Rabindranath Tagore's Manuscripts
Translated from Spanish to Bangla by RAJU ALLAUDDIN
English rendering by SHARMILLIE RAHMAN
Raju Allauddin's note
Mexico was home to Octavio Paz for quite a number of years, where he was stationed as the Ambassador. During these years he travelled around Afghanistan, Nepal, Burma, Sri Lanka as well as other neighbouring countries. He has several books on Indian cultural heritage to his credit. 'In Light of India' is his last book ever written about the country. But what eluded my knowledge was the existence of this full-blown work on Rabindranath by Paz.
As I recall, all those years ago – that is, sometime before I arrived in Mexico – in the book, 'In Your Blossoming Flower-Garden' by Ketoki Kushari Dyson, I came upon a reference to a writing on Rabindranath by Paz. The long passage of time since eroded the memory from my mind. Then sheer luck led me to the discovery of this writing in the library of UABC, Tijuana (Universidad Autonoma Del Estado De Baja California) on a chance visit between work. The work is important to the Bengali readership on two counts: 1. It is written by an extraordinary Hispanic poet and a novelist. 2. It is written about, in Paz's own word, an exceptionally gifted poet of the Bengali language.
A number of important writer-educationists were and are still pursuing research on Rabindranath in Spanish. The one who stands out in prominence in their midst is the Spanish poet Juan Ramon Jimenez. Although, uninitiated in both Bengali and English, he spread a remarkable contagion in the realm of translation of the works of Rabindranath. After Jimenez , Paz could be a likely candidate, another poet from the world of Hispanic, who, though, not quite through his sensational translations yet through his sensibility stirred up much attention to Rabindranath's, hitherto, less-talked-about and less-illuminated world of visual art. Paz attached more value to Rabindranath as an artist than to the other facets of his fame. No other native or foreign writers, probably, in their writing could represent the importance of Rabindranath's artwork, especially, the manuscript illustrations in light of such fresh, spontaneous, intelligible yet profound approach.
Octavio Paz read this piece to an audience at Delhi University in 1967. In 1973 it was published in 'El Signo Y El Garbato'. My translation, in fact, is based on the fifth volume of Paz's works.
Rabindranath and the Hispanic world is linked in myriad ways and this ties is complex and coloured with passion. It is complex not only due to the fact that a multitude of individuals and numerous countries have their stakes in this relationship – from Spain to Mexico, Argentina to Chile: the entire continent at that. The complexity arose since from1915 to 1925, at the pinnacle of his fame, Rabindranath did more than just exert his influence on the literati or a few sporadic individuals; to many his work was the first quintessential expression of the Orient; until then which was exposed only to a handful of experts, to others, on the other hand, it was a manifestation of India's historic awakening. These manifold and intricate relationships were tinged with emotional fervour. Not too long ago the talented yet controversial and eccentric writer Niradchandra Chowdhury has shed light on some similarities and compatibilities between Bengal and Latin America. In tune with this parallelism I would like to add two more names: Goa and Kerala. Instead of being indifferent to each other these three regions colluded to form a kind of Indo-Occidental-Baroque strain. But as a matter of fact, it is hard to find the rationale for our allegiance to his stalwart image to be embedded in Rabindranath's identity as a Bengali. The actual reason lies, so to say, very much in the magnetic aura of his poetry. A single example would suffice to give an idea of the cult that was created by his very name: In 1920 José Vasconcelos, the founder writer of Mexico's modern education system, decided to publish an edition of the world's literary classics for free distribution. In this collection, works by the Bengali poet shared the stage alongside the canons by the likes of Plato, Dante, Cervantes, Goethe, Greek playwrights and Tolstoy.
The problem with poetry is that it is at once universal and untranslatable. Yet the evasiveness gives way in the face of the acknowledgement of the impossibility of translation; moreover, in translation poetry actually transfigures into a new creation in a different language. Fortunately, Rabindranath encountered In Hispanic such a translator who himself was a great poet: Juan Ramón Jiménez. In collaboration with wife Zenobia, Jiménez transformed the Bengali poet into a Spanish one. This translation did not violate the essence of the original works which had already permeated into the bloodstream of our tradition. The same is true of the French translation of Goethe's Faust by Nerval and the English translation of the Chinese poets by Pound. Instead of charting the similarities-dissimilarities between the Bengali and Hispanic poets any farther, let me alight on a thought-provoking essay by Graciela Nemes that was dedicated to Rabindranath in the anthology published in 1961 by the Sahitya Akademy. I would not give much pause on the issue of Rabindranath's influence on the Spanish poets. His clout over the previous generation was immense, which is all too noticeable in the works of the youthful Neruda.
Though, Rabinrdanath inspired some of the Hispano-American poets but he had not succumbed to any influence by our own native poets. He was uninitiated in Espanol and in his writing there is no trace of his familiarity with any of our writers or with the Latin cultural heritage.* He spent the last few months of 1924 in Buenos Aires. During his stay he met with Victoria Ocampo. For more than one reason this encounter was memorable. He never forgot his sojourn in the place by the river La Plata. And he dedicated one of his book Purobi, which he penned while staying in her country home, to Ocampo. The Argentinean writer, on her part, has left behind a vivid memoir documenting that remarkable time. In her memoir, Ocampo informs us of the source of Rabindranath's passion for art, '… During Rabindranath's stay in San Isidro, I was amazed at the looks of the Bengali manuscript of his book Purobi. Within the corrections of his poems and the numerous cross-outs he used to create a variety of lines and patterns. The lines would assume a life of their own and the text, consequently, morphed into prehistoric monsters, birds or various forms. His idiosyncratic act of correcting his poems conjured before us a mysterious and enchanting world of imagery full mirth and gestures. I requested him to allow me to photograph few of the pages of his (drawing-ridden) manuscript. He consented with pleasure. I believe, this very notebook witnessed the genesis of the artist Rabindranath; the burgeoning impetus to bring his dreams to life with the stroke of a pencil and a brush. The temptation to capture these in snapshots was so intense that I continued with the practice enthusiastically. When I again saw him in Paris six years later, he was given to painting whole-heartedly, which was a far cry from his poetic doodling. A band of my French friends and I organized an exhibition of his works. The exhibition stirred a lot of interest…'.
With the passage of time people are becoming more and more interested in Rabindranath's artwork. Recently, A major proponent of Indian art, Swaminathan mentioned in one of his writings, in terms of originality the artwork by the poet of Bengal is one of the most contemporary examples of Indian art. He could not be more to the point. At least, in my opinion, his artwork is just as important as his poetry; Moreover, it is more modern. Today, many of his poems seem like hilarious verbosity. But, the same cannot be said of his artwork. Rabindranath spoke of things through his artwork which he left unspoken in his writing; and he spoke with violence, fantasy and freedom, which is quite impressive. The artist Rabindranath is more close to us than the poet Rabindranath. Yet there is a contact point between the poet and the artist. And this very contact point is the most sensitive juncture that lends the profound undercurrents to his writings. I speak of the manuscript mentioned in Victoria Ocampo's essay. Rabindranath relied on his intuition to make up for his lack of knowledge of the (metaphysical) ideas that informed Leonardo Da Vinci and the Surrealist school of thought. Rabindranath transformed the fortuitous curlicues of his script into an artistic experience, and in doing so infused the pages of his manuscript with magical objects. The words transcend the sphere of meanings into the suggestiveness of the plastic signs. The etches, the lines and the painterly strokes at the same time converge and diverge to reflect an inevitable destiny reached through prefiguration. This is failure of language, but triumph of poetry. What poetry speaks of transcends the language; what a painting represents transcends the scene.
Rabindranath's interest in the relationship between poetry and art was already visible in his writing. After reading the Japanese poets for the first time his comment was: 'They write not lyrical poetry but lyrical painting.' This deeply insightful observation distinguishes Indian prosodic tradition from the Chinese and Japanese variety. Rabindranath willfully resisted the allurement of the ideogram and image poetry. In this, he differs from Apollinaire. The French poet who endeavoured to use words to create visual images, though many of his calligrams are astonishing but the intended marriage between poetry and picture was doomed to failure. Rabindranath, on the other hand, aspired to make line and colour croon out in harmony. But not in terms of words and hues, but in terms of lines and etches – one that is unfailingly rhythmic. In an essay written in 1930 he asserts: 'The law of rhythm which is constant to all forms of art infuses life into what is lifeless. The innate trait of my metrical pattern and my creative experiments has elevated me to that stage of innovation in art, where no information emanates from the lines and colours. Where, line and colour aspires towards a rhythmic embodiment of plastic forms. The ultimate goal of which is neither introspection nor naturalistic portrayal or imitation… '. These words – which remind me of Kandinski – is an admirable definition and a mandate for Modern art. A little way along the same essay he says: '… And this relates an experience regarding the unexpectedness of my manuscript. These scattered acts of corrections merge in an undulating confluence to give birth to a unique form….' This Bengali poet continues to astound us. Let us bring to memory the intrepid movement: 'Concrete poetry'. As you know, the hub of this movement was Brazil, England and Germany. The young artists tried to formulate (and sometimes did succeed) an imaginative relationship of word, line and colour, merging the verbal with the plastic pushing the boundary of the realms of meaning and meaninglessness. Rabindranath, to some extent, sought the same objective. This dimension to his work unveiled a unique vista to the new artists, poets and lyricists that only a handful had discovered by far. Rabindranath's captivating manuscript presents to us an artist who is simultaneously our predecessor and our contemporary.
Depart's cullings from Europian exhibition
reviews on Rabindranath Tagore
From Kaines-Smith's in the Birmingham Mails, England, 1930
Later on we come to a very interesting development, that in which the design is a deliberate aberration from natural forms, approaching in some instances the deliberately grotesque. There is an immense amount of enjoyment in this group of drawings, but again the artist has started from what may be called a fortuitious germ of design and has taken an animal from exactly as he took the accidental from of his erasures as the beginning of an entirely fanciful development of design, In one of two instances we have exquisite handling of line and form in which human figures derive their beauty and their value as a design, not from direct resemblance to human figures, but rather the quality of the line by which those figures are expressed.
From Berlingske Tidende's, Denmark, August 9, 1930
It is, however, difficult to discover a similarity between the Poet's poems and his paintings. As a poet he possesses that inner contemplative calmness of mind characteristic of the Indian, a philosophic inward turning, which in nature finds the symbols of the living poems within him. But out of his pictures a certain strange decorative art is developed. the form of which does not so much mirror the contemplation thinker as the man who has travelled all over the globe and investigated the various cultures of the East and the West. In this exhibition there are elements which remind us about things from Egyptian monuments, from modern German Graphic art, from Japanese wood cuts, from English Water- colour paintings and from primitive decorative art. There are elements which possess certain likeness to the antique orient and elements which remind us about the Scandinavian Drake style and the Gauguin Exoticism.
From Vossische Zeitung's, Germany, July 17, 1930
For his next subject he chose those mental visions which have their origin deep in our innermost being and of which everyday reality is but the mere reflection. Animals play a prominent part here; but not the animals we see in the zoological garden, but the monsters which terrify us in our nightmares. The colo[u]ring employed in the illustration of monkeys, tigers, swans, vultures and other beasts of prey is typical of innate tastes of an ancient civilization: against a black back-ground- the night enveloping the dreamer – there stand out designs in the shades of red, brown and yellow, rich and vivid to a degree. Deep mysterious c[h]ords are struck, serving as a background for some clearly outlined object.
Sourced from the book 'Art and Its Histories: A Reader', edited by Steve Edwards.