Tag Archive | rabindranath tagore

Rabindranath Tagore, London and the misplaced manuscript

On the train from Dover that morning were several people. There was the Colonel, retired and lately of Afghanistan and the widow Grimalkin. There were the Knickerbocker twins on their way to work in the city. There was Miss Motlop, a distressed gentlewoman who was the widow’s long suffering companion and woman Friday. Her rather extraordinary bosom had defied every attempt at being confined by the widow Grimalkin, and attracted the admiring eyes of every male in the compartment. The only men who were oblivious to her charms were a group of foreign gentlemen dressed in a curious blend of Eastern fashion and Savile Row style. Two were young men, handsome and straight backed in the way of a lot of the visitors from the East. They were probably in their early twenties, one a little shorter than the other. With them was a young woman who studied everything with a sort of delightful curiosity and wonder. She wore a saree and a buttoned long coat despite the English summer. The fourth member of their group was a tall man with patrician features, a flowing beard and white hair in a long robe. His eyes were mostly closed during the journey and in his arms he held a brown leather case. The young woman talked to him each time she saw something new. When one of the young men tried to rebuke her for this, she protested and went and sat next to him. The rest of the passengers watched them curiously, their eyes drawn to their elegant clothes and the aristocratic bearing of all four. The widow Grimalkin thought him quite attractive and sighed more ferociously than usual as she bemoaned the lack of unattached elderly men of substance in the village of St. Margaret’s Bay. The young Indian woman, for that is the country the foreigners were from, started at the sound and turned to her companion to say something about the changing landscape outside the window. The pristine Kent countryside in which they had begun their journey was now far to the south. In its place were the smokestacks and chimneys of London, the heart of the great machine that was the British Empire. The English passengers began to focus on their belongings and reticules. In due course the train pulled into London with a great puff of steam.
The widow Grimalkin now asked the young Indian woman where they were going. She answered softly and all that the widow heard were the words ‘Artist’ and ‘-Stein.’ It sounded like one of those Russian artists who came over to London now that the Tsar was dead and spouted communism to the impressionable youth of England. She had been horrified by the brutality of the manner in which the Tsar and the Tsarina who was British after all had been dealt with. Still curious, she asked with a delicate shudder where the artist lived. When told it was in Hampstead, she was somewhat appeased.
At the station, the people descending from the train formed snakes of humanity that merged and separated from each other as one, parting when they came upon the Doric columns on the platform and porters pushing luggage carts and joining again as they passed them, eventually passing out of the gates of the station into the penumbra of that great hive of activity. By the time they had reached the outside, the passengers of the compartment were nearly invisible in the sea of hats, suits and umbrellas that made up most of the six thousand people that came into the city each day. For a brief moment Miss Motlop saw the Indians as she stepped to the edge of the pavement and hailed a horse drawn carriage. They were looking around them with some wonder as omnibuses and carriages rushed past. Then she and her mistress were both off towards Cheapside where they were to spend a week with her sister and she could see their foreign co-passengers no longer.

The Indians stood on the pavement looking around with interest at their surroundings. ‘There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio..,’ said one of the younger men to the other and they all smiled at each other. The young woman said softly, ‘Or in London town!’

The elderly gentleman looked at her and felt delight in her wonder. He had been to England in his youth but this visit was poignant for a different reason. He had wanted to show his wife the world outside the family home and estates. But she had been dead these past ten years. It was as though a part of him had died with her. He would not have come had it not been for his son’s insistence that he join them. He had received invitations from various luminaries such as Yeats and Rothenstein to visit England. But he was also glad that he came as he saw his daughter-in-law’s child-like wonder at everything that she saw for the first time. She had marvelled at the telephone in their rooms in Dover, picking it up to listen to the operator again and again. Then there was the gas heating in the rooms, one simply had to drop a coin and wait for the heat to turn on. She would have had them all eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner if they had agreed! Her wonder at each thing reminded him of the boy he had once been half a century earlier. He had planted a few seeds in a heap of dust that had escaped the notice of the household cleaners. He watered them carefully over weeks, watching as they unfurled their young shoots and leaves in defiance of their lowly birth. But one day all was lost when he returned home to find that the seedling forest had been removed and the corner swept clean diligently. How he had cried to see them gone.

One of the younger men hailed a horse drawn carriage. Even though the driver of the brougham was expecting to bargain with what he called these foreign types, he was pleasantly surprised. When he saw the handsome features of all the company he was certain this was a maharaja from the colonies. He bowed deeply as they all got into the carriage and then they were on their way to Charing Cross to catch the Two penny Tube as the underground railways were called.
Once they had descended into the bowels of the earth to catch their train, they thought there could surely be nothing that would surprise them anymore. The lights, the Victorian lacework on the columns, the secret fear of being so far underneath the busy London streets above – everything made the group fall silent. They looked at each other in the cold artificial light and stared into the darkness of the tunnels that swallowed the tracks at both ends of the platform in the distance. After a while the young woman was the first to speak.

‘This is such a strange feeling, as though we have entered the underworld.’

‘Sita’s entry to the underworld – from a play title to real life event!’

They moved away from the edge as the people already waiting around them seemed to do the same. In the distance lights appeared, like the eyes of a giant worm inching towards the waiting crowd.

‘Here comes the train, ready to eat us all up here and spit us out further along the track,’ said her husband. The elderly gentleman smiled to himself. His son had absorbed some of his wife’s delight at their new surroundings and was shedding his usual serious manner. He thought of a few lines, a poem about a chance meeting between two people on a train. As they waited he tried to focus on the words; his memory was as good as ever but he would need to write it down soon. Then the train rushed into the station and stopped. They got in once the crowd in front had cleared. Soon the guard announced that the doors were closing and the train started. The group sat down on the tartan seats and looked about them. Opposite sat a youth with a dreamy expression on his face and a small pocket book in his hands. He wrote a word every now and again in its pages with a stubby pencil and erased it almost immediately. Old eyes met young ones and an ancient shared understanding passed between the two.

Roth Tag 1

(Tagore, a sketch by Rothenstein)
An hour later, just as the group was about to walk up the steps of a house in Hampstead, the young woman looked at her husband and then at her father-in-law. Her face fell as she said, ‘The book? Where is the book?’
When Alice Rothenstein opened the door to their guests it was clear that they were greatly agitated. She expected it was over being overcharged for a fare or something similar but it soon turned that they had lost something of far greater value. She invited them in and called for her husband. The group entered the Rothenstein residence with fallen faces. William Rothenstein came from his study and shook hands with the elderly gentleman. Alice and her sister Grace made sure everyone was seated and rang for tea and refreshments to be brought.

‘It is such a pleasure to meet you Mr. Tagore! I have been telling my friends about your poetry. Indeed, your words are my constant companion as I keep them on the nightstand by my bed.’
‘I am pleased to meet you too. It has been my sole wish to do so, at least for these past three months. But I am afraid I have some bad news; the book of poetry that I translated and brought with me seems to have been lost on the trains. That was my only copy.’

Rothenstein was shocked to hear this. He had been to see this Indian poet in India and had met him in his school in rural Bolpur near Calcutta. His home was just the sort of place that a visiting poet seeking wider friendships in the West might visit. But the loss of the poems was a tragedy that would cast a long shadow over the finest of dinners and the most convivial of gatherings. Rothenstein noticed that the poet was the least agitated of the group even though he was the one who had lost the most.

‘Let us eat first. We will then think of what to do. The ladies have prepared a beautiful meal for you all,’ Rothenstein said as he looked at Alice.

The next day a messenger was sent to the Railways Lost and Found Offices. In Hampstead everyone went about their day, each secretly hoping that the book would be found. Visitors dropped in. Among them was Ezra Pound who came for lunch and stayed the night, sitting on a chair by the Indian poet’s side and listening to him speak as a disciple might at the feet of a great prophet. There was little to indicate any inner turmoil on Tagore’s part. Towards the afternoon, the doorbell rang and Alice Rothenstein answered it thinking it was her favourite, the writer G.B. Shaw who had promised to come and meet Tagore. But it was the messenger who had been sent to find out about the book.
In his hands he held a leather folio bag. As soon as the Indian visitors saw it, they broke into animated talk. Their smiles were enough to inform their hostess that this was indeed the lost collection of poems. She took it from the boy and gave it to Tagore who opened the clasps and took out the manuscript and said, ‘Thanks be to the unknown person who found this and made the effort to hand it in! My only copy, how naïve have I been!’

‘Please sir it was a young man the clerk said. He found it on the Tube and as he was a poet himself, he took a look at them,’ the messenger boy said, pleased that his trip had been successful.

Alice smiled at him and said, ‘Thank you Dodds that will be all. There is cake and tea in the kitchen for you. Ask the cook to put in some extra sugar and make it just the way you like it.’




This is where the story ends, at least that of the lost manuscript. Tagore was to win the Nobel Prize in Literature the following year for these very same translations; Song-Offerings as it was called although neither he nor his hosts knew this at the time.
But this is not just Tagore’s story. Wilfred, the young man who had found the manuscript went away to France at the end of that year. When the Great War broke out in 1913, he stayed on in France as an English tutor. He was doing what later generations would call conscientious objection, decrying the violence of war. But even he could not stay away from it when he read the English newspapers his dear mother sent him, with their growing lists of war dead and description of the horror his people were going through. He joined the war in October 1915 and died a week before it ended on November 4th 1918. He was twenty five. After his death, his belongings were sent back to England to his mother in Shrewsbury. The war had ended by then. Among these was a pocket book inscribed with a few lines the young poet had read years ago in a handwritten manuscript on the London Underground.

“When I leave, let these be my parting words: what my eyes have seen, what my life received, are unsurpassable”

Wilfred Owen was arguably Britain’s best war poet. Sir Rabindranath Tagore as his mother Susan Owen addressed a letter that she wrote to Tagore in 1920 was certainly India’s finest.


(Wilfred Owen poem with Sassoon’s corrections)

Images from web.

This appeared on http://cafedissensus.com/2015/10/17/an-indian-in-england/
as part of their edition on The Other Tagore.

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


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.


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.

Tagore and Iqbal: Comparison and Contrast: Aamir Butt

Tagore and Iqbal: Comparison and Contrast

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) and Mohammad Iqbal (1877-1938) are arguably two of the greatest intellectuals Indian subcontinent has produced during the 20th century. Among their respective followers there have been attempts to compare them with each other. Such attempts are always difficult as they wrote in different languages and generally had somewhat different attitudes to the events of their times. The two never met and never corresponded with each other which is rather strange and unfortunate. There is the story of Tagore calling on Iqbal in Lahore but Iqbal was out of town. Later on due to the welcome extended to Tagore by monarchs of Persia and Iraq as well as Saudi Arabia there looks to be some sourness on Iqbal’s part.
Following this Iqbal who has never commented on Tagore in literary or other topics wrote to an Iranian diplomat Ghulam Abbas Aram and warned him that Tagore’s visit was an attempt to forge Aryan affiliations between Hindus and Persians and suggested that perhaps this might lead Iranians to revert to Zoroastrianism!! In his letters Iqbal also accused Tagore of misleading the Muslims of India into accepting the British rule or purposing freedom as a change of masters.
Some also think that Iqbal had resentment about Tagore receiving the Nobel prize but it seems that it was Iqbal’s admirers who were more unhappy about this than Iqbal.
On his part Tagore mentioned Iqbal on several occasions and always said good words about him. Once talking to one of Iqbal’s friends he asked if Iqbal wrote in Punjabi, when he was told no and that Punjabi was not a language but a dialect Tagore remarked this was most unfortunate for if someone of Iqbal’s calibre had written in his native language this would have established Punjabi as a major literary language. This may well be true as we can see men like Pushkin and Tagore were responsible for the literary birth of Russian and Bengali languages. I doubt Tagore was aware of Iqbal’s letters to Aram for in a letter to Iqbal’s friend Dr Abbas Ali Khan dated February 7 1933 he writes, ” Your letter and poem have touched my heart. It has given me deep pleasure to know that you have found an inner affinity between my poems and those of your great poet Sir Mohammad Iqbal. Not knowing the languages in which he writes his original poems I am not in a position to reach the depths of his creative production or to properly evaluate them but I am assured through the wide fame they have won that they carry the majesty of eternal literature. It has pained me often to find a certain class of critics trying to create misunderstanding by ranging my literary works against those of Sir Mohammad Iqbal on a competitive basis. This is an entirely erroneous attitude to take towards literature which deals with the universal. I am sure both myself and Sir Mohammad Iqbal are comrades working for the cause of truth and beauty in literature and meet in a realm where the human mind offers its best gifts to the shrine of Eternal Man”
Tagore also paid glowing tributes to Iqbal in his message on first Iqbal day in 1937 and his condolence message of 1938 calling him a person whose work is not limited to few but is universal.

As I said above Iqbal more or less ignores the existence of Tagore, at least publicly for his letters to Aram was private correspondence till late. However he once remarked to CV Raman, the renowned physicist and Nobel Laureate that, ”Tagore preaches rest but practices action; Iqbal practices rest, preaches action.” And certainly looking at the lives and works of these two great men this appears to be a very apt analysis.
It should be noted that when Iqbal’s collection of books was catalogued, six English translations of Tagore’s works were part of it.

So what can make out of the conflicting attitudes of these giants towards life and towards each other? Well I think we need to analyze and evaluate them in light of what these two were in personal terms.
Tagore was born in a well off household, his family had land and money. He did not need to struggle to make ends meet. Tagore did not even complete his formal education knowing he is not dependent on a job for income and devoting his life to literary pursuits early in his life.
Iqbal had no such luck, he had no family fortune, he struggled all his life to provide for himself and his family. Iqbal had to complete formal education and skills of a solicitor to find work.
Tagore was born in a reformist Hindu household while Iqbal was born in a conservative Sunni household.
The above factors seem to have influenced the works and attitudes of Tagore and Iqbal. Not having to face the harsh realities of life as far as putting food on the table is concerned Tagore retains his gentle, generous and magnanimous soul. Iqbal on the other hand, frustrated with the needs to balance time for income generating work with his literary passion perhaps developed the hardness and even some bitterness which spills over in his work and attitude towards Tagore. Added to this was that Iqbal was part of the minority Muslim community of India and had the defensive attitude minorities tend to develop, especially if they believe they are being threatened.
As Rafiq Zakria sums up, ”Tagore brought out the romantic in man; Iqbal the heroic. Tagore exulted in feminine beauty; Iqbal in masculine strength. There was music in Tagore’s poetry; there was fire in Iqbal’s. Tagore was humble; Iqbal was proud. Tagore was always active; Iqbal easy going and lazy.”

Dr Aamir Butt first posted this on his Facebook page on the 27th of December, 2014.
I am very grateful for his permission to share the article here.

রবিবার/ Robibar/Sunday

ছেলে মাকে গিয়ে বললে, ‘মা, দেবতাকে অনেককাল ছেড়েছি, এমন অবস্থায় আমাকে দেবতার ছাড়াটা নেহাত বাহুল্য। কিন্তু জানি বেড়ার ফাঁকের মধ্য দিয়ে হাত বাড়ালে তোমার প্রসাদ মিলবেই। ঐখানে কোনো দেবতার দেবতাগিরি খাটে না, তা যত বড়ো জাগ্রত হোন-না তিনি।’

মা চোখের জল মুছতে মুছতে আঁচল থেকে খুলে ওকে একখানি নোট দিতে গেলেন। ও বললে, ‘ঐ নোটখানায় যখন আমার অত্যন্ত বেশি দরকার আর থাকবে না তখনই তোমার হাত থেকে নেব। অলক্ষ্মীর সঙ্গে কারবার করতে জোর লাগে, ব্যাঙ্কনোট হাতে নিয়ে তাল ঠোকা যায় না।’

অভীকের সম্বন্ধে আরো দুটো-একটা কথা বলতে হবে। জীবনে ওর দুটি উলটো জাতের শখ ছিল, এক কলকারখানা জোড়াতাড়া দেওয়া, আর-এক ছবি আঁকা। ওর বাপের ছিল তিনখানা মোটরগাড়ি, তাঁর মফস্বল-অভিযানের বাহন। যন্ত্রবিদ্যায় ওর হাতেখড়ি সেইগুলো নিয়ে। তা ছাড়া তাঁর ক্লায়েন্টের ছিল মোটরের কারখানা, সেইখানে ও শখ ক’রে বেগার খেটেছে অনেকদিন।

অভীক ছবি আঁকা শিখতে গিয়েছিল সরকারী আর্টস্কুলে। কিছুকালের মধ্যেই ওর এই বিশ্বাস দৃঢ় হল যে, আর বেশিদিন শিখলে ওর হাত হবে কলে-তৈরি, ওর মগজ হবে ছাঁচে-ঢালা। ও আর্টিস্ট, সেই কথাটা প্রমাণ করতে লাগল নিজের জোর আওয়াজে। প্রদর্শনী বের করলে ছবির, কাগজের বিজ্ঞাপনে তার পরিচয় বেরল আধুনিক ভারতের সর্বশ্রেষ্ঠ আর্টিস্ট অভীককুমার, বাঙালি টিশিয়ান। ও যতই গর্জন করে বললে ‘আমি আর্টিস্ট’, ততই তার প্রতিধ্বনি উঠতে থাকল একদল লোকের ফাঁকা মনের গুহায়, তারা অভিভূত হয়ে গেল। শিষ্য এবং তার চেয়ে বেশি সংখ্যক শিষ্যা জমল ওর পরিমণ্ডলীতে। তারা বিরুদ্ধদলকে আখ্যা দিল ফিলিস্টাইন। বলল বুর্জোয়া।

অবশেষে দুর্দিনের সময় অভীক আবিষ্কার করলে যে তার ধনী পিতার তহবিলের কেন্দ্র থেকে আর্টিস্টের নামের ‘পরে যে রজতচ্ছটা বিচ্ছুরিত হত তারই দীপ্তিতে ছিল তার খ্যাতির অনেকখানি উজ্জ্বলতা। সঙ্গে সঙ্গে সে আর-একটি তত্ত্ব আবিষ্কার করেছিল যে অর্থভাগ্যের বঞ্চনা উপলক্ষ করে মেয়েদের নিষ্ঠায় কোনো ইতরবিশেষ ঘটে নি। উপাসিকারা শেষ পর্যন্ত দুই চক্ষু বিস্ফারিত করে উচ্চমধুর কণ্ঠে তাকে বলছে আর্টিস্ট। কেবল নিজেদের মধ্যে পরস্পরকে সন্দেহ করেছে যে স্বয়ং তারা দুই-একজন ছাড়া বাকি সবাই আর্টের বোঝে না কিছুই, ভণ্ডামি করে, গা জ্বলে যায়।

অভীকের জীবনে এর পরবর্তী ইতিহাস সুদীর্ঘ এবং অস্পষ্ট। ময়লা টুপি আর তেলকালিমাখা নীলরঙের জামা-ইজের প’রে বার্ন কোম্পানির কারখানায় প্রথমে মিস্ত্রিগিরি ও পরে হেডমিস্ত্রির কাজ পর্যন্ত চালিয়ে দিয়েছে। মুসলমান খালাসিদের দলে মিশে চার পয়সার পরোটা আর তার চেয়ে কম দামের শাস্ত্রনিষিদ্ধ পশুমাংস খেয়ে ওর দিন কেটেছে সস্তায়। লোকে বলেছে, ও মুসলমান হয়েছে; ও বলেছে, মুসলমান কি নাস্তিকের চেয়েও বড়ো। হাতে যখন কিছু টাকা জমল তখন অজ্ঞাতবাস থেকে বেরিয়ে এসে আবার সে পূর্ণ পরিস্ফুট আর্টিস্টরূপে বোহেমিয়ানি করতে লেগে গেল। শিষ্য জুটল, শিষ্যা জুটল। চশমাপরা তরুণীরা তার স্টুডিয়োতে আধুনিক বে-আব্রু রীতিতে যে-সব নগ্নমনস্তত্ত্বের আলাপ-আলোচনা করতে লাগল, ঘন সিগারেটের ধোঁয়া জমল তার কালিমা আবৃত করে। পরস্পর পরস্পরের প্রতি কটাক্ষপাত ও অঙ্গুলিনির্দেশ করে বললে, পজিটিভ্‌লি ভাল্‌গর।


The son went and said to his mother, ‘Ma, I have forsaken the gods a long time ago; thus their forsaking me now is completely unnecessary. But I know that I will receive your blessings whenever I reach through the gaps of the fence that separate us. No divine intervention will apply there, no matter how mighty they are.’

As she dried her eyes with her sari his mother untied a knot and tried to give him some money. He said, ‘I will take that money from you only when I have the very least need of it. One needs strength to deal with evil, one cannot keep up with banknotes in hand.’

 Here we have to say a couple of things about Abheek. He had two quite disparate hobbies; one was repairing machinery and the other was painting. His father had three cars which provided transport during his travels in the country. His initiation into mechanics was through these. His father also had a client who had a automobile factory and Abheek had voluntarily spent a lot of time there working for free.

 He had gone to study art at the Government Art School. Within a few days he began to firmly believe that if he continued to learn any longer his hand would become mechanical and his ideas manufactured by someone else. He began to prove that he was an artist in his own voice. Before an exhibition of his paintings, the newspapers wrote of him as modern India’s greatest artist Abheek Kumar, the Bengali Titian. The more he roared, ‘I am an artist!’ the more his words reverberated in the empty caves of some minds and the owners of those minds were overwhelmed. He became surrounded by devotees who were largely female. They called his detractors philistines and described them as bourgeois.

 But eventually when the dark times came, Abheek discovered that a great part of the glow surrounding his fame came from the light cast upon the artist’s name by the silvery sheen of his wealthy father’s bank account. He had also discovered that the devotion of women did not waver a great deal with the ebb of his financial fortunes. They called him an artist to the very end in loud sweet tones with widened eyes. But in private they each suspected the others of not really knowing anything about art at all, excluding themselves of course; the rest were all fakes who were to be abhorred.

 The next part of Abheek’s life story is lengthy and unclear. He worked as a mechanic and then as the head technician of Burn Company in a dirty cap and grease stained blue overalls. He ate cheaply with the Muslim labourers, buying meals of bread at four paise and meat that was not strictly allowed by the tenets of the scriptures for even less. People talked, saying he has converted to Islam; he asked them whether that was worse than becoming an atheist. When he had saved enough he returned from his exile to become an artist and lead a Bohemian lifestyle again. Young women in glasses began to discuss the explicit psychological advances of the time in a frank manner, their lack of shame hidden under a dense fog of cigarette smoke. They nodded at each other and pointed fingers declaring everyone else to be positively vulgar.

স্ফুলিঙ্গ/Sphulingo/ Embers



অজানা ভাষা দিয়ে

    পড়েছ ঢাকা তুমি, চিনিতে নারি প্রিয়ে!

কুহেলী আছে ঘিরি,

    মেঘের মতো তাই দেখিতে হয় গিরি।

Awjana bhasha diye

Porecho Dhaka tumi, chinitey nari priye!

Kuheli acche ghiri,

Megher mawto tai dekhitey hoy giri.

Unknown words

cover you till I know you not, beloved!

Mists all around,

Making each mountain seem like a cloud.


অতিথি ছিলাম যে বনে সেথায়

      গোলাপ উঠিল ফুটে–

“ভুলো না আমায়’ বলিতে বলিতে

      কখন পড়িল লুটে।

Otithee cchilam je boney shethay

Golap uthilo phutey –

‘Bhulo na amaay’ bolitey bolitey

Kawkhon porilo lutey.

In the forest where I wandered

There bloomed a rose delicate –

‘Forget me not’ she said to me

Before bowing her head to fate.


অত্যাচারীর বিজয়তোরণ

      ভেঙেছে ধুলার ‘পর,

শিশুরা তাহারই পাথরে আপন

      গড়িছে খেলার ঘর।

Otyacharir bijoytoron

Bhengeche dhular por,

Shishura tahari pathorey apon

Goricche khelar ghawr.

The triumphal arches of the tyrant

In the dust lie broken,

Children glean stones from that

Making play houses of their own.


অনিত্যের যত আবর্জনা

     পূজার প্রাঙ্গণ হতে

           প্রতিক্ষণে করিয়ো মার্জনা।

Awnityer jawto aborjona

Pujar prangon hotey

Protikkhoney koriyo marjona.

The useless ephemera of existence

From sacred ground

Remove at every instant.


অনেক তিয়াষে করেছি ভ্রমণ,

      জীবন কেবলই খোঁজা।অনেক বচন করেছি রচন,

      জমেছে অনেক বোঝা।

যা পাই নি তারি লইয়া সাধনা

      যাব কি সাগরপার?

যা গাই নি তারি বহিয়া বেদনা

      ছিঁড়িবে বীণার তার?

Awnek tiyashey korechi bhromon,

Jeebawn keboli khnoja. Awnek bawchon korechi rawchon,

Jomecche awnek bojha.

Ja paini taari loiya shadhona

Jaabo ki shagorpar?

Ja paini  taari bohiya bedona

Cchniribe beenar taar?

A great thirst has driven me

Through a life full of searching. Many are the words I have written.

And much have I collected on the way.

Will the striving for what never was mine

Walk me to the far shores?

Will the pain of not achieving them

Silence the music ever more?

An essay: The Ocean of Consciousness by Bhaswati Ghosh

This article first appeared here:




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/