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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