Kathmandu: When Ashesh Malla`s father died two years ago, he observed the traditional memorial rite the following year, offering food and worship. But this year, the Nepali professor who also runs an alternative theatre group here has an unusual memorial - Rabindranath Tagore`s ‘Gitanjali’. ‘Gitanjali’, the collection of poems and songs that brought Tagore public reverence as well as the Nobel prize for literature in 1913, was first translated into Nepali 50 years ago by Malla`s father, Khagendra Pradhananga.
"My father loved the Bengali language and culture," says Malla, 56, remembering his early childhood in Dhankuta district in eastern Nepal where he and his siblings were taught Bengali at home with his father reciting Tagore`s poems to the awe-struck children.
"As a youngster, he was educated in Darjeeling in West Bengal and often travelled to its capital city Kolkata, picking up Bengali and a keen interest in Bengali literature.
"While working as the librarian in a library in Dhankuta run by the Indian embassy, he translated the `Gitanjali` directly from the original Bengali version. In fact, I was named after the word Ashesh (endless) after he encountered it in the `Gitanjali`.
"Since then, there have been many other translations of the `Gitanjali` in Nepali but my father`s was the first."
To Malla`s joy, on Saturday, when the world celebrates the 150th birth anniversary of the poet-humanist-philosopher extraordinary, the Nepali "Gitanjali" translated by Pradhananga is being reprinted and re-launched.
It will be released during the inauguration of a three-day festival in Kathmandu hosted by the Indian embassy in Nepal, the B.P. Koirala India-Nepal Foundation and the cultural organisation Anandalok. The festival includes a concert and the screening of four films made on Nepal`s works: Satyajit Ray`s ‘Teen Kanya’ and ‘Charulata’, ‘Kabuliwala’ directed by Hemen Gupta, and the more modern ‘Chokher Bali’ by Rituparno Ghosh.
The Nepali ‘Gitanjali’ will be released by Nepal`s President Ram Baran Yadav, an avowed admirer of Tagore who during his visit to India this year went to Santiniketan to tour the Vishwa Bharati university founded by Tagore.
"It is the richest and best tribute a son could offer his father," says an overwhelmed Malla. The son also has a tribute for Tagore.
On the last day of the festival, his theatre group Sarwanam will stage a dramatic collage based on Tagore`s stories and poems: ‘Tagore ka patro haru’ or characters from Tagore.
The short stories chosen are ‘Post Master’, the tale of a lonely post master`s relationship with a young girl who looks after him in the absence of his family, and ‘Shasti’ or punishment, the family drama of a young woman forced to shoulder the blame for her sister-in-law`s murder.
However, it is the poems that will tug at the heartstrings in Nepal, the land where the Buddha was born.
Besides ‘Dui Bigha Jami’, the story of a man being evicted from his own land by the rich and greedy landlord, the other two narrative poems are both on Buddhist themes.
Tagore returned to Buddhist scriptures again and again for inspiration and ‘Pujarini’ is the moving tale of a palace dancer who defies the king`s edict not to worship the Buddha, paying for her defiance with her life.
The other narrative is ‘Abhisar’ (journey to love), the story of how a Buddhist monk gently spurned the hospitality of a beautiful courtesan when she was in her heyday but went to care for her when she was dying of small pox and had been abandoned by the city.