Guest Author - Sheena Esther Janakie
Rabindranath Tagore, or Rabindranath Thakur was an Indian Polymath. A polymath is a person who is an expert in not one but various subject areas. Tagore was an author, poet, thinker, dramatist, educationist and humanist among many other things. Other famous polymaths are Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, Benjamin Franklin and Sir Isaac Newton.
Rabindranath Tagore is credited with having introduced new prose and verse forms to Bengali literature. He not only wrote in Bengali but also, in later years, translated many of his works to English himself. He started writing poetry when he was eight years old, and published his first collection of poems under the pseudonym Bhānusimha (sun lion) at the age of 16.
Tagore’s most famous work was the Gitanjali – a collection of many of his poems. It was written in Bengali, but he later translated it into the English language. Tagore was a prolific writer and a multi-faceted personality; throughout his life, he achieved greatness in various areas of life. He was a pioneer in many ways. He was, in fact, the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. He also repudiated his knighthood in protest to the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre. In the age when he lived in, that was a brave thing to do - considering that India was still under the British Raj.
His works have been many and versatile, and his fame and credence as a literary genius are accredited by the fact that not one but two nations have chosen his works as national anthems. His Jana Gana Mana is the national anthem of India and his Amar Shonar Bangla is the national anthem of Bangladesh.
His eminence in the artistic world is not anything to be surprised about however, since he had a family that was completely steeped in the arts. Out of his siblings, one brother was a renowned poet, another was a musician and playwright and his sister was a novelist.
Rabindranath Tagore had an interesting but unconventional schooling, first being homeschooled under his father and then his brother. Later on, he attended public school for a time in Brighton, England.
Tagore also travelled extensively during his lifetime covering many different areas of the globe including Germany, Iraq, England, the USA, Japan, Mexico and much of Asia. His literary genius, humanitarian thought and educational forward-thinking excellence helped and made him rub shoulders with the likes of William Butler Yeats (who incidentally wrote the preface to Tagore’s English translation of Gitanjali), Ezra Pound, Charles F. Andrews, Mussolini, Aga Khan III, Albert Einstein, George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells. Notice how his acquaintances represent a plethora of fields including education, politics, literature and science.
One of his very famous poems is his Chitto Jetha Bhayshunyo – Where The Mind Is Without Fear. This poem appeared as Poem 35 in his collection of poems Gitanjali. This poem is a poignant rendering of Tagore’s dream for India and is often taught in many schools.
We should remember that this poem was written by Tagore when India was still under the British Raj. This poem is Tagore’s wish for an ideal India, where wisdom rules and there are no societal demarcations. He wishes for an India, where people work with truth and perseverance and are not bound by petty things that cloud their minds. He hopes for an India where men roam free not only in the physical sense but in the metaphorical sense also, and where the people strive to achieve greater heights in all areas of life.
The poem is a beautiful prayer of a true Indian hoping for all that is best in the world for his country. Rabindranath Tagore was an incredibly remarkable man indeed, and one only has to read a few of his poems to understand his sincere thoughts and ambitions not only for his nation but also for humanity as a whole.