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Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore

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05th-May-2017       
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Literature Desk :
The immortal Indian literary figure Rabindranath Tagore became the first non-European and first Asian to win the Nobel Prize for literatured in 1913.
Often considered the William Shakespeare or even the Leonardo da Vinci of India, Rabindranath Tagore remains largely an obscure figure in the West, apart from a coterie of scholars and culture aficionados.
On the eve of a global world war, 1913 was an extremely busy year for the Bengali poet, novelist, playwright, songwriter, painter and lyricist, as his fame had spread to the West. Tagore extensively toured the US that year, delivering lectures at various universities and public halls, including appearances at Boston, Chicago and New York, before sailing to London, where he was feted by luminaries, including fellow poets William Butler Yeats and Ezra Pound.
Upon returning to India in November, the Nobel Committee awarded him the Prize for Literature for his magnum opus Gitanjali (‘Song Offerings’), citing the work’s “profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consum-mate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West.”
However, during his time, Tagore enjoyed considerable global acclaim on par with his Indian contemporary Mahatma Gandhi.
Two years after receiving his Nobel Prize, George V, king of the United Kingdom (and emperor of India) knighted Tagore. (Tagore subsequently renounced the knighthood in 1919 to protest the massacre of Indian men, women and children by British soldiers at Jallianwala Bagh in Punjab.)
Tagore’s international friends and/or admirers included Albert Einstein, gentine intellectual Victoria Ocampo, Benito Mussolini, Robert Frost, Thomas Mann, Andre Gide, George Bernard Shaw, H G Wells and numerous others.
Born to a wealthy, prominent Bengali Brahmin family in Calcutta in 1861 in British India, Tagore (who advocated for Indian independence throughout his life, although he ultimately opposed any form of nationalism) single-handedly transformed Bengali literature by freeing it from rigid, Sanskrit-based formality and by writing on subjects that would appeal to the common man.
Tagore’s father, Debendranath, was a member of the Brahmo Samaj, a group that sought to reform and modernise Hinduism-a movement that deeply influenced his son.
Due to his family’s wealth and property inheritance, Tagore enjoyed such perks as foreign travel and studying abroad-things light years beyond the aspirations of the majority of his countrymen. However, unlike most of his social class, Tagore detested such Indian traditions as caste and untouchability, and he also campaigned for universal education and the eradication of rural poverty.
But it was his talent at writing that sealed his everlasting fame more than his social reform campaigns.
Tagore not only wrote hundreds of short stories, but also composed thousands of songs, including two works that became the national anthems of India (Jana Gana Mana) and Bangladesh (Aamar Shonar Bangla).
Strangely, for such an accomplished intellectual and supremely well-educated man, Tagore loathed the restrictions of classroom teaching-in response, he helped create the Santiniketan, a progressive educational institution that focused on developing and encouraging the student’s personal growth, originality and creative impulses.
Tagore died in 1941 at his ancestral home in Kolkata seven years before India gained independence. n

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