If one were an alien suddenly dropped on Indian millennial Twitter, one would think that the sum total of all knowledge of most Indians consists of one George Orwell book, one Wikipedia entry on the Nuremberg trial – showing that Godwin’s Law is alive and kicking in India – and one Rabindranath Tagore poem.
Taimur’s most famous relative – with our apologies Tiger Ali Pataudi and Raj Kapoor – might have written many, many things in both Bengali and English. The Bengali obsession with Tagore borders on the fanatic. No regional figure is beatified the way Tagore is. For Bengalis he’s William Shakespeare, Bob Dylan, Franz Kafka and Eminem all rolled into one.
He is so venerated that Mamata Banerjee – a kalcharal giant in her own right – actually played Rabindrasangeeta at traffic signals, much to the chagrin of travellers. Singing off-key Rabindrasangeeta is practically as Bengali a tradition as blaming Marwaris for one’s own inadequacies or thinking Hindutva is fascism but communism is great.
But the man who ensures every Bengali doesn’t feel inadequate compared to the rest of his Indian peers, who has written great texts and plays and novels, will always be remembered by millennials for one poem.
Strangely, it sounds better in English than his native Bengali, even though Tagore wasn’t as good a writer in the former.
But no matter what one says, the text is always riveting:
Where the Mind is Without Fear
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.