Never Compare

The Sophomores (2nd year students) of Balliol College, arguably the greatest college in the world under the aegis of Oxford, were recently asked to write their views on " Mozart, Bach and Beethoven: Who's the greatest among them? " Now the very topic is perplexing. Comparisons are always odious. And when it comes to analysing and comparing the symphonies and musical styles of these three giants of western classical music, the task becomes all the more baffling. In the sphere of creativity and fine arts, comparisons are always misleading and never final. It's indeed a pursuit of failure. " Comparisons are basically vilifications. When one compares, one attempts to vilify and run others down in the fray," aptly said Nobel laureate Lesing.

In the early sixties, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Kazi Nazrul Islam and Rabindranath Tagore were being compared by the students of Calcutta's famed Presidency College and the healthy discussion eventually degenerated into a dirty war of words. It became so abusive that the Calcutta University and Amrita Bazar Patrika  had to intervene and request to stop the senseless comparisons which started savouring of prejudices and coteries. What began with a purely innocuous literary intention, turned into something very volatile and undesirable. Almost same happened in the comparative study of Ritwik Ghatak and Satyajit Ray's cinematic genius in the late eighties. Who was more close to reality? Or who was a realist or a sur-realist? It was a bitter analysis with elements of subjectivity, the most crucial ingredient in any comparison. 

Why do we compare? There's a basic human desire to put his / her idol on the highest pedestal and make that person acceptable to all. This is not possible, rather objectively impossible. This also smacks of a morbidly obdurate attitude. The critics of Sir Donald Bradman argue that the great man wasn't very comfortable on sticky wickets and even an irregular bowler like India's Vijay Hazare troubled him with his nagging cutters during India's tour to Oz in 1948 under the stewardship of Lala Amarnath. Hazare even bowled Sir Don twice on the tour.  England's Alec Bedser, perhaps the greatest medium pacer the game has ever seen, dismissed Don nine times in his career and fault-finders say that Don wasn't that good to read the away swing. On this count, English opener Sir Leonard Hutton was greater than him, but even Hutton was not very comfortable against unnerving pace of Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller. This will go on. And there'll never be an end to it. What does one get out of it? Do these perceived errors and chinks in their armour take away their greatness?

Comparisons often highlight the negative side and there's always a sort of sadistic pleasure hidden in it. When a person's compared, his/ her personal life's also unnecessarily publicised. In this way, comparison doesn't restrict itself purely to the skills of that person, but the character also comes in. This is completely uncalled for. I read poets Lord Byron and Robert Browning's comparison in the The Daily Mirror, England. The writer wrote that Byron was an incorrigible womaniser, whereas Browning was a one-woman man. This was wide-off the mark in a comparison. You're not comparing their character. You're comparing their craftsmanship. When we compare Ibsen and Shaw as dramatists, we often highlight their limitations and pit them against an absolute genius playwright like Shakespeare to make them look like pygmies.

This is unfair. Manna Dey, though himself an exponent of classical music, is always compared with his blind uncle, Harikrishna Dey, who was a doyen of classical music. Comparisons are a favourite pastime of people with not much to do. There's no intellectual and creative rigour in it. It's like the perpetual conundrum like who came first: Egg or a hen? Or who's a greater poet: P B Shelly or John Keats? We must never forget that ' Har zarra apni jagah pe aaftaab hai ' (Every particle's sun in its own right). Enjoy the pulp. Don't count the seeds.            
                                                     ------Sumit Paul