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1893

BALJA,

Tuesday, February 1893.


I do not want to wander about any more. I am pining for a corner in which
to nestle down snugly, away from the crowd.

India has two aspects--in one she is a householder, in the other a
wandering ascetic. The former refuses to budge from the home corner, the
latter has no home at all. I find both these within me. I want to roam
about and see all the wide world, yet I also yearn for a little sheltered
nook; like a bird with its tiny nest for a dwelling, and the vast sky for
flight.

I hanker after a corner because it serves to bring calmness to my mind. My
mind really wants to be busy, but in making the attempt it knocks so
repeatedly against the crowd as to become utterly frenzied and to keep
buffeting me, its cage, from within. If only it is allowed a little
leisurely solitude, and can look about and think to its heart's content,
it will express its feelings to its own satisfaction.

This freedom of solitude is what my mind is fretting for; it would be
alone with its imaginings, as the Creator broods over His own creation.


CUTTACK,

February 1893.


Till we can achieve something, let us live incognito, say I. So long as we
are only fit to be looked down upon, on what shall we base our claim to
respect? When we have acquired a foothold of our own in the world, when we
have had some share in shaping its course, then we can meet others
smilingly. Till then let us keep in the background, attending to our own
affairs.

But our countrymen seem to hold the opposite opinion. They set no store by
our more modest, intimate wants which have to be met behind the
scenes,--the whole of their attention is directed to momentary
attitudinising and display.

Ours is truly a God-forsaken country. Difficult, indeed, is it for us to
maintain the strength of will to do. We get no help in any real
sense. There is no one, within miles of us, in converse with whom we might
gain an accession of vitality. No one near seems to be thinking, or
feeling, or working. Not a soul has any experience of big striving, or of
really and truly living. They all eat and drink, do their office work,
smoke and sleep, and chatter nonsensically. When they touch upon emotion
they grow sentimental, when they reason they are childish. One yearns for
a full-blooded, sturdy, and capable personality; these are all so many
shadows, flitting about, out of touch with the world.


CUTTACK,

10th February 1893.


He was a fully developed John Bull of the outrageous type--with a huge
beak of a nose, cunning eyes, and a yard-long chin. The curtailment of our
right to be tried by jury is now under consideration by the Government.
The fellow dragged in the subject by the ears and insisted on arguing it
out with our host, poor B---- Babu. He said the moral standard of the
people of this country was low; that they had no real belief in the
sacredness of life; so that they were unfit to serve on juries.

The utter contempt with which we are regarded by these people was brought
home to me when I saw how they can accept a Bengali's hospitality and talk
thus, seated at his table, without a quiver of compunction.

As I sat in a corner of the drawing-room after dinner, everything round me
looked blurred to my eyes. I seemed to be seated by the head of my great,
insulted Motherland, who lay there in the dust before me, disconsolate,
shorn of her glory. I cannot tell what a profound distress overpowered my
heart.

How incongruous seemed the mem-sahibs there, in their
evening-dresses, the hum of English conversation, and the ripples of
laughter! How richly true for us is our India of the ages; how cheap and
false the hollow courtesies of an English dinner-party!


CUTTACK,

March 1893.


If we begin to attach too much importance to the applause of Englishmen,
we shall have to be rid of much in us that is good, and to accept from
them much that is bad.

We shall grow ashamed of going about without socks, and cease to feel
shame at the sight of their ball dresses. We shall have no compunction in
throwing overboard our ancient manners, nor any in emulating their lack of
courtesy.

We shall leave off wearing our achgans because they are susceptible of
improvement, but think nothing of surrendering our heads to their hats,
though no headgear could well be uglier.

In short, consciously or unconsciously, we shall have to cut our lives
down according as they clap their hands or not.

Wherefore I apostrophise myself and say: "O Earthen Pot! For goodness sake
keep away from that Metal Pot! Whether he comes to you in anger or merely
to give you a patronising pat on the back, you are done for, cracked in
either case. So pay heed to old Aesop's sage counsel, I pray--and keep
your distance."

Let the metal pot ornament wealthy homes; you have work to do in those of
the poor. If you let yourself be broken, you will have no place in either,
but merely return to the dust; or, at best, you may secure a corner in a
bric-a-brac cabinet--as a curiosity, and it is more glorious far to be
used for fetching water by the meanest of village women.


SHELIDAH,

8th May 1893.


Poetry is a very old love of mine--I must have been engaged to her when I
was only Rathi's[1] age. Long ago the recesses under the old banyan tree
beside our tank, the inner gardens, the unknown regions on the ground
floor of the house, the whole of the outside world, the nursery rhymes and
tales told by the maids, created a wonderful fairyland within me. It is
difficult to give a clear idea of all the vague and mysterious happenings
of that period, but this much is certain, that my exchange of garlands[2]
with Poetic Fancy was already duly celebrated.

[Footnote 1: Rathi, his son, was then five years old.]

[Footnote 2: The betrothal ceremony.]

I must admit, however, that my betrothed is not an auspicious
maiden--whatever else she may bring one, it is not good fortune. I cannot
say she has never given me happiness, but peace of mind with her is out of
the question. The lover whom she favours may get his fill of bliss, but
his heart's blood is wrung out under her relentless embrace. It is not for
the unfortunate creature of her choice ever to become a staid and sober
householder, comfortably settled down on a social foundation.

Consciously or unconsciously, I may have done many things that were
untrue, but I have never uttered anything false in my poetry--that is the
sanctuary where the deepest truths of my life find refuge.


SHELIDAH,

10th May 1893.


Here come black, swollen masses of cloud; they soak up the golden sunshine
from the scene in front of me like great pads of blotting-paper. Rain must
be near, for the breeze feels moist and tearful.

Over there, on the sky-piercing peaks of Simla, you will find it hard to
realise exactly what an important event the coming of the clouds is here,
or how many are anxiously looking up to the sky, hailing their advent.

I feel a great tenderness for these peasant folk--our ryots--big,
helpless, infantile children of Providence, who must have food brought to
their very lips, or they are undone. When the breasts of Mother Earth dry
up they are at a loss what to do, and can only cry. But no sooner is their
hunger satisfied than they forget all their past sufferings.

I know not whether the socialistic ideal of a more equal distribution of
wealth is attainable, but if not, the dispensation of Providence is indeed
cruel, and man a truly unfortunate creature. For if in this world misery
must exist, so be it; but let some little loophole, some glimpse of
possibility at least, be left, which may serve to urge the nobler portion
of humanity to hope and struggle unceasingly for its alleviation.

They say a terribly hard thing who assert that the division of the world's
production to afford each one a mouthful of food, a bit of clothing, is
only an Utopian dream. All these social problems are hard indeed! Fate has
allowed humanity such a pitifully meagre coverlet, that in pulling it over
one part of the world, another has to be left bare. In allaying our
poverty we lose our wealth, and with this wealth what a world of grace and
beauty and power is lost to us.

But the sun shines forth again, though the clouds are still banked up in
the West.


SHELIDAH,

11th May 1893.


There is another pleasure for me here. Sometimes one or other of our
simple, devoted, old ryots comes to see me--and their worshipful homage is
so unaffected! How much greater than I are they in the beautiful
simplicity and sincerity of their reverence. What if I am unworthy of
their veneration--their feeling loses nothing of its value.

I regard these grown-up children with the same kind of affection that I
have for little children--but there is also a difference. They are more
infantile still. Little children will grow up later on, but these big
children never.

A meek and radiantly simple soul shines through their worn and wrinkled,
old bodies. Little children are merely simple, they have not the
unquestioning, unwavering devotion of these. If there be any undercurrent
along which the souls of men may have communication with one another, then
my sincere blessing will surely reach and serve them.


SHELIDAH,

16th May 1893.


I walk about for an hour on the river bank, fresh and clean after my
afternoon bath. Then I get into the new jolly-boat, anchor in mid-stream,
and on a bed, spread on the planked over-stern, I lie silently there on my
back, in the darkness of the evening. Little S---- sits beside me and
chatters away, and the sky becomes more and more thickly studded with
stars.

Each day the thought recurs to me: Shall I be reborn under this
star-spangled sky? Will the peaceful rapture of such wonderful evenings
ever again be mine, on this silent Bengal river, in so secluded a corner
of the world?

Perhaps not. The scene may be changed; I may be born with a different
mind. Many such evenings may come, but they may refuse to nestle so
trustfully, so lovingly, with such complete abandon, to my breast.

Curiously enough, my greatest fear is lest I should be reborn in Europe!
For there one cannot recline like this with one's whole being laid open to
the infinite above--one is liable, I am afraid, to be soundly rated for
lying down at all. I should probably have been hustling strenuously in
some factory or bank, or Parliament. Like the roads there, one's mind has
to be stone-metalled for heavy traffic--geometrically laid out, and kept
clear and regulated.

I am sure I cannot exactly say why this lazy, dreamy, self-absorbed,
sky-filled state of mind seems to me the more desirable. I feel no whit
inferior to the busiest men of the world as I lie here in my jolly-boat.
Rather, had I girded up my loins to be strenuous, I might have seemed ever
so feeble compared to those chips of old oaken blocks.


SHELIDAH,

3rd July 1893.

All last night the wind howled like a stray dog, and the rain still pours
on without a break. The water from the fields is rushing in numberless,
purling streams to the river. The dripping ryots are crossing the river in
the ferryboat, some with their tokas[1] on, others with yam leaves held
over their heads. Big cargo-boats are gliding along, the boatman sitting
drenched at his helm, the crew straining at the tow-ropes through the
rain. The birds remain gloomily confined to their nests, but the sons of
men fare forth, for in spite of the weather the world's work must go on.

[Footnote 1: Conical hats of straw or of split bamboo.]

Two cowherd lads are grazing their cattle just in front of my boat. The
cows are munching away with great gusto, their noses plunged into the lush
grass, their tails incessantly busy flicking off the flies. The raindrops
and the sticks of the cowherd boys fall on their backs with the same
unreasonable persistency, and they bear both with equally uncritical
resignation, steadily going on with their munch, munch, munch. These cows
have such mild, affectionate, mournful eyes; why, I wonder, should
Providence have thought fit to impose all the burden of man's work on the
submissive shoulders of these great, gentle beasts?

The river is rising daily. What I could see yesterday only from the upper
deck, I can now see from my cabin windows. Every morning I awake to find
my field of vision growing larger. Not long since, only the tree-tops near
those distant villages used to appear, like dark green clouds. To-day the
whole of the wood is visible.

Land and water are gradually approaching each other like two bashful
lovers. The limit of their shyness has nearly been reached--their arms
will soon be round each other's necks. I shall enjoy my trip along this
brimful river at the height of the rains. I am fidgeting to give the order
to cast off.


SHELIDAH,

4th July 1893.


A little gleam of sunlight shows this morning. There was a break in the
rains yesterday, but the clouds are banked up so heavily along the skirts
of the sky that there is not much hope of the break lasting. It looks as
if a heavy carpet of cloud had been rolled up to one side, and at any
moment a fussy breeze may come along and spread it over the whole place
again, covering every trace of blue sky and golden sunshine.

What a store of water must have been laid up in the sky this year. The
river has already risen over the low chur-lands,[1] threatening to
overwhelm all the standing crops. The wretched ryots, in despair, are
cutting and bringing away in boats sheaves of half-ripe rice. As they pass
my boat I hear them bewailing their fate. It is easy to understand how
heart-rending it must be for cultivators to have to cut down their rice on
the very eve of its ripening, the only hope left them being that some of
the ears may possibly have hardened into grain.

[Footnote 1: Old sand-banks consolidated by the deposit of a layer of
culturable soil.]

There must be some element of pity in the dispensations of Providence,
else how did we get our share of it? But it is so difficult to see where
it comes in. The lamentations of these hundreds of thousands of
unoffending creatures do not seem to get anywhere. The rain pours on as it
lists, the river still rises, and no amount of petitioning seems to have
the effect of bringing relief from any quarter. One has to seek
consolation by saying that all this is beyond the understanding of man.
And yet, it is so vitally necessary for man to understand that there are
such things as pity and justice in the world.

However, this is only sulking. Reason tells us that creation never can be
perfectly happy. So long as it is incomplete it must put up with
imperfection and sorrow. It can only be perfect when it ceases to be
creation, and is God. Do our prayers dare go so far?

The more we think over it, the oftener we come hack to the
starting-point--Why this creation at all? If we cannot make up our minds
to object to the thing itself, it is futile complaining about its
companion, sorrow.


SHAZADPUR,

7th July 1893.


The flow of village life is not too rapid, neither is it stagnant. Work
and rest go together, hand in hand. The ferry crosses to and fro, the
passers-by with umbrellas up wend their way along the tow-path, women are
washing rice on the split-bamboo trays which they dip in the water, the
ryots are coming to the market with bundles of jute on their heads. Two
men are chopping away at a log of wood with regular, ringing blows. The
village carpenter is repairing an upturned dinghy under a big
aswatha tree. A mongrel dog is prowling aimlessly along the canal
bank. Some cows are lying there chewing the cud, after a huge meal off the
luxuriant grass, lazily moving their ears backwards and forwards, flicking
off flies with their tails, and occasionally giving an impatient toss of
their heads when the crows perched on their backs take too much of a
liberty.

The monotonous blows of woodcutter's axe or carpenter's mallet, the
splashing of oars, the merry voices of the naked little children at play,
the plaintive tune of the ryot's song, the more dominant creaking of the
turning oil-mill, all these sounds of activity do not seem out of harmony
with murmuring leaves and singing birds, and all combine like moving
strains of some grand dream-orchestra, rendering a composition of immense
though restrained pathos.


SHAZADPUR,

10th July 1893.


All I have to say about the discussion that is going on over "silent
poets" is that, though the strength of feeling may be the same in those
who are silent as in those who are vocal, that has nothing to do with
poetry. Poetry is not a matter of feeling, it is the creation of form.

Ideas take shape by some hidden, subtle skill at work within the poet.
This creative power is the origin of poetry. Perceptions, feelings, or
language, are only raw material. One may be gifted with feeling, a second
with language, a third with both; but he who has as well a creative
genius, alone is a poet.


PATISAR,

13th August 1893.


Coming through these beels[1] to Kaligram, an idea took shape in my
mind. Not that the thought was new, but sometimes old ideas strike one
with new force.

[Footnote 1: Translator's Note.--Sometimes a stream passing through the
flat Bengal country encounters a stretch of low land and spreads out into
a sheet of water, called a beel, of indefinite extent, ranging from a
large pool in the dry season to a shoreless expanse during the rains.

Villages consisting of a cluster of huts, built on mounds, stand out here
and there like islands, and boats or round, earthen vessels are the only
means of getting about from village to village.

Where the waters cover cultivated tracts the rice grows through, often
from considerable depths, giving to the boats sailing over them the
curious appearance of gliding over a cornfield, so clear is the water.
Elsewhere these beels have a peculiar flora and fauna of water-lilies
and irises and various water-fowl. As a result, they resemble neither a
marsh nor a lake, but have a distinct character of their own.]

The water loses its beauty when it ceases to be defined by banks and
spreads out into a monotonous vagueness. In the case of language, metre
serves for banks and gives form and beauty and character. Just as the
banks give each river a distinct personality, so does rhythm make each
poem an individual creation; prose is like the featureless, impersonal
beel. Again, the waters of the river have movement and progress; those
of the beel engulf the country by expanse alone. So, in order to give
language power, the narrow bondage of metre becomes necessary; otherwise
it spreads and spreads, but cannot advance.

The country people call these beels "dumb waters"--they have no
language, no self-expression. The river ceaselessly babbles; so the words
of the poem sing, they are not "dumb words." Thus bondage creates beauty
of form, motion, and music; bounds make not only for beauty but power.

Poetry gives itself up to the control of metre, not led by blind habit,
but because it thus finds the joy of motion. There are foolish persons who
think that metre is a species of verbal gymnastics, or legerdemain, of
which the object is to win the admiration of the crowd. That is not so.
Metre is born as all beauty is born the universe through. The current set
up within well-defined bounds gives metrical verse power to move the minds
of men as vague and indefinite prose cannot.

This idea became clear to me as I glided on from river to beel and
beel to river.


PATISAR,

26th (Straven) August 1893.


For some time it has struck me that man is a rough-hewn and woman a
finished product.

There is an unbroken consistency in the manners, customs, speech, and
adornment of woman. And the reason is, that for ages Nature has assigned
to her the same definite rôle and has been adapting her to it. No
cataclysm, no political revolution, no alteration of social ideal, has yet
diverted woman from her particular functions, nor destroyed their
inter-relations. She has loved, tended, and caressed, and done nothing
else; and the exquisite skill which she has acquired in these, permeates
all her being and doing. Her disposition and action have become
inseparably one, like the flower and its scent. She has, therefore, no
doubts or hesitations.

But the character of man has still many hollows and protuberances; each of
the varied circumstances and forces which have contributed to his making
has left its mark upon him. That is why the features of one will display
an indefinite spread of forehead, of another an irresponsible prominence
of nose, of a third an unaccountable hardness about the jaws. Had man but
the benefit of continuity and uniformity of purpose, Nature must have
succeeded in elaborating a definite mould for him, enabling him to
function simply and naturally, without such strenuous effort. He would not
have so complicated a code of behaviour; and he would be less liable to
deviate from the normal when disturbed by outside influences.

Woman was cast in the mould of mother. Man has no such primal design to go
by, and that is why he has been unable to rise to an equal perfection of
beauty.

Rabindranath Tagore

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