Book Review: ​Rabindranath Tagore by Bashabi Fraser. ​Suparna Banerjee. Transnational Literature

Book Review: ​Rabindranath Tagore by Bashabi Fraser. ​Suparna Banerjee. Transnational Literature, v​ ol. 12, November 2020
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Rabindranath Tagore ​by Bashabi Fraser (Reaktion Books, London, 2019) Reviewed by Suparna Banerjee

Rabindranath Tagore, who was the first non-Westerner to win the Nobel Prize in literature, is still among the most famous Indians the world over. Along with M.K. Gandhi, he had been one of the most powerful influences that shaped the consciousness of modern India.

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Tacitus, Tagore.  Two studies of a remarkably neglected polymath

Tacitus, Tagore.  Two studies of a remarkably neglected polymath



THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO RABINDRANATH TAGORE SUKANTA CHAUDHURI, EDITOR 515pp. Cambridge University Press. Paperback, £34.99 (US $44.99).

OPPOSITE THE TITLE PAGE of Bashabi Fra- ser’s summation of Rabindranath Tagore’s life and work appears a long list of the “leading cultural figures of the modern period” who also appear in the series to which it belongs – a series called Critical Lives. Alphabetically arranged, it begins with Antonin Artaud, Roland Barthes and Georges Bataille, but unexpectedly it also includes Coco Chanel and Derek Jarman.

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Book Review: Critical Lives: Rabindranath Tagore

Book Review

Critical Lives: Rabindranath Tagore

By Bashabi Fraser, London: Reaktion Books, 2019; Pages 245; ISBN: 978-1-78914-149-8.


Bashabi Fraser’s insightful critical biography of Rabindranath Tagore is focussed on his cosmopolitanism, an aspect often missed out in traditional narratives. The shaping influence of his family, the historical forces of the Bengal renaissance and the capacity to learn from extensive cultural contacts synthesised into the humanistic philosophy by which Tagore is known.

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Bashabi Fraser, The Homing Bird (Indigo Dreams, 2017)

Bashabi Fraser’s The Homing Bird is essentially a beautifully-produced booklet containing fourteen poems; for the most part, these explore the poet’s relationship with India and Scotland.

The title-poem, headed ‘Kolkata’ and ‘Edinburgh’, gives us a panoramic view of how these two cities have shaped her consciousness and imagination. She is, indeed, a citizen of both, and these world-renowned cities anchor her dual identity as Indian and British, bearing in mind that they are also distinctive capital cities, Kolkata of West Bengal, and Edinburgh of Scotland. Both parts of the title-poem intertwine personal memories of the poet as a girl and university student with comments about the cultural and political significance of the two cities, by means of the traditional technique of apostrophe, which involves addressing them as persons.

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Tagore and the ‘Universal Man’ 

Review of Critical Lives: Rabindranath Tagore by Bashabi Fraser

London: Reaktion Books Ltd, 2019; 244 pages; ISBN: 9781789141498

Reviewed by Sabiha Huq

Bashabi Fraser’s book on Rabindranath Tagore in the Critical Lives series is a fresh appreciation of the poet’s long life and career; the freshness emerging from the biographer’s unimpassioned treatment of the life she deals with. We certainly find this approach in the mention of extra-literary factors like Tagore’s “illustrious family, his multifaceted talents and his pioneering work in education and rural uplift” that the Nobel Committee was fully aware of, which perhaps contributed to the poet’s qualifying indicators for receiving the Prize. This approach is not entirely new though, as some of the previous biographies refer to similar aspects of the poet’s life. For example, Uma Dasgupta’s Rabindranath Tagore: A Biography, though briefly, focuses on the poet’s role as an educator and rural reformer during the establishment of Visva Bharati. Dasgupta disseminates information on Tagore among different titles, and it is obvious that one of her works may not give that sense of completeness that this new biography offers. Indeed, Fraser attaches utmost importance on Tagore’s family, the family house at Jorasanko, and the talented members who somehow or other bequeathed their legacy unto the one man who was ready to receive it all. She carefully depicts each of the family members and her or his contribution in the evolution of Tagore. In her own words, she offers “an analytical reappraisal of the familial, socio-political and cultural background” that provides “a prism” through which the readers would be able to see the author in different dimensions. 

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Dr. Bashabi Fraser’s The Ramayana: A Stage Play and A Screen Play


Debapriti Sengupta

Student of Bachelors in English, Sanskrit College and University, Kolkata

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To condense an epic of 24000 verses into a limited sphere without causing any harm to the age old sentiments that is associated with it is not a very easy task. However, Professor Emerita Dr. Bashabi Fraser in her book The Ramayana: A Stage Play and A Screen Play has done the above mentioned task commendably. As Professor Deb Narayan Bandyopadhyay states in the Introduction of the book, ‘Fraser has successfully transformed the epical into the dramatic’ (xiv). The cover page designed in the style of Kangra or Nagarkot style of painting gives us a feel of the ancient and medieval times. It transcends our mind to an era and before we start reading our mind is ready to encounter the society in which the epic is set.

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To a world where borders wane

Saptarshi Mallick

Rabindranath Tagore emphasized that life and society can reach to the highest realms of freedom if it actively endeavours ‘to solve the problem of mutual relationship’ (Tagore 4: 628). Bashabi Fraser’s The Homing Bird is ‘a harmonious blending of voice, gesture and movement, words and action, in which [Fraser’s] generosity of conduct is expressed’ (Tagore 2: 495). In her collection, Fraser through the canvas of fourteen poems has judiciously addressed the necessity of adhering to the integrating spirit of human unity, mutual-understanding, love and respect in this world, interrogating at once the divisive forces of society.

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‘Gifts Send Down Roots’

an introduction to Bashabi Fraser by Robert Alan Jamieson

The name ‘Bashabi Fraser’ first came to my attention sometime in the mid 1990s when I was co-editing the Edinburgh Review. It sounded strangely familiar – Fraser was one of the surnames in my native village in Shetland, and ‘Baabi’ a familiar abbreviation for Barbara, a common first name there. By the time we met in 2000, at the launch of the pocketbook, Wish I Was Here, I had seen enough of her poetry to realise that here was an exotic Bengali flower, transplanted in auld Edina. On meeting her, it was apparent that she was no villager but rather a scholar from a great metropolis, a classical Indian dancer and cultural activist, drawing confidently on rich and ancient traditions - and that she had shuttled between Britain and India sufficiently for her to feel at home in Scotland, by the cold North Sea, writing in English.

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From the Ganga to the Tay reviewed by Anjana Basu

Two Rivers: A Shared Heritage

The book is certainly a conceptual and poetic achievement... 

From the Ganges to the Tay is a long poem that winds across the pages in a deliberate setting that mimics the flow of a river. In the pages of this neatly produced paperback, the River Ganges and the River Tay speak to each other of their origins and the different countries through which they flow. It is, given the unique nature of both the rivers and the character of their native lands, a joint fable that spans myth, legend, history and geography.

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From the Ganga to the Tay reviewed by Fiona Wilson

From the Ganga to the Tay: An Epic Poem

The notion that creativity has an intimate, secret connection to water has long nurtured the poetry of South Asia and Northern Europe. Accounts of the legendary origins of the River Ganges are well-known and rivers have featured in the writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Arvind Krishna Mehrota, Bhartrihari, and Keki Daruwalla, among others. In Scotland, a tradition fed by William Drummond, Robert Burns, Walter Scott, and James Hogg has, more recently, issued in contemporary river poems from the likes of Valerie Gillies, Gavin Bowd, and Colin Donati. Now poet Bashabi Fraser and photographer Kenny Munro have teamed up to produce an illustrated "epic poem" in the form of a conversation between two much-celebrated watercourses: the mighty Ganga (Ganges) of India and the "silvery Tay" of Scotland. Besides their storied literary heritage, Fraser reminds us, these geographical features have much in common: each is the longest river in its respective country; each flows in the same direction, from west to east; moreover, each is connected by the history of the British Empire in India, specifically Scots involvement in the jute trade that once directly linked jute plantations by the Ganga with sweatshop factories in Victorian Dundee in a "golden skein," that, in Fraser's words, "wove the nations through years of industrial exchange and interdependence" (p.11).

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From the Ganga to the Tay reviewed by Marc Sherland

It is a pleasure, not to mention a challenging and rewarding experience, to immerse oneself in this epic poem of discovery over and over again, fishing out a new catch every time. From the Ganga to the Tay twists and turns through the pages in rivers of narrative on the banks of which are colour photographs by the author herself and by Scottish artist Kenny Munro, with whom she has collaborated on a number of arts projects. As Munro has observed: ‘The mythical qualities of Indian rivers is profound, with daily rituals imprinted in community consciousness. Scotland’s rivers were also recognised as the life blood of mother earth, and considered sacred, but cultural evolution seems to have clouded our ancestors’ respect for Scotland’s most powerful river, the Tay.’

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From the Ganga to the Tay reviewed by Beth Junor

The myriad connections between India and Scotland, which for many years had been presenting themselves to the poet, finally succeeded in coercing her into this daunting creative project of travel, research, walking, sailing and photography to craft out her epic poem in which the rivers Ganga, mother goddess, and the Tay, masculine symbol of Celtic heritage, converse, question, exchange favourite words, and share history, mythology, fears and hopes. Anthropomorphism is the perfect device for fulfilling Fraser’s intentions, as Paul Robeson knew when he sang, Old man river, he must know somethin’. We attribute to rivers an omniscience, and beyond knowledge, wisdom. The Ganges and the Tay are timeless witnesses as well as key participants in the relationship between India and Scotland.

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Life & Letters

16 February 2013
At once Indian & British, Hibernian & Bengali debashis lahiri pays tribute to Bashabi Fraser

IN Mythistorema, Greek poet George Seferis recalls waking from a dream with his “marble head” in his hands. It is weighty and he has no place to put it down. Its eyes are neither open nor closed. It is trying to speak but can say nothing. The cheekbone tears through the skin; what was at first stone becomes flesh and bone. The poet has not asked for the burden and is not free to discard it. Seldom has this process of burthening been fraught with such self-tortuous moments in the writings of Bashabi Fraser. The “burden” has been a liberation for her and no amount of worldly travail or personal loss can bring her to discard it.

In attempting to write about Fraser’s poetry, I increasingly become a backward-heading, forward-looking Benjaminian angel of history as I try to grapple with the widening vistas of her writing that rise from deep and often sheer emotional wells and broaden into intellectual concerns as rivers do when they approach the ocean.

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