Meeting Rabindranath

Today is the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore(1861-1941). In 1913 he received the Nobel Prize for literature, the first ever Asian to do so, for his Gitanjali or the Song Offerings – the English renderings done by the poet himself of his103 Bengali lyrics and songs. Today how many of us know what was the real significance of this event at that time? In my childhood when I first came to know about the poet, long after he was dead, I simply thought that the award of this prize made one famous. It also meant a lot of money like winning a lottery. When Tagore was born India was reeling under the yoke of foreign rule. In their arrogance the rulers treated the Indians as an inferior race. The winning of this prize by Tagore therefore signified, first and foremost, the recovery of our self-respect in the cultural field. He did it not for India alone but also for the whole continent of Asia, the major part of which was also under foreign rule. More than seventy years after the poet died in 1941, things have completely changed, India today has completely revolutionized. At long last she has found her rightful place in the assembly of nations. Various historical factors and forces have wrought this revolution, but among the host of exceptional individuals who gave constructive directions to those forces two great souls stand out as pre-eminent – Mahatma Gandhi and Tagore. Gandhi’s contribution has no parallel – none else has done as he did in making the history of India. None can mistake it because it is so obvious. But the contribution of Tagore is not so obvious – it is very subtle and deep. He is popularly known chiefly as a poet. But he was much more than that. He was a versatile genius.


For about a decade now Boloji and Bolokids have been publishing Tagore’s writings in translation. Now to celebrate his 150th birth anniversary Boloji has introduced this blog page to explore the various aspects of his genius. All are cordially invited to join in this exploration.


Is Tagore outdated today?

At least that is what some young writers in Bengal thought and started a kind of movement during the closing decade of the poet’s life. Some of them were students and teachers of English literature who drew heavily on foreign sources not only by imitating but also by stealing from them without acknowledgement. The anguished reply of the ageing poet to these people, in the poem Agantuk written on 11th July, 1932 and included in the collection Parishesh, may serve as a reply to those who may similarly question the poet’s relevance not only in literature but also in other fields. But the correct reply to this cannot be found until and unless we explore him as closely as possible. In the meantime here is the poet’s reply in my translation.

A Stranger

I have come from a time that is far.

When I came to your time I found

Companions I have none

Along the way

At various disembarkation points

One by one

They must have got down.

Somewhere far behind

I also exhausted the morsels

I received as gifts from life - 

Those small habitual comforts,

Things I needed to remain alive.

When I first set my feet on this life’s way

In my friendly exchanges with my fellow beings

Through what I said or meant

Through what I actually did

Or what I wanted to do

My right on that time became firmer each day.

I thought

In fun and merriment with others

It was enough to survive somehow –

By my mere presence in the pageant of life

To give some speed to the flow of life

To add to the crowd.


 But today in your time

I find I am an alien

I am unknown.

In your speech

The nuances of our words

Have assumed new meanings.

The seasons have changed

In changing whirlwinds

The landscape has changed colours too

Small factious groups, elbowing each other

Derisively smile.

Tastes, hopes and expectations

All that give life its relish

Have themselves lost their taste.


By my presence

Whatever I gave to our times

However little be its value

Bringing men closer in a thread

It gave a shape to that age– 

By your mundane measure

Today it doesn’t fit.

In my garden do not grow

The modish flowers that are needed

To welcome these passing times.

For the corner of your house now I occupy

I have nothing to pay as its rent.

So in a daring act of giving

I’ll have to give you something big.


It will not be something

To satisfy the demands of the present

And if you find

My gift is not to your taste

Leave it for your judgment at a later date.

Yet with what little I have

I want to repay my debt of this life

And leave you indebted.

May I give you to my last

Whatever I have

Beyond my profits and losses

Beyond my joys and sorrows

Without caring

Whether I am abused or praised.


What are his ‘gifts’? Are they ‘big’? Do you feel in any way ‘indebted’ to the poet? Or has he really become an ‘alien’ to us? What do you think?  Please let us know.

More By  :  Kumud Biswas

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  • Comments: 16

Comments on this Blog

Comment Dear Rajenderji, Among the most favourite of Rabindranath was Kabir whose 100 dohas in English translation were for the first time published by him. The poet also paid his tribute to the great saint in his famous poem 'Apaman bar' published in your boloji in my translation under the caption 'The Blessing of Dishonour'. And you may also guess why I chose to translate it. Rabindranath practised what he professed - this I will try to gradually unfold.

15-Jun-2010 09:10 AM

Comment Kumud Sir, My approach in life is very simple. You like it...go all out for it.  My Master - Kabir, refers to this in one of his mystic songs very aptly. 

Rajender Krishan
14-Jun-2010 20:14 PM

Comment Dear Nalinaksha,  Thank you for reading and commenting.

13-Jun-2010 18:54 PM

Dear Mr.Kumud Biswas,

His gifts are enormous. I am too small a creature to estimate the value of it. In short, the entire human civilisation is indebted to him -- for that matter to any great man of his stature --  because, every individual of the society  gets influenced directly or indirectly by their life's works.

It's a laudable effort.


Nalinaksha Mutsuddi
13-Jun-2010 05:06 AM

Comment Dear Rajenderji, You are a marvel indeed  - I know you are very resourceful, but this was beyond my wildest guess - and your offer is the best. Having been a part of the bureaucratic world all my working life nobody knows better than me what a jungle it is. One should always avoid the red tape as much as possible. Moreover, I personally know the present secretary who had his training in the district where I happened to be the Additional District Magistrate. He is the last man to be approached in such matters. Hope Mr. Jafri would readily agree.

12-Jun-2010 01:18 AM

Comment For Mr. Jafri. Please contact me with the details of the documentary. Is it something that you would like Boloji to air through its website? If yes, please email me at I happen to be the editor of this website and if by screening the documentary we can bring more awareness about Tagore to the world, I would find a way out to do so. Thank you

Rajender Krishan
11-Jun-2010 19:32 PM

Comment My dear Shernaz, Your poetry is  one of the chief attractions of boloji and I deem it a matter of great satisfaction that my efforts have found your approval. Many thanks indeed.

10-Jun-2010 04:16 AM

Comment Dear Dr. Amitabh, Through boloji my acquaintance with you is long. I am happy to know that you like my translations/transcreations of Tagore. Tank you so much!

10-Jun-2010 04:06 AM

Comment Always Aparna, Thanks a lot for your words of encouragement. Rabindranath is the greatest love of my life. I shall deem myself  the happiest man on earth if  through my modest efforts people come to know this wonderful poet more and more. I wish other Bengalis join me in my efforts.

10-Jun-2010 03:55 AM

Comment My dear Mr. Jafri, Words fail me to thank you for the excellent piece of news you have given. The 150th birth anniversary of the poet is being celebrated by the Government of India. I would request you to get in touch with the Ministry of Culture and arrange for the screening of this documentary through the National TV channel.

10-Jun-2010 03:48 AM

Comment Sir,
Thanks for the opportunity for me to add a comment of praise for the wonderful translation of Tagore's poem. This is a good piece for the present to open their eyes to a world Tagore envisaged.

May I know how I can contribute a beautiful documentary: '16 Candles on a Cake' made a long time ago which reflects Tagore's poem: Gitanjali. This documentary was made by my late and illustrious father who did have an opportunity to meet the great poet Tagore in his life time.

This documentary is about life that we must live and at the same time remember all those who lost their lifes too early.

Hope to hear from you and keep up the good work. Its time is now.


Ali Nazim Jafri.

Ali Nazim Jafri
23-May-2010 16:42 PM

Comment Dear Mr. Biswas,

Your transcreations have always charmed me and I feel grateful to you for your dedicated efforts in bringing Tagore's works to the masses esp. those who have little understanding of Bengali. They must have really benefitted in knowing Tagore's poems and songs through you. Generations may come, generations may go, but the depth of his words will always live thru...

Kind Regards,
Always Aparna

Always Aparna
21-May-2010 12:55 PM

Comment I have followed your translations/transcreations of Tagore for a long time
My heartiest congratulations


Amitabh Mitra
15-May-2010 16:41 PM

Comment It would be difficult not to agree with Dipankar's views. I have also enjoyed Tagore most through your transcreations of his works, apart from Gitanjali. I wish even today, I could have enjoyed this priceless, timeless legacy of his in the original language. Thank you for the wonderful work you are doing. It is a great homage to a great master.

11-May-2010 03:06 AM

Comment Thank you, my friend. Tagore lived not only a long but also a vast life and his legacy is also 'big' and timeless. Like many I was not fully aware of this, now it has become my mission for the rest of my life to know him as much as possible. And I don't care about the carping critics but go on transcreating/translating his works as best as I can to share my joy with others who cannot enjoy his works because of the barrier of language.

09-May-2010 18:51 PM

Comment Wonderful post Sir. I hope you draw a lot of visitors. I have been following you on your quest for Rabindranath and reading some of your wonderful translations. I hope you will put some of them up here in the blog too. Reading Rabindranath is the best way you can pay him homage.

09-May-2010 01:46 AM

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