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Book Review: Nationalism By Rabindranath Tagore

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Sri Rabindranath Tagore has been my favourite author for quite some time. A Bengali polymath who reshaped Bengali literature, music and Indian art with contextual modernism in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

The Tagore family was at the forefront of the Bengali renaissance. But he believed that teaching doesn’t explain things but stakes curiosity. He was famous for his poems, short stories, travelogues, dramas and thousands of songs; one of them is our national songs. His works are noted for their rhythmic and lyrical nature. It can easily be suspected in his book Nationalism.

You have to concede it to Tagore heartily; he is still no less poetic writing this essay on nationalism than if he were writing a poem.

“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 where in the compensation of Eternal Justice those who are the last may yet have their insult transmuted into a golden triumph. Let our life be simple in its outer aspect and rich in its inner gain. Let our civilisation take its firm stand upon its basis of social co-operation and not upon that of economic exploitation and conflict”.

And really, this is what nationalism is all about. It is maintaining morality amidst the inevitable mechanical aspects of progress.

Nationalism is more of an essay than academic work. It contains Tagore’s ruminations on nationalism from his extensive travels. It is divided into chapters on nationalism in the West, Japan and India, and fittingly is ended by a poem originally written in Bengali.

“I am not against one nation in particular, but against the general idea of all nations.”

When the chapter of nationalism in India starts, Tagore beautifully described the true essence of nationalism and why India gets confused with its true concept. He considered the specific challenges faced by India in developing a national sub-consciousness to be grounded in Indian cultural sensibilities.

According to him, the real problem in India was not political but social. It was a condition that he says prevails not only in India but among all the nations, i.e. called the problem of race as we can find commonly in America. India has acknowledged the real differences between races but, yet, seek for some basis of unity through our saints like Nanak, Kabir, etc.

He fiercely expressed that we should follow our Upanishads and our saints who taught us the idea of fraternity, brotherhood and equality, which can make any country strong. It was really important for our divided society. He highlighted the part how we Indian’s get intimidated by the idea of westernisation and stated that forgetting our roots had become the major reason why we get confused with the true essence of national self-consciousness. He says that there is a need to prove our humanity by solving the internal differences through mutual help and finding some true basis for reconciliation.

Rabindranath Tagore’s reflections on the concepts and practice of the civilisation, nationalism and community are directly concerned with the nature of modern political power and its underlying assumptions about human life. It should not be some political contract; it has to have some social grounding.

Here the idea of moral men is very central and that is also connected with Aurobindo’s definition of nationalism that looks at it in a wider global situation which says the concept of humanity is much bigger than the narrower concept of nationalism, and in all of that, the individual role is really important is what Tagore tried to reflect.

Tagore’s idea of nationalism can be understood by following quotes from his book:

“I am not against one nation in particular, but against the general idea of all nations. What is the nation… The wisdom of the nation is not in its faith in humanity, but in its complete distrust… yes, this is the logic of nation. And it will never heed the voice of truth and goodness. It will go on in its ring-dance of moral corruption, linking steel unto steel, and machine unto machine; trampling under its tread all the sweet flowers of simple faith and living ideals of the man.

“Nationalism is a great menace. It is the particular thing which for years has been at the bottom of India’s trouble.

“Patriotism can’t be our final spiritual shelter. I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds and I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live”.

He considered the ideals of nationalism inherently problematic because it leads to moral corruption, moral degenerations and mistreatment and contrary to simple living or moral ideals of individuals. He utterly said that nationalism was something that serves nations self-interest; it doesn’t serve the individual self-interest, which is not at all acceptable.

He was patriotic, but he knew the limit of that patriotism. In many of his works, he expressed that nationalism, i.e. love for the nation, can’t be equated with love for God because to improve society one needs to understand such challenges for improvement or empowerment.

It is a very jingoistic or xenophobic response to the explanation of the nationalism that perpetuates violence and stress between communities and the state or the nations.

Tagore saw patriotism as a threat to humankind.

As indicated by him, patriotism, whenever passed up power would unleash devastation in India. Patriotism, as indicated by him, isn’t an unconstrained self-articulation of man as a social being but instead a political or business association of a ground of individuals in which they gather to expand their benefit, progress and force. It is simply the sorted out enthusiasm of a people, where it is least human and least otherworldly. He regarded patriotism a repetitive danger to humankind because of its affinity for the material and the normal it stomped on the human soul and human feeling. It agitates man’s ethical parity.

He asserts that India has never had a genuine feeling of patriotism and that patriotism has for quite a long time been at the base of India’s difficulties. India should battle against the instruction, which instructs them that a nation is more prominent than the beliefs of humankind. He stated, “When you get things that don’t have a place with your life then they just serve to pound your life.” Therefore, India, as he would like to think, ought to follow her fate instead of only mimicking the West.

Patriotism was a favourable place for government. Tagore likewise found the fixation on patriotism as a wellspring of war, disdain and shared doubt between and among the countries. He saw patriotism as a threat to humankind. He was against the possibility of the country; he was much more wildly contradicted to Indian joining the temporary fad of patriotism. As indicated by him, this would bargain India’s history and way of life as a culture and bring it under the shadow of the West.

His hostility to patriotism isn’t that he was not enthusiastic or that he was against it. He had faith in an advantageous interaction of the East and West, a profound affiliation or a living connection between the two societies, innovative solidarity that was conceivable just when the east had found its spirit and character.

He never permitted his adoration for his nation to hold up the traffic of his affection for reality, equity and humankind. He didn’t submit to a public cognisance, yet, to a world awareness — a “visvabodh”, in which each nation would keep land in its light of brain as its offer in the brightening of the entire world or humankind. As per him, one method of accomplishing a feeling of all in all among the isolated individuals is to resuscitate the old foundation of network celebrations and spread it all over.

Tagore’s vision may appear to be hopeful; however, it is maybe, not unreachable. It requires a compassionate mediation into present selfish and pugnacious patriotism, through the presentation of a good and profound measurement in the organisation. The focal worry of his plan was to feature the bay that would unavoidably show up between patriotism at the political level and network cognisance at the social level, except if the last was permitted to develop at the same time, if not in front of the previous.

Patriotism is, as Tagore guarantees, made by the idea of the Country.

Tagore’s disappointment with patriotism in the West was because of its expansionist etatism, for example, all-out control of the state over individual residents. His nerves about patriotism at home emerged from the deficient social base on which it was probably going to rest. As per him, patriotism without anyone else can’t go about as an enchantment wand fit for conjuring the various troublesome powers endlessly.

The part on nationalism in the West gives us the system which Tagore embraced composing on patriotism. Patriotism is, as he guarantees, made by the idea of the “Country”, “in the feeling of the political and monetary association of a people, is that perspective which an entire populace expect when composed for a mechanical purpose”. This working definition doesn’t wander from conventional definitions that show up in sociology. He anyway calls attention to that the “Country” has an automated and flippant viewpoint that channels man of soul and profound quality.

“This difficult exertion after quality and effectiveness empties man’s vitality out of his higher nature where he is benevolent and imaginative. For accordingly labour of penance is occupied from his definitive article, which is good, to the support of this association, which is mechanical. However, in this, he feels all the fulfilment of good commendation and consequently turns out to be remarkably perilous to humanity”.

A proviso on Tagore’s term on the utilisation of the West, the West alludes only to Europe and does exclude the Americas (most likely both by reason of his conclusions of opportunity and the way that America has quite recently gotten traction on the platform of world superpowers by then).

The section on nationalism in Japan uncovers Tagore’s profound respect for the Japanese nation and considers it the country that the Asian district ought to copy (this was distributed in 1942, composed prior, and I would nearly offer anything to satisfy my interest on Tagore’s response on Japan’s support in the Second World War).

The part on nationalism in India is a greater amount of an assessment and reprobation. Although what is interesting to me is that Tagore at first legitimises the foundation of the rank framework as a real reaction to the assorted variety present in Indian culture and reinforces this reserve comparing the Indian reaction to that of the American reaction which is of pointless deferral and unfair shirking. Although he, later on, requires an activity that ascents over the standing framework and remains consistent with the ethical quality he is embracing in this work.

What is so astounding in perusing this is Tagore composed a postcolonial approach when such strategies for the scholarly talk are yet to be considered in decades, henceforth, in when future advised researchers like Said and his Orientalism and Spivak and his Subaltern are nevertheless nursing darlings in imagining their particular postcolonial hypotheses. This point is clear when Tagore composed:

“You (tending to Japan) must apply your Eastern brain, your profound quality, your adoration for straightforwardness, your acknowledgement of social commitment, to remove another way for this extraordinary clumsy vehicle of progress, screaming out its boisterous disagreements as it runs”.

I fittingly end this review by quoting the last stanza of his beautiful poem:

“Be not ashamed, my brothers, to stand before the proud and the powerful, with your white robe of simpleness.

“Let your crown be of humility, your freedom the freedom of the soul. Build God’s throne daily upon the ample bareness of your poverty, and know that what is huge is not great and pride is not everlasting”.

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Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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