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Time’s Face in Literature Science and Philosophy


Time in Literature
Great literatures bear the testimony of time though they transcend it. The oldest surviving literature is the Rig-Veda and then comes the epics: Ramayana, Mahabharata, Iliad and Odyssey. The stories in epics with various ramifications- plots and subplots- belong to the time of Valmiki, Vyasa and Homer. Yet they transcend their time and remain popular with the people for their humanitarian appeal and universal acceptance. Many writers and poets have adapted them to their literary framework for further developments.
     In olden age poetry was the natural literary expression. Poetry represents the eternal with pithy sayings in sublime language whereas the fictions depict the bare and rustic reality of temporal nature though sometimes they too transcend its border to touch the eternal. The prose, particularly fiction; short stories and novels, are of modern origin.
     The great poets like Dante Alighieri and Virgil still live like Shakespeare after hundreds of years. They were of the time and beyond time. Some such characteristics of time we find in Russian literature. Lev Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Mikhail Solokhov’s Quiet Flows the Don bear the testimony of the historic time but they pass beyond it as great human documents for all time. Thomas Hardy is considered as the primitive, naïve and ethnocentric. His novels with regional flavour are of a particular time; they remain as recorders of their time. So was Tarasharkar Bandopadhyay, the great Indian novelist, who depicted the story and culture of his region in the Birbhum district of West Bengal through his intimate experience of the land and people of his time and place in a way that remains as historical record of the transition of rural India stepping into the urban; in the process of urbanisation. His creations are so unique, recording the pangs and pains of a transitory age that no one comes near him in detailing life of rural India so vividly after him; his predecessors were Saratchandra Chattopadhyay and Munshi Premchand. His works have been compared to those of Thomas Hardy.
     Times of some generations are tasted in dream sequence by creating illusion in Gabriel Gratia Marquize’s One hundred years of Solitude. Marcel Proust ventures into forgotten past. “Thousand and one Arabian Nights” have covered many more nights of peoples of other countries. Some modern novelists create “magical realism” to record time in the absence of their practical experience of the people and their time.
     Time in Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri, the spiritual epic, begins like this-
It was the hour before the Gods awake.
. . . .
A fathomless zero occupied the world.
. . . .
A thought was sown in the unsounded Void,
A sense was born within the darkness’ depths,
A memory quivered in the heart of Time
As if a soul long dead were moved to live:
. . . .
The thousand peoples of the soil and tree
Obeyed the unforeseeing instant’s urge,
And, leader here with his uncertain mind,
Alone who stares at the future’s covered face,
Man lifted up the burden of his fate.

And Savitri too awoke among these tribes,
That hastened to join the brilliant Summoner’s chant.
. . . .
Her soul arose confronting Time and Fate.
Immobile in herself, she gathered force.
This was the day when Satyavan must die. (Sri Aurobindo/Savitri/1-10)
     At the beginning of the epic poem Usha or the dawn ushers in the day. At this time the temples are lit, Gods are worshipped for the first time in the day in India and elsewhere such temples exist. Quoting a few lines I have tried to make the event lively and meaningful, as they are in Sri Aurobindo’s work. This physical dawn is symbolic as it coincides with another awakening in the life of Satyavan and Savitri. Savitri is a member of the tribe called man. Only a human, the leader of all living creatures, stares with curiosity at the covered face of the future for the human alone is concerned about it. Savitri looks at the face of the future. Satyavan is fated to fall on this day. Savitri intuitively prepares herself for the challenge, gathering force. This day forecasts another journey across the earth and heaven until a job most serious is accomplished. The whole of the epic covers this journey and its result.
     The span of the drama in Savitri and Satyavan’s life is complete within the day- from dawn up to the end of the night, before the next dawn, as predicted in the first canto. But there remain many things to happen on earth and heaven, in the abode of the Lord of Death.
     Earthly events are shown in flash back and the whole drama of Savitri’s struggle to bring back Satyavan from the clutches of Death happens in the other world beyond earth’s time, hence not counted as part of the earthly day but beyond it. Time has special significance in “Savitri”.
     The idea here is not to dwell exclusively on literature but to go deeper into the heart of time in which literature lives.
Catching the Time
Can we catch the time? Yes, in our circle on earth, with certain sights and sounds, some smells, with intuitive reckoning. Our biological clock tells us the rhythm of our body machines, body clock the time of our waking up from bed or our diurnal duties remind us of the time as it approaches. The smell of certain flowers at certain times tells us the time. A quivering ray of the Sun on the cornice or its position in the sky tells us the time of the day. And many people can tell the time in the evening or night, observing the sky; the position of the moon and stars and other objects. But all these are dividing the time in our clock, devised to record the on going time as a result of the rotation of earth, moon, Sun and such bodies, in their own way.
     From the beginning of civilization the scientists and philosophers were bewildered as they became aware of the presence of time and space invisibly, besides many other objects of nature surrounding them and questioned their cause and effect. The big questioners and discoverers were mostly scientists who had a concrete base behind their questions and findings. There were philosophers too who tried to find the answers rather than putting the questions.
     But time is not so broken, so circled by the earth, even by the universe. It is beyond. We shall try to catch a glimpse of it, beginning with the latest prophet, going backward towards the ancient time keepers.
Stephen Hawking’s Scientific Speculation
Stephen Hawking, the great living British scientist, has tried to probe the existence of time, space and other things in his A Brief History of Time.
     He says that “There are at least three different arrows of time. First, there is the thermodynamic arrow of time, direction of time in which disorder or entropy increases. Then there is the psychological arrow of time. This is the direction in which we feel time passes, the direction in which we remember the past but not the future. Finally there is the cosmological arrow of time. This is the direction of time in which the universe is expanding rather than contracting.” (Hawking/153)
     “To summarise”, he writes, “the laws of science do not distinguish between the forward and backward directions of time.” (Hawking/160)
     He says that the thermodynamic and psychological arrows are essentially the same and that intelligent beings can exist only in the expanding phase. “The no boundary proposal for the universe predicts the existence of a well defined thermodynamic arrow of time because the universe must start off in smooth and ordered state.” (Hawking/160-61)
     The concluding chapter of the book, “Conclusion”, is interesting because he cannot arrive at any conclusion which seems quite natural for a scientist with a materialistic bend of mind in the absence of any definite clue.
     “When we combine quantum mechanics with general relativity, there seems to be a new possibility that did not arise before: that space and time together might form a finite, four dimensional space without singularities or boundaries, like the surface of the earth but with more dimensions . . . . But if the universe is completely self-contained, with the singularities or boundaries, and completely described by a unified theory, that has profound implications for the role of God as creator.” (Hawking/184)
     But this conclusion is revolting for a scientist. So he concludes by putting a volley of questions, may be to God himself: “Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing? Is the unified theory so compelling that it brings about its own existence? Or does it need a creator, and, if so, does he have any other effect on the universe? And who created him?” (Hawking/184)
     A god seeker also may have these questions but Stephen is a bit frustrated and tells, in keeping with his scientific pride, “The people whose business is to ask why, the philosophers, have not been able to keep up with the advance of scientific theories. . . .  Philosophers reduced the scope of their enquiries so much that Wittgenstein, the most famous philosopher of this century, said, ‘The sole remaining task for philosophy is the analysis of language.’ What a comedown from the great tradition of philosophy from Aristotle to Kant!” (Hawking/185)
     But Hawking is not arrogant. Humorous and understanding, he has a rational personality. He remembers that scientific theories are always susceptible to changes though many of the broad scientific discoveries and ideas are guiding us. He mentions in the book that Newton and Einstein committed mistakes and admits that he too committed mistakes. He admits at the beginning- “Any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis: you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory.” (Hawking/11)
Concept of Time in the Veda
It is seen that by scientists and philosophers he meant only Western scientists and philosophers. From this it seems that he perhaps cannot believe that most of the great Oriental philosophers realised God and knew things by identity, that they too wrote great philosophical treatises, not just religious books prescribing rituals, that some of them were great adepts in astronomy, astrology and mathematics, that Vedic mathematics is a great subject, being explored by some great scholars. Let us now turn our attention briefly to this.
     In reply to his disciple’s “I don’t believe in astrology”, the yogi Yukteswar Giri answered, “It is never a question of belief, the only scientific attitude one can take on any subject is whether it is true. The law of gravitation worked as efficiently before Newton                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          as after him. The cosmos would be fairly chaotic if its laws could not operate without the sanction of human belief . . . . All parts of creation are linked together and interchange their influences. The balanced rhythm of the universe is rooted in reciprocity.” (Yogananda/168-169)
     Paramhansa Yogananda referred to an article pubished in “East-West” (Los Angeles) in February 1934, with a summary of “Jyotish” or body of Vedic astronomical treatises. He quotes, “It contains the scientific lore which kept India at the forefront of all ancient nations and made her the Mecca of seekers after knowledge. The very ancient “Brahmagupta”, one of the ancient Jyotish works is an astronomical treatise dealing with such matters as the heliocentric motion of the planetary bodies in our solar system,
the obliquity of the ecliptic, the earth’s spherical form, the reflected light of the moon, the earth’s daily axial revolution, the presence of fixed stars in the Milky Way, the law of gravitations and other scientific facts which did not dawn in the Western World until the time of Copernicus and Newton.” (Yogananda/168)
     According to ancient or ‘Sanatana’ Hindu scripture, the time is divided into equinotical cycles of ascending and descending Arc, each divided into four Yugas; ‘Kali’, ‘Dwapara’, ‘Treta’ and ‘Satya’, corresponding to the Greek ideas of four ages; Iron, Bronze, Silver and Golden Ages, wrote Yogananda. He has mentioned that a series of 13 articles of Sri Yukteswar’s ‘Yuga theory’ was published in the above magazine, “East-West” from September 1932 to September 1933. Yukteswar calculated each cycle to be of 24000 years. The ancients calculated the life of the universe too which was in terms of many lakh solar years, corresponding to the present scientific speculation extending to many millions years. But ironically, none of us will remain to see the truth of such calculations extending to billions of years which has been described as few twinkles of an eye of ‘Brahma’, the supreme Indian Godhead of creation, for our time and the divine time beyond the spheres of the universe do not match.
He is not slain in the slaying of the body (“Na Hanyate Hanyamane Sharire”)
When we come to the divine reality, as realised by the Rishis of the lore, it remains in essence inexpressible for he is beyond any earthly conception, he is beyond time, he is the Time. The God is essentially timeless and featureless.
     “The wise One is not born, neither does he die: he came not from any where, neither is he any one: he is unborn, he is everlasting, he is ancient and sempiternal: he is not slain in the slaying of the body.” (Sri Aurobindo/Upanishad/248)
     “Lo we have beheld Him and He is the Beginning and the Cause of all causes whereby these elements meet together and form ariseth; the past, the present and the future are this side of Him. Time hath no part in Him.
     “Let us worship the Ancient of Days, for in our own hearts He sitteth. Let us wait upon God who must be adored, for the world is His shape and the universe is but His
becoming.” (Sri Aurobindo/Upanishad/377)
     We may place side by side the Upanishadic lore:
“There the sun cannot shine and the moon has no luster: all the stars are blind: there our lightnings flash not, neither any earthly fire. For all that is bright is but the shadow of His brightness and by His shining all this shines.” (Sri Aurobindo/Upanishad/261)
And the realised words of the Chinese philosopher Lao Tse-
     “Tao is in us. Tao is in repose . . . . The true sages follow the Teaching without words, that which remains unexpressed. And who will ever express it? Those who know what Tao is, don’t speak of it, those who speak, don’t know it.” (Wu Wei/7)  
     “Tao is neither good, nor bad: Tao is real. Tao alone is . . .” (Wu Wei/9)
Time is Eternity of the Eternal
We now come to Sri Aurobindo’s Magnum Opus, The Life Divine, to look at Time. It too is looking at time in the same way as the Upanishad and Lao Tse but in a comprehensive way.
     “He is the Timeless and Time; he is Space and all that is in space; he is Causality and the cause and the effect . . . . All realities and all aspects and all semblances are the Brahman; Brahman is the Absolute, the transcendent and incommunicable, the Supracosmic Existence that sustains the cosmos, the cosmic Self that upholds all beings, but it is too the self of each individual . . . . the Brahman alone is, and because of It all are, for all are the Brahman . . . . it is by his Shakti, his Conscious Power, that he manifests himself in Time and governs the universe.” (Sri Aurobindo/The Life Divine/ 324-25)
     And here time is explicitly defined:    
     “The cardinal fact is that any given Time or Space or any given Time-Space as a whole is a status of being in which there is a movement of the consciousness and force of the being, a movement that creates or manifests events and happenings; it is the relation
of the consciousness that sees and the force that formulates the happenings, a relation inherent in the status, which determines the sense of Time and creates our awareness of Time-movement, Time-relation, Time-measure. In its fundamental truth the original status of Time behind all its variations is nothing else than the eternity of the Eternal, just
as the fundamental truth of Space, the original sense of its reality, is infinity of the Infinite.” (Sri Aurobindo/The Life Divine/362)
     This “Brahman alone is” or “Tao alone is”- seems to be the answer to all questions raised by Stephen, like, “why does the universe go to all the bother of existing? Is the unified theory so compelling that it brings about its own existence? Or does it need a creator, and, if so, does he have any other effect on the universe? And who created him?
     In our limited world in dealing with the temporal we could catch the time in our clock, in our sense-mind but coming to the eternal we find no time in eternity, as no space in infinity; they remain only in relation to our consciousness. The tiny timepiece vanishes from our table.
Time walks with us
The path of time has not been defined. Scientists cannot catch it entirely. Looking at time from a different perspective we find that we are not out of it but in it. Time walks with us catching one of our fingers. A yogi may be free from the clutches of time for he lives in other regions of consciousness. An idiot, a mad or a nincompoop does not understand the implications of time in his life. Together they walk but are not aware of it. Every one else with some awareness and common sense, living a worldly life, realizes the effect of time on his or her body, the tangible call of time at different phases of life; the definite mark of
ageing finally leading to death. True that many do not catch the vibrations of time; the current of its passing through his body, touching his sense and mind till a time when his hairs start graying and falling, teeth beginning to lose hold and legs shaking. Many remain unaware of his age like an uncouth country man of the time past.
     The modern time is sharper. Men look sharp. There is no denying that time is passing keeping us witness to Nature all around us, witness to conditions of our neighbours, witness to changing phases of market economy. We act and react with each happening though most of us act passively.
     More a modern man is sharp more he looks at himself, compares his position to the others; ambition pulls him further. Whatever one is one may further progress. A moneyed
man may want more money, a man of reputation by birth, family connection and heritage work to gain more reputation. The more one knows more he runs after knowledge. In every field of life’s business; politics, sports, professional jobs, acting, industry or agriculture, one may always go higher and higher.
     One is bound to recognize his self-limitations, earlier or later, at least inwardly. But there is no cause for frustration for everyone has some quality latent in him which may bloom in time with proper care. One has to know it. On the other hand though some lucky ones may by nepotic push and pull, by traditional opportunity, by political favour or by utilising some other privileges like caste preference or caste reservation unduly go up the ladder, it must be noted that they too suffer from the laws of limitation. Push and pull cannot take one much beyond his capacity. He runs the risk of failing miserably, falling into ditch today or tomorrow. His rise and fall harms the society. So please go naturally, go smoothly to get what is your due. If you do not get what is legitimately due to you fight for it, surely.
     In a competitive world situation one has to run to gain his or her position to the maximum extent. And in such a run time runs with him. All of us run but if we fall back time will go ahead leaving us on the road side. So the modern man has learnt the phrase- ‘Time Management’, to plan how to achieve the best in a limited time frame. But it is no guarantee that such a rat race will take us to the heights. “Keep time, look sharp, manage your time- okay but one needs to know that time is something extremely impersonal. It waits for none, it honours everyone. Wastage of time may be a barrier to all progress and wise use of it may give us the joy of freedom.
     Here one has to pause; what is progress? What is defeat in life? Is it best to always run to gain something materialistic or is it better to wait and see, to look back sometimes? Is it worthy of us to relax and enjoy the time in entertainment? A competitive man may answer-“No” but it may be healthy to say, “Yes”. These are some of the very important and core points to ponder over. And they take us to the other areas away from time. All these are part of our literature, the literature we create in ourselves which mostly remain unexpressed. Time is in literature and beyond it. Time is in us and beyond us. 

Work Cited
1. Savitri. Sri Aurobindo. Pondicherry; SABCL; Sri Aurobindo Ashram.1970. V. 28.
2. A Brief History of Time. Stephen Hawking. Great Britain; Bantam Books. 1989.
3. Paramahansa Yogananda. Autobiography of a Yogi. 1946. Mumbai; Jaico Publishing House. Reprint.
4. Sri Aurobindo. The Upanishads. Pondicherry; SABCL. Sri Aurobindo Ashram. 1972. V-12. Katha Upanishad. Pondicherry; SABCL. Sri Aurobindo Ashram. 1972. First Cycle: Second Chapter, No.18.
5. Sri Aurobindo. The Upanishads. Shweashwatara Upanishad. Chapter 6. No.5; alternate version.
6. Sri Aurobindo. The Upanishads. Katha Upanishad. Second Cycle: Second Chapter, No.15.
7. Wu Wei. Translation: Shyamsundar. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo’s Acion. 1997.
8. Sri Aurobindo. The Life Divine. Pondicherry; SABCL. Sri Aurobindo Ashram. 1970. Vol.18.

() Aju Mukhopadhyay
Aju Mukhopadhyay, Pondicherry, India, is an award winning bilingual poet, author of fiction and non-fiction works and critic. He has authored 30 books and has received several poetry awards, besides other honours from India and abroad. Many of his works have been translated in Indian and foreign languages and anthologised. There are seven books which include discussions on his poetry. He has written essays on more than 40 scholarly books on literature and allied subjects like wildlife, Nature and environment. He has been in the editorial boards of some serious literary journals. He has participated in 30 national and international literary and tribal life conferences. A member of the Research Board of Advisors of the American Biographical Institute, he has travelled across Asia, Europe, America and Africa. 




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