About the Book:
Rabindranath Tagore has been a strong cultural force especially in West Bengal and Bangladesh, where the population speaks his language, Bengali. He channelized the energies of the entire subcontinent towards our modern age. Europe and American identify Tagore and Gandhi with modern India more than any other persons.
Tagore enjoyed a special relationship with Germany. The enthusiasm with which the German people welcomed the poet in 1921 was tumultuous and unprecedented. Tagore believed that India and Germany can play a joint special role in our times as both of them were idealistic peoples. The book focuses on four Germans who were probably the most important figures for Tagore during his visit to Germany: The well-known philosopher Hermann Keyserling became a friend. Kurt Wolff was Tagore's German publishers. Helen Meyer-Frank, a teacher by profession, became Tagore's most devoted interpreter. Through these four relationship, some of the basic attitudes expressed by Germans towards the cultural icon that was Tagore will become clearer:
About the Author:
MARTIN KAMPCHEN (b. 1948) did his studies in Germany, USA, Paris and Vienna. He obtained Ph.D. in German Literature from Vienna on "The Depiction of Cruelty and Inhuman Acts on the Literature on the First and Second World War". He first visited India in 1971. He worked as a Lecturer in German at the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Calcutta (1973-77). He obtained his second Ph.D. in Comparative Religion under Professor Kaildas Bhattacharya from Visva Bharati, Santiniketan. The title of his thesis was "The Concept of Holiness in the Lives of Sri Ramakrishna and Francis of Assisi". Since 1987, Dr. Kampchen has been a research scholar affiliated to Rabindra-Bhavan, Santiniketan.
Dr. Kampchen is engaged in the translation of the conversations of Sri Ramakrishna (the Kathamrita) for the first time from Bengali into German. Two volumes (of the three planned) have already been published. He has also translated from Bengali to German three representative selections of Rabindranath Tagore's poems and aphorisms. A Documentation on Rabindranath Tagore and Germany has been published by the Max Muller Bhavan/Goethe-Institut (Calcutta 1991); his German biography of Tagore is part of the Rowohlts Monographien series (Hamburg 1992). He is editor of a nine-volume scholarly book-series on the religions of India (Zurich 1986-1992). Since 1984, he has guided the development efforts in two Santal villages ten kilometres away from Santiniketan.
Rabindranath Tagore has been a strong cultural force especially in West Bengal and Bangladesh, where the population speaks his language, Bengali, He channelized the energies of the entire subcontinent towards our modern age. Europe and America identify Tagore and M.K. Gandhi with modern India more than any other persons. Rabindranath enjoyed a special relationship with Germany. The enthusiasm with which the German people welcomed the poet in 1921 was tumultous and unprecedented, even though rather short- lived. Tagore, in his turn, believed in the special joint role India and Germany were to play in our times, as both of them were idealistic peoples. He often expressed the conviction that their idealistic roots would protect them from the emptiness of materialism and provide an example to the rest of mankind. Neither country 'has in fact redeemed this expectation, but the special emotional ties between India and Germany remain.
It is true, during the Second World War Tagore was anathema in Germany, and in the post-war era it took several decades until new editions and translations found their readers. Nonetheless, academic interest in Tagore never faded. Certain aspects of Tagore's relationship with Germany have been scrutinized in the past. I remind the reader of the work done by Alex Aronson, Alokeranjan Dasgupta and Heinz Mode.
The first comprehensive study of that relationship was contained in my book Rabindranath Tagore and Germany: A Documentation (Calcutta: Max Mueller Bhavan 1991). After it was published, I continued to collect material in India and in Europe. I did this in the hope of bringing together the factual context surrounding this relationship and to understand its intrinsic cultural importance more fully. Apart from this, I intended to record the facts of a fascinating chapter of Indo-German literary history.
The present book is the first fruit of this effort. I focus on four Germans who were probably the most important figures for Tagore during his visits to Germany and who worked the hardest in projecting his message in that country in the 1920s. Each of these persons had an intense personal relationship with the poet, but each played a different role. The well-known philosopher Hermann Keyserling acted as a friend towards Tagore, trying to advise and guide the poet during his journey through Germany. Kurt Wolff was Tagore's German publisher and his role was defined by his efforts to project Tagore before the German reading public. Helene Meyer- Franck, a teacher by profession, became Tagore's most devoted translator; while her husband, Heinrich Meyer-Benfey, a professor of literature, was Tagore's interpreter through numerous essays and one significant book. Through these four relationships, some of the basic attitudes expressed by Germans towards the cultural icon that was Tagore will perhaps become clearer.
Yet it is not irrelevant to mention that the deeply appreciative attitude of these four persons towards the Indian poet was not altogether universal in Germany. There were critics too. Thomas Mann may be mentioned who refused to heed Hermann Keyserling's invitation to the Tagore Week at Darmstadt and was not impressed upon meeting Tagore in .Munich. "I have scant interest in this harmoniser", was his summary rejection of the poet. I The Austrian writer Stefan Zweig and the Jewish scholar Martin Buber, too, were critical, although their overall impression of the poet was positive. In fact, Zweig was inspired by Tagore's personality, but he bemoaned Tagore's "foolishness to crisscross Europe from Naples to Stockholm, from Paris to Bucharest, speaking to snobs in an unknown language of matters most sacred"." Buber, too, felt that the way in which Tagore projected himself to the German 'public was flawed. The only intellectual who vehemently and venomously criticized Tagore was Georg Lukacs. In his review of Tagore's novel The Home and the World Lukacs declared that Tagore was "a wholly insignificant figure" both as a creative writer and as a (political) thinker. Lukacs' contention was that Tagore's novel was directed against the Indian Freedom Struggle and was aimed at cementing the "eternal subjection of India.
The daily German press was by far more vocal and effective in voicing their criticism of Tagore than these individual writers. The general belief is that Tagore's German trips were met with popular enthusiasm. This is certainly true. It is, however, little known that there existed a strong current of mistrust and non-acceptance as well. I have alluded to some of the points made by the press in the course of this book. Let me briefly summarize them here: Firstly, it was felt that "Eastern philosophy", as epitomized by Tagore, was too mild and "weakening"; what was needed at the time of rebuilding the nation after the First World War. was a strong and dynamic approach to life. Secondly, cultural envy was much in evidence. Why should an Indian writer be venerated by the masses? - many a newspaper asked. Were many German or European writers not equally worthy of respect? Thirdly, Tagore was accused of being a missionary of Hinduism attempting to convert Christian Europe to his own creed. And lastly, the shrill praise and noisy reverence Tagore received in many places was turned against the poet as if he were responsible for it. This may" suffice to provide the background for a balanced appreciation of the discussions that follow.
I began to write this book in 1995 during a three-month fellowship at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (Shimla). After this, I continued my research at Rabindra-Bhavan (Santiniketan) and at the Deutsche Literaturarchiv (Marbach/Germany). I am especially grateful to the staff of these three research institutions. I have acknowledged the help of several other institutions and a number of colleagues and friends in the Notes at the end. Three of them I wish to mention here, as they took a special interest in the entire manuscript. They are Prasanta Kumar Paul (Santinikeran), Tagore's biographer in Bengali, who checked the facts and generously shared his material with me; Mary Ann Dasgupta (Calcutta) who helped me to bring this manuscript into presentable English; and William Radice (London), Tagore's translator into English, who during a stay in Santiniketan, spent several evenings with me discussing this manuscript and suggested valuable corrections and alterations.
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