Reading the Crisis in Civilisation

Arup Kumar Sen

A few months before his death in 1941, Rabindranath Tagore, the great poet of our soil, recorded his last message to the world, on his 80th birth anniversary- ‘Crisis in Civilisation’. He stated in anguish in his last testament: “As I look around, I see the crumbling ruins of a proud civilisation strewn like a vast heap of futility”.

Tagore was thinking primarily of his own country, but his message had a larger world context. To put it in the words of Anjan Basu: “But this was also when the Second World War, the greatest conflagration in human history, raged furiously in Europe and elsewhere, and the poet’s heart knew no solace. The 1930s had been an unbroken chain of catastrophes, betrayals and disasters”. (See The Wire, May 9, 2018)

In the 21st century, the world civilization is facing a gigantic crisis in the wake of spread of the coronavirus. There is no consensus about the origin of the virus. But, the world-wide spread of the virus is organically connected with the journey of global modernity.

In addition to being a part of the global crisis, Indian civilizational identity is facing a big challenge on the domestic front. Our civilizational values of plural culture and Constitutional foundations are being subverted by the proponents of Hindu majoritarian nationalism. This reminds us of Rabindranath Tagore’s critique of the Nation State.

In the context of the great crisis of his cherished civilization, Tagore stated in Crisis in Civilisation: “And yet I shall not commit the grievous sin of losing faith in Man”.

Restoring faith in humanity and in our long tradition of plural culture is a collective challenge before us.

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Aug 20, 2020

Arup Kumar Sen

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