March 27, 2017 by vishfulthinking
Have you ever looked up to the sky and imagined clouds to take up familiar shapes? Have you ever counted all those clouds with dramatic shapes you imagine them to be? Dramatic…reminds me that I have another question for you, how long has it been since we started celebrating this dramatic day in history? A day when our imagination takes flight? Wait, let me count…you see, in the Indian way of counting on a hand, the palm is faced up; the little finger gets tallied first. Sorry for the digression, this counting business reminds me, I have a small story to tell you.
Long, long ago…
Playwrights and poets were being counted; the first to be counted was Kālidāsa, with the little finger of course! The next in line was the ring finger, but no other poet or playwright could follow Kālidāsa…naturally this finger was called Anamika, meaning ‘nameless.’
Even today, in the classical Indian tongue, the thumb is called Angushtha, the pointing finger is called Tarjani. The middle finger is Madhyama, the little finger is called Kanishka, and the ring finger is Anamika!
Anamika, unknown… so apt! A lot is unknown about Kālidāsa, his parentage and even if he ever had a pseudonym. But we do know that he comes first amongst poets and playwrights in India for multiple reasons, and one such reason being that he fine-tuned a new genre of narrative called saṁdeśa-kavya – a dramatic, poetic narrative about a messenger sending a message with latent poetic meanings, reflections and messages. German Romantics loved the genre, but only rarely went on to pen saṁdeśa-kavya of their own. The Meghadūta (Cloud-Messenger) is a genius piece of saṁdeśa-kavya, with a simple form it evokes several montages, all coming together at the very end. Mālavikāgnimitram (Pertaining to Mālavikā and Agnimitra), Abhijñānaśākuntalam (Of the recollection of Shakuntala) and Vikramōrvaśīyam (Pertaining to Vikrama and Urvashi) are his superb plays.
Such is the prolific impact Kālidāsa has had on Indian and world playwriting and poetry. It is unfortunate that we study the world but forget our own, satisfied with a passing glance in the expansive textbooks largely dedicated to the greats from across the pond. I don’t even have a faint memory of learning much about Kālidāsa in CBSE school books. I do think Kālidāsa’s work in English translations to be as relevant to the Indian mind as is the Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, taught to us in Elizabethan English in 9th grade. Agnimitra, the Shunga Maharaja, is as relevant as Duke Orsino of Illyria.
However, it turns out whether we read Kālidāsa in the heyday of the Gupta Empire, Schlegel’s Germany, Oxford book place in New Delhi, Urban Solace Cafe in bustling Bengaluru or the patio of an apartment in the Queen City, Kālidāsa’s plays and verses can strike the heart of many a lover.
And, by the way, I now stop counting, the palm is faced up; the little finger gets tallied last…and it has been 56 years since we started celebrating this dramatic day. #WorldTheaterDay