Tagore Talks Week Starts with a Memorable Evening with a Traveler

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By Raja Banga & Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: The Tagore Society of Houston kicked off its annual Tagore Talks Week with an informal gala dinner at India House this past Saturday, April 29 for the enthusiasts and followers of the poet and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. The event featured the winner of the Tagore Essay contest, its judges, a panel discussion on Tagore’s philosophy of Universal Humanism and a presentation by the traveler writer Eric Weiner who had flown in for the occasion.

The program began with a short introduction by emcee Abiya Malhotra followed by Debleena Banerji who spoke about Universal Humanism and how to implement it in every aspect of a person’s life. “It is the merging of the right and left sides of the brain and accepting things as they are,” she said. “It is a journey.”

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Banerji noted that the TSH was formed in 1974, a year after the oldest community organization; the India Culture Center started (a table full of Board members of the ICC nodded in agreement). At her side were Mila Sengupta, the TSH Vice President and Secretary and Shibir Chowdhury, TSH Treasurer, who read a proclamation from the City of Houston on the occasion. Amrit Bahl, the Vice Consul of India, was on hand to present tokens of appreciation – a framed photo of Tagore with a quote of his and a red rose – to the judges of the essay contest.

Malhotra introduced Eric Weiner, the New York Times best-selling author and former National Public Radio correspondent who has wanderlust just like Rabindranath Tagore had and is a huge fan of Tagore’s philosophy of Universal Humanism. He has traveled to Shantiniketan, the university town where Tagore created his dream-project Vishva Bharati by spending all the money he received his Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. Weiner has written several books on his travels, the latest being The Geography of Genius.

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Eric’s spoke about was around how Tagore can be called the Renaissance man of India, not only for the volumes of literary material par excellence that he created, and not because he has the unique distinction of creating two National Anthems (for India and later his song Amar Sonar Bangla was adopted by Bangladesh), but also because of the fact that he experimented with creativity to the hilt.

Tagore started painting when he was in his sixties, and his painting exhibitions were all over Europe very soon after! His deep philosophical thoughts touched his contemporaries Einstein and Gandhi and the actors Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck and Sean Penn decades later. Houston is proud to note that the mission statement of Methodist Hospital is a famous quote by none other than Tagore!

Eric’s talk this evening was like an exquisite wine that you would share and be enamored over a memorable dinner with your friend. He did not seem to be giving a public speech to an intellectual audience, but rather entertaining the audience with an enlightening, thought- provoking experiment that brought out Tagore’s relevance in the post-globalized world that is still so “fragmented by narrow domestic walls”.

After an introduction of the panelists, Andrew Farias, the winner of the Tagore High School Essay Contest 2017, Dr. Indranil Basu Ray of the Texas Medical Center and Amir Mansouri of Royal Dutch Shell, Aurko Dutta, the moderator guided the discussion by asking the panel to weigh in on the key universalism topics.

The topics included the relationship between peace within the individual and peaceful societies … how a Tagorean belief in the transcendental can shape cultures of peace; the relationship between peace and truth … Tagore believed in speaking the truth always – even in circumstances where doing so could be confrontational, as he felt that real peace could exist without truth and justice; education as the pathway to peace and whether America is still the place (as Tagore, in his lifetime strongly believed) from which the solutions to global strife and conflict can emanate.

The Q&A session from the audience was equally engaging and brought out the very question of what we understand as peace in our life; is it the lack of violence both internally and externally or is it rising above being judgmental and hateful? The conclusion was: irrespective, by following Tagore’s example, it is our moral duty to nurture and promote peace in a cosmopolitan society of the space-age.

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