I had an opportunity to watch Rabindranath Tagore’s play “Visarjan” (Sacrifice), in Chinese language. It was awesome! I watched the play in China which I missed in India. It was indeed a tribute to Indian artists by Chinese artists.
Young Chinese artists had presented Visarjan beautifully. They had actually brought all the characters alive. All the characters’ Indian names: Aparna, Jaisingh, Raghupati, Govinda and Gunavati etc were sounding very sweet, when uttered in Chinese diction. Moreover, it was a pleasure to watch Chinese artists in Indian costumes playing roles like king, queen, and priest.
Just besides the stage, there was a huge screen displaying English subtitles. What made me really disappoint was unnecessary insertion of contemporary Bollywood songs. They were real flop! However one thing was clear from the acting that the artists had definitely understood the subject of the play and had well understood what Rabindranath Tagore wanted to express through Visarjan.
As soon as I landed in shanghai, met 'Tagore' at the underground museum located at the base of famous ' Oriental Pearl Tower'. Shanghai's history has been displayed beautifully in this museum through human wax statues, antique things and atmosphere. I saw an identical statue like Tagore, in a sitting position discussing things, under the narration "Foreigner in Shanghai". But later I witnessed Tagore with his name engraved on the signboard on Shanghai's Yan-an highway, as a tribute to the fact that he Tagore stayed here.
When Rabindranath Tagore's 'Gitanjali' won the noble prize, Chinese translation of it was published just in two years. Chen Duxiu, one of the founders of the Communist Party of China had done the first translation. The pride behind this was seen in the fact that Tagore was the first Asian to win a Noble prize for literature. Tagore got invitations from many Countries including China, to visit then.
During an interview session, while aboard the ship to China Tagore said to the reporters, "When I got the invitation from china, I thought this is an invitation to my Country India. I shall accept this as a humble son of my nation. I wish that my visit to China bridge the cultural and spiritual gap between the two Countries. Even we should invite Chinese intellectuals to our Country and exchange of ideas and thoughts should take place. I will get immense satisfaction if I would be able to accomplish this.
Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore actually set foot in China, our Eastern neighbor, on 12th April, 1924. He was 63 years old then. He stayed for two months in China. During his stay he visited main cities of China namely Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Nanjing. This visit to China was in the circumstances of Governmental transformation and in the times of unrest. The social unrest among Chinese students was a cause of discussion everywhere. In 1920, Tagore had written in his Article about opium plantations in British India and its export to China stating “a trade of killing Chinese people".
The young Chinese generation was highly influenced with the western ideology, technology and science. The communist party of China was established in 1921. This phase in the history of China was that of East verses West, Modernization verses Tradition. The modern thinking Chinese were behind imitating west. To such kind of public, Tagore with his staunch following of eastern culture values and thinking, was actually seen as a threat. And for some he seemed like a spiritual guru in sweeping robes and a flowing beard, trying to preach traditional values. Due to this Tagore's visit became an object of criticism. To sum it up Tagore's welcome in China was that of mixed reactions.
Tagore's idea of a unified Asia did not go down too well with nationalist patriots in China in the early 1920s. His Pan-Asian view may seem a bit utopian now - or even then. States Bivash Mukherjee, who made a documentary film, (Gurudev: a Journey to the East). The same scene was seen in India too.
During his Shanghai visit Tagore stayed in his friend Xu Zhi Mo's house (Today this house does not exist as it was demolished to make way for flyover). The famous Chinese literary legends Guo Mo Ruo, Hu Shi and Xu Zhi Mo while studying in Europe and America, had read the English version of Tagore's writings. While Xu Zhi Mo was studying in Cambridge in 1923, in England Tagore's literature was globally recognized. Xu Zhi Mo, who was an ardent fan of Shelly and Keats, fell in love with Tagore. Friendship between Xu Zhi Mo and Tagore is considered as an important chapter in the literary history of India and China. Actually speaking Tagore was 27 years older than Xu. Yet age was never a barrier in their friendship. Tagore always use to introduce Xu as "his son and his wife as his daughter-in-law" to his guests. Xu also used to be translator during Tagore's stay in China. A Chinese name as, "Taige er" (as it is close to the Chinese pronunciation), was also given to Tagore.
In his first speech in Shanghai (1924), Tagore says, “ that a poet’s mission is to attract the voice which is yet inaudible in the air; to inspire faith in the dream which is unfulfilled; to bring the earliest tidings of the unborn flower to a skeptic world."
Surprisingly, it is very difficult to locate newspapers and magazine articles on Tagore visit to China. Some articles have been possibly destroyed and others have been lost. The same is the status for lectures given by Tagore. Few lectures have been published in Vishwa Bharti and mostly all have been published as “Tagore’s talk in China". But, Tagore put a ban on distribution of this book, due to some unknown reasons. The next year new edition of this book was published with drastic changes. It is very difficult to hunt for the hidden facts of the past.
It is very difficult to gauge the reasons behind the decisions of great men who have the power of changing nation’s future, especially the decisions which can change future of a nation, of the people and course of events.
Although Talks in China is one of the significant writings of Tagore in English, it never received the attention it deserved either from Tagore scholars in Bengal or students of India-China relations. It is quite interesting to note that it was never translated into Chinese although quite a number of Tagore’s other works were translated into Chinese and were well received. Remarks, Shishir Kumar Das, author of the book, "A history of Indian literature”.
Tagore, an ambassador in cultural exchanges between China and India," visited Shanghai again after 5 years in March 1929 as part of his trip to Japan and America. Tagore's third and the last visit to China was in June 1929. In comparison to the first visit, the last two visits were away from limelight. During his all three visits and thereafter also Tagore has always stressed on mutual dialogue between India and China. In 1937, the “China Bhavana” established in Vishwa Bharthi was an actual example of execution of expressed ideas. The basic idea, concept is the same in both of these two cultures. While we say “Vasudhaivam Kutumbakam", Chinese say “shi jie da tong". Language may be different, but the standpoint is the same. Later on in 1937, when Japan attacked China, it was found that Tagore had expressed his concern and sorrow to his friend.
After the establishment of the People's Republic of China, in 1950s Tagore's writing had become very popular. Later on, during the Cultural Revolution in 1966-76, Tagore’s literature was read in secret. This was stated by Zhao Lihong, a famous writer and Vice-chairman in Shanghai- Writers Association, in an interview taken by Chitralekha Basu. Zhao frankly admits to the impact of Tagore in his style of writing. In 1979, once again Tagore's literature gained attention. Translation project that comprised 20 volumes and 10 million words has started. The triggering factor was " Little Bird, where are you going?” an article based on these words by Zhao. In this the writer has expressed the impact of Tagore on Chinese poets of his times.
And, Tagore's 150th Birth Anniversary!!
In today's times, existing Chinese leadership admits the importance of Rabindranath Tagore. During his visit to India in 2010, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao paid a visit to Tagore International School in Delhi. In an interactive session with him, he said, "Tagore had a great influence on the great literary figures in China. Hence Tagore's name has reached in each household in China".
Today, the young generation, sends romantic poems of Tagore to their valentine through blogs on the internet. In spite of the variety in today's times, young minds are attracted towards Tagore's writings. In Peking University, more than 50 academics are engaged in researching and guiding students of Tagore's work. According to the vice-director of the Center for India Studies at Peking University, “Tagore is especially significant in these times of shifting global power. Tagore was the epitome of Eastern ideals. He was the hope of the East at a time when there was no challenge to Western leadership."
All over the World the year 2010-11 was celebrated as Tagore's birth anniversary. In China, it has a special importance because; there is a cultural exchange between the Countries, who are supposed to be strong competitors for becoming future superpower. Reading of Tagore's literature, films and conferences, an educational exchange of ideas and thoughts (Tagore International School and Jin Yuan Senior High School in Shanghai) etc and through all those media Tagore has once again reached to all over the World.
As a part of birth anniversary celebrations in Shanghai, Then, President of India, Smt. Pratibhatai Patil unveiled a statue of Rabindranath Tagore. This is located adjacent to Tagore's friend Xu Zhi Mo's house in central Shanghai. A session of reading of Tagore's translated poems was held by Shanghai Writer's Association and Indian Consulate in Shanghai. We hear Tagore in Chinese, in English, in Bengali and in Marathi also. I had the privilege to present Tagore's “O Dekhin Hawa", translated as "Aare dakshinechya varya, Aare vatsaru varya" by the famous Marathi writer P. L. Deshpande. Now, this is for sure that again, a wave of Tagore's literature is seen to have taken charge in Chinese Art and Literature circle!!
Here, I met, I saw Tagore, from a Chinese perspective. In my Marathi, Indian image of Tagore, now I can see a unique blend of a Chinese image too.