If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Thursday, 26 July 2012

A treatise on happiness

Rabindra Nath Tagore

[Tagore's Chhinnapatra or Torn letters is a fascinating collection of letters written when he was in his late twenties and early thirties. This is the second piece of translation from the collection.]

If you wish to really appreciate something, you need to segregate it with walls of free time around it. You can feel it within yourself completely by allowing it to grow on you, by spreading it all around. One of the main reasons why you adore letters from friends when you are alone in a small town is that there is free time to soak in every word, every character of the letters completely, like little droplets. Your imagination grows around them like creepers – you can feel it growing for quite some time. If you become greedy and try to rush, you’ll be deprived of that pleasure. The desire for happiness travels so fast that at times it overtakes happiness itself, and destroys everything in seconds. When you are preoccupied with land deals and litigations, you don’t ever appreciate any letter, you feel there isn’t enough to satiate your appetite.  The older I grow, the more I realise, to what extent you will receive depends on your ability. It is pointless to complain about how much others can give, the point is how much I can receive. It takes a lot of training, education, and arduous efforts to take hold of whatever is within our reach. We spend three-fourths of our life to acquire the skill, and after that, not much time is left to reap benefits of the training. This is the first chapter of The Treatise on Happiness.

2 July 1893

Translated on Thursday, 26 July 2012 at Kolkata

Friday, 20 July 2012

The village school those days was great

Dr Jayaprakash Narayan

[Dr Jayaprakash Narayan, a former IAS officer, is the founder of Lok Satta Party, a political party that stands for “new politics for the new generation”.

In India today, when we think of education, we usually think of upmarket business schools, foreign universities operating here, smart classrooms and so on …. This article, copied from the website of the party and slightly abridged, offers a different perspective.]

I studied in a Telugu-medium government school in a village called Godavarru near Vijayawada. There was no electricity, toilet or running water at my old aunt’s house where I lived away from my parents during school years. I left school (after tenth grade) in 1969 at the age of 13. In those days it was not uncommon for kids to enter school at three.

A friend of mine, a brilliant cardiologist now, finished school at 12! Despite the young age and spartan life, my school years had a profound impact on my life and attitudes.

The village school in those days was great. The infrastructure was inadequate; but the community owned the school, and all kids – rich or poor – went to the same school.

The teachers were competent and committed. They inspired and encouraged us. Amazingly, we could question and challenge teachers. The school was a true institution with a sense of purpose and played a vital role in village life. In sports, I was the slowest kid.

We played kho-kho and kabaddi. A few who had bats played ball-badminton. We never saw a shuttle cock. I never heard the names ‘cricket’ and ‘hockey’ until I left school! But we had a Boy Scouts group, and greatly enjoyed the signals, codes and many other pleasures of a boy scout.

My village teachers kindled great interest [and] allowed me to work at my own pace. When I found the text books not challenging enough, I was encouraged to do exercises from Hall & Knight (Math), and Wren & Martin (English grammar). We could point out our teachers’ errors without fear. When I look back, schooling in that village laid superb foundations for our future lives.

There were regular inspections by the DEO. I vividly remember an amusing incident. We had a great Telugu teacher. He was a master of the classics, and taught us with passion. On the day of inspection, we decorated the school with confetti. Our Telugu teacher was in class, and we were waiting for the inspector.

One kid stood up and showed a little finger. The teacher promptly said, “Why are you scared? We (the teachers) should be nervous when the inspector comes, not you!” We all found it hilarious.

My science teacher actually demonstrated experiments in our small lab. He even wanted to show the anatomy of frog by dissecting it. I was entrusted with the task of getting a frog to class. A friend and I, with some difficulty, caught a toad (we thought it was a frog). I then visited a clinic in Kankipadu and borrowed some chloroform in a small bottle. The teacher, to our wonder, had put the toad to sleep by sprinkling a bit of chloroform, and dissected it and showed its digestive system. I wonder how many fancy schools today give such exposure to kids!

One English teacher always scolded me for my refusal to learn essays by rote, and for my insistence on writing in my own words. I refused to comply with his instructions. In exasperation, he said I would never score more than 75% in public examination. I got exactly 75! But I never regretted it.

All in all, our schooling was fun. It gave us a chance to fulfil our potential and make something of our lives. It is a pity; forty three years later, many many kids don’t have the opportunity we had in village India of 1960’s.

18 Jul 2012

Thursday, 12 July 2012

The torn letter

[Rabindranath Tagore’s Chhinnapatra (literally, The torn letter) is a collection of letters written by him to a niece when he was between 26 and 34 years of age. Tagore wrote them while he was travelling extensively in East and North Bengal and in Orissa on family business.

A friend has recently given me a book on Rabindranath, Kabir Swadharma (The poet’s own religion) written by a noted scholar, Sourindra Mitra.

Sourindra Mitra, who passed away in 1989, wrote: “There is no dearth of famous and great books in the treasure trove of Bengali literature, but there is only one about which the term intimate can be used.” Mitra felt Chhinnapatra was a book that was intimate in the way Walt Whitman had described one of his own books of poetry: “Who touches this touches a man”.

Being nearly illiterate, I hadn’t read Tagore’s Torn letters earlier. I opened the book this morning, and was fascinated by the first piece that I randomly read. Allow me to share a translation with you.]

2 December 1892

Went to M’s place yesterday. In the evening, all of us went out for a walk. I quite liked the path flanked by fields on either side. The endless empty fields of Bangladesh, and the sun setting behind the trees on the margin … such profound peace, such quiet compassion! What an affection-laden bonding between our own earth and the faraway sky! There is some humongous eternal sadness about the universe – it reveals itself when a shaft of absent light falls on the forsaken earth of the evening – what an eloquent silence fills the earth and the sky. As one looks at it intently for a long time, one feels if this infinite stillness could not hold itself any longer, if suddenly, its eternal language exploded into audible sound, what deep, sombre, calm, beautiful, gentle music would reverberate from the earth to the stars. It actually happens. If we quietly concentrate and try, we can translate the collective harmony of all the lights and shades of the world into fascinating music. One only has to close one’s eyes and in their mind, listen to the reverberations of the endless stream of visual images of the world. But how many times will I write about sunrise and sunset! I can experience it anew every day, but how can I express it in a new way every day?

Translated on Thursday, 12 July 2012

[i] In Rajshahi, Bangladesh