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Thursday, 3 January, 2002, 14:29 GMT
Poetic bonanza for Indian publishers
Rock group
Rock bands are trying to update Tagore's work
By the BBC's Subir Bhaumik in Calcutta

Bengali-language publishers in India and Bangladesh plan to publish various versions of revered poet Rabindranath Tagore's works now that copyright restrictions have ended.

For many years, the Visvabharati University in West Bengal enjoyed sole copyright on all his works.

This included all of the huge volume of his poetry, novels, short stories, songs and plays.

Tagore is still tremendously popular with Bengalis cutting across religious and class lines

Badal Basu, Ananda Publishers

Tagore set up the university with cash from the Nobel prize for literature which he won in 1913, and contributions from friends.

The Indian Government last month refused to extend the sole copyright the university has enjoyed on Tagore's works beyond 2001.

Publishers say that decision has come as massive business opportunity for them.

The Executive Director of Calcutta's largest publishing house, Ananda Publishers, Badal Basu, says Tagore is still tremendously popular with Bengalis cutting across religious and class lines.

Rabindranath Tagore
Rabindranath Tagore: Revered by all

He says his group has ambitious plans to print various anthologies and compendiums of Tagore in 2002.

But he would not disclose the exact plans, saying that this was a "business secret".

Other publishers in Calcutta have similar plans - but they are keeping them close to their chests.

One publisher, named after Tagore's Nobel- winning anthology Geetanjali, says they want to publish translations of Tagore's works in many foreign languages.

Translations even in Arabic, Indonesian and Hebrew are planned.

Many publishers in Bangladesh, where thousands of freedom fighters sang Tagore's songs as they fought Pakistan's army in 1971, have similar plans.

Revenues lost

Visvabharati University is upset.

They say one of their biggest sources of revenue, the profits from published Tagore's works, is now gone.

And since other publishers are likely to be more competitive, the university will find it difficult to match them.

While this may pose problems for the university that commemorates Tagore, contemporary Bengali writers have welcomed the government's move.

Singing group
Singing Tagore the traditional way

They feel lifting the copyright restrictions will go a long way to popularising Tagore.

But traditional singers of his songs fear for the pristine quality of the genre.

They suspect new musical groups may attempt to stamp their own mark on Tagore's music, now that Visvabharati's control over the way this is rendered is gone as well.

To many Bengalis, Tagore is to the Bengali language what Shakespeare is to English.

The national anthems of both India and Bangladesh are based on his songs.

60 years after Tagore's death, his humanism and literary depth are not merely relevant in a strife-torn world; they are great business too.

The BBC's David Chazan reports
"This kind of youth culture could be a powerful force for change"
See also:

08 May 01 | South Asia
Bangladesh fears Tagore attacks
02 Mar 00 | South Asia
Bangladesh singer rocks traditionalists
22 Dec 99 | South Asia
Rare works stolen in India
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