WRITE ANGLEThe creative outpourings of Rabindranath Tagore are being celebrated with outpourings about him
The 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore provided the literary world with more than a moment or two for rejoicing. Not sterile celebrations meant for idle pleasure but an intellectually stimulating engagement with the thoughts and values of Gurudev. There has been skilful appreciation and remarkable forthrightness, with authors expressing their thoughts on the literary guru who believed that the true rebirth of a civilization comes not from “a deadly pursuit of power” but “from expression of its inner heart”.
Some might believe that the celebrations went on too long, but the publishers were not complaining! Over 40 titles hit the market and even the translators have had a great run with some of them, adding as many as half a dozen works under their name! Short stories were translated into English and various Indian languages, poetic works were dug up, his painting skills analysed and his spiritual calling revealed. Who would mind reading Tagore in English, or any other language, if Bengali is not your preferred language of communication?
Tagore suffered from no problems of excess either. The media might have shown a tendency to tire; not so the common reader. The result? Many books, notably Amit Chaudhari’s On Tagore and a number of translations and coffee-table versions, registered brisk sales. Interestingly, Chaudhari, himself wasn’t keen that his book of essays should be released as part of the birth anniversary celebrations.
While predictably, there have been grey-around-the-head academics analysing threadbare Tagore’s contribution to literature, art, drama and the like, a refreshing trend has emerged with relatively young writers paying tributes to Tagore, proving once and for all that Tagore’s appeal transcended many generations. Across two ends, one got a chance to see two different ways of looking at the genius of Tagore.
At the high end of spectrum we have had the widely respected scholar Tan Chung, who edited “Tagore and China” (published by Sage), wherein he calls him a kind of a “golden bridge” between India and China. “Not here, not here, elsewhere, some other place’. Where are you now, My Dear Gurudev? We love you -- we claim you our ‘Rubidada’, we follow your footsteps in the pilgrimage to international humanity and beyond”.
The tribute, at once, offers a broad perspective on Tagore, going beyond his contribution to Indo-China understanding to a wider global platform. The book also talks of Tagore’s contribution to poetry in China, how his works unleashed a fresh wave of independent poetic soirees, how he even invited Chinese painter Xu Beihon to Santiniketan and the like.
“Tagore inspired early 20th Century Chinese poetry,” Chung writes, adding that Tagore shared with China the dawn of a great Renaissance. Keeping Tan Chung company has been the peerless Amartya Sen who has penned a few words in the same volume and an introduction to Boyhood Days (published by Penguin). There were also the incisive words of the ever dignified Mahasweta Devi, the engrossing Ramachandra Guha and the eminently likeable William Radice.
While Devi gave an introduction to Radha Chakravarty's translation of The Land of Cards, Radice translated many a short story, The Postmaster being among them. Such has been the surfeit of books on Tagore that even the up-and-coming Niyogi Books came out with 12 titles on the literary giant -- King of Dark Chambers, Gitanjali and The Crescent Mon being among them. Not to forget a pictorial tribute and even a look at his paintings in Versification in Line.
Then there is Rabindranath Tagore: An Interpretation by Sabyasachi Bhattacharya. The well-received and critically acclaimed book focussed on the evolution of Tagore’s intellectual life. It was lucid, non-hagiographical. Much like the series of paperbacks that excited the curiosity of many, and whetted the appetite of a few more.