The greater part of my existence as a Bengali has always been ruled by my indomitable Bong chromosome. So I proudly possess Kantha and Dhakai sarees, paintings by Jamini Roy, terracotta artifacts still smelling of Bankura and Bishnupur, my great grandmother’s silver hair pins and a bookcase that boasts of Parashuram, Upendra Kishore Roy Chowdhury, Sharadindu Bandopadhyay, Abanindra Nath Thakur, Mahashweta Devi, Sukumar Roy and Satyajit Roy. Strange though it may seem to the uninitiated, the pride of place in the bookcase is occupied by none of these; that is something clearly reserved for sixteen beige, hard-bound volumes of Rabindra Rachanabali (The complete works of Rabindranath Thakur) with his signature in maroon on the cover. I had digested most of the Bard’s work from the collection that adorned my father’s book case much before I reached my prime. But while moving out of Kolkata several years later, my Bengali core wanted to take with me, among other things Bengali, a new set of Rabindra Rachanabali, to increase the ” intellectual quotient” of my bookshelf.
In spite of having such treasures in my possession, I do not consider myself an expert on Tagore, but a mere Tagore enthusiast perhaps. I have attended most of the ‘Probasi’ Rabindra Jayanti evenings that I have been invited to; I have joined others gathered around a harmonium on many a sunny afternoon and sweltering evening; I have even given a patient hearing to various renditions of Rabindrasangeet sung at various decibels and scales; I have even sat through countless recitals and performances of Rabindra Nritya Natyas. Though I do not find myself among the “thus rendered proud by Rabindranath” Bengali mothers who seek out Probasi (non-resident) experts on Rabindrasangeet and Rabindranath to tutor their brood, perfect their pronunciation and recitation skills as well as hone them in the nuances of the Prem, Prakriti and Puja songs, even in a distant land.
This year, on 9th of May, the Bard completed his 149th birth anniversary and stepped into his 150th year. A couple of days prior to this milestone, sitting in distant Mumbai, the plasma screen of my laptop tracked a raging debate on Twitter over the exact date of birth of the great poet. The fervour was infectious, I was drawn by the zeal of the Tagore enthusiasts on Twitter.and I wanted to be a part of this celebration too.
On the eve of the Bard’s special day, we — a group of Tagore enthusiasts located in distant corners of the Twitter universe — gathered around the micro-blogging site. A novel thought had struck us: what could be more new age than paying homage to Rabindranath Tagore by trending him on the Twitter Wall of Fame? Our intention was to use a hash tagged term #Tagore150 with each of our tweets about the Bard, reach millions of time lines across the globe and secure his place among the ‘stars’ of the Twitter universe.
So we had one of the greatest poets of all times who had done us proud with a Nobel to his name. We had a hash tag #Tagore150. We had (hopefully) enough people who were willing to commit themselves to the task at hand. And some eminent names who had signed up for the event. Very soon, tweets started to pour in from all the corners of the globe praising his lyrics, songs, poetry and his philosophy. But our story did not end happily.
Why? Do read on.
The deluge that we wanted to unleash met with a deluge of another kind. We were received with a cold and wet drencher and a barrage of questions ranging from “Is it the 150th birth anniversary of Tagore or the 149th?”; “Why should the ‘not so Bengali’ help in trending the Bard of Bengal?”; “Why use the British sounding surname Tagore to talk about the poet?”; “Why demean a larger than life icon by trending him on Twitter?”; “Do we have to keep him trending through the whole year?” etc. , etc., etc.
The day started to grow long in trying to ward off the sarcasm, the inertia, the apathy that seemed greater in force than the enthusiasm we had garnered. People grew impatient, debates raged and interests waned resulting in the thread becoming weaker and weaker.
I looked away from the glare of the plasma screen and looked at the neat row of Rabindra Rachanbali proudly lining my bookshelf. There was Rabindranath as we know him, printed in offset, covered in hard bound, his knowledge, his philosophy, his art, his prose and his poetry meticulously divided into sections, years, seasons and moods. Though he may have been translated into most leading Indian languages, he has seems to have remained the “Inescapable Icon” of Bengal. He has been forgotten there, among the petty parochial boundaries, on the bookshelves of most Bengalis, as an identity that is seen as an albatross around most Bengali necks.
But is he only a Bengali icon? I think not. The same poet’s prowess saw him bring home – to India, as much and in many ways, more than Bengal – the Nobel Prize in Literature, for the first (and so far) only time in Indian history. Yet, even in the year of his 150th birth anniversary, I find it sad that he continues to be weighed down by the “narrow domestic walls” of regionalism and parochialism that have come in the way of our bestowing on him his due; the title of Bard of India. “My father, when will my country awake?”
Image coutsey :
i) Self portrait by Rabindranath Tagore – www.art.com
ii) Veiled Woman by Rabindranath Tagore – www.tribuneindia.com