Oral history interview with Purushotamm Lal

Lal, Purushotamm Manjapra, Kris 2010-01-12

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Interview Participants
PL
Purushotamm Lal, interviewee (male)
KM
Kris K. Manjapra, interviewer (male)
This is a Bengali intellectual history, oral history interview, on January 12th 2010. I am sitting with Professor Purushotamm Lal, Professor P.Lal, here in Kolkata, and it's an honor to have this time with you. Thank you for making time. I would like to begin by asking the first question to launch us into this oral history, which is to your date of birth and your place of birth, and then after that I would like to ask the question about the milieu of your childhood, but just begin by where you were born and when?
P.Lal : I am born in Punjab, Kapurthala, it was a princely state at that time in 1928.
And do you remember the exact date of your birth?
P.Lal : August 28th 1928.
And what kind of a family did you grow up in?
P.Lal : My grandfather was a Wazir of Kapurthala State and acting Wazir and I remember almost nothing of them because at the age of 1 my father brought me to Calcutta so I have no memory at all of Kapurthala and of a castle-like edifice where we lived,
except on occasions 2, 3 occasions later in my life when we went back.
When you came to Calcutta where did you live? Where did you move to where did your parents stay family settled?
P.Lal : My father came here with no money at all, absolutely empty handed, the son of a Wazir who owned whole villages in Kapurthala. My father was always very conscious of his, what shall I say, aristocratic upbringing and lineage, and he would not stay anyplace which in anyway resembled middle class morals so he went to Russer Road- the road of Juice, the road of Necter- in South Calcutta and he stayed in rented a flat I remember 360 Russer Road in Calcutta. That's where he stayed for 14 or 15 years.
That is from 1929 onwards.
P.Lal : That's right.
In terms of the, let's say the culture of your childhood mileu, also in terms of the kind of education that you were inducted into as a child, what do you remember, what comes to your mind about that?
P.Lal : It is very interesting because father received some education till matriculation in Punjab then he married and then I was 1 year old and there was a family rift, fascinating story by itself, and he left. He left Kapurthala and he took a train all he way to Kolkata which is farthest away from Kapurthala, that's what he told me. Now because he received that education because that education there helped him to make up his character, his individuality, his way of looking at life which his elder brother couldn't because he received the education and wanted me to get the best education possible. So in a strange way...the, it was a difficult thing because mother had to sell her jewelry to get it done he could go to the best school available in Calcutta at the time which it was a Jessuate Missionary School, St. Xavier's School, 30 Park Street- that's where I went that's where I studied that's where I got my degree through Calcutta University and that's where I taught and I am still teaching.
When did you begin your studies, at what age at St. Xavier's?
P.Lal : Ahhh....at the age of 7, 6 or 7 from Primary on to it was at that time, Senior Cambridge it was called at that time. I took the Cambridge certificate, it came all the way from the University of Cambridge, we were tested here and rated there. It was a good degree.
Did you have any brothers and sisters?
P.Lal : Yeah, 2 brothers and 2 sisters.
and you were the...
P.Lal : I am the eldest.
The eldest. What was the kind of religious orientation of your family and also what was the political orientation you know of your family in these 1930's, which was a very important decade and history?
P.Lal : Now, father tells me that since he went to School in Kapurthala he would often go to the library. There he would read the periodicals and one of the magazines that used to come at that time, extraordinary magazine known India and the World over the modern review by Ramananda Chatterjee. He used to dip into it and he says he was inspired. He came from a bad makes me no, no me sorry I have to go back now. My name is not Purushotamm Lal see now I have to make a few confessions. Now, in India, I am a Hindu. In India every Hindu has a last name which is a caste name, Jawaharlal Nehru- Nehru is a Brahmin Kashmiri. Quite clear. Sarat Chandra Chotopadhyay, Chatopadhyay is high Bengali Brahmin. You give me the last name, I will give you the caste and I will even tell you where it came from. It's very clear. It's a passport which entitles you to enter some countries and forbids you from entering others. Jawaharlal Nehru, Purushotamm Lal, what? This is fascinating. We've dropped our caste name. Father dropped it.
Why? Until you understand that you will not be able to understand the migration, you won't understand much of the new India especially urban India because whenever I turn, whenever I go abroad Professor Lal, how are you? Whenever I am here Lal what? And I say no but Lal is a middle name, only Christians have it who have dropped their caste names. Anand Lal, Premjit Lal. They dropped their caste name you know I do agree with that I am Hindu and I have dropped it too. Why? I didn't drop it, father did why father had a modern review he says he is very inspired. What did the review stand for? Women's education. Ram Manohar had his vision Quit India and no caste. Ram Mohan said he was a Brahmo, follower of Raja Ram Mohan Roy had dropped the caste, who accepted the ineffable Brahman. Almost inconceivable. No idols some day, Church like worship, no priests. Father said he was very inspired by that. One day, what was his job? Father's job? What is a job you are a son of a Wazir? Nothing.
You live of the fat of the land and the fat of other people. he owned whole villages. he had life and death command of the villagers. My grandfather would kill somebody and acceptable, just a 100 years ago, not even a 100 years ago 70, 80 years ago. Father said so what did you do? Well, every month he would go on a tour of the villages we owned and collect tribute as simple and bring it to the treasury. It was done by the Maharaja of Kapurthala and that was the way money was taxed. He said he went one day on his rounds and as he was going by he came across a well head and he saw an old women drawing water from the well and having difficulty so he went up there and helped her to draw the water out. Somebody saw him and it was reported to my Grandfather. It was an untouchable's job, the unforgivable sin, and father was asked to apologize in public and he redeemed, cleansed of his impure deeds, and he refused.
He was a young idealist, 25-26 year old, just married. I had just been born, I was 1 year old and Grandfather said you know what this means you have to apologize. I have a standing here, the family has a standing here. Father said no and Grandfather said why? The answer he gave was fascinating because Ramananda Chatterjee says that no such thing as caste. Who's Ramananda Chatterjee? He is an editor in Calcutta and he runs the magazine called the Modern Review which I read in the library in the school. Who is Ramanada Chatterjee? Apologize! Father refused. What can you do? He took the first train to Calcutta. that's the story. So, because of that, he did not practice Hinduism. He was a Hindu and Hindusim entitles him to be a non practicing believer, so he went on as a non practicing believer and he sent me to the Catholic Missionary School, perfectly acceptable, what does it matter. It was that made into it and naturally it would come with your caste name you could pass freely in a city without your caste name.
This is the urban glory which many Indians have followed which many people don't know that's the real revolution at the same place in society -in Hindu Society- quietly, slowly eminent people, discriminating, giving up caste. Changing the names and living in the city because in the village you can't do that. You'll be caught and rebuked and punished and why not, I mean, that is there culture until they change. That is the story of why I went to St. Xavier's.
By the time you were already 10 or 11 lot of history was happening,
P.Lal : Oh, yes.
In retrospect, one could say a lot of history was happening. The, obviously, the Government of India Act, more importantly the beginning of the Second World War, the rise of the Muslim League and so forth in Bengal. How did any of these, in the history books we look back on and take the highlights of the...
P.Lal : Kris, forget the history books, all of them are lying. They are getting one aspect only. If the British win, the British are right, Germans get the war criminal trials, Germans win the British will be tried and then let's forget that. I will tell you what history means to me what it has meant to me 1947 no 44 45 46- 43!- Mahatma Gandhi says Quit India "Maro ya karo" na "Karo ya Maro" Do or Die and I am 15 years old and in St. Xavier's.
I am a suited and booted, well tied, uniformed, perfectly a young indoctrinated young boy who does what his school will do, whether Jesuit or non Jesuit whatever they follow the standard establishment. They don't want to be at odds with the rulers. They follow, so the British are right and Gandhi is wrong. The school is run by Belgian and French Jesuit Missionaries, what do you expect? And why should you expect anything else? But I am Indian and Gandhi to me is a God and the words he says. I remember saving my pocket money and buying Harijan for 1 anna at that time and, you know, systematically collecting all those beautiful comments you see in the magazine- the periodical we read them as they were the Bible truth, Bible truth. St. Xavier's and on the one hand I started the Bible and on the other hand Gandhi at home and since St. Xavier's taught us Bible history, which I learnt, which everyone learnt, but there was history going around us around the school.
Gandhi said "Karo ya maro" and the Satyagraha is a non-violence, took it out in the sense and formed groups. Groups of 10, 6 to 10 marching in the streets, not violent, carrying flags, and there is section 144 in force and you can't do this, and there is noise and tumult and the classes are disbanded but we are not allowed to go out so we go to the roof of the school and from there we watch what is happening in Park Street, which is now called Mother Teresa Avenue, St. Xavier's, and what do I see? I see history being made. Forget the books, the Satyagraha march is stopped by a British sergeant with Indian Policeman carrying guns and they are told to disperse and they carry on marching. He gives on another warning and what's all this and they carry on and he orders the soldiers to kneel, take in. there are pictures of this in the history books, as the one too who have the photos, and they still march on and they just fire. They fire.
Rule of law, Kris, didn't you know? Law is all powerful. First rank falls I saw this at the age of 16, 15-16 they march fire the second group falls and they still march and they have no weapons "fire" and no one fires. Enough. Gandhiji, next morning in the paper says, "We have won, WE HAVE WON and they have lost." But what did I do? I just watched and it burned me. I was a young idealist at that time. I mean, yeah, and the Christians taught me idealism and love your neighbor and they are killing your neighbor, na? So I had to do something. What can I do? I am not a terrorist and I have been told to turn the other cheek and always do something. I mentioned this in the book and all this thing I have narrated later. I next morning coming to school, took off my tie, stuffed it in my pocket, went into class sat down in the front because I was a good student, I was one of the best students.
There's Father Merlow, a Jesuit from Belgium, our teacher and he looked at me and said Lal, what's this? Where's your tie? I said Father I can't wear it. Why? Can you imagine what I said? Father it is a badge of slavery. What can you say, because young people do this. I wouldn't do it now. It is a badge of slavery. Hmm, is that so! Very well, go down go meet the prefect and get an admit tattoo. I got a chit saying he is allowed to sit in class, went to the Principal/Prefect and he said what's the matter Lal? You? Here? Yeah I said Father I have been told to come to you. What have you done? You should wear it. Father my conscience doesn't permit me. Conscience! Yes Father, so I was told by the voice of God. All right. he thought I was being smart. Hand please. On the knuckles, with a ruler, wooden ruler, 6...It hurt. Go home you can't come to class unless you come with a tie so I went home, I didn't go home what would my father say forget the Jesuit fathers, I had my own father.
He worked hard to send me to the school. So I wandered around the whole day and in the afternoon went back. Father didn't know. Next morning, the same damn trouble, what do I do? What did you do when you're mad, you're possessed by a kind of divine madness and you think your conscience is speaking to you, what are you going to do? I took off my tie and stuffed it in my pocket, sat in class. Father looks at me and says where is your tie? I said Father I cannot wear it. Son, he said, this is not only to be disobedience, this is willful disobedience. I said Father I learned in model instruction class that there is nothing higher than the conscience. Go down, get a chit. This time I go down and Father Merlow is mortified and he said why you doing this. Father, I got conscience, I didn't know what it was but then what do you do? He said all right now you know what will happen to you -Go home! Go home and you will know what it is. I will be expelled. That night was the worst night of my life.
Wrestling with my soul, what else? What should I do? I can't be expelled, my whole family needs me, I am the eldest. Conscience is higher than the eldest so I took off my tie, stuffed in the pocket. I will do what my conscience tells me to do so, it's a badge of slavery, and sat it class. Kris, do you know what happened?
They let you stay?
P.Lal : 4 other boys are sitting without ties and 1 of them, god be thanked, one of them is Sir Biren Mukherjee's son Romen Mukherjee and Sir Biren Mukherjee built the entire St. Xavier's School.
He is the owner of Tata Burn IMC, massive undertaking, you cannot expel him, cannot expel Romen Mukherjee's son, I mean Sir Biren Mukherjee and Lady Ranu Mukherjee of 7 Louden Street. So the rules are made flexible, you may or may not come with a tie. I started that. I will never do it again, but that's how it happened, that's history. That's in no textbook. That must have happened 100's and 1000's of places, something like that, no one who mentions it. They mention the big names- Lord Mountbatten and this and that and big meetings, forget it. It's the small things that changed and small people doing big things, quietly. That's what I meant.
What was your in this period, in these years...
P.Lal : and by the way, after that, yes, let me add to that, much later Father Merlow, then I joined St. Xavier's did my M.A. became a teacher there, lecturer, and I've got a lifetime teaching award. Father Merlow tells me one day, I meet him, and he says supposing we had not come without the ties you would have been expelled, as simple as that. Think- my entire life my whole career would have depended on these folks of whom I asked nothing. There were not even close friends. Their consciences were moved. I mean this is incredible. That's how it works, that's how change works. Law, yes forget the law it's always on the side of money, invariably.
Did you feel after this experience that you saw a different path for yourself that things could change, you could change things?
P.Lal : Yes, I felt I was somebody I mean it gave me a confidence that no other act I'm sure could have done and you know I did it because there was nothing else that I could do, I had to be true to myself, I mean, and because they had taught me and I had done it. They had taught me, damnit, they had taught me that conscience was the most important thing and some other served my conscience other people dying and what am I doing just that.
So how did you find your project, how did you find your calling after this I mean I can imagine you must have had this experience and then you might have thought so what do I do next? How did you figure out what to do next?
P.Lal : How did you find out what to do next, it's simple. I think it's 70% DNA and 30% choice. My grandfather, that same grandfather who ostracized my father, has written a book, had written a book which father never told me about. 4 books, in fact. 1 of them is a 500-page manual called a readable dictionary of synonyms of slang, idiom, and something. In 1914 when he went to England as a student he couldn't follow English, so he used to take notes, and he produced this marvelously readable book published in England which father never told me about. Must be here somewhere. I will show you copy of that and then 1 day, suddenly, I never knew about it father never father just knocked my grandfather out of his mind. I don't think he ever forgave grandfather but the DNA is there, it's a literary. One day my son comes to me, I mention this in the preface of a book which I re published last year, 2 years ago, my son comes to me and, my Son is a teacher of English Jadavpur, Head of the Department, he says Baba look at this.
What's this? Believe it or not, it's a review of a book by Sardar Babu Lal and the caste name is given, I won't give you that, and I published it and blacked it out. Review by Sir Jadu Nath Sarkar where, in the modern review, and he says what a wonderful book. Jadu Nath Sarkar's History of the Mughal empire 4 volumes... I said but this is Babu Lal, this is my Grandfather, he says yes where can I get a copy? Well he says go to the Library, National Library no one in India has it so, what do I do? So I write to the British museum. Yes they have a copy. Could you give me a Xerox, I will pay for it? No sir, for some copyright problem, we don't do this. But no one get Xerox's what do I do, you know what should you do crisis you go to the person who has the greatest clout. Things I have done with people with clout otherwise they don't get done. I go to USIS, Patricior Shaad, she was in charge of the Consulate at that time and I tell her Patricia, she knows me, and I say do something, get me this book.
She says, don't worry I will do it for you. Within a week I get Xerox of that and I decide to publish it here exactly as it was published. That must have been it. How to go to Oxford and Cambridge, now how to become a barrister rather than to Oxford and Cambridge, none are called eminent engines. That man was not a literary man but look what he did. I can't understand this. He wanted an apology from a father when he himself was a wonderfully liberated, educated person writing books. see the complexity of human character? He thought that his image will suffer and he had to do it cause Maharaja threw him out or whatever, I don't know. Well, that I decided I wanted to be a teacher. I don't know why but I love teaching, I just love it. I taught in St. Xavier's for 10 years without salary. I don't want it. What has salary got to do, I've got enough. I love teaching it gives me a forum to interact with young and bright minds. It's gorgeous. I must give you 1 book, though.
Look here, on my 70th birthday they brought out fresh thrift, which has all the details in it which might help you ...
It would be wonderful.
P.Lal : It's here, open that thing there, yes open it the left one, open the left one, and that there are 2 books there what are they?
These 2 red ones.
P.Lal : What are they?
They are condensed Mahabharata.
P.Lal : Oh, no is the "Vocal In Times of Duty" that's the one I am looking for ...
No.
P.Lal : Ahh, here it is here. Here.
The vocal in times of duty.
P.Lal : Yes, they are the lines from my poem, Vocal in times of duty.
When did, when did you enter Presidency College?
P.Lal : Never entered.
Ohh, sorry, St. Xavier's College.
P.Lal : I was there all through right from the very beginning till the very end never left St. Xavier's.
When did you begin your B.A. in St. Xavier's.
P.Lal : B.A. was 1947, was my Senior Cambridge... 49..48 and 50 was my M.A. 52 I finished and I joined St. Xavier's when I was 18 as lecturer.
Who were at this point in your development, who were the either teachers, fellow students or conversation partners in books that you were mostly in discussion with that sustained you in and helped you find your path in this period?
P.Lal : Well there was Father Turmos, Father Turmos...He has passed away. Father Farlow, Father Armswan they have all passed away.
Sargent Kumar Ghosh, Professor of English in St. Xavier's, comic character but brilliant man who published his books too, a Sanskrit teacher, hmm forget his name now, Bengali, who else... Father Dobinson, the teacher in the senior Cambridge class. Mr. Lawrence Periera, who taught Economics, now he's in Australia, basically these.
Do you have any memories of your school friends with whom you had discussions, intellectual, developed discussions, that helped for your development...?
P.Lal : You know, the glory of St. Xavier's though it is a missionary Catholic it's really secular
there are Muslims and Jews and Christians, Hindus, all. I mean we didn't even care, we didn't even know. all of them are good friends. A.S. Abuhaq is a Muslim, Deb Kumar Das Bengali Hindu, Prodip Sen, grandson of Kesab Chandra Sen, there were so many Chinese, Sikkenese, and they all became not only friends but they became part of the Writer's Workshop Group and reformed as a group many of them wrote poems, stories they are the starters. Deb Kumar Das was a member, Prodip Sen was a member, there was Utpal Dutta, the actor, there was Tarun Rai the actor, big names, oh it was marvelous I mean I if I had to live my life again I will go again to St. Xavier's.
How did it start, the Writers Workshop Group?
P.Lal : Very simple, no one would publish us! They said very good poems but economically not viable so we published ourselves. Wasn't all that expensive and somehow it developed into this massive 3,500 title institution. But again, you see I am lucky. At the crossroads of history, there are Indians writing in English. I didn't make them, I didn't make them and this is lucky recipient of a historical fortunate circumstance.
When did that group come around which workshop came to be when did you really, when is the first kernel, when did it start it's formation?
P.Lal : Take this book and see this, there's one at the bottom the on top of that top yes this was an American student who came and worked here for 1 year this is the story is fascinating.
Hmm, wonderful.
P.Lal : I mean it will give you all the details in a sense, he got a scholarship from a Brown University to be here for 1 year and, believe it or not, 1,500 dollars a month and so he had a princely time. He was in the apartment next door, he used to come every morning, study the workshop, and came out with this book.
He met our binders, he met our printers, he met our writers, he had a good time and he has done a good job, I think.
Wow that's wonderful. It's called the Literary Journey in Caltrain Writers Workshop by Jet Bickman.
P.Lal : Jet Bickman that's right, he was 22 years old, 23 years old .
and he's written this such
P.Lal : and he has done a good job
Achievement, that's an achievement.
P.Lal : Ohh there are bright people everywhere, this is what keeps civilization going.
Can I ask you another question about this period, what was it like for you to be not Bengali and to be starting something new in Calcutta, a place where there is such a strong sense of language, literary culture and pride and also Bengali culture and pride?
P.Lal : Yes, once you forget It's also one of the strongest on the basis of cosmopolitanism, this has its roots and it has its fruits. Solid roots create true cosmopolitanism and weak roots create rubbish. Truly, the Bengali is open-minded. This is a joke in Bengal, we solve the world's problems. Calcutta was the first University in India. Well, the renaissance was here. So there is a strong sense of root in this. We are not worried, Bengalis are not worried it will lose Bengali. It's a win-win. We have this and we have that too. So no problem at all. In fact, the great thing about Bengal is that it made the writer's workshop possible by challenging its existence. There is a big literary, what shall I say, not debate, it is really a jujitsu wrestling match where Buddhadeva Bose wrote about it in his encyclopedia where Buddhadeva Bose came out saying this can't be done. This is Bengal. These Indians write in English only, yeah, ruthless money plants and because he said that I said no they are not, I will prove to you whether they are or not.
It's the challenge I faced, see other places don't give you a challenge and if there's no challenge you don't really go ahead, you do your little thing and then you fade away but when there's a real challenge with people who are intelligent, who want to discuss with you and who want to challenge you then you grow and you did, I did indeed.
Where did this happen, where did these conversations take place? Where was the base take place?
P.Lal : Here at the bottom, ground floor
People were gathered downstairs,
P.Lal : people were gathered every Sunday morning and have discussions on writers workshop and all the details in the magazine, 100 issues which came about Indians, should they, should they not write in English, what are they, it was a tremendous controversy but you see the whole point is Marxist I will tell you. You had a thesis, had an antithesis then we could do a synthesis and it was a powerful antithesis. We need that. Bengal would provide that. what will I do in Bihar or in Delhi? Yeah, they don't write this intellectual stimulus.
In terms of your own work, your own writing, when you started writing your poetry, when you started writing prose so forth, what were the traditions that you were responding to and how did you see yourself contributing? Where were you situating yourself?
P.Lal : Again I got into trouble I wrote a long 2 page newspaper page attacking, it shouldn't have been but then you know I was young and I thought attacking Aurobindo Ghosh, Sri Aurobindo and his poetry saying this is like a hot balloon, with no sense in it...
Where did that appear?
P.Lal : It appeared in Mother India and, no, it appeared in, as the introduction to volume of poems he brought out Modern Indo-Anglo poetry with a 20 page introduction by me. It was reproduced as Modern Indo poetry in English with 50 page introduction and it was taken up by the Aurobindo journal Mother India with the title the preposterous Mr. Lal. Well, all I said was, and I quoted the passage, read this passage and I said see if you don't feel hot air ruing all around you with no meaning at all. If you are against this you are against hot spiritual poetry with no meaning. You want accuracy, direct literary intimacy, powerful images which connect and what a storm! That was the thing and so we did that. We brought out this volume, 800 pages, Modern Indian poetry in English. I wrote to all the people concerned I knew and they sent in poems, I printed them, and there was a question- why do you write in English? That was a first book. It challenged the tradition but I was wrong.
I mean, it was overdone, there's an Indian, see there is a sensibilité in India which appreciates certain kind of spiritual hot air if you want to call it and I was not on that wavelength. That's what I think now. But even so I am not entirely wrong. Much of Indian poetry tends to be, in English, tended to be diffused and sugary lyrical, not hard lyrical.
Where did you look to find this... ?
P.Lal : I didn't! Look to find the... what?
The hard lyrical, in other words...
P.Lal : It was all around me, the people writing poetry, some historical you see this is the beauty of life. This is the Youga Dharma it's spirit of the age. it was there waiting to be organized and collected.
and this is what
P.Lal : and this is what I organized and collected. I am the grim reaper. No, but seriously, this is amazing thing.
Things come your way you don't have to go to them but you have to be ready your landing field has be ready to take on the landing.
Did you ever feel that what you said about Buddhadeva Bose there was a generational issue, I don't know whether there was a generational issue as well, but amongst the young men of letters who were your age who were doing corresponding work, let's say in Bangla or in whatever other context, who did you connect with in terms of who were doing other projects who if not who did you connect with then what was the context in general when your project, the writer's workshop was taking place? Did you feel that you had fellow travelers on this, beyond those who were actually part of the project?
P.Lal : We had fellow travelers who were competitive, you know, this is the whole point. That there was a kind of competition. That they were doing good work, we were doing good work, let's see who goes ahead. Bengali writers were doing marvelous work. They were Bengali beats, we were there. You know, somehow this idea of English was a foreign language was something that I absolutely discarded from the very beginning. I said that Indian tradition is very simple. It does not exclude, it includes and assimilates and when it does that you can't say English is foreign. It becomes Indian. We do it for our purposes we are not writing for Englishmen. That was the thing, somehow to prove that English was an Indian language which it could solve Indian reads, Indian hopes, Indian aspirations, Indian needs, that's all. And now no one questions it at that time my god they thought we were slaves of neo colonialists or whatever and we weren't. We were assimilating. The Aryans came and bring Sanskrit and Hinduism. We assimilate that.
The Muslims come and they bring Persian, Urdu and Islam. We assimilate them. The British come they bring Christianity and English. We assimilate it. We are large. This is the Indian tradition, you can survive in 2 ways you can exclude the Greek way city state out and the others are barbarous, barbarians, Persians, that's one way, the other way is like in India, come you are part of us. We are so large you can't destroy us, we swallow you and that's perfectly valid and I think that's what we proved ultimately.
How about the younger generation, the younger generations, amongst them are there are certain individuals, not asking about favorites, but just there are certain young writers you feel particularly close to personally, who you feel that you had a particularly strong impact or a strong relationship with...?
P.Lal : Oh yes, many.
Many.... Are there some that you would point to in particular?
P.Lal : I don't think any names but I have the names all there, there are quite a few. Look, when Vikram Seth came here 1980, he brought his poems and said would you publish them. I read them and said Vikram you are 10 years ahead of your time. Go to another publisher, please, I can't give you the exposure that much. He said I have tried every publisher, they won't publish me. So I said in that case I would be the last resort of the helpless, I published him.
There are others like that many you have to wait 10, 15, 20 years before they become known and if they continue writing. Vikram did, they don't but they are very good. I can make a marvelous anthology of those who are good but not yet famous. Some gave up, some going for other things, some lose inspiration. The point is to make them their works available so that they don't lose self-confidence, that's what I try to do. Many remarkable people, oh yes, there's no scope for alarm of any kind.
How would in terms of friends, friendships that you have had with people not in India. What has been the global network of close friends, close collaborators, friends that you have had?
P.Lal : Magnificent I would say. I am humbled at the kind of interest and assistance that people give but, you know, it's very simple you get from a country what you give to it. You go with a happy frame of mind, you go with an open mind, nothing will happen to you. You go with a suspicious mind you will come back. So really I have had no problem at all. I go there as a human being and nothing else and then treated as a human being. It's my nature so I have no problems of any kind really.
I also want to be respectful of the time and I have already kept you for quite some time, I know it's tiring to sometimes have to respond to somebody else's, what's going on in their mind, so I appreciate this very much but one last question which stems from the conversation that we have had first time I came with Martin Hemson.
This is really more marveling at the way that you were reading and interpreting and asking me to interpret the Mahabharata and that's what I am interested in for this last question given what you said about your family, that you group in a secular home, the way that you read so deeply into this text really is fascinating to me. There's a kind of seriousness that you approach with in, you are speaking of the hard lyric, I mean there's a kind of intensity to the way that you focus attention on every Shloka and every concept, on every image when did this project begin, why did it became a project for you?
P.Lal : Oh very simple, very simple in my intermediate arts classes you see before the there were I.A., B.A., M.A. The I.A. classes, we have Sanskrit and one of the texts was the Bhagawad Gita Canto 11.
I went through it and studied it perfectly all right it's not a very difficult text. Then it occurred to me, I said this is very strange, it is not questioning what happened. Really strange. Arjun is a Pandava, he is a Khastriya, and he's got a Gandiva Bow which means he cannot lose, it's a divine Bow, so why he is saying I am not right, but what could be the reason? He's trained to fight his caste is an auria caste, he cannot lose, Krishna is on his side, he's related by blood why is he refusing to fight? The others agreed. I said I have got to find this out, this is all-important. how do I find that out? It's very simple. What you do or you don't do can only be because of your character that's the way you are that's your nature, your real nature . Your actions in a crisis reveal your true nature. Ordinary things it doesn't. What you do in a crisis it's what you really are. How do I find out your real character? Ahh, I am lucky, I have got this whole story from beginning to end.
Its goes from the very beginning to the very end so why don't I follow him and see. That's when I began the Mahabharata and I still don't know but I think some glimmerings have come. He is a 20th century kind of character, he's an individualist who overcomes his social limitations. He doesn't go by, he abides by his caste, yes, but up to a point. After that he wants to make his own discoveries and his conscience strikes him, there you are, his conscience strikes him and so he will challenge anybody even God if his conscience that strikes him. How does he develop this conscience. Let me see if I can find out it's as simple as that. Most people say that oh well it is an aberration, he forgot his true nature. I said no, it can't be, that's his real character. Crisis makes character and what makes what is real crisis and how, what is in my nature that makes me behave that way must be the result of what has happened to me
and I have got a record of that so why I don't like the psychologists or whatever diagnose and come to some kind of answer. Let's see. Maybe he was confused and maybe he was really truly spiritual, like Mahatma Gandhi because Gandhi interpreted the Bhagavad Gita you know not as a real battle but a battle in the mind, good verses evil, and you are now to decide and Arjun faces this crisis. Let me finish the Mahabharata. It will take me another 2 years.
Thank you so much.
P.Lal : You are welcome.
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