Mainstream, VOL LIV No 20 New Delhi May 7, 2016
A Savage Civilisation
Saturday 7 May 2016
May 9, 2016 marks the seventy-first anniversary of Victory over Fascism; and on May 8 falls the one hundred and fifty-fifth birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore. As our homage to Gurudev on this occasion we are reproducing this letter written by him to Amiya Chakravarty from Gauripur Bhavan, Kalimpong on June 20, 1940. —Editor
by Rabindranath Tagore
A few centuries back European civilisation had suddenly started to hatch a large brood of vaishyar1children. Eager for profit these creatures had begn to prowl and menace Asia and Africa; some of them had gulped large quantities and varieties of flesh and other tasty stuff. The betwitching smell of this flesh feast had reached the nostrils of Europe. The little ones whose tongues were watering with greed, but who had perforce to go without a bite, their stomachs had recorded the enforced privation. At last between those who had a bite and those who hadn’t, there began an open conflict. At one time the game had been between the hunter and the hunted, now it is between different groups of hunters. For Mother Europe this is no doubt a melancholy experience. She is crying piteously for peace. But peace does not come from the outside, its cource is within. Those whose habitual greed has forced them to a regular meat-diet their murderous habits can never cease. For long many of them have been growing, openly or in secret, large front or canine teeth. Today as they have opened their mouths wide that awful truth has revealed itself in all its nakedness. This was bound to happen. If teeth are necessary to devour one’s quarry they will be equally necessary to amke faces at one’s rival. And he who wins in today’s combat must, in order to forestall tomorrow’s danger, start a cult of rabid scientific destintry. In the educational institutions of a competitive civilisation the pursuit of largescale suicidal policies is likely to flourish. This wild dance of mutual slaughter will go on without end, and those who, instead of themselves being able to bite, have been bitten will soon be obliged to open schools of the Art of Biting. In the northern parts of Europe a noble civilisation, based on the ways of peace, had lasted for long. But today they have been bitten by rabid dogs. How can you keep them quiet tomorrow? Then, in this huge animal world, where will you find Man? According to Darwin, the apes evolved into men. But in what creature will man evolve and manifest his true nature and destiny? In the primal age of the animal world creature, large and laden with armours and thick coatings of flesh, had, with much bravado, dominated the earth. But they proved to be insufferable and could not last—in creation’s laboratory has the memory of that futile experiment been totally lost? Once again the weight of armaments is crushing our humanity out of existence. In the midst of all this can be heard the creator’s voice: This will not do. The shield on their backs has been taken down, but it has now found shelter in their minds. This is not a sign of life or growth. The battlefields of today are the modern playground of ancient dinosaurs. Their ghosts have come back, and the road along which they had once disappeared they are again pointing their fingers towards that exit.
Yet the mind refuses to belive that it is for these sheild-bearing animals to point the future to man. In the heart of all conflicts. I have seen Man, eternal, unvanquished. Statistically speaking, they may be few, but a few of them are enough to save Svalpamapyasya trayate mahato bhayat. Exploiting the brahmin’s knowledge, the kshatriya’s arms and the shudra’s service today’s commercially-minded Europe has grown irresistible. But I can see its feet resting on the downward slope—towards extinction. This is not the energy that will or can endure, that strength belongs only to those who are without greed, who are modest, quiet and trusting. They are there to prove that our manhood depends not on the ability to gobble up each other but through mutual aid and a coming together. they do not belong to any particular nation. In every nation they form the obscure hard core. I have faith in Man. His road lies through death, yet he will prove his deathless destiny and one day win.