Nation on the March

Nation on the March
Nation on the March

Nov 3, 2009

Chisel, hammer and a boneless shell fish : Our Gurus

An old Hindu proverb says “ There is nothing noble in being as superior to some other man. The true nobility is in being superior to your previous self”
Most of us are aware of this and are engaged in a constant,  struggling effort to improve ourselves.

Lillian Watson writes that “ Dr Oliver Wendell Holmes was examining one day a piece of sea shell . It was from  the “ pearly nautilus” a most interesting little creature. Inside the shell was a spiral of gradually enlarging compartments in which the insect lived  successively as it grew larger and larger. As the little creature outgrew one chamber, it moved on to the next, where it could grow and develop further, and so move on to a still larger chamber.
He was fascinated by the kind of poetic analogy he had always enjoyed: Like the humble insect that lived inside the shell, the human being must continually move on, must grow and expand. Each man was responsible for his own development. Each man was the architect of his own character”. Like the tiny, insignificant, boneless insect in the vast ocean.

“ Here was the perfect theme for his next poem! And he wrote “The Chambered Nautilus” Tiny growing nautilus in its ship of pearl, moving from one chambered cell to the next, stretching, expanding, … and the soul of man, building over more stately mansions….”
Holmes wrote and published in 1858 at the age 49, and yet, after 101 years, it is one of the America’s most famous poems . Lincoln knew it by heart and could quote whole stanzas from it. Its last stanza is the most quoted part and here it is for our reading pleasure:
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea.

Again,  Thoreau is remembered here, for he said : Every man is the builder of a temple called his body. …. We are all sculptors and painters, and our material is our own flesh and blood and bones.
 Elbert Hubbard says: Upon every face is written the record of the life  the man has led; the prayers, the aspirations , the disappointments, all he hoped to be and was not – all are written there,; nothing is hidden, nor indeed can be.
 Will this development and growth painful. Both for mollusk and for humans. This is no ordinary pain but the essential pain which must be suffered.

Sri Aurobindo speaks amply about it in his great poem “Savitri”:

Pain is the hand of Nature sculpturing men
To greatness: an inspired labour chisels
With heavenly cruelty an unwilling mould.

Padmashree  Dula Kag, the great Gujarati poet and writer , wrote following lines, as though translating Sri Aurobindo. It is addressed to  a sculptor’s stone which, after the painful process, will be transformed into an idol for worship in temple. He writes:
It is addressed to  a sculptor’s stone which, after the painful process, will be transformed into an idol for worship in temple. He writes: 

While somewhere it is hammer and chisel in a sculptor’s hand as seen above, elsewhere it is a potter’s wheel and gentle fingers shaping the clay.

Umashankar Joshi chose the latter in his  poem 68 years ago, titled Let Perfection Be Always At Bay” , where he seeks divine intervention in  his efforts for self-development. The last stanza says it all:

On this giant, cosmic   potter’s wheel ,
I just a shapelessly spinning blob of clay,
And let whatever shape emerge from it,
But certainly let it not be perfect

So that there is always some room
For your gentle fingers, affectionately patting
Giving it your unmistakable stamp,
O Heavenly Father, only this much I seek!
                                                                              Amen !