If you are in Bengal, you can't miss Rabindranath. A poet is perhaps not measured by the monuments he inspires, unlike kings but in the words and songs( as in this case) that people sing long after he is no more. Curious to see how he has been treated post his passing away, I made a trip to Shantiniketan once. Kolkata to Shantiniketan is an estimated journey of about two and half hours by road or by train. Getting down at Bolpur( The closest Railway station to Shantiniketan) one almost expects to see things from the perspective of the young Rabindranath as he accompanied his father here or even more interestingly the way Debendranath Tagore, would have seen it first.
It is said that Debendranath Tagore was visiting a friend, soon after the birth of Rabindranath. the friend's estate was situated about a hundred miles, west of Calcutta. While travelling in a palanquin from Bolpur, Debendranath stopped for his evening spell of meditation in an open plain. Rural Bengal is usually full of lush green vegetation and such open plains bereft of vegetation was surprising. As he closed his eyes in meditation, he felt a great sense of peace, with the setting suns and the silence merging into one. It was then and there that Debendranath decided to buy the piece of land, which later saw the house and laying of a beautiful garden, and was named Shantiniketan or the abode of peace.
Of course there is none of the silence that greets you, except if you choose to cycle around Shantiniketan in the afternoons of lazy serenity when the town is mostly asleep and the red earth greets you in perfect poetry. Such is Tagore's influence and power of his words that you expect singers walking around roads and pretty girls walking around dancing in yellow sarees, with flowers in their hair. If not for women in yellow sarees you would be lucky if you catch glimpses of Bauls wandering in the land. Unlike the severe distinction made in the songs of Bauls and that of Rabindra Sangeet many a times, Rabindranath had many connections with the Bauls who frequented this land when he lived in Shantiniketan. Nabani Khepa, Panchanan das and Lalan Fakir were names with whom Tagore had a close connection. A part of his songs called the 'Baul Anga' form much of his poetry. Tagore even published some of Lalan Fakir's songs post his death in a monthly review in Calcutta and spoke of his influences.
( Bauls in Shantiniketan- Picture courtesy Wikipedia)
As I wandered about the premises of Shantiniketan, a feeling of immense sadness overtook me. Dilapidated buildings, spread around in utter callousness as if, without care and love, left as if to the winds and dust that covers everything eventually. There is of course the mandatory hostorical evidences, the books, the figurines the basic essence of what the grand man of Bengali literature probably did during his time there, amidst other things and yet one comes back without feeling the music of poetry, that is so part of the essence of Rabindranath. The dead poet seemed somehow more dead here, in spite of probably what goes into keeping his memory alive. The ordinariness that touches the greatest of greats in death, obvious here. Sad, specially when in defense even poetry seems bereft in the land where once Debendranath had imagined the evening skies kissing the spare land..poetry in every visage.
At night, my trip was rescued by a sudden song and to my delight I discovered a Baul, whirl around in his Alkhalla( The dress of the Bauls), Ghunguroo in his single feet sing-
'O mon amar,
Prakriti sobhabh dhoro, sadhan koro,
Dekhbi Urdhi hobe deher goti,
Mon amar shajo Prakriti..'
( Song sung by Lakhon das Baul)
(Translation- O my spirit dress like nature( Prakriti is nature as well as woman), acquire spiritual knowledge, you'll find that the pace of your body will quicken again..O my spirit dress like nature..)
In the throes of his song scented by a stray fragrance of Jasmine I am reminded of Allen Ginsberg's poem 'After Lalon' post his visit from India and meeting with Lalon fakir, where he says ' Don't follow my path to extinction'..I wonder if the bearded gentle bard would approve and smile a song