Educational Resources

The Poet And The Charkha

November 5, 1925

When Sir Rabindranath's criticism of the Charkha was published some time ago, *several friends asked me to reply to it. Being heavily engaged, I was unable then to study it in full. But I had read enough of it to know its trend. I was in no hurry to reply. Those who had read it were too much agitated or influenced to be able to appreciate what I might have then written even if I had the time. Now, therefore, is really the time for me to write on it and to ensure a dispassionate view being taken to the Poet's criticism or my reply, if such it may be called.

The criticism is a sharp rebuke to Acharya Ray for his impatience of the Poet's and Acharya Seal's position regarding the Charkha, and gentle rebuke to me for my exclusive and excessive love for it. Let the public understand that the Poet does not deny its great economic value. Let them know that he signed the appeal for the All-India Deshbandhu Memorial after be had written his criticism. He signed the appeal after studying its contents carefully and, even as he signed it, he sent me the message that he had written something on the Charkha which might not quite please me. I knew, therefore, what was coming. But it has not displeased me. Why should mere disagreement with my views displease? If every disagreement were to displease, since no two men agree exactly on all point, life would be a bundle of unpleasant sensations and, therefore, a perfect unisance. On the contrary the frank criticism pleases me. For our friendship becomes at the richer for our disagreements. Friends to, be friends are not caned upon to agree even on most points. Only, disagreements must have no sharpness, much less bitterness, about them. And I gratefully admit that there is none about the Poet's criticism.

I am obliged to make these prefatory remarks as dame rumor has whispered tbat jealousy is the root of all that criticism. Such baseless suspicion betrays an atmosphere of weakness and intolerance. A little reflection must remove all ground for such a cruel charge. Of what should the Poet be jealous in me? Jealousy presupposes the possibility of rivalry. Well, I have never succeeded in writing a single rhyme in my life. There is noting of the Poet about me. I cannot aspire after his greatness. He is the undisputed master of it. The world today does not possess his equal as a poet. My "mahatmaship" has no relation to the Poet's undisputed position. It is time to realize tbat our fields are absolutely different and at no point overlapping. The Poet lives in a magnificent world of his own creation-his world of ideas. I am a slave of somebody else's creation-the spinning-wheel. The Poet makes his gopis dance to the tune of his flute. I wander after my beloved Sita, the Charkha, and seek to deliver her from the ten-headed monster from Japan, Manchester, Paris, etc. The Poet is an inventor -be creates, destroys and recreates. I am an explorer and having discovered a thing, I must cling to it. The Poet presents the world with new and attractive things from day to day. I can merely show the hidden possibilities of old and even worn-out things. The world easily finds an honourable place for the magician who produces new and dazzling things. I have to struggle labouriously to find a corner for my worn-out things. Thus there is no competition between us. But I may say in all humility that we complement each other's activity.

The fact is that the Poet's criticism is a poetic license and he who takes it literally is in danger of finding himself in an awkward corner. An ancient poet bas said that Solomon arrayed in all his glory was not like one of the lilies of the field. He clearly referred to the natural beauty and innocence of the lily contrasted with the artificiality of Solomon's glory and his sinfulness in spite of his many good deeds. Or take the poetical license in: "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the.

Kingdom of Heaven."We know that no camel has ever passed through the eye of a needle and we know too tbat rich men like Janaka have entered the Kingdom of Heaven. Or take the beautiful simile of human teeth being likened to the pomegranate seed. Foolish women who have taken the poetical exaggeration literally have been found to disfigure and harm their teeth. Painters and poets are obliged to exaggerate the proportions of their figure in order to give a true perspective. Those therefore who take the Poet's. denunciation of the Charkha literally will be doing an injustice to the Poet and an injury to themselves.

The Poet does not, he is not expected, he has no need, to read Young India. All he knows about the movement is what he has picked up from table talk, He has, therefore, denounced what he has imagined to be the excess of the charka cult.

He thinks, for instance, that I want everybody to spin the whole of his or her time to the exclusion of all other activity, that is to say, tbat I want the poet to forsake his muse, the farmer his plough, the lawyer his brief and the doctor his lancet. So far is this from truth that I have asked no one to abandon his calling, but on the contrary, to adorn it by giving every day only thirty minutes to spinning as sacrifice for the whole nation. I have, indeed, asked the famishing man or woman who is idle (or want of any work whatsoever to spin for a living and the half-starved farmer to spin during his leisure hours to supplement his slender resources. If the Poet span half an hour daily his poetry would gain in richness. For it would then represent the poor man's wants and woes in a more forcible manner than now.

The Poet thinks that the Charkha is calculated to bring about a death-like sameness in the nation, and, thus imagining, he intended to realize the essential and living oneness of interest among India's myriads. Behind the magnificent and kaleidoscopic variety, one discovers in nature a unity of purpose, design and form which is equally unmistakable. No two men are absolutely alike, not even twins, and yet there is much that is indispensably common to all mankind. And behind the commonness of form there is the same life pervading all. The idea of sameness or oneness was carried by Shankara to its utmost logical and natural limit and he exclaimed that there was only one truth, one God-Brahmin-and all form, nam, rupa was illusion or illusory. evanescent. We need not debate whether what we see is unreal; and whether the real behind the unreality is what we do not see. Let both be equally real, if you will. All I say is that there is sameness, identity or oneness behind the multiplicity and variety. And so do I hold that behind a variety of occupations there is an indispensable sameness also of occupation. Is not agriculture common to the vast majority of mankind? Even so, was spinning common not long ago to a vast majority of mankind? Just as both prince and peasant must eat and clothe themselves so must both labour for supplying their primary wants. The prince may do so if only by way of symbol and sacrifice, but that much is indispensable for him if he will be true to himself and his people. Europe may not realize this vital necessity at the present moment, because it has made exploitation 'of non-European races a religion. But it is a false religion bound to perish in the near future. The non-European races win not for ever allow themselves to be exploited. I have endeavoured to show a way out that is peaceful, humane and, there- fore, noble. It may be rejected if it is, the alternative is a tug of war, in which each will try to pull down the other. Then, when non-Europeans will seek to exploit the Europeans, the truth of the Charkha will have to be realized. Just as, if we are to live, we must breathe not air imported from England nor eat food so imported, so may we not import cloth made in England. I do not hesitate to carry the doctrine to its logical limit and say that Bengal dare not import her.cloth even from Bombay or from Banga Lakshmi. If Bengal will have her natural and free life without exploiting the rest of India or the world outside, she must manufacture her cloth in her own villages as she grows her corn there. Machinery has its place; it has come to stay. But it must not be allowed to displace the necessary human labour. An improved plough is a good thing. But if, by some chance one man could plough up by some mechanical invention of his the whole of the land of India and control all the agricultural produce and if the millions had no other occupation, they would strave, and being idle, they would become dunces, as many have already become. There is hourly danger of many more being reduced to that unenviable state. I would welcome every improvement in the cottage machine, but I know that it is criminal to displace the hand labour by the introduction of power-driven spindles unless one is, at the same time, ready to give millions of farmers some other occupation in their homes.

The Irish analogy does not take us very far. It is perfect in so far as it enables us to realize the necessity of economic co-operation. But Indian circumstances being different, the method of working out co-operation is necessarily different. For Indian distress every effort at co-operation has to centre round the Charkha if it is to apply to the majority of the inhabitants of this vast peninsula 1,900 miles long and 1,500 broad. A Sir Ganga ram may give us a model farm which can be no model for the penniless Indian farmer, who has hardly two to three acres of land which every day runs the risk of being still further cut up.

Round the Charkha, that is: amidst the people who have shed their idleness and who have understood the value of co-operation, a national servant would build up a programme of anti-malaria campaign, improved sanitation, settlement of village disputes, conservation and breeding of cattle and hundreds of other beneficial activities. Wherever Charkha work is fairly established, all such ameliorative activity is going on according to the capacity of the villagers and the workers concerned.

It is not my purpose to traverse all the Poet's arguments . in detail. Where the differences between us are not fundamental-and these I have endeavored to state-there is nothing in the Poet's argument which I cannot endorse and still maintain my position regarding the Charkha. The many things about the Charkha which he has ridiculed I have never said. The merits I have claimed for the Charkha remain undamaged by the Poet's battery.

One thing, and one thing only, has hurt me, the Poet's belief, again picked up from table talk, that I look upon Ram Mohan Roy as a "pigmy". Well, I have never anywhere described that great reformer as a pigmy, much less regarded him as such. He is to me as much a giant as he is to the Poet. I do not remember any occasion save one when I had to use Ram Mohan Roy's name. That was on the Cuttack sands now four years ago. What I do remember having said was that it was possible to attain highest culture without Western education. And when someone mentioned Ram Mohan Roy, I remember having said that he was a pigmy compared to the unknown authors, say, of the Upanishads. This is altogether different from looking upon Ram Mohan Roy as a pigmy. I do not think meanly of Tennyson if I say that he was a pigmy before Milton or Shakespeare. I claim that I enhance the greatness of both. If I adore the 'Poet, as he knows I do in spite of differences between us, I am not likely to disparage the greatness of the man who made the great reform movement of Bengal possible and of which the Poet is one of the finest of fruits.

- Young India, 5-11-1925

* In The Modern Review, September, 1925