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Alien Homage (Edward Thompson and Rabindranath Tagore)

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Item Code: NAL231
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Author: E. P. Thompson
Language: English
Edition: 1998
ISBN: 9780195647464
Pages: 184
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
Weight 200 gm
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Book Description

This is a book which happened unbidden and unplanned. My father's long association with India left me the inheritor of his papers, which include more than 120 letters and postcards from Rabindranath Tagore. I made little use of these archives until 1986, when London hosted a conference and festival on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of Tagore's birth. I was pressed to contribute to these events, and eventually I went up to the attic of our house to see what was there. I came down some four months later with a first draft of this short book in my hand.

I must confess that I ought not to have written this book, as some critics may discover. It is constructed around the relations between Tagore and my father, Edward John Thompson (1886-1946), and some of the issues turn upon the presentation of the Bengali poet to the West and the translation of his poems into English. Yet I have no Bengali. But what I found in our attic was so rich that it urged its presentation. The documentation took me into an interface between Bengali and British cultures which is most unusual, if not unique. I have presented this as I found it, and have not attempted any large literary or political interpretations. This is left to the readers and to more qualified interpreters.

I have, however, benefited from much highly-qualified advice. For twenty-five years or more the archives have been visited by scholars, and I have benefited much from these visits. Early visitors were Narayani and Professor Partha Sarathi Gupta, who identified several Indian correspondents. Professor Barun De extended my understanding, read an early draft, and corresponded with me on many points, as did Professor Sumit Sarkar, who made available to me his own father's recollections. Professor Mary Lago, of the University of Missouri (Columbia), author of the authoritative account of relations between Tagore and Sir William Rothenstein (Imperfect Encounter) came to spend several intensive periods in the archives, and she is now completing a biography of my father. Her advice, and her generous sharing of materials, has been invaluable, as has been that of Dr Harish Trivedi of Delhi University, a regular visitor to the archives in the late 1980s, who is completing a critical study of my father's literary works. Another most expert and welcome visitor has been Dr. Uma Das Gupta, whom I first met at Santiniketan. She is editing a definitive version of the Tagore- Thompson correspondence which will be published shortly, and has been equally generous in exchanging materials and information. In these exchanges I am conscious that I have gained more than I have given, and this continuing relation to Indian culture is a legacy from my parents which has added a dimension to my life. I shall be sorry when the 'Thompson Papers' leave the attic for the Bodleian Library-but go they must.

This by no means exhausts my debts. Andrew Robinson, who first drew me into the Tagore festival in 1986, has kept me informed of each Tagorean development, has encouraged me, and shared materials. Others who have read drafts of this book and given me valuable comments include Professor Michael Adas, Dr C. A. Bayly, Professor Partha Chatterjee, Dr. Rudrangshu Mukherjee, and Dorothy Thompson. The interest and encouragement of these advisers and readers has emboldened me to publish, but none of them is responsible in any way for a single word in the book. In certain cases they have suggested that I should explain further 'questions of history, politics and background, but I have not followed their advice. This is because I am not a historian of India and it is too late to make myself into one. Indian readers will already know more than I can tell them, and non-Indian readers, who wish to know more about the Brahmo Samaj, nationalist politics, or Tagore's earlier years, will do better to go to a qualified source.

I must also thank those libraries and institutions which have facilitated my work. First among these is the Visva-Bharati (Tagore's 'World University') at Santiniketan, whose library and archives (Rabindra Bhavana) sent to me photocopies of materials essential to this study. My thanks are due also to the Nehru Memorial Library (New Delhi), the Bodleian Library (Oxford), the Houghton Library (Harvard), the British Library, Reading University Library and to the BBC Written Archives at Caversham (Reading). There are no thanks at all to the British Council which, in I986, revoked an invitation to me to give some lectures in India, thus preventing me from visiting several libraries and obstructing work on this book. The reason (I suspect) was political: after all, during the reign of Mrs. Thatcher, is it likely that a 'well-known nuclear disarmer' would be promoted under British Council auspices? Finally, my greatest thanks are due to two members of my own family: my late mother, Theodosia, who first began to put my father's papers in order, and my daughter, Kate, who first sorted and catalogued the correspondence as well as many other papers.




  Preface VII
1 Bankura College 1
2 Epiphany-and Aftermath 13
3 The Bubble Reputation 29
4 Deconstructing and Reconstructing Tagore 39
5 Nationalism: and Prasanta Mahalanobis 69
6 Rejection and Reconciliations 89
7 Conclusion 101
  Appendix A: Tagore Learns of the Nobel Prize 109
  Appendix B: The Oxford Book of Bengali Verse 123
  Appendix C: Edward Thompson's Notebook of Conversations with Rabindranath 129
  A Note on Sources 163
  Index 165

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