"These memoirs are not meant to be mere detached descriptions of incidents nor reportage of my own life story or the life stories of other. They are emotional journeys begun with the purpose of recreating those moments in which I shared and lived the feelings and experiences of other."
A Pilgrimage to the Himalayas (Smriti ki rekhyam) is a curious mix of memoirs, sketches and essays. Ably translated, it describes India as it was before independence through a series of encounters. As fluid and absorbing as stories, the portraits are marked by a deep sense of authorial empathy.
Also, rarely have the common people of that period been represented so vividly and the work gives us remarkable insight into their modes of thought, social norms and religious beliefs-in the process of being redefined but still faithfully pursued by the simple folk who believed in the permanence of the old ways.
About the Author
Essentially a poet, Mahadevi Varma (1907-1987) also distinguished herself as a painter and a writer of sensitive pen-portraits in prose. Unlike her contemporaries, she was not a very prolific writer and was content with a few publications in prose and verse. These include Nihar, Rashmi, Sandhya Git (Lyrics), Atit ke Chalchitra and Shrinkhala ki Kadiyan (prose). The focus in her prose is generally on the disinherited poor people of India, fettered by tradition, ignorance and miserable poverty. Mahadevi Varma was honoured with the country's highest literary honour, Jnanpith.
The present age's focus on science and rationalism lessens the significance of the emotions because it is feared that they can render men incapable of clear judgement. Despite this trend, man continues to be a mysterious creation equipped with both heart and mind, and has become neither a robot nor a computer. By mere wishing, he cannot experience feelings of joy or sadness, nor become compassionate or cruel. But those emotions, which cannot be roused by man's total environment, can sometimes be generated by small elements in a significant circumstance. Literature is born out of such moments.
Many facets of this world are so mysterious that they seem incomprehensible and we are unable to rationalize them. Only the emotional side of our nature is able to perceive truths that are beyond logic, and can thus make them decipherable to society. The communication of a society's values comes to us in this way, and literature creates and preserves these values. A writer, although bound by the externals of his environment, is free in his vision of life. That is why the literature of all countries and languages has had the same basic aim. Apart from critical essays, all my writing has sprung from my own sensitive response to what I have seen and therefore my individual creative efforts have been transmutable into a reality which embraces humankind.
During my life's journey, the incidents and individuals that influenced me have become a part of my emotional world. From time to time, in order to relive these emotions, I have written my sketches. It is beyond human capacity to bring back incidents from the past, but it is possible to rejuvenate the deep emotions generated by these incidents Literature and the arts are like festivals of emotion for the human heart, and by participating in these a person is able to shed sadness and lethargy.
My memoirs are not meant to be mere detached descriptions of incidents, nor reportage of my own life story or the life stories of others. Rather, they are emotional journeys begun with the purpose of recreating those moments in which I shared and lived the feelings and experiences of others. When we are able thus to restructure in our minds the happiness or sadness of others, we can widen our emotional horizons and gain a clearer and move expanded life view.
The characters found in my memoirs are outwardly simple people and helpless creatures, but on a deeper level they can be seen as symbols of eternal and primordial truths. I am glad to have had the good fortune to know them. They are not playthings to be displayed by a magician in an auditorium. Observing life. I am reminded of the saying from the epic Mahabharata.' Nothing is greater than man.
The work of a translator is more difficult than the work of the writer himself, for he has the task of transmuting the living images of one language into those of another. Every language reflects a society's mind and heart throughout its history. That is why attempting to put the ideas of one language into another is like attempting to transplant the fragrance of one flower on to another. The translators of this volume, Lillian and Radhika Prasad Srivastava, have worked with great devotion. I am happy that they have been so successful in the difficult task of getting into someone else's mind and heart.
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