Poet's prism

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PeoplePoet-novelist Sunil Gangopadhyay says it is important to see Rabindranath Tagore in perspective

WORDSMITHSunil Gangopadhyay
WORDSMITHSunil Gangopadhyay

Rabindranath Tagore is the flavour of the season. What is so unusual, some might ask, considering he has been the all weather poet-author-painter for almost a century! Well, a little under a hundred years after Tagore won the Nobel prize, he is no longer a demi god. It is indeed possible to talk of Tagore and not take sides, analyse the merit of his work. Distance in time has given rise to cool appraisal.

Doing as much is seasoned poet-novelist Sunil Gangopadhyay, a man never short of words. Or guts to express them. “It is possible to have a discussion about Tagore today. I have always encouraged frank discussion without malice. At one time it was impossible to criticise Tagore; today we analyse his works. We appreciate some portions of his writings better, we may not appreciate some others. Personally, I would say, his poems today seem dated, the flavour of the language is lost. But his short stories retain the spirit.”

Such a statement might rankle many, but Gangopadhyay, in the Capital for a three day seminar on the 150{+t}{+h}birth anniversary of Tagore, feels things were far worse when he was young. “In our youth, we were against Tagore. We were called rebels. There were two kinds of poets: those who followed Tagore were called real poets, we were called modern poets. The term was used with an air of condescension.”It is often said that Tagore, for all his greatness, reached the heights he did at least partially because of he was feted by the West. Gangopadhyay agrees. “That is the way in our country with all things and people. Tagore too was first recognised by the West, then we realised his worth.” But isn't it true that the West liked his works because it was looking for the uplifting spirituality of the Orient? “It is true to some extent. Particularly after World War-I, the West found solace in his poems. Later that sense of peace and solace went against him. But after Tagore got the Nobel Prize, there used to be euphoria about everything related to Tagore, not just his writings. The West took him to be some kind of a seer. People started studying his life, his thinking, his ideology.”

Gangopadhyay, though, is not opposed to any celebrations about Tagore. As he reveals, “Tagore was a prolific writer. Wonder of wonders, how could he compose 2200 songs, write 1400 poems, 12 novels, 50 short stories, more than 10 plays, besides poetry for children and innumerable letters! And in the later period of his life, he had become a famous painter and got acceptance in the West as a modern painter!”

For all the fascination of the West with Tagore, isn't it true that Tagore in Bengali is many notches higher than Tagore in English or in any translation available?

The affable writer with more than 200 books under his belt — Satyajit Ray made films on his works “Pratidhwani” and “Aranyer Din Raatri” — agrees. “It is true. Tagore's songs cannot be translated. To appreciate Tagore fully, you have to know Bengali. Otherwise, you will only appreciate him partially.” His words echo the experience of renowned poet-lyricist Gulzar, who learnt Bengali to read Tagore!

So, what does one take home from all the celebrations coinciding with Tagore's anniversary? “I don't think there can be one message or value. But with all the discussions, exhibitions, dance-drama etc, there may be a desire to know Tagore better. And reading Tagore may help you to know literature better. Of course, it is always better to see things in proper perspective.” The words of the Saraswati Samman winner merit attention.





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