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Tagore and our ‘parrot’s training’


Once upon a time, there was this illiterate bird in the kingdom. It sang songs, but never read the scriptures. It jumped about and flew, but never cared for custom and convention. The king proclaimed, “Such a bird is of no use; it eats fruits in the orchard, and the fruit market runs at a loss!” He summoned his ministers and ordered, “Give the bird some education!”

So starts Rabindranath Tagore’s short story Tota Kahini (‘The Parrot’s Tale’ or ‘The Parrot’s Training’) which was first published in 1918 in a Bengali magazine Sabuj Patra.

Apart from being known as ‘Bishwa Kobi’ or World Poet and being the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, Tagore was an educational activist. He had noted and predicted the dangers of western civilization as the east emulated the western system either by choice or through enforced educational ideals.

Even at a time when people were furiously raising their voice during the nationalist movement, Tagore envisioned a “No-Nation” scenario based not on the divisive stance of the colonists but on internationalism and mutual cooperation and harmony. He writes in his essay ‘Nationalism in India’: “Nationalism is a great menace. It is the particular thing which for years has been at the bottom of India’s troubles. And inasmuch as we have been ruled and dominated by a nation that is strictly political in its attitude, we have tried to develop within ourselves, despite our inheritance from the past, a belief in our eventual political destiny.”

Tagore believed that true education couldn’t be achieved when alienated from one’s cultural roots.

The colonial system imposed upon Indian children was ill-suited to their development. The system encouraged rote learning without any proper base, the syllabus had no connection to the Indian children’s reality, the uniform in the new schools was too warm for the Indian climate, and most importantly, the system promoted competition amongst individuals rather than cooperation.

The entire education system of the colonisers smacked of importance on the self, rather than humanity as a whole. Ironically, in spite of the importance on self, the system had no place for the individual spark. Without this intellectual and emotional sympathy and respect for the individual traits and needs, true education and development is impossible.


Tota Kahini: the story

Tagore’s Tota Kahini tells the story of how a king forces “education” onto a parrot. It is a deadly satire on how the education system of the colonized paid no heed to the cultural traits inherent in the Indians which had taken root over hundreds of years, and instead forced on them an educational system which destroyed their very soul and took down the nation.

source: dailymail.co.uk
source: dailymail.co.uk

The parrot is first introduced as “illiterate” and “of no use” to the society. It fell on the nephews of the king to “educate” the bird. The first reason for the parrot’s illiteracy was found to be its “nest of twigs and straws” which was apparently too small to hold much education. Thus, a golden cage was made for it. People from afar came to appreciate it- Education or not, the bird got a great cage! What a lucky bird! As the cage was maintained and polished regularly, people applauded the “progress”. Scribes were called for, and heaps of manuscripts copied for the bird’s “education”. This “overflow of learning” impressed many. All those employed for this process gradually grew richer, drawing fat salaries in the name of the parrot’s “education”.

When a critic commented, “The cage keeps getting better, but no one cares about the bird”, the king was infuriated and went to see for himself “the furious pace at which education was being imparted”. He arrived to a huge clamour of musical instruments, chants, and a crowd of masons, goldsmiths, scribes and clerks. The king was rather impressed with the sound, to which his nephew replied, “It’s just not the sound, Your Highness! A lot of money has gone behind this!” Satisfied, the king was about to mount his elephant, when the critic reminded him of the bird. The king turned back and was shown the “education” process.

“The process was so much larger than the bird itself, that the bird was not seen, rather, it was fair enough not to see the bird.  The king realized that there was no dearth of arrangements. The cage had no food or water. Reams of pages from hundreds of textbooks were thrust to the beak of the bird with tips of pens & quills. The bird not only could not sing, it could not even cry out. The process was very exciting.”

The bird started to die, but due to its “wild nature”, it often looked at the sun and snapped its wings. The policeman railed at the “show of indiscipline” and an ironsmith came to beat the cage and clamp the wings of the bird. The royal relatives of the king decried: “In this country, the birds are not only undisciplined, they are ungrateful!” No-one knew when the bird finally died until the critic had spread the rumour. The king called his nephew and demanded answers.

The nephew replied, “The education of the bird is complete, Your Highness!”
The King asked, “Does it jump anymore?”
The nephew said, “Heavens, no”
“Does it fly?”
“Does it sing?”
“Does it shout if it does not get its feed?”

The bird was brought to the king and he pressed it. It didn’t move, didn’t make a sound or open its beak. “Only the dry papers from the books rustled in its belly.”


Tagore’s education system

Tagore conceived a new type of education system which referred back to the ancient methods of learning in India. He sought to “make Santiniketan the connecting thread between India and the world [and] a world center for the study of humanity somewhere beyond the limits of nation and geography” (Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-Minded by Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson).

In his school Vishva Bharati established in 1918, Tagore employed a brahmacharya system in which students had gurus who would guide them on a personal basis on the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual levels. Students wore loose Indian clothing and walked barefoot. They were more in touch with nature and most of the time teaching was carried out in the open. Students were encouraged to sing, dance, act, paint and take any means which would help their creativity evolve.

Vishva Bharati campus
Vishva Bharati campus

Tagore wanted to build a system on the amalgamation of the Eastern and Western culture which would bring together the ancient and the modern, and the urban and rural. He believed that an education system with Indian roots would help the people rise beyond the divisive ideals inherent in the western education system. Education was, for Tagore, a means to bring together the entire human race by means of cooperation. “The people who are lacking in this higher moral power and who therefore cannot combine in fellowship with one another must perish or live in a state of degradation.” (Nationalism in India)

Tagore was fully aware of the direction the world was moving in with the suspicion and hatred among nations and individuals which gradually poisoned our minds and the environment we live in. His thoughts are well expressed in his last speech The Crisis of Civilisation. The right means of education which would develop the mind, spirit and body as a whole while bringing together the entire humanity by means of cooperation, is one way which Tagore suggested might help heal the world.
[Full Tota Kahini Translation here]

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World Suicide Prevention Day: Bollywood celebrities Hrithik Roshan and Karan Johar lend their support to suicide prevention

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Hrithik Roshan and Karan Johar support suicide prevention
Hrithik Roshan and Karan Johar support suicide prevention. IANS
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Mumbai, September 10, 2017: Bollywood celebrities Karan Johar and Hrithik Roshan have come out in support of preventing suicide in the country on the occasion of World Suicide Prevention Day 2017.

Hrithik on Saturday shared a link of a video, which depicted that one should listen to a person for saving lives.

“On World Suicide Prevention Day, make a pledge to listen, and save a life,” Hrithik captioned the video.

Karan also shared the same link and wrote a similar caption for the video. He also tagged Neerja Birla, Founder, and Chairperson of Mpower, The Aditya Birla World Academy, and The Aditya Birla Integrated School.

Neerja Birla has started with the campaign and wrote on her Twitter account: “In honor of World Suicide Prevention Day join the #EarForYou movement. Listen it can save a life.”

According to the official page of Mpower, their aim is “to empower individuals and their families dealing with mental health disorders by raising awareness, alleviating stigma, advocating prevention, fostering education, and providing world class holistic services, so that they can lead meaningful and productive lives, with respect and dignity.” (IANS)

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Assam Government signs a MoU with Google India to expand Internet Connectivity

It will provide Internet connections to 26,000 villages and 1,500 tea garden areas in Assam

Assam Government has signed MoU with Google India to expand Internet Connectivity
Assam Government has signed MoU with Google India to expand Internet Connectivity. Pixabay

Guwahati, Assam, September 8, 2017: The Assam government on Thursday signed a MoU with Google India to take Internet connectivity to the remotest part of the north-eastern state.

Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said the government would work to provide Internet connections to 26,000 villages and 1,500 tea garden areas in Assam under the MoU and thus increase digital literacy.

Information Technology Secretary Nitin Khare and Google India Country Head (Policy) Chetan Krishnaswami signed the Memorandum of Understanding in the presence of Sonowal.

“Technology rules the roost in the 21st century and the state government has upped the ante to use technology to carry forward the fruits of development to the remotest parts of Assam,” the Chief Minister said.

He said the ties with Google was a way forward to strongly pitch Guwahati as a natural gateway to the South-East Asian countries.

Sonowal said his government in sync with the Centre was working for the success of Startup initiative but the success of such programmes sans technology would be a distant dream.

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“With such a large number of successful Indians in different fields here, India can bank on it and hope to use this vast expertise for its progress,” Kumar said.

He was speaking at the grand finale of ‘Namaste Canada’ programme, organised by 20 big Indian groups in association with the Indian Embassy, on Monday.

He said distance would not matter in this digital era, but passion and commitment would.

Also Read: Connecting Indian Diaspora to Motherland: AP Janmabhoomi Project Works Towards Making Digitization of Education a Reality 

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In India, Kumar runs the ‘Super-30’ programme for talented students from underprivileged background and provides them free mentoring.

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