Tapan Shahed

Has science answered all the crucial questions that man has been asking for millenniums? Has technology been enough for bringing us peace, or, even comfort? Does man know―with all of his knowledge and information―what he ultimately wants? Do we know where we are winding up? The answers are―no, no, no, and no. There are ‘no’s all over.But still there have been ‘yes’s too. Still there have been centres of belief that hold the existence of the species on earth.Humanity―in all of its senses;love―for everything that exists; God.To some, these three are, however, one. Rabindranath Tagore, specially, was one of them who believed in that oneness.

In the introduction to one of his books―Rabindranath: Kathasahitya (“Rabindranath:Fiction”)―Buddhadeva Bose, a major poet, critic and patron of Bangla literature,elaborated on the vastness of Tagore’s writings. He rightly observed that any reader, trying to conceive Rabindranath as a whole, will be faced with that immensity―both in magnitude and range. And, the fact that, nearlyevery writing of Rabindranath is indispensable to understand him as a whole is not a mere question of quantity, but also a mark of gradual lifelong evolution. So Buddhadeva wisely summarized―”…his [Rabindranath’s] greatness lies is in hisentirety.” He is not extractable from any of his line or stanza taken apart, or from a single poem, even from an entire book of any kind. Rabindranath was not a prodigy, nor even a rebel. He proceeded, in his long journey as a wordsmith, slowly, and in a much disciplined way, for he would have to go far. This earnest belongingness to writing and to life had come from his belief in humanity. And it was that special sense of ‘humanity’ which created his personal God―his Jibandevata.

While introducing Rabindranath, one must mention that, he was the solo performer on the stage of art—counting almost all of its forms—in an era of the history of Bengal. He was the pioneer of almost everything in the romantic age of Bangla literature.

In a nutshell, Rabindranath has been the only lyricist even till now with such variations in form and mood, with so many changing of course following the time he lived in and the accomplishment he exhibited. He introduced the literary form—short story—in Bangla and until recently he has been the most successful author of that form of fiction. The subject matter of his short stories has a wide variety, ranging from love to terror, from insignificant daily life to the supernatural, from human mind to the mystery of nature. He introduced the practice of adopting thoughtfulness into Bangla novel, unlike the so-called pioneer of the form of fiction, Bankimchandra, who imposed but his simple social values on his novels and historical fantasies.He is the most original dramatist in the sense of making it literature rather than a script for acting out on stage. The uniqueness of Tagore’s drama is that his philosophy has been transformed into conversations so poetically and naturally.His non-fiction writings are still bearing relevant in not only the context of Bengal or India, but for the whole world and what have not they included!He introduced many forms of musical presentation, in some cases combined with drama—Nrityanatya, Gitinrityanatya, Gitinatya.As Buddhadeva Bose, one of the five major poets of post-Rabindranath modernist age, noticed in the introduction to the collection of poems of SudhindranathDatta, Bose’s fellow poet: Jamidar, Religious guru, educational activist, patriot, promoter of villagers, philanthropist—all of his identities has been moulded into the basic one—the poet. But having been the only maker of the romantic-mystic age of Bangla poetry and lifting it up to the standard of that of the world poetry, Rabindranath himself had expressed suspicion about the existence of his poetry for long in the poem 1400 Saal(Bangla year of 1400). And he admitted in another poem:

                My poetry, I know,

                Though explored many lands

                Yet it failed to reach everywhere.

But he was most confident about his songs. He was sure to survive extinction, through his songs, from the memory of the people on earth. In GeetabitanRabindranath categorized his songs in four major classifications. They are puja(worship), swadesh(motherland), prem(love) and prakriti(the nature). Two more are included also: bichitro(miscellaneous) and Aanushthanik(occasional). Very often, the songs cross their boundaries set by their creator himself—love turns to worship, worship to love. Even praising the beauty and the greatness of nature often turn to praise God. And so diverse is his song in subject, mood, tune, occasion and style. There is earnest self-submission to God like in the poem:

  Pluck this little flower and take it, delay not! I fear lest it droop and drop into the dust.

  It may not find a place in thy garland, but honour it with a touch of pain from thy hand and pluck it. I fear lest the day end before I am aware, and the time of offering go by.

  Though its colourbe not deep and its smell be faint, use this flower in thy service and pluck it when there is time.

                                  [The English Gitanjali: No.Ⅵ]

And proud either:

  You came down from your throne and stood at my cottage door.

  I was singing all alone in a corner, and the melody caught your ear. You came down and stood at my cottage door.

  Masters are many in your hall, and songs are sung there at all hours. But the simple carol of this novice struck at your love. One plaintive little strain mingled with the great music of the world, and with a flower for a prize you came down and stopped at my cottage door.

                  [The English Gitanjali: No.XLIX]

Tagore’s literature contains the biography of himself—as Abanindranath, the poet’s nephew and a great painter and aesthetician of the modern age, had once commented to Rani Chanda, one of the famous admirers and intimate friends of old-age Rabindranath. But the biography is the one of his internal life, which he had lived in mind through the experiences—sorrow, joy, exhaustion, confusion, pain. Tagore’s song does not tell us of the Indian philosophy—everything is joy—but they conceive the endless process of converting sorrow into joy.

We should take a look at an example of his belongingness to life, in his own words, a documentation of extreme belief in and devotion to human spirit, that created his own kind of theism. In the preface to his autobiographical writing Jabansmriti(memoirs of life), Rabindranath writes, “The path of my internal life gradually has turned easy to walk on as Ihave repeatedly went onincarnating, with the instruments of language, my moments of delightilluminated withbeauty, and thus shaping them for permanence.If I had wastedthemaway for momentary pleasure, they would remain as obscure and distant mirages to me, and would never be, day by day, as well-manifest with such strength of belief and in such obvious feelings, as I now have them.”

This degree of self-consciousness, control over himself, and unshaken maintenance of those rarities as a writer from the beginning prove Rabindranath as one of the strongest believer of life, and of the humankind. Yet he had a God, though in no way concerned with a conventional religion. And now we can explain the Rabindranath’s sense of God and human soulreflected in his writing.

Man has been making an ever-going journey to being made; this is his personal history, and this endless process has been incarnated in the image of a flowing river in Tagore’s literature.  

In the novel by Rabindranath Chaturanga, Sribilash, the protagonist, said, “We must be sailing through the joy and sorrow of life.” Two years after the novel had appeared, Rabindranath wrote to a fan’, “When we think too high of ourselves, we feel the burden of life; then the waves of joy and sorrow stirs our lives beyond bearing. If we see ourselves and our daily-life matters from a distance and apart from our true-self, then life becomes easy to live on.” Tagore’s literature is the history of pilgrimage from the burden of life to the ‘true-self’—with all of its successes and failures. So he can sing the Bramhasangit in a kirtan tune:

  Whatever duty you have conferred upon me, you have made so easy.

  All that rubbish I have piled up myself, have been burdening me.

  Bless me to get rid of this burden, O my friend—

  And stop the bewildered run I have to be making with this load.

  What sorrow I fetch myself that hit me like a bolt of thunder—

  And leaves me burnt down, so there can grow no crops in the land of my heart.

  What alms you give me, is harvested out of sorrow

  That fructifies my life like a tree with the shower of the Monsoon.

  I gathered up everything I availed to get—

  Everyone asks me for accounts of that, none to leave me in peace.

  Bless me to get rid of this burden, O my friend—

  And stop the awful run I have to be making with this load.

(Tumijatobhardiechho, author’s translation)

From a hotel in Vienna, Tagore wrote a letter on 23 October 1926,”here is now about 3 O’ clock at midnight—there are clouds in the sky that have deepened the darkness. I feel an unbearable throb to flee from myself. But to where? That is to music from noise.” Fifteen years before writing this letter, Rabindranath wrote the song included in Gitimalya and later in the English Gitanjaliby the poet himself:

No more noisy, loud words from me—such is my master’s will. Henceforth I deal in               whispers. The speech of my heart will be carried on in murmurings of a song.

Men hasten to the king’s market. All the buyers and sellers are there. But I have my untimely leave in the middle of the day, in the thick of work.

Let then the flowers come out in my garden, though it is not their time; and let the midday bees strike up their lazy hum.

Full many an hour have I spent in the strife of the good and the evil, but now it is the pleasure of my playmate of the empty days to draw my heart on to him; and I know not         why is this sudden call to what useless inconsequence!

[English Gitanjali: No.LXXXIX]

Thus, Rabindranath, in sorrow and grief, in loss and pain took shelter in the consolation of his own writings throughout his life. So, wisely, ShankhaGhosh, the renowned poet, literary critic and theorist and Rabindranath-specialist, said in theessay GaanerMadhyeNatokcollected in his book ChhandomoyJibanpublished in 1986, “How one can heal his own wound on himself, the pain can be removed by self-consolation, Tagore’s song shows the way of that redemption(And, the same can be said about his whole literature).”Here, Tagore’s literature has to do with his almost unique sense of religion and God.

Rabindranath’s religionis characterized by his conceptions of truth and eternity, as they are found in a conversation of him with Einstein in 1930, at the age of 70. Rabindranath, in that conversation, asserted his God as “…one eternal entity.” He believed, “We have to realize it through our emotions and activities. We realize the supreme man, who has no individual limitations, through our limitations.” While Einstein the physicist believed in a religiousGod independent of human factors and the physical truth, Rabindranath’s one was purely human(So at one stage of the conversation, Einstein claimed himself to be ‘more religious’ than Rabindranath was!). Rabindranath believed that truth, like beauty, was man-dependent. This view of truthis reflected in his famous poemAmi (Me):

It was the colour of my consciousness that made the emerald green,

                                and the ruby red.

                I opened my eyes to the sky―

                andthere was light

                                in the east and in the west.

                I looked at the rose, and said, ‘beauty’―

                                and she turned a beauty.

Rabindranath’s down-to-earth, personalspiritual stand isillustrated in the following two poems:

On the Shore of Rup-Naran                                                             

On the shore of Rup-Naran                                                              

                                    I woke up;                                                                                        

And learned this world                                                       

                was not a dream.

I saw my true self unraveled

as the letters in blood―   

I knew myself

through the strikes of life

and through my agonies;

      I knew that the truth has no mercy,

I loved the merciless―

for, he deceives none.

The Dark Nights of Sorrow

The dark night of sorrow

came to my door time and again;

with its only weapon that I saw―

an ugly pretend pain, the hideous faces of panic―

                                It deceived me in the dark.

Whenever I believed its masks of fear

   I was defeated needlessly.

This game of defeat and win, this false illusion of life,

walked alongside me since the childhood;

                This fear made fun of me pretending sorrow.

                Horrible movies of fear―

                the perfect art of death in the scattered darkness.

Almost unexceptionally, Rabindranath’s human God is for what are good and beautiful, and for peace―both of the individuals, and the human race.For, Rabindranath’s God is a perfect and absolute form of human entity. Seeing inversely―God’s existence; Hisfigure, will, affection, reproach, longing,and love is manifested fragmentarily in man. So, in Rabindranath, man and God are inseparable. They are mutually dependent. Rabindranath’s God is collective, but still conceivable and acceptable personally. And, like God, man’s existence is also eternal for Rabindranath. The questions of creation and dissolution are quite irrelevant for him. What is the truth and immortal, is only the existence. The very base of Rabindranath’s unshakable belief is rooted in this sense of eternality. This belief gave birth to his ideas of good, beauty, perfection and peace. Death, sufferings, separation―everything is only apparent, not real, becausehuman existence is eternal. All of those are nothing but manifestations of God’splay with man.

Rabindranath’s beliefs may be deeply flawed by his lack of knowledge of physical science―the Big-Bang theory, the birth and death of time and space, the uncertainty of the physical universe theorized by the Quantum Mechanics, the Dark Matter factor for the destiny of the universe and so on. But undoubtedly,his is a world of human beings in harmony with the other creatures and things in the world. He believed, and justly,in a roll of science in separating man from nature, peace from humankind. And, whenever he prays for peace to his personal God, he is praying to the humankind itself. This is the much needed thing for today’s world―deeply sunk in turmoil and conflict.  

Writer : Associate Professor, Bangla [OSD, DSHE]

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