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Tagore: The Public Figure and the Private Person


Nivedita Sen

MY LIFE IN MY WORDS: RABINDRANATH TAGORE
Edited and Introduced by Uma Das Gupta
Penguin, Delhi, 2006, pp. 395, Rs. 495.00

ANOTHER ASIA: RABINDRANATH TAGORE AND OKAKURA TENSHIN
By Rustom Bharucha
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 236, Rs. 495.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 3 MARCH 2008

Biographies of Tagore range from those by Ernest Rhys and Edward Thompson, his contemporaries, to those of Kripalani in the mid-century, and the more recent volume by Robinson and Datta. They include excerpts from Tagore on Tagore as well as his discursive prose about history, poetry and life. Das Gupta’s book is another milestone in the compilation of Tagore’s writings about himself and the world at large. It includes subjects like his deviation from conventional paradigms, his family, his angst and anxieties, his travels, his political views, his philosophy, his educational enterprise, his religion and god, his attempts at rural reconstruction and more. Various first person narratives—letters, memoirs of certain phases of his life, diaries, public lectures et al have been strung together, anthologizing an authoritative ‘autobiogaraphy’ of sorts.   The title professes that it is written by Rabindranath Tagore, and only selected and edited with an introduction by Uma Das Gupta, who has ‘constructed’ the autobiography. She self-consciously encroaches into and appropriates the space of the autobiographer, but thereafter navigates her way judiciously through the problematic of her title.   Autobiography, says Lejune, has the author, the narrator and the protagonist merge as a single entity. In this book, however, the author-editor is distinct from the author-narrator-protagonist, and merely recuperates the life of the author in his words. But she assumes the prerogative of introducing each chapter, highlighting the major biographical details pertaining to that chapter. These interspersed prefatory remarks also sequentially narrativize different phases of Tagore’s life. In a work that declares itself a personal memoir, this is certainly an interpolation, however necessary. The collapsing of the identities of the author-editor and the narrator-protagonist is impracticable, because a learned, thinking mind with a retrospectively advantaged perspective collates all the scattered writings, rendering them presentable and meaningful for contemporary readers. Gleaning diverse details and insights from the author’s interactions within the private and public realm, hers is a unified presence throughout.   In salvaging published and unpublished documents that can cohere to fashion a single narrative, Das Gupta undertakes the mammoth task of retrieving the life of Bengal’s most canonized man of letters by minimal intrusion. Autobiographic ‘intentionality’, however, a crucial link between author, narrator and protagonist, is absent from this work. The editor privileges certain pieces over others to simulate the story of the author’s life. Yet she has no access to anything beyond ...


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