Wednesday, March 22, 2006


'If' in my life

It was when Mowgli hit the screen in India that I was first introduced to the name, Rudyard Kipling. However, I did not know, nor felt the need to know anything more about this writer than the fact that Jungle Book was his branichild. One day, in the CSR magazine, I came across an essay which ended with the lines of this Nobel Laureate -

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 of distance run -
Yours is the earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a man, my son!

- Rudyard Kipling.

Poetry always inspires me. Since, music and I were never related, poetry, the cousin of music, to me, became an enjoyable substitute for music. So, I was instantly inspired by those lines and kept repeating them in my head at every chance I got - in the shower, while tying the shoe lays, while walking to/from the school, during the History teacher's class, experiencing the little moments of joy in unravelling the power hidden beneath those words. In the coming week, I spoke about it to all those who, I thought, shared my love for poetry and literature. In one of these discussions, a tennis enthusiast told me that there was more to the poem than the lines I knew. He recounted a couplet from the same poem which was adopted as a motto of the Wimbledon. He said that the verses flashed on the display board before the players entered the court. He recalled the lines effortlessly -

If you can meet with triumph and disaster,
And treat those two imposters just the same.

My curiosity increased multifold. There was no Google, nor the internet to search for the poem at the click of a mouse. Even if internet existed, to me it would have sounded like an impractical solution as in the early '90s, all I knew of the computer was a lesson on Dos, Logo and a game of Prince and Pacman. So, I resorted to single most successful technique I was fond of - Pestering. I implored, begged and pestered my dad to take me to a library. With his accedence, my search for the poem ended in the library.

It took me more than a couple of readings to appreciate the importance of the use of certain phrases like 'worn out', 'unforgiving minute' etc. and with the help of Oxford dictionary, I figured out the meaning of the words like 'imposter', ‘knaves', etc.

When day after day, I breathed those lines, I discovered new meanings and messages with every recitation. This poem suited every mood of mine. It inspired, mellowed, strengthened, lightened and heartened. Then, when I entered the 'information world' of the web, I read many other poems of the writer, and also criticisms around his racial attitude.

My obsession for poetry sometimes showed even in the most unlikely of places. For example, in my +2, Business Studies exam, I described 'Planning' in the words of Rudyard Kipling -

"I have six honest serving men,
they taught me all I knew.
They are - What, Where and When,
How, why and Who"

Several years later, I was browsing through books in Landmark, and I found the poster which had 'If' poem on it. I couldn't have asked more out of that visit to the book store. I bought it and pinned it at a place I could see every day, just above my desk. The poster is now faded but their lines in my mind remain vivid and bold!

Thought of mentioning the Wimbledon connection but you already got it! It's actually inscribed on a plaque as the players approach the Center Court entrance from the locker room. Those who did their Plus 1 in TN between 1989 and 1993 will recollect this in Lesson 2 of their English text.

The lines on victory and defeat somehow reminds me of Bunyan's lines "He that is down needs fear no fall". Its another great inspirational piece.
TTM, me,me, me. I remember.;-)
Another good one from you, AK.
Casement, y did u have to implore, beg and pester ur dad to take u to a library? My dad implored, begged and pestered me to come with him to
TTM, thnx for the additional info!

Deepa, Welcome back...Blogosphere felt your absence!;)

Nonblogger, I was not particularly fond of the local public library in TN. So, I needed smoeone to take me to British library which is why I had to implore, beg and pester;)
Enjoyed the piece.

One of my favourite poems of Kipling's is "Mary Gloster", about a shipping tycoon on his death bed narrating to his daughter the story of how he built his business and the risks that he took, when all others were trying to play safe, The others could never catch up with him

"They copied all they could follow, but they couldn’t copy my mind,
And I left ’em sweating and stealing a year and a half behind."

Nice post once again. Yes I have also been always inspired by this poem by Kipling.

And talking about poems, one that never fails to come to my mind instantly is "Daffodils" by William Wordsworth. And the lines I love the most in that poem are from the last stanza "For oft when on my couch I lie, In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye, Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills,And dances with the daffodils."
Though not a very inspiring one, but it definitely left an indelible impression on my youg mind, for some reason I cannot figure out (maybe its due to the award I won for reciting it in a inter-school competition ;-))

award or not, Daffodils is memorable for WW's masterly exhibition of top-class rhyme using the simplest possible words. This one from The Solitary Reaper also stands out - "The music in my heart I bore, Long after it was heard no more." What a hard-hitting utterance using down-to-earth language!

Actually a poem of the intellectual kind by Kipling is rare. Wrote a lot of animal-stuff meant for kids. Although India-born, Kip was a pucca racist who encouraged slavery of Asians and Africans. Yes, all poets have their dark streaks(Kannadasan-womanising drunkard, Bharatiyar-opium addict, Shelley-mad lover and lunatic, Wilde-gay freak) but hard for me to stomach Kipling winning a Nobel when 'nobler' poets than him have existed.

Yeah, 'The Mary Gloster' is a notable poem by Kipling. But, I think in the poem, he narrates his business life to his sissified and unmanly son, who is incapable of handling the ship building business after him:)

K & TTM,

I cannot agree more with you on Daffodils. As K said, it leaves an impression on young minds and like TTM said, it's memorable for its beautiful rhyming scheme.

TTM, while I knew the darker sides of other poets that you have mentioned about, I really did not know that Bharatiyar was an opium addict. Due to my limited fluency in Tamizh, I haven't read much about him. But, what I am surprised about is that even in the movie that was based on his biography, there was no mention about this detail.
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andha soga kadhaiya yen kekareenga :(

Yes, Bharati fell into the opium habit during his years of exile in Pondicherry. After the Parthasarathy temple elephant mishap, he was bed-ridden and it was the snuff habit that hastened his death(also possible he would have died anyway).

Bharati led one of the most heroic but unhappiest lives possible. Lost his mother at 5, father at 15, left his child-wife alone to study in Benares Hindu Univ, inspired by Nivedita of the RKM and got into the freedom struggle. By now his family business which had mind-boggling wealth and affluence few years before had crumbled to pieces. This was about 10 years before Gandhi had even returned from SA, so Bharati was one of the pioneers of the freedom movement. His fiery and ruthless assaults on the British was awakening the masses. Fled to Pondy for the survival of his banned newspaper leaving his family in dire poverty. Unable to bear their suffering, he came back to British India and got arrested. During his entire life, he always put the cause of the nation first ahead of the grinding poverty and deprivation of his wife and family. In his last few days, he often wept for forgiveness from Chellamma about the pain and misery she went through and often had second thoughts whether he did the right thing in resigning his steady schoolteacher job in Madurai and plunging into the freedom struggle.

His addiction(perhaps we'd rather call it 'habit') was fanned by the crushingly depressive situations that his life was made up of. Otherwise he was a giant in every sense.

At the end of the day, what do we remember him as? As a man whose very heartbeat was for his country? As someone who hugged donkeys to dispel conservative notions in the agraharam, walked on the road holding his wife's hand to speak up for gender equality, freely ate from the plates of people of all castes to mock at casteism, taught songs clad in a loin cloth to the labour-class urchins and angered the conservatives, had a love and mastery of Vedanta, Gita and used the spiritual wealth of the ancients as inspiration for his few thousand songs? wrote the finest kannan songs in tamil? Or just an opium addict?

Personal foibles of artists is a difficult topic with no answers. Should personal failings of greats cloud their achievements? Balu Mahendra married an actress whom he used to address(who killed herself later) as 'daughter' a few months before, MSV fooled around with LR Eswari and this caused the split with TK Ramamurthy(Will be very very happy to be proved wrong on this!)...these were some painful things about the icons I liked. Some things in life will never have clearcut answers and it is best we leave them as they are instead of grappling with them.

PS: my blogpost on bharati is available here
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