Friday, May 11, 2007

Remembering Rabindra Nath Tagore

From Rajat Das Gupta
Calcutta (India)

Remembering Rabindra Nath Tagore

A few leaves from the letters/diaries ofRabindra Nath TagoreNobel Laureate 1913
(Second lot forwarded after the first one published on November 1, 2006)
Translator’s forewordLiterature of Tagore along with his songs is a vast ocean with inexhaustible treasures in it where paramount aesthetics, spirituality, philosophical insight, cosmic perception etc. abound. Very reasonably, this should not be a benchmark to assess Tagore’s letters and diaries behind which there was no creative goal neither these were primarily for the public eye. Yet, the Poet’s sparkling wisdom in scores of these letters/diaries is worth sharing by us even to-day when they have hardly lost their relevance.So far, about 4200 of the Poet’s letters both in Bengali and English have been classified, besides the numerous others lying in heaps in Visva Bharati (Tagore’s University at Santiniketan, West Bengal). ‘Shayan’ is a bi-annual magazine running for last 8 years. The January-June ’03 issue is a compilation from Tagore’s letters and diaries. Stress has been given on the letters which voice the question, how should we survive in this genocide afflicted world, which process had a great upheaval in early 20th century and is snowballing alarmingly even to-day. No letter has been produced in full. Only their extracts have been presented which have been found serving the purpose of the book.The editor of the magazine Mr. Pathik Basu has done this hard work with amazing dedication which has made these invaluable documents handy to us. One might opine, these documents, though originally meant for consumption at personal levels, their publication will give opportunity to all and sundry to have a glimpse of the Poet’s brilliant mind, though somewhat less than his creations purely with literary and aesthetic pursuits.It is my pleasure to translate a few selected passages from Mr. Basu’s 343-page book, at his desire, into English, hoping these will reach worldwide across the narrow Bengali circle. Here follow a few samples.

August, 2003 RAJAT DAS GUPTA (

1) The Beauty of Commerce

In the animal world, competence of man does not lie in his physical excesses. Man’s skin is soft, his muscles feeble and the power of his senses too falls short of the animals’. Yet, he has acquired such a strength which is not visible, not occupant of space, not based on a mass of soil, yet it is omnipotent all over the Earth. Man’s strength has dodged the boundary of his physique and has become powerful invisibility. Bible says, he who is modest will conquer the world. This means, strength of modesty is not external, but it is internal, less it hits more victorious it is. It does not fight in a battlefield, but earns its victory by accord with the powers in the world.

The demon of Commerce too must one day be humanistic by restraining its demonic havoc. This Commerce has little brain and no heart, so it is only increasing its burden on earth. It is aiming victory by extending its occupied area with its deadly resolve. But that which will be victorious one day, is humble in size with its simple procedures, that accepts Man’s heart, his aesthetics and religiosity. It is modest and not shamelessly greedy. Its stability is in its inner order, not in its external size, not by depriving others but by its harmony with all. Of all the human razzmatazz this Commerce is the ugliest. It has brought fatigue on Earth by its own weight, deafened it by its noise, blighted the Earth by its garbage, and wounded life by its greed. Coronation of this greed on the world’s throne and endorsing our slavery to this worldwide ugliness, this revolt against all beauty, aesthetics and human heart, is daily lashing the noblest human undoubtedly. This chess game, mad about ‘profit’, with man as its pawn, will continue how long? This game must be aborted – where in greed of ‘profit’ man is losing himself continuously.

[On voyage to Japan, on board Tosamaru- May, 1917]

2) Introversion of Indian religion

Dear Rani,
Our ship will go round two isles, so two days’ journey will elongate to three. Here Viswakarma’s (god of Engineering) holed bags have let out soil to scatter over the sea to form many an isle. Those are under Dutch command. The isle where our ship is anchored now, is known as Biliton. Population is sparse. There are tin quarries manned by their managers and labourers. It is a wonder how they are milking the entire earth. Once upon a time these people sailed off in swarms into the unknown seas. They had went round the earth to be familiar with it, to measure it. That history of familiarization is long and hazardous. I ponder, when they had first lowered their sail here at these coasts, far away from their homes, how full were those days of apprehension and expectation as well. The greenery, animals, humans here were all strange to them. But to-day, everything is known and vanquished!
They have defeated us, why, I ponder. The main reason is, we are static they are dynamic. So they could go round easily and that is why they have known and their appetite for knowledge has been further whetted.. That appetite is feeble among us because of our stagnation. Even our knowledge about our neighbors is vague neither we have urge to know them better. Because, our home encloses us too much. Those, whose vigour for knowledge is low, so is that for their survival. With the same vitality that enabled them to earn all rights over Java, is the dedication of their archeologists to explore this island. Yet, like this island, its archeology too was totally alien to them. We are indifferent about knowledge of our neighborhood while their urge to know the distant is limitless. Not only by muscle, but by vitality of their quest they are conquering the ins and outs of this world. But, we are domestic intimately. This means, we are mere components of our family, trapped in a thousand bondages. Our responsibility for a livelihood is entangled with that for the rituals, the redundant load of which has almost crippled our genuine duties. From caste related obligations up to the funeral rites, all the duties have burdened us throughout our mortal and post-mortem phases, have made our movement impossible and is only siphoning out our vitality. The offspring of such homes are bound to be lashed by others, which we are feeling inwardly.

…..But, if it is easy to demolish age-old orders, how long it will take to build the foundation for the new ones? About duty and non-duty, each society has habituated itself to certain principles, based on which the populace keeps going. By argument and logic only few can keep righteous. But it is not easy to replace one habituation by another. All our habituations are for cohesion of the myriad inane in our family life. It is easy to learn from Europeans their science, but not their social habituations.

[Letter to Rani Mahalnobis while on the way to Java – Sept 1927]

3. Islam and Mahabharata
Dear Amiya,
My visits here are nearly over. It was my wonder to observe their people’s theatre, clumsily integrating Indian fragments. I had written you before how Ramayana and Mahabharata are animated in their life. Because it is living, it is not a prototype of any documented literature. It had drastic metamorphosis through thoughts and imaginations of the people here. They did not get in store in any scriptural sermon all the principles of life, but had those embodied in the characters of these two epics. The yardsticks to judge good and bad in the humans are these characters. So, with dynamics of life its prerequisites have changed variously. It is like oral transformation of Vidyapati and Chandidas’ (poets of mediaeval Bengal) compositions relayed down by the Bengali musicians from age to age. Yesterday we went for a shadow show. Its typed story was given to us. I’m sending it for your eye. Translate it into Bengali and judge it vis-à-vis the original Mahabharata. The distinction of the story is, there is no Draupadi (the central polyandrous female character of this epic having all the five Pandava brothers as her husbands) in the story. The neuter Brihannala of Mahabharata has been named ‘Kenobordi’ as a female. Kitchaka was beguiled by her beauty and fell victim to Bhim (the 2nd Pandava). This Kitchaka is enemy of the fish-king in Javani Mahabharata. Pandavas, by exterminating him, earned the gratitude of the King Birat.

The balcony of the palace of the king titled as ‘Monkunagro’, where I am sitting now to write this letter, abounds with Ramayana stories beautifully drawn on silk to be seen all around on the foundation pillars. But, they are Muslims by religion. Yet, they know ins and outs of the Hindu deities. They have taken as their own all the ancient streams of the India narratives.. In fact, there is nothing wrong in it, as the characters of Ramayana and Mahabharata in abstraction are roaming around in their land. Rather, they do not have such all pervasive camaraderie in our country., where they do not figure in all their festivals as at every home here.

[Written to Amiya Chakraborty while on Java trip: 17 Sept. 1927]

4. About songs

For sometime, the debate on relative positions of ‘word’ and ‘music’ in a song is going on. I am not a maestro, but my common sense says this subject is not exclusively for a debate, but is very much inherent in Creation with its frolic. The high hand runs its steam roller on a fixed track to protect our rules and destinations. But, in the meantime, the Creator showers His creations in a myriad branches- where ‘words’ go alone and so does ‘music’ and, again, they go entangled too. In both this ‘isolation’ and ‘entanglement’ flowers joy. Those who advocate a ‘communal’ divide between the two, my appeal goes to them, to stop from hoisting these ‘class banners’ thus standing on the way of the creative streams only as a nuisance at the cost of peace. (Written to Dhurjoti Prasad Mukhopaddhay on 8 Oct. 1937).

I am inclined to equate the daytime with the Western music, a big medley of harmonized music and mal-music clubbed up in bits and pieces, and the night with our Indian music, an immaculate solemnity of unpolluted pathos. Both move us, though paradoxically. But what to do? There is an inherent contradiction in Nature, with splits between the King and Queen, day and night, varied and homogenous, spatial and infinite. We Indians live in Night’s domain. We are obsessed by the indivisible and eternal. Ours is a solo in solitude. Europe’s is the song for the public place. Our song transcends the listeners beyond the boundary of their daily weal and woe to transport them to a solitary land of recluse, whereas European music dances one variously through the endless ups and downs of life.
[Selaidah (now in Bangladesh). Chhinapatra (=stray letters) 10 Aug. 1894]

You were talking about senility of Hindustani music. What happened is, it has turned classic, which means an immaculate perfection, steadfast in format. Such fulfillment is suicidal. Fulfillment, along with accomplishment brings stagnation. But this is a stumbling block which can never crave liberation of art. So, you’ll find in history that catastrophe occurs when our fastidiousness beguiles us to this classicist archaism.
[To Dilip Kumar Roy, Baranagar (Calcutta), 26 Mar. 1938]

5. Form and value of literature

Values are of three types. One is for marketplace, the second for religion and the third for aesthetics, being purely personal. From the last intellect is not banished, but it is secondary. Here the main architect is the person building the image, who can observe form and shape it.. Form does not merely mean that which has area, weight and outline. Here, form attaches some aesthetics which provokes unnecessary interest. Unnecessary because, this interest is the ultimate goal without any more ‘why’ and ‘what’. In this world a ‘person’ is that type, his/her reality is my very own and no other verbiage is above it. My curiosity about a ‘person’ is entirely naïve – beyond question and last answer to all questions.

So I say, creation of form is art- through which with inane inquest I perceive the form of a good song, in rotation of music and rhyme it casts such a spell which from my heart I feel as truth; but don’t feel this ‘wall’ as such. What provokes this perception of truth is that form which has various components, the main being ‘emotion’. Because, through ‘emotion’ our consciousness knows ‘self’ deeply. Even ‘immaculate perception’ as propounded by the yogis is one of Anandam (divine joy), or an emotion to say. ‘Thoughts’ also may be component for creation for art, but not to transcend one to truth. But, the thoughts may be so arranged that will generate a nuance beyond ‘arguments’ into an aesthetic, to give us Anandam without reason, else those would be rabid elephants in a lotus garden.

Words and sentences convey literature. In words there is sound and meaning, both needed in literature, but not for the sole purpose of ‘information’. ‘Information’ will of course be there, but as a subordinate. If it gives a picture and aesthetics, then only it helps create an art. The word ‘empathy’ does not offer any music, picture or aesthetic. But somehow the word ‘compassion’ is accepted. Yet, on intellectual judgment ‘empathy’ is appropriate, accurate and explicit i.e. to be one with others to feel alike with them, which definition goes with the word. Yet, it did not work, as it has explanation but no form. Form embraces a ‘totality’ beyond analysis and does not lob in your mind in isolation.

If you want to build literature placing the intellectual bricks one upon another, each brick cannot contribute there more than its own quantity. But in a tree with life, each segment is superseding itself, possessing a charm which at once manifests the totality. In a literary work, if every word possesses such ‘form’, then the totality is available in each segments. This is called creation.

[To Sudhindranath Dutta, from Santiniketan]

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