The text presented below is a translation of a political speech delivered by Jyotiprasad Agarwala (1903-1951), Assamese filmmaker and political thinker, on 24 November 1947. The speech was later published with the title, Pohoroloi (Towards Light) in the Rosonawali or Collected Works of Jyotiprasad Agarwala. The English translation from the original in Assamese was first published on 30 December, 2019 in Pangsau. The English translation caused discomfort among a few in Assam. The discomfort however was expressed entirely in social media. The translator chose to clarify some of the issues raised by the detractors here in Pangsau. This is also a call to read this dense text carefully (both in Assamese and in English, if possible) and to engage in constructive criticism.
One of the concerns raised was that the translator has misinterpreted Agarwala’s speech and has turned it on its head thereby presenting a pro-government standpoint. The translator contends such a reading because it is both incorrect and naïve. One has to understand that Agarwala’s speech uses the idea of ‘governance’ and refers to the institution called ‘government’. He identifies xaxantantra (structure of governance) and xaxanjantra (machinery of governance) as the two hands of the institution. The operative word here is xaxan (governance) and Agarwala uses it both at the analytical and general theoretical levels. And, not strictly at the empirical level. Therefore, it is not about government X or government Y. There is an effort on his part to understand governance philosophically when he suggests that it is indispensable to the attainment of a perfected cultural condition (xanxkriti). The philosophical intent is further suggested by his insistence on abstraction in making meaning of governance as a road to perfected cultural condition and a necessary tool towards resisting anti-cultural forces (duxkriti). The translator has nowhere tried to impose his ideas or put himself before the text. The effort has been to let the text speak for itself. Thus, governance as used in the text does not refer to a particular state and can mean a range of things as has been explained by Agarwala later in his speech. Most importantly, it refers to a governance where the people are a fundamental unit and which rests on the foundation of people-power.
Another concern raised in some criticisms was regarding the claim ‘never commented upon’. The translator agrees that this required some clarification. The translator never intended to suggest that the text has never been commented upon in Assamese. In fact, it is well-known that Agarwala has been read by Marxist thinkers from Brahmaputra Valley time and again, most popular being Hiren Gohain. But, so far, we don’t have a full-length commentary of the text in English which the translator too hasn’t attempted here. It requires extensive collaborative work and the translator is in the process of producing such a text for the benefit of readers in Assamese and English.
A last concern that has been expressed is about ‘omission’. It has been suggested that the translator has willfully done that in order to distort Agarwala’s speech and has left out a few parts to suit his purpose. This criticism is entirely ignorant and in poor taste. The translator left out a few sections because the text is extremely long, otherwise. However, the sections left out do not change the intention or the meaning of the speech. If we let the text speak and I repeat, do not impose ourselves on it, then the meaning remains intact. For the benefit of a wider audience, the translator has decided to publish the omitted sections in this revised complete translation. Finally, it has been pointed out that the translator has broken up the text into sections and used titles for each section whereby the text has been distorted. The translator wishes to point out that this not distortion. The sequence remains the same and therefore there’s no question of breaking the text and more importantly, the titles are an aid to an easy and quicker reading of a dense political text. They are from the speech itself and haven’t been used to impose the translator’s voice on that of the author. More importantly, anuvada or what we render as ‘translation’ in English is the act of repeating a past utterance by way of explanation. The author has tried to remain faithful to the practice and has therefore intervened only at the level of explanation.
Translation is a political act. It inscribes itself continually in the space of incommensurability. Criticisms are therefore necessary in sharpening the translated text. However, the translator believes in collaborative work towards making meaning of political text – they can of course lead to arguments. Thus, it is expected that further criticisms will be expressed in the comments section of the blog so that the translator can engage with them thus ensuring a productive exercise of learning.
Reading ‘Towards Light’: a brief introduction
Political texts are read best in the context of the present. More so with political speeches delivered to mobilize people and to guide the course of political struggles. Earlier this month, Assam erupted in protest against the Citizenship Act which violates the principle clause (Clause 6) of the Assam Accord. The ongoing people’s struggle against the CAA is being led by the All Assam Students Union (AASU) in Guwahati and other parts of the state. The moment has tremendous potential for rethinking what it means to be an Assamese and the road to a political future. As people in most of these meetings expressed, the old guards (AGP-BJP) have failed them and they are now looking forward to a new political leadership and a new political vocabulary. Artists and intellectuals have actively joined the protest in huge numbers bringing back the memories of the Anti-foreigner’s movement or Assam movement (1979-1985). In such times, the need for an articulation of the political aspirations of Assam becomes indispensable.
The text translated below (from Assamese) was first delivered as a political his speech, Agarwala, a towering public intellectual of twentieth-century Assam, iterates the importance of responsibility of the civil society to lead from the front and that of the government as a ‘socio-cultural institution’. The speech provides a roadmap for the future of a perfected cultural condition (xamanyay xanxkriti) which will restore beauty in the lives of Assamese people. Delivered at a moment when Assamese society was faced with questions of identity, both religious and ethnic, Agarwala emphasizes syncretism as the hallmark of Assamese cultural life. The text, never translated or commented on, is tremendously relevant to the times we live in and can serve towards guiding political struggles – in Assam and elsewhere.
Towards Light: a political speech by Jyotiprasad Agarwala (1903-1951)
Government as a socio-cultural institution
All you fellow travelers, who have come together in this sacred land that stand as a testimony to a future of love and harmony and a site for a new culture of human existence!
Today, here in Pragjyotish – a major center of ancient culture; which will once again shine as the core of a new culture of humanity; standing here in this sacred land I consider myself to be immensely fortunate to share a few heartfelt words with the artists gathered.
The worship of beauty is the practice of creative and cultural arts. Absolute happiness of human lives lie in the complete expression of culture. Human beings are forever eager to bring culture and civilization in their lives by making them beautiful. The aspiration of a culture of humanity and the thirst for a new dawn was announced in the voice that rose in the depths of a dark past with the cries “towards a new dawn, towards a new light”.
Human beings are cultural animals. Men, who are always in search of light, have fought with opposing instincts and the anti-cultural forces that corrupt the culture lying outside their immediate selves, in what is called societies. They have sometimes moved along the path of culture and have sometimes been eroded of their cultural selves. But, they have always regained inspiration from their cultural selves thereby elevating themselves into a new and higher plane of creativity. That is how humans have moved through histories and ages. Because of this quality it has been said in Tagore’s poem – The path of decay and uprising are brittle; the traveler keeps going for ages. And, in the lute of our philosophical poet Chandrakumar we hear the resounding notes of the words – worship of beauty is the work of life.
Humans always seek a cultural condition for the sake of a civilized state of being. The aim is to establish peace in human lives and thereby usher in the conditions for the creation of beauty and experience the happiness of life through the act of living. Progress is human care for moving to a higher plane after having ascended to a cultural condition and having savored the happiness brought with that beauty.
We need to mobilize ourselves and our society in a proper direction because of the existence of a struggle between constructive and destructive instincts within us otherwise we cannot make cultural progress. A structure and a machinery of governance (xaxantantra and xaxanjantra) is indispensable for organizing human lives within a condition of peace, for guiding humans as a collective towards cultural creativity and for the evolution of human societies by providing individuals with conditions of all-round development and progress. The centripetal forces emerging from this structure and machinery of governance must assist humans in their struggle with forces lying within themselves and outside, in order to protect them as a collective from the incursion of anti-cultural forces, and in order to elevate them to a condition of happiness by leading them through the path of culture. The structure of governance loses all significance if this is not achieved. And, because of this reason, the structure of governance and the machinery of governance are indispensable to the development of human lives. In other words, government or sarkar is a socio-cultural institution.
Revolution as the path to a condition of culture
The development of a cultural life of a society depends on the resolution of the anti-cultural dialogues that lie within it. The sores of human societies emerging from selfishness, greed, narrowness and power-mongering must be removed. The journey of human beings towards removing these sores aided by resistance and struggle is known as revolution. Revolution becomes necessary to resist the corruption of culture and to destroy the ill effects resulting from such a corruption in order to build a new culture. Revolution works its way through our minds until it reaches the struggles lying outside it. Thus, when such a feat is achieved, national revolution and social revolution is made possible.
Although revolution creates a mentality of fear within us and thereby brings together a host of disasters in the form of a grotesque monster, yet, in its foundation, it brings along a treasure trove for the creation of a new culture. And, because of this reason, the makers and believers of a new culture have always appeared in the form of revolutionaries. Just as a peasant rejoices upon seeing a stroke of lightning in the tangled, deep locks of the monsoon rains – knowing that this flash of lightning piercing through the cloud will bring in the music of creation, will cover his field with its golden hues; the artist too rejoices in a same manner; in the midst of the destruction brought in the form of a revolution they see the burning forehead of light. The artist knows that the rays of light will nourish a new culture in human life. And will rekindle the embers of a wondrous creation of art and beauty.
Power of the people as the road ahead
A centripetal force is required in order to create a cultural condition in a society and too mobilize humans, both as individuals and as a collective, so that they can remain within organized structures. And in order to exert this force or to carry out such a process you need the state, structure of governance and structure of bureaucracy. The society, from its very beginning, has been controlled by kingly and institutional forces. But, it has been observed with the passage of time, that these forces were inadequate towards bringing in a complete cultural condition or a democratic cultural condition in the world. They have thrown human societies to a condition of chaos by corrupting themselves, moving away from the ideology of culture. It has been observed that rather than the attainment of a healthy cultural condition human mind is now faced with a condition of cultural derangement. Today men are faced with a crisis. The reason behind this is the abuse of kingly/stately and institutional powers. These powers have been used for particular interests and people have been deprived of its benefits. One need not reiterate how historical accounts from across the world have demonstrated the consequences when kingly/stately and institutional power becomes blind.
Power and force are necessary to elevate human society and culture to a condition where it once was. Therefore, the failure of kingly/stately and institutional powers to usher in the desired cultural condition has prompted us to turn towards the power of the people (or people-power) with such hope. People’s revolution is the tremendous effort of the people towards bringing a structure of governance in the state in order to create a cultural condition by holding firmly to people-power when both the kingly/stately and institutional powers have failed them. The ends of a true revolution lie in restoring this cultural condition. And therefore, revolution is directly linked with culture. The realm of culture and its interactions range from Economics, Politics, Genetics to Philosophy and Culinary Science.
In all these years the people have remained content with a culture of swords acting at the level of human minds. But today, at the break of the dawn of enlightenment and liberalism amongst human beings, the dust from the feet of the people lend the music to a song of a much higher life. The strumming of that music of a new life has given rise to a longing for an enriched cultural life in the hearts of the people. Today the people have come forward and initiated a conversation with all the solitary travelers in search of light. People’s search for light is directed towards ushering a dawn on the earth. Today, Beauty looks forward to come down to the life of the people. People born on the soil and water of this earth have arisen to a new dawn by breaking out of their earthly wombs. They have bloomed in thousands like the lotus and have come forward to claim their parts, to take their positions and to make their contributions towards cultural creation.
Humans have ascended to a higher life than that of non-humans by rising through the path of culture. With the creation of the earliest civilizations, humans discovered their minds. They saw that human existence is constituted in the existence of the mind. They saw the way to transcend to a higher level of existence lie in the cultivation of the human mind. And, this cultivation is culture. Humans create their surroundings by reaching a particular plane of cultural condition and drawing inspiration from it. That is civilization. In that cultural condition, the newly awakened human mind works towards a new creation. And through this effort, once again, humans undertake their journey to a higher cultural condition.
The first human after settling on earth began their worship of beauty. In order to make their face beautiful they brought color, the sound of their bows and arrows claimed wondrous birds, in order to please the beloved, they brought red, blue and black stones. In order to make their shape beautiful they turned the stones and rubbed them against other stones, on all sides. Thus, the creation of art began. This worship of beauty by humans ushered in cultural civilization. This worship of beauty ought to take humans to a future of ideal cultural condition through the path of progress. And for this reason, I sincerely believe that the words ‘the worship of beauty is the work of life’ reveals an incomparable truth about human condition.
Artists, Writers, Poets and Creative Thinkers must lead from the front
Culture is the application of beauty in life. The man who worships beauty tries towards bringing it to every sphere of his life by ascending each plane of cultural progress. In order to make his spiritual life beautiful he became a philosopher. In order to make society beautiful he created religion/norms/duties. In order to make his body beautiful he took recourse to exercise. In order make his food and drinks beautiful he created culinary arts. And, in order to make that part of the society beautiful which has been neglected, ignored and left without any beauty due to economic inequality his newest contribution in social life is socialism. Today because of the failure of the state, institutions and bureaucracy towards elevating human life to the desired cultural condition people have begun thinking about democracy or the rule of people and have sought to achieve it through struggle/revolution.
The wise thinkers of the world believe that people through their rule can achieve the flourish of their cultural lives. Today various kinds of rules of people have made themselves present in front of the state. And these various paths emerging with their distinct thoughts have convinced people of the flourish of their conditions. And along with this, several individuals with their hunger for power have begun propagating their anti-cultural ideas whereby they have corrupted the people and have made attempts at exercising lordship over them. And, because of this reason today artists, writers, poets and other practioners of cultural arts are needed more than ever before. They are needed to welcome the ideals of culture and keep its flame burning among the people and to show them the face of anti-cultural forces in order to protect them from veering towards the path of error.
Therefore poets, artists and writers need to remain firm in their cultural ideology while remaining unbiased in their political and economic ideology. Unbiased does not mean that they should keep themselves away from it – but like the droplets of water on a lotus leaf – they should go amidst the people, and their circumstances, should look at the ideologies, study them carefully and understand them, should be able to discern the truth and emerge having not surrendered themselves to any one ideology. In this way the people can inform the cultural ideals that lead to the success of artists, poets, and literary persons. And for this reason, the artist should remain unbiased. They should remain impartial in their pursuit of the good and the bad, the best, the middle and the lowest planes of existence and the differences and confluences of human condition. It should be kept in mind that artists take men towards a new dawn through the path of culture and thereby make the world beautiful.
Syncretism as a future of Assamese cultural life
The future of Assamese culture must be built by envisioning this. In the current world, in this scientific age, no culture – of nation, region, people – can remain in isolation. Now a syncretic culture should form the framework of the culture of a people, a group or a collective. This syncretism has begun in some parts of the world. In the method of syncretism, the fundamentals of yoking the cultures of a group and people must be illuminated. Why? Taking inspiration from those one should enlighten the fundamental of the process of syncretism. And this will bring out the distinctiveness of each culture. We need this distinctiveness – we have to protect this. If the logic of protecting this distinctiveness guides people, groups and collectives then we can avert fights. But I can’t say that everyone of a group or every person belonging to a collective will adopt this logic. So far in the world having eschewed one’s self-development, the human instincts that satisfy pride and conceit, have been considered as human values even by the civilized cultures and therefore we have a form of reactionary resistance to these anti-cultural formations. Undoubtedly, in those spheres, and against the people with such sensibilities, be it an individual or a collective, we must continue to struggle. We should remain firm in the structural foundations of our new cultural organization and in the armory to demolish the anti-cultural forces. We need to bring our arms from the armory of non-violent civil disobedience and if required we should go to the gunpowder cellars. Of course, keeping in mind that non-violence is the ultimate condition of men. We should remember here that there is no clash between two cultural forces. Clashes happen between a cultural force and an anti-cultural force. There is always a syncretic cohabitation between two cultural forces. There is no clash between two kinds of goodness. But a clash between good and evil is certain.
The dawn of culture must descend on every plane of human life. In order to attain happiness from everyday work we need to gather beauty in it. And for this reason, today with the help of science people possessing higher cultural condition have transformed their kitchen into a thing of beauty. Just the way a song or a tune gives me happiness, in the same way I ought to be happy upon entering a modern kitchen. In sum, perfected culture or xanxkriti must extend its scope from our politics to our kitchen. Only then we humans can attain complete happiness. Perfected Culture or xanxkriti makes our life beautiful. And whenever there is a danger to this perfected culture, ugliness and confusion appears in human society. Confusion creeps into every stage of society following the scale of cultural corruption and human society sinks to the bottom.
Because war and revolution, these two words, today are founded on the principles of violence therefore if any problem in the society is to be resolved through them then the base cultural values of human beings that are conducive to anti-cultural forces become alive and start their work. And during those wars and revolutions, the sentinels of culture must be appointed who are to exercise control over the base values. Otherwise culture will be cornered and anti-cultural forces will expand their lordship over society. And as a result, intense corruption arises in the society during such war and revolutions. Our loss of independence ushered in an immense cultural corruption. Under such conditions war and revolution came to our India and Assam. And, amidst that war and revolution, we were not able to keep the lamps of culture lighted brightly as they should have been. The anti-cultural forces won over us. Today our entire society, and not just the government or its machinery or the rich mercantile class or the middle class or the old or the students, is steeped in corruption that has spread to our cities, villages and among the people. There is no other reason for this except the fact that our society descended to a corrupt condition from where it was before the war. Ethics which is the backbone of a cultural life was bent misshaped by the evil forces lying within human beings.
Our effort now is to get rid of this mental illness by acting on the body. It has been done by terrorizing people with new laws and new punishments. The present in the society is faced with a temporary social insanity. And our government has been trying to implement ways in which it would deal with the mentally ill in asylums, in older times, where the patients were locked in, beaten and were subjected to physical torture. But because of the progress of psychology these jails for the mentally ill have turned into hospitals or care homes.
And for this reason, if today we need to weed out corruption or social destruction and keep us safe from these we have to take recourse to scientific methods. Because the origins of the present social illness lie in cultural corruption therefore we need to create a healthy condition and for that we need the artists, literary persons, poets, philosophers and all those who are driven by ideology. And therefore, today, artists, literary persons, poets, philosophers and those who believe in ideology have a responsibility towards their society. Those artists, literary persons, poets and philosophers who will neglect their social duties, who won’t realize their duties towards their region and will pay heed to an escapist mindset, will hold on to the confusion in society, nation and life, they must be held guilty for not acting up at a time when their land is faced with danger.
The leadership of Civil Society is the need of the hour
All of you, artists and creative people, do not think that there is no value of your presence in society because you don’t occupy seats of power. Don’t believe that your existence is a lie because the worshippers of power don’t sing your praise at every footstep.
The primary reason behind the existence of artists and writers is to keep the people firm in the ideology of culture. I have said that the state and its structure of governance forms the central path towards elevating humans to a condition of culture. Therefore, we need all who are well versed in culture in order to fix the foundations of our rule.
Today at the cusp of a new time, when a massive change awaits our land, our country, today at a moment when the dawn of independence is about to shine on our lives, artists must come out to fight like the warrior Arjuna standing firm in their belief in the culture of humanity and with the aspiration of illuminating the path of a new life. The dreams of our new days must be given shape by the words and work of the artist. Today in this Pragjyotisha – standing on the banks of the Luit, the Assamese – in company of the young of the country – listening intently having taken in the chant of creation of the soil of Assam welcome the entire world towards a culture of a new humanism
We need to illuminate the world
Of science and knowledge
We need to bring them together
We need to win over all enemies who oppose this union
We need to bring the victory of this union
Down to this earth
We need to fill this world with happiness
Men must prosper and bloom
And we must make this world
Beautiful and fragrant
Let the dawn win
Let the ideology of a great union amongst humans win
That of eternal goodness, eternal bliss
Let this great progress win in every age
Let the eternal beautiful win.
Samyak Ghosh studies Literature and History at Columbia University in New York