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«31 SOME REFLECTIONS ON MY LIFE’S SONNET: THE CLOSING CHAPTER I saw Eternity the other Night like a great ring of pure and endless light, all calm ...»

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I saw Eternity the other Night

like a great ring of pure and endless light,

all calm as it was bright,

and round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years,

driven by the sphere

like a vast shadow moved; in which the world

and all her train were hurled.

Henry Vaughan

The song that I came to sing remains unsung to this day.

I have spent my days in stringing and in unstringing my instrument.

Rabindranath Tagore Geetanjali ‘I intended an Ode,/And it turned into a Sonnet’ Austin Dobson I At the confluence of the past and the present I have seen over years how my frail self has rowed its canoe through the peaceful, slow moving rivulets into stormy seas whose waves it could survive only by God’s grace. After my retirement, I felt to withdraw to my first love, literature. I recalled the day, sometime in 1960, when, on being selected to pursue my study at Cambridge, perhaps at Christ’s College, I toyed with the idea of spending sometime under that mulberry tree in whose thick bower John Milton had composed hisLycidas (1637). I had discovered inLycidas answers to problems which off and on had vexed me. I was in a frame of mind which most often gnaws many in their early years: how to decide which way to go when at a crossover point. For more than three decades in the Government service, I remained busy in the affairs pertaining to kings and cabbages. I felt, this Pegasus had become a rocking-horse. But that faded world has remained ever present in my inner oeuvre from which I keep on drawing both inspiration and solace. Sitting in my balcony of the MS Flat at Shah Jahan Road, New Delhi, I was trying to see before my mind’s eye the course I was destined to adopt in my post-retirement years till 530


the call to return comes from the Supreme Commander of the Universe. Besides, I knew that if a boat stops moving, when it is through eddies and swirls of waves, it trembles, even capsizes: so it must move on. On the morrow of my retirement, in 1998, I recalled the Kanchenjunga which I had seen, both when it was dawn, and when it was dusk, marking the shifting patterns of light and shade creating illusions of various shapes. What I have seen of life before and after my retire- ment, has brought to my mind Bohr’s idea of complementarity which was suggested by certain mountain peaks he had seen in Japan. His disciple L.

Rosenfeld had oncedescribed such scenes in these lines:

“At sunset the top of Fujiyama disappeared behind a curtain of goldfringed clouds: the black mass of the mountain, surmounted by this fulgent crown, conveyed an impression of awe and majesty. On the next morning, it offered an entirely different spectacle: the pointed summit alone, covered with shinning snow, emerged from the dense mist filling the valley; the landscape was radiating gladness and joy.

So, Bohr mused, the two half-mountains together are not simply equal to a mountain: to each belongs a peculiar, individual impression, and the two are complementary.” I had seen much of life from a set track over decades, now time had came for me to see things from a changed observation-post. On the morrow of my retirement I felt I was hurled onto the cusp trying to solve existential conundrum.

My mind had become a chrysalis: the idea to write this Memoir sprung in my mind at that time.

My Three Passions In the Chapter 3 of this Memoir ( ‘Profile of my Father’), I had quoted some lines from Bertrand Russell’s Autobiography in which he summarized, with crisp

candour, the three passions for which he had lived, and worked:

“Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life:

the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.” I know my life has neither that plenitude, nor that profundity. But I know that even a glow-worm can have good grounds to think that the flickering light that inheres in it is great as it is an infinitesimal part of the Sun that makes the whole heavens luminous.

When I muse on the heaps of gone moments, when I cast a bird’s-eye view on the peaks and valleys I have seen, trudged, and crossed, I feel that even this humble self has gone through his years, in some ways at least, not much different from Bertrand Russell’s to whom I am infinitely indebted, and eternally grateful. When an ordinary person, like me, claims some similitude with the views of a person at such a lofty height in eminence, he himself feels flabbergasted, and knows not how to express himself. The words of John Milton (in Paradise Lost) creep into mind to liberate, and yet to enmesh. It is not unnatural if he finds himself on the edge of.....that Serbonian Bog, ‘Twixt Damiata and Mount Casius old, Where armies whole have sunk.


My Memoir : An Overview ‘The Fragrant Years’ broods over what could be the best in love that suffused my early years the fragrance of which has continued in mind to save me from the torrents of negative feelings, and to sustain me even when life cast me in some sort of gas chamber. Those moments have spread before my mind’s eyes the rich rose petals on which I have read and enjoyed the lyrics which my Destiny composed. ‘A Cog in the Machine’ appears to me the years when, like the Earth, I had two movements at the same time: one trying to bear the heat and burden of the Revenue Service of our country, and the other, attempting to study men and manners, laws and morality, the earth and the galaxies, myself, and my maker….. During this period of my life, I was enriched on seeing life in the raw: I felt my several illusions stood pricked. Delight and distress came in varying proportions. I experienced enormous joys, and deep distresses. I shared the agony when my heart broke both literally and metaphorically. The slings of misfortune pierced often most unkindly making me realize the relevance of what Dante said in his Divine Comedy ( Inferno V.121): “There is no greater grief than to recall a time of happiness when in misery”. ‘Illusion and Reality’ traps me in the continuous intercourse with realities, rough and inclement. I had many moments when ‘illusions’ seemed ‘real’, and ‘reality’ turned ‘illusive’. The Bhagavada Mahapuran tells us (in Canto 11) how Krishna sat in silence under a peepal tree. He was struck by a hunter’s arrow. It is difficult to think what verdict he might have passed on his life in those final moments. But whenever I reflect on my life with fidelity, I get absorbed counting my life’s yellow leaves, some fallen, some yet to fall, some severed from the twigs but still dancing in the breeze before acquiring rest on the soil. I have marked their beauty and rich poetry. I have my reasons to marvel, and to get amazed, at my Destiny’s choreography of my life. I have enjoyed many pursuits but what has delighted me most is that ‘noiseless sound’ of the cavalcade of events about which I have written in this Memoir. When I hear this ‘noiseless sound’, I recall the words of

Keats in his poem ‘I Stood tip-toe upon a little hill’:

A little noiseless noise among the leaves, Born of the very sigh that silence heaves.

–  –  –



minds, and believed that individual talent works best under its own cultural tradition. He had studied our Indian cultural tradition and thoughts, and was greatly proficient in Sanskrit. He had written that his study of Sanskrit left him “in a state of enlightened mystification”.1 For a year I too studied Sanskrit. I felt inspired by Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who had directed the Manhattan Project with an assignment to develop the first nuclear weapon. He found learning Sanskrit easy. He quoted a shloka from the Bhagavad-Gita on seeing the first effulgence of the nuclear explosion.


My Life : its grammar and lodestone In writing this autobiographical Memoir, I have reached my journey’s end.

Reflecting on a baby, J. Bronowski called him “a mosaic of animal and angel.” 2 Life is just a process for a bud to flower. I have not forgotten those scintillating gems of thought on the art of life which I had heard from my father and mother.

Once he explained to me ashloka from the Kathopnishad. It considers human body as a chariot, one’s soul as the actor on the chariot, human propensities as the horses carrying chariot, mind as the controlling force, and one’sbuddhi (wisdom born of viveka) as the charioteer ( ’ÈÁh¢ ÃÈ’Ë ‚Ê⁄ÁÕ¢ ÁflÁh). Ascendant on this chariot, one explores one’s actions and their consequences, complex though their ways are (ª„ŸÊ ∑§U◊¸áÊÊ ªÁ× The Bhagavad-Gita IV.17). I always saw that my mother’s deepest reflections drew for support expressions from the Ramcharitmanasa of Tulsidas. Several times, she made me recite to her certain lines of that epic in which Rama tells Vivishan about the chariot of righteousness ( dharmarath) which enables one to win victory in life. I have quoted the English rendering of those lines in Chapter 4 of this Memoir. I have felt over all my years that the ideas stated in those lines are of perpetual relevance in all human societies. Over my years, I had several occasions to participate in the management seminars organized by certain masters of Business Management. I had occasions to go through several research papers written by distinguished masters of some well-known B-Schools.

I wish the text of those lines is made an essential part of study at all B-Schools. The complex existential problems are best solved only in the light of the wisdom that those lines convey. I often felt that my mother had summarized those ideas in her letter written to me in Maithili six decades back.

‘÷ªflÊŸ ∑¢§ äÿÊŸ ⁄Êπà ∑§Ê¡ ∑§⁄Òà ¡Ê—, •ÊÒ©⁄ ŒÊ‚⁄ ∑§⁄ ∑§Ê¢Ÿ ÷⁄Ê‚. ∑§’‹ ÃÊ¢ •¬Ÿ äÿÊŸ ÷ªflÊŸ ◊¥ ⁄Êπßà ∑§Ê¡ ∑§⁄Òà ¡Ê.’

I would render her instructions into English thus:

“Trust in the Divine power, and go on doing your duties.

Why expect anything from anyone else?

Concentrate on the All Powerful, and go ahead”.

I feel: all instructions of all mothers to all children in all times and all lands cannot be different. When I measure myself by her standards I become crest fallen. But I have always drawn light and inspiration from the wisdom she so informally imparted. This simple sentence combines the Bhagavad-Gita’s edict


that one’s right is to action alone (III. 47), and assurance that one never perishes on the way of right action. I have often judged myself on her touchstone, but I sink into silence that ends in an inner prayer: ‘Mercy, not justice’.

I have always felt that God’s kindness has never been denied to me. What has sustained me, even in the moments of acute frustrations, is the edict of 3 Bhagavad-Gita (Ch.II.47): deZUusokf/dkjLrs e iQys"kq dnkpu% ‘Your right is to action alone, Not to its fruits at any time.’ My father explained that shloka to me. He said that it was this way of looking at life that led Arjuna never to cringe before anyone for gains; and never to abdicate his duty ( vtquL; izfrKs n~oS u nSU;a] u iyk;ue~ : Arjuna had taken two vows, Z no cringing for favour, and no abdication of duty). I have tried to live with these ideas. It has made me bear the tedium of life with patience; it has given me light whenever I was sinking inside the pit of darkness, or when cruel circumstances writhed me in their coils.


I tender an apology : my perspective on self In this autobiographical Memoir I have concentrated more on some of the events and thoughts which I have been able to recall. Writing about self, with sincerity and candour, is difficult. While exploring my years already gone, I must have overlooked my faults; illustrating the common human folly to economize with truths in own matters. I recall the words of Tulsidas in his great


¡Ê¥ •¬Ÿ •flªÈŸ ‚’ ∑§„UÿÍ°, ’Ê… ∑§ÕÊ ¬⁄U Ÿ®„U ‹„UÿÈ°U ÃÊà ◊Ò¥ •Áà •‹¬ ’πÊŸ, ÕÊ⁄‘U ◊„È°U ¡ÊÁŸ„UÁ„U ‚ÿÊŸ [If I tell you all about my failings, my story would become long, wholly beyond my competence to narrate it. This is the reason why I should be brief about that.] Tulsi’s life4 was a sprawling banyan tree; my life is no more than a mere tiny twig. Yet my autobiographical Memoir has become long, and that too in a ‘learnt’ language! Hence I apologize.

If I were my own judge, I would hang myself by the next lamppost. Lord Hailsham of Marylebone, who had been England’s Lord Chancellor, called his autobiography A Sparrow’s Flight. One’s life in the world is like a sparrow’s stay for a short while. He concludes his autobiography with a prayer for mercy, not

with a prayer to be weighed and judged:



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