Kahlil Gibran and my translation efforts
My son knows my mind more than anyone. For one of my birthdays he bought a set of Kahlil Gibran’s works and gifted me. I read Gibran earlier but not so exhaustively or seriously though. The volume engaged my mind more and more as went on reading. There is lateral thinking and there is thinking without predictability. You don’t know the punch Gibran would deliver with his next sentence. Enjoying the blows one must go ahead reading him. I always suggest people not to read Gibran at a stretch. We must ruminate over what he says. Longer you think more you understand him. Or get baffled at that!
I read him and read him. Then I took up translating four of his books. They are printed in one volume and I am told people liked the book every much!
Wanderer is the first of the books I translated. It is a book of stories. None of them is longer than a page or two. Many of them do not even fill a page. Good that they fill your day and the mind.
Madman is the next book. The question is why I am not writing about the first book. Because Madman happens to haunts me more than the first one. I shall sure make my own observations about the book one of these days.
The Madman consists of 34 short multi-paragraph sketches, vignettes, parables, and tales, many composed in a Nietzschean prophetic voice, others in the poetic insight of Blake and Tagore and the Eastern story-teller.
The opening passage of The Madman announces Gibran's grand theme. It is worthy of complete quotation:
You ask me how I became a madman. It happened thus: One day, long before many gods were born, I woke from a deep sleep and found all my masks were stolen -- the seven masks I have fashioned and worn in seven lives. I ran maskless through the crowded streets shouting, "Thieves, thieves, the cursed thieves."
Men and women laughed at me and some ran to their houses in fear of me.
And when I reached the market place, a youth standing on a house-top cried, "He is a madman." I looked up to behold him; the sun kissed my own naked face for the first time. For the first time the sun kissed my own naked face and my soul was inflamed with love for the sun, and I wanted my masks no more. And as if in a trance I cried, "Blessed, blessed are the thieves who stole my masks."
Thus I became a madman.
And I have found both freedom and safety in my madness; the freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us.
But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a Thief in a jail is safe from another thief.
The normal person wears masks in order to function in society, to maintain self-identity in a world that corrodes the self and redefines it for its collective purpose. Different strokes for different folks! You have to indulge in role play changing the masks for people whom you want to please perhaps. To act without a mask, to think and speak and behave without this veil of illusion, without Maya interposed before one's eyes, is to be mad. This Maya is all about the masks and the madness. To lose these masks, to be true to self and therefore true to nature and reality, is to be free. You feel you are free. Others think you are mad! The schizophrenic at the street end thinks he is the happiest man in the world. We think he is mad. He has no pretentions. He need not have them at all. He is not worried about the world and the people in it! That is simply why he is happy. He does not even think so. He is simply happy. This freedom, taken against society, has its risk of loneliness and misunderstanding, but it safeguards intuition and self from the intolerant masses and their expectation of conformity, of mask-wearing. But who cares?
Gibran then begins to explore the ramifications of masklessness, of madness. Before God, one can be neither slave, creature, nor child. One can only be equal to God, not in a frivolous egoistic sense but in terms of identify of being and substance, for to lose the contrived masks of society is to reveal the divine power in the universe and the self.
Among others, therefore, we inevitably become estranged and incompatible.
I was smitten by the forthrightness of this genius called Gibran. We could not even get his name right. There is no Kahlil at all. The Islamic word is Khalil. And the family name should have been Jabran. We called him with everything except his own name.