[Courtesy, Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture (Gol Park, Calcutta- Published (partly) in the May 2010 issue of their monthly bulletin]
Translator: Rajat Das Gupta
A few leaves from the letters/diaries of Rabindra Nath Tagore Nobel Laureate 1913
Literature of Tagore along with his songs is a vast ocean with inexhaustible treasures in it where paramount aesthetics, spirituality, philosophical insight, cosmic perception etc. abound.
Very reasonably, this should not be a benchmark to assess Tagore’s letters and diaries behind which there was no creative goal neither these were primarily for the public eye. Yet, the Poet’s sparkling wisdom in scores of these letters/diaries is worth sharing by us even to-day when they have hardly lost their relevance.
So far, about 4200 of the Poet’s letters both in Bengali and English have been classified, besides the numerous others lying in heaps in Visva Bharati (Tagore’s University at Santiniketan, West Bengal). ‘Shrayan’ is a bi-annual magazine running for last 8 years. The January-June ’03 issue is a compilation from Tagore’s letters and diaries. Stress has been given on the letters which voice the question, how should we survive in this genocide afflicted world, which process had a great upheaval in early 20th century and is snowballing alarmingly even to-day. No letter has been produced in full.
Only their extracts have been presented which have been found serving the purpose of the book. The editor of the magazine Mr. Pathik Basu has done this hard work with amazing dedication which has made these invaluable documents handy to us. One might opine, these documents, though originally meant for consumption at personal levels, their publication will give opportunity to all and sundry to have a glimpse of the Poet’s brilliant mind, though somewhat less than his creations purely with literary and aesthetic pursuits. It is my pleasure to translate a few selected passages from Mr. Basu’s 343-page book, at his desire, into English, hoping these will reach worldwide across the narrow Bengali circle. Here follow a few samples.(August, 2003 RAJAT DAS GUPTA, KOLKATA: (firstname.lastname@example.org & email@example.com )
1. Wisdom above science
What we call science is inherent in man always. Now, we have isolated it from the other human faculties and become conscious of it with a special appellation. The reason is, modern man is hell-bent on harnessing natural forces for his ‘convenience’. Cultivation of this ‘convenience’ has outgrown his other endeavors. But whenever man had hammered rock, shoveled earth, loomed cloth, his instinct for convenience roused. There he was victor. But never did he sing on his tools, which he did with his sword, not as a tool to convenience homicide, but as a relevance to his valor which has an ultimate value, but not as a means to an end. Man’s music revealed wherever he touched this ‘ultimate’.
A beautiful jar is not precious for its utility, but it is so because it is priceless, transcending all utilitarian haggle into an aesthetic glory. However amazing ‘efficiency’ may be, it never provoked music in man’s mind; implements have made man wealthy, but never inspired him. Where a perfection is in itself plenty, or, rather, where it has reached infinity, there it has turned man into a poet, a creator. Man is prepared to lose to his fiancÃ©e, but not to the implements of a mechanic. To-day, in this worldwide market of ‘convenience’ man has built enormous implements, which were not there at the time of Plato or Eskil, yet want of those never dwarfed humanity. Aided by scientific instruments man’s limbs have enlarged and multiplied to grow him into a ‘giant’ but never ‘great’.
The scope for mundane utilitarianism is not nobler than man’s ‘personality’. So, with our factories no modern Dante is writing Vita Nuova as there may be ‘Nuova’ in it but not the ‘Vita’ .When man first lit up fire, he hailed it with his hymn, not because it was convenient for his cooking, but for its inherent ultimate mystery which is missing in his axe and shovel. Where we encounter the atomic theory amazed by its ultimatum, we hail that absolute with our awe. But where steam runs the rail engine.there we enter a workshop, not in the mysterious temple of creation. There ugliness is unabashed, the inchoate is nude, the muscles are inflated, but where is the grace? There we observe the blunt, not the ineffable. There we applaud, but without rhythm. Before the massive workshop of to-day, the entire Earth’s populace in fright or greed applaud in chorus, but never genuflect as this does not fount from their reverence. Building up of new temples has not followed the ruthless iconoclasm.
[To Amiya Chakraborty, 28 March 1925]
2. Thoughts of welfare in social problems
On earth there are two sects whose religions are aggressively opposed to others’, which are Christianity and Islam. Their satiety is not merely in observing their own religion, but they are at daggers drawn to others’. So, there is no means to integrate with them except by adoption of their religion. One advantage with the Christians is that they are modernists, not captives of medievalism. Religion has not engulfed their life intimately. So they do not keep others at bay with their fence of religion. European and Christian are not synonymous. ‘European Buddhist’ or ‘European Muslim’ are not self-contradictions. But ‘Muslim Buddhist’ and ‘Muslim Christian’ are impossibilities. On the other hand, Hindu as a nation is akin to Islam i.e. religion engulfs both closely. The external difference in case of the former is that their opposition to other religions is not active, theirs is ‘non-violent non-cooperation’ with all non-Hinduisms.
A Hindu’s religion is a heritage and ritualistic and, hence, its fences are more rigid. Islam permits equating others with the Muslims which passage to Hindus is also narrow. Muslim customs do not reject other communities, where also Hindus are cautious. So, on Khilafat etc. the Hindu participation drawn by the Muslims cannot be reversed by the Hindus. Customs are the bridges for human relations where the Hindu has raised his fences at every step. When I had first engaged in my estate work, I noticed in my office that that the Muslim subjects being offered seats on the floor, removing the carpet thereon (least the carpet meant for the Hindu subjects would be defiled).
There is no greater hurdle for combining humans than treating others’ customs as unholy. India is so fated that the two communities like Hindus and Muslims have assembled here. Resistance of Hindus is not harsh on faith, but on rites it is, whereas with Muslims it is the other way. One’s door open on one side but closed on the other juxtaposes the reverse order of the other. So, how they will combine? Once upon a time India was open to free mixture of the Greeks, Parses, Saks et al. But mind you, it was in the pre-Hindu stage.
The Hindu era has been one of reaction, when Brahmanism solidified with impenetrable walls of rituals, indifferent of the truth that if you stifle a living being foolproof, you murder it. On the whole, soon after the Buddhist era Hindus drew close the Rajputs and such aliens to solidify their protection from ‘foreign’ influence. Thus the Indians developed Hindu religion enclosed in fences, whose inherent nature is prohibition and rejection. Nowhere on earth resistances for human union has been built with such skill. This resistance is not merely between Hindu and Muslim. People like you and me, who want to preserve our freedom in pursuit of our customs, are also split up and hurdled. The problem is right here but where is the solution? It is in change in our ethos and a change in era.
The way Europe transited to modern era leaving past the medieval one through cultivation of truth and knowledge, Hindus and Muslims also must similarly set out of their boundaries. To turn religion into a sepulcher to rest the nation in post-mortem is no way to progress, neither to come close to others. If we cannot dispel the obstacles in our ethos, we shall get no liberty. We have to put right our root by education and dedication- overhaul our heredity that we should be reverent to the cage rather than our wings, only after that our welfare will follow. Integration of Hindu and Muslim is awaiting a change in era. Yet, this should not be reason for our apprehension, as in other countries man has changed time by dedication to emerge into the new era stretching their wings breaking through their egg-shells. We too shall follow suit cutting through our mental blockage; if we won’t there is no other way.
[To Amiya Chakraborty; Santiniketan; 21 June, 1922]
3. He from dust to Universe
My heart holds the perception of the life of a tree, which I can confess because I have been a human. But why the tree alone, perception of the entire inanimate world is imbibed there too. All the vibrations of the Universe pass me the thrill of camaraderie within my heart, the Anandam (heavenly joy) of the trees and plants mute over ages has found expression- else, when to-day the mango buds are wild on the trees, on whose invitation do I go forward to organize the spring festival! There is an enormous Anandam in me which is within the land, water, trees, birds and beasts here also.
When I have seen through the open window of my boat the sunrays falling on the saffron soil of this ancient earth, my entire body stretches to the remote border of its dust and green there. When at some holy moments my feel is deep that I am integral with all the soil, rock, water and all here, my body and soul delight up in a clear music of an all pervasive existence. This is my nature and not a mere fancy, from which founts my poems, songs and stories. This does not inhibit me. A man I am and so I am everything which is my glory in my senses the world’s history illuminate, there culminate the existences of all animate and inanimate. That is why the waves of my blood rhyme with the sea’s, but the sea waves don’t know me so, my euphoria delights up combined with the trees’ but they don’t know me; I am not within their subconscious.
[To: Ramendrasundar Tribedi, from Selaidah (Bangladesh); 29 February 1912]
4) The Beauty of Commerce
In the animal world, competence of man does not lie in his physical excesses. Man’s skin is soft, his muscles feeble and the power of his senses too falls short of the animals’. Yet, he has acquired such a strength which is not visible, not occupant of space, not based on a mass of soil, yet it is omnipotent all over the Earth. Man’s strength has dodged the boundary of his physique and has become powerful invisibility. Bible says, he who is modest will conquer the world. This means, strength of modesty is not external, but it is internal, less it hits more victorious it is. It does not fight in a battlefield, but earns its victory by accord with the powers in the world.
The demon of Commerce too must one day be humanistic by restraining its demonic havoc. This Commerce has little brain and no heart, so it is only increasing its burden on earth. It is aiming victory by extending its occupied area with its deadly resolve. But that which will be victorious one day, is humble in size with its simple procedures, that accepts Man’s heart, his aesthetics and religiosity. It is modest and not shamelessly greedy. Its stability is in its inner order, not in its external size, not by depriving others but by its harmony with all. Of all the human razzmatazz this Commerce is the ugliest. It has brought fatigue on Earth by its own weight, deafened it by its noise, blighted the Earth by its garbage, and wounded life by its greed. Coronation of this greed on the world’s throne and endorsing our slavery to this worldwide ugliness, this revolt against all beauty, aesthetics and human heart, is daily lashing the noblest human undoubtedly. This chess game, mad about ‘profit’, with man as its pawn, will continue how long? This game must be aborted where in greed of ‘profit’ man is losing himself continuously.
[On voyage to Japan, on board Tosamaru- May, 1917]
5) Introversion of Indian religion
Our ship will go round two isles, so two days’ journey will elongate to three. Here Viswakarma’s (god of Engineering) holed bags have let out soil to scatter over the sea to form many an isle. Those are under Dutch command. The isle where our ship is anchored now, is known as Biliton. Population is sparse. There are tin quarries manned by their managers and labourers. It is a wonder how they are milking the entire earth. Once upon a time these people sailed off in swarms into the unknown seas. They had went round the earth to be familiar with it, to measure it. That history of familiarization is long and hazardous. I ponder, when they had first lowered their sail here at these coasts, far away from their homes, how full were those days of apprehension and expectation as well. The greenery, animals, humans here were all strange to them. But to-day, everything is known and vanquished!
They have defeated us, why, I ponder. The main reason is, we are static they are dynamic. So they could go round easily and that is why they have known and their appetite for knowledge has been further whetted.. That appetite is feeble among us because of our stagnation. Even our knowledge about our neighbors is vague neither we have urge to know them better. Because, our home encloses us too much. Those, whose vigour for knowledge is low, so is that for their survival. With the same vitality that enabled them to earn all rights over Java, is the dedication of their archeologists to explore this island. Yet, like this island, its archeology too was totally alien to them. We are indifferent about knowledge of our neighborhood while their urge to know the distant is limitless. Not only by muscle, but by vitality of their quest they are conquering the ins and outs of this world. But, we are domestic intimately. This means, we are mere components of our family, trapped in a thousand bondages. Our responsibility for a livelihood is entangled with that for the rituals, the redundant load of which has almost crippled our genuine duties. From caste related obligations up to the funeral rites, all the duties have burdened us throughout our mortal and post-mortem phases, have made our movement impossible and is only siphoning out our vitality. The offspring of such homes are bound to be lashed by others, which we are feeling inwardly.
â€¦..But, if it is easy to demolish age-old orders, how long it will take to build the foundation for the new ones? About duty and non-duty, each society has habituated itself to certain principles, based on which the populace keeps going. By argument and logic only few can keep righteous. But it is not easy to replace one habituation by another. All our habituations are for cohesion of the myriad inane in our family life. It is easy to learn from Europeans their science, but not their social habituations.
[Letter to Rani Mahalnobis while on the way to Java Sept 1927]
6. Islam and Mahabharat
My visits here are nearly over. It was my wonder to observe their people’s theatre, clumsily integrating Indian fragments. I had written you before how Ramayana and Mahabharata are animated in their life. Because it is living, it is not a prototype of any documented literature. It had drastic metamorphosis through thoughts and imaginations of the people here. They did not get in store in any scriptural sermon all the principles of life, but had those embodied in the characters of these two epics. The yardsticks to judge good and bad in the humans are these characters. So, with dynamics of life its prerequisites have changed variously. It is like oral transformation of Vidyapati and Chandidas’ (poets of mediaeval Bengal) compositions relayed down by the Bengali musicians from age to age. Yesterday we went for a shadow show. Its typed story was given to us. I’m sending it for your eye. Translate it into Bengali and judge it vis-Ã -vis the original Mahabharata. The distinction of the story is, there is no Draupadi (the central polyandrous female character of this epic having all the five Pandava brothers as her husbands) in the story. The neuter Brihannala of Mahabharata has been named ‘Kenobordi’ as a female. Kitchaka was beguiled by her beauty and fell victim to Bhim (the 2nd Pandava). This Kitchaka is enemy of the fish-king in Javani Mahabharata. Pandavas, by exterminating him, earned the gratitude of the King Birat.
The balcony of the palace of the king titled as ‘Monkunagro’, where I am sitting now to write this letter, abounds with Ramayana stories beautifully drawn on silk to be seen all around on the foundation pillars. But, they are Muslims by religion. Yet, they know ins and outs of the Hindu deities. They have taken as their own all the ancient streams of the India narratives.. In fact, there is nothing wrong in it, as the characters of Ramayana and Mahabharata in abstraction are roaming around in their land. Rather, they do not have such all pervasive camaraderie in our country., where they do not figure in all their festivals as at every home here.
[Written to Amiya Chakraborty while on Java trip: 17 Sept. 1927]
7. About songs
For sometime, the debate on relative positions of ‘word’ and ‘music’ in a song is going on. I am not a maestro, but my common sense says this subject is not exclusively for a debate, but is very much inherent in Creation with its frolic. The high hand runs its steam roller on a fixed track to protect our rules and destinations. But, in the meantime, the Creator showers His creations in a myriad branches- where ‘words’ go alone and so does ‘music’ and, again, they go entangled too. In both this ‘isolation’ and ‘entanglement’ flowers joy. Those who advocate a ‘communal’ divide between the two, my appeal goes to them, to stop from hoisting these ‘class banners’ thus standing on the way of the creative streams only as a nuisance at the cost of peace. (Written to Dhurjoti Prasad Mukhopaddhay on 8 Oct. 1937).
I am inclined to equate the daytime with the Western music, a big medley of harmonized music and mal-music clubbed up in bits and pieces, and the night with our Indian music, an immaculate solemnity of unpolluted pathos. Both move us, though paradoxically. But what to do? There is an inherent contradiction in Nature, with splits between the King and Queen, day and night, varied and homogenous, spatial and infinite. We Indians live in Night’s domain. We are obsessed by the indivisible and eternal. Ours is a solo in solitude. Europe’s is the song for the public place. Our song transcends the listeners beyond the boundary of their daily weal and woe to transport them to a solitary land of recluse, whereas European music dances one variously through the endless ups and downs of life.
[Selaidah (now in Bangladesh). Chhinapatra (=stray letters) 10 Aug. 1894]
You were talking about senility of Hindustani music. What happened is, it has turned classic, which means an immaculate perfection, steadfast in format. Such fulfillment is suicidal. Fulfillment, along with accomplishment brings stagnation. But this is a stumbling block which can never crave liberation of art. So, you’ll find in history that catastrophe occurs when our fastidiousness beguiles us to this classicist archaism.
[To Dilip Kumar Roy, Baranagar (Calcutta), 26 Mar. 1938]
8. Form and value of literature
Values are of three types. One is for marketplace, the second for religion and the third for aesthetics, being purely personal. From the last intellect is not banished, but it is secondary. Here the main architect is the person building the image, who can observe form and shape it.. Form does not merely mean that which has area, weight and outline. Here, form attaches some aesthetics which provokes unnecessary interest. Unnecessary because, this interest is the ultimate goal without any more ‘why’ and ‘what’. In this world a ‘person’ is that type, his/her reality is my very own and no other verbiage is above it. My curiosity about a ‘person’ is entirely naive beyond question and last answer to all questions.
So I say, creation of form is art- through which with inane inquest I perceive the form of a good song, in rotation of music and rhyme it casts such a spell which from my heart I feel as truth; but don’t feel this ‘wall’ as such. What provokes this perception of truth is that form which has various components, the main being ’emotion’. Because, through ’emotion’ our consciousness knows ‘self’ deeply. Even ‘immaculate perception’ as propounded by the yogis is one of Anandam (divine joy), or an emotion to say. ‘Thoughts’ also may be component for creation for art, but not to transcend one to truth. But, the thoughts may be so arranged that will generate a nuance beyond ‘arguments’ into an aesthetic, to give us Anandam without reason, else those would be rabid elephants in a lotus garden.
Words and sentences convey literature. In words there is sound and meaning, both needed in literature, but not for the sole purpose of ‘information’. ‘Information’ will of course be there, but as a subordinate. If it gives a picture and aesthetics, then only it helps create an art. The word ’empathy’ does not offer any music, picture or aesthetic. But somehow the word ‘compassion’ is accepted. Yet, on intellectual judgment ’empathy’ is appropriate, accurate and explicit i.e. to be one with others to feel alike with them, which definition goes with the word. Yet, it did not work, as it has explanation but no form. Form embraces a ‘totality’ beyond analysis and does not lob in your mind in isolation.
If you want to build literature placing the intellectual bricks one upon another, each brick cannot contribute there more than its own quantity. But in a tree with life, each segment is superseding itself, possessing a charm which at once manifests the totality. In a literary work, if every word possesses such ‘form’, then the totality is available in each segments. This is called creation.
[To Sudhindranath Dutta, from Santiniketan]
9) True picture of Europe
My tenure abroad is not yet over, but I am indeed impatient for this already. I am ashamed to confess I am no more liking to linger on here. This is not a matter of pride, but it is a shortcoming in my nature.
When I look for its excuses, it seems, the image of Europe which glares our mind has evolved from reading her history and literature which is the ideal Europe. It is not obvious unless you have probed into their heart. On our stint here for 3 or 6 months or even 6 years we merely observe the external motions of the European civilization, with its mansions, big factories, various entertainment spots where people are moving around amidst great grandeur. It may be multifarious and even amazing, yet it brings the observer an exhaustion. The excitement of wonder does nor fulfil the heart but fritters the mind.
At last, I cannot help the thought Well Man! Yours are the big cities, a vast country with unlimited treasures.. But no more evidences are required for that as enough is enough; now, only a return home will rescue me. There (at home) I know and understand all to savour humanity at once breaking through their outer shell. There I can enjoy, think and love easily. If I had a free passage to where the real man is, then even in a foreign country I would have seen my own men and the place would not appear to be alien. But here I see only the British, the foreigners. Whatever novel in their manners and new, strikes my eye, but the eternal remains veiled. That’s why we have mere acquaintance with them, but no camaraderie.
Here comes to my mind a fable. One clever jackal invited a wise crane for a feast. The crane saw at the invitation spot large dishes full of delicious sauces. After initial pleasantries, the jackal requested the crane to start the feast and at once started licking the dish. The crane with his long beak failed to lift anything to his mouth even repeatedly hitting the dish. At last he gave up and with his natural solemnity he sat in meditation by the side of the pond. The jackal once interrupted with his scoff, â€œBrother, why you are not eating? You have been given unnecessary trouble. My arrangements have not been up to your standard. Maybe the crane replied with modesty, Ah no; your menu has been excellent, But due to my indisposition I have no appetite to-day. Next day, on the crane’s invitation the jackal went to his place to find again arrangement of delicious foods but inside a long jar. It was tempting, but the jackal could not thrust his mouth inside the jar. The crane at once dipped his beak into it and engaged in eating. The jackal licked the outside of the pot and some waste straying here and there.
In our national feast the foreigners are similarly placed. The food is equally delicious for both, but the containers are different. If the British are the jackal, the pudding on their wide stretched bright silver dish are merely for our eye and we must return hungry. And if we are the meditative crane, the jackal cannot even see well what is there in our deep container. From far they have merely to smell its fragrance and go back.
Every nation’s past history and external manners are to their convenience, but is hindrance for other nations. So, though the English are apparently overt, but at our eye’s corner we merely glimpse an infinitesimal fraction of them, but it does not meet our appetite. International feast is possible only in case of literature. There neither the long beaked nor the long-tongued are deprived.
Be the logic obvious or not, I am tired of how-do-you-doing with the people here and also of my amazement while wandering the roads, visiting the theatres, shops, factories and even looking at the beautiful faces.
So I have determined to return home.
(From ‘Europe Tourist’s Diary 6 Oct. 1890)
10) From Beauty to Machine
Once upon a time man said Luxmi (Goddess of Wealth, also implies beauty) lives in trade. At that time the image of Luxmi comprised not merely her wealth, but beauty too. The reason is, at that time trade was not isolated from humanity. There was a harmony of mind of the weaver with his loom, the blacksmith’s with his hammer or any workman’s for that matter with his art. That is why, through trade man could ornate his heart to divulge it beautifully. Else, Luxmi would not get her seat on the lotus. When machine became the medium of trade, it lost its beauty. Comparison of old Venice with modern Manchester holds out this difference. In the beauty and wealth of Venice man has upheld himself in all respects. At Manchester man has dwarfed himself on the contrary to highlight his machine. That is why, wherever this machine based trade has gone it is spreading the epidemic of its own blight of ugliness, cruelty and greed around the world. So this endless rivalry and slaughter; so its untruth is staining the soil of this earth, muddying it with bloodshed.
[On board ss Tosamaru, on way to Japan 1916 May]
11) Facts and Truth
If you look at the world, you will see, though ages are flowing over it, yet it is not decrepit bright is the light in the sky, its azure immaculate, the earth has no penury, its greenery is un-blighted. Yet, when my observation is in fragments, I find flowers drooping, leaves drying and the twigs dying. The assault of senility and death is continuous all around; yet, the youth of the world is perennial. On facts I find wear and tear and death, but eternal life and youth on Truth. The very moment the treasures of the wood appear bankrupt in winter, the massive grandeur of spring floods the wilderness. If I try to hold on to weariness and mortality, they shed off their disguise to hold high the banner of life. What appears as senility from the rear, I find that as youth from the front. Had it not been so, this primordial world would infirm to its every bit and would collapse wherever I would step on.
This re-incarnation in every spring of the ever old as ever new in earthly Nature plays within human nature too. It is the vigour of life that perceives itself repeatedly through death. You lose perception of that eternal unless you miss it at intervals to get it anew.
[Written to Manoranjan Bandopadhaya, from Selaidah, 3 Febtuary, 1916]
12) East and West
Judicious people repeatedly forget that accomplishment lies in abundance of Sadhana (=Dedication). This milieu of Asadha (the first rainy month synchronizing with mid June-July period) sent this message. I want crop to fill my tummy. This small expectation shapes up as soon as green treasure from the rain drenched soil far overflows my trivial need. But even a fistful of alms is not available if the generosity of this treasure will not overflow this fist. In the trade of animation, this surplus is the object, however excessive. The austere cries down this excess with which, again, is the festivity of the poets. An assurance of surplus emboldens one to spend and that is why we aspire for a profit which is not to meet our excess consumption, but to embolden us for Anandam (=heavenly joy). More man’s chest measures, more is his accomplishment.
In the present age only in Europe I find this profit of animation is on the rise. That is why she had the world lit up with so much grandeur. In that light she is express in all directions. With paltry oil a single lamp serves domestic needs. But the full man remains obscure. This obscurity is external miserliness to live less. This is fatigue of the human truth. In the animal world men are like the stars; the other animals simply live, without their existence illuminating. But, man is there not only for self-defence but for self-expression also, for which is needed a glowing soul. From abundance of our existence and its treasures, this glow evolves. At present, only Europe is radiating its glow in all directions. So, there, man is not merely living, but is existing much beyond that. With enough, you can defend yourself, with affluence you can open up your heart, In Europe, life is there in plenty.
I don’t regret this as wherever and whenever man accomplishes, it is a gratification for all anywhere for all time. Europe has reached the world over to-day with her affluence of life, knocking at the doors of all in slumber. Her influence is by her affluence.
Based on which truth Europe has reached all space and time.? Her science is that truth. Her science which has captured all areas of knowledge and come out victorious in all spheres of activities, is an enormous force. Here her demands have no end, neither their satiation. Last year, when returning from Europe, I got acquainted with a German young man coming to visit India with his young wife. Their object is to live for 2 years amidst some almost unknown tribes in Central India to study their life meticulously. For that they would even stake their lives. Man should know more about man and that knowledge does not halt at the threshold of the barbarous races. To compile thus all worth knowing with dedication with an unbiased mind has made man how much great, one knows on visit to Europe. With this force Europe has built up this Earth as man’s. The vigour Europe has applied to remove all impediments for man, would overwhelm us with its enormity had we been able to visualise it before us.
Just here, where Europe’s revelation is great, which may be the pride of mankind, she has another faÃ§ade which is blind. Upanishad says, those saints who have achieved salvation (te sarbagam sarbato prapya dhira yuktatmnah sarbamebabshanti) gain the all pervasive Truth from all directions to integrate with their soul to have access in everything. Because Truth is all pervasive, it gives man such access. Science is opening up passages to Nature; but in to-day’s Europe there is a deficit of this Truth which blocks the way to mutual human souls. Europe has emerged as a peril for mankind worldwide with evasion of this soul. It is her own peril too.
In this very ship I met a French writer. He told me that after the war an obsession has overtaken the youth of Europe that there was a leakage in their ideal through which disaster has made its way in. In other words, they had slip from Truth which has been brought home at last.
Man’s world is heaven with the treasure of Truth which is not locked in space and time. Ceaselessly man is building this immortal world which is rooted at his intrepid aspirations. But as soon as smallness of man starts pilfering the elements to build the great, the calamity befalls. When the boundless power of human aspiration is channeled into narrow passages , the shores disintegrate and inundation of calamity is rampant. That is, when man’s boundless aspiration aims at his small selfish interest, all turmoil starts. Where his dedication is for all, there man’s aspiration is fulfilled. Gita calls this dedication as Yagna, which is the protection for the populace. The principle of this Yagna is selfless work, which will be neither feeble nor dwarf, but must not be expectation of fruit for self.
The pure dedication that Science has ushered in is for all country, all time and all men; so it has imbibed in man the power of God, to drive out all woe, penury and ailment from human family with its weaponry. The Viswakarma (God of Engineering) for creation of heaven for man is this Science. But when this very Science laboured to shape up man’s desire for fruit to an enormity , it became the Yama (God of Death). If man on this earth will annihilate, it will be for this reason he knew Truth but not its use. He achieved divine power, but not divinity. In modern time that divine power is manifest in Europe. But has it been so for genocide? In the last war this very question has emerged stark. Europe has become a terror outside her boundaries, as evidenced throughout Asia and Africa. Europe has not come to us with her Science, but with her greed. So the blockade for manifestation of Europe within the heart of Asia. With impertinence of her Science, hubris of her power and her greed for wealth, for long Europe has cultivated this hassling of man all over the earth. When it boomeranged at her home she is anxious. She put others’ pasture on fire which has now caught on her wood. She is now wondering where to stop. Is it by halting her machinery? I don’t say so. But they have to halt their greed. Will it be achieved by religious sermons? That won’t be enough. Science also must complement it. The dedication which controls greed inwardly is of religion, but that which removes the external causes of it is of Science. These two combined, accomplish their dedications. Wisdom of science to-day awaits union with religion’s.
But why all these debates are labouring my head on my way to Java? The reason is, India’s erudition once went abroad. But those aliens had regarded it favourably. Tibet, Mongolia, Malayas, wherever India had preached her wisdom, had been through genuine human relations. To-day my pilgrimage is to witness those historical evidences of man’s holy access everywhere. Also to note is, that India of yore did not preach some cut and dried sermons, but inaugurated the inner treasure of man through architecture, sculpture, painting, music and literature, stamps of which remain in the deserts, woods, rocks, isles, rugged terrain and difficult resolves. It was not the mendicant’s psalm that bankrupts man to nudity, cripples his youth and dwarfs his instincts variously. It was not the message of the senile, but was full of life, vigour and youth.
[Java diary, July, 1927]
13) Wisdom above Science
I think, what deserves special attention in the book of Wells is not its esoteric, but the bent of his mind. It seems, they have woken up to a great shock what to their complacence they took as infallible support, it does not take the load, they discover. This psychology of theirs is for us to ponder. In fact, in the religious history of man, more than the configuration of his religion, its ethos counts which leads to the path of truth. In the book of Wells, I peer that path through the garbage of Science piled up for a long time. It may be seen, man cannot be confined only in Science; through its refuses he makes an escape route. Is this not the greatest highlight of Religion as I find this endeavour of man in his various historical milieus?
(To Pramatha Chowdhury; Santiniketan: October, 1917)
14) My dedication in a genocide afflicted world
Man’s world is fast going topsy-turvy. I had great confidence in the Western civilization overlooking that meaning of civilization is increasingly becoming amazing skill in use of matter. We were ill at ease with our inhibition and apprehension about the deadly instinct behind it. This vampire is sitting right behind the pulpit in the college campuses and all eschatological, scientific, sociological and economical discourses, but their myriad babels just fail to touch this evil which is deepening its foundation. There seems to be no way out of its onslaughts without an end in sight. The impact of the despair it causes makes me think that a personal life has its own distinction, around which I may build up an aesthetic pattern where I may dominate, the helping agents will be the greenery around and frolic of the seasons. Will you call this self-centric? It is not exactly so; its centre is within that enormous, which remaining within all pollution, complexity and blights, transcends those for an omnipresence. You may call it mystic.
[To: Amiya Chakraborty- poet: 18 Sept. 1939]
15) Pleasure of Leisure
When I am in my community, I am afraid of leisure. Because, the community is a compact body. Any gap therein is a loophole. To fill that up we must have drinks, cards, chess and throw our weight about, else the time does not pass. That is, we don’t want the time but want to expel it.
But leisure is the throne of the Great. The Universe situates in endless leisure. Where Great exists, leisure is not porous there, but is packed fully and is deeply beauteous. Wherever the Great is missing, leisure is vacuous. The inhibition an unclad feels, so does one with leisure, that it is a vacuum, which we call inert laze. But for a true austere there is no scope for inhibition as his leisure is entirety, where there is no nudity.
It may be explained by an analogy of an essay and a song. In the former, wherever you pause you face vacuum. But in a song the pauses are full of music. In fact, more the music elongates, more leisurely are the words. The satiety of a singer lies in the gaps between his words, and that of a writer in swarming those.
We men of the society now on a voyage, for sometime have been able to turn our face towards the Universe. From the facade of Creation where there is scramble of many we have turned to the seat of One, to feel that this enormous leisure of the blue sky and sea is a pitcher of condensed Amritam (Immortality), which is full akin to the white light, a culmination of the myriad hues, so is this nectar of Immortality culminating many a mundane delicacy. So, to understand the truth of these multiples you have to understand that of Unity. Man has to bear the burden of the branch cut off a tree, but that remaining in the tree can itself take care of man. The ‘many’ severed from One are man’s burden, but those integral with One can give full shelter to man.
On one side this world is crowded with utilities and on the other with superfluity. The burden of the former we must bear and no dissent there stands, just as we must have the walls of our room. But all is not wall, there are windows here and there with which we maintain our intimacy with the sky. But, I find people among us who cannot stand those windows even. To seal those up they create non-issues like trash work, letters, meetings, lectures, exasperation et al. And this trash mushrooms. At home and outside, in our religiosity or amusements this trash dominates, whose function is to seal the windows.
But it was not supposed to be so, as you cannot get the Complete except through these gaps through which pass light and air. But light, air and sky are not creations of man so he is averse to accommodating those within society. So, whatever leisure is left after providing the utilities, he fills up with trash. Thus, man is solidifying his days and would similarly treat his nights too so far as he can. It is like the laws of the Calcutta Municipality under which all the ponds must be filled up with rubbish. Even attempts are there to choke the Ganges with jetties, bridges and ships. I remember my childhood Calcutta. The ponds were the companions of the sky. In those spots the heaven could step on the Earth to be hosted by those ponds on their seats of water.
The advantage of a utility is that it has a limit and cannot go astray. It permits 10 to 4 duty hour with festival holidays and Sundays; does not laugh out the night with electric light. Whatever it gives while our longevity runs down, has to be paid for in lucre, extravagance of which cannot be afforded.
But superfluity is devoid of a sense of balance. It dispels timeliness. It knocks at your door any time, during your leave hours and even to wake you up at night . Because it has no business, it is more busy than a workaholic (it seems the Poet here refers to the untimely fits of inspirations even at the dead of night which he used to pen down instantly before they will elude, but for which his superb creations would not be so enormous and varied).
Utilities can be quantified, the superfluities cannot. So this devil must occupy his immeasurable seat. It is difficult to push him out from there and we pine for a vagrancy.
Anyway, as soon as I have been out, I realized that there is no credit in frantically denying that with this vast world our relation is of Anandam (heavenly joy). Here there is no scramble neither chock-a-bloc, yet everything is full to the brim, that mirrors my image. The words ‘I am here’ get fragmented and deformed amidst our lanes and buildings. When I spread these words in the sky above, I realize its true implication. Then I transcend the utilities and the superfluities to find their reception in the domain of Anandam and clearly perceive why men were addressed as ‘The sons of the Immortal’.
(On way to Japan 1916)
16) Eternal amidst ephemeral
On this earth there had been so much violence, so much weal and woe, union and estrangement, arrival and departure; these myriad frolics everyday are all lost in my amnesia, yet, this autumnal green reigns on this widespread earth every year for ages. Its solemn peace and beauty, its immaculate aesthetic have gone unscathed. When I think of this, I look at the sky ahead when that tranquility over ages absorbs all my lifelong grievances into its own boundlessness.
[Santiniketan; to Ranu Mukherjee- Sept. 1918]
17) Change of opinion
I have changed my opinion umpteen times. If the Creator also had not done so, to-day’s musical soirÃ©es would be classic dinosaur’s roar with samba of the tusked mammoths which would be so frightening that even the votaries of muscular rendition of dance/music would retreat from its venue. If my flair to change my opinion remains unimpaired till my last day, I’ll know that I still have hope to survive, else, my funeral should be arranged at the marble landing of the Ganges where, in our country, is the maximum crowd.
[To Dilip Kumar Roy, a renowned musician of Tagore’s time: 6 February 1938]
[Translator’s note: It may be claimed, Tagoreana comprises earth’s most sophisticated music and dance, wording the ineffable, which had a spell on the Bengali culture for decades and rightly accepted at least by a large number of them as the ultimate of aesthetics. Now, the apprehension goes that this has only been a passing phase for Bengali culture, which is being fast overtaken by the earlier crudity along with the upstart mod culture from the West. The music and dance which now-a-days dominate the Bengali stage are no less frightening than that apprehended by Tagore.]