My first brush with Tagore was when I was in the 5th class, when I was supposed to recite one of Tagore’s poems at one of our local Durga Puja ceremonies. I didn’t like the idea at all. But my father was insistent. I looked at the poem and wanted to run away. It looked too long – four odd pages... But my father knew what he was doing and I had no choice. The poem was about "the hero". About a young boy’s journey with his mother and how he saves her from villains... “Think as if we are travelling together mother... to a land far away – a strange and dangerous land... You are going in a palanquin and I am trotting on a horse next to you...” It filled inside me a sense of aspiration and dream and heroism... Because a line later, when the mother gets a little frightened, the boy says, “Mother, do not be afraid... Because I am there...”
Nothing could have been more inspirational. For days, I used to visualize that poem inside my mind and imagine that I was taking care of my mother. And during those moments that I recited that poem, I became a braver boy.
Time passed and by then, my father had developed inside me a very clear sense of what to do with studies and what not to. I oft en repeat this, and will do it again in the future I believe. He instructed me to master the subjects of Mathematics and English and not to worry about the remaining subjects – provided I read as many books as possible. I did exactly that! Fortunately, my interest in Mathematics developed and I became good with the subject, while also reading expansively – I always read everything around... but Tagore’s books still never made it to my list. I remember that the books of Tagore would be there in my bookshelves, staring at me and scaring me. They were thick and looked endless; and to top it, they had too much poetry. But I was inspired. Inspired enough to sit and use my mathematics to calculate the number of pages Tagore wrote daily on an average, given the years he lived vs the number of pages he wrote. That’s how mathematics met Tagore in my life. And later, I was going to be more awestruck at this great man’s genius.
Very soon my father, scared that I was not reading enough of Tagore, made me participate again in poetry competitions – and there I was again, standing, reciting Tagore’s poems and finding depth and meaning in life. One of Tagore’s poems, ‘The Question’ – which, I remember, won me a third prize during one such recitation – left questions in my mind which still haunt. “Bhagaban tumi juge juge doot, pathiecho bare bare, ei dayaheen shanshare... tara bole gelo...” [“God you sent messengers of greatness life after life in this unforgiving earth, they said forgive all sins. They told us to love, and to remove all malice from our hearts”]. The poem ended with the words, “Those who poison your air and blot out the sun, do you really forgive them? Do you really spread love to them too?”
That’s a question that haunts me till this day when it comes to forgiving the worst souls – something that my father does in his life, and insists I should too. As time passed, I started taking a liking to Tagore’s works, though selectively. So while his “where the mind is without fear and the head is held high” and “Jodi tor dak shune keu na aashe, tobe ekla chalo re” [if no one listens to your call, walk it alone]” inspired considerably. I still continued resisting his novels and songs. I was scared to read his stories because they had too much pathos. They invariably would bring tears and leave me sad for days.
So unlike other storybooks which I would like and oft en read again, I used to like Tagore’s books but never read them again. Of course, Tagore’s life was full of pain. Everyone he loved, he lost; and over time he was left quite alone. But sharing his pain was scary – though reading about his experiences with the paranormal and the ghosts was exciting! His songs actually were scarier. Like most modern youth, I could not identify with his compositions. His lyrics were great but the compositions and music were too irritating for my ears. And with time, Tagore got left behind as Bschool studies took over.
It was when I had just finished my studies and had gotten married – I married young – and started on with my career as a leadership trainer, that Tagore again came back in my life. In two ways, actually! First, I started keeping really long hair – something my parents never appreciated too much. My grandmother, though, supported me! She used to say, “The long hair looks like Kaviguru’s [Tagore]. It looks nice. He also had long hair. Don’t worry.” And she used to smile it off . But much more than that was the second reason. My grandmother was a person who would voraciously read books throughout the day, most often sitting at the verandah of our house; and for every occurrence around her, she’d refer to Tagore by reciting one or the other poem of his. I remember that noticing my interest in Economics, she would repeatedly implore me to never forget that there was no economist greater than Tagore, because of his great humanitarian nature. She reinforced in me that only a great humanitarian can become a great economist. Her words would constantly ring in my ears...
And every economic theory I have ever taught thereupon, I have always kept it humanitarian – be it the ‘Survival of the Weakest’ or the ‘Trickle-up Theory’ or anything else that I have written about in ‘The Great Indian Dream’, a book I co-wrote with my father. My workshops – be they be on management or economics – started having more and more references of Tagore’s thoughts. But again, over time, I started forgetting his deep relevance in our lives.
Then, this year, my father decided to institute an award in peace and human development in the memory of Tagore, an alternative to the Nobel Prizes (The prize would be announced on Gandhi Jayanti and handed over on Tagore’s next birthday). It did feel great. Then, on his 150th birth anniversary this year, my father again announced the Rabindra Smriti awards for those who have carried forward Tagore's legacy. And I had no clue about these people’s contributions till I went to Kolkata last Sunday for the event and heard these great people ( For further details Click on the image below ).
At that event, I realised the exceptional contributions of Tagore in every sphere of life – from working for the poor, to improving the environment, to battling for equality – and came out a much better and enlightened man. Tagore was back in my life... Thank you Kaviguru and thank you father, for never letting him go away from my life.