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ta g o r e
Exposition is not a poet’s metier and Tagorean aesthetics is more a matter of bright, shifting attitudes and insights than a neat, safe, academic system or philosophy. All that I feel about it, he says, is from vision. Though belonging to a visionary brotherhood, part romantic part Upanishadic, the essentially solitary poet and thinker rarely uses, or is tied up with, prescriptive texts, ancient or mediaeval. Relying more on temperament than on tradition, poised between communicating loneliness and shared belief, his musings and projections add up to a characteristic chiaroscuro of longings, a sense of ‘More’ and the beyond. The poet emphasizes, naturally, the autonomy of works of art and the primacy of the creative, the Universal Man and the Supreme Person. Realism ir 'Ot reality. Angel of Surplus, a . . . s a protest against the tyranny of facts and the impertinence of the insignificant. The heart of civilization, man’s manhood, his philosophy, science and culture thrive upon the foundation of the Surplus. Where there is an element of the superfluous in our heart’s relationship with the world, Art has its birth and becoming.
ANGEL OF SURPLUS SOME ESSAYS AND ADDRESSES ON AESTHETICS
EDITED BY SlSIRKUMAR CHOSE
V IS V A -B H A R A T I CALCUTTA
M ay 1978
■ 1 4
PUBLISHED BY RANAJIT RAY VISVA-BHARATI PUBLISHING DEPARTMENT 6 ACHARYA JAGADISH BOSE ROAD CALCUTTA 17 PRINTED BY KALICHARAN PAL NABAJIBAN PRESS 66 GREY STREET, CALCUTTA 6
NOTE On many occasions Rabindranath had written and spoken on art, poetry, beauty and literature, but not with the deliberate intent of a philosopher on aesthetics. Here are some of these essays and addresses. For reasons of con venience these have been now and then slightly abridged and in the case of translations, other than Rabindranath’s, a little revised. Grateful thanks are due to George Allen and Unwin for reproducing “The Artist” and Macmillan and Company for “ What is Art ?” , and “ The Realisation of Beauty” .
But above the din and clamour and scramble rises the voice of the Angel of Surplus saying to man : ‘Rejoice*. —Tagore, The Religion o f Man
In his lucid moments Tagore had feared that the mantle of a philosopher might be tacked on to him. Sometimes, it is true, he lent himself to such treatment, especially when abroad. This has resulted in both loss and gain. But what he really had ( to offer) was perhaps not so much a philo sophy as an attitude, couched in an appeal. At the time his name was proposed for the Presidentship of the All India Philosophical Congress, Radhakrishnan had justified the choice by pointing out that though Tagore might not have a philosophy in the technical sense of the term, he was the creator of a philosophy— of man and culture above all, in his quest of beauty and the meaning of art. His literary criticism, not to be equated with his aesthetic principles, is another story with which we are, here, not directly concerned. On what is the ‘philosophy' founded if not on experience, its analysis and amplification ? Tagore has never denied the fact— it could not be denied anyway— that he is first and last a poet (ami kavi). There is honesty in the confession, even if it may not be of help in pursuing an argument. If his religion, as he tells us, is a poet's religion, his theory of art and beauty— interestingly, in Tagore’s view, the two may not be one1— is even more so. “All that I feel about it is from vision and not from knowledge.” Again, “ I suppose I was fortunate in that I never had academic training.” Not wholly fortunate, both his strength and weakness have the sam e source. There is little doubt that he is temperamental ra th e r than canonical. At the same time he betrays a certain tension between insight and exposition, more so in a foreign medium.* The expository role does not seem native to his genius. Apart from his central insights, to which he returns A
time and again, there is perhaps more in his asides and apercus than in his deliberate manifestos. Rationalization of experience is always a reduction, while the experience, even if a sort of ipse dixit, carries its own authority, beyond argument. His thrust is the thrust of a far-ranging tempera ment and not of a tradition in the sense a Coomaraswamy, for instance, understood that idea and institution. Angels do not expostulate. It is typical that in his aesthetic writings Tagore rarely mentions any ancient or mediaeval texts. The most frequent references are to a few seminal verses from the Vedas, Upanishads and to English romantic poetry, usually Shelley and Keats, now and then Wordsworth. But reading between the lines one discovers affinities with more recent theorists like Croce and Bergson. But, if a romantic, in some ways he is the least rebellious. The ease with which he could lean upon the archetypes— including the tertiary qualities, of Truth, Goodness and Beauty8— made it unnecessary and impossible for him to adopt a creative insolence. He partly debars himself from the privilege of the disinherited minds who, lacking discipline and authority, have to depend on the uncertain diet of autonomous ‘splendid moments’, “ art pro posing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments’ sake” , as Pater phrased it in his strange and dangerous con clusion to The Renaissance. But what contradictions! The believer in seer-wisdom has strong ties with the tribe of outsiders, vrdtya. As he said, a trifle dramatically in one of the later poem s: “ I am an outcaste.” Here we touch upon another of the Tagorean paradoxes as well as a source of his penchant for the trans social. With all his decorum and social sympathies, Tagore is unable to look upon art as a social product, as some thing entirely determined by socio-economic factors or by
utilitarian considerations. Causation— what he calls ‘historic city’— annoys him. He finds “ the indignity of the suggestion insufferable.” 4 In the essay, “ The Religion of an Artist” , he tells us : “The poem no doubt comes from the person who produced it«...( B ut) directly a poem is fashioned, it is free from its genesis, it minimises its history and emphasises its independence.... The same thing is true of all creation. A dewdrop has no filial memory of its parentage.” Neither the scientist nor the sociologist will accept this minimization of history and a maximization of independence without serious qualification. Tagore goes on to a d d : “ The materials or ingredients of creation are supplied partly by history, partly by society, but these neither make nor explain the creator.” The autonomy of art-experience will not permit Tagore to accept any deterministic dogma, ancient or modern. A protagonist of process, he is not a traditionalist in the traditional sense. In the essay, “ Art and Tradition” , we hear him say : “ Art is not a gorgeous sepulchre, serenely brooding over a lonely and lost eternity of vanished years. It belongs rather to the procession of life, exploring un known shrines of reality along its pilgrimage to a future which is as different from the tree as the tree is different from the seed.” In spite of the metaphor, “ shrines of reality” , Tagore passes over the idea of art as a ritual of self-integration, known to the ancients. So basic and irrepressible is his sense of a solitary, that his quest has been always part of his apartness : Away from the crowd, I have pursued my fancies At the crossing o f the roads.* The crossing, where individuals truly and freely meet, is above and beyond social and historical events. This is his way to escape or perhaps to contain what Schopenhaeur called “the miseries of individuation” . This world of
universal values belongs to what Tagore calls, alternately* the Universal Man or Man the Eternal. “The mysterious fact,” he writes, “ is that though the individuals are seeking their expression separately, their success is never indivi dualistic.... Men must find and feel and represent in all their works the Eternal.” ® If such symbolic pursuits involve an amount of etherealization ( Toynbee’s phrase) or apparent lack of grassroots, that is perhaps unavoidable. Perhaps our value-roots are above, in a magic world where differences do not divide, where the subject-object, artist-audience and every other dichotomy disappears.7 In the Tagorean idiom this may be called the meeting-point of the finite and the Infinite. ( On the poet’s own admission, this is the theme of his poetry. ) More explicitly: “ In our life we have one side that is finite, where we exhaust ourselves at every s te p ; and we have another side, where our aspirations, enjoyment, and sacrifices are infinite. This infinite side of man m ust have its revelation in some symbols which have the elements of immortality.” 8 But sometime the plea for idealism and the Infinite can turn into a refuge for avoiding encounter with disagreeable realities, which Tagore has elsewhere des cribed as “ the tyranny of facts” . The question has to b e faced: is art an independent, substitute universe or a trans formed reality ?° In Tagore the distinction is not always clear, though it is not too difficult to guess where his pre ferences would lie. Impatient with the actual and th e humdrum, only late in life does he acquire a new humility and insight, which compel him to confess : “ How little d o I know of this world.” The confession underlines a basic insufficiency of the romantic ethos, that the romantics “did not know enough”. The feeling-tone and idealistic bias of Rabindrean aesthetics is obvious. The feeling is part of a faith, in a life projected further, the heart more widely receptive. In his own words t
“I believe that there is an ideal hovering over and permeating the earth, an ideal of that Paradise which is not merely the outcome of fancy, but the ultimate reality in which all things dwell and move.” 10 In brief, the ideal is the real or the “more real.” 11 This involves him, willy-nilly, in a theory of knowledge, even if he is chary of entering a debate on that issue.12 One is not surprised to hear him say that, in some ways, the world of science is unreal, since “it is an abstract world of the relation of forces” 18, a relation in which the person has ceased to function. No wonder “everywhere in man’s world the Supreme Person is suffering for the killing of the human reality by the imposition of the abstract” . Art is human because it is intensely personal. As he defines it, it is the language of personality. The artist is one who finds “ the unique, the individual, which is yet the heart of the universal” . Again we notice that though the philosophy is never fully exposed, it is there all the same. This philosophy, really a complex of ideas and attitudes, is bound to be at variance with the utilitarian view, the majority view in all ages. Tagore’s protest and affirmation are made in holistic terms : “If it is the total man we must have, the emotions and the sense of beauty cannot be overlooked.” 14 But even the sense or concept of beauty is not without its hazards. For instance, what about the poetry of action ? Or the sacramental view with its base in myths and rituals? In the Tagorean interpretation art has a tendency towards the tangential and the world of art, its rationale, seems to be equated almost wholly with a system of longings.18 Ultimately it becomes, or might become, an alien to both the social and existential reality, indeed little other than nuances of nostalgia. Careful to derive the theory from the nature of reality itself, he takes care to inform u s : “ Reality reveals itself in the emotional and imaginative background of our life.
We know it not because we can talk of it, but because we directly feel it.” Again : “ Reality is human.... When we are aware of it we are aware of ourselves, and this gives us delight. Our arts and literature represent this creative fundamental in man.” 16 One may wonder if a feeling, even if a feeling of delight, should be given such unexamined dignity, unless of course one is prepared to equate feeling with knowledge. Maybe in the Religion of an Artist— he is not alone, think of Schiller— “Joy is the creation of truth as we know,” and all that we need to know. But such gestures may also mean the end of dialogue. In any case, whereof one cannot speak, one must be silent. The articulate, transcendental critic has to own his own paradox, that he has to speak in terms of raids on the unutterable. A word about the paintings and the poet’s self-defence. His doodles and outre' paintings came as a shock to many. But whatever one may think, or feel, about this unusual venture, these weird, compulsive forms and designs, a code language not easy to decipher, his philosophy of form apparently remained unchanged. Obliged, if not willing to defend himself, we find him saying : “To be able to see the thing as it is, be it a piece of stone, a donkey, a cactus or an old woman, we touch the infinite. And that is always delight.” 17 One does not know how many modern artists would care to put it like that. But Tagore does, delight is a touchstone of his aesthetics. All his life a verbal wizard, he now confesses to being ‘possessed’ ( uncomfortably, one remembers Plato) by the “ Mistress of Lines” . And can still assert: “ At last I have come close to the Mind of the Maker.” Obviously this Maker does not geometrize nor is he the Logos. On the other hand, as revealed in these paintings, the maker leans heavily towards the a-rational and the surreal. The Mind of the Maker and seeing the object as it is
are part of an intuition into the life of forms. The charac teristics of such knowledge are not scientific: the principles of verification and practicability do not apply. As Tagore would say., it is confirmed by an inherent delight, and the consequent extension of personality, values which need no other support or argument.18 In other words, it is an imagi native approach— call it esemplastic, to please the ghost of Coleridge, if you like— bordering on knowledge by identity.19 But about this last point, if it is prajfid or satori, he is never sufficiently specific or discursive, which is understandable. The position he has taken prevents him from being to analytic.80 As he says: "A rt cannot be explained.” 31 Again : “ As for the definite meaning of a poem, we may have our doubts.” 88 In effect, the whole approach is an apotheosis of mood and mystery. And are these not the twin paradigms in the Tagorean transaction with whatever is real ? Though far from being an existentialist, in his essay, “ The Artist,” as well as elsewhere, he speaks of “the eternal mystery of Being” . Works of art are embodiments of that mystery; therefore, they do not make ‘sense’, not in a quotidian calculus, anyway. Art is discourse in a dimension other than logical, it is conver sation in another key.88 Even a prose poem, like “Tortuous Lane” , hints at the Tagorean homeland, that “ beyond these buildings there is somewhere a limitless Wonder” . Referring in the same breath to Bengali devotional singing, Kirtan, and to Buddhist art, Tagore arrives at a definition nearer his heart’s desire. “ Art” , he tells us, “ is the response of man’s creative soul to the Real.” Such a response, he further clarifies, may be biologically ‘superfluous’. This brings him, by another route, somewhat close to the European aesthetes who loved to announce Vepater le bourgeois— that all art was useless and little better than a way of ‘formal’ happening. But Tagore has his own mode of exit from such a risky affiliation. Art is not a mundane, but a strange, an
inner necessity, of a creative personality.14 In the trans valuation of values the superfluous turns out to be the most essential. The idea is basic to his thesis and he repeats it ad lib. No doubt this is how he saw i t : Often has my mind crossed Time's limit— Will it stop at last for ever At the boundary of these crumbling bones ? Not the crumbling bones but the animating spirit is the autodidact of the aesthetic education of man. Tagore chooses a startling phrase— but in a non-Marxian sense— to highlight the nature of Art. He calls it the Angel of Surplus.*9 “ Upon the foundations of the surplus, Man's philosophy and science thrive.” Indeed, his whole “civilization is built upon the surplus.” 20 “Then comes Art, and we forget the claims of necessity, the thrift of usefulness— the spires of our temple try to kiss the stars and the notes of our music to fathom the depths of the Ineffable.” *7 With the help of a Vedic text*8, his invariable stand-by, he sublimates the theory to cosmic proportions, as the hidden or higher law of the WorldPlay itself. “ Here ( in superfluity or transcendence ) we have the genesis of creation, and therefore the origin of art.” In other words : “ Where there is an element of the superfluous in our heart's relation with the world, Art has its birth.” This is a self-conscious theory and we who spend our time getting and spending will be well advised to listen to it now and then. There is no need to emphasize that such a meta-psycho logy in terms of the surplus tells us more of the origin ( of one k in d ) of work of art, in the mind of the artist, as a transcendent mode of existence, than of the work of art per se. It is not easy to deduce canons of criticism from such exalted exegesis that breaks away from or goes behind the actual work of art. The Tagorean theory tells us more of the originating impulse and less of the art object,02 as an
artefact, how it is made and what is to be done with it. It is more about the why than about the how. The aspect of form, of making, medium and technique is left almost un touched. Though he knows the passion “ to make objectively real that which is inwardly real to us”, he does not look upon the art object as an object among other objects, but as a focus of psychological energies, of a beyonding. He does not, however, equate the real with the beautiful. Or the useful. As he explains: “ My friend may not be beauti ful or useful, rich or great, but he is real to me. In him I feel my own extension of joy.” What more is there to say ? This brings him to the nature of aesthetic enjoyment. He has no hesitation in saying: “ Enjoyment is the soul of literature— enjoyment which is disinterested.” That is why “before we can be qualified to enjoy and understand beauty,, one has to go through a stage of discipline.” 80 In a sense the true artist is an ascetic.81 Such disinterestedness is a distinction not only of aesthetic activity but also of its enjoyment« in and as freedom. The delight self is th e free self. Hence the triumph and if you like the ‘meaning’ of art, that it becomes an instrument of self-expression whose other name is freedom, freedom from the empirical and the contin gent, perhaps, even, from the tyranny of history.88 As Tagore annotates i t : “ To give us the taste of reality through freedom of mind is the nature of all the arts.” F u rth er: “It is the aim of art and literature to realize and communicate this essential joy and immortality of Truth.” Beauty, like truth, will make you free. I f this is so, art needs no better defence, especially in an age of marginal and instrumental men, whose positivism only proves their poverty of imagination. The object of art is not beauty but expression or selfexpression, but not of this man so-and-so. Artist by nature*. B
in art man "reveals himself and not his objects’*. He objectifies emotions and attitudes, the object is not everything. It is a means to an end. To think otherwise, even to say that the Medium is the Message, is to fall for idolatry, to turn art into some kind of fetish. What is of value in a work o f art is the ‘realizing’. This is as true of art as of life, where and when it is truly creative. And "Life is perpetually creative because it contains in itself that surplus which over flows the boundary of time and space, restlessly pursuing its adventure of expression in varied forms of self-realisation.” At least so runs the Tagorean gospel, with a haunting appeal of its own. But, obviously, the self referred to here is not the separative ego, but the ‘true self’ one in all, the same in everything and always, some irreducible unity of man, pature and spirit, if not history. ( The poetry of history is the hardest hurdle. ) But always, by whatever route, we return to the one constant: delight. In Tagore’s own words : "In art we express the delight of this unity by which the world is realized as humanly significant to us.” 88 "The consciousness of the real within seeks for its corroboration the touch of the Real outside me.... A large and deep experience of our personal self through sympathy and imagination.” 84 Till the I am realizes its extension, its own infinity, whenever it truly realizes something else.85 The other is not hell but we. For the ideal rasika, connoisseur, there is no other. All is but the sweet difference of the Same. With so much sympathy and imagination, such refinement of sensibility, Tagore does not altogether escape historic limitations. For instance, he now and then speak in terms of the old East-West dichotomy. For instance, when he generalizes : "The West may believe in the soul of Man, but she really does not believe that the universe has a soul.” 8® This may be largely or statistically true, especially of the j>ost-industrial West. But, as a friend, if not a follower, of
th e romantics, how could he forget Wordsworth, Shelley and Coleridge, not to mention others?87 The nature of art and the enlargement of awareness ( citta vistara of Indian aesthetics) enable Tagore to touch upon the ethical issue, but from another angle than that of convention. W ithout recommending any particular ethical system or norm, a rt leads us to the same goal— of sympathy and disinterested ness. The imagination is an instrument of the good, so goes the romantic doctrine and truer than any other hypothesis. F rom which he goes on to a larger problem : “ The strongest barrier against freedom in all departments of life is the selfish ness of individuals or groups. Civilizations perish when some selfish passion replaces a moral ideal.” 88 Thus self-expression, leading, by degrees, to self-exceeding— or, as the mystics would say, self-naughting, "self expressed in not-self, without which no self were”— has pragmatic properties. Men are never true in their isolated self, and the imagination is the faculty that brings before their mind and the vision their own greater, infinite being. As this short anthology will bear out, art, Angel of Surplus, defines our humanity, socializes as well as draws us upward and onward. Antennae of awareness, it is the mark of our true becoming89, the heartland of a viable culture and community. O f such things only the poet’s tongue may speak.40 Santiniketan May 9, 1978
S. K. G.
See “...a confusion in our thought that the object of art is theproduction of beauty, whereas beauty in art has been the mere instru ment and not its complete and ultimate significance.” Tagore, W hat is Art ? “This is the history of my career. I wish I could reveal it more clearly through my work in my own language. I hope that will be possible some day.’ Tagore, The Religion of an Artist. Satyvam, Sivam, Sundaram, to use the Indian words, which are, how ever, not exactly the same as the Western triad. Sivam is more than Good. What E>ean Inge said of Ruskin holds true of Tagore. “The chief complaint Ruskin made against our civilization was that it had’ got its values wrong... and he realized that there are certain eternal, absolute, ultimate values which are generally described as Truth, Beauty and Goodness, which exist in their own right, which cannot be referred to anything else, and which ought to be the aim of every honest man in the world.” See his essay, “Tlie Historicity of Literature”. Characteristically, the poem is called “Shunned at the Temple Gate”Religiosity or conventional religion has never claimed the poet's loyalty. “The Artist.” As Tolstoy pointed out : “A real work of art destroys, in the con sciousness of the receiver, the separation between himself and all those minds who receive the work of art. In this freeing of our personality from its separation and isolation, in this uniting of it with others, lies the chief characteristic and the great attractive force of art.” What is Art ? Rabindranath Tagore, What is Art ? “Nature never set forth the earth in such rich tapestry, as diverse Poets have done. . . . Her world is brasen, the Poets only deliver the golden.” Philip Sidney, Apologie for Poetry. “Whatever the world of aesthetic contemplation may be, it is not the world of human business and passion, in it the chatter and tumult of material existence is unheard, or heard only as the echo of some more ultimate harmony.” Clive Bell, Art. Tagore, The Religion of an Artist. See Galpo-Salpo, “Aro Satti”. Harking back to Aristotle one might say : “It is not the function
14. 15. 16. 17.
•of the poet to tell us what has happened, but the kind of thing that might happen— that is possible, by which I mean either probable or necessary/’ Poetics, I, x. As Bergson pointed out : “A distinction might be made between the personality we have and all those we might have had.” More speci fically : “Art is a more direct vision of reality. But this purity of perception implies a break with utilitarian convention, an innate and specifically localised disinterestedness, of sense or consciousness, in short, a certain immateriality of life, which is what has always been called idealism. So that we might say, without in any way playing upon the meaning of the words, that realism is in the work when idealism is in the soul, and that it is only through ideality that we can resume contact with reality.” Laughter. In other words, “In aesthetic imitation the self is an ideal self. But this must not be misunderstood. This ideal self too is real, but it) is not the practical self. It is the contemplative self which only exists in the lingering contemplation of the object.” Theodore Lipps, Empathy, Inward Imitation ancl Sense Feelings. See Thomas Aquinas : “And since cognition is by assimilation (of tihe known and the knower) and assimilation is of the form, and belongs strictly to the category of formal cause.” Summa Theologica, I, xxxix, 8. “A sense of the universe, a sense of the all, the nostalgia which seizes when confronted by nature, beauty, music— these» seem to be an expectation and awareness of a Great Presence. The ‘mystics’ and their commentators apart, how has psychology been able so persistently to ignore the fundamental vibration whose ring can be heard by every practised ear as the basis or rather at the summit of every great creation ? Resonance to the All— the keynote of pure poetry and pure religion.” Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, p. 266. “Humanity ?” asked Goethe. “That is an abstraction. From time immemorial there have only been human beings and there always will be human beings.” Conversations with Eckermann. “The Sense of Beauty.” But, according to the voice of maturity, longing vanishes in action. “The Artist.” It may be pointed out that in the traditional Indian account Ananda, the principle of delight, follows or is part of Vijnana, Knowledge. That is, the Self of Bliss is one with the Self of Knowledge that is Wisdom. In the words of a mystic, it is the “wisdom-bloom on the summits of being”. Wordsworth called poetry “the breath and finer spirit of knowledge**. Preface, Lyrical Ballads.
19. “The first characteristic of aesthetic knowledge is the oneness in it of subject and object, of the! knowing and the known....The aesthetic experience is knowledge in which there is not present the distinction or separation between subject and predicate.” Philip Leon, Aesthetic Knowledge. 20. “All artists who analyze feel ill at ease; they wish to shift as soon as possible from logic to value.” James K. Feiblemann, Aesthetics, p. 451. 21. “Letters on Painting.” 22. The Religion of an Artist. 23. Language, said Whitehead, is expression from one's past to the present. In Tagore this tends to become an exchange between time and the timeless, though not in a wholly mystical manner. 24. The triple world of art includes “the eternal universe of possibility... the temporal universe of actually___the two universes joined by a third, termed the universe of destiny.” “The ontology of art, therefore, is a study of art considered in its broadest aspect as a specimen of being.” James K. Feiblemann, Aesthetics, pp. 23, 27. 25.
It has its echo in William James : “Man’s chief difference from the brute lies in the exuberant excess of his subjective propensities ; had his whole life not been a quest for the superfluous, he would never have established himself as inexpugnably as he has done in the necessity. Prime down the extravagance, sober him and you undo him.”
As the Earl of Listowell put it : “The destiny of man on earth, and the growing care of the civilization that he has planted there, is to realise even more abundantly the godlike creative passion, and so gradually to build a kingdom of pure and perpetual love, a world city, an Athens without slavery and with charity, in one small comer of the inexorable and pitiless empire of brute nature.” A Critical History of Modern Aesthetics, p. 276. 27. W hat U Art ? 28.
The notion of temporality in Tagorean aesthetics should prove to be interesting. Almost no work has been done on the subject.
For Tagore, as for Croce, art is of course not a “physical fact”. But neither is a symbolist, in any sense. “Sense of Beauty.”
Distancing has been part of aesthetic enjoyment and experience, long before the modems came to think of it. The Witness Self (sakfi) is
a seminal concept of Indian culture and its theory of perception. In* The Critique of Judgment Kant had said : “A man in a state of fear is as incapable of judging nature as one possessed by longing or appetite is of judging about beauty”. Restlessness, a major motive in the poetry of Tagore, may not be “beautiful”. 33. 34. 35. 30.
38. 39. 10.
“The Artist.*’ Ibid. The Religion of an Artist. Tagore would perhaps agree with Croce that “without the aid of imagination, nothing in nature is beautiful; and with its aid, according to our disposition, the same thing is now expressive, now unmeaning, now expressive in one way, now in another, sad or joyful, sublime or ridiculous...... Man, faced with natural beauty, is exactly the mythical Narcissus at the pool”. Wordsworth spoke of the “Wisdom and Spirit of the Universe”. Shelley was full of the soul stuff. Even Coleridge, in his “Ode to Dejection” : “Ah ! from the soul itself must issue forth/A light, a glory, a fair luminous cloud/Enveloping the Earth”. “The Philosophy of Our People”. The fertilisation of the soul, wrote Whitehead, is the reason for the necessity of art. Would not Tagore agree ? See “Allow that much of Tagore's prose is poetry, and compels assent by the beauty of its expression, it is nevertheless true that for real' insight, few either of the East or West can be regarded as his equal.’* Raynor C. Johnson, The Imprisoned Splendour, p. 89.
Page The Religion of an Artist The Artist What is Art ? Art and Tradition Sense of Beauty The Nexus of Beauty The Realisation of Beauty The Philosophy of Literature The Principle of Literature Universal Literature The Meaning of a Poem Modern Poetry The Philosophy of Our People The Philosophy of Leisure The Aim of Literature Historicity in Literature The Real and the True References
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I w a s b o r n in 1861. That is not an important date of history, but it belongs to a great epoch in Bengal, when the currents of three movements had met in the life of our country. One of these, the religious, was introduced by a very great-hearted man of gigantic intelligence, Raja Rammohan Roy. It was revolutionary, for he tried to re-open the channel of spiritual life which had been obstructed for many years by the sands and debris of creeds that were formal and materialistic, fixed in external practices lacking spiritual significance. There was a second movement equally important. Bankimchandra Chatterjee, who, though much older than myself, was my contemporary and lived long enough for me to see him, was the first pioneer in the literary revolution which happened in Bengal about that time. Before his arrival our literature had been oppressed by a rigid rhetoric that choked its life and loaded it with ornaments that became its fetters. Bankimchandra was brave enough to go against the orthodoxy which believed in the security of tombstones and in that finality which can only belong to the lifeless. He lifted the dead weight of ponderous forms from our language and with a touch of his magic wand aroused our literature from her agelong sleep. There was yet another movement started about this time called the National. It was not fully political, but it began to give voice to the mind of our people trying to assert their own personality. It was a voice of impatience at the humiliation constantly heaped upon us by people who were not oriental, and who had, especially at that time, the habit of sharply dividing the human world into the good
ANGEL OF SURPLUS
and the bad according to the hemispheres to which they belong. It generated in our young men a distrust of all things that had come to them as an inheritance from their past. The national movement was started to proclaim that we must not be indiscriminate in our rejection of the past. These three movements were on foot and in all three the members of my own family took active part. We were ostracized because of our heterodox opinions about religion and therefore we enjoyed the freedom of the outcast. My family had to live its own life, which led me from my young days to seek guidance for my own self-expression in my own inner standard of judgment. The medium of ex pression doubtless was my mother tongue. But the language which belonged to the people had to be modulated accord ing to the urge which I as an individual had. No poet should borrow his medium ready-made from some shop of orthodox respectability. Each poet has his own distinct medium of language— not because the whole language is of his own make, but because his individual use of it, having life’s magic touch, transforms it into a special vehicle of his own creation. When forms become fixed, the spirit either weakly accepts its imprisonment within them or rebels. All revolutions consist of the fight of the within against invasion by the without. When I began my life as a poet, the writers among our educated community took their guidance from their English text-books. I suppose it was fortunate for me that I never in my life had the kind of academic training which is considered proper for a boy of a respectafile family. Though I cannot say I was altogether free from the influence that ruled young minds of those days, the course of my writings was nevertheless saved from the groove of imitative forms. In my versification, vocabulary and ideals, I yielded myself to the vagaries of an untutored fancy which brought
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castigation upon me from critics who were learned, and uproarious laughter from the witty. My ignorance combined with my heresy turned me into a literary outlaw. When I began my career I was ridiculously young ; in fact, I was youngest of that band who had made themselves articulate. I had neither the protective armour of mature age, nor enough English to command respect. What gave me boldness when I was young was my early acquaintance with the old Vaishnava poems of Bengal, full of the freedom of metre and courage of expression. I think I was only twelve when these poems first began to be re printed. I surreptitiously got hold of copies from the desks of my elders. For the edification of the young I must confess that this was not right for a boy of my age. But my imagination was fully occupied with the beauty of their forms and the music of their w ords; and their breath, heavily laden with voluptuousness, passed over my mind -without distracting it. My vagabondage in the path of my literary career had another reason. Most of the members of my family had some gift— some were artists, some poets, some musicians and the whole atmosphere of our home was permeated with the spirit of creation. I had a deep sense almost from infancy of the beauty of Nature, an intimate feeling of companionship with the trees and the clouds, and felt in tune with the musical touch of the seasons in the air. At the same time, I had a peculiar susceptibility to human kindness. All these craved expression. The very earnestness of my emotions yearned to be true to themselves, though I was too immature to give their expression any perfection of form. Since then I have gained a reputation in my country, but till very late a strong current of antagonism in a large section o f my countrymen persisted. Some said that my poems did
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not spring from the national h e a rt; some complained that they were incomprehensible ; others that they were unwholesome. In fact, I have never had complete acceptance from my own people, and that too has been a blessing ; for nothing is so demoralizing as unqualified success. This is the history of my career. I wish I could reveal it more clearly in my own language. I hope that will be possible some day or other. Languages are jealous. They do not give up their best treasures to those who try to deal with them through an intermediary belonging to an alien rival. We have to court them in person and dance attendance on them. Poems are not, like market commodities, transferable. We cannot receive the smiles and glances of our sweetheart through an attorney, however diligent and dutiful he may be. I myself have tried to get at the wealth of beauty in the literature of the European languages, long before I gained a full right to their hospitality. When I was young I tried toapproach Dante, unfortunately through an English translation. I failed utterly. I also wanted to know German literature and, by reading Heine in translation, I thought I had caught a glimpse of the beauty there. Then I tried Goethe. But that was too ambitious. With the help of the little German I had learnt, I did go through Faust. I believe I found my entrance to the palace, not like one who has keys for all the doors, but as a casual visitor who is tolerated in some general guest room, comfortable but not intimate. Properly speaking, I do not know my Goethe, and in the same way many other great luminaries are dusky to me. This is as it should be. Man cannot reach the shrine if he does not make the pilgrimage. So, one must not hope to find anything true from my own language in translation. In regard to music, I claim to be something of a musician myself. I have composed many songs which have defied the canons of orthodox propriety and good people are disgusted
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at the impudence of a man who is audacious only because he is untrained. But I persist, and God forgives me because I do not know what I do. Possibly that is the best way of doing things in the sphere of art. For I find that people blame, but also sing my songs, even if not always correctly. Please do not think I am vain. I do not hesitate to say that my songs have found their place in the heart of my land, and that the folk of the future, in days of joy or sorrow or festival, will have to sing them. If I feel reluctant to speak about my own view of religion, it is because I have not come to my own religion through the portals of passive acceptance of a particular creed owing to some accident of birth. I was born to a family who were pioneers in the revival in our country of a religion based upon the utterance of Indian sages in the Upanishads. But owing to my idiosyncrasy of temperament, it was impossible for me to accept any religious teaching on the only ground that people in my surroundings believed it to be true*. I could not persuade myself to imagine that I had religion simply because everybody whom I might trust believed in its value. My religion is essentially a poet’s religion. Its touch comes to me through the same unseen and trackless channels as does the inspiration of my music. My religious life has followed the same mysterious line of growth as has my poetical life. Somehow they are wedded to each other, and though their betrothal had a long period of ceremony, it was kept secret from me. I had been blessed with that sense of wonder which gives a child his right of entry into the treasure-house of mystery which is in the heart of existence. I neglected my studies because they rudely summoned me away from the world around me, and when I was thirteen I freed myself from the clutch
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of an educational system that tried to keep me imprisoned within the stone-walls of lessons. It was a great thing for me that my consciousness was never dull about the facts of the surrounding world. That the cloud was the cloud, that a flower was a flower, was enough, because they directly spoke to me. I still remember the very moment, one afternoon, when coming back from school I alighted from the carriage and suddenly saw in the sky, behind the upper terrace of our house, an exuberance of deep, dark rain-clouds lavishing rich, cool shadows on the atmosphere. The marvel of it, the very generosity of its presence, gave me a joy which was freedom, the freedom we feel in the love of our dear friend. Mere information of facts, mere discovery of power, belongs to the outside and not to the inner soul of things. Gladness is the one criterion of truth as we know when we have touched Truth by the music it gives, by the joy of the greeting it sends forth to the truth in us. That is the true foundation of all religions ; it is not in dogma. As I have said before, it is not as ether waves that we receive lig h t; the morning does not wait for some scientist for its introduction to us. In the same way, we touch the infinite reality immediaiely within us only when we perceive the pure truth of love or goodness, not through the explanation of theologians, not through the erudite discussion of ethical doctrines. I have already confessed that my religion is a poet’s religion ; all that I feel about it is from vision and not from knowledge. I frankly say that I cannot satisfactorily answer questions about the problem of evil or about what happens after death. And yet I am sure that there have come moments when my soul has touched the infinite and has become intensely conscious of it through the illumination of joy. It has been said in our Upanishads that our mind and our words come away baffled fiom the supreme Truth, but he who
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knows That, through the immediate joy of his own soul, is saved from all doubts and fears. In the night we stumble over things and become acutely conscious of their individual separateness, but the day reveals tne great unity which embraces them. And the man, whose inner vision is bathed in an illumination of his consciousness, at once realizes the spiritual unity reigning supreme over all differences of race and his mind no longer awkwardly stumbles over individual facts of separateness in the human world, accepting them as final; he realizes that peace is in the inner harmony which dwells in truth, and not in any outer adjust ments ; and that beauty carries an eternal assurance of our spiritual relationship to reality, which waits for its perfection in the response of our love. II The renowned Vedic commentator, Sayanacl a ya, says:
The food offering which is left over after the completion of sacrificial rites is praised because it is symbolical of Brahma, the original source of the universe. According to this explanation, Brahma is boundless in his superfluity which inevitably finds its expression in the eternal world process. Here we have the doctrine of the genesis of creation, and therefore of the origin of art. Of all living creatures in the world, man has his vital and mental energy vastly in excess of his need, which urges him to Work in various lines of creation for its own sake. Like Brahma himself, he takes joy in productions that are un necessary to him, and therefore representing his extravagance
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and not his hand-to-mouth penury. The voice that is just enough can speak and cry to the extent needed for everyday use, but that which is abundant sings, and in it we find our joy. Art reveals man’s wealth of life, which seeks its freedom in forms of perfection which are an end in themselves. All that is inert and inanimate is limited to the bare fact of existence. Life is perpetually creative because it contains in itself that surplus which ever overflows the boundaries of the immediate time and space, restlessly pursuing its adven ture of expression in the varied forms of self-realization. Our living body has its vital organs that are important in maintaining its efficiency, but this body is not a mere convenient sac for the purpose of holding stomach, heart, lungs and brains ; it is an image— its highest value is in the fact that it communicates its personality. It has colour, shape and movement, most of which belong to the super fluous, that are needed only for self-expression and not for self-preservation. This living atmosphere of superfluity in man is dominated by his imagination, as the earth’s atmosphere by the light. It helps us to integrate desultory facts in a vision of harmony and then to translate it into our activities for the very joy of its perfection, it invokes in us the Universal Man who is the seer and the doer of all times and countries. The immediate consciousness of reality in its purest form, unobscured by the shadow of self-interest, irrespective of moral or utilitarian recommendation, gives us joy as does the self-revealing personality of our own. What in common language we call beauty, which is in harmony of lines, colours, sounds, or in grouping of words or thoughts, delights us only because we cannot help admitting a truth in it that is ultimate. “ Love is enough,” the poet has said ; it carries its ownexplanation, the joy of which can only be expressed in a form ofart which also has thatfinality.
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Love gives evidence to something which is outside us but which intensely exists and thus stimulates the sense of our own existence. It radiantly reveals the reality of its objects, though these may lack qualities that are valuable or brilliant. The I am in me realizes its own extension, its own infinity whenever it truly realizes something else. Un fortunately, owing to our limitations and a thousand and one preoccupations, a great part of our world, though closely surrounding us, is far away from our attention : it is dim, it passes by us, a caravan of shadows, like the landscape seen in the night from the window of an illuminated railway com partm ent: the passenger knows that the outside world exists, that it is important, but for the time being the rail way carriage for him is far more significant. If among the innumerable objects in this world there be a few that come under the full illumination of our soul and thus assume reality for us, they constantly cry to our creative mind for permanent representation. They belong to the same domain as the desire of ours which represents the longing for the permanence of our own self. That fact that we exist has its truth in the fact that everything else does exist, and the “ I am” in me crosses its finitude whenever it deeply realizes itself in the “Thou art” . This crossing of the limit produces joy, the joy that we have in beauty, in love, in greatness. Self-forgetting, and, in a higher degree self-sacrifice, is our acknowledgment of this our experience of the infinite. This is the philosophy which explains our joy in all arts, the arts that in their creations intensify the sense of the unity which is the unity of truth we carry within ourselves. The personality in me is a selfconscious principle of a living u n ity; it at once comprehends and yet transcends all the details of facts that are individually mine, my knowledge, feeling, wish and will, my memory, my hope, my love, my activities, and all my belongings. Its
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standard of reality, the reality that has its perfect revelation in a perfection of harmony, is hurt when there is a conscious ness of discord— because discord is against the fundamental unity which is in its centre. All other facts have come to us through the gradual course of our experience, and our knowledge of them is constantly undergoing contradictory changes through the discovery of new data. We can never be sure that we have come to know the final character of anything that there is. But such a knowledge has come to us immediately with a conviction which needs no arguments to support it. It is this, that all my activities have their sources in this per sonality of mine which is indefinable and yet about the truth of which I am more certain than anything in this world. Though all the direct evidence that can be weighed and measured support the fact that only my fingers are producing marks on the paper, yat no sane man ever can doubt that it is not these mechanical movements that are the true origin of my writings but some entity that can never be known, unless known through sympathy. Thus we have come to realize in our own person the two aspects of activities, one of which is the aspect of law represented in the medium, and the other the aspect of will residing in the personality. Limitation of the unlimited is personality : God is per sonal where he creates. He accepts the limits of his own law and the play goes on, which is this world whose reality is in its relation to the Person. Things are distinct not in their essence but in their appearance ; in other words, in their relation to one to whom they appear. This is art, the truth of which is not in substance or logic, but in expression. Abstract truth may belong to science and metaphysics, but the world of reality belongs to Art. The world as an art is the play of the Supreme Person
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revelling in imige-making. Try to find out the ingredients of the image— they elude you, they never reveal to you the eternal secret of appearance. In your effort to capture life as expressed in living tissue, you will find carbon, nitrogen and many other things utterly unlike life, but never life it self. The appearance does not offer any commentary of itself through its material. You may call it mdyd and pretend to disbelieve it, but the great artist, the mdydvin, is not hurt. For art is mdyd, it has no other explanation but that it seems to be what it is. So life is mdyd, as moralists love to say, it is and is not. All that we find in it is the rhythm through which it shows itself. Are rocks and minerals any better ? Has not science shown us the fact that the ultimate difference between one element and another is only that of rhythm ? The funda mental distinction of gold from mercury lies merely in the difference of rhythm in their respective atomic constitution, like the distinction of the king from his subject which is not in their different constituents, but in the different metres of their situation and circumstance. There you find behind the scene the Artist, the Magician of rhythm, who imparts an appearance of substance to the unsubstantial. What is rhythm ? It is the movement generated and regulated by harmonious restriction. This is the creative force in the hand of the artist. So long as words remain in uncadenced prose form, they do not give any lasting feeling of reality. The moment they are taken and put into rhythm they vibrate into a radiance. In perfect rhythm, the art-form becomes like the stars which in their seeming stillness are never still, like a motion less flame that is nothing but movement. A great picture is always speaking, but news from a newspaper, even of some tragic happening, is still-born. Some news may be a mere commonplace in the obscurity of a journal ; but give it a
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proper rhythm and it will never cease to shine. That is art. It has the magic wand which gives undying reality to all things it touches, and relates them to the personal being in us. We stand before its productions and say : I know you as I know myself, you are real. A Chinese friend of mine, while travelling with me through the streets of Peking, suddenly, with great excite ment, called my attention to a donkey. Ordinarily a donkey does not have any special force of truth for us, except when it kicks us or when we need its reluctant service. But in such cases, the truth is not emphasized in the donkey but in some purpose or bodily pain exterior to it. The behaviour of my Chinese friend at once reminded me of the Chinese poems in which the delightful sense of reality is so spontaneously felt and so simply expressed. This sensitiveness to the touch of things, such abundant delight in the recognition of them, is obstructed when insistent purposes become innumerable and intricate in our society, when problems crowd in our path clamouring for attention, and life’s movement is impeded with things and thoughts too difficult for a harmonious assimilation. This has been growing evident every day in the modern age, which gives more time to the acquisition of life’s equip ment than to the enjoyment of it. In fact, life itself is made secondary to life’s materials, even like a garden buried under the bricks gathered for the garden wall. Somehow the mania for bricks and mortar grows, the kingdom of rubbish dominates, the days of spring are made futile and the flowers never come. Our modern mind, a hasty tourist, in its rush over the miscellaneous, ransacks cheap markets of curios which mostly are delusions. This happens because its natural sensibility for simple aspects of existence is dulled by constant preoccupations that divert it. The literature that it produces seems always
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to be poking her nose into out-of-the-way places for things and effects that are out of the common. She racks her resources in order to be striking. She elaborates inconstant changes in style, as in modern millinery; and the product suggests more the polish of steel than the bloom of life. Fashions in literature that rapidly tire of themselves seldom come from the depth. They belong to the frothy rush of the surface, with its boisterous clamours for the recognition of the moment. Such literature, by its very strain, exhausts its inner development and quickly passes through outer changes like autumn leaves— produces with the help of paints and patches an up-to-dateness, shaming its own appearance of the immediately preceding date. Its expressions are often grimaces, like the cactus of the desert which lacks mode>ty in its distortions and peace in its thorns, in whose attitude an aggressive discourtesy bristles up, suggesting a forced pride of poverty. We often come across its analogy in some of the modern writings which are difficult to ignore because of their prickly surprises and paradoxical gesticulations. Wisdom“ is not rare in these works, but it is a wisdom that has lost confidence in its serene dignity, afraid of being ignored by crowds which are attracted by the extravagant and the unusual. It is sad to see wisdom struggling to seem clever, a prophet arrayed in caps and bells before an admiring multitude. But in all great arts, literary or otherwise, man has expressed his feelings that are usual in a form that is unique and yet not abnormal. When Wordsworth described in his poem a life deserted by love, he invoked for his art the usual pathos expected by all normal minds in connection with such a subject. But the picture in which he incarnated the sentiment was unexpected and yet every sane reader acknowledges it with joy when the image is held before him of ...a forsaken bird's nest filled with snow ’Mid its own bush of leafless eglantine.
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On the other hand, I have read some modern writing in which the coming out of the stars in the evening is des cribed as the sudden eruption of disease in the bloated body of darkness. The writer seems afraid to own the feeling of a cool purity in the star-sprinkled night which is usual, lest he should be found out as commonplace. From the point of view of realism the image may not be wholly inappropriate and may be considered as outrageously virile in its unshrinking incivility. But this is not a r t ; this is a jerky shriek, some thing like the convulsive advertisement of the modern j market that exploits mob psychology against its inattention.; To be tempted to create an illusion of forcefulness through I an over-emphasis of abnormality is a sign of anaesthesia. \ It is the waning vigour of imagination which employs des perate dexterity in the present-day art for producing shocks i in order to poke out into a glare the sensation of the un accustomed. When we find that the literature of any period is laborious in the pursuit of a spurious novelty in its manner and matter, we must know that it is the symptom ; of old age, of anaemic sensibility which seeks to stimulate its palsied taste with the pungency of indecency and the i tingling touch of intemperance. It has been explained to j me that these symptoms mostly are the outcome of a I reaction against the last-century literature which developed ! a mannerism too daintily saccharine, unmanly in the luxury o f its toilet and over-delicacy of its expressions. It seemed | to have reached an extreme limit of refinement which almost codified its conventions, making it easy for the timid talents to reach a comfortable level of literary respectability. This explanation may be true ; but unfortunately reactions seldom have the repose of spontaneity, they often represent th e , obverse side of the mintage which they try to repudiate as false. A reaction against a particular mannerism is liable to ; produce its. own mannerism in a militant fashion, using the
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toilet preparation of the war paint, a deliberately manu factured style of primitive rudeness. Tired of the elaborately planned flower-beds, the gardener proceeds with grim deter mination to set up everywhere artificial rocks avoiding natural inspiration of rhythm in deference to a fashion of tyranny which itself is a tyranny of fashion. The same herd instinct is followed in a cult of rebellion as it was in the cult of conformity and the defiance, which is a mere counteraction of obedience, also shows obedience in a defiant fashion. Fanaticism of virility produces a brawny athleticism meant for a circus and not the natural chivalry which is modest but invincible, claiming its sovereign seat of honour in all arts. It has often been said by its advocates that this show of the rudely loud and cheaply lurid in art has [its justification in the unbiased recognition of facts as such ; and according to them realism must not be shunned even if it be ragged and evil-smelling. But when it does not concern science but concerns the arts we must draw a distinction between realism and reality. In its own wide perspective of normal environ ment, disease is a reality which has to be acknowledged in literature. But disease in a hospital is realism fit for the use of science. It is an abstraction which, if allowed to haunt literature, may assume a startling appearance because of its unreality. Such vagrant spectres do not have a proper modulation in a normal surrounding ; and they offer a false proportion in their feature because the proportion of their environment is tampered with. Such a curtailment of the essential is not art, but a trick which exploits mutilation in order to assert a false claim to reality. Unfortunately men are not rare who believe that what forcibly startles them allows them to see more than the facts which are balanced and restrained, which they have to woo and win. Very likely, owing to the lack of leisure, such persons are
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growing in number, and the dark cellars of sex-psychology and drug-stores of moral virulence are burgled to give them the stimulus which they wish to believe to be the stimulus of aesthetic reality. I know a simple line sung by some primitive folk in our neighbourhood which I translate thus : “ My heart is like a pebble-bed hiding a foolish stream.” The psycho-analyst may classify it as an instance of repressed desire and thus at once degrade it to a mere specimen advertising a supposed fact, as it does a piece of coal suspected of having smuggled within its dark the flaming wine of the sun of a forgotten age. But it is literature ; and what might have been the original stimulus that startled this thought into a song, the significant fact about it is that it has taken the shape of an image, a creation of a uniquely personal and yet universal character. But this is not all. This poem no doubt owed its form to the touch of the person who produced i t ; but at the same time with a gesture of utter detachment, it has tran scended its material— the emotional mood of the author. It has gained its freedom from any biographical bondage by taking a rhythmic perfection which is precious in its own exclusive merit. There is a poem which confesses by its title its origin in a mood of dejection. Nobody can say that to a lucid mind the feeling of despondency has anything pleasantly memorable. Yet these verses are not allowed to be forgotten, because directly a poem is fashioned, it is eternally freed from its genesis, it minimizes its history and emphasizes its independence. The sorrow which was solely personal in an emperor was liberated directly it took the form of verses in stone, it became a triumph of lament, an overflow of delight, hiding the black boulder of its suffering source. The same thing is true of all creation. A dewdrop is a perfect integrity that has no filial memory of its parentage.
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When I use the word creation, I mean that through it some imponderable abstractions have assumed a concrete unity in its relation to us. Its substance can be analyzed but not this unity which is in its self-introduction. Litera ture as an art offers us the mystery which is in its unity. We read the poem : Never seek to tell thy love Love that never told can b e ; For the gentle wind does move Silently, invisibly. I told my love, I told my love, I told all my heart: Trembling cold in ghastly fears Ah, she did depart. Soon as she was gone from me A traveller came by ; Silently, invisibly, He took her with a sigh. It has its grammar, its vocabulary. When we divide them part by part and try to torture out a confession from them, the poem which is one departs like the gentle wind, silently, invisibly. No one knows how it exceeds all its parts, transcends all its laws, and communicates with the person. The significance which is in unity is an eternal wonder. As for the definite meaning of the poem, we may have our doubts. If it were told in ordinary prose, we might feel impatient and be roused to contradict it. We would certainly have asked for an explanation as to who the traveller was and why he took away love without any reasonable provocation. But in this poem we need not ask for an explanation unless we are hopelessly addicted to meaning-collection which is like the collection mania for dead butterflies. 2
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The unity as a poem introduces itself in a rhythmic language in a gesture of character. Rhythm is not merely in some measured blending of words, but in a significant adjustment of ideas, in a music of thought produced by a subtle principle of distribution, which is not primarily logi cal but evidential. The meaning which the word ‘character* contains is difficult to define. It is for the artist to remind the world that with the truth of our expression we grow in truth. When the manmade world is less an expression of man’s creative soul than a mechanical device for some purpose of power, then it hardens itself, acquiring proficiency at the cost of the subtle suggestiveness of living growth. In his creative activities man makes Nature instinct with his own life and love. But with his utilitarian energies he fights Nature, banishes her from his world, deforms and defiles her with the ugliness of his ambitions. This world of man’s own manufacture, with its discordant shrieks and swagger, impresses on him the scheme of a universe which has no touch of the person and therefore no ultimate significance. All the great civilizations that have become extinct must have come to their end through such wrong expression of hum anity; through parasitism on a gigantic scale bred by wealth, by man’s clinging reliance on material resources ; through a scoffing spirit of denial, of negation, robbing us of our means of sustenance in the path of truth. It is for the artist to proclaim his faith in the ever lasting y e s — to sa y : “ I believe that there is an ideal hover ing over and permeating the earth, an ideal of that Paradise which is not the mere outcome of fancy, but the ultimate reality in which all things dwell and move.” I believe that the vision of Paradise is to be seen in the sunlight and the green of the earth, in the beauty of the
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human face and the wealth of human life, even in objects that are seemingly insignificant and unprepossessing. Every where in this earth the spirit of Paradise is awake and sending forth its voice. It reaches our inner ear without our knowing it. It tunes our harp of life, which sends our aspiration in music beyond the finite, not only in prayers and hopes, but also in temples which are flames of fire in «tone, in pictures which are dreams made everlasting, in the dance which is ecstatic meditation in the still centre of movement.
desire of life is the desire to exist. It claims from us a vast amount of training and experience ; it does not cost me much to confess that the food I have taken, the dress that I wear, the house where I have my lodging represent a stupendous knowledge, practice and organization which I helplessly lack. Yet I find that I am not altogether despised for such ignorance and inefficiency. Those who read me seem fairly satisfied that I am nothing better than a poet or perhaps a philosopher— which latter reputation I do not claim and dare not hold. It is quite evident in spite of my deficiency that in human society I represent a vocation. In fact, I am encouraged in my rhythmic futility by being offered moral and material incentives. If a foolish blackbird did not know how to seek its food, to build its nest, or to avoid its enemies, but specialized in singing, its fellow creatures would dutifully allow it to starve and perish. That I am not treated in a similar fashion is the evidence of an immense difference between the animal existence and the civilization of man. His great distinction dwells in the indefinite margin of life which affords a boundless background for his dreams and creations. And it is in this realm of freedom that he realizes his divine dignity, his great human truth, and is pleased when I as a poet sing victory to him, to Man the self-revealer. Reality reveals itself in the emotional and imaginative background of our mind. We know it, not because we can think of it, but because we directly feel it. And therefore, even if rejected by the logical mind, it is not banished from our consciousness. As an incident it may be beneficial or injurious, but as a revelation its value lies in the fact that it T he fundam ental
offers us an experience; we feel ourselves in a special field of realization. This feeling itself is delightful when it is not accompanied by any great physical or moral ris k ; we love to feel even fear or sorrow if it is detached from all practical consequences. This is the reason of our enjoyment of tragic dramas. The reality of my own self is immediate and indubitable to me. Whatever else affects me in a like manner is real for myself and it attracts and occupies my attention for its own sake, blends itself with my personality, making it richer and larger and causing it delight. My friend may not be beautiful, useful, rich or great, but he is real to m e ; in him I feel my own extension and my joy. The consciousness of the real within me seeks for its own corroboration the touch of the Real outside me. When it fails, the self in me is depressed. When our surroundings are monotonous and insignificant, having no emotional reaction upon our mind, we become vague to ourselves. For we are like pictures, whose reality is helped by the background. The punishment we suffer in solitary confinement consists in the obstruction to the relationship between the world of reality and the real in ourselves. Our personality is blurred through the diminution of our self. The world of knowledge is enlarged through the extension of inform ation; the world of our personality grows in its area with a large and deeper experience of our personal self in our own universe through sympathy and imagination. As this world, that can be known through knowledge, is limited to us owing to our ignorance, so the world of perso nality, that can be realized by our own personal self, is also restricted by the limit of our sympathy and imagination. In the dim twilight of insensitiveness a large part of our world remains to us like a procession of nomadic shadows. According to the stages of our consciousness we have more or less been
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able to identify ourselves with this world, if not as a whole, at least in fragments, and our enjoyment dwells in that wherein we feel ourselves thus united. In art we express the delight of this unity by which this world is realized as humanly signi ficant to us, I have my physical, chemical, and biological self ; I have also my personal self, which has its communica tion with our feelings, sentiments and imagination, which lends itself to be coloured by our desires and is shaped by our imageries. Science urges us to occupy by our mind the knowable world ; our spiritual teacher enjoins us to comprehend by our soul the infinite Spirit which is in the depth of the moving and changing facts of the world. The urging of our artistic nature is to realize the manifestation of personality in the world of appearance, the reality of existence which is in harmony with the real within us. Where this harmony is not deeply felt, we are aliens and perpetually homesick. For man by nature is an artist ; he never receives passively in his mind the physical representation of things around him. There goes on a continual adaptation, a transformation of facts into human imagery, through constant touches of his sentiments and imagination. The animal has the geography of its birthplace ; man has his country, the geography of his personal self. The vision is not merelyphysical ; it has its artistic unity, it is a perpetualcreation.In his country, his consciousness being unobstructed, man extends his relation ship, which is of his own creative personality. In order to live efficiently man must know facts and their laws. In order to be happy he must establish harmonious relationship with all things with which he has dealings. Our creation is the modification of relationship. The great men who appear in our history remain in our mind not as a static fact butas a living historical image. The sublime suggestions of their lives become blended into a
noble consistency in legends made living. Even those men with whom we live we constantly modify in our minds, making them more real to us than they would be in a bare presentation. Men’s ideal of womanhood and women’s ideal of manliness are created by the imagination through a mental grouping of qualities and conducts according to our hopes and desires, and men and women consciously and unconsciously strive towards its attainment. In fact, they reach a degree of reality for each other according to their success in adapting these respective ideals to their own nature. To say that these ideals are imaginary and therefore not true is wrong in man’s case. His true life is in his own creation. He is naturally indifferent to things that merely exist; they must have some ideal value for him, and then only his consciousness fully recognizes them as real. Men are never true in their isolated self, and their imagination is the faculty that brings before their mind the vision of their own greater being. We can make truth ours by actively modulating its inter-relations. This is the work of a r t ; for reality is not based in the substance of things but in the principle of relationship. Truth is the infinite pursued by metaphysics; fact is the infinite pursued by science, while reality is the definition of the infinite which relates truth to the person. Reality is hum an; it is what we are conscious of, by which we are affected, that which we express. When we are intensely aware of it, we are aware of ourselves and if gives us delight. O ur arts and literature represent this creative activity which is fundamental in man. But the mysterious fact about it is that though the indivi duals are separately seeking their expression, their success is never individualistic in character. Men must find and feel a n d represent in all their creative works Man the Eternal. Civilization is a continual discovery of the transcendental
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humanity. In whatever it fails it shows the failure of the artist, which is the failure in expression ; and that civilization perishes in which the individual thwarts the revelation of the universal. For Reality is the truth of Man, who belongs to all times, and any individualistic madness of men against Man cannot thrive for long. Man is eager that his feeling for what is real to him must never die ; it must find an imperishable form. The consciousnes of this self of mine is so intensely evident to me that it assumes the character of immortality. I cannot imagine that it ever has been or can be non-existent. In a similar manner all things that are real to me are for myself eternal and therefore worthy of a language that has a permanent meaning. We know individuals who have the habit of inscribing their names on the walls of some majestic monument. It is a pathetic way of associating their own names with some works of art which belong to all times and to all men. Our hunger for reputation comes from our desire to make objectively real that which is inwardly real to us. He who is inarticulate is insignificant, and he ever waits for the artist to give him his fullest worth, not for anything specially excellent in him but for the wonderful fact that he is what he certainly is, that he carries in him the eternal mystery of being. In the Upanishad it is said in a parable that there are two birds sitting on the same bough, one of which feeds and the other looks on. This is an image of the mutual relation ship of the infinite being and the finite self. The delight of the bird which looks on is great, for it is a pure and free ‘ delight. There are both of these birds in man himself, the objective one with its business of life, the subjective one with its disinterested joy of vision. A child comes to me and commands me to tell h e r a story. I tell her of a tiger which is disgusted with the black
stripes on its body and comes to my frightened servant demanding a piece of soap. The story gives my little audience an immense pleasure. I am sure that even this child of five knows that it is an impossible tiger out on its untigerly quest of an absurd soap. For her the delightfulness of the tiger lies not in its beauty, its usefulness, or its probability, but in the undoubted fact that she can see it in her mind with a greater clearness of vision than she can the walls around her. The tiger in the story is inevitable, it has the character of a complete image. We know a thing because it belongs to a class ; we see a thing because it belongs to itself. The tiger of the story has completely detached itself from all others of its kind and assumed a distinct individuality of its own in the heart of the listener. The child could vividly see it, because by the help of her imagination it became her own tiger, one with herself, and this union of the subject and object gives us joy. Is it because there is no separation between them in truth, the separation being the Maya, which is creation ? There come in our history occasions when the consciousness o f a large multitude becomes suddenly illumined with the recognition of a reality which rises far above the dull obvious ness of daily happenings. Such an occasion there was when the voice of Buddha reached distant shores across physical and moral impediments. Men, in order to make this great human experience memorable, determined to do the impossible: they made rocks to speak, stones to sing, caves to remember ; their cry of joy and hope took immortal forms along the hills and deserts, across barren solitudes and populous cities. Such heroic activity over the greater part of the Eastern •continents clearly answers the question: “ What is Art ?” It is the response of man’s creative soul to the call of the Real. Centuries ago, in Bengal, there came a time when the divine love drama that has made its eternal playground in lium an souls, was vividly revealed by a personality radiating
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its intimate realization of God. The mind of a whole people was stirred by a vision of the world as an instrument through which sounded the invitation to the meeting of Bliss. The ineffable mystery of God’s love-call, taking shape in an endless panorama of forms and colours, inspired activity in music that overflowed the restrictions of classical conventionalism. Our Kirtan music came out of the heart of a whole people, their consciousness aflame with a sense of an indubitable reality. The question may be asked as to what place music occupies in my theory of the arts. Music is the most abstract of all the arts, as mathematics is in the region of science. In fact, these two have a deep relationship with each other. Mathematics is the logic of numbers and dimensions. It is therefore employed as the basis of our scientific knowledge. When taken out of its concrete associations and reduced to symbols, it reveals its grand structural majesty, the inevitable^ ness of its own perfect concord. Yet there is not merely a logic but also a magic of mathematics which works in the world of appearances, producing the harmony of inter-relation ship. This rhythm of harmony has been extracted from its usual concrete context, and exhibited through the medium of sound. And thus the pure essence of expressiveness in existence is offered in music. Expressiveness finds the least resistance in sound, having freedom unencumbered by the burden of facts and thoughts. This gives it a power to arouse in us an intimate feeling of reality. In the pictorial, plastic and literary arts, the object and our feelings with regard to it are closely associated, like the rose and its perfume. In music, the feeling distilled in sound becomes itself an independent object. It assumes a tune-form which is definite, but a meaning which is indefinable, and yet which grips our mind with a sense of absolute truth. It is the magic of mathematics, the rhythm which is in
the heart of all creation, which moves in the atom and, in its different measures, fashions gold and lead, the rose and the thorn, the sun and the planets. These are the dance-steps of numbers in the arena of time and space, which weave the maya, the patterns of appearance, the incessant flow of change, that ever is and is not. It is the rhythm that churns up images from the vague and makes tangible what is elusive. This is maya, the art in creation, the magic of rhythm. And must we stop here ? What we know as intellectual truth, is that also not a rhythm of the relationship of facts, that weaves the pattern of theory, and produces a sense of convincingness to a person who somehow feels sure that he knows the truth ? We believe any fact to be true because of a harmony, a rhythm in reason, the process of which is analysable but not its results in man, just as we can count the notes but cannot account for the music. The mystery is that I am convinced, and this also belongs to the maya of creation, whose one important, indispensable factor is this self-conscious personality that I represent. And the Other ? I believe it is also a self-conscious personality, which has its eternal harmony with mine.
to this great world are manifold. One of these is the necessity to live, to till the soil, to gather food, to clothe ourselves, to get materials from nature. Then wc have our mind ; and the mind seeks its own food. It must find out reason in things. It faced with a multiplicity of facts, and bewildered when it cannot find one unifying principle which simplifies the heterogeneity of things. Man’s constitution is such that he must not only 6nd facts, but also some laws which will lighten the burden of mere number and quantity. There is yet another man in me, not the physical, but the personal man, which has its own likes and dislikes and wants to find something to fulfil its needs of love. It is in the region where we are free from all necessity, above the expedient and useful. It is the highest in man— this personal man. The world of science is not a world of reality, it is an abstract world of the relation of force. We can use it by the help of our intellect but cannot realize it by the help of our personality. But there is another world which is real to us. We see it, feel it, we deal with it with all our emotions. Its mystery is endless because we cannot analyse or measure it. We can but say, “ Here you are.” This is the world from which Science turns away and in which Art takes its place. And if we can answer the question as to what art is, we shall know what this world is with which art has such intimate relationship. It is not an important question as it stands. For Art, like life itself, has grown by its own impulse, and man has taken his pleasure in it without definitely knowing what it is. And we could safely leave it there. But we live in an age O ur
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when whatever lies at the bottom is dragged to the surface,— even though to know is to kill our object of research andmake it a museum specimen. The question has been asked, “ What is Art V* and answers given by various persons. Such discussions intro duce elements of conscious purpose into the region where both our faculties of creation and enjoyment have been spontaneous and half-conscious. They aim at supplying us with very definite standards by which to guide our judgment of art productions. This metereological disturbance in the atmosphere of art criticism, whose origin is in the West, has crossed over to our own shores, bringing mist and clouds in its wake where there was a clear sky. We have begun to ask ourselves whether crea tions of art should not be judged according to their fitness to be universally understood, or their philosophical inter pretation of life, or their usefulness for solving the problems of the day, or their giving expression to something which is peculiar to the genius of the people to which the artist belongs. Therefore when men are seriously engaged in fixing the standard of value in art by something which is not inherent in it, or, in other words, when the excellence of the river is going to be judged by the point of view of a canal, we cannot leave the question to its fate. Shall we begin with a definition ? But definition of a thing which has a life growth is really limiting one’s vision to be able to see clearly. And clearness is not necessarily the only or the most important aspect of a truth. A bull’s-eye lantern view is a clear view, but not a complete view. Living things have far-reaching relation ships with their surroundings, some of which are invisible and go deep down into the soil. In our zeal for definition we may lop off branches and roots of a tree to turn it into a log, which is easier to roll about from classroom to
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classroom and therefore suitable for text-books. But it cannot be said that a log gives a truer view of a tree as a whole. Therefore I shall not define Art, but question myself about the reason of its existence, and try to find out whether it owes its origin to some social purpose, or to the need of catering for our aesthetic enjoyment, or whether it has come out of some impulse of expression, which is an impulse of our being itself. A fight has been going on for a long-time round “Art for Art’s sake” which seems to have fallen into disrepute among a section of western critics. It is a sign of the recurrence of the ascetic ideal of the puritanic age when enjoyment as an end in itself was held to be sinful. When enjoyment loses its direct touch with life, growing fastidious and fantastic in its world of elaborate conventions, then comes the call for renunciation which rejects happiness itself as a snare. I am not going into the history of your modern art, which I am^not at all competent to discuss; yet I can assert, as a general truth, that when a man tries to thwart himself in his desire for delight, converting it merely into his desire to know, or to do good, then the cause must be that his power of feeling delight has lost its natural bloom and health. The rhetoricians in old India had no hesitation in saying that enjoyment is the soul of literature— the enjoyment which is disinterested. But the word 'enjoyment’ has to be used with caution. The art world contains elements which are distinctly its own and which emit lights that have their special range and property. It is our duty to distinguish their origin and growth. The most important distinction, between the animal and man is this, that the animal is very nearly bound within the limits of its necessities, the greater part of its activities being necessary for self-preservation and the preservation of the
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race. Like a retail shopkeeper, it has no large profit from its trade of life ; the bulk of its earnings must be spent in paying back the interest to its bank. Most of its resources are employed in the mere endeavour to live. But man is a big merchant. He earns a great deal more than he is absolutely compelled to spend. Therefore there is a vast excess of wealth in man’s life, which gives him the freedom to be useless and irresponsible to a great measure. There are large outlying tracts, surrounding his necessities, where he has objects that are ends in themselves. The animals too must have knowledge, to be employed for useful purposes of their life. But there they stop. They must know their surroundings in order to be able to take their shelter and seek their food, some properties of things in order to build their dwellings, some signs of the seasons to be able to get ready to adopt themselves to the changes. M an also must know because he must live. But he has a surplus where he can proudly assert that knowledge is for the sake of knowledge. There he has the pure enjoyment of it, because there knowledge is freedom. Upon this foundation o f surplus his science and philosophy thrive. Then again, there is a certain amount of altruism in the animal, the altruism of parenthood, the herd and the hive. This altruism is absolutely necessary for race preservation. But in man there is a good deal more than this. Though he also has to be good, because goodness is necessary for the group, yet he goes far beyond that. His goodness is not a small pittance, barely sufficient for a hand-to-mouth moral existence. .He can amply afford to say that goodness is for the sake of goodness. And upon this wealth of goodness— where honesty is not valued for being the best policy, but because it can afford to go against all policies— man’s ethics are founded. The idea of “ Art for Art’s sake” has its origin in this
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region of the superfluous. Let us therefore try to ascertain what activity this is, and whose exuberance leads to the productions of Art. For man, as well as for animals, it is necessary to give expression to feelings of pleasure and displeasure, fear, anger and love. In animals these emotional expressions have gone little beyond their bounds of usefulness. But in man, though* they still have their roots in their original purposes, they have spread their branches far and wide in the infinite sky. Man has a fund of emotional energy which is not all occupied with his self-preservation. This surplus seeks its outlet in the creation of Art, for man’s civilization is built upon his surplus. A warrior is not merely content with fighting, b u t,' by the aid of music and decorations, he must give expression to the heightened consciousness of the warrior in him, which is not only unnecessary, but in some cases suicidal. The man who has a strong religious feeling not only worships his deity with all care but his religious personality craves the splendour of the temple, the rich ceremonial of worship. When a feeling is aroused in our hearts which is far in excess of the amount that can be completely absorbed by the object which has produced it, it comes back to us and makes us conscious of ourselves by its return waves. When we are in poverty, all our attention is fixed outside us— upon the objects which we must acquire for our need. But when our wealth greatly surpasses our needs, its light is reflected back upon us, and we have the exultation of feeling that we are rich persons. This is the reason why, of all creatures, only man knows himself, because his impulse of knowledge comes back to him in its excess. He feels his personality more intensely than other creatures, because his power of feeling is more than can be exhausted by hia objects. The efflux of the consciousness of his personality requires an outlet of
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expression. Therefore, in Art, man reveals himself and not his objects. I know I shall not be allowed to pass unchallenged when I use the word ‘personality’. Man, as a knower, is not fully himself— his mere information does not reveal him. The principal creative forces, which transmute things into our living structure, are emotional forces. A man, where he is religious, is a person, but not where he is a mere theologian. His feeling for the divine is creative. But his mere knowledge of the divine cannot be formed into his own essence because of this lack of the emotional fire. Let us here consider what are the contents of this persona lity and how it is related to the outer world. This world appears to us as an individual, and not merely as a bundle of invisible forces. For this, as everybody knows, it is greatly indebted to our senses and our mind. This apparent world is man’s world. It has taken its special features of shape, colour and movement from the peculiar range and qualities of our perception. I t becomes completely our own when it comes within the range of our emotions. With our love and hatred, pleasure and pain, fear and wonder, continually working upon it, this world becomes a part of our personality. It grows with our growth, it changes with our changes. We are great or small, according to the magnitude and littleness of this assimila tion, according to the quality of its sum total. If this world were taken away, our personality would lose all its content. Our emotions are the gastric juices which transform this world of appearance into the more intimate world of sentiments. On the other hand, this outer world has its own juices, having their various qualities which excite our emotional activities. This is called in our Sanskrit rhetoric rasa, which signifies outer juices having their response in the inner juices of our emotions. 3
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Bare information is not literature, because it gives us merely the facts which are independent of ourselves. Repetition of the facts such as that the sun is round, water is liquid,.fire is hot, would be intolerable. But a description o f the beauty of the sunrise has its eternal interest for us,— because there, it is not the fact of the sunrise, but its relation to ourselves, which is the object of perennial interest. It is said in the Upanishad that “ Wealth is dear to us, not because we desire the fact of the wealth itself, but because we desire ourselves.” This means that we feel our selves in our riches— and therefore we love it. The things which arouse our emotions arouse our own self-feeling. There is the world of science, from which the elements of personality have been carefully removed. We must not touch it with our feelings. But there is also the vast world, which is personal to us. We must not qierely know it, and then put it aside, but we must feel it,— because by feeling it, we feel ourselves. But how can we express our personality, which we know only by feeling ? A scientist can make known what he has learned by analysis and experiment. But what an artist has to say, he cannot express by merely informing and explaining. The plainest language is needed when I have to say what I know about a rose, but to say what I feel about a rose is different. There it has nothing to do with facts, or with laws, it deals with taste, which can be realised only by tasting. Therefore, the Sanskrit rhetoricians say, in poetry we have to use words which have got the proper taste, which do not merely talk, but conjure up pictures and sing. For pictures and songs are not merely facts,— they are personal facts. They are not only themselves, but ourselves also. They defy analysis and they have immediate access to our hearts. It has to be conceded that man cannot help revealing
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his personality also in the world of use. But there selfexpression is not his primary object. In everyday life, when we are mostly moved by our habits, we are economical in our expression; for then our soul-consciousness is at its low level. But when our heart is fully awakened in love, or in other great emotions, our personality is in its flood-tide. Then it feels the longing to express itself for the very sake of expression. Then comes Art, and we forget the claims of necessity, the thrift of usefulness,— the spires of our temple try to kiss the stars and the notes of our music to fathom the depth of the ineffable. Man’s energies, running on two parallel lines— that of utility and of self-expression— tend to meet and mingle. By constant human associations sentiments gather around our things of use and invite the help of art to reveal themselves, —as we see the warrior’s pride and love revealed in the ornamental sword-blade, and the comradeship of festive gatherings in the wine goblet. The lawyer’s office, as a rule, is not a thing of beauty, and the reason is obvious. But in a city, where men are proud of their citizenship, public buildings must in their structure express this love for the city. When the British capital was removed from Calcutta to Delhi, there was discussion about the style of architecture which should be followed in the new buildings. Some advocated the Indian style of the Moghal period,— the style which was the joint product of the Moghal and the Indian genius. The fact that they lost sight of was that all true art has its origin in sentiment. Moghal Delhi and Moghal Agra show their human personality in their buildings. The Moghal emperors were men, they were not mere administrators. The memorials of their reigns do not persist in the ruins of factories and offices, but in immortal works of art,— not only in great buildings, but in pictures and music and
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workmanship in stone and metal, in cotton and wool fabrics. But the British government in India is not personal. It is official and therefore an abstraction. It has nothing to express in the true language of art. Lord Lytton, who unfortunately was gifted with more imagination than was necessary for an Indian Viceroy, tried to copy one of the state functions of the Moghals,— the Duibar ceremony. But state ceremonials are works of art. They spring from the reciprocity of personal relationship between the people and their monarch. When they are copies, they show all the signs of the spurious. How utility and sentiment take different lines in their expression can be seen in the dress of a man compared with that of a woman. A man’s dress, as a rule, shuns all that is merely decorative. But a woman has naturally selected the decorative, not only in her dress, but in her manners. She has to be picturesque and musical to make manifest what she really is,—because, in her position in the world, woman is more concrete and personal than man. She is not to be judged merely by her usefulness, but by her delightfulness. Therefore, she takes infinite care in expressing, not her profession, but her personality. The principal object of art, also, being the expression of personality, and not of that which is abstract and analytical, it necessarily uses the language of picture and music. This has led to a confusion in our thought that the object of art is the production of beauty ; whereas beauty in art has been the mere instrument and not its complete and ultimate significance. As a consequence of this, we have often heard it argued that manner, rather than matter, is the essential element in art. These discussions owe their origin to the idea that beauty is the object of art, and because mere matter cannot have the property of beauty, it becomes a question whether manner is not the principal factor in art.
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But the truth is, analytical treatment will not help us in discovering what is the vital point in art. For the true principle of art is the principle of unity. Matter taken by itself is an abstraction which can be dealt with by science ; while manner, which is merely manner, is an abstraction which comes under the laws of rhetoric. But when they are indissolubly one, then they find their harmonies in our personality, which is an organic complex of matter and manner, thoughts and things, motives and actions. Therefore we find all abstract ideas are out of place in true art, where, in order to gain admission, they must come under the disguise of personification. This is the reason why poetry tries to select words that have vital qualities,— words that are not for mere information, but have become naturalized in our hearts and have not been worn out of their shapes by too constant use. For instance, the English word “consciousness” has not yet outgrown its scholastic inertia, therefore it is seldom used in poetry; whereas its Indian synonym “chetana” is a vital word and is of constant poetical use. On the other hand the English word ' ‘feeling” is fluid with life, but its Indian synonym “anubhuti” is refused in poetry, because it merely has a meaning and no flavour. And likewise there arc some truths, coming from science and philosophy, which have acquired life’s colour and taste, and some which have not. History, so long as it copies science and deals with abstractions, remains outside the domain of literature. But, as a narrative of facts, it takes place by the side of the epic poem. For narration of historical facts imparts to the tim e which they belong a taste of personality. Those periods become human to us, we feel their living heart-beats. The world and the personal man are face to face, like friends w h o question one another and exchange their inner secrets. B u t how do you know that the artist has known, has seen, h a s come face to face with this Personality ?
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When I first meet anyone who is not yet my friend, I observe all the unessential things which attract attention and in the wilderness of that diversity of facts the friend is lost. While our steamer reached the coast of Japan, one of our passengers, a Japanese, was coming back home from Rangoon; we on the other hand were reaching that shore for the first time in our life. There was a great difference in our outlook. We noted every little peculiarity, and innumerable small things occupied our attention. But the Japanese passenger dived at once into the personality, the soul of the land, where his own soul found satisfaction. He saw fewer things, we saw more things; but what he saw was the soul of Japan. If you ask me to draw some particular tree, and I am no artist, I try to copy every detail, lest I should lose the peculiarity of the tree, forgetting that the peculiarity is not the personality. But when the true artist comes, he overlooks all details and gets into the essential characterization. Our rational man also seeks to simplify things into their inner principle ; to get rid of the details, to get to the heart of things where things are One. But the difference is this,— the scientist seeks an impersonal principle of unification, which can be applied to all things. For instance, he destroys the human body, which is personal, to find out physiology, which is impersonal and general. But the artist finds out the unique, the individual, which yet is in the heart of the universal. When he looks on a tree, he sees it as unique, not as the botanist who generalizes and classifies. It is the function of the artist to particularize that one tree. How does he do it ? Not through the peculiarity which is the discord of the unique, but through the personality which is harmony. Therefore he has to find out the inner concordance of that one thing with its outer surroundings of all things. The greatness and beauty of Oriental art, especially
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in Japan and China, consist in this, :that there the artists have seen this soul of things and they believe in it. The West may believe in the soul of Man, but she does not really believe that the universe has^a soul. Yet this is the belief of the East, and the whole contribution of the East to mankind is filled with this idea. Because we have faith in this universal soul, we know that Truth, Power, Beauty lie in Simplicity,— where it is transparent, where things do not obstruct the inner vision. Therefore all our sages have tried to make their lives simple and pure, because thus tiny have the realization of a positive Truth, which, though invisible, is more real than the gross and the numerous. When we say that art only -deals with those truths that are personal, we do not exclude philosophical ideas which are apparently abstract. They are quite common in our Indian literature, because they have been woven into the fibres of our personal life, I give here an instance which will make this point clear. The following is a translation of a poem written by a poetess of mediaeval India,— its subject is life. I salute the Life which is like a sprouting seed, With its one arm upraised in the air, and the other down in the so il; The Life which is one in its outer form and its inner s a p : The Life that ever appears, yet ever eludes. The Life that comes I salute and the Life that goes $ I salute the Life that is revealed and that is hidden; I salute the Life in suspense, standing still like a mountain. And the Life of the surging sea of fire; The Life that is tender like a lotus, and hard like a thunderbolt. I salute the Life which is of the mind, with its one side in the dark and the other in the light.
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I salute the Life in the house and the Life abroad in the unknown. The Life full of Joy and the Life weary with its pains, The Life eternally moving, rocking the world into stillness, The Life deep and silent, breaking out into roaring waves. This idea of life is not a mere logical deduction, it is as real to the poetess as the air to the bird who feels it at every beat of its wings. Woman has realized the mystery of life more intimately than man. This woman’s nature has felt the deep stir of life in all the worlds. She has known it to be infinite not through any reasoning process, but through the illumination of her feeling. Therefore, the same idea, which is a mere abstraction to one whose sense of reality is limited, becomes luminously real to another whose sensibility has a wider range. We have often heard the Indian mind described by Western critics as metaphysical, because it is ready to soar in the Infinite. But it has to be noted that the Infinite is not a mere matter of philosophical speculation, it is as real to her as the sunlight. She must see it, feel it, make use of it in her life. Therefore it has come out so i profusely in her symbolism of worship, in the literature. The poet of the Upanishad has said that the slightest movement of life would be impossible if the sky were not filled with infinite joy. This universal presence was as much of a reality to him as the earth under his feet, nay, even more. The realization of this has broken out in a song of an Indian poet who was born in the fifteenth century : There falls the rhythmic beat of life and d eath ; Rapture wells forth, and all space is radiant with light. There the unstruck music is sounded ; it is the love music of the three worlds. There millions of lamps of sun and moon are burning; There the drum beats and the lover swings in play. There love songs resound, and light rains in showers.
WHAT IS ART?
In India, the greater part of our literature is religious, because God with us is not a distant God ; He belongs to our homes as well as to our temples. We feel His nearness in all the human relationship of love and affection, and in our festivities He is the chief guest whom we honour. In seasons of flowers and fruits, in the coming of the rain, in the fullness of the autumn, we see the hem of His mantle and hear His footsteps. We worship Him in all the true objects of our worship and love Him wherever our love is true. In the woman who is good we feel Him, in the man who is true we know Him, in our children He is born again and again, the Eternal Child. Therefore religious songs are our love songs, and our domestic occurrences, such as the birth of a son, or the coming of the daughter from her husband’s bouse to her parents and her departure again, are woven in o u r literature as a drama whose counterpart is in the divine. It is thus that the domain of literature has extended into the region which seems hidden in the depth of mystery and made it human and speaking. It is growing, keeping pace with the conquest made by the human personality in the realm of* truth. It is growing, not only into history, science and philosophy, but, with our expanding sympathy, into our social consciousness. The classical literature of the ancient time was only peopled by saints and kings and heroes. It threw no light upon men who lived and suffered in obscurity. B ut as the illumination of man’s personality throws its light upon a wider space, penetrating into hidden corners, the world of art also crosses its frontiers and extends its boundaries into unexplored regions. Thus art is signalising man’s conquest of the world by its symbols of beauty, springing up in spots which were barren of all voice and colours. It is supplying man with his banners, under which he marches to fight against the inane and the inert. Even the spirit of the desert has owned its kinship with him, and the lonel
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pyramids are there as memorials of the meeting of Nature’s silence with the silence of the human spirit. The darkness of the caves has yielded its stillness to man’s soul, and in exchange has secretly been crowned with the wreath of art. Bells are ringing in temples, in villages and populous towns, to proclaim that the infinite is not a mere emptiness. This encroachment of man’s personality, the creative human spirit, has no limit. Even the markets and factories of the present age, even the schools where the children are imprisoned and jails where criminals are kept, will be mellowed with the touch of art, and lose their discordance with life. For the one effort of man’s personality is to transform everything with which he has any true concern into the human. We have said before that where there is an element o f the superfluous in our heart’s relationship with the world, Art has its birth. In other words, where our personality feels its wealth it breaks out in display. What we devour for ourselves is totally spent. What overflows our need becomes articulate. Take, for instance, our delight in eating. It is soon exhausted, it gives no indication of the infinite. Therefore, though it is more universal than any other passion, it is rejected by art. In our life we have one side that is finite, where we exhaust ourselves at every step, and we have another side, where our aspiration, enjoyment and sacrifice are infinite. This infinite side of man must have its revealments in some symbols which have the elements of immortality. For men are the children of the Light. This building of man’s true world— the living world of truth and beauty— is the function of Art. Man is true where he feels his infinity, where he is divine* and the divine is the creator in him. If man could only listen to the voice that rises from the heart of his own creation* he would hear the same message that came from the Indian sage : “ Hearken to me, ye children of the Immortal, dwellers.
WHAT IS ART?
of the heavenly worlds, I have known the Supreme Person who comes as Light from the dark beyond.” Yes, it is that Supreme Person, who has made himself known to man and made this universe so deeply personal to him. Therefore, in India, our places of pilgrimage are there, where in the confluence of the river and the sea, in the eternal snow of the mountain peak, in the lonely seashore, some aspect of the infinite is revealed and there man has left in his images and temples, in the carvings , of stone, these words : “ Hearken to me, I have known the Supreme Person.” In the mere substance and law of this world we do not meet the person, but when the sky is blue, and the grass is green and this world’s soul seem to be aching for expression in its endless rhythm of lines and colours, music and movements, hints and whispers, and all the suggestion of the inexpressible, finds its harmony in the ceaseless longing of the human heart to make the person manifest in its own creations. When we are intensely conscious of our own personality, we are apt to ignore the tyranny of facts. We are temperate in our dealings with the man with whom our relation is one of prudence. But we feel that we have not got enough for those whom we love. The poet says of the beloved: “It seems to me that I have gazed at your beauty from the beginning of my existence, that I have kept you in my armsfor countless ages, yet it has not been enough for me.” Judged from the standpoint of reason, these are exaggerations, but from that of the heart, freed from limits of facts, they are true. So we find that our world of expression does not coincide with the world of facts, because personality surpasses facts on every side. Man’s social world is like some nebulous system of stars, consisting largely of a mist of abstractions, with such names as Society, State, Nation, Commerce, Politics and War. Everywhere in man’s world the Supreme Person
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is suffering from the killing of the human reality by the imposition ot the abstract. In our schools the idea of the class hides the reality of the children ; they become students and not individuals. Therefore it does not hurt us to see children’s lives crushed, like flowers pressed between leaves of a book. In government, the bureaucracy deals with generaliza tions and not with men. And therefore it costs it nothing to indulge in wholesale cruelties. What is it in man that asserts its immortality in spite of the obvious fact of death ? It is not his physical body or his mental organization. It is that deeper unity, that ultimate mystery in him, which, from the centre of his world, radiates its circumference ; which is in his body, yet transcends the body ; which is in his mind, yet grows beyond his m ind; which, through the things belonging to him, express something that is not in them ; which, while occupying his present, overflows its banks of the past and the future. It is the personality of man, conscious of its inexhaustible abundance, it has the paradox in it that it is more than itself. And this consciousness of the infinite, in the personal man, ever strives to make its expressions immortal and to make the whole world its own. In Art, the person in us is sending its answers to the Supreme Person, who reveals himself to us in a world of endless beauty across the lightless world of facts.
T R A D IT IO N
in our history occasions when the conciousness of a large multitude becomes suddenly illumined with the recognition of something which rises far above the triviality of daily happenings. Such an occasion there was when the voice of Buddha reached distant shores across all physical and moral impediments. Then our life and our world found their profound meaning of reality in their relation to the central person who offered us emancipation of love. And men, in order to make this great human experience ever memorable, determined to do the impossible: they made rocks to speak, stones to sing, caves to remember ; the cry of joy and hope took immortal forms along hills and deserts, across barren solitudes and populous cities. A gigantic creative endeavour built up its triumph in stupendous carvings, defying obstacles th at were overwhelming. Such heroic activity over the greater p a rt of the Eastern continent clearly answers the question : What is art ?— Art is the response of man's creative soul to the call of the real. But the individual mind according to its temperament and training has its own recognition of reality in some of its special aspects. We can see from the Gandhara figures of Buddha that the artistic influence of Greece put its emphasis o n the scientific aspect, on anatomical accuracy, while the purely Indian mind dwelt on the symbolic aspect and tried to give expression to the soul of Buddha, never acknowl edging the limitations of realism. To the adventurous sp irit of the great European sculptor, Rodin, the most significant aspect of reality is the unceasing struggle o f the incomplete for its freedom from the fetters of imperfection, whereas before the naturally introspective mind T h e r e com e
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of the Eastern artist the real appears in its ideal form of fulfilment. Therefore, when we talk of such a fact as Indian Art, it indicates some truth based upon the Indian tradition and temperament. At the same time we must know that there is no such thing as absolute caste restriction in human cultures ; they ever have the power to combine and produce new variations, and such combinations have been going on for ages, proving the truth of the deep unity of human psycho logy. It is admitted that in Indian art the Persian element found no obstacles, and there are signs of various other alien influences. China and Japan have no hesitation in acknowledging their debt to India in their artistic and spiritual growth of life. Fortunately for our civilisations, all such intermingling happened when professional art critics were not rampant and artists were not constantly nudged by the warning elbow of classifiers in their choice of inspiration. Our artists were never tiresomely reminded of the obvious fact that they were Indian ; and in consequence they had the freedom to be naturally Indian in spite of all the borrowings that they indulged in. A sign of greatness in great geniuses is their enormous capacity for borrowing, very often without their knowing it ; they have unlimited credit in the world market of cultures. Only mediocrities are ashamed and afraid of borrowing, for they do not know how to pay back the debt in their own coin. Even the most foolish of critics does not dare blame Shakespeare for what he openly appropriated from outside his own national inheritance. The human soul is proud of its comprehensive sensitiveness : it claims its freedom of entry everywhere when it is fully alive and awake. We congratu late ourselves on the fact, and consider it a sign of our being alive in soul, that European thoughts and literary forms found immediate hospitality in Bengali literature from the
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very beginning of their contact with our mind. It ushered in a great revolution in the realm of our literary expression. Enormous changes have taken place, but our Indian soul has survived the shock and has vigorously thriven upon this cataclysm. It only shows that though human mentality, like the earth’s atmosphere, has undoubtedly different temperatures in different geographical zones, yet it is not walled up into impassable compartments and the circulation of the common air over the entire globe continues to have its wholesome effect. So let us take heart and make daring experiments, venture out into the open road in the face of all risks, go through experiences in the great world of the human mind, defying unholy prohibititions preached by prudent little critics, laughing at them when in their tender solicitude for our safety they ask our artists to behave like good children and never to cross the threshold of their school-room. Fearfully trying always to conform to a conventional type is a sign of immaturity. Only in babies is individuality of physiognomy blurred, and therefore personal distinction not strongly marked. Childishness as a mentality can easily be generalised: children’s babbling has the same sound-tottering everywhere, their toys are very nearly similar. But adult age is difficult of classification, it is composed of individuals who claim recognition of their personal individuality which is shown not only in its own uniqueness of manner but also in its own special response to all stimulations from outside. I strongly urge our artists vehemently to deny their obligation to produce something that can be labelled as Indian art, according to some old world mannerism. Let them proudly refuse to be herded into a pen like branded beasts that are treated as cattle and not as cows. Science is impersonal: it has its one aspect which is merely universal and therefore abstract; but art is personal and, therefore, through it the universal manifests itself in the guise of the
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individual, physiology expresses itself in physiognomy, philology in literature. Science is a passenger in a railway train of generalisation; there reasoning minds from all directions come to make their journey together in a similar conveyance. Art is a solitary pedestrian, who walks alone among the multitude, continually assimilating various experi ences, unclassifiable and uncatalogued. There was a time when human races lived in comparative segregation and therefore the art adventurers had their ex perience within a narrow range of limits, along the deeplycut grooves of certain common characteristics. But today that range has vastly widened, claiming from us a much greater power of receptivity than what we were compelled to cultivate in former ages. If today we have a living soul that is sensitive to ideas and to beauty of form, let it prove its capacity by accepting all that is worthy of acceptance, not according to some blind injunction of custom or fashion, but in following one’s instinct for eternal value—the instinct which is a God-given gift to all real artists. Even then our art is sure to have a quality which is Indian, but it must be j an inner quality and not an artificially fostered formalism; and therefore not too obtrusively obvious, nor abnormally self-conscious. When in the name of Indian art we cultivate with deli berate aggressiveness a certain bigotry born of the habit of a past generation, we smother our soul under idiosyncracies unearthed from buried centuries. These are like masks with exaggerated grimaces that fail to respond to the ever changing play of life. Art is not a gorgeous sepulchre, immovably brooding over a lonely eternity of vanished years. It belongs to the pro cession of life, making constant adjustment with surprises, exploring unknown shrines of reality along its path of pilgrimage to a future which is as different from the past as
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the tree from the seed. Art represents the inexhaustible magnificence of our creative sp irit; it is generous in its acceptance and generous in its bestowal; it is unique in its manner and universal in its appeal: it is hospitable to the All because it has the wealth which is its o w n : its vision is new though its view may be o ld ; it carries its special criterion of excellence within itself and therefore contemptuously refuses to be. brow-beaten into conformity with a rhetoric manufactured by those who are not in the secret of the subtle mysteries of creation, who want to simplify through their academic code of law that which is absolutely simple through its spontaneity. The art ideal of a people may take fixed root in a narrow soil of tradition, developing a vegetable character, producing a monotonous type of leaves and flowers in a continuous round of repetitions. Because it is not disturbed by a mind which ever seeks the unattained, and because it is held firm by a habit which piously discourages allurements of all adventure, it is neither helped by the growing life of the people nor does it help to enrich that life. It remains confined to coteries of specialists who nourish it with delicate attention and feel proud of the ancient flavour of its aristocratic exclusiveness. It is not a stream that flows through and fertilises the soil, but a rare wine stored in a dark cellar under ground, acquiring a special stimulation through its artificially nurtured, barren antiquity. In exchange for a freedom of movement which is the prerogative of vigorous youth, we may gain a static perfection of senility that has minted its wisdom into hard and rounded maxims. Unfortunately, there are those who believe it an advantage for a child to be able to borrow its grand-parent’s age and be spared the trouble and risk of growing and think that it is a sign of wealthy respectability for an artist lazily to cultivate a monotonously easy success by means of some hoarded patrimony of tradition. 4
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The genesis of all art traditions must have been in some gestures in the modes and mediums of expression that spontaneously came to men of genius and were followed by others whose admiration naturally pursued the path of imita tion. In poetic literature it is our common experience to find that striking phrases and suggestive mannerisms, origina ting from the writings of some popularly accepted poet, spread fast in a soil of susceptible mentality. However if the literature has any vitality it is cured of that infection before it develops a poison that is fatal. The malady takes a chronic persistence when it finds its breeding place in an inert period of mental degeneracy. When something in art, which is too peculiar in its presentment, shows an incorri gible tendency to repeat itself we may be sure that it is a sign of the waning life. If it is a fact that some standard of invariable formalism has for ages been following the course of the arts in India, making it possible for them to be classified as specially Indian, then it must be confessed that the creative mind which inevitably breaks out in individual variations has lain dead or dormant for those torpid centuries. All traditional structures of art must have sufficient degree of elasticity to allow it to respond to varied impulses of life, delicate or virile; to grow with its growth, to dance with its rhythm. There are traditions which, in alliance with rigid prescriptions of rhetoric, establish their slave dynasty, dethroning their master, the Life-urge that revels in endless freedom of expression. This is a tragedy whose outrage we realise in the latter-day Sanskrit literature and in the conventional arts and crafts of India, where mind is helplessly driven by a blind ghost of the past. And yet we may go too far if we altogether reject tradition in the cultivation of the arts, and it is an incom plete statement of truth to say that habits have the sole effect of deadening our mind. The tradition which is helpful
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is like a channel that helps the current to flow. It is open where the water runs onward, guarding it only where there is danger in deviation. The bee’s life in its channel of habit has no opening: it revolves within a narrow circle of perfection. Man’s life has time-honoured institutions which are its organised habits. When these act as enclosures, then the result may be perfect, like a bee-hive of wonderful precision of form, but unsuitable for the mind which has unlimited possibilities of progress.
SENSE OF B E A U T Y ancient emphasis about building up character through strict discipline will appear to many as something stern and forbidding ; fit, it will be argued, for producing the narrow, efficient individual; at best a saintly character, untouched by human emotions and desires. But where, in all this, is the place of the arts, literature, painting and music ? If it is the total man that we must have, the life of emotions and the sense of beauty cannot be overlooked. It is quite plain—we must have beauty. What we seek is self-expression, suicide can never be the aim of any system of culture. As a matter of fact, the disciplines of student life are not, however, negative, they are not meant to produce the dry and the withered heart. The farmer does not till his plot to turn it into an arid desert. When he digs the earth, harrows the clod and rakes out the weeds, it may all look like an act of violence. But that is how it can be made to yield— the fruit of his labour. So it is that before one can be qualified to enjoy and understand beauty one has to go through a stage of discipline. The path of beauty has its own pitfalls. One who aspires after the fullness of life, has to train himself for the purpose. It is for the sake of greater enjoyment that he must put up with an initial austerity. Unfortunately, the means often tend to obscure the ends and he who would be a singer becomes a technician instead; he who would be rich turns out to be a pitiable miser while the prospective patriot is happy if he is able to pass a few resolutions ! And so we find that discipline, which was but a means* comes to usurp the place of ends. This is a sign of inertia T oday
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and once it gets started it does not easily stop. In the West we sometimes hear of men with a passion for philately prepared to spend liberally of their time and money in riding their hobby horse. Some develop a mania for collecting china, others go in for old shoes. A few are interested in planting their nation’s flag in the middle of the North Pole and so on. The one thing that these people cannot do is to stop. It would almost appear that the value of such feats is measured solely in terms of the time, trouble and money wasted. Votaries of discipline too get into a similar habit of measuring their gains by the amount of suffering endured. For instance, the hard bed gives way to the blanket spread on the floor. Then even that goes till, by degrees, it leads towards self-immolation. It is like strangling one-self by pulling at the noose. No doubt by such piling of austerity upon austerity— discipline for discipline’s sake— one can succeed, a little too well, in squeezing out the aesthetic sense out of the system. But such self-denial is not, one is bound to see, an ideal necessity. If it is the fullness of being that we are after, we are not called upon to do violence to any one human faculty at the cost of the other. By proper discipline we may profit each part as well as the human whole. It is obvious that we must build on firm foundations. But for the supporting bony structure, the soft and supple flesh would be a shapeless lump. In .the same way both human joy and wisdom call for a strong basis— or else wisdom would dissolve into fantasy and joy into sheer drunkenness. Discipline is that basis of character and sensibility which will help us to discriminate and, where necessary, reject. Restraint isessential. One does not set a house on firein order to light a lamp. An untrained imagination cannot hope to create beauty.
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Our sense of beauty operates in small things as in great, it affects even what we eat and how we do so. The food must not only satisfy our hunger, it must also be good to look at. The fruits we take not only satisfy hunger, they also please us with their form and colour, with their taste and fragrance. Even without these hunger would have compelled us to obey. A physical need is felt to be a humiliation. Our sense of beauty lifts us beyond the realm of necessity. Now even when we are hungry, we may not gorge ourselves. We lose our appetite if the food is not decently served. We tell our children not to eat like gluttons, for that is so ugly to look at. So, on its own lines, beauty leads us to discipline, and he who frets when asked to control his passions because they are bad, readily agrees when told that these are ugly. As beauty draws us, gently, towards discipline, discipline, in its turn, deepens our relish of beauty. The bee must sit, steady and unwavering, on the pollen if it is to taste the honey hidden in the heart of the flower. It is the chaste and devoted wife, and not the flighty female, who knows the truth of love. The Queen of Beauty dwells in the secret chamber. The greedy, the impure and the distracted— like Utanka— cannot find her. I am not saying all this by way of a homily or a sermon. I speak on beauty’s behalf. According to our ancient texts we must learn to control ourselves not only for the sake of the Good but also for the sake of our happiness. It is quite absurd to say— all present aberration notwithstanding— that beauty can ever come out of weakness or instability, or out of indiscipline. A true artist is also an ascetic, he has to be. It may be a hard rule, but for the artist, as for the lover of beauty, all forms of laxity and indulgence are tabu. My point is, whatever abiding values we achieve, in life or in art, comes from some inner strength and not from want of
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it. By succumbing to passions and dissipating his energies the artist proves himself disloyal to the ideal of beauty. Our unruly passions tend to create a world of their own, out of tune with the rest of the universe around us. Our anger, our greed, distort the image of reality, they make the small appear great and the great sm all; fugitive trifles look enormous while the eternal and the abiding elude us. The rhythmic flow of a river and the wild gurgling of a whirlpool will illustrate the difference. Some profess to see a kind of wild beauty in such a frenzy and seem to prefer it. I have an occasional feeling that the literature of Europe, aimless and at war with itself, takes a special delight in this kind of revel riot. We cannot call this a perfection of culture, it is at best a deviation. The man of understanding is not betrayed by surfaces. He has his eyes fixed on the whole, which is the secret truth of all things and happenings, he takes in all sides of the truth, the central with the marginal, the before with the behind. His deeper mind sees into the hidden world of truth and harmony, whence he receives a more satisfactory experience. It maybe for this reason that the classical dignity of mature artists has a severity about it, they do not care for details and decora tion. To the untrained observer all this might look rather bare but for the lover of beauty it yields a richer harvest. What the physical eyes see is not enough. To this must be added the gifts of the mind’s eye. Insight has to be earned, it is a matter of culture. And the mind has its levels. The field of our vision, open to the reasoning and intellectual faculties, is one of these levels. But when our emotions have been brought into play the field widens— for instance, the human face carries more value than a flower, however pretty ; for it reveals the light of consciousness, the play of intelligence and grace of emotional expression ; it appeals to our senses, our mind and
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our heart alike and all at once. When to all this is added the power of moral discrimination and spiritual insight a limitless horizon opens up before us. And thus it is that the saints, who embody the goodness of God, draw our whole being so irresistibly that we can assign no limit to their influence. That is why people have felt impelled to celebrate, in their poetry and in their paintings, in their annals and their architecture, the beauty and the nobility of the young prince who, centuries back, had renounced the throne to find out the source and end of the sorrows of Man. There you are at it, again, the critic will shout, mixing up ethics with aesthetics. Let the good and the beautiful remain a p a rt; they have different functions to fulfil, says the familiar voice. Here a few distinctions are needed. The Good is beauti ful not because of its utility or because of what it does to us. There is more in it than that. The Good, we say, is at one with the whole of existence and it finds a ready response in the heart of man, and whenever the Good and the True are in accord, Beauty stands revealed. Lakshmi, our Goddess of wealth, represents not only beauty and power, but also the spirit of goodness. Beauty is more than a necessity. We regard it as a power, power that liberates us from all narrow self-seeking. When we see a hero sacrifice his life for a cause, we encounter a tremendous reality— something which makes our own little joys and sorrows, our petty commonplace concerns inconsequential. Beauty, like goodness, takes us towards renunciation and weans us away from all forms of self-denying smallness. Beauty reveals in all creation the glory and majesty of the Maker, just as goodness does in the lives of men. The beauty of goodness goes far, beyond what the eye can see or the mind know, it invests everything with a little of God. It is because of its nearness that we often fail to see good
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ness as a form of beauty. But when we do, our whole being overflows like a river in spate, and then we know that nothing in the world can be more beautiful. Our ancient poets felt no qualms in speaking of the beauty of a woman with child, a subject that might make the Western artist shrink with embarrassment. The glow of expectant motherhood has, it must be granted, little to beguile the eye. But the imminence of motherhood invests woman with an aura of purity and holiness far above all physical charm. Wherever beauty attains this fullness, all superficialities fall away of themselves. Whoever has known this mystery of union— of the Good with the Beautiful— will never confuse beauty with desire or luxury. Life for such a one becomes simple. It is not that his sense of beauty is wanting; on the contrary, his sense of beauty has attained perfection. Where, we ask ourselves, was Asoka’s pleasure garden ? Amid the ruins there is no trace of it anywhere. But the votive pillars and stupas erected by him— his offering to the Enlightened One— near the Bodhi tree still stand. In mountain fastnesses, on lonely seashores, we come across temples and other artifacts but hardly any relic of royal revelry. Why should this be so ? May it not be that here, in these retreats, men felt the need to adore something greater and beyond themselves ? His creations of beauty stretch their arms in silent worship to That which is still more beautiful. What is great in man bows before That which is still greater. The Voices of Silence w hisper: Look at him who is AllBeautiful, who is Great. Men have never tried to say : Look, how beautiful are the things that please me. Perfection is realized when the Good and the True come together. This is the idea or inspiration behind all civiliza tions. The day will surely dawn when our sense of beauty will not be mangled by unseemly egotism, or scarred by envy,
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exhausted by greed. Unless we get rid of sensual desires we shall never know beauty in its purest essence. What we gain by these uncultured glimpses only whets our appetite; it does not satisfy, but, like an intoxicant, it only destroys our healthy hunger. It is for this reason that the moralists used to warn us against the lure of Beauty ; dreading the risk of an imperfect worship, they felt safer in giving it up altogether. But the wiser counsel would, no doubt, be to cultivate, from the outset, that discipline which enables us to pursue beauty without its attendant risks of failure. That was the real reason behind the ancient forms of discipline, which were never meant to take away joy and beauty out of living. The question rem ains: why was the sense of beauty given to man ? For what purpose ? When our sense of beauty is determined by the physical organs, there usually appears a sharp contrast beautiful that which is beautiful and that which is not. But when our mind joins the game, the distinction loses some of its pun ctilio ; for the mind may be attached to that which is not pleasing at first sight. But when the moral sense comes in* the horizon is further extended— and like Uma, who stuck to her ideal, Shiva— and even the conflict between beauty and non-beauty fades away. What about the distinction between the good and the bad ? There can be no finality so long as the duality or opposition remains. But when the sense of beauty, which sparkles out at each clash of contrast, finally bursts into flame, all separateness and opposition cease. Then Truth and Beauty become One. In that unitary vision the realiza tion of Truth brings both Joy and Beauty; the quintessence of Beauty. Where, it will be asked, in this world of fleeting forms* shall we find that Truth ? Wherever the mind gets its final
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repose, nowhere else. The people that move about the street, our realization of them is but feeble, they give us but little joy. But a friend, or the truth of a friend, is more intimate, it gives us that repose to our mind which is another name for joy. A foreign country which, to me, is but a geogra phical term is so real to those who live there that they are willing to lay down their lives for its sake. Wherever the truth has been realized there is joy. Absence of delight is but an inadequate realization of the True. And so when we fail to take our delight in the True, that means we have only known but not felt it as our own. When we can see both the True and the Delightful in this way, the realization of the Truth and the realization of beauty will be found to be one and the same. Those who have known the truth of the world have the joy and the beauty thereof. Towards this our arts and literature and music move. That which had been untrue to us, because we had not felt its truth, the poet brings that within the range of our vision. He thus enlarges the sphere of beauty, truth and joy. The English poet has said. Beauty is truth, truth beauty. The Upanishads say the same thing, may be a little differently: All appear ances, from the speck of dust at our feet to the far away stars in the galaxy are manifestation of His immortal Delight, anandarupamamritam yadvibhati. It is the aim of art and literature to realize and communi cate this essential joy and the immortality of Truth. The wonder and joy of this discovery of Truth has been recorded in words, in forms, colours and sounds, it is a revelation or self-revelation. Thus the Pyramids were put up as exclamation marks across desert sands; and the caves of Elephanta, elaborately carved, symbolise man’s joy for a lovely beach by the sea ; the temple of Konarak, built upon huge boulders carried over enormous distances, is man’s salute to the glory of the sun rising out of the sea. Along the banks and shoals
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of time, a fleeting world, wherever man’s mind has had this profounder encounter with Reality he has put up some sign post to mark the occasion: a sculpture, a temple, be it in a city or in a place of pilgrimage, away from normal haunts of men. Literature too is one such symbol, a record of his glad response to Nature, Religion and History. We can hardly imagine how poor and narrow our world would have been without these signposts of eternity. That the universe is determined by cause and effect, by Space and Time— such is the evidence of the sciences. A rt and literature bring another evidence or view of things— that the Truth is Joy. Together they but annotate what the sages have always known that we live, move and have our being in the Immortal Delight, which is Truth in its aspect of Beauty.
OF B E A U T Y
On b it h b r side the low-lying fields were covered with a sheet of water, of a rain-swollen river. Our houseboat glided leisurely through half-submerged cornfields. A little way off, on the high bank, stood a cluster of zinc-roofed cottages ; through topes of mango, jack-fruit and clumps of bamboo shoots, behind a huge Banyan tree with masonry seat round its trunk, could be seen a single storied country house. It was all very quiet except for the thin wail of a shahnai to which was now and then added an outburst of drums. Woefully out of tune, it played a country air, cruelly repeating it over and over again, while a t the end the drums break forth in a delirium of ecstasy outraging the placid atmosphere. What could it be ? Miss Srotoswini thought, naturally, there must have been a wedding and leaned out of the window to confirm her feminine intuition. I called out a boatman and asked for an explanation. The local landlord, he replied, was observ ing punyaha, or holy day. Srotoswini’s interest at once subsided. She had been hoping to catch a glimpse of the bashful bride, in her full regalia, borne aloft by the sandalpasted gallant by her side, the two together riding a ‘palanquin shaped like the proud peacock*. “ In the rural dialect,” I told her, “punyaha means an auspicious day, a day set apart, during the New Year, for the collection of rent. The landlord’s agent, dressed like a bridegroom, sits in the treasury with artistic earthenwares ranged in front. Into these the tenants put in their annual rent, or parts of it. The amount given is taken on trust, that is, no one cares to count it. All this transaction has music for its background, what you heard just now. In
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brief, on this holy day even the prosaic business of rent collection is made to look like a ritual, a happy exchange.” “ But, after all,” Deepti broke in, “if it's nothing more or less than rent collection, why make so much fuss «bout it ?” “Well, do they not play music,” said Kshiti, “ when they lead the heifer, garland round its neck, to the altar ? This is the sacrificial rite in honour of the Goddess of Rent.” “You may look at it that way, if you like,” I protested, “but if there is to be sacrifice why be brutal about it? Why not connect it with some higher idea or motive, give it a nobler turn ?” “For myself, I prefer the deed to agree with the inten tion. To invest a low deed with some high-sounding idea will not elevate the deed, rather it will degrade the idea itself,” said Kshiti. “ But the value of an idea,” I continued, “ will depend on the mind that entertains it. The sheet of water* fed by the rains, looks to me one way, to the fisherman over there it has a very different meaning, to him it is a matter of more immediate concern. All the same, I am loath to admit that my way of looking at it, just because it is less practical, is also less real.” Here Samir came to my rescue. “There are men who judge reality in terms of materiality. It is a simple equation. To them whatever is gross is real, filth more real than beauty, self-interest than affection, hunger more than love.” “And yet in all ages men have tried to minimise or rise above the grosser things of life, tried to raise or cover up the unseemly, cried shame on the spirit of grasping, and kept animal hunger within check,” I added. “The earliest efforts at creation were no doubt unshapely. Are we, therefore, to regard these as the ultimate reality and dismiss as unreal the gentle Goddess of Home and Hearth, she who
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clears away all that is unlovely and brings harmony into the lives of mortals ?” **You worry for nothing,” Kshiti spoke with a reassuring smile. “ I was not planning to plant a dynamite to blow up your domestic felicity ! But, honestly, do you mind telling me how this tuneless shahnai is improving the state of the world ?” “You mustn’t look at it like that, from the connoisseur’s point of view. The music is but a symbol and you should judge it more by the intention behind it and not by the actual performance which, I admit, is quite poor. But, then it sounds only the keynote of an invitation to the world of rhythm and music after a whole year given to getting and spending, a series of false steps. The music tries to bring back, if for a while, the chaotic world under the mild sway of the Graces, it tries to create the peace of the home in the market place, throws the magic of moonlight on the rough and violent ways of the world. The world is always blaring forth what is, but the music of what should be needs to be sounded now and then, to set the balance right. That is the rationale of this ‘holy day’.” “It applies to all functions and festivals,” I added, “ On these occasions men try to undo the mischief they have been doing the rest of their days. On most days their life is cabin’d and confined, so one day they have their fling, his flight into the boundless sky. On most days a man only earns for himself, on some days he likes to spend for others, offer his best and in that self-giving find a new fulfilment. As a rule the doors of his house seem shut against every body else, but on some days it is thrown open wide. A rtaster of all he owns and surveys, on these special occasions, the ‘holy days’, he becomes the servant of all. These are his auspicious days, his days of rejoicing. These set the norm or standard for the rest. The music floating from a
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distance strikes the right note. All his other activities, on other days, have been out of tune. It is only on these days, these elevated moments that we come to ourselves, and can be said to be truly alive. We now meet man as man, in amity and delight, when all that’s narrow and pragmatic is left aside and we are lifted into the rhythm of a higher and happier exchange and mutual recognition. These are the moments that matter, that reveal the sap of Delight flowing through and making all life one.” “ The miseries of our lot are always there,” Samir took up the thread. “ From that point our life on earth is indeed mean and sordid. Man is tied to the world of Matter and Necessity by a thousand bonds. For all the greatness of the soul in him, he has to eat, to work, and to cover himself as best as he may. These facts of life he can neither deny nor forget. And yet man likes to believe that he is immortal, eternal. Alas, he is also beside himself if he but mislays the snuff-box ! Paradox profound. The need to grind and scramble, hustle and bargain is a stigma which he tries to hide or cover up ; and the soul seeks to cast its own enchantment over his everyday life and arrive at some kind of balance between this insistent servitude and the greatness within of which he has some inkling.” “Yes,” I said, “ that is what the punyaha music is there for. The facts are plain enough: someone owns the land and the other fellow has to pay rent for its use. But the human soul wants to elevate this social contract into the semblance of something nobler, and to give it the appearance of a willing and loving exchange. In other words, it wants to make our emotions the motive force of social living, in this case to base the relation between tenant and landlord on an ideal of happy mutual aid. Between the music and the collection of rent, one can easily see, there is no connection, the treasury is no place for lavish, artistic display. But once
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allow human emotions to come in and the scene changes, even the drabbest of occasions calls for music, needs to be escorted by beauty. The rural ditties of the shahnai are trying their best to affirm that this is a holy day in their lives when the rich and the poor meet as partners in a game of good will. In this way the human emotions or the soul of man enters into the heartless routine of what is after all a business deal. That is how we should look at it, and not otherwise.” Srotoswini, who had been so far busy in her own thoughts, now joined us. “ From all that you have said it seems that this not only makes the world a more beautiful place to live in, but it also lightens the dull and weary weight of the world. In the social world it is hard to do away with distinctions, we have the high and the low. Perhaps so long as the world remains what it is, this must be so. But this tries to bring the two into some kind of happier relationship.” To which Vyom said, “ Well, whenever man has to admit defeat, he tries to gloss it over with the help of an Idea. When in the early days of the world he was unable to cope with flood or fire, when the mountain blocked his way, or the sky sent rain or thunder he hailed them as gods made in the image of man himself. Otherwise he could not establish any working relations with Nature. Men could live with self-respect only after they had entered into an emotional relationship with the forces of Nature and the world arou n d /’ “Quite so,” chimed in Kshiti. “By such devices the human soul has managed to preserve some kind of dignity. When the king is a tyrant, and there is no way of getting the better of him, the subjects turn him into a kind of divinity in an effort to hide their humiliation. In the relation between the sexes too since man is able to enforce his will more easily, the helpless woman sets him up as her earthly lord and has to exalt her submission to his selfish demands into the sem5
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blance of an ideal of sacrifice and dutifulness. I agree that if men had not this faculty, such an ingenuity to cover up the indignity of the real with the glamour of the ideals, the world would have descended lower than the level of beasts.” “ Oh, it is surely not such a case of helpless self-delusion,” Srotoswini’s voice sounded a trifle sad. “ Do we not find the same tendency at work even where we are the stronger party ? Why else do we worship the ccw ? Poor thing, she has none to defend her. The power is all on our side. In our dealings with the cow is it not this very superiority that wc are trying to hide ? As human beings we are loath to let i\ appear that the benefits we derive from the creature are all taken by force, just because we are cleverer or stronger and she the weaker party. We can only relish the milk that we take from her by regarding her as the patient, all-suffering symbol of motherhood. The soul’s urge is never satisfied till it has entered into an ideal, beautiful and effective relationship with all things and beings.” “ There, you have said a big thing,” Vyom added gravely. “ Whatever have I do n e!” cooed the quiet Srotoswini lapsing into another of her long silences. , “But really there’s a lot more to be said about the soul’s creative urge that you have just touched upon,” continued Vyom. “ As the spider spins out its web round itself, so also the soul within us. From the core of our being it busil* throws out its threads, its bonds of invisible relationshij changing what was dissimilar into an identity, the far intc the near, the stranger into a kin. So it builds bridges, ai it were, between the self and the not-self. The thing we call Beauty is the web of its creation, the soul’s very own.” “Beauty, I repeat, is that bridge bstween Matter and Spirit. By itself Matter is but a lump, a mass. Yet it provides u: with food, we build our homes and we also sometimes suffe because of it. What would have happened if we had alway
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looked upon Matter as alien to ourselves and the universe ? It is the function of the soul to make friends, this it does by entering into relationships through Beauty. As soon as material objects are seen to be beautiful, they cease to be material. Spirit permeates Matter, while Matter in turn is vivified by the Spirit. This leads to Joy. This bridge-building * is the poet’s real work, in this he finds his glory. The poet r strengthens old ties, ties new ones and makes the inert world ‘ a place fit for souls to live in. Of course I have used the : word ‘Matter’ in its ordinary sense. If I were to expound • materiality I suppose I shall be the only person left here.” Samir had not been paying much attention to Vyom’s holding forth. “ Srotoswini has talked about the cow. In our country there are many similar instances of the emotional approach to the world. The other day I came across a villager with an empty kerosene-tin on his head, dragging his tired, sunburnt body. On reaching the riverside he put down the vessel and jumped into its cool, refreshing waters with a glad cry : ‘Mother !’ I was deeply touched by this poetry of action.” “What can be a truer adoration of these rushing waters than such loving surrender of a tired and bruised body to the Mother of the Universe ? When the gifts or this fruitful earth and the ancient homestead, through which generations have trod and left their imprint, are accepted with gratitude ’ and affection, then our life finds its fulfilment in joy and c beauty. It is this osmosis that reveals the link between the < different worlds, of matter, vegetable, animal and man, not ; merely as a doctrine but as living experience. We have known . this in the depth of our being before science and philosophy gave it a name. Our blood acknowledged it before pundits . began to discourse about it.” “ Let me give an example to make this clear. Because we •t do not have, in either our language or our social discourse, 7 any word corresponding to the English ‘Thank you’ some
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people are quick to infer that in the East people lack a sense of gratitude. The truth, I think, is quite different. We are only too eager to acknowledge obligations, not only to men, but to all forms of life, even to material objects. A people among whom the warriors personify their weapons, the students their books, the artisans their tools, and to which they offer worship, such a people cannot be called ungrateful just because they don’t use this word.” “Yes, they can,” I put in. “ As a people we have passed the stage of gratitude. If we seem to accept service from some one else without any special sense of obligation, that is because we acknowledge the claims of mutual aid in humansociety, which leaves no room for the expression of formal gratitude. The beggar and the householder, the servant and the master, the guest and the host, they have all been brought into a nexus of relationship. Here there is no question of getting rid of all obligation by a polite and often little more than formal offering of thanks.” To this Vyom agreed, but added, “In the Western sense we are not even grateful to the gods. We do not thank the gods as freely as the people in the Western hemisphere do because we feel that to do so would be to slight them. It would be like saying, You have done your duty, now let me do mine, and there an end to it.” “On the contrary, in every relationship of love there is an unappeased element. For of the demands of love there is no end. And the ‘ungrateful’ importunity of love is m ore precious than all the sophisticated rendering of ‘Thanks’. T h e saint-poet Ramprasad sings: O Mother, I shall never call thee Mother, Thou who hast so tormented and still tormentest me. The depth of that love and trust of this ‘thank-less* attitude can hardly be conveyed in any other tongue.”
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“As mysterious,” said Kshiti after a long silence, roused at last to sarcasm, “must be your own ingratitude to the English. But let me ask y o u : Would this discussion have been at all possible but for your access to Western literature ? Could anyone who doesn’t know that literature even follow it properly ?” “No,” I had to admit. “And there is reason for this. From our infancy we are brought up in the midst of Nature, we live with her in a close but unconscious relationship. We have no discovery to make because we have never doubted, never questioned. The spiritual significance of coming together is much larger than that of simply being one from the beginning. This has been our case. But for the initial Separation, there is no bliss of Re-union. This the West has. We call the Earth, the River ‘Mother’, we worship the Bo tree, we personify stocks and stones. But do we therefore come to any spiritual realisation about them ? We rather materialise what is spiritual. A true spiritual relationship has nothing to do with fear or favour, it is a relationship of bsauty and joy. My prayer to her is not for worldly boons, but to have the vision of her beauty, at sunrise and sunset, by the light of her crescent moon, during the storm-laden afternoons of the rainy season, may my life fill with these her gifts, till at last I meet the Beloved face to face and fulfil my destiny by placing all my life as an offering into Her hands.”
T H E R E A L I S A T I O N OF B E A U T Y which we do not take joy are either a burden upon our minds to be got rid of at any cost or they are useful, and therefore in temporary and partial relation to us, becoming burdensome when their utility is lo s t; or they are like wandering vagabonds, loitering for a moment on the outskirts of our recognition and then passing on. A thing is only completely our own when it is a thing of joy to us. The greater part of this world is to us as if it were nothing. But we cannot allow it to remain so, for thus it belittles our own self. The entire world is given to us, and all our powers have their final meaning in the faith that by their help we are to take possession of our patrimony. But what is the function of our sense of beauty in this process of the extension of our consciousness ? Is it there to separate truth into strong lights and the shadows, and bring it before us in its uncompromising distinction of beauty and ugliness ? If that were so, then we should have to admit that this sense of beauty creates a dissension in our universe and sets up a wall of hindrance across the highway of communication that leads from each individual thing to all things. But that cannot be true. As long as our realisation is incomplete a division necessarily remains between things known and unknown, pleasant and unpleasant. But in spite of the dictum of some philosophers man does not accept any arbitrary and absolute limit to his knowable world. Every day his science is penetrating into the region formerly marked in his map as unexplored or inexplorable. Our sense of beauty is similarly engaged in ever pushing on its conquests. Truth is everywhere, therefore everything is the T h in g s i n
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object of our knowledge. Beauty is omnipresent, therefore everything is capable of giving us joy. In the early days of his history man took everything as a phenomenon of life. His science of life began by creating a sharp distinction between life and non-life. But as it is proceeding farther and farther the line of demarcation between the animate and inanimate is growing more and more dim. In the beginning of our apprehension these sharp lines of contrast are helpful to us, but as our comprehension becomes clearer they gradually fade away. The Upanishads have said that all things are created and sustained by an infinite joy. To realise this principle of creation we have to start with a division— the division into the beautiful and the non-beautiful. Then the apprehension of beauty has to come to us with a vigorous blow to awaken our consciousness from its primitive lethargy, and it attains its object by the urgency of the contrast. Therefore our first acquaintance with beauty is in her dress of motley colours, that affects us with its stripes and feathers, nay, with its disfigurement. But as our acquaintance ripens, th ; apparent discords are resolved into modulations of rhythm. At first we detach beauty from its surroundings, we hold it apart from the rest, but at the end we realise its harmony with all. Then the music of beauty has no more need of exciting us with loud noise ; it renounces violence, and appeals to our heart with the truth that it is meekness that inherits the earth. In some stage of our growth, in some period of our history, we try to set up a special cult of beauty, and pare it down to a narrow circle, so as to make it a matter of pride for a chosen few. Then it breeds in its votaries affectations and exaggerations, as it did with the Brahmins in the time of the decadence of Indian civilisation, when the perception of the higher truth fell away and superstition grew up unchecked.
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In the history of aesthetics there also comes an age of emancipation when the recognition of beauty in things great and small becomes easy, and when we see it more in the unassuming harmony of common objects than in things startling in their singularity. So much so, that we have to go through the stages of reaction when in the representation of beauty we try to avoid everything that is obviously pleasing and that has been crowned by the sanction of convention. We are then tempted in de 6ance to exaggerate the commonness of commonplace things, thereby making them aggressively uncommon. To restore harmony we create the discords which are a feature of all reactions. We already see in the present age the sign of this aesthetic reaction, which proves that man has at last come to know that it is only the narrowness of perception which sharply divides the field of his aesthetic consciousness into ugliness and beauty. When he has the power to see things detached from self-interest and from the insistent claims of the lust of the senses, then alone can he have the true vision of the beauty that is everywhere. Then only can he see that what is unpleasant to us is not necessarily unbeautiful, but has its beauty in truth. When we say that beauty is everywhere we do not mean that the word ugliness should be abolished from our language, just as it would be absurd to say that there is no such thing as untruth. Untruth there certainly is, not in the system of the universe, but in our power of comprehension, as its negative element. In the same manner there is ugliness in the distorted expression of beauty in our life and in our art which comes from our imperfect realisation of Truth. To a certain extent we can set our life against the law of truth which is in us and which is in all, and likewise we can give rise to ugliness by going counter to the eternal law of harmony which is everywhere.
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Through our sense of truth we realise law in creation, and through our sense of beauty we realise harmony in the universe. When we recognise the law in nature we extend our mastery over physical forces and become powerful; when we recognise the law in our moral nature we attain mastery over self and become free. In like manner the more we comprehend the harmony in the physical world the more our life shares the gladness of creation, and our expression of beauty in art becomes more truly catholic. As we become conscious of the harmony in our soul, our apprehension of the blissfulness of the spirit of the world becomes universal, and the expression of beauty in our life moves in goodness and love towards the infinite. This is the ultimate object of our existence, that we must ever know that “ beauty is truth, truth beauty” ; we must realise the whole world in love, for love gives it birth, sustains it, and takes it back to its bosom. We m ust have that perfect emancipation of heart which gives us the power to stand at the innermost centre of things and have the taste of that fulness of disinterested joy which belongs to Brahma. M usic is the purest form of art, and therefore the most direct expression of beauty, with a form and spirit which is one a n d simple, and least encumbered with anything extrane ous. W e seem to feel that the manifestation of the infinite in the finite forms of creation is music itself, silent and visible. The evening sky, tirelessly repeating the starry constellations, seems like a child struck with wonder at the mystery of its own first utterance, lisping the same word over and over again, and listening to it in unceasing joy. When in the rainy night of July the darkness is thick upon the meadows an d th e pattering rain draws veil upon veil over the stillness o f th e slumbering earth, this monotony of the rain patter seem s to be the darkness of sound itself. The gloom of the d im a n d dense line of trees, the thorny bushes scattered in
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the bare heath like floating heads of swimmers with bedraggled hair, the smell of the damp grass and the wet earth, the spire of the temple rising above the undefined mass of black* ness grouped around the village huts— everything seems like notes rising from the heart of the night, mingling and losing themselves in the one sound of ceaseless rain filling the sky. Therefore the true poets, they who are seers, seek to express the universe in terms of music. They rarely use symbols of painting to express the unfold ing of forms, the mingling of endless lines and colours that goes on every moment on the canvas of the blue sky. They have their reason. For the man who paints must have canvas, brush, and colour-box. The first touch of his brush is very far from the complete idea. And then when the work is finished and the artist is gone, the widowed picture stands alone, the incessant touches of love of the creative hand are withdrawn. But the singer has everything within him. The notes comes out from his very life. They are not materials gathered from outside. His idea and his expression are brother and sister ; very often they are born as twins. In music the heart reveals itself immediately; it suffers not from any barrier o f alien material. Therefore though music has to wait for its completeness like any other art, yet at every step it gives out the beauty of the whole. As the material of expression even words are barriers, for their meaning has to be construed by thought. But music never has to depend upon any obvious meaning ; it expresses what no words can ever express. What is more, music and the musician are inseparable. When the singer departs, his singing dies with h im ; it is in eternal union with the life and joy of the master. This world-song is never for a moment separated from its singer. It is not fashioned from any outward material.
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It is his joy itself taking a never-ending form. It is the great heart sending the tremor of its thrill over the sky. There is a perfection in each individual strain of this music, which is the revelation of completion in the incom* plete. No one of its notes is final, yet each reflects the infinite. What does it matter if we fail to derive the exact meaning of this great harmony ? Is it not like the hand meeting the string and drawing out at once all its tones at the touch ? It is the language of beauty, the caress, that comes from the heart of the world and straightway reaches our heart. Last night, in the silence which pervaded the darkness, I stood alone and heard the voice of the singer of the eternal melodies. When I went to sleep I closed my eyes with this last thought in my mind, that even when I remain unconscious in slumber the dance of life will still go on in the hushed arena of my sleeping body, keeping step with the stars. The heart will throb, the blood will leap in the veins, and the millions of living atoms of my body will vibrate in tune with the note of the harp-string that thrills at the touch of the Master.
THE P H I L O S O P H Y OF L I T E R A T U R E tell us that the One desired to be Many. This is the deeper reason behind Genesis or Creation. Similarly the one in me, the individual person, seeks to realise itself through the many, and in so far as it is able to do so, does it gain life and truth, the truth of being. The flow of event goes on all the time, forms of knowing and feeling that strike the individual consciousness. My response to all these— the 'Other’— is what ‘I am*. The meeting of these two currents, ‘I am’ and These are’ makes up the totality of my life. Anything that obstructs this meeting of the inner and the outer narrows down or perverts my full self-realization. The degree of my joy, of selfrealization, depends upon the range and intensity, the depth of this encounter and assimilation. Where these are feeble or vague, I am left depressed and denuded. The real torment of a solitary cell is that it cuts off all external stimuli that feed the human consciousness, limits and lops off our personality. This union of the within and the without, the two currents of our being, is brought about in a twofold manner : by the pressure of necessity and through the emotional being. Where the range and satisfaction of this union are confined to the world of need they affect only the surfaces of our existence. The emotional union goes deeper and wider, it causes our consciousness to be richer, and our individuality to widen. Art and Literature have for their object this greater joy of profound union and self-enlargement. Some say literature gives us joy through beauty. T he point is worth considering, but with the proviso that we do O u r s c r ip t u r e s
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not attempt the impossible— to explain beauty by analysis and definition. So far as beauty exists outside us, it would seem to inhere in certain events or objects which by themselves are neither beautiful nor ugly. The rose has its petals, its stalks, its whorl of leaves, but over and above all these is an invisible principle of wholeness, of unity, which is beauty. This unity appeals to what is most like it in our own being — the unity of our individual self. There are groupings o f objects and events which may give an impression of whole ness, but whose unity is incidental rather than essential. It is the harmony between the parts of a rose which is the vision of true unity, that ‘something more’ than the bare fact of their existence. This is or what makes for beauty. The characteristic is not confined to aesthetics as such. Any whole that transcends its parts appeals to the self in me which also transcends the separate facts of my existence. Take the synthesis arrived at in higher mathematics. It has a profound harmony between its several formulae from which it is derived. Undoubtedly the vision of its transcendental unity has a profound appeal for the mind of the mathematician. This harmony and vision are a source not merely of an intellec tual but also of an emotional satisfaction. It is pure joy not depending on any likely material advantage, but arises out of the liberation of knowledge into a region that soars beyond the w orld of need and compulsion. H ere one naturally asks : Why then does mathematics not figure in poetry and literature proper ? This is due to the fact th a t a knowledge of mathematics is confined only to a few. T he highly technical language through which it expresses itself has not been replenished by the living contact of m en at large. A language which has no direct access to the h e a rt of man is not a fit medium for literature. On the other hand, machines and factories are finding an increasing
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share in modem literature, for over and above their parti cular application, they have become real to us and established real relations with the rest of our lives. It has now become both possible and inevitable to enter into living, that is emotional relations with these. In our system of Rhetoric, literature is described as words charged with emotion. Beauty rouses emotion but, as we have seen, all emotions may not be beautiful or rouse a sense of beauty. Nevertheless, the emotions have one quality in common. In whatever manner they may be evoked or provoked, they immediately penetrate our being and stir it. Let me give you an example. Man needs water and must bear the burden of the vessel in which to fetch and collect it. Had the matter ended there, the water-pot would have been merely a part of the not-self. But he also makes it a thing of beauty. This is, pragmatically, not necessary, for the holding of water. But by its artistry man takes away some of the bother and burdensomeness of the task. What had been only a brute necessity has been given a value far beyond the demands of necessity, what was material has transcended its materiality and become a part of the self. This humanizing process has continued since the beginning of man. The opposite tendency too may be seen equally well, water carried in shapeless kerosene cans, hung at either end of a bamboo pole, slung over the shoulders— a picture of man obliged to surrender his humanity to the tyranny of necessity, with no open sky, no freedom left to express his inner personality. Art and Literature belong to that revolutionary region of freedom where the importance of need is reduced to a minimum, where the material grows insubstantial and the ideal alone is revealed as the truth. The yoke is light and easy to bear, for here all things are made man's very own. This too, too solid earth of ours is a lump of soil and
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dust, ores and stones. Encircling it lie the expanse of space and atmosphere from where it draws the breath of life, an ineffable life. From this atmosphere the artist also derives his colour and light, the moving pictures of life and the world, their expressive quality. At the same time man craves for an atmosphere of his own where he can have his leisure and his playground. Without being perpetually dis tracted by pressing needs, he can express himself through his creations, creations that do not depend on getting and spending, or on knowing, but only by the delight of becom ing. It is, as I have said, when the outside comes inside and brings about a corresponding expansion of our becoming that the result is a free play of the creative activity, in art and literature. Emotion is not wanting in our everyday life. Whether in our attempt at self-preservation, in overcoming those who oppose us, or in propagating our kind, emotions give us zest and joy in living. Within these limits man does not differ radically from the other animals. But his uniqueness or distinction comes out when the heart aspires and tries to get rid of the sad incubus of duty, where, with the aid of his imagination, he qualifies for the higher disinterested joy th a t has no reference to results. Even when indulging in destructive impulses we find him trying to raise these activities above the level of primitive need by giving them a trans utilitarian garb. For instance, when he goes to battle he is n o t content with carrying arms, he must rig himself out, in fine feather, paint and uniform, or dance and march to the b e a t of drum or blare of trumpet, sometimes he carries this k in d of thing so far as almost to endanger the practical ends in view. M ore than that. We even find men engaged in what may b e called a reverse process, seeking for images of his emotion in th e world outside. In the flowering woodland his love
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goes a-wandering, his sense of the holy travels to the river bank, the sea-shore, the mountain top. He seeks affinity for the inmost self not in substantial things nor in abstract principles. In the blue of the sky and the green of the grass he feels the touch of a Playmate and a companion. In the beauty of the flower and the sweetness of the fruit, in pity felt for all creatures, high and low, in the self that is surrendered to the Highest, in our hearts we find our eternal relation with the All. That alone which through the power of relation has become my own may I fittingly call real. Man is naturally afraid of whatever sorrow wounds hi» life, he fears the loss of his cherished possessions. But this is true only of the ground floor of humanity so to speak. In the higher levels of awareness or relationship we find him .ignoring all sense of loss, even courting danger, and daring the impossible— for the sake of what ? Surely not material gain, but the joy of a larger self-realization. Then not only our own, but the sorrows of others affect us no less. Children, barbarians and gaolers no doubt take a perverted pleasure in torturing others, since to them the higher sources of selfexperience are not open. Of this need for suffering I have spoken in one of my poems. I made for her a bed of flowers and I closed the doors to shut out the rude light from her eyes. I kissed her gently on her lips and whispered softly in her ears till she half swooned in languor. She was lost in the endless mist of vague sweetness. She answered not to my touch, my songs failed to arouse her.
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To-night has come to us the call of the storm from the wild. My bride shivered and stood u p ; she has clasped my hand and come out. Her hair is flying in the wind, her veil is fluttering, her garland rustles over her b re a st; The push of death has swung her into life. We are face to face, and heart to heart, my bride and I. Stagnant water is dumb, close air oppressive. For man w hat is most intolerable is a vacancy or vagueness of consciousness. On the other hand, when his consciousness of *1 am’ attains a certain fulfilment or fullness, orreaches an intensity, it brings our individual self in touch with the Supreme Person. This, in turn, brings from Infinity, as it were, the corresponding response ‘I am’. At this level of identification or correspondence the being rises above all distinctions of pain and pleasure into the bliss of a supreme realization. In his work-a-day world man is busy trying to fulfil his many needs, to add to his possessions or to his knowledge. But in his art and literature he is always -striving to enlarge and enrich the content of his conscious ness in order to raise his soul to higher and higher levels, to become more and more his true self. How empty and barren would life be if all our art and literature were taken aw ay. What a calamity ! To express the beautiful, therefore, does not sufficiently indicate the nature and purpose of literature. Also the perception of beauty has many levels. It is easy to distin guish it on what I have called the ground floor of existence. I t requires little effort to see that the flower, the butterfly a n d the peacock are beautiful. At a higher level, where the m in d comes into play and character is involved, it is less «easy to arbitrate as to what is beautiful and what is not. 6
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Here the verdict of the senses will no longer do. One will have to distinguish between the pretty or the attractive and the significant. Of the two it is the latter that gives the deeper delight. A tripping dance tune attracts as soon as it is heard. The classical melody has a profounder appeal but it requires considerable culture of the mind before its deeper beauty can be realized. This brings us to one of the fundamentals of literature. The attractive things that we ordinarily call beautiful or interesting are such as are obviously real to us. Merely to express them as they are would be but a kind of reportage. It is for literature to bring home to us the appeal of that which is not obvious, to make us aware of realities of which we are ordinarily unaware. In the world we live in most things carry the stigma of the commonplace. For instance, people pass along the street, and though each one is an individual, to me they are but a vague crowd, a collective name or apparition. But, to myself, I am special and unique. ‘Another’ can become real to me only if he is presented in the same manner, on the same footing— as myself, or as part of me. This cannot be done through any relation of need, only a deeper, emotional or spiritual bond can do that. Let me here relate an incident which I once put into a poem. I was then living alone in the country. There was an attendant who looked after my affairs, every night he would go back home and report early in the morning. There was nothing very special about him, except, perhaps, his taciturnity. Indeed, I became aware of his existence only when one morning he failed to make his usual appearance. I found the bath unprepared, the study untidy and I knew he had not come. Later in the day I asked him, not too gently I am afraid, where he had been all this time. ‘Sir, my little girl died this morning,’ was all he said,
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as he started to work as though nothing had happened. I was shocked— shocked into an intense awareness. So long I had looked upon him only as a vague functionary. Now he stood by me on the same platform with me, as a father and a human being. The beautiful carries in itself the Creator’s passport, it has its entry everywhere. What can one say about the invasion of my consciousness by the old servant ? By no stretch of imagination could one call him beautiful. Nor was ,the fact that, like so many other men, he had a daughter, of any speciat significance. What awakened me, then, with a flash, to a sense of his individuality? One touch of sorrow, a common human experience had made him real to me. This is what literature has done for Sancho Panzo, Sancho who is more real to us than all the Indian Viceroys put together. When Kalidasa wrote his Shakuntala his times must have been bursting with matters of social, political and economic interest, but where are all these now ? Only Shakuntala remains. M an’s ordinary world, which he thinks and calls real, is like the Milky way, made up of such vague nebulae as Society, Nation, Empire, Commerce and what not. Through their fog and mist one can hardly look at the individual. Under the debris of these fatuous generalisations, ‘War’, for instance, lie the smouldering griefs of thousand living hearts ; the crimes done in the name of ‘Nation’, if brought to light, would leave humanity no place to hide its shame ; and if we fail to see the folly and slavery perpetuated under the shadow of ‘Society’ it is because we are already victims whose minds it has paralysed. Amidst all the dark insensibility surrounding these nebulous abstractions, art and literature come to our rescue. They make vivid to us the individuality or unique ness of things and events and save the world for us, save it from the logic of the inanimate and the inarticulate.
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The uniqueness of personality is the greatest mystery that man is up against. Beginning with and for a while limited to his mind and body, the human personality rises beyond both and soon overflows the past and the future. That is why it seeks the aid of art and literature, to be able to express itself and its quest of a Delight that is deathless. Through his creations man is for ever sending his answer to the Supreme Person who, from the drabness of manifold facts, shines bright in the unutterable Mystery of Truth, whose another name is Beauty.
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world of our fairy tales, the son of the Detective, the son of the Merchant and the son of the King set forth in the adventurous quest of the Princess : the Truth, represented by her, is approached from three sides by three different types of mind. The process which one of them follows, by analysis, is to find in her the secrets of body and m ind; but in this region of science, she is of no more value than any other girl— there is no difference between Princess and scullery-maid. The Detective, be he scientist or philosopher, has nothing to do with feeling, no sense even of utility, all he has is the spirit of Question. The Princess has another aspect,— that in which she is useful. She spins, weaves and embroiders. The eyes with which the Merchant’s son observes her,— turning her spindle, wielding her shuttle, plying her needle,— have in their gaze neither feeling, nor questioning, but only calculation. The King’s son is not a physiologist or psychologist, nor has he passed any examination in economics. What he has passed, methinks, is just his twenty-fourth year, and also the impassable heath of the fairy tales. He has crossed difficult paths, not for learning, nor for riches, but for the Princess herself, whose palace is not in the laboratory, nor in the market place, but in that heart’s paradise of Eternal Spring where the flowers bloom in the poet’s bower of phantasy. That which is not known by logic, which defies definition, whose value is not in any practical use, but which can only be intimately felt, finds its expression in Literature, is the subject of Aesthetics. No man who has the gift of enjoyment ever nags or pokes any creation of Art with the Questions : In th e
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Why art thou here ? What art thou ?— He exclaims : It is enough fo r me that thou art thyself! This was what the King’s son whispered in the ear of the Princess, and it was for the proper utterance of these very words that Shahjehan was compelled to build the Taj Mahal. We can only define that which can be measured : that which is immeasurable, which eludes all attempts at capture, is not attainable by reason, but by immediate perception. The Upanishad says of the infinite Being that we can reach Him not with speech, nor with the mind, but by our consciousness of delight, wherewith all fear departs from us. Our soul has her hunger for this immediateness of realisation, whereby she is enabled also to know herself. The love, the contemplation, the vision that alone can satisfy this hunger finds its place in Literature, in Art. The space enclosed within walls has been appropriated by my business office, which there buys and sells, pays and charges rent, by the yard. Outside, where is the assembly of stars, undivided space is realised by me through my sense of joy in the boundless. This vastness is superfluous for the purpose of mere physical life, as is proved by the worms that burrow underground. There are in this world also human worms for whom a dearth of sky is no privation : for in them has been killed the mind that cannot live with out expanding its wings outside the prison bars of necessity. It was the tyranny of the ghosts of such dead souls that frightened the poet into the prayer : Doom me not to the futility O f offering things of joy to the callous ! But the heart of the King’s son is fresh and sensitive. He realises in the Princess that sweep of immensity which is in the sky lighted by the eternal sta rs; and his response to the sight of her is as befits such realisation. The others behave differently. To measure the rhythm of the heart-throbs of
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the King’s daughter, the scientist has no compunction in improvising a tube of tin. The Merchant finds his satisfac tion in the tin can wherein he safe-keeps the cream churned by the Princess’ own hand. But the King’s son does not so much as dream of ordering tin armlets for the Princess, should he perchance do so it would be for him a veritable nightmare. If, when he wakes, he happens to find gold scarce, he is forthwith impelled to sally forth in search of rose buds for her. From this can be understood why, in Sanskrit, Rhetoric is called the Grammar of Ornament. Ornament is the symbol of the ultimate. The mother who finds the finality of her joy in her child, translates this absolute consciousness of hers into the adornments wherewith she decks its body. We view our servant within fixed limits and our return for his service is likewise limited to a fi*ed salary. But we view our friend in the unlimited, so ornaments blossom forth in our language and behaviour, in the tone of our voice, our smile, our welcome. In literature we speak of him with decorated words, of which the significance is not in their meaning, but in their feeling the message whereof is brought home by the ring of their melody. The appearances, the thoughts, the dreams, which are not made manifest through reasoning,— these are of literature. What in English is called real, is in our language called sdrthaJca ( significant). Common truth is one thing, signi ficant truth quite another. Common truth does not admit of selection ; it is the significant that is select. Men of every sort come under the head of common truth, the man of significance is hardly to be found in a million. When, on the impulse of his profound pity, Valmiki was stirred to metrical utterance, it was only with the aid of Rishi Narada that he could find a real man, of a significance worthy of his metre. N ot that significantly real things are rare, but anything
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that is not significant to me is not real for me. Because the world of reality has more extensive boundaries for the Poet and the Artist, they can bring out the significance of a much larger variety of things. For in whatsoever we are made aware of some ideal of completeness, that becomes significant to us. A grain of sand is nothing to me, but a lotus flower has for me the full force of certitude. Though at every step the sand may obtrude itself on my attention,— grating on my feet, irritating my eye, setting my teeth on edge,— never theless it has not for me any fulness of truth. The lotus does not have to elbow its way into my notice, rather does my mind of its own accord go out to greet and welcome it. Let me give an example of the sensitive fastidiousness of the mind when choosing the adornments for the object of its adoration. The flower of the sajina is not lacking in beauty, but the poets, when celebrating the enthronement of the King of Seasons, do not by any chance include its name in their songs of acclamation. It has lost prestige with the poets because it happens to figure as an article of diet. For the same reason the flowers of the brinjal or the pumpkin stand with lowered heads outside the gates of poesy,— the kitchen has destroyed their caste. Not alone the poets, but also their sweethearts disdain these flowers as ornaments, though a spray of the delicate sajina flowerclusters in their dark tresses would assuredly not have been ill-becoming. Neither the kunda nor tagar is gorgeous or scented, yet for them the door to the realm of adornment remains open, for they have not been tainted with the touch of the hunger of the body. Here pictorial art is at an advantage. The artist’s brush need not shrink from painting the superb foliage of the yam, whereas to bring that name, suggestive of a meal, into ihe description of any verdant scene would tax all the resources of the poet’s pen. The sounds of words, more
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over, sometimes have undignified associations, by reasons of the way they are used in our everyday life, which are liable to give offence in the case of the word picture, for it is not shape or colour, but soilnd which is of the essence of poetry. I am not usually credited ^with any squeamish regard for convention, yet have I often to resort to a less usual name, or a round-about phrase, rather than use a word that has a utilitarian significance. I should say, here, however, that these considerations do not apply with equal force in the case of the western poet with whom it is the substance and not the name that dominates. Be that as it may, it is a common experience that we fail to see in its entirety that which subserves our use, for it is eclipsed by the shadow of our need. The kitchen and pantry are of everyday necessity to the householder but, these are the rooms he fain would keep out of public view. His reception room, which he for himself can do without, is the one on which he lavishes all furniture and adornment, striving to the best of his means, by carpeting it, hanging it with pictures, stocking it with objects of exotic beauty, to give it a touch of the universal; for he would be known to the larger world outside, through this room of his choice, in all the glory of his own personality. In the fact that he eats and stores up food his personality finds no ultimate significance. That he has a special distinction is the tidings which he seeks to communicate through his reception rooms,— wherefore they are decorated. In the realm of biology man and beast are not distinct: as there viewed, self-preservation and race-preservation are of equal importance in the nature of both. But man’s spirit fails to find in these features the true significance of man. So, however deep-seated or widespread man’s desire to dine may be, his literature has but a scanty recognition o£. it. Man’s eating propensity may be an insistent, but it is not a
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significant truth ; that is why the satisfaction of his hunger is not one of the joys that have found a place in the paradise of his Art-wor1d. The sexual relationship of man and woman stands on a higher place than man’s appetite for food, for it has achieved an intimate connection with the relationship of hearts. The sex instinct which, in a basic view of life, has only a secondary place, has risen, in the sex relations of the larger life of man, to a position transcending even the primary ; for Love illumines man, within and without, into a supreme intensity of consciousness. That illumination is iacking in the primitive principle of race-preservation, which therefore assumes importance only on the plane of science. The union of hearts, as seen by us, is abstracted from the primitive needs of Nature into the glory of its own finality. And hence it has come to occupy so vast a place in Literature and the Arts. The supreme significance of the union of the sexes is, for man, not in procreation,—prajandrtham ( for the sake of progeny ), as our Lawgiver would have it,— for in that he is merely animal, but in love wherein he is truly man. I do not use the word animal with any implication of ethical judgment, but from the view-point of the progressive selfrealisation of man. Owing to their intimately close contact a natural spirit of rivalry prevails between the animal and the spiritual spheres of man’s sex-life in their respective claims for the wreath of victory from art and literature. The psycho-analyst has introduced a further complication by asseverating that the animal sex-instinct is also a deep and potent factor in the mental life of man. But whatever practical utility or intellectual value this dictum of science may have, it can have no place in the realm of Literature and Art, which is concerned with the valuation of man’s feeling of delight according to his standard of the eternal.
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The same is the case with considerations of social morality. The problems that have arisen with regard to the place of the sex-relation in Literature cannot be solved from the scientific or moral standpoint, but from that of Aesthetics, which alone can determine which of its two aspects man will adorn and raise on the pedestal of immortality. We find in every age temporary extraneous circumstances occasionally creating obsessions that penetrate into the field of literature and overshadow for the time its true character istics. It is not possible, however, for these temporary excitements to find any permanent place in literature, for, being volatile by nature, they soon evaporate. During the great European War, for instance, the war turbulence muddied even the streams of its poetry. When in England the Puritanic age was followed by one of license its exhala tions befogged the radiance of its literature. But even while such a period lasted, the presence of this cloud testified not to its own significance, but to that of the light which it could not wholly obscure. In the Middle Ages of Europe the Church attained such power that it tried to throttle science, forgetting that, in its own sphere, science is supreme and owes no allegiance even to religion. Now the opposite phenomenon is at work, and it is science that seeks to establish its sway over every region of man’s being: in the pride of its new prestige it has ceased to have misgivings about encroaching beyond its scope. Science is impersonal. Its very essence is an impartial curiosity about truth. And yet the all-pervading net of this curiosity is gradually enmeshing modern literature within its folds; though of Literature, on the contrary, the essence is its partiality,— its supreme message is the freedom of choice according to the taste of man. It is this freedom which is being assailed by the invasion vo f science. The sensualism of which European literature is full to-day owes its origin to
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this curiosity, as its prototype in the Age of the Restoration had its impulse in lust. But just as the lust of that age failed to win the laurel which could secure it a permanent place in the Olympus of Literature, neither can the scientific curiosity of this age maintain its keenness for ever. There was a day in our country when a heat wave o f licentiousness passed over our society and stimulated our literature into an outburst of carnalism. It was a temporary aberration of which the modern reader refuses to take any serious notice, not by way of moral censure, but because he has ceased to accord it permanent value. Of late, it is true, we notice the opposite tendency in some of our modern critics who would rank among the eternal verities the intemperance of the flesh that has been imported into our literature from the Western world. But they forget that the eternal cannot wholly contradict the past. The natural delicacy which has always been a feature of man’s aesthetic enjoyment, the aristocracy which has always reigned in the realm of art,— these are eternal. It is only in the rantings of the science intoxicated democracy of to-day that this modesty, this reticence is dubbed a weakness, and a rude manifestation of physical hunger is proclaimed to constitute the virility of art. I have seen an example of this begrimed pugilistic modernism in the form that our Holi play has taken amongst the roughs of Chitpore Road. There is no scattering of red powder, no spraying with rose-coloured perfumes, no laughter, no song. Here rolling long pieces of wet cloth in the street mud and therewith bespattering one another and the unfortunate passers-by to the accompaniment of unearthly yells is the mad form which this old-timfc Spring Festival has assumed. Not to tinge but to taint is the object. I do not say that such a propensity is foreign to the mentality of m a n : the psycho-analyst is therefore welcome to revel in a study
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thereof. My objection to the importation of this common desire to soil into a festival inspired by man’s aesthetic sense is not because it is not true, but because it is not appropriate. Some of those who seek to defend the bringing in of such muddy carousals into the region of our literary enjoyment do «0 with the question— But is it not true ? That question, as I say, does not arise. When our drug-befuddled Bhojpuri restive party storm the welkin with the unending clang of their intoxicated drums and cymbals, their demonaic shouts of an eternal repetition of the one line of their tuneless song, it is entirely beside the point to ask the suffering neighbours whether or not it is true : the only relevant question can b e : How is it music ? There is admittedly a kind of self-forget ful joy in inebriation ; there is undoubtedly great forcefulness in an unrestrained exercise of lung power ; and if the ugliness of incivility has to be taken as a sign of virility, then we must needs admire this athletic intoxication also. But what then ? This forcefulness still remains of the slums of Chitpore, it cannot aspire to the Elysium of Art. In conclusion it should be added that, if in the countries ridden by science, an indiscriminate curiosity should, Duhsasana-like, seek to strip the goddess of Literature of her drapery, they have at least the excuse of science to offer for such conduct. But in our country, where neither within nor without, neither in thought nor in action, has science been permitted an entry, what excuse can serve to cover up the insolence of the spurious, borrowed immodesty that has come to infest its literature ? If the question be sent to the other side of the seas : Why this turmoil o f the market-crowd in your literature ? The answer will come : That is no fault o f our literature ; the cause lies in the markets that surround us. When that same question is put on this side, the reply will be : True, markets we have none ; but the noisomeness o f the market place is all there ; that is just the glory o f our modernism !
have been given to us to establish certain relations with the world, a variety of relations : relations of knowledge, of need, and of delight. It is in terms of these that we become true to ourselves, but for these neither our separate existence nor the existence of the other would have any sense. The first of these, the relationship of knowledge, carries a note of hostility about it, like that of a hunter and his prey. The human intellect puts truth into the witness box, and, by a series of cross examinations, gets to know her secret. It is naturally proud of its knowledge, because to the extent that the intellect knows, it feels its power. We have also the relationship of need or environmental compulsion, a practical relation involving mutual aid. And though this too brings truth of a kind, we feel that something has been left out. When a truth is used only to further pragmatic ends, we know we have achieved mastery, we look upon Nature as our slave and her forces to be within our grasp. But this is not enough. Finally, there is the relationship of Beauty or Delight. Now the ego no longer exists and nothing bars our way to communion even with the meanest and the weakest of things. Krishna, the Lord of Mathura, feels ashamed of his regalia in the presence of the humble maids of Vraja whose beloved he is. In the relationship of love, what one feels is never a sense of power, of will or intellect, but only a heightened and delighted awareness of the truth of our being. Nothing, no veil, no practical consideration can divide the two-in-one. In brief, the relation of knowledge is like the school, the relation of need like the office, while the relation of Joy or O u r f a c u l t ie s
Delight is home. We are not all the time at school; nor do we belong wholly to the office: it is only in the home that we enjoy complete relief and relaxation, we are wholly our selves. No wonder our school buildings are bare, the office stern, but the home is bountiful. What, really, is this relation of Joy like ? The essence of it is that we know ourselves in another, another as our self^ When we have known something or someone in this way, there is nothing further to be asked. We never stop to ask why we love ourselves, for in the very awareness of self there is this deep, secret, inalienable Delight of Existence. Whenr. likewise, we are conscious of another as ourself, we do not reason why it should be so. It is. The sage Yajnavalka had once spoken to his wife these words of wisdom : “ The son is dear to us not because of itself, but because we desire ourselves in the image of the son. Possessions are dear not for the sake of possession, but because we desire ourselves.” The idea behind the statement was that these objects of normal desire— for progeny and property— help us to a heightened awareness of self. In my son I see my own personality enlarged and extended. I love this objectification of self, I feel myself more intensely, I call it my own and love it more than myself. And so it is that, in order to know a man well, one has to know the things he loves. That gives a clear index of the whole range of his possible or ideal personality and how far he has realised i t Where love is absent, our personality feels limited and impoverished. The extension of our personality is effected most easily— and in the end most completely— in another person. This is done through touch and seeing, through thought and imagination, and the voiced play of human affection, the entire spectrum. That is why life seems fulfilled in knowing*, loving an d serving other men, as though they were one’s own.
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self. He who has realised, in space and time, his unity and fellowship with the greatest number of his kind, him we call the Great Soul, or Mahatma. Among the obstacles to such self-fulfilment through selfexceeding is of course self-interest or egotism. These block and prevent the free flow of man’s true being, and obscure a clear view of the beauty of mankind. It condemns us to a narrow and ugly living. To all this it will be objected, that if the essence of •humanity lies in self-exceeding, why is it that we see so little of it ? To these men of the opposition what I have called obstacles would seem to be the normal condition of man, and they have said so. In fact, the obstructions also help us in self-understanding, and the greater the consciousness the greater is the joy thereof. This is so with regard to all our relations with truth. Take the intellect. One of its functions is to discover and define the relation of cause and effect. But when the intellect deals with obvious facts or things that belong only to the present moment it is not fully itself, neither fully conscious nor fully happy. But when it is struggling to find out that which is hidden or obscure, it reveals its own power, and has the joy thereof. The glories of science and philosophy bear ample evidence of this. For what, after all, is science or philosophy but the extension of the human intellect to the world outside, a world where it discovers the workings of its own laws, and realises its oneness with the world ? Such is the joy of intellectual understanding. Why else should men be so pleased and excited to know that the force that makes the apple fall to the ground is the same force which keeps the suns and the planets in their destined course ? This means, or implies, that from a speck of dust to the immense heavenly bodies, all things run according to law, the law of thought. The mystery of the universe becomes one with the
mind of man. Wisdom is but another name for this union and it is this that gives us intellectual pleasure. In the same way the union of an individual with others is a natural psychological function which brings spiritual fulfilment, an intense satisfaction. But this is not an easy thiag to achieve. When the difficulties or obstacles— of ego and self-interest— have been overcome, and the true self of man stands revealed in all its plenitude, his being is flooded with delight. He knows himself, his value, the majesty of the Self. That is beauty, or joy everlasting. This is why we enjoy reading the Lives of the Great. In the superhuman dimension of these characters we but see our own human image, but freed from vagueness and perversion. In reading their lives we have often to struggle through the difficulties of other people, of another age, and yet we enjoy it. In all such cases, whether it is present in our conscious mind or not, there is the secret truth or knowledge that each one of us is really at-one with everybody else, that no man is an island. To the extent that the individual, the T , realises this fact it is good for me. In this way everything outside us— be it the splendour of a sunrise, the radiance of a great soul, an emotion deeply felt, anything grand or characteristic that stirs our conscious ness— makes us wish to hold and preserve it from perishing. Such an experience, we feel, expresses us more fully. Now this process of self-expression moves on two different lines : in normal human activities and in literature or the a rts. They go apparently in different directions but in fact they fulfil each other. To know man in his fullness we have to know both. In his world of practical activity man is engaged in building houses, communities, kingdoms, religions. These fo rm the larger unit in which man becomes manifest to Man. W ithout these there can be no communication, or self7
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enlargement, no civilization. It is for this reason that any attack on the group life or disruption of the milieu is felt to be an attack on the deeper life of all its members; and the narrowness of our social life appears a bar to our fuller development; since the true object of all social groupings is a larger self-expression and the joy of it. Yet in all this human activity, so necessary, self-expression is perhaps secondary rather than primary. In her daily chore the mistress of the house may and sometimes does manage to express her deeper personality, but that is not her main concern. The work is mostly humdrum and is felt as constricting. Luckily, other areas of activity exist where the human desire for self-expression can be more clearly articulate. A wedding, for instance. In its music, light and decoration the parents* joy overflows and communicates itself to others. Or take the mother, she is not content with bringing up her child only according to rules. Her love expresses itself in playful caresses and much meaningless prattle. The abundance of a woman’s heart seeks an outlet in dolling her child, in finery, in jewelry, far in excess of the strict demands of need and the performance of parental duty. All this points to a secret in man’s nature. That he is not enough unto himself. He longs to extend his emotions to the outside world, so that the two may correspond. The human world is fulfilled only when the outside and the inside come to be one. For instance, for man the home is not merely an impersonal structure, ‘a machine to live with’, he must colour it with his emotion. The country in which he lives is not merely a geographical or physical entity. Until he can regard her as the Motherland, as an embodiment of divine grace, power and purpose he is not happy. Without this emotional osmosis or enlargement the heart withers, and a dry heart is but another name for death.
So the human heart strives ever to achieve the truth within and the truth without. It seeks to objectify its emotions, to give an objective reality to its emotions in the world outside. When the wealthy person feels the opulence of his possessions he may exhaust all of it in a daring fit of display. When a lover realises his true love, he is willing, in a moment of inspiration, to sacrifice his all, even life itself, and prove the truth of his love to the world. In this the heart of man is seeking for an Absolute, the All, in whom alone is repose and whom, in all his figures of love it tries, clearly or obscurely, to express. There is a line in Balaramdas, a Vaishnava p o e t: Oh who brought you out from within my being ? In other words, the beloved belongs to the heart and this yearns to get back its own. There is, however, in this a contrary movement too : when the heart fails to find in the outside world that which is within, it seeks, with all its elaborate devices, to make an outward image. And so the world-play goes on, in which man makes himself and the world his own, and for the sake of which he is prepared to give up all else. And when the outer world makes the same manouever to enter into relationship with man through beauty, the heart opens at once, it surrenders without ado. The flower is in no hurry to change into the seed ; it continues, far beyond strict biological necessity, to bloom along the bough. The rain-clouds do not exhaust them selves with a sudden shower; they continue to spread their many-hued splendour across the sky for the beholder’s delight. The trees do not solicit rain and sunshine only with their withered limbs outstretched, like supplicants ; with tier upon tier of gay and green leaves they offer worship to the
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guardian spirit of the four quarters. The sea is not merely a huge apparatus to produce moisture but rolls on in the utter inscrutable terror of its blue deep. The mountain is not content merely to do its duty by returning to the earth the skyey vapours, but presides in the silent majesty of meditation over the huddled plains below. To all this the wise owl intellect might s a y : Why, then, all this extravaganza of display ? To this the heart, for ever young, replies: It is but to win my love that it is so. There is no other reason. For only the heart can know the universal heart. They seek mutual communion. That is the simple truth or fact. If this mutuality were not, this rapport between our emotions and the alien world outside, then we should have felt small indeed, ignorant and uninvited to the Festival of the World, the Joy of Creation. But in the midst of all its ceaseless activity— in joy and in sorrow, in fear as in assurance, in despair no less than in peace, in all manner of ways— the world goes out of its way to send us the glad tidings, to tell us that it stands in need of the happy res ponse of human hearts. In this world of ours we find both aspects, of activity and of emotion. We do not see their working fully, nor is the human intellect capable of grasping the whole of it. But the aspect of emotion is immediately accessible to us. The J beautiful, the grand and the terrible in Nature, our response to them is direct and unmistakable. The wisdom of God in that special activity of His that we call the world is of course hard to discover. But not so when we participate in the world-as-delight, for Delight is of His essence. This principle holds equally for the world of man. Here also the intellect is busy, concerned as it is with self-pre servation. It deals with a world of necessity. But the
spirit of delight is at work too and what it works with, rather works for is more than necessity. Our needs bar our true expression and so the agony of expression breaks through the realm of necessity. By our self-interest we are cabin’d and confined. Exuberance is Delight. In literature these obstacles in the way of our complete self-expression do not obtrude. Here self-interest has been left aside. Here grief might bring tears, but it no longer hurts. Fear agitates the heart, but it does no harm to the body. Pleasure moves us, but without rousing desires, such as is always happening in real life. And so, side by side with our work-a-day world, we create another world of our own, the world of literature, where we were not ruled by necessity and compulsion ; where, without any harm done to our practical life and the life of the practical reason, we can enjoy, freely, the full play of emotions and grow into ourselves. Now if we a s k : What, then, does literature express ? the answer is simple. It expresses our fullness of being, our plenitude. It reveals that aspect of our personality which overflows in excess of all our creaturely needs and unexhausted by all pressures of practical living. It is this excess in which man is most truly revealed. That man gets hungry is a fact, but it is still more true that he can be heroic. In our literature is evolving, taking shape the ideal towards which we are moving, the ideal of the superman. Bit by bit the outline fills, grows clearer, a guide for generations that will come after. When we judge any literary product by the test of such an ideal content, we avail ourselves of the judgment of all men of all times. But all men are not equally good judges, all nations not equally worthy. Now and then there come periods of depression when the heart of man grows small and the creative dream dies within him. In such times, in the
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distorted mirror of hopelessness, the image of man looks shabby, or the petty is passed off as worthy and meaningful, and the very defects are cried up as virtues. Then artifice replaces art, vanity glory. But Time is a stern judge and sifts the shoddy and slipshod, keeping only that which will be true for all places and all times, which all men will acknowledge as their own. *
This somewhat long proem brings me to the topic on which I have been asked to speak— what you have called Comparative Literature. I prefer to call it Universal Literature. To look upon Literature as belonging to a particular person, place or time, is not to see it truly. The value of a literature can be known only when we realise that through it speaks the voice of Man himself. Only such authors who have felt within themselves the sentiments of all mankind have secured a permanent place in the Hall of Fame ; the several authors, thus admitted, may belong to different lands and epochs, but in fact they are engaged in a common pursuit, contribute to a growing design. Since the entire design is not before any one of them, it is possible they might make mistakes. Yet it is these representative men, of inclusive vision, whom we unhestitatingly recognise as superior artists, the grand masters. When we look at human activity, and try to find out what it all adds up to, and what may be its aim and message, wc must look at history steadily and whole. To know about the reign or character of Akbar or Elizabeth may satisfy our instinct for historical gossip, but the person with a larger perspective is never content to look at isolated individuals. He knows that they are but instruments of destiny, and that some deep purpose runs through all these stories of rise and
fall. He will not be satisfied with looking at the procession o f pilgrims but would like to have a view of the shrine itself. So, to sum up, in the field of Universal Literature ( as I have called i t ) what we should look for is how the artists have given expression to their sense of joy which is the source and nature of the aesthetic being in man ; and through what aspects of man— as sinner, as pleasure-seeker or a seeker after the self— through what moods and conditions has he expressed himself and the de9ire to know the roots of his being. That is, how much of man he has expressed, in what and how many ways— that will guide our enjoyment and understanding. All else is secondary. One will go to Universal Literature, then, to find out how far man has succeeded in establishing relations with the world at large, or what comes to the same thing, how far he has known and embodied the truth. We must not think of Literature as something imaginary, but as a real universe, of subtle and diverse relations, whose total truth has not been revealed to any one person, or age ; for, like the world itself, like the world of many-sided human activity, it is ever in process of being created. But within the process and its very imperfections is reflected that image of the whole towards which it all tends. Let us take an analogy. We cannot see with our naked eyes the tensely fluid core within the burning Sun, for it is in flux. But it can be known through its photosphere, through whose luminous mediation the Sun is continually giving itself out and uniting with the universe. If we could have a like vision of mankind in its entirety, we should have seen its inner burning core adjusting itself into different layers and sides of our life ; and surrounding it all a radiant periphery enlarging into ever-widening spheres. I ask you to look at Universal Literature as such a photosphere of humanity in which the storms blow and the sprays fly in the air and light contends with light.
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While you wander through the haunts of men, you see them at their endless toil— the grocer in his shop, the smith plying his hammer, the porter bearing his load, the man of business balancing his account. But you perhaps miss one th in g : that in their homes, workshops and market places, in the open streets as well as in the alleys of their busy life, through all that squalor, penury and narrowness there flows for ever an ever-growing, rich, emotional life— the aim and object of Universal Literature.
THE M E A N I N G OF A P O E M “ I S h o u l d like to hear you read out your new poem about Kach and Debjani,” said Srotoswini. I felt elated, but I had been counting without Deepti. Her remark shattered whatever complacence that I might have felt. “ I hope you don’t mind my telling you this,” she said, “but I failed to find any special meaning in this poem of yours. It is really not up to much.” I was hurt and thought a more modest judgment would have done as well, and left the truth and the world no worse. However, outwardly I pontificated th u s : “The author’s judgment of his own work has often turned out to be wrong. The opposite is no less true. I see this poem did not please you. My misfortune— may be yours too !” “ Maybe,” was all she said, took up a book and was soon lost in it. After this, poor Srotoswini did not dare to repeat her request. Turning his eyes towards the window, as if addressing some one in the far distance, Vyom observed, “ Talking of meaning and message. I have gathered one from this last poem of yours.” “But,” interrupted Kshiti, “ hadn’t you better tell us what it is all about ? Though I have been trying to keep back the fact, I must confess I haven’t read the poem you are all talking about.” “ Hear, then,” said Vyom. “Kach, the son of Brihaspati, the preceptor of the high gods, goes to Shukra, the teacher of the Titans. The Secret of Life is what he is after. He stays in the Master’s house for a thousand years. What with his own efforts and what with the pleadings of Shukra’s daughter, Debjani, he at last secures the secret. When the time comes for him to leave Debjani confesses her love and
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begs Kach to stay. Though, after some prevarication, Kach returns her love he doesn’t keep her request. Duty demands that he should return to heaven and so he does. That’s the story, a little different from the account given in the Mahabharata.” “ The story is all right,” said Kshiti. “ What I am afraid of is the meaning you will put into it.” “ It has to do with the Body and the Soul,” said Vyom in reply, ignoring the innuendo. At that pronouncement everybody present recorded alarm. “Then let me escape, body and soul, while there is time,” was all that Kshiti said. But Samir pulled him back by his tunic. “ W h a t! heigh-ho ! Leaving us like this ?” Vyom seemed superbly unconcerned and went ahead with his allegorical exposition. “ It is to gain experience that the Soul descends from Heaven to life here and now. So long as it is necessary it must pay court to the daughter of the World, the Body. And the art with which it does this is varied and wondrous indeed. It plays on the sense-strings with such skill and spreads a magic before the World in order to win her.” As he spoke these words his eyes seemed to light up. Looking into the far distance he continued, “ If you see it in this way what a veritable love story is being enacted in every human h e a rt! See how the Soul inspires the Body, which clings to it for support, and loves her to distraction. Yet, in spite of all this love, a day comes when the Soul must leave the Body behind and return to its Abode beyond. ‘I must leave you, my dear,’ it tells the Body. But the Body cries out, ‘If this is what you had intended, why did you glorify me ? Alas, I know I am unworthy of you, but why did you come to me at all V But vain the pleading, for the Soul departs. Now think of this cruel
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severance. Is there anything more heart-rending in any love poem anywhere ?” Fearing a humorous retort from Kshiti Vyom, however, quickly added, “Perhaps you don’t agree that this can be called love at all. You think I am only elaborating a figure of speech. But this is how love first came to earth-life. Out of the mud and the slime sprang the lotus and on it sat Lakshmi, the Goddess of Beauty, and Saraswati, the Goddess of Harmonious Emotions.” This was too much for Kshiti. “ I am thrilled to learn of the poetic drama going on within all of us ! But I am free to confess that this flighty behaviour of the Soul to wards the poor, trusting Body doesn’t appeal to me. For myself, I hope that my Soul may prove to be more constant and tarry a little longer in the bower of Debjani which good fortune you will, I hope, join me in wishing.” “But my dear Vyom,” it was Samir’s turn, “ never have we heard such uncanonical exegesis from your lips. You talk like a Christian. The Soul coming down from high heaven to gain experience, this certainly is not an idea that will fit with our ancient commentaries.” “ Oh, don’t look for consistency in these ideas,” replied Vyom a little expansively. “ In basic things I have no quarrel with any doctrine, if it serves my purpose. The idea of the Soul passing through the values of life is a religious formula which serves the cause of good life and so I take it as I find it.” “ For goodness sake, forbear !” Kshiti cried out in mock despair. “ Your Allegory of Love is hard enough to bear, and if, further, you begin to take your metaphors from the market place, I am done for. But may I, with your per mission, draw my own meaning from the poem ?” For answer Vyom only leaned back on his chair and stretched his legs on the window sill. Kshiti took this for
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the green signal. “ I find lurking in this poem,” he said, “an outline of the theory of evolution. The meaning of the Secret of Life, to which you referred, is the art of carrying on life in a changing universe. It’s clear that there is a Prime Mover or Original Artist engaged in this work for ages. His love for the creatures through whom he gets his work done is, however, fleeting and limited. As soon as his experiment is over, the ruthless lover moves on to another game, another set of rules. In every layer of the earth’s crust you will find the dying and muted wails of these deserted creatures—.” Here Deepti sharply broke in. “ If this is your sample of meaning you are free to draw any number of these explanations. The fire and the ash, the butterfly and the chrysalis, the fruit and the flower, the shoot and the seed— you have your choice of analogies.” “ You’re right,” said Vyom in a serious tone. “ What you call different meanings are but variations of the same theme. Let me explain. Progress in our world is always a rhythmic process. For instance, we must, by turns, enter into bonds as well as cut through them. We must love and also learn to leave the old love— such is the tragedy of our world. And it is through this suffering that we progress. It is the same with our social system. When some old, rigid tradition brings us to a standstill, we must be rescued through revolu tion. Providence has decreed that we should be weaned away from every old attachment.” Here Samir broke in. “You both overlook the curse with which the story ends. When Kach, after he has gained his objective, rejects Debjani’s love and returns homeward, Debjani lays a curse on him : ‘You may give to your people the secret you have wrested from us. But you yourself shall never profit by the knowledge.’ I think there is a good deal of meaning in that curse, and I can explain it, if you will allow me.”
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“ Well, I can’t promise,” Kshiti conceded readily, “ that my patience will not give out. Anyhow, go ahead. If, later, you feel pity for us, all you have to do is— well, to stop.” After such a re-assuarnce Samir proceeded to sa y : “ Let me call the art of living a full and beautiful life the Secret of Life. Now take the case of the poet, born into this world, where he has to learn as well as teach this art. With his gifts he charms the world and wins its secret. It is not that he doesn’t love the world, but when the world proposes that he should make her life his own, he withdraws. In effect, this is what he says : If I allow myself to be caught in the stream of worldly life, I shall never be able to communicate the secret that I have learnt. So, though I belong to the world, I must yet be aloof from it. At this the world, in its turn, lays its curse on the heartless, presumptuous a rtis t: You may communicate the art you have learnt to others, but never can you use it for your own good.” “ It is because of this curse that we see that the Master is able to influence the lives of other people but himself remains a child. For what one learns through aloofness must remain ineffective in one’s own life. Unless one is engaged in the business of living, there can be no profitable or practicable application of theory to life. May be because of this in the olden days the Brahmin was valued as a Minister. But whenever he was put on the throne he found himself at sea.” “ But all these meanings that we have been suggesting are after all superficial. Supposing someone says about the message of the Ramayana, that even one born into the king’s state cannot escape sorrow ; or about Shakuntala that, given a chance, love will find a way in spite of odds— do these tell us anything new or worthwhile about the books in question?”
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Srotoswini, who had been for some time on the point of asking a question, now joined in. “ Excuse me, but I think that it’s exactly these ordinary things that the poem makes real to us. Like a relentless hunter pursuing his quarry, sorrow dogged Rama and Sita throughout their lives. It is this simple, moving story, apart from any deeper meaning, that has stirred the hearts of men and women in all ages.” “What if Shakuntala’s story does not carry any special message of its own ? What if it merely recounts the oft-told tale of some favourable chance, be it for good or for evil, that allowed love like a storm to sweep through the life of a pair ? Ordinary folk have enjoyed the story and still do, because it tells vividly of this ordinary thing happening in the lives of the characters.” “People expound the inner meaning of the Mahabharata in so many different ways. Take the disrobement of Draupadi —some look upon it as an allegory of the attempt of Death to rob Mother Earth of her green robe of life. But when we are moved by the spectacle of a defenceless, honourable woman insulted in public— is it because any underlying significance or by the simple fact as it is ?” “ In the same way the scene of the final separation of Kach and Debjani is the old yet ever-new tale of lovers’ parting, or the unfulfilment of love. Those who disown or look down upon this simple meaning are not true lovers of poetry.” As the speech ended Samir turned to me with a smile. “ Now that the dear bluestocking has decreed our banishment from the realm of poesy, what has the poet himself to say about it ?” "Well,” I tried to sum up, “ I cannot for certain say that I had any particular message or meaning in mind when I wrote the poem. But after listening to you all it seems that the poem may not be without a meaning or even meanings. I find it is like a lighted match and the readers* fireworks
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th at shoot up into the blue and shower forth sparks or explode with a bang. “ And yet I don’t disagree with what Srotoswini has said just now. In a fruit some think it is the stone that matters, others favour the pulp. Those who in their eagerness to enjoy the emotional quality of a poem, are indifferent to its truth or the lesson that it might embody, well, I cannot find it in my heart to blame them. As for others who care only for edification I wish them joy too. Every man in his humour. Art has many facets. Why get excited about it ? In these: matters intolerance never pays.”
I h a v e been asked to write about modern English poets. It is by no means an easy task. Who defines the limit of the modern age in terms of the almanac ? It is not so much a question of time as of temperament. Most rivers after flowing straight take a sudden twist or turn. When literature does that, that turn may be called modern. The poetry to which I had been introduced in my boyhood might have been classed as modern in those days. Poetry had taken a new turn, beginning with Robert Burns, and the same movement had brought forth other great poets, such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley and Keats. During the age that followed Bums the barriers of style and convention were broken down, and temperament made its debut. When we began to read English poetry this unconventional, individualistic mood had already been acknowledged in literature and the clamor raised by the Edinburg Review had died down. Even so, that period of our life was a new era in modernism. An individual’s measure of delight was, in those days, the sign of modernism. Wordsworth expressed in his own style the spirit of delight that he had realized in Nature. Shelley’s was a Platonic contemplation to which he had added a spirit of revolt against every kind of obstacle, political, religious or otherwise. Keats’s poetry was wrought out of the meditation and creation of beauty. In that age, the stream of poetry took a turn from outwardness to inwardness. The English poets with whom we came into contact in my early youth saw the universe with their own eyes; it had become their personal property. Not only did their own imaginations, opinions and tastes humanize and intellectualize the universe, but they moulded it according to their individual
desires and visions. The universe of Wordsworth was specially ‘Wordsworthian’, of Shelley ‘Shelleyan’, of Byron* ‘Byronic\ By creative magic it also became the reader’s universe. The joy that we felt in the poet’s world carried the delight of a particular world flavour. Thus we find that in the beginning of the nineteenth century tradition had given place to self-expression. This was, then, modernism. But now that modernism has been dubbed mid-Victorian senility and made to rest in the next room. Now is the day of lopped skirts and clipped hair. It is loudly proclaimed that the days of illusion are over. But there is illusion always at every step of creation, it is only the variety of illusion that changes. Science has thoroughly examined every pulse beat, and declares that at the root of things there is no illusion ; there is only carbon and nitrogen, there is physiology and psychology. We old-fashioned poets thought that the illusion was the main thing and carbon and physiology the by-products. We must confess that we had striven to compete with the Creator in spreading the snare of illusion through our rhyme and rhyihm, language and style. In our metaphors and nuances there was an element of hide-and-seek : we were loath to lift aside that veil of modesty which adorns and does not contradict truth. In the coloured light that filtered through the haze, the dawns and evenings appeared in a beauty as tender as a bride. The modern violent realists, engaged in publicly disrobing beauty, is a sight we are not accustomed to. Is it merely habit that makes us so un comfortable ; is there no truth in this sense of shame ? does not Beauty become bankrupt when divested of the veil which reveals rather than conceals ? But the modern age is in a tearing hurry. Modern man faces through his work and rushes through his pleasure in a medley of machines. The human being who, in the hours 8
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of leisure, used to create his own intimate world now dele gates that duty to a factory and rigs up some sort of pro visional arrangement to suit his need according to some impersonal standard. Feasts are out of fashion ; we have time only for snacks. There is no desire to consider if our life is in harmony with the intellect, for the mind is engaged in pulling the ropes of the huge car of Livelihood. Instead of music, we hear hoarse shouts of ‘Push, boys, push!’ The citizen has to spend most of his time with the crowd, not in the company of friends. His mentality is the mentality of the hustler. He has no will-power left to get the better of all the ugliness around. Now which road must poetry follow, and what is her destination ? It is not possible these days to follow one’s own taste, to select, to arrange ? Science does not select in terms of the person, his need or his vision, it accepts what ever is ; it does not appraise a thing by tbe standard of personal taste nor embellish it with the eagerness of personal involvement, it is not concerned with forming the ties of relationship. It does not regard what ‘I’ want as the main consideration, but rather what the thing in itself exactly is, leaving ‘me’ out of the question. And without ‘me’ the need for illusion is over. In the process of economizing that is being carried out in the poetry of this scientific age any kind of adornment has become taboo. A fastidious selection in the matter of rhyme, rhythm and words has become almost obsolete. The change has been far from gentle, for in order to break the spell of the past it has become the fashion to repudiate it aggressively. It has been something like trying to arrange bits of broken glass in an ugly manner. A modern poet writes : “ I am the greatest laughter of all, greater than the sun, than the oak tree, than the frog and Apollo.” “Than the frog and Apollo” is where the bits of broken glass come in, lest someone might
think that the poet is arranging his words prettily. If the word ‘sea’ were used instead of ‘frog’ the modernists might object to it as regular poetizing. That may be so, but the mention of the frog is also poetizing, of an opposite kind. That is to say, it is not introduced naturally but is like someone deliberately walking on your toes. That would be merely modern. But the fact of the matter is, in the categories of existence the frog now belongs to a higher realm than Apollo. I do not wish to regard the frog with contempt, in an appropriate context it has its place. But even according the ultrascientific theory of equality, the laugh of the sun, of the oak tree, of Apollo, is not that of the frog. It has been dragged in by force for the sake of effect. Today, we are told, the illusive dye which coloured the nineteenth-century poetry has faded, and the suggestion of prettiness is not enough to satisfy our hunger— something more tangible is needed. Let me give you a few lines from a modern poem addressed to a beauty of bygone days ; You are beautiful and faded Like an old opera tune Played upon a harpsichord: Or like the sun-flooded silks O f an eighteenth-century boudoir. In your eyes smoulder The fallen roses o f outlived minutes, And the perfume o f your soul Is vague and suffusing, With the pungence o f sealed spice Jars. Your halftones delight me, And I grow mad with gazing At your blent colours.
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M y vigour is a new-minted penny, Which I cast at your fe e t. Gather it up from the dust, That its sparkle may amuse you. This kind of .modem coinage is cheap but strong and definite ; il clearly sounds the modern note. Old-fashioned charm had an intoxicating effect, but this has insolence; and there is nothing misty about it. The subject matter of modern poetry does not seek to attract the mind by its charm. Its strength consists in firm self-reliance. It calls o u t: Ho, there— behold, here I am. The same author has written a poem on a shop of red slippers. The theme is that in the evening snowflakes are whirling outside; inside, behind the polished glass window, rows of red slippers hang like garlands, “ like stalactites of blood, flooding the eyes of passers-by with dripping colour, jamming their crimson reflections against the windows of cabs and trams, screaming their claret and salmon into the teeth of the sleet, plopping their little round maroon lights upon the tops of umbrellas. The row of white, sparkling shop fronts is gashed and bleeding, it bleeds red slippers.” The whole poem deals with slippers. Let us take another example. There is a poem by Ezra Pound called “ A Study in Aesthetics” , in which a girl walks along the street, and a boy in patched clothes cries out in uncontrollable excitement, “ Oh, look, look, how beautiful!” Three years later, the poet meets the boy again during a great haul of sardines. The father and the uncles pack the fish in boxes to send them to the market at Brescia. The boy jumps about, while his elders ask him to be quiet. The boy strokes the neatly-arranged fish, and mutters to himself in a tone of satisfaction “ How beautiful!” On hearing this the poet says, “ I was mildly abashed.”
Present-day literature that has accepted the creed of modernity, scorns to keep caste by carefully adjusting itself to bygone standards of aristocracy. Eliot’s poetry is modern in this sense, but not Bridges’. Eliot writes : The winter evening settles down With smell o f steaks in passageways. Six o'clock. The burnt’out ends o f smoky days. And now a gusty shower wraps The grimy scraps O f withered leaves about your feet And newspapers from vacant lots ; The showers beat On broken blinds and chimney-pots, And at the corner o f the streets A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps. And then the lighting o f the lamps. Then comes a description of a muddy morning filled with the smell of stale beer. On such a morning, the following words are addressed to a g ir l: You tossed a blanket from the bed, You lay upon your back, and waited; You dozed, and watched the night revealing The thousand sordid images O f which your soul was constituted. And this is the account given of the man : His soul stretched tight across the skies That fade behind a city block, Or trampled by insistent feet At four and five and six o'clock ; And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
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And evening newspapers, and eyes Assured o f certain certainties, The conscience o f a blackened street Impatient to assume the world. In the midst of this smoky, this muddy, this altogether dingy morning and evening, full of stale odour and waste papers, the opposite image is evoked in the poet’s mind. He says : I am moved by fancies that are curled Around these images, and cling: The notion o f some infinitely gentle Infinitely suffering thing. Here the link between Apollo and the frog is broken, the croaking of the frog hurts the laughter of Apollo. It is evident that the poet is not absolutely and scientifically impersonal. His loathing for this tawdry world is expressed through the very description that he givesof it. Hence the bitter words with which the poem ends : Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh ; The worlds revolve like ancient women Gathering fuel in vacant lots. The poet’s distaste for this dung-gathering world is evident. The difference from the past consists in there being no desire to delude oneself with an imaginary world of dreams. He makes his poetry trudge through this mire not because he is fond of mud, but because in this muddy world one must look at mud with open eyes, and accept it. If Apollo’s laugh reaches one’s ears in the mud, well and good ; if not, then one need not despise the loud, leaping laughter of the frog. One can look at it for a moment in the context of the universe; there is something to be said for this. The frog will seem out of place in the cultured language of the drawing room ; but then most of the world lies outside the drawing-room... .
But if modernism has any philosophy, and if that philo sophy is to be called impersonal, then one must admit that this attitude of aggressive disbelief and calumny towards the universe is also an aberration owing to the sudden revolution in taste. This also is an illusion, in which there is no serious attempt to accept reality naturally in a calm and dispassionate frame of mind. Many people think that this aggressiveness, this wantonly destructive element is what is called modernity. I myself don’t think so. Even though thousands of people are attacked by flu today, I shall not say that flu is the natural condition of the human body in modern times. Pure modernism, then, consists in looking upon the universe in an impersonal and matter-of-fact manner. This point of view is bright and pure, and there is real delight in its unclouded vision. In the same dispassionate way that modern science analyzes reality, modern poetry looks upon the universe as a whole ; this is what is eternally modern. Or so we are made to believe. But, it is nonsense to call this modern. The joy of a natural and detached way of looking at things belongs to no particular age ; it belongs to everyone whose eyes know how to look and wander over the earth. It is more than a thousand years since the Chinese poet Li-Po wrote his poems, but he was a modern ; he looked upon the universe with fresh ly-opened eyes. In a verse of four lines he writes simply : Why do I live among the green mountains ? I laugh and answer not, my soul is serene ; It dwells in another heaven and earth belonging to no man, The peach trees are in flower, and the water flows on. Another picture : Blue water...a clear moon... . In the moonlight the white herons are flying.
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Listen ! Do you hear the girls who gather water-chestnuts ? They are going home in the night9 singing. A nother: Naked I lie in the green forest of summer... Too lazy to wave my white-feathered fa n . I hang my cap on a crag, And bare my head to the wind that comes Blowing through the pine trees. A river merchant’s wife writes : / would play, plucking flowers ny the gate ; My hair scarcely covered my forehead, then. You would come, riding on your bamboo horse, And loiter about the bench with green plums for toys. So we both dwelt in Chang-kan town9 We were two children, suspecting nothing. At fourteen I became your wife, And so bashful I could never bare my face, But hung my head%and turned to the dark wall; You would call me a thousand times, But I could not look back even once. At fifteen I was able to compose my eyebrows, And beg you to love me till we were dust and ashes. I was sixteen when you went on a long journey> Travelling beyond the Ken-Tang gorge, Where the giant rocks leap up the swift rivery And the rapids are not passable in May. Did you hear the monkeys wailing Up on the skyey heights o f the crags ?
Do you know your footmarks by And each and every one is filled The mosses are too deep for me And already in the autumn wind
our gate are old, up with green moss ? to sweep aw ay; the leaves are falling.
The yellow butterflies o f October Flutter in pairs over the grass o f the west garden M y heart aches at seeing them... I sit sorrowing alone, and alas ! The vermilion o f my face is fading. Some day when you return down the river, I f you will write me a letter beforehand, I will come to meet you—the way is not long— I will come as far as the Long Wind Beach instantly. Here the sentiment is neither maudlin nor ridiculous. The subject is familiar, and there is no lack of feeling. If the tone were sarcastic and there was ridicule, then the poem would have been modern, because the moderns scorn to acknowledge in poetry that which everybody acknowledges naturally. Most probably a modern poet would have added at the end of the poem that the husband went his way after wiping his eyes and looking back repeatedly, and the girl at once set about frying dried prawn fish-balls. For whom? In reply there will be a line and a half of asterisks. The old-fashioned reader would a s k : What does this mean ? The modern poet would answer : Things happen like this. The reader might say, “But they also happen otherwise.” And the modern would continue : Yes. they do, but that is too respectable. Unless it sheds its refinement, it does not become modern. The mid-Victorian age felt a respect for reality and wished to accord it a place of honour. The modern age
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thinks it part of its program to insult reality and tear aside all its veils of decency. If you call a reverence for universal values sentimentalism, then you must call a rebellion against these values by the same name.
THE PHILOSOPHY OF OUR PEOPLE as a philosopher decreed the banishment of poets from his ideal republic. But, in India, philosophy ever sought alliance with poetry, because its mission was to occupy the people’s life and not merely the learned seclusion of scholar ship. Therefore, our tradition, though unsupported by historical evidence, has no hesitation in ascribing numerous verses to the great Sankaracharya, a metaphysician whom Plato would find it extremely difficult to exclude from his Utopia with the help of any inhospitable Immigration Law. Many of these poems may not have high poetical value, but no lover of literature ever blames the sage for infringement of propriety in condescending to manufacture verse. According to our people, poetry naturally falls within the scope of a philosopher, when his reason is illumined into a vision. We have our great epic Mahabharata, which is unique in world literature, not only because of the marvellous variety of human characters, great and small, discussed in its pages in all variety of psychological circumstances, but because of the ease with which it carries in its comprehensive capacious ness all kinds of speculation about ethics, politics and philo sophy of life. Such an improvident generosity on the part of poesy, at the risk of exceeding its own proper limits of accomodation, has only been possible in India where a spirit of communism prevails the different individual groups of literature. In fact, the Mahabharata is a universe in itself in which various spheres of mind’s creation find ample space for their complex dance rhythm. It does not represent the idiosyncracy of a particular poet but the normal mentality of the people who are willing to be led along the manybranched path of a whole world of thoughts, held together Plato
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in a gigantic orb of narrative surrounded by innumerable satellites of episodes. The numerous saints that India successively produced during the Mahomedan rule have all been^singers whose verses are aflame with the fire of imagination. Their religious emotion had its spring in the depth of a philosophy that deals with fundamental questions— with the ultimate meaning of jsxistence. That may not be remarkable in itself ; but when we find that these songs ate not specially meant for some exclusive pundits’ gathering, but that they are sung in villages and listened to by men and women who are illiterate, we realise how philosophy has permeated the life of the people in India, how it has sunk deep into the sub-conscious mind of the country. In my childhood I once heard from a singer, who was a devout Hindu, the following song of Kabir : When I hear o f a fish in the water dying o f thirst, it makes me laugh. I f it be true that the infinite Brahma pervades all space, What is the meaning o f the places o f pilgrimage like Mathura or Kashi ? This laughter of Kabir did not hurt in the least the pious susceptibilities of the Hindu singer; on the contrary, he was ready to join the poet with his own. For he, by the philo sophical freedom of his mind, was fully aware that Mathura or Kashi, as sites of God, did not have an absolute value of truth, though they had their symbolical importance. Therefore, while he himself was eager to make a pilgrimage to those places, he had no doubt in his mind that, if it were in his power directly to realise Brahma as an all-pervading reality, there would have been no necessity for him to visit any particular place for the quickening of his spiritual conscious ness. He acknowledged the psychological necessity for such
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shrines, where generations of devotees have chosen to gather for the purpose of worship, in the same way as he felt the special efficacy for our mind of the time-honoured sacred texts made living by the voice of ages. It is a village poet of East Bengal who in his songs preaches the philosophical doctrine that the universe has its reality in its relation to the Person. He sings : The sky and the earth are born o f mine own eyes. The hardness and softness, the cold and the heat are the products o f my own body ; The sweet smell and the bad are o f my own nose. This poet sings of the Eternal Person within him, coming out and appearing before his eyes just as the Vedic Rishi speakes of the Person, who is in him, dwelling also in the heart of the Sun. I have seen the vision, The vision o f mine own revealing itself Coming out from within me. The significant fact about these philosophical poems is that they are of rude construction, written in a popular dialect and disclaimed by the academic literature ; they are sung to the people, as composed by one of them who is dead, but whose songs have not followed him. Yet these singers almost arrogantly disown their direct obligation to philosophy, and there is a story of one of our rural poets who, after some learned text of the Vaishnava philosophy of emotion was explained to him, composed a song containing the following lines : Alas, a jeweller has come into the flower garden I He wants to appraise the truth o f a lotus by rubbing it against his touchstone. The members of the Baiil sect belong to that mass of the
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people in Bengal who are not educated in the prevalent sense of the word. I remember how troubled they were, when I asked some of them to write down for me a collection of their songs. When they did venture to attempt it, I found it almost impossible to decipher their writing— the spelling and lettering were so outrageously unconventional. Yet their spiritual practices are founded upon a mystic philosophy of the human body, abstrusely technical. These people roam about singing their songs, one of which I heard years ago from my roadside window, the first two lines remaining inscribed in my memory: Nobody can tell whence the bird unknown Comes into the cage and goes out. I would feign put round its feet the fetter o f my mind, Could I but capture it. This village poet evidenty agrees with our sage of the Upanishad who says that our mind comes back baffled in its attempt to reach the Unknown Being ; and yet this poet, like the ancient sage, does not give up his adventure of the Infinite, thus implying that there is a way to its realisation. It reminds me of Shelley’s poem in which he sings of the mystical spirit of Beauty: The awful shadow o f some Unseen Power Floats, though unseen, among us ; visiting This various world with an inconstant wing As summer winds that creep from flower to flower. Like moonbeams that behind some piny mountain shower, It visits with inconstant glance Each human heart and countenance. That this Unknown is the profoundest reality, though difficult of comprehension, is equally admitted by the English poet as by the nameless village singer of Bengal in whose music vibrate the wing beats of the unknown bird,— only
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Shelley's utterance is for the cultured few while the Baiit song is for the tillers of the soil, for the simple folk of our village households, who are never bored by its mystic trans cendentalism. All this is owing to the wonderful system of mass educa tion which has prevailed for ages in India, and which to-day is in danger of becoming extinct. We have our academic seats of learning where students flock round their famous teachers from distant parts of the country. These places are like lakes, full of deep but still water, which have to be approached' through difficult paths. But the constant evaporation from them, forming clouds, is carried by the wind from field to field, across hills and dales and through all the different divisions of the land. Operas based upon legendary poems, recitations and story-telling by trained men, the lyrical wealth of the popular literature distributed far and wide by the agency of mendicant singers— these are the clouds that help to irrigate the minds of the people with the ideas which in their original form belonged to difficult doctrines of meta physics. Profound speculations contained in the systems of Sankhya, Vedanta and Yoga are transformed into the living harvest of the people’s literature, brought to the door of those who can never have the leisure and training to pursue these thoughts to their fountain-head. India has never neglected these social martyrs, but has tried to bring light into the grimy obscurity of their lifelong toil, and has always acknowledged its duty to supply them with mental and spiritual food in assimilable form through the medium of a variety of ceremonies. This process is not carried on by any specially organised association of public service, but by a spontaneous social adjustment which acts like circulation of blood in our bodily system. Because of this, the work continues even when the original purpose ceases to exist.
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Once when I was on a visit to a small Bengal village, mostly inhabited by Mahomedan cultivators, the villagers entertained me with an opera performance the literature of which belonged to an obsolete religious sect that had wide influence centuries ago. Though the religion itself is dead, its voice still continues preaching its philosophy to a people who in spite of their different culture are not tired of listening. It discussed according to its own doctrine the different elements, material and transcendental, that constitute human personality, comprehending the body, the self and the soul. Then came a dialogue during the course of which was related the incident of a person who wanted to make a journey to Brindaban, the Garden of Bliss, but was prevented by a watchman who startled him with an accusation of theft. The thieving was proved when it was shown that inside his clothes he was secretly trying to smuggle into the garden the self, passing it on as his own and not admitting that it is for his master. The culprit was caught with the incriminating bundle in his possession which barred for him his passage to the supreme goal. Under a tattered canopy held on bamboo poles and lighted by a few smoking kerosine lamps, the village crowd, occasionally interrupted by howls of jackals in the neighbouring paddy fields, attended with untired interest, till the small hours of the morning, the performance of a drama, that discussed the ultimate meaning of all things in a seemingly incongruous setting o f dance, music and humorous dialogue. These illustrations will show how naturally, in India, poetry and philosophy have walked hand in hand, only because the latter has claimed its right to guide men to the practical path of their life’s fulfilment. What is that fulfilment ? It is our freedom in truth, which has for its p rayer: Lead us from the unreal to Reality. For satyam is anandam, the Real is Joy.
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From my vocation as an artist; I have come to my own idea about the joy of the Real. To give us the taste o f reality through freedom of mind is the nature of all arts. When in relation to them we talk of aesthetics we must know that it is not about beauty in its ordinary meaning, but in that deeper meaning which a poet has expressed in his utterance : “ Truth is beauty, beauty truth.” It is not wholly true that art has its value for us because in it we realise all that we fail to attain in our life ; thé fact is that the function of art is to bring us, with its creations, into immediate touch with reality. These need not resemble actual facts of our experience, and yet they do delight our heart because they are made true to us. In the world of art, our consciousness being freed from the tangle of self*interest, we gain an unobstructed vision of unity, the incarnation of the real, which is a joy for ever. As in the world of art, so in God's world, our soul waits for its freedom from the ego to reach that disinterested joy which is the source and goal of creation, It cries out for its m ukti into the unity of truth from the mirage of appear ances endlessly pursued by the thirsty self. This idea of mukti, based upon metaphysics, has affected our life in India, touched the springs of our emotions, and supplications for it soar heavenward on the wings of poesy. We constantly hear men of scanty learning and simple faith singing in their prayer to Tara, the Goddess Redeemer : For what sin should I be compelled to remain in this dungeon o f the world of appearance ? They are afraid of being alienated from the world of tru th , afraid of their perpetual drifting amidst the froth and foam of things, of being tossed about by the tidal waves of pleasure and pain and never reaching the ultimate meaning o f life. Of these men, one may be a carter driving his cart 9
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to market, another a fisherman plying his net. They may not be prompt with an intelligent answer, if questioned about the deeper import of the song they sing, but they have no doubt in their mind, that the abiding cause of all misery is not so much in the lack of life’s furniture as in the obs curity of life’s significance. It is a common topic with such to decry an undue emphasis upon me and mine, which falsi fies the perspective of truth. For, have they not often seen men, who are not above their own level in social position or intellectual acquirement, going out to seek Truth, leaving everything that they have behind them ? They know that the object of these adventurers is not betterment in worldly wealth and power,— it is mvkti, freedom. They possibly know some poor fellow villager of their own craft, who remains in the world carrying on his daily vocation, and yet has the reputation of being emancipated in the heart of the Eternal. I myself have come across a fisherman singing with an inward absorption of mind, while fishing all day in the Ganges, who was pointed out to me by my boatmen, with awe, as a man of liberated spirit. He is out of reach of the conventional prices which are set upon men by society, and which classify them like toys arranged in the shop-windows according to the market standard of value. When the figure of this fisherman comes to my mind, I cannot but think that their number is not small who with their lives sing the epic of the unfettered soul, but will never be known in history. These unsophisticated Indian peasants know that an Emperor is a decorated slave remaining chained to his Empire, that a millionaire is kept pilloried by his fate in the golden cage of his wealth, while this fisher man is free in the realm of light. When groping in the dark, we stumble against objects, we cling to them believing them to be our only hope. When light comes we slacken i
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our hold» finding them to be mere parts of the all to which we are related. The simple man of the village knows what freedom is— freedom from the isolation of self, from the isolation of things which imparts a fierce intensity to our sense of possession. He knows that this freedom is not in the mere negation of bondage, in the bareness of belongings, but in some positive realisation which gives pure joy to our being, and he sings : To him who sinks into the deep, nothing remains unattained. Let my two minds meet and combine And lead me to the City Wonderful When the one mind of ours which wanders in search of things in the outer region of the varied, and the other which seeks the inward vision of unity, are no longer in conflict, they help us to realise the ajab, the anirvachaniya> the in effable. The poet-saint Kabir has also the same message when he sings: By saying that Supreme Reality only dwells in the inner realm o f spirit we shame the outer world o f matter, and also when we say that he is only in the outside we do not speak the truth. According to these singers, truth is in unity and therefore freedom is in its realisation. The texts of our daily worship and meditation are for training our mind to overcome the barrier of separateness from the rest of existence and to realise advaltam, the Supreme Unity which is anantam, infinitude. It is philosophical wisdom having its universal radiation in the popular mind in India that inspires our prayer, our daily spiritual practices. It has its constant urging for us to go beyond the world of appearances in which facts as facts are alien to us, like the mere sounds of | foreign m usic; it speaks to us of an emancipation in the inner truth of all things in which the endless many reveals
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the One, as the multitude of notes, when we understand them, reveal to us the inner unity which is music. But because this freedom is in truth itself and not in an appearance of it, no hurried path of success, forcibly cut out by the greed of result, can be a true path. And an obscure village poet, unknown to the world of recognised respectability, untramelled by the standardised learning of the Education Department, sings: O cruel man o f urgent need, must you scorch with fire th mind which still is a bud ? You will burst it into bits, destroy its perfume in your impatience. Do you not see that my lord, the Supreme Teacher, takes ages to perfect the flower and never is in a fury o f haste ? But because o f your terrible greed you only rely on force, and what hope is there fo r you, O man o f urgent need ? **Prithee !" says Madan the poet. “Hurt not the mind o f my Teacher. Know that only he who follows the simple current and loses himself can hear \ the voice, O man o f urgent need/9* i
The proof of this we find in modem civilization whose motive force has become a ceaseless urgency of need, driven | by some cruel fate into an endless exaggeration, an insensate orgy of a caricature of bigness. The links of bondage go on multiplying themselves, threatening to shackle the whole world with the chain forged by such unmeaning and unending 1 urgency of need. The enlightenment which frees us from this ignorance must not be merely negative. Freedom is not in an emptiness of its contents, it is in the harmony of commu nication through which we find no obstruction in realising our own being in the surrounding world« Freedom in the material world has also the same meaning expressed in its own language. When nature’s phenomena appeared to us as manifestations of an obscure and irrational
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caprice, we lived in an alien world never dreaming of our swaraj within its territory. With the discovery of the harmony of its working with that of our reason, we realise our unity with it and, therefore, freedom. It is avidya, ignorance, which causes our disunion with our surroundings. It is vidya, the knowledge of the Brahman manifested in the material universe that makes us realise advaitam, the spirit of unity in the world of matter. Those who have been brought up in a misunderstanding of this world’s process, not knowing that it is his by his right of intelligence, are trained as cowards by a hopeless faith in the ordinance of a destiny darkly dealing its blows, offering no room for appeal. They submit without struggle when human rights are denied them, being accustomed to imagine themselves born as outlaws in a world constantly thrusting upon them incomprehensible surprises of accidents. Also in the social or political field, the lack of freedom is based upon the spirit of alienation, on the imperfect realisation of advaitam. There our bondage is in the tortured link of union. One may imagine that an individual who succeeds in dissociating himself from his fellows attains real freedom inasmuch as all ties of relationship imply obligation to others. But we know that, though it may sound paradoxical, it is true that in the human world only a perfect arrangement of interdependence gives rise to freedom. The most indivi dualistic of human beings, who own no responsibility, are the savages who fail to attain their fulness of manifestation. They live immersed in obscurity, like an illlighted fire that cannot liberate itself from its envelope of smoke. Only those may attain their freedom from the segregation of an eclipsed life, who have the power to cultivate mutual understanding and co-operation. The history of the growth of freedom is the history of the perfection of human relationship.
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The strongest barrier against freedom in all departments of life is the selfishness of individuals or groups. Civilisation» whose object is to afford humanity its greatest possible opportunity of complete manifestation, perishes when some selfish passion, in place of a moral ideal, is allowed to exploit its resources unopposed, for its own purposes. For the greed of acquisition and the living principle of creation are antagonistic to each other. Life has brought with it the first triumph of freedom in the world of the inert, because it is an inner expression and not merely an external fact, because it must always exceed the limits of its substance, never allowing its materials to clog its spirit, and yet ever keeping to the limits of its truth. Its accumulation must not suppress its harmony of growth, the harmony that unites the in and the out, the end and the means, the what is and the what is to come. Life does not store up but assimilates; its spirit and its substance, its work and itself, are intimately united. When the non-living elements of our surroundings are stupendously disproportionate, when they are mechanical systems and hoarded possessions, then the mutual discord between our life and our world ends in the defeat of the former. The gulf thus created by the receding stream of soul we try to replenish with a continuous shower of wealth which may have the power to fill but not the power to unite. Therefore the gap is dangerously concealed under the glittering quicksands of things which by their own accumulating weight cause a sudden subsidence, while we are in the depth of our sleep. But the real tragedy does not lie in the destruction of our material security, it is in the obscuration of man himself in the human world. In his creative activities man makes his surroundings instinct with his own life and love. But in his utilitarian ambition he deforms and defiles it with the callous handling of his voracity. This world of man’s manufacture with its discordant shrieks and mechanical movements, reacts
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upon his own nature, incessantly suggesting to him a scheme of universe which is an abstract system. In such a world there can be no question of muktl, because it is a solidly solitary fact, because the cage is all that we have, and no sky beyond it. In all appearance the world to us is a closed world, like a seed within its hard cover. But in the core of the seed there is the cry of Life for mukti even when the proof of its possibility is darkly silent. When some huge temptation tramples into stillness this living aspiration after mukti, then does civilisation die like a seed that has lost its urging for germination. It is not altogether true that the ideal of mukti in India is based upon a philosophy of passivity. The Ishopanishad has strongly asserted that man must wish to live a hundred years and go on doing his work : for, according to it, the complete truth is in the harmony of the infinite and the finite, the passive ideal of perfection and the active process of its revealment; according to it, he who pursues the knowledge of the infinite as an absolute truth sinks even into a deeper darkness than he who pursues the cult of the finite as complete in itself. He who thinks that a mere aggregation of changing notes has the ultimate value of un changing music, is no doubt foolish ; but his foolishness is exceeded by that of one who thinks that true music is devoid of all notes. But where is the reconciliation ? Through what means does the music which is transcendental turn the facts of the detached notes into a vehicle of its expression? It is through the rhythm, the very limit of its composition. We reach the infinite through crossing the path that is definite. It is this that is meant in the following verse of the Ish a : He who knows the truth o f the infinite and that o f the finite both united together, crosses death by the help o f avidya, and by the help o f vidya reaches immortality.
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The regulated life is the rhythm of the finite through whoser very restrictions we pass to the immortal life. This amritamP the immortal life, is not a mere prolongation of physical existence, it is in the realisation of the perfect, it is in the well-proportioned beautiful definition of life which every moment surpasses its own limits and expresses the Eternal. In the very first verse of the Isha, the injunction is given to us ma gridhah, Thou shalt not covet. But why should we not ? Because greed, having no limit, smothers the rhythm of life— the rhythm which is expressive of the limitless. The modern civilisation is largely composed of atmahanojanah, spiritual suicides. It has lost its will for limiting its desires, for restraining its perpetual self-exaggeration. Because it has lost its philosophy of life, it loses its art of living. Creation is in rhythm, the rhythm which is the border on which vidyancha avidyancha, the infinite and the finite, meet. We do not know how, from the indeterminate, the lotus flower finds its being. So long as it is merged in th e vague it is nothing to us, and yet it must have been every where. Somehow from the vast it has been captured in a perfect rhythmical limit, forming an eddy in our conscious ness, arousing within us a recognition of delight at the touch of the infinite which finitude gives. It is the limiting process which is the work of a creator, who finds his free dom through his restraints, the truth of the boundless through the reality of the bounds. The insatiable idolatory of material, that runs along an ever-lengthening line of extravagance, is inexpressive; it belongs to those regions which are andhenatamasavritah, enveloped in darkness, which ever carry the load of their inarticulate bulk. The true prayer of man is for the Real, not for the Big, for the Light which is not in incendiarism but in illumination, for immorta lity which is not in duration of time, but in the eternity of the perfect.
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Only because we have closed our path to the inner world of mukti, has the outer world become terrible in its exac tions. It is a slavery to continue to live in a sphere where things are, yet where their meaning is obstructed. It has become possible for men to say that existence is evil, only because in our blindness we have missed something in which our existence has its truth. If a bird tries to soar in the sky with only one of its wings, it is offended with the wind for buffeting it down to the dust. All broken truths are evil. They hurt because they suggest something which they do not offer. Death does not hurt us, but disease does,. because disease constantly r e m its us of health and yet. withholds it from us. And life in a half world is evil, because it feigns finality when it is obviously incomplete, giving us the cup, but not the draught of life. All tragedies consist in truth remaining fragmentary, its cycle not being completed. Let me close with a Baul song, over a century old, in which the poet sings of the eternal bond of union between , the infinite and the finite soul, from which there can be no mukti, because it is an interrelation which makes truth com plete, because love is ultimate, because absolute independence is the blankness of utter sterility. The idea in it is the samfr as we have in the Upanishad, that truth is neither in pure vidya nor in avidya, but in their union : It goes on blossoming for ages, the soul-lotus in which I am bound as well as thou, without escape. There is no end to the opening o f its petals, and the honey in it has such sweetness that thou like an enchanted bee canst never desert it, and therefore thou art bound, and I am, and mukti is nowhere.
THE P H I L O S O P H Y OF L E I S U R E In m y country, the cultivation of leisure has been a vital necessity. We may have many other compulsions for work, but hardly one for generating extra heat within our own physical constitution in order to maintain the balance between the outer temperature and the temperature of our body. In consequence, with us, restless activity has not become a pleasure in itself, and our bodily providence has slowed down our physical movements almost below the degree needful for the strenuous purposes of material prosperity. We should bitterly blame our fate for an utter bankruptcy of civilization, if this strict economy of life were an absolute miserliness which gives up all prospect of profit to avoid the least risk of loss. Forest land is great, crowded with a furiously competing life ; but the seemingly empty prairie land has also its own magnanimity, passively waiting to be wooed, yielding inexhaustible wealth which has in it the spirit of co-operation, the deeper strength of meekness. The human world also has its prairie land of fertile leisure and forest land of self-assertive life. Man has his two phases, the one in which he tries to make indefinite additions to the powers of his senses and limbs from the store-house of cosmic powers; and the other in which he tries to realize through various stages, his oneness with humanity and thus manifest in himself a truth which reveals him much more intimately than the fact of any extension of power. Man, along with the animal, is born to this earth where he has the materials of his living; and according to the development of his energy and intelligence which helps him in the acquisition and use of these materials, he becomes
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powerful and wins in the race of life. In this race, the individual competition for success is the main motive force which man has in common with the animal. This domain of material progress has for its object success which depends upon puickness in time and bigness in quantity for its achievement. But man, unlike the animal, is born also to his home, his society and his country. These afford him the back ground, the perspective needed for the expression of his complete being. They belong to the domain of his civili zation which urges slow centuries to develop creative ideals through co-operation of minds and endeavours, through magnificent hospitality and love’s utmost sacrifice. This is the realm of great leisure in whose bosom appear the revelations of human spirit which work themselves out from the obscure period of the nebula into the constellation of stars. The complete human truth is comprehended in the mastery of law that gives power and the realization of harmony which gives perfection, just as in a work of art, the handling of technique and the inspiration of vision are both necessary. Occasionally men lose the sensitiveness of their mind through the rude abrasions of constantly hurried moments. In such a state they become capable only of being aroused by some tortured trick in the technique, by some jerky shock of novelty which is not originality, by even ugliness that coarsely violates our sense of rhythm. These people take pride in proclaiming their disillusionment, after having taken to pieces things that can only have meaning in their wholeness. In this callous world of theirs, Titans have their victory and Gods are defeated. And have we the time to ask ourselves if some of the sights, that overpower us to-day with awe, are not the triumphal towers of the Titans, built with the ruins of our paradise ?
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' The spirit of progress ;is neither moral ñor immoral. With equal indifference it uses its efficiency in inflicting as well as in healing wounds, at the same time, in helping us in a perfect system of robbery and in a perfect organisation of charity for those who suffer in consequence. It achieves success through intelligent dealings with Nature’s poten tialities. This realm of progress is described in the Upanishad as Anna Brahma, the infinite in its aspect of utility. It has its urge in man for realizing the immeasurable in the domain of quantity through an endlessly progresssing process of mea surement. Directly we lose our faith in it through lethargy or diffidence, we lapse into an animal state in this material universe, and fall passively under the law of natutal selection. The rule of natural selection finds its full sway in a close system of life with rigidly limited resources and restricted possibilities. Man broke the prison wall open, declared his sovereignty and refused to be contented with the small allowance originally allotted to him by Nature, just enough to enable him to carry on a perpetual repetition of a narrow programme of life. He mastered his resources and utilised them for his own indomitable purpose. This working out of one’s own purpose through the manipulation of Nature’s law is great. It carries in it the proclamation of the right to freedom of the human spirit which refuses to acknow ledge limits to its power in the very face of powerful con tradictions. The present age is resounding with the decla ration of independence for man in the world of nature. This independence is not absolute, but it is a sailing upon a perpetually widening current of emancipation. So long as the movement is maintained, it gives us the taste of the infinite at every point, but directly we stop, we become the captive of the finite and lose the dignity of our soul. There are races of men who have allowed themselves to be stranded
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upon the sterile sand of their past achievement, like a whale on the seashore, and they remain, to the end of their days, th e prey of ravenous evils from all sides. There is a spirit of immortality in the sphere of the material existence which consists in a triumphant movement of realization. It loses its inspiration and becomes a menace to man when we are meanly overcome by the profit it promises and ignore, its great meaning— the expansion of power which gives us the divine right to transform this world into a world for Man. Truth has its other aspect which is described by the Upanishad as Vijnana Brahma or Ananda Brahma, the infinite in its aspect of comprehension, aspect of joy. It is the realm of wisdom and love where mere dimension, number and speed have no meaning, where the value of truth is realized by matured mind through patient devotion, selfcontrol and concentration of faculties. It has its atmosphere -of infinity in a width of leisure across which come invisible messengers of life and light, bringing their silent voices o f creation. The process of the packing of fruits gains in merit according to the speed it attains by efficient organization of work, by economizing time through mechanical co-ordination o f movements. But the fruit gains its quality of perfection, its flavour and mellowness, not by any impatient ignoring o f time but by surrendering itself to the subtle caresses of a sun-lit leisure. And thus we see that the idea of time finds its meaning not as a mere duration of the world-process but as a vehicle of creative energy. In the Hindu pantheon, the deity of time has its other name as the deity of energy, for we find that time not merely measures but it works. We do not know why a certain period of time is necessary for certain changes to happen, why food should not instant aneously be digested, why the mind should at all depend apon time for the assimilation of thoughts. In fact, we never
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solve the mystery why there should at all be a process o f creation which is a process in time. It is evident that the modern age is riding on a tornado of rapidity. Quickness of speed in an enormity of material production is jealously competing with its own past every moment. We cannot stop its course, and should not, even if we could. Our only anxiety with regard to it is that we may forget that slow productions of leisure are of immense value to man, for these only can give balance to the reckless rush of ambition, give rhythm to the life that misses its happiness by missing the cadence of chastity in its enjoyment; these only can impart meaning to an accumulation which knows how to grow to a hugeness but not to a majesty of expression. As I have said in the beginning, all civilizations are living wealths that have grown on the deep soil of a rich leisure. They are for conferring honour to our personality and giving it its best worth. The perfection of our personality does not principally consist in qualities that generate cleverness or deftness or even accuracy of observation, or the rationality that analyses and forms generalizations. It depends mostly upon our training in truth and love, upon ideals that go to the root of our being. All these require the ministration of quiet time for their adequate recognition and realization in life. A true gentleman is the product of patient centuries of cultivated leisure that has nourished into preciousness a vision of honour whose value is higher than that of life itself. When I first visited Japan I had the opportunity of observing there the two parts of the human sphere strongly contrasted : one, on which grew up the ancient continent of social ideals, standards of beauty, codes of personal behaviour ; and on the other part, the fluid element, the perpetual current that carried wealth to its shores from all parts of the world. Ia h alf a century’s time Japan has been able to make her own the mighty spirit of progress which suddenly burst upon her
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one morning in a storm of insult and menace. China also has had her rousing when her self-respect was being knocked to pieces through a series of helpless years, and I am sure she also will master before long the instrument which hurt her to the quick. But the ideals that imparted life and body to Japanese civilization had been nourished in the reverent hopes of countless generations through ages which were not primarily occupied in an incessant hunt for opportunities, which had large tracts of leisure in them necessary for the blossoming of life’s beauty and the ripening of her wisdom. These ideals had become one with the nature of the people and therefore these people were often unconscious of their profound value while they were noisily proud of some culture from a foreign market for which they had to pay in cash, because of its utility, and not in sacrifice which is claimed by a truth that has its ultimate value in itself. It is some thing like being boastful of an expensive pair of high-heeled shoes which has no compunction in insulting the beautiful contour of the living feet that have reached their perfect form in man through ages of evolution. We have seen the modern factories in Japan, numerous mechanical organizations and engines of destruction of the latest type. Along with them we also see some fragile vase, some small pieces of silk, some architecture of sublime simplicity, some perfect lyric of bodily movement. Also we have seen these people’s expression of courtesy daily extracting from them a considerable amount of time and trouble, their traditions of behaviour, any deviation from which, however, inevitable, so often drove them to suicide. All these have come not from any accurate knowledge of things but from an intense consciousness of the value of reality which takes tim e for its realization. What Japan reveals in its skilful manipulation of telegraphic wires and railway lines, of machines for manufacturing things and for killing men,.
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is more or less similar to what we see in other countries which have a similar opportunity for training. But in its art o f living, its pictures, its code of conduct, the various forms of beauty which its religious and social ideals assume, Japan reveals its own personality which, in order to be of any worth, must be unique. This national personality acquires its richness from its assimilation of some ideal and not from its possession of some trade secret, some up-to-date machinery of efficiency. What gives us cause for anxiety is the fact that the spirit of progress occupies a great deal more of our mind to-day than the deeper life process of our being which requires depth of leisure for its sustenance. In the present age the larger part of our growth takes place on the outside, and our inner spirit has not the time to accept it and harmonize it into a completeness of creation. In other words, the modern world has not allowed itself time to evolve a religion, a profound principle of reconciliation that can fashion out of all conflic ting elements a living work of art— his society. The creative ideals of life, necessary for giving expression to the fulness of humanity, were developed centuries ago. And when to-day these suffer from some misfit as a result of a constant expansion of knowledge and a variety of new experiences, we fail to adjust them into a more comprehensive synthesis than before, and thus not only lose faith in them but in the fundamental principle that they represent. With strenuous efforts, we make stupendous heaps of materials and when the complaint comes that they miss the character of architecture, we contemptously say that architecture is a .superstition and for. a democratic age rude piles are more significant than the rhythmic form of a building. Such remarks are easy to make only because we lack leisure truly to know our minds. We are only familiar with the surface of our life which is constantly being soiled and burdened with the sweepings of
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an enormous traffic. We grow fond of a perpetual shabbiness produced by a miscellany of fragments only because the relegation of these to their proper places requires time. And we say time is money, while we forget to say that leisure is wealth, the wealth which is a creation of human spirit whose material may be money. Invention, construction and organization are spreading fast along the high road of our history, but the creative genius of man which acknowledged its mission to express all that has permanent value in his personality is every day losing its dignity. It accepts cheap payments from the busy multitude, it is engaged in always keeping irreverent minds amused, it makes faces at things men held sacred and tries to prove that the ideals of social life that had given us grace, the majesty of self-mastery and the heroism of volun tary acceptance of suffering were most part unreal, false coins made current by the weak for the pathetic purpose of self-deception. Compressed and crowded time has its use when dealing with material things but living truths must have for their full significance a perspective of wide leisure. The cramped time produces deformities and degeneracy, and the mind constantly pursued by a fury of haste, develops a chronic condition of spiritual dyspepsia. It easily comes to believe that reality is truly represented by nightmare, that nothing but disease is frankly honest in its revelation of the normal, that only the lowest is reliable in its explanation of the highest in a language crudely obscure. Drunkenness may be defined as the habit of enjoyment forced out through a narrowed aperture of sensibility in jets of abnormal sharpness; and all enjoyment takes a drunken character for those who try to snatch it away from fugitive hours that come jumping to them in a staccato style. They become hopelessly addicted to undiluted sensationalism for their brief moments of recreation, and literature demanded by 10
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them grows bewilderingly turbulent with psychological per versity and intellectual somersaults. Incessantly handling things that have their market price, they lose the judgment of the world of values, the self-luminous truth, the kingdom of personality. They claim explanation from every fact for its truth in a universe of reality while they forget that our personality also needs an adequate explanation in a universal truth. A particle of sand would be nothing if it did not have its background in the whole physical world.
THE AIM OF LITERATURE are for ever looking for clearly defined themes and topics of literature. As soon as they come across any literary work, they at once ask, what is it all about ? But it is by no means certain that in order to write one first needs a subject on which to write. In a living work of art the topic or theme is not so essential as that. The vital principle in man is expressed through all his limbs and behaviour, but to extract and utilise this lifeprinciple from its instruments is not easy. These days our critics are rather keen to hunt out the intention of a given work of art. One reason for this may be that unless they can fix and isolate some definite purpose they themselves cannot write easily. A teacher who has grown accustomed to pulling his students’ hair perhaps feels a little sad when faced with a tonsured head ! Supposing in your intellectual pride you assert, “I shall find out the theme of this flowing, sunkist river.” You pour the water in huge pots and pans, place it on an oven —but all you get is mud and fume. The waves, the sun light, the ripple and the flow, these have escaped. Seeking for aim or purpose one comes up with some thing or the other. If one dredges the Ganges one may find, if nothing, at least a few prawns. For the poor fisher m an this may not be a small aim or gain. But the prawns do not make any essential change in the nature of the river itself. The river without its flow, its waves and shadows, its serene sublimity is not a river at all. This sense of the river you cannot grasp physically, you have to feel this— th e flow, the play of light and shade is not something you c a n hold in your hands, the serenity is something you must W orldly
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feel within yourself. On the other hand, while it is not easy to feel the prawn in the river, it is easy to catch. For the worldly-wise critic it is in every way a useful object. In pure literature that which looks like its aim is often quite secondary and impermanent. According to its marks such an aim may be variously called its philosophy, message, science or history or something else. But literature has really no such aim, purpose or theme. For instance, how do historical writings become litera ture? When we know that even if the facts are proved false, they will survive. That is, when we know that history is a means of an occasion, not the aim or the end. The same holds for science, philosophy, etc. The aim of Creation baffles us, but that which is made or constructed is easier to understand. Who can know why the flower blossoms? But why the brick kiln bums or a mortar factory works, it is not so difficult to guess. Literature is creation, while philosophy and science are intellectual constructions. Like Creation itself, literature is literature’s aim. But if it has no other purpose, what is the good of it ? This is what the practically-minded persons are always asking. It is not easy to give them a satisfactory answer. Where our needs are material one can provide verifiable answers. But the delight of aesthetic experience is not capable of any such physical verification. Literature binds heart to heart. Logic provides unity o f a kind, the unity of intellect and knowledge, but there is no artificial means for binding human hearts. It is the nature of the literary experience to socialize, to provide a union and relationship of man with man. Literature stands for this togetherness, it is to be one with all men, to touch and feel our common humanity, to forge the chain of being. It is because of this that the heart feels, the winds blow, the
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seasons dance, and perfume, music and forms weave their endless enchantment, and the world is aesthetically renewed. Even without any conscious aim literature fulfils many aims. When friends meet, how commonplace the conversation ! Yet how that helps to express themselves, their heart and soul, laughter and delight! The light in our eyes blends with the sunlight in nature ! If, under instructions of the worldly-wise, we confine our conversation to nothing but business, if in everything we say or do there is hidden, like the worm, an aim or a purpose, how dreary life will soon become ! Then, surely, we shall find all around us dried bodies, shrivelled faces, high cheek bones, parched lips, and eyes sunk in their sockets,— the dark shadows of men hurt ling themselves against each other, digging out meaning from all we do and say, or hurling purposefully angry words at each others’ bald pate. A good deal of literature is nothing but a go-as-you-like dialogue among friends. A meeting of minds, or an embrace, it is expression and the delight in expression. Delight, its alpha and omega, is the only raison d'etre. Because it can not but be expressed, so it is expressed ; because it must be, so it is. That is all.
HISTORICITY IN L I T E RA TU R E Wb a r b conditioned by history, every time I hear that dogma I resent it. The best answer to the issue lies within the individual, there where I am nothing but a poet, Creator alone and free, undeterred by outward events. When the historical pundit drags me from the centre of my creation, I find the indignity insufferable. Let me go back to the early days of my poetic life and find out what answer that provides. A winter night— and breaking through the surrounding dark the first grey streaks of light peeping through. Our ways then were far from affluent and there was hardly a surfeit of winter garments. A single piece of cloth thrown round the upper body, I would dart from the warm protection of the coverlet and rush outside. Like everybody else I too could have stretched and yawned, stayed on, crumpled in the cosy bed till it was six o’ clock. But I had no choice in the matter. I had to rush. Our courtyard garden was quite as indigent as I was. A few palm trees along the eastern walls were its chief pride or possession. How the light of the morning struck against the waving leaves and the dew did sparkle! I was afraid that I might be late and miss this daily ritual of light. It was this that caused me to rush. I used to think that every boy must be as eager as I was, to share this delight in the daybreak. Had this been true the habit of boys would explain my conduct: that I, in my eagerness, was really no different from countless other boys. Indeed that I was behaving like any other boy would make every other explanation unnecessary. But as I grew a little older I could see that no one else was so keen to marvel at the morning light tripping on the trees
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and leaves as I was. Those who were brought up along with me appeared to be singularly free from any such interest or obsession. Why they alone, there was no one around who would feel himself cheated if after leaving the warm bed behind, he failed to see the play of light at that unearthly hour. There was no ‘history’ behind all this. Had it been so all the unkempt gardens of the world would have been crowded with wonder-eyed children ; there would have been rivalry and competition as to who would come the earliest and take in the whole amazing spectacle. As it was, it was only the poet who was there. After four in the afternoon I would return from the school. Immediately my eyes would travel up to the mass of dark-blue clouds atop the third storey. What a vision it all was ! I still remember the day, but in that day’s ‘history’ no second person had looked at those clouds with anything like my eyes. There stood but Rabindranath, and he was alone. Once back from school a strange sight greeted my eyes : the washerman’s ass grazing— not the asses that British rule had raised in our midst but the good old ass, the same for ever— while a cow gently licked its sides. This give-and-take, life’s silent call to life, touched me and it has remained in my mind. I know for certain that in the midst of all the crowded history of that forgotten period it was but a solitary Rabindranath who had seen it like that. In his creation Rabindranath was ever a solitary. To no one else had history revealed the significance of that sight in quite the same manner, just as no history could ever bind him to all and sundry. Where history dealt with the general and the average, the objective fact, there was no doubt a British subject present but that was not Rabindranath. In that objective world the political game went on unabated, but the light that played on the leaves of the palm grove was not something politically manufactured by the British Raj. That had its origin in some mysterious history in my own
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being and that self-delight found expression in a variety of forms. In our Upanishads we hear that the soul desires to express itself through the experience of filial affection ; hence filial affection has a value for the soul. The materials or ingredients of creation are no doubt supplied partly by history partly by society but these neither make nor explain the creator. The creator uses them, but he is not bound by them. There are in this world of ours events and facts, values waiting to be realised. Their realisation is sudden and unexpected. For instance, the period when I came to know of the Buddhist and other legends of our past history, the vision and the images brought with them a sudden inspiration. And the stories of Katha O Kahini1 gushed forth. It may be said that our education those days provided for such pabulum and the stories I wrote were but products of the age. But ( how explain th a t) it was only the mind of a Rabindranath that had been stirred by these ancient stories. No history can explain or explain away that fact. With what splendour and compassion had the story of Upagupta revealed itself, of all persons, to Rabindranath ! If it were just historicism there should have been a glut of Katha O Kahini-s throughout the land. But no second person, before or after, had felt these stories and images exactly as I had. In fact, the delight that others have derived from the stories has been due to this very reason— the uniqueness of the creative factor. Again there was a time floating down the Bengal rivers, I had felt within myself the play of her myriad life. My inner being had responded to its suggestions o f tears and laughter. Out of this abundance of delight had come a picture or rural life such as no one had attempted 1. A collection of narrative poems, often adaptations of old tales and legends.
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before. In his workshop the creator works for ever alone. Like the Maker of the Worlds he weaves out of himself. The village life that the poet in me had glimpsed held within itself political tensions and controversies. But in his creation one only finds that other history, of human joys and sorrows, which overflows into the fields, the festivals and the poetry of everyday life the same for ever. This life has been lived out sometimes under the Moghuls, at others under the British, but what is expressed in Galpaguchha1 is the simple humanness of life’s becoming. The stories are not concerned with any particular system of government, feildal or otherwise. The extensive historical vistas in which most of the modern critics move about with such splendid ease, threequarters of these I find just terra incognita. May be it is this that annoys me. Away with your history, I say. At the helm of my creation sits the solitary soul, and it is this that absorbs the various sights and sounds of the world. Through the effort at creation it not only finds but also communicates the principle of delight in all things. All of life’s history or events has not been and obviously cannot be told. But this is no great loss, since much of this history is not in any way essential. It is only because of the selfexpressive urge of man the creator that history has been dynamic throughout the ages. Let that alone matter, that history which guided by the creative spirit of man moves towards the Vast and the True— beyond history, towards the still centre. The Upanishads knew this truth, and the message that I have derived from them is my own. It is of my making, hence a creation.
A collection of short stories.
THE R E AL A N D
not choose himself or his environment. These were for him in the nature of a lucky accident, something given, already there, but he has never been able to accept either as final values. He longs to re-make this given world of his in terms of some deeper truth, something : nearer his heart’s desire, some image of perfection hidden in the soul. To this desire and nameless longing he has given many a name and form. Out of this has taken shape his world o f ideas and ideals, reaching far beyond the quotidien needs and demands of his material life. His birth was not a perfect embodiment, and man is for ever haunted by a sense of incompleteness, an incurable dissatisfaction. In order to gain himself truly, he is moved towards self-creation and self-transcendence. In the image of the Ideal, man makes himself. What are his arts and literature but a reflection of this image? Thanks to them, even in a fragmentary universe, he is able to glimpse the total truth of nature and of him self. Or, as we say, to know himself. From this point of view, all his epics and dramas are but a series of selfintroductions or self-revelations. Transcending himself, that is his local and limited self, he seeks for objects that will endure as well as satisfy the deep human hunger for the not-yet. His arts and literature are but symbols of that greater, unrealised life. Always man has tried to preserve this true image against the false and the feeble, the socalled facts of life. Not that he is or can be unfamiliar with the mortal indigence of his days. But he refuses to accept these as true. If, for whatever reason, he begins to doubt or ridicule M a n d id
THE REAL AND THE TRUE
the truth of his potential greatness, he at once lowers the quality of his life and achievement. Those who look down upon the arts and literature as vain products of poetic fancy are ignorant of the truth o f the matter. The truth is exactly the opposite of what such people think. It is only in the realm of the contemplative life that man recovers his lost heritage and becomes truly Man, chirakaler mams. Where there is disrespect for the dreamer, man becomes less than human. This we see all round us all the time, everywhere, in the subordination of the true to the real. We may accept a compromise with facts as inevitable. But man is not merely or wholly real. A good deal about him belongs to the non-real. In other words, he is morethan-fact, he is true. The building of man's own world, a living world of truth and beauty, is the function of Art. It is this that brings him towards the discipline of truth and the truth of his self-expression. All man’s creative efforts stem from this search and discipline: of self-realisation. He might, at times, consent or be forced to move along the path of the real— for this too is material meant to be used rather than spurned— but, ultimately, Art points to the True.
R e f e r e n c e s
The Religion of an Artist. Visva-Bharati Reprint 1963. The Artist. From The Religion o f Man. What is Art ? From Personality. Art and Tradition. From lecture at Dacca ( 1926 ). VisvaBharati Quarterly, Vol. I, i, May 1935. Sense of Beauty. From Sahitya, Saundaryabodh, VisvaBharati Quarterly, 1936, Vol. II, i, translation by Surendranath Tagore. The Nexus of Beauty. Panchabhut, Saundaryer Sambandha. Visva-Bharati Quarterly, Vol. Ill, i, May 1937. Translator’s name not given. The Realisation of Beauty, From Sadhana. The Philosophy of Literature. From Sahityer Pathe, Sahitya-tattva. Visva-Bharati Quarterly, November 1936, Vol. II, ii, translation by Surendranath Tagore. The Principle of Literature. From Sahityer Pathe, Sahityadharma. Visva-Bharati Quarterly, 1927, Vol. V, ii. Universal Literature. From Sahitya, Visvasahitya. VisvaBharati Quarterly, 1936, Vol. II, ii, translation by Surendranath Tagore. The Meaning of a Poem. From Panchabhut, Kavyer Tatparya. Visva-Bharati Quarterly, 1937 Vol. II, iv, transla tion by Surendranath Tagore. Modern Poetry. From Sahityer Pathe, Adhunik Kavya. Visva-Bharati Quarterly, 1946, Vol. XI, iv, translation by Indira Devi Chaudhurani. The Philosophy of Our People, Presidential Address at the Indian Philosophical Conference, Calcutta, 1926, VisvaBharati Quarterly, January 1926.
ANGEL OF SURPLUS
The Philosophy of Leisure. Address at the Fourth Triennial Conference of the National Council of Education of Canada, Victoria, April 1929. Visva-Bharati Quarterly, April-July 1929. The Aim of Literature.* From Sahitya, Sahityer Uddeshya. Historicity in Literature.* From Sahityer Swarup, Sahitye Oitihasikata. May 1941. The Real and the True.* From Sahityer Swarup, Satya O Bastab. June 1941.
* Translated by the editor.
So runs the Tagorean argument or series of suggestions. In man’s long journey towards the Endless Further here is a road map, a traveller’s account that will delight as well as disturb.
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