Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Santiniketan on Tagore's Birthday

Santiniketan on Tagore's birthday, May 9, 2007. Photo by Sivaditya Sen (click on the photo to view an enlarged version)

Santiniketan, West Bengal is where Tagore founded his university, Vishwa Bharati (the microcosm of the world). Tagore's notion of the university was deeply spiritual - one one hand it was to be the meeting place of all cultures, east and west, and on the other it was supposed to connect education to nature and to its social context. Art and creative expression was central to his pedagogy, as was the sense of community.

Like every Tagore-obsessed Bengali, there are many things for which I repeatedly go back to his philosophy. But if there is one thing for which he is my unequivocal reference point it is his belief in the fundamental equality of all human beings, irrespective of caste, class, gender, religion or ethnicity. During the recent debates on equality and access in India, I have been reminded constantly of Tagore's famous poem (he mor durbhaga desh - Oh my unfortunate land) in which he speaks of the tragedy of the innumerable social divisions which make up Indian society. Tagore undying hope was of India's transcendence into a society where such schisms did not exist.


Abi said...

I would love to be able to read the English translation of the poem you referred to in your post. Can you please provide a link?


ishani said...


Gitanjali translations can be found at the above site but unfortunately not the one mentioned by Ananya. May be one of us can attempt to do a translation for you sometime soon.

I would also like to say that the multifaceted genius of Tagore inspires many of us in many different ways. For me he is the eternal source of life-sustaining and creative energy. From his poetry to short stories, drama, paintings, essays, his deep philosophy, his lyrical language, his social consciousness, his artistic sensitivity - I feel his legacy is a complete package that is universal and has withstood the test of time.

Ananya Mukherjee Reed said...

Dear Abi, This particular poem has been translated by William Radice - and is not on line. But in my humble and layperson opinion it is an unforgivably bad translation. It translates the text literally, robbing it of all its poignancy, and the beauty of the metaphors Tagore uses to express his dissent with socially costructed difference which divides us...

ishani said...

The poem that we have been discussing, I find, is from Gitanjali. I am attempting to do a very rough translation of the first stanza here: (Humiliated)
My unfortunate country, you will have to come down from your pedestal and acknowledge those as your equals, who you have humiliated.
Those that have been deprived of their human rights and those that you have not embraced to your bosom - you will be forced to descend to their level one day.

While this poem is a well-known one, I really am not a big fan of it. I feel that such an overt social message is not really aligned with the typical genre that made Tagore such an universal poet. I find his poems which have layers within layers to be far more appealing. Master craftmanship and a magical quality with language combined with deep philosophical thought and an intrinsic love for nature - for me these are the hallmarks of Tagore's poetry. As for social consciousness - the universal appeal of his poetry excludes nobody. For instance, if you take the 10 am train from Kolkata to Santiniketan, who will probably encounter a visually challenged middle aged man with his wife - singing some of the best known songs of Tagore. His performances help him earn a few rupees each day that supplements the family's meagre resources. And even though, he's not really a very talented singer, yet the renditions of Tagore's songs come straight from his heart and soul. I don't think there's any passenger on the train whose eyes don't moisten when he sings. It's really inspiring how, he falls back on Tagore and his deep thoughts even in the face of the kind of hardships that must be a part of his and his family's life.