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At the Feet of The Mother

Interview with Dilip Kumar Roy

Translation of the Interview with Dilip Kumar Roy
by Sangey Gyanprakash Ghosh


Q1 : Your lifelong, dedicated pursuits of spirituality, literature, prose, music, poetry, religion have made you famous all over the world. Today for this television interview I have been told to ask you a few questions. So you first order me to ask you those questions and you shall answer those questions thereafter. Tell us about a few life-changing events, which have had a deep impact and affected your life.

Dilip Kumar Roy : Lives of people are impacted upon and affected by various events, at times one fails to realize which moment eventually becomes the turning point in life. In spite of that, there are a few landmarks in life. These landmarks never get obliterated even by the passage of time. My life too had such landmarks, about which my friend Jnan Ghosh wants to know. It’s difficult to sum up one’s entire life in a few words, but I’ll still try. Firstly, my childhood was spent in an atmosphere of music. My father’s songs and plays had been the first major influence in my life, especially his devotional songs, songs like ” Pratima Diye Ki Pujibo Tomare”, “Oi Pronoy Uchhasi Madhuro Sambhasi Jamunai Banshi baje”. This kind of songs influenced me deeply. The personality of my father had a great impact on me. He was a very exuberant and intelligent person. He was not only just a dramatist or a writer but also a very good human being. He was a good friend of Rabindranath Tagore.

Rabindranath used to visit our house and I saw him for the first time, then. Even in my childhood, I was fascinated after seeing him, though I was very young at that time, the extraordinary persona of Rabindranath impressed me . Anyway, Rabindranath and my father parted ways after that for some reason, so after that I had not been able to keep in touch with him. I grew up in an atmosphere of music, which included listening to gramophone records and taking lessons from different ustads. After my father’s death, I started taking lessons from various ustads. The music lessons had led to many changes in me. But hand in hand with this, one thing had happened which can be said to have been the turning point in my life – that is reading the “Ramkrishna Kathaamrita”. At the age of 13, I had got the book for the first time (how it had reached my hands, is a different story, so let’s leave it). Reading “Ramkrishna Kathaamrita” had made a sea of tears swell up in my heart, its beauty enthralled me. Not everyone gets affected in the same way after reading “Ramkrishna Kathaamrita” and I had seen that it had not had the same effect in any of my acquaintances. But a radical change was ushered within me by the words of this book. Especially after reading one particular assertion, which I have never failed to remember – “realization of the divine is the sole aim of Human life”. At that time, I had decided that I will not get married or lead a domestic life. I had not thought of being a yogi yet, but I had made up my mind of living within the precincts of the conventional society (at that time I did not think of going to an ashram), yet at the same time trying with all my heart to realize the divine because it is the sole aim of one’s life. The ultimate aim of life for me are neither music nor literature. This is to be pondered over as many people have the notion that I’m firstly and lastly a musician, but that is not true. Firstly and lastly I’m a seeker, who perpetually seeks the truth. I have mentioned in many of my writings that I don’t want to be known as anything else but a seeker of truth – truth seeker. If someone calls me a saint, I disagree, I’m not a saint but a seeker. Truth seeking has always had a very significant place in my life. I was in my early adulthood when the all-encompassing objective of life became ‘realization of God’, yet the sparkle of youth at that juncture led me to pay heed to various callings. “All sights he sees and turns to every call, he has no certain light by which to walk”, I did not have a definite light to follow or guide me, amidst my various vacillations there was one compass within me, that I never forgot the Divine, I always kept trying in every way possible to realize God and to do it, I felt the need to find a Guru.

This is one facet. On the other hand, Subhash Chandra Bose had a very deep influence on me (about which I had talked about in my lecture at the Netaji Bhavan). Subhash and I had studied together in Cambridge. I have never come across a personality like him in our generation. The generation before us witnessed the likes of Sri Aurobindo, Barindranath Ghosh, Upendranath Bandopadhyay. In my generation I have not seen anyone love one’s own nation like Subhash did. But I was not just in love with my country, rather, I was deeply in love with God. It might sound as if I am boasting, but to be honest it was somewhat on those lines. My heart always kept turning towards God. I could not afford to forget that the realization of God is the primary goal of life. I do not know the reason for such a steadfast inclination of mine, no concrete explanation can be given shape. It has been in my horoscope that I will become a sanyasi/yogi, but that is surprising because I am extremely social, and love to socialize and exchange thoughts and ideas and develop friendships. But in spite of that, my heart, like the needle of a compass, always kept pointing towards God. Among my countrymen, another person had a great impact on my life, a very dear friend of mine, Satyendranath Bose, the scientist. It is his prodding and inspiration that led me to learn various languages. It was after his suggestion that I, for the first time, started learning the French language. Let me add an anecdote here, which, although comic and may take up a couple of minutes, is still worthwhile. Satyen had told me to get my French pronunciation right, and added that his own pronunciation was not that great; my friends used to praise my pronunciation. One reason for that being, I had learnt the French language from a French woman. The French lady had put up in the Grand Hotel and she used to come to my home and teach me and I used to furnish her with remuneration for the same. I was around 19 or 20 at that time. Whenever she used to come, I would inadvertently cover my feet with socks and reasoned when a French lady was coming to teach me, how could I dare to sit bare feet! My experience at Cambridge was beautifully enriching. I don’t have words to describe the splendor. Their bonds of friendship bound me with brilliant people; jewels – who had come from all over the world.

Q2. Which aspects or facets of music attracted you the most, and so much so that you kept yourself drowned in it for such a long time. What kind of music it is and what are the reasons for you tilting towards it. Who were those persons whose music attracted you like a magnet?

You have practiced and learnt this music, worshiped music, and you have been a composer yourself, your compositions are unique, we have known you and your compositions from our childhood and till date you have never stopped creating, what is the key to composing this kind of music?

Dilip Kumar Roy : Firstly, Rabindranath had encouraged me a great deal, and told me to leave everything else and steadfastly become a musician. At that time in England, I had been vacillating a lot and was unable to decide which path to trudge on, then his advice had had a deciding impact on me and I felt that he was right. Therefore, I burnt my boats and made up my mind that I am going to learn and pursue music. At that time, Subhas had told me, “Rabindranath is right, although I don’t know anything about music, but since Rabindranath has directed you to do so, you should follow his advice and go to Germany.” Before going to Germany, I had met Roman Rolland. He had had a very deep impact on me. He is a musicologist of a very high standing who has written many books on music, as well as the biography of Beethoven. He was very impressed and pleased after listening to my music and remarked “your music should be propagated throughout Europe”. Then I made him aware of my desire to learn European music and at the same time of my aversion to the German language. He posited “You are saying that you don’t like the German language, but have you ever listened to German songs? Nobody writes better songs in the West or in the entire Europe”. So I went to Germany and there I acquired vocal training in the Italian method and that had led to great improvement in my singing (that’s what people had opined). I applied the acquired skill in various ways. I had also learnt some Italian, French, German songs. But only a few songs. My knowledge and grasp of European music (might not even be said to be knowledge) is not substantial. I was very impressed by the German symphony music but I did not quite like their vocal music. Their vocal music is vocally very acrobatic, but the heart or soul does not participate in the vocalizations. In general, I felt and still feel it is only hollow acrobatics, without substance. I decided to take their method of vocal projection and after developing the vocalization more, tried using it only to enrich the music of our own country, especially the Bengali Music. I have forever loved Bengali Music with all my heart. I have learnt Hindustani classical music only to improve and enrich the Bengali music tradition. “Ranga Jaba Ke Dilo Tor Paye Mutho” had led to the inception of a new epoch in Bengali Music. In Bengali music, the use of ‘Taans’ and ‘Akhor’ is not always seen and even if present they are not properly applied. ‘Akhor and Taan’ can both be applied keeping the spirit and soul of the song intact. I have tried to sing in this way, and have sung many songs. At first, I had not composed my own songs, but the songs of my father, Atulprasad Sen, Kazi Nazrul, Mirabai were part of my repertoire. I used to translate and sing some of Mirabai’s songs. I hope that I have been able to enrich the tradition of Bengali music as much as possible in accordance with my capabilities.

Q3. Tell us about what you felt and attained in your pursuit as an author. You have written a lot, and still continue to write, if you have anything to say about literature, with respect to the practice and pursuit of literature and as a creator, please do so. Then if you want, you can read something from Rabindranath or from your own writings.

Dilip Kumar Roy: The thing that I want to say about literature is that, my love for literature is no less than that of my love for music, many people do not know this, but those who know me inside out must be aware. I have not loved literature any less. I have not worked any less hard for literature and I have written a lot. I have written 73 books in Bengali, and 4 more books are to be published. So a person who writes so many books must indeed have to be in love with literature, otherwise it would not have been possible. At first my writings were about the quest, the seeking, which is true of my writings in olden days. Then there came a turning point with respect to my writings. After going to Sri Aurobindo and with his inspiration, my writings took a turn towards religion. I don’t know if the audience wants to know about religion, it is not appropriate to talk about religion, but it is surely not inappropriate to say that Rabindranath in many of his writings, lectures, novels and poems had given birth to various flowers of religion. We are deeply indebted to Rabindranath. I am especially indebted to him and fail to find words to express my indebtedness – it’s not just the debt of literature but also the debt of love. His unbounded love for me is difficult to express in words. Once he wrote to me in a letter to me, “Why have I been deprived of the light of your golden countenance for ages, why thou honey laced strains of music laden with thought and emotion has not graced my ears, what’s the cause for your indifference, write to me the reason, if it can be revealed.

There is one more anecdote which is not there in any of my books. I had once said to him that someone had told me “Don’t go to Rabindranath, he will not pay attention to you, he never gives importance to anyone”. He then posed to me with regret, “Bankim Chandra was an unmirthful person, but everyone can come to me and talk to me and there is no need for any passport. How could that person could say this about me?” and then he wrote a poem about how people are elated after receiving even a black kitten after a lot of coercion and pursuit but disvalue a far greater gift when received without much effort.

Rabindranath’s humour, songs, love, support had graced my life deeply. I have one regret that I used to engage in a lot of debates with him, but it is because of those debates that a lot of his opinions and views had gotten out and he said that “Dilip had managed to extract a lot of opinions from me”, he appreciated me a lot for that. But there are so many things to talk about with respect to Rabindranath, that 10 minutes is not enough. I am going to talk about Rabindranath at the university in a few days and I have written about him in my book “Smriticharan”. But for the television, if the audience wants to know, let me hit two birds with one stone. He had written to Sri Aurobindo when Sri Aurobindo was in jail. It is very rare that one great personality praises another great personality in this way. He had written in 1908, and it is one of his best poems “Namashkar” (Salutation):

Rabindranath, O Aurobindo, bows to thee!
O friend, my country’s friend, O voice incarnate, free,
Of India’s soul! No soft renown doth crown thy lot,
Nor pelf or careless comfort is for thee; thou’st sought
No petty bounty, petty dole; the beggar’s bowl
Thou n’er hast held aloft. In watchfulness thy soul
Hast thou e’er held for bondless full perfection’s birth
For which, all night and day, the god in man on earth
Doth strive and strain austerely; which in solemn voice
The poet sings in thund’rous poems; for which rejoice
Stout hearts to march on perilous paths; before whose flame
Refulgent, ease bows down its head in humbled shame
And death forgetteth fear; – that gift supreme
To thee from Heaven’s own hand, that full-orb’d fadeless dream
That’s thine, thou’st asked for as thy country’s own desire
In quenchless hope, in words with truth’s white flame afire,
In infinite faith, hath God in heaven heard at last
This prayer of thine ? And so, sounds there, in blast on blast,
His victory-trumpet? And puts he, with love austere,
In thy right hand, today, the fateful lamp and drear
Of sorrow, whose light doth pierce the country’s agelong gloom,
And in the infinite skies doth steadfast shine and loom,
As doth the Northern star? O Victory and Hail!
Where is the coward who will shed tears today, or wail
Or quake in fear? And who’ll belittle truth to seek
His own small safety? Where’s the spineless creature weak
Who will not in thy pain his strength and courage find?
O wipe away those tears, O thou of craven mind!
The fiery messenger that with the lamp of God
Hath come – where is the king who can with chain or rod
Chastise him? Chains that were to bind salute his feet,
And prisons greet him as their guest with welcome sweet,
The pall of gloom that wraps the sun in noontide skies
In dim eclipse, within a moment slips and flies
As doth a shadow. Punishment? It ever falls
On him who is no man, and every day hath feared,
Abashed, to gaze on truth’s face with a free man’s eye
And call a wrong a wrong; on him who doth deny
His manhood shamelessly before his own compeers,
And e’er disowns his God-given rights, impelled by fears
And greeds; who on his degradation prides himself,
Who traffics in his country’s shame; whose bread, whose pelf
Are his own mother’s gore; that coward sits and quails
In jail without reprieve, outside all human jails.
When I behold thy face, ‘mid bondage, pain and wrong
And black indignities, I hear the soul’s great song
Of rapture unconfined, the chant the pilgrim sings
In which exultant hope’s immortal splendour rings,
Solemn voice and calm, and heart-consoling, grand
Of imperturbable death, the spirit of Bharat-Iand,
O poet, hath placed upon thy face her eyes afire
With love, and struck vast chords upon her vibrant lyre, –
Wherein there is no note of sorrow, shame or fear,
Or penury or want. And so today I hear
The ocean’s restless roar borne by the stormy wind,
Th’ impetuous fountain’s dance riotous, swift and blind
Bursting its rocky cage, – the voice of thunder deep
Awakening, like a clarion call, the clouds asleep.
Amid this song triumphant, vast, that encircles me,
Rabindranath, O Aurobindo, bows to thee!

A note from editor: Shri Dilip da hasn’t completed the poem, with the following ending omitted:

And then to Him I bow Who in His sport cloth make
New worlds in fiery dissolution’s awful wake,
From death awakes new life; in danger’s bosom rears
Prosperity; and sends his devotee in tears,
‘Mid desolation’s thorns, amid his foes to fight
Alone and empty-handed in the gloom of night;
In diverse tongues, in diverse ages speaketh ever
In every mighty deed, in every great endeavour
And true experience: “Sorrow’s naught, howe’er drear,
And pain is naught, and harm is naught, and naught all fear;
The king’s a shadow, – punishment is but a breath;
Where is the tyranny of wrong, and where is death?
O fool, O coward, raise thy head that’s bowed in fear,
I am, thou art, and everlasting truth is here!”

[The English translation by Kshitishchandra Sen, first published in the “Sri Aurobindo Mandir Annual”, Calcutta in 1944]


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