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Friday, July 03, 2015

Author Interview : Abhijit Basu, author of ‘Prophets, Poets and Philosopher-Kings' (Part 1)

Abhijit Basu
Read up, as in this part of the Interview, with Abhijit Basu, he explains to us how the whole process of writing ‘Prophets, Poets and Philosopher-Kings' began, and particularly the enormous research that has gone into it. 

He further explains to us what similarities between Western philosophy and the Indian epics were included in this book. He also explains how Freud and Jung are involved in the scheme of things, Folks...

You can catch the Review here and also, buy the book, Right Here.

How did ‘Prophets, Poets and Philosopher Kings’ happen?

The concept of PPP was brewing in my mind for some years. I was lucky to have with me a veritable treasure of original Sanskrit literature left by my late father. Luckily again, I had been doing Sanskrit recitations, which always attracted me for their phonetic and syntactic perfection. This led to some honing up on Panini’s great grammar! 

Thus equipped, once I started reading those originals (with supporting annotations) – the two epics, some of the Upanishads and Puranas, and of course the works of Sanskrit classical poets and dramatists – I felt an urge to share my joy with the English-speaking world. The seven diverse essays in PPP were fruits of that labour of love. 

I had sent the initial manuscript of the book to late lamented Professor P Lal (illustrious founder of ‘Writers Workshop’ and ‘transcreator’ of the well-known Mahabharata volumes), for his opinion. He was kind enough to read the whole thing and then personally speak to me over long-distance phone, assuring me of its value for publication and distribution. That made me decide on proceeding further with M/s Leadstart Publishers, who responded promptly and positively in the matter, thus making it finally happen.   

What exactly was the research that has gone into it? How do you pick out the better ones you thought would fit into this book?

First and foremost, some serious reading and note-taking from the texts and related commentaries were involved. The idea was to make rational modern interpretations of my subjects of study. The book was conceptualised in two segments – one dealing with four significant characters from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, and the other on the spiritual and literary efflorescence of the Upanishads and the Gita; as also an in-depth analysis of Kalidasa’s dramatic magnum opus, Abhijnana-Shakuntalam, as representative of the best of India’s classical literary heritage.

The four characters, Vishvaamitra, Rama, Yudhishthira and Bharata, were chosen not just out of blind admiration, but more because I thought all of them offer fertile grounds for critical and objective analyses of the finer human sides of personalities.

The second segment, by its very nature, was devoted to spiritual, psycho-philosophical and literary explorations of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita and of Kalidasa’s incomparable cult drama.
Secondly, discussion with peers and scholars was of great help in my research. I felt (and even now feel) my scholar father’s physical absence a lot, while brainstorming on my topics. But fortunately for me, I learnt a lot from many cerebrally stimulating talks with a profoundly knowledgeable and polymath elder, who finds mention in the Dedication of the book.

The similarities between Western philosophy and the Indian epics are included in this book. When exactly did you notice the similarities here and also in Freud and Jung’s theories?

This indeed is one of the central issues in the thematic concept of the book. By and large, I find that deep down there is a certain quality of universality in higher Indian thoughts through the ages. It is not just ‘tolerance’, but a search for the deepest truths behind our conscious existence. That message of syncretistic insight abounds particularly in the Upanishads and the Gita, as is brilliantly exemplified in Shri Krishna’s all-embracing assurance: In whichever path men approach Me, I accept them. O Partha, human beings reach Me in every way.
Even from secular sociological angles, there are striking similarities between the Indian civilisational experiences and those of other ancient societies. The episodes of sacrifice of a son being first demanded and then prevented by God are found both in the Indian Vedic account of Shunahshepa and the Biblical one of Isaac, son of Abraham. 
The laments of Gandhari and Draupadi remind us of those of Andromache and Hecuba (in Iliad). There are valid reasons why, Peter Brook calls the Mahabharata the ‘poetical history of mankind.’
As regards, the analogies drawn between the psychological insights of the Gita with the modern human behavioral models, especially that of Carl Jung, it was indeed a sort of revelation to me. I always felt that the Gita lays down before us a complete blueprint of the workings of human mind as an aid to harmonious living, and was thrilled to discover that Jung propounds his ‘Individuation’ theory with that very aspect as its core concept.
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