Tagore’s Forest today

With Tagore’s focus on the natural environment — the Forest, specifically — I wonder what he would think of modern India’s lack of (enforced) environmental protections and the growing trend toward urbanization and industrialization.

“… in the level tracts of Northern India men found no barrier between their lives and the grand life that permeates the universe. The forest entered into a close living relationship with their work and leisure, with their daily necessities and contemplations. They could not think of other surroundings as separate or inimical…. When we know this world as alien to us, then its mechanical aspect takes prominence in our mind; and then we set up our machines and our methods to deal with it and make as much profit as our knowledge of its mechanism allows us to do. This view of things does not play us false, for the machine has its place in this world.”

A couple of points stand out. While that relationship with the environment may still be true, many other forces are at play in India as development proceeds. A similar thread is reflected in Tagore’s descriptions of Calcutta (and its industries) highlighted by Zach. Perhaps the distinction Tagore drew between East and West was only a part of a larger historical picture — one in which respect for the environment ebbed and flowed with  evolving social and economic realities. Maybe, then, his “close relationship” with nature returns at a later time; as Tagore puts it: “Life’s tragedies occur, not to demonstrate their own reality, but to reveal that eternal principle of joy in life, to which they gave a rude shaking.”

Second, I find Tagore’s relationship to machines and utilitarian goods fascinating and slightly confusing. He allows them a place, even given his focus on the Forest and on harmony with natural surroundings. He doesn’t seem thrilled by items created or repurposed for common, menial tasks — he finds them “rude,” “curt,” “abrupt.” There’s a  tension between “profit and production” and  “love of beauty, of truth, of justice.” No reconciliation is offered — save the notion that these contrasting forces are at harmony in creation, which is an endless and imperfectable human project.