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Temples of fire: The incomparable Tagore

Mishra, V. (1992) Temples of fire: The incomparable Tagore. Span: Journal of the South Pacific Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies, 34/35 . pp. 97-108.

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On my 21st birthday my father sent me a copy of Rabindranath Tagore's Gitanjali, first published in the West by the Macmillan Press in 1913. It was an unmarked edition issued in 1966. When I left home at 18 in 1964, he had not mentioned Tagore in any systematic manner to me, though Gitanjali had been for us a kind of literary touchstone, a magical text largely unread but necessary nevertheless for self-legitimation. For the diasporic Indians it opened a window to an Indian literary culture no longer accessible to them in an unmediated form. It was thus as a totemic symbol that the text existed in my family. But the gift of it in 1966 completed a triad of texts I associate with my father. The first of the triad was the vulgate edition of Tulsidasa's Ramacharitamanasa, the Avadhi Ramayana, which he gave me as a parting gift in 1964. Wrapped in a red cloth and venerated as such ( I don't recall opening it during my entire four years in New Zealand), it was a text which supposedly inspired you by its mere physical presence. The other text was a local production entitled Pravas bhajanamjali which was clearly modelled on any number of the so-called chalit bhasha (a Bhojpuri phrase as well) poems of Tagore. Recalling these three texts, I now begin to see a continuity of design which explains why my father prized them so much. And it is perhaps that same sense of aesthetic continuity that brings me back to Tagore even though my knowledge of Bengali is limited to what it, as a language, shares with the various Hindi dialects (Avadhi, Bhojpuri, Braj Bhasa) that I understand and, of course, Sanskrit, the finest language of them all.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Publisher: Murdoch University. Centre for Research in Culture and Communication
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