Remembering Rabindranath Tagore and his Literary and Musical Legacy in Faraway Texas

Lopa Banerjee

Lopamudra Banerjee

In the month of August, 1941, the Bengali month of Sravan (22shey Sraban according to the Bengali calendar), amid the season of torrential downpour, the eminent bard of all times, Asia’s first Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore breathed his last in his illustrious home, Jorasanko Thakurbari, Kolkata, thereby taking his flight to eternity, immortalizing his presence in the hearts of millions of Bengalis forever. This year, on August 12th, Saturday afternoon, a group of us Tagore lovers and connoisseurs of his literary creations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Texas, came together to commemorate on the 82nd anniversary of his immortality, with the objective to honor and reflect on the great treasure and the legacy of literature, music and art he has left behind. The event took place at the Blackbox Theater of Bachman Public Library located in the heart of the city of Dallas, with a warm, appreciative audience response which bore testimony to the love and reverence the ethnic Bengali-Indian community has for the works of Tagore, even after eight decades of his physical demise.

 

[Celebrating the bard Tagore on his death anniversary in Bachman Public Library, Dallas] 

More than a mere obituary dedicated to Tagore, the true Renaissance poet, author, playwright, philosopher, artist, our collaborative presentation titled ‘Remembering Tagore & Jorasanko: 22shey Srabon Smarane’, was our heartfelt attempt to reiterate his treasures, reminding ourselves of the tremendous power of his words, his music and his philosophy amid the dark, unprecedented times we belong to. With this gesture, we also reminded ourselves how his words, his music and his art will sustain in our minds, become vehicles of change, fierce spirit and empowerment in various inexplicable ways.

Since his vast oeuvre of work is like a deep, unfathomable ocean, we were only able to gather a few drops of it through three unique, significant segments. The very first segment of our tribute to the bard was ‘Tagore for Our children, The Citizens of Tomorrow,’ where our kids, the diaspora children celebrated the bard’s timeless creations through their music, singing, recitation. The second program was an adaptation of Tagore’s timeless classic play ‘Raja,’ an audio-drama presentation directed by Tridib Chakraborty. In the finale, there was a unique event, a book release ceremony of a very special translation literature, ‘The Bard and his Sister-in-law’, which is my humble translation of ‘Kabir Bouthan’, Mallika Sengupta’s classic historical novel on Jorasanko Thakurbari, Tagore’s birthplace in Kolkata.

Raja (The King of The Dark Chamber): Theme and Relevance of the Drama

 ‘Raja,’ also known as ‘The King of the Dark Chamber’ in the English translation, is a drama composed by Tagore in 1910. Critics have commented that it is both a symbolic as well as a mystic play, and various sources confirm that the plot is loosely borrowed from the Buddhist story of King Kush from Mahavastu. A short stage version of Raja was published under the title of Arupratan in 1920.

The characterization of the play ‘Raja’ comprises of the King, presented as a symbolic/allegorical figure. Since he cannot be seen by naked human eyes, but only felt/perceived in the dark chamber of one’s inner consciousness, he represents the divine spirit and also divine seclusion. His subjects have never seen him and speculate about him. He meets his queen, Sudarshana only in the dark chamber, and she constantly enquires about his appearance, as he appears elusive to her.

In essence, the story is an allegory of an individual’s spiritual awakening, and the quest for beauty and truth. Among many of the play’s themes, the relationship between queen Sudarshana, her principal maid Surangama, and the King is symbolic, representing the relationship between man and the Divine. The subjects, including Surangama have no need for proof of the King’s existence; they believe him to be omnipresent, omniscient. Through the emotional travails of the queen Sudarshana, the play describes her journey of self-discovery and spiritual awakening. Sudarshana is initially depicted as a proud, yet immature queen, desperately aching to ‘see’ her King, and out of that yearning, she falls in love with an imposter, whom she meets in the world outside and mistakes for her husband. Towards the end, when the despaired queen sheds away her pride, she realizes she can be united with her real husband, the King and become enlightened in insight and understanding. In Tridib Chakraborty’s adaptation of the drama, the main cast and the ensemble and also the music team collaboratively present a beautiful amalgamation of songs and dramatics/spoken words to bring to life the central literary, moral and philosophical idea behind the play.

 


[Stills from the performance of Tagore’s classic play ‘Raja]

 

Book release function: The Bard and his sister-in-law

The book release segment was moderated by Dr. Shailja Sharma, an author and poet from Texas. Dr. Shailja gracefully introduced the book, the original Bengali author Mallika Sengupta and the translator (bios). Thereafter, some honored guests were called upon to inaugurate the book with the author.

 

[Before the book release of ‘The Bard and his Sister-in-law]

[The formal launch of ‘The Bard and his Sister-in-law’ with the guests]

 

The journey and inspiration behind the book, the significance of this translation

Many years back, Cervantes had famously quoted: “Translation is the other side of tapestry.” Thinking of my journey as a writer, poet and also a translator, this quote has summed up much of my artistic and literary quest, ever since I have undertook the task of working with the literary gems of my homeland, India. Over the times, Gurudeb Rabindranath Tagore has grown on me like old roots, like a religion quietly observed and internalized. I sincerely believe his creation and his silent existence within me through his words and art is like a subterranean flow which would never stop and give me continued sustenance for this lifetime.

From my quiet, unceremonious journey of translating some selected works of Tagore, when I ventured into other diverse works of translation, it was pure serendipity when this particular novel by Mallika Sengupta, ‘Kabir Bouthan’ came to me as a commissioned translation assignment from noted poet and academician Subodh Sarkar in Kolkata, India. From translating Tagore’s fiction, poetry etc., the task of translating the biographical novel focusing on his formative years, in close reference/connection to his birthplace, the Jorasanko mansion in Kolkata, was quite a journey, immensely challenging and rewarding in the same breath.

Among the various aspects of this biographical novel in translation, the way the narrative unfolds the history of the Thakurbari in the British colonial regime is immensely important. The narrative of this period piece that starts in the year 1866, depicts the Renaissance period of Bengal, the plethora of socio-political changes, reforms, upheavals taking place, and how all of this shaped Tagore’s persona directly or indirectly. Mallika Sengupta, in her original novel, also brings out the aspect of women empowerment in the social position of women depicted through the women in the narrative—Gyanada, Kadambari, Swarnakumari, other women in the Tagore household. Hence, this novel, seeped in the diverse cultural history of the Thakurbari, is historically significant in terms of gender and culture studies of the pre-independence era in India, and it was my sheer honor to introduce it to the audience present during such a momentous occasion.

The celebration of Tagore’s life and works and his legacy in faraway Texas, will remain special in our diaspora Indian consciousness. I sincerely wish some day in future, when our children will grow older, I can wistfully look back, reminisce the cherished memories of such a celebration, and reiterate the bard’s words:“Tomaro osheeme praano mono loye Joto Dure ami dhaai/ Kothao dukkho, kothao mrityu, kotha bichchhedo naai…(In your eternal horizon, as I immerse my being/ Till the farthest distance, I feel no pain, no death, no pangs of separation, nothing at all…)”

 

Author Bio:

Lopamudra Banerjee is an acclaimed poet, author, translator, editor and writing mentor from Texas, USA, with numerous publications and literary recognitions to her credit. Among her recent notable publications are, ‘We Are What We Are: Primal Songs of Ethnicity, Gender & Identity’ in collaboration with Priscilla Rice, and her two translation works, ‘Bakul Katha: Tale of the Emancipated Woman’ and ‘The Bard and his Sister-in-law.’

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