Thursday, July 9, 2009

I may be bed ridden and I may be incommunicado

Prateeksha, Mumbai July 8, 2009 Wed 10:07 PM

I may be bed ridden and I may be incommunicado to the rest of the world, but my devotion to my EF and my connection to them is supreme. And so I write. Yes I write in some pain and some concern. I write in the anguish of these repeated episodes in my life. I write because it is a release from medications and medical. I write because I express. I write because I write !!

I have been spending time on the foreword for Madhushala and have been keeping you apprised of its condition. It has reached fruition now and I felt it appropriate to share it with you. The preface or a humble address to its readers for the very first publication was done by my Father in 1933. I present before you its shape in Hindi, which is the original. In my foreword that follows in English, I have made an attempt to include its brilliance by audaciously trying to translate his words. I hope that you shall be able to appreciate the depth of his thought and philosophy through my extremely feeble effort. Here it is -



I called him Dad. In the presence of others, I referred to him as Babuji. He brought me into this world and I grew up living in the shadow of his greatness for over sixty years. Many feel I was blessed to have my father with me for such a long period of time; I wished for more.

In these years of togetherness I never had any regrets, but one. I never spent sufficient time with him to understand his mind as an artist. I imbibed what I observed; I imbibed what I read; on occasion I listened. But never did I make opportunity enough to study the intimacy of his creativity.

At times I look upon it as my own incapacity: my fears of confronting his genius without adequate learning bore forth a self-conscious inertia. It has remained with me even after his life has vanished and we are separated. Today, as I sit to write a foreword to perhaps one of his - and indeed one of the entire contemporary Hindi literary world’s - greatest and most popular poetic works, Madhushala, the constraints of my incompetence pull me into a void. I am, as ever, confounded by the task of bridging the seamless gap between the intimacy of a Dad and the respectability of a Babuji.

Madhushala was conceptualized and written in 1933-34, and the first publication came out in 1935. Today, more than seventy-five years later, the importance and longevity of this work is an astonishing reminder of its worth and merit. As I struggled to find adequate expression for my foreword, I came across the preface that Babuji had written on its first publication. It is a masterpiece. For those that understand and read Hindi I shall print it in its original form, but for those who do not, I attempt below a very poor translation of it.

SAMBHODAN - a humble address

To those who have savoured the inebriation or intoxication of my creativity -

The other day when I presented the heartfelt emotions of Omar Khayyam in my own words and language to you, so were you pleased. You were pleased because your own disciple had complied with your obligation, had dutifully obeyed your desire or command. But my heart was not pleased or satisfied.

Bringing someone else’s belongings as a gift to your temple was embarrassing or shameful for me. It is something you would not understand.

If you had not wished for it to be brought to you, and if I had come to you of my own volition, I would have ground to a halt, I would never have reached your temple. But the thought of receiving your permission and your happiness prompted me to bring myself near you, though I do not feel it wrong to say that the disciple does not present a gift at the feet of the Almighty with the thought in mind that it might please.

How can the poor disciple, devoid of any wealth or its means, ever dream of bearing a gift to the Master’s feet that would please the Almighty ?

The disciple presents the gift to the Almighty to satisfy their own heart.

By placing something of their own at the feet of the Almighty, the disciple diminishes the burden that their own heart carries - rids themselves of their own burden.

That day when I lay someone else’s flowers at your feet as an offering, the weight of my heart did not diminish, neither did the burden of my heart lift, nor did my heart derive satisfaction.

Thinking upon what I have just said, you may perhaps assume how selfish I am, unable to understand that in your happiness there is indeed my own. I was indeed very happy. To see that line of happiness on the lips of my deity, what disciple would not touch the zenith of their happiness?

However, the disciple-heart is never only impatient and eager to seek happiness.

Happiness is an experience of self-awareness. A disciple is one, who, after submitting their atman, their Self, searches that sublime remembrance that is distant from joy and grief.

O this weight of apnapan, of Self-ness. This restlessness to take it off, relinquish it and cast it aside ! Even in this act of sacrifice, of renunciation, there is the rule of selfishness, of self aggrandizement, of self betterment ! ! Human life is so incomplete.

Even in our great sacrifices there is great selfishness. The very foundation of the universe and our being rests on the fervour behind this great sacrifice and great selfishness !

Clouds leave their self-ness in millions of little droplets of rain; rain drops leave theirs into lakes and rivers; rivers are eager to loose theirs into the ocean and even the oceans are keen to leave their great body of water some place and be free.

The earth gives up its self-ness to plants and trees; they in turn leave theirs into leaf and flower, who wish to be relieved of theirs into the winds that blow them away. And even the winds are searching for that one, someone into whom they wish that they could twirl and envelop and embrace just once, remain engulfed within them.


the Ātman
is a philosophical term used within Hinduism and Vedanta to identify the soul. It is one’s true self (hence generally translated into English as ‘Self’) beyond identification with the phenomenal reality of worldly existence.


The moth attracted by the flame of the diya leaves its self-ness to it; the diya leaves its own to the day; the day to the night; the night to the sun. Even the sun searches in this vast celestial universe for that one great light, at the feet of whom it can pay homage or obeisance just once, that aarti, just once, after which its light could be put out.

Similarly, the singer or musician wishes that the self-ness that they possess in their music is able to reach the ears of the listener for the flicker of an instant, and then resounding, it becomes diminuendo, becomes dissolved in the vast universe, disappears.

The painter wishes that the drawn line and the painted colour for once are reflected in the eyes of the beholder and finally saturated in their opaqueness.

The sculptor wishes that their carving expressed in the rock, to which they bestow their self-ness, may one day adorn the hands of some gentle being only perhaps to break into little pieces and scatter away.

And… the poet wishes that their self-ness, manifested and expressed in their words and verses, would some day move another’s heart, find a place to hide in this tormented world filled with turmoil, and would finally become lost therein.

Thus to this selfish humanity, of which I am part, I dedicate myself.

The other day I could derive the pleasure and good fortune of submitting my self-ness to you, which is why I
have returned to you so soon. I ask forgiveness, for this, my selfish self. I have faith that I shall not return disappointed and never will.

I bring you wine today.

The intoxicant, in its drinking, distances fear, presses sorrow from you, beguiles your mind, steals your attention away from respect and incivility, robs the pride from the proud. In so drinking, humanity thinks nothing of their suffering, pain, difficulties; in so tasting, they forget hardships, fears, the labours of life.

O this wine of life that we must perforce drink is so bitter.

This wine of mine shall sober the intoxication of the wine of life. It shall protect you from the vagaries and harshness that life brings; destroy the evil that life brings in this troubled world. It is assuredly the greatest cordial.

My heart feels that this is your pressing need. Take it. Drink it. And may the joy of its drinking rid you of all pain and suffering and hardships of life. And may it fill your life with fresh vitality.

O who would know that the one who takes responsibility for others, by removing their pain and filling them with
hope and joy, is himself rent, by his own fire burned?

Do not think that you burn alone. You burn, but the effect falls upon me. You burn, but I melt.

I also came in search of pure still wine. But you gave me your heart, and the fire in your heart. This wine of my heart, burned by the flames in yours, has moved me. Here, drink it, and bring peace to the fire in your heart. That heart that ‘til yesterday was thirsty, has today become the wine that quenches thirst.

The heart of a poet is not a poet’s alone.

In his heart’s lap, there rests trikal and tribhuvan. In that lap, the universe, like a new-born child, succouring for mother’s milk, it struggles in that lap, and pralaya - the great destruction that brings the end of the world - like a naughty child, frolics in that lap.

The courtyard of the poet’s heart reverberates with the songs of the skies. It reverberates with the laughters of
the winds and breezes, and reverberates with the raging anguishes of the

In the poet’s temple-heart, there is birth, life, death, who move in rhythm, as in dance.

Which is why, when the poet’s heart melts, the entire universe, the people in the entire universe affected by my words and my poetry, affected by its wine that intoxicates the listener; so also the land and the water, the skies and the winds, the rivers and the gardens, heaven and hell, the roots and their quickenings, the night and the
day, the forests and the meadows, the happy confluences and the sad partings, the love and the struggle, the hope and the despair, the birth and the life, Kaal and Karma, all these that have meaning in our lives in this universe, today they experience the symbol of wine, cup, house of wine.

Dearest ones, look, the entire universe sways with the intoxication of this house of wine.

Let me make you a master by my being the Saki. Through my own hands I will pour these wine-filled cups and touch them to your lips and may you for eternity with great thirst drink thereof. May I never tire from the doing, and neither may you tire from the drinking.

O Almighty, forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness, I seek forgiveness.

How can I ever commit such grave error as to bring this profane material vessel to your enlightened lips?

Please forgive my arrogance, for my hands shake, the cup in my hand is now shaking, the wine of the vessel is
falling, and even my legs are much quivering; every joint in my body is opening up, I am falling, I am falling, I am falling.

But that my wine has reached up to meet your feet, I am happy and satisfied.

The wine of the disciple, a dutiful, modest disciple, should not reach the Almighty’s lips. The offering should
remain at the feet.

But what is this that I observe as I look up to you? That your eyes too bear this intoxication, this madness;
your lips quiver too, you are smiling?

Pikar madira mast hua toh

Pyar kiya kya madira se

Just because you have been intoxicated by drinking wine, does it reflect that you are in love with the


Have you been moved by my desire to give you this wine to drink?

You are great and so I am. I am honoured and so you are. You are worthy and I am worth.

But, do not look at me with those vibrant intoxicated eyes of yours, I feel uneasy.

See, I am closing mine.

O it is no longer possible for me to look at those vibrant intoxicated eyes of yours and neither can I live without looking upon them.

May I just see them once more?

O whither have those eyes disappeared? Whither has that intoxicated gaze gone? Whither do I search it, and why?

I will not search it. Just the image I saw of those intoxicated eyes shall keep me happy and satisfied for eternity.

A disciple should derive satisfaction from the thirst of an ocean, and the drop of sunlight. The intoxicated eyes, the wine of your intoxicated eyes should spill perpetual on the vessels of my eyelids. So that whoever sees me shall forever remain intoxicated with your wine.

Prayag, - In perpetual meditation of

27 August 1933 your Intoxicated eyes

- me

Moved by my father’s eloquence, I am rendered wordless. I have no offering that might add to what is already
complete: he has most consummately expressed himself, his work and his philosophy.

In my early years, Babuji would take me along to the several poetry symposiums in which he would participate.
He would work the entire day at the University of Allahabad where he taught, or later at the External Affairs Ministry in New Delhi, and then travel at night for kavi sammelans close enough to home so that he might be in time for work of the following morning. The marathon all-night events were exhausting, but the energy and enthusiasm of the multitudes that joined him and his poetry during those nocturnal hours provided artistic fulfillment enough for him that he was able to function – arguably more so – in the rest of his life. For his young family, the added income from these sojourns was a welcome respite from an, at times, strenuous domestic economy.

The inspiration for presenting Madhushala in this form came from two ladies of the family – my wife Jaya and my niece Namrata. Jaya has been persistent in documenting for posterity the valued lives of members of our family. Realising the diminishing interest in the Hindi written word among this generation, she wished to bring to them such an important work in a language and style for which they might have more feeling.

Namrata studied liberal and fine arts in the United States of America. Over the years, she has become an accomplished poet in her own right, as well as developing exquisite and unique art forms on canvas. The paintings in the book are her own interpretations and artistic response to Madhushala translated into English.

The translation is of Marjorie Boulton and Ram Swaroop Vyas, who both studied at Oxford University, as you may
have noticed from the acknowledgments. During one of my visits to England in the 80’s I escorted my parents to Oxford to meet Dr Boulton: my impression of her was that of a sedate, scholarly and endearing lady. She loved India and had a great appetite for Indian food which she relished at the slightest
opportunity. But it was Madhushala above all else that satiated her true appetite as a lover of poetry, and the fruits of her ardent labour are manifest in perhaps the only and most valued translation of my father’s works.

This most humble attempt of mine is best concluded by the words Babuji wrote when he introduced the translated version of Madhushala to his readers –

‘This translation of my long poem Madhushala, is put forth in the belief that a good poem retains some of its basic qualities even in translation.

My definition of a good poem is that it appears before you like a stranger who impresses you so favorably that you feel like befriending him, and the more you know him the more you like him.

Good wine needs no bush, good poetry needs no explanation. Hence to the poem…

- Harivansh Rai Bachchan

Amitabh Bachchan

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