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Tagore Translations

Tagore: ‘Take Me Back to the Edge of Civilisation’

Tagore empathised with the suffering of humankind. Out of it was born Sriniketan, a project that hoped to initiate a slow merger of differences and reduce human suffering. Ebar Phirao More (Take me back) was a poem he wrote in 1894 on the plight of villagers steeped in poverty, servitude and ignorance. Tagore regarded his ‘life work’ as that of restoring the dignity and the economy of villages, deftly showcased in Professor Uma Das Gupta’s A History of Sriniketan, Rabindranath Tagore’s Pioneering work in Rural Reconstruction. Here, we present to you a transcreation/ translation of the poem.

TAKE ME BACK

While the world moves busily
You play the flute, like a truant boy, 
Leaning under a shady tree on a field with 
The fragrance of the forest floating on 
A tired breeze. O, arise — there is a fire! 
Who plays the conch to awaken 
The world? Whose cries resound in space? 
What dark shackles imprison the orphan 
Asking for support? The burden of insults
heaped on the shoulders of the helpless 
sup of their blood. The self-centred 

Mock unjustly. Oppressed, scared slaves
Hide in disguise. There they stand with
Heads bowed, silent — centuries of pitiful
Exploitation written on their pallid faces.
As their shoulders are plied with growing
burdens, they move slowly till their last breath—
Then, their progeny inherit generations of this load.
They are not invisible, have no memory of criticism.
They do not blame humans, nor do they have pride.
They only look for a few grains of food to survive. 
When their food is snatched away, when they are 
Exploited, they do not know where to go for justice. 
They call out to the God of the poverty stricken, then
Die silently. These silent souls need to be given a 
Voice — their suffering souls have to be roused
With hope — a clarion call has to be given —
As of now, raise your heads, unite. The person
Who you fear is more of a coward than you. 
When you awake to confront them, they will flee. 
When you stand up to him, he will be terrified
To retreat, like a stray dog. In God’s court, 
He will have no support as swollen with 
False pride, he will know only contempt 
In his heart. 

   Poet, come forward — if you have only life,
Then get that with you, and dedicate that today. 
With immense pain, sorrow, the deprived
Suffer hardships, weakness, death and darkness. 
They need food to live, light to find the breeze of freedom. 
They need strength, health, a bright happy future
Courage, guts. Amidst this poverty, O poet, 
Inspire a vision of trust that creates a heaven. 
Imagination, I bid your colours to take me back 
To the edge of civilisation. Do not distract me with
The soft breeze, the waves and alluring illusions.
Do not let me stay steeped in lonely depression 
In the shade of a bower. Day ends. Dusk sets in. 
The direction is lost in darkness. The woods 
Cry In hopeless despair. I step out 
To be under the open skies, on the grey road that
Leads to the common man. Where do you go?
O traveler, I do not know you. Turn and look at me. 
Tell me your name. Do not distrust me. 
I have lived alone in this strange world 
For many days and nights. That is why my 
Garb is amazing. I am different — my eyes
Dream, my heart is hungry. When I returned to this world,
Why did you, o mother, give me this playful flute?
Over long days and long nights, mesmerised by
My own tunes, I have wandered far from the 
Limitations imposed by civilisation. If the tunes that
I have learnt can inspire with exultation the 
Music-less exhausted, if even for a moment, my 
Music can instil life—giving hope in the lives of the 
Hapless, if touched by the manna from heaven
they voice their sadness, the sleeping thirst is 
Roused from deep within — then my song will be 
Blessed, my dissatisfaction appeased to find nirvana. 

What is sung or heard? Happiness are lies.
Sorrows are lies. A self-centred individual 
has not learnt to live in a larger world. 
With Truth as the guiding star, run fearlessly,
Dancing in unison with the waves of cosmic life. 
There is no fear of death. The tears of poverty
Will rain on my head — in the midst of that,
I will go for a tryst with the person to whom 
I dedicate my life forever. Who is that? I do not know —
I only know this— that he is the wayfarer through ages
Trudging in the darkness of the the night, amidst 
Thunder and lightening, carrying a flickering lamp.
I only know he has heard the invocation and fearlessly 
Come to help the needy, rejecting civilisation’s dictates,
He has embraced the cries of the tortured to his heart
Like a favourite tune. Burnt by flames, 
Pierced by spears, pieced by an axe, he has 
Gathered all his belongings and 
Sacrificed all his desires through his life —
He has shredded his heart as an offering
With devotion for the repayment of his birth. 
He has given up his life to serve the masses. 
Influenced by him, the prince wears rags,
Disgusted with his wealth, akin to a beggar. 
The great soul tolerates all tortures and derisions. 
The intellectuals sneer in disbelief. 
Loved ones mock at him. Close acquaintances are
Contemptuous while he silently forgives them all
with his merciful eyes. He is incomparable and

Beautiful. For him, the proud have forsaken 
Their pride, the rich their wealth, the brave 
Their lives. For his ideals, the poet has written 
Poetry and spread it across the globe. I know 
Praise for him is whispered by the breeze, 
The seas. Paeans sung by dear ones soar 
Across the land and the vibrant blue skies
To celebrate his victory, perfection, love 
And kindness. I just know that he will
Sacrifice his own petty needs for the love of 
Humankind. He will transcend all insults.
He will stand with his progressive head held high.
Fearlessness is inscribed across his forehead.
The dust of slavery has not contaminated him. 
Internalise him. Move forward alone 
On the thorny path of life, wipe away precious 
Tears, face sorrows with patience, 
Work relentlessly to please. When weary, 
Worn with exhaustion at the end of the long 
Journey of life, there will be an abode of 
Peace and contentment. The celestial will 
Smile and garland the devotee. At this abode, 
There will be peace, relief from all grief, 
All misfortune. Tears will cleanse all 
Past anguishes. Embroidering hope, 
Plead for mercy for life’s disabilities. 
Maybe, the despondencies will dwindle and
Eternal love will quench life’s thirsts for ever. 

(The poem has been translated for Borderless Journal  by Mitali Chakravarty with editorial comments from Anasuya Bhar.)

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

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