"Saraswati Puja (Basant Panchami)" to be celebrated by Lucknow Oriya Samaj on 22nd January, 2018

Untitled Document

Lucknow is 'Luck Now'

Prof. Dr. Chandra Sekhar Rath, eminent writer, reminisces his studenthood in Lucknow and the times ahead, in an intimate interview with Ramendra Kumar. Excerpts:

Ramendra Kumar: Sir, you had your higher education in Lucknow. Could you tell us something about those times, when the newly independent country was breathing the fresh air of freedom.

Dr. Chandra Sekhar Rath: I left for Lucknow in the year of 1952 and those days we had very little choice. I graduated from Utkal University and went to Lucknow; because a friend of mine who had done his post graduation from that university said: "Lucknow is 'Luck-now'; so your luck begins right now if you choose that place." I went there. This was the first attraction. Second attraction was that there was N.K. Siddhant. He was the professor of English and he was the living legend those days. He did his PhD from Oxford; and many things can be said about him. I don't get into details right now. And the third attraction was Acharya Narendra Dev. He was the vice- chancellor. All these were attractions for me. I was a young man of 21 years those days; and I went there. Lucknow was a beautiful city. I had been to Lucknow the year before last. Today it is not that beautiful.

R.K: Is it very crowded?

Dr.Rath: It is very crowded like any other city in the country. And, you see, if cattle get together they make the place dirty; but if human beings get together they make the place dirtier. There was a bridge connecting the city to the University. It was known as 'Monkey Bridge'. Monkey Bridge was across river Gomti.

R. K: This side of river Gomti ? I don't think anything was there then.

Dr.Rath: The university and something else. There was another girls' hostel and some other things. I never went that way; because that was going waste (Laughs). So in my recent visit, when they invited me to Lucknow, I was taken around the university; and I was shocked to find that river Gomti was missing altogether. There were pools of water here and there, but the river flow was absent. And I wrote a poem there. It was published there in daily news paper and was widely discussed; because there was a group of people who wanted to save Gomti from the land grabbers. They made it an instrument. Then when I went to the university I found it totally different from what I saw in 1950. I gave you a wrong date, I believe. I was there in Lucknow University from 1950 to 1952. In 1952 I completed my graduation. This time I found grilled gates almost everywhere. The university resembled a prison. There was no free movement. There were gate keepers. When I was asked to address the staff and students, I said: "What has happened to your university? And more important, what has happened to you people? It was such a pleasure to move about in the campus, moving from department to department, moving from the lawn to the lecture hall. But this is unbelievable for me; why have you reduced it to a prison? Are you afraid of anything? Anybody? Or are you afraid of yourself? Why have you made it like this?" I went to the departments, the staff, the faculty welcomed me and it was a very good meeting. I told them about my teacher, professor Siddhant. We called him Chaucer, because he was very short in structure, plump and he was walking very slow like a duck; and he had a full suit on every time; and he always carried a book in his coat pocket. One day I went closer and I wanted to see the title of the book; and I was amazed to find that it was a novel by Agatha Christie.

R.K: I don't think you expected that.

Dr. Rath : I was pleased and surprised both. He was the walking encyclopedia. Whenever any teacher had any doubt in any subject he just approached and asked him; and he gave him the direction: "You can go to this part of the library, get this book and the details are available". So there were other teachers also. Naresh Chandra was a professor of eminence and he had the ability to send corrections to Oxford dictionary from Lucknow University. Half of the corrections were incorporated by the authorities. Very learned people were there with whom I spent my couple of years there.

R.K: In terms of the ambiance during those days, a newly independent nation, what was special about Lucknow.

Dr. Rath : Lucknow was in those days a seat of Mughal culture and people around, either Hindu or Muslims, spoke wonderful Urdu and I too picked up some Urdu there. And a friend of mine who came from down south always read it as 'Urudu' and I quarreled with him many times: "Urudu? What is Urudu?". Urdu is a language, a camp language, and they wanted a sort of maneuver, to get a system of communication with the natives; and in the process Urdu was discovered. But later on there were great men of genius who contributed to this literature and language and it is one of the best literatures of the world today. So, in those days there was a perfect understanding between the two communities; and Hazratganj was the place where students of the university flocked in the evening.

R.K: 'Ganjing' was the term?

Dr. Rath : Ganjing was the term. You have rightly heard. Yes I went for Ganjing and they many times invited me and there were matinee shows. And we had one professor; I am just forgetting his name. (Later, Dr. Rath recalled the name, and told Nirmalya on phone, that he was Prof. R.R. Shrestha). He was a short man, hardly 50 kg in weight and he spent most of his time in Italy. He had come and he was on the staff. He used to speak about four to five hundred words during to the entire period. But every word was well selected and irreplaceable. He too was there for the picture. And we pinched at each other: "See, professor has come!" And the picture was 'Samson & Delilah' and so we returned. He probably left half way. Next day when we met, one of us had the courage to approach him, and asked, "How was the picture yesterday?" He looked at him, looked down, took a minute, and said, "Horrible!" I say, because he was a great lover of Milton. He had read Samson Agonistes; and through literature whatever he got, was not found on the screen. So he didn't like it.

R.K: You had the privilege of observing at very close quarters Pandit Nehru, Dr. Radha Krishnan, Dr. Sankar Dayal Sharma, Acharya Narendra Dev, Sri Govind Ballabh Pant. So what were your experiences?

Dr. Rath: One experience let me narrate. It was early in the morning. It was probably this time around the year. And suddenly the news spread that Pandit Nehru had arrived. And my hostel, Hewett Hostel, was closest to the main university building; and news spread and we all went. There on the lawn, there were only two chairs, one for Acharya Narendra Dev and the other for Jawahar Lal Nehru. They were almost of the same height, same stature, may be physically, may be intellectually too; and they were friends. He was the prime minister then; but he never thought it necessary to send prior notice, as if he was visiting his own home. So he came there. One of my friends from the Hewett hostel came a little late. When he came and looked around and sat down, the entire process was being closely watched by Jawahar Lal Nehru. And when the time came for him to stand up and say, he was furious: "Kya samajh rakha hai apne ko? Agar sanyas lena hai to Himalaya chale jaiye. Chale aa rahe hain… munh dhoya hua nahi. Disheveled hair ….;" Because he had straight got up from the bed and …. That was his difficulty, poor fellow! So he got all the banging. Then suddenly he changed the topic. He narrated a tale about a Chinese farmer. He had some seven sons and all of them were brilliant. He made one of them a professor, a doctor... like this all professions were covered. The last one was just good for nothing, but he grew up. Then the Chinese farmer, wise as he was, scratched the back of his head and said, "He is good for nothing. I will make him a minister."

R.K: That was a terrific response!

Dr. Rath : That was Jawahar Lal Nehru speaking on ministers. His being the prime minister of the country that was what he said. That rich sense of humour, having a joke at his own expense! This is the sign of a great man. So that was Jawahar Lal Nehru . Shankar Dayal Sharma was taking my class on law. I attended his classes and I belonged to the back benchers and there was a droll in his voice and we slept. And that was Shankar Dayal Sharma. Now Professor Radhakrishnan. I didn't meet him in Lucknow University, but I met some of my friends who were students of Banaras Hindu University where he was the vice chancellor and he used to take one Sunday class. That was on the Bhagvat Geeta and Indian culture. And it had a specific time: 9.30 in the morning. And people arrived there around 8.30. They didn't mind waiting for Prof. Radhakrishnan for an hour. All of them stood up to receive. And his car came; and his personality - that Dhoti, tall look and the turban; and all that dignity in his face. He used to move step by step … measured steps. And when he came to the stage and stood before the mike it was 9:30. So impressive! And I saw him at Berhampur when I was in Khalikote College. He came there for a function and he addressed us. Dr. Radha Krishnan's address for about 25 minutes was an experience never to be forgotten in life. From the quadrangle the national flag was visible over the small one-storied building. He looked at the flag, and spoke about the significance of the national flag, the colors of the national flag, and all that and a few more things in his own immaculate way. Then something happened to tell you which I have given you this introduction. There was one missionary school there, Queen of the Missions School. There was a Spaniard, the principal. He was very friendly with us, we were young lecturers then; and he was very friendly. He had come to attend the meeting. When Prof. Radhakrisnan was being conducted to the hall for a civic reception, he came and touched his feet. Radhakrishnan in his dignified way looked at him "Oh Williams!" Then we came to know that he was his student in Oxford 25 years ago. This was the type of teacher Radhakrishnan was. Very inspiring instance, I cannot forget it. That was Dr. Radhakrishnan. So many things have happened in life. Okey.

R.K: These great people you have seen in close quarters in that era, that time. Now if you compare the transition, the kind of people, the kind of leaders we have.

Dr. Rath : Well, well, well, better not to compare.

R.K: I think you said it all.

Dr. Rath : Because there is only a contrast to be seen. In fact in one of the meetings I was asked by a teacher. He stood up from the audience and said: "Sir, whatever you said was so very meaningful and we are grateful to you for those words. But I will ask you a very simple question. In your days they showed you the photograph of Mahatma Gandhi, Gopabandhu Dash and others and straight away asked you to be like them. You chose; you had a model before you. Kindly tell me the names of those the photographs of whom I can show to my students these days." I was stunned; I remained quiet for a minute. I said, "I wish I had the answer". So that is the difficulty now. The gradient is downward.

R.K: Sir you were a bodybuilder and an athlete with, I think, several records. Now do you think physical strength or the well being, - how important is it for a creative mind? Is there a kind of synergy?

Dr. Rath : In fact, the entire thing is based on a mis-information, which I have been trying to correct every time they asked me questions about this. I was not a bodybuilder; never did I intend to be a body builder. I was a sportsman, alright. I was my college champion. I was a sprinter, believe it or not, and I took the champions cup in my undergraduate days. Later on in Lucknow University also I represented discus-throw. I had been to Bangalore for inter-university. So this is the story; and how this identity stuck to me, I will just explain to you. There was one Dada; he was a Bengali gentleman. And he was grooming the students of the university for the title, Mr. Lucknow University. There was a hitch in his club. His name was Chandi Das. And the person whom he had chosen fell out with him. And he couldn't bring and produce him on the stage on the day. He had somehow seen me. Located me; rushed to the hostel, asked me to take out my clothes. Only one chaddi was there. He put a lot of glycerine on my body and dragged me to the gymnasium which was close by and told me: "You need not worry at all. There will be one fellow standing at the end of the gallery you look at him and do as he does."

R.K: "Whatever the pose he strikes, you follow?"

Dr. Rath : And he was with a pointer in his hand explaining: "This is bicep, this is tricep" explaining it all. There were photographers and floodlight and all that. And there was a loud applause in the end; and chief guest stood up and said: "Chandra Shekhar Rath is Mr. Lucknow of this year". So this is the story, the long and the short of it. And from that day on I am not able to wash it out. I don't want it, I don't like it either; but it all is there. To be a sports man definitely helps the openness of your mind because you take victory or failure with equanimity. So I have been a sportsman and a sportsman in sprit, if not in action. I am now old but still I am a sportsman. I can take either success or failure in my stride, without any difficulty. And creativity is a subject to be separately dealt with, not clubbed with this.

R. K : Sir could you tell us something about your interest with poetry?

Dr. Rath : well..! I started writing poetry at the end of my professional career. By now three collections have been published Tuma Pain Pakhi Gana, Agaku Banasta, Mo Ghara Bahuta Dura. And they have been liked by senior poets, writers and friends around. I have faced interviews where questions have been asked; Why you choose to write poetry at the end? And according to them, normally a writer begins with poetry and ends up with prose. I told them two things:

  1. In fact every writer begins with poetry though he doesn't publish it. Youth and poetry go together. So as an adolescent one feels like writing a poem, not an essay. It is there but later on he chooses to write prose with mature mind. That's number one reason. It is there with me also.
  2. I, all along, wrote poetry. Though the expression was different, very sensitive readers have said not once, but many a times that my prose is poetic prose. I think it is relevant to tell you about Paramanand Acharya, another great man from our Mayurbhanj. He was an Archeologist and it was a raining afternoon. There was a chill in the air and I was sitting in my Drawing room it was a small four-room house, I had taken on rent. I heard the footsteps of somebody approaching and there was a bang on the door. It was generally a very cruel weather for anybody to come out. Suddenly I opened the door and found no less a person than Paramanand Acharya standing there, who was then in his late 70s and immediately he started "Chandra Shekhar, Tame jou prose lekhuchha seta poetic prose. One Chandra Sekhar Basu was writing similarly in Bengali 58 years ago". I was stunned. I welcomed him to the drawing room, gave him a towel to wipe off his body and then he told me many things about Bengali literature, prose, poetry etc. He was such a learned man I can never forget that evening and that incident in my life. He said that despite the warning of the doctors, (he was not supposed to move out; and that too in that kind of weather) he came all the way walking may be about a kilo meter just to tell me that my prose is poetic prose. So let anybody say anything about my prose but I still consider Paramanand Acharya to be the best critic and the most learned critic that I have ever met. So I was writing poetry all along. It was there as an undercurrent. Now it has come out in its own shape. That is the only difference. Otherwise, well, you could, certainly call me a poem writer from the Beginning.

R.K: Your three novels form a trilogy. The third one being Nabajataka. It has been compared to "The Prophet" of Khalil Zibran. What would be your opinion or views?

Dr. Rath : The question should be aimed at the person who compared. You see, I never thought of Khalil Zibran while writing Nabajataka.

R.K: Even now people say that this reminds them of Khalil Zibran.

Dr. Rath : Well well..I will take time to compare. Read them both again and compare.

R.K: Sir, what is so special about this book?

Dr. Rath : Khalil Zibran is such a great writer and I am one of the admirers of Khalil Zibran and much before he got the Nobel prize I had the prophecy: Here is the man who deserves it richly and Khalil Zibran writes poetry in prose. Khalil Zibran writes spiritual realization in poetry. Khalil zibran is a man of very deep realization.

R. K: So are you that's what critics say? Your prose is philosophy, your prose is spirituality. Your prose is mysticism. ..???

Dr. Rath : Well, come out of comparison between Khalil Zibran And Chandra Shekhar. I will give you a reply.

R.K: You are perfect in the art of repartee also. Sir, you are well versed in literature, Science, Philosophy, metaphysics and mysticism and are also extremely capable of explaining complexities to your audience in a very lucid and clear manner as we have seen during this conversation. This, truly, is a rare endowment and it has been accepted across. Now this kind of arrogation, this kind of genius is getting very rare. So what would you say, I mean, why is it that we are not able to think in these holistically. We are more trapped in our own small little, what should I say, complex webs of thought.

Dr. Rath : This seems to be a comment rather than a question. I say, unless you are clear in your thought you can never be clear in your expressions. If you are clear in thinking then expression will also be equally clear but for that you need a very natural and full command over language which you speak. Otherwise your language will not obey you, your direction. You can't express what you want to express through that language. Obviously language is just one of the mediums to express your thoughts, feelings, ideas, and language is not adequate always because it is not adequate, people take to physical gesture and facial gestures. All these to supplement; and at a particular point of time if the thought to be expressed goes deeper and deeper, the medium of expression admits defeat, total defeat. It is, I can give you one instance. You take a lump of clay. It is very obedient to your command. You can give it any shape. You are trying to make an image of an angel. Up to a certain extent it cooperates with you. Then you give the command, "Look, I want the color of Champak blossom on the skin and I want this kind of lustre in the eyes". The medium, namely the clay, comes down on its knees and says "Oh creator, you have already crossed thy limit, beyond this I can't go and cooperate with you. You can't express what you want to express through me. It is a limited medium with a limited capacity." Therefore for subtler thoughts you need much better mediums. What you choose is up to you. That is why at times when I could not say, I took up the brush to paint. And while painting when I could not go any further then I took out the pen and started writing. So I change from one medium to another out of a kind of helplessness. This medium is not enough for what I want to say therefore I need another medium. Whatever I have said in words cannot be expressed in colours and whatever I have painted in colours cannot be expressed in words.

R.K: In the way you have achieved perfection in the other mediums also. Now that is remarkable. Also if you produce genius and what can be said?

Dr. Rath : Well, I don't claim all that what you say but, you see, it all depends upon your sincerity. Very sincerely, I have tried to express myself to reach out to the reader or to the viewer. As far as possible I have approached them and the point of perfection is ever approachable but never accessible. You keep on approaching it perpetually but you can never reach it. So in expression also perfection is never reached there is always a possibility of improvement. You can still improve upon it. Otherwise you know great writers wouldn't have left things half said waiting for somebody else to come and complete that. I feel that for the entire mankind there is only one literature. Language is a matter of small details. Whatever was there in Tolstoy as a writer.. the feelings… his reaction to man.. his reaction to the human society, everything is identical with a writer like you, here in Raurkela. There is no difference substantially. Intrinsically there is no difference. Language is only a matter of detail. He was born in Russia, you are born here in Odisha. Therefore you have chosen your language and he has chosen his and the language to be used for creation is always the mother tongue; because it is not enough that you learn the language. It is necessary that you live the language. Unless you live it, you won't know it. As it is rightly said when you hear, you doubt. When you see, you believe and when you live, you know. I hear about Raurkela, I just expect possibly it is true, possibly it is not. I see Raurkela, I believe it. But to know Raurkela I must live it. Not live in it but live Raurkela. Then only you know what is it. So the language. You are born into a frame of language, born into the frame of a culture, born into a time and space, born into a parentage. You can never change your parentage, you can never change time and place chosen for your birth, you can never change your language into which you are born. And unless you have such a language as a parental property given to you, you can't treat it as such as your own with freedom. And if there is no freedom there is no literature.

R.K: Sir, you have straddled so many fields of creativity. How would you like to be remembered..? Can I be impertinent enough to ask this question? If there is any chosen field of yours…!!!

Dr. Rath : Every individual has umpteen number of assets to him. You can never be complete in your knowledge about another. That is why it is said the man is inscrutable. I see your form, I know your name, I notice your complexion, I am told about your profession. All these are information about you. But to know you, I have no ability. Why..?? Because every moment of your life, for the last 30-40 years or whatever, something has happened. Something or the other has happened and that something is a part of your total life. If I am not acquainted with the total details, like from the moment of your birth till date, I can't claim to know you. Knowing the others is entering into the other, living the other which is not possible. Therefore to know me, to like me, you have to become me. If possible try it out.

R.K: Sir, your advice, or should I say massage, to the generation next, to the younger generation, to the youth of today?

Dr. Rath : We have a line of blessing in Sanskrit. When a young boy comes and touches feet, I say "Ayushman Bhava, Pracham Yogyo Bhava, live long, live a prosperous, successful life but be worthy of your ancestors." That is my massage.

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