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Centenary of Tagore’s Nobel

Centenary of Tagore’s Nobel
Highlights

Centenary of Tagore’s Nobel, Rabindranath Tagore’s Nobel Prize, Cultural Renaissance of India. Perhaps many people in this country missed the occasion. This is the centenary year of Rabindranath Tagore’s Nobel Prize, the first time for a non-European to receive the prize

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1913 was awarded to Rabindranath Tagore “because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West".

Perhaps many people in this country missed the occasion. This is the centenary year of Rabindranath Tagore’s Nobel Prize, the first time for a non-European to receive the prize. It was in fact the second occasion when the Eastern muse and the legacy of the Orient were taken to the doorstep of the Western World; the first occasion being the great speech of Swami Vivekananda at Chicago exactly 20 years earlier. It is an interesting coincidence that both the stalwarts belonged to Bengal, the State known for the Cultural Renaissance of India.

This fact was brought to my notice by a proud Telugu friend at Sweden Praveen Rangineni when I visited the country recently. Earlier in the day, passing through the imposing grandeur of the City Hall, a mind-boggling construction manually brick by brick with many artefacts and frescos laid on the walls, where I was told by the guide that laureates would be given a banquet by the King and the Nobel Committee soon after the award ceremony. I wondered how Rabindranath Tagore walked on the steep steps to the hall above at 52, and what beverage might he have tasted when a toast was proposed in his honour.

I was told four different toasts would be proposed with four different beverages in four differently sized goblets. In fact, I was told that the banquet in 1913 was held not at the City Hall, as in later years, but at the Grand Hotel, an imposing marvel opposite the waterfront in Sweden, a landmark facing the King’s Palace. What is more, Tagore did not attend the award-giving ceremony and his telegram was read by Clive, British Charge d’affaires (India was under British rule then). He said: “I beg to convey to the Swedish Academy my grateful appreciation of the breadth of understanding which has brought the distant near, and has made a stranger a brother.” Tagore visited Norway twice afterwards in 1921 and later in 1926.

The Nobel Foundation, while announcing the Award for Literature, had said: The Nobel Prize in Literature 1913 was awarded to Rabindranath Tagore “because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West". The book that was responsible for the Nobel Award, ‘Gitanjali’, was not the first book to be translated into Swedish language. It was ‘The Gardener’ and the ‘Crescent Moon’ that reached the Svanska readers. Also, on 25th March 2004, when the Nobel Medal was stolen by somebody from the vaults of Shantiniketan, the Nobel Foundation, for the first and the only time, replaced it with a new copy of the Nobel Medal in gold and a bronze replica at the request of Shantiniketan. Indeed, Tagore is the only poet whose songs were chosen as National Anthems by two countries, India and Bangladesh; Jana gana mana and Amar Shonar Bangla. It is a coveted honour not shared by anyone anywhere ever since.

In the banquet speech, the Foundation lauded the craft of the poet - his rhythmically balanced style, to quote an English critic's opinion, ‘combines at once the feminine grace of poetry with the virile power of prose’; his austere taste in the choice of words and his use of the other elements of expression.

He was decorated with the Knighthood by the British Empire, but he renounced the honour after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, writing a letter to the then Viceroy Lord Chelmsford saying “The time has come when badges of honours make our shame glaring in the incongruous context of humiliation, and I, for my part, wish to stand, shorn of all special distinctions, by the side of those of my countrymen who, for their so-called insignificance, are liable to suffer degradation not fit for human beings’’, an emotional empathy of the humility and anger of the then Indian masses.

He interacted with several stalwarts of his time like W.B.Yeats, Ezra Pound, Robert Bridges, Gandhi’s protégé Charles F.Andrews, Thomas Moore and even with Mussolini, the Italian dictator. He travelled to 30 countries and five continents and each country contributed $1, 00,000 for his good work at Shantiniketan.

Proving a point that any effort is ageless, he started painting at 60 and learnt music at 70 creating a genre of his own called Rabindra Sangeet.

Two brilliant performances of Shambhu Mitra(the director of the only film, a true masterpiece of Raj Kapoor’s “Jagte Raho’’ for those who have not heard of his name) of two Tagore’s writings “Rakhta Karabi” (Red Oleanders) and “Kshudit Pashan” (Hungry Stones) at Rabindra Bharathi with his theatre group “Bahuroopi’’ are still very ripe in my memory. “Kshudit Pashan” was later made into a film by Gulzar.

His contribution to Indian literature; stories, novels, plays, poems, songs, essays, travelogues, musical compositions and the only institution that stand unique to this day, Shantiniketan, represent the great memory of one of the tallest personalities of resurgent India.

His poem “Where the head is held high….’’has since become the anthem for all nationalists and poetry-lovers and his mystic muse has become the only window into the rare and simplistic beauties of the mind’s pouring:

“Away from the sight of thy face my heart knows no rest nor respite, and my work becomes an endless toil in a shoreless sea of toil’’

Very much like his poetry, his physical form, with flowing robes and silky white hair and beard, looks poetic, ascetic and sublime, a touch of serene, divine beauty like that of the Buddha.

Poetry in its pristine form is ageless and ever-glowing, but a Nobel Award is but a measure, a milestone and a memory to celebrate the elegance and the magic of the great poet, nationalist-nay-internationalist par excellence.

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