It was sheer delight to speak as Chief Guest to the august gathering on the “Contemporary Relevance of Rudyard Kipling” whose 150th Birth Anniversary was celebrated under the banner of English Literary Society of Agra today, the 12th of March 2016 at Youth Hostel, Agra. Kipling has been a controversial writer and has often been branded a “Jingo Imperialist.”
At the very outset I pointed out how we often jump to conclusions through our bias and prejudice and destroy relationships instead of holding them in bonds of harmony. As an instance, I referred to his poem, “Ballad of East and West,” which many of us may not have cared to read. In both spirit and flesh Kipling’s poetic statement, made more than a century ago, ought to inspire those who espouse the idea that civilizations should never mix and that cultural barriers are insurmountable. In the present era of communication and satellite revolutions it may be futile and superfluous to imagine that “mortal millions” should remain isolated and “alone” in inviolable cultural isles of their own.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the author of the Nobel Prize winning book Gulag Archipelago, had declared way back in 1970 that “Mankind's sole salvation lies in everyone making everything his business; in the people of the East being vitally concerned with what is thought in the West, the people of the West vitally concerned with what goes on in the East.” But, unfortunately, those whose visions are closed to diversity and tolerance on account of irrational mindsets refuse to see and learn how bridging the gulf created by barriers and boundaries can make the world safer and more beautiful.
What especially interests me in Kipling is his firm grasp of the true inwardness of all things Indian. We find this abundantly reflected in the major segment of Kipling's writings. Be it The Jungle Book, Kim or any other work we are bound to agree with the fact stated in the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony Speech that his writings “have brought India nearer home to the English nation than has the construction of the Suez Canal."
Most of us can easily recall how we were drawn to the lilting lyrics of Gulzar in the song musically rendered by Vishal Bharadwaj: "jungle, jungle baat chali hai, pata chala hai/ Chaddi pehen ke phool khila, phool khila hai” in the popular TV serial based on the The Jungle Book that became hugely popular with all age groups in India in the yester years.
In this collection of stories, Mowgli is first raised by wolves before being put out on his own and his adventurous travel through the jungle to find the human village. He learns the meaning of real friendship and trust from inhabitants of the jungle like Baloo the bear, King Louie of the apes, the hypnotic snake Kaa and the wise panther Bagheera. The book has positive messages about friendship, responsibility, and finding family in unexpected places. Though many of the characters are self-serving or outright evil, the ones who succeed in life are the generous, caring ones. There is plenty to make us visit The Jungle Book again and again both for its educative and entertainment values. It is also significant that Walt Disney’s account of the book extended the outreach of the book to international audiences and readers. Incidentally, this was the last cartoon feature Disney was directly involved with before his death. It is significant that in this age of environmental crisis Kipling’s book offers much food for thought reminding us of Rousseau’s opening statement in the Social Contract: “Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains.”
“If” by Rudyard Kipling first appeared in his collection Rewards and Fairies in 1909. It is a pleasure to share this poem with one and all.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master,
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!
One of the most anthologised poems in English, the poem is inspirational, motivational, and a set of rules for 'grown-up' living. It contains mottos and maxims for life, and the poem is also a blueprint for personal integrity, behaviour and self-development. “If” is perhaps even more relevant today than when Kipling wrote it as an ethos and a personal philosophy. The two lines of the poem, “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/And treat those two impostors just the same” are inscribed above the entrance to Wimbledon’s Centre Court, inspiring those who contend for one of tennis’s most treasured trophies in the world.
One can draw, in both success and despair, abundant inspiration from each line of the poem for ways and means to face the struggle of life with equanimity and grace. To a world crazy for mantras of instant success, this poem is a vital blueprint for a life nobly lived and a duty well done. Khushwant Singh rightly called this poem “a message from the Bhagvad Gita in English.” I too am of the opinion that had Kipling not written a single line besides this poem, this poem in itself would have ensured his presence in the hall of immortal fame.”
– Dr. Nibir K. Ghosh, D.Litt., is UGC Emeritus Fellow, Agra College, Agra. It is noteworthy that his name figures in the select list of 100 academicians and scholars from all over India who have been given this award in fields as diverse as Engineering, Medicine, Science, Humanities, Management, Law etc. He is the sole recipient of the award in the sphere of English Language and Literature in the entire country. He has been Senior Fulbright Fellow at the University of Washington, Seattle, USA during 2003-04. His essay entitled “The Spiritual Nationalism of Sri Aurobindo” is prescribed in the Foundation Course of Universities and colleges in Madhya Pradesh. He is founder Chief Editor, Re-Markings (www.re-markings.com).
With the March 2016 issue Re-Markings, an international biannual journal of research in English, Re-Markings celebrates the launch of the 30th issue, marking fifteen eventful years of its publication. Reproduced below is an inspirational tribute from Dr. Tijan M. Sallah on the occasion:
Tijan M. Salah
At a time when the thoughtless mercenaries of dogma, religious and tribal extremists of all stripes, faiths and colors; bloody in their binary taxonomy of the world – into us and them – losing sight of our singularity as humans; at a time when these faith-mercenaries brandish their inhumane weaponry wanting to drag a sane world into a nihilist abyss, I am reassured by the 30th issue of Re-Markings, a journal that provides a generous platform for the sharing of stories, essays and criticisms of what is magnificent in our being human albeit molded by the rich diverse cultures of the world. When I read any issue of Re-Markings, I get reassured that Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilizations" was wrong. His framework was too cynical of human nature, asymmetrically weighed to the darker side of human nature. Re-Markings is an avenue for the brighter side of human nature, a journal for the "Dialogue of Civilizations," the hybridization of humanity that the late Senegalese poet-President Leopold Senghor so ceremoniously championed. It is a journal of critical and creative exploration of the world's great literatures and cultures – a platform for global enlightenment. May its next 30 years be that of growth and continued vibrancy as its first.
Dr. Tijan M. Sallah is a Gambian poet, short story writer, biographer and essayist. He is the most significant living Gambian poet and described by critics as one of Africa's most important writers following the generation of Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka. His works have been broadcast over the BBC and the National Public Radio in the U.S. An economist by training, he has taught economics at several American universities before joining the World Bank, where he managed the agriculture, irrigation and rural development program for East African countries till his recent retirement.
Dr. Nibir K. Ghosh, UGC Emeritus Fellow, Agra College, Agra, Senior Fulbright Fellow 2003-04, University of Washington, Seattle, USA & Chief Editor, Re-Markings (www.re-markings.com).