SONGSOPTOK: Most Bengalis are introduced to Rabindranath through ‘Sahaj Paath’. With that introduction, people become familiar with him in their own ways.  Can you share with us how you developed that relationship?
RINITA:  Probably my first introduction was through my family, not “Sahaj Path” but his music, songs, I was told that the songs depict THE poet of our “nations”, hence music not words.

SONGSOPTOK:   If we analyze carefully, we will see a gradual unfolding of Rabindranath in us through different stages of our life, from childhood to adulthood. We may not be prepared for this evolution, but Rabindranath leads us through this developmental process to the blooming of our lives. Can you share with us how your personal development was influenced by Rabindranath?
RINITA:  Yes, certainly, there is a gradual unfolding of Tagore throughout our lives. In my case, it was his music mostly, then his “gitinatyo” (at home), then at school through his short stories, and as I grew older his novels and then his philosophy. So my progression is this (very oral, even when I did not understand words, music, then gitinatyo like Shyama (they were being played out everywhere), then his short stories, novels, and philosophy.

SONGSOPTOK: Which aspect of Rabindranath most impacted your young adulthood?
RINITA:  Music/songs

SONGSOPTOK:  How would you explain the rediscovery of Rabindranath at different phases of life? Won’t you agree that this rediscovery is a consequence of journeying with him? Or do you feel that this rediscovery happens mostly at the intellectual level instead  of being soul-bound?
RINITA: For me the music never left. But as I grew older and started to read his novels, a whole new Tagore, a very POLITICAL Tagore opened up for me, it is a TAGORE probably far removed from his music or poems. This is the Tagore that I am still trying to understand. The in between-s are his short stories and his plays, etc. His short stories have some sort of Chekovian and Maupassanian character, their deep sense of humanism and to some extent existentialism, mostly about the deep sense of what it is to be a human being, but his novels are what surprizes me most, his politics. I myself am a hard critique of “nationalism” and I go back and back and re and re-read his “Ghare baire” where even during the most virulent nationalism he critiqued nationalism of what he saw; for me, as a feminist, this is doubly interesting because he made “woman” and “gender” and its paradox the center of his nationalism.

SONGSOPTOK:   Which aspect of Rabindranath attracts you most and why?
RINITA:  Of course his music, that is probably because it never leaves us those who are brought up in Bengali middle class, then his philosophy and his politics, I think I have to say after his music, his politics.

SONGSOPTOK:   Can you comment on the influence of Rabindranath in your personal life and on your cultural engagements?
RINITA: I think I always go back to him when I need some meaning and anchor in my chaotic life, to his songs and music. Then again, in the greater life, his cosmopolitanism, his vision of universalism is very appealing to me.

SONGSOPTOK: We are all aware of the immense influence that Rabindranath exerts on the modern Bengali society. However, the guidance that he provided about societal development has not been pursued. He emphasized rural economic self-reliance. He wanted to establish cooperative system as a way to counter capitalism. We chose to ignore his views. How would you address this topic?
RINITA:  This is HARD question. I do not know if what he envisioned is possible now; society is not a static unit, but a dynamic one, it constantly changes. I cannot answer this question, but I think his vision of cosmopolitanism, his vision that of a “universal human” is very relevant today with the kind of problems going on with the “other” in Europe, the whole immigration issue, the reason for migration and people who are socially excluded and the entire question of inequality within nations. It is hard to say how that participatory democracy will be possible, but we can certainly use Tagore’s cosmopolitan “human” rather ‘citizen” (viswabharati) as a model.

SONGSOPTOK: There is another issue that Rabindranath unequivocally championed – the importance of mother language in education! He argued that children should be instructed only in their mother tongues till the age of twelve. On the other hand, Bengali parents would like to send their children to English-medium schools if they can afford to do so. What is your opinion on this issue?
RINITA:  Certainly this is something we are seeing here in the United States. For example, in Spanish speaking families, children do much better when they are tested in Spanish for aptitude tests than when they are tested in English. This shows that they know the material but it is the language that is the problem. On the other hand, I think Tagore will also agree that if one has access to more than one language that will give them that vision and that opportunity to participate in the global community, so their should be multi language education, something they are trying out in Guatemala, where the native Mayan learn in BOTH their native language as well as in Spanish and can participate in civic life.

SONGSOPTOK: We are all too enamored about globalization, yet we lack interest to (re)introduce Rabindranath globally. What is your opinion? How and who can be trusted with that responsibility?
RINITA: I do not think this is a problem of globalization per se, it is a problem of education. For example, how many people read Dante? We can popularize Tagore by making him relevant to one’s life, how does a child, for example, solve a problem in school? What is participatory education and then bring in Tagore’s vision and how he conceived of the child’s world. Another place would be parenting. Most parents, as I see, are not ready to be parents; in this parents can read about what Tagore would say about parenting and how dealt with the whole notion of “childhood”. Remember the concept of “childhood” is a modern concept and one that started with the industrial revolution, and very few thinkers in India ever thought of it, Tagore was one, we can use him in this respect. Further, I think we can use Tagore in another area, our city planning, why don’t architects read Tagore and his vision of a “cosmo-green –city”. So, to summarize, Tagore can be made relevant to bring him back to what touch our daily lives.

SONGSOPTOK: Is Rabindranath’s relevance among the younger generations on the decline? If so, what is the cause of that?
RINITA:  I think it is a bit of gross overstatement to talk about the “younger generation”, young film directors are making movies from his stories and on his life still; it depends on who one is talking about. In order to make him more known, as I said, we have to make him relevant to our times and our problems.

SONGSOPTOK:   Rabindranath emphasized the need to develop egalitarian views instead of egocentric ones. Unfortunately, we as a society are receding into our impenetrable egotistic armor. How much has this behavior impacted you?
RINITA: Yes, this is what I said in my above answer about inequality and participatory democracy.

SONGSOPTOK:   What is your optimism about the relevance of Rabindranath in Bengal of the future generations?
RINITA: I think he will live as a classic poet in the same way as Dante, Shakespeare, Coleridge are living. He will not live amongst ALL, but amongst those who love his music, those who wish to learn about his humanism and cosmopolitianism and so forth. He will be in the libraries and research, his music will probably outlive other parts of his creation.

[Rinita Mazumdar:  Ph.D Assistant Prof. Philosophy & Culture Studies: Central New Mexico Community College, Affiliate Prof. Women Studies, University of New Mexico]


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