Vikram Seth, speech at the Kolkata Book Fair on Kolkata, Kobi, Constitution and Kolom:
I will now go to the fourth ‘ko’ or Kolom. I have touched upon the word in law and literature. But especially when one thinks of Tagore, one also thinks of the word as a graphic form, a form of art. I am very happy that Sunil Gangopadhyay and I—as part of this inauguration—were asked to write the word ‘kolom’ in black paint on those white boards there. As you can see, Sunil Da has written it in Bengali and I have written it in English and Urdu. It is interesting that three of the world’s great civilisations, the Hindu, the Islamic and the Judaeo-Christian, are thus incorporated on those boards, just as they are part of our common discourse. This is the richness of our country; we cannot allow it to be filtered and thinned. This is the strength of our country; we cannot allow it to be contorted or distorted.
Let me end with the two opening lines of a poem by Tagore that I have known—in his own English translation—since I was eleven years old. It was one of our school prayers and it expresses his aspirations for India.
‘Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free.’
Let me repeat that: ‘Where knowledge is free.’
Those who try to cloud our minds with fear are the enemies of both knowledge and freedom.
We cannot let our republic, our beloved republic, our constitutional republic, our free and free-speaking republic, be hijacked by fear. It happened once in the Emergency. It must never happen again.
We cannot let them close our mouths and eyes and ears.
We cannot let them break the pen or ration the ink.
Kolome kali jeno na shokaye.
May the kolom flourish.
POEM, RABINDRANATH TAGORE:
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
~ Rabindranath Tagore