You’ll be hard pressed to find a Bengali person that can’t affectionately tell you a little bit about Tagore: a true Bengali hero and the world’s first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.
The best way to describe Rabrindranath Tagore is a polymath, though he is of course most well known for his literature.
[Original Bengali Surname: Thakur & therefore Thakur-ji out of respect]
Learning Tagore’s work has almost become an essential rite of passage for any Bengali.
As youngsters, we’re immersed in Tagore’s work:
1. His poetry in the form of Gitanjali: Song Offerings (which gained him international recognition) & a knighthood (later returned in 1919, in protest at the Amritsar massacre).
2. Or simply learning Jana Gana Mana or Amar Shonar Bangla: the Indian & Bangladesh National Anthems.
Being away from desh (: the homeland) was not enough of an excuse to pass up on this important rite; my mum made sure to teach me Rabrindra-Sangeet from a young age (though she had her work cut out trying to get this painfully shy youngster to perform any song or dance on stage!)
Growing up, I think I took the ability to appreciate Tagore’s Bengali verses for granted. Yet now, I realise that no English translation can even come close to giving his stunning architecture of words the justice they truly deserve.
As the years have gone on, I’ve found myself being inspired & intrigued by more than just Tagore’s literary offerings alone, but rather the subtext that transcends through his essays and drama.
Though Tagore, celebrated as an Indian Nationalist, admired Gandhi, the country’s nationalism icon, he also disagreed with him on several issues and wrote to him on occasion expressing his concerns against organised religion.
Gandhi’s views that the Bihar earthquake killing thousands of was ‘karma’ for the ‘sin of untouchability’ was met with disdain by Tagore. Gandhi’s solution to birth control being abstinence whereas Tagore’s viewed differed, believing in family planning as preferable.
Most interestingly, the way Tagore portrayed females in his work is important. He paints them as complex characters: modern in their desires yet crushed under patriarchy and colonialism.
What I find most interesting is that in a country such as India, these issues are still so deeply relevant yet still seen as ‘taboo’. Yet here, Tagore’s forward thinking, and insight was so far progressed than the society around him gave him credit for.
“So I repeat we never can have a true view of man unless we have a love for him. Civilisation must be judged and prized, not by the amount of power it has developed, but by how much it has evolved and given expression to, by its laws and institutions, the love of humanity.”
Sādhanā: The Realisation of Life, 1916.
Such a talented individual that held so much insight and awareness for the world around him, should be remembered fondly as well as appropriately.
Enter The Tagoreons.
lThe Tagoreons, a non-profit organisation of like-minded individuals, dedicated to keeping Tagore’s spirit & soul alive through song.
And this year, they marked their Golden Jubilee anniversary of just that.
Presenting: Kavi Pranam – Homage to Tagore
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