Tagore’s autobiography

Well, with all these random and auto-biographical posts, I had no time to actually read some quality book, which is worth blogging. All I read was some random time pass stuff. But, finally, in a 3-day vacation sitting with no other work but getting lost in myself, I read a book, which fits that kind of mood. Its the autobiography of Rabindranath Tagore – “my life in my words”. Wait…. when did Tagore write his autobiography? Well, he did not, as a matter of fact. This book is an attempt to construct an autobiography of Tagore, by arranging some of his communications and personal essays in a chronological order. Hence, it became – “my life, in my words”. The selection, compilation and subsequent editor job was done by Uma Das Gupta. Well, I never heard of such a kind of an autobiography. However, to a large extent, I loved the book, despite the experiment.

The book is divided in to two parts – My life and My thoughts. In the first part, Tagore speaks from the personal things like- his family, children, wife, childhood and his personal life to his involvement with the development of Shantiniketan and its sister concerns. He also talks about his relationship with Gandhi, his ideas on Swadeshi Movement, his travels to different countries in the world and his relationships with people. Theres such a lot involved in this part of the book that one wonders on the effort that went in the background, to make this book a reality. Tagore’s letters to his friends and family members are both very interesting. Yeah, they are pretty much closer to practical concerns compared to the Nehru-Indira letters, on which I have some reservations, despite all the respect that I have for them. The second part is where Tagore talks on himself, religion, nature, India and the British. Frankly speaking, I don’t find any particular reason to split the book in to two parts, since both anyway comprised of letters (majorly).

Well, at any rate, I understood a lot of things about Tagore and his life through this book. I always had this curiosity about Tagore, seeing the diverse things that he did. I wondered how he was able to do so many things and get recognition in everything he did. The story behind Nobel prize for his Gitanjali still baffles me for its mysterious simplicity. It would have been nice if the Tagorian ideas were presented more in detail at places. Perhaps, Tagore is such a super-human personality that whatever might be written, the reader still craves for more! It was a great effort to make this book. But, then,  I still have some qualms. For example, there was not a single mention of his novels anywhere throughout the book, which is so shocking. He mentioned writing some poems in some sort of mood etc. Anyone’s expectation seeing that would be that there will be some mention about the story behind writing his novels somewhere. I would have enjoyed the book even more if “home and the world”, “Choker bali” or “Gora” or his stories or “Stray birds” were at least mentioned by name somewhere. Perhaps, had he written an autobiography actually, he would have included it. There was no mention of “Rabindra Sangeet” either! His views on universalism and gram-swaraj could have been detailed further. Ram Guha talked about the similarities and dis-similarities in thoughts of Gandhi and Tagore better than this book, in his columns in “The Hindu”‘s Sunday magazine. I think the book did not catch Tagore’s versatility properly.

I can go on and on complaining about the book. But, theres no one really to blame. If someone can be blamed, there are two. First person being Tagore himself, for being so versatile that any attempt to profile him would be incomplete, with any amount of effort. Second person being the creator for making so multi-faceted a personality that, its impossible to reconstruct him through words.  :) However, this book is indeed a feast to Tagore worshipers. At least for non-Bengalis like me for whom chances of knowing more can be only through translations. On the readability front, this book is very much readable. The arrangement of chapters and letters is perfect to the reader’s psyche. Tagore continues to amaze me even more, after this book. Please drop in some comments if u know of any books written ON Tagore. Let us hope that they profile him completely, at least collectively ;)

Final verdict:
Good book. To know Tagore apart from his literature, this is a must.


Purchase details:

My life in my words, Rabindranath Tagore.
Selected and edited with an Introduction by Uma Das Gupta
Publishers: Penguin/Viking
Cost: Rs 495/- (ahem!)

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Published in: on November 6, 2008 at 8:11 pm  Comments (12)  

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12 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hmmm.. I’m not finding the right adjective for your review at this moment! I’ve been randomly reading Tagore these days and this book surely got a place in my shelf.

    But some quick questions:
    > Are there any writers out there, who had excellent pieces of work and described the same, in their words? Someone who said why/what/how he wrote something? I wonder if anyone does so! If yes, I wanna read them. :-)

    > Is it ever possible for any human to be suffice in words? Any (auto)biography is always a personal take on a particular person with enough facts to support, right?
    Leave alone Tagore, any person in words isn’t complete. What do you think?

    >Are Victoria Ocampo’s letters included? Ever since, I read about her in Argumentative Indian, I always wanted to read those.

    Btw, she has written a book ON Tagore, in Spanish, I guess! Let’s google out that..

    mmm.. do I have more queries? No.. that’s all!

    But I still get that adjective! Hmmm.. ;-)

  2. @Purnima:
    1. Well, I am sure there will be some essays in which the others wrote about their books. R.K.Narayan for example mentions some of his books in his autobiography “My Days”. I remember R.K.Laxman mentioning his works in his autobiography “The Tunnel of Time”. There are surely many more such examples.
    2. Hmm… Perhaps, thats a way of looking at it. But then, Tagore is uncomparable … what do u say? :)
    3. Tagore’s letters to Ocampo are included. Ocampo’s to Tagore are not..since this is a compilation of Tagore’s works. Yes, lets google out :)

  3. @Purnima, Sowmya

    > Are there any writers out there, who had excellent pieces of work and described the same, in their words? Someone who said why/what/how he wrote something? I wonder if anyone does so! If yes, I wanna read them.

    Any of you read “Letters of Swami Vivekananda”. Going by this post and Purnima’s earlier posts, I am sure you would love it. Stop by RK Math sometime and grab copy of the book. Wonderful book.

  4. @bhasmasura,
    get “On Literature” of Umberto Eco.

  5. @Bhasmasura: I do have the book, lying on my shelf. Would read it soon! Thanks!

  6. I once had a lesson on Tagore’s childhood in his own words… i forgot what the lesson was called. it was in my english text book.. he had written about how his childhood was.. about becoming close to the new bride at home, about kicking his footware all the way, about wearing just a paijama and one more during winter etc. he wrote how content they used to be collected all waste stuff and keeping it in their pockets.. i think it was an extract that compared his childhood to modern day children’s .. i badly wanted to read tht again and haven’t been able to get it. Have u heard of it?

    • @Prideofwords: I do remember reading about some childhood memories of Tagore..but I don’t know if I read it in a text book… because, I also read “Childhood Days” by Tagore…and sources of incidents are now muddled up in my brain ;)

    • :) yeah i get it. THere was also this poem of his. He wrote that he feels like a caged bird who wouldn’t know where to perch itself if let free. He wrote how he felt when he saw the world from behind the window. have u heard of that?. I badly want to read that poem again. I lost it. If u know anything about it. let me know

  7. what a touching story of sir rabindranath tagore who dedicated his life 4 india

  8. your book is not very interesting.

    • why to you it is not interesting?

  9. its very good


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