Should Rabindranath Tagore's legacy have be nourished and kept alive for reasons other than that of eternal relevance of “genuine poetry”?
Addressing this question, Martin Kämpchen, German writer and Tagore scholar from Santiniketan, West Bengal in India, told an international seminar here on Thursday that since Tagore passed away 75 years ago, the world had seen “major transformations.” The end of the “traumatic” Second World War, Partition of India and the collapse of the Communist Block had happened, apart from the evolution of a multitude of new nationalisms in Asia and Europe. “Is this world still akin to the world that Rabindranath Tagore spoke to? Can his voice have any meaning in 2016?”
Giving his reply with an emphatic “yes,” Dr. Kämpchen said “his [Tagore’s] voice, his work has meaning especially today. A major writer like him is always what is called a démoralisateur. He challenged conventional values, he questioned clichéd values during his life-time and continues to do so even in the time after him. He dares us to rise from our dearly held views and look at them with stricter honesty, with a more penetrating mind, with creativity.”
Dwelling upon Tagore’s cosmic consciousness, he said the feature of inclusiveness found in his works had made the poet look at human life, its difficulties and its aspirations, “in surprising freshness and originality.”
Internationalism vs. nationalism
Addressing the gathering that included India’s High Commissioner Y.K. Sinha, the scholar said Tagore’s wholesale of rejection of nationalism made many people go against him, both in India and abroad. Though intellectuals in many countries had argued that nationalism alone could hold their countries together, Tagore was never tired of proposing an internationalism based on ideas and values.
“To read his book Nationalism is useful nowadays while nationalisms again spring up in Asia, Europe and also in the USA.”
In keeping with times
Despite the success of modern post-colonial authors overshadowing Tagore’s legacy, the fact that his works were being reprinted and translated indicated that “he continues to speak to modern readers even seventy five years after his death,” the scholar added.
Pointing out that Tagore had arrived in German-speaking countries after 25 years of efforts and several volumes of translation ranging from his early writings till the end, Dr. Kämpchen suggested to the Centre for Contemporary Indian Studies at the University of Colombo, which organised the seminar along with the Indian Cultural Centre, to launch a programme to hone a translator capable of rendering Bengali poetry into Sinhala.