Rabindranath Tagore was a larger than life personality – poet, philosopher, playwright, novelist, essayist, painter, composer and educator.
He was the first non Europeon to get a Nobel Prize in 1911, which he received as Nobel Prize in Literature for his collection of poems which were initially written in Bengali, but later translated in English by himself.
He is the only person who has the honour of being the lyricist of National Anthems of two countries –namely Jana Gana Mana of India and Shonar Bangla of Bangladesh.
He translated Shakespeare from English to Bengali in his teens. He also translated 100 poems of saint Kabirdas from Hindi to English in 1930s , hence familiarising Kabir as the most read Indian poet to the west in those times.
Rabindranath Tagore, was knighted with the title of ‘Sir’ when he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1911. However, after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1916, he gave up the knighthood in protest.
He, thrice, refused invitation to visit Canada in protest against the massacre of 376 native Indians in Komagat Maru incident in 1914. However, when he visited Canada at the invitation of National Council of Education to address at the triennial conference, Vancouver he made it a point to make his statement as follows:
“Canada must believe in great ideals. She will have to solve . . . the most difficult of all problems, the race problem.”
Tagore also had the opportunity to interact one on one with another ‘great’ of his times, namely Einstein. Their highly intellectual conversations are documented word to word. An excerpt from the dialogue of one of the three meetings is as follows:
TAGORE: Melody and harmony are like lines and colors in pictures. A simple linear picture may be completely beautiful; the introduction of color may make it vague and insignificant. Yet color may, by combination with lines, create great pictures, so long as it does not smother and destroy their value.
EINSTEIN: It is a beautiful comparison; line is also much older than color. It seems that your melody is much richer in structure than ours. Japanese music also seems to be so.
Y B Yeats another Nobel Laureatte oet who later wrote the Introduction of Tagore’s Geetanjili had the chance to read Tagore before he met him. He commented, ” I have carried these manuscripts with me for days, reading it in railway trains, on top of omnibuses, inrestaurants and often had to close it lest some stranger see how much it moved me.”
Gandhi and Tagore’s differences are famous and still debated. While Gandhi started a non cooperation movement against the British, Tagore remarked,” …there was a thin line between nationalism and xenophobia —besides, hatred of the foreigner could later turn into a hatred of Indians different from oneself.”
He was particularly sceptical of the claim that non-co-operation had or would dissolve Hindu-Muslim differences. And ultimately Tagore was proved right on this issue.
The two personalities met only twice, but kept a regular communication through articles and letters. And like two great human beings, they kept high regard for each other, despite differences.
Gandhi remarked: “Gurudev and I early discovered certain differences of outlook between us. Our mutual affection has, however, never suffered by reason 0 f our differences … ”
Another Nobel Peace Laureatte Aun San Su Kyi is another person who derives inspiration from Tagore. And claims her “most precious lesson” had been from Tagore: “If no one answers your call, walk alone.”( the above poem).
Apart from being a eastern mystic, Tagore was a visionary who articulated ideals of humanism, equality and freedom long before the League of Nations or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Tagore was one of the strongest critics of war and colonialism, fascism, and the dangers of narrow-minded nationalism.
In the 1920s, he had already identified racism as the greatest problem in a fast globalizing world.
Perhaps looking at today’s world he was accurate in his prediction, sadly though.
The following is a popular poem written by Rabindranth Tagore. The music for the song was also composed by him.
Jodi Tor Dak Soone Keu Na Asse
Tobe Ekla Chalo re
Ekla Chalo Ekla Chalo Ekla Chalore
Jodi Keu Katha Na Kai Ore Ore O Abhaga
Jodi Sabai Thake Mukh Firae Sabai Kare Bhay
Tabe Paran Khule
O Tui Mukh Fute Tor Maner Katha Ekla Balo re
Jodi Sabai Fire Jai Ore Ore O Abhaga
Jodi Gahan Pathe Jabar Kale Keu Feere Na Chay
Tobe Pather Kanta
O Tui Rakta Makha Charan Tale Ekla Dalo re
Jodi Alo Na Dhare Ore Ore O Abhaga
Jodi Jharr Badale Andhar Rate Duar Deay Ghare
Apaan Buker Panjar Jaliey Nieye Ekla Jalo re
English translation: *Touching words*
If they answer not to thy call WALK ALONE,
If they are afraid and cower mutely facing the wall,
O you unfortunate,
open thy mind and SPEAK OUT ALONE.
If they turn away, and desert you when crossing the wilderness,
O you unfortunate,
trample the thorns under thy tread,
and along the blood-lined track TRAVEL ALONE
If they do not hold up the light when the night is troubled with storm,
O you unfortunate,
with the thunder flame of pain ignite thy own heart
and let it BURN ALONE.