Foreword: I am renewing my blog after quite a while. It is quite surprising — and pleasantly so — that OneFinalBlog is getting a substantial size of hits every single day even though I have not been posting new stuff. Maybe, maybe, my readers, friends and sympathizers keep finding my articles worth exploring. So, a BIG thank you. Please send your comments.
The following article is the first part of a long chapter — one of more than a dozen chapters — I just wrote for my new book project on Rabindranath Tagore. It’s about my feelings about the great poet and musician, and that too, sitting here in the U.S. for over twenty-five years. These feelings are real, they are precious, and they are raw too. I invite you to let me know what your feelings are — after you read it.
P.S. — I’m also inviting you to listen to the Tagore songs I just recorded in December-January when I was in India. You can get a copy of my double-CD album Aro Ektu Bosho at major music stores in Calcutta, or if you’re in the U.S., from me. Thank you. (You can click on the link Aro Ektu Bosho to hear a few of my recorded songs.)
It was three in the morning. Long Island, New York.
Last night, music came upon me
But you were not there to see
There was a big rainstorm. Wind was blowing like crazy. The American flag atop the high pole was swinging in fierce motion. The normally calm ocean was roaring restlessly.
I came to teach my usual, weekend labor workshop and stayed over at this simple retreat – the way I do it every weekend. This year, I’m teaching my American students global economics. It was three in the dark, eerie morning. I woke up dreaming about a song – a Bengali song. It was a Tagore song.
Make me anew, with new adorns on me
Adore me, adorn me, adore me too
It was a song from the famous dance drama Chitrangada – the Tagore-adopted Mahabharata tale of the warrior Manipur princess and her mind-body transformation. The couple of lines kept coming back…over and over again…as if I was sitting in a crowd of audience where the drama was happening…as if I was taking part in the drama…singing…in front of me beautiful, young Bengali women were dancing away on the stage…with their silvery ankle-bells jingling… make me anew…with new adorns on me…as if I was hearing in my dreams the celestial voice of Suchitra Mitra the great Tagore exponent – her magical, pure, clear, fountain-like voice.
And it blew me away and woke me up.
I sat there on my bed for the next few minutes … as if I was possessed. And I loved it.
Why would it happen this way? Why would such emotions rock me back and forth, every now and then? Why would they drift me off reality? Who would care to know about these emotions, these flooding-over dreams? Reality sank in…or did it?
The next morning, just before class, when my American students stood up to say the pledge of allegiance, “One nation under God,” etc., I stood up too. But in my mind the song was still swirling around…make me anew, with new adorns on me…adore me…adorn me – I almost laughed. So glad they didn’t get to see what was going on in my mind! It’s nothing new.
These emotions taking over my mind, living here in America, are nothing new. I sang many such songs while driving on the high-speed highway – with my fingers tapping away the rhythms right on the steering wheel. My car was speeding at sixty, seventy, even eighty miles per hour – one hundred twenty…thirty…forty kilometers – with absolutely no scope for mistakes, when it’s a question of life and death – the emotions and the songs came over and seized me. My eyes were spot on reality; yet my mind was drifting away in the paradise of Tagore – in his words and his tunes. Unseen tears kept flowing in an unexpressed pain; yet there was so much happiness, so much bliss – flowers bloomed, flutes blew, and harps harped.
Throughout this entire exile from India, Rabindranath Tagore’s songs, Jibanananda Das’ poetry, Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s stories and Satyajit Ray’s movies always gave us refuge – as if a big and strong, full-foliage banyan tree in the middle of a huge, barren, waterless field. They filled our hearts, they fulfilled our lives, and they gave us shelter. They kept our souls alive. And Tagore has always been the primary shelter among all the shelters.
Not just in this quarter-century immigrant life; he has been like it ever since I was a child playing rubber ball on the dusty streets of Kolkata. I still remember a little about Tagore’s centenary celebrations in India. I was barely a child. I vaguely remember my kindergarten school Shishu Niketan – perhaps – staged Tagore’s the Land of Cards at Subhas Bose-founded Mahajati Sadan auditorium. I was there – a dhoti and kurta-clad child – holding onto my parents. Thrills came upon me, just the way a child gets thrills over his entire body – to know the unknown, to feel a little bit of love in his little heart. He gets the first sense of romance. He starts believing – in something good, great, divine. He starts to understand the beautiful.
Could it really be that “without me, your love would be meaningless?” Am I really this precious?
But, nobody had told me about it before! Who knows, maybe, it’s true! I feel amazed – what if it is really true?
There would be a small Tagore birthday celebration on the rooftop of a spiral-alley, dank-dingy Kolkata house. A cluster of tuberoses in an old, discolored brass urn, a bunch of incense sticks, and on a bedsheet-covered chair stood a garlanded, framed painting of a pensive Tagore in his familiar, long robe. We had dances, we had poetry, and we had his songs. In a totally unknown, falling-apart neighborhood of North Kolkata – a place that nobody wants to know about – small children coming from small, poverty-stricken families sang Tagore’s finest songs; they performed parts of his internationally-known dance dramas with the highest possible dexterity – Chitrangada, Land of Cards, or Game of Illusions.
There was a group of some twenty-five or thirty audience members sitting on palm-leaf mattresses laid down on the rooftop. They were all parents, siblings, cousins and friends of the performers. A local college principal took the coveted position of the event’s ceremonial president. A fatherless, teenager boy from an extremely impoverished family put icing on the cake by reciting Tagore’s celebrated, long poem Bring Me Back Now – straight from memory. What an upright way to chant, what a firm, clear pronunciation! He didn’t have enough to eat – that’s how poor they were. His poor mother literally begged from door to door for some rice to feed her young son; she managed to admit him to a middle school where the college principal agreed to pay his monthly school fees.
Where did this destitute boy get this strength and courage to recite Tagore’s major verse of strength and courage? Who would ever remember such talents, who would ever search for such hidden treasures? Amazing that this poor, underfed boy from a penniless family got to know Tagore; he was able to take a fearless dip in the unending ocean of Tagore’s words.
The sun and the moon and the celestial stars
All my life they sent me their light
Rays of your blessings, and beautifully bright
Oh Lord! Oh Lord!
All my life your words sent me bright rays
Your songs gave me reasons to live.
Brooklyn, New York