It is a great tragedy that a very senior and upright leader like you at this venerable age of 82 must find yourself in such a great dilemma. Whether to retire or not? From active politics?

Yes, this is a great tragedy simply because you are in a dilemma. Age gives wisdom. That is the Indian view, if not the view all over the world. In all cultures and all nations.

We have just to see the election results in Japan. Any senior politician of the stature and standing of Advani or for that matters other senior politicians like Arjun Singh of the Congress or George Fernandes of Janata Dal must be seen as very senior leaders and also elder statesmen. They are so in my opinion and assessment.

So, I take this occasion to say a few things that might impinge on the minds of others who are still active players in the Indian political scene.
You see, Advaniji, politics is politics, it is a power game and also an area and an arena when it gives enormous opportunities for men and women to  come centre stage and hog the limelight as it were for sometime.

Practical politics is often ruthless and it has always been so. So, any politician who considers himself or herself has to take some lessons in history. That is political history as well. We see the very big guys, like Lenin, Stalin, Hitler and Mao. How big they were! They almost became demigods in their times.

Then, how the mighty had fallen. The masses, the crowds once worshipped or whipped up to worship through sheer uncivilised methods of mass frenzy, then, had to pay a heavy price. They very same masses then spit and kicked their statues and they are now hounded out of any civilised society, civilised conversations!

So too in Indian politics.
I have a theory of history. It is this: history is not about events or the big and powerful men and women. As most histories are. Nor even as about the big abstract themes, as propounded by Arnold Toynbee.

History is also not about winners, those who got “defeated” are also historic figures, as you can see.

So, whom you now imagine have “defeated” you and sent you into sunset might not be the real winners. Who knows they might prove to be nobodys and very soon forgotten. Who knows you might again stage a comeback. That is in the very nature of politics.

As I say and strongly believe that only in politics, those miracles do happen!
It is not your age or the dictates of the RSS that might fix your destiny.
Who knows that when the situation so develops perhaps the party, the BJP you, as history would  record, have singlehandedly created after your rath yatra, may still might look to you in time  of a new historic situation.

But then age doesn’t wait for us, for many of us to come back and stage a comeback. Only other great historic figures, like the tragic Napoleon, might have such opportunities to stage a comeback, though he was eventually “defeated”, he remains to this day in men’s memories as one who left his imprint in history.
History you must read and only history can give you the satisfaction and the consolation you might need at this hour of reckoning.

“History defeated me” bemoaned Mussolini. Yes, there are such moments.
There is nothing like a historic inevitability. Human minds are the most capable of creative powers and great imagination.

So, human ingenuity would come to your help if you so play your future course of action. The point is that the RSS can’t grow a political party.RSS is a shadowy outfit, totally unsuited and it would never bring the BJP back to the centre of power. Only a mass base and a hard mass contact programme can bring any political party to power or near power centres.

So, Advaniji, you still would remain relevant and only through democratic means that a party leader emerges in these days. So, you might still remain relevant and you might still be the tallest leader even if you hand over formal power as leader of the Opposition.

Not Jaswant Singh nor Arun Jaitley nor Arun Shourie. They may be capable leaders and yet they would find themselves standing under your shadow as long as you are there and stand up and speak your mind out.

So, please take heart and a political party must function as a political party, must adopt some democratic norms in the age of democracy as our century is.
As for Arjun Singh, I have also to say the same kind of advice and consolation.
You have had your innings; you have your own reasons to feel vindicated.
You have left behind a legacy in Madhya Pradesh. You made MP as centre for culture and arts and much else in literature and in other spheres.

You have groomed some leaders. As for your leftover grievanes, you have to blame yourself to play the sycophant politics in the Congress party.

The Indian National Congress is a 125 year old grand old party. There have been giants, before and Gandhi. Jaswant Singh’s book on Jinnah has come out on time and a reading of the massive volume, now in your leisure time must give you enough material to mull over what life gave you in the Congress, as the great Jinnah found out sooner in his political career from a fellow Kathiawadi, Gandhi, both coming from the same region, within a distance of just 40 miles and both had developed very early in their lives, a prejudice and a jealousy for the mutual suspicion and rivalry.

Yes, we have to count our place and the space and the time when we come into politics and we have to take our own positions keeping the future likely scenario.
In this sense, I won’t blame Jinnah what he did when events and circumstances forced his hands.

So, what Jinnah had eventually was not just a “moth eaten” Pakistan but what he sought after with Gandhi playing big brother by his side. In this stratege, can be blame just Jinnah alone and absolve Gandhi and his disciples?

It is for the future and present historians to go on and on and they will do so.
As for ourselves, you have to take your own judgement after the events you tried to shape for yourself or for your supposed future benefactors.
Why blame Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi? They are also helpless and clueless players on the political stage too!

You conspired against Narasimha Rao, right? And you unnecessarily brought in Sonia Gandhi into politics, right? Then, you have to pay a price too, right?
How you justify Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister?

It is all part of the price we have to pay when we blatantly disrespect history’s lessons and seek short-cuts to fame and fortune!

As for George Fernandes, he was my hero at one point of time.
Even now, I bow my head before this great revolutionary leader who proved many costly lessons in politics.

He of course didn’t stick to his ideology, he had to court BJP, his ideological enemy and then his helper and now his last resort, the JD (U) proved a deserter of your great ideologies.

But then, here too I would say that you might have stuck to your ideology and might have left the scene gracefully long time ago. Why you have stuck to the same pitfalls, power and glory in this way?

Now, I come back to my theory of history. History is about ideas, ideals and men of principles. History remembers those individuals and ideals and ideas that convey something big for the mankind. That is how  our senior leaders in the global arena, Jimmy Carter, Bishop Tutu, Nelson Mandela and others who all stood the other day on the Israel-Palestine border, in the West Bank to tell Israel to stop their construction on what is not their territory. Yes, these are the figures whom history would remember and venerate.

So, you, my dear fellow Indian greats, seniors and much respected in your own ways, you must all take heart, you now go for greater goals and ideals, you become world citizens and join the larger causes and advocate peace, no war, disarmament and become wisemen of the current Indian political scene. Wish you all long life and much useful selfless service. Thank you, great men of our times!

Advaniji has plenty of good deeds on his hands.  He can devote his life to promote Indo-Pakistan relations.  You may set up a foundation and work for Indo-Pak understanding, friendship and reconciliation among Hindus and Muslims in the subcontinent, Who knows you may go over to win a nobel Prize for Peace!
If Jimmy Cater can do that why not someone of your stature?  And who better qualified? That would also be a sweet revenge for your detractors!

Photo Courtesy : http://www.images.businessweek.com

Do you know what this nameless decade?
The Obama decade?
The world is in crisis or in confidence?

To understand the world we live in needs enormous knowledge and wisdom.

The world is always in a sort of oddity. The world is not easy to live or easy to understand. The place is full of odd sorts of people and characters.

There are any number of cowards, less courageous people, it seems. There are always doubters and soothsayers of various sorts.

There more any number of cynics, fewer skeptics though skeptics at any moment over-number than optimists and believers!

Anyway, there are certain broader trends. These trends include the expansion of freedoms and democracy in all far corners of the world. As far as we see from the Indian perspective, the recent democratic elections and the coming in of democracies, in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, three great Islamic states, if we can say so, gives much hope and much confidence in the future of the world.

At home

Nearby at home  too the recent many happenings, the gay rights, the attacks on women in the bars, the attacks on outsiders, in Mumbai and in Bangalore, the gender sensitivity, the standing up of the girls in Muslim dress to the recent intolerant attitudes of the colleges and other places give much hope there is a growing sense of assertiveness of one’s freedoms, one country’s sensitivity for larger democratic rights, women in Iran and Afghanistan and even in Pakistan all indicate that violence in any form, guns and rockets are no guarantee of this decade’s  new sense of liberation.

The youth decade? Yes, we can say so, more so in the case of the Indian youth who found their rights and freedoms now find thousands of expressions in the new opportunities and challenges. On the whole this decades we can write as one that gives much hope and one decade that is an optimistic decade, not much room for any pessimism whatever.

Yes, science and technology have grown a lot, we all seem to live in a more prosperous decade than ever before in history. May be we may not be living through a more and longer periods of sustained growth that later history describe as a new civilisation.

History has many cycles of history known as civilisations and dark ages or periods. But this time, this century, this century for me at any rate seems to be a decade of unprecedented prosperity. But then when we were about to proclaim and celebrate came the world bust, the meltdown, the recession and call it by any name you fancy. How to explain these phenomena?

That is at times like this we call for the philosophers and thinkers and creative artists. We feel the need for them at a time like this only. Yes, we can only recall and recall the past and learn something from our heritage. As for me, I am confident that man with his vast past knowledge can learn to live and come back to once again to new height of glory and accomplishment.

So, let us recollect some oddities, the philosophers and the thinkers.

“I think, therefore I am” My favourite 16th century philosopher, Rene Descartes! “The starry heavens above me the moral law within me”. Another favourite, this time, the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant. His fellow countryman, this time, the formidable Hegel,” History is progress of history as freedom is expansion”.

How fine, you may not agree with much of what he said otherwise, but this idea of history as history of expanding man’s consciousness of freedom is what the world seems to be moving forward. Yes, his follow, self-proclaimed follower Karl Marx now may not be the flavour of the times. We all seem to be enjoying the fruits of free market capitalism. Then, capitalism seems to be in crisis. But then don’t lose heart.

There is the saviour, another favourite Lord Keynes whose’s espousal of “man’s animal spirits” would surely lift us out of the current depression mood. Man can’t live by pessimism nor does scepticism pays.

Much less the cynicism of artists and writers like say, the late Nirad Choudhury. Yes, he was a great prose writer and I am a great admirer of his chaste English prose but not his cynical views, be it how to be a good Englishman to how not to be a cynic! He lived all his old age in England and claimed his social benefits by decrying the Englishman’s values. But he didn’t live like an Indian and a Bengali bhadralok! That was my grievance against this brilliant brain.

But then, what Niradbabu didn’t give by way of his wisdom, his fellow Bengali intellectual, Amartya Sen gave us in ample measure going over to win the Nobel Prize once again and giving Santiniketan its due claims the very core of Indian education and tradition and values.

So, what have I to give for this decade, this decade of progress for the Indian youth and Indian self confidence? I give a new hope for further excellence and a world view that truly must take India this century to new glories.

India can hope to make good what was lost for centuries, our democratic freedoms must enable every Indian, to the last man to attain and realize their potential to their full. India must learn to live with a new world view a more mature and a more self-confident world view!

Obama

Yes, Obama has changed the world? It looks like that? Or, is it too early? These are some of the questions you read about in the Western press and elsewhere.

After the September terrorist attack in 2001 to the election of Barack Obama last year how the world has changed?  When Bush left the White House, he left with a bailout  package of 700 billion and Obama has simply moved forward without much persuasion or other hurdles usually faced by any President.

How far Obama has travelled since then? His attempt to adopt a more pro-active peace role, as opposed to the more aggressive and more confrontationist role adopted by George Bush has changed the world’s outlook a lot more in a more civilized manner. Yes, the world is better now, there is a more relaxed air of peaceful environment and the world seems to hope for more co-operative and a more consensus based approach to world’s many problems, from arms reduction to disarmament to climate change to dealing with the economic recovery. USA is the world’s biggest and powerful economy and there is no difference of opinion in the world capitals that unless the US economy recovers there is no hope for the world. But then Obama’s tasks aren’t that easy.

Daily news

Daily newspaper reports bring their own quota of many new challenges and the need for understanding and coming to terms with the world. A Muslim model was given reprieve for drinking beer in a bar in Malaysia, China releases the rights activists, yet China is proving to be an immature country with so many oppressions of ethnic peoples, journalist, critic of Taliban shot dead in Pakistan, US quota of unsolved issues, the CIA abuse of cases, prisoner abuse cases in the USA, not the least the Guantanamo detunes, in Tokyo, PM also advises poor young people to avoid wedding! All these speak for the developed countries’s own quota of troubles. America has always lived as if the rest of the world doesn’t matter! So, there is much resistance to cut down the carbon emissions, there is resistance to live frugally, Americans has always consume -d as if there is always a plentiful supplies, be it petroleum to  the best of everything.USA is the largest importer and also largest exporter.

So, the USA is accustomed to dictate terms to the outside world. One feature of the Bush regime had been its rash rush to war, unilaterally in Iraq and that triggered the rest of the wars, now in Afghanistan and in the Afghan-Pakistan border; the fight against Al Qaeda is the biggest challenge for Obama. Of course, America can’t sit quiet, it has to face the world realities and Al Qaeda has to be fought.

Of course, Obama has his own background and his own world view. So, we in India have their own view of America, the stereotyped view of America being a big country, becomes an imperialist image etc are simply hard to shed. But we have to learn to change our world view.

America can’t become a danger to the rest of the world. Never, never for one moment.

Independence Day celebrations this year were marked by some unexpected developments in the country.

There is this swine flu scare that kept away large sections of people from the usual crowds we witness on this historic day.

Many schools  in the cities, including in Delhi and elsewhere, in Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore ‘cancelled’ the celebrations and thus we saw the more sober atmosphere on the day. Then, came the drought situation and the failure of monsoons, the consequent distress news across the country, farmer’s suicides in AP and elsewhere and the national mood not in a celebratory mood.

So, we saw the Independence Day falling on the very many unhappy events, deaths by HINI virus, on the very day in Bangalore and in other cities. On Saturday, on August 15, 165 persons tested positive, the highest on a single day, two deaths in Bangalore, of the new cases reported 97 were from Pune and the maximum of 69 cases were from Pune.

Then in places like Bangalore the maximum samples were tested, 124 samples as against the maximum capacity of 40.

In fact, what was more worrisome is the fact that along with overcrowding and the over-reported cases were the shortages of many things, from testing kits to what have you.

The one distressing overwhelming thought was the unpreparedness of the government, of course, the Central government, the only authority to which the entire nation looks up to, the state governments are clearly helpless, and given the nature of the epidemic and also in Karnataka, in Bangalore we saw the reporting of the other dreaded illnesses, chikungunya and dengue.

The newspapers have of course given enough publicity and guidelines are also widely publicised in all media.

Yet, there is this persistent thought. The thought of somehow the government not rising up to the challenge and reassuring the people that the government is pro-active.

It is a bit painful to see the deployment of school children in the Independence Day ‘parade’ or the media reporting” school children brushing aside swine flu fears and participating in the march-past”. What a shame, what an insensitive politics!

The President’s address and the subsequent Prime Minister’s address are duly broadcast and the TV and the print media seem to be very duty-bound, the protocol seems to be in perfect order. We, Indians seem to be very courteous and of course we are a courteous people, why not and in the case of observing due formalities and due obeisance to a higher authority, we Indians don’t seem to be a bit behind other nations.

But then, do we have the leaders who can inspire the people who are in a despondent mood like the one as present times? Do we have the leaders we deserve?

What the Presidential message on the eve of the Indepdence Day conveyed? Can anyone recall? Recall for the sake of deriving some inspiration? For some memorable phrase, natural or constructed for the occasion?

Or, in the case of the Prime Minister’s address on the majestic ramparts of the imposing Red Fort? Any memorable phrase or word of inspiration?

No, I am sorry to write in this tone; otherwise I would btray my own conscience and become one more useless citizen and a moral burden on this nation. The Prime Minister in his wisdom chose to deliver a text that was already prepared. Nothing wrong. But then what relevance the text has when he reiterates about the rate of growth of the economy would be likely to be 9 per cent. And, the horror of horrors, he would raise the agriculture growth by four per cent! In the midst of the current gloom!

When he expects to reach this goal? Orm, about the recovery of the economy from the universal meltdown?

He is clearly a tired man, a tired mind and given the peculiar buildup with which he is sustained in his office by the peculiarity of the Congress party and the party leadership, the Prime Minister’s stature is genuinely lowered today and his image is distorted and the countrymen are asked to pay lip service to his authority and there is no substance in what the Prime Minister talks and what the country is going through.

The Prime Minister, naturally is expected to touch upon some urgent issues that are uppermost in the citizens minds, foreign affairs, Indo-Pakistan relations, Indo-US relations, Indo-China relations, all there very critical  issues on which there have been some movements, hopefully  forward and there was none of this side of the country’s  relations at all.

As for the domestic issues, the current pressing problems were obviously swine flu scare and its control, then, the drought and the need for urgent practical action on the farm front.

But none at all from the Prime Minister’s Independence Day speeches.
At least the Central government could have announced an urgent allocation of say, Rs.1, 000 crores, to upgrade, say one hospital in each affected cities for testing the flu samples.

This costs money and not many private, why even the government hospitals are not equipped with the costly   equipments. There is no war-like drill of any kind.

There are still, even in a city like Bangalore (where we are located) a clear direction where the citizens to go first when there is an emergence.

Not many govt. advertisements in the newspapers even.

Everyday, for the next few days till the situation is brought under some control, there must be clear guidelines for the people to feel assured there is an immediate outlet.

So, where is the urgency on the mind of the Prime Minister?

Now, as for drought and farmers’ distress, we have been writing for long. The TV visuals brought home the seriousness of the poverty of the poor farmers households.

The visuals are really killing the conscience of the average citizens. The PM must have called for speeding up the co-op farm loan component to reach the distressed families.

The PM has not mentioned the farmer’s distress and the farmers suicides seem to create a great sense of guilt in the government.

That is why no one is mentioning the farmer’s suicides. The agriculture minister is nowhere it seems in the deliberations. The farm situation is no less an emergency. Even now, the PM harps on supporting the short-term crop loan interests rate payments!

The rural employment guarantee scheme must be put to use only in a situation like the present and there must be an alert on the part of the rural development minister. Where is he at this juncture?

One more news item. The Karnataka government had made a list of prisoners who can be released on the Independence Day. The formality is that the Governor “orders” the release. It is a mere formality, once the government decides, after all the government goes through all formalities.

In this case, the Governor, a new appointee (an appointee whose credentials are suspect) and the Governor, it is reported in the press wanted the files to be sent to him and he would go through each person’s case individually.

What arrogance! The arrogance of an individual? Or, the arrogance of an undeserving person? Or, the arrogance that speaks volumes about the sort of society the Congress wants to promote in India? In the place of modern-day civilised humane society treating unfortunate prisoners in a more humane way, showing arrogance of authority and power while both are false and empty!

Indian society and polity must transform, must transform into a new kind of a more civilised and sensitive behaviour towards citizens, in or out of prison, so to say!

So, we have had another Independence Day and given the nature of the politics in the states where each party seems to be at loggerheads with the parent party in Delhi and the very dynamics of the Indian polity seems to be changing.

In Rajasthan we see a revolt against the BJP which, after its defeat is undergoing an internal crisis. In UP too we see a sort of internal chaning in the Samajwadi Party which is changing its strategy towards the Congress.

The Congress might look like a united party but only those who are insiders know well the Congress is the most split because of the sort of people who congregate towards a party in power. In Maharashtra there is going to be an election soon and where the Congress has no clue to win and influence voters. There is no overriding ideological inspiration from a party that is tied by vested interests of all sorts. In West Bengal, the party has a difficult future. In Tamil Nadu, the party simply had pawned the state unit to the overweening DMK supremacy. So, if we look at political parties and take an over-all view of the developing nature of Indian democracy, there is no underlying basic structure of a shared political value system that binds the Indian people in their democratic governance.

May be it may sound old-fashioned but at any time, democracy demands some involvement from the citizens, citizens have to give, sacrifice and participate.
Writes  Sonia Faleiro, a writer (Outlook(24 August 2009): “So this Independence Day, instead of celebrating the patriotism of others, let us consider the strength of our own patriotism, weigh it  by the righteousness of our own actions rather than by own speech, and ask whether it is worth celebrating. I’m afraid I have come up short”.

Once the citizens become disillusioned or disinterested or somehow neglected by the party or parties in power, when the leaders become self-centered, or self-obsessed, then there is a gap or gulf between the people and the rulers. That is the beginning of the weakening of the democratic ties or democratic values.

Where does India stand at present in this scenario?
I leave this question to our visitors and intellectuals for their responses. Jai Hind!

Dr.Kaushik Basu’s dissenting note is a very practical and needs implementation
But then education is becoming more and more commercial and profit-driven!
Education corruption, as a pardigm, follows political corruption!

In education, academicians might talk; talk rather wishfully or wistfully even!
But it is politicians who have the last laugh, so to say! Why?

In states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, may be even in a sensitive city like Delhi, everybody knows it is the politicians who are minting money in education. While TN politicians have no peers in large-scale corruption in education, more so in engineering and medical education, their counterparts in Karnataka are real kings. Every leading public figure in the state has an engineering college. The bigger sharks, the more veterans in the corruption game own a medical college.
Yes, if you own a medical college, then, you are the modern equivalent of a maharaja!

In Delhi, the education scandals are kept as the best (or worst?)kept high level political secret.

Here in Delhi, you make money, you indulge in education corruption and yet you are also a leader or a player in the corridors of power.

So, education in India is becoming a big field for certain undesirable trends.
Yes, in Australia they attack Indian students. But then only now news started percolating there in Australia it is the misuse of student visas to migrate for unskilled and skilled labour!

In the UK, it is racist prejudice. In the USA too it is becoming clear that after the economic recession life is not so rosy for many Indian students and households. So there is a reverse journey over there.

But then we all live in a highly mobile world, where large scale migration is taking place everywhere.

So, once you open up the education sector for foreign direct investments, as Dr.Basu urges, in order to attract the US students even, as Dr.Basu wishes for large scale foreign exchange earning, then you in India too will face the same problems, racist prejudices and what not.

Already there is debate in India about whether Indians are not racist either!
So, from caste prejudices India would be opening up its gates for foreign students to flood in into the new private universities that are sought to be set up and then India too would have to face certain undesirable problems.
These are in the future.

Now, the Prime Minister has opened up new central universities in borrowed premises, it seems.

So, how long it will take for these central universities to become respectable?
There is no point in shedding tears for too long!

We have written in the pages of this journal, more than once, about the state of some much-admired universities, namely, Visva Bharati founded by Rabindranath Tagore and Gandhigram, founded by a dedicated Gandhian couple.

Both had fallen on bad days. For both the universities the Prime Minister and the Vice-President are the Chancellors, respectively.

We have also written and dispatched copies to the then President, the much admired and much talking Abdul Kalam and also to Honble Hamind Ansari.Alas!
They, including the Prime Minister, didn’t care even to acknowledge, except one, Kalam in a routine and mechanical way!

Now, what do you draw as your conclusions?
Real action on Yashpal Panel or Dr.Basu’s note?

Very, very unlikely, given the very nature of the government we have now.
A very artificially constituted government, men and women are chosen more for their loyalty, more for their dependability in time s of any challenge, rather than for their individual merits.

So, Kapil Sibal, the much smart among the set, has already run afoul of the state education ministers whom he didn’t care to consult on school exams or Moily who announced bravely something on gay laws and suddenly withdrew his moves!
You see, education is a very serious business.

Education defines and decides the long-term character of a people and a nation.
USA produces more Nobel Prizes. There must be some reasons.

UK still, in spite of the very bad state of children living in poverty (we read as many as 2.5 million in families under poverty line, high divorce rates, high birth of children outside marriages, shockingly more homeless people, again a very highly unacceptable levels and so on) and yet the UK, France and Germany and the Swedish nations have a high degree of public culture.

It is the public culture we find missing or lacking in some solidity.

Luckily, we have some very dedicated educationists, individuals with moral strength and institutions who are behind us in this hard task.

So, we remain confident that whatever happens or not, Indian education would grow distinctly as an Indian contribution to world culture.

Image Source : indianexpress.com

Letters of Ted Hughes
edited by Christopher Read
Faber and Faber, London, 2007, pp 755

A poet couple, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath made twentieth century English poetry known for its unique impact on the imagination of a generation and also much beyond the British shores and the Atlantic Ocean, as it were! Yes, Ted Hughes (TH) was British poet proper. Sylvia Plath came from the USA and met Ted at Oxford and they both became well-known poets of their generation.

While Ted went on to write more poetry, his later, last years saw him as the poet laureate and that  official position gave him access to high society and the official society, his equally talented poet and wife(they now call their wives as partners),the much-lamented Sylvia Plath died tragically by suicide!

`On 11 February` 1963 in her London in her Fritzroy Road flat she took her life. That was the end of TH’s dreams, his life was to take a different course and the speculations of her death never stopped, to this The letter TH wrote after some time, dated 15 March,1963`is the most moving letter giving an insight into what went wrong for both.”She had money, fame, prospering plans and many friends “Yet things went out of control.”Sylvia was so made to mete out terrible punishment to the people she most loved”.  Sylvia  Plath is a much  sought-after  subject of study and research. So much so that by 1986 some 700 books, books, not articles, were written about Sylvia Plath!

The output of Ted Hughes is no less. The book just before me is itself a huge volume. Just one volume of letters takes some 700 odd pages. The editor says that the whole of the letters might come even up to 3 volumes of this size! His poetry collections alone come to some 20 volumes. Besides he wrote dramas, other prose works running into several volumes.

TH was born in 1930 and died in Oct 25,1998.So he lived just 58 years, a very short life span considering the long lifespan the average citizens now live, not just in the West, also in Asia as well.

Obviously he lived an intense life, married, divorced, co-habitation is now the preferred way of life in Britain and seeing the enormous correspondence by a leading poet, you will get an idea of how he had lived through some of the most productive years of a literary life.

Literary life in the West, more so in a city like London is a very different type of life and activity. You can live full-time on your writings alone, as for poetry it is also possible you can write just poetry and earn not a bad sum of money.  In the case of TH we find that he just lived on writing alone and managed to buy a farm, buy a home in London and did involve himself in many other productive activities like writing for theatre, you can emigrate to the USA or Australia and TH did both and you get an idea that to be a poet in English and to live in London are all highly challenging and at the same time a highly fulfilling life.
A poet writes letters and what do you get by way of literary insights?

The editor says:”No page would be without some literary or documentary value. Many precious things penetrating illuminations, paras of ingenious and cogent reasoning, the flights of sheer verbal exuberance “All these are here and much more.

As for me, it is the new information I get about TH and Plath but also about other contemporary poets who went on to earn much more fame, one won a Nobel Prize for Poetry(Seamus Heaney),Philip Larkin, a major poet, his correspondence  with great poets like T.S.Eliot, W.H.Auden and Stephen Spender(I know some of them) etc.

There are long letters to the leading newspaper editors. One to the Guardian (1989), another to the Independent (also in the same month, that is, April, 1989).These two letters in fact, meant for publication brings out much information and the controversies surrounding the death of Sylvia Plath.
He says in the letters to the editors that Sylvia Plath is one of the most closely studied and widely taught writers in the Western world. Eight writers, all who wrote and taught about Sylvia Plath in the universities once wrote a long letter to the editors of newspapers to allege that TH divorced her and that led to her tragic end and that was one reason that Plath’s grave was vandalised by our enthusiasts and other enemies of the poet. So, this letter goes into great many details, most of which wont interest Indian readers I believe  and that what inter4ests us here is the fact that TH was really devastated  by her death and the letters have so many references to how she came into his life and how the two fell for each other and in fact it was  Sylvia who was more a gifted poet and it was she who encouraged TH to take  his poetry writing talent seriously and in fact gave hi many leads to get his poems published in the US magazines where there is a great tradition of paying(or in fact, buying the poems in advance by paying handsome advances!).Thus, early in his poetry writing career TH learn to write and earn family handsome payments. That part is very fascinating and for Indian readers it must come as a surprise and even for some as rude shock that in the West it is possible for a poet to write and live and survive in a much more civilised way that what is possible in India.

Even now, the status of a writer who lives on entirely on his writing is really very miserable. As for poets, it is next to impossible unless, as in Tamil Nadu for instance where you become a poet in so many dubious ways. You write for commercial cinema such songs that they need to titillate and describe the actresses in so many vulgar ways and this brings instant sums and once the temptation gets you launch yourself as a poet, hanging around other poets in what is called the neighbourhood, the Kodambakkam where most of the struggling film stars and the side artistes live and dream about making it one day.
So, there is now a strong tradition of becoming a poet through the film song writings.

But this category of song writers in the West, in London, is known as song writes, not as poets! Poetry, that too serious poetry is a different art altogether. That is why we find that in the case of other poets, including the one who was also a poet laureate, namely, John Betjeman, he was never taken seriously, the highbrow set, poets like T.S.Eliot and W.H.Auden and Stephen Spender stood out as towering figures in serious poetry. Against whom the other poets including the Betjamens were at best called in a condescending manner, “major minor” poets!

In England anything that concerns a poet or a writer is taken seriously by the press and the establishment set. In the case of Sylvia Plath, her death by suicide led to a furor. There arose a school of Plath Fantasia, as TH called it. They all defended their attack and criticism of what happened to Plath as their right to speak out, they defended themselves, the newspapers gave them enormous publicity, the writers of the letters were all eminent persons, one “was a greatly respected Nobel Prize Winning Poet” as TH himself put it. All this was done under the plea of defending Free Speech!

There was also a dispute as to how Sylvia was called in her death, as Sylvia Plath or Sylvia Hughes, as she should have been “which was her legal name, the name of her children’s mother”, as TH put it.TH says he wanted to honour her name, the name she brought off in that name and “I wished to honour it”. All through this particularly long letter TH’s love and devotion for his gifted wife and life partner shines through and he writes with great feeling, how he inserted a sentence from Sanskrit, how he got the granite for the grave stone from Dartmoor” because of her special feeling for the place”(page 555).

Sylvia Plath’s grave became a great cultural tourist circuit and there is a great of discussion over that in these letters. The Nobel Prize winning poet of great respect we find was none other than the Russian emigree poet, Joseph Brodsky. There are some interesting facts. Do we own the facts of our life?

Here, one write of Sylvia Plath’s biography took exception to TH’s objections to some facts. So, TH raises the question who owns the facts. And he says that “each of us owns the facts of his or her life”(page 56)).There were many court battles over Sylvia Plath’s many biographies.

It was all about what you can say or not so say. Who owns what facts? Who takes the responsibility for the impressions and opinions of others?

The battle over the memory of Sylvia Plath was far from over when TH died and still one wonders whether it had died or subsided. That is the power of poetry and poets and the power of the high culture in which poetry and poets are held. The letters gave me many anecdotes ,many little-known facts about some of the great names in English poetry, says, W.B.Yeats was seen as Irish poet, T.S.Eliot as US-born, Owen, as Welsh-born etc.

Also, I saw the curious dispute about Eliot’s famous big little poem, The Wasteland, as if it owed to the Buddhist philosophy (in fact, there are facts to suggest that the great Eliot as a student once attended Rabindranath Tagore’s lecture at Harvard and from that lecture he got the inspiration to use so much of the Indian words in that very English poem!

And more in the letters here, I noticed the names of Craig More, a contemporary English professor at Oxford and his wife, Ann Pasternak Slater (whom I knew her as a beautiful young girl at my Oxford days, when I used to visit her home in North Oxford where she along with her mother, the late Lydia Pasternak, the sister of the Nobel poet Boris Pasternak, lived in those days. In fact, it was Lydia Pasternak who gave me the introduction to her brother, then living in Moscow, not Boris but Alexander Pasternak to travel to Russia in 1961).

 Image Source : smh.com.au