Murali Sivaramakrishnan belongs to that rare breed of the vanishing (rather vanished) tribe of English teachers who are well-equipped with a strong foundation in the Indic spiritual tradition. Sturdily armed with a Sanskrit orientation, he approaches the territory of Indian aesthetics that angels dare not tread. It is common knowledge that the primary source of this discipline is thevedas and the upanisads. All great creations of art are the supreme emanation from the heart filled with rasanubhava. We do have a hoary tradition of aestheticians extending from Bharata of the fifth century BC down to Panditharaja Jagannatha of the 17th century who have thought long and thought deeply on what constitutes the nature and mode of existence of a work of art. The western critical tradition cannot pride itself of such unbroken continuity. There is a yawning unbridgeable gap of 10 centuries between the decline and fall of the Roman empire in the fourth century A.D. and the European renaissance of the 14th century, the interim medieval age relegating arts as unwanted baggage in its over-insistence on religion.
This book is an attempt, in the words of the author, “to reread the contribution of the mystic in the light of contemporary scholarship,” with an approach that is “holistic and integral, methodology not derivative but comparative, and poetically sensitive.” The work, a collection of articles previously published during 1993-2011 in various journals, is divided into four major sections in 11 chapters with an addition of two personal, contemplative musings — for me the best of the lot — and a select bibliography. Of these, the section ‘Aesthetics’ is of immediate concern to us. Murali is quick to realise the distinction between the aesthetics of the West and the East. Indian aesthetics centres on supra-sensual values since it is impossible to comprehend the finite without extending it to the infinite.
For Sri Aurobindo, the object of human existence is brahmananda, the delight of being and hence progress in life lies not in rejecting beauty and delight or practising a life of denial but in rising from a lower to a higher plane in the realisation of the experience of beauty and delight. The aesthetic process lies in the soul becoming conscious of its pilgrimage towards God. He envisions the possibility of the human to enlarge his awareness to the ultimate stage of Divine Supraconsciousness.
Murali maintains that Sri Aurobindo’s aesthetics is integral in nature and spiritual in its conception. Life is viewed in its entirety and in its all-inclusiveness. He steers clear of two attitudes: the materialist’s rejection of anything behind the phenomenal appearance and the ascetic’s refusal to accept the material reality of the world. These two stand as the major obstacles to a comprehensive awareness which is possible only through an integration of Life and Spirit into a cosmic continuum. “To become complete in being, in consciousness of being, in force of being, in delight of being and to live in this integrated completeness is the divine living” says Sri Aurobindo in his The Life Divine. Murali coins the phrase ‘the aesthetics of transformation’ to denote this stage in the evolutionary process, in the Arnoldian sense of ‘a growing and a becoming, and not a being and a resting.’
Murali advises us that while approaching the works of Sri Aurobindo we should bear in mind the following: “his distinction of the subtler levels of spirituality from overt religion and its discourses; his foregrounding of the intensity and necessity of experiential yoga…; his constant involvement with poetry and the power of the Word — the mantra”. His concept of the efficacy of the mantra, the poetic expression of the deepest spiritual reality, which he formulates at great length in his magnum opus The Future Poetry is vital to the Aurobindonian spiritual aesthetics which is all about the wholesale transformation of the inner-self (body, mind and spirit) and not, not at all, of the tawdry fripperies of external existence.
Most of these essays deal with Sri Aurobindo’s search for enlightenment, his recovery of the significant principles of ancient aesthetics embedded in our scriptures. Ideas and illustrations get repeated time and again; hence there is a noticeable lack of progression in the elucidation of Sri Aurobindo’s aesthetics. It is none too easy to guide the reader through the labyrinth of the works of the great mystic. Murali draws heavily from the abundant source available in our scriptures. However there remain some nagging questions which an uninitiated reader is bound to raise. How does an aesthetic experience get immediately intuited? What is the locus of such an experience? Does it offer a terminal value? What is aesthetic judgment? Or aesthetic bliss? Probably such overt pragmatism is irrelevant and unwarranted in the context of Aurobindo’s synthetic vision. One searches for the ‘New Directions’ promised in the title of the book. Whither are they?
Book Review by MS Nagarajan in The Hindu July 1st 2014
Partitions Post-Amnesias books and literature— Book Review in the Hindu, 4th February 2014 by Murali Sivaramakrishnan
A backward glance at the intertwined Partition-impacted history of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh
A people without history, as the poet TS Eliot wrote, are not redeemed in time; for history is a pattern of timeless moments. And as historians very well know, beneath the surface texture of regions forced into existence as separate nations there are these deep traces of extreme traumatic events marked by violence, displacement, and multiple alienations. In the context of celebrating India’s 65th Republic day the time and temperament are equally well set for us to cast a backward glance at the intertwined history of the three nations of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Weaving through personal memory, family history, lesser known texts, and narratives of the regions of South Asia that were historically constituted into these three nations, Ananya Jahanara Kabir has documented a text of post-traumatic recollections cutting across regions, communities and languages. Partition’s Post-Amnesias, as her title implicates, locates itself within the frames of 1947 and 1971 (when Bangladesh came into being dislocating itself from Pakistan), and endeavours to trace the dialectic of memory and forgetting. It is a narrative that seeks to retrace the fragile webs of kinship and memory in which individuals remain suspended long after the political and personal events have sent them in different directions across, as the Bengali rhyme goes, “seven oceans and thirteen rivers.” The author now located away from her original home in Cambridge listens to the voice of a Pakistani singer: “Traveller, wipe your tears; return with yourself intact…” Those post-partition’s resonances ferry her across generations and regions, when displacements and dislocations mix into memory, hope and enchantment. The book reads like a memoir, despite its rich texture of quotations and erudite commentaries.
Jahanara Kabir dedicates the book to her grandfather born in 1910, Faridpur, East Bengal, who died in 1981 in Calcutta, West Bengal; to her father, Zugul Kabir, born in 1941, Faridpur, East Bengal, who died in Calcutta, West Bengal; to her nephew born in Wales, 2011… “Imbued with the perfume of lime blossoms!” (Kazi Nazrul Islam) The core of the book divided into two parts — with a Prologue and a theoretically dense Introduction leading up to it, and a Conclusion entitled “Darjeeling Tea” endeavouring to provide a connectivity to the forever messy map of a region and people — reveals the heart of two nations which later became three whose histories and destinies were shared. As Jahanara Kabir notes: what my generation share — lie in East Bengal, we do not know; and what we know — life in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India — we do not share.
There are among many things that we in present-day India hold as dear to us as part of our memory of a collective past — the great heritage of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, the fabled learning centre of Taxila (Takaœilâ) and the now destroyed monumental Buddhas of the Bamiyan territory; the list of such treasures of our national memory could be rather long. But these are but the remnants that are tattered and disinherited amidst the vicissitudes of political events which are beyond us. They belong to us and at the same time do not belong to us. In a similar way as Jahanara Kabir shows, thrice partitioned Bengal, together with the partition of Assam, has given rise to a most peculiar kind of cartographic irresolution, and “othered the space” of memory. She wades through Kamila Shamsie’s Kartography, Moni Mohsin‘s The End of Innocence (Pakistani novels in English) and Point of Return by Siddhartha Deb (located in East Pakistan) attempting to piece together a phantom map of regions now cast in different points of history. Partition, as the author claims, was experienced as the wound of the mind for those who experienced it and also for those who escaped it. The breach occurred in the mind’s experience of time, self and the world.
Whether it is through the politics of memory or the poetic of space, on the map or out of place, the narratives of these regions albeit intact are fragmentary just as the author’s own affective energies are dispelled and displaced from her map of three nations. “Through this book I enact my conviction that the boundary between investigation and imagination, between research and creative writing, and between objectivity and subjectivity is as blurred as that fuzzy boundary, now widely acknowledged, between historiography and fiction.” Violence, rape and destruction of entire ways of living are truths that bind the three nations together—the epistemological burdens of narrative memories also trace the broken curve of this spectrum.
In the chapter “Terracotta Memories,” Jahanara unearths the palpable evocations transferred through the variations of red clay as it moves from solid earth through memories and desires. Her contextual references are to MF Husain and KG Subramanyan. The strange and nameless uneasiness that the south-India born Subramanyan (who lived long in Bengal) feels at the sight of monsoon clouds or the song of the koel or the smell of the mango blossoms returns us to a viraha-inflected Fruedian uncanny, as much as when Husain signifies that the earthen pot is an oracular survivor of the destruction of tradition. The struggle of the modern to enervate narrative traditions seizes the vernacular and the seasonal, and terracotta, also a part of this sensorium, as both Husain and Subramanyan recognises, stands out as ephemeral and eternal, resilient and responsive.
The chapter “Archaeography” signals that forgetting is a crucial factor in the creation of a nation but reminds us that regions are contained in remembering. The chapter “The Enchanted Delta” is an excellent reading of Ritwik Ghatak and the fragmented traces of East Bengal.
Throughout her book, Jahanara Kabir, sustains the reader’s interest through her erudition by knitting together insights drawn from a wealth of creative scholarship. The text that she weaves opens up new terrains for the work of memory and narrative. She ends: Darjeeling, Faridpur, Calcutta, Karachi, and Dhaka, will remain forever places on another messy map: that of memories, forgettings, post-memories and post-amnesias. Logically her book does not end there. Because memory believes before knowing remembers! An excellent reading of modern South Asiatic heritage and its traumatic underpinnings.
November 12, 2013 Making sense of human suffering
Disorienting Dharma: Ethics and the Aesthetics of Suffering in the Mahabharata. Emily T. Hudson; Oxford University Press, YMCA Library Building, Jai Singh Road, New Delhi-110001.
Suffering is a natural fact of existence that cannot be wished away or denied. And recognition of this fact is apparently the beginning and end of all human wisdom. Small wonder then, that this problem is highlighted by all great works of literature irrespective of geography, time or culture. And over many years of human history this one narrative strand is maintained by all genuinely sensitive poetic minds, and integrated into their poetic vision.
The Mahabharata of Vyasa is unarguably one of the most significant and poignant works of all times, and as this epic amply bears out in what could be among the most famous of all its poetic statements:“what is here is elsewhere; what is not here is nowhere else.” So huge and complex is its narrative canvas that it encapsulates the very span of human reach. And the entire text is replete with dimensions of human suffering which virtually appear to be endless, and persistent. Suffering then is the prime mover of the aesthetic of the text — an idea that requires a genuinely human-centred and sensitive approach. Emily Hudson has done exactly that and more. Her book is an erudite exploration into the complex web of textures and structures of the aesthetic of suffering and the ethics of dharma in the most tragic of all Indian narratives, the Mahabharata. The strangest and the most elemental characteristic of the epical narrative of Vyasa is that it is so notoriously paradoxical and blatantly reluctant to provide any easy answers to life’s eternal questions. What is explored in the text is the virtual inexhaustibility of all life itself. And what Emily Hudson sets out to do is to expose the triadic relationship of suffering, the idea of dharma, and the aesthetic function of the narrative strategies as they work themselves out in her intensely sensitive reading. To take the cue from the text’s narrative strategies as she artfully argues would lead one to unravel what the text “does” as opposed to simply what it literally “says.”
The book is a delight to pore over — in some places as interesting as the basic text of the Mahabharata itself, for anyone interested in those serious aspects of Indian aesthetics and narratology, where the drama of human suffering is narrated and close-examined under the scanner of societally-evolved dharma.
Five intriguing chapters with a conceptually and critically dense introductory chapter comprise the present book. The idea of Indian narratives is close-examined and the central concepts of dharma anddukha are highlighted. At the very outset, the significance of the Mahabharata as a most important source for the study of South Asian religious, social and political thought, and as a vehicle for transmitting dharma (moral religious and social duty or virtue) is hinted at, and the work approached as a document exposing the societal norms, regulations, ideology and the cardinal issues of a tragic sense of life.
The cardinal issue of the Mahabharata is human suffering seen against the social texture of dharma and thus the central aesthetic experience of the text lies in its epical preoccupations with death, destruction and ruin. In Emily Hudson’s words, this sensibility is the weight of human affliction, which is borne out in the narrative by the continuous line of travails that each character undergoes in the course of the narrative. Indeed, Ugrasravas, one of the principal narrators of the epic declares that after listening to the Mahabharata, one will never despair, even in dire situations. This is in direct line with Hudson’s thesis which goes on to argue that one of Mahabharata’s tasks is to refigure the reader’s understanding of suffering and her own professed engagement in her book is to de-center discussions of ethics in the text from the general topic of dharma and to re-center it on the issue of suffering and the intricacies of its relationship to dharma. Hudson initiates her reading of the Mahabharata through what she establishes as the lynchpin of its narrative: the game of dice and the consequent violation of Draupadi. In her reading she also invokes the characters of Yudhishtra, Dhrtarashtra and Duryodhana and interrogates them in their situational contexts vis-à-vis the plot. There is a certain sense of inevitability in the tale which is always foretold and the perspective constantly is shifting whenever the question of dharma is invoked at any point in the tale. It is as though the narrative is pushing the reader/listener away to a safe distance that affords a wider vision of the human situation. The disconcerting relationship between dharma and suffering is fore-grounded in the intimate aesthetic experience that the sahrdaya undergoes during the ill-fated moment of the dice game, the disrobing of Draupadi and the disastrous consequences thereon to all the characters. Everything that happens leads to the war. As Hudson points out the blind King Dhrtharashtra sees with insight but does not act with it. The purpose of the tale as it unfolds terror and fear in constant succession in the minds of the reader/listener is definitely cathartic. Time itself figures as a character definitive in the scheme of things.
Paul Ricoeur in his Time and Narrative had drawn a distinction between tales of time and tales about time. The Mahabharata is both a tale of time and a tale about time. For at the heart of this tale is its ethical project of refiguring our understanding of suffering.
Emily Hudson’s Disorienting Dharma is in line with other Euro-American scholarly pursuits into Indian ethical and religious ideas like those of Max Weber, Paul Wilmot, David Shulman, Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty and James Fitzgerald. What is generally outstanding is her sensitivity to issues that are culturally and geographically alien to her, and her willingness to take on a text that is absolutely reluctant to provide any straightforward answers to life’s riddles. It is seldom that one comes across genuine scholarship these days like what Emily T. Hudson has exhibited in these pages. Her concern for the larger questions of human life through probing the profounder strands of the narrative textures and her unrelenting commitment to inquire into what each character and each specific situation in the text means at any given time and also to refigure it in the overall order of things, is quite clearly evidenced in her erudite critical reading.
The scene is the cricket match between India and the West Indies during the recent WorldCup. Sachin Tendulkar is batting. He has barely faced a few balls when one races through his arm-pad and lands in the wicket keeper’s gloves. There is no appeal—neither from the bowler nor from the wicket keeper. But Tendulkar is walking toward the pavilion. The players are stumped! And so are the million audiences over the world! Tendulkar realized perhaps that the ball had indeed grazed his forearm and so without waiting for the umpire’s decision he retired. While in the commentary box the erstwhile icons of Indian Cricket Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Sastri debated the issues and virtues of “walking” the play resumed.
Now, we in the present appear to have forgotten the fact that cricket is a game to be played with the sportsman spirit it calls for. In all fairness Tendulkar had demonstrated it albeit the fact that he was playing for a country and that there are enormous amounts of money involved in the whole process. After all, the entire industry of Indian cricket and the business of the World Cup with its whole rigmarole of mega crowds, hoardings, televisions and their ubiquitous commercials, big business offers and betting and so on, revolves round the strategic issue of big money. How could anyone deny that? The spirit of play may be one thing, but the spirit that runs the whole thing is another. In this context what has playing fair and square got to do with the game?
And what is game? What is play? What is fair and square in the field and off the field? All games we must recognize are essentially sport, which entails entertainment, recreation, and exercise primarily. There is a whole history of human sports that would trace its evolution from the primordial ritual to the contemporary scenario of big Capitalist business. There is also the implied connection with war and destruction and domination: all contemporary games at the international level (and even at its minor levels) are perhaps symbolic versions of battles and wars—a mockery of the all consuming, vindictive passions of the human being!
Game, Sports, Play—almost synonymous, but each are descriptive of different issues. Game as it is usually understood, is something innocuous, non-violent, played out for the sheer pleasure of it all, and for the most enjoyable and involving little or no disastrous physical violence. It has a beginning, middle and an end—there is a marked difference between the before and after in terms of the protagonists as well as the spectators; above all there is entertainment and enjoyment for all in a game. Sports I would categorize in the similar manner as one that involves outdoor, physical activities, for the most. Entertainment and enjoyment there is, no doubt. There is a game in Sport and there is a sport in game as well. But the point is that all games and sports have their own set of rules which are purely arbitrary, having evolved over the years over cultures and times. In simplistic terms we could even state that all games and sports are products of sets of rules—they keep varying of course, but their visible presence (read umpires, referees, field book etc) and invisible presence (read time, place, action etc) account for the structure of all games and sports. However, the concept of play is something rather loose. It has a structure, no doubt, but this is an ambiguous, amorphous and protean structure, very loose and almost a non-entity, as when children get together and play about.
All three words have conceptual backgrounds; their own socio-political, cultural, economic and historical dimensions too. The proto game-sport-play is of course shrouded in human prehistory. It has necessarily evolved over many centuries. One could trace its graph from ritual to the romance of the Capitalist market economics of the present. However, there are these sets of rules that govern the logic and pattern of the game that is disrupted if not observed in practice. Rules, we recognize are invisible (or visible as the case may be)–threads that govern, condition and control all sports and games. The rules themselves are arbitrary and not nor never absolute, and this is what makes sports and games entertainment. For instance from the long colonial structure of a five day test match (with a rest day in between) how far has cricket come these days! When Kerry Packer invited major players to a fifty-over limited version of the game there was so much hue and cry over the sanctity of the test match structure and its disruption. Nothing sanctified was violated but the limited over cricket game evolved and attracted more viewers and audience. Commerce and market caught on and the television and technology supplemented the game. From there to the twenty-twenty rules and regulations have been altered and amended from time to time: nothing has remained inviolable, everything was open to transformation, change. All it required was convenience, consent and consensus. All rules are subject to change, very much like human history. We play on.
Jacques Derrida the harbinger of deconstruction—a veritable destructive and reconstructive practice of re-reading and reinterpreting interpretations themselves—initiated the whole issue of recognizing the play element in human sciences while delivering a significant address in the mid sixties in the Johns Hopkins University in the US [See Jacques Derrida, “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,” Alan Bass, tr. Writing and Difference (1966), pp. 278-95)]. According to him, human history (read western history of ideas) has been one structured round the idea of centre and periphery. It has been a virtual centre that has potentially ruled, manipulated and conditioned the structured thinking of the human being (read western). The invisibility of a centre that could be transcendentally present within a system maintaining the stability of the system without undergoing any change in itself has been the mainstay of western history of ideas. There have been no doubt many attempts to overthrow or discard this centre but for the most these attempts have been toward replacements rather than any displacements. As Derrida demonstrated, western history of ideas has revolved round such invisible centres. If one were to think of the idea of a god as the centre, one could almost logically close off all doubtful positions—all elements within the circle of the invisible structures are created, organized and maintained by god, and while he/she is at the indispensible centre all else is locked. The various elements within this system cannot bring any change to the centre, while they themselves could be changed. From Derrida’s reading the process of western structural change has been from god as the centre through science and rationality in turn replacing god as the centre. There has been virtually no change in the system even when such transplanting take place. This could perhaps account for the system’s stability. It is however when the element of play enters that a new discourse comes to be created. When the centre remains invisible and unaltered play is possible for all elements within a given structure. But this is playing within the structured rules of the game—playing fair and square. This element of play could be unending if one could imagine a structure without a centre, because then all the elements with and without the system would be constantly in a state of play! This just like a kindergarten class-room without a teacher in the middle! Utter chaos? Sheer confusion? But a recognition of total freedom, no doubt! However, the moment the teacher enters the class-room the system is restored to its harmonious structure.
The implications of Derrida’s concepts can be seen in close examining a totalizing situation where everything is dictatorially controlled and maintained. Human freedom is at stake here. So then, play reintroduces the element of human freedom, the recognition of the very condition of human existence. This is play at its extreme. When all totalizing systems collapse (like the state withering away) then the extreme conditions of entertainment and ecstasy would be revealed in play. We have come very far from the idea of play we started out with. But we are armed with new insights. When Tendulkar walked away from the crease he probably never even dreamed of all these possibilities. He was playing fair and square on the green fields! But he was also making a statement that rules and regulations are invisibly present in the game and this sport is essentially a play that needed to be played out within a structure– an arbitrary system– that is always open-ended. Many new transformations could be padded on to these rules—much could be changed, but for the most there is an implied idea of entertainment and ecstasy within a set of rules at a given time—all players have to adhere to that. Some of course play fair and square, others might wait for the umpires to dismiss them—still others would appeal to the third umpire loaded with his techno-tools and rule-books and strategic calculations. But the point of it all: heroes are made within the set of invisible rules– to play well is sometimes strategically to break the rules, to go beyond the boundaries, but the play within the imaginary rules is sometimes even more magnificent.
The text of Dr Murali Sivaramakrishnan’s speech in which he has discussed the contribution of Dr. Prema Nandakumar and Ms. Shraddhavan in the field of research and English language follows:
‘In English we use a phase which goes like “To carry coal to new castle” which means when one goes to new castle one does not carry coal. So when I come to SACAR and this might appear rather overburdened if I try to introduce either Prema Nandakumar or Shraddhavan because I don’t know them. I know very little about them. In fact I know so little, when I look all around you, most of you know more about them than I do because I am familiar with their work. As persons I have not had the occasion to meet either Sri Aurobindo or the Mother but I came to Sri Aurobindo through the work of Srinivasa Iyengar. Prof. Iyengar has been a kind of eye-opener for me. Then I started working on Sri Aurobindo. I am sure Prema-ji started working on Sri Aurobindo ten years before I was born even, I think, because in the 1950s, she was working on Savitri. In 1957 she started working and by around I think 1960 when she finished her book—her monumental work—I was just a kid. Eventually, when I came to do my work so many years later, her book on Savitri was a piece of revelatory sort of experience for me and that I found quite challenging in two ways because I have always felt that the work of Sri Aurobindo needs to be read in multiple dimensions at the same time. Of course we have Sri Aurobindo as the rebel; we have Sri Aurobindo as the creative writer; we have Sri Aurobindo as the political thinker, the historian, the sociologist, the person who has interpreted the Vedas and the Upanishads, a scholar extraordinary who also participated in the freedom movement of India; we have to see him and his work in a multiple sort of dimension and the kind of comparative element that both Dr. Prema Nandakumar and Shraddhavan provided, I think, were real eye-openers for me specially her work in comparing Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri with Homer’s epic which I don’t think anybody in the history of the world would have attempted because here is a work which is the longest work in the English language—Savitri with 24,000 odd lines—which happens to be the longest work available in the English language barring perhaps Nikos Kazantzakis’ Odyssey: A Modern Sequel which runs into 33,333 lines. So if you consider that as a translation, here is an original work in English which is the longest work and to compare that with another epic of multiple dimensions like Homer’s Odyssey or Iliad is something which a person with genuine intellectual and at the same time spiritual calibre can attempt. And that is what I found most intriguing in the work of Dr. Prema Nandakumar. So, it is a pleasure to talk about the work of somebody who has actually cleared the way or paved the way or made new wood in the scholarship in relating epics of two separate cultures, two separate cultural backgrounds, two separate idioms. So this is what I found most intriguing about Dr. Nandakumar’s work.
‘And of course Prof. Kittu Reddy has already mentioned Bharati’s translation. That is something which I wanted to cite also. Of course there is a big debate going on in the Tamil circle in support of Dr. Prema Nandakumar’s translation of Bharati; that apart if we were to look at the selections which she had made, it is not the entire corpus of Bharati of course. But whatever she has done with her discerning eye that, I think, is something which has come from her own reading of Sri Aurobindo’s work because Sri Aurobindo has specifically said that the critical eye that operates in poetry is almost superior to the critical eye that operates on poetry. So in that way she has been able to bring together the critical eye in separate perceptions and to be discerning to identify the kind of noteworthy work of Bharati. That, I think, is a good introduction. More than that Prema Nandakumar has done extensive work in bringing Tamil writings and brining regional and discursive elements of a particular cultural ethos in which Sri Aurobindo himself lived. Forty odd years he lived here in Pondicherry and that is something which is amazing for us because he never left Pondicherry. He has continued to be here and he has also translated Andal; he has done some tremendous attempts in bringing together so many other works which were around him. I don’t know whether he was aware of Tamil language, whether he could speak…’
Dr. Prema Nandakumar said: ‘He knew Tamil language. It is there. And he readPanchali-Shabdnam. He was the first to translate Kulasekhara Alwar into English.
Dr. Murali Sivaramakrishnan continued: ‘So that way Prema Nandakumar has been able to bring together a totally different cultural ethos into the study of Sri Aurobindo and she has been able to distribute, or rather, been able to bring together these elements into the discourse of Sri Aurobindo and other scholarship around Sri Aurobindo. To that extent, I think, her work is most admirable. And I am a person who loves to look at her work from a distance and I think I have great respect for Dr. Prema Nandakumar. Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to honour her.
‘To talk about Shraddhavan: I know that Shraddhavan came here in early 1970s perhaps. Before that she has been a poet in the English language and I have had many occasions to sit near her and talk to her of British poetry. And I was always taken in by the astuteness and the clarity of the rhythms and eloquence of poetry that she has been able to pick up. She had told me that she had worked in the lines of Charles Tomlinson, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, W. H. Davies and I could hear the reverberations of the late Modernist and the late romantic British poetry. I consider that as a romantic poetry because Ted Hughes was somebody who revived or brought together Tomlinson, W. H. Davies and others who brought together a sort of a romantic element in the line of British poetry back into the flavor bringing together the human and the non-human elements. That, I think, Shraddhavan has brought into me new shraddha. Shraddhavan has been a kind ofshraddha for me through her writings. And I have followed her English in SriAurobindo’s Savitri. [To Shraddhavan] That is an essay a part of which you had presented at my department when you came there—The Englishness of Savitri.
‘I don’t know whether many of you here are familiar with the kind of controversial work written in the late 1970s which is called The Pedigree of Savitri. I am surprised. Even at SACAR I don’t think you have that essay. It is a controversial essay which actually most counter to… Are you familiar with that by any chance?The Pedigree of Savitri? When I read that essay I was working on Sri Aurobindo in the early 1980s. I came here in 1986 and I was working in the Ashram Archives. There I found this particular reference and then I had to go to Hyderabad to dig up in the Osmania University journals and I came across that article. I found that Shraddhavan’s work on Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri and language actually brings together the lost connection between Sri Aurobindo and European early modernist poetry. At many times I always felt that Sri Aurobindo was somebody who was unable to communicate with the rest of the world. Poet and a person who lives in the present has to always have a kind of connection with what is happening outside. One cannot be a recluse all the while. Sri Aurobindo was never a recluse. You know, I have always defended this view-point. Many people have said: “Oh, here is a man who has chickened out in the phase of action, who has already moved away and who stayed at Pondicherry in the French resort.” They said that he did not want to step out in the British eye because he was afraid of action. But I also wrote a little bit in Sri Aurobindo’s Action and there I have tried to bring together this attitude of action and inaction and the kind of withdrawal that Sri Aurobindo did. So Sri Aurobindo was somebody who was all the time exposed to the multiple elements around him at manyplaces. He was open to that. He always liked to look at what was happening outside. And Shraddhavan has been able to pick up the element of the quality of language, the tonal variation and the subtle nuances of the English language which Sri Aurobindo carried with him as a remnant of his European learning. And that is something which she has been able to link with the spiritual quality of the language. I have read many other scholars trying to expound the quality of spiritual resonance in Sri Aurobindo’s poetry but Shraddhavan’s shraddha has been unwavering and steady. And I don’t think there is any other person who deserves this award in the present other than these two people.
‘So it is a great honour for me to be able to share whatever I feel about these two Masters who have led the way and opened up their way for people like us who like to see the quality of poetry and philosophy at the same time. Thank you very much.’