It is just a dreary routine for a dreary routine government!
For Indians to understand Tagore’ contribution to India, they have to read Indian history. In particular, Indians should read the British rule, the rule of Lord Curzon, who appointed as Viceroy in 1899, Curzon and his old Estonian friends reached India with a mission to civilize Indians. They were mere natives and puppets. The imperial high noon was such that Indians felt helpless. So came the many evil deeds of Curzon and the partition of Bengal was the last straw. It woke up the slumbering Indian “natives’, Curzon no less insulted educated Indians, almost Indians were denied their souls, though one person Dr.Welldon, the new Bishop of Calcutta and Curzon’s old Estonian friend and also incidentally he was also the Headmaster of Winston Churchill at Harrow, the new bishop didn’t deny the Indians their souls! Though the bishop’s mission was recruit the Indians in the service of Jesus Christ!
So came the Bengal Renaissance and also with it the new awakened India.
It is this new awakening that is reflected in the Geetanjali in which the poet invokes the awakening of “let my country awake” in freedom!
Alas, to this day, yes, in all our years of an Independent India, we still seem to be in search our true worth, our true identity and find our own feet! To stand as an independent people and call the shots in this much changed world than what was in Tagore’s time.
Prime Minister is the chancellor of Visva Bharati!
He must do something more in concrete terms!
The Tagore 150th anniversary came and went. Just like that! There are reports, one by a Tagore expert, William Radice, the long-time Tagore translator and in a way his current flag-bearer, writes in a latest article in a national newspaper with a rhetoric question: what makes a writer relevant? Radice by the way teaches Bengali and writes poetry in English and translated the latest time a new version of Geeetanjali which bro8ught Tagore the Nobel.
A good question given the fact that Tagore had been over-played and over-portrayed as the answer to all our ills!
Yes, the present generation leaders, the present generation Indians in particular, doesn’t know a thing and much more than that, they don’t know what Tagore really was like, except for the long-forgotten fact that he won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913.
That, if recalled with adequate mental preparedness, was something unique, now we can call it as a freak accident!
Yes, Asian literature, in particular, the Indian literature at the heyday of British imperialism, more so in the immediate events of Lord Curzon’s coming and dividing Bengal and creating a Swadeshi stir in the minds of the then Indians, all coached to obey and surrender, Curzon made the Indian maharajas to travel all the way to the New Delhi durbar and made them to kneel and lift their hands in imperial salute to the king in absentia and the poor maharajas, all mental wrecks, if not worse still more, they were a class, god knows how they all came along and what we know, as we read in the biography of Curzon. A Superior Person, A Portrait of Curzon and his circle in late Victorian England by Kenneth Rose, Phoenix Press,1969). This we did while holidaying in Ooty and where there are many references to the visit of Curzon as Viceroy in 1905.The route he took first by visiting Mysore where he installed the Maharaja (for that visit the Maharaja built a costly palace at such high cost in those times!
Curzon later took the more narrow and long winding Segur Ghat road and in Ooty he was given much partying, went for Shikari and as a farewell meet was convened at the current Charing Cross junction. All these thoughts gathered strength when the time also coincided with the news reports on his 150th birth anniversary celebrations in Dhaka in Bangladesh, then in New Delhi and much more an international meeting of sorts at Drtington Hall (where many may not know lived Tagore longtime English co-worker, Leonardh Elmhurst and his American wife and a philanthropist, the duo gave large funding to Tagore for setting up Sriniketan, near Santiniketan for rural development. We have seen the couple once visiting Santiniketan when I was a student there long after Tagore passed away.
It is a long story told many times how Tagore was given the Nobel Prize in the first place. In my opinion, the Nobel Prize is recognition of the Indian genius, against the much propaganda of the Brits led by such imperialists, first by Curzon, later by Churchill. This, our generation of Indians and the outside world must understand. This is how history must be seen by the Indians who, shockingly, still don’t have a sense of history. They have for long lived in an unhistorical sense of much mysterious spiritualism. Today, it much worse. It is sheer senseless slavish life of sheer insensitivity and gross materialism!
Tagore had friends from England to Bengal and to his home at Jorasanko. William Rothenstein, the great artist and the Rothenstein circle was large and influential at that time. Sturge Moore, the poet recommended his name for the Nobel Committee. W.B.Yeats, the then very competent poet wrote a long introduction to the Geetanjali translations. It is also reported that Yeats, being the best English poet had had a hand in correcting the English translation of Tagore who was not as competent in his English translations. So, now Radice’s translation of Geetanjali would be read with great interest by all Tagore lovers.
Now, how Tagore is relevant today?
This question, Radice has asked in his article and we believe in his lecture at the Darting Hall Tagore festival.
Dartington Hall has now emerged as a New Age Capital, where there are so many multiple new initiatives, ecology, peace and progressive education. At Dartington Hall there is a progressive education movement. Whatever it means, it is in line with Tagore the educator.
So, we have so many new age movements have coalsed with the Tagore centenary.
Now as William Radice notes Tagore, the saintly figure, with his long beard and his pan-Asian flowing dress, is seen ,rightly or wrongly, as the saint from the Wast to preach to the West. That was how he was lionised in the then world and now, he is almost as forgetten, by his countrymen as any leader of such long flowing idealism and universalism.
Yes, Nehru said many time he was influenced by Tagore’s anti-Nationalism lectures as he saw in Japan at that time(with fierce nationalism after Japan defeated the first Western country, Russia and as it went about driving the Chinese to the wall, so to say).So Tagore was seen as an internationalist. He was in fact, as he called his university, Visva-Bharati.
So too his very many last of his few writings. These Radice mentions in his article.
Now, the Dhaka celebration announcing an international price in the name of the poet. So too Indian government named a Rs.one crore prize, perhaps to award to writers or peace workers.
Already criticism has come as to what the Indian government is doing with its rest of the many “international prizes, in the name of Gandhi, Nehru and Indira Gandhi?
The Indian government is not able to name the many deserving candidates from within India or from outside. So, these high profile prizes remain unawarded!
In the meantime, the Indian government announced a grant of Rs.95 crores for Visva Bharati for infrastructure development. Also one crore every year for conducting the Tagore festivals.
In this context and the right occasion we like to draw the attention of everyone to the fact that the Indian Prime Minister is the chancellor of Visva Bharati. And what he has done so far?
Practically nothing! Some years ago we visited Visva Bharti and saw the deterioration. We wrote to the chancellor, the President of India (who is the visitor to the university), the governor of W.Bengal (then Mr.Gopal Gandhi).Only the governor acknowledged the letter. The chancellor and the visitor almost ignored our lett6ers and the write-up in this very same journal.
Even Prof.Amartya Sen, the bright star to come out of Visva Bharati, though he comes to live there often, didnt bother to say anything about improving the university.
The Prime Minister can do a signal service, if he raises Visva Bharati to an international university, keeping the Tagore spirit of a new freedom for Indians and the very academic community which, alas, still are caught up in a mindset of slavish unthinking lot!