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Friendships of Largeness and Freedom

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Item Code: NAQ318
Author: Uma Das Gupta
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Language: English
Edition: 2018
ISBN: 9780199481217
Pages: 563
Other Details 9.00 X 5.50 inch
Weight 700 gm
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Book Description
About the Author

Uma Das Gupta is former Research Professor, Social Science Division Delhi, India. She has taught at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, and at the Visva Bharati University, Santiniketan, India.

She served the United States Educational Foundation in India as Director for Eastern India. She held the Fulbright Post-Doctoral Fellowship at Columbia University and Harvard University, USA, and the National Fellowship at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, India. She has authored and edited several volumes on Rabindranath Tagore.


Themes, Sources, and Approach

Through the letters of three remarkable individuals this volume explores two closely related themes-their friendship and their principles for pursuing the freedom of India from colonial rule. The individuals are Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), and the Church of England missionary, Charles Freer Andrews (1871- 1940). The freedom they worked for was not merely a political one, though in an unequal world that necessarily had to be an ultimate goal. The universal principles they applied in attaining that goal have given us an alternative legacy. It is the legacy of a nationalism that worked with complete restraint, with ahimsa or non-violence towards the opponent, a legacy that cried halt to the movement whenever it turned violent, that pledged to bear no ill will towards the wrongdoer, that proclaimed the way forward to be in self-suffering and not in hatred of the enemy. This legacy was made possible by the foundational principle that there must be no separation between the religious and the political even in a political struggle. Their ideal was perhaps best expressed in what Tagore wrote to Andrews, 'We have to build a seat for the one God revealed to all human races standing in the heart of this struggle; and in how Gandhi put it to Tagore, 'Our national struggle is in reality a struggle for liberty worthy of a self-respecting nation.

We shall read later in the volume how they acted upon those principles through their campaigns even in the increasingly turbulent political environment of the years 1912-40. Their campaigns were drawn from two important historical events that occurred during those years. These were, first, Gandhi's encounter with the racially unjust treatment of the Indian community in South Africa, which became the inspiration for his phenomenal satyagraha movement, and, second, Gandhi's leadership of an all-India nationalist movement. The correspondence of the three friends helps us to understand that it was not until they were completely convinced of a failure of justice on the part of the government that their attitude changed to resistance. The latter statement is as factually relevant about their work in South Africa as later in India. It was rebellion without violence in the face of provocation. Gandhi travelled the length and breadth of the country to 'educate' the people in these principles at the cost of bearing their outrage and, whenever necessary for the sake of the principles, to slow down the movement. The problem was with the government and the people who were not willing to apply those life-changing principles in politics. Thus these letters enable us to look at the Indian nationalist movement 'differently; and to find in them some of the seminal ideas that went into the making of the modern Indian nation.

The letters take us to the conversations between the friends themselves and their mental impulses. The contents were always personal and emotional but also addressed their concerns for 'change'. They wanted to restore national honour. They wanted to change what they saw of White racism. As for Andrews, he chose also to wage a fierce but selfless battle against Christian dogma, which he saw at the root of White racism. In this he was driven by the pure love of his ideal Christ, his own Christ; to put it in his words. He has given us the depiction of his 'own Christ' in his autobiography What I Owe to Christ, published in 1932, which became a bestseller in its time and was translated into all the major European and Indian languages.

This is a first-time study of the letters between Andrews, Gandhi, and Tagore. There has been scholarly work on the Gandhi- Tagore let- ters such as the earlier collection titled Truth Called Them Differently (Tagore- Gandhi Controversy) or the more recent collections titled The Mahatma and the Poet: Letters and Debates between Gandhi and Tagore, 1915-1941 and The Tagore-Gandhi Debate on Matters of Truth and Untruth. Selections have been published from the Andrews- Tagore correspondence as in Letters to a Friend, which included letters written by Tagore to Andrews in the years 1913-22. But there has been no work till now on the three correspondents together as in this volume. The correspondence of Andrews, Gandhi, and Tagore leaves one with the strong feeling that writing letters was their primary mode of communication, which makes sense when we consider that their work often made them travel great distances. Their letters occasionally cry out from the hardship of long and lonely journeys that often caused the three of them to be separated from one another. Andrews was shunting between Sanriniketan, Delhi, Shimla, Sabarmati, South Africa, Fiji, East Africa, Australia, and Britain. Gandhi travelled the length and breadth of the country. Tagore travelled to five continents as many as thirty-four times in his lifetime. The letters are a record of the impulses and the sense of urgency with which the three friends drove themselves, each in his own sphere as well as collectively.

This volume does not include their entire correspondence. The archived letters of Andrews, Gandhi, and Tagore run into hundreds and their physical pages run into thousands. There are over six hundred letters and telegrams from Andrews to Tagore, over two hundred letters from Tagore to Andrews, over two hundred from Andrews to Gandhi, and over a hundred from Gandhi to Andrews. Besides the principal correspondents, I have also included correspondence they exchanged with others, though very little, such as some cables exchanged between Gandhi and Gokhale and some letters between Gandhi and the Viceroys or the Viceroy's Secretaries, merely to connect the story. In the chapters on South Africa I have, accordingly, included some letters exchanged between them and the officials. In this book the letters are divided thematically into fourteen chapters. There is some overlap in the themes when unavoidable. The letters are arranged chronologically in the chapters.

Without a selection the monograph would have become unwieldy and out of proportion to my related inquiry on Santiniketan's place in India's nationalist history, which this epistolary volume also certainly conveys. It is clear from this volume how important this uniquely like minded friendship was to India's freedom struggle and also to Santiniketan's history because all three of them were devoted to Santiniketan's educational institutions. Tagore founded the institutions between 1901 and 1922 in rural southern Bengal populated by Hindu, Muslim, and tribal villages. Tagore and Gandhi both believed that education must reach the villages where the majority of India's people lived. This is how they hoped to turn around the state of their country's education from the colonial mode and to stem the growing alienation between the educated elite and the rural people who were left without a modern education. Tagore's idea was that a complete give and take between the village and the city could be achieved by a new form of education and with help from the leadership of the educated and creative minority. He encouraged the individuals who came to Santiniketan to experiment with their ideas at the grass-roots level. He wrote: 'We must find some meeting- ground, where there can be no question of conflicting interests. One of such places is the University where we can work together in a common pursuit of truth and share our common heritage: For my research on Tagore's Santiniketan institutions the individuals had taken centre stage. The same holds true for the individuals in this study, Andrews, Gandhi, and Tagore.

I believe that working with those ideas helped Tagore to creatively and constructively intervene in the dichotomy of the powerful and the weak. The inhumanity of the First World War laid bare the West's cult of aggressive nationalism. It seriously undermined the West's claim to represent the highest goals of humanity. The modern West showed itself to be full of authoritarian and military power, thus leading Tagore and other contemporary thinkers to ponder if the vision of freedom should come from the East. History tells us how the colonized societies were getting round to search deeply for their ancient values and for their own traditions. The Visva-Bharati inter- national university at Santiniketan was founded with a motto taken from the Vedic ideal of unity, yatra viswam eka nidam, 'where the world meets in a single nest'.

Finally, a word about my approach. This monograph is not a systematic study of the Indian freedom movement nor is it meant to be. That can be found in the standard texts on the subject. However, the standard texts are more keyed to the analyses of conflict than to a spirit of 'largeness and freedom as felt by the three friends and practised by them through their work. I have not, however, subjected the three individuals to psychological scrutiny nor am I fit to do so. My own commitment to biographical writing is to depict rather than to judge. To get an approximate view of a man or a woman we do not need to be told if his or her actions were good or bad, but from their own statements or mental impulses we may try to understand how and why they came to take those actions. I hope to let my sources speak, as they will, to the tastes and inclinations of the readers.

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