We celebrate the great poet, philosopher, and social reformer Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday. Tagore visualized a modern, free India where people would think freely, and their minds would be without fear.
(A new series of articles, exclusively for Humanity College) _________________________________
This is the beginning of Rabindranath Tagore week: this year, May 9 is his birthday. I am writing a series of new, original articles on the great poet, philosopher, educationist, and social reformer.
Contrary to his West-imposed image of a “mystic poet from the Orient” who wrote devotional songs and received a Nobel Prize for “Gitanjali,” Tagore was a major social reformer who preached universalism, and actively rejected prejudice, dogmatism, fanatic religion, and ultranationalism.
He also had differences of opinion with Mahatma Gandhi — especially on his vision to free India of the British clutches. Gandhi took the line of appeasement, and his Congress Party took the steam away from revolutionaries who fought the British aggressors for nearly a hundred years before Gandhi came on the Indian science. Tagore also spoke about nonviolence, but did not support Gandhi’s conservative vision. Tagore was truly a symbol of modernity and free thinking.
But Gandhi and Tagore had respect for each other. However, they had differences. The primary difference in my opinion was that Gandhi was a traditionalist, who did not believe in a modern-concept gender equality, economic industrialization, and globalism. Tagore on the other hand was a strong believer of modernity, equal rights, and a border-less, universal human race. These are the principles on which Tagore built his university in Bengal — spending all his Nobel Prize money and personal assets. The university he built was named Vishwa Bharati — literally, the school of the world.
Vishwa Bharati University, located in Shanti Niketan (i.e., abode of peace), West Bengal is still functional. It runs on an exceptional way of teaching. Contrary to the British colonial educational system that indoctrinates students into following orders, teaching and learning methods at Vishwa Bharati are open-air, free-thinking, fair exchange, and non-punitive. In its golden days when Tagore was alive, noted educationists from across the world came on its faculty. They taught philosophy, foreign languages, art, music, science, and various hands-on skills. Tagore also built a satellite school nearby called Sri Niketan, a school that taught agriculture, pottery, textiles and such subjects — to help the local residents make a living.
Other than his world-renowned literature and music, Tagore wrote pioneering books on science and environment, and even ventured into making movies in the early years of films. He was one of most vocal environmentalists. He visited many countries including Soviet Union, and wrote about the major contributions of socialism. But Tagore did not believe in communism.
Especially in today’s pervasive social and political climate of hate, fear, violence, illiteracy and fascism, Tagore can answer our many questions. He actively preached against ultranationalism, religious bigotry, hate and violence, and conservative orthodoxy. Some of his major novels and plays highlight the above.
Rabindranath Tagore was a product of the now-forgotten “Bengal Renaissance” — a major historical phenomenon that took shape under the leadership of social reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833), brilliant young teacher Henry Louis Vivian Derozio (1809-1831), and Tagore’s father Maharshi Debendra Nath Tagore (1817-1905). This school gave rise to a new generation of Bengalis and Indians who challenged orthodox, ultraconservative Hinduism and Islam, and even created a religio-cultural sect called Brahmoism.
“Live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” — Nelson Mandela.
“Others” is the key word here. Live … for … others…and not just for yourself. Once today’s evil Roman Empire gets it, human civilization will stop sinking, and move forward again.
Until then, it’s all downhill dark and despair…and Ayn Rand.
This is my small tribute to two of the greatest men I’ve respected in my life. ______________________________________________
Nelson Mandela is in critical condition. We are all hoping and praying he pulls through. But he is 94 and his health situation has taken a turn for the worse.
This is a brief remark I have about Mandela — Amandla, Madiba— at this crucial time. This is a brief remark I’ve carried with me all my life.
There will be many eulogies about Mandela. Big media, establishment media, textbooks — particularly in the U.S., South Africa, Britain and India — would immediately compare him with Gandhi.
Likewise, over the years, there have been many eulogies about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Big media, establishment media, textbooks — particularly in the U.S. Africa, Britain and India — have compared him with Gandhi too.
Even though I understand the importance of Gandhi and his nonviolent movement, and even though I am totally against violence, for various, critically important reasons, I reject the mainstream’s sweeping comparison between Mandela, Dr. King and Gandhi.
For historical reasons, I strongly believe that Gandhi was no Mandela. Gandhi was no Dr. King. Let’s accept facts, and not hearsays.
Nelson Mandela challenged Apartheid. He challenged the Anglo-American-European white supremacist doctrine and politics of subjugation (NOTE: I’m emphasizing the politics that has divided and conquered the rest of the world). Amandla challenged the global political colonialism, brutal violence against the black people, mob lynching, arson and mass rape. He organized his people against European economic oppression, slavery, stealing of land, and fought back against centuries of explicit, grotesque violation of human rights of African people. He inspired the entire world and its rights and justice soldiers to rise up against the global tyranny, promoted and sustained mainly by U.K. and U.S. regimes.
Apartheid regimes put Mandela in prison for almost thirty years. Ronald Reagan and a number of other U.S. presidents supported Apartheid. They did not want Mandela to come out of prison. Margaret Thatcher had also supported Apartheid, even though later she withdrew her support.
The same presidents and similar political leaders and regimes in America and across the world also supported repression of blacks and other such disempowered, marginalized people. They never believed these poor and oppressed people should have equal rights and dignity. They never liked civil rights leaders such as Dr. King or Malcolm X. They never liked the fact that Dr. King not only championed equal rights for the black people in America, but also spoke against economic exploitation of workers around the world. They despised that he championed labor unions and supported their strikes. The people in power never liked that Dr. King spoke strongly against the Vietnam genocide.
I have always believed that Nelson Mandela and Reverend King both understood the connection between global colonization from outside forces and social feudalism and exploitation of the poor from domestic forces. Both of them challenged economic subjugation of the ordinary, working people — both by external and internal powers. Both leaders were visionary to explain how the so-called one percent is using global warfare, assassinations and other politics of violence on one hand and permanent replacement of a people-oriented economic system by a profit-oriented system on the other. Therefore, both Mandela and MLK worked simultaneously on peace, rights, justice and equality fronts.
Therefore, global powers and their media — some of whom later sang praises for them — tried to condemn them as communists and socialists, with help from establishment media. They also tried to assassinate them many times. These are all historical facts, whether we like them or not.
And that is where the critical difference is between these two leaders and Gandhi.
But honest to God, Gandhi is no Mandela. Gandhi is no MLK. Mainly because Gandhi never believed in social and economic equality between men and women, or the rich and poor. Gandhi never believed in total equality, period. Gandhi, unlike Mandela and MLK, practiced the politics of appeasement with a tyrannical British Raj. Gandhi yielded to an historically murderous partition of India. Gandhi drove anti-British progressive leaders away from his Congress Party, and put feudal, corrupt, social patriarchs in power. The horrific patriarchy and violence on women India sees now, as well as with the abysmal corruption Indian people in power are now exposed naked, are all direct products of Gandhi’s failed political and social doctrines. They are all results of him putting the wrong people in power.
Most of us do not even know that how the so-called nonviolent Gandhi’ism actually destroyed nearly a hundred years of anti-British struggle in India when he was brought over from South Africa, many say, by the British. Hundreds of thousands of Indians — a large number from Bengal, Punjab and Maharashtra — had sacrificed their lives fighting back against the British occupation. Gandhi’s relatively short-lived movement helped delete these martyrs from the history of India’s freedom struggle. Western powers were delighted that it did.
(And very few dare to speak about Gandhi’s explicit racism against South African blacks.)
I understand this is NOT the time to talk about Gandhi. I understand this is a SOLEMN moment to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela. But, just because my voice is small and I am not going to have a better opportunity to challenge mainstream media’s comparison between these three leaders, I thought I’d write a few lines challenging the disingenuous parallel.
Quickly, global powers are destroying and distorting history. Can we take a moment, while remembering Mandela, to reflect on this obliteration of people’s history: the history of our struggle?
I wanted to meet Mandela. I met him — even though not personally. But I met him. Believe me, I did.
THE MASTER AS I SAW HIM. — “He believed that the one thing to be renounced was any idea of birth as the charter of leadership. He believed that the whole of India was about to be thrown into the melting pot, and that no man could say what new forms of power and greatness would be the result.” — Written by Vivekananda’s disciple Sister Nivedita (aka Margaret Noble).
For us who grew up knowing him, reading him, idolizing him — it’s a very special day.
For those of us who grew up in Calcutta, India, and that too, within half a mile of his residence, within quarter of a mile of the college he studied — it gives us goosebumps to imagine how this young monk who passed away at the age of thirty nine, turned Bengal and India upside down, by his rousing call to young India — to get rid of superstitions, castes, and all forms of social and religious dogmas.
Swami Vivekananda, a Ramakrishna-ordained Hindu saint who relinquished mortal pleasures to work to uplift the Hindu religion, used the religion to uplift the morality and soul of Indians. He dared to say: It’s better to play football than to study the Vedas. Indian revolutionaries who fought back against the British colonial tyranny idolized him, emulated him.
No wonder he was often fondly called the Socialist Saint.
Vivekananda’s disciple Sister Nivedita (aka Margaret Noble, an Irish woman) followed his footsteps, and worked among the poorest in Calcutta until her death at the age of forty four. She was also responsible for co-founding a major socialist movement in India — a “crime” for which Ramakrishna Mission (a nationwide, now international, organization her guru created) ostracized her.
India, unfortunately, did not follow the religion-based morality-upliftment lessons Vivekananda and Nivedita preached. Social patriarchs — including missions and monasteries — took their religion part and forgot about the upliftment part. Media selectively glorified some of their “innocuous” teaching and conveniently excluded the “controversial” ones. As a result, Vivekananda’s India is now one of the most corrupt, violent and immoral places on earth. The recent developments in the land of Tagore, Gandhi, Vivekananda and Ramakrishna are truly catastrophic, calamitous, ominous.
I want to say more about this great man whose life and teaching we can perhaps compare with those of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Both used spirituality to teach the downtrodden how to rise up and walk straight and tall. Both died at the age of thirty nine.
I’m including a famous poem Swami Vivekananda wrote and Sister Nivedita used in her writings on the guru. It may bring some special reflection on this dark and depressing time. At least, I hope it does.
Let us invoke the Holy Mother. Come, Mother, come!
Today I’m writing to celebrate my birthday. But today is not my birthday. It’s tomorrow.
I’m writing today because tomorrow I won’t have any free time. Birthdays here in the U.S. do not wait for a free day (or a day when you can make yourself free), and just like some other days I love to celebrate — such as Durga Puja or Tagore Jubilee — they often fall on a busy day in the middle of the week, and I cannot celebrate them the way I want to.
That’s not what I call a free country. (But that’s a different story.)
I also want to celebrate those days I love to celebrate with a lot of people and family and friends, and that don’t ever happen either.
(But that’s a different story too.)
I really love to celebrate my birthday. I’ve always loved to do it. I’ve done it in our small, limited-means way both in Calcutta, Kolkata — where I spent the first half of my life when Ma cooked some of the best Indian-Bengali dishes you could ever get anywhere in the world (ask any of my old friends); and then here in the U.S. — where I spent the second half and where my wife cooked some of the best Indian and Bengali dishes you can ever get anywhere in the world. Believe me: I’m not making it up.
So, great food is not a priority no more on my wish list. I’ve been blessed with great food — homemade and heartfelt — all my life. I seek something else. My mind asks for something more. It’s a spiritual yearning.
Perhaps, my very special birthday wish this year is: would you be mine? (Now, I know that’s cheesy 🙂
This is a very special note at this very special time. I want to smile. I want to chime.
Would you remember today to smile and chime? Mr. Bright? Ms. Bright? (That’s also perhaps again not so cheesy, right? 🙂
I need to see a lot of smile. I need to hear a lot of laughs. I want to hear a lot of songs. Happiness has been in seriously short supply. Seriously. Recently, it’s reached a critically low level.
My family and friends — especially those who I know deeply care for me — often tell me these days that I have changed slowly but surely from a sprity, forthrighty, frothy, fizzy, frolicky, fun person always with a big smile and grin and loud laugh and sense of humor to a rather sad, glum and grumpy old man. Now, that’s major bad news. I want to change it.
This is a major tipping point.
So, on this very special day (like, starting from tomorrow), I want to remember the good things that happened to my life and be happy thinking about how lucky I am that those good things indeed, actually happened to me — things that do not happen to most people I know (and I know a heck of a lot of people — like, thousands, literally). I’ve sort of decided to come to a resolution that I shall, in my mind, focus on those positives and ignore, delete and de-focus the negatives.
Now, I know it’s easier said than done.
I also know it sounds like one of those Deepak Chopra books — comics that people actually buy and read and make-believe they are happy now. But Deepak Chopra or not, I know I ain’t got no more choice. Or, it’s gonna be fast and painful death for me. I don’t want to die fast and painful. More importantly, I don’t want to die and be remembered a sad and glum and grumpy man. Oh, no no no, man! Because, I am not a sad and glum and grumpy man. I never was. I never will be.
I’ve actually thought about it long and hard: what is it that pulls me down and makes me sad and angry?
I could perhaps post a long laundry list of those things in layman’s terms — events, experiences and feelings all of which happen to be true and raw and depressing and dirty — that could pull any human being with a heart and brain down. Like, deaths of loved ones — and way too many of them too untimely. Like, leaving India practically for good — out of compulsion. Like, being born too poor and seeing too much poverty and starvation too up close. Like, going through a hell of a lot of physical and mental injury and insult. Like, extreme verbal and physical abuse…like, sexual abuse. Like, hiding them all…way too many of them…and pretending they didn’t happen.
Then, there is more. Like, being forced to go through a social, educational, economic and political system that absolutely, totally, unquestionably cheated you. Like, not being able to use your delightful, lovable, warm personality and sprite, blotting-paper-like desire to learn and respect for your teachers, God-given talents, knowledge, experience, analysis and proven leadership to put to use to change the society and system in a significant way…and at the same time helplessly witnessing one of the darkest and dumbest and most exploitative and violent chapters in human history unfolding in your own life…one event at a time…like a bad, obnoxious movie…acted, directed, produced and promoted by some of the most corrupt and inefficient-yet-arrogant crooks in human history. Compared to them, yes, Caligula or Nero or Kissinger or Cheney is like child’s play.
I’ve come to a major resolution. I can never be president of the United States. Heck, I know I can never even be the chief minister of West Bengal. Only people with tons of money, a Bush-like one-of-a-kind predecessor, a major-media-sponsored genocide or a despondent-hopeless-pathetic regime and equally hopeless electorate could make you a president of the U.S. or a chief minister of West Bengal. I’ve therefore given up on those secretest desires.
That’s sarcasm, as you can see.
But truly and cross-my-heartly, I’ve resigned to believe a few other not-so-idiosyncratic thoughts. Like, the two Golden Bengals will never be reunited and Bengalis will forever be blasted and looked-down-upon by the West and East alike as a failed race (and nobody will read the history book and know either the Pala Dynasty, Sri Chaitanya’s Bhakti movement, Raja Ram Mohan Ray, Derozio, Vidyasagar, Lalan, Swami Vivekananda, Sister Nivedita, Tagore…and of course, on the flip side of history, the British barbarism). Nobody would ever know how prosperous Bengal was where after the Battle of Plassey, Lord Clive and his women looted so much gold and jewelry that they went absolutely wild berserk. (Read about Clive’s atrocities here.)
I’ve resigned to believe that at the London Olympics of summer, 2012, there will be no demand from the millions of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrants-turned-British citizens for an official apology and reparation for the British Raj’s two centuries of occupation, brutality, mass-killing and mass-looting. I’ve resigned to believe that in India, the same illiterate and feudal-chauvinists who were responsible for a bloody partition, riots, refugees and famines will keep in power for many years to come. I have resigned to believe that very few people even in the so-called enlightened West would ever care to know exactly how many hundreds of thousands of Bengali women were raped and killed by the Kissinger-backed Pakistani army in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War.
I have resigned to believe that people who I thought would care would not care. I have a number of examples of that disillusionment. Obama has been the latest example on that list.
I have resigned to believe that Tagore’s Nobel Prize, stolen from his own Vishva Bharati University’s national museum, would never be found. I know the British monarchy would never return Koh-I-Noor and numerous other treasures they looted from India. I now know the British government would never tell us how Subhas Bose — whom Gandhi sabotaged — perished in exile. (Am I digressing too much?)
Okay then. I’ve come to realize that nobody in the elite academia in the “free-thinking” West — especially those in the seat of power — would ever care to learn or promote philosophers and intellectuals outside of what Harvard, Columbia or University of Chicago asks of them to freely think. They would not want to know Tagore. They would not know Bengal Renaissance. They would refuse to know or teach anything majorly un-Euro-American.
I know for the fact that none of the above would ever read my blog.
So, as you can see, I have my reasons to slowly but surely transform from sprity, fun, frolicky to sad and glum and grumpy. But at this rather critical juncture of my life, I refuse to be a victim of their doing and die and be remembered a sad, glum and grumpy, bitter man. I shall not give in to their grand plan: destroy the thinking mind, dumb-down the non-thinking others, keep the trouble makers on the edge, and kill all the smiles.
No, I won’t die their prescribed death.
I want to celebrate this birthday. I want to celebrate it with a smile. I shall live on the many positives that happened to me.
I hope you do too.
Smile with me.
Let’s celebrate life. Let’s celebrate it together.
That is my very special birthday wish today…and tomorrow.