When I was new in Kolkata, it took me a while to realise that Robi Thakur and Rabindranath Tagore were the same person.
Previously, like all outsiders, my view was, Rabindra Sangeet was slow rendition of songs /poems written by Tagore. I had read his Nobel winning work ‘Geetanjali’ and appreciated his poetry, but first time, his songs touched my soul, was through movies of Satyajit Ray and Ritwick Ghatak. As and how I started picking up the language, meanings, deeper interpretations emerged. ‘Akash Bhora Surya Tara’ became a metaphor of life. I started appreciating Debabrata Biswas and his deep voice. I had even acquired a cassette of songs translated in Hindi back then. Poetry and stories beckoned me more than the music. Frequent visits to Shantiniketan opened more dimensions of Tagore. His essays and his view of Nationalism, patriotism and religion were far more appealing to an outsider because he completely removed the concept of ‘other’.
Yet, outsider I have remained as I do not understand religious conservatives and most people of the Bengal who take pride in Robi Thakur to such an extent that anyone from outside state is always looked down as a lesser – less sensitive, intellectually less appealing, lacking depth etc. One standard response whenever I sought meaning of songs, poetry was, “O, Tumi bhujbe na. Robi Thakur puro anyo level er. Ei maati te janmale bhujte.” (“O, you won’t understand. Robi Thakur is a man of another higher level. You need to be born in this soil to understand”).
Probably because of these attitudes, Rabindranath is celebrated with much fervour in Bengal more than anywhere else. People want to own him so much that they keep him imprisoned, displayed proudly in the book shelves.
Two persons brought me very close to Rabindranath. One was my nephew, who was severely epileptic but whenever he saw me broke into songs of joy of Rabindranath. Everyday was like Rabindranath Jayanti to him as he sang and celebrated only Rabindra Sangeet. And other was my dear friend whom I lost to cancer. As her end came nearer, she too had Rabindra Sangeet on her lips and in her soul. This appeal of his poetry and music to persons who were beyond intellectualizing it, will forever remain an enigma.
Lastly, of course Rituparno Ghosh films too gave fantastic insight into Tagore, his works and his sensibilities. I really hope Rabindranath’s philosophy will be celebrated with same enthusiasm.
Here are few clicks of one of my many trips to Shantiniketan. The featured photograph is the from the recently restored and renovated gallery of Metcalfe Hall. Do visit Tagore’s abode to know him better and feel him close to your soul.