I call myself a Delhiite. A Bengali, who has been born and brought up outside Bengal, yet, someone who imbibed Bong culture since childhood. You see, all probashi bangalis (that is the term for Bengalis living outside Bengal) cling to their proud culture once they are outside their state. They discuss, practice, and inculcate Bengali culture with more fervour than perhaps the ones living in Bengal. They take it upon themselves to celebrate each and every festival, birthday, pujo with equal, if not more, zest so that they never feel away from home.
As a child, I was made to participate in numerous cultural programs organised by the neighbourhood Bengali cultural club. Every ‘Rabridra Jayanti’, I would either dance to Tagore tunes or sing Tagore songs with fellow bongs. Little girls with flower adorned in their hair and in batic sarees would perform to various Tagore songs such as ‘Tora je ja bolish bhai’ to ‘Orey Griha Bashi’ to ‘Orey bhai phagun legechhe bone bone’. I was
also part of such performances with my fellow Bengali friends. Almost every year. At that time, the awareness was very little. I had no idea why every year, around the month of May, I would be made to practice dance steps. I was told that it was Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday, and the great poet’s birthday was celebrated across Bengal with much fervour and his works were world renowned. It made little sense to me. For me, the idea of being on stage, getting to wear mum’s pretty saree and wear makeup like an adult appealed a lot more than celebrating an old man’s birthday, who was not even remotely related to me.
Over the years, with age and maturity, I started to understand the greatness of this man. I still feel being outside Bengal, not being too fluent in my mother tongue, I have very little knowledge on Tagore. And when my editor asked me to write something on the Nobel Laureate, I felt I was inept to write anything. My mother put my fear into words. She pointed out that one needed in-depth knowledge on the topic and I had no idea of what I was getting into. I couldn’t have agreed more with her.
My exposure to Tagore was actually at a very young age. At the age of 3, I made my debut on stage and danced on Tagore’s song ‘Momo chitte Nrite Nitta’. Over the years, I was exposed to Tagore’s books, poems, plays, songs and even paintings by my parents. Like every other Bengali, my parents have followed Tagore’s work, been taught about his work in their childhood. You see, if you are a Bengali, you cannot be ‘Tagore illiterate’. Every Bong household is brought up on a staple diet of Tagore. Every kid, at least my generation, knows at least one Tagore song by heart. It’s almost like Bible for us.
There was also a time, like a rebellion teenager, wanting to make my own identity and have an opinion on everything; I felt that Tagore was ‘overrated’. I just refused to understand what all the fuss was about. Couldn’t fathom why my parents’ generation became almost emotional as far as Tagore was concerned. Few of the stories that I had read or heard about seemed archaic in today’s time. I couldn’t identify with many of his short stories that my mother read out to me. I couldn’t understand the meaning of lyrics of most his songs.
The ignorant me perhaps will never be able to understand the actual greatness of this man. The man, who has written and composed more than 2000 songs, was a thinker, philosopher, an artist and so many more things that a little (literally) me can ever fathom. Gurudev was and perhaps still the most widely read, quoted author not only in Bengal but across the world. His body of work is enormous and one little article cannot fit this man’s mammoth image.
On my last visit to Kolkata, I went to visit Tagore’s birthplace, Jorasanko mansion in north Kolkata. Unfortunately, that day it was shut for visitors, I pleaded, tried to flash my press card, told them that I am writing an article on him, but to no avail. I was allowed to click a few pictures of the front porch and asked to come the next day. Unluckily, I had an early morning flight back home the next day and hence couldn’t go back. I have promised myself the return visit soon. Maybe then I could write an article about the experience of being there.
I am too little, too ordinary a person to comment on Gurudev. I know only a very small portion of his great work, of his greatness, and the literary revolution that he brought about in Bengali literature. But I continue to learn new things. And with every discovery of mine, I can’t help but wonder that what a visionary he was.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)