G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”

W H Auden: "But in my arms till break of day / Let the living creature lie. / Mortal, guilty, but to me/ The entirely beautiful."

Will Self: “To attempt to write seriously is always, I feel, to fail – the disjunction between my beautifully sonorous, accurate and painfully affecting mental content, and the leaden, halting sentences on the page always seems a dreadful falling short. It is this failure – a ceaseless threnody keening through the writing mind – that dominates my working life, just as an overweening sense of not having loved with enough depth or recklessness or tenderness dominates my personal one.”

John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."

Art Spiegelman: "You know words in a way are hitting you on the left side of your brain, music and visual arts hit on the right side of the brain, so the idea is to pummel you, to send you from left brain to right brain and back until you're as unbalanced as I am."

विलास सारंग: "संदर्भ कुठलेही असोत, संस्कृत, इंग्रजी, बुद्धिवादी, तांत्रिक, इतिहासाचे, खगोलशास्त्राचे, आधुनिक पदार्थविज्ञानाचे, शिवकालीन व पेशवाईतील बखरीचे, अगणित ज्ञानक्षेत्रांचे, अशा वैविध्यपूर्ण ज्ञानावर लेखन- विशेषत: कवितालेखन- उभं राहत."

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Black Eliza, Dalit Muktabai and Brahmin Shripad Krushna Kolhatkar

Today is 140th birth anniversary of Shripad Krushna Kolhatkar (श्रीपाद कृष्ण कोल्हटकर) 1871- 1934, one of the great sons of Maharashtra.

George Orwell on Uncle Tom's Cabin:

"...an unintentionally ludicrous book, full of preposterous melodramatic incidents . . . [but] also deeply moving and essentially true."

Drew Gilpin Faust:

As we enter into the sesquicentennial celebration of the Civil War, Harriet Beecher Stowe's achievement reminds us that we must remember more than battles and statesmen if we are to understand the causes, the conflict and its aftermath. But swords and statesmen and armies and governments and writers and preachers all played their complex and interdependent parts in what Reynolds calls the "Battle for America." DuBois, Margaret Mitchell, D.W. Griffiths, and Henry James, not to mention Lee, Grant, and Lincoln, would likely be surprised to learn that the twenty-first century could imagine that the battle over race and power, not to mention culture and values, was really all about Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Rajmohan Gandhi on his comparative historical study, ‘A Tale of Two Revolts: India 1857 and the American Civil War', 2009:

"I was lucky too to find a live link between the two events in the person of William Howard Russell and to run into unforgettable characters like Abraham Lincoln, Marx, Tolstoy, Bankimchandra Chatterjee, Vidyasagar, Jotiba Phule, Sayyid Ahmed Khan, Allan Octavian Hume, Lakshmi of Jhansi, Hazrat Mahal of Lucknow and Harriet Beecher Stowe of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. With characters like the above, it was difficult to go wrong."


I have still not read 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' (UTC) but, like a lot of 'should-be-read' books, I have read a lot about it.

UTC was published in March 1852. Within a year, the book had sold 300,000 copies in America, and over a million in Britain. Surely it must have reached Indian shores by 1853. (Btw- distribution of this 19th century bestseller in India, its reception, its illustrations, quality of printing etc are all fascinating aspects, about which I sadly know nothing.)

Andrew Delbanco reviews a book on UTC in The New York Times June 24, 2011:

"The case for it as a literary work of depth and nuance is dubious. Yet it belongs to the very short list of American books (including, say, “The Other America” by Michael Harrington and “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson) that helped create or consolidate a reform movement — in Stowe’s case, the most consequential reform movement in our history."

Young slave girl Eliza of the book finds freedom for herself and her boy by by fleeing to Canada. According to Rajmohan Gandhi, "Eliza's joy seems identical to the relief that Muktabai, the Mang girl, expressed half a world away at about the same time", in Maharashtra.

Why does it seem identical?

Muktabai (मुक्ताबाई) a Dalit girl of fourteen studying in one of Jotiba Phule's school wrote a forceful essay on Maharashtra's Mahars in 1855 in Marathi:

"Formerly we were buried alive in the foundations of buildings. We were not allowed to pass by the talimkhana (school). If any man was found to do so, his head was cut off playfully. We were not allowed to read and write...God has bestowed on us the rule of the British and our grievances are redressed. Nobody harasses us now. Nobody hangs us. Nobody buries us alive...We can now...put on cloth around our body..." (from Dhananjay Keer's 'Phooley').

(It's hugely uplifting that such sentiments were expressed for the first time in the Indian subcontinent (or the world?), by a Dalit girl of fourteen, so far back 156 years ago, in my mother tongue!

Take a bow, Marathi. Also read this post on glory of Marathi.

Was it a case of: What Maharashtra thinks today, India- or indeed the world- thinks tomorrow?)

Muktabai never probably read UTC because I don't know if it was then (or ever) translated in Marathi. I don't know if Mahatma Phule read it or not but most likely did. However, a few of his Brahmin fellow citizens surely did.

V K Rajwade (विश्वनाथ काशिनाथ राजवाडे) [July 12 1863 - Dec 31 1926] was one of them.

In one of the best essays written in Marathi, 'Kadambari' (कादंबरी), Rajwade mentions the book:

"पस्तीस चाळीस वर्षापूर्वी अमेरिकेत गुलांमाना बंधमुक्त करण्याबद्दल लढाई झाली . तिचें रहस्य व महिमा मिसेस स्टौकृत अंकल टॉम नांवाच्या कादंबरीने प्रसिद्ध केला ."

(Thirty-five forty years ago, to free slaves in America, a battle took place. Its secret and greatness were publicized by Mrs Stowe written novel called 'Uncle Tom')

(year around 1900)

He concludes the essay, with these deeply moving words, summarising what a good novel and novelist do or should do:

"लहान मुलांना पशुपक्ष्यांच्या गोष्टी सांगून त्यांच्या मनात युक्ति व साहस ह्यांचे बीजारोपण करील ;स्त्रीजनांना संसारसुखाची गुरुकिल्ली पटवील; तरुणांना राष्ट्रीय महत्वाकांक्षेचे रहस्य कळवील; आणि वृद्धांना आयुष्याच्या इतिकर्तव्यतेचे दिग्दर्शन करील; आणि इतकेहि करून ते कसे व केंव्हां केले हें कोणाला समजून देणार नाही. अशी ह्या मयासुराची करणी आहे. युधिष्ठिराप्रमाणे ती ज्या लोकांना लाभली ते लोक धन्य होत!"

(By narrating stories of animals and birds to children, it will plant the seeds of adventure and skill; convince women folk on the key to happiness in married life; convey secrets of national aspiration to the youth; guide elders to achieve contented life and by doing all this will not let any of them realise how and when it was done. This is the work of this Mayasura. Those who like Yudhishthira have received it are really great!)

(from Rajwade Collected Essays (राजवाडे लेखसंग्रह), editor: Tarkateerth Lakshman-shastri Joshi (संपादक: तर्कतीर्थ लक्ष्मणशास्त्री जोशी), Sahitya Akademi, 1958)

Like Andrew Delbanco above, I don't think Rajwade rated UTC very highly as a novel: 'a literary work of depth and nuance'.

But it's a bit sad that he mentions the book only in relation to the American Civil War.

Didn't he see any need of an Indian UTC considering what we just read in Muktabai's essay? And more so because Rajwade showed some signs of being a Marxist Historian, anticipating D D Kosambi (दामोदर धर्मानंद कोसांबी).

Rajwade mayn't have seen any need but Kolhatkar, a fellow Brahmin of the same sub-caste, did.

While reviewing very popular novel of Hari Narayan Apte's (हरि नारायण आपटे) [1864–1919] 'Pan Lakshat Kon Gheto' (पण लक्षात कोण घेतो?)-published in 1890- he said:

"रा. आपट्यांनी स्त्रियांच्या दुःखाची कहाणी सांगितली आहे तशी मागासलेल्या जातीच्या दुःखाची सांगितल्यास ती मिसेस स्टौच्या 'टॉम काकाची कोठडी' या कादंबरीच्या खालोखाल क्रांतिकारक होईल अशी खात्री वाटते. "

(Mr. Apte has told the story of misery of women, if a similar story can be told of misery of the backward castes it is certain that it would be revolutionary next only to Uncle Tom's Cabin.)

[This is quoted from Keshav Meshram (केशव तानाजी मेश्राम), a prominent Dalit writer's book "Shabdavrat" (शब्दव्रत)].

Sadly for Kolhatkar and all of us, there would be no 'revolutionary-next-only-to-UTC' Marathi novel in his life time. There would be no literary evidence of upper caste Marathi person's capacity to enter into the subjectivity of Dalit people.

There sure was a lot of non-fiction from Jyotirao Phule and others, including upper caste Maharashtrians, but no fiction of UTC's class.

If there were to be one, who knows, social reforms in Maharashtra and India, would have been shaped differently.


'Eliza, cradles a child in her arms'

Artist: Hammatt Billings Courtesy: Illustrating Uncle Tom's Cabin

What a beautiful picture! I liked the stylish dog as much as Eliza and her kid.

Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of UTC: "There is no arguing with pictures and everybody is impressed with them. . ."

Indeed, M'am.