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Toru Dutt is a true child psychologist, who portrays childhood in such manner that she appears to be a pioneer of child psychologists. She appears to be a teacher of morality to the children. She idolizes Prahlad, Dhruva, Eklavya and Shravan Kumar, who are the embodiments of devotion and dedication.
Key words: Child psychology, tradition, Indian culture, myth, legends
“Child psychology is a scientific study of the individual from his prenatal beginnings through the early stages of his adolescent development,” (Crow Lester 1) say Crow and Crow. They further add, “The science of child psychology deals with (i) the stages of growth and maturation (ii) the effects of environment influences upon individual patterns of development and (iii) the psychological and social interactions between a child and other members of the society into which he is born and in which he is reared” (Crow Lester 1).
Poets, psychologists, parents, teachers and other adults who are interested in the welfare of both the individual and society have become increasingly aware of the significance of the childhood years of the individual. Toru Dutt is a true child psychologist who portrays childhood in such manner that she appears to be a pioneer of child psychologists at times. Phrases such as ‘The child is the father of man’ and ‘the first six years of life are the most important’ are well-known to Toru Dutt. Rightly observes Dr. S.Z.H. Abidi, “Toru Dutt can be called the pioneer in children’s poetry and the first poet to tell the Indian tales in English” (Abidi 61). Toru Dutt’s poetry is a depiction of children’s life, its qualities, joys, aspirations, zeal and vigour. She finely mirrors the life span of childhood with special preference to Indian mythology. P. K. Verma says, “She was much interested in the songs and legends of India which she heard from her mother in her childhood” (27). Her poems like ‘Buttoo’, ‘The Legend of Dhruva,’ ‘Prahlad’ and Sindhu are the stories of ideal children of Indian Mythology. As Toru Dutt’s poetry is deeply influenced by Indian mythological anecdotes, she delineates those fine impressions into her beautiful expression. Besides this, some of her poems of autobiographical nature, in the second part of ‘Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan’ namely the ‘Tree of Life’ and ‘Our Casuarina Tree’ give reflections of Dutt’s keen observance in child psychology.
As we are well- acquainted with the fact that the children are the miniature adults. During the era of puritan rigidity, children were to be seen but not heard. Young children were thought to have little or no heed for anything except physical care. But the fact is now recognized that during all the stages of his growth a child requires intelligent care of his physical needs and trained guidance of his mental, emotional and social potentialities. Toru has narrated beautifully the stories of Dhruva and Prahlad in her poems touching the delicate feelings of childhood and adolescence. K.R.S. Iyengar aptly remarks, “from the nursery the children live with these heroes and heroines, and neither maturity nor sophistication does much to lessen the hold of these tales on imagination. It was thus with a sure instinct that Toru Dutt sought in these deathless stories the right material for the expression of her own maturing poetic powers” (Iyengar 64). In ‘The Legend of Dhruva,’ she tells the story pathetically. Insulted by Suruchee, Dhruva reacts as:
Repulsed in silence from his father’s lap,
Indignant, furious, at the words that fell
From his step – mother’s lips, poor Dhruva ran
To his own mother’s chambers, where he stood
Beside her with his pale, thin, trembling lips,
(Trembling with an emotion ill – suppressed)
And hair in wild disorder (Ancient Ballads 108-9)
At child’s predicament, his mother asks:
Oh, child, what means this ? what can be the cause
Of this great anger ? Who hath given the pain? (Ancient Ballads 109)
Now Toru describes everything as it is:
Thus conjured Dhruva, with a swelling heart
Repeated to his mother every word
That proud Suruchee spake, from first to last,
Even in the very presence of the king” (Ancient Ballads 109)
She portrays his predicament as:
His speech oft broken by his tears and sobs,
Helpless Suneetee, languid – eyed from care
Heard sighing deeply (Ancient Ballads 109)
Suneetee, the legendary mother listens to all the narration of her innocent son. But she does not feel gloomy or dismayed; rather she motivates her son to be content and quenched. She says:
As I have said That man is truly wise
Who is content with what he has, and seeks
Nothing beyond, (Ancient Ballads 110)
In this conversation of child and mother, Toru gets success in exhibiting the psychological basic instincts of an individual like, love, jealousy, anger and so on. The reprimand of Suruchee to the child Dhruva gave birth to another instinct of childish anger and pain in him. Toru in a skilled manner shows the courage and boldness of Dhruva:
Mother, thy words of consolation find
Nor resting – place nor echo in this heart. (Ancient Ballads 111)
She says again:
My resolve unchangeable. I shall try
The highest good, the loftiest place to win,
Which the whole world deems priceless and
desires. (Ancient Ballads 111)
Toru Dutt reveals the indomitable will power of Dhruva in a refined manner:
I yet shall show thee what is in my power
Thou shalt behold my glory and rejoice. (Ancient Ballads 112)
At last Dhruva gets victory in Sadhna and penance:
By prayer and penance Dhruva gained at last:
The highest heavens, and there he shines a star!
Nightly men see him in the firmament. (Ancient Ballads 112)
The poem ‘Buttoo’ scatters the colours of hope, bliss and motivation in the hearts as well as a ray of anguish runs through the veins of the readers of Toru’s poetry. Toru, in this poem blends the zeal of Buttoo with the pathos of his low caste. Buttoo is an adept and dexterous archer who goes to learn archery to the great Guru Dronacharjya. He introduces himself:
My name is Buttoo,” said the youth,
A hunter’s son, I know not Fear (Ancient Ballads 114)
Toru brings the childishness out to limelight of the adolescent Buttoo and exhibits his anguish of being a low – caste. When she says:
And lo, - a single, single tear
Dropped from his eyelash as he past,
My place I gather is not here:
No matter, - what is rank or caste?
In us is honour, or disgrace,
Not out of us (Ancient Ballads 114)
She also points out the keen insight of a child and its mature thinking mingled with courage and vigour when she sings in the words of Buttoo:
And I shall do my best to gain
The science that man will not teach,
For life is a shadow vain,
Until the utmost goal we reach
To which the soul points.” (Ancient Ballads 115)
By this inspiring story of Eklavya, Toru wants to rouse a feeling of hard work and perseverance in the children. She pictures marvellously the long and arduous labour of Eklavya who was even imparted a systematic training of archery by his Guru i.e. teacher. She lambastes the caste – system of our nation by her distaste to it to. R.L. Varshney says: “Basically the poem expresses the caste-system. Being a hunter’s boy he is made fun of” (Varshney 39). To Eklavya forests are better place to dwell than to dwell in the society.
Toru, from the mouth of Buttoo, oozes out her emotions and childish attitude of wonder mixed with pain and agony when she portrays the wild animal far better than the human beings:
“They touched me,” he exclaimed with joy
They have no pride of caste like men,
They shrink not from the hunter-boy,
Should not my home be with them then? (Ancient Ballads 118)
Toru also shows the stern determination of Eklavya about his learning archery:
All creatures and inanimate things
Shall be my tutors: I shall learn
For beast, and fish, and bird with wings
And rock, and stream, and trees and fern (Ancient Ballads 118)
She wants to teach a moral lesson to the children and she makes it clear:
By strained sense, by constant prayer,
By steadfastness of heart and will,
By courage to confront and dare,
All obstacle he conquered still: (Ancient Ballads 119)
Eklavya made a glorious landmark in our history. He is one of the most docile and obedient pupils of the world in all ages. He, making an idol of his master, worships and attains perfection in his art of archery. Eklavya accepts all his knowledge as a divine flow of benediction from his magnificent Guru. He says to his Guru – Dronacharjya:
And here I learn all by myself.
But still as master thee revere,
For who so great in archery!
Lo, all my inspiration here,
And all my knowledge is from thee. (Ancient Ballads 123)
Toru Dutt again puts an ideal before her readers. She epitomizes Eklavya as a true disciple who does not hesitate even to cut his thumb as a token of reverence to his master Dronacharjya. His glory shines brilliantly again at his absolute surrender to his Guru. Toru concludes:
For this, - said Dronacharjya, - “Fame
Shall sound thy praise from sea to sea,
And men shall ever link thy name
With Self-help, Truth, and Modesty.” (Ancient Ballads 124)
‘Prahlad’ is a ballad based on the famous story occurred in the Mahabharata. It is a story of a tyrant king Heerun Kasyapu. Describing his tyranny, Toru Dutt adds:
The holy Veds he tore in shreds;
Libations, sacrifices, rites,
He made all penal; and the heads
Of Brahmins slain (Ancient Ballads 143)
Toru Dutt delineates how he made the lives of saintly people a hellish experience and how he slain the innocent and the virtuous persons. She tells us that Heerun Kasyapu proclaimed himself to be a God. He wanted to be worshipped as God by the people. He posed himself to a God incarnate and forbade the teachers of his sons to tell about the God and His glory and magnificence. But the brilliant son Prahlad was discovered to be indulged in the forbidden themes. So he was summoned in the court of the king where he was asked about ‘the Cream of Knowledge.’ The boy replied:
That is true knowledge which can show
The glory of the living gods.
That is true knowledge which can make
Us mortal saint like holy, pure (Ancient Ballads 149)
Heerun Kasyapu, an arrogant man replies:
Above all gods is he who rules
The wide, wide earth, from sea to sea,
Men, devils, Gods, - yea, all but fools. (Ancient Ballads 150)
And the king orders to put Prahlad in the dungeon where he was to wait for his execution. Soon a report flew in the air that the sword refused to do the work assigned. And various other measures failed to kill the boy. At last, he is sent for in the court where he faces his father boldly and asserts:
I fear not fire, I fear not sword,
All dangers, father, I can dare;
Alone, I can confront a horde,
For oh ! my God is everywhere! (Ancient Ballads 156)
In its retaliation, the king springs the pillar with foot. An incredible thing happens then:
A thunder clap-the shape was gone !
One king lay stiff, and stark, and dead,
Another on the peacock throne (Ancient Ballads 157)
Toru narrates the tale about a boy who has stout faith in God. This poem reveals a conflict between a father and son where a struggle of two minds and egocentric behaviour of Heerun Kasyapu affects Prahlad psychologically but in vain. The unwavering faith of Prahlad is stronger than the arrogance of Heerun Kasyapu. Prahlad bears with all severe punishments and is also sentenced to death and gets victory finally. The child’s strong faith and devotion, and the psychology of a stout, devoted and God-fearing boy is shown in a fine way. Toru wants to give some message to the children that they should keep absolute faith in God and His prowess. The incarnation of ‘Narsingh’ teaches us a moral that evil powers stand nowhere against Godly powers. Toru wishes to embolden the courage of the children, infuse a current of dedication, and surrender to God in their small bosoms.
Toru Dutt depicts the story of Shravan Kumar who is a devoted son to his parents old and blind. She preaches a moral that it is a humble duty of a son to perform duties to the parents. In our Indian mythology, parents occupy first and foremost place in the life of man. It is said that mother and father are like God. A Shruti text also says: “Matra Devo Bhav, Pitra Devo Bhav” (Agarwal, Kalyan Kalptaru 445). Man has a sacred duty for his parents. He has a moral obligation to serve his parents like an ardent devotee.
The obedient son Sindhu goes to fetch water for his old and helpless parents who are dying of thirst and is struck by mistake with an arrow shot by the king Dasarath. He dies on the spot which is an irreparable loss to the parents. The poem is a song of love of a true son and true father and mother whose love to each other is unfathomed and pure. Toru presents a vivid and picturesque delineation of Sindhu:
A bright - eyed child, his laughter gay,
Their leaf-hut filled with joy.
Attentive, duteous, loving, kind,
Thoughtful, sedate, and calm,
He waited on his parents blind,
Whose days were like a psalm (Ancient Ballads 125)
He serves his father whole-heartedly. When his parents demand water because of thirst, he answers in affirmative and goes to fetch it obediently. He is hit by an arrow of king Dasarath of oudh but he consoles his remorseful heart. He says:
What does thou fear, O mighty king?
For sure a king thou art!
Why should thy bosom anguish wring?
No crime was in thine heart! (Ancient Ballads 133)
He finds himself helpless and considers himself just a puppet in the hands of the Almighty Lord. He continues his wailing as:
Unwittingly the deed was done;
It is my destiny, O fear not thou, but pity one
Whose fate is thus to die” (Ancient Ballads 133)
He feels gloomy not for his own sake but for his parents who have observed fast and have not taken even a drop of water. He accepts it as the divine will of omnipotent Lord. In spite of his tragic end of life, he does not grumble even. Yogacharya Hansraj Yadav remarks; “He (Sindhu) was stout, healthy and honest, and he had a good character ….Everyday he worked hard to make his parents as comfortable as was possible with inhis means. In his leisure time he prayed to God and attended to his poor, blind and ageing parents” (K.M. 51). The poem ends with the prediction of an identical death of the king Dasarath. The scriptures are the ample testimony of its truthfulness. King Dasarath had to bear the separation of his dear son Rama and Lakshman – which was the main cause of his death too. Toru Dutt gives a moral lesson to the children by her ballads. Rightly speaks Anant, ”The melodies which she drank in so often that they now formed port of her very soul.” (Anant) Her ballads directly hit at the minds of the children and teach them the rational mode of thinking. Sri Satya Sai Baba, a contemporary spiritual master is also in favour of teaching children in the same manner. He says, “Children must also be instructed in Bhajan, Storytelling, writing stories and essays. The stories they recite or write may be culled out from the epics and the Upanishads, Good” (K.M. 33). With her powerful weapon of poetry, Toru leaves an indelible and everlasting impression and turn their minds to the right discrimination between the right and wrong. She exhibits the psychological and mental tendencies of the child characters. Prahlad, Dhruva, Shravan Kumar and Eklavya are such characters who are the epitome of Indian culture and society.
Toru Dutt’s characters are the speakers of her deep insight into the characters and their psychological bent of mind. In this sense she is a real poet as Dr. V.S. Skanda Prasad speaks, ”A poet should be able to read the pulse of the people” (Prasad 23). Her art of narrating and method of clear-cut speaking by way of story-telling in verse has made her pioneer in Child-Literature because ‘As a child, she had heard the stories of the Hindu epics and the Purans, the stories of mystery, miracle and local tradition, from the lips of her own mother” (A.N. 61). She appeals the children to lead a noble life like Prahlad or Eklavya and have deep faith in the Guru and God. Her optimistic poetry with the stamp of Vedanta and Indianness cast a brilliant and remarkable spell on the mind of poetry loving children. Consequently, they cannot help themselves flowing in waves of poetry.
Toru moves the heart of children by her heart-rending poetry in which she relates the stories from Indian mythology. “Sita” is a poem which has exemplary charm and heart – moving capacity. It is a story of an exiled lady living in the impregnable forests at Valmiki’s Ashram. K.N.Joshi and B. Shyamala Rao remark, “Toru Dutt recalls the days of her childhood when she herself, her sister Aru and brother Abju used to hear their mother telling the ancient stories of Hindu mythology” (Joshi 33). She opens the poem with a question:
Three happy children in a darkened room !
What do they gaze on with wide – open eyes ? (Ancient Ballads 158)
She creates a vivid and horrible picture of the jungle and again pathetically presents a sketch of three persons who are suffering from endless pains:
Tears from three pairs of young eyes fall amain,
And bowed in sorrow are the three young heads. (Ancient Ballads 158)
Toru Dutt sometimes becomes autobiographical and this makes her more and more charming and stout. She knows very well the sensations of a child desirous of sleeping. She knows how much a child is always in need of her parents. When the children get sleepy, they feel the longing for their parents. She sings her own experience in the poem ‘The Tree of Life’:
Broad daylight, with a sense of weariness!
Mine eyes were closed, but I was not asleep,
My hand was in my father’s, and I felt
His presence near me. (Ancient Ballads 167)
She was in touch with the psychology of children even before her death. Children usually see angels and fairies in dreams P.C. Kotoky observes,” In the poem ‘The Tree of Life, the poet presents a delightful visions that she once had when she lay awake a sense of weariness with her father” (Kotoky 26). She also narrates the vision and beauty of her dreams:
A tree with spreading branches and with leaves
of divers kinds, - dead silver and live gold,
Shimmering in radiance that no words may tell!
Beside the tree an Angel stood; he plucked
A few small sprays, and bound them round my head. (Ancient Ballads 167-8)
Her ‘Our Casuarina Tree’ reminds again the unforgettable impact of the games and sweet recollections of Childhood. The memory of early childhood haunts the poet in a foreign land where she had to live far from India. Prafulla Kumar Mohanty and Usha Sundari remark, “This tree brings to her mind the games she played with her sweet companions. The tree is dear to her not because of its giants branches harbouring baboons and birds but because of the love she discovered in her friends and in general atmosphere around the Casuarina tree” (Mohanty 175). Toru Dutt recollects the tree and she looks at the tree in childlike manner and pays special heed to the monkeys and birds playing on its branches:
... on its crest
A gray baboon sits statue – like alone
Watching the sunrise, while on lower boughs
His puny offspring leap about and play;
And far and near Kokilas hail the day (Ancient Ballads 173-4)
She makes a firm psychological effect on the mind of the poetry lovers and comes of with flying colours of victory in all her attempts of vocalizing the Indian themes into a verse. At many places, Toru Dutt appears to be a teacher of morality to the children. She idolizes Prahlad, Dhruva, Eklavya and Shravan Kumar who are the embodiments of devotion and dedication. She educates them to be ideal ones like those great characters. Prof. Amar Nath Jha is right in his remark when he says, “She has a rare gift of story She makes a firm psychological effect on the mind of the poetry lovers and comes of with flying colours of victory in all her attempts of vocalizing the Indian themes into a verse. At many places, Toru Dutt appears to be a teacher of morality to the children. She idolizes Prahlad, Dhruva, Eklavya and Shravan Kumar who are the embodiments of devotion and dedication. She educates them to be ideal ones like those great characters. Prof. Amar Nath Jha is right in his remark when he says, “She has a rare gift of storytelling, of arousing interest and curiosity of creating suspense and of drawing character” (Dwivedi 109).
Her characters are the symbols which create the inner force and power to face the devils. Drawing examples from mythological characters, she provides an ideal mode and manner of facing the volley and batteries of misfortunes. This puny and elf-like poetess, on account of painful occurrences in her life never let other’s life to be under the shadow of darkness and gloom. Rather she scatters colours of hope, light and bliss in her poetry which also transforms the lives of innumerable persons. In spite of leading a prolonged unhealthy life, she never pens poems of dismay and dejection and leave a blue impression of melancholy which is the evidence of her strong psychological buildup. Dr. Satish Kumar praises her, “Toru Dutt glorifies the power goodness in her poem” (Dwivedi 48).
Toru Dutt educates the children to lead a life full of courage, and boldness. Hard work and deep devotion have no other alternative. A man of devout courage and perseverance glorifies and immortalizes himself in the world. So she says:
Be meek, devout, and friendly, full of love
Intent to do good to the human race
And to all creatures sentient made of God (Ancient Ballads 111)
Thus, we simply mark out the poetry of Toru Dutt as a sketch of India where many mythological characters speak aloud the glory and magnificence of the Hindu notions of life. She in her portrayal of child characters succeeds and assumes apt phrase which makes her ‘the Pioneer of Child Psychology.’ Her poetry brings her skillful visualization of characters to light.
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About the Contributor:
Dr. Kalpna Rajput is the poet, translator, reviewer and editor and co-author of several books. She has been widely published in India and abroad. She is the Associate Editor of literary ezine www.creativesaplings.com. Her poems, articles and papers have appeared in different journals of India and abroad. She has lectured several times on Aakashvani Rampur on the subjects of education and its degrading standard. Her area of interest is Indian English Literature and Commonwealth Literature. She has edited Swami Nem Pal’s Pearls of Wisdom in three volumes. She has also translated Dr. Mahendra Bhatnagar’s Dr. Mahendra Bhatnagar Ke Geet into English, titled Lyric Lute with Dr. Shaleen K. Singh. Presently, she is teaching at G.D. Mahavidhyalaya, Budaun. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.