International Seminar on ‘The Home And The World: Rabindranath Tagore’
14-16 November, 2011
Rabindranath Tagore’s novel by the name and many of his other writings, particularly his essays and plays, engage with the interrelationship of the home and the world. The term home was perhaps more of a connotation for Tagore. He laid greater emphasis on concepts like ‘atmosphere’, ‘associations’, and especially, ‘milieu’. This last can be construed as the defining constituent of the individual, rather than mere geographical location. Milieu was also a growing idea being formed through a variety of ethnic and cultural participations. In 1921, when Tagore was dissenting from Gandhi’s idea of noncooperation, he also wrote to the educationist and philosopher Brajendranath Seal against the idea of ‘fragmenting of education’ that he considered particularly inappropriate at a time when ‘the different peoples of the world are coming within each other’s purview’. Attempting to ‘block their vision with a screen of partisanship is to flout God’s purpose’. Significantly, he did not envision a colourless cosmopolitanism. ‘To sacrifice the diverse forms of goodness on the altar of mere necessity is not good. But for which form am I particularly responsible? Questions of this kind churn constantly in my mind when I feel weary.’ His idea of the home is clearly conveyed in this complaint against his latest biography, by Edward Thompson, which he felt had ‘firmly detached me from my atmosphere’. ‘But a cutout is an incomplete picture of a man, who is not a mere individual but relates to his milieu; and this relationship is far reaching and ill-defined.’ His own mental climate had been formed by a mingling of ‘Vaishnava literature and the Upanishads’, as his father’s had been by the Upanishads and Hafiz. He never advocated returning to a pristine culture; in fact he strongly refuted the possibility of such a return in the career of nations/civilizations, not least because he disbelieved in the historical existence of such pristine cultures. But what were to be the grounds of an honest interaction of cultures?
The theme is still relevant in mapping and gauging the growth and potential of many of our dominant ideas of culture and polity, both because Tagore was in a sense the autobiographer of the times in which these ideas generally acquired an outline and a substance, and because such issues as the identity and rights of immigrant/ migrant/stateless communities, and the changing perceptions of the home and the world, seem fated to have a persistent and pervasive presence in the coming decades.
The seminar on the ‘Home and the World’, aims to extend beyond the mere explication of Tagore or the identification of his solutions regarding the issues of belonging and dispossession. This seminar is an invitation to open a conversation with Tagore on this theme having a significant bearing on our times. This conversation with Tagore will open itself, as it naturally should to other voices speaking of the effects of the forces of history on the homes of peoples, and how due to these forces, many of them have come to be deprived of their homes, and in effect confronted with a world order that is ambivalent as to their right to live in it with dignity and respect.