The Wintermaidens, and Other Short Stories, Edited by Umadevi. (The Indo-Polish Library, Postbox 1353, Bombay 1. Price Rs. 4-8.)
The Wintermaidens, and Other Short Stories has a long foreword by Prof. V. B. He tells us: “This new bunch of Polish tales forms a sequence to the Polish Short Stories published last year; and though it includes the names of five authors only, against eleven in the first volume, it brings us a no less rich crop of realistic prose poetry, typical folk-lore, and recent history in striking images.” I came across the name of Stefan Zeromski in the Polish Short Stories, whose novel Ashes (translated by Stephen Garry) was published in England during the Twenties, followed after a long interval by another novel, The Faithful River. It was said of Zeromski that he marked an epoch in Polish fiction. In characterization he is tender and realistic, and his theme-motif, mainly, is human suffering. In the present tales, the men and women brought together are intensely alive; they are creatures, one feels, to be an integral part of the flora and fauna of the universe; and those who cannot stand stark realism for long, will be compensated to find here creative imagination soaring to memorable heights, and a lovely flowering of poignant sensibility and poetic tenderness amid episodes of horror and hatred and bravery. “Peasant Wedding” and “Contrasts” by Wadylaw Reymont, the Nobel prize-winner in 1924, are two of the most impressive of the nine stories which go to make this anthology. A reviewer of short fiction is more often tempted to hurl a brick-bat (paper, of course, to escape the charge of grievous hurt or culpable homicide) at the author; for this difficult literary form, today, is caught despairing in the frivolous hands of the dilettante; here is a bouquet (not paper) to Umadevi, the editor of The Wintermaidens–stories that glow with life. But neither she nor Prof. V. B. who has written a rather heavy introduction, trying to relieve the heaviness by an ineffectual stroke of wit like–“Maryna is a girl’s name and has nothing to do with Madras’s beautiful beach road”–has told us as to who is responsible for the fervour of rendering these Polish tales into English.
The Story of a Dedicated Life: The Biography of Swami Ramakrishnananda (Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras. Price Rs. 3.)
Sri Ramakrishnanda was a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and was the first apostle of Sri Ramakrishna-Vivekananda to work in South India. The epoch-making work of Swami Vivekananda and the concrete achievements of the Ramakrishna Mission in the educational, social, and religious sphere are well known. Sri Ramakrishnananda (1863-1911) had the supreme privilege of being the personal attendant of the great Master during his last days, and was the ‘nucleus’ of the Ramakrishna Math before it was formally established. As desired by Swami Vivekananda, Sri Ramakrishnanda moved down to Madras in 1897 and the ‘leaven’ began to work in a small way. The intellectual elite of Madras welcomed the new gospel, as indeed they had the privilege and the pre-vision to discover the great Swami Vivekananda in 1892 and help his heroic mission to America to the Parliament of Religions. How the Ramakrishna Math and Mission founded just over fifty years ago has grown and flourished and shed its beneficent influence is a matter of history.
Lives of saints–particularly those who like the followers of Sri Ramakrishna lived in the world and were of it, but with their minds fixed on the eternal values of life–are a perennial source of inspiration. Sri Ramakrishnananda was a unique personality and combined within himself the achievements of vigorous spiritual sadhana, great gifts of teaching and exposition, organising ability of a high order, added to amiable human virtues which enabled him in a far-off province to establish himself in the hearts of people. The story of such a dedicated life, which is a chapter of the religious renaissance in Modern India is told in this volume. The narration is as interesting as it is authentic. Sri Ramakrishnananda’s relationships with his great Master and his tireless devotion to his relics and the shrine at Cossipore, Baranagore, and Alambazar, how he held together the distinguished band headed by Swami Vivekananda and tended them–these are moving passages in the book. The Swamiji’s life and work are fully dealt with and make inspiring reading. The Publishers are entitled to the grateful appreciation of the public for this Golden Jubilee publication.
K. S. G.
After Gandhiji: Our Problems, by K. S. Venkataramani. (Svetaranya Ashrama, Mylapore, Madras. Price 12 as.)
The book contains six chapters-originally contributed as articles to the weekly Swatantra of Madras. Though presumably of only topical interest and value, their collection in the form of this booklet is fully justified because of the fact that the author who is a deep thinker and a persuasive writer has approached the problems confronting us in a spirit of lofty idealism, and has brought to bear on it what may be compendiously termed the Gandhian outlook. The author feels that “free India has a definite message to give. The world in sorrow and suffering today expects one from us.” He desires that the Central Executive should be reconstituted and there should be thirty members of whom ten shall be free from any portfolios. It is his profound conviction that good government requires only one party. He fears that a third global war is looming on the horizon but wants India to build up her moral and material strength quickly so as to remain neutral. “Let us drop all our vague ecstasies and sentimental love of Russia,” advises the author. Analysing our home problems, the author pleads as Gandhiji did, for making a group of villages the “basic foundation of our political and economic structure” and wishes the Draft Indian Constitution to have begun with the villiage and proceeded upwards. The author is well aware of our national defects and does not mince matters when analysing them and pleads with fervour for a determined drive to renovate Indian life and character! The chapter on the Draft Constitution and Our Ideals contains many thought-provoking ideas and categorical suggestions which show that the author is a practical idealist. Some of his suggestion are:–
(1) Adult franchise is the correct basis for primary voting but it must not be used directly on a provincial or national scale except for a plebiscite on a definite issue.
(2) The Assembly should be based on two-thirds territorial and one-third functional constituencies. The territorial constituencies should be plural with not less than five seats.
(3) No upper house in the States.
(4) Religious instruction should be included among Fundamental Rights.
(5) Eighteen years of age as the basis for adult franchise as against twenty-one.
(6) Rural units of not less than ten thousand and not more than twenty-five thousand for each unit; every adult shall have a vote at the Panchayat election, one member being elected for every thousand of the population. The rural list of subjects shall be comprehensive. All panchayatdars shall form an electoral college, and the district shall be the unit of a constituency with plurality of members electing members to the State Legislature on the basis of one member for every lakh of population.
The author’s earnest hope is for the evolution of “a genuine Indian democracy which would embody the ideals inherent in an ancient culture and civilization.” Poets have been spoken of as the unacknowledged legislators of the world. Acknowledged or otherwise, one hopes that the next set-up would embody some of the idealism that inspired the author and that inspired the national movement during the last two generations.
K. S. G.
Song of the Spirit: Selected Verses of S'ami–A Mystic of Sind, Translated by Shanti L. Shahani. With a Foreword by Sadhu T. L. Vaswani. (Motherland Press, Karachi. Price Rs. 3)
“The human being is nature’s fall from a state of innocency; but it is not a decline, it is rather an ascent, in that a state of conscience is higher than a state of innocence,” says Thomas Mann. Nature is explored but not realized. Scientists interpret what could be known and harnessed for the knowledge and benefit of man in nature. The songs of the mystics bear evidence to the fact that nature finds in man its ascent and not decay. Those who perceive in wonder and awe that supreme joy of a perfect construction and grace in all creation are they, in whom, even beyond the state of conscience, a non-dual state is reached. That is the abode of the mystic. He is beyond nature in that nature is spiritualized in him. He is beyond man in that man is dissolved in him. He is neither nature nor man, but a moving flame of pence that has neither birth nor end.
India is more a land of the mystics than any other nation of the world though the poems of Donne, Blake, and Francis Thompson have profundity of thought. Nations and nationalities may differ from one another in ways of life and habits. The mystics of the world have only one voice and one language. They know no barriers; they care little for the wrath of those that rule over them, tyrant or despot; they attach little importance to the study of books, they always seek and suffer for getting a glimpse of that Atman who is the secret of the Creative Sound. Life has a great meaning for them and is accepted by them with humility, patience, and love.
S'ami was a great mystic of Sind. He was one of those eminent men who had known the workings of the human mind. The stained mind is to be cleaned for the reflection of the Lord, the Beloved, to fall on it. He put to practice the wisdom he acquired from his Master in whose guidance and personality he had implicit faith. He realized that the secret of harmony is in one’s Self. “Giving up all scriptural recitation, awake and behold the Beloved within thee!” In short he echoes the fundamentals of the religions of the world. An ethical way of life lived in contentment and action with no expectation is sure to have that integration necessary for realization.
The translation of Shanti L. Shahani is in good English. The appearance of gifted poets and seers is becoming rarer though the tribe of poets manque and versifiers is on the increase. Hence, one is inclined to read the great minds of various countries in renderings of languages widely spoken and in usage. One is to congratulate the translator for his good sense in choosing the English medium as that would help many to understand the sayings of the famous Sindhi mystic, S’ami; also the artist who has caught the spirit of the poems in exquisite lines and shades.
Sankhavadya, by N. Kasturi, M.A. (Usha Sahitya Mala, Mysore. Price Re. 1-12 as.)
Mr. Kasturi has achieved a remarkable blend of delightful humour and wistful pathos in his latest novel. Mahabala Rao’s reactions to his retirement from officialdom form the main theme. A disciple of Gokhale, he has started life as teacher under the auspices of the Servants of India Society. He has been lured later by his parents into a submissive married life and a mechanical clerkly career. After retirement, he takes up the thread of social service by becoming manager and contributor to two newspapers holding contradictory views on almost all subjects. This is in the best traditions of parliamentary democracy as well as a popularising strategem. One of the dailies is edited by his son Nagaraj, and the other by his old friend Rama Iyengar. As Special Correspondent in Bombay for several Kannada newspapers, Nagaraj has disobliged his employers by sending reports of sociological and cultural import, rather than items of sensational news. However, he has soon been driven to pot-boiling. When his uncle buys Sankha-vadya and appoints him as its quite independent editor, he revitalizes this newspaper with his revived idealism. On the other hand, Rama Iyengar has turned to journalism after seeing through the pseudo-spirituality of his own life as a common sannyasi. The triple pattern of initiation, apostasy, and re-conversion to humanitarianism which is worked out in Mahabala Rao’s life is given definition and emphasis by the repetition on a small scale in the lives of these two minor characters. Then, too, the novel is mostly taken up with the several, at first futile efforts, to pass from the second phase of this pattern to the third, to pursue again the visions of youth. Hence the aptness of the title which is suggestive, in Kannada idiom, of lamentations at once desolate and ludicrous.
No amount of comment, in the absence of actual reading, can give a true indication of the gusto of Mr. Kasturi’s writing, of the sparkling humour under which lie such treasures of significance. It is no less abundant than spontaneous. The novel opens with a most exquisite dialogue, Mahabala Rao has squeezed himself into his old navy-blue wedding-suit in order to attend a farewell party in his honour at the office; and his wife asks him to extricate himself from it. He has, however, a special fondness for it as it symbolizes for him his vanished youth, and when he starts life all over again as newspaper manager, it is this suit that he hunts out. One chapter describes his disastrous effort to reduce his fat by the practice of a Yogasana, and another gives an account of the first meal after his retirement which he can at least take with the slowness required for aesthetic enjoyment and critical judgment. Then there is the delicious scene in the overcrowded compartment in which, travelling from Bombay, Nagaraj rejoices on his uncomfortable perch to hear the exchange of even indecent abuse down below, in his dear native Kannada. Except for a couple of lapses into farce and an occasionally irritating habit of ungrammatically twisting parts of words and well-worn sayings for satirical purposes, the novel makes most delightful reading throughout.
Ezhuttum Ezhuttalanum: By Thi.Ja.Ra. (Kartikeyini Prachuram, Ramachandrapuram, Trichinopoly. Price Re. 1.)
For a general idea of the author and the art and craft of writing this is a useful little publication. It discusses, among other things, the need for book-clubs to promote healthy criticism; and as an instance cites the Kyverdale in London–an account of which appeared in the John O’ London’s Weekly sometime ago–a new-style book-club consisting of about a dozen members who speak out with exceptional frankness what they think of a book. Such a rota is the very life of the circle; they come from all walks of life: from the Civil Service down to the humble artisan class. Tamilnad, today, will greatly profit itself by forming small literary circles; in a civilised society the autnor has a status and his dignity has always to be recognised. The personality of the creative artist can never be divorced from his writings; it must shine as a flower shines with its own fragrance. It can’t be a croton, all gaudy hues and no scent. The writer’s social responsibility is great. He has to connect his expression with his passion for life.
“Fighting erroneous impressions, overcoming the many difficulties and obstacles in life, and swimming against the current–such a writer has given out his opinions here,” says the author of this book, ending his brief prefatory note. The element of self-pity in it is a trifle vexatious; the explanation is quite unnecessary; for Thi. Ja. Ra. is an authentic writer, and an authentic writer, I am sure, doesn’t want the pity of the public, he wants it to take note of his pride.
Mudrarakshasanataka Katha: By Mahadeva. Edited by V. Raghavan, M.A., Ph.D. (The Saraswathi Mahal Library, Tanjore, Price Rs. 2-8.)
This is the second revised edition of Mahadeva’s Prose rendering of Visakadatta’s Mudrarakshasa brought out by Dr. V. Raghavan for the Maharajah Sarfoji Saraswati Mahal Library, a couple of years back.
Mudrarakshasa is a well-known Sanskrit classic read and appreciated by Sanskritists all over the world. Apart from its historical importance, it displays the extraordinary skill of Visakadatta in the construction of the plot and delineation of character. The plot is so intricately and ingeniously constructed that it is not easy to follow its development for the ordinary reader. To aid the general reader to follow the progress of the play, it was considered desirable to present the subject-matter in the form of a lucid narrative in prose or verse.
On the works describing the story of Visakadatta’s drama, Mahadeva’s prose rendering is the best. His language is simple and he presents all the incidents connected with the play. It serves as a good text-book for colleges and it is gratifying to note that the occasion for this second edition is that the work has been adopted as Intermediate Sanskrit Prose Text in the Madras, Annamalai, and Travancore Universities. Through this work, Dr. Raghavan has rendered substantial help to the Saraswati Mahal, Tanjore, which is one of our best and richest manuscript libraries.
The valuable English Introduction and the copious notes at the end of the work by Dr. Raghavan enhance the usefulness of the book. In his comprehensive survey of the various problems connected with the drama, Dr. Raghavan has brought together much material scattered in many publications and made it an invaluable guide to students and scholars alike.
Devabandi Varadaraja: The Temple Minstrel, by V. Raghavan, M.A., Ph.D. (V. B. Subbiah & Sons, Bangalore)
The author, an ardent Samskrita bhakta, has rightly chosen Sanskrit–the language of Indian culture, philosophy, and religion, to give expression to his fine poetic thoughts. The Sanskrit-knowing public is familiar with his Kamasiddhi and other interesting small poems and plays. His Devabandi, or The Temple Minstrel, a lyric poem in sweet and simple style, depicts the life and the final communion with the Lord, of a mystic saint. Varadaraja or Varam-tarum-perumal.Arayar is a sacred minstrel of the God Ranganatha at Srirangam. Seized with a divine frenzy, he worships the Lord with singing songs and rendering them in gesture. As a result of the residue of prarabdha, he falls in love with a harijan maiden who was also a servant of the Lord. She cut fodder for the temple elephant. The God-intoxicated men are above the barriers of caste and creed; and Varadaraja woos and wins the harijan girl for his bride. He is discarded by the high-case men and disowned by the harijans. He puts up a hut on the bank of the river Kaveri, away from the precincts of the orthodox. Enshrining the Lord in his heart as a true bhakta, he lives his life in the company of his harijan wife.
After a long time, the image of Ranganatha is taken in procession to the sandy river bed on a full moon night in the month of Chaitra. The melodious songs of the services of the Lord falling on the ears of the minstrel transfigures his entire being. He rushes to the presence of the Lord and in a trance of utter beatitude pours forth a flood of divine melody. He follows the deity in procession back to the temple, but before entering the sacred premises, he casts off his mortal coils and becomes one with the Lord, even as the divine bride Andal, did.
G. HARIHARA SASTRI