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Why Tagore 'pleaded' with Lord that he be spared the curse of being reborn in Bengal

By Bhaskar Sur* 

Hindu Bengalis of West Bengal celebrated the 160th birth centenary of their poet exactly two days after he was born .Why? Because they follow an outdated, archaic calendar. Like so many matters they are behind the time. This is an indicator of their stubborn conservatism rooted in Brahminical tradition.
Meghnad Saha, the famous astrophysicist, long back urged for a new Bengali calendar based on scientific method but it fell on deaf ears. The life of Hindu Bengalis from womb to the crematorium is guided by astrology. The old calendar is based on Hindu astrology which will explain why Marxists who ruled the state for three and half decades, left it untouched.
Bengali Tagore occupies an insignificant niche in the Hindu pantheon, far below the highly revered Ramkrishna-Sarada Devi-Vivekananda trio whose icons have acquired the stature modern deities .'Progressive' Bengalis worship Tagore with flowers and songs, but they oppose almost everything he stood for -- the value of the individual, freedom, reason and creativity. Throughout his life Tagore suffered the hostility of the community and died a bitter and disillusioned man.
Tagore came from a reformist Hindu tradition inspired by the ideas of Raja Ramohun Roy and the best tradition of British liberalism. The Brahmos, though a minuscule minority, were active in the fields of education, women's emancipation, anti-caste movement and labour movement .It produced a reaction in the form of Hindu revivalism whose most charismatic figure was Swami Vivekananda.
Vivekananda was opposed to widow remarriage and women's emancipation. He wanted women to model themselves on Sita and Savitri. He also defended caste system as a useful institution giving Hinduism necessary discipline and strength to fight the challenge of Islam. Most significantly, Vivekananda championed a sexual ethic based on fear and repression. In all this he was the opposite number of Tagore and needless to say, they intensely disliked each other.
Tagore had nothing but disgust for the guru cult that had built around the figure of the mystic Ramkrishna Paramhansa who for his disciples was the an avatar, their blind faith and aversion to social reform. Vivekananda on his part regarded Tagore as an aristocratic fop spoiling the young generation with his ' effeminate lifestyle' and erotic songs. 
In his time Vivekananda enjoyed more popularity but Tagore will have sweet revenge in in novel “Gora”, whose protagonist, a sexually repressed Hindu fanatic, would find the meaning of life in love. Hindu revivalism would later influence Swadeshi movement and militant nationalism.
Tagore was both opposed to nationalism which he saw as 'collective selfishness' and terrorism which only breeds hatred, moral insensitivity, distrust and dehumanization. In 'Home and World' he ruthlessly exposed the inner corruption of hollowness of Swadeshi politics.
Bengali Hindus, on the other hand, have always glorified terrorism and violence. Khudiram Bose who ended up killing two innocent Irish women is lionized as a hero. I wonder how Bengali Leftist intellectuals can both worship Tagore and the terrorists without being hypocritical.
Tagore valued the individual and tirelessly defended freedom in an age when it was under attack both from the Left and the Right. He dreamt of a society which would based on cooperation rather than competition; freedom rather than obedience; creativity rather than repetition.
Tagore's "Woman's Face"
Bengalis on the contrary became blind nationalists and even rabidly xenophobic. Their hatred of the British and all it represented turned them into blind admirer of Hitler. Subhas Bose came to believe until the Nazis delivered India it would remain under the British thrall for another hundred years. It is a Bengali who can reach such an atrocious conclusion!
Tagore valued the individual and tirelessly defended freedom in an age when it was under attack both from the Left and the Right
After the defeat of Nazis they found their saviour in Stalin and later, Mao. They were least bothered about how the political model based on one party rule could be fitted in a democratic structure. In other words they were and are afraid of freedom and will find peace only by submitting themselves to a all powerful party like the CPI-M or a ' suprimo' like Mamata Banerjee .
Tagore would like individuals to be free and fearless, treading, if necessary a lonely path. Bengalis go by herd instinct; they like big rallies and mammoth gathering where the individual is lost in the amorphous crowd.
Tagore's most ambitious project was his university Visva Bharati where he wanted the East and the West to meet. Scholars like KM Sen, Amarya Sen's maternal grandfather, joined him, accepting voluntary poverty. But he found it difficult to meet its mounting expenses. Andrew Robinson in his admirable biography has rightly noted it was like an albatross round his neck.
Tagore reluctantly had to undertake many foreign tours just to earn some money to pay the teachers. He was close to the Bengali elite but it did not come to his recue. Gandhi had little appreciation for Tagore's dream, yet he got GD Birla to shell out Rs 4 lakh in a patronizing manner. Tagore felt humiliated but he had little choice.
Only a few years after his death, Viswa Bharati was made a central university which relieved it of financial difficulties but only to reduce it to a lifeless hollow shell -- a pretentious show piece. Why didn't the Bengali elite and intellectuals come forward to save the institution? Simply because they didn't have the ability.
The long British rule had developed in them a dependence mentality which still persists. In the past they used to blame the British for all their failures; now they have shifted it to the Marwaris. Tagore was a builder, Bengali intellectuals are wreckers. They have ruined almost all the excellent institutions that grew up during the colonial period by politicking, nepotism and corruption.
Tagore had the added misfortune of being successful. He was first to receive the Nobel among Asians. He was also strikingly handsome with innumerable women admirers around the world. At 64 he fell for an Argentinean beauty Victoria Ocumpo who was also an art critic. It was she who arranged his solo painting exhibition in Paris.
.Bengalis who are manically jealous, did not take it kindly. From the early days they launched a smear campaign against him. When in 1916 he travelled to USA on a lecture tour, it was remoured that he had gone there to receive treatment for an aggravating venereal disease. At Viswa Bharati where boys and girls could mix freely irked them more. They saw it as a school for scandal.
Tagore was attacked relentlessly for being an 'anti-national', encouraging promiscuity and undermining morality. Extremely generous and warm, he was also open to exploitation by innumerable parasites who had gathered round him.
At the end of life, worn out by hostility, general turpitude and endless rancour he expressed his disappointment in the following words: "If there be anything like rebirth, my Lord, the only plea I hold is that, spare me the curse of being born here in Bengal."
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*Source: Author's Facebook timeline

Comments

Chandra Vikash said…
Namaskar! I just read your article on Rabindranath Tagore in Counterview. Geniuses have often met with violent resistance from mediocrity...till the tide turns a century later as humanity faces an existential crises. A lot of this perfect storm of the crises - ecological health and civilizational can be traced back to our failure to pay heed to truthful visionaries like Tagore. My new initiative www.gaiasansad.org is a comprehensive "sandwiched" top down and bottoms up approach to respond to the present crises and my way of paying a tribute to the towering legacy of Tagore who in perspective stands head and shoulders above many of his popular peers. Regards, Vikash
Anonymous said…
The article appears to be far from objective analysis and is heavily biased against Vivekanada, peppered with some incorrect facts. Vivekanada opposed the caste system. He served food to the dalit untouchables at Belur Math himself. Besides, he was a strong believer of women's emancipation (read his essays on comparison between women of the west and the east), although his version of women's emancipation was still along patriarchal lines if viewed through the lens of the 21st century. I do not agree with plenty of Vivekananda's views but this article is not at all useful from academic perspective. The tone of the article sounds rather like a propaganda.

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