Bard’s last journey

By Uma Purkayastha
Rabindranath Tagore expired on August 7, 1941, at his ancestral house in Kolkata’s Jorasanko. Since September 1940, Tagore had been suffering from various physical problems, including fistula, and needed a surgery. The daily tall of suffering went on rising; fever rose higher each evening, and the nights were increasingly restless.
The team of leading physicians and surgeons who used to come periodically from Kolkata, insisted on his removal to Kolkata for a major operation. The decision upset the poet who had little faith in allopathic claims and resented the idea of physical mutilation perpetrated on him in the name of scientific surgery. He humbly protested, “Why can’t I be allowed to die in peace? Haven’t lived enough?”
With his surer instinct, he knew that the end was near, that it was “time for the bird to fly”. As he had said earlier in one of his poems. “Momently I feel the time/draws near for me to leave.”……
Sometimes in sick bed, he murmured in frustration, ‘My feet revolt to bear the weight of my body, the fingers revolt to hold pen, my ears and eyes do not carry out my orders. What a tragedy’! (Ref: ‘Rog Sajjyay Rabindranath’ by Buddhadev Basu)
Tagore, at the twilight of his life journey, desired a very smooth and peaceful ending, like a tree, shedding old leaves without pain. In a word he disliked surgery upon his body. But the learned physicians around him and his son Rathindranath were adamant to miss no chance of saving his life, so valuable; however feeble might be he.
Tagore could not reject the importunities of his dear and near ones, and yielded.
Tagore’s ardent desire was to breathe his last in Santiniketan surrounded by those who loved him best; men, women and children and the trees and birds whom he loved most dearly. He was unhappy to leave the site he had cherished so dearly and where almost every tree had grown under his care. At the moment of departure from Santiniketan, he murmured, “Perhaps I shall not see these trees again”!
It was July 25, 1941, Tagore was taken to Kolkata. He had to leave his most beloved Santiniketan for good. He knew well that it was his last departure from his dearly shelter Santiniken, the abode of peace, his own creation!
Since early morning he was sitting on the chair, he used so long and had been looking vacantly. It was his very favourite chair which was presented to him by Victoria Ocampo, more than 16 years ago.
Observing, how relaxed and comfortable he had felt in that chair, his hostess Victoria had insisted on the chair accompanying him when he sailed from Buenos Aires. Since then this chair had been his favourite seat of repose at Santiniketan. It is still preserved in the museum.
Tagore did not express any anguish or unwillingness in words. He kept mum but his eyes looked unhappy and helpless.
On July 30, 1941, at 11am the surgery was performed in his residence at Jorasanko. While he was being carried to the operation table, he dictated his last poem, his final offering to his Muse, the last of his many tete-a-tetes with his beloved God, and perhaps the most intimate and heart-wrung of them all. (Ref:-Tagore A Life by Krishna Kripalini)
‘Your creation’s path you have covered/With a varied net of wiles, Thou Guileful One/False belief’s snare you have laid with skilful hands/in simple lives. With this deceit have you left a mark on Greatness; for him kept no secret night./The path that is shown to him by yours star,/Is the path of his own heart ever lucid;/Which his simple faith makes eternally shine/The unwasting right to peace’!
The poem was originally dictated in Bengali by the setting poet at morning 9:30, on July 30, 1941, just one-and-a-half hour before his surgery. After operation, his condition worsened and gradually he lost his consciousness, never to regain. Within a week of the surgery he expired.
Three months prior to his demise, on May 6, 1941, on the eve of his last birth anniversary, Tagore wrote a letter from Santiniketan, addressed to poet Annada Shankar Roy and attached the following poem —
I am lost on this Birthday celebration/I only desire my friends on this occasion;/Whose warm caress of love and affection,/Nourished me with ultimate satisfaction/I shall take with me those divine things/Love of people and their last blessings!/ My bag is empty today/Whatever I had, I gave them away/If anything gets rebounded mere,/Will be a drop of love and care./I shall carry them along with me,/On my very speechless last journey! (Translated from Bengali)
The poem is deeply touching in its appeal and humility. He keenly desired only the touch of love and affection of human heart as his parting gift.
“On August 7 at 10 minute past mid-day, he breathed his last in the same old Jorasanko House where he had first opened his eyes eighty years and three months earlier.
It was the day of the full moon of Sravana, the month of rain so often celebrated in his verse and song” (Tagore A Life by Krishna Kripalini).
Tagore had composed a song earlier and desired that the song should be sung at his death. It was —
‘Sammukhe Shanti Parabar/Bhasaw Tarani, Hey Kornadhar’ (In front of me lies the ocean of peace,/Launch the boat, Oh Helmsman,/You will be the comrade ever!)
Till today, on his death anniversary the song is sung by Rabindra devotees.

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