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World Post Day: Letters of Rabindranath and Postal Department

  • Chinmay Prasun Biswas
  • 10th October, 2022 05:10:16 PM
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On the occasion of birth centenary of Rabindranath Tagore, Sunitikumar Chatterjee rightly said, Rabindranath is a master of speech and world-minded. Probably no other poet or writer in the world has written so much which contains songs and every branch of literature except epic. Apart from writings he has written more than five thousand letters. If English letters are counted, the number will exceed nine thousand.

In a letter to Pramatha Chowdhury, Rabindranath wrote - “Writing a good letter is very difficult. Writing an essay is easy. You can write fluently on a very hard subject. In letters such hints are required that it becomes almost like poetry. But do such days exist now for writing letters? There was a time when I enjoyed writing letters and I think I could provide enjoyment through writing letters.” His Postmaster is a very famous, emotional and life-intimate short story.

Undoubtedly, letters cover a huge portion of the vast Rabindra creations. Some are written in the form of diaries, travelogues but most of those are letters. There are numerous proofs that Rabindranath derived pleasure from writing letters. For  instance  Those are mainly Chinnapatra (Snippets, 1885-1895, written to niece Indira Devi},  'Pathe O Pather Prante written to Nirmal Kumari Mahlanbish, Letters of Bhanusingha is a collection of letters to Ranu, Letters of an Expatriate in Europe, Diary of a Traveller to Europe (Vol.1 and.2, 1893), Pasenger to Japan (1919),  Diary of a Traveller to the West and  Letters of a Traveller to Java ( Passenger in single volume, 1929), Letters on Russia (1931), Letters of a Traveller to Europe written in youth or  Diary of a Traveller to the West written in natured age are also collection of countless letters. 19 volumes of letters have been published by Visva-Bharati. Beyond it there are a large number of letters, compiled or not. 

In writing letters Rabindranath was selective about the person. He considered Indira, Rani (Nirmalkumari), Hemantabala, Ranu intelligent and wrote letters to them revealing his own self fully. He himself once wrote a letter to Rani – “I have been writing in my letter for so many days without any expectation of getting anything. I talked at the insistence of my own mind whenever I got a chance. Through talking I realise my mind and shake off the burden of my mind. That is the maturity of a person of literature. But speaking is not my only quality. Listeners must have the power to extract speech.”

Rabindranath's letters are like his poems, sometimes like his songs. Not mere prose. His philosophy, poetic feeling, imagery, even the truth of his life have been reflected in his letters. In 1893 Rabindranath wrote to Indira Devi from Shilaidaha- “Poetry is my long-time love. ---- Many lies can be told in life knowingly or ignorantly but I never lie in poetry. That is the only resort of all the deep truths in my life.”

Plenty of letters are a main source to know the history of Brahmacharyashram and Visva-Bharati, In fact, his teachings have been embodied in many letters.. Sriniketan was a branch of Visva-Bharati. Rabindranath undertook a major project to eradicate malaria there. Regarding his speeches at a session of the Anti-Malaria Society in 1924 Rabindranath wrote to Ranu – “Malaria is not a good thing. Lovers usually take their place in the heart but Mrs. Malaria occupies the liver. Poets say that the heart beats frequently when the beloved appears but with the advent of malaria the whole body begins to vibrate. Eventually separation takes place in a bitter way. But once I meet her she comes back again and again.”

Rabindranath was immersed in spirituality throughout life. At one time he was the Acharya of the Old Brahma Society. Not willingly but to obey his father's orders as a family duty. But finally he objected to the identity of Brahma. In fact, his faith and belief was in human religion. In his letters to Kadambini Devi (1902-1931) Rabindranath repeatedly stated – “Form and formlessness are just so to say. God is both physical and formless. ... I don't want to argue with all these opinions. He must be worshiped in form and without form, in action and love. --- My god is with the best of man.  He lives in human heaven.”

In another letter to Kadambini Devi he wrote- “I am not much respected by the people of Brahma Society. They do not consider me as a complete Brahma.” We can remember that movement of Sakumar Roy and Prashant Chandra Mahlanbish, the leaders of Young Brahma Party in 1921. They wanted to accord the poet a honourary membership but the senior Brahmas strongly objected. Finally, vote was taken. Winning, the Young Brahmas honoured the poet. They wanted to honour Rabindranath not to make him a Brahma leader but to appreciate his humanism. It will be clear if we read the booklet Why do we want Rabindranath written by Prashant Chandra Mahlanbish. Rabindranath wrote to Hemantabala Devi, “... but my God is with the best of man. He lives in human paradise ....I am unwilling to accept that everything can be imposed upon God because he is infinite. We shall be cheated if we don’t realise Him in knowledge, thought and action.”

Letters of Rabindranath include many subjects like nature, environment, aesthetics, poetry, education, religion, politics, society, rural development, personal sorrows, thoughts of death, joy, fascination, love. But even after 81 years of his death we do not know the whereabouts of all his letters. There is a big organisation like Visva-Bharati Publication Wing. Can't they collect the rest of Rabindranath's letters?

Writing letters is not the end. Those are to be posted. It requires postage. Verifying books of accounts of Thakurbari, Prashant Kumar Paul has found out much unknown information. On the occasion of World Post Day (October 9, being observed since1969) we hope that the postal department will let us know how much postage they earned from carrying and delivering Rabindranath’s letters.

The writer is a former Commissioner of Taxes

Source: Sun Editorial