John Milton’s Firdaus Lost
There is a thick carpet of dry leaves and flowers all over the front yard and and on the staircase. I am reminded of the memorable phrase, “autumnal leaves of Velumbrosa ” of John Milton in his epic, “Paradise Lost.” , which I had read laboriously with a beeg dictionary besides me. when I was young.Several of its memorable phrases come to my mind , even in the most mundane of circumstances.
Before I go into that, let me dwell a little bit on the word Paradise. Evidently it is derived from the Persian and Urdu word Firdaus. But I have a feeling that the word was originally derived from the ancient Sanskrit word Para Desa meaning the Alien Land. In fact, the Hebrew word for paradise seems to be, parades..
It was Fazal Siddiqui, who said this of Hyderabad, this great place on earth, ” Rushk-e-Firdaus chaman hai hamara, Hyderabad hai watan hamara.”, meaning, ” This is the envy of even that extolled Paradise, this our Hydeabad, is the place where we live.” This very sentiment of extolling ones mother land, ( vater land also implied , since masculine gender embraces feminine gender also where legal terminology is concerned) is reflected in this ancient Sanskrit exhortation,” jananee janma bhoomista swargaadapi gareeyasee.”‘ meaning, ” Mother and motherland are much greater than even Paradise.”
It was Quli Qutb Shah, the founder of Hyderabad, , who wished that it should get populated with people, just as the ocean teems with fish, His wish seems to have fulfilled in full measure, especially in the past three or four decades.
Now let us go back and reclaim the paradise that was lost, by Milton.
When ever some proud politician, good or bad, loses his exalted perch and is intent on regaining at any cost, his exhortations to his cohorts almost certainly remind me of the inspiring words of Satan to Beelzebub and his other followers, “What though the field be lost? All is not lost. The unconquerable will and the study of revenge etc……”
And when in frustration about the current situation and the futility of human life, one rues the folly of the first human couple who was ordained to tend the garden of Eden. ” Of man’s first disobedience and the fruit of, well, the forbidden tree.. ” . What Milton seems to have glossed over is that behind the first man’s folly there was a woman inviting him to taste the delicious fruit of course under
abetment from the abominable serpent.
Let me digress a bit from Milton to the great Telugu writer of the famous Telugu Drama, “Kanya Sulkam” , Gurazada Appa Rao. The lead character in the drama is Gireesam, a conceited rascal, who masquerades as a social reformer and sets about tilting at the windmills in favour of destitute women. He cons a number of people in the town, incurs lot of debts and is desperate to flee to some quiet place until things cool down. He has a disciple , an young boy whom he is teaching English, arithmetic, science and the desirability of cigar-smoking for stimulating the intellect., and how to go to the rescue of young hapless widows. He proposes to the boy, that they should both go to the boy’s parent’s place for the duration of his vacation. The boy is afraid that his father would beat him as he had failed in his examination. Gireesam explains to the boy that the examination system was defective and not conducive to intellectual growth.He could lie to his father that he had passed in his examination and demand money for the next year’s school fees books and hostel besides personal expenses. The boy is apprehensive but relents as there was no other go than following his mentor.
They reach the village. The boy’s mother is happy. But the father is not. He wants his son to stop pursuing the mirage of English education and instead take up the family’s honourable. profession of priesthood. The mother protests and insists that her son should continue his English education so that he could become a collector or something. She desires that her son and his mentor should converse in English,so that the father would get convinced of the progress the boy had been making.
Gireesam starts the conversation, ” Of man’s first disobedience and the fruit of the mango tree. Come on my dear Venkatesam, it is your turn to continue.”
The boy replies, ” There is a white man in the tent.”
Gireesam holds forth, ” When a straight line stands upon another straight line , the sum of the alternate angles amounts to one hundred and eighty degrees.”
The mother is impressed by her son’s prowess. The father is grudgingly so.
Having thus redeemed himself and his disciple, Gireesam sets about to rehabilitate the boy’s young widowed sister,until it is time to return to the town to supervise the boy’s further education. As he is frequently constrained to remind every one, “Talking to me is enough education.”
He looks longingly at the tantalizing ‘ fruit of the mango tree’. It is just out of reach,but with a bit of effort and knack he should be able manage to get hold of a limb and bend it down to his advantage.
The drama was made into a movie about five decades ago with N.T.R. as Gireesam and Sowcar Janaki as the young widow.