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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Farewell to Tagore?

I read in the newspaper today (see this and this) that a proposal has been submitted to the NCERT by the Shikhsha Sanskriti Utthyan Nyas, headed by the redoubtable Dinanath Batra of Wendy Doniger fame, that works of Rabindranath Tagore be excised from all school textbooks.

There has been a predictable hue and cry not only from political parties which sit in the opposition in Parliament but also from renowned scholars and savants, such as Shankha Ghosh and Pabitra Sarkar (alas, I shall have to look much more closely over the next few days or weeks to find out if any non-Bengali of note has cared to lodge a protest – Derek O’Brien doesn’t count). Tagore is our national treasure, far above politics, they have said, and such mischievous, petty-minded efforts point to a careful and countrywide effort to close minds and drag us back into a darker age.

Maybe the ruling party will decide that Tagore is too holy a cow to be touched, so nothing will come out of this, for now: after all, they haven’t replaced Gandhi on our currency notes yet. But my take on the issue, even as a Tagore devotee, is rather different from the expected wholehearted support from the saffron brigade or the howls of outrage from the so-called liberal, progressive intelligentsia. Mine is the reaction of a very tired and cynical mind, a mind moulded by teaching language and literature at high school level for half a lifetime. I don’t think it matters any more, one way or the other. Put in Chetan Bhagat and Amish Tripathi and Ravinder Singh in Tagore’s place for all the difference it is likely to make. If my readers disagree with me, please let me know why; then maybe I shall explain or change my position. If there are no responses to this post, or very few, I shall take that as a vindication of my view. 

1 comment:

Abhishek Anand said...

Dear Sir,

This is what the HRD Minister had to say about this controversy, “We respect Rabindranath Tagore and all those who have brought freedom, culture, heritage and literature. They have made the country proud. So, we hail everybody and nothing of this kind will be removed.”

Sir, you have rightly said that the government may not even think about excising Tagore, at least not now. I would just like to add that they may not do so ever. A noteworthy strength of our democracy has been that the more powerful one becomes(or aspires to become), the more must one give in and accommodate. A closer look at the formidable organisation to which the notorious Dinanath Batra belongs shall vindicate the aforementioned: Disillusioned by India's partition, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in the immediate aftermath of our Independence, had opposed the Tricolour, calling it "unrepresentative of India". However, more than a dozen Chief Ministers as well as the Prime Minister who belong to the same RSS hoist the same Tricolour(at least twice every year) these days. The RSS which once stood for 'Poorna Swadeshi' could not help it when many of its own 'Swayamsevaks', as CMs or PMs, relentlessly welcomed Foreign Direct Investment. Even today, while many BJP ruled states are all too anxious to'ban beef', the Kerala unit of the party has absolutely 'no problem' if the same is consumed there! If the BJP is serious about winning Bengal(and most certainly the party is serious), excising Tagore will probably be the last act that it shall resort to. If the BJP does come to rule Bengal, fidgeting with Tagore will be all the more dangerous because after all, what matters to a party more than 'holding on to the reins of power'. We may rest assured that such a tragedy shall never haunt Bengal. After all, the BJP has successfully(and to a certain extent even rightly)made Gandhi its own!

These kind of episodes precisely illustrate the biggest problem that confronts India's Right. While the Left, for the better part part, has been proudly ignorant of the bright side of India's past, the Right is too selective and at times even 'foolish' - Eating beef is anti-Hindu, even if Maharishi Sushruta prescribed it for certain diseases. Love Marriage is an impure western practice, notwithstanding episodes like Krishna-Rukmini, Arjuna-Subhadra, Prithviraj-Sanyongita, etcetera. Homosexuality is a modern deformity, despite the many carvings in the Khajurao Temples which depict the same. Talking about sex is a taboo, for all the erudition that went into Vatsayana's Kamasutra. And what not....- to make any significant change for the better. I firmly believe that besides addressing the social and financial problems that confront India, the ability of the Right to do away with such illogical chatter and fantastical arguments shall determine whether India's Right becomes 'truly historical or just history'!

With respect to the final point that you have raised, let me opine that I don't completely disagree with you. "Does the present generation really read and understand Tagore?", is a question far more pertinent than the 'Left-Right' debate. After all, we have been independent for seventy years now and still we only read 'about Kalidas', and not 'Kalidas'. However, when I think about those 'few'(like the ones whom you dedicated the previous blogpost to) who will retain the 'bad habit' of reading, I am convinced that replacing Tagore with the likes of Chetan Bhagat will be a blunder. Tagore is a Banyan (under which only grass can grow), and it is entirely possible that someday an individual or a group, awestruck with its magnificence, will pluck a fruit and plant the seed in the most 'modern' manner. That, given our 'herd instinct', may well blossom into a greenery that Bengal(and with it the rest of India) was once proud of. Those 'few' should be given a fare chance!

Yours faithfully,
Abhishek Anand