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Durable Link to this BlogMonday, June 06, 2011

Remembering Rabindranath Tagore - I

Guru Rabindranath Tagore

This year happens to be 150th birth anniversary of poet Rabindranath Tagore. All periodicals, in almost all Indian languages and English are highlighting the event. Like Gandhi, Tagore is felt as their own by the average Indian. Universality in Tagore's writings has taken him beyond his own language, Bengali. I tried to recollect, when and how I have lived with Tagore's memories and am amazed that it is more than seventy years!

First Memory: Tagore's Death

It was the month of August in the year 1941 and my mother Sharadabayee was visiting her old parents at Hubli, taking her three small kids. The news came that poet Tagore was no more and my mother and her sisters started shedding tears! For a child of five years, it was beyond comprehension why anybody should cry reading a newspaper report.

The following evening, womenfolk of the house-hold (inevitably with us kids) proceeded to Karnataka Buildings where Umabai Kundapur had arranged a tribute meeting to mourn the event in her Bhagini Samaj, the institution she had built to help destitute women. A portrait of Tagore was kept on a platform and some women were busy making garlands of jasmine, to be offered to the portrait. I have memories of only the extremely sweet and pleasant fragrance of the jasmine flowers and the speeches in Marathi, Kannada and Konkani languages, by some of the ladies who had gathered. There were more tears and silent sobbing. The quiet atmosphere made us cousins, all very small, to think that the situation was grave. No need to mention that none of us could follow, what the women were talking about. But we all guessed that the bearded old man could be a close relative, who was nearest to their heart, had died.

Growing Up in Tagore's Influence

Baba, our father had told us how as a child he listened to stories of Tagore read out by his eldest sister Akka to the entire household in the evenings. He used to sit on her lap, and could feel that she tried to suppress her emotions at times. This aunt of mine, whom I never saw, was a teen-age widow, with shorn hair and red saree. But she was well educated, for those times. Her considerate parents had provided, her with books and literature beyond religious texts which an Indian widow was not supposed to read! Baba inculcated love for Tagore from very childhood. I have written how he learnt Bengali, very late in life, to read Tagore's Gitanjali in original Bengali itself.

I have stated these two examples only to show how Tagore influenced peoples' minds in remotest parts of India. He was the writer who united India, in the days of freedom struggle, and whose works were translated in all Indian languages.

My next memory is of school days in Gokarn. Our teacher Kelkar taught us a group song 'Mile sabe Bharatasantan' written by Tagore. It extolled greatness of India and was in Bengali. We sang Janaganamana which had become national anthem by then. We read poems, stories and novels of Tagore then available in Kannada. We visited the beautiful spot on Karwar beach, which is immortalized by Tagore in one of his essays. He had gone to Karwar to visit his brother Satyendranath Tagore who was District commissioner of Karwar in early years of 20th century.

We avidly recited poems of Tagore translated into Kannada by some of the distinguished poets, who learnt Bengali at Shantiniketan from the poet himself! Those were days of fervent nationalism, and persons who studied directly under Gurudev (That was how Tagore was addressed) were highly respected, read and honoured, in respective regions.

Tagore Centenary

1961 was birth centenary year of Rabindranath. The Indian nation celebrated the occasion in several ways. Well equipped auditoriums and theaters, named after him were built, in all cities and towns. Streets and localities were named after him, and his works were staged. I had the unique privilege of participating in such performances in one play, stage version of Tagore's Chirakumara Sabha. Late Shrinivas Havnur acted the hero's role of Akshaykumar and I did the role of Purabala, his wife. Both of us were members of an amateur? Stage group, "Karnatak Kaloddharak Sangh" of Dharwad. Later some more plays of Tagore were staged by our group, in other cities as well.

See Also:
• Autobiography of Jyotsna Kamat
• Remembering Ravindranath Tagore - II

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Jyotsna Kamat

Jyotsna Kamat Ph.D. lives in Bangalore.


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