Tagore and Ocampo, the Southern Cooperators

By Ignacio Anitua

The more arbitrary the number of an anniversary, a maxim might say, the greater the person being honored. The Nobel Prize-winning poet Rabindranath Tagore was born 161 years ago in India, and his birthday is still being celebrated today. As part of these celebrations – Tagore was born on 7 May – a film by Pablo César, an Argentine film director, was re-released in India about the relationship between the poet and Victoria Ocampo, and more specifically about his stay in Argentina, in the neighborhood of San Isidro in the Buenos Aires province.

The film, released in Argentina in 2018, is called Thinking of him and covers two stories that are told in parallel: on the one hand, in the present, a teacher tries to find himself again and undertakes an initiatory journey to India; on the other hand, the story of the meeting between Tagore and Victoria Ocampo, in 1924, is told in black and white.

Although Pablo César has a long career of more than forty years and thirteen feature films, with a deep inclination towards the experimental, in this film he turns to narrative in a perhaps more conventional way. Presumably, one of the essential sources of his narrative, though not the only one, was Victoria Ocampo’s book Tagore en las barrancas de San Isidro, which tells several stories and anecdotes that César faithfully reflects on screen.

Tagore did not stay at the mythical Villa Ocampo, which then belonged to Victoria’s parents, whom she was unable to convince, but in a nearby house, belonging to other relatives and on the same ravine, called Miralrío. The days the poet spent there were unforgettable for him, as can be seen from the numerous correspondence he kept up with Victoria over the years.

In the foreword to that book, Victoria establishes an essential difference between two of what she considers to be the most important men in India during the 20th century, namely Mahatma Gandhi and Tagore himself. While Gandhi, politically more involved in the independence process and despite his acknowledged pacifism, did not believe in cooperation between East and West, Tagore was more broad-minded in this respect and, while also a pacifist, believed that no people can be saved by separating from others.

Curiously, or perhaps not so much, Paul Caesar is also, like Tagore, an example of cooperation. A pioneer in the field of co-productions with Africa and India, he has given numerous talks on South-South Cooperation, promoting alternative modes of production, dissemination and distribution of films from the global south. He was, in fact, the first to make a co-production between Argentina and India (Unicorn, the garden of fruits), and the only Latin American to direct co-productions with African countries.

The third piece of this puzzle, Victoria Ocampo, is also a clear example of cooperation. Although perhaps not as specifically “South-South” oriented as César, and perhaps closer to the universalism of Tagore or the Borges of The Argentine Writer and Tradition, Victoria, through her greatest creation, the cultural magazine Sur, was an example of cooperation between different regions and artists of the world. Victoria was a true patron of the River Plate and, in addition to Tagore, she gave shelter (either in the pages of the magazine or in her own home) to other intellectuals of the stature of Waldo Frank, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, José Ortega y Gasset and, of course, Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares, who was also married to her sister Silvina.

We see, then, how the excuse of this capicua anniversary leaves us – for that is probably what they are there for – something a little deeper: the task of unravelling whether we are, like Victoria, César, Tagore, Borges and, why not , Reporte Asia, on the side of cooperation between different countries, between different peoples.

(Author is Argentinian journalist, specialist in culture & Master in History (UTDT). Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)

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