Dec 312012
 

Candle image posted by Google India

Sexual violence in India

Over the past two weeks, India’s news has been dominated by the brutal gang-rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in Delhi while on her way home with her fiancé after going to the cinema. By Western media standards, it is almost a miracle that her real name has not been published. Instead, the Indian media have named her Nirbhaya (fearless one/braveheart), Amanat (after a TV soap opera about a father with seven daughters) or Damini (after the heroine of a hit film who refuses to let a rapist escape justice).

Unfortunately, this was just one example of the violence faced by women in India. Even as the protests mounted, an 18-year-old gang-rape victim committed suicide in Punjab after coming under pressure from police either to come to a financial settlement with her attackers or to marry one of them! According to Russia Today, “Official figures show that 228,650 of the total 256,329 violent crimes recorded last year in India were against women. However the real figure is thought to be much higher as so many women are reluctant to report attacks to the police.”

Several of our friends and relatives in India have joined the online protests, with some changing their social media profile pictures to a black square or a black circle following news of the death of Nirbhaya/Amanat/Damini on Friday night. On Saturday morning, “RIP Nirbhaya” was the #1 topic on Twitter in India, where 8 of the top ten trending topics were related to it.

Some have been calling for the death penalty for rapists, although there is no evidence that this would discourage rape. Rather, as suggested by a protestor and social worker interviewed by the BBC, it could encourage rapists to kill their victims to ensure that their crime was not reported.

The public outcry has led to a number of analyses of how India treats its women and drew attention to its “rape culture“. A male Indian MP, who is the son of India’s President, dismissed the protestors as “pretty women who were dented and painted” who had “no contact with ground reality”. However, the fierce reaction to his remarks (such as this ironic open letter) obliged him to withdraw them.

The initially muted reactions of senior politicians contrasted sharply with the emotional reactions of the protestors. Perhaps the underlying reason for the former is the challenge of changing attitudes which have been endemic in Indian culture for centuries. For example, this article identified 10 reasons why India has a sexual violence problem and the above Al Jazeera discussion explores what it would take to confront India’s ‘culture of rape’.

Tagore’s campaign for women’s emancipation

Tagore was clearly conscious of this and the women in his works are often strong and outspoken, while suffering from tradition. His campaign for women’s emancipation was decades ahead of equivalent thinking in the West. There have been many scholarly analyses of the female characters in his works and some see his legacy regarding women’s role in society as being one of his most important contributions (see, for example, Rabindranath Tagore’s legacy lies in the freedom-seeking women of his fiction).

“Violence against women must never be accepted, never excused, never tolerated. Every girl and woman has the right to be respected, valued and protected.” – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

As well as being one of the media names for the Delhi gang-rape victim, Damini is the name of the female protagonist in Tagore’s 1916 novella Chaturanga (Broken Ties or, more literally, Quartet). Damini’s role in Chaturanga, in which she represents truth and innocence, has been compared to those of Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Stella in Rattigan’s A Streetcar Named Desire. All the female characters in Chaturanga suffer at the hands of men, with two of them committing suicide as a result.

In his novel Jogajog, (Contact), Tagore highlights the issue of marital rape. In his short story Shasthi (Punishment), two brothers work in the fields all day while their wives stay at home to cook, clean and bring up a child. When one of the brothers kills his wife for explaining that there is no food because he hadn’t brought home enough money, the ‘pillar of the village’ (a man) helps them to pass the blame onto the other wife, who is subsequently executed.

In 1936, Tagore campaigned more overtly for women to step out of the precincts of their homes and play a greater role in society. His paper Nari (Women) was part of his campaign, which included speeches and his dance-drama Chitrangada. Perhaps it is no coincidence that 1936 was also the year in which Victoria Ocampo, Tagore’s “distant muse“, co-founded the Argentine Union of Women.

In fact, all three of Tagore’s dance-dramas (ChitrangadaChandalika and Shyama) are centred on female characters who live at the fringes of society – a warrior princess, an untouchable and a courtesan. Dr Sutapa Chaudhuri has written an interesting analysis of the expression of self and female desire in Tagore’s dance-dramas. She provides more detail in her paper on class, caste and gender in Chandalika.

Tagore created a social revolution by pioneering coeducation at his school in Santiniketan. However, parents still resisted allowing their daughters to dance on stage for many years for fear that they would be viewed by society as prostitutes. The criticism of women dressing “provocatively” is perhaps the modern version of this attitude, without daring to challenge the indecency of those men who molest women.

Where the mind is without fear …

Not surprisingly, several commentaries on the Delhi rape have cited Tagore’s poem Where the mind is without fear as being an as-yet unfulfilled dream for women. Some have pointed out that several elected Indian politicians have been charged with rape – a factor which would be a major electoral liability in Western democracies. Yet it seems to be viewed as being acceptable/unavoidable, male behaviour by a patriarchal, Indian society in which the ratio of girls to boys is one of the lowest in the world.

“Rape happens everywhere: it happens inside homes, in families, in neighbourhoods, in police stations, in towns and cities, in villages, and its incidence increases, as is happening in India, as society goes through change, as women’s roles begin to change, as economies slow down and the slice of the pie becomes smaller — and it is connected to all these things. Just as it is integrally and fundamentally connected to the disregard, and indeed the hatred, for females that is so evident in the killing of female foetuses. For so widespread a crime, band aid solutions are not the answer.” - Urvashi Butalia, The Hindu

Just before Christmas, Valerian Santos wrote to India’s Prime Minister proposing stronger laws to ensure better security for women in India. His son Keenan Santos, together with his friend Reuben Fernandes, was stabbed to death by a mob for taking on a man who had harassed their female friends in Mumbai in October 2011. In addition to the comments from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon above, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has called for profound change in India in the wake of the gang-rape tragedy.

Of course, India is not the only country in the world where women suffer sexual violence. However, as I write just after the start of 2013 there, it seems to be the only country whose people have found the collective will to begin to tackle the problem. As India’s people, particularly the younger generation, seek a new dawn in attitudes towards women, they (and indeed people of other countries) may find that Tagore’s works could offer inspiration on changing society to empower and respect women.

Oct 012012
 

As you will have realised, last Sunday was the world premiere of Chitrangada in Brussels. The English-subtitled version of the film is now available worldwide via the Internet. Before midnight on Sunday, 28 October, if you watch it or host a screening of it for friends or for people in your area, you can be part of its global premiere. If you can watch the trailer above, you have everything you need to be part of the global premiere: basically a screen and an Internet connection.

Singers and musicians from Santiniketan
(Photo: Enrique Nicanor)

At the start of the evening, the audience was greeted with a glass of champagne, courtesy of a well-wisher. Thanks to the Indian Embassy in Brussels, the audience was able to see two Tagore exhibitions from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. One exhibition was of framed, digital prints of some of Tagore’s paintings. The other exhibition comprised a series of panels describing Tagore’s travels.

The evening was introduced by our guest of honour, His Excellency Shri Dinkar Khullar, the Indian Ambassador.

Obhi narrating The Story of Gitanjali
(Photo: Enrique Nicanor)

Our multilingual performance of The Story of Gitanjaliexplained how Tagore came to write the English Gitanjali – the collection of English poems which led to his international fame and the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Each of the thirteen poems were recited in a different language, while the Tagore songs corresponding to most of them were performed by a team of singers and musicians from Santiniketan. For the cast and their biographies, please see here.

Almost all the actors who read poems from the Gitanjali in their native languages.
(Photo: Ekaterina Tarliouk)

The talent on the stage was complemented by a large-screen display above the singers and musicians for the subtitles. You can get an idea of the setting from this photo.

View of the stage with the on-screen subtitles
(Photo: Enrique Nicanor)

Many in the audience were apparently inspired by the show to read Tagore’s poetry. One of them, Sandeep Kalathimekkad, was even moved to write a poem as he was watching the show – he kindly gave me the poem on a slip of paper during the interval. The Story of Gitanjali was filmed. So you will have a chance to see it in due course, together with the subtitles.

After the interval, the world premiere of Chitrangada was introduced by Her Excellency Ambassador Ismat Jahan of Bangladesh. Tagore is a national icon in both India and Bangladesh, whose national anthems are both Tagore songs. Ambassador Jahan, who is a member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, introduced the film as being part of Tagore’s campaign for women’s emancipation.

Many people came up to congratulate us about the film as well. Even before we had got home after the premiere, a post by Sophie H on Facebook summarised the feedback we have had ever since about the evening: “Thanks to Obhi Chatterjee and Kaberi Chatterjee for an amazing evening! The first part, with the poems in different languages was beautiful, and the second part, the movie, was excellent! Such a pleasure! I also discovered (a small piece ) of the art of Tagore. Thank you!”

Sep 022012
 

The process of finding actors to perform each of the 13 poems in The Story of Gitanjali in a different language has been a fascinating journey. We have discovered that there are theatre groups for the different language communities in Brussels and that there are six English-language theatre groups (who kindly announced my quest for actors on their website).

The actors who have come forward have also been rediscovering the Tagore connection in their respective home countries.

A Bulgarian friend and colleague, Mariya Dimitrova, to whom I’d mentioned our multilingual project was surprised to find that there are about 70 editions of Tagore’s works in Bulgarian. She was also impressed that Anna Akhmatova, one of the biggest Russian poets, and Boris Pasternak had translated Tagore’s poems into Russian.

From online extracts of a 2008 biography of Tagore by Bulgarian author Stefania Dimitrova (whose video interview is at the start of this post) called Rabindranath Tagore – The Mythical Sentinel, Mariya found that Tagore’s poetry (The Gardener) was translated into Bulgarian for the first time in 1918. GitanjaliThe Home and the WorldSadhana were translated into Bulgarian in the 1920-1930′s. In 1985 Gora, poetry, plays, stories, memoirs and essays were published in three volumes. In 2009, a luxurious edition with some of Tagore’s works (GitanjaliThe GardenerStray Birds, excerpts from Fruit Gathering, The Fugitive etc.) was published.

Tagore visited Bulgaria in 1926 during his Europe tour.  He arrived by train from Belgrade and at the first railway station in Bulgarian territory a crowd was waiting to see him. Sofia railway station was also crowded and more than 10,000 people were massed between the rail station and his hotel. All the schools and universities were closed in his honor. Tagore was extremely touched and said he felt Bulgarian and he celebrated his birthday again in Bulgaria.

Unfortunately, we don’t (yet) have a Bulgarian actor for our show on 23 September. However, actors have come forward to recite poems from the Gitanjali in Czech, English, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Spanish and Swedish. Dutch and perhaps Romanian, Lithuanian and Hindi should complete the 13 languages for the 13 poems in the show.

My search for a good Dutch translation of the Gitanjali led me to this review by Dr Bhaswati Bhattacharya of one translation. Having established contact with her, Kaberi and I were delighted to discover another kindred spirit. She introduced us to Dr Victor van Bijlert, who has translated Tagore’s Gitali into Dutch from the original Bengali. He has kindly agreed to translate one of the Gitanjali poems in our script from Bengali to Dutch.

Rabindranath Tagore’s bust in Prague

Trying to find translations of the Gitanjali in Czech, Josef Schwarz realised that there is a street named after Tagore in Prague near where his mother grew up: Thákurova Street in Prague 6, home to the city’s Technical University. The bust in this photo stands there. It looks quote similar to the one we saw on Tagore Sétany in Balatonfüred.

An article based on a Radio Prague programme about Rabindranath Tagore: an Indian poet who inspired a Czech generation provided more details of Tagore’s special significance for Czechs and identified Dr Dušan Zbavitel as the Czech Republic’s foremost scholar of Tagore’s poetry. Sadly Dr Zbavitel passed away last month.

Now we have started rehearsing with each of the actors one-by-one. It is really fascinating to hear the Gitanjali poems in all these different languages. Each has its own distinct character, as I hope you will be able to see and hear quite soon. Even today, over 100 years after Tagore wrote the original poems, they clearly resonate with people from quite different cultures and languages. Perhaps this illustrates Tagore’s global relevance in the most tangible way.

Aug 302012
 

While researching the different translations of Tagore’s English Gitanjali for our performance of The Story of Gitanjali on 23 September, I came across this talk by Deepak Chopra about Tagore’s relevance for the future of spirituality and humanity. He gave the talk at the Tagore Festival last year at Dartington College of Arts, Devon – the UK college founded by Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst according to Tagore’s educational philosophy.

As so often happens when I settle down to find out more information online about Tagore, this led me to start exploring what others have suggested about Tagore’s relevance to modern society. After all, in our world of 2012, why should people be interested in the ideas of someone who spent half of his life in the 19th century?

Professor Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and former student at the university founded by Tagore, had this to say.

Professor Amartya Sen

In fact, Professor Amartya Sen’s thought-provoking analysis What happened to Europe? earlier this month seems to echo Tagore’s ideas about social justice. Last year, he had explained in another article Why Rabindranath Tagore still matters.

A few years ago, Uma Das Gupta and Anandarup Ray contributed this article on Rabindranath Tagore and his contemporary relevance. They concluded “Like Tagore, we also live in the age of science and internationalism. Today we call it globalisation, and our education is still similar to Western-style colonialist education. Given how troubled our world is becoming, there is a growing awareness of the need to reconcile the values of ‘universal’ and ‘diversity’, a conviction that Tagore pioneered not only in thought but also in his life of action.”

Aug 232012
 

This morning, as I read the blog post ‘Once in a lifetime‘ by our friend AJ Leon, I was reminded of this song by Tagore – যদি তোর ডাক শুনে কেউ না আসে তবে একলা চলো রে ।

AJ has set off on a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ trip around the world in 1,080 days. At the same time, he announced a competition to help someone else go on an adventure of a lifetime (deadline 23:59 EST tonight) and, to celebrate his 30th birthday, published a collection of essays about changing the world entitled The life and times of a remarkable misfit . It’s a stylishly-presented, free download, which is inspiring reading – and, yes, as I’d noticed before he told me, he does recommend reading Tagore’s poetry.

AJ sets off from Pennsylvania Station

Here is my English translation of the song:

If, hearing your call, no-one comes, then go on alone.
Go on alone, go on alone, go on alone, oh go on alone.

If no-one says anything, dear, dear, oh unlucky one,
If everyone stays with their faces turned away, everyone is afraid -
Then, opening your soul,
Oh say out loud what you are thinking, oh say it alone.

If everyone turns back, dear, dear, oh unlucky one,
If, as you are going along a difficult path, no-one looks back -
Then crush the thorns on the path
Alone under your blood-stained feet.

If no-one holds a light, dear, dear, oh unlucky one,
If in wind and rain, on a dark night, they close their doors -
Then with a thunder-flame of pain
Ignite your own chest, oh burn alone.

In 2001, in a message to a gathering of all living Nobel laureates to mark the 10th anniversary of Aung San Suu Kyi winning the Nobel Peace Prize, she said, “During my years of house arrest I have learnt my most precious lesson from a poem by Rabindranath Tagore, many of whose verses reach out to that innermost, elusive land of the spirit that we are not always capable of exploring ourselves.”

This was that poem. As she observed in her message “There are no words of comfort in the poem. No assurances of joy and peace at the end of the harsh journey. There is no pretence that it is anything but evil luck to receive no answer to your call, to be deserted in the middle of the wilderness, to have no one who would hold up a light to aid you through a stormy night. It is not a poem that offers heart’s ease, but it teaches you that a citadel of endurance can be built on a foundation of anguish. How can anybody who has learnt to ignite his heart with the thunder-flame of his own pain ever know defeat? Victory is ensured to those who are capable of learning the hardest lessons that life has to offer.”

Last month, over 20 years after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights, Aung San Suu Kyi was finally able to deliver her Nobel Lecture in Oslo, Norway. On Monday, Burma abolished media censorship.

Aug 182012
 

Poster for the Brussels premiere of Chitrangada

On Thursday, we received the posters and ‘visiting cards’ for the premiere from the printers. Kaberi and I were both excited to see the results. Between this and travelling, I am again running over a day behind schedule with my blog post. To catch up, I include an update for yesterday’s developments as well.

One of these was the confirmation that our friend Adriana Opromolla, who translated the subtitles of Shyama into Italian, will be in Brussels to recite a poem in Italian during The Story of Gitanjali at the premiere of Chitrangada. While looking for the Italian translations of the poems in The Story of Gitanjali for her, I discovered that there have been around 12 Italian editions of the Gitanjali over the years.

Adriana had also kindly provided the Italian voiceover of one of our first audiovisual efforts: a trailer for Kaberi’s Manipuri dance performances.

I had mentioned in my previous post that Tagore’s works are being translated into Chinese. Yesterday morning, I heard that Chitrangada has been translated into Chinese by Professor Mao Shichang of Lanzhou University. In March 2012, at his initiative, students at Lanzhou University staged a Chinese language production of Chitrangada for the first time.

In January 2011, Professor Shichang wrote a paper on Tagore’s philosophy of universal love – Tagore and China. Professor Shichang is clearly a fan of Tagore. His PhD from Jawarhalal Nehru University in Delhi was on the depiction of women in Tagore’s literature.

According to an article in China Daily reporting on the performance of Chitrangada in March, when Tagore visited China in 1924, an English adaptation of his play Chitra was performed to celebrate his birthday. Tagore had originally written Chitra in 1892 and returned to it over four decades later to develop it into the dance-drama Chitrangada in 1936.

In an interview with the Hindustan Times, Professor Shichang revealed that his association with Tagore began in his childhood, when he had read Tagore’s poems, “which refreshed and warmed my thirsty soul like spring wind”. It was his dream to study Tagore in India, as he did from 2002. The performance of Chitrangada in Chinese with 60 students from eight departments of Lanzhou University became a tribute that he had never imagined he would be able to give to Tagore.

According to Professor Shichang, “Chinese people like the natural and fresh style of [Tagore's] writing. His spiritualism echoes in people’s hearts. … [Chinese people], no matter whether they believe in religion or not, feel some supernatural power through his works. …Modern people can seek peace and sobriety, and avoid the hustle and bustle of their lives, through Tagore.”

Ambassador Jaishankar, the Indian Ambassador to China, added that “There is a sense of Tagore as an intellectual bridge between India and China, and as a person who stood up for China during difficult days. There is also a much greater appreciation of Tagore today, and of the things he said back in the 1920s. … there isn’t a single Chinese university where they do not know Tagore.”

I hope some day Kaberi and I have the opportunity to meet Professor Shichang.

Aug 152012
 

Sayan performing at the Rabindra-Okakura Bhavan, Kolkata, 10 September 2011

Oops! While translating the subtitles of the penultimate scene of Chitrangada last night, I missed my turn to give you an update on our daily progress. So here it is – better late than never.

I realise that my introduction to Sayan Bandyopadhyay in my post about gathering the team for The Story of Gitanjali was quite brief. Now I have the opportunity to provide more detail.

Sayan’s solo performance at the Rabindra-Okakura Bhavan, Kolkata, September 2011

Kaberi and I began yesterday by exploring Sayan’s page on ReverbNation. We ended up listening to all 12 of his songs published there, which included 8 from his solo performance at the Rabindra-Okakura Bhavan in Kolkata on 10 September 2011. If you are one of the many millions of fans of Rabindrasangeet (Tagore songs) around the world, you will be impressed. We are very pleased and honoured that Sayan has agreed to join us in Brussels for The Story of Gitanjali on 23 September.

Later in the day, I spoke to flamenco teacher and dancer Luisa Castellanos about reciting one of the Gitanjali poems in Spanish for The Story of Gitanjali. Meanwhile, Kaberi continued to explore online ticketing options.

I also started to prepare the sequence which will be projected above the performers during The Story of Gitanjali. It’s quite a challenge to include live subtitling but I now know how we’ll be doing it.

I also realised that the Wikipedia article on the Gitanjali hardly did justice to its subject. At least I think I’ve managed to resolve the long-running conflict between authors disputing how to reflect the distinction between the Bengali Gitanjali and the English Gitanjali. It still needs further fixing – perhaps someone else would like to do so?

A friend mentioned that Pankaj Mishra refers to Tagore in his new book, From the ruins of empire. This article about A Poet Unwelcome is an adapted extract from the book about Tagore’s ‘unkind reception in China’ in 1924.

This reminded me to see if we could make contact with the team which has been translating Tagore’s works into Chinese. In doing so, I noticed that the first Chinese collection of Tagore’s songs was released recently and that Chitrangada was staged at the Lanzhou University.

The day ended with going back to translating Chitrangada … and my missing my blogging cue!

Finally, as today is the 65th anniversary of Indian independence, a ‘happy birthday’ to Indians around the world. A reminder of my blog post exactly a year ago about Tagore and the Indian national anthem.

Dec 112011
 
Inner Eye's Tagore dance film trilogy with Kaberi Chatterjee in the title roles

Inner Eye’s Tagore dance film trilogy with Kaberi Chatterjee in the title roles

Five years after starting to prepare filming Shyama, we are now close to completing Chitrangada, the third and final feature film in our trilogy of authentic versions of Tagore’s dance-dramas (the other two being Chandalika and Shyama). As a result of making these films and translating Tagore’s texts for their subtitles, I have now had the opportunity to explore all three dance-dramas intensively and from a western perspective. This has made me realise that they are no less worthy of the international stage than classical western ballet or opera. Perhaps it’s time for a new dawn in the world of ballet and opera to come from the East … .

Up to now, few outside the Bengali diaspora have been aware of Tagore’s dance-dramas, even though they attract large Bengali audiences whenever they are staged and most of their songs are well-known to Bengalis. This is perhaps because the dance-dramas have not been translated before and their performances outside India and Bangladesh tend to be one-off events aimed at Bengali-speaking communities. As a result, even among those around the world who are aware of Tagore’s literary genius but who do not understand Bengali (and perhaps the children of Bengali parents brought up in non-Bengali environments), Tagore’s dance-dramas might appear to be little more than a quaint experiment in his later years.

In reality, the dance-dramas are probably the most accomplished works created by Tagore, combining his poetry with music, drama and the semi-classical dance form he created. The plots of all three were based on legends which Tagore adapted to express his humanist message about powerful, timeless and universal themes: the hurt inflicted on people by social prejudice, the difficulties of reconciling public image with private life and the sacrifices people are prepared to make for love. Kaberi’s forthcoming book ‘Tagore Dance’, based on her PhD research, reveals the original creation of the Tagore dance form. Kaberi has made the introduction to her book available as a free download from her website.

In the case of Chitrangada, which is based on an episode from the epic Mahabharata, Tagore had written a play based on the same episode almost 50 years earlier. It was called Chitra, which you can read in the Internet archive. It’s not clear exactly when Tagore wrote Chitra: there are online versions with the dates 1892 and 1896 but, according to the preface of the 1913 edition printed in English by the India Society, it was written ‘about twenty five years ago’, ie, in about 1888.

Incidentally, thanks to Dr Asok Chaudhuri, I learned that the Tagore notebook from autumn 1928 which will be auctioned by Sotheby’s in New York on Tuesday includes the lyrics of two songs which were later included by Tagore in Chitrangada.

In recent years, opera houses around the world have been equipped to show subtitles of operas being performed in their original language, whether above the stage or on the backs of seats. We will be using the subtitles from our film version of Shyama (in English and, we hope, Arabic) when Kaberi and her team from Santiniketan perform Shyama live next month in Egypt, including at the Cairo and Alexandria Opera Houses.

Through the Tagore dance film trilogy and its subtitles, apart from preserving Tagore’s original concept, we would like to ensure that Tagore’s dance-dramas join Western operas and ballet on the world stage. We have decided to postpone the release of Chitrangada until around 7 May 2012, the end of Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary year. This is to allow more time to arrange its gala charity world première in a way which brings Tagore and his dance-dramas to the attention of dance and opera lovers around the world.

If you would like to help us, please comment below or post on the wall of the Facebook page of the Tagore dance film trilogy. Your help could take one or more of a variety of forms:

  • telling your friends about Tagore, the dance-dramas and the films;
  • downloading the introduction to Kaberi’s book Tagore Dance and joining the mailing list for news about it (see button below);
  • hosting a screening of one or more of the films; translating the subtitles into more languages;
  • helping out at the gala charity world première of Chitrangada;
  • persuading a local hall with a digital projector to join a global première by screening the (live) introduction from the main gala charity event followed by Chitrangada subtitled in the local language;
  • recommending potential sponsors for the première, including the online global promotion and distribution of the films;
  • moral support by liking this post and/or the Facebook pages of the trilogy and each of the films;
  • any other help or advice you would like to offer.
Jul 172011
 
Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore

For his 80th birthday in 1941, Tagore wrote what was to be his last speech. It was entitled Civilisation’s crisis. As Western countries struggle to deal with an economic crisis, the speech is in some ways as relevant today as when he wrote it.

An English version of the speech was featured by rediff.com in a special series of Great speeches of modern India to celebrate the 60th anniversary of India’s independence from British rule. They have divided it into five parts. Part 1 – Introduction; Part 2 – What is civilisation?; Part 3 – An intellectual people drifting into the disorder of barbarism; Part 4 – The social fabric is being rent to shreds; Part 5 – Perhaps that dawn will come from this horizon, from the East . To read the speech in Bengali, see সভ্যতার সংকট.

Some sources suggest that the speech was delivered in Santiniketan in Tagore’s presence to mark the Bengali New Year on 14 April 1941. However, as the speech begins literally “Today, my age has completed eighty years”, it seems more likely that it was delivered during the celebrations of his 80th birthday on 7 May 1941.

At the time the speech was made, Tagore was reflecting on a Europe embroiled in the second World War. As we approach the 70th anniversary of Tagore’s death on 7 August 1941, many Western countries find themselves struggling to recover from an economic crisis. At the same time, an international media organisation finds itself at the centre of attention over an apparent lack of scruples at one of its most popular publications when obtaining information for its news reports.

Introduction

Tagore begins by observing that, in the late 19th century, the English were viewed by Indian political leaders as a generous race since “England at the time provided a shelter to all those who had to flee from persecution in their own country. Political martyrs who had suffered for the honour of their people were accorded unreserved welcome at the hands of the English. … This generosity in their national character had not yet been vitiated by imperialist pride.”

What is civilisation?

After initially holding the English concept of ‘civilisation’ in high esteem as representing ‘proper conduct’, Tagore refers to “a painful feeling of disillusion when I began increasingly to discover how easily those who accepted the highest truths of civilization disowned them with impunity whenever questions of national self-interest were involved. … As I emerged into the stark light of bare facts, the sight of the dire poverty of the Indian masses rent my heart. Rudely shaken out of my dreams, I began to realize that perhaps in no other modern state was there such hopeless dearth of the most elementary needs of existence. And yet it was this country whose resources had fed for so long the wealth and magnificence of the British people.”

An intellectual people drifting into the disorder of barbarism

Tagore contrasts the efforts of Russia to fight disease and illiteracy with the approach in India: “when I look about my own country and see a very highly evolved and intellectual people drifting into the disorder of barbarism, I cannot help contrasting the two systems of governments, one based on co-operation, the other on exploitation, which have made such contrary conditions possible.”

The social fabric is being rent to shreds

Tagore’s references to Iran and Afghanistan appear odd today as countries which “were marching ahead, [while] India, smothered under the dead weight of British administration, lay static in her utter helplessness. Another great and ancient civilization for whose recent tragic history the British cannot disclaim responsibility, is China.” Of course, it is India and China which are now considered to be among the economic superpowers while the recent histories of Iran and Afghanistan are less fortunate.

“If in its place [the British] have established, with baton in hand, a reign of ‘law and order’, in other words a policeman’s rule, such mockery of civilization can claim no respect from us. It is the mission of civilization to bring unity among people and establish peace and harmony. But in unfortunate India the social fabric is being rent into shreds by unseemly outbursts of hooliganism daily growing in intensity, right under the very aegis of ‘law and order’.” Perhaps this image is now more closely associated with countries such as Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Perhaps that dawn will come from this horizon, from the East

Tagore notes that he has been fortunate to meet “really large-hearted Englishmen”, particularly referring to C F Andrews, considering them to be “friends of the whole human race”.  However, he is concerned about what kind of India would be left after the British granted it independence. “When the stream of their centuries’ administration runs dry at last, what a waste of mud and filth they will leave behind them!”

Nonetheless, he looks forward to a period “after the cataclysm is over and the atmosphere rendered clean with the spirit of service and sacrifice. Perhaps that dawn will come from this horizon, from the East where the sun rises.” From references earlier in the speech, he may have had Japan in mind. However, the economic crisis appears to have affected Asia far less than it has Western countries.

Tagore’s closing remark seems from the perspective of 2011 to be remarkably prescient:

“Today we witness the perils which attend on the insolence of might; one day shall be borne out the full truth of what the sages have proclaimed: ‘By unrighteousness, man prospers, gains what appears desirable, conquers enemies, but perishes at the root.’”

70 years on, as people in various countries have come together with the help of social media to demand collectively a more honest and less brutal regime, and as the economies of countries once referred to as “Third World” prepare to overtake those of their former rulers, Tagore seems to have been proved right.

Nov 132010
 
Shyama releases Bojroshen

Shyama releases Bojroshen

In case you don’t know, I’m about to make my second and third feature films back-to-back. Like the first film (Shyama), they are ‘dance-dramas’ by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.

We will be filming in Tagore’s home town of Santiniketan, India, at the university set up by him. In both of the films, Kaberi will be dancing the title role, as she did in Shyama.

UNESCO will be celebrating Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary next year, although the celebrations started in May this year. Last month, the Spanish version of Shyama had its premiere at the Ourense Film Festival, Galicia, as part of a special section dedicated to Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary.

Kaberi also performed at different events during the week. See my blog post Shyama at the Ourense Film Festival for more details, including links to the extensive press coverage of our activities during the festival.

There’s a 2-minute video explaining the project on its crowdfunding campaign page: http://trilogy.fundbreak.co.uk . You’ll find rewards ranging from updates and digital downloads of all three films to a one-to-one dance lesson with Kaberi via Skype and your name in the end credits of the films. To become a supporter, the minimum pledge is just £1 (US$1.61 / €1.18 / Rs72).

If you could circulate the link to your various networks, that would be very helpful. We have to reach our ‘seed money’ funding goal of £5,000 by 17 November at midday UK time, to avoid all the pledges made by then going back to the supporters. We still have quite a long way to go!

You may be interested to read these two articles about the trilogy. ‘Embracing the Recognition Economy‘ in Digital Cinema Report focuses on the business model behind the trilogy. ‘Dance film trilogy highlights Tagore’s humanist message‘ in the Jim Luce Stewardship Report explores the humanism underlying these three works by Tagore.

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