South Asia: Table of Contents
Organizer: Yeager Hudson, Colby College
Chair: Patrick Colm Hogan, University of Connecticut
Discussant: Alice Clark, University of California, Berkeley
Rabindranath Tagore, the first Asian Nobel Laureate, won that prize for his collection of poems titled Gitanjali. He is justly remembered as a great artist for his poetry, songs, plays, short stories, and paintings. He is also the author of a number of novels, one of which has been characterized as the greatest novel of modern India. Gora is the story of an Irish child, orphaned when his soldier father is killed in battle and his mother dies in childbirth, taken in by a childless Hindu woman and raised as a son in an orthodox Brahmin family. In the course of the novel, the members of this family have occasion to interact with a prominent Brahmo family. Gora, who believes despite his white complexion, that he is a Brahmin, is convinced that the redemption of modern India can be achieved only as its people return to their roots in Hinduism and tradition. He has a considerable following of young Brahmin men who want to oppose excessive modernism and Westernization. The Brahmo family, however, and especially the saintly father, while rejecting idolatry and caste as outdated evils, exemplify a way of life which combines love and respect for India with a universalism whose attractiveness is hard to resist.
The novel presents a vignette of the struggles faced by educated Indians in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Indeed, it might be called a mirror of the Indian Renaissance. Tagore himself had been reared in the Brahma Samaj, but he was keenly sensitive to tendencies in the Samaj toward excessive Western, and in particular excessive Christian, influence. He was himself torn between his own nationalist loyalties and the appeal of a universal religion and culture of which a purified Hinduism might be a central part.
The three papers in this panel explore important themes in Gora. Singh, a specialist in Indian literature and feminism, examines the way in which Tagore exemplifies his vision of the modern Indian woman through the character of Anandamoyi, the adoptive mother of Gora. Hudson, author among other things of Emerson and Tagore: The Poet as Philosopher, discusses Tagores relation to the Brahma Samaj, a subject strangely neglected by some of his biographers. Pandit, co-editor of Literary India, and author of several chapters, particularly "Caste, Race, and Nation: History and Dialectic in Rabindranath Tagores Gora," offers a more literary/aesthetic interpretation of the novel. Clark, our discussant, works on womens and childrens issues in India, particularly female infanticide and the use of medical testing for gender selection. We envision an appropriate celebration of new insights some ninety years after the original publication of the book.
Nikky Singh, Colby College
Tagores ideal image of India is concretely depicted in Anandamoyi, the Bengali childless woman who adopts an Irish foundling during the Indian mutiny. His name is Gora (meaning white), which is the title of Tagores four hundred and eight paged novel as well. Goras story starts on a bloody night when an English lady is given shelter in the cowshed of a house owned by Anandamoyi and Krishnadayal; her Irish husband has just been murdered, and that very night she gives birth to their son and dies. The little baby is adoringly embraced by Anandamoyi. Thereafter she brings him up as her own son with utmost care and love, and without his identity known to anyone except her husband, Krishnadayal. The book does not describe Goras childhood; instead, it begins with his youth in colonial Calcutta: Gora has finished his masters degree and become a staunch spokesman for orthodox Hinduism. The story uncovers the dialectic between intense nationalism and revival of traditional Hinduism, on the one hand, and globalism and progressive reformation on the other. Like the Bengalis of their time, the fictional characters of Gora are all caught up in the contradictions of a culture in transition. In the novel, a picture of the social, political, racial, and religious forces working in Bengal at the turn of the century emerges.
But what is most intriguing for me is the character of Anandamoyi, especially how this Bengali woman moves beyond the confines of both Hindu orthodoxy and Brahmo Samaj modernity, how she embodies Tagores expansive vision of India. My paper will explore the intimate relationship between Anandamoyi and India, and the intricate way in which Tagore draws Anandamoyi on the canvas of Indias unique philosophical heritage. Ironically, the more closely Tagore identifies Anandamoyi with her own country, the more universal she becomes; his essential Indian infigurations lead to a configuration of India which no boundaries can contain.
Lalita Pandit, University of Wisconsin
In this paper, I should like to concentrate on Tagores use of rasadhvani aesthetics of Abhinavagupta, and other Sanskrit aestheticians. Certainly, the plot and character configurations in Gora remind us, inevitably, of Jane Austens Pride and Prejudice. One might say Paresh Babus wife is like Mrs. Bennet, though Paresh Babu is nothing like Mr. Bennet. Or, one could say Gora is like Darcy, and Binoy is like Bingley. However, what these sorts of parallels would add up to is that in addition to being a political novel, Gora is a romantic comedy in the manner of Jane Austens romantic comedies, and in the manner of Shakespeares romantic comedies. In Gora, the marriage and love plot is significantly linked to the politics of ideological revisionism in the context of colonial India. Tagore uses the rasadhvani aesthetics quite consciously to place Lolita, Sucharita, Binoy, and Gora within the figurative framework of their prototypes in Sanskrit romantic comedy. He was well versed in Sanskrit and has written on some of the authors, and individual texts. Many of his plays are based on stories taken from the major Sanskrit epic, Mahabharata.
My focus in this paper will be on exploring the underlying poetry of Tagores novel of ideas, and his skillful use of emblematic imagery that makes his treatment of romantic love, eroticism, and marriage, consistent with that of his Sanskrit precursors, primarily, Kalidasa. Tagore and Kalidasa share a time honored tradition perpetuated by a living culture, its rites and rituals, songs, and works of art: an entire rhetoric and aesthetics of love. In post colonial discussions on love and marriage, the traditional Indian discourses and cultural practices are very often reduced either to dichotomous, binary opposites of Western ideas, or colonialist mimicries of them. I should like to explore aspects of Tagores Gora to question the taken-for-granted validity of some of these simplifying notions about India, more specifically, of Tagores India. The term rasadhvani in the title refers to Sanskrit theories of rasa and dhvani, a memory-based aesthetic concentrating on patterns of verbal, structural, figurative suggestion.
Yeager Hudson, Colby College
Rabindranath Tagores grandfather, Dwarkanath Tagore, collaborated with Ram Mohan Roy in the founding and early shaping of the Brahma Samaj. Debendranath Tagore, Rabindranaths father, was the second head of the Brama Samaj, gradually taking over leadership and revitalizing the movement after the death of Roy. Several of Rabindranaths brothers were active and dedicated members. The Samaj was actually headquartered in the Tagore home in Calcutta for a time when Rabindranath was a boy and Keshub Sen was taking over the leadership from Debendranath. A schism occurred in the Samaj which introduced enmity between Sen and the Tagore family. Sen advocated a kind of universalism too much influenced by Christianity. The Tagores remained with what came to be known as the Adi Brahma Samaj (Adi = "original"), which preached Hindu Brahmoism and Indian nationalism. In 1884 he became its leader and editor of its journal. Eventually a reconciliation between Sen and the Tagores was achieved, and Rabindranath himself came increasingly to advocate Hindu Brahmonism as the true reformed Hinduism which combined national pride with a religious universalism.
In 1907, as the interests of nationalist resistance to British imperialism were competing with the attraction of Western modernism for the loyalty of young Indians, Tagore wrote his greatest novel, Gora. It reflects the tensions between orthodox Hinduism and various shades of modernism represented eventually by one or another of the three branches of Brahmoism, a tension with which Tagore himself was wrestling. Biographers have not paid as much attention as it deserves to Tagores long-time close association with the Brahmo Samaj. In this paper, I will examine Tagores effort in Gora to give balanced voice to the several perspectives, to show the human and humane appeal of each, to exhibit and criticize the narrow, sectarian, closed-minded, and chauvinistic attitudes of some members of each party.