Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Fateful May

"April is the cruellest month" wrote T.S. Eliot in The Waste Land. " But as an Indian, I have always thought the cruellest month is the "depraved May" of Gerontion, Eliot's darkly allusive poem centered on the nature of history:

Think now
History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions, 35
Guides us by vanities. Think now
She gives when our attention is distracted
And what she gives, gives with such supple confusions
That the giving famishes the craving. Gives too late
What’s not believed in, or if still believed, 40
In memory only, reconsidered passion. Gives too soon
Into weak hands, what’s thought can be dispensed with
Till the refusal propagates a fear. Think
Neither fear nor courage saves us. Unnatural vices
Are fathered by our heroism. Virtues 45
Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes.
These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree.

I was reminded of the poem by the commentaries in the Indian Press on the 10th anniversary of the nuclear weapons tests of 11 May 1998; they were predictably pro and con, but none showed the awareness of history that anniversaries demand.

No one remembered -- and this where my Gerontion sense of May comes in -- that Vasco da Gama arrived off the coast of Malabar in May 1498; that the first great uprising against British colonial rule broke out in May 1857; that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi snuck India's first nuclear test past Richard Nixon just as the United States Congress convened hearings to impeach him in May 1974; that the day picked for that test was Buddha's birthday. But on the hopeful side: it was in May 1915 that Mohandas Gandhi established Satyagraha Ashram near Ahmedabad. It was moved later to the banks of the Sabarmati river, and from there the Mahatma fashioned the strategies the led India to freedom. There is hope yet.

No comments: