"Rabindranath Tagore – A Champion of Universal Brotherhood" By Swati Deb | WBRi Online Magazine

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Rabindranath Tagore – A Champion of Universal Brotherhood


By Swati Deb


Editor's note: Swati Deb is a home-maker and a freelance writer on politics, travel and women-related issues. Her other interests include cooking traditional Bengali dishes. Swati lives in New Delhi


“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free; Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls ...”

These immortal lines penned by Rabindranath Tagore sounds so relevant in the 21st century today where the international community is struggling to shed the trapping of “narrow domestic walls” and ensure a brighter future and a peaceful world for mankind. The relevance of illustrious Tagore in universal brotherhood cannot be over emphasized at a time in circa 2011 when the world is celebrating his 150th birth anniversary.

While enunciating Tagore’s relevance in universal brotherhood especially in the contemporary setting, it will be an apt exercise to analyze Tagore’s perception about two major players – the United States and China.

The famous American poet Ezra Pound was a vociferous admirer of Tagore’s works. So was Harriet Monroe, the famous literary critic and long-time editor of magazine ‘Poetry’. During his second trip to the US in 1916, Yale University felicitated Tagore with the prestigious bicentennial medal and described the poet as “a great brotherhood of seekers of light and truth”. Not many people would know today that it was during this trip he decided to make Shantiniketan, the world university founded by him, the “connecting thread” between India and the world.

The likes of Ezra Pound was so much impressed by the English translation of Tagore’s Bengali works, particularly the Nobel prize winning ‘Geetanjali’ that Pound had compared his response to Tagore with the “excitement” of the discovery of Dante, the celebrated Italian poet and author of all-time popular ‘Divine Comedy’.

Undoubtedly, Tagore's reputation as a writer was established in the United States as in the rest of the world after the publication of ‘Geetanjali’ – dealing essentially with divine and human love.

In the words of Ezra Pound, “Tagore’s poems do not seem to have been produced by storm or by ignition, but seem to show the normal habit of his mind. He is at one with nature, and finds no contradictions. And this is in sharp contrast with the Western mode, where man must be shown attempting to master nature if we are to have "great drama." (Ezra Pound in Fortnightly Review, 1 March 1913)

However, it ought to be stated here that Tagore’s initial visits to America in 1909 and 1912 did not leave him much impressed and he described the US as an “unripe fruit” though his opinion changed in later stage and he made five visits.

In fact, prior to that after partition of Bengal in 1905, he chose to send his son Rathindranath Tagore to America for higher studies in agriculture science instead of sending him to England as was customary with the rich parents those days.

About Americans, Tagore also waxed eloquent with his usual sense of humor and wrote, “American people have an unhealthy appetite for sugar candy and for lectures on any subject and from anybody… I am afraid they have spotted me - I am being stalked.”

This was in reference to repeated invitations Tagore received to deliver lectures in US on literature and universal brotherhood. He also made tour of the country a number of times to collect funds for Shantiniketan.

But in geo-political context, Tagore has never fallen short of criticizing the United States when situation demanded. The students and scholars of Tagore and his relationship with the US argue that he has criticized the Americans like some one criticizes his own countrymen. But Tagore seemed to have appreciated US strength in the changing geo-political situation after the world war in 1940s. His admirers say, Tagore never lost his faith in America, then a strong ally of England.

Tagore’s faith in US leadership ability in global context could be well understood from his He believed that it was America who can uphold the cause of humanity against the barbarism of western nationalism. The ultimate hope and trust he had on America was expressed in his telegram to the then US President Franklin D. Roosevelt in June 1940 when the fire or World War II was raging in Europe and Paris has already fallen.

“Every moment I deplore the smallness of our means and the feebleness of our voice, for India is so utterly inadequate to stem the tide of evil that has menaced the permanence of civilization,” he wrote and hoped that the “the United States will not fail in her mission to stand against the universal disaster that appears so imminent.” Now, what can be more relevant in the 21st century than the mite of the US vis-à-vis the range of problems faced by the world community.

China: The Pan-Asian thrust

In the context of China, Tagore made a rather belated visit to that country in 1924 and he was already a celebrity having bagged the Nobel prize and also pursuing his nationalistic agenda by returning Knighthood protesting the Jallianwallah Bagh Massacre. He went to China with a message of “love and brotherhood” that he felt symbolized the essence of the ties between the two countries. The relationship, he underlined also spoke about Asian solidarity.

That the poet was a visionary could be well understood when he urged China to appreciate that one day “some dreamers will spring” to preach a message of love towards India.

He was too aware of the differences between the two distinct yet neighbourly civilizations. Thus he strived to bring the people of two nations in the same plane. Through his ‘Visvabharati’ at Shantiniketan; Tagore played a path-breaking role in the development of Chinese studies in India. The establishment of the first Sino-Indian Cultural Society, and ‘Cheena Bhavan’ at Santineketan were other major milestones.

In achieving a long-lasting and cordial relationship between India and China, Tagore was in effect focused on Asia's unique identity and the message of promoting peace and stability – the oriental civilizations of Hinduism and Buddhism have cherished for ages. It goes without saying that in the new century, both India and China are showing enough maturity, appreciating each other’s past and modern strengths and joining hands to resolve several regional and global issues. The growing influence of regional blocks like BRICS – comprising Brazil, Russia, South Africa besides China and India would have only left Rabindranath Tagore a more contended man today.

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