Where the Mind is without Fear…
Aaji hote shotoborsho pore
Ke tumi porisho boshe amar kobitakhani
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.
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.