The necessity of a Tagorean philosophy
Fakrul's Alam's Rabindranath Tagore and National Identity Formation in Bangladesh: Essays and Reviews is an excellent critical work on Tagore written in excellent English. Although the book is primarily meant for the non-Bengali reading public who want to know of Tagore's relevance to the world in general and Bangladesh in particular, it has special significance for Bangladeshi readers as well. The book demonstrates some aspects of Tagore's writings, especially his essays, lectures, speeches, letters, dialogues, etc, that were less or little explored before. The opening chapter is most important to understand the causes of an anti-Tagore sentiment among some sections of people in post colonial Bangladesh territory. Fakrul Alam shows how the Pakistani government tried to eliminate Tagore in a bid to destroy the Bengali speaking people's cultural heritage and make them impoverished as a language-based community. In the context of the Language Movement, Alam states: 'Rabindranath is the architect of modern Bengali, he would inevitably become a key rallying point for the activists of the movement . Bids to eliminate him from East Pakistan's cultural history would only fuel the resistance to the Pakistani state. In trying to minimize his presence in East Pakistan, the government of the country only succeeded in making East Bengalis realize that he was central to the formation of their distinctive identity.” Alam's essay, however, clarifies why an anti-Tagore sentiment among a section of people, who are mainly Islamists or fundamentalists, continues to prevail more or less in independent Bangladesh though in reality Tagore 'was never a communal thinker and that he never sought wittingly to subvert or humiliate the Muslims.'
The second chapter of the book focuses on how Tagore tried to promote universalism and humanism through his essays, lectures, speeches, letters, etc. Alam's essay “Beyond Fragmented Worldviews and Narrow Domestic Walls: Rabindranath Tagore and Universalism” illustrates how Tagore was against the concept of narrow nationalism that breeds chauvinism and conflict; how he opted for intellectual cooperation between cultures; how he urged the people to be citizens of the world being rooted to their own countries and cultures at the same time; how he urged people not to restrict knowledge so that one culture can accept the best from other culture; and above all how he called people not to allow patriotism or any other 'ism' to triumph over humanity.
Many Tagore readers in Bengali are not aware of Tagore's writings in English and the worth of these writings. In fact, this area of Tagore's genius was less explored before. It is Fakrul Alam who made an in-depth analysis about the range and variety of Tagore's English writings and assesses their quality in content and style. Chapter Three titled “An idealist on the Lectern: Rabindranath Tagore's Lectures and Speeches in English” analyzes the lectures and speeches that Tagore delivered in English across the world for over a decade. Fakrul Alam evaluates these lectures and found that they have temporal and permanent significance. The lectures, Alam says, 'reveal Tagore's intense idealism, his wavering commitment to humanism as well as his fervent belief in the world of the spirit.” Chapter four titled “Some Qualities of Permanence: Rabindranath Tagore's English Prose' starts with a question, 'How good is Rabindranath Tagore's English Prose?' Alam's approach is a holistic one rather than fragmentary. He makes a survey of Tagore's early prose piece to the last one before his death, and finds that Tagore 'kept growing as a writer of English prose and was able to express himself in it eloquently, imaginatively, and variously…judicious selections of his prose works should be brought out so that the English-reading world can re-discover the extent of his achievement as a major thinker and an important writer of English prose of his time.”
In many of his writings and speeches Rabindranath Tagore expounded his thoughts and ideas about education. Tagore implemented much of his education philosophy through the establishment of Shantiniketan. Fakrul Alam has gleaned all such thoughts of Tagore's ideas regarding education in chapter 5 titled “Rabindranath Tagore and the Idea of a University”. Alam says: “What Rabindranath wanted to achieve through Visva-Bharati was to create an institution that would be a model for higher education throughout India… his university was also to be a place where students could explore the positive aspects of enlightenment learning without adopting the pervasive materialism or pursuing the knowledge-power nexus of the west…, though near the end of his life Tagore seemed to have realized that he had not succeeded completely in realizing his ideals.” Also in chapter 6, Alam compares Tagore's educational thoughts with those of the American writer Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) under the title: 'Luminous with Vision' Rabindranath Tagore, Thoreau and Life-Centred Education amidst Nature''.
Three chapters of the book (chaps 7,8,9) are on translations of Tagore's works– Tagore's own translations of his writings, translations by others and lastly Alam's scholarly demonstration of how to solve some problems of translating Tagore's verses into English. Any reader willing to know the phenomena of Tagore translations for a period of one hundred years (from the beginning of the first decade of the twentieth century till the first decade of the twenty first century) can find these chapters a valuable resource.
Over the past few decades ecocriticism has become an interesting theoretical study in the humanities in university level. Perhaps it was Fakrul Alam who first wrote such a brilliant essay on Tagore's eco consciousness under the title: “Rabindranath Tagore and Eco-consciousness” (chapter 10). Here Alam illustrates how Tagore's writings emphasized on caring for nature and learning from it to keep life on earth flowing. Tagore, Alam says, is 'a forerunner of eco criticism and a storehouse of wisdom about the environmental problems besetting the region and ways of overcoming them. '
The essay “Rabindranath Tagore in the Twenty-First Century (chap 11) is perhaps more insightful and thought-provoking. Here Alam has more specifically highlighted the importance of Tagore for the people of Bangladesh to be 'Bangladeshis in hearts and souls'. Alam says “…the language that we take such pride in and that was the ultimate determiner of our national identity was to an immense extent his creation. As we move forward in this century, striving to make the language the perfect vehicle for our creative impulses, he will be the model that we will have to follow no matter which genre we choose to work in, the archetype that will set the pattern for all our future artistic endevour…his works have kept sustaining us as we move forward in the twenty-first century.'
Apart from the above the book includes some more essays, conference papers and reviews. All these pay close attention to focus on the contributions of Tagore, the relevance of his works today and the power of his works to form, sustain and delight us for ever.
In this age of globalization keeping one's own identity has become important more than ever. Whatever is ours is our identity. In a brief history of Bangladesh as an independent nation, we have crossed many hurdles. Much of our progressive ideals were, and are, at threat in the face of religious extremism and fundamentalism. Hopefully, Fakrul Alam's book will contribute to clear up the misunderstandings that still exist in a section of people, and remind us all how indispensible is Tagore for the Bangladeshi culture and identity.
Dr. Md. Abu Zafor is Professor, Department of English, Jagannath University, Dhaka