Remembering ‘Rabi Thakur’

May 7, 2020, marked the 159th birth anniversary of the legendary author, poet and artist Rabindranath Tagore. Most of us know of him as the first non-European to have been honoured with the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913.

Being a Bengali and having lived away from Kolkata for nine years now, every cultural festival celebrated back home is another new reason to miss the gorgeous city I was born in. Rabindra Jayanti is no less than a legitimate festival in Bengal and for good reason. One of my fondest childhood memories are those of dressing up on this day, every year, for the cultural programme that would be organised in school in celebration of Tagore and his rich literary legacy – which is a matter of pride for every Bengali, regardless of their geographical location.

As I logged into social media this Thursday morning, I found that my feed was flooded with videos posted by friends and family from across the world of renditions of several of Tagore’s finest works. Some danced to his songs while others sang. This is the Bengali community’s way of expressing love for their beloved ‘Kabi guru’ (the guru of poets).

Also read: Rabindranath Tagore’s Paintings Reveal His Quest For The World Beyond Words

It is then that I realised how deeply Tagore and his works are ingrained in the mind and hearts of the Bengali people. I don’t know how this realisation passed me by all these years, but thanks to COVID-19, people now have the time at their disposal to take a trip down memory lane once in a while.

The following is an account of what came out of my trip.

Practice sessions for Tagore’s birthday celebrations begin a month in advance across all schools and educational institutions in Bengal. It used to be a matter of pride to be picked for any of these performances.

That year, one of the performances was going to be on one of his poems which was adapted into a screenplay by our dance teacher. The poem is called ‘Birpurush‘ (brave man) and depicts a young boy fantasising about protecting his mother from dacoits and wild animals during a long and tedious journey on a palanquin through a treacherous forest.

One can only imagine my excitement when I was picked to play the role of the protagonist. I remember I didn’t get any sleep that night!

Also read: Why It Is Important to Preserve Tagore’s ‘Gurudev’ Image

That performance was when I was in the third grade. I am 26 now. During this metamorphosis from a seven-year-old girl to a 26-year-old woman and from reading and re-reading some of my favourite works of Tagore, I have reached my own conclusions about where this man drew his inspiration from in order to create such beautiful literature. And most of these conclusions lead me back to the treasure trove that is Tagore’s childhood. As tragic as it was, it is adorned with his insatiable desire to imagine the unimaginable and his ability to marvel at the most mundane phenomena in one’s day to day lives. It is truly remarkable how limitless the power of imagination is and how unbridled it is during one’s childhood. This is reflected in abundance, in a lot of this great man’s creations.

Tagore lost his mother while he was still a little boy, barely 14 years old, which is a relatively early age to encounter loss and separation for the first time. This is where Tagore really played with his power to imagine. Death may separate us from our loved ones in reality, but in the world of imagination, one is free to explore all possibilities.

Years later, whilst revisiting some of his poems I feel specially connected to, I recited ‘Birpurush’ to myself and realised this was his way to be with his mother in the world of imagination because he couldn’t do so in reality. The whole idea of this little boy comforting his mother, reassuring her that she is safe as long as her brave son lives and emerging victorious from his gory fight with the dacoits, appears to me, to be a desperate attempt by him, to hold on to someone he was deeply attached to, someone who left and never returned and the impact it had on his young impressionable mind. He not only lost his mother at a very young age, but also most of his immediate family during the course of his life, including his wife and children. He was survived by only two of his five children when he passed away in 1941.

It is for the best that only three of Tagore’s works are known to the nationalists today. Credit: Cherishsantosh/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

As someone who has and continues to grapple with a separation anxiety disorder stemming from my own childhood, I found myself relating to the feelings and emotions that Tagore strives to communicate through his literature. What is truly remarkable, is that each time I re-read some of his works, I seem to discover something new about him. As someone with an over-active imagination, I am left in awe of all the beautiful details hidden behind his words. The details of his many day dreams, as a child are so vividly described in his literature, that one can easily paint them on canvas.

I ended my trip down memory lane here. Venturing beyond was proving to be quite overwhelming. I often ask myself how I would be able to deal with my separation anxiety disorder, nothing has seemed to help so far, not even therapy sessions.

This time, as I was slowly returning back to my mundane chores, in this lockdown, from this intense trip, I had a sudden realisation. It brought a smile to my face. I have access to the literary creations of this extraordinary man who has dealt with profound loss, time and again, starting right from his childhood until his death. Maybe, just maybe, if I read and re-read his works repeatedly, with an open mind, I will find an answer?

Nilofar Absar, 26, is an intellectual property rights lawyer, currently practicing in New Delhi. When she’s not calculating her billable hours at work, she likes finding stories, in people.

Featured image credit: Facebook/Rabindranath Tagore