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Day one after my father’s passing away: দু:খ এ নয়, সুখ নহে গো /Dukkho e noy, shukh nawhe go/This is not sorrow, nor mere happiness

“দু:খ এ নয়, সুখ নহে গো– গভীর শান্তি এ যে
আমার সকল ছাড়িয়ে গিয়ে উঠল কোথায় বেজে।।
ছাড়িয়ে গৃহ, ছাড়িয়ে আরাম, ছাড়িয়ে আপনারে
সাথে করে নিল আমায় জন্মমরণপারে–
এল পথিক সেজে।।
চরণে তার নিখিল ভুবন নীরব গগনেতে
আলো-আঁধার আঁচলখানি আসন দিল পেতে।
এত কালের ভয় ভাবনা কোথায় যে যায় সরে,
ভালোমন্দ ভাঙাচোরা আলোয় ওঠে ভ’রে–
কালিমা যায় মেজে।”

This is not sorrow, nor mere happiness – but peace beyond measure
Overwhelming all, raising me into the infinite vastness
Leaving home behind and solace behind, leaving behind ego and self
Taking me to a realm beyond birth and death –
You who has wandered into my life.
At your feet the world gathers in the silent sky
To spread a cloak of darkness and light
Where did all the fear I had always felt disappear
Good, evil, broken and whole – flood with light divine –
As all imperfection washes away from this life of mine.

শিবাজি-উৎসব /Shivaji Utsav/Celebrating Shivaji: An excerpt

শিবাজি-উৎসব

 

কোন্‌ দূর শতাব্দের কোন্‌-এক অখ্যাত দিবসে

নাহি জানি আজি

মারাঠার কোন্‌ শৈলে অরণ্যের অন্ধকারে ব’সে,

হে রাজা শিবাজি,

তব ভাল উদ্ভাসিয়া এ ভাবনা তড়িৎপ্রভাবৎ

এসেছিল নামি–

“একধর্মরাজ্যপাশে খণ্ড ছিন্ন বিক্ষিপ্ত ভারত

বেঁধে দিব আমি।’

 

সেদিন এ বঙ্গদেশ উচ্চকিত জাগে নি স্বপনে,

পায় নি সংবাদ–

বাহিরে আসে নি ছুটে, উঠে নাই তাহার প্রাঙ্গণে

শুভ শঙ্খনাদ–

শান্তমুখে বিছাইয়া আপনার কোমলনির্মল

শ্যামল উত্তরী

তন্দ্রাতুর সন্ধ্যাকালে শত পল্লিসন্তানের দল

ছিল বক্ষে করি।

 

তার পরে একদিন মারাঠার প্রান্তর হইতে

তব বজ্রশিখা

আঁকি দিল দিগ্‌দিগন্তে যুগান্তের বিদ্যুদ্‌বহ্নিতে

মহামন্ত্রলিখা।

মোগল-উষ্ণীষশীর্ষ প্রস্ফুরিল প্রলয়প্রদোষে

পক্কপত্র যথা–

সেদিনও শোনে নি বঙ্গ মারাঠার সে বজ্রনির্ঘোষে

কী ছিল বারতা।

 

তার পরে শূন্য হল ঝঞ্ঝাক্ষুব্ধ নিবিড় নিশীথে

দিল্লিরাজশালা–

একে একে কক্ষে কক্ষে অন্ধকারে লাগিল মিশিতে

দীপালোকমালা।

শবলুব্ধ গৃধ্রদের ঊর্ধ্বস্বর বীভৎস চীৎকারে

মোগলমহিমা

রচিল শ্মশানশয্যা–মুষ্টিমেয় ভস্মরেখাকারে

হল তার সীমা।

 

সেদিন এ বঙ্গপ্রান্তে পণ্যবিপণীর এক ধারে

নিঃশব্দচরণ

আনিল বণিকলক্ষ্মী সুরঙ্গপথের অন্ধকারে

রাজসিংহাসন।

বঙ্গ তারে আপনার গঙ্গোদকে অভিষিক্ত করি

নিল চুপে চুপে–

বণিকের মানদণ্ড দেখা দিল পোহালে শর্বরী

রাজদণ্ডরূপে।

 

সেদিন কোথায় তুমি হে ভাবুক, হে বীর মারাঠি,

কোথা তব নাম!

গৈরিক পতাকা তব কোথায় ধুলায় হল মাটি–

তুচ্ছ পরিণাম!

বিদেশীর ইতিবৃত্ত দস্যু বলি করে পরিহাস

অট্টহাস্যরবে–

তব পুণ্য চেষ্টা যত তস্করের নিষ্ফল প্রয়াস,

এই জানে সবে।

 

অয়ি ইতিবৃত্তকথা, ক্ষান্ত করো মুখর ভাষণ।

ওগো মিথ্যাময়ী,

তোমার লিখন-‘পরে বিধাতার অব্যর্থ লিখন

হবে আজি জয়ী।

যাহা মরিবার নহে তাহারে কেমনে চাপা দিবে

তব ব্যঙ্গবাণী?

যে তপস্যা সত্য তারে কেহ বাধা দিবে না ত্রিদিবে

নিশ্চয় সে জানি।

 

হে রাজতপস্বী বীর, তোমার সে উদার ভাবনা

বিধির ভাণ্ডারে

সঞ্চিত হইয়া গেছে, কাল কভু তার এক কণা

পারে হরিবারে?

তোমার সে প্রাণোৎসর্গ, স্বদেশলক্ষ্মীর পূজাঘরে

সে সত্যসাধন,

কে জানিত, হয়ে গেছে চিরযুগযুগান্তর-তরে

ভারতের ধন।

 

অখ্যাত অজ্ঞাত রহি দীর্ঘকাল, হে রাজবৈরাগী,

গিরিদরীতলে

বর্ষার নির্ঝর যথা শৈল বিদারিয়া উঠে জাগি

পরিপূর্ণ বলে,

সেইমত বাহিরিলে– বিশ্বলোক ভাবিল বিস্ময়ে,

যাহার পতাকা

অম্বর আচ্ছন্ন করে, এতকাল এত ক্ষুদ্র হয়ে

কোথা ছিল ঢাকা।

***

Celebrating Shivaji

 

In what far away century on what unmarked day

I no longer know today

Upon what mountain peak, in darkened forests,

Oh King Shivaji,

Did this thought light up your brow as a touch of lightning

As it came to thee –

“The scattered parts of this land with one religion

‘ Shall I bind for eternity.”

 

Bengal did not stir that day in the midst of a dream,

It had not received the word –

It did not answer thy call, nor heralded it

With the blowing of the sacred conch –

Instead it spread its shielding veil

Its robes of verdant green

Over the slumbering village folk at night

Gathering them to her breast.

 

Then one day from the fields of Mahrattha

Your thunderous flame

Painted the horizons all about with flames of violent change

Imbued with a great clarion call.

The crown upon the Mughal’s brow was shaken by storm

As is a ripening leaf –

Even that day Bengal did not hear that thunderous Marattha call

Nor heed the message within.

 

After that in the midst of turbulent darkness

The palace of Delhi was emptied –

In each of their great halls ravenous night

Began engulfing the brilliance of light.

The corpse craving vultures cackled in hideous tones

As the glory of the Mughals

Finally succumbed to the pyre- in handfuls of ashes

Are their remains retained.

 

That day in this Bengal by the side of the traders route

Upon silent steps

The merchants secretly smuggled in perfidy

The throne that had once housed kings.

And Bengal anointed that very same seat with the water of its own Ganges

In secretive silence –

The weighing scales that had once measured profit refashioned through that dark night

Till at dawn a sceptre was held in the hands of a new king.

 

Where were you that day, Oh thoughtful brave Mahrattha,

Why did we not hear thy name!

Where lay your saffron flag crushed to dust –

What a terrible end!

The foreigner tells your story laughing you off as a bandit king

Roaring with mirth at your fall –

Your devoted effort now seen as a thief’s fruitless quest,

This is how they know you today.

 

Silence your garrulous words, false account

Thou art filled with lies,

Your writ shall be erased by the truth the Creator scribes

That alone shall prevail.

For how will the truth that is for immortality bound

Be disguised by the avarice of your tongue?

The prayers that are true will never be stalled

In the three worlds this I know to be true.

 

Oh brave royal penitent, the greatness of thought

That you have left for fate to treasure

Not one grain of that will

Be lost to the undeserving.

The sacrifice you made at the altar of the goddess who guards our land

The truth that you strove for relentless,

Who would have thought that it will grace till the end of days

The coffers of this land of ours.

 

For long did you remain unknown to the world, ascetic king of mine,

Among the peaks

Just as a stream breaks through the rocks to awaken with rain

In full spate,

You too emerged – to the surprise of the world who thought,

This pennant that

Hides the skies, what shape had it sought

Where was it secreted away for so long.

 

 

Swarnakumari Debi

Ruma Chakravarti

In the year 1876 the December chill in Calcutta was suddenly stirred by the appearance of an anonymous novel. Its title was ‘Deep Nirbaan’ or the Extinguishing of the Lamp. Its readers were amazed by the maturity of the unknown author. And when they found out that it was by an eighteen year old girl? Disbelief joined exclamation.

“It is being said that a lady of high birth has written this. This is glorious indeed. Not many women can be said to possess such education, such authorship, such empathy – not just in Bengal but in other lands as well,” reported the Sadharani periodical.

Swarnakumari

(Swarnakumari Debi)

A decade had hardly passed since the publication of ‘Durgeshnandini’ by Bankim Chatterjee, the first novel in Bengali. But was ‘Deep Nirbaan’ the first novel by a Bengali woman? Swarnakumari Tagore who wrote it was not even the first Bengali authoress. Before her had…

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2015 in review

 

Thanks to everyone who made time to see posts on this page. You made it possible for the blog to clock up 120,000 plus visits in 2015. You can read the rest of the cool statistics below:

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 120,000 times in 2015. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 5 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

ধর্মমোহ / Dhormomoho / The illusion of religion

ধর্মমোহ

 

ধর্মের বেশে মোহ যারে এসে ধরে

অন্ধ সে জন মারে আর শুধু মরে।

নাস্তিক সেও পায়ে বিধাতার বর,

ধার্মিকতার করে না আড়ম্বর।

শ্রদ্ধা করিয়া জ্বালে বুদ্ধির আলো,

শাস্ত্রে মানে না, মানে মানুষের ভালো।

বিধর্ম বলি মারে পরধর্মেরে,

নিজ ধর্মের অপমান করি ফেরে,

পিতার নামেতে হানে তাঁর সন্তানে,

আচার লইয়া বিচার নাহিকো জানে,

পূজাগৃহে তোলে রক্তমাখানো ধ্বজা, —

দেবতার নামে এ যে শয়তান ভজা।

অনেক যুগের লজ্জা ও লাঞ্ছনা,

বর্বরতার বিকারবিড়ম্বনা

ধর্মের মাঝে আশ্রয় দিল যারা

আবর্জনায় রচে তারা নিজ কারা। —

প্রলয়ের ওই শুনি শৃঙ্গধ্বনি,

মহাকাল আসে লয়ে সম্মার্জনী।

যে দেবে মুক্তি তারে খুঁটিরূপে গাড়া,

যে মিলাবে তারে করিল ভেদের খাঁড়া,

যে আনিবে প্রেম অমৃত-উৎস হতে

তারি নামে ধরা ভাসায় বিষের স্রোতে,

তরী ফুটা করি পার হতে গিয়ে ডোবে —

তবু এরা কারে অপবাদ দেয় ক্ষোভে।

হে ধর্মরাজ, ধর্মবিকার নাশি

ধর্মমূঢ়জনেরে বাঁচাও আসি।

যে পূজার বেদি রক্তে গিয়েছে ভেসে

ভাঙো ভাঙো, আজি ভাঙো তারে নিঃশেষে —

ধর্মকারার প্রাচীরে বজ্র হানো,

এ অভাগা দেশে জ্ঞানের আলোক আনো।

 

 

রেলপথ, ৩১ বৈশাখ, ১৩৩৩

***

WHEN RELIGION IS MERE ILLUSION

When illusion under the guise of religion takes over a soul

That blind wretch is forever doomed, to kill or be killed.

Even the atheist will receive the kingdom of God,

Though he may never have dressed himself in a show of faith

For he alone lights a torch of intelligent appraisal and respect,

He cares naught for dead scripture but for the good of living men.

But the one who pulls down another’s faith as false,

He only heaps insult at his own cursed altars,

He strikes at a child for its father’s imagined faults,

He does not know how to judge right from wrong,

He raises bloodied pennants in prayer halls across the land, –

This is simply worship of evil costumed as good.

The shame and abuses of a thousand years,

The ugly corruption of barbarism

Those who shelter these within religious sanction

They merely build a prison of decay around themselves. –

Hark, there ring out the harbingers of upheaval,

Time comes with mighty scourge in hand.

The one who would bring freedom, you use to imprison and cage,

The one who would unite, you use as an instrument of hate,

The one who would draw love from an undying fount

You have drenched the earth with bile in his name,

– Your boat sinks under your repeated onslaught

And still you blame everyone else in petulant anger.

Righteous one, destroy this farce in the name of creed

Come and save the wretch whose ignorance rules his breed.

The altars that are awash with innocent blood

Crush them now till every trace is ground into dust –

Rain thunder upon these prison walls of faith,

Bring the blessing of sight to this unfortunate land.

 

 

On a train, 14th May, 1926

 

বীর গুরু/ Bir Guru/ The Brave Guru

The history of the Sikhs during Mughal rule and particularly by the orders of Aurangzeb is full of stories of triumph and bravery in the face of unspeakable cruelty and torture. This is an excerpt from one of those stories; on the occasion of Nanak Jayanti and the martyrdom of Teg Bahadur, this seemed appropriate.

 

বীর গুরু

বনের একটা গাছে আগুন লাগিলে অন্যান্য যে-সকল গাছে উত্তাপ প্রচ্ছন্ন ছিল সেগুলাও যেমন আগুন হইয়া উঠে, তেমনি যে জাতির মধ্যে একজন বড়োলোক উঠে, সে জাতির মধ্যে দেখিতে দেখিতে মহত্ত্বের শিখা ব্যাপ্ত হইয়া পড়ে, তাহার গতি আর কেহই রোধ করিতে পারে না।

নানক যে মহত্ত্ব লইয়া জন্মিয়াছিলেন সে তাঁহার মৃত্যুর সঙ্গে সঙ্গেই নিবিয়া গেল না। তিনি যে ধর্মের সংগীত, যে আনন্দ ও আশার গান গাহিলেন, তাহা ধ্বনিত হইতে লাগিল। কত নূতন নূতন গুরু জাগিয়া উঠিয়া শিখদিগকে মহত্ত্বের পথে অগ্রসর করিতে লাগিলেন।

তখনকার যথেচ্ছাচারী মুসলমান রাজারা অনেক অত্যাচার করিলেন, কিন্তু নবধর্মোৎসাহে দীপ্ত শিখ জাতির উন্নতির পথে বাধা দিতে পারিলেন না। বাধা ও অত্যাচার পাইয়া শিখেরা কেমন করিয়া বীর জাতি হইয়া উঠিল তাহার গল্প বলি শুন।

নানকের পর পঞ্জাবে আট জন গুরু জন্মিয়াছেন, আট জন গুরু মরিয়াছেন, নবম গুরুর নাম তেগ্বাহাদুর। আমরা যে সময়কার কথা বলিতেছি তখন নিষ্ঠুর আরঞ্জীব দিল্লীর সম্রাট ছিলেন। রামরায় বলিয়া তেগ্বাহাদুরের একজন শত্রু সম্রাটের সভায় বাস করিত। তাহারই কথা শুনিয়া সম্রাট তেগ্বাহাদুরের উপরে ক্রুদ্ধ হইয়াছেন, তাঁহাকে ডাকিতে পাঠাইয়াছেন।

আরঞ্জীবের লোক যখন তেগ্বাহাদুরকে ডাকিতে আসিল তখন তিনি বুঝিলেন যে তাঁহার আর রক্ষা নাই। যাইবার সময়ে তিনি তাঁহার ছেলেকে কাছে ডাকিলেন। ছেলের নাম গোবিন্দ, তাহার বয়স চোদ্দ বৎসর। পূর্বপুরুষের তলোয়ার গোবিন্দের কোমরে বাঁধিয়া দিয়া তাহাকে বলিলেন, “তুমিই শিখেদের গুরু হইলে। সম্রাটের আদেশে ঘাতক আমাকে যদি বধ করে তো আমার শরীরটা যেন শেয়াল-কুকুরে না খায়! আর এই অন্যায় অত্যাচারের বিচার তুমি করিয়ো, ইহার প্রতিশোধ তুমি লইয়ো।’ বলিয়া তিনি দিল্লী চলিয়া গেলেন।

রাজসভায় তাঁহাকে তাঁহার গোপনীয় কথা সম্বন্ধে অনেক প্রশ্ন করা হইল। কেব বা বলিল, “আচ্ছা, তুমি যে মস্ত লোক তাহার প্রমাণস্বরূপ একটা অলৌকিক কারখানা দেখাও দেখি!’ তেগ্বাহাদুর বলিলেন, “সে তো আমার কাজ নহে। মানুষের কর্তব্য ঈশ্বরের শরণাপন্ন হইয়া থাকা। তবে তোমাদের অনুরোধে আমি একটা অদ্ভুত ব্যাপার দেখাইতে পারি। একটা কাগজে মন্ত্র লিখিয়া ঘাড়ে রাখিয়া দিব, সে ঘাড় তলোয়ারে বিচ্ছিন্ন হইবে না।’ এই বলিয়া মন্ত্র-লেখা কাগজ ঘাড়ে রাখিয়া তিনি ঘাড় পাতিয়া দিলেন। ঘাতক তরবারি উঠাইয়া আঘাত করিলে মাথা বিচ্ছিন্ন হইয়া গেল। কাগজ তুলিয়া লইয়া সকলে দেখিল, তাহাতে লেখা আছে, “শির দিয়া, সির নেহি দিয়া।’ অর্থাৎ মাথা দিলাম, গুপ্ত কথা দিলাম না।’ এইরূপে মাথা দিয়া তেগ্বাহাদুর রাজসভার প্রশ্নের হাত হইতে নিষ্কৃতি পাইলেন।

বালক, রবীন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর
*****

The Brave Guru

Just as nearby trees that feel the heat can go up in flames when one tree catches fire in a forest, when a great man is born among a group of people the whole nation is illumined by the flame of that great spirit; no one can stop its progress.

The indomitable spirit that was Nanak’s did not die out with his death. The song of joy and hope that he sang resounded through the land. Teacher after teacher arose and led the Sikhs along the path to salvation.

The tyrannical Muslim rulers of the time committed many atrocities but they could not halt the advance of the Sikh nation, inflamed as they were by the teachings of their young faith. Let me tell you the story of how the Sikhs became a race of brave warriors by passing through obstacles and hardship.

Eight gurus or teachers had come out of the Punjab after Nanak; the ninth was Teg Bahadur. We are talking about the time when the cruel Aurangzeb was the emperor in Delhi. One of Teg Bahadur’s enemies Ram Rai, was a member of the Emperor’s court and it was he who filled the Emperor’s ears with falsehoods until Aurangzeb was incensed and sent for Teg.

When Teg saw the Emperor’s men at his door he knew he was doomed. Before leaving he called for his son. This child of fourteen was named Govind. Teg tied the sword that had served his ancestors to Govind’s waist and said to him, ‘You are now the guru to all Sikhs. If the executioner should slay me by the order of the Emperor, see to it that my body is not left to the mercy of jackals and dogs. You will have to right this wrong, you will have to take revenge.’ He then went to Delhi.

He was questioned over and over about his activities by the court. Some asked him, ‘Why do you not prove that you are a great leader by performing a miracle?’ Teg Bahadur said, ‘That is not my purpose. A man’s purpose is merely to seek God. But I can show you something unusual since you have asked. I will write an incantation on a piece of paper and place it on my neck and that will stop you from severing my head.’ He then placed the paper on his neck and bared his throat. When the executioner raised his sword and brought it down, his head rolled away. Someone picked up the paper and saw these words written there – ‘I gave up my head but not my beliefs.’ This was the manner in which Teg Bahadur found respite from the interrogation in the court.

Rabindranath Tagore, London and the misplaced manuscript

On the train from Dover that morning were several people. There was the Colonel, retired and lately of Afghanistan and the widow Grimalkin. There were the Knickerbocker twins on their way to work in the city. There was Miss Motlop, a distressed gentlewoman who was the widow’s long suffering companion and woman Friday. Her rather extraordinary bosom had defied every attempt at being confined by the widow Grimalkin, and attracted the admiring eyes of every male in the compartment. The only men who were oblivious to her charms were a group of foreign gentlemen dressed in a curious blend of Eastern fashion and Savile Row style. Two were young men, handsome and straight backed in the way of a lot of the visitors from the East. They were probably in their early twenties, one a little shorter than the other. With them was a young woman who studied everything with a sort of delightful curiosity and wonder. She wore a saree and a buttoned long coat despite the English summer. The fourth member of their group was a tall man with patrician features, a flowing beard and white hair in a long robe. His eyes were mostly closed during the journey and in his arms he held a brown leather case. The young woman talked to him each time she saw something new. When one of the young men tried to rebuke her for this, she protested and went and sat next to him. The rest of the passengers watched them curiously, their eyes drawn to their elegant clothes and the aristocratic bearing of all four. The widow Grimalkin thought him quite attractive and sighed more ferociously than usual as she bemoaned the lack of unattached elderly men of substance in the village of St. Margaret’s Bay. The young Indian woman, for that is the country the foreigners were from, started at the sound and turned to her companion to say something about the changing landscape outside the window. The pristine Kent countryside in which they had begun their journey was now far to the south. In its place were the smokestacks and chimneys of London, the heart of the great machine that was the British Empire. The English passengers began to focus on their belongings and reticules. In due course the train pulled into London with a great puff of steam.
The widow Grimalkin now asked the young Indian woman where they were going. She answered softly and all that the widow heard were the words ‘Artist’ and ‘-Stein.’ It sounded like one of those Russian artists who came over to London now that the Tsar was dead and spouted communism to the impressionable youth of England. She had been horrified by the brutality of the manner in which the Tsar and the Tsarina who was British after all had been dealt with. Still curious, she asked with a delicate shudder where the artist lived. When told it was in Hampstead, she was somewhat appeased.
At the station, the people descending from the train formed snakes of humanity that merged and separated from each other as one, parting when they came upon the Doric columns on the platform and porters pushing luggage carts and joining again as they passed them, eventually passing out of the gates of the station into the penumbra of that great hive of activity. By the time they had reached the outside, the passengers of the compartment were nearly invisible in the sea of hats, suits and umbrellas that made up most of the six thousand people that came into the city each day. For a brief moment Miss Motlop saw the Indians as she stepped to the edge of the pavement and hailed a horse drawn carriage. They were looking around them with some wonder as omnibuses and carriages rushed past. Then she and her mistress were both off towards Cheapside where they were to spend a week with her sister and she could see their foreign co-passengers no longer.

The Indians stood on the pavement looking around with interest at their surroundings. ‘There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio..,’ said one of the younger men to the other and they all smiled at each other. The young woman said softly, ‘Or in London town!’

The elderly gentleman looked at her and felt delight in her wonder. He had been to England in his youth but this visit was poignant for a different reason. He had wanted to show his wife the world outside the family home and estates. But she had been dead these past ten years. It was as though a part of him had died with her. He would not have come had it not been for his son’s insistence that he join them. He had received invitations from various luminaries such as Yeats and Rothenstein to visit England. But he was also glad that he came as he saw his daughter-in-law’s child-like wonder at everything that she saw for the first time. She had marvelled at the telephone in their rooms in Dover, picking it up to listen to the operator again and again. Then there was the gas heating in the rooms, one simply had to drop a coin and wait for the heat to turn on. She would have had them all eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner if they had agreed! Her wonder at each thing reminded him of the boy he had once been half a century earlier. He had planted a few seeds in a heap of dust that had escaped the notice of the household cleaners. He watered them carefully over weeks, watching as they unfurled their young shoots and leaves in defiance of their lowly birth. But one day all was lost when he returned home to find that the seedling forest had been removed and the corner swept clean diligently. How he had cried to see them gone.

One of the younger men hailed a horse drawn carriage. Even though the driver of the brougham was expecting to bargain with what he called these foreign types, he was pleasantly surprised. When he saw the handsome features of all the company he was certain this was a maharaja from the colonies. He bowed deeply as they all got into the carriage and then they were on their way to Charing Cross to catch the Two penny Tube as the underground railways were called.
Once they had descended into the bowels of the earth to catch their train, they thought there could surely be nothing that would surprise them anymore. The lights, the Victorian lacework on the columns, the secret fear of being so far underneath the busy London streets above – everything made the group fall silent. They looked at each other in the cold artificial light and stared into the darkness of the tunnels that swallowed the tracks at both ends of the platform in the distance. After a while the young woman was the first to speak.

‘This is such a strange feeling, as though we have entered the underworld.’

‘Sita’s entry to the underworld – from a play title to real life event!’

They moved away from the edge as the people already waiting around them seemed to do the same. In the distance lights appeared, like the eyes of a giant worm inching towards the waiting crowd.

‘Here comes the train, ready to eat us all up here and spit us out further along the track,’ said her husband. The elderly gentleman smiled to himself. His son had absorbed some of his wife’s delight at their new surroundings and was shedding his usual serious manner. He thought of a few lines, a poem about a chance meeting between two people on a train. As they waited he tried to focus on the words; his memory was as good as ever but he would need to write it down soon. Then the train rushed into the station and stopped. They got in once the crowd in front had cleared. Soon the guard announced that the doors were closing and the train started. The group sat down on the tartan seats and looked about them. Opposite sat a youth with a dreamy expression on his face and a small pocket book in his hands. He wrote a word every now and again in its pages with a stubby pencil and erased it almost immediately. Old eyes met young ones and an ancient shared understanding passed between the two.

Roth Tag 1

(Tagore, a sketch by Rothenstein)
An hour later, just as the group was about to walk up the steps of a house in Hampstead, the young woman looked at her husband and then at her father-in-law. Her face fell as she said, ‘The book? Where is the book?’
When Alice Rothenstein opened the door to their guests it was clear that they were greatly agitated. She expected it was over being overcharged for a fare or something similar but it soon turned that they had lost something of far greater value. She invited them in and called for her husband. The group entered the Rothenstein residence with fallen faces. William Rothenstein came from his study and shook hands with the elderly gentleman. Alice and her sister Grace made sure everyone was seated and rang for tea and refreshments to be brought.

‘It is such a pleasure to meet you Mr. Tagore! I have been telling my friends about your poetry. Indeed, your words are my constant companion as I keep them on the nightstand by my bed.’
‘I am pleased to meet you too. It has been my sole wish to do so, at least for these past three months. But I am afraid I have some bad news; the book of poetry that I translated and brought with me seems to have been lost on the trains. That was my only copy.’

Rothenstein was shocked to hear this. He had been to see this Indian poet in India and had met him in his school in rural Bolpur near Calcutta. His home was just the sort of place that a visiting poet seeking wider friendships in the West might visit. But the loss of the poems was a tragedy that would cast a long shadow over the finest of dinners and the most convivial of gatherings. Rothenstein noticed that the poet was the least agitated of the group even though he was the one who had lost the most.

‘Let us eat first. We will then think of what to do. The ladies have prepared a beautiful meal for you all,’ Rothenstein said as he looked at Alice.

The next day a messenger was sent to the Railways Lost and Found Offices. In Hampstead everyone went about their day, each secretly hoping that the book would be found. Visitors dropped in. Among them was Ezra Pound who came for lunch and stayed the night, sitting on a chair by the Indian poet’s side and listening to him speak as a disciple might at the feet of a great prophet. There was little to indicate any inner turmoil on Tagore’s part. Towards the afternoon, the doorbell rang and Alice Rothenstein answered it thinking it was her favourite, the writer G.B. Shaw who had promised to come and meet Tagore. But it was the messenger who had been sent to find out about the book.
In his hands he held a leather folio bag. As soon as the Indian visitors saw it, they broke into animated talk. Their smiles were enough to inform their hostess that this was indeed the lost collection of poems. She took it from the boy and gave it to Tagore who opened the clasps and took out the manuscript and said, ‘Thanks be to the unknown person who found this and made the effort to hand it in! My only copy, how naïve have I been!’

‘Please sir it was a young man the clerk said. He found it on the Tube and as he was a poet himself, he took a look at them,’ the messenger boy said, pleased that his trip had been successful.

Alice smiled at him and said, ‘Thank you Dodds that will be all. There is cake and tea in the kitchen for you. Ask the cook to put in some extra sugar and make it just the way you like it.’

**

owen

(Owen)

This is where the story ends, at least that of the lost manuscript. Tagore was to win the Nobel Prize in Literature the following year for these very same translations; Song-Offerings as it was called although neither he nor his hosts knew this at the time.
But this is not just Tagore’s story. Wilfred, the young man who had found the manuscript went away to France at the end of that year. When the Great War broke out in 1913, he stayed on in France as an English tutor. He was doing what later generations would call conscientious objection, decrying the violence of war. But even he could not stay away from it when he read the English newspapers his dear mother sent him, with their growing lists of war dead and description of the horror his people were going through. He joined the war in October 1915 and died a week before it ended on November 4th 1918. He was twenty five. After his death, his belongings were sent back to England to his mother in Shrewsbury. The war had ended by then. Among these was a pocket book inscribed with a few lines the young poet had read years ago in a handwritten manuscript on the London Underground.

“When I leave, let these be my parting words: what my eyes have seen, what my life received, are unsurpassable”

Wilfred Owen was arguably Britain’s best war poet. Sir Rabindranath Tagore as his mother Susan Owen addressed a letter that she wrote to Tagore in 1920 was certainly India’s finest.

dulce-et-decorum-est-manuscript-w-sassoon-revisions

(Wilfred Owen poem with Sassoon’s corrections)

Images from web.

This appeared on http://cafedissensus.com/2015/10/17/an-indian-in-england/
as part of their edition on The Other Tagore.