A century after Rabindranath Tagore won the Nobel Prize for Literature, his works have found translation into almost every major language spoken in the world; his works remain relevant, and translations continue. One such project seeks to translate 10 of Tagore's works from Bengali to Urdu.
Tagore won the Nobel for his anthology of poems "Gitanjali" in 1913.
At a three-day seminar that opened Friday at Jamia Millia Islamia, "Rabindranath Tagore in the Twenty First Century", speakers dwelt on the relevance of Tagore to minority linguistic groups - especially Urdu-speaking communities. The bard from Bengal, whose 150th birth centenary was observed in 2011, has found a growing readership among the youth and students.
The seminar is part of a two-year project, "Tagore Research and Translation Scheme", granted by the ministry of culture to translate and publish 10 of Tagore's most important works for Urdu readers.
Delivering the keynote address, Jawahar Sircar, CEO of Prasar Bharati, said: "For an upper caste Hindu who could have made a mistake (using hostile or derogatory references) about Pakistan and the Urdu-speaking Muslims, he did not make a single one".
Sircar said Tagore endeared himself as a "secular literary icon" to millions of people in Bangladesh post-liberation, and became the national poet of the country with his anthem - "Amar Sonar Bangla..." that was later adopted as that country's national anthem.
Sircar said in the 1950s, the Bengali speaking people in erstwhile East Pakistan came into conflict over language and cultural matters with Urdu-speaking people.
"In this conflict of interest, former Pakistan president Ayub Khan 'saheb' went through the entire literature of Tagore to see if there were any paragraphs which had something bad to say about Pakistan or the Urdu-speaking communities".
Sircar said Ayub Khan scanned Tagore's works for something that he could use against Bengali, but found nothing.
"Not a single line could be found that could be used against him (Tagore). The spirit enshrined was one of brotherhood. There was empathy and sympathy with the peasantry and the Muslims. Tagore stood out because he had spoken about the emancipation of women as well," Sircar said.
"The message of his writing about the socially marginalised and the oppressed was: 'Why do you take it?'" Sircar said.
The bureaucrat, who understands Urdu, said "Bengali and Urdu " were two of the sweetest languages in the country.
Explaining the aim and importance of the "Tagore Research and Translation Scheme", Sircar said the project was a commemorative initiative to mark the poet's 150th birth anniversary, 2011-2012.
"We got an opportunity to translate several of Tagore's works in Urdu. I met Najeeb Jung and pounced upon him because I knew there was a repository of scholars at Jamia Millia. We met Pranab Mukherjee (then finance minister) and it was approved in five minutes," Sircar recalled.
The culture ministry had sanctioned Rs. one crore (Rs.10 million) for the project.
Najeeb Jung, vice-chancellor of Jamia Millia, said the project has equipped Urdu scholars to research Tagore.
"But for a year since we launched the project, there has not been any substantial research. You have not thought about translations or research. The most difficult task in the world is translation because it is tough to capture the essence of the language. We have taken up translation from a subject - Bengali - which we haven't read," Jung said.