The Land Where I Found It All

Buddhadeva Bose

Translated from the original Bangla by

Nandini Gupta

Chapter 13: Sweet this earthly dust

[Chapter 12: Emperor of life]

Kripalani once said that with age Rabindranath has grown more secular. The statement does give one food for thought. The religious training he received from his father was not skin-deep, it shaped his life. He is a believer to the core. His religious songs are filled with profound emotion. At one time, he was very much a Hindu, in fact deeply a Brahmin, to the extent of going for a dip in the Ganga at dawn everyday – this is reflected in the character of Gora, or in the essays in “Atmoshakti” or “Bharatbarsho”. His religiosity blossomed fully in “Kheya”, “Noibedyo” and then in “Gitanjali”, “Gitimalya” and “Gitali”, it might have had root in the several tragedies that struck him in quick succession. But that phase of his life is long past. ‘Balaka’, ‘Palataka’ or ‘Lipika’ is aglow with his humanity; ‘Purabi’ and ‘Mahua’ rings out with his love-songs---the admirers of his ‘mysticism’ continue to be disappointed. It is not the mysticism that makes “Gitanjali’ great; they who knew ‘Gitanjali’s ’ worth, watched in wondrous rapture the poet’s genius blaze forth again and again with ever new radiance. Today, close to death, he is very much earthbound. One day he had set sail on his golden boat[1] on an unknown journey, today his boat in bound for death. He is prepared, not eager. Today is a time of revolution aglow with his love. As he nears the estuary mouth, he is suffused deeper with the sap of life. He is immersed today in his love of all humanity, for all life. Annodashankar writes that his question to Rabindranath whether he believed in god went unanswered. But the answer is obvious, when in the middle of a conversation he recites a shloka from the Upanishada. His body grows still, his eyes close, his face glows with a light such that one is afraid to look at him. It springs from somewhere deep within him, it is the foundation of his life, as the foundation of our life is Rabindranath. His recent compositions abound with the god of humanity rather than the almighty. He asks himself, “Have you forgiven, have you loved?”. Before he bids adieu, he calls out to those who are preparing to fight the demons. His paeans today are to the greatness in man, not to an imagined embodiment of truth goodness and beauty. He has witnessed truth in life, beauty in this world, and the burgeoning of goodness in worldly striving to destroy evil. When he lost the use of his senses, it might have been natural for him to cling to that which lies beyond, but the reverse has come to be. He is immersed in the joy of his cognizance. He never donned the knowingness of the aged; his senseless delight in living and loving is forever. He has never been tempted by spirituality or other-wordly solemnity, today he has mastered the wisdom of deep heartfelt humility. Few of his recent compositions can be thought to be about god; the first and last presiding mantra of his life is “sweet is this earthly dust”. In his modern poetry appears his beloved, from beyond the ranks,

Cowherds gather, a stray dog at your side.
As easy as a gypsy girl, your pony you ride.

He has introduced amidst us the Chandalika of yore and the low caste girl of today; on meeting them we asked,” Where were you so long?” The Santhal lad, the hill folk of Mongpu, the all-so-familiar stray dog, the tiny sparrow at dawn: where were they so long? Today he translates Hindi love-songs, ”Paint my breastcloth with colours aglow on the crown on your head”; in his short stories, he paints the portrait of a girl for whom humane values are truer than conventional morality; he has been shedding his prejudices one by one, he stands today in an open space from where even a major transgression fails to shock, at the end of his long life he realizes that everything deserves forgiveness except the failure to forgive. That last exquisite song in Shyama remains memorable….
“Forgive me my smallness,
         I could not forgive…………
I know you will forgive her:
Who bent hapless under her sin
         Reposes at your feet
But I know you will not
         You will not forgive
         my not forgiving…….”

These great words of the poet equal the teachings of the Buddha or Jesus; that apart they are beyond compare.

And, yet once upon a time, he reposed faith in societal conventions, as witnessed in ‘Chokher bali’. Or maybe not; to put it more accurately, that at the core of his heart he had no faith in societal norms is what is witnessed in ‘Chokher Bali’. Truly speaking, he did not have faith, but neither the courage to speak out loud against it. And so, an excellent novel like ‘Chokher Bali’ turned a failure. He told us, “ You have no idea, we were born in a world devoid of women. The diviner of Bengal’s destiny had not yet created woman. We witnessed the fierce power of a Sati-esque[2] faith, we feared to get close. Only later it dawned on me that she too had been thinking in her mind, “ Why does he not come nearer, I wish he would. “ His words shine with humour, but are again soft with tenderness. We laughed, but what he was alluding to clearly finds expression in his early stories and poems. Generally the older people get, less tolerant they become, but the reverse is true for Rabindranath, with age he has become more open. His vision has transcended all that is merely current, customary, that is consigned to a time and place, or merely part of local custom or tradition; he has chosen truth over morality, life over customs. So fleeting and yet so blazing, how amazingly true is Nanibala in Chaturanga, but Rabindranaths’ small defeat lies in that she finally had to die. Today he would not have been defeated. Kumu also is of that past; if Jogajog had been finished we would have seen that despite trying heart and soul, Kumu remains unable to accept social conventions. Today, he cares for little but the demands of humanity. A main constiituent of the human existence is love, without that creation of life fails, but love is made moribund by the bonds of continuous consumption: of this he has painted an amazing picture in ‘Chokher Bali’, when describing the first phase of Mahendra and Asha’s married life. In our country the fervent wish for wellbeing that is at the core of a woman’s love, enriches her on one hand, weakens her on the other. He is moved by the kind of love which does not want to bind their beloved, but allows them to grow, and so fearlessly embraces sacrifice and sorrow. In Sohini, he paints the character of a truly bad woman, but whose life is given to a noble cause. He has bestowed his unstinted admiration at unwavering dedication to any cause, that lies outside the pale of conventional morality or selfish joy and sorrow.

1 Sonar tari: literally the golden boat refers to his early famous poem of that name.

2 Sati: a married woman fiercely dedicated and committed to her husband, and capable of going to great lengths to guard her sanctity against any other males. The culmination of her faith could be in performing sati or self immolation in her husband’s pyre if need be.

Next: Return

Illustration: Jyotsnaloke (In the moonlight), by Sri Nandalal Basu; taken from Sudhiranjan Das's Amader Shantiniketan.

Published in Parabaas on January 2011.

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©Parabaas, 2011