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Laughing face of Tagore

Like all good discussions on Bengali literature, the session titled Byango Banga too started with Tagore, with moderator Chitralekha Basu asking, “Has anyone seen the laughing face of Rabindranath?”

Writer and Anandabazar Patrika journalist Chandril Bhattacharya, who was warned by his teacher at Ramakrishna Mission school, not to indulge in “feature-er fichlemi” but does exactly that for a living, pointed out that Tagore didn’t laugh because humour was and is seen as less accomplished.

Chandril said children’s writing and humour writing were not considered on a par with “serious literature”. It was only after Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay wrote five or six heavy novels that his humour piece was applauded, almost as if a great writer had deigned to be funny too. Same with Tagore’s children’s writing. The notable exception would be Kali Prasanna Sinha’s Hutam, whose satirical noksha of Bengali babu culture continues to be highly regarded.

Teacher and author Rosinka Chaudhuri disagreed, pointing out that there was much humour in Tagore’s writing. She also wanted to know of her fellow speakers whether Shakespeare’s Fool or Robi Ghosh’s comic roles were less important than the protagonists.

Journalist and author Indrajit Hazra, who attributed the lack of satire in his Calcutta book Grand Delusions to his “Rabindric pose”, said if laughter was the best medicine, satire could also be the best diagnosis of a disease.

When the discussion was opened for questions, like any good Bengali audience, a gentleman rose in protest of the “injustice done to Tagore”. “You must remember that in his time, there was just the box camera and taking a photograph meant posing in front of it,” he pointed out.

No wonder the great man was all serious. If only Tagore knew the art of taking a selfie!