Similarly, I have vowed not to drink the raw alcohol of a passing enthusiasm to join patriotic acts in a frenzy. I would tolerate poor work rather than beat up the servants – the prospect of saying or doing something in a fit of anger makes both my mind and body shrink. I know Bimla is contemptuous of this disinclination – she considers it a form of mildness; she is angry with me today for the same reason, for she sees me refusing to do as I please with the war cry of “Vande Mataram” on my lips.
That I have not joined in the worship of the goddess nation with a glass of alcohol in my hand has angered everyone. The people of this country believe that I either seek a title or am afraid of the police, while the police believe that I have evil intentions, which is why I appear to be harmless. But still I walk this path of mistrust and humiliation.
For I say that those who do not feel motivated to serve their country when they think of their nation as nothing but their nation and respect people as nothing but people, who need to be hypnotised with shrieking invocations to a mother or a deity, do not love their country so much as they love passion. The attempt to maintain a stronger infatuation with something over and above the truth is a symptom of our instilled sense of slavery.
We no longer feel strong once we set our mind free. Our inanimate consciousness refuses to budge until a fancy or an individual or an exaggeration of eulogies is planted on our backs. So long as we are not aroused by the simple truth, so long as we require such infatuations, we must conclude that we have not yet developed the strength to claim our country through independence. Till then, no matter what state we are in, either an imagined ghost or a real exorcist – or both – will keep tormenting us.
Oppression for the sake of the country is oppression of the country. But you won’t understand.
All the young men from our and nearby villages who used to study in schools and colleges in Calcutta came home for the holidays and several of them decided not to go back. Making Sandip their leader, they became involved in propagating swadeshi.
Many of these young men had passed their Entrance exams from my free school; I had given them scholarships to study in Calcutta. One day they came to me in a group. You must stop the sale of shawls and other garments made with imported yarn at our market in Shuksayar, they demanded.
I cannot do that, I told them.
They asked, why, do you fear losses?
I realised that this was meant to be an insult. I won’t lose but the poor will, I was about to say.
But Master-moshai was present; he said, yes, of course; he is the one who will incur losses, not you.
They said, for the sake of the country…
Master-moshai interrupted them, the country isn’t the earth beneath our feet, it is the people. Have any of you ever spared them a glance? Today you have suddenly decided to enforce the choice of salt and clothes on them. Why should we tolerate this, and why should we ask them to tolerate this?
We have also taken to salt and sugar and clothes made in our own country, they argued.
He said, you people are angry and adamant; you’re drunk on them and doing as you please. You have money, you can pay a couple of paise extra for local products. These people are not coming in your way. But what you want them to do is strictly by force. Caught in a battle for survival every single day, they are fighting to their last breath. None of you can even imagine what this couple of paise means to them – how can any of you be compared to them? In the building of life you have always occupied a different floor from theirs; and today you want them to shoulder the burden of your responsibility? You want to use them to appease your anger? I consider this cowardice.
Travel as far on the road as you can yourselves. I am an old man, but I am willing to acknowledge all of you as leaders and march behind you. But when you trample over the freedom of the poor and brandish your flag of victory, I will oppose you even if I have to die for it.
Excerpted with permission from "Home and the World", Tagore for the Twenty-First Century, Rabindranath Tagore, translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha, Aleph Book Company.