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RUMA CHAKRAVARTI

SONGSOPTOK THE WRITERS BLOG | 5/15/2015 |




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?
RUMA: My relationship with Tagore began much in the same way. I think my mother was remarkable for managing to do this, despite living in Africa and having a full time job of her own. She also introduced his songs to me with regular lessons from her in the evenings on the harmonium.

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?
RUMA:   I find that Tagore has something to offer to readers of every age. For me, songs and stories that once appealed  have often moved  off centre stage and new ones have gained in importance. Some songs are as clear as crystal to me at some points in time and I feel a sense of amazement as to why the meaning was not clear, not evident to me just days or hours earlier.

SONGSOPTOK:   Which aspect of Rabindranath most impacted your young adulthood?
RUMA:   As a child, I was exposed to his songs and his stories for children. His poems for children and his autobiography Jeevan Smriti would have to be the most influential on my love for him in my adult years.

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?
RUMA:   This rediscovery happens always when one is least aware. My involvement with translating his works into English came about as a way of dealing with some issues in my personal life. The peace that came from that was such that it soon became clear to me that it might be helpful to others who were in need of a sanctuary from all the business of living. For me it has been both intellectual as well as of the soul. Without the soul being involved, the intellect would not have been fully satisfied.

SONGSOPTOK:   Which aspect of Rabindranath attracts you most and why?
RUMA:   His keen understanding of the human condition.

SONGSOPTOK:   Can you comment on the influence of Rabindranath in your personal life and on your cultural engagements?
RUMA:   Tagore provides me with an understanding of a large number of things without my active realization. I am not religious and his spirituality is what I understand; in that sense Tagore to me is almost as a prophet.

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?
RUMA:   I think there is a deep need for structuring vocational education according to the teachings of Tagore and his practices at Santiniketan and Sriniketan. We will never succeed as a nation if we strive endlessly to turn every child into a doctor or an engineer. Rural development will come through implementing his progressive ideas in matters such as agriculture, microfinance and rural upliftment. These can be addressed most successfully with the help of a national program.

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?
RUMA:   I suppose his view that children must be taught only in their mother tongue till the age of twelve might have been influenced by the fact that he was living in a country ruled by a foreign power. As a teacher I know that children can handle the learning of more than one language at a time and feel that while a knowledge of good grammatical English may be essential for job-readiness later in life, all children do learn a second language more effectively when they know their own well. Therefore, both languages must be taught and with equal emphasis. If parents are happy to take a child to cricket coaching and French language classes for a fee, why not have them learn Bengali as well while at school? That is still the most inexpensive way to learn anything.

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?
RUMA:   For most people globalization is merely what they see on cable television. True globalization and global citizenship has always been around and Tagore himself described his patriotism as a global construct and not a blind following for a geographical expression of nationhood. I believe it is the responsibility of Bengali writers, speakers and bloggers to share their Tagore with the world around them. Through my blog on Tagore, I have been doing that and am proud to say that there is still a great deal of interest in Tagore and other vernacular literature. We must not sit back and hope someone else will do this for us.

SONGSOPTOK:   Is Rabindranath’s relevance among the younger generations on the decline? If so, what is the cause of that?
RUMA:   I think the young are by nature always inclined to experiment and test ground with new things. As Tagore himself said, they were born in a different time and are not citizens of the same world that their parents might have known. Given the chance to learn for themselves about good and bad literature, they will always choose the better alternative. Tagore will always be the better alternative.

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?
RUMA:   I am lucky to be living at some geographic distance from the home of Tagore where this self centredness has a more abiding and damaging effect. The West has always had the egalitarian views that Tagore espoused.

SONGSOPTOK: What is your optimism about the relevance of Rabindranath in Bengal of the future generations?
RUMA:  I believe that Rabindranath will continue to be relevant to Bengalis if his work is taught to the younger generations without attempting to water it down.


[RUMA CHAKRAVARTI: A MATHEMATICS TEACHER BY PROFESSION IS A BLOGGER AND WRITER WHOSE INTERESTS INCLUDE TAGORE AND WOMEN’S ISSUES. SHE CURRENTLY LIVES IN ADELAIDE. ]
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