[Rabindranath Tagore is perhaps the greatest writer of letters in the world. He wrote thousands of them in his own hand which is any calligrapher’s dream. So far Viswabharati has published more than 20 volumes of his letters – some of the volumes running into more than 500 pages in close print. And many letters must have been lost because of the carelessness of their recipients. But the best collection is of the 252 letters he wrote in his youth, mostly from Silaidaha where he was looking after his ancestral zamindari, to his dearest niece Indira, whom he called Bob, the daughter of his second eldest brother, the first native ICS, Satyendranath.
They would also have been lost but for the loving care with which this talented lady preserved them copied in her notebook. They were first published as Chhinnapatra, later as Chhinnapatrabali, or Excerpts of Letters. They are incomparable in world literature for their sheer beauty and poetry. They show in the hand of a great artist what great heights the art of letter writing can reach. Anybody who wants to know Rabindranath in his many moods must read these letters, if possible in the original Bengali because most of them defy translation. Here is one letter from that collection in my feeble attempt of a translation. It rambles about his own poetry and the paintings of a famous modern Indian artist – Ravi Verma.]
- Silaidaha, 8 May, 1893
Poetry has been my beloved for long - perhaps from the time when I was as small as my Rathi (poet’s eldest son, born, 27/11/1888) she has been betrothed to me. Since then the banks of our pond, the shed of the banyan tree, the garden in our house, the unexplored rooms on the ground floor, the outside world and the fairy tales and nursery rhymes told by the maid servants created a veritable imaginary world in my mind – it is very difficult to describe that strange and hazy mood of the mind – but this much I can say that from that very time my betrothal (mala badal) with poetic fancy (kalpana) was complete. But to tell you the truth that girl is not at all lucky – she isn’t a harbinger of good fortune. I cannot say that she doesn’t give pleasure but she doesn’t give an iota of comfort. She gives deep delight to one to whom she takes a fancy, but at times in the strong vice of her embrace she squeezes out all the blood from his heart. One whom she selects that wretch can never settle down comfortably in a settled family life. But my real life has been perpetually pawned to her. No matter if I write for the Sadhana (periodical edited by the poet but published from his home in Calcutta) or look after the zamindari, as soon as I sit down to write poems I realize that I have entered into my eternal real self – this is my real station in life. In my life both consciously and unconsciously I can often resort to falsehood but in poetry I can never tell lies – this is the one place where I have to be totally truthful.
The entire morning I spent seeing the paintings of Ravi Verma. Really I like them so much! However they may be, when I see them I realize – how much they mean to us, these native themes and images! In many pictures the different limbs and parts of the body are not in due proportions, they are very uneven, but taken in their totality they enter deep into our minds. This is mainly because we are in unison with the artist.
As we can anticipate from the outset what he wants to say – from his mere efforts we can complement the rest in our mind. It is easy to find fault with them, it doesn’t need much effort to do so, but when we consider that it is really difficult to conceive something clearly in one’s mind – the image which we mentally visualize we do so mostly in parts, it is a kind of patchwork - but when we attempt to paint it, not a single line we can do without, we are to imagine it exactly as it is, not ignoring any of its features either major or minor and then that imagination which is so fluid and ever changing has to be cast into a solid visible mould – is it so easy!