Tagore and the Gunny Bags: Making Connections between the Ruinous Effect of Plastic in Our World and Gunny-bag Factories in Tagore’s Day
A century ago the poet and polymath Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) carried out experiments in social reform through rural reconstruction. He lectured around the world to warn against nationalism and “the greed of profit” (“An Eastern University” 201), and to advocate creative unity. He gives us an inspiring example of the environmentalist principle of “think globally, act locally.” Tagore would have been appalled at the devastation brought about since his lifetime through accelerating exploitation of people and planet, and his response would surely have been to act locally in an even more radical way. Today a Tagorean radicalism would mean establishing diverse plots of largely perennial plant foods, as locally as possible, in each individual village or neighbourhood or home garden. Furthermore, the beneficial reduction effect of radical relocalisation makes the bulk transport of food stuffs unnecessary, thus removing the need for single use packaging and saving the energy expended, not just for powering vehicles, but also on building infrastructure to facilitate transportation. At his departure from Bengal for a journey to Japan, Tagore observed the damage to the riverine landscape from factories manufacturing gunny bags or hessian sacks, containers for the already expanding transportation of a century ago. It was only twenty years after Tagore’s death that two key inventions: the plastic bag and the shipping container and its infrastructure, led to the exponential increase in shipping. It is only recently that the damaging effects of that expansion is being realised. The time for Tagorean radicalism has come.
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