Monday, March 13, 2006

Rabindranath Tagore and Latin American literature

An article on the influence of Rabindranath Tagore in Latin American literature.

After all, Latin America and India are worlds apart, one may say. And prompted by this separation, it may be important for Bengali readers to retrace the origin of the ripples, to see where does Tagore stand today in Latin America and what were the effects of his powerful mind on Latin American intellectuals. This is the idea of this article, and of several to come: to recreate the ties between Tagore and the New World. This implies, of course, the need for an introduction: How did Rabindranath Tagore come to be so well known and beloved in Latin America, a continent so different from India? Well, maybe because they are not so different. After all, not so long ago - due to the confusion of an Italian sailor sailing under the Spanish flag - our continent was still being called the West Indies, and though today this name has come to identify only a portion of the isles situated on the Caribbean sea, many a resemblance can still be found between that India Columbus was looking for, and the one he did really find: two huge continents, with landscapes ranging from humid tropic to frozen heights, and a large population composed of hundreds of ethnic groups.

For some, these affinities can explain the long love affair the Latin Americans have had with Tagore's poetry and thinking. In a lecture on Tagore's manuscripts, given at the University of Delhi by Octavio Paz, the Mexican poet (Nobel Prize of Literature in 1990, and for some time a resident in India) mentions the existence of an essay by Nirad C., in which the Indian scholar points out the similarities between Bengal and Latin America. Paz extends these affinities to Kerala and Goa, saying that, same as the cultural syncretism which resulted from the clash between Spaniards, Portuguese, African and Native Americans in what was called the New World - syncretism that was to adopt the name of Baroque - something similar happened in these three regions of India, where the Western influence was not to neutralize but to be fused into the huge Indian tradition. Yet, says Paz, this would not completely explain the attraction exerted by a poet who only visited Latin America once, who never learned Spanish, and whose work cannot be said to have received any remarkable influence from Spanish or Latin American literature. And not only would this utterly fail to justify the powerful effect Tagore had and continues to have on Latin American readers, writers and intellectuals, as Paz claims, but in my opinion would especially shadow the one and only real reason behind his lingering popularity: the magic of his poetry.

You can find the article here

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