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Friday, 27 April, 2001, 15:41 GMT 16:41 UK
Is the Tagore industry harming his legacy?
A few years ago, Kushwant Singh, one of India's most popular columnists, mildly criticised the literary work of Rabindranath Tagore.
The outcry across India was so great that Singh was forced to publicly recant his statement.
Music, literature, painting, social reform: Tagore commands - among Bengalis in particular - a unique reverence. And the appetite for all things associated with him has led to the growth of a formidable international industry, charting every aspect of his life.
But works like Sunil Gangopadhyay's novelised history, Pratham Alo, have also led to a fierce debate over whether the personal life of such figures should be discussed at all.
The book, which has just been published in English, paints a candid picture of Tagore's relationship with a number of women - among them his sister-in-law, Kadambari.
So does such knowledge add to our understanding of Tagore, or does it obscure the importance of his work? Are commercial interests being put before artistic concerns? Is the Tagore legacy now suffocating Bengali culture? And, if so, has the industry surrounding Bengal's biggest export gone too far?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Prasenjit, India/ Canada
I have read some of Tagore's poems,
seen some of his paintings.
I admire his versatility in all things art.
However, a candid understanding of his
personality and life only adds to
the human side of this gifted individual.
By being candid about famous and
gifted personalities we allow the aspirations
among common folks to blossom. Unfortunately,
in India there is a tendency to hide in the name of pride.
History should be written as it is and as it was... rather than
Sunil Gangopadhyay is a good writer and having read his books I feel that we have misunderstood what he is trying to convey. Tagore was a figure revered by all Indians and the writer has simply portrayed a balanced outlook on Tagore, his works, his personal life and all that he stood for. The debate is not so much about whether Tagore was right or wrong, it is about whether we are right enough to judge him. History has judged him, we are but mere mortals!
Albert P'Rayan, Rwanda (Indian)
I believe that the Tagore industry wants to suffocate any information which may cast him in a different light. Please! He was no GOD. He was made of flesh and blood, he also had similar primal urges as anyone else but that's not what he is great for.
Rabindranath broke many of the existing literary conventions in his time, so it would be in the least surprising whether in personal life he was any different. As imperfect humans, we associate charm with the mythic and spiritual. Realistically speaking, I suspect some of the sheen of his writings may be lost if that image is dented. It is most unfair, in my mind, but unfortunately we do not live in a utopian world.
Nothing wrong with a Tagore industry, as long as the players are people who are intelligent and cultured enough to understand Tagore and Bengali culture. That said, negative criticism of anything held dearly is something most Indians find difficult to accept. As a Bengali myself, I think it's time to move beyond the idolisation of Tagore and Ray and look at some of the more modern artists.
Rabindranath Tagore a Nobel laureate, (revived in 1913), is the first and last man who received this award for Bengali literature. He covered all sections of literature, i.e. poetry, prose, stories and dramas. I think whoever has read his works more or less knows about his personal life but this should not undermine his great literary works. It may be noted here that he presented only about 200 translated poems (done by himself) to the Swedish Academy. He has written immeasurable books covering all sections of Bengali literature.
Mukhtar Ali Naqvi, USA
Tagore is definitely one of the giant literary figures of all time. But that does not mean that Bengali culture is being suffocated, as British culture has not been stifled by Shakespeare. Rather, any cursory glance at the voluminous body of post-Tagore literary and other creative works of Bengal will show that writers, poets, sculptors, painters and other categories of artists from this part of the world have come a long way from where Tagore left his footprints. Tagore is a heritage that every Bengali is and should be proud of. But they are not leashed to him.
Given the historically significant contribution of Tagore to India's emergence, I doubt that a widespread knowledge of his minor indiscretions with members of the opposite sex will make too many people lose their regard for this great man. All Indian patriots will undoubtedly know the words to the Indian National Anthem ... to sing that anthem and to denounce Tagore for his flings on the side would be somewhat hypocritical; Tagore composed the anthem!
I certainly think commercial interests are given precedence over artistic concerns. Knowledge of Tagore's personal life does in no way enhance our understanding of the value of his literary and other output, and it is plain sensationalism at its worst.
By researching and throwing more
light on his personality we
understand the workings of
his mind better. But the
research has to be authentic
Nobody can undo Tagore
as a literary giant of our
I've read quite a few of Sunil Gangopadhyay's
work, he has a good ability to hold the reader's attention.
But in my opinion, what he wrote in the book
"Pratam Alo" is just a story. The book might
have a little fragrance of history but it is not
Vijay Kumar Malhotra, UK
Personally, I would expect these people to be sensible enough to not hurt anybody's feelings just for the sake of freedom of expression. However, if what they are doing indeed helps in furthering our understanding of their subject's works, all power to them.
Tagore was undoubtedly a great poet
and intellectual. He was also a great
patriot. I salute him for that.
We Indians have to
try to achieve the ideals that men like
him stood for.
However, one problem with our Indian society is that
we elevate great people to such a
lofty position that it almost turns them
into mythological figures. At the
same time we tend to treat some of
our fellow citizens like animals.
We are too extreme in our praise
and too harsh in criticising others.
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