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Passages remembered

Published : Mar 16, 2002 00:00 IST

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T+T-

THIS time I am not writing about a particular book. I have over the decades kept notebooks in which I put down excerpts, memorable, stirring phrases and words that have made an impression on my mind. I have tried to make my reading extensive. It has, alas, been a trifle chaotic. I read four or five books at a time. A love of books has banished boredom from my life. That is no small blessing. The notebooks I have are invaluable for me. They have provided urbane enlightenment and some serenity.

Let me begin with Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Nelson Mandela. All three made unforgettable written statements at their trials in 1922, 1940 and 1964 respectively.

At the Circuit House at Shahi Bagh in Ahmedabad, the trial of Gandhiji began on March 18, 1922. The Mahatma said:

I wanted to avoid violence. Non-violence is the first article of my faith. It is also the last article of my creed... I do not plead any extenuating act. I am here, therefore, to invite and cheerfully submit to the highest penalty that can be inflicted upon me for what is in law a deliberate crime and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen. The only course open to you, the Judge, is either to resign your post, or inflict on me the severest penalty.

Gandhi got six years. He was released after two.

In November 3, 1940, Nehru said in the court in Gorakhpur:

I stand before you, Sir, as an individual being tried for certain offences against the state. You are a symbol of that state. But I am also something more than an individual - I too am a symbol of Indian nationalism, resolved to break away from the British Empire and achieve the independence of India... It is a small matter what happens to me in this trial or subsequently. Individuals count for little, they come and go, as I shall go when my time is up... But it is no small matter what happens to India and her millions of sons and daughters. That is the issue before me and that ultimately is the issue before you, Sir. If the British Government imagines that it can continue to exploit them and play about with them against their will, as it has done for so long in the past, then it is grievously mistaken. It has misjudged their present temper and read history in vain...

Nehru got four years of rigorous imprisonment.

On June 11, 1964, Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was released after 27 years on February 11, 1990. He concluded his four-hour speech at his trial with these words:

During my life-time I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which, all persons live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for, and to see realized. But my lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

Ananda Coomara-swamy (1877-1947) is no longer a household name. At one time it was. Here is something very special this Anglo-Ceylonese said about India:

Each race contributes something essential to the world's civilization in the course of its own self-expression... The essential contribution of India is simply her Indianness, her great humiliation would be to substitute or to have substituted for her own character (svabhava) a cosmopolitan veneer, for then indeed she must come before the world empty handed.

Each artist thus keeps in his heart of hearts a single stream which, so long as he is alive, feeds on what he is and what he says. When that stream runs dry, you see his work gradually shrivel up and start to crack. These are the wastelands of art...

- Albert Camus (1913-1960)

If solitude exists, and I don't know if it does, we would certainly have the right, on occasions, to dream of it as a paradise.

- Albert Camus

All my life I have thought of France in a certain way. This is inspired by sentiment as much by reason... In short, to my mind, France cannot be France without greatness.

- Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970)

I remain just one thing, and one thing only - and that is a clown. It places me on a far higher plane than any politician.

- Charles Chaplin (1889-1977)

So they told me how Mr. Gladstone read Homer for fun, which I thought served him right.

- Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

As is the life of the leaves, so is that of men. The wind scatters the leaves to the ground, the vigorous forest puts forth others, and they grow in the spring season. Soon a new generation of men comes and another ceases.

- Homer (8th Century B.C.)A piece of writing is an offering.- Saul Bellow (1915- )

It is the artist's job to create sunshine where there is not any.

- Romain Rolland (1866-1944)

The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.

- Pascal (1623-1662)

I am always with myself, and it is I who am my tormentor.

- Leo Tolstoy(1828-1910)

An editor is one who separates the wheat from the chaff and prints the chaff.

- Adlai Stevenson (1900-1965)A silk stocking full of shit.

-Talleyrand (1754-1838) on Napoleon (1769-1821)

History is life's answer to the challenge of death - it is the conquest of memory and time.

- Boris Pasternak (1890-1960)

Men of power have no time to read, yet the men who do not read are unfit for power.

- Michael Foot (1913- )Only connect!- E. M. Forster (1879-1970)

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Mar 16, 2002.)

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