Nobel Prize


As we commemorate the great poet Rabindranath Tagore on his 159th birth anniversary, it is remarkable how his works, to the present day, resonate with the harsh truths of the world at large and the deepest desires of the heart. 

“My debts are large, my failures great, my shame secret and heavy; yet I come to ask for my good, I quake in fear lest my prayer be granted.”

Poem 28, Gitanjali (1912)

It is no shocker that Rabindranath Tagore, also known by his pen name Bhanu Singha Thakur, was one of the most exceptional literary laureates our world has been blessed with. A poet, novelist, musician, artist, educationist, social reformer, Ayurveda researcher; Tagore’s unparalleled brilliance earned him sobriquets like Gurudev, Kabiguru, and Biswakabi.

He has achieved many accolades in his lifetime – the most substantial being the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. He also has the distinction of the only person to have composed the national anthems of three countries – India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.

His excellence is most reflected in his literary works that still amaze and entertain people of all ages and diverse walks of life. Children’s stories like Kabuliwala, The Rat’s Feast, The Invention of Shoes, The Parrot’s Training, and so on are delightful and amusing. On reading them one gets lost in the ‘fantastically real worlds’ of sparkling kings and queens, dusty lanes of the village and, swirly, narrow streets of the city.

As one gets older, the stories of Tarapada in Atithi, the poignant tale of Konkaal (The Skeleton), the unbridled attachment of Monimala to her gold jewels in Monihara (The Lost Jewels), the sweet romance in Daliya and many more; pluck those chords of the heart, which transpire the emotions one had been starved of in the hustle-bustle of life. In all of his stories, the way he knits the real face of the society with myths and legends is extraordinary.

Tagore is also highly admired for his portrayal of women in his stories. Set in the late 19th and early 20th-century pre-partitioned Bengal, the female characters are painted as courageous, defiant, and bold who direct the flow of their lives on their terms. In a conservative society, Tagore explores love and sexuality through ‘Binodini’ in Chokher Bali (A Grain of Sand), freeing one’s soul and desires from the shackles of family and responsibilities in Stir Patra (Wife’s letter), courage to discover oneself and fulfill dreams in the form of ‘Giribala’ in Maanbhanjan (Fury Appeased) and finding the meaning of life outside the bondages of an ideal member of the society through ‘Kalyani’ in Aparichita (The Unknown Woman).

Robi Thakur, as he is lovingly called by many of his admirers, was a poet first. The early influences of the artistic atmosphere in his house and his “favourite school” – nature; metamorphosed into beautiful verses of poetry. many of his poems were written as words for music and his book Gitabitan (“Garden of songs”), a collection of all 2,232 songs led to the genesis of a new genre of Bengali music known as ‘Rabindra Sangeet’.

A man of phenomenal literary and artistic accomplishments, Tagore has played a vital role in capturing the social, political, and artistic aura of India of his times. India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, wrote in Discovery of India, “More than any other Indian, he has helped to bring into harmony the ideals of the East and the West, and broadened the bases of Indian nationalism.”

Inspired by Vaishnava poets of medieval Bengal and the Bengali folk literature; the classical Indian heritage; and the modern European literary tradition, he took Bengali literature especially, to such great heights that his presence in Bengali social and cultural arena is undeniably manifested.

Buddhadeva Bose in ‘An Acre of Green Grass’ quoted, “The point is not that his writings run into a hundred thousand pages of print, covering every form and aspect of literature, though this matters: he is a source, a waterfall, flowing out in a hundred streams, a hundred rhythms, incessantly.”

Even after years of Robi Thakur leaving for heavenly abode, his artistic and aesthetic flair can still be experienced in his endearing poems, visionary stories, and other literary works, euphonious ‘Rabindra Sangeet’ and in the atoms of the peaceful neighbourhood of Shantiniketan.

May the flame of knowledge, love, humility, and spirituality kindled by him forever guide us all.


Featured Image Credits: Commons

Ipshika Ghosh

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Since 1901, mankind has developed a particular fascination with the Nobel prizes, and justifiably so. The honour immortalises the awardees and guarantees recognition for a lifetime. Despite this fact, it has always engendered controversies from critics and commoners alike. Why is that so?

The Nobel prizes are awarded by the Swedish Academy and Norwegian Nobel Committee, as mentioned by Alfred Nobel in his will. Nobel gave away 94% of his property or 31 million Swedish Kronor towards the establishment of the five Nobel prizes- in medicine or physiology, chemistry, physics, literature, and peace to recognise individuals who contribute remarkably in these respective fields. This pursuit has however been thwarted by criticisms and controversies over time. From awarding Bob Dylan the Nobel prize for literature in 2016 to the Nobel peace prize to Barack Obama, the prizes have innocuously been marred by sceptics and its credibility questioned repeatedly. After awarding Barack Obama in 2009, the committee responsible for delegating this award (Norwegian Nobel committee) came under fire for this decision. People from around the world cited lack of insight by the Norwegian Committee and demanded a rollback of the honour. The following are a few issues that have been raised multiple times since the establishment of the prizes-

1. The Nobel prizes in the sciences can recognize only three people at maximum: This plays a major role in harbouring disinterest among organisations which work collaboratively towards finding discoveries. In today’s time, thousands of people are involved in a single invention or discovery, but only three people can be bestowed with the honor. Hence, organisations cannot be awarded the Nobel prize in sciences, thus derecognising the effort of multiple other authors worthy of this distinction.

2. Nobel prizes cannot be awarded posthumously: The average age of a Nobel laureate hovers around 59, and it’s a well known fact that most laureates are awarded in their latter years. The prizes are supposed to be awarded for achievement in the year preceding the awards, but that doesn’t always happen in the case of science Nobels. A lot of times, the prize is awarded years after so that the research is not debunked by another discovery. Many researchers have missed out despite their great contributions as the prizes aren’t given posthumously. (The prizes have been awarded posthumously only twice, in rare cases.)

3. Nobel prizes don’t recognise the social sciences: Considering that the Nobel prize in economics isn’t technically a Nobel and is awarded in the memory of Alfred Nobel by Sveriges Riksbank, critics have argued for similar prizes in other fields of social sciences like anthropology, psychology, and sociology.

4. Gender, race, and why they matter: Out of the 200 Nobel laureates that have been awarded for Physics, only two have been women (1% of the total). Only one woman has won the Nobel in economics since it was first given in 1969, and similar patterns have been observed in the Nobel prize for literature and chemistry where the representation of women is not indicative of their contributions in the fields. Racial bias has been another bone of contention, as white Europeans and Americans continue to form a majority of the winners’ lot.

Another year of the Nobel week gone by, the world is doe-eyed to witness how the winners would continue their legacy. Even though the world’s most prestigious awards have garnered praise, sparked courage, and evoked hope in many there are a few controversies that dampen the shine of the prestigious medals.


Feature Image Credits: TUM

Vijeata Balani
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Bob Dylan, the singer – songwriter won the Nobel in the Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song traditions”. With that the earth came to a halt, figuratively of course.  The Pandora’s box that opened included two important issues – limitation of the current definition of literature and lack of diversity of Nobel laureates.

The whole community had their views regarding this event, while some people like Philip Pullman, Salman Rushdie and Joyce Carol Oates welcomed the decision, others were flabbergasted at the possibility of a songwriter being placed in the category of literature. Ruskin Bond called it a “great insult to all the writers who have already received the award and also to those who rightly deserve it” Jodi Picoult tweeted “I’m happy for Bob Dylan. #ButDoesThatMeanICanWinAGrammy?”.

Did Bob Dylan really deserve the Nobel Prize for literature? The answer to this question may vary, but can a songwriter bag a prize for literature? I think yes.

What is literature? Literature, as I understand is not just written text but a combination of lyrics and art as well wrapped around in a light thread, the definition of which is still expanding. When discussing the aspects of a century or a particular time frame, the lyrics and the discourse caused by them is also discussed.

It does not have a well bounded definition and it should not. In earlier times, there was no collective definition of literature. During pre literature, literature mainly constituted of oral traditions like folklore, folk songs etc which were an amalgamation of the societies history, their culture. It is an expansive art that continues to grow in all directions as we speak.

Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan’s song lyrics have been a part of the academic syllabus where themes, motifs, structure etc is discussed just like other literature pieces are examined and the lyrics have been a platform for research and academic papers as well.

The other, more recent conversation is questioning the whole Nobel Prize establishment itself. With 867 awards distributed since 1901, just 46 have been awarded to women. The demographics show that western countries have received a disproportionately high number of awards igniting a conversation about the lack of diversity and the reinforcement of hierarchy especially when the rumoured list of nominees for literature included Ngugi wa thiono’o from Kenya and Ali Ahmad Said Esber (Adonis) from Syria which have received one and zero Nobel Prize for Literature respectively.

The Nobel Prize this year has not been without controversy but it has opened up important discussions about the boundaries of a category, whether there is a need to have more categories, questioning of the procedure and decision making that goes on when deciding the nominee for the Nobel and why there is a large disparity in the awards.

Adarsh Yadav

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