Translation from Bengali works of Rabindranath Tagore, Nobel Laureate of 1913.
Read translator's note at the end of the poem.
In the evening to what a game
Thou invite me again?
O my Playmate, why spark
Many a hued flame in this vacant yard dark?
Thy freak of color in the remote dawn
Wrapped in which light within my heart Thou laid upon?
Gleaning gleams of the lotus garden
Thou lit up the night, to paint my departing pain?
Down the rising Sun will go
In golden rays with evening lamps' glow?
My flute fugitive
In the guise of hide and seek
Absconded to wilderness,
Under the heaps of parched leaves' mess.
There I rescued it -
The music Thou taught me taking Thy seat
By my side under the banyan tree
At dawn, to reveal my musical spree.
On the moist grass, abruptly with my sigh
And tears profuse running high
I found that amidst turbulent gale
Beneath the parched leaves pale
At dawn, my Playmate
Would fill the basket
With golden Champa flower
Fetching me from the garden yonder;
In today's dark
Its fragrance does hark
That tale of the past -
Is this a mere errant?
Under the Bakul tree in Thy guise new
Do Thou revert to call me anew?
In that old game
In Thy right hand holding the basket same?
In Thy hair restive
Champas (*) hang furtive (a flower)
From that unknown, I come to another
Is it errant mere?
What Thou expect of me -
My bewildering life's course to be?
Oh Guru of all game
Did Thou design it to be the same
As at dawn
At my fag end its continuation?
With my awakening that day,
I'd seen wayward gale made its way,
Smashing the bolt to liberate all eccentrics
Put them all in utter fix,
Amnesiac of all engagements trivial
Uncertain of their final goal,
Amidst them to rush and perplex again,
Run after my dream-deer in vain
To land in exhaustion as before -
Is that what is still in my store?
My go with the run-of-the-mill
Is not Thy will?
So, from the forests dark
Where the glow-worms spark
Thou again call me on
Denying all reason?
At the pull of the aimless
With unbearable pain restless,
Wake up my heart with thrill in the clime,
Resonating with leisurely music sublime
At the fag end of my life
Leaving behind all my strife
Where Thou stand alone,
Veering through zigzags unknown -
Unwittingly I'm destined to fall on Thee -
Is that why Thou call me?
I know, I know, O Playmate-
Thou want not me to fate
As Thy devotee mere
In the lonely yard here -
The fragrance that the lamps emanate -
Is not only my homage to Thee resonate;
It is to unite the play of mine,
In the arena in night's solitude,
Where to pay my tribute
To the silent festival of the stars.
With magnificence enormous
Thy Veena’s sonata with flute's belonging to me
Will create ineffable symphony -
To fulfill the night
On my final flight -
Light of Thine with mine
For a duet
Not for mere homage to Thee, O Playmate.
At the concluding part of this poem the Poet perceives God as his Playmate. In God - Human relationship concept, this is a heresy while God is universally revered as the Almighty, more or less a terror entity. Tagore's interpretation of Upanishad is worth a quote here:
“One day gods were terror to man. To please whom for a comfortable life or whose displeasure brings disaster, could not be decided by man. To please the power with which there is no spiritual link, humans gathered to worship it with animal sacrifice and such rituals. That worship out of fright is not a festivity. Just as when we are in the hands of the dacoits, we say, 'we give you whatever I have, but please spare our life'; similarly, to keep pleased the invisible power, on earth man said that day, 'We'll give You everything, please don't put us in crisis'. But that is not a gift of Joy. Once you perceive the God of Joy, there will be no fear. ………The day man has realized that he is not a beast neither his God is, that he is great and so is his God, he has accepted utmost sorrow. That day man became victorious, a hero and so it was celebrated. Just as a bird on the verge of darkness finds its song of joy at the very touch of the sunrays, so does man when divinity touches him; he declares, 'I am the son of the Immortal'; says he, 'I have got it!', with the strength of which he perceives the Immortal within himself, fears no more, and death cannot daunt him; facing the danger he says, 'my journey is ahead; stop I won't; I have no defeat; O Terrible, Your grace is boundless'.”
Of course, the entire mankind does not share these lofty perceptions of Upanishad and aforesaid 'panic' about God is a part of human ethos worldwide. But we have seen exceptions to this in man's history e.g. Vaishnavite cult, nearly a millennium old, which has greatly influenced Tagore literature. (see Rabindrasangeet =Tagore's songs) No: 6
“To get anew again
I lose Thee now and then;
O my precious love, Thy flight
Is only to be back to my sight.”
The lines “My go with the run-of-the-mill / Is not Thy will?” open up yet another panoramic dimension of the poem - the Poet's bewilderingly chequered career. Primarily he was a great poet and the first Nobel Laureate from Asia. But that hardly defines him. He had travelled the whole world to have camaraderie with a large number of geniuses in different parts of the world, including Einstein etc. Incidentally, it seems, he excelled this legendary scientist in cosmic perceptions at least in the area of metaphysics. A number of poems / songs in this volume may tempt one to this belief.
He took active role in India's struggle for liberation from the British rule in his own way. While he himself conferred the appellation of “Mahatma” (=Great Soul”) on Gandhi-ji, the negativity of his “Charka” and “non-cooperation” movement was realized by the Poet. As a more positive step, he opened up a village of cottage industry at 'Sriniketan' close to Santiniketan giving opportunity to thousands of youths for a decent living, along with their educational uplift, thus ridding them of a frustrated life. Building up an ideal University in Santiniketan e.g. Viswa-Bharati (=World University), elevating the Institution to the world map of education and aesthetics, all evidence his tremendous creative dynamism. He is the only poet in the world whose songs have been accepted as National Anthem in three sovereign countries e.g. India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Mention may also be made of his renouncing Knighthood conferred on him by the Monarch of the British Empire in protest, when in 1919 the Jalianwala Bagh (in Punjab) carnage by the British Police stupefied the entire nation for a long time. The Poet's action was to the great indignation of the British people who took this as insult to their highly revered Monarch.
Notwithstanding all these high profile involvements, he was amazingly mobile among very ordinary people also. A quote from Maitrayee Devi's book 'Tagore By Fireside'
“He was interested in our smallest pleasures and pains, trivial problems of our everyday life, watching over us with affection and anxiety. He did not stand like an onlooker on the bank, but came right into the middle of our life stream and felt its flow.”
Till the end of his life the Poet's involvement in all the matters, profound or trivial, was in right earnest and even in twilight of his career he responded to the 'invitation' of his 'Playmate' and did not miss the 'many a hued flame in the vacant yard dark' which in God's grace was conveyed to him from 'the remote dawn' at the prime of his life. (refer poem 'Adhuniika', & 'Anonym' etc.)
One may wonder, if there is a second historical personality with such a wide variety of involvements in the national and international affairs, encompassing the hoi polloi also. The myriad facets of the Poet's personality can be best summed up in his words alone -
“Thou hast me made me endless / Such is The pleasure.”
- translated version of the poem 'Khela' (=Play) by Rabindranath Tagore from his book “Purabi” written around 1923.