Rabindranath was merely sixteen when he was included on the editorial board of the literary journal Bharati by his older brother Jyotirindranath who edited the Bharati. In its first issue Rabindranath contributed an “impudent” review of Michael Madhusudan Datta’s epic Meghnadbadh Kabya.
With Jyotirindranath’s encouragement he wrote other precautious articles for Bharati such as “The Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Saxon literature”, “The Normans and Anglo-Norman literature”, “Petrarch and Laura”, “Dante and his Poetry”, “Goethe” and “Chatterton”. These came out on the eve of his first visit to England in the year 1878.
Rabindranath repeatedly acknowledged how much he owed in his early education to the personality and activities of Jyotirindranath whom he called Jyotidada. Though twelve years older Jyotirindranath treated his younger brother as an equal, and was one of the chief helpers in his ‘literary and emotional training’.
His wife Kadambari, whom Rabindranath called Bouthakrun, was almost the same age as Rabindranath. She was nine when he was seven. Bouthakrun was a lover of literature and quickly became his favourite companion. He expressed his deep-down debt to her affections when he wrote,
“In infancy the loving care of woman is to be had without the asking, and, being as much a necessity as light and air, is as simply accepted without any conscious response; rather does the growing child often display an eagerness to free itself from the encircling web of women’s solicitude.
But the unfortunate creature who is deprived of this in its proper season is beggared indeed. This had been my plight. So, after being brought up in the servants’ quarters, when I suddenly came in for a profusion of womanly affection I could hardly remain unconscious of it.”
As we know, Rabindranath was only thirteen when his mother died. She had been ailing. Throughout her illness she used to sleep on a separate bed in the same room with the children. But a time came when she was moved to a separate room on the third storey of the inner apartments away from the children. On the night she died the children were fast asleep in their room downstairs. They were woken up by the nurse entering their room and crying: ‘Oh my little ones, you have lost your all!’ Rabindranath described the end of that night thus,
“Half awakened by her [the nurse’s] words, I felt my heart sink within me, but could not make out what had happened. When in the morning we were told of her death, I could not realize all that it meant for me.
As we came out into the verandah we saw my mother laid on a bedstead in the courtyard. There was nothing in her appearance which showed death to be terrible. The aspect which death wore in that morning light was as lovely as a calm and peaceful sleep, and the gulf between life and its absence was not brought home to us.”
This article was written by Uma Das Gupta
Professor Uma Das Gupta is a historian and a renowned Tagore biographer. She is the author of many books and articles on Tagore. Some of the most recent are: Rabindranath Tagore: My Life in My Words. New Delhi, Penguin Books, 2010; Rabindranath Tagore: An Illustrated Life. New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2013.