Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Bhaiya, My Brother: From Ghalib to Ogden Nash, From Camus to Kishore Kumar, From Naseeruddin Shah to Mike Brayerly

The earliest image of my elder brother—for me, bhaiya, as I called him-- that I remember is perhaps of 1977-78, when, I, as a four year old or so, sitting among the audience with my parents and elder sister, just could not understand why all the family members were going gaga about a King with a moustache and in royal robes speaking a strange language (English) with a strange tone acting on the stage. That was my brother, Shri Kumar Vivek (14th July 1967-30th April 1997), perhaps ten or eleven years old, in a school play being staged at Convent School, Kalambagh Chowk, Muzaffarpur, Bihar. It must have been some kind of an annual day or so, and I remember vividly that it was  late in the evening, with faces of people sitting around enveloped in darkness. Today, when we complete 16 years of his passing away, I feel like sharing a few things about him.

A brilliant—almost gifted—student, I sometime really marvel at his multidimensional interests. He always stood first in his class and topped in matriculation examination in his school. The subjects that he opted for in his Intermediate Arts (IA) (Junior college or 11th-12th) at Langat Singh College, Muzaffarpur, were, besides the compulsory Hindi and English,  Political Science, Economics, Sanskrit and Mathematics. In his IA exams, he got more marks in Mathematics than Political Science, thus Mathematics became his main subject, with Political Science being treated as an ‘extra’, even though he had obtained first division marks. It needs to be underlined that during those days in early 1980s, securing First Division was a great achievement obtained by only the meritorious ones as the rat race of securing 90%+ had yet to start. In B.A, he opted for Economics Honours with Mathematics and English Literature. At that time in 1984, they had just introduced a system of BA with 2years Passcourse+1year Hons. System, which meant that in the first two years, one had to study full-fledged papers in all three subjects, with last one year being dedicated to Honours course to be opted from these subjects. He opted for Economics Honours and secured perhaps the second highest marks in University with 61% or so. 

Shri Kumar Vivek, (1967-1997)- known as 'Suman' to his family and friends
In the early 1980s, he had some rich and strange range of reading habits—he regularly subscribed to Sarika, the Hindi literary magazine brought out by TOI; to that film magazine with its tabloid shape and its name g written in big letters; that hip-hop magazine Sun (introducing us to names like Micheal Jackson, Elton John, George Michael ; the newly emerging area of interest of IT covered by that magazine called Computer. Among books, besides some of the bestsellers of Alistair Maclean, Arthur Hailey, Sideney Sheldon and “the ilk”, one would often see him coming back from his evening strolls in the market with books of Rajkamal Paperbacks. I was six and five months younger to him, and my sister one and four months. First my sister, and later I, got introduced to an entire range of Hindi writers through him—Mohan Rakesh, Kamleshwar, Nirmal Verma, Mannu Bhandari, Dharamveer Bharati, Amarkant, Kamtanath, Krishna Sobti, Usha Priyamvada, among many others, and also Hindi translations of other language writers like those of Quratulain Haider, Amrita Pritam, to name just two. My bhaiya also had some kind of fascination for the satirists, and hence one got introduced to Harishankar Parsai, Rabindranath Tyagi, Shrilal Shukla, Sharad Joshi, Amrit Rai. No wonder, his diary entries, which are basically a collage of quotations taken from a wide range of writers and poets, one could also notice repeated quotes from none other than Ogden Nash, with his poem on ‘Octopus’, being his favourite. His fine sense of humour certainly 'justified' this inclination, so to say.

Both Ogden Nash ( (1902-71) and Harishankar Parsai (1924 – 1995) (below) were bhaiya's favourite

Bhaiya did not know how to read or write Urdu script, but because of his special interest in Ghazals, he would buy Urdu poets’s collections available in Devnagari—from Mir,  Ghalib, Bahadur Shah Zafar to Iqbal, Firaq to Shaharyar, he built up a good collection of Urdu poetry. Basically, he himself wrote a few ghalzals, poems in Hindi, beside a few in English, and one could see him making reference to Urdu-Hindi dictionary in Devnagari to understand and make use of Urdu/Persian expressions. Among Hindi poets I remember the colections of Raghuvir Sahay, Sarveshwar Dayal Saxena, Srikant Verma, Nagarjun and Muktibodh. Most of these books, including the ones from Rajkamal, he would often borrow from a library called Suvidh Sangh, of which he was a member, located near Nitishwar Singh College of Muzaffarpur.

In fact, this search for peculiar Urdu expressions also reverberated in English, because I find that some of his diary quotes are about strange words in English. For example, much before I became a student of English literature and later had an opportunity to co-author a book on Eliot with my father, I read this word ‘polyphiloprogenitive’ written in his notebook with its meaning (literally to be fond of children or prolific, but in Eliot it has other meanings). This is the word with which Eliot’s poem ‘Mr. Eliot’s Sunday Morning Service’ starts. I think he was turning out to be that perfect blend of Indian and western culture, which my father had desired to be—sending him to Hindi medium schools and training him to change over to English medium in a very natural fashion after the 10th, a system which I also had to follow courtesy my brother doing it successfully and eminently.

Two more information are worth sharing: One was his love for some of the French writers like Sartre, Camus and poets like Baudelaire (this information I am adding after being reminded of it by my elder cousin Shri Nirmalanshu Ranjan in his 'comments' which you can read in that section). Secondly, his passionate love for cricket--an avid listener of cricket commentary, which he would also ape in mohalla cricket, he had prepared his own cricket photo album of his superstars like Imran Khan, Sunil Gavaskar, Viv Richards and John Michael Brearley (Mike Brearley ) cutting their photos from newspapers and magazines. Among the magazines that he read regularly I should have also mentioned 'Sportstar' and 'Cricket Samrat'. This cricket photo album also had some of the important score sheets of various important matches that he had painstakingly prepared--remember these were pre-television times mostly. After his matriculation, he started a sort of badminton club with his neighbourhood friends, which really attracted a good number of 'spectator', because of the novelty of tournament type arrangement--professional nets, racquets, maintenance of score cards etc. After the coming of television, he did get hooked on to Tennis and cricket, watching them in the middle of nights or in the wee-hours, when the matches were relayed from 'Down Under'. 

Mike Brayerly (b. 1942) would have never known that
he had a faithful disciple and practitioner in my bhaiya
at neighbourhood cricket in Muzaffarpur in early 1980s
when Mike was also very much in action

In the neighbourhood cricket team, he was always chosen to captain the side by his friends, not really because of his cricketing skills, which were limited to slow medium bowling and better batting, but mainly because of his captaincy skills--for field placements, for change of bowling in a strategic manner and so on and so forth. No wonder, his one of the model cricketers was Mike Brayerly, the legendary captain of England in the 1970s, who was known to be a master-captain, and was kept in the side not as much because of his cricketing skills as such, but because of his 'captaincy skills.'.

But my bhaiya had two problems: he was quite an introvert and over-sensitive. His bathroom singing of Kishore Kumar’s songs, love for the parallel as well as masala action films including James Bonds'-- he was a die-hard fan of both Amitabh Bachchan and Naseeruddin Shah--perhaps showed a zest and intensity and range for life which proved too much for the space and time he was placed in. This aspect of his personality with his ingrained desires to overcome the surroundings of Muzaffarpur, put him in direct conflict with my father’s Gandhian idealism on the one hand, and, more importantly, with the rather apathetic social ambience of Bihar of the 1990s. From 1991 onwards, bhaiya developed acute psychological depression, with which he fought for nearly six intense and painflul years, ultimately succumbing to it in 1997—two and half months before he could turn even 30—ironically, as a ‘drop-out’ student of MA (Economics). 

Needless to say, the overall deteriorating atmosphere on the campus of college and universities of Bihar starting in 1980s and taking on entirely new colours in the 1990s, added to his derailment, with academic sessions getting delayed by more than 2 years and examinations happening haphazardly, almost chaotically. I have always seen the deterioration of my bhaiya as somekind of concrete manifestation of social deterioration, though my father generally never shared my understanding because of his immense faith in social ethos, and always tried to analyse it as a personal failure--a reading which I though was too cruel on himself and bhaiya. 

His rather incomplete life reminds me of that incomplete play that he once decided to stage with his neighbourhood friends in which I had also got a minor role, perhaps of a girl. This might have been the summer of 1982--his post-matriculation examination and pre-results days-- when bhaiya took out a play from the magazine for the young adults 'Paraag' brought out by TOI. He edited it suitably, and cobbled together many of his friends--boys as well as girls--and proper rehearsals got started. My father asked a few of his students to help the team out in managing the show. However, after some days of rehearsals, which was really fun, everything just evaporated probably because a few of the parents were not very appreciative of the growing up boys and girls working together for a play. 

One of the titles of Maclean which I remember from his shelf

Here I reproduce his poem in his own handwriting, which had appeared in ‘Vaishali’, the magazine of Langat Singh College, perhaps sometime in 1984-85 or may be earlier. His photograph (above) was taken in July 1990 at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi, when he had gone on an All-India trip covering Bombay and New Delhi with the MA students of Hindi and Economics departments of BRA Bihar University, Muzaffarpur. 

Shri Kumar Vivek's Poem in His Own Handwriting

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Will Babasahab Ambedkar Go The Way of Neruda, Che, Gandhi et al?: Thoughts on Ambedkar Jayanti

After lots of research it's found that Dr. B. R. Ambedkar is not only the Greatest Indian but also the World’s Greatest Person... Dr. Ambedkar, who fought for civil rights struggle for abolishing caste, made the new India possible. Dr. Ambedkar was not only the father of the constitution of India but also the liberator of all oppressed people. No other icon than Dr. Ambedkar can represent that cultural heritage in the modern period. Dr. Ambedkar always stood for equality, justice, liberty and fraternity and fought his entire life to integrate all Indian for strong democratic Indian nation. Dr. Ambedkar was called Indian Lincoln by the Zion's Herald, New England Methodist weekly, and when the first interview with Dr. Ambedkar was published in the U. S. A....plenty of reason can prove him the "Greatest Man in the World"

‘Ambedkar Greatest Indian After Gandhi’—as per a survey conducted by Outlook magazine in conjunction with CNN-IBN and History18 Channels with BBC in August 2012.

Being an admirer of Babasahab Ambedkar (14 April 1891-6 December 1956), the 'father of Indian Constitution', and the pioneering leader of the marginalised and the depressed in the pre as well as post-independence India, the above slices should make me more than happy. However, I would rather like to take them with a pinch, nay, with loadful, of salt. Human societies, across the time and space, have always found a way to appropriate icons in such a way that symbolism of the icon overshadows all his or her substance. Who can ever forget the rather grand civilizational appropriation of Gautam Buddha by the Sanatan Hindhu religion as an avatar of Lord Vishnu. 

Gautam Buddha, the greatest rebel against Santan Hindu Dharam and
crusader against idol-worship has been appropriated as an avatar of
Lord Vishnu with perhaps largest number of statues of him made of across the world
Image Courtesy: http://www.viewzone.com/buddahyearx.html

And, also, the making of the perhaps the largest number of images and statues of Buddha across the various corners of the world in the backdrop of Buddha’s struggle against idol-worship, one of the key points of his departure from the traditional Hindu tenets.

In the twentieth century, when the iconic Ernesto Che Guevara (1928-1967) was killed in the Bolivia War, none less than Jean-Paul Sartre, the iconic French philosopher, called him "not only an intellectual but also the most complete human being of our age".” But soon the image of Che, the ‘international revolutionary icon’, cast such a spell that he has been sported on T-shirts, tattoos, coffee cups and beer mugs all over the world. Michael Casey notes in his book Che's Afterlife: The Legacy of an Image, as mentioned on the Wikipedia page on Che, that Che has become "the quintessential postmodern icon signifying anything to anyone and everything to everyone.
Courtesy of the exhibition “Revolution and Commerce:

Portrait of Che Guevara by Albert Korda”

Above image and caption Courtesy:

In an article titled “Brand Che: Revolutionary as Marketer’s Dream” by Michiko Kakutani, (In The New York Times, April 20, 2009), the writer mentions Casey’s book thus: “In this bracing and keenly observed book, Mr. Casey traces...how Che went from being a symbol of resistance to the capitalist system to one of the most marketable and marketed brands around the globe, how the guerrilla fighter became a logo as recognizable as the Nike swoosh or McDonald’s golden arches. (my emphasis)

The same ‘fate’ awaited Gandhi and Pablo Neruda, among others. Gandhian symbolic attire of ‘Khadi’ went on to become the ‘uniform’ of Indian political activists devoid of any philosophic tinge that Gandhi had attached to it. For the middle class educated activists Gandhi and Gandhism became the best way to do lip-service in the cause of social service in the post-independence era. On a more concrete commercial front, in an article “Gandhi: A brand the world flaunts!” written by Satrajit Moitra (rediff.com, 2October 2009), wrote: “ From Swiss luxury giant Mont Blanc to Bollywood blockbuster 'Lage Raho Munnabhai', Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of peace and non-violence, has now become a brand the world proudly flaunts.”

Photo courtesy: http://business.rediff.com/slide-show/2009/oct/02/

In this photo-feature, one of the captions read, “On his 140th birth anniversary, Gandhiji, once called the 'Naked Fakir', lives on in luxury brands, tees and even many popular flicks - he's now very much a part of the RemixGeneration's psyche.”  The captions are noticeable for the rather ‘uncritical’ manner in which they were written perhaps sharing the ‘pride’ that the world ‘flaunts’.


If you happen to visit websites like cafepress.com, zazzle.com or many such websites selling ‘artworks’ or such items, ‘Neruda Coffee Mugs, Neruda Tee Shirts’ etc from $ 17-18 upwards. One can also buy ‘Neruda baby bodysuites’, ‘Neruda Wall Art’ etc, besides such collectibles related to many other icons of our time. In the seminal study titled, Pablo Neruda and the U.S. Culture Industry by Teresa Longo, the writer details the various direct, indirect, subtle and outlandish manner in which Neruda has been commercially used to sell anything and everything. As the blurb states: “In this compelling collection, Teresa Longo gathers a diverse group of critical and poetic voices to analyze the politics of packaging and marketing Neruda--and Latin American poetry in general--in the U.S. Renowned and emerging scholars of Neruda, poetry, and cultural criticism examine how the ways in which Neruda is published and read create and essentialize images of Latin American culture.” (http://www.booksamillion.com/p/Pablo-Neruda-US-Culture-Industry/Teresa-Longo/9780815333869).

Photo Courtesy:

Further, in her research titled ‘Bread, Truth, Wine, Dreams: A Study of Pablo Neruda as a Mythic Figure in Latin American Popular Fiction’ submitted to Texas State University, Elva L Baca, who also refers to Longo’s work, mentions how Neruda’s own Chile has used him for ‘selling real estate’. (https://digital.library.txstate.edu/bitstream/handle/10877/3262/fulltext.pdf)   

In the light of various surveys and view-points establishing Ambedkar as the ‘greatest’, I was rather surprised that many of the ‘Ambedkrites’ seemed more concerned about the rationale for making the survey ‘after-Gandhi’, and giving Gandhi a presumptive superior tag to Ambedkar rather than looking into the whole market-driven agenda of making a brand out of a icon who fought deep-rooted prejudices and bias to give voice to the marginalised. While the political symbolism and identity politics have understandably created statues and named roads and institutions after Ambedkar, one wonders how a suitable strategy can be developed to save Ambedkar from becoming a 'market-brand' and to see to it that the ascendency of the relevance of Ambedkar does not meet the fate of market-appropriation that some of the greatest icons of the 20th century have met, in order to not deviate attention from him as the focussed and genuinely substantial icon of the marginalised, which he is deservedly is. 

'Need to Save Ambedkar from Becoming a Market-Brand"
Photo Courtesy:

Because, I am sure, those who really understand the politics of Babasahab Ambedkar are not going to be just satisfied by his images used to sell commercial products (because that is the 'ultimate' tribute which the capitalist-market economy can give!)—or just become tools of fashionable politically correct drawing room discussions.  

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Dara Shikoh, Raja Ram Mohun Roy and the Discovery of ‘India’: Excerpts from an Essay on ‘Dynamics of Translation’

Sometime back I had an opportunity to do a research-based essay titled ‘Nation-Building and the Dynamics of Translation’ for a university course material. The essay is under publication; and I just thought of sharing an excerpt out of the same, especially because I find the connection between two different persona operating in two different periods of Indian history, both transitional in their own manner—connecting two periods, and interpreting the same through a process of translation of an ancient text ‘Upanishad’.- Moreover, how translation of a text and its reading by foreign scholars, in the present case by Anquetil Duperron and Schopenhauer, may become a completely romantic and academic exercise, when removed from the socio-political churnings in which its indigenous scholars, in the present case, Dara Shikoh and Raja Ram Mohun Roy, translated and read it for their generation and the generations to come, prove to be so very insightful, ennobling and make us think about how translation can have different intentions for different audiences. -KV

...Before we discuss this aspect of the translation works of the 19th century onwards, a word would be in order about the role played by the unfortunate Mughal Prince Dara Shikoh (1615-1659), the Persian and Sanskrit scholar and poet and son of Mughal emperor Shahjahan in, first, providing the source book of the German Orientalism of the 18th century, albeit by default, and secondly underlining a tradition of the discovery of India through translations which would anticipate the contribution of Raja Ram Mohun Roy. Dara Shikoh translated 50 Upanishads from its original Sanskrit into Persian in 1657 under the title Oupnek’hat with the help of Sanskrit scholars whom he called to Delhi from Benaras. 
Dara Shikoh tried to bring together the best of Hindu and Islamic philosophies
Brooklyn Museum – The Nuptials of Dara Shikoh
photo courtesy: 

This was translated by the French scholar Anquetil Duperron (1731-1805) from Persian into Latin in 1801-02 (Jaikishandas Sadani, India and the World Literature, ‘Indian Images in English Poetry’, Indian Council for Cultural Relations, 1990, New Delhi, p. 447). Though the quality of the Latin translation was not very good still it was this translation on the basis of which the German Orientalist
Schopenhauer romanticised 'Upanishad'
photo courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schopenhauer 
Schopenhauer (1788– 1860) declared the Upanishad as ‘the product of highest human wisdom’ setting forth further explorations in Indic studies as discussed above (
Maurice Wintermitz, History of Indian Literature (Viol. I), first published 1904, (A new authoritative translation from original German by V. Srinivasa Sarma), Motilal Banarsidas, 1981, Delhi).

Dara Shikoh, as a contemporary of John Dryden and also of the Christian missionaries who first set foot in India and established their connection with this country through translations as discussed above, utilized the unique position of translator as an interpreter of texts and contexts to explore a common mystical language between Islam and Hinduism. His translation endeavour was not motivated from the perpspective of romanticising India’s past, but as someone having stakes in the composite fabric of India, he addressed through his translations to the audience of his own country—a role that Raja Ram Mohun Roy (1772–1833) would perform in the changed scenario, though he also had added task of counter-communicating the same to the colonial rulers and Christian missionaries.

Anquetil Duperron, a French Persian-Latin scholar
translated Dara Shikoh's Persian translation of 'Upanishad'
into Latin. photo courtesy: 

A learned scholar who knew over a dozen languages including Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, English, French, Latin, Greek and Hebrew with knowledge of Sanskrit Literature, Hindu and Jain philosophy, Koran and the Bible, among others, Raja Ram Mohun Roy appeared on Indian horizon at the dawn of the 19th century like a foil to the cultural hegemony being constructed by the British. However, the approach of Roy was not sentimental or romantic, but rational. Hence, even though he defended the traditional Hindu tenets, he also proved to be quite critical of the evil practices and superstitions that had take the vitality out of them and championed social and religious reforms. Wintermitz makes a very perceptive comparative study of the intentions of the two contemporaries, Schopenhauer and Roy, in translating and interpretating the Upanishad:

…at about the same time when Schopenhauer in Germany was fancying to see his own ideas in the Upanishads of the Hindus rather than deduce them from them…in India…Ram Mohan Roy…found the purest divine faith in the same Upanishads and from the same Upanishads tried to prove to his countrymen that idolatory of the present day Indian religions was to be condemned, yet there was no reason for Indians to accept Christianity; and that they could, if only they understood them, find a pure religion in them.With the intention…that the best of what they (christian theologians and missionaries) taught was already found in the Upanishads, he translated into English a large number of the Upanishads and edited some of them in original text.

Rajaramohun Roy 'de-roamticised' 'Upanishad
for the contemporary Indians
photo courtesy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ram_Mohan_Roy

How a particular text, Upanishads in the present discussion, can become a site of intellectual, cultural, religious and also political debate across time and space through translations in changing contexts is best exemplified here. In 1815, Roy also translated the Vedanta Grantha into Bengali from Sanskrit thus anticipating an altogether new trend of Sanskrit, Persian and later English texts getting translated into modern Indian lanaguges which further resulted in these languages becoming a vehicle of intellectual and social discourse.Through his translations, pamphlets and journals he helped evolve a modern and elegant prose style for Bengali, of which he also compiled a grammar.