The Modern Review (Calcutta) Vol XXXVIII/"The Poet and the Charkha"

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“The Poet and the Charkha”

Such is the title of an article in Young India for November 5, 1925, by Mr. M. K. Gandhi, in which Rabindranath Tagore’s criticism of the Charkha in this Review has been commented upon. Mahatmaji begins by prefixing “Sir” to the poet’s name. He has often said and written that he does not read news­ papers. That is perhaps the reason why he does not know that the poet renounced that title many years ago. But, as we learn from his article that he finds time to listen to Dame Rumour’s minions and to guess thst the poet’s information on some points was gained from “table talk’’, one may be curious to know whether Dame Rumour and “table talk” combined could not supply Mahatmaji with the news of the poet’s renouncement of his knighthood.

Gandhiji is right in asking to public to understand that “the Poet does not deny, its [the Charkha’s] economic value” and that there is no bitterness “about the Poet’s criticism”. He then devotes thirty lines and a half to proving the baselessness of Dame Rumour’s whisper “that jealousy is the root of all that criticism”.

It is curious that the Poet was not suspected by Dame Rumour of being jealous during the years when Gandhism was at its height, but is suspected when it is on the wane! As Dame Rumour has no bodily existence, she speaks through human mouthpieces. Great must have been the importance of these mouthpieces to compel Gandhiji to devote so much space to prove that on this particular occasion she was a lying jade. We wonder who they were or what their vernacular. Gujarati? Bengali? English ?.........

On Gandhiji’s observations on Dame Rumour’s whisper The Indian Daily Mail has made some comments in its leading article of November 8. We reproduce them below, with the prefatory remark that that Bombay daily is edited by Mr. K. Natarajan of The Indian Social Reformer, who has never been more pro-Tagore than pro-Gandhi.

In the current Young India, Mr. Gandhi endeavours in a long article to answer the Poet Tagore’s penetrating criticism of the cult of the charkha in a recent number of the Modern Review. The poet observed that though he had tried hard to fall in with Mr. Gandhi’s faith in the charkha, he had failed to do so, because he felt in his heart of hearts that the cult was in the way of becoming just one of those superstitions which have, reduced the mass-mind of India to an inert mass incapable of breaking though its self-imposed fetters even after it had become conscious of them. Mr. Gandhi begins by saying that “Dame Rumour has whispered that jealousy is the root of all that criticism,” and devotes a paragraph to prove that the Poet has no reason to be jealous. of him. “Thus,” he says, “there is no competition between us.” Mind, he does not contemptuously reject the rumour as absurd. He need not, if he did not helieve there was something in it, have referred to it at all in his article. Indeed, he should not have done so.

A responsible publicist has only two ways of dealing with a rumour of this type. In fact, this is not rumour but opinion, which no one is obliged to notice unless he thinks it is serious enough to merit criticism. If a publicist believes in it, he should take the full responsibility upon himself and bare his back to the avenging rod, should one descend upon it. If he does not believe it, he should not refer to it at all and he ought to tell the old beldame to get behind him.

As it happens, Mr. Gandhi’s idea of a Poet is utterly wrong. A Poet alone can speak of his vocation. Mr. Gandhi rightly says that “there is nothing of the Poet about me,” but he ventures nevertheless on the dictum that “the Poet makes his Gopis dance to the tune of his flute.” Making Gopis dance is not the business of the poet but of the man who makes his living by puppet-shows. The politician’s trade is nearer that of the puppet-showman than the Poets. The implied criticism that Dr. Tagore is a rhymer and maker of Gopis to dance to the tune of his flute, is not so much a reflection on the Poet as upon the critic himself. The old beldame, rumour, has here some material for her whispering malice. But poets have other things to listen to, and Dr. Tagore will not accord her the importance which, we are sorry, Mr. Gandhi has permitted himself to do. The best of us has need to keep a tight hold on himself. That eternal vigilance is the price of liberty is much more than a political catchword. We hope that Mr. Gandhi will not profess to be gratified by our criticism, because we are not. We have written under a painful sense of duty and because we feel. that he has of late been less careful of his steps than usual.

Gandhiji takes Rabindranath Tagore to be only a poet that, too, and of a particular variety. As he does not know or read Bengali, his knowledge of Tagore’s works must have been derived either from his English books or from “table talk”. But even among his English works there are such books as Sadhana, Personality, Nationalism, Creative Unity, etc. These prose works do not make even figurative gopis (milkmaids) dance. Nor does a play like Sacrifice or Red Oleanders make real or figurative gopis dance. Of course, it is not denied that Rabindranath is a poet. But his eminence as a poet often makes people forget that he has written with great originality and distinction on philology, grammar, economies, history, folklore, sociology, philosophy, politics, rhetoric, prosody, rural reconstruction, pedagogy, etc. One of his philological works has often been recommended by the Calcutta University to be studied by candidates for the M. A. degree. He is also distinguished as a novelist and a writer of short stories. We cannot speak of other provinces but in Bengal, about a quarter of a century ago, he gave utterance in speech and writing to what may be correctly described as the first constructive scheme for managing our own affairs ourselves. He did not indeed raise the cry of Non-co-operation; but his ideas embodied what may be called the essence of constructive Non-co-operation, as he wanted the people to give a wide berth to the Government and themselves do what was necessary for the welfare of the country.

Nor has he been a mere speaker of speeches and writer of books. When quite a young man he managed the big estates of his father and later in life his management of his own estates extorted praise for its efficiency and beneficence to the ryots, from the Bengal Government in a Land Revenue Administration Report.

His school at Santiniketan, which is developing into a University, and his Institute of Agriculture and Rural Improvement and Reconstruction at Surul, bear witness to his practical turn of mind.

As the Mahatma does not read newspapers and periodicals, what we have said above is not meant for his information. But persons of lesser note, particularly those of them who do not read Bengali, may be enabled by these paragraphs of ours to form some idea of Rabindranath’s genius, personality and activities. Dame Rumour also may gain some knowledge if she deigns to cast her figurative looks on these pages.

As we have written on the charkha repeatedly on various occasions, we need not examine Mahatmaji’s arguments anew. More­ over, many journalists have done it already. For instance, The Tribune of Lahore, November, 10, writes:—

We owe it to Poet Robindranath’s sharp criticism of Mahatma Gandhi’s “exclusive and excessive love of the “Charkha” that the Mahatma has in the latest issue of Young India attempted a philosophical defence of his position. We cannot do better than put this defence in the Mahatma’s own words.

This is followed by an extract. Our contemporary then proceeds to subject the Mahatma’s defence to a very keen elaborate and able criticism, with the prefatory sentence:

It has scarcely ever been our lot to come across a more glaring instance of the confusion of thought caused in an extraordinarily clear and logical mind by the obsession of an idea.

In the concluding paragraph of his article Mahatmaji says:—

“One thing, and one thing only has hurt me, the Poet’s belief, again picked up from table talk, that I look upon Ram Mohan Rai as a ‘pigmy’.”

Young India. for April 13, 1921 contains the paragraphs relating to the Mahatma’s remarks on Rammohun Ray. The Modern Review for May, 1921, p. 652, contained an article by Mr. C. F. Andrews on these remarks. Prabasi for Ashadh 1328 B. S., page 426. reproduced Gandhiji’s remarks. Therefore Rabindranath may not have derived all his information from table talk. As Ram Mohun Ray's place in history does not depend on any particular person’s estimate of his life, work and personality, it is unnecessary to revive an old controversy or start a new. We will simply print from Young India what Gandhiji said formerly and what he says now.

In reply to a question put to him in a public meeting at Orissa, whether English education was not a mixed evil, inasmuch as Lok. Tilak, Babu Rammohan Rai, and Mr. Gandhi were products of English education, Mr. Gandhi replied as follows:—

This is a representative view expressed by several people. We must conquer the battle of Swaraj by conquering this sort of wilful ignorance and prejudice of our countrymen and of Englishmen. The system of education is an unmitigated evil. I put my best energy to destroy that system. I do not say that we have got as yet any advantage from the system. The advantages we have so far got, are in spite of the system, not because of the system. Supposing the English were not here, India would have marched with other parts of the world, and if it continued to be under Moghul rule, many people would learn English as a language and a literature. The present system enslaves us, without allowing a discriminating use of English literature. My friend had cited the case of Tilak, Ram Mohan, and myself. Leave aside my case, I am a miserable pigmy.

Tilak and Rammohan would have been far greater men if they had not had the contagion of English learning (clapping). I don’t want your verbal approval by clapping but I want the approval of your intellect and reasoning. I am opposed to make a fetish of English education. I don’t hate English education. When I want to destroy the Government, I don’t want to destroy the English language but read English as an Indian nationalist would do. Ram Mohan and Tilak (leave aside my case) were so many pigmies who had no hold upon the people compared with Chaitanya, Sankar, Kabir and Nanak. Ram Mohan, Tilak were pigmies before these giants. What Sankar alone was able to do, the whole army of English-knowing men can’t do. I can multiply instances. Was Guru Govinda product of English education?

Is there a single English-knowing Indian who is a match for Nanak, the founder of a sect second to none in point of valour and sacrifice? Has Ram Mohan produced a single martyr of the type of Dulip Singh? I highly revere Tilak and Ram Mohan. It is my conviction that if Ram Mohan and Tilak had not received this education but had their natural training they would have done greater things like Chaitanya,—Young India for April 13, 1921.

One thing, and one thing only, has hurt me, the Poet’s belief, again picked up from table talk, that I look upon Ram Mohan Rai as a ‘pigmy’. Well, I have never anywhere described that great reformer as a pigmy, much less regarded him as such. He is to me as much a giant as he is to the poet. I do not remember any occasion save one when I had to use Ram Mohan Rai’s name. That was in connection with Western education. This was on the Cuttack sands now four years ago. What I do remember having said was that it was possible to attain highest culture without Western education. And when some one mentioned Ram Mohan Rai, I remember having said that he was a pigmy compared to the unknown authors, say of the Upanishads. This is altogether different from looking upon Ram Mohan Rai as a pigmy. I do not think meanly of Tennyson if I say that he was a pigmy before Milton or Shakespeare. I claim that I en- hance the greatness of both. If I adore the Poet as he knows I do in spite of difference between us, I am not likely to disparage the greatness of the man who made the great reform movement of Bengal possible and of which the Poet is one of the finest of fruits,—Young India, Nov. 5, 1925.