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A Tribute to Tagore on His 160th Birthday

Written on May 7th, the Gregorian birthday of Rabindranth Tagore in May 1861 by Koh Chye Hock, Member of Perak Academy

It is Rabindranath Tagore’s 160th birthday today.  I pay homage to him on this day as on many uncountable days in many a quiet moment, even in the midst of a busy day.  

The second decade of my life had just unfurled, when I stumbled upon his “Collected Poems and Plays,” in which contains the “Gitanjali” as the opening chapter. I remember ever so vividly, the immortalized words and lines that moved me then as they move me now. Even in the German translation, those words rang through the chords of my heart.  It was as if a veil of fog had been lifted from my sight as my tears washed away the dust that had accumulated on my eyes. Simultaneously, my heart was stirred as never before to the quick; and henceforth, his life-affirming philosophy shall be mine as well to embrace life in all its diversities, riches, harmonies, discords and vicissitudes.  Although I will continue to suffer, as dukkha is the First Noble Truth of life, I am no longer fazed by sufferings and the ups-and-downs of life.

The line that reads:  “The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures” has helped me course through my life’s  journey with compassion, empathy and loving-kindness, which in return I have received aplenty from far and near.  That chance encounter with “Tagore” on the fourth floor of the Marriott Library at the University of Utah marked my life into two phases: a pre-Tagorean and a post-Tagorean phase; comparatively to a restless and a collected phase.  

Unlike Kant’s awakening from his dogmatic slumbers after reading Hume’sEnquiries”,  mine was an awakening to a warmth of life that emerged from the discovery of a spiritual-philosophical companion, who has become a life-long companion, of the spirit and the mind. Such a companionship is not unlike the companionship that Einstein found in Newton, Mach, Spinoza and Hume.  

Up to my twentieth year, I had not encountered through all my readings and searches in person, such a noble personality in flesh and blood whose birth was only a century before mine.  I knew that day, I was no longer spiritually alone and friendless. Without my encounter with the “Great Sentinel,” whose timeless poetry, literary works, philosophy as articulated in “The Religion of Man,” being the Oxford Hibbert Lectures of 1930 and the “Sadhana,” being a series of papers read at Harvard University in 1913 and his songs, I would have been less certain with myself and less assured of my life’s journey.  

Today, on this 160th Birthday of Tagore, I am that reader, reading his verse LXXXV in “The Gardener”: “an hundred years hence . . . In the joy of your heart may you feel the living joy that sang one spring morning, [perhaps on the same spring day of his birth] sending its glad voice across an hundred years.

On this 160th Rabindra Jayanti, I once again pay tribute to this Great Personality who gave us the message that “Every child comes with the message that God has not yet discouraged of man.”

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