India and " Bengal Lancer"
BY RABINDRANATH TAGORE.
IHAVE just finished reading almost in one sitting the book of a Bengal Lancer*, and feel that it is one of the most remarkable books in modern literature. We are too familiar with the writings dealing with secret knots and distortions in sex psychology, jarring notes of nerves -gone out of tune, futile struggles of human will against inheritance or inherent self-antagonism. But I have known no other instance of a genuine psychological record of any intimate touch of a Western mind with the mind of the East, a record of reactions much more deeply fun. dements' and interesting in its subtleties than the pathological convulsions of passions and prejudices. We have seen numerous criticisms of the eastern life from the western sources, some honest and some otherwise, some cruelly smart and some insipid—bird's-eye views of living human truths which the bird's eye can never reach, misrepresentations owing to supercilious incompetence or deliberate malice. This book contains the expressions of personal experiences of a sensitive mind without any intrusion of the schoolmaster or of " our own corres- pondent," or the tract society artist with his traditional orient of palm trees, panthers and pythons.
When I mention " Orient " in connexion with this book I mean India, which lies in the middle of sharply divided Asia—the Semitic West and the Mongolian and Poly. nesian East. I have read in a book of travels a remark made by a well-known English thinker according to which India is the only country that belongs to the East. The implication is that India is the only country in the old world which is incomprehensible to the western mind. I cannot ignore the testimony of a man like him, and I sympathize with his bewilderment. The western humanity has a similarity of temperament with the Semitic West in its spirit of fight, in the aggressive pride of its power and possession, and its God who is relentlessly jealous of his authority. The West finds no difficulty in paying homage to the Christ who is the representative Spirit of the East, the victorious spirit of the Meek, because it does not feel the necessity to follow Him. This Semitic Asia has been a close neighbour of Rome, and it cultivated the organization of forces with the same impulse for world dominion. The aspiration of life which it cherishes has hardly any touch of metaphysics in it ; it grew up out of the nomadic scrimmage for space and pasture, and an urgent necessity for plunder. We have repeatedly been told that Englishmen have a strong preference for the Muhammedan ; it is quite natural that they should understand him and therefore like him, for
in some way he belongs to the twilight fringe of the West, where the light may be dimmer but the atmosphere and
temperature are the same. On the other side in Japan and China, which the author above mentioned visited, they have something of Greece in their aesthetic sense of
perfection in its definite proportionateness, and also their pragmatic spirit which hardly allows any mysticism to tinge their mental horizon and create phantoms to distract them in the forward path of their life.
But India is the land of the incoherently miscellaneous, —a wilderness of creeds and customs • and superstitions that rudely challenge the attention of the traveller with a medley of inconsistencies which, like facts in a dream, find their equal right to exist without any refutation or even the mildest opposition of a surprise. No doubt, all religions carry their burden of incongruities, paradoxes that are unaware of their crude absurdities, ugliness or even inunoral implications. For religions have their re- servation plots where infantile memories of the race are
• • Bengal Lancer. By F. Yeita-Biown. (Gollancz. 90.)
piously sheltered and logic is forbidden to ask for their documents of adult citizenship. They are freely allowed to carry their ragged bundles containing fragments of the dismembered dead, useless and insanitary. Unfortu- nately, religions are too numerous in India with their hoardings that are like the pocket of a child, perfectly indiscriminate in its contents. This has produced an ethnological puzzle and a social and political conundrum in our country.
But one has to keep in his mind that this impossible jumble has not been India's own creation, just as no party is responsible for the bewildering variety of races in the world, producing painful tangles in man's history that are full of physical and moral menace. This is a fact given to her from the prehistoric period of her social evolution. It is a problem which her own civilization was compelled from the very first to solve in order to prove her human worth—the problem of heterogeneity. Possibly other ancient civilizations like those of Greece and Rome had a similar task which they vigorously sim- plified by forcible elimination. Whenever something like the same problem still persists in the modern age, as it does on a smaller scale in the United States, and also in South Africa, the difficulty goads the people to barbarity, —the very people who feel exultantly superior when they talk about the caste distinctions prevailing in India.
After a preliminary struggle for the Aryan supremacy India accepted in her hospitable soil the fact of the race variety. Very likely it was inevitable, for the invading immigrants were small in number and some parts of the original inhabitants were not inferior to them in the progress of their social organization. But such acceptance meant toleration of an endless miscellany of creeds and cultures not in harmony with the newcomers' own tradition or temperament. A most desperate struggle went on for centuries—not the physical struggle for race survival but .a spiritual struggle for the survival of a superior culture in spite of its very heavy load of alien accumulations.
The unavoidable problem involved made the Aryan mind to think. I am sure it was felt that the very small minority represented by the invaders could save their own spirit from being dragged down underneath the mass of foreign matter, desultory and discordant, if only they could evolve a comprehensive philosophy which would bind into a harmonious unity the facts that are alien and irrelevant and yet at the Same time would transcend them. It is unnecessary to say that these people did not de- liberately sit down to construct a system of thought that would save their mind from being smothered into degra- dation. Their subconscious activity was constantly roused by the utter necessity of the circumstance. And they said : " Differences are only in the appearance which is maya but in their essence all things are one ; that in reality there is nothing but Brahma, the infmite, and multitude is only in the seeming." In most other countries philosophy gives expression and exercise to the intellectual mind and only indirectly influences our actions, but in India it has had its practical purpose. For when she had to submit inevitably to the invasion of the swarming many, and to accommodate them in her own social organism, her most desperate struggle was not against foreign attacks but against the inner elements of disharmonies. And she said : " I accept all things, I do not fight against them, and my mission for ever will be to find myself in them and beyond them, for in the perfect spiritual comprehension of the all is my true freedom." Those who are no true travellers but born tourists, who come from outside and care not to go in, whose method ofdightening their own burden is the scientific method of external pruning and extermination,
leaving the inner roots to perpetuate spiritual entangle. ments, have only the eyes to see the crowd of facts in India, some unsavoury, some unmeaning, insanitary and abnormal, disjunct and disproportionate ; but they cannot see the subtle and all-pervading brooding truth over them, the eternal spirit of India, ever trying to save things that are condemned by laying emphasis upon some meaning which remains vague in them, and which with the growth of its clearness transforms them from the unreal into reality.
The doctrine of the unity of Man, the transcendental unity of all things, is not unknown to other parts of the world, but in India it is not a mere doctrine to be logically pursued but truth that for one's salvation has to be realized and be made more indubitably evident than things that are seen and touched. The process is called " Yoga," in which man's psychology and physiology have allied themselves into a perfect power of illumination for India. The infinite which is the supreme spirit of unity is not for the mathematical reasoning but for the libcratiol, of consciousness in the individual which is considered or our people as the final goal of Man. This realm of aspira- tion, of the ultimate spiritual endeavour in India, is even more difficult of approach than the South Pole when essayed by the smart tourist, who only has the time and power to taste the cocoanut by licking its skin and exulting over the superiority of the gooseberry of his own hedge in a sumptuous book of travel.
But the " Bengal Lancer " has shown the daring of mind and the true spirit of adventure by approaching the most difficult frontier of that India, which is not the British India nor the geographical India. He has occa- sionally stumbled into some minor technical errors, some slips in typography which pedants take special pleasure in exposing ; but he has felt truth as a consummate artist who can see what is significant behind the screening crowd of the non-essential and expressed the unutterable mystery of it in a language which is as quick with life's fire as his own beautiful Arab steed, and as responsive to his slightest gesture as that former companion of his barrack life.
A perfect perspective of his self-portrayal has been opened through the beginning of his chapters in that fateful border of India where the Aryan immigrants coni- menced their own history in that land. The picture of his young life, rude and adventurous, his enjoyments, which had their source in a turbulent animal spirit, con- stant preparedness for military enterprises, spending days and nights near dangers prowling in ambuscade, had some analogy with the life of that vigorous race in their youth inebriated with a reckless confidence in their victorious destiny. He, like them, was not overmuch troubled in the beginning with the spirit's inner ques- tionings, • but only with the surging of an exuberant vitality. Then the stream of events deepened and widened and descended towards the Gangetic valley where King Janaka once meditated and taught the cult of Brahma, and Buddha taught the uttermost extinction of self in a spirit of love that is measureless. These belong to the deathless profundity of truth, compared to which the rise and fall of empires arc mere bubbles, the spirit of which is still brooding in India's patient and plaintive atmosphere over the ever-revolving circles of self-devour. ing futilities, the driftings of history that rock on the waves for a time and then disappear in the abyss. This British soldier came and gazed on its serenity and ques- tioned it. The silence baffled him but did not repel ; for it will ever remain with him and whisper to him in his solitude, Sart-am Khalvidam Brahma—" All that there is is one with Brahma."
This great utterance was radiated forth from the litter
bliss of an illumined realization on a day that had dawned in a forest shade in India. That day ever remains un- dated ; that forest has vanished like the seribblings of a child on his slate carelessly wiped away the next moment. Since that day, along the red dusty road of centuries soldiers of wild tribes marched to conquer, adventurers to seek their fortune, the kings to reign, and while they felt secure of an eternity of wealth and glory their power faded like the flaming colour from the sunset clouds, but through the silence of countless starry nights and dew- bathed mornings over this tragic land of a variegated destiny still are chanted the same immortal words : " Scream Khalvidam Brahma." And by the same red road of time, trampled by triumphant power and pride and pilgrims seeking wisdom and peace, the swarm of tourists will raise the dust and pass on to oblivion chatter- ing and gossiping, taking notes of innumerable details while ignoring the one voice of the ancient prayer that brings out from all imperfections an eternal movement dti redemption, a ceaselessly evolving meaning—the prayer : " Lead me from the unreal to Reality, make clear in me thy manifestation "—the prayer that is ever working even from the unconscious depths of those tourist minds as well as in all failures that are crude, crooked and stupid.