Rabindranath Tagore: People's Poet
Where a Poet’s Vision Lives on in India
Sami Siva for The New York Times
By ERIC WEINER
Published: February 1, 2013
Great writers often shape our impressions of a place. Steinbeck and Dust Bowl Oklahoma, for instance. Sometimes a writer might even define a place, as Hemingway did for 1920s Paris. Rarely, though, does a writer create a place. Yet that is what the Indian poet and Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore did with a town called Shantiniketan, or “Abode of Peace.” Without Tagore’s tireless efforts, the place, home to a renowned experimental school, would not exist.
Sami Siva for The New York Times
Sami Siva for The New York Times
For Indians, a trip to Shantiniketan, a three-hour train ride from Kolkata, is a cultural pilgrimage. It was for me, too, when I visited last July, in the height of the monsoon season. I had long been a Tagore fan, but this was also an opportunity to explore a side of India I had overlooked: its small towns. It was in places like Shantiniketan, with a population of some 10,000, that Tagore — along with his contemporary Mohandas K. Gandhi — believed India’s greatness could be found.
As I boarded the train at Kolkata’s riotous Howrah Station, there was no mistaking my destination, nor its famous resident. At the front of the antiquated car hung two photos of an elderly Tagore. With his long beard, dark eyes and black robe, the poet and polymath, who died in 1941, looked like a benevolent, aloof sage, an Indian Albus Dumbledore. At the rear of the car were two of his paintings, one a self-portrait, the other a veiled woman. Darkness infused them, as it does much of Tagore’s artwork, unlike his poems, which are filled with rapturous descriptions of nature. As the train ambled through the countryside, Tagore’s words echoed in my head. “Give us back that forest, take this city away,” he pleaded in one poem.
The son of a Brahmin landlord, Tagore was born in Calcutta, as Kolkata was called back then, in 1861. He began writing poetry at age 8. In 1913, he became the first non-Westerner to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. The committee cited a collection of spiritual poems called “Gitanjali,” or song offerings. The verses soar. “The traveler has to knock at every alien door to come to his own, and one has to wander through all the outer worlds to reach the innermost shrine at the end,” reads one.
Tagore became an instant international celebrity, discussed in the salons of London and New York. Today, Tagore is not read much in the West, but in India, and particularly in West Bengal, his home state, he remains as popular — and revered — as ever. For Bengalis, Tagore is Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Andy Warhol and Steven Sondheim — with a dash of Martin Luther King Jr. — rolled into one. Poet, artist, novelist, composer, essayist, educator, Tagore was India’s Renaissance man. He was also a humanist, driven by a desire to change the world, which is what he intended to do in Shantiniketan. Upset with what he saw as an India that mooched off other cultures — “the eternal ragpickers of other people’s dustbins,” he said — he imagined a school modeled after the ancient Indian tapovans, or forest colonies, where young men meditated and engaged in other spiritual practices. His school would eschew rote learning and foster “an atmosphere of living aspiration.”
Equipped with this vision — and unhappy with Calcutta’s transformation from a place where “the days went by in leisurely fashion,” to the churning, chaotic city that it is today — Tagore decamped in 1901 to a barren plain about 100 miles north of Calcutta. Tagore’s father owned land there, and on one visit experienced a moment of unexpected bliss. He built a hut to mark the spot, but other than that and a few trees, the young Tagore found only “a vast open country.”
Undaunted, he opened his school later that year, readily admitting that it was “the product of daring inexperience.” There was a small library, lush gardens and a marble-floored prayer hall. It began as a primary school; only a few students attended at first, and one of those was his son. Living conditions were spartan. Students went barefoot and meals, which consisted of dal (lentils) and rice, were “comparable to jail diet,” recalled Tagore, who believed that luxuries interfered with learning. “Those who own much have much to fear,” he would say.
Shantiniketan and its school represented an idea as much as a place: people do their best learning and thinking when they divorce themselves from the distractions of urban life and reconnect with their natural environment. That’s not easy to do in India. As my train trundled past rice fields and open space, I was inundated with offers of a shoeshine, pens, biscuits, flowers, jhalmuri (puffed rice), newspapers, musical performances and a magic show that featured the transformation of a Pepsi bottle into a bouquet of flowers.
Before I knew it, the train pulled into a tiny station, and the touts and hawkers were replaced by a few young men meekly asking if I needed a taxi. We drove past a moving collage of small-town India: squat buildings, women in saris riding sidesaddle on motor scooters, men in rickshaws selling banners emblazoned with verses from the Great Poet, tailors working from sidewalk shops, a sign for the “Tagore Institute of Management for Excellence.” Fifteen minutes later, I entered the lush grounds of the Mitali inn — and exhaled. India often takes your breath away; rarely does it give it back.
After settling into my simple room, lined from floor to ceiling with books (including Tagore’s), I met the inn’s owner, Krishno Dey, a former United Nations official who returned to his native Bengal some years ago. Sitting in a portico with ceiling fans whirling, we dined on chom-chom, or mango pulp (it tastes better than it sounds).
“You’re not going to see much here,” Mr. Dey warned me, “because there’s really not much to see.”
Perfect, I thought. I had just spent three weeks in Kolkata, an unrelenting city of 13 million, and “not much” was precisely what I craved. India may have invented the concept of zero, but traveling in the country has more to do with infinity. A seemingly infinite number of people, vehicles, noises, odors, wonders and hassles. Not in Shantiniketan, thankfully, where there are just enough sights to justify a few days’ stay.
The perfect activity is to read Tagore, and that’s what I did on the veranda, where I stumbled across a poem called “The Gardener”: “Let your life lightly dance on the edges of time like dew on the tip of a leaf.”
Tagore, who lived on campus, produced much of his poetry in Shantiniketan (and nearly all of his paintings), taught a few courses and hosted a parade of visitors that included Ramsey MacDonald, a future British prime minister, and Gandhi.
Ridiculed at first, Tagore’s new school, which he called Patha Bhavan (“a place for the wayfarer”), became a college in 1921 and attracted thousands, including a young Indira Gandhi, the Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen and Satyajit Ray, the Indian filmmaker.
“If Shantiniketan did nothing else,” Mr. Ray once recalled, “it induced contemplation, and a sense of wonder in the most prosaic and earthbound of minds.”
Today, more than 6,000 students attend the university, which is now known as Visva-Bharati. Despite a drop in academic standards, its art school is still considered one of the best in the world.
As the school grew, so did the town. Its streets are lined with stately sal trees (some planted by Tagore), tea stalls and tiny bookstores. The poems and paintings of Tagore are everywhere.
Bicycles, which outnumber cars, are the best transportation. One day, Mr. Dey lent me his clunky bike equipped with a single gear and a bell, which came in handy given that there seem to be no passive-aggressive drivers on Indian roads, only aggressive-aggressive ones. Riding under a blanket of monsoon clouds, I passed schoolgirls in crisp blue uniforms, two or three to a bike. My destination was Rabindra Bhavan, the small museum that celebrates Tagore’s life.
Built on his former estate, it consists of a clutch of bungalows separated by raked gravel. Inside the dimly lighted exhibition hall are a few handwritten pages from “Gitanjali,” Tagore’s most famous poem, and black-and-white photographs of Tagore — a few of him as a dashing young man, but most of an older Tagore with crinkly eyes, looking off into the distance.
There are photos of Tagore with Helen Keller, Freud and Gandhi. Notable for its absence is the Nobel Prize itself. It was stolen from the museum in 2004, a crime that remains unsolved and that is, some believe, emblematic of a deeper problem.
“Long before the prize was stolen, Tagore was stolen,” quipped Kumar Rana, an aid worker I met. Reminiscing about Shantiniketan’s “good old days” is a popular sport here. Everyone I met told me how the air was once cleaner, the streets quieter, the people gentler.
Later that afternoon, I strolled through the sprawling university campus, with its simple concrete buildings and rows of sal trees. In the art studios, students’ work was on display: intricate bas-reliefs of Hindu goddesses, a sculpture made from a bicycle rickshaw.
A group of students gestured to me from a dormitory balcony. I climbed some stairs and found them slumped about a simple room — perhaps not as austere as Tagore had in mind, but close. On the ledge of the balcony sat one of their assignments, a bust of a well-known artist, a Shantiniketan alumna, drying slowly in the humid air.
Tagore left Shantiniketan rarely, but when he fell gravely ill in 1941, he went to Calcutta for treatment. It was there, in his ancestral home, that he dictated his last poem. “Today my sack is empty. I have given completely whatever I had to give. In return if I receive anything — some love, some forgiveness — then I will take it with me when I step on the boat that crosses to the festival of the wordless end.” Nine days later, the Sage of Shantiniketan died.
Toward the end of my stay, I encountered a baul singer alongside the road, strumming an ektara, a guitarlike instrument with a single string. He waved and I steered my bike toward him.
With their unruly hair, matted beards and saffron kurtas, the singers (baul means “crazy”) are difficult to miss. Neither Hindu nor Muslim, they are said to be insane with the love of God and wander the countryside, as they have for centuries, singing enigmatic songs about the blessings of madness and the life of a seeker. Tagore adored the bauls, and even declared himself one of them.
I sat on the ground and listened to the hypnotic music. Bauls have grown popular in recent years and, inevitably, poseurs have tried to cash in. So when another traveler, a well-off Kolkatan with an expensive camera, joined us, I asked, “Do you think he is a real baul singer?”
Clearly displeased with my question, he said after a long pause, “He’s as real as you want him to be.”
Sitting on the hard Shantiniketan earth, a breeze foreshadowing the monsoon rains, I closed my eyes, listened to the music, and asked no more questions.
IF YOU GO
Shantiniketan is reached via Kolkata. The fastest way is by train. The Shantiniketan Express runs daily and takes about two and half hours. Round-trip fare: approximately 1,560 rupees, or about $30, at 52 rupees to the dollar, on Indian Railways: indianrail.gov.in.
Where to Stay
Mitali Homestays (91-94-3307-5853, mitalishantiniketan.com; 1,560 to 4,160 rupees, about $30 to $80, a night) is a delightful B&B run by Krishno and Sonali Dey with lush gardens, an impressive library and delicious food. They will lend you a bicycle for the day, and offer suggestions about what to do.
What to See
The Rabindra Bhavan Museum features several of Rabindranath Tagore’s original manuscripts, as well as letters and photographs. Closed Wednesdays.
What to Buy
Shantiniketan is known for its leather goods, batik prints and artwork. Visit the bustling Saturday market on the outskirts of town.
Asia and the West
Never the twain
The intellectual roots of Asian anti-Westernism
Jul 28th 2012 | from the print edition
RARELY has the prestige of the West fallen lower in Asian eyes. Seemingly endless wars and the attendant abuses, financial crisis and economic malaise have made Europe and America look less like models to aspire to than dire examples to be shunned. In response, Asian elites are searching their own cultures and intellectual histories for inspiration.
As Pankaj Mishra, a prolific Indian writer, shows in this subtle, erudite and entertaining account of Asian intellectuals’ responses to the West, much the same was true over a century ago. He defines Asia broadly, as bordering with Europe at the Aegean Sea and Africa at the River Nile. A century ago, what he calls “an irreversible process of intellectual…decolonisation” was under way across this huge region. For Mr Mishra, and many Asians, the 20th century’s central events were the “intellectual and political awakening of Asia and its emergence from the ruins of both Asian and European empires”. China and India have shaken off foreign predators and become global powers. Japan has risen, fallen and risen again. It is commonplace to describe the current century as Asia’s.
Mr Mishra tells the story of this resurgence through the lives of a number of pivotal figures, as they grappled with the dilemma of how to replicate the West’s power while retaining their Asian “essence”. He pays most attention to two, both little known in the West. One, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, was like most of them “neither an unthinking Westerniser, nor a devout traditionalist”. Despite his name, and despite a tomb in Kabul restored at America’s expense, al-Afghani was born in Persia in 1838. An itinerant Islamist activist, he also spent time in Egypt, India, Turkey and Russia, railing against the feebleness and injustices of Oriental despotisms and the immorality of Western imperialism, and trying to forge a Pan-Islamic movement. He had the ear of sultans and shahs.
The other main character is Liang Qichao, a leading Chinese intellectual in the twilight of the last imperial dynasty, the Qing, and the chaotic early years after it fell in 1911. Steeped in the old Confucian traditions and aghast at the weak new republic, he came to the conclusion that “the Chinese people must for now accept authoritarian rule; they cannot enjoy freedom”. Writing in 1903, however, he saw this as a temporary phenomenon. He would have been surprised to find China’s rulers today arguing much the same.
Two other developments would also have surprised these men. The first is how disastrously some of the syntheses of West and East worked out: from Mao’s and Pol Pot’s millenarian communism, to al-Qaeda’s brand of Islamist fundamentalism and Japan’s replication of the worst traits of Western imperialism.
Japan’s later aggression helps explain the other surprise: that in many ways the links between Asian thinkers look more tenuous now than they did a century ago. Then, men such as Liang, or Rabindranath Tagore (pictured) from Bengal, would travel to Tokyo. They would dream of a pan-Asian response to the West, inspired by Japan’s example. China is now the coming Asian power, but it is not an intellectual hub of pan-Asianism, either in Communist orthodoxy or in efforts to revive Confucianism. And the Islam of al-Afghani’s ideological heirs has made little headway in non-Muslim countries.
There is one contemporary Asian phenomenon that, Mr Mishra notes, would seem far less surprising to the author’s subjects than to many present-day Westerners. That is the depth of anti-Western feeling. Millions, he writes, “derive profound gratification from the prospect of humiliating their former masters and overlords.” That prospect, however, masks what Mr Mishra concedes is an “immense intellectual failure”, because “no convincingly universalist response exists today to Western ideas of politics and economy”.
The ways of the West may not be working. Yet the alarming truth, Mr Mishra concludes, is that the East is on course to make many of the same mistakes that the West has made in its time.
(and) never the twain shall meet（だから）両者はまったく合わない.
翻譯此書的人似乎早已作古 我見過他一面 遺憾的是 沒談過話......這種緣份還在人世
出版單位： 商務印書館 出版日期： 2011.
泰戈爾，印度近代偉大詩人、作家、藝術家、哲學家和社會活動家。 畢生以其全面的藝術天才在文學園地里辛勤耕耘，在詩歌、小說、戲劇和散文等領域取得了巨大成就，給後世留下了五十餘部詩集、十幾部中長篇小說、九十多篇短 篇小說、二十餘種戲劇，同時還有數量相當可觀的散文作品和其他雜著。 本書主要收錄了他的《文學批評》、《歌是我的雲使》、《孟加拉文學的發展》、《般吉姆》、《黑衣姑娘》、《英國音樂》、《歐洲音樂和印度音樂》等作品，供 讀者朋友們欣賞。
找泰戈爾的"留學英國" 17歲 1878/9 到1880/2
小費/乞丐的志節: Tagore 將 half crown ( two shillings and sixpence a half-crown) 當一便士給時 他們會"還錢"------
;(Sir Rabindranath Tagore 1912)泰戈爾回憶錄 杭州:浙江文藝 2011 頁120
1961年 印度大舉慶祝泰戈爾百歲冥誕連漢光編著的泰戈爾傳 兩書都沒寫出參考文獻
晨光出版社, 1965 (276 頁)
該書在1976年由 台南東海出版社出版 (有13張圖片) 330頁 (詩選約130頁)
Sir Rabindranath Tagore 1912.泰戈爾回憶錄 杭州:浙江文藝 2011
Sir William Rothenstein 英譯 1917his memoirs (1917)
Rabindranath Tagore - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Rabindranath Tagore (Bengali: রবীন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর, Robindronath Ţhakur)α[›]β[›] (7 May 1861 – 7 August 1941) 是文藝全才--《泰戈爾作品》的漢文詩集相當多
四十年前 台灣有靡文開編 《泰戈爾詩集》台北:三民 1963/1992第17版
漂鳥集 1-72(此書書林有漢英對照版 傅譯)
頌歌集 (跋中收 胡適在泰戈爾64歲時贈的"回向"一詩 這年齡令我有點困惑 因為它寫於1925年 訪華之前......)
泰戈爾在1928年訪問中國 在上海和北京都是盛事 留下許多紀錄 很可惜沒出專書
八十年前泰戈尔的中国之行 - ]2006年2月7日... 中国文化思想者(包括欢迎者和反对者)中间造成的，如今看来，只能说是一种时代的误会。 摘自《泰戈尔与中国》，广西师范大学出版社出版，孙学宜著 ...
梅貽寶/冰心 去訪問過他設的大學.. The Founder", Visva-Bharati University
- — Translations —
|* Creative Unity||1922|
|* The Crescent Moon||1913|
|* The Fugitive||1921|
|* The Gardener||1913|
|* Gitanjali: Song Offerings||1912|
|* Glimpses of Bengal||1991|
|* The Home and the World||1985|
|* The Hungry Stones and other stories||1916|
|* I Won't Let you Go: Selected Poems||1991|
|* The Lover of God||2003|
|* My Boyhood Days||1943|
|* My Reminiscences||1991|
|* The Post Office||1914|
|* Sadhana: The Realisation of Life||1913|
|* Selected Letters||1997|
|* Selected Poems||1994|
|* Selected Short Stories||1991|
|* Songs of Kabir||1915|
|* Stray Birds||1916|