Rabindranath Tagore and Germany – the Story behind my Research (www.tinpahar.com)

Rabindranath Tagore and Germany – the Story behind my Research

Martin Kämpchen
German author, translator and journalist

It was in the middle of the year 1976. I was teaching my last German class at the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture in Kolkata. For three years I had been a teacher of mostly College students; many of them had continued learning from me for three years, others for two years. A good number of former students had joined to give me a friendly farewell. They made me various presents; one of them was a book in Bengali. At the time I could not read the language. I was about to leave West-Bengal and begin a new course of studies in Madras, now Chennai. I was not sure whether I would return to Kolkata, except perhaps for brief visits. When I asked what book they were presenting to me, the answer was,

“Rabindranath’s Gītāñjali!”

For some reason I felt very moved. I held up the book and, on the spur of the moment, said to the class,

“I promise, one day I will read this book!”

I kept that promise.

When I decided to return to West-Bengal at the end of 1979, I moved to Santiniketan where I am still based. I had not settled in Santiniketan because I felt drawn to Rabindranath. Rather, it was the peace and quiet which then still engulfed this small University town, which made me decide to settle there for work on a Ph.D. True, I had read the English Gitanjali and some other slim books and was charmed by them. But I had no foreboding that Rabindranath would soon occupy a central position in my life. When I began studying Bengali in all seriousness, I also struggled through a few simple poems by Rabindranath, mostly from Gītāñjali, to practice my Bengali. Solely for my own benefit, I made a rough German translation of several poems. When I compared the Bengali originals with the English renderings by the poet himself, I was both flabbergasted, aghast.

The English renderings were lovely, full of tender emotions, full of devotional and mildly erotic allusions. Bengali readers who have been nurtured on classical Vaishnava poetry, may not find the imagery of Rabindranath all that striking. But for European readers these images, mystical and sensual at the same time, were – and still are – unusual and original. The constant play on the identity of love of God and love of Woman, the intimacy between God/Woman and man, the yearning to go forever beyond on to a transcendental plane, and yet remain rooted in the earthy love of nature and of cosmic reality – these polarities and contradictions have been given a fascinating poetic shape.

Yet, as Aurobindo Ghose, the Rishi of Pondicherry, said, “One has only to compare this English prose, beautiful as it is, with the original poetry to see how much has gone out with the change; something is successfully substituted which may satisfy the English reader, but can never satisfy the ear or the mind that once listened to the singer’s own native and magical melodies.”[1]

Comparing the two versions of the same poem – the Bengali original, and the English text in lyrical prose – both written by the Poet, has taught me the power of verse and rhyme. Both versions express the same thoughts and the same imagery – yet, see the enormous difference which versification and rhyme make in the mood, the melody – see the sheer magic of a text! In his letters to William Rothenstein, Rabindranath later revealed his anxiety about having achieved the Nobel Prize, and with it world fame, with poetic products which were quite inferior to his original Bengali poetry.

After the Nobel Prize, the English version of Gītāñjali was swiftly translated into other European languages including German. In Germany, the highly acclaimed Kurt Wolff Verlag, which among others published Franz Kafka, brought out the German Gitanjali in early 1914. According to one version, the British publisher Macmillan had offered the book for translation when the Nobel Prize had not yet been declared. One of Kurt Wolff‘s assistants read the book and, rejecting it, he delivered it to the Post Office to be sent back to London. On that very day, the Nobel Prize winner of 1913 was declared on the radio. Kurt Wolff rushed to the General Post Office of Leipzig and retrieved the packet from a big heap of postal articles. Later, Kurt Wolff never admitted that the book had been rejected first. Instead, he who was still at the beginning of a meteoric career, prided himself of publishing a Nobel Laureate who was to become his first best-selling author. His records show that, all Tagore books combined, Kurt Wolff sold over a million copies.

The beginning of Tagore translation

I shall not write about the rise of Rabindranath’s fame in Germany in the 1920s, his special interest in Germany, his contacts with German writers and scholars, and Germany’s fascination for Tagore. Here I focus on my involvement with Tagore study and Tagore translation.

Noticing the contrast between the Bengali and the English versions of Tagore’s poetry, I realised that outside West-Bengal and Bangladesh the discovery of Rabindranath, the poet, was yet to arrive. This led me to the decision, in a bout of youthful, carefree audacity, to work on a volume of German translation from the original Bengali. These German translations were meant to be poetically solid, literarily valid poems in their own right. I discovered that, strangely, the stream of English translations of Rabindranath’s poems that had appeared until then, did not consist of serious English poems at all. They were careful reproductions of a surface meaning, mostly without any concern for verse, rhythm, sentence melody or rhyme.

It so happened that around the time I had taken that decision, Herder Publishers in Germany with whom I already had several books in print, suggested to me to bring out an anthology of Tagore poetry in German language. The publisher’s idea had been that I select my collection from the existing English translations. I rejected this idea, telling them that the time had come to turn back to the source of Rabindranath’s poetic genius, to his Bengali poetry. And I advocated a selection translated from Bengali.

However, I did not quite feel ready to undertake this colossal assignment. Where to begin? How to select? It was not possible to read even the more important poems one by one. It would have taken me several years to do so. Besides, my Bengali was too limited to appreciate the complex hymnic and narrative poems; they need a background in Sanskrit to comprehend. I would had to stick to poetry within my range.

There are two persons who had in the past tried their hand on translating Rabindranath from Bengali to German, although on a limited scale. They were Helene Meyer-Franck and Alokeranjan Dasgupta. Meyer-Franck had been the principal translator of Rabindranath’s English prose in the 1920s. Later, over a span of several years, she learnt Bengali, solely assisted by a Bengali student in Hamburg, and solely to translate Rabindranath’s poetry. At the end of her life, she brought out a lovely, slender book.[2] Although her efforts are unique and daring, I am not quite convinced of the quality of her translations. Going back to the originals, I found many of her translations to be philologically inexact and rather too free.

Alokeranjan Dasgupta and Lothar Lutze have jointly printed a book entitled Der andere Tagore (The other Tagore)[3] which focussed on the later poems. In the book, I felt a marked opposition to the lyrical and devotional side of Rabindranath. I can see how many intellectuals react to it adversely, preferring the existential, matter-of-fact, and despairing poet. But I wanted to appreciate the softness and the harshness of Rabindranath’s lyrical output and definitely aimed at a cross-section of his poems from his early phase until his last days.

I hoped that Aloke-da would help me to make a selection and supervise my translations. I had met him once, and I summoned courage and wrote him with my request. The reply on an Indian postcard, scribbled in a fine, tiny hand, was terse. He wrote that he was not going to help me, unless the translation was entirely in his hands.

Around the same time, William Radice had published his own translation of Tagore Poetry, his Selected Poems of Rabindranath Tagore[4]. Suddenly, I had with these translations, hit upon a model of what I myself had envisioned. I was delighted to see that Radice used annotations in the back of the book for the more careful reader to understand the context of the original poems and the problems involved in translating them. Since then, I have seen in William Radice a kind of guru in the realm of Tagore study. We became friends, and we meet often in India or in Europe. We have worked together on various projects.

William Radice is a recognized poet in England, hence his translations have the shape and the power of an English poem. Ketaki Kushari Dyson, she too a remarkable poet in Bengali and a translator of Rabindranath’s poems into English[5], once said that nobody who is not a poet is able to translate Rabindranath’s poems competently. This she proclaimed in a seminar at the Max Mueller Bhavan Kolkata, with several of us translators sitting on the panel. It was my turn to speak after her. I kept quiet. Again requested to make my contribution, I said,

“As I am not a poet, I am not authorized to speak.”

Ketaki-di, feeling slightly embarrassed, turned to me and asked, “Have you never written poetry, Martin?”

“I have”, I admitted, “when I was a student. But only one or two of my poems got published.”

Aha! You see!” Ketaki-di butted in, relieved. “So you are a poet, although a failed poet!”

Even though I was a “(failed) poet”, it took a long time to identify my own poetic style as a translator of Rabindranath. I struggled and struggled trying to single out the kind of language in which I wanted to mould Rabindranath’s moods and thoughts. Certainly, it should not be the language of German experimental poetry, nor the stately, laid-back poetry of our classical poet, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, or the laconic, prosaic style of Bertolt Brecht. I chose the language of the modern classical poet I most identify with: Rainer Maria Rilke. He is emotional and refined, he is crystal clear in his poetic expression and uses striking images and symbols. He was a seeker of transcendence, a deep, thoughtful, although somewhat morose, human being. All this, I think, goes well with Rabindranath. I read and re-read Rilke’s poems, filling my mind with their melody, and only then set off translating Rabindranath’s poems.

I started with simple ones, some Gītāñjali-poems. Simple? – Of course they are not simple by any description. All that makes them a good starting point for a translator is that they have a limited and non-Sanskritic vocabulary, and are short and precise. Rabindranath used rhyme almost throughout his life with the exception of many of his late poems. Rhyme comes easy in Bengali as there are only few endings. Proper and non-artificial rhymes are excruciatingly difficult to produce in English. In German, rhyming comes more natural, but it still is not undemanding to translate in rhyme. So when choosing a poem for translation, I first decided whether or not to use rhyme. Some poems just would not get their message across without rhyme. They would be empty, without magic. This is true for many, not all, Gītāñjali poems, and especially true, for example, for the children’s poems of śiśu.

It has often happened that I have chosen a poem for translation and then gave it up in the process. There are two possible reasons. First, the poem proved to be too difficult either transcending the limits of my understanding of Bengali, or too complex to render into a European language. Secondly, while translating I realized that the poetic content of the text was too weak. It surprised me to see that the quality of a poem is revealed in the process of translation. If, however, the poetic content was strong and lucid, and the vocabulary with all its associations and references well within my grasp, then it was sheer ecstasy to translate the poet.

Communing with the poem, I become truly a poet myself, and not a mere “failed” one. I have noticed that, faced with the Bengali poetic material, my creative energies begin vibrating; suddenly I know which words to choose, my pen assumes an authority which is derived from a deep source which is outside my individuality. It is pure delight to feel the poet next to me at such moments. Often I have thought – and express this here, no matter whether some Bengali readers may object – that by translating Rabindranath’s poems I get to know him more intimately than Bengalis who just read him.

Living in Santiniketan gives me the privilege of having many associates who help me with my translation work. When I make a first draft, I like to listen to the poem a number of times in order to internalise its rhythm and melody, its mood. Early on, it was Subarna Roy Chowdhury (now Chatterjee) who did this for me; after her marriage it is now Rajendra Nath Sarkar. They look up known and unknown vocabulary. Indeed, I insist on looking up even familiar words in order to have a command of all the layers and shades of their meaning. Any explanation by them has to be in Bengali. This done, I withdraw and work out the German translation alone; this may take many hours and it requires the most intense concentration. I let this second draft rest for a day or longer and then go over it, correcting, reading out the translation to hear whether it “works”. Further corrections are effected whenever I re-read the text. Often I have met professors, especially Shyamal Sarkar and Sutapa Bhattacharya, from Visva-Bharati to get their help with the interpretation of certain lines.

A translation is never really finished because it has to satisfy the original as well as itself which results in sometimes irreconcilable contradictions. To resolve some of them, I followed William Radice’s model and added comprehensive notes to each poem I have translated. Whenever I leave out or add a word for the sake of an effective translation, I give a note. If a word has more layers of meaning and association in the original than the word I translate it with can convey, I explain it in a note. Further, cultural contexts are being elucidated as well as the place the poem commands within Rabindranath’s literary opus. While I am careful not to overburden my readers, I still hope that in this way the translation receives more “body”, more ambivalence, a greater associative wealth.

Tagore translation is weighed down by two vices which I have been fighting. I strongly believe that poetry translation can be done only into one’s mother tongue, not away from it. A language’s fine innuendoes and subtle associations can be intuitively comprehended only by a person who is born in it. Further, poetry cannot be translated by two people, but only by the sensibilities of one individual. Both these rules have been sinned against in Germany as often as in India.

During the years I was busy with working on my anthology of Tagore poems, I received yet another request. I had read and enjoyed the poetic aphorisms by Rabindranath, collected in Sphulinga, Lekhan and Konikā. I made a selection of one hundred from these three books and translated them. These crisp sayings with a clear and simple poetic message were easy prey for me and an excellent training ground for translating more complex poetry. So I dealt with them first. This collection was the first to come out in German[6], embellished with photographs by a German friend, Andreas Hoffmann. A year thereafter, my selection of fifty poems appeared as a paperback[7]. 7.000 copies were sold, and many poems were reproduced in anthologies and in magazines. A third volume, collecting partly new and partly old translations, was done by a Swiss publisher.[8]. This book contains sensitive black-and-white pictures by another photographer friend, Samiran Nandy of Santiniketan, most of them taken in the rural vicinity of Santiniketan. The majority taken from Gītāñjali and śiśu, these poems could thus feel at home amidst their original physical and emotional environment.

All three publishers mentioned are large, respected Catholic publishers. They had shown an interest in Rabindranath Tagore because in Europe he still feeds on the reputation of being a “mystic” and “sage”. He is recognised as a religious figure, rather than a writer of repute. Having seen the weak translations into German (done from the Poet’s English renderings), in fact many distinguished writers had shown scant interest in him. It was my desire to turn this around with my translations and demonstrate Tagore’s true worth as a literary figure. I reached this aim when Insel Verlag in Frankfurt agreed to print a selection of Tagore’s Love Poems[9]. Insel is among a handful of top literary publishers in Germany. On their list of authors are Rilke, Beckett, Hesse and a host of other beloved classical and modern names in world literature. The culmination of this development came in 2005 when another literary publisher, Verlag Artemis und Winkler (Düsseldorf), brought out a Selected Works of RabindranathTagore in its well-established series “Winkler Weltliteratur” (Winkler World Literature)[10].

The poet I felt had, finally, arrived in Germany! At long last he was regarded as a figure of world literature on a par with Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Dante. This book reproduced all my published poetry translations and a few new ones, as well as the poems which appeared in Der andere Tagore. Further, two short stories and Caturanga, translated by Hans Harder,  Bengali essays, selected and translated by Rahul Peter Das, two plays, Dākghar and Tāsher Desh, translated by myself, a bunch of letters, selected and translated by Alokeranjan Das Gupta, Sādhanā translated from the English by Axel Monte and the Conversations with Albert Einstein, translated and edited by Andor Orand Carius, appeared in this volume.

Research on Tagore’s visits to Germany

My efforts centering around RabindranathTagore had, from the beginning, a two-pronged target: translation as well as research on Rabindranath’s relationship with Germany. Soon after I had decided to translate Rabindranath’s poems, I became aware that the story of his three visits to Germany had not yet been told. The biographies had dipped into the English-language sources preserved in the archive of Rabindra Bhavan, Santiniketan. But, ignoring one flimsy effort, no German-knowing person had conducted any research on the German material which was buried in Rabindra-Bhavan as well as in archives in Germany. I saw a virgin field of research in front of me. Never having conducted historical research – my two doctoral theses had been endeavours at interpretation – I was excited to start something new. Moreover, the year 1991, the 50th death anniversary of Tagore, was drawing close, and the Max Mueller Bhavan Kolkata planned a series of events to mark it. I suggested to its director a documentation on Tagore’s relationship with German writers and scholars.

This was an opportunity as well as a temptation. I went to the Rabindra-Bhavan day after day to read the content of a few dozen files, making ample notes and copying out page after page by hand. I worked at a feverish pace because there was little time. The book was to be launched in 1991 as the opening of the Tagore Programmes. I went to Germany to continue the research in the Deutsche Literaturarchiv (German Literature Archive) at Marbach (near Stuttgart) which is a major research institute for German Literature. I dug up wonderful material, including letters, newspaper articles, photographs, drawings, and cartoons. Again, a new world opened up for me: I witnessed the “clash” and the mingling of an Indian mind with German society in many different facets. I had studied the era between the two world wars for my first thesis on German Literature. Yet, when I ploughed through these files, it seemed I had not known it at all. The era sprung to life through the frictions and blossoms of the Tagore – Germany interface. Rabindranath Tagore and Germany: A Documentation[11] did appear in 1991, but it contained many loopholes and inadequacies for which I feel sorry now. There had been too little time. Nonetheless, the book impressed Bengali literary society sufficiently to award me the “Rabindra Puraskar” of the West-Bengal government in 1992. The book proved that Rabindranath entertained significant contacts with many German and Austrian writers and scholars of consequence in the 1920s.

My research continued for about a decade. I visited the Indian Institute of Advanced Study in Shimla as a Fellow in 1995 and 1996 to work on my second book, Rabindranath Tagore in Germany: Four Responses to a Cultural Icon[12], which is more mature and complete; however, it deals with only a segment of Rabindranath’s involvement with German cultural figures. Meanwhile my “Tagore trunk” at Santiniketan contains material for at least one more book.

Personalities associated with my research

While at Shimla on my first visit, I met Bhisham Sahni, the Hindi novelist, almost daily for three months. He was the Institute’s guest. I was genuinely impressed by his humility and dignified reserve. Later I met him whenever I visited Delhi, right until a few months before his death. Once he wrote me a postcard saying that he planned to visit me at Santiniketan. I waited and waited, however Bhisham-ji never appeared. Later he told me that, on his way to me, Aparna Sen had suddenly requested him to play an old Muslim gentleman in her film Mr and Mrs Iyer. He did not refuse and gave a memorable performance.

I met some more inspiring people while collecting material. First and foremost I must mention Alex Aronson. A German Jew, he came to Santiniketan in 1937 via London to teach English. He escaped the Nazi butchers staying with RabindranathTagore and remained deeply grateful to him and Santiniketan all his life.[13]. After the war, Alex left India, first spent two years in Dhaka and then settled in Israel. While at Santiniketan he wrote that singularly deft study Rabindranath through Western Eyes[14] which has been an inspiration for me to do my historical research. I got in touch with him to know more, and over seven years until his death in 1995, we carried on a lively, thought-provoking correspondence. Thrice I met him, once in Stuttgart and twice in Haifa (Israel). We began our correspondence in English because Alex was averse to using German, the language of the Nazis. After we became attached to each other, he switched to German which, after all, was his mother-tongue. Alex Aronson selflessly guided my research, my translation and literary work with his encouragement, praise and affection. When Visva-Bharati honoured him with its Desikottama in 1993, I felt equally honoured because I was asked to take the insignia to Haifa and present them to him as he felt unable to endure the strain of a trip to India.[15] Our correspondence has meanwhile been deposited in the Deutsche Literaturarchiv in Marbach and in the Rabindra-Bhavan archive of Santiniketan.

Another German-speaking Tagore scholar whom I met was Professor Heinz Mode. When I began my research, Germany was still divided. Mode had been a Tagore scholar in East Germany. He had spent some time in Santiniketan and knew a certain amount of Bengali. His book on Rabindranath was long and rambling and filled with communist clichés. When I visited him in 1988 at his home in Halle, he was already gravely ill and bed-ridden. He probably knew that he had not much longer to live. So he made over to me his entire Tagore library. It contained almost all the books which were written on the poet and published by the poet in Germany from 1914 onwards. Heinz Mode had to pull some strings so that the East German government allowed me to take the books with me to the West. My mother sent medicines and toiletry to the Mode household from West to East until Germany united a year later and all necessities were freely available. Most of the books which he bequeathed to me are now part of the library of the Udo Keller Foundation in Neversdorf near Hamburg which has a special Tagore section which since a few years I help to build up.

The Rabindra-Bhavan archive, Santiniketan, contains the complete set of letters Rabindranath’s German translator, Helene Meyer-Franck, wrote to the poet. These are beautiful, handwritten letters full of reverence and they give a vivid impression of how Rabindranath was viewed in Germany during the decade of his fame (1921-1930). Obviously, with the exception of a few carbon copies, Rabindranath’s letters were not contained in the archival file at Santiniketan. Where, then, are they? That was my next query. Had they been destroyed during the Second World War as for example Tagore’s letters to Count Hermann Keyserling? Helene Meyer-Franck and her husband had lived near Hamburg. I asked a friend to look up the archive of Hamburg University. – Nothing! For years I snooped around without getting a clue. The mystery got solved when I contacted Meyer-Franck’s publisher, Otto Melchert. Her book of Tagore poetry translations had appeared in Melchert’s publishing firm Deutscher Literatur-Verlag in 1947. Meanwhile the publishing house had totally changed its profile and had lapsed into irrelevance, but Otto Melchert, deep into his eighties, a tall, unbent gentleman, was still alive.

He ushered me into his office in Hamburg and showed me a portrait of RabindranathTagore hanging at the wall – a treasured picture since decades. Otto Melchert personally kept Rabindranath’s letters to Helene Meyer-Franck as well as some related material. He showed the hand-written and typed letters to me. All I asked him for was to yield a xeroxed copy to me which he did without delay. Considering his age, I further implored him to surrender the originals to the Deutsche Literaturarchiv in Marbach where they would be safely kept and honoured. It needed some prodding and pleading, but after a few months the old man agreed. I informed the director of the manuscript section in the Deutsche Literaturarchiv who personally travelled to Hamburg to accept Rabindranath’s letters. Now I could, after a long wait, put the two parts of this correspondence together and have it published[16]. A few months after Otto Melchert had surrendered these letters, he tragically died in a car accident.

Some more original material came into my hands, quite unasked for. I followed various leads with the hope to unearth more documents on Rabindranath. Among others, I contacted the Ecole d’Humanité in Hasliberg Goldern (Switzerland), a private school. It predecessor, the Odenwaldschule was founded by the well-known German educator Paul Geheeb and his wife Edith near Heidelberg. In 1930, on his third and final trip to Germany, Rabindranath visited the school. His erstwhile student in Santiniketan, Aurobindo Bose, had been associated with the school and had requested his master to give the Geheebs the honour of his visit. Rabindranath and Paul Geheeb became quite attached to each other and exchanged letters for a decade.

Paul Geheeb had to move the school away from Nazi Germany in 1934 to safety in Switzerland. There is continues to flourish under its new name Ecole d’Huminité. Aurobindo Bose followed the Geheebs to Switzerland and continued to based at the school until his death. He was a journalist for Indian newspapers, a maverick of uncertain occupation during the pre-war and war years. His papers were left with the school. Much of this material was in German or English and could be absorbed by the school’s excellent archive. But what to do with the Bengali letters and manuscripts? – When I arrived to scrutinize the archive for material I might need, Arnim Lüthi, in charge of the archive, asked me whether I was willing to retain these Bengali papers as nobody could read them and consequently were of no use to them. Soon after I had agreed, my post-office in Germany delivered a large cardboard box to me. To my surprise and delight, among many irrelevant articles and letters, I discovered over a dozen letters handwritten by RabindranathTagore.

I took them to India in my hand-luggage and went straight to Rabindra-Bhavan in Santiniketan and delightedly showed my find to the then curator. He flipped through the pages and then put the file back into my hands. “Interesting”, he pronounced and turned to other work. Some months later, after he had heard about this faux-pas, the then director of Rabindra-Bhavan, Sankha Ghosh, called me and requested me to let them have these letters. By then, I had decided to present them to the Deutsche Literaturarchiv in Marbach. This is where they are being kept now, with my German translation and explanatory notes attached, and one page is on permanent exhibition in their museum.

No report on my Tagore study is complete without mentioning Professor Prasānta Kumār Pāul, Rabindranath’s biographer in Bengali. He is the scholar who, over the years, inspired me most in Santiniketan. Over a stretch of two decades or more he produced nine volumes biography. Day after day, year after year, he sat at his small desk in a room which should rather be called a monk’s cell, and produced one volume after another. The sheer boldness and tenacity of this man! He was, some say, not easy to get along with. He had his angularities. Maybe! But he was, as long as he lived, the one source of inspiration in Santiniketan which kept me going with my translation and my research. I had an easy and amiable relationship with Prasanta-da. When I wrote my short Tagore biography, the only one extant in German[17], he had always time to clear my doubts and provide me with the facts and figures I needed. Never was he in a hurry or impatient. He wrote a long and affectionate preface to my Bengali book[18] and agreed to be the co-editor of the RabindranathTagore – Helene Meyer-Frank Correspondence. Peace be to his soul!

Whoever tries to accomplish something slightly out of the ordinary, should not be surprised at having to face opposition. I wanted a creative life which questions and tests conventions and follows the path of creative living. I believe a few people doubted my sincerity, especially when they discovered no self-serving reason behind my labours. How can it be that a person spends his life studying and working on Srī Rāmakrishna and Rabindranath Tagore? Where does he get his money from? What does he get out of it? I was, and possibly continue to be, a riddle to such people. The same government which in 1992 had awarded to me the “Rabindra Puraskar” to honour my work on Rabindranath Tagore, wanted to throw me out of the country for my Tagore work three years later. I was informed that my visa would not be extended. Why? – “He can conduct his Tagore research and translation work just a well in his own country.” I flew to Delhi to find support and received it from a highly placed Bengali lady, the daughter of my former landlord at Santiniketan. She talked to the Bihari gentleman in charge of my problem. When I met him, he made some impatient, depreciatory remarks about “those Bengalis” and overruled the order. I re-applied for the extension of my annual visa and returned to Santiniketan, relieved. But soon another problem cropped up: I could not leave India for my summer sojourn to Germany until my visa application had been granted. This often took many months. I had lectures scheduled with the Indo-German Association in Germany. When I explained my situation to its officials, one Bengali gentleman phoned up the Indian Ambassador to Germany, who immediately promised me a five-year visa, to be issued from his office. I flew to Germany, went to Bonn, then still the capital, and within a few hours was the jubilant owner of a five-year visa. I could continue my cultural mission and hope to continue it in future.


[1] Aurobindo Ghosh, On Tagore. In: Golden Book of Tagore, Calcutta 1931, p.91.

[2] Rabindranath Tagore, Mit meinen Liedern hab ich dich gesucht. Poems. Translated by Helene Meyer-Franck. Deutscher Literatur-Verlag Otto Melchert, 1946, 79pp.

[3] Rabindranath Thakur, Der andere Tagore. Edited by Alokeranjan Dasgupta. Verlag Wolf Mersch, Freiburg 1987, 127pp.

[4] Penguin Books, 1985 with many subsequent editions, also with Penguin India, Delhi.

[5] Rabindranath Tagore, I Won’t Let You Go. Selected Poems. Translated from Bengali by Ketaki Kushari Dyson. Bloodaxe Books, Newcastle 1991.

[6] Rabindranath Tagore – Auf den Funkens Spitzen. Sewlected and translated from Bengali by Martin Kämpchen. Kösel Verlag, Munich 1989; 3rd. Edition 1997.

[7] Rabindranath Tagore – Woi Freude ihre Feste feiert. Gedichte und Lieder. Selected and translated from Bengali by Martin Kämpchen. Verlag Herder, Freiburg 1990.

[8] Rabindranath Tagore – Am Ufer der Stille. Selected and translated from Bengali by Martin Kämpchen. Benziger Verlag, Zürich (later Düsseldorf) 1995; new editions 2002 and 2008.

[9] Rabindranath Tagore – Liebesgedichte. Selected and translated from Bengali by Martin Kämpchen. Insel Verlag, Frankfurt 2004, 3rd edition 2006 (insel taschenbuch 2988).

[10] Rabindranath Tagore Rabindranath Tagore – Das goldene Boot. Lyrik, Prosa, Dramen. Edited by Martin Kämpchen. Verlag Artemis & Winkler, Düsseldorf 2005, 669 pp.

[11] Edited by Martin Kämpchen. Max Mueller Bhavan, Kolkata 1991.

[12] Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla 1999.

[13] See Alex Aronson, Brief Chronicles of the Time. Writers Workshop, Kolkata 1990.

[14] Alex Aronson, Rabindranath through Western Eyes. Kitabistan, Allahabad 1943; republished Riddhi-India, Kolkata 1978.

[15]For a summary of his life and work, see Martin Kämpchen, Alex Aronson: Refugee from Nazi Germany in Santiniketan. In: Jewish Exile in India 1933-1945. Edited by Anil Bhatti and Johannes H.Voigt. Manohar / Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi, 1999, p.127-149.

[16] My Dear Master. Rabindranath Tagore and Helene Meyer-Franck / Heinrich Meyer-Benfey. Correspondence 1920-1938. Edited by Martin Kämpchen and Prasanta Kumar Paul. Rabindra-Bhavana, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan 1999; 2nd revised edition 2010. – A German translation of this correspondence appeared recently: Mein lieber Meister. Briefwechsel 1920-1938. From the English by Ingrid von Heiseler. Draupadi Verlag, Heidelberg 2011.

[17] Rabindranath Tagore.Bildmonographie.  Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek 1992, 4th edition. 2011

[18] Jarmanite Rabindra-Biksha. Translated from the English by Jaykrishna Kayal. Mitra & Ghosh, Calcutta 1999.

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