Voices of India

Birla Institue of Art in Kalighat had a fantastic exhibit called “Voice of India” where the Weavers Studio Center for the Arts featured “artists of the early 20th Century from all over India and specially Bengal, their photographs, brief bio-data and listening kiosks/android phones.” The exhibit was fascinating. Having been given an Android Phone, we were set loose among a gallery of 50-60 of the most important cultural-musical figures of the early 20th and late 19th century. At each portrait, we could listen to a short clip of that artists’ singing.

One item that struck me in particular was a poem by Tagore. Here is an extract of Tagore’s poem “প্রশ্ন

I see secret violence under cover of darkness
Slaughtering the helpless,
I see the just weeping in solitary silence,
No power to protest the oppression of the mighty,
I see tender youths hitting out blindly
Cracking their heads against stones in their agony.

Today my voice is choked, my flute is without note,
The prison of the no-moon night
Has extinguished my world, given me nightmares;
And this is why I ask, through my tears:
Those who poison your air and blot out the sun;
Do You truly forgive them, do You truly love them?

The Last Two Lines, I think, are a special jab against Gandhi. How could you love or forgive someone, Tagore asks, who does such terrible things? Is that truly possible? Or does Gandhi live in a fantasy world of impracticable pacifism?