It is not possible to surmise when exactly Tagore started writing Jibonsmriti (My Reminiscences). It is generally believed that after the publication of the play Raja (King, 1910), he was going through the first draft of jibonsmriti. On 7 May, 1911, on the occasion of Tagore's 71st birthday, Ajit Kumar Chakraborty read out a long essay, titled 'Rabindranath' where he gave some references to the manuscript of jibonsmriti. This would suggest that by then Rabindranath had prepared the first draft of his reminiscences. Apparently, it was twice revised, for three manuscripts with variations in the text are preserved in the archive of Rabindra Bhavan, Santiniketan. It was first published in 1912 by Nagendranath Gangopadhyay and printed at Adi Brahmosamaj Press, Kolkata. The cover design was based on Nandalal Bose's painting depicting the fall of petals of a lotus. However, before being published in a book form, jibonsmriti was serialised in the magazine Prabasi during 1911-12. It was included in the Rabindra-Rachanauali (seventeenth volume) of Visva-Bharati in 1943.
Jibonsmriti, was translated into English by Tagore's nephew, Surendranath Tagore, though retouched and slightly changed by Rabindranath himself. It was serialised in Ramananda Chattopadhyay's The Modern Review under the title My Reminiscences from January to December, 1916. To thwart the attempt by any foreign publisher to publish it, all the issues of The Modern Review carried the declaration, 'All Rights Reserved. Copyrighted in the United States of America'. Interestingly, Rabindranath himself advised Ramananda Chattopadhyay to mail one copy each of the issues of The Modern Review carrying My Reminiscences to W B. Yeats and Ernest Rhys. In April, 1917, it was published as a book by MacMillan, New York, with a colour portrait by Sasi Kumar Hesh as the frontispiece, apart from 12 paintings by Gaganendranath Tagore. The page numbers of the book were 8+268.
In the Translator's Preface, Surendranath Tagore wrote, 'In these memory pictures, so lightly, even casually presented by the author, there is, nevertheless, revealed a connected history of his inner life together with that of the varying literary forms in which his growing self found successive expression, up to the point at which both his soul and poetry attained maturity.' He also explained his motivation for the work with these words, 'The translator's familiarity however, with the persons, scenes and events herein depicted made it a temptation difficult for him to resist, as well as a responsibility which he did not care to leave to others not possessing these advantages, and therefore more liable to miss a point, or give a wrong Impression.
It has to be remembered that My Reminiscences is not an autobiography proper, it is just remembering the past. A;; a result, many major incidents have turned small here and many small incidents major, depending upon how it coloured the author's memory. Moreover, it does not deal with the incidents of the poer's life in a linear fashion. Stages have overlapped, sometimes collapsed, bringing a later incident forward and pushing a former incident backward. Tagore himself said, 'You would do well not to expect exact information in this book. You will find there what shape the past incidents have taken in my memory-chamber.' But he was optimistic that 'the fragrance of pure literature will emanate from the book' (Letters- 14, Letter No. 40).
Many critics have compared Tagore's My Reminiscences with Goethe's Truth and Poetry: from my own life, an unfinished autobiography spread over 13 chapters. Goethe has stopped the story of his creative life in 1771, when he was barely 22, though he lived a full life of83 (1749-1832). Rabindranath has also reminisced about his early life and the truth about his poetry up to the composition of Kodi 0 Komal, when he was just 25. After that he took leave of his readers under the pretext of lack of energy to go further. But the similarities between the two books end here. The Germany of the second half of the eighteenth century and first half of the nineteenth century, the personal life of Goethe, the influence of family and the social ambience on him-all these elements are totally different from Rabindranath's situation. Even the purpose of writing the memoir is also different, as is evident from Goethe's own words as to why he wrote his Dichtung und Wahrheit: ' ... to exhibit the man in relation to the features of his time; and to show to what extent they have opposed or favoured his progress; what view of mankind and the world he has formed from them and how far he himself, if an artist, poet or author may externally reflect them.'
Finally, a word about the position of My Reminiscences in Tagore's total ouevre. In fact, in this book Rabindranath has etched in words many of his primary experiences about his future poetry, plays and novels. A surging passion for being one with Nature, a sense of imagination-filled solitariness even in the midst of a crowd, a consciousness of the concrete and yet non-recognition of its weight-all these aspects of the book inform his later creations. In that sense, My Reminiscences can be called an introduction to the entire Tagorean canon.
These Reminiscences were written and published by the Author in his fiftieth year, shortly, before he started on a trip to Europe and America for his failing health in 1912. It was in the course of this trip that he wrote for the first time in the English language for publication.
In these memory pictures, so lightly, even casually presented by the author, there is, nevertheless, revealed a connected history of his inner life together with that of the varying literary forms in which his growing self found successive expression, up to the point at which both his soul and poetry attained maturity.
This lightness of manner and importance of matter form a combination, the translation of which into a different language is naturally a matter of considerable difficulty. It was, in any case, a task which the present Translator, not being an original writer in the English language, would hardly have ventured to undertake, had there not been other considerations. The translator's familiarity, however, with the persons, scenes, and events herein depicted made it a temptation difficult for him to resist, as well as a responsibility which he did not care to leave to others not possessing these advantages, and therefore more liable to miss a point, or give a wrong impression.
The Translator, moreover, had the author's permission and advice to make a free translation, a portion of which was completed and approved by the latter before he left India on his recent tour to Japan and America.
In regard to the nature of the freedom taken for the purposes of the translation, it may be mentioned that those suggestions which might not have been as dear to the foreign as to the Bengali reader have been brought out in a slightly more elaborate manner than in the original text; while again, in rare cases, others which depend on allusions entirely unfamiliar to the non-Indian reader, have been omitted rather than spoil by an over-elaboration the simplicity and naturalness which is the great feature of the original.
There are no footnotes in the original. All the footnotes here given have been added by the Translator in the hope that they may be of further assistance to the foreign reader.
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