The meaning of Rabindranath

Syed Badrul Ahsan
Thursday, May 18th, 2017



We remembered Rabindranath a few days ago on 25 Baishakh. But, then, when do we not remember him? When do we not sing his songs? When do we not make him a point of reference in our conversations? When do we not engage in debate on the issues he dealt with, issues that encompassed an entirety of human experience? The Bard, then, is part of everyday Bengali thought. He remains the essence of the Bengali’s aesthetic understanding of life and what lies beyond life.


The Bard remains the foremost figure in Bengali literature. His place in history, in the overall Bengali scheme of things, then takes centre stage. But leap across all that and in your own individual way try feeling Tagore in the soul. As the day wanes in the steep decline of twilight, sing amar je deen bheshe gachhe chokher-o jole; and a slight thump in your heart, a whisper in the soul, will speak to you once more of the eternal loneliness of man in a forbidding universe.


But there is too gogone gogone aponar-o mone ki khela, truly a paean to Creation. In Rabindranath, therefore, lived a man for all seasons, a being in whom was defined an entirety of life and thoughts of what lay beyond it. Listen to Himadri Shekhor recreate that Tagorean ambience with tumi robe nirobe, with aami ki gaan gaabo je bhebe na pai. You get the sense once more of why Rabindranath continues to exercise such a powerful hold on the Bengali imagination. And that imagination is but a seductively charming combination of the lyrical and the romantic, interspersed with the magical. Debabrata Biswas brought it all out in his renditions of Tagore’s songs. Listen to his gaaye amar pulok laage or aji joto tara tobo akashe. Hum, if you will, gopone dekhechhi tomar byakul noyone bhaaber khela. The universe will come to be symbolised in you; or you will move away, even if momentarily, from the banalities that afflict the world you are part of.


If you have not heard diner sheshe ghoomer deshe, you have missed a whole lot. Rabindranath’s is a poetic voice which brings deep pathos with its flow. When Mita Huq sings tumi kon bhangoner pothe ele shupto raate, it is the starry stillness of the night that pounds away in your soul. In an earlier time there was Papia Sarwar in our part of the world. And, yes, individuals of a calling beyond the ordinary — Waheedul Haque, Sanjida Khatun and Kalim Sharafi — responsible for a preservation and enrichment of the Tagore heritage, have always been there. On the other side of this large pasture, beyond geography but within heritage, there has been the overwhelming presence of Suchitra Mitra, of others. Chinmoy may not have appealed to the perfectionists, but his songs have generally been our initiation into the world of Tagore music. Think of amar mon kemon kore. All these years after Sagar Sen passed into the great beyond, he remains our claim on Tagorean romanticism, or a large slice of it. His soul cuts through brilliantly in prokhoro topono taape akash trishaye kaanpe.


But, in a larger, deeper sense, you cannot recall Rabindranath without letting the light fall on Subinoy Roy. In tumi daak diyechho kon shokale, in hridoy amar prokash holo ononto akashe, you get a sense of the pristine world that once gave meaning to life for us. Romance in the softness of passion came alive when Hemanta sang tomaye gaan shonabo tai to amaye jagiye rakho. It is all part of the Tagorean ethos, this ability to raise love to the heights of sublimity. You appreciate the beauty that defines womanhood, you sing paeans to the beloved and then you give it a push of Olympian proportions to make it come level with the heavens.


You move closer to God as you sing chiro bondhu chiro nirbhor chiro shanti tumi he probhu. Or there is that pure buzz of romance, as in amar praaner pore chole galo ke boshonter batash tukur moto. Go through a rebirth of youth in that evergreen number amar-o poran-o jaha chaye tumi tai go.


On 25 Baishakh, and beyond that and every day, therefore, we celebrate the cultural traditions we have sprung from. Let us make our way to the banks of the river, even as the sun descends in the distance, to hear the strains of a song brought along the waltzing waves. Aaji shaanjher Jamunaye-go toruno chander kirono tori bheshe jaaye-go speaks to us of the passage of time, of the eternal beauty of life encapsulated in the frame of mortality.

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