Monday, September 26, 2005

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) - Selected Short Stories

Bengali poet, novelist, short-story writer, dramatist, painter, philospher and nationalist - Rabindranath Tagore is almost synonymous with the Indian Literature, being the first Indian to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. He is also known as the founder of the experimental school, Shanti Niketan, in which he tried to impart an education that was a blend of Indian and Western traditions. The school went on to become the Vishwa Bharati University in 1921.

His collection of verse, titled Geetanjali, Song Offerings, was hailed by W.B Yeats and André Gide, bringing him the much deserved attention from Western Critics and paving the way to his Nobel Prize.

I've read many of his poems, particularly from the collection Geetanjali and it won't take a genius to guess what motivated that choice ;-) I've also read a couple of plays. Recently I finished reading a volume of selected short stories.

Tagore, known best for having liberated Bengali literature from the shackles of traditional rules and models based on ancient Sanskrit literature, is said to have been greatly influenced by his contact with the "humble life and their small miseries" of the village folk he was in contact with, after taking up residence near the Padma river. His stories have a distinctive poetic lilt, poignantly capturing those elements of their lives, laced with a gentle irony at times. Most of them deal with life of the middle-class family man, and often with the position of the not-yet emancipated Bengali woman in a patriarchal society.

Despite his apparently supporting stance towards women, his stoires have a rather one-dimensional view of women classifying them under the Madonna-Whore dichotomy. Many of his stories seem to be attempting to lift the veil from the hypocrisies of Bengali (and thus, Indian) society, yet their rather simplistic and one-dimensional view, in my opinion, restricts the goal from being achieved. Yet, when I think of other short-stories I've read dating from the same era (or before) that attempt similar reforms in ways of thinking, I have to accept that the trend in short-story writing was rather simple and one-dimensional.

Another possible reason, for what I perceived as a rather soft-handed approach in exposing the evils of a class-ridde, superstitious society, is the fact I am reading a translated work, and it is a well-acknowledged fact that translation robs most, if not all, the essence of the original. You only need to compare the impact of Tagore's Amaar Sonaar Bangla in its original and in its translated English version to understand this - you don't need to understand Bangla to feel the difference in the rhythm, tempo and most importantly the soul of the song in its two version. (Having said that, let me add that I'm still glad to have access to the translation - and feel rather grouchy when denied access to such translations of other pieces of literature and thought in vernacular languages that I come across!)

Tagore's collection of short stories didn't exactly lift me to ecstacies of literary delight, but I'm glad to have finally read the volume that has been on my Must-Read list for as long as I can remember! I guess I can now move on to other such works on that ever-increasing list :-)

(You can read more about Tagore on Wikipedia Here's what Brittanica online has to say about him and what the Nobel society says about him. )

15 comments:

david raphael israel said...

dear Geet--

btw don't miss out on Tagore's essays! His lecture-essays (such as The Religion of Man and On Personality) are remarkable ventures in thought -- and written directly in English, so we're not dealing with the translation problem.

cheers,
d.i.

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Anonymous said...

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Dan Husain said...

That was a wonderful introduction to Tagore for the uninitiated. :-)

Raps said...

Hi Geetanjali,

I am so happy that you read Tagore. Inspite of his wonderful works he remained a regional hero!! I am a bengali and hence I can only say if you read Tagore your perspective in life changes. Read his novels and novellas as well, they are intricately crafted and deals with diffcult questions.

His other works as thinker, educator are equally thought provoking. if you ever get a chance visit Shantiniketan, where Tagore instituted an open air school.

Gitanjali Venkatraman said...

Well,I like Tagore too and no prizes for guessing why! Looking forward to more writing from you !

Hermit Chords said...

Ah...Tagore

Gitanjali particularly moved me, because while the verse flows so freely, without being hemmed in by form, the rhythm is still so powerful, it carries the imagery so smoothly:

"merchants sail in their ships, while children gather pebbles and scatter them again"

Tagore's use of individual peak stresses to convey rhythm rather than on metric feet allows for a flowing, lyrical effect, and the sense of a journey in every line.

I wonder if this effect of free stresses is only in translation, or if it is so in the Bengali too.

ABN said...

Do listen to Rabindra Sangeet sometime. It heals your soul. I believe that Tagore was to India what Da Vinci was to Europe.

Anonymous said...

I find that my reactions to his short fictions vary by translator and collection. If you're looking for more depth, particularly in his depictions of women, try the stories "The Girl in Between"/"The Middle One", "The Living and the Dead", or "A Wife's Letter".

Abhi said...

Hi,

I have been searching the name of a short story by Rabindranath Tagore which I had read in my school. I just know the character's name and the story.

The lead character's name is Nilakantha who was found by Kalyani(not sure) on the banks of Ganges. Kalyani must be suffering from some ailment and must be under treatment. She takes care of the young boy and they share a good relationship. But when Kalyani's brother-in-law (friend) visits her place Nilakantha gets insecured and commits suicide.

Could you please help me finding the name of the story? Please mail me at crownabhisek@gmail.com

Abhi said...

Hi,

I have been searching the name of a short story by Rabindranath Tagore which I had read in my school. I just know the character's name and the story.

The lead character's name is Nilakantha who was found by Kalyani(not sure) on the banks of Ganges. Kalyani must be suffering from some ailment and must be under treatment. She takes care of the young boy and they share a good relationship. But when Kalyani's brother-in-law (friend) visits her place Nilakantha gets insecured and commits suicide.

Could you please help me finding the name of the story? Please mail me at crownabhisek@gmail.com

NP said...

Abhi,

Hi! I would'nt know if its a coincidence, but I have been browsing and hunting through the web pages recently looking for a book called "Tales from Tagore"which was a school text when I was in class 8th or 9th. My desperation was to read this story of a boy called Nilkantha...which continued to stay in my memories long after I left school. Thankfully I bumped into the story and its called "The Unwanted".Its sad though that I could never locate the book itself!!I regret having given it away those days after the term got over!!
Hope the title helps! You can find it as an online reading!

Cheers
NP

Abhi said...

hey NP... the name of the story is Cast Away. Even i was deceived by the name The unwanted. but one of my seniors corrected me.

http://books.google.co.in/books?id=-XMeUKOIdvAC&pg=PA185&lpg=PA185&dq=Story:+The+Castaway+Tagore&source=bl&ots=9-PRlDEzEY&sig=CZj68UDL4VJWJaLyPfqIdY5F-98&hl=en&ei=pUrNS4WHDoS4rAecuYVy&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10&ved=0CC0Q6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q&f=false

NP said...

Thanks Abhi....Yes its CAST AWAY indeed......
Let me know if u cd think o other short stories which touch the chords of humanity...If u like movies....u must watch A passage to India (Victor Banerjee) and Water (Deepa Mehta- Lisa Ray)

Abhi said...

hey NP... i have mony posts on my blog related to some stories and poems from school.. hope u can connect...

the other story being The BET by Anton Chekhov

http://intangibleabhisek.blogspot.com/2010/04/bet-by-anton-chekhov.html