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Seduced by Nationalism: Yone Noguchi’s ‘Terrible Mistake’. Debating the China-Japan War With Tagore

The letters

41 Sakurayama
Nakano, Tokyo
July 23rd, 1938

Dear Rabindranath,

When I visited you at Shantiniketan a few years ago, you were troubled with the Ethiopian question, and vehemently condemned Italy. Retiring into your guest chamber that night, I wondered whether you would say the same thing on Japan, if she were equally situated like Italy. I perfectly agreed with your opinion and admired your courage of speaking, when in Tokyo, 1916, you censured the westernization of Japan from a public platform. Not answering back to your words, the intellectual people of my country were conscious of its possible consequence, for, not only staying as an unpleasant spectacle, the westernization had every chance for becoming anything awful.

But if you take the present war in China for the criminal outcome of Japan’s surrender to the West, you are wrong, because, not being a slaughtering madness, it is, I believe, the inevitable means, terrible it is though, for establishing a new great world in the Asiatic continent, where the “principle of live-and-let-live” has to be realized. Believe me, it is the war of “Asia for Asia.” With a crusader’s determination and with a sense of sacrifice that belongs to a martyr, our young soldiers go to be [the] front. Their minds are light and happy, the war is not for conquest, but the correction of mistaken idea of China, I mean Kuomingtung [Kuomintang] government, and for uplifting her simple and ignorant masses to better life and wisdom. Borrowing from other countries neither money nor blood, Japan is undertaking this tremendous work single-handed and alone. I do not know why we cannot be praised by your countrymen. But we are terribly blamed by them, as it seems, for our heroism and aim.

Sometime ago the Chinese army, defeated in Huntung [Honan] province by Hwangho [Yellow] River, had cut from desperate madness several places of the river bank; not keeping in check the advancing Japanese army, it only made thirty hundred thousand people drown in the flood and one hundred thousand village houses destroyed. Defending the welfare of its own kinsmen or killing them, — which is the object of the Chinese army, I wonder? It is strange that such an atrocious inhuman conduct ever known in the world history did not become in the west a target of condemnation. Oh where are your humanitarians who profess to be a guardian of humanity? Are they deaf and blind? Besides the Chinese soldiers, miserably paid and poorly clothed, are a habitual criminal of robbery, and then an everlasting menace to the honest hard-working people who cling to the ground. Therefore the Japanese soldiers are followed by them with the paper flags of the Rising Sun in their hands; to a soldierly work we have to add one more endeavour in the relief work of them. You can imagine how expensive is this war for Japan. Putting expenditure out of the question, we are determined to use up our last cent for the final victory that would ensure in the future a great peace of many hundred years.

I received the other day a letter from my western friend, denouncing the world that went to Hell. I replied him, saying: “Oh my friend, you should cover your ears, when a war bugle rings too wild. Shut your eyes against a picture of your martial cousins becoming a fish salad! Be patient, my friend, for a war is only spasmodic matter that cannot last long, but will adjust one’s condition better in the end. You are a coward if you are afraid of it. Nothing worthy will be done unless you pass through a severe trial. And the peace that follows after a war is most important.” For this peace we Japanese are ready to exhaust our resources of money and blood.

Today we are called under the flag of “Service-making,” each person of the country doing his own bit for the realization of idealism. There was no time as today in the whole history of Japan, when all the people, from the Emperor to a rag-picker in the street, consolidated together with one mind. And there is no more foolish supposition as that our financial bankruptcy is a thing settled if the war drags on. Since the best part of the Chinese continent is already with us in friendly terms, we are not fighting with the whole of China. Our enemy is only the Kuomingtung government, a miserable puppet of the west. If Chiang Kai-shek wishes a long war, we are quite ready for it. Five years? Ten years? Twenty years? As long as he desires, my friend. Now one year has passed since the first bullet was exchanged between China and Japan; but with a fresh mind as if it sees that the war has just begun, we are now looking the event in the face. After the fall of Hankow, the Kuomingtung government will retire to a remote place of her country; but until the western countries change their attitude towards China, we will keep up fighting with fists or wisdom.

The Japanese poverty is widely advertised in the west, though I do not know how it was started. Japan is poor beyond doubt, — well, according to the measure you wish to apply to. But I think that the Japanese poverty is a fabricated story as much as richness of China. There is no country in the world like Japan, where money is equally divided among the people. Supposing that we are poor, I will say that we are trained to stand the pain of poverty. Japan is very strong in adversity.

But you will be surprised to know that the postal saving of people comes up now to five thousand million yen, responding to the government’s propaganda of economy. For going on, surmounting every difficulty that the war brings in, we are saving every cent and even making good use of waste scraps. Since the war began, we grew spiritually strong and true ten times more than before. There is nothing hard to accomplish to a young man. Yes, Japan is the land of young men. According to nature’s law, the old has to retire while the young advances. Behold, the sun is arising, be gone all the sickly bats and dirty vermins! Cursed be one’s intrigue and empty pride that sin against nature’s rule and justice.
China could very well avoid the war, of course, if Chiang Kai-shek was more sensible with insight. Listening to an irresponsible third party of the west a long way off, thinking too highly of his own strength, he turned at last his own country, as she is today, into a ruined desert to which fifty years would not be enough for recovery. He never happened to think for a moment that the friendship of western countries was but a trick of their monetary interest itself in his country. And it is too late now for Chiang to reproach them for the faithlessness of their words of promise.

For a long time we had been watching with doubt at Chiang’s program, the consolidation of the country, because the Chinese history had no period when the country was unified in the real meaning, and the subjugation of various war-lords under his flag was nothing. Until all the people took an oath of co-operation with him, we thought, his program was no more than a table talk. Being hasty and thoughtless, Chiang began to popularize the anti-Japanese movement among the students who were pigmy politicians in some meaning because he deemed it to be a method for the speedy realization of his program; but he never thought that he was erring from the Oriental ethics that preached on one’s friendship with the neighbours. Seeing that his propagation had too great effect on his young followers, he had no way to keep in check their wild jingoism, and then finally made his country roll down along the slope of destruction. Chiang is a living example who sold his country to the west for nothing, and smashed his skin with the crime of westernization. Dear Rabindranath, what will you say about this Chiang Kai-shek?

Dear poet, today we have to turn our deaf ears towards a lesson of freedom that may come from America, because the people there already ceased to practice it. The ledger-book diplomacy of England is too well known through the world. I am old enough to know from experience that no more worse than others. Though I admit that Japan is today ruled by militarism, natural to the actual condition of the country, I am glad that enough freedom of speaking and acting is allowed to one like myself. Japan is fairly liberal in spite of the war time. So I can say without fear to be locked up that those service-crazy people are drunken, and that a thing in the world, great and true, because of its connection with the future, only comes from one who hates to be a common human unit, stepping aside so that he can unite himself with Eternity. I believe that such a one who withdraws into a snail’s shell for the quest of life’s hopeful future, will be in the end a true patriot, worthy of his own nation. Therefore I am able not to disgrace the name of poet, and to try to live up to the words of Browning who made the Grammarian exclaim:
“Leave Now for dogs and apes! Man has Forever”.

Yours very sincerely,

Yone Noguchi.

Sketch of Noguchi

Santiniketan, Bengal
September 1, 1938

Dear Noguchi,

I am profoundly surprised by the letter that you have written to me: neither its temper nor its contents harmonise with the spirit of Japan which I learnt to admire in your writings and came to love through my personal contacts with you. It is sad to think that the passion of collective militarism may on occasion helplessly overwhelm even the creative artist, that genuine intellectual power should be led to offer its dignity and truth to be sacrificed at the shrine of the dark gods of war.

You seem to agree with me in your condemnation of the massacre of Ethiopia by Fascist Italy but you would reserve the murderous attack on Chinese millions for judgment under a different category. But surely judgments are based on principle, and no amount of special pleading can change the fact that in launching a ravening war on Chinese humanity, with all the deadly methods learnt from the West, Japan is infringing every moral principle on which civilisation is based. You claim that Japan’s situation was unique, forgetting that military situations are always unique, and that pious war-lords, convinced of peculiarly individual justification for their atrocities have never failed to arrange for special alliances with divinity for annihilation and torture on a large scale.

Humanity, in spite of its many failures, has believed in a fundamental moral structure of society. When you speak, therefore, of “the inevitable means, terrible it is though, for establishing a new great world in the Asiatic continent” — signifying, I suppose, the bombing on Chinese women and children and the desecration of ancient temples and Universities as a means of saving China for Asia–you are ascribing to humanity a way of life which is not even inevitable among the animals and would certainly not apply to the East, in spite of her occasional aberrations. You are building your conception of an Asia which would be raised on a tower of skulls. I have, as you rightly point out, believed in the message of Asia, but I never dreamt that this message could be identified with deeds which brought exaltation to the heart of Tamer Lane at his terrible efficiency in manslaughter. When I protested against “Westernisation” in my lectures in Japan, I contrasted the rapacious Imperialism which some of the nations of Europe were cultivating with the ideal of perfection preached by Buddha and Christ, with the great heritages of culture and good neighbourliness that went to the making of Asiatic and other civilisations. I felt it to be my duty to warn the land of Bushido, of great Art and traditions of noble heroism, that this phase of scientific savagery which victimised Western humanity and had led their helpless masses to a moral cannibalism was never to be imitated by a virile people who had entered upon a glorious renascence and had every promise of a creative future before them. The doctrine of “Asia for Asia” which you enunciate in your letter, as an instrument of political blackmail, has all the virtues of the lesser Europe which I repudiate and nothing of the larger humanity that makes us one across the barriers of political labels and divisions. I was amused to read the recent statement of a Tokyo politician that the military alliance of Japan with Italy and Germany was made for “highly spiritual and moral reasons” and “had no materialistic considerations behind them”. Quite so. What is not amusing is that artists and thinkers should echo such remarkable sentiments that translate military swagger into spiritual bravado. In the West, even in the critical days of war-madness, there is never any dearth of great spirits who can raise their voice above the din of battle, and defy their own warmongers in the name of humanity. Such men have suffered, but never betrayed the conscience of their peoples which they represented. Asia will not be westernised if she can learn from such men: I still believe that there are such souls in Japan though we do not hear of them in those newspapers that are compelled at the cost of their extinction to reproduce their military master’s voice.

“The betrayal of intellectuals” of which the great French writer spoke after the European war, is a dangerous symptom of our Age. You speak of the savings of the poor people of Japan, their silent sacrifice and suffering and take pride in betraying that this pathetic sacrifice is being exploited for gun running and invasion of a neighbour’s hearth and home, that human wealth of greatness is pillaged for inhuman purposes. Propaganda, I know, has been reduced to a fine art, and it is almost impossible for peoples in non-democratic countries to resist hourly doses of poison, but one had imagined that at least the men of intellect and imagination would themselves retain their gift of independent judgment. Evidently such is not always the case; behind sophisticated arguments seem to lie a mentality of perverted nationalism which makes the “intellectuals” of today to blustering about their “ideologies” dragooning their own “masses” into paths of dissolution. I have known your people and I hate to believe that they could deliberately participate in the organised drugging of Chinese men and women by opium and heroin, but they do not know; in the meanwhile, representatives of Japanese culture in China are busy practising their craft on the multitudes caught in the grip of an organisation of a wholesale human pollution. Proofs of such forcible drugging in Manchukuo and China have been adduced by unimpeachable authorities. But from Japan there has come no protest, not even from her poets.

Holding such opinions as many of your intellectuals do, I am not surprised that they are left “free” by your Government to express themselves. I hope they enjoy their freedom. Retiring from such freedom into “a snail’s shell” in order to savour the bliss of meditation “on life’s hopeful future”, appears to me to be an unnecessary act, even though you advise Japanese artists to do so by way of change. I cannot accept such separation between an artist’s function and his moral conscience. The luxury of enjoying special favouritism by virtue of identity with a Government which is engaged in demolition, in its neighbourhood, of all salient bases of life, and of escaping, at the same time, from any direct responsibility by a philosophy of escapism, seems to me to be another authentic symptom of the modern intellectual’s betrayal of humanity. Unfortunately the rest of the world is almost cowardly in any adequate expression of its judgment owing to ugly possibilities that it may be hatching for its own future and those who are bent upon doing mischief are left alone to defile their history and blacken their reputation for all time to come. But such impunity in the long run bodes disaster, like unconsciousness of disease in its painless progress of ravage.

I speak with utter sorrow for your people; your letter has hurt me to the depths of my being. I know that one day the disillusionment of your people will be complete, and through laborious centuries they will have to clear the debris of their civilisation wrought to ruin by their own warlords run amok. They will realise that the aggressive war on China is insignificant as compared to the destruction of the inner spirit of chivalry of Japan which is proceeding with a ferocious severity. China is unconquerable, her civilisation, under the dauntless leadership of Chiang Kai-shek, is displaying marvelous resources; the desperate loyalty of her peoples, united as never before, is creating a new age for that land. Caught unprepared by a gigantic machinery of war, hurled upon her peoples, China is holding her own; no temporary defeats can ever crush her fully aroused spirit. Faced by the borrowed science of Japanese militarism which is crudely western in character, China’s stand reveals an inherently superior moral stature. And today I understand more than ever before the meaning of the enthusiasm with which the big-hearted Japanese thinker Okakura [Kakuzo or Tenshin] assured me that China is great.

You do not realise that you are glorifying your neighbour at your own cost. But these are considerations on another plane: the sorrow remains that Japan, in the words of Madame Chiang Kai-shek which you must have read in the Spectator, is creating so many ghosts. Ghosts of immemorial works of Chinese art, of irreplaceable Chinese institutions, of great peace-loving communities drugged, tortured, and destroyed. “Who will lay the ghosts [to rest]?” she asks. Japanese and Chinese people, let us hope, will join hands together, in no distant future, in wiping off memories of a bitter past. True Asian humanity will be reborn. Poets will raise their song and be unashamed, one believes, to declare their faith again in a human destiny which cannot admit of a scientific mass production of fratricide.

Yours sincerely,

Rabindranath Tagore

PS I find that you have already released your letter to the press; I take it that you want me to publish my answer in the same manner.

Sketch of Tagore

41, Sakurayama
Nakano, Tokyo
Oct. 2nd, 1938

Dear Tagore,

Your eloquent letter, dated Sept. 1st. was duly received. I am glad that the letter inspired me to write you once more.

No one in Japan denies the greatness of China, — I mean the Chinese people. China of the olden times was great with philosophy, literature and art, — particularly in the T’ang dynasty. Under Chinese influence Japan started to build up her own civilization. But I do not know why we should not oppose to the misguided government of China for the old debt we owe her people. And nobody in Japan ever dreams that we can conquer China. What Japan is doing in China, it is only, as I already said, to correct the mistaken idea of Chiang Kai-shek; on this object Japan in staking her all. If Chiang Kai-shek [alters his course]; on this object Japan is staking her hands for the future of both the countries, China and Japan, the war will be stopped to once.

I am glad that you still admire Kakuzo Okakura with enthusiasm as a thinker. If he lives to-day, I believe that he will say the same thing as I do. Betraying your trust, many Chinese soldiers in the front surrender to our Japanese force, and join with us in the cry, “Down with Chiang Kai-shek!” Where is Chinese loyalty to him?

Having no proper organ of expression, Japanese opinion is published only seldom in the west; and real fact is always hidden and often camouflaged by cleverness of the Chinese who are a born propagandist. They are strong in foreign languages, and their tongues never fail. While the Japanese are always reticent, even when situation demands their explanation. From the experiences of many centuries, the Chinese have cultivated an art of speaking for they had been put under such a condition that divided their country to various antagonistic divisions; and being always encroached by the western countries, they depended on diplomacy to turn a thing to their advantage. Admitting that China completely defeated Japan in foreign publicity, it is sad that she often goes too far and plays trickery. For one instance I will call your attention to the reproduced picture from a Chinese paper on page 247 of the Modern Review for last August, as a living specimen of “Japanese Atrocities in China: Execution of a Chinese Civilians.” So awful pictures they are — awful enough to make ten thousand enemies of Japan in a foreign country. But the pictures are nothing but a Chinese invention, simple and plain, because the people in the scenes are all Chinese, slaughterers and all. Besides any one with commonsense would know, if he stops for a moment, that it is impossible to take such a picture as these at the front. Really I cannot understand how your friend-editor of the modern Review happened to published them.

It is one’s right to weave a dream at the distance, and to create an object of sympathy at the expense of China. Believe me that I am second to none in understanding the Chinese masses who are patient and diligent, clinging to the ground. But it seems that you are not acquainted with the China of corruption and bribery, and of war lords who put money in a foreign bank when their country is at stake. So long as the country is controlled by such polluted people, the Chinese have only a little chance to create a new age in their land. They have to learn first of all the meaning of honesty and sacrifice before dreaming it. But for this new age in Asia, Japan is engaging in the war, hoping to obtain a good result and mutual benefit that follow the swords. We must have a neighbouring country, strong and true, which is glad to co-operate with us in our work of reconstructing Asia in the new way. That is only what we expect from China.

Japan’s militarism is a tremendous affair no doubt. But if you condemn Japan, because of it, you are failing to notice that Chiang’s China is a far more great military country than Japan. China is now mobilizing seven or eight million soldiers armed with European weapons. From cowardice or being ignorant of the reason why they had to fight, the Chinese soldiers are so unspirited in the front. But for this unavailability you cannot forgive Chiang’s militarism, if your denial is absolute and true. For the last twenty years Chiang had been trying to arm his country under the western advisers; and these western advisers were mostly from Italy and Germany, the countries of which you are so impatient. And it should be attributed to their advice that he started war; though it is too late to blame the countries that formally provided him with military knowledge, it is never too late for him to know that the western countries are not worthy of trust. There is no country in the world that comes to rescue the other at her own expense. If you are a real sympathizer of China, you should come along with your program what she has to do, not passing idly with your condemnation of Japan’s militarism. And if you have to condemn militarism, that condemnation should be equally divided between China and Japan.

It is true that when two quarrel, both are in the wrong. And when fighting is over, both the parties will be put perhaps in the mental situation of one who is crying over spilt milk. War is situation of one who is crying over spilt milk. War is atrocious, — particularly when it is performed in a gigantic way as in China today. I hope that you will let me apply your accusation of Japanese atrocity to China, just as it is. Seeing no atrocity in China, you are speaking about her as an innocent country. I expected something impartial from a poet.

I have to thank you that you called my attention to the “Modern intellectual’s betrayal of humanity,” whatever it be. One can talk any amount of idealism, apart from in reality, if he wishes, and take the pleasure of one belonging to no country. But sharing patriotism equally with the others, we are trying to acquit the duty of talk [of] Heaven when immediate matter of the earth is well arranged.

Supposing that we accept your advice to become a vanguard of humanity according to your prescription, and supposing that we leave China to her own will, and save ourselves from being a “betrayal of the intellectuals,” who will promise us with the safety of Japanese spirit that we cultivated with pairs of thousand years, under the threat of communism across a fence? We don’t want to barter our home land for an empty name of intellectuals. No, you mustn’t talk nonsense! God forbid!
Admitting, that militarism is criminal, I think that, if your humanity makes life a mutilated mud-fish, its crime would never be smaller than the other. I spent my whole life admiring beauty and truth, with one hope to lift life to a dignity, more vigorous and noble; from this reason, I face in madness, with three wild eyes, promised me with a forthcoming peace. And also at Elephanta Island; near Bombay, I learned from the Three-headed Siva a lesson of destruction as inevitable truth of life. Then I wrote:

“Thy slaughter’s sword is never so unkind as it appears.
Creation is great, but destroying is still greater,
Because up from the ashes new Wonder take its flight.”

But if you command me to obey the meekness of humanity under all the circumstances, you are forgetting what your old Hindu philosophy taught you. I say this not only for my purpose, because such reflection is important for any country.

I wonder who reported to you that we are killing innocent people and bombing on their unprotected towns. Far from it, we are trying to do our best for helping them, because we have so much to depend on them for co-operation in the future, and because Bushido command us to limit punishment to a thing which only deserves it. It was an apt measure of our Japanese soldiers that the famous cave temples of the 5th century in North China were saved from savage rapacity of the defeated Chinese soldiers in fight. Except Madame Chiang with frustrated brain, no one has seen the “ghosts of Chinese institutions and art, destroyed”. And if those institutions and art, admitting that they are immemorial and irreplaceable, had been ever destroyed it is but the crazy work of Chinese soldiers, because they want to leave a desert to Japan. You ought to know better since you are acquainted with so many Japanese, whether or not we are qualified to do anything barbarous.

I believe that you are versed in Bushido. In olden time soldiery was lifted in Japan to a status equally high as that of art and morality. I have no doubt that our soldiers will not betray and tradition. If there is difference in Japanese militarism from that of the west, it is because the former is not without moral element. Who only sees its destroying power is blind to its other power in preservation. Its human aspect is never known in the foreign countries, because they shut their eyes to it. Japan is still an unknown existence in the west. Having so many things to displease you, Japanese militarism has still something that will please you if you come to know more about it. It is an excusable existence for the present condition of Japan. But I will leave the full explanation of it to some later occasion.

Believe me that I am never a eulogist of Japanese militarism, because I have many differences with it. But I can not help accepting as a Japanese what Japan is doing now under the circumstances, because I see no other way to show our minds to China. Of course when China stops fighting, and we receive her friendly hands, neither grudge nor ill feeling will remain in our minds. Perhaps with some sense of repentance, we will then proceed together on the great work of reconstructing the new world in Asia.

I often draw in my mind a possible man who can talk from a high domain and act as a peace-maker. You might write General Chiang, I hope, and tell him about the foolishness of fighting in the presence of a great work that is waiting. And I am sorry that against the high-pitched nature of your letter, mine is low-toned and faltering, because as a Japanese subject I belong to one of the responsible parties of the conflict.

Finally one word more. What I fear most is the present atmosphere in India, that tends to willfully blacken Japan to alienate her from your country. I have so many friends there, whose beautiful nature does not harmonise with it. My last experiences in your country taught me how to love and respect her. Besides there are in Japan so many admirers of your countrymen with your noble self as the first.

Yours sincerely,

Yone Noguchi.

Santiniketan, Bengal

October, 1938

Dear Noguchi,

I thank you for taking the trouble to writer to me again. I have also read with interest your letter addressed to the Editor, Amrita Bazar Patrika, and published in that journal.* It makes the meaning of your letter to me more clear.

* The following is the text of the letter referred to:

Dear Editor,

Dr. Tagore’s reply to my letter was a disappointment, to use his words, hurted me to the depths of my being. Now I am conscious that language is an ineffective instrument to carry one’s real meaning. When I wanted an impartial criticism he gave me something of prejudiced bravado under the beautiful name of humanity. Just for a handful of dream, and for an intellectual’s ribbon to stick in his coat, he has lost a high office to correct the mistaken idea of reality.

It seems to us that when Dr. Tagore called the doctrine of “Asia for Asia” a political blackmail, he relinquished his patriotism to boast quiescence of a spiritual vagabond, and willfully supporting the Chinese side, is encouraging Soviet Russia, not to mention the other western countries. I meant my letter to him to be a plea for the understanding of Japan’s view-point which, in spite of its many failures, is honest. I wonder whether it is a poet’s privilege to give one whipping before listening to his words. When I dwelled on the saving of the people of Japan at the present time of conflict, he denounced it as their government’s exploitation “for gun running and invasion of a neighbour’s hearth and home.” But when he does not use the same language towards his friend China his partiality is something monstrous. And I wonder where is his former heart which made us Japanese love him and honour him. But still we are patient, believing that he will come to senses and take a neutral dignity fitting to a prophet who does not depart from fair judgment.

“Living in a country far from your country, I do not know where Dr. Tagore’s reply appeared in print. Believing that you are known to his letter, I hope that you will see way to print this letter of mine in your esteemed paper.

Yours sincerely,

Yone Noguchi.”

I am flattered that you still consider it worthwhile to take such pains to convert me to your point of view, and I am really sorry that I am unable to come to my senses, as you have been pleased to wish it. It seems to me that it is futile for either of us to try to convince the other since your faith in the infallible right of Japan to bully other Asiatic nations into line with your Government’s policy is not shared by me, and my faith that patriotism which claims the right to bring to the altar of its country the sacrifice of other people’s rights and happiness will endanger rather than strengthen the foundation of any great civilization, is sneered at by you as the “quiescence of a spiritual vagabond”.

If you can convince the Chinese that your armies are bombing their cities and rendering their women and children homeless beggars — those of them that are not transformed into “mutilated mud-fish”, to borrow one of your own phrases –, if you can convince these victims that they are only being subjected to a benevolent treatment which will in the end “save” their nation, it will no longer be necessary for you to convince us of your country’s noble intentions. Your righteous indignation against the “polluted people” who are burning their own cities and art treasures (and presumably bombing their own citizens) to malign your soldiers, reminds me of Napoleon’s noble wrath when he marched into a deserted Moscow and watched its palaces in flames. I should have expected from you who are a poet at least that much of imagination to feel, to what inhuman despair a people must be reduced to willingly burn their own handiwork of years’, indeed centuries’, labour. And even as a good nationalist, do you seriously believe that the mountain of bleeding corpses and the wilderness of bombed and burnt cities that is every day widening between your two countries, is making it easier for your two peoples to stretch your hands in a clasp of ever-lasting good will?

You complain that while the Chinese, being “dishonest”, are spreading their malicious propaganda, you people, being “honest”, are reticent. Do you not know, my friend, that there is no propaganda like good and noble deeds, and that if such deeds by yours, you need fear no “trickery” of your victims? Nor need you fear the bogey of communism if there is no exploitation of the poor among your own people and the workers feel that they are justly treated.

I must thank you for explaining to me the meaning of our Indian philosophy and of pointing out that the proper interpretation of Kali and Shiva must compel our approval of Japan’s “dance of death” in China. I wish you had drawn a moral from a religion more familiar to you and appealed to the Buddha for your justification. But I forget that your priests and artists have already made sure of that, for I saw in a recent issue of “The Osaka Mainichi and The Tokyo Nichi Nichi” (16th September, 1938) a picture of a new colossal image of Buddha erected to bless the massacre of your neighbours.

You must forgive me if my words sound bitter. Believe me, it is sorrow and shame, not anger, that prompt me to write to you. I suffer intensely not only because the reports of Chinese suffering batter against my heart, but because I can no longer point out with pride the example of a great Japan. It is true that there are no better standards prevalent anywhere else and that the so-called civilized peoples of the West are proving equally barbarous and even less “worthy of trust.” If you refer me to them, I have nothing to say. What I should have liked is to be able to refer them to you. I shall say nothing of my own people, for it is vain to boast until one has succeeded in sustaining one’s principles to the end.
I am quite conscious of the honour you do me in asking me to act as a peace-maker. Were it in any way possible for me to bring you two peoples together and see you freed from this death-struggle and pledged to the great common “work of reconstructing the new world in Asia”, I would regard the sacrifice of my life in the cause a proud privilege. But I have no power save that of moral persuasion, which you have so eloquently ridiculed. You who want me to be impartial, how can you expect me to appeal to Chiang Kai-shek to give up resisting until the aggressors have first given up their aggression? Do you know that last week when I received a pressing invitation from an old friend of mine in Japan to visit your country, I actually thought for a moment, foolish idealist as I am, that your people may really need my services to minister to the bleeding heart of Asia and to help extract from its riddled body the bullets of hatred? I wrote to my friend:

“Though the present state of my health is hardly favourable for any strain of a long foreign journey, I should seriously consider your proposal if proper opportunity is given me to carry out my own mission while there, which is to do my best to establish a civilised relationship of national amity between two great peoples of Asia who are entangled in a desolating mutual destruction. But as I am doubtful whether the military authorities of Japan, which seem bent upon devastating China in order to gain their object, will allow me the freedom to take my own course, I shall never forgive myself if I am tempted for any reason whatever to pay a friendly visit to Japan just at this unfortunate moment and thus cause a grave misunderstanding. You know I have a genuine love for the Japanese people and it is sure to hurt me too painfully to go and watch crowds of them being transported by their rulers to a neighbouring land to perpetrate acts of inhumanity which will brand their name with a lasting stain in the history of Man.”

After the letter was despatched came the news of the fall of Canton and Hankow. The cripple, shorn of his power to strike, may collapse, but to ask him to forget the memory of his mutilation as easily as you want me to, I must expect him to be an angel.
Wishing you people whom I love, not success, but remorse,

Yours sincerely,

Rabindranath Tagore

শরতে আজ কোন্‌ অতিথি এল প্রাণের দ্বারে/Shorote aaj kon atithee elo praner dware/Who is this that comes into my heart this autumn day? শরত-আলোর কমলবনে/Sharoto alor kamoloboney/In the lotus gardens of autumn light

শরতে আজ কোন্‌ অতিথি এল প্রাণের দ্বারে।

আনন্দগান গা রে হৃদয়,   আনন্দগান গা রে॥

নীল আকাশের নীরব কথা   শিশির-ভেজা ব্যাকুলতা

বেজে উঠুক আজি তোমার বীণার তারে তারে॥

শষ্যক্ষেতের সোনার গানে   যোগ দে রে আজ সমান তানে,

ভাসিয়ে দে সুর ভরা নদীর অমল জলধারে।

যে এসেছে তাহার মুখে   দেখ্‌ রে চেয়ে গভীর সুখে,

দুয়ার খুলে তাহার সাথে বাহির হয়ে যা রে॥

রাগ: বাউল
তাল: তেওরা
রচনাকাল (বঙ্গাব্দ): ১৮ ভাদ্র, ১৩১৬
রচনাকাল (খৃষ্টাব্দ): 1909
রচনাস্থান: শান্তিনিকেতন
স্বরলিপিকার: সুরেন্দ্রনাথ বন্দ্যোপাধ্যায়, দিনেন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর

Who is this that comes into my heart this autumn day?

Sing your songs of joy, my soul, sing them today.

The silence that speaks from the blue skies, the dew soaked yearning

Let them sing as you play your beena, in each and every string.

In the golden song of the field you must add voice,

Your tunes you must pour into the river’s full flows.

Look happily upon the face of the one, who has come

As you go with them, forsaking your home.

Raga: Baul

Beat: TeoRa

Written: 1909

At Santiniketan

Follow the link to hear: Ananda Gupta

শরত-আলোর কমলবনে

বাহির হয়ে বিহার করে   যে ছিল মোর মনে মনে॥

তারি সোনার কাঁকন বাজে   আজি প্রভাতকিরণ-মাঝে,

হাওয়ায় কাঁপে আঁচলখানি– ছড়ায় ছায়া ক্ষণে ক্ষণে॥

আকুল কেশের পরিমলে

শিউলিবনের উদাস বায়ু পড়ে থাকে তরুতলে।

হৃদয়মাঝে হৃদয় দুলায়,   বাহিরে সে ভুবন ভুলায়–

আজি সে তার চোখের চাওয়া   ছড়িয়ে দিল নীল গগনে॥

রাগ: কালাংড়া
তাল: রূপকড়া
রচনাকাল (বঙ্গাব্দ): ১১ ভাদ্র, ১৩২১
রচনাকাল (খৃষ্টাব্দ): ২৮ অগাস্ট, ১৯১৪
রচনাস্থান: সুরুল
স্বরলিপিকার: দিনেন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর

In the lotus gardens of autumn light

The one who once was within, now wanders in glory.

Her golden bracelets ring out a melody in the dawn sun

Her veil trembles in the breeze – and casts shimmering shadows.

The fragrance of her unbound hair

Makes the perfumed air of the shiuli grove linger a while.

She fills the soul within with joy and makes the world outside fade away –

For today she has opened her eyes and gazed upon the blue skies.

Raga: KalangRa

Beat: RupakRa

Written: 28th August, 1914

At Surul

Follow the links to hear:

Susmita Bhattacharya at:

Manomoy Bhattacharya at:

Rabindranath Tagore in the world today

In 1942, the famous Polish children’s author, Janusz Korczak, who ran an orphanage, chose Rabindranath Tagore’s ডাকঘর, The Post Office as a play to be performed by a group of orphans living within a Warsaw ghetto in Poland. This was weeks before they were sent to their deaths.The story is that of a terminally ill young boy, Amal– excluded from the rest of the world, by his illness, much like those within the ghetto were excluded because of their religious beliefs.Korczak wished to brighten life for the children while they waited for the inevitable.

This is proof of how far his name had travelled within a mere year of his passing – from the sunlight and freedom of his beloved Santiniketan to an orphanage in war ravaged Europe, where children were dying, often more than 10 in a single day.

The 151st birth anniversary of the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for literature, approaches in less than a week. Thanks to thousands of individuals and organisations as large as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), this will not pass unnoticed..

The celebrations include performances of his plays and songs and conferences. The 150th anniversary was marked by auctions of paintings and memorabilia and the release of commemorative stamps by countries all over the world.

While Tagore visited over 30 countries across five continents, his work by way of translations has travelled much more widely. A group of Chinese Tagore scholars are completing the mammoth task of translating his complete works from Bengali into Chinese.

Jyotirmoy Datta has taught Tagore and other Indian literature at the University of Chicago. He has said that beauty of Tagore’s works is capable of reaching out to people across cultures and that the question of the language or quality of translation becomes superficial.

The reverence offered to Tagore who was the composer of the national anthems of both India and Bangladesh is similar to that accorded to a spiritual guide or the leader of a religious order. People quote his poetry, perform his plays, and read and analyse his prose. The major Bengali festival of Durga Puja is marked by the release of albums of his work by a range of artists.

The relevance of Rabindranath Tagore remains as strong as ever in the world that he wished to see as one and “not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls.”(চিত্ত যেথা ভয়শূন্য, উচ্চ যেথা শির/ Where The Mind Is Without Fear)

The English translation of Gitanjali, first published in March 1913, had already been reprinted 10 times by November of that year, when the Nobel Prize was announced. Tagore’s handsome figure. bearded and dressed in exotic robes was compared to “a powerful and gentle Christ.”

Unfortunately by the time he revisited Europe in 1920, he was shunned by those who had idolised him in 1913. The reason for this difference was possibly his vocal criticism of imperial rule and his rejection of knighthood after the Jalianwala Bagh massacre in 1919. “At that time for a figure of his stature speaking out against the empire was new,” Mr. Datta says, adding that it was as if someone had risen and “shamed the world order.”

Tagore’s first visit to Germany in 1921 on the other hand saw the people welcome him as an icon of resurrection. According to Mr Datta, “It was because he was regarded as a symbol of resurgence, of the indomitable spirit of man.”

Even though it is not possible to expect this love of Tagore to attain him bestselling status outside India, particularly as the readers of serious literature in all times are as rule relatively few, the publishing history of his works show that Tagore is regarded quite seriously. In the 100 years that the copyright was applicable on his translated works in the West, no less than 56 editions have been printed.

Each chapter of Elisabeth Kubler Ross’ seminal work, On Death and Dying, which is thought to be a classic of psychiatry begins with a quote from Tagore, which indicates the extent of his influence.

It has been said that Tagore is the second most widely translated foreign author after Shakespeare in China where he is called “Chu Chen Tan,” the thunder and sunlight of India, a literal translation of his name in Bengali.Translating Tagore is almost a 100-year-old tradition in China. Chen Duxiu, one of the founders of the Chinese Communist Party, published four poems from Gitanjali (An Offering of Songs) in Xin Qing Nian (New Youth) in 1915.
For the first time, Tagore’s complete works are being translated directly from Bengali into Chinese by Dong Youchen and his team. The first five volumes, being published by Renmin Publishing House, were published in May 2011, to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the poet’s birth, and all 24 volumes are expected to see the light of the day by 2015. (photo and link below)

Recently a FB group that I am a part of hosted a celebration of Rabindranath Tagore’s work at an evening of song and poetry in Kolkata. This is one of hundreds of such groups dedicated to spreading awareness and an appreciation of his work.

Another friend has posted about an event happening in the seat of English literature as far as I am concerned, Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford. With the help of Shakespeare Aloud actors and Prantik friends, Obhi and Kaberi Chatterjee will be telling the Story of the Gitanjali. This year is the 100th anniversary of the first publication of Tagore’s English Gitanjali, the main collection of poetry for which he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.(photo and link given below)

Hello world!

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 ReAmaay 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.

আকাশ আমায় ভরল আলোয়/Akash Amaay Bhorlo Aaloy/The sky has fulfilled me with light

The poet wrote this in February as Spring came to Santiniketan, in its Palash and Shirish trees and in the red pebbled Khowai. Little could anyone have known that World War 1 was a few months away. This is a song that celebrates nature and her bounty in our lives.


আকাশ আমায় ভরল আলোয়, আকাশ আমি ভরব গানে।
সুরের আবীর হানব হাওয়ায়, নাচের আবীর হাওয়ায় হানে॥
ওরে পলাশ, ওরে পলাশ,
রাঙা রঙের শিখায় শিখায় দিকে দিকে আগুন জ্বলাস–
আমার মনের রাগরাগিণী রাঙা হল রঙিন তানে॥
দখিন হাওয়ার কুসুমবনের বুকের কাঁপন থাকে না যে।
নীল আকাশে সোনার আলোয় কচি পাতার নূপুর বাজে।
ওরে শিরীষ, ওরে শিরীষ,
মৃদু হাসির অন্তরালে গন্ধজালে শূন্য ঘিরিস–
তোমার গন্ধ আমার কণ্ঠে আমার হৃদয় টেনে আনে॥
রাগ: ছায়ানট
তাল: দাদরা
রচনাকাল (বঙ্গাব্দ): ১২ ফাল্গুন, ১৩২১
রচনাকাল (খৃষ্টাব্দ): ২৪ ফেব্রুয়ারি, ১৯১৫
স্বরলিপিকার: ইন্দিরা দেবী

blue skies (1)

The sky has fulfilled me with light, and I must pay it with song,
I will cast my tunes to colour the winds, and the breeze will draw me into its dance.
Oh Palash, fiery Palash,
Your red petals are like flames setting the forest ablaze –
That glow reaches deep inside me and sets me afire.
The flowers in the forest will not stop trembling, for the south wind whispers its message in their hearts.
Against the blue sky golden light makes the young leaves sing like anklets with happiness.
Oh Shirish, mighty Shirish,
Behind half smiles you work your spell, surrounding the world with sweetness –
Your perfume draws my very soul into my songs.

Raga: Cchayanot
Beat: Dadra
Written: 24th February, 1915
Score: Indira Devi

Follow the links to hear:

The original Cchayanot sung by the wonderful Ustad Rashid Khan:
Subinoy Roy:
Roma Mondal:
Purba Dam:

Poetry and Reason Why Rabindranath Tagore still matters: Amartya Sen

For the hundredth post on this blog, I was not sure whether I should translate from his infinite treasury of poetry or from his prose. Someone suggested the poem containing the lines, ‘Aji Hotey Shoto Borsho Pore’ recited in his own voice. I was not convinced. I felt that an explanation to myself was more in order. What was it about Tagore that made me persist at this? I have been looking carefully at all the feedback people have given. Ranging from requests from parents in New Mexico and Delhi for poems that they loved while growing up and would like their children to read, to effusive and loving praise from people who are like older siblings to the reader who has been unaware that someone like Tagore walked this earth just a few years ago but is now liking what they read….there have been many. Yet that is not just why I do this. I also do this because I love his writing, his thought and his opinions which remain refreshingly relevant despite the hundred and fifty odd years that have passed since his birth. He deserves to be known and read and far more widely than he is at the moment. I do this ‘blogging thing’ as someone called it, with that in mind.
Recently, on the occasion of India’s Independence Day celebrations, I found and re-read an essay of Tagore’s titled Nationalism. I posted it on this blog as well. It reads like a prophecy. His analysis of where Indian politics fails its people and how Europe would end up as a stagnant collection of nation states are startling. That blog post saw more shares than I had thought it would. The link is given below:
Such was his intelligence. As I said to someone that day, he was so much more than a bearded romantic who wrote songs; he was a giant amongst men. Little wonder then that we should want the world to know that.
The article below is by Amartya Sen, himself a product of Rabindranath Tagore’s beloved Santiniketan and like Tagore, a Nobel Prize winner. He explains far better than me and most of us why Tagore is still relevant.

Poetry and Reason

Why Rabindranath Tagore still matters

In his book Raga Mala, Ravi Shankar, the great musician, argues that had Rabindranath Tagore “been born in the West he would now be [as] revered as Shakespeare and Goethe.” This is a strong claim, and it calls attention to some greatness in this quintessentially Bengali writer—identified by a fellow Bengali—that might not be readily echoed in the wider world today, especially in the West. For the Bengali public, Tagore has been, and remains, an altogether exceptional literary figure, towering over all others. His poems, songs, novels, short stories, critical essays, and other writings have vastly enriched the cultural environment in which hundreds of millions of people live in the Bengali-speaking world, whether in Bangladesh or in India. Something of that glory is acknowledged in India outside Bengal as well, and even in some other parts of Asia, including China and Japan, but in the rest of the world, especially in Europe and America, Tagore is clearly not a household name.

And yet the enthusiasm and excitement that Tagore’s writings created in Europe and America in the early years of the twentieth century were quite remarkable. Gitanjali, a selection of his poems for which Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913, was published in English translation in London in March 1913 and was reprinted ten times by the time the award was announced in November. For many years Tagore was the rage in many European countries. His public appearances were always packed with people wanting to hear him. But then the Tagore tide ebbed, and by the 1930s the huge excitement was all over. Indeed, by 1937, Graham Greene was able to remark, “As for Rabindranath Tagore, I cannot believe that anyone but Mr. Yeats can still take his poems very seriously.”

The one hundred fiftieth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore’s birth, which we mark this year, is a good occasion to ask what happened.

The occasion has also generated some new books on Tagore, in addition to the distinguished ones that already exist. A very fine selection of Tagore’s writings, The Essential Tagore, with translations by leading scholars from Bangladesh, India, Britain, and America, along with insightful editorial comments by the two editors, Fakrul Alam and Radha Chakravarty, has just been published by Harvard University Press. The book has an imaginative and original foreword by the excellent writer Amit Chaudhuri, with a very engaging analysis of “poetry as polemic.”

The title of the book presumes that some of Tagore must be essential. But given the fairly comprehensive neglect of this writer in the contemporary English literary world, it could well be asked whether Tagore is indeed essential at all. We must also ask why a writer who evokes comparison with Shakespeare and Goethe tends to generate so little enthusiasm in Western countries today. There is surely some mystery here.

At one level it is not particularly hard to see that his native readers can get something from Tagore’s writings, especially his poems and songs, that would be missed by those who do not read Bengali. Even Yeats, his biggest promoter in the English-speaking world, did not like Tagore’s own English translations. “Tagore does not know English,” Yeats declared, adding a little theory to his diagnosis, as he often did: “No Indian knows English.”

Yeats was very willing to work with Tagore to overcome that handicap in the production of the English version of Gitanjali, though there are some serious problems with the Yeats-assisted translations as well. The more general obstacle to the appreciation of Tagore in English surely comes from the fact that poetry is notoriously difficult to translate. Even with the best effort and talent, it can be hard—if not impossible—to preserve the magic of poetry as it is transplanted from one language to another. Anyone who knows Tagore’s poems in Bengali would typically find it difficult to be really satisfied with any translation, no matter how good. To this impediment must be added the fact that Tagore’s poetry, which often takes the form of songs in an innovative style of lyrical singing, called Rabindrasangeet, has transformed popular Bengali music with its particular combination of reflective language and compatible tunes.

There is, in addition, the problem that Tagore’s influence on Bengali writing is so gigantic and epoch-making that his innovative language itself has profound importance to the Bengali reading public. Kazi Nazrul Islam, almost certainly the most successful Bengali poet with the exception of Tagore, who was constantly expressing his admiration for the person whom he called, uniquely, “the world poet,” has testified that Tagore had altogether transformed the Bengali language. In many different ways, Tagore’s writings reshaped and reconstructed modern Bengali in a way that only a handful of innovative Bengali writers had done before him, going back all the way, a thousand years earlier, to the authors of Charyapad, the Buddhist literary classics that first established the distinctive features of early modern Bengali.

Not only is language a part of the story in the contrast between Tagore’s appreciation at home and the indifference to him abroad, but a related component of the story lies in the extraordinary importance and unusual place of language in Bengali culture in general. The Bengali language has had an amazingly powerful influence on the identity of Bengalis as a group, on both sides of the political boundary between Bangladesh and India. In fact, the politically separatist campaign in what was East Pakistan that led to the war for independence, and eventually to the formation of the new secular state of Bangladesh in 1971, was pioneered by the bhasha andolon, the “language movement” in defense of the Bengali language.

The movement started on February 21, 1952, only a few years after the partition of the subcontinent, with a large demonstration at Dhaka University in what was then the capital of East Pakistan (and now of Bangladesh), when the police gunned down a number of demonstrators. This turned out to be a decisive moment in the history of what would later become Bangladesh. February 21 is celebrated each year in Bangladesh as the Language Movement Day, and this has resonance across the world, since that day has been declared by UNESCO as the International Mother Language Day for the world as a whole. Language has served as a very powerful uniting identity for Muslims and Hindus in Bengal, and this sense of shared belonging has had a profound impact on the politics of Bengal, including its commitment to secularism on both sides of the border in the post-partition world.

The extraordinary combination of Tagore’s language and themes has had a captivating influence on his Bengali readers. Many Bengalis express their astonishment at the fact that people outside Bengal could fail to appreciate and enjoy Tagore’s writings; and that incomprehension is at least partly due to underestimating the difference that language can make. E.M. Forster noted the barrier of language, as early as 1919, when Tagore was still in vogue, in reviewing the translation of one of Tagore’s great Bengali novels, Ghare Baire, translated in English as The Home and the World. (It would be later made into a fine film by Satyajit Ray.) Forster confessed that he could not make himself like the English version of the novel that he read. “The theme is so beautiful,” he remarked, but the charms have “vanished in translation.”

So the importance of language provides a clue to the eclipse of Tagore in the West, but it cannot be the whole story. For one thing, Tagore’s nonfictional prose writings also have a gripping hold on the attention of Bengalis and also of other Indians, but they are not seen abroad in a similarly admiring way at all. This is so despite the fact that these writings are much easier to translate: indeed, Tagore himself often presented these essays in very effective English about which it would be hard to grumble. In his essays and his lectures, Tagore developed ideas on a remarkably wide variety of subjects—on politics, on culture, on society, on education; and while they are regularly quoted in his homeland, they are very rarely invoked now outside Bangladesh and India. There has to be something other than the barrier of language in the lack of world attention to Tagore. And this raises the larger question: how relevant, how important are Tagore’s general ideas?

Perhaps the central issues that moved Tagore most are the importance of open-minded reasoning and the celebration of human freedom. This placed him in a somewhat distinct category from some of his great compatriots. Tagore admired Gandhi immensely, and expressed his admiration of his leadership time and again, and did more than perhaps anyone else in insisting that he be described as “Mahatma”—the great soul. And yet Tagore frequently disagreed with Gandhi whenever he thought that the latter’s reasoning did not go far enough. They would often argue with each other quite emphatically. When, for example, Gandhi used the catastrophic Bihar earthquake of 1934 that killed a huge number of people as further ammunition in his fight against untouchability—he identified the earthquake as “a divine chastisement sent by God for our sins,” in particular the sin of untouchability—Tagore protested vehemently, insisting that “it is all the more unfortunate because this kind of unscientific view of phenomena is too readily accepted by a large section of our countrymen.”

Similarly, when Gandhi advocated that everyone should use the charka—the primitive spinning wheel—thirty minutes a day, Tagore expressed his disagreement sharply. He thought little of Gandhi’s alternative economics, and found reason to celebrate, with a few qualifications, the liberating role of modern technology in reducing human drudgery as well as poverty. He also was deeply skeptical of the spiritual argument for the spinning wheel: “The charka does not require anyone to think; one simply turns the wheel of the antiquated invention endlessly, using the minimum of judgment and stamina.” In contrast with Gandhi’s advocacy of abstinence as the right method of birth control, Tagore championed family planning through preventive methods. He was also concerned that Gandhi had “a horror of sex as great as that of the author of The Kreutzer Sonata.” And the two differed sharply on the role of modern medicine, to which Gandhi was not friendly at all.

Many of these issues remain deeply relevant today, but what is important to note here are not the particular views that Tagore advanced in these—and other such—areas, but the organizing principles that moved him. The poet who was famous in the West only as a romantic and a spiritualist was in fact persistently guided in his writings by the necessity of critical reasoning and the importance of human freedom. Also, those were the philosophical priorities that influenced Tagore’s ideas on education, including his insistence that education is the most important element in the development of a country. In his assessment of Japan’s economic development, Tagore separated out the role that the advancement of school education had played in Japan’s remarkable development—an analysis that would be echoed much later in the literature on development. He may have been exaggerating the role of education somewhat when he remarked that “the imposing tower of misery which today rests on the heart of India has its sole foundation in the absence of education,” but it is not hard to see why he saw the transformative role of education as the central story in the development process.

Tagore devoted much of his life to advancing education in India and advocating it everywhere. Nothing absorbed as much of his time as the school in Santiniketan that he established. He was constantly raising money for this unusually progressive co-educational school. I have to declare a bias here, since I was educated at this school, and my mother was schooled there decades earlier, in what was one of the early co-educational institutions in India. After learning that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, Tagore told others about it, or so the story goes, in a meeting of a school committee discussing how to fund a new set of drains that the school needed. His announcement of the recognition apparently took the eccentric form of his saying that “money for the drains has probably been found.”

In his distinctive view of education, Tagore particularly emphasized the need for gathering knowledge from everywhere in the world, and assessing it only by reasoned scrutiny. As a student at the Santiniketan school, I felt very privileged that the geographical boundaries of our education were not confined only to India and imperial Britain (as was common in Indian schools then). We learned a great deal about Europe, Africa, the USA, and Latin America, and even more extensively about other countries in Asia. Santiniketan had the first institute of Chinese studies in India; my mother learned judo in the school nearly a century ago; and there were excellent training facilities in arts, crafts, and music from other countries, such as Indonesia.

Tagore also worked hard to break out of the religious and communal thinking that was beginning to be championed in India during his lifetime—it would peak in the years following his death in 1941, when the Hindu-Muslim riots erupted in the subcontinent, making the partitioning of the country hard to avoid. Tagore was extremely shocked by the violence that was provoked by the championing of a singular identity of people as members of one religion or another, and he felt convinced that this disaffection was being foisted on common people by determined extremists: “interested groups led by ambition and outside instigation are today using the communal motive for destructive political ends.”

Tagore became more and more anxious and disappointed about India and about the world in the years before his death, and he did not live to see the emergence of a secular Bangladesh, which drew a part of its inspiration from his reasoned rejection of communal separatism. With its independence, Bangladesh chose one of Tagore’s songs (“Amar Sonar Bangla”) as its national anthem, making Tagore possibly the only person in human history who authored the national anthems of two independent countries: India had already adopted another one of his songs as its national anthem.

All this must be very confusing to those who see the contemporary world as a “clash of civilizations”—with “Muslim civilization,” “Hindu civilization,” and “Western civilization,” defined largely on religious grounds, vehemently confronting each other. They would also be confused by Tagore’s own description of his own cultural background: “a confluence of three cultures, Hindu, Mohammedan, and British.” Rabindranath Tagore’s grandfather, Dwarkanath, was well known for his command of Arabic and Persian, and Rabindranath grew up in a family atmosphere in which a deep knowledge of Sanskrit and ancient Hindu texts was combined with the study of Islamic traditions as well as Persian literature. It is not so much that Tagore tried to produce a “synthesis” of the different religions (as the great Mughal emperor Akbar had attempted for a time), but his reliance on reasoning and his emphasis on human freedom militated against a separatist and parochial understanding of social divisions.

If Tagore’s voice was strong against communalism and religious sectarianism, he was no less outspoken in his rejection of nationalism. He was critical of the display of excessive nationalism in India, despite his persistent criticism of British imperialism. And notwithstanding his great admiration for Japanese culture and history, he would chastise Japan late in his life for its extreme nationalism and its mistreatment of China and east and southeast Asia.

Tagore also went out of his way to dissociate the criticism of the Raj from any denunciation of British people and British culture. Consider Gandhi’s famous witticism in reply to the question, asked in England, about what he thought of British civilization: “It would be a good idea.” There are some doubts about the authenticity of the story, but whether or not it is exactly accurate, the purported remark did fit with Gandhi’s amused skepticism about claims of British greatness. Those words could not have come from Tagore’s lips, even in jest. While he denied altogether the legitimacy of the Raj, Tagore was vocal in pointing out what Indians had gained from “discussions centered upon Shakespeare’s drama and Byron’s poetry and above all…. the large-hearted liberalism of nineteenth-century English politics.” The tragedy, as Tagore saw it, came from the fact that what “was truly best in their own civilization, the upholding of dignity of human relationships, has no place in the British administration of this country.”

Tagore saw the world as a vast give-and-take of ideas and innovations. He insisted that “whatever we understand and enjoy in human products instantly becomes ours, wherever they might have their origin.” He went on to proclaim, “I am proud of my humanity when I can acknowledge the poets and artists of other countries as my own. Let me feel with unalloyed gladness that all the great glories of man are mine.” The importance of such ideas has not diminished in the divisive world in which we now live. If that gives at least a part of the answer to the question of why Tagore still matters, it also puts into sharper focus the strangeness of the eclipse of Tagore in the West after an initial outburst of enthusiasm.

In explaining what happened to Tagore in the West, it is important to see the one-sided way in which his Western admirers presented him. This was partly related to the priorities of Tagore’s principal sponsors in Europe, such as Yeats and Pound. They were dedicated to placing Tagore in the light of a mystical religiosity that went sharply against the overall balance of Tagore’s work. In Yeats’s case, his single-minded presentation included adding explanatory remarks to the translation of Tagore’s poems to make sure that the reader got the religious point, eliminating altogether the rich ambiguity of meaning in Tagore’s language between love of human beings and love of God.

However, a part of the answer to the puzzle of the Western misunderstanding of Tagore can be found, I think, in the peculiar position in which Europe was placed when Tagore’s poems became such a rage in the West. Tagore received his Nobel Prize only a year before the start in Europe of World War I, which was fought with unbelievable brutality. The slaughter in that war made many intellectuals and literary figures in Europe turn to insights coming from elsewhere, and Tagore’s voice seemed to many, at the time, to fit the need splendidly. When, for example, the pocket book of Wilfred Owen, the great anti-war poet, was recovered from the battlefield in which he had died, his mother, Susan Owen, found in it a prominent display of Tagore’s poetry. The poem of Tagore with which Wilfred said good-bye before leaving for the battlefield (it began, “When I go from hence, let this be my parting word”) was very much there, as Susan wrote to Tagore, with those words “written in his dear writing—with your name beneath.”

Tagore soon became identified in Europe as a sage with a teaching—a teaching that could, quite possibly, save Europe from the dire predicament of war and disaffection in which it recurrently found itself in the early twentieth century. This was a far cry from the many-sided creative artist and emphatically reasoned thinker that people at home found in Tagore. Even as Tagore urged his countrymen to wake up from blind belief and turn to reason, Yeats was describing Tagore’s voice in thoroughly mystical terms: “we have met our own image … or heard, perhaps for the first time in literature, our voice as in a dream.” There is a huge gulf there.

Tagore argued for the courage to depart from traditional beliefs whenever reason demanded it. There is a nice little story by Tagore called “Kartar Bhoot,” or “The Ghost of the Leader,” illustrating this point. A wise and highly respected leader who received unquestioned admiration from a community had become, in effect, a kind of tyrant when he lived, and enormously more so after he died. The story describes how ridiculously restrained people’s lives became when the dead leader’s recommendations get frozen into inflexible commands. In their impossibly difficult lives, when the members of the community pray to the dead leader to liberate them from their bondage, the leader reminds them that he exists only in their minds—that they are free to liberate themselves whenever they so decide. Tagore had a real horror of being bound by the past, beyond the reach of present reasoning.

Yet Tagore himself did not do much to resist the wrongly conceived reputation as a mystical sage that was being thrust upon him. Even though he wrote to his friend C.F. Andrews in 1920, at the height of his adulation as an Eastern messiah, that “these people … are like drunkards who are afraid of their lucid intervals,” he played along without much public protest. There was perhaps some tension within Tagore’s self-perception that allowed him to entertain the belief that the East had a real message to give to the West, and this conviction fitted rather badly with the rest of his reasoned commitments and convictions. There was also a serious mismatch between the kind of religiosity that the Western intellectuals came to attribute to Tagore (Graham Greene thought that he had seen in Tagore “what Chesterton calls ‘the bright pebbly eyes’ of the Theosophists”) and the form that Tagore’s religious beliefs actually took. His religious inclinations are perhaps best represented by one of his poems (I am taking the liberty of translating the lines into simple English, away from the biblical English that Tagore had been persuaded to use):

Leave this chanting and singing and
telling of beads!
Whom do you worship in this lonely
dark corner of a temple with doors
all shut?
Open your eyes and see your God
is not before you!
He is there where the tiller is tilling
the hard ground and where the
path maker is breaking stones.
He is with them in sun and in shower,
and his garment is covered with dust.

Even though an affectionate God, who inspires not fear but love, has a big role in Tagore’s thinking, he is guided on all worldly questions not by any variety of mysticism but by explicit and discernible reasoning. This Tagore, the real Tagore, got very little attention from his Western audience—neither from his sponsors nor from his detractors. Bertrand Russell wrote (in letters to Nimai Chatterji in the 1960s) that he did not like Tagore’s “mystic air,” with an inclination to spout “vague nonsense,” adding that the “sort of language that is admired by many Indians unfortunately does not, in fact, mean anything at all.” When an otherwise sympathetic writer, George Bernard Shaw, transformed Rabindranath Tagore into a fictional character called “Stupendranath Beggor,” there was no longer much hope that Tagore’s reasoned ideas would receive the careful and serious attention that they deserved.

In Tagore’s vision of the future of his country, and of the world, there was in fact much emphasis on reason and much celebration of freedom—precisely the subjects on which more discussion can have an enormously constructive role today. In a rousing poem, he outlined his vision of what he so strongly desired for his own country and for the whole world:

Where the mind is without fear and
the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been
broken up into fragments by
narrow domestic walls.

The difficulty in Tagore’s reception in the West itself can perhaps be seen as a particular illustration of a world “broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls.”

The fragmentary distortions take distinct forms in different societies and different contexts. In arguing for a world in which “the mind is without fear and the head is held high,” Tagore wanted to overcome all those barriers. He did not quite succeed; but the engagement in open-minded and fearless reasoning that Tagore championed so eloquently is no less important today than it was in his own time.

This article was published by The New Republic,,0.

Amartya Sen teaches economics and philosophy at Harvard University and received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1998. A version of this essay was delivered as a lecture at the British Museum in May. This article originally ran in the June 30, 2011, issue of the magazine.

ভগবান , তুমি যুগে যুগে দূত , পাঠায়েছ বারে বারে/Bhogobaan, tumi jugey jugey doot, pathayecho baare baare/Lord, you have sent your messengers through the ages

For me, Rabindranath Tagore has always been a true mingling of poetry and quiet introspection. Marked as he was by great personal tragedy (including the untimely deaths of beloved children)and despite being maligned by many through the course of his life, he remained constant to his ‘religion of man’. He once declared: “The basest of sins is to lose belief in humans” . . . for they show a propensity for the worst evil and yet the good in them also shines the road to happiness. Faced with the horrors of the Second World War and the ravages of famine, he firmly expressed this faith: “That humanity will prevail”.
He was a true citizen of the world and remained above narrow hypocrisy and prejudice, choosing instead to use his writing as a means of protest when he saw the need. This poem appears in his collection of poems Porishesh (In The End) and is an example of the sense of disillusionment he felt when confronted by human evils.

ভগবান , তুমি যুগে যুগে দূত , পাঠায়েছ বারে বারে

                     দয়াহীন সংসারে ,

তারা বলে গেল  ‘ক্ষমা করো সবে ‘, বলে গেল  ‘ভালোবাসো —

                     অন্তর হতে বিদ্বেষবিষ নাশো ‘ ।

বরণীয় তারা , স্মরণীয় তারা , তবুও বাহির-দ্বারে

আজি দুর্দিনে ফিরানু তাদের ব্যর্থ নমস্কারে ।


আমি-যে দেখেছি গোপন হিংসা কপট রাত্রিছায়ে

               হেনেছে নিঃসহায়ে ,

আমি-যে দেখেছি প্রতিকারহীন শক্তের অপরাধে

               বিচারের বাণী নীরবে নিভৃতে কাঁদে ।

আমি-যে দেখিনু তরুণ বালক উন্মাদ হয়ে ছুটে

কী যন্ত্রণায় মরেছে পাথরে নিষ্ফল মাথা কুটে ।


কণ্ঠ আমার রুদ্ধ আজিকে , বাঁশি সংগীতহারা ,

                 অমাবস্যার কারা

লুপ্ত করেছে আমার ভুবন দুঃস্বপনের তলে ,

                 তাই তো তোমায় শুধাই অশ্রুজলে —

যাহারা তোমার বিষাইছে বায়ু , নিভাইছে তব আলো ,

তুমি কি তাদের ক্ষমা করিয়াছ , তুমি কি বেসেছ ভালো ।

Bhogobaan, tumi jugey jugey doot, pathayecho baare baare

Doyaheen shongshaarey,

Tara boley gelo ‘Kshama koro shobey’ bole gelo ‘Bhalobasho

Antar hotey bidweshobish nasho’|

Boroniyo taara, smaraniyo taara, tobuo bahir-dwaare

Aji duurdiney phiranu taader byartho namoshkaare|

Ami je dekhechi gopono hingsha kapat ratrichchaaye

Henechche nihshohaaye

Ami je dekhechiprokarheen shakter aporadhe

Bichaarer bani neerobe nibhritey kaNde

Ami je dekhinu tarun balak unmaad hoye chchutey

Ki jontronay morechche,  pathorey nishphal matha kutey|

Kantho amaar ruddho aajikey, banshi sangeeet-hara,

Amabashyar kara

Lupto korechche amaar bhuban duhswaponero toley,

Tai to tomay shudhai ashrujoley–

Jaahara tomar bishaichche bayu, nibhaichche tobo alo,

Tumi ki taader kshama koriyacho, tumi ki beshechcho bhalo|

Why, I ask

Lord, you have sent your messengers through the ages

To this pitiless world

They have said ‘Forgive thy enemies,’ they have said ‘Love them–

Defeat this bitter hatred that lurks within you’|

They are to be revered, they are to be remembered,

and yet today, in this terrible hour

I have turned them away from my door with polite rejection

For I have seen the horror of of insidious malice wreak vengeance

On the meek, under cover of this delusive night

And witnessed the voice of justice silenced, doomed to weep

In the face of tyranny

For I have also seen the senseless death of innocent youth maddened by turmoil

As they beat their heads in impotent rage against the stony walls of Fate

My voice is stilled today, muted lies my flute,

This darkness confines

My world under a weight of nightmarish proportions

That is why I need to ask of you today,

Have you forgiven them, Oh Lord, those that make rank the air

Do you love them too, those that have darkened the world

Listen: Bidyut Saha at

In Rabindranath Tagore’s own voice at

বুঝি না, বুঝতে পারি না, চাইও না/We do not understand, we are incapable of comprehending and we do not wish to either:

Regardless of whether Bengalis read Rabindranath Tagore’s work with attention or not, lately curiosity in Rabindranath as a person has flared up. This eagerness has recently found a new focus. This is what might be described as Tagore’s ‘love life.’ One notices a lot of discussion, writing, serialized accounts and films that deal with this. There is no point rueing this eagerness. Rabindranath never labelled himself an ascetic of any sort. But one must look into the recent phenomenon affecting Bengalis, namely their overwhelming interest in Tagore’s ‘love life.’ It is worth considering what Tagore has been reduced to in this cyclical waxing and waning.

One might describe this current uproar over Tagore’s loves as an ‘opposing reaction.’ He was the founder of the school at Santiniketan and his robed and bearded appearance as Gurudev is the image most Bengalis think of. Many adore him, almost as an otherworldly presence. They feel that it is utter sacrilege to even think about his love life. They keep their Tagore safe by judging his love poems through abstract comparisons and in the guise of philosophical discussions of the infinite. Perhaps this hysteria regarding the purity of Tagore was once so great in Bengali society that we are now seeing an opposing reaction to it. Marketability plays a big role here. The personal life of the poet is now a top billed item in the market. During his life he was not bereft of female company. Many people from near and far were keen to be in the company of the talented, good humoured and handsome poet and there were women among this devoted following. Neither was he averse to life. The life of a man who once wished to experience life in all its diversity has today become a subject of stories of mere physical attraction at the hands of contemporary purveyors of Bengali culture; this is hardly surprising seeing that today’s Bengali culture has blossomed as a opposing reaction to the past. The names of Kadambari, Ocampo and Ranu are heard again and again. Especially that of Kadambari owing to her suicide. Bengalis do not have the mental fortitude to take part in a great tragedy but on the whole they have a great inclination and interest in light melodrama. That need has been fulfilled by the relationship between Tagore and Kadambari. This is a sign of two complementary traits seen in Bengalis. Firstly, Bengalis are not aware of appropriateness and hence secondly, they have no empathy. Empathy is the ability to feel the same feelings as someone else. One must have empathy to understand and know another person and this is helped by having some idea about the person we need to understand. One has to study deeply and learn much for that. In the West a lot of work has been done on the personal lives of famous thinkers but at present Bengal lacks even the smallest part of the effort, intelligence and imagination that is at work in those ventures. Tagore had wished to make imagination a partner to empathy. This imagination is characterised by the ability to be as another or the desire to do so. One must first understand the other. If one studies Tagore’s life and reads his work with attention to detail, one can see how he attempted all through his life to especially honour the equation between men and women. Tagore never denied that physical attraction is ever present in the relationships between men and women and within the human heart. He singled out his predecessor Vidyasagar for special praise because Vidyasagar recognised that a widow’s body did not turn to stone simply because her husband passed away. Tagore was thus different from the ‘path of selfless sacrifice’ adherents of the nineteenth and twentieth century who declared that this natural desire for physical love was to be suppressed for the sake of society and country. Bankim Chandra decreed in ‘Mrinalini’ and later in ‘Anandamath’ that personal feelings of love were to be locked away so that one might serve the country. But Tagore did not sacrifice Ela and Antu’s love for the sake of the country in his novel ‘Char Adhyay’.

He believed that a woman’s self esteem played a very important role in marital relations and that this self esteem was not found only in educated women living in cities but in all self aware women, no matter what their economic background. In his story ‘Shasti’ or Punishment, it is this self respect that gives the wrongfully blamed Chandara the strength to refuse a meeting with her accuser and husband Chidam before she is hanged. It was self respect again that gave the rural woman Mrinal the courage to leave her husband’s home (Streer Potro).

Tagore did not merely wish to define and construct a new language for femininity; he created a new definition for masculinity as well. His ideal male does not occupy a woman but rather attempts to understand women through his own pliant humanity. Nikhilesh of ‘Ghawrey Bairey’ and Madhusudan of ‘Jogajog’ are noteworthy in this respect.

It is only natural that he who placed such importance on the mutually sympathetic understanding in relationships between men and women would himself become a person trusted by women in his personal life at a time when not understanding the female mind was the rule. He had relationships with various people such as Ranu, Kadambari and Ocampo. Those relationships differed in both importance and significance. Kadambari’s death made Tagore grow as a writer and the memories surrounding her death have returned again and again in many of his writings. And yet he is seen as a loving and dutiful husband to Mrinalini. Various women who were spellbound by his qualities came into his life after Mrinalini’s death. These human interactions all enriched his life. Our minds seek varied experiences. It is as though he enjoyed that variety of experience through his varied relationships. He never insulted anyone’s self respect.

The average Bengali is happy enough with their success in reducing the great to their own stature. But the act of reducing everyone to one’s own measurements without attempting to understand them is in fact a form of terrorism. If we persist in the terrorist act of pulling everyone down to our level, the stature of the Bengali people will keep lessening till we are able one day to sit on the kerb and still find our feet swinging in the air.

(Translation, mine)

নতুন পুতুলঃ লিপিকা /The New Doll: Lipika



এই গুণী কেবল পুতুল তৈরি করত; সে পুতুল রাজবাড়ির মেয়েদের খেলার জন্যে।


বছরে বছরে রাজবাড়ির আঙিনায় পুতুলের মেলা বসে। সেই মেলায় সকল কারিগরই এই গুণীকে প্রধান মান দিয়ে এসেছে।


যখন তার বয়স হল প্রায় চার কুড়ি, এমনসময় মেলায় এক নতুন কারিগর এল। তার নাম কিষণলাল, বয়স তার নবীন, নতুন তার কায়দা।


যে পুতুল সে গড়ে তার কিছু গড়ে কিছু গড়ে না, কিছু রঙ দেয় কিছু বাকি রাখে। মনে হয়, পুতুলগুলো যেন ফুরোয় নি, যেন কোনোকালে ফুরিয়ে যাবে না।


নবীনের দল বললে, ‘লোকটা সাহস দেখিয়েছে।’


প্রবীণের দল বললে, ‘একে বলে সাহস? এ তো স্পর্ধা।’


কিন্তু, নতুন কালের নতুন দাবি। এ কালের রাজকন্যারা বলে, ‘আমাদের এই পুতুল চাই।’


সাবেক কালের অনুচরেরা বলে, ‘আরে ছিঃ।’


শুনে তাদের জেদ বেড়ে যায়।


বুড়োর দোকানে এবার ভিড় নেই। তার ঝাঁকাভরা পুতুল যেন খেয়ার অপেক্ষায় ঘাটের লোকের মতো ও পারের দিকে তাকিয়ে বসে রইল।


এক বছর যায়, দু বছর যায়, বুড়োর নাম সবাই ভুলেই গেল। কিষণলাল হল রাজবাড়ির পুতুলহাটের সর্দার।



বুড়োর মন ভাঙল, বুড়োর দিনও চলে না। শেষকালে তার মেয়ে এসে তাকে বললে, ‘তুমি আমার বাড়িতে এসো।’


জামাই বললে, ‘খাও দাও, আরাম করো, আর সবজির খেত থেকে গোরু বাছুর খেদিয়ে রাখো।’


বুড়োর মেয়ে থাকে অষ্টপ্রহর ঘরকরনার কাজে। তার জামাই গড়ে মাটির প্রদীপ, আর নৌকো বোঝাই করে শহরে নিয়ে যায়।


নতুন কাল এসেছে সে কথা বুড়ো বোঝে না, তেমনিই সে বোঝে না যে, তার নাৎনির বয়স হয়েছে ষোলো।


যেখানে গাছতলায় ব’সে বুড়ো খেত আগলায় আর ক্ষণে ক্ষণে ঘুমে ঢুলে পড়ে সেখানে নাৎনি গিয়ে তার গলা জড়িয়ে ধরে; বুড়োর বুকের হাড়গুলো পর্যন্ত খুশি হয়ে ওঠে। সে বলে, ‘কী দাদি, কী চাই।’


নাৎনি বলে, ‘আমাকে পুতুল গড়িয়ে দাও, আমি খেলব।’


বুড়ো বলে, ‘আরে ভাই, আমার পুতুল তোর পছন্দ হবে কেন।’


নাৎনি বলে, ‘তোমার চেয়ে ভালো পুতুল কে গড়ে শুনি।’


বুড়ো বলে, ‘কেন, কিষণলাল।’


নাৎনি বলে, ‘ইস্‌! কিষণলালের সাধ্যি!’


দুজনের এই কথা-কাটাকাটি কতবার হয়েছে। বারে বারে একই কথা।


তার পরে বুড়ো তার ঝুলি থেকে মালমশলা বের করে; চোখে মস্ত গোল চশমাটা আঁটে।


নাৎনিকে বলে, ‘কিন্তু দাদি, ভুট্টা যে কাকে খেয়ে যাবে।’


নাৎনি বলে, ‘দাদা, আমি কাক তাড়াব।’


বেলা বয়ে যায়; দূরে ইঁদারা থেকে বলদে জল টানে, তার শব্দ আসে; নাৎনি কাক তাড়ায়, বুড়ো বসে বসে পুতুল গড়ে।



বুড়োর সকলের চেয়ে ভয় তার মেয়েকে। সেই গিন্নির শাসন বড়ো কড়া, তার সংসারে সবাই থাকে সাবধানে।


বুড়ো আজ একমনে পুতুল গড়তে বসেছে; হুঁশ হল না, পিছন থেকে তার মেয়ে ঘন ঘন হাত দুলিয়ে আসছে।


কাছে এসে যখন সে ডাক দিলে তখন চশমাটা চোখ থেকে খুলে নিয়ে অবোধ ছেলের মতো তাকিয়ে রইল।


মেয়ে বললে, ‘দুধ দোওয়া পড়ে থাক্‌, আর তুমি সুভদ্রাকে নিয়ে বেলা বইয়ে দাও। অত বড়ো মেয়ে, ওর কি পুতুলখেলার বয়স।’


বুড়ো তাড়াতাড়ি বলে উঠল, ‘সুভদ্রা খেলবে কেন। এ পুতুল রাজবাড়িতে বেচব। আমার দাদির যেদিন বর আসবে সেদিন তো ওর গলায় মোহরের মালা পরাতে হবে। আমি তাই টাকা জমাতে চাই।’


মেয়ে বিরক্ত হয়ে বললে, ‘রাজবাড়িতে এ পুতুল কিনবে কে।’


বুড়োর মাথা হেঁট হয়ে গেল। চুপ করে বসে রইল।


সুভদ্রা মাথা নেড়ে বললে, ‘দাদার পুতুল রাজবাড়িতে কেমন না কেনে দেখব।’



দু দিন পরে সুভদ্রা এক কাহন সোনা এনে মাকে বললে, ‘এই নাও, আমার দাদার পুতুলের দাম।’


মা বললে, ‘কোথায় পেলি।’


মেয়ে বললে, ‘রাজপুরীতে গিয়ে বেচে এসেছি।’


বুড়ো হাসতে হাসতে বললে, ‘দাদি, তবু তো তোর দাদা এখন চোখে ভালো দেখে না, তার হাত কেঁপে যায়।’


মা খুশি হয়ে বললে, ‘এমন ষোলোটা মোহর হলেই তো সুভদ্রার গলার হার হবে।’


বুড়ো বললে, ‘তার আর ভাবনা কী।’


সুভদ্রা বুড়োর গলা জড়িয়ে ধরে বললে, ‘দাদাভাই, আমার বরের জন্যে তো ভাবনা নেই।’


বুড়ো হাসতে লাগল, আর চোখ থেকে এক ফোঁটা জল মুছে ফেললে।



বুড়োর যৌবন যেন ফিরে এল। সে গাছের তলায় বসে পুতুল গড়ে আর সুভদ্রা কাক তাড়ায়, আর দূরে ইঁদারায় বলদে ক্যাঁ-কোঁ করে জল টানে।


একে একে ষোলোটা মোহর গাঁথা হল, হার পূর্ণ হয়ে উঠল।


মা বললে, ‘এখন বর এলেই হয়।’


সুভদ্রা বুড়োর কানে কানে বললে, ‘দাদাভাই, বর ঠিক আছে।’


দাদা বললে, ‘বল্‌ তো দাদি, কোথায় পেলি বর।’


সুভদ্রা বললে, ‘যেদিন রাজপুরীতে গেলেম দ্বারী বললে, কী চাও। আমি বললেম, রাজকন্যাদের কাছে পুতুল বেচতে চাই। সে বললে, এ পুতুল এখনকার দিনে চলবে না। ব’লে আমাকে ফিরিয়ে দিলে। একজন মানুষ আমার কান্না দেখে বললে, দাও তো, ঐ পুতুলের একটু সাজ ফিরিয়ে দিই, বিক্রি হয়ে যাবে। সেই মানুষটিকে তুমি যদি পছন্দ কর দাদা, তা হলে আমি তার গলায় মালা দিই।’


বুড়ো জিজ্ঞাসা করলে, ‘সে আছে কোথায়।’


নাৎনি বললে, ‘ঐ যে, বাইরে পিয়ালগাছের তলায়।’


বর এল ঘরের মধ্যে; বুড়ো বললে, ‘এ যে কিষণলাল।’


কিষণলাল বুড়োর পায়ের ধুলো নিয়ে বললে, ‘হাঁ, আমি কিষণলাল।


বুড়ো তাকে বুকে চেপে ধরে বললে, ‘ভাই, একদিন তুমি কেড়ে নিয়েছিলে আমার হাতের পুতুলকে, আজ নিলে আমার প্রাণের পুতুলটিকে।’


নাৎনি বুড়োর গলা ধরে তার কানে কানে বললে, ‘দাদা, তোমাকে সুদ্ধ।’



The New Doll



There was a master craftsman who only made dolls; dolls fit for a princess to play with.

Every year there was a doll fair in the palace courtyard. All the other artisans at the fair honoured the master craftsman with the respect reserved for the best.

When he was almost eighty years old, a new artisan came to the fair. His name was Kishanlal; youthful in years was he, hitherto unseen his methods.

The dolls he made looked complete in some ways and unfinished in others. He touches them with paint in some parts and leaves other parts untouched. The dolls look as if they are still being made, as if they will never be completed.

The young say, ‘Now this is courage!’

The old say, ‘Courage? This is effrontery!’

But, new times demand new things. Today’s princesses say, ‘We want these dolls.’

The old courtiers say, ‘For shame!’

Of course, this only strengthens the young people’s resolve.

The crowds no longer flock to the old man’s shop. His baskets filled with dolls wait just as people at the river bank wait for the ferry, staring at the other bank.

One year passed and then another; everyone forgot the old fellow’s name. Kishanlal became the leader of the doll sellers at the palace fair.


The old man was heartbroken. It was hard for him to make a living. In the end his daughter came and said to him, Come and stay with me.’

His son-in-law said, ‘Eat, drink and be merry. All you have to do us drive the stray cattle from the fields.’

His daughter is busy with her chores all day long. His son-in-law makes clay lamps and takes them to sell in the city when his boat is full.

The old man does not see that the times have changed, just as he does not understand that his granddaughter is now sixteen years old.

She goes to him where he sits in the shade of the trees, dozing off as he guards the field and puts her arms about his neck. Even his bones grow happy as he says, ‘What is it? What do you want?’

His granddaughter says, ‘Make me dolls to play with.’

The old man said, ‘But are you sure you even like the dolls I make?’

His granddaughter said, ‘Tell me then, is there anyone who makes better dolls than you?’

The old man said, ‘Why, how about Kishanlal?’

The girl answered, ‘He wishes he had your talent!’

The two often squabble like this. It is always about the same thing.

The old man then takes his equipment out of his bag and puts his enormous round glasses on.

He says to his granddaughter, ‘But dear, what about the crows eating the corn?’

His granddaughter says, ‘Grandfather, I will drive the crows away!’

Time passes; the bullock draws water noisily at the distant canal; the granddaughter drives the crows away and the old man makes his doll


The old man fears his daughter most of all. She rules her world with an iron grasp, everyone is careful about what they do when she is around.

The old man was fashioning dolls with all his concentration today; he did not notice when his daughter came walking towards him from behind, her arms swinging busily.

When she came right up to him and spoke, he took his glasses off and looked at her with childlike innocence.

His daughter said, ‘The milking can wait I suppose, while you while away your time with Subhadra. She is a big girl now, is she going to play with dolls anymore?’

The old man said hurriedly, ‘Why would Subhadra play with these? I will sell these at the palace. For I have to give a necklace of coins to my child on the day her husband comes asking for her hand. I want to save money for that.’

His daughter said with some annoyance, ‘Who will buy these dolls at the palace!’

The old man’s head sank in shame. He sat in silence.

Subhadra shook her head and said, ‘I dare the people in the palace to keep their hands off my grandfather’s dolls.’


Two days later Subhadra brought a measure of gold and gave it to her mother saying, ‘Here you are, money for my grandfather’s dolls.’

Her mother asked, ‘Where did you get this?’

The girl answered, ‘I sold them at the palace.’

The old man said with a smile, ‘And yet your grandfather does not see so well these days, and yet you know that his hands tremble.’

Her mother said happily, ‘Sixteen gold pieces like this should make a fine adornment for Subhadra’s neck.’

The old man answered, ‘Do not worry about that.’

Subhadra wrapped her arms about his neck and said, ‘I do not need anyone else.’

The old man kept smiling as he wiped a tear from his eye.


The old man seemed to have regained his youth. He would sit under the tree and make dolls. Subhadra would drive off the crows and the bullock would draw water from the distant canal with a wheezing sound.

One by one the sixteen coins were strung and the necklace was completed.

Her mother said, ‘Now all we need is a groom!’

Subhadra whispered in his ear, ‘Grandfather, I have a groom all ready and waiting.’

‘But tell me, where did you find your groom?’

Subhadra answered, ‘That day when I went to the palace, the guard asked me what I wanted. I said that I was there to sell my dolls to the princesses. He said that my dolls were not in fashion any more. With those words he turned me away. One man was moved by my tears and said, ‘Give those dolls to me, I will dress them up a little and they will sell. If you say yes old grandfather, I will marry that man.’

The old craftsman asked, ‘Where is he?’

His granddaughter said, ‘There he stands, beneath the Piyal tree.’

Her groom entered the room; the old man said, ‘But this is Kishanlal!’

Kishanlal touched his feet in respectful greeting and said, ‘Yes, I am Kishanlal indeed.’

The old man clasped him to his chest and said, ‘Once you took the dolls I made, today you take the treasure of my heart.’

His granddaughter put her arms around his neck and whispered in his ear, ‘Along with you!’




ধর্মবোধের দৃষ্টান্ত/ Dharma Bodher Drishtanto/Examples of Right Action

অন্যত্র বলিয়াছি কোনো ইংরেজ অধ্যাপক এ দেশে জুরির বিচার সম্বন্ধে আলোচনাকালে বলিয়াছিলেন যে, যে দেশের অর্ধসভ্য লোক প্রাণের মাহাত্ম্য (Sanctity of Life) বোঝে না, তাহাদের হাতে জুরি-বিচারের অধিকার দেওয়া অন্যায়।

প্রাণের মাহাত্ম্য ইংরেজ আমাদের চেয়ে বেশি বোঝে, সে কথা নাহয় স্বীকার করিয়াই লওয়া গেল। অতএব সেই ইংরেজ যখন প্রাণ হনন করে তখন তাহার অপরাধের গুরুত্ব আমাদের চেয়ে বেশি। অথচ দেখিতে পাই, দেশীয়কে হত্যা করিয়া কোনো ইংরেজ খুনি ইংরেজ জজ ও ইংরেজ জুরির বিচারে ফাঁসি যায় নাই। প্রাণের মাহাত্ম্য সম্বন্ধে তাহাদের বোধশক্তি যে অত্যন্ত সূক্ষ্ম, ইংরেজ অপরাধী হয়তো তাহার প্রমাণ পায়, কিন্তু সে প্রমাণ দেশীয় লোকদের কাছে কিছু অসম্পূর্ণ বলিয়াই ঠেকে।

এইরূপ বিচার আমাদিগকে দুই দিক হইতে আঘাত করে। প্রাণ যা যাবার সে তো যায়ই, ও দিকে মানও নষ্ট হয়। ইহাতে আমাদের জাতির প্রতি যে অবজ্ঞা প্রকাশ পায় তাহা আমাদের সকলেরই গায়ে বাজে।

ইংলণ্ডে গ্লোব বলিয়া একটি সংবাদপত্র আছে। সেটা সেখানকার ভদ্রলোকেরই কাগজ। তাহাতে লিখিয়াছে– টমি অ্যাট্‌কিন (অর্থাৎ পল্টনের গোরা) দেশী লোককে মারিয়া ফেলিবে বলিয়া মারে না, কিন্তু মার খাইলেই দেশী লোকগুলা মরিয়া যায়; এইজন্য টমি-বেচারার লঘু দণ্ড হইলেই দেশী খবরের কাগজগুলা চীৎকার করিয়া মরে।

টমি অ্যাট্‌কিনের প্রতি দরদ খুব দেখিতেছি, কিন্তু “স্যাঙ্ক্‌টিটি অফ লাইফ’ কোন্‌খানে। যে পাশব আঘাতে আমাদের পিলা ফাটে এই ভদ্রকাগজের কয় ছত্রের মধ্যেও কি সেই আঘাতেরই বেগ নাই। স্বজাতিকৃত খুনকে কোমল স্নেহের সহিত দেখিয়া হত ব্যক্তির আত্মীয়সম্প্রদায়ের বিলাপকে যাহারা বিরক্তির সহিত ধিক্‌কার দেয় তাহারাও কি খুন পোষণ করিতেছে না।

কিছুকাল হইতে আমরা দেখিতেছি, য়ুরোপীয় সভ্যতায় ধর্মনীতির আদর্শ সাধারণত অভ্যাসের উপরেই প্রতিষ্ঠিত। ধর্মবোধশক্তি এই সভ্যতার অন্তঃকরণের মধ্যে উদ্‌ভাসিত হয় নাই। এইজন্য অভ্যাসের গণ্ডির বাহিরে এই আদর্শ পথ খুঁজিয়া পায় না, অনেক সময় বিপথে মারা যায়।

য়ুরোপীয় সমাজে ঘরে ঘরে কাটাকাটি-খুনাখুনি হইতে পারে না, এরূপ ব্যবহার সেখানকার সাধারণ স্বার্থের বিরোধী। বিষপ্রয়োগ বা অস্ত্রাঘাতের দ্বারা খুন করাটা য়ুরোপের পক্ষে কয়েক শতাব্দী হইতে ক্রমশ অনভ্যস্ত হইয়া আসিয়াছে।

কিন্তু খুন বিনা অস্ত্রাঘাতে বিনা রক্তপাতে হইতে পারে। ধর্মবোধ যদি অকৃত্রিম আভ্যন্তরিক হয়, তবে সেরূপ খুনও নিন্দনীয় এবং অসম্ভব হইয়া পড়ে।

একটি বিশেষ দৃষ্টান্ত অবলম্বন করিয়া এ কথাটা স্পষ্ট করিয়া তোলা যাক।

হেনরি স্যাভেজ ল্যাণ্ডর একজন বিখ্যাত ভ্রমণকারী। তিব্বতের তীর্থস্থান লাসায় যাইবার জন্য তাঁহার দুর্নিবার ঔৎসুক্য জন্মে। সকলেই জানেন, তিব্বতিরা য়ুরোপীয় ভ্রমণকারী ও মিশনারি প্রভৃতিকে সন্দেহ করিয়া থাকে। তাহাদের দুর্গম পথঘাট বিদেশীর কাছে পরিচিত নহে, ইহাই তাহাদের আত্মরক্ষার প্রধান অস্ত্র; সেই অস্ত্রটি যদি তাহারা জিওগ্রাফিক্যাল সোসাইটির হস্তে সমর্পণ করিয়া নিশ্চিন্ত হইয়া বসিতে অনিচ্ছুক হয় তবে তাহাদিগকে দোষ দেওয়া যায় না।

কিন্তু অন্যে তাহার নিষেধ মানিবে, সে কাহারো নিষেধ মানিবে না, য়ুরোপের এই ধর্ম। কোনো প্রয়োজন থাক্‌ বা না থাক্‌, শুদ্ধমাত্র বিপদ লঙ্ঘন করিয়া বাহাদুরি করিলে য়ুরোপে এত বাহবা মিলে যে অনেকের পক্ষে সে একটা প্রলোভন। য়ুরোপের বাহাদুর লোকেরা দেশ-বিদেশে বিপদ সন্ধান করিয়া ফেরে। যে-কোনো উপায়ে হোক, লাসায় যে য়ুরোপীয় পদার্পণ করিবে সমাজে তাহার খ্যাতি-প্রতিপত্তির সীমা থাকিবে না।

অতএব তুষারগিরি ও তিব্বতির নিষেধকে ফাঁকি দিয়া লাসায় যাইতে হইবে। ল্যাণ্ডর সাহেব কুমায়ুনে আলমোড়া হইতে যাত্রা আরম্ভ করিলেন। সঙ্গে এক হিন্দু চাকর আসিয়া জুটিল, তাহার নাম চন্দন সিং।

কুমায়ুনের প্রান্তে তিব্বতের সীমানায় বৃটিশ রাজ্যে শোকা বলিয়া এক পাহাড়ি জাত আছে। তিব্বতিদের ভয়ে ও উপদ্রবে তাহারা কম্পমান। বৃটিশরাজ তিব্বতিদের পীড়ন হইতে তাহাদিগকে রক্ষা করিতে পারেন না বলিয়া ল্যাণ্ডর সাহেব বারম্বার আক্ষেপ প্রকাশ করিয়াছেন। সেই শোকাদের মধ্য হইতে সাহেবকে কুলি মজুর সংগ্রহ করিয়া লইতে হইবে। বহুকষ্টে ত্রিশজন কুলি জুটিল।

ইহার পর হইতে যাত্রাকালে সাহেবের এক প্রধান চিন্তা ও চেষ্টা, কিসে কুলিরা না পালায়। তাহাদের পালাইবার যথেষ্ট কারণ ছিল। ল্যাণ্ডর তাঁহার ভ্রমণবৃত্তান্তের পঁচিশ পরিচ্ছেদে লিখিয়াছেন —

এই বাহকদল যখন নিঃশব্দ গম্ভীরভাবে বোঝা পিঠে লইয়া করুণাজনক শ্বাসকষ্টের সহিত হাঁপাইতে হাঁপাইতে উচ্চ হইতে উচ্চে আরোহণ করিতেছিল তখন এই ভয় মনে হইতেছিল, ইহাদের মধ্যে কয়জনই বা কোনো কালে ফিরিয়া যাইতে পারিবে।

আমাদের জিজ্ঞাস্য এই যে, এ শঙ্কা যখন তোমার মনে আছে তখন এই অনিচ্ছুক হতভাগ্যদিগকে মৃত্যুমুখে তাড়না করিয়া লইয়া যাওয়াকে কী নাম দেওয়া যাইতে পারে। তুমি পাইবে গৌরব এবং তাহার সঙ্গে অর্থলাভের সম্ভাবনাও যথেষ্ট আছে। তুমি তাহার প্রত্যাশায় প্রাণপণ করিতে পার, কিন্তু ইহাদের সম্মুখে কোন্‌ প্রলোভন আছে?

বিজ্ঞানের উন্নতিকল্পে জীবচ্ছেদ (vivisection) লইয়া য়ুরোপে অনেক তর্কবিতর্ক হইয়া থাকে। সজীব জন্তুদিগকে লইয়া পরীক্ষা করিবার সময়ে যন্ত্রণানাশক ঔষধ প্রয়োগ করিবার ঔচিত্যও আলোহিত হয়। কিন্তু বাহাদুরি করিয়া বাহবা লইবার উদ্দেশে দীর্ঘকাল ধরিয়া অনিচ্ছুক মানুষদের উপরে যে অসহ্য পীড়ন চলে ভ্রমণবৃত্তান্তের গ্রন্থে তাহার বিবরণ প্রকাশ হয়, সমালোচকেরা করতালি দেন, সংস্করণের পর সংস্করণ নিঃশেষিত হইয়া যায়, হাজার হাজার পাঠক ও পাঠিকা এই-সকল বর্ণনা বিস্ময়ের সহিত পাঠ ও আনন্দের সহিত আলোচনা করেন। দুর্গম তুষারপথে নিরীহ শোকা বাহকদল দিবারাত্র যে অসহ্য কষ্ট ভোগ করিয়াছে তাহার পরিণাম কী। ল্যাণ্ডর সাহেব নাহয় লাসায় পৌঁছিলেন, তাহাতে জগতের এমন কী উপকার হওয়া সম্ভব যাহাতে এই-সকল ভীত পীড়িত পলায়নেচ্ছু মানুষদিগকে অহরহ এত কষ্ট দিয়া মৃত্যুর পথে তাড়না করা লেশমাত্র বিহিত বলিয়া গণ্য হইতে পারে। কিন্তু কই, এজন্য তো লেখকের সংকোচ নাই, পাঠকের অনুকম্পা নাই!

তিব্বতিরা কিরূপ নিষ্ঠুরভাবে পীড়ন ও হত্যা করিতে পারে, শোকারা সেই কারণে তিব্বতিদিগকে কিরূপ ভয় করে, এবং তাহাদিগকে তিব্বতিদের হস্ত হইতে রক্ষা করিতে বৃটিশরাজ কিরূপ অক্ষম, তাহা ল্যাণ্ডর জানিতেন। ইহাও তিনি জানিতেন, তাঁহার মধ্যে যে উৎসাহ উত্তেজনা ও প্রলোভন কাজ করিতেছে, শোকাদের মধ্যে তাহার লেশমাত্র নাই। তৎসত্ত্বেও ল্যাণ্ডর তাঁহার গ্রন্থের ১৬৫ পৃষ্ঠায় যে ভাষায় যে ভাবে তাঁহার বাহকদের ভয়দুঃখের বর্ণনা করিয়াছেন তাহা তর্জমা করিয়া দিলাম–

তাহারা প্রত্যেকে হাতে মুখ ঢাকিয়া ব্যাকুল হইয়া কাঁদিতেছিল। কাচির দুই গাল বাহিয়া চোখের জল ঝরিয়া পড়িতেছিল, দোলা ফোঁপাইয়া কাঁদিতেছিল, এবং ডাকু ও অন্য যে-একটি তিব্বতি আমার কাজ লইয়াছিল– যাহারা ভয়ে ছদ্মবেশ গ্রহণ করিয়াছিল– তাহারা তাহাদের বোঝার পশ্চাতে লুকাইয়া বসিয়া ছিল। আমাদের অবস্থা যদিও সংকটাপন্ন ছিল তবু আমাদের লোকজনদের এই আতুর দশা দেখিয়া আমি না হাসিয়া থাকিতে পারিলাম না।

ইহার পরে এই দুর্ভাগারা পলায়নের চেষ্টা করিলে ল্যাণ্ডর তাহাদিগকে এই বলিয়া শান্ত করেন যে, যে-কেহ পলায়নের বা বিদ্রোহের চেষ্টা করিবে তাহাকে গুলি করিয়া মারিব।

কিরূপ তুচ্ছ কারণেই ল্যাণ্ডর সাহেবের গুলি করিবার উত্তেজনা জন্মে অন্যত্র তাহার পরিচয় পাওয়া গেছে। তিব্বতি কর্তৃপক্ষের নিকট হইতে ল্যাণ্ডর যখন প্রথম নিষেধ প্রাপ্ত হইলেন তখন তিনি ভান করিলেন, যেন, ফিরিয়া যাইতেছেন। একটা উপত্যকায় নামিয়া আসিয়া দুরবীন কষিয়া দেখিলেন, পাহাড়ের শৃঙ্গের উপর হইতে প্রায় ত্রিশটা মাথা পাথরের আড়ালে উঁকি মারিতেছে। সাহেব লিখিতেছেন–

আমার বড়ো বিরক্তি বোধ হইল। যদি ইচ্ছা হয় তো ইহারা প্রকাশ্যভাবেই আমাদের অনুসরণ করে না কেন। দূর হইতে পাহারা দিবার দরকার কী। অতএব আমি আমার আটশো-গজি রাইফেল লইয়া মাটিতে চ্যাপটা হইয়া শুইলাম এবং যে মাথাটাকে অন্যদের চেয়ে স্পষ্ট দেখা যাইতেছিল তাহার প্রতি লক্ষ্য স্থির করিলাম।

এই “অতএব’ -এর বাহার আছে। লুকাচুরিতে ল্যাণ্ডর সাহেব কী ঘৃণাই করেন। তিনি এবং তাঁহার সঙ্গের আর-একটা মিশনারি সাহেব নিজেদের হিন্দু তীর্থযাত্রী বলিয়া পরিচয় দিয়াছেন, প্রকাশ্যে ভারতবর্ষে ফিরিবার ভান করিয়া গোপনে লাসায় যাইবার উদ্‌যোগ করিতেছেন, কিন্তু পরের লুকাচুরি ইঁহার এতই অসহ্য যে, ভূমিতে চ্যাপটা হইয়া আত্মগোপনপূর্বক তৎক্ষণাৎ আটশো-গজি রাইফেল বাগাইয়া কহিলেন : I only wish to teach these cowards a lesson। “আমি এই কাপুরুষদিগকে শিক্ষা দিতে ইচ্ছা করি’। দূর হইতে লুকাইয়া রাইফেল-চালনায় সাহেব যে পৌরুষের পরিচয় দিতেছিলেন তাহার বিচার করিবার কেহ ছিল না। আমাদের ওরিয়েন্টাল্‌দের অনেক দুর্বলতার কথা আমরা শুনিয়াছি, কিন্তু চালুনি হইয়া ছুঁচকে বিচার করিবার প্রবৃত্তি পাশ্চাত্যদের মতো আমাদের নাই। আসল কথা, গায়ের জোর থাকিলে বিচারাসনের দখল একচেটে করিয়া লওয়া যায়। তখন অন্যকে ঘৃণা করিবার অভ্যাসটাই বদ্ধমূল হইয়া যায়, নিজেকে বিচার করিবার অবসর পাওয়া যায় না।

আশিয়ায় আফ্রিকায় ভ্রমণকারীরা অনিচ্ছুক ভৃত্য বাহকদের প্রতি যেরূপ অত্যাচার করিয়া থাকেন, দেশ-আবিষ্কারের উত্তেজনায় ছলে বলে কৌশলে তাহাদিগকে যে করিয়া বিপদ ও মৃত্যুর মুখে ঠেলিয়া লইয়া যান, তাহা কাহারো অগোচর নাই। অথচ Sanctity of Life সম্বন্ধে এই-সকল পাশ্চাত্য সভ্যজাতির বোধশক্তি অত্যন্ত সুতীব্র হইলেও কোথাও কোনো আপত্তি শুনিতে পাই না। তাহার কারণ, ধর্মবোধ পাশ্চাত্য সভ্যতার আভ্যন্তরিক নহে; স্বার্থরক্ষার প্রাকৃতিক নিয়মে তাহা বাহির হইতে অভিব্যক্ত হইয়া উঠিয়াছে। এইজন্য য়ুরোপীয় গণ্ডির বাহিরে তাহা বিকৃত হইতে থাকে। এমন-কি, সে গণ্ডির মধ্যেও যেখানে স্বার্থবোধ প্রবল সেখানে দয়াধর্ম রক্ষা করার চেষ্টাকে য়ুরোপ দুর্বলতা বলিয়া ঘৃণা করিতে আরম্ভ করিয়াছে! যুদ্ধের সময় বিরুদ্ধ পক্ষের সর্বস্ব জ্বালাইয়া দেওয়া, তাহাদের অনাথ শিশু ও স্ত্রীলোকদিগকে বন্দী করিবার বিরুদ্ধে কথা কহা “সেন্টিমেন্টালিটি’। য়ুরোপে সাধারণত অসত্যপরতা দূষণীয়, কিন্তু পলিটিক্সে এক পক্ষ অপর পক্ষকে অসত্যের অপবাদ সর্বদাই দিতেছে। গ্লাডস্টোনও এই অপবাদ হইতে নিষ্কৃতি পান নাই। এই কারণেই চীনযুদ্ধে য়ুরোপীয় সৈন্যের উপদ্রব বর্বরতারও সীমা লঙ্ঘন করিয়াছিল এবং কংগো-প্রদেশে স্বার্থোন্মত্ত বেলজিয়ামের ব্যবহার পৈশাচিকতায় গিয়া পৌঁছিয়াছে।

দক্ষিণ-আমেরিকায় নিগ্রোদের প্রতি কিরূপ আচরণ চলিতেছে তাহা নিউইয়র্কে প্রকাশিত “পোস্ট’ সংবাদপত্র হইতে গত ২রা জুলাই তারিখের বিলাতি “ডেলি নিউস’ -এ সংকলিত হইয়াছে। তুচ্ছ অপরাধের অছিলায় নিগ্রো স্ত্রীপুরুষকে পুলিসকোর্টে হাজির করা হয়; সেখানে ম্যাজিস্ট্রেট তাহাদিগকে জরিমানা করে, সেই জরিমানা আদালতে উপস্থিত শ্বেতাঙ্গেরা শুধিয়া দেয় এবং এই সামান্য টাকার পরিবর্তে তাহারা সেই নিগ্রোদিগকে দাসত্বে ব্রতী করে। তাহার পর হইতে চাবুক লৌহশৃঙ্খল এবং অন্যান্য সকলপ্রকার উপায়ে তাহাদিগকে অবাধ্যতা ও পলায়ন হইতে রক্ষা করা হয়। একটি নিগ্রো স্ত্রীলোককে তো চাবুক মারিতে মারিতে মারিয়া ফেলা হইয়াছিল। একটি নিগ্রো স্ত্রীলোককে দ্বৈধব্য (bigamy)-অপরাধে গ্রেফতার করা হইয়াছিল। হাজতে থাকার সময় একজন ব্যারিস্টার তাহার পক্ষ অবলম্বন করিতে স্বীকার করে। কিন্তু কোনো বিচার না হইয়াই নির্দোষ বলিয়া এই স্ত্রীলোকটি খালাস পায়। ব্যারিস্টার ফি’য়ের দাবি করিয়া তাহার প্রাপ্য টাকার পরিবর্তে এই নিগ্রো স্ত্রীলোকটিকে ম্যাক্রিক্যাম্পে চৌদ্দ মাস কাজ করিবার জন্য পাঠায়। সেখানে তাহাকে নয়মাস চাবি তালা দিয়া বন্ধ করিয়া খাটানো হইয়াছে, জোর করিয়া আর-এক ব্যক্তির সহিত তাহার বিবাহ দিয়া বলা হইয়াছে যে, তোমার বৈধস্বামীর সহিত তোমার কোনো কালে মিলন হইবে না। পলায়নের আশঙ্কা করিয়া তাহার পশ্চাতে কুকুর ছাড়িয়া দেওয়া হইয়াছে, তাহার প্রভু ম্যাক্রিরা তাহাকে নিজের হাতে চাবুক মারিয়াছে এবং তাহাকে শপথ করাইয়া লইয়াছে যে, খালাস পাইলে তাহাকে স্বীকার করিতে হইবে যে সে মাসে পাঁচ ডলার করিয়া বেতন পাইত।

ডেলি নিউস বলিতেছেন, রাশিয়ায় ইহুদি-হত্যা, কংগোয় বেলজিয়ামের অত্যাচার প্রভৃতি লইয়া প্রতিবেশীদের প্রতি দোষারোপ করা দুরূহ হইয়াছে।


After all, no great power is entirely innocent of the charge of treating with barbarous harshness the alien races which are subject to its rule.


আমাদের দেশে ধর্মের যে আদর্শ আছে তাহা অন্তরের সামগ্রী, তাহা বাহিরে গণ্ডির মধ্যে প্রতিষ্ঠিত করিবার নহে। আমরা যদি Sanctity of Life একবার স্বীকার করি তবে পশুপক্ষী কীটপতঙ্গ কোথাও তাহার সীমাস্থাপন করি না। ভারতবর্ষ একসময়ে মাংসাশী ছিল; মাংস আজ তাহার পক্ষে নিষিদ্ধ। মাংসাশী জাতি নিজেকে বঞ্চিত করিয়া মাংসাহার একেবারে পরিত্যাগ করিয়াছে, জগতে বোধ হয় ইহার আর দ্বিতীয় দৃষ্টান্ত নাই। ভারতবর্ষে দেখিতে পাই অত্যন্ত দরিদ্র ব্যক্তিও যাহা উপার্জন করে তাহা দূর আত্মীয়দের মধ্যে ভাগ করিয়া দিতে কুণ্ঠিত হয় না। স্বার্থেরও যে একটা ন্যায্য অধিকার আছে, এ কথাটাকে আমরা সর্বপ্রকার অসুবিধা স্বীকার করিয়া যত দূর সম্ভব খর্ব করিয়াছি। আমাদের দেশে বলে, যুদ্ধেও ধর্মরক্ষা করিতে হইবে; নিরস্ত্র, পলাতক, শরণাগত শত্রুর প্রতি আমাদের ক্ষত্রিয়দের যেরূপ ব্যবহার ধর্মবিহিত বলিয়া নির্দিষ্ট হইয়াছে য়ুরোপে তাহা হাস্যকর বলিয়া গণ্য হইবে। তাহার একমাত্র কারণ, ধর্মকে আমরা অন্তরের ধন করিতে চাহিয়াছিলাম। স্বার্থের প্রাকৃতিক নিয়ম আমাদের ধর্মকে গড়িয়া তোলে নাই, ধর্মের নিয়মই আমাদের স্বার্থকে সংযত করিবার চেষ্টা করিয়াছে। সেজন্য আমরা যদি বহির্বিষয়ে দুর্বল হইয়া থাকি, সেইজন্যই বহিঃশত্রুর কাছে যদি আমাদের পরাজয় ঘটে, তথাপি আমরা স্বার্থ ও সুবিধার উপরে ধর্মের আদর্শকে জয়ী করিবার চেষ্টায় যে গৌরবলাভ করিয়াছি তাহা কখনোই ব্যর্থ হইবে না — এক দিন তাহারও দিন আসিবে।



McRee letter

A letter from an African American woman Carrie Kinsey in July 1903 seeking help from then President Roosevelt in freeing her fourteen year old brother from a McRee camp.


Article similar to the Daily Post one that Tagore must have read:



I have described elsewhere how an English professor while discussing the role of juries in this country opined that it was not right that a half civilized people who lack an understanding of the concept of sanctity of life should have the right to form juries.

Let us for the sake of this argument accept that the English appreciate the sanctity of life better than us. Thus when the English take lives, the gravity of their crime should be greater than when we commit the same crime. But we observe no Englishman being hanged by an English judge and an English jury for killing an Indian. Perhaps this gives the English murderer proof of the fact that his countrymen have a very acute understanding of the sanctity of life, but the evidence remains somewhat elusive to Indians.

These rulings are an affront to us on two counts. On one front there is the inevitability of death and on the other the loss of face. The contempt that is expressed towards our countrymen is an insult to all of us.

There is a newspaper in England titled The Globe. It is for the civilized classes of that country. It said – Tommy Atkins (common slang for a common soldier) does not hit the Indian with the idea of killing him but the Indians die as soon as they are beaten; and when poor Tommy receives a mild sentence the native papers are up in arms.

I see great sympathy for Tommy Atkins but what of the ‘sanctity of life’? Why is there no sign of outrage regarding the brutality that is killing us in even a few lines of this civilized newspaper? Are those who look upon a murder by their own kind with gentle indulgence not guilty of murder too, as they mock the mourning of the families who have suffered a loss?

For some time we have observed that the religious ideals in European civilization are founded on habit alone. The true meaning of religion has not reached the inner core of this civilization. That is why these ideals lose their way outside the familiar boundaries and often die an untimely death.

Murders or killings are no longer regular occurrences in European society within families as that sort of behaviour goes against the common interest. Poisoning or murder with a weapon has grown rare over a few centuries.

But murder can be committed without the use of weapons or bloodshed. If religion is natural and embedded in the soul, then that kind of murder becomes shameful and impossible to carry out as well.

Let us look at a specific example to understand this better;

Henry Savage Landor was a famous traveller. He became greatly interested in visiting Lhasa which is a pilgrimage in Tibet. Everyone will know that the Tibetans are suspicious of European travellers and missionaries. Their main mode of defence is their remoteness and the fact that their remote areas are not known to foreigners; if they feel unwilling to hand that defence over to the Geographical Society complacently, one cannot blame them.

But it is the practice of Europe to not heed anyone else’s restrictions while expecting compliance from others regarding their own. Whether there is a need for it or not, such a tremendous amount of ovation is available in Europe for simply overcoming certain dangers that this proves enticing to many of them. The brave men of Europe seek these dangers in countries across the world. The European to first set foot in Lhasa by hook or by crook would have no end to the honours and fame showered upon him.

And hence to Lhasa one must go, trampling over snowy peaks and the restrictions placed by the Tibetans themselves. Landor began his journey from Almora in the Kumaon Himalayas. With him was a Hindu servant known as Chandan Singh.

A tribe known as the Shaukas lived within the British territory at the borders of Kumaon. They were greatly afraid of the Tibetans. Landor has expressed his dismay at the failure of the British rulers to provide the Shaukas with respite from attack by the Tibetans. He had to organise porters from the members of the Shauka tribe and managed to convince thirty of them to join his expedition with great difficulty.

From then on his main concern and effort was devoted to the possibility of these porters escaping. They had more than sufficient reason to do so. In the twenty fifth chapter of his travelogue Landor wrote –

‘When the porters began climbing higher and higher in solemn silence, gasping miserably for air I was worrying about how many of them would possibly return.’

We ask the question, when this was the fear in your mind then what name would you assign to the relentless pressure on these unwilling wretches to advance towards certain death? You will be showered with praise and quite possibly gain some financial prizes as well. You may give your life in that hope but what sort of reward awaits these people?

Much debate takes place in Europe over the need for vivisection for the advancement of scientific knowledge. The need for alleviating the pain of the live animals while subjecting them to scientific experiments is also discussed. But the unbelievable cruelty that is exerted on unwilling people in the name of bravery and with the aim of attaining fame is described at length in accounts of those journeys, the books run into multiple editions and thousands of readers of both sexes read them with a great sense of wonder and enjoyment. What is the result of the continual suffering that the innocent Shauka porters underwent on the remote icy passes? What kind of benefit was it to the world even if Landor did reach Lhasa that would render negligible the sufferings of the frightened porters who wished to escape but were pushed towards certain death under great duress? But I do not notice any hesitation regarding this on the writer’s part and certainly no sympathy on part of the reader.

Landor knew how cruelly the Tibetans tortured and killed the Shaukas and how they feared the Tibetans for that reason and how ineffectual the British government was at protecting them from the Tibetans. He also knew that the eagerness and hope for adulation that was within him was not present in the Shaukas even in the smallest measure. I provide a translation of the description that he provides of their fearful behavior on Page 165 of his book, despite knowing everything:
‘They all covered their faces with their hands and cried piteously. Tears streamed down both Kachi’s cheeks, Dola’s shoulders heaved and Daku and the other Tibetan who had disguised themselves as Shokas to become my porters hid behind their loads. Even though our plight was fraught with danger, I could not help but laugh at the pathetic state of my entourage.’

After this Landor calmed the porters who were attempting to escape by assuring them that he would shoot them down if they ran away or tried to incite others to revolt.

There is more proof of how easily Landor was driven to a desire to shoot someone. When he received the first notice from the Tibetan authorities asking him to turn back, he pretended to follow their instructions. He descended into a valley and looked through a telescope to find that nearly thirty heads were watching his departure from behind the rocks. He writes –

‘I felt very annoyed. If they wanted to they should have followed us openly. Why guard us from afar? Hence I lay facedown upon the ground and aimed at the most visible head with my rifle which had a range of 800 yards.’

There is a certain style in the usage of the word ‘hence’. How abhorrent Landor finds all this artifice. He and a missionary accompanying him were trying to pass themselves off as Hindu pilgrims, he was openly pretending to return to India while secretly trying to enter Lhasa but when it came to others, he felt so annoyed that he had to hide by lying flat on the ground, take aim with an 800 yard rifle and say: I only wish to teach these cowards a lesson. There was no one there to judge him for his courage in taking aim secretly from such a distance. We have heard of many weaknesses of part of the Orientals but we have no inclination to judge a needle while we are akin to sieves ourselves in the style of the Westerner. The truth is, one can grab the judgement seat if one is stronger. In those instances, despising others becomes a habit and there is little time to analyse one’s own actions.

The ways in which travellers in Asia and Africa torment their unwilling servants and porters and push them towards danger and death by trickery, force and subterfuge in the exultation of discovering new lands are not unknown to anyone. And yet we never hear about Sanctity of Life from anyone despite the acute sensitivity of the West to that issue. The reason for that is that piety is not at the heart of Western civilization; it has escaped under pressure and become distorted outside the boundaries of Europe. Even within those boundaries when self interest is powerful enough, maintaining compassion has recently been deemed as weakness by Europe. It is called ‘sentimentality’ when there are protests against the scorched earth policy and the imprisoning of helpless women and children. Deceit is usually frowned upon in Europe but political sides are forever calling each other liars. Even Gladstone was not exempt from this. That is why the European soldiers crossed the limits of barbaric behavior in the China wars and the self serving actions of Belgium are bordering on hellish in the Congo.

News about how the negroes of Southern America are being treated was published in the Daily News of the second of July. Black men and women are taken to court on minor charges; the magistrate orders them to pay a fine and white people present in the court post bail for them. These small sums bind them into a contract of slavery. From then on they are prevented from committing any transgressions or escaping by means of whips, metal shackles and other methods. One woman was whipped till she died. Another was arrested on grounds of bigamy. While in prison a barrister agreed to take her case. But the woman was freed before the case could be heard as she was innocent. The barrister claimed his fee and sent this woman to the McRee Camp for fourteen months to work off her debt. She was put under lock and key and forced to work for nine months. She was also made to marry a man and told that she would never see her first husband again. Dogs were sent after her when she tried to escape and her owner McRee whipped her himself and extracted a promise from her that she would be freed on condition that she declared that she was paid five dollars every month as a salary.

The Daily News says the killing of Jews in Russia and the Belgian war crimes in the Congo are incidents for which it is increasingly difficult to blame one’s neighbours.

‘After all, no great power is entirely innocent of the charge of treating with barbarous harshness the alien races which are subject to its rule.’

The religious ideals that exist in our country are close to the soul and are not easily transferred to the outside and confined within boundaries. If we once admit to the Sanctity of Life we do not place any further restrictions on animals, birds or insect life. India was once a meat eating nation; today there are bans on eating meat. There is possibly no other example in the world of a meat eating race having given up meat completely. I have seen even the very poor in India give away their meagre earnings to distant family without any qualms. We have accepted every kind of deprivation and diminished the importance that was accorded to self interest as far as possible. It is said in our country that what is right must be adhered to, even in war; the fair treatment of their unarmed enemies, fleeing armies and shelter seekers that the Kshatriyas followed as principle would be laughable to the Europeans. The sole reason for this was that we strove to make religion something of the heart. The natural laws of self-interest did not form our religion; rather the laws of religion helped restrict our self-interest. And for that reason alone, if we are weak in outside matters and if we are defeated by external forces, there will be no lessening of the honour in the victory that we have attained by placing the ideal of truth above self-interest and ease – there will come a day for that too.


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