‘The truths that save us have always been uttered by the few and rejected by the many and have triumphed through their failures.’ (Rabindranath Tagore to Romain Rolland, Declaration of Independence of the Spirit, 1919)

The Tagore Centre in London published a big beautiful book to celebrate Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary, which was successfully launched on the date of his birthday, 7 May 2011. It was entitled Rabindranath Tagore: A Timeless Mind.[1]

The book is a collection of thirty articles, whose authors come from sixteen different countries, and who approach the study of Tagore from different angles. Here is the list of the authors and their article titles:

  1. Imre Bangha (Hungary), ‘Five Responses to Rabindranath Tagore in Hungary 1913-14’
  2. Mandakranta Bose (Canada), ‘New Horizons of Dance and Drama in Rabindranath Tagore’s Creative Practice’
  3. Bikas Chakraborty (India), ‘Twice Born? A Note on Tagore’s English Career’
  4. Rajat Chanda (USA), ‘A Synthesis of Arts and Science – Rabindranath’s Poetic Vision’
  5. Monish Ranjan Chatterjee (USA), ‘Rabindranath Tagore: Enduring Founder of a Culture’
  6. Uma Dasgupta (India), ‘Scientific Agriculture, ‘Rural Reform and Poetry: Rabindranath and Rathindranath Tagore at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Campaign, USA’
  7. Shlomi Doron (Israel), ‘“Learning to Accept the Angel of Death with Equanimity”, Tagore and Korczak in Warsaw Ghetto’
  8. Krishna Dutta (United Kingdom), ‘Journey With Tagore’
  9. Ketaki Kushari Dyson (United Kingdom), ‘The Legacy of Tagore’s Literary Language: Its Sensuous, Spiritual, and Symbolic Dimensions’
  10. Bee Formentelli (France), ‘Tagore and Korczak: An Encounter of Minds’
  11. Bashabi Fraser (United Kingdom), ‘This Great Meeting of World Humanity: Tagore on Education’
  12. Nityapriya Ghosh (India), ‘The Curious Letter of Thomas Sturge Moore’
  13. Brian Hatcher (USA), ‘Better a Rebel Than a Beggar: Tagore and the Quest for Freedom’
  14. Mina Holst-Kang (Japan), ‘Seeking Life Through Dance’
  15. Viktors Ivbulis (Latvia), ‘Tagore’s Western Burdens’
  16. Ana Jelnikar (United Kingdom), ‘Turning “East”: Orientalist Variations on Tagore from the “Eastern Corner of Europe”’
  17. Martin Kämpchen (Germany), ‘Rabindranath’s German Publisher Kurt Wolff’
  18. Christine Marsh (United Kingdom), ‘The Tagore Trinities and Holistic World Change’
  19. Liesbeth Meyer (Netherlands), ‘A Handshake Across the Water’
  20. Ghulum Murshid (United Kingdom), ‘Rabindranth: Quest for Love and Internal Conflict’
  21. Nikolay Nikolaev (Bulgaria/Australia), ‘Rabindranath Tagore: the Real and the Imaginary’
  22. Stella Noa (Estonia), ‘Unity: The Truth of Life’
  23. Kathleen M. O’Connell (Canada), ‘The Caged and Uncaged: A Tagore Feminist Narrative’
  24. Jose Paz (Spain), ‘Education Values of the Pedagogy of Rabindranath for Today’s world’
  25. Mair De-Gare Pitt (United Kingdom), ‘What Relevance Does Tagore’s Play The Post Office have for a Twenty-First Century British Reader? Ways of Exploring the Text’
  26. Mario Prayer (Italy), ‘Tagore’s Meeting with Benedetto Croce in 1926’
  27. William Radice (United Kingdom), ‘Painting the Dust and the Sunlight: Rabindranath Tagore and the Two Gitanjalis.
  28. Jose Paz Rodriguez (Spain), ‘Education Values of the Pedagogy of Rabindranath for Today’s World’
  29. Kalyan Sircar (United Kingdom), ‘I’m Reading Upanishads: I am Reading Rabindranath’
  30. Elżbieta Walter (Poland), ‘On the Translations of Rabindranath Tagore’s Writings into Polish’

Tagore was an extraordinarily multi-faceted man. ‘Multi-faceted’ is more appropriate than the more usual ‘myriad-minded’ because the latter suggests many mental perspectives and Tagore was also active in many different ways, and he was even active where his creativity was concerned.

Tagore came to fame in the West as much for the way he recited his poems – and for how he sang his songs, which were admired even when he sang in Bengali – as for the printed words in the stream of little blue and gold books from Macmillan. Similarly, when we read and study Tagore’s essays, we have to understand that they were lecture texts for performance. By extension, we need to visualise the whole person Tagore was, in particular how active a life he led. He wrote poems to recite to friends and family, and to publish in magazines, some of which he edited. He wrote songs to sing, dance dramas and plays to perform in, stories to publish in family and local magazines, enjoying all the activities and processes and the feedback. The atmosphere of participation and eager anticipation in publishing ventures is a major topic of Tagore’s Reminiscences of his early life.[2]

In the 1890s Tagore was an active landlord, living on a houseboat visiting his tenants, devising means to ease their problems, and writing stories based on their lives. From 1901, as a family man aged forty, Tagore was a teacher in a school where pupils and teachers lived together and had lessons under the trees, united by their religious creed: ‘to find the one in the many, unity in diversity’. It is inappropriate to think of such a person as a mystic, or a scholastic, or his writings as revelations from ancient religious texts. In Sadhana, the first book of the texts of his lectures in the West, Tagore quotes often from the ancient Indian writings, the Upanishads, but he tells us in his ‘Author’s Preface’ that he had been ‘brought up in a family where texts of the Upanishads are used in daily worship’, so again a sense of living religion, not secluded studies of sacred books, hence his declaration that the subject-matter of the papers in the book had ‘not been philosophically treated’, or ‘approached from a scholar’s point of view’.[3]

[1] Rabindranath Tagore: A Timeless Mind, ed. by Amalendu Biswas, Christine Marsh and Kalyan Kundu (London: The Tagore Centre UK, 2011)

[2] Tagore, My Reminiscences (London: Macmillan, 1921 [1917])

[3] ‘Author’s Preface’, in Sadhana, pp. vii-ix (p. vii).


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