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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 26, June 18, 2011

My Rabindranath is Different

Monday 20 June 2011



Tolstoy, since he was a great creator, could be appreciated by two persons of diametrically opposite views. While Lenin called him “The mirror of the Russian revolution”, Gandhi sought solace in him, as he stood up against the South African ruling classes to ensure that Indian settlers got a human treatment at least. Gandhi’s “Tolstoy Farm” was the starting point of a long journey, which culminated in the Indian freedom.

Similarly, Rabindranath too, during his life-time and afterwards, was the shelter for people with varying ideologies. The armed national revolutionaries, before going to gallows, wrote his lines on the walls of the prison cell. At the same time those who rejected their line of action and opted for Marxism, quoted from his novel Chaar Adhyaya to show how misguided the national revolutionaries were. Thus, Rabindra-nath became the sole referring point for people with diametrically opposite views.

On his 150th birth anniversary, the question which naturally arises therefore is, whether Rabindranath was one person or several persons. Such a question could not be raised about Tolstoy, since his creative works were fewer in number. But Rabindranath had an unfathomable creativity. His works simply baffle an observer. If I remember correctly, Prof Susobhan Sarkar said somewhere that if Rabindranath would be remembered by posterity, it would be for his short stories and songs. But what about his articles? What about his letters from different places, written to his near and dear ones? I don’t think “baffling” is the right word. “Astounding” could be considered, to a certain extent. There were many dimensions of his personality, just as nature has. He was nature personified.

The personal life of this super-human being was tragic. He lost his wife early, and some of his children too. He was not on best of terms with his son, Rathindranath. But through all these, he went on creating. It is against this background that the fallacy of his critics becomes apparent. Blows of lesser intensity crippled some of the eminent writers, in Bengali and Hindi, and they never wrote again. Another criticism which is often made is about his being a Zamindar. Other Zamindars too were writers, but they could not reach Rabindranath’s stature. A person should be judged on the basis of his creativity, not otherwise.

But one thing which worries his admirers is building of institutions around his name. Yes, Santiniketan too was an institution and Rabindranath was its builder. But its purpose was not to glorify the poet’s name. Rather, it was Rabindranath’s magnanimity that he lent his works for fund-raising campaigns, which were conducted from time to time to bring the financial health of Santiniketan to order. The purpose of Santiniketan was to impart a different kind of education, which the poet always dreamt of.

Santiniketan, during the poet’s life-time and for a certain period afterwards, had an ethics. It is often accused of stifling such voices which tried to sing his songs differently. There can be no final judgment in the matter and we would like to keep the issue open. The only thing which I have to say is that the poet too followed church hymns, while giving music to some of his poems. But it perfectly matched the spirit of his poem.

What is happening today is different. There is no copyright of his works anymore, the stipulated period having lapsed. The poet’s name has become a great money-spinner, specially during his 150th birth anniversary. The money is being spinned by unscrupulous and inexperienced hands. Those whose thoughts and lives are totally at variance with Rabindranath’s are having a field day. Who is there to put a check on them?

Grand gala ceremonies are being staged to commemorate his 150th birth anniversary. Money is being raised for such functions. Could that money not be used for better purposes? Rural development was a subject close to Rabindra-nath’s-heart. Why no attention is being paid to the villages, which are crying for attention? As of today, the villages of Bengal are strife-torn and blood-soaked. Why does the civil society activists not set up a team and move from village to village carrying the message of Rabindranath, who always wanted peace to reign supreme, so that the common people could work undisturbed and earn their livelihood?

It is inevitable that such questions would crop up on Rabindranath’s 150th birth anniversary. As I said earlier, everybody’s Rabindranath is different. My Rabindranath is contemplative and looking towards the future, although his feet are planted on the soil of the present. Merely organising functions is no proper homage to him. Something more needs to be done.

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