Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Post-Pre-Reading: Excerpts from My Father’s Novel to be Published Posthumously

Observing the First Anniversary of Prof. Arun Kumar Sinha’s Demise

Today is the first anniversary of my father’s death. (Read more about him at (Dylan Thomas, His Father and My Father on this blog) or read or We are at Patna, at our home and in the house where he breathed his last. For the last few weeks, as the date of his demise approached, I had this feeling of moving towards the death of my father. It was a kind of a strange countdown—now only a few weeks left for his death, now a few days, a few hours, a few minutes and so on and so forth. I think, I might not have these feelings when we observe the second anniversary or later on, because, like so many things, this is also an emotion, an experience being encountered by us for the first time. I do not know how to mark this occasion, other than the brief get together we had today of close family friends remembering him with some rituals and eating together, which is such a crucial part of mourning together. I have been typing and trying to edit the autobiographical novel that my father wrote and which, I do not know, if he left complete or not. May be the sequence of the story will bear it out. Herein I reproduce the first few unedited paras of this novel, which is yet to be titled and is set in the early 1950s of a village and later on towns of Bihar, to mark the occasion. I do hope that very soon I will be in a position to publish it with a brief prefatory note to explain the context in the absence of the author. In the obit-advt that we gave in the Patna edition of The Times of India today, a few lines from the opening paras were also used as they seemed so very relevant on the occasion. Have a feel of an unpublished work of an author who is no more with us--and that is why I call it a post-pre-reading:

The fascination for the big, long word, more for the word itself than for what it means or suggests—this is almost a sensual fascination. ‘Almost’ because we shy away from such a thing as word—fascination. And words don’t die. Memories of places, those we loved and are no more, fade away for ever, but words walk out of the cold storage, as it were, and surprise us like forgotten acquaintances. They sometimes come to stay. did Ram Bahadur negotiate the tentative beginning, the soft and stable rise, the silken yet steady fall of the five-syllable word? The poor weaver might have winced as the father drooled. Despite his some English, Ram Bahadur couldn’t catch the sense of the time. It was time to dare more and drool less. It was time to cut down on words, on personalities. Shiva won’t wait for the cloud caused by Veer’s illness to disperse. From books of history he had learnt that the contradictions can’t be wished away. The conclusion is never reached; one only moved towards it, uncertainly yet doggedly. Moreover, Shiva was always short of patience. He’d start a thing and then wonder what to do next. So he brushed aside father’s advice to wait and had the old building—except for the older northern portion—razed to the ground. The entire family was made to seek shelter in the sensibly unrazed portion which comprised one very large room (here trunks served for beds) and dung-smelling shed, where the cows (they were never more than two in number) were hustled into in rains and cold. During the two month long summer vacations, Shiva read and mused over Shakespeare and Milton in this dungish but cool corner.

Nothing exhilarates more than the sight of a habitation coming up. It has the touch of a new civilization taking shape. It didn’t matter if the architect was called from a big city or the village mason made the design or it emerged from the stubborn resolve of Shiva or from the unarticulated blessing of his parents. What mattered was that it was coming up. Shiva had started with a shaky fund and on assurance from Iqbal that he’d not let shortage of material stand in the way. Iqbal became the backbone, and it was later found that his advice should have been better avoided. Why were the bricks which were extricated from the rubble of the razed portion used in the foundation of the new house? Ram Bahadur’s sullen silence was not warranted. Didn’t he see that Shiva had neither time nor experience to take care of the sundry details? Shiva’s mother fumed and fretted but couldn’t succeed in breaking the strong indifference of her husband. Perhaps the discomfiture he suffered over Rukmini’s marriage had weakened the parental chord for ever.
Obituary that we published in Times of India, Patna, today

Ram Bahadur’s unnatural indifference was, however, swept away by the rising current of jealousy, intra-caste rivalries, deliberate villainy and much more, which constituted the essential diet of life in the village called Satnampur. Shiva was still a stranger to the unimaginably endless drama behind the still life of the village which was, by any means, large and ever expanding in terms of population. There was not much wealth, and almost no striving after it, hardly a thing called aspiration could be spotted, but its very size, its proximity to the district town & therefore to the law courts, besides a sizeable Muslim population which was in terms of consciousness more vibrant—all these and more made Satnampur in the early 1950s a spark waiting to ignite.

Shiva knew about the topography and demography of his village but as remotely as he knew the places on the maps of India and England. So when Iqbal was heckled by a group of youths for absolutely no provocation from the former, Shiva was more than surprised. He was still in his early twenties and he had travelled remarkably far in life because of hard work and, of course, a modicum of opportunity. He didn’t ever think that he had grown into a sort of nucleus around him unfamiliar sensations would arise and clash for prominence. Iqbal was hated because he had occupied the whole space where Shiva stood and moved in the stupefied imagination of the people in the village. It was more than a pressure on the emotion; the equation of power in the village looked like shifting from the southern tip to the western, where the new house was coming up.

You live in relation to others, howsoever aloof, secluded, taciturn you may be. They will catch you by the scruff of your neck. They will catch you and bring you to the ground, maim you for life if you don’t acknowledge their presence and their limitless tine for surveillance. Shiva’s intelligence, his insight were put on test by the assault on Iqbal which the latter had, smartly, shrugged off. Shiva could see that the incident might trigger off a Hindu-Muslim row, besides the scare of the police raid on the village upset his nerves. Finding himself so close to the cause of the possible flare-up, Shiva rushed to his father. That broke Ram Bahadur’s indifference.
Excerpts end...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Prayer Before Birth by Louis MacNeice

Here I reproduce a marvellous poem by Louis MacNeice, a great under-estimated and under-read poet having lingered under the shadow of Eliot and more under W. H Auden, getting ritually clubbed with Stephen Spender and C. Day Lewis under 'the poets of the Thirties'.

About this poem, I take this opening para from ‘Prayer before birth is a poem written by the Irish poetLouis McNeice (1907 - 1963) at the height of the Second World War. In the poem, Louis MacNeice expresses his fear at what the world's tyranny can do to the innocence of a child and blames the human race "for the sins that in me the world shall commit". The poem also contains many religious themes and overtones through the use of double-imagery; the child could be seen as a metaphor for Christ, making reference to certain themes and events said to have occurred during his ministry on earth.’

However, the poem is open to varied interpretations and I find the emotions, images and inner turmoil of the poem so very contemporary with the last two lines putting Hopkins' ‘sprung rhythm’ experimentation to  convey a most effective jolt to the reader. One can hear the poet read this poem at


Prayer Before Birth

I am not yet born; O hear me.

Let not the bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the

     club-footed ghoul come near me.

I am not yet born, console me.

I fear that the human race may with tall walls wall me,

     with strong drugs dope me, with wise lies lure me,

        on black racks rack me, in blood-baths roll me.

I am not yet born; provide me

With water to dandle me, grass to grow for me, trees to talk

     to me, sky to sing to me, birds and a white light

        in the back of my mind to guide me.

I am not yet born; forgive me

For the sins that in me the world shall commit, my words

     when they speak me, my thoughts when they think me,

        my treason engendered by traitors beyond me,

           my life when they murder by means of my

              hands, my death when they live me.

I am not yet born; rehearse me

In the parts I must play and the cues I must take when

     old men lecture me, bureaucrats hector me, mountains

        frown at me, lovers laugh at me, the white

            waves call me to folly and the desert calls

              me to doom and the beggar refuses

                 my gift and my children curse me.

I am not yet born; O hear me,

Let not the man who is beast or who thinks he is God

     come near me.

I am not yet born; O fill me

With strength against those who would freeze my

     humanity, would dragoon me into a lethal automaton,

        would make me a cog in a machine, a thing with

           one face, a thing, and against all those

              who would dissipate my entirety, would

                 blow me like thistledown hither and

                    thither or hither and thither

                       like water held in the

                          hands would spill me.

Let them not make me a stone and let them not spill me.

Otherwise kill me.