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On Tagore

Reading the Poet Today

Amit Chaudhuri

Infosys Prize for outstanding contribution to the Humanities in Literary Studies

Rabindranath Tagore is widely regarded as a romantic poet, speaking of beauty and truth; as a transcendentalist; a believer in the absolute; a propagandist for universal man; and as a national icon. But, as Amit Chaudhuri shows in these remarkable and widely admired essays about the poet and his milieu, his secret concern was really with life, play, and contingency, with the momentary as much as it was with the eternal. It is this strain of unacknowledged modernism, as well as a revolutionary life-affirming vision, that gives his work, Chaudhuri argues, its immense power.
Acute, challenging, and path-breaking, Amit Chaudhuri’s collection will become a classic reading of Rabindranath Tagore and the way he is perceived today.
On Tagore was awarded the Rabindra Puraskar, the West Bengal government’s highest literary honour, in 2012 in recognition of the ‘significance, in the English language, of its critical analysis of Tagore’s works’.


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The Flute of Modernity: Tagore and the Middle Class


The Flute of Modernity Tagore and the Middle Class 17 Rabindranath Tagore was born on 7 May 1861, or the 25th day of Baishakh in the Bengali calendar. The 25th of Baishakh is still celebrated in Bengal, especially in Calcutta, with performances of Tagore’s songs and dance dramas, and the heat of midsummer is associated in the minds of Bengalis with Tagore’s birthday. His name itself conjures up light and heat, for Rabindranath means ‘lord of the sun’. For quite a few years, however, the celebrations have had the slightly exhausted air of ritual, a ritual by which Bengalis not only commemorate an anniversary but also observe the passing away of something more than Tagore, the passing of something that defined themselves and their own Bengaliness; 18 On Tago re though this is never articulated in so many words. In 1778, roughly a century before Tagore’s birth, an English scholar-administrator named Nathaniel Halhead wrote the first Bengali grammar, probably with the collaboration of Brahmin pandits. Calcutta was then the East India Company’s main port of trade, and Bengal, of which Calcutta is the capital, was the province upon which the commercial and cultural exchange of the colonial world would leave its most profound impress. Halhead wrote the grammar for the instruction of English officials and administrators. Though the machinery of colonialism had already begun to whir after Mughal rule was deposed in Bengal in 1757, officials of the Company still behaved like traders in a foreign land, taking the trouble,...

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