Revered but not read, is Tagore reserve of the purist?
Kolkata: He's a cult figure, fuelling the pride of not just Bengalis but Indians all over even 70 years after his death. But, for youth of the country, Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore is the cerebral idol, always revered but seldom embraced.
Tagore's 150th birth anniversary celebrations, which have seen celebrations in many parts of the country, have put a spotlight on the disconnect between generations, and also between West Bengal and other states.
Though Tagore songs - Rabindra Sangeet - still sell like hot cakes in West Bengal and are pretty popular among youngsters, his is a genius revered largely by purists. As far as his literary works are concerned, in an age when the young flip through virtual pages on a train ride, grasping his rich prose seems to be difficult.
Is reading and understanding Rabindranath Tagore a luxury only a few can afford, much the way of other classic authors confined to college and school libraries?
A casual check on social networking site Facebook -- the spokesperson for an entire generation - has at least four fan pages on Tagore and his songs. His community, 'Rabindranath', has over 1,200 fans -- most of them youngsters. A contemporary writer like Chetan Bhagat has over 900,000 fans.
However, the 'Rabindra Sangeet' community has over 132,000 fans.
Then there are close to 80 Tagore communities on Orkut, an almost obsolete version of Facebook. These include 'Rabindranath Tagore' (4,215 members), 'Rabindra Sangeet' (14,978 members) and 'I Love Rabindra Sangeet' (7,524 members).
Kaushik Duttachowdhury of Crossword Bookstores Ltd here says Tagore's books are not that popular among the young people any more.
"We keep English translations of Tagore's books. But their sale is quite nominal compared to the sale of authors like Chetan Bhagat. We generally sell 10-12 books of Bhagat per day, while there are days when Tagore has no takers. Buyers of Tagore's books are people of all ages," Duttachowdhury told reporters.
Away from West Bengal, college students in the rest of the country show scant interest in Tagore.
"I remember reading a few lines of 'Gitanjali' once. My God, it was so sentimental and strange," said Rahul Dutt, a Delhi University student.
Then there's Mumbai-based Ankit Pathela, completely oblivious to Tagore and his genius. "Tagore who? I've heard about him, and his Nobel prize, but I don't exactly know what he does."
Then there's Bangalore-based Riya Reddy, giving her reasons not to read Tagore straight up.
"You know, me and most of my friends do not have time to read any author, Tagore included. School, tuitions and TV take up most of our time."
However, Tagore's books still occupy a big place in school curriculum in West Bengal.
Tagore is literally ingrained in the minds of the students who learn their basics of Bengali by reading his immortal prose and poetry compilation "Sahaj Path". Poems are taught in all the classes up to 12, while his prose forms a part of the curriculum from Classes 5 to 10.
"Rabindranath is ever young; he has no age. We just cannot ignore him. In almost every novel or short story like 'Nauka Dubi' and 'Bou Thakuranir Hat', his characters are in turmoil, which is relevant in every step of our life. He is not only a poet or a novelist, he is a great philosopher too," said 21-year-old Kushan Bhattacharjee, who is pursing her masters in English.
Prasun Dasgupta, a post-graduate student of English at Vidyasagar University, said: "Rabindranath Tagore's songs are eternally preserved in our hearts. Whether I am in a pensive mood or in a happy mood, I can listen to his songs, which can teach very deep philosophies of life with ease."
Maumita Saha, a student of Rabindra Bharati University, feels Tagore's works have eternal appeal. "Tagore cannot be confined in a timeframe. His creations are eternal. I read his poetry, novels and short stories. And I think our next generation will also listen to his songs and read his poetry, novels and short stories.