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This review is taken from PN Review 145, Volume 28 Number 5, May - June 2002.

THE FLAVOUR OF MY PERSONALITY RABINDRANATH TAGORE, Particles, Jottings, Sparks: The Collected Brief Poems, translated with an introduction by William Radice (Angel Books) £8.95

Since very ancient times, India has been divided into provinces or states, many of which have developed a culture of their own. Fourteen separate languages are spoken between the Himalayas and the southern sea, and each possesses its own literature. Bengali culture and literature are often acclaimed, even in other parts of the country, as the most distinguished of the considerable variety on offer. This is possibly because Bengal produced Rabindranath Tagore, who even now is by far the most famous writer in the Indian subcontinent, and who in his native state is considered only slightly less highly placed than God.

The arts in Bengal have usually been produced by a group of people known as the bhadralok, a term best translated as 'an intellectual aristocracy'. They often came of wealthy families, like the two men who define what the term really stands for: Tagore himself, and Satyajit Ray. The majority of Bengalis are small, dark, very talkative people. Tagore and Ray were tall men; they managed to convey an air of majesty; they had what are called in India 'wheatish complexions'. They were not copious in their conversation. Satyajit Ray was undoubtedly the most splendid-looking man I have ever met. Those who knew Tagore, even when he was old, frequently said the same of him.

Like most Bengalis, they had a highly developed sense of drama, and used the long, flowing robes worn by their class for maximum effect. Tagore also cultivated a beard ...

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