The views of Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore were expounded during a
lecture on ‘Building bridges across the Bay of Bengal: Tagore and his
contemporaries’ held at Wawasan Open University.
Part of the crowd at the lecture
The talk - organised by Think City and Penang Heritage Trust (PHT) with the
support of WOU and the Indian High Commission in Malaysia - explored the
intellectual, cultural and political conversations across Asia conducted by
Tagore and his contemporaries, thereby providing fresh insights into the
modern intellectual history of Asia.
Prof Sugata Bose, a Gardiner Professor of History from Harvard University,
stated, “The idea of Asia-sense or Asian universalism is contained in the
writings of Asian thinkers even during the period of European colonial
Prof Bose shares on Tagore.
He talked about Tagore’s trips to Penang, Singapore, Burma, Jogjakarta, Hong
Kong, China, Iran and Iraq in the 1920s and 1930s, during which he forged
powerful connections across Asia as Tagore believed in the virtues of close
interaction among the Asian cultures.
He said Tagore promoted ‘universalist’ aspirations where colonised countries
did not build walls around their cultural differences, but sought to merge
and play a role in shaping the global future. According to Prof Bose, “A
world historical transformation is under way in the early 21st century as
Asia recovers the global position it had lost in the late 18th
The Indian High Commissioner takes his turn at the podium
He shared that Tagore adopted an anti-colonialist stance and was against
Asian nations catching the European culture of imperialism. Prof Bose said
that both Tagore and his grand-uncle, India’s famous freedom fighter Netaji
Subhas Chandra Bose, were critical of Japanese military adventurism in the
early decades of the 20th century.
Replying to a question on the early influences that shaped Tagore’s
“universal humanity” philosophy, Bose said Tagore detested narrow-minded
religious bigotry and wanted people to respect religious differences and
rise above them.
Some 200 guests attended the talk including the speaker’s mother Mrs Krishna
Bose, Indian High Commissioner Mr Vijay K. Gokhale, Penang State Executive
Councillor Dato’ Abdul Malik Abul Kassim, Think City chairman Dato’ Anwar
Fazal, and PHT President Khoo Salma Nasution. Also present from WOU were
Assistant Vice Chancellor (Academic Support) Prof Mohandas Menon, Dr Lalita
Sinha (School of Education, Languages and Communications) and Sovindar Kaur
Prof Bose autographs his book. At right is his mum
Rabindranath Tagore lived from May 7, 1861 till Aug 7, 1941. He was
Asia’s first recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 for ‘Gitanjali’,
a collection of Indian poems. He wrote the national anthems of India and