Sunday, August 18, 2019 | ePaper

Rabindranath Tagore 78th Death Anniversary

Rabindranath and his Padma

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Professor Dr. Anwarul Karim :
Rabindranath Tagore, lived at his ShelaidahKuthi (cottage) beside the Padma, when he was made zaminder or landlord by his father to look after the estate. The Gorai was little away from Shelaidah. These two rivers changed the life of Rabindranath. The poet admitted this consciously in his poems and letters. He used to move from Shelaidah (Kushtia) to Shajadpur in Pabna and Patisar in Rajshahi in boats through the Padma and its off-shoot rivers. The Padma dominated his life. It actually made him the World Poet. He wrote all his great works while he lived in this part of Bengal.
 In the dry season during winter, the Padma shrank to a small river, the whole family used to live on the houseboat, the 'Padma' "moored on one of the gleaming white, spotlessly clean sandbanks known as chars". Tagore was awarded Nobel Prize for his works, Gitanjali, or Song Offerings, which he composed and translated during his stay in Bangladesh.. His letters, known as Chhinnapatra or Torn leaves are world class and they present Tagore with his totality. The impact of the Padma is deep and penetrating. Sometimes he looks like Wordsworth or Coleridge but a close study of Tagore in his  use of water speak of his greatness and here he is different from others.
Tagore could never forget the Padma. In a time when he became sick and could not come back to Bangladesh, he wrote from his sick bed :
Once I lived on her sandy moorings
Isolated, far removed from men.
Walking at dawn I saw the morning star
At night I was watched by the Great Bear,
Asleep on the roof of the boat.
The myriad thoughts of my solitary days mingled
With the margins of her aloof current -
The way a traveler passes by
Domestic bliss and sorrow, near yet far. (Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson)
Krishna and Robinson wrote in their book, "Rabindranath Tagore, the Myriad minded man" (1995: 111) that the Padma-both the boat and the river - were integral to the letters. At times they seem as much characters as the people Tagore described. Besides eating and sleeping on board, he wrote and read copiously there too. But most of all he watched life on shore. It might be a ferry endlessly loading and unloading villagers for market;  or a group of boys raucously rolling a log along the bank until stopped by a disgusted small girl; or a tiny cowherd prodding a gigantic docile buffalo for no good reason; or a line of women in dripping saris weaving gracefully homewards with water-jars on their hips; or a free-spirited village belle sailing away to another village leaving behind a crowd of tearful well- wishers; or a gypsy woman boldly giving a high-handed police constable a piece of her mind; or, less pleasantly, a woman well-wrapped against the cold bathing a small naked boy and clouting him when he shivered and coughed.
Nothing no matter how trivial, escaped Tagore's gaze. Everything was imbibed and stored until the moment was ripe for a poem or story or play or song to express it afresh." (p.111).
Rabindranath Tagore wrote a number of poems on the Padma. Here he studied the river in relation to man. His philosophy of life was also changed when he viewed the rivers as he through these day and night visiting people, sharing their way of life. 'Sonar Tori' represents his philosophy of life. The river here is not a mere river. It is 'a motion and a spirit that impels all thinking things, and rolls through all objects of all thoughts'.   

Clouds rumbling in the sky; teeming rain.
I sit on the river bank, sad and alone.
The sheaves lie gathered, harvest has ended,
and the river is swollen and fierce in its flow.
As we cut the paddy it started to rain.

One small paddy-field, no one but me -
Flood-waters twisting and swirling everywhere.
Trees on the far bank; smear shadows like ink
On a village painted on deep morning grey.
On this side a paddy-field, no one but me.

Who is this, steering close to the shore
singing? I feel that she is someone I know.
The sails are filled wide, she gazes ahead,
and Waves break helplessly against the boat each side.
I watch and feel I have seen her face before.

Oh to what foreign land do you sail?
Come to the bank and moor your boat for a while.
Go where you want to, give where you care to,
But come to the bank a moment, show your smile -
Take away my golden paddy when you sail.

Take it; take as much as you can load.
Is there more? No, none, I have put it aboard.
My intense labor here by the river -
I have parted with it all, layer upon layer;
Now take me as well, be kind, take me aboard.

No room, no room, the boat is too small.
Loaded with my gold paddy, the boat is full.
Across the rain-sky clouds heave to and fro,
On the bare river-bank, I remain alone -
What had has gone: the golden boat took all.

Rabindrnath Tagore explains the poem in the following words:

The world receives all the fruits of our labor, but it does not receive us. When I load the world's boat with the harvest of my entire life, I nurse the hope that I too might find a place there; but the world forgets us in a couple of days ….Those who have built up man in many ways through the ages, have their work immortalized among us, but they themselves, with their names and addresses, their joys and sorrows, have been lost in oblivion. Yet each of them had said to the world, "Take all I have. I have labored only for you; my happiness lies in giving to you. Take all I have. But do not cast me aside, do not forget me; preserve my impress in my work. But where is the room? The harvest of our lives stays on in some form or other, but we ourselves do not stay on.  
Traveling in his houseboat, 'Padma boat' the poet enjoyed the scenic beauty of Bangladesh and the mighty Padma and its many tributaries. It was almost a regular feature for him as landlord. Tagore vividly enjoyed the wonderful landscape of the Bengal countryside and his moments of experience in the day to day village life which he expressed in his letters and these also formed the back-drop of many of his poems and other literary works. Here  Rabindranath as a Poet -zamindar was  able to   give vent to his feelings  and also could  present  a  pen-picture of the in-depth workings of his mind  that  he nourished for long  when he was detached from the hurly-burly activities of the day to day life in cities like Kolkata.          
Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize Winner and World Economist made the following observation about Tagore letters in the following words :
"….. Rabindranath Tagore belonged to a tradition-and to an age-in which the art of letter writing for eventual public communication was in full bloom. …. The letters bring out the effectiveness of this special genre. Despite the eventual possibility of sharing, the form of letter can give its content an immediacy and directness that would seem inappropriate in essays meant directly for 'all'. The reader of the eventually published letter has to take note of the contingency of the context, but the author does not have to build the context into the content of the letter itself (as would be demanded of an essay for publication in a general journal). We find here Rabindranath explaining  and defending his beliefs and speculations with great care, in letters addressed mostly to people he cared about, whose general concerns provided the particular occasion for addressing one issue rather than another. We get a close and undetached account of the beliefs, commitments and hopes of one of the most creative writers of the country.  …… Rabindranath saw himself primarily as a poet. To a great extent, that is also how others saw him; for example, the citation for his Nobel Prize focused on his poetry and yet he was a great short story-writer and novelist, a powerful author of essays and lectures, a composer whose songs reverberate around a lot of India and much of Bangladesh, and also an outstanding painter, whose pictures are now beginning to receive the acclaim that they have all along deserved. This breadth in the choice of medium is matched by his extensive interests in ideas and arguments. His essays have ranged over literature, politics, culture, social organization, religious beliefs, philosophical claims, international relations, and a lot else. …. A collection of letters cannot, however, give a representative view of an author's work, especially in the case of a person whose poetry is as important as Tagore's is. The letters are inevitably more geared to prose than to poetry and to non-fiction over fiction. While readers will find a few things of interest in what Tagore himself thought of his poetry, novels, and short stories, and how he explained his inspirations and objectives, it is on deliberative subjects that the letters provide the greatest insight. ….."   (Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson, Selected Letters of Rabindranath, Cambridge,1997).    
 Professor Edward C. Dimock Junior of   Chicago University commented about Rabindranath in the following words :
"That Rabindranath as a poet and as a thinker lies well within the tradition of a long line of Indian poet saints, and that his roots are far more deeply buried in medieval Bengal than they are in the West. This is not to say that Rabindranath was uninfluenced by Western thought and literature. Indeed, I should find that very difficult to argue, particularly on the literary level. I do feel that he lives today in Bengal as he did fifty years ago because he is first and foremost a Bengali poet. He is great because he had profound insight and rare lyric genius. These are the exclusive property of no language or tradition. He is great to the Indians perhaps because the tradition, out of which he comes, is not the highly complex Sanskrit classical tradition which speaks primarily to the educated and sophisticated people of India but the simple personal tradition of the poet, saints who wrote for the people. Rabindranath is great because he earned his position by becoming a voice of the people through his writings. He is in fact a proud possession of the world." Edward C. Dimock--- " The Greatest of Bauls of Bengal", The Journal of Asian Studies, University of Michigan, Volume 19, Issue 1, November, 1959, pp.33-51)
In his book, The Religion of Man, Rabindranath Tagore says, "…..I have expressed my belief that the first stage of my realization was through my feeling of intimacy with Nature --- not that Nature which has its channel of information for our mind and physical relationship with our living body, but that which satisfies our personality with manifestations that make our life rich and stimulate our imagination in the harmony of forms, colors, sounds and movements. ………When I was eighteen, a sudden spring breeze of religious experience for the first time came to my life and passed away leaving in my memory a direct message of spiritual reality. One day while I stood watching at early dawn the sun sending out its rays from behind the trees, I suddenly felt as if some ancient mist had a moment lifted from my sight, the morning light on the face of the world revealed an inner radiance of joy. The invisible screen of the commonplace was removed from all things and all men, and their ultimate significance was intensified in my mind; and this is the definition of beauty.  
When I grew older and was employed in a responsible work in some villages I took my place in a neighborhood where the current of time ran slow and joys and sorrows had their simple and elemental shades and lights. The day which had its special significance for me comes with all its drifting trivialities of the commonplace of life. The ordinary work of my morning had come to a close, and before going to take my bath I stood for a moment at my window, overlooking a marketplace on the bank of a dry river bed, welcoming the first flood of rain along its channel. Suddenly I became conscious of a stirring of soul within me. My word of experience in a moment seemed to become lighted, and facts that were detached and dim found a great unity of meaning. The feeling which I had was like that which a man, groping through fog without knowing his destination, might feel when he suddenly discovers that he stands before his own house.
In a similar manner, on that morning in the village the facts of my life suddenly appeared to me in a luminous unity of truth. All things that had seemed like vagrant waves were revealed to my mind in relation to a boundless sea. I felt sure that some Being who comprehended me and my world was seeking his best expression in all my experiences, uniting them into an ever-widening individuality which is a spiritual work of art. To this Being I was responsible; for the creation in me is as well as mine." (The Religion of Man: Reprint 2008)    
One may feel happy thinking that such a philosophy of life can be attainable by those who lived by the river side as in the case of Rabindranath Tagore. Shelaidah and the Padma are the two symbolic names in the creation of a man who made the world spell bound by his poems as they listened to 'the Song Offerings' (Geetanjoli) at the residence of poet Rothenstein.  These songs appeared to them as psalms of life having a beautiful exposition of unconventional and pure mystical doctrine as both the theme and the notes were uncommon. Tagore offered them to his 'Jibon-Devta'or the Man of his Heart in a devotional submission.
But such things did not come to the World Poet easily. There is no doubt that he enjoyed the blessed mood with which he had known the unknown, yet could not attain the unattainable. The Unknown remains an elusive bird of the Baul, who met the poet when he lived at Shelaidah beside the Padma.

(Author is a Rabindra scholar and formerly a Visiting Scholar, Harvard Divinity School, USA (1985). e-mail :

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