I was asked recently in a NDTV interview: What do you think Tagore would if he was alive today? My answer was that he would remain, first and foremost, a poet. That was indeed the safe answer, but I disappointed the interviewer. She was asking how Tagore would react to today's world - what life of action he might have chosen! Besides, Tagore the poet, however ubiquitous he may be in the life of the Bengalis, is less known: Most of the available translations are quite pedestrian, and his unique evocation of rural Bengal and his lyricism makes him somewhat out of time in our sceptical world. To imagine him as a poet in our day would involve imagining Tagore as a writer of blank verse and pop music, a leap of imagine that may not come very naturally.
However, my answer was flawed: Tagore perhaps wanted people to see him as a poet and a mystic, and to remember him as such, but he lived a life of action. His most cogent identity was that of an education reformer and an educator, founder of a great Indian University and an education philosophy that we may have somewhat lost sight of. My inaccurate reflexes during my two minutes before a TV camera clouded my thinking and the right answer indeed is that Tagore would have been an Educator if he was alive today.
This is, however, not an idle reflection on a missed opportunity, but rather an idea that I persistently talk about. Tagore's educational ideas have not been widely explored or discussed in India, and its application remained limited. The most surprising thing about this neglect is that this is not about the ideas remaining hidden in Bengali, but rather that they are most neglected in Bengal itself. In a sense, Bengalis like me have done two things to obscure Tagore the Educator: We promoted Tagore the Poet at every conceivable opportunity, neglecting all else; and we somewhat dismissed his educational ideas, innovative and relevant as they may be, perhaps by design.
It is a mistake that needs correcting, I shall argue. Tagore's educational ideas are more, not less, relevant today, and they present useful, actionable ideas for education innovation at the present time. Suitably for a person who lived through changing times and had been a practitioner, these ideas are complex, multifaceted, and worthy of extensive analysis and debate. And, while this should be urgently attended to, as widely and deeply as possible, my goal in the limited context of this post is rather narrow. All I want to do is to make good of my omission above and make my case about why Tagore the Educator takes a back-seat, and why his ideas are much more potent than what it is perceived to be - a poetic flight-of-fancy!
At the heart of Tagore's educational project, as I see it, is an attempt at a synthesis, of 'Western' ideas of science and progress, and 'Eastern' values of harmony and commitment to nature. I put these labels within quotes to indicate that these general categories may be only broadly accurate, and Tagore would have drawn his ideas from a wide variety of sources, Western and Eastern, to shape his worldview and his practise. And, this synthesis, despite being all-welcoming, was also a battle with two demons, as relevant in Tagore's days as they are today: The twin traps of 'traditionalism' and 'technological attitude'.
Tagore's school, and the subsequent university project, has traditionally been portrayed to have been formed in reaction to the Colonial English Language schooling system. However, this was very different from other similar projects undertaken at other parts of India, most notably in Benares and Annamalai, where the study of Sanskrit texts and preservation of Indian Heritage and Thought was the central objective. Tagore's worldview was deeply shaped by Upanishad, and he saw the limitations of colonial education in terms of neglect of the Indian culture and languages, and yet, his educational project was not to be a rejection of English ideas and return to tradition. In fact, 'Tradionalism' was his first demon to slay [Tagore was born and raised in a Brahma family, a reformist but conservative sect, and while he embraced the reformist spirit of it, he battled with its conservatism all his life]. At the core of his educational vision is an optimistic, forward-looking idea of the world, with science - Western Science as it happened to be - as the key to an understanding of the world.
At the same time, however, it is premised upon a complete rejection of 'technological attitude'. His rejection of the colonial system of education was not just about rejecting its limited nature of making clerks out of Indians, a point that he made forcefully (see my other post here), but its unspoken assumption that the world exists for use of humans, something that Martin Heidegger would call 'technological attitude'. In a world where we are used twining Science and Technology, this is not an easy distinction to follow. It is, however, a crucial one, in our time as it was in his, to appreciate that a scientific approach can exist in perfect harmony with an attitude of 'Care', another Heidegger term, that posits human beings in its relation to nature and everything else. Tagore's approach, both in terms of conceptualising education beyond its limited goal of 'getting a job' and envisioning it for the development of the whole human being, and his commitment to imbibe a philosophy of living in relation of the nature and the universe, with all its beauty and possibilities, defined his educational ideas.
The reason why Tagore remained in the margin of educational thinking in India is precisely because the driving forces of modern Indian Education were the two very demons he wanted to battle at the same time. Indian Education debate since Independence has been shaped by the contest between 'Traditionalism' versus 'Technological Attitude', and Tagore remained a weak proponent and inveritable antagonist of both. The 'poet' label, therefore, suited him best: His ideas were affectionately ignored. And, Bengalis in particular, who mastered the colonial education system and revelled at professional success, both in Colonial India and thereafter, could never wholly come to terms with Tagore's conceptions of a broader education for development of human beings. While Tagore the Eastern thinker inspired some educational projects in India and elsewhere in Asia (and further afield, but I have no reliable knowledge of it), his educational ideas remained decidedly marginal in his native Kolkata, the ultimate city of professionals that powered the empire.
My case is that Tagore's educational ideas need a 'resurrection'. Its optimism and commitment to human progress represents all those good enlightenment values that got lost in the wars of the Twentieth century, but serve as powerful bulwork against the rising traditionalism and chauvinism. At the same time, his commitment to harmony with nature and rejection of 'technological attitude' is a helpful guide not just for our ecologically challenged time, but also for future development of technologies, when we must, for the sake the future of the human race as it seems, liberate it from being a tool for replacing human labour and seek out human-centered applications with a new goal of making lives better. Hypothetically speaking, if Tagore was alive today, he would have recognised that being an Educator, of progress and of care, is his greatest contribution to humanity.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
A week into lockdown and things are beginning to change. Mornings are late, afternoons are lazier and evenings never end; meditations are filling out the time for Yoga routines and Netflix profiles are strewn with half-finished movies. This state-mandated, state-funded period of idleness is being likened to being called up to serve, but is nothing like that: Such a comparison is really an affront to the idea of service. Instead, this is just one long streak of panic; of the centre not holding and life not going on as usual. With the usual patterns and rules in suspended animation and business talk - and business - being rendered meaningless, space is opening up for unusual questions: Is Capitalism about to end? Is this the death of globalisation? Does it get uglier from here? My grandfather's generation would have scoffed at us. They saw through wars and pandemics. But, in fairness, we haven't had a life-ending crisis of our own. Notwithstanding the experiences of th
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
The ‘Why’ Question? Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one. The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags acros
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.