September 12, 2007 — drsubrotoroy
Of JC Bose, Patrick Geddes & the Leaf-World
By Subroto Roy
What happened to me yesterday was very odd. In a Kolkata bookshop, the first volume my hand completely accidentally reached for was The Life and Work of Sir Jagadis C. Bose by one Patrick Geddes, published in 1920. I have been in recent years learning a little of the magnificent scientific achievement of J. C. Bose (1858-1937), and knew of the justly acclaimed 1998 “I-triple E” paper by Probir K. Bondopadhyay, as well as a recent article by 25 year old Varun Aggrawal, which much belatedly but definitively have been establishing Bose’s pioneering contribution to the development of “wireless telegraphy” or radio. Marconi and Braun won the 1909 Nobel prize in physics for their work on the subject – had Bose been less of a great scientific soul and even slightly more of a businessman than he was by temperament and character, he should have been a winner too. Indeed, I had already come to a conclusion that Bose’s genius was such that his additional pioneering contributions to understanding plant physiology, e.g. his delicate instruments, one of which the crescograph magnified small movement in plant growth 10 million times, made him someone like Marie Curie who had been probably deserving of not one but two scientific Nobel Prizes in his time. He received none yet seemed not to have cared a hoot.
Reading through Geddes’ biography of him quickly last night, I found it simply wonderful in its depth, range and sympathy. The biographer introduced himself modestly as being “Late Professor of Botany” at University College, Dundee and “Professor of Sociology and Civics”, University of Bombay. A kindly young admirer of Bose I thought to myself, doing good for India as many Brits had done in their time.
Imagine my surprise this morning to find that the biographer of the lost genius that was JC Bose was himself a lost genius of equal capacity and achievement! Sir Patrick Geddes (1854-1932) was older than Sir JC Bose by a few years, and died a few years before him.He has been considered by his own biographers to have been a modern Leonardo da Vinci — “a prodigy in physical endurance, range of interests, and imaginative powers”, who was praised by Darwin, Einstein, Tagore and like men, and who as a polymath contributed to economics, sociology, history, art, museums, exhibitions, politics, literature, agriculture, gardening, geology, religion, philosophy, education, geography, science, astronomy, biology, planning, printing, mathematics, navigation, travel, public health, housing, music, and poetry, besides having designed a city like Tel Aviv and pioneered the idea that “cities must be planned with respect to their surrounding villages… Industrial development, if left unchecked, would damage the air, water and land upon which all life relies. Little wonder that today environmentalists consider Patrick a prophet of land stewardship and sustainable activity”.
Geddes’ most famous words quoted today are: “The world is mainly a vast leaf-colony, growing on and forming a leafy soil, not a mere mineral mass, and we live not by the jingling of our coins, but by the fullness of our harvests. This is a green world, with animals comparatively few and small, and all dependent upon the leaves. By leaves we live.”Little wonder that he became a friend and admirer of Bose.He reports in his biography of Bose that Howes, the successor of Thomas Huxley (disciple of Darwin), had come to witness one of Bose’s experiments with a galvanometer on plants and had exclaimed afterwards: “Huxley would have given years of his life to see that experiment”. Huxley had been Geddes’ mentor too.
September 11, 2007 — drsubrotoroy
Author’s Note: Shortly after this, I published in The Statesman beginning October 2007 more than a half dozen articles on China, Tibet, Taiwan, etc beginning with “”Understanding China”.
Dalai Lama’s Return: In the tradition of Gandhi, King, Mandela
The Dalai Lama must exercise his traditional right in international law, enshrined in the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to enter his own country, namely Tibet. After he left Tibet as a young man to seek political asylum in India decades ago, the de facto sovereign over Tibet had become the new People’s Republic of China following the brutal attack its armies had made upon the Tibetan people. It was not clear if the de jure sovereign over Tibet was the PRC or Republic of China (Taiwan) though since then the PRC has been included in the United Nations at the expense of Taiwan. The Dalai Lama may declare his intention to exercise his right to return to his country, and then simply do so – walking across the Nathu La Pass or any other convenient location, and then travelling on foot or by other means to Lhasa. The Government of China may ask to be assured that there will be no public disturbance to law and order by his followers, and subject to that mild and reasonable condition, it shall have no right to stop him from entering his own country. At the same time, the Government of India (e.g. at the behest of the Government of China) will have no right to prevent him from leaving India. The same body of international law that gives a person the right to enter his/her own country also gives a person the right to leave any country. The Dalai Lama is manifestly a man of peace and non-violence. His return to his own nation and his people is long overdue. He has been in forced exile in Dharamsala, and even if he has been a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize during this time, his heart and soul are in Tibet and that is where he must be free to return to. It will be a walk similar to Gandhi’s to Dandi, or Martin Luther King’s in Alabama, or Nelson Mandela’s first walk in freedom. They are similar men, all four of them, men of courage and peace and non-violence and yet of firm political principle who shall be remembered with love for all time by their peoples. The Government of the People’s Republic of China must demonstrate to the world that it is a civilised, legitimate and magnanimous authority. It must not kill, shoot at, assault, arrest or otherwise stop the Dalai Lama from returning to Tibet. Rather, it must encourage him to walk home in peace and freedom as is his right to do.
September 11, 2007 — drsubrotoroy
Every person has a natural right to enter and live in his/her own country. One may be deported from a foreign country to one’s own country but one may not be deported from one’s own country to a foreign country. That is simple international law. Pakistan’s 1973 Constitution enshrines it in Article 15, which is what the Pakistani Supreme Court has relied upon to say Nawaz Sharif has a right to return to Pakistan. The 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights says the same thing. General Musharraf along with his friends in the USA, UK and Saudi Arabia have made a mistake. The Pakistani Supreme Court ordered the Government to produce Sharif before them. Instead they sent him back to Saudi Arabia and claimed it was a deportation.
September 4, 2007 — drsubrotoroy
by Subroto Roy
In London’s Guardian (September 1 2007) and Kolkata’s Telegraph (September 2 2007), Amit Chaudhuri has recently published something about his views on DH Lawrence. Chaudhuri did a DPhil at Oxford on Lawrence and has published a book on Lawrence’s poetry, which prima facie is enough reason for his views to be studied. His recent writing is part of an attempted comparison of Lawrence with VS Naipaul, though there is enough in what he says to distil out only his views on Lawrence from the mixture.
Lawrence, Chaudhuri says, is to be credited with having “almost single-handed” invented the notion of the “novelist-traveller’. In the Guardian article he adds: “Travel, I heard Geoff Dyer say not long ago, had profound formal implications for Lawrence’s handling of the novel.”
Now to say Lawrence was a “novelist-traveller” is a very odd remark indeed, and may reflect unfamiliarity with Lawrence’s life. Quite to the contrary: Lawrence’s novels had profound formal implications for his travel!
Lawrence did travel a lot with his wife – to the Continent, through the Suez Canal, to Ceylon, to Australia, to New Mexico and Mexico, to New York, San Francisco etc. But he set about travelling not because he wanted to write novels in these places which is what comes to mind from the double-barrelled term “novelist-traveller”. Initially, he was offered a teaching job in Germany which he turned down; then he had pursued a German woman who was already married to an Englishman, and that necessitated travels to the Continent; then there arose his tremendous opposition towards and great melancholy during the First World War. The Rainbow had been suppressed by a vicious police-action in 1915 — throughout his time in Cornwall he was desperate to leave England for Florida, and fantasised in letters to Lady Ottoline Morrell of creating an ideal community there. It did not happen though the Lawrences had apparently bought tickets and even set a sailing date for New York.
None of his major novels has a theme that is of anything but England. Women in Love comes to a climax in the snows of the Tyrole but its main characters are all English. Aaron’s Rod was begun to be written in London, then happened to be continued in Florence, finished in Sicily and published in New York when the Lawrences were in Ceylon on their way to Australia. Lady Chatterley’s Lover was written in Italy but is entirely English. His only novel with a foreign/non-European theme was The Plumed Serpent, not his best. Lawrence was quintessentially an English novelist, and FR Leavis placed him in the “Great Tradition” of English Literature with Austen, George Eliot, Dickens, James, Conrad.
So yes, of course Lawrence was a traveller, and he was a novelist and writer of genius – but he was not a “novelist-traveller”. He was hardly even the first novelist who happened to travel either — Tolstoy, Twain, James, Conrad. (Of Hemingway it could be said he was a “novelist-traveller” but then Hemingway, or Naipaul, are not near the league of these others.)
Then Chaudhuri says: “The apogee of Lawrence’s visual sensibility is contained in Sons and Lovers, after which he promised himself and his friends to abandon the visual and the imagistic.” However one tries to understand this observation, it seems to be simply false. What did Lawrence actually say about Sons and Lovers after it was published? He said in a letter to Edward Garnett on 30 December 1913: “I shan’t write in the same manner as Sons and Lovers again, I think – in that hard, violent style full of sensations and presentation…” On 10 January 1914 he wrote the same to AD McLeod: “I shall not write quite so violently as Sons and Lovers any more”. There is nothing here promising “himself and his friends to abandon the visual and the imagistic”, whatever that might mean! Indeed no such view can be held by anyone who has read e.g. Women in Love. EM Forster noted, in his 1927 Clark Lectures published as Aspects of the Novel, the first official academic recognition of Lawrence’s literary genius and one during his lifetime:
“The prophet is irradiating nature from within, so that every colour has a glow and every form a distinctness which could not otherwise be obtained. Take a scene that always stays in the memory: that scene in Women in Love where one of the characters throws stones into the water at night to shatter the image of the moon. Why he throws, what the scene symbolizes is unimportant. But the writer could not get such a moon and water otherwise; he reaches them by his special path which stamps them as more wonderful than any we can imagine. It is the prophet back where he started from, back where the rest of us are waiting by the edge of the pool, but with a power of re-creation and evocation we shall never possess.”
Finally about Lawrence’s reaction to the Etruscans we are offered this: “history and antiquity occur most powerfully in a ‘now’, in a moment in the present that opens out suddenly on to the past, in a way that brings together all the knowledge the writer possesses as reader and student of history, as well as the dislocation he’s experiencing at that moment as traveller” (Chaudhuri). Poppycock! it has to be said. Lawrence was plainly and simply fascinated by the Etruscans — as many people of his time were, in view of the first definite archaeological studies about those first millennium BC people becoming published then.
On 5 October 1921, he wrote to Catherine Carswell: “Also, will you tell me what then was the secret of the Etruscans, which you saw written so plainly in the place you went to? Please don’t forget to tell me, as they really do rather puzzle me, the Etruscans….” By the end of his life in 1930, in “Making Love to Music” published posthumously in Phoenix, he has resolved his own puzzlement and found their secret at least to his own satisfaction: “The thought occurred to me suddenly when I was looking at the remains of paintings on the walls of Etruscan tombs at Tarquinia. There the painted women dance, in their transparent linen with heavier coloured borders, opposite the naked-limbed men, in a splendour and an abandon which is not all abandoned. There is a great beauty in them, as of life which has not finished. The dance is Greek, if you like, but not finished off like the Greek dancing. The beauty is not so pure, if you will, as the Greek beauty; but also it is more ample, not so narrowed. And there is not the slightest element of abstraction, of inhumanity, which underlies all Greek expression, the tragic will. The Etruscans, at least before the Romans smashed them, do not seem to have been tangled up with tragedy, as the Greeks were from the first. There seems to have been a peculiar large carelessness about them, very human and non-moral. As far as one can judge, they never said: certain acts are immoral because we say so! They seem to have had a strong feeling for taking life sincerely as a pleasant thing. Even death was a gay and lively affair…. They are just dancing a dance with the elixir of life….”
Dancing with the elixir of life, taking life sincerely as a pleasant thing, was what Lawrence himself was all about.