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Of Myself (Atmaparichay)
Of Myself (Atmaparichay)
Description
About the Book

In these six essays that were collected in a volume after the author’s death, the reader is a privileged listener. A discussion of the deepest aspirations of the poet is resumed on occasion over four decades. Rabindrariatli Tagore speaks of his fragmentary encounters with truth and the poetry of Creation, and of a continuous adaptation to the world. An essentially philosophical quest becomes intelligible in the context of his own poetry and other writings and through reference to his 11% and times. ‘Atmaparichay’ is a searching reflection on the creative process by a man who remained creative till the end of his lifc. Fame did not blind the inner sight; he ‘fashioned from the fire’ the ever.renewing gift of his art. These’ essays present a rare engagement whit ltfe, so that we present a rare engagement with life, so that we have, if not an autobiography, then the essence of it. And through all this the glimmer of a unity and a direction can be seen.

Published originally in 1943, 'Atmaparichay' appears now in English for the first time. It has been translated from the Bengali by Devadatta Joardar and Joe Winter.

Introduction

Rabindranath Tagore died in 1941 in the family home in Calcutta where he had been born eighty years before. Many alive now recall the event. The death was not unexpected but the shock to Bengal was seismic. It was a life that belonged to Bengal and beyond, to India and beyond, to the world and beyond — to creation. A distance of just over sixty years may not be enough for a full picture to settle. But we are at a juncture, perhaps, when Tagore has outlived his labels and his life and work can emerge in a fresh light. ‘Romantic poet’, ‘Upanishad sage’, ‘Baul’. with other terms both more and less flattering, have tended to obscure the view. These few essays, first published as a collection in 1943, tell something of the man. The inner sight that directed the outer life is revealed, to a degree; so that we have, if not an autobiography, then the essence of it.

The outer life — what he did, what he manifestly was — as lives go was extraordinary. An excellent account in English is ‘Rabindranath Tagore: a Biography’ by Krishna Kripalani (first published by Oxford University Press, London and the Grove Press, New York in 1962). Tagore’s writings are abundant and prodigiously expressive, yet free from the strain of effort and self-consciousness. His poetry is unequalled in lyric scope and variety. His novels, short stories, dramas of prose and verse and dance, and his penetrating essays and studies on a vast array of topics, are all informed by the springs of a great poetic mind. His more than two thousand songs form a unique branch of Indian music. They are among his finest poetry. In later life he turned his hand to painting and is seen as one of those who took Indian art into the modern world. All this was only a part of the man and indeed only a part of the poet. He was an educationalist (founding and teaching at a school and university), a social activist, a nationalist and internationalist alike. In this last respect he was ahead of the time and perhaps still is. There is more to be said of his reforming spirit, that touched on matters large and small, so that life seemed almost to take in him a new direction; and yet to say more is not to the present purpose. The outer life in a sense is incidental to the inner vision. In these six pieces, written at widely-differing intervals over his later decades, we are close to Rabindranath Tagore at his most introspective.

The first piece came out in a collection called ‘Bangabhashar Lekhak’ (‘Writers of the Bengali Language’) in 1904. Tagore had been asked to write an account of himself and responded significantly. Later he was twice to publish a more conventional autobiographical sketch, each on his early life. They are charming and at times moving, but far removed from the search for a defining statement of the poet in him, that he now undertook. Later, too, he was to complain that what was written about his life missed the point. ‘Where is the poet?’ He is here, and in the succeeding pieces, all of which, on their various occasions, carry the response of a writer’s soul.

The title strikes a fine balance between inner and outer. ‘Atmaparichay’ is literally ‘self-introduction’ and more naturally ‘of myself’. Tagore is always accessible; if he speaks of inward matters he is not esoteric; and the collection is important precisely in that it brings something hidden into the public domain. The account by one man of a poetic vocation is authentic.

He is one of the great prose-writers too, by the standards of any language. Even before his poetry was to mature, he wrote prose with a precocious majesty, wit and composure. It was in his hands that Bengali was to pass into the modem age and the written and spoken word fuse into a usable form of excellence. Able to explore the horizons of language both in prose and verse, he seems to have felt acutely what lay beyond expression. He was to pronounce in a late poem that he would depart with ‘the dishonour of unflowered utterance’ upon him. It is perhaps from the sense of an area beyond knowing, where words fall short, that Tagore drew his primal certainties.

There is a discussion in the first piece of ‘jibandebata’. Literally ‘life-god’, the word was Tagore’s own and the concept of deep importance to him. (He quotes from a poem of his of that title.) It resists definition, yet may in part be said to be a guiding presence in life, to be discovered in ever-new revelation. In the third piece, that is specifically to do with his religion, he finds no need for the word. One has to be careful of the facile use of words and ideas in considering Tagore; for as he makes clear he eschewed the ‘secondary injunctions’ of religion and its easy labels. He is a humanist rooted in the Brahmo faith (a breakaway movement from traditional Hinduism) and in the Vedas and Upanishads of Sanskrit scripture. But as he wrote to a friend, ‘Can you squeeze me behind any one religious boundary?’ In these essays, seeking to present something of the self, he refers naturally to what is familiar and personal to him, to his poetry, to several Sanskrit slokas, and at one point to ‘jibandebata’. The Bengali verses that he quotes, all his own, are central to the discussion. In translating them care has been taken to preserve the structural balance; and to allow the lyric impulse to add its freshness to the meaning. Perhaps one can see the poet’s religion as a river that never ceased to nourish the creative ground. In speaking of it he uses the idea of a personal Being and the translators regret their use of He for the pronoun: Bengali is able to stay neutral in the matter. Any .other use in English is forced after a time, which is not what the author would have wished.

The second piece, that touches on a poet’s rewards, was read out by Tagore at a public meeting held in honour of his fiftieth birthday. It was published in the periodical ‘Bharati’ later that year (1911). The third was in reply to a critical review of his religious beliefs. It was published in the periodical ‘Sabuj Patra’ in 1917. The fourth was an address at another birthday function, his seventieth, and printed in the periodical ‘Prabasi’ in 1931. The fifth was in response to a vast public recognition of the same event, read out to a gathering of students at the Senate Hall in Calcutta and printed in a booklet called ‘Pratibhashan’ (‘Reply’). The final piece appeared as he entered his eightieth year and came out in ‘Prabasi’ in 1940. It was written at Santiniketan.

If literature was a focus for his inner energies the village of Santiniketan was where Tagore’s practical life sought an ideal. In the deepest of ways he lived his life for his people. From 1901, when he started a school there, to his death, he worked continuously to let the creative currents of society find their freedom. In the closing passage of the final piece in this collection he is talking of the school, where lessons still are taken in the open. Santiniketan still has a touch of the forest retreat. The name means ‘quiet haven’ and the various endeavours the poet gave himself to in its locality have woven themselves into its soul. The university Tagore founded there in 1918, that he named Visva-Bharati, was a meeting-place for East and West. The name suggests an academy with the world and India at one and it drew lecturers from far and near. It remains a point of creative outreach and exchange. A many-tiered movement for development in local villages that the poet set in being still stands as a way forward. To all these projects a sense of Nature was critical; and he worked mightily for them all. But the school was always at his heart.

Atmaparichay’ is the rarest of personal records. In a somewhat fortuitous progression its pages present an engagement with life in the years of maturity. A heart of love, a mind at its service that can cut like a knife, and in some sense the spirit of a child are here. In all his many and varied original works Rabindranath lives again. In this, the first English translation of a journey that seems to go to the source of discovery itself, it is hoped that the breath of a child of the Earth is not lost.

We dedicate this translation to the memory of Devadas Joardar and of Jacob Miller.

We wish to thank Shyamasree La!, Susmita Bhattacharya, Buddhajiban Chakrabarti, Subhas Choudhury and Sankha Ghosh for their generous assistance.

Contents

Introduction (i)
11
218
323
448
551
666
Poem-titles and Volume-titles75
Quotations from Tagor’s Poetry77
Quotations from the Sanskrit79
Notes81

Of Myself (Atmaparichay)

Item Code:
NAD606
Cover:
Paperback
Edition:
2009
Publisher:
Visva-Bharati
ISBN:
9788175224001
Size:
8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Pages:
89
Other Details:
Weight of the Book: 174 gms
Price:
$20.00   Shipping Free
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About the Book

In these six essays that were collected in a volume after the author’s death, the reader is a privileged listener. A discussion of the deepest aspirations of the poet is resumed on occasion over four decades. Rabindrariatli Tagore speaks of his fragmentary encounters with truth and the poetry of Creation, and of a continuous adaptation to the world. An essentially philosophical quest becomes intelligible in the context of his own poetry and other writings and through reference to his 11% and times. ‘Atmaparichay’ is a searching reflection on the creative process by a man who remained creative till the end of his lifc. Fame did not blind the inner sight; he ‘fashioned from the fire’ the ever.renewing gift of his art. These’ essays present a rare engagement whit ltfe, so that we present a rare engagement with life, so that we have, if not an autobiography, then the essence of it. And through all this the glimmer of a unity and a direction can be seen.

Published originally in 1943, 'Atmaparichay' appears now in English for the first time. It has been translated from the Bengali by Devadatta Joardar and Joe Winter.

Introduction

Rabindranath Tagore died in 1941 in the family home in Calcutta where he had been born eighty years before. Many alive now recall the event. The death was not unexpected but the shock to Bengal was seismic. It was a life that belonged to Bengal and beyond, to India and beyond, to the world and beyond — to creation. A distance of just over sixty years may not be enough for a full picture to settle. But we are at a juncture, perhaps, when Tagore has outlived his labels and his life and work can emerge in a fresh light. ‘Romantic poet’, ‘Upanishad sage’, ‘Baul’. with other terms both more and less flattering, have tended to obscure the view. These few essays, first published as a collection in 1943, tell something of the man. The inner sight that directed the outer life is revealed, to a degree; so that we have, if not an autobiography, then the essence of it.

The outer life — what he did, what he manifestly was — as lives go was extraordinary. An excellent account in English is ‘Rabindranath Tagore: a Biography’ by Krishna Kripalani (first published by Oxford University Press, London and the Grove Press, New York in 1962). Tagore’s writings are abundant and prodigiously expressive, yet free from the strain of effort and self-consciousness. His poetry is unequalled in lyric scope and variety. His novels, short stories, dramas of prose and verse and dance, and his penetrating essays and studies on a vast array of topics, are all informed by the springs of a great poetic mind. His more than two thousand songs form a unique branch of Indian music. They are among his finest poetry. In later life he turned his hand to painting and is seen as one of those who took Indian art into the modern world. All this was only a part of the man and indeed only a part of the poet. He was an educationalist (founding and teaching at a school and university), a social activist, a nationalist and internationalist alike. In this last respect he was ahead of the time and perhaps still is. There is more to be said of his reforming spirit, that touched on matters large and small, so that life seemed almost to take in him a new direction; and yet to say more is not to the present purpose. The outer life in a sense is incidental to the inner vision. In these six pieces, written at widely-differing intervals over his later decades, we are close to Rabindranath Tagore at his most introspective.

The first piece came out in a collection called ‘Bangabhashar Lekhak’ (‘Writers of the Bengali Language’) in 1904. Tagore had been asked to write an account of himself and responded significantly. Later he was twice to publish a more conventional autobiographical sketch, each on his early life. They are charming and at times moving, but far removed from the search for a defining statement of the poet in him, that he now undertook. Later, too, he was to complain that what was written about his life missed the point. ‘Where is the poet?’ He is here, and in the succeeding pieces, all of which, on their various occasions, carry the response of a writer’s soul.

The title strikes a fine balance between inner and outer. ‘Atmaparichay’ is literally ‘self-introduction’ and more naturally ‘of myself’. Tagore is always accessible; if he speaks of inward matters he is not esoteric; and the collection is important precisely in that it brings something hidden into the public domain. The account by one man of a poetic vocation is authentic.

He is one of the great prose-writers too, by the standards of any language. Even before his poetry was to mature, he wrote prose with a precocious majesty, wit and composure. It was in his hands that Bengali was to pass into the modem age and the written and spoken word fuse into a usable form of excellence. Able to explore the horizons of language both in prose and verse, he seems to have felt acutely what lay beyond expression. He was to pronounce in a late poem that he would depart with ‘the dishonour of unflowered utterance’ upon him. It is perhaps from the sense of an area beyond knowing, where words fall short, that Tagore drew his primal certainties.

There is a discussion in the first piece of ‘jibandebata’. Literally ‘life-god’, the word was Tagore’s own and the concept of deep importance to him. (He quotes from a poem of his of that title.) It resists definition, yet may in part be said to be a guiding presence in life, to be discovered in ever-new revelation. In the third piece, that is specifically to do with his religion, he finds no need for the word. One has to be careful of the facile use of words and ideas in considering Tagore; for as he makes clear he eschewed the ‘secondary injunctions’ of religion and its easy labels. He is a humanist rooted in the Brahmo faith (a breakaway movement from traditional Hinduism) and in the Vedas and Upanishads of Sanskrit scripture. But as he wrote to a friend, ‘Can you squeeze me behind any one religious boundary?’ In these essays, seeking to present something of the self, he refers naturally to what is familiar and personal to him, to his poetry, to several Sanskrit slokas, and at one point to ‘jibandebata’. The Bengali verses that he quotes, all his own, are central to the discussion. In translating them care has been taken to preserve the structural balance; and to allow the lyric impulse to add its freshness to the meaning. Perhaps one can see the poet’s religion as a river that never ceased to nourish the creative ground. In speaking of it he uses the idea of a personal Being and the translators regret their use of He for the pronoun: Bengali is able to stay neutral in the matter. Any .other use in English is forced after a time, which is not what the author would have wished.

The second piece, that touches on a poet’s rewards, was read out by Tagore at a public meeting held in honour of his fiftieth birthday. It was published in the periodical ‘Bharati’ later that year (1911). The third was in reply to a critical review of his religious beliefs. It was published in the periodical ‘Sabuj Patra’ in 1917. The fourth was an address at another birthday function, his seventieth, and printed in the periodical ‘Prabasi’ in 1931. The fifth was in response to a vast public recognition of the same event, read out to a gathering of students at the Senate Hall in Calcutta and printed in a booklet called ‘Pratibhashan’ (‘Reply’). The final piece appeared as he entered his eightieth year and came out in ‘Prabasi’ in 1940. It was written at Santiniketan.

If literature was a focus for his inner energies the village of Santiniketan was where Tagore’s practical life sought an ideal. In the deepest of ways he lived his life for his people. From 1901, when he started a school there, to his death, he worked continuously to let the creative currents of society find their freedom. In the closing passage of the final piece in this collection he is talking of the school, where lessons still are taken in the open. Santiniketan still has a touch of the forest retreat. The name means ‘quiet haven’ and the various endeavours the poet gave himself to in its locality have woven themselves into its soul. The university Tagore founded there in 1918, that he named Visva-Bharati, was a meeting-place for East and West. The name suggests an academy with the world and India at one and it drew lecturers from far and near. It remains a point of creative outreach and exchange. A many-tiered movement for development in local villages that the poet set in being still stands as a way forward. To all these projects a sense of Nature was critical; and he worked mightily for them all. But the school was always at his heart.

Atmaparichay’ is the rarest of personal records. In a somewhat fortuitous progression its pages present an engagement with life in the years of maturity. A heart of love, a mind at its service that can cut like a knife, and in some sense the spirit of a child are here. In all his many and varied original works Rabindranath lives again. In this, the first English translation of a journey that seems to go to the source of discovery itself, it is hoped that the breath of a child of the Earth is not lost.

We dedicate this translation to the memory of Devadas Joardar and of Jacob Miller.

We wish to thank Shyamasree La!, Susmita Bhattacharya, Buddhajiban Chakrabarti, Subhas Choudhury and Sankha Ghosh for their generous assistance.

Contents

Introduction (i)
11
218
323
448
551
666
Poem-titles and Volume-titles75
Quotations from Tagor’s Poetry77
Quotations from the Sanskrit79
Notes81
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