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বুঝি না, বুঝতে পারি না, চাইও না/We do not understand, we are incapable of comprehending and we do not wish to either: http://www.anandabazar.com/editorial/bengalis-do-not-want-to-understand-rabindranath-never-understood-him-1.151521#

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)

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Rabindranath Tagore and the recent interest in his ‘love life’

This is my translation of an article in Anandabazar Patrika in Kolkata. The link is given below.

http://www.anandabazar.com/editorial/bengalis-do-not-want-to-understand-rabindranath-never-understood-him-1.151521#.VWcD3ATYQBI.facebook

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.

An essay: The Ocean of Consciousness by Bhaswati Ghosh

This article first appeared here:

http://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/editorial-the-ocean-of-consciousness-1992357

 

 

I first saw you as a sombre old man dressed in a full-length jellabiya. Your waterfall of a beard helped little to diminish the portentous image you seemed to project from behind it. As you watched the little girl that was I from your framed domain on our wall, I would dodge your grave looks while walking past your unusually tall photo. Then, at five, I learned a poem of yours from my mother.

The day darkens as the sun’s about to set/ Clouds swarm the sky, it’s the moon they want to get/ Cloud overtakes cloud and colour cloaks colour/ The dong-dong of temple bell rings loud and clear/ Rain pours on that side, hazy goes the green/ On this side of the horizon, a million gemstones shine/ On the cloudy breeze, drifts a song of my childhood/ Rain falls pitter-patter, on the river comes a flood. (Rain Falls Pitter-Patter, Rabindranath Tagore)

You obviously knew better and drew my innocent heart with the pitter-patter of rain and the dazzle of a million gemstones. Soon, I would be caught in your snare, captivated by the exploits of little people like me who featured in your poems and stories. The young boy, for instance, who imagines playing hide-and-seek with his mother by becoming a champa flower. For, which five-year-old wouldn’t revel in this boy’s wish—to quietly watch Mother go through her day as she completes her worship ritual, reads the scripture in the afternoon and lights the evening lamp on her way to the cattle shed — even as her mischievous child eludes her sight?

Slowly, your image became one of a wise grandfather’s, and I didn’t avoid eye contact with you as much as before. In junior school, while singing in the chorus for Chandalika, your dance drama, I swung between the boisterous song of a curd-seller and the meditative melody of a Buddhist monk. Your music had me entranced; a spell I wouldn’t be able to break thereafter. I recall the summer afternoons when I would sing your songs to my grandma, her recurring favourite being the one in which you cried for peace with the disenchanted opening line, “Constant skirmishes grip the world fervid with violence.”

And then, years later, I would start translating your words for the small audience of my nascent blog. This would be but another step in my journey with you. The potency of your expressions — sublime and lucid at once — would become both my compass and anchor in my endeavour to render your ideas in a Western language.

In scouring my translation territory, I notice I kept returning to your Lipika. The short pieces that make up this book are written so cleverly that they defy any bibliothecal categorisation. Where would a librarian place this slender book in her library? In the poetry section? The words in its pages do carry the lyricism of poetry. In fiction? True, some of the book’s entries are conventionally rendered tales. Or would she place Lipika in the non-fiction isle? Surely, it does have a few reflective essays. I wouldn’t bother with categorizing it at all — it’s my own collection of gemstones, all housed within the frayed covers of my well-worn copy.

Through Lipika, I burrowed into the secret crevices of alleyways and clouds, walking pathways and internal universes. Your deceptively limpid prose in these short pieces is like light itself, capable of penetrating massive walls through a single crack. The day yawns; sunlight drops from the shoulders of the houses to rest in a corner of the alleyway, just like the slipping away of the anchal of a housewife’s sari. The clock strikes nine; the maidservant walks by, tucking to her waist a basket of vegetables she bought from the market; the smell and smoke of cooking envelopes the alleyway; office goers get busy.

And the alleyway thinks to herself, “All of reality is contained within this concrete road. What I had thought of as something big must be just a dream.” (The Alleyway, Rabindranath Tagore)

You wrote enough to invigorate me to drink from life’s wellspring, but I owe it to you for pulling me out of despair time and again. A few years ago, when I lost a dear brother and nothing seemed to make sense, I turned to you. There you were, my shawmobyathi — an empathetic friend who had himself walked the dark road of grief and had found light in what seems like an endless pit of sorrow to the grieving.

The sad reality that life is not absolutely definite lifted a load off my chest. I felt ecstatic to learn that we aren’t imprisoned within the stone walls of unmoving truth. That which I had been holding on to had to be let go of. When seen from the perspective of loss, this evoked pain, but when I saw it from the angle of freedom, I felt spacious peace. For the first time, a strange truth dawned on me — that this world’s enormous weight balances itself against the give-and-take of life and death and flows in every direction thus. That weight wouldn’t crush anyone with suppression—no one would have to bear the tyranny of a sole master called life. (Death’s Grief, Rabindranath Tagore)

Working with your words isn’t for me about the noble cause of taking you to the non-Bengali speaking world. It is, rather, a self-serving act — the desire of the river flowing inside me to meet the ocean that your oeuvre is. In translating your texts, I find that the universality of your expression allows your thoughts and ideas to be seamlessly transposed to moments and spaces far beyond their original epoch and location. Even as I try to grasp the idea of home in an alien land, I come to you to better understand separation — its spasms and its releases, its emptiness and its fulfilment.

Indeed, nature becomes intimate to one who lives alone abroad. I have truly felt for a few days now that I might no longer receive this swathing moonlight once the full-moon night is over; that from this foreign place, I will drift further abroad; that the familiar calm beauty that awaits me at the river bank every day after work, won’t be there for me, and that I would have to make my return journey on the boat in darkness. (Letter dated January 9, 1892, Rabindranath Tagore)

Your songs continue to pull me. In the middle of a chore, on seeing a fresh morning, and without any reason at all. Yet, I dither when it comes to translating them. For, your songs aren’t mere words; their tunes carry the mood and the atmosphere you so magically created. Even if I translated the words, how would I ever transfer the cadence? How will I sing them?

For now, I will find my therapy in translating your prose and poetry.

(The author is a writer and translator. All translations by the author)

 

Bhaswati Ghosh writes and translates fiction and non-fiction. Her first work of translation from Bengali into English–My Days with Ramkinkar Baij–has been published by Delhi-based Niyogi Books in January 2012. This work also won her the Charles Wallace (India) Trust Fellowship for translation in 2009. Her stories have appeared in Letters to My Mother and My Teacher is My Hero– anthologies of true stories published by Adams Media.

More about Bhaswati here: http://bhaswatighosh.com/