“Tagore travelled mostly out of curiosity. Unlike Gandhi, Nehru or Ambedkar, Tagore was most consciously internationalist” — This insight into poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s life set the tone for historian and biographer Dr Ramachandra Guha’s talk at the Rosalind Wilson Memorial Lecture 2015, held at the CD Deshmukh auditorium in the India International Centre on Tuesday.
Titled Between Nationalism and Internationalism: The Political Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore, the 90-minute lecture began with an introduction to Dr Guha’s works by former Attorney-General Soli Sorabjee. “My own discovery of Tagore began with a book called Truth Called Them Differently by R K Prabhu, following which I spent an entire summer reading Tagore’s works,” Guha said, as he began his lecture.
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Guha’s talk focused on Tagore’s non-fictional writings and explored the poet’s thoughts on three major developments in history — the Swadeshi Movement, World War I and Mahatma Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement. While elaborating on Tagore’s view of the Swadeshi movement, Guha quoted from a rare 1908 letter written by Tagore to a friend — “Patriotism cannot be our final spiritual centre, I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity.”
The historian went on to explain how Tagore was critical of the developments during the Swadeshi movement, considering them “xenophobic, chauvinistic”. “We must glory in the illumination of a lamp anywhere in the world,” read out Guha from one of Tagore’s early essays on the subject.
Guha spoke in detail about Tagore’s “fascination” with Japan. The historian recounted Tagore’s trips to Japan and the USA, where he held talks warning the countries against joining the Europeans in war.
“True modernism is freedom of mind not slavery of taste,” cited Guha from one of Tagore’s lectures to a Japanese audience. Guha also pointed out how Tagore’s talks on “true nationalism” were “not so well-received” in America.
But it was the last part of the lecture — where Guha spoke about Tagore’s reaction to the non-cooperation movement and his relationship with Mahatma Gandhi — that gripped the audience, which included Congress politicians Shashi Tharoor and Karan Singh, and former BBC bureau chief Mark Tully.
“Tagore had ambivalent feelings about the non-cooperation movement,” Guha said.
Guha also quoted extensively from Tagore’s letter to his friend C F Andrews, who had acted as an “intermediary between Tagore and Gandhi”. Guha stressed on the deep vision in Gandhi’s rebuttal to Tagore’s criticisms and talked of Gandhi’s admiration for the poet despite a disagreement in their beliefs.