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."

Thursday, July 14, 2011

G G Agarkar knew whether there was Hell or not

Today is 155th birth anniversary of Gopal Ganesh Agarkar (गोपाळ गणेश आगरकर ).

The Funeral of Shelley by Louis Édouard Fournier, 1889 courtesy: History Today

A prominent English obituary trumpeted:

"Shelley the Atheist is dead. Now he knows whether there is Hell or not."

(from 'The best poems of the English language/ from Chaucer through Frost' Selected with commentary by Harold Bloom, 2004)


Arthur Schopenhauer:

For whence did Dante take the materials of his hell but from our actual world And yet he made a very proper hell out of it. But when, on the other hand, he came to describe heaven and its delights, he had an insurmountable difficulty before him, for our world affords no materials at all for this. . . ,

Ram Jethmalani:

“If I had been a judge I would not sentence Kasab to death for a different reason. It is only by remaining in the hell of an Indian jail that he would realise that what the Mullahs told him is false.
Long stay in an Indian prison will detoxify him of all the superstitions and illusions instilled into him.”

George Orwell:

"Progress is not an illusion, it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing. There is always a new tyrant waiting to take over from the old — generally not quite so bad, but still a tyrant. Consequently two viewpoints are always tenable. The one, how can you improve human nature until you have changed the system? The other, what is the use of changing the system before you have improved human nature? They appeal to different individuals, and they probably show a tendency to alternate in point of time. The moralist and the revolutionary are constantly undermining one another."

त्र्यंबक शंकर शेजवलकर:

"आपल्या तत्वांचा जयजयकार पहाण्यास आगरकर जगले नाहीत याबद्दल जरी अंतःकरणाला चटका लागून राहतो , तरीं आतां त्याबद्दल दुःख करण्याचे कारण नाही. आपला जयजयकार व्हावा यासाठीं आगरकरांनी केंव्हाही फिकीर केली नाही." (जून १५, १९२९)


Gopalrao's life- as sensitively documented by Y D Phadke (य दि फडके) in his 'Agarkar', 1996 (आगरकर)- of just 39 years, reads many times, like the lives of his favourite Shakespeare's tragic heroes.

(Although I love Phadke's book, like all his books, it leaves me hungry for more because the benchmark for a good biography is now quite high.

For instance, I want to know more about the books that shaped Agarkar's world view. He was such an Eklavya-like disciple of John Stuart Mill, son of a Scotsman, that even in his next birth he wanted to be Mill's student and sit at his feet to learn! But did he read two other great Scotsmen- Adam Smith, David Hume and others like Charles Darwin, Michel de Montaigne, Arthur Schopenhauer, Karl Marx, Charles Dickens, Friedrich Nietzsche?

[p.s.- John Gray informs on Sept 21 20011: "The Origin of Species (of Darwin) appeared in the same year as John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty (1859), but the most influential liberal humanist (who died in 1873) never mentioned Darwin in his seminal works." If he had, Agarkar would have surely read Darwin!]

Agarkar rated The Bard ahead of Bhavabhuti (भवभूति) and Kālidāsa. He translated Hamlet into Marathi- 'Vikarvilasit' (विकारविलसित). Although the translation has never been rated highly, it is significant that it was one of the first translations of the Bard into Marathi and that Agarkar, a secular humanist, was attracted to 'Hamlet'.

(Appreciate how a nationalist opposing the British had no hesitation openly embracing a British artist ahead of the two of India's best. )

Like P B Shelley, Agarkar was an atheist.

However, I feel he was more like a Cultural Hindu, the way Richard Dawkins describes himself as Cultural Christian. (Cultural Christian is a broad term used to describe people with either ethnic or religious Christian heritage who may not believe in the religious claims of Christianity, but who retain an affinity for the culture, art, music, and so on related to it.)

Agarkar did not 'waste' time reading the Puranas and other religious books but enjoyed attending a performance of Kirtan (कीर्तन).

Phadke tells a funny story.

A Kirtan artist Narayanbua Ghamande (नारायणबुवा घमंडे) was well aware of atheism of Agarkar and used to be surprised not just to find him in his audience but concentrating hard on the discourse. Ghamande used to tell his friends: "That Mahar alone was paying attention to the Kirtan" (तो महार तेवढा एकटा लक्ष देऊन कीर्तन ऐकत होता.)

[The term 'Mahar' was used derogatorily by Mr. Ghamande. I wonder if real Mahars (Dalits) were allowed to attend his kirtans because they were then NOT allowed to use municipal water tanks meant for Brahmins.

I also wonder what other attendees of the kirtan used to do. Ogle at women in the audience? My mother's mother used to complain how some men- all Brahmin- used to behave naughtily, even shamelessly, at Kirtans! Watch 'Ghashiram Kotwal' (घाशीराम कोतवाल) for a demo.]

On May 12 1881, there was a get-together of the past and the present students of Deccan college. It was attended by Mahadev Govind Ranade (महादेव गोविंद रानडे), Lokhitwadi (लोकहितवादी) Gopal Hari Deshmukh, Agarkar among others.

In the gathering, there was a public debate on the issues related to religion.

Agarkar argued in a spirited speech: religious belief is a source of misery and is suspicious and hence should be abandoned and atheism should be embraced. (धर्मवाद दुखःमूलक आणि संशयपूर्ण आहे. यासाठी तो मुळीच सोडून देऊन नास्तिक पंथ धरावा.)

We can guess what Agarkar based this upon: "religion of humanity"-the secular humanist creed imbibed by Mill from the French positivist thinker Auguste Comte, which aimed to replace the traditional faiths of the West with a belief in human progress. (It's interesting to speculate: Had Agarkar lived till 1930's, what would he have thought of the crimes of Nazism and Communism, knowing that a type of atheism was at the core of both of them.)

Lokhitwadi replied: "Since religion is yoked to man's heart, it's not going to be affected even a little by empty threats of an atheist. In fact, because it is challenged, it will shine even more." (ज्य़ा अर्थी धर्मतत्व मनुष्याच्या अंतःकरणाशी खिळून आहे त्या अर्थी नस्तिकाच्या पोकळ धमकीनं त्यास लेशभरदेखील धक्का बसणार नाही. उलट हे धर्मतत्व कसास लागून अधिकच चमकू लागेल.)

(I am an absolute sucker for the 19th century Marathi that has been quoted above...its vigour, its strength, its confidence, its brevity, its vocabulary... Read another example of it here. But sometimes it degenerated beyond any civility as described here.)

How prescient Lokhitwadi has turned out to be!

In year 2011, in India, religion is going as strong as ever. Maybe noisier, and perhaps less tolerant.

Even in the West, as John Gray says: "Everyone believed the world was becoming steadily more secular. Yet on 11 September war and religion were as deeply intertwined as ever they had been in human history. The terrorists were foot soldiers in a new war of religion."

Gopal Ganesh Agarkar (14/7/1856- 17/6/1895)

Artist: Gopal Damodar Deuskar (1911-1994)

courtesy: Deccan Education Society and Fergusson College, Pune

Now this is a beautiful portrait of Agarkar.

But did Agarkar look like this? Does the picture reflect Agarkar's Shakespearean-Tragic-Hero qualities?

I am not sure. Some of the descriptions of Agarkar's looks are not very kind. The late Mr. Deuskar never saw him.

G G Agarkar knew that there was Hell because he experienced it right here on the earth.

No, I am not talking about his ugly feuds with B G Tilak.

It was located in Dongri (डोंगरी) prison in South Mumbai where he was jailed for 101 days in 1882. He wasn't a political prisoner, a la Jawaharlal Nehru's imprisonment in 1942-1946 at Ahmednagar, and also wasn't treated anything like 2G and Commonwealth-Games-2010 scamsters in 2011.

He, B G Tilak (बाळ गंगाधर टिळक) and two others shared a cell of 13 sq ft! (Is '13' a typo in Phadke's book? According to Wikipedia modern subway standards specify 3 square feet for rush-hour standees. So four of them took 12 sq ft standing!) They were each given an iron pot for excretion. They had to stay in the cell from 5:30 PM to 6:30 AM each day along with their pots. A single flat stone was a common bed.

Agarkar used to often get runny nose and didn't have even a good hanky to wipe mucus. Food was unpalatable, more so because Tilak-Agarkar didn't eat onion and garlic. For first 25 days, they were denied any access to books and writing material.

Most of us, if not prison, are familiar with other forms of hell.


‘I never expected hell to be as bad as this.’

Artist: (I am guessing) Paul Wood Courtesy: The Spectator