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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 14, March 27, 2010

Tagore 2011: Advance Posting

Saturday 27 March 2010, by Amiya Dev

CAMEO

It is a few years now that a bronze bust of Rabindranath Tagore has been installed at Stratford-upon-Avon with his poem on Shakespeare inscribed on the pedestal in the original Bengali with his own English translation. It was a gift from the Government of West Bengal. Visitors taking a stroll in the Shakespeare garden are not likely to miss it. But how many of them, barring Indians and Bangladeshis of course, will be aware of the greatness of the greatest Bengali poet? Will they be inspired to find out, or will it only be one of those routine curiosities that leave no sure dent? I am asking this not out of obvious scepticism aroused by statues, but of a sense of sadness, for by not knowing Tagore the world is missing its one healing touch today. This is not echoing his admirers nearly a hundred years ago, but speaking anew in the context of today’s world.

While welcoming the UNESCO’s resolution to celebrate his words on the occasion of his 150th birth anniversary in 2011, along with Pablo Neruda’s and Aimé Césaire’s words, as an instance of the ‘reconciled universal’, we must be on our guard against fresh institutionalisation. Let ‘Tagore 150’ be not another world pays homage affair, a rerun of ‘Tagore 100’, for indeed this is no moment for worship. We need him now to help us stem disaster, and even the merriest sleepwalker of yesterday is awake now to what is already upon us.

As I am writing these words, the world heads of states are rationalising their failure to conclude the Copenhagen talks on the limits to carbon emission by the developed and developing nations apropos the already-set global warming. Some weeks ago we lighted candles in memory of the 26/11 dead, which could have also been lit to the memory of thousands of others struck down by big-time terror including those on 9/11. At the same time we have added to world inequality and hunger by our greed that ran riot some time ago resulting in an economic depression.

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This is not to say that Rabindranath Tagore has a ready-made solution to these crises, even though we may locate a social and political philosophy in him with a bearing on them. I am sure the UNESCO in its project of the ‘reconciled universal’ will find in him an answer to Huntington’s pseudo-Hobbesean idea of the ‘clash of civilisations’. It is also possible to see in his thrust on rural cooperatives an antidote to greed, the mainstay of capital. And of course the environmentalists will find a solid inspiration in him. But in what ways can the poet and the literary artist sustain us today? That perhaps is not bereft of the above and is no less urgent.

If we take Man, Nature and God to be his principal themes, as is often done, then at the same time we realise that he does not see any antinomies among them. To call him a mystic is to deny him his immense love of nature, and to call him a pantheist is to deny him his deep concerns with humanity. Of course he has phases where one predominates over the others, but they cohere.

Indeed there is fullness about him, a natural yet hard-won fullness that is quite rare in history. A view of it should give us the courage to begin speaking in terms of unplugging the sky and the earth of their fief to us, of cleansing the waters of defilement, of our being selves that do reach out to the others, of our not being greedy and gluttonous to the deprivation of many. Let these be not slogans but perceptions. It is time we relived Tagore’s words and had these perceptions planted in us.

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