We started looking for a name for our baby when Tuk was about six months pregnant. In Thailand (and unlike India where it is actually illegal), doctors are free to tell the parents the sex of the baby upon request. Actually we had preferred to not know and did not plan to formally request our doctor. But once while doing the ultrasound scan, he casually asked us if we wanted to know; as we paused and looked at each other in some confusion, he told us that it was a boy, and that he was very healthy. It wasn’t a big deal after that. It also meant we could start searching for a name.
Our search for names extended to Thai, Sanskrit, Tamil, Urdu and even Persian. With just one scoping condition: that it should begin with the sound of “ra” – thus similar to our names Rajesh and Ratchaneewan. A month before our son was born, we had whittled our selection down to a “top 3”. But we were still not totally satisfied with any of them. Until one day Tuk and I were chatting and she asked me “why not Rawin?”. We both liked it at once. It struck me as being inspired by, and also sounding like, the first part of Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), the famous poet, writer and philosopher of India whom we both liked and who was also well-known in Thailand for his song “Gitanjali” (which is translated into Thai).
Rabindranath (or also sometimes Ravindranath) is most well-known as a poet but he was much much more. He was an extraordinarily creative and versatile person bringing out sublime prose and poetry and plays as well as songs, music and painting. He was also active in the politics of his time being a reformer and critic of colonialism. His writings reflected his critical perspectives on topics ranging from Indian nationalism and identity, to caste, ethnic and religious conflicts and violence. In the early 1930s, he lectured and wrote poems and dramas criticizing India’s “abnormal caste consciousness” and the practice of untouchability. An important aspect of his life was his contribution to religious and philosophical literature through his collection of essays like “The Religion of Man” and the very beautiful and touching “Sadhana: The Realization of Life” (see excerpt below). The essays in “Toward Universal Man” also show him as a social and political theorist.
Tagore was a musician, a vocal performer as well as composer. Apart from writing eight novels and four novellas, he composed more than 2,000 songs. He developed a new style of vocal music which is called, after him, Rabindra-sangit. His “Gitanjali” or “songs offering” about divine and human love is his best-known collection for which he won the 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature (becoming Asia’s first Nobel laureate). Two of his songs are the national anthems of Bangladesh and India: Amar Shonar Bangla and Jana Gana Mana (Thou Art the Ruler of All Minds) respectively.
In 1922, Santiniketan (abode of peace), the school he had founded at Bolpur in 1901, was expanded into the Visva-Bharati University with a curriculum that emphasized social reform, international unity, and rural reconstruction.
Tagore traveled widely across Europe, North and South America and Southeast Asia including Japan and Indonesia. His writings after his travels in Southeast Asia were compiled in “Jatri”. He visited Bangkok on his way home to India from Java and Bali in 1927. Following that visit, he wrote poems on the “Buddhist spirit of Siam” and the maitri or fraternity of the Borobudur of Java. In Bangkok, Tagore was received by the King and Queen of Thailand along with two other members of the royal family: Prince Damrong (a collector of Siamese art) and Prince Chantabun (publisher of the Siamese Tripitaka). Tagore gave lectures in Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.
The man whose acquaintance with the world does not lead
him deeper than science leads him, will never understand what it
is that the man with the spiritual vision finds in these natural
phenomena. The water does not merely cleanse his limbs, but it
purifies his heart; for it touches his soul. The earth does not
merely hold his body, but it gladdens his mind; for its contact
is more than a physical contact–it is a living presence. When a
man does not realise his kinship with the world, he lives in a
prison-house whose walls are alien to him. When he meets the
eternal spirit in all objects, then is he emancipated, for then
he discovers the fullest significance of the world into which he
is born; then he finds himself in perfect truth, and his harmony
with the all is established …
When man’s consciousness is restricted only to the immediate
vicinity of his human self, the deeper roots of his nature do not
find their permanent soil, his spirit is ever on the brink of
starvation, and in the place of healthful strength he substitutes
rounds of stimulation. Then it is that man misses his inner
perspective and measures his greatness by its bulk and
not by its vital link with the infinite, judges his activity
by its movement and not by the repose of perfection–the repose
which is in the starry heavens, in the ever-flowing
rhythmic dance of creation.
From Tagore’s “Sadhana: The Realization of Life”,
Ch 1: The Relation of the Individual to the Universe.