Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Book Review: Professor O.P.Mathur

R. K. SINGH : Sri Aurobindo’s SAVITRI: Essays on Love, Life and Death. Published by Prakash Book Depot, Bara Bazar, Bareilly 243003, India. 2005, Pages 130+40 (extracts from Savitri). Price Rs.250/- . ISBN 81-7977-140-7

Prof. R. K. Singh is not only a known poet but also a literary critic whose full-length
book on Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri is an important study of this immortal work. R. K. Singh later published a number of papers examining Savitri from different perspectives. In fact, the facets of Savitri are numerous, and it is a daunting task to do full justice to them in one book. The book under review, therefore, rightly attempts to explore a few significant ones with the object of supplementing, as he rather unpretentiously says in the Preface, “what a researcher or student already knows about Savitri as an epic or Sri Aurobindo as a poet”. But Dr. Singh has achieved much more than what he humbly claims to have attempted. The book with its fresh approaches and analysis is useful for teachers and Aurobindo scholars alike.

The opening essay of the book studies Savitri as a romance, but with a difference, as a spiritual romance, for it shows Savitri encompassing “all levels of outer and inner world” blending “the poetic and the philosophical, the emotional and the rational”. The next essay is a fairly lucid and fresh analysis of Sri Aurobindo’s ‘Yoga’ and of the descent of the Divine in the garb of “the growth of new collective values” with “the seeker acting in inaction … to divinise the society”. Sri Aurobindo had himself hinted at the relation of his concept of ‘Yoga’ with ‘Karmayoga’ in The Ideal of the Karmayogin (1945) and Dr. Singh has well analysed the relationship leading to a ‘collective value-system’, an inspiring ideal for the whole world.

Remarkable touches of originality of approach can also be discovered in the essay on Sri Aurobindo’s poetics in which Dr. Singh, suggesting the similarity of Sri Aurobindo’s poetry to ‘Mantra’ or ‘incantation’, “a rhythmic revelation of Reality” embodying a harmony of ‘dhvani’ (‘suggestion’), ‘Rasa’ (or ‘Ananda’) and ‘vision’. They all together embody “a development of an archetypal aesthetics” which seem to be a comprehensive approach to ancient poetics.

Besides these valuable general essays, the book also contains some perceptive insights into a few issues not earlier noticed or discussed at length. They include, among others, the discovery of one of the parallels between the mythic tales of the East and the West – the confrontation with Death and its ultimate conquest by Savitri and that of the devoted wife Isis laboriously ensuring the resurrection of Osiris in a Greek legend. The essential commonality of the global imagination can also be traced in many other tales of devoted wives like those of Sita and Penelope. Dr. Singh through his study has stressed on this global direction of Aurobindo studies. Similarly, a universal grammar of metaphysics, epic traditions and styles has been discovered in the three essays that follow-- in Emily Dickinson, the British Romantic poets and the varied traditions of the hoary genre of the epic – all in relation to Sri Aurobindo’s multifaceted poetry. Dr. Singh establishes Savitri as an epic sui generis - a culmination in “a spiritual culture beyond reason and religion”, depicting in Sri Aurobindo’s own words, “a harmonious unity of the life of man with the spirit of Nature and the spirit of the universe.” The concluding essay on the texture of Savitri explores the originality and the orchestration of the various elements of its ‘texture’, treating the term as a multi-coloured umbrella covering not only the originality of the celebration of its epic form as a traditionally unepical ‘quietism’ of the spiritual experience but also the originality and spiritual symbolism of its characters and events, the rhythmical scheme of its blank verse and its superb blending with its spiritual message.

Dr. Singh’s perspectives as revealed in this book are both microscopic and telescopic, the minutiae growing into a mountain, the worldly transcended into the spiritual. In examining many of the integrants of the book, Dr. Singh has, perhaps unconsciously elevated this collection of his essays into a sort of discourse on the immensity of the work and of the personality of Sri Aurobindo, a poet, critic, saint, philosopher, prophet rolled into one – highlighting the fact the whole can sometimes be greater than the sum of its parts, which tend to fuse together into a complex, as indicated in the sub-title of the book itself. This long overdue collection of Dr. Singh’s essays on Savitri is a notable contribution to the study of this spiritual epic, an inner odyssey, as also, in the words of Sisir Kumar Ghose, a “poetry of vision, prayer, totality, poetry as a factor in the human becoming”, unique in world literature.

O.P.Mathur, Former Professor and Head, Dept of English, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi 221005, India
The review first appeared in The Journal of Indian Writing in English, Vol.34, No. 2, July 2006, pp. 94-96


Family is basic to social life, demanding equity and reciprocity between man and woman. Even if there may not be a universal norm for family, its functions and rules, its dynamism is universally recognized.

About a decade ago we celebrated the ‘International Year of the Family’ which the U N had conceived as a global event to support families “as the basic unit of societies” (Boutros Boutros Ghali). It was also an opportunity for us to review the various threads of socio-sexual life, “building the smallest democracy at the heart of the society” in a “confused, confusing, materialistic, hedonistic, conflictual, internecine, and antifamilisitc world.”

I am convinced world peace is not possible without peace in society, in family, in man and woman relationship. The misogynous outlook, as promoted from the classical through the early church and middle ages, cannot be relevant now; the traditional patriarchal biases cannot be perpetuated; the call of the time is – promotion of equality between males and females. When I say this, I have India uppermost in my mind because it is here that the contradictions and sex biases are very strong, whatever one’s caste or religious affiliation.

A woman’s sexuality is valued for non-sexual concepts like virginity and her ability to bear male children. She is denied her own freedom, howsoever logical and legitimate. She has to accept her lower status in the society: She cannot make her own sexual choices nor can she express her sexuality; the stigma of rape and prostitution affects her rather than man who forcibly initiates the act; it is she who is devalued socially and the society condemns man only for namesake; it is man who thrives multi-billion dollar sex-trade and rarely shares profit with woman.

Despite the female/male sex ratio of 927:1000 (as per the 1991 census), there has been a growing tendency among rich rural and urban women to go in for amniocentesis, followed by the abortion of female foetuses. And, there are thousands of cases of “dowry murders”, sexual harassment and forced suicides by young brides whose parents cannot meet dowry demands of the husband’s family (Maria Mies, Patriarchy andAccumulations on a World Scale. London : Zed Books, 1986, pp.146-160) in India, a country where babies, barely days old, are engaged and girls are made to believe that their goal in life is matrimony.

“The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage” (Luke 20:34) and “whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord” (Pro.18:22). Thus, marriage is not only physical union but also a God-ordained, divine institution: husband and wife are conceived as one flesh (Mk 10:6-8; Eph. 5:28-31) and are expected to stay together, love each other as their own flesh.

Because God created human beings as male and female, He created sex and ordained the institution of marriage to bind man and woman together as husband and wife, not necessarily to procreate (there is plenty of procreation without marriage!) but to lead a family life, to make a home, through love and sex (Matt. 19:4-5).

It is God’s design that we enjoy life, be happy, be one flesh in coitus, and thus, glorify Him in the body. Sex is the source of happiness in equality. Sex makes husband and wife dear to each other in the privacy of marital togetherness:

Blessed is
the bedroom
the bathroom
the kitchen
the drawing room
the terrace
the lawn
and every little
place and spot
where we prayed
or sexed together
we glorified our house
and declared His mysteries

R. K. Singh. Memories Unmemoried (1988)

It was Euripides who said: “Man’s best possession is a sympathetic wife” (Antigone, 164). Aeschylus the tragedian observed: “Married love between man and woman is bigger than oaths guarded by right of nature” (Eumenides). In modern times, Martin Luther (Table Talk, 1569) notes, “There is no more lovely, friendly, and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage.” And, Goethe: “The sum which tho married people owe to one another defies cancellation. It is an infinite debt, which can only be discharged through all eternity” (Elective Affinities, 9-1809).

Familistic bonds tend to promote marital joy.

But marriage and fulfillment in life do not come for free: it needs caring, loving, sharing, and extending commitment to each other within the context of family.

Sexuality is at the very core of family relations despite differences among cultures. It is in the family one learns to understand one’s body and practice socially acceptable sexual relations; the family determines one’s expectations about sexual relations in society as an individual; the family teaches one to see oneself as a sexually responsive person. While commitment to sexuality is a key to successful married life, it’s regulation (or discussion) in family is not a vulgarization.

Today we live in a mixed world that has lost its way, particularly in matter of sex and marriage that are central to family structure. Today every teenager has a greater sex consciousness than ever before and yet there is increasing unhappiness, multiplying divorces, rising juvenile delinquents, and mounting AIDS: A sheer drop from frying pan to fire!

We cannot, therefore, ignore sexuality or dismiss it as a mere feminist concept. It is indeed very necessary to break the taboos that prevent discussion on sexuality in the family and help gendered individuals understand their own bodies and social identity beyond what is determined by the traditional male dominated family/society.

Isn’t it height of coercive control that every 18 seconds, a woman is battered by her husband or boyfriend in the USA and at least four women die everyday? There has been a 200% growth in single-parent households since 1970, from four million to eight million houses. Pope John Paul was right in his Easter message to the world (on April 3, 1994) that the family was under threat “at the very roots of its existence.”

Panos D. Bardis raises a serious debate on family related issues in ‘Wedding wonders’ (International Journal of World Peace, X, 1, March 1993) and asks parents some plain questions: “Do you know about your teenage children are doing?” “Do you know about the fruits of sex delinquency?” “Do you know how difficult it is to participate in their ‘shotgun’ wedding?” He has tried to probe the very basis of the sexual answer to loneliness which leads to the loneliest of lives, devoid of the security and warmth of home, as it is.

The Western society, riddled with ‘nuclear’ family and ‘traditional’ family norms as also with norms of single parents and male/male or female/female couples (who may or may not be homosexual), is now facing both an economic and moral crisis. Its search for legitimacy vis-à-vis the visible deviations in socio-cultural norms of family and sex (such as the emergence of the gay community) has thrown up new challenges in countries like the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Australia, and the USA that have already yielded to their demands. Pansos D. Bardis seems right when he reflects on the homosexuals and lesbians’ coexistence in their “families of choice” vis-à-vis their “homophobia” (thanks to the spread of HIV-AIDS epidemic) which virtually means ‘denial of the rights of empowerment’.

________________________________________________________________________First published in Faydraw (Pennsylvania, USA), Vol.1, Whole No. 19, February 1997, pp. 41-45. copyright: R.K.SINGH

Labels: ,

Wednesday, October 25, 2006



I.K. Sharma. O.P. BHATNAGAR: THE CRITIC WITH A BIG HEART. ( Jaipur : Rachana Prakashan, 2006). Pages xviii +164, Price Rs.325/-. ISBN 81-89228-13-7

I had known O.P. Bhatnagar for years as a poet with vision, seeking reality, discovering truth, suggesting new roads. He was always keen to regenerate man and humanity, demolishing fossil values, and looking for a substitute for the illusions of light. His creative and critical writings appeared to me as a spur to collective action.

But when I read his last collection of poems, Cooling Flames of Darkness (2001), I was surprised to find him unusually negative, dejected, and hopeless; perhaps, over-possessed by “fossilized summing up of life.” Yet, he sounded true when he opined: “We have a history and many are the knots/Before an Indian poet in English/Like an Eskimo trapped in desert” (Cooling Flames, p.61). Some of these knots he had earlier reflected in essays like ‘East-West Encounter in Indian Poetry in English’, ‘New Indian English Poetry Today’, and ‘Death and the Poetry of Sarojini Naidu.’

Bhatnagar was genuinely concerned with the strength and future of Indian English poetry and was indeed its critic with a big heart, as I.K. Sharma would like to call him. O. P. Bhatnagtar: The Critic with a Big Heart is Sharma’s tribute to the genius of O.P. Bhatnagar, whose literary vision, focused on many a new poet, fictioneer and dramatist with promise, accorded authenticity and power to post-Ezekiel Indian English writing. (cf. ‘New Indian English Poetry Today’). O.P. Bhatnagar also explored post-independence authors and critics to highlight their contributions in perspective.

Though it is sad that the “established” set of poets and critics denied recognition to O.P. Bhatnagar for promoting the cause of marginalized voices, I.K. Sharma, evoking fond memories of his contacts with O.P. Bhatnagar, demonstrates the late poet-critic’s inner strength “to nourish the common grass” without denigrating anyone (p.xvii).

As an empathetic reader, and critic, Sharma collects ten earlier published critical articles by O.P. Bhatnagar to make this book. His introductory touches “the deepest chords in our emotional being,” as Prema Nandakumar, to whom he dedicates the book, observes.

I fully agree with what I.K. Sharma writes about OP’s life in Amaravati and Delhi on pp. xiv-xv: Not only had his health created darkness around him but also the academia in Delhi that ditched him to death. None bothered to take note of him.

I.K. Sharma seeks to present O.P. Bhatnagar as “a critic with a rare generosity of understanding,” to quote Prema Nandakumar (from her letter to him). In the first essay, Bhatnagar convinces us that poets such as Toru Dutt, Aru Dutt, Romesh Chander Dutt and Manmohan Ghose wrote with Indian history and culture wedded into their medium. Tagore and Sri Aurobindo were keen about their poetic content rather than the medium, and without any affectation or sense of alienation, “exile or worked-up nostalgia for the country or language or loss of identity” noticed in Nissim Ezekiel, R. Parthasarathy or A.K. Ramanujan. Poets such as Kamala Das, I.K. Sharma, Narsingh Srivastava and Jayanta Mahapatra write with a sense of “participation in the creative act” rather than demonstration of “western attitudes”, mode or style of expression.

In the second essay, Bhatnagar refers to naturalization of English, or what Braj B. Kachru calls, nativization of English, by several new poets “of unspoilt sensibilities” such as Baldev Mirza, I.K. Sharma, Pravin A. Parikh, R.K.Singh, T.R. Srinivas, Mukund R. Dave, Niranjan Mohanty, Krishna Srinivas, Mahanand Sharma, D.V.K. Raghvachrayulu and many others. Those “who are in touch with this huge mass of new Indian English poetry today will not falter in recognizing its linguistic and aesthetic dynamics as genuine and natural,” points out O.P. Bhatnatar (p.43).

The third essay deals with ‘death’, a major preoccupation in Bhatnagar’s own poetry. Here the critic reflects on death in the poetry of Sarojini Naidu vis-à-vis Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Rainer Maria Rilke and Adriene Rich. Sarojini Naidu uses death impersonally as a plea for life (p.51). As he points out: “Hers was the poetry of rejection of death in a politico-metaphysical philosophy of self-sacrifice, surrender and suffering for a higher cause leading to a defeat of mutability and unity with the Infinite and the higher being” (p.54).

The fourth essay examines the Indian political novels in English “against the logic of its own political history and growth” (p.58). He discusses K.S. Venkatramani’s Murugan The Tiller (1927), which presents for the first time the Gandhian ideal of rural reconstruction and rural economics. Bhatnagar also mentions Venkatramani’s other novel, Kandan the Patriot (1932), which advances the Gandhian ideology or Satyagrah, before he reflects on Raja Rao’s Kanthapura , Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable, Coolie, Two Leaves and a Bud and The Sword and the Sickle, R.K. Narayan’s Waiting for the Mahatma, and B Rajan’s The Dark Dancer (1958), which presents politics as a way of life and conviction. These novelists present a contrast to others who were moved by the tragedy of India’s partition. Significant among them are Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan and Chaman Nahal’s Azadi.

Bhatnagar also reflects on the decline in Gandhian values with lack of political order, as manifested in the narratives of Manohar Malgaonkar’s A Bend in the Ganges, Bhabani Bhattacharya’s Shadow from Ladakh, and Nayantara Sahgal’s Strom in Chandigarh. The Indian political novelists have been aware of the “ pitiabale politics of the poor politicians” just as they have found sense in Gandhi’s humanism and secularism (p.77).

Bhatnagar’s scrutiny of over a dozen novelists is deep and thorough. As one would notice in his appreciation of Manorama Modak’s Single is the Wheel, which is the subject of his exploration in the fifth essay, O.P. Bhatnagar reads the novelist with empathy and a sense of history. His study of V.A. Shahane’s Prajapati against the perspective of the “image of India”, the sixth essay, is thought-provoking in that the narrative seeks to reconstruct the spirit and vision of the unity of India despite its caste-ridden social structure and disappointing contemporary realities. The irony is: As against the mythical prajapati, the modern prajapatis are power-seekers, indulging in violence of all kinds. However, I agree with Bhatnagar’s observations on pages 107-109: Shahane’s humanism is doubtful.

The seventh essay examines Indian short stories in English against the phenomenon of “colonial encounter” as presented by Mulk Raj Anand, Manohar Malgaonkar, Raja Rao and Ruth Prawer Jhabwala.

In the next essay, O.P. Bhatnagar points out that Jawaharlal Nehru failed to inspire literary imagination, even if Shahane’s Prajapati seemed to have been structured after the vision of Nehru. ‘Nehru and Indian Novel in English’, one of the best essays in the volume, is an extension of the sixth essay, cleverly placed before ‘Gandhi in Indian Drama in English.’

Indeed, Gandhi has a massive presence in Indian English fiction, but one rarely comes across Gandhi in drama. (I wish O.P. Bhatnagar were alive to watch Gandhigiri in Lage Raho Munnabhai!) The earliest image of Gandhi appears in Bharati Sarabhai’s poetic play, The Well of People (1943), which is followed by K.S. Rangappa’s Gandhiji’s Sadhana, eleven years after the Mahatma’s death. Gandhian ideas are also presented by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas in Barrister at Law, Asif Currimbhoy in An Experiment with Truth, Lakhan Deb in Murder at the Prayer Meeting, Shiv Kumar Joshi in He Never Slept Too Long, R. Javanthinathan in Guardianship of India, M.V. Rama Sarma in The Mahatma, and Gian Singh Mann in Truth and Tears. All these playwrights present Gandhi “not in the dramatic but in the absolute image of truth, goodness, courage, justice, non-violence, abstinence, compassion, faith, sacrifice and universal wisdom” (p.150). The last essay makes a comparative study between Lakhan Deb’s Murder at the Prayer Meeting and T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, emphasizing that the Indian dramatist provides a better model of conduct in human values than T.S. Eliot.

The volume very imaginatively made as it is, presents O.P. Bhatnagar as a pillar of Indian English Writing, with intrinsic faith in Indian English authors. His de texte critical analyses, devoid of intolerance of others’ views, are very logically developed and convincingly presented with a forward-looking mindset. His contribution to the cause of Indian English Writing will always be remembered as positive, forceful, and valuable. I.K. Sharma deserves kudos for his yet another significant contribution, as editor, to Indian English Writing.

Dr.R.K.SINGH, Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad 826004 (Jharkhand), India