(Review of Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore – 4*/5*)
The word Gitanjali means devotion songs and these are exactly that:
“I came out alone on my way to my tryst.
But who is this that follows me in the silent dark?
I move aside to avoid his presence but I escape him not.
He makes the dust rise from the earth with his swagger;
he adds his loud voice to every word that I utter.
He is my own little self, my lord, he knows no shame;
but I am ashamed to come to thy door in his company.”
There is something so pure in the very concept of bhakti – the submissive devotion to god; something so poetical, that it shall touch your heart even if you were skeptic, atheist or simply indifferent, as can be found in Tagore’s collection of devotion poems, Gitanjali. Perhaps it is complete lack of self-ness, of pride – an effort to gain innocence of a child.
“They (children) build their houses with sand
and they play with empty shells.
With withered leaves they weave their boats
and smilingly float them on the vast deep.
Children have their play on the seashore of worlds.”
I don’t know whether it is technically right to call him a bhakti poet but similarity is definitely there. It is his this devotion that takes you in and wins your love.
Perhaps, the bliss drawn from reading Gitanjali it will be of a higher degree for a religious person, who shall see her/his own sentiment reflected in it (rather than a previously unfelt sentiment), still there is something left for a skeptic like me – just the way a good love poem is enjoyable to a person who has not known it, but for a lover it cries with his own heart. In this way some of beauty is lost on me, for I may compassionate with his devotion, I will not share it.
Also a lot of beauty lost in translation – as Nobel laureate Amartya Sen pointed out in his ‘The argumentative Indian’. Making it the first time I shall feel sorry for not knowing the language – perhaps the biggest argument, that I have known, for maintaining lingual diversity.
… And yet, even when my eyes probably fail me to see its vastness or loss in translation, still whatever part of it I saw, was worth all the stars (including the five I can give, the other zillion which I cannot) .
If in future it was proved that there is no god, Gitanjali will still live. It is in works like these that the metaphorical god shall continue to live.
… And I know this one is quoted so much that it has become a cliche, I can’t help it:
“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”
Thanks for reading. If you like it, you may want to consider my reviews of other Nobel-prize winning books here.