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Rabindranath Tagore’s Theology of Work

Taking the distinctive meaning of intimacy as its starting point, this paper explores Rabindranath Tagore’s notion of the relational self and the commitment to work. The idea of work as connecting relationships that make up the world, is something that is derived from neo-Vedantic conceptions that privilege the concerns of this world. Institutionally, this translates into various forms of cooperation of which cooperatives are the primary mode. The paper concludes with some of the dilemmas of Rabindranath’s conception of praxis that go beyond a measurement of success and failure.

Tagore on Modernity, Nationalism and ‘the Surplus in Man’

Rabindranath Tagore’s reflections on the concepts and practices of civilisation, nationalism, and community are directly concerned with the nature of modern political power and its underlying assumptions about human life. This article interprets these reflections by reading them along with and in the light of his philosophical anthropology as articulated in a variety of philosophical essays, focusing closely on The Religion of Man. It concludes by underscoring the contemporary import of these reflections as a philosophical resource for thinking about possibilities of human communities that go beyond the way the dominant tendency in political power tends to capture human life under its multiple regimes.

Sriniketan Encounters Ambedkar

Building on Tagore’s critique of “politics,” an English term Tagore does not translate into rajneeti (thus retaining its foreignness), the paper moves to Tagore’s turning away from nationalism as largely an “abstract being” or a symbolic form, and his turning, instead, to the question of dharma (as the dialectic between askesis, a la Foucault, and phronesis, a la Heidegger). Dharma as the this-worldly art-praxis of attending to what the abstract being or the symbolic form forecloses. For Tagore, Sriniketan is the context for such an art-praxis. For the authors, Ambedkar is the imaginary interlocutor of Tagore’s redrawing of the extant practice of the political.

Cultivating a Taste for Nature

Rabindranath Tagore began to paint independent paintings, freed from an origin in text, only in 1928. Many of these were landscapes and painterly engagements with seasons. Earlier however, in 1923, Tagore began his experiments in rural regeneration with an elaborate “Masque” performance in Surul, a small rural settlement close to the fledgling Visva-Bharati University project, to bring “hill tribes” into the ambit of agricultural work and reshape the land which until then had “never known the scratch of a ploughshare.” This paper attempts to offer a reading of the ideological drive through which a public attitude towards the surrounding landscape was shaped by Tagore’s performances and how his shift to landscape painting was one way of registering the continuity of human experiences across space and time.

Performance and ‘Begging Missions’

This paper offers a synoptic view of the first three decades of the 20th century through the lens of performance, located in alternative sites such as Santiniketan–Sriniketan, with radial arteries extending to and through metropolitan circuits in the “making of a modern India.” It foregrounds Rabindranath Tagore’s fundraising through dancing and singing tours which featured members of both sexes in order to underscore the tensions (even contradictions) between artistic excellence and independence, institution building and the modalities of funding, through and in performance. These varied trajectories, including responses to the “cultural tours,” raise fresh questions in our times.

Rabindranath Tagore and the Democracy of Our Times

Capital is not simply an additive to the Foucauldian conception of power, but is integral to it. Karl Marx’s analysis of the worker shows the operations of biopower in the factory, in the governmental fashioning of the internal motivations of the worker that complements the disciplinary regime of the factory. While Marxist analysis holds out prospects of liberation, it remains too preoccupied with the state. In this context, Rabindranath Tagore is a figure who not only refuses to compromise with the totalising force of governmental power as manifested in colonialism (especially its education policy), but also identifies in cooperation, a social principle that holds out the possibility of freedom from capitalist power knowledge. Translated by Jayanti Chattopadhyay and Pradip Kumar Datta. We are grateful to Visva–Bharati University for permission to publish this extract from Asok Sen’s book Rajnitir Pathokromey Rabindranath (2014: 1421). For constraints of space, a few portions have been omitted. Some subheadings have been added. Thanks are also due to Russwati Sen for her immense help.

Borderlands, Empires and Nations

In the first decade of the 19th century, Kumaun was part of the Gorkha Empire connected to Kathmandu by a well-serviced east–west road. Trade in grain and salt by shepherding communities linked it to Western Tibet. In 1815, when Kumaun became a part of the East India Company’s territories, this orientation changed. Gradually, a network of roads and railways transformed the hitherto impenetrable Tarai, to the south of Kumaun. As the Kumaun economy integrated with the British Empire, via the Tarai, the commodity composition of its trade with Western Nepal (Nepal borderland) and Western Tibet (Tibet borderland) was modified. The subsequent mapping of these territories by the British created not only new geographies but also engendered new ways of knowing. The interaction of imperial administrators with the people of the borderlands produced narratives, which ignored earlier cultural identities and generated new histories of groups like the “Gorkha” and “Bhotia.”

Embattled Frontiers and Emerging Spaces

In the years following the India–China War (1962), Tawang underwent a significant makeover. In 1964, the Indian government sanctioned the construction of the Nehru Gompa monastery to commemorate Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit to Tawang. Nehru Gompa is a symbol of the new relations between the Indian state and the Tibetan Buddhist institutions that were forged in the early postcolonial period in India’s North East Frontier. This paper looks at the changing dynamics between the Tawang Monastery, the local population, and the state in this context, and focuses on how the Tawang Monastery negotiated with the local administration through the medium of official correspondence.

Bureaucracy and Border Control

Studies on militarisation and borders in South Asia have often remained focused on zones of spectacular conflict such as Kashmir, or Punjab during the partition. This article tracks the production of a discourse on borders by those charged with border security such as the police and other senior bureaucracy in the decades following the partition. It suggests that the “border question” evolved gradually out of a series of everyday concerns over local criminality that finally coalesced into the more abstract category of “national security.” It examines bureaucratic debates on police reorganisation in Kutch between 1948 and 1952 to suggest that contemporary discourses on nation and borders were arrived at through intra-bureaucratic negotiations with the far less abstract categories of village, locality and region.

Frontiers, State and Banditry in the Thar Desert in the 19th Century

Through the instances of banditry in the Thur–Parkar region of the Thar Desert in the mid-19th century, this article explores the intersections between the categories of bandit, rebel and state. In the context of the phrases like “pacification” and “tranquilisation” of frontiers used as mentioned in the British reports, which suggest a state of constant turmoil, this study finds answers to the questions such as: (i) Could banditry in the arid Thar merely be understood through a criminal context, or was it located in a political context of power? (ii) Were the native rulers incapable of suppressing banditry or were their negotiations with bandits a part of historical system of exchange? (iii) Did banditry and the rebelliousness that it was inextricably located in, challenge the ideas about Rajputhood and warriorhood, as they had emerged in the Rajput courts? (iv) Did banditry constitute dissidence, as a number of bandits were outlaws?

Reading Parijat and B P Koirala

This article suggests a feminist reading of borders and nation in investigating the poetics of transborder humanism scattered in the popular genre of Nepali fiction and poetry. While border-crossing is predominantly associated with suffering and despair as well as hope and relief, it may also allude to opportunism and betrayal. My argument is that borders are not only corporeal and political, but also introspective and personal. I reflect on the works of Parijat and B P Koirala whose lives criss-crossed the Nepal–India border on more than one level. I argue that the conundrum of their political and personal engagements might have triggered a new poetic discourse on an individual’s relationship with society, state and the world. This genre of writing speaks to an earlier South Asian discourse dating back to Tagore but more recently, revisited in its psychoanalytic interpretations by Ashis Nandy which interpret borders and nationalism more flexibly to offer an alternative that is different from its more mainstream, Westphalian theorisations.

Relative Intimacies

Described here are stories of families within the borderlands of India and Bangladesh who have kin relations on the other side of the border. They are about the continued making and maintenance of kinship ties across transnational family networks over the changing practices of border control. Officers and constables in the Indian Border Security Force, tasked with preventing all cross-border movements, recognised with sympathy the existence and emotional power of cross-border family ties. This article attempts to answer questions like what normative and emotive ideas about kin obligations and morality prevail upon individuals and families as they decide whether or not to continue investment in relations across borders. How do these sit within the larger political economy of the border itself?


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