The Voice of Humanity by Rabindranath Tagore
About Tagore .. A true universalist and a liberal, Tagore shot to international prominence when his book Gitanjali got him the Nobel Prize. From his adolescent days, Tagore’s literary genius had begun to unravel. He loathed formal education imparted within the confines of a class room. The rigors of school education repelled him. He let his mind wander far and wide and delved deep into his inner consciousness. The result was astounding. This son of the undivided Bengal, with no formal education, wrote hundreds of poems, short stories, and plays based on the joy and suffering of the humble people around him in the poverty-stricken, superstition-ridden society.
His sojourn to Europe opened his mind and rekindled the humanist in him. He began to feel that he belonged to the whole mankind, and he had a mission to bring light and wisdom to the whole world.
This essay is the lecture he gave in Italy. It overflows with his liberal idealism, compassion, and feelings of universal brotherhood.
The essay …
It was 1928. The reins of Italy was in the hands of its fascist dictator Mussolini. Rabindranath Tagore was on his first visit to the country that was the citadel of the best elements of European culture. Undoubtedly, it was an overwhelming experience for the eminent visitor from the East. Tagore loved every moment of is stay there. Literally, he bathed himself in the literary, architectural, and scientific heritage of his host country and Europe in general.
First para .. Explaining the language barrier
This essay is the transcript of his lecture before an august audience of elite intellectuals. Tagore felt both humbled and honoured to address such a gathering.
Tagore knew English was not the mother tongue of the Italians. However, this was the only common language in which he could communicate with the audience. In his characteristic style, Tagore regretted the inconvenience he was putting his listeners by having to speak in English.
Second para .. Author explains why he thinks it is a pilgrimage
Tagore had already decided what he was going to speak on. He wanted to explain to the listeners why he had travelled thousands of miles to come to their country. Tagore was a deeply spiritual and contemplative man. He saw God’s hand everywhere. His vision of the Divine transcended religious or national barriers. So, he explained to his audience that he had come n a pilgrimage to explore the place where the landscape bristles with is Divine creativity and love. Layers and layers of sublime manifestation of Divinity had enriched Italy. In the true Eastern tradition, he has come to discover the Divine hand here.
Third para .. Europe enthralls the author
Quite clearly, Europe’s astounding progress in all facets of culture and civilization had greatly impressed the young author. He was so impressed with the blossoming of the human spirit in this distant continent that he considered the land to be holy, worthy to be called a shrine. In 1921, driven by an urge to explore this land, he set out on this pilgrimage to Europe. He reasoned that Europe led the world because the inquisitive minds of its people were always reactive and restless. The frenzied intellectual activity that ensued led to spectacular advances in literature, art, science, philosophy and technology. In contrast, around this time, Asia seemed to be asleep, losing its initiative, verve, and drive. Such indolence led to lethargy, backwardness, and poverty. Barring just a handful of bright minds engaged in the pursuit of knowledge and skill, the whole continent seemed to be asleep. The author left his pet project at Shantiniketan, and came to Europe to experience its electrifying energy and creativity.
Fourth and Fifth Para … Author sets foot in Italy
However, this was not his maiden visit. In 1878, when he was a young boy of 17, he had set foot in the shores of Italy with his elder brother as escort. During those times, people in the East held Europe in awe and wonder. Although his English skill was far from being exemplary, the author had read the works of the literary icons of Europe, and was aware of the literary resurgence that was sweeping the continent.
In the moonlit shores of Brindisi in Italy, the steamer in which Tagore and his brother were travelling, landed. The breathtaking beauty of this alien land manifested in the blue waters of the ocean, the bewitching landscape virtually swept Tagore off his feet. He had never see such a sight earlier.
Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Para .. A fleeting encounter with a maid in an or chard
The small town of Brindishi didn’t have the daunting façade of the cities. The author found the place unusually quiet, but at the same time, very welcoming. The author’s didn’t have a placid dormant mind. He had already savoured the romance of literature, and had begun to dream. The two brothers stayed in an ordinary hotel with the most basic facilities. But, being in the land of Europe set his heart aflutter.
The next day, the author, his brother, and a Indian friend ventured out to a nearby orchard. The place was un-guarded and no one accosted them. Sun shone liberally over the orchard setting the garden lit with a golden glow. There was a youthful damsel plucking the grapes. She had a coloured scarf round her head. The author was spellbound by her charm. He was seventeen then, and the gush of manly instinct drew him to her. The sunlight accentuated her beauty. The author understood he was the guest in a foreign country, and must conduct himself with the required dignity.
Ninth Para .. Author explains why he has been sent to England
The encounter triggered no feelings in the other two, but for the author, it rekindled romantic instincts. The trio left the place soon. The author had been a problem pupil in his traditional skill. He used to be repelled by the walls of the school room. Finding his virtual refusal to be schooled in the traditional way, his guardians sent him to England so that he could learn good English – the language that held the key to respectability and accomplishment.
Tenth Para… England appears so cold, so distant
The author finaly landed in England – his destination. But it was winter, and the harsh chill made life quite unpleasant for him. The trees stood bare with all the leaves gone. There was hardly any crowd in the road. The usual bustle f an Indian city was sorely lacking. The contrast rattled the author, leaving him disconcerted and lonely. The place seemed so distant, and so unwelcoming. From his room’s window, he fixed his gaze at the Regent’s Park wondering what a bewildering land he had come to. Perhaps, he was too young to delve into the treasury of knowledge and enlightenment England held. He felt lost, pining for his homeland.
Eleventh Para ..Author returns home
After a stint of rigorous education, the author returned home, and felt more disinclined to pursue formal education that could give him a degree. He spent time in laziness doing little, but soon started writing stories, novels and poems. He wrote profusely, sitting in the bank f the Ganges. His restive mind found fulfillment in literature. He was oblivious of the tumultuous political changes that were happening around the world then.
Twelfth Para ..The seed of class room-free education is sown
The author’s mind underwent a sea change. He no longer liked to work in seclusion. Instead, he wanted to be among the crowd. He loved children, and loved to guide them as they grew up. He knew the system of class room education stifled and caged many young bright minds. He wanted these young minds to savour the taste of education in a free, unfettered environment. He chose a secluded place, away from the madding crowd, where he could school the students in the lap of Nature.
Thirteenth Para ..New idea of education takes shape
While in the midst of this unique experiment with education, the author seemed to hear a distant call — a summon from the land where human endeavour and spirit had reached its pinnacle. He wanted to go on a pilgrimage again, to explore, learn, and feast his senses with the best of human civilization. He knew, his dream destination was Europe that stood at the forefront of humankind’s progress.
Fourteenth Para … World events unsettle the author
By then, the author was a well-read man. He had studied History, Literature and all such subjects. He had read the works of such eminent writers like Wordsworth. The hatred, oppression, exploitation, revenge, and wars that had ravaged the human race made him sorrowful. He had painfully concluded that man was the worst enemy of man. Despite such gloomy thoughts, the author remained an optimist. He felt the noble wisdom of mankind will eventually dispel the dark forces one day, ushering in an age of harmony, peace, progress and peace.
Fifteenth Para .Visit to England brings more gloom
Sadly for the author, when he reached England, the whole f Europe was gripped with strife, discord, upheavals, and war. Mutual suspicion, envy, and avarice had bedevilled the land. Passion to create had ceded place to passion for destruction. The specter was was so depressing for the author.
Sixteenth Para ..The lush green farms captivate the author
While travelling from Calais to England, the author got to see the lush-green fecund farms through which the train track ran. The bounty of the fields filled his heart with joy. He marvelled at the hardworking nature of the farmers who had grown the crops. These great sons of the soil had done extremely valuable service to their motherland. Their dedication deserved the highest praise, because through their sweat and sacrifice, they had brought security and sufficiency to their countries, and to the mankind at large. In the land where such worthy toiling men lived, misery couldn’t set foot. But, why was Europe so riven with the ugly and the unbearable’, wondered the thoughtful author.
Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Paras .. Author examines Europe’s boon and bane
The author reasons that Europe’s children did fairly well till their endeavour was restricted to solving their own lands’ problems. Through application of their intelligence, ingenuity and their penchant for perfection, they did quite well. They brought prosperity and plenty to themselves. However, with the advent of science and technology, new challenges emerged. Europe began to look far beyond its shores. Such adventure unleashed huge political, military and economic challenges. Harmony of earlier times was gone. In its place, came discord and dis-harmony. Tempestuous events overtook Europe. She is still grappling with these new destructive forces. Solutions to the new challenges have eluded the Europeans so far. However daunting the task might appear, a holistic and enduring solution to the new challenges must be found. A wrong prescription may lead to unintended consequences. The bounty that God bestowed on Europe would soon become her bane. The abiding virtues like the love of justice, freedom, love f beauty that once characterised Europe would become the things of the past.
In the relentless pursuit of profit, production, trade, Europe would lose the nobler virtues of art, creativity, and the softer side of the human civilization. Tragically, this would disembowel Europe of her tender core. Deprivation, misery, and suffering would follow.
20th Para …Europe’s rise and her nightmares
The author proceeds to analyse how Europe could build her huge repository of the best of human achievements. According to him, it all came through patient pursuit of perfection. The patience was borne out of Love. The legendary artists of Europe would work endlessly to reach perfection on the tiniest of things. Such passionate effort, and perseverance are anathema to a quantity and profit-oriented commerce-driven society. Greed and creativity are quite opposite to each other. Unfortunately, greed has overtaken Europe. This shift towards profit and gain has dispelled creativity and beauty from the human mind. The voices of sanity, restraint, and the sublime have become too feeble to be heard. Man’s inner voice is lost in the din of factories.
21st Para .. Author stresses role of Science
The author laments the lucre associated with the unravelling of a profit-driven industrial economy, but applauds the march of Science. In this domain, Europe has led the world. Nature’s secrets have been gradually decoded, and the benefits have been passed on to the future generations of mankind. Europe has made stellar contribution in pushing back the limits of the Infinite, but so much more needs to be done. Europe must continue to stay the course in this regard. True happiness lies in relentlessly continuing the quest to unravel Nature.
22nd Para .. Author underlines Materialism’s role in human welfare
The author tries to clear the air by stating that the material world in not all bad. He likens it to the nurse and cradle that nurture life, and the human spirit. Europe has taken to the material world. This has brought goods and conveniences to human living. Despite such involvement in commerce and manufacturing, Europe has continued to cross more milestones in the path of science. This is really laudable, thinks the author. However, the author cites a note of caution here. He thinks that Europeans must not be too possessive about whatever they have gained in science and wealth generation through industrialization. They must assume that the gains belong to the whole mankind. Through such generosity, they can lay their claim to real greatness.
23rd Para .. Science does not hold all Truths
Europe surged in Science because of the power of its citizens to observe, question, think, and analyze. This gift is a rare one, but keeping the new-found knowledge close to their chest would do the Europeans no good. They must willingly share the scientific gains with the rest of the world. By doing so, Europe’s best brains would redeem themselves. There are truths which do not come under the domain of Science. Such truths must be allowed to fuse with the ones unravelled by Science. Disregard of truths of other domains unrelated to Science is fraught and could have disatrous ramifications. Sadly, this is what is happening. All the evils that plagued Europe then were rooted in the neglect of truth from other non-science fields.
24th Para ….Author bemoans the misuse of Science
The author feels that the mightier the weapon you have, the stronger should be the restraint in using them. Science has unleashed great potential to do good, and also to wreak havoc. Without the wisdom to rein in its destructive forces, it runs amuck and brings calamity on earth. The author laments that Europe pioneered science, but failed to circumscribe its devilish power. As a result, Europe faces so much danger now.
While crying out for peace, the people at the helm go ahead to invent more formidable weapons. So, more violence results. The craving for peace must come from within for it to be enduring. Peace imposed from outside by force has only limited effect. In matters of ensuring lasting peace and tranquility, the virtues of sympathy and self-sacrifice are more potent than the efficacy of mass mobilization.
25th and 26th Para … Science mustn’t lead to hubris and colonial instincts
The author had always been an optimist. He believed that ultimately, the goodness of the human spirit would prevail. Like the Sun gets temporarily covered by clouds, the human spirit might be besmirched by evil instincts temporarily, but it would regain its radiance sooner or later. Some naive Europeans who cite their scientific prowess to justify their instinct to subjugate other peoples. However, like the earthquake unleashes great ferocity to shake the earth temporarily, the bombast of the colonizers would fall flat in the times to come. Some of these powers, who thought they could be eternally supreme by fostering the supremacy of their own nation, are beginning to crumble. Slowly, they are fading into the past. Quite logically, those nations who can think and act beyond their borders transcending narrow nationalism, can ultimately survive and prosper. In other words, the benefits of one’s progress must be shared with others for the gain to be lasting.
27th, and the last Para ..As the eternal optimist, the Author sees hope
Human beings who live in proximity with each other, and do not share each other’s joys and owes are not likely to thrive in the long run. By cocooning themselves within their own national confines, these self-centered people will self-destruct themselves. A day would come when the unified human spirit would prevail over parochial attitudes, and the whole human race would think and work like a single entity. That would signal the triumph of Truth.
Finally, the author humbly tells his listeners that he has come to Europe in search of the Voice of Humanity, which has been dampened by the clamour to amass power and wealth by the most brutal means. Fortunately, this dormant voice is beginning to be heard more clearly and loudly. With time, this would assume the level of a thunder which no one can ignore.
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