I write this note to say how much I enjoyed and felt enlightened with Dr Uma Dasgupta’s expositions on Tagore. I have returned after a long gap of absence from these addas partly due to unavoidable situations at home but also due to the fact that Sundays are rather difficult days for us with pets and servants on their weekly offs. If I may, with trepidation suggest, whether it would be possible to have meetings on Saturdays instead of Sundays, notwithstanding the fact that Sundays may be better for many others.
One of the first points discussed was Tagore’s Nobel Prize and how W.B.Yeats and Ezra Pound, two unquestionable admirers and even followers of Tagore turned away from him in the late 1920’s and definitely in the 1930’s. Deeply inspired by Dr Dasgupta henceforth Umadi, I hurried rushed through Yeats’s and Pounds’s biography and sensed that my intuition about both these poets were right. Somewhere through the 1920’s both poets hardened their stance, became vocal, explicit and even discourteous in their attack of the establishment. Both poets drew from marginalized and underprivileged backgrounds and in their sense of resentments against the entrenched and privileged social classes, discovered and defined a politics that unlike that of Tagore was not transcendental but divisive and conflict ridden. Yeats moved away from spiritualism of his Protestant family, increasingly swayed towards Catholicism and hardened his religious position into one which favoured more conservatism that eventually hardened into Irish nationalism and hence separatism. Ezra Pound too became embroiled in some kind of a Christian nationalism in America and Yeats and he assigned the World War to “usury and global capital”, both of which were seen to have emanated from the Jews. Pound joined Mussolini in his fascism while Yeats became more solid and heavy with his poetry that expressed social divisions rather than spiritualism. Just as they were into it, Tagore was seeking the unity of mankind, pursued humanism and hence spiritualism evolved even definitively in his works. Such all-encompassing and inclusive humanism and the spiritualism that flowed out of Tagore were reprehensible and contemptible by these poets who now quickly shifted from extreme admiration to merciless criticism. No one understood it better than Tagore that the parting of ways lay in the more fundamental chasm between the West and India in their path into history. Tagore’s essays reflect these understandings deeply.
To the best of my mind, Tagore interpreted the separation of ways with Yeats and Pound as a separation of his idea of the nation as a civilization and the West’s understanding of the nation as a separatist idea of a strictly bordered and bounded space. He also suspected that the West’s idea of the nation was ahistorical and unscientific. His essay on Nationalism is especially instructive. Tagore was rather disappointed with Japan in its pursuit of aggressive nationalism and was in fact quite vocal about how he was crestfallen that such a great civilization as Japan should fall prey to this extended aggressive ego called the nation. P.S. I just read that Ezra Pound was fascinated by some Japanese poets writing aggressively on nationalism.
I also read Eric Hobsbawm’s book, The Revolutionaries and he says that indeed Ezra Pound, W.B.Yeats and Knut Hamsum among others became sworn hardline nationalists, a euphemism for fascism. Bodhayan Chattopadhyay mentions in his works, Samaj O Sanskriti that Tagore withdrew from active politics in 1907 and through his novel, Gora, confessed that he found the nation to be a lie as there are only individuals, families and communities, a feeling that Margaret Thatcher repeated nearly a century later.
I have often wondered whether Tagore and Gandhi also differed over the idea of nationalism and sovereignty. To neither the ethnic identity of the nation mattered; it was the intention of the ruler which was important. Gandhi did not wish a Freedom where Indian rulers would be as bad as the British and nor did Tagore. The crux of their differences may have lay in their interpretation of modernity. Gandhi was a modern man in the garb of the tradition while Tagore was deeply traditional in the veneer of the modern. Gandhi’s idea of swadeshi whereby one made space for indigenous mode of production by burning down products of a Western capitalism was contested by Tagore as not being pragmatic. For Tagore, empowerment lay not in anti-incumbency but in participation where products made by the indigenous people would find their way in the same spaces as the products of the capitalists and hence the idea of the Poushmela.
The Poushmela was started with the idea of local crafts finding opportunities for exhibition, much like what the Dilli Haat attempts to do. Indeed, Santhal crafts and art pieces and local village food have long been the major attractions of the fair. There is a rather endearing story told in her memoirs of the Tagore’s ashram by Amita Sen (Shantiniketaner Ashramkanya), Amartya Sen’s mother of how during one of the early days of the Poushmela the girls of the ashram were upset that they did not wear gold ornaments like the girls from Calcutta who came visiting the fair. Tagore asked Nandalal Bose’s wife to design ornaments out of shola, flowers, and wood pieces for them and these were so pretty that it was now the turn of the girls from the city to become envious of them! These ornaments have survived even today in the form of terracotta beads, thread strings and so on.
The list can go on endlessly but I must stop because reading text in mail can be tiring for the eyes.
All the best