Between The Lines
Tagore, Inclusive Growth and Development
'If we could free even one village from the shackles of helplessness and ignorance, an ideal for whole of India would be established. Let a few villages be rebuilt in this way, and I shall say they are my India. That is the way to discover the true India'.—Tagore, 1928
Art for art sake was never
the guiding inspiration of
Tagore's vast literary works. He was an intellectual of active habits. Tagore's 'Geetanjali' were song offerings to God. It was awarded Nobel Prize. In the book's eleventh poem cum lyric, the strongly devoted litterateur made remarkably introspective call to himself to come out of ritualistic search for God. In Tagore writings, one finds in 'Prem' and 'Puja' lyrics became synchronous as in Indian classical 'Baishnaba' order, God was considered as someone near and dear, a kid affectionately as well a lover romantically. The relationship of Lord Krishna with his devouts was in open humane terms rather than as a fearsome deity. Tagore's love songs and devotional songs bear this elegant Baishnabha tradition.
But Tagore transcended this romantic order into broader love for the toiling people. At his time of such composition, he came a bit ahead of time. He made a call to come out of temple or the like places of holy worship in search of deliverance of soul. He was well recognized as the best fruit of Bengal renaissance, though the use of the term renaissance was and is still disputed.
The essence of renaissance in Europe as the age of reason was the cultural symbiosis of arts and science of qualitative economic transition of the western economy from feudalism to Capitalism. This transition was suppressed tooth and nail by colonial British rulers in India for their own vested interests to thwart any attempt of nationalist bourgeoisie to emerge in India.
But scholarly exchange of ideas of western renaissance flowed in through scholars going abroad and foreign books finding a growing market in India, import of enlightening books on French Revolution, writings of Lock, Hurne, Betham were poured in book shelves of discerning Indian intellectuals. Among this sea change in way of thinking, the Tagore family was foremost. Rabindranath was the jewel in the crown of the vanguard Tagore family of east-west symbiosis.
Tagore readers are more familiar with his ode to Gangetic Bengal basin in famous 'Dui Bigha Jomi' (Two Bigha Plot), even while exposing the villain landlord class exploiting actual tillers, as otherwise nature was benevolent blessing common rural people a good life—'I bow to thee, my beautiful mom Bengali I The Ganga riverside, soothing breeze have cooled my life. The forehead of sky kisses your dust of feet at the wide expanse of meadows. The Small hamlets are peace abode covered by deep (tree) shadows... Sweet as honey hearted Bengali housewives take water to homes, I am in blithe spirit to call them Mom, eyes are filled with tears'. In the same poem, he found the feudal class that sucked the honey leaving the actual tillers of motherly land high and dry.
With more and more days' stay in a river boat, this riverside view of the poet matured into insightful impression of the plight of Bengal rural economy. Since he went there as Zamindar, very soon he obtained regular touch with peasantry. Alienation of actual tillers from land right for usury indebtedness coupled with forcible seizure by landlords was poet's expressed sympathy to helpless farmers in 'Dui Bigha Jomi'. Tagore among his contemporary intellectuals was most conversant of Modern Economics. Since he was not only a thinker but also a doer, he found the one basic reason of perennial poverty of the peasantry i.e. indebtedness under century old usury business run by two in one biggest exploiters—moneylenders cum big landowners (expanding ownership by hook or crook). So Tagore founded the agricultural cooperative Bank namely 'Patisar Cooperative Bank' to let the peasants get rid of their indebtedness. Against the tradition of Zamindars the landed aristocracy of his time to send sons to London to enter the coveted elite profession of Bar At Law or Medicine, Tagore sent his only surviving son Rathindranath to USA to learn modern agriculture as to enable his own son learn the applied science and technology of farming for introducing scientifically advanced agriculture in India.
Thus Tagore intended to bring the state of art farming knowledge in order to improve agricultural productivity in homeland in order to introduce the latest farming practices that will help peasants to get rid of chill penury. It was in addition to his above referred attempt to reduce their perennial indebtedness in inducting cooperative banking as a pioneer in Indian soil. Already in 'Dui Bigha Jomi' the famous poem, he conveyed pain of indebted peasantry—'Shudhu bighey dui, chhilo more bhui, ar sobi gachhey riney' (Just two bighas of land, I had, the rest were gone away for indebtedness).
He also formed a rural development centre named 'Sriniketan' nearby as community growth institution which was alike Mao Tse Tung’s attempt novel in China to send scientific workers to fields and bringing farmers with their experience to laboratories. After independence, Government of India initiated Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) largely following Tagore's kind of farm level research and development as a priority area of inclusive growth & development.
Being a leading intellectual of Bengal renaissance, he felt the need to prudently disseminate his concepts of inclusive development instilled in the realm of patriotic spirit flying high at this opportune time. As a poet and world renowned lyricist, he sprinkled his progressive ideas of practical inclusive growth and development in a large number of his lyrics. He was confident that his songs would survive amongst all his vast repertory of all prevailing mode of literary and other performing art creations. Here the present discourse will explore and assort such ideas effectively delivered interwoven in very appealing lyrics.
The source of the present discourse is 'Geetabitan', the collection of his vast repertory of songs compiled by the Nobel Laureate himself. In this book, the section marked 'Swadesh' (my country) assembles his lyrical expression in inclusive growth and development.
Being a religious person in Brahmo order, all Tagore's writings of social justice in one way or other involve his faith in generosity of God. His basic contention is man should purify himself, broaden his heart, uplift himself within soul steering clear of all social prejudices to reach God, 'Eso Brahmon shuchi kori mon,dharo haat sobakar,eso he shudra hok aponito sob apoman var' asking, Hey Brahmin! (Upper caste) Cleanse your mind, hold hands of one and all, Hey Shudra (Low caste) get rid of all burden of insult on you. To Tagore union of men divided in different castes would result in holistic welfare of society,-economic growth with harmony since caste perpetuates hereditary social and economic classification.
This is relevant to-recall here that the Tagore family, originally Brahmin by caste was declared fallen Hindu ('Patit') for liberally accepting an invited feast in a Muslim home, was later became a devout of Brahmo Dharma,a reformist Hindu order of religion free of caste legacy as conceived and propagated by Raja Rammohan Roy.
The Brahmo order ,like the Buddhist order both reformist sects of Hindu religion, introduced respectively by Raja Rammohan Roy and Prince Goutam Buddha previously were focused on obnoxious caste classism in conservative Hinduism. Caste reflected class and hindered economic equity by inclusive growth.
Sri Chaitanya Dev at Nabadwip in Bengal revolted against caste classification and obsession but did not create any subsect of classical Hindu religion. But he preached Baishnava order in which Lord Krishna and his love interest Sri Radha were main deities. This early Hindu reformist born in Mayapur beside Nabadwip in Bengal, organised group song rituals called Pala Kirtan in Akhra (Centre of Krishna worship) and also regular morning processions singing Nagar Kirtan along roadways. Since his residential stay in Akhra and thus introducing secular participation in processions that allowed every one from all castes of Hindus and even Muslims, the vested interest in conservative Hindu order first dissuaded reform by Sri Chaitanya to withdraw his liberalism. But he was no man to budge. So at first two famous mercenaries Jagai and Madhai planted by the Hindu conservatives hurt Sri Chciitanya. But when Chaitanya even while bleeding profusely had forgiven the mercenaries,they were so much overwhelmed that they became devout of Sri Chaitanya. It further enraged the conservatives. As research on vanishing of Sri Chatanya proceeded it was found that the Baishnava Guru went to Puri at Odisha on an invitation, he never was found later on anywhere. Conservatives declared it was a case of suicide in the coastal sea of Puri but truth revealed that it was a case of murder. Crucification of Christ was outrageously open but death of Sri Chaitanya is shrouded in mystery.
Samuel Becket, famous for his drama named 'Waiting for Godot' expressed similar approach with the contention that man should cleanse himself to become holier than thou towards perfection so that God can appear before him/her. That is his entitled role of religiousness.
What Sri Chaitanya did in Kirtan (A form of mass song for preaching benevolence of God) and Samuel Becket of 'Waiting for Godot" fame, did in the satrical form, poet Tagore did it in several poems and lyrics. Tagore songs brought a fresh air that with sweet notes enchanted the Brahmo Samaj. Earlier the lofty ideals of Raja Rammohan were read out in serious sombre delivery of speeches or read out from books. Childhood memoirs of Satyajit Ray were filled with colourless functions in Brahmosamaj Gatherings. That may partly be the reason that Brahmo Dharma could not be popular among the ordinary people who were accustomed to see and listen festive colours in all Hindu religious occasions despite its legacy of caste classification.
Swamy Vivekananda whose Guru Ramkrishria Dev assimilated all religions, was most successful in his mission of serving the motherland at the same time founding an institution demolishing legacy of all kinds of religious orders as Hindu, Muslim, Christian etc. to provide basic education and health services to poor and the orphans, not in a move of charity but as because these two would churn out skilled and healthy worker; i.e. ideal labour force that a country like India would need to rebuild a nation ravaged by previous sudden invaders and long perpetuating most notorious global colonialist the planet earth has ever seen, the British rulers exploiting India for two hundred years. Swamiji chiseled his way to success what he openly said is his knowledge of Indian psyche. Indians observe a task only when they are sufficiently impressed that it is a religious duty.
Tagore and Swamijee belonged to the same generation of Bengal Renaissance intellectuals. Both were in top bracket of intellectual leaders honoured by every Indian and well known globally. Both were strong believers in God. So both functioned in religious ashram culture. Only difference between them was Tagore was a Brahmo with belief in one God Brahma only while Swamijee saved Hindu religion from vested interest of Priestocracy who were killing the goose for immediate gold eggs only.
But both took action programmes for inclusive growth through founding institutions of which Tagore functions were monocentric around Shantiniketan in Birbhum district of West Bengal, Ramakrishna Mission institutions as conceived by Vivekananda were polycentric around India with orphanage in most units offering high quality education and medical service to alleviate poverty from its roots.
Both were patriotic having knowledge of 'Drain Theory' of Dadabhai Naoroji which clearly pointed out draining of India's resources by the British colonialist for nearly 200 years and causing poverty of India's common Indians. So inclusive growth demanded India's independence. Tagore, the cultural icon used his vast repertory of patriotic songs and poems, felicitated Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in Shantiniketan as the hero & liberation leader dedicating a poem addressing him. For very early death of Viveka-nanda, Subhas from his student life became devout of Swami Vivekananda never meeting him but reading books of him and acquired his leftist secular leaning & promise of organized armed struggle in order to drive out British from India.
Leafing through the pages of 'Geetabitan' one finds Tagore expressing his ideas and ideals inspiring the common audience broadly on religion of man. It is well known that the poetic and lyrical skill of Tagore was awesome. He used this to advancement of society in words and works.
Amartya Sen who despite his command over advanced areas of study and fruitful research in Economics in almost all its increasingly abstract and sophisticated mathematical domains, is now delved in broad based study of human welfare by inclusive growth through his Nobel Prize funded 'Protichi Trust' in two parts of Bengal, now Bangladesh & West Bengal by name. Sen's early schooling and lifelong attachment to discretely creative and humane ambience of Shantiniketan Ashrama of Tagore has a profound inspiring influence in his theoretical and empirical survey based research going on till date with profuse pains taking sincerity.
So it has been a long tradition in Bengal that 'Inclusive Growth' in ideas and practices has been marching onward as religion of man long before the India government considered it as an official political agenda of growth with development.
Vol. 48, No. 12, Sep 27 - Oct 3, 2015