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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Path to Awareness

The Path to Realisation or Awareness
Santhosh Kumar Kana

Upagupta tells the dancing girl in Rabindranath Tagore’s poem “Upagupta” where she invites the ascetic to her house:

“ When Time is ripe, I’ll come to you”.

A beautiful young girl whose invitation no one would be able to turn down, is shocked when the ascetic does so. She is unable to make out what he meant by saying, “Time is not ripe”. For Upagupta, the Time here is not a material entity of years or months. It is the period of the evolution of consciousness or awareness. But for the dancing girl, it is materialistic. The conversation comes to an end as both of them speak from two different realms. Later in the poem, when the girl is banished from the city, denounced, her body full of sores, the ascetic comes to her saying:

“The time, at last, has come to visit you, and I’m here”.

Here she realizes what he meant by ‘Time’. Here Time is not linear but cyclic, true to Indian ethos. The communication between the two is smooth now. She who was ‘drunk with the wine of her youth’ is now conscious and awake and has seen the real and the eternal. She is sober and free from delusion, fit for spiritual path.

Each individual is a process, not a product and the process varies from individual to individual and are alike in many. The enlightened one recognizes it and so remains compassionate. That is why, we find most of the enlightened souls hardly taking the risk of talking or preaching. To say is to miss the real. To teach is to disturb the process in an individual. We know that Lord Buddha hardly answered the questions put to him often and often. As Lord Krishna says in the Gita,

“All are struggling through paths which in the end lead to Me”.
(The Gita, 4.11)

It is the pace that varies from individual to individual. Some walk, a few run but all are bent on reaching the destination. The passengers in a bus or train have different speed irrespective of the speed of the vehicle. Some are in a hurry, a few relaxed and some in between. But they all have to reach there and will one day. Give them their time. Don’t try to change them.

Swami Vivekananda says,

“ The child is the father of man. Would it be right for an old man to say that childhood is a sin or youth a sin? It is the necessary stage of life………Man is to become divine by realizing the divine. Idols or temples or churches or books are only the supports, the helps, of his spiritual childhood, but on and on he must progress”.
(“Paper on Hinduism”, Swami Vivekananda)

If at all the enlightened souls have ever tried to teach something, it was out of extreme concern for the humanity and as a caution, a warning knowing very well that their words alone wouldn’t bring any change but can accelerate the process in an individual to a little extent at least in one among many.

According to Swami Vivekananda,

“Man is not traveling from error to truth but from truth to truth, from lower truth to higher truth. Every soul is a young eagle soaring higher and higher, gathering more and more strength till it reaches the Glorious Sun.”
(“Paper on Hinduism”, Swami Vivekananda)

He goes on to say,

“Every religion is only evolving a God out of the material man, and the same God is the inspirer of all of them”.

This is the same spirit in Buddha’s words too:

“Be a light unto yourself”.

Imitating the enlightened one can mislead us. Our process is quite different, so is our path. Keep asking questions that emerge in your mind, don’t worry about answers. Nobody can give an answer because answer is within us. It has to be discovered. If we analyze we can see that question emerges from answer and dissolves in it as bubbles appear on water and dissolve in the same. Wait, watch and be alert. God is in all or it is his duty to be in all and it is our right to know Him.

The parable of the Prodigal Son in the Bible is about the same ripening of Time. The son had to go after all the material pleasures, exhaust himself in order to come back home, to his father(God). Till one is fully evolved to consciousness or awareness, one is bound to move in ignorance. There is a time lag between lower truth and higher truth (the ripening of realization).

The lives of emperor Asoka, Angulimala etc. testify the same truth.
Rabindranath Tagore writes in the Gitanjali,

“The traveler has to knock at every alien door to come to his own, and one has to wander through all the outer worlds to reach the innermost shrine at the end”

"A Little Grain of Gold"

The Poem from "Gitanjali"

I had gone a-begging from door to door in the village path, when thy golden chariot appeared in the distance like a gorgeous dream and I wondered who was this King of all kings!

My hopes rose high and methought my evil days were at an end, and I stood waiting for alms to be given unasked and for wealth scattered on all sides in the dust.

The chariot stopped where I stood. Thy glance fell on me and thou camest down with a smile. I felt that the luck of my life had come at last. Then of a sudden thou didst hold out thy right hand and say `What hast thou to give to me?'

Ah, what a kingly jest was it to open thy palm to a beggar to beg! I was confused and stood undecided, and then from my wallet I slowly took out the least little grain of corn and gave it to thee.

But how great my surprise when at the day's end I emptied my bag on the floor to find a least little gram of gold among the poor heap. I bitterly wept and wished that I had had the heart to give thee my all.

My speech



Good Morning respected Principal sir, dear colleagues and beloved students,

Speech on the occasion of any celebration is something very common and I was, therefore, wondering what I should speak on this occasion. I felt that, as a teacher, I should be speaking about things related to education.

First of all, we have to learn that freedom is different from independence. You can be independent, ie, you don’t depend on someone for a living but you need not be free. India became independent in 1947. But has it become free is a question we should ask and it would open up a plethora of issues and concerns before us. Freedom means psychological, spiritual freedom-freedom from fear, narrow-mindedness, prejudice, envy, jealousy, indifference etc.

If this celebration takes us only back to the memories of the past and not to the responsibilities of the present, and if it ends up as mere celebration, then, I think it has failed the purpose upheld by all those well-known and unsung heroes in the history of our country. I have usually found that all our talk on freedom struggle is centered round a few well-known personalities. Let us not tread the beaten path and try here to remember those who led a miserable life in the Andaman Cellular Jail, those who in their own humble way raised their voice against the foreign rulers even in the remote villages of India.

We are living in an age where New Historicism is the current approach to study history. History itself is not a set of fixed objective facts, but like the literature with which it interacts, a text which needs to be interpreted; that a text whether literary or historical is a discourse which, although it may seem to present or reflect an external reality, in fact, consists of what are called Representation-that is, verbal formations which are the ideological products or cultural constructs of a particular era and that these cultural and ideological representations in text serve mainly to reproduce, confirm and propagate the power structures of domination and subordination which characterize a given society. That is, History is ‘His story’ and there is very less about ‘Her story’. The contribution of all those who were marginalized in the writing of history has to be digged out and presented before us for a virtual democratic approach to life and knowledge. Writing the history of a nation is a greater challenge as it should do justice to all those involved in forming the nation. It should not be in the hands of vested interests. If the history books we read are written with vested interests to highlight a particular caste, religion, person or region, it is our duty to ask pivotal questions to find the truth. T.S. Eliot writes in one of his poems:

“History has many cunning passages,
contrived corridors and issues,
deceives with whispering ambitions
and guides us by vanities”.

As students, it is your duty now to look at things afresh and read between the lines. A text is not a mere text, it is a context. It is a social and political context. It is your duty as a student and my duty as a teacher to take you away from the printed matter into the vast ocean of life from which it emerges. Every text is born from a social context. If you learn without being aware of it, your learning does no good to the society or to the nation.

Media has grown incredibly in the present age after sixty years. But we must ask the question, “Are they really committed to the problems of common man?” We have to develop the sense of discrimination between True and False. When media resorts solely to promoting sensationalism and diverting us from the cardinal problems of the day, how can we remain passive repeating advertisement captions like “Thanda matlab coca cola”. The foundation of this awareness has to be laid in the school itself. When media celebrates the marriage of a celebrity’s son or daughter, we should realize that it is not doing justice to the nation and is failing in its ethics. If you merely remain a couch potato with your fingers shuttling from one TV channel to another, remember, you are moving towards a greater or more dangerous colonization. In the past, there was an obvious enemy, so, the revolt against it was easier but now corporate globalization and multinational companies colonize us through various ways. When you compete to become beauty queen, you are colonized. If you believe cricket is the only game popular, and the most interesting, you are colonized. The world is run by three secretive institutions and a handful of greedy bankers and CEOs. In Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Bolivia, civil unrest is growing against this. This exploitation has spread its roots all over the world sucking the last drop from all and is growing enormously.

If you are patriotic only when you watch cricket or on Independence day celebration, you are not doing justice to the nation or to yourself. So, it is time that we realize the importance of work and responsibility. Instead of blaming the system all the time, we should introspect and see how much dedication and joy we have in the work we do. If you try to escape from work and responsibility and criticize the system or the country, you are wasting your potential in a battle with your own shadow.

Of course, history teaches us a lot. But we can only work in the present. If work is a burden to you, what right have to blame or tarnish the image of your country? We don’t want mere passionate outbursts like “I am ready to fight for my country, die for my country”. What is important is “Are you ready to live for your country?”

The strength of a nation is not wealth but the people. As future citizens, my dear students, you must learn to love the work you do. No system is born by itself. It is born out of the dreams and desires of all of us. If at all you want a change, you have to change your attitude to work. Hard work, sincere and dedicated. If you work so everything else would work.

Thank you, Jai Hind.



by Santhosh kumar kana

“Observe silence” is a common instruction which all students are familiar with. I am not talking about that here. I am using “observe” to mean “to watch, to look at”. So the title should be read as “Have you watched or looked at silence?”

The whole universe abounds in silence. Noise or sound arises from silence and dissolve back into silence like the bubbles that appear on water and disappear into water. Look at silence as you look at a tree, a flower or a river. You will find that there is nothing except silence. It is not something to be created. It is there always and it IS. What we should do is to observe how it digests all the noise and sound we create.

When you read a book, do you complain that you are unable to concentrate because there is so much noise around? Do you know what is happening here? You are trying to create silence and it is a futile effort. If you are silent, ie, if your mind is silent, then you are one with the silence outside.

It is said that once Swami Vivekananda complained to his guru Sri Ramakrishna that he was unable to concentrate in meditation because there was so much of noise from a factory nearby. The reply his guru gave him is remarkable:

“concentrate on that noise”

Words have been invented to discover silence. But instead of discovering it, we have created more noise with words. In fact, words can’t capture the depth and infinity of silence. But we have no other option. So where we have to use two words, let us not use twenty.

If you discover this silence, it refreshes you and makes you more brave. It helps your energy concentrate on the work you do. That is how it improves concentration. And naturally it improves your memory. Wise men say that if you can remember the words you spoke all the day before you go to bed at night, you are really alive.

Our mind captures an incident and saves in our computer(mind) as memory. Remember, life is just before you, happening each and every moment. If you don’t miss the present moment, you can “observe” the silence around and only then you discover what life is.


"Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening"


In Kathopanishad, the human body is compared to a chariot, the intellect to the charioteer, the senses to horses, the objects of the senses the roads or things outside.The driver is responsible for the movement of the chariot. In the poem, the charioteer exercises his intellect and takes the chariot ahead overcoming the attraction of the lovely woods. A person who cannot resist the temptation of sense objects bringing the senses under control can't have a successful or peaceful life. The picture of the poet in the carriage in the poem is a visual representation of the spiritual truth in Kathopanishad.

Tagore's "Upagupta"-Supportive Reading

Santhosh Kumar Kana
The Poem “Upagupta” establishes the impermanence of sensual pleasures, the root cause of sorrow being attachment to material pleasures etc. and many such philosophical and spiritual truths. Tagore achieves this through the incidents in the life of a dancing girl and her meeting with an ascetic called Upagupta.

The poem presents two moments in the life of a dancing girl. The dancing girl comes to Upagupta, the disciple of Buddha on a dark night and invites him to her house. Upagupta rejects her invitation saying,
“ when the time is ripe, I will come to you”.
She is described as proud of her youth and beauty(“drunk with the wine of her youth”). She meets the ascetic again after a long time when she is stricken with black pestilence and is thrown out of the city. The ascetic comes to her and consoles her. He says that it is the right time to visit her.

The two moments shown in the life of the girl are the two cardinal moments in her life-two important phases of one’s life. The poem may appear to have no movement but it has in the case of the inner as well as the outer life of the dancing girl. A great transformation occurs in her life.

The two meetings are highly symbolic. The description of Nature adds to it. On her first meeting with the ascetic, the sky is dark, without stars and is horrid with lightning and storm. Though it is a dark night, the dancing girl is bright with her jewels shining like stars. Though she carries a lamp (light) she is in darkness (metaphorically) i.e., she is ignorant. The ascetic doesn’t need such a light because he has seen the inner light (avatara jyoti). The poet describes him sleeping in darkness. Light and darkness are used quite symbolically and ironically here. On her second meeting, the sky is bright with full moon(Buddha attained enlightenment on a full moon night), whereas her life is dark with sorrow, being stricken with ‘black’ pestilence. The darker side of life is shown here. Her very statement during her first meeting with Upagupta “the dusty earth is not a fit bed for you” anticipates her own future condition of which she is ignorant. A sannyasin knows that everything returns to the dusty earth. The body and the palaces erected on the earth are also subject to decay (“the base of the rampart”). During her second meeting with the ascetic she is seen lying down on the same dusty earth. In the first meeting she steps on the breast of the ascetic while in the second it said that she lay “at his feet”. How her life has taken an unexpected turn is well illustrated here.

The spring season too is described with symbolic undertones. The branches of the trees laden with flowers are described as “aching”. It implies that it is a burden. The period of youth in one’s life too is like the spring season. The woman described as “drunk with the wine of her youth” experiences the pain of this pride later. Youth too is a burden, an aching burden. The festival of flowers mentioned also conveys the same. The people are always after “spring”, i.e. they are after material pleasures. They approach the girl when she is young and beautiful and desert her when she has lost her charm. The young ascetic is described as walking in the “lonely street”. People are not interested in spiritual truth. Earlier too, the poet mentions that “the doors were all shut” before the ascetic.

The poem depicts the inner transformation of the dancing girl. Once she was proud of her body and its beauty but she comes to know that it is also subject to decay like any other thing in nature. But there is something which remains constant unaltered by nature or its challenges. She discovers this spiritual truth. The ascetic remains the same in both the meetings. He is not at all attached to worldly pleasures. He is aware of the happy and sad sides of life. That is why his action is described as “austerely beautiful”. It is not an action resulting from the ego. It is difficult for people to think of such an action whereas it is easy for them to understand a face described as “austerely beautiful”.

It should be noted that the ascetic asks the girl to go on her way (“go on your way”) and not on his way. He does not impose a path on her. This is the fundamental feature of Buddha’s teaching. He says, “Be a light unto you”. When the ascetic says, “When the time is ripe” he doesn’t refer to the ripe time for him but for her. Only when she realizes the impermanence of material pleasures from her own bitter experiences, the time will be ripe for her. Only then she will understand what is real and what is unreal(“serpent and the rope”). One discovers oneself only when one is free of delusions. Earlier she came to him as to any other attractive man. She was so proud of her youth that she couldn’t see his spiritual beauty. It is in the second meeting that she finds it.

The poem is rich with beautiful imagery.

Robert Frost's "Mending Wall"

Santhosh Kumar Kana

The Poem ‘Mending Wall’ by Robert Frost is centered around all the possible attempts made by the speaker in the poem to convince his neighbor about the futility and the insignificance of building a wall or mending the gaps in the wall where according to him, Nature itself doesn’t prefer one. The wall can be said to symbolize religious, caste, racial, political differences or discriminations, social prohibitions, division of private property, border issues etc. But the focal point of the chief argument in the poem seems to be referring to diverse attempts of the speaker who by way of his arguments reveals or constructs himself to be more scientific, rational, broad and humane like his neighbor who is a closed individual. The contrast gets magnified when the speaker fails to convince his neighbor who sticks firmly to/within his built-in prejudices and notions.

The neighbor’s persona constructed thus by the speaker is of an uncompromising orthodox. The poem shows how one constructs the other-racial, linguistic and cultural constructions. The neighbor is constantly trying to resist cultural intrusions or conquests. The speaker’s attempt is not to transform his neighbor or to transfer him to his side or views but to make him rationalize his convictions. He seeks a justification for his deeds or beliefs. The neighbor is urged throughout to do a self-analysis. The speaker lays before him facts to facilitate this:

1. My apple trees will never get across and eat the cones under your pine
2. There are no cows here to trespass into each one’s land
3. Before I built a wall I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out and to whom I was like to give offence.

These arguments fail and the neighbor repeats, “Good fences make good neighbors”. The speaker wants the neighbor to say if nothing but “elves” typical to his beliefs and unscientific outlook. The speaker implies it when he says “I’d rather he said it for himself”. The neighbor is all notions built on irrationality. The speaker even says overtly that if only he could put at least his views like a “notion” in the neighbor’s head implying notions could facilitate a change in his views. The neighbor is referred to in the rudest terms as an ignorant, irrational, uncivilized Stone Age man. The speaker tries to avoid rhetoric throughout the poem. It is clear when he says, “Not of woods only and the shade of trees” (line No.41). He wants to put the notion in his head without a garb of pretence, jargons or rhetoric. The contrast is clear in the impervious neighbor’s repetition which is pure rhetoric “Good fences make good neighbors”.

The poem thus speaks less about the wall but more about forming a conviction, an attitude or ideology. The speaker intends to convey that ignorance persists in spite of his repeated attempts and down-to-earth logic. Like in Edward Albee’s ‘The Zoo Story’, the ‘you’ and ‘I’ divide gets stronger here.

The wall can be a symbol of Ego. It is ego which creates divisions; divisions are for possession and possession satisfies the ego and keeps it strong. Ego is born out of narrow conclusions and ignorance like the unwanted wall built in which one loses one’s true perception of self or reality. The wall of ego gets broken by the reality of life and the ignorant keep mending it. Rabindranath Tagore writes in the Gitanjali

“He whom I enclose with my name is weeping in this dungeon. I am ever busy building this wall all around; and as this wall goes up into the sky day by day I lose sight of my true being in its dark shadow. I take pride in this great wall, and I plaster it with dust and sand lest a least hole should be left in this name; and for all the care I take I lose sight of my true being”.
(Passage No.29)

The poem can also be read as a poetic version of Reader-Response criticism. A text is no finished product and it is the reader who breaks the built-in conclusions about it and gives it new meaning. The conventional reader keeps mending the gaps and resists any new reading. The basis of deconstructive reading is expanding the gaps in a text.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008


“Law, morality, religion are to him(proletariat) so many bourgeois prejudices behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests”
-The Communist Manifesto

The poem “A Little Grain of Gold”, an extract from Gitanjali is chiefly and most popularly read as one which reiterates the faith of an ignorant and selfish beggar in the infinite grace of the divine. These readings have merely favoured knowingly or unknowingly the interests of the ruling class. Instead of subjecting the poem to a socio-political analysis, these readings have, like the poem itself, done a grave injustice to many pivotal questions. These questions become very obvious in the reading of the poem makes clear the poet’s attempt to purposefully overlook the issues of the ruled and favour capitalist interests. The poem deconstructs itself and these gaps and silences are exposed when essential questions arise about justifications for the life of the ruled class and their economic status. In the poem, the beggar’s life(ruled class) is a poignant and prominent contrast to the life of the king(ruling class).

The beggar is a servile flatterer or submissive citizen who is made to look aghast at the magic performed by the ruling class to exploit the ruled. Using the ruled against themselves is a common strategy of fascists or capitalists. A citizen like the beggar who fails or doesn’t dare to ask cardinal questions of economic and political justice is the backbone of capitalist exploitation. All questions of the ruled class are silenced or suppressed by shrewd and diplomatic moves by the ruling class. The king in the poem like a successful conjurer thwarts the questions within the beggar by holding out his pal before him in a very dramatic gesture. The king cleverly forestalls the beggar by this and leaves him distraught.

The class disparity is very obvious in the poem. The king in the poem is a representative of the ruling exploitative class which laughs at the ruled by making them regret for not offering everything they have to the ruler. When a king moves in golden chariot in his kingdom, isn’t he responsible for the beggar in his kingdom and his “evil days”? Isn’t it an adequate testimony to reveal the political and economic injustice prevailing in the kingdom? Isn’t it his political and social obligation to give alms “unasked”? Instead, the king asking for alms from the beggar in a “kingly jest” is an instance of ruthless mockery of the ruled. The misery of the ruled class is a royal joke for the king speaks volumes of his ideology and intentions. What the beggar finds at the end of the day is a mere return for what he had given out of his hard earned livelihood(“I had gone a-begging from door to door in the village path” ). The king who demands the beggar’s livelihood and is imagined by the beggar to have given him a grain of gold in return(the text offers no logical justification or clear proof for this and the assumption is perpetrated by the capitalists through its own institutions like religion which serve as cozy couch for itself in order to suppress burning questions of the ruled class) is no embodiment of grace. The intention of the poet reveals itself more clearly when he calls the beggar’s day’s gains “a poor heap” drawing a deliberate contrast to the “grain of gold”. The “grain of gold” and not the “grain of corn” given by the beggar from his most precious collection to the king forms the title of the poem reasserts it again. Or the title, if given by the editors, too speaks the way the poem is popularly read. These interests of the exploitative class culminate when the beggar is made to regret for not having the “heart” to give all that he has to the king. (Intellect replaced by heart, reason replaced by sentiment, questioning replaced by belief is how the ruled class should be for the bourgeois). The beggar is thus portrayed heartless, ungrateful and selfish. The popular readings of the poem blindly assume or ridiculously justify the presence of the grain of gold in the beggar’s bag on a spiritual or metaphysical hypothesis. This sort of hypothesis is purposefully disseminated among the ruled class by the exploitative class in order to justify and strengthen their economic interests. The most widely manifested form of this is religious beliefs. Marx’s “Religion is the opium of the people” is worth reference. The king deftly tackles the beggar’s potential query by cleverly creating a brainstorm in him. This is a hijack that leaves the beggar more submissive to the king. All his regrets for not having given whatever he has to the king (he weeps bitterly which never happens with the king in spite of seeing a beggar in his kingdom) have two reasons. Firstly, he could have got a bagful of gold if he had given everything. Secondly, he failed to recognize the king and his magical power. Both contribute to the beggar’s assumption that king is like god and that grain of gold is given by none other than him. These sorts of illusions if exists the longer in the mind of the ruled class, the better for the ruling class. This is how it deftly safeguards its interests and exploits the ruled.

The ruling class wants the ruled to surrender itself to their interests to facilitate exploitation where questions unfavourable to their interests are serious offences. It wants a system of submissive followers who live in the illusory world in order to mar their true perception of reality. The regret of the beggar has a tinge of guilt too. The concept of sin and guilt is a product of religion.

The poem has direct, if not overtly mentioned, elements of intertextuality as it echoes Puranic tales from Hindu religion. The ironic results of the “kingly jest” of King Krishna on poor Sudhama’s visit to his court in the Bhagawata are one such, which too retains the same ideology. The poet’s cultural influences and social outlooks are of a capitalist, exploitative class’s interests thus disclose itself conspicuously in the poem.
1. Rabindranath Tagore. “A Little Grain of Gold”, English With a Purpose, Textbook for class XI, edited by Sandhya Sahoo & V.K.Bajpai, NCERT.