New Delhi: The spirit of Rabindranath Tagore lived in the women he loved at different times in his life - Kadambari Devi, the companion of his youth, Mrinalini Devi, the wife he grew to love, and Victoria Ocampo, the Argentine feminist with whom he was friends for 23 years till his death.
A new production, ‘With Love: Finding Rabi Thakur’, by the Gujarat-based Darpana Performing Group starring noted classical and conceptual dancer Mallika Sarabhai and actor Tom Alter looks at the bard from Bengal through the three women he loved.
It also plants a surprise fourth - a woman he created from the ideals about womanhood he cherished in his imagination - the Manipuri princess Chitrangada.
The production, the last of a Tagore trilogy by Sarabhai`s repertory company, has been written and directed by her and Australian culture and arts promoter Steve Mayer-Miller. The funny, innovative and occasionally quaint dance theatre is the latest addition to Sarabhai`s repertoire.
"With Love..." uses flashbacks, soliloquy, dialogues, the concept of time travel, dramatised snippets from Tagore`s short stories, ballet and Rabindra Sangeet to probe Tagore`s persona in English, Hindi and Bengali.
Indian actor of British origin Tom Alter is Tagore - a tortured global citizen torn between his loves, dilemmas and changing outlooks to life who talks to his younger self, a suave youth in love with Kadambari Devi, brother Jyotirindranath Tagore`s wife. Jyotirindranath, an accomplished painter, musician and playwright was a mentor to young Tagore.
The older Tagore chides himself for neglecting wife Mrinalini and for indirectly driving companion and confidante Kadambari Devi to suicide.
The old Tagore is also in a muddle about his feelings for 34-year-old Victoria Ocampo, a married woman. He seeks help from his younger self on ways to put his love for Ocampo in words. The young Tagore advises the old self to return to Jorasakno - his ancestral home in Kolkata - to look for answers from his past in a symbolic time travel.
Tagore is haunted by the ghosts of his lost loves. "He lost all the women he loved by the time he was 30 - till he met Victoria Ocampo at 63. It was an adult relationship," Sarabhai, who is Ocampo in the production, told IANS.
It was at Ocampo`s palatial villa, Miralrio San Isidro, that Tagore composed his ‘Puravi’ poems and began to paint. He dedicated the ‘Puravi’ poems to Ocampo and christened her Vijaya.
In the production, Tagore returns to Jorasanko to meet the spirits of Kadambari and Mrinalini.
Friend Kadambari laments the lost growing up years with Tagore in a soliloquy while Mrinalini reminds the poet that "she had read all his work, had grown up without his knowledge and eventually surrendered to god`s will after bearing him five children".
Chitrangada makes a brief appearance to flaunt her "immortality as the tough warrior princess, but a failed lover". Ghosts exorcised, Tagore returns to his old age to "profess his love for Ocampo, who accepts him as he is".
For 23 years, they corresponded through letters - a chaste relationship that transcended the boundaries of the mundane, moulding Tagore into the visionary and the artist, he became in his later years.
Sarabhai says her mother and danseuse Mrinalini Sarabhai knew Ocampo. Soon after Tagore died, Mrinalini Sarabhai was dancing in Argentina. Ocampo found out that she was one of the last of Tagore`s students and came to watch her performance, Mallika Sarabhai recalled.
Ocampo described Mrinalini`s dance as "illuminating" in a personal message.
The Sarabhai home was inextricably bound to Tagore. "Tagore once came to our home when my father was two years old. He picked my papa on his lap and said this boy would either be a sadhu or a scientist," Mallika Sarabhai said.
Sarabhai said she had been "eating, living and breathing Tagore for the last one year".
"I wanted to find him through his women and researched his correspondence, diaries, journals and works. Every word spoken by the characters is from his papers - mostly letters," she said.
‘With Love...’ completes the trilogy that took off with a reinterpretation of Rabindra Sangeet through contemporary music and dance followed by a dance drama ‘Street of Voices’, a feminist choreography combining the voices of Tagore`s women with those of today`s India.
It was presented by Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) in the capital Tuesday.