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The Child - A Poem in English by Rabindranath Tagore

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The Child: A Poem in English by Rabindranath Tagore Shailesh Parekh 1 2 Preface The Child, the only poem Tagore wrote in English and subsequently translated into Bangla, has been rated by some as his best poem. However, it has not received the attention and exposure that it deserves. This may perhaps be due to the fact that it has been published only once as an independent book – by Allen and Unwin, not Tagore’s usual publisher, Macmillan & Co. – and was not even included in his ‘Complete Plays and Poems.’ While working on the relationship between Tagore and Gandhi, I was fascinated by this poem. Written in 1930, soon after Gandhi undertook his famous Dandi March, which gave the final impetus to the Indian independence struggle, it was primarily inspired by a passion play Tagore saw in Germany. However, I felt that there was a fair amount of shadow of Gandhi and his ideals on this poem – just as I feel that his – Tagore’s – Kumudini (Jogajog) has imbibed Gandhi’s ideals and techniques. With the ‘bichitra’ website launched by Jadavpur University, it was easy to see the manuscript of this poem and I was surprised to find that the original version had events which were eliminated from the published version as well as attempts at presenting the poem as a prose-poem – doing away with line breaks. The most surprising discovery was a typescript in prose which reads more like a simplified version meant to narrate the poem. This gives credence to the story that the poem was written for a proposal to make a film with UFA Co. of Germany. It was fascinating to confirm some of the facts associated with the poem as well as come across some interesting trivia. My curiosity led me to the archives of Carnegie Hall where this poem was recited for the first time before a few thousand persons. This was confirmed by a letter Tagore wrote to Bishop Fisher which has been produced here. The address on this letter happens to be that of a place then owned by Mrs. Leonard Elmhirst! To begin with the poem is presented and the published version is compared with the manuscript. Next the story and history of the poem is presented in context with the situation prevailing in India and Tagore’s reactions to the same. This is followed by the appreciation of the poem. Finally, the manuscript and typescript available at Rabindra Bhavana, Santiniketan and presented on the ‘bichitra’ website are discussed. In this fascinating endeavour I have been helped and guided by Supriya Roy, Rijuta Mehta, Don Johnson, Sankha Ghosh, Rob Hudson of Carnegie Hall Archives and of course the world wide web without which I could not have gathered all that I did, simply sitting at home! To all, my unqualified thanks. All that I have presented here does not add to the poem nor does it make it more enjoyable or comprehensible. It certainly is not even a pretence to ‘criticism’. The objective is to share the joy I found in ruminating and rambling through and around this poem. I do hope some of you will enjoy the journey also. April 2014 Shailesh Parekh 3 4 PAGE BY PAGE COMPARISON OF MANUSCRIPT OF THE BABE WITH THE PUBLISHED VERSION – THE CHILD (ALLEN AND UNWIN) 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 THIS PAGE IS BLANK THIS PORTION OF THE MANUSCRIPT IS OMITED FROM THE PUBLISHED VERSION 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 Background On 18 February, 1932, on p. 115 of The Times Literary Supplement, The Child, by Rabindranath Tagore (7 ¾ x 5¼, 21 pp., Allen and Unwin, 1931) was reviewed.1 The review: The title which Rabindranath Tagore has given to his new poem hardly suggests the wide sweep of its contents. Not that it is a long poem. But within its twenty-one pages it embraces the whole spiritual pilgrimage of man from the darkness of confusion and strife to the light that dawned in Bethlehem. We are shown pre-Christian “Man of Faith” who seeks to lead the multitude that follows him “through the night’s blindness” into the “kingdom of living light.” They inevitably refuse him in doubt and kill him in anger. For only by becoming “the great victim” can he be victorious over their hearts. Through his sacrifice their eyes are opened and they strive onwards to the goal towards which he has led them. And when they reach it and the gate opens: The mother is seated on a straw bed With the babe on her lap, Like the dawn with the morning star. Through “the new-born” they understand at least the mystery of rebirth “into the ever-living.” The poet retells this ancient but eternally new story, with a quiet and beautiful simplicity. While the review does reveal the salient features of the poem, one comes across much more on researching the time and place of its birth as well as the archives available. A poem primarily inspired by the life of Jesus Christ, it also reflects the turbulent times during which it was written as well as the fundamental faith of the poet in Mankind. While the first draft of the poem appeared in July 1930, the seeds first appear in the events beginning in January 1930. At that time Gandhiji lived in Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad. His programmes of svadeshi and satyagraha were withdrawn. On January 18, his dear friend and Gurudeva, Rabindranath Tagore, had come to see him. On that pleasant winter afternoon, in the room of Maganlal Gandhi, situated on the ridge above Sabarmati, the two friends had a long chat covering various topics. Tagore looked tired and his age showed on his face. When Gandhiji told him the same, Tagore said that he was older than Gandhiji and he was indeed getting old. Gandhiji retorted that while a young poet was 70 can still dance, the old man of 60 cannot! They felt that the Indian situation called for organization of a group which had support of all and to which everyone would contribute according to their own ability and capacity. Such a group can be headed by none other than Gandhiji. At that moment no one had any programme - not even Gandhiji. Gandhijji said: I am furiously thinking night and day and I do not see any light coming out of the surrounding darkness. But even if we could not think of a programme of effective resistance, we could not possibly refrain from declaring the country’s objective to mean Independence …2 Soon thereafter the light was found and there was a flood of events, which played an important role in the history of India. On January 26, in Lahore session Congress declared 1 Imagining Tagore: Rabindranath and the British Press (1912-1941), Edited and Compiled by kalian Kundu, Sakti Bhattacharya, Kalyan Sircar, Sahitya Samsad, Kolkata, 2000, p. 510 2 The Mahatma and the Poet, Compiled and Edited by Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, National Book Trust, New Delhi, 2008, p. 192 31 their demand for Purna Swarajya. On January 30, Gandhiji wrote to the Viceroy stipulating his eleven demands. One of these demands was abolition of Salt Tax. On February 27, he talked about breaking the Salt Tax in Young India. On March 2, he wrote once again to the Viceroy informing him about his plans to march to Dandi to break the Salt Act unless there was a positive response from him. When the Viceroy ignored the letter and refused to meet him, Gandhiji remarked: On bended knees I asked for bread and I have received stone instead. On March 11, he declared his last will in the evening prayer which was attended by close to 10,000 persons. On March 12 at 6.30 in the morning he embarked upon historical march to Dandi. He reached Dandi on April 6 and broke the Salt Act but was not arrested as the Government said that the salt picked up by him was unfit for human consumption and hence, there was no breach of law. Finally, when he decided to march to Dharasana Salt Works, he was arrested on May 5. When the Satyagrahis tried to approach the Dharasana Salt Works on May 21, they were cruelly beaten up by the soldiers and United Press correspondent Webb Miller reported: Not one of the marchers even raised an arm to fend off the blows. They went down like ten-pins. From where I stood I heard the sickening whacks of the clubs on unprotected skulls. The waiting crowd of watchers groaned and sucked in their breath in sympathetic pain at every blow. Those struck down fell sprawling, unconscious or writhing in pain with fractured skulls or broken shoulders. In two or three minutes the ground was quilted with bodies. Great patches of blood widened on their white clothes. The survivors without breaking ranks silently and doggedly marched on until struck down. … Finally the police became enraged by the non-resistance … They commenced savagely kicking the seated man in abdomen and testicles. The injured men writhed and squealed in agony, which seemed to inflame the fury of the police … The police then began dragging the sitting men by the arms or feet, sometimes for a hundred yards and throwing them into ditches. Initially the foregoing was censored by the British telegraph operators in India and only after threat to expose the British censorship, it was allowed and it appeared in 1350 newspapers throughout the world. It is interesting to remember that initially the idea of breaking the Salt Act and marching to Dandi was not thought of as a great programme by Indian politicians as well as the British. The Statesman wrote: It is difficult not to laugh, and we imagine that will be the mood of most thinking Indians. The Viceroy, Lord Irwin wrote to London: At present the prospect of a salt campaign does not keep me awake at night. Perhaps, this was the reason why Gandhiji did not communicate with Tagore about this important programme that he was launching soon after their meeting in Ahmedabad on January 18. It must be remembered that in 1919, before launching the protest against the Rowlat Act he had approached Tagore for a message of hope and inspiration. Again in ‘30s before proceeding on fast as a protest against the Government he had asked for blessings of Gurudeva. 32 Tagore, after meeting Gandhiji, had delivered a lecture in Baroda on January 30. On March 2 he left for Europe. After spending time in Cap Martin and Paris, where he exhibited his paintings, he reached London on May 11 and proceeded to Quaker Settlement at Woodbroke near Birmingham, where he received the news about Gandhi’s Salt Satyagraha, Dandi march, arrest and internment of Congress leaders, armoury raid at Chittagong, martial law at Sholapur, Viceregal ordinance declaring Congress an illegal body, Hindu- Muslim riots at Dacca etc.3 The Manchester Guardian of May 16, 1930, carried a special statement from Tagore: …it must be clearly understood in England that complications have now arisen which can never be done away with by repression and by a violent display of physical power. They can only be cured by some real greatness of heart which will attract in its turn a genuine spirit of co-operation from our side. Those who have experience of bureaucratic and irresponsible Governments can easily understand how the repressive measures which are being undertaken today, … are bound to react upon our own people, for fear and panic always make a Government in power harsh and vindictive. … Though much news has been suppressed, still information keeps trickling through from those who are reaching England by sea from India. They tell us how cruel and arbitrary is the punishment that is being meted out even to those who have been entirely inoffensive. These actions are called by high-sounding names, such as ‘upholding law and order,’ when they are themselves the worst breaches of the law of humanity, which is greater than any other. … The physical suffering may be slight, but the insult will be deeply resented by millions who hold Mahatma Gandhi’s name in reverence. If such insolent actions continue these proud people will have to pay the penalty later, for the mute cry of the defenceless and weak cannot be ignored. … Therefore I trust and hope that the best minds of England will feel ashamed of every form of tyrannical action, just as we ourselves have been ashamed at the violence that has broken out on our side. On 24 May Tagore attended The Quakers’ Annual Conference. In their weekly journal, The Friend, dated May 30, Tagore’s speech is reported. Excerpts: … India is being ruled by a machine, and there exists the dark chasm of aloofness instead of the living touch of sympathy … The economists who drive the complicated machine in India have had long training in power, but they have no tradition in human sympathy … Machine manufacture for over a century gives a blind sense of efficiency. Mahatma Gandhi tried to request the expert [who ran the machine] not to identify himself completely with the machine, but to remember that he is a man; for the sake of his human dignity he must not offer a stone to other men who are famishing for bread. There are thousands in my country who at this very moment are suffering without any chance of redress, even those who do not deserve it, for the machine government lets loose its fury of wholesale suspicion. The Spectator of 7 June carried an article – An Appeal to Idealism - by Tagore. Excerpts: I find it difficult to do my duty to-day in a spirit of patience and calmness, and at the same time to do justice to the Indian cause, to myself and my friends in this country. For the atmosphere of mutual relationship between India and Great Britain has grown dark with suspicion and suffering. … … I cannot allow this occasion to pass by without declaring that with few exceptions, inevitable in the present atmosphere of panic and defiance, India in this trial has maintained her dignity of soul. Even through distortion and suppression of truth, and circulation of untruth with belated 3 Rabindranath Tagore: A Centenary Volume (1861 – 1941), Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 1987, p. 490 33 contradiction in small letters, the fact glimmers out that our people, with a pious determination, has kept unshaken the difficult ideal which they have accepted from their great leader Mahatma Ghandi[sic], who upholds the noblest spirit of India, the spirit of Buddha himself. To us who are away from homes there has reached a voice of the sufferers across the barriers of silence and the sea, carrying above the smothered cry of pain the exaltation of a fulfilled vow under extreme provocation. My prayers for my people is, not for the cessation of their suffering, but for the keeping up of their trust in the power of the human spirit which shows itself in all its might of truth among those who are physically weak; for we have both the occasion and the responsibility to prove this, not only on behalf of India, but of all humanity. Thus, although Tagore was away from India, he did get news of the events. He not only presented the case for India to the British people in his own inimitable manner and tried to earn sympathy for Gandhiji and his cause. All along, Gandhiji remained on his mind and he was preoccupied with the Indian scene despite his multifarious engagements such as Hilbert Lectures, visits to Quaker settlement and to Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst’s Dartington Hall, exhibition of his paintings in Paris, Birmingham, London, Berlin etc. On July 10, he proceeded to Germany. He was accompanied by Amiya Chakravarti, who has recorded that ‘a German fim company, UFA, … wanted a script from him for a pageant of Indian life.’4 It is worth noting that during this visit Tagore also met Himanshu Rai(1892- 1940) – founder of Bombay Talkies in 1934 - and Devika Rani(1908-1994) – great-grand- niece of Tagore - who had worked with UFA Co. Subsequently, on July 20, Tagore went to see a passion play in a small town, Oberammargau, which is situated amidst the Bavarian Alps, about an hour away from Munich. The history of this passion play is interesting and calls for a minor digression. This play is being performed every ten years since 1634. At that time Europe was engulfed by an epidemic of plague. To insure that plague did not spread in their village, they set up check- posts on all the sides to prevent the entry of any outsider who might carry the plague germs. One of their own townsfolk, who worked in an adjoining town, was keen to meet his family and slipped through the check-post and entered the village and brought the plague with him. In a few months, many people died in the village. The leaders of the village, gathering in a church of the village, decided to offer their atonement by performing the passion play once every ten years. After that not a single person was claimed by plague and this play has been performed regularly for the past more than 350 years, with a couple of exceptions. In 1934: The play was performed entirely by the people of this village. No outside help has been sought ever. All the players as well as the backstage help and technical aspects such as direction, dialogues, music etc. are rendered by the local populace. The play is divided in two sessions – morning and afternoon – of 3 to 4 hours each. The theatre was renovated in 1930 and can now seat 5000 people.5 The last performance was in 2010. Some details: 4 A Tagore Reader, Ed. Amiya Chakravarty, Macmillan & Co. Ltd., London, 1961, p. 293 5 The World’s Stage Oberammergau 1934, Raymond Tift Fuller, Cobden-Sanderson, London, 1934. 34 Over 2,000 villagers brought the story of Jesus of Nazareth to life for the audiences that flocked in from around the world. The play starts with Jesus entering Jerusalem, continues with his death on the cross and finishes with the resurrection. In 2010, a new production was directed by Christian Stückl, director at Munich's noted Volkstheater. He was supported by the artistic team that along with him staged the 2000 Passion Play: deputy director and dramatic adviser Otto Huber, set and costume designer Stefan Hageneier and music director Marxus Zwink and conductor Michael Bocklet - all from Oberammergau. The play starts at 14.30 and including a three-hour interval ends at 22.30, performances take place between mid-May and early October 2010.6 Amiya Chakravarty, who was accompanying Tagore, wrote in a letter dated 24 July, 1930 from Munich: For the whole day, confined to a room, Rabindranath wrote a drama for a film in English employing a new technique. Like painting this also seems to be his fresh intoxication with new creation.7 Excited with the prospects of writing a script for a film to be made by UFA Co., and inspired by the passion play, the first draft of The Child appeared between 20 and 24 July, 1930. While there is no similarity in the story of the play Tagore saw and the content of this poem, it indeed has biblical influence or inspiration. This is the only major poem by Tagore, written directly in English. For reasons unknown, this film was never produced. The poem was contemplated in two forms – prose and poem – and underwent several changes in its title – ‘The New Comer’, ‘He is Eternal, He is Newly Born’ and ‘The Babe’ are the titles appearing on the available manuscripts and typescripts which are discussed later. From Germany, Tagore had proceeded to Russia and subsequently to America. On 1 December, 1930, his talk was organised by The Discussion Guild and The India Society. The programme card reads: 6 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passion_Play#Oberammergau_Passion_Play_2010 – accessed on 30 April 2014 7 Rabindrajibani o Rabindrasahityaprabeshak, vol. 3, Prabhatkumar Mukhopadhyaya, Visva Bharati, Kolkata,1999, p. 413 35 Carnegie Hall Concert Data Sheet8 Date / Time / Location Monday, December 01, 1930 - 8:45 Main Hall p.m. Event Type REN: Lecture Event Rabindranath Tagore Presenter Other Ensemble / Conductor / Emil Velazco, organ; M.S. Novik, speaker; Mary E. Woolley, Soloist(s) speaker; Rabindranath Tagore, speaker Notes Presenter: The Discussion Guild in cooperation with The India Society UNKNOWN Organ selections (Emil Velazco, organ) SPEECH/OTHER Introductory Remarks (M.S. Novik, Director, Discussion Guild, speaker) SPEECH/OTHER Opening Address (Dr. Mary E. Woolley, President, Mount Holyoke College, speaker) SPEECH/OTHER Address: The Meeting of the East and the West (Rabindranath Tagore, speaker) SPEECH/OTHER Reading of Poetry (Rabindranath Tagore, speaker) SPEECH/OTHER Closing Address (Dr. Mary E. Woolley, speaker) New York Times of 2 December, 1930 reported: Every seat in Carnegie Hall was occupied last night and hundreds of persons lined the walls to hear Sir Rabindranath Tagore, the Indian poet and philosopher, discuss the essential dissimilarity between the East and the West. It was the poet’s first lecture appearance in the United States. About 4000 persons were in the hall, and thousands were turned away. Seated in a battered armchair on the stage and leaning forward to speak into an amplifier, Sir Rabindranath said the characteristic difference between the Orient and the Occident was that the people of the East believed in personality, while western admiration was for sheer power. “What is the harvest of your civilization that you reap today?” he asked. “everywhere man are suspicious of each other; all the great countries of the West are preparing for some great work of desolation, manufacturing poisons for each other’s ruin. You try and try to find some solution, you discuss and grow red in face and hoarce of voice, yet you do not succeed because you have lost all faith in the personality of man and believe in the mechanism of power.” … “Our appeal does not reach you,” he charged, “because you respond only to the appeal of power. Japan appealed to you and you answered because she was able to prove she could make herself as obnoxious as you can.” This remark elicited considerable laughter and hand-clapping. Sir Rabindranath was introduced by Dr. Mary E. Woolley, president of Mount Holyoke College. He read two of his poems after his address. 8 Courtesy: Carnegie Hall Archives 36 Towards the end of his lecture – The Meeting of the East and the West - he had said: …such a personality as we see in Mahatma Gandhi…. He has neither physical nor material power, but through his great influence people who have been in subjection to all kinds of tyrannical power have stood up; and he is the strongest spiritual power in this world today. Not because of his political prudence, but for his spiritual influence the people believe in him, and they are ready to die for their faith. … … And his message goes deep into our veins. He attacks the enemies that are within us. Not like the political machinery which you have that attacks from the outside and that tries to work through the external. But he attacks the inner man. … When times were dark, there came a Man in other days to people who were seeking salvation, emancipation from evil. He came to their door. The babe who was born centuries ago brought exaltation to man. Not machinery, not association, not organizations, but a human babe, and people wer amazed. And when all the machinery will be rusted, he will live. I have not come across any reference about which two poems were read by Tagore, except in Nimai Chattopadhyaya’s Granthaparichay to Shishutirth/The Child,published by Subarnarekha. However, in Frederick Bohn Fisher: World Citizen, (The Macmillan Company, New York, 1944) Welthy Honsinger Fisher, in Chapter X titled ‘Tagore’s Unpublished Poem’ quotes the entire poem and has reproduced a letter written by Tagore, dated 5 December 1930, to Bishop Fisher, from 1172 Park Avenue – a building then owned by Mrs. Leonard K. Elmhirst.9 The letter, in which Tagore talks about reading The Babe at Carnegie Hall is presented below. It is rather amusing to note that a poem that was to be published by Macmillan as early as 1931 and which was published by Allen and Unwin in 1931 is reported as ‘Tagore’s Unpublished Poem’ in a book published by Macmillan! 9 www.cityrealty.com/nyc/carnegie-hill/1172-park-avenue/review/6592 accessed in April 2014 37 The poem was published in 1931 under the title of The Child by Allen & Unwin and not by MacMillan – Tagore’s regular publisher. This was the only publication of this poem. 38 The poem was translated into Bengali by Tagore an year later and the same was included in Punashch, under the title of Sishutirtha. Subsequently, in 1961, Pashchim Banga Rabindra Jayanti Samiti published a bilingual version – Sishutirtha/The Child. The same did not give any indication of the fact that the poem was written first in English and then translated into Bengali. The Child was included in the first volume of English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, edited by Sisirkumar Das and published by Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi in 1994 with a brief but comprehensive note about its background. Tagore had published three editions of Sanchayita – collection of his important poems. He had excluded some poems and added others in different editions. This poem was not included in any of the three editions. However, when in 1940, Abu Sayeed Ayub and Hirendranath Mukhopadhyay included Sishutirtha, in Adhunik Bangla Kabita, edited by them, Tagore wrote to Buddhadeb Basu that he was grateful to the editors for rescuing this poem – a favourite of his – from obscurity!10 10 Suryavart, ed. Sankha Ghosh, Visvs Bharati, 2000, p.7 39 40 Appreciation There is a story in this poem. There is a narration and there is a plot. There are plenty of images which are sensuous. All this gives credence to the story of Amiya Chakravarti about a film being made by UFA Co. It is indeed likely that Tagore wrote this poem as a script for film. In that case it might have been a first effort. A subsequent effort resulting in Auden writing ‘Night Mail’ for British Postal Department is indeed well known. There are audio-visual images in each of the scenes of the poem. For example, The first scene: fragments of a bridge over the oblivion of a vanished stream, godless shrines that shelter reptiles, marble steps that lead to blankness. Underneath the noisy terror a stealthy hum creeps up like bubbling volcanic mud, a mixture of sinister whispers, rumours and slanders, and hisses of derision. Second scene: The clouds part, the morning star appears in the East, a breath of relief springs up from the heart of the earth, the murmur of leaves ripples along the forest path, and the early bird sings. Fourth scene: Some walk, some ride on camels, horses and elephants, on chariots with banners vieing with the clouds of dawn. The priests of all creeds burn incense, chanting verses as they go. The monarchs march at the head of their armies, lances flashing in the sun and drums beating loud. There are dialogues in some of the scenes also. If this film was made, Tagore could have contributed to the medium of art which was probably considered ‘modern’ for that time. Krishna Kripalani, Tagore’s biographer, says about this poem: This beautiful prose-poem, a product of Biblical inspiration and Hindu imagination, in which the memory of Jesus anticipates Gandhi’s fate, has strangely enough, received very little attention in the West. Tagore’s interpretation of the theme has invested it with a significance which is universal and independent of any religious or political creed . . .11 As stated earlier, this poem was published only once in 1931. As reported in 1962, by the then owner of Allen & Unwin, in 1931 the print run was 1488. Of these 380 were destroyed in enemy action and about 100 were sent for reviews and hence, only about 1000 were sold. This could be the reason for little notice received in the West.12 11 Rabindranath Tagore, A Biography, Krishna Kripalani, Vishva Bharati, Calcutta, 1980, p. 367. 12 Sishutirtha/The Child, Rabindranath Tagore, Subaranarekha Sanskaran, Kolakata, 2006, Granthaparichay, Nimai Chattopadhyay 41 In the preface to the 1961 edition, Pramathanath Bishi calls Sishutirtha as one of Tagore’s best poems and goes on to say that this poem reveals the mysterious form of Man’s history. He adds that in the stream of time, history reveals the past and the present and a poet reveals past, present and future. What happens is narrated in history and what should or would happen is narrated by the poet. One is statement and the other is a hymn. He calls Sishutirtha a meaningful hymn of history and adds that it foretells an incident that was to take place in our country. An incident that takes place in this poem, written in 1931, was repeated in our country 17 years later. The assassination of ‘the man of faith’ that takes place in this poem is considered as the prophecy of assassination of Gandhiji.13 Personally, I do not subscribe to the view that Tagore had foretold the assassination of Gandhiji way back in 1931. However, I do believe that his ‘man of faith’ has shadows of Gandhiji. The talks between them in January 1931, wherein they had talked of lack of a programme and Gandhiji’s subsequent launching of his now famous march to Dandi, is indeed reflected in the pilgrimage of fulfillment undertaken by the man of faith. Moreover, in Scene 7, when the old man of East says that they will be guided by the victim, he adds, In his death he lives in the life of us all. This is what Tagore had told the inmates of Sabarmati Ashram in 1922, when Gandhiji was in jail. Explaining to them he had said, What is the true meaning of the great word ‘Mahatma’? It implies the emancipated soul that realizes itself in all souls. It means the life that is no longer confined within itself, but finds its larger soul of Atman, of Spirit. Then, in such realization, it becomes Mahatma. For it includes all spirits in itself.14 It is beyond doubt that the man of faith of The Child, is a reflection of Mahatma Gadhi. But to believe that Tagore was a prophet because he foretold the future of his man of faith moulded on the character of Gandhiji is to express our devotion towards Tagore at the cost of a rational approach. The leading man of a poem may resemble a famous personality or a character of a poem may be moulded on the basis of a famous personality. But, this does not imply that the life of the famous personality will follow the course of the story of the poem or vice versa. In his brief criticism Niharranjan Ray says: Here is a Biblical theme, . . . transformed and transmuted by Indian myths, symbols and imagination into a moving universal drama of the ever-renewing life of man symbolized by the new-born. The mystery of birth and death and life’s eternal march through the rise and fall of civilizations, through glorious light and fearful darkness, is concertised here in stately images, meaningful symbols and dignified diction.15 Sisirkumar Ghosh takes a look at Sishutirtha as a critic and says: The divine Purusha incarnates himself in every child. . . Sisutirtha presents that belief, fully dressed, with materials taken from many lands and cultures. It is a curious blending of the lyric, narrative, dramatic and allegoric methods, and its suggestions are multiple rather than unified. . . The murder 13 Sishutirtha/The Child, Rabindranath Tagore, Subaranarekha Sanskaran, Kolakata, 2006, Granthaparichay, Pramathanath Bishi 14 Tagore in Ahmedabad, Image Publications, Ahmedabad, 2003 15 An Artist in Life, Niharranjan Ray, University of Kerala, Trivandrum, 1967, p. 287 42 of the leader reminds one of the Freud’s theory about Moses and the Oedipus Complex. . . If history and tradition are to be believed, the Advent will not be such a painless affair. It is far more likely that the end of all conflicts will be preceded by a last, the ‘usual conflict between Good and Evil.’ . . Sisutirtha begins with what may be called a vision of history as Inferno16. . . If the whole poem could have been written from this level, it would have rank as a masterpiece.17 Abu Sayeed Ayub emphatically says that although the English poem was written earlier and the Bengali version is a translation, the original English lacks the grandeur of the Bengali. Quoting Malarme, he says that poetry is written with words, not ideas and Tagore’s mastery over the Bengali language is far superior to that over the English language. Hence, the artistry of two versions is as far apart as the earth and the sky. He believes that Sisutirtha is Tagore’s best prose-poem. He says, ‘this ten-page compact creation has the detailed background of an epic, sublime ideas and emotions and the deep polyphony of powerful language.’18 This poem depicts the continuous journey of mankind. This journey begins in the primeval times, before the advent of civilization. It will end in future, with the advent of the mahamanav – the man supreme. A brief but apt description of this journey is presented herein. The first two lines are dramatic and symbolic: What of the night? No answer comes. To what extent the darkness of the primeval age has dissolved? There is no answer to this anxious question. There is an implicit suggestion by the poet that he is talking about the primeval, dark age but no further details are offered. The description is dramatic, symbolic, macabre and unforgettable. … the blind Time gropes in a maze and knows not its path or purpose. The darkness in the valley stares like the dead eye-sockets of a giant, the clouds like a nightmare oppress the sky, and the massive shadows lie scattered like the torn limbs of the night. A lurid glow waxes and wanes on the horizon, - is it an ultimate threat from an alien star, or an elemental hunger licking the sky?... They are the refuse, the rejections, the fruitless failures of life, abrupt ruins of prodigal pride, - fragments of a bridge over the oblivion of a vanished stream, godless shrines that shelter reptiles, marble steps that lead to blankness. A more poetic depiction of chaos is difficult to find. The journey of mankind begins from this natural and brutal barbarism. But before that, … men gathered there are vague like torn pages of an epic. Groping in groups or single, their torchlight tattoos their faces in chequered lines, 16 Later Poems of Tagore, Sisirkumar Ghose, Asia Publishing House, Bombay, 1961, p.72-73, 17 Ibid. p. 250. 18 Modernism and Tagore, Abu Sayeed Ayub, tr. Amitava Ray, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 1995, p. 115 43 in patterns of frightfulness. The maniacs suddenly strike their neighbours on suspicion and a hubbub of an indiscriminate fight bursts forth echoing from hill to hill. The women weep and wail, they cry that their children are lost in a wilderness of contrary paths with confusion at the end. These lines could have been inspired by the then prevalent tensions between Hindus and Moslems. An international traveller like Tagore could have been influenced by the prevalent international situation also. Amidst such uncivilized chaos great souls like Socrates, Buddha, Christ, Gandhiji have appeared at different times in different countries. Such a man of faith appears in the second scene: Thereon the crest of the hill stands the Man of faith amid the snow-white silence, He scans the sky for some signal of light, and when the clouds thicken and the nightbirds scream as they fly, he cries, 'Brothers, despair not, for Man is great.' But, none heeds to him. They have faith in the eternal brutal power of man. Even in the grace within they perceive deception. They think of the man of faith in their times of trial, but fail to hear his consolation. They believe that the voice is of their own desperate desire, that men are ever condemned to fight for phantoms in an interminable desert of mutual menace. In the third scene, the journey begins – the journey towards fulfillment, towards civilization and the same is supported by the nature: The clouds part, the morning star appears in the East, a breath of relief springs up from the heart of the earth, the murmur of leaves ripples along the forest path, and the early bird sings. . . The touch of the dawn goes deep into the soil and life shivers along through the roots of all things. The early glow of the sun shines like a golden garland on the forehead of the Man of faith, and they all cry: 'Brother, we salute thee!' Tagore is an expert on the psyche of the crowd. He says: They sit and think, they know not the meaning, and yet they seem to understand according to their desires. 'To the pilgrimage of fulfillment,' a small voice whispers, nobody knows whence. Taken up by the crowd it swells into a mighty meaning. Men raise their heads and look up, women lift their arms in reverence, children clap their hands and laugh. 44 The fourth scene has this beautiful word-picture of the journey: Some walk, some ride on camels, horses and elephants, on chariots with banners vieing with the clouds of dawn. The priests of all creeds burn incense, chanting verses as they go. The monarchs march at the head of their armies, lances flashing in the sun and drums beating loud. Ragged beggars and courtiers pompously decorated, agile young scholars and teachers burdened with learned age jostle each other in the crowd. Women come chatting and laughing, mothers, maidens and brides, with offerings of flowers and fruit, sandal paste and scented water. But Tagore has not forgotten his own experience of politics. He is well aware of the fact that in the society, in the multitude, there always will be a class which is interested in nothing else but themselves. Remembering them, he says, the man who makes a trade of his God for profit and mimics the saint. 'The fulfillment! ' They dare not talk aloud, but in their minds they magnify their own greed, and dream of boundless power, of unlimited impunity for pilfering and plunder, and eternity of feast for their unclean gluttonous flesh. The path of the journey is long and perilous and not everyone is prepared for the same. Some grow weary and footsore, some angry and suspicious. They ask at every dragging step, 'How much further is the end?' The Man of faith sings in answer; they scowl and shake their fists and yet they cannot resist him; … Their faces harden, their curses grow louder and louder. In the sixth scene it is dark once again. But this darkness is different from the earlier one. There is no chaos here but there is terror. In a society traveling towards civilization, the brute within is once again let loose. In a beautiful and symbolic line Tagore says, A gust of wind blows out the lamp And the darkness deepens like a sleep into a swoon. A natural element – the wind – blows out the lamp of culture and the natural darkness takes a deeper shade – as if the man slides into the unconscious state from his sleep and from his frustrations arises that brutal element: 'False prophet, thou hast deceived us!' Others take up the cry one by one, women hiss their hatred and men growl. At last one bolder than others suddenly deals him a blow. 45 They cannot see his face, but fall upon him in a fury of destruction and hit him till he lies prone upon the ground his life extinct. The reaction of the nature is depicted in a few sensuous lines: The night is still, The sound of the distant waterfall comes muffled, And a faint breath of jasmine floats in the air. In a stunned night the sound of the faraway waterfall appears like a sob and the fragrance of jasmine offers homage to the victim. What next? After the terror, from the guilty psyche gives rise to the chaos and frustration. With light, once again, the signs of civilization reappearing are bright. The wise man from the East suggests a solution and the journey begins once again: Dogs break out barking and are cruelly whipped into silence broken by moans. They shriek and shout and as they are ready to unsheathe their knives the darkness pales, the morning light overflows the mountain tops. They ask each other in bewilderment, 'who will show us the path?' The old man from the East bends his head and says: 'The Victim.' They sit still and silent. Again speaks the old man, 'We refused him in doubt, we killed him in anger, now we shall accept him in love, for in his death he lives in the life of us all, the great Victim.' And they all stand up and mingle their voices and sing, 'Victory to the Victim.' History is a witness to more incidents than one, when the society has cruelly and brutally punished its own saviour, just because he did not fit within their scheme of things. Socrates, Christ and Gandhiji come to mind immediately. But the journey of man continues. In the eighth scene the journey continues under the leadership of the wise man of the East. 'To the pilgrimage' calls the young, 'to love, to power, to knowledge, to wealth overflowing,' We shall conquer the world and the world beyond this,' they all cry exultant in a thundering cataract of voices, The meaning is not the same to them all, but only the impulse, the moving confluence of wills that recks not death and disaster. No longer they ask for their way, no more doubts are there to burden their minds or weariness to clog their feet. The spirit of the Leader is within them and ever beyond them- the Leader who has crossed death and all limits. Physically the leader is not with them but the light spread by him guides them from across the shores of death. The culture once imbibed may disappear momentarily but is bound to 46 manifest once again. Their journey takes them across various lands and they pass through different experiences: They travel over the fields where the seeds are sown, by the granary where the harvest is gathered, and across the barren soil where famine dwells and skeletons cry for the return of their flesh. They pass through populous cities humming with life, through dumb desolation hugging in ruined past, and hovels for the unclad and unclean, a mockery of home for the homeless. Passing through the joys and the sorrows of the world the journey proceeds towards the civilization, towards fulfillment. Occasionally, there are queries about how far they have to go and the wise man from the East explains that the signs are only of the nature and the destination is rather far as yet! as the light wanes in the evening they ask the man who reads the sky: 'Brother, is yonder the tower of our final hope and peace?' The wise man shakes his head and says: 'It is the last vanishing cloud of the sunset.' The youths are not weary anymore, they encourage the rest. This is the path from the darkness to the light. Even the path encourages them now. 'Friends,' exhorts the young, 'do not stop. Through the night' s blindness we must struggle into the Kingdom of living light.' They go on in the dark. The road seems to know its own meaning and dust underfoot dumbly speaks of direction. In the ninth scene, the wise man from the East declares that they have reached the destination and the poet paints a beautiful picture of Utopia: On both sides of the road the corn is ripe to the horizon, - the glad golden answer of the earth to the morning light. The current of daily life moves slowly between the village near the hill and the one by the riverbank. The potter's wheel goes round, the woodcutter brings fuel to the market, the cow-herd takes his cattle to the pasture, and the woman with the pitcher on her head walks to the well. But where is the King's castle, the mine of gold, the secret book of magic, the sage who knows love's utter wisdom? All this is only a short distance away. reverently he walks to a wayside spring from which wells up a stream of water, a liquid light, like the morning melting into a chorus of tears and laughter. Near it in a palm grove surrounded by a strange hush stands a leaf- thatched hut, at whose portal sits the poet of the unknown shore 47 Now, we are in the final scene. In this short scene the poet packs a lot in a few lines. What is there in this hut? Is it the destination of the journey? Is it fulfillment? The assembled crowd feel in their blood the primaeval chant of creation: 'Mother, open the gate!' What will we see when the gate opens? Will it be the castle of the king, a gold-mine, a secret book of magic? The gate opens The mother is seated on a straw bed with the babe on her lap, like the dawn with the morning star The poet sitting outsides breaks into a song: 'Victory to Man, the new-born, the ever-living.' They kneel down, - the king and the beggar, the saint and the sinner, the wise and the fool, -and cry: 'Victory to Man, the new-born, the ever-living.' This is where the poem ends, not the journey. The journey continues. The story of the triumph of man will be sung by the newborn, who is eternal. This entire tableau appears to be that of Christ. In umpteen nativity scenes we have seen a hut amidst a cluster of palm trees and a mother on a bed of straw with newly born Christ sleeping in her lap. But, who is the mother in this poem? She is none other than the mother earth and the child in her lap is Man. Within that man-child shall take concentrated form the meaning of the whole of creation. This man-child is eternal and led by him the journey towards fulfillment shall continue. This is the interpretation of Shashibhushan Dasgupta, endorsed by Abu Sayeed Ayub.19 Tagore paints a grand word-picture of the man’s journey towards perfection and colours the same with his own experiences, impact of the world situation on his own psyche and his unfailing faith in the future of the mankind. Spread over a vast canvas, this poem calls for a far greater attention than it has received so far. 19 Upanishader Patabhumikay Rabindranath, Shashibhushan Dasgupta, p.12, as reported in Modernism and Tagore, Abu Sayeed Ayub, (Tr. Amitav Ray), Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 1995, p. 117 48 Manuscript/Typescript of The Child20 The manuscripts/Typescripts of The Child, preserved at Rabindra Bhavana, Santiniketan, present an interesting, and perhaps, a confusing story. In what has been numbered as MS 223 and ESMF 002, there are: 2 manuscripts – one has only the first page 7 typescripts – again, one has only one page and one is in duplicate. For the sake of convenience, we shall prepare a Table as under: A. ESMF 002 – 01 – Typescript – 1 page – prose poem – no title B. ESMF 002 – 02 – Manuscript – 1 page – prose poem – no title C. MS 223 – 02 – TS – 8 pages – numbered ‘a’ to ‘h’ – prose poem – The New Comer (hand-written)– 11 sections D. ESMF 002 – 04 – TS – 11 pages – prose poem – THE NEW COMER – 11 sections, in Roman Numereals E. ESMF 002 – 05 – Same as ‘D’ F. MS 223 -01 – Manuscript – 13 pages – poem – The Babe – 11 sections G. MS 223 – 03 – TS – 11 pages – poem – The Babe – 10 sections – ‘Final Copy 20/4/31’ in top left corner H. ESMF 002 – 03 – TS – 13 pages – poem - The Babe – 10 sections – ‘final(?) version 20.4.31’ in top left corner I. ESMF 002 – 06 – TS – 8 pages – prose – no sections – HE IS ETERNAL, HE IS NEWLY BORN – ‘The Babex(The Child)’ in top left corner While it is quite difficult and perhaps not really necessary to establish a chronological order amongst these 9, the foregoing appears to be the order in which these must have appeared. However, there are other interesting aspects as will be presented below. Since A and B consist of a single page, these are presented below: 20 All the manuscripts/typescripts are from: bichitra.jdvu.ac.in – accessed in April 2014 49 50 51 Let us take a closer look at the typescript: And now the manuscript: It appears that the typescript was based upon another manuscript that is not available any more. The manuscript is the corrected version of the typescript. It should be noted that both the documents have no line breaks and are written in the style of a prose poem rather than a poem. The manuscript is on the letterhead of ‘Odenwaldeschule’, which Tagore had visited on July 30 to August 1, 1930. Tagore had seen the passion play at Oberammergau on July 20, 1930. Amiya Chakravarty, in a letter dated July 24 writes about Tagore writing a poem in English as if he was intoxicated. This means that the first draft was written prior to July 24, from which a typescript was made. Presumably, first page of this typescript is what has survived and preserved at Rabindra Bhavana, Santiniketan and presented above. Then, between July 30 52 and August 1, Tagore prepared another draft. The first page of this draft is presumably what appears above. In view of the short time between the first draft and the manuscript above, it is quite likely that Tagore initially proposed to write in the style of prose poem rather than the poem as it was subsequently published. Please note that the page of the typescript above is numbered ‘a’. On this basis, I am tempted to conclude that the next to appear was the typescript ‘C’, which also has pages numbered ‘a’ to ‘h’. This is the complete version, which is longer than the finally published version, and has 11 sections (the published version has only 10 sections). Once again this is in the style of a prose poem and its title is The New Comer – written by hand. The portion omitted from the final version appears in Sections 7 and 8 and the same as it appeared in ‘C’ is presented below (between the first and the last paragraphs): 53 I believe this precedes the next – ‘D’ – It will be obvious once you see the first pages of both – ‘C’ and ‘D’, presented below, in that order: First page of ‘C’ – MS 223 – 02 First page of ‘D’ – ESMF 002 – 04 It may be noted that five lines beginning with ‘These masses of shadows …’ and ending with ‘or an elemental hunger licking the sky?’ appearing in ‘C’ are eliminated in ‘D’ and are reaaranged/rephrased in subsequent manuscripts/typescripts. 54 As stated earlier, ‘D’ and ‘E’ are duplicates of each other – perhaps, ‘E’ is the first copy and ‘D’ is second copy, as indicated by the darkness of letters. ‘G’ – MS 223 – 01 – appears to be the first manuscript – in the hands of Tagore - in the style of poem with line breaks resembling the published version. This is in 11 sections and includes the portion about ceremony after the murder of the man of faith. Extracts of pages including the portion omitted from the published version is presented below: 55 56 ‘G’ and ‘H’ are the two typescripts which bear handwritten date of ’20/4/31’ in top left corner with ‘Final Copy’ at the same place in ‘G’ and ‘Final(?) version’ in ‘H’. Both are practically the same and are more or less the same as the published version. These are in the style of poem with line breaks which are the same as the published version. The most interesting is ‘I’. It has the title ‘HE IS ETERNAL. HE IS NEWLY BORN’. On the top left corner appears ‘The Babe X (The Child). It is an eight page typescript in simple prose. Perhaps, this was screenplay for the proposed movie to be made with UFA? It does not include the portion omitted from the earlier version and is close to the published version. An attempt is made below to present the entire typescript – ‘I’ – and comparing the same with the published version. The typescript ‘I’ appears on the left hand side and the The Child as published by Allen and Unwin appears on the right hand side. 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72