There has been two significant releases yesterday: Anuranan (which means resonance in my native tongue) and The Bong Connection. Apart from the obvious “bong connection”, the other common thread in these two flicks is the nouveau-sound Rabindrasangeet that’s been played. In The Bong Connection, the ebullient Pagla Hawa (with a certain hulala in sync) and the euphoric Mor Bhabonare ki Hawaye Matalo in Anuranan. Both seemingly out of place, and both a bedizened attempt at hard-selling Tagore. Running the risk of sounding too judgmental, I must say I much prefer Debobrata on radio, or even Srikanto Acharya at Nazrul Mancha. Period.
Today’s post-editorial in The Telegraph carries an account of Ramachandra Guha’s (who incidentally is not even a half-Bengali) justification of why he includes Tagore as one of the four builders of modern India. He laments on how a thinker of universal reach has been turned into a local hero He writes:
No one since Goethe had worked in so many different fields and done original things in most of them. Tagore was a poet, a novelist, a playwright, an essayist, a polemicist, an autobiographer, a letter-writer, a composer and an artist. He had good days and bad days, but at his best days he was world class in every one of these fields.
However, you would find more than a Nandan-full of Bengalis arguing on how Tagore is over-hyped and how Jibonanda Das had never got his due because of Tagore. Or how, his musicals are mere baul versions of Scottish folk songs. Or how unreadable his novels are today. Or how anachronistic he was as a poet in an era of T.S Eliot and Franz Kafka. You have Bengalis on the other end of the spectrum as well, claiming there has been no vernacular literature until Tagore and since. Or how Tagore’s lyric are the flavour of every season and are a compulsory collation to every prize-distribution ceremony, farewell dinners and felicitation at Durga Pujas. How few open-heartedly admit, his svelte water-colours hold the key to the development of Indian painting renaissance that earns you a little more than just brownie points at Cristie’s. Or how poignant are his short stories, much of which is regretfully lost in translation.
Guha goes on to illustrate how Tagore played at pivotal role in the education of Gandhi and Nehru, especially the former, from mere chauvinistic English-hater to an international messiah. He puts forth an interesting anecdote:
In school and college buildings across India, some famous lines of Gandhi are engraven: “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. How many know these words were the product of a long debate which began with Gandhi as an English hating chauvinist, but ended up with him conceding Tagore’s point that we must rejoice in progressive and liberatory ideas regardless on where they come from? How many know that before those three sentences, quoted above, there is a crucial prefatory sentence which is always left out? The sentence reads: “I hope I am as great a believer in free air as the great Poet.”
He ponders over how there are n number of ‘fat books’ eulogising the greatness of Gandhi and Nehru, when the only persons who have written about Tagore’s wider significance remains Amartya Sen and E. P. Thomson. Neither a specialist, and both have views that can oxymoronically be called perspicuously superficial.
Guha, however, blames the Bengali for this
I think Bengal in general, and Bengali intellectuals in particular, are to blame here. They have provincialised and parochialised Tagore, turning a thinker of international reach and significance into a local hero. To be sure, Tagore had a profound influence on Bengali language and literature. But he never saw himself as exclusively a ‘Bengali’ – he was, from the first, equally a citizen of India and the world. He may have written mostly in Bengali, but his reach of his ideas extended well beyond Bengal.
Today, the idea of Tagore is so reek with parochialism, that you have Bengalis, nurtured on a staple diet of Rabindrasangeet, lampooning them just to prove they are cosmopolitan. You have critics of Tagore, PhD scholars, publishers, singers and music composers thriving on the Tagore industry. You have essay books quoting Tagore at every next page and photo-framers subsisting on the idolatry of the poet.
In the weirdness of being Bengali, what seems lost is the idea that made Tagore.What remains are the sentinels of a past that no ones dares to peek into.