Saturday, 13 June 2015

Major Themes of Rabindranath Tagore’s The Post Office:

Major Themes of Rabindranath Tagore’s The Post Office:


Tagore’s The Post Office has been internationally the most popular play of Tagore. It was successfully staged in different countries at different times. On the surface level, the play represents the eagerness of Amal, a sick child kept confined in a room, to participate in the activity of life around him. But beyond this apparent simplicity lies its profound meaning. Dr. Iyenger considers it to be “(o)ne of the most deeply significant of Tagore’s play which a child could read and understand, thought it might intrigue the grown ups.”  In deeper level, it has been read as an allegory of soul seeking what lies beyond. Like Tagore’s another symbolic play The King of the Dark Chamber, it presents human spirit reaching it liberation through a communication beyond the ken of human recognition. W.B Yeats lays emphasis on the deliverance as the theme of the play. The deliverance which the child discovers in death naturally comes at the moment when one reaches beyond his personal ego and is able to say, “all my work is thine.”

Amal is an orphan child adopted by Madhav. But he suffers from a serious disease. According to the advice of the village doctor, he is not allowed to go out in open-air as it may be detrimental to his health. So he is kept confined in room with utmost care by Madhav. He is a simple and innocent child with highly sensitive and imaginative mind. Though he is kept confined in room, his imaginative mind leads him to transcend the barrier of the four walls of the room. He sits besides the window and makes friends with the passer-by, imparting to each a new zest for life. Thus the Dairyman, Watchman, Headsman, Sudha and the village boys become his friends. He has a simple, innocent, highly imaginative and extraordinary inquisitive mind. He says to Madhav: “See that far-away from our window – I often long to go beyond those hills and right away.” His highly imaginative mind leads him to draw a mental picture of the Dairyman’s village without actually seeing it. He gives a compelling picture of the Dairyman’s village and the Dairyman is surprised to hear it: “Amal: Never. But I seem to remember having seen it. Your village is under some very old big trees, just by the side of the red road – isn’t that so?” With simple and innocent mind, he believes Gaffers tale of the Parrot’s Isle. He also believes in Watchman’s assurance that one day he will receive the king’s letter and he waits in anxious anticipation for the King’s letter.

In Act II Amal’s physical condition deteriorate. None sees any hope of his survival. Headman mocks him giving him a blank letter. But at last the king’s Herald and the King’s Physician come. Lastly Amal dies. Thus the play deals with Amal’s tragic story of suffering and pain on the surface level. But a deeper analysis will reveal that Amal’s death is not at all a tragic one. Instead it is seen as union between human soul and the Supreme Being. Amal is an innocent boy who is tired of the suffering of his life. Therefore he is eager for deliverance from this earthly existence. It is an invitation to leave this world of pain and suffering and enter the world of eternal bliss. At the end of the play Amal says to the State’s Physician: “I feel very well, Doctor, very well. All pain is gone. How fresh and open! I can see all the stars now twinkling from the other side of the dark.”


Each character, like Amal, has a significant role to play in the inner drama of the soul waiting for deliverance. Watchman symbolizes time. That time is most powerful and wants for none is clearly stated by him: “Watchman: My gong sounds to tell people, Time waits for none but goes on forever.” Thus behind the apparent simplicity of the dialogue, deeper and profound meaning continues to flicker. Sudha who gathers flowers stands for sweetness and grace. Madhav solicits like a common man of prosperity. The Physician symbolizes bookish knowledge that prevents man to achieve wisdom and true knowledge. Even the wicked village Headman has his place in the rich drama of life standing for his place in the rich drama of life standing for his obtrusive authority. Amal alone is an angelic creature, apparently passive but highly creative through his imaginative perception. The play is a series of dialogue but each dialogue vivrates with meaning.

The play has a neat classical structure with a clear cut unity of place and action. But some critics have raised question about death of Amal and the ending of the play. Thompson has considered the ending melodramatic. K.R. Srinivasa Iyenger is of the opinion that “(T)he physical death of Amal is thus not logically necessary to the story.” The king of the Dark Chamber is about a woman with a sick soul. The king visits the dark chamber of the queen’s heart and thus everything is resolved. But in the present play Amal is a boy with sick body. So Iyenger rightly questions, “If Amal dies in the end, how do the king’s herald, king’s physician and the king come into the picture?” The deus ex machina can be justified only if the natural order is reversed and the child recovers and lives as he wanted to as one of king’s postman.

Whatever one may say about the uncertainty and the mystery in which the play ends, it makes it dramatically more effective and artistically more appealing. The Post Office thus remains “beautifully, touching, of one of texture of simplicity throughout and within its limit an almost perfect piece of art."

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Tagore’s Gitanjali: A Critical Appreciation:

Tagore’s Gitanjali: A  Critical Appreciation:


            Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali depicts the spiritual voyage of the poet towards the Supreme Being. It is a collection of devotional songs in which Tagore offers his prayer to God. But the religious fervour of these songs never mars the poetic beauty them. Instead what makes them appealing to the readers are its profoundness expressed with simplicity, optimism and spiritual affirmation, richness and variety, humanization of divine, use of domestic image and symbols, and mythopoeic elements.

            One of the most significant aspects of Tagore’s poetry is that profound thoughts are always presented with simplicity and clarity. For example, the relationship between the Supreme Being and human being is simply described with the metaphor of the “flute of reed.” The Eternal divine Singer breathes through it “melodies eternally new.” The poet says:

            “This little flute of a reed thou hast
            carried over hills and dales, and hast breathed
            through it melodies eternally new.”  (I)

Again the idea that material wealth is a barrier before spiritual progress is beautifully expressed in Song No VIII. Here the poet gives the example of a child clothed in highly ornate dress that prevents him from taking full pleasure in  his play. In the same way, material wealth becomes burden for a man journeying towards a spiritual realm. The poet says:

 “The child who is decked with princes robes
 …loses pleasure in play…it is of no gain
…if it keeps one shut off from the
healthful dust of the earth, if it
robs one of the right of entrance to the
great fair of common human life.” (VIII)

            In the modern days of nihilism and despair, the poems in Gitanjali offer a kind of faith and optimism. This optimism has its root in the belief in an all pervading omnipotent spirit. Man can get rid of all kind of despair and suffering, if he sacrifices himself to God. God will then carry his burden of life. The poet says in Song No IX:

            “Leave all thy burden on his
            hands who can bear all, and
            never look behind I regret.”

            Thus humanization of the divine is one of the significant aspects of Tagore’s poetry. In his poetry, God is presented as existing among the simple, poor and humble people. So to ignore them is to ignore God. In Song No. X, Tagore says:
“Here is thy foot stool and there rest
            thy feet where live the poorest, and
            lowliest and lost” (X)
Sometime God is presented as a profound singer whose songs engross the poet as he says:
           
            “I know not how thou singest, my master! I ever listen in silent amazement.” (III)

            The poems are characterized by immense variety and richness. Even a single theme is treated in a variety of ways. The relationship between God and man is treated in various way. Sometime he is father and man is His son. He is mother and man is the infant. If He is the lover, man is his beloved. He is musician and man is the flute.

            Tagore uses a wide range of vivid and picturesque image and symbols which are drawn from everyday life as well as from age old myths. Several symbols like light, boat, cloud, pitcher, flute, palace, flowers, river, star, sky recur in his songs. These natural objects are used to convey deeper spiritual truth. For example, in Song No I, human existence is compared to a flute through which God creates new melody:

            “This little flute of a reed thou hast
carried over hills and dales, and hast breathed
through eternally new.” (I)

Again in Song No VI, the frail human body is compared to a flower which withers away quickly. That’s why the poet makes his plea to God to pluck the flower quickly with His own hand lest it “droop and drop into the dust”:

            “Pluck this little flower and take it,
            delay not! I fear lest it droop and
drop into the dust.”


Ornaments and fine dresses are symbol of human ego that impedes man’s spiritual progress. In Song No. VII, the poet says that his poetry has shunned ornamentation so that there might be no bar between him and Him:

            “She (poetry) has no pride of dress
and decoration. Ornaments would
mar our union: they would come
between thee and me: their jingling
would drown thy whisper.” (VII)

The simplicity and effectiveness of diction in Gitanjali are beyond question. We can hardly point out a single uncommon or grandiose word or expression in the entire collection. But the simplicity of diction cannot hide the spontaneity and felicity of expression. A single and simple word is so brilliantly used as to make it profoundly significant and suggestive. Following words are the example of Tagore’s simple but brilliant expression:

            “Away from the sight of thy face
            my hearts knows no rest nor respite, and
            my work becomes endless toil in a shoreless sea of toil” (V)

Tagore takes utmost liberty in using free verse in the poems of Gitanjali. Rhythm and melody produced by free verse is not bound by the regular metrical feet. Instead the rhythm of free verse is determined by the requirement of thought and emotion. It is an "enchantable prose", as Ezra Pound called it,   the rhythm of which is a “subtle under flow.” The subtle under flow of Tagore’s poetic prose is, according to Thompson, “an impeccable metrical achievement.” A beautiful example of melody produced by the free verse is:

“Today the Summer has come at my window
with its sights and murmurs: and the
bees are playing their minstrelsy at the
court of the flowering grove.” (V)

Tagore often uses words from Indian languages which add a new dimension to his poetry. The names of Indian bird, trees  and flowers help to create an Indian ambience. Thus his poetry becomes essentially Indian.

            But Tagore's poetry is not free from drawbacks. Critics object that the poems contained in Gitanjali do not present a logical structure, succession of continuous theme. They are individual works. The poet begins his poems with adoration of God and then follows the various themes of love and devotion but in between he speaks about charity, repentance. Some critics have brought the charge of repetition and monotony against him. Often Tagore deals with the same themes in many poems. The same image recurs in poem after poem. There is something vagueness in his poetry. He has been charged for being “misty, dreamy and diffuse.” Edward Thomson has pointed out grammatical and syntactical mistakes in his poetry as he said”
“Examination of Rabindranath’s English soon shows that it is by no means perfect grammatically. It contains sentences which no educated Englishman would have written, sentences marked by little, subtle errors.” He mentioned Tagore's mistakes with regard to articles, preposition, “occasional misuse of idiom” etc. But he never forgets to write:

            “He writes English of extreme beauty
            and flexibility…it is one of the most
            surprising things in the world’s literature
            that such a mastery over an alien tongue
            ever came to any man.”

            Tagore’s pure, beautiful and profound poetry reached to such a sublime height that these trivial flaws can easily be overlooked. His fatal fluency often led to the repetition and verbosity, sentimentality and vacuity. But this should not eclipse the shining authenticity of Gitanjali. At his best, Tagore remains a poet with delicate sensibility deeply Indian in spirit.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Tagore’s philosophy expressed in the selected songs of Gitanjali:

Tagore’s philosophy expressed in the selected songs of Gitanjali:


“Scepticism and agnosticism have become attractive to the modern mind. In the struggle between the skeptics and agnostics who doubt whether there is anything behind the universe, and the spiritual positivists who affirm that the most vital reality is behind the universe, Rabindranath is with the latter”
                                                                                                          (Dr.Radhakrishnan)

Truly in a world of growing materialism, spiritual chaos and atheism, Tagore’s philosophy and songs offer panacea where modern man may soothe his tormented soul. His songs reflect his personal thoughts and philosophy which transcend all sorts of skepticism and nihilism and affirm the existence of a Supreme Being. This Supreme Spirit manifests itself in each living being. Man is unable to see Him because he is bound by the chain of his material desires. His personal ego prevents him from his union with the Supreme Being. But if a man sacrifices his desires and ego and lead a humble life, God makes himself accessible to him. Then he can realize that his own soul is a part of the eternal spirit that pervades the universe. But an unhesitant expression of such philosophy in art may appear absurd and discordant with the modern notion for the modernists believe that the appearances in human idealism are deceptive and the underlying mud is real. They tend to strip life of its glory and idealistic pretension and present man as isolated and alienated on the naked platform of harsh reality. But to these modernists, Tagore’s reply is:

“This defiant distrust and denigration of reality too is only a subjective reaction and a passing perversion of the spirit…If you ask me what true modernism is, I will say it is to look at the world with a detached objective vision and not with personal bias and prejudice. Only such a vision is luminous and pure and results in pure spiritual bliss.”
                                                                                                                                   
The poems collected in Gitanjali (1910) for which Tagore won Noble Prize are the supreme expression of Gitanjali. It aptly captures the vein of Tagore’s poetry. It has its roots in –
“A tradition, where poetry and religion are the same thing, has passed through the centuries, gathering from learned and unlearned metaphor and emotion, and carried back again to the multitude, the thought of the scholar and of the noble”(W.B. Yeats: Introduction to Gitanjali). This religious poetry tradition in India was divided in two groups with regard to the treatment of God. Whereas sage Ramprasad, folk-poet Bijoy Sarkar, Rasik Sarkar offered their songs to an invisible, distant celestial being,  Tagore and Chaitanyadev sought for union with Almighty in this human world in human form. In Vaishnav tradition God is considered to be Lord Krishna and all human beings are his beloved women. Their sole aim is the union with this supreme Lord. The western people can hardly nourish such feelings and so Yeats says: “We had not known that we loved God, hardly it may be that we believed in Him.”

            Thus humanization of the divine is one of the significant aspects of Tagore’s poetry. In his poetry, God is presented as existing among the simple, poor and humble people. So to ignore them is to ignore God. In Song No. X, Tagore says:
“Here is thy foot stool and there rest
            thy feet where live the poorest, and
            lowliest and lost” (X)

            Though Rabindranath imagines God in the tangible human form, he does not forget the immortality of God and human soul which is also a part of Him. He says in Song No. I:
“Thou hast made me endless, such is thy
pleasure. This frail vessel thou emptiest again
and again, and fillest it ever with fresh
life.” (I)
Here the metaphor of “frail vessel” is used to signify transitoriness of human existence as contrasted to immortality of the soul.

            Vastness of this eternal spirit is emphasised in human being’s limitation to catch hold of it. The poet repeatedly confesses his own limitation to harmonise himself with this grand spirit. In Song No. I, he says that he is incapable of receiving the infinite gifts showered by Gods:

“Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these
very small hands of mine. Ages pass, and
still thou pourest, and still there is room to fill” (I)

God is presented as a profound singer whose engrosses the poet as he says:
           
            “I know not how thou singest, my master! I ever listen in silent amazement.” (III)

But in the same song he says that he cannot take part in God’s singing:

            “My heart longs to join in thy song, but vainly for a voice.” (III)

            Material desires and ego are the main barriers in the path towards God. Man is chained by the shackles of desire and ego. Until and unless he sacrifices his desires, he cannot have a glimpse of God. In Song No. IX, the poet says:

            “Thy desire at once puts out the light
 from the lamp it touches with its breath.” (IX)

In Song No. X, he says:
           
            “Pride can never approach where
Thou walkest in the clothes of the
Humble among the poorest, and lowliest and lost.” (X)

In Song No. VIII, he uses the symbol of a child clothed in a highly decorated garment to reveal the truth that material wealth is a hindrance to spiritual progress:

            “The child who is decked with prince’s
            robes…loses pleasure in play…it
            is of no gain…if it keep one shut
            off from the healthful dust of the
            earth, if it rob one of the right of entrance
            to the great fair of common human life.” (VIII)

That is why he feels the need to keep his mind sacred and away from all kinds of evil as he knows that human mind is the temple of God:

            “I shall ever try to drive all evils away
from my heart and keep my love in flower
knowing that thou hast thy seat in the inmost shrine of my heart.” (IV)

            Though the poet cannot reach God due to his limitation, it is his work of art – his songs can touch the feet of God. His songs are simple. Non-ornamental and devoid of meretricious embellishment as the poet says:

            “My song has put off her adornments. She
            Has no pride of dress and decoration.
            Ornnaments would mar our union; they
            Would come between thee and me; their
            Jingling would drown thy whisper.” (VII)

During this union his poetic pride also dies and he completely sacrifices himself at the feet of God. He calls God a “master poet” and pleads for simple and humble life so that he may be instrument of God’s melody.
           
            Ecstasy of his union with God is so intense that he forgets all earthly sorrows, pains and harsh elements:

            “All that is harsh and dissonant in my
            Life melts into one sweet harmony.” (II)

 He forgets his own limitation and calls God his friend:

            “Drunk with the joy of singing I forget
            myself and call the friend who art
            my lord.” (II)

            Thus the infinite makes himself accessible to the finite human being and the poems collected in Gitanjali captures the entire gamut of emotions felt by the poet during his ecstasy of union.