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?

JYOTI BISWAS: Tagore was not a religious person. I am careful not to idolize a person like a god. There are many famous personalities in every culture who brought lots of wisdom with their poems, drama, dance drama, music like Tagore. He was socially engaged in helping the people in the area where he lived, not only to earn money. Together with a British economist in agriculture they opened a school for craftsmanship, for traditional art in Sriniketan, in a rural area outside of Kolkata. In this area he started to plant trees and guided the people to do profitable farming. He had many followers in Bengal (East and West), India and was known widely in the Western World. In the Viswa Bharati University, which he had founded 1921, many foreign scientists in Natural Science, Art, Music, Sociology were giving lectures in different disciplines.

I am not praising him as a hero. Throughout the centuries there are many outstanding personalities who have gained respect and honor. They have developed and invented something new for mankind, shared their wisdom with the humanity, have lived a simple life.

He could have lived in our time as a man like him is needed as well as 100years ago. He did not only write and compose more than 2200 songs, 154poems in the Gitanjali, wrote books and plays, founded a university, worked with a British economist of agriculture in Sriniketan, brought education in rural areas. He was born in a cultivated, intellectual family. They were all writing, painting, playing music. His broadminded thinking and travels to many countries, meeting people abroad brought him new connections he could need for his work. He was a freedom fighter, at home in Britain, but interested that India will be a free country. If Tagore could see now, how much West-Bengal has improved? Sometimes I feel the enthusiasm to live in a better world where people are treated equally; literacy rates are going up, the right and privilege to live a normal life with access to electricity, health care, a normal livelihood. The thinking and example R.Tagore has given, the light and spirit has diminished instead of improved. The people in every house know about Tagore, sing the (sentimental) songs, also the illiterates.

SONGSOPTOK: Which aspect of Rabindranath most impacted your young adulthood?

JYOTI BISWAS:  My family India was connected with R. Tagore through my mother, born 1906, died 2010. My Aunt, born 1913 - she is still alive. She remembers very well 1931, when R. Tagore was in Germany. She had met him. They also knew about his poetry and songs, but not very well acquainted with it. After 1965 I have heard many Tagore songs, but could not make out the translation. Two to three words is not enough. I liked the music. Later on, in the computer-age, I found translations into English. But travelling to Kolkata I bought some small books with his plays, have visited the house in North Kolkata, neat and clean. So different from the outside area!

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?

JYOTI BISWAS:   A mellow wisdom, broad knowledge, deep sympathy, strong imagination, and absolute mastery of language and form. Unshakable trust in himself - in spite of intense personal pain, he could grow to such a strong personality. He got involved in social work, education. He came from a wealthy, cultivated family. He wanted to share this value and knowledge with people, as much as possible. They should have a better life and a free mind. He was afraid of inequality and wished a free democracy- not to be an occupied country.

SONGSOPTOK: Which aspect of Rabindranath attracts you most and why?

JYOTI BISWAS:   Tagore lived in the nineteenth century. For his time his thinking was much advanced, being an Indian working socially with the poor, educate them. He was born into a tolerant, intellectual, academic family, quite different from the traditional Bengali families with all the restrictions – which are silently still there. His childhood, education, travelling to England and other countries. In India he got active in social work, became an educationalist, social work with the underprivileged. Although personally he had undergone severe hardships, he tried to overcome his pain by writing poems, music, travelling, searching for new contacts. His belief in the economy self-reliance. He wanted to establish cooperative system as a way to counter capitalism.

SONGSOPTOK: Can you comment on the influence of Rabindranath in your personal life and on your cultural engagements?

JYOTI BISWAS:   Since 1983 in Frankfurt there is” Rhein-Main Bengali Association”, where we celebrate Rabindra Jayanti and Nazrul’s birthday, and Bhaishak in the middle of May. For several years I have been the PR.

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?

JYOTI BISWAS:  I can’t say. But my experience is sad. I can read Bengali but need more practice to learn the language. I have made several attempts to learn Bengali. Here is no opportunity to learn Bengali. I have asked several Bengalis to help me, either they said NO or never replied. In the functions many Bengalis ask to speak in their mother tongue. Not for me, but we have quite a few guests or Indians from other areas who don’t speak Bengali. The option is English. The younger generation is highly qualified, working here, the women have a cultural background and can set up one evening with a good cultural program.

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?

JYOTI BISWAS: Not only Tagore travelled globally. Gandhi, Vivekananda and other Indians travelled and are known in foreign countries. The intercultural communication between India and Germany has been for centuries. Many Germans have travelled to India, not only as tourists. When I found this side of Indomania and the statistics, I got very sad. I don’t think that Germany is in the top of disliking India. I never was asked …

SONGSOPTOK: Is Rabindranath’s relevance among the younger generations on the decline? If so, what is the cause of that?

JYOTI BISWAS: This is a funny question. It is a new generation. The younger people have a different mindset. Best not to force, if you are convinced about something, it does not mean they have to accept. They are not better or worse, their mindset is different, way of life is similar but different, modern way of life. If you like it or not, you have to accept their difference. Living together in a multi-cultural society.

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?
JYOTI BISWAS:  Can’t say.

SONGSOPTOK:  What is your optimism about the relevance of Rabindranath in Bengal of the future generations?

JYOTI BISWAS:   I am not praising him as a hero. Throughout the centuries there are many outstanding personalities who have gained respect and honor. In the time of WW I + II , the world economy crisis, the repression of India in the British Empire R.Tagore gave light , spirit and hope in the people, showing them to survive . A few people benefited from his education. In my eyes the glamour of the time before WW II is fading. In 70+ years the economy and industrial society progressed for the benefit of the people. New responsibilities in family and job, long ways to work, time factor - who is listening to the traditional Tagore songs? R. Tagore is famous, honored around the world by a few followers. He got the Nobel Prize in Literature 1913. If the educated people in Bengal, who adore him, would follow his principle to train the illiterate, care for the environmental issues, the underprivileged in Kolkata, the Sunderbans, as R. Tagore has given the example, then Bengal, Kolkata will start blooming again. Once it was the City of Joy, the capital of India.

We sincerely thank you for your time and hope we shall have your continued support.
Aparajita Sen

(Editor: Songsoptok)


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