Thursday, May 24, 2007

Remembering Tagore

Part III

From Rajat Das Gupta

A few leaves from the letters/diaries ofRabindra Nath TagoreNobel Laureate 1913
Literature 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). ‘Shrayan’ 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:


Wisdom above science

…. What we call science is inherent in man always. Now, we have isolated it from the other human faculties and become conscious of it with a special appellation. The reason is, modern man is hell-bent on harnessing natural forces for his ‘convenience’. Cultivation of this ‘convenience’ has outgrown his other endeavors. But whenever man had hammered rock, shoveled earth, loomed cloth, his instinct for convenience roused. There he was victor. But never did he sing on his tools, which he did with his sword, not as a tool to convenience homicide, but as a relevance to his valor which has an ultimate value, but not as a means to an end. Man’s music revealed wherever he touched this ‘ultimate’.

A beautiful jar is not precious for its utility, but it is so because it is priceless, transcending all utilitarian haggle into an aesthetic glory. … However amazing ‘efficiency’ may be, it never provoked music in man’s mind; implements have made man wealthy, but never inspired him. Where a perfection is in itself plenty, or, rather, where it has reached infinity, there it has turned man into a poet, a creator. Man is prepared to lose to his fiancĂ©e, but not to the implements of a mechanic. To-day, in this worldwide market of ‘convenience’ man has built enormous implements, which were not there at the time of Plato or Eskil, yet want of those never dwarfed humanity. Aided by scientific instruments man’s limbs have enlarged and multiplied to grow him into a ‘giant’ but never ‘great’.

The scope for mundane utilitarianism is not nobler than man’s ‘personality’. So, with our factories no modern Dante is writing Vita Nuova as there may be ‘Nuova’ in it but not the ‘Vita’ .When man first lit up fire, he hailed it with his hymn, not because it was convenient for his cooking, but for its inherent ultimate mystery which is missing in his axe and shovel. Where we encounter the atomic theory amazed by its ultimatum, we hail that absolute with our awe. But where steam runs the rail engine….there we enter a workshop, not in the mysterious temple of creation. There ugliness is unabashed, the inchoate is nude, the muscles are inflated, but where is the grace? There we observe the blunt, not the ineffable. There we applaud, but without rhythm. Before the massive workshop of to-day, the entire Earth’s populace in fright or greed applaud in chorus, but never genuflect as this does not fount from their reverence. Building up of new temples has not followed the ruthless iconoclasm.
[To Amiya Chakraborty, 28 March 1925]

Thoughts of welfare in social problems

On earth there are two sects whose religions are aggressively opposed to others’, which are Christianity and Islam. Their satiety is not merely in observing their own religion, but they are at daggers drawn to others’. So, there is no means to integrate with them except by adoption of their religion. One advantage with the Christians is that they are modernists, not captives of medievalism. Religion has not engulfed their life intimately. So they do not keep others at bay with their fence of religion. European and Christian are not synonymous. ‘European Buddhist’ or ‘European Muslim’ are not self-contradictions. But ‘Muslim Buddhist’ and ‘Muslim Christian’ are impossibilities. On the other hand, Hindu as a nation is akin to Islam i.e. religion engulfs both closely. The external difference in case of the former is that their opposition to other religions is not active, theirs is ‘non-violent non-cooperation’ with all non-Hinduisms.

A Hindu’s religion is a heritage and ritualistic and, hence, its fences are more rigid. Islam permits equating others with the Muslims which passage to Hindus is also narrow. Muslim customs do not reject other communities, where also Hindus are cautious. So, on Khilafat etc. the Hindu participation drawn by the Muslims cannot be reversed by the Hindus. Customs are the bridges for human relations where the Hindu has raised his fences at every step. When I had first engaged in my estate work, I noticed in my office that that the Muslim subjects being offered seats on the floor, removing the carpet thereon (least the carpet meant for the Hindu subjects would be defiled).

There is no greater hurdle for combining humans than treating others’ customs as unholy. India is so fated that the two communities like Hindus and Muslims have assembled here. Resistance of Hindus is not harsh on faith, but on rites it is, whereas with Muslims it is the other way. One’s door open on one side but closed on the other juxtaposes the reverse order of the other. So, how they will combine? Once upon a time India was open to free mixture of the Greeks, Parses, Saks et al. But mind you, it was in the pre-Hindu stage.

The Hindu era has been one of reaction, when Brahmanism solidified with impenetrable walls of rituals, indifferent of the truth that if you stifle a living being foolproof, you murder it. On the whole, soon after the Buddhist era Hindus drew close the Rajputs and such aliens to solidify their protection from ‘foreign’ influence. Thus the Indians developed Hindu religion enclosed in fences, whose inherent nature is prohibition and rejection. Nowhere on earth resistances for human union has been built with such skill. This resistance is not merely between Hindu and Muslim. People like you and me, who want to preserve our freedom in pursuit of our customs, are also split up and hurdled. The problem is right here but where is the solution? It is in change in our ethos and a change in era.

The way Europe transited to modern era leaving past the medieval one through cultivation of truth and knowledge, Hindus and Muslims also must similarly set out of their boundaries. To turn religion into a sepulcher to rest the nation in post-mortem is no way to progress, neither to come close to others. If we cannot dispel the obstacles in our ethos, we shall get no liberty. We have to put right our root by education and dedication- overhaul our heredity that we should be reverent to the cage rather than our wings, only after that our welfare will follow. Integration of Hindu and Muslim is awaiting a change in era. Yet, this should not be reason for our apprehension, as in other countries man has changed time by dedication to emerge into the new era stretching their wings breaking through their egg-shells. We too shall follow suit cutting through our mental blockage; if we won’t there is no other way.

[To Amiya Chakraborty; Santiniketan; 21 June, 1922]

He – from dust to Universe

My heart holds the perception of the life of a tree, which I can confess because I have been a human. But why the tree alone, perception of the entire inanimate world is imbibed there too. All the vibrations of the Universe pass me the thrill of camaraderie – within my heart, the Anandam (heavenly joy) of the trees and plants mute over ages has found expression- else, when to-day the mango buds are wild on the trees, on whose invitation do I go forward to organize the spring festival! There is an enormous Anandam in me which is within the land, water, trees, birds and beasts here also.

When I have seen through the open window of my boat the sunrays falling on the saffron soil of this ancient earth, my entire body stretches to the remote border of its dust and green there. When at some holy moments my feel is deep that I am integral with all the soil, rock, water and all here, my body and soul delight up in a clear music of an all pervasive existence. This is my nature and not a mere fancy, from which founts my poems, songs and stories. This does not inhibit me. A man I am and so I am everything – which is my glory – in my senses the world’s history illuminate, there culminate the existences of all animate and inanimate. That is why the waves of my blood rhyme with the sea’s, but the sea waves don’t know me so, my euphoria delights up combined with the trees’ but they don’t know me; I am not within their subconscious.

[To: Ramendrasundar Tribedi, from Selaidah (Bangladesh); 29 February 1912]


(RAJAT DAS GUPTA, August, 2003)

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