Last summer, Kaberi and I visited Balatonfüred (Hungary). Its promenade on the shore of Lake Balaton was named after Rabindranath Tagore, who had stayed at the heart hospital there in 1926 after suffering from exhaustion while visiting Budapest at the end of a European tour. Before leaving Balatonfüred, Tagore had planted a tree at what is now the end of the Tagore promenade (Tagore Setany).
It was one of Tagore’s first tree-planting ceremonies – he went on to plant trees in various locations around the world during his travels. Many eminent people have followed Tagore’s example in Balatonfüred, including Nobel laureates and Indian Prime Ministers, by planting trees near the Tagore Promenade.
While we were there, we spoke to leading Tagore authority Professor Somendranath Bandhapadhyay, who lives in Santiniketan, India, and has been Kaberi’s mentor for many years. He has also been a constant source of encouragement for our Tagore-related projects, including Shyama.
He told us that Tagore was an environmental pioneer. Tagore first became concerned about man’s impact on the environment after seeing an oil spill at sea on his way to Japan in 1916, decades before an environmental movement emerged in the West. The experience provoked Tagore to write at length about his annoyance at the way modern man was failing to respect nature.
However, Tagore did not simply look for a solution to the problem, he made something creative out of his environmental campaign. In 1927, he started an annual tree-planting ceremony in Santiniketan (brikkhoropon), at which the students would sing and read his poems. This approach gave his environmental campaign a very positive image, so that it was not a negative campaign about what man should not do but rather it was a subtle reminder conveyed through creative expression. This encouraged more people to get involved in supporting his campaign. The ceremony is still held each year in Santiniketan, as described here.
Classes in Santinketan were in the shade of trees, not simply as a romantic idea but as a deliberate way of bringing students closer to nature so that they would unconsciously learn to respect it. He also started an annual celebration of the arrival of the monsoons at the end of the dry season (Borsha mongol).
UNESCO will be celebrating Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary in 2011 and some in India are calling for a focus on his environmentalism. What if people all over the world were to mark Tagore’s birth anniversary (actually on 7 May 2011) in their homes and communities with tree-planting ceremonies and/or performances of his environmental plays Red oleanders (‘Raktakarabi‘) and The waterfall (‘Muktadhara‘)? All such events could be listed and discussed on the 150th anniversary Facebook page.
Perhaps then, some 100 years from now, people will not still be looking helplessly at yet another oil spill.