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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 20 New Delhi May 7, 2016

Rabindranath on Environment

Saturday 7 May 2016

by Jayanta Kumar Ghosal

The fierce aggression of consumerism is causing huge damage to ecology and environ-ment. The concern for protecting them has also gained momentum these days. Unrestricted misuse and exploitation of natural resources, in the name of ‘development’(actually mal-development) has led towards destruction of the world’s habitat. The natural world has been totally altered by the new and improved methods of production. Present-day mankind is being confronted by serious crises due to the depletion of natural resources and environ-mental degradation causing great damage to human sensibility, man’s harmonious relation-ship with nature.

Tagore, as a humanist and political prophet, all through his life fought against economic exploitation and political subjugation, social injustice and religious intolerance. Realising the danger of consumerism he was convinced that the environmental situation was worsening and ever deteriorating. Though in his time the environmental problems were not properly addressed, Tagore with his prophetic mind and vision was able to understand the problem and expressed his concern about this. Erosion of values, unbridled consumerism and impending ecological crises—all were properly noticed by this ‘myriad-minded genius’.

Though Tagore never stood against social progress based on modern scientific technology, he was very much alert about the ills of rampant industrialisation, destruction of nature in the name of development and the consequent crises generated by capitalist countries which ulti-mately affected mankind.

Ancient Indian thoughts and civilisation developed the culture of worshipping nature. There was a tradition of environmental conser-vation through a natural way, and this is embedded in different religious and cultural practices. Indian tradition down the centuries recognised five elemental forces and their contribution to the existence of life in this system. When the rampant exploitation of nature goes beyond the tolerable limit, the resilience of the system is injured and the balance is lost.

In his time problems like water and air pollution, problems of development waste, habitat destruction, threats to bio-diversity, resource depletion and global green house problems were not properly understood and recognised. Tagore with his sensitive farsighted-ness realised the basic links between industria-lism, consumerism and militarism and properly felt that the success of growth ulti-mately would lead to its own demise. Tagore in many of his writings portrayed these issues.The attempt he tried to make at Sriniketan and Santiniketan highlighted his ideas.

Muktadhara portrays the evils of big dams. Tagore did not oppose small dams and use of modern technique of production but he always raised his voice against the rampant unrestricted use of technology leading towards the damage of the ecological system. Boundless and mindless growth will ultimately lead towards total destruction—it was his firm belief.

Raktakarabi (The Red Oleanders) truly depicts the industrial society which turn an individual into a mere number and there he only ‘survives’ not ‘lives’, being totally alienated from nature. In many of his poems, essays, dramas and stories Tagore’s concept about the relationship between nature and man has been reflected. His desire for returning to the forest from urban life mirrors his temperament.

Tagore’s philosophical foundation on ecology was neither totally Oriental nor Occidental. Mixing both he tried to synthesise Indian cultural attitudes and the natural world with a heightened sense of unity with nature. He stood against total renunciation and tried to find his place among minute details of the worldly matters. As a true poet, philosopher, and the creator of a new world, he had set examples. Having complete acquaintance with the social and economic conditions of the Indian rural society, he attempted to make the cooperative-based, ecologically harmonious social order a reality. On environment he felt increasingly convinced that “..Owing to defores-tation a calamity is imminent”.

In all his activities on rural reconstruction and development at Santiniketan through gardening, plantation, ploughing etc. he kept the issue of environment first. Even in the construction of houses at Santiniketan his love for nature was manifest. The architecture of the buildings depicted the mixing of modern technique and traditional approach. Nature occupied a special role behind the construction of Shyamali, Konark, Udichi and others. The planning of the garden at Uttarayan brings out Tagore’s thoughts on environment and its conservation.

He thought on prevention of soil erosion, increase of soil fertility for the sake of the poor peasants; and he experimented about this and succeeded in many cases. In Robbery of Soil Tagore cleared his views. He invited a lot of environmentalists, agriculture experts, architects and others and sought their help for making his ideas of rural reconstruction a reality.

At Visva-Bharati, Tagore tried to impart his educational philosophy leading towards the understanding that there was an inseparable link between man and nature. Expressing his ideas on education, Tagore wrote: “Education divorced from nature has brought untold harm to young children. The sense of isolation that is generated through the separation has caused great evil to mankind. The misfortune has been caused to the world since a long time. That is why I thought of creating a field which would facilitate contact with the world of nature.”

As a sensitive poet, creator, his perception of the relationship between man and nature was not dry and barren but had an infusion of the will and affection and never allowed his thoughts and ideas to be captured in the cobweb of dogmas and traditions. He understood the forms of the phenomenon and traced it to its secret nature and inner essence. In literature he not only depicted nature in the photographic way, but an exposition of objective nature through our emotions. He was able to compre-hend the contemporary reality and tried to develop the philosophy, while preparing an international and intercultural programme for unleashing creative and humanistic attitudes and values leading toward totality so as to become more and more relevant today.

The author is a social activist associated with the literacy movement.