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Young Tagore


Like a cup under a waterfall
SAIBAL CHATTERJEE | New Delhi, November 22, 2013 15:02
Tags : Young Tagore | Sudhir Kakar |

This certainly cannot be the last word, but it is definitely a word that counts for a great deal. Young Tagore: The Makings of a Genius, authored by Sudhir Kakar, is, as the book’s cover flap claims, the first-ever “psychobiography of “perhaps the greatest multifaceted genius India has produced in the last two hundred years”.


It is obviously a hugely ambitious project, but Kakar approaches the task with a combination of a spirit of examination and a sense of awe. The result is a book that is eminently readable, if somewhat incomplete.


In fact, no book on Tagore, no matter how narrow the scope of the writer is, can ever go over every aspect of his work, considering that he produced more as a writer in a lifetime of 80 years than most of us can read in a corresponding time span. Kakar cites Rilke’s trouble in grasping Rodin: “It’s like holding a cup beneath a waterfall.”   
The fact that Kakar has chosen to focus on Tagore’s prose largely in his memoirs to the exclusion of his other forms of creativity (essays, music, poetry, etc) that he pursued is either a drawback or a strength depending on what a reader is looking for in the book.    


The writer is both pithy and precise in the quest to understand exactly how the early years of Tagore’s life impacted his blossoming into a towering man of ideas and letters of the kind that has few peers in the world.


Kakar, of course, makes it clear that he isn’t attempting a psychoanalysis of Tagore, but a rather an “inner biography”. He is of course aided immensely by the fact that the poet himself has written extensively about his growing up years, “recounted in vivid prose”.


What probably makes this book particularly useful is that it has not been written by a certified Tagore expert. Kakar was no acolyte; ‘discovered’ Tagore’s life, ideas and writings as late as two years ago, when he was invited to speak on his paintings by the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi.


While he was in “no danger of idealizing Tagore”, he might have been prone to “minimizing of his stature”. Admitting that he now recollects with some shame his “shallow stance towards Tagore”, he accepted the NGMA invitation “challenged as much by the opportunity to discover Tagore as by the novel task of engaging with a visual medium rather than my normal province of language and words”.


The fact that Kakar chose a domain that Tagore came to at an advanced age as his opening into the mind of the creative powerhouse is itself somewhat intriguing, if not the most felicitous decision.


No matter how the book began and what shape it finally took, the fact remains that it paints a fascinating portrait of Tagore seen through the prism of psychological analysis of his own ‘memory pictures”. Young Tagore is an exploration of the inner world of a genius conducted through a reading of his recollections of his childhood and youth.


Kakar writes: “Rabi grasped at the identity of the poet that was offered him with all the strength of his slender arms.” He quotes a letter that he wrote to his niece in 1893, when Tagore was in his early 30s: “I am born worthless, but due to my capacity to write I have somehow managed to get away with it in this lifetime. Otherwise none of you would have been able to love me at all. That I know for sure.”                 


Early in the book, Kakar focuses on Tagore’s account of his mother’s death in his Reminiscences, where he seems a small child, not the 14-year-old adolescent that he was at that point. That sense of disruption of memory stemmed from the fact that Rabindranath was separated from his mother much earlier and banished to a part of the house controlled by the servants. His mother was as good as dead a few years earlier than she actually passed away.


Kakar understandably devotes much space to Tagore’s sister-in-law, his first love and his Muse. It was a relationship that provided the inspiration for the novella Nashtaneer, which in turn, formed the basis of Satyajit Ray’s Charulata. Kadambari committed suicide when Rabindranath was only 23, and the tragedy, despite the all-out effort of the family to obliterate the memory of the woman, impinged upon Tagore’s later life and work.


“Kadambari’s tragic death cast a shadow on Rabindranath’s psyche that would endure through the rest of his life,” Kakar writes. This and many other turning points of the poet’s childhood and adolescence are touched upon in this slim volume. This book is worth much more than its physical weight.

Author: Sudhir Kakar

Edition: Hardcover

ISBN: 978-0-670-08647-4

Pages: 238

Price: Rs. 499

Publisher: Penguin/Viking

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017