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Time to revisit Tagore, says Ashish Nandy

Special Correspondent
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A new beginning: Writer U.R. Ananthamurthy, Vice-Chancellor of IGNOU V.N. Rajasekharan Pillai and Director of the Department of Kannada and Culture Manu Baligar exchanging a word at the inauguration of the Indira Gandhi National Open University Tagore Chair in Bangalore on Saturday. — Photo: G.P. Sampath Kumar
A new beginning: Writer U.R. Ananthamurthy, Vice-Chancellor of IGNOU V.N. Rajasekharan Pillai and Director of the Department of Kannada and Culture Manu Baligar exchanging a word at the inauguration of the Indira Gandhi National Open University Tagore Chair in Bangalore on Saturday. — Photo: G.P. Sampath Kumar

It is high time the works of Rabindranath Tagore are subjected to a critical and meaningful evaluation, “without the assumption that whatever he wrote was uniformly great”, well-known culture critic Ashish Nandy has said.

Speaking at the inauguration of the Indira Gandhi National Open University's Tagore Chair of Indian Literature here on Saturday, he said that uncritically applauding Tagore had grown into “an industry” and it had done grave injustice to his works. The discourse surrounding Tagore, said Prof. Nandy, was akin to the discourse around Indian democracy as the largest and the greatest. “If our democracy is indeed so great, people should not feel the need to sing its paeans sixty years after Independence. There should have been excellent critical evaluations of it by now, so that our children can live a better version of it,” he said.

Tagore's open critique of nationalism was worth re-visiting in the present context, said Prof. Nandy, citing his seminal work “Gora” written in 1908 as one that reflects the political culture today. Tagore, he added, was the only person in history to have ever been associated with the national anthems of three countries – India, Bangladesh and Srilanka. K. Satchidanandan, Malayalam poet and director of the school of translation studies, also emphasized the need to re-evaluated Tagore since we have already gone through “bouts of celebration and bouts of rejection”, and need to “resurrect a solid Tagore”.

The inauguration was followed by a poetry reading session in which poets from 16 languages participated, with Kannada translations preceding their presentation in the original. The Tagore Chair in Bangalore, to be headed by Kannada writer U.R. Ananthamurthy, will be located at Kannada Bhavan.

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