A dry fruit seller from Kabul, with a heart to molten gold and a list of ion. Escapades of naughty schoolboys travelling on a train with an unusual teacher. The decisive battle of skill and oratory between two poets in a king’s court. The everyday joys and sadness of a sick boy who sees the world through a half open widow of hope. A bemusing world of cards, based on rules and class divides. Morning and night, life and death, poverty and riches, working girls and growing boys everything touched Rabindranath Tagore’s mind and heart, and flowed into writing through his magical, unstoppable pen.
Togore’ genius has yet to be fathomed completely. His writings continue to stay fresh and crisp, surprising us, provoking us and moving us a hundred year after he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Original and touching, intense and unforgettable, the stories, plays and poems in this volume have been carefully selected and translated into a definitive and valuable collection of Tagore’s masterpieces.
Rabindra nath Tagore (1861-1941) was born in Calcutta in British India. A Multifaceted personality, Tagore was a poet, short story writer, song composer, novelist, playwright, essayist and painter. His talents earned him worldwide fame and he became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. Tagore created new prose and verse forms and encouraged the use of colloquial language in Bengali literature Notable among his body of work spanning more than 80 volumes are Gitanjali, Gora, Ghare Baire, and many others. He also wrote the Indian National Anthem, Jana Gana Mana.
Twelve years old and struggling with my Bangla reading was fun but writing, a nightmare I woke up one morning to find my mother standing next to my bed with a familiar smile. I knew it well, it was her ‘I have something you won’t like expression. I was in class Six, the Bangla paper of the annual examinations was scheduled for following day, and I was already in a blue funk.
My Mother held out a slim book, saying, Practice test. Answer all the questions in here. Several grunts and an hour of procrastination later, I had to finally open the book. Yep there it was, several sample question paper.
But wait a minute. It said that these questions had been set by Rabindranath Tagore. And suddenly I had another reason to be afraid of whitebeard, as I thought privately, of course of the man everyone in the family worshipped.
But I have to admit I couldn’t help feeling a twinge of envy either. Was there no limit to this man’s abilities? As far as I knew back then, he had written poetry in fact I was half convinced every poem ever written in Bangla was his short stories and novels. Some of those stories I was allowed to read, but I had my eye on the novels, which were placed on the delicious but forbidden shelf in the big bookcase. The Bangla teacher at school never tired of telling us that Tagore also wrote plays, essays, travelogues and reams of letters. And, as it turned out question paper too. I mean, really did he have to make the rest of us feel so inadequate?
But as I read the short stories some prescribed by the school, the rest sneaked of the top rack something about them began to haunt me. The young people in his stories always seemed to be in some form of imprisonment. Distant family or cold school teachers, abject poverty or early employment, physical ailments or a sad heart there was at least one, if not more, of these things crating a virtual jail for the boys and girls in the stories.
When tuned fourteen, at which age I obviously knew everything there was to know in the world, I had a moment of Tagore epiphany. It came out of an unguarded remark made by a teacher at school. When we were being exceptionally obnoxious in a class of forty-five 14 years old boys, what do you expect? One afternoon, he sneered at us, Do you think you are in Rabindranath’s Shantiniketan, where you can do as you like?
There was a school where boys OK, girls too could do as they liked? Hope and despair jostling each other in my head, I turned to the only one of my uncles who did not judge when I asked a question. An armchair Nexal revolutionary (version 1.0) he was suitably contemptuous of Tagore, but despite his attempt to be dismissive he managed to explain to me that whitebeard whose beard was actually black when he was young was a staunch believer in freedom for young people.
Freedom? Tell me more
Scholled at home because heated the regimen at the educational institution he had been sent to, and dropping out of college in England afterwards, Tagore the student was your quintessential rebel. Which is why he not only established a school, college and university at Shantiniketan aimed at giving students the freedom to explore, experience and realize their potential, but he also informed much of his writing with this theme. To him, the life of young folks that’s you and shh, don’t tell anyone, but me too is a constant quest for freedom. That is why he’s so 21st century as a writer even if the setting of his stories seems old.
So don’t let your parents and elder tell you what Tagore stood for. Read this splendid selection of his stories, plays and poems to find out for yourself. They might not like you will.
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