“Dante Alighieri and the World”

“There was the endeavour to untangle knots — truth and lie, sin and redemption, piety and lust. There was always the goal to risk all for truth. Take this tercet from Dante Alighieri:

‘When truth looks like a lie,
a man’s to blame
Not to sit still, if he can, and
hold his tongue,
Or he’ll only cover his
innocent head with shame.’

“Scribes and great TV anchors, who can give a spin to any development, should heed the lines. We need to take sides when truth stares you in the face. In Canto III, some angels did not take sides when Satan revolted, but timorously sat on the fence. They were placed lock, stock and barrel in Hell. The colourless mediocrities most of us are, get short shrift. He talks about the ‘sorry souls who won neither praise nor blame for the lives they led’. Of course, the first words we learnt of Dante’s Inferno, as students, were ‘All hope abandon, ye who enter here’, the inscription on the gates of Hell. During the lockdown, I thought that the three translations of Dante I possess should be put to good use. One hoards books and never reads them, though 20 years back I had read Dorothy Sayers’ fine translation of Inferno my father had left me. Michael Palme’s translation is better. What Dante did was mind-boggling. The entire European civilisation was placed before the reader, from Greek legends onwards. You have a full canto on the Dis, which is his word for the underworld. The river Lethe, Acheron the boatman who herds the souls who drop: ‘So from the bank there one by one drop all… As drops the falcon to the falconer’s call.’ The eighth circle gets flatterers (half our political parties would be in trouble, praising the 8 pm lockdowns, or the two-line denunciations by Rahul G). There are also soothsayers in the same circle (good grief, our Chandraswamis with red tilaks and rudraksh malas!). Actually, you can’t honestly exclude we Indians from any inferno you can devise.”    –Keki Daruwalla, The Tribune, August 2, 2020