Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Be original!

I spoke to Subimal Misra yesterday evening, and sought his approval of the idea of a programme to felicitate him. He thanked me and said he was touched by the honour I was expressing – but he had spent a lifetime in anti-establishment praxis. He did not believe in sitting apart from people, on a stage or dias. And in relation to “people”, he added that as much as one has to have a sensitivity towards and commitment in favour of the downtrodden, equally, people have to educate themselves to be able to engage with Subimal Misra’s writing.

I realised that if I wanted to felicitate Misra, I should invite him to my house and do whatever I wanted.

Dr Mrinal Bose too wrote to me on this subject: By all means garland, bouquet and such things should be avoided on the occasion. It should be unconventional. Come on, think!

Once again, I am grateful to Dr Bose for having made me aware of my limitations, my bankruptcy of imagination and colonised thinking. Surely someone like Subimal Misra deserves better. Something unique and original, like his writing, like his life.

I was reminded of an exchange between Patrick Geddes and Mahatma Gandhi.

In late March 1918, while in Indore, Geddes had a brief exchange of correspondence with Mahatma Gandhi. His second letter, an eight page one, referred to the Hindi Conference then just held in Indore. He asked Gandhi, the President of the Conference, why Indians have merely copied the customary and orderly ritual of every British congress - when there were other examples in the West: the Highland gatherings with splendid Herculean feats, dance and pipe music; the revival of Provencal life and culture by Frederic Mistral (their Robert Burns and Rabindranath Tagore in one), who reopened the Graeco-Roman theatre of their region, and who, with his Nobel Prize money, built the Musee Provencal. The letter concluded with a plea to rival and even surpass all these examples, "and so make the needed step beyond your present enlarged edition of the English public meeting."

But there was a two-page P.S., which included an explanation of his town planning efforts. He said that Gandhi's pandal (open air platform with canopy) was a good example of "seeking the needed material environment for effective action - the fulcrum of your lever, before you can move the world." But he suggested that what was needed was no mere transient pandal, and with its poor acoustics, but the open air theatre and ampitheatre, the supreme material achievement of the Hellenic culture.

In the same P.S. he also referred to Gandhi's plea for the union of the Hindi with the Urdu vocabulary, and reminded him of how modern English owes its best qualities to the long mingling of Saxon and French.

Gandhi's reply came within a week. He thanked Geddes for his letter, expressed his broad concurrence with Geddes' views, and said he would treasure the letter. Could he make public use of it? Finally, he asked Geddes for advice on how he may build cheap and durable houses - from the foundation to the roof.

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