It’s odd to learn that the works of the Victorian poet William Wordsworth are apparently being banished from regional school textbooks. Is it not strange that foreigners are free to eat the fruit of Indian culture like yoga, dance, music and cyber-smarts while our children may be denied the best of world culture and only be allowed childish toys, like mechanical devices that enable a statue of Sri Hanuman to ‘eat’ a thousand laddoos?
What about the fruit of Western thought that can help a person acquire an inner compass to polite and pleasant social behaviour? Spelt out in simple, eloquent language, such thoughts, if communicated and received properly can help us in our efforts to break free of the suffocating aspects of Indian tradition while keeping our nicer ideas and practices.
For instance, Wordsworth says, “Life is divided into three terms, that which was, which is and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present to live better in the future.” Can we dismiss such a person who also said, “With an eye made quiet by the power of harmony and the deep power of joy, we see into the heart of things,” and “That best portion of a man’s life... his little nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love?”
The confusing times that we have lived in since the 20th century naturally affect us all, as an old society in the throes of profound transformation. Given our heritage of asking existential questions, unafraid - the prashneeyam or question mark is surely the true symbol of India? - can we blank out a poet who said, “A multitude of causes... are now acting with a combined force to blunt the discriminating powers of the mind, and unfitting it for all voluntary exertion, to reduce it to a stage of almost savage torpor ?”
Our best and truest cultural inclination is to see the mind as an instrument of inquiry and not as a spittoon. This applies to each one of us for the best traditions of each community are open to good thoughts like Wordsworth’s that are simply and sincerely expressed.
As to which, thanks to a recent e-mail, I got to re-read Irish poet, essayist and dramatist Oliver Goldsmith, who is best known for the comic play She Stoops to Conquer, the long poem The Deserted Village, and the novel The Vicar of Wakefield. In his essay ‘On National Prejudices’, first published in the British Magazine, August 1760, Goldsmith says, “Let a man’s birth be ever so high, his station ever so exalted, or his fortune ever so large, yet if he is not free from national and other prejudices, I should make bold to tell him, that he had a low and vulgar mind, and had no just claim to the character of a gentleman. And in fact, you will always find that those who are most apt to boast of national merit have little or no merit of their own to depend on…”
Is that something to think about, perhaps, in the run-up to Dipavali, our significant festival of light?