1 Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)




Rabindranath Tagore was outspoken on the differences between Modernism in India and in Europe. During lectures that he gave in Japan from 1916-1917, Tagore argued that India’s lack of modernization did not mean that they were not participants in Modernism, which he defined as a “freedom of mind” from one’s own traditions, rather than participating in the cultural trends of Europe. Tagore was born into an influential family in the Bengal region of India, during the Bengal Renaissance (a particularly creative time period for art and literature, along with social reforms and scientific advances). Tagore’s father and several siblings were famous for their contributions in many areas, including literature, music, and philosophy; one of his sisters, Swarnakumari Devi, was a novelist, editor, and social reformer in a time period when women rarely attended school. Tagore surpassed them all. He wrote poetry, short stories, plays, essays, and songs.Both India and Bangladesh chose songs of his for their national anthems. He originally wrote his literary works in Bengali, later translating them into English himself, or personally overseeing their translation. In 1913, he became the first non-Western writer to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Tagore’s keen awareness of cultural (and linguistic) differences in society informs the short story Cabuliwallah (1892). The narrator, a progressive-minded Hindu in Calcutta, observes the friendship between his (adopted) daughter Mini and a Muslim fruit-seller from Kabul, who misses his own daughter. The story delicately balances a range of issues, including socio-economic status, religion, prejudice, the tension between traditional and modern views of life, and even the five-year-old Mini’s lack of experience with language. In the end, however, these elements come together to support the main issue: the definition of what a “real” family is.
Consider while reading:

  1. Using Tagore’s definition of Modernism, how is this story an example of that literary movement?
  2. Choose a short story that is an example of European Modernism and compare it to the Cabuliwallah. What do they have in common, and what appears to be different?

Written by Laura Getty


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Modern World Literature: Compact Edition Copyright © 2020 by Amy Jo Swing is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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