a year ago

Tagore vs modernists --- an edgy phase in the poet's life

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Many ardent admirers of Tagore are not prepared to hear even a distant allusion to the observation that the poet in his later years became a little shaky over the rise of modernists in Bangla poetry. To the former, Rabindranath Tagore was an invincible and towering figure in Bangla literature, especially in poetry. He cannot be outshone by any individual or literary group or movement. But in spite of Tagore's omnipresence in Bangla poetry in his time, a group of young literary iconoclasts mustered enough courage to challenge him and his poetic tradition. The group was led by the then young poets belonging to the group of 'Kollol'. It was a monthly journal of the 1930s declaring itself 'anti-establishment'. A lot of the time's young poets used irreverent words against Tagore's poetry saying it remained stuck in archaic diction and style.

The over-70 poet was visibly bruised, disclosing his helplessness to people close to him at Shantiniketan. The anti-Tagore group led by poets Buddhadev Bose, Premendra Mitra et al was even said to have contemplated to bring out a pamphlet defining what modern poetry was. To the relief of the great poet's admirers, the plan didn't materialise. Moreover, many raised an eyebrow upon seeing Buddhadev in the role of leading the anti-Tagore movement. Otherwise a spiritual disciple of Rabindranath, Buddhadev Bose was not supposed to detract, even faintly, from Tagore's rich poetic gift. He was in a dilemma. He thought the Rebel Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam and a few other younger poets would be on his side. But they, finally, couldn't disrespect Tagore. Buddhadev Bose carried on with his championing of modernism along with a loosely knit group of poets. It was Nazrul who posed a great problem. In spite of his being honoured as vocal against colonial rule and exploitation, Nazrul followed in his poetry the traditional metrical system like Tagore. The Rebel Poet couldn't command the courage to be vocal against his 'Gurudev'.

The most interesting part of the episode was Buddhadev Bose himself had been an ardent admirer of Tagore until he emerged as a gifted young poet. Moreover, he would follow the Bangla poetry's traditional diction and style in his poems. The development that stunned the then poetic world was Buddhadev's sudden change in tone, and his adoption of an apologetic attitude towards Tagore. In the meantime, Tagore had to pass through a fraught time, though brief, thinking over the uncertain future of his poetic treasure. As literary critics view the deadlock, the inclusion of Jibanananda Das would have helped the campaign attain a conclusive ending. Ironically, most of the anti-Tagore modernists themselves couldn't come free of the conventional form of Bangla poetry. In spite of his being the chief proponent of modernism, Buddhadev's poetry retained the traditional Bangla metrical form. It was Jibanananda Das who first presented the readers a completely new syntactic style. The form was unheard-of, quite strange and fresh. True to his temperament, this post-Tagore major poet didn't become vocal in the movement waged by the modernists. Moreover, like the others, Jibanananda had always been respectful to Tagore and his astounding volume literary output. Jibanananda's  admiration for Tagore was so high that he sent 'Gurudev' by mail one of his poetry collections for his comment. The reply was prompt and terse. After disclosing the fact that he had attentively gone through the book's poems, Tagore had reportedly said he didn't like 'the over-exploitation' of the images, allegories and metaphors in Das' poetry.

This observation came as a great shock to the modernists. By that time Jibanananda Das had already emerged as an extraordinary poet with a completely new diction and sensibility. The young Jibanananda accepted the 'negative' view of Tagore without protest. In the 1930s, Tagore was at the zenith of his fame and honour. He had already earned the right to recognise a young poet and show his weaknesses. Tagore's mild criticism of Jibanananda stemmed from this sense of superiority. It is said the journey of a young author's poetry is not too plain and straight. A talented, promising poet may have to traverse a circuitous path. Many in Bangla poet had to go through this unpredictable course. It could also be observed in Bangla literature. Hadn't he been promoted by the Kollol group poets, Jibabananda Das would not have been recognised as a major poet in the post Tagore-Nazrul era. Kazi Nazrul Islam escaped narrowly the wrath of the modernists. When it comes to poetic diction and message, Nazrul's was stunningly different in Bangla poetry. His poetic style, outwardly, was not much different from Tagore's. But Nazrul's poetic temperament was eclectic. In employing diction, the poet generously borrowed from the languages like Hindustani (Urdu) and Arabic to enrich his style. This unique feature made the Rebel Poet quite distinctive in the realm of Bangla poetry.

Nazrul's poetic genius was found at full play in his songs as well. He had already come to be known as the most widely read poet after Tagore. At one phase, he turned to composing songs on his own tune. By using Iranian, Hindustani and other tunes, alongside those of Indian classical, Nazrul enriched Bangla musical genre with a wealth of new features related to songs. This is not unusual, because he had been carrying the legacy of Tagore. Earlier, Rabindranath Tagore turned to Irish and Scottish church tunes to add a variety to his Indian classical and Bangla folk tune-based songs. With the blend of these foreign tunes, the poet presented over a hundred Rabindra Sangeet pieces to the Bengalee song lovers. His total number of songs stands approximately at 2,232 songs.

With Tagore becoming increasingly disillusioned and helpless, he suddenly discovered that he was miserably alone with none with compassion around him. His loneliness and depression reached such a point that he was once said to have been murmuring: "Will they reject all my poems --- even those in which I have used purely modern elements?" There were apparently none to respond to his anguished query. Being at the centre of the anti-Tagore campaign, Buddhadev Bose, Premendra Mitra et al and the 'Kollol', 'Kali O Kolom' poets at one time also realized that Tagore was invincible; and he was too great to detract from his haloed place in Bangla literature. Buddhadev Bose, a major literary figure in Bengal, and his fellow-poets, apologised to Tagore for the trauma they caused to the Nobel Laureate. In fact, it's still a mystery why the 'Kallol'-'Kali O Kolom', 'Kabita' and their poets turned against one of their most favourite personalities --- Rabindranath Tagore. Readers should not be oblivious to the fact that the creative genius of the great Bengalee poet is unfathomable. In order to demonstrate that he was not dissociated with modernism, Tagore wrote his avant-garde fiction 'Shesher Kavita' in 1929. Around this time, he also wrote a few prose poems.

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