My Journey With Tagore – Ashok Bhargava

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Tagore was a creative genius and a renaissance man. He wrote over one thousand poems; eight volumes of short stories; almost two dozen plays and play-lets; eight novels; and many books and essays on philosophy, religion, education and social issues.

This keynote speech was delivered by well known poet Ashok Bhargava on Tagore’s 150th birthday celebration at Richmond Cultural Centre on Saturday, Sep 10.

RICHMOND – As in any traditional gathering especially a family reunion, we normally greet everyone either with a kiss or an embrace or both as a sign of our 1ove, respect, unity, and solidarity with one another.

So, in the spirit of this celebration, and camaraderie in the name of Tagore, may I request you to please rise upto shake hand with your seatmate, your spouse-partner, friends or strangers around your seats?

Now, to submerge ourselves into the celebrations, kindly embrace each other and reach out to others in a warm, tender, and loving way.

And to top up such feelings of affection for each other, I ask you to clap your hands and deliver resounding rounds of applause to Tagore.

I am going to make you walk with me and become a traveller along with me as I tell you about Tagore’s trips around the world.

Popularly known as “Gurudev”, Tagore was a Poet, Philosopher, playwright, novelist, essayist, painter, composer, dramatist, choreographer, educator, social reformer and Nobel Laureate.

Rabindranath Tagore was born 150 years ago on May 7, 1861. He was the youngest son of Debendranath Tagore, a leader of the Brahmo Samaj – a new religious sect in nineteenth-century Bengal which attempted to revive monistic basis of Hinduism as laid down in the Upanishads. He was educated at home; and at an age of seventeen he was sent to England for formal schooling, he did not finish his studies there.

During the first 51 years of his life he was a relatively unknown artist. He had some success and recognition in Calcutta and surrounding areas of where he was born and raised. His short stories were published monthly in a friend’s magazine and he played the lead roles in some of his plays. Other than that, he was little known outside of Calcutta, and not known at all outside of India.

His destiny changed in 1912 when he returned to England for the first time since his failed attempt at law school as a teenager. Now a man of 51, he was accompanied by his son. On the way over to England he began translatinginto English his latest selections of poems called Gitanjali. He decided to do this just to have something to do, with no expectation that his first time translation efforts would be any good. He made the handwritten translations in a little notebook he carried around with him and worked on during the long sea voyage from India. Upon arrival, his son left his father’s brief case with this notebook in the London subway. Fortunately, an honest person turned in the briefcase and it was recovered the next day.

Tagore’s friend in England, Mr. Rothenstein, a famous painterwhom he had met in India,learned of the translation, and asked to see it. Reluctantly, with much persuasion, Tagore let him have the notebook. His friendwas amazed at the beauty and intricacies of his poems. He found Tagore’s poetry simply incredible. He called his friend, W.B. Yeats, and talked him into looking at the hand scrawled notebook.

Yeats was captivated. He later wrote the introduction to Gitanjali when it was published in September 1912 in a limited edition by the India Society in London. Thereafter, both the poetry and the man were an instant sensation, first in London literary circles, and soon thereafter in the entire world. His spiritual presence was awesome. His words evoked great beauty. Nobody had ever read anything like it. A glimpse of the mysticism and sentimental beauty of Indian culture were revealed to the West for the first time. Less than a year later, in 1913, Tagore received the Nobel Prize for literature. He was the first Asian and the first non-westerner to be so honoured.

In 1915 he was knighted by King George V of Britain.

His fame took him across continents on lecture tourspromoting inter-cultural harmony and understanding. For the world he became the voice of India’s spiritual heritage; and for India, especially for Bengal, he became a great living institution.

In 1919, following the Amritsar massacre of almost 400 innocent Indian demonstrators by British troops, Sir Tagore renounced his Knighthood. From time to time he participated in the Indian nationalist movement, though in his own non-sentimental and visionary way but most of the time he stayed out of politics. He was opposed to nationalism and militarism as a matter of principle, and instead promoted spiritual values and the creation of a new world culture founded in multiculturalism, diversity and tolerance.

Although Tagore wrote successfully in all literary genres, he was first of all a poet. Among his fifty and odd volumes of poetry are Manasi (1890) [The Ideal One], Sonar Tari (1894) [The Golden Boat], Gitanjali (1910) [Song Offerings], Gitimalya (1914) [Wreath of Songs], and Balaka (1916) [The Flight of Cranes]. The English renderings of his poetry, which include The Gardener (1913), Fruit-Gathering (1916), and The Fugitive (1921), do not generally correspond to particular volumes in the original Bengali; and in spite of its title, Gitanjali: Song Offerings (1912), the most acclaimed of them, contains poems from other works besides its namesake.

Tagore’s major plays are Raja (1910) [The King of the Dark Chamber], Dakghar (1912) [The Post Office], Achalayatan (1912) [The Immovable], Muktadhara (1922) [The Waterfall], and Raktakaravi (1926) [Red Oleanders]. He is the author of several volumes of short stories and a number of novels, among them Gora (1910), Ghare-Baire (1916) [The Home and the World], and Yogayog (1929) [Crosscurrents]. Besides these, he wrote musical dramas, and dance dramas of all types.

Tagore was a creative genius and a renaissance man. He wrote over one thousand poems; eight volumes of short stories; almost two dozen plays and play-lets; eight novels; and many books and essays on philosophy, religion, education and social issues. Aside from words and drama, his other great love was music, Bengali style. He composed more than two thousand songs, both the music and lyrics. Two of them became the national anthems of India and Bangladesh.