May 112019

As in previous years, Kaberi and I celebrated the birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore with Prantik at Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon in the UK. Our theme this year was Tagore and the seasons: Spring.

We began our performance by recreating the dance procession each year at the Spring Festival (Basanta Utsav) in Santiniketan to the song Orai grihobashi. Our procession started from the steps of the Shakespeare Centre and wound its way around the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace until we reached the performance area by the house in which Shakespeare was born.

After an introduction by Emily Ireson from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, we performed various songs for Tagore’s seasonal collection (Riturongo). Kaberi also danced to the poem Shesh Modhu (Spring Finale), which Prasenjit Saha had kindly translated into rhyming English for us.

The English translations of the songs and poems were recited by Shakespeare Aloud! actor James Anderson. The singers and musicians from Prantik, apart from me, were:

  • Anindita Sengupta Saha (also on tanpura)
  • Chhaya Biswas
  • Farzeen Huq
  • Kaberi Chatterjee (who also danced)
  • Mousumi Basu (who also recited the poem Shesh Modhu)
  • Nikhilesh Das Gupta
  • Sudakshina Roy
  • Supratik Basu (also on mandira)
  • Tirthankar Roy (also on esraj)

We were honoured that Krishnendu Banerjee from the Indian High Commission and Brij Kumar Guhare, Deputy Director of The Nehru Centre in London, came to Stratford-upon-Avon to attend our performance. Both expressed their appreciation of our performance and the uniquely appropriate setting of the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace.

Liisa Miil kindly filmed the performance for us. You can watch the video above. My script for our performance is available as a free download but please note its Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Sharealike licence. If you wish to use the script for commercial purposes or plan to remix or reuse it, please contact me.

Earlier in the day, we had visited Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, on the outskirts of Stratford-upon-Avon, to see how the tree we had helped to plant in 2011 for the 150th birth anniversary. That time, Kaberi had shown students from a local drama school how to dance in the traditional tree-planting (brikkhoropon) procession established by Rabindranath Tagore.

Especially as I was going to refer to it later in my narration, I was relieved to see that the tree is doing well. You can see it in the foreground of the photo below, with Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in the background.

Jun 022017

While preparing to turn Brits into Europe’s untouchables, Theresa May spoke to President Trump and expressed her “disappointment” that he had just binned the Paris Climate Accord. Meanwhike, the leaders of France, Germany and Italy warned the US President that the Paris Agreement could not be renegotiated.

French President Emmanuel Macron recorded this speech in a language which the problem child running the US could understand:

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also explained the situation during a discussion in German:

Meanwhile, weak-and-wobbly Theresa May probably felt that she could not afford to upset President Trump. What if that could damage trade relations with the UK’s second biggest trading partner after the EU? After all, who else would trade with the UK after the ‘hard Brexit’ from the EU that she has been advocating?

Of course, there’s always scope for arms deals with Saudi Arabia. During Wednesday evening’s leaders’ debate, when challenged by Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas about why the UK was selling arms to countries on the UK’s Human Rights watchlist, Amber Rudd (substituting for the debate-allergic Theresa May) observed that these were good for industry.

As the saying goes, beggars can’t be choosers – “people with no other options must be content with what is offered“. And yes, thanks to David Cameron’s need to solve a problem within the Conservative Party and fend off the threat to it from UKIP, the UK is now set to have no other option but to sacrifice any moral principles it may once have had. It’s not exactly the best starting point for negotiating with the EU … .

Rabindranath 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. This was decades before an environmental movement emerged in the West. Over 100 years later, President Trump still fails to get it – unlike the leaders of almost every other country in the planet, except Syria and Nicaragua. President Trump’s short term aim of creating a few jobs in the US coal industry in places like Pittsburgh somehow became a higher priority.

We’ll always have Pittsburgh – New Yorker cartoon by Kim Warp

And yet the two biggest drivers of the migration of which President Trump and Theresa May are so fearful are war and climate change. As former US Vice-President Al Gore pointed out recently, climate change helped cause Brexit. The civil war in Syria followed the worst drought there for 900 years, which forced 1.5 million people to move from the countryside to the cities. Then popular nationalists started to use psychological operations techniques to play with people’s fears.

Following the announcement by President Trump to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk resigned from his involvement in the presidential councils.

In a speech at Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy in Berlin a couple of years ago, he had noted that: “Today’s refugee problem is perhaps a small indication of what the future will be like if we do not take action with respect to climate change,” stated Musk during the recent speech. “Today, the challenge is in terms of millions of people, but in the future, based on what the scientific consensus is, the problem will be in the hundreds of millions and much more severe.”

Aug 052010

Tree planted by Tagore and bust in Balatonfüred, Hungary

Plaque at the foot of the tree planted by Tagore in Balatonfüred in 1926

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.

The bust of Rabindranath Tagore by Ram Kinkor Baij now in the Tagore room at the Balatonfüred heart hospital

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.

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