This word has a special meaning for any Bengali, or for an unabashed Banglaphile, as I am. ( I can understand Bangla fully, speak enough to hold a basic conversation, and even read the script haltingly). I thus did not mind waking up at 4 am to get ready and go to the Howrah station to catching the Ganadevta Express at 6 am. Even before we could get to Bolpur, we were treated to some wonderful music by two Bauls who got into the train at Burdwan. Click on the video link below
Though I had visited Shantiniketan perfunctorily when I was working in Philips in Kolkata in 1977-78, I did not have any memories of the place. Since then, I had got to know a lot more about Rabindra Nath Tagore and I felt impeeled to revisit the place. And who could be a better guide than Sankar Datta, my dear colleague since 1984 in PRADAN, and later on in BASIX, and now Dean of The Livelihood School. Sankar had gone to school in Patha Bhavana, the school in Shanitniketan and his father Mr Bijoy Gopal Datta, whom I know, was the University Engineer. This is how he had planned the day:
“We could take a Rickshaw to Santiniketan. Travel through the Ashram: See China Bhavana, Patha Bhavana (the School where I studied), Gour Prangan, Simha Sadan, go by the road in front of the hostels to reach Kala Bhavana, Sangeet Bhavana, then turn back towards Chhatimtala, the point where the journey of Santiniketan began, with Devendranath (Rabindranath’s father) meditating under the tree. Then we could go into the Uttarayan campus, the residential complex of Rabindranath, which has then been converted into a museum.
Then we could break for lunch, where I could request two of our senior teachers, Mrinalda, who taught in Palli Siksha Sadan (the agriculture college) and knows the experiments that Rathindranath did on agriculture fairly well and Dikshitda, who headed the Palli Samgathana Vibhag ( the rural reconstruction department, which has been reorganized and has a new name since I left) to join us for lunch.
After this, we could proceed to Sriniketan and visit Shilpa Sadana, which was the then conceptualization of rural industrialization, and works on variety of arts and crafts, including handlooms (unfortunately, Mani Sengupta, Nabarun’s grandfather, who gave shape to this center directly under the guidance of Rabindranath is no more).
Then, if time permits, we could go over to Amar Kutir, which was also an expression of rural non-farm activities, including political activities. Bengal leaders like Rashbihari, Aorobindo, Subhash Bose, among many others have spent their time doing strategic planning in hiding here.”
Another person who decided to join us was Nabarun Sengupta, faculty member of The Livelihood School, who indeed was born in Shantiniketan, and went to school here. His mother still lives there. And then there was Siddartha Sanyal, who had started living in nearby Bolpur a couple of years ago. The only “local” I could not meet was former BASIX Board member Keya Sarkar, who lives and runs a cafe here, as she was was away to Kerala.
Though it was a Sunday, the campus was alive, as it observes a weekly holiday on Wednesdays, a Brahmo tradition that Tagore brought with him. The students at Patha Bhawan ( the primary school begun by Tagore as an ideal school), as well those at the Vidya Bhavan, the secondary school, seem to be engaged in joyful learning without any sense of sel-consciousness at being watched by visitors across the frnces.
But Sankar ushered me quickly to the Uttarayan Complex where Rabindra Nath Tagore ived and worked. The Complex consists of several buildings – Udayana, Konarka, Shyamali, Punascha and Udichi. The Bichitra ( or, Rabindra Bhavan ) designed by the poet’s son Rathindranath Tagore. Unfortunately, photography was not permitted here, so I have to show you an image taken from the net:
I spent a whole hour in the Tagore museum at the back of this buiding wich depicted his remarkable life. Though not very well displayed (small font, big posters), it is still elevating.
Nabarun then led us to Kala Bhavana, the art college of Santiniketan, is still considered one of the best art colleges in the world. It had at some stage Nandlal Bose, Ramkinkar Baij and Beenodebehan Mukhopadhyay living, creating and teaching there. One can still see many of their works on campus.
Quite characteristically, instead of hearing Rabindra Sangeet there, we found a bunch of youngsters practising some western style pop songs with an orchestra. We joined the curious crowd to see this, but no one could explian what was it about, so after a while we moved on.
Lunch beckoned us at Khari Mati, a restaurant, niether built in traditional style, nor serving local cuisine. But it was fine and we were met here by Prof Prasanta Ghosh of the Palli-Charcha Kendra; Centre for Social Studies and Rural Development. Prof Dikhit Sinha, formerly of the Palli-Samgathana Vibhaga; Institute of Rural Reconstruction, also joined at lunch. Dikhit da told us about the work that Tagore had done for rural development as part of the Sriniketan Experiment, taking an integrated approach, improving agricultural productivity, establishing rural industries and working on rural health care by establishing health care cooperatives!
We visited the Silpa Sadana, the Centre for Rural Craft, Technology and Design, and were quite depressed to see its state. Tagore’s ideas frozen in time. But by the time we visited Amar Kutir, our spirit was uplifted again. This quintessential social enterprise manages to provide a living to over a thousand craftspersons.
I ended the trip to Shantiniketan by giving a talk to the students at the Palli-Charcha Kendra; Centre for Social Studies and Rural Development, The talk by itself is old hat, but the opening song is worth listening to, Click on the link below: