Saturday, August 16, 2014

From ‘Inner Recesses Outer Spaces. Memoirs’ by Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay

The Indian cow to me is the most beautiful creature, and I have seen cows all over the world…. When I talked to the cows, their eyes showed a quiet understanding…..through those extraordinarily expressive eyes they showed sympathy and invariably nodded their heads….

….Irawati Karve …………anthropologist ….she did intensive studies in remote rural areas….her partisanship for polygamy for agricultural families was strengthening with time …..She explained that it was traditionally accepted and no social ethics entered here to complicate the family harmony. So far as married life went, they were content. How many couples under monogamy really lived a full satisfied life, she queried? Here the woman had security, a comfortable home and a happily shared responsibility for care of the children…..

Before the advent of the British the rural scene was one of self sufficient communities. The peasants grew their basic needs. The skilled craftsmen provided the communities’ other needs.
In Bengal (the Bengal Presidency of the time included Bihar also) in particular with India’s defeat at Plassey, the entire scene started getting drastically transformed. The new rulers rushed across the fertile land stripping it of its crop wealth and stamping on the exquisite handicrafts, especially the superb home-woven textiles.
A new era of cash crop was forced on the region through the new plantation system, whereby the unwary peasant was pushed into the trader’s money-spinning orbit through plantation cultivation of opium, jute, tea, above all indigo. Indigo ensnared the cultivator into practical slavery, making him victim of a most hateful economic bondage…. The planters were themselves imposters, who had got themselves transplanted from the West Indies where they had worked with slave labour……After the 1857 war, the racial animosities of the planters increased, their assaults on labour sharpened with the free use of leather thongs known as Shamchands, for slogging. The planters retained their own armies to terrorise labour.

…Rabindranath Tagore …went on the explain the strong impact Western music had made on him. ‘It has an entirely different resonant richness that I am trying to catch and intertwine in a new music,’ he explained. Then to illustrate he sang the now famous ‘Ami Chinigo Chini’, which he explained was inspired by an Italian serenade.

Motilal Nehru seemed a person apart not just because of his political position but his superb bearing, of absolute self confidence, above all the unusually pleasant rapport he had with his arch opponents in the government who on occasions readily arrested and imprisoned him. Most English members in the Viceroy’s Council, confessed they found him delightful even though a formidable adversary in a political battle, and all of them characterized him as a clean fighter who commanded their respect.

However inance and formless the Salt Satyagraha may have sounded, the Dandi March, Gandhiji’s long journey on foot to the sea opened ….An old man with a large staff in his hand was accompanied by a struggling group of 71 of varied ages, indifferently clad ….As this motley crowd marched in disciplined silence, each foot fall seemed to echo and re-echo through the land. Each day the tempo kept rising. …was 240 miles, from Sabarmati where he started …..As the march progressed it were as though the millions of Indians were marching ….. I felt elated as part of one of the most spectacular dramas in India’s political history….

….to formally break the Salt Law in public in Bombay city …..we were filing out, taking the road to the sea…. Great sky-rending cries of ‘Jai’ filled the air. Heavy-scented flower garlands almost smothered us. From the balconies and roofs unseen hands showered rose-petals until the road became a carpet of flowers. Often our march was stopped and bright eyed women sprinkled rose water from silver sprays, tipped our palms with sandalwood paste and perfume and blessed us waving lights round our heads and faces for good omen…. The city seemed to have disgorged of almost its entire population onto the sands….breaking the Salt Law, …hundreds and thousands now filling the water’s edge….. The police who had looked onat this advancing avalanche of lawbreakers seemed almost stupefied…

…though Gandhiji himself was not a temple goer, he insisted on the right of every human being to have access to all public places, including temples

Gandhiji had on his delightful smile that lit up the air around… There was devastating charm about him and when he turned it on full, those around fell easy victims. Though loaded with problems and responsibilities, he was so jocular and hearty, many of his jokes being against himself. He thus radiated a light-heartedness, as though he had not a care in the world. None of his close colleagues had that gift, nay not many Indians.

They [Kasturba and Gandhiji] were up before the Ashram stirred. … I watched…the speed and deftness with which she got through her chores, showing a long experienced hand at them. It was a pleasant sight to see them busy together, an intimacy that is woven like a web, intricate yet simple, delicate but strong, pregnated with a personal warmth, like two halves of a single whole. The nights were truly romantic. Though they were out of my sight, they were within easy hearing. …I knew she was gently rubbing his feet. I was not sure whether she did it for her own comfort or his. It was obviously one of those intimacies they had adopted. From the words and phrases that penetrated my reading, I learnt she was recounting to him some of the events of the day to which he made some replies. The nights were their own, they were simple husband and wife like any other couple in the world. …..It was also known that they had had sharp differences. But somewhere down their arduous pilgrimage had been dawning on her slpwly but forcefully a conviction not only of his bonafides but also that he was a man of great destiny, he belonged to the world, to the larger humanity, her role was to strengthen and fortify him for this noble mission …..she rather reluctantly allowed herself to say: one may not always agree with a course he takes but one does finally find that it was the right one, in any event it was a straight one.

…Lord Mountbatten …was subtle, uncannily sleek and his one weapon to master the tangled scene was to convince everyone he was a sincere friend of India. He built up a phony façade with his handsome exterior and studied polished mannners, aided cannily, with furtive subtlety by his socialite wife Edwina…..

I have often wondered if anybody else had drawn as many foreign admirers as Tagore, except Gandhiji.

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