The Canonical Tagore

The sesquicentennial anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore's birth is being celebrated today. Last month, Harvard University's Belknap Press brought out  The Essential Tagore, edited by Fakrul Alam and Radha Chakravarty, with a foreword by Amit Chaudhuri.

The Essential Tagore showcases the genius of India’s Rabindranath Tagore, the first Asian Nobel Laureate and possibly the most prolific and diverse serious writer the world has ever known. Marking the 150th anniversary of Tagore’s birth, this ambitious collection—the largest single volume of his work available in English—attempts to represent his extraordinary achievements in ten genres: poetry, songs, autobiographical works, letters, travel writings, prose, novels, short stories, humorous pieces, and plays. In addition to the newest translations in the modern idiom, it includes a sampling of works originally composed in English, his translations of his own works, three poems omitted from the published version of the English Gitanjali, and examples of his artwork.


Tagore’s writings are notable for their variety and innovation. His Sonar Tari signaled a distinctive turn toward the symbolic in Bengali poetry. “The Lord of Life,” from his collectionChitra, created controversy around his very personal concept of religion. Chokher Bali marked a decisive moment in the history of the Bengali novel because of the way it delved into the minds of men and women. The skits in Vyangakautuk mocked upper-class pretensions. Prose pieces such as “The Problem and the Cure” were lauded by nationalists, who also sang Tagore’s patriotic songs.


Translations for this volume were contributed by Tagore specialists and writers of international stature, including Amitav Ghosh, Amit Chaudhuri, and Sunetra Gupta.

Another Indian Nobel laureate, the economist Amartya Sen is said to have been given his name by Tagore. Writing about this volume he says "Tagore is one of the greatest literary figures of our time, who commands universal admiration from native readers of Bengali, but the excellence of whose work is difficult to preserve in translation. In rising to this challenge, the editors and translators of The Essential Tagore have done a splendid job of producing a beautiful volume of selections from Tagore's vast body of writings. The book is also powerfully strengthened by an enjoyable and remarkably far-reaching foreword by Amit Chaudhuri."

A substantial book in more ways than one, 864 pages, 9.4 x 6.6 in and over a kilogram in weight... Ironically, though, there is no Indian edition of the book yet, but there undoubtedly will be one soon enough. ISBN: 9780674057906. In the meanwhile, do write in if you would like to get the book- its priced at $40.

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