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PeAcE WiTh GuNs

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Karwar in the words of Rabindranath Tagore

Excerpt from "My Reminiscences" by Rabindranath Tagore

(36) Karwar

Our Sudder Street party next transferred itself to Karwar on the West Sea coast. Karwar is the headquarters of the Kanara district in the Southern portion of the Bombay Presidency. It is the tract of the Malaya Hills of Sanskrit literature where grow the cardamum creeper and the Sandal Tree. My second brother was then Judge there.

The little harbour, ringed round with hills, is so secluded that it has nothing of the aspect of a port about it. Its crescent shaped beach throws out its arms to the shoreless open sea like the very image of an eager striving to embrace the infinite. The edge of the broad sandy beach is fringed with a forest of casuarinas, broken at one end by the Kalanadi river which here flows into the sea after passing through a gorge flanked by rows of hills on either side.

I remember how one moonlit evening we went up this river in a little boat. We stopped at one236 of Shivaji's old hill forts, and stepping ashore found our way into the clean-swept little yard of a peasant's home. We sat on a spot where the moonbeams fell glancing off the top of the outer enclosure, and there dined off the eatables we had brought with us. On our way back we let the boat glide down the river. The night brooded over the motionless hills and forests, and on the silent flowing stream of this little Kalanadi, throwing over all its moonlight spell. It took us a good long time to reach the mouth of the river, so, instead of returning by sea, we got off the boat there and walked back home over the sands of the beach. It was then far into the night, the sea was without a ripple, even the ever-troubled murmur of the casuarinas was at rest. The shadow of the fringe of trees along the vast expanse of sand hung motionless along its border, and the ring of blue-grey hills around the horizon slept calmly beneath the sky.

Karwar Beach

Through the deep silence of this illimitable whiteness we few human creatures walked along with our shadows, without a word. When we reached home my sleep had lost itself in something still deeper. The poem which I then wrote is inextricably mingled with that night on the distant seashore. I do not know how it will appeal to the reader apart from the memories with which237 it is entwined. This doubt led to its being left out of Mohita Babu's edition of my works. I trust that a place given to it among my reminiscences may not be deemed unfitting.

Let me sink down, losing myself in the depths of midnight.
Let the Earth leave her hold of me, let her free me from her obstacle of dust.
Keep your watch from afar, O stars, drunk though you be with moonlight,
And let the horizon hold its wings still around me.
Let there be no song, no word, no sound, no touch; nor sleep, nor awakening,—
But only the moonlight like a swoon of ecstasy over the sky and my being.
The world seems to me like a ship with its countless pilgrims,
Vanishing in the far-away blue of the sky,
Its sailors' song becoming fainter and fainter in the air,
While I sink in the bosom of the endless night, fading away from myself, dwindling into a point.

It is necessary to remark here that merely because something has been written when feelings are brimming over, it is not therefore necessarily good. Such is rather a time when the utterance is thick with emotion. Just as it does not do to have the writer entirely removed from the feeling to which he is giving expression, so also it238 does not conduce to the truest poetry to have him too close to it. Memory is the brush which can best lay on the true poetic colour. Nearness has too much of the compelling about it and the imagination is not sufficiently free unless it can get away from its influence. Not only in poetry, but in all art, the mind of the artist must attain a certain degree of aloofness—the creator within man must be allowed the sole control. If the subject matter gets the better of the creation, the result is a mere replica of the event, not a reflection of it through the Artist's mind.

(37) Nature's Revenge

Here in Karwar I wrote the Prakritir Pratishodha, Nature's Revenge, a dramatic poem. The hero was a Sanyasi (hermit) who had been striving to gain a victory over Nature by cutting away the bonds of all desires and affections and thus to arrive at a true and profound knowledge of self. A little girl, however, brought him back from his communion with the infinite to the world and into the bondage of human affection. On so coming back the Sanyasi realised that the great is to be found in the small, the infinite within the bounds of form, and the eternal freedom of239 the soul in love. It is only in the light of love that all limits are merged in the limitless.

The sea beach of Karwar is certainly a fit place in which to realise that the beauty of Nature is not a mirage of the imagination, but reflects the joy of the Infinite and thus draws us to lose ourselves in it. Where the universe is expressing itself in the magic of its laws it may not be strange if we miss its infinitude; but where the heart gets into immediate touch with immensity in the beauty of the meanest of things, is any room left for argument?

Nature took the Sanyasi to the presence of the Infinite, enthroned on the finite, by the pathway of the heart. In the Nature's Revenge there were shown on the one side the wayfarers and the villagers, content with their home-made triviality and unconscious of anything beyond; and on the other the Sanyasi busy casting away his all, and himself, into the self-evolved infinite of his imagination. When love bridged the gulf between the two, and the hermit and the householder met, the seeming triviality of the finite and the seeming emptiness of the infinite alike disappeared.

This was to put in a slightly different form the story of my own experience, of the entrancing ray of light which found its way into the depths of the cave into which I had retired away from240 all touch with the outer world, and made me more fully one with Nature again. This Nature's Revenge may be looked upon as an introduction to the whole of my future literary work; or, rather this has been the subject on which all my writings have dwelt—the joy of attaining the Infinite within the finite.

On our way back from Karwar I wrote some songs for the Nature's Revenge on board ship. The first one filled me with a great gladness as I sang, and wrote it sitting on the deck:

Mother, leave your darling boy to us,
And let us take him to the field where we graze our cattle.
The sun has risen, the buds have opened, the cowherd boys are going to the pasture; and they would not have the sunlight, the flowers, and their play in the grazing grounds empty. They want their Shyam (Krishna) to be with them there, in the midst of all these. They want to see the Infinite in all its carefully adorned loveliness;241 they have turned out so early because they want to join in its gladsome play, in the midst of these woods and fields and hills and dales—not to admire from a distance, nor in the majesty of power. Their equipment is of the slightest. A simple yellow garment and a garland of wild-flowers are all the ornaments they require. For where joy reigns on every side, to hunt for it arduously, or amidst pomp and circumstances, is to lose it.

Shortly after my return from Karwar, I was married. I was then 22 years of age.

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  • @Guns,

    Are you from Karwar?

    That place is calling me for sometime now :-) I just get glimpses of Karwar when I travel to my native...

    One of these days, I am gonna convince my friends to mae a trip to Karwar/Gokarna Road...


    By Blogger HP, at 8:11 pm  

  • Sigh. Spent amongst the best years of my childhood there. Brings back memories. Of having a climbing race with friends up on sadashivgad. sitting entranced for hours by those huge ships (which look huger when you're a kid) at the port. the sunday morning visits to the chaotic fish market. sigh. those were the days.
    and yeah...tagore loved karwar, especially devbagh. little wonder then thatthe beach there is named after him.

    so what dude? you from karwar eh?

    By Blogger shenoy, at 3:59 pm  

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