When I feel gloomy at the state of the world, when I get depressed reading and hearing news about conflicts and wars, assassinations and genocides, hate and threat, and such, I retreat to literature and delve into some ancient writer from no matter which language or culture: for the great writers of the past have left for us all some precious legacies as gifts.
It has been my good fortune have read great literature from different linguistic traditions, over the years, and I used to take short notes on them so that they don’t escape my mind for good. For the reading of books is sometimes like the tasting of food: delightful in the process of tasting, and soon receding into hazy memory of a happy experience.
While familiarizing with the works of the giants, I have read the comments of cultural patriots who glorify the masters of their own tradition, sometimes comparing their heroes with those of other groups, and claiming some sort of superiority for their own on an absolute scale. Such claims, as with religions, have often struck me as needlessly petty, and they don’t add an iota of greatness to the ones they are extolling. This is not unlike comparing Bengali sandesh with Dutch chocolate, or Carnatic to Baroque music. Each has a greatness in its own right, and there is no need to place them on a weighing scale of intercultural judgments. Homer is great and so is Valmiki, as are Kamban and Dante, each in his own context. The value of Racine is not enhanced by comparing him to Shakespeare, nor that of Tansen’s music by comparing it with Schubert’s Lieder.
So now and again I pick up a volume and reflect on what I read there, more to distract my mind from the troubles and turmoils of the world in which we live than as serious literary criticism.
January 10, 2011