Sunday, 13 November 2011

The Buddha Smiles


O Lord Buddha, forgive them. They know what they are doing!

Tathagat smiled first in 1974, when India conducted its first N-Test in Pokhran on the Buddha-Purnima. Thereafter he was in a blue mood. After a lapse of twenty-four years, he once again smiled on the Buddha-Purnima of 1998, when the second N-Tests was conducted in Pokhran. I recall a Hindi poem written by the late Nagarjun some fifty years ago which, roughly translated, says that “The truth perceived by the govt. is different from the truth as seen by the people/ And this has put Tathagat, the supreme sage, in a dilemma”.

I would like to understand that if Lord Buddha was smiling on his birth anniversary, then whom was this Tathagat facing a dilemma? Does the poet have any right to raise any doubt about the smile, which has been attested by the govt. of the country? And if the poet wants to exercise his right, then is he prepared to voice his concern about the policies and decisions of the govt. of the day?

As a matter of fact, the poet should be asked if at all he did feel any concern about the N-Test conducted at the end of twentieth century by India. There is a distinct possibility that he might have felt rather elated at this development. To quote Nirmal Verma “It would not be unjustified if in him the glory and sanctity of patriotism has turned into narrow prejudice of nationalism” in the comparatively safe environment in which he lives. Again in Nirmal Verma’s words it is also possible that “he may not like to muddle his sense of patriotism with the self-interests of the powers-that-be”.  

At any rate, the trauma and tragic experiences of the war are not part of India’s collective memory. We didn’t had to face all that faced by many other nations during the Second World War- the holocaust, the Atom Bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or twenty million people laying their life in the Soviet Union; India was almost free from this nightmare. Today’s India has forgotten even the long struggle fought by our forefathers to become free of the colonial rule. Though India has gone to war on four occasions after Independence, Indian literature has not produced any significant writing on war or its after-effects. Rakta-rag by Devesh Das written on the background of the Second World War is perhaps the only book on this subject. Two novels of Jagdish Chandra- Adha Pul and Tunda Laat are the story woven around military life, but real experiences of the war are missing in them. In Hindi, if one has to mention, there is just one novel- Seemayen by Manhar Chauhan.

An important aspect of the truth is that the democratic polity in India, in spite of its shortcomings, has created a peaceful, free and vocal space not only for the common person, but also for the writer. This can be seen by comparing the Indian experience with that of from Vietnam to South Africa to Bosnia to Chile. This is interesting to note that whenever India has gone to war, it has turned out to be a money-spinning venture for a particular breed of poets who revel in calling themselves poets of patriotism and valour. We have seen open Patriotic poetry recital sessions being organised all over the country in 1962, 1965, 1971, and even in 1977 after lifting of the Internal Emergency. The year 1998 may also be seen in the same light.

Noble Laureate Heinrich Boll has noted somewhere that in post-war-Germany there was perhaps not a single writer who in one way or another was not related to Catholicism. It is just possible that in the aftermath of two great wars, the writers, sensitive as they are, were drawn towards their spiritual traditions, in quest of peace and in search of meaning of human existence. They even might have attempted to redefine the spirituality. But the sensitive hearts of India are least bothered about such subtleties. They travel, with equal ease, between the Veergatha Kaal (Era of poetry of valour- 10th/11th Century) and the Bhakti Kal (Era of devotional poetry- 15th/16th Century). The Indian poet, snugly floating in the ocean of devotion and spiritualism, may not like to see the paradox of N-Tests being conducted on the birth anniversary of Lord Buddha, as reflected in the following words of noted poet the late Faiz Ahmed Faiz!

“The people in power are concerned about the throne and the treasures, but they all envy this recluse of yours” and

“O, Lord! While the Sheikh delivers diatribes by his acid tongue, the tears flowing from the eyes of the poor soaks your chador”. (Both couplets translated from Farsi).

Today when India wears on its shoulders the pride of becoming a Nuclear State, and when proud intellectuals like Dr. Pushpesh Pant castigate former Prime Ministers for not exercising the option, one can only offer prayers in the words of Vinod Kumar Shukla- one of the most important signatures in modern Indian Writing -

“It may be that the big blast to destroy the earth happens any moment now/ It may also be that before the life is destroyed, a bigger blast of life takes place”.

Notes- 1) Tathagat is yet another name of Buddha. 2) Buddha-Purnima is the birth anniversary of Buddha as per Indian Calendar. 3) Purnima- Full Moon.

Written and translated by Lalit Surjan

The Editorial published in AKSHAR PARV monthly, June 1998