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Dreamers build civilisations
Siddharth Gambhirwala remembers Rabindranath Tagore.
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May 2000 - "Without faith there is no future to be created;" this famous son of India once said, "It is the dreamer who builds up civilisation; it is he who can realize the spiritual unity reigning supreme over all differences." His inspirational compositions have stood the passage of time. He was a man, who by his talents and background was admitted into bastions of privilege and acclaim, but who by his patriotism and his choices transcended India's myriad cultural divides and the barricades erected by those who ruled his beloved motherland.

Rabindranath Tagore was born 7 May 1861, as the sixth child of Sarada Devi and Debendranath Tagore, and nursed in the political ideals of his father, the honorary Secretary of the British Indian Association. His awakening mind received a shock from the racial arrogance of the ruling British class. Rabindranath was admitted to the Oriental Seminary in 1868. He found the lessons at school uninteresting and hated the idea of punishment for making mistakes. He was then transferred to the Normal School and thereafter to St. Xavier's. His privileged background permitted an excellent education, nevertheless; he left for England on September 20, 1878 and was admitted to the London University.

Tagore, unlike most of the other freedom fighters of his time, exposed the depravity of the British rule by chronicling all his adversities with British imperialism through poetry and literary works. He wrote most of his pieces in his mother tongue, Bengali, to be later translated to a much wider audience. He used his literature as a vehicle for political and social reform, allowing other nations to be aware of the freedom struggle in India, and exposing Britain to international pressure and accountability for its actions. He was exhaustive, seeking every opportunity to do this.

He was insistent that the Englishman in India was an external fact and that the country was the most true and complete fact: "Try to build up your country by your own strength because realisation becomes complete through creation." Tagore advocated that we can realize our own selves in the country only if we seek to create the country we wish to live in by our thought, our actions, and our service. The homeland is the creation of the mind and that is why the soul realizes itself (finds itself) in its own experience in the motherland. In Swadeshi Samaj, he exhorted Indians to win back the country not from the British, but from apathy and indifference.

Rabindranath Tagore believed the country would attain a form of salvation only when all of its parts pulsated with passion for the recovery of the motherland. As a result, his quest for liberation was an internal, intellectual movement as much as it was a passion. Unreasoning faith, blind habits of mind, adherence to customs that had no merit save their age, the repression of intellect and heart in the unproductive channel of inaction - all of this is the antithesis of the forces that reveal people in all their full glory and dignity. This is the root cause of degeneration.. His goal was not economic restructuring, but emotional liberation from the British, leading to economic and political reform.


 •  Why Tagore?
 •  An august dispute

Tagore was not a supporter of the non-cooperation movement as he felt the end result of disassociation from the British would be futile, since the future would only lead back to assimilation. In this, he differed significantly from Gandhiji's view of how the freedom struggle should be pursued. Despite their opposing views, Tagore and Gandhi had a fond affinity for each other; Gandhi referred to Tagore as his "Gurudev". Jawaharlal Nehru stated, "No two persons could possibly differ so much as Gandhi and Tagore." They were both true to a philosophy of acceptance in the pursuit of knowledge, in the rich tradition of India's age-long cultural genius. Gandhi consulted Tagore regarding methods of liberating India, stating that knowing his best friend was spiritually with him sustained him in the midst of the storms he encountered.

Predictably, Tagore turned to education for the public expression of his philosophy, and opened his first school at Shantiniketan. He promoted the view that man can extend his horizons and achieve a second birth through creativity and art. He began the regeneration by directing his efforts with the hope of promoting literacy and then health via enforcement of social conduct. Tagore was born into the priestly class, placing him in the highest class in Indian culture. However, he believed that India, by creating smaller and smaller spheres was destroying the vitality of her people. He refused to reap any benefit from the caste system and lived among the poorest of people. He recognized that when the British government created separate electorates for the castes among Hindus, its intention was to separate the Hindu community. Gandhi and Tagore, both of the same mind, protested this differentiation. As with Gandhi, his consciousness of the abject condition and helplessness of the poor remained a strong basis of his political philosophy for much of his life.

Rabindranath Tagore was probably most famously known as the author of India's national anthem, J"ana Gana Mana." The national anthem was first sung on December 27, 1911 at the Indian National Congress in Calcutta in glory of the motherland. It is also a song of reverence to the Lord of the Universe, the Dispenser of Human Destiny, Arjuna, who drives India's history through the ages along the rugged road with the rise and fall of nations.

Tagore became recognized as a prolific poet, through the translation to English of his most famous work Gitanjali; he acquired international fame with an introduction by W.B. Yeats. The University of Calcutta gave him an honorary Doctorate of Literature. The Nobel Prize in Literature placed him recognizably among the gifted and passionate writers of the world's stage; the British government conferred a knighthood upon him. These accolades recognized his marvelous creations, but the passion that unearthed them was kin to a higher calling - his own dream of an independent India. And in 1919, the poet renounced his knighthood in protest of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919.

The Imperial Government had obtained the right to jail without trial, anyone they regarded as fractious. Tagore wrote a stinging letter abandoning all amity with the government, and worked to strengthen India on a grassroots level. In the years that followed, Tagore became a spiritual ambassador, visiting Japan, Central and North America and other nations, and promoting understanding of culture and the follies of aggressive nationalism. He grew as a writer of poems. In his career, from 1878 to 1931, he wrote: songs, plays, novels, short stories, literary criticisms, lectures on religion and philosophy, and dramas. Then, from 1928 to 1940, he produced two thousand paintings.

In later years, as Tagore reached his sixties, he tried to finance his Vishwa-Bharati University personally. He relied on royalties and proceeds from his lecture tours. By 1941, Tagore's health had seriously deteriorated. Tagore died peacefully, after an operation in Calcutta on August 7, 1941. Calcutta residents came by the thousands to have a last look at their beloved poet, as his body was carried to the bank of the Hoogly River for cremation. He had, in his life, embodied the quintessence of Indian culture, combining a considerable intellect with a devout passion to his cause. Fittingly, although his words never revelled in the glory of freedom, we now remember him at every turn of our national life, in the moving anthem that celebrates his dreams.

Siddharth Gambhirwala
May 2000

This biographical sketch is reprinted with permission from swaraj.net.
 

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