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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Jan 012013
 

Wordpress.com 2012 blog statistics image

So 2012 is over. If you click on the above image, you’ll find the statistics for my blog in 2012 (courtesy of wordpress.com and Jetpack).

Just to give you an overview, my blog had about 9,200 views during the year, of which just over 4,000 were in September. My most popular post was actually one I’d written in 2010 about our experience of watching the film Julie & Julia ! The next most popular posts in 2012 were:

Celebrating Rabindranath Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary
Civilisation’s crisis – Tagore’s last speech
Tagore and the Indian national anthem
Celebrate nature & Tagore the environmental pioneer

My thanks to all who have found my blog posts of interest.

Looking ahead, 2013 is the centenary of Rabindranath Tagore winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. If you are on Facebook, you may wish to ‘Like’ the Facebook page Rabindranath Tagore: Nobel Prize centenary. Even if you are not on Facebook, you can see the contents of the page.

For now, here is a 50-second audiovisual tribute to celebrate the start of the centenary year and to allow me to wish you a Happy New Year!

Sep 262010
 

Today being the European day of languages, I hope you will excuse me attempting to write essentially the same post in English, Galician and Castellano (please let me know of any embarrassing errors!). This is partly to support Antonia Mochan’s idea of a day of multilingual blogging, partly to note Rabindranath Tagore’s quest for his writings (mainly in his native Bengali) to cross linguistic boundaries and as a sign of respect to any Galician and Spanish readers.

I should begin by thanking Enrique Nicanor, Director of the Ourense International Film Festival in Galicia, Spain, for including a ‘Homage to Tagore‘ section in this year’s festival to mark Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary, in conjunction with the Tagore Library of Ourense founded by José Paz. It is one of the first, fairly comprehensive tributes to Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary, which UNESCO is marking in 2011.

The programme for the section is as follows:

Saturday, 2 October
21:30-midnight Opening ceremony, during which Kaberi will perform two Tagore dances to inaugurate the ‘Homage to Tagore’ section – Auditorio Municipal

Sunday, 3 October
13:00-14:00 Tribute to Tagore, with José Paz, founder of the Tagore Library of Ourense, at which Kaberi and I will give an illustrated presentation about Tagore’s journey from poetry to dance, including live performances – Centro Cultural Deputación Ourense

Monday, 4 October
20:00-22:00 Premiere of the Spanish version of Shyama (which has been translated with the help of our friend Carlos Moreno-Leguizamon), introduced by José Paz, Kaberi and me – Teatro Principal

Tuesday, 5 October
16:30-18:30 Masterclass: Shyama & the digital revolution, at which I will be explaining how our film version of Tagore’s classic ‘dance-drama’ (which is perhaps one of the first ‘digital end-to-end’ films) is taking advantage of the production, global distribution and promotion opportunities created by the digital revolution to raise international awareness of Tagore and the dance form created by Tagore towards the end of his life – Centro Cultural Deputación Ourense

17:00-19:00 Screening of Satyajit Ray’s Charulata (The lonely wife) based on Tagore’s Nashtanir (The broken nest) – Teatro Principal

Wednesday, 6 October
17:00-18:15 Screening of Satyajit Ray’s Monihara (from Teen Kanya) based on the short story by Tagore – Teatro Principal

Thursday, 7 October
17:00-19:30 Screening of Satyajit Ray’s Ghare baire (The home and the world) based on the novel by Tagore – Teatro Principal

Friday, 8 October
17:00-17:30 Tagore-style tree-planting ceremony (Brikkhoropon) led by Kaberi, who will be teaching the steps for the procession to a group of dancers from the Escuela de Teatro y Baile de Ourense

23:00-00:30 Screening of the Spanish version of Shyama – Cinebox 8

Saturday, 9 October
17:00-19:00 Screening of Satyajit Ray’s Charulata (The lonely wife) based on Tagore’s Nashtanir (The broken nest) – Teatro Principal

17:00-18:30 Screening of the Spanish version of Shyama – Cinebox 8

20:00-22:30 Screening of Satyajit Ray’s Ghare Baire (The home and the world) based on the novel by Tagore – Teatro Principal

For those who note the absence of Satyajit Ray’s 1961 documentary Rabindranath Tagore, made for the 100th birth anniversary celebrations (like the Teen Kanya trilogy), we weren’t able to locate a good quality version of the film which could be projected at the festival … so far. If you can help us find one, please let me know.

The nearest airports to Ourense are Porto (which is served by various international airlines, including Easyjet and Ryanair), Vigo and Santiago de Compostela (which have mainly domestic flights from other parts of Spain).

Jun 152010
 

Rs150 & Rs 5 coins issued to commemorate Rabindranath Tagore's 150th birth anniversary

Many have been looking forward to celebrating Rabindranath Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary, which will be on May 7, 2011. So much so that some started celebrating over a year in advance.

UNESCO announced that it would be celebrating the anniversary, in the same way that it had celebrated Tagore’s birth centenary in 1961. That was marked by several notable events all over the world, including Satyajit Ray’s documentary Rabindranath Tagore and Teen Kanya, his trilogy of Tagore’s short stories The Postmaster, Monihara (the lost jewels) and Samapti (Conclusion). It was also the year when the classic HMV recording of Shyama was released with a memorable cast of singers, including Kanika Banerjee singing the role of Shyama.

Note that ‘Teen Kanya’ literally means ‘three daughters’ in Bengali. However, Teen Kanya was released internationally with only the first and last films of the trilogy (The Postmaster and Samapti) under the title ‘Two daughters’. The running time of each film is just under an hour and Monihara is just over an hour long – presumably this was the only reason for the disinheriting the middle sibling!

Last month, with a year to go before the 150th anniversary, the celebrations started getting more serious. India issued 150 rupee and 5 rupee commemorative coins to mark the occasion. Although the news of the release of a commemorative coin was widely reported, none of the articles included a photo of the coins themselves. I came across this photo on the Facebook page of India Coin News , which apparently spotted it in an article by Ravi Shanker Sharma.

Although Rabindranath Tagore is frequently referred to as being Indian, it is important to remember that the partition of the Indian subcontinent took place at the time of independence from British rule in 1947, six years after his death. Tagore is revered by Bengalis on both sides of the border between India and what is now Bangladesh. The national anthems of both countries are songs by Tagore, making him the only person ever to have written the national anthems of two countries.

The most comprehensive tribute to Tagore I have read remains the article ‘Tagore and his India‘ by another Nobel laureate: Amartya Sen, who was given his name by Tagore and studied in Santiniketan under the educational approach pioneered by Tagore.

Tagore's bust in the garden of Shakespeare's Birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK

Small wonder, then, that Indian Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, are overseeing the joint celebrations of Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary . The Chancellor of the university set up by Tagore, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan, is traditionally the Indian Prime Minister.

UNESCO launched its year-long celebrations in Paris on 12 May at Maison de l’Inde, City University. The event was attended by the acting Deputy Director General of UNESCO, Mr Hans D’Orville, who referred to a very appropriate quote from Tagore in connection with the current Millenium Development Goals: “No great civilisation is possible in a country divided by the constant interruption of steep mountains, as they retard the natural flow of communication. Large fortunes and luxurious living, like the mountains, form high walls of segregation. They produce worse divisions in society than physical barriers.”

As in previous years, Kaberi, my father and I marked Tagore’s birth anniversary this year at Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon. Last year, we had introduced the first public screening of Shyama there as part of the Stratford Poetry Festival with a short performance including live music and dance tracing Tagore’s journey from poetry to dance.

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