People who know Tagore, the Bengali poet and polymath, regarded by some as an Indian guru, might think from my background that I would be unlikely to be a Tagore enthusiast. This would not be because I was influenced by my father who was a socialist, pacifist and environmentalist – that all fits Tagore well – but because my father was adamantly atheist, dismissing anybody with religious beliefs as stupid (more about that later). My father was passionate about science, and so was Tagore, so that’s fine. I was encouraged to focus on maths and the sciences at A-level, and my first degree was in maths. I went on into a career in information systems, starting as a programmer, then systems analyst, project leader, line manager, then management consultant. I’ve been a member of the Labour Party on and off – off because of the abandonment of Clause Four and unilateral nuclear disarmament. For a few years I was a member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, a pacifist Marxist revolutionary party focussed on educating the workers on their exploitation in order to bring about a peaceful overturning of capitalism. I was also an environmental activist, my main interest being in land degradation worldwide, and I spent several years researching, teaching and lecturing on that subject. I discovered permaculture, and was very involved in the Permaculture Association in Britain for several years – and I’m sure that permaculture, with its ethics of ‘earth care, people care and fair shares’, would have appealed to Tagore.
So, I had two careers before discovering Tagore and embarking on a third career as a Tagore scholar. My beautiful book, Tagore Speaks (http://tagoreanworld.co.uk/?page_id=152), is a ‘thesis book’ but much revised, with the intention of having it appeal to the ‘general reader’. It is not meant for career academics who expect detailed referencing and strict objectivity, and will judge me accordingly. I decluttered the book, deciding against page headings, using a simple and generous-sized font, and I cut out most ‘scholarly apparatus’, leaving a short notes section, plus bibliography and index for those who might want to investigate my sources. I also left out bits and pieces such as my ‘Acknowledgements’ section, which reflects some of my own story. So I’ve copied that back here, as a basis for telling the story of my third career.
It has taken me over twenty years to reach this point in my journey of discovery with Rabindranath Tagore, and I have many people to acknowledge and thank. First of all I must honour and remember Marjorie Sykes, who first introduced me to Rabindranath. My next debt is to my dear friend Jean Hardy, through whom I encountered Tagore again at the Dartington Archive. I am grateful to Angie St. John Palmer, John Sanford and Yvonne Widger who worked on the Archive in the High Cross House days, and who were very generous with their interest and support for my research in the Leonard Elmhirst papers. I owe a huge debt to my Open University tutor Barbara Morden, who taught me so much about how to be a literature scholar when I was working on my MA dissertation on Tagore. I also thank Kalyan Kundu and Amalendu Biswas at the Tagore Centre in London for insights into the enduring Tagore legacy for Bengalis worldwide, and for many stimulating discussions.
This thesis would not have been possible without the help I have received from three people in particular. First of all I owe everything to my husband, David Gearing, who has shared in all the ups and downs of this research, supporting me by learning about Tagore with me, being the best critic and sounding board anyone could wish for, and always showing his faith that I can do this. Secondly, I owe a different kind of everything to my supervisor, Regenia Gagnier, for her intuition that I have something to offer the world of scholarship, if only it can be got out, for her exacting criticism, for her appetite for new ideas and opportunities from wherever they may come. Thirdly, I owe a special debt of gratitude to my dear friend and mentor, Uma Das Gupta, upon whose work on ‘the relatively lesser known aspects of Rabindranath’s life’ my research is built, and who has helped guide me towards what I need to know about Tagore from the Indian point of view.
I must also thank my daughters: Felicity Fay for being a perceptive reader of draft chapters, and Eleanor Marsh for the gift of her portrait of Tagore in pastels, a special presence in our house, looking wise and encouraging and so very much alive.
Tomorrow I’ll tell the story of my Tagore journey involving those lovely people.
I am struggling to get out of the doldrums due to Brexit and the coup against Jeremy Corbyn. I cannot get on with writing anything for the new books I’d been planning to follow Tagore Speaks. Doing short blog pieces is my way to get started again. It cheered me up yesterday to make redcurrant jelly from the crop from our garden.
It cheered me up today to listen to Professor Michael Dougan from Liverpool University, assessing the UK’s position following vote to leave the EU. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0dosmKwrAbI&feature=share