A century ago, Rabindranath Tagore became the world’s first Asian and non-European Nobel Laureate (Literature, 1913). The event won him immense fame and with it, the voice of the colonized was heard by the Western world.
The conference Inspirations 2013 is an effort to mark the centenary of this event. It is presented by the Tagore Anniversary Celebrations Committee of Toronto, of which York political science Professor Ananya Mukherjee-Reed is a founding member and spokesperson. York social science Professor Fahim Quadir is also a member of the event’s core committee.
As part of the celebration of the centenary, on Nov. 9 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, the committee will present four awards to mark Tagore’s core ethical commitments. Among the individuals being honoured are Dionne Brand, an award-winning Canadian poet, novelist and essayist (in the Poetry and Social Justice category), and CBC Metro Morning host and York University alumnus Matt Galloway (for Diversity and Social Inclusion).
Today, Tagore is considered to be one of the most influential thinkers in India and Bangladesh (he is also the author of the national anthems of both these countries). In China, he is the most translated author after William Shakespeare.
The fundamental equality between all human beings, the need to resist all forms of injustice, and the infinite possibility of deepening our understanding of each other within and beyond borders – these are some of Tagore’s values, said Mukherjee-Reed.
“Tagore saw the arts as a powerful medium of social change, which enables us to come together – irrespective of language, identity, race, nationality or religion. It is these values we want to celebrate, not just his creative persona,” said Mukherjee-Reed. “Inspirations 2013 is an effort to bring the University and communities together. This was Tagore’s dream when he founded his university in India. On the one hand, he hoped to bring people from the entire world together and on the other he hoped to break down the barriers between university and community.”
Inspirations 2013 will feature rare treats from South Asia for Toronto’s multicultural, English-speaking audiences. One presentation is A Woman’s Quest, Tagore’s poignant play about social justice written in 1933. It is a critique of social structures which unfolds through a dialogue between a mother and daughter born into the margins of society. The event will also feature Tagore’s unique genre of music rendered through a symphony orchestra, choir and poetry.
A number of students from York’s Faculty of Fine Arts are participating in the conference, as are students from the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. “It is also an experiment to create a new kind of inter-cultural experience. Usually ‘multiculturalism’ means that we each showcase our own cultures and view others from the outside. There is no deeper interaction between us, no coming together through our ‘cultures’. This limits the very meaning of culture and the role it can play in giving voice to people’s lived experiences,” said Mukherjee-Reed. “Inspirations 2013 performers are a true microcosm of today’s Toronto: they come from Indian, Brazilian, Chinese, Irish, Bangladeshi, Japanese, Korean, Russian, South African, Ukrainian, Afro-Guyanese, Afro-Canadian and Jamaican communities.
“We are grateful for the support we have received from so many different quarters. The Toronto Arts Council, the Ontario Arts Council, the Chanchlani Foundation and our Dean of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies have been very supportive,” said Mukherjee-Reed.
“Tagore inspires me to work towards the creation of new knowledge in every sphere of human activity, and to foster a collaboration between all those who believe in the power of knowledge and the possibility of change,” said Vasdev Chanchlani, the founder and president, the Chanchlani Foundation, and one of the event’s sponsors.
The Tagore Committee is also preparing a special publication for the event that contains commentaries by many important contributors.
“The Nobel Library of the Swedish Academy has given us permission to reproduce the speech by Dr. Harald Hjärne, professor emeritus and former chair of the Nobel Committee of the Swedish Academy, who spoke at Tagore’s Nobel Ceremony. Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, Gopal Gandhi, has contributed his reflections on Tagore and Gandhi; also from India, we have a message from the president of the Indian Council of Cultural Research (ICCR), Dr. Karan Singh; from Tagore’s lead biographer, and many others,” said Mukherjee-Reed.
“Contributions have also come from notable scholars from China, South Korea and Argentina. Sharmila Tagore, renowned artist, member of the Tagore family, former UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and a recipient of the Padma Bhushan, one of the highest civilian honours in India, has also sent us a piece specially for this volume”, said Mukherjee-Reed, who is co-editing the volume with Professor Kathleen O’Connell of the University of Toronto.
Two of York University’s professors of South Asian Studies – Arun Mukherjee and Himani Bannerji – have written for the volume. (Bannerji is the 2006 winner of the Tagore Memorial Prize for the best book on Tagore written in English.)
“We are very grateful to LA&PS, YCAR and the Asia-Pacific Foundation’s National Conversation on Asia for supporting this publication,” said Mukherjee-Reed.
For more information on the awards, visit the Inspirations 2013 website.
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