Malcolm MacDonald writes in his foreword to Rabindranath Tagore’s Our Universe, that he was enthralled by the appearance of a stranger sitting and talking with his father in his library. He thought he was seeing one of the Old Testament prophets with a face that had a Christ-like nobility, gentleness, sadness and lovingness. MacDonald goes on to say that at a time when India’s history was being made on a grand scale, Tagore stood out as a spokesman of his countrymen’s character, aspirations and will.
Edward Thompson said of Tagore, ” The assessment of final values cannot be done in this generation; but already it is clear that his ultimate place will be not simply among India’s poets, but among those of the world”.
For my part, I have neither the erudition nor the ability to voice my feelings about Tagore with such clarity. All I know is that Rabindranath for me is as essential to my existence as the oxygen that must fill my lungs if I am to remain alive. He has been a part of me for as long as I can remember, the earliest memories being of learning his songs in a guest bedroom in our house in Africa, my mother playing the harmonium and me piping up in a reedy voice singing HaNre Re Re, Amaay Chere De Re De Re. Later in India, I had the good fortune of going to a school, Patha Bhavan, where many of the teachers lived and breathed Tagore. For that I am eternally grateful that my parents did not choose any of the numerous institutions where Tagore is limited to a piece of text a year or perhaps a tunelessly rendered chorus at the end of year assembly. We learned Bengali through Him, Jeebon Smriti was the first time I was conscious of some great force being at work. I would like to remember the first few lines from this, which was Tagore’s autobiographical account of his childhood and youth.
“স্মৃতির পটে জীবনের ছবি কে আঁকিয়া যায় জানি না। কিন্তু যেই আঁকুক সে ছবিই আঁকে। অর্থাৎ যাহাকিছু ঘটিতেছে, তাহার অবিকল নকল রাখিবার জন্য সে তুলি হাতে বসিয়া নাই। সে আপনার অভিরুচি-অনুসারে কত কী বাদ দেয়, কত কী রাখে। কত বড়োকে ছোটো করে, ছোটোকে বড়ো করিয়া তোলে। সে আগের জিনিসকে পাছে ও পাছের জিনিসকে আগে সাজাইতে কিছুমাত্র দ্বিধা করে না। বস্তুত তাহার কাজই ছবি আঁকা, ইতিহাস লেখা নয়।”
“I do not know who draws pictures on the canvas of life. But whoever he is, that is what he does. He does not wait to make life studies of whatever is happening. He leaves out much of the story and includes other parts, as per his own wishes. Many major events become reduced, while other insignificant memories are brought to the forefront. Events are rearranged in time without hesitation. Basically his role is painting a picture, not recording history.”
Through this blog, I will attempt to paint a portrait of my Tagore, through his song, his poetry, his art, his essence…. as I have received him in my life.