Liberating the River: Land and Politics in Tagore’s Plays

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Debamitra Kar


In matters of development and progress, it has always been a question of the acquisition of land. As history shows, control over land—extendable to different metaphors—and its resources has been instrumental in the development and destruction of human civilisation. Tagore’s Muktadhara dwells on the principle of identifying how the manipulation of a river-course could change the destiny of two neighbouring states and establish the rule of one man over others. So, in the character of Abhijeet, a typical Tagore-protagonist, one who breaks the dam to put an end to the authoritarian regime, a prototype of modern day environmental activists could be seen. The text goes beyond a mere pantheistic and humanist quest for the freedom of man as Tagore politicises the concept of land into a geopolitical space, and relates it to the imperialist policies and hegemonic propaganda that he experienced personally in his travels across Europe, Japan and America during this time.
From Muktadhara (1922) to Raktakarabi (1924), Tagore seems to continue with this politics of land. If the former text represents the appropriation of nature for political benefit, the latter shows how industrialisation destroys the agricultural base, forces migration, and how these steps would be the only logical progress of the economy that advocates rampant capital accumulation. Interestingly, a play set in a mine uses a theme song about ‘pous’—a month of cultivation and opulence. The essays written by Tagore during this period, like his Introduction to Elmhirst’s ‘The Robbery of the Soil’, also reveal his vision of a sustained and inclusive human development.

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