The physics of Tagore: Promoting the scientist in the poet

Eminent scientists, along with thespian Soumitra Chatterjee, take on a challenging task

Poetry and physics are seen as poles apart — the poet thrives on imagination while the physicist sifts through imagination to find facts — and yet Rabindranath Tagore and Albert Einstein met not just once but five times and they discussed, among other things, music and quantum mechanics. Tagore also shared deep bonds with the scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose and the statistician P.C. Mahalanobis. He even authored a slim, little-known book, Viswa Parichay, which has allusions to gravitation and electromagnetism.

Three physicists

Reason enough for three eminent present-day physicists — Professors Bikash Sinha, Sushanta Dattagupta and Sibaji Raha — to form a society called Tagore Centre for Natural Sciences and Philosophy (TCNSP) in 2013. The idea was to spread the message that Tagore essentially functioned in the realm of science.

On Wednesday — when Bharatiya Janata Party leader Dilip Ghosh’s remark that cow’s milk contained gold was still being shared and forwarded on social media — the society held an event in Kolkata to celebrate Tagore’s fascination for science. Prof. Sinha dwelt on why Tagore was even more relevant today while the actor Soumitra Chatterjee, who was the star attraction of the event, ridiculed the “gold in cow’s milk” remark.

Imaginary conversation

Mr. Chatterjee was also part of the enactment of an imaginary conversation — scripted by Prof. Dattagupta — based on real letters exchanged between Tagore and Jagadish Chandra Bose. Singers from Santiniketan presented a selection of Tagore’s popular songs, with Prof. Dattagupta explaining the presence of science in them.

But the auditorium — considering that the subject was Tagore and considering the presence of the acclaimed actor and eminent physicists and also the renowned vocalist Mohan Singh Khangura, who had travelled all the way from Santiniketan to perform the opening and closing invocations — wasn’t packed as one would have expected and only those with a deep academic interest in Tagore were in attendance. The organisers saw this as a reflection of the present times — something that makes TCNSP’s task more challenging.

‘True patriot’

“Tagore was way ahead of his times, but not many would like him today because he abhorred nationalism. He even took on Gandhi when Gandhi said that the Bihar earthquake [in 1934] was god’s punishment for the way its people treated Harijans. He shot off a telegram to Gandhi, asking him not to trivialise a natural phenomenon,” Prof. Dattagupta, who is the vice-president of TCNSP, told The Hindu.

“We need to tell our youth about Tagore. During my visits to China and Japan, I found more people, especially young people, interested in Tagore there than I find in India. We need to correct this. We plan to travel throughout Bengal, especially the rural areas, to share Tagore’s ideas on institution-building, on secularism, on nationalism, on what independent India should be like. We will tell them that Tagore was not a nationalist but he was a true patriot,” Prof. Dattagupta said.

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