Nobel Laureate and India's most prominent poet - Kobiguru Robindronath Thakur, or Rabindranath Tagore as many know him, completes 150 years of his life this year. And though he is long gone from this mortal abode, each and every of his timeless creation will live on till the day man will continue to appreciate poetry and literature and all that the intellect stands for.
I remember my first brush with the man. Having born and brought-up outside Kolkata, I was never a typical 'baangali', though my parents tried their level best to inculcate a taste of the bengali culture and sensitivity in me at every given opportunity. It is a completely different thing that over the last few years, I have myself begun to see what richness the language and its 'typical' culture has to offer. But I am straying from the point here... Starting my school in a convent, I had not a single bengali friend. All my literature was of the British syllabus and English and Hindi were the languages I was comfortable in. In those initial years my mother tried to teach me the bengali script but I always managed to escape.. I thought it had no use for me. It was only later, when I had to change school in class V and go to one which had bengali as a compulsory language, that I finally sat down with ma and learned the bengali alphabet.. though many of my friends still remember what a disaster I was at that..
All of ma's efforts at making me read Tagore's works had gone to waste. She would place a book of Tagore's poems and tell me to have a look. She would keep it on the shelf so that I knew where to get it if I wanted. She would sit me down to oil my hair and begin to recite a few lines... But I always escaped meeting the genius myself.
Then one day I read a poem called 'Taalgaachh." I think I was in class V that time. I remember only the first three lines - taalgaachh aek paaye daariye, shob gaachh chhariye, oonki maarey aakaashey.....
It was not how I had expected a Tagore work to be. The man was such a heavy-weight legend that I had always thought that his works would be too difficult to understand. But this proved to be the opposite with this poem. It was a simple poem, and I think one of the firsts that KobiGuru composed (though Im not sure about that)... The poem talked about a boy who could see a tree outside the window of his room. He went on to talk about how the tree, that seems to be standing on one foot, is trying to move up over all the other trees and snatch a peak at the sky.. It was nice, and simple....
As the fear and the weight of his genius was somewhat overcome, I decided reading Tagore would not be as difficult as I had been thinking all along. But the fact that my bengali reading was very very and very poor, was a big hurdle. If I sat with a bengali book it would take me hours to go through just the first page, and became a kind of hindrance over the years.
In all this while, ma always poured over some of Tagore in my life through her constant humming and singing. I remember each year when there was a recitation competition at the local Durga Puja pandal, she would egg me on to recite one of the poems that she had so laboriously taught me. But I never did recite them. Instead, I listened when ma sang - there was so much of Tagore in there- like 'aami chini go chini tomaarey', 'hey nuton', 'oyi mohamaanobo aashey', 'puraano shey diner kotha' 'aamar baela je jaaye' 'aakaash bhora shoorjo taara' 'aaguner poroshmoni' 'ae monihaar aamaar naahi shaajey'..... and so many more.... I loved the way she hummed and sang, the music was always so calm and soothing, though I always made a face whenever she began to sing, especially as I didn't understand the lyrics then, I slowly realised that these songs and their rythm would form a strong bond in me. That they would stir up a nostalgia in later years whenever I heard them being played in any part of the world, and hardly did I know then that, in all such occasions, I would end up lending my voice to the song as well.
I realised my penchant for singing Tagore songs soon. Well, it would be wrong if I say Tagore songs only. I loved to sing, especially in a choir, and the fact that my music teacher and the choir of my school was one of the best in Delhi, I was really excited to be a part of it. And every time we sang a Robindro-shongeet, I could feel the bond strengthening and my emotions lifting. It was strange that the one genius I had always (un)consciously tried to ignore would slowly seep into my life like this. Almost all of those who were a part of the choir knew much about Tagore, I was the only ignorant fool.... but even then I never picked up a Tagore book to sit and read.
Till date that has not happened... though I have a volume of his works displayed proudly on my book shelf.. I have yet to sit and read it... Ma has given up on me finally... perhaps she feels I am destined to be one of those 'baangaalis' who will spend their entire life on this earth without ever having read Tagore.. Not that she feels it to be compulsory for me to do so, but just that she would have liked it.
But for my mother, there is one thing that has more than made up for my earlier lack of interest in Tagore... My daughter, who is not yet three years, has already started singing songs penned by Tagore... she loves to sing and has picked up a few lines here and there that she hears me humming as I potter about the house... strange is the way of life...
Rabindranath Tagore (07th May 1861 - 07th August 1941)
Poet, novelist, musician and playwright and the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize in Literature..