Ramachandra guha in The man who saw India (History Matters, January 26) has done us a good turn by telling young Indians about Rabindranath Tagore’s inclusiveness, which helped shape the pan-India visions of the Mahatma and Jawaharlal Nehru. But he chose to make his essay provocative although his own defence had wide chinks.
His reason for trying to rescue Tagore from the Bengali ‘chauvinistic ring’ is not clear. If Guha was unimpressed by Tagore’s big heart until he chanced upon a collection of Tagore-Gandhi letters, he must not throw the blame on ‘sanctimonious sentimentalism surrounding him (Tagore)’. Despite Tagore’s famous castigation, “indulgent mother, you have kept your seven crore children as Bengalis, you have not made them worthy human beings” Guha has assessed him as an ‘insular Bengali’.
Guha seems unwilling to accept any Bengali as a dependable guide to Tagore, even dismissing Amartya Sen’s estimate of Tagore as the view of a non-specialist. Invoking a quotation from Ravi Shankar’s autobiography, where the sitarist holds a blinkered Visva Bharati (VB) responsible for the inadequate appreciation of Tagore globally, Guha acquits VB and transfers the blame to parochialism. Guha shows no sign of learning Bengali and yet he dismisses Bengali poems as vapid and Rabindrasangeet as monotonous.
In many of his essays, the author has hinted that ‘Guha’, the Bengali surname he uses, sits heavy on his Tamil shoulders. Why did he not shed it? Perhaps the re-issue of Tagore’s Nationalism as a Penguin Modern Classic with an introduction by him may help him pose as a Tagore expert, which he is far from being.