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Why does Tagore matter when the whole world is burning?

Tagore Matter

Tagore Matter:

It may seem absurd to write on spiritual matters when the whole world is burning. But that is a thought that has to be overcome. That is the time when one should write most on it. Today while my friends in Kashmir are still unreachable, while the Amazon is burning, while immigrant children are fighting their own cases in America at age three and four, while African Americans still get a raw deal, while Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, China, Myanmar are all troubled as is Palestine, Pakistan, Bangladesh and so many other parts of the world, while Dalits still suffer as do animals, plants, living creatures, trees and birds, and no one cares for the economy or the ecology as many lose their jobs.

While neo-Nazis and the right is on the rise, while women are still raped, abused, molested and oppressed, while sexual and other minorities and the poor suffer all over the world, that is when I have to speak most of this matter regarding how to live and how to love as one has to not just hold the rising forces and tides of darkness at bay but to drive them back so that we are not entirely washed away. And where better than to start with Tagore’s Gitanjali. Tagore’s Gitanjali is a special book as it does not name God to make people feel left out.

1. In translating it into English he made it available to the world and it became a seminal influence like The Prophet, Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, and other books like Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Little Prince in making a whole new generation of people think again of God, man and our relationship with God and with other men.

2. In staying away from the odious jingoism in the work of someone like Bankim Chandra Chatterjee in Anand Math, and the strident notes of Hindu fanaticism in some of the writers of the so called Hindu Renaissance, and in eschewing violence, while being Oriental, espousing more of a Brahmo sensibility, it struck a balanced vision and this vision is very essential to those carried away by notions of religious superiority. On looking back it may seem a bit patriarchal but it already spoke for the poor and the weaker sections of society and made religion a private matter, away from vexing battlefields of culture, identity and sexuality and ostentation and expense and tradition and conservatism and fundamentalism as well as radicalism and extremism and fanaticism. It did not espouse idolatry.

As a result of its curious ability to tread spiritual and mystical and common-sensical ground without going overboard into meaningless or vain religiosity but being lyrically simple and hauntingly soulful it won not only the Hindu or the Christian or the Muslim into reading it and the Buddhist in India but also the East and the West with its Jewish antecedents as readers. It remains an example of bridge writing, bridging people everywhere with God and each other and I admire him for that.

He was unique, original, fresh, special, and ahead though also at the same time rustic in expressing a soul that was purely Indian and richly deserves the title Mahaguru much more than the so called Gurus of today with his advanced ideas on education and his novels like Gora that again explore the problematic of bridging East and West, now called in some spheres North and South. When I think of him I think of Jesus saying, blessed the peacemakers for they the children of God. Tagore was a peacemaker.

Why does Tagore matter?

Tagore matters because he is still inward looking, his is the spiritual world of one who judges himself. This is the way that will help now, not pointing fingers at each other..

Today’s world is the opposite. Tagore’s best poem in Gitanjali for me is the encounter between the king and the I.

“I had gone a-begging from door to door in the village path, when thy golden chariot appeared in the distance like a gorgeous dream and I wondered who was this King of all kings!

My hopes rose high and methought my evil days were at an end, and I stood waiting for alms to be given unasked and for wealth scattered on all sides in the dust.

The chariot stopped where I stood. Thy glance fell on me and thou camest down with a smile. I felt that the luck of my life had come at last. Then of a sudden thou didst hold out thy right hand and say `What hast thou to give to me?’

Ah, what a kingly jest was it to open thy palm to a beggar to beg! I was confused and stood undecided. And then from my wallet I slowly took out the least little grain of corn and gave it to thee.

But how great my surprise when at the day’s end I emptied my bag on the floor to find a least little gram of gold among the poor heap. I bitterly wept and wished that I had had the heart to give thee my all.”

Tagore’s beggar weeps over his mistake but today people never weep over their own mistakes but only over that of others. I have heard people who do not understand the spiritual meaning of Ramayana criticize Ram; for example, for not being a good husband which according to them make him not fit for the title of Maryad Purush. They seldom stop to ask themselves, if they are men, if their wives would think of them as having loved them more than Ram did Sita or if women, if they have loved their husbands as much as Ram or Sita loved each other. They would not even have thought in/on such lines, as it would expose their lack in their lives and they would realise that they had no grace from God to love their spouses as they have not given God their all to get it.

Poem from Gitanjali

This ability to judge oneself or its lack is what the poem from Gitanjali is about. The beggar in it judges himself and berates himself for his lack of generosity, but it is too late. When we do not give, we get nothing. When we do not give to God and others generously; to those we meet on our way but instead want to get, get, get. We are already on the way to ruin; and that is why the world is in such a bad state these days. Purely because of COVETOUSNESS and GREED. The opposite is generosity and being for-giving.

Lady, we receive but what we give. – ST Coleridge

It is better to give than to receive. – Jesus

And very rarely, sometimes, spiritually, to receive is also to give. That is why Buddha and Assisi set up begging orders.

People want knowledge on how to do things properly, like making their married life happy. It is something like a smoker leaving cigarettes. Let us say a man smoked a hundred times, then wants to leave it. He has to stop abruptly and then say no to cigarettes a hundred more times. Then he can start again being a non smoker and forget that period in between when he smoked, with a fresh start.

In the same way if you blame Ram for not loving Sita enough by making her take the fire test (agni pariksha), listening to a dhobi, exiling her and the kids, take a pen and sit down and write down all the things you do to hurt your wife, listening to what others say about her, questioning her, away from her or putting her away in some ashram to stay alone and enjoy your kingship, and then set it all right by doing the opposite. As many times as you did it. Remove your suspicions, your jealousy, and replace it with trust and love. This would make you more like what you want Ram to be, a maryad purush. And bring happiness to your home and that would spread to your children and that to society.

There is only one way, the way of the cross. Deny your self. Suffer the death of your wrong desires to set others free and make them happy.
Set yourself right and the rest of the world, around you, at least, nearby, will become a happy place.
Even forest fires, at least in your vicinity, can then be tackled.

Ultimately, Tagore teaches us not to destroy things or relationships unless they are really toxic but to bridge them.

 With due apologies to husbands and wives.


-Article By Ampat Koshy

So Repeat yourself ‘Tagore Matter, Tagore Matter, Tagore Matter”

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