June 3, 2013KR BlogBlogChatsEnthusiamsReadingWriting

On the Approaching 100th Anniversary of Tagore’s Nobel Prize


To understand Tagore, we 21st-century readers must expand our notion of what a “writer” is and does. No writer, Indian or American, is to his or her country what Tagore was to Bengal and, eventually, to the newly established India. Tagore is, above all, a comprehensive figure: He comprehended his people, from the highest to the lowest classes; he comprehended Bengali in all its literary forms, the poem, the play, the novel, the short story—even the song lyric; and he comprehended subjects and themes both earthly and divine. No other writer in the 20th century held this kind of comprehensive role for his people and language. You would have to go back to Victor Hugo in French and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in German—and William Shakespeare in English—to get a sense of what Tagore represents. We know him, now, through his writings, but his contemporaries—including the Nobel Committee—recognized him as a figure greater than the sum of his writings. They recognized him as someone who transcended national and linguistic boundaries by being, so comprehensively, of one nation and one language: Ours.