Autobiography Writing of Kabi Guru Rabindranath Tagore
When it comes to all the great men who reshaped the identity of Bengal, the name of Rabindranath Tagore perhaps shines the brightest. Although he is known as a Bengali Polymath to the world, we Bengalis will always remember him as the greatest poet in the history of Bengali literature.
He was born on 7th May 1861 in Jorashanko Thakurbari of Kolkata. His father was Maharshi Debendranath Thakur, and his mother was Sarada Devi. Being born in such an illustrious family, he was destined to be great. Many of his brothers and cousins are renowned personalities as well. Some of them are Abanindranath Thakur, Gaganendranath Thakur, and Jyotirindranath Thakur.
From an early age, he showcased talent as a poet, and there was no doubt that someday, he would achieve something great. That day arrived in 1913 when he became the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize for literature. It was for the translation of his 1912 book Gintanjali which had the title “Songs Offering,” that convinced the Swedish committee to bestow upon him this one-of-a-kind honor.
Here, I will try to trace a few years of his life in the form of an autobiography and I hope you will truly enjoy it.
As far as I can remember…
To be honest, how can I remember the day I was born? It was such a long time ago. Can any child remember the day of his birth clearly without any difficulty? I don’t think so. Hence, everything that I had heard from the elders of my house works as a reference.
I was born on 7th May 1861. It was the first month of the Bengali calendar, the month of Boishakh, and thus, the weather was very hot that day.
The day when I started to talk, people were glad or so what I had thought. But very soon, I realized that they would make me go through the difficult task of educating myself. But there was one good thing about the whole ordeal.
I never like going to school. So, the elders of my family arranged a number of private tutors who were given the duty to teach me a number of subjects. I was not sure if I was a good student or not, but the teachers were always happy with me, but they were also pretty strict at times.
I was primarily accompanied by a number of house servants who were strict beyond imagination. They were even allowed to cane me and others if necessary. It was the same for all my siblings; everyone was treated the same.
They used to call me Rabi, and often, to keep me fixed in one place, one of the servants used to draw a chalk-line around me. Needless to say, it was forbidden to step out of that chalk-line. Sitting inside the circle, I often used to feel like Sita, who was forbidden to cross the line drawn by Laxman outside their hut.
One of the most vivid memories that I could remember from my childhood was visiting my father’s study room upstairs when he was not home. The scent of the room, the quietness inside used to make me intrigued beyond imagination. So, every afternoon, when I could escape from the clasps of the servants, I used to sneak inside the room and get lost in that room. Sometimes, I used to just sit on the chair and feel myself just like my father. In my later years, when I was writing a novel called “Ghare o Baire,” I revisited all these days and mentioned many such traces of childhood between the pages of that novel.
My first affair with poetry began at the age of eleven. It was the time when my “Upanayana” had just taken place, and my father decided to take me along with him to experience some time away from Calcutta. With my father, I traveled a great deal around that time.
Some of my vivid memories around that time are about this lovely place in Amritsar. My father had an estate there, so we stayed there for some time. It was then when my father asked me to study several things before moving on to the Himalayan hill station of Dalhousie.
It was here; I studied various subjects like biographies of famous personalities, ancient history, astronomy, modern science, and Sanskrit. Amidst all that, I stumbled upon the classical poetry of Kālidāsa.
His poetry greatly influenced me and inspired the poet inside me. But even more than that, the thing that I can never forget, the thing that still visits me in my dreams, was the melodious Gurbani and Nanak Bani being sung at Golden Temple.
During our one-month stay at Amritsar, I would accompany my father many mornings to this Gurudarbar of the Sikhs in the middle of the lake. There, I could always hear the sacred chanting resounding continually.
I could find my father often seated amidst the throng of worshippers, and he used to join them in the hymn of praise. Since he was a stranger and still joining them in their devotions would make the rest of them extremely cordial toward us, and they would often load us with the sanctified offerings of sugar crystals and other sweets.
My whole experience of this period has inspired me in countless ways, and I have tried to write a few poems about Sikhism in the later years of my life.
My elders used to say that I was always meek yet mischievous at the same time. Well, what I had done around 1877, just after returning to Calcutta, might shed some light on this fact.
I was immensely excited by the style of Vidyapati, a great poet of the 17th century. I was so inspired that I came up with a volume of poems using the Maithili style of Vidyapati. But instead of publishing them under my name, I felt like doing something different.
Some say that I wanted to teach the critics of that time a lesson; some say that I wanted to take jive at their pseudo-intellectuality. But in reality, I just wanted to have some fun, and that’s why I published the volume of poems under an alias name “Bhanusingha.”
Upon the publication of the poems, it instantly created a stir in the literary community, to which I just responded that these poems were written by a newly discovered poet of the 17th century named “Bhanusingha”. Thus the collection was called “Bhanusinghar Padabali”. Believe it or not, but around that time, the regional experts did believe in everything I had said.
This is why my official debut as a poet happened in the magazine called “Sandhya Sangit,” which included one of my poems called “Nirjharer Swapnabhanga”. In the same year, I also published my first short story, “Bhikharini”.
Despite my creative expressions, my father was hell-bent that I needed to become a barrister. I couldn’t say no to his order; this is one thing that I couldn’t do all my life. As per his will, he enrolled me at a public school in Brighton, East Sussex, England, in 1878.
We had a house there in the middle of Brighton and Hove, in Medina Villas. I was asked to stay there. But it was growing lonely just when things changed suddenly. Suren and Indira, my dear niece and nephew, came along to live there along with their mother.
It was around this time when I started to discover the European tradition, their music, their literature, their culture, and everything related to that. But at the same time, I was fascinated to discover their similarities from my own traditional music like kirtans and tapas and Brahmo music. It was then; the idea struck me that what if I can bridge the gap between these two cultures, what if I could reform a new Bengal, enriched by the best of both these influences.
I returned to Calcutta without a law degree and decided to commit myself to this dream. And I have been following that ever since.
Rabindranath Tagore died on 7th August 1941 in Kolkata. He was eighty years old at the time of his death. It is practically impossible to measure the importance Rabindranath Tagore has in the context of Bengali art, culture, and literature. His own creation, Biswabharati Bishwavidyalay at Shantiniketan, still shines as one of the finest institutions of this country.
This piece above only managed to cover a few years of the life of Rabindranath Tagore. But if someone wishes to know and understand Tagore completely and in-depth, then it is always better to refer to his works. It is in his poems, songs, dramas, and novels where he resides still and definitely in the heart of every Bengali. His influence is to such an extent that it is impossible to imagine the Bengali culture without Rabindranath Tagore.
Thus, just dive into his work, and you can discover the real Rabindranath Tagore.
You can check our few interesting essays for further study,