Author, Burning for Freedom

Author, Burning for Freedom
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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Savarkar, the Litterateur

Hi, Everyone! On this day, February 26, 2014, the anniversary of Savarkar's Atmarpan, I am posting an article I have written focusing on his literary works: 

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar is undoubtedly one of India’s foremost freedom fighters, a patriot who honed all of his many exceptional natural talents to better serve his country and his people. One such was his talent for writing.

How often have we heard the phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword”? And Savarkar wielded a very mighty pen, indeed. I use the word “pen” loosely, for Savarkar composed and wrote even when no writing materials were available to him. In the dark days of incarceration in the Cellular Jail, he scratched his poems and other works on the walls with thorns and nails and committed more than 10,000 lines to memory.

An extraordinary writer, Savarkar could turn his hand at every form of writing; he was a biographer, historian, novelist, dramatist, poet, and journalist. Despite the fact he had to live in the shadow of imminent governmental transgressions—both before and after independence—many times with serious repercussions on his life, he wrote and published his works fearlessly. The Savarkarian stamp of dashing and daring is firmly impressed, not just upon the content of many of his books, but also upon their history from conception to publishing. One of Savarkar’s precious books—the History of the Sikhs—is lost to us. One of the manuscripts had to be discarded into the ocean for safety’s sake, one is perhaps in the legacy of Madame Cama’s paperwork, and the last one rattling around—hopefully—in the voluminous archives of the British Royal Mail or the British Secret Files. It is my dearest hope that this manuscript might surface in a miraculous way. Savarkar also made a great contribution to purification of language and script, including coining and popularizing several words that are now commonly used in Marathi. His literary contributions and innovations are many, too many to enumerate in a limited number of words here. I shall touch upon only a few.

Undoubtedly, Savarkar was a poet par excellence. I am hardly qualified to critique poetry, so I shall leave that alone. What I do consider myself qualified for—having translated more than sixteen of his poems into poetic English—is commenting on content and my impressions of his poems. I truly believe Savarkar’s poetry is his heart and soul. To really understand Savarkar, one must read and understand his poems. I say this from experience. I have spent hours and hours studying his poems, until I absorbed their mood, emotions, import—all of it—and felt one with the poems before I attempted a translation. It has been one of the best experiences of my life, and invaluable when it came to depicting Savarkar in my novel, Burning for Freedom. I am giving below some lines from Savarkar’s poems that I love best. Despite the fact that the translation is not, and can never be, a patch on the original, the content is so powerful it still grips the heart.

“तुजसाठिं मरण तें जनन

तुजविण जनन ते मरण”

“Life is to die for You,

Death is to live without You,”

These lines from Savarkar’s Jayostute to me embody his unparalleled devotion to free his beloved country. I decided to make them the subtitle of my book. In the last verse, one can palpably feel Savarkar’s pain:

स्वतंत्रते I ह्या सुवर्णभूमीत कमती काय तुला?

कोहिनूरचे पुष्प रोज घे ताजें वेणीला

ही सकल-श्री-संयुता I आमची माता  भारती असतां

कां तुवां ढकलुनी दिधली

पूर्वीची ममता सरली

परक्यांची दासी झाली

जीव तळमळे, कां तूं त्यजिले उत्तर ह्याचें दे    

स्वतंत्रते भगवती I त्वामहं यशोयुतां वंदे II धृ II

O Freedom! What did you lack in this Golden Land?

Each day find a fresh Kohinoor bloom for your strands!

Of bountiful wealth is our very own Bharat motherland,

So why, oh why, did you push her away?

Why did your Motherly love of old wither away?

Over her strangers now hold sway!

Anguished is my soul!

Why, oh why, did you abandon her so, answer me, I pray!

We salute you, Goddess of Freedom, O Victorious One!

Savarkar’s opening lines from his poem Atmabal symbolize his life. Though many attempts have been made to obliterate him and his memory, he still, and always will, prevails:

अनादि मी अनंत मी, अवध्य मी भला,

मारिल रिपु जगतिं असा कवण जन्माला II धृ II

Without  beginning nor end am I, inviolable am I.

Vanquish me? In this world no such enemy is born!

In the lines from his poem Aik Bhavishyala one finds Savarkar’s ultimate goal. Referring to the Hindus, he says:

सिंहासनि स्थापु देव I प्राणांची देवघेव II

आपुलिया अस्तित्वा II लावुनी पणाला II              

होउनिया मुक्त स्वता I करील मुक्त ती जगता II

ममतेच्या समतेच्या I सुजन रक्षणाला II भव्य II

With God as their inspiration, offering their lives,

Staking their very existence, none turning tail!

For Love and Equality, the protection of the good,

 Attaining freedom, free the world they shall! Hail!

In Ja Jhunja, his anguish at the plight of Mother India and the apathy in her sons brings tears to the eyes:

मग मुकुट आपला कोणीं I फोडिला

हिंदूंचा झेंडा कोणीं I तोडिला

   आशेचा अंकुर कोणीं I मोडिला

हें चिंतुनि चिंतुनि क्रुद्ध आंसावें जळतीं

दिनरात्रीं  डोळ्यांतुनि कां रे गळती ?

Who dared our crown shatter?

Who dared the Hindu flag tatter?

Who dared our burgeoning hopes batter?

Dwell!  Where are the hot, raging tears, aye,

Spilling from your eyes night and day! Fie!

There is so much more to write about his poems, but space does not permit. All my translations of his poems are available on my website in the “Other Works” section.

Savarkar ever had his finger on the pulse of the need of the hour and tailored his works accordingly. One of the very first things he did upon setting off on the path of the freedom struggle is to compose ballads extolling the deeds of India’s heroes, especially Shivaji. He and his Mitra Mela group would take to the streets singing these songs. At a time when Indian minds were subjugated into a slave status, stripped of pride in their national heritage, Savarkar fired the imagination of the people with his songs and stirred patriotism in Indian hearts. So much so, that on one occasion around 1905, at the Shivaji festival held in Raigad, when they were invited to sing these ballads, the enraptured audience joined them enthusiastically. The chief guest, Daji Khare, fearing that the British wrath would crash upon his head for this “unconstitutional”—as he put it—activity, took to his heels and the function carried on without him!

Savarkar’s Indian War of Independence, 1857, is a landmark in Indian history. Not only did it raise forever the 1857 rebellion of the soldiers up from the ignominious distinction of being called the “Sepoy Mutiny,” it recognized all the forgotten heroes and their contribution to the freedom struggle. After intensive research, he presented the facts in a unique manner, emphasizing the unity with which Hindus and Muslims fought to overthrow their common enemy, the British. It has played a remarkable role in stirring many an Indian into patriotism and throwing in their lot into the freedom struggle. Fearing just this, the British banned the book in India before publication—something unheard of!—and in Britain soon after it was published. The ban notwithstanding, it was published over and over and even translated into other languages. The whole saga of how the book was published makes a fascinating read (the account is available in the preamble before the book.) Amazingly enough, a few precious copies of the 1909 first edition of this book are still extant today, including six copies in various libraries of the U.S. I was able to borrow one of them through the inter-library loan here; it is impossible to put in words my emotions upon holding it in my hands.

In 1923, his book Hindutva (written in 1920-21 in the Cellular Jail) was published under the pseudonym Maratha while he was still incarcerated on the Indian mainland. It is still hailed as a byword on Hindutva. With the changing political scene in India—the Khilafat Movement and the Indian Freedom Movement being attached to it, as well as Hindu-Muslim unity being laid down a condition before independence could be sought—that followed right after WWI, Savarkar considered it imperative that there be a clear understanding of what is Hindutva, and his book unambiguously details the essentials of it. His definition of the term Hindu caused Swami Shraddhanand to exclaim, “It must have been one of those Vedic dawns indeed which inspired our seers with new truths that revealed to the author of Hindutva this mantra, this definition of Hindutva.”

Savarkar’s Majhi Janmathep, Part I, (My Transportation for Life) was first published as a series in the newspaper Kesari in 1925-26; Part II was published in the Shraddhanjali from January 20, 1927. By May 1927 the book was published in its entirety. Within three years it was ready for a second edition. Soon a Gujarati edition was published but was immediately brought under the notice of the Government and banned. Copies were still secretly published and sold, even in Kannada and English. This book, too, has inspired many. It is an honest record of Savarkar’s incarceration in India, particularly in the Cellular Jail. Despite the fact it is written with humor and without the slightest indulgence in pathos, it is a heartrending account. It also reveals all of the traits that make Savarkar such an extraordinary man; in there you will meet Savarkar of the iron will; Savarkar: the Karmayogi; Savarkar: the devoted Son of Mother India; Savarkar: the Leader, the diplomat, the humanist, the rationalist, the philosopher, and much more. He has also written about the experiences suffered by others. In the case of many freedom fighters who suffered in the Cellular Jail, this is the only record of their patriotism and sacrifice for India.

Throughout, Savarkar has shown a keen awareness of recording his words and events as they happen, a preserving of an accurate historical record. He knew how very important this was for posterity. History, alas, is vulnerable in the hands of those in power; this is especially so in the case of India where many distortions in history are being promoted and large chunks of it are deleted. All his life, having written profusely on the subjects dearest to his heart, in 1963 he published the Samagra Savarkar Vangmay, his Collected Works. These are now available in Hindi and English (at least most of the Works.)

With great foresight, Savarkar had bequeathed his literary legacy to Balarao Savarkar, who conscientiously and faithfully carried out Savarkar’s wishes after his death. Among the books he published are four extremely important Savarkar volumes: Ratnagiri Parva; Hindu Mahasabha Parva; Akhand Hindustan Parva and; Sangata Parva. There is so much invaluable historical data in general and information about Savarkar in particular in these volumes! However, being written in Marathi, and possibly not even available in print anymore, this information is in grave, grave danger of being lost in the mists of time.

I consider Savarkar not just the heritage of India but as the heritage of the whole world. To me it is paramount that all of Savarkar’s works, including his poems, the memoirs others have recorded of him—which so reveal the real, human, and endearing Savarkar—and these four volumes be available in as many languages, both national and international, as possible. Failing that, at least be available in Hindi, the national language of India—so important to Savarkar—and English.

For the world to know, recognize, and understand Savarkar this must be done. I appeal to any writers with command over Marathi and any other language to take up this cause. Savarkar has done more than his bit in preserving his words and works; it is now up to us to take it further and beyond.


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