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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 21 New Delhi May 12, 2018

Tagore for Today

Sunday 13 May 2018

On the occasion of Rabindranath Tagore‘s 157th birth anniversary on May 9, 2018, we are carrying excerpts from Tagore’s writings and speeches that are relevant in today’s context.

Today, more than ever before in our history, the aid of spiritual power is needed. Therefore, I believe its resources will surely be discovered in the hidden depths of our being. Pioneers will come to take up this adventure and suffer, and through suffering open out a path to that higher elevation of life in which lies our safety.

Let me, in reference to this, give an instance from the history of Ancient India. There was a noble period in the early days of India when, to a band of dreamers, agriculture appeared as a great idea and not merely useful fact. It not only made a settled life possible for a large number of men living in close proximity, but it claimed for its very purpose a life of peaceful co-operation.

At the present time, as I have said, the human world has been overtaken by another vast change similar to that which had occurred in the epic age of India. So long men had been cultivating, almost with a religious fervour, that mentality which is the product of racial isolation; poets proclaimed, in a loud pitch of bragging, the exploits of their popular fighters; money-makers felt neither pity nor shame in the unscrupulous dexterity of their pocket-picking; diplomats scattered lies in order to reap concessions from the devastated future of their own victims. Suddenly, the walls that separated the different races are seen to have given way, and we find ourselves standing face to face.

This is a great fact of epic significance. Man, suckled at the wolf’s breast, sheltered in the brute’s den, brought up in the prowling habit of depredation, suddenly discovers that he is Man, and that his true power lies in yielding up his brute power for the freedom of the spirit.

The God of Humanity has arrived at the gates of the ruined temple of the tribe. Though he has not yet found his altar, I ask the men of simple faith, wherever they may be in the world, to bring their offering of sacrifice to him, and to believe that it is far better to be wise and worshipful than to be clever and supercilious. I ask them to claim the right of manhood to be friends of men, and not the right of a particular proud race or nation which may boast of the fatal quality of being the rulers of men. We should know for certain that such rulers will no longer be tolerated in the new world, as it basks in the open sunlight of mind and breathes life’s free air.

[Excerpts from The Religion of Man, 1931]

Whatever we may say, what we understand by the country is the country of the gentlemen. We call the common people the lower classes; this definition has entered our very marrow. All standards are low for these so-called lower classes! They themselves have acquiesced in them. They have not the courage to demand anything higher. They move in the shadow of the gentlemen; their presence is indistinct and yet they form the majority; in other words, ninetyfive per cent of the country’s population is in the dark. Polite society cannot even see them clearly, let alone world society.

Whatever we may say in the heat of political discussions, however shrill we may wax in the expression of our national pride, we remain utterly indifferent to active national service, because our country is without light. On account of the parsimony of human nature, we cannot help being unjust to those whom we have kept low. From time to time we collect money in their name, but to their share fall words, the money finally comes to people of our own class. In short, the distance between that very small part of the country, the five per cent, who have intelligence, education, wealth and honour, and the remaining ninetyfive per cent of the population is wider even than the ocean. We live in the same country and yet we do not belong to the same country...

The poet said: “Strangers you have become in your own land.” He, of course, meant that we were under foreign rule. It may be more truly and profoundly said that we are strangers to our country, that is, the country to which the bulk of our race belongs is not our own. That country is invisible and intangible to us. When we loudly call our country mother, we know inwardly that that mother is the mother of a few spoilt children only. Shall we live like this? Shall our ultimate salvation be the right to vote?

[Excerpts from a speech Rabindranath Tagore delivered at a festival at Sriniketan in 1931]

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