Jun 282020
 
The first Online Sahityasabha

Yesterday, I was helping Kaberi and friends stage their first Online Sahithyasabha . We postponed the start by half an hour (compared to what I had announced in my blog post last weekend) as it would otherwise have been very early for Debangana, Irabati and Suparno to perform from Texas. The other performers were in London, Kolkata and Santiniketan.

The performers were, in order of appearance:
Saranya Sen Gupta, Irabati Banerjee, Manini Mukhopadhyay, Kaberi Chatterjee, Tirthankar Roy, Debangana Banerjee, Pritha & Soumitra Bandhopadhyay, Sangita Tripathi Mitra, Sayan Bandhopadhyay, Nilanjana Sen Majumder & Debanshu Majumder, Sudakhsina Roy & Nibedita Sen Gupta.

Guest of honour: Professor Somendranath Bandhopadhyay

Oddly enough, the live nature of the performance meant that the back stage emotions were very similar to those back stage at a stage performance. Everyone had to finish their costume and make-up by the time the performance was due to start. We also had separate ‘entrances’ for artists and audience: the artists had a Zoom connection while the audience had the link to the live YouTube event (which I had posted in my post last week).

During the performance, all the performers were supporting each other. The tradition of those listening saying ‘Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu’ after each performance also provided an immediate feedback to the performers.

Afterwards, most of the performers were able to catch up about the experience before the US friends had to leave for breakfast, we went for lunch and the friends in India went for dinner.

We had just over 60 concurrent viewers following the live stream on YouTube and several were commenting in the live chat – including posting ‘Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu’ in Bengali after each performance. The feedback both during and since the performance was very positive. So maybe there will be an Online Sahityasabha 2 in a month or so … .

Some lessons learned:

  • have a clear running order which the performers and technical support can follow
  • have a backup plan in case there is a problem with the internet connection of a performer just before or during their performance
  • make sure that all the performers are aware that, since Zoom no longer allows Zoom hosts to unmute people for privacy reasons, the performers each need to make sure they know how to unmute themselves before they start their performance
  • test the internet speed of the performers’ connections in advance
  • record the performance in Zoom as well to allow more options for a post-performance edit
  • the YouTube live chat disappears after the live event and can only be replayed if the original video remains public or unlisted and untrimmed
  • it is possible to trim the video after the live event using YouTube Studio, as well as skipping any long pauses. However, this is saved as a new video which is published separately.
InvitationSaranya Sen Gupta
ResponseIrabati Banerjee
Tagore songManini Mukhopadhyayকত অজানারে জানাইলে তুমি (First part missing due to technical problem)
About Sahityasabha*Kaberi Chatterjeeসাহিত্যসভার মুখবন্ধ
Tagore song (esraj)Tirthankar Royশ্রাবণের ধারার মত পড়ুক ঝরে
Short storyDebangana Banerjeeস্বরচিত রচনা পাঠ
Tagore songPritha & Soumitra Bandhopadhyayকোন পুরাতন প্রানের টানে
Tagore danceDancer: Kaberi Chatterjee
Recitation: Nilanjana Sen Majumder
Esraj: Animesh Chandra
নববর্ষা (হৃদয় আমার নাচেরে আজিকে)
Tagore recitationSangita Tripathi Mitraরথযাত্রা (লিপিকা)
Tagore songIrabati Banerjeeপ্রাণ ভরিয়ে তৃষা হরিয়ে
Tagore songSayan Bandhopadhyayনিবিড় মেঘের ছায়ায় মন দিয়েছি মেলে
Tagore recitationNilanjana Sen Majumder & Debanshu Majumderপাঠ: বর্ষামঙ্গল
Tagore songSinger: Sudakhsina Roy, Esraj: Tirthankar Royএস্রাজ সহযোগে গহন রাতে শ্রাবণধারা পড়িছে ঝরে
Tagore songSuparno Banerjeeহৃদয়ে মন্দ্রিল ডমরু গুরু গুরু
Tagore danceDancer: Nibedita Sen Gupta
Singer: Saranya Sen Gupta
মোর ভাবনারে কী হাওয়ায় মাতালো
Tagore songManini Mukhopadhyayগানের ভিতর দিয়ে যখন
AppreciationProfessor Somendranath Bandhopadhyay
Programme of yesterday’s Online Sahityasabha

* based on শেষ পারানির কড়ি by Hirendranath Dutta and কবির পাঠশালা by Swati Ghosh and Ashok Sarkar

The dark side of copyright

I also realised that copyright collection bodies like IPRS have convinced YouTube to flag any Tagore songs for automated copyright claims. The live broadcast received no less than 5 copyright claims:

Copyright claims against yesterday’s Online Sahityasabha

Now, this means that, even if Kaberi’s channel cannot generate revenue from this video, YouTube could add advertisments and these copyright bodies would receive a share of the advertising revenue. One could imagine that YouTube does this systematically from the tens of thousands of Bengalis around the world (including professional singers) who upload videos of themselves singing Tagore songs. It could be quite lucrative for these copyright collection bodies.

Tagore’s works have been in the public domain since 1 January 2002 (over 18 years ago!). YouTube requires anyone disputing copyright claims to accept that their channel may be closed down if they dispute copyright claims repeatedly. Needless to say, I have advised Kaberi to dispute these spurious copyright claims but others may be intimidated by the declarations YouTube requires them to make before doing so.

Both claiming unlicensed revenue for other people’s work and discouraging these people from disputing spurious copyright claims by threatening them with closing down their YouTube channels would seem to be anti-competitive practices.

Anyhow, here is a list of the bodies/companies behind the copyright claims listed above, according to the details provided by YouTube:

SongCopyright claim by
Kato Ajanale JanaileSaregama Publishing, The Royalty Network (Publishing)
Gahana Raate Shravana DharaIPRS_CS
Ganer Bhetor DeyeG Series Publishing
Shaboner Dharar MotoIPRS_CS
Gahan Rater ShrabandharaIPRS_CS
Copyright collection bodies claiming rights on Tagore songs (Source: YouTube)
Jun 212020
 
Watch the first Online Sahityasabha on YouTube here [Link updated after the live event]

Every Tuesday evening in Santiniketan, the home town of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, he established the tradition known as Sahityasabha (“literary gathering”) for children studying at Patha Bhavan. It is a performance at which schoolchildren are invited to perform their own creations, including works by Tagore, based on recommendations from their teachers. This is how they learn to become stage-free.

Kaberi and I are preparing an hour-long, live programme next Saturday (27 June). It will bring together mainly former Patha Bhavan students, including Kaberi, who will be performing from their homes in different countries. For those in India, it will start at 18:30 while, for those in the UK, it will start at 14:00 – see the image for the start time in different time zones.

You should be able to watch the performance live from anywhere in the world via YouTube Live, which is embedded at the top of this post. You should also be able to catch up with the recording later here. Note that the performances will be in Bengali, with some explanations being provided in English.

May 172020
 
Virtual celebration of Tagore’s birth anniversary for Shakespeare’s Birthplace

Together with Kaberi and the friends from Prantik with whom we have been celebrating Tagore’s birth anniversary at Shakespeare’s Birthplace each year, we were due to be there again last Sunday (10 May). Unfortunately, like many other things, the lockdown since mid-March to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic obliged the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to close the Birthplace until the end of May.

However, all of us in the team were very disappointed not to be able to get together as in previous years, both for rehearsals in the preceding weeks and for our annual excursion to Stratford for the birth anniversary. So, exchanging with them the previous weekend, and also having just organised a virtual birthday party in which relatives in India had performed dances and songs from their homes, I realised we could prepare a virtual celebration of Tagore’s birth anniversary. Given the context, the theme of Tagore’s concern for Man’s impact on Nature and the environment seemed to us to be the most appropriate.

I checked with the Birthplace if they could coordinate with us on this and Paul Taylor, their Acting Director of Cultural Engagement, kindly recorded and sent me a video of his introduction. We decided to dedicate the performance to the key workers and healthcare workers keeping us safe and well, and to those who have lost their lives during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fortunately, most of the team had the bank holiday on 8 May to record videos of themselves singing or reciting solo. Paul Taylor provided some images of Shakespeare’s Birthplace and Supratik Basu filmed some video of the flowers in the garden of their home nearby. We also had photos from our previous anniversary celebrations.

The traditional birthday chorus “He nuthon”, which we usually sing by the bust of Tagore in the Birthplace garden was going to be more complicated, though. With any online video conferencing tool like Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, etc, there is always a slight time lag (latency) between one person saying something and the others on the call hearing it. This is barely noticeable if you are having a conversation but, as we had already experienced from trying to rehearse remotely in the past, it is not possible to synchronise with each other like this.

So Kaberi and I recorded a base, audio track of the song with a tanpura. We used a metronome to ensure that there were no speed variations during the song. We then sent it to the rest of the team, asking them to listen to it through earphones on one device and film themselves with their phones vertically.

With all the recordings, I assembled the videos in the final video you see above and added English subtitles. I also wrote and recorded the narration, explaining how the performances illustrated Tagore’s concern for Man’s impact on Nature and the Environment.

I used Final Cut Pro X for the main edit but for He nuthon, I experimented with Da Vinci Resolve, which includes more sophisticated audio mixing possibilities, including spatial stereo. Fortunately, I had just invested in a Blackmagic Design eGPU Pro to speed up the processing time needed for my video editing!

Performers from Prantik: Anindita Sengupta Saha, Anupam Ganguli, Chhaya Biswas, Farzeen Huq, Kaberi Chatterjee (dance), Mousumi Basu (recitation), Nikhilesh Das Gupta, Obhi Chatterjee, Sudakshina Roy, Supratik Basu and Tirthankar Roy (esraj).

Morubijoyer ketona (danced by Kaberi Chatterjee) was sung by Manini Mukhopadhyay and Ritwik Bagchi, accompanied by Alok Banerjee (esraj), Asit Ghosh (tabla) and Dipak Das (sitar).

English subtitles translated from the original Bengali by Obhi Chatterjee, Kaberi Chatterjee & Prasenjit Saha.

More about virtual performances

I devised the technique to record He Nuthon after seeing other virtual performances during the lockdown around the world. Of course, the virtual choir videos composed by Eric Whitacre since 2010 were the pioneers in this field. Here was the third in his series: Water Night.

One of the first lockdown virtual performances I saw was this version of the song All I ask of you from The Phantom of the Opera. Andrew Lloyd Webber had originally tweeted a recording of him playing the song on the piano. Members of the Phantom of the Opera orchestra had then recorded their tracks.

Another was the virtual performance of Ravi Shankar’s ‘Sandhya Raga’ by Anoushka Shankar and other Indian musicians who were originally due to perform at concerts around the world to celebrate the 100th birth anniversary of Ravi Shankar.

From among the lockdown virtual performances, a colleague drew my attention to those from the Orchestre national de France. Here is their performance of Ravel’s Boléro.

Perhaps the most visually complex virtual performance of this lockdown period has been La valse n°2 de Chostakovitch, again performed by l’Orchestre National de France:

Apr 092020
 
Shyama and her companions

Our film versions of Rabindranath Tagore’s three dance-dramas (Chitrangada, Chandalika, & Shyama) are now available to rent or buy ‘on demand’ through Vimeo. The films are in the original Bengali with English subtitles – we hope to make the other language versions available soon.

Many of us around the world are in ‘lockdown’ at the moment due to the coronavirus pandemic. So Kaberi and I thought we should share some of Tagore’s humanity and help people celebrate the Bengali New Year (on April 14) at home by making these films available for free this weekend.

Click on the following links (or use the promotional code ‘BNY20’) before midnight on Tuesday, April 14, to watch each film for free:

  • Chitrangada (89 minutes) – Princess Chitrangada, who has been brought up as a man to inherit the throne of Manipur, falls in love with Arjun, the warrior prince. Tagore create this dance-drama in 1936 as part of his campaign for women’s emancipation.
  • Chandalika (73 minutes) – Prokrithi, an untouchable girl who is shunned by other villagers because of her caste, discovers a new life when Anondo, a Buddhist monk, asks her for water and tells her that she is no less a human than he is. Originally written in 1933 as a play, Tagore developed Chandalika into a dance-drama in 1938 as part of his campaign to raise awareness of the plight of the ‘untouchables’ and the unfairness of the caste system.
  • Shyama (90 minutes) – A court dancer, Shyama, falls in love with Bojroshen, a foreign merchant, who is falsely imprisoned and faces execution … unless Shyama accepts the offer of an admirer, Uttiyo, to take Bojroshen’s place. Tagore created this dance-drama in 1939 as an artistic critique of repressive regimes, in reaction to the growing tensions of pre-Independence India and the rise of nationalism in Europe.

After you click on the link, you will have 48 hours to watch the film.

We hope you enjoy the films. Please feel free to spread the word.

May 082018
 

For this year’s celebration of the birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore at Shakespeare’s Birthplace, we chose to highlight Tagore’s educational philosophy. I will write in more detail about this in a later post.

Of course, we also sang a few Tagore songs which are traditionally sung to celebrate his birthday. Our thanks to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, particularly to Birthplace Manager Hannah Jones for making the arrangements and to Emily Ireson not only for taking care of us on the day but also for volunteering to hold the camera during our performance.

Singers & musicians from Prantik:
– Anindita Sen Gupta Saha (also playing the tanpura)
– Chhaya Biswas
– Farzeen Huq
– Kaberi Chatterjee
– Mousumi Basu
– Obhi Chatterjee (who also wrote, narrated & directed the programme)
– Sudakshina Roy
– Tirthankar Roy (playing the esraj)

They were joined by Shakespeare Aloud actor Kelly Hale.

Oct 072013
 

A version of this post first appeared on the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust blog on 9 May 2013.

7 May 2013 was the 152nd anniversary of the birth of the Bengali creative genius and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore. This year is also the centenary of Tagore winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.

We celebrated the occasion at Shakespeare’s Birthplace on 4 May 2013, two weeks after the Shakespeare birthday celebrations.

tagore-ceremony-pic

Board in the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace announcing the ceremony

I had outlined the connection between the two Bards and presented the programme for the afternoon in my blog post Two bards’ birthdays. The annual tradition of celebrating Tagore’s birth anniversary by the bust in the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace was started by my parents and their Bengali cultural group Prantik in 1997, the year after the bust was installed in the garden.

This year, the event attracted many people, including HE Dr Jaimini Bhagwati, the High Commissioner of India to the UK, and HE Mohamed Mijarul Quayes, the High Commissioner of Bangladesh to the UK.

As High Commissioner Bhagwati noted in his introduction, the national anthems of both India and Bangladesh are songs which were written by Tagore.

high-commissioner-tagore-ceremony

HE Dr J Bhagwati,
High Commissioner of India

With the help of Shakespeare Aloud! actors Jennifer Hodges and Jenny Jenkins, we gave the first performance of Tagore’s Nobel Prize in the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace, by the bust of Tagore. The show explained, through poems and songs by Tagore, how he came to win the 1913 Nobel Prize for Literature.

The opening poem was recited in Bengali by Mousumi Basu, who was also one of the singers. The other singers were Supratik Basu, Chhaya Biswas, Kaberi Chatterjee and Tirthankar Roy. We were accompanied on esraj by Tirthankar Roy.

Of course, behind the scenes, there had been weeks of preparation by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust team: Dr Diana Owen (its Director), Julia Howells, Jennifer Stone (Shakespeare Aloud!), Chloe Malendewicz (Operations manager) and Charles Rogers (Centre manager).

Tagore’s Nobel Prize recalls how Rabindranath Tagore was invited to London by the painter William Rothenstein, a friend of Rabindranath’s nephew Abanindranath Tagore. In July 1912, Rothenstein introduced Rabindranath to his literary friends, including W.B. Yeats. They became mesmerised by Rabindranath’s English Gitanjali.

By February 1913, Tagore had been nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature by Thomas Sturge Moore, a member of the Royal Society of London. Meanwhile, 97 members of the Royal Society had nominated Thomas Hardy.

tagore-ceremony-pic-two

Me narrating Tagore’s Nobel Prize
in the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace

By September 1913, members of the Swedish Academy of the Nobel Committee were considering awarding the Nobel Prize to Emile Faguet, a French literary historian and moralist. However, a letter by Swedish poet and novelist Verner von Heidenstam (who went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature himself) convinced them to give the Prize to Tagore:

“I read them with deep emotion and I cannot recall having seen for decades anything comparable in lyric poetry… and if ever a poet may be said to possess the qualities which entitle him to a Nobel Prize, he is precisely the man… we should not pass him by… the privilege has been granted us to discover a great name before it has time to be paraded for years up and down the columns of the daily newspapers. If this discovery is to be utilized we must not delay and lose our chance by waiting another year.”

We concluded the performance by moving next to the bust of Tagore and singing two Tagore songs which are usually sung on his birth anniversary.

tagore-ceremony-pic-three

Singing by the bust of Tagore
in the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace

After a break for tea and a chance to look at the Tagore section of the ‘Shakespeare Treasures’ exhibition, HE Mohamed Mijarul Quayes, the Bangladesh High Commissioner, launched the CD collection of all 2,222 songs in Tagore’s Gitobitan (the compendium of his songs) and presented a framed portrait of Tagore to the Shakespeare Birthplace. He then gave this excellent introduction to the UK premiere of our film version of Chitrangada.

You can watch Chitrangada here.

In his introduction, High Commissioner Quayes also mentioned the other two dance-dramas by Tagore: Chandalika and Shyama. Our film versions of these dance-dramas had their world premieres in Stratford in 2011 and 2009, respectively. Chitrangada completes the Tagore dance film trilogy.

You can watch Chandalika here.

You can watch Shyama here.

May 012013
 

Painting by Rabindranath Tagore: Three witches from Macbeth

Painting by Rabindranath Tagore: Three witches from Macbeth

On April 23, (with a little help from our friends AJ and Melissa Leon) people all over the world celebrated Shakespeare’s birthday. Those who used Twitter to wish Shakespeare a Happy Birthday included Stephen Fry, Arianna Huffington and Geri Halliwell.

Shakespeare’s birthday is certainly one I cannot miss, since it happens to be my birthday too. It is also St George’s Day – and you can imagine that I have supported calls to make St George’s Day a national holiday for years, but to no avail … !

Next week, on May 7, it will be Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday. Apart from becoming known as ‘the Bard of Bengal’ for his major impact on Bengali literature, Tagore was quite strongly influenced by Shakespeare. One of the tasks he had been given by a tutor at the age of 13 was to translate Macbeth into Bengali. This probably contributed to his deep respect for Shakespeare’s work.

We came across this painting of the Three witches from Macbeth at an exhibition of Tagore’s paintings in Bruges last year, where our film versions of Tagore’s dance-dramas Shyama and Chandalika were shown at the Cinema Novo festival. The collection of paintings had been brought together by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and the exhibition was arranged by the Indian Embassy in Brussels.

In 1995, the then Indian High Commissioner, Dr L M Singhvi, arranged for a bronze bust of Tagore by Kolkata sculptor Debabrata Chakraborty to be installed in the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon. The bust was dedicated in its current position on 20 September 1996. Flowers were laid by Jyoti Basu (then Chief Minister of West Bengal), Buddhadeb Bhattacharya (then Cultural Affairs Minister of West Bengal), Dr L M Singhvi and Professor Stanley Wells (then Chairman of the Trustees of Shakespeare’s Birthplace).

My parents were among those who attended the ceremony. When the then Director of the Indian Cultural Centre in London had told my father that he hoped that there would be a regular celebration at the bust, my father promised to make sure that Tagore’s birthday would be celebrated at the bust each year.

So on Saturday May 4, with the kind help of the Director of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Dr Diana Owen, and her team, we will be continuing this annual tradition started by my parents and their group Prantik in 1997.

This year, the programme will be as follows:

Tagore Nobel centenary celebrations at Shakespeare’s Birthplace – 4 May

2.30pm Ceremony around Tagore’s bust in the garden at Shakespeare’s Birthplace

Introduction by the High Commissioner of India, His Excellency Dr J Bhagwati.

Tagore’s Nobel Prize – a show telling the story of how Tagore came to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, through his poetry and songs. I will be narrating the story, the English poems will be presented by Shakespeare Aloud! actors John Robert Partridge and Jennifer Hodges, the Bengali poetry and songs will be presented by Mousumi & Supratik Basu, Chhaya Biswas and Kaberi Chatterjee. We will be accompanied on esraj by Tirthankar Roy.

3.30pm Tagore archive exhibition

4pm UK film premiere: Chitrangada

Introduction by the High Commissioner of Bangladesh, His Excellency Mohamed Mijarul Quayes.

Chitrangada (90 minutes) – Our authentic, colourful, feature film version of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s classic, 1936 dance-drama with an ensemble cast featuring leading dancers, singers and musicians from Tagore’s home town of Santiniketan, India. Perhaps best described as a cross between opera and ballet, Chitrangada was part of Tagore’s campaign to encourage women to have be given a greater role in society. It was based on his earlier play Chitra, which Tagore had directed and designed for a production at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London in 1920.

Kaberi Chatterjee stars as Princess Chitrangada, with the singing voice of Manini Mukhopadhyay. Sourav Chatterjee is Arjun, with the singing voice of Jahar Kumar Dutta, and Nibedita Sen is Modon, with the singing voice of Ritwik Bagchi.

The dance director and production designer is Shubhra Tagore. The music director is Bulbul Basu.

The film completes the Tagore dance film trilogy of authentic, widescreen film versions of Tagore’s dance-dramas, the others being Chandalika (1938) and Shyama (1939). Elements from Chitrangada were included in the promotional trailers and videos created for UNESCO’s Tagore, Neruda & Césaire programme. Chitrangada had its world premiere in Brussels in September 2012.

The film will be followed by a Question & Answer session with Kaberi Chatterjee and me.

6pm End

Tagore Nobel centenary celebrations at Shakespeare’s Birthplace – 5-6 May

During the rest of the bank holiday weekend, the Shakespeare Aloud! actors will be including poems by Tagore in their performances in the garden. One of them will be the poem which Tagore wrote in 1916 for the Tercentenary of Shakespeare’s death:

When by the far-away sea your fiery disk appeared from behind the unseen, O Poet, O Sun.
England’s horizon felt you near her breast, and took you to be her own.
She kissed your forehead, caught you in the arms of her forest branches.
Hid you behind her mist mantle and watched you in the green sward where fairies love to play among the meadow flowers.
A few early birds sang your hymn of praise, while the rest of the woodland choir were asleep.
Then at the silent beckoning of the Eternal you rose higher and higher till you reached the mid sky, making all quarters of heaven your own.
Therefore, at this moment, after the end of centuries, the palm groves by the Indian sea raise their tremulous branches to the sky murmuring your praise.

Feb 102013
 

Left to right: Kaberi Chatterjee, Ranajit Roy & Shipra Roy at Bolpur Station in January 2004

Left to right (foreground): Kaberi Chatterjee, Ranajit Roy & Shipra Roy at Bolpur Station in January 2004

Ranajit Roy was renowned and widely respected for his integrity.

His father, Shibdas Roy, was one of the early students at the school Tagore founded in Santiniketan. Thanks to being a very good singer, Shibdas Roy became one of Tagore’s favourite students and, later, an honorary teacher at the China Bhavan, teaching English to Tibetan monks. The family used to live in their ancestral home in Moukhira, about 18km from Santiniketan.

One day, when Ranajit Roy was still a little boy, Shibdas Roy took him to Santiniketan to present him to Tagore. It was a Wednesday morning and Tagore was coming down the steps of the Mandeer after prayers. The young Ranajit was so impressed by the image of the strikingly handsome, long-white-haired Tagore in this setting that he asked his father, “Is this God?” Shibdas Roy introduced his son to Tagore, who gave him a toffee.

Later on, Ranajit Roy followed in his father’s footsteps and joined Tagore’s school, Patha Bhavan. This was probably the source of his keen artistic sense and his love of nature. The latter led him to study Agriculture at University.

He became very good at football and cricket, particularly as wicket keeper. He was an artist and a keen photographer, processing and developing his own photos. He also encouraged his wife Shipra Roy to follow art studies at the Kala Bhavan at Visva-Bharati University.

From 1970, he, his wife and daughter Kaberi started living in Ratan Palli, Santiniketan. As soon as he returned home from work, he would start a new drawing in his sketch book. Later in the evening, he would pick up the collection of Tagore’s songs (Gitabitan), select a song whose lyrics he appreciated and ask Kaberi to learn how to sing it. He would also advise and help his wife with her artwork.

As Block Development Officer for a number of different areas of the district of Birbhum in West Bengal over thirteen years, among other things, he was responsible for authorising licences to sell various commodities such as rice, cement, fertiliser and kerosene in those areas. This could have allowed him to accept gifts in return for preferential treatment but he always refused them, returning any which arrived nonetheless at his house. He always followed what he felt to be the fairest and most honest course of action.

The Ajoy River flood of 1978

‘Ranjitda’, as many knew him, became a local hero after saving many lives when the Ajoy River burst its banks in 1978. It was typical of his sense of responsibility that, if he heard that someone was in trouble, he would drop everything and do whatever he could to help. One rainy night, in the middle of a power cut, he was called to the Ratan Kuti Guest House, which had the only telephone in the area. As Block Development Officer for Illambazaar at the time, he was asked to oversee the situation at Illambazaar, which had been flooded.

The Chief Medical Officer’s car was going to pick him up from the Guest House and take him there. However, in the forest, they found that the road to Illambazaar had been blocked by a fallen tree and there was no way to cut through it to reopen the road until it was daylight. He didn’t return home but went to Bolpur Health Centre, where he stayed until dawn before heading back towards Illambazaar.

Daylight revealed that the water level had risen considerably and the 1km-long Ajoy Bridge at Illambazaar was shuddering as the swollen river flowed past it. ‘Ranjitda’ found hundreds of bewildered people waiting at his office. Those people and animals who had been lucky enough to hold onto something which would float (bales of hay, palm trees, sacks of wheat, etc) were being swept past the bridge by the fast current. An old lady, sitting on top of a sack of rice was praying and counting religious beads as she floated past.

‘Ranjitda’ sequestered nearby shops to find ropes which could be used to pull people to safety from the river. When the District Magistrate arrived later to see what was going on, the crowds rose to attack him. Many villages had been flooded and people had been made homeless. ‘Ranjitda’ was given District Magistrate powers to deal with the emergency. He ordered rice, lentils, utensils, etc to be taken from the shops so that they could be used to feed and shelter the homeless.

Meanwhile, many students from Santiniketan, where the school and university hostels had closed for the holidays, became stranded on the way to their homes in Calcutta, on the other side of the river. Supriyo Tagore, then Principal of Patha Bhavan, had decided to escort a group of the students. With ‘Ranjitda’s help, they made it across the river.

Back at his house, after waiting for three days, the 10-year-old Kaberi started sitting at the window crying because her father hadn’t come back while other fathers had returned for the puja celebrations. ‘Ranjitda’ was busy helping people. Mrinal Mukherjee (the father of Tuli Mukherjee, who was a dancer in the Shyama in Egypt team) was then working for ‘Ranjitda’ and ferried clothes and food from the house for him.

Moukhira too had not escaped the floods. The villagers made their way to Illambazaar so that they could have something to eat at the shelter.

‘Ranjitda’ found the mental strength to deal with the emergency with the moral support of his guru Mohonanda Maharaj. Although ‘Ranjitda’ had originally been sceptical of gurus, his father had been a friend and devotee of Maharaj. Reluctantly accompanying his father to see Maharaj, he had been astonished to find later that Maharaj had correctly made a number of predictions.

Encouraging Kaberi

Kaberi and her father understood each other very well. When she was nervous about sitting her Higher Secondary exams, he reassured her that she shouldn’t be afraid and that she should carry on and do whatever she could. Everything would be fine.

When it came to the decision to study dance at the Sangeet Bhavan of Visva-Bharati University, he was the one who encouraged her to do so as that was the subject she was most passionate about. He had also told her that if she did something else and the passion went away, she would never be able to come back to it.

When she had initially decided not to try for the Indian national scholarship in Manipuri dance because she didn’t think she would get it, her father had told her that, even if it meant that they would have to travel to Delhi for the exam, they could all take the opportunity to do some sight-seeing once the exam was over. Even if she didn’t succeed, he told her that at least they would all have been on holiday together.

Of course, she did succeed and it was also through his encouragement that she started her PhD in dance and became one of few people in India to have such a PhD.

Later years

Although, ‘Ranjitda’ had been known for telling humorous anecdotes, in recent years, he fell increasingly silent. As well as being separated from his beloved daughter after our marriage, he became absorbed with the property-related tension between him and his younger brother, who had been very close.

‘Ranjitda’ was the eldest of four children but, other than identifying parts of the land in Santiniketan and Moukhira for ‘Ranjitda’, their parents had not left a will setting out how the rest of their property in Santiniketan and in Moukhira was to be divided between the children. It became apparent that the younger brother had been selling off agricultural land around Moukhira which had been assigned to ‘Ranjitda’, without his knowledge and without giving him any share of the proceeds. The younger brother refused to register a division of the property which had been agreed by the four siblings and had not spoken to ‘Ranjitda’ since 2004.

That was the last year ‘Ranjitda’ went to the annual Durga Puja festival he used to enjoy at the ancestral house in Moukhira. His near-exile from Moukhira was an open secret among the villagers. Having brought up his younger brother like a father and paid for his education, ‘Ranjitda’ felt a deep sense of betrayal and shock. This was probably the main reason for the depression and Alzheimer’s which eventually led to his death on Friday, four days before his 85th birthday, after several years of suffering. Unfortunately, we found out too late that coconut oil might have helped to treat the Alzheimer’s.

Tagorean spirit

Through everything I have seen and heard about my father-in-law, I recognise his sincere belief in Tagorean values and humanism, including his sense of social justice and his aversion to corruption and insincerity. Needless to say, we got on with each other very well as a result and he always gave me a very warm welcome.

Of course, these beliefs and principles live on in Kaberi and they are the common message of the dance-dramas we have filmed together. He was always keen to watch dance, music and theatre performances. If ever he wasn’t able to attend one himself, he would want to hear a full account of the performance from anyone who went.

In spite of his illness, he continued to encourage us as we made the films, enjoying the rehearsals and filming of Shyama in 2007 and making a special effort to visit us in the Lipika Theatre as we were filming Chandalika and Chitrangada two years ago.

However, my favourite memory of him is probably from the first visit of Kaberi’s parents to Europe in 2005. Together with my father and Kaberi, we had all spent a gloriously sunny day in Belgium’s Ardennes. Towards the end of the day, as we sat having a drink at a riverside bar in Dinant, Kaberi had asked him how he felt. He had replied that he thought he was in heaven. Perhaps it was the combination of the beauty of the natural scenery, being with Kaberi again and being away from the family tensions in Santiniketan.

In any case, probably this poem by Tagore sums up how he felt:

যাবার দিনে এই কথাটি
বলে যেন যাই —
যা দেখেছি যা পেয়েছি
তুলনা তার নাই ।
এই জ্যোতিঃসমুদ্র-মাঝে
যে শতদল পদ্ম রাজে
তারি মধু পান করেছি
ধন্য আমি তাই —
যাবার দিনে এই কথাটি
জানিয়ে যেন যাই ।

বিশ্বরূপের খেলাঘরে
কতই গেলেম খেলে ,
অপরূপকে দেখে গেলেম
দুটি নয়ন মেলে ।
পরশ যাঁরে যায় না করা
সকল দেহে দিলেন ধরা ।
এইখানে শেষ করেন যদি
শেষ করে দিন তাই —
যাবার বেলা এই কথাটি
জানিয়ে যেন যাই ।

রবীন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর (গীতাঞ্জলি ১৪২)

Tagore’s English version of this poem was as follows. The phrases in square brackets come from his manuscript, which seems to me to be closer to the original than the published version (which is recited by Prajña Paramita in the video below from The Story of Gitanjali):

When I go from hence, let this be my parting word, that what I have seen is unsurpassable.
I have tasted of the hidden honey of this lotus [yonder] that expands on the ocean of light, and thus I am blessed—let this be my parting word.
In this playhouse of infinite forms I have had my play and here have I caught sight of him [that eludes all forms].
My whole body and my limbs have thrilled with his touch who is beyond touch; and if the end comes here, let it come—let this be my parting word.

by Rabindranath Tagore (English Gitanjali – poem 96)

Nov 152012
 

Background image for the first two poems of The Story of Gitanjali

I realised this morning that I had missed this year’s European Day of Multilingual Blogging, which was actually yesterday. Now in its third year, it’s the brainchild of my friend Antonia Mochan at the European Commission’s UK office. As it’s still Internet week Europe, I hope she will accept this slightly late entry! [Update: She did, awarding this post the prize for the entry with the most languages involved – thanks, Antonia!]

In my previous post, I wrote about the world premiere of the third and final film of our Tagore dance film trilogy: Chitrangada. The first half of the evening was a performance of The Story of Gitanjali . This included poems from Tagore’s English Gitanjali recited in 13 European languages and the corresponding Tagore songs performed by Manini Mukhopadhyay, Sayan Bandyopadhyay and Kaberi Chatterjee, with Asit Ghosh on tabla and Tirthankar Roy on esraj. I narrated and directed the show.

So, for my contribution to the European Day of Multilingual Blogging, here are the poems from that performance.

1 Dutch: Jee Reusens – This is my delight, thus to wait and watch at the wayside – Translation by Victor van Bijlert

2 French: Arlette Schreiber – Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high – Translation by André Gide

3 Polish: Maria Glowacz – Clouds heap upon clouds and it darkens. – Translation by Jan Kasprowicz

4 Romanian: Raluca Zaharia – The day is no more – Translation by George Remete

5 Italian: Adriana Opromolla – You came down from your throne and stood at my cottage door. – Translated by Adriana Opromolla

6 German: Konstanze Hanreich – Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure. – Translation by Marie Luise Gothein

7 Hungarian: Ágnes Kaszás – Thou hast made me known to friends whom I knew not. – Translation by Babits Mihály

8 Spanish: Luisa Castellanos – Light, my light, the world-filling light – Translation by Zenobia Camprubí Aymar & Juan Ramón Jiménez

9 Russian: Alexandra Shlyopkina – I am here to sing thee songs. – Translation by J Baltrushaitis

10 Greek: Olga Profili – When my play was with thee I never questioned who thou wert. – Translation by Olga Profili

11 Swedish: Sofie Gardestedt – Thus it is that thy joy in me is so full. – Translation by Andrea Butenschön

12 Czech: Josef Schwarz – I know not how thou singest, my master! – Translation by Dušan Zbavitel

13 English: Prajña Paramita – When I go from hence – Version by Rabindranath Tagore

Oct 012012
 

As you will have realised, last Sunday was the world premiere of Chitrangada in Brussels. The English-subtitled version of the film is now available worldwide via the Internet. Before midnight on Sunday, 28 October, if you watch it or host a screening of it for friends or for people in your area, you can be part of its global premiere. If you can watch the trailer above, you have everything you need to be part of the global premiere: basically a screen and an Internet connection.

Singers and musicians from Santiniketan
(Photo: Enrique Nicanor)

At the start of the evening, the audience was greeted with a glass of champagne, courtesy of a well-wisher. Thanks to the Indian Embassy in Brussels, the audience was able to see two Tagore exhibitions from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. One exhibition was of framed, digital prints of some of Tagore’s paintings. The other exhibition comprised a series of panels describing Tagore’s travels.

The evening was introduced by our guest of honour, His Excellency Shri Dinkar Khullar, the Indian Ambassador.

Obhi narrating The Story of Gitanjali
(Photo: Enrique Nicanor)

Our multilingual performance of The Story of Gitanjaliexplained how Tagore came to write the English Gitanjali – the collection of English poems which led to his international fame and the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Each of the thirteen poems were recited in a different language, while the Tagore songs corresponding to most of them were performed by a team of singers and musicians from Santiniketan. For the cast and their biographies, please see here.

Almost all the actors who read poems from the Gitanjali in their native languages.
(Photo: Ekaterina Tarliouk)

The talent on the stage was complemented by a large-screen display above the singers and musicians for the subtitles. You can get an idea of the setting from this photo.

View of the stage with the on-screen subtitles
(Photo: Enrique Nicanor)

Many in the audience were apparently inspired by the show to read Tagore’s poetry. One of them, Sandeep Kalathimekkad, was even moved to write a poem as he was watching the show – he kindly gave me the poem on a slip of paper during the interval. The Story of Gitanjali was filmed. So you will have a chance to see it in due course, together with the subtitles.

After the interval, the world premiere of Chitrangada was introduced by Her Excellency Ambassador Ismat Jahan of Bangladesh. Tagore is a national icon in both India and Bangladesh, whose national anthems are both Tagore songs. Ambassador Jahan, who is a member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, introduced the film as being part of Tagore’s campaign for women’s emancipation.

Many people came up to congratulate us about the film as well. Even before we had got home after the premiere, a post by Sophie H on Facebook summarised the feedback we have had ever since about the evening: “Thanks to Obhi Chatterjee and Kaberi Chatterjee for an amazing evening! The first part, with the poems in different languages was beautiful, and the second part, the movie, was excellent! Such a pleasure! I also discovered (a small piece ) of the art of Tagore. Thank you!”

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