Friday, October 30, 2009

From Shoka to Shloka in Gujarat

Today, I attended a very interesting lecture on `Poetry as Language of Persuasion’ delivered by one of the best living poets of Gujarat, Sitanshu Yashashchandra Mehta at Forum of Contemporary Theory, Vadodara. Evoking the epics by Dante and Valmiki, Prof Mehta discussed how poetry is an account of travel and journey. The lecture was organized under the national workshop on ` Towards an Ecology of Knowledge’ by the Forum on Contemporary Theory and Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and other Human Sciences. Prof Mehta was critical of the Indian intellectual’s reliance on the Western paradigms. He advised us not be the ` darlings of the West’ by quoting Derrida etc. He was also critical of the idea of `General Semantics‘ as being imported. He remarked that the experts in General Semantics’ who had come to enlighten the participants of the workshop would be rewarded if the young Indian scholars would `offer them `our’ riches, as intellectual return gifts’. He then talked of the ancient Indian poetics  and talked about the mythical story of the origin of poetry where Valmiki, the composer of the Ramayana, saw a hunter kill one of the Krauncha birds which were mating nearby. Valmiki , as the legend goes, was so deeply grieved ( shoka= grief) by the plight of birds that he composed the first shloka ( a couplet) of the Ramayana. The inspiration for the epic came from the grief of a bird. Prof Mehta also talked about Auden’s famous elegy on Yeats , quoting the following lines:
In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
Prof Mehta pointed out how the poets have to descend the depths of darkness when the dogs of Europe ( like Musolini , Hitler and, Prof Mehta said, Indians would add Churchill) barked ceaselessly.
In the question answer session, yours faithfully expressed his reservations and doubts ( as usual). I said that the whole idea of ` our riches’ is not that simple. Determination of what  is `ours’ is probably as violent as `othering’. Who decides what is `ours’ and who would feel that the `ours’ is not really `ours’, I asked.
I also pointed out that forget the Congress vs the BJP or the notion of activism or of ideology ( the things ,our reputed poet , should not pressurize  a poet to write certain type of poetry). I said even if we stayed within the classical notion of poetry of shloka( poetry)  being inspired by shoka ( grief) of a dying bird, I dont understand why so many poets ( I was not referring to him in particular but many Gujarati poets ) did not find inspiration or feel shoka in the Gujarat carnage of 2002 and write shlokas about it. Instead, I said continuing the Audenesqe analogy,  they preferred to join the Dogs of India in barking. Had Valmiki been alive, he would not have preferred the seclusion of his hermitage in such circumstances. I said that the question was not of ideology but of the poet’s sensitivity.
Prof Mehta, very kindly responded that he, like many others had indulged in silences but one should not be selective in protesting. One should not just protest the killings after the Godhra tragedy but also protest the death of people who died in the train, he said. He said we should also protest the plight of Kashmiri pandits who have lost their homes.
I thought to myself how can a person who does not understand or sympathize with  the tragedy of the rape and burning alive of pregnant women near home can ever understand the tragedy of people living in Kashmir. When one is insensitive to terrorism at home, can one understand terrorism in a far away land?

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