Where does Honour Lie?

Just like every athlete has a dream to win an Olympic Gold, each writer wishes to get the Nobel Prize for literature. Tagore not only managed to bag a Nobel and attain knighthood but he decided to part with it for a reason that makes everyone love him more.
A newspaper report taking about Tagore renouncing his knighthood; Source: BIT Mesra

A newspaper report taking about Tagore renouncing his knighthood; Source: BIT Mesra

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit; Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

There is a league worth of difference in writing about something and actually making it a part of your life. There are many who talk as if they have unravelled the deepest secrets of the universe but once you have a look into their lives, you realise the hollowness of their words and the sham of their philosophy.

Rabindranath Tagore was a man who walked the talk. He did as he preached.

The above excerpt is from his composition Gitanjali. In his life, this polymath wrote numerous poems but this one stands out the most - not just because of its literary brilliance but also due to the events associated with it.

In 1913, Tagore became the first Indian to win a Nobel and the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. The Bard of Bengal had created history. It isn’t possible to not get charmed by the mellifluous tone, well-chosen words and harmonical arrangement of the verses of his. Originally written in Bangla, Gitanjali’s translation, Song Offering, was memorable in many ways.

While the central theme of this composition is devotion, it also weaves in other ideas. For this great achievement, Tagore was bestowed with a knighthood by King George V on June 3, 1915. The title of Sir has held great prestige for centuries. Attaining knighthood is a great feat and only people who have done exceptional service for the nation receive it.

Rabindranath had what only a few could dream of. A symbol of joy and pride soon became a reminiscence of the dark reality. Hundreds of innocent people lost their lives in the Jallianwala Massacre, people who came together to celebrate, to experience joy. Civilians were shot mercilessly. This was an act of terror by an oppressive force. The blood was not just on the hands of General Dyer, but the British empire, who were further affected by more violence.

What honour lies in the act of accepting an honour from those who trample upon your own countrymen?

Tagore decided that he would have no part in being complicit in the murder of his own people. He decided to give up his knighthood.

In a letter to then Viceroy, Lord Chelmsford, Tagore wrote, “ The disproportionate severity of the punishments inflicted upon the unfortunate people and the methods of carrying them out, we are convinced, are without parallel in the history of civilised governments...The time has come when badges of honour make our shame glaring in their incongruous context of humiliation, and I for my part wish to stand, shorn of all special distinctions, by the side of my countrymen."

In many ways, this symbolic gesture had a deep meaning. It was a clear announcement that Indians, including Tagore, would not be satisfied by mere concessions. The country wanted respect and sovereignty for all. Their minds were without fear and they were set on the path to achieve the heaven of freedom.


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