While Rabindranath Tagore may be well known as literary personality – encompassing the fields as a poet, novelist, and playwright – it remains largely an academic adventure to delve deeper into his writings to dig out the philosopher that he was. Engaging and tackling with the issue of Nationalism, Tagore had already clarified his discomfort with the concept espoused by the nationalists of then in works such as Gora (1910), Char Adhyay and Ghare Baire (1916). But the main text of criticism of the nationalist position was titled ‘Nationalism’ and published first in 1917. The text took on the conception of Nationalism as was prevalent in the West and Tagore criticized this European concept’s application in India. He criticized the European nationalism position as one in which ‘a whole population assumes when organized for a mechanical purpose’. Tagore called the Oriental (while addressing Japan) to assume it’s location in history as follows:
You must apply your Eastern mind, your spiritual strength, your love of simplicity, your recognition of social obligation, in order to cut out a new path for this great unwieldy car of progress, shrieking out its loud discords as it runs. You must minimize the immense sacrifice of man’s life and freedom that it claims in its every movement.
Assuring in its stance, Tagore’s work anticipates in advance what Post-colonial scholars were yet to theorize. The work on Nationalism remains an untouched whetstone for many readers.
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The full-text of the Nationalism essay is available for free here. It can also be found in an organized structure at the official Tagore.in website here.