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.
Join us at 3.30pm in the Birthplace garden for a celebratory performance by Bengali cultural group Prantik. This is to mark the Birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore, icon of Bengali literature and music. pic.twitter.com/oZ8EYKwO23
I have recently been reminded about my visits over the years to Dartington Hall, near Totnes, Devon in South-West England. The connection between it and my family is, of course, through Rabindranath Tagore.
My first visit there was with my parents as part of a small group accompanying the late Tagore singer Kanika Bannerjee, a long-standing friend of my father. It was to organise a concert with her at the Conway Hall in London in 1976 that my parents had launched the cultural organisation Prantik.
Some years later, when Dr Frances Shepherd was the music director at Dartington College of Arts, she had persuaded the late Pandit Sharda Sahai to become artist in residence at Dartington. During this period, he started giving tabla lessons every weekend at Toynbee Hall in East London. As he was from the same gharana as my original tabla teacher (Binod Bihari Sarkar in Kolkata), my parents took me there to help me to develop my tabla playing.
Before long, it was time to do my tabla exams. However, as they were only a week or so after my university finals, I had had little time to prepare. So Shardaji kindly offered to let me stay with his family for the week before the tabla exams, so that I could prepare for them with his students in Dartington. It was a memorable week.
Dartington College had been established by Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst, who bought Dartington Hall and the land around it in 1925. Leonard Elmhirst had been rural development adviser to Tagore in Santiniketan. Dartington College was modelled on Tagore’s educational principles (which are similar to the ‘self-organised learning environments’ that Professor Sugata Mitra was advocating at the Learning Technologies conference in London last week).
More recently, Kaberi and I visited Dartington with my father in 2004 so that she could do some research for her PhD in Tagore dance in the Elhirst archives at Hill Cross House.
“To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes even better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact.” – Charles Darwin, 1879
I was reminded of our connection with Dartington recently when I decided to write to the Chair of the Commons Health Select Committee to call for an investigation into the apparent problems I had come across while exploring how best to help my father’s dementia. I was fascinated to see that Dr Sarah Wollaston, the Chair of the Committee, is the MP for Totnes. Dartington falls within her constituency.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I have drawn attention to these problems in my film You must be nuts! – the business of dementia.
I gave the letter I sent to Dr Wollaston last night the title ‘Doubts about dietary/medical guidance and research funding’. As you will see, it has four annexes – on dietary advice, medical guidance, medical research and chronic regulatory failure affecting the nation’s health.
My thanks particularly to those who provided me with background information for the letter, including Jerome Burne (medical journalist), Patrick Holford (CEO of the Food for the Brain Foundation), Dr Stephanie Seneff (Senior Research Scientist at MIT), Justin Smith (Producer/Director of Statin Nation and Statin Nation 2), Nina Teicholz (investigative journalist and author of The Big Fat Surprise), and Dr Verner Wheelock (nutritionist). I am also grateful to Zoë Harcombe (author of The Obesity Epidemic), Dr Malcolm Kendrick (author of The Great Cholesterol Con) and cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra for their articles and blog posts.
Over the weekend, it emerged that doctors are being offered incentives to prescribe statin drugs (which Dr Stephanie Seneff described as ‘toxic’ in her interview for You must be nuts!). After sending my letter, the morning news revealed that MPs from the Public Accounts Committee had called for radical change to make the NHS sustainable.
On the last page of the fourth annex of my letter, I draw attention to a model highlighted by Frederic Laloux in his RSA talk ‘How to become a soulful organisation’. Maybe it could suggest a humanist and more cost-effective way forward for the NHS.
It’s my fourth feature film – the first three being film versions of the three dance-dramas by Rabindranath Tagore: Shyama, Chandalika and Chitrangada. Of course, You must be nuts! is a very different film from the Tagore dance-dramas. However, after dealing with repressive regimes, prejudice and women’s emancipation in the previous films, the theme of You must be nuts! is probably just as controversial.
You must be nuts! is more like an investigative documentary, with puppets. Here is its 3-minute prequel.
As you will realise from the film, the situation is even more sinister than I had imagined when I wrote my blog post about coconut oil almost two years ago.
You may be asking yourself what this has to do with Tagore. After all, he was writing poetry right up to his death at the age of 80 on 7 August 1941 and he wrote his most accomplished stage work, Shyama, at the age of 78.
Well, here in the West, there is a convenient myth that more people are likely to develop dementia because people are living longer. Was Tagore an exception? Maybe it was because he kept himself mentally active?
In reality, there has been a surge of dementia in the last 30 years which cannot be explained simply by increased life expectancy. It was rare until the 1980s. Today, over half of people over 85 have Alzheimer’s, compared to 2% in the 1960s. In addition, 8% of people with dementia have Young onset dementia – they are between 30 and 65.
Even so, friends joke about having a ‘senior moment’ or ‘early Alzheimer’s’ when they forget a name or something slips their mind. There is a general fear that, as everyone gets older, they will get Alzheimer’s. Indeed, a recent UK survey revealed that ‘a third of people are worried about getting dementia’.
In what has been classed as one of the best non-fiction books of 2014 (The Big Fat Surprise), Nina Teicholz has provided a fascinating but tragic accountof why scientists in the US and other countries started to advocate a low fat diet and lowering cholesterol 50 years ago. She summarised the story of what happened in an interview:
“It begins in the 1950s, when the desperate need to solve the heart-disease epidemic caused experts to jump the gun, launching dietary guidelines based on weak, incomplete science. As research dollars and institutions became invested in the idea, it became harder to reverse course, until, ultimately, the U.S. government’s adoption of the diet enshrined it in our federal bureaucracy. Biased science became a necessity. A once-loud group of critics was silenced … .”
Last week, Dr Richard Smith, the former editor of the British Medical Journal, wrote a feature article with the title Are some diets “mass murder”? . He concludes that:
“The successful attempt to reduce fat in the diet of Americans and others around the world has been a global, uncontrolled experiment, which like all experiments may well have led to bad outcomes. What’s more, it has initiated a further set of uncontrolled global experiments that are continuing.”
After all I have seen and heard in my research about dementia over the past three years, it seems to me most likely that the lives of millions of people, including my father, have been harmed by regulatory failure which failed to stop ‘bad science’ driving Government advice. That, in turn, seems to be costing public authorities millions, if not billions, in avoidable healthcare costs.
The clear stream of reason seems to have lost its way, whether because of corruption or complacency (the dreary desert sand of dead habit), over at least 30 years. Maybe there is even fear to admit that mistakes were made. Whatever the reason, it’s time for a full, formal investigation, possibly with criminal penalties for the individuals responsible, certainly with policies based on the latest scientific research.
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;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action –
Into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!
Over the past two weeks, India’s news has been dominated by the brutal gang-rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in Delhi while on her way home with her fiancé after going to the cinema. By Western media standards, it is almost a miracle that her real name has not been published. Instead, the Indian media have named her Nirbhaya (fearless one/braveheart), Amanat (after a TV soap opera about a father with seven daughters) or Damini (after the heroine of a hit film who refuses to let a rapist escape justice).
Unfortunately, this was just one example of the violence faced by women in India. Even as the protests mounted, an 18-year-old gang-rape victim committed suicide in Punjab after coming under pressure from police either to come to a financial settlement with her attackers or to marry one of them! According to Russia Today, “Official figures show that 228,650 of the total 256,329 violent crimes recorded last year in India were against women. However the real figure is thought to be much higher as so many women are reluctant to report attacks to the police.”
Several of our friends and relatives in India have joined the online protests, with some changing their social media profile pictures to a black square or a black circle following news of the death of Nirbhaya/Amanat/Damini on Friday night. On Saturday morning, “RIP Nirbhaya” was the #1 topic on Twitter in India, where 8 of the top ten trending topics were related to it.
Some have been calling for the death penalty for rapists, although there is no evidence that this would discourage rape. Rather, as suggested by a protestor and social worker interviewed by the BBC, it could encourage rapists to kill their victims to ensure that their crime was not reported.
The initially muted reactions of senior politicians contrasted sharply with the emotional reactions of the protestors. Perhaps the underlying reason for the former is the challenge of changing attitudes which have been endemic in Indian culture for centuries. For example, this article identified 10 reasons why India has a sexual violence problem and the above Al Jazeera discussion explores what it would take to confront India’s ‘culture of rape’.
Tagore’s campaign for women’s emancipation
Tagore was clearly conscious of this and the women in his works are often strong and outspoken, while suffering from tradition. His campaign for women’s emancipation was decades ahead of equivalent thinking in the West. There have been many scholarly analyses of the female characters in his works and some see his legacy regarding women’s role in society as being one of his most important contributions (see, for example, Rabindranath Tagore’s legacy lies in the freedom-seeking women of his fiction).
“Violence against women must never be accepted, never excused, never tolerated. Every girl and woman has the right to be respected, valued and protected.” – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
As well as being one of the media names for the Delhi gang-rape victim, Damini is the name of the female protagonist in Tagore’s 1916 novella Chaturanga (Broken Ties or, more literally, Quartet). Damini’s role in Chaturanga, in which she represents truth and innocence, has been compared to those of Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Stella in Rattigan’s A Streetcar Named Desire. All the female characters in Chaturangasuffer at the hands of men, with two of them committing suicide as a result.
In his novel Jogajog, (Contact), Tagore highlights the issue of marital rape. In his short story Shasthi (Punishment), two brothers work in the fields all day while their wives stay at home to cook, clean and bring up a child. When one of the brothers kills his wife for explaining that there is no food because he hadn’t brought home enough money, the ‘pillar of the village’ (a man) helps them to pass the blame onto the other wife, who is subsequently executed.
In 1936, Tagore campaigned more overtly for women to step out of the precincts of their homes and play a greater role in society. His paper Nari (Women) was part of his campaign, which included speeches and his dance-drama Chitrangada. Perhaps it is no coincidence that 1936 was also the year in which Victoria Ocampo, Tagore’s “distant muse“, co-founded the Argentine Union of Women.
In fact, all three of Tagore’s dance-dramas (Chitrangada, Chandalika and Shyama) are centred on female characters who live at the fringes of society – a warrior princess, an untouchable and a courtesan. Dr Sutapa Chaudhuri has written an interesting analysis of the expression of self and female desire in Tagore’s dance-dramas. She provides more detail in her paper on class, caste and gender in Chandalika.
Tagore created a social revolution by pioneering coeducation at his school in Santiniketan. However, parents still resisted allowing their daughters to dance on stage for many years for fear that they would be viewed by society as prostitutes. The criticism of women dressing “provocatively” is perhaps the modern version of this attitude, without daring to challenge the indecency of those men who molest women.
Where the mind is without fear …
Not surprisingly, several commentaries on the Delhi rape have cited Tagore’s poem Where the mind is without fear as being an as-yet unfulfilled dream for women. Some have pointed out that several elected Indian politicians have been charged with rape – a factor which would be a major electoral liability in Western democracies. Yet it seems to be viewed as being acceptable/unavoidable, male behaviour by a patriarchal, Indian society in which the ratio of girls to boys is one of the lowest in the world.
“Rape happens everywhere: it happens inside homes, in families, in neighbourhoods, in police stations, in towns and cities, in villages, and its incidence increases, as is happening in India, as society goes through change, as women’s roles begin to change, as economies slow down and the slice of the pie becomes smaller — and it is connected to all these things. Just as it is integrally and fundamentally connected to the disregard, and indeed the hatred, for females that is so evident in the killing of female foetuses. For so widespread a crime, band aid solutions are not the answer.” – Urvashi Butalia, The Hindu
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
Last week, as part of an article about the Cinema Novo festival in Brugge, this 9-minute interview with us about Tagore and the dance film trilogy was published on Flemish cultural website cobra.be . On Sunday afternoon, Chandalika and Shyama were shown at the festival as part of its Focus on India. The films were invited to the festival thanks to an introduction from Mrs Pooja Kapur, Culture Counsellor at the Indian Embassy in Brussels.
Kaberi, my father and I attended the screenings, which clearly captured the attention of the people in the audience. Kaberi and I took part in question-and-answer sessions after each film. Those who watched the films were keen to know more and asked very interesting questions about Tagore, Indian dance and the Tagore dance form, as well as the extent to which Tagore succeeded in improving the situation of the ‘untouchables’, as featured in Chandalika.
Her Excellency Ambassador Ismat Jahan, the Ambassador for Bangladesh to Belgium, Luxembourg and the EU, very kindly attended both screenings with her husband. During the question-and-answer session after Chandalika, we invited her to say a few words about Tagore. She highlighted his social thinking, as illustrated by Chandalika. She pointed out that he was well ahead of his time in this. She also noted that all three of his dance-dramas (Chandalika, Chitrangada and Shyama) were centred on women and that Tagore had campaigned for women to be given a bigger role in society – a reminder which was all the more appropriate in view of International Women’s Day.
After Chandalika and its question-and-answer session were over, I noticed that two men were still sitting in their seats, absorbed in deep debate. They were evidently fascinated by the caste system and I chatted to them for a while about it. As they left, one of them thanked me for ‘this masterpiece’. This, of course, was very gratifying, especially since someone had referred to Shyama as ‘a masterpiece’ after its world première.
Most of those who watched Chandalika in Bruges also watched Shyama. Even in India and Bangladesh, I suspect it’s not very often that people have the chance to watch both dance-dramas in one afternoon! Still, this illustrates how fascinating Europeans find Tagore’s dance-dramas – indicating once again that there could be a significant audience for live performances of the Tagore dance-dramas outside India and Bangladesh if they are presented in an accessible way.
After the screening of Shyama, we took the opportunity to present a 6-minute excerpt from Chitrangada , to give a taste of the third and final film in our Tagore dance film trilogy. Although Chitrangada is almost complete, we have postponed its release until September/October 2012 to allow ourselves more time to prepare and promote its world première. We hope to associate it with a live event and follow the marketing strategy devised for us by our friend Sheri Candler. Sheri has recently helped to release the documentary about the Joffrey Ballet.
Kaberi and I really enjoyed the afternoon. The atmosphere of the Cinema Novo festival, which shows feature films and documentaries from Asia, Africa and Latin America, is very warm, friendly and relaxed. We were, of course, very well looked after by Benny Haesebrouck, one of the organisers of the festival. He had invited us to join the opening night reception last Thursday evening and arranged for us to visit the International Women’s Day celebrations organised by Diversity Brugge on Saturday afternoon. These included Indian cooking, Ayurveda, ‘Bollywood’ dancing, as well as a performance by a Rajasthani folk group.
The Cinema Novo festival continues until next Sunday (18 March). There is also a related exhibition at the Brugge Cultural Centre, which includes a painting by Tagore.
Our congratulations to the organisers of the festival and our thanks to Benny Haesebrouck both for inviting Chandalika and Shyama to the festival and for his coordination. We hope to return to Bruges before the end of the festival.