BY ANANYA S GUHA
Tagore’s universal relevance has never been properly estimated or appropriated. True, he is always remembered as our first Nobel Laureate but there have been many doubts about the quality of his poetry in English. The truth is that he wrote the ”Gitanjali” originally in Bengali, and the English translations were his. Perhaps the translations could not do justice to the original. William Radice’s translations later in the eighties were an eye opener to his poems, the dark colours inside and not simply a liturgy of the Divine as some made his poetry out to be. Yet in the ”Gitanjali” Tagore worked out the man-woman relationship subtly with the man, nature and the man-god relationship. This has also been overlooked. Tagore saw in relationships, a complex artefact: man, nature, god and love. Love being a primal concern from eternity to eternity sublimated in the Man-God relationship.
But the symbols of nature and darkness pervaded his poetry, lending it with mystical insights. There is always the premonition of something, someone, somewhere. The recurring motif of a woman, a lady pummelled his lines into the mysticism of love, not logic. Tagore’s ”Gitanjali” has an indefinable quality a total surrender to the infinite and the god head. It is not a religious text, but it’s depth of spirituality is quintessential in the context of his poetry. As the term denotes, these were soulful song renderings, as the poet saw a harmonic relationship between poetry and song. Tagore saw in poetry a condition aspiring towards music, as Gerard Manley Hopkins also saw in ‘inscape’ and ‘instress’.
The Nobel Prize is simply an iota of his recognition. In fact, this that is his recognition, should be for his overall contribution to literary genres, poetry, short fiction, drama, fiction, dance drama, painting and music. And then what about his superb writings in English, his essays on ”Internationalism”, and the Hibbert lectures later published into a book by Unwin publishers: ”Religion of Man”. Anyone who chooses to read this book will be delighted by a compendium of philosophy and religion, and in his essays on Internationalism a blend of political maturity, wisdom and philosophy. In fact, Tagore saw in nationalism limitations of the soul, because nationalism was in direct opposition to the oneness of humanity. This was his perplexing and much misunderstood world order.
In fact, his essays on Internationalism should be prescribed as texts for college and university students in the world. In English prose, Tagore was not prolix, but the language flowed like poetry. It is surprising therefore that the translations in ”Gitanjali” wavered. Perhaps he aimed at too literal a translation of the work and did not deviate into what P. Lal would call ‘transcreation’. The metaphysical transcendence that Tagore had in his thoughts is reflected in his songs and creative writing. The dance drama ”Tasher Desh” for example symbolically looks at a new civilization or humanity. Perhaps that was his dream- a world of transfiguration. The short stories have an underlying pathos which very few writers can touch or make inroads into. Post Master for example is one such rendering of silences in relationships, in this case between a young rustic girl and a Post Master who had come to the village on duty.”
Kabuliwallah” is another example of love beyond barriers. That, many of his stories have been adapted into films by people like Satyajit Ray and Tapan Sinha is a testimony to the universal quality of his short stories, which the late Khushwant Singh once dubbed (in Shillong) as ‘bad’ like his poetry!
The range of creativity that Tagore possessed was phenomenal. And it is this phenomenal aspect of his creativity that must be underscored, revered and highlighted – not simply as someone receiving an award. The genius of Tagore lay in his versatility as poet, novelist, song writer/ musician, dramatist and painter. He was indeed the later Renaissance figure, born in India, not Europe.