Saturday, January 4, 2014


Which poem is considered the zenith of British poetry by the native British? No, it’s not authored by Keats or Wordsworth, but by an unlikely poet Rudyard Kipling, and is called IF.  Here goes:

              If you can keep your head when all about you
                Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
              If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
                But make allowance for their doubting too;
              If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
                Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
              Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
                And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

              If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
               If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
              If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
               And treat those two impostors just the same;
              If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
               Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
              Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
               And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

              If you can make one heap of all your winnings
               And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
              And lose, and start again at your beginnings
               And never breathe a word about your loss;
              If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
               To serve your turn long after they are gone,
              And so hold on when there is nothing in you
               Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

              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’ worth of distance run,
              Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
               And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
That’s the picture of a wooden carving which is sold off-the-shelf by an artefact manufacturer for $ 36.00, as on date.
And this is the entrance to the Centre Court at the Wimbledon, which demonstrates the stature and dhaak of the lines penned by Kipling.
In all literary excellence surveys since 1995 conducted in Great Britain, IF has consistently beaten others by hefty margins.
Khushwant Singh, one of the deities of this blog, wrote this about IF, reviewing the Book of Prayer by Renuka Narayanan in The Outlook a while back:
“I look upon this poem as the essence of the message of The Gita in English…”
That sounds terse and matter-of-fact, but is really a loaded sentence, the tip of an iceberg. We’ll explain why in the second part of the post.
Of course there are also some contrary opinions on the excellence of this creation of Kipling. In the assessment of T.S.Eliot, admirer that he was of Kipling, it qualifies as a great verse, but fails to rise to the stature of great poetry. Does not deserve the standing ovation it commands. And that coming from Eliot who had written glowingly about the skills of the first British writer to get a Nobel for English Literature in 1907..
“an immense gift for using words, an amazing curiosity and power of observation with his mind and with all his senses, the mask of the entertainer, and beyond that a queer gift of second sight, of transmitting messages from elsewhere, a gift so disconcerting when we are made aware of it that thenceforth we are never sure when it is not present: all this makes Kipling a writer impossible wholly to understand and quite impossible to belittle.”

And then are we not to classify him a ‘reactionary’ and ‘colonial’ for creating the following monstrosity:
Take up the White Man's burden—
Send forth the best ye breed—
Go, bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait, in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.
The White Man's Burden

George Orwell harboured mixed feelings about the man:
"Kipling sold out to the British governing class, not financially but emotionally. This warped his political judgement, for the British ruling class were not what he imagined, and it led him into abysses of folly and snobbery, but he gained a corresponding advantage from having at least tried to imagine what action and responsibility are like. It is a great thing in his favour that he is not witty, not 'daring', has no wish to épater les bourgeois. He dealt largely in platitudes, and since we live in a world of platitudes, much of what he said sticks. Even his worst follies seem less shallow and less irritating than the 'enlightened' utterances of the same period, such as Wilde's epigrams or the collection of cracker-mottoes at the end of Man and Superman."

But then was not Kipling also responsible for the prophetic lines-presumably that is the quality Orwell alludes to while acknowledging Kipling’s ‘corresponding advantage’ :
Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with
Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet.
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Gita  and  IF:

The ‘ideal’ extolled in IF is of course, the स्थितप्रज्ञ of Bhagvad Gita. The Gita describes the various facets of such a person. Roughly the word stands for some who is self-collected and detached from worldly things. The description is contained in various shlokas of second chapter which go as follow:

भगवद्गिता अध्याय २, श्लोक ३८:
सुखदु:खे समे कृत्वा लाभालाभौ जयाजयौ
ततो युद्धाय युज्यस्व नैवं पापमवाप्स्यसि

 श्रीभगवानुवाच -
प्रजहाति यदा कामान्सर्वान्पार्थ मनोगतान्।
आत्मन्येवात्मनाः तुष्टः स्थितप्रज्ञस्त-दोच्यते।।55।।

दुःखेष्वनुद्विग्नमनाः सुखेषु विगतस्पृहः।
वीतरागभयक्रोधः स्थितधीर्मुनिरुच्यते।।56।।

यः सर्वत्रानभिस्नेहस्तत्तत्प्राप्य शुभाशुभम्।
नाभिनन्दति द्वेष्टि तस्य प्रज्ञा प्रतिष्ठिता।।57।।

यदा संहरते चायं कूर्मो।़ङ्गानीव सर्वशः।
इद्रियाणीद्रियार्थेभ्यस्तस्य प्रज्ञा प्रतिष्ठिता ।।58।।

Lord Krishna tells Parth in his sermon: स्थितप्रज्ञ is one who has relinquished all desire and is contented in his present state. He has conquered grief, fear, greed, and other emotions. He neither revels in happiness, nor rancours in adversity. This is because he is one with the world, and is one with the atman. IF explores various dimensions and possibilities of such a personality, some of which are more dramatic than envisaged by the Gita, like staking one’s all, or strolling with a King...
As this blogpost threatens to cross the 1000 word limit set by Missus, we carry forward the following yaksha prashnas (which really are the subtext of this Post) to the next post:

1. Will the Intelligent Woman [1] abhor Kipling as a reactionary ‘running dog of imperialism’ [2]?

2. How about dubbing Tulsidas’s dohas and Gita, reactionary tools as some pogressive (used in lieu of ‘progressive’ in Poha-Jalebi territory) ? Tulsi wrote dhol, ganwaar, etc. etc., and D.D.Kosambi black-balled Gita for the supposed anti-people stance.

First of all, forget Gita or Tulsi or Kipling, using the word ‘reactionary’ for works of a bygone era itself is a Logic issue. It just fails to cross the mind’s ‘logic gates’. How can there be a reaction in 16th century to a phenomenon of the 21st century? Flies in the face of Sir Isaac Newton. Would be understandable in the reverse order, I sayyyy...
‘Context’  is a powerful variable while analysing a concept. The above concerned material was written for consumption in another era, in another context. Here is a beautiful exercise which you must endure:


Bill Eisner
To begin, read the following excerpt at normal speed. Don’t skim, give up halfway through, or skip to the explanation. This experience can’t be duplicated once you know the explanation. So once you’ve read the paragraph that follows, take a moment before you read on to sense how you feel:

A newspaper is better than a magazine. A seashore is a better place than the street. At first it is better to run than to walk. You may have to try several times. It takes some skill, but it is easy to learn. Even young children can enjoy it. Once successful, complications are minimal. Birds seldom get too close. Rain, however soaks in very fast. Too many people doing the same thing can also cause problems. One needs lots of room. If there are no complications, it can be very peaceful. A rock will serve as an anchor. If things break loose from it, however, you will not get a second chance.
Okay, how do you feel about what you’ve just read? I’ve shared this exercise with thousands of marketers. If you’re like most everyone else, you probably are feeling a bit confused by what it all means. You might be feeling annoyed because what you’ve just read makes no sense to you. You don’t feel that you know what it all means.

It refers to Kite Flying!
 One recalls the times when one worked with d’Base packages. The Compiler is a language which is used on programmes in another language to create an executable programme. A Clipper was used to ‘compile’ programmes in order to create an independent programme which was portable, too.
So the ‘context’ of an era is a Clipper which ‘compiles’ that era’s programmes and till the said ‘Clipper’ is put to operation, the source code of another era’s programmes cannot be operationalised. Now, the past Socio Clipper no longer exists, and as we cannot live that era, no sense can be accurately made of today’s affairs. It’s like trying to play ‘Prince of Persia’ on a calculator.

So friends, in the next Post coming within a day/2, we examine the contributions of Rt. Hon. Rudyard Kipling and Gitadevi through the Worm’s Eye and also expand on the Khushwant Singh quotation as promised.
[1] George Bernard Shaw wrote The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism, supposedly for Lady Cholmondeley (pronounced Chaomley), his sister-in-law, and this terminology  has got canonised in English:  an un-initiated but intelligent person.
[2[ Mandarin usage, inter alia, used for US by Mao.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sir---- Rudyard Kipling feeling neglected- part 2 not appeared so far.