Kabir(1398-1518) was an extraordinary satirist, philosopher, and oral poet whose works have been sung and recited by millions throughout North India for half a millennium. Arvind Krishna Mehrotrawas the recipient of a 2009 PEN Translation Fund grant for his work on the poems of Kabir. He is head of the Department of English at the University of Allahabad. Wendy Donigeris the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago.
Rabindranath Tagore was born May 7, 1861 in Calcutta, India into a wealthy Brahmin family. Tagore received his education at home. He was taught in Bengali, with English lessons in the afternoon. Tagore spent a brief time at St. Xavier's Jesuit school, but found the conventional system of education uncongenial. In 1879, he enrolled at University College, at London, but was called back by his father to return to India in 1880. During the first 51 years of his life, he achieved some success in the Calcutta area of India where he was born and raised with his many stories, songs and plays. His short stories were published monthly in a friend's magazine and he even played the lead role in a few of the public performances of his plays. Otherwise, he was little known outside of the Calcutta area, and not known at all outside of India. This all changed in 1912 when Tagore returned to England for the first time since his failed attempt at law school as a teenager. Now a man of 51, his was accompanied by his son. On the way over to England he began translating, for the first time, his latest selections of poems, Gitanjali, into English. Almost all of his work prior to that time had been written in his native tongue of Bengali. Tagore's one friend in England, a famous artist he had met in India, Rothenstein, learned of the translation, and asked to see it. Reluctantly, Tagore let him have the notebook. The poems were incredible. He called his friend, W.B. Yeats, and talked Yeats into looking at the hand scrawled notebook. Yeats was enthralled. He later wrote the introduction to Gitanjali when it was published in September 1912 in a limited edition by the India Society in London. Thereafter, both the poetry and the man were an instant sensation, first in London literary circles, and soon thereafter in the entire world. Less than a year later, in 1913, Rabindranath received the Nobel Prize for literature. He was the first non-westerner to be so honored. Overnight he became famous and began world lecture tours promoting inter-cultural harmony and understanding. In 1915 he was knighted by the British King George V. In 1919, following the Amritsar massacre of 400 Indian demonstrators by British troops, Sir Tagore renounced his Knighthood. He used the funds from his writing and lecturing to expand upon the school he had founded in 1901 now known as Visva Bharati . Tagore's multi-cultural educational efforts were an inspiration to many, including his friend, Count Hermann Keyserling of Estonia. Count Keyserling founded his own school in 1920, patterned upon Tagore's school, under the name School of Wisdom. Rabindranath Tagore led the opening program of the School of Wisdom in 1920, and participated in several of its programs thereafter. As a writer, Tagore primarily worked in Bengali, but after his success with Gitanjali, he translated many of his other works into English. He wrote over one thousand poems; eight volumes of short stories; almost two dozen plays and play-lets; eight novels; and many books and essays on philosophy, religion, education and social topics. Aside from words and drama, his other great love was music. He composed more than two thousand songs, both the music and lyrics. Two of them became the national anthems of India and Bangladesh. In 1929 he even began painting. Only hours before he died on August 7, in 1941, Tagore dictated his last poem.