THE POETICS OF STATUES

Men construct huge structures, make endowments, inscribe their names on monuments, create memorials, demonstrate their authority with seals imprinted with their images, consecrate statues and there by long for permanence.  One of the well known, the Statue of Liberty, has an inscription on its citadel, a sonnet written by Emma Lazarus (1849-1887), “The New Colossus”.  Considered as one of the finest piece of sonnets in English   Literature, in this sonnet Lazarus compares the Statue of Liberty to the Colossus of Rahodes, one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World.  The colossus of Rhodes no longer stands.  Constructed to celebrate the Rhode’s victory over the Cyprus, it was said to be approximately 70 cubits or 33 meters (108 feet) high, the approximate height of the present day Statue of Liberty. Erected by Charles of Lindos in 280 BC, it Collapsed during an earth quake of 226 BC.  Parts of it were preserved, though never rebuilt, it stands as a big question to the endeavors of men or their ideas of permanency!

            But my Statue of Liberty, says Lazarus:

 “Not like the brazen giant of Greek Fame, with conquering limbs astride from land to land;

            Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates  shall stand

            A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

            Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles…..”

Thus describes Lazarus, the Statue of Liberty as the mother of exiles, and as distinguishable from the Colossus of Rhodes.  While Colossus of Rhodes stand for ancient Greek and Roman civilization exhibition the power, authority and victory in a war, the Statue of Liberty, says Lazarns, stands for Compassion, a Mother of Exiles !

            “Keep ancient lands, your storied

            Pomp!” Cries she

            With silent lips, “Give me your tired, your poor,

            Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

            The wretched refuse of your teeming shore

            Send these, the homeless, tempest – tossed to me,

            I lift my lamp beside the golden door! “

            But is she now the same, personification of Liberty as Lazarus so passionately praised? When the doors are shut to immigrants, and walls are erected with the neighbouring states, is she the same who cried “Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” and invited those tired poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free? Lazarus’ claims also their luster?

            Statues stand higher and higher.  Competitive devotees clamour for lengthier, stronger, higher idols to consecrate their Gods, Kings and Gurus, owned or appropriated.  Now the ancients are also in the race of surpassing all that is tall in the world.  Sardar, one of the triumvirate of the freedom struggle with Gandhi and Nehru, standing as the Statue of Unity, a new Colossal, bigger than his mentor in the very land of the mentor, 182 meters high, on the river island constructed by a Multinational Company, with the aid of a much tainted Public Sectors’ money consuming about Rs.3,000/- crores of a developing India, looking down condescendingly his mentor and all his Comrades-in-arms or with inexplicable consternation?   Housing within his steel frame, reinforced concrete and bronze cladding exhibition, garden museum, and with all the potential of inviting thousands of tourists.  Challenging many including the Spring Temple Buddha, he occupies now more than two hectares, which probably might not have ventured to occupy while alive !.

            There is another statue, which also stood for power and authority, the statue of Egyptian King Ozymandias.

            P.B. Shelly (1792-1822), in “Ozymandias” reveals the nature and state of statue.

 “I met a traveler from an antique land on the sand, who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert….. Near them,

Half sunk, a sheltered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,…..

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:

‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Nothing beside remains. Round the / decay / Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Ozymandias, the ancient Egyptian King, now known as Ramesses II, regarded as the greatest and most powerful Egyptian Pharaoh now stands as ‘two vast and trunkless legs of stone’, conveying ephemeral nature of human pursuits, with the civilizations themselves disappearing into a whisper.

Here is a response to Shelly, by his contemporary Keats (1795-1821) – “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, describing the Time’s irrelevance to the physical, with a suggestion that it is the art that is anti-dote of this impermanence of time.  The art on the Grecian Urn, a decorative pot from   ancient Greece, survives the test of time.  Empires, Emperors, Civilizations and Cultures appear, and again disappear traceless but the piece of art remains.

“Thou still unravishid bride of quietness,

Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,

……

What men or gods are these? What /  maidens loth?

What mad pursuit? What struggle to / escape?

What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

……

When old age shall this generation waste,

Thou shalt remain, in midst of other / woe

Than ours, a friend to man, to whom / thou say’st,

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is / all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

            The earth is limited.  The life is limited.  But the beauty of an art transcends time and space.  A life gets immortalized by art. In one of the best descriptions of a noble person our ancient sage–poet and grammarian, Bhirtrhari, writes:

            “Keyurani na bhushayanti purusham

            hara na chandrojjwalah

            Na snanam na vilepanam na

            Kusuman nalankrta murdhajah

            Vanyeka samalankorati purusham

            Ya samskrta dharyate

            Kshiyante Khalu bushanani

            Statam vagbhusanam bhusanam”

Anklets, bracelets, necklesses, bath, smearing of sandal or wearing flowers and garlands, well dressed hair – do not add to the value of a true man.  Only the words uttered, even that rendered with culture, adds to the beauty of a nobel man.  All that glittering ornaments vanish, and what remains is the beauty of the words spoken. Will the statue do?

We remember Sardar as one of the greatest freedom fighters, as the man with absolute integrity, honesty and sincerity of purpose as the greatest adherent to his master Gandhi, as the comrade in arms with Nehru, as the unflinching freedom fighter and as the Iron Man with Iron grit to unifly the nation He is one of the tallest figures of modern Indian history.  Hugeness of his statue distances us from him.  We want to remember the Patel as one that triumvirate – Gandhi, Patel and Nehru –who constituted a formidable force in that anti-colonial struggle, probably one of the best human struggles and liberation movements of the world! The madness to dislocate him with huge structure need not disturb the serious student of freedom struggle of India, to appreciate and re-appreciate his contribution to the nation.

Dr. A Raghu Kumar

                  Advocate