Sunday, February 04, 2007

Then walk alone

When Richard Attenborough's Gandhi first came out, we lived in Ahmedabad. One afternoon, most uncharacteristically (he had a well-known disdain for Indian cinema, especially Bollywood), my father took me to see it in a theater, in the crowded confines of the old city, somewhere near Relief Road. This screening was dubbed in Hindi, and as a nine year old, I was most amused by all the gora log speaking the national language, albeit (if I recall correctly) with a fake firang accent thrown in as a sop to some sense of authenticity. The movie was immensely powerful of course, especially for one brought up in a house steeped in respect for the Mahatma. I would later discover that this didn't mean my father agreed with all of Bapu's ideas, especially when it came to economics ... however, to the end, and especially after 2002, he regularly lamented how Gandhi was forgotten in everything but name.

Last summer, dad introduced me to the Gandhi Katha, a week-long narration of the life of the Mahatma, in a traditional religious story-telling genre, by Narayan Desai, the son of Gandhi's secretary and friend, Mahadev Desai. [I'd seen a few of the discs last year; now is the time to go and see and listen to the entire program.]

Gandhiji's favorite bhajans (hymns) remained my father's favorites, including Narsinhrao Divetiya's translation of Cardinal Newman's "Lead Kindly Light." We've been singing or listening to these bhajans all week.

Ahmedabad is also the home of the famous Ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati. On a few occasions I remember visiting the Ashram (one of the must-see stops when friends from abroad visited the parents) and sitting for a "sound and light" show on Gandhiji's life. [Apparently, at least according to this 2004 report in The Hindu, this show seems to have lost its luster.]

It was during one of these shows at the Sabarmati Ashram that I first heard Rabindranath Tagore's famous poem Ekla Chalo Re (composed at the time of the partition of Bengal in 1905, I believe), also one of Gandhi's faovrites. In so many ways, my father embodied the steadfastness and courage to stick to one's principles exhorted by this poem.

Here's Tagore's English translation:
If they answer not to thy call walk alone,
If they are afraid and cower mutely facing the wall,
O thou of evil luck,
open thy mind and speak out alone.

If they turn away, and desert you when crossing the wilderness,
O thou of evil luck,
trample the thorns under thy tread,
and along the blood-lined track travel alone.

If they do not hold up the light when the night is troubled with storm,
O thou of evil luck,
with the thunder flame of pain ignite thy own heart
and let it burn alone.
The original Bengali follows.
jadi tor daak shune keu naa aashe tabe ekla chalo re
tabe ekla chalo, ekla chalo, ekla chalo, ekala chalo re

jadi keu kathaa naa kaya, ore ore o abhaagaa,
jadi sabaai thaake mukha phiraaye sabaai kare bhaya
tabe paraana khule o tui mukha phute tora manera kathaa, ekalaa balo re

jadi sabaai phire jaaya, ore ore o abhaagaa,
jadi gahana pathe jaabaara kaale keu phire naa chaaya
tabe pathera kaantaa o tui raktamaakhaa charanatale ekalaa dalo re

jadi aalo naa dhare, ore ore o abhaagaa,
jadi jhara-baadale aandhaara raate duyaara deya ghare
tabe bajraanale aapana bukera paanjara jbaaliye niye ekalaa jbalo re
This blog has an mp3 of a version sung by Kishore Kumar (a well known Bollywood actor and playback singer). Not quite the traditional Robindrosangeet style, but still quite beautiful. You really have to listen to the words, even if you don't understand Bengali, to appreciate their depth and beauty.

On Saturday, for the termu (thirteenth day, marking the end of the official mourning period) for my dad, I will be singing Ekla Chalo Re.


PixelChick said...

Though I've heard this song so many times, I never realized there was that Are O Abhaga stuck in there. In many ways, it's a lonely, hard walk isn't it?

Thanks for all the poetry you've posted, Gashwin - it somehow makes you 'real-er' than the identity you let through most of the time.

Georgette said...

Dear G,

I am so so sorry to hear of your father's death. I know from my own loss that it is a most difficult sorrow. That his funeral was on teh anniversary of Gandhi-ji's death, as well as the Shi'a Ashura (10th of Moharrum) is poignant and seems to be meaningful in some mystical way. My heart and prayers go out for you and your family.

Your friend in Christ,

Gashwin said...

Thanks Georgette. Papa railed against the "communalist" politics that have taken over his beloved Gujarat. It seemed fitting that his antim sanskar was on that day!

Pram, you're welcome. I guess this is personal stuff, and most of the time I avoid personal stuff on this blog, as counterintuitive as that might sound!