Tagore Speaks: A Political Biography of Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)


I first heard the strange name ‘Rabindranath Tagore’ 25 years ago, from Marjorie Sykes who had worked with him.

She wrote down for me this quotation from one of Tagore’s essays:

I have been absorbed in research and writing on Tagore’s ideas and projects for ten years. My dissertation for an MA in Literature, awarded with distinction in 2006 by the Open University, is entitled ‘The Village and the World: A Political Reading of Rabindranath Tagore’s Prose Fiction’. My thesis for the PhD, awarded by the University of Exeter in 2013, is entitled ‘Towards One World: A Journey Through the English Essays of Rabindranath Tagore’. Following advice from colleagues I had an embargo placed on the E-Thesis at Open Research Exeter (ORE), and then spent a year revising the work very considerably for publication, with OUP India in mind. Perhaps it was naive of me to think that OUP India would be interested, but they have published very many works on Tagore, and the strength of my book is its original focus on Tagore’s relevance today.

A colleague gave me the name and email address of the person to approach at OUP India. I sent him a message about my book, and he referred me very courteously to the commissioning editor for academic publishing, who asked me for a proposal, which I duly sent. After a couple of months an email came back saying my book ‘would not fit into [their] publishing program at this stage’. I was not asked for sample chapters, so no one there read any of the work.

What to do with it now? is the question. There are hundreds of other academic publishers, but the latest bubbling up of Tagore’s reputation, inflated by his 150th birth anniversary in 2011, has largely fizzled out. Rabindranath remains a cherished cultural icon for Bengalis, but the rest of the world – perhaps even most of India – has forgotten him again. OUP India was my best hope. There seems little point in trying other publishers. The irony of the situation is that my aim with this book was to show how Tagore’s ideas on world change are highly relevant to the challenges we face in the world today.

A while ago I decided to ‘publish’ the book as pages on my website tagoreanworld.co.uk, one chapter at a time, one chapter per month. But I changed my mind. Instead I have published a revised version, now entitled Tagore Speaks to the Twenty-First Century, ISBN 978-1-5262-0254-3. There are (still) seven chapters: one each for Tagore’s five books of lectures and essays, plus an Introduction and a Conclusion. Previously I made the Introduction available more widely as a pdf, but I’ve taken that away – there were errors in it which I’ve corrected for the printed book. Making this – later – decision, and getting the process underway, will help me concentrate on the next book, already chapter-planned and partially researched. That is what I should have done two years ago!