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The Man Behind

An imaginative reading that seeks to reconcile the art and life of Tagore.

Written by Harish Trivedi |
September 21, 2013 1:11:31 am

Book: Young Tagore: The Makings of a Genius

Author: Sudhir Kakar

Publisher: Penguin/Viking

price: Rs 499

Pages: 238

Of all our national icons,Rabindranath Tagore remains probably the most sacrosanct,being as Gurudeb even holier than the Mahatma. One may quake a little therefore at the prospect of the sagely Poet,of the venerable long cloak and white beard,being approached through psycho-analysis and being in the process exposed,laid bare,and possibly diminished.

But Sudhir Kakar,eminent psycho-analyst,is also a novelist,and allays all apprehensions by stating right at the beginning of this new ‘psychobiography’ that he proposes not to analyse but to empathise,and to dig deep not for hidden facts but for “emotional truths.” He does so mainly through two discursive strategies. Firstly,he reads Tagore’s two autobiographies not so much against the grain as through their interstices,seeking to fill their ellipses,elisions and erasures with imaginative speculations grounded in his refined professional expertise. Secondly,he freely treats several of Tagore’s poems and novels as if these were cut of the same cloth as his autobiographies. Obviously,he does not subscribe to the theory of the ‘biographical fallacy’ (of the Cambridge or Chicago schools of ‘New Criticism’),according to which it is naïve if not misleading to interpret a writer’s life in terms of his works and vice versa,in circular authentication.

In this,Kakar is,of course,at one with the common reader of Tagore who has always believed his fictional works,such as Nashta Neer (The Broken Nest) and Ghare Baire (Home and Abroad),to be modelled on episodes in his own life. For all admirers of Tagore (and some of Satyajit Ray),Charulata is the more bewitching for being based on Kadambari Devi,Tagore’s sister-in-law who entered the large Tagore household as a child bride at the age of nine,when Tagore was seven. The two grew up together in easy familial intimacy but in their teens apparently felt strong intimations of what Tagore called “swirling passions.”

It is characteristic of Kakar’s entirely sympathetic approach to Tagore that he describes Kadambari as “simply…the ideal container” of the liquid heart of Tagore,and their relationship as something that “garbed his soul in erotic grace” and lent cohesion to his self and identity. She committed suicide four months after Tagore got married,and Kakar surmises it was possibly out of a dangerously high “dysphoric tendency” already present in her before this “final blow.” Tagore inevitably felt pangs of guilt and kept her memory alive; it served “to heighten his literary and artistic creativity.”

On several occasions in his long life,Tagore experienced bouts of melancholia. The severest was the one which began when he was 53 years old and had just won the Nobel prize,and it lasted for over a year. Tagore himself perceived it as a spiritual crisis,a kind of dark night of the soul,while Kakar identifies it as “unequivocally a clinical depression.” It is Kakar’s special distinction as a profoundly Indian psychoanalyst that he can entertain both these perspectives together and hold them in balance. In his account of the genius or “extraordinary creativity” of Tagore,there is room,in his own terms,for both the biological-emotional-historical and the transcendent-spiritual-unconscious. This book,written “in the spirit of Tagore” of reconciling dualities,not only illuminates many nooks and crannies of Tagore’s creativity but is in itself an imaginative and luminous meditation on art and life,the body and the soul,and the East and the West.

The writer is a former professor of English,University of Delhi

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