In the words of the editors, this festschrift "consists of four major sections. In the first section we present the facsimiles of some of the letters written by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother to Amal-Kiran; there are also a few other important letters received by him. The second section makes a quick selection of the writings of this prolific author. The third section has essentially articles and tributes from various writers, past and present. In the last section there are pencil-sketches made by Amal-Kiran himself and a set of his photographs at various stages of his life; it also contains other miscellaneous matters."
The Near and the Far. Near to us is the smile of Apollo flashed by Amal Kiran whether in his study, or on a hospital bed or at the Samadhi. Near to us is the Ananda Yogin of Aurobindonian Yoga, one who laughs away pain, disabilities and disappointments and shows us how to work ceaselessly and to work hard. He may be trussed up in a sick bed after multiple fractures but the Greek god of sunlight, poetry and prophecy is the reality in the room. For, he would draw our attention to the file series spread out before him: "Issues of the Mother India
for another six months are ready here, planned, edited."
Near to us is the young man from Bombay who was drawn to Pondicherry and surrendered to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. The surrender may not have been complete at that time, but the acceptance by the Gurus was total. The Mother wrote to Amal Kiran on 24.4.39:
"…remain there (Bombay) until the necessity of being here (Pondicherry) will become so imperative that all else will completely lose all value for you. My answer now is exactly the same. I want only to assure you that we are not abandoning you and that you will always have our help and protection."
So, like the bird circling around and then returning to the mast of the ship sailing in the high seas, K. D. Sethna returned to Pondicherry and has remained there for half a century. Therefore near to us is the poet who was nurtured by Sri Aurobindo, who could exchange banter with the Master and coax him to comment on his own Savitri
. But then, far away lies the immense scholarship of K. D. Sethna. Is it the same poet skating on the uncertain slopes of imagination in ‘Nocturne' and ‘Green Tiger' who also wrestles hard with historiography in Karpasa in Prehistoric India
? The literary critic who uses Holmesian finesse in indentifying the Youth, the Dark Lady and the Rival Poet in Shakespeare's Sonnets? The researcher who coerces the available archaeological evidence to yield the truth about the origin of the Aryans?
Sri K. D. Sethna's ninetieth birthday has helped us gain a glimpse of the near and the far in his total personality through the magnificent volume, Amal Kiran: Poet and Critic
, a festschrift put together expertly and lovingly by Nirodbaran and R. Y. Deshpande. Here are letters and blessings from Sri Aurobindo and The Mother; samples from Sethna's critiques of Sri Aurobindo, the poet and the philosopher; and his perceptive note on the flaw in Gandhian ahimsa
"Even Buddha who among India's spiritual personalities put the greatest premium on non-violence did not enjoin it on all and sundry: he restricted to the class of monks and, while conjuring humanity to return love for hatred, never discouraged violence in defence of a cause that was just. The absolute adherence to ahimsa
was derived by Gandhi from Tolstoy: It does not reflect the flexible and many-sided spiritual wisdom of original Hinduism."
The major portion of Amal Kiran: Poet and Critic
contains articles on the personality of Sethna and his writings. Affection, admiration and gratitude cease to be conventional terms and the words certainly glow with love in the essays by Arabinda Basu, J. N. Chubb, Dilip Kumar Roy and others. When Nirodbaran writes of ‘Sixty Years of Unbroken Friendship' and associates like Jayantilal, Udar and Jugal Kishore Mukherjee (in a companion booklet to the main festschrift) speak of him, we gain some ideal of the transformative yoga inducted by the Mother in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. A good friend, a sparkling correspondent, a brilliant classroom teacher, a painstaking editor, a significant poet, a Paracletian critic: how shall we crown thee, O blithe spirit of the Aurobindonian skies, "the bird of golden peace"?
There are also scholarly entries that clarify the structured felicities in Sethna's poetry, criticism and translation. K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar speaks of ‘Amal Kiran's Plenty', Shyam Kumari on his ‘poised serenity' and Dinkar Palande finds in him "a yogi of the Modern Age". As we turn the pages, a great pride swells in our heart. We are living at the same time as this very special polymath! And we reach almost the bursting point while going through Pradip Bhattacharya's article on Sethna's ‘historical vision'. It is a fascinating summary of Sethna's clinical arguments against Aryan invasion theory which has brought forth the ugly, untenable, Aryan-Dravidian divide in India's socio-political history. Also of Sethna's masterly study of ancient inscriptions and the Arthashastra
That is not all, of course; Sethna contains continents. He is a painter too. His portrait of Arjava, his self-portrait as a sailor-boy, and his painting of the two birds on a tree are reproduced in this volume. As we gaze at these plates and those of Sethna by himself or in company, an undefinable delight enters our being, existence itself becomes the authentic note of Krishna's flute. Self is left behind, "lone, limitless, nude, immune."