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K. D. Sethna

An Introduction through Interaction

— P. Raja

Price: Rs 100

Soft Cover
Pages: 124
Dimensions (in cms): 12x18
Publisher: Busy Bee Books, Pondicherry
ISBN: 978-81-87619-08-6

About K. D. Sethna

In this series of interviews, K. D. Sethna, the grand centenarian, reminisces about his childhood, a variety of relationships, his poetry, his critical works and his inner quest. The book brings out "the vision of a man who has encapsulated in his hundred years the turmoil and exuberance of the 20th century."


The interviewer is half the age of the person who is being interviewed. A centenarian who spans all of the twentieth century, K. D. Sethna answers P. Raja's questions with a sprightliness that never flags. It must have been a joy for Raja, as in all the sessions Sethna would have lighted up the atmosphere with his smiles and humour. Nowhere an apasruti either. For, in him we have the Pure Ray, Amal Kiran. He is like the Vedic Cow, Go, who is not only pure but also illumines the spaces. That is exactly what happens in this volume prepared with love and care by the well-known poet and scholar, P. Raja.

Through the sessions, several subjects are placed on the cards. Naturally poetry leads, for Sethna is a poet and the disciple of Sri Aurobindo. The volume opens with a characteristic statement from Sethna to a group of university students of English poetry, though I am not sure how much of the prosodic diction used by the speaker would be understood by the students of today:

We cannot be quite the same in metre... The metre of all of you may be said to be spondaic; your feet fall with equal stress on the ground. Mine do not because of a limp in one of them. Moreover, I use a stick to help me walk better. So my metre is two slacks and one stress; I am an anapestic fellow.

That is our Amal Kiran. He brims with scholarship and wears it so lightly as well. One who can direct laughter at himself to flash multi-hued shafts of delight. We who have known this style in his correspondence with Sri Aurobindo are not surprised at all. It is natural to enter the Delight of Existence when in the presence of the Clear Ray.

How a Parsi from Bombay became a disciple of Sri Aurobindo by looking at a headline in an old newspaper that had been used to wrap up a shoebox is now one of those imponderables of mystic romance. But then, the transformatory touch is so fiery that a very mundane shoebox can help the leap into the unknown. Since then, Amal Kiran has never wavered in his allegiance to Sri Aurobindo. He has been verily a Yamuna in spate for more than seven decades. His works (fifty-one published books, innumerable articles, editorial writings, and a mass of precious manuscripts waiting to be published) tingle with poetry, shudder with scholarship and firmly reject the hassles of superiority reflexes.

This is the reason why he draws the youth to his side and never seems to lose his temper or patience. P. Raja is able to sound almost cheeky questioning the elder poet-scholar: "Where do you stand now after several years of spirituality or aspiration for spirituality?" "How do you like to be remembered?" "What is your opinion of Sri Aurobindo as a man?"

Amal Kiran is unflappable. About Sri Aurobindo, then:

Man? The man and the superman were so intermixed that it is difficult to disentangle the mere man. If by `man' we mean somebody who responds to us, who tries to understand us, and not merely from a height but also by some kind of sympathy with our own level, he is superb. The human side of him is quite evident. The way he dealt with all my questions, yogic as well as literary shows a great compassion.

So we adventure into the inner spaces of Amal Kiran, as a student of literature, as an explorer of spirituality, and as a measuring rod of human character. There are some words which have obviously been erased from his dictionary. Like `bitterness', `hate', `jealousy' and `inanity'. Never a dry phrase, nowhere a ridiculous statement. P. Raja's challenges are met with rational perspicacity. Is poetry spontaneous (Keats) or is it preceded by intense pain (Mayakovsky)? Does Amal Kiran cry, have nightmares, dreams? Was he teased for his polio? Did his father beat him?

But the answer flows forth placidly, to the point. No woolliness at all. There is a long remembrance of things past about childhood, boyhood and early youth; the coming to the Ashram, the love from the Mother and the Master, the publications of books. Amal Kiran readily crystallizes what he wishes to say and hence this slender book performs the work of a massive autobiographical document. Personally speaking as a recipient of Amal Kiran's love and a reviewer soon to cross the half-century mark, I was all joy when I read his definition of a perfect reviewer:

He should have a sharp mind, grasp what the book has to say, weigh properly in the balance of right and wrong, truth and falsehood. And he should consider particular cases. If the book is the first product of a budding and hopeful author, he can be kind to it, even while finding fault.

Thank you Amal-da for having always been the guiding spirit of our generation. And thank you, Raja, for this gift which we will cherish in our personal bookshelves.

— Prema Nandakumar

Dr Prema Nandakumar is a well-known writer and literary critic. Her biography of the Mother, The Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram (National Book Trust) has gone into several editions.

May 2006