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[A 3-day Goa-Bengal Festival of human bonding to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, 22 - 24 April 2011, Friday- Sunday, Panaji]

In Collaboration with ■ Ministry of Culture, Government of India;
■ Goa Chamber of Commerce & Industries, ■ Indi Pharma Pvt. Ltd.

Panel Discussion held on 24 April 2011, at GCCI Hall, 4th Floor, Panaji [10AM – 1PM] as a part of the Indradhanush Festival:
Are our Hearts Fearless and Heads Held High? -- A Twenty-first Century Evaluation

Enigmatic Tagore continues to inspire and intrigue intellectuals even in, or more appropriately, especially in the Twenty-first Century. In a scenario of insecurity and tension not only in our country but all around the world, are our ‘hearts fearless and heads held high’ as exhorted by the Gurudev? The renowned scholar and Tagore researcher from Kolkata, Mr Purnendu Bhattacharya urged a group of artists, writers, academics, scientists and students to look around and evaluate them to act vigorously for the betterment of the society. He was delivering his key-note address during a Panel Discussion organized by the Goa-based Ganga-Zuari Academy on 24 April 2011.

Purnendu Bhattacharya had spent his childhood at Santiniketan. At this age of 77, he is still active in the field of poems, short stories, arts, crafts, and equally importantly in Rabindrasangeet. Mrs Bhattacharya is his literary companion.

Dr Ranadhir Mukhopadhyay, President of the Ganga-Zuari Academy welcomed the guests. In his brief on the activities of the Academy, he cited fish, folk music and football that bring the Bengali and Goan communities together. It is said literature and commerce do not go together, but Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry has proved it wrong by co-hosting the Panel Discussion. Stating that the 21st Century is passing through a deficit of good and selfless characters in the Society that hampers quality progress in every spheres of our endeavor, Dr. Mukhopadhyay insisted that moral fiber needs to be strengthened. Being Easter on 24 April 2011, reminiscent of resurrection, it is the time to be together and pledge to be good human beings. He told that this vision of Ganga-Zuari Academy to nurture goodness in the Society shares with that of Gurudev Ravindranath Tagore.

Rendering an inimitable song of Rabindrasangeet to start with, Mr Purnendu Bhattacharya elaborated on various facets of the versatile intellect of Rabindranath Tagore.  The contemporary educational system did not impress young Rabindra. He even came back from England without completing his studies, for he was not satisfied with the type of education there. Though very affluent, Gurudev lived a simple life. He believed in the theory of building up understanding between a person and a person, of a community with another community, and a nation with another that alone will foster trust and fraternity and bring peace in the world. While nurturing good things in life, he criticized mercilessly the evils and inequalities in the society. Truth was God to him. “…..Give voice to these dumb, haggard and stupefied faces, Bring hope to these tired, emptied and broken hearts. Tell them to rise and stand united,” was part a proclamation of his objective in life. “Those whom they scared than they terrified by their sins…..  The moment you awaken they will take to their heels. When you stand up and face them they will slink away like stray dogs. For despite all their bravado they know in their heart of hearts that they are in the wrong…,” Tagore assured the distressed and the downtrodden by this warning to the corrupt exploiters. “Strike, strike mercilessly with thy own hands and waken into that heaven where the mind is without fear and the head is still held high, where the knowledge is free, where the world has not been broken up into fragment of narrow domestic walls, where the words come out from the depth of heart…”.  Though written a hundred years ago, these words are more relevant now. “Thousands of our minds are bound in one thread. Thousands of hearts are devoted to one job. Let obstacles come in thousands. Let destruction come. We, thousand lives, shall brave it out”. That was the non-violent war cry of Rabindranath Tagore.

His passion for human rights was beyond comparison; of children particularly. He wanted children to grow naturally, like the flowers and birds in nature. Santiniketan was the nursery where human mind, body and soul were allowed to grow free. While participating in Mahatma Gandhi’s freedom movement, Tagore concentrated on restoring the self-respect of the nation. He did not support the idea that students in schools and colleges should give up their studies altogether and become tools in the hands of politicians. His vision, mission, passion, action and compassion have all been embodied in one word, ‘Viswabharati’.  Tagore’s tireless campaign through literature, art and what not, softened the attitude of the British and the Americans towards Indians, arguably his greatest achievement. All his activities were ultimately towards one goal; creating good human beings in the society.

Anchored and coordinated by Prof Kiran Budkuley (former Dean, Goa University), the panelists Madhav Borcar, Ramesh Veluskar and Dilip Borkar focussed Gurudev’s teachings onto the present-day Indian scenario. Kiran Budkuley on her opening remarks noted not the extent, but the depth of intimacy that the audience shared with Tagore. “Minds without fear and heads held high…” has become almost a school anthem in India. Konkani too had, in letter and spirit, a ‘Ravindra’ of its own. Bakibab Borkar bonded with Tagore, and translated him most faithfully. Rediscovering Tagore with the Panel members, she called for silent apathy to criticism and the strength to continue with whatever work at hand in one’s own way. The way Tagore did.

Initiating the panel discussions, Madhav Borcar pointed out that the national and world situation has not changed since the time of Tagore. Freedom of creative expression is still threatened. What is right or wrong is relative. What is obscene or not is subjective. Instead of broadening our horizons, we are limiting ourselves to narrow streets. Where to draw the line between artistic freedom and social responsibilities is the daunting question the writers face today.

Ramesh Veluskar explained why Tagore wrote this (“Minds Fearless”) prophetic poem.  Has the situation changed? Are we safe? What do they (the elected representatives) do for the society? Tagore had this fear, and because of that he wrote this poem. Veluskar, through a poem in Hindi, warned that if we ignore the Motherland below our feet, and do not properly look after her, we will be left hanging like ‘trishanku’ sooner or later. We are dirtying our land, water and air, our body and soul, through each and every action and reaction, through mindless corruption. ‘Budh’ is made ‘buddoo’. We are caught in a ‘spectrum’ of ‘Bimb-pratibiumb’ ambiguity. It was indeed a portrait in words.

Dilip Borkar too wondered why our minds do not feel fearless, and our heads are not held high. People hide behind the convenience of conformity. We need more and more social figures to stand up and say moral degradation will not just work. Similarity of Ravindra Kelekar’s work to Ravindranath Tagore’s was not just accidental, but intentional and purposeful. 

This followed an exciting discussion between the audience and the Panelists. Are we more concerned about our own sentiments, and insensitive to the outside realities, was the issue that caught up the audience during discussions. Inhibitions of expression and prohibition of expressions do not go well with a growing society. A country is part of the world and is to be conceived so. Expectation damages the action. If there is no expectation there is no fear. Fear and power are interlinked and close to each other. There is nothing more damaging than the power that induces fear on others. Those who unleash terror do not realize that the real powerful are free and fearless! And we do not realize the oppressors’ fear within.  They are always in fear so they wield their power to suppress and depress others. When people show their real power, the oppressors will have to pack up and flee like stray dogs as Tagore cried out. We should stand united and fight the evils of the society. More than the power corrupts a person, it is fear that do the harm most. However, some fear may be good for discipline if the head could be held high. 

Tagore took traditional values to modern society. We face difficulty to combine these two. Are we just spectators of life or active participants? If only we are active participants, we can say we are relevant and contributed to the 21st century. The problem is with the mindset. India needs people thinking beyond oneself. We have no collective psyche. We have no education, only examinations. Our national anthem penned by Gurudev is more relevant now. ‘I’ am the ‘adhinaayak’; ‘I’ am the ‘bhaagyavidhaatha’ of this country. We should not allow ‘Punjab, Sindhu, Gujarat, Maratha, Dravid, Utkal, Banga’ split away and part ways. We should keep Sindhu, Himachal, Yamuna, Ganga, and all Jaladhis and reverberate with life. 

It is the work of similar hormones behind fear, ecstasy, bravery, bhakthi.  It is up to us to boil our blood with the hormone that shakes us away from complacency and toss us on to the mode of bold and beautiful activities. Sociology and ecology should coalesce. Economy plays a major role. Economic security is very important to make us fearless and our heads high. Positive thinking, not negative emotions, that shall define our course of action. 

It was thus a mosaic of opinions and inputs the discussions witnessed. Begun with the paradox of fear and power that pseudo-powerful man keeps others in fear but the really powerful is the man without fear, the participants recognized that expectations generate fear. Fear is born of ignorance. We cannot wish away other aspects of life. It is here the tradition inputs to modernity. But trapped in convention, fear and selfishness, tradition might sometimes pose as impediment. Ruthless self-criticism will clear our conscience and dispel the ignorance of fear. And let Inner sense take charge of what is right and wrong. Wrong does not become right because many people do that. We have to have courage to be different.  Fear not the unknown. Truth has no option. Gandhi and Tagore stood for it. Confidence does not mean misreading ourselves. It is only the open books like Gandhi and Tagore inspire people and fire them up. Not the fearful cowards that hide their heads deep inside their powerful portfolios. 

Prof.  Debashish Mazumdar, Convener of the Panel discussion proposed the vote of thanks.

Compiled by: Dr G. Narayana Swamy (

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