I was first introduced to Tagore in the pages of a General Knowledge book. “Who has written and composed the national anthem of India?” Rabindranath Tagore. “Who was the first Indian to receive the Nobel Prize?” Rabindranath Tagore. My knowledge of Tagore expanded to include the little detail that he was from West Bengal. That was my schooling.
As I grew older, I came to know through my interactions with people that Tagore was quite the literary mind, having spun magic with his words in Bengali. He was not only a poet, but also had a hundred short stories to his name. People who knew of him, spoke about him with an air of reverence. I never really quite understood it. Since I do not understand Bengali, I never really entertained the thought of reading Tagore. It never struck me to search for his translated works, I wasn’t intrigued enough. I remember humming “Ekla Chalo Re” as popularized by the Amitabh Bacchhan version. Someone had mentioned that it was a part of a vast collection of songs, collectively known as Rabindra Sangeet. So Tagore had fine musical sensibilities. Another feather to his illustrious cap. Yet, my mind never bothered to dig deep.
Only when I was introduced to Tagore as a philosopher, did my curiosity finally rise from its long spell. I was spellbound when I first heard of “Siksha Satra“- Tagore’s ideas of education manifesting into an institution. In my limited exposure to the varied philosophies in education, I had never come across someone who had managed to put forth their explanations in such a simple yet effective manner. For the rest of this post, I will be discussing a few excerpts from my readings of Tagore, and I urge anyone who has even a mild interest in anything in general, to tug a few strings of Tagore’s literature.
Let us first look at how Tagore saw children. This one’s close to my heart and makes the world seem like a brighter place.
“Simplicity, capacity to grow and native frankness; children seem to carry a life force that helps them live this life with abundance and joy. Untrammeled by tradition, driven forward by inherent instinct they carry on their own research in the field of life, gathering knowledge from experience with an abounding joy that is rarely exceeded later.”
Children were believed to possess a certain “life-force”. This idea was so powerful, and it hit home. Children aren’t burdened by norms and they do act according to their own accord unless stopped by an interfering adult. Their eyes are always wandering, always seeking. Think of all the times when you have observed children. What are the first few words that come to your mind when you think of children and childhood?
All of these words orient themselves and find a place in the few lines quoted above. Based on a foundation that springs from such a crux, the institution of Siksha Satra takes root.
“The aim then, of the Siksha-Satra is, through experience in dealing with this overflowing abundance of child life, its charm and its simplicity, to provide the utmost liberty within surroundings that are filled with creative possibilities, with opportunities for the joy of play that is work- the work of exploration, and the work that is play- the reaping of a succession of novel experiences; to give the child that freedom of growth which the young tree demands for its render shoot, that field for self-expansion in which all young life finds both training and happiness.”
Can such a place exist? Can such a place ever fit in the idea of what we know as a ‘school’? This sounded too good to be true. At the same time, it pulled me towards it as it was impossible to not consider the possibilities it presented. I did not realize how much this idea resonated with me, then. It was only with time and experience that I could see my natural beliefs overlapping with a lot of Tagore’s ideas. I had internalized his ideal of education without even realizing it. I strove to achieve elements of it in my own classroom without really consciously attempting to do so.
“to give the child that freedom of growth which the young tree demands for its render shoot, that field for self-expansion in which all young life finds both training and happiness.”
These words will always remain with me at the back of my mind, always guiding me when I am lost. All throughout my Fellowship, I was trying to build this exact space. The field of “self-expansion” where a child could grow. Tagore also elaborates on how to create such an environment, but all I needed was this gentle push of his words.
Two years after the first wave of his ideas, I again came across some of his writings. This time, what blew my mind was his understanding of aesthetics and how he defined the relationship between man and nature.
“In the morning the sun comes out brightly, in the dusk the stars hold up their lights. But these are not sufficient for us. Until we light our own little lamps, the world of lights in the sky is in vain, and unless we make our own preparations, the wealth of the world preparations remains waiting like a lute for the finger touch.”
What Tagore refers to as “our own little lamps” is perhaps called passion in today’s language. It is the fire that resides within all of us, just waiting to be discovered. The world can revel in all its marvels and beauties but it will hold no joy for a person who hasn’t discovered the beauty within.
His understanding of human nature was quite unique. He believed that art was a result of the “surplus in man”- an excess in energy that man doesn’t have the use for.
“Of all living creatures in the world, man has his vital and mental energy vastly in excess of his need, which urges him to work in various fields of creation for its own sake.”
According to Tagore, to comprehend our identity and place ourselves within this vast framework of creation, it is important to delve into the truth offered by artistic creativity. “The creative spirit of the artist was, for Tagore, indistinguishable from the creativity apparent in every aspect of life. So intricately are art and life entwined that the entire process of living is akin to the act of creation.”1
(1– (Lal, 1998) “Tagore’s ideas of Aesthetic Education”)
If we just pause for a moment and look at our lives from the lens that Tagore offers, I personally think that would be a valuable exercise to undertake. For him, the very essence of the human being was to create a symbiotic relationship with nature and live with harmony. Art was the true manifestation of man’s creative energies and when art marries nature, the potential of a human is realized.
To conclude, I know that I have stumbled across an ocean of awesomeness. I have so much more to explore, so much more to think upon. But for now, I am satisfied by the thought of traversing the depth of his few ideas that have already touched me. If my calculations are correct, a lifetime is simply not enough to marinate the treasures with which Tagore has left us.
“The highest mission of education is to help us to realize the inner principle of the unity of all knowledge and all the activities of our social and spiritual being.”
This will suffice for now. If not, I leave you with this poem which is a recent discovery that has left me with a lot of lingering thoughts.
“I ask for a moment’s indulgence to sit by thy side. The works
that I have in hand I will finish afterwards.
Away from the sight of thy face my heart knows no rest nor respite,
and my work becomes an endless toil in a shore less sea of toil.
Today the summer has come at my window with its sighs and murmurs; and
the bees are plying their minstrelsy at the court of the flowering grove.
Now it is time to sit quite, face to face with thee, and to sing
dedication of life in this silent and overflowing leisure.”