Tagore for the soul
By Archana Yadav
In his autobiography Yaadon ki Baraat, Urdu poet Josh Malihabadi recalls an incident at Shantiniketan, Tagore’s ashram in West Bengal. In those days Malihabadi was staying with Rabindranath Tagore. One day, an old professor brought a complaint to Tagore. He had seen two students, a girl and a boy, in an intimate moment in a garden. Tagore asked, “Was this through mutual consent or did you see any use of force?” The professor said there was no use of force. Tagore laughed and said, “Then what is there to object? To control the ways of nature is not only unjust to human nature but also a revolt against it. Perhaps you have forgotten, but I still remember that once I was young, too.”
Which woman can’t breathe freely in the company of such a man? I was first introduced to Tagore when a schoolmate gave me a collection of short stories by him called Maashi. I was struck by his deep understanding of women’s psyche, at least that of the tender kinds. Women were never a paper flower presence in his stories as in most of our Bollywood films, nor devoid of agency. There was an underlying respect for women in his stories even if he did not write about all kinds of women. This came from his belief that “womanliness is not chiefly decorative. It is like that vital health, which not only imparts the bloom of beauty to the body, but joy to the mind and perfection to life”.
Many great reformers have actively fought for women’s rights and taken on society and its power brokers. I have admiration and gratitude for all of them. Tagore was not a fighter. As he himself said he was, above all, a poet. Poets have their own limitations and their own magic. He was a great emotional support for women.