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Tagore and our ‘parrot’s training’

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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?”
“Nope”
“Does it sing?”
“No”
“Does it shout if it does not get its feed?”
“No”

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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Savitribai Phule: The Pioneer Of The Women Education In India

Savitribai Phule fought for women’s education from the cultural patterns of the male-dominated society as a mission of her life

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Savitribai Phule along with her husband, Jyotirao Phule played a vital role in raising the women's rights in India during the British Rule. Wikimedia Commons
Savitribai Phule along with her husband, Jyotirao Phule played a vital role in raising the women's rights in India during the British Rule. Wikimedia Commons
  • Savitribai Phule was the first female teacher of the first women’s school in India
  • Savitribai Phule is regarded as a crucial asset in the social reform movement in Maharashtra
  • Savitribai Phule started her own school for girls education in Pune in 1848

Savitribai Phule is India’s first Modern feminist and a well-known social reformer who along with her husband, Jyotirao Phule played a vital role in raising the women’s rights in India during the British Rule. She was the first female teacher of the first women’s school in India and also considered as the pioneer of modern Marathi poetry. In 1852, Savitribai Phule opened a school for Untouchable girls which were a great challenge to take at that time.

Savitribai Phule was born on 3 January 1831 in Naigaon, Maharashtra, British India. She was married to 12-year-old Jyotirao Phule at the age of nine. Savitribai Phule is regarded as a crucial asset in the social reform movement in Maharashtra.

Battling for women education

Savitribai Phule fought for women’s education from the cultural patterns of the male-dominated society as a mission of her life. She worked towards tackling some of the then major social issues like women’s liberation, removal of untouchability and widow remarriages. Due to her efforts for women empowerment in the society, Savitribai Phule used to be followed by orthodox men and was abused by them in obscene language. People would target her with rotten eggs, cow dung, tomatoes, stones but she ignored all that, just to reach her school. After suffering so much, she once decided to give up but her husband, Jyotiba Phule came in full support for her. Jyotiba Phule encouraged his wife to continue with her cause.

Also Read: 15 Amazing Facts About The Revolutionary Bhagat Singh

But still, both husband and wife faced fierce resistance from the orthodox elements of society. Savitribai Phule got herself admitted to a training school and came out with flying colours with another Muslim lady, Fatima Sheikh. After that, she started her own school for girls education in Pune in 1848. Although, the response Savitribai Phule got was not that much uplifting but she was determined by what she was doing.

In 1852, Jyotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule were felicitated by the government for their commendable efforts in the field of education and other social causes. Wikimedia Commons
In 1852, Jyotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule were felicitated by the government for their commendable efforts in the field of education and other social causes. Wikimedia Commons

With the passage of time, people started to accept them and hence both husband and wife were able to open 5 more schools in the year 1848 itself. Taking a note of Savitribai Phule’s hard work, British government honoured her for her educational work. Jyotiba and Savitribai were also opposed to idol worship. For their work, both husband and wife were socially isolated and were attacked by the people whom they questioned.

The next big step that she took was to take a stand for widows. In those days, if a man used to die of old age or some sickness and the girls they had married were left, widows. The windows were treated like an unwanted piece of dump in the society. Widow’s head was shaved and they were not allowed to use any cosmetics that may make them look beautiful. Such a condition of widows moved Savitribai Phule and her husband. Thus, they went on for a protest to stop barbers from shaving the heads of widows.

Also Read: 10 Facts You Need To Know About Homi Bhabha

Here are some of the facts related to the life of Savitribai Phule and her husband, Jyotirao Phule during there struggling for various social causes.

  1. In 1897, Savitribai Phule with the full support of her son, Yashwantrao Gupta, opened a clinic to treat those affected by the pandemic of the bubonic plague when it appeared in the area around Nallasopara. As per records, she used to feed two thousand children every day during the time of the epidemic.
  2. Two books of her poems were published posthumously, Kavya Phule (1934) and Bavan Kashi Subodh Ratnakar (1982). Savitribai Phule wrote many poems against discrimination and advised to get educated. Being a poet and a philosopher and wrote on the importance of education and knowledge and removal of caste discrimination.
  3. In 2015, the University of Pune was renamed as Savitribai Phule Pune University to her honour deeds.
  4. Savitribai Phule died on 10 March 1897 while serving a plague patient.
  5. Google India Celebrate her Birthday January 3, 2017, with Doodle.
  6. Savitribai Phule was herself a victim of child marriage as she was married to Jyotirao Phule when she was only 12 years old.
  7. Savitribai Phule opened ‘Infanticide prohibition house’ care centre for pregnant rape victims and helped them to deliver their babies. She put up boards on streets about the “Delivery Home” for women, who were forced for their pregnancy. The delivery home was called “Balhatya  Pratibandhak Griha”.
  8. Savitribai Phule worked towards abolishing the caste-based and gender-based discrimination in the Indian society.
  9. In 1852, Jyotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule were felicitated by the government for their commendable efforts in the field of education and other social causes.
  10. After her marriage, Savitribai Phule enrolled herself in a training centre at Ms Farar’s Institution at Ahmednagar and in Ms Mitchell’s school in Pune.

Also Read: 10 Must-Know Facts About Subhas Chandra Bose

In 1852, Savitribai Phule opened a school for Untouchable girls which were a great challenge to take at that time.Wikimedia Commons
In 1852, Savitribai Phule opened a school for Untouchable girls which were a great challenge to take at that time.Wikimedia Commons

Savitribai Phule fought against all forms of social inequalities for any section of the society. They even moved by the plight of untouchables in the society. As untouchables were not allowed to take out water from the wells, meant for the upper caste. So, Savitribai Phule and Jyotiba Phule started their own reservoir of water for the untouchables in the vicinity of their house.