These are my struggles. It is most likely that I will never be able to express them accurately, or in full measure. But I will try. These writings are for me, and so if you are reading them, and are displeased with what you read, feel free to turn away from them at any time.
My small brain cannot process art. Like many children, poetry that didn’t rhyme meant very little to me. Music without tempo and art without symmetry remains a mystery to me even today. My brain cannot process these things, I must see patterns to see beauty. And my small brain can only recognise the simplest of patterns. But this post is not about understanding content, it is about understanding trauma.
Rudyard Kipling’s poem If has followed me like a dark shadow throughout my life. Many see this poem as a sort of moral guidebook that a boy would do well to learn from as he grew into a man. Not me. I have hated this poem my whole life. I remember my father forcing me to memorise If, threatening me with dire consequences if I didn’t learn it properly. Locking me in my room and forbidding me from leaving the house to play with my friends until I had committed the poem to memory. He never really understood that I just couldn’t see any beauty in it. It was not a happy poem for me and I grew to hate it.
Years later, when I was a trainee in the Academy, some bright officer decided to print hundreds of copies of If and make sure that every cadet had a copy on his study table. Thankfully, this officer was wise enough to realise that any effort to get an entire Academy to memorise If would leave us with very little brainpower left over for other things.
I still see this poem every now and then, usually its in a little picture frame, in a common area like a elevator or a waiting room, as if it is some sort of omnipresent universal barometer that I am required to measure myself and my honour against even today. I hate this poem.
Today I am glad that I hated If. Today I feel justified in defying my father and never learning it fully. Because for me, even the most perfect, most beautiful thing in the world has no value if its creator is not honourable in my eyes.
This is a picture I took while visiting Sabarmati Ashram. It is of a newspaper article from The Morning Post printed when India was under British Rule.
Rudyard Kipling claimed Dyer was “the man who saved India”. Rudyard Kipling started this benefit fund so that Dyer could live comfortably during his retirement. Kipling supported Dyer’s actions at Jallianwallah Bagh. Rudyard Kipling wrote If. And I was forced to memorise it.
In my eyes, Rudyard Kipling was not an honourable man. I would be a fool to allow such a man to be the yardstick against which my honour would be measured.
I see no beauty in Kipling’s poem. It has no moral value for me. I cannot see beauty in the creation if the creator is without honour in my eyes. There is bitterness and anger in my heart, not just because of the way I feel, but that my father did not feel the same way as I do. Did he not know? or did he not care? Years of trauma and conflict with my father, time wasted, time that I will never get back.
Anyway, it serves no purpose to dwell on this conflict today, for my father is long gone, and I cannot resolve the matter with him. Instead I have found another way to redeem the situation.
I have found my own poem of honour to commit to memory. ‘Live Your Life’ is supposedly written by Tecumseh, a native American leader who fought for the freedom of his people.
While it may not be readily apparent to you, I can feel the the tempo, rhythm and pattern in this poem, and therefore it is beautiful to me. If I have a son, one day I may show him this poem, and tell him that I think it is beautiful. But I will never force him to memorise it, that choice will be his, and I will respect his decision.
Live Your Life
So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart.
Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours.
Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people.
Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.
Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place.
Show respect to all people and grovel to none.
When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living.
If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself.
Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.
When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way.
Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.
This is the song of a warrior. It reminds me a little of my father, and I hope I will become as these words are….some day.
These are my struggles. Each day I face them and grow stronger as I overcome them one by one.