members of the family are the poets of this or that stature. To read Toru is to be steeped in family history and tradition as because there was none who was not a poet. When she had been in England, Romesh Chunder Dutt too had been preparing for the ICS examination. The daughter of Girish was a cousin of Romesh and the sister of Aru and Abju, but the premature death took a heavy toll upon the Dutt family. It was a tragedy that both the sisiters died young and there remained not anyone to sing and recite poetry. Just their memories and reminiscences came to in the portrayal, arrangement and publication of the daughter’s works. Perhaps destiny too planned it otherwise and she lost her battle. Instead of, her talent which she has shown in works continues to elude us as an interpreter of the Hindu heroes, heroines and mythical characters and above all, she is an apt translator of French lyrics. At least she made a start quite admirable to follow.
Rather than putting ones or twos by these poets, if a handful are prescribed it will help the readers in the understanding of their mind and thought. They tried to express in English and this could be possible in Calcutta and other metropolitan towns like this where the Raj had been heavy upon. Had they been in smaller towns, they could not have. The capitals generally had been the centres of learning and education.
The nineteenth century had been one of unheaval, repercussion, reform, nationalism and the opening of presidency colleges. To think of poetry, that too vernacular poetry was impossible in those days. India was still arising from the feudal order and medieval concepts and norms and to dream of Indian English poetry was just a handiwork of the English-proximity people. Had they not taught, the imitating Indians could not have.
The pre-1947 poets and poetesses of Indian English poetry, how to discuss and annotate them when Indian English poetry was not Indian English nor is even now, but was Anglo-Indian, Indo-Anglican. Indology, Asiatic researches and Oriental studies used to attach to as the feedback quintessential for the understanding of India, the historicity of its long-standing art and tradition. Apart from it, the poetry volumes appeared from varied presses, big and small, published in India and outside of it in foreign too which we were not aware of at all. It is also a problem to get the books of the poets under discussion. Even the poems of Vivekananda appeared later on though a few in number and on the basis of those we call him a poet. Similar is the case with most of the poets. Had Tagore’s brother been not in England and had his visit been not occasioned otherwise, he would not have met W.B.Yeats and the things could not have processed. Though we call it Tagore did not do his schooling, but such a notion places us at a very awkward position to dispense it in this way. Had the private tutors not instructed and taught him, Browning and others, would he have got at his Biblical phraseology and lyricism? Calcutta as a commercial hub and of maritime activity and navigation too helped him in being with the contact of the Europeans. Had Gitanjali not succeeded, Tagore would not have got the chance bringing other volumes on the repetition of the same sentimentality which Yeats would have dismissed and this the bone of contention in the latter half which the Irish poet did not acknowledge it at all, but Tagore went on producing one after another in the same trail of idea and imagery, thought and reflection without any novelty. We talk about Sarojini and her poetic excellence, but it should be kept in mind that they got the best of British education and schooling and it attributed to her growth and development as a poetess in England whatever be our perception. Prof.William Hastie himself inspired Vivekananda indirectly to meet Ramkrishna Paramhamsa after talking about the nature mysticism of William Wordsworth and transferring the trance-like situation in the citation and example of the great master. The poems of Swami Vivekananda are in the tradition of the saint-singers and their devotional outpourings evaporating in the form of the lyrics of heart and of the bhakti realm, for which virtue and chastity are quite mandatory. The theme of renunciation is so strong in him apart from the philosophy of the Advaita Vedanta as Aurobindo talks of the Integral Yoga in his poetry. In one of his poems, he talks of the Shiva Tandava while in the other of Kali, the Dark Goddess, the Eternal She. While relating to the Kali poem, one may take into account his visit to the Kshir Bhavani temple in Kashmir as well as Ramkrishna’s words coaxing him to visit in and to ask from her he likes to seek from, but he forgets to ask on seeing her magnificent face.
Tagore makes the best use of Indian thought, culture and tradition; myth, mysticism and philosophy; spirituality, morality and ethics; theology, cosmology, faith and doubt in his poetry. Can we assess Tagore and his Gitanjali for which he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 in the absence of Surdas, Kabirdas, Tulsidas, Rashkhan, Jayasi, Vidyapati, Mirabai and other poets and poetesses of the bhakti tradition, classical and medieval love poetry? To see God as mother, father, brother, sister and a distant or near relative is a thing of ours which we can see and mark in Tagore’s Gitanjali. To worship him with utter devotion and dedication in the times of pangs raking the heart is also thing so commonly said to in our tradition and thinking. All the three paths, of the gnan, bhakti and karma wok as tributaries leading to in the culmination of Song Offerings. the songs as offerings have been consecrated to who is Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara which P.B.Shelley too uses in his poem named The Cloud. The philosophical traditions of India with a glorious past have been kept in the background to delve and dwell upon and the spiritual legacy of it as well which we seem to have forgotten. A type of Vedism; Upanishadism flows through the lines which we are not aware of at all. Tagore himself has translated the poems of Kabir into English who was a great saint poet of India, the great disciple of Ramanand, learning the name of the Ram-nama at the ghats of Benares as the guru-mantra to hone in and to derive from. In the poetry of Surdas, who is just like Milton, a born-blind poet, two forms of Brahma, Nirguna Brahma and Saguna Brahma have been discussed very well when he takes to the scene in the preaching of Uddhva to lovelorn gopis which they are not ready to accept. Calm resignation and the acceptance of it cannot explain the pains of the heart felt in love. Tagore seems to have drawn from the school of maya and moha as he favours not renunciation, one in the line of Vaishanvism. The Vaishnava saint with the sevadasi, the serving disciple woman is the case with. Years of sadness and grief have contributed to the writing of Gitanjali which he saw them personally in the untimely death of his intimate ones.
The Pre-1947 Period of Indian English Poetry
Nothing is what it seems
And what it seems to be is nothing,
Who is original in which way,
Who has what originality,
Who to judge it,
Assess and analyze it,
Before calling not original,
Try to see
How much original one is,
The pre-independence time poets,
The small practitioners of verse,
Whoever’s bureden was it,
Great Britain or India,
But they wrote and tried in English,
But parodied definitely the English poets
And if this had been as such,
Why did we not prescribe their works
Even after the independence of India,
Tracing their locations,
Knowing the whreabouts,
Dusting the metropolitan library racks and book shelves?
We the Indians talk big, dream high,
But do it nothing,
Why haven’t we prescribed as yet
Manjeri S.Isvaran, P.R.Kaikini, Baldoon Dhingra,
K.D.Sethna and others
Barring Tagore, Sarojini and these too now,
Why did Sarojini cease to be a poetess
After her love-marriage and political elevation,
People generally talk big,
But comes to naught,
Who will dig the dead bodies
To exhume and do an autopsy?
When the varsity heads like to walk on tiptoe,
Strutting and going away,
Students whisking them away,
All mewing like cats
And that too the researchers cutting and pasting
With the barber’s scissors,
I have brought it to notice
And this is enough,
Maybe it someday I shall delve deep to dwell upon
Till I find their lost collections,
Of those slender and minor voices,
May I ask you,
Why haven’t the heads prescribed these
While arranging for workshops on syllabus-making
Still now in our courses of studies?
above article based on krs iyenger .no originality