Two new paperbacks on Tagore from BPL caught our attention because of their sleek design and innovative approach. BPL is the new book publication wing of bdnews24, an online news portal in Bangladesh.
Title of one of the books is Rabindra Bitarka: Bangabhanga O Dhaka Biswabidyalay
. Edited by Razu Alauddin, the book has only three essays but they are very long and well written. The first essay is jointly written by Avijit Roy and Farid Ahmed while the other two are jointly written by Kulada Roy and MMR Jalil.
The essays, all three of them, were published in the arts section of bdnews24 and they each elicited enormous response and counter-response in the comments section. What makes Rabindra Bitarka
a new kind of book is that the comments – just as they appeared online – are appended to the end of respective articles. This has come as an entirely new experience for us as we are used to reading a book, or an article in a book sans the responses or reactions it actually causes. This book has given us a unique chance to read the articles along with the responses and reactions that they caused. Reading, in the process, has become a productive act, and finally, interactive. Reading Kulada Roy's response to some of the points Avijit has made, one is forced to think critically and thus is able to see for himself/herself if there are any flaws in Avijit's, or Kulada's arguments.
In his introduction, Razu – also a poet, essayist and translator – rightly says that controversy followed Tagore all through his life and even into his death. But the object of attack, Razu points out, is mostly Tagore’s non-literary activities, especially those about social reformation, economic reformation, political affiliations etc. The editor also makes it abundantly clear that the sole aim of this book is to pave the way for more substantial critical discussions on Tagore.
The writers' aim is to challenge the ambience of idolatry surrounding the image of Tagore, a grand and courageous initiative indeed. However, in their attempt to humanise Tagore, they have gone a bit over the top, appearing hell-bent on a mission to find faults with Tagore. That's exactly where this book stands out
In the first essay, “Rabi Thakur, Rahajani and Rabindrapujaribrinda” (Rabi Thakur, robbery and the worshippers of Tagore), Farid Ahmed and Avijit Roy begin with an articulation of their strong stance against the worshippers of Tagore, asserting that worshipping never helps flourish a literary culture.
Avijit was a Bangladeshi writer and blogger who was brutally killed on February 26, 2015 when he was leaving the Ekushey Book Fair premises. The attack on Avijit left his wife, Rafida Ahmed Banya, severely injured. It is relevant to mention here that one of Avijit’s books is about the celebrated literary friendship between Tagore and Argentine author Victoria Ocampo.
Against this backdrop, one finds it intriguing that Avijit, who has already written a scholarly book on Tagore, raises questions about Tagore's class position. Both Avijit and Farid, in fact, launch a ruthless campaign to prove that Tagore, a zamindar, must have found some way to exploit his tenant farmers. Gradually they bring allegations of intellectual theft, plagiarism and impudence (when faced with criticism) against Tagore.
The writers' aim is to challenge the ambience of idolatry surrounding the image of Tagore, a grand and courageous initiative indeed. However, in their attempt to humanise Tagore, they have gone a bit over the top, appearing hell-bent on a mission to find faults with Tagore. That's exactly where this book stands out. An individual reader, upon reading Farid and Avijit's essay, might strongly disagree with their arguments, yet s/he might not have the time or energy to do the necessary research to know whether the writers make sense or not. But faced with Kulada's informative riposte, when even Abul Ahsan Chowdhury alters his statement on the thread, failing to prove Tagore's greediness as a zamindar, one finds their answer without having to do any research at all. Though Avijit's tone remains somewhat impatient and he refuses to back off, anyone can tell the writers have failed to prove their points against Kulada's well-researched retorts.
The other two essays are written by Kulada Roy and MMR Jalil. In them the writers disprove the allegations about Tagore opposing the establishment of Dhaka University or Tagore being silent during the nationalist movements following the partition of Bengal in 1905. Both of them are equally illuminating. We do hope BPL continues this kind of bold and creative initiative.
The writer of the other book, Rabindranath Tagore
, is Humayun Kabir. This book was originally written in English and is translated by Hayat Mamud. A famous poet and writer in his own right and also a successful politician, Humayun begins by expressing his wonder at Tagore's creation and how he swims on its vastness. Writing this book, he admits, is his attempt to understand Tagore's philosophies about mankind.
Rabindranath was born into a rich family. His family always followed Indian customs but respected western values as well. This combination helped Tagore create a perfect fusion of diverse values from an early age. Discussing the philosophies behind Tagore's creations, Humayun says that Tagore became a child, a woman, a worshipper, a science enthusiast, a lover, a nature lover, even a socialist through his characters. He built a bridge between the east and the west to combine their ethos into excellence.
Humayun reflects on Tagore's philosophies about cultural autonomy. He says that Tagore was a patriot who didn’t want to hate the British for what they had done, but he firmly believed in India's right to autonomy.
Tagore was fond of science and also a great supporter of alternative education. He believed in letting children grow to their true potential, without forcing them to read drab textbooks. All of these philosophies led to the building of Shantiniketan which later gave birth to a lot of prominent names in Indian history.
The Bengali translation by Hayat Mamud is exquisite and readers never feel that what they are reading is actually a translation. All aspiring as well as practising translators from English into Bengali should keep this book as the most impeccable specimen of how Bengali should read in translation.
As readers we'll definitely be waiting to see what new arena of literature BPL illuminates next.