I wanted to conclude the 3-part series on Thakoor’s Reminiscences by showcasing some of his minor comments (those made in passing). I found a few revealing ones. I will try to combine the causal with the polished.
Thakoor spent a few years as a young boy in England. He intended to study in a college but never made it. He says that he never felt cheated in that country. Him being a complete stranger did not matter to the people of England. They trusted him in their daily interactions. He says “those who are trustworthy know how to trust” (p168). I have met some of the most generous and trusting people in the most unexpected circumstances and in different countries. Their wonderful behaviour have made me sustain my confidence in goodwill. Having said that, the England (and the UK) he visited was not as diverse, as mixed, as fascinating, and as troubled a country as it is today. I doubt whether the Trustworthy just trust every stranger they come across in the street. Not in a million years. The trustworthy know how to trust. They also know when, where, and why they should or should not trust. Thakoor’s remarks on Trust may act as a useful anchoring point for us to understand his views on nationhood and citizenship, which are discussed elsewhere (I am yet to read them in his words).
Thakoor did not learn the performing art of music, but his ears were trained enough to appreciate the nuances. While discussing Indian and European music he says “vocal music reaches its perfection when the melodic form is allowed to develop freely…our provincial songs have always been the handmaiden of her sister art of poetry”. Please also see this in light of Thakoor’s confusion about song and poetry (part 2). In passing, he compares the relationship between the lyric and the melodic to that of husband and wife. He says “as in our country the wife rules her husband through acknowledging her dependence, so our music, though professedly in attendance only, ends by dominating the song” (p205). In other words, the wife (the melodic?) dominates the husband (the lyric?) by acknowledging her dependence. In another section he says “the devotion of an Indian wife to her husband is something unique, and not to be found in Europe”. He describes one of his hostesses in England…“I was unable to discern any difference between Mrs. Scott and an ideal Indian wife. She was entirely wrapped up in her husband. With their modest means there was no fussing about of too many servants, and Mrs. Scott attended to every detail of her husband’s wants herself. Before he came back home from his work of an evening, she would arrange his arm-chair and woolen slippers before the fire with her own hands. She would never allow herself to forget for a moment the things he liked, or the behaviour which pleased him……Over and above [her] domestic routine there were the many calls of social duty. After getting through all her daily duties she would join with zest in our evening readings and music, for it is not the least of the duties of a good housewife to make real the gaiety of the leisure hour“. Such remarks make us wonder about Thakoor’s view on Indian women (of the 20th century) and women generally.
Thakoor writes beautifully on the process of growing up as a writer. Any and every young poet and writer will find some solace in reading Thakoor’s view on adolescent writing. I have identified three ingredients (recommended by Thakoor) that help us become better writers and better people.
(i) be truthful to one’s feelings and thoughts
“The nebula is not outside the universe- it merely represents a stage in creation; and to leave out all poetry which has not attained definiteness would not bring us to the truth of literature ….there is a period in man’s life when his feelings are the pathos of the inexpressible, the anguish of vagueness. The poetry which attempts its expression cannot be called baseless- at worst it may be worthless; but it is not necessarily even that. The sin is not in the thing expressed, but in the failure to express it [truthfully]” (p212)
(ii) be at a safe distance from the event/thought that provoked the writing urge
“merely because something has been written when feelings are brimming over, it is not therefore necessarily good…… Just as it does not do to have the writer entirely removed from the feeling to which he is giving expression, so also it does not conduce to the truest poetry to have him too close to it. …Nearness has too much of the compelling about it., and the imagination is not sufficiently free unless it can get away from its influence. Not only in poetry, but in all art, the mind of the artist must attain a certain degree of aloofness- the creator within man must be allowed the sole control. If the subject matter gets the better of the creation, the result is a mere replica of the event, not a reflection of it through the artist’s mind” (p236). I know this first hand. I called my debut collection of Kannada poems as “marada keLagina maLe = the drizzle under a tree”. The rain after the actual rain, the afterthought (the brooding over) is essential. The temporal (more than spatial) distance is critical for a writer if he wants to attain clarity of thought. Having said that, the comments we make in passing (in jest) reveal a lot more about who we are. It helps if we can recollect what our immediate reactions were if we wish to present them as such.
(iii) be prepared to wander away from the norm once in a while
Comparing the development of a writer to the evolution of Earth, Thakoor says “the very earth in spite of its having aged considerably surprises us occasionally by its departure from sober stability; in the days of its youth, when it had not become hardened and crusty, it was effusively volcanic and indulged in many a wild escapade. In the days of man’s first youth the same sort of thing happens. So long as the materials which go to form his life have not taken on their final they are apt to be turbulent in the process of their formation” (p149-150). I read this as Thakoor’s foundational philosophy about writing. Do remember that the whole book is about childhood and its fascinations. As I have mentioned earlier (see part 1) we grow up and we lose our fascination towards everything around us (the custard apple seeds always germinate and there is nothing miraculous about that). If our writing has to succeed, if we want to get better as we get older, we should be prepared to let the imagination go wild occasionally. This was the norm when we were young. Ageing affects our thought for sure. We become sober and set in our ways. But, we will benefit if our sober stability is stirred up occasionally. The ageing Earth relives her past through convulsions in the form of volcanic eruptions, floods, and tremors. She creates new things and regains her equilibrium in time (for her, not us). She has seen several new beginnings in her long (4.6 billion years), turbulent life. Why shouldn’t we in our short lives?