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Where the Mind is without Fear…

May 9, 2010

Aaji hote shotoborsho pore

Ke tumi porisho boshe amar kobitakhani

Koutuhol Bhore

Aaji hote shotoborsho Pore

(After a hundred years, who are you reading my poems with so much curiosity; even after a hundred years)

Its usually alleged how all Bengalis claim to have a relationship with Rabindranath Tagore and all his creations. It is also said that the only reason Bengalis claim to be culturally inclined is due to the vast pool of resources left behind by Tagore. Bengalis claim to sing his songs at every occasion, read his literature for fun, take their girlfriends/wives to the theatre to watch his plays and indulge in occasional gossip sessions on the different women in his life.

No Bengali cultural festival, be it in India or abroad is complete without Rabindrasangeet, Rabindrik dance recital (dance to Tagore’s songs), an elocution of his poetry and enactment of his plays. He is part of the identity that is Bengali, apart from Rosogolla, Phuchka, Nandan, Satyajit Ray, Amartya Sen and Bipasha Basu (ok, the last one was a joke).

But what do the new-age Bengalis themselves think?

At around class III/IV when I was heavily into elocution, I had committed a number of Tagore’s poems to my memory, while many of my classmates used to rue the length of the poems, featuring in our school curriculum. "They are so long, how am I going to study them for the exams?" used to be the common complaint. I once tried telling one of them that Tagore’ poems, just because of their song-like element, just required 2/3 patient and focussed reading and they would remain in the memory for life. This free bit of advice went unheeded. Today, just for the heck of it, I recited some of my most favourite Tagore poems and realised that I still remember every single word of them.

Chitto jetha bhoy sunno, uccha jetha shir

Gyan jetha mukto, jetha grih-er prachir 

Apan prangan tole dibashorbari, bosudha-re rakhe nai khondo khudra kori

(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)

Tagore, for the Gen-Y Bengalis, is passé. They would rather learn how to strum a guitar, pound the drums or scream their lungs out while singing modern ‘Bangla Band’ songs than take a course in Rabindrasangeet. I have absolutely nothing against the bangla bands, being a huge fan of ‘Chandrabindoo‘ myself, but it irks me to see that is what now only comprises of Bengali’s love for music. In an age of expired copyright over all his works, his music has been synchronised into many songs, giving the ‘old-Rabindrasangeet-songs’ a modern feel. The music of ‘Pagla Haowar Badal Din-e’ was used in the song ‘Bandhan khula, pancchi udaa’ of the movie Yugpurush. The lyrics and music of ‘Phool-e phool-e dhole dhole bahe kinba mridu bay’ was used as a hook ‘Phool phool bhawara dole, mann mein gunji teri yaad’ in the hit songs of the movie Parineeta. If Bollywood is what it takes now to popularise Tagore songs, so be it. Incidentally, both the directors of ‘Yugpurush’ and ‘Parineeta’ are Bengalis (Partho Ghosh and Pradeep Sarkar respectively). 

Not only for music, cinema has been instrumental in focussing the nation’s attention towards his literature too. Gone are the days when Satyajit Ray’s ‘Ghare Baire’ would generally stick to the script and pace of Tagore’s original, except for the climax. Rituparno Ghosh’s ‘Chokher Bali’ featuring Aiswarya Rai and Raima Sen among others, took so much cinematic liberty that I almost forgot that it’s based on a novel by Tagore. I am always sceptical about books being turned into movies (yes, even a Harry Potter book) and always enjoy literature more than the movie (with the only exception being The Lord of the Rings trilogy) but I was nothing short of shocked and disappointed at the treatment meted out by one of my favourite Directors in Bengali cinema to one of my favourite novels written by Tagore. I am all for cinematic creativity, but I could not agree to the completely different portrayal of the characters in the movie, which absolutely failed to depict the finer nuances of their personalities. I cannot claim that now I am exactly looking forward to Rituparna Ghosh’s cinematic version of Tagore’s ‘Nouka Doobi’ featuring the Sen sisters (Raima and Riya) together for the first time. 

chokher bali

I sometimes wonder what has remained of Tagore after 150 years of his birth.  Bengalis not only have forgotten his work, but also managed to lose his Nobel award. It is a real shame on our part that the stolen award could never be recovered even after CBI Enquiry and now we have to content with a replica.

The visionary reformer of education set up Viswa Bharati University and nurtured it with his ideals. He described it to Gandhi as "the vessel carrying the cargo of my life’s best treasure." News of corruption, nepotism and hooliganism now rampant in the university would have definitely saddened Tagore. It has already lost its past glory of being a foremost centre for learning for quite some time; but now it has also gained notoriety for all the wrong reasons.

Bengalis have always treated his ‘abode of peace’ as a weekend gateway, along with Puri, Digha and Darjeeling. But these days, it has become fashionable to build a weekend home in Shantiniketan. Bunglows have sprung up everywhere, and suddenly owning real estate in Shantiniketan is a trend for the affluent Bengalis. It serves both purpose – Bengalis can boast of ultra-intellectualism by owning a piece of plot there, while spending away their tax-evaded income.

While leafing through my copy of the whole set of ‘Rabindra Rachanabali’ published by the Viswa Bharati (the erstwhile owner of copyright), I remembered the condition of the books by Tagore presently published. These days, every publisher worth its salt comes up with a compilation of his works. They have lost the charm, quality and everything else associated with Tagore; they no more feel like a Collector’s item. The monopoly of Viswa Bharati is gone, but I wonder what has it left behind? 

There have been celebrations galore today, commemorating the Nobel Laureate on his 150th birth anniversary. But what is the need of the hour is not a few hours of song-and-dance festival; but to make the Gen-Y Bengalis aware of his vast creation. One who has not forged a relationship with Tagore, will never know his own indigenous cultural history.


I have grown up admiring his creations, especially literature and I am pained to observe today’s young people, who have neither the respect nor the love that he always commanded and still deserves. This was my small tribute to the great Rabi Thakur.

30 Comments leave one →
  1. May 9, 2010 9:31 pm

    Tagore had an impact not only on Bengalis, but on all Indians, and over all peoples across the globe. He’s the only person in the world credited with authoring the national anthems of two countries, India and Bangladesh.

    I was in Standard IX, and it was my second trip to Shantiniketan. I was in the musuem there, when I suddenly saw my English teacher there…..he saw me too, smiled at me, and then read aloud a poem from a manuscript. Me, and my family, were left speechless with this awesome rendition of Tagore in flawless Bengali by a half English, half Portuguese man!! And that was the first time he let one of his students know that he knew the language, and knew it so well!!

    My personal favourite – Africa

    • debosmita permalink*
      May 10, 2010 10:15 am

      Sure, Tagore had an impact over people across the globe during his lifetime and beyond, but at present, how much of it is left?
      It was heartening to know about your half-English, half-Portugese teacher… People like him keep Tagore’s works alive.

  2. May 9, 2010 11:26 pm

    Being an ardent admirer of Tagore, it is quite interesting to know about the contemporary relevance of Tagore in this era of globalization particularly, in his homeland….
    You are correct when u said that abt those filmy liberty on tagore works….its happening with most of the greatest literature where they were being twisted to suit commercial interests in the name of artistic interpretation…
    Thanks for bringing out certain facets of Tagorisms…..besides, i never knew about the words said by Tagore on Gandhi….
    Tagore is more a universal person i guess which gets reflected in his writings and opinions on nationalism….

    Anyway…..Keep bringing more about the flavours of Bengal….

    • debosmita permalink*
      May 10, 2010 10:00 am

      Of course, you are correct when you say Tagore was more a universal person than just a Bengali; after all, as pointed above, he composed our national anthem…I was just being a little possessive about him, which is a universal Bengali trait 😉

      My whole point to make was how today’s Bengalis perceive him…

      Those words were spoken by him to Gandhi about Viswa Bharati University; not on Gandhi… think, you misunderstood them.

  3. Sroyon permalink
    May 10, 2010 12:07 pm

    I disagree with this post on so many points that I don’t feel like listing them out.

    • debosmita permalink*
      May 10, 2010 12:16 pm

      The disagreement must be strong enough to elicit a comment from you! I would just say don’t judge it by the standard of yourself or people you know, who may still adore Tagore’s work as much as I do… There are loads of others who don’t, which made me write this post.

      Tell me your points of disagreements in details – here or elsewhere…

  4. Parama permalink
    May 10, 2010 2:51 pm

    the last line says that the article is yr small tribute to the great man…it would have been so much better if you could have spoken about the relevance of Rabindranath in the modern day context in a positive way….rather than talking about his decreasing importance. that could have been the best tribute on his 150th birthday…. there was so many good things to talk bout….i wished u had chosen all that!!

    • debosmita permalink*
      May 10, 2010 2:58 pm

      I didn’t speak for once of his decreasing importance; its my personal feeling that he is somehow fading from the memories of Gen-X Bengalis… This post was an attempt to discuss the issue and how his works are ubiquitous even today.
      An attempt to bring him back to relevance was my tribute…

  5. May 10, 2010 8:15 pm

    Well said. I remember listening to Rabindra sangeet by one of my classmates and it was so heavenly although I don’t understand bengali 🙂
    His poems are classics but somewhere down the lane we have all forgotten to respect our heritage which is just so very sad 😦

    • debosmita permalink*
      May 13, 2010 5:48 pm

      Glad to know that you loved Rabindrasangeet despite the language barrier 🙂 That is the best feature of his music – that you don’t need to understand Bengali to appreciate it.

  6. May 12, 2010 9:02 am

    Gosh ! …. u wrote to so well …. that exactly what i feel (every word of it) …. today’s youngester r losing their knowledge about the great man …. bengali heritage n culture is so rich ….. if they (the youngester) love n befieve in it ….. this richness will continue forever …. but i guess they r not ….. they re busy adopting bollywood trends – following the west …. at home we r still very much Bengali …. n i m very proud about it 🙂

    • debosmita permalink*
      May 13, 2010 5:49 pm

      Thank you so much 🙂

  7. May 12, 2010 3:25 pm

    Good post! I’m not bengali, but from what I’ve understood Tagore, even among Gen X like you put it, he is still a very very inspirational figure. Incidentally, from personal knowledge I can tell you for a fact that several Bengali bangla rock musicians still find their soul and poetic inspiration from Tagore’s works. Also Tagore is such quintessential Bengali icon, the people can never ever dare disregard or allow him to fade from their minds! 🙂

    • debosmita permalink*
      May 13, 2010 5:53 pm

      Welcome and thanks for your comments… I sincerely hope what you say is actually what it is – “Tagore is such quintessential Bengali icon, the people can never ever dare disregard or allow him to fade from their minds!” 🙂

      • May 15, 2010 12:10 am

        the ” Tagore is such quintessential” bit was a typo from me and im glad you brought it to my notice in your sweet witty way 🙂 That apart, i hope you stop hoping, but realise the reality that Tagore can never fade away from Bengal. Its impossible. To be highly unoriginal lets just say “you can take never take Tagore out of a bengali, even if you took the bengali out of Santiniketan” 🙂

      • debosmita permalink*
        May 15, 2010 9:59 am

        Amen to what you say 🙂

  8. May 18, 2010 5:00 pm

    Beautiful!! What a delightful tribute to Tagore 🙂
    Btw, we are in the same team for the BPL contest 🙂

  9. May 27, 2010 1:50 pm

    well Tagore is one of those Indian’s of whom i’ll always boast about. Though i have always been an admirer of Bangala movies and culture………but i had never seen or read any of their work………

    first let me clear…..i hate reading books…….so that’s the first reason why i haven’t read any Bangala literature

    but i did watch “The Japanese Wife” last weekend which i loved………cause i directly watch movies……..that’s why i never see the comparison between Book and the movie…….and that’s my i love movies………

    anyways……best of luck to the contest………BPL……. \,,/

  10. Prasad permalink
    July 19, 2010 8:32 pm

    Good article and nicely written..
    There is a chapter in the language subject, in my school about Tagore, which is usually marked as an ‘important’ or FAQ in exams. It’s still there for the current batch! His torso statue is the entrance of our library along with Subramanya Bharathiyaar.
    My school is not a Bengali school, but a convent in Ooty owned by a Tamilan! The language subject is not english but Tamil!
    That greatness can only be achieved by few. I adore him by just reading the translations, but I can feel from yours that it’s still greater by reading in the mother tongue. You should be proud to be born on the same land of him!

    • debosmita permalink*
      July 23, 2010 9:51 pm

      Wow! Nice to know about your school… This is absolutely awesome 🙂 I do feel proud, like scores of fellow inhabitants of his land.

  11. KAM permalink
    August 11, 2010 9:28 am

    1. Famous Hindu mathematicians, poets, and philosophers: 

Aryabhatta (Kerala), Aryabhatta (Bihar), Bhaskara (Andhra), Brahmagupta (Gujarat), Susruta (North), Panini (Punjab), Kalidas (MP), Tansen (MP), Baiju Bawra (MP), Jayadeva (Orissa), Guru Nanak (Punjab), Buddha (Bihar), Mahavira (Bihar), Vatsyayana (Gujarat), Kabir (UP), Soordas (UP), Amir Khusrau (MP), Ramanuja (Tamil Nadu), Adi Shankara (Kerala), Mirabai (Rajasthan), Tulsidas (UP).


2. Famous Indian kings and emperors:

Ashoka (Bihar), Chandragupta Maurya (Bihar), Samudragupta (UP), Bimbisara (Bihar), Raja Raja Chola (Tamil), Akbar (Delhi), Krishna Deva Raya (Karnataka), Tipu Sultan (Andhra), Shivaji (Maharashtra), Kanishka (North India), Prithviraj Chauhan (Rajasthan), Vikramaditya (MP), Rani Lakshmiba of Jhansi (MP), Rajendra Chola (Tamil), Harsha (Haryana), Zamorin (Kerala), Ranjit Singh (Punjab).


3. Famous Indian battles: 

Kurukshetra (Haryana), Panipat (Haryana), Haldi Ghati (Rajasthan), Pataliputra (Bihar), Puru-Alexander (Punjab), Vijayanagar-Bahmani (Andhra-Karnataka), Ashoka-Kalinga (Orissa).


    4. Ancient Indian religious and philosophical centers:

Varanasi (UP), Tirupati (Tamil Nadu), Haridwar (Uttarakhand), Nashik (Maharashtra), Ujjain (MP), Dwarka (Gujarat), Puri (Orissa), Prayag (UP), Mathura (UP), Ayodhya (UP), Kanchipuram (Tamil Nadu), Gaya (Bihar).


    5. Classical Dances in India: 

Bharatanatyam (Tamil), Odissi (Orissa), Kuchipudi (Andhra), Manipuri (North East), Mohiniaattam (Kerala), Sattriya (Assam), Kathakali (Kerala), Kathak (Hindi states).


    6a. Ancient UNESCO world heritage sites:

Mahabodhi (Bihar), Hampi (Karnataka), Ellora (Maharashtra), Ajanta (Maharashtra), Mahabalipuram (Tamil Nadu), Konarak (Orissa), Khajuraho (MP).

6b. Medieval UNESCO world heritage sites: 

Qutb Minar (Delhi), Taj Mahal (UP), Red Fort (Delhi).

6c. Majestic palaces and forts: 

Lake palace, Udaipur (Rajasthan), Amber Fort (Rajasthan), Gwalior Fort (MP), Hawa Mahal (Rajasthan), Jantar Mantar (Delhi, Rajasthan). 

    6c. Ancient universities and monasteries: 

Nalanda (Bihar), Taxila (Punjab/Pak), Ratnagiri (Orissa), Sanchi Stupa (MP), Vikramashila (Bihar).


    Bengalis are 15-20% of the entire population of South Asia. Yet they accomplished NOTHING until the British came and gifted them with Kolkata city and modern education.

    These Bengalis profited from British invasion when the rest of India was ruined.

All Kolkata monuments are British gifts: Victoria memorial, Howrah bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Esplanade, etc. 

    Tagore, Bankim Chatterjee, Jagdish Bose – all a result of sycophancy towards the British. British sycophant Tagore wrote Jana Gana Mana only to kowtow to the British overlords. The only truly “patriotic” poem he wrote was for ANOTHER country (Bangladesh). The rest of the Bengali “freedom fighters” were only motivated by the partition of Bengal. They hadn’t raised a finger during 1857 when Mangal Pandey of UP had to lead the uprising in Kolkata.

    • souvik gupta permalink
      May 3, 2012 1:53 pm

      probably u r not fully correct. u havnt heard about the battle of Placcey ( Nawab Sirazzouddla Vs. Robert Clive). U dont have any idea about the works of Paul & Gour Kingdom of bengal. U dont know that Nalanda was not a part of bihar only, that time Bengal, Bihar and Orrisa was a single state. U dont know about the culture of bengal, do u know anything about Bhatiali, Palli Geeti, Baul? Have u ever heard the name of Vidyapati, Chandi Das? U r telling about the freedom fighting? Have u heard about Hool Revolution which was before seepoy Mutiny? do u know where it started.

      U dont know that bengal doesnt need a great king to make history. all people in bengal make history of their own by their intelligence, culture and skill. u have to visit Ajanta to see some art work. Visit bengal, the entire bengal is full of art work.

      • Sita Shankar. permalink
        January 22, 2013 10:42 am

        Well said.Also Chaitanya MahaPrabhu.Even Ancient India Vanga was a Major Kingdom,that was gifted to Karna in Mahabharatha Period.The Kind of Jingoism advocated by KAM isn’t good.Criticism & difference of Opinion is different,not same as taunting/abuse.

  12. December 25, 2011 8:10 pm

    A great mathematician. Without the inventions the world would be different.

  13. Sita Shankar. permalink
    January 22, 2013 11:02 am

    It is a strange coincidence that has brought me to your site today. All of Last year I had discovered Rabindrasangeet & its beauty through translation,thanks to you tube.My quest was started by my searching for a video of my Favourite Prayer song [from school,in Chennai] “Into that Heaven of Freedom my father”,which brought me to Geetanjali,and Rabindrasangeet.I realised that Geetanjali is a translation by Tagore of his Bengali compositions.this brought me back to my favourite song,wondering what , then, is the Bengali version of The song.,which took me to,which by the way is awonderful site promoting Rabindra Sangeet,who told be its bengali version is “Chitto jetha bhoy sunno, uccha jetha shir”.Now I am looking for the complete translitteration of this wonderful poem,of which there are many sites giving Translations[which I know] or the Bengali script versions[which as a non-Bengali],is difficult for me.So ,Please, can you post a complete transliteration odf this Poem? and if you know a link to its perfomed version[in Bengali],too.Thank you very much for this wonderful post.T
    Please don’t worry about youngsters not appreciating Rabindrasangeet.So many other cvaluable Poetry like the Thirukkural,or Subhashithams also go over their head.Thanks to the inter-net age & You-tube, I am able to listen,appreciate & even learn Rabindrasangeet.I am even able to understand Bengali as it is very similar to other Indian languages,once I got over the slight variation in our respective Pronounciations ! Cheers

  14. Sita Shankar. permalink
    January 22, 2013 11:04 am

    P.S. I had just realised that its Just over a 100years since Gitanjali got translated and Published in English,I don’t know if the event was observed by the Powers that be at either the Central or State level.This is the times we live in.

  15. May 8, 2013 3:28 am

    It was Tagore’s birthday yesterday. I felt Tagore in my blood even before I had read a single word written by him, and so when I read him – around standard 10th – he didn’t surprise me at all.

    Been remembering you for some days. Can’t say why. Wish you had written some more poetry for me to read.

    • debosmita permalink*
      June 15, 2013 9:48 pm

      I also wish I had written some more poetry 😦

  16. Subroto Sarkar permalink
    September 4, 2013 2:51 am

    Is the tune given by Mr. A.R.Rahaman is correct or not? I am bit confused.

  17. Igor Bekhart permalink
    February 2, 2016 11:01 pm

    I am very thankful to my friend Atanu Lahiri, who presented me the text of the poem.
    I’ve read Tagor’s poems with great delight. This one became my favourite one.
    Tagor is a great poet, everyone should learn his works.

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