Just now I was reading through the A Verse Autobiography, by John Betjeman “Summoned by Bells”, published when I was in Oxford in 1960. At that time I didn’t notice it though there was much debate about its literary quality. Now in a new edition and reissued now and available in India, this verse autobiography brought me back much of my Oxford days! Many of the scenes and sights bring back the Oxford atmosphere evocatively!
Back in India, I chose for what seemed heroic and thus tried my hand in several projects, some landed me in trouble and drove me into obscurity, some, daring and untried also lifted me above the ordinary and mundane and had given me the “spirits of the air”, to quote Shelley. If I can quote a European poet, “I hated what was easy”. Poetry reading was always an interest in all these years. As I was writing this piece I lay my hands, quite unexpectedly, on a new collection of poems across the globe. “The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry, 1996, 654 pages, covers almost the whole geographical extent of the globe, Europe, Middle East, Asia, Japan, Latin America, Carribean, Russia and Africa. Some 80 major poets! Some of whom are Nobel Prize winners as well as names known throughout the world wherever poetry is discussed seriously.
No poetry till now, to the year 2003! After this long gap of nearly 40 years I suddenly found myself gripped with the poetical muse! I can’t explain the reasons. Perhaps, I reasoned with in myself that writing my autobiography in Tamil and after the many drafts of my prose autobiography circulated among my friends and writers, there ensued lots of discussions about some of the thoughts and views expressed on various issues, politics, society, literature, philosophy, religion etc., and they might have found a more deeper expression in my new poetry.
I hope I need not dwell here about the many diverse intellectual and cultural influences to which I had been subjected to in the course of my education and life afterwards. Santiniketan can be taken as a symbol of all that is best in Eastern civilization and culture and truly Tagore’s education and cultural ventures shaped my mind and personality.
Shortly before I left for England I put my poems into a slim volume of poetry with the help of my friends in Coimbatore. It was brought out only when I was in UK. The first edition didn’t bring me to anyone’s notice except it was printed in a book form! So poor was the whole process and I only possess a rare specimen for the love of its existence!
When I went to Madras, now Chennai, for my college studies, Pachayappa’s College kindled my literary instincts and they found many outlets. I was surrounded by Tamil scholars and writers of repute and the college itself was a breeding ground of first rate scholars and politicians, all bred in the then prevailing environment of Dravidian political consciousness.
Alone among my class mates in the college, I was the one who was a habitual wearer of pure white khadi and I was a nationalist, having been trained in a pucca Gandhian school, the school’s foundation stone was laid by none other than Mahatma Gandhi himself! That was in 1934.