UH Grad Student Samantha Lay Named the 2012 Tagore Scholar at UH
I want to begin by again thanking the Tagore Society for allowing me this opportunity. I also want to thank a few people whose assistance and kindness I would not have managed. Partha Sengupta and his sister and brother-in-law Supriya and Sekhar Roy helped me find housing, Krishna and Monoj Dutta in whose home I stayed and for introducing me to contacts in Santiniketan. All of these people took me under their wings and treated me like family. I also want to thank Dipankar Roy, an English professor of Tagore’s fiction at Visva-Bharati University, Dr. Aboul-Ela, my project mentor at the University of Houston, and Dr. Herendeen the English department chair at University of Houston.
In Kolkata I researched in Calcutta University’s library and in the Comparative Literature Library at Jadavpur University. I toured Rabindra Bharti in Joransko and Supria and Sekhar Roy showed me the sights around Kolkata, such as the Victoria Memorial and the riverside. They also introduced me to a circle of artists and professors with whom I discussed Tagore’s art, mission, and role in Bengal. We discussed the issues of the day, how they are still reflected in art, and how art can initiate social awareness and social change, a key element in Tagore’s writing.
In Santiniketan, I met with professors at Visva-Bharatia University, visited Pous Mela, toured the Santiniketan Society of Visual Art and Design, studied in the Tagore Center library, toured Rabindra-Bhavana, Visva-Bharati’s campuses, and Pearson Pali. The contacts I made through Krishna Dutta allowed me access to areas in Tagore’s home that are closed to the public, Tagore’s drawing room, his daughter’s bedroom, and his dining room, in which I had tea. I was in awe.
While I consulted many texts, the most useful texts from the various university libraries were:
Dutta, Krishna and Andrew Robinson, Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-Minded Man
Gupta, Kalyan Sen. The Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore.
Kripalani, Krishna. Rabindranath Tagore: A Biography.
Raj, G.V, Tagore: The Novelist New Delhi: Sterling PPL 1983
Thompson, Edward, Rabindranath Tagore: A Centenary Volume
My initial interest in Tagore came through learning about this scholarship. While researching Tagore, I noticed that his life and work followed key Romantic ideologies. As I continued to read, I saw how Tagore’s literature includes aspects of British Romanticism, but he shifts these elements, transforming them to fit the crisis in culture that is specific to India’s political, social, and economic climate. While I started by reading Tagore’s poetry, I was more drawn to his fiction. I read a collection of Tagore’s short stories, The Home and the World and Gora, but it was Gora, in particular, that most interested me. It is a work that illustrates Tagore’s theory that political institutions can interfere with and disrupt what would be a natural humanity, how systems that serve themselves rather than the people, systems that create economic divides, can contaminate what has the potential to be a utopian-like existence.
My research in India supported my idea that Tagore takes aspects of British Romanticism and transforms them to use them for his mission of progressing Indian society and culture. As I read, I narrowed to a specific Romantic figure, the Byronic Hero. In Gora, the title character, Gora, fits the description of the Byronic Hero, who is tortured, who tortures those around him because of his unrelenting ideologies, and whose distinctive physical presence signifies that he is unique. But unlike the British Byronic Hero, Gora does not die tortured and alone. He does not sacrifice others to fulfill his selfish goals. Instead, Tagore uses the powerful figure of the Byronic Hero to further his idea that when individuals live their lives by breaking from social constraints, they actually advance their society rather than harm it. As I write the final project, I will more fully develop these claims, and I will continue my research and writing through this semester and into the summer and will have the final project completed by August 2013.
One of the most important findings goes beyond the Romanticism project though. It occurred when reading Tagore’s journals and letters and in the midst of my interactions with the artists and professors. I realized that beyond sharing Tagore’s ideas on art and society, I genuinely liked Tagore and would have liked to know him. Making such a powerful connection with a man who died decades before I was born, who lived across the globe from me, and making such powerful connections with my new friends in India, with whom I am still in contact, and with whom I would trust with my life, truly embodies Tagore’s vision of a union between the East and the West.