Exercises in thoughts are rarely intended to insult readers in any way. However, these particular thoughts risk sounding quite scandalous to many Bengalis. Yet, perhaps it is now time that this topic deserves to be discussed in the open.
Most of us are familiar with a place called Stratford-Upon-Avon. Has there ever been any report of any signboard or a placard anywhere near there, saying: “Stratford-Upon-Avon, the birthplace of the world renowned dramatist, the virtual father of the greatest modern language (English), a consensus Nobel Prize caliber writer, the venerable genius, Mr. William Shakespeare”? They could have said it! But the signs merely say: “Birthplace of the playwright, William Shakespeare”.
We Bengalis are highly addicted to superlatives. We lavish it upon all of our heroes and leaders, clearly wanting to promote them with all our love, respect and admiration. Is this habit perhaps born of the culture of newspaper headlines trying to make the news as sensational as possible? While the answer to that may not be very knowable, given that this propensity exists in us, it is not a surprise to find that to this day, we continue to refer to Rabindranath as (with great cultural pride, I must add): “the greatest poet ever”, “the first Asian Nobel Laureate”, and numerous other descriptors that are all really highly respectful to the poet. However, it is our opinion that we have come to a point in time now, after having just recently crossed his 155th birthday, where Rabindranath is so well known around the world on his own merit, that he is his own adjective. Yes, we feel that there is no praise ever constructed by man which can describe Rabindranath any better than by simply calling him “Rabindranath” (“Gurudev Rabindranath” if one prefers).
The following considerations are why it may be entirely unnecessary to continue to lavish artificial praises on Rabindranath to this day:
The Nobel Prize reference – a most common adjective used in glorifying Rabindranath. Please note that another 102 Nobel prizes for literature have been awarded since Rabindranath’s time. How many of the awardees are comparable to him? How many of the other 102 winners really deserve to be on the same pedestal as Rabindranath? Winning the Nobel Prize is a great achievement no doubt. But why lower Rabindranath’s stature by permanently connecting him to this prize as his crowning achievement? It is akin to promoting Prof. Satyen Bose by saying that he had won the First Prize in his Kindergarten class!
The Nobel Prize does not fully define Rabindranath – it was granted to him when only half of his life’s works were done; people did not yet fully understand the depth of his spiritualism, philosophy, humanism and environmental awareness. Add to that his personal courage of renouncing the knighthood without fear of any consequence whatsoever, when every other prominent Indian stood silently by in the teeth of mighty British suppression (including one Mr. Mohandas Gandhi) – an act for which Rabindranath eventually had to pay quite a price later in his life! How about his practical hands-on work in improving the state of rural India? Today’s Agricultural Bank, microcredit – these were all concepts that were originated and practiced “hands-on” by none other than the poet Rabindranath Tagore himself. He did them not expecting any rewards; he did them because he saw the social need! We can go on and on, but no one needs to be reminded of all of Rabindranath’s achievements by the likes of us. We will only say that any person would be considered a genius if he or she excelled in any one of these various areas of endeavor. But Rabindranath excelled in all of them simultaneously in just one lifetime. That is why he is beyond any artificial praise that any of us can conjure up.
Can we not just refer to him simply as “Rabindranath”?