Tagore, Nationalism and National Anthem – Sangeeta Bodhi Das

Do you like poetry and songs? If you don’t like a particular word or phrase in a poem or a song, what do you do? In all probability you would say that you don’t like the poem/song or don’t approve of it. Would you ask the poet, please remove that word, because I don’t like it? Yes you can do it when you are an editor or have complete control over the poet, songwriter in some way and your opinion is going to decide the fate of the publication of the piece. Or there would be some activists, who would agitate on the road if the word is too objectionable.

But would you care to pick on a poem written more than 100 yr ago and ask a word to be replaced or removed from it, because you don’t like it. Picture this — someone owns a Ravi Verma painting and a century later when his grandson inherits it, he makes a special request that someone should change the colour of the drapes in the painting, because somehow it doesn’t match with the décor of the room in a posh penthouse.

Frankly that is the kind of audacity I see, in the periodic controversies being raised against certain words of the National Anthem and the political and media hype that follows such obnoxious demands. Some time ago it was the demand that the word ‘Sindh’ be replaced and now a new demand that the word ‘Adhinayak’ be replaced.

Logically none of these demands actually make any sense and sooner or later the matter will subside as its absurdity won’t stand in face of reason. But still, time and again, such controversies keep coming back to humiliate poets, artists and other creative people who have contributed to the culture & history of India.

Almost always such demand against the anthem has come somewhere around the Death anniversary of the Poet, Sri Rabindranath Thakur, which incidentally is in August just a week ahead of Independence day. Almost always a person’s, a group’s or party’s dislike for that particular word is directly linked to something even more absurd –

Questioning the patriotism of the poet and then further accusing him of being a British loyalist.
I do not get angry, agitated or insulted by such smear campaign. I try to deal it with humor and logic.

सबसे पहले तो मैं ये पूछना चाहूँगी — जो लोग रबीन्द्रनाथ ठाकुर पर ब्रिटिश साम्राज्य और अंग्रेज़ों की चापलूसी करने का आरोप  लगा रहें हैं,  क्या उन पर से  अंग्रेज़ों की ग़ुलामी  पूरी तरह से छट चुकी है ?

तो फिर  आज़ादी के इतने सालों के बाद भी उनके  ज़ुबाँ पर — टागोर, टेगोर, टैगोर — जैसे शब्द क्यों आतें हैं। यह तो सभी को मालूम है  के अंग्रेज़ों की बोलचाल  की  सहूलियत के  लिए सभी  अपने नामों में हेरफेर करने पे मजबूर थे।  पर कम से कम आप इस ज़माने में तो सही उच्चारण कर सकतें  हैं। या तो  फिर आप भी  अंग्रेज़ोंकी तरह  गांधी को ‘गैण्डी’ या ‘गैंडाई’  और नेहरू को ‘नीरू’  कहा करें।  नहीं, बात जब भाषा और शब्दों का ही है तो फिर बात दोनों ही तरफ लागू होनी चाहिये। नहीं?

चलिए माफ़ कर देतें हैं — चट्टोपाध्याय को चैटर्जी बोल सकते हैं तो ठाकुर को टागोर ही सही।  पर कम से कम ‘विधाता’ और ‘अधिनायक’ जैसे  शब्दों का अर्थ सबको  मालूम  होना चाहिए। हिंदी और बांग्ला दोनों ही संस्कृत से उपजे हैं, दोनों भाषाओँ में ज़्यादा अंतर नहीं है। विधाता का मतलब है भगवान या Creator औरअधिनायक का मतलब है कप्तान या Leader — इन दोनों शब्दों में  कहाँ आपको लगता है की ब्रिटिश साम्राज्य या फिर  King George  की चापलूसी झलकती है ?

आप खुद ही सोचिये के जनगण के मन के कप्तान कौन हो सकते है। क्या ब्रिटिश साम्राज्य, करोड़ों  भारतीयों के मन पर  राज कर पायी थी? भारतीय जानते थे के  हमारे भाग्य निर्माता, भाग्य बिधाता, ब्रिटिश नहीं बल्कि स्वयं  भगवान हैं। जो भारत उस वक़्त अपने हक़ के लिए लड़ रही थी उसी भारत के भारतवासियों ने इस गाने को सुना, समझा, सराहा और अपनाया। और आज कोई उठ कर कह देता है की उन्ही भारतीयों में  इतनी अकल ही नहीं थी, तभी  उन्हें इस गाने का सही सही मतलब ही समझ में  नहीं आया।  ये तो  सीधे सीधे अपने ही पूर्वजों की समझ बुझ को गाली देना हुआ। जिन पूर्वजों की गौरवगाथा गाते  नहीं  थकते ।

और फिर १०० साल पहले लिखी गाने को आज के हिसाब से तोड़ मरोड़ के tailor-made  करने का क्या तुक है।  कल को कोई उठकर कहेगा, इस गाने में तेलंगाना नहीं, छत्तीसगढ़ नहीं तो क्या हम कविगुरु को प्लॅन्चेट करके बुला लेते हैं की, “भैया गाने को एडिट कर दीजियेगा”….

कोई कहेगा, “नहीं नहीं ये तो तमिल लोगों के लिए लिखा  गया गाना है।  आखिर में है.. “जया हे, जया हे, जया हे,”….

कोई कहेगा, “हौ–, हाय, फिर तो हमारे CM  साब का नाम भी होना चाहिए था”….

आप मुस्कुरा रहें हैं?  सोचिये, इंसान को अपने मन की सारी बातों का पता  नहीं होता, पर १०० साल पहले कविगुरु अपने कमरे में  बैठकर क्या सोच कर कविता लिख रहें होंगे, ये पता है?

ना आप और मैं उस वक़्त उनके सामने मौजूद  थें  और  ना वो अब हमारे बीच हैं, तो पता कैसे चलेगा की उनके मन में क्या था।  उसके लिए  सबसे  पहले तो “जनगणमन” के सभी चालीस  पंक्तियों को पढ़ना  चाहिए,  और उसकी सही सही व्यख्या करनी  चाहिए।  और उसके बाद  उनकी लिखी हर एक लेखण को पढ़कर,समझकर विचार करना  होगा। उन्हीकी लिखी हुई चिट्ठियों पर भरोसा करना पड़ेगा।

खुद अपने ही चिट्ठियों में वह लिख कर गयें हैं की जब किसीने ने उनसे गुज़ारिश की के King Georgeके  सम्मान में वह एक गाना लिख के दें, तब उन्हें बहुत धक्का लगा था और काफी दुखी हुए थें।  किसी भी संवेदनशील  कवि या साहित्यकार को On Demand कुछ लिखने को कहा जाए तो वह थोड़ा बौखला जाता है।  On Demand रिपोर्ट लिखना या पत्रकारिता करना और बात है।

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Most educated, well-informed Indians, including many Bengalis have stopped paying attention to such slander and have stopped reacting to these accusations. Primarily for reasons like  —

A) They already know the true meaning and logic of the entire song and are familiar with the large body of work that can validate his loyalty to the nation.

  1. B) They also know the historical circumstances and the timeline, of how this song came into public domain and was selected to be the anthem.
  2. C) They, like Rabindranath himself, do not agree or conform to the definition of nationalism, patriotism, religion or Indian-ism that is mostly propagated by some of these groups.
  3. D) When Rabindranath himself didn’t see any reason to give a reply to such absurd claims, who are we to boil our blood and give importance to these people, by arguing with them or trying to explain anything to them?

Kaviguru was an extremely sensitive man and wrote whatever he felt from the depth of his soul and whenever he felt like it. He often withdrew into isolation, when he stopped meeting or conversing with people and penned his deepest thoughts as & when it occurred to him. So to really understand what Rabindranath was as a human being and what were his feelings for his nation, one must read his entire body of work. What more can be the judge of a poet’s thoughts than his own writings?

The more you read, the more you will realize the absurdity of these lame accusations. Read all his Essays, letters, autobiography, poems, 2500+ songs and especially those he wrote on ‘Swadesh’.

The first song of this section is the National Anthem of Bangladesh. Ironically they have never raised any doubts that the song was written about undivided Bengal or that it was written by a Bramho poet, who was not a citizen of Bangladesh. It’s only in India that the Nobel Laureate is regularly humiliated.

In the same catergory, song number 24, 25 and 29 he talks about his love for his motherland, which he never plans to leave. In songs number 15, 16, 17, 35, he sings praising the great civilization of India, comparing India as a pilgrimage for the humans of the world, and like rivers, people of all faiths from East and West have merged into the ocean of humanity in India. In songs number 43 and 44, he actually seems like challenging the British and the Queen.

 

In each of the other songs he encourages people to fight their differences, internal wars and fear and to arise stronger to stand up for their people and their rights.

He felt humiliated and was very upset when he was asked to write a song in praise of George V. He minced no words in expressing his displeasure in the letters he wrote to his friends like Shri Pulin Behari De.

“A certain high official in His Majesty’s service, who was also my friend, had requested that I write a song of felicitation towards the Emperor. The request simply amazed me. It caused a great stir in my heart. In response to that great mental turmoil, I pronounced the victory in Jana Gana Mana of that Bhagya Vidhata [ed. God of Destiny] of India who has from age after age held steadfast the reins of India’s chariot through rise and fall, through the straight path and the curved. That Lord of Destiny, that Reader of the Collective Mind of India, that Perennial Guide, could never be George V, George VI, or any other George. Even my official friend understood this about the song. After all, even if his admiration for the crown was excessive, he was not lacking in simple common sense.” 

Yeats, who wrote the introduction to Gitanjali (see link), got to know something from an ardent fan of Kaviguruhttp://terebess.hu/english/tagore.html

“He (Tagore) got up very early in the morning and wrote a very beautiful poem…. When he came down, he said, ‘Here is a poem which I had written. It is addressed to God, but give it to Congress people. It will please them.”

He must have been in a difficult spot. He had utmost respect for his friends in INC and was in no mood to hurt anyone, neither was he someone to be cornered with an undue demand. Perhaps only to get past this humiliation that he locked himself up in his room for some time and chose one of the paragraphs of his already written prayer songs; One that was the most secular one; and told them, “Take this, it will make them happy.”

Rabindranath like most educated secular people of his time didn’t follow the one sided definition of Hinduism or Nationalism as is propagated today. Neither did he believe in any kind of radical behavior. That is why, even though he had immense respect for Gandhi, he couldn’t agree with the approach of Gandhi. His main aim was to empower people with education, without following the British schooling system. After he denied the knighthood offered to him, post Jallianwallah bagh massacre, it should have left no doubts that Rabindranath had no interest in the King, Queen or the British Monarchy. But the controversies didn’t die out.

Rabindranath was too shocked by the accusations to give any reply to his detractors. He kept his silence and dignity. Perhaps he thought of it to be stooping too low to react to such absurdity.

However he wrote in a letter written in 1939: “I should only insult myself if I cared to answer those who consider me capable of such unbounded stupidity.”

But somehow I feel he did give a fitting reply through one of his songs. That is the song number 26 in ‘Swadesh’…

“Je Tore Paagol Bole, Taare Tui Bolish Ne Kichhu”…. “Those who call you mad, don’t tell them anything.” 

I am writing in Devnagari, so that you can read it as it is in Bangla.

जे तोरे पागोल बौले  तारे तुई बोलिश ने किछु ।।

आजके तोरे  कैमोन भेबे, औंगे  जे  तोर  धुलो देबे

काल शे प्राते माला हाते आशबे रे तोर पिछु पिछु ।।

आजके आपोन मानेर भौरे, थाक शे बोशे गोदीर पौरे

कालके प्रेमे आशबे नेमे कोरबे शे तार माथा निचु ।।

It is very difficult to translate and get the exact poetic essence, but I will try.

जो तुझे पागल कहें, उन्हें तू कुछ न कह

आज वो भले ही  तुझपे मिटटी डालें,

कल हाथ में  माला लिए  तेरे पीछे पीछे चलें

आज वो अपने भरम में गद्दी पर चढ़े  रहें

कल वही तेरे  प्यार में तेरे सामने झुकें


Here’s the full song translated in simple English with no poetic device at all

“Those who call you mad, do not tell them anything
Today they will call you weird and will throw mud on you
Tomorrow they will follow you around with a garland
Today they can be snooty and sit on their thrones
Tomorrow love will conquer them and they will bow their heads before you”….

Yet time and again, these debates will arise and it is necessary to clear the air, for children and youth and those unaware of history, so that such rumors do not lead to further problems that could disturb the secular fabric of this country.

In fact I would suggest, never get angry. Instead if you really want to follow Rabindranath’s vision and method, and want to stand up for his songs, then increase your arsenal of knowledge and logic and nip the bud with wisdom and dignity not anger or agitation. That would make him very proud of you.

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Some hard facts that can clear the air of doubts and help win the debates against conspiracy theorists.

  1. Rabindranath didn’t ask the country to choose his song and make it the national anthem. Although the debate was on for several years, the choice of National Anthem happened in 1950, nine yrs after his death.
  2. The poem is a five stanza Bromho Sangeet written in 1911. It was published Tatva Bodha Prakasika, a Brahmo Samaj journal and was largely unknown to people.  It was certainly not written for the British King.
  3. Its main theme is a hymn to the God almighty and ‘Param Pita’ the Godly image of the Brahmo Samaj worshippers. Later it was added in the “Swadesh” or patriotic song section of the Gitobitaan, the complete collection of his songs.
  4. It was sung at several Congress conventions. If at all it was in praise of King George then why would they repeatedly keep singing it and think about choosing it as the National Anthem?
  5. It was sung at Theosophical College, Madanapalle in 1919 and was regarded as a touching hymn and the college selected is as a prayer naming it — ‘The Morning Song of India’. Not only did he set it to tune, he also wrote the notations and an English translation.  https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Morning_Song_of_India
  6. When this poem was written, ‘Sindh’ was a part of undivided India. Nowhere in his wildest dreams could Rabindranath have imagined that the partition will break up his beloved country and later his beloved Baangla.
  7. In the second stanza he mentions, “People of all faiths from across the world, who have heard the wise words of ancient India, have come to congregate in India, and are strung in one harmonious garland of love.”
  8. In the third stanza he mentions ‘Chirasarathi’ — ‘Eternal Charioteer’ who ‘Blows the conch-shell’– a reference to Krishna the Charioteer of the holy book The Gita. Krishna, who encourages man to arise from the wars of his physical life to attain the spiritual goal. Once again confirming the secular belief that the ancient wisdom of India was actually applicable to not just Hindus but all Humans.
  9. In the fourth stanza has a reference to the mother, motherland. Isn’t it a bit surprising that he would eulogize the king with the reference of Indian History and Mythology and Gods.
  10. The song was sung at several INC conventions and people liked it for its depth of meaning and vibrant tune. In fact in his own words Nehru said, that he chose the song “Jan Gan Man” over “Vande Mataram” mainly because of its tune and vibrancy and the fact that it’s meaning was more secular.

After reading everything, please do tell me, in the word Adhinayak — /noun/ – Captain, Commander, Master — where is the connection with British Monarchy? Does it mean that we should stop uttering any word that means king or lord or god in any songs?

Criticism of Kaviguru will not cease, but we can always sing, “Je tore pagol bole tare tui bolish ne kichhu”….

————————————————————————————–

Sangeeta

July 2015

Some interesting articles worth reading

http://www.sacw.net/DC/CommunalismCollection/ArticlesArchive/pkDatta092004.html 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jana_Gana_Mana#Controversies

http://www.rediff.com/news/1998/nov/26var1.htm

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/may/07/rabindranath-tagore-why-was-he-neglected

http://arisebharat.com/2009/03/26/jana-gana-mana-and-tagore-controversy/

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/Was-Jana-Gana-Mana-in-praise-of-George-V/articleshow/32609087.cms

https://mukto-mona.com/Special_Event_/5_yrs_anniv/asim_k_duttaroy/Genesis_of_Janagana.pdf

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