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9 August, 2017 11:04:58 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 9 August, 2017 11:13:59 AM
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Rabindranath Tagore, a versatile genius

The poet is still very much relevant, nearly eight decades after his death
Masihul Huq Chowdhury
Rabindranath Tagore, a versatile genius
Rabindranath Tagore

The 76th death anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore was observed on 22nd Sraban (August 6).  Tagore is best known as a poet but he was a man of many talents. On the one hand, he was the first Indian to win a Nobel for literature and on the other, a novelist who wrote and composed an entire genre of songs. He was a philosopher and educationist who established a university that challenged conventional education. Tagore was a painter who played an important role in modernising Bengali art. And he was a nationalist who gave up his knighthood to protest British policies in colonial India after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.When Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, he became the first non-European to win it. He was awarded the prize after the publication of his acclaimed collection of poems Geetanjali. Tagore was recognised, according to the Nobel committee's statement, "because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West". Unfortunately, in 2004, the prize was stolen from the safety vault of Visva-Bharati University .Later, the Swedish Academy presented two replicas of the prize, one made of gold and the other of bronze.In an attempt to challenge conventional methods of classroom education, Tagore established an university of his own, where he wanted humanity to be studied "somewhere beyond the limits of nation and geography". Here, many classes are still held under trees in open fields. Viswa -Bharati University was started in 1921 at Santiniketan in Bengal's Birbhum district. For setting up Visva-Bharati, declared a central university in May 1951, Tagore used the cash he received with the Nobel prize and collected funds from around the world.
Most people know that Tagore wrote the national anthems of India and Bangladesh - 'Jana Gana Mana' and 'Amar Sonar Bangla' respectively.

But few know that Sri Lanka's national anthem is based on a Bengali song originally written by Tagore in 1938. It was translated into Sinhalese and adopted as the national anthem in 1951. One of Tagore's students at Visva-Bharati University, Ananda Samarakoon, translated the lyrics of Nama Nama Sri Lanka Mata from Bengali to Sinhalese. Tagore is thus the only person to have composed the national anthems of three countries.

Tagore is best known as a poet but he was a man of many talents. On the one hand, he was the first Indian to win a Nobel for literature and on the other, a novelist who wrote and composed an entire genre of songs. He was a philosopher and educationist who established a university that challenged conventional education. He was a painter who played an important role in modernising Bengali art. And he was a nationalist who gave up his knighthood to protest British policies in colonial India after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

It is not only a pity, but somewhat strange too, that a large part of Tagore’s thinking, entrepreneurships, and activism towards socio-economic transformation of Bengal and our country at large has still remained relatively unheeded and perhaps unknown in wider academic and official circles (for example, they were confined to relatively small pockets in rural Bengal, and many of his speeches and essays on these issues are yet to be translated from the original Bengali into other languages including English). Ironically, the potential—hitherto almost entirely untapped —social benefits derivable from our more adequate attention and appreciation of Tagore as a socio-economic and educational reformist and social activist would arguably not compare unfavourably with the actual social gains that we have reaped so far from our overwhelming affinity towards him merely as a cultural, literary, and spiritual grandee. Compared to the mammoth magnitude of tributes, celebrations, admirations, enthusiasms on Tagore’s poetry, songs, drama, and stories, there has always been a relative ambivalence towards Tagore’s down-to-earth practical and activist persona and his concrete efforts and ideas in the spheres of socio-economic development, educational expansion, health and environmental improvements.

This is not only partly prejudicial, but it is partly costly too to the society and country at large. It is doubtful as to whether Tagore’s grassroots level experiments (for example, at Santiniketan and Sriniketan), his considerable amount of writings and speeches, his visions and ideas pertaining to quality and expansion of education, rural development and reconstruction have ever been involved and considered seriously in our post-independence endeavours, aspirations, initiatives, policy formulation, and various programmes for socio-economic development of the country.

Many of Mahatma Gandhi’s views and ideas have been discussed and evaluated in wider and more specialist circles alike and then perhaps in some cases been found impracticable towards the formulation and implementation of strategy and policy for the modernisation and socio-economic development of our country. In contrast, Rabin-dranath Tagore’s thoughts, energy, and efforts in understanding and addressing major socio-economic problems have hardly been ever mentioned, let alone recognised, examined, accepted or disapproved in India’s post-colonial social science discourses and public policy initiatives. But Tagore was so intensely concerned and committed to serving the helpless, illiterate, ignorant people of village India that he did not hesitate even for a moment to take to an activist’s role in reaching out to the rural common masses through many innovative schemes and experiments in rural development and educational improvements. Tagore once wrote plainly enough that ‘[m]y thoughts on motherland which permeated my mind ever since my boyhood days have not been expressed merely in the rhythm of metres. I always tried to translate them into practice. And for this I staked everything. Not that I owned much, but whatever I possessed was devoted to this cause.’ Unlike his numerous peers globally, Tagore, while functioning in his role of a zamindar of his large family estates in parts of East Bengal (now in Bangladesh) during some spells of his youth, was so shaken by witnessing ‘the sorrow and poverty of the villages’ that he, in his own words, ‘became restless to do something about it’, instead of spending his days ‘as a landlord, concerned only with money-making’ and with his ‘own profit and loss’.

 Besides, Tagore continued writing essays and commentaries almost persistently on various social, economic, and political problems and their possible remedies. There would regrettably be not many who are aware that Tagore in his numerous writings, speeches, and lectures, published mostly in Bengali (many of which are yet to be translated into English and other languages), already touched upon several of our contemporary concerns and prominent perceptions about the major socio-economic and environmental problems and predicaments.  In our present essay, we attempt at illustrating some of such major areas and issues where Tagore’s concerns, visions, and thinking, though they have hitherto remained lamentably unutilised or perhaps even unheeded to, do still appear almost as a precursor to many of our contemporary thoughts and policy initiatives.

This reflects not only how keenly practical Tagore’s ideas and activisms pertaining to the means and experiments for our rural socio-economic uplift have had been, but it also points to how costly might have been our persistent ambivalence and indifference towards the former.The economic thought of Rabindranath was originated from his ethics of life through humanitarism as was envisaged from colonial rule. He was the pioneer of thinking and implementing to keep rural statistics that can cover population, education, health,g ender dimensions,shelter,agricultural statistics including production of various crops and agri-business etc, during various time periods.(Tagore,1962).On the recommendation of Tagore,Bhupesh Ray-the officer of Shilaidaha started to collect data on socio-economic surveys with help of  the youths. This activities of Tagore was taken from Russian agricultural statistics collection methods.Kalimohan Ghosh had collected agricultural statistics at Shantiniketan by that method.He published book on statistics of Ballavpur in 1926 and book on statistics of Roypur in 1933. “The survey of two villages has been completed by Babu Kalimohan Ghosh,superintendent of the Institute  and the information has been published in the two booklets. They are full of interesting information and well worth a perusal.”-said  Sukumar Chattopadhyay. Later on ,national level surveys were conducted in 1934 and 1939 respectively by Dr.Hasim Amir Ali  on “Three villages economic studies on rice” and by Dr.Sudhir Chandra Sen on “Economics of paddy cultivation,irrigation problems of West Bengal, rural marketing in Bolpur Bazar” which were assets of statistics on rural economy of Shantiniketan that helped in future studies on pre-colonial agriculture.

The writer, a banker by profession, has worked both in local and overseas market with various foreign and local banks in different positions

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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