Kalidas of the West

shakespeare1.jpg“Who’s the Shakespeare of India?” a history teacher once asked in our class. “Kalidas, ma’am”, I said. I was right. Kalidas is known as the “Shakespeare of India”. That was in class nine. Having grown up as much as I have, I now wonder why Kalidas should be known thus. Why not call Shakespeare the “Kalidas of the West”? The question here is one of identity. Why does Kalidas need to be known by the name of Shakespeare? Why not the other way round? The answer, as seems obvious to me, is because Shakespeare is more widely read all over the world and is therefore more popular than our poor Kalidas.

By referring to Shakespeare, Kalidas would be better understood by people who haven’t ever heard of him but who know of Shakespeare and admire his literary genius. Shakespeare is a legend and so is Kalidas. To emphasize the legendary contribution of Kalidas to Sanskrit literature, we compare the great Sanskrit poet and playwright of yore with the English playwright and poet of the middle ages. Historically, Kalidas is senior to Shakespeare and he didn’t borrow as much of his plots as Shakespeare did (who, incidentally, is also often termed the greatest and most successful plagiarist in literature).

If someone says to me, you’re like Brad Pitt (a most unlikely comparison), I’d say, “You’re mistaken. Maybe, he is like me.” This is the voice of ego or self-esteem or whatever you might term it. My identity is hurt by that comparison. I’m me and not anyone else. Why should they compare me so? Don’t I have an identity of my own? Maybe not as popular as that of Brad Pitt but an identity all the same – my identity is to me what Brad Pitt’s is to himself. Though it might not be to others what Brad Pitt’s is to them. Of course, one might be flattered initially. And that is what happens, usually. But when one thinks over it, when one analyses this uncalled for tussle of identities, one realizes that one’s own identity is at stake. If one accepts that comparison, one is bound to be acknowledged by that comparison. One has no standing of one’s own. One’s identity comes after that of the person one is being compared to. One might as well say that it’s better to be acknowledged thus than not be acknowledged at all. Quite right! If that is the opinion one has, I’ve no problems. But I don’t have that opinion. Maybe, I’ll change my opinion when I too find that it’s easier to be acknowledged by reference to someone else. Not until then do I intend to change that stand.

This is not a debate for one thing or the other. This is a discussion. An idea that struck me and one that I wanted to share views and opinions on. Maybe, that kind of a nomenclature of individuals is a way to more easily identify the individual’s qualities. Like Bradman’s name is synonymous with a great batsman, Dhyanchand’s with that of a brilliant hockey player, Hitler’s (Pol Pot, Idi Amin et al) with that of a cruel dictator, Einstein’s with that of a genius scientist, Picasso’s with that of a great painter (Shashi Tharoor, in the Sunday Times of India, termed M.F. Hussain, the ‘Picasso of India’), Shakespeare’s with that of a great playwright and so on… in almost every field of human endeavour you’d find a person’s name synonymous with excellence in that endeavour. These are men (there are women as well – Rani Laxmibai, Margaret Thatcher, et al, though I haven’t, inadvertently, named any) who achieved greatness, fame and popularity. True, not every one of us can be Bradman or Dhyanchand, but each one of us is different from these greats even if we possess some qualities that they had and even if someone terms you a Bradman or Dhyanchand. You’re not exactly an image of them. You have several more qualities that they didn’t have and you haven’t all the qualities that they did have. Hence, now it appears to me that it’s not that bad an idea to be termed like Brad Pitt but not Brad Pitt. Because I’m not then confined to the personality of Brad Pitt – I just have a tinge of it. I have much more of my original self than being termed Brad Pitt would allow me to have.

In the final analysis, I feel Kalidas is like the Shakespeare of India and that Shakespeare is like the Kalidas of England. None of the two is the other. And, to dispel your illusions, which I know you don’t possess, still, supposing that you are still under the illusion that I’m like Brad Pitt, I must admit that I’ve perhaps nothing in common with him except for the fact that we are both humans and, more specifically, the male of the species.

Ravi Kunjwal