Rabindranath Tagore – The Poet And The Man An Analytical Perspective
PART 1: TAGORE– THE POET
Introduction: The content presented in this topic had already been published as “RABINDRANATH THAKUR – THE POET AND THE MAN: An Analytical Perspective” in two parts: (1) The Poet, and (2) The Man at NFB following two successive days after the birthday anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore in 2000. At that time this writer had responded to a number of critics besides receiving personal appreciations, and faced baseless challenge from a few ultra-secular despotic cyber characters. This time the writer is presenting nearly the same content having some additions and alterations such that the sequential and chronological events are not disturbed. If there are criticisms of this analysis the writer requests to present them in a logical sense point by point which will be addressed in a professional manner at NFB.] Rabindranath Tagore is the greatest literary figure in Bengali language. He is often regarded as Rabi Thakur or Tagore having a number of revered titles as he remains the only hero in the Bengali language. In a period of over sixty-six years he has generated massive, 40 exactly, volume of literary treaties consisting of at least 1000 poems, some 2800 songs, 400+ short stories, 100+ sonnets, some 100 novels, about 24 dramas and dance-dramas, 8 romantic fictions, and the list goes on. He has also written on philosophy, theology, politics, social questions, autobiographical sketches and memoirs, languages, and even on science and technology.
Like a literary production machine Tagore rolled the pen throughout his self-devoted long career in a wide spread arena of the Bengali literature as a whole and filled much of the empty spots. He was also versatile in translating his own writings into English and used several other languages to translate in Bengali for himself. In the history of mankind, perhaps, there is no other example of such a myriad-minded man concerning contributions in every branch within the literature world. Nobody knows if there could be anyone in the future who would match this genius with such a gigantic versatility and volume. This is what a large section of Bengali-speaking people, living in Bangladesh and in the Indian Province of West Bengal, strongly believes. It takes much of time to go through Rabindranath’s each piece and evaluate them precisely. It is not an easy task to absorb this massive contribution by a single interested reader.
Tagore is also the only global writer who has the honour of having his two distinctly different songs as the National Anthems of two independent countries of the world, India adopting one of his songs in 1947 after achieving independence from the British rule and then Bangladesh adopting another one in 1972 after seceding from Pakistan in 1971. It is an unparallel example of adopting each song as the National Anthem for two countries after his death. Till to date Tagore’s popularity is enormous, though often goes blindly with or without understanding his exact contribution to the Bengali literature.
Throughout West Bengal as a whole and in some scattered levels in Bangladesh, Tagore is considered not only as a writer or as a poet but an unparalleled universal literary genius or giant. Invariably Tagore is still a controversial figure within some levels inside Bangladesh which began in post-independence period from the British in 1947. Till to date many Bangladeshis do not know his name correctly, and then what for he is regarded or revered within Bangladesh this is also not clear. In fact, Tagore is so unfamiliar to the common mass that he needs to be familiarized at all walks of life. This massive population did never get access to read Tagore’s works or visualize the size of his contribution to the Bengali literature.
Thus, acclamatory documents on his works and biographical sketches are being published each year exactly in the manner as his own literary production used to come out from the printing press when he was alive. Most of the Bengali-speaking people are amazed by Tagore’s extra-ordinary talent, and many now accept and often as a religious rite believe, that Tagore was not only a great poet but the “guru of the poets (Kobi-Guru)” and “the poet of the universe (Bishwa-Kobi).” One example of this belief was very loudly and clearly proclaimed by none but one of the most famous writers of the History of Bengali literature, Sukumer Sen. He mentioned profoundly his verdict on Tagore as: "Tagore's poetry is as much Bengali poetry as Indian, and as much Indian as universal, because he has gone to the deepest where the stream of eternal life runs, the ultimate source of creation and continuation of life in every form."
Such commentaries on Tagore are not isolated acclamations but common assertions on the poet by many Bengali-speaking writers and critics, famous and obscure, especially after he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. A careful but neutral judgement on the poet, however, may sadly prove the given dictum very much over exaggerated if not totally nonsense.During the united Pakistan era when Bangladesh was the Eastern part of Pakistan, political leadership of the Western wing and their ruling appointees in the then East Pakistan always down played Tagore’s importance in the Bangladeshi cultural life stating no obvious reason. Thus, they initiated directly in developing a group of irrational and overzealous supporters of Tagore in Bangladesh while this group was concurrently opposing cultural domination by the Western part of Pakistan. There were reasons, rightly or wrongly, for their ill attempt but now Bangladesh is an independent nation and there is no reason why Bangladeshis cannot and should not judge Tagore and evaluate his contributions in proper perspective having neutral vision. What Bengali-speaking population of West Bengal does, that is their business but let Bangladeshis be rational and adjudge Tagore as it is justified.
The Bengali-speaking people strongly believe that Tagore’s contribution to the Bengali literature is great but many of them are dismayed to find the way his greatness has been exaggerated by overzealous Bengali writers and critiques both in West Bengal and in Bangladesh. Thus, a proper evaluation of the fact delineated from the massive volumes of Tagore would place the Bengali-speaking people in a right corner, and then one should see the poet and the man from the global perspective. This is certainly the most desirable approach for every body, both in Bangladesh and in West Bengal as such a correct evaluation would not underscore Tagore’s talent but take leverage, and thereby benefit the global readers to advance more to sanity and less to emotional slants and prejudices.
While considering Tagore’s disposition as a “guru of the poets (or Kobi-Guru)” at all times people seriously need to ponder and see to what extent the underlying concept of this title is globally appropriate. Several serious questions, whatever congenial or unpleasant it may be, need to be addressed to find a correct conclusion. As members of the Bengali-speaking society and also as contemporary global members one needs to do so for the sake of rendering justice to Tagore as well as to the Bengali-speaking people.
Rabindranath was the youngest of the fourteen children of his wealthy parents. He was born in Calcutta on May 8, 1861 (corresponding to 25th Baisakh, 1268 B.S.). Sometimes his birth date is recorded as May 6 or 7, 1861 and often coincides with May 9 for B. S. leap year, but the date in Bangla Saal (B.S.) remains fixed as 25th Baisakh. His father, Debendranath Tagore (known as Maharishi), wanted him to be an advocate but Rabindranath did not like to attend the school. As a student, apparently, he was not very promising either by showing weakness nearly in all the distinct subjects such as Mathematics, History, Geography, etc. Despite visiting England with his father at the age of 7 in 1868 he was reluctant in studying in the regular school. He began learning things at home, and his rich father encouraged his home schooling. Tagore wrote his first verse at the age of 12. His first publication came out when he was 14, and he continued writing relentlessly until he died on August 7, 1941 (corresponding to 22nd Srabon 1348 B.S.).
He had enormous capacity for writing but most of it, sadly, became banal and at best sentimental assertions of themes and substances. When one compares Tagore with other great world class poets and novelists one can easily draw that moderate conclusion. Some critics even described Tagore’s verses as “greeting card poetry.” That is too much to think of a hostile and a very unkind remark. But the fact remains that his poetry has very little originality if one measures his contributions with outstanding poets in other languages like Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) or Goethe (1749 – 1832).
There are many poets in the world those who are more gifted and versatile in many respects than Tagore. Thus, he may be the 'Kobi Guru' in Bengali literary domain but to imply that decoration in world’s literary context, which often some people do, is utter nonsense or absolutely invalid. His novels and dramas are excellent if one compares his works with other Bengali novelists and dramatists but certainly these never come close to Leo Tolstoy’s (1828 - 1910) or George Bernhard Shaw’s (1856 - 1950) class. Both of them overlapped and termed as his contemporary, one being a great novelist and the other an exalted dramatist.
Some people strongly believe that Tagore has annexed many lyrics from Lalan Shah (1773? - 1889), the great mystic of medieval undivided Bengal and put them into new format for which he was a great original master. To collect Lalan’s unwritten poems Tagore conducted rampant search by making payments to the poor peasants, mostly Muslims, across the former district of Kushtia and adjoining areas. This only happened after the demise of Lalan while Tagore became Zamindar of the same district almost at the same time.
Tagore was, indeed, a great craftsman in Bengali language. He knew well as how to modify or repair things and present ingeniously the resulting substance to the audience. It is extremely difficult to corner Tagore and then confirm whether he had been the architect of restructuring and refurbishing the Persian giants having a new appearance such as Ferdousi (940? - 1020?) or Omar Khaiyyam (1050? - 1123?) or Sheikh Sa'adi (1174? – 1291?) or Tabrizi (1184? - 1247?) or Balkhi (?1207 - 1273?) or Hafiz (1320? - 1389?), and vice versa imagining them as contemporaries. Tagore was well-versed in Persian and was always in touch with the works of these Persian giants.
Tagore’s controversy on Lalan Shah (Lalan Fakir) or the aforementioned Persian poets is a kind of illusion to the general readers. Through his great and unchallenged quality craftsmanship Tagore created works and presented them so marvellously that it seemed to be very original, and thereby he did surpass all other writers in Bengali literature of his time and writers to come even until the present day. He had no parallel in Bengali language that could graft words or phrases or use adjectives or verbs or synonyms so appropriately. Indeed he gave a new format and style in the Bengali language. He used many new words of foreign origin in Bengali including their spellings. Also new way to spell several Bengali words had been introduced by him. His way of using words and their spellings are now a kind of norm in Bengali literature.
Overall, Tagore’s expression was new, very graceful, and quite enchanting considering the time-space-era when he started writing in Bengali. It was the time when Bengali was still a developing language and was just getting a solid format with direct help and involvement of many European scholars. In this context it is worthwhile to mention that Sir Drinkwater Bethune (circa 1865) encouraged Michael Modhusudan Dutt (1824 – 1873) after reading “Captive Ladie” to contribute in his mother language rather than spending time on founding English literature. Nevertheless, this was the beginning of the foundation of the Bengali language concerning several directions of literature.
The sonnets of Michael Modhusudan Dutta competed ruthlessly by Tagore, which equalled in number but indeed lacked in quality or skill or underlying appeal to the sophisticated audience. Thus, the number was matched to just about 102 without having versatility or quality. For the sake of matching, Tagore matched the number with Michael Modhusudan nicely but did not achieve the variability or versatility of the sonnets. Invariably the impact as a sonnet writer Tagore does not become the front runner.
The versatility of Michael Modhusudan to compose six distinctly different subjects (or topics) giving dictation simultaneously was totally absent in the myriad quality of Tagore. Invariably Tagore’s handling manner was sequential and rather steady as evidence suggests. Even a miniaturized poet like Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899 – 1976) had the novelty of instant writing and singing a song or generating a poem in front of the public function, and then recite, was utmost rare in Tagore.
Composition of a song in front of public was a sort of panic for this poet Laureate. He needed traditional cushion and writing amusement around him to produce or compose anything he wanted. Indeed Tagore cannot be compared with such extempore production qualities as what inherently Michael or Nazrul had. Michael was heavily influenced by the European literature and he used the concept and the style of Italian, German, French, and English literature freely while Nazrul imported a bunch of foreign words only in his poems and songs giving a new dimension to the Bengali literature making more melodious and rhythmic.
Concerning the production of songs, Tagore provided a unique singular type tune which does not differ drastically from one to the other. Thus, variation is either nearly absent or difficult to visualize in these songs. Common listeners have difficulty in comprehending the essence of Tagore’s songs. These listeners do not find inherent rhythm outright as listening continues. It requires extra miles to digest complete wording before anything is comprehended by any ordinary listener of the music. Thus, unless a listener is equally levelled with Tagore it is extremely difficult to digest the songs for any ordinary fan speaking Bengali language. The nature of rhythm and melody made Nazrul versatile having a large margin of superseding number over Tagore having a broad appealing quality. Such a quality is totally absent in Tagore while the admirers blossom with the heavenly praise of unique one-dimensional melody.
Tagore also read and subsequently drew ideas and themes heavily from Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, and old scriptures including medieval European literary wealth. He had complete access to the contemporary global literature which often became a sort of challenge for him whether to supersede. Is superseding taking place in quality or quantity? As an example, Tagore continued production of short stories regardless of quality and eventually reached a milestone that surpassed Guy Maupassant (1848 – 1893). Only a few out of massive number of short stories are of quality and the rest do not match with other contributors for a single language contribution.
Thus, Bengali-speaking people do not recollect a chunk of the short stories other than about a dozen or so. Only too few to name were attracted by the film makers during his life time. The same situation prevails for the novels as well. But nonetheless Tagore proved to be a formidable poet, novelist, and songwriter in Bengali language. Indeed, once again, nobody came close to him in Bengali literature in generating volumes and thereby quantity alone. At this conjecture one may know that he had extraordinary memory for composing rhymes and generating rhythms which he exercised to produce grafted and crafted products.
Considering both the quantity and the type of quality within Bengali literature alone Tagore is invariably a great figure. However, this cannot make him a single-handed the “greatest of all” dramatist or the novelist or the short-story writer or the poet of the world. Overplaying of things is not good for any single society or even for the mankind. By exaggerating the greatness of Tagore’s works many blind admirers in West Bengal as well as in Bangladesh have made his works laughing objects to serious critiques.
Tagore introduced new style in his texts that was simple in reading or often to understand but highly ornamental, powerful, and obviously to the sharp point. Often the underlying theme is quite difficult to comprehend by an ordinary reader. This was the ornamental aspect of his literary championship. Thus, the first 40 years of the Twentieth Century became Tagore’s nearly unchallenged monopoly. He is the deserving candidate for his great ability of crafting new format for the Bengali language and writing on borrowed ideas and themes from every corner of the world. The borrowed ideas are often so severely masked in the Bengali-speaking world that it is difficult to point out the portions that are modified and ornamented by Tagore. The workmanship is indeed marvellous for Tagore.
Tagore’s inherited wealth allowed him to use the way he wanted to acquire championship. Thus, family wealth helped him to buy fame in England as well as in the Bengali-speaking domain. He kept driving extra miles in the European soil to sell his supremacy before becoming Nobel Laureate. Eventually his hard working salesmanship earned him the eventual fame. But making him the supreme poet of the world must be more fantasy of some generous admirers than any authentic finding of any serious expertise.
The noted glamorous poet, Tagore, is also greatly admired by many blind supporters as the “Bishwa Kobi – the poet of the universe.” But sadly, majority of his poetry do not come to the world class standard if they are truly classified and compared to many other giants in other languages. He has many poems, as some critics wrote, are very good to be “greeting card poetry.”
However, it would be wrong not to appreciate some of his poems and short stories that are indeed top class literary works, and surely has crossed the “Bengali domain” to draw universal appeal. His songs are also very special and it has no doubt won the hearts of both Bengali-speaking and many non Bengali-speaking populations of the world. However, his songs are often too far from the level of understanding for a common Bengali-speaking person. In modern Bangladesh, the essence of the melody and rhythm of the National Anthem is hardly comprehended by its total uneducated people including a large cross-section of the educated group.
The educated group of Bangladesh tries hard to pronounce as correctly as possible for the National Anthem but it had hardly gained popularity in over the last three decades. The generic phase lag in utterances of the phrases of this Anthem is overall tedious. It is absolutely difficult to fathom this National Anthem by the common mass of Bangladesh. Here again, overzealous admirers have crossed the boundary and made Tagore vulnerable to serious critics. If one reads Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) or Milton (1608 – 1674) or Cowley (1618 – 1667) or Pope (1688 – 1744) or Cowper (1731 – 1800) or Shelley (1792 – 1822) or Keats (1795 – 1821) or Wordsworth (1770 – 1850) or Thackeray (1811 – 1863) or Longfellow (1807 – 1882) or Tennyson (1809 - 1892) or Whitman (1819 – 1892) shall hardly find any format of the “greeting card” poetry.
These are only too few to name in the English literature as the rest of the world languages are left out. Each of these poets had some sort of speciality with their poems (in a single domain) comprising of finest words and their order but that is not so when one goes through Tagore’s creation. Similar observation could be comprehensible when one wanders with Gorky (1868 – 1936) or Dostoevosky (1821 – 1881) or even Pasternak (1890 – 1960). Among the contemporary champions Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1939) gave a new horizon where English literature saw the role of the foreign characters viewed by the colonial rulers.
The era Tagore found around him for his whole life was circumvented with British ruling necklace. His literary contribution did not focus the concept of the liberation struggle of his homeland from such a foreign master. He neither supported the freedom methodologies against the British nor talked against it although many contemporaries sharply used their pen against the British colonialism. Was he a coward poet Laureate? Was he a shy person to proclaim that he needed freedom from occupation of the British? This is the difference with many freedom loving writers and poets in other languages. For genuine cause Gorky is remembered by his compatriots for their release from dictatorial climate.
Nazrul may be viewed as the rebel of the soil for identical cause. However, Tagore did not restrict to visualise the possibility of internal conflicts that might have existed within the then freedom loving forces. He explored the freedom loving characters by the imaginary fascination of foreign products purely based on speculations. His imagination seemed to be a charming speculation for nearly everything that he composed. Exactly this is what he has done successfully experiencing writing massive poems on the “rainy season or rain” sitting in the dry hot or humid lands of the district of Birbhum where rainy season or rain barely touches. It was not necessary for him to feel or experience everything that he wanted to convey about the rain or rainy season. Yet he earned the title of “Borsha Kobi (rainy seasonal poet)” without any problem. Hardly the readers or the fans have any vision or knowledge about these over guaranteed facts.
Another side of his literary contribution is void of any sensation for the religiously majority of the Bengali language speakers. His contribution assumed that such a majority population as if did not exist or never been there on his soil. However, one should not down play Tagore blindly but to place him in the “right space” that he genuinely deserves based on all spheres of his credibility in the global context. Critical appreciation from serious readers and/or writers may throw light on the shadow that has been created by this write-up. However, there is no shortage of degeneracy in comprehending the actual concepts conveyed by this ever lasting Nobel Laureate.
PART 2: TAGORE – THE MAN
The content presented in this topic had already been published as “RABINDRANATH THAKUR – THE POET AND THE MAN: An Analytical Perspective” in two parts: (1) The Poet, and (2) The Man at NFB the following two successive days after the birthday anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore in 2000. At that time this writer had responded to a number of critics besides receiving personal appreciations, and faced fictitious challenge from a few ultra-secular despotic cyber characters.
This time the writer is presenting nearly the same content having some additions and alterations such that the sequential and chronological events are not disturbed. If there are criticisms of this analysis the writer requests to present them in a logical sense point by point which will be addressed in a professional manner at NFB.]
Tagore is known very well in the world as his ancestors voluntarily chose with this way of spelling that pronounced “Thakur” shortly after the emergence of the British in the throne in the then Bengal. By that time Murshidabad was still the capital city where palace politics of Munni Begum was determining the lineage of Mir Jaffer Ali Khan as the puppet Nawab of Bengal by overshadowing Robert Clive’s role.
The Anglicized name TAGORE was coined by the first English learning Bengali-speaking person of the sub-continent who happened to be the forefather of both Jorasanko and Pathurighata TAGORE family members. This ancestor of Rabindranath reached the court of Maharaja Krishna Chandra (Krishnanagar is named after him) in Shantipur from former district of Jessore in Bangladesh. There he was acquainted with poet Varat Chandra Roy (1712 – 1760), and served as the chief advisor of Maharaja Krishna Chandra to establish anti-Sirajuddowla camp in 1756.
Earlier he was engaged in forming a class of people comprising of Krishna Chandra and a few other associates against Ali Verdi Khan. The visibility of this group comprising of subversive elements was very feeble in the post-Sirajuddowla history. This is because Tagore’s ancestor did not prefer to be a political hero except for beneficiary of wealth. This ancestor absorbed English very quickly through self-teaching to communicate with the British conspirators and became high visible by 1765. Then he became fluent in English and served as the translator during the time of Warren Hastings in 1772. This is the way Rabindranath Tagore’s ancestors earned support of the British and eventually gained monetarily that rolled in two branches of “Tagore” in Jorasanko and Pathurighata since 1785. That is why Rabindranath Tagore has had a solid passion of puppets for the British masters.
Anglicized name for the original family name is a clear distortion having no precise meaning and purpose, unless having attitude of serving the new master with an unlimited commitment. Changing and reformatting family name often bears a precise meaning that the Nehru family (forefathers of Jawaharlal Nehru) had from their ancestral name Kaul. But the change of ancestral name for Nehru came from a reason which is not to please the Moghols or masters. It was associated with the flow of water in the river from Kashmir which was a vehicle for his ancestor to arrive in touch with the Moghols. Due to Tagore’s drop out of schooling he had no name registration as such. Therefore, the use of TAGORE remained at his personal discretion for the rest of his life.
The selection of “Tagore” was made as if it was quite beneficial adjusting the Bengali pronunciation Thakur (or Thakoor) to the convenience of the foreign ruler. Why Tagore continued keeping this style of his name, particularly, while writing in English, is also a great puzzle for the readers and the critiques.
This abnormal psyche is not a standard for any sophisticated philosopher. Of course, any foreign reader (non Bengali-speaking world) only understands that his name was embedded with Tagore. Often foreign readers cannot imagine that this name is a distorted version arose from the beginning of the British colonial rule on the soil. What was the rationality for overnight transition of the name pronouncing Thakur to Anglicized Tagore? Wasn’t it to please the Englishmen? Or, could there be any other sensible explanation to this rubbish approach for any wise human? Was Tagore truly a wise man or a puppet of the British master?Thakur was also a “Zamidar (landlord)” and he depended for his grand livelihood on the rent he collected from the destitute peasants of the then Eastern part of the British Bengal. Most of these people were extremely poor given the standard of Tagore family. His “Zamidari (ownership of land being a landlord)” was extended in the districts of Kushtia and Pabna, geographically situated within modern Bangladesh. These are the two districts where he spent much of his professional time as Zamidar. He continued there with his writing skills as his monetary fund kept piling upward from the rents of the poor peasants. During the British era the “Zamidars,” in general were a class oppressive local rulers and real sustaining back-bones of the colonial power.
Many experts pose question how this famous son of Zamidar Debendranath Tagore took up this profession out of his fourteen children. Also why he continued to this position even after wining the Nobel Prize is still a great mystery. Tagore was a very successful Zamidar as he increased the income or revenue of their estate by at least three-fold after he took it over from his father. He knew quite well how to manage the Zamidari apart from his superb writing skills. He collected every “paisa (pice)” very effectively that he needed for his own and other Tagore family members' luxurious life in the British-built City of Calcutta. The greedy Tagore went even to the court to fight his relations to gain lion share of his estate income. Controversy traces that Tagore utilised his estate income for the education of his son, Rathindranath Tagore, and his son-in-law, Nagendranath Gangopadhaya husband of Myra Devi, in the U.S.A. at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign well before he won the Nobel Prize.
The Tagore family encountered a suicide of a female, sister-in-law, member around 1884 which was suppressed by bribing the then British administration. It is more than likely that there was a hand of the Tagore family for this suicide which was never been unmasked. Diluting family affairs was overlooked by Tagore by skipping the role of his penny-counting father following this suicide. Tagore remained silent about this incident for the rest of his life. Many speculators envision that Tagore probably coined characters out of this sister-in-law in several writings.
The biography of Leo Tolstoy somewhat resembles Tagore’s. By birth Tolstoy was an aristocrat and he came from a noble origin. The mentality of the Tagore indicates that they were not noble people even by Bengali-speaking standard of his religion or caste. Tagore searched for Brahmin-Brahma candidates for match concerning the marriage of his own children being a high-visible member of the Brahma Samaj founded by Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1774 - 1833), a noted reformer of the Hindu society. Brahma Samaj was primarily based on the non-caste system for the Hindu origin people.
A Brahmin-Brahma is regarded as the member of the Brahma Samaj coming from the Brahmin background. Similarly Kshtria-Brahma or Baishya-Brahma or Sudra-Brahma comes forward as a social demarcation among the Brahma Samaj members. Those ejected from the caste system among the Hindus were asked to form a single society by Ram Mohan Roy in early nineteenth century. The Tagores belonged to the Brahma Samaj because they went to England like Ram Mohan Roy and, thus, violated the norm of the traditional Hindu Society. The distinction was predominant among the Tagore family when marriage becomes a key issue. Is this humanity under the umbrella of Brahma Samaj?
Tagore’s grandfather, Dwarakanath Tagore (1794 - 1846), was a phoney "prince" and he tried his best to impress the Englishmen travelling to England by his own ship, and by spending lavishly on Englishmen using the money he earned by exploiting poor Bengali-speaking people. Tagore was also a fake saint and a pretender of idealistic human. The difference is monumental if one compares Tagore’s lifestyle with Tolstoy’s. Tagore exploited poor peasants in Bengal and lived a grand life on their sweat and blood but Tolstoy gave up his wealth, lived poorly with the peasants and as a peasant. Tolostoy talked to them with mutual respect and praying with them for the sins of the exploiters of mankind. He died of pneumonia at Astropovo railway station in a freezing winter day having not a single penny with him. His funeral remained mystery as he was found one of the penny-less unidentified people. Does anyone need to talk about great men? Many more examples of great men can be cited with the similar calibre in the context of Tagore. Let us make no mistake and be aware of the counterfeit saints.
Tagore is said to be a great philosopher. His philosophy, some sort of natural pantheism, does not seem to be much deeper than some shallow rivers of former Eastern Bengal where he sailed most often to collect rents from the poor. Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970), the great philosopher of the modern era, wrote after hearing Tagore’s lecture on ‘The realisation of Brahma’: “Here I am back from Tagore's lecture, after walking most of the way home. It was unmitigated rubbish- cut-and-dried conventional stuff about the river becoming one with the Ocean and man becoming one with Brahma. The man is sincere and in earnest but merely rattling old dry bones. I spoke to him before the lecture afterwards I avoided him.” Russell had more such strong and strenuous comments on Tagore and as quoted recently in the work of Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson: “I regret I can not agree with Tagore. His talk about the infinite is ague nonsense. The sort of language that is admired by many Indians unfortunately does not, in fact, mean any thing at all.”
In general, almost all world philosophers had some background in Mathematics. Tagore never had any such background. Though he understood to the penny for the equation of money but he did never comprehend simple algebraic equations to solve Mathematical problems as his upper chamber remained vacant since childhood. Yet many people call him as philosopher. Often it is a subject of surprise as how this sort of personality can be regarded as a philosopher while fundamental perspectives of life are blunt without the basics of Mathematics. Calling him a philosopher is a simple misnomer.
Those were very high scar-marks on Tagore’s philosophy by the most contemporary distinguished philosopher of his time. Tagore’s personal religion and inconsistency of teaching and believing often put many individual critiques in bewilderment. He was a member of the “Brahma Samaj” like his father and grandfather but he hardly could ever give up Hinduism from the set-up of his mind that contradicted the concept of Ram Mohan Roy. The Tagores did many religious rituals at home that were quite objectionable to Brahma faith that they claimed to be belonged to. For example, they regularly performed “Durga Puja” since 1867 and continued “Idol Worship” which was totally contradictory to the Brahma Samaj faith or ideology.
In mind the Tagore family was Hindu but outward Brahma and that is the way Tagore himself portrayed so in public. As a member of the “Brahma Samaj” Tagore could have found some rationality in the monotheistic religions of the Middle-East such as Islam or Christianity or Judaism rather than disdaining it, and associating himself with the communal Hindus as he had quietly done all through his life. In this context it is ridiculous to evaluate PRARTHONA poem which is nothing but hypocrisy. This poem is a joke for him concerning monotheistic perspective.
It is a fact that Bankim Chandra Chatterjee (1838 – 1894) had brought high-ranking communalism in Bengali literature that propagated discrimination and hatred against the Muslims. Instead of fighting against spreading it, Tagore silently joined the followers of the Bankim gang while he was a teenaged writer in 1878, and in someway peacefully enhanced their strength. He became a silent supporter of communal “Bondey Matorom” slogan coined by Bankim in 1874, and chose to favour it with hearty and mind until his death. Tagore even expressed that “Bondey Matorom” would be the National Anthem of liberated India if at all India is liberated for which he had scepticism.
In 1931 Tagore accepted a free air trip to Persia at the invitation of Reza Pahlavi. At about 10,000 ft high he was about to collapse as the aircraft began bouncing. Since it was a free pleasure trip then he swallowed it and took the old-age trouble. Of course he did not document such events in his memoir but preferred Muslim cooked delicious dishes. His fascination for Persian-Turkish dishes was never ending. Tagore liked delicacies that the Muslims brought to the sub-continent. Polau, Biriyani, Korma, Rezala, Kofta, Kabab, etc. were his favourites and favored Muslim cook for those items. This is not a bad choice but unfortunately Tagore never knew anything about the Muslims as the neighbors of the Hindus.
In 1936 Tagore favored Hindi as the National Language of liberated India while meeting Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Despite differences with Gandhi both tuned Hindi with the same frequency. While Bengali was a solid rich language in the Indian sub-continent having the oldest history of derivation Tagore supported Hindi as the future National Language for the liberated people. How Tagore supported a bastard language for which there was no basis as the National Language? Was he truly a nationalist or a fake Bengali-speaking character possessing sufficient show-off expertise as a member of the Bengali folks? Exactly where did he belong? His character of not touching the water but catching the fish is as wave-particle duality as dubious.
When Muslim community complained about ignoring them in Bengali literature by the powerful Hindu writers, Tagore did not listen to their protest but ridiculed them and wrote to one of his fans and relation: “The Muslims complain these days that the Hindu writers express only their mental state in (Bengali) literature. The only solution (to this problem) could be to arrest each and every Hindu writer and convert him or her to Muslim religion (by force). We are at the end of our days. Now the burden would fall on your shoulders (to do it). The untouchables are already determined for conversion (to Muslim faith). Soon your turn would come. You better start reading Koran right now if you find any translation of it at your hands.” What a novel derogatory mentality of a genius? Is there any controversy of Tagore’s statement about the Muslims that he was not a communal?
Tagore’s Noble Prize is also a matter of controversy. It does not mean that he was not good enough or worthy of the prize. Many undeserving people got Nobel Prize many a times. It is not the question of qualification but his marketing strategy as a candidate of this prize He approached anybody to make his candidature strong and considerable. Lobbying was the viable vehicle. It was also surprising that William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939) and William Rothenstein (1845 – 1923), the two personalities, who helped him most to advocate his case to win the Noble Prize in 1913 became unfriendly with Tagore in the long run. Rothenstein was introduced to Tagore by his diehard communal nephew Abanindranath Tagore (1871 – 1951) a number of years before his Nobel winning.
A great deal of comprehensive analysis on his achieving Nobel Prize was presented in Calcutta’s “Desh” magazine during 1991 – 1992 period and also in an early periodical from Bombay (Mumbai) during 1984 in India Today. Per those analyses lobbying factor cannot be deleted as Tagore projected in 1909 but launched in 1910.
Tagore’s political philosophy was equally controversial and incredulous. He was a reactionary and that is what many believed and the Chinese passed this unpleasant judgement on Tagore loudly and clearly when he visited China in 1924. It is very interesting to note that how his public lectures in China was marred by opposition and hostile commentaries. It goes this way:
(1) We have suffered much from ancient Oriental civilisation, which include discrimination between the sexes, the worship of Emperors, oppression of the people, the feudal system, caste distinctions and the blind observance of ceremony. We cannot but oppose Dr. Tagore, who tries to uphold these useless and dead aspects of our civilisation. (2) Dr. Tagore shows a hearty sympathy with the Tung Shan Spiritual Society, a contemptuous and vicious organisation in China which combines Taoism and Buddhism. Dr. Tagore speaks of the 'Heavenly Kingdom', 'Almighty God' and 'soul'. If these could remove us from misery what would be the use of man endeavour to reform the world? We oppose Dr. Tagore, who tries to stunt the growth of self-determination and the struggle of the oppressed classes and races. The Chinese observation on Tagore’s political, social, religious and cultural philosophy was also in relevance with the Bengali-speaking people or the Indian context. Tagore’s constant endeavours to find out solace and amity in rotten Indian mysticism must have been a great puzzle to any rational critique. He had praised and firmly recognised greatness of Western civilisation and culture at one hand but nonetheless he himself practised and tried to impress others with bogus and rotten old Indian Hindu philosophy.
During 1926 Tagore visited the City of New York and encountered a barbershop to trim his beard and hair. This particular shop had several Nobel Laureates for the same purpose visiting the City of New York that included one of the contemporary scientists, Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955). Tagore’s behavior was so erratic with this barber, presumably overwhelmed with the supremacy of the super-caste Hindu orthodox philosophy, that this barber noted him in his memoirs as an “uncultured and arrogant” Nobel Fellow of the century. It reveals that Tagore was lacking politeness outside the country where he might have exercised championship that could be attributed to the Zamidar style.
Tagore’s political sympathy was always with the upper caste Hindus. He was the greatest writer in Bengali literature but like other communal Hindus he ignored completely the Muslim or the Christian or the Buddhist community of Bengal in his works. He considered them “inferior” and he never did anything for their welfare either. He earned his high living from former Eastern Bengal, mostly from Muslim peasants, and never contributed in building any school or college that many other contemporary Hindu Zamiders did in the same soil. Even Tagore had hardly opened any door for the non-Hindus in his University that took a complete shape after his Nobel achievement.
Rumour traces that Tagore spent Nobel money to complete this University. Syed Mujtoba Ali (1905 – 1974) was an exceptional example who described himself on several private and informal occasions as a rear-sitter pupil in Tagore’s class. He noted in the 1972 interview after the liberation of Bangladesh that Tagore had no inclination toward the people of the Eastern Bengal yet the same people honoured him by adopting his poem as the National Anthem. Mujtoba Ali also pointed that the general mass of Bangladesh does not know how to pronounce Tagore’s writings.
An impartial critique would find Tagore a sophisticated but a complete communal Hindu behind the screen masking himself for the apparent outside viewer. His Brahma faith was a total irrelevant show-off. Under the Brahma veil he was a diehard communal Hindu. He joined the reactionary upper caste Hindus to oppose the communal Award of the Government of India Act of 1935 without ever appealing to the Hindus for treating the Muslims fairly and correctly. Why this poet Laureate joined such a communal activity at a matured age? It is no wonder that shortly movement began to divide British occupied India. Directly or indirectly Rabindranath Tagore was a politically oriented figure against the Muslims of the same soil.
The Calcutta-based Hindus opposed the establishment of the University of Dacca with the lame excuse that the result would be harmful for the Calcutta University. This excuse had no solid ground except for visualizing the difference between Muslim majority regions versus Hindu dominated regions. Ashutosh Mukerjee (1864 – 1924) was the underground intellectual and the main player of the movement of the anti-University in Dacca. All upper class Hindus combined together with some middle level caste Hindus formed a communal platform to oppose the establishment of the University in Dacca. The strength accumulated from the professional angle as many of them were Calcutta lawyers and donors to the University of Calcutta.
The profound Nobel Laureate of Bengal was highly vocal against Communal Award but one does not know if he ever even criticised mildly those Hindus who considered it dangerous that the Bengali Muslims could get higher education at the University of Dacca. He joined Ashutosh Mukerjee in the “anti University of Dacca” propaganda as he was concurrently progressing with the influential banner to absorb his U.S. educated (from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) son-in-law from Barisal, Nagendranath Gangopadhaya (1889 – 1956), as the Faculty member of the Calcutta University. The hiring committee of the University of Calcutta could not absorb Gangopadhaya due to the standard selection procedure. Tagore’s influence did not work for his son-in-law. In personal life Tagore had soured relationship with his son-in-law. At a later date in 1926 Gangopadhaya earned the British Ph.D. degree and stayed in Britain as a citizen there until his death.
Being a Nobel Laureate and a dignified human of the world Tagore could have played a significant role in the prosperity and unity of the Bengali-speaking people regardless of religion. Instead he fabricated communal poetry (called “Shibaji”} before turning to the 20th century where he envisioned the noted seventeenth century Marathi despotic criminal as a hero. This hero was indeed communally motivated die-hard Hindu extremist known as Shibaji Bhosle (1620 - 1681). Tagore portrayed Shibaji as a dreamer of “one-religion-land (aek dharma rajya)” in the British occupied sub-continent. Isn't it an ironical blow on the integrity and the religious harmony of the multi-cultural cum multi-lingual society? Did he echo with the Marathi orthodox political leaders?
What did Tagore mean by “one-religion-land?” Outwardly he was a giant figure against the division of Bengal but inside the cultured communal Hindus dominated his mind and liked the division of Bengal. In the same way he preferred to remain as “knighted” in his mind but outwardly he had given up the same after the British killing mission on the freedom-seeking people in 1919. In his legacy “The Religion of Man” had the SIR title before his name though it was re-printed in his lifetime. Did Rabindranath ever drop SIR from his name? Is there any solid proof?
On what consideration the National Anthem of Bangladesh was adopted in 1972 is not known except for the unilateral dynamics of the then leadership. Without debate or proceeding Tagore’s poem became National Anthem of Bangladesh almost overnight. The lawmakers had no voting or any opinion to review any alternate of the same poem. The underlying meaning of such an Anthem is a superb puzzle for the absolute majority of the people of Bangladesh as they are primarily illiterate, ignorant, and overall do not understand the style of the language that Tagore used. Even an educated Bangladeshi cannot sing this Anthem easily and steadily except for the first two lines of the selected first ten lines of that poem.
The pronunciation of the people of Bangladesh, in general, is invariably tough and no where near perfect of the regional accent of Bolpur or Shantipur or Krishananagar. Rabindranath used throughout his life the utterances and phrases of that part of the Bengali-speaking land and felt use of standard Bengali for all time and for all purpose. Still the people of Bangladesh often prefer to praise Tagore’s poem though their tongue does not give perfect pronunciation as Tagore and majority of his communal followers possessed. As stated earlier Tagore is also the composer of the Indian National Anthem. The content of this Anthem refers to a geographical portion belonging to India’s neighbour that raised frequently the sovereignty of Pakistan, a country that was taking a shape during the later part of his lifetime. Despite knowing the communal harmony in jeopardy, Tagore did not make any effort with his literary image to diffuse such turmoil. However, Tagore is not the “national poet” of Bangladesh or of India.
This situation must be quite puzzling and mystery for any impartial critique as why Tagore is not, at least, the National Poet of India. It seems Tagore is a controversial character within the variety of regional Hindus in India. The general conscientious agreed to accept Tagore’s poem as the National Anthem of India but did not agree to have him as the National Poet. One can go on and find many black and unholy spots on Tagore’s piecewise literary, social, cultural, religious, and political activities. These are harsh words and strong comments on Tagore but it should not make any one blind to see that his literary works have also given pleasure to the millions of Bengali-speaking people though many of them cannot pronounce correctly. Tagore does not have any connection with Bangladesh as he never had. He did not visit all parts of Bangladesh except of a few personal interested-oriented spots. For collecting estate taxes from the poor peasants he did not forget to make trips to the remote corners of Kushtia and Pabna.
As a human being Tagore had good and bad sides. This critical analysis of the great contributor of the Bengali-speaking society, as said before, is not to minimise his status among the poets and literary giants around the world. What is expected and requested is that from his overzealous fans to ponder for a while and put a barricade in their unnecessary exaggerations on Tagore’s true human qualities. Let us honour Tagore as much as he deserves. Foolish and reckless volume of praise and unnecessary adoration of an individual are the acts of the knavish persons. This is invariably not good for any honest and sincere judgement. However, there is no shortage of degenerated ideas when the issues relate to this Nobel Laureate.
Acknowledgements and References:Numerous pertinent and relevant publications at various places available on Rabindranath Tagore have been freely used to generate this note. Therefore, the listing is enormous and, thus, beyond the scope of the pages here. At least one highlighted reference “Rabindranath Tagore: The Myraid-Minded Man by Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson" is quoted. In addition, several translations and quotations including plentiful sources of information (such as the letter to Amita Sen, 4th June 1939) were obtained from Mr. Tayeb Husain, currently living in Sweden.
Friday May 05 2006 12:01:34 PM BDT By Mohammad Abdullah, USA