tagoreanworld

Rabindranath Tagore and ‘Orature to Literature Universals’

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Why Tagore?
[1]

Leonard Elmhirst, the founder of the Dartington Hall Trust, was secretary and companion to Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) during the Poet’s foreign tours in 1923 to 1925. They visited China and Japan in 1923, Peru and Argentina in 1924 and Italy in 1925.[2] Later in 1925, Elmhirst wrote from London to Tagore in Bengal saying ‘I’ve just had “Death” typed out’.[3] This was a reference to the notes Elmhirst made on 28 January 1925 from Tagore’s conversation with Il Duca Gallarati Scotti, one of the leading literary figures in Milan.[4] Inspired by reading Tagore’s play The Post Office, Scotti invited the poet to expand on the idea of death as ‘a kind of revelation of the Divine’. Tagore’s response, noted down and then typed up by Elmhirst, is a very moving essay entitled ‘On Death’.[5]

Elmhirst’s wife Dorothy specified that ‘On Death’ should be one of the readings at her funeral. She died in December 1968. At the Memorial Concert held in January 1969, William Elmhirst read ‘On Death’ for his mother.[6] In 2005, while working as a volunteer at the Dartington Hall Trust Archive, I came across Elmhirst’s typescript and requested a photocopy. I rekeyed the text at home and, incorporating an image from one of Tagore’s paintings, made an attractive card entitled ‘Ocean of Life’ which I have given to friends who have been bereaved.

This story is of interest because it is an instance of spoken words being captured and retained: first as handwritten notes, then typescript, electronic text and finally print. Most circumstances where spoken words are written down are parts of everyday life. Processes where we could say ‘orature becomes literature’ are less common, but I believe that examining how and where and when such transformations occur has the potential to reveal a class of literary universals of relevance to the present study.

Tagore is a particularly useful orator and writer to focus on for an initial exploration of the relationships between oral and literary communication. His biographer has described him as ‘a poet who was an indefatigable man of action’.[7] Tagore’s creative process was often active and participatory, resulting in songs and community singing, collaborative plays and dance dramas.[8] He was a gifted public speaker and an inspiring teacher and preacher, whose spoken words published in print make up some two-thirds of his writing.[9] Much of his writing was first published in journals, some of which Tagore edited himself. From Tagore’s autobiographical writings, we get a sense of the lively flow of words through these publications, from observation and experience via writing into sharing and discussing. When Tagore did publish books, the material was from collections, and often for the royalties to help fund his practical projects.

Orature to Literature Universals (OLUs)

Orature to Literature changes are extremely varied. In Tagore’s case we might include how the ‘warm colour’ of his lectures ‘faded in cold print’,[10] how the modern dance style known as Rabindra-nritya which Tagore invented has disappeared because it was never formally codified,[11] and – at the other end of the scale – the proliferation of versions of many of his writings and the preservation of ‘every verbal scrap’ in Visva-Bharati’s Rabindra-Bhavana Archives.[12] The value of taking Tagore as a focus for considering Orature to Literature changes as a class of Literary Universals (OLUs) can be extended even more widely, if we take into account his interest in traditional genres which once were passed on orally and through performance.[13]

Since Orature to Literature changes are so varied, we might be inclined to put everything of that kind down to chance and particular circumstances. That would not be wrong, but I believe that there is still value in considering how we might study these changes systematically. We can also see that such changes are universal features, not tied to particular parts of the world, languages or traditions – although how, and to what degree, OLUs affect the survival and reception of the products of creativity is uneven, and we may decide to divide them into absolute, statistical or typological.[14]

When we come to consider further research into OLUs we might start with the general idea of relationships between oral and written sets of words. OLUs then might include how a writer thinks and talks to herself before writing, or, prior to that, feels the urge to capture – and share with others – a thought which might be original or useful or exciting. A reader may hear inwardly the words he is reading – and perhaps say them out loud to someone else. There is a political perspective to OLUs in that we might consider how valuable and influential a text might be if – and only if – it travels via speech into world change. That idea is particularly relevant to Tagore, who saw putting his ideas on social change into practice as his ‘life’s work’.[15] And, interestingly, his awareness of the need for social change came to him during a particular period of his life, during the 1890s when he was put in charge of managing the family estates in Bengal. The best of Tagore’s story writing came from that period,[16] and story telling was oral before it was written down, not only historically but probably in the process of composition too. Relevant to that, we also have, newly translated, the text of Tagore’s letters in the 1890s to his niece Indira.[17] These belong in a class of OLUs, to include letters and all forms of putting immediate impressions into words, to tell distant others as if they were listeners in the here and now.

Given the breadth of such a study across genres and traditions, and also its extent back in time to encompass pre-literate traditions, it is essential to re-examine what we might mean by ‘universal’, and we will see that Tagore had important and relevant ideas about that concept.

Tagore and the Universal

Tagore has been described as a ‘universal man’, and likened to Goethe and Leonardo da Vinci for their supreme intellectual and artistic stature and attainments in many fields.[18] Tagore identified with the ‘universal man’ in another sense, which can be seen in his famous conversation with Einstein which concludes with Tagore saying: ‘My religion is in the reconciliation of the Super-personal Man, the Universal human spirit, in my own individual being […]which I have called “The Religion of Man”.’[19] This can be understood as a reference to the ancient Hindu Vedantist idea of the identity of the individual self with the universal Self: tat tvam asi or ‘Thou art That’.[20] Tagore explains to Einstein how this idea relates to Truth, which must be shared human truth, and only human truth, since ‘if there be any truth absolutely unrelated to humanity then for us it is absolutely non-existing’.[21]

The implication is that everything is connected, all of humanity, all of nature, all of human experience with nature. A number of scientists, intrigued by the Tagore-Einstein conversation, have suggested that Tagore’s truth is science as well as religion. His conception of universal connectedness has been likened to ‘quantum entanglement’, whereby subatomic particles influence each other instantaneously over any – even astronomical – separation, an idea Einstein dismissed as ‘spooky action-at-a-distance’ but which has been demonstrated experimentally.[22] Renowned mathematical physicist Roger Penrose tells us that entanglement is such an ‘ubiquitous phenomenon’ that perhaps all particles in the universe are entangled with each other.[23] ‘Of course!’ we can almost hear Tagore say.

There is another aspect to ‘Tagore and the Universal’ which is directly relevant to the class of literary universals I am suggesting may emerge from a study of the relationships between ‘orature and literature’. In his English Essays,[24] and elsewhere, Tagore refers several times to ‘The Surplus in Man’. Tagore sees the essential difference between the human species and other animals as our having extra mental, physical and emotional energy beyond what is essential to meeting our basic needs. This extra capacity ‘seeks its outlet in the creation of Art, for man’s civilisation is built upon his surplus’.[25] Thus Art, for Tagore, encompasses creativity in general, to include his own activities, and his interest in encouraging others to participate in performance and cultural pursuits as part of ‘life in its completeness’.[26]

With his deep interest in universal humanity, and in his role as an active social reformer, Tagore makes Art part of our ‘species being’ in the Marxist sense. Art has been present and developing throughout our evolution, our prehistory and then recorded history, right through to the threats to its full expression brought about by modern science, economics and politics. Tagore was very much aware of this form of alienation in the modern age.[27] He expressed his ideas on the remedy for modern alienation in essays such as ‘Society and State’ and ‘City and Village’.[28]

Literature and Tagorean Universalism

Tagore’s universalism includes what may be called his ‘deep anthropology’: his fascination with the evolution and history of humankind, with a particular focus on our potential for moral responsibility, or dharma.[29] If we put literature into evolutionary context, we can see that it is just one of the ways human beings have captured and shared their experiences. With the recent meteoric rise of social media, experiences are able to be shared immediately as images and sound, marking perhaps the end of the dominance of literature as the major medium for communication and social memory.

Psychologist Merlin Donald has taken the very long view – a million years and more – of the evolution of human culture and cognition.[30] Literature as expressive language has been around for only about 5000 years, and for much of that time has been available only to minorities and for particular purposes.[31] Donald refers to the stage of human development from writing onwards as ‘external symbolic storage and theoretic culture’.[32] Prior to that, by his scheme, were stages when human groups shared their experiences using ‘episodic memory’, followed by ‘mimetic culture’ and ‘mythic culture’. Those stages were not superseded over time but added to. We all – I presume – have non-verbal memories we can revisit and link together affectively.[33] There are many situations in which we communicate with facial expressions and gestures. We also use actions to demonstrate and teach skills.[34] And of course we all, from childhood onwards, listen to and recall stories, pass them on and make up new ones, without resorting to reading and writing. Poetry and drama, song and dance all belong in the rich mixture of what we do with that ‘surplus’ physical, emotional and intellectual energy which Tagore identified as essential to being human.

When Tagore said his aim was to bring ‘life in its completeness’ to Indian villages, he was referring to his belief that everyone should be able to enrich their lives through creativity and performance. He brought that ideal into the school and university he established at Santiniketan in the Bengal countryside. In his essay ‘An Eastern University’, Tagore described how he planned to combine an Indian and Asian intellectual centre with a technically proficient, not-for-profit, peasant life:

Our centre of culture should not only be the centre of the intellectual life of India, but the centre of her economic life also. It must co-operate with the villages round it, cultivate land, breed cattle, spin cloths, press oil from oil-seeds; it must produce all the necessaries, devising the best means, using the best materials, and calling science to its aid. Its very existence should depend upon the success of its industrial activities carried out on the co-operative principle, which will unite the teachers and students and villagers of the neighbourhood in a living and active bond of necessity. This will give us also a practical industrial training, whose motive force is not the greed of profit.[35]

All involved in Tagore’s holistic ‘centre of culture’ would be part of a diverse living and working community, and would come to feel the sense of self which Hogan termed ‘practical identity’. Without such a rooted and real form of identity, people adopt one or another ‘categorial identity’, the sense of self derived from adopting a label applied to a disparate group of others, most of whom we may never meet.[36]

The alternative forms of identity Hogan has drawn our attention to relates to a contrast, and ongoing shift, between traditional village society and modern urban society. Traditional society is rooted in the land, is largely self-reliant, socially and economically, and people’s identity roles are vocational and probably inherited. In modern urban society, that kind of secure identity is lost, and people increasingly come to define themselves by labels such as nationality, ethnicity, or religion, which constrain their conduct, activities and social engagement. Tagore observes in his essay ‘The Nation’ how professionalism and specialisation have similar defects and dangers, bringing a narrow, impersonal rigidity to the modern world.[37]

When Uma Das Gupta describes Tagore as ‘a poet who was an indefatigable man of action’ in her short biography focused on his ‘work as an educator and rural reformer’,[38] she is in effect pointing to his two distinct identities, one professional and in Hogan’s terms ‘categorial’, the other ‘practical’, concerning how people see themselves as part of a cooperative community. For our present purposes we do not need to know the details of this work, but how he came to take on this mission are significant. In the 1890s when he was the zemindar, managing the Tagore family estates, his efforts to help his tenants may have been a matter of conscience, following the example of his saintly father, but the ‘life’s work’ continued when he moved to the Santiniketan ashram, and established his school, which grew into Visva-Bharati, the international university, with its department of rural reconstruction at Sriniketan.

There is a parallel between the ongoing political, economic and cultural shift in the modern world and the progressive change from orature to literature over millennia, but it is not straightforward, particularly when considered in relation to Tagore’s projects and his written oeuvre. I shall introduce how these long-term changes could suggest a class of OLUs with an anecdote I’ll call ‘Arthur Geddes’ Complaint’.

Arthur Geddes’ Complaint

Arthur Geddes (1895-1968) was a musician and geographer who came to have an interest in the work Elmhirst had initiated at Sriniketan, the Institute of Rural Reconstruction. He spent the summer of 1923 working at Sriniketan, and wrote an article for the Modern Review with an ‘appeal for funds and gifts in kind’, supported by a vivid and enthusiastic progress report on how ‘the Institution has got into its stride and is well on the way to finding further solutions towards a happier countryside’.[39]

Following the example of his brilliant father, the Scottish biologist, sociologist, architect and planner, Patrick Geddes (1854-1932) (PG), Arthur Geddes (AG) was enthusiastic for renewing the partnership between town and country. The traditional relationships of mutual responsibility had broken down due to the British government having turned the land-owning class in India into an English-educated urban, professional middle-class which looked down on the chhotolok, the little people, in the countryside. PG approved of cultural pursuits being part of rural reconstruction initiatives; for his musician son this aspect was central. So AG composed what he called ‘a little Chasha’s (farmer’s) pageant’, a ‘rural play’ to be performed ‘by the reconstructors themselves’, the boys he was working with at Sriniketan. The pageant duly took place on 22 April 1923, and with Tagore’s encouragement AG wrote an article about it for the July edition of the Visva-Bharati Quarterly.[40] Just visible in AG’s copy of the journal, in faded ink or pencil, are a few corrections and notes that he added, as if on a proof. A note on the first page reads: ‘I wish specially to say how much this owes to the Poet. Not only did he encourage us when we had begun but actually wrote & composed 3 songs for it. Finally when it was over he urged me to write this introduction to it.’ All well and good, it would seem, until we read AG’s long letter to his father dated 24 April 1923, in which he articulates his ‘complaint’:

Dear Daddy,

The only thing I can think of at the moment is our “Masque of Earth & of the Desert”. We had a grand performance 2 days ago, & it has left me a bit “chewed up,” but still, so far content. It was quite a success, & the Poet was most encouraging to me personally. — I was hurt, though, & let him see it, at what I felt his lack of encouragement of our own boys.[41]

Reading AG’s letter in parallel with his journal article, we come to appreciate the sensitivity and authority of the writer. As one would expect, the theme of the Masque was highly relevant to the aims of rural reconstruction. It told the story of human relationships with the land, beginning with the transition from hunting and tribal conflict to farming and its many challenges. It featured rhythmic drumming and dance by the Santals (tribal people), and then a dance of peasants planting rice. It was divided into three Acts with actors representing Hunters, Fire, Drought, Famine, King Desert, Water, Demon of Destruction and Mother Earth. All was shown through movement and mime and dressing up, a vivid and delightful form of drama made necessary because the participants did not all speak the same language. Continuity was supplied by the character of a Rishi or forest sage, who was peace-maker and instructor. There was no prior play text, apart from the song lyrics from Tagore. AG’s subsequent write up in VBQ was not ‘orature to literature’. It was a description of what had been acted in mime (as if from Donald’s ‘mimetic culture’).

What then was AG’s complaint? Although AG expressed his gratitude for Tagore supplying the words and music for three songs, this spoiled the point of the whole thing, as AG explains to his father:

The Poet, & his aesthetes, wanted something that wd. not offend their ears & tastes: Naturally that meant importing Santiniketan singers etc, who knew little of what the land etc. meant, & division of actors & singers and lack of unity. The worst part was that the boys, & all, knew this was in the air, and half my players funked coming on at all, & the rest swithered badly up to the time & moment of beginning! However once begun it went not too badly, & our boys (those who had taken part) were delighted at their success, as I with theirs.

Later in the letter AG writes:

Poor Poet, he said, “Arthur, there is one thing you forget,— these songs are mine — it doesn’t matter to you if they’re ill sung, but how can I bear to hear them howled?” But the Ideas are his — can he never bear to see them realised! — because imperfect?

AG could see how Tagore was conflicted. On the one hand, the ideas behind the Sriniketan centre for rural reconstruction were Tagore’s. He was well aware of how important it was for the Masque to be performed by AG’s boys, the ‘reconstructors’ themselves, to be a contribution to ‘life in its completeness’, and the exercise of their creative ‘surplus’. On the other hand, Tagore was ‘the Poet’, and he cared about his literary reputation, which would include what the audience, his colleagues at the university, thought of his songs in performance.

The anecdote can be seen as illustrating Hogan’s identity politics: Sriniketan is about practical identity in rooted village communities, and ‘Poet’ is Tagore’s own categorial identity, his label as a professional and specialist. The anecdote can also be understood as an instance of the ‘political perspective to OLUs’ mentioned earlier where ‘we might consider how valuable and influential a text might be if – and only if – it travels via speech into world change’. Tagore supplied the only pre-written text used for the Masque. It travelled via song into performance, but in a small way it went against the cultural change which was the whole point of Sriniketan. In 1923 hopes were high for the ‘centre of culture’ at Santiniketan to ‘co-operate with the villages round it’ through the work of Sriniketan, but AG observed in a letter to his father that ‘It is a pity these two places – Santiniketan and Sriniketan in Surul Khoti are so far apart, but it can’t be helped, and on the whole there is some unity and good feeling between the two’.[42]

I do not suppose AG’s feeling ‘a bit “chewed up,”’ would have lasted more than a few days, and given his huge admiration and reverence for Tagore, it is surprising that he voiced any criticism at all, even privately to his father. It is interesting to look ahead almost a century to 2011, and the posthumous publication of AG’s book Fourteen Songs, in which he reports on the Masque again as follows:

Tagore’s first collaboration with me came when, in the spirit of Sri- and Santi-niketan, I sought to dramatise the making, ruin and remaking of the land in ‘A Masque of Earth and Man’. Delighted and unasked, the Bard not only retaught the young folk some of his songs, but composed and taught new songs. After it was played, by ‘students’ and Santals, he urged me to write out the Masque for the first volume of his Visva-Bharati Quarterly. Such was Gurudev, singer, teacher and inspiring friend.[43]

The later collaboration with ‘the Bard’ involved AG capturing the words and melodies of just a few of Tagore’s 2,200 songs, a service made necessary because ‘musically he was illiterate’. As is quite well known, Tagore did not play an instrument and did not know musical notation, so he always needed friends, family or colleagues to capture the tunes for him. In terms of the present discussion, this takes us back to the service Elmhirst provided as scribe and literary secretary to Tagore on one of his lecture tours.

The focus of the two anecdotes ‘On Death’ and ‘Arthur Geddes’ Complaint’ has been the circumstances surrounding four short pieces of writing by Tagore: an essay of 1500 words and three song lyrics of 40 lines in all. Tagore composed over 2000 songs and his written oeuvre is vast: at least 47,500 pages of literary works in English and Bengali,[44] plus hundreds of essays and thousands of letters. (We might add to that all the works by others about Tagore’s life and achievements.) Every page of writing will have had its circumstances of inspiration and composition, followed by revision and new versions, sharing and feedback, assembly of collections, publication, translations and translation of translations. All this material has been preserved on forms of ‘external symbolic storage’: on manuscript and typescript, in journals and printed books, in libraries and archives, and on electronic media. The ‘stuff’ itself is dead, inanimate. It comes alive again when we read and study it, discuss it and teach it, use it to advocate world change. It comes alive when it is spoken, when literature becomes oral again – which is why I am suggesting we might study ‘orature and literature universals’ (OLUs) as part of the LitUP project.

Further Research

On being invited to write an article on some aspect of ‘literary universals and Rabindranath Tagore’, I meandered around possible connections for several months, before homing in on the idea of OLUs. This essay points to the possibility of OLUs becoming a class of ‘proposed universals’, and leading to a new area of research.

The essay touches on research topics which are already present as part of the LitUP project: aspects of story, cognitive science, ethics and human rights, and particularly identity politics. The anecdote ‘Arthur Geddes complaint’ focuses on the two forms of identity: practical and categorial. The aim of ‘A Masque of Earth and Man’ was shared community performance, but Tagore’s status as Poet (a professional and categorial identity) took precedence, despite his deep commitment to reviving India’s rural society, for people to enjoy ‘life in its completeness’, including creativity and performance (part of their shared, cooperative practical identity).

In modern, urban society it is accepted that only the most gifted and talented writers, artists and performers make art their profession or specialism; everyone else pays to read or watches in silence. The majority are deprived of the exercise of their creative surplus. Literature could be unhelpful for rebuilding sustainable local communities, in that reading works of literature or nonfiction about the need for world change may lead to sympathy but not action. My sense is that, because of the lapse of time since Tagore’s work in the 1890s to 1930s, the potential for rural reconstruction, even in India where village society still exists, looks bleak, so further research in that area needs to begin by re-examining Tagore’s ideas on social reform, and how they connect to his work as an artist and performer.

The extent and variety of Tagore’s life and work provide endless opportunities for further research. I suggest two threads which could be followed up as part of the LitUP project.

Thinking about the process of taking in one’s surroundings and then formulating words to share with others, I was intrigued by Tagore’s Letters from a Young Poet. It made me wonder if writers have to remember what they have experienced in words, because they lack the mental capacity to retain concrete memories of sights, sounds, scents, emotions, movements and action. Is ‘writerly recall’ a handicap, a substitute for ‘real’ memory? Does a writer feel driven to share verbal memories with someone, or some thing, like a notebook or journal, due to a sense of memories being insecure? Might postponing the teaching of reading and writing until later in a child’s life help with this difficulty? There is much in Tagore’s later writing about himself and his ideas on education to confirm this perspective on literature and literacy.

Tagore the ‘universal man’ was far more than the author of one of the largest ever written oeuvres. It does not diminish his genius to see his incessant outpouring of lyric poems as a kind of obsessive compulsive disorder. If we focus instead on the breadth of his interests, it helps us put literature as a whole in perspective, as a temporary phenomenon within human evolution and anthropology, part of our ongoing relationship with nature and the universe.

Bibliography

Ahmed, Imtiaz, Muchkund Dubey and Veena Sikri, eds., Contemporarising Tagore and the World  (Dhaka: University Press, 2013)
Anand, Mulk Raj, ‘Inaugural Address: Rabindranath Tagore in Retrospect’, in Rabindranath Tagore and the Challenges of Today (Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1988), pp. 4-11.
Bichitra: Online Tagore Variorum, www.bichitra.jdvu.ac.in
Bose, Mandakranta, ‘Indian Modernity and Tagore’s Dance’, in Rabindranath Tagore: Reclaiming a Cultural Icon (Kolkata: Visva-Bharati, 2009), pp. 193-203.
Chanda, Rajat, ‘A Synthesis of the Arts and Sciences: Rabindranath’s Poetic Vision’, in Rabindranath Tagore: A Timeless Mind, ed. by Amalendu Biswas, Christine Marsh and Kalyan Kundu (London: Tagore Centre UK, 2011), pp. 37-47.
Cox, Peter, The Arts at Dartington 1940 – 1983: A Personal Account (Totnes: Peter Cox with Dartington Hall Trust Archive, 2005)
Das Gupta, Uma, ‘Rabindranath Tagore on Rural Reconstruction: The Sriniketan Programme, 1921-41’, Indian Historical Review, 4 (1978), 354-78.
Das Gupta, Uma, Rabindranath Tagore: A Biography (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004)
Donald, Merlin, Origins of the Human Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991)
Dutta, Krishna and Andrew Robinson, eds., Purabi: A Miscellany in Memory of Rabindranath Tagore 1941-1991 (London: The Tagore Centre UK, 1991)
Fraser, Bashabi, ed., A Meeting of Two Minds: Geddes Tagore Letters (Edinburgh: Word Power Books, 2005)
Geddes, Arthur, ‘A Masque of Earth and Man (A pageant of Wild Nature, tamed, despoiled, restored anew.)’, Visva-Bharati Quarterly, July 1923, 149-60.
Geddes, Arthur, ‘Rural Reconstruction’, Modern Review, November 1923, 537-40.
Geddes, Arthur, ed., Fourteen Songs by Rabindranath Tagore (Bideford, Devon: Resurgence Trust, 2011)
Gelernter, David, The Muse in the Machine: Computerizing the Poetry of Human Thought (New York: Free, 1994)
Harari, Yuval Noah, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (London: Harvill Secker, 2015)
Hogan, Patrick Colm, ‘Midnight’s Children: Kashmir and the Politics of Identity’, Twentieth Century Literature, 47 (2001), 510-544.
Hogan, Patrick Colm, What are Literary Universals?
Hogan, Patrick, Colonialism and Cultural Identity: Crises of Tradition in the Anglophone Literatures of India, Africa, and the Caribbean (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 2000)
Hume, Robert Ernest, ed. and trans., The Thirteen Principal Upanishads: Translated from the Sanskrit (London: Oxford University Press, 1934)
Kowshik, Dinkar, ‘Rabindranath—the Universal Man’, in Rabindranath Tagore and the Challenges of Today (Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1988), pp. 95-111.
Lago, Mary, Rabindranath Tagore (Boston: Twayne, 1976)
Mortimer, Ian, The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England (London: Vintage, 2009)
Penrose, Roger, The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe (London: Vintage, 2005)
Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli, and Editorial Board, Rabindranath Tagore: A Centenary Volume 1861-1941, (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1961)
Radice, William, Myths and Legends of India (London: Folio Society, 2001)
Radice, William, Rabindranath Tagore: Particles, Jottings, Sparks: The Collected Brief Poems (London: Angel, 2001)
Rhys, Ernest, Rabindranath Tagore: A Biographical Study (London: Penguin, 1915)
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Tagore, Rabindranath The Religion of Man (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1931)
Tagore, Rabindranath, ‘On Death’, Devon Heritage Centre, Papers of Leonard Knight Elmhirst, LKE/TAG/3/A
Tagore, Rabindranath, Creative Unity (London: Macmillan, 1922)
Tagore, Rabindranath, Letters From a Young Poet: 1887-1895 (New Delhi: Penguin, 2014)
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Notes
[1] This essay is my response to a personal invitation in September last year to contribute to the LitUP website with ‘an article on literary universals and Rabindranath Tagore’. I was to decide what to discuss and ‘given Tagore’s interests, the treatment of universals would probably be broader than “literary universals” in the narrow sense treated in Hogan’s essay ‘What are Literary Universals?’

[2] Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, and Editorial Board, Rabindranath Tagore: A Centenary Volume 1861-1941, (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1961), pp. 481-3.

[3] Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson, eds., Purabi: A Miscellany in Memory of Rabindranath Tagore 1941-1991 (London: The Tagore Centre UK, 1991), p. 89.

[4] Tagore’s encounter with Scotti was reported in Visva-Bharati Quarterly, vol. 28 No.2 1962-3.

[5] Tagore, ‘On Death’, Devon Heritage Centre, Papers of Leonard Knight Elmhirst, LKE/TAG/3/A

[6] Peter Cox, The Arts at Dartington 1940 – 1983: A Personal Account (Totnes: Peter Cox with Dartington Hall Trust Archive, 2005), p. 262.

[7] Uma Das Gupta, Rabindranath Tagore: A Biography (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. ix.

[8] Tagore ‘wrote plays and acted in them’, ‘danced with his students and invited dancers from various parts of the country to [his school at] Santiniketan’, he ‘composed songs and made community singing part of the syllabus of the school’. (Mulk Raj Anand, ‘Inaugural Address: Rabindranath Tagore in Retrospect’, in Rabindranath Tagore and the Challenges of Today (Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1988), pp. 4-11 (p. 9).)

[9] Imtiaz Ahmed, Professor of International Relations at the University of Dhaka, asks why scholars critiquing Tagore on social issues reflect on his literary works, rather than on his serious essays, which make up some two-thirds of his writing. (Imtiaz Ahmed, ‘Contemporarising Rabindranath and the International’, in Contemporarising Tagore and the World, p. 16.)

[10] Comment by Ernest Rhys on Tagore’s Sadhana lectures, in his Rabindranath Tagore: A Biographical Study (London: Penguin, 1915), p. 123.

[11] Mandakranta Bose, ‘Indian Modernity and Tagore’s Dance’, in Rabindranath Tagore: Reclaiming a Cultural Icon (Kolkata: Visva-Bharati, 2009), pp. 193-203.)

[12] Commentators have suggested that hoarding of Tagore’s work is not altogether a good thing, including the Poet himself: ‘Why fill your bags with my every verbal scrap? / Things that belong to the dust should be left to drop.’ (Quoted in Introduction by William Radice, in Rabindranath Tagore: Particles, Jottings, Sparks: The Collected Brief Poems (London: Angel, 2001), pp. 1-33 ((p. 21).)

[13] William Radice, Introduction, in Myths and Legends of India (London: Folio Society, 2001), pp. xiii-xxviii (pp. xv-xvi).

[14] Hogan, ‘Kinds of Universals’ in What are Literary Universals?

[15] Tagore used the telling phrase ‘what has been my life’s work’ in a letter dated 28 February 1930 to Lord Irwin, the Viceroy, appealing for a grant for agricultural research. (‘Letter RT to H.E., The Viceroy’, The Dartington Hall Trust Archive, Papers of Leonard Knight Elmhirst, LKE India, LKE/IN/25 Folder A, ‘Visva-Bharati correspondence’.)

[16] In Bengali literature ‘the modern short story began with Tagore’s stories of the 1890s’. (Mary Lago, ‘Tagore’s Short Fiction’, in Rabindranath Tagore (Boston: Twayne, 1976), pp. 80-114 (p. 80).)

[17] Tagore, Letters From a Young Poet: 1887-1895 (New Delhi: Penguin, 2014)

[18] Dinkar Kowshik, ‘Rabindranath—the Universal Man’, in Rabindranath Tagore and the Challenges of Today (Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1988), pp. 95-111.

[19] Tagore, Appendix II ‘Note on the Nature of Reality’, in The Religion of Man (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1931), pp. 222-5 (p. 225).

[20] Kshiti Mohan Sen, Hinduism, trans. by Sisir Kumar Ghosh and Amartya Sen (London: Penguin, 2005), p. 9. Robert Ernest Hume, ed. and trans., Sanskrit Index, in The Thirteen Principal Upanishads: Translated from the Sanskrit (London: Oxford University Press, 1934) pp. 563-6 (p. 564).

[21] Tagore, ‘Note on the Nature of Reality’, p. 224.

[22] Rajat Chanda, ‘A Synthesis of the Arts and Sciences: Rabindranath’s Poetic Vision’, in Rabindranath Tagore: A Timeless Mind, ed. by Amalendu Biswas, Christine Marsh and Kalyan Kundu (London: Tagore Centre UK, 2011), pp. 37-47 (p. 45).

[23] Roger Penrose, ‘23: The entangled quantum world’, in The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe (London: Vintage, 2005), pp. 578-608 (p. 591).

[24] Tagore’s English Essays are the texts of his lectures during his tours in Europe and America, published as Sadhana in 1913, Personality and Nationalism in 1917, Creative Unity in 1922, and The Religion of Man in 1931.

[25] Tagore, ‘What is Art?’, in Personality: Lectures Delivered in America (London: Macmillan, 1917), pp. 3-38 (p. 11).

[26] Uma Das Gupta, ‘Rabindranath Tagore on Rural Reconstruction: The Sriniketan Programme, 1921-41’, Indian Historical Review, 4 (1978), 354-78 (p. 355).

[27] Tagore, ‘The Modern Age’, in Creative Unity (London: Macmillan, 1922), pp. 113-130

[28] Tagore, ‘Society and State’, in Towards Universal Man, pp. 49-66. ‘City and Village’, in Towards Universal Man, pp. 302-22.

[29] See explanation of dharma in Hogan, ‘Orthodoxy and Universalism: Rabindranath Tagore’s Gora’, in Colonialism and Cultural Identity: Crises of Tradition in the Anglophone Literatures of India, Africa, and the Caribbean (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 2000), pp. 213-255 (pp. 214-21).

[30] Merlin Donald, Origins of the Human Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991)

[31] ‘The vast majority of people remained illiterate until the modern age, but the all-important administrators increasingly saw reality through the medium of written texts’.’ (Yuval Noah Harari, ‘The Storytellers’, in Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (London: Harvill Secker, 2015), pp. 155-77 (p. 163).)

Ian Mortimer tells how in 14th Century England, only a twentieth of the rural population could read, story-telling was done by minstrels, but the aristocracy and some city people owned libraries of manuscripts. (Ian Mortimer, The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England (London: Vintage, 2009), p. 273.

[32] Donald, p. 269.

[33] On ‘affect linking’ see David Gelernter, The Muse in the Machine: Computerizing the Poetry of Human Thought (New York: Free, 1994), pp. 6-7.

[34] Tagore hoped that the students and teachers at his university would ‘cultivate land’ to grow their own food, and skills such as transplanting seedlings are best conveyed by demonstration. (Tagore, ‘An Eastern University’, in Creative Unity, pp. 167-203 (p.201).)

[35] ‘An Eastern University’, pp. 200-1.

[36] Patrick Colm Hogan, ‘Practical identity against categorial identity’, in ‘Midnight’s Children: Kashmir and the Politics of Identity’, Twentieth Century Literature, 47 (2001), 510-544 (pp. 518-9).

[37] Tagore, ‘The Nation’, in Creative Unity (London: Macmillan, 1922), pp. 141-53 (pp. 145-6).

[38] Das Gupta, Biography, blurb and p. ix.

[39] Arthur Geddes, ‘Rural Reconstruction’, Modern Review, November 1923, 537-40.

[40] Arthur Geddes, ‘A Masque of Earth and Man (A pageant of Wild Nature, tamed, despoiled, restored anew.)’, Visva-Bharati Quarterly, July 1923, 149-60.

[41] The clear, handwritten letter is from a collection held by Marion Geddes, one of AG’s three daughters, and is 8 pages long and 1500 words.

[42] Bashabi Fraser, ed., A Meeting of Two Minds: Geddes Tagore Letters (Edinburgh: Word Power Books, 2005), p. 97.

[43] Arthur Geddes, ed., Fourteen Songs by Rabindranath Tagore (Bideford, Devon: Resurgence Trust, 2011), p. 11.

[44] Bichitra: Online Tagore Variorum, www.bichitra.jdvu.ac.in

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