Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Nationalism by Rabindranath Tagore, reviewed by Naveen

Rabindranath Tagore
does not need an introduction to lovers of Indian literature but a book presenting a collection of his lectures certainly does need one. This book sent to me courtesy of Penguin India, has an excellent introduction by Ramachandra Guha. He uses anecdotal evidence to give us a perspective or rather a framework to understand the ideas that Tagore has put forward in his lectures. Students of history will immensely benefit from the extensive references that Guha has added at the end of his introductory piece.

The book Nationalism is a compilation of three lectures delivered by Rabindranath Tagore. The three lectures published in this book are: Nationalism in Japan, Nationalism in the West and Nationalism in India.

Nationalism is a complex concept to understand. It is supposed to act as the force that breathes life into the combined aspirations of the citizens of a country. The feeling of nationalism is usually manifested in a pride for local culture and a certain amount of self interest governing the actions of nations. If this is your idea of nationalism, then Tagore’s lectures will give you a broader canvas to build your thoughts on nationalism.

Tagore dwells on the interdependencies of cultures as opposed to the narrower definitions of nations and nationalities to exhort his audience to elevate their thinking to include nobler thoughts of compassion and mutual help. He is quite sure that self interest should not play a dominant role in the actions of world leaders.

These lectures are highly relevant in the present day international scenario when the concept of community living is overshadowed by considerations of caste and religious affiliations. I recommend that this book should be read by Indian youth to understand the vision that our founding fathers had for our country and to assess how far we have diverged from their path in the first sixty years of our independence.

Find out more about Rabindranath Tagore's Nationalism here.


  1. The opening lines by Naveen aptly capture the mood of the readers. Tagore needs no introduction in India, but a book on his lectures certainly deserves one. Especially when its about Nationalism, by the man who gave the country its National Anthem. Ramchandra Guha’s introduction might be performing the all important task of bridging the gap between Tagore’s time and that of modern India. (Just a wild guess, till I have a copy of the book).

    The idea of what constitutes a Nation-state gets even more complex in a plural society like that of India and a talk on Nationalism never fails to stir most thinking Indians. Naveen’s brief review evoked similar eagerness in me to make another attempt at understanding Nationalism and I add Tagore’s Nationalism in my ‘things to do list’ and in return suggest ‘The Empire Writes Back’ by Bill Ashcroft.

    A few years back, during my bachelor’s degree class, the teacher laid an open question. “What is the common culture in India?” For me, it still stands unanswered and hopefully this book will take me closer to the answer.

    The briefness of the review left me slightly high and slightly dry. High nonetheless.

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