Sunday, January 23, 2011

Two Moods from Glimpses of Bengal by Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore is one of my most favorite authors. Though I have read a very little of him, and though I know no Bengali, whatever I could read in English translations, his writing has been close to my heart.

Glimpses of Bengal is one of the little-known books of Tagore. It is a collection translated letters written by him when he was still young; in his own words in “the most productive period of my literary life, when, owing to great good fortune, I was young and less known.” Tagore finds that writing these letters was a “delightful necessity” for him with accumulation of surplus thoughts and emotions in the days of his exuberant youth when he had ample leisure.

I am presenting here two extracts from this book, which I find very close to my heart. They were written when he was in his 27th and 30th year respectively, in the same phase of life thorough which I am going now. And sometimes I feel, it was me who was writing those lines…

Letter 1: July 1887
I am in my twenty-seventh year. This event keeps thrusting itself before my mind—nothing else seems to have happened of late.

But to reach twenty-seven—is that a trifling thing?—to pass the meridian of the twenties on one's progress towards thirty?—thirty—that is to say maturity—the age at which people expect fruit rather than fresh foliage. But, alas, where is the promise of fruit? As I shake my head, it still feels brimful of luscious frivolity, with not a trace of philosophy.

Folk are beginning to complain: "Where is that which we expected of you—that in hope of which we admired the soft green of the shoot? Are we to put up with immaturity for ever? It is high time for us to know what we shall gain from you. We want an estimate of the proportion of oil which the blindfold, mill-turning, unbiased critic can squeeze out of you."

It has ceased to be possible to delude these people into waiting expectantly any longer. While I was under age they trustfully gave me credit; it is sad to disappoint them now that I am on the verge of thirty. But what am I to do? Words of wisdom will not come! I am utterly incompetent to provide things that may profit the multitude. Beyond a snatch of song, some tittle-tattle, a little merry fooling, I have been unable to advance. And as the result, those who held high hopes will turn their wrath on me; but did any one ever beg them to nurse these expectations?

Such are the thoughts which assail me since one fine Bysakh morning I awoke amidst fresh breeze and light, new leaf and flower, to find that I had stepped into my twenty-seventh year.

Letter 2: Shelidah, 31st Jaistha (June)1892

I hate these polite formalities. Nowadays I keep repeating the line: "Much rather would I be an Arab Bedouin!" A fine, healthy, strong, and free barbarity.

I feel I want to quit this constant ageing of mind and body, with incessant argument and nicety concerning ancient decaying things, and to feel the joy of a free and vigorous life; to have,—be they good or bad,—broad, unhesitating, unfettered ideas and aspirations, free from everlasting friction between custom and sense, sense and desire, desire and action.

If only I could set utterly and boundlessly free this hampered life of mine, I would storm the four quarters and raise wave upon wave of tumult all round; I would career away madly, like a wild horse, for very joy of my own speed! But I am a Bengali, not a Bedouin! I go on sitting in my corner, and mope and worry and argue. I turn my mind now this way up, now the other—as a fish is fried—and the boiling oil blisters first this side, then that.

Let it pass. Since I cannot be thoroughly wild, it is but proper that I should make an endeavour to be thoroughly civil. Why foment a quarrel between the two?

And sometimes I feel, I was the Tagore, thinking to myself "Much rather would I be an Arab Bedouin!"

Disclaimer: The Arab Bedouin are not intended to be uncivilized community.


  1. Must be an enjoyable read Glimpses of Bengal by Rabindranath Tagore. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by "to read" list.

  2. Hey Rohit, thanks for appreciating the post, and sorry for the belated response! Was busy in day-to-day matters and other net projects! By the way, Thanks!! ~Ganesh.


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