Why it is important to preserve Tagore’s ‘Gurudev’ image


It is for the best that only three of Tagore’s works are known to the nationalists today. PHOTO/Cherishsantosh/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Beyond the sanitised image of a ‘Gurudev’, Rabindranath Tagore railed against nationalism and disagreed with Gandhi’s refusal to draw a line between politics and religion. If the cultural godfathers of our great Bharat get wind of these words, he would surely be branded an ‘urban Naxal’.

Many more people like to refer to India’s greatest poet by the moniker Gurudev than by the name that his parents had given him at birth, the name that appears on his Nobel medallion. Politicians and industry barons, intellectuals as much as mafia dons, dyed-in-the-wool liberals no less than right-of-right creationists: they all love to pay obeisance to their Gurudev in equal measure.

At the first hint of an opportunity, people trot out one of the three pieces of Rabindranath Tagore’s work that everyone seems to be familiar with – Jadi tor dak shune keu na ase tobe ekla cholo re (“If no one heeds your call, you must walk alone”) being the universal favourite. Even though some of the more patriotic specimens of our political class have been known to fumble when asked to recite the national anthem, nobody fails to roundly condemn a laggard who rises late to the same anthem when it plays out in a movie theatre’s sound system. And, recently, even one of our most intrepid mainstream journalists felt encouraged to pen verses patterned on ‘Where the mind is without fear’

Tagore is everybody’s favourite for several reasons. First, we are a nation of guru-bhakts, congenitally programmed to idolise every Baba and every Ma (guruwad being sex-blind), and of course every godman with a double-barrelled honorific adorning his name. To be fair to the poet, he does indeed fit the bill rather well – what with his fine, flowing beard, his aquiline nose and high forehead, his long and colourful robes, and of course the ashram that he, so faithful to our hallowed tradition, set up and nurtured.

Then again, ‘Gurudev’ is so convenient. He is always there, like the Himalayas or the Vedas or the six seasons of Bengal, and so nobody needs to take the trouble to study or explore his work again, for don’t we already know what there is to know about, say, the vedas? (So, those three nuggets from the Gurudev’s cannon will do very well for us, thank you.)

Most importantly, however, the virtues of a Gurudev lie in the sanitised, aseptic image of such an exalted being. He is above everything mundane or worldly. Ordinary human emotions and passions, anxieties and predilections are entirely alien to him. And he always symbolises stability and continuity. Change is anathema to his character. Also, no question troubles him, because he, the true sage, already knows every answer.

But does he? Was Tagore immune to all questions and doubts, or is the image of the Gurudev a convenient, and also clever, construct, but only a construct, no more? Was the poet a status quoist in the hoary ‘Indian’ tradition?

The Wire for more

Comments are closed.