The word genius is one of the most overly used words in the English language. There are only a few individuals who truly deserve this adjective. Genius is truly becoming of Rabindranath Tagore, a man who single handedly moulded and structured the Bengali language. It is easy to succeed, it is tougher to become famous and it is impossible to do what Rabindranath Tagore did, to be a torch-bearer for an entire race of people. There are geniuses who aren’t appreciated in their own times because their works are too futuristic and path breaking but he was a different kind of a genius. What made him special was the agelessness of his work and the quality of his craft which made it associable with any human, any period and any sentiment. I am proud to acknowledge that my family has branched out from the Tagore family and while it may not be direct, it sure is special. The image of this person might be slightly different for any ‘non-Bengali’ or any Bengali living outside Bengal(West Bengal and Bangladesh). He might be known as an exceptional writer (because of his Nobel Prize win), he might be known for his flowing beard and he might also be known as a patriot, but that does truly describe this great man. As a distant kin of his, I will try to write about his influence in today’s world without going deep into the details (as you may find that in Wikipedia). I believe that details confine a man’s persona and it’s important the words of the heart commemorate his Great Spirit and passion on his 154th birthday.
His upbringing was lavish and easy, belonging from the famous Thakur-bari family. The youngest among 13 siblings, “Rabi” was fiercely attached to his mother Sarada Devi, who passed away when he was an infant. His love for his mother can be reflected in his heartfelt poetry.
I cannot remember my mother
only sometimes in the midst of my play
a tune seems to hover over my playthings,
the tune of some song that she used to
hum while rocking my cradle.
I cannot remember my mother
but when in the early autumn morning
the smell of shiuli flowers floats in the air
the scent of the morning service in the temple
comes to me as the scent of my mother.
I cannot remember my mother
only when from my bedroom window I send
my eyes into the blue of the distant sky,
I feel that the stillness of my mother’s gaze on my face
has spread all over the sky.
Rabi’s father was a visionary. Maharishi Debendranath Tagore did not believe in the misgivings and orthodox conventions of the society and he adopted the revolutionary teachings of the Brahmo sect. A devout sceptic and rationalist, he was unable to spend enough moments with his prodigal youngest son. Having been raised under the tutelage of his elder sibling and been cared for by his servants and housekeepers, Rabi hated the institution of education houses. He believed that education should be free flowing and liberating rather than being forced upon by a certain institution. Rabindranath Tagore loved reading the works of Kalidasa and Karl Marx, ironically so since his works inspired a departure of the sanskritic style from Bengali Literature. Education should not be forced upon young minds and they should choose their own calling, a philosophical statement which is often debated, was understood by young Rabi at a very young age.
Rabindranath Tagore is often described as one of the best poets of all time. He started writing poetry at the age of eight and he had published his first collection of poems by the age of 16. The interesting fact about Tagore which is not known to a lot of people is that he was a brilliant songwriter. He has written over 2000 songs which are compiled in a book called ‘Geetobitan’. The Geetobitan is divided on the basis of the different genres and his music might be the most covered music in the entire world. Millions of Bengalis identify these songs as the true expression of the Bengali culture. I had studied many of these songs, when I was learning classical music in Kolkata and their range and liberalism baffled me. His expertise with Indian raagas and his selective usage of western melody (Purano Shei Diner Kotha) made him one of the greatest songwriters of all time. His Nobel Prize for literature was awarded to him for a collection of song offerings, ‘Geetanjali’ and his efforts in the Bengali Renaissance is legendary, in fact it can be stated that he was the main protagonist of this renaissance.
More than his literary talents, it was his mental viewpoint which made him the visionary he was. Tagore was against the general ideologies of the Mahatma, who believed in the ideas of ahimsa. Tagore’s views portrayed knowledge to be the supreme nation builder. His teaching are still taught in the cultural university of Vishwa Bharati. Shantiniketan is the footmark of his achievements and traditions which he described so elaborately in his lifetime. His views about nation building can be properly understood by this poem of his.
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
There is so much that isn’t covered in the many pages of history. Rabindranath Tagore was a voluble foodie and his paintings adorn some of the most famous galleries in the world. He liked travelling and he was a true internationalist. On the occasion of Tagore’s 154th birth anniversary, Slovenia, a country of just two million people in Central Europe, has planned multifarious ceremonies in his honour from May 7-12. He has composed the national anthems of two nations, India and Bangladesh, and he remains equally adored on either side of the border. His songs are still remastered and re-covered, with different musical instruments and his plays and stories are adopted into wonderful adaptations on-stage and off it. Such was his work, which inspires popular cultures 154 years after his birth, to sit back and take notice. His genius is unparalleled, his humility is transcendental and his literature is awe-inspiring. My respects to the Gurudeb.