Friday, 28 November 2008


The man who first introduced T.S.Eliot to me, as a poet who could use language and religion (religion?) as no other, was a great man. He had told me it was better to study Physics than Literature. And today, I don't know whether I half believe him or not.

There's no way to make sure, of course. He died in 2007. I miss him like anything. I miss his coarse jokes, I miss his obnoxious cigars, I miss his wheezy scoldings, I miss everything.
The strangest thing is, when he died, I was blank. He always liked my poetry, he liked even my worst poems, the ones I wrote when I was an overbearing horribly pretentious and precocious kid who read Bishnu Dey and Symbolist poetry. You know the type I'd not like so much now. Would I like a 13 year old who reads Joyce and Rimbaud? And thinks Shakti Chattopadhyay is best read at that age only?
Maybe that's because I don't like kids.
However, that is to say, as I was reading Eliot today, for a test, desperately cramming lines for Monday's test- to be able to quote and impress- of course, otherwise what's the point, eh? I remembered my dearest Arko Jethu, physicist and raconteur par excellence. He knew it all by heart and he would have thought studying for a Literature test quite boring and useless, for the test of Literature is not something that one sits for one winter morning. The best student of Literature, according to him, was one who lived it. A month before he died, he asked me to return his Collected Eliot.

And that is why, sometimes, when I try to make sense of things hurriedly before a test, I miss him horribly. Because for him, he of that honed memory and remarakable rigour, of record marks in Physics for more than a few generations, who could quote from his favouritest works of literature at will, literature was not dreary academia. For him, the mind it was that shone through the darkest days and the worst hours. This was a mind that grasped life in its entirety and that knew no pettiness. Which is why perhaps,nobody or nothing could really touch him.

Since Prufrock was one of his favourite poems, I read that at his memorial service. He had believed that I would do remarkably well when I chose to study English. Alas, the initial interest has worn off a bit, I know I am no great shakes really. Just as I failed him in Physics, I have failed him in this. I feel so awfully guilty. I am, as he once said, worse than a dhnyaarosh. All the champagne and ham gone to naught.

I have not been able to live literature.

And now as this sinks in, I wonder. What can I do? Is there anything I'd be good at? I wish I could act, or paint, or dance, or sing, or just solve sums. I can't do anything. The way I'd want to.

Frustrated, non-existent genius is a dangerous thing i.e., to rephrase, a little knowledge etc.


Elendil said...

The very fact that you could be true to yourself and write these things shows that you're amongst the best students of literature I know. Not to mention the genuineness of feelings that you have for the people in your life. Such is literature. A study of US. And if you can love people, you can love literature, and excel in the academic practice of it. And you jolly well know just how well you're doing, even judging by the poor estimate that is marks in exams. So stop whining about your so called impending doom (read: 70% plus in the end sems)

I cannot tell you HOW much I agree with you on the importance of *feeling* literature. I sometimes wonder if I'm the only idiot who reads these stories and poems in our syllabus and stares at walls for hours after that, mindboggled, trying to apply the things they convey to me, to my own life and experiences. If you know anything of me, or the way I write answers, and you *do*, you will know that I rely entirely on what little ability I have to *feel* the text, not having the extensive knowledge of literature required to substantiate my answers with more pertinent things. I have, regrettably, not read half as many books as any self respecting student of literature is expected to have read. I don't know how far my bullshit writing ability will take me, or at what stage my gimmicky little personal interpretations of poems and stories (most of which I'm reading for the first time) will fail to impress, or at what stage my shocking lack of reading will inevitably show through, but I expect that day is fast arriving. It is thus that I envy people like you who have both the extensive knowledge and the emotional understanding, coupled with analytical skills, required to truly excel at this subject. I see you becoming a well respect Professor Ahona Panda, PHD, in a matter of a few years. So you haven't failed anyone, stupid.

Ps: *hug* about your mentor. I have heard much about the man, his being a family friend, and from what I hear, he was truly worthy of your respect and admiration.

Anonymous said...

amaro khub icche koro jodi ekta jinishe bhalo hotam!

kintu tui toh mojar style-e likhte parish, sheta tor ekta bhalo skill.

ahona said...

@prayag- nope, it's not about the marks, whatever I get won't compensate the fact that deep inside, I know I tire of it, tire of studying it, tire of having to sit for exams in a subject called English Literature.Because sitting for exams is something that I recoil from, at long last. Pothom dik e I'd give them like a lark. Now I just feel sick, sick of it.

@Dibyo- otaai toh bhorsha, that's all I have now. An inane writing style which appeals. Must make hay while the sun shines. :D

Baudolino said...

People like us,men of supposed epistemic virtue,who wish to do well academically,often argue that being the homo academicus is not too unworthy an ambition after all. But those arguments tend to fall flat when they are confronted with posts like these, where reading (and perhaps even studying) is portrayed as an affective-cognitive exercise, and not merely a cognitive exercise, guided by an affect that does not depend on the act of reading. Ideally, it should be so. But, while reading, we often lapse into bouts of pettiness, the act of reading becomes more important than the act of reading. Why does it happen? Is it because the reader forgets that reading is important intrinsically, and not the fact that he is reading? Can we ever relinquish our "I"-ness when we read? Can literature ever liberate?

ahona said...

@baudolino- ki aar bolbo bolo? you-are-the-too-smart, asking rhetorical questions all the time. And then answering them yourself. True Philosopher and all that.

mojo said...

somehow these 5 yrs(1 and a half still to go) have been very satisfying for me. not because i am "great shakes" or whatever, but because of the brilliant teachers. if i hadn't studied literature as a discipline, i would have never been taught literature the way i was, in some cases some teachers have made me look at a text in a manner that has opened up new possibilities...vast ones...enhanced my reading experience really, rather than detracting from it.
supriyadi teaching prufrock is...well...i mean...i have no words..

ahona said...

@ mojo- oh of course, it is absolutely wonderful to be introduced to ideas and multiple possibilities...and by great minds as those we have been privileged to have been taught by...and undeniably, i too have benefitted immensely...

but at the end of the day, what is it to them? it is us, we, i-who have to construct my own world- mental, physical,spiritual, intellectual.

and thus at least for me, literature is something that i need to feel, to be... i know it sounds ridiculous, but once it surged through my veins, i would sink into depression when i wasn't reading goppoboi or writing away (shit, but woddever, posterity decides)

that's all, really- i guess to keep that passion alive enough at all times is difficult- i seem to have lost it, that was what i was lamenting, along with another sort of death...

ahona said...

And the worst form of abuse that the tramps in Godot could come up with is 'critic'... think about it. Well, p'raps not someone like Greenblatt.Hmmm. But still. This was just self-doubt, and a very personal expression of grief. Prufrock taught by Tintinda or Supriyadi is not the point,I believe you when you say it is overwhelming.
But hearing a man quote Prufrock all his life, place it in his own inauthentic age, remember the days of the Naxalite movement, hearing him speak of his best friend Shakti Chattopadhyay and their shared experience of Eliot, going through Les Fleurs du Mal the first time in my life in his study...

I can never explain this and I do not wish anyone to understand. It's not about marks, it's not about modernism, it's not even about literature.

It's about that relationship, so peculiar and so beautiful, between the mind and the heart. Supriyadi herself was at that memorial service, along with Sukantada. Sukantada patted me on my back, awkwardly and Supriyadi told me, "Khub bhaalo porechho." As if that meant anything. Anything at all.As the unshed tears made a lump in my throat,I looked at the motley of people assembled there- bureaucrats, academicians, doctors, physicists, politicians, publishers.

I would like to live literature. Like that. Horseman, pass me by.

What's In A Name ? said...

We are all living our own literature, in our own little ways. It's just that very few are gifted to put their story in words. Words that linger in the mind long after the book has been closed.

Count your blessings, that way.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

He was Divisional Commissioner when I was a callow new recruit. What I remember most about him is his steady, unspeaking examination.
And then, of course, a cloud of smoke as he turned away.

We were neighbours later, but alas, I know more of him from hearsay than from personal interaction.

As for not being immersed in what you do, perhaps that's a foretaste of what life is like most of the time.


ahona said...

@JAP- an anticipation of the real thing? shitty shit, i hope not, i kept thinking the real thing was just a semester away, dammeet!