Tagore Speaks online section B4

Copyright © Christine Marsh 2016

4: Nationalism (1917)

And we of no nations of the world, whose heads have been bowed to the dust, will know that this dust is more sacred than the bricks which build the pride of power. For this dust is fertile of life, and of beauty and worship. We shall thank God that we were made to wait in silence through the night of despair, had to bear the insult of the proud and the strong man’s burden, yet all through it, though our hearts quaked with doubt and fear, never could we blindly believe in the salvation which machinery offered to man, but we held fast to our trust in God and the truth of the human soul. And we can still cherish the hope that, when power becomes ashamed to occupy its throne and is ready to make way for love, when the morning comes for cleansing the blood-stained steps of the Nation along the highroad of humanity, we shall be called upon to bring our own vessel of sacred water—the water of worship—to sweeten the history of man into purity, and with its sprinkling make the trampled dust of the centuries blessed with fruitfulness. (Tagore, ‘Nationalism in the West’)[1]

Nationalism, Tagore’s third book of ‘English essays’, has been much discussed and debated, from 1917 when it was first published to the present. According to Tagore’s biographer, Kripalani, the Personality lectures were ‘greatly appreciated’, whereas Tagore’s ‘forthright denunciation of nationalism as a cult provoked violent attacks in the American press’.[2] Romain Rolland was one of the few at that time who applauded Tagore’s lectures on nationalism. He saw Tagore’s denunciation of ‘the monstrous abuse which Europe makes of her power’ as a call to (pacifist) arms, and asked him to sign the Declaration of the Independence of the Spirit, which he duly did.[3]

In an essay entitled ‘The Poet’s Anxiety’, Gandhi insightfully remarks that Tagore ‘has a horror of everything negative’.[4] This observation can be used as a ‘litmus test’ to apply to any account of what Tagore wrote or said. Any suggestion that he was being negative means that one probably needs to read him again. There is very powerful rhetoric in Nationalism, which shows that Tagore manipulated the emotional responses of his audiences with great skill, but this work is more than anti-nationalist or anti-war polemics. More constructive meanings are to be discovered by reading the essays as discourses on history – not history as chronicle, but as patterns of continuity and change.

To read Nationalism as history, and also to see why Tagore employs such passionate language in this work, we need to bring in a particular episode in his own history as background. In this chapter I argue that Tagore’s involvement in the Swadeshi Movement of 1903-8 is the precursor to Nationalism, and the essays he wrote then reveal Tagore as passionate poet and politician.

Tagore played a major role in the Swadeshi protests at the announcement of the plan by the British Government to partition Bengal, and he looked beyond the particular grievance to the opportunity to put forward a constructive national programme.[5] Like others, he had been critical of the limited ambitions of the Indian National Congress, and the fact that they represented only the educated, English-speaking elite. He urged leaders to forge links between city and countryside, with a view to reviving the whole social fabric and unifying the country. As part of this, local enterprise would be supported, linked to the boycott of foreign goods as part of the protest against Partition.

Addresses by Tagore from the Swadeshi period are available in English translation in the Tagore centenary volume, Towards Universal Man. The distinguished historian of ideas, Isaiah Berlin, was one of the scholars involved in preparations for that collection, and he came to admire Tagore’s initiative as a form of nationalism such as Herder, the ‘father of nationalism’, would have approved. Although the Swadeshi episode is not mentioned explicitly in Nationalism, the ideals behind Tagore’s efforts are present. In particular, one can draw parallels between a famous address given by Tagore in 1904 and ‘Nationalism in the West’, the original first essay in Nationalism.

The Swadeshi background helps us to look beneath the rhetoric of the Nationalism essays to see Tagore’s vision for unifying the world. He was able to see a way through the problems of the modern world by taking a long term view, an extension to the world of his understanding of India’s history of continuity and change. Tagore had failed to persuade the other leaders to adopt the approach he believed was right for their country, and he must have been deeply disappointed and distressed, even angry.

A central finding in the chapter on Personality was how crucial the emotions were for Tagore, not only for him as a poet, but as a person and as a thinker. Tagore argues in Personality that direct experience and emotional engagement are fundamental to truth and reality.[6] We saw the evidence of Tagore’s mood swings in his letters to Andrews, and it was Andrews who stated that Tagore began writing the nationalism talks ‘in Japan at a white heat’ because he had lost hope of uniting Asia to resist western influences.[7]

Tagore’s History of Continuity and Change

In preparation for re-reading Nationalism as history, curiously enough, one needs to make sure the text is the right way round. Due to the intense interest in the book, several new editions of Nationalism have appeared since Tagore’s death, including a Macmillan paperback with an introduction by E.P. Thompson in 1991.[8] This book was part of a series edited by Andrew Robinson, so it was presumably his decision to switch the order of the first two essays, and leave out the poem ‘The Sunset of the Century’ which Tagore had included at the back. The 1991 edition has ‘Nationalism in Japan’ first, followed by ‘Nationalism in the West’. (‘Nationalism in India’ is last, as it was in Tagore’s 1917 original.) The thinking behind this rearrangement was presumably that Tagore first lectured on nationalism in Japan, and then in America (over twenty times).[9] It appears that later editions of Nationalism adhered to the new sequence, since two Penguin editions were published in 2009 and 2010 with ‘Nationalism in Japan’ first.[10]

The sequence matters. Having studied all the books of English essays very closely, I know that Tagore was careful and deliberate over the contents of all of them. In particular, one finds that he puts the most important essay first, and although he does not introduce or explain the sequence, there always is a structure. This is most marked in Creative Unity, which has an interesting narrative form, as we see in the next chapter. In Nationalism, the original sequence of the essays reflects the history, not of Tagore’s tour, but of the world. Nationalism originated in the West, then it was emulated in Japan, and Tagore hopes to deter the adoption of nationalism in his own country. The place to start reading Nationalism as history is the original first essay, ‘Nationalism in the West’, which begins: ‘Man’s history is being shaped according to the difficulties it encounters. These have offered us problems and claimed their solutions from us, the penalty of non-fulfilment being death or degradation’.[11]

Two key phrases recur in ‘Nationalism in the West’: ‘no nation(s)’ and ‘Nation of the West’.[12] Neither of these appears in the other essays.[13] A major theme throughout is the Poet’s account of India as a people of ‘no nations’, which was crushed by ‘the Nation of the West driving its tentacles of machinery deep down into the soil’.[14] The last occurrence of ‘no nation’ is in the final paragraph, reproduced in my epigraph above: ‘And we of no nations of the world’ etc.[15]

Nabaneeta Dev Sen has singled out the same conceptual binary in her forthright interpretation of Nationalism as Tagore ‘rubbishing’ the whole idea of the Nation:

Tagore was rubbishing the concept of the Nation as a selfish product of western technology that harmed peace by promoting difference. Instead of spreading cooperation, communication and consideration, it promoted suspicion, competition and coercion, and instigated violent passions and hostilities. Like nation, the concepts of race, religion and ethnicity also divide mankind into warring groups and we urgently need a loose, broad state structure, the concept of ‘No-Nation’, to accommodate all in their own space. Any civilization that rests upon dividing up people carries the seed of its own destruction within itself.[16]

Tagore associates ‘Nation’ with a dangerously divisive phase the world is going through, and ‘no nation’ (or ‘No-Nation’) as the alternative, which Dev Sen describes as ‘a loose, broad state structure’. My understanding of Tagore’s use of these two phrases is that they echo the title in English of one of the most admired of Tagore’s essays ‘Society and State’.[17] It is evident from this Swadeshi period essay that Tagore was opposed to state structures of any kind, with ‘society’ his preferred ‘no nation’ opposite. Tagore explains that their country has traditionally had a society, but not a state in the English sense:

What in English concepts is known as the State was called in our country Sarkar or Government. This Government existed in ancient India in the form of kingly power, but there is a difference between the present English State and our ancient kingly power. England relegates to State care all the welfare services in the country; India did that only to a very limited extent.[18]

Tagore goes on to explain that in India, ‘social duties were specifically assigned to the members of society’, and the king made his contribution, like any other wealthy member of society,[19] and the word for social duties is dharma, which ‘permeated the whole social fabric’.[20] One can read ‘Nationalism in the West’ as an extension of the key idea of ‘Society and State’ to the world, and it is helpful to examine the original Bengali title of that essay, Swadeshi Samaj. The word ‘Swadesh’ is from Sanskrit, a conjunction of Swa meaning ‘self’ or ‘own’ and desh meaning country, and the adjectival form ‘Swadeshi’ means ‘of one’s own country’.[21] The definition of ‘Samaj’ is: ‘society building’.[22] So ‘Swadeshi Samaj’ means building a society of one’s own country, which suggests that the equivalent in English might well be ‘Nationalism’. Tagore’s idea of nation as society and not state is similar to that of Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803), ‘father of nationalism’, as explicated by Isaiah Berlin:

He believed in kinship, social solidarity, Volkstum, nationhood, but to the end of his life he detested and denounced every form of centralisation, coercion and conquest, which were embodied and symbolised both for him, and for his teacher Hamann, in the accursed State. Nature creates nations, not States. [...] He vies with Justus Möser in his tenderness towards long-lived traditions and institutions embodied in particular forms of life that have created unity and continuity in a human community.[23]

Tagore’s way of clarifying his interpretation and critique of nationalism with the use of ‘no nation(s)’ and ‘Nation of the West’ is typically poetic.[24] His translators’ English is quite different, and the essays in translation, in Towards Universal Man and elsewhere, come across with more objectivity, which can make them more convincing. This is also an effect of those essays having been addresses by Tagore when he was engaged in practical concerns in his own country. Swadeshi Samaj, in particular, was prompted by the need to address problems with the water supply in Bengal.[25] The recurring pattern of the two phrases in ‘Nationalism in the West’ gives the essay poetic depth and ambiguity, and indicates that there are other semantic possibilities.

In one of Tagore’s last poems, ‘They Work’,[26] the poet surveys stretches of time and space and sees ‘myriad pictures’ of masses of men marching proudly victorious, the ‘empire-hungry’ Pathans come, then the Mughals, and both ‘have vanished without a trace’. So when the ‘mighty British’ come marching in, the poet knows that time will sweep them away too. Meanwhile, the people work to ‘meet daily needs of men who live and die’, their sorrows and joys ‘orchestrate life’s great music’. Finally the poet declares: ‘Empires by the hundred collapse and on their ruins the people work’.[27] The poem gives a sense of repeating patterns and continuity. The parasitical empires come and go, but through eternity the multitudes work in town and country.

In ‘Nationalism in the West’ we find a similar sense of historic rhythm, but expressed more positively:

[T]he history of India does not belong to one particular race but to a process of creation to which various races of the world contributed — the Dravidians and the Aryans, the ancient Greeks and the Persians, the Mohammedans of the West and those of central Asia. Now at last has come the turn of the English to become true to this history and bring to it the tribute of their life, and we neither have the right nor the power to exclude this people from the building of the destiny of India. Therefore what I say about the Nation has more to do with the history of Man than specially with that of India.[28]

Tagore brings in another crucial aspect of many races arriving in India into all three of the Nationalism essays. In ‘Nationalism in India’ he writes that ‘from the earliest beginnings of history India has had her own problem constantly before her—it is the race problem’, and Tagore claims that, in finding the solution to this, India will have ‘helped to solve the world problem as well’.[29]

We see that Tagore recounts the history of his country in different ways, but in each case the ‘various races of the world’ arrived and brought challenges. In ‘They Work’ he describes the succession of parasitic conquerors who vanished without a trace, and the idea of violent exploitation features particularly strongly in ‘Nationalism in Japan’, for example: ‘The political civilization which has sprung up from the soil of Europe [...] is carnivorous and cannibalistic in its tendencies, it feeds upon the resources of other peoples and tries to swallow their whole future’.[30] Elsewhere Tagore suggests that the ‘no nation’ of India absorbed those peoples, and others who came more peacefully, to form ‘a basis of unity which is not political’.[31]

Tagore’s history includes critical examination of the concept of progress. Early on in ‘Nationalism in Japan’, he remarks:

It was said of Asia that it could never move in the path of progress, its face was so inevitably turned backwards. We accepted this accusation, and came to believe it. In India, I know, a large section of our educated community, grown tired of feeling the humiliation of this charge against us, is trying all its resources of self-deception to turn it into a matter of boasting. But boasting is only a masked shame, it does not truly believe in itself.[32]

Later in the essay he relates how, to the world’s astonishment, ‘Japan broke through her walls of old habits in a night and came out triumphant’,[33] but that, as an eastern nation, it has responsibilities:

[Y]ou (Japan) cannot with a light heart accept the modern civilization with all its tendencies, methods and structures, and dream that they are inevitable. You must apply your Eastern mind, your spiritual strength, your love of simplicity, your recognition of social obligation, in order to cut out a new path for this great unwieldy car of progress, shrieking out its loud discords as it runs. You must minimize the immense sacrifice of man’s life and freedom that it claims in its every movement.[34]

Tagore questions progress in another way in one of his ‘Talks in China’ entitled ‘Civilization and Progress’.[35] He begins by asking what is meant by the European word ‘civilization’: ‘Has it the same meaning as some word in our language which denotes for us the idea of human perfection?’ He suggests that the Sanskrit word dharma may be the nearest synonym, and there is no other word unless one is newly-coined. He then relates several anecdotes to illustrate traditional dharma, which is ‘that principle which holds us firm together and leads us to our best welfare’. In contrast, as he observes, ‘to-day progress is considered to be characteristic of civilization, and because progress goes on gathering an unending material extension, money has established its universal sovereignty’. In conclusion, he quotes a ‘sage in India’ (his phrase for a writer of the Upanisads) who says that ‘by the help of anti-dharma men prosper, they find what they desire, they conquer enemies, but they perish at the root’, hence, ‘[t]he wealth which is not welfare grows with a rapid vigour, but carries within itself the seed of death [and t]his wealth has been nourished in the West by the blood of men and the harvest is ripening’.[36]

In recounting his history of India and the world, Tagore seems to be saying that the West’s pursuit of wealth and power will ultimately lead to failure. His phrase ‘Nation of the West’ refers to civilization understood as material progress, or economic growth, which is destined to disappear, like the empires in the poem ‘They Work’, and Tagore’s mission is to do what he can to make sure that the people of ‘no nation’, the farmers, fishermen and craftsmen of India, will survive to build on the ruins. However, Tagore did not tell his audiences in America about his efforts towards reviving India’s rural society, perhaps assuming that this work would not be of interest to members of an urban industrial nation.

This lack was evidently felt by E.P. Thompson when he was writing his Introduction to the 1991 edition of Nationalism. Thompson quotes from a letter to his father which ‘clarifies the issues in so many ways’. The letter is about Tagore’s belief ‘in serving one’s country in constructive work. Hence his emphasis on village work, mass education, sanitation and social reform’.[37] Without something explicitly constructive and practical being included, readings of Nationalism are bound to fail the ‘litmus test’ I derived from Gandhi’s remark about Tagore having ‘a horror of everything negative’. The mere fact that Tagore gave lectures with the title ‘The Cult of Nationalism’ makes negative readings difficult to avoid, and Tagore’s debates with Gandhi in the early 1920s adds to the impression that Tagore was anti-nationalist.[38] Nationalism was understood by its first reviewer in the British Press as ‘The Protest of a Seer’, who ‘indicates evils and dangers in the present system’, but cannot say what he ‘would like to substitute for the present regime’.[39] Tagore does in fact bring out in the book what his alternative would be. In practical terms, it is the ‘constructive work of social cooperation’,[40] which is a theme throughout. Tagore’s conclusion to the last essay, ‘Nationalism in India’, is a resounding call for universal harmony, equality and justice:

I am willing to acknowledge that there is a law of demand and supply and an infatuation of man for more things than are good for him. And yet I will persist in believing that there is such a thing as the harmony of completeness in humanity, where poverty does not take away his riches, where defeat may lead him to victory, death to immortality, and in the compensation of Eternal Justice those who are the last may yet have their insult transmuted into a golden triumph.[41]

In his essay ‘The Illegitimacy of Nationalism’, Ashis Nandy refers to Tagore’s ‘starting point in the matter of nationalism’ being his ‘brief, well argued—though at places uncomfortably purple—book on nationalism’, in which he ‘distinguishes between government by kings and human races (his term for civilization) [sic] and government by nations (his term for nation-states) [sic]’.[42] Nandy recognises that Tagore, the ‘dissenter among dissenters’,[43] advocated no form of hierarchical government, but ‘looks back to the real tradition of India, which is to work for “an adjustment of races, to acknowledge the real differences between them, and yet seek some basis of unity”’.[44]

Tagore describes a similar scenario to Nandy’s in his essay ‘The Soviet System’, in which he refers to the early ‘Kshatriya or Warrior Age’ passing away, and the ‘Vaishya or Merchant Age’ being ushered in; obviously a reference to the advent of the East India Company. Tagore tells how India was once famous throughout the world for her immense wealth, but the new arrivals excelled at ‘the art of pilfering’. ‘By and by’, he says, ‘the foreign merchants superimposed the royal throne on their seat of trade’, at a propitious time when the Mogul empire was in decline, and ‘was finally dismembered and destroyed by British hands’.[45] When Nandy redefines ‘government by kings and human races’ as Tagore’s term for ‘civilization’ this implies that Tagore wanted a return to the Warrior Age – to feudalism, in effect. As we have seen, Tagore suggests in ‘Society and State’ that a king in India used to carry out his duties, like having water tanks dug, ‘but he did hardly more than any other wealthy member of society’.[46] For the future, Tagore wanted a society of local cooperation, not one preyed upon by any ruling class or institution, however benign and responsible.

In his essay Bharat-Itihas Charcha (‘On Studying Indian History’), Tagore writes that India’s history is not political history, and that ‘what British historians regard as Indian history gets a start only from the period of Muslim rule’.[47] Ranajit Guha describes how histories of India were written in English in the years between the accession to Diwani in 1765 and the Permanent Settlement Act of 1793, the political purpose of the Company Raj being to determine land ownership and the details of its revenue gathering entitlements.[48] Tagore says that India’s history has never been missing, but exists in the form of epics. India’s goal has been to achieve unity, to reconcile ‘conflict over caste, language, religion and custom’. There were gaps in such knowledge and understanding, and the objective of finding out the truth has been hindered by social and religious concerns, and ‘our history mystified’.[49]

The history which Tagore recounts in Nationalism is also about conflicts and differences, and finding solutions to India’s problems of disunity. It was Tagore’s ‘life’s work’ to revive traditional society, strip off its outdated cultural constraints, and bring in the best modern technology, but without ‘the greed of profit’.[50] Tagore criticises the nation because he sees it as a serious obstacle to that goal. Having destroyed the ancient society, government by the nation prevents any revival by seeming inevitable and unstoppable; it is the race India must join or be defeated. In ‘Nationalism in the West’, Tagore says:

I know what your advice will be. You will say, form yourselves into a nation, and resist this encroachment of the Nation. But is this the true advice? that of a man to a man? Why should this be a necessity? I could well believe you, if you had said, Be more good, more just, more true in your relation to man, control your greed, make your life wholesome in its simplicity and let your consciousness of the divine in humanity be more perfect in its expression. But must you say that it is not the soul, but the machine, which is of the utmost value to ourselves, and that man’s salvation depends upon his disciplining himself into a perfection of the dead rhythm of wheels and counterwheels? that machine must be pitted against machine, and nation against nation, in an endless bull-fight of politics?[51]

Tagore goes on to challenge the idea that the violence of ‘nation against nation’ can be avoided through international agreements, calling that ‘a conspiracy of fear’.[52] More importantly for his argument, if these machines ‘become riveted into one organized gregariousness of gluttony, commercial and political’, there will be no hope for the ‘countries of No-Nation’. Tagore then challenges the idea that the unfit countries must ‘go to the wall—they shall die, and this is science’, declaring ‘No, for the sake of your own salvation, they shall live, and this is truth’.[53] Tagore goes on to look back at the ‘mediaeval age in Europe’, when ‘the simple and the natural man, with all his violent passions and desires, was engaged in trying to find out a reconciliation in the conflict between the flesh and the spirit’. He then discusses ‘the age of intellect, of science [which] is impersonal’, and eventually led to a ‘process of dehumanizing [...] in commerce and politics’, which is spreading to Japan and even to India.[54] The climax to this very rich historical discourse is the powerful passage I quoted in my epigraph, which is all about sacred dust, hope, love and worship. Tagore does not offer here any practical alternative, despite having dedicated his life to a succession of projects involving education and rural revival. As Radhakamal Mukherjee wrote in his tribute to Tagore for his eightieth birthday:

One who has seen at work [Tagore’s] rural education and reconstruction programme at Sriniketan cannot but appreciate the nobility, certitude and comprehensiveness of his political vision, in which agricultural co-operation and education, folk art, festival and pageant recreate themselves along with a free creative and self-governing peasantry that does not surrender itself to either bureaucratic inspection or socialistic regimentation.[55]

Mukherjee calls Tagore’s life’s work a ‘political vision’, with ‘vision’ suggesting a projection into the future which may turn out otherwise. ‘And so it turned out to be,’ one might say, given the levels of poverty in India today.[56]

‘Rabindranath Tagore and the Consciousness of Nationality’

‘And so it turned out to be’ is a quotation from Isaiah Berlin’s essay ‘Rabindranath Tagore and the Consciousness of Nationality’.[57] It relates to Berlin’s view that the approach Tagore took was to strengthen his country internally, ‘forging [...] the national links without which there is no great chain of all mankind’. Berlin says that ‘Tagore stood fast on the narrow causeway’, between ‘the hungry wolves, in the clothing of sincere internationalism, preaching to the sheep the evils of petty and destructive small-power chauvinism’, and the sheep longing to be swallowed by the wolves, ‘to merge themselves in what they imagine to be a wider unity’. Berlin praises Tagore for not betraying his ‘vision of the difficult truth’, for the sake of India’s millions, who ‘will win in the end’, and this, according to Berlin, ‘turned out to be’.[58]

Berlin’s first mention of Tagore is to announce the essay topic: ‘Tagore and the consciousness of nationality’, and he goes on to say that amongst the many elements of nationhood, the most powerful is language.[59] Berlin makes a number of references to Tagore’s ‘Presidential Address to Congress’ in the collection, Towards Universal Man.[60] Berlin’s point is borne out by a note to this essay, to the effect that the original, Sabhapatir Abhibhasan, was Tagore’s address to the Bengal Provincial Conference in 1908, and Tagore was the first President to address this audience in Bengali.[61] It has been suggested that some of the confusion about Tagore’s ‘politics’ may be because, like other ‘true-blooded Bengalis’, Tagore did not distinguish between ‘Mother India’ and Bengal.[62]

It is clear from another essay by Berlin in the same collection,[63] that Berlin would also have seen Tagore as a ‘peace-loving internationalist’ who does not subscribe to any ‘pathological form’ of nationalism which ‘proclaims the supreme value of the nation’s own culture, history, race, spirit, institutions, even of its physical attributes, and their superiority to those of others, usually of its neighbours’.[64] This is borne out by Tagore’s lectures in the West, the first of which, back in 1912, was about India’s race problem,[65] although he seems to be trying to present that in constructive terms in Nationalism.

The context is interesting, and adds authority to Berlin’s understanding of Tagore’s position on nationalism.[66] Berlin’s essay is the text of his lecture at a conference in Delhi celebrating Tagore’s birth centenary in 1961.[67] Prior to that, Berlin was personally involved in the production of Towards Universal Man, the major collection of Tagore’s essays in Bengali translated into English, many for the first time.[68] Although this would have given Berlin an unusually full exposure to Tagore’s ideas, his discussions at such a time, with political leaders and scholars in India who were great admirers of Tagore, may have led to Berlin’s optimistic conclusion that Tagore’s middle way for building a strong India between western modernism and traditionalism, was well on the way to success. To say anything else on that occasion would have been unnecessarily undiplomatic and discourteous.

In her article on ‘The “Foreign Reincarnation” of Rabindranath Tagore’, Nabaneeta Dev Sen reports on an analysis she carried out of the subject matter of Tagore’s essays in Bengali and in English. She found that there was a bias towards religious and East-West questions in the English books of essays (and in books translated from English into other European languages), whereas the majority of his Bengali books ‘deal with other things and touch upon religion only very incidentally’.[69] This view echoes that of Edward Thompson in his letter of 1917 to the Calcutta Statesman in response to ‘Anglo-India [being] astounded when Tagore seemed to turn political’ with his lectures on nationalism, due to their ‘ignorance of huge currents of thought [which] rush past their very doors’:

The character of a political novice ascribed to Sir Rabindranath rests on similar ignorance. The average Englishman knows him as the mystic poet and philosopher of the Gitanjali, The Gardener, The Crescent Moon, the Chitra, The King of the Dark Chamber, i.e. as much as he has chosen to give to Western readers. But … they have no idea of what a powerful pen he wields in matters social and political; what noble, sound, inspired and irresistible ideas … he has given utterance to. In fact, he is the greatest leader in Bengalee thought, the mightiest fashioner of modern Bengal.[70]

Dev Sen does not specify the ‘other things’ which are the subjects of Tagore’s essays in Bengali,[71] and she is using the word ‘religion’ in the ordinary, narrow sense. The word ‘spirituality’ is often preferred for Tagore’s holistic understanding of religion. He regarded all of life as spiritual, but under threat of being broken up by human activities in the modern world: by competition and greed, and mechanistic systems of administration. His aim was to reintegrate society, and one can read all his English essays – and many of those translated into English – as vehicles for what was for him an essentially religious message.

The essays in Towards Universal Man were chosen as being the best of ‘Tagore’s writings on contemporary social problems, a field in which this celebrated patriot-poet played a pioneering part and contributed to India and the world new lines of social thought’.[72] Berlin read thirty of these essays, the original long-list from which he and others chose eighteen for the book,[73] and such a thorough induction gives special authority to his analysis. More authority still is added if we turn to Berlin’s essay on Herder, first published in 1960 and reproduced in Three Critics of the Enlightenment: Vico, Hamann, Herder. I cited above a passage showing Berlin’s understanding that Herder believed in social solidarity and nationhood, but detested and denounced ‘the accursed State’.[74] Berlin also says of Herder that he ‘condemns the very wish to resurrect ancient ideals [... which] live and die with the social wholes of which they form an intrinsic part’.[75] Patrick Gardiner, in his introduction to the collection of Berlin’s essays, suggests that Berlin would have seen Tagore’s nationalism as a benign example of ‘Counter-Enlightenment’ doctrine.[76] According to Berlin, Tagore believed that his country had to build up its internal strength, and only then seek sovereign status and join the community of nations. Tagore’s ‘political vision’ of the process, and the eventual goal is reflected in his final words in Nationalism:

Let our life be simple in its outer aspect and rich in its inner gain. Let our civilization take its firm stand upon its basis of social co-operation and not upon that of economic exploitation and conflict. [...] I will persist in believing that there is such a thing as the harmony of completeness in humanity, where poverty does not take away his riches, where defeat may lead him to victory, death to immortality, and where on the compensation of Eternal Justice those who are the last may yet have their insult transmuted into a golden triumph.[77]

Tagore did not have high hopes in 1916 of this ‘golden triumph’, as is evident from the words I have replaced with an ellipsis above, which are:

How to do it in the teeth of the drainage of our life-blood by the economic dragons is the task set before the thinkers of all oriental nations who have faith in the human soul. It is a sign of laziness and impotency to accept conditions imposed upon us by others who have other ideals than ours. We should actively try to adapt the world powers to guide our history to its own perfect end. [...][78]

One can see emerging from those words Tagore’s ambition for ‘An Eastern University’, which he describes in Creative Unity, the next book of English essays.[79] In ‘An Eastern University’, Tagore describes how he plans to combine an Indian and Asian intellectual centre with a technically proficient, not-for-profit, peasant life:

Our centre of culture should not only be the centre of the intellectual life of India, but the centre of her economic life also. It must co-operate with the villages round it, cultivate land, breed cattle, spin cloths, press oil from oil-seeds; it must produce all the necessaries, devising the best means, using the best materials, and calling science to its aid. Its very existence should depend upon the success of its industrial activities carried out on the co-operative principle, which will unite the teachers and students and villagers of the neighbourhood in a living and active bond of necessity. This will give us also a practical industrial training, whose motive force is not the greed of profit.[80]

Tagore was devastated when he saw in 1916 that Japan was apparently going the way of the West. As Andrews reports, the poet was in despair, and he disappeared for two weeks to write the Nationalism essays ‘at a white heat’.[81] We see this from ‘Nationalism in Japan’:

The ideal of ‘maitri’ (unity) is at the bottom of your culture,—‘maitri’ with men and ‘maitri’ with Nature. And the true expression of this love is in the language of beauty, which is so abundantly universal in this land. This is the reason why a stranger, like myself, instead of feeling envy or humiliation before these manifestations of beauty, these creations of love, feels a readiness to participate in the joy and glory of such revealment of the human heart.

And this has made me all the more apprehensive of the change, which threatens Japanese civilization, as something like a menace to one’s own person. For the huge heterogeneity of the modern age, whose only common bond is usefulness, is nowhere so pitifully exposed against the dignity and hidden power of reticent beauty, as in Japan.[82]

In the climax to the essay, Tagore declaims:

My brothers, when the red light of conflagration sends up its crackle of laughter to the stars, keep your faith upon those stars and not upon the fire of destruction. For when this conflagration consumes itself and dies down, leaving its memorial in ashes, the eternal light will again shine in the East,—the East which has been the birth-place of the morning sun of man’s history. And who knows if that day has not already dawned, and the sun not risen, in the Easternmost horizon of Asia? And I offer, as did my ancestor rishis, my salutation to that sunrise of the East, which is destined once again to illumine the whole world.[83]

If we compare the style of the Nationalism essays with those in Towards Universal Man, we find passion, anger and frustration in the former and generally more measured language in the latter, as if Tagore – understandably – feels he will not be taken seriously in the West (or in Japan), whereas he has an influential voice in his own country. In his recent lecture entitled ‘Rabindranath Tagore and the International’, Imtiaz Ahmed, Professor of International Relations at the University of Dhaka, asks why scholars critiquing Tagore on social issues reflect on his literary works, rather than on his serious essays, which make up some two-thirds of his writing.[84] Ahmed is right that studying Tagore’s lectures and essays takes us directly to his feelings and experiences, as well as his ideas and goals – and to how he has been received, at home and abroad.

Berlin discovered from his readings of several essays in Towards Universal Man that Tagore had a more subtle politics, which the great historian of ideas found admirable. Tagore advocated internal emancipation, building a strong country from within. Although Tagore ‘understood the British character and British achievement and admired them’, he saw that ‘the relationship with England [...] was a morbid one: the English had come first as traders, then as masters,’ and Indians had to emancipate themselves.[85] Berlin states that internationalism is ‘a noble ideal’, which can be achieved only when ‘every nation is strong enough to bear the required tension’. In Berlin’s view it is ‘one of Tagore’s greatest merits, and a sign of that direct vision and understanding of the real world with which poets are too seldom credited, that he understood this’.[86]

I referred earlier to the final statement in Berlin’s essay on Tagore and nationality: ‘And so it turned out to be’,[87] being inappropriate now because we cannot say that Indian’s millions ‘won in the end’, given that despite the rapid growth in India’s economy in recent years a considerable proportion of the population remains in poverty and illiterate.[88] However, Berlin was writing at an optimistic time for India, in 1961, as a participant in the celebrations of Tagore’s hundredth birthday anniversary, when the country was led by such as Nehru, Radhakrishnan and Humayun Kabir, who had known and admired Tagore, and probably believed they were taking his vision forward.

Berlin confesses to being ‘shamefully ignorant of Indian civilisation’,[89] but after being thrust into his involvement with Towards Universal Man and the Tagore centenary celebrations, he makes Tagore a nationalist much in the mode of Herder, whom Berlin identifies as ‘the father of cultural (and ultimately every kind of) nationalism in Europe’. Herder talked about ‘the uniqueness of each national tradition, of the strength that a man draws from being a member of an organic community’, and he hated ‘cosmopolitanism, universalism, anything which flattened out the differences between one community and another in favour of universal principles’.[90] It is pointed out in the notes to Tagore’s ‘Presidential Address’ to the Bengal Provincial Conference in 1908, that this ‘was the only political conference over which Tagore ever presided’, and as we have noted he made a point of addressing the Conference in Bengali.[91] This indicates that if campaigning for nationalism had related to independence for Bengal, Tagore would have more easily engaged with it, as in fact he did during the ‘Swadeshi Movement’ in 1903-8.[92]

Tagore begins his essay ‘Nationalism in India’ by saying:

Our real problem in India is not political. It is social. This is a condition not only prevailing in India, but among all nations. I do not believe in an exclusive political interest. Politics in the West have dominated Western ideals, and we in India are trying to imitate you. We have to remember that in Europe, where peoples had their racial unity from the beginning, and where natural resources were insufficient for the inhabitants, the civilization has naturally taken the character of political and commercial aggressiveness. For on the one hand they had no internal complications, and on the other they had to deal with neighbours who were strong and rapacious.[93]

Tagore’s friend Geddes insisted that ‘the Poet doesn’t know the West’, referring to Tagore having claimed that Europe never had a race problem, or had its rural life disrupted by nationalism.[94] Geddes tells Tagore of the work which is being done on ‘village renewal’ in France, including horticulture, agriculture and afforestation.[95] Geddes may have been right that Tagore did not understand that the ‘constructive work of social cooperation’ was as much needed in the West as in India, which was why Tagore did not talk about his work in the villages of Bengal to audiences outside India. The closest he approaches to this is in the essay ‘An Eastern University’ in Creative Unity in 1922, in which he writes of students and teachers ‘sharing life with the tillers of the soil and the humble workers in the neighbouring villages’.[96]

From the point of Tagore’s wake-up call in the 1890s, and then throughout his extraordinarily varied career as an artist and thinker, the Poet’s practical work for the village people was a constant. He tried many schemes, involved many helpers, but his efforts never ceased over half a century, for most of his adult life.[97]

Patterns of Failure; Faith in Renewal

Berlin’s optimism in 1961, when he addressed a conference to celebrate Tagore’s birth centenary, was shared by Kripalani, writing his biography at about the same time, beginning with the words:

In the hundred years that have passed since Rabindranath Tagore was born, the face of India has undergone such radical changes as no optimist living in 1861 could have envisaged. [...] It is as though a tired and over-timid pony which needed a lash to move at all has turned into a spirited charger that has to be tightly reined in to hold it back from running too fast.[98]

By conventional economic measures, post-Independence India has been a huge success. But when broader social criteria are also taken into account, it is evident that Tagore’s efforts had little impact in the long term. This leads on to another aspect of Nationalism, which is its connection with Tagore’s own history, which I see as one of ‘patterns of failure to meet idealistic goals, and faith in renewal’. This aspect, I believe, is the root cause of the forthright denunciation of nationalism to which his biographer refers.

Throughout this study we have referred to the importance for Tagore of his practical projects in education and rural reconstruction, which he described as his ‘life’s work’.[99] To read Nationalism as part of that aspect of Tagore’s life, we need to understand how emotionally involved he was as an activist. We know that Tagore’s desire to help village people originated from his period as a landlord in the 1890s, when he witnessed their suffering and helplessness.[100] Tagore did not witness the suffering of combatants in the Great War. Nehru writes of this time in his Autobiography saying that India never felt the full horror of the War, and felt little sympathy for the British.[101] Tagore hoped that the War would show the West that national divisions lead to competition for resources and conflict:

Has not this truth already come home to you now, when this cruel war has driven its claws into the vitals of Europe? when her hoard of wealth is bursting into smoke and her humanity is shattered into bits on her battlefields?[102]

During Tagore’s foreign tour in 1920 he visited some of the battlefields in France ‘devastated by war’. These brought to his mind ‘the vision of a huge demon’ which ‘was a purpose, which had a living body, but no complete humanity to temper it’. He drew a parallel with the effect of the West upon Eastern life:

Something of the same sense of oppression in a different degree, the same desolation in a different aspect, is produced in my mind when I realise the effect of the West upon Eastern life—the West which, in its relation to us, is all plan and purpose incarnate, without any superfluous humanity.[103]

Tagore was lecturing in America in 1916 at a time when President Woodrow Wilson was hoping to keep the US out of the European War, and Tagore was so impressed by Wilson’s efforts that he asked permission to dedicate Nationalism to him.[104] Tagore’s dedication request was declined because he was under suspicion of conspiring with the Germans.[105] Nehru writes that the nationalists in India made a show of loyalty but ‘learnt with satisfaction of German victories’.[106]

The War itself was not the main reason for Tagore’s passionate denunciations of nationalism. The cause, I believe, was his consciousness of failure, going back to when his way forward was not adopted during the Swadeshi Movement of 1903-8. His aim when he journeyed to Japan and then America, hoping the war would be over and he could carry on to Europe, was to bring the influence of a united Asia to restrain western ambitions, and finding Japan going the way of the West was devastating to him, and brought on an episode of deep depression – and the Nationalism talks.

In her selection of Tagore’s writings on education and nationalism, Das Gupta describes Tagore’s nationalism as deriving from his idea ‘that the history of the growth of freedom is the history of the perfection of human relationships’.[107] During the Swadeshi Movement against the Partition of Bengal, Tagore had encouraged other leaders from the Calcutta bhadralok (middle classes) to adopt constructive ways to resist this ‘divide and rule’ measure by the British authorities. Das Gupta writes that Tagore failed in his efforts because ‘Indian nationalism had [...] turned the country’s attention away from its primary problem which was social: in other words, the domination of the caste system and the lazy habit of relying upon the authority of traditions that were unsuited to the new age’.[108] We can certainly see in Nationalism how critical Tagore is of the caste system and reliance on traditions,[109] but he can also see their benefits. He defends the caste system as a way of solving India’s race problem, and points out that this is better than the way America has treated the Red Indian and the Negro.[110] And Tagore clearly favours some traditions. Das Gupta includes a passage from the essay ‘Our Swadeshi Samaj’ in which Tagore writes of the melas, or fairs, which are ‘a natural growth in our country’, and expresses the hope that ‘the leaders of the country will abjure empty politics, and make it their business to give new life and objective to these melas’.[111]

The Swadeshi period was hugely important for Tagore. His more colourful contributions are well known: his bold idea for challenging religious and caste divisions on Partition Day in 1905 with a Rakhi-bandhan (exchange of wristbands) ceremony, and his composing many patriotic songs.[112] It is also often said that he ‘retired’ or ‘escaped’ back to Santiniketan in 1907 when the protests became violent, but it should also be noted that Tagore wrote ‘a series of immensely important essays during 1907-8’, urging Hindus to modify their traditional attitude of regarding Muslims as inferiors.[113] His most important contribution was to establish the ‘Constructive Swadeshi’ trend in the nationalist movement.[114] Tagore writes in ‘Nationalism in India’ of his lack of enthusiasm for the Congress’s faith in ‘mendicancy’, whereby India would gradually progress to Home Rule by constitutional means:[115]

[The Congress] had no real programme. They had a few grievances for redress by the authorities. They wanted larger representation in the Council House, and more freedom in the Municipal government. They wanted scraps of things, but they had no constructive ideal. Therefore I was lacking in enthusiasm for their methods.[116]

Tagore goes on to describe the alternative political programme he had put forward at that time:

It was my conviction that what India most needed was constructive work coming from within herself. In this work we must take all risks and go on doing our duties which by right are ours, though in the teeth of persecution; winning moral victory at every step, by our failure, and suffering. We must show those who are over us that we have the strength of moral power in ourselves, the power to suffer for truth. Where we have nothing to show, we only have to beg. It would be mischievous if the gifts we wish for were granted to us right now, and I have told my countrymen, time and time again, to combine for the work of creating opportunities to give vent to our spirit of self-sacrifice, and not for the purpose of begging.[117]

In 1907, Tagore had delivered a speech about what he saw as the ‘real work’ which lies in ‘coming into touch with the masses’. He was not the only one putting forward this alternative to political agitation for swaraj, and the initiative was reported in the editorial of the journal Bande Mataram:

The reaction against mendicancy [...] had taken two forms: ‘One, thoughtful, philosophic, idealistic, dreamed of ignoring the terrible burden that was crushing us to death, of turning away from politics and dedicating our strength in the village and township, developing our resources, our social, economic, religious life regardless of the intrusive alien; it thought of inaugurating a new revolution such as the world had never yet seen, a moral, peaceful revolution, actively developing ourselves but only passively resisting the adversary.’ This was the ideal of ‘peaceful ashrams and swadeshism and selfhelp’, noble but unpractical as the British were sure to interfere with such efforts sooner or later.[118]

The suggestion is usually made that the Swadeshi period was the only time in Tagore’s life that he got involved in politics. This view is based on the conventional understanding of what being political means. If it refers to having a career as a party or campaign leader, then it is true that Tagore was political only briefly. If it means being a public intellectual holding forth on his challenging opinions, then on the usual readings of Nationalism, and some of the lectures from Creative Unity, Tagore was sometimes political in that sense too.

Marjorie Sykes, an early biographer of Tagore who had the advantage of knowing him personally, conveys a sense of his political passion extending throughout his life, and rising to a peak during the Swadeshi period. She writes of Tagore seeking ways to give practical service to the needy before he began the school at Santiniketan, and concludes her section on ‘The Poet and Politics’ as follows:

In politics, when strong feelings are aroused, it is easy to exaggerate one half of the truth, the half which is most pleasant from our own point of view, until it becomes a falsehood. As we shall see from other examples later in his life, Rabindranath never did this, even when his own feelings were strongest. He tried always to see the whole truth of any situation. We might say of the poet’s political work, as was said by Arnold of the famous Greek poet, Sophocles, “He saw life steadily and saw it whole”.[119]

Kripalani, a biographer who also knew Tagore in life, seems not to have seen the political Tagore. He writes in his introduction that ‘Tagore was not a politician’, on the basis that ‘[h]e was not interested in wielding power over the lives of others, for good or for evil’.[120] It may seem strange that Kripalani includes the Swadeshi episode in a chapter entitled, ‘A Man of God’, but it makes sense following his remark that for Tagore ‘[l]ove of God and love of the people are complementary and justify and fulfil each other’.[121] Kripalani gives a short and lively account of how Tagore ‘jumped into the fray, making fiery speeches, composing patriotic songs and leading huge processions’ to protest about Lord Curzon, with his partition proclamation, ‘beginning the process of driving a wedge between the two major religious communities in the country’. Then Kripalani remarks that ‘Tagore was no Gandhi’ and lacked his ‘unrivalled gift of leadership’. But this is a mistaken comparison, based on judging Tagore’s politics retrospectively, in the knowledge of how Gandhi became one of world’s best known political leaders. It is also unhelpful for understanding the connection between Tagore’s sense of failure over the way the Swadeshi Movement turned out and the Nationalism lectures.

In 1916, when Tagore delivered the Nationalism lectures, Gandhi had not begun his non-cooperation campaign involving the famous Swadeshi boycott, although he had arrived back in India, staying at first at Santiniketan at the suggestion of Andrews.[122] He was aware of Tagore’s protests over Partition, and that a Swadeshi boycott had been part of that campaign. Tagore would have read Gandhi’s book, Hind Swaraj, published in English in 1909, where he writes that the Partition of Bengal brought about ‘the real awakening’ of the desire for Home Rule.[123] Tagore had already written his famous novel The Home and the World (the Bengali original Ghare Baire was serialised in 1915), which is about the corrupt form of nationalism which emerged during the Swadeshi period.[124]

In his passionate outpourings in 1916 Tagore is making another attempt to warn of the dangers of the false form of nationalism. He struggles to get this across in the English language, knowing that he had not been able to communicate this message any more successfully in Bengali a decade earlier. At that time, the problem was not only that ‘nationalism’ in the western sense did not mean the same thing as ‘swadeshi samaj’, it was also that ‘swadeshi’ had been reduced to a symbol during the anti-Partition protests. It was a label on cloth: ‘swadeshi or Indian’ is good, so wear it, ‘foreign or British’ is bad, so burn it.[125] Tagore was not against swadeshi enterprise. Marjorie Sykes writes in her biography of how Tagore supported his nephews in swadeshi business ventures, and paid their considerable debts when these failed.[126]

In their biography, Dutta and Robinson include a section on Tagore’s engagement in ‘The Swadeshi Movement (1905-1907)’, in which they paint a picture of him as something of a dilettante, who ‘stood apart’, staying in Santiniketan much of the time.[127] They say that ‘[h]is vision had little appeal in Calcutta’, and that ‘Rabindranath, having inspired the Swadeshi Movement, had rejected it’.[128] They end with a reference to Nirad Chaudhuri’s view of Tagore as ‘The Lost Great Man of India’, who ‘challenged all their (the majority’s) political, social, cultural, and religious superstitions, and was therefore regarded as an apostate’.[129] This gives a misleading impression of what Chaudhuri wrote because, although the quotation is exact, he does not refer simply to ‘the majority’ of Calcutta society, but to ‘the popular Hindu Conservatism of the majority of educated Bengalis [which] was a mixture of chauvinism with crude and often superstitious religious belief and cultural obscurantism’,[130] a ‘majority’ which Tagore takes on in his great novel, Gora, albeit moving the setting to the 1870s.[131]

According to the Marxist historian Sumit Sarkar, Tagore was a major player in the Swadeshi Movement, [132] and not a lone voice against the ‘majority’ of Calcutta society. It is also clear that Sarkar regarded Tagore as a radical politician,[133] and understood that when he ‘withdrew’ after the shift to terrorism, it was to continue his ‘constructive swadeshi’ at the Santiniketan school and with the life of the common people – as Das Gupta implies in her biography by including a section entitled ‘“Constructive Swadeshi” and Santiniketan’.[134] My sense is that when Tagore discovered how rashly and stupidly adults could behave, he determined to try to raise a new generation in an atmosphere of cooperation and creativity. He was handicapped by a severe lack of resources, and by his students’ parents’ conventional expectations of what education should deliver. Sarkar writes about Tagore’s contributions to efforts directed at a ‘National Education’, saying that ‘few among its leaders shared Tagore’s passion for the mother-tongue or his agony of alienation’: a reference to Tagore’s commitment to forging links between urban and rural communities.[135]

I suggested at the start of this section that Tagore’s consciousness of failure, going back to when his way forward was not adopted during the Swadeshi Movement, was the cause of his passionate denunciations of nationalism. We can see Tagore struggling to find the right words for what he is trying to say in ‘Nationalism in the West’, using his expressions ‘no nation(s)’ and ‘Nation of the West’ several times over. ‘Nation of the West’ is nationalism as an empty label, adopted by rootless, alienated people as an identity they would fight and die for. To use phrases like ‘we of no nations of the world’ or ‘people of no nation’ is unsatisfactory, a form of double negative, meaning: those people who have not adopted the empty identity label of nationalism.

In recent years, the form of identity Tagore was challenging has been the subject of scholarship. Patrick Colm Hogan, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, has coined a pair of terms which map precisely onto the point Tagore was trying to make. Tagore’s ‘Nation of the West’ is an example of Hogan’s ‘categorial [sic] identity’, identity by ‘vacuous’ label. Tagore’s ‘no nation’ is ‘practical identity’, which Hogan regards as ‘far from vacuous, for it is a set of concrete, active knowledges that enable our interactions with others’.[136] He defines ‘practical identity’ as follows:

Practical identity is the entire complex of habits, expectations, abilities, routines that integrate one’s daily activities with those of a community. One’s practical identity encompasses everything from table manners and greeting customs to unreflective expectations of how others will act in any sort of communal recreation or labor. [...I]t is a set of concrete, active knowledges that enable our interactions with others. Finally, practical identity is insistently local and proximate. It is a matter of being able to do things with people here and now. This is not to say that it necessarily contradicts global relations or that it cannot be extended across regions. Indeed, many aspects of practical identity are necessarily transportable [...]. However, even when it is transported to another region, practical identity always involves networks of direct interconnectedness.[137]

Hogan mentions Tagore in relation to the politics of practical identity:

This was the impulse behind “constructive swadeshi”—the nonconfrontational fostering of local industry—advocated by Tagore as an alternative to the nationalist, anti-British (and, in Tagore’s view, anti-Muslim) “negative” swadeshi of boycotting foreign goods.[138]

Sarkar writes about Tagore’s comment in 1907 that ‘the peasants were expected to buy inferior and costly goods and face Gurkha lathis into the bargain for the sake of a cause that must have seemed rather distant and abstract to them, and that they were being asked to do all this by “babus” who had treated them so long with contemptuous indifference or at best with condescension’.[139]

Hogan contrasts practical identity with categorial identity, which he defines as follows:

One’s categorial identity is, fundamentally, one’s self-concept. It is the hierarchized series of categories that one takes as definitive of one’s self. These categories include sex, ethnicity, race, religion, and many others—nationality and economic class among them. These categorizations are not, for the most part, the result of introspection. Rather, they derive primarily from explicit or implicit imputation. A child cannot look into a mirror or into his or her heart and discover that he or she is Indian or Pakistani, Hindu or Muslim. These are categories he or she learns from others, directly or indirectly.[140]

Hogan refers to Benedict Anderson’s thesis that the nation is an imagined community,[141] and then points out that national imagination is just a special case of the imagination required for any categorial identity.[142] (I referred earlier to a similar observation by Nabaneeta Dev Sen: ‘Like nation, the concepts of race, religion and ethnicity also divide mankind into warring groups’.) Hogan explains that categorial identities define communities in ways that necessarily include people who do not and cannot enter into contact with one another, so to categorize oneself as Indian involves an imagination of a community of Indians, but to imagine oneself as Muslim or Christian, male or female, white or black or Asian, does so too.[143] Hogan’s terminology proves to be particularly useful when we come to the next chapter on Creative Unity (1922), in which I contrast Tagore’s book with works by Gandhi and Nehru.

Tagore’s Passionate Polemics

I have argued that Tagore’s passionate polemics in Nationalism is rooted in the memory of his failure to persuade other leaders of his way forward for the country during the Swadeshi campaign, and to his failed hopes of a pan-Asian collaboration to restrain western ambitions.[144] It will have added to his agony to know that he had no concrete solution to offer his western audiences. As we have seen, Tagore was a poet and a man of action, with the emotions and empathy of a poet, drawn more to karma-yoga ‘realisation in action’ than to jnana-yoga scholarship. This seems often to be reflected in the style of Tagore’s writing in his essays.

Where Tagore’s subject matter relates to progress being made towards reviving community life, as in his 1928 essay ‘City and Village’ in Towards Universal Man, Tagore expresses himself with calm authority, as in this example:

In their natural state—that is, when the community does not incline too much to one side—the village and the town have harmonious interactions. From the one flow food and health and fellow-feeling. From the other return gifts of wealth, knowledge and energy.[145]

In his last essay ‘Crisis in Civilization’, when he had almost lost faith in mankind, he uses emotive language such as: ‘the spectre of a new barbarity strides over Europe, teeth bare and claws unconcealed in an orgy of terror’.[146] This is similar to expressions Tagore uses in Nationalism, such as:

This commercialism with its barbarity of ugly decorations is a terrible menace to all humanity. Because it is setting up the ideal of power over that of perfection. It is making the cult of self-seeking exult in its naked shamelessness.[147]

The way Tagore expresses himself in the English essays is highly significant. The essays were originally lectures, so he could have been using emotive language simply to emphasise the points he makes and to engage his audiences. In his biographical study of Tagore, Ernest Rhys writes that ‘the speaker himself was the argument; his homily took fire from his own emotion’.[148] More importantly, as we discovered in Personality, Tagore saw the emotions as essential to experiencing and evaluating truth and reality. Attempts to ignore the emotive language in order to analyse a work by Tagore systematically, as did Professor Jevons with his study of Personality, are bound to miss some of the meaning and even be quite wrong.

In studies of Tagore’s poetry and plays in English, it is often pointed out that Tagore did not ‘translate’ the Bengali originals, but ‘rendered’ them into English. In his Introduction to the fourth book of Tagore’s English Writings, the editor Nityaprya Ghosh discusses how and why Tagore took to translating his own works, quoting from the Poet’s correspondence with the editor of The Modern Review.[149] In 1917 Tagore wrote: ‘I can’t translate, I always write it anew. Because if I have to correctly translate I can’t afford to forget myself. But if I can’t forget myself I forget the words, the grammar, the style’.[150]

Tagore’s process of ‘rendering’ (writing a poem anew) in English, starting from his sense of the essence of an original Bengali poem, often resulted in there being little resemblance between the two, either in subject matter or style. Tagore seems to have had a reservoir of thoughts and feelings which recur in his works in different forms, and this is as true of his lectures and essays as it is with his poetry and prose fiction – and indeed with his correspondence, especially his belles-lettres.

It is also true to say that Tagore’s non-literary writing contains poetry and story telling, some of which can be discovered by ‘adding back the colour into the cold print’ using the rich palette of his experiences. This brings the risk of attributing meaning to a text which Tagore did not intend, and which other readers, scholars and critics do not recognise.

As we have seen in the chapter on Personality, the first essay ‘What is Art?’ is one of several essays on the same theme. With the Nationalism essays the parallel I have drawn with ‘Society and State’ in particular is not so direct, but it is interesting to take samples of the text for comparison, despite the fact that we seem not to be comparing like for like. ‘Society and State’[151] (‘Society’) is a translation so the language is a combination of Tagore’s and the translator’s Bengali and English. If one can stretch the point about Tagore’s ‘rendering’ to his essays, and to ‘Nationalism in the West’ (‘West’) in particular, there is a mix of languages in this too.

The resemblance between the two essays is not straightforward and linear. There is some of the same subject matter in both, but with differences of emotional tone and context. Taking one detailed comparison to illustrate this, here are passages from ‘West’ and ‘Society’ respectively:


[H]ere is India, of about fifty centuries at least, who tried to live peacefully and think deeply, the India devoid of all politics, the India of no nations, whose one ambition has been to know this world as of soul, to live here every moment of her life in the meek spirit of adoration, in the glad consciousness of an eternal and personal relationship with it. It was upon this remote portion of humanity, childlike in its manner, with the wisdom of the old, that the Nation of the West burst in. (‘West’, p. 7.)


In our country the king waged wars, defended his territory and dispensed justice, but society attended to all else, from the supply of water to the supply of knowledge. This was done with such great competence that the repeated floods of new sovereignty through the centuries could neither destroy our spiritual life and reduce us to brutes, nor break up our society and turn us into destitutes.(‘Society’, p. 49.)


In terms of style, ‘West’ can be understood as a re-working of ‘Society’ which involved some of the same kind of treatment which E.J. Thompson complained of with Tagore’s translations of his poetry, where the Poet carefully selected such things as he thought his Western public would understand, and then prettied up the result.[152] As with the poetry, what is missing is the real life. ‘West’ is not by any means just ‘a handful of careless words thrown together’,[153] but it lacks concreteness.

The passage from ‘West’ has been romanticised. Tagore writes sentimentally of a meek and childlike India. There is a ‘once upon a time’ feel to ‘fifty centuries at least’ – although in terms of history this is not inaccurate.[154] As we know from Sadhana and Personality, Tagore drew on the Upanisads in his sermons and writing. In his Appendix to a translation of the Principal Upanisads, he refers to the people of the period when these texts were written, when the ideas were not abstract but concrete, and realised through life, which is why ‘generations of men in our country, no mere students of philosophy, but seekers of life’s fulfilment, may make living use of the texts, but can never exhaust them of their freshness of meaning’.[155] Interestingly, Tagore concludes the Appendix by saying that the teaching of the Upanisads is needed in the present age ‘for those who boast of the freedom enjoyed by their nations [...] having for their allies deceitful diplomacy and a widespread propaganda of falsehood, where the soul remains caged and the self battens upon the decaying flesh of its victims’.[156] Tagore writes in similar terms in his newly translated history essay, when he says that ‘every one living in America has to behave like an American. This is not integration, it is domination’.[157]

In contrast to the pathetic language in ‘West’, in the ‘Society’ paragraph Tagore writes of a strong and capable people, who took responsibility for all their needs, ‘from the supply of water to the supply of knowledge’. This was Tagore’s address at a public meeting held to discuss a Government resolution on the problem of water scarcity in Bengal, hence his mention of water.[158]

Later in the essay, Tagore writes of the difference between kingly power in India and the role of the English State. The obligations of a king in India are ‘hardly more than any other wealthy member of society’, and the ‘reservoirs of the country did not run dry if the king alone was negligent’. In contrast, because English people are so dependent on the State, ‘the overthrow of the State might mean peril for the nation—that is why politics there is such a serious affair’. In traditional India, ‘social duties were specifically assigned to members of society’ and there would be ‘danger only when the social body, samaj, became crippled’.[159]

The equivalent in ‘West’ is as follows:

Through all the fights and intrigues and deceptions of her earlier history India had remained aloof. Because her homes, her fields, her temples of worship, her schools, where her teachers and students lived together in the atmosphere of simplicity and devotion and learning, her village self-government with its simple laws and peaceful administration—all these truly belonged to her. But her thrones were not her concern. They passed over her head like clouds, now tinged with purple gorgeousness, now black with the threat of thunder. Often they brought devastations in their wake, but they were like catastrophes of nature whose traces are soon forgotten.[160]

Again this passage is romantic, emotional, dramatic – literally ‘purple’ – and consigned to the past, the ‘once upon a time’. In contrast, in ‘Society’ Tagore appeals to his audience to revive traditional culture, its hospitality, its play acting, by putting on fairs and reaching people in that way:

All over Bengal fairs are held at different times of the year. We must make a list of these fairs and get to know our countrymen through that open door.

If the educated classes make it their business to give the fairs in their own localities a new life and objective, if through those fairs they bring together the Hindu and the Muslim, and avoiding empty politics, ascertain the real needs of the people—schools, roads, water reservoirs, pasture-land and the like—then the country will indeed be filled with new stirrings.[161]

There is concreteness in that call to action. In contrast, in ‘West’, Tagore writes in general terms, in the following passage which is very often quoted:

A nation, in the sense of the political and economic union of a people, is that aspect which a whole population assumes when organized for a mechanical purpose. Society as such has no ulterior purpose. It is an end in itself. It is a spontaneous self-expression of man as a social being. It is a natural regulation of human relationships, so that men can develop ideals of life in cooperation with one another. It has also a political side, but this is only for a special purpose. It is for self-preservation. It is merely the side of power, not of human ideals. And in the early days it had its separate place in society, restricted to the professionals.[162]

I suggested earlier that Gandhi’s remark that Tagore ‘has a horror of everything negative’ can be used as a ‘litmus test’ to apply to any account of what Tagore wrote or said. Any suggestion that he was being negative means that one probably needs to read him again. Tagore was certainly negative about the ‘Nation of the West’, with its dehumanising systems of government and industry, and its education factories geared to gaining grades for places in the hierarchy. His polemics in Nationalism are misleading. This is far from the single issue work it may appear to be. Reading it in depth and in context reveals layers of meaning related to what Tagore wanted for India, Asia and the world. The polemics reflects Tagore’s frustration at not knowing what to do.

‘What Then Must We Do?’

I imagine that I pity people and wish to help them. I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means—except by getting off his back.[163]

This well-known quotation from Leo Tolstoy’s What Then Must We Do? refers to his discovery that ‘poverty, exploitation and greed seem to be perennial aspects of the human condition’.[164] As a wealthy man concerned about conditions in the Moscow slums, Tolstoy realised that giving to the poor did not solve their problems. He saw how various cultural barriers have evolved to separate rich from poor, and city from village, and this alienation has to be addressed. We know that Tagore would have agreed with Tolstoy about alienation, so much so that he felt that if people knew each other and worked together in local communities, there would be no need for drastic measures, such as ‘renouncing land ownership’ and ‘renouncing money’.[165] During the Swadeshi period, the Congress Socialists and the Workers and Peasants Party demanded changes in land ownership, but Tagore did not see the land problem in institutional terms.[166] He advocated cooperation between cultivators to gain and share economic benefits.[167]

Earlier in the passage quoted, Tolstoy writes of his rich man’s ‘magic purse’:

I belong to the class who by various devices deprive the working people of necessities, and who by these devices have provided a magic purse for themselves which is a temptation to those same unfortunates. I want to aid people, and therefore it is clear, above all, that I should not pluck them as I am doing, and on the other hand I should not tempt them.

It was Tagore’s view too that people should not be tempted to seek material wealth: ‘by the help of anti-dharma men prosper, they find what they desire, they conquer enemies, but they perish at the root’. However he was more concerned about the state’s ‘magic purse’ than the rich man’s, having seen how people became impoverished by taxation, restricted by laws, policing and regulations, and become helplessly dependent on what little is given back in services and education. Tagore voices such concerns in the Nationalism essays, but at that time he had no way of changing the systems he criticised. Once he had initiated the Sriniketan programme in 1922, he was content with an evolutionary approach, and made no apology for starting with ‘two or three villages’.[168] But in 1917 he had nothing concrete to offer to change the minds of people in the West who see economics and state systems as beneficial and inevitable:

This narrowness of freedom is an evil which is more radical not because of its quantity but because of its nature. And we cannot but acknowledge this paradox, that while the spirit of the West marches under its banner of freedom, the Nation of the West forges its iron chains of organization which are the most relentless and unbreakable that have ever been manufactured in the whole history of man.[169]

Tagore’s ideas on society: swadeshi samaj, and his creative and sympathetic experiments in education and rural reconstruction, show him to have been a surprisingly consistent and challenging thinker, whose work is highly relevant to the problems of today’s world. Nationalism shows another aspect to Tagore’s prevailing belief, which we have seen expressed in Sadhana and Personality, in ‘the integration of man and nature and God’, whereby the Nation could only be a temporary hindrance to a return to ‘life in its completeness’. By 1922, when Creative Unity, the next book of English essays was published, Tagore had established ‘An Eastern University’ at Santiniketan where he could invite the whole world to meet.

As in the earlier chapters, on Sadhana and Personality, an entire essay is included as the final section of this chapter: the third and last essay from Nationalism entitled ‘Nationalism in India’.


Nationalism in India

Our real problem in India is not political. It is social. This is a condition not only prevailing in India, but among all nations. I do not believe in an exclusive political interest. Politics in the West have dominated Western ideals, and we in India are trying to imitate you. We have to remember that in Europe, where peoples had their racial unity from the beginning, and where natural resources were insufficient for the inhabitants, the civilization has naturally taken the character of political and commercial aggressiveness. For on the one hand they had no internal complications, and on the other they had to deal with neighbours who were strong and rapacious. To have perfect combination among themselves and a watchful attitude of animosity against others was taken as the solution of their problems. In former days they organized and plundered, in the present age the same spirit [97] continues and they organize and exploit the whole world.

But from the earliest beginnings of history, India has had her own problem constantly before her it is the race problem. Each nation must be conscious of its mission and we, in India, must realize that we cut a poor figure when” we are trying to be political, simply because we have not yet been finally able to accomplish what was set before us by our providence.

This problem of race unity which we have been trying to solve for so many years has likewise to be faced by you here in America. Many people in this country ask me what is happening as to the caste distinctions in India. But when this question is asked me, it is usually done with a superior air. And I feel tempted to put the same question to our American critics with a slight modification, “What have you done with the Red Indian and the Negro?” For you have not got over your attitude of caste toward them. You have used violent methods to keep aloof from other races, but until you have solved the question here in America, you have no right to question India.

In spite of our great difficulty, however, India has done something. She has tried to make an [98] adjustment of races, to acknowledge the real differences between them where these exist, and yet seek for some basis of unity. This basis has come through our saints, like Nanak, Kabir, Chaitnaya and others, preaching one God to all races of India.

In finding the solution of our problem we shall have helped to solve the world problem as well. What India has been, the whole world is now. The whole world is becoming one country through scientific facility. And the moment is arriving when you also must find a basis of unity which is not political. If India can offer to the world her solution, it will be a contribution to humanity. There is only one history the history of man. All national histories are merely chapters in the larger one. And we are content in India to suffer for such a great cause.

Each individual has his self-love. Therefore his brute instinct leads him to fight with others in the sole pursuit of his self-interest. But man has also his higher instincts of sympathy and mutual help. The people who are lacking in this higher moral power and who therefore cannot combine in fellowship with one another must perish or live in a state of degradation. Only those peoples have survived and achieved civiliza-[99]tion who have this spirit of cooperation strong in them. So we find that from the beginning of history men had to choose between fighting with one another and combining, between serving their own interest or the common interest of all.

In our early history when the geographical limits of each country and also the facilities of communication were small, this problem was comparatively small in dimension. It was sufficient for men to develop their sense of unity within their area of segregation. In those days they combined among themselves and fought against others. But it was this moral spirit of combination which was the true basis of their greatness, and this fostered their art, science and religion. At that early time the most important fact that man had to take count of was the fact of the members of one particular race of men coming in close contact with one another. Those who truly grasped this fact through their higher nature made their mark in history.

The most important fact of the present age is that all the different races of men have come close together. And again we are confronted with two alternatives. The problem is whether the different groups of peoples shall go on fighting with one another or find out some true basis [100] of reconciliation and mutual help ; whether it will be interminable competition or cooperation.

I have no hesitation in saying that those who are gifted with the moral power of love and vision of spiritual unity, who have the least feeling of enmity against aliens, and the sympathetic insight to place themselves in the position of others will be the fittest to take their permanent place in the age that is lying before us, and those who are constantly developing their instinct of fight and intolerance of aliens will be eliminated. For this is the problem before us, and we have to prove our humanity by solving it through the help of our higher nature. The gigantic organizations for hurting others and warding off their blows, for making money by dragging others back, will not help us. On the contrary, by their crushing weight, their enormous cost and their deadening effect upon the living humanity they will seriously impede our freedom in the larger life of a higher civilization.

During the evolution of the Nation -the moral culture of brotherhood was limited by geographical boundaries, because at that time those boundaries were true. Now they have become imaginary lines of tradition divested of [101] the qualities of real obstacles. So the time has come when man’s moral nature must deal with this great fact with all seriousness or perish. The first impulse of this change of circumstance has been the churning up of man’s baser passions of greed and cruel hatred. If this persists indefinitely and armaments go on exaggerating themselves to unimaginable absurdities, and machines and storehouses envelop this fair earth with their dirt and smoke and ugliness, then it will end in a conflagration of suicide. Therefore man will have to exert all his power of love and clarity of vision to make another great moral adjustment which will comprehend the whole world of men and not merely the fractional groups of nationality. The call has come to every individual in the present age to prepare himself and his surroundings for this dawn of a new era when man shall discover his soul in the spiritual unity of all human beings.

If it is given at all to the West to struggle out of these tangles of the lower slopes to the spiritual summit of humanity, then I cannot but think that it is the special mission of America to fulfil this hope of God and man. You are the country of expectation, desiring something else than what is. Europe has her subtle habits of [102] mind and her conventions. But America, as yet, has come to no conclusions. I realize how much America is untrammelled by the traditions of the past, and I can appreciate that experimentalism is a sign of America’s youth. The foundation of her glory is in the future, rather than in the past ; and if one is gifted with the power of clairvoyance, one will be able to love the America that is to be.

America is destined to justify Western civilization to the East. Europe has lost faith in humanity, and has become distrustful and sickly. America, on the other hand, is not pessimistic or blase. You know, as a people, that there is such a thing as a better and a best ; and that knowledge drives you on. There are habits that are not merely passive but aggressively arrogant. They are not like mere walls but are like hedges of stinging nettles. Europe has been cultivating these hedges of habits for long years till they have grown round her dense and strong and high. The pride of her traditions has sent its roots deep into her heart. I do not wish to contend that it is unreasonable. But pride in every form breeds blindness at the end. Like all artificial stimulants its first effect is a heightening of consciousness and then with the increasing dose it muddles [103] it and brings an exultation that is misleading. Europe has gradually grown hardened in her pride of all her outer and inner habits. She not only cannot forget that she is Western, but she takes every opportunity to hurl this fact against others to humiliate them. This is why she is growing incapable of imparting to the East what is best in herself, and of accepting in a right spirit the wisdom that the East has stored for centuries.

In America national habits and traditions have not had time to spread their clutching roots round your hearts. You have constantly felt and complained of its disadvantages when you compared your nomadic restlessness with the settled traditions of Europe the Europe which can show her picture of greatness to the best advantage because she can fix it against the background of the Past. But in this present age of transition, when a new era of civilization is sending its trumpet call to all peoples of the world across an unlimited future, this very freedom of detachment will enable you to accept its invitation and to achieve the goal for which Europe began her journey but lost herself midway. For she was tempted out of her path by her pride of power and greed of possession. [104]

Not merely your freedom from habits of mind in the individuals but also the freedom of your history from all unclean entanglements fits you in your career of holding the banner of civilization of the future. All the great nations of Europe have their victims in other parts of the world. This not only deadens their moral sympathy but also their intellectual sympathy, which is so necessary for the understanding of races which are different from one’s own. Englishmen can never truly understand India because their minds are not disinterested with regard to that country. If you compare England with Germany or France you will find she has produced the smallest number of scholars who have studied Indian literature and philosophy with any amount of sympathetic insight or thoroughness. This attitude of apathy and contempt is natural where the relationship is abnormal and founded upon national selfishness and pride. But your history has been disinterested and that is why you have been able to help Japan in her lessons in Western civilization and that is why China can look upon you with her best confidence in this her darkest period of danger. In fact you are carrying all the responsibility of a great future because you [105] are untrammelled by the grasping miserliness of a past. Therefore of all countries of the earth America has to be fully conscious of this future, her vision must not be obscured and her faith in humanity must be strong with the strength of youth.

A parallelism exists between America and India the parallelism of welding together into one body various races.

In my country, we have been seeking to find out something common to all races, which will prove their real unity. No nation looking for a mere political or commercial basis of unity will find such a solution sufficient. Men of thought and power will discover the spiritual unity, will realize it, and preach it.

India has never had a real sense of nationalism.^ Even though from childhood I had been taught that the idolatry of Nation is almost better than reverence for God and humanity, I believe I have outgrown that teaching, and it is my conviction that my countrymen will gain truly their India by fighting against that education which teaches them that a country is greater than the ideals of humanity.

The educated Indian at present is trying to absorb some lessons from history contrary to [106] the lessons of our ancestors. The East, in fact, is attempting to take unto itself a history which is not the outcome of its own living. Japan, for example, thinks she is getting powerful through adopting Western methods, but, after she has exhausted her inheritance, only the borrowed weapons of civilization will remain to her. She will not have developed herself from within.

Europe has her past. Europe’s strength therefore lies in her history. We, in India, must make up our minds that we cannot borrow other people’s history, and that if we stifle our own, we are committing suicide. When you borrow things that do not belong to your life, they only serve to crush your life.

And therefore I believe that it does India no good to compete with Western civilization in its own field. But we shall be more than compensated if, in spite of the insults heaped upon us, we follow our own destiny.

There are lessons which impart information or train our minds for intellectual pursuits. These are simple and can be acquired and used with advantage. But there are others which affect our deeper nature and change our direction of [107] life. Before we accept them and pay their value by selling our own inheritance, we must pause and think deeply. In man’s history there come ages of fireworks which dazzle us by their force and movement. They laugh not only at our modest household lamps but also at the eternal stars. But let us not for that provocation be precipitate in our desire to dismiss our lamps. Let us patiently bear our present insult and realize that these fireworks have splendour but not permanence, because of the extreme explosiveness which is the cause of their power, and also of their exhaustion. They are spending a fatal quantity of energy and substance compared to their gain and production.

Anyhow our ideals have been evolved through our own history and even if we wished we could only make poor fireworks of them, because their materials are different from yours, as is also their moral purpose. If we cherish the desire of paying our all for buying a political nationality it will be as absurd as if Switzerland had staked her existence in her ambition to build up a navy powerful enough to compete with that of England. The mistake that we make is in thinking that man’s channel of greatness is only one the one which has made itself pain-[108]fully evident for the time being by its depth of insolence.

We must know for certain that there is a future before us and that future is waiting for those who are rich in moral ideals and not in mere things. And it is the privilege of man to work for fruits that are beyond his immediate reach, and to adjust his life not in slavish conformity to the examples of some present success or even to his own prudent past, limited in its aspiration, but to an infinite future bearing in its heart the ideals of our highest expectations.

We must, however, know it is providential that the West has come to India. Yet, some one must show the East to the West, and convince the West that the East has her contribution to make in the history of civilization. India is no beggar of the West. And yet even though the West may think she is, I am not for thrusting off Western civilization and becoming segregated in our independence. Let us have a deep association. If Providence wants England to be the channel of that communication, of that deeper association, I am willing to accept it with all humility. I have great faith in human nature, and I think the West will find its true mission. I speak bitterly of Western civilization [109] when I am conscious that it is betraying its trust and thwarting its own purpose. The West must not make herself a curse to the world by using her power for her own selfish needs, but by teaching the ignorant and helping the weak, by saving herself from the worst danger that the strong is liable to incur by making the feeble to acquire power enough to resist her intrusion. And also she must not make her materialism to be the final thing, but must realize that she is doing a service in freeing the spiritual being from the tyranny of matter.

I am not against one nation in particular, but against the general idea of all nations. What is the Nation?

It is the aspect of a whole people as an organized power. This organization incessantly keeps up the insistence of the population on becoming strong and efficient. But this strenuous effort after strength and efficiency drains man’s energy from his higher nature where he is self-sacrificing and creative. For thereby man’s power of sacrifice is diverted from his ultimate object, which is moral, to the maintenance of this organization, which is mechanical. Yet in this he feels all the satisfaction of moral exaltation and therefore becomes supremely [110] dangerous to humanity. He feels relieved of the urging of his conscience when he can transfer his responsibility to this machine which is the creation of his intellect and not of his complete moral personality. By this device the people which loves freedom perpetuates slavery in a large portion of the world with the comfortable feeling of pride of having done its duty ; men who are naturally just can be cruelly unjust both in their act and their thought, accompanied by a feeling that they are helping the world in receiving its deserts ; men who are honest can blindly go on robbing others of their human rights for selfaggrandizement, all the while abusing the deprived for not deserving better treatment. We have seen in our everyday life even small organizations of business and profession produce callousness of feeling in men who are not naturally bad, and we can well imagine what a moral havoc it is causing in a world where whole peoples are furiously organizing themselves for gaining wealth and power.

Nationalism is a great menace. It is the particular thing which for years has been at the bottom of India’s troubles. And inasmuch as we have been ruled and dominated by a [111] nation that is strictly political in its attitude, we have tried to develop within ourselves, despite our inheritance from the past, a belief in our eventual political destiny.

There are different parties in India, with different ideals. Some are struggling for political independence. Others think that the time has not arrived for that, and yet believe that India should have the rights that the English colonies have. They wish to gain autonomy as far as possible.

In the beginning of our history of political agitation in India there was not that conflict between parties which there is to-day. In that time there was a party known as the Indian Congress; it had no real programme. They had a few grievances for redress by the authorities. They wanted larger representation in the Council House, and more freedom in the Municipal government. They wanted scraps of things, but they had no constructive ideal. Therefore I was lacking in enthusiasm for their methods. It was my conviction that what India most needed was constructive work coming from within herself. In this work we must take all risks and go on doing our duties which by right are ours, though in the teeth [112] of persecution; winning moral victory at every step, by our failure, and suffering. We must show those who are over us that we have the strength of moral power in ourselves, the power to suffer for truth. Where we have nothing to show, we only have to beg. It would be mischievous if the gifts we wish for were granted to us right now, and I have told my countrymen, time and time again, to combine for the work of creating opportunities to give vent to our spirit of self-sacrifice, and not for the purpose of begging.

The party, however, lost power because the people soon came to realize how futile was the half policy adopted by them. The party split, and there arrived the Extremists, who advocated independence of action, and discarded the begging method, the easiest method of relieving one’s mind from his responsibility towards his country. Their ideals were based on Western history. They had no sympathy with the special problems of India. They did not recognize the patent fact that there were causes in our social organization which made the Indian incapable of coping with the alien. What would we do if, for any reason, England was driven away? We should simply be victims for other nations. The same [113] social weaknesses would prevail. The thing we, in India, have to think of is this to remove those social customs and ideals which have generated a want of self-respect and a complete dependence on those above us, a state of affairs which has been brought about entirely by the domination in India of the caste system, and the blind and lazy habit of relying upon the authority of traditions that are incongruous anachronisms in the present age.

Once again I draw your attention to the difficulties India has had to encounter and her struggle to overcome them.. Her problem was the problem of the world in miniature. India is too vast in its area and too diverse in its races. It is many countries packed in one geographical receptacle. It is just the opposite of what Europe truly is, namely one country made into many. Thus Europe in its culture and growth has had the advantage of the strength of the many, as well as the strength of the one. India, on the contrary, being naturally many, yet adventitiously one, has all along suffered from the looseness of its diversity and the feebleness of its unity. A true unity is like a round globe, it rolls on, carrying its burden easily ; but diversity is a many-cornered thing which has to be dragged [114] and pushed with all force. Be it said to the credit of India that this diversity was not her own creation ; she has had to accept it as a fact from the beginning of her history. In America and Australia, Europe has simplified her problem by almost exterminating the original population. Even in the present age this spirit of extermination is making itself manifest, by inhospitably shutting out aliens, through those who themselves were aliens in the lands they now occupy. But India tolerated difference of races from the first, and that spirit of toleration has acted all through her history.

Her caste system is the outcome of this spirit of toleration.. For India has all along been trying experiments in evolving a social unity within which all the different peoples could be held together, yet fully enjoying the freedom of maintaining their own differences. The tie has been as loose as possible, yet as close as the circumstances permitted. This has produced something like a United States of a social federation, whose common name is Hinduism.

India had felt that diversity of races there must be and should be, whatever may be its drawback, and you can never coerce nature into your narrow limits of convenience without paying [115] one day very dearly for it. In this India was right ; but what she failed to realize was that in human beings differences are not like the physical barriers of mountains, fixed forever they are fluid with life’s flow, they are changing their courses and their shapes and volume.

Therefore in her caste regulations India recognized differences, but not the mutability which is the law of life. In trying to avoid collisions she set up boundaries of immovable walls, thus giving to her numerous races the negative benefit of peace and order but not the positive opportunity of expansion and movement. She accepted nature where it produces diversity, but ignored it where it uses that diversity for its world-game of infinite permutations and combinations. She treated life in all truth where it is manifold, but insulted it where it is ever moving. Therefore Life departed from her social system and in its place she is worshipping with all ceremony the magnificent cage of countless compartments that she has manufactured.

The same thing happened where she tried to ward off the collisions of trade interests. She associated different trades and professions with different castes. It had the effect of allaying for good the interminable jealousy and hatred [116] of competition the competition which breeds cruelty and makes the atmosphere thick with lies and deception. In this also India laid all her emphasis upon the law of heredity, ignoring the law of mutation, and thus gradually reduced arts into crafts and genius into skill.

However, what Western observers fail to discern is that in her caste system India in all seriousness accepted her responsibility to solve the race problem in such a manner as to avoid all friction, and yet to afford each race freedom within its boundaries. Let us admit in this India has not achieved a full measure of success. But this you must also concede, that the West, being more favorably situated as to homogeneity of races, has never given her attention to this problem, and whenever confronted with it she has tried to make it easy by ignoring it altogether. And this is the source of her anti-Asiatic agitations for depriving the aliens of their right to earn their honest living on these shores. In most of your colonies you only admit them on condition of their accepting the menial position of hewers of wood and drawers of water. Either you shut your doors against the aliens or reduce them into slavery. And this is your solution of the problem of race-conflict. Whatever may be [117] its merits you will have to admit that it does not spring from the higher impulses of civilization, but from the lower passions of greed and hatred. You say this is human nature and India also thought she knew human nature when she strongly barricaded her race distinctions by the fixed barriers of social gradations. But we have found out to our cost that human nature is not what it seems, but what it is in truth ; which is in its infinite possibilities. And when we in our blindness insult humanity for its ragged appearance it sheds its disguise to disclose to us that we have insulted our God. The degradation which we cast upon others in our pride or selfinterest degrades our own humanity and this is the punishment which is most terrible because we do not detect it till it is too late.

Not only in your relation with aliens but also with the different sections of your own society you have not brought harmony of reconciliation. The spirit of conflict and competition is allowed the full freedom of its reckless career. And because its genesis is the greed of wealth and power it can never come to any other end but a violent death. In India the production of commodities was brought under the law of social adjustments. Its basis was co-operation, having [118] for its object the perfect satisfaction of social needs. But in the West it is guided by the impulse of competition whose end is the gain of wealth for individuals. But the individual is like the geometrical line; it is length without breadth. It has not got the depth to be able to hold anything permanently. Therefore its greed or gain can never come to finality. In its lengthening process of growth it can cross other lines and cause entanglements, but will ever go on missing the ideal of completeness in its thinness of isolation.

In all our physical appetites we recognize a limit. We know that to exceed that limit is to exceed the limit of health. But has this lust for wealth and power no bounds beyond which is death’s dominion? In these national carnivals of materialism are not the Western peoples spending most of their vital energy in merely producing things and neglecting the creation of ideals? And can a civilization ignore the law of moral health and go on in its endless process of inflation by gorging upon material things? Man in his social ideals naturally tries to regulate his appetites, subordinating them to the higher purpose of his nature. But in the economic world our appetites follow no other restrictions [119] but those of supply and demand which can be artificially fostered, affording individuals opportunities for indulgence in an endless feast of grossness. In India our social instincts imposed restrictions upon our appetites, maybe it went to the extreme of repression, but in the West, the spirit of the economic organization having no moral purpose goads the people into the perpetual pursuit of wealth ; but has this no wholesome limit?

The ideals that strive to take form in social institutions have two objects. One is to regulate our passions and appetites for harmonious development of man, and the other is to help him in cultivating disinterested love for his fellow creatures. Therefore society is the expression of moral and spiritual aspirations of man which belong to his higher nature.

Our food is creative, it builds our body ; but not so wine, which stimulates. Our social ideals create the human world, but when our mind is diverted from them to greed of power then in that state of intoxication we live in a world of abnormality where our strength is not health and our liberty is not freedom. Therefore political freedom does not give us freedom when our mind is not free. An automobile does not [120] create freedom of movement, because it is a mere machine. When I myself am free I can use the automobile for the purpose of my freedom.

We must never forget in the present day that those people who have got their political freedom are not necessarily free, they are merely powerful. The passions which are unbridled in them are creating huge organizations of slavery in the disguise of freedom. Those who have made the gain of money their highest end are unconsciously selling their life and soul to rich persons or to the combinations that represent money. Those who are enamoured of their political power and gloat over their extension of dominion over foreign races gradually surrender their own freedom and humanity to the organizations necessary for holding other peoples in slavery. In the socalled free countries the majority of the people are not free, they are driven by the minority to a goal which is not even known to them. This becomes possible only because people- do not acknowledge moral and spiritual freedom as their object. They create huge eddies with their passions and they feel dizzily inebriated with the mere velocity of their whirling movement, taking that to be freedom. But the doom which is waiting to [121] overtake them is as certain as death – for man’s truth is moral truth and his emancipation is in the spiritual life.

The general opinion of the majority of the present day nationalists in India is that we have come to a final completeness in our social and spiritual ideals, the task of the constructive work of society having been done several thousand years before we were born, and that now we are free to employ all our activities in the political direction. We never dream of blaming our social inadequacy as the origin of our present helplessness, for we have accepted as the creed of our nationalism that this social system has been perfected for all time to come by our ancestors who had the superhuman vision of all eternity, and supernatural power for making infinite provision for future ages. Therefore for all our miseries and shortcomings we hold responsible the historical surprises that burst upon us from outside. This is the reason why we think that our one task is to build a political miracle of freedom upon the quicksand of social slavery. In fact we want to dam up the true course of our own historical stream and only borrow power from the sources of other peoples’ history. [122]

Those of us in India who have come under the delusion that mere political freedom will make us free have accepted their lessons from the West as the gospel truth and lost their faith in humanity. We must remember whatever weakness we cherish in our society will become the source of danger in politics. The same inertia which leads us to our idolatry of dead forms in social institutions will create in our politics prison houses with immovable walls. The narrowness of sympathy which makes it possible for us to impose upon a considerable portion of humanity the galling yoke of inferiority will assert itself in our politics in creating tyranny of injustice.

When our nationalists talk about ideals, they forget that the basis of nationalism is wanting. The very people who are upholding these ideals are themselves the most conservative in their social practice. Nationalists say, for example, look at Switzerland, where, in spite of race differences, the peoples have solidified into a nation. Yet, remember that in Switzerland the races can mingle, they can intermarry, because they are of the same blood. In India there is no common birthrights And when we talk of Western Nationality we forget that the nations [123] there do not have that physical repulsion, one for the other, that we have between different castes. Have we an instance in the whole world where a people who are not allowed to mingle their blood shed their blood for one another except by coercion or for mercenary purposes? And can we ever hope that these moral barriers against our race amalgamation will not stand in the way of our political unity?

Then again we must give full recognition to this fact that our social restrictions are still tyrannical, so much so as to make men cowards. If a man tells me he has heterodox ideas, but that he cannot follow them because he would be socially ostracized, I excuse him for having to live a life of untruth, in order to live at all. The social habit of mind which impels us to make the life of our fellow-beings a burden to them where they differ from us even in such a thing as their choice of food is sure to persist in our political organization and result in creating engines of coercion to crush every rational difference which is the sign of life. And tyranny will only add to the inevitable lies and hypocrisy in our political life. Is the mere name of freedom so valuable that we should be willing to sacrifice for its sake our moral freedom? [124]

The intemperance of our habits does not immediately show its effects when we are in the vigour of our youth. But it gradually consumes that vigour, and when the period of decline sets in then we have to settle accounts and pay off our debts, which leads us to insolvency. In the West you are still able to carry your head high though your humanity is suffering every moment from its dipsomania of organizing power. India also in the heyday of her youth could carry in her vital organs the dead weight of her social organizations stiffened to rigid perfection, but it has been fatal to her, and has produced a gradual paralysis of her living nature. And this is the reason why the educated community of India has become insensible of her social needs. They are taking the very immobility of our social structures as the sign of their perfection, and because the healthy feeling of pain is dead in the limbs of our social organism they delude themselves into thinking that it needs no ministration. Therefore they think that all their energies need their only scope in the political field. It is like a man whose legs have become shrivelled and useless, trying to delude himself that these limbs have grown still because they have attained their ultimate salvation, and all [125] that is wrong about him is the shortness of his sticks.

So much for the social and the political regeneration of India. Now we come to her industries, and I am very often asked whether there is in India any industrial regeneration since the advent of the British Government. It must be remembered that at the beginning of the British rule in India our industries were suppressed and since then we have not met with any real help or encouragement to enable us to make a stand against the monster commercial organizations of the world. The nations have decreed that we must remain purely an agricultural people, even forgetting the use of arms for all time to come. Thus India is being turned into so many predigested morsels of food ready to be swallowed at any moment by any nation which has even the most rudimentary set of teeth in its head.

India, therefore has very little outlet for her industrial originality. I personally do not believe in the unwieldy organizations of the present day. The very fact that they are ugly shows that they are in discordance with the whole creation. The vast powers of nature do not reveal their truth in hideousness, but in beauty. Beauty is the [126] signature which the Creator stamps upon his works when he is satisfied with them. All our products that insolently ignore the laws of perfection and are unashamed in their display of ungainliness bear the perpetual weight of God’s displeasure. So far as your commerce lacks the dignity of grace it is untrue. “ Beauty and her twin brother Truth require leisure, and self-control for their growth. But the greed of gain has no time or limit to its capaciousness. Its one object is to produce and consume. It has neither pity for beautiful nature, nor for living human beings. It is ruthlessly ready without a moment’s hesitation to crush beauty and life out of them, moulding them into money. It is this ugly vulgarity of commerce which brought upon it the censure of contempt in our earlier days when men had leisure to have an unclouded vision of perfection in humanity. Men in those times were rightly ashamed of the instinct of mere money-making. But in this scientific age money, by its very abnormal bulk, has won its throne. And when from its eminence of piled-up things it insults the higher instincts of man, banishing beauty and noble sentiments from its surroundings, we submit. For we in our meanness have accepted bribes from its hands and our [127] imagination has grovelled in the dust before its immensity of flesh.

But its unwieldiness itself and its endless complexities are its true signs of failure. The swimmer who is an expert does not exhibit his muscular force by violent movements, but exhibits some power which is invisible and which shows itself in perfect grace and reposefulness. The true distinction of man from animals is in his power and worth which are inner and invisible. But the present-day commercial civilization of man is not only taking too much time and space but killing time and space. Its movements are violent, its noise is discordantly loud. It is carrying its own damnation because it is trampling into distortion the humanity upon which it stands. It is strenuously turning out money at the cost of happiness. Man is reducing himself to his minimum, in order to be able to make amplest room for his organizations. He is deriding his human sentiments into shame because they are apt to stand in the way of his machines.

In our mythology we have the legend that the man who performs penances for attaining immortality has to meet with temptations sent by Indra, the Lord of the immortals. If he is [128] lured by them he is lost. The West has been striving for centuries after its goal of immortality. Indra has sent her the temptation to try her. It is the gorgeous temptation of wealth. She has accepted it and her civilization of humanity has lost its path in the wilderness of machinery.

This commercialism with its barbarity of ugly decorations is a terrible menace to all humanity. Because it is setting up the ideal of power over that of perfection. It is making the cult of self-seeking exult in its naked shamelessness. Our nerves are more delicate than our muscles. Things that are the most precious in us are helpless as babes when we take away from them the careful protection which they claim from us for their very preciousness. Therefore when the callous rudeness of power runs amuck in the broad-way of humanity it scares away by its grossness the ideals which we have cherished with the martyrdom of centuries.

The temptation which is fatal for the strong is still more so for the weak. And I do not welcome it in our Indian life even though it be sent by the lord of the Immortals. Let our life be simple in its outer aspect and rich in its inner gain. Let our civilization take its firm stand [129] upon its basis of social cooperation and not upon that of economic exploitation and conflict. How to do it in the teeth of the drainage of our life-blood by the economic dragons is the task set before the thinkers of all oriental nations who have faith in the human soul. It is a sign of laziness and impotency to accept conditions imposed upon us by others who have other ideals than ours. We should actively try to adapt the world powers to guide our history to its own perfect end.

From the above you will know that I am not an economist. I am willing to acknowledge that there is a law of demand and supply and an infatuation of man for more things than are good for him. And yet I will persist in believing that there is such a thing as the harmony of completeness in humanity, where poverty does not take away his riches, where defeat may lead him to victory, death to immortality, and in the compensation of Eternal Justice those who are the last may yet have their insult transmuted into a golden triumph. [130]


[1] Tagore, ‘Nationalism in the West’, in Nationalism (London: Macmillan, 1921 [1917]), pp. 1-46 (p. 46).

[2] Kripalani, ‘A World Citizen’, in Rabindranath Tagore: A Biography, pp. 235-66 (p. 257).

[3] Kripalani, ‘World in One Nest’, pp. 267-301 (p. 277).

[4] Gandhi, ‘The Poet’s Anxiety’, in The Mahatma and the Poet: Letters and Debates between Gandhi and Tagore 1915-1941, ed. by Sabyasachi Bhattacharya (New Delhi: National Book Trust, 1997), pp. 65-8 (p. 66).

[5] Sarkar, ‘The Gospel of Atmasakti—Constructive Swadeshi’, in ‘Trends in Bengal’s Swadeshi Movement’, in The Swadeshi Movement in Bengal 1903-1908, pp. 31-91 (pp. 53-63).

[6] We have seen how this idea proved to be perplexing for Jevons, the eminent professor of philosophy, despite his being eager to discover Tagore’s truth in Personality. Jevons relied too much on the western scholar’s systematic approach to his subject.

[7] Introduction to Chapter IV, in Tagore, Letters to a Friend, pp. 68-70 (p. 69).

[8] Tagore, Nationalism (London: Papermac, 1991)

[9] Robinson may well have begun working on his biography of Tagore: Dutta and Robinson, Myriad-Minded Man, and this may have led to his adopting a biographical sequence for the 1991 edition of Nationalism. According to the helpful appendix giving the chronology of Tagore’s visit to America in 1916-17, most of the lectures were entitled either ‘Nationalism’ or ‘The Cult of Nationalism’, and then, near the end of his tour, Tagore gave three of the lectures later published in Personality, followed by ‘Nationalism in the West’ and ‘Nationalism in India’, in Urbana, Illinois. The audience in Urbana may have been the Unity Club, the select group who were the first to hear the Sadhana lectures five years earlier. (Nationalism (1991), pp. 100-102 (p. 102).)

[10] Tagore, Nationalism: With an Introduction by Ramachandra Guha (New Delhi: Penguin, Modern Classics, 2009); Tagore, Nationalism (London: Penguin, Great Ideas, 2010) (I have not hunted out every edition of Nationalism after 1991 to check that the ‘mistake’, as I see it, is present in all of them.)

[11] ‘Nationalism in the West’, p. 3.

[12] Both occur five times, but not together.

[13] There is one occurrence of the words ‘No nation’ in ‘Nationalism in India’ but not as a phrase: ‘No nation looking for a mere political or commercial basis of unity will find such a solution sufficient.’ (p. 106.)

[14] ‘Nationalism in the West’, pp. 7-8.

[15] In the 2009 and 2010 Penguin editions, the phrase is altered to ‘No-Nations’, a phrase Tagore employs twice in his original but not at this point in the text.

[16] Nabaneeta Dev Sen, ‘Crisis in Civilization, and a Poet’s Alternatives: Education as one alternative weapon’, quoted in Ahmed, ‘Contemporarising Rabindranath and the International’, p. 23.

[17] Tagore, ‘Society and State’, in Towards Universal Man, pp. 49-66. The Bengali original, Swadeshi Samaj (1904), was first translated into English by his nephew Surendranath Tagore, and published in 1921 with the title ‘Our Swadeshi Samaj’. A much later translation, in 1947 by Lila Majumdar, was given the title ‘Society and State’ (Notes, in Towards Universal Man, p. 367.)

[18] ‘Society and State’, p. 50.

[19] Wealthy members of society were responsible for infrastructure projects such as digging tanks. This address by Tagore was to a public meeting on the problem of water scarcity in Bengal. (Notes, in Towards Universal Man, pp. 367-83 (p. 367).)

[20] ‘Society and State’, pp. 50-1.

[21] ‘Swadeshi Samaj’ blog, http://swadeshisamaj.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/swadeshi-movement.html [accessed 1 June 2012]

[22] ‘Definition of Samaj (Society Building)’ http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=107976842593683 [accessed 1 June 2012] The definition continues: ‘it is a socio-economic movement based on anti-exploitation sentiment. Its aim is to create a congenial socio-economic environment for economic security, cultural freedom, and political harmony’

[23] Berlin, ‘Herder and the Enlightenment’, in Isaiah Berlin, Three Critics of the Enlightenment: Vico, Hamann, Herder, pp. 168-242 (pp. 168, 181-2). Möser praised ancient Saxons and medieval Europe at a time when Voltaire and the Encyclopaedists were writing contemptuously about the Dark Ages. (Berlin, p. 172.) (The word ‘nation’ and its derivatives is complex in the German language, bringing in the ideas of people, birth and state (Langenscheidts Taschenworterbucher).)

[24] In the Personality essays I pointed out the rhythmic repetitions, and how one sometimes needs to read passages aloud to get the full sense.

[25] Notes, in Towards Universal Man, p. 367.

[26] ‘Ora Kaaj Korey’, Arogya, 1941, also translated by Kshitish Roy as ‘The Toilers’ (Tagore Birthday Number, Visva-Bharati Quarterly Vol. VII, Parts I & II, May-Oct. 1941, ed. by K.R. Kripalani, pp. 191-2)

[27] Tagore, ‘They Work’, 13 February 1941 trans. by Hiren Mukherji, in One Hundred and One: Poems by Rabindranath Tagore, pp. 176-7. This is no. 96 in a chronological collection.

[28] ‘Nationalism in the West’, pp. 15-6.

[29] ‘Nationalism in India’, in Nationalism, pp. 95-130 (pp. 98-9). Tagore delivered an address entitled ‘Race Conflict’ in New York in 1912. (Tagore, ‘Race Conflict’, in The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume THREE: A Miscellany, pp. 359-63. Notes, p. 973.)

[30] ‘Nationalism in Japan’, in Nationalism, pp. 47-93 (pp. 59-60).

[31] ‘Nationalism in India’, p. 99.

[32] ‘Nationalism in Japan’, p. 49.

[33] ‘Nationalism in Japan’, p.

[34] ‘Nationalism in Japan’, p. 57.

[35] Tagore, ‘Civilization and Progress’, in ‘Talks in China’, in The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume TWO: Plays, Stories, Essays, pp. 621-9.

[36] ‘Civilization and Progress’, pp. 621, 627-9.

[37] E.P. Thompson, Introduction, in Nationalism (London: Papermac, 1991), pp. 1-16 (p. 12).

[38] ‘The fact is that by 1912 Tagore had explicitly rejected nationalism [... and] a close fiend of the Tagore family has claimed that Tagore “never supported nationalism, not in any form or guise”’. (Michael Collins, ‘On Nations and Empires: Tagore’s Debates with Gandhi’, in Empire, Nationalism and the Postcolonial World: Rabindranath Tagore’s Writings on History, Politics and Society (London: Routledge, 2012), pp. 70-98 (p. 70).) Other Tagore scholars have disagreed. Uma Das Gupta makes Tagore a ‘world-embracing and inclusive nationalist’. (‘A Self-Respecting Nationalism as Our Salvation’, in The Oxford India Tagore: Selected Writings on Education and Nationalism, pp. 337-408 (p. 339). Louise Blakeney Williams makes him a ‘cosmopolitan nationalist’. (‘Overcoming the “Contagion of Mimicry”: The Cosmopolitan Nationalism and Modernist History of Rabindranath Tagore and W.B. Yeats’, The American Historical Review, 112 (2007), 69-100.)

[39] ‘The Protest of a Seer: [Review] Nationalism. by Sir Rabindranath Tagore’, in The Times Literary Supplement, 13 September 1917, Imagining Tagore, pp. 289-91 (p. 291).

[40] Nationalism, p. 8.

[41] ‘Nationalism in India’, p. 130.

[42] Ashis Nandy, ‘The Illegitimacy of Nationalism’, in Return from Exile: Alternative Sciences; The Illegitimacy of Nationalism; The Savage Freud (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 5. The words in parentheses are Nandy’s own.

[43] Nandy, pp. vii.

[44] Nandy, p. 6. Quotation from Tagore, ‘Nationalism in India’, in Nationalism (1917), pp. 97-130 (pp. 98-9).

[45] Tagore, ‘The Soviet System’, in The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume FOUR, pp. 419-26.

[46] ‘Society and State’, pp. 50-1.

[47] From ‘On Studying Indian History’ first draft of translation, kindly provided by Uma Das Gupta, who is currently translating Tagore’s history essays from Bengali.

[48] Ranajit Guha, Dominance Without Hegemony: History and Power in Colonial India (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), pp. 1-2.

[49] From ‘On Studying Indian History’ and ‘A Vision of India’s History’, from one of Tagore history essays, Bharatbarser Itihaser Dhara (1912), trans. by Jadunath Sarkar (1913), in The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume THREE: A Miscellany, pp. 439-58.

[50] Tagore, ‘An Eastern University’, in Creative Unity, pp. 167-203 (p.201).

[51] ‘Nationalism in the West’, p. 31.

[52] ‘Nationalism in the West’, p. 32.

[53] ‘Nationalism in the West’, p. 32.

[54] ‘Nationalism in the West’, p. 37.

[55] Radhakamal Mukherjee, ‘The Social Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore’, in Tagore Birthday Number, pp. 95-99 (p. 96). (my emphasis)

[56] Depending on who is measuring and the criteria used, the proportion of India’s population living in poverty is between 27% and 77%. (Bimalendu Bhattacharya, Note A, in Geography of Deprivation: An Unfair World (New Delhi: Concept Publishing, 2014), p. 391.) Reports from the World Bank refer to official Government of India estimates that poverty is on the decline, but expresses concerns about India being able to deal with the massive urban transformation. (http://worldbank.org/en/country/india/overview [accessed 10 December 2012]) According to the most recent census about ‘one in six Indian city residents lives in an urban slum with unsanitary conditions that are “unfit for human habitation”’. (Huffington Post, 22 March 2013, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/22/> [accessed 29 Marsh 2013])

[57] Isaiah Berlin, ‘Rabindranath Tagore and the Consciousness of Nationality’, in The Sense of Reality: Studies in Ideas and their History, ed. by Henry Hardy (London: Pimlico, 2000), pp. 249-66. The essay was ‘unpublished’ prior to the 1996 collection. Berlin himself ‘with considerable forbearance’ read and approved Hardy’s edited text of all the pieces, and Andrew Robinson  read the Tagore essay. (Hardy, p. xi.) But no one was likely to have picked out the sentence: ‘And so it turned out to be’ as a subtle anachronism.

[58] Berlin, p. 265.

[59] Berlin, p. 250.

[60] Berlin, p. 262, referring to: Tagore, ‘Presidential Address’, in Towards Universal Man (Berlin’s notes to Towards Universal Man are to pp. 121, 117, 123.)

[61] Towards Universal Man, p. 370.

[62] Ashis Nandy, Alternative Sciences, p. 55. This book is included in Ashis Nandy, Return from Exile: Alternative Sciences; The Illegitimacy of Nationalism; The Savage Freud (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004)

[63] The Sense of Reality is a collection from Berlin’s ‘extensive unpublished work’ assembled by Henry Hardy, who has edited many works by Berlin. (‘Editor’s Preface’, pp. ix-xii (p. ix).)

[64] Berlin, ‘Kant as an Unfamiliar Source of Nationalism’, in The Sense of Reality, pp. 232-248 (pp. 232, 248).

[65] ‘Race Conflict’, in The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume THREE: A Miscellany, pp. 359-63. Notes, p. 973.

[66] Berlin does not refer to Nationalism in his essay, and perhaps never read it.

[67] Hardy, p. xi.

[68] Humayun Kabir, Preface, in Towards Universal Man, pp. vii-xi. ‘Sir Isaiah Berlin, All Souls College, Oxford’ is second in the list of 36 names in Appendix V: ‘Scholars in India, Europe and America who helped in the final selection’, pp.365-6.

[69] Nabaneeta Dev Sen, ‘The “Foreign Reincarnation” of Rabindranath Tagore’, Journal of Asian Studies, 25 (1966), 275-286 (pp. 284-5).

[70] E.P. Thompson, Alien Homage: Edward Thompson and Rabindranath Tagore (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 31. (Quoting E.J. Thompson, ‘Sir Rabindranath and Politics’, letter to Calcutta Statesman, 6 October 1917; ellipses in EPT quotation.)

[71] ‘His essays [...] ranged over literature, politics, culture, social change, religious beliefs, philosophical analysis, international relations, and much else.’ (Amartya Sen, p. 91.)

[72] Douglas Ensmenger, Foreword, in Towards Universal Man, pp. v-vi (p. v).

[73] Appendix II, Towards Universal Man, pp. 362-3.

[74] Berlin, ‘Herder and the Enlightenment’, in Three Critics, pp. 168-242 (pp. 181-2).

[75] Berlin, p. 238.

[76] Patrick Gardener, Introduction, in Sense of Reality, pp. xiii-xx. (p. xx).

[77] ‘Nationalism in India’, pp. 129-30.

[78] ‘Nationalism in India’, p. 130. (my italics)

[79] Tagore, ‘An Eastern University’, in Creative Unity, pp. 167-203.

[80] ‘An Eastern University’, pp. 200-1.

[81] Letters to a Friend, p. 69.

[82] ‘Nationalism in Japan’, pp. 73-4.

[83] ‘Nationalism in Japan’, p. 92. Tagore’s ‘ancestor rishis’ could include his father, Devendranath Tagore, who was known as the Maharishi, or great sage.

[84] Imtiaz Ahmed, ‘Contemporarising Rabindranath and the International’, in Contemporarising Tagore and the World, p. 16. Dipannita Datta, another speaker at this conference used Tagore’s novel The Home and the World to study ‘the dehumanising effects of “the soul-stifling discipline and the savage greed of the modern nation-state”.’ (Dipannita Datta, ‘In Search of Fairness and Justice: Contemporarising Tagore and The Home and the World’, in Contemporarizing Tagore and the World (Dhaka: University Press, 2013), pp. 439-68.)

[85] Berlin, ‘Rabindranath Tagore and Nationality’, pp. 261-2.

[86] Berlin, p. 264.

[87] Berlin, p. 265.

[88] ‘[P]olicy action is required to lift the “more than 300 million poor, 34% of the population [...] out of poverty” which demands more spending on education and health [...] with improvement in basic services’. (Bhattacharya, Geography of Deprivation, pp. 17-9.) Poverty measured by purchasing power tends to obscure lack of basic requirements other than food. In India there are vast numbers of people living without proper sanitation and safe water, with only fifteen per cent of the rural population having access to a toilet Report by the charity Water Aid. (http://www.wateraid.ord/uk [accessed 10 December 2012])

[89] Berlin, p. 249.

[90] Berlin, ‘Kant as an Unfamiliar Source of Nationalism’, in The Sense of Reality, pp. 232-48 (p. 233).

[91] Towards Universal Man, Notes, p. 370.

[92] Sumit Sarkar, ‘The Gospel of Atmasakti—Constructive Swadeshi’, in The Swadeshi Movement in Bengal 1903-1908, pp. 47-63.

[93] Tagore, ‘Nationalism in India’, in Nationalism (1917), pp. 97-30 (p. 97). (my italics)

[94] Andrews, letter to Tagore, 20 December 1922, about Andrews’ ‘long and extremely interesting talks with Professor Geddes’, in A Meeting of Two Minds, pp. 75-82 (p. 76).

[95] Geddes, letter to Tagore, 12 June 1926, in A Meeting of Two Minds, pp. 130-1 (p. 131).

[96] An Eastern University’, p. 202. In Kabir’s introduction to Towards Universal Man, he writes that the typical village in India has a population of several thousands, like a small town, with a combination of agriculture and industry, and was ‘until the advent of the modern age largely self-sufficient and the home of a contented community’ (Kabir, p. 13.) Tagore’s starting point of ‘one or two villages’ (‘City and Village’, p. 322.) may not have been as modest as it sounds. If the researches by interested scholars are examined in detail we find that Tagore’s pioneering work affected dozens of villages to varying degrees.

[97] See, e.g., Uma Das Gupta’s many works on Santiniketan and Sriniketan; Tapati Dasgupta and Sasadhar Sinha on Tagore’s ‘Social Thought/Thinking’; Section IV: ‘Rabindranath—Educator and Social Reformer’ in Chaudhuri, ed., Rabindranath Tagore and the Challenges of Today, pp. 153-201; Ahmed Rafique, ‘Tagore’s Thoughts on Village Development and Rural Reconstruction’, in Contemporarising Tagore and the World, pp. 375-93.

[98] Kripanali, Introduction, pp. 1-13 (p. 1).

[99] In a letter applying for an Imperial grant for Agricultural Research, Tagore concluded: ‘I hope I shall have the opportunity on my return for another talk with Your Excellency in regard to what has been my life’s work and in which I feel you take genuine personal interest.’ (Tagore, letter to the Viceroy, 28 February 1930, The Dartington Hall Trust Archive, Papers of Leonard Knight Elmhirst, LKE India, LKE/IN/25 Folder A, ‘Visva-Bharati correspondence’.)

[100] In 1894 Tagore wrote a poem entitled ‘Call Me Back to Work’ in which he writes: ‘While the world was busy with a hundred chores, / you played O Poet upon your flute the livelong day / [...] Shake off your sleep and rise, / There is fire around. / Who blows the conch to wake the people of the world?’

[101] Nehru, Jawaharlal, ‘Back Home and War-time Politics in India’, in An Autobiography: With Musings on Recent Events in India (London: John Lane, 1936), pp. 27-36 (p. 31).

[102] ‘Nationalism in the West’, p. 33.

[103] ‘East and West’, in Creative Unity, pp. 91-112 (pp. 96-7).

[104] Pankaj Mishra, ‘The Unites States and its Promises of Self-Determination’, in From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia (London: Allen Lane, 2012), pp. 187-93 (pp. 187, 192).

[105] Dutta and Robinson, ‘Anti-Imperialist (1917-1919)’, in Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-Minded Man, pp. 209-18 (pp. 211-2).

[106] Nehru, p. 31.

[107] Das Gupta, ‘A Self-Respecting Nationalism as Our Salvation’, in The Oxford India Tagore: Selected Writings on Education and Nationalism, pp. 337-408 (p. 339).

[108] Das Gupta, pp. 339-40.

[109] Tagore criticises members of the educated community in India for boasting about living in the past. (‘Nationalism in Japan’, p. 49.)

[110] ‘Nationalism in India’, pp. 97-8.

[111] ‘Our “Swadeshi Samaj”’, in Oxford India Tagore, pp. 276-8. Das Gupta has taken this passage from the collection: A Tagore Reader, ed. by Amiya Chakravarty, pp. 202-3, and we noted earlier that this was the title of the first translation of the essay included in Towards Universal Man as ‘Society and State’.

[112] Sarkar, ‘The Appeal to the Imagination’, in The Swadeshi Movement, pp. 287-316 (pp. 287, 289, 292, 295-6).

[113] Sarkar, ‘The Shift to Terrorism’, in The Swadeshi Movement, pp. 75-91 (pp. 82-7).

[114] Sarkar, ‘The Gospel of Atmasakti—Constructive Swadeshi’, in The Swadeshi Movement, pp. 47-63.

[115] The rise and fall of the hopes of Indian nationalists that self-government could be achieved by constitutional means is described in R.J. Moore, Liberalism and Indian Politics, 1872-1922 (London: Edward Arnold, 1966), pp. 117-9.

[116] ‘Nationalism in India’, p. 112.

[117] ‘Nationalism in India’, pp. 112-3.

[118] Sumit Sarkar, ‘Trends in Bengal’s Swadeshi Movement’, in Sumit Sarkar, The Swadeshi Movement in Bengal 1903-1908, pp. 31-91 (pp. 86-7). (Sarkar’s quotations are taken from ‘From Phantom to Reality’ (editorial), Bande Mataram, 13 July 1907.)

[119] Marjorie Sykes, ‘The Poet and Politics’, in Rabindranath Tagore, pp. 55-60 (pp. 59-60).

[120] Kripalani, Introduction, p. 11.

[121] Kripalani, ‘A Man of God’, pp. 176-212 (pp. 200-1).

[122] Letters to a Friend, p. 55.

[123] M. K. Gandhi, ‘The Partition of Bengal’, in Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule (Madras: Natesan, 1921 [1909]), pp. 8-11.

[124] Tagore, The Home and the World, trans. by Surendranath Tagore (London: Penguin, 1985)

[125] Swadeshi in this context simply means ‘made in India from Indian-produced materials’, the definition given in the English dictionary.

[126] Sykes, pp. 55-6.

[127] Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson, ‘The Swadeshi Movement (1905-1907)’, in Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-Minded Man, pp. 141-150 (p. 143).

[128] Dutta and Robinson, p. 149.

[129] Dutta and Robinson, p. 149-50.

[130] Nirad Chaudhuri, ‘Tagore: The Lost Great Man of India’, in Thy Hand, Great Anarch! India: 1921-1952 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1987), pp. 595-636 (p. 610).

[131] Tagore, Gora, trans. by W.W. Pearson (London: Macmillan, 1924). When Dutta and Robinson come to mention Gora they dismiss its setting as ‘completely alien’. They say that Gora ‘presents major problems’ for most western readers, especially in its 1924 ‘unsatisfactory English translation’ – the edition which I prefer to the 1997 translation (Gora, trans. by Sujit Mukherjee (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1997)), with its retained terms and editor’s and translator’s paratext, which, in my view, distances the western reader from this fascinating novel.

[132] A glance at the index entry for Tagore is telling, with some fifty references, covering about a fifth of the book.

[133] Sarkar’s own radicalism is indicated by the fact that he was one of the founding members of the Subaltern Studies Collective, but left because the school degenerated from its initial concern with the subaltern and radical social transformation, which he is committed to as a Marxist intellectual. (Review of Sumit Sarkar, Writing Social History (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997), in The Indian Economic and Social History Review, http://ier.sagepub.com/content/35/2/222.extract [accessed 14 December 2012].

[134] Das Gupta, pp. 16-24.

[135] Sarkar, ‘National Education’, in The Swadeshi Movement, pp.149-81 (p. 153).

[136] Patrick Colm Hogan, ‘Practical identity against categorial identity’, in ‘Midnight’s Children: Kashmir and the Politics of Identity’, Twentieth Century Literature, 47 (2001), 510-544 (pp. 518-9).

[137] Hogan, pp. 518-9.

[138] Hogan (citing Sarkar, pp. 32-3.), p. 520. Words in parentheses are Hogan’s.

[139] Sarkar, pp. 78-9.

[140] Hogan, p. 517.

[141] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983)

[142] I referred earlier to a similar observation by Nabaneeta Dev Sen: ‘Like nation, the concepts of race, religion and ethnicity also divide mankind into warring groups’. (p. 72.)

[143] Hogan, pp. 518-9. Hogan’s terminology proves to be particularly useful when we come to the next chapter on Creative Unity (1922), in which I contrast Tagore’s book with works by Gandhi and Nehru.

[144] The latter is most evident in ‘Nationalism in Japan’: ‘The political civilization which has sprung up from the soil of Europe and is overrunning the whole world, like some prolific weed’, ‘cannibalistic’, ‘hungry jaws’, huge machines for turning great portions of the earth into mincemeat’, ‘terrible jealousies with all their ugly teeth and claws ready for tearing open each other’s vitals’, ‘weaves its meshes of lies without shame’, ‘it enshrines gigantic idols of greed in its temples, taking great pride in the costly ceremonials of its worship, calling this patriotism’.

[145] ‘City and Village’, in Towards Universal Man, pp. 302-22 (p. 304).

[146] ‘Crisis in Civilization’, p. 358.

[147] ‘Nationalism in India’, p. 129.

[148] Rhys, p. 123.

[149] Nityapriya Ghosh, Introduction, in The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume FOUR, pp. 11-18.

[150] Tagore, letter to Ramananda Chatterji, editor of The Modern Review, 28 October 1917, in Ghosh, p. 16.

[151] Tagore, ‘Society and State’, in Towards Universal Man, pp. 49-66.

[152] Thompson,  Rabindranath Tagore: His Life and Work, pp. 48-9.

[153] Thompson, p. 51.

[154] According to Wendy Doniger, ‘fifty centuries’, around 3000 BCE, would take us back to some point in the period of the Indus valley Civilization, some time before the arrival of the Indo-Europeans. (Wendy Doniger, The Hindus: An Alternative History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 85.

[155] Tagore, Appendix A, in The Principal Upanisads, trans. by, ed. by S. Radhakrishnan, pp. 939-43.

[156] Tagore, Appendix A, p. 944.

[157] ‘On Studying Indian History’, p. 1.

[158] Towards Universal Man, Notes, p. 367.

[159] ‘Society’, p. 51.

[160] ‘West’, p. 7.

[161] ‘Society’, p. 55. (my italics)

[162] ‘West’, p. 9.

[163] Leo Tolstoy, What Then Must We Do?, trans. by Aylmer Maude (Bideford, Devon: Green Books, 1991), pp. 62-3.

[164] From back cover blurb of the Green Books 1991 paperback.

[165] Ronald Sampson interprets Tolstoy’s solution in radical terms in his Introduction, in What Then Must We Do?, pp. vii-xvi (p. xvi).

[166] Das Gupta, ‘Rabindranath Tagore on Rural Reconstruction: The Sriniketan Programme’ (1978), pp. 361-2.

[167] Tagore, ‘Cooperation’, in Towards Universal Man, pp. 323-40 (p. 326).

[168] Das Gupta, p. 355.

[169] ‘Nationalism in the West’, pp. 24-5.