A less explored fact of Rabindranath Tagore is his involvement in and contribution to advertisements. Though the thoroughly commercial world of advertising may seem far removed from the peaks of creativity that he inhabited, in his lifetime, Tagore was a man much-featured in advertisements. From cosmetics to stationery, he endorsed them all!
Yet in his works, there seems to be a refrain bordering on negativity regarding advertisements. Sample these: in The Home and the World, Sandip tells Chandranathbabu at one point, “But my eyes tell me that it is man’s aim to make a huge pile of things outside oneself. And the people who have achieved that aim successfully are telling lies in bold letters on commercial advertisements every day”; again, in the essay, ‘Nationalism in Japan’, he writes, “Have you never felt shame when you see trade advertisements, not only plastering the whole town with lies and exaggerations...”.
But in real life, seeing his involvement, he seems to have had a healthy respect for the need for advertisements. He also realised the world of good his endorsements could do to Swadeshi companies and brands, which faced tough competition from better marketed British-manufactured goods. Jalajoga, Radium Cream, Shri Ghrita... the list of his Swadeshi commercials is long, some prominent, others less so. He pushed his nationalist agenda through his promotion of Swadeshi goods. A good example is the ad for Shri Ghrita: “With the decline in the standard of ghee in Bengal, the decline in the condition of livers has become inevitable. I wish that Sri Ghrita drives away this malady and helps Bengalis lead a better life.” Another fine example is the ad for Radium Cream: “Those who use beauty products like snow and cream or eau de cologne, on using the products manufactured by the Radium factory will find no difference between them and foreign products”, and that encouraging this “swadeshi enterprise” was a “duty”.
The ad for Radium Cream
Another aspect of Tagore’s involvement with advertisements is the fact that a wry sense of humour often shone through. In a well-known advertisement, Tagore endorses then well-known sweet-maker Jalajoga thus: “I tasted the sweetmeat prepared by Jalajoga. It is satisfying. It has a distinct taste, which is why it is to be appreciated. The curd (dadhi) that was served with it deserves special praise” (note the stress – the sweet, which is what Jalajoga was known for, was ‘satisfying’, whereas it was actually what was ‘served with it’, the curd, that deserved ‘special mention’).
Arunkumar Roy, the editor of Purasree, the monthly magazine published by Kolkata Municipal Corporation, has been doing research on Rabindranath Tagore’s involvement with advertisements. According to him, Tagore endorsed a wide range of products; he came across 90 such products, endorsed between 1889 and 1941 (the year he died). The calculation comes to 90 odd products in 50 odd years – a good count by any standards for a man of literature. Roy says that advertisers used his celebrity the way they use that of film actors and cricketers now. The difference is that, unlike them, he is not known to have charged a bomb.
Tagore endorsing harmoniums manufactured by Dwarkin & Son Ltd.
Tagore’s oeuvre in ads covered a wide variety of products, including books, stationery, medicines, cosmetics, food products, musical instruments, etc. The advertisements appeared mostly in magazines and journals like Probasi, Basumati, Calcutta Municipal Gazette, Bhandar, Shonibarer Chithi, Sadhana and Tattvabodhini Patrika, and in the newspapers like Anandabazar Patrika, Amritabazar Patrika and The Statesman. Among newspapers, Anandabazar Patrika carried the largest number of advertisements where Tagore appeared.
Here are some other examples of Tagore’s nationalist instinct:
Napier Paint Works – “This is an enterprise which is unique in our presence and it has gladdened my heart. The founder of this factory who through difficult steps has reached a remarkable height of success deserves the gratitude of his countrymen.”
Paper merchants Bholanath Dutt & Sons Ltd. – “Sjt. Bholanath Dutt should inspire our unemployed youngmen with hope and courage.”
Godrej’s Vegetable Toilet Soap – “I know of no foreign soaps better than Godrej’s and I will make a point of using Godrej’s Soap.”
Kuntaleen Hair Oil – “Using Kuntaleen I have managed to grow new hair within one month.”
Tagore had also endorsed a young artiste from Senola Records, and written a tribute to Haren Ghosh after his death. Ghosh was an impresario whose office was at 8 Dharamtala Street.
Napier Paint Works' paints endorsed by Rabindranath Tagore
Godrej's Vegetable Toilet Soap with Tagore's picture and endorsement
Kuntaleen Hair Oil, which Tagore endorsed
Tagore endorsed printmaker S Ghosh
Written by Anushtup Haldar for Team M3.tv