Home > 2017 > Tagore and the October Revolution

Mainstream, VOL LV No 23 New Delhi May 27, 2017

Tagore and the October Revolution

Saturday 27 May 2017

by Jayanta Kumar Ghosal

The 156th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore was observed this month on May 9. This year will also mark the centenary of the Great October Revolution. The following article is being pubished against the backdrop of these two events.

The history of mankind is replete with great events. One of the great events that stirred the socio-economic and political structure of the world was the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917. The centenary of this epoch-making Ten Days That Shook The World is being observed all over the planet this year by the oppressed humanity. In this period of a hundred years, the global scenario has changed a lot. But the struggle of the poor and oppressed is on, drawing inspiration from the teachings of the October Revolution.

Like all other revolutions, the October Revo-lution, which in many respects is unique in the history of mankind, has also left a great impact upon the sensitive and creative minds throughout the world. It has entered into the history of world culture of all times. The Indian writers, devoted to the cause of liberation and man’s emancipation from exploitation and above all for humanity, had been greatly inspired by the ideals of the October Revolution.

The Revolution had a great impact upon Bengali creative minds. It was first confined to social and political essays and to journalism. Bengali literature from the twenties of the last century found a ready soil and the impact of the Revolution began to reflect in literary activities.

Rabindranath Tagore was also greatly impressed by the message of the Revolution. With his most creative and sensitive mind he first hailed the Great October Revolution as ‘the greatest sacrificial fire in history’. In the Prabasi (March-April 1918) number edited by Rama-nanda Chatterjee, Tagore wrote Bijoyi (The Conqueror) where he greeted the Revolution only after six months of the incident. Again, in an essay titled, ‘At The Crossroads’, published in the Modern Review of July 1918, just after a few months of the Revolution in Russia, Tagore wrote: “This is an age of transition. The Dawn of a great Tomorrow is breaking through... and the call of New Life comes with its message... We know very little of the history of present revolution in Russia... We cannot be certain if she in her tribulations is giving expression to man’s indomitable soul against prosperity built upon moral nihilism,.. it is not unlikely that as a nation she will fail, if she fails with the flag of true ideals in her hands, then her failure will fade like the morning star only to usher in the sunrise of the New Age.” Later he pins his faith on the toiling masses and through the maze of many contradictions and confusions stretches out an unfaltering hand towards the future of the mankind and declares like a saint—“Over the ruins and ashes of hundreds of empires they go on working—the people.”

In the early twenties, seven years before visiting the Soviet Union, Tagore wrote his famous play Mukta Dhara where the entire villagers are being starved and fleeced, to raise the edifice of a man-made dam where the technocrat Bibhuti cares only for the glory of the mechanical construction and has little time to think about the fate of millions of human beings. But, Abhijit, the king’s adopted son, is a profound humanist and ulti-mately he lays down his life to give to millions of villagers the much-needed life-giving water.

He wrote his even more famous Rakta Karabi (The Red Oleanders) in 1928—a symbolic drama —expressing the Yaksha Puri, the kingdom where gold is the god: where workmen have been reduced to mere numbers; but through Nandini, the eternal spirit of humanity survives. Finally, after the death of Ranjan, as the king and Nandini break down the barriers and go forward, the workmen, with bent backs, stand up erect and led by Bishu, an admirer of Nandini, thunder forth, like the revolutionary proletariat.

Tagore’s own knowledge of socialism and the Soviet experience was not sufficient up to this time. He was yet to make his famous ‘pilgrimage’ to Russia.

In 1930, thirteen years after the Revolution Tagore visited Russia and penned his experiences in Russiar Chithi (Letters from Russia). His first impression was one of profound revelation. Tagore wrote: “This is not like any other country at all. It is fundamentally different. They have roused the entire humanity equally, all along the line.” Deeply stirred, he said that his life’s pilgrimage would not have been complete without the visit to Russia. With deep foresight, he wrote: “Their message of the Revolution is true for all the world. Here is a people on earth today who put the interest of all mankind above their own.”

It was in the course of the 1930s that Tagore changed the course of his thoughts and creation. It was during this period the poet firmly stood by the Spanish Republic, denounced the Munich Betrayal and condemned Japan’s scheme as a ‘gregarious demand for the exclusive enjoyment for all the good things of earth’. He also stood by the initiatives taken by the ‘League Against Fascism’ condemning the Fascist aggression, the greatest evil for human civilisation.

In 1938 came out Naba Jatak (The New Born), a new book of poems, where in one of the poems he wrote: “On the sky above/plays the lightning —/Down below/ In the dark savage pit/there in the bottomless night/The deepest struggle of the faminished and the well fed,/spreading the poison of vice/all over the Earth.” The poet, then rapidly approaching eighty, wrote with the vigour of youth, where the change of image and language was marked. From this time the language of his writings became terse and direct. The clarion call he gave—“Come, Young nations/proclaim the fight for freedom,/... march forward.”

Saluting the Unborn poet who would sing for those who had no expression to speak for them, Tagore wrote—“Come, poet of the multitudes,/sing the song of the obscure man...”

In spite of many odds, the contemporary world was facing, the poet did never lose faith upon man and humanity. So in his essay Crisis of Civilisation he wrote: ‘It is a crime to lose faith in man.’ And he looked hopefully towards his last place of ‘Pilgrimage’—Soviet Russia.

The oppressed mankind struggling for emanci-pation from exploitation all over the world still get inspiration from the teachings of the October Revolution and the creations of Tagore are another major source to inspire them parti-cularly at this very moment when “The serpents are breathing out poison everywhere/The soft words of peace will now sound hollow and futile/So on the eve of my farewell/I give my call to them/ Who are getting ready to fight the Devil/In each and every home.”

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

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62