Tagore, (Sir) Rabindranath

views updated

TAGORE, (Sir) Rabindranath

Nationality: Indian. Born: Calcutta, 6 May 1861; son of Maharshi Tagore, grandson of Prince Tagore. Education: Educated privately, and at University College, University of London, 1878-80. Family: Married Mrinalinidebi in 1884; one son and one daughter. Career: Managed family estates at Shileida from 1885; founded the Santiniketan, a school to blend Eastern and Western philosophical educational systems, Bolpur, Bengal, 1901, which later developed into an international institution called Visva-Bharti; visited England, 1912; contributed regularly to the Visvabharati Quarterly; painter from 1929: exhibitions in Moscow, Berlin, Munich, Paris, and New York; Hibbert lecturer, Oxford University, 1930.Wrote in Bengali and translated his own works into English. Awards: Nobel prize for literature, 1913. D. Lit.: University of Calcutta; Hindu University, Benares; University of Dacca; Osmania University, Hyderabad; D.Litt.: Oxford University. Knighted, 1915; resigned knighthood in 1919 as protest against British policies in the Punjab. Died: 7 August 1941.

Publications (in English)


A Tagore Reader, edited by Amiya Chakravarty. 1961.

Collected Essays, edited by Mary Lago and Ronald Warwick. 1989.

The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore. vol. 1, Poems, 1994.

Rabindranath Tagore: An Anthology. 1997.

Short Stories

Glimpses of Bengal Life. 1913.

The Hungry Stones and Other Stories, translated by C.F. Andrews and others. 1916.

Mashi and Other Stories. 1918.

Broken Ties and Other Stories. 1925.

More Stories from Tagore. 1951.

The Runaway and Other Stories, edited by Somnath Maitra. 1959.

Selected Short Stories, translated by Mary Lago and KrishnaDutta. 1990.

Quartet. 1993.


The Parrot's Training. 1918.

The Home and the World, translated by Surendranath Tagore. 1919.

The Wreck. 1921.

Gora. 1924.

Two Sisters, translated by Krishna Kripalani. 1943.

Farewell My Friend, with The Garden, translated by KrishnaKripalani. 1946.

Four Chapters, translated by Surendranath Tagore. 1950.

Binodini, translated by Krishna Kripalani. 1959.

Caturanga, translated by Asok Mitra. 1963.

Lipika, translated by Indu Dutt. 1969; translated by AurobindoBose, 1977.

The Broken Nest, translated by Mary Lago and Supriya Sen. 1971.


The Post Office, translated by Devabrata Mukerjee (produced1913). 1914.

Citra. 1914.

The King of the Dark Chamber. 1914.

Malini, translated by Kshitish Chandra Sen (produced 1915). InSacrifice and Other Plays, 1917.

The Cycle of Spring. 1917.

Sacrifice and Other Plays (includes Malini; Sanyas, or, The Ascetic; The King and the Queen). 1917.

Sacrifice (produced 1918). In Sacrifice and Other Plays, 1917.

The King and the Queen (produced 1919). In Sacrifice and Other Plays, 1917.

The Fugitive. 1918.

The Mother's Prayer (produced 1920). 1919.

Autumn Festival (produced 1920).

The Farewell Curse, The Deserted Mother, The Sinner, Suttee(produced 1920).

The Farewell (produced 1924).

Three Plays (includes Muktadhara, Natir Puja, Candalika), translated by Marjorie Sykes. 1950.


Gitanjali. 1912.

The Gardener. 1913.

The Crescent Moon: Child-Poems. 1913.

Fruit-Gathering. 1916.

Lover's Gift, and Crossing. 1918.

Poems. 1922.

The Curse at Farewell, translated by Edward Thompson. 1924.

Fireflies. 1928.

Fifteen Poems. 1928.

Sheaves: Poems and Songs, edited and translated by NagendranathGupta. 1929.

The Child. 1931.

The Golden Boat, translated by Chabani Bhattacharya. 1932.

Poems, edited by Krishna Kripalani. 1942.

A Flight of Swans, translated by Aurobindo Bose. 1955.

Syamali, translated by Sheila Chatterjee. 1955.

The Herald of Spring, translated by Aurobindo Bose. 1957.

Wings of Death: The Last Poems, translated by AurobindoBose. 1960.

Devouring Love, translated by Shakuntala Sastri. 1961.

A Bunch of Poems, translated by Monika Varma. 1966.

One Hundred and One. 1967.

Last Poems, translated by Shyamasree Devi and P. Lal. 1972.

Later Poems, translated by Aurobindo Bose. 1974.

Selected Poems, translated by William Radice. 1985.


Sadhana: The Realisation of Life. 1913.

Stray Birds (aphorisms). 1916.

My Reminiscences, translated by Surendranath Tagore. 1917.

Letters. 1917.

Nationalism. 1917.

Personality: Lectures Delivered in America. 1917.

Greater India (lectures). 1921.

Thought Relics. 1921.

Creative Unity. 1922.

The Visvabharati, with C. F. Andrews. 1923.

Letters from Abroad, edited by C. F. Andrews. 1924; revised edition, as Letters to a Friend, 1928.

Talks in China. 1925.

Lectures and Addresses, edited by Anthony X. Soares. 1928.

City and Village. 1928.

The Religion of Man. 1932.

Collected Poems and Plays. 1936.

Man (lectures). 1937.

My Boyhood Days. 1940.

Eighty Years, and Selections. 1941.

A Tagore Testament. 1953.

Our Universe, translated by Indu Dutt. 1958.

Letters from Russia, translated by Sasadhar Sinha. 1960.

Tagore, Pioneer in Education: Essays and Exchanges Between Tagore and L. K. Elmhirst. 1961.

A Visit to Japan, translated by Shakuntala Shastri. 1961.

Towards Universal Man. 1961.

On Art and Aesthetics. 1961.

The Diary of Westward Voyage, translated by Indu Dutt. 1962.

On Rural Reconstruction. 1962.

The Cooperative Principle. 1963.

Boundless Sky (miscellany). 1964.

The Housewarming and Other Selected Writings, edited by AmiyaChakravarty, translated by Mary Lago and Tarun Gupta. 1965.

Imperfect Encounter: Letters of William Rothenstein and Tagore 1912-1941. 1972.

The Heart of God: Prayers. 1997.

Selected Letters of Rabindranath Tagore. 1997.



Tagore: A Bibliography by Katherine Henn, 1985.

Critical Studies:

Tagore, Poet and Thinker by Mohinimohana Bhattarcharya, 1961; Tagore: A Biography by Krishna Kripalani, 1962, revised edition, 1971; The Lute and the Plough: A Life of Tagore by G. D. Khanolkar, 1963; Ravindranath's Poetry by Dattatuaya Muley, 1964; Rabindranath by Sati Ghosh, 1966; The Volcano: Some Comments on the Development of Tagore's Aesthetic Theories, 1968, and The Humanism of Tagore, 1979, both by Mulk Raj Anand; Tagore: His Mind and Art by Birenda C. Chakravorty, 1971; The Poetry of Tagore by S.B. Mukherji, 1977; Tagore, 1978, by Mary Lago, and Tagore: Perspectives in Time, 1989, edited by Lago and Ronald Warwick, 1989; Tagore the Novelist by G. V. Raj, 1983; Tagore: His Imagery and Ideas by Ajai Singh, 1984; Tagore: A Critical Introduction by K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar, 1986; Perspectives on Tagore edited by T. R. Sharma, 1986; Tagore by Sisirkumar Ghose, 1986; In Your Blossoming Flower-Garden: Tagore and Victoria Ocampo by K. K. Dyson, 1988; The Art of Tagore by Andrew Robinson, 1989; Rabindranath Tagore: The Poet of India by A. K. Basu Majumdar, 1993; Social Thought of Rabindranath Tagore: A Historical Analysis by Tapati Dasgupta, 1993; Religious Philosophy of Tagore and Radhakrishnan: A Comparative and Analytical Study by Harendra Prasad Sinha, 1993; Tagore and Flowers by P. K. Ghosh, 1993; The Illegitimacy of Nationalism: Rabindranath Tagore and the Politics of Self by Ashis Nandy, 1994; Tagore, Portrait of a Poet by Buddhadeva Bose, 1994; Rabindranath Tagore on the Ramayana and the Mahabharata by Bhabatosh Datta, 1995; Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-Minded Man by Krishna Dutta, 1995; Female Development in the Novels of Rabindranath Tagore: A Cross-Cultural Amalysis of Gender and Literature in British India by Mary Thundyil Mathew, 1995; Rabindranath Tagore: A Quest by Mohit Chakrabarti, 1995; Mysticism in Tagore's Poetry by Anupam Ratan Shankar Nagar, 1995; Aesthetic Consciousness of Tagore by R. S. Agarwala, 1996; Rabindranath Tagore and Modern Sensibility by Bhabatosh Chatterjee, 1996; The Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore: His Social, Political, Religious and Educational Views by Chandra Mohan Das, 1996.

* * *

When Rabindranath Tagore began to write short stories in the 1890s, Bengal had no tradition of really modern short fiction. It had a folk literature, principally in the oral tradition. Its classical literature was in Sanskrit or highly Sanskritized literary Bengali, the only mediums approved by the pundits for serious, artistic literature.

Tagore's stories came out of his experiences, first as overseer of his family's extensive estates in rural and riverine eastern Bengal. It was his first close contact with the Bengali ryot, the tenant-farmer peasant. Incidents, conversations, and personalities all became his working materials. A second group of stories came from his own background as a member of an affluent Calcutta family whose solution to the collision between Indian traditions and Western influences was to find a middle road between old and new: a new synthesis for a new Bengal. A third group of stories sprang from his activities as a leader of the protest movement that began in 1905 against the partition of the province into East and West Bengal. In all three types Tagore questions the status quo, an exercise to which the modern short story—brief, elliptical, and open-ended—is particularly well adapted. It can ask questions about personal and social predicaments and problems without providing answers: the reader must do that. The genre was also eminently suited to the situation in Bengal in the 1890s and the early years of the twentieth century, for those who openly questioned or criticized British rule risked being suspected of sedition.

"Shāsti" ("Punishment"; 1893) is a powerful example from the first group. Two brothers, Chhidam and Dukhiram, and their wives live together, and the brothers work together as tenant farmers. Their tragedy begins on a day when the landowner forces them to repair one of his properties when they should be harvesting their own rice crop. They come home weary, wet through, and hungry, for they have not eaten all day. When Dukhiram finds that his wife, Radha, has no meal prepared, he mindlessly strikes her with his billhook. She dies at once. Chhidam and the village Brahmin, who fancies himself an expert on British law, persuade Chhidam's wife, Chandara, to say that she struck back when Radha attacked her with a kitchen knife. The Brahmin coaches her in what he thinks are foolproof answers to cross-questioning. The key to this plan is Chhidam's statement, "If a wife goes, I can get another, but if my brother goes I can't get another." In the courtroom Chandara repays her husband for his betrayal by insisting that she is guilty as charged. The brothers, confused, both claim the guilt, and the English magistrate, who has tried to be lenient, concludes that they are only trying to protect Chandara, who must indeed be guilty. She refuses to see Chhidam again before she dies, saying with harrowing irony, "I'd rather be dead!" British justice decrees her punishment, but she punishes her husband for reasons that the magistrate cannot comprehend. Chandara's tragedy is a consequence of the brothers' own tragedy. Illiterate, inarticulate, too trustful of the Brahmin's supposed learning, and too poor and unsophisticated to find other sources of advice and guidance, they are typical of a large and important sector of the Bengali population from whom the rising urban middle class draws ever farther apart.

When Tagore turned to that urban middle class, he depicted Calcutta family life as he himself knew it. At the center of "Nashtanir" ("The Broken Nest"; 1901) is Bhupati, a husband who is neither illiterate nor poor; he is obsessed with the English language and with the English-language newspaper of which he is both proprietor and editor. He is a nineteenth-century Bengali type, outwardly confident but inwardly confused when forced to choose between tradition and innovation. He loves Charulata, his young wife, who has intelligence and curiosity but nowhere to invest them. She cannot compete with that newspaper for her husband's attention. She passes her empty days reading inferior Bengali romantic essays and novels. Her talents begin to blossom when Bhupati's young cousin Amal comes to live with them while he attends Calcutta University. He aspires to a literary career and inspires Charulata to try her hand as a writer. Tagore has set up a literary triangle that replicates the trends of that time in Bengal: Bhupati, who longs to be a political editorialist in Western style; Amal, who writes in florid imitation of the Sanskrit classics; Charulata, who can only write simple colloquial memories of life in her childhood village. Both Amal and Charulata get their essays published in literary journals, and Tagore introduces his own preference when he has the critics judge Charulata's diction and style to be the wave of the future—as, in fact, Tagore's own diction and style were to become for several generations of Bengali writers. At that very time he was in the midst of controversy over his "Kshanikā" ("Ephemera"; 1900), lyric poems written in colloquial Bengali.

A personal triangle parallels the literary. Bhupati, who so wishes to be seen as a modern man, is crushingly condescending toward Charulata's writing; serious literature is for men only. She is too sheltered, too naive to realize how dependent she has become on Amal for what she thinks is the emotional satisfaction from their writing together. But the critics' verdict destroys their collaboration and opens Amal's eyes to dangers of which she remains unaware. Bhupati finds him a wife, and Amal leaves to complete his education in England. Much too late Bhupati's eyes too are opened: "He saw that he had always distanced his own life from Charu's, like a doctor examining a mortally ill patient. And so he had been unaware when the world had forcefully attacked Charu's defenceless heart. There had been no one to whom she could tell all…." But still he takes his wife for granted, and this would-be modern man can only think of running away—to an editorial position in another city. Charu is alone in their Calcutta house, once again vanquished by a newspaper, and now she has no resources of her own. "The Broken Nest" brought the wrath of conventional Bengalis down upon Tagore, for he was all too correct about the outside forces that seemed to threaten the stability of the Bengali family. They saw his story striking home.

Stories that dealt with Bengali politics not only risked charges of sedition, they angered some Bengali nationalists who perhaps saw in them their own failures and foibles. Tagore added some slyly sarcastic stories to his personal protests against extremist terrorism, a tactic that only lost ground for nationalist hopes. In "Namanjur Galpa" ("The Rejected Story"; 1925) a convicted nationalist protester manages to get off with a jail sentence while his fellow agitators go either to the gallows or to prison camps in the Andaman Islands. He cooperates so fully with prison authorities that he is released early. He installs himself in his aunt's house as an invalid. When a newspaper editor asks for an account of his most harrowing experience as a patriot, he produces one in which his uneasy conscience becomes the protagonist. He allows a group of village girls, his philanthropist aunt's protegées, to wait on him, thus paying homage to his supposed sacrifices and ill health. At first he is flattered, then he begins to feel embarrassed. At last his reviving conscience shames him into sending them away. Among them is one young woman who has been conspicuously devoted to projects proclaiming the New Bengal, until she sees that her enthusiasms are both shallow and ridiculous. An equally enthusiastic young man wishes to marry her—until he discovers that she is illegitimate and therefore without caste. Our hero explains: "The sins of the forefathers fell away at her birth…. She is like a lotus; there is no trace of mud upon her." But the suitor so devoted to the New Bengal takes flight. The girl returns to her neglected college classes to prepare seriously for a role in the New Bengal. The recovered hero, it is implied, returns to useful work. The editor, who wanted patriotic "derring-do," is disappointed at getting the truth instead, and he rejects the story.

In his stories Tagore brilliantly practiced what he had preached to Bengal. Although English literature was the cornerstone of the Indian educational system under the British, he made the French story writers of the nineteenth century his teachers, in particular, Maupassant and Daudet. Thus he took a great Western literary tradition, combined it with indigenous themes representative of Bengal, and produced a new synthesis to serve the new India.

—Mary Lago