The Oxford India Tagore : Selected Writings on Education and Nationalism

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Item Code: IDL196
Author: Uma Das Gupta
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 0195677072
Pages: 539
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.9" X 5.9"
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Book Description
From the Jacket

Poet, playwright, novelist, short story writer, essayist, composer, and painter, Rabindranath Tagore was a visionary nationalist, an internationalists, and a committed educationist. Tagore experimented with novel methods of teaching and pioneered comprehensive rural development at his university in Santiniketan as an experiment for the whole country. The goals were a revitalized peasantry, village self-reliance through small scale enterprises, cottage industries, and cooperative values.

The Oxford India Tagore focuses on Tagore’s views on nationalism, internationalism, and his work on education. Including essays, letters, lectures, addresses, poetry, and his novel Four Chapters (Char Adhyaya), the selections being to light how persistently Tagore sought a solution to the problems of his times in a new and creative education, in scholarly exchange between East and West, and in national self-respect. The writings-giving as substantial excerpts or as full texts-make it clear that in many ways Tagore’s educational work and his nationalism deviated from both the colonialist historiography and the nationalist ideology of those times.

The Introduction by Uma Das Gupta locates the author in his times, while the Notes provide additional information. The detailed chronology of Tagore’s life and times-a special feature of this volume-helps to link events in Tagore’s life with world events, and also provides a broad framework within which his work can be appreciated. The photographs, prefacing each section, vivify the life of one who wanted to bring the West on equal terms to an India of his aspiration: an India of multiple cultures; an India where the impoverished village is given education and dignity of life; an India building its strength and self-respect by uniting castes and communities under an enlightened leadership.

Part of the prestigious ‘Oxford India Collection’, The Oxford India Tagore is an much for those who admire Tagore generally as for scholars of Indian history and culture.

Uma Das Gupta is former Research Professor, Social Sciences Division, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata. Author of Rabindranath Tagore: A Biography (OUP 2004), she has edited Tagore’s correspondence with the British missionary and historian Edward Thompson in A Difficult Friendship: Letters of Edward Thompson and Rabindranath Tagore 1913-1940 (OUP 2003)

Editor’s Note

It is good to bear in mind that Tagore was an exceptionally prolific writer and that there is no end to the material he has left us, not just in his own mother tongue but also in English. He is the most reputed, if controversial, bilingual author of our time. In a letter to his niece, he wrote a personal story about why and how he began to translate his work into English. But there were also circumstantial factors in what turned him into a bilingual author. Let me first narrate his personal story of the translations he did of the Gitanjali poems which won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, the first ever Nobel award to an Asian and Indian writer. He wrote out his personal story to his niece Indira Devi Chaudhurani,

You have alluded to the English translation of Gitanjali. I cannot imagine to this day how people came to like it so much. That I cannot write English is such a patent fact that I never had even the vanity to feel ashamed of it. If anybody wrote an English letter inviting me to tea I did not feel equal to answering it. Perhaps you think that by now I have got over that delusion. By no means. That I have written in English seems to be the delusion. On the day I was to board the ship to England, I fainted due to my frantic efforts at leave-taking and the journey itself was postponed. Then I went to Shelidah to take rest. But unless the brain is fully active, one does not feel strong enough to relax completely: so the only way to keep myself calm was to take up some light work.

It was then the month of Chaitra (March-April), the air was thick with the fragrance of mango-blossoms and all hours of the day were delirious with the song of birds. When a child is full of vigour, he does not think of his mother. It is only when he is tired that he wants to nestle in her lap. That was exactly my position. With all my heart and all my holiday I seem to have settled comfortably in the arms of Chaitra, without missing a particle of light, its air, its scene and its song. In such a state one cannot remain idle. It is an odd habit of mine, as you know, that when the air strikes my bones, they tend to respond in music. Yet I had not the energy to sit down and write anything new. So I took up the poems of Gitanjali and set myself to translate them one by one. You may wonder why such a crazy ambition should possess one in such a weak state of health. But believe me, I did not undertake this task in a spirit of reckless bravado. I simply felt an urge to recapture through the medium of another language the feelings and sentiments which had created such a feast of joy within me in the days gone by.

The pages of a small exercise book came to be filled gradually, and with it in my pocket I boarded the ship. The idea of keeping it in my pocket was that when my mind became restless on the high seas, I could recline on a deck-chair and set myself to translate one or two poems from time to time. And that is what actually happened. From one exercise book I passed on to another. Rothenstein already had an inkling of my reputation as a poet from another Indian friend. Therefore, when in the course of conversations he expressed a desire to see some of my poems, I handed him my manuscript with some diffidence. Could hardly believe the opinion he expressed after going through it. He then made over the manuscript to Yeats. The story that followed is known to you. From this explanation of mine you will see that I was not responsible for the offence, which was due mainly to the force of circumstance.

There was one more personal story in the background to those translations. Rothenstein, mentioned above in Tagore’s letter to niece Indira, came to Calcutta from London in 1910. He met the Tagores through E.B. Havell, a British historian of Indian art who was then Principal of the Calcutta Government College of Art and Craft. After Rothenstein returned to London he wrote to Tagore, ‘It has been for me a real privilege and joy to have had the advantage of meeting you…you will perhaps remember that I shall be grateful for any translation of poems and stories which may appear at any time’. This request from Rothenstein must have been an incentive in the development of Tagore’s English translations. When he finally went to London after the postponement, it was to Rothenstein that Tagore gave his notebook of translated verses. It was Rothenstein who initiated Tagore’s career in the West and was responsible for the first publication of the Gitanjali in English.

There was also a set of external circumstances which played a crucial role in turning Tagore into a bilingual author. Even before his own translations of his verses, friends in Calcutta and in England had begun to translate his work. Between 1909 and 1912, at least fifteen of his short stories and nine of hi poems were published in English translation in The Modern Review of Calcutta. There was clearly a growing demand for translations of his work into English which made sense, given that English was in use in India since the beginning of British colonial rule. Singnificantly creative Indians were writing in English, namely Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Toru Dutt, and some years later Sarojini Naidu, Manmohan ghose, Sri Aurobindo. Further on the novelists Mulkraj Anand, R.K. Narayan, and Raja Rao were writing in English well within Tagore’s lifetime. Instead of letting others translate his works, Tagore may have felt an urge in that creatively novel environment to translate his own most beloved poems, those that by his own admission were a ‘feast of joy’ in his life. However, what was remarkable about him was that even with becoming a seriously committed bilingual writer, there was no dilemma in him over his choice of the mother-tongue as the principle Bengali, his mother tongue, but a good forty per cent of it can be said to exist in English.

As compiler and editor of this volume I have used mostly Tagore’s English writings and translations. There are only a few done by me which have been stated in the Notes as ‘Translated by UDG’ or ‘Translations by UDG’ if they are in a group. Tagore’s English pieces were written either directly in English by him, or else translated and even (sometimes unrecognizably) recreated by him from their original versions in Bengali. Some were translated by others but overseen and checked by him. We would include those as his translations. There are several manuscripts with revisions or corrections in Tagore’s handwriting in the archival collections. The translator’s name are often not given.

I should add a word of caution about our approach to his English writing. Some of it may seem old-fashioned today given that most of it was written about a century ago. He used to write in a free style and his sentences tended to be long-winded. Rich in thought, he used a lot of metaphors and symbols to communicate his thought. That enriched his language but made it a little heavy. His writing is therefore not conducive to fast reading. He admitted repeatedly to being diffident in English, a language in which he was never formally trained. Here is what he wrote to his English biographer Edward Thompson about his deficiency in the English language ‘You know I began to pay court to your language when I was fifty. It was pretty late for me ever to hope to win her heart. Occasional gifts of favour do not delude me with false hopes. Not being a degree holder of any of our universities I know my limitations-and I fear to rush into the field reserved for angels to tread.’ Even so, even with this self-admitted apprehension, he found a way to enjoy translating his verses into English. In a more explicit letter to J.D. Anderson he wrote,

It was the want of mastery in your language that originally prevented me from trying English metres in my translations. But now I have gown reconciled to my limitations through which I have come to know the wonderful power of English prose. The clearness, strength and the suggestive music of well-balanced English sentences make it a delightful task for me to mould my Bengali poems into English prose form. I think one should frankly give up the attempt at reproducing in a translation the lyrical suggestions of the original verse and substitute in their place some new quality inherent in the new vehicle of expression. In English prose there is a magic which seems to transmute my Bengali verses into something which is original again in a different manner. Therefore it not only satisfies but gives me delight to assist my poems in their English rebirth though I am far from being confident in the success of my task.

He knew English literature well and reiterated time and again how he loved it not merely for its literary quality but also for its contribution to the making of a liberal and modern mind. It seems quite evident that his experience of English literature made him keen to break out of the isolation imposed by colonial rule, keen to communicate with the world and to reach out to a larger humanity. Driven by that amazing ideal, he heroically turned himself into an active bilingual writer in his middle age. In a letter to his friend Rothenstein he wrote, ‘Latterly I have written and published both prose and poetry in English, mostly translations unaided by any friendly help, but this again I have done to express my ideas, not for gaining any reputation for my mastery in the use of a language which can never be mine.

Among the pieces he wrote directly in English are his prose collections of Sadhana (1914), Personality (1917), Nationalism (1917), The Centre of India Culture (1919), Thought Relics (1921), Creative Unity (1922), Talks in China (1924), Letters from Abroad (1924), Letters to a Friend (published 1928), Lectures and Addresses (published 1928), The Religion of Man (1931), Mahatmaji and the Depressed Humanity (1932), East and West (1935), and Man (1937). In poetry the only thing he wrote directly in English was The Child (1931). As for the rest of his poetry in English, and some of his dramas, those were either his translations or done by others and overseen by him. These were, in poetry, Gitanjali (1912), The Gardener (1913), The Crescent Moon (1913), Chitra (1913), One Hundred Poems of Kabir (1914), Fruit Gathering (1916), Stray Birds (1916), Lover’s Gift and Crossing (1918), The Fugitive (1921), The Waterfall (1922), Fireflies (1928), The Augustan Book of Modern Poetry: Rabindranath Tagore (1925), Fifteen Poems of Rabindranath Tagore (1928), Sheaves (1929), and The Golden Boat (1929). Among his translated plays and stories are Glimpses of Bengal Life (stories, 1913), The King of the Dark Chamber (play, 1914), The Post Office (play, 1914), The Maharani of Arakan (Drama based on his story ‘Daliya’, 1915). Hungry Stones and Other Stories (1916), My Reminiscences (autobiography, 1917), Mashi and Other Stories (1918), The Parrot’s Training (allegorical story, 1918), Stories from Tagore (1918), The Home and the World (novel, 1919), Autumn Festival (play, 1917), Mashi and other Stories (1916), My Reminiscences (autobiography, 1917), Sacrifice and Other Plays (1917), The Cycle of Spring (play, 1917) Mashi and Other Stories (1918), The Parrot’s Training (allegorical story, 1918), Stories from Tagore (1918), The Home and the World (novel, 1919), Autumn Festival (play, 1919), Greater India (essays, 1921), The Wreck (novel, 1921), Glimpses of Bengal (letters, 1921), Gora (novel, 1924), The Curse at Farewell (drama, 1924), Red Oleanders (drama, 1925), Broken Ties and Other Stories (1925), Four Chapters (novel, 1935), Collected Poems and Plays (1936), My Boyhood Days (autobiography, 1940), and Crisis in Civilization (essay, 1941).

The late scholars Sisir Kumar Das wrote an incisive account of Tagore’s bilingualism in his introductions to the three volumes of The English writing of Rabindranath Tagore published by the Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi and edited by Sisir Kumar Das. Tagore’s writings, whether in Bengali or in English, stretching as they did over several decades, can give us a comprehensive view of his contribution to our times transcending any temporal standards. His writings sought to represent the spirit of East-West understanding, and to touch man’s universal humanity.

My brief introductions to each chapter of this volume include relevant information concerning the context in which the original material was written. Words occurring in Bengali or Sanskrit in the text of the material have been marked with an asterisk and defined in a Glossary of ‘Indian Worlds’. The published and unpublished sources from which the excerpts have been drawn are detailed in the Notes to the Chapters, and the works in their particular editions are listed in the Sources at the end of the volume. The main archival sources of Tagore’s works are available at Visva-Bharati University’s Rabindra-Bhavana Archives in Santiniketan. These have been cited as [R.B.A.] in the Notes to the Chapters.

Back of the Book

‘This is my prayer to Thee, my Lord-Give me the strength to make my love fruitful in service.’
-Gitanjali (Song Offerings), 1912, Poem # 36

‘This timely collection of Tagore’s writings on nationalism, education, and other related issues will go far in ensuring that our contemporary debates on the legacy of the great man are at least informed by what he actually said. Students of Modern India will be grateful to have this book at hand.’ -Dipesh Chakrabarty, Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor of History and South Asian Studies, The University of Chicago

‘Uma Das Gupta has assembled a carefully selected, thematically arranged, and thoroughly absorbing compendium of the ideas of Rabindranath Tagore…surprisingly relevant to the moral and ethical issues of our own time.’
-Blair B. Kling, Professor Emeritus of History.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

‘…a brilliant collection of the poet’s writings in English. The editor’s lucid and erudite introduction enhances the quality of the volume.’
-Tapan Raychaudhuri, Professor of Indian History
and Civilization (retd.), University of Oxford.

Rabindranath Tagore A Short Biographical Note

In presenting Rabindranath Tagore in a short note I will point only to a few dominant characteristics. He was first and foremost a poet. But he was sensitive to other pressures and become a public man, even a polemical speaker and writer, nationally and internationally. He lived in the ferment of a dynamic world, when the ‘unchanging’ East had stirred. He broke away from traditions, he spoke out his mind. Gandhi and Nehru regarded him as the ‘conscience’ of India. He consistently urged his countrymen to first reform their own society and note to bet this from a foreign government. He summoned his countrymen to turn to the villages, where the majority of Indians lived, and take up agricultural improvement, education, social welfare, and resist the barriers of caste and creed. He did the same himself in the villages of his family’s estates in eastern Bengal, also in the villages surrounding his Santiniketan school. He was committed to a civil society and believed that historically India’s strength lay in her ‘social civilization’ whereby her people learnt to live in relative harmony by ignoring the successive invasions and conquests. To him society was an ‘end in itself’ without an ‘ulterior purpose’, whereas, he held, the Nation State made individuals bend their personal wills to the ‘National will’ with impersonal goals. He put his faith firmly in education to find freedom from this predicament.

What he appreciated most when he visited the Soviet Union in 1931 was not the Revolution but their attainment in mass education. His fundamental position in constructive national work was to spread education whether through the National Council of Education established by a group of nationalist leaders in Calcutta, or through his Visva-Bharati International University at Santiniketan, or the model village he tried to create through the Sriniketan Institute of Rural Reconstruction. He had no illusion about the values of his own social class. He wrote, ‘It is well known that the education which is prevalent in our country is extremely meagre in the spread of its areas and barren in quality. Unfortunately this is all that is available for us and that has set up an artificial standard proudly considered as respectable. Outside the bhadraklok class, pathetic in their struggle for fixing a university label on their name, there is a vast obscure multitude who cannot even dream of such a costly ambition.

In truth, there was not a great deal any one individual could do to bring fundamental change to an unequal and unjust world. What is important to understand is that Tagore was not indifferent to the need, that he tried hard to make a difference by constructive thought and action to the extent he could. That can be his legacy in our individual lives. A keen sense of his failing perhaps made him so utterly sensitive and sympathetic to Mahatma Gandhi’s cause, masses. About Gandhi he wrote, ‘Who else has so unreservedly accepted the vast masses of India as his own flesh and blood?


Rabindranath Tagore: A Short Biographical Noteviii
Editor’s Notexiii
Introduction by Uma Das Guptaxix
II.Founding a New Education83
III.East and West in a Scientific Age161
IV.The Problem of India251
V.A Self-Respecting Nationalism as Our Salvation337
Rabindranath Tagore: A Chronology433
Glossary of Indian Words474
Bibliography of Tagore’s Writings on Education483
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