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Guest Editorial: The Everyday and Other Tagore

By Bhaswati Ghosh

There is the Rabindranath Tagore we all know – the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, the founder of Visva-Bharati University, the grand literary canon of India, and the towering figure without whom, Bengal just can’t do.

And there’s the other Rabindranath Tagore, the one who forms the leitmotif of the activities of a social worker working with children from marginal communities in Delhi. Tagore shows up in their handcrafted embroideries, in the food they make, in their art and craft projects, in the plays they enact, and in the worldview they imbibe, unbeknownst to themselves.

Tagore comes alive in the song an unknown Baul fakir sings in a village in Bangladesh, “Jawkhon porbe na mor payer chinho ei baate,” (When my footprints are no longer seen on this path). The words haunt the listener with the singer-poet’s elegiac visions of a time after he is gone. It’s penned and composed by Tagore, yes, but the fakir makes it his own, with his distinctly carefree, unchained rendition.

In a very urban school in Delhi, a principal strives to give her students a taste of Tagore’s inclusive education paradigm. She doesn’t have the space to provide the open-air classrooms of Visva-Bharati, but she opens the doors of art, literature, music, dance, and drama to her pupils, so they can breathe free beyond the confines of a book’s pages.

In one of his most powerful poems (Patraput, 15), Tagore declares himself an outcast, one who has renounced the bondage of religion and ritual. He likens himself to Bauls and their search for the man of the heart, a quest to find divinity in humanity, not in external or imagined symbols.

This is the other, everyday Tagore – internalized in universes that don’t often feature in scholarly discourses.

In this special issue of Café Dissensus, our contributors explore and celebrate this aspect of Tagore.

Sahana Bajpaie has emerged as a distinct voice in the world of Rabindrasangeet with her vibrant singing style and contemporising of the soundscape of Tagore’s songs. She talks to Bhaswati Ghosh about how, Tagore, her Robi Thakur, was part of, and continues to be, the everyday universe she breathed in. Bonus – a track from her newly-released album, “Ja Bolo Tai Bolo.”

Manisha Banerjee, a headteacher in a school in West Bengal, finds Tagore’s vision of rural development and living in harmony with nature embodied in Shyamali Khastagir, an untiring peace and environmental activist.

Aseem Asha Usman’s photo-essay on Tagore Utsav, a festival his foundation organizes every year, is a refreshing example of the power of collaborative, hands-on initiatives in realizing Tagore’s philosophy of education. The involvement of young adults from marginalized communities makes this endeavour all the more significant.

Navras Jaat Aafreedi’s essay brings us closer to the association between Tagore and some eminent Jews, including Albert Einstein, Sir William Rothenstein and artist Stella Kramrisch.

Goirick Brahmachari’s poems brim with candid expressions of love and loss and are honest conversations about how Tagore’s everyday presence can become a sanctuary for some, even if it causes momentary angst in others.

Ruma Chakravarty takes the reader on the journey Tagore made to England with some of his closest associates, including William Rothenstein, pivoting her essay on the crucial, even life-altering, influence he had on Western minds.

Raj Shekhar Sen reflects on Tagore’s worldview of inclusion and plurality in the light of shrinking spaces for divergent thinking the world over.

Koral Dasgupta’s fiction examines the fecundity of the ground Tagore laid in Santiniketan in fostering creative agency.

Sumana Roy deliberates on the conundrum of drawing Tagore’s portrait and the multitude of Tagores and non-Tagores, who emerge from artistic endeavours to frame the poet’s face.

Sumallya Mukhopadhyay’s nuanced memoir arcs an elderly woman’s free spirit, the resonance of which the writer finds in Tagore’s female protagonists.

Shouvik Banerjee paints a nostalgic dreamscape as he reminisces how Tagore comes to him on rain-soaked days.

[About the image: Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), Untitled (Figures in Sepia). Photo: Sotheby’s.]

Guest-Editor:

Bhaswati Ghosh writes and translates fiction and non-fiction. Her website: bhaswatighosh.com.

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For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.

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