Like many Indians, my first tryst with Rabindranath Tagore was when I sung my country's national anthem, not understanding the words throughout most of my childhood. And then there were those fleeting mentions of Tagore in history books. But that was all, for a long time.
I've never been one for poems. I've found most poems to go over my head which lead me to avoid the genre for a long time. But one day I chanced upon the famous 'Where The Mind Is Without Fear' poem by Tagore and I was absolutely stunned by the beauty and sheer emotion in that poem. I made it a point to read more of Tagore's poems and I'm glad I did.
I find myself looking forward to every Thursday, to read several of his poems and have a hard time picking just one to post about here in my Thursdays With Tagore meme. Indeed, every poem of his is a treasure. They touch you where it matters the most and stay in your heart. Romantic, playful, sad, forlorn, glorious, reflective, profound are some words that explain the wide range of emotions in the Tagore poems I've read. But two words are a constant when it comes to describing his poems : soulful and powerful. I'm no expert critic, but these are the words that come to my mind when I read Tagore's poems.
The greatest thing about Tagore is that he was not just a legendary poet who inspired several other poets. He wrote songs, short stories, novels and plays besides travelogues, memoirs and essays on a range of topics. He acted in his plays and was a philosopher and artist too. He also involved himself in India's struggle for independence and renounced his knighthood in protest of the horrific Jallianwalla Bagh massacre.
Ketaki Kushari Dyson writes splendidly about Tagore's many accomplishments:
'Tagore was a notable pioneer in education. A rebel against formal education in his youth, he tried to give shape to some of his own educational ideas in the school founded in 1901 at Santiniketan.....To his school he added a university, Visvabharati, formally instituted in 1921. He wanted this university to become an international meeting-place of minds, 'where the world becomes one nest', and invited scholars from both the East and the West to come and enrich its life.....At Potisar he started an agricultural bank, in which he later invested the money from his Nobel Prize.'
Tagore also has the rare distinction of having written the national anthems of two countries - Jana Gana Mana for India and Amar Shonar Bangla for Bangladesh. Which leads to another point Dyson makes - 'Tagore does not belong to Bengalis or Indians only". Indeed his poems are for anyone and everyone who feels their impact. There are no 'narrow domestic walls' for Tagore. He is a legend whose work belongs to not just his country but also to the world.
Personally, I find a sense of awe filling me when I read Tagore's poems. Today, on his 150th birth anniversary, as India celebrates the genius that was Tagore, I shall be curled on my couch reading his poems and counting myself very lucky and blessed to have had the chance to read some of his work. Thank you Gurudev for making several of my dull days meaningful in the span of a few of your lines. I shall always read your poems with awe and love, for they are as timeless as they are universal.