The First Encounter (1878)

It seems Rabindranath Tagore, though acknowledged as a well-respected Indian artist, still found some of his peers in England to be a little patronising. The following is an excerpt taken from his letters from Europe.

“Before I came to England, I supposed that it was such a small island and its inhabitants were so devoted to higher culture, that from one end to the other it would resound with the strains of Tennyson’s lyre. I imagined that wherever I stayed on that tiny handful of land, I would hear Gladstone’s oratory, Max Muller’s exegesis, Carlyle’s deep reflections… that wherever I went, one and all would be enthusiasts for intellectual pleasure. But I was very disappointed. Women attend to their appearance; men do their work; life goes on, much as it does everywhere else – only in the political sphere is there a little more excitement.

Tagore in London, circa 1978

Gradually I am getting to know a few people here. One curious thing that I’ve noticed: people seem to think I am a complete ignoramus. They think that I have just come from India, that I don’t know anything, that things, therefore, need to be shown and explained to me. One day I went out for a walk along the streets with Dr M***’s brother, and was quite infuriated by him. There were some photographs in a shop window; he supposed that I would be absolutely amazed at the sight of the photographs – that my eyes would pop out of my head. He took me over to them and started to explain them to me laboriously. He told me that they were made by a machine and not drawn by human hand. Quite a crowd gathered around us, and I was very embarrassed.
I told him clearly that I was not unaware of what he was telling me. But did he believe me?

Taking me on to a watch shop, he tried to tell me what wonderful inventions watches are. He thought he was doing me a favour, but I was fuming!”


Translated by William Radice. Extract from This World Is Beautiful, collated and prepared by Sakti Bhattacharya, Kalyan Kundu, Jill Parvin and Kalyan Sircar.
Published by The Tagore Centre UK, available from

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