Bengal says Tagore remains a tree sheltering people in difficult times

Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore | Photo Credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Nature — celebrated in its various forms and moods by Rabindranath Tagore — decided to assert itself with pre-cyclonic rains in Bengal as it celebrated the poet’s birthday, which falls on the 25th day of the month of Baisakh and therefore usually varies from the English date of May 7.

People from both West Bengal as well as Bangladesh, poetic in their tribute to modern India’s tallest literary figure on his 161st birth anniversary, asserted that Tagore remained the large banyan tree under which almost every Bengali-speaking person sought either joy or shelter. The general consensus — as numerous celebrations took place in this part of the subcontinent—was that his thoughts and his works, far from being outdated, were even more relevant today.

“Our Tagore eats popcorn. He watches Netflix. He is today and tomorrow. As we hear a symphony in Berlin, strains of his Bipulo tarango re sail through. As we see Satyajit Ray’s Apu walking, Ami chanchal hey automatically plays in the back of our minds. As we read Harry Potter, we find him sitting beside us. He is an elderly friend, guiding us through good times and bad times,” the musician-duo of Sourendro-Soumyojit, highly popular for their three-part album Tagore and We, told The Hindu.

Writer Parimal Bhattacharya, who today finds Tagore’s pronouncements on nationalism, civilisation, education and environment growing more acutely relevant, discovered the poet rather late in life. “I grew up in a typical bhadralok family. There was the mandatory 27-volume collected works of Tagore, and his picture on the drawing-room wall. Familiarity breeds indifference, and in my early youth I was attracted to Bengali writers like Buddhadeva Bose and Sunil Gangopadhyay, who were vocal critics of Tagore. I discovered the best of Tagore rather late and it was overwhelming: for example, the vigour of his lyrics, which is typically killed in the ways they are sung. I think it’s time we salvaged the essential Tagore from vapid Tagore-isms,” said Mr. Bhattacharya.

On the other hand, what influenced cancer researcher-turned-comics artist Argha Manna was not Tagore’s poetry but his art. “Tagore as a painter intrigued and fascinated me more. To me, he was the best contemporary artist in India, ahead of his time. His art somehow reminds me of art from the pre-Second World War Weimer Republic, Germany. Among different art movements throughout the course of history, the German Expressionism movement makes the deepest impact on me. Tagore’s art resembles the expressionist artist’s work. Not subject-wise or skill-wise, but philosophy-wise. His artworks are examples of raw expression of brain-eye-hand coordination,” Mr. Manna said.

Ahead of time; timeless — these are tributes that came from across the border in Bangladesh as well. While Dhaka-based photographer Jannatul Mawa said that Tagore propagated eco-friendliness long before the world began to discover eco-friendly ways of living; educationist Hena Sultana, associated with the Narayanganj-based Kumudini Welfare Trust, called him a time-conquering tree that sheltered people during sudden rains. “It so happens that I am right now in Khulna, quite close to the village where his wife hailed from,” Ms. Sultana said. Ms. Mawa added: “His songs offer solutions to life’s problems — they serve as a manual for life. His words made it easier for me to cope with the pandemic.”

Kolkata-based singer Ratna Basu specialises in Sufi songs and doesn’t sing Rabindra Sangeet, but it is Tagore’s words that see her through difficult times. “He is the ultimate refuge — his wisdom, his spirituality. During his lifetime he gracefully accepted the deaths of several loved ones, such strength is not easy to find and it shines through his songs. I find that strength very inspiring,” Ms. Basu said.

For retired school teacher Anubha Mukherjee, Tagore defines her “existence, emotions, sentiments, and what not”. She said: “We continue to find his voice everywhere around us. We can hear him asking us to respect nature, we can hear him tell us how to transcend from sorrow to joy, we can hear him say how oppressors are ultimately defeated by the unity of people.”

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Printable version | Jun 15, 2022 11:55:28 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/bengal-says-tagore-remains-a-tree-sheltering-people-in-difficult-times/article65398235.ece