Dr. Jiban Ranjan Majumdar, Charge d ‘Affairs of Bangladesh Embassy in Japan, delivering his closing remarks to the audience that included a number of leading Japanese intellectuals and high officials. Photos: Curtsey of Khondoker Anisur Rahman, Drik Japan
There had been a number of events in Japan throughout 2011 to mark the 150th anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore that started in May with the launching of a new biography of the poet written by a leading scholar of Bangla literature and culture in contemporary Japan, Professor Kiyoko Niwa. One of the significant aspects of the year-long celebration was the formation of Tagore 150 Japan Committee at the beginning of the year. The Committee since then had organized a number of events to celebrate the anniversary year in a fitting manner. All such initiatives, though cannot be termed as something great and grand, somehow helped Japanese people to remind the great Indian poet who visited the country on three different occasions between 1916 to 1929 and spoke candidly focusing on the faults of the state policy that had the potentiality of leading Japan to the path of self destruction. Though Tagore was criticized and loathed by some of the leading political and intellectual figures of the time, his cautious prognosis turned out to be prophetic as we know how the leaders of the time later led the nation to its own doom. As a result, there was kind of a resurgence of Tagore in Japan right after the end of World War II, which slowly faded as Japan started looking more to the West with the economic recovery and subsequent miracles from mid-1960s and onward. And with the approach of 150th birth anniversary of the poet, Tagore became almost a forgotten figure in Japan, remembered by the few who have special interest on Indian subcontinent and literature of the east. Hence, the task of the Tagore 150 Japan Committee was a daunting one, which it has performed successfully thanks to the dedication of leading committee members.
The expatriate Bangladeshi community in Japan, on the other hand, failed to come up with due initiatives that could have shown their love and respect for the poet who had not only composed the national anthem of the country, but also inspired the war of liberation in many ways. This drawback of the community was duly compensated recently by a unique initiative taken by the embassy of Bangladesh in Japan with the cooperation of the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, where a full-fledged undergraduate course on Bengali Language, culture and society was launched this April. This is for the first time that a course leading to a university degree in Bengal study has been inaugurated in the country and the first batch of ten students has already started the lessons of the language.
The 151st birth anniversary of Tagore also wrapped-up the year-long celebration of one and a half century of the poet and was held at Agora Global Hall of the university on May 13. Divided in four parts, the carefully arranged program was one of the best that had so far been held in Japan to mark the anniversary. The program started with a panel discussion chaired by the Charge d ‘Affairs of the Embassy of Bangladesh, Dr. Jiban Ranjan Majumdar, where speakers focused on various aspects of Tagore’s linkage with Japan as well as evaluation of Tagore in contemporary Japanese society.
The President of the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Professor Ikuo Kameyama, attended the event as a special guest. In his inaugural speech, Professor Kameyama introduced Tagore as a real intellectual with uncompromising strong belief who had associated with superior artists of Japan in those days, but also severely criticized those loaded heavily with nationalism. Being an expert of Russian literature, Professor Kameyama told the audience that Tagore as a poet reminded him of Dostoyevsky, since both had a strong faith on the goodwill of human being.
Professor Kiyoko Niwa, who now heads the newly inaugurated Bangla department at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, focused on the important role Tagore played in inspiring Japanese at the most difficult time the country had gone through. She also highlighted the efforts of leading Japanese intellectuals of different times in introducing Tagore in the country through the translations of his works.
Kazuhiro Watanabe, the head of NHK Bangla broadcasting, highlighted the significance of Tagore in contemporary Japan. He informed the audience that it was an unexpected pleasure for many Bangla lovers of the country to see some kind of a revival of the poet throughout the anniversary year, as leading newspapers and TV channels were once again focusing on the teachings of Tagore. According to Kazuhiro Watanabe, the person who made most significant contribution in keeping the Tagore flame burning amid the strong wind of Western influence have been Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara, a near-centenarian who runs Tokyo’s Saint Luke Hospital and emphasizes on the importance of facing death with dignity. He always refers to Tagore as an ideal of human life whose teachings can guide Japanese to understand the meaning of life at a difficult time.
The third speaker was the writer of this column who highlighted love and attraction that Tagore always felt for Japan and for the people of the country. Focusing the importance of Tagore’s criticism of Japan during his first visit to the country in 1916, the paper presented by this author tried to show the contradictory elements of the speeches that despite criticizing strongly the aggressive political maneuvering of the leadership of Japan, placed a strong faith on the people of the country and all the rituals that they follow in everyday life. Tagore was particularly disturbed to find Japan trying to exploit the weakness of China for her personal benefit and warned that a nation placing too much faith on military might was destined to bring its own downfall.
The discussion part concluded with the closing remarks of Dr. Jiban Ranjan Majumdar, who emphasized on the significance of Tagore in the life of people of Bangladesh and South Asia and also on the importance of following his teachings that show clearly the ways of overcoming adverse situation. Tagore’s life was full of Tragedy as he had lost many of his near and dear ones during his lifetime, However, Dr. Majumdar noted, those tragedies also inspired his creative excellence as he had found solace through expressing his inner feelings that poured down in his poems and other writings, making them extremely rich in content and forms.
A documentary film on Tagore’s life was shown in the second part of the event that followed the performance of Kendo martial art display by the students of the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. It is a well known fact that Tagore had evaluated highly the martial art tradition of Japan that emphasizes more on the tactics of self defense, rather than the aggressive mould of traditional martial arts of some other regions. We also know that Tagore not only introduced Judo classes at Shantiniketan, he also invited a number of Judo experts to teach students the art of self defense. As a result, the Kendo display at the anniversary function was a fitting tribute to the great poet and thinker whose inner eyes were capable of catching the beauty that many of us tend to overlook.
The program of the day was wrapped up by an impressive cultural show where expatriate Bangladeshi artists rendered Tagore songs.
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