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.

Jul 222011

Part of the Santiniketan wall around the Visva-Bharati campus - Photo: Subir Banerjee

A controversy has been brewing for the past two years in Tagore’s home town of Santiniketan about the 21km, 6ft-8ft (1.8m-2.4m) concrete wall now being completed around the Visva-Bharati University campus. Many long-standing residents of Santiniketan, including former university teachers Somendranath Bandhyapadhyay and Gora Sarbadhikari, have criticised the plan. Back in January, the Governor of Visva-Bharati visited Santiniketan to try to settle the dispute.

Things came to a head last week when Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, who grew up and studied in Santiniketan and has his family home there, accused Visva-Bharati University authorities of creating a jail-like compound. He also criticised the University authorities for evicting local stall-holders without rehabilitation to make way for the wall.

This week, the Vice-Chancellor of Visva-Bharati, Rajat Kanta Ray, defended the decision to build the wall. He claimed that the University had not destroyed Tagore’s vision and that the Governor had written in April that the construction of a wall does not go against the vision of Tagore.

Last Kea grove in Santiniketan cut back to make way for the wall - Photo: Subir Banerjee

According to the Archeological Survey of India’s submission proposing Santiniketan to UNESCO as a World Heritage Site last year, “The architectural and landscape setting of Santiniketan embody Tagore’s vision of an eclectic architectural expression that was a blending of diverse cultural traditions in a landscape setting that formed the backdrop for a literal translation of ‘Santiniketan’ as an abode of peace.”

It would appear from the recent exchanges concerning the wall that both the landscape setting and the peace have been disturbed. This is confirmed by my parents-in-law, whose family has lived in Santiniketan since Tagore’s time.

My impression from Tagore’s writings was that he didn’t particularly appreciate walls and was an ardent advocate of proximity with nature. For example, his most famous poem begins

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls

I thought I should explore what else Tagore has written about walls, just in case I was ill-informed. What I have found (see below) seems to confirm my impression. Even so, if you are aware of any quotes from Tagore where he was enthusiastic about walls, especially in connection with education, perhaps you could let me know?

Dungeon (via

He whom I enclose with my name is weeping in this dungeon.
I am ever busy building this wall all around;
and as this wall goes up into the sky day by day,
I lose sight of my true being in its dark shadow.

I take pride in this great wall, and I plaster it with dust and sand
lest a least hole should be left in this name;
and for all the care I take, I lose sight of my true being.


The parrot’s tale (via

Once there was a bird. It was an utterly foolish bird. It sang songs, but did not read the scriptures. It flew, it jumped, but did not have the faintest sense of etiquette. The King said, “Such birds! They are of no use at all. They only eat the fruits in the orchards and the royal fruit-market runs a deficit.” He called the minister, and commanded, “Educate it.”

The King’s nephew was given the responsibility of educating the bird. The scholars held long discussions, the subject being — “What is the reason behind the foolishness of this creature?” The conclusion was: much learning could not be stored in the tiny nest that the bird could make with just chips and twigs. So, first of all, it was necessary to build a good cage for it. The scholars got amply rewarded and went home merrily.

The goldsmith started building the cage. The cage turned out to be so exquisite that everyone under the sun rushed to see it. Some said, “Education indeed!” Others said, “Education or no education, at least the bird has got the cage! What a lucky bird!”

[see parabaas for the rest of the story]

Other extracts from Tagore’s writings in Bengali:

জাপান যাত্রী

যেমন ঘরে থাকতে হলে দেয়াল না হলে চলে না, এও তেমনি। কিন্তু সবটাই তো দেয়াল নয়। অন্তত খানিকটা করে জানলা থাকে, সেই ফাঁক দিয়ে আমরা আকাশের সঙ্গে আত্মীয়তা রক্ষা করি। কিন্তু, সংসারে দেখতে পাই, লোকে ওই জানলাটুকু সইতে পারে না। ওই ফাঁকটুকু ভরিয়ে দেবার জন্যে যতরকম সাংসারিক অনাবশ্যকের সৃষ্টি। ঐ জানলাটার উপর বাজে কাজ, বাজে চিঠি, বাজে সভা, বাজে বক্তৃতা, বাজে হাঁস্‌ফাঁস্‌ মেরে দিয়ে দশে মিলে ঐ ফাঁকটাকে একেবারে বুজিয়ে ফেলা হয়। নারকেলের ছিবড়ের মতো, এই অনাবশ্যকের পরিমাণটাই বেশি। ঘরে বাইরে, ধর্মে কর্মে, আমোদে আহ্লাদে, সকল বিষয়েই এরই অধিকার সবচেয়ে বড়ো; এর কাজই হচ্ছে ফাঁক বুজিয়ে বেড়ানো।



কী বলেন প্রোফেসার, আমিও পারি ঐ দেয়ালটাকে হাওয়া করে দিতে?

পার বৈকি। হিড়িংফিড়িং দরকার হয় না, দরকার হয় মাল-মসলার।

আমি বললেম, বলে দিন-না কী চাই।

দিচ্ছি। কিছু না— কিছু না, কেবল একটা বিলিতি আমড়ার আঁঠি আর শিলনোড়ার শিল।

আমি বললুম, এ তো খুবই সহজ। আমড়ার আঁঠি আর শিল আনিয়ে দেব, তুমি দেয়ালটাকে উড়িয়ে দাও।



তাই আমি বলিতেছি, শিক্ষার জন্য এখনো আমাদের বনের প্রয়োজন আছে এবং গুরুগৃহও চাই। বন আমাদের সজীব বাসস্থান এবং গুরু আমাদের সহৃদয় শিক্ষক। এই বনে, এই গুরুগৃহে আজও বালকদিগকে ব্রহ্মচর্যপালন করিয়া শিক্ষা সমাধা করিতে হইবে। কালে আমাদের অবস্থার যতই পরিবর্তন হইয়া থাক্‌, এই শিক্ষানিয়মের উপযোগিতার কিছুমাত্র হ্রাস হয় নাই, কারণ এ নিয়ম মানবচরিত্রের নিত্যসত্যের উপরে প্রতিষ্ঠিত।

অতএব, আদর্শ বিদ্যালয় যদি স্থাপন করিতে হয় তবে লোকালয় হইতে দূরে নির্জনে মুক্ত আকাশ ও উদার প্রান্তরে গাছপালার মধ্যে তাহার ব্যবস্থা করা চাই। সেখানে অধ্যাপকগণ নিভৃতে অধ্যয়ন ও অধ্যাপনায় নিযুক্ত থাকিবেন এবং ছাত্রগণ সেই জ্ঞানচর্চার যজ্ঞক্ষেত্রের মধ্যেই বাড়িয়া উঠিতে থাকিবে।



যে পৃথিবীতে এসে পড়েছি , এখানকার মানুষগুলি সব অদ্ভূত জীব । এরা কেবলই দিনরাত্রি নিয়ম এবং দেয়াল গাঁথছে — পাছে দুটো চোখে কিছু দেখতে পায় এইজন্যে পর্দা টাঙিয়ে দিচ্ছে — বাস্তবিক পৃথিবীর জীবগুলো ভারি অদ্ভূত । এরা যে ফুলের গাছে এক-একটি ঘেরাটোপ পরিয়ে রাখে নি , চাঁদের নীচে চাঁদোয়া খাটায় নি , সেই আশ্চর্য! এই স্বেচ্ছা-অন্ধগুলো বন্ধ পালকির মধ্যে চড়ে পৃথিবীর ভিতর দিয়ে কী দেখে চলে যাচ্ছে!

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