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Tagore’s legacy among the youth

More than 70 years after his death does Tagore still hold the same magical spell among the people.

Parthapratim Mandal
Thu, May 9 2013

Photo: Rajat Dey

About Parthapratim

As a teacher and freelance journalist, I write articles on socio-cultural and literary issues. Recently my book “কথার ফোটোগ্রাফি” (An introduction to Jacques Prévert and translation of his poems from French to Bengali) was published.


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“Rabindranath’s world continues to be our world, especially in India, and the world-view and life’s solutions he offers are still acceptable to us today. Look at other countries : In Great Britain, its classic writer Shakespeare died 400 years ago, in Germany, Goethe died almost two hundred years ago, Dante, the Italian classic writer, lived in the European middle ages. And here is Rabindranath Tagore who was born 150 years ago and lived in this age for 80 years and helped to shape it.”

While Martin Kämpchen, the noted Tagore scholar and translator says this ("After Tagore 150 – Where to go from here?" Lecture at Rabindra-Bhavan, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan, 20th November 2012) about the person who was referred to as the ‘Indian Goethe’ by Albert Schweitzer, there are serious reasons to contemplate the most crucial question that concerns us all: Has Rabindranath become dated and generational? Does he still hold the same magical spell among the people that he did as late as in the eighties?

In spite of the euphoria that surrounds birth anniversary celebrations every year there is, perhaps, no denying the fact that a gradual decline is perceptible so far as serious studies of his works are concerned. Reading of Tagore’s works, more particularly his great short stories and poems, which once inspired millions of common readers for generations is now the exercise of a few, or, at best restricted to the academic milieu. If for anything Rabindranath still holds his erstwhile charm among the average young men and women today, it is for his mesmerizing songs on the one hand and the audio-visual adaptations of his stories on the other.

Rabindrasangeet with its beautiful blend of philosophical depth and touching melody still enchants the hearts of millions of Bengalis both young and old across the globe. In spite of the dominance of the Bollywood-spawned culture-industry the songs of Rabindranath still enjoy a considerable popularity as is evident in its wide reception at least among the culturally hegemonic middle class. Another important area where new interest is developing is Tagore’s painting which is seen to be a very important part of his phenomenal creativity. Rabindranath seriously started to draw and paint in his sixties ‘soon after his encounter with Victoria Ocampo’ (Ketaki Kushari Dyson, In your Blossoming Flower-garden.) but this late development in his artistic career is sure to outlive the others.

Yet it is in the reinvention of his works on celluloid, be it films, telefilms or serials that his popularity with the masses still continues. Audio-visual adaptations capture the minds of the young people more easily than reading which is rather a one-dimensional activity which requires serious concentration. There is also the scope to make the 19th and early 20th century plots up to date and more suitable for modern viewers. Following Satyajit Ray’s footsteps who immortalized stories like ‘Nosto Neer’ (CHARULATA) or ‘Ghare Baire’, a new set of directors have lately emerged in the Bengali film industry with plots from Tagore’s stories. It is not difficult to discern why such adaptations are receiving so much attention and appreciation in and abroad.

But one should remember that if we are to understand the real greatness of Tagore we should concentrate more on the serious study of his works, as they are, by any criterion, the rarest gems of world literature.

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