Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1298, (2 - 8 June 2016)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1298, (2 - 8 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Time for Tagore

Tagore tantalises Gamal Nkrumah

Time for Tagore
Time for Tagore
Al-Ahram Weekly


 song characterised by instigating change is invariably a bellwether for trends set in motion by less high profile poets. Rabindranath Tagore was one such literary and musical genius who reshaped Bengali  literature and music. He was after all, the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. 

Huge infusions of money were never a serious consideration for Tagore, cash was never a blockbuster strategy. The uniqueness of his work was in itself a  resounding endorsement of his international success as an international  all-round, across-the-board artist. 

Tagore was a trailblazing pathfinder. Between 1878 and 1932, Tagore set foot in more than thirty countries on five continents, including Egypt. The Embassy of India, Cairo and Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture staged a week long extravaganza of Tagore’s genius,and it was much appreciated by the Egyptian public. The celebration lasted from May 8-12 to mark the 155th birth anniversary of Tagore.The festivities had the accomplishment of a memorable national literary, artistic and musical achievement.and was optimized on as many platforms as possible. 

The time was right for the big Tagore event in Cairo. Showcasing Tagore is not new to Egypt, but this year the show was as exciting as ever, with every facet of the great Bengali poet explored and highlighted.Tagore introduced new prose and verse forms and the use of colloquial language into Bengali literature. A more merchandising path was arguably forged by Shreya Guhathakurta renowned Rabindra Sangeet exponent, who sang songs written and composed by Tagore.

Bengali literature is unique within India itself. Tagore was a prolific composer with 2,230 songs to his credit. His songs are noted for their rhythmic, optimistic, and lyrical nature

Tagore’sfriendship with the late legendary Egyptian poet Ahmed Shawqy, perhaps the country’s most illustrious, is well documented and is rendered eternal by the poem Tagore penned as a eulogy to his fellow poet and friend’s death in 1932. Many of Tagore’s works were translated into Arabic.With lasting emotional appeal. 

Tagore was perhaps Bengal’s greatest poet, but he was also an internationalist.He was not a national chauvinist and shunned parochialism and narrow provincialism. In 1971, “Amar Sonar Bangla”, literally ‘made of gold’,the national anthem of Bangladesh. It was written, ironically, to protest the partition of Bengal. 

His latter dramas were more philosophical and allegorical in nature. In November 1912 Tagore began touring the United States and the United Kingdom. Did the West impact his traditional Eastern instincts?”A mind all logic is like a knife all blade. It makes the hand bleed that uses it,” Tagore polemicised. 

Known mostly for his poetry, Tagore wrote novels, essays, short stories, travelogues, dramas, poetry, plays, and thousands of songs.The 63-year-old Tagore accepted an invitation from the Peruvian government. He travelled to Mexico.And, on his arrival in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires on 6 November 1924 the Latin American governments pledged $100,000 to his school to commemorate the visits. 

Tagore’s dance drama “Shapmochan” (Breaking the Spell) was performed by  internationally renowned Indian classical dancer Dona Ganguly,who hails fromTagore’s own hometown Kolkata.

The fascinating film “Ghare Baire” by legendary Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray was screened attracted a large audience. And the festival climaxed in a seminar entitled “Tagore, Shawqy and Mahfouz”. Egypt’s Nobel Literature laureate never met Tagore in person, but was unquestionably influenced by the Bengali bard. 

Tagore began writing under the pseudonym Bhānusiṃha (“Sun Lion”), and he was in search of perpetual playfulness.And, his early dirge-like Brahmo devotional hymns metamorphosed later into allegorical,historical and spiritual subjects. Nevertheless, throughout his life his works were noted for their rhythmic and lyrical style. Witticism, however, was his hallmark. 

The poor Ganges boatman and the rich landlord air their emotions and featured prominently in Tagore’s songs. Be that as it may, Tagore was a humanist, universalist and an internationalist, and ardent anti-nationalist.Tagore modernised Bengali art by spurning rigid classical forms and resisting linguistic strictures.Did it finally make him content, coming to terms with his own past and cultural legacy? “Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky,” he mused. 

Tagore visited Egypt as a young adolescent in 1878 and later as a famous poet-philosopher in 1926, when he met the last Egyptian monarch King Fouad and interacted with scholars in Alexandria and Cairo. His friendship with Egyptian poet Ahmed Shawqy was cemented.

Tagore was down to earth,  and yet he was above the fray. In Raktakarabi (“Red” or “Blood Oleanders”), a kleptocrat rules over the residents of Yaksha Puri, the name of a broad class of jinn in Arabic, or nature-spirits, usually benevolent, and it is rumoured that Tagore was red-green colour blind even though he was an accomplished painter.

The (“Tagore Song”) has a special appeal. “The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough,” he extrapolated. And his songs were sentimental and impassioned. They ran the entire gamut of human emotion.

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