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The Cosmopolitan Tagore

Malashri Lal

Edited by Fakrul Alam  and Radha Chakravarty
Visva Bharati,Kolkata, 2011, pp. 762, Rs.1500.00


In the year commemorating Rabindranath Tagore's 150th birth anniversary, the highest gain has been in taking 'Gurudev' be-yond Bengal. The attractive and erudite volu-me, The Essential Tagore, edited by eminent scholars, Radha Chakravarty from India and Fakrul Alam from Bangladesh immediately makes the point that Tagore, though rooted in Bengal, belonged to an international arena through his writings and translations, his phi-losophy, opinions and social observations. Pro-fusely illustrated with photographs and sket-ches, and presenting Tagore through trans-lators placed all over the world, this volume is an impressive tribute to the vision of Tagore that could imagine ‘the world, making a home in a single nest’ as the motto of Visva Bharati says, 'Yatra visvam bhavatyekanidam'. My focus in this review will be on the 'cosmopolitan Tagore,' one who travelled extensively through countries, imbibing their culture, conveying his poetry, music and philosophy, always interested in the dialogue between nations. There was a wide recognition of Tagore beyond the exactness of his Bengali vocabulary, yet an unfortunate impression has persisted among many scholars that knowledge of Bengali is crucial to the appreciation of Tagore and that translation is by and large a poor equivalent. The Essential Tagore breaks that dichotomy as one moves smoothly between Tagore’s English writings and the superb translations of his Bengali works. Amit Chaudhury's excellent 'Foreword' aptly titled 'Poetry as Polemic' is simulta-neously his personal journey through Tagoriana and an astute critique of India’s transformative development through the ages. He says, for instance, 'Tagore's way of suggesting that he lives in a unique moment in history is to em-brace change as a fundamental constituent of existence—indeed, as a crucial constituent of diction, imagination, and craft' (ET, p. xxiii). With that approach, and by focussing on Tagore's interpretations of classical texts, and renderings of contemporary issues, Chaudhury creates a remarkable essay that both introduces the anthology and also stands on its own. Readers will find prolific references to Tagore's personal biography, intellectual exchanges, travels, lectures and writing woven seamlessly into a statement for our times. For me the book points to an essential quality of Rabindranath that he was a 'traveller', a sojourner in every sense of the word. In Pather Sanchay, he says 'The heart wants to go on, that is its dharma. For unless it moves, it dies…I too have felt within me the call to change my abode. I must leave ...

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