The multifaceted personality, Harindranath Chattopadhyaya was a poet, dramatist, actor, singer, songwriter, Member of the Parliament, and actor all rolled into one. His ‘Rail gaadi, rail gaadi’ lyrics from the 1968 Hindi movie Aashirwad still reverberates in the minds of multitudes. He was a man of assorted abilities and the younger brother of Sarojini Naidu, the legendary Nightingale of India. He wrote poetry in English as well as in Hindi and penned lyrics for films also. He wrote a play entitled Tukaram based on the celebrated saint-poet of the name from Maharashtra. Chattopadhyaya was a bountiful poet and his works comprise The Feast of Youth (1918), The Magic Tree (1922), Poems and Plays (1927), Strange Journey (1936), The Dark Well (1939), Edgeways and the Saint (1946), Spring in Winter (1956), Masks and Farewells (1951), Virgins and Vineyards (1967), and Life and Myself (1948). The government honored Chattopadhyaya with the coveted Padma Vibhushan award in 1972. Even at the age of 88, he used to say, “I am a little boy”. The man who never wanted to grow up bid adieu to the stages and pages of life in 1990.
I happened to flip through the poem “Shaper Shaped” the other day. I was extremely impressed by this exquisite poem especially by the way Chattopadhyaya’s words yield and stir the inner soul of a human being. His poem made me feel that poetry is no more a safari to the utopian land of marvel. Rather, poetry is a journey to the contours of one’s self. We can sense a sort of being to becoming in his verses of simple diction and sanguine meaning. Let me share one of his best-remembered poem with all my readers.
In days gone by I used to be
A potter who would feel
His fingers mould the yielding clay
To patterns on his wheel;
But now, through wisdom lately won,
That pride has gone away,
I have ceased to be the potter
And have learned to be the clay.
On other days I used to be
A poet through whose pen
Innumerable songs would come
To win the hearts of men;
But now, through new-got knowledge
Which I hadn’t had so long,
I have ceased to be the poet
And have learned to be the song.
I was a fashioner of swords,
In days that now are gone,
Which on a hundred battlefields
Glittered and gleamed and shone;
But now I am brimming with
The silence of the Lord,
I have ceased to be sword-maker
And have learned to be the sword.
In by-gone days I used to be
A dreamer who would hurl
On every side an insolence
Of emerald and pearl.
But now I am kneeling
At the feet of the Supreme
I have ceased to be the dreamer
And have learned to be the dream.
This poem unfurls the poet’s voyage to total humility. The ego of the go-getter is destroyed completely and the poet now enjoys the tranquil bliss of becoming. It is the wholehearted compliance to the divine will and to exult in it. We can see the transformation of the poet from his self-obsession to the complete submission to the supreme creator. The poet realizes the great truth that he is not at all the shaper. He is the one getting molded and shaped by the supreme shaper/ God, the Almighty. The poet frankly admits his ardent obsession with himself in the ‘bygone days’ and how his wisdom is dawned upon him like a ‘new-got knowledge’. His pride made him think that he was powerful. With all humility, his self-realization bestows the greater purpose of the conscience over time. The poem is a sort of warning to all of us that we should not feel proud of ourselves and we should not embed ourselves in our little egos. Once we free ourselves from self-obsession, we will experience the arousal of the soul. The poet uses four sets of analogies in the four stanzas to illuminate his self-realization: potter- clay, poet- song, sword maker- sword, dreamer- dream.
The poet used to think that he was a potter who could design attractive pots and vessels of clay. Wisdom dawned on him and he has lost his pride. He has ‘ceased to be the potter’. He has realized that he is not the potter but just the clay. Then, the poet used to think that he was a talented poet, whose pen could create innumerable poems to ‘win the hearts of men’. His newly gained knowledge made him realize that he is only a song which the real poet/ supreme creator has written. The poet used to think that he is a maker of swords. The sword ‘glittered, gleamed and shone’ on a hundred battlefields. The silence of the Lord made him apprehend that he is just a sword in the hands of God. In his arrogant olden days, he used to think that he was an excellent dreamer who could hurl an ‘insolence of emerald and pearl everywhere’. His humility makes him kneel at the feet of the creator and he turns out to be the dream.
In the last lines of each stanza, the poet says he has ceased to be the potter, the poet, the sword maker, and the dreamer. The poem hints at the arrogance of humans which does not permit them to acknowledge the power of the Supreme. It is time for us to free ourselves from our narcissistic complex and follow the path of providence. We will definitely be shaped by the shaper. We should rejoice in the shaped version of ours created by the Ultimate shaper.