100 years of Tagore’s visit

By Rita Ghosh We celebrate the birth and death anniversaries of great personalities so that we can imbibe their great qualities. Shillong celebrated Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s birth centenary in 1961, birth sesquicentenary in 2011-2012 and Tagore’s Nobel prize Centenary Celebration in 2013. Now it’s the time to celebrate the centenary of Tagore’s first visit to Shillong in October 1919. In 1961, on the occasion of his birth centenary, the Central Celebration Committee erected three altars at the three houses which hosted him in 1919 (Brookside), 1923 (Jitbhumi) and 1927 (Sidhli house) under the then chief minister of undivided Assam Bimalaprasad Chaliha, who was an ardent Tagore lover. In 1961, Late Radhika Ranjan Chakraborty, a direct student of Tagore in Santiniketan, organised a musical programme at Brookside mansion. Late Parshanath Chaudhuri, former editor of The Shillong Times, was one of the organisers. In 1972, the state of Meghalaya was born. Shillong became the capital of Meghalaya. At that time all the three heritage houses were the private properties. Brookside’s owner KC Dey’s next generations gave the houses to SIB department to use it as an office complex on rent. Jitbhumi and Sidhli House owners were staying in the heritage houses and also maintaining them. Since 80’s many Tagore lovers started writing in the news daily The Shillong Times appealing to the Government for the preservation of the heritage site. Uma Purkayastha was one of them. In 1961, Bangiya Sahitya Parishad, Shillong, organised a three-day Tagore Birth Anniversary Celebration in the Parishad Hall with great enthusiasm. It still organises Tagore’s birth and death anniversaries every year. Some other cultural organisations are also doing the same later in their own way. In the same year, Late Helimon Khongphai, the then headmistress of Government Girls High School, in her speech on the occasion of Tagore’s birth centenary celebration said, “If every capital town of India has a Rabindra Bhawan, why Shillong being the capital of Assam should be deprived of the same. I strongly suggest that Brookside be renamed as Rabindra Bhawan or a separate Rabindra Bhawan be constructed in Shillong.” During 1980s, Amiyo Kumar Samanta from Kolkata came to Shillong as the head of the SIB department. He associated himself closely to Bangiya Sahitya Parishad with a few other high-ranked officers. In those days, a rumou started doing the rounds that the owners of Brookside were going to sell this heritage site dividing it into several plots. Tagore lovers of Rilbong were shocked. They approached Ardhendu Chaudhuri, the then President of Rilbong Sports and Cultural Club, who was a high official in the Government Press of Meghalaya. He was also very close to the then Chief Minister PA Sangma. Chaudhuri assured that he would try to save Tagore memory in this heritage site. Brookside was then under the SIB Office. Bangiya Sahitya Parishad members under the leadership of Late Prof. Manabendra Bhattacharya took keen interest to save Tagore’s memory in Brookside. They approached Amiyo Kumar Samanta, who was a hardcore Tagore lover. Together they approached PA Sangma, who himself was a Tagore lover. In 1987, Bangiya Sahitya Parishad organised its Golden Jubilee Celebration and Sangma, in his speech, assured that he would do his best to save Tagore’s memory in Brookside. Sangma fulfilled his promise and the SIB office was shifted near the Circuit House and Department of Art and Culture took up possession of the compound and started the renovation work during 1990-1991. In 1992 Sri MadhukarDighe, the then Governor of Meghalaya formally inaugurated the Tagore Art Gallery. Due to some unknown reasons Tagore Art Gallery was closed for a few years. Tagore lovers again started writing to the government for opening a Tagore Museum. In 2007, Kolkata Doordarshan Kendra organised a programme on Tagore at Brookside, assisted by the Department of Arts and Culture, Meghalaya. Renowned screen artists from Kolkata took part in a ‘Shruti Natak’ based on Tagore’s Nobel Yogayog, which he wrote while staying at ‘Sidli House’ in his third visit to Shillong in 1927. Local Khasi and Bengali singers and dancers also participated in the function. DD Lapang, the then Chief Minister of Meghalaya, in his address announced that Tagore’s memory will be preserved here for the better understanding of the youth, he also expressed that the demand for naming Brookside as “Rabindra Bhawan” will also be considered by the Government. Tagore lovers started writing to the Government again and again for the same cause. An article published on May 9, 1991, in The Shillong Times daily by Uma Purkayastha was as follows, “It would be highly appreciated by all if the bunglow (Brookside) could be preserved as a museum dedicated to the poet. A statue of Tagore could be erected and study room with a collection of Tagore’s literature could also be established so that our people might get a chance to know this universal poet more closely.” In 2008, Shillong branch of Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) started functioning from the backside of the old bungalow on rent. At present, three signboards were displayed on the road side of Brookside — one for Arts and Culture Department, Government of Meghalaya, one for Meghalaya Assembly and another for ICCR. In 2010, former MLA Manas Chaudhuri initiated a meeting on the Shillong Club premises to form a Tagore Sesquicentary Birth Celebration Committee. Renowned personalities from different communities of Shillong participated in the meeting. Several plans, including erecting a statue of Tagore, were chalked out. Several subcommittees were formed for the systematic functioning of these plans. The then Chief Minister Mukul Sangma assured that the statue would be funded by the state government. Accordingly BM Lanong, Manas Chaudhuri, Nababrata Bhattacharjee and some subcommittee members finalised the site to erect the statue in front of the old bungalow at Brookside. Manas Chaudhuri went to Kolkata to contact the artist Shyamal Deb. On the morning of May 9 on Tagore’s birth anniversary, the statue was unveiled at Brookside by Vincent Pala, the then Union Minister, Water Resources and Minorities Affairs in the presence of Deputy Chief Minister BM Lanong, local MLA Manas Chaudhuri, Nababrata Bhattacharjee, committee members, people of Rilbong and Tagore lovers from many parts of the city amidst the singing of Tagore’s songs in six languages. In 2018 the President of Bangladesh visited Brookside. VIPs from National and International field visit this heritage house regularly. Since 1961 many Tagore lovers are contributing in different ways for the present position of the preservation of Tagore memory at Brookside, as this is the only heritage house own by the Govt. of Meghalaya. But many more things are there yet to be done as he is more relevant in India and the world’s present socio-political scenario. In 2010, Bangiya Sahitya Parishad organised Tagore’s famous drama, Rakta Karabi, which the poet wrote during his stay at Jitbhoomi. The programme was held at Parishad Hall. Tagore lovers wish to see Brookside as Rabindra Bhawan and a happening campus like Shankardev Kalakshetra in Guwahati where various types of literary and cultural activities in connection with Tagore will be taking place throughout the year. This will certainly add to the tourism industry of Meghalaya too. It gives us immense pleasure that the bard who travelled to many parts of the world loved Shillong, visited it thrice and wished to visit it for fourth time too. The centenary of his first visit in October 1919 is knocking at the door. Let all of us join hands to create something constructive to spread his message of love, beauty and peace. (The author is former vice-principal of Laban Bengalee Boys’ Higher Secondary School)

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