BOOK REVIEW: RABINDRANATH by SUPRIYO TAGORE
BOOK REVIEW: RABINDRANATH by SUPRIYO TAGORE
Ananda Publishers: ISDN 81-7756-074-3
Books on life of Rabindranath Tagore and his various spheres of activities are so many that it is difficult to choose any particular book as favourite. But ‘Rabindranath by Supriyo Tagore’ naturally caught my attention, as Supriyo Tagore, or Supriyoda as we fondly call him was my principal at Patha Bhavana school and also because I, like many others, still maintain a fond touch with him in one way or other. So by natural instinct, I was fairly curious about this book. The book was first published in 2000AD, and the book is a relatively old collection of mine. I have not reviewed this book in our site; because the idea of reviewing of a book by the former principal of my school did not appear too easy (read:comfortable) for me. But after quite a few years, and reading the book in full and in patches several times; I feel the book ‘Rabindranath by Supriyo Tagore’ needs a very honest mention, as the book is unique in at least one aspect- it treats Rabindranath Tagore basically as a human being, rather than a famous poet, intellectual or educationist of modern India. This is perhaps the only book, which deals with the life of Rabindranath Tagore, not exactly from chronological viewpoint, but very much from a perspective of the journey of a talented and active human being.
The preface of the book, as displayed below, gives some idea about this.
Another good thing about this book is it is only about 130 pages of crisp and clean Bengali, without too much complication in structure of language or formats of expression. Interestingly, my rather limited experience on reading about Rabindranath in several formats like international journals, to hefty chronological biographies, to several debates on specialized activities of Rabindranath including his education policy, I discovered that the book ‘Rabindranath by Supriyo Tagore’ is the easiest one to read- which taught me more about the personality of Rabindranath than any other book. The very interesting human approach to treat ‘Rabindranath’ as a subject is a wonderful and unique attempt.
Information wise, the book is full of so many important observations on Rabindranath Tagore, that each hint in the book can be probed further for scholastic reasons, but this is certainly not a book for researchers to refer to. I can easily think of about 100 (infact more) such clues in this book, on which a research scholar can easily build the thesis and get a doctorate degree, though I do not know how much a doctorate on Rabindranath Tagore is valued in Indian educational circle apart from on his contribution in Bengali literature!
The reference of the Bramhins being imported to Bengal from Kanauj at the very introductory phase of the book appeared pretty intriguing to me (snap above). That would effectively mean that prior to the import of 5 Bramhin families from Kanauj, Bengal did not have any Bramhins in its fold! The idea appears pretty queer to me, and made me interested to know where from the particular caste ‘Bramhins’ originated- theoretically extrapolating the idea of the book, it would mean ‘Bramhins’ at some point of time were concentrated on few localities in India. What were those localities and why Bramhins thrived there- well, this can be an interesting side question, which arises in my mind. I shall be very happy if someone can throw some valuable light on this. I was never aware of Bramhins to be related to specific geographical locations ages’ back, where they were concentrated, perhaps for some divine reason.
This particular observation (snap above) on Rabindranath was the most revealing one for me. Being grown up and perhaps still growing under the sublimely direct and mostly time-corroded indirect influence of Rabindranath Tagore in Santiniketan over 4 conscious decades, interestingly I found the expression ‘restlessness of mind’ the most appropriate one to comprehend Tagore as a human being. That this ‘restlessness’ is also attributed as the strongest trait in his personality is amazingly significant. It is a sheer wonder to feel the whole gamut, beauty and significance of this ‘restlessness’ of a single human mind! That ‘restlessness’ can be so creative is also a great philosophical realization as a human being. Going through the book, it becomes amply clear that, barring the few last years of his life mostly due to health reasons, Rabindranath Tagore often used to feel fairly bogged down by the educational activities in Santiniketan and often used to move out to charge him up. However, wherever he went, his literary and musical activities went on just as usual. In fact he never stayed in Santiniketan continuously for long stretches of say about a year; moved off here and there on assignments or simply for the sake of it, but his school in Santiniketan rolled on. He actually planted an idea in Santiniketan, and often left the idea to evolve on its own, of course with his supervision even from a distance. At times the change in character of Santiniketan in his absence pained him too.
The reason for establishment of Siksha Satra becomes quite apparent in this context. The point to note is that Rabindranath allowed his institutions to evolve, even when the result was not exactly to his liking. This is the general trend that Visva Bharati followed right from its inception around 1919 to 1922, the University was allowed to form on a collective forum. Even at that very point of time Rabindranath Tagore was skeptical about the structural format of the University in several contexts, but still allowed it to be formed. A structured institution naturally had its limitations to fit in the rather holistic nature of educational principle of Rabindranath Tagore. But Rabindranath had the grace not to forcefully impose his ideas on a collective body, which he could have easily done. He only pleaded and preached and often tried to lead by example.
This particular attitude has two sides to it. Visva Bharati gradually became a more free flowing entity. The free flow of great ideas generated by Rabindranath Tagore, churned over time led by several Vice Chancellors now allowed Visva Bharati to settle in a mode where though Tagore remains the central idea the future direction of the institution is guided by University Grants Commission (UGC), a Central Government body overlooking higher education in India. It will not be inappropriate to mention here UGC has no Rabindranath Tagore specific higher education model, in fact no model of uniquely Indian origin, but is hard bent on following well established western models of higher education in present times. So, Visva Bharati today can no more be called a unique university in terms of the education offered.
So, it is debatable whether technically allowing Visva Bharati University freedom to chart it’s own course by Rabindranath Tagore at the very initial stage was really a wise move or not!
There can be a lengthy debate on this; but here the point is the book under review “Rabindranath by Supriyo Tagore’ allows the reader to have a skeptic glimpse at the initial phases of Visva Bharati University. The book remains fairly analytic in these respects, though often in the form of brisk observations. I would say this is also a fairly rare quality of the book, where Supriyo Tagore refrains from always painting a rosy picture of Santiniketan of olden times when Rabindranath was alive; which is a very common practice among the old timers!
Rabindranath had his contradictions too in his life like any other fallible human being! In fact like Supriyo Tagore, as a reader, I also could not really gauge why Rabindranath was so eager to marry off her daughters in early ages, quite in contradiction to the Bramha-clan of that era (where girls were generally allowed to get educated first and hence used to get married a bit late compared to the Hindus). Perhaps he was bit too worried about his duties as a father. Ironically either his daughters did not live long or had disturbed married life much to the sorrow of Rabindranath. These human aspects make the book touchy as well.
Needless to say, these weekly literary meets made all the school students fairly courageous and free to express their thoughts. Most importantly, as we all felt in school here, these literary meets allowed the kids to acquire the belief that they themselves also have something to say in this world otherwise entirely controlled by the sagacious grown ups! The stricture dished out by elderly logical reasoning never could hold fort in such literary meets, and we always enjoyed terribly unexpected and out-of-the-world expressions poured out by the kids! In reality, as grown ups, we still enjoy the abundant freedom of a kid when we attend those weekly literary meets in the schools of Santiniketan. The freedom of cognition was perhaps the greatest of gifts bestowed by Rabindranath Tagore to the kids of his school. In those days other schools never encouraged such supposedly frivolous activities. Today, though the scene has changed a lot, same kind of freedom in expression as a regular feature is still not available in most schools. These days what we have in schools are ‘Projects’ where the topic often remains free to some extent; the text is mostly borrowed!
The aftermath of Nobel Prize was pretty interesting too! Supriyo Tagore’s observation in this matter was certainly interesting reading. These sort of observations are normally absent in other books, as perhaps people do not feel like being too candid on these matters. What actually happened with the Nobel Prize money is another area which can easily deserve an academic probe even now. There are innumerable such instances in this book, which makes the reader more inquisitive according to one’s own choice of interest. For example, I am honestly piqued by the ‘First Bramhin imports to Bengal’ even though basically I have no interest in caste systems; and now the Nobel Prize money issue – this time probably because I work in a bank! A reader can similarly be interested in many other such aspects of Tagore & Santiniketan. The book is certainly very interesting reading.
Now, personally, I was fairly intrigued by the concept ‘Angel of Surplus’. Was Rabindranath himself an angel of surplus? Was Santiniketan, Sriniketan & Visva Bharati actually angels of surplus? Was the whole education policy of Rabindranath Tagore – the angel of surplus?
What is actually a ‘Surplus’? There is in fact much to contemplate about this in real terms. Generally speaking, today, societies across all globe are in insatiable need for something which we never really know- it may be money, it maybe intellect or plain happiness. But whatever it maybe, it is for sure that all seemingly impoverished societies of today are in urgent and insatiable need for one or all of these. Then where can be the surplus, and where can be the angel for such ever craving societies?
Well, one can go for deep pondering thoughts over this. But nowhere else, I came across a term ‘Angel of Surplus’ while reading about Rabindranath Tagore. It is a highly meaningful and beautiful concept never the less. I thank Supriyo Tagore for bringing this particular topic up in his book.
Along with such a gamut of activities as a pioneer thinker, poet and musician of Bengal, Rabindranath had a very involved relation with his educational institution too. On a hind thought, if he didn’t have to spend so much money to shape up his school and university he could have been a fairly rich person. The amount of mental agony and pain he had to suffer for his own institution in his own days makes the reader’s heart heavy. Rabindranath painted a certain kind of life here in Santiniketan and Sriniketan; if it was only painting it could have been preserved. But a painting in real life is pretty hard to sustain in the absence of the painter himself; because with him the live spirit of the painting departs too. If mere absence of Rabindranath Tagore for some period of time could create so much distortion, it is perhaps too hard a task for Visva Bharati to control the distortion after almost 70 years of his death.
There are a plethora of such topics in this book about which one can deliberate. The books strength is that it is a brisk reading; but perhaps it is also its weakness! Many times I wished the author could have contemplated and deliberated more on some matter; at the same time that would have made the book stupendously voluminous. Though the narration appears a bit hastened at parts; still the overall editing is excellent where Supriyo Tagore manages to touch almost all aspects of Tagore’s life in easy and comfortable Bengali. Though in preface, the author intends that the book be for general people; but in reality the book can be enjoyed chiefly by the people who are still associated with Rabindranath Tagore in one way or other. For everyone who is or was connected with Santiniketan & Sriniketan, or Visva Bharati the book is a must read, as it allows a rare human picture of Rabindranath Tagore. I never before really imagined about visualizing Rabindranath Tagore as a mortal human being, basically as I have grown up in Santiniketan under the now sublime but always prevailing aura of the ‘demi-god’ Rabindranath Tagore. Having an idea of Gurudeva, Rabindranath as a human being was a great realization for me and I honestly feel humbled at how a mortal human soul could gift so much to society.
Our profound thanks to Supriyoda, from all ex-students of Patha Bhavan & Visva Bharati, for such a wonderful job.