Ami Bangladeshi

Ami Bangladeshi

Ami Bangladeshi

Take it from Tagore

Take it from Tagore

Mohammad Badrul Ahsan

Published in The Bangladesh Daily Star, March 29, 2008

IN the Bengali year of 1347, roughly one year before he died, an interview with Rabindranath Tagore was published in the April-May issue of Shonibarer Chithi (The Saturday Mail). The interview had created quite a stir, as many didn't like what was said. The poet decried the national politics of Bengal, stating that puerile politicians ran it. Then he gave his final blow. He said he was disappointed in the future of the Bengali race.

A lot of what Tagore said in that interview had to do with national character. Socionics is a science which deals with that subject, and it says that nations are known by integral types, closely related to language and religion. For example, most of Europe is made up of rational integral types. That is why logic or ethics is the leading function of their life. Most of Asia is irrational, because their leading function is sensing or intuition.

The countries where English is a common language dominate the spheres of science and technology. Their integral type is extraverted logic. Russians belong to greater European rational culture. But they have Asian leanings, which is responsible for their irrational mentality and particular breed of creativity.

Socionics also goes by religious categories. The Protestant countries have logical integral types, while Catholic cultures are almost always ethical. The Asian religions of Hinduism and Buddhism, unfathomable to the Western mind, are dominant in India and China, where irrationality flourishes. Islam, like most of modern Christianity, is said to be a religion with a rational mindset.

Whether one believes in those classifications or not, what was Tagore thinking? According to socionics, the integral type for the Bengali Hindus should be irrational under both geographic and religious categories. The Bengali Muslims should be torn between Asian irrationality and Islamic rationalism. Instead, what Tagore said was a function of gender. He said that the act of building something required male endurance, whereas the Bengalis had the nagging habit of women. They always complained that others had deprived them of what they couldn't earn for themselves.

The most celebrated Bengali poet expressed his disdain for the political leaders of Bengal. The top-class leaders quarreled like low-class women, and busied themselves with divisive actions in the name of high politics. He fumed that the Bengalis were a nation which neither liked to do anything on its own, nor let others do it for themselves.

He saw the streaks of destructive tendencies amongst them, and said that it wasn't lack of intelligence which misguided them. Instead, it was their wicked nature which was the source of their distress.

The poet also said that the Bengalis subverted their own well-being by adopting unfair means, aggravated by selfish intentions and wanton politics. He criticised student politics, and blamed politicians for wasting young minds whose rightful place was in classrooms.

The first Bengali Nobel-laureate cried fie upon himself that he had lived too long to witness this dismal eventuality when the forces of creation were defeated by the forces of destruction. There was no hope for the country, he predicted, because truth could never grow in the dunghill of lies.

When Tagore analysed the Bengali persona, he emphasised on their reckless propensities.

They were adept at wrecking up things. Their minds worked like an absurd battle plan, he said, where the warriors wanted to fight without slightest concern for discipline. The greatest Bengali poet was dismayed because his people didn't know how to appreciate anything great, large or admirable. Instead, there was this mad rush to sling mud at each other, while straddled across someone's neck. This mindset, he cautioned, wasn't going to bring them any good.

Those were the exact words coming from a man who had spent a lifetime eulogising the Bengali spirit in poems and songs! Yet, he was disenchanted with their politics and gave a concentrated expression of how he was frustrated with the sentiments and emotions of the same people who had inspired his creative juice.

The Bengalis, he said, fought amongst themselves, each against another, relentlessly sharpening their knives to attack anyone who wished to challenge them in their pursuit of selfishness. Those knives, he reminded, were not made of metal, but of slander and hatred.

Then he went to the heart of the problem. In India, the Bengalis were the first to come in contact with the Western culture and education. They outshone rest of India in education and literature, because it required solitary pursuit within the confines of privacy, which was a strong side of the Bengali mind.

But nation building was different, said an embittered Tagore. It needed collective work, which is where the Bengali minds proved inadequate. They united to divide, came together to separate, blaming the disastrous outcome of their own inanities on others.

According to Jean Cocteau, the French film director, the worst tragedy for a poet is to be admired through being misunderstood. Many of us praise Tagore's poetry and swing to his songs, but most of us may not have actually fathomed that he wanted to tell us something more.

May be this is what had saddened him in the end and constrained to give an outburst in The Saturday Mail. He must have sensed that he was going to be extolled by people before they were familiar with his thoughts.

Carl Sandburg, an American poet, highlights that cynicism in his definition of poetry. Poetry, he says, is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess what is seen in the flash of a moment. Tagore has written many songs, short stories, dramas, poems and musical scores, all of which gave us glimpses into the astounding genius of a prolific man. In the penultimate year of his life, this man must have given that interview for a purpose. For one last time he opened the door before it slammed.

Take it from Tagore. He wanted us to look through, and the only Bengali nation that we are, we should.

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