Vinod Anand | 20 Aug 2013

ABOUT RABINDRANATH TAGORE (Vinod Anand) As the Indian nationalist movement gathering momentum, in a corner of rural Bengal Rabindranath Tagore was busy creating an institution that would transcend the territorial boundaries of the nation state. Founded in 1901, the Santiniketan ashram placed India on the international map. By making it a meeting point of the East and the West, Tagore upheld an ideal of inclusion for the country. And with this he proved that he was not just a poet and a visionary but also an educationist who could put his theories into practice. Tagore had described the institutions at Santiniketan and Sriniketan for education and for rural reconstruction as his life’s work. His primary goal in establishing them was to offer the East and the West an opportunity come together in a common pursuit of truth based on the premise that the works of artists, scientists, even of saints, down the ages have been for all mankind rather than for particular groups. Schools in colonial India encouraged the creation of a division between the rural masses and the Eng1ish-educated elite who flocked to cities in search of a better life. In creating Santiniketan, Tagore sought to make the forgotten rural areas a part of educational program. It would combine local or traditional knowledge with modern science so that both sections of society would work and progress. Tagore toured the West extensively but made the distinction between its materialistic culture and the traditions of the East that put the stress on spirituality. Celibacy and Personnel Life: Tagore and Gandhi’s attitudes toward personal life were also quite different. Gandhi was keen on the virtues of celibacy, theorized about it, and, after some years of conjugal life, made a private commitment-publicly announced-to refrain from sleeping with his wife. Rabindranath’s own attitude on this subject was very different, but he was gentle about their disagreements: Gandhiji condemns sexual life as inconsistent with the moral progress of man, and has a horror of sex as great as that of the author of The Kreutzer Sonata, but, unlike Tolstoy, he betrays no abhorrence of the sex that tempts his kind. In fact, his tenderness for women is one of the noblest and most consistent traits of his character, and he counts among the women of his country some of his best and truest comrades in the great movement he is leading. Tagore’s personal life was, in many ways, an unhappy one. He married in 1883, lost his wife in 1902, and never remarried. He sought close companionship, which he did not always get (perhaps even during his married life-he wrote to his wife, Mrinalini: “If you and I could be comrades in all our work and in all our thoughts it would be splendid, but we cannot attain all that we desire”). He maintained a warm friendship with, and a strong Platonic attachment to, the literature-loving wife, Kadambari, of his elder brother, Jyotirindranath. He dedicated some poems to her before his marriage, and several books afterward, some after her death (she committed suicide, for reasons that are not fully understood, at the age of twenty-five, four months after Rabindranath’s wedding). Much later in life, during his tour of Argentina in 1924-1925, Rabindranath came to know the talented and beautiful Victoria Ocampo, who later became the publisher of the literary magazine Sur. They became close friends, but it appears that Rabindranath deflected the possibility of a passionate relationship into a confined intellectual one. His friend Leonard Elmhirst, who accompanied Rabindranath on his Argentine tour, wrote: Besides having a keen intellectual understanding of his books, she was in love with him-but instead of being content to build a friendship on the basis of intellect, she was in a hurry to establish that kind of proprietary right over him which he absolutely would not brook. Ocampo and Elmhirst, while remaining friendly, were both quite rude in what they wrote about each other. Ocampos book on Tagore (of which a Bengali translation was made from the Spanish by the distinguished poet and critic Shankha Ghosh) is primarily concerned with Tagore’s writings but also discusses the pleasures and difficulties of their relationship; giving quite a different account from Elmhirst’s, and never suggesting any sort of proprietary intentions. Victoria Ocampo, however, makes it clear that she very much wanted to get physically closer to Rabindranath: ‘Little by little he [Tagore] partially tamed the young animal, by turns wild and docile who did not sleep, dog-like, on the floor outside his door, simply because it was not done. Rabindranath, too,     PAGE  PAGE 2