‘There is no bigger deprivation amongst human beings thank lack of sorrow’
‘Sometimes it is easier to orchestrate a war than a story’
‘Even to be natural, one must practise’
Rabindranath Tagore demands to be quoted-for his impressive command over language, his inimitable expressions and, especially, for the keenness of his thought. Tagore’s poetry is legion, but his prose writings reflect the way he perceived the world and his involvement in the contemporary debates of his time. Tagore’s sharp, analytical, polyglot mind contested mainstream world views even as he maintained a unique position on the fundamental shifts that were occurring in society and politics in the first half of the twentieth century. The Nectar of Life, a collection of pithy quotations from Tagore’s prose writings, available in English for the first time, is distilled from his essays, speeches and letters. These musings on a wide array of subjects ranging from literature, nationalism and religion to beauty, happiness and love will delight readers, particularly those who are new to Tagore.
Born in 1861, Rabindranath Tagore was a key figure of the Bengal Renaissance. He started writing at an early age and by the turn of the century had become a household name in Bengal as a poet, a songwriter, a playwright, an essayist, a short story writer and a novelist. In 1913 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and his verse collection Gitanjali came to be known internationally. At about the same time he founded Visva—Bharati, a university located in Santiniketan, near Kolkata. Called the ‘Great Sentinel’ of modern India by Mahatma Gandhi, Tagore steered clear of active politics but is famous for returning his knighthood as a gesture of protest against the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919.
Tagore was a pioneering literary figure, renowned for his ceaseless innovations in poetry, prose, drama, music and painting—which he took up late in life. His works include novels; plays; essays on religious, social and literary topics; some sixty collections of verse; over a hundred short stories; and more than 2,500 songs, including the national anthems of India and Bangladesh.
Tagore died in 1941. His eminence as India’s greatest modern poet remains unchallenged to this day. Samir Sengupta has written biographies of eminent Bengali writers and also translated and edited their works.
Debjani Banerjee holds a PhD and teaches in the areas of postcolonial literature and cultural studies. She has previously translated two books for Penguin. She lives in Bangalore and enjoys travelling.
Any compilation of quotations from Rabindranath Tagore is bound to be incomplete. Not only did this astonishing personality have an astounding variety of thoughts and opinions on just about every subject under the sun, but he had the exceptional ability to express his thoughts precisely and memorably in writing. Tagore had mastered so many means of communication that only his complete works can perhaps truly represent the extent of his thought. The reader is quite likely to complain that one or the other of his favourite quotations from Tagore is missing from this collection. Just before the book went to press, I was myself reminded of several memorable quotes and regretted not having included them.
However, one should clarify at the outset that this compilation does not have lofty ambitions. Some years ago, I had some compulsory leave; I read Rabindranath’s prose anew and copied down some of his memorable lines. When I later showed these to some scholars, they suggested that I publish the collection- notable among them were Shankho Ghosh and Swapan Majumdar. The book was published with enthusiasm by Ananda Publishers in Bengali, and now it is made available to a wider audience by Penguin in English.
My hope is that in these pages readers will chance upon some wonderful quotations that they may not have come across before, or they may come upon a new interpretation of something they have read earlier. For readers who are new to Tagore, this small collection should provide an intriguing and enjoyable introduction. The quotations are divided into a series of thematic sections for the reader’s convenience.
The sources for the quotations have been omitted from the English edition. Quotations from Tagore’s novels, short stories and plays have not been used, since many of these lines are spoken by fictional characters and are often inextricably linked with the contest of the fictional work. What have been used are extracts from Tagore’s essays, travelogues, letters, some lectures and introductions.
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