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Rabindranath Tagore, A wheel of change | Article by Sukanya Bharadwaj

 Rabindranath Tagore,  A wheel of change

        He had that ‘Midas touch’ that turned everything to gold. It is never an overstatement, when the reference is made to Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s creative genius. Indeed, he touched upon everything that his artistic hands could utilize, as medium of self-expression. His art was a manifestation of his ideas and philosophies. Tagore had virtually explored every creative media, be it, literature, painting, music, dance and even drama to realize his humanistic ideals. In the true sense, through art, he not only laid the foundation of the cultural legacy of Bengal, but also earned it a world stage. 

        At a time, when occidental influence loomed large over the Indian education system, Tagore’s dissatisfaction over it echoed through his epoch making short-story, Tota-Kahini. The satire published in a Bengali magazine, Sabuj Patra in 1918 was a staunch reaction to imposition of western ideas and thoughts in the Indian system of education that crushed the natural instincts and creativity of students. Tagore believed that true education could not be achieved when alienated from one’s cultural roots. On the contrary, the knowledge imparted in schools in those days had no relation to their inherent cultural traits. It would be interesting to understand his thoughts in the light of this story. 
            The story goes like this- Once there lived a carefree parrot in a kingdom. It jumped from one tree to another, sang beautifully and ate fruits from the orchard but never cared for customs and conventions. The king proclaimed, “Such a bird is of no use, the fruit market runs a loss!” He summoned his ministers and ordered them, “Educate the bird.” The first reason for the parrot’s illiteracy was found to be its ‘nest of twigs and straws’ which was apparently too small to hold much education. Thus a golden cage was made for it. Education or not, the bird got a great cage! Lucky bird!” As the cage was maintained and polished regularly, people applauded the progress. Scribes and priests were summoned and heaps of manuscripts were copied for the bird’s education. Many were impressed by this overflow of education. All those employed for this process drew fat salaries and grew richer in the name of the parrot’s education. However, one fine day a critic observed and reported to the king that the cage is maintained in good condition, but no one bothers about the bird. The king became furious and decided to himself go and take stock of the situation. He was initially quite satisfied that there was no dearth of arrangements, but on taking a closer look, he discovered there was no food or water in the cage. Instead in the name of educating the bird, hundreds of scriptures and text books were torn and thrust through the beak of the bird with tips of pens and quills. The bird now could neither sing nor jump around. Nevertheless, the king was happy with the process.    
        No one knew when the bird finally died, until the critic spread the rumour. When the bird was brought to the court, the king pressed it to see, it neither showed any movement nor made a sound, only the dry papers from the books rustled in his belly. How else would be the fate of a bird who was deprived of what he wanted to eat and fed papers or deprived of his natural freedom!
        In the Indian education system too this was the manner in which mindless knowledge was shoved down a child’s throat. So did Tagore say that “Educational institutions must not be a dead cage in which living minds are fed with food artificially prepared.” To demonstrate his educational ideology to the world, Tagore established an experimental school, Shantiniketan at Bolpur subdivision of Birbhum district of West Bengal in 1863 to help education go beyond the confines of the classroom. That later grew into the Viswa Bharati University attracting some of the most creative minds to its fore. The curriculum he developed was a unique blend of art, human values and cultural interactions. In the true sense over the years it turned into a thriving centre of art and education. It is an institution that cultivates love for nature, emphasizes freedom and self- motivation for learning and fosters intellectual curiosity. In the sprawling campus of the Shantiniketan, students were given a natural environment to grow and discover their true potential. Though it maintains a conventional structure similar to the Gurukul system, where students live together with their Gurus, yet they are bound by ties of companionship.
        With his soaring spirit the ‘Renaissance Man’ not just rekindled fearlessness among his countrymen, but also saved children from the pedantic bookish learning system. Such transformations however did not come overnight. Rabindranath 
Tagore had to go against the wind to get things done. Yet behind all these was his strong resolve to be the change and what reined was his stand alone spirit. So did he hum, “Jodi Tor Dak Shune Keu Na Ase Tobe Ekla Cholo Re” If they answer not to your call, walk alone.


Sukanya Bharadwaj
Assistant Teacher
Upperdani High School
Rani block

Illustration: Sangita Kakati

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