The Increasing Relevance of Rabindranath Tagore for the Contemporary World

by Dr Bina Biswas and Dr Koshy AV

Abstract: The paper studies Tagore’s contribution in his seminal leanings to Modernism, post colonialism, socialism, communism, Marxism, feminism, religious and casteist dissent, ecumenism and spiritual revolution which make him still relevant.
Key words: class, caste, religion, feminism, Marxism, post-colonialism, Modernism, prose poetry, short fiction, poetry, India, Bengali etc.
     Tagore’s life is too well-known to us and amply documented to need much reiteration but the salient fact is that in winning the Nobel he has graced the Bengali language spoken in two countries primarily, in India and Bangladesh, with world status in literature and writing. This includes having enriched the realms of prose, the novel, short story as well as poetry, song lyrics, journalism etc.
      What about now and here, what can we say or think of him that makes him pertinent or rather brings out his relevance to our present age?    In his introduction to Gurudev, Rabindranath Tagore’s Nobel Prize winning anthology of verses, Gitanjali [Song Offerings], W B Yeats wrote ecstatically:  

These prose translations have stirred my blood as nothing has for years. . . . These lyrics  display in their thought a world I have dreamed of all my life long.  The work of a supreme culture, they appear as much the growth of the common soil the grass and rushes . . . Rabindranath like Chaucer’s forerunners writes music for his words and one understands in every moment that he is so abundant, so spontaneous, so daring in his passion, so full of surprise because he is doing something which has never seemed strange, unnatural or in need of defense. 1    

          Tagore is one of the supreme lyric poets of the world.  Honesty of feeling along with his radiance of imagery unite with the music of his verse, giving us poems that continue to  haunt us long after the actual words are forgotten.
            The new Bengali poetry was only some twenty years old, if one dates its start from Rangalal Bandyopadhyay’s, Padmini Upakhyan [The Story of Padmini], 1858,2 declaredly composed according to a pure English technique.  This work was narrative in nature, like the major writings of Hemchandra Bandyopadhyay, Nabinchandra Sen, and above of all Michael Madhusudan Dutt.  Tagore too adopted narrative as his chief poetic vehicle at an early stage; but he did not draw his material from mythology or history.  Tagore’s fable concerned a poet. The aim of this study is a modest attempt to critically examine the prose poems of Tagore, other than the songs of Gitanjali [Song Offerings], in the light of his creative genius, his mastery over the story telling technique through the media of poems and songs.  The English Gitanjali [Song Offerings], (1912) has set up a narrow stereotyped image of the poet, a kind of oriental sage, in the minds of the Western readers.  The present research work aims to establish Rabindranath as a poet, a musician, a composer, a dramatist, a lyricist, a painter, a nationalist and a politician – all through the media of narrative poetry, poems and songs.  This is a searching attempt to place literary criticism of Tagore’s prose poems within a definable context of living human beings, of classes and creeds, nations and races…Raja Rammohun Roy wrote and spoke English with mastery years before Macaulay wrote his Minutes.  As far as English education was concerned the Indo-Anglican writers of verse and prose – the Cavalry Brothers, Derozio, Kashiporsad Ghose, Hasan Ali, P  Rajagopaul, Mohan Lal – belonged  to the pre-Macaulay period.  This was an exciting time for literature in Bengal: English (and to some extent Continental) literature had at last penetrated the hearts and minds of Bengali writers. This began to transform the idealized images, simple poetic metres and Sanskrtitized diction of centuries.  The period 1850–1880 saw the creation of the first blank-verse epic in Bengali by Michael Madhusudan Dutt, based on an episode in the epic Ramayana and much indebted to Milton and Homer. He was an extremely gifted writer and poet.  In his initial years as an author he tried his hand at English prose, verse and even drama.  His lyrical ballad, The Captive Ladie3 showed the strong influence of the English romantics.  Some bold experiments were carried out with colloquial Bengali, such as a classic Bengali lampoon published in the early 1860s, Hutom Pyanchar Naksha [What the Screech-Owl Saw];4 and the triumphal arrival of the Bengali novel, with the work of Bankimchandra Chatterjee, the so-called ‘Scott of Bengal,’ the most famous nineteenth-century Bengali writer.
           The first Bengali woman novelist was Rabindranath’s elder sister Swarnakumari.  At the same time, essayists such as scholar and reformer Iswarchandra Vidyasagar, revered by Rabindranath – second only to Rammohun Roy, wrote on social matters in powerful  precise language that harmonized the classical and the vernacular.  

           Swami Vivekananda arrived on the scene after the death of the Messiah Ramakrishna Paramahansa, his spiritual Guru, to conquer the world.  He spoke with knowledge and conviction.  He wrote verses in English. His writings are spread over many volumes.  
          Toru Dutt was the next poet to come onto the scene to write poems mainly of the ancient tales and carried forward the romantic tradition.  Romesh Chander Dutt and Manmohan Ghose (the elder brother of Sri Aurobindo) were both Bengalis but their literary activities were not restricted to Bengal alone.  One finds the quintessence of Indian romantic poetry, expressed in the English language in their works. 
            The second half of the nineteenth century of the English literature made a great impact on Indian writing.  In English, prose works were attempted in newer forms like lyrics, novels and short stories and they began to appear in different Indian languages.  By the end of the century short stories in English itself began to be written by the Indian writer. It is seen that though English prose was being developed by some writers, prose in lyric form was tried by Tagore and was taken to a new height.  Here it is too tempting to define the meaning of prose poems and it is a prose work that has poetic characteristics such as vivid imagery and concentrated expressions.  Here is the definition in Britannica Encyclopaedia.
Work in prose that has some of the technical or literary qualities like poetry, such as regular rhythm, definitely patterned structure or emotional and imaginative heightening but that is set on a page as prose.5 
The form took its name from Charles Baudelaire’s Little Poems in Prose (1869).  Other writers of prose poems include in the 19th Century Stéphane Mallarmé,
Arthur Rimbaud, Friedrich Hölderlin, Novalis and Rainer Maria Rilke and in the 20th Century Amy Lowell in her “Polyphonic Prose” and such contemporary poets as John Ashbery. 
The Literary Dictionary defines prose poems as:
A short composition employing the rhythmic cadences and other devices of free verse, such poetic imagery and figures and printed wholly or partly in the form of prose, i.e. with a right hand margin instead of regular line breaks.6

The form took its name from Charles Baudelaire’s “Little Poems in Prose” (1869).6  Other writers of prose poems include in the 19th Century Stephane Mallarme, Arthur Rimbaud, Friedrich Holderlin, Novalis and Rainer Maria Rilke and in the 20th Century Amy Lowell in her “Polyphonic Prose” and such contemporary poets as John Ashbery.

The Literary Dictionary7 defines prose poems as:

A short composition employing the rhythmic cadences and other devices of free verse, such poetic imagery and figures and printed wholly or partly in the format of prose i.e. with a right hand margin instead of regular line breaks.  The genre emerged in France in the 19th Century, notably in Charles Baudelaire’s “Spleen de Paris”(1869) and Arthur Rimbaud’s “Les Illuminations”(1886); a significant sequence of English prose poems is Geoffrey Hill’s “Merican Hymns” (1971) and a prose poem is self-contained work usually similar to lyric, whereas poetic prose may occur intermittently within a longer prose work.( Literary Dictionary)

The French Literature Companion8 defines prose poems as:

A prose piece whose brevity produces rhythmic poise and acoustic structuring, expressive elisions and condensed imagery normally associated with verse.  Among the possible sources of prose poem might be mentioned poetic prose from Fenelon to Chateaubriand, prose renderings of foreign lyrics and biblical prose; as the site of contradictory forces, it relates to Romanticism’s melange des genres.
Among the possible sources of prose poem might be mentioned poetic prose from Fenelon to Chateaubriand, prose renderings of foreign lyrics and biblical prose; as
the site of contradictory forces, it relates to Romanticism’s melange des genres.

           It is noted that Tagore developed a peculiar liking towards this genre and took it forward more in his later poetry.  In the early years the poet, it is seen, was almost in love with rhythmic lyrics and verses. He has produced beautiful sonorous poetry that has no parallels in Bengali Poetry.  It is difficult to translate the poems in the same rhythmic structures in English and therefore, they are all rendered in prose.  
            This is one of the major limitations in the translated forms of poetry.  Here, in this thesis Tagore’s poems are explored on the basis of their themes and not on their patterns due to the difficulty cited above. Yet Tagore used prose poems as the chief poetic medium in his later poems of life from Punascha [Post Script]9 to Sesh Lekha [No Last Words].10 They opened a new genre for the next generation poets in Bengali Literature.  As regards experiments in technique, the period begins with free verse and prose poems and ends with hieroglyphics of Sesh Lekha/No Last Words.         
           Tagore was deeply impressed by one of his elder siblings Dwijendranath Tagore who,
. . . was the most intellectual and the least worldly of the Tagore siblings.  Deeply immersed in the study of Indian philosophy, mathematics and geometry, he also revelled in folding complex paper boxes. Dwijendranath was responsible for inventing the first Bengali shorthand and musical notations.

            Into this culturally charged atmosphere, both Eastern and Western, Rabindranath grew up in the Jorasanko house, which was always vibrant with the sounds of people who were busy singing songs and writing verses, enacting and designing outfits or discussing theological, philosophical and literary problems, where he passed his boyhood. It was here the future Nobel laureate and his makers constantly worked together towards that goal.
In today’s world of various kinds of media Tagore’s prose poems are the first point to be noted when speaking of his relevance to our present day world. Ignorant of French poetry where Baudelaire and Rimbaud and Mallarme where writing prose poems of a very different sort, or of Whitman in  America who was attempting Leaves of Grass, or Eliot who had to learn from French poetry.  his greatness lies in reaching out to such a form almost alone and single-handedly in India as both a part of and yet different from such a zeitgeist mixing prose and poetry. He  actually showed  a forward looking and independent spirit while not deserting in his themes – what was ever living in Indian or our oriental soil either. In today’s advanced technological art realms that have introduced form like the mash up and making use of found footage, what we admire in Tagore is this prescience. His unique ability was to look ahead in what can be termed as experimental modernism– to such developments in India even much earlier.
            We know about the major post colonialist theoretician Homi Bhabha’s theory of hybridity. “Hybridity demonstrates how cultures come to be represented by processes of iteration and translation through which their meanings are vicariously addressed to – through – an Other.” (from Wikipedia)11 The interesting thing is that long before him, Tagore recognized the space of liminality, and moved not in the way in which a Bhabha would think, meaning not necessarily outwardly in a post-colonial way. Yet in another perhaps more interesting way, which was to counter the influence of the “English book” that had led to the Bengali renaissance in a limited manner of putting it, he did move counter to colonialism by negotiating cultural difference in his own way in forming the hybrid of the prose poem, among other things, which is very much in contrast in its form to the content of his Gitanjali, to quote only one obvious example. This intrinsic or implicit tension in writing prose poems on subjects that lend itself to traditional verse iterations is only one of the interesting strands in Tagore’s work that makes it imperative that he be looked at anew in the light of the latest critical theories and as an experimental modernist at the same time, even as his work is Indian or considered by many to be – stereotyping him – as typically classicist, spiritual etc.
We probably need to proof text this a little more. Let us briefly remember that the Occidental or Western world came to know of Tagore first through his own translations of his Song Offerings. We have often heard it said the translations are not up to the mark, are  poor, in other words, and that Tagore himself is ill-represented by the work he chose to show to the world outside. However, while these facts are self-evident, the other fact that he chose to show himself to the world as the author of Song Offerings first and that he chose to show them his own prose translations of the same is something which offsets this, and should not be forgotten. It was these prose poems that moved Yeats so strongly and made him write a foreword that was definitely partly instrumental in his being considered as a worthy contender for the Nobel.
There are two points to be noted here.
1. In writing the translations in prose – more or less – Tagore neatly sidestepped the
    anxiety of influence that many of his contemporaries were labouring under or fighting
    against which was the fear of being unfairly compared with the Romantic and the
    Victorian metrical poets.
2. In ensuring that he spoke from a tradition that had been unsullied by the Western
Enlightenment’s principles of reason, science and knowledge to some extent, he also
startled his readers from the other side of the globe by at the same time touching on
thoughts that could only be termed parallels of Blakean, Biblical and Marxist      notions. This effectively undercut any notion of a colonial discourse that tried to frame the colonized in an inferior space by pitting it against its own spiritual counter arguments including its antithesis that was coming about from its own working class as also seen in the works of Charles Dickens.
We take for instance his translation:
Leave this chanting and singing and telling of beads! Whom dost thou worship in this lonely dark corner of a temple with doors all shut? Open thine eyes and see thy God is not before thee!
He is there where the tiller is tilling the hard ground and where the path maker is breaking stones. He is with them in sun and in shower, and his garment is covered with dust. Put of thy holy mantle and even like him come down on the dusty soil!
Deliverance? Where is this deliverance to be found? Our master himself has joyfully taken upon him the bonds of creation; he is bound with us all forever.

Come out of thy meditations and leave aside thy flowers and incense! What harm is there if thy clothes become tattered and stained? Meet him and stand by him in toil and in sweat of thy brow.12
This is so definitely not the way a post-colonialist would go about attacking an invader. For one thing, Tagore seems to be criticizing his own religion, but the attack is not just towards the Brahminical priestly class as he  tells of beads and song/hymns/mantras and chants, common to all three religious traditions he was familiar with meaning the Hindu, Christian and Islamic traditions. We see the move towards Brahmo and Arya Samaj here, in the implicit critique.
Yet what is more interesting is when we juxtapose what he is saying with Marx on religion and the working class. “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.13 Marx’s most blinding insight was that of alienation – “labor appears as loss of realization for the workers; objectification as loss of the object and bondage to it; appropriation as estrangement, as alienation.”  It is ,amazingly, this alienation, that Tagore challenges the oppressor to face by coming down to the same level as the worker to find that it is there that God, his God, dwells or is found, if only the oppressor will open his eyes to see it. Why this is interesting is precisely because this opens up in Tagore’s text what one can with hindsight call post-modernism, meaning a discourse that is not exactly religious or nationalist or colonial but refuses not to be political or economic or anti religious or anti caste and class. Therefore, it predicts a peaceful communism partly and also standing for a decentreing and universalism to counter global forms of oppression like colonialism and empire.  It also includes national forms of oppression against the poor through the Hindu Brahmanical religion and casteism by poetry, prose and translation as well as a subtle subversion that also has a spiritual edge even in its satiric ability as it is also non-violent in its gentle thrust and questioning of several different status quos.
It is this strange or not so strange but well remarked ability to have in his work angles of  perception opened that, when perceived, make him look as if he is addressing us even today. This makes Tagore ever more relevant in a world where more writers are one book wonders or of increasing irrelevance despite their output, whether deservedly or not.
To turn to his approach to women in comparison to feminism and its theories, the  book on “Tagore’s Heroines” by Bina Biswas  (co-author of the present paper) is a study on all the women characters in his works with special stress on the main characters or protagonists. We would like to briefly sum up feminism and its main thrust first. If Hybridity therefore is a subversion of single, unified, purist notions of identity, in favour of multiple cultural positions . . . also an answer to the dangers of cultural binarisms of ‘us/them’ and the fundamentalist urge for purist cultural forms.”   Tagore brings this in, in  his own way – fulfilling some of the norms of the post-colonial discourse, inimitably and not pre-conceivable in his style and also slightly different from the more extremist or radical views of many thinkers like Ranajit Guha, Spivak or the upper caste Bhabha himself. Verily he is in a way their forerunner without their having claimed him yet through appropriation, which is what I am trying to do here. Even in terms of feminism he is a very interesting bridge figure. “Feminism is a range of political movements, ideologies, and social movements. It shares common goals ­– to define, establish and achieve political, economic, personal, and social rights for women. This includes the determination to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment.  (from Wikipedia)
There are also spin off movements that are part of it like feminisms, womanism, black feminism, antifeminism, post feminisms, besides the academic concept of three waves of it. As in the earlier example I quoted, Tagore seemingly skirts this issue in a take like his on Upagupta. Yet this oblique acknowledgement that has been viewed as traditionalism to show he was more interested in a non-patriarchal approach but not in a full-fledged attack on patriarchy or the rights of women conceals in it the seeds of his subversion and  can also be read as his aesthetic impeccability in tackling the issues of rights of women etc. Not always directly and head on to a collision course but subtly, thus giving it actually far more insidiousness and weight – in fact, even the power to penetrate places it otherwise would not have: including British Judaeo-Christian, Islamic and Hindu versions of hidebound patriarchy. To discover both his solitary path of going slightly away from the mainstream while at the same time addressing it, we need to explore Tagore as a writer aware that he had to address all. We can see his ability to find an audience among all like Shakespeare and Dickens. We need to go to his tale of Upagupta and the Chandala woman in his poem Abhisar.14 This tale is taken from Buddhist legend and that is the first point to be noticed about it.
Upagupta, the disciple of Buddha, lay asleep in
the dust by the city wall of Mathura.
The lamps were all out, the doors were all shut, and
stars were all hidden by the murky sky of August.
Whose feet were those tinkling with anklets,
touching his breast of a sudden?
He woke up startled, and a light from a woman’s
lamp fell on his forgiving eyes.
It was a dancing girl, starred with jewels,
Wearing a pale blue mantle, drunk with the wine
of her youth.
She lowered her lamp and saw a young face
austerely beautiful.
“Forgive me, young ascetic,” said the woman,
“Graciously come to my house. The dusty earth
is not fit bed for you.”
The young ascetic answered, “Woman,
go on your way;
When the time is ripe I will come to you.”
Suddenly the black night showed its teeth
in a flash of lightning.
The storm growled from the corner of the sky, and
The woman trembled in fear of some unknown danger
A year has not yet passed.
It was evening of a day in April,
in spring season.
The branches of the way side trees were full of blossom.
Gay notes of a flute came floating in the
warm spring air from a far.
The citizens had gone to the woods for the
festival of flowers.
From the mid sky gazed the full moon on the
shadows of the silent town.
The young ascetic was walking along the lonely street,
While overhead the love-sick koels uttered from the
mango branches their sleepless plaint.
Upagupta passed through the city gates, and
stood at the base of the rampart.
Was that a woman lying at his feet in the
shadow of the mango grove?
Struck with black pestilence, her body
spotted with sores of small-pox,
She had been hurriedly removed from the town
To avoid her poisonous contagion.
The ascetic sat by her side, took her head
on his knees,
And moistened her lips with water, and
smeared her body with sandal balm.
“Who are you, merciful one?” asked the woman.
“The time, at last, has come to visit you, and
I am here,” replied the young ascetic
This story is a typical one about spirituality and the man being shown as superior to us in having overcome lust so that he can become a vessel of mercy, also having intuitive or prophetic powers yet there is a subtext that is not picked up on by readers that I would like to point out. One is about the setting, Mathura, the place where Krishna came from which is shown to have been entered by the Buddhist presence in having Upagupta there combating its decay silently. Degeneration that has set in regarding how women are treated shown in the woman being allowed to ply her trade for money but being thrown out when ill, and, perhaps, casteism. This interests readers immensely as it suggests that while Tagore understood the need to fight the British or violence or the need to be political, economically and socially progressive etc., he also understood to look at reform in his own tradition as the one to use. This tradition could be, to put it for want of a better way of doing so, subverted by his rewriting it – to bring about these changes. In these he is aligned more to the styles of a Michael Madhusudhan Dutt and a Rokkeya Begum, who were openly fighting against injustice to women. He preferred them as forebears – than a Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, with his idealized notion of a nation as ideal mother etc.,-- perhaps
What interests me is the silence in Tagore, a silence that has been read till now as non-feminist, if nothing else but, which suggests probably an artistic procedure worth re-examination to see how it is more than relevant for our times in his indirectness.
To quote from the preface to Tagore’s Heroines:

 Like Shakespeare, Tagore also has no heroes but only heroines in his stories and they suffer the brunt of the society and emancipate in a new role. They are rebels and they are even ready to flee the society to achieve the enlightenment of the soul, to fulfill the emotional quest and for them material needs are not predominant.
The heroines of Tagore are always curious, sensitive, emotionally strong and modern with a vengeance. An attempt is made to compare Tagore’s heroines to the heroines in the plays of Henrik Ibsen and Tennessee Williams, to the stories of Anton Chekov and et al.
Finally, the book upholds the vision of the great storyteller Tagore as it establishes that the heroines of Tagore stand against time as they emerge stronger facing their challenges and confrontations of their society.

      From his autobiography, we know of his marriage to a girl who was only ten years old. Kadambari’s suicide shortly after his poems dedicated to her or on her came out when he was only 23. This left its shadow in his writing where many women were shown to be childless and that his sympathies were with them. This brings us to the crux of the matter, which is Tagore’s sensitivity in his stories to the different situations and plight of the women of his time. It is apparent how he tries to show us the facts as well as ameliorate their lot with the power of his pen, which is not done in a jarring way Whether he is speaking against the ills of dowry, an almost uniquely Indian phenomenon, or of mothers-in-law and how they treat daughters-in-law, or of how husbands or lovers or even spiritual men, and men-friends, and fathers and brothers –  all are evenly shown to be towards women, in their dealings, rather indifferent, careless and negligent or absent minded in their behavior if not downright cruel and wicked,. His sensitivity is shown, which in this matter resembles Shakespeare and Dickens, in its broad Indian and universal sweep, in its psychological complexity of analysis whereby he creates character after character to show us the various hardships women were put to without forgetting to also show us their foibles and vices, but not forgetting to often lay the blame for them at the door of the environment, upbringing and patriarchy along with their own natal or conjugal families when they were married.
            In short in his ninety odd stories he comes across as a master storyteller with a penchant for creating women folk who stand out more colourfully than the men. It is possible to say that Tagore the educationist and the one who took up the cause for women indirectly in his writing did this due to being influenced by Brahmo Samaj and Raja Ram Mohun Roy and others, including Kadambari, whose influence has also to be taken into account and not discredited, but this is not true, Tagore by himself had in him a fiery spark of the reformer and revolutionary and unlike others, it was coupled not only with pragmatism but also with an idealism, which is what retrospectively makes him far more powerful than many of the other Bengali figures of his time who now seem one sided,   thus not able to keep their grip on the hold of the people’s imagination in India and abroad. The others in not being pluralistic or open ended enough in their work to be able to give space for different multi-faceted, multi layered, multi-hued, multiple interpretations to their meanings so all may appropriate them or to put in older terminology relate to them, they having something humanistic or universal or democratic in them and not just something limited in time and place to one geography or ideology alone.

To come back to Tagore and feminism, what one has to look at is the fact that Tagore is unique in India as a writer who breaks with the assumptions of his western feminist counterparts who came later – in theory, who think that men do not write the stories of women. They say the stories and it is ‘his story.’ This claim is debunked by Tagore neatly, even before it was raised in the West or against him if it has been later, through our being made aware that though he is a man and telling the stories he constantly gives the women free rein and voice in them while through a possible sheer stylistic analysis of them in our times, we could even prove that he was more obsessed with the women than with the men in his stories. His narration of not only them but their voices and their lives, thus made them the centre of his work or at least the short stories. This decentreing is pleasing for us and the recentreing even more so. It makes him deconstructive and modern as well as post-modern by turns, even pro feminist, if not feminist.
      In A Room of One’s Own Virginia Woolf says: “The history of men’s opposition to 
    women’s emancipation is more interesting perhaps than the story of that emancipation itself.”15
This general statement, fully true, is where Tagore is different and if one has to find out why one probably has to go all the way back to the fact that he takes his techniques ultimately from the Puranas, which is more representative in its narrative strategy as also ideational than ideological in its main thrust. Tagore too, is first representative and second ideational, in planting seeds of equality in the minds of the readers between the sexes and genders through his stories rather than confrontational yet clearly on the side of the women, not all of them, but of his many splendored heroines.
Tagore’s mind was exercised over one of the major evils of the society; the question of dowry and its tragic consequences – the torture, distress and suffering inflicted on the daughters of the indigent and insolvent fathers in their in-laws’ houses often result in their deaths. He wrote in “Probashi”: ‘I have seen . . . the unredeemed animosity of the mother against the daughter-in-law. . . .’ The picture of the in-laws’ house with all control vested in the father-in-law and the sharp-tongued mother-in-law left a deep impression on his mind. “Sasurbari” (the conjugal home) is synonymous with prison. Hence he draws a very shocking picture of torture and death in the in-law’s house of a girl whose impoverished father fails to provide sufficient dowry for the daughter. “Dena-Powna[Dowry] is not an account of Nirupama’s woes alone but of the thousands of such hapless and wretched girls whose fathers fail to meet the avid demands of dowry of the in-laws. The following extract from the story indicates the suffering and torment inflicted on Nirupama or such helpless girls through the centuries.

Nobody cares even for the basic necessities of the daughter-in-law, like food and clothing. If any kind-hearted neighbour mentions some lapse, the mother says, ‘This is quite enough!’ In other words, if her father paid in full, the daughter would have received cent per cent care. Everybody behaves in a way as if the daughter-in-law has no right here, as if she has entered the household through fraud. (Translated)

Yet Nirupama’s sense of self-respect is aroused when her father brings money by selling his house. Nirupama raises her voice of protest though she dies:

Niru said, “If you make any payment of money, it amounts to an insult (to me). Do you think your daughter has no dignity? Am I a money-purse only, that as long as there is money, I have value! No father, please don’t insult me by giving them the money. Moreover my husband doesn’t want it.” (Translated)

The irony and sarcasm lies in the last lines of the story where the mother writes to her son about his imminent second marriage which will fetch a dowry of twenty thousand rupees and that too in cash this time!”

Throughout his works, there are many more such examples, of his raising a voice against men and for women through writing in this effective and powerful style.
  bel hooks says:
Emotional neglect lays the groundwork for the emotional numbing that helps boys feel better about being cut off. Eruptions of rage in boys are most often deemed normal, explained by the age-old justification for adolescent patriarchal misbehaviour, “Boys will be boys.” Patriarchy both creates the rage in boys and then contains it for later use, making it a resource to exploit later on as boys become men. As a national product, this rage can be garnered to further imperialism, hatred and oppression of women and men globally. This rage is needed if boys are to become men willing to travel around the world to fight wars without ever demanding that other ways of solving
conflict can be found.16 

Tagore as educationist fought for a femininization whereby boys would not be turned into killing or war machines and in his stories while he did not advocate at any time a violent or strident feminism  he also constantly undercut patriarchy by stressing that both men and women are equal and should be treated with respect and in fact women are if we read between the lines in his  works, superior to men not on the basis of the stereotype that they are goddesses but on the basis of the fact that they are in the modern situations of life able to show more resilience, and power and mastery and to overcome the complexities of life and be beneficial to the men in their life too, meanwhile.
To sum up, Tagore is more relevant today than ever before and one finds in him startlingly, if one has the patience to rethink him and not be biased, not only a post colonialism that is more interesting a variety than the ones pointed out as examples by a critic like Homi Bhabha and a feminism that can be seen as a precursor of an approach that actually parries Western feminism and is home grown in stressing the importance and centrality of women and their issues long before it was known here that writing should not be ‘his story.’ The ultimate take away is that Tagore is with Shakespeare, for all time, still, as in his poems, dramas and novels, and in all his writing, he finally tells us everybody’s story, mankind’s story as only the very greatest writers can and also at the same time allows the voices of the  suffering and voiceless and marginalized to emerge powerfully, having his own place thus secured in the niche of literature firmly with a Dickens and a Shakespeare as if Shakespeare has a Viola or a Portia or a Juliet or a Desdemona, Tagore has a Nirupama or a Kalyani or an Anila or a Haimanti  to rival them.

1Yeats, W.B. (1912)  “Introduction” in Gitanjali  by R. N. Tagore, London: Macmillian and Company
2Bandyopadhyay, Rangalala (1858) Padmini Upakhyan/“The Story of Padmini,”

3 Michael Madhusudan Dutt (1849) The Captive Ladie. New York City: Oxford University Press.

4Kaliprasanna Singha (1862) Hutom Pyanchar Naksha/What the Screech-Owl Saw


Baudelaire, Charles (1919) The Poems and Prose Poems, New York:Brentano’s Publishers

7The Literary Dictionary
8The French Literature Companion
9Tagore, R.N. (1932) Punascha/Post Script
10Tagore R.N.(1925) Sesh Lekha/No Last Words
12Dickens, Charles (1859) The Tale of Two Cities  London: Chapman and Hall  
14 Kshemendra (translator:Nobin Chandra Das) (1895)  Bodhisattvāvadānakalpalatā [Legends and Miracles of Buddha Sakya Sinha] Calcutta.
15 Woolf, Virginia (1929) A Room of One’s Own England: Hogarth’s Press
16 Hooks, Bel (2000) Feminism Is for Everybody Southend Press

Author bios:

Dr Bina Biswas is the CEO of Rubric Publishing and the author of many books like “Tagore’s Heroines”, quoted in the paper, being an authority on Tagore.

Dr Koshy AV is an Assistant Professor at Jazan University, Department of English, Saudi Arabia, and the author of many books. He is an authority on Samuel Beckett. 

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