October 04, 2006

Tagore-free Shantiniketan

An oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines two normally contradictory terms, which generally make semantic and syntactic sense but sometimes could add up to what is truly impossible -- like the "horns of the hare" or the "child of a barren woman". Looking at the title of this post, the reader, may be led to believe that the the author is exploring oxymorons of the latter variety. But nothing could be further from the truth. Having spent a week in Birbhum, where Santiniketan happens to be, I have come to the conclusion that a Tagore-free Shantiniketan is not only possible but perhaps could be very desirable as well.

But before I begin let me admit upfront that I do know very well that unsolicitated advice is extremely irritating and it becomes even more intolerable when the advice is (a) unequivocally correct and -- this is worse -- (b) is directed towards individuals ( or groups) who steadfastly claim to be know-alls and hence by extrapolation do not need advice of any kind. For the author, me, the source of this advice, this is hardly important. Thanks to this blog, I have a medium to broadcast my thoughts to the world ... so let me make full use of the same.

Enough of beating about the bush, let us come to the point.

Anyone who has been to Bolpur, Prantik and all that lies in between, that is Shantiniketan, should be getting of sick of Tagore and Tagoreana. Tagore songs are derigeur on each and every occasion and everyone lives, breathes the spirit of Tagore ( or at least pretends to do so). This is rather claustrophobic, to say the least. Not that I have anything against Tagore -- I have no hesitation in stating that Tagore is one of the most outstanding intellectuals (scholar, sage, litterateur and what not) that India has had the privilege to give birth .. but the operative phrase is "one of the .." not the "ONLY" one ... and when we tend to forget this little distinction, we sow the seeds of a cultural disaster. In fact, this disaster in Shantiniketan is far deeper and more profound.

When Tagore created Vishwabharati at Shantiniketan it was unique, a one of a kind institution that had no parallels in the world .. but that was then, this is now. Has this university lived up to its pretentions of leading the world in thought ? Certainly not. Today it is just another obscure, me-too institution, perpetually harking back to its glorious past ( and until recently funded largely by Tagore's copyright income). What is new ? What is bold ? What is daring ? Where are the new frontiers that it seeks to explore ? Nothing, a big zilch.

What is even worse is the incestuos vortex into which it revels to splash around. Most of the faculty are alumnus of the Vishwabharati university. Most of the students of the university are residents of Shantiniketan and most likely to be children of either the faculty or at least the alumni of Vishwabharati. Even the school system that feeds students into Vishwabharati is specific to the locality, not the usual State school board or the national boards like ICSE or CBSE. And the teachers who teach in the schools are once again products of the same school system and the same university. [ Obviously there are some exceptions to this very sweeping statement, but then these exceptions plus a few Chinese looking girls in Ratanpalli, rarely prove the rule.]

What this means that there is no likelihood of any breath of fresh air, or a new idea to make it past the thought sentries at the portal and into the claustrophobic cloisters of this particular thoughtshop. To mix metaphors, the winds of change get stopped by the dreary sands dunes of long dead habit [ see, variations are indeed possible !]

There have been outsiders who have tried to change things but the system will, and actually does, get them. Either they too are converted into the same sloth and swept downward into the vicious vortex or they are pushed out, either politely, or even with some degree of (shantiniketanesque) hostility. Obviously the system is too well fortified against external ideas and action so any attempt to do a DesertStorm ( however correct that may be) will land us in the equivalent of the quicksands of the Tigris !

Any change that can happen, can only happen from inside, like the glasnost and perestroika of Gorbachov, that brought down the mighty Soviet Union. So what would a Gorbachov have done under the Chatimtala of Vishwabharati ? I am no Gorbachov but let me suggest one approach ...

Why not ban Tagore ( and all Tagoreana) for three years in Shantiniketan ? No program, no event shall use anything created by Tagore nor will any speech refer to that saint. Let the Ashramites learn to live with the fact that there can be world beyond Tagore ... and that world can be as rich as they want it to be. The first year will be painful, the withdrawal symptoms will be tremendous ... how can there be an event in Shantiniketan without Tagore .. but the year will pass and the world will not come to an end. From the second year onward, new streams of thought, new and creative well springs will emerge and in the third year great strides into new frontiers will become highly probable.

Having discovered a whole new world that had so far been hidden from them by the cloudscapes of Tagoreana, people of Shantiniketan will revel at their new found freedom ... and at that point, we should introduce Tagore back into the system ( as he is found in any other university or town in the country ) making him an option ( and a very good option, at that ) but not a necessity for the survival of this society.

Is there a Gorbachov in Vishwbharati who can make this happen ? I bow my head to him in anticipation.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps you should stay for more than a week next time...an "incomplete" visit by definition. True, Santiniketan was (and is) defined by Tagore. It certainly has changed, as has India in the past half century. The fact that Santiniketan as a cultural community still persists is quite amazing, and despite what you may think from your brief sojourn there, it is still unique. Much of the old guard is aging and aged, but there are new disciples to take their place, and Santiniketan still remains a cultural and social highlight of West Bengal. IMHO.

Ishan Bhattacharya, MD

Calcutta said...

Friend : I have and do stay for more than a week in Shantiniketan ... I have a residence there and I do know the place quite well !!

Avisek Chatterjee said...

I am sorry but I don't really understand the way you linked things here.
That man (Tagore) came across with a thought, the thought which questioned the way of conventional teaching and conventional education system. that's why he founded the place called Santiniketan and it was his way of expressing his ideas to the world. If you kill his ideology, thought and reasons then what else will leave behind?
you are talking about mishandling or misuse of the given system in santiniketan, that's a different issue and nothing to do with "tagoreana".. and also you don't specify what do you mean exactly by tagoreana? is it the songs or peoms or what exactly what? have you ever seen the art in kalabhavan?? then you can't make the statement that what is bold? what is daring.. students, the most important part of the system they deliver or they should deliver the daring and bold part to the society through their work and not by changing the working principle of an institution, unless there is definitive proof that the system becomes incompetent. you are talking about trying to kill the mind, but without mind the body doesn't have any existence.

Anonymous said...

Mr.Prithwis... very thought provoking article, but i beg to disagree for largely two broad reason:-
1. You can not get rid of Tegor's impact in 3 years may be not in another 300 years..
2. Only cowerds calk about banning an ideology. An ideology can only be banned by another stronger one. The new Russia is the result Gorbachov was able to bring a new trhough process or a new ideology which was stronger then the already prevailing one and hence people forgot the old one and followed what he said and hence we have the New Russia... So if you want people to think without Tegor than you need a person stronger/ better than Tegore. So to cut it short, it is not possible.
So what is the solution??
Try to be a Gorbachov in Shantiniketon....or say a heartfelt sorry to the all time greatest poet for aloowing such thought to pop in your mind....I'm sure he'll forgive you...

Mr. Santanu Bhowmik
Teacher, Mathematics
International School affiliated to Cambridge and IBO, Geneva.

Superman said...

If I have guessed right, your opinion is, "no other banyan tree can be thrived under another banyan tree. Only weeds thrive." If this is your concern, I am at one with you. But, you cannot replace a dominant ideology with a void. It is like the Matrix where one value is so bigger than others that the whole matrix tend to converge in that value.

Yes. The people who tries to live under Tagore's shadow are worthless. Mostly the leftists who have newly reinvented Tagore. But, you cannot ignore that so many people including amartya Sen, Jogen Choudhury, Ramkinkar Baiz all have grown up having the Tagore aura around themselves.

If somebody is bored by Tagore, there is enough space for them to thrive in the world. Many tried in the "kallol era" to replace Tagore. But genius can not be stroke off.

Katha said...

I bow my head to you for brining up this daring proposition which might cause a much needed existential crisis.

With every ounce of respect to Tagore, we need to come out of the hallucinated state of mind that worships him in a frenzy which in turn instigates extreme change resistance.

Rumela Sengupta said...

Brahma creates and then goes off to sleep. And then we need Vishnu to maintain but only for a certain duration after which there is an urgent need for Shiva to dance his Tandava and bring about Pralay.

I wonder how Tagore would have reacted to the Shantiniketan of today (sthan, kal, patra all-inclusive)

He might have escaped from it to create a Shantiniketan 2.0