The Useless and the ‘Wonderful’: Work, Leisure and Being ‘at Home in Modernity’ in the Music of Rabindranath Tagore

  • Saurav Dasthakur


The ideas of work and leisure, utility and uselessness formed parts of a broad discursive framework in the late-nineteenth–early-twentieth-century Indian colonial-nationalist context. The western capitalist and utilitarian discourses sought to inculcate in the indigenous people certain notions of work that were byproducts of the dominant enlightenment modernity and therefore did not rest in an easy co-existence with the existing Indian ideas of time, history, progress and society. While such alien notions of the useful and the useless were instrumental in ushering in the discourse of the nation and a state-centric social formation in this part of the world, they also were engendering certain dubious notions of gender and morality that informed the world of aesthetics. The present article would argue that Rabindranath Tagore’s music located itself in the realm of the ‘useless’ and the wonderful. His music seems to uphold an alternative regional modernity through working out certain tenets of the Swadeshi Samāj —Rabindranath’s Indian alternative to the western idea of the nation— that started to fall apart with the advent of colonialism and World-history in this part of the world. Our reception of this musical legacy today is thus informed by our participation in this hybrid modernity.


Playful Unproductive Musical utilitarianism Nationalization Folk 


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Copyright information

© Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of English & Other Modern European LanguagesVisva-BharatiSantiniketanIndia

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