The pressure of liking a collection of poems that were responsible for the first non-European’s winning of the Nobel Prize in Literature is simply enormous. Add to that the tall stature of the poet in our country’s history and social renaissance, the task of reading the collection is fraught with fear. At first go, the poems were not something that impressed me mightily. Maybe the hype had ruined them? But the more I thought about them, and the context in which they were written, the subtleties of verse beautifully stood out for me. Addressed to an unnamed supreme being, this collection of poems is a set of offerings, celebrating nature and its gifts. However, the sly peppering of sarcastic references to the British Raj are bluntly visible to any student of Indian history.
Something that I initially was sceptical about, and the same simply grew as I read more the work, was with regarding to a notion that poetry is something that loses some of its grace in translation. Something that perhaps diminished that effect to a large extent was the fact that Gurudev himself translated his work, so we can be assured of a certain degree of retention of meaning and beauty, but a casual look at the poems transliterated from the original Bengali to a readable Devnagari script assured me that my scepticism was, and is correct.
Perhaps these poems are best read in the forest, or in the hills, or basically anywhere away from the humdrum of daily life. Then again, maybe that’s what he wanted to achieve all along.