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Friday, 27 April, 2001, 15:41 GMT 16:41 UK
Is the Tagore industry harming his legacy?
Rabindranath Tagore
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.

Your reaction

Tagore is more than a great writer

Prasenjit, India/ Canada
Tagore is more than a great writer. For any Bengali, he is part of our childhood, our memories, our literary and poetic psyche. The words of his poems define and give meaning to the poignant moments of our lives. To know that he was also human endears him even more. I now cannot admire him enough!
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 being selective.
Minu, USA

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!
Rajeev, USA

Why should we bother about whether he had an affair with one woman or many women?

Albert P'Rayan, Rwanda (Indian)
I have read Tagore's work and I do admire it. I'm least interested in his personal life. Why should we bother about whether he had an affair with one woman or many women? When I teach literature I don't discuss the biographical details of authors with my students. It is immaterial. What Sunil Gangopadhyay has written in his book may be true, but the content need not bother us much.
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.
Amitabha Bandyopadhyay, USA

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.
Pratik Bhattacharjee, India/ USA

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.
Rustam Roy, UK

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.
Sayedur Rahman, Bahrain, Arabian Gulf

It should not let us undermine him as a great literary figure

Mukhtar Ali Naqvi, USA
There might be some dark side of the character of Tagore, but it should not let us undermine him as a great literary figure. The writer of the book under review gives authentic details about his social deviation. There is nothing wrong with revealing facts that are true. These facts might help the literary critics go deep into the real working of his mind. However, we find it shocking that the man who had the set mission of reviving spiritualism deviated from the accepted norms of good behaviour.
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.
Amitabha Mukhopadhyay, Kuwait

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!
Rahul Mahajan, UK

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.
Indrajit Bhowmick, Kuwait

He is definitely the greatest literary figure of modern India

Dhirendra, India
Tagore was the first non-westerner to be honoured by the Nobel Prize. He had a firm belief in tolerance and the acceptance of other cultures and thoughts. He never belittled anyone and would have ignored any criticism of himself or his work. He is definitely the greatest literary figure of modern India.
Dhirendra, India

By researching and throwing more light on his personality we understand the workings of his mind better. But the research has to be authentic and thorough. Nobody can undo Tagore as a literary giant of our times.
Srikanth Ranganathan, Indian in USA

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 the history.
Rafique Sadekin, USA

Tagore is over-rated as a writer

Vijay Kumar Malhotra, UK
Tagore is over-rated as a writer. I think Bengalis have much more able contemporary writers who need financial support - now! Let's move on from our sour memories of the Raj and build a better future for the wretched Bengalis of today.
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.
Sushrut Vaidya, USA

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.
Kaushik kundu, USA/ India

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