The Practice of Art and Literature
The real significance of the word Sa’hitya or “literature” is inherent in the word itself, for the characteristic of literature is “to move together,” keeping abreast of the trends of life. Literature is no invention of the superficiality of social life, nor is it the colourful spell of any fantasia. Rather it is the portrait of real life – an external expression of the internal recesses of the mind — a bold and powerful expression of the suppressed sighs of the human heart. In order to preserve the sanctity and prestige of its name, literature must maintain its rhythm in pace with the dynamic currents of society.
The word Sa’hitya can be interpreted in another way as well: sa+hita=hitena saha; “that which co-exists with hita or `welfare.'” Where there is no inner spirit of welfare, we cannot use the term Sa’hitya. The creations or compositions of those who proclaim that “Art is for art’s sake,” cannot be treated as Sa’hitya. Indeed, that welfare which pertains to the mundane world is relative; its definition also may change according to the changes in time, place and person. But that aspect of the term hita which leads human beings to the absolute truth is one and the same for all ages and all countries.
In order to communicate with people at different states of development, and of different ideas, the same concept of welfare has to be expressed through different branches of knowledge. The grand, benevolent flow of ideas, with the common people on one side, and the state of Supreme Bliss on the other — this is called literature; for in every particle, in every rhythmic expression of this very benevolent thought process, the Supreme Bliss is lying dormant.
Thus “literature” is that which moves together with the society, which leads society towards true fulfilment and welfare by providing the inspiration for service. The statement “Art for art’s sake” is not acceptable; rather it is better to say, “Art for service and blessedness.”
In every expression, in every stratum of this universe, however crude or subtle, only one refrain prevails, and that refrain is the attainment of bliss. In that artistic movement towards welfare both the attainment and the bestowal of happiness find simultaneous expression. When litterateurs dedicate themselves to the service or sa’dhana’ of literature, they have to let their creative genius flow in this very current: they have to cleanse all that is turbid, all that is inauspicious in individual life in the holy waters of their universal mentality, and then convey it sweetly and gracefully into the heart of humanity. Herein lies the fulfilment of their service, the consummation of their sa’dhana’.
If the sweet, benevolent sentiment of individual life fails to inspire collective life, we cannot consider such a creation as art. Those who are unwilling or unable to create Sa’hitya as a means of service and sa’dhana’, should not try to place the blame on the collective mind, hiding their own impure thoughts behind their grandiloquence and bluster. Let them not claim that they are simply painting the picture of society, that this portrayal alone is their sole charge — that society will find its own direction under force of circumstances. By the touchstone of judgement such so-called litterateurs should be termed literature-dealers or pot-boilers, instead of cultivators of literature, for they are not moving along the path of benevolence. With the eyes of traders, they look upon society as the buyers of their books.
The Responsibility of a Litterateur
The aim of artistic creation is to impart joy and bliss. The bestowers of this bliss, the servers of the people, cannot keep their daily lives aloof from commonplace events, mingled with pleasures and pains, smiles and tears. The children of the soil of this earth are those with whom literature must remain inseparably associated — and the litterateur is also one of them.
People seek deliverance from the whirlpools of darkness; they aspire to illuminate their lives and minds with ever-new light. In all their actions, in all their feelings, there is an inherent tendency to move forward; therefore, if at all they are to be offered something, the creator of art cannot remain idle or inert.
Yet human beings on their journey through life may sometimes stop short in fear or apprehension. Sometimes their knees give way and they sit down fatigued and frustrated. At such times the responsibility of the gifted litterateur becomes all the more significant. And when the litterateurs sing their songs of forward movement, they have to be very cautious about one more thing: after every artistic creation they must look back carefully to determine whether those for whom they have sung their marching songs are capable of moving forward with them — whether their thought-waves are touching the cores of the people’s hearts — whether their service is really doing good to them. In the literary world, the garland of glory goes only to those who are ever-aware of their responsibilities as litterateurs.
Real litterateurs are not only the beacons of the present, they are also the minstrels of the past and the messengers of the future. They are capable of providing proper leadership for the future only after grasping the relational flow between the past and the present. Past, present and future must become beautifully interwoven in their compositions: only dreaming of a bright future will not suffice. One must remember that all the potentialities of the future lie embedded as seeds in the womb of the present, just as the blossoms of the present were sown in the past. So artists should not only give a flawless portrayal of the present with their creative talent, but they should also continue to explore the possibilities of the future with a benevolent mind.
Whatever the possibilities the litterateurs present to the world from time to time, they should be exhibited as the healthy outcome of the present. In presenting these possibilities, their natural consequences should also be explained perfectly and flawlessly. The relation between the present and the future must be properly portrayed by presenting every stage of cause and effect. The natural resultant of any cause (Ka’ran’a) is known as its effect (Ka’rya) at a particular time or place or to a particular person. This should never be lost sight of even for a moment, because it is the intermediate link between these two, cause and effect, that leads people to intimate and cordial contact with the purpose of the writer. In the absence of this cordial affinity, in the absence of this dynamic unity, readers cannot accept any literary composition as their own. Whatever we may call the writers of such compositions which have no relationship with the collective psychology, we certainly cannot call them litterateurs. At best we may call their writings compositions, but certainly not Sa’hitya or literature.
Epochal Literature and Coastal Literature
As already mentioned, marching together with the thought of benevolence is termed Sa’hitya. That literature which cherishes the thought of benevolence but, without having snapped its relationship with us completely, is moving so far ahead in its march that it is no longer together with us, is called Tat’astha Sa’hitya or Coastal Literature, not Yuga Sa’hitya or Epochal Literature. Although it is not directly with us, it is never far. As this category of literature is ahead of its time, it is longer-lasting than Epochal Literature, but it is less significant in fulfilling the needs of a particular era. The outstanding characteristic of Epochal Literature is that it expresses in clear terms the demands of a particular era — it moves hand in hand with the collective psychology. It conveys in the language of the time every large or small, important or unimportant matter of the human mind, afflicted with the problems of that age. If this Epochal Literature, which is created expressly to fulfil the needs of the era, becomes more dynamic than the people of the age, despite its sincere and benevolent intent, then it loses its characteristic of moving together — and in fact it loses all its value. Such literature cannot earn its reputation like the Coastal Literature, and thus all the dreams of the litterateur end in frustration and failure. Good literature, in order to fulfil the demands of the time, must move in unison with society, keeping control over its speed. The litterateurs may move a step or two ahead, for they are the guides of society; but they should not move too far forward, and, of course, moving backwards is out of the question.
Movement is the characteristic of life, and so everything must move. Those who have lost their inherent dynamism are indeed dead. The right of preserving, building and rebuilding society is the duty only of those who are moving, not of those who are motionless, who are dead. Litterateurs cannot fling humanity into the stagnancy of death, for in this there is no thought of benevolence. So moving together with the people they will continue to sing their marching songs — they will go on filling the human mind with the sweet nectar of eternal life.
The Litterateur as the Seer of Truth
The majority of what is termed Sa’hitya in the world today is mere composition, not literature. Litterateurs must prove their sense of responsibility through every line of their pens. Command over language and ideas is not sufficient. Something more is needed: the power to delve deeply into any matter — the earnest effort to identify the mind with the minds of all, to penetrate into the essence of truth (Tattvadarshii). Those who, possessed with a little superficial knowledge of life, are mere jugglers of language, cannot produce ideal literature. In the language of the Vedas a litterateur is called Kavi or seer of truth. Only such seers can create true literature; for the task of a litterateur is to hint at the future, and the ability to look into the future belongs to the seers of truth alone.
Those who think that their only responsibility is to portray the past, present or future are not litterateurs, for the mastery over these three dimensions of time is determined by the power to link all the three. Those who cannot assimilate this internal link can never establish the proper relation between the past and the present, or between the present and the future; none of their portrayals of past, present or future are capable of finding complete expression. Therefore, as I have said above, it is better to call these writers mere authors, instead of litterateurs. It is such authors who indulge in such utterances as “Art for art’s sake.” A little examination will reveal the harmful influence of this idea on human society.
The world is the thought projection of the Cosmic Mind, and so there is no question of any pause, even for a moment, in this eternal flow. Whether humans may desire it or not, society will have to move forward through ceaseless environmental changes. Literature is the psychic expression of this dynamism of humanity. It is for this dynamic humanity that literature has been created, and so it cannot be static, nor shall it ever become static. The thought-provoking expressions that are created with the brush of the artist and the pen of the litterateur are changeable, and so the artist and the litterateur should always keep a vigilant eye on these changing currents in society. Although the momentum of society depends on various factors, it is largely determined by psychological and cultural transformations.
Although changes in mental outlook are a natural phenomenon, yet such changes do not take place in the same way at all times: in the past, they were different from the changes at present, and in the future they will be even more different. To meet the various necessities of this practical world, human beings must throw themselves into the task of solving their mundane problems, and in this endeavour the speed of the mind moves sometimes slowly, and sometimes fast. The psychic speed of human beings about ten thousand years ago was certainly much greater than it was about a million years ago, when Homo Sapiens just appeared on this earth. The primitive mind used to move at quite a slow speed: for generations together primitive people used to pass their days in the same environment, solving the same types of problems. For tens of thousands of years, they subsisted on shrubs and weeds and used stone tools and weapons; such was the standard of their civilisation. Thereafter came the period of eating animal flesh, and it took those ancient humans about two or three hundred thousand years to accustom themselves to this new habit. After the discovery of fire, even the use of salt on roasted meat was not learnt very easily.
But today, when we look back and examine the period from ten thousand years ago to five thousand years ago, we find that the speed of human progress has greatly accelerated. At intervals of every two or three hundred years some new discoveries were made. As a result of facing ever newer challenges, the human mind underwent revolutionary changes: animal husbandry gave way to agriculture, and dispersed communities evolved into a more compact society. Yet we do not find anywhere in the period between ten thousand years ago and five thousand years ago a well-knit social order, although we do find comprehensive efforts for social construction. In the Vedas there is a vague picture of the varied advancements made during the past five thousand years which, in view of the present, cannot be called rapid progress. The Vedas are the literary reflection of the psychic characteristics of that period. Yet in that age, when rays of light gradually pierced the darkness, people began to realise the necessity of moving more rapidly in unison. In some of the mantras and hymns of the Vedas, particularly in the Sam’gacchadhvam mantra, the seed of this very collective dynamism was sown.
The old world passed away, yielding to the new, and the speed of social momentum was greatly increased. Even before the historically famous Buddhist era, well-constructed and dynamic societies had evolved in China and Egypt, yet the dynamism of these societies cannot be regarded as the second stage of progress; because in spite of the fact that they were post-Vedic civilisations, they were in fact part of that Vedic civilisation, although with intrinsically distinctive characteristics.
The society of the Buddhist era quickened the progressive rhythm of the Vedic era. The Vedic social system, caught in the midst of various clashes and counter-clashes, had reached the stage of inaction and stagnation. The Buddhist era imparted new dynamism to the feeble, faltering steps of the Vedic era by awakening new vigour and impetus for advancement, and thus accelerating the progressive momentum of humanity far more than even the Vedic era. That is why in the literature of this era we find a more constructive, vibrant social picture as compared to the literature of the Vedic era.
The greater the clashes in human life, the faster the speed of the human mind because of circumstantial pressures. Due to the complexities of life and the plethora of problems over the last two centuries, the progress of society has gained unusual momentum. Whether or not one likes this progress, it has developed naturally, and will continue to do so. The momentum of the last two world wars has been dragging the society forcibly forward, as though human beings have become madly restless to triumph over time. Due to their hyper-speed, humanity’s forward march has been losing its balance: while achieving success on the one hand, it faces grim failures on the other. This flagrant frustration is glaringly manifest in every line of post-war literature — there is not a spark of bold vision anywhere. With the capital of these frustrations and failures, litterateurs busily engage themselves in earning money. It is as if humanity is bent upon negating all the traditions of the four-centuries-old Maungalakavya*, the time-honoured Rama’yan’a and the Maha’bha’rata, the revered poets like Shakespeare, Milton, Vidya’pati and Can’iida’sa, and those works which championed both the learned and the illiterate like the Ra’macarita Ma’nasa. Although contemporary society is moving with increasing speed, it is incapable of preserving its balance. Litterateurs have been expressing this imbalanced state with their pens and thus conveying to their readers that they, too, are part of this unbalanced flow.
Cultural evolution has also brought about, and is continuing to bring about, a considerable change in society. This change is taking place more or less uniformly in almost all the countries of the world. Cultural evolution cannot be considered bad, for although defects in some societies are infecting others, yet even this interrelation has an immensely positive aspect: for the human race, knowingly or unknowingly, is gradually building a new human culture through mutual cooperation.
The different expressions of life are termed culture. The more the mutual contact and exchange of ideas between peoples of different countries, the closer people come to one another in the cultural sphere. The old, worn-out walls of literary tradition are in many places crumbling and in other places have been smashed to smithereens. As a result a new kind of international literature is evolving, and this is certainly an auspicious augury for the future. But even these auspicious developments which result from natural clashes and counter-clashes may eventually end in frustration and failure due to humanity’s folly. In the absence of honesty, simplicity, spiritedness and genuine human love, internationalism may remain limited to the litterateur’s caprice. The harshness of reality may not be tolerable to the litterateur. Thus we cannot surrender human destiny to the whims of the litterateur. Litterateurs must not remain intoxicated with the colourful spell of their imaginations, nor should they drive humanity to despair by constantly harping on the failures of the practical world, or singing the songs of frustration. Litterateurs must be closely attuned to the changes in both the psychological trends and the cultural evolution which remould the social structure. Not only the litterateurs, but all the creators of art should wield their pens or brushes with a synthetic outlook. If the artist or the litterateur does not do that, we must conclude that their artistic talents have degenerated. In fact, their contributions are then nothing but rubbish which may be fit for manure, but if dumped nearby becomes hazardous to public health. Artistic endeavour may be justified only when it results in the all-round development of society. If the litterateur’s inspiration propels the social movement in a particular direction, denying all other aspects of society, then in that case we cannot call it literature, because there is no real sentiment of benevolence behind that creation. The flow of ideas that are not complete in themselves are never capable of leading practical life towards fulfilment and perfection.
Struggle Against Obstacles
So real artists or litterateurs before wielding their brushes or pens, should understand clearly in which way the society is moving and why it is moving in that direction — what are the fundamental causes of its inherent weakness — and from which doctrines the depraved propensities which are infecting the society emanate. And merely understanding will not suffice: the artists may have to resist the surging current of destruction single-handedly.
Yadi tor da’k shune keu na’ a’se
Tave ekla’ cala re…
“If none to my call pays heed,
Then alone must I proceed.”
While keeping this very refrain in mind, they must continue in their relentless effort to fight against the seemingly indomitable might of hundreds and thousands of obstacles which are deeply rooted in age-old superstitions that are firmly entrenched in petty selfishness. Their pens may perhaps break into pieces, their brushes may perhaps be compelled to draw only lines of water on the canvas, and their histrionic flows may perhaps end in sheer mute stances, yet their efforts shall brook no pause. Each of their petty defeats shall be strung together as pearls in the garland of victory.
When the society spins for age after age in the mirey eddies of evil and vice, when individual and collective knavery masquerades as intelligence, when hypocrisy, bribery and fraud are the yardsticks of ability for leadership — it is then that the genuine followers of Bha’ratii (the goddess of learning) must struggle through constant humiliation. Only taunts and insults will be their fate. Those who are afraid of these insults are incapable of offering anything really lasting to humanity. How can those persons who have no moral firmness, under whose feet the soil is not hard and strong, impart happiness to anyone with a cool, refreshing shelter? It is perhaps possible to drag on in life by sucking the blood of others like social parasites, but this will not bring fulfilment to either the litterateurs or to their readers.
The artist or litterateur who assumes the responsibility of leading humanity to the path of light from the caverns of darkness will have to heed the road signs of that path. It is not possible to guide others merely with cheap, superficial knowledge, like a half-baked pandit who reads a half-a-dozen books and then spouts a few mouthfuls of grandiloquence, and who has obtained a doctorate degree by plagiarising others’ works. Rather it is necessary to have a keen and vigorous insight, without which all the endeavours of a litterateur or an artist will prove fruitless. Mere jugglery of words or depiction of defects in society will not satisfy the hunger of the human mind — and such creations of art are indeed valueless for social progress as well. One must know the path, and one must also know how to move on it. If those who have not comprehended what the form of the society will be allow the trends of the past that have shaped the present to proceed unchecked, then they can never lead the society to the path of perfection. They will indeed thrust the society into darkness in the name of social reform: they will encourage license in the name of freedom. Instead of modelling a woman after the ideal of a goddess, rather they mould the image of the goddess after the ideal of a harlot.
Intimate Relation with the People
Litterateurs are epoch-makers and so they are the rs’is (sages) and kavis (seers) of the society. They cannot afford to forget their dignified calling even for a moment. They are the messengers of the mute masses – the guardians of the society. The slightest mistake on their part may result in catastrophe, and even a bit of caution may open up many new possibilities. So a person whose thought and expression are not restrained, had better not meddle with the practice of art. I have just said that it is through the coordination of psychological and cultural trends that literature proves its worth. Intellectual trends and cultural evolution cannot exist by themselves, disregarding the individual or humanity as a whole, for both intellectual and cultural developments concern humanity. And humanity does not mean merely a few favoured persons in the upper stratum of society, like the special delicacies placed on top of the pile of rice offerings to the gods in the temples. Rather humanity means those very people who, like the pile of rice, have borne the weight of those delicacies on their heads. Actually in the proper sociological perspective, those special delicacies should not represent any particular elite person or persons at the peak of society; rather they should be regarded as the combined expression of the collective mind. The artists who guide that collective expression towards more and subtle forms, will have to maintain an intimate relation with the psychological and cultural structures of the people, with the innate characteristic (prana dharma) of their existence. They must not disregard or neglect them even for a moment. If the artists remain preoccupied in floating like balloons in the sky while forgetting the people of the soil, all their creations will end in smoke after a mere momentary flash before the eyes. Their writings will not make any lasting impression on the pages of time.
Building the Road to the Future
When changes in the society are somewhat accelerated due to various intellectual or cultural causes, then those creations that come into being in the aftermath of a particular situation are certainly fit to be called literature; but this sort of literature loses its practical value in later stages due to the rapid changes in society. Yet those who think that this sort of Epochal Literature will become valueless in time are also wrong, for this literature will not only be recorded in the pages of history, it will also carry special value for the litterateurs of the future, because from it they will get an inkling of the social trend of that particular period. Those who scorn Epochal Literature should know that all the sweetness of the Coastal Literature is inherent in the many forms,in the richness of thought, of this Epochal Literature. The endeavour of the artist of the era (yuga shilpii) alone can resist a powerful degeneration or a great catastrophe. There the creators of Coastal Literature are only mute spectators. They will continue to interpret morality, but their ability to awaken the spirit of dynamic heroism is considerably limited. The creator of Epochal Literature goes on constructing the road by excavating earth and shattering rocks and stones, while the Coastal Litterateur, perched on the summit of a mountain, goes on making sketches of that very scene and at intervals explains the science of building roads.
With the increase in society’s dynamism, the duration of effectiveness of Epochal Literature decreases. By the pressure of speed it becomes exhausted within a very short time. But in this there is no cause for regret; because the very task of building the road continues, and its relationship with Coastal Literature also remains intact. Epochal Literature is mainly concerned with time, place and person: so if there is the slightest increase in the attempt to triumph over any one of these three relative factors for whatever reason, the speed of the society as well as of the Epochal Literature gets accelerated; whereas Coastal Literature, in spite of maintaining these relative factors within its scope, does not confine itself in their rhythmic movement. That is why the momentum of Coastal Literature is extremely vague — almost motionless and static — and thus we call it Tat’astha or Coastal. The absolute truth is beyond the scope of time, space or person and also beyond expression, and thus it is not possible to create any literature at all around it. But the golden line with which this absolute truth has united the unit mind, originating from the relative factors of time, space and person, with its eternal soul — that much, at least, which we can express to some extent with language of our heart — this is what is called Tat’astha Sa’hitya or Coastal Literature. The line which is neither river nor shore but is touching both is tat’a or coast. Standing on this coast, that which maintains the relation between the two, between the temporal and the eternal, is called tat’astha.
If we call the creator of the Epochal Literature a sage (rs’i), then we shall call the creator of the Coastal Literature a seer (kavi). The sage goes on establishing coordination and adjustment, stage by stage, among time, space and person, and the seer goes on establishing contact between time, space and person and the Entity which transcends all of them. Epochal Literature will give expression to the minute details of common people’s daily lives — their hopes and aspirations, sorrows and joys — through the medium of language that will easily touch their hearts. That is to say, the creator of Epochal Literature will have to give maximum importance to the people’s popular language. But if the people’s language is not given much importance in Coastal Literature, it will not cause much inconvenience. If Tulsida’sa in his Ra’macharita Ma’nasa and Can’d’iida’sa in his Pada’valii had used the then scholarly Sam’skrta language, could they have wielded so much influence over the people? Similarly, the popular language of any part of the world as a vehicle of Epochal Literature does not carry very much weight in another part of the world, or with people speaking another language. There are quite a number of well-written English and Bengali books about the history and culture of Rajasthan, but how much can the people of Rajasthan, speaking Rajasthani language, be benefited by them? Perhaps the poetic genius of Michael Madhusudhan Dutt could have produced remarkable English compositions, but the marked extent to which his genius found expression in the Bengali language, the way a wonderful Epochal Literature came into being — perhaps could not have been achieved in the English language. It is not that Epochal Literature has to be written in the popular language alone, but the litterateurs should write their compositions in their own mother-tongues as much as possible.
I have already said that the demand for popular language, however, is not so very strong or rigid in respect to Coastal Literature. I see no reason to be unduly concerned if books about any subtle theory or principle, or any complicated sciences, are written only in the principal languages of the world, for if they are written in the popular local language, there would be only a few who could study them. But then I would say that those litterateurs who think that their works will be less in demand if produced in their local languages, and thus instead create literature in the more widely known languages, cannot be called true litterateurs, for they lack the mentality of moving together with all. Rather it will be more proper to call such writers pot-boilers or literary traders.
Symbol of the People’s Hopes
It is through clashes that power finds expression. In a life which is averse to fight — where the urge for fight is feeble — there life’s expression also remains vague and indistinct. Human intellect is indeed awakened through various kinds of natural, social, psychic and economic struggles. Those who seek the awakening of their intellects should not be afraid of struggle. Each of the social, economic and psychological principles of human life keep on changing from age to age. Endowed with the strength of past experiences, human beings seek to create their future wealth: this is an undeniable truth. With their eye on the future, those who try to create something by cutting off the past, will utterly fail, for the creation of literature or art can only justify its existence by maintaining its relation between the past and the future. That art or literature which suddenly appears also vanishes equally abruptly, leaving everything in turmoil. Due to changes in the wake of its sudden appearance and disappearance, society has no doubt achieved some gains and sustained some losses, but we cannot accept these changes as the fulfilment of any constructive endeavour.
Litterateurs are the seers of truth, and so naturally we cannot expect anything irrelevant from them. We want to see in their contributions keenness of intellect, wise discrimination, and the sweet touch of a sympathetic heart.
Where the society is caught in the whirlpool of superstitions and prejudices — where it has lost its vision in the darkness of ignorance — there litterateurs and artists will have to come forward, even by taking risks. They will have to show the path to others with a flaming torch in hand. It is not proper for them to remain inert and inactive, out of fear of stumbling. It is only through waging a ceaseless struggle against all opposing forces that they will lead humanity forward. For their offense of outspokenness, the vested interests of the different sections of society may threaten them menacingly, but they must remain undaunted by this. As the symbol of the hopes and desires of millions of people, they will have to hold aloft the possibilities of the next era, after transcending the limits of this one. In this undertaking there is as much responsibility as there is hard labour, not a bit less. Taking into account the natural means of expression of human aspirations, the artists will have to portray the ideal in a mode which is easily understandable by the masses.
The Language of the Era
Litterateurs who are born in a particular age or environment cannot completely transcend the influence of that particular environment, creating a literature based on an altogether different idea language. Human taste is advancing through changes; not only is language and its style of expression changing, but it is gradually losing its simplicity due to more complicated modes of thought. I am not referring here to the litterateurs’ unnecessary endeavours to create linguistic intricacies and complexities. Whether they like it or not, due to unavoidable necessity, they are gradually being compelled to use more and more complex language. This state of affairs also existed in the past, exists in the present, and will remain in the future. So taking into account the peculiarities of the underlying ideas and language, the insightful critic can very easily detect the lapses of the litterateur. The language of one era will become archaic or awkward in the next: no epic verse can be composed today with the simplicity of Valmiki’s* language. The use of denominative verbs as in the era of Michael Madhusudhan Dutt would only provoke laughter in this age. The ideas and language of Bha’ratacandra’s Vidyasundara received great approbation from the cultured people of that time, and used to be recited with great appreciation in the royal court. The poet, too, was honoured with a royal title in recognition of his work. But today this work is considered obscene in its ideas and language, unfit to be read in the society. Even the word that the litterateurs of today unhesitatingly express will perhaps one day become considered indecent in civilised society. But litterateurs are absolutely helpless in this regard, for it is impossible for them to completely shake off the thought and language of their era. In spite of the expansion of their vision over all the eras, their physical existence indeed remains embedded in a particular age. How is it possible for them to cut themselves off from the influence of their era, whose light and air, soil and water, fruits and flowers, have saturated their whole lives? Can’d’ida’sa in his Shriikrs’n’a-Kiirtana portrayed Ra’dha’ far more crudely than Jna’nada’sa and Govindada’sa did in their literary creations, and yet in simplicity and sincerity Shriikrs’n’a-Kiirtana is impeccable, regardless of its valuation in the royal courts of literature.
* The poet who composed the ancient epic Ra’ma’ya’na.
The Taste of the Age
An age advances though the physical, psychic, and causal spheres. The hands may not move as fast as the feet, and the intellect may move a thousand times faster than the hands; therefore different eras unfold at the same time in the life of an individual or a society. While evaluating literature, we should remember this fact, otherwise we may do injustice to the litterateurs and artists. It is necessary to have different kinds of yardsticks for measuring different things. Those who are awed by the unique artistic expression of the Kon’a’rka Temple sneer in contempt at its obscene sculptures. From the viewpoint of the modern era, they are perhaps correct, for their minds are conditioned by the taste of this era. But we must not forget that those sculptures possessed within them the combined expressions of other eras as well — that those artistic creations are the eloquent proofs of those very combined expressions.
With the dawn of civilisation, humanity’s artistic mind was developed, and people expressed themselves through the media of arts and crafts. Primitive humans depicted in stone the images of the birds or animals they hunted, as well as the images of their own internal conflicts. Small groups of people constantly thought of reinforcing and increasing the strength and number of their respective groups in order to be victorious in their battles, and this in the arts of those days we find the appearance of Phallus worship as the symbol of numerical maximisation. This very Phallus worship, prevalent among primitive people of the non-Aryan society was given a new philosophical interpretation by the refined Aryans, and transformed into Shiva-liunga. In spite of the subtlety or refinement behind this philosophical substantiation, the more developed people lacked that simplicity of taste which the primitive people possessed. But the expressions of both groups have now become offensive to the taste of the people of today. Of course these are the results of epochal changes.
If two eras are expressed simultaneously through some artists’ hands and feet, thought and expression, then they may indeed possess all the faculties of mind — their contributions may be enriched with all the sweetness of their hearts, but there will certainly be no harmonious balance between their actions and their feelings. The thought-waves of the sculptors of Kon’a’rka could not flow at the same speed towards subtlety as did their chisels and hammers.
The Message of Human Fulfillment
The genius that evolves from age to age through the process of introversion and extroversion of the intellect is indeed bearing the message of the fulfilment of human potentiality. At every step the warm breath of its labour and fatigue finds true expression: no one has the power to withstand this force. Those who want to transform their psychic wealth into inertness and inaction may perhaps obstruct this force of expression for a while, but the inner momentum of its dynamism will not be the least impaired. The very next moment it will break through all the dams of obstacles with a force increased a thousand-fold. That is why I say that it is through the fight against opposing forces that the intellect is awakened.
This very suppressed consciousness has indeed laid the foundation of human civilisation – has infused literary judgement with a refined outlook, and flavoured the taste of life with the nectar of Cosmic Bliss. Indeed, in every era literature has depicted the unique union of bliss (shreya) and objective pleasure (preya) in different modes according to the different phases of evolution to the characteristic self (svabha’va). That which is antithetic to one’s nature, no matter how assiduously one might attempt to paint it with the colours of the imagination, can never be accepted by humanity as its own. If we liken Coastal Literature to the gala dress and Epochal Literature to everyday wear, then we will have to call this kind of impractical fantasy a dress of silvery tinsel. It has no use in life, nor has it any relation with the inner nature of human beings.
In order to give full expression to this continuous flow of humanity’s true nature, then insight, power of expression, and boldness — all three are necessary. The creation of ideal literature is not possible for those who are ever ready to yield to the pressures of the throng. To manifest that true nature (svabha’va), one will have to give a clarion call to the common people to struggle against those forces that want to suck dry their vitality. Those voices which lack that bold heroism will simply whine and whimper doggerels in the name of poetry — they will try to save themselves from the responsibility of reality by counting the stars in the heavens.
All are moving forward: no one has come to sit idle, and so everyone will have to march ahead in harmony with all, maintaining a fine adjustment with the flow of life. Whether in thought or in action, in all spheres the fundamental characteristic of humanity is to move ahead. Where there is inertness, there is darkness. So one must not give the least indulgence to inertness in the spheres of thought and language. Inertness is just another name for the blind attachment to the past. For the sake of benevolence, for the sake of bliss, this attachment has to be cast aside. If an idea is likened to iron, then the dynamism of language shall be the touchstone. One must always be vigilant so that the iron will not lose contact with the touchstone. So before giving expression to any elevated idea, the litterateurs must seek out this touchstone, they must bring it under their control. Many people have ideas which do not blossom forth due to lack of mastery over language. Those who have ideas must develop their power of expression through continued practice and effort: and those who possess the power of expression must make efforts to awaken their latent insight. The litterateur must possess both expression and insight: where there is no iron, the touchstone is meaningless.
By power of expression, I do not mean merely an individual’s skill with language; rather I mean the irresistible force of the mind and heart. Where there is a lack of boldness and courage, there the language is prone to move with diffident steps, with hesitant deliberation. Such a timid language cannot express independent thinking due to the impact of the prevalent social superstitions and prejudices, the static bondages of the existing religions, the pressures of political ideologies of communalism and provincialism, and the false pride of nationalism and narrow-minded political ideas. Thwarted by this impact, the weak language either stops moving or expresses itself with extreme diffidence, while following the policy of `kill the snake but save the stick.’ The root cause of this weakness lies in the cowardice of individual life and the blind attachment to the past. Litterateurs have to assert themselves thunderingly, giving a stirring call to the people and, setting aside all the garbage of impurities with a bold mind and with strong arms, clear the path of human emancipation. In the path of fulfillment, they must be the pioneers.
Here there may be a slight confusion with regard to the dynamism of language. What I mean exactly is that the language, too, moves forward, keeping pace with the speed of thought. At times the language of those whose thoughts cannot freely move forward under the weight of ignorance or prevalent superstitions, is also very forceful and dynamic. Even the language of those who compose doggerels glorifying the greatness of a family, caste or pilgrimage, at times appears to be attractive and impressive. One can also write a thesis in powerful language on petty matters like “A Sneeze,” “A House Lizard,” or, before preparing for a journey, on “Best To Go North, Not East”; but such language I refuse to accept as truly dynamic language, for it bustles about within the iron railings of superstitions and attachments to the past. It has speed but no movement. A deep analysis will show that with all its acrobatics it has not moved even a step forward. Yoked to the millstone of superstition, like the bullock of an oil-mill, it has perhaps strutted proudly the whole day for fifty miles with brisk strides, but it could not move a step forward.
The Unfoldment of Human Potential
The whole existence of human beings is ever-anxious for mental development. Whatever is conducive to that development people cordially welcome, calling their distant friends nearer to them in the effort to express themselves; and whatever is antagonistic to this development they reject with all their hearts, though they may be forced to temporarily submit to it under circumstantial pressure. But as soon as an opportunity presents itself, they rise in revolt to deliver themselves from its clutches. This is human nature at all times and in all ages. Thus whenever something has to be done for humanity, it must be done keeping this essential human characteristic in mind. The author’s literature and the artist’s creation of art are indeed dedicated to the service of humanity, and so the litterateur and the artist must always deeply remember this truth. They will have to delineate their subject or theme in such a way that people, while assimilating it, may not feel any impediment in the path of their development. Interest must be created through natural expression. The suggestion of subtle hints, interest and humour that exists even in the crudeness of ordinary life has to be adroitly held up before the eyes of the people – a touch of its colour must be conveyed to their minds.
It is easy to talk, but difficult to act; for in spite of mental characteristics being the same in all persons, they are expressed differently at different times, at different places, and in different persons due to variations of reactive momenta (sam’ska’ra) or environmental peculiarities. If the artist’s mind can be made to touch the innermost hearts of others — if their human sentiment can be synchronised with others’ sentiments — then alone can people determine which path will be truly beneficial for them, which road will lead to the greatest unfoldment of their potentialities. If the potentialities of individual or collective development are not clearly understood, the psychic wealth of humanity may be misused at any moment.
Literature can beautifully convey to those who have the potentiality of leadership, how to develop that leadership properly, and how to establish that benevolent leadership on a firm foundation. But leadership is not only found among the good. Thieves, dacoits and knaves also have their leaders; and there are also leaders in reactionary movements. So if those with the potential of leadership, who are anxious to express their leadership qualities, derive suggestions from the litterateur how to enhance their personal prestige through malevolence and wickedness instead of through true benevolence and welfare, they may perhaps readily choose the evil path. People are desperate to develop themselves: if they are not guided onto the path of welfare by the litterateurs, they will follow the path of evil. They have no time to count the waves, sitting on the shore of the sea of time. They do not, and they will not, sit quietly, subduing their desires and propensities in the hope that some day, someone will come and direct them onto the path of benevolence.
Human beings want free and untrammeled expression of their innermost thoughts and feelings. Few people have the capacity to judge the way this expression is taking place. Some ability, no doubt, develops at a later age as the result of many trials and tribulations, but it is completely absent in childhood, in adolescence and in early youth. So during this period, people readily accept glittery, superficial art and literature as an outlet for their self-expression. Instead of seriously pondering over this, they do not even understand the necessity of deeper reflection or analysis.
In this connection it is necessary to add that if two different paths, both good and bad, are presented before people for the expression of the same idea, they will gladly choose the easier one, instead of the more complex one. So no matter how benevolent the ideas of the litterateur, if they are not presented with exuberant delight and overflowing joy, though they may be acceptable to some, they will remain ever disagreeable and indigestible to the general mass. These observations may be somewhat significant for Coastal Literature, but for Epochal Literature they are indeed of paramount importance. If literature is not presented through the medium of joy, then it cannot really be accepted as literature at all, because in spite of its being guided by the thought of benevolence, that thought is unable to take practical shape. Such literature only enhances the price of the book, but it cannot at all enhance the value of humanity. When a presentation is made through the medium of joy, there people have the opportunity for comprehensive enjoyment, and the sympathy of the writer makes direct contact with the hearts of his or her readers. Such an excellent presentation is not possible if the writer lacks genuine human feeling. Good or bad, friend or foe, a chaste lady or promiscuous woman – all are human to the author. The author will have to be responsive to the aspirations of their hearts, and must try to give proper expression to their inner thoughts and sentiments. He or she will try to delineate their happiness and sorrow, hopes and desires, and treat every small or big clash and counter-clash of their affliction-ridden lives as the expression of the human heart. To the litterateurs no profession or propensity is either dignified or lowly: they will only present all these before the people in their true perspective so that the audience, after being acquainted with them, may make their individual and collective lives more meaningful. In no circumstances must the artist or the litterateur portray humanity as an object of hatred or ridicule. Even the character of a promiscuous woman or a thief must leave on the minds of the readers an impression of sympathy, charged with profound pain.
When artists lack such bold large-heartedness, they view humanity and the world through the spectacles of superstitions — they are incapable of truly acquainting human beings with each other or with the world, because these spectacles of superstitions or prejudices distort their vision so much that they are unable to understand the true perspective of anything.
Weak-mind litterateurs often try to stirringly exhort their readers with forceful language in order to camouflage their own inherent weaknesses before the public. They think that by the strength of their language they will prevail, but this is a grave error on their part. Perhaps a few fools may be deluded for some time, but ultimately, recognising the malevolent repercussions of such literature, people will scrupulously avoid it. A careful examination will enable anyone to discover the flagrant emptiness that always lurks behind such high-sounding utterances, Generally speaking, the greater the clouding of the litterateurs’ vision by the blind delusions of communalism, provincialism or nationalism, the greater the outpouring of this sort of literature from their pens.
Decency and Indecency in Art
There is a serious difference of opinion also among artists and litterateurs with regard to decency and obscenity in art. The conservative among them or the connoisseurs of art and literature are somewhat like the supporters of the cult of Varn’a’shrama (the Hindu caste system). They think that a little deviation from the established tradition will tarnish the purity of art or literature. Excessively worried about matters of caste and outcaste, about the analysis of decency and vulgarity in art or literature, they lose sight of its main objective. If writing and drawing, chisel and hammer get themselves entangled in he wranglings of so-called ethics and morality, they cannot make any contribution to any section of the people. If you open a book to find that it contains only the tall topics of morality, you will have a headache before you read even five pages of it. In a movie if only moral ideals are paraded over and over again to the exclusion of everything else, the public will never appreciate that film. The conclusion of all of this is that the thought of public welfare alone should be the main criterion of all artistic and literary creation, and that thought will take form only though artistic joy – only then can subtle intellect awaken in crude minds. So when the artists or litterateurs have to march forward creating such a flow of delight, they cannot afford to cling to any fastidious notions of so-called purity or impurity, for it will retard progress. Excessive prudery, like mysophobia (fear of contamination), will obstruct their path of movement.
These mysophobic, conservative writers will compose poems about seas, mountains and moonlight – will paint literary pictures of the drawing-rooms of the aristocratic Ballygunge elite — but it will offend their pens to write about the endless humiliations, the low standard of living and the vulgar dirtiness of the neglected, uneducated society of the villages, because these matters are unpleasant. The abominable life of corrupt women, the obnoxious environment of the slums, the carnal cravings of anti-social human beasts — all these they seek to avoid, because they are unacceptable by the standards of `decency’ and `decorum’.
The human mind has many ideas and propensities that are normal and natural. But the mysophobic artists or litterateurs, with their touch-me-not-or-I-might-lose-my-purity mentality, want to avoid all these. They think that these propensities, if given place in literature, will jeopardise society. I cannot support this orthodox, rightist mentality.
Yet those who are leftists in the world of art are even more dangerous. The defect of the rightists is their inaction, and that of the leftists is their hyper-activity, based on selfishness. It seems as though they are deliberately seeking out the dark and dirty aspects of life and, like flies, growing fat on the secretions of society’s festering sores. It must be remembered that flies do not heal sores – rather they exacerbate them, because the very pus of these sores provides them with their vital juice. So the filthy aspects of society are the only wealth on which these artists and litterateurs subsist.
If art or literature is created revolving around the evil propensities of the human mind, people will naturally gravitate towards it in large numbers, and the creators of such literature will earn a great deal of money thereby; indeed, this is the only aim of their artistic creation. Engaged in the quest of evil, obscenity and vulgarity, they, too, lose sight of the primary goal of art.
In such matters of decency or indecency, the middle path is the best: that is, we must not deviate from the ideal. At the time of pursuing the path of benevolence we shall not bother as to which of these — decorum or vulgarity, decency or indecency — the brush, the pen, the chisel or the hammer, has become contaminated with during its march ahead. If we do so, we will stray from our path.
I am not prepared to accept any hard and fast rule that literature must be created centering on good citizens alone, nor am I inclined to agree to the policy that crude and mean people have to be presented as low or vile before the readers or spectators. In my opinion whatever artists create must have the fullest touch of their sympathetic minds. Those who are inferior and neglected, who are helpless and destitute — whom the society considers infernal maggots — they are the very people who are the most unrepresented in the salons of literature. They are mute; and so the heavy responsibility of expressing the sentiments that are hidden in their tormented minds has to be borne by the artist alone. The litterateur or the artist, has to take the responsibility of enabling them to rise up and sit in the same row with the rest of society, after dusting off the dirt from their bodies.
Mundane and Transcendental Love
Many people complain that a major part of modern literature is full only of the whimperings of cheap erotic love. I cannot but agree with their complaint. Such allegations can be brought not only in the sphere of literature but in every sphere of art. After seeing Bombay-made films it seems as though juvenile society has, indeed, no other job than busying itself with so-called love — as though every college girl of any respectable community is engaged in amorous escapades, throwing all decency and decorum overboard. In fact, the mentality of those artists and litterateurs who depict only this type of situation is nothing but impotent.
Whatever be the profound, philosophical implications of the word prema, or love, the true characteristic of prema is supra-physical — beyond the bondage of any limitation. When artists, absorbed in the essence of love, try to convey it to the people through their language, rhetoric and subtle suggestions, the sweetness of their artistic genius reaches the apex of expression. But then this creation of the artist cannot be regarded as popular literature or art, because the subtle sense which is capable of comprehending that transcendental feeling is, indeed, undeveloped in most people. We do find at places in the literature of Rabindranath Tagore some semblances of this pure, supra-physical love, but whenever Rabindranath tried to give expression to it, he became unintelligible to the mass. The transcendental thoughts and ideas of the sweet, graceful shlokas of the Upanis’ads are also incomprehensible to the common people.
This sublime prema or love has established itself for all eternity beyond the limits of time, space and person. Infinite love is the ultimate ecstatic expression of finite love. This very sense that artists try to awaken in the popular mind — when they devote themselves to the task of establishing the link between the finite and the infinite, between the mundane and the transcendental — this very awareness though not purely transcendental, verily bears the highest importance in the realm of art. Through expressions which are comprehensible to ordinary intelligence, it gradually leads the sweetness of the human mind to a supra-sensible dreamland. Rabindranath’s poem “Urvashii'” is a composition of this type. There is no dearth of physicality in the poem, nor is it difficult to understand; and yet its crude materiality gradually expands into a subtlety beyond understanding.
Love that is completely physical is not love at all in terms of philosophy. Therefore philosophy will not, and perhaps should not, entertain such love at all. But can an artist ignore it? It is in every great or small incident of life that an ordinary person feels pleasure or pain. Even love concerned with the body is not something completely cut off from pleasure and pain. How then can the artist, given to delineating human happiness and sorrow – sworn to giving form to the impact of human grief and pain, hopes and desires – neglect this physical love? Regarding this, no artist or litterateur can dispute the statement of Rabindranath:
Ore kavi sandhya’ haye ela,
Keshe toma’r dhareche ye pa’k
Base base u’rdhvapa’ne ceye
Shuntecha ki paraka’ler d’a’k?
Kavi kahe, sa’ndhaya’ hala bat’e,
Base a’chi laye shra’nta deha
Opa’re oi pallii hate yadi,
Aj’o hat’ha’t da’ke a’ma’y keha.
Yadi hetha’y bakul taruccha’ye,
Milan ghat’e taru’n’-tarun’iite
Dut’i a’nkhir pare dut’i a’nkhi,
Milite ca’y duranta saungiite
Ke ta’ha’der maner katha’ laye
Biin’a’r ta’re tulbe pratidhavani
Ámi yadi bhaver ku’le base
Paraka’ler bha’la mandai gan’i.
“O poet! Evening has come
Your hair is streaked with grey
Are you listening to the call of the other world,
As you sit and gaze at the sky?”
“Ah! Yes, evening has come,” replied the poet
“And here I sit, with limbs tired and frail
Waiting for a sudden call from yonder village –
A call that might come even today.
“If here under this shady Bakul tree
Two young hearts meet in longing long
And two pairs of eyes seek to merge as one
In the eloquent melody of song
“Who will play on the strings of the lyre
Who will echo the streets of their hearts
If I sit on the shores of the ocean of time
And ponder the virtue and vice of my life?”
Here it must be noted that artists must seek to exhibit before people the simple form of truth, sweetened with the sweetness of their hearts. But it is a matter of great regret that a class of modern artists, in the realms of poetry, novels, cinema, drama, etc., employ all their artistic talents for the sole purpose of kindling people’s crude sensuality, instead of portraying human propensities with the idealistic outlook of a true artist – what to speak of portraying their subtle human feelings. Without giving indulgence to conservatism, I would say that this class of artists is truly a blot on society.
Plays and Dramas
Some time ago complaints were frequently heard from the lovers of drama that after the great poet Girishchandra, accomplished dramatists are no longer in evidence, and that although other branches of literature have rapidly developed, drama is gradually dying out. Their complaints cannot be easily dismissed; rather they deserve the attention of the drama-loving populace, the dramatists and actors, and the well-wishers of society. Why are good dramas not being produced? Why is there not a good drama in dramatic literature, modelled with the touch of a rare genius like Rabindranath? Perhaps by good drama the complainants mean “box-office dramas,” and it is precisely because most of Rabindranath’s dramas are lacking in box-office appeal that they do not take them into account.
In literary parlance we may divide drama into two categories: first the box-office play, and secondly, the witty stage play of high literacy excellence, which demands a little extra intellect to understand — which in English literature is called “drama.” The first, the box-office plays, are a part of Epochal Literature, and thus it is necessary for the writers of such plays to be well-conversant with the problems of the contemporary era. It is only when it gives just expression to current problems through songs and dance, uproar and tumult, laughter and tears, joys and sorrows, that a play becomes a box-office hit. Even slight or sizeable lapses in characterization and treatment of conflict do not in the least diminish the popular appreciation of this class of drama. Light-hearted audiences of mediocre intelligence go home happy after laughing, crying and enjoying songs and dances for sometime: they do not even feel like criticising or commenting on the underlying ideas and language of the drama. So the dramatists too have to wield their pens in accordance with the demand of their patrons, the common people. If they have any drawbacks or shortcomings of their own as litterateurs or artists, they can easily disguise them through cheap humour, so that what they have written for the public may justify its existence by offering them a little jollity.
The form and presentation of most of the films of modern India, particularly those with the Bombay trade-mark, pertain to this category of drama. There is nothing to ponder or comprehend about these plays; there is hardly any question of reality or unreality in them either. If there is any expression of the age in them, well and good; if not, no harm. But as I have already said, a drama may be considered successful only if it combines excitement with the vivid portrayal of the era. But for this portrayal of the problems of the age in the drama, it is essential for the dramatist to have a clear conception of his or her age. Those who have this are, indeed, genuine dramatists; in such presentation there occurs a wonderful blending of the public demand and the dramatist’s talent.
Most of the compositions of Rabindranath do not fall into this category of plays. He was a real poet and so his dramas, though not neglecting the demand of the age, always sought to remain outside the purview of that era. Thus his dramas were seldom popular in the theatre, where most spectators go for a little amusement and not for appreciating the niceties of literature; but they received the unstinted approbation of the real connoisseurs of art and literature. Those members of the audience who were unable to properly appreciate the subtle nuances of his dramas on the stage, could experience an indescribably wonderful joy as readers of those very dramas. This type of dramatic presentation, which in English is called drama, is called Na’t’a’yana in Samskrta. The playwrights draw their vitality from this very Na’t’ya’yana.
It is noteworthy that some of these dramas written somewhat in the style of box-office plays, enjoy greater popularity even than the box-office plays; and from this it is evident that although the common people are fond of riotous hilarities, they have in them a dormant aesthetic sense which may be aroused through song and dance as well as through the medium of the portrayal of pleasure and pain, laughter and mirth. Of course, with the increase in the number of educated people with literary taste, drama, too, is becoming a stage success in many countries. Previously the theatre owners suffered appreciable loss when Shakespeare’s dramas were staged. But now with the increase in the number of literature-lovers. Shakespearean dramas have far surpassed even the box-office plays in popularity.
Most of the dramatic compositions of the great poet Girishchandra fall into the category of plays, for he was associated with the professional theatre. He was well aware that dramas, if staged, would not receive any appreciable reception in the society of his time, and thus he took to writing plays. He himself was a reputed actor, and so theatre-goers were great admirers of every character in almost every drama written by him. Yet it must not be forgotten that although he had to write plays for the sake of his professional career, he had within him a deep aesthetic poetic genius, and so most of his plays had the touch of drama – the suggestion of supra-sensibility. In fact, judging Girishchandra’s compositions with an impartial mind, it must be admitted that he chose the middle path between drama and plays. As he expressed in his own language:
Álga’ ta’re bol ot’hena’
T’a’nle chenr’e komal ta’r.
“Loose strings no tune impart
But tension tears the tender strings apart.”
I cannot wholly agree with those who say that no good dramas have been produced after the death of Girishchandra; but then I cannot absolutely disagree with them, either. Rather, I would say that after Girishchandra we have had quite a number of good dramatists as well as good actors, but not of the calibre of Girishchandra’s genius: he was a rare combination of a powerful actor and a successful dramatist.
Among the modern critics we notice a sizeable difference of opinion regarding the necessity of song and dance in drama. There is no doubt that background music greatly helps in the creation of dramatic atmosphere. This background music does not fall exactly in the category of songs and lyrics: it is just a subtle device to help the mind apprehend the sentiments portrayed; there is nothing natural or unnatural about it. People go to the theatre knowing that they are going to watch a dramatic performance, and they feel no difficulty in accepting music as a natural part of the drama. But I cannot accept that songs must be in dramas. Let there be an abundance of songs and dances in those plays which are written to elicit cheap applause from the audience, or let there be absolutely unnatural songs forced into the mouths of the hero and the heroine as explanations of each event or situation; but while writing dramas one must be extremely careful in this regard. There are plays in which after a tragic event, such as the death of a dear one, the bereaved mother or wife starts singing a plaintive song, and that, too, to the accompaniment of rhythmic musical instruments. Those who do not analyse this objectivity may perhaps be moved to emotion by such a song of lamentation, but those who are connoisseurs or lovers of literature, will leave the hall in utter disgust; it is not only unreal, it is absolutely offensive to the taste. Even heroes and heroines who did not know each other at all before, are seen singing a duet. Did they rehearse the song beforehand?
Truly speaking, with the exception of musical plays, it is necessary to exercise restraint and good judgement before introducing songs in other dramatic presentations. We can tolerate the character “Conscience” singing a song in a musical play, for Conscience is an allegorical role. But in the mouths of the hero and heroine any song that is incidental to the story is absolutely unbecoming and out of place. No matter how richly imbued the song is with thought and sentiment, it is not at all desirable to use it as an indication of the future of the dramatic plot. People do sing and dance in the course of their daily lives; such songs and dances do depict their joys and sorrows, hopes and despair, but they sing and dance in particular circumstances. The plaintive song is sung long after the mournful event: with the dead body on their laps, they do not sing sorrowful tunes over it. Upon the receipt of any happy news, people shout or jump for joy, but they do not start dancing according to accepted rules, with proper posture, gesture and rhythm. Song and dance may be introduced in a drama to portray people’s daily lives, but one must be cautious lest they become unnatural to the discriminating readers and spectators.
A drama is concerned with the subtler portion of the mind, and so the songs of dramas have to be imbued with high thought and sentiment. Just to maintain the purity of classical music, a drama cannot give indulgence to substandard compositions. The songs in a play are composed in order to attract the popular mind, and hence there is nothing to be said against them. But one must be careful that the songs contain no seeds of malevolence in them.
Short Dramas and Mystery Dramas
Today people are extremely pressed for time: they do not have much leisure at their disposal for reading or witnessing dramas. The indomitable urge to triumph over time has gradually obsessed the human mind. Hence playwrights and directors, too, are obliged to adjust themselves to the public demand, adopting the policy of compromise. A play does not have the scope which a longer drama has to vividly portray life, or effectively represent the conflicts of characters. Yet more stress is being given today to plays, since for most people the value of time has considerably increased. It is impossible for a play to accommodate the wider range of a long drama. That is why almost all the dramatists who are engaged in such efforts fail. In a short play it is impossible to give expression to a whole life story, and even any fraction of a conflict cannot be fully dealt with and given full justice. One must be satisfied with presenting only a small portion of any situation or theory. It is only by combining several playlets together that the dramatist can properly portray any situation, problem or ideology: several one-act plays joined together can then mirror the multifarious life of society.
The success of a drama, particularly a mystery drama, depends largely on the creation of suspense. If the theme is not very complicated, the readers or spectators do not feel any particular difficulty, even if the suspense is introduced in the very beginning; in that case the process of appreciation remains undisturbed. But if there are complications in the plot, it is desirable to let the reader or the audience first form a rough guess about the plot and then introduce suspense, instead of introducing it at the very beginning, for this will help them to appreciate the suspense more. Otherwise, if the audience has not even understood the suspenseful plot, the desire for release from the suspense cannot be intensified; rather people spend their psychic energy more on pondering over what they do not understand in the complicate plot, instead of being curious about what is coming next.
In my opinion this applies equally to both screen and stage plays and dramas. The difference between the two is that the assistance that the author of a screen drama derives from the art director or the studio-technicians, the author of a stage drama does not. The latter has to arrange the environment through the media of the dialogues of the different characters.
The range and extent of short stories are exactly the same as those of plays: but here the writer must know the technique of presenting a long story concisely. Suspense, too, is equally effective in short stories as in plays: dramatic quality is essential for a writer of those short stories which come in the category of sketches, for a sketch holds an intermediate position between a story and a drama. Some critics think that sketches also come within the category of dramas, and I do not see any reason to contradict their opinion. Actually the most significant difference between a drama and a story is that the characters of a drama act and talk before the readers or the audience in living form, whereas in a story or a novel it is the writer who talks — either personally or through his or her mentally created characters. The chief characteristic of a drama – be it an opera, ballet, drama, play, shadow play, etc. — is that it includes the self-expression of living characters.
Whenever literature properly utilises the opportunities for relating any actual incident or imaginary event cohesively and adroitly, such a creation is called a long story. In Sam’skrta a long story is called Katha’, and a short story is termed Katha’nika’. The responsibility of the novelist, however, is a great deal more onerous than that of a story writer, for in novels the systematic narration of a story is not the sole or primary element: along with it, psychological analysis as well as the conflicts of characters must also find proper expression. To compose Coastal Literature around stories is extremely difficult, if not impossible; but in novels it is quite possible. Novels are a form of fiction, or upanya’sa. (It is difficult to find exact equivalents in Sam’skrta for these two words, “novel” and “upanya’sa.” The word upanya’sa, current in languages like Bengali, Hindi, etc., means “to place together, to juxtapose.” There is some confusion in the meaning of the word in Bengali and Hindi. In some Indian languages the word ka’dambarii is used for upanya’sa; this is probably due to its being related to the Sam’skrta book entitled “Ka’dambarii.” The novel form of literature never existed in ancient Indian literature, and thus there is no Sam’skrta term for this word.
Generally it is noticed that human thinking capacity becomes somewhat dull in the wake of a major catastrophe. This accounts for the present psychic state of the human race, following two major wars which took place within a short period of time, with various miseries and tribulations as a result. Humanity is presently unable to think, read or comprehend anything serious. Even artists and litterateurs who are capable of thinking or expressing serious matters do not feel any urge to do so, thinking that in this way they will not get any encouragement or patronage from the public. To say that there are no artists today is an absolute falsehood: there are still some, though they are lacking in vitality. What is scarce is not artists but patronage and encouragement. Even if we accept that the real artist does not create art in the hope of receiving encouragement from anyone, I would say that when artists, propelled by their heart’s emotion, or engaged in the endeavour to lose themselves in the expression of their art, undertake to create something, even at that time it is necessary to supply them with the necessary provision for the expression of their vital force. The lack of such provision means that both the artists and their art meet their premature doom. So instead of blaming the artists, condemning their worthlessness with rude language, one has to admit this paramount truth – that since we ourselves are incapable of thinking or understanding anything serious, we are actually pushing the truly creative, quality artists towards destruction.
The essence of poetry or poetic literature is its penetrating appeal: here the emotion of the heart is predominant. That which is narrated in prose, in simple, direct language is expressed in poetry tinged with the colour of the core of the heart, and with subtle suggestions of the unknown. The readers are required to understand the dynamic relation between the past and the future through the feelings of their hearts. That is why poetry is comprehensible not merely by listening or reading, but by touching the poet’s heart with one’s own.
These days humanity has lost its aesthetic appreciation for poetry as a result of the torments from the harsh blows of reality. Poetic literature, particular the epic, has become completely obsolete. And yet when humanity first attempted to determine the relation between the natural and the supernatural, when the subtle aesthetic sense was awakened in them for the first time, then the basket of literature was filled with the cowrie-shells of poetry. But today these cowries are obsolete: they have no value in the market; and poetic literature, too, is in the process of decay. Few people buy poetry books to read. Yet during the spring of youth, when the ebullience of the heart is pronounced, adolescents still read poems and try to explain them to others, or recite them with all the sweetness of their hearts. But with advancing age, when the once sensitive mind, smitten by the blows and counter-blows of the world, becomes hardened like as over-burnt brick, charred in the fire of worldly ordeals, then its capacity to appreciate poetry is reduced to nothing. People come to like only those things that have some relation with reality, and the ebullience of the emotion of the heart no longer has any appreciable value. Of course there are exceptions, but generally we find that the poems that elderly people recite are invariably those that they had memorised during their early youth. The poets, in order to survive this situation, are now tending towards composing realistic poems. This is not altogether bad, for at least in this way poetic literature may find the path to longevity.
The poverty of the lyricists is not so marked at present, since the market for songs is still existing due to cinema, radio, stage and recordings. Although what the lyricists receive as remuneration is nothing compared to their labour, still their prospects are far better than that of the poets. Anything serious in lyricism is heading for destruction: all that is left is the showy glitter of language. The purity of ra’gas or ra’giniis (classical melodies) has been lost, and what remains is merely the glamour of adulterated, non-classical tunes; from the viewpoint of lyrical value, modern songs are gradually heading towards bankruptcy.
Similarly, there is no current demand for, or appreciation of, essays with serious themes. People want light and attractive essays today; thus to satisfy this demand novelists and essayists have started composing charming compositions in which seriousness has no scope. In lucid language the essayists tell their stories with some flashes or erudition here and there, dwelling on small or great themes, from the lowest to the highest. The writers of such narratives or descriptions have no recognised standard before them, nor is there any constructive endeavour on their part to create one, either. The writers seem to give more importance to linguistic jugglery, thereby relegating their main theme to a secondary position. When the contents of a composition aroused a sense of literary appreciation or manifest the author’s sense of responsibility, only such a composition may be called an ideal essay (rasaracana).
While the more superficial compositions lack the profundity of thought, the authors of serious compositions must, on the other hand, acquire the flair for narration in a consummate conversational tone. Many quality novelists lack this ability, and hence they fail as writers of attractive compositions.
There is yet another form of literature gradually gaining importance: children’s literature (shishu sa’hitya). Here the sense of responsibility and proficiency of the authors is more important than in any other branch of literature. In every sentence of juvenile literature there should be a wonderful attractive power – a crystalline simplicity and an open-heartedness without any hesitation. The author of juvenile literature has to explain through language and thought how life should be lived with purity and straight forwardness.
The child’s mind is filled with fanciful imagery, and so the litterateurs will also have to soar in the sky of imagination with outstretched wings. However, they cannot afford to give indulgence to intricacies and complexities in this visionary ascent. The thirst for the distant, and the earnest zeal to know he unknown that abides in the child’s mind must be fulfilled by drawing pictures of magical lands and relating colourful fairy tales. “Real” or “natural” is not so important here. What is more important is to carry the child’s mind along in the current of joy, and in the process to acquaint the child with the world in an easy and simple manner. The harshness of reality should not be portrayed: the child will not want to read or listen to it. “The prince of the mind with his wings outspread in the azure sky soars to the kingdom of the old witch beyond the worlds of the moon and the sun; and, tying his Pegasus to the golden branches of the pearl tree, proceeds in quest of the sleeping princess in the soundless, serene palace. Being informed of the whereabouts of the magic-wands of life and death, and rousing the princess from her centuries-old sleep, he gathers all the information about the sleeping den of the demons, and seeks to establish himself in the world like a hero…” Picture after picture, colour after colour, must accompany the words: this the children’s minds crave.
For those who are a little older than small children, that is, boys and girls in their early teens, farces and satires are quite successful. In these the children can find the ideals that are conducive to the formation of their characters. But for those who are comparatively young, simplicity will be the guiding principle in whatever is written for them. Giving undue indulgence to the play of words, flowery language, figures of speech, or long, didactic preaching, will turn juvenile literature into trash.
A much neglected part of children’s literature is the lullaby, which in most cases, falls under the category of verse. As a form of literature it also has its own special characteristics. The lullaby portrays the visionary environments in which all children’s literature has to dwell; but the unfoldment of scenes in lullabies takes place much more rapidly. Seeing picture after picture in his or her mental mirror, the child dozes off into the bosom of sleep. So the composer of lullaby has to be an accomplished painter at heart.
Sha’nta haye shon re khoka’
Bale geche tor da’da’.
Kine deba duit’i ghor’a’
Ka’lo a’r sha’da’
Saka’l bela’y sha’da ghor’a’y
Bera’be tumi car’e
Kalo ghor’a’y car’be yakhan
Bela’ yabe car’e
“Hush, my child, listen! said your brother tonight
He’ll buy you two horses, one black and one white
You’ll ride the white in the morning bright
And then ride the black one in the failing light
The mind of the child gets lost in the horses, their colours, the time of day and the joy of riding on horseback, and thus musing over these pictures he or she slowly and gradually falls asleep. It is important that these lullabys should convey the inspiration for the development of heroism and knowledge, but there should be no frightening ideas in them. Even if inadvertently any fear complex is created in the children’s minds, these compositions cannot be regarded as lullaby.
Through these verses a child can easily become acquainted with nature in a way which makes the world delightful and captivating for them:
Bolta’ ghuma’y, bhomra’ ghuma’y, ghuma’y ma’chi
Shiuli phuler ga’cht’i bale a’mi jege achi
Khoka bale, shiuli kena ja’ge
Jhar’e par’be hale bhor
Sei samaye son’a’r khoka’ ghumt’i jabe tor.
“Asleep, asleep, all asleep —
The wasp, the flea, and the bumble-bee
Awake am I, awake I keep”
Says the Shiulii-flower tree.
Child: “Why does the Shiulii keep awake?”
Mother: “For the blossoms will fall at day-break.
And at that time, my darling, you will awake”
Indispensable domestic duties may also be taught through the medium of delight, as in such verses:
Chi chi chi chi ra’nii ra’ndhte shekheni
Shuktonite jha’l diyeche ambalete ghi
Jyat’ha’ima’ke bale jhole masla’ doba ki
(Ar) Parma’nna rendhebale phan phelba ki
(Edike) Bhojba’r’ite khonj par’eche ekhan upa’y kii.
“Alas, alas, hasn’t Rani learned the cooking art
She puts chillis in shukto1, ghee in ambal-tart?2
Asking Auntie, “Shall I put spices in broth?
From the sweet rice porridge, shall I drain off the froth?”
While the guests wait for dinner, hungry every one-
Now what’s to be done, oh what’s to be done?”
1 A vegetable dish, meant not to be very hot or spicy.
2 A sour sauce-like dish which never contains ghee or clarified butter.
Often through these rhymes even the weary, long-suffering images of oppressed people may be vividly expressed, and contrasted with the pomp and glamour of prosperous society. But then this, too, should be expressed in a light-hearted fashion:
Khukur doba biye ami ha’t’t’ama’la’r deshe
Ta’ra’ ga’i balade cas’e
Hiirey da’nt ghas’e.
Ruima’ch-pat’ol ta’der bha’rebha’re a’se
(Kintu) Khukuke a’nte gele
Pichan phire base.
“Khukhu will be wed in the wondrous land of Hattamala
Where they till their fields with oxen and bulls
And brush their teeth with diamond-powder
Where there’s fish and green gourd by the basketful –
But going there to fetch Khukhu,
Her mother-in-law scorns her by turning her back.”
Thus these neglected folk-lyrics and lullabies have enormous value in the formation of children’s character. Enlightened litterateurs should pay attention to this aspect of literature also.
Towards the Transcendental Entity
As the sense of subtle aesthetics was developed in human beings in the course of evolution, a desire for the creation of art was also awakened in them. The ideal of the artist is be to established in transcendentality beyond the bounds of the sensory world. So the artists, or more precisely, the worshippers of fine art, have to be spiritual aspirants if they want to move on the right path. The cultivation of fine arts is but a mockery on the path of those who have not developed spiritual sentiment or accepted the spiritual ideal as the goal of life. Only those who look upon everything of the world in a spiritual spirit can realise in everything the blissful, transcendental Entity. The greater the realisation of this transcendental Entity, the greater the understanding of one’s oneness with Him, and thus the greater the success in the creation of art. The successful creation of art is absolutely impossible by those who, in spite of their possessing some creative faculty, do not seek that subtle Entity. Such people’s thought processes go adrift, like a sailboat with a torn sail. Their mental aberration is reflected through all of their writings, which ultimately become strange and grotesque.
Besides this, in the individual lives of such artists, there occurs a serious catastrophe. In the battle between their transitory sense of aesthetics and their lust for material happiness, their strength of character is torn in this tension between the subtle and the crude. That is why we find that in the history of the world those who lacked purity or spiritual ideals and spiritual austerity – no matter how great their genius as poets, litterateurs and artists, no matter what reputation they had earned in their respective fields of art — could not command respect and prestige as human beings in society due to their loose characters. It is due to this lack of firmness of character that the talents of many good singers, actors, and other kinds of artists have prematurely withered away, before attaining full development.
As mentioned above, the greater the touch with transcendentality, the greater the success of the artist, for knowingly or unknowingly the human mind is seeking transcendentality. People yearn for the unknown: they cannot remain content with the known; thus where there is an endeavour to create art merely out of the events of daily life, it does not appeal to the intuitional faculty of the human mind.
Can there be an artist without genius? Is art the result only of sincere endeavour, of hard labour? Quite a knotty question! I think the answer lies in the inherent spiritual thirst of human beings. In other words, a genius is born into this world with a powerful innate spiritual hunger, whether he or she realises it or not. For those who do not have this spiritual hunger, the effort to become artists by toilsome labour alone is absolutely useless. But then, if a person who has no creative genius succeeds in kindling his or her spiritual urge and desire for the infinite, then it will not be impossible for him or her to develop genius.
Naturalness and Unnaturalness in Art
Another consideration which is often discussed in the question of naturalness in art. According to many, art should faithfully express itself in the same natural way that, for example, people normally eat, sleep and talk: otherwise, it is said, that art will be defective. In the field of dramatic art, greater emphasis is given to this idea of naturalness these days. This has also affected recitation and other artistic modes, but I cannot fully agree with this idea. Depending upon the theme and nature of the topic, the introduction of diversity in theatrical expression is quite natural. To express crude ideas one must resort to crude language, crude gestures, and crude ways of expression in daily life. These, however, cannot be employed to give expression to subtle feelings. For this a particular language, a particular diction and a particular gesture will be necessary, and in such cases it will be easy to appreciate the beauty of dramatic performance as such — that is, on its face value, instead of looking at it as an expression of naturalness.
Actually, the vivid presentation of the artist’s ideas is of primary importance, and to achieve this any means necessary should be adopted. We should not be over concerned with the naturalness or unnaturalness: none of the illustrious actors of the world ever worried over this point, nor do they do so even today. This dogmatic declaration about the importance of naturalness in art has not issued from the important personages of the theatrical world, but from petty people with superficial knowledge. The combination of language and gesture (mudra’) that makes dramatic acting successful must be fully utilised by the actors. To maintain naturalness one must not render the language confused or incoherent, or the characters gestureless and awkward. In individual life, in our so-called “natural” state we seek to express our inner ideas, and often the communication of these ideas to others is secondary. In dramatic performance, however, this communication is of primary importance.
The same holds true for music. The totality of song, instrumental play and dance (giita-va’dya’-nrtya) is called sam’giita or music. When a song is composed only to express the laughter and tears of ordinary life, there is hardly any difficulty in conveying this to the ears and hearts of the people: the song discharges its responsibility well enough through the medium of ordinary language and melody. But where the feelings and sensibilities are deep and subtle — where one has to create vibrations in the molecules and atoms of the body, in the chords of the heart — there the music has to follow an extraordinary path: Hence to those who are incapable of ingesting the subtle feelings of the Science of Music, the a’la’pa or introductory portion of a classical piece, will be nothing but pra’la’pa or delirious raving.
If music must descend to the ordinary level of life to conform to the slogan of naturalness, then preeminence will be given to doggerels, as the sweetness and charm of real music becomes extinct. Indeed, the music that is in vogue in the world today in the name of “popular music” is nothing but doggerels of this type, though expressed in a better language. Language, rhythm and melody are the indispensable parts of a song: one cannot exclude any one of them. (The difference between song and instrumental music is that songs comprise rhythm, melody and language, but in instrumental music, rhythm is predominant, melody is subordinate, and language is absolutely nil.)
Dance and Recitation
Dance is customarily divided into two categories: gestural and rhythmic. Many people are loathe to accept that gestureless rhythmic dance can be considered dance at all. Judging the characteristics of dance, it must be admitted that both gestures and rhythm are important components in dance: the gestures give expression to inner sentiment, and the rhythm gives it dynamism. If dance is only gestural and devoid of rhythm, it is called pantomime, not dance. And dance, devoid of gestures is nothing but another form of physical exercise — it is not art.
The greatest difference between recitation and acting is that in acting there is both language and gesture; while recitation (a’vrtti) consists of only language. Thus in acting there is greater scope for the expression of refined aesthetic taste than in recitation.
Architecture and Painting
As for architecture, a perfect mastery of the science of engineering along with the knowledge of art is necessary, and thus there is a wonderful blending of the crude and subtle arts in architecture. No matter how great is the suggestion of subtle aesthetic sense in architecture, it never has scope for being unnatural. Yet it is in painting and sculpture, which are considered the subtlest of all arts, that we find the true expression of the wonderful aesthetic sense of the human mind. In the calm stillness of a painting or a sculpture, all has to be vividly expressed–laughter and tears, hopes and fears, gestures and language. Indeed, it is the arts of painting and sculpture that beautifully bridge the gap between the mundane and the supramundane.
As in dramatic acting, so in painting and sculpture the question of naturalness or unnaturalness arises, and here too the same answer holds true: the mode of expression must be chosen to suit the sentiment being expressed. In fact to raise the question of naturalness or unnaturalness in painting is absolutely unfitting. The artist at the time of giving physical expression to his or her mental image is not bound to reproduce a particular part of the body according to physiological science. Giving form to thought or idea is what is important: the artist is not a teacher of physiology. Bringing thought or idea into the world of form is his or her artistic sa’dhana’.
Society’s Responsibility towards the Artists
The artists and the litterateurs are the guides of the society, and to keep a watchful eye on their ease and comfort, to help them preserve their existence, is the sacred duty of the society. And this sense of duty is all the more necessary where art and literature is practiced as an indispensable part of social service, not as a profession. People can on no account evade their responsibilities toward the artist, since art and literature are dedicated solely to service of the people. Where the state belongs to the people or is run according to their will–that is to say, in a democratic state–the government as the representative of the people, should take over this sacred responsibility. When the government has to face various difficulties due to financial stringency or where the state due to some particular policy or any other cause is reluctant to give any encouragement to art, then the people outside the government in the private sector will have to shoulder this responsibility directly. Taking into consideration the financial conditions of those who are cultivating the different fields of art today, we find that those who are practicing music are the most solvent. With cinema, radio and recording, musicians on the whole have ample opportunity to earn money by displaying their skill in social gatherings and variety entertainments.
Except for a few prominent individuals the condition of the majority of dancers and instrumentalists is not at all good; it is even worse than that of the singers. Nevertheless dance and instrumental music are far subtler than the art of vocal music.
Reciters, too, have almost no scope to earn money. So many talented reciters usually stop their artistic endeavour due to the lack of sufficient encouragement by society.
Many people may perhaps think that these days actors and actresses are riding the crest of popularity. This may be true of a handful of people, but not of the collectivity. Only those who have earned their reputation in the cinema or on the professional stage have a good income, and indeed they do very well; but for those actors of mediocre talent, the scope of earning money is quite limited. No one is willing to give new actors and actresses a chance. Even if they are given the opportunity to perform, the amount of wages offered them is not even adequate for their subsistence. Most directors do not want to take risks with new and young actors and actresses. Art producers and distributors find it more convenient to increase the sales of their films with old and seasoned stars. Most of the producers that have experience in the film business are not knowledgeable about the technique and standard of the art of the film, and so they too do not come forward to help the new artists. Therefore, on the whole, in all countries of the world the only hope of new-comers with histrionic talents is the professional stage. Non-professional theatres in the countries where they do not receive appreciable state aid, are in a decrepit condition due to their failure to compete with the cinemas. So it has not been possible for them to accommodate the new artists.
If dramatic art is to develop properly–indeed, if it is to be kept alive at all–then every country must adopt a strong policy. The first step of this policy must be to build up fully or partially government aided theatres in every major village and city, which must be exempt form amusement taxes. Of course the people should expect that the government will adopt a liberal policy and award full freedom to the non-official connoisseurs of art in the selection of the subject matter of the dramas. If the condition is imposed that none of he political groups be allowed to use dramas as the media of their party propaganda, this will be a welcome measure. When the number of theatres are increased and dramatic performances are popularised, there will be a greater demand for dramas. This will certainly encourage the talented authors to write dramas. It is because dramas do not sell well that powerful authors do not want to write dramas. If dramas receive proper remuneration, then there will certainly be a change in the authors’ outlook. Furthermore, if the number of theatres is increased, the playwrights will no longer have to depend upon the generosity of a few big theatre magnates; for if the dramas prove their worth in the theatres, the playwrights will not have to worry about how to sell their dramas.
One more step, in my opinion, that may be taken in order to encourage the dramatists, is to give them financial help in the form of a daily honorarium for the number of days their dramas run on the stage, regardless of whether they are professional or non-professional. This will give the dramatists the opportunity to earn some money whenever their dramas are staged and thereby keep them free from the cares of subsistence. Then they will be able to apply their minds to writing more and more new dramas for human society.
Gone are the days of poems and poetry as a commercial proposition. Books of poetry sell even less than dramas, and it is hard to say how far the slogan “Read more poetry” will help. But I think we should expect good results if the custom of presenting books of poems at various social ceremonies and festivals is introduced. The poets may even get sufficient encouragement if different books of poetry are selected as textbooks for higher classes, that is, each book by a single poet. If the compositions of the different poets are compiled in one single book, none of the poets will reap any financial benefit.
Encouraging Painting and Sculpture
Painting and sculpture, the two subtlest of the arts, are the most deprived of popular encouragement and sympathy. It may be argued that the sculptors of those countries where idolatry is prevalent have been able to preserve their art due to popular support, and the problem of their subsistence is thus beings solved without any government aid. Is this not, some say, the most significant sign of popular support? I cannot persuade myself, however, that the people of idolatrous countries are connoisseurs and patrons of sculptural art. There is no doubt that the people of these idolatrous countries buy images from the image-makers, but they do this under the inspiration of their religion and not our of love for art. If love of art were their motivation, then they would certainly not throw those symbols of art into the water after worship. The situation is different where people buy images of metal, wood or stone to permanently establish a deity in their homes: but there, too, the buyer’s intention is not to encourage art. Although they pay some attention to the beauty and sweetness of the image, they do not give a free hand to the sculptor in its creation, for the artists always have to work confined within the boundaries of the religious eulogies to particular gods: they seldom have any opportunity to display their own conceptual originality. Hence the observation that the people of idolatrous countries patronise art by buying images is not correct: they only help to preserve a particular class of artists.
In order to encourage the art of image-making, the artists should be given full freedom, or else their creations will be mere made-to-order, commonplace things. The artists should freely mould images of human beings, animals, natural objects, and all natural and unnatural events. Producing newer and newer thoughts and ideas daily, they will go on moulding newer and newer gods, and the hymns of the gods will evolve centring around the images of their art. Then alone will art find its justification. The creations of the artist will not remain confined within the four walls of the temples, but will rather be in close touch with the common people in all spheres of social life. Statues, deities and other creations will attain a place in every field of social life — in homes, drawing rooms, clubs, schools, parks, and indeed, everywhere. Sculptural art must be made popular by occasionally holding exhibitions as well.
Regardless of whether the image-makers receive patronage or not for their idols, there is still a class of people who are getting the opportunity of practising the art of painting. At one time a number of small groups of painters emerged in different countries. In Bengal for instance, there was a class of people who took to painting as their community trade: they were known as patuas, or painters. Of course, while painting gods and goddesses, they had to work according to the specifications embodied in the sacred hymns, and thus they had very little scope for original expression. Nevertheless, apart from these divine images, they used to paint many other things as well, taking full advantage of their freedom and opportunities. The people of the society used to patronise these patuas in the same way as they did other artisans and professionals. Together with their purchases from the market, they would also buy one or two pictures painted by these village artists. But those days are gone now. Today the paintings of these artists have lost their prestige due to various psychological and economic causes. With the development of the sophisticated techniques of printing it has become far too easy for people to collect different types of cheap and showy pictures. This has afforded opportunities to a few reputed artists to earn money and they, in turn, have no doubt provided opportunities to some other traders to earn money as well; but in the process they have uprooted the patua community from society.
The lack of proper appreciation is one of the causes of the destruction of this art, if not the chief cause. The people of India have not at all appreciated the pictures painted by the village artists, considering them to be most ordinary or even unnatural; instead they buy, at higher prices, pictures of the same kind or of inferior quality, which are painted by reputed artists of distant lands. Previously people looked down on the paintings of Jamini Roy as the pictures of Kalighat, but when a famous gentleman from a faroff country showered unstinted praise upon these very Kalighat-brand pictures, then the local people deigned to take a little interest in him. Long ago, Jamini Roy should have received the recognition which he has today. Truly speaking, most people have constantly ignored the merits and demerits, the speciality and charm of the art of painting, and that is why it is incumbent on the state or the cultural institutions to keep alive this art and its artists. Furthermore, they must awaken in the people an artistic outlook; that is, it is the duty of these very institutions to make people appreciative of art. As artists the names of Nandalal Bose and Aban Thakur are well established today: yet I think the people would have taken a much longer period to recognise them, had the recognition of Rabindranath not preceded them. To buy the original paintings of the artists is often beyond the means of the people and so, in spite of their love of art, they are generally satisfied with inferior substitutes: in other words, they decorate their homes with copies. The artists do not usually benefit financially from this, and indeed very often they suffer losses — and not only financially. To remedy this, art galleries should be maintained in the major clubs and libraries; the original paintings can be lent to the members in exactly the same way as books are loaned form the libraries. In this way the artists, especially the new ones, will get great encouragement. The clubs and libraries may even print the pictures that become particularly popular.
Authors’ Publishing Cooperatives
When we consider those litterateurs who are the most numerous and the most vocal among the artists today, we find that their literary practice has generally not been able to solve the problem of their subsistence. In most cases the sugar of their profit is being gobbled up by the ants of publishers. We hear everywhere that there is a slump in the book market, and the royalty rates for new writers is not even discussed in society. If those who are the pioneers of society, who portray the past in the present and the present for future posterity, who offer suggestions of the picture of the future to the people of the present — if they are forced to starve or half-starve, this will certainly not be to the credit of human society. It is unthinkable that these creative geniuses should curse their own fate. In my opinion the litterateurs themselves will have to find the solution to this problem. They should take up the publication of their books themselves, on a cooperative bases. It is not possible for the insolvent litterateurs to operate this business individually, nor is it desirable; for then they might become dominated by a capitalistic, materialistic mentality. Nor is it desirable to constantly blame the governments without reason; indeed, if the book publishing business falls in the hands of the government, litterateurs may suffer more harm than good. The publishing business must be kept completely in the hands of private organisations, or else literature will cease to be literature and will be transformed into the bulletins of various parties, as has been, and is, the case in many countries of the world.
The Critics and Patrons
All have the right to criticise artists or their art: the artists who do not like criticism have no future. But it is also appropriate to say a word or two about the critics. First, their criticisms should help the artists, not discourage them or belittle them. Secondly, those who criticise others should also be thoroughly well-versed in art and literature. To pass opinion without having studied or written anything oneself, after merely going through a few books of criticism, is nothing but officious meddling and interference. Such critics who lack adequate knowledge indulge in literary gasconades based on their superficial views, and think that they can get away with it. Yet such a sham and hollow intellect is to no avail, for it will ultimately be exposed. Those sincere and discriminating artists who are truly willing to reform themselves, if they are deluded by such critics, will only become disturbed.
In this connection there is one more important factor: those who could not succeed as authors themselves even after writing dozens of books, are the very people who are extremely vocal in criticising others. In other words, they betray their own longstanding failures through their criticism. It is futile to expect any help or constructive guidance from this class of so-called critics. In all spheres of life it must be remembered that if one seeks to display one’s authority, one also has to shoulder the responsibility. We have the right to walk on the streets, and so we also bear the responsibility of keeping them in good order by forming a municipality. Those who love art and artists, should criticise them with a sympathetic mind. In such a criticism there may even be caustic censures of serious and sizeable flaws, yet behind these the sympathetic touch of the critic’s heart should be able to be easily understood by any litterateur or artist; then the artist may easily accept the critic as his or her own. Indeed, today we need this type of critic.
These days the Goddess of Learning (Sa’hitwa Sarasvatii) is mortgaged to the Goddess of Wealth (Laks’mii), for the value of the Goddess of Learning now depends upon the favour of the Goddess of Wealth. Whatever the quality of writing, if the publisher is well-established, the book will sell well in the market due to effective advertisement techniques. Thus the indigent litterateur undergoes humiliation by cringing at the doors of the reputed publishers;and the publishers are quick to exploit this situation in their favour. Due to publicity stunts and propaganda, it has become impossible for the common people to know which book is good and which is not. There is a flagrant dearth of developed critical literature or critical magazines in every country of the world. Books sell in the market on the strength of publicity alone, or due to their ability to excite the lower human propensities, or due to their gross catering to the crude entertainment of the common mass. That is why we find that the books published by the authors themselves, regardless of how good they are, do not sell well in the market. On the other hand, books which excite people’s sexuality, whatever might be their content or language, sell extremely well. Every reader knows that books like Sasadhar Dutt’s “Mohan Series” or Dinen Roy’s “Rahasya Laharii” sold much better than any of the quality books of Bengali literature. Thus sales are no criterion to judge the superiority of any book. It is therefore a great problem for the readers, the purchasers, and the library directors, to select books, and there is no solution to this problem as long as critical literature and critical reviews of high quality are not available.
Caught in the eddies of commercial and party cliques, litterateurs have to face yet another disadvantage. Literary criticism, whether right or wrong, (though in my opinion every criticism (sama’locana’) should be healthy criticism (sama’locana’)) must always be constructive, and also acquaint the readers with the writer. But where literature is not given proper recognition for any particular reason, where the writer is kept remote from the readers without any introductory review, the situation is very difficult for the writer. It is to avoid this situation that today’s writers have started knocking at the doors of the reputed publishers. This is certainly not a healthy sign for the world of literature.
Taking advantages of their indigence, powerful persons have exploited the litterateurs in various ways and this has taken place from very ancient times. In those days even the kings and emperors’ nurtured court poets, giving them gifts of tax free properties, and in exchange they bought their souls. The talented litterateurs or artists frequently had to do uncongenial jobs under circumstantial pressure for the amusement of their patrons. To satisfy the whims of their licentious patrons they had to compose obscene poems and model obscene statues and images. To make their patrons’ enemies look contemptible, they had to besmirch their names with scandals and calumnies. To extol the dress, colour, family, caste, class, and ancestry of their patrons they had to resort to lies and fraud, and cite the relevations of the gods in support. The same condition has continued even today. With a very few exceptions, most of the litterateurs belong to the lower stratum of society. In spite of their desire to work independently, most of them have pawned themselves, from the grey matters of their brains to the very tips of their fingers — to particular people and organisations. Even those who appear from their writings to be bold and spirited, have under circumstantial pressure become the play-things of the political parties.
In contrast with the olden days, the different states of the world have allotted quite a lot of awards for the litterateurs these days. But that is where the danger lies. Any government — whether monarchical, republican or autocratic — is run according to a particular ideology, and so there is little chance for the government to suddenly become impartial while bestowing awards on the litterateurs. Naturally it will judge the merits and demerits of the litterateurs through the bias of its own party, and consequently the litterateurs will be compelled to sacrifice their ideals to serve their bellies. These observations are largely applicable to different types of governments, but especially to democratic states, for in democratic states ideological clashes are more in evidence, and hence the necessity of the propagation of ideologies is also more acute. That is why the democratic states want to use the litterateurs as their tools of propaganda. Needless to say, such made-to-order writings cannot be called literature at all: political writings can never be called literature.
If a government sincerely wishes to give encouragement to good and honest litterateurs, then it should form a board of non-political educators to give awards. This task could also be performed by the universities for, on the whole, universities still maintain their non-political nature. Nevertheless, the appointment of a non-political board is preferable, for these days there is an increasing tendency among the universities to flatter the political leaders in the hope of getting an increased government subsidy or grant. By liberally awarding Doctorate degrees to ministers and their deputies, regardless of whether they are deserving or not, the impartiality of the universities is being gradually eroded.
There are some critics who become extremely upset when litterateurs attach themselves to a particular literary group: they say that since literature is for all, why should a litterateur be attached to any particular group? I, however, hold a different view. The ideal of literature is to promote the welfare of all but the process of this endeavour for collective welfare cannot necessarily be the same for all. What is there to grumble about if those litterateurs whose mode of service is similar, chose to move together in a unified group? Those who object to the formation of literary groups and societies under the name of “Anti-so-and-so” lack tolerance as well as civic sense. Litterateurs may also form “Pro-so-and-so” groups, and no one should object to it.
Acquiring Proper Knowledge
The greatest obstacle in the collective progress of the human race is the ignorance of the individual mind. Knowledge is for all — it should be open and free like the light and air of the sky. It is undeniable that the most powerful medium for the dissemination of knowledge is a good book. That the value of an object is assessed in the field of application is undoubtedly true. And so the greatest means of assessing the value of knowledge is its successful application in the practical field. We cannot accept sterile knowledge as true knowledge – either it is self-delirium or luxury. Even recognised knowledge loses its value, if after being acquired it is stowed away like packed sacks in the corner of the mind. Of course, if anyone lacks the language to express their feelings or the knowledge that they have acquired through study, then I have no complaint against them. Yet I would say that an artist should try to convey whatever they know to the hearts of the people in an easily understandable manner. Anyone who does not do this is, in my opinion, not properly conscious of his or her social responsibility. Of course, it is quite a different matter if a person suffers some sort of inconvenience or disadvantage in this regard. Those who prove their sense of social duty by placing their feelings properly before people are indeed artists, are truly distinguished litterateurs.
The sole cause of the internal weakness of human society is its ignorance. The superlative intuition (Sambodhi) that removes this ignorance is nothing but the thought of the Cosmic Mind (Bhu’ma’ma’nasa). Art or literature is one of those sources from which common people get the opportunity to become established in the Cosmic Mind. If the mind of one fails to know the minds of others, if the minds of many are not comprehended by the mind of one, then how is the establishment of unity possible? The endeavour (sa’dhana’) of the artist or the litterateur has been continuing through the ages, and its aim is to see One among many, and to lead the many to the path of One. In this effort there is no imposition, no injunction of the Law, nor the imperious pressure of any administration, only a sweet and cooperative relation. Though separated by many countries, many states, many religions, many communities and many languages, the human race is an indivisible entity. Every human mind is but the diversified individual manifestation of that same indivisible Cosmic Mind. Today we look forward to the advent of that artist, that litterateur who will convey this truth to the hearts of humanity in a still sweeter language, still more strongly and deeply.
The human race is moving at an irresistible speed. Today, humanity wants to forget those who have written their works centring around various kinds of fissiparous discriminations. Human beings want to channelise their whole range of vision towards the bright future — a future which will transcend all individual or group interests, all territorial limits of countries and states, and transform the fates of many people into one destiny. Human beings no longer want to rely on so-called providential favour.
Individual heroism is about to lose its vibrant spirit. Nowadays people have learned that if the thrill of victory is due to anyone, it certainly belongs to humanity. About seven hundred years ago the Asian poet Can’d’iida’sa, from an obscure corner of Bengal, sang about the same great possibility:
Shun’a he ma’nus’ bha’i
Saba’r upare ma’nus’ satya
Ta’ha’r upare na’i.
“Oh human beings, my brothers and sisters,
Humanity is the highest truth,
There is nothing beyond it.”
Today not even the Pacific Ocean between Asia and America is difficult to cross. The people of Asia and America are touching each other’s minds and have learned to accept each other sympathetically as their own. Europe, Africa, Australia, Mercury, Jupiter, the stars, the comets, the constellations – none of them is alien to the other, none is distant from another. Gradually everyone has begun to realise the vibration of the One Integral Mind. It is my firm conviction that the future of humanity is not dark. Every human beings will attain that inextinguishable flame that is forever alight beyond the veil of the darkness of the present – and attain it they must. Those who will carry the message of that effulgent light will be forever revered by all humanity. I see the potentiality of those memorable and venerable people in the litterateurs and artists, and that is why I hold them in great regard. The American poet, Carl Sandburg, has said,
“There is only one man in the world,
And his name is all men
There is only one woman in the world,
And her name is all women
There is only one child in the world
And the child’s name is all children.”
In exactly the same strain, perhaps with a sweeter language, the same idea has been expressed by the Asian poet Satyendranath:
Jagat jur’iya’ ek ja’ti ache
Se ja’tir na’m ma’nus’ja’ti
Eki prthiviir stanye pa’lita
Eki ravi-shashii moder sa’thii.
Shiita’tapa ks’udha-trs’n’a’r jva’la
Saba’i a’mra saman bujhi
Kachi-ka’ncha guli d’a’to kare tuli
Ba’nchiba’r tar’e sama’n yujhi.
Dosar khunji o ba’sar ba’ndhi go
Jale d’ubi, ba’nci pa’ile d’anga’.
Ka’lo a’r dhalo ba’hire keval
Bhitare saba’i sama’n ra’nga’
Bahirer chop a’ncar’e se lop
Bhitarer raun palake phot’e.
Ba’mum-shudra brhat ks’udra
Krtrim bhed dhu’lay’ lote
Ra’ge anura’ge nidrita ja’ge
Ásal m’a’nus’ prakat’ hay
Varn’e varn’e na’hika vishes’
Nikhil bhuvan branamaya.
“There is only one race in the world,
And that is the human race,
Nourished with the milk of the same Mother Earth,
Dwelling within the same compass of the sun and the moon
The same heat and cold, the hunger and thirst,
We all equally feel,
Together we raise the tender green plants and make them strong
We all struggle to preserve our lives,
We seek friends and comrades, and build happy homes,
We all drown in water, we all thrive on land.
Black and white are merely external hues —
Internally the blood of all is red
By penetrating below the surface,
The true inner nature is instantly revealed.
The Brahmin and the outcaste, the great and the small,
Are all artificial distinctions that ultimately crumble to dust.
When love awakens in sleeping souls,
Then true human beings will emerge.
There is no difference between one colour, one race and another –
For the entire universe is pervaded by One Infinite Consciousness.”
Human beings of today, in chorus with Chan’d’iida’sa, Sandberg, and Satyendranath, will move together shoulder to shoulder towards an exalted humanity, towards the highest fulfillment of their individual lives.
Nivir’ aekye ja’y mishe ja’y
Sakal bha’gya sav hrday
Ma’nus’e ma’nus’e Na’iko prabhed
Nikhil ma’nav brahmamay.
“Inseparable unity all faiths and hearts will merge,
For there is no distinction among human beings — the whole humanity is an expression of the Supreme One.”