Reviewed by Bhaswati Ghosh

I Sing the Glory of this Land - Front Cover

Title: I Sing the Glory of this Land
Author: Bharathiyar, Translated by M. Rajaram
Publisher: Rupa Publications India (2018)
Pages: 240 (Hardcover)

Subramania Bharati first came to me in the arguably less-than-inspiring pages of my history- and-civics textbook in middle and high school. Though not exactly a footnote, without the presence of his poetry or the context of his scholarship and vision, his was merely another name to remember as part of the annals of India’s freedom movement. Such is the unfortunate, even exanimate nature of our education system. When his name reappeared in a series of interviews I did with former students of Tamil schools in Delhi in relation to a current non-fiction project, Bharati came across as a towering figure who continues to serve as the spiritual and linguistic compass for Tamil children similar to what Tagore does for their Bengali counterparts. Reading through I Sing the Glory of this Land, M. Rajaram’s recent book of translations of Bharati’s verses, I could see why.

While I’m disadvantaged by my lack of Tamil to appreciate the cadence and music of the original, the clear-eyed directness of Bharati’s (popularly known as Bharathiyar) verses didn’t fail to strike me. As did the expanse of his poetic canvas. The eleven sections of the book – including God, Freedom, Bharath, Women and Children and Nature – bear out this multiplicity of themes even as they trace their intersections. Kneading them together is Bharati’s unwavering accent on liberty, equality and fraternity — the three pillars of the French Revolution — as he envisioned them in British-ruled India.

Human dignity is one of Bharati’s preoccupations and manifests itself in poems like “Labour” with exuberance. In the scope of that single poem, he places workers, farmers and creative artists on the same plane — each group celebrated for its contributions to mankind.

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The sun was a ball of fire shooting white-hot needles over the limitless stretches of Jornada Del Muerto. The dead man’s desert.

It was a terrain of sand and salt with causeways that lead to a kind of nothingness only dead men know of. The salt-washed mountains surrounding it used to be volcanoes, raging and spewing streams of lava into the desert sand thousands of years ago, carving out canyons and arroyos in the ash-brown malpaise that interspersed the sandy stretches. The hills are silent now, their jagged peaks sandpapered away by dust and brine flung on their faces by the relentless winds.

All that remains is the quiet fury of the desert, pulsating in the heat like the belly of a beast. The old farmers revere and fear it. In earlier times, they journeyed to the Parajito plateau through the treacherous landscape of Jornada Del Muerto to escape the impossible heat and grow summer crops and berries. They corralled together during the journey, a retinue of nervous travellers, each murmuring a silent prayer to be able to pass through its pale gold expanses.

Today the mighty desert was subdued by another force. A force born out of insatiable amounts of energy. Its image was etched onto Robert’s mind like a daguerreotype, even though fourteen hours had passed since The Test. It had been another long excursion to Alamogordo for the team. July afternoons were bad days for experiments in the heart of the desert, but they were running out of time. The war had gone on for way too long, and matters were now passed on to unlikely soldiers like him, who toiled far away from the battlegrounds for a permanent solution.

The makeshift quarters of their base in Alamogordo were bursting with an assemblage of people, a cortege of junior scientists with knotted brows and voices trembling with anticipation, the porters with weather-beaten limbs hauling equipment, the poker-faced guards, barely twenty-something who guarded the precinct. The device rested on Ground Zero like a giant steel orb, nestling in its womb, coils of plutonium ready for implosion. It was time. A trill of anxiety buzzed in their ears; they tried to quell it with superfluous jocularity and mock sparring, but the collective thump in their hearts they couldn’t ignore. Be it Robert, Giovanni, or Leo, each one of them, handpicked from various universities for this singular purpose, was acutely aware of it. Would they succeed? Could this be The Weapon to end the war?

By Dr Usha Bande

The Perennial Journey

 

Title: The Perennial Journey
Author: Mamta Sehgal
Publisher: Rubric Publishers (in association with Blackspine and Times Group), 2017
Pages: 165
Price: Rs. 325/-
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Mamta Sehgal’s The Perennial Journey is a collection of short write-ups. These pieces purport to demonstrate that you do not need to be defeated by anything; that you can have peace of mind and a never-ceasing flow of energy if you place your trust in God. Though the blurb on the book claims to take the readers on a spiritual journey, the author does not define or theorize spirituality. Written in a direct and straightforward style, these simple pieces guide the readers on the path of everyday life by invoking Krishna Consciousness. Mamta Sehgal knows that spirituality is not simply the opposite of materialism and also that no single definition of the spiritual way of life could suffice to convey its deep meaning. Spirituality is an active process and its objective is growth and transcendence. We, who are standing at the crossroads of material and spiritual realities, need to make a choice, to focus on our capacities to know, to love, and to trust justice, truth and peace. If we are able to do that, we have chosen a spiritual way of life. With narratives, stories and anecdotes from mythology and quotes from the Gita, the author tries to channelize our thought process. Each tiny piece that runs into a page and a half reflects on life, soul, spirit and the journey towards self-realization. Each page is a quest for Truth and the journey is ever-lasting — that is the ‘perennial journey’ of the title.

The book is divided in four sections: God, Soul, Life and Introspection. The sections are not mutually exclusive and together they create the conceptual reality of Krishna Consciousness where fear, expectations, greed, domination, violence and other aberrations of the phenomenal world vanish. Krishna Consciousness becomes the tool to help you carry on with your difficult journey. Consciousness refers to a state of being in which the mind is functioning in its clear, rational and inquisitive state. Consciousness begets change.