Continental contemporaries: Rabindranath Tagore and Okakura Tenshin
Some lives, by virtue of the broad expanses that they span, come to acquire the breadth and proportions of continents. Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali poet and Asia's first Nobel Prize winner, and Okakura Tenshin, Japanese aesthete, curator and cultural intermediary between 'East' and 'West'; two personalities who straddled the early twentieth century with the peripatetic itineraries of their quests, and with the restless horizons of their very different but complementary accomplishments, come close to embodying intellectual and imaginative sweeps of continental dimensions. Their biographies are also generous geographies.
Rustom Bharucha's magisterial mapping of the worlds invoked by the Tagore-Okakura encounter - Another Asia: Rabindranath Tagore and Okakura Tenshin (2007) - delivers what it promises - a displacement of our common-sense apprehension of political and personal geography, of arbitrary affiliation, even of how we conceive of the intimate maps of long distance intimacy, through a diligent and close reading of the public and hidden transcripts of the interactions between two men, who happened to be friends and contemporaries, and yet whose convictions pointed them eventually in very different directions. Bharucha's achievement lies in the care with which he unravels the differences (even as he is mindful of the resonances) in terms of the way in which Tagore and Okakura imagined and lived the intersections between space and culture, life and thought, politics and aesthetics.
Shuddhabrata Sengupta is a media practitioner, filmmaker and writer with the Raqs Media Collective, and one of the initiators of Sarai. His recent work involves textual explorations of aesthetics, surveillance and cyberculture. He is currently working on a series of new media and digital culture projects at the Sarai Media Lab.