Kaberi and I were privileged to attend the birthday celebrations of two literary giants in Stratford-upon-Avon. Shakespeare’s birthday, which is actually on 23 April, was formally celebrated on 30 April this year to avoid clashing with the Easter weekend. Apparently, it has been a long-standing tradition for people from all over the world to pay tribute to Shakespeare on his birthday by taking part in a procession through the town and unfurling flags of the countries they represent.
The weather was excellent. It was a very colourful occasion, with each country group preceded by a standard bearer – ours was Rohan. Kaberi stepped slightly out of line from time to time to get a better view of the Morris dancers a little ahead of us. People in the procession were asked to dress formally with morning suits, national costume, or academic gowns being recommended, although lounge suits were also appropriate. Ladies were invited to wear hats if they so wished.
Before the procession started in front of the Shakespeare Centre, Kaberi and I were introduced by Dr Diana Owen, Director of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, to Janet Suzman, the Chairman of the Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations. The procession ended at the Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare was buried. Afterwards, we were escorted to the King Edward Grammar School (Shakespeare’s former school), which hosted the Shakespeare birthday lunch.
Apart from the food, there were a series of ‘toasts’ offered by various eminent speakers including Professor Laurie Maguire, Stanley Wells and Patrick Stewart. Their speeches gave a remarkable overview of the immortal and global legacy of Shakespeare. Remarkable to think that anyone could continue to have such a significant impact on world culture over 447 years after his birth. Stanley Wells drew attention to the way that the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s use of social media to encourage people to blog, tweet and discuss their personal experiences of Shakespeare had made Shakespeare’s Birthplace one of the most popular museums in the world. This has been achieved with the help of the impressive AJ Leon and Melissa Leon.
Perhaps, some 300 years from now, there will be similar birthday celebrations for Rabindranath Tagore. A relative youngster compared to Shakespeare, last weekend was “only” Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary. Our formal celebrations began with a Tagore-style tree-planting ceremony (Brikkhoropon) at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage on 7 May, the actual date of the birth anniversary. The day before, thanks to Sara Barrett, the Head of Drama at the Stratford Upon Avon Grammar School for Girls, Kaberi gave a dance workshop to show a team of girls the steps for the dance procession.
When we arrived at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, we were greeted by Sam Young, the Operations Manager of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, who led us to the marquee in which the procession was to be prepared. Kaberi had asked for small chrysanthemums for the garlands to be worn by the girls in the procession. Some forty chrysanthemum plants were waiting for us in the marquee!
Gradually, the chariot for the tree was assembled and the garlands were threaded by the girls and the four Stratford Players whom Sam had recruited to carry the tree. Abi, the Operations Manager for Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, helped all of us prepare for the ceremony.
The procession set off a little after 3pm. A fairly large crowd had gathered around the place where the tree was to be planted. Kaberi sang the traditional as the procession made its way from the marquee to the place where the tree was to be planted by the Mayor of Stratford-upon-Avon, Councillor Mrs Shelagh Sandle, and Mota Singh, the former Mayor of Leamington.
I provided the English translation of the songs and the traditional poem recited at the Brikkhoropon held each year in Santiniketan. Since our ceremony was taking place after a heavy downpour, I also tried to explain that the reason for the umbrella and the calls for rain in the poem were intended by Tagore for a slightly different climate, in which sunshine is prevalent and rain is rare … .
In parallel, I was running through the technical arrangements for the world première of Chandalika (the closing event of the Tagore weekend) with Greg Eden-Field, the manager of the Stratford-upon-Avon Picturehouse. I was also putting the final touches to the English subtitles of Chandalika.
Our first event the following afternoon was the annual ceremony at the bust of Tagore in the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace. The livingshakespeare.com video blog includes a video of a song from the ceremony and a dance by Kaberi in the garden of Shakespeare’s birthplace. A little later, Dr Diana Owen and I gave an informal talk about Shakespeare’s influence on Tagore. The third video below from the livingshakespeare.com video blog shows Kaberi and I reading the Bengali and English versions of a poem from the Gitanjali followed by a Diana Owen reading a corresponding sonnet by Shakespeare.
That evening, after an introduction by Kaberi and me to explain the context in which Tagore created Chandalika, his first dance-drama, we had the world première of the film. You can watch it too, with English subtitles, by clicking on the window below. The running time is 73 minutes.