Rabindranath played truant at school and the family moved him from one school to another, from the Oriental Seminary at the age of four to the Calcutta Training Academy and the Normal School in quick succession at seven, followed by the Bengal Academy and the St.Xavier’s School when thirteen.

Hindu Mela
Hindu Mela

After his mother’s death in 1874, when Rabindranath was thirteen, he rebelled hard and his elders finally set him free from going to school. However, as he himself wrote, Rabindranath felt a real urge to teach himself while enjoying his freedom from the confines of the classroom. He poured over all books that came his way and filled up the gaps by using his imagination.

Life at the Jorasanko family house was in itself an all-rounded education.  At any given time there were a hundred people living in the house as was typical of a traditional establishment. The family was also drawn to patriotic activity. They patronized the nationalist Hindu Mela. Rabindranath’s fifth brother Jyotiridranath established a revolutionary ‘secret society’ in the model of Mazzini’s Carbonari and made Rabindranath a junior member of this outfit.

Acting in cosmopolitan plays was another favourite activity of the Tagore family. In 1877 Rabindranath made his first stage appearance in a comedy written by Jyotirindranath that was adapted from Moliere’s The Bourgeois Gentilhomme. [9]

On leaving school behind Rabindranath’s home education became the charge of his third brother,  Hemendranath, who saw to it that the boy was taught everything under the sun. Everything was taught in Bengali – arithmetic, algebra, geometry and natural science. There were lessons in anatomy.

A Medical College student came to teach all about bones. Apparently, a whole skeleton hung from the walls of the boys’ bedroom, “and the bones swayed in the wind and rattled together”.  His English education was delayed till the age of twelve though the English teacher, Master Aghor, came every evening.

There was no gas then in the city, and no electric light. In the evening the house-servant lit castor oil lamps in every room. The one in their study-room had two wicks in a glass bowl. By this dim light the English master taught him from Peary Sarkar’s First Book. After Peary Sarkar’s first and second English readers there was McCulloch’s Course of Reading. Children’s books were not full of pictures then as they are now.  As Rabindranath wrote,

“The black-covered reader is lying in wait for me on the table. The cover is loose; the pages are stained and a little torn; I have tried my hand at writing my name in English in it, in the wrong places, and all in capital letters. As I read I nod , then jerk myself awake again with a start, but miss far more than I read. When finally I tumble into bed I have at last a little time to call my own. And there I listen to endless stories of the king’s son travelling over an endless, trackless plain.”[10]

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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.