Another Asia ? Rabindranath Tagore And Okakura Tenshin
ANOTHER ASIA ? Rabindranath Tagore and Okakura Tenshin
The author Rustom Bharucha discussed the interconnected and sub-textual issues like `Asia', `nationalism', `cosmopolitanism' and `friendship' in his book taking the aspect of the friendship between India's Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore and the internationally well-known Japanese curator Okakura Tenshin. According to the author friendship between Tagore and Okakura existed beyond the realms of conventional yardsticks such as frequent meetings, dialogues, exchange of letters and involvement in each other's works. Friendship Yet, Okakura noted in his diary after Tagore left him in Boston, that he was overcome by a sense of loneliness, and Tagore's till then unpronounced affection for Okakura found an eloquent public expression after the latter's death. It is the kind of friendship that defies logic but that can, probably be understood in the context of their personalities. As described by well-known Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar , neither familiarity nor frequent association maketh friendship between two persons; verily, it is the silent intellectual understanding between them assures their friendship. Intellectual understanding does not necessarily mean identity of thoughts. They may differ from each other but there is this intellectual understanding between them that they cannot be but what they are. Bharucha has aptly quoted Montaigne in this regard: If you press me to tell why I loved him I feel this cannot be expressed except by answering, because it was he, because it was I. Nationalism Okakura was a staunch nationalist to the point of supporting indirectly Japan's imperialistic motives. Tagore was against narrow-minded, sectarian nationalism but stood for universal humanism and spoke in support of it not in the language of a political theorist but in the rich voice of a poet.
Okakura condoned Japanese annexation of Korea in the manner of extended nationalism, strongly believing that Korea originally was a part of Japan. Tagore, when he went to Japan to give lectures, never hesitated to spell out his stand against `nationalism' and completely erased from his mind that his friend Okakura, the custodian of `nationalism' and `Asian unity' was at that time in Japan. But neither spoke in favour or against each other's views but preferred to keep discreet silence more in support of their enigmatic friendship than picking up quarrels for their mundane stand on things. Bharucha says that Okakura could as well have said, "Asia is three or three-in-one because his entire discourse rests on a triangular structure of three mighty Asian civilisations, India, China and the as-yet-unnamed Japan." And Okakura put Japan at the apex in this aesthetic triangle and also visualised India and China as tributaries joining the mainstream Japan whose art reigned supreme. Vision If one were to read Okakura carefully to comprehend what exactly he wanted to say, it could as well be that "we are not one." That Japan was never a conquered nation, but India was a colonised country with its golden past gone forever, always remained in his sub-conscious. Bharucha quotes what he has said about Japan in ecstasy and, India and China in condescending tones. Okakura says: "The waters of the waving rice fields, the variegated waters of the archipelago, so conducive to individuality, the constant play of its soft-tinted seasons, the shimmers of its silver air, the verdure of its cascaded hills, and the voice of the ocean echoing about its pine-girt shores ? of all these was born that tender simplicity, that romantic purity, which so tempers the soul of Japanese art, differentiating it at once from the leaning to its monotonous breadth of the Chinese, and from the tendency to overburdened richness of Indian art." Bharucha's critique, a welcome addition to the postcolonial studies, is likely to provoke many more questions to engage an intelligent reader.